There are 3 generic HQ Choices and 5 Special Characters. The generic choices are the XV8 Commander, an Ethereal, and the Fireblade. The Special Characters are Aun’va, Aun’shui, Darkstrider, Shadowsun and Farsight. I’ll talk about the generic characters in this post, and the Special Characters in the next one.
The Commander is a Shas’o. He’s 10pts more expensive than he was in the old dex. The old “Junior Commander” Shas’el is gone. His stats are WS4, BS5, S5, T4, W4, I3, A4, Ld 10, Sv3+. He comes with a Multitracker and a Black Sun Filter as Standard – so he can shoot 2 weapons in the shooting phase, and has the Night Vision USR. However, the key to the Commander is how you upgrade him. He’s the ultimate swiss army knife. So to understand the Commander, and his potential, we need to look at his weapons and upgrades.
The upgrades are split into 3 different groups – weapons, support systems, and signature systems. The Shas’o can take a total of 4 items from either the weapons list or support systems list (in any combination), and as many of the signature systems as you like, although you can only take one of each system per army.
First up weapons. All the usual suspects are there Fusion Blaster (now an 18” melta gun), Plasma Rifle (S6 AP2 Rapid Fire), Burst Cannon (S5 AP5 Assault 4, 18” range), Flamer (S4 AP5) and Missile Pod (S7 AP4, Assault 2, 36” range). There are also 2 unique weapons the Cyclic Ion Blaster (CIB), and the Airbursting Fragmentation Projector (AFP). The CIB is an Ion weapon. Like all Ion Weapons it now has 2 modes of fire – normal and “Overcharged”. Fired normally it’s S7 AP4 Assault 3, with an 18” range. Overcharged it’s S8 AP4 Blast, with an 18” Range and Gets Hot. The AFP is S4 AP5 Large Blast, Barrage, ignores Cover, again with an 18” range.
The interesting thing is that you can now get 2 of the same weapon (this is controversial, but IMHO it’s quite clear, and until a FAQ changes it, that’s how I’ll be playing it). In the past if you bought 2 weapons they became twin linked, and counted as 2 choices. Now you can either buy a twin linked weapon for 5pts more than the basic weapon, and it counts as 2 choices, or you can buy 2 of the same weapons, for twice the price, which also counts as 2 choices.
This makes for a very flexible load out. I’ll look into suit weapon load out in more detail when I come to the XV8’s themselves.
There are a whole bunch of support systems. Here’s the list
· Advanced Targeting system. Characters with the ATS make precision shots on a 5+.
· Counterfire defence system. Allows the user to fire Overwatch at BS2
· Early Warning Override. Gives Interceptor
· Positional Relay. If it’s within 6 inches of a table edge (including your opponents!), any outflanking unit can choose to come in from that edge
· Target Lock. Can shoot at a different unit than the rest of your unit.
· Vectored Retro Thrusters. Gives Hit and Run USR.
· Drone Controller. Allows the user to fire Drones at the user's own BS.
· Stimulant Injector. Gives Feel No Pain USR.
· Velocity Tracker. Gives Skyfire.
· Shield Generator. Provides a 4+ invulnerable save.
Lots and lots of interesting options, and they are all pretty cheap. Only the Velocity Tracker, the Stim injector and the Shield Generator are more than 5pts (interceptor for 5 points!).
Next come the Signature Systems.
· Neuroweb System Jammer. Any unit within 12 inches has the “Gets Hot” rule when shooting (lol guard blobs!)
· Onager Gauntlet. The user swaps all his attacks for one S10 AP1 attack. The thought of an XV8 punching holes in a landraider makes me smile!
· Failsafe Detonator. If you die you blow up. Bit silly really.
· Repulsar Impact Field. D6, S4 AP- hits on any unit assaulting the bearer or his unit at I10. Not really worth it IMHO.
· Command and Control Node. If the bearer does not fire, all models in his unit re roll “to hit” until the end of the current phase (which means it doesn't work on overwatch).
· Puretide Engram Neurochip. Can give the bearer Counter Attack, Furious Charge, Monster Hunter, Stubborn or Tank Hunter until the end of his next movement phase. Remember, Tank Hunter and Monster Hunter confer on a unit.
· Multi-spectrum Sensor Suite. Gives the unit Ignores Cover, if the bearer does not fire that turn. This stacks with the C&C Node.
· XV8-02 Crisis “Iridium” Battlesuit. Gives the wearer a 2+ save, and T5, with no movement restriction.
Again, lots of interesting options (and again, not too expensive points wise).
The beauty of all these options is that it makes the Commander really flexible. You can do pretty much anything with him. Some examples
· Give him a Drone Controller and put him in a bunch of Marker Drones giving you some BS5 Marker Lights.
· Give him a Puretide Engram and attach him to a unit of sky firing missile Broadsides, giving you a tank hunting anti flyer unit. T5 also allows him to take lazcannon shots that would insta kill the Broadsides.
· Give him an XV8-02 suit, and attach him to a Farsight bomb to “tank wounds”.
As I said, a swiss army knife. He’s the ultimate support character.
Which leads me to a preliminary conclusion on the XV8 Commander – unlike some HQ’s, where you build your army around them (e.g. lots of flamers and melta in a Vulcan space marine army), you do not build your Cadre around your Shas’O, you build your Shas’O to support your Cadre.
Ethereals got better in this Codex. Not great IMHO, but better. The reason they are better is 3 fold. First they are cheap, 50pts for an HQ, is pretty good. Second, they have the “Failure is not and Option”, rule. All models in the Tau Codex within 12” of the Ethereal, get to use his leadership (10), for moral, leadership and regrouping tests, and finally the “Invocation of the Elements”, rule.
If the Ethereal dies, your opponent gets and extra VP. So if he’s your Warlord, your opponents gets 2 VP’s for killing him.
The big one everybody is talking about is Invocation of the Elements. At the start of the movement phase all non vehicle units within 12” of the ethereal get one of 4 buffs
· Calm of Tides. Stubborn
· Storm of Fire. All affected units fire one extra shot from pulse weapons at targets within half range.
· Sense of Stone. All affected models get Real no Pain (6+)
· Zephyr’s Grace. Affected models can snap shot after running.
To my mind the only one that’s exciting is Storm of Fire. The others are pretty rubbish (Sense of Stone) very situational (Zephyr’s Grace and Calm of Tides).
But Storm of Fire is pretty good. Two squads of 12 fire warriors would kick out 72 S5 shots at 15”. That’s gonna hurt! Especially if they can pick up a couple of marker lights each.
The most obvious use for the Ethereal is in a gun line. Put 3 squads of fire warriors behind an Aegis with the Ethereal in the middle squad, making sure the other squads are within 12”, give them some marker light support (Sniper Drones), and anything that comes within 15” of that gun line is eating 108 S5 shots. That’s a lot of dakka.
But……I’m not convinced. Static gunlines are pretty dull to play IMHO, and I suspect guard still do it better than Tau. Also, there are a lot of things that can charge you from 16 “ out now.
To my mind the more intriguing use for an Ethereal might be in a Mechanised Cadre, riding with a bunch of Firewarriors in D‘fish, supported by Suits. I’m telling you…. Fish of Fury is back baby!
Basically a beefed up Fire Warrior. WS4 BS5 S3 T3 W3 I3 A3 Ld9 Sv4+. He comes with a marker light, Split Fire and can take 2 Drones. He can also give one squad of Fire Warriors an extra shot BUT (and it’s a big but) only if they have not moved that turn. For 60pts I suppose he’s not bad.
Again, for me, the problem is that he encourages static gunline armies. Which is fine if that’s the sort of Cadre you want to play, but it’s not for me.
To my mind, of the generic HQ’s, the stand out is the XV8 Commander for his versatility and the buffs he can bring to the army. The Ethereal is next for his low price, leadership bubble and Storm of Fire, with the Fireblade a distant 3rd. The trouble is that the Ethereal and the Fireblade tend to push you towards a static gunline sort of army, which I really want to avoid.
Special Characters next.