Tau and Objectives

Tau have a problem that no other faction in the game does. What should Games Workshop going to do about it? I have some thoughts.

Piggybacking once again off of Rhys’s article on the subject, I want to talk in particular about one of the issues brought up there, because I think it hits to the core of why Tau are struggling right now. I don’t want to trivialize the issues with Markerlights or Drones that he brought up, but both of those I feel are problems that can be solved by adjusting price, wording of the rules, and other factors; they aren’t fundamentally broken. Tau scoring, however, is fundamentally broken.

What I mean by that is that Tau as a faction, both conceptually and rules-wise, are terrible at scoring objectives. The army’s entire style is based largely around a “tidal” model- for the first two turns you pull backwards, giving ground to the enemy in exchange for buying yourself time to apply your firepower and devastate their forces. By the third turn, you have hopefully turned the tide and your forces instead begin advancing, retaking objectives from the weakened foe and (hopefully) regaining the lead on points by the end of the game. This is also how Tau function in the narrative of the game as well; they explicitly are uninterested in holding ground, preferring to give way to the enemy in order to maneuver around them and conserve their strength.

Ebb and Flow-ers

The problem is, in 9th Edition this model does not work for a variety of reasons. The first is simply numerical- if the Tau are falling back on turns one and two and then pushing forward on turn three, that means they will not be on objectives on turns two and three (since scoring happens at the start of the turn.) That means they give up fully 50% of the scoring opportunities in the game even when things are going right– and that’s to say nothing of when the opponent can stymie your plan or the dice go sideways. That’s too big a risk to be taking if you want to max your score on the primary, and it means that you are probably letting the enemy get max there as well- a huge gamble to be taking as part of your core plan.

The second is, well, linear. With charge ranges massively extended for many units in 9E (with Sisters, White Scars, etc, all able to charge 20″+ without too much difficulty) and the board size shrunk, it is harder than ever to escape enemy threats. That means withdrawing in the face of the enemy holds an even greater risk- you either keep to the edges of the enemy’s charge range and have the potential to get assaulted by something you can’t deal with, or you stay outside of the enormous bubble they can threaten and you place yourself in a position that you cannot plausibly get onto objectives in time- Tau are fast, but they aren’t “move twenty-five inches per turn” fast.

New Paradigms

So the old Tau plan is simply a non-starter- it doesn’t work with the way the game plays now. Tau, like other armies, need to adopt their strategy to be more aggressive in the face of the enemy. That’s doable and viable, but it does mean that GW is going to need to really think about what the Tau offensive and defensive profiles are going to look like.

A big part of Tau’s strength has always been their Pulse weapons, which have an excellent statline for a basic gun. It was arguable whether it was the best statline on a gun (since it had to compete with Eldar Shuriken weapons and Necron Gauss and Tesla weaponry), but for their cost and considering the faction as a whole, it was inarguably in the top tier. However, I don’t really think that is true anymore- Primaris Marines now get vastly better guns on a chassis that honestly isn’t that much more expensive and their improved statline and changes to cover benefits mean that your basic Strike Squad is unlikely to do so much as even a single wound when shooting and a squad of Intercessors, to say nothing of heavier units.

This issue is echoed across many of their other weapons as well, such as Plasma (which has a weaker profile than the human variety and lacks the ability to overcharge), Melta (still stuck using the old rules), etc, etc. Some of their guns still are reasonably efficient, such as Missile Pods and their variants, but not to a degree that in any way impresses.

We compound this by the huge increases in durability tools that have been added to the game, like the various “wound limit” units such as C’tan, rules that prevent rerolls or improved wounding, and a general scaling-up of statlines as well as saving throws (with T5/2+/4++ being practically the default these days) as well as a total lack of access to mortal wounds and the faction is in some dire trouble in terms of actually killing anything.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t any ways around this… but I am somewhat hesitant about expecting Games Workshop to take those routes. I’m not really expecting them to universally give Pulse weapons an extra point of AP or damage, and those are the level of changes that would be needed to make Tau actually be able to play aggressively. Similarly, going to BS3+ would do a world of good for the faction (much as it did for Eldar back in 5E), but Games Workshop seems too attached to their being a BS4+ faction to ever go for that plan. Making their troops cheap enough to bring in large numbers and overwhelm objectives would be another option… but yet again, I don’t think it is one they are interested in pursuing, as Breacher Squads being 6pts per model seems like little more than a pipe dream.

Solutions (in) Space

Now, I don’t want this to seem completely doom and gloom- Games Workshop has, so far, been pretty good about making factions viable (though so far that just means “give Space Marines better stats,” which is maybe somewhat less impressive.) There certainly are other ways to make the faction work that I haven’t talked about here, and almost certainly ways to fix the faction that I haven’t thought of at all.

But the key points are the ones that Rhys and others have talked about, most notably Tau’s issue with scoring and shooting. 9E is much less friendly to shooting than other editions have been, and with literally no other tools in their toolbox, this puts Tau in a bad place, especially as they have historically had very weak scoring as well. I hope that Games Workshop will do something about this sooner rather than later, because Tau are almost completely out of the running right now and have zero compensatory options (like allies) to lean on- even the very best of Tau players are fully-aware of how unplayable they are right now. While there may not be a lot of events happening right now in large chunks of the world, if and when that eventually changes people are going to be very unhappy that their faction is so totally outclassed by the top tier of codices and that could easily provoke a 7E-like backlash that sets the game back a lot.

In the meanwhile, I feel like it would be in Games Workshop’s best interest to at least try and put some patches on the game by throwing the impoverished factions a bone- some price cuts on units, or errata to bring them slightly more in line with the big codices would go a long ways towards making the slow release schedule more palatable. The unfortunate reality is that some armies are going to be waiting a long time for a book- which is to say, it is pretty probable that there will be books still missing in 2023, which is not a thought to relish. They have already shown they are willing to do errata fixes on weapon profiles for the other Imperial armies (e.g. Sisters, Guard, etc) so there is little reason that they couldn’t also update some of the weapon profiles for xenos guns as well or even do a larger conversion of things overall. Certainly these sorts of efforts would take some time and energy on the company’s part and theoretically detract from the other books being written right now, but for players who are waiting on tenterhooks for anything resembling a new release for their faction, it would be a welcome release.

As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.


About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

19 Responses to “Tau and Objectives”

  1. Phil March 3, 2021 1:12 pm #

    As a Tau player with no other faction, it’s at the point that I hope GW dumps the entire species. Keeping them in the game and setting gives me hope, and yet I am constantly disappointed. I don’t think I can take another round or four of GW’s incompetence and disinterest (or maybe it’s spite).

    There is so much that _could_ be done with the Tau to make them flavourful, balanced and unique, but it has been demonstrated by GW over and over that they’re incapable of working out what they want from the faction and then how to apply it to the rules.

    I’d rather just wash my hands of the whole thing and walk away from the game forever, than see yet another abortive non-effort from the company.

    • Shas’O March 5, 2021 4:25 am #

      Don’t give up yet! Tau can still do well, they just play differently in 9th. Board control and speed are a must. I recommend devilfish (70pts for a transport is great when you factor in the drones) and infiltration units.

      Remoras are also very good!

      • abusepuppy March 6, 2021 8:35 pm #

        The Devilfish is arguably the worst transport in the game right now. The fact that it is still one of the best units in the Tau faction says more about the sad state of Tau than it does the quality of the Devilfish.

        Remoras are good, but they don’t solve the fundamental problem that the article discusses, namely that Tau can’t hold objectives. It doesn’t matter how efficient your firepower is if your opponent gets 15pts on turns 2, 3, and 4 every game guaranteed.

  2. Jace March 3, 2021 3:42 pm #

    Solid article, I think the patching idea is super solid and sorely needed.

    I also know that argument would often be roped into a “free rules!” stance, but thinks it’s different enough where codexes(codecii?) still have lots of rules outside of profiles and points to make people buy them.

    Buy stories, stratagems and rules.
    Patch points and profiles. What a slogan

  3. Sir_Prometheus March 5, 2021 1:35 pm #

    Abuse Puppy said something I agree with and now I’m angry.

    It’s not the drones pts and it’s not the not the markerlights (there are ways to deal with both) “it’s holding objectives, stupid”. Been saying this for a while.

  4. AnonAmbientLight March 5, 2021 10:06 pm #

    The main issue with the game, as it has always been, is the relative speed at which codexes get updated.

    I am always happy to see a codex come out, or when players get new stuff because it means that the game continues to grow and be healthy. And while it is never fun to be “the last” in line, that is a product of how these things work out, you know?

    Someone has to be first. Someone has to be last.

    But the time between all that feels shitty for when the army that happens to be last, or further back in line, is also an army that is the weakest or has the most problems.

    This has always been an issue with GW and it has admittedly gotten better over the years, but it just feels bad.

    GW needs to find a way to rethink their codex release schedule. It needs to happen faster, or all at once.

    If they can’t do that, then they need to find a way for players to “boost” their army while they wait like the article suggests.

    It could be as simple as them tweeking things, and giving a developer’s commentary describing the reasoning and what their goals are.

    Developers Note: We raised the AP value of the Burst Canon to give the weapon more punching power. We will be monitoring this change and it may not remain in the final codex. Feedback appreciated.

    Developers Note: We changed the Plasma Rifle damage to D2. This is to keep it in line with other plasma type weapons and the changing meta of multi-wound models.

    etc etc. Rules subject to change and all that stuff. Call them beta rules or whatever if you have to that players can agree upon using or whatever.

    • Victor March 6, 2021 7:20 am #

      I’d agree with your concept of beta rules if not for one thing:

      The lack of a decent app, which it should compile every existing ruleset and notify you if anything in the ruleset changes. With the current format (rules spread between several books, FAQs, etc) is very difficult to keep track of the constant changes in the rules

    • abusepuppy March 6, 2021 8:40 pm #

      The release schedule is also an issue because of faction bloat in the game- with the addition of many, many factions to the game since 7E it has expanded the roster of codices that need to be updated. This was more manageable when GW was putting out a codex or three every month, but now that we’re at a “one per month or less” rate, it’s a pretty dire problem. There are currently twenty-four distinct codices in the game, and it is not implausible to expect to see two or three more get added with 9E. That’s an absolutely untenable number of factions that must all be updated individually.

      • Matt March 7, 2021 1:28 pm #

        And almost half of those are just variations of speeeesssshh mareeeens.

  5. oddfather March 6, 2021 6:48 am #

    I really like the mecha/gundam aesthetic and have been strongly considering getting into the game for a while, watching tutorials and playing test games on BGS but when the main faction I want to play has either been “total ass” or “good but super cheesy and hated” for the last five years…. I’m very discouraged from investing a lot of resources into this.

    It really doesn’t help how many horror stories I see from a few years back when Tau were just *reasonably* good. People getting straight up ostracized from their local scene for bringing the “communist fish people” even if they weren’t running a cheesy list. I realize these stories are probably the exceptions rather than the rule, but good grief.

    If GW is unwilling to support a popular range and their fans are determined to be dicks about it, they’ll get what they deserve.

    • AngryPanda March 8, 2021 6:43 am #

      I have seen xenos players getting booed for making top 3 in 40K tournaments with shocking regularity.Unless you play Orks which are universally accepted due to dumb fun you will not be in for a good experience. And yes, I know most people are okay about it. But it only takes one in five to ruin your day and I honestly have no idea why that sort of attitude is allowed to fester in this scene. I mean, I do know. Deus Vult and all that. But let’s pretend the proto fascist stuff is just sature in Puppy’s article.

  6. red3_standingby March 6, 2021 5:40 pm #

    I don’t foresee a 7E type backlash, that’s taking this too far. There were plenty completely nonviable armies last edition, and they were bad all edition long. We’re not even through one year of Tau being bad. I’m sorry that the army is struggling, but it’s not a crisis for the game.

    • abusepuppy March 6, 2021 8:46 pm #

      Tau being bad isn’t a crisis for the game, no.

      Tau and Craftworlds and a dozen other factions that aren’t updated yet being unplayable a year from now, when half the factions have got their books and the other half haven’t IS a potential crisis, however. The disparity between the top-end books and everything else is pretty immense, and we have every reason to think that as the edition progresses it will continue to grow wider, as it almost always does. If that puts half of the players in the game in a situation where their main army- and let’s remember, most people only really have one army- is just utterly unplayable in anything resembling a competitive game, that is a huge issue for the hobby as a whole. Tau are perhaps the worst example of the phenomena, but it is by no means limited to Tau.

      • AngryPanda March 8, 2021 6:45 am #

        I’m still wondering how the game keeps going with Space Marines have stomped everything for years. GMG Battlereports seem pretty good natured but even in those I’ve seen Orks taken of the table with stoid indulgence. Like, “ok it’s my job to pretend this is a game but I’m just going through the motions.”

    • Matt March 7, 2021 1:32 pm #

      I’d argue Tau have been bad since the start of 8th. The difference is that commander/riptide/drone spam still let them win games in that edition.

      • abusepuppy March 7, 2021 10:55 pm #

        I don’t think you can dismiss the Commander/Riptide lists from 8E; like it or not, they were a very legitimate force during large parts of that edition.

        • Matt March 8, 2021 12:22 pm #

          I’m not dismissing them. I’m saying that being able spam a couple of units to win games doesn’t make a faction good.

          The fundamental problems that Tau have now aren’t new. They’ve existed since the start of 8th. The difference like I said was that in 8th those units were enough to win games. Now they aren’t.

          Also, most casual games can’t or won’t drop all that money on buying more riptides, drones and commanders just to stay competitive. Only one of the Tau players in my area could do that. The rest of us have been stuck trying to use well-rounded lists. Power-gamers in tournaments aren’t always a great indication of what the rest of the community experiences.

        • Dakkath March 8, 2021 12:30 pm #

          I’ve been thinking about it. The commander/riptide/drone list is effectively barkbarkstar except without the interaction in the psychic and assault phases. So, stupidly annoying to kill AND noninteractive, doubling down on the frustration for opponents.

          • Matt March 8, 2021 6:30 pm

            100%. Last time I played this list he parked his blob on the objectives and just removed his 50-ish drones one at a time. Barely moved anything. True, I was Tau as well and so didn’t have any melee units to speak of but still the most non-interactive game I’ve ever played.

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