Japan IN SPACE! – a look at the new Tau models

The Tau are a really strange case for me: They are maybe the one 40k army where I quite like all the different elements, while the combination of them somehow leaves me cold. Does that make sense?

For the record, I love the Kroot. I think the Fire Warriors’ design – inspired in part by ancient Japanese footsoldiers – is pretty great. The combat suits are a pretty nifty idea for everyone who has ever loved Mecha-Animé (I have. Lord knows I have…). But for some elusive reason, once you throw all of this together, it somehow becomes less than the sum of its parts for me. Strange…

I think it has something to do with the lack of eyecatchers: While the overall visual design of the army seems well thought-out and pleasantly realised, I like my armies with a couple of strong centrepieces on the table, be it interesting squad leaders, spectacular army commanders or just  huge warmachines. The Tau are nice enough, but in my opinion, they tend to look a bit samey. Now I do of course realise that the reason for this is a conscious focus on unity in their background: The Tau as a race frown upon any attempts at individuality – a taboo that actually prevents them from individualising their wargear and warmachines. Yet while this seems like a fairly compelling concept from a narrative standpoint, it just tends to fall flat when applied to the medium of wargaming, where every army is visually defined by standout pieces on the table.

The other challenge with the Tau is the fact that their very distinct look makes it a fair bit harder to insert bits from other lines into their army: Human armies (such as all kinds of Space Marines – Chaos included – and the Imperial Guard) can be mixed and matched without a hitch, every bit feels right at home in an Ork army, and even Eldar and Dark Eldar share enough common design cues to allow for some kind of bits exchange. Yet armies like Tyranids, Necrons or Tau are so distinct that the options of the converter are slightly limited.

So with a new Codex and several new kits now upon us, will any of that change? And will the new release manage to deal with some of the problems outlined above? Let’s find out:

While this post, like the ones dealing with the last new releases, will completely forgo any rules discussion in favour of focusing on the new models, let me just point out that the new Tau Codex features yet another gorgeous piece of cover artwork:

Tau Release (29)

Anyway, one thing that immediately becomes obvious when looking at the new models is that GW have really dropped all pretense as to the inspiration for the army: They never tried to deny that healthy amounts of animé and manga designs had gone into the creation of the original Tau, to be sure. But with the new models, I would go so far as to state that the Japanese look has really be turned up to eleven in some respects. Case in point, the limited edition codex:

Tau Release (32)
Just look at the picture: You could even mistake that for a Gundam artbook at first glance. 😉

Make no mistake, though: I really think this is a pretty good idea. After all, the Tau were always intended to be cleaner, more futuristic looking than the rest of the 40k catalogue. The animé look has always been there, and I guess if you don’t like japanese animation and manga art, then Tau are probably not the army for you in the first place.

But what does that mean for the actual release. Let’s take a closer look:

 

XV104 Riptide Battlesuit

Tau Release (1)

With their army heavily leaning on armoured suits for much of the heavy lifting, the Tau were a very likely candidate for a superheavy Mecha — and here it is, the Riptide. And right enough, this is a centrepiece model if there ever was one: The size alone obviously makes this big guy stand out enough, yet I also like how the model features most of the visual design cues typical of the Tau while also adding a sleeker and more interesting look to the battlesuit. If anything, the Riptide looks even more reminiscent of Japanese mecha like Gundam than the Tau battlesuits released so far.

I also love the fact that GW gives us the option of assembling the Riptide in a kneeling position. It looks really cool, in my opinion:

Tau Release (2)
Oh, yes, you also get some new drones with the kit:

Tau Release (3)
These are without a doubt pretty useful to Tau players, but apart from a general appreciation of the concept, I find it rather hard to get excited over them. Moving on…

All in all, the Riptide is certainly a pretty great model. For all of the non-Tau players out there, however, I can see few options of turning this into something totally different. Yet my buddy Biohazard commented over on Throne of Skulls that he thought this might be a great base model to convert yet another huge chaos walker. I remain sceptical, but then I also didn’t think it was possible to more or less completely kitbash a Warhound Titan out of plastic bitz, so what do I know?

Let’s just say that I am looking forward to seeing what the crazy people on the interwebz come up with…

Sun Shark / Razor Shark

Tau Release (5)

Flyers are the other great rage at the moment, and the Tau don’t disappoint in this respect either: The Sun / Razor Shark kit, again, picks up some visual cues from already existing larger Tau tanks as well as the Piranha, which firmly ties it to the overall look already established for the army.  It’s also a look quite unlike anything seen in other 40k armies, which is a plus in my book.

What I especially like is how this model manages to look futuristic and still have a subtle WW2 vibe at the same time. Take a look at the topshot, it clearly looks a bit like an Axis superweapon straight out of Indiana Jones, doesn’t it?

Tau Release (4)
And come to think of it, it also slightly looks like the type of airship that might appear in a Studi Ghibli film, but that may just be my imagination running wild…

 

XV88 Broadside Battlesuit

Tau Release (6)
Now this is a brilliant redesign! In my opinion, the older Broadsides – basically a primitive kitbash using the regular Crisis suits – always looked pretty goofy (as well as physically improbable). The new version manages to communicate the oomph behind the weapon, and the slightly crouched pose nicely communicates the idea that the suit has to be able to absorb some recoil. The added mass and heavier armour finally make this look like a true heavy weapons platform. Great job!

Oh, and I simply adore the paintjob on this alternate build of the suit:

Tau Release (7)
They even managed to make the boxy head look far more interesting. Definitely a keeper, this one!

 

XV8 Battlesuit Commander

Tau Release (8)
Someone at GW seems to have realised that it was quite a challenge getting a cool army commander out of those Crisis kits, yet instead of redesigning the suits, they now release a different one to represent a commander. Oh well…
The suit itself looks pretty good, even though it slightly resembles a stick insect in the above photo. However, that problem is alleviated once you see it from a different angle:

Tau Release (9)
I like the dynamic posing and the fact that they picked up some of the design cues from the Fire Warriors: The suit has the iconic enlarged shoulder pad and even sports a bonding knife:

Tau Release (10)
Seriously, what does he do with that thing: poke Hive Tyrants and Greater Daemons in the ribs?

Still, those additions go a long way towards making the model look more like an actual commander instead of just some robot dude with weird additional antennae and clunky weapons sticking out at odd angles. Unfortunately, the standard boxy head is still there. But at least we get what seems to be several different hands:

Tau Release (11)
Pointy hand FTW! 😉

If there’s one dealbreaker for me here, it’s that the model is apparently Finecast. Considering the perfectly straight lines making up most of the model’s design, I wish all the Tau players luck with their purchase…

Anway, while we are on the subject of commanders in battlesuits…

 

Commander Farsight

Tau Release (12)
Now we’re talking! If you ask me, Farsight used to be just about the lamest 40k model available. It was plain to see what they were trying to do with him, but it just fell flat. Not so with the new version, which is all that a Tau battlesuit commander should be: Dynamically posed, aggressive looking and very three-dimensional. As an added bonus, they even added some streaming ribbons, further adding to the sense of movement. Oh, and I really like the new sword:

Tau Release (14)

Of course, being a rebel, Farsight has the advantage of being able to customise his suit as he sees fit. It does make for a much more striking model, however! All in all, a gorgeous piece, and definitely one of the high points of the release! They should really do an unarmoured version of Farsight one of these days, though. Just so we know what the guy actually looks like 😉

 

Cadre Fireblade

Tau Release (15)
Okay, this guy’s definitely my favourite among the new models! Even better than Farsight, if you ask me, and to top things off, he’s all plastic. What I really love about the Cadre Fireblade is how the model has the signs of individuality and status so sadly lacking in previous Tau models. And it also exudes a healthy dose of warrior’s pride and dignity. This is the one model I can actually see myself purchasing, since it should be useable for INQ28: I can easily imagine this guy as a Tau officer gone rogue, some kind of mercenary or even *shudder* member of a radical Xenos warband. If I have one gripe with this model, it’s that I am not perfectly sure what’s going on with that hand holding the sheathed bonding knife, but since that problem would be quite easy to solve, I don’t mind. Best model of the whole release, in my opinion!

 

Longstrike

Tau Release (17)
Ah, a specialised tank commander – I think they could do this more often! I like the pose and suit, although I find myself questioning why this had to be a Finecast model in the first place — probably because creating a plastic mold would have been too expensive? Anyway, GW were even good enough to sculpt the whole model, legs and all:

Tau Release (18)
Of course the pose of the legs looks a little silly: He seems like a fish out of water when not in his tank, but I guess that’s the whole point 😉

While this is a nice model, I guess it would be possible to come up with something similar using leftover plastic bitz from other kits — but that’s only if you’re into converting and/or money saving. The model is certainly nice enough. On a related note, I really love the alignment of the commander in this picture:

Tau Release (19)
“No, over there! Shoot over there, I said! For the sake of the greater good, is somebody listening to me at all?”

 

Darkstrider

Tau Release (20)
Once again, having the model be a Finecast release in the first place seems slightly dubious. The model itself is nice enough and all, but I really think it would be better to just build your own from any leftover Pathfinder parts you might have. Oh, and while I dislike Finecast bashing, I think it’s a little silly that they couldn’t even get that weapon straightened out for a promo picture on their website:

Tau Release (21)

Seriously, that stuff needs to get better or get lost (*cough* in favour of all plastic *cough*)!

In other news, this guy’s true name is actually El’ Myamoto. I hope his friends H’Anzo, T’oku G’awa and T’Oyot’Omi will make an appearance as well. Along with all the other citizens of the N’Ippon Sept…
Seriously, though, I am fairly bad at coming up with original names for my models myself, but jeez…

 

Pathfinder Team

Tau Release (22)
Another high point of the release for me, since these guys are giving us some more much needed plastic parts for the Tau! It seems like GW decided to really play the Japanese styling to the hilt with the Pathfinders. Just look at those sharp lines on their trousers:

Tau Release (24)
These couldn’t really look any more japanese short of wearing actual samurai helmets and Katanas, could they? The models look great, though. I especially like the angry facial expression on the squad leader:

Tau Release (23)
The bare Tau heads were one of the parts most in need of some work, and I think GW performed admirably here!

 

Farside Enclave shoulder pads

Tau Release (27)While I certainly wouldn’t say that these are the bee’s knees or anything, I think producing optional packs of shoulder pads, shields, standards etc. is definitely an avenue GW should be exploring more thoroughly. After all, it’s a nice option of adding more individuality to your models while the purchase is entirely non-essential. A good use for Finecast, if there ever was one!

 

Missing in action…

If you ask me, what’s missing in the release is almost as interesting as what is actually there:

More species! More culture!

I think the different species allied to the Tau empire are a fascinating concept! Not only can they serve to add something to the Tau force on the table, but the idea of having different races and species allied to the Tau makes for all kinds of great modelling and narrative approaches: How easy would it be for a member of an allied species to make their way up the career ladder in the Tau empire (my guess would be: virtually impossible)? Are all the Kroot perfectly happy with having been “absorbed” by the Tau? I imagine the Tau empire to function a bit like the Roman Empire in that different peoples and species are integrated into it, offered protection, piece and certain elements of technological advancement. But at what price? And what frictions and fractures might exist within Tau society? Those would be fascinating narrative avenues to explore, if you ask me! And the new Codex and model release would have been a fantastic opportunity to add some traces of an actual culture to the Kroot and Vespid, transforming them into more than just “Funny Birdmen” and “Funny Bugmen”. And that’s not even considering possible new species (Demiurg, anyone?). While traces of this may appear in the codex, and while we may yet hope for a second wave release and/or that rumoured “Allies Codex”, I think this was a bit of a missed opportuniyt on GW’s part.

For the record, I would love to see some kind of Kroot commander with something that looks like a “Krootified” set of Fire Warrior armour. Or a conversion set for (human) auxiliaries (granted, this last one can be achieved via kitbashing, but still…). Oh well, maybe next time…

Crisis? What Crisis?

Tau Release (28)

My biggest gripe is that GW didn’t do anything about the regular Crisis suits. While these may have been great when they were first released, I think they really haven’t aged all that well. Just take a look at the battlesuits offered by Forgeworld, or indeed at the new Broadside and XV8 commander, and you’ll probably see what I mean. And while your mileage may vary regarding the actual design of the suits, the fact that their standard poses are so wooden and unexciting is perhaps the largest problem. In my opinion, GW should really have addressed this, at least adding some new poses. Leaving the Crisis suits as they are may be the biggest disappointment about this release (of course you may disagree if you are a Tau player and have about 30 of these lying around 😉 ).

All is not lost, however, because it’s at least possible to get them to look far more dynamic with a bit of work. Here’s one of Cousin Andy’s old Crisis suits that I converted and reposed:

Crisis Suit WIP (2)

partial paintjob was not done by me. The model will definitely have to be repainted at some point!

Crisis Suit WIP (3)

partial paintjob was not done by me. The model will definitely have to be repainted at some point!

So at least there is some kind of stopgap solution. That’s the great thing about plastic, after all!

 

All in all, despite my disappointment in the lack of new Crisis and allied races, I’ll call this a strong release: The new models play to the Tau’s visual strengths while working out some of the kinks in the design: For me, that means that the army has gained some much needed individuality as well as some stunning new centre pieces. So while this release won’t make me buy a Tau army any time soon (or, indeed, at all), I can recognise good work when I see it. And the new models are very good work!

What are your thoughts on the new models? Any favourites? Any gripes? I would love to hear from you in the comments section!

In any case, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

8 Responses to “Japan IN SPACE! – a look at the new Tau models”

  1. I really like the new models. Its funny, the model you like the most is the one I like the least. Cadre Fireblade has that stocky almost dwarf-like blobbiness that some of the Imperial Guard characters have and I just don’t like the look of it.

    All of the new Crisis suit based models are awesome, as are the Pathfinder based ones. The Riptide is just okay though.

    Overall I like the look of the army – I always have – and now they look even more dynamic and have more bitz to work with.

    I actually don’t have a Tau army but have always wanted one. My favorite FW Campaign book has been the Taros book and I’ve always wanted to build the Tau force from that book but I already own too many armies. Maybe someday though.

    And as for the allies – expanding on that within the confines of the Codex is too limiting. They wrote themselves a big headache with that whole concept. It gave the writers/designers an open ended bottomless well to one day explore, but gave the fans a source of constant dissatisfaction. The worry for the designers always being that if they flesh out the Tau ally relationship too far it will overshadow the Tau themselves, which is what happened when they printed the Kroot WD List in my opinion (even though I would LOVE to see it return). Hopefully, the rumored Ally Book, or some aspect of the new Apocalypse book, or even the new version of the Taros Campaign book I heard was coming will explore the allies further.

    • Thanks for the well-considered comment! While I share your view that the allies pose a bit of a design challenge, I think just not addressing the problem at all is a bit of a cop out on GW’s part: Along with the animé styling, the allies are one of the main design paradigms of the Tau. And with the new edition all about allies (and the Tau one of the most ally-friendly armies), why not develop that further? It seems highly counter-intuitive!

      For instance, the Dark Eldar offer you the opportunity to run them as several highly distinct builds. As do the Tyranids (at least in theory), Even a chaos player could build an army using mostly cheap cultists and lots of daemon allies to represent a cult summoning its daemonic patrons — so why can’t the Tau as the one army with allies a fixed part of their background receive some more fleshed-out allies rules and concepts? The mind boggles…

      In any case, I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed for that rumoured allies codex to appear one day…

  2. Alexander Says:

    Japan in space, aka hitting the nail. The tau looks great and If they were an anime or something less dark they would be pefect. The models looks great, amazing mega bot. But are they grim and dark? Well, no 😐 maybebits might be salvaged but I dont see it yet. Great army but not a great source when comparef to for example dark eldar

    • Cheers, mate! I agree that the one problem is that Tau bitz cannot be used for anything else, and very few other bitz can be used in Tau conversions 😉

      That said, I believe there is enough grimdark there, if you know where to look: Look at the Tau Empire from the right angle, and it transforms from an egalitarian utopia to a collectivist dystopia. And regarding the actual army, I remember one forumite mentioning he built his Tau to look like a Roman legion that had been campaigning for a long time, going more feral and far less optimistic in the process. That’s a fascinating idea for a Tau army, isn’t it? A battle-hardened force that has found out firsthand that the main tenets of the Empire may have to be sacrificed from time to time, so that the greater good may endure…

      • Alexander Says:

        Oh there is certanly potential for grimdark. They are very DDR or Chrustjev era sovjet, but the main problem is to me that these views seems to be fanbased. I havent read any black library stuff or the new codex and since I mostly base my view on the models tau just doesnt feel grimdark. Maybe it’s the paintjob?

        A veteran force with throphies and customised gear sounds like a great idea! Tau may frown upon personalization and customizing your gear but if you look at real world forces custom gear always turns up. What the admins say you need and what the campaign dictates can be rather different.

        Anyway thanks for a great review, this series is interesting so keep it up. And tau bits need a bit of time but they can be used, I’m using a tau gun part in a gun for a tech-assassin 😉 but it’s hard to find use for them

  3. I am hopefully picking up the dex today, going halfsies with my brother who actually collect Tau, I am just interested in reading it and looking forward to coming up against it!

    The whole approach and appearance really does appeal to me, it’s a nice contrast with so much of the 40k universe but, as you say, with certain dystopian elements.

    Since you can take Allies in any game any, one could always have a regular IG Platoon or two as Gue’vesa allies.

    • Yes, the allies rule has really liberated us in that sense, hasn’t it? Plus now there’s always a good reason for spending yet more money on plastic crack 😉

      Anyway, thanks for commenting, mate! 😉

  4. […] battlesuits were a fun idea, but they never looked quite as cool as they could have. Should have. Last year’s Tau release started to rectify that with the Riptide, among other things, but it’s this year’s […]

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