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The Tiger Roars
Guest Commentary: Legionis Tacticum
Tactical articles

Legionis Tacticum: Tau Empire  by Mike Somerville
Tau can unleash the most firepower of any army in the game.  However, there is a downside: they are the absolute worst army in close combat.  If they are in an assault, they have just lost.  The Tau Empire also has the most ridiculous vehicle upgrades of any race, as we will see further in the article.  As a final note in this section, markerlights kick ass.

A Brief Overview of the Tau Empire
The two key elements of a Tau list are firepower and mobility.  The Tau player has lots of options to get plenty of both.  Below, I will outline the basic strengths and weaknesses of the different units in the Tau Empire Codex.  What I will not be discussing today is the Farsight Breakaway Faction.

Commander.  Well, one is mandatory, so you have to take one.  I recommend the more expensive, as it has a higher BS, 1 more Wound, Attack, and Leadership.  As for the myriad of weapon options and wargear choices, I will discuss Crisis Suit weapons in a separate section.  Speaking of Crisis Suits, they have gotten a major kick to the knees due to true line of sight (LoS).  No longer can they leap out from behind cover, fire all of their guns, and then leap back out of LoS in most situations.

Ethereal.  There is a lot of debate as to whether or not the Ethereal is a good choice for an army.  The Ethereal has upsides and downsides.  On the up, he allows you to re-roll any Morale tests (keep in mind that it does not just read any failed Morale tests, so you can re-roll successful ones, if you want to fail). On the downside, if the Ethereal falls, every Tau unit must take a Morale test or fall back; Tau are not known for their Leadership.

Fire Warriors.  Even though one unit is required, you should definitely take as many as you can.  These are the core damage-dealers of the Tau force.  If you are playing a mechanized list, they should all be in Devilfish transports.

Kroot.  (sigh) Kroot are not good.  I know there are people out there who claim I am incorrect.  They give me stories about how this one time their Kroot squad totally saved the game.  Well, if you are playing solely against crappy opponents, this may be the case.  I have played many games against Tau, and every time I see Kroot deployed, I smile to myself.  I have never come close to losing to an army that contains Kroot, ever.  Put the points into more Fire Warriors.

Crisis Suit Teams.  Good, but not great.  See the section on Crisis Suit layouts.

Stealth Suits.  Stealth Suits are more points than Crisis Suits, have a shorter range, and less-powerful weaponry.  The fact that they have to get so close to be remotely effective makes them a poor choice for Tau.  You simply do not want to get that close to the enemy.


Stealth Suits: some folks like them. I don't. Your results may vary.

Gun Drone Squadrons.  These are neat, but they suffer because they cannot use the markerlight rules.

Pathfinders.  A key unit, you should have at least two in every list you build.  Their contribution is the mighty markerlight (keep reading for more on the virtues of markerlights).

Piranhas.  This is the Tau’s version of the Land Speeder.  The downside is that they are open-topped.  If you plan on facing a lot of armor, go ahead and take a squadron, but I think any list can do very well without them.

Vespid.  This is the unit that caused the buzz when the codex first arrived.  The Vespid carry the neutron blaster, a S: 5 AP: 3 Assault 1 12" range weapon.  At first, this seems to be the perfect weapon for killing Marines.  It could be, but due to the short range, it will not be good for killing anything but a 5-member or less squad that is out in the open and not in cover.  If even one Marine survives, you are likely to lose an entire Vespid unit.  Did I mention only a 12" range?  You are better off using the points elsewhere, like on more Crisis Suits with plasma rifles.

Broadside Suits.  These are heavily armed, with a twin-linked railgun, and they can have a smart missile system.  Their drawbacks are that they are relatively slow and a bit expensive.

Hammerhead.  When adorned with the myriad of amazing wargear items, these tanks are awesome.

SkyRay.  A great tank.  It can fire its own seeker missiles, at potentially two targets a turn.  Capital.

Incredible Vehicle Upgrades
The Tau have the most ridiculous vehicle upgrades, with a low point cost vs. their horrid efficacy.  I will outline the three most effective.  I would also like to mention that all of the below are 10 points or less.

  • Targeting Array: +1 Ballistic Skill
  • Disruption Pod: If a firer is more than 12" away from the vehicle, the Tau vehicle counts as obscured.  That's right, 4+ cover save.
  • Multi-Tracker: The vehicle now fires as if it were a fast vehicle.
Crisis Suits
Easily the source of the most confusion among, well, everyone. The options presented here are incredibly numerous.  Firstly, Crisis Suits have three hardpoints, which can be filled with either a weapon system or a support system per hardpoint.  Some Crisis Suits can also get wargear and special issue weapons.

Let’s take a brief look at the weapons of the Crisis Suit. First, the normal weapons:

  • Plasma Rifle: S 6, AP 2, 24", Rapid Fire
  • Fusion Gun: S 8, AP 1, 12", Assault 1, Melta
  • Missile Pod: S 7, AP 4, 36", Assault 2
  • Burst Cannon S 5, AP 5, 18", Assault 3
  • Flamer: S 4, AP 5, Template, Assault 1
Note: if you buy two of the same weapon, it counts as one twin-linked gun.  Never do this.

…and now the special issue weapons (meaning one per army)

  • Air-bursting Fragmentation Launcher: S 4, AP 5, G 18", Assault 1, Large Blast, No Cover
  • Cyclic Ion Blaster: S 3, AP 4, 18", Assault 5 (rolls "to wound" of 6 are AP 1).  Note that this is NOT rending.
There are also battle suit support systems; the best are outlined below:
  • Multi-Tracker: You can fire two weapons per turn! FTW.
  • Target Lock: Fire at two different units!
  • Positional Relay: Allows you to forgo all other reserve rolls in order to bring in one unit on a 2+.
I have read many, many, many arguments for different Crisis Suit builds, but I assert that the best build (i.e., highest kill-to-cost ratio) is burst cannon, missile pod, and multi-tracker.  A unit of three of these Crisis Suits comes out to 150 points.

The Mighty, Mighty, Markerlight
This is the key component of a successful Tau empire army.  Markerlights are used solely to stack the odds of killing things into the favor of the Tau player.  Every time an enemy unit is hit by a markerlight (which it receives no cover save against, mind you) it gets a counter beside it.  When a Tau unit wishes to fire on the lit-up enemy unit, it can use one of the following per markerlight hit (keep in mind that most of these are cumulative):

  • Fire a seeker missile from an eligible vehicle, at BS 5;
  • Give the firing unit +1 BS (max BS 5);
  • Apply a -1 modifier to a unit’s subsequent Pinning test (max, Auto-Pin!);
  • Apply a -1 modifier to any cover saves the unit may take (can negate saves altogether); or, 
  • Allow a firing unit to ignore the effects of Night-Fighting.
Caveat: Markerlights do not benefit from the effects of other markerlights.

Objectives of a Tau Empire Army
The objective of a Tau army is to systematically eliminate and cripple your opponent’s maneuverability, fire base, and close combat ability.  Another objective is to avoid close combat while being able to bring superior firepower to bear.  The army works by having every unit working together. 

The key to this is to stack the odds against a target unit by using markerlights.  Pick two units (or three if you have three Pathfinder squads) and then use the markerlight hits to either raise Ballistic Skill, negate cover saves, or both.  The combination of Pathfinders and Fire Warriors/Crisis Suits should be enough for you to win any potential firefights by virtue of mathematics (I will skip the lengthy MathHammer).  Use your Hammerheads and Crisis Suits to remove heavy and light vehicles, respectively.  After those are done, focus on other threats.  Mastering this is a matter of in-game experience, for which no kind of tactica is a substitute.

Mechanized Tau
The Tau have a ton of different builds, however, most of them are ineffective at best.  The true contender is Mechanized Tau. Let’s rock out a standard mechanized list.

  • Shas'el w/ missile pod, burst cannon, multi-tracker, and hard-wired target lock (80 points)
  • 2 Bodyguards w/ missile pod, burst cannon, multi-tracker, and hard-wired target lock (130 points)
  • 3 XV8 Crisis Suits w/ missile pod, burst cannon, and multi-tracker (160 points)
  • 3 XV8 Crisis Suits w/ missile pod, burst cannon, and multi-tracker (160 points)
  • 12 Fire Warriors (120 points)
  • 12 Fire Warriors (120 points) 
  • 12 Fire Warriors (120 points); Devilfish w/ disruption pod (85 points)
  • 12 Fire Warriors (120 points); Devilfish w/ disruption pod (85 points)
  • 8 Pathfinders w/ Shas'ui, bonding Knife (111 points); Devilfish w/ disruption pod (85 points)
  • 8 Pathfinders w/ Shas'ui, bonding Knife (111 points); Devilfish w/ disruption pod (85 points)
  • Hammerhead w/ railgun, disruption pod, burst cannons (155 points) 
  • Hammerhead w/ railgun, disruption pod, burst cannons (155 points) 
Army total: 1882

Season to taste to fill out or remove points.


Some of Patrick Eibel's Tau: Crisis Suits, Devilfish, Hammerheads, and Kroot

What to Watch Out For
There are some kinds of lists that will give you a bit of a headache.  Obviously, you want to be weary of Chaos armies with Lash of Submission (aka “Lash lists”): they will group your Crisis Suits, move them out of cover, and then ordnance them to death.  Space Marines will cause you trouble, especially Deep Striking Terminators: one well-placed heavy flamer can completely annihilate one of your infantry units. Also, watch out for Drop Pod spam.  Horde armies may have so many bodies that you are may be unable to handle them all, but with good allocation of resources, you should be all right.

Conclusion
The Tau are powerful, but incredibly difficult to master.  They have virtually zero close-combat ability, so maintaining a safe distance is a must in most cases.  They have the ability to shred other armies quickly, and are more resilient to return fire than Eldar or Dark Eldar.  Like other armies, the key to getting good with Tau is to practice.  If you are a beginning player, be prepared to lose a lot (something on the order of 70% of your initial games). After that baptism of fire, you will know what you’re doing, and can savor your numerous victories. 
 

Related Pages
Introduction to the series
Other articles in this series
 

Posted October 2009. Used with permission.
 

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Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle