6 Apr 2013

The Tau Arrive - Initial Impressions

Hey all, Learn2Eel here and I've got a special article for you all today; I've had the Tau codex in my hands for several hours now, and after a long look through the book, I am pleased to give you my initial thoughts on what I am sure will be a strong 6th Edition codex. I mostly focus on the new units this time, as well as some neat tricks, just so that I don't flood the article too much whilst I prepare my full Tactica series. Enjoy!

New/Returning Units

Aun'shi - To those unfamiliar with the original Tau codex, Aun'shi was the first and foremost Ethereal special character; with an awesome background denoting a warrior amongst peace-makers that held the line against tides of Orks, Aun'shi is unusual amongst the Tau in that he is at home in combat as much as in the backfield. On a personal note - I couldn't be happier, as Aun'shi has always been my favourite special character, even despite his absence in the previous codex. So what is he actually like in the game now? Well, he is surprisingly strong in close quarters engagements, though he is worthwhile enough owing to his stock abilities as an Ethereal - he can provide once per game turn abilities such as Feel No Pain (+6) or Stubborn to any friendly Tau unit within 12", whilst also providing Stubborn to his unit and allowing any Tau unit within 12" use Leadership of 10 for a wide range of Leadership-based tests. As far as his combat prowess goes, he is quite decent; Weapon Skill and Initiative five with four attacks gives him a big edge over squad leaders and the like, whilst his honour blade makes his attacks Strength five - nasty! On top of that, he has EMP and Photon grenades, meaning he can deal with vehicles to an extent - be wary of walkers though - and provides defensive boosts to his unit through the latter if they don't have any themselves. What really jumps out though is that Aun'shi gets to pick from one of two combat stances at the start of each Fight sub-phase; either he can forfeit his strikes to re-roll failed saves, or his melee attacks gain the Rending special rule. Either is pretty tasty, though given there's a good chance he will be your Warlord owing to his Leadership of ten, you may want to be more cautious here; despite having a handy +4 invulnerable save that he can re-roll in combat if he so chooses, a Toughness of three and only three wounds means you need to be wary of being assaulted by certain units or being shot at by assault cannons and the like. He isn't exactly cheap either, being almost twice the cost of an Ethereal equipped with an honour blade. Still, given that he is pretty good in combat and can at least hold an enemy unit up owing to Stubborn and his blade stances for a few turns at least, he seems to be pretty good value; a unit of Fire Warriors with Aun'shi in the fray won't be such easy pickings for an opponent.

Darkstrider - This guy is pretty cool for a number of reasons, and don't let his restriction of joining only Fire Warrior or Pathfinder units dishearten you - there's little else you would really want to attach him to anyway, barring perhaps Broadsides. Essentially a Cadre Fireblade with Recon (+5) armour as opposed to Combat (+4) armour, Darkstrider is interesting in the sense that he can grant Scouts, Outflank and Night Vision to any unit he attaches to, which isn't bad at all, particularly that last one given the strong weaponry Tau carry. Sporting the new and improved Pulse Carbine, Darkstrider is intended for close range fire-fights, which given his relative fragility may seem a bit self-conflicting, but that doesn't tell the full story. Despite the importance of sporting a Markerlight that hits on a +2, Darkstrider's two best traits revolve around firing at enemies at close range, and this works best either with Fire Warriors armed with Pulse Carbines or standard Pathfinders. Move up so that your unit is about 18" away from the enemy target you want to fire at, and unload on them with the awesome stipulation that the enemy unit treats their Toughness as -1 for all intents and purposes - even Instant Death! - when Darkstrider and his unit fires at them. Given that the basic weapon your warriors carry is Strength five, this means that you will be wounding even Space Marines on a +2, or most monstrous creatures on a +4! So that ability alone is pretty nasty, especially when combined with over-charged Ion Rifles or Rail Rifles for instant-death goodness - those poor, poor Daemon Princes - but Darkstrider has an even more laughable way of making your opponent tear their hair out in frustration. After firing Overwatch - and remembering that friendly units within 6" can do so as well - Darkstrider's unit immediately consolidates D6 inches in any direction, meaning that you can fire at an enemy unit and do a lot of damage owing to the Toughness reduction ability, then fire Overwatch, then retreat out of charge range! These amazing abilities mean that smart positioning is highly rewarding; essentially getting a free shooting phase on top of your usual one, both of which are improved, and being able to prevent an enemy assault they thought would occur. This guy is the bare minimum triple digit cost, and I think he is pretty awesome. Just be wary of the fact that he and his unit are lightly armoured Infantry.

Fireblade does as Fireblade wants. Wait...
Cadre Fireblade - Essentially a Fire Warrior with improved stats, notably sporting three wounds, a Cadre Fireblade is a cheap and cheerful character that is designed to improve the damage output of a Fire Warrior squad, or any other Infantry squad where his abilties apply (Pathfinders and Kroot notably). Though he has the Split Fire special rule and a good Leadership, in terms of Infantry only Pathfinders really benefit from it owing to their access to special weapons; however, it must be noted that this can be used in conjunction with Broadside teams and the like for a less effective - but certainly powerful - 'Long Fang' alternative. Interestingly, the Fireblade comes with a Markerlight that hits on a +2, and whilst this can't be employed by his unit, it is still very helpful when concerning Hammerheads, Crisis Teams and the like - this is where the real value of his Split Fire special rule comes from, allowing his unit to fire at enemy Infantry whilst he boosts the Ballistic Skill of a friendly unit about to fire at a separate target. With the Volley Fire rule, his unit can put out a staggering amount of shots that, especially when combined with Markerlight support, can devastate Infantry, light vehicles and even monstrous creatures alike - provided they don't move, each model in the unit armed with a Pulse Rifle or Carbine fires an additional shot! Doing the maths, a single Fireblade attached to twelve Fire Warriors puts out 26 S5 AP5 shots at 30", or 52 S5 AP5 shots at 15"! This ludicrous fire-rate is sure to put the fear of energy in many enemy units, and provided they are supported by at least two friendly Markerlight tokens, you are looking at a cheap unit that averages 43 hits, and either 29 wounds against Toughness four (for an average of 10 failed +3 armour saves!) or 14 wounds against Toughness six (for an average of five failed +3 armour saves). As you can see, with help from one cheap Pathfinder unit, your 168 point unit (before upgrades) can wipe out entire Tactical Squads or kill a monstrous creature in one volley at 15". Yeah, this guy is amazing!

XV104 Riptide - The unit on everyone's lips right now owing to its gargantuan proportions and awesome design, the Riptide is a decent unit that many Tau players may unfortunately shun in favour of more Crisis or Stealth teams. This isn't to say the Riptide is bad, but more-so the units it competes with tend to be more efficient. I think it's place is to blast apart enemy infantry from a titanic range, with the incredible 70" range of the Ion Accelerator and the Strength 8 AP 2 large blast it spits out making for a devastating unit to anything from Terminators to Ork Boyz. The standard firing mode is also decent, with three Strength 7 AP 2 shots at the same range, decent for sniping out Terminators without risking a Gets Hot roll or otherwise damaging light vehicles. The Heavy Burst Cannon isn't bad, what with a high rate of fire and relatively high Strength and AP, but I think it isn't quite as versatile as the firepower provided by the Ion Accelerator which threatens light vehicles and well armoured Infantry far more. Of course, eight shots at Strength 6 AP 4 will absolutely scare the pants off of light infantry, such as Eldar or Imperial Guard, though I feel the Riptide's mediocre Ballistic Skill means that using the Heavy Burst Cannon requires Markerlight support to be truly effective. The secondary weapon system is probably down to what you will use the Riptide for; if it is long range artillery, take the Smart Missile System. Close assault or 'Jump Shoot Jump' is a toss up between the Fusion Blaster or the Plasma Rifle, depending on whether you want to prioritise killing Infantry or have some anti-vehicle defence. The Riptide is incredibly tough no matter which way you go though, which is probably its defining feature - it can soak up blows like few other units in the game, between five wounds, Toughness six, +2 armour and a +5 invulnerable save; provided you can keep it out of combat, it is even harder to remove than the infamous Dreadknight or even - perhaps - a Tyrannofex. No mean feat there! Given that it is a Jetpack Monstrous Creature, it can move, shoot and then do a 2D6 move in the Assault phase to reliably stay out of combat - this element of mobile harassment and the ability to lead enemies by the nose is quite advantageous, particularly given how pitiful it is in combat given its unit type. With a Weapon Skill and Initiative of two and only three attacks, even krak-grenade toting Imperial Guard are a threat to it if taken in serious numbers; however, it is tough enough that it can withstand most punishment. It can and will still smash vehicles into dust - aside from some walkers - but it has one potentially fatal weakness that a smart opponent will exploit; it is not Fearless, and its low Initiative means that it is vulnerable to Sweeping Advances. Not good!

The Nova Reactor is a very risky proposition, and one that I would only use if you are desperately in need of its potential effects; the Riptide functions just fine without them, though perhaps the most interesting is the +3 invulnerable save, which can be a life-saver against an enemy fielding lots of plasma or melta weaponry. Nova-charging its Ion Accelerator is unnecessary, but the Heavy Burst Cannon actually benefits enough that the risk probably justifies the reward; an extra four shots and the Rending special rule are applied which, provided you expend Markerlight tokens, can put the hurt on almost anything. The Shielded Missile Drones are handy, and also serve to allow Independent Characters to join the Riptide - I'm deadly serious - leading to cheese combos such as an Infiltrating Riptide with Stealth and Shrouded owing to the presence of Shadowsun. Ouch! A good upgrade for it to have is Interceptor, allowing it to annihilate enemy Outflanking units with its strong weaponry. Overall, I think its main use is as a damage-sponge that can soak up a lot of heavy weapons fire that would otherwise be directed at your more valuable Hammerheads, Crisis Teams and the like; its firepower is pretty good, though its best attribute is definitely its durability. Taking one to draw fire off your vehicles and such is a good tactic, but you do need to be aware of certain methods of killing it  - notably force weapons and melee against any kind of dedicated melee unit.

I had to throw this in!
Razorshark Strike Fighter - Provided you swap the Burst Cannon out for a Missile Pod, I think people will be pleasantly surprised with the performance of the Razorshark - though it is lightly armoured and isn't too useful against Infantry, the high number of Strength seven shots it spits out makes it a very decent anti-flyer unit against the majority of flyers or flying monstrous creatures in the game. Though six Strength seven shots that hit on fours won't worry a Stormraven or Heldrake too much, Nephilims and Dakkajets will be very wary - particularly given the Razorshark also has two one-use Strength eight missiles it can fire in addition to its six Strength seven shots. I think its weak side armour is an issue, demanding you to use careful positioning particularly when a Quad Gun is in play, though Decoy Launchers do provide a strong defence against Interceptor weaponry. I think that it is probably more cost effective than a Dark Talon, but it still doesn't compare to the Heldrake, Stormraven or the like. Not a bad flyer, but a mediocre one that isn't a bad fit for anti-air or anti-light vehicle at all. It should be noted that both of the Tau flyers are unable to Hover, much like the Necron Night Scythe and Doom Scythe.

Sun Shark Bomber - Perhaps the more interesting of the two flyer options, the Sun Shark has a wide arrange of weaponry and rules; the most prominent of which is the bomb it carries. Given the bombing run rules, a Strength 5 AP 5 large blast that scatters only D6 inches is pretty darn handy against most Infantry - even Space Marines owing to the sheer number of wounds you can cause - and unlike most other bombers, the Sun Shark's bomb 'regenerates' provided you don't roll a 1 after dropping one, meaning that unless you are unlucky or haven't positioned the flyer well you can perform a bombing run each turn. So that is all well and good, but that isn't the end of my tale on this more than useful flyer; given that the unit you bomb doesn't have to be the target of your subsequent shooting, you can then use the Sun Shark's Missile Pod and pair of one-use only Seeker Missiles to do some decent damage to vehicles or monstrous creatures. Given that it also has a Networked Markerlight which it can use to boost its own Ballistic Skill or that of another unit, this gives the Sun Shark a lot of use even after its bombs have (potentially) dried up. That it also carries a pair of Interceptor Drones armed with twin-linked ion rifles is a great bonus, given they can 'disembark' despite the Sun Shark being a Zooming flyer; interestingly, they can Turbo Boost like Jetbikes, and with Interceptor and Skyfire, they are decently potent anti-flyer weapons at medium ranges. The ability to Over-charge their weapons to fire potent small blasts makes up for their low Ballistic Skill and provides some nasty additional anti-infantry firepower to the Sun Shark's array, though they also work well in conjunction with the Networked Markerlight, Seeker Missile and Missile Pod carried by the bomber to combat other fliers. Overall, I think the Sun Shark is a pretty strong flier that definitely shines ahead of the comparable Dark Talon from Codex: Dark Angels, and its firepower against fliers is almost as effective as a Razorshark for only a minimal cost increase.

Longstrike - The only named character that isn't in the HQ section, Longstrike is an interesting addition to one of your Hammerheads; though he does jack the price up considerably, the advantages are undeniable. Between Ballistic Skill five, Tank Hunters combined with a Strength 10 AP 1 weapon with a 72" range, Night Vision and the ability to Overwatch multiple times in any given enemy assault phase with the same Supporting Fire special rule that Tau Infantry possess, Longstrike is an effective addition to the crew of a Hammerhead Tank - particularly given that destroying his Hammerhead doesn't award any bonus victory points. As a sweet bonus, Longstrike also grants Preferred Enemy (Imperial Guard) to his Hammerhead, making him a very handy option against the legions of Leman Russ and Chimera variants the Imperial forces employ. I think that he is worth the points, but only if you have them spare; he is a third of the cost of another Hammerhead, and such a consideration is important to note in games below 2000 points where you typically want to spread your points out across multiple units. Nonetheless, a Strength 10 AP 1 weapon that hits on a +2 from across the board and re-rolls failed armour penetration rolls is absolutely brutal and well worth your time.

Funny Tricks

Pretty much this.
Infiltrating Riptide - Here's a mind-sizzler for you; grab a Riptide, kitted out however you want on the proviso that it sports at least one drone. Given that Drones count as additional squad members, this thus allows Independent Characters to - laughably - attach to the Riptide's "unit". One character in particular forms an exceptional combo with the Riptide - Commander Shadowsun - and for reasons that may not be immediately obvious. Ok, did you know that Stealth and Shrouded benefit the entire unit as long as just one model has those special rules, much like Infiltrate? Now, remember that Shadowsun has all three special rules. Think on it. Whilst these can be applied almost anywhere else for incredible effect, the fact remains that a Toughness six, five wound monstrous creature with a probable +2 cover save (in any kind of cover) with a +2 armour or +5 invulnerable save to fall back on is, to put it simply, ludicrous. As long as Shadowsun doesn't take more Drones than the Riptide, she uses its Toughness of six for majority Toughness too. Infiltrate them forward and bring the (fusion) pain to enemy vehicles, as well as an Ion Accelerator or Heavy Burst Cannon, then use Shadowsun's Warlord trait to jump back 3D6 inches in the assault phase. You know your opponents will hate you. Similar, though less effective, tactics can be used in regards to O'Shovah and the Riptide owing to Farsight's 'no scatter on deep strike' Warlord trait.

Farsighted Alpha Strike - Going off of the last sentence of my previous trick, another one that has exposed itself revolves around the guaranteed Warlord trait Farsight sports - no scatter on deep strike for his unit and himself. Though there is no potential for reserve manipulation in the Tau codex itself, this is still a nasty and reliable tactic to employ; it can provide a devastating early alpha strike provided you run Farsight with a balanced unit able to engage multiple targets effectively. This lends itself well either to a standard Crisis team or - if the points allow and you are prepared to take the massive risk - the potentially seven-strong Crisis bodyguard Farsight can take, and giving them all target locks and a range of fusion blasters, plasma rifles, flamers and the like. This allows the unit to potentially destroy multiple vehicles, small squads and significantly wound even monstrous creatures all at once in a single fell swoop. Then, in the assault phase, use their Jetpack move to space them out to reduce their vulnerability to blast weapons, and to move away from potentially threatening units at close range; still, Farsight is deadly enough in combat that many enemies may reconsider charging the unit. This is a very risky unit and tactic to use, but a potentially very rewarding one that owing to the perfect deep strike and availability of melta and plasma weapons can devastate several targets very quickly.

Eat Ion - All ion weaponry, even those carried by Interceptor Drones and Pathfinders, can be over-charged to fire Strength eight (or higher) AP four (or better) small or large blasts that can reave light vehicles, multiple wound Infantry such as Tyranid Warriors, and even regular Infantry like Dire Avengers or Tactical Marines with brutal efficiency. Given how cheap Ion weapons are, and the fact that they can also be used to fire a lot of high Strength shots at vehicles and elite Infantry if you don't over-charge them, this makes Ion weapons incredibly versatile and, like anything, brutal when combined with Markerlights to ignore cover or hit more reliably. Given that Pathfinders can take three Ion Rifles even in a minimum sized squad, you can and should abuse these weapons as much as you can. Just be aware of the risks - all of them have Gets Hot when over-charged!


"My Pulse Carbine seems a bit stronger nowadays..."
I'm liking the look of the codex so far. There's a lot of cool tricks to be played, and the wide range of force multipliers and sheer firepower available throughout the codex is staggering, to say the least. I'm really excited to delve into the new book - owing to my recent family struggles, I will be taking more time on this review than before, though that is also partly due to the depth inherent in a number of units, particularly Crisis Teams. The Vespid and Kroot units look quite a bit better from what I can tell, and I get the strong impression that the new units are going to provide a nice buffer for what is a majorly improved - but perhaps not redesigned - codex. I hope you enjoyed these initial impressions; stay tuned for my full review, beginning with the army special rules and HQs, in the next few days. Also, for those curious about the mighty Riptide, I've commissioned one for my buddy Mr Jax to build....you can hear his thoughts about it tomorrow. Have a good day all!


  1. Outstanding article, as usual! I throughly enjoy everything I have read from you, so please keep it up, Learn2Eel.

    One small note, I don't think that FWs + Fireblade can get 52 shots at 15" unless there is also an Ethereal with the +1 shot at half range ability.... still, as you pointed out, 52 S5, BS5 shots can be devastating to MEQs, GEQs, TEQs, and even Monstrous Creatures ;)

  2. Nice review! What do you think of the newly improved Shadowsun? She seems like a badass!

    Also, the Riptide, while it will likely always take the Drones, doesn't actually need them to be joined by an MC. Just having the option to buy them in the first place is enough, as its not technically a single model unit. I wish they really had a 'Solo' character tag or something for those guys...