We go over the various special abilities in the Tau codex common across many units and make sense of them. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and info.
The Tau codex doesn’t have as omnipresent of special rules, universal exceptions, and unique characters as some of the other books (most notably Eldar, Space Marines, and Daemons) do. They don’t get the same kind of blanket immunities that many of the above armies have, nor do they get a lot of special permissions to do things differently on most of their units- what they have instead are a small number of widely-applicable abilities that enhance their primary strategy of shooting as hard as possible.Knowing these abilities isn’t critical to fighting Tau, but it can go a long ways towards mitigating some of their advantages and sneaking out corner cases.
Supporting Fire is one of the most-hated rules in the Tau codex and, admittedly, it can be a bit daunting at times- however, the unreliability of Overwatch in general as well as many other factors mean that a lot of players overestimate its value- it only truly shines when a big group of Tau units are clumped together in one place on foot, which is a situation that often means the Tau player is in a bad situation and/or playing a bad army. However, it certainly can have some value and is most useful in stifling medium-range (6″+) charges as well as discouraging charges of opportunity (at 10″+) to give the army one more turn of shooting before assaults get started.
When a Tau unit is charged, any other units with the Supporting Fire rule that are within 6″ of it can shoot Overwatch as though they were the target of the charge, in the same fashion as a unit that was declaring a multiple assault. The wording on it can be slightly confusing, but this is the functional outgrowth of it. Note that the unit that is being charged does not need to have the Supporting Fire rule itself, and so Kroot and vehicles (which typically do not have it) can be supported by other Tau infantry in the area. Note also that while the units need to be within 6″ of each other, each model that wants to shoot must have the Supporting Fire rule (and hence the need for the slightly more complicated wording.) This Overwatch attach is subject to all of the normal restrictions of such, and so can only be made once per turn, can’t be made while locked in combat, etc.
Since Tau are so critically weak in melee, Supporting Fire gives them a fighting chance against the sort of casual assaults that can often ruin the army- even just a handful of Tactical Marines can be very bad news if they get into fights with some Crisis or Broadsides as they repeatedly Sweep them and then move into a new combat before the Tau have an opportunity to shoot them. However, as noted, it means you have to put your units next to each other to benefit- and Tau much prefer to be hiding behind cover and spread out to mitigate the possibility of multicharges. These are, in fact, your biggest danger when trying to use Supporting Fire- you’ll gain no real benefit from the rule if the enemy charges all of your units anyways, which will be fairly common once they’re in point-blank range.
Remember that when making Supporting Fire attacks, you can choose the order and order is very important. Markerlights, for example, can be used to increase the BS of subsequent units that shoot at the enemy- and even just going to BS2 makes many guns (especially twin-linked ones) much more frightening. You may also want to be selective about your Supporting Fire attacks when the enemy has multiple units that can declare charges- if you can push their charge range out to 11″ or more, it may be worth saving the remainder of your shots for another unit. Finally, remember that you can Support for units that aren’t themselves able to fire Overwatch, such as for a unit locked in combat.
Though Drones themselves are not a special rule, they are subject to a number of unusual conditions that apply only to them. First of all, despite being Jet Pack Infantry they do not have the Bulky special rule and are allowed to embark freely on transports (counting as a single model each.) Second, units composed entirely of Drones are not scoring- but if even a single other non-Drone model is in the unit, the whole unit will score. Finally, Drones do not pay for (or benefit from) squad upgrades such as grenades or Bonding Knives.
Vehicle-mounted Drones deserve a special mention here; they work like passengers, firing out from their vehicle from the location they are physically mounted on the vehicle, but they must shoot the same target that their vehicle does (though they also benefit from any Markerlight abilities the vehicle has used.) These Drones are immediately destroyed if the vehicle they are on is destroyed; otherwise, they can disembark in the normal fashion and act as a wholly independent unit once they get out. Such Drones do not award points for being killed (and in ITC missions will not count for Maelstrom objectives or such either) and thus can be a good distraction, but like all Drone units they will be nonscoring unless you attach a character to them.
One of the new rules added in the 7E codex, the Fire Team rule is fairly simple- it occurs only on vehicles and MCs and if you have three of them in a unit, they all get +1BS when shooting. Typically this won’t come up much, since very rarely do you want to sink for a full 500+pt unit in order to benefit from the rule, but there are occasions when it can be useful (such as in a Riptide Wing or Optimized Stealth Cadre.) Outside of ITC play, using the Combined Fire to take advantage of it can also be a nice trick, but obviously that won’t apply at most tournaments and such. +1BS is a really handy thing to get, but the investment needed to get it is awfully high and can easily leave your army short on units.
Really only worth bringing up because they are mandatory for all Farsight Enclave armies, the Bonding Knife is mostly just garbage gear. It lets a unit with them regroup on normal Leadership value (rather than snake eyes) when they are below 25% numbers- but considering how many hoops you have to jump through to get to that point, it really doesn’t come up much. Your unit has to get shot, and then take enough casualties to check morale and reduce them below 25% (and thus the unit needs to start with 5+ members for it to even be possible) and also not take enough casualties to wipe them all out, and then you fail the actual morale check when you make it but not fall back off the table immediately- and if you manage to do all that, then a Bonding Knife lets you make a roll to see if it matters.
Yeah. Bonding Knives are kinda not very useful.
These are the big one that everyone hates about Tau, and it’s no wonder- Markerlights dramatically increase the power of Tau shooting, and can allow them to get Ignores Cover on any weapon they want. Even Kroot and Vespid can make use of them, for when that matters. Of course, the secret is pretty simple- without Markerlights, a Tau army is just an overpriced Imperial Guard army, so in most cases taking out (or otherwise negating) all sources of Markerlights first thing should be a major priority.
With that said, Markerlights are fantastic. Even just +1BS can make a big difference for many units and the ability to routinely get to BS5 is amazing- however, going higher than that is rarely very effective, unless you have nothing better to do with them. However, getting Ignores Cover is even better because of the ability to get it on any weapon, something most armies can’t do (or at least not reliably.) Both of these abilities are clutch because they allow you to improve the power and reliability of your weapons selectively, focusing your army’s strengths on whatever it is you need on a given turn. You can soup up a Riptide pie plate to kill some Marines one turn and then next turn charge your Fusion Blasters to take out that tank that is causing you trouble; this dynamism can give a Tau force a lot of flexibility when it comes to directing its firepower.The ability to launch Seeker Missiles and Destroyer Missiles with improved profiles are also quite useful, though the latter sees play more often than the former because its effects are unique to it (whereas the Seeker launch can be mimicked by simply spending Markerlights for the normal uses.) It should be noted, especially with regards to the Destroyer Missiles, that these expenditures are in addition to any others the unit is making- so a Markerlight will be needed for each Str D shot that a Stormsurge wants to make.
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