Codex: Tau Empire – A Review

It’s that time again boys and girls. So the Tau have had a badly needed shake up and got themselves a couple of new models and a shiny new book for their trouble.

First of all, the cover is absolutely spectacular. It’s quite possibly the coolest we’ve ever seen a crisis suit.

Tau Codex

Secondly it’s also the best looking Codex of the new wave. The inlay is made of thicker stock but it’s still a little on the cheap side and the fold out was straight this time, but they’re still a pain in the arse and impossible to keep nice because GW aren’t printing that page on undersized A3. And there’s still bloody typos! It started promisingly enough but the further I got into the book they started cropping up. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; it’s really very poor form for Games Workshop to charge what they do and not thoroughly check their work.

But anyway, the book is undeniably beautiful and for the first time ever, interesting. I worked for the Games Workshop when the first Tau Codex came out and I blew my lousy keytimer wage on as much Tau stuff that I possibly could. I was swept up in new army fever and before I knew it I had a 3,500 point army – some of it painted – before I realised that the Tau were just a little bit bland. Fantastic army, but I just couldn’t get excited about them and it wasn’t long before they were at the bottom of my considerable stack of figure cases.

So lack lustre was my interest in Tau that I never got around getting the second iteration of the Codex – and the first to be called Tau Empire. Indications are that I haven’t missed much. This new Codex however feels very well-rounded and cohesive. For the first time I feel like that I understand the Tau, their place in the galaxy and their ambitions. And, more importantly, for the first time ever I give a shit.

It’s hard to explain but it’s just interesting. It’s perhaps down to the writing – shoddy proof reading aside – but it’s a surprisingly engaging background. Normally, being a life long Space Marine player, I get mildly indignant when I read in a non-Imperial Codex of the Imperium getting its arse handed to it. With the Tau it didn’t bother me in the slightest. Maybe it’s because the Tau are all so dead huggy about everything. Or maybe it was written without the usual unconscious bias towards the Imperium that Codices usually have.

That said the whole alien auxiliary thing is still massively wooly and I suspect down played because Games Workshop, despite rumours to the contrary, were not updating or releasing any new alien auxiliary units. Which makes me ask the question: why have them at all? The Kroot are fine albeit an acquired taste but the Vespid are shit, being massively overshadowed by the other units available under Fast Attack. And they’re still the only two units in the army and both lack Supporting Fire which is so incredibly handy you’d be mad not to field Tau units. Although is it me or would human auxiliaries make sense? They could have done a conversion kit to Tau-ify Cadian kits. Again, I suppose not worth the investment especially when customers can just buy a box of guard and a box (or two) of Fire Warriors.

The army list itself has had quite a few tweaks with no real additions other than the Riptide. It’s a beast of a model and can pack quite a wallop but be warned, it’s not as tough a nut to crack as it first appears as there’s about fourteen different ways for it to blow itself up. Mainly through the use of Ion weapons which GW have tried hard to make them worth taking with the overcharge function. Unfortunately it’s just not worth it when the standard firing modes are plenty good enough – basically a turbocharged autocannon – and only against horde armies would the overcharge ever be worth it – assuming you don’t blow your own arm off in the process as they Get Hot. And even then poses just too great a risk for the points investment. But despite all that it’s still immensely cool and I’ll probably have to get one just so I can paint it up as Optimus Prime. Because everyone knows Tau are Autobots and Necrons are Decepticons…

But moving on…

There’s now an abundance of Drones, the Tau Empire taking their lead from iPhone ads that must have only just reached their communication network – co-opting as they have Apple’s ethos so they have a Drone for that. This is by no means a grumble on my part as I love Drones. I had to big units in my army of old as between their twin linked carbine and toughness and initiative of 4 they were not only decent at shooting but not bad in a fight either. The variety is sensible and in line with the Tau’s ever-expanding understanding of technology, with certain drones only being available to certain units to augment what would otherwise be a staggering weakness in the theatre of war.

They may, however, have over egged the pudding slightly with Pathfinders, however, because they’re just sick. Awesomely so if you’re a Tau player but so much so that anyone I meet that doesn’t have at least one unit of Pathfinders in their Tau army I will openly mock. And why? Well, for a start they can take Pulse Accelerator Drones increase the range of any pulse weapons by 6″, boosting the carbine range to 24″ which for a strength 5, AP4, assault 2 weapon with Pinning is utterly horrendous. And all for 15 points for the unit. And that’s not including the drones that the Sha’ui can take. Or drones like the Gravity Wave Drone which can slow down an assaulting unit. And if you’re feeling really flush, chuck Darkstrider in there and all you non-vehicle opponents are at -1 toughness. So Space Marines are suddenly being wounded on 2’s from 24″ away with 20 shots from a full squad, a turn. Anything Toughness 3 gets instant killed. Dreadknights and Wraithlords suddenly aren’t so tough any more. Oh yes, Pathfinders are awesome. And that’s without looking at the other handy-dandy stuff like markerlights, rail rifles – which are awesome – and ion rifles – which are kinda awesome but I prefer rail rifles.

But we can’t have it all ways. The rumour that you could take Crisis suits as troop choices was untrue so gamers will be forced to buy either Fire Warriors which are starting to look a little dated with the shonky detailing on most of the legs, and the fairly inflexible poses, or Kroot which force you into a very specific way of playing. All I can see happening, is gamers buying a single Fire Warrior squad and splitting it into two 6 model units and blowing the rest of their points on the cool shit.

Granted, the Tau army list does encourage a mutually supportive structure but when the main troop choice not only lacks modelling options but load out options as well it’s not all that inspiring and your mind turns to ways of making them all but irrelevant – and with Pathfinders being pimp and all the other units in the game being slightly more awesome than they were in the past it’s not hard. But I suppose it comes down to something I’ve noticed with the all the latest army books and codices; Games Workshop want you to buy as much as possible rather than give you the flexibility within units to do some interesting stuff with a simple conversion. So actually however you choose to collect the army you’re either spending loads on Fire Warriors because there’s not much choice, or buying all the other stuff because you’d rather chew off your own arm than field dozens of the dome headed bastards in your force.

It’s a shame as the Fire Warriors as a unit are awesome, especially with the right use of Drones, Fire Cadre and Devilfish and there’s no denying their combat effectiveness, I just wish the sculpting on the legs was better and the arms not annoying. It’s equally disappointing that the Crisis suit kits weren’t redone but I’m just going to head over to Forge World. Yes it means paying a tenner more per suit but they’re just vastly superior kits.

Codex: Tau Empire is in my opinion the strongest codex to date. Aside from the background being brilliant, the army list reflects it faithfully. The greater emphasis on Drones alongside a more robust feel to the Broadside and the improvements with Pathfinders highlighting the new dangers the Tau face beyond their borders. It’s far too special rule heavy though, literally every unit in the book having something that would make their mothers proud of and it doesn’t always feel necessary. It’s just one more thing that’ll start arguments and slow down play until you learn them all. Some, I admit, are completely justified, others not so much.

To be honest I’m totally sold on the Tau. The variety in the army list allows for some fairly unique armies, beyond the stale core force, and, aside from the awesome design, the flyers in the Tau army feel like the serve a purpose as opposed to the Dark Angels one that felt like a bolt on. Presumably so they wouldn’t feel left out in the cold when Codex: Space Marines comes out in a few weeks time.

It’s not a perfect book, or a perfect army – the characters seem too cheap, the Vespid too dear and the hammerhead way too cheap for its destructive potential and again, the sheer volume of special rules makes my mind leak from my ears but, despite, all that, they’re finally an exciting army with real challenge to forming a force as well as a real challenge to use and face on the board.

Codex: Tau Empire is available from Firestorm Games priced £27 and the Tau range is available from £10.80

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4 thoughts on “Codex: Tau Empire – A Review

  1. Thanks for the review. I’m actually interested Tau for the first time in ages. They were my first army and my 4th BFG fleet, but 4th ed and then Tau Empire caused me to put them away.

    I’m repeatedly amazed by gamers’ use of vespids. They’re expensive, point-costly, and easily squished. Kroot were soft, but at least they were cheap and fun to throw in large formations.

    I’m still confused by the Riptide. XV8 Battlesuits can be used in larger cheap groups and throw out devastating firepower. Hammerheads can deal serious damage soak up fire. What does the Riptide bring to the table?

    1. Riptides can be very powerful but point for point Crisis suits will probably serve you better. But a Riptide will draw a lot of fire, take a lot of killing, leaving the rest of your force unharmed. So it’s a 180 point bullet magnet.

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