Hello new player!!! You have decided to play the Tau faction in Warhammer 40k, which is probably why you are now visiting this site. You may already have experience with another 40k faction, or you may just have started with the hobby. Whatever your experience however, this guide aims to introduce you to the basics of playing Tau. A quick thing to note is that this guide does not discuss in depth the concepts of actually playing the game. If you would like to know the official game rules as of eighth edition, download this pdf -->https://www.games-workshop.com/resources/PDF/40k/warhammer_40000_en.pdf, provided officially by Games Workshop. If you already have it, you should already know the rules for playing a basic game. So, without further ado, let us get into the basics of playing the Tau!!!
What are the Tau, and what can I expect to get out of my army?
In Warhammer 40k, the Tau are a optimistic race of blue-skinned aliens from the Eastern Fringes of the Milky Way galaxy. They went pretty quickly from being savages fighting bloody wars with basic gunpowder weapons to being one of the most technologically advanced factions in 40k. In the space of ~6000 years, the Tau have created plasma weapons, railguns, skimmer tanks, advanced robotics (including mechanised battlesuits straight out of Gundam) and are often called 'Space Communists' due to their fluff being partially based on the real-world ideology of Communsism (or actually socialism, as they do not have a fully equal society (despite what the Ethereals say))
But that is all on a fluff level, and you probably already know this if you are playing this faction. On the tabletop, the Tau can be played in a very adaptable way. Games Workshop made us the best shooting army in the game. Our standard infantry unit (the Fire Warrior Strike Team) carries what is (without argument) one of the best infantry weapons in the game: the Pulse Rifle. We have tanks called Hammerheads (and yes, there is a heavy fish theme with our vehicle names) that mount railguns, while we employ slow, but well-armoured battlesuits called XV-88 Broadsides to deliver double-taps from their Heavy Rail Rifles onto targets that require more than one shot to take down. We can deploy XV-8 Crisis teams carrying a wide variety of specialist loadouts to quickly get to struggling Fire Warriors units and assist them with everything from flamers to Cyclic Ion Blasters. In almost every ranged scenario, we have the advantage. In addition, we are also a pretty decent army when it comes to toughness, and our mobility is great when it comes to battlesuits and flying units.
However, you may of heard about our most...infamous...weakness. While we may have the best guns, and the most awesome mecha in the game, we absolutely suck at melee. While it isn't QUITE as bad as most of our detractors say, the Tau are definitely not optimised for close combat. While we do have a subfaction called the Farsight Enclaves who specialise at close combat (apparently), it is unknown how well the Enclaves will do at melee in 8e (due to the codex for Tau and therefore any of the possible Farsight Enclave specialist rules), and previous editions showed that they weren't good at that either. So, when faced with a assualt, out only option is to throw everything we've got downrange during overwatch, and hope that the majority of the Close-Combat units die amidst the hailstorm of pulse fire and other such munitions.
Our main role in 8th edition is as a mid-to-long range skirmishing army with decent mobility and incredible firepower (or 'Dakka' as I'll refer to it from now on). We've kinda become a low-ranked competitive army, so if you play 40k tournaments with Tau, you'll be facing a lot of people whose factions are better in the competitive 'league' than us. Though, you can still have fun playing casual. In terms of our units, your best units will be the Commander Crisis (a larger and more powerful version of the standard XV-8 that can mount four weapons instead of 3) and units such as Longstrike (our resident Tank Commander) with additional Hammerhead Tank support. A lot of our once-awesome units have kinda lost rep in 8e. Not because they've gone bad. If you look through the posts here on ATT, you'll see a lot of comments about the overpriced points cost for a lot of our units (especially the hard-hitters from the last two editions, which suggests a deliberate rebalance from GW in response to the Tau being the kings of 6th edition & 7th edition) including the Broadside and Riptide. In addition, we've been put down for the upcoming year for our codex release, which will hopefully add our Vehicle Support Systems and Battlesuit Signature Systems (our version of relics) back in when we get our dedicated rulebook.
However, we still have the title of being Space Communist Weebs with anime-styled models and the best damm guns in the whole game. So there's one for us.
What should I try and purchase to get my army started (if I haven't already)?
If you're playing Tau, you should probably start the same way any other player does: the basics. To play a matched game of 40k (a fully-legal army with set parameters), you'll probably want to avoid purchasing those cool battlesuits, and instead build a small Infantry detachment (known as a Battalion Detachment). To do this, you'll need two HQ units (your field commanders), and three units of infantry (known as the Troop Choice category).
The best way to do this is to buy at least three boxes of Fire Warriors. You can assemble them as either the standard Strike Team (long-range grunts with either a Pulse Rifle or a Pulse Carbine) or as specialist Breachers (short-range city fighters with Pulse Shotguns known as Pulse Blasters). For your first army, I'd recommend assembling them as three teams of ten breachers, with one Tau in each designated as the Shas'ui for the army. I'm not going to go into the modelling bit of this, but i'll remind you that you can assemble them any way you like, as long as you make sure they have the correct weapon (unless the people you game with don't go for What You See is What You Get (WYSWYG) for weapons choices). For your two HQ choices, you should try and go to the GW online store and order two of the online-exclusive HQ's that are really valuable for your army. These are the standard Ethereal (the leader caste of the Tau empire who keep the Tau in check with the Tau'va, otherwise known as the Greater Good) and the Fireblade Commander (a Tau who (instead of being promoted to the point where they can pilot a battlesuit) decides to remain as infantry, instead lending their experience to ground-based Fire Warrior infantry). The Ethereal will be of massive help when it comes to deciding morale (as they can lend their morale stat to nearby Fire Warriors), and the fireblade will allow you to add a extra shot to your nearby Fire Warrior's shooting stat when the enemy comes within 15". In terms of the drones that come with the model kits, you'll want to assemble them as Gun drones. The Marker Drone is essentially useless when it comes to pulling weight in a fight (despite having a markerlight, it is a rather expensive way of gaining such a system when you can add a markerlight to your Shas'ui for only 3 points) and the Shield Drone is a much-debated unit.
I'll spend some time on the shield drone to clarify some things. The shield drone is designed to be used as a bodygaurd, using a rule that allows any drone to intercept unsaved wounds inflicted on infantry or battlesuits while being hit with a deadly mortal wound. The drone wouldn't survive, as they only have a single wound, and the only thing that can save a mortal wound is the 8th edition equivalent of a Feel No Pain (save wound on a 5+) save. So anyway, early on in 8e, the Shield drone was considered a literal waste of time, as it couldn't use any weapons; only gave itself a invulnerability save that would be useless against any inflicted mortal wounds, and was designed to be used as a meat shield to intercept a unsaved wound. So, that was stupid.
Anyway, Games Workshop published erratta in response to this quite obvious flaw, noting that the drone should get a 5+ Feel No Pain save, so that it could at least have a chance at surviving a wound. Despite this, that is only a 33% chance of surviving the wound, and you can only take two drones per unit. It would be a lot more effective to take two gun drones, who can at least shoot four shots per turn apiece.
Anyway, that is the most basic army you should build to start with. Anything else should be built from there. Ideally, use the 10 man profile for the strike teams, give the Shas'ui a markerlight and a free pulse pistol, and keep every model equipped with the default pulse rife. Add two gun drones to the infantry, and don't alter anything with the HQ. This is the cheapest, most effective build you can create to get you started.
Getting started with battlesuits and vehicles
RIght, so now you have a basic army, and you're probably looking to go into the cool stuff now. Your army isn't quite ready to play against tough foes. While you doe carry the best damm infantry weapon available to pretty much every faction, it isn't going to dent a Space Marine Rhino, or take down a Leman Russ (unless you are incredibly lucky). So, your next step is to get some battlesuit or vehicle support. Throughout this section, we will be taking the army from the previous section, and making it better. So, you currently have a Fireblade, a Ethereal, and three teams of ten Fire Warriors. Your first purchase should be a team of three crisis suits, right??? Not really, quite surprisingly. Before you decide to spend your hard-earned cash on the three-tau team of battlesuits, you're going to want to consider what you want out of your army. If you're going for the crisis suits, you are looking to build a very mobile, jetpack-equipped army that can engage targets in a skirmishing playstyle. If you want something that allows for a faster and more powerful army, you'll want to buy either a Piranha Light Speeder (if you want a fast but effective vehicle army), or a Hammerhead Tank (if you want a army that can quite literally headshot a tank).
If you're going for the battlesuit option, you'll want to build your army around a core of two different battlesuit types: stealthsuits and crisis suits. Stealthsuits are a excellent flanking unit, built to take advantage of cover to the max via cloaking technology. Since this is a beginner's guide, i'm going to keep the detachment you'll build for this at three units. To your army list, add a Vanguard Detachment (composed at minimum of one HQ choice and three Elite choices). Now, this is where you can really diverge your army. Think about what you favour. Do you enjoy having many different options avaliably when you need to kill a foe??? If so, you'll want a detachment mostly or fully composed of Crisis teams (three man with one shas'ui replaced with a Shas'vre, and six gun drones for support) carrying your choice of weapons. I'll quickly outline what you'll want and not want for crisis weapons now:
The standard crisis weapon is the burst cannon, which is great for taking out infantry, but sucks against vehicles. The Airbursting fragmentation Projector has the ability to ignore line-of-sight when shooting, but you'll not want it in most scenarios, as it is very weak in terms of weapon strength. Instead, use the burst cannon. Next option is the Cyclic Ion Blaster, which is your best option in most cases. This weapon has two profiles, one for standard, and one for overcharge. Use this if you can, but be warned that there are very few instances in the box for modelling purposes.
Our flamers are pretty standard. If you have a crisis suit you can't figure out a loadout for, put flamers on it. They will be of great help in overwatch if the enemy get's close enough to be hit, and you can use them quite well in close quarters. However, don't pull mass armies full of them, as this will limit your effectiveness. Our fusion blasters are the best choice for anti armour and you should definitely use these in your army. Equip at least one unit with fusion balsters so you have a way to take out vehicles with ease.
Our plasma rifles now have been nerfed with the introduction of overcharge mechanics. They were once weaker, but didn't overheat. Now, since you can choose whether your plasma weapons overheat, we have pretty much no use for the plasma rifles in favour of cyclic ion blasters and fusion blasters. Our longest ranged weapon, the missile pod is quite good to have, and looks great as a shoulder weapon. If you need a suit that can be slightly more versatile, at the cost of a few extra wounds, take one missile pod on a suit and keep the arm weapons uniform.
TBE (currently WIP)