Monday, 10 June 2013

Tau Players - What Can Forgeworld Do For You? [Part 1]

The recent update to 6th edition of Imperial Armour 3 brought with it new rules for Forgeworld's range of Tau and Kroot units, promising changes to rules in order to make them usable under the new codex. Many of the changes were simple bookkeeping ones such as the addition of Supporting Fire, revision of Markerlights and weapons like Fusion Blasters, Pulse Carbines and Burst Cannons but these have had severe effects on the function of some models. This article will consider a number of units in their new guise against the core Tau codex.

1) Remora Drone Fighters

The Remora was a good unit in its form from IA: Aeronautica, a flyer with an innate cover save and a Markerlight. What IA3 did was make it even better. Compared to the Sunshark Bomber a unit of 2 Remoras is more flexible on the battlefield and survivable via their saving throw for only a slightly higher price. Indeed, it is fair to say the Remora is the ground attack aircraft the Tau Codex needed. 

Central to this is the new Long Barrel Burst Cannon, which has sufficient range to allow the Remora to attack from long range using Hover Mode if needed with a prodigious rate of twin linked average-strength fire. Although less useful against the heavy flyers such as the Vendetta, Helldrake and Stormraven, the Remora's weight of fire means it can with some reliability take on units like the Crimson Hunter, Dakkajet and Doom Scythe for a fraction of the cost - and the supplementary Seeker Missiles can confirm that kill.

This utility is compounded by the fact the Remora has a Skyfire capable Markerlight; if a unit of 2 both tag an enemy flyer ground based models can attack it at BS3 rather than 1.

Thus for a now lower than ever point cost the Remora is a multi-purpose flyer that, when deployed in squadrons, lays down significant fire. Furthermore the innate cover bonus allows it to hover, taking advantage of the Jink save of a skimmer to create a very resilient light vehicle.

2) Barracuda Fighter

If the Remora was a slightly superior choice for anti-light infantry flyer than the Sunshark, the Barracuda completely obsoletes the Razorshark in all roles - although it sacrifices a hull point compared to its codex competitor it adds significant firepower and a point of BS.

The Quad Ion Turret is upgraded to a full-size Ion Cannon, losing a shot in regular firing mode but gaining 30" of range and a crucial point of AP meaning it is now capable of denying Space Marines a save. This is supplemented by a twin linked missile pod, up to 4 Seeker Missiles and a pair of cover-ignoring Burst Cannons.

The Agile special rule, granting +1 on Jink saves, seems less than useful but the Barracuda's access to Tau vehicle upgrades means it can take a Disruption Pod and still come in 5pts cheaper than a Razorshark with Missile Pod. Indeed, all the Barracuda realistically loses by Jinking is its overcharge shot; the prevalence of Markerlights for increasing BS means it will usually be able to fire at full accuracy even if snap-firing.

3) Tetras

While the Remora was made cheaper in IA3 while simultaneously receiving a significant upgrade, the Tetra was tuned down. At its core it remains a cheap and fast Markerlight platform - yet the changes made no longer make it so obviously powerful. Its fire rate has been halved compared to previous iterations, meaning it is no longer a one-model upgrade frenzy.

Yet it is still a pair of twin linked Markerlights on a skimmer base that can thus move a significant distance and still fire them. Previously the Tetra was a logical replacement to a Pathfinder unit - now it is properly defined as an alternative. Pathfinders are now more than Markerlight carriers via the up gunned Rail Rifle and other upgrades, while Tetras are a dedicated high speed support unit.

4) Hammerhead Variants

The variant Hammerhead turrets fill a strange role in the Tau Heavy Support section; most duplicate in some way another unit's role and whether or not they are better is hard to gauge. Each, notably, has two weapons rather than a single high rate of fire weapon; this does affect the mobility of the Hammerhead and thus the utility of upgrades such as the Disruption Pod.

Long Barrel Burst Cannon: Providing something Tau do not lack for (average anti infantry firepower) this option's closest analogue is the Riptide or Remora. Where it differs is in how it can benefit from vehicle upgrades; with Longstrike, a burst cannon Hammerhead can use Supporting Fire with an impressive amount of firepower.

Fusion Cannon: On the surface this weapon is a powerful option; two high strength blasts with 2d6 armour penetration at 12" is a very strong main gun for a cheap tank like the Hammerhead. However, four factors make it less useful than it seems; firstly the 12" range band at which the guns are useful is too close to the enemy for most Tau units and so it will need an escort. Secondly, getting the Hammerhead to within 12" will probably require additional upgrades, such as Sensor Spines and a Disruption Pod. Thirdly, 12" threat range on a blast weapon and BS3 creates a dangerous likelihood of a bad scatter annihilating the firer (see also the Hades Drill).

Finally there is the fact that blasts cannot be snap fired; the Hammerhead's firepower is thus halved on the move since it has two Heavy 1 Blast guns over one Heavy 2 Blast.

Plasma Cannon: This is an awkward compromise between the stock Ion Cannon and a Riptide; a low fire rate pair of AP2 guns without the utility of overcharging for the crucial S8 or 9 needed to hurt heavier models or inflict Instant Death on T4 ones.

Twin Linked Missile Pod with Velocity Tracker: If any of these options were undeniably bad it is this. The Hammerhead becomes a very expensive Quadgun or Broadside with none of the other utility (ability to use cover for Broadsides, cover provided by a Quad Gun defence line) that the cheaper options provide.

5) Commander R'Alai

R'Alai transferred into 6th edition almost unchanged - which is both a benefit and a drawback. Functionally his weapons are no different and they still represent a useful selection. Changes to Haywire grenades across the board in 6th boosted his EMP shot and as a result he has become the best means for Tau to take down AV14 vehicles. Two Haywire shots at high BS can bring hull points off usually resilient vehicles like Land Raiders as easily as any other vehicle target.

His drones remain unchanged but now benefit from BS5 via the new Drone Controller rule so his own high firepower is supplemented by two accurate, Relentless Markerlights. However, being only T4 they reduce the unit's average toughness score and so are best sacrificed via Look Out Sir if R'Alai takes fire.

The other significant change to R'Alai is his gaining a special form of Independent Character; he specifically cannot join units or take bodyguards. This means he is ultimately no different to how he was before. It is also worth noting his special Warlord Trait, granting Preferred Enemy when fighting Independent Characters; while he is apparently an anti-vehicle commander he also now becomes a useful sniper.

6) XV9 Hazard Suits

While the Remora and Tetra both changed if not undeniably for the better but certainly in ways which differentiated them, the XV9 failed to change at all. Whereas R'Alai remained useful, this unit has become effectively worthless compared to other options.

Firstly, its cost remained constant and crucially higher than a Broadside for no advantage. The higher toughness of an XV9 is not accompanied by a better save or more wounds - for reference a single XV9 is only slightly cheaper unupgraded than a Tau Commander and is triple the cost of a Crisis Suit. The XV9 must then buy a support system, and pays a premium for useful ones; the Stimulant Injector is priced identically to the Shield Generator making a Shielded Hazard only 10pts cheaper than a Commander with Iridium Armour. Comparing other stats the Hazard suffers; it is no better than a Crisis Suit outside the toughness boost yet over 3x the cost before mandatory systems.

In terms of weapons the situation is no better. The new XV9 benefits from the bump in fire rate to Burst Cannons, now putting out 8 twin linked shots - yet this now invalidates its upgraded weapon whose point of difference was more shots at a lower strength. Paying extra for less S and Rending is a poor trade for losing twin linked when the XV9 remains average BS.

The Fusion Cascade is similarly poor; it failed to inherit the extra 6" of range the Fusion Blaster gained and so ends up an unreliable, inaccurate gun which must be in spitting range of the enemy to use its Melta rule.

What is more, the guns must be purchased for left and right arms separately, making a fully loaded XV9 unit close to, if not over, 100 points a model - and competing in Fast Attack with cheap Remoras, Tetras and Barracudas (from IA3) and codex stalwarts Piranhas and Pathfinders. The result is a unit with no useful point of difference, no upgrades to justify its astronomical point cost and inefficient short range weapons that in no way work with other Tau units.

In part 2 of this I will look at: 

- Commander R'Myr
- Drone Turrets and Sensor Towers
- Heavy Gun Drones
- Piranha Variants
- Kroot

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