Warhammer 40K: Should the T’au Have a Strong Assault Unit?
9th edition is here and a burning question arises – should GW give the T’au a good assault unit?
An Age Old Problem
One theme that keeps on cropping up in comments on articles. 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. 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.
Vespids & Kroot
I’ve 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.
What About Battlesuits?
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.
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