Codex: Tau Empire – Review

Warhammer 40K Tau Codex Review

With all the new excitement surrounding the upcoming Farsight Enclaves Supplement, I thought I should finally sit down and write down my thoughts on the 6th Edition Tau Empire Codex.

Plentiful Options or Bland Gun-Line?

There seem to be more or less two opinions on the new Tau Codex out there.

On one hand people who love the new Tau book for the variety of options, wealth of unit synergies and the large choice of available units, with very few duds in the list. On the other hand people who complain that for all the seeming variety in the Codex, it always results in a bland gun-line that isn’t exciting to play (or play against).

While I admit that there may be a kernel of truth to the second argument (though I think it’s caused as much by the dynamics of Warhammer 40K 6th Edition in general, and not just the Tau Codex).

I am going to have to side with the first camp.

The 6th Edition Tau Empire Codex is – in my opinion – one of the best Codexes for the 6th Edition of Warhammer 40K. The Tau Codex (from my entirely subjective observation) spawned new (and revived old) Tau armies in way the Dark Angels Codex and Chaos Daemons Codex.. well.. didn’t.

Codex: Tau Empire by Games Workshop
4.5 / 5 stars      

Is the Tau Empire Codex perfect?

No, of course not. But does a lot more things right than it does wrong. There are a lot of cool ideas that went into the Tau Codex, over and above the shiny new units, such as the XV104 Riptide Suit.

Two points in particular make the new Tau Codex stand out as a supplement for the game (and by implication “the Hobby”) of Warhammer 40K.

I also talk about one aspect that I believe is responsible for much Tau criticism (as far as the game-play goes). But let’s start with the good!

#1 – Depth for Learning and Mastering the Army

For better or worse, a huge (HUGE!) part of Warhammer 40K is tinkering with your army-list, improving, testing, tinkering and optimizing. This was never more true than in 6th Edition. However, very few army lists for Warhammer 40K have pulled it off as good as the new Tau Empire Codex.

Like all 6th Edition Codexes, the Tau Codex offers an impressive amount of weapons and options:

  • New weaponry, like the various Ion guns,
  • the Signature Systems,
  • the massive armoury of vehicle upgrades and Crisis Suit options,
  • not to mention the various Drones!

Unlike, say, the Dark Angels Codex (Banner of Devastation top, Chapter Relics a flop), just about all options in the Codex are useful, yet none are so good you’ll find them in every Tau army.

The Tau Codex has an insane amount of bits, upgrades, options and unit-variants to work with, trying to find that extra edge for the next battle, and yet – despite the mind-blowing wealth of options – they all fall into place very nicely. They feel like meaningful options.

The Tau Codex gives you lots of meaningful choices to build your army, for many games to come.

What’s not to like about that?

#2 – Synergy and weaknesses

There is lots of interaction between different Tau units in a Tau army, which creates a very nice, satisfying “more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts” game-play-style on the table when all the parts come together.

Thanks to Markerlights in particular, synergy has always been a defining aspect of the Tau in Warhammer 40K since the first appeared on the scene. The new 6th Edition Codex improves upon the theme with rules like Supporting Fire, a complete overhaul of the Ethereal and new additions like the Cadre Fireblade.

Granted, Tau Empire isn’t the only Warhammer 40K army that allows you to build nice synergies. However, it does do it better than most. And while not every game with a Tau army is balanced on a razor’s edge they were with the old Codex in 5th Edition, very few Tau units have the all-round autonomy of, say, a pack of Space Wolves Grey Hunters.

You need to use those synergies to get the most from a Tau army, and everybody loves it when a plan comes together for the Greater Good!

Overall, when “light-up” the opponent with marker-light and lend each other supporting fire, the Tau feel very much like something approaching “modern warfare”, more than other armies in Warhammer 40K at least (loaded comparison,  yes, but it’s what I get from them!).

#3 – Tau – The Eternal Gun-Line?

Tau Empire Gunline

What’s the fly in the ointment?

I’ve seen people claim it to be the lack of diversity of Tau armies. Paraphrasing Henry Ford, the Tau can be any army you like, as long as it’s a gun line.

This, I believe, is exaggerating the issue, though the Tau Codex obviously misses the kind of FoC-swap options that allow very different armies and play-styles in other books, most notably the various Space Marine Codexes (e.g. Deathwing, Ravenwing, “Greenwing”, etc..).

That said, there is (A) variety in the Tau Army list (including the Farsight-variants, even without the rumoured Crisis-Suits-as-troops change coming to the supplement).

Not to mention that (B) thanks to allies, variety within a single Codex isn’t as crucial any more as it was in 5th Edition (though it is still nice to have). Where a Ravenwing player might have enjoyed the benefit of “dipping a bit into” Deathwing without buying a whole new army, 6th Edition allows most armies (poor Nids!) to do much the same across Codexes.

Two two armies will rarely be as different as a Ravenwing and a Deathwing army, true.

There’s still plenty of variety within the basic theme of the Tau army, enough certainly to try several very different approaches to the very broad stereotype of a “shooty army”.

#4 – The Verdict

I can’t help but think that the Tau Codex is one of the best entries into the 6th Edition line yet.

Obviously it revived a popular (but neglected) Warhammer 40K faction, added lots of new units and miniatures, and brought the entire army fast-forward to 6th Edition game-play (slightly flawed Flyers and all).

Doing so, the Codes really managed to keep with the spirit of the army, presents meaningful choice in the army list and has a lot of “depth” to dig into for Tau players to keep tinkering with and improving their army (and collection) far beyond the first few exciting games.

Far too often miniature games claim that they are easy to learn, but difficult to master. Far too often, Warhammer 40K arguably included, it feels more like the opposite. At least within Warhammer 40K, the Tau Codex can make a credible claim to that idea.

Let me know what do you think, now that Tau have settled a bit into the 40K community.

  • What do you think about the arrival of the Tau in Warhammer 40K?
  • Have you picked up a new Tau army?
  • Have you dusted off an old Tau army?
  • Have you been facing them more often on the table?

Leave a comment below!


Image: Tau Empire Miniatures painted by Tomas Persifal Pekar


I am Zweischneid. Wargame Addict. Hopeless painter and founder of Pins of War. I hope you enjoyed this article. Don't forget to share your favourite miniature pictures and wargaming videos at
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  • disqus_I1VIVQiPZK

    There are only 3 good vehicle upgrades and we lost half our good ones

  • Wolfgard

    Plentiful Options or Bland Gun Line?
    Rather than one or the other, the Tau really both: Plentiful options for a Bland gunline, or Plentiful options in a Bland gunline. There just aren’t many ways to adjust how the army functions and get out of a gunline without compromising the army’s hitting power.

    -”Overall, when “light-up” the opponent with marker-light and lend each other supporting fire, the Tau feel very much like something approaching “modern warfare”, more than other armies in Warhammer 40K at least (loaded comparison, yes, but it’s what I get from them!).”

    Only if this is Modern Warfare – Civil War Edition where everyone lines up rank and file shooting volley fire with markerlight support and screaming “HOLD THE LINE!” or “FORM A SQUARE!”

    “Doing so, the Codes really managed to keep with the spirit of the army, presents meaningful choice in the army list and has a lot of “depth” to dig into for Tau players to keep tinkering with and improving their army (and collection) far beyond the first few exciting games.”

    I’ve played Tau for over a decade and this book really does not fit with the spirit of the Army as it was originated and played. It’s as big of a retcon as making Necrons “Tomb Kings IN SPACE!” The Tau have always been THE mobile shooty army and while you could build a gunline out of it, it was never nearly effective as the more mechanized builds, even while the rest of 40k was standing still shooting each other in 3rd and 4th edition. Throughout all the Tau’s history, a player with a static army was usually a sign that they were new to the army and hadn’t yet mastered the finer parts of the army’s powerful mobility (Jump Shoot Jump, Fish of Fury, etc.). So while they are stronger, they lost the spirit of the army.

    • Zweischneid


      For the last part in particular, I would think a mobile JSJ/Fish of Fury approach should work better than ever? Firewarriors can rapid fire on the move better than ever. All-deep-striking opponents are gone. JSJ is obviously still in there, possible boosted with things like up-close HBC Riptides, Flawless Deepstrike, Flyer-support, etc.. .

      What, do you think, makes the mobile Tau army so much rarer (more difficult?) with the new dex compared to the old?

      I would assume it is still a viable build, though I admit it’s a rare sight.

      • Wolfgard

        The issue with mech tau mainly the cost and the fact that you lose mobility in order to shoot. The new devilfish costs 10 points more does less than it did in 5th, and is a shadow of it’s 3rd/4th power. In it’s heyday, it could move a full 12″, shoot everything at full BS, all penetrating hits became glancing, and it could force you to reroll immobilized results (which was incredibly strong since immobilized=wreck back then), all for 95pts. Then, when someone assaulted you they hit you on the armor they were facing so, they usually couldn’t kill it. This gave you an incredibly tough transport with the firepower of a razorback, and more mobility. So you could pull up, unload with 29-31 pulse shots, block the assault to your squishy troops with the tank, and get away with little harm done to your troops. Now for the same cost you basically have a Razorback with a 4+ cover save, AV12 front, and 18″ guns that you can’t move up to engage with since you are stuck snapfiring them. If you get close, it gets assaulted and dies leaving your troops stranded. Hence FoF is dead in 6th.

        So do you buy a transport with no real attack potential, OK survivability, and mediocre mobility, or another squad of firewarriors with a 36″ threat bubble on their pulse rifles? 9 times out of 10 you bring the firewarriors because all the devilfish gives is extra mobility and you don’t really want to move away from your ethereal/aegis anyway. And this is why Tau armies are obliterating their opponents but still losing the game when it comes time to count up the objectives. They have no cost effective way to reliably grab objectives.
        Crisis suits and riptides are capable of contesting them, but they are so expensive you can’t reliably contest more than 1-2 objectives per game by the time you factor in casualties.

        This is why I’m hoping the Farsight book gives the Tau Crisis suit troops, to help offset the glut of static Tau gunline armies and give back some of the mobility that they lost in the vehicles.

  • Sorien

    First, I’ve been using my Tau as an ally for my Orks since the day 6th ed hit the shelves. I originally picked up and painted the army in early 2009, so the rest of it did have to get a bit dusted off.

    Tau are clearly the most powerful book in 40k at the moment. Add in allies and they can really be over the top.

    However gun line is by far hardly the only way to play. Most of the last 2 months I’ve played a pure Tau mech list. No broadsides, all firewarriors in devilfish, outflanking kroot and 3 units of suits all armed differently which usually I have deep striking. markerlights came from drones instead of pathfinders. Tau do not have many options for shots passed 36″ which isn’t hard to avoid, except maybe 1 out of 3 deployments, so having units that can take the fight to the enemy is more important then some people seem to realize.

    The main problem with a static Tau army is when you face..another Tau army. Basically the entire game boils down to who goes first. Around here there are a but load of dusted off Tau armies, so that isn’t unusual. My mech tau list was a decent counter to the static gun lines.

    I’m trying out some Ork allies, as painting up some Space Wolves to try out as well.

    • Zweischneid

      Good to hear people having good experiences with mech-tau (or mech in general in 6th Edition… too many people seem to write it off).

  • Steve Kenniff

    It revived me back into 40k, which I haven’t played since 4th Edition.

    I’m fielding a very unorthodox list, which goes against the conventional thinking of Tau opponents.

    Tau opponents expect to see a player loaded with broadsides, crisis suits, and other cool gadgetry. Try cramming fire warriors down their throats. There’s something that makes a squad of marines very uncomfortable, and that’s being outnumbered by Tau with Strength 5 weapons rapid firing.

    Sure, I could field Pulse Rifles and sit back all day picking people off, but that’s not my gig. I’ll have that option in a tourney if I face an opponent that would shut down my gameplay however.

    • Steve Kenniff

      Around me most games tend to be 1,850 points for some reason.

      My Tau list contains:

      Cadre Fireblade

      2 Riptides with Ion Accelerators, missile systems, advanced targeting relays, and Velocity Trackers.

      6 squads of 12 Firewarriors all with Carbines. (Yes I know most players say they are worthless and that Rifles are better)

      3 squads of 10 gun drones.

      Hammerhead with ismart missile systems and Ion Cannon.

      Hammerhead with Railgun and submunitions with smart missiles

      • Steve Kenniff

        They idea here is to charge the army forward into the objectives and enemy positions.

        You will lose units, but you will notice they all are multiples of each other for redundancy and attrition sake.

        Lots of pinning weapons to bother armies that aren’t immune to it.

        Since the drones cannot claim or contest objectives you need to give these a specialized role. Nothing will make someone fail a 2+ invulnerable save quite like having to potentially roll it 60 times from three crazy drone squads attacking all at once.

        Part of the idea with this list is that with this many units you will have them close enough to make the threat of supporting fire sound like a bad idea.

        You could even drop a drone squad, add longstrike to a Hammerhead and have room to upgrade the fireplace cadre to Darkstrider instead. But I’m not convinced Darkstrider is quite worth 100 points, but I do wish Longstrike counted as an HQ choice.

        • Steve Kenniff

          On top of all of that you have a few Ion Accelerators and Ion Cannon to overcharge and send those big burning blast templates into high armor units dug into cover.

          • Zweischneid

            Pretty cool. Love to see drone squadrons getting some lovin’ !

  • Sparky

    Im only just starting to enter the 40k universe, and i have selected tau as my guides. at the moment my army consists on a single xv8 Crisis suit named steven in honor of the friend who bought it for me. i have noooo idea where i should begin to create my army, i have been looking at the the tau batteforce but it seems expensive and living in australia kind of doubles their price….any tips and pointers on where to start my army would be appreciated.

    • Zweischneid

      Well, being in Australia presumably doubles the price of .. whatever you buy. Unfortunately.

      Usually, I would go with a Battleforce box, unless you have a very specific army already in mind. It is – nominally – the only box that gives you a discount on the miniatures and the Tau version isn’t bad.

      You can always have a look on eBay. New & Sealed versions seem to be available there starting at about AUS 130,- or so with shipping:

      If you find a good seller with good rep and not-insane shipping costs, it might be worth it.


      If you don’t go for the Battleforce, you probably want to have a box of Firewarriors or two, Or a box of Firewarriors and a box of Kroot. Together with your Crisis Suit as commander, they’d give you the basis of an army list (1 HQ, 2 Troop choices) to start playing around with.