Are we over with overwatch in 9th?

It’s been another great week for 9th edition reveals. While we’ve seen a host of interesting new rules, there is really only one thing to talk about for a T’au player: the changes to overwatch.

Let me make one thing clear before I go on. T’au players should not be salty about this change. We don’t know how the overhaul to overwatch will fit in with 9th edition as a whole. Let’s just hold our horses before making any rash judgments.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with the business of discussing what we know so far about overwatch.

The overwatch ability is now a one command point stratagem. This is, of course, a significant change to the game. And all things considered, I’m okay with it.

First things first, it’ll make the game faster. From what we know so far, I think it’s fair to say that Games Workshop has designed 9th edition to be quicker to play than 8th. The board is smaller, of course, and many rules have been simplified, streamlined, or indeed removed altogether. All of these changes added up could easily take 20 per cent off total game time. I’ve mentioned before how a quicker game will have all sorts of benefits for the community as a whole — from easier-to-organise tournaments to lowering the barrier to entry for new players — so it’s good to see more rules that move the game in this direction.

Next, overwatch in 8th edition takes up too much time when compared to its results. Reece mentioned this in the comments of an article he posted a few days back — indeed, as did a couple of readers in that comments section.

Players roll a whole bunch of dice for each unit that is to be charged. Now, I’m not saying that working out how many shots your Primaris Marines get at rapid fire range takes up a lot of time, but I am saying that if all your lads are going to do is possibly plink off one or two wounds from that charging unit, it probably isn’t worth the hassle.

Again, if the goal is to streamline the game, making overwatch an ability that the player must choose to perform at the cost of a stratagem is a good move.

Those are just a couple of reasons to change the overwatch rule. Of course, there are plenty more, but there is a far more interesting question: how will this affect the T’au?

Everyone knows that a change to the overwatch rules as they stand now will affect T’au players the most. There’s no getting around it: for a T’au Sept T’au army, the overwatch phase was practically a second shooting phase. I won’t go as far as to say it was too good, but it was definitely running right up to the line.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’ll briefly explain why it was so good. The T’au Empire has a rule called For the greater good. If the opponent declares a charge against a T’au unit, all friendly units within 6″ of that unit may fire overwatch in addition to the target unit. Moreover, T’au forces from the T’au Sept hit on 5s in the overwatch phase.

On average dice, then, this gave the T’au player six hits from a Riptide’s heavy burst cannon when charged, and three hits from a Commander’s cyclic ion blasters, and five hits from a Broadside’s missiles — you get the idea.

This was distinctly not fun for many opponents.

I’m certainly not saying that it was silver bullet. There were many ways to get around overwatch in 8th edition. But for some armies it was a real problem, a problem to which there was rarely a solution.

T’au players — indeed, players in general — should have the ability to damage their opponent’s units as they come screaming in to melee range, but it should have costs; it should oblige the player to consider his options carefully before he chooses to unleash a hail of bullets at point blank range. Making overwatch into a stratagem offers this choice to players.

So what will become of the T’au Empire? Well, we can still overwatch — and we can still use the For the greater good special rule. This means that we will be able to bring some of our firepower to bear in the charge phase. We will have to carefully consider each charge that the opponent declares, weighing the trade offs to using our overwatch stratagem here but not there, on this charging unit but not on that one.

And what’s more, T’au Sept armies will still overwatch on 5s. Coupled with For the greater good, this will remain a strong ability — and a strong disincentive for opponents to declare a charge.

While this change negatively affects T’au armies, it shouldn’t be particularly worrisome. T’au players have plenty of tools in the toolbox to deal with the combat phase. From strong defensive measures in the form of Shield Drones to the fly keyword allowing us to disengage, we’re still in a good position. Indeed, if the army were to live and die with overwatch, the codex should be rewritten regardless. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t.

But there’s more. We also know that the rules for declaring charges will be changing. For example, we know from the Adepta Sororitas faction focus article that the charge roll itself must be sufficient to reach all of the units that the player declares as a target. If it does not, the entire charge is unsuccessful and no models are moved.

This is yet another excellent addition to the game from the perspective of T’au players. Now our opponents will have to think carefully about which of our units they choose to charge. Of course, if the opponent does not declare a unit as a target of a charge, the charging unit cannot strike that particular unit. This grants us another distinct advantage from 8th edition.

Furthermore, notice something that the writer of the overwatch article wrote in the final paragraph: “You may find some units or circumstances granting Overwatch without the need for a Stratagem – these will be very valuable indeed!” While we know from the same article that the Cool-headed special rule allows a unit to always fire overwatch and to hit on 5s, we don’t know what other rules will convey similar abilities. For example, it could be the case that certain T’au units are able to fire overwatch without the use of the stratagem. Or perhaps a new Sept tenet could confer the overwatch ability army-wide. Put simply, we don’t yet know the whole picture.

Once again, these changes demand that players think more tactically about the game. Last week I wrote about the costs and benefits that a player must now weigh up before tagging an enemy vehicle in combat — this change to overwatch is another example in this same theme.

As in every edition change, there are winners and losers. Any change to a system is going to produce disparate outcomes. It could certainly be the case that this particular change puts T’au at slight disadvantage, but other rules that we have seen provide some strong buffs to key T’au units.

Speculation about what a new edition will bring can be good fun, but we should always remember that speculation is just that. It is imprudent to make broad judgments about one faction or another before we see the rules in their entirety.

The T’au memes have been pretty funny though.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

20 Responses to “Are we over with overwatch in 9th?”

  1. Rob Butcher June 21, 2020 11:04 pm #

    The simple truth is we don’t know anything else since the original article published here.

    And is there really only one Tau faction ? There are others that need looking at now that the game is changing so much.

  2. Ytook June 22, 2020 2:54 am #

    Something I really like about the overwatch change is how it gives them another lever to pull on unit/weapon design.

    Like I could see ability to overwatch being something that could go on a lot of standard troop units to give them some appeal, like Fire Warrior Strike Teams for example. Or they could make it conditional, like this unit gets to overwatch if it remains stationary or if it is holding an objective.

    It’s an interesting design space particularly with the smaller board size and general ability for things to come on from reserve from any board edge.

  3. Dakkath June 22, 2020 2:57 am #

    Meh, I didn’t play T’au sept anyway so changing it to a stratagem doesn’t hurt all that much. Still have fingers crossed for increased battlesuit mobility (or at least for crisis and stealth sized ones) coming back.

  4. Jimbojambo June 22, 2020 4:08 am #

    Even though I like your optimism, there are two things that make the change to overwatch a bad decision imo: 1. with a CP cost of 1 and with most units of most armies not being able to get more than 1 or 2 wounds out of overwatch it will very rarely be used (and the idea to have dedicated overwatch units won’t work since those are rarely big units and any opponent can manage to get around them). Hence, overwatch will just become one of those strats that no one ever uses and every 20th or so game will be remembered and then put aside again. And that’s a shame since it is one of the very few mechanics that happen in the opponents turn and are easy and fun to use. 2. For Tau in particular, if it doesn’t get faqed for Tau when 9th is landing it is just unfair and might make Tau unplayable again (like during 4th and 5th edition, which was changed by reintroducing overwatch, ironically). Why? Because of two reason, 1. Most other armies don’t care for overwatch, but for Tau it is essential and directly connected to the army‘s special rule. Which means Tau would be the only army that has to pay CP to benefit from it’s own special rule and that’s just unfair. 2. every Tau unit is shut down as soon as it is touched and that means Tau would be the army that gets deployed at the board edge, shooting, and hoping to kill enough until the opponents units are in charge range (just as in 5th edition). That is the most ridiculous fighting concept one can imagine. So, as said, I really hope that gets faqed, because judging solely from the (admittedly scarce) information we now have for Tau in 9th, it’s an army that gets shelved for sure. (pessimism off).

  5. xDeadFish June 22, 2020 4:43 am #

    I still feel like the biggest losers of the Overwatch overhaul is the Howling Banshees. Because ignoring overwatch was the only thing that made them somewhat useful.
    They are beautiful models, but utterly incompetent when it comes to dealing or taking damage.
    Luckily Jain Zar is still a beast, but before this designated bodyguard of Yvraine will actually be allowed to be played as Ynnari, she will probably see limited game time. Same could almost be said the Solitare, but I will for the time being still rather opt for playing Harlies with the Solitaire, rather than playing Ynnariquins without him.

  6. Earl June 22, 2020 7:09 am #

    I have a T’au army and hope they get an overhaul early in 9th. Get rid of all the finecast models, and I’m ok if that means we want a year for an “allies” update with the Kroot hounds, Krootox, Vespid, and some new units too.

    I’m fine with the overwatch change, and think it’s good for the game. But it’s bad for T’au and just adjusting points won’t fix it. Also, savior protocols needs overhauled. It’s a great rule for T’au, but it’s bad for the game overall. I always feel cheap using them, and they’re not enjoyable to face.

  7. Matt June 22, 2020 1:41 pm #

    Meh, the Tau efficacy in overwatch was often massively over-estimated unless you played T’au sept and built your army around it.

    I feel like this removes an excuse that people used to justify the Tau not being good in other areas.

    As one of the few tools Tau had to mitigate the assault phase, I also hope that this is a precursor to Tau either getting JSJ back, or finally getting BS3+ on some of their elite units. But I’m not holding my breath.

  8. hvg3akaek June 22, 2020 2:37 pm #

    >> First things first, it’ll make the game faster.

    I’m not disagreeing with this point, but rather that it is a plus to the argument.

    Many things could make the game faster. Removing the combat phase. Rolling only one attack per unit. Limiting all games to 20 models. Just because they would make the game faster doesn’t mean that the game would be *better*.

    Instead of arguing that “overwatch should be removed because it slows the game down”, just get everyone to play with chess clocks – then if overwatch is taking too much time, it’s the player’s choice: waste time on something not effective, or skip over it. That would be a solid tactical choice. Maybe you have enough time, and your opponent has been wasting it with all their model moves, so you have a few minutes to spare, and an extra 1 or 2 W on the charging unit would be good?

    • abusepuppy June 22, 2020 7:18 pm #

      Removing Overwatch makes the game faster _and does so while deleting a mechanic that generally had no effect or made players feel bad_. That’s a pretty key part of the argument.

    • Rob Butcher June 23, 2020 12:07 am #

      NO, no, no.

      Chess clocks are not and have never been part of the GW approach to gaming. They were introduced by ONE unofficial/independent TO as a way of speeding up the game.

      GW actually choose to reduce the points level to 1750 for two years but that was ignored. Now the points are back to 2000 but all points/power levels of units are increasing.
      GW have changed the minimum size of tables – that may impact on speed.
      GW have changed the mission packs with the major, established gaming organisers. So now we get a new standard for all major gaming tournaments, so no more playing four or more sets of tournament rules around the world.

      • Ohlmann June 23, 2020 1:24 am #

        Chess clock is the logical solution to time problem, since it’s a way to force people to play fast enough without allowing them to grift their opponent.

        It’s pretty much ideal in casual play, where it allow to timebox a game before the shop close or the last train pass.

      • BluejayJunior June 23, 2020 4:01 am #

        Chess clocks aren’t actually a part of chess either. They were added to speed up the game and make sure it finished on time for large chess tournaments.
        Even GW says that there is no one right way to play the game. Since you seem to think that since GW makes the game that everything has to be done exactly like them in every way, maybe you should also listen to them when they say they are many ways to play the game.

      • Amof June 23, 2020 10:51 am #

        Chess clocks are part of running a competitive tournament that needs to remain on time. It also allows each player to get a equal amount of time. If you do not like clocks then simply do NOT play with them or attend events that require them.

      • abusepuppy June 23, 2020 8:36 pm #

        It’s so great that we have one of the devs right here in the thread, to explain to us exactly what GW does and doesn’t want at all times. Really helps to clear things up, and remind us of stuff like “having a time limit for games is against the rules” or “you can’t say those numbers they are copyright numbers.”

  9. Liz June 23, 2020 4:37 am #

    Why isn’t anyone talking about how technically, using the 8e For the Greater Good rules in the T’au codex means with the new rules, they can still fire overwatch with their entire army without spending a CP?

    Hear me out, how the For the Greater Good rules are worded now, every unit that is within 6″ of a unit that is chosen as a target for a charge gets the rule that allows them to fire overwatch. So, if we take a squad of Fire Warriors with a Riptide and Broadsides within 6″ of them, and the opponent chooses to charge the Fire Warriors, technically I don’t have to spend the 1 CP to allow the Fire Warriors to shoot overwatch, and, given the rules as written, the Riptide and Broadsides can choose to fire at the charging unit without having to spend the 1 CP.

    This is also how the rule works in 8e. Given the above example, if, say, a Rhino were to charge the Fire Warriors, then they can fire overwatch as normal, but I could choose not to use For the Greater Good with the Riptide or Broadsides. Then the Fire Warriors are tagged and can no longer fire overwatch. After that charge, the opponent chooses to charge the Fire Warriors already tagged by the Rhino with assault marines. The Fire Warriors can’t fire overwatch, but I could choose to use For the Greater Good with the Riptide and Broadsides to fire overwatch at the assault marines, even though the Fire Warriors can’t fire overwatch themselves.

    I mean, GeeDubs could easily make a day 1 DLC in the form of FAQ’s and erratas to mention weird rules interactions like this. Maybe make it so For the Greater Good only works if you spend the 1 CP to fire overwatch with the charge target, but that seems to be a big nerf to one of the army’s gimmicks (even though Shield Drones have become the biggest T’au gimmick, as much as I hate using them).

  10. Aaron Michael Morgan June 23, 2020 1:57 pm #

    The thing with tau players and overwatch, yeah it’s annoying to other players but it’s the only thing Tau can really do aside from move, and shoot on their turn. They have no melee, no psykers, have some of the lowest ranged stats in the game and that will only make it harder with the +-1 max now. With what we know of the current rules for 9th, all tau will be able to do is move, shoot badly, and get one overwatch shot and be down command points for using their army rule. They basically killed tau as a playable option because space marine players complained

    • Zweischneid June 23, 2020 11:55 pm #

      And? Khorne Daemons have neither shooting nor psykers or any of that and still don’t get a free extra version of their “the phase we do stuff in” just because they excel in one phase at the expense of others.

      • Ohlmann June 24, 2020 1:37 am #

        And certainly their iconic unit don’t fight twice per phase, no sir.

        That being said, outside of that, there’s also that Khorne daemons are a subfaction that could have help to be less boring.

        • Zweischneid June 24, 2020 2:20 am #

          Not without paying CP, no Khorne Daemons don’t fight twice.

          Asking Tau for 1 CP to have (presumably still) multiple units shoot an additional time vs. asking Khorne Daemons 3 CP to fight a single unit an additional time still doesn’t seem well-balanced.

  11. Eric June 23, 2020 5:35 pm #

    I don’t really see the need to make the game any faster than it already is. A 2k pts game usually takes me an hour and a half to two hours to play. That usually involves 3 to 4 full turns that include every combat phase every turn (sans psychic phase for tau). My army isn’t a typical tau gunline. Its a mobile battlesuit army with the intent in getting into melee with crisis bodyguards and commanders to cripple critical units. So I move often, I shoot with several large units of gun drones backed by fireblades (10 drone, 2 guns each, each gun taking 3 shots at 9″. That’s 60 dice per unit and I have four units of them), one large bodyguard unit with cyclic ion blasters, ATS, and shield generators (5 models, 3 shot a piece) and a smattering of pathfinders and some form of heavy support (a railside and heavy support hammerhead usually.) That’s just the shooting phase. Then there the charges. One team of bodyguards and its accompanying shield drones (because shield drones can absorb melee hits as well) and two commanders and their drones. Bodyguards get 3 hits each in melee, hit on 5+ and wound usually wound on rolls between 3+ on squishy targets, 4+ on most, and 5+ on tougher ones because they are S5. Commanders on the other hand, hit on 3+. Where it gets interesting is their weapons since they share the same base strength on unarmed hits as bodyguards. With fusion blades, I get 2 hits at S8, AP-4 [-5 because ATS] and damage of d6 plus two regular hits. With Onager gauntlet, I get a single S10 -4AP hit that’s also d6. I like using it on really ((B I G)) things I have no business charging but charge anyways. Like Hive Tyrants and Baneblades. Why? Cause yolo! So, between moving, shooting, charging, fighting and the occasional LITERAL bucket of dice for overwatch, I take about 25~30 minutes a turn. Its something I got used to when I started playing in 7th ed for tournament play because they time limit per round was usually 2 hours.

    Personally, I think the game is plenty fast enough if you use your opponent’s turn to plan out your turn to find ways to properly attack. Sure, that may make the assumption that the player is good enough to think on the fly like that but its a good habit to have if you want to speed up a game. Heck, if you’re really lucky, you can table your opponent within an hour with a blitzkrieg-like assault that they can’t really recover from because you’ve forced a lot of units to fight apart from each other.

    As far as overwatch is concerned, it’ll suck to make it a stratagem as opposed to a blanket rule any army can use when charged. I wouldn’t really need to use it all that often since a blob of drones capable of machine gunning 60 shots at the unit’s face is a pretty good deturrent, in my experience and rolling history at least. 10 wounds from 60 dice is pretty damn scary. There’s also the fireblade that can throw a photon grenade at charging infantry for a -1 to hit penalty in close combat. Its small but its definitely helpful, and really funny when you get to watch a girlyman wiff 4 of his hits because they rolled 4 2s then rerolled them into two more 2s and two 1s xD

    That said, I usually have like 10 points at the end of the game because I rarely use a ton so it wouldn’t really affect me a whole lot provided the way my army would perform isn’t dramatically changed between 8th ed and 9th ed. Though, if the change from 7th to 8th is any indication, I’d assume my preferred playstyle will be pretty unusable until the new tau codex comes out and even then, it took the various FAQs, some of the things in chapter approved 2018 and some of the things from chapter approved 2019 to really make my playstyle both reliable and effective within 2k points.

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