Left of Arc #11 – Tau, the continuance

Today’s post continues my journey with Games Workshop and the Tau Empire.  The last post talked about how it introduced me to the hobby and my general excitement at it all.  This post reflects on some if the key aspects of the Tau, but set against GWs publication trend, and the beginning of my disinterest.

Tau, renowned for being paper-thin in close combat, but ridiculous at range.  I am, of course, talking about their railguns, one of the best heavy weapons in the game.  Regardless of whether a player has heard of them or experienced them, they will never underestimate their lethality once a hit has landed.  Later additions of the Tau codex picked up on the maths that a greater number of dice is usually better, and so gave Tau players more heavy weapon choices, such as missile barrages.  However, it’s rare for a Tau player not to seriously consider taking at least one railgun, and it’s an absolute must for large games.

My experience with railguns was, ironically, somewhat hit and miss.  I experimented with the railgun tank and full battlesuit squads.  The tank looked cool and had an imposing presence on the table, but you had one dice to land a hit, miss and it was probably bye-bye-time for the expensive tank.  Battlesuit squads, on the other hand, had gear options allowing the player a To-Hit reroll which was would often be the deciding factor in the game.  Unfortunately, as the years rolled by and players from the rest of the GW community (i.e. Space Marine and Imperial Guard players) complained about the one decent heavy weapon the Tau had, GW eventually did some nerfing.  The tank became the only unit to field the classic full powered railgun, but yet had no means to reroll a failed hit – although I understand that this has only just changed… 15 years later…  The battlesuits would field a ‘light railgun’, i.e. a long-ranged meltagun, but hey, we could take missile barrages instead… yay(?)…  Space Marines, on the other hand… well, just what the hell are ‘Grav’ weapons anyway!?

Fortunately, GW was kind enough not to mess with the battlesuits jump-shoot-jump ability, although there were slight nerfs to this along the way (I’ve no idea what the current version looks like, but I’m not overly hopeful).  This was meant to optimise the Tau’s doctrine of mobile warfare, moving from cover to rain bloody hell on a target to then jump back into cover before the enemy could react.  Brutal!  For one story though, back in the glory days of 3rd/4th Edition rules, my force was suddenly threatened by the appearance of a Khorne Bloodthirster. So my juiced-up squad of battlesuits jumped from cover to meet the threat and attempted to blast it back to the warp.  ‘Some’ hits landed but only caused a wound.  Filling their undercrackers, the battlesuits fell back behind cover and waited for the inevitable.  The Bloodthister came after them and slaughtered the entire unit.  However, it was left exposed and within the ‘whites-of-their-eyes’ range of my Tau gun line.  A full squad of Firewarriors opened up and did the job the battlesuits couldn’t.  My opponent wasn’t impressed that lowly infantry felled his prized unit.  I, on the other hand, was delighted as I wiped the sweat from my forehead!

And that story moves me neatly onto the Tau’s strengths, Fire Warriors.  Depending on the size of the game and the threat I was facing, I would either take 3 to 4 full squads of Fire Warriors (12 warriors all armed with pulse rifles) or 3 to 4 squads of 10 Fire Warriors.  Everything else was optional.  The range, relative strength of the pulse rifle, the double or sometimes triple tapping of the shooting phase, made for very difficult choices on how to approach combating the Tau.  I would often employ the leap-frog tactic if I needed to advance – one squad stays put and shoots whilst the other moves up – or use my battlesuits to shoot-and-scoot, trying to entice the enemy forward.  It didn’t always work and photon grenades quickly became standard kit.  This was an effort to try and limit devastating close combat – although my Fire Warriors did manage to beat seven shades out of an Eldar Exarch Bike squad and survive…  As for the Firew Warriors other weapon choices, I never saw a place for the short-ranged pulse carbines or the Breachers with their fancy multi-ranged pulse blasters.  Why would I sacrifice range when my troops would typically get mauled in a fistfight?  I figured, use the Fire Warriors for what they’re best at, withering ranged firepower.

During the 5th Edition era, I kept expanding my troops and battlesuit options but also looked to collect Human Auxiliaries and Kroot.  I had a fairly good strategy when it came to playing Tau, but I wanted to use the fluffy rules (the Forgeworld and fan-made ones, anyway) to have a bit more fun and mix and match playstyles.  It turns out that collecting an entire Kroot army was too damned expensive, particularly the heavy support choices of the KrootOx, so they never saw much playtime.  The Human Aux was fun to collect and I tried to make a mechanised company with Leman Russ support, but by the time I had finished collecting them, again because of the expense, I was nearing the end of my time with Games Workshop.

What I did enjoy collecting, however, were the Forgeworld battlesuits, particularly the XV-89 Iridium armour suit and the XV-9 close support suit.  I had great fun tweaking them and putting them on the table, especially the XV-9 as it had an imposing presence!  Unfortunately, the only had a few outings as the games I played changed in nature – either towards campaign play, or one-off suffering cheese players.

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