I am absolutely thrilled that this weekend sees a return to 40k releases from GW. Not that I haven’t enjoyed seeing Age of Sigmar grow, but my heart belongs to Warhammer 40,000 and so seeing the Tau Empire stomping about on the cover of White Dwarf this Saturday will be like a sight for sore eyes.
To celebrate the coming influx of fish/water-movement-themed names that the Tau update will no doubt bring, I thought I’d spend a bit of time looking at the evolution of the 41st Millennium’s youngest, and arguably most pleasant race. Let’s go back in time to 2001…
*Insert Wavey Flashback Animation Here*
Warhammer 40,000 needed something new. Something needed to set it apart from WFB and bring it into modern times. Other than the Tyranids, all the races in 40k had a twin in the fantasy game, and what’s more, the Squats were now dead – devoured by those aforementioned Nids. GW needed to find inspiration from somewhere new. So they looked East.
Many people have noted the obvious similarities between the Tau battle suits and Manga/Anime mechs such as Gundam, but the comparisons didn’t end there. The caste system, the idea of the Greater Good, and the Tau language all exhibit an Asian theme. Though a little derivative, this was a master stroke from Games Workshop’s designers as it allowed them to create a mechanised enemy with a completely unique (to the 41st Millennium) set of aesthetics and values. The Greater Good ideal also afforded GW the ability to add races, such as the Kroot and Vespid without needing to flesh out an entire army. I still to this day believe that the addition of the Tau was one of the smartest things GW ever did for 40k, and that they have continuously improved this army over every edition.
They also allowed GW to work on a younger race. Eldar, Necrons, Orks… these were ancient races whereas the Tau are the new guys on the scene with a far shorter and more recent history. This meant that they could go deeper into the fluff without making an enormous codex. What’s more, the Tau are kinda the good guys. Aside from a few mildly sinister mysteries about their origins, they are the Ordered Good of 40k. In most Sci-Fi, we tend to root for the human, but what with all the grimdarkness of the Inquisition and Ecclesiarchy and what have you, the Imperium is hardly squeaky clean. The Tau though seem like decent chaps who like to share and probably make sure they call their blue, fish-like mothers every Sunday for a chat.
If Looks Could Kill
Big robots in space! Kind of. Actually they’re battle suits, but of course they look like robots to the uninitiated. Regardless, they look awesome. Lots of guns, jumping around the place – who doesn’t love that idea? There is a certain blockiness to them, but this is offset with smooth lines and angles to take them away from the traditional big metal casket look. Even suits like the Riptide or soon-to-be-released Stormsurge have a genuine elegance to them, despite being massive weapons platforms. If you like, it takes the size and weight of the Imperium, and offsets it against the slender limbs and flowing lines of the Eldar. And because of their unique look, this becomes less of a middle-ground and more of a genuine identity.
The models themselves have seen some excellent updates to reinforce this. If we take the Broadsides, we can see an evolution from boxy-big-guns, to a dynamic, massive weapon-wielding character. Rumours abound that a new Commander suit is on its way too, which will doubtlessly, given the skills that are prevalent in GW’s design team, carry on these traditions.
Go For Your Guns
The Tau also offered, and continue to do so, a different style of fighting which revolves almost exclusively around shooting. Aside from Commander Farsight and the Kroot, the Tau are as close to useless in close combat as it’s possible to be. They are a gun-line army almost without compare. I once witnessed a Tau vs IG game that I swear no model ever really moved. It was just constant artillery battery and the Tau smashed the Guard into the dust. This is a very appealing thing to some gamers who dread the idea of getting lost in CC, and who want to dominate with massive firepower.
Again, this is something that was pretty unique to the Tau. It gives them an edge and balances their useless hand-to-hand skill perfectly. If you go into playing Tau from any other race, you will have a whole heap of problems if you don’t change your game style to match this army. Yes, that is in some part true for any army switch, but Tau are particularly unforgiving, especially to those who do favour running forward.
Forge World (Fish N’) Chips In
When Forge World got to work on the Tau, they went big. Really big. Never more so with the recently released KX139 Supremacy Armour. But long before that there was the enormous Manta that can carry an entire army inside it. These are some of the prettiest models that Forge World currently do and I am always tempted to pick one up whenever I’m looking for something new to paint. One day, I’ll get round to it. This also proves the scope within the aesthetic restraints of the design which is a great thing to have for future models and releases.
So Where Next For Tau?
New Commander and Stormsurge aside, there are rumours of new terrain coming too. But that’s not what people really want (though it would be cool). A lot of old-school Tau players feel that one of the biggest tricks GW have missed is the whole Greater Good aspect. They want more Kroot, more Vespids and lots more variety. For a start, Demiurg would give those old Squat players something to cling to, but there are a lot more races to explore as well. This is one of the core ideals of the Tau, yet the idea itself is hugely underdeveloped. I’m sure GW have their reasons, but people really want to see more of these single unit races under the fish-face banner.
Aside from that, I’m sure the coming years will hold even bigger suits and rail-rifles from both GW and FW. With Tau, the only way is up, and the Riptide and Stormsurge are just the beginning of the upward expansion sphere.
I’m a real fan of the Tau, and it’s these big guys that really tempt me each time. They are a truly unique component of the game and of the galaxy and that makes them perpetually interesting. They make a great and challenging enemy too. One day, I’ll get round to working on some myself. Until then, onwards!