Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Tau Empire Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

Welcome to part two, to see some thoughts on the lore here's part one.

While they might have had their hits and misses, the Tau Empire are an army I personally regard with a good deal of respect. While best known for the infamous Fish of Fury tactic several editions back, for the most part they're relatively well balanced and require skill to properly wield them. Oh, they have their game-breakers, there's no argument to be had there. However, unlike some of the more infamous codices (Fifth Edition Grey Knights and Blood Angels, and the recent Craftworld Eldar and Mechanicus books) they're scaled in a different way. Rather than just handing the player the "I Win" button up front, practically on a silver platter, people had to look through each codex to find them. Plus, even the big infamous additions such as railguns, tended to be balanced out by being mounted on surprisingly fragile units.

Taking all of the above into consideration though, Tau Empire players are probably going to earn the ire of many competitors this edition. While they're not bringing an exterminatus to a knife fight, they are strolling in with a fusion blaster. The chief problem is that, in all honesty, they only have one core weakess - Close Combat. For everything else, they have an insanely adaptable army which can counter just about everything thanks to their sheer range, wargear choices and the ability to rob targets of cover saves. Honestly, if this were back in the days of Cron Air, I would have personally been calling this justice. Right about now though, it seems more than a little insane.

Just think of any generally gimmicky or spammy list you can generally form up, any one at all. Chances are that if the Tau Empire is prepared, they'll be able to wipe the floor with it.

So, massed fliers? Not a problem, the army now has Velocity Trackers, which can allow models to choose (turn by turn) whether they have the Skyfire rule or not. If that wasn't already sphincter tightening enough, it can be taken by almost all battlesuits.

What about entrenched gunline armies, you might be asking. Markerlights remove almost any and all advantages, cover saves and up the BS of almost anyone shooting at them.

Massed deep-striking armies of Terminators or Feel No Pain units? Tau Empire units can react in moments thanks to a few new items, gunning them down before they can react. Counterfire Defence Systems allow units to Overwatch areas at BS2 and Early Warning Overrides allow battlesuits to have Interceptor. Sounds useless to start with, until you realize the latter one is shooting down reserves at the end of their movement phase and can be given to Riptides.

This is the real issue here, in an attempt to focus upon their role as a highly mobile force of adaptable warriors, the writers have kind of turned them into the Craftworld Eldar on steroids. Well, sans the old pre-Strength D handguns eldar anyway. Rather than having a few distinct weaknesses or general shortcomings which favour a certain playstyle, you can instead more or less tailor each army to fight almost anything. Yeah, you might hurt them, but the Empire's still going to rip you a new one if they know what you're bringing to the table. As a result of this, most of its weaknesses are going to be player based rather than found in the rules.

Most of the general weapons this time around have not had any real changes to them. Burst cannons are still the light infantry maulers which can turn Crisis teams into Guardsmen shredders, Fusion blasters still make for some of the best short range transport poppers in the game, and the cyclic ion blaster is its usual glorious self. It's a good range on the whole and, while not annihilating everything in sight, they're still pretty damn powerful. In terms of basic stats they're fine, but they can seem more than a little wince-worthy once combined with some of the new items or stats. 

For example, multi-trackers (those ever lovable weapons which allow you to go guns akimbo with mecha) now come standard, giving you another slot to work with. So, those usual mixes of plasma rifles and/or missile pod or fusion blaster might now have the aforementioned big upgrades like Velocity Tracker. Flamers are also incredibly more useful now thanks to this same alteration, as loading up with two now means you can have two as a single twin linked weapon. Cue ork flambĂ©.

The flashier new additions this time largely stem from the new units such as the Breacher Squads. Outfitted with newer guns and drones, at their core they're effectively cheaper versions of vespids. Their goal is to get in close and muller the enemy via pulse blasters, which are really just short range marine killers, or something used to break up enemy assaults getting too close for comfort. It's what you'd expect really, but the bonus which interests many people are the new turrets and drones. Acting as a macro version of a common or garden shield drone, the MV36 Guardian offers either a 6++ or 5++ invulnerable save depending upon how much you spend on it. It's useful for that added bit of suitability and combined with the Tactical Support Turret, it gives you a more durable troops choice to hold certain objectives.

Speaking of troops, both Fire Warriors and Carnivore Squads have been changed somewhat. While the former are still the individually weak tissue paper soldiers with the awesome guns, they have a somewhat more manageable nine points per model now. It eases things up a little and allows players to spend a few more points on a Devilfish, easing things up for the mobile infantry approach the tau are supposed to emphasise. We'll get to the alternative in a minute. Kroot meanwhile are an interesting new breed as their best role now is actually as far from combat as possible. They're still a speed bump at best against most other dedicated assault forces, and will likely never make back their points against anything holding a sword or with a decent toughness. However, upgrade them with Sniper Rounds, and you have an incredibly cheap band of twenty infiltrating sharpshooters with 4+ cover saves in trees. In one fell swoop, in one addition after several Editions of mediocrity, all of a sudden kroot heavy armies become very viable to the right player.

Moving onto others which have had a brief overhaul, the Fast Attack choices have seen a substantial buff. Drone Squadrons and the aforementioned Vespid Stingwings are now surprisingly heavy hitters under the right circumstances.

 Drones are now a mix of Gun, Shield and Marker-light flavours, with up to twelve grouping together as a single unit. While this might still seem fairly useless at first, it can be wonderfully infuriating to certain players. With the Shields giving some substantial durability to the unit, you're then free to pester units with new Marker-Lights or Pinning Tests to keep them in line. While BS2 might not seem all that fantastic, bear in mind this can be linked up with other Marker-Lights for greater effectiveness. Even if you don't want to do that though, there's also the option of linking them up with your Shas'O or Shas'El. This seems useless at first, not to mention overly expensive; yet with the right buffs it can leave you with a flying detachment of Twin-Linked, BS5 drones which ignore cover and cause Pinning. 

Stingwings in the meantime are a little more straight forwards, with a greater emphasis placed upon their survivability. Rather than just jumping out, killing a few things and dying, they now have a new 4+ save which puts them on par with Scouts. Well, Scouts armed with 18" neutron blasters and with new bonus rules which give them movement through cover, stealth in ruins, and boosts their Initiative to 6. While still expensive, they serve as a useful group of outriders performing hit and run attacks on certain foes or harrying threatening certain forces. Not bad at all as upgrades go.

Of course, it's not just the troops which have seen a big upgrade but one of the more prominent HQ choices as well. The Ethereals in particular have been made surprisingly useful for a change. Rather than the guy you shove up front to get killed ASAP for some nice bonuses, he's now the one you want to keep going for his substantial buffs. Along with offering his leadership to any unit within 12" for some pressing tests, he now offers multiple invocations. Used in a manner akin to certain buffs employed by psykers, these can be employed once per turn, choosing one during the movement phase. They're far from bad choices either, with a 6+ Feel No Pain save, Stubborn, Snap Shots after moving or even bonus rolls from pulse weapons included among their rules.

It's a nice change of pace to be sure. On the one hand you've now got a new way to make the Ethereals genuinely useful, while on the other this is the rare example of a truly buff-focused HQ choice. It's someone who is built into the army and serves as a cog among them, rather than the other way around. Something also helped by their fragility to be honest, and this really is a unit you never want to be caught out in the open. That said, it is a little sad they resorted to turning them into the Tau Empire stand-in for psykers, but it's still a solid evolution from their past incarnation. 

So, that leaves only the final big two units: The Stormsurge and Ghostkeel. As the two big, new centrepiece units, you can guess that these are going to be part of the codex's focus. In fairness though, while the book does hype their use, it does so sparingly. They're still a part of a bigger army, and unlike some past releases don't just supplant half the units in this force. Believe it or not though, that's not purely down to them basically equating to Broadside and Stealth designs of steroids.

The Ghostkeel serves as a heavy infiltrator, effectively a gigantic armoured mini-mecha capable of quietly ripping your enemy a new arsehole. This is really what Raven Guard fans hunger for with their dreadnoughts, something big, beefy and powerful capable of ninjaing vulnerable threats way behind their lines. Along with having Stealth and Shrouded, these monsters have an Electrowarfare suite which doubles cover bonuses, meaning that the unit grants them 2+ cover against more or less anything outside of 12". Oh, and if all that wasn't enough, it can also more or less blind one target opening up on it, meaning they're limited to the odd snap-shot for the rest of the turn. Oh, and even if you get through all that, you're left with a multi-wound Toughness 5 model with 3+ saves along with multiple drones willing to take hits for it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the battlesuit which would not die.

After all of its defensive measures, its guns almost seem paltry by comparison. Offering a twin linked set of flamers, fusion blasters or burst cannons, it's easily optimised for anti-vehicle and infantry roles. However, those are just its shoulder mounted weapons, with the fusion collider and ion raker being its guns of choice. The former is fusion blaster with a small template, the latter an ion rifle version of a hurricane bolter with the option to overcharge its shots and fire out large blast templates. I don't want to call this thing downright broken, but i'm most certainly thinking it.

As for the Stormsurge... does anything even really need to be said? The sheer number of guns mounted on that mecha and the term "giant Broadside" speaks for itself. The big one tends to get people's attention at first, but the two gigantic missile pods can hardly be overlooked, especially given the sheer amount of damage the normal Broadsides tend to inflict with those things. Launching 4D6 smart missiles per turn, it wrecks living hell among light vehicles, heavy infantry and generally make getting near the damn thing an utter nightmare. Backed up by three varied support systems, you can give the thing anything from shield generators to velocity trackers, making the damn thing as effective against fliers as ground targets. Oh, and atop all this, that big gun on its back? It can fire twice normally (four times when anchored) and gets stronger the closer you get to it. Try to engage it in long range and you're being hammered by S9 AP5 shots. Get within 10" and you're being hit by Strength D weapons.

This is probably a codex which is going to dominate the tournaments for months to come, and it honestly seems like the big intention was to beef this up as an opposing force to the Craftworld Eldar. I can appreciate the intentions behind this one, the fact it doesn't rely purely upon sheer raw power and the lack of any useless units, but there's no denying the codex creep is in play here. If the guy with this codex knows you're coming, knows your strengths, and has the models to counter them, the only thing which will spare total defeat is sheer luck of the dice. Even without their rather meaty formations backing them up (Optimized Stealth Cadre, for example, offers +1BS to two Ghostkeels and a lot of Stealth Suits, ignores cover and automatically hits the rear of all vehicles) it's undeniably cheesy and all too easy to dominate many games.

If this seems less rage worthy than usual, it's because most of that rage was spent on the eldar. There are good ideas on hand here, genuinely great ones, but I do have to wonder if Games Workshop's new objective is to offer balance to the game by simply giving every army on offer as much power as possible. 


  1. You know one thing I've never liked about the Tau? They're almost never all that fun to fight. I've never enjoyed winning a one-sided battle, and I don't enjoy losing one either, but at least I've never thought that they were just plain unbeatable (aside from being really lucky with the dice). The only way I can see me beating them now is using my Necrons and abusing their new durability (I'll sure need it) and just trying to gun them down before they gun me down.

    Maybe I'll break out my Death Guard, after all the new Codex's have become increasingly powerful to the point that they're pretty much at 30K's ridiculous power level, but I'll probably have to proxy my Death Guard as something else, like Iron Warriors since the Death Guard are as close to tailor-made to destroy the Tau as you can possibly get.

    They try pinning? The Death Guard are immune to Pinning. They try to outgun them? The Death Guard can have Heavy Support Squads (armed with things like poisoned frag grenades and missiles for dealing with high Toughness monsters in large units with other things like Drones) as Troops. The Tau go all in for infantry spam? The Death Guard have terminator HQ Character Units (as in characters who group into a unit so they only take up one HQ slot and get two wounds each), Terminators in Elites (the same unit), different Terminators in Heavy Support (also armed with poison weapons) and optionally regular Terminators as Troops. The Tau try to hide behind Cover? The Death Guard can bring guns that turn ground from open terrain/cover into Dangerous Terrain, while having the Move Through Cover rule on everyone so they aren't negatively affected and to top it off they can all inflict -1 to the enemies Toughness when they reach combat with a certain HQ unit able to inflict -3, meaning everyone T3 and lower simply dies the second he gets into combat (because they become T0) without him ever needing to fight.
    I guess whether or not I will bring out the Death Guard depends on the next couple games that I play with other armies. If it goes the way I think it will then I guess I'll stop feeling guilty about using them.

    I think I should talk about what I like though, I like how they kept the Etheral as a buffer, and personally I see him working similarly to Psykers as not being that bad, mainly because I can't think of a better mechanic (it always seemed more in common with Imperial Guard orders then anything else).
    I'm glad they found some use for the other aliens, personally I'd rather they'd branch out with that (why couldn't the breacher squads be some new aliens with the same rules for example).
    I think Markerlights removing the BS of units they're put on is actually a good thing, so long as it's done in moderation, though I'm still not a fan of it reducing cover saves, especially with how cover works in the new edition, because it now means the Tau are literally shooting through solid objects to kill the things behind them.
    Grouping drones together and requiring them to work with the army to be useful? I think that's a genuinely great idea.

    I guess the main problem I'm going to have with regular armies is that the Tau can literally be prepared for everything, so I legitimately have no idea how I'm going to win beyond luck. At least it does take thought to put the winning Tau army together though, rather than just pick units at random and expect the game to win itself for you.

    1. I'm inclined to agree to a point. It's a subject which has been getting worse over the last two editions at least, and while players usually had to actually know what they were doing to use the Tau Empire, they could hit far too hard. It really seems of late like they've taken a fast moving army with high firepower but little melee capability and just turned them more and more into the Craftworld Eldar. The two ideas might have always been close, but their sheer adaptability these days has gone through the roof. Even close combat isn't THAT much of a hindrance to them now with the metagame favouring long ranged engagements and things like the Ghostkeel packing a surprising punch. They just need to be tweaked a little more to keep them back on track, for the moment anyway.

      As for using a Heresy era army, you might actually be onto something there. I'll admit, that's one of the few areas we've not really tried to get into with play-testing these books, and often it's against your common or general tabletop force rather than anything Forge World related. The only ones we did find able to seriously hold out against them were those who could shrug off pinning or weather that general firepower, like the necrons or one or two combined lists involving the Mechanicus forces with someone else oddly enough. Dark Eldar can still also be a threat but they need to get in very close very quickly, and Khorne Daemonkin tend to only be a threat if they can spawn enough daemons while charging into battle. Even then that last one's kind of pot luck though;