Starting a Tau Empires Army

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Well it's definitely been a while (three years in fact) since the Want to start a Tau army? thread I wrote back in '04 for the old codex and old battleforce, so I think it's safe to say it's time for an update. A few things have changed since then, but the message is the same. This guide follows the same gist as the old one, though I'll try not to be as verbose as before. Also, the focus will be more on gaming, than the hobby side of things, though I shall cover as much as I can here.

Quick Reference:
 1. Introduction
 2. What to Buy?
 3. Construction Tips
 4. Get Gaming!
 5. Expanding your Tau Empire!
 6. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is one of unimaginable depth, with a rich background and history full of grim darkness weaved upon the tales of heroes and villians, endless war and corruption. The Imperium is fragmented and its forces spread out throughout the galaxy. Far away from Terra, lies a small empire in the eastern fringe: The Tau Empire. A young race that draws its strength through unity and purpose; focused on furthering the Greater Good and bringing others to their cause. The Tau progress without fear of technology, instead exploring and utilising all that their Earth Caste create. As a Tau Commander, you will command the Tau Fire Caste, and bring to bear the best soldiers and technology that the Tau Empire has to offer, everything from Battlesuits to Grav-Tanks, Pulse Rifles to Railguns, and Auxilliary Units who will aid you in furthering the Greater Good. You have the future in your hands.
In a nutshell, that is what Warhammer 40k and Tau are about. The galaxy is a dark place, and it doesn't hurt for the Tau to bring a little light to these parts. When compared to other armies, I guess you can say that they play and function differently from other armies. The focus is often on the idea of 'Combined Arms' and mobility, as well as having a specialised role or purpose for a unit. In general, Tau lean towards mobility and/or firepower, rather than brutal hand-to-hand combat.

2. What to Buy?

As a beginner, its easy to feel very eager to get started and get gaming, but when it comes to a decision such as what to buy - you just won't know where to start. So let's start with the essentials:
  • Tau Empire Codex - This one is absolutely critical to playing a Tau army. It contains everything you need to know about the Tau army, with an Army List that contains the rules for your units and for creating an Army, plenty of background articles and stories that go into more depth about the Tau Empire in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and a handy Hobby Section with collecting, modelling and painting advice. Plus there are plenty of pictures of Tau, which is never a bad thing.
  • The 4th Edition Rulebook - This is perhaps not as critical - if you have access to one, then you can get by without it. You can pick up a lot of the more complex rules as you play, but it would be a good idea to sit down and have a read through this book to grasp the basic rules, and what the statlines, special equipment and wargear and Universal Special Rules do. These will help greatly in understanding your Codex and getting you on your way to gaming, and gaming well. Once place to find this rather than buying the big book outright, is the Battle For Macragge starter set. That gives you some neat terrain to play with, as well as gaming dice, templates, a ruler, but most importantly, the core rulebook (the large rulebook has extra sections for background, but the rules are all there in the Macragge version). Each of the games gradually introduce you to new rules and different concepts/mechanics of the game. It's great for starting the game in general.
  • Models: A Crisis Suit and Fire Warrior Squad - These are the compulsory units that you will need to play a Tau Army. If there's anything to buy, it's these guys. Or something that contains them.
In regards to the models though - a Crisis Suit and a squad of Fire Warriors isn't much of an army is it?In my opinion, the best place to start is with the Tau Empire Battleforce. It's great value, and not only that, it contains the two compulsory units, a Crisis Suit and Fire Warrior Squad, and also includes a Devilfish, Kroot Squad, XV25 Stealth Team and 6 Gun Drones (these can form a Gun Drone Squadron). This can form the core of your army, and gives you a range of units that will perform very effectively at certain roles. It will also put you up to having a 500+ Point army, rather than a sub-200-point army if you had only a Crisis Suit and Fire Warrior squad (and believe me, the latter isn't very fun to play with when that's all you have when you start off... and you're against marines). But more on that later. To reiterate -The best place to start is with the Tau Empire Battleforce.
 Ideally, this is what you should have:

2.1 Battleforce Inventory

If you've purchased a Tau Empire Battleforce, good on yaArticle image
 Here's a quick aside on what the Battleforce contains, and which sprue is which.

 (Click on the names for the individual sprue pictures)
  • 1x XV8 Crisis Suit (1 Sprue) - Makes 1 XV8
  • 1x Devilfish (3 Sprues) - Makes 1 Devilfish
  • 1x XV25 Stealth Suits (1 Sprue) - Makes 3 XV25s + 1 Marker Drone
  • 3x Fire Warrior Sprue - Each sprue makes 4 Fire Warriors - Makes 12 Fire Warriors in total
  • 3x Kroot Sprue - Each sprue makes 4 Kroot Carnivores - Makes 12 Kroot in total
  • 6x Gun Drone Sprue - Each sprue makes 1 Gun Drone - Makes 6 Gun Drones in total
  • Accessories:
     View them here
    • Bag of 25mm Black Bases - There should be at least 28.
    • 1x 40mm Black Base - This is for your XV8
    • 7x Clear Round Base - For your Gun and Marker Drones (Note: For some reason they gave me 19, as seen in the pic)
    • 1x Large Clear Round Base
    • 6x Pairs of clear 'sticks' for the flying stands - one short pair for the Devilfish
One thing to be careful of, with so many sprues crammed into the box (that's not a bad thing!) - some pieces might have fallen off the sprues. Underneath my clear bases are a few bits that fell out when I emptied my battleforce box - just be aware that there can be little pieces around and try not to lose anything. Keep everything in a box or in storage containers when not in use.

3. Construction Tips

General construction of models is pretty much covered by the construction booklets/instruction sheets that come with any boxed set model you purchase from Games Workshop. The Tau Empire Battleforce has a consolidated booklet that has assembly instructions for all the basic units that the Tau have!
 The one thing in these that might unsettle some new players is the "(!)" symbol that you see throughout the guides. It means that the indicated piece is an option or extra. Most of the time, these correlate to a weapon option, or additional wargear that you can select in the Tau Army List.
 First things first, an important step is to firstly 'Dry Fit' a model together. Either just by holding a model together with your hands or using blu-tac or something similar, construct the model without using any actual glue. Then you can see whether or not it fits together, andhow it fits together. If you've used the wrong parts, you'll usually notice a gap or something not fitting together as it should, so it's always good to help you double check that everything is correct. Now on to some general tips for each unit:

Crisis Suits

These guys have plenty of options - in the form of weapon and support systems. The key here - is tonot glue any in place unless you're absolutely sure that's what you want, which for beginners, is a rare thing. My suggestion would be to leave them off - when you've actually primed and painted the model, the paint adds an extra layer on the model and the weapons and systems can usually just be pressed into place, where they sit snugly without falling off. That will allow you to switch weapons in different games, instead of being stuck with one configuration. One thing to remember though - is that Crisis Suits can only take 3 systems. Just because it has 4 slots doesn't mean you have to fill them all - that would become a problem in stricter games (e.g. WYSIWYG - "What you see is what you get") where models represent exactly the units in the army list, no more, no less.

Fire Warriors

When constructing these models, one thing to know is that the arms are matched to one another. A left arm is matched with the closest/adjacent right arm on the sprue, for example. The options that Fire Warriors have, are merely - whether to take Pulse Rifles (the longer guns) or Pulse Carbines (the shorter ones), taking Photon/EMP grenades (represented by the twin canisters), and a bonding knife. Keeping things simple, the best choice is generally just to take Pulse Rifles and no other upgrades, although that depends on your army list.


One option that is common to all these tanks - is the seeker missile. Not many people take these, as it requires the use of a Markerlight, so at this stage it's best to leave this one off. The aerials aren't explicitly indicated as any particular upgrade on the tanks, so you can use these however you like. As for the Hammerhead weapon options, I have a thread on how to magnetize the turrets so as to allow you to choose different weapons each game: Modular Tau Tanks.

XV25 Stealthsuits

They have the option to take 1 Fusion Blaster for every three Stealth Suits in the squad. I guess this one comes down to personal preference - different players have different usages for Stealth Teams.
 For more on assembling models, have a look at these pages:

4. Get Gaming!

As I mentioned earlier, if you have the battleforce - you will have a fair amount of points to work with, and can build a 500+ point army. So here it is, a playable army straight out of the box!
+++[HQ] +++
Commander: Shas'El
 Weapons: Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod
 Wargear: Targeting Array, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker, Hard-Wired Black Sun Filter
Points: 100
 +++[Elites] +++
Stealth Team
 Unit: Shas'vre and 2 Shas'ui's
 Character: Shas'vre with Fusion Blaster, Bonding Knife, Hard-wired Drone Controller and Marker Drone
 Weapons: Burst Cannons
Points: 137
 +++[Troops] +++
Fire Warrior Team
 Unit: Shas'ui and 11 Fire Warriors
 Character: Shas'ui with Bonding Knife
 Transport: Devilfish with Decoy Launchers and Two Gun Drones
Points: 220
Kroot Carnivore Squad
 Unit: 12 Kroot
Points: 84
 +++[Fast Attack]+++
Gun Drone Squadron
 Unit: 4 Gun Drones
Points: 48
 +++[Heavy Support] +++
HQ (1/2)10016.6%
Elites (1/3)13722.8%
Troops (2/6)30450.6%
Fast Attack (1/3)488.0%
Heavy Support (0/3)00.0%

Total: 600 PointsThere you have it, a 600 Point list straight out of the box! This is the sort of army that can form the stable core of your Tau army, regardless of what direction you go in regards to play style. The Crisis Suits, Stealth Team, and Gun Drones in this army are all equipped with Jet Packs, allowing them to jump out, fire, and jump back into cover. The Fire Warrior squad with the Devilfish can be very mobile, moving 12" a turn and capturing objectives at the end of the game, or using their firepower, especially at close range to deal a lot of damage from their guns. The Kroot are useful in firstly, infiltrating to good positions on the table (in cover!) and/or working as a counter-assault unit for your more fragile Tau. Every unit (with the exception of the Kroot) can stay very mobile, and you can use this to your advantage combined with Tau firepower.
 With this list though, at small point values - every unit needs a purpose and a role. I would be using the Stealth Team and Kroot to infiltrate close to your opponents army, whilst using the Gun Drones to flank them. The Crisis Suit Commander and Devilfish Squad would form a mobile fire-base in the centre of the army, that lend their weight wherever possible. Dealing with enemy infantry is the job of the Fire Warriors, Kroot, and Stealth Team. Gun Drones (especially the ones on the Devilfish) are decent at intercepting assaults and generally causing distractions for your opponent. Taking out any vehicles is basically left to the Commander and the Fusion-blaster armed Stealth Suit, although pulse weapons can take out lightly-armoured vehicles. You can think of this approach as a 'pincer' movement, with the Stealth suits taking one flank, and Gun Drones and Kroot taking the other flank, whilst the rest of the army (Crisis Suit and Fire Warriors w/Devilfish) take the center.
 At this point, it's good to explain some general playstyles that the Tau have.
  • The first is aStatic Army - one that focuses on raw firepower from its units. Preference would be given to units such as Broadsides over Hammerheads, as an example, for their ability to bring more Railguns to bear and to have greater accuracy from their twin-linked guns. This army is basically composed of firebases - groups of units that focus their fire to take out certain types of enemy units.
  • Then we have aMechanised Army - one that forgoes some firepower for greater mobility. These armies will have more skimmers and tank units than static armies, along with jetpack equipped models, almost exclusively. Every unit will potentially be able to move 12" per turn, whether it be Crisis Suits, Fire Warrior Squads mounted in Devilfishes, or Hammerhead Gunships. Their mobility reduces the damage the army takes, through using jetpacks to avoid fire, or the Skimmers-Moving-Fast rule to downgrade penetrating hits to glancing (see rulebook).
  • Lastly we have aHybrid Army - that simply combines elements from both a Static and Mech army, essentially taking the best of both worlds. In general this is the sort of Tau army that you see around; it's rare to see pure static or pure mech armies.

5. Expanding your Tau Empire!

So where to from here? I think the key is - knowing your army better. Play more games with the army that you have now. Understand what works, and what doesn't, and what roles each unit is suited for. For the army list above, you can see that I've assigned roles for each unit, something that I think they would be better suited at, than the other units in the list. Look at how you would deal with certain units types, such as light infantry (5+ saves or worse), heavy infantry (4+ saves or better), light vehicles (less than AV12), and heavy vehicles (AV 12 or greater).
 A good source of information and advice are online forums, such as this one. A lot of members out there have taken the hard work out of understanding your army, by writing threads that look at each unit type and their advantages/disadvantages and uses. Mechanized Tau has its own, original, dedicated website to that particular playstyle. So here's just a few links to get you started:There are plenty of useful topics listed in our stickied topics, which function as a 'Contents' page of sorts to all that furthers the Greater Good.
 Of note: Often you'll come across names that are unfamiliar; we sometimes use nicknames to refer to a particularly common Crisis Suit configuration. These are listed here: Refined XV8 Naming Scheme -'Deathrain' (Twin-Linked Missile Pods) and'FireKnife' (Plasma Rifle + Missile Pod) are probably the most common configurations and names used around here.
 As for "What to buy next?" type questions - these are perhaps best answered yourself. Have a look at your standing army, and consider these questions:
  • What do you have the most trouble dealing with?
  • What is your army missing? (Mobile units, anti-tank units etc)
  • In the case of losses - why do they occur? Can you adequately capture objectives?
  • What do you like the look of?
  • What unitdon't you have?
The last two questions are more based on personal preference rather than improving gaming effectiveness.. but the focus isn't always on gaming or winning. Playing Warhammer 40,000 is a hobby that encompasses many things, and it's good to remember that. As for the first few questions, you will have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of your army, and ways to counter the strengths of other armies. Another thing to consider is your playstyle altogether - how are you using each of your units?
 All of the above is a little advanced at this stage though, especially if you're just starting (which, really is what this guide assumes) - so if you've gone about getting a Battleforce, the choice of what to get next would probably come down to getting a Hammerhead tank *1, more troops (Fire Warriors, with Devilfishes if you're going mech), and more Crisis Battlesuits. You won't go amiss with those units. There is a bit of a weak spot still when dealing with heavy infantry or light armour vehicles, but the answer to this is the plasma rifle and missile pod respectively, which just so happen to be Crisis Suit weapons.
Edit: *1If you're going for a Hammerhead Tank - Buy a Skyray! It costs the same amount, and includes the Skyray Sprue - basically for free! From this set, you can build any of the three tanks available - the Devilfish (You'll need two extra gun drones if you don't want to use the SMS), Hammerhead, and Skyray! See this thread: Modular Tau Tanks: Tau HH/DF

6. Conclusion

Well, this has actually turned out a bit more verbose and lengthy than I had expected, but that can't be a bad thingArticle image
 I'll finish up by saying, if you're a new player and just starting Tau, welcome aboard! And to plug the forums, online forums are a great source of gaming advice and hobby material, and will always have people willing to lend a hand whenever needed. Whether its advice on where to go next or how to combat a certain army, we'll have an answer. There's plenty of new tactica popping up every week, more than what GW Definition: Games Workshopdecide to include in their White Dwarf magazines. I mean the whole 'Mech Tau' thing basically creeped up on them when it turned out to be very effective in games.
 Best of luck, Commander.

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