Forge World recently put out a series of updates to their various Imperial Armour units, and amongst those gifted with such attention were the Tau. Such attention could be read as preparing the ground for these units to line up with the abilities of those coming in the next codex, but let's not dwell on speculation. Instead, let's look at what Forge World has given the more economically-comfortable cadre commanders.
First up is a unit that, quite frankly, most 'els and 'os I know would sell their ethereals for, and the one that inspired the title for this post; the Tetra scout speeder team. For 50 points each, you get a squadron of one-to-four AV10 fast/skimmer/open-topped vehicles with a marker beacon, disruption pod, twin-linked pulse rifles and a 'high intensity' markerlight. What's that, you ask? Oh, only a Heavy 4 markerlight! Naked this thing is a ridiculously good value, the most efficient means of delivering markerlight tokens the Tau Empire has yet seen, but you can make them even better with just five points for a targeting array, meaning you now have the equivalent of four BS4 markerlights, on a platform that can move 12" a turn, and always counts as obscured beyond that distance. If you're worried about night fighting you can also slap a blacksun filter on there for five more points per Tetra, meaning suddenly those Imotekh lists running around aren't quite such a problem after all. You can also give them sensor spines, a target lock or decoy launchers, but those really aren't worth the cost, serving mostly just to make a markerlight platform more expensive without really enhancing its utility. The 55-point version is as good as it gets, no point gilding the lily.
Next, the Remote Sensor Tower, a 0-1 Troops choice of 1-3 towers. At 40 points, the RST seems like a bit of an tough sell; an immobile AV10 'vehicle' with a positional relay (?), a twin-linked markerlight and a multi-phasic sensor suite. The lack of a disruption pod or flechette discharger option makes this thing really vulnerable, and as a non-scoring Troop choice it can't even do what Troops are meant to. Sure, a twin-linked BS3 markerlight is nice enough, but after the Tetra, do we really need more markerlights? The real draw here, though, is the multi-phasic sensor suite; once per turn per tower, a unit within 6" gains Night Vision/Acute Senses, and more importantly, can re-roll all failed to-hit rolls in the shooting phase. This ability, if used on something like a full-strength Fire Warrior squad, especially in rapid fire range, could really cut down on your need to burn markerlight tokens to up BS. Instead, you could use them to strip cover saves, lower leadership for pinning attacks, or just buff the units that always get dibs on those tokens anyway, the XV8s, 88s and Hammerheads. In this kind of situation, the RST is basically a 40-point upgrade for a Fire Warrior squad, and a fairly solid one at that.
Third, a section expanding the arms of the aforementioned Hammerhead. There are four choices, all twin-linked; a long-barrelled burst cannon, missile pods or plasma cannon at 15 points, and a fusion cannon at 30. While the weapons themselves aren't terrible, with the long-barrelled burst cannon and the plasma cannon actually filling a couple of interesting holes in the Tau armory, the fact is that you're trading arguably the single best vehicle-based weapon in the game for, well, some slightly-upgraded battlesuit gear. Sure, there's a lovely little 24" melta weapon in there, and the S6/AP4 Assault 6 long-barrelled burst cannons could really thin out those GEq hordes, but at the end of the day you're spending thirty-five fewer points (twenty for the fusion cannon) to replace the railgun's solid slug and submunition rounds. The railgun's dual firing options just outcompete the more specialized options Forge World makes available, and given that most cadres will only find space for one Hammerhead alongside the realistically-mandatory XV88 squads, it's just too difficult to justify specializing the Hammerhead's weapon that way.
Continuing with the upgrades, we find three options for the 'el or 'o to replace his battlesuit with. The 20-point XV81 comes with a shoulder-mounted SMS and leaves you with two hardpoints to fill, the 15-point XV84 includes a markerlight and a target lock and leaves you with three hardpoints, and the 25-point XV89 gives you Iridium armour, and three hardpoints. Frankly, none of these really stand out. XV8 battlesuits can't move and fire heavy weapons, meaning the SMS and the markerlight (not a networked markerlight, note) will constantly force trade-offs between use and mobility, and in most battles a cadre commander will be better served by mobility. And the XV89 is just a way to get two 2+ XV8 battlesuits into your army, and an expensive way at that. These upgrades just seem too costly for their benefits.
And now we're back into full units again. The Drone Sentry Turret is a squadron of 1-4 25-point turrets, another immobile 'vehicle' though this time with AV12 to increase its survivability. It comes with twin-linked burst cannons (not the long-barrelled variety, sadly), and can upgrade to twin-linked missiles pods or fusion blasters for 10 points, or plasma rifles for 15. It can also buy deep strike deployment or a disruption pod for 5 points, or a shield generator for 20 (not totally clear on how that works on a vehicle; just a 4+ save against all damage?). The weapons aren't bad, but the turret is only BS2, meaning you'll probably have to burn markerlight tokens if you really want it to pull its weight; hope you brought those Tetras along! The fusion blaster is a waste given the short range and immobility of the platform, but the missile pods wouldn't be so bad, and the burst cannons themselves aren't terrible. Still, forty points for a sentry turret with twin-linked missile pods and a disruption pod isn't great (it's 1 point less than a mobile XV8 Deathrain with a flamer that isn't hit automatically in close combat and can contest objectives), and if you buy any of the upgraded weapons you're likely to have to spend markerlight tokens to guarantee hits, further increasing the cost of this weapon system. It's not terrible, and the Deep Strike option does mean you could put it in your enemy's deployment area and get rear-armour shots in for the first round, but if you play it aggressively it won't last long, and if you play it conservatively it won't accomplish much for its cost.
And speaking of drones that don't bring enough to the table, we see the Heavy Gun Drone squadron up next. 2-6 Heavy Gun Drones at 25 points each isn't so bad, especially since they're armed with twin-linked burst cannons, one of which they can trade for a markerlight at no cost. But if you do you don't have anything to balance their BS2 with, and that's assuming of course that you're crazy enough to waste a Heavy Support slot on burst cannons in the first place. These things are like inferior XV15 squads, and they're supposed to compete with XV88s and Hammerheads? I'm sorry, but it's just never going to happen.
It's not all Tau upgrades, though, as the Kroot get some attention as well. The Goaded Greater Knarloc clocks in at 60 points, or rather, at 60 points plus the four mandatory Kroot Goads at 10 points each, which is to say this unit costs a minimum of 100 points. For that, you get the Great Knarloc, a monstrous creature with a fairly anemic statline and a 6+ save, and Kroot Goads with the usual Kroot statline, a Kroot rifle, a goad stick that counts as a CCW (useless, since the rifle already counts as two), and a 6+ themselves. You can buy four more Kroot Goads, and even upgrade one to a Shaper for 21 points and buy him a pulse rifle or carbine for 5, if you've really lost your mind. They have the usual +1 to cover in woods or jungles and Fleet, but to balance that out if you roll more 1's than 6's in close combat the Great Knarloc auot-kills a Goad, and if all the Goads are killed the Greater Knarloc takes a LD-test; fail, and it's removed from play itself. This thing is big, vulnerable, slow and expensive, and worst of all, it's yet another sub-par Heavy Support option.
Then there's the Mounted Great Knarloc Herd. For 70 points each you can get 1-3 Great Knarlocs, a monstrous creature with a 6+ save, and a couple of riders armed with a Kroot bolt thrower. The gun is pitiful, a 26" S4/AP- assault 1 weapon. For fifteen points you can buy explosive bolts, which make it S5/AP4 assault 1 blast, or for 20 points you can exchange the whole thing for a twin-linked Kroot gun, a twin-linked missile pod that's rapid fire instead of assault 2. It's yet another Heavy Support choice, I supposed for anyone crazy enough to try and field a Kroot Mercenary army (though there's no Kroot HQ choice available here), and outside of the very fluffiest of lists it's literally impossible to imagine this thing getting a second look.
Finally, because apparently you can never have too many Knarlocs, we have the Knarloc Rider Herd. This is actually a cavalry unit of Kroot on Knarlocs, armed with the expected Kroot rifle and given the expected +1 cover in woods and jungles, and given a very unexpected stat boost; higher S, T, W and A, and a 6+ save and LD8 without need of a Shaper. Unfortunately, the Knarloc Riders are still Kroot, which means they're moderately-competent assault troops with rapid fire guns, no power weapons, and the Eaters of the Dead special rule to stop them from making a Sweeping Advance if, by some miracle, they actually win. Still, at least these guys are Fast Attack, and not Heavy Support.
So, after all that, what do I think? Well, obviously the Tetras are the standout here. Compared to Pathfinders, you pay two more points for a twin-linked pulse rifle and four markerlights, which can all move 12" and fire, on a platform that's largely immune to the kind of low-strength firepower that will so easily take out Tau infantry; for 5 more points, those pulse rifles and markerlights are BS4, something you couldn't do with Pathfinders even if you wanted to. If Tetras showed up in Codex: Tau Empire tomorrow it would be hard to justify not taking at least a couple of them, either in one squadron or spread out to maximize the number of units you can put tokens on. The Remote Sensor Tower is tempting at mid-to-large games, where full-strength Fire Warrior units can really get you your money's worth from that multi-phasic sensor suite, while the Hammerhead turret options could be viable in smaller games, where you won't need the tank to be such a jack-of-all-trades and the savings in points will be more meaningful. The Drone Sentry Turrets are fairly mediocre, but as Troops they're a source of special weapons that doesn't compete for the much more limited Elites slot, and if you've got more than a couple of Tetras you'll have markerlight tokens to spare, so they could have their place. And, of course, they can be used as deep-striking S7-up-the-rear weapons platforms. It's a shame the Remote Sensor Tower and the Drone Sentry Turret can't purchase flechette dischargers, though. As for the rest? The battlesuit variations, the Heavy Gun Drones and the various Knarlocs? They're all junk, easily beaten out for space by far more tempting options. Unless a cadre commander is really burning to play a particular theme list, like Drones or Kroot, they have very little to offer relative to their costs, and aside from the Kroot cavalry I don't even find the idea of them all that interesting on the tabletop. The monstrous creature Knarlocs really cripple the ability of the Kroot to get those cover saves they need so much, and the Heavy Gun Drones are just, well, gun drones with burst cannons instead of pulse carbines. Not exactly an aesthetic revolution, there.
So, that's what I think about Forge World's newest update for their Tau units. Now, let's all join hands and wish, really really hard, that the Tetra makes its way into the next Tau codex.
No, seriously. Wish harder, guys.