In 5th edition the Tau army isn't as competitive as it once was. Because a Tau army should be about moving and shooting, this means that to be effective, a Tau army has to have a host of weapons to deal with a variety of threats. This means not tailoring your force to one specific opponent, but a variety of opponents.
Now I for one hate it when you show up for a game and your opponent has completely tailored their army to obliterate yours, simply because they know what you are taking.
I experienced this earlier in the month at the Ammo Bunker Open Bash when Dave rocked up with a Space Marine mechanised army, designed purely to kill the Tau army he was used to fighting. Unlikely for him, that was a Tau gunline army, while my Tau army cruise in style in all manner of Devilfish, Hammerheads and even Skyrays.
As a result his horde of Heavy Bolters and Stern Guard armed with their special bolter rounds where ineffective against my mobile wall of armour 12 vehicles. Instead of proving how tailoring your army can win you games, it only proved how tailoring your army can turn Warhammmer 40K in a game of rock-paper-scissors.
Thankfully, anyone tailoring their army to take out a mechanised army will be paying a lot of points for all those lascannons and multimeltas. So perhaps mechanised is the safest way to go? Providing your lowest front armour value is 12 of course.
So what makes my all-comers Tau army so special? Well, it's got a little bit of everything to take on virtually anything. Even my friend Marc who has returned to the hobby after a brief brake and is now eager to break out his Imperial Guard and make the most of the new Imperial Guard Codex doesn't feel that my Tau will be a push over, even with the new Hyrdra flak tanks and Leman Russ Vanquishers.
Tau Army EssentialsSo what makes a good Tau army to take on all comers? Durability, Mobility and Firepower.
Durability: This comes from having a lot of tanks. With so many people focussing on killing troops, mostly with short ranged template weapons, tanks are relatively free to roam as they please, protecting the squishy occupants inside while still being able to claim objectives thanks to the Troops they are transporting. Lascannons shouldn't be a serious problem for Tau skimmers, especially when there are lots of Tau skimmers in your army. Lascannons only become a problem when there are lots of them, but they cost a lot of points, so your opponent will have to sacrifice something else in his army to afford them all...unless he's fielding 6 Valkyrie Vendettas. Hopefully any nasty penetrating hits should be deflected by your disrutption pods. Glancing hits aren't so scary. Just watch out for melta guns and multimeltas getting up close.
Mobility: Contrary to popular belief, Tau are not by any means a fast army. They can just move and shooot a lot thanks to multitrackers on tanks. With the Tau you have to stay out of close combat at all costs, so moving as far as possible is extremely important. A static Tau army dies, so once again, you need to mechanise. While moving 6" and firing all your weapons might be appealing, it's safer to keep moving 12" and keep the enemy at a safe distance. It also makes your opponent need a 6 to hit your skimmers in close combat.
Firepower: While your Tau tanks and disembarking and rapid firing Tau Fire Warriors can put down lots of squishy targets in the open, the Tau army is no longer a powerhouse of firepower. They put out a lot of shots, but due to the volume of cover saves or power armour, they aren't dealing as much damage as they once did. Although plasma rifle and missile pod battlesuits hitting on 3+ (due to targeting arrays or markerlights) are still utterly devastating and should be used to eliminate key targets in the same way that Broadside teams can still take out enemy tanks. This means you need to prioritise your targets more than ever before, but you can never rely on your firepower to completely wipe out an enemy unit.
So which weapons do you take when you could be facing Eldar, Orks, Space Marines or Imperial Guard? Well, the simple answer is that you take a little bit of everything!
The Tau army is actually a very balanced army. The fact the Tau are so balanced is probably a weakness when you think about it, so you have to really optimise the guts out of it to build an effective force. This means you will need railguns, a mass of basic weapons fire, plasma rifles, missile pods and flamers as well as some markerlights to make sure your important weapons hit when you really need them to.
Everyone has their personal preferences when it comes to arming their units, but I will advise you to take weapons which can hurt everything. Or a combination of weapons to take on whatver the enemy throws at you. For example, my Tau Battlesuit team with twin linked flamers are also equipped with missile pods. They can't fire both in the same turn (and they don't need to), because if they aren't annihilating troops at close range, the can fire at troops or tanks from a safe 36" distance. Alternatively, if I took a Tau Battlesuit with twin linked flamer and an Air Bursting Fragmentation Projector (AFP) he'd be in trouble if a tank came towards him.
Durability, Mobility and Firepower together creates a successful Tau army. Sometimes your tanks will be stunned, shaken, immobilised or plain destroyed. Leave them and keep moving with the rest of the force. The most important part of the Tau army is mobility. If you can't move, you can't stay out of close combat. It's that simple. This is why Tau gunline armies no longer work.
Your firepower often won't be enough to wipe out the enemy. So keep moving with the presumption that you won't kill them all (unless your entire army is firing en masse at a bunch of Orks who have wandered out into the open). This way you will ensure that your units are at a safe distance, or moving 12" so that enemy units will struggle to hit your tanks and inflict any damage in close combat.
So here are those 3 Tau army rules again
Tau Rule 1 Mobiity: Keep moving. If you sit still, you die.
Tau Rule 2 Firepower: Combine your firepower for maximum kills, but don't expect to eliminate your targets.
Tau Rule 3 Durability: Take tanks, keep your distance and hide your Tau battlesuits behind them.
1750 Points Tau ArmyHere's my regulary 1500 points Tau army list again if you missed it the other week. If you want to boost it to 1750 points, simply add 10 Kroot, 4 Stealth Suits and upgrade the burst cannons on the Hammerhead and Skyray to smart missile systems. You'll have maybe 15 points left to play around with.
Feel free to borrow, play test, tear apart and reform for your own use. Good luck and good hunting!
Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod, Multitracker, Hardwired Drone Controller with 2 shield drones
2 Bodyguards with Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod, Hardwired Multitracker, Targeting Array
Tau Battlesuit Team
2 with Twin Linked Flamer, Missile Pod
1 Leader with Twin Linked Flamer, Missile pod, Hardwired Drone Controller with 2 shield drones
(X3) 6 man Fire warrior Team
Devilfish with Smart Missile System, Targeting Array, Multitracker, Disruption Pod
Hammerhead with Railgun, 2 Burst Cannons, Target Lock, Multitracker, Disruption Pod, black sun filter
Skyray with 2 Burst Cannons, Target Lock, Targeting Array, Multitracker and Disruption Pod, black sun filter
2 man Broadside Team with advanced stabilization
Leader, Hardwired Drone Controller with 2 shield drones, Bonding Knife