Should the T’au Have a Strong Assault Unit?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring the problems that the T’au Empire has in 9th edition. There’s a lot to go into, which means that by necessity my articles can’t cover everything that I’d like to discuss on the topic.

But there is one theme that keeps on cropping up in comments on articles, and indeed in other T’au articles here on Frontline. It’s been a problem with the faction since the army was released: the T’au are poor in the Fight phase. This much is obvious. The T’au were deliberately designed to have virtually no ability in combat.

9th edition, however, highlights this shortcoming. An army with strong, durable units that can do damage in the Fight phase has a potent weapon in 9th edition.

Back in 8th edition, the T’au were a strong faction because of their ability to reliably remove key enemy units from objectives; and coupled with their excellent durability, a good T’au player could outlast his opponent while doing consistent damage throughout the game with his key assets, taking points from objectives in the later phases of the game.

This play-style is entirely ill-suited to 9th edition.

As I mentioned last week, factions that are strong in 9th edition have the ability to flip objectives with powerful assault units.

Which brings me to the question that I pose in the title of this article. Should the T’au have a strong assault unit?

I would argue that the answer to this question is simple: the T’au should not have a strong assault unit. But it’s worth digging a little deeper into this question.

First, what do we mean when we say that an army has strong units in one phase or another? Simply put, an army that has strong shooting units has units that are effective in the Shooting phase. More specifically, a player commanding such an army could rely on a handful of units to do consistent, reliable damage on average dice in the Shooting phase. Moreover, we might argue that a faction that is strong in the Shooting phase can at least somewhat mitigate the effects of below-average dice rolling in this phase.

Some examples of such a faction would include the Astra Militarum, the Ultramarines, and, of course, the T’au Empire.

However, there are plenty of other factions that have good units to use in the Shooting phase. In fact, all other factions have at least something to offer in this regard.

Of course, this isn’t the question that I pose above. I ask whether the T’au should have a strong assault unit. I don’t ask if the T’au should have a unit that is merely good in the Fight phase.

And the reason is simple: I would argue that the T’au should have access to a couple of units that can do a little bit of work in the Fight phase.

The T’au should not have any units that can stomp into a fight with the best of them and wreck face. No T’au unit should be able to go toe-to-toe with the elite of, say, the Blood Angels or the Grey Knights. But the T’au certainly should have access to a unit or two that could remove a mid-tier infantry squad from an objective, a squad of Dire Avengers or a unit of Skitarii Rangers, for example.

In my article discussing the Vespid a few weeks back, I argued that a Vespid unit with some ability in the Fight phase would be a really interesting prospect for a T’au player. Again, we don’t want to go overboard here: three Attacks per model at Strength 4, AP-1, Damage 1 would fit the bill nicely. Perhaps we could even add in a re-roll wounds Stratagem if we were feeling generous. You get the idea.

Such a unit would be an interesting addition to the T’au faction, both on the tabletop and in terms of the lore. Indeed, the Kroot have some smashing short stories in which they are shown to be merciless killers — including one grisly scene in which a Kroot Carnivore devours the heart of an Aeldari Ranger after his squad dispatches them in close combat. Grimdark.

As far back as their initial release, then, the lore does describe T’au Empire units that can play ball in close combat. With the exception of Farsight, these units have been alien auxiliaries, so I think that there is much more scope for GW to expand the range here.

Moreover, doing so would make the T’au a lot more interesting to play and to play against. At the moment, the T’au have so few units that can do anything significant in the Fight phase that most good players will easily be able to mitigate the effects of such units.

If the T’au had a couple of units that had some ability, opponents would have to take much more care in their games against the T’au. For example, a back-field unit holding an objective is much more vulnerable if the T’au player’s quick Vespid unit that can do damage in both the Shooting phase and the Fight phase. A Marines player might be much more cautious with a five-man Primaris unit on a mid-field objective if he knew that the Kroot squad lurking just behind that building could do some damage in close combat.

The game would be a lot more interesting for both players. Of course, it goes without saying that a more balance game of 40k is better for everyone, but I would say that it’s really worth hammering home the point when it comes to the T’au precisely because the faction has always been poor in close combat.

But while we’re on the subject, could we take a slightly different route? What if Battlesuits could shoot in combat? This idea is one that I’ve seen discussed quite a bit in various T’au threads, and it’s certainly got some legs.

At the moment, the Monster Keyword allows the Riptide and the Ghostkeel to shoot in combat. While this doesn’t fix the problems that these two units have in 9th edition, it’s still a cool ability. The other Battlesuits in the codex don’t have the Monster Keyword, and therefore they are not eligible to shoot in combat.

But what if, say, Crisis, Stealth, and Commander Battlesuits could shoot in combat? Put simply, I think it would be a great idea.

It would immediately make them much more threatening. At the moment, if you tag a unit of Crisis Suits, all they can do is fall back from combat and hope that you don’t do it again. Their weapons become useless for a turn.

But if they could shoot in combat, this classic unit could do some serious work against whatever tagged it.

I think it would be reasonable for these attacks to take a -1 to hit penalty — which would take them down from BS3 to BS4 because T’au Battlesuits will definitely hit on 3s in the new codex, right? — but they would still be able to put some hurt on the enemy. Of course, no T’au player wants their elite Battlesuits engaged at point blank range, but if they are going to be, let’s at least give them some bite.

Furthermore, such an ability would incentivize T’au players to be more aggressive with their Battlesuits, charging them up the board to contest the mid-field both in the Shooting phase and the Combat phase. This would be much more fun for both players.

Both of these options would make T’au more playable in 9th edition, and I think that it’d be great to see both in the new codex. But whatever the case, the T’au need something to make the Fight phase just that little bit more interesting.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

24 Responses to “Should the T’au Have a Strong Assault Unit?”

  1. Dakkath September 28, 2020 1:52 am #

    I’d settle for being able to jetpack in the assault phase again. Then at least we could theoretically shoot something off an objective then jump over on to it.

    • Ken September 28, 2020 3:30 am #

      Quite agree. The issue is not so much that the Tau don’t have a good assault unit, it’s that because moving happens before shooting, the Tau cannot take advantage of capturing an objective once they have shot the enemy off it.

      Moving in the Assault phase achieves that. It enables a small number of Tau units (and I would exclude the Riptide from the list) to be played more aggressively. It is also lore friendly and has precedent.

      By excluding the Riptide from having this ability you also encourage more use of Crisis and Stealth suits. These units need a boost to make them viable choices compared to Riptides.

      My two bob.

      • Matt September 28, 2020 9:37 am #

        “it’s that because moving happens before shooting, the Tau cannot take advantage of capturing an objective once they have shot the enemy off it.”

        … that’s a really good point that I don’t think has been discussed enough. Because you’re absolutely right. Shooting an enemy off an objective, and then capturing it also feels far more fluffy than having to launch an assault to contest it.

    • AllHail September 28, 2020 11:06 am #

      If I’m not mistaken isn’t there a Tau Sept that has a 1 CP stratagem to do exactly this? Riptides can do it as well with their Reactor ability too if I remember right?

      • abusepuppy September 28, 2020 7:15 pm #

        Sort of. It’ Dal’yth Sept, which is otherwise absolutely _terrible_. The ability can only be used at the start of the phase, limiting the way you can use it to interact with other shooting. It makes you move, which denies you your Sept bonus. And it only lets you move 6″, which is less than the normal movement of most Tau units and also less than Fire and Fade gives.

        (The Riptide can as well and is good, but it’s at the cost of giving up the other two abilities from the Nova Reactor, both of which are quite important.)

        • Rhys Jenkins September 29, 2020 12:00 am #

          Absolutely right. The Riptide’s 2D6 Nova Charge move would be a great addition to the model — if it didn’t come at a cost. Not increasing the shots of the main weapon and not taking the 3++ isn’t worth it in almost all situations.

          And you’re right to point out that the benefits of the Dal’yth Sept choice are poor when compared to what T’au players could take: at the moment, the best choice is either Farsight Enclaves or T’au Sept. The opportunity cost is just too great to take anything else.

          • abusepuppy September 29, 2020 12:38 am

            It also compares extremely poorly to other traits of the same kind. Marines and Eldar get automatic cover from outside of 12″, regardless of what they do. Tyranids get cover as long as they don’t advance or charge. Guard get cover as long as they don’t advance. Tau’s version is far and away the most restrictive, prohibiting movement of any kind in any phase.

  2. Leonix September 28, 2020 3:08 am #

    Give Great Knarlocs and/or Knarloc Riders match points, and boom! Problem (mostly) solved.

  3. Draaen September 28, 2020 6:02 am #

    I think the -1 to hit in melee is a great solutuon for battlesuits but i dont think it maes them typically wanting to touch bases. It reduces damage output. I think if stealth suits and crisis suits had that and were obsec then you have something very tasty and people will charge and clear people off of objectives.

    I suppose stealth suits with the ability to shoot into combat would be great denial units.

    I also think you could leave suits at bs4, cause i doubt that change will happen. Yiur downside could be that you suits cannot benefit from markerlights. Typucally they could not be applied anyways but it would help limit some stratagems keep the BBC tau on the same curve and provide a meaningful debuff.

    • Rhys Jenkins September 29, 2020 12:03 am #

      BS4 Battlesuits would necessitate reworking the Markerlight table, but I think that that should happen regardless. The Markerlight system doesn’t cut the mustard in its current form.

      It’s a bit of a shame. It’s such a cool concept, but on the tabletop it feels quite lackluster unless you get five ‘lights on a target, which is often easier said than done.

  4. Razerous September 28, 2020 10:24 am #

    A strong melee unit would be fine – just have a ballistic themed melee unit.

    Fusion blaster punch daggers, pulse scythes, Ion concussion cannons. Etc.

  5. Shas'O True Death September 28, 2020 10:52 am #

    FSE should have their Sept rules also include melee, so rerolling 1’s in close combat to hit and wound.

    Otherwise, Tau units need to be reevaluated to be overall competent in close combat in comparison to similar units from other factions. I.e breachers and strike teams should have WS 4 like guardsmen. Even though the race shuns melee, the fire caste is their elite warrior group that should be able to go toe to toe with the average imperial soldier and out perform a grot. Battle suits should have a free hammer of wrath mechanic where they cause mortal wounds when charging to represent their bulk being weaponized to bludgeon and also have their WS weapon improved, but degrade based on wound tiers if applicable.

    For bigger suites with a wound tier, it would be cool to have a rule where you can choose which stat/s degrade per turn, representing the pilot choosing to focus on a certain aspect depending on scenario ( I e. Sacrificing movement this turn to shoot and swing).

    Kroot just need an ability like increasing their attacks or strength by one for every unit they kill for the rest of the battle and a -1 to hit ability for their speed/stealth or become fearless when in melee.

    • abusepuppy September 28, 2020 7:18 pm #

      I always thought it was really weird that the FSE trait explicitly excludes melee attacks. Isn’t that… their thing?

      I think WS5+ can be worked with, especially on the less-elite units; Strike Teams are not gonna be changing the tide of a melee combat regardless. But having zero dedicated combat potential is a real problem, because Kroot absolutely do not count.

  6. zarlus September 28, 2020 1:30 pm #

    I’d prefer the Tau to instead of melee effectiveness, return to the idea of movement. Allow certain units to be able to move in assault phase, (jsj or a wall of mirrors effect), or force enemy units to be displaced. This would fit better with Tau fluff and make Kauyon tactics actually Kauyon.
    It’d also be nice to have a unit that can tank in melee at the expense of combat. A defensive drone would work well for this role – assault, survive, repeat. This drone could also have abilities for area denial, (…seismic drone).

    • Rhys Jenkins September 29, 2020 12:07 am #

      Honestly, so much of the discussion around T’au in 9th comes back to the classic jump-shoot-jump mechanic. It would solve so many of our issues!

      Whether it be a flat 6″ move or 2D6″ like the Riptide Nova Charge ability, we need some way to take advantage of the available movement in the Charge phase. All other factions have something to offer in this regard, but we’re sorely lacking at the moment.

  7. john russell September 28, 2020 3:18 pm #

    Thematically Tau should generally still be worse the Guardsmen in melee. The shoot better and have access to answers that the Guard can sum up in one boring word … Bulllgryn. Making the Kroot better than Guardsmen would be acceptable through lore and table top I feel. They would still need to be less than Orcs but at the right price point could be the expendable mercenary type unit they were portrayed as in my opinion.

    The battlesuit idea is more intriguing to me. It should get a good playtest and probably would need to be more limited than others think but this would be a good way to stay within the Tau theme and have some effectiveness. Lots of those guns would be the equivilant to power weapons so I wouldn’t go overboard or the balance shifts and we just get more power creep

    • Rhys Jenkins September 29, 2020 12:50 am #

      I agree. I think that with a bit of play-testing, Battlesuits shooting in combat could be made into an interesting mechanic.

      We need an incentive to keep our elite Battlesuits up the board, contesting the mid-field. At the moment, our Battlesuits are all but useless as soon as the enemy tags them in combat.

      Granted, Overwatch does have a part to play here, but Overwatch is really only any good if you’re playing T’au Sept. Hitting on 6s really doesn’t do the business.

      • Ken September 29, 2020 3:34 am #

        That said, I’m rethinking 3 x Crisis suits with all flamer loadout if flamers officially get a 12″ range. For ~140pts you get a unit that will auto hit with 9D6 S4 shots. Yeah it’s mostly only good against chaff or hordes, but it’s drop in, hit a unit with roughly 30 S4 hits, then hit them with another 30hits in overwatch… Could be useful against non-Marine lists.

  8. Spera September 28, 2020 3:41 pm #

    MELEEE, MELLEEE, MELEE. Its painful to read this type of solutions for army that massive part of its identity is not participating in melee. Lack of melee isn’t problem. Tau have problem with board control and reclaiming objectives. That’s it. There is no word melee in that sentence if you look closely. Because it isn’t equal. There are plenty of solutions for that that don’t require using melee. No need for assault type unit, people start thinking outside the box, and be more creative.

    You could allow tau to fire into combat at price. Give them jsj back to be able to get onto position after they shoot.Hell, give them ability to double move if they didn’t shoot. Strong short range weapon. But they don’t need melee. Yes, it would be solution to this problem, but it would be stinky bad solution. Just because other armies use melee units for that, doesn’t mean that tau also have to. Done.

    Tau doesn’t need melee unit, Tau needs way to enact board control and reclaim objectives.

  9. Indy September 29, 2020 5:25 am #

    I think you raise some interesting points. I think you are on to something.

    Personally, I’d like to see the Tau Auxilaries play the role of specialists for the Faction, filling in niche roles that the main Tau forces lack. So if “main” Tau are good at moving and shooting (broadly speaking), then

    -Kroot: Scouts that can tie up enemies in melee, but have just enough shooting to not be wasted sitting on OBJ. Emphasis on “tie up” as they should not be premier stubby units, but be able to hold their own just enough to allow Tau guns to maneuver into place and blow the enemy away once the Kroot fall back.

    -Vespid: not quite sure where these guys fit in since they are fast and shooty in an already fast n’ shooty army, but they have models so should work somehow. Perhaps debuffs since nobody likes flying bugs

    -Demiurg : the hardy ones who do one thing and one thing well: sit on OBJ and take forever to die

    -Tarellian Dog Soldiers : these would be the brutal melee killers

    – : and these would be the psyker/anti-psyker auxiliaries to provide that nonexistent capability in the Tau Faction. They would function most similarly to IG Wyrdvane Psykers and/or IG Primaris Psykers; aka they are squishy and useless beyond mind bullets.

    You’ll see there’s a pattern to the above with the “Khorne”-y one, the “Nurgle”-y one, etc… My thought would be that as a Tau player you can shore up an area of weakness, maybe 2 if you’re really stingy, but that’s it…kind of like the expression for Dark Angels that can pick 2 wings (Green, Death-, or Raven-), but if try to do all 3 you’ll half-ass them and be weaker as a result. You cannot (and should not) be able to do it all, but you can cover some weaknesses.

  10. D3viat0r September 29, 2020 6:12 am #

    I think you missed the mark with melee suits. Farsight and his cadre were Vior’la and Puretide trained them all in melee combat. It definitely keeps with the fluff that there are units that were trained and styled to play a close combat roll, especially with how often T’au fights the orcs. They would have done research into melee weapons through their dealings and gives T’au something to do in another phase. Adding a ton of auxiliaries which keeps being suggested is not good. They don’t benefit from SEPT traits and is kind of a lazy fix. “Oh, your faction can only do one thing and not even that well? We won’t fix that. Instead, we’ll add some sub-standard units that don’t get your faction buffs to allow you to play in another phase.”

  11. Wartang September 29, 2020 7:08 am #

    I would Like to see a Pistol type weapon that crisis suits could use. It would allow for shooting into and can be used in close combat. Give them back JSJ and a pistol type weapon, it might bring crisis suit lists back.

    Thinking something about the size of a carbine or blaster but with a shorter range
    ( range 6 pistol 2 s6 ap0 d2 3points)
    Have it take up a weapon hard point. Still useful out side of cc. I’m thinking if the pulse blaster is a 12 gauge shotgun, this is a 10 gauge with out the fall off. Talk about a hand cannon.
    2 plasma 1 pistol only 49 points total?

    However a crisis suit with a halo gravity hammer does bring a smile.

    • abusepuppy October 1, 2020 5:15 am #

      Giving Tau some kind of pistols would definitely help- especially if they could also be used to make shooting attacks in the enemy’s phase as well. The problem really is that they have zero ways to interact with the enemy during the assault phase, be they melee or something else.

  12. 40kpanda October 1, 2020 9:34 am #

    You can mass produce fusion blade or onagre gauntlet to have some punch in combat.
    Give the t’au flamer a double profile which could be similar to the ork burna boyz. It’s not as if the t’au hadn’t battle against them countless times and make a better version. It could also be a stratagem.
    Bringing back inbuild support system could be another idea.
    Bring back the good old vectorial retro thuster (move 6″ after shooting) to be a standard support system and not a personal system. It’s a support system that is there since the second codex.
    You can also have a stratagem that lets you shoot assault weapon in melee instead of using close combat weapon.

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