Tau got a few new units with the 7E codex; the Ghostkeel and Stormsurge have held most people’s attention, but though they may be hiding in the background Breachers can be surprisingly useful. Click below to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Breacher Teams are essentially just another weapon-swap option for Fire Warrior units (now called Strike Teams); they have an identical statline and nearly-identical wargear and options, with the only difference being the gun they carry and a few other small details. Now, a different gun can obviously make for a very different unit when on the offense, but defensively you’ll find them to be almost exactly like the Fire Warriors of old.
Their statline is standard Tau- threes almost across the board (most relevantly in Toughness and Ballistic Skill), dipping down to twos for the close combat stats. They come with 4+ armor, which is passable enough and can sometimes shrug off a surprising amount of damage, and Leadership 7- so chances are as soon as they have to make a test, they are gonna book it.
Breachers are touted in their fluff as a close-range brawling unit and perform this role reasonably well; few units in the game can hit as hard as they can at short ranges, point-for-point. However, if you fail to kill your target you can expect to get immediately assaulted and killed, so there is definitely some caution involved.
Special Rules and Wargear
The main feature of Breachers are their weapons, the Pulse Blaster. The gun is superficially similar to a Pulse Carbine (and, indeed, looks a lot like one on the model) and at most ranges it functions as one; their big gimmick is that the weapon’s statline changes depending on which range “band” you are in, sort of like a reversed version of a Conversion Beamer. It always fire two shots and has a maximum range of 15″, at which distance it is S4 AP-. At 10″ or less the gun is instead S5 AP5, and at 5″ or less it is S6 AP3- an absolute beating if you can get in for it.
So at most ranges a Pulse Blaster is as good as a Pulse Carbine (minus the Pinning) but at very short ranges it becomes far more effective, cutting most MCs and MEQs to pieces with ease. The trick for Breachers, then, is to get delivered to this range without dying and their usefulness to you will depend on your proficiency in doing that.
Breachers also come with a Field Relay Amplifier; this does nothing on its own, but if they are in a squad with a Guardian Drone, it improves the save they receive from it to a 5++. Like other Tau basic troops, they come with Defensive Grenades and the Supporting Fire rule, which gives them a modicum of protection against assaulters.
Breacher Squads can be taken in units of five to ten, giving them a slightly smaller cap than a Strike Team; however, with the need to get as many models as possible within 5″ to take advantage of their weapons, this lower size is not really much of an issue. They also have all of the same upgrade options available to the Strike Squads- Shas’ui for +1 Leadership and drones, DS8 support turret, EMP Grenades, Devilfish, etc. The only option I would consistently purchase would be the Devilfish, which they need to be able to get close to the enemy- the support turret mandates sitting still to use it (which Breachers don’t want to do) and the Shas’ui just isn’t cost-efficient enough to be worthwhile, though taking him for the 5++ gimmick might be cute. EMP Grenades are worth considering, but not being able to assault out of a Devilfish means you will rarely be alive to use them.
So what do we actually do with Breacher Teams? Well, as discussed before they have to get close to the enemy to function effectively; this means we can either use them offensively (as a “spearhead” unit that moves aggressively towards the enemy) or defensively (as a “shield” unit that deters the enemy from coming too near us or punishing them if they do.)
The former usage wants to be part of a mobile force that can skirt the edges of the enemy’s line, striking at a weak point and eliminating everything in the area. This is a key factor with Breachers- you need to wipe out everything near you, not just the one target, and it is often the trickiest part of using them. Mobility helps a lot here both for the Breachers themselves (by getting them near the enemy) but also for your other units (to let you split up and move around the table so as to force your enemy to split up their own forces if they want to chase you.) Supporting Fire can provide some limited protection, but it won’t typically cause enough casualties to allow you to stop charges dead, and unlike Strike Teams you can’t hide behind your Devilfish while unloading, as you really do need to be right up on top of the enemy to do meaningful damage.
The defensive use is often more helpful; in this role, the Breacher Team(s) are a smaller component in a Tau force and act as your last-ditch defense against an enemy that has gotten too close. Rather than seeking to section off part of the enemy and eliminate them, the Breachers here are looking to wait until the enemy gets on top of you (either about to make a charge or having already done so and wiped out a unit) and then unload and hopefully vaporize their target. The advantage here is that, compared to most of your other types of firepower Breachers are very efficient, so you can sink most of your points into longer-range weapons that wear the enemy down as they close and then finish things off with the Breachers as they reach your lines. This version can occasionally function on foot or from a fortification (often with an Escape Hatch), since you have more control over where their target will be by virtue of the positioning of your army.
I’ve alluded to it a number of times, but a Devilfish for your Breacher Team to ride in is almost mandatory; with their extraordinarily-short range, Breachers need some extra way to get in close with the enemy so their guns are effective. The different between AP5 and AP3 is enormous, and even against those 2+ save models the S6 really can help a lot as well- it even can do a number on light vehicles.
A couple of formations have notable benefits for Breacher Teams, namely the Counterstrike Cadre and Hunter Cadre. The former lets them reroll all misses against targets within 3″ of an objective, which can free up your Markerlights to focus on other targets (or let you use them for Ignores Cover.) The formation requires everyone to take a Devilfish, but you were going to anyways so who cares? The Hunter Cadre, being a Core choice for the Hunter Contingent, not only gives you the Combined Fire benefit (making for an easy BS4 upgrade simply by having their Devilfish and its Gun Drones shoot along with them) but also lets units within 12″ of your Commander first Run and then make a normal shooting attack, which is a good way to guarantee that the whole unit makes it to within 5″ for the good profile on their weapons.
However, the unit is not without its weakneses- in fact, they are manifold. With T3, a 4+ save, and Ld7, Breachers will usually die or run away at the first sign of trouble and as Tau their abysmal combat stats will eternally be their downfall. More importantly, however, Breachers can only function at point-blank ranges, so they tend to often only get one good turn of shooting per game before the enemy kills them or maneuvers away. With so many things in the game being so fast these days (Thunderwolves, Warp Spiders, flyers, etc) Breachers sadly have very little place in a competitive Tau army, though they might occasionally see use as filler troops.
Breachers are a reasonably-useful, if not exceptional, troop choice. For mechanized Tau armies that need solutions to close combat and that don’t want to take lots of Riptides or Stormsurges, they can do a very passable job in that arena.