Overwatch is Dead. Long Live Overwatch!

All right, Games Workshop, you got me.

Last week, overwatch was a bittersweet memory of a passing edition. This week, it’s a core component of the T’au art of war.

Indeed, T’au players, rejoice! The sky isn’t falling. The world as we know it isn’t coming to an end. The mont’au isn’t yet upon us.

Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Let’s get into it. The faction focus article for the T’au Empire was released a few days ago — handily written by the excellent Brian Pullen — and it confirmed that, for the T’au, overwatch would not change in 9th edition.

This is great news. Not only do we keep one of the core aspects of the way our army plays, but because overwatch will be so much less prevalent in 9th, far fewer players will take abilities and traits to mitigate it. This means that we will most likely fire overwatch more in 9th than we did in 8th. Put simply, T’au overwatch is now relatively more deadly.

All right, fellow Fire Caste commanders, don’t rub it in.

But it’s a funny thing: the confirmation of overwatch wasn’t the most important reveal in the faction focus article, not by a long shot.

The most important reveal was the change to the way that the Fly keyword works. From the article: “The largest challenge for the T’au Empire in the new edition is the change to the Fly keyword. It no longer offers units the ability to Fall Back and shoot”. This is a big change, a really big change.

Before we discuss it, let’s just take a second. As I’ve said many times, we cannot judge the new edition until we have all the rules. GW might reveal something else in a coming article that allows flying units to retreat from combat and still take certain actions. Perhaps it’s a stratagem. Perhaps it’s a faction-specific rule. We do not know yet.

And I understand that many T’au players — and indeed players of other factions — are concerned by this change. I get it. The focus of my army is Commanders and Riptides. I understand. But we all need to wait until we have the whole picture.

With that out of the way, let’s discuss what this means for the T’au.

I think that there are two different ways to look at this. First, we could presume that our Battlesuits are simply unable to withdraw from combat and shoot. This would be a pretty big deal. Commanders, Crisis Suits, and Stealth Suits just became significantly less effective. We know that the board is going to be smaller, so we can reasonably assume that enemy forces are going to get closer quicker. Put simply, we’re going to be in combat more. And when the previously mentioned Battlesuits are tagged in combat, they’re unable to shoot in the following turn.

A handful of infantry models, then, can charge a Commander, and while a few might die in overwatch, it only takes a couple of them to get into combat and that Commander is out of action for at least a turn.

If a T’au Commander isn’t shooting, he had better be dead or buffing another unit with the Command and Control Node stratagem, because losing even one round of shooting with a Commander is a big deal.

For Riptides and Ghostkeels it isn’t as bad — but it’s still pretty bad. Because both of these models take the Monster keyword, they can shoot in combat in 9th edition. And while this is welcome buff, it won’t make up for the inability to fall back and shoot.

If a few Marines tag a Riptide in combat, the Riptide must clear the Marines before it is able to shoot at anything else. This means that the opponent can dictate what our alpha units shoot at simply by tagging them in combat.

This ain’t a pretty picture.

The T’au army would have to change significantly if it were to remain competitive in such circumstances. Unfortunately, I predict that this would see the T’au turn into something like an Astra Militarum clone, with two or three layers of screens defending a castle of Broadsides and Riptides. This would be a real shame. The T’au are the most fun to play — and play against — when they are out in the battlefield, sparing at medium to close range with the enemy, jumping into and out of combat, controlling the board and destroying pockets of resistance as they go.

That’s the first way to look at it. The second offers a much rosier vision of the T’au Empire in 9th edition. It would go something like this. While the Fly keyword no longer allows models to fall back and shoot, the updated T’au codex offers T’au players ways of keeping this advantage.

For example, the T’au’s Psychic Awakening book, The Greater Good, added new Sept tenets to the army. Much like particular Space Marine chapters, these tenets conferred certain abilities to T’au units. They were an excellent addition to the game, adding more variety and flavor to the army.

However, one of these tenets, Stabilization Systems, allowed Battlesuits to move and fire heavy weapons without penalty. In 8th edition, this was a great bonus to the Riptide, which had to use one of two support system slots to receive the same benefit, meaning that the Riptide had to forgo some other benefit in order to move and shoot. Now, with the Stabilization Systems tenet, the Riptide can take two support systems and avoid the penalty for moving and shooting.

In 9th edition, of course, all Monsters can move and shoot without penalty, meaning that T’au players don’t need to take the Sept tenet. More importantly, this means that the Sept tenet itself far less useful: with the exception of Broadsides, any Battlesuit that can take heavy weapons also has the Monster keyword.

It would not at all surprise me, then, if GW rewrote this stratagem in a day-one errata to allow Battlesuits to fall back from combat and shoot. This would be an excellent solution to the issue. It would force T’au players to make a choice about how they want their particular army to play. Players who enjoy using Riptides and Commanders would no doubt forgo other Sept tenet bonuses in order to take this new tenet. But players who prefer to do battle with, say, infantry, Devilfish, and Hammerheads would choose something else.

Or GW could finally do something significant with the Jetpack keyword. This keyword has conferred a couple of different rules throughout the different editions of the game, but in 8th, the keyword has done nothing for most of the edition. The Greater Good added some functionality to Jetpack models if the player chose the appropriate Sept tenet, but other than that this keyword has no use.

Most Battlesuits in the codex take this keyword, so it would be very simple for GW to add a rule allowing units with the Jetpack keyword to fall back and shoot. Moreover, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to add a -1 to hit penalty for doing so. The ability to fall back from combat is a powerful one, so a minor nerf such as this would be appropriate. It would also provide an incentive for T’au players to take more care with screening units, and it would encourage players to think more carefully about how aggressively they commit their Battlesuits into the fray.

There’s a lot of scope for some interesting game play mechanics here — but only if Battlesuits can fall back and shoot. Otherwise, I fear that we simply won’t see many Battlesuits in 9th edition.

All this speculation is good fun, and it’s providing writers like me with plenty of content each week, but speculation can only get us so far. For all we know, the next big change to how T’au play in 9th could be right around the corner — or we might have seen all that we’ll see up until the release of the rules.

Either way, we’re certainly living in interesting times.

I must say, I absolutely love how T’au play at the moment. I think Battlesuits are super cool. I love to hit that Mont’ka turn one and charge up to the middle of the table with my Riptides and my Drones.

It goes without saying, then, that these changes leave me with a slight sour taste in my mouth. But I need to listen to my own advice: wait for the rules before judging the game.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

15 Responses to “Overwatch is Dead. Long Live Overwatch!”

  1. Rob Butcher June 28, 2020 11:16 pm #

    You only seem to be concerned about how to “invent” new rules for “Indomitus” so you can play exactly the same way as in “Dark Imperium.” Look instead at out-manouevring an opponent to get those objectives. Simply castling up which won GWGT and Nova in 2019 won’t be enough in the new mission packs with more terrain on the competitive boards.

    I was hoping we’d see some return to competitive play. But state shutdowns in Texas (GW Citadel) and potentially in Leicester, UK (a few motorway junctions away from Warhammer World) stops any official tournaments using “Indomitus” rules.

    The show-off on Saturday at 13:45 (BST) should give us more insights.

  2. Dakkath June 28, 2020 11:59 pm #

    “one of the core aspects of the way our army plays”
    jump-shoot-jump was one of the core aspects of how Tau played too, and they got that taken away leading to:

    “see the T’au turn into something like an Astra Militarum clone”
    yeah, an AM clone without allies, psychic powers, or volume of fire that makes up for crappy shooting stats. Oh, and our screens are twice as expensive and half as durable with no special or heavy weapon options.

    “any Battlesuit that can take heavy weapons also has the Monster keyword.”
    “Jetpack …
    All of Battlesuits in the codex take this keyword”
    Broadsides say Hi.

    “I must say, I absolutely love how T’au play at the moment”
    I’m glad you’re having fun. I, on the other hand, want to have my army composition be something more varied than 3 ion commander, 3 dakkatide, 46 drones, fill rest of points with chaff.

    • Rhys Jenkins June 29, 2020 2:38 am #

      Excellent spot on the Broadsides, Dakkath! I’ve made a small change to the article to correct this.

      Thanks for the heads up.

      And you make a good point about T’au screens, but hopefully we won’t have to simply castle up to have an effective army. Let’s see what else 9th edition brings.

    • Matt June 29, 2020 2:51 am #

      ^ Agree with all of this. Tau already are most of the way to being an Astra Militarum clone. And the fact that riptide and commander spam has been the only competitive list for so long says a lot about how out-of-touch the GW writers are with the Tau player community and how the faction is supposed to function.

    • abusepuppy June 29, 2020 4:33 am #

      Tau and IG are both BS4+ shooting armies, but aside from that they are vastly different.

      IG rely on hordes of infantry bodies to screen their units and push forward, which can be made effective in combat with the right buffs. Their big hitters are vehicles, which tend to be fairly resilient for their point cost. Their units are generally cheap and reasonably effective, but rely primarily on strength of numbers to be effective. They have a variety of solutions to most problems, including allies- which are a common feature.

      Tau, on the other hand, very rarely field high counts of models and often concede midfield to the enemy in the early game, making no attempt to push forward at all. Their big hitters are generally battlesuits, which are protected by virtue of Savior Protocols as their innate resilience is lacking. Their units tend towards being more expensive, but generally also come with strong upsides (e.g. special rules, weapon statlines, etc) and compare favorably with other factions on a model-for-model basis. They rely on unit synergies and buffs to maximize their effectiveness in the few phases in which they play the game, as they have no access to allies.

      Tau and IG are similar on only the most superficial of levels. Ask any competitive player- if you treat a Tau army and an IG army the same way, you will get your teeth kicked in.

  3. Michael Corr June 29, 2020 12:41 am #

    I hope they do make some big changes. For me, Tau were one of the least fun armies to play against. You spent the whole game trying to kill off the Drones so that you could actually damage the key targets, who were shooting you the whole time.

    Then, when you finally do tag them in combat, they could just fall back and shoot without any real penalty. Most games consisted of your opponent hiding at the back of their deployment zone and blasting your forces as you close on them.

    • Matt June 29, 2020 2:53 am #

      This is also why I wasn’t sad to hear that overwatch may no longer be a thing. Charging a Tau gunline just isn’t fun, even though it never is as effective as people think.

  4. Shas’O June 29, 2020 4:52 am #

    Gunline tau is gone in 9th. Tau can never be an imperial guard clone since imperial guard don’t need line of sight for a bunch of their guns.

    With the changes to terrain, Tau Simply can’t castle up and shoot. It’s too easy to be out of line of sight. I love this, since it will force tau to focus on mobility and will hopefully be a lot more fun to play.

    If I had to guess, battlesuits get a warrior option that lets them fall back and shoot.

    • abusepuppy June 29, 2020 8:43 am #

      Tau have been a mobility army for a long time now. Riptide builds don’t just sit in one place, they move into midfield to threaten people.

      • Matt June 29, 2020 11:49 am #

        AP, in a previous thread, you said this: “I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a return to old high-mobility Tau being their default state, but as it stands the rules don’t support that at all”

        Are they mobile or are they not?

        I argue that sans JSJ Tau are closer to Guard in performance than what we think of as a high mobility faction like DE or Eldar.

        • abusepuppy June 29, 2020 4:22 pm #

          A mobility army is one that plays by moving around the board (to contrast with a static army, which stays in one place.) Tau are a mobility army, and have been ever since at least the beginning of 6th, although arguably they were in 5E as well. it is a measure of play style, not of stats, and is not contingent on what any other faction is capable of.

          A faction can be described as high mobility army if they move faster than other factions in the game, or moves in ways that other factions are unable to. Tau are not a high mobility army, and have not been since they lose JSJ. It is a measure of comparative speed and maneuverability and is entirely dependent on how they line up against other armies. 12″ isn’t fast if everyone else can move 20″, but if they can only move 6″ it is.

          • Matt June 29, 2020 9:50 pm

            I appreciate the effort to clearly define what you mean by those terms. And in light of that definition I agree with everything you’re saying.

            I doubt I’m going to be the last person to assume you’re using “mobility” and “high mobility” interchangeably though. I’d suggest better terms if I could think of any, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      • Shas’O June 30, 2020 2:22 am #

        AP, you are very smart so I’m sure you knew what I meant. You yourself have commented on Tau not being a high mobility army anymore. Please don’t argue for the sake of arguing.

        The riptide drone castle isn’t as fun to play as JSJ crisis of old. 😁

        • abusepuppy June 30, 2020 4:32 am #

          I mean, if you ask players from 4th Edition they would say that the JSJ points denial army the Tau ran back then was _immensely_ unfun, because its whole goal was to kill one or two units and then avoid interacting with the enemy at all. There are good and bad ways to do any mechanic.

          I do agree, though. Savior Protocols is powerful and functional, but it results in very boring games. Unfortunately, if you take it away the Tau army has literally nothing else to work with, so they’d drop directly into garbage tier.

  5. Christopher Clayton June 29, 2020 7:56 am #

    Broadsides aren’t Infantry. They’ll be able to move and shoot without penalty. Only battlesuit that is Infantry are Stealth suits, and their only Heavy weapon is an optional markerlight on the Shas’vre.

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