Today's topic of musing: the Tau HQ selections. I'm going to be actually playing Tau in the near future; I've been working on painting up the army for some time. My army is actually pretty well complete, other than the heap of Crisis Suits I intend to run. But, hey, that's what proxies are for. (Seriously, anyone that had a heap of termies? You know what I'm talking about. Places like the War Store sell the Black Reach terminator sprue for about $10. Try offloading your stuff at that price, or would you rather just keep it?)
At any rate, the Tau have access to five HQ choices; two are 'stock' and three are 'special' :
The Ethereal (top left)
The Fire Cast Commander (bottom right)
Commander Shadowsun (top right)
Commander Farsight (bottom left).
Aun'Va (Hero Ethereal not cool enough for a picture here)
Fluff-wise, the Ethereals are the 'ruling' caste of the Tau society. Tau fit into one of five castes: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, or Fighter, Diplomat, Pilot, Builder. Ethereals just tell them what to do, give them the greater good, and all that. If you read between the lines about Battlesuit Neurosis, you might suspect the Ethereals have some kind of pheremonal control over the other Castes, and if you look at the Vespid bit about the 'control helms', the Ethereals look a bit more sketchy.
That aside, what's the Ethereal do for you on the tabletop?
The Ethereal is a leadership buff, pure and simple. If your Tau guys (read: not Vespid or Kroot) can see him, they can use his Ld 10 for leadership tests. Of course, night fighting applies. He also lets you buy a unit of Fire Warriors at BS4, though each one costs 2 points more for the BS upgrade and they're not your compulsory troops.
Ethereals are not durable. They have three T3 wounds, and no armor save. Now, theoretically they have some melee skills, but WS4, S3, and no armor save means he dies in melee. Full stop, end of story. Guardsmen can throw enough attacks into him to kill him. Oh, and when the Ethereal dies? Your whole army (minus Vespid and Kroot) take a morale check at the start of your next turn. Now, those that don't run away screaming and crying get Preferred Enemy, but still.
Minor leadership buff for foot troops in exchange for the ability to let my enemy run my army off the table. I mean, honestly, stuff like my Broadsides and Crisis Suits are gonna sit near the back, and I feel no great need to let them run away at my opponent's whim. Preferred Enemy would be more useful if the Kroot got it, but even still, I'd rather not lose my units. The blue-skin stays at home. Preferred Enemy just means you get to re-roll S3, I2 hits in melee when you could shoot two S5 shots that hit on 4+, and make the enemy assault you in his turn. 50 points for this guy is a rip-off.
The Fire Caste Commander
AKA, the Crisis Suit with a slightly better statline. There's a 50pt and 75pt version, both with statlines over the regular XV8. The 50pt guy, the Shas'el, goes up to 3 wounds and 3 attacks with Ld9. The 75pt guy, the Shas'O, gets better WS, BS5, and Ld10 with 4 wounds. Additionally, the Fire Caste Commander is a compulsory choice. You must bring one in your Tau army.
I think I'd rather stick to the Shas'el. Ld9 isn't bad, and if I really wanted that BS5, I'd pay 10 points for the +1BS gear, the Targetting Array. BS isn't that important if you combine it with markerlights, since it can't break BS5. The leadership could be good, since the real boost the regular XV-8 commander has over the basic Crisis Suit is the ability to shore up the leadership of a unit, and maybe add some drones to it.
This guy's a beefed-up, special XV-8 commander. He doesn't play with the other two special characters, and in terms of the fluff he's kind of a renegade. This'll come back to bite you later. He does count as your compulsory Fire Caste commander.
He's the one guy in the codex with a power weapon. His Dawn Blade strikes at I5, S5, with four attacks base and WS5. Against vehicles, he rolls 2d6+S for penetration. Past that, he has a plasma rifle and a shield generator for a 4+ save, and the Bonding Knife for 'regroup below 1/2 strength.' Anyone with access to the armory can get the Bonding Knife for free, as well. He also gives your Tau (again, not Kroot or Vespid) models 'preferred enemy' against orks, for all the good it'll do you. Finally, he beefs up his personal bodyguard unit to 1-7, instead of 1-2 like the other guys get.
This guy re-writes your force-org chart like whoa. The following become 0-1 choices:
-Sky Ray gunships
And, you may not take Kroot, Vespid, or Ethereals. XV8 elite suits become a 1+ choice as well.
Honestly, this is the part where I skip him. I don't care about the Stealth armor, and I'd probably only take one set of Pathfinders. But, losing redundancy in something like Hammerheads, Broadsides, or Piranhas? Ouch. No thanks, and I think I can get some mileage out of Kroot as screens. Then again, some folks like Warhammer Tau have some success with a one-of-each approach to heavy support (well, outside of the Sniper team, that is.)
I'm sure I'd enjoy converting up a Commander Farsight, but I don't think I'd ever play him. That's a pretty costly power weapon. 170 points and some major army restrictions.
She's the still-loyal sample of a Fire Caste hero. She gets a shiny, new white XV-22 battlesuit that folks might recognize from the latter sections of the first Dawn of War expansions. It's an interesting beast. She's 175 points for more support-type capabilities.
The biggest thing Shadowsun does for your army? Fixes the leadership. She brings a Command Link drone with her, and it lets any Tau units (aside from Kroot, or Vespid without their Sarge) use her Ld10 so long as they're within 18" of her. Besides that, she's got the usual Stealth Suit generator (spot me only within 2d6x3 inches, or within 21" on average). She brings two Shield Drones with her, as well as a Shield Generator. She can theoretically pop tanks with her two fusion blasters (not a single twin-linked one, mind you), but this is not really her primary function.
She's a bit costly, and doesn't necessarily do a lot other than fix your leadership problem. Additionally, you pretty much have to keep her hidden. The night fighting rules ARE annoying to deal with, but if they flub and you lose her, you lost your leadership buff.
I think I might yet give her a spin. My gut, though, is that she's probably too expensive for the problem she 'fixes'. I intend to run a mix or fully mechanized Tau. As such, I'm going to have four units on the board she can 'help' with her leadership: 3 Crisis Suit teams, and a Broadside team. Her cost alone is about 100 points above and beyond the Fire Caste Commander I'd otherwise bring (I'm looking at Shas'El w/ Plasma, missile, and multi-tracker. 87 points total). I'd be trading a chunk of firepower out just to get access to her. It's a tradeoff of more guns vs. better morale for fewer guns.
Yay. It's a hero Ethereal. Better yet, he brings his own bodyguard. Now, he has a neato throne that gives them all T3(5) and his bodyguards S3(5). The Etheral has four wounds and his bodyguards each have two. His special little 'Paradox of Duality' staff also grants them a 4+ cover save with a re-roll.
Does this actually fix the problems an Ethereal has? Not really. He still has the Price of Failure (morale check for your army when he dies), though he gives your guys Furious Charge when he croaks. Now charging Fire Warriors hit on re-rollable 4+, go at I3, and hit at S4! No, sorry, this still doesn't cut it. Rapid-firing the pulse rifle is STILL a better go, since you force your enemy to spend his turn charging you.
Aun'Va might take a little longer to kill, but he's still a craptastic choice. At 205 points, he can sit his blue butt in the box (or preferably blister, but the model's cool enough to make a neat display piece, I suppose.)
Tau HQs Overall
The Ethereals really are your way of letting the enemy run you off the board sooner. I see no point whatsoever in bringing the Ethereal. If you brought a foot army to sit there and shoot with, the Ethereal can very well lose you the game in one shooting round. Aun'Va does not fix this.
The Fire Caste heroes are so-so, at best. Farsight does a hell of a number on your Force Org chart, and really dictates your build. He's pricy, and to get the most out of him you have to assault with him, but...seriously? You're better off dealing with assault as the Tau with sacrificial units or the Kroot. Shadowsun can fix your leadership problems, but is a pricy solution that doesn't really contribute to the killyness.
Honestly, I think I've got to stick with the basic Fire Caste Commander for the army. It's a cheap leadership buff for one unit, but it will actually be there. It's got no cons like the 'Oh, run off the board' little blue man, and it's not overly expensive. I mean, I'd rather have a useful buff out of my leader, but I'll settle for minimizing the cost.
If there are any out there, I'd like any of the more veteran Tau players to comment, let me know if I'm on the right or wrong track, or just plain missing something. Similarly, if you've played against these choices, let me know how it went for you.