Friday, June 7, 2013

It's the 'little things'

Well, I've finally done it.  I've finally decided to jump on the Tau bandwagon.  I got a Riptide and suddenly felt like I had everything I wanted for my Tau army.  Of course I want more stuff, but now I have everything I need to bring the army into the 'modern times'.  And I have realized some things while making my army lists.

You see, this army is definitely a 'meta-breaker' for the current edition.  Tau make the flyer-heavy armies weep a bit, bring horde armies to their knees as a matter of course, and even pretty much destroy the concept of close combat for those opponents so inclined.  Some of the most veteran of gamers have found the Tau difficult to manage with their 'normal' armies.  But that doesn't make the Tau unbeatable.  In fact, the Tau have some very distinct weaknesses that a smart opponent can take full advantage of.  It just takes a little bit of thought beforehand and understanding that the armies seen on the battlefields for the last couple of years are exactly what the Tau are designed to take on.

Conversely, Tau players have to be smart about what they take.  The army is not necessarily a 'finesse' army like the Eldars, but they aren't made for the mindless general either.  Funny enough, the most effective Tau army lists are the most 'generic' and basic versions out there.  The army isn't like Eldar or Marines, which both require a modicum (or more) of specialization to be effective.  The Tau army is already specialized (they shoot, and then they shoot some more.  And then they finish off by shooting), and can't really 'stretch' out of that theme.  So the fun with the army comes with making the army lists themselves and enjoying the options.

As I write my army lists, I find all these small details that can really be troublesome (or helpful).  And since I enjoy writing army lists so much already, this particular aspect makes it even more enjoyable.  Needless to say, I have been a happy camper for the last few days.  And hence the point of this blog!  So what are those little things?

Well, let's begin.  I want to start with one that was pointed out to me in an attempt to clarify a rule.  Tau vehicles have the option to carry a Point Defense Targeting Relay.  The upgrade allows the vehicle to fire Overwatch with all weapons of Strength 5 or less, and bestows the 'Supporting Fire' rule upon the tank.  Seems simple, right?  But what about the Drones?  Piranhas and Devilfish have a Burst Cannon attached to the vehicle and so this upgrade is useful.  But a Hammerhead or Skyray, or even the Devilfish if the option is taken, has Drones that are armed with twin-linked Burst Cannons or Pulse Carbines.  Does this upgrade help that?  No, and here's why.  In the 'Drones' section of the codex, it states that Drones are treated as 'embarked passengers'.  The main rulebook states that embarked passengers are allowed to fire at any unit charging the transport they're inside of.  My Tau buddy, who asked me the original question, and I agreed that this upgrade didn't really help those units.  There is a positive effect even for this instance, and that's the 'Supporting Fire' rule.  But it bears noting that most Tau vehicles will have few weapons to take advantage of that rule, and the Drone rules make this upgrade not necessary most of the time.  So save some points!  Spend them on more Fire Warriors...

Let's keep on the Drones.  Notice how there's more Drones?  I'm very happy about that.  I'm surprised that the Heavy Gun Drones didn't make it over from Forgeworld, but the variety is good nonetheless.  Better yet, the Drones became better in two main ways- 1. Gun Drones are now armed with the more effective Pulse Carbine.  The Pulse Carbine is no longer one shot, which a Drone fires at twin-linked BS 2; it's two shots!  That's double the firepower with an 18" gun of goodness.  And, 2. All Drones (of the normal types) are Toughness 4.  This matters hugely for a few reasons.  Atop that list of reasons is that it makes Drone Squadrons actually valuable units.  For arguably too-many points, a unit of Gun Drones or even Shield Drones can be dropped onto the battlefield and irritate Space Marine players everywhere.  After all, Bolters needing '4's' to wound anything that's not a battlesuit can be rather frustrating.  And frustrating the opponent is what any good general likes to do.

But there's something else to consider with that Toughness aspect- the Majority Toughness rule can make things a bit difficult for the Tau player.  You see, adding a couple Drones to a Fire Warrior squad means that those Drones suddenly count as Toughness 3.  Way to pay points for that extra Toughness that you'll rarely get to use!  If you add these 'normal' Drones to a Riptide battlesuit, you'll be limited to only ever taking one Drone.  Otherwise, that awesome 230-point monster is suddenly Toughness 4!  Which means that you'll almost never want to take anything other than the Shielded Missile Drones for the Riptide, since they're Toughness 6 as well.  Hmmm.  But what if you purchase Drones for the Iridium Armour-wearing Commander?  That +1 Toughness suddenly drops again back to Toughness 4!  Again, way to pay 25 points for a 2+ armour save and nothing else.  The moral of all this- Crisis suits and Broadsides are meant to take Drones, everything else will create some conflicts.  Curse you, Majority Toughness rule!

Speaking of the Iridium Amour- want to take a bodyguard squad?  Want to join the Commander to a Crisis team?  Thinking of taking those Drone upgrades?  Please remember that you'll be losing half of the benefit of the Iridium Armour upgrade.  The good thing is that the bodyguard unit has the 'Sworn Protector' rule, which means auto-passing 'Look out, sir!' rolls.  But when that 180-point HQ unit is only Toughness 4 (by majority rule) and can suddenly be insta-gibbed, that almost becomes necessary.  My Commander is seriously thinking of bestriding the battlefield alone and leaving the Drones at home.  In fact, I'm now convinced that a Shield Generator is almost required if I'm going to take the Iridium Armor.  And there goes 50 points...

Speaking of wargear, how about that 'Velocity Tracker' upgrade?  For not too many points at all, a unit of suits can be given the 'Skyfire' rule.  Here's the thing, though:  They get to CHOOSE whether they use Skyfire or not each time they shoot.  This is HUGE since anything with that rule is limited to snap-shooting at ground targets (ahem, Hydra!).  Flakk missiles be damned, the Tau actually mean it when they want to shoot at flyers.  I know this one may be a bit obvious and even taken advantage of, but it's worth mentioning anyway.  Target Lock comes in real handy here, too.

Now what about upgrades to suits again?  Since the release of the Tau way back in October of '01, Crisis Suits have been pretty commonly armed with Plasma Rifle/Missile Pods.  I, of course, followed this trend.  I even built a squad with Plasma Rifle/Burst Cannon, just to get that anti-infantry shooting to the max.  What did you almost never see on a suit's weapon-slots?  Well, the Flamer was super-rare, and the Fusion Gun was close behind.  Out of the five weapons that a Crisis suit had the option to take, it turns out that only three (and really only two) mattered to anyone.  And then the new codex gave a couple of buffs.  Burst Cannons got an extra shot, bringing them up to the level of the Plasma Rifles and Missile Pods.  On top of that, Fusion Guns received a boost in range, up to 18".  WHAT!!!  This is not a 'hidden gem' of the codex, but it made me have to redo one of my units of Crisis Suits.  I was willing to cut the well-glued weapons off my almost 10-year-old models just for that.  Now I have a unit rocking the Missile Pods and Fusion Guns, because...  just wow.  That's all there is to that.

Speaking of suit-weapons and Fusion Guns- what about those Stealth teams?  I have five of the old XV-15 suits (which I admittedly like better anyway), which meant that I never took advantage of the Fusion Gun upgrade.  But I sat back and did a little math-hammer (which you all know I hate) and here's the result:  By new rules, 5 Burst Cannons base should kill almost three Marines a turn (20 shots, 10 hits, 7 wounds, 2+ fails).  Replacing one Burst Cannon with a Fusion Blaster should kill the same amount (16 BC shots, 8 hits, 6 wounds, 2 fails; 1/2 FG hit, 1 wound, 1 dead).  And so I brought the almighty bone-saw out again and chopped one of the models up to slap a Fusion Gun on there.  My thinking is that I don't lose a measurable amount of infantry-killing power (assuming MEQ, of course), but I gain the ability to knock out a tank if needed.  I must admit that I'm a huge fan of the Fusion Guns these days...

I'm actually a bit sad about my Pathfinders.  Yes, I know I just jumped topics on you, but I was done, so keep up!  Anyway, here's the deal:  I bought a unit of Pathfinders (finally) back in '07 and made sure to add the three Rail Rifles.  Back then, Rail Rifles were Str 6, AP 3, and were heavy weapons.  Better, they all came with Target Locks.  So it gave my unit the ability to rock the Markerlights in one direction, and drop at least a marine in another.  Now- well, it's very different.  Rail Rifles are Str 6, AP 1 (!!!), and they're Rapid Fire.  That means the Rail Rifle is a great weapon now, and should scare the pants off those Terminators that sneak up (because that's what Terminators do, they sneak).  However, notice I didn't say anything about 'Target Lock'.  That's right, now the Rail Rifles MUST fire at the same target as the rest of the Pathfinders.  It's not a big thing, but it was one of my go-to tactics that I have to forget about now.  And that makes Jay a little sad.  But, admittedly, only a little.

I was also sad about my Kroot.  I swear that, for years, I was the only Tau player that actually liked Kroot.  I thought they were a fantastic counter-charge unit, as well as a very convenient ambush-from-the-treeline squad.  Plus, their Kroot Rifles gave them basically a Bolter to shoot, as well as an additional Str 4 attack in close combat.  For a unit with no armor and a low toughness, this was important.  But the new book took away the Kroot Rifle's blades, and dropped Kroot to being only Strength 3.  And all this only yielded a 1-point drop in cost.  Boooooo!  And then I kept reading.  And I read that Kroot may be armed with 'Sniper Rounds'.  Wait, so my Kroot can wound monsters, kill characters, and would cost the same as before?  In addition to that, I still have the option to outflank (even better if I have a Hound or five in with the squad) and use the Rapid Fire version?  Yes, please!  It also bears saying that there's nothing in the codex that indicates that Kroot can't take advantage of the Markerlights.  This plus Sniper plus Overwatch goodness, and I'm simply not seeing an issue.  Just remember, though, Kroot are NOT close-combat troops.

I could go into so many more things with this codex.  The wargear options are almost all totally useful, and the amount of options that every unit comes with is crazy when compared with most of the other armies in the game.  Hell, the good weapons in the book have options on how they can fire, even!  I enjoy the mental exercise that is making army lists.  I'm not trying to make the most broken combinations or find the list that works the best, I'm just seeing what kind of fun is to be had with some creative reading.  And, in the process, noticing some traps that someone else may not have noticed.  And for this, I have to thank GW for giving us a great book.  I haven't had this much fun in a while.

And now the Eldar are on the shelves...  Dammit, GW, let me catchup!  Let me know what kind of things you've noticed in the Tau codex yourselves.  Sharing is caring, after all.  :-)

Happy Gaming!


  1. ugh... First they price me out, now they rob me of my enthusiasm. Thanks GW, this is turning into a horrific divorce. Not knocking the article btw Jay. It' top notch and utterly readable as always!

    1. I appreciate that. I wish I were still up there so we could get our good-natured games on. But many miles separate so many smiles...
      I do understand the pricing. I've been VERY priced out for some time now. But I've gone back to work and have budgeted in such a way that I can waste a ridiculous sum on this stuff (ridiculous because of the cost, not anything even remotely near amount of money I can spend). At this point, it's simply about buying some of the really cool new models. Not building armies, and certainly not trying to make anything competitive. Just cool models. For instance, that Riptide I now own will likely never see the table. I don't play that way. But I truly do enjoy staring at that massive robotic monster, and that's the whole point anyway, right? :-)

  2. Great article, can't wait to read more about your Tau

    1. Thanks! It's not going to be anything terribly awe-inspiring, but it's an army that is enjoyable to monkey around with. I plan on doing a bit more, up to and including painting the futuristic-looking doods. Of course pics and posts will follow! :-)

  3. Hey man, your shield/missile drones on the riptide are t6 homie


    1. And riptide can only take missile shield drones.

  4. ...which you on to say in the next sentence.

  5. Hate to publicly proof read but I noticed a few errors. The gun drones always had TL pulse carbines. And don't forget carbines are pinning. Riptides can only take missile/shield drones which are T6.

    On the subject majority toughness just make sure you use less drones than suits and you get the higher toughness. Just don't drown the unit in drones and your good.

    Thr Velocity Tracker is a per model upgrade and the Skyfire rule is applied only to the model, not unit. So if you want a unit of missilesides shooting down birds you have to get that upgrade 3 times. It's worth it, but I don;t think it's cheap.

    Sorry if I am raining on anyone,s parade.

    1. I didn't say anything about carbines not being twin-linked before. It's just that they're better now (more shots). And good call on the pinning.
      That was the entire point of the Drones routine. Don't take more than the suit themselves, or don't expect them to use their T stat in an infantry squad. As far as the T6, yeah, I didn't realize that Riptides can only get that kind. That's okay, it's the best.
      It's not the unit and velocity tracker routine, it's the CHOICE to use skyfire. Normal units can't and therefore are forced to snap fire at ground targets.
      No parades are rained on at all. I actually like criticism. Being right requires actually being right, even if other sources help (and I'm a big fan of learning from others, unlike most 'always gotta be right people'). But you gotta actually read it, man. READ!!! :-P