14 Apr 2013

Tau Tactica - Troops and Dedicated Transports

Hey all, I'm Learn2Eel and I am back to discuss the might of the resurgent Tau Empire! This time, I am focusing on the Troops choices - the meat of a Tau force, and where a lot of their firepower comes from. Given that there is only one dedicated transport in the codex, I also thought I would do the nice thing of lumping it in the very bare Troops slot. I hope you find this article both enjoyable and informative!


Given how few choices there are for Troops in the Tau codex, and also that there is no way to shift the force organisation chart so that other units can be Troops choices, this leaves Tau players with very little in the way of diversity for scoring units. Given that these are the only Troops units in the codex, and also that they are pretty dissimilar from one another, it is important that each unit be used in a role it is effective in and defended adequately; though they are mostly cheap, you will typically want to spend most of your points on the "big toys" that Tau have access to, as they really need them more than ever. However, it must be noted that a massed force of Fire Warriors in particular is not a bad option, and Kroot are always useful as additional cheap scoring bodies. Just be mindful that neither Troops choice we have access to is particularly effective at taking middle or back field objectives; devastation, harassment are key here. Make sure to present either a strong mobile force backed by Devilfishes, or a hardy defensive line with Ethereal support to keep them in the fight.

Fire Warriors - Rocking one of the strongest basic Infantry guns in the game, Fire Warriors have always had the edge over most other basic Troops in terms of sheer ranged firepower; they can be taken in both the numbers and have the range to put many other units to shame. With either of their free gun options having the same Strength and AP of five and typically a superior range given the shots they put out, Fire Warriors excel at wiping out enemy Infantry - particularly low Toughness enemies - and laugh at the high Toughness or low armour of most monstrous creatures and vehicles, respectively. In massed numbers, or backed up by an Ethereal and/or Fireblade, they can absolutely devastate most opposition that get within their thirty inch range - if you are using Pulse Rifles - and as they can move back constantly and fire a single shot whilst staying out of range to be rebuked by most opposition (remove casualties from the front), they are best used to get into a good position early on and then gradually fall back. Fire Warriors are not Imperial Guard, they aren't designed to just sit back with heavy weapons - as they lack any - but rather abuse their superior range to other Infantry and consistently keep just in range to minimise any potential return fire. Their ranged weapon is really what defines them as a unit; aside from their strong armour compared to most other light Infantry, their basic profile is quite unimpressive. With a terrible Weapon Skill and Initiative of two, Fire Warriors are absolutely dreadful in combat and, owing to their low Leadership and general lack of Stubborn or Fearless, are highly prone to failed Morale, Pinning and Fear tests, or even sweeping advances. Almost any unit will outperform them in combat - even Tactical Marines - and this is a trait that you can never afford to forget; if they are in combat, there is a probable chance they will die horribly. Between a Strength and Toughness of three backed by a +4 armour save, they can't do much in combat and are prone to most characteristic tests; they really rely on their decent save to survive, and their Ballistic Skill of three is rather mediocre. Compared to many other Troops choices though, they look quite good on paper and - from my admittedly limited experience with them so far - are very effective when used as a mobile, flexible fire-base. Between stock defensive grenades and characters that can provide improved Overwatch or allow the unit to consolidate out of assault range, they are designed to pound the enemy as much as possible and punish them for attempting to charge them. Whether mounted in a Devilfish for mobile redeployment or on foot and moving from cover to cover as it becomes necessary, Fire Warriors excel at medium to long range shooting; the sheer number of shots they put out, especially when paired with a Fireblade or Ethereal, at such a good Strength means they devastate armies such as Daemons, Eldar, Dark Eldar, Tyranids and the like who rely either on high Toughness values or massed numbers.

A bloodied Fire Warrior that isn't Kais? Heresy!
That they obliterate low save forces is undeniable, particularly given the availability and prominence of Markerlights; when combined with Ignores Cover and Ballistic Skill bonuses, twelve Fire Warriors rapid-firing their Pulse Rifles or firing their Pulse Carbines can wipe out entire horde units in one volley with ease. Against medium or heavy Infantry, the sheer number of saves they force is a handy trick; against typical power-armoured Space Marines, such a unit firing two shots when boosted by one or two Markerlights can typically expect to wipe out almost half a ten-strong squad. This becomes even more pronounced when certain characters are added to the unit, such as Darkstrider; his negative Toughness modifier for the target enemy unit can boost the number of saves imposed on them by a large margin, and this is especially deadly when used against monstrous creatures who rely on their Toughness to survive. With how cheap Fire Warriors are, you can field them in massive numbers and expect to have an advantage over your common enemy Infantry units because of those boosted guns; just be aware that, unlike Space Marines or Necrons, you can't take that firepower back particularly well. Though cover is always handy, that their standard guns wound you on threes or twos and your typical saving throw is only a +4, Fire Warriors can dish it out, but aren't too resilient themselves. However, this is mitigated by a number of factors; their superior range is a great boon, but this is only really effcective if the Fire Warriors actually move, fire, and retreat as the turns go by; that, and between readily available cover and a very low base cost, you can field them in large numbers and not feel particularly penalised by the decision. Masses of Fire Warriors have seen a large boost through the low cost - they compare favourably to most other Troops, now - and the Supporting Fire special rule; the latter allows groups of Fire Warriors - or other Tau units - to fire Overwatch shots at enemy units charging friendly Tau units, a strong trait that furthers enforces the theme of "try to catch us". As far as the actual weapon option goes, the typical choice of most has always been the Pulse Rifle, between its far superior range and similar number of shots at only a few inches less when rapid firing, it isn't difficult to understand why given the relative frailty of Fire Warriors. However, the new codex does provoke this issue somewhat; Pulse Carbines have a shorter range of twelve inches, but are instead Assault two - not that you would likely ever willingly charge with Fire Warriors - and cause Pinning. Though you can't pin an enemy unit whilst resolving Overwatch, it is nonetheless a useful trait, though I feel the superior range of the Pulse Rifle still denotes it as the better choice.

Fire Warriors have access to a variety of upgrades and combinations that can boost their effectiveness quite dramatically. They can upgrade one member to a Shas'ui or squad leader, giving them a very handy boosted Leadership of eight - unless you plan on having an Ethereal nearby or attaching a Fireblade, I would recommend taking this upgrade as it is both reasonably priced and grants an important boost to one of the units' more pronounced weaknesses. As well, you can use the Shas'ui to challenge enemy characters and tie them up; though the Shas'ui will still likely perish with little difficulty, it can be invaluable to hold up monstrous creatures and the like and delay them in wiping out or running down your squad. The Shas'ui can take a target lock and Markerlight, allowing him to mark separate targets to his squad with reasonable effectiveness, all for a decent cost; it is more expensive than taking an admittedly less efficient Marker Drone, and thus you may want to reserve your Markerlight for elsewhere, though extra ones are never a bad idea. Another helpful tool to keep them in the fight is the cheap Bonding Knife ritual, allowing them to regroup even when below 25% of the starting unit total as if they had Heroic Morale; at that point though, many may feel the small remnants of the unit aren't worth the points, but given Fire Warriors are scoring, you should really consider this. Too often I've seen a handful of soldiers - enough to hold an objective on the last turn - fail an unlucky morale check and require snake eyes to regroup; the Bonding Knife Ritual at least gives your warriors a far higher chance of avoiding this fate. One of the more popular upgrades will likely prove to be EMP Grenades; for a decent investment across the unit - handily paid for by model - Fire Warriors can take what are essentially renamed Haywire Grenades, one of the most cost-effective anti-tank weapons in the game. Even with their horrid Weapon Skill and Initiative, a small squad of Fire Warriors should prove more than capable of wrecking the majority of non-walker vehicles thrown at them, and even a large squad should be able to handle those exceptions. Now, obviously you don't really want to rush Fire Warriors close to a vehicle, particularly given the random charge lengths and the multitude of AP four ranged weapons found in many a meta; EMP Grenades are very much a deterrent and a last choice against vehicles, giving Fire Warriors a far better melee defence against pesky Dreadnoughts, Defilers and the like. Tau tend to do just fine against vehicles at range, but giving your basic Troops the means to wreck almost any vehicle they come across is invaluable, particularly given scoring units are so pivotal in the objective-heavy 6th Edition.

Drones are available to a Fire Warrior Shas'ui with the same cost and restrictions as other units; Gun Drones provide light medium ranged firepower, Shield Drones are ablative wounds for your unit, and Marker Drones provide additional ever important Markerlights. Each of them are decent additions that you should consider, but given that one of Fire Warriors' biggest advantages is their low cost, you may want to keep all of your upgrades - including Drones - in check, especially owing to their fragility and almost peculiar attitude to give up in a melee. For a player looking to make their Fire Warrior teams more mobile, give them decent protection and fire support, and generally allow them to actually move to midfield objectives with a degree of success, Devilfishes are a sublime - albeit expensive - purchase. If you plan on keeping your Fire Warriors back and using the range of Pulse Rifles to their advantage, a Devilfish isn't necessary - however, if you plan on using Pulse Carbines and thus want to get nice and close to the enemy with the potential for mobile, safe redeployment, a Devilfish is invaluable. I should note that though I wouldn't take a Devilfish strictly for additional fire support, much like many Loyalist Space Marine armies use empty Razorbacks to provide strong and reliable firepower; they are too costly and don't have the weaponry to really perform this role effectively. All in all though, Fire Warriors are a pretty strong choice and, particularly when combined with a Fireblade or Ethereal, put out more shots at a low cost than almost any other Infantry unit in the game could hope for - the sheer Strength of their guns alone makes them a frightening prospect to nearly any enemy. Though they are definitely fragile when compared to Space Marines and will flail around in close quarters combat like a wet sack of jittering fish, a decent armour save given their cost makes them a very respectable unit, especially when combined with stock defensive grenades and the Supporting Fire special rule. These are my pick to fill out your Troops slots; just make sure to keep them cheap and simple and not spend more than you have to on them, as they work far better in numbers than in smaller, upgraded units.

Too much beast for one picture.
Kroot - In the previous codex, the comparison between basic Kroot and Ork Boyz was popular amongst the community to highlight how other codices had far better value for their 'horde' meat-shield unit. Of course, such comparisons don't really cover how each unit works within the context of their respective codices, but it was nonetheless a valid criticism of Kroot and their ailing use. With the new codex, one might think little has changed; they share a very similar profile to an Imperial Guardsman, with a higher Weapon Skill and worse armour save by one point on each front (this is not a direct comparison to Guardsmen; this is just to illustrate their now standardised profile). Kroot have decent ranged weapons that understandably pale in comparison to those used by Fire Warriors, with a Strength of four, an AP of six and a twenty-four inch range that rapid fires at twelve inches. Effectively slightly weaker boltguns carried by a model with a mediocre Ballistic Skill, the low cost and fragility of Kroot mean that they function decently well as light ranged Infantry, similar in vein to Cultists wielding Autoguns from Chaos Space Marines. Their melee punch is minimal given that they only have one attack each, and thus they are only best used in an assault to tie up enemy units or fight other similarly weak melee units; that you can field up to twenty Kroot - in addition to the other models you can add - for a low cost is handy, but Tau aren't an army that functions well with meat shield units. You don't need your units to get too close to enemy units where such a tactic would matter, and the favoured tactic of 'Jump-Shoot-Jump' contradicts the probable reason for taking Kroot. In that sense, Kroot aren't exactly a bad unit in the sense of cost-effectiveness, but they don't really fit into most Tau armies given the emphasis either on a firebase - of which Fire Warriors provide a far superior core - or on mobile redeployment and fire support, where Fire Warriors mounted in Devilfishes are also a better choice. That isn't to say Kroot aren't without tricks that make them far more worthwhile, though. All Kroot have the Infiltrate, Move Through Cover and Stealth (Forests) special rules; they can set up pretty darned close to the enemy, meaning they can launch early assaults or at least draw attention early on - the only real way to use them as effective fire sinks - and they aren't really slowed by terrain whilst getting boosted cover saves in a common terrain feature. This makes them a pretty mobile unit that can get into the face of your opponent early and proceed to either shoot or assault and do light damage or at least draw firepower away from your more valuable units in the initial stages of a game. Whilst this is a decent trick to pull, given how easily Kroot are killed, this tactic may not always work - however, it is definitely the best way to use them as distraction units.

They can also be used to Outflank and, with Acute Senses provided by Kroot Hounds, reliably arrive on the table edge you want; this is a good way to allow your enemy to move forward to your other forces, and them surprise them with a strike from the side or rear and attack a valuable target or weak spot. This actually brings me to my next point; Kroot can take separate models as part of the overall unit. You can purchase ten Kroot Hounds, whom are essentially quicker Kroot that, as Beasts, gain little because they have to remain in unit coherency with the rest of the unit; aside from that, they lose the guns and the armour, but have more attacks and a pretty high Initiative value. Given how cheap they are, if you are intending to use Kroot as a distraction or melee tarpit unit, they aren't a bad option to consider; you can even opt to add just one to the unit so that the entire units gains the Acute Senses special rule, which is quite humorous. The other models to add are a limit of three Krootox; between two wounds, a Strength of six and what amounts to an autocannon with an average Ballistic Skill, Krootox are fragile - with an abysmal armour save and a Toughness of three - and expensive models that are best used in an Outflanking unit to fire into the rear armour of vehicles with their Strength seven guns. If that doesn't work, charge in with their Strength six melee attacks! These models are pretty situational, but worthwhile; the unit can also upgrade a regular Kroot member to a Shaper, doubling as a squad leader with two extra wounds and attacks. This is costly, but if you aren't confronted by an instant-death dealing weapon, it can be a funny tarpit character against other low-level characters. I think that, for the most part, Kroot are an ok unit that would probably work better in an army that would actually support them as a unit without resorting to very specific tactics; most Tau units won't operate in the same manner or area of the field that Kroot will, and as a firebase unit, they are outperformed in every way by the generally superior and more durable Fire Warriors. They do have a very interesting upgrade that makes them an oddly effective unit though, and that is to upgrade every regular Kroot' rifle to have sniper rounds; though they use a Heavy profile, this is a great way to add some exceedingly cheap - like, ridiculously so - Sniper models to the army. Precision Shots coming from a cheap as chips horde unit is sure to annoy most opponents; that twenty of them with sniper rifles costs less than one hundred and fifty tacos is sure to give you some mean looks from your opponents. Be aware of their comparatively short range compared to most other sniper rifles, and again, the fragility of the unit as a whole, and you should be sweet; Kroot upgraded as Snipers make for an excellent, cheap firebase unit that actually has a role in the army and works well alongside Fire Warriors. Use the Kroot to snipe out pesky special and heavy weapons from enemy units that would threaten your Battlesuits and vehicles, and then watch as the Fire Warriors blast the meat of the unit into bits. Kroot aren't a bad unit overall, but they can be difficult to use effectively in the context of the Tau codex.

Dedicated Transports

Devilfish -The Devilfish is an expensive, but worthwhile, dedicated transport option that is available to Fire Warriors and Pathfinders only. The latter of the two units doesn't really require a Devilfish for anything more than moving into position initially or if they are being employed as 'heavy weapon teams' sporting Rail Rifles or Ion Rifles. The former is best served using a Devilfish for all purpose needs, from blocking line of sight, providing mobile cover, soaking up damage, ferrying units and providing light fire support. Given that Tau typically struggle to sit on objectives owing to their fragility and less than mediocre melee capabilities, Devilfishes are invaluable for a Tau force that aims to take important midfield objectives - or deny them - by giving Fire Warriors a route to such hotspots without worrying about time or fire as much as they would on foot. In that sense, it really wouldn't matter just how expensive a Devilfish is or what upgrades it takes - it will always be a useful addition for Fire Warrior teams if you intend to play an objectives game and not just blast your opponent into oblivion, which is a pretty viable strategy considering the objective-heavy focus of 6th Edition. The Devilfish can carry up to twelve models - including Drones - but may never carry Bulky, Very Bulky or Extremely Bulky models, effectively ruling out the possibility of throwing Battlesuit teams in there - not like you would want to, for the most part. The Devilfish has a rather surprisingly high base cost, but this is due to a number of factors; the first being that, as both a tank and a skimmer, it benefits from the very handy Jink special rule, it can move flat out, and it can even tank shot with its strong front armour of 12. This means it is quite fast, pretty durable against standard anti-armour weaponry, and is pretty ideal for delivering your Infantry or Drones to where they need to go. It has more firepower than your average transport as well, with eight Strength five AP five shots, four of which are twin-linked but hit on a +5 as opposed to the other four which hit on a +4, and thus averages about four hits and three wounds against typical Toughness four enemies. Not bad, but as a dedicated transport, that isn't really what you should be interested in - however, the light firepower is quite useful against light vehicles and other non-vehicle forces.

I don't get it. Where is the Devil, or the Fish?
The pair of Gun Drones that come with the Devilfish can be used for general purpose trickery, between delaying units and blocking access to your other units, or simply harassing enemy positions and drawing them out. If you want more firepower from the Devilfish, you can swap the two Drones out for a twin-linked Smart Missile System - this is a valuable purchase, but an unnecessary one. The Devilfish can take one or two Seeker Missiles which work out to be cheaper than Hunter Killer missiles for Loyalist vehicles, but the reason for this is two-fold; the first is owing to the mediocre Ballistic Skill of the Devilfish. The second and main reason why Seeker Missiles are actually decently useful as opposed to Hunter Killers is that, with Markerlight support, you can expend Markerlight tokens to fire Seeker Missiles at the unit that hit on a +2 and ignore both cover saves and line of sight restrictions. Given that any missiles fired in this way don't count to the weapons you are allowed to shoot based on how far you moved, this can be a fun - if still unreliable - method of punching a hole either into enemy armour or scaring off enemy non-vehicle models. For the cost, the opportunity to outright kill an expensive model such as a Tyranid Warrior with ease is pretty handy, especially when your Burst Cannon and Gun Drones or Smart Missile System follow through! Again though, given the high cost of a Devilfish and the focus on transport first, these are nice, but again unnecessary; especially when one considers that those Markerlights are probably best reserved for Ballistic Skill boosts or Ignores Cover for other Tau units with stronger firepower. As far as general vehicle upgrades are concerned, you can generally give these a skip unless you have the points spare, as the Devilfish already does its job pretty well without them. Some are a bit iffy, such as the Advanced Targeting System and Decoy Launchers, but have the benefit of being very cheap. On the other hand, Dirsuption Pods and Point Defence Targeting Relays are quite useful and, although more expensive, provide pretty good buffs if you actually plan on using the Devilfish as a mobile transport and defensive vehicle in conjunction with Fire Warriors. A front armour 12 skimmer with a +4 cover save just from moving is pretty darned difficult to take down, and for the cost, it isn't a bad buy either. Though the Devilfish is certainly expensive as far as most dedicated transports go, it is a useful vehicle that has a lot of potential uses that make it quite versatile. They are key to any mobile Tau force.

Example Builds - The Tau Troops choices tend to stick to pretty consistent themes, though there are variations to these.

Fire Warriors (12) w/ shas'ui - 118

Kroot (20) w/ sniper rounds - 140

Devilfish w/ disruption pods - 95

Fire Warriors (8) w/ pulse carbines, shas'ui, Devilfish w/ disruption pods - 177

Kroot (15) w/ five Kroot Hounds, two Krootox - 180

Did you enjoy this article or, rather, find it a helpful read? Or do you think I should step up my game a bit for my future articles? Leave a comment in the comment sections below - we welcome any and all criticism and feedback. Cheers!


  1. I cannot tell you how helpful your articles have been. I'm new to Tau. With the new Dex and slight differences to the previous codex, your observances have been very enlightening. Your articles are very well written, and explore options and game mechanics/ situations that I have not had the experience with, yet. True, only through play testing can we develope our own style and feel of army list. Your articles have helped me create lists that I feel will get me started on the right foot.

    Thank you.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of your analysis'

    1. I'm very happy to hear that! My motto is always to try out the stuff for yourself; after all, our own style of play and meta varies, and so what rings true for one player won't be so for another. I'm eager to see how your Tau go in the future!

  2. Great article, as always. I am enjoying these articles and eagerly wait on the next one! There is one thing I wanted to point out though, I believe the range of the pulse carbine is 18" not 12". Other then that, again, awesome article!

    1. Cheers!
      Yes, you are correct. In my haste to get this article out, I made that pretty glaring mistake. Thanks for pointing it out - I'll edit it right away.
      Thanks again!

  3. I absolutely adore your analysis of the new Codex. I love the Tau and I feel like your guides are giving players invaluable info on how our beloved blue space men fight. Looking forward to more!

  4. What I like from Devilfish is that you can flat out it in the shooting phase, gaining a +4 cover save, blocking fire to your fire wariors and even firing a seeker missile

  5. I must say, I could never understand why Fire Warriors are so limited in their armament, given that most armies' infantry troop section units operate on the "take X models and then Y special/heavy weapons of the types we allow" mindset. The Tau are practical and not hidebound by religious ideas about war like Eldar Aspect Warriors are (particularly Dire Avengers, who are probably the closest equivalent to Fire Warriors in another codex). Even Eldar Guardian Defenders can take self-propelled Heavy Weapons in the form of Eldar Gun Platforms, and Eldar Storm Guardians can take special weapons like Fusion Guns and Flamers.

    Besides, there will never be as many Battlesuit users as there are Fire Warriors, so from a practical standpoint it would make sense for the latter to bring their own support weaponry (or even have it tag along in the form of heavy/special weapon-carrying drones). Look at the following "Heavy Gun Drone" models from Forge World:


    These could easily be written so they could tag along with Fire Warriors, in essence becoming the "heavy bolter" equivalent for them. The following "Heavy Marker Drone" could also be useful for Fire Warrior teams, even more so if the Burst Cannon were switched out with a Flamer:


    And does anyone else think that Forge World could make quite a bit more money if their Tau "DX-4 Technical Drone" (link below) could go along with Pathfinder/Fire Warrior/Stealthsuit teams to act as the equivalent of Space Marine Apothecary in terms of giving the squad FnP OR a Techmarine in terms of the ability to repair vehicles?


    The new Missile Drones are nice, aside from the fact that they look like they couldn't possibly be carrying more than a single shot of ammo (and Broadside Battlesuits look like they don't have anywhere they could store reloads for those drones) at a time. If the Missile Drones could tag along with Fire Warriors (but only fire a single shot at a time, to reflect their lack of ammo-carrying ability since the accompanying Fire Warriors carry the ammo and load it in after each shot from the Missile Drone, like an Imperial Guard Missile Launcher team), then it would boost the versatility of Fire Warriors immensely, as would allowing a Shas'ui to carry a Rail or Ion Rifle.

    I'm also surprised that Kroot were lowered in strength. I can understand why they were reduced to one attack, so as to give Kroot Hounds more of a reason to be selected, but they really should have taken a page from the Kroot fan codices and allow you to pay a price for Kroot Carnivores/Shapers to be "Green" Kroot (i.e., Kroot that have consumed a lot of Ork flesh, something not in short supply) so they could get T4. And if Kroot are supposed to be consummate jungle fighters, why don't they have the options to use jungle-warfare-appropriate weapons, like Grenade Launchers, Shotguns, Heavy Stubbers, and (Heavy) Flamers? They could easily explain the presence of such weaponry in their ranks as having gotten them as payment for their mercenary pursuits elsewhere. Shapers with S4/T4 and the ability to take a Power Weapon/Kroot Pistol combo or even an Eviscerator chainsword (a two-handed chainfist if anyone's forgotten) would also have been a welcome change.

    I doubt that in a "realistic" situation, the Tau Empire would consent to having its Fire Warriors continually charged and slaughtered by horde-type armies without giving them the necessary sustained-fire weaponry to kill them all before they get to hand-to-hand combat. And Pinning with Pulse Carbines isn't always reliable anyway.

    Or is there something I'm not getting here behind the tradition of lack of versatility for Tau and Kroot?