Tactica: Devilfish

July 31, 2013 ·

One of 2 Devilfish I run in my Mechanised Cadre

Next Tactica - the Devilfish.

Unit Description

The humble Tau Battle Taxi – an AV12  11  10 Dedicated Transport that comes with a Burst Cannon and 2 gun drones standard. It’s a skimmer and it’s BS3.

Battlefield Role

The intro says it all, unlike the Eldar Wave Serpent which is actually a battle tank with transport capacity, the Devilfish is primarily a transport with some shooting ability.  As such, its main role is protecting your Fire Warriors (or Pathfinders), while getting them from point A to point B --in (relative) safety.  Because of this, you can’t really write a Devilfish Tactica without talking about Fire Warriors.

So, a brief look at Fire Warriors is in order, but only in so far as they impact how you use your Devilfish.

In 5th edition, Fire Warriors were rubbish.  Most serious Tau generals only took two squads of six because they had to.  However, in 6th edition (largely due to the change in Rapid Fire weapons) they have become much better.  Under the new Codex (largely because of Ethereals and Fireblades) they are better still.  Their main battlefield use is to deliver a blistering torrent of S5 fire power.  Under 15” they benefit from the Ethereal’s Storm of Fire rule and each of the little blue heroes fires what is essentially a heavy bolter.  On top of that, with only 2 marker lights, they hit on 2s!  Oh and even better… they’re leadership 10 within 12” of an Ethereal.

There are however, 2 minor problems –surviving long enough to unleash that storm of fire, and getting to within 15” of an enemy… and that’s where the Devilfish comes in.  In a Mechanized Cadre (and where else would you have a Devilfish) the Devilfish’s main role is to protect your Fire Warriors until it can get them into a position to destroy a unit or two, before scuttling off to claim an objective. So there are 3 things the ‘fish needs to do … (1) protect the Fire Warriors, (2) get them into position to unleash thier volley, and (3, if necessary) get them away again – so protection, deployment and extraction.  It really is the old 4th edition Fish-of-Fury tactic!


Odd to put this first, but it’s the most important part of the tactic.  Fire Warriors are too valuable to be a suicide unit (also, for the fluff bunnies, it’s just not the Tau way!). You want to get them in, kill something and get them out again.  However, to do this you need both the Fire Warriors and the Devilfish to survive at least one turn of retaliatory fire and possibly assault, once they deliver their fire power.  Not easy, but it’s the key to making the tactic work well. 

Everything else in this section is about how to put yourself in a position to extract your Fire Warriors after they kill or seriously maim their target.


The first part of extracting your Fire Warriors is to get them there in the first place, and that involves protecting them until it’s time to get out.

Usually I find I need to keep the Fire Warriors safe for the first turn or two, until a nice juicy target presents itself.  While they can reach out and touch things with their Pulse Rifles from turn one, IMHO the exposure to return fire is not quite worth the damage they put out.  Long range fire power against armoured targets are what Suits and Tanks are for.

The ’fish’s stats are reasonably good protection in themselves.  An AV12 vehicle with a 4+ cover save (3+ if going flat out) is reasonably survivable (you should always take a D’pod IMHO). Especially because the ’fish is a reasonably wide vehicle so it can usually present its front armour, and even if it can’t, its side armour is not too bad at AV11.

You can also usually hide them away.  The best place is obviously out of LOS, but often that’s hard to do.  The next best alternative is behind a ruin for a 3+ save (again, D’pods FTW) or behind a Riptide or Skyray (watch out for high strength blast weapons).

However, in some games you might want to think about starting your ‘fish in reserve.  For example, against Wave Serpent Spam, your Fish will go down to Serpent Shields very quickly.  Also, there is often nothing to fire at because all the squishy stuff is buttoned up in the Serpents.  Better to keep them off the board until you kill a Serpent or two, and then bring them on to shoot up the contents.

Until It’s time to get the Warriors out, your Devilfish should usually be moving  flat out for its 3+ Jink save.  Eight S5 shots are just not worth giving that up IMHO.


Here I don’t mean “set up” deployment, I mean when and how to get your Fire Warriors out.  The three crucial things are timing, target priority, and positioning.


By timing I mean when to get the Fire Warriors out their ‘fish and when to keep them safely inside it. The crucial thing is knowing what’s going to shoot back at you. You don’t need to worry so much about your target, it’s going to be devastated by your Fire Warriors' volley. It’s other nearby units that can really hurt.  For example, a Thunder Fire Cannon that can draw line of sight to your clumped up Fire Warriors (because you just got out the Devilfish).  A smart opponent will devastate your Fire Warriors on his next turn.  In this case, it's best not to get them out of the 'fish until your Skyray or hammerhead has killed the cannon.

Target Priority

Ideally, you need to plan what you’re fire warriors are going to kill from turn one.  Not always possible, but you can usually get an idea from your opponent’s army list and deployment. You need to pick from his list the units you’re Fire Warriors can kill most effectively, work out what he is most likely to do with them, and accordingly, where they are most likely to be.  No easy task.

An example might help.  In this year’s Caledonian Uprising my first game was against Grey Knights. His was a very 5th edition list with Psybolt Razorbacks, Dreadnaughts and acolytes.  However, he had a 10 man unit of GKTs.  We were playing Vanguard Strike and he had first turn.  He chose to deploy his Terminators. The ideal target in his list for my two 12 man units of Fire Warriors were the GKTs. Their torrent of s5 fire is just the thing to make him roll ones. I also suspected he would move them forward … what else could he do with them?  They only have a 24” range. So I kept the 2 Devilfish full of Fire Warriors in reserve (I was worried about the Psybolt Dreads) and set up everything else.

First turn, most of his shooting was out of range, and he moved his GKT’s forward and then ran them to be in range next turn.  I responded and killed a Dread or two (these were the days when Broadsides had real rail guns!). In his turn 2 he moved forward again and shot. But that brought him well within 27” of my board edge (6” move on with the fish, 6” get out, 15” rapid fire range). Both my fish came on, the Fire Warriors hopped out, and with marker light support, devastated the GKTs.

Another example is an assault death star – you know your opponent is going to shove those Nob Bikers down your throat, so give him a tempting target (a unit of Broadsides perhaps) and position your Fish so that they can move up, disembark the Fire Warriors and blow the bikers away.


Finally under deployment, there is the positioning of models when you decide to get them out. There are lots of things to consider here. Particularly important are positioning of the ‘fish, positioning of the Fire Warriors, positioning of the Ethereal and positioning of any Gun Drones getting off the ‘fish.  Yep, positioning is everything.

One of them is easy – always keep the Ethereal in the ‘Fish.  His powers don’t need line of sight and are extended from the ’fish’s hull.  That's at lease a three-inch extension of his effective range and a better chance of NOT giving up two victory points by getting him killed.

Positioning of the Fire Warriors is the most crucial element. First they need to be within 15” of their target to benefit from Storm of Fire. As I read the stupid FAQ about ranges, they do not need to be within 15” of all the models in the target unit, they just need to be within 15” of the closest model, because while the Pulse Rifle’s rapid fire range is 15”, its max range is 30”.

The next thing is that the Fire Warriors need to be protected from assault, and/or shooting in your opponent's next turn.

That brings us to how to position the Devilfish and its Gun Drones, which in turn brings us to 2 crucial pieces of wargear on the ‘fish – Sensor Spines and Gun Drones. You want maximum flexibility over where you deploy your Devilfish. Sensor Spines allow you to ignore the effects of any terrain, greatly assisting in this. Also, if possible, you want to deploy your Fire Warriors in terrain for a cover save from return fire, again Sensor Spines allow you to do this without worrying about immobilising the ‘fish.  Gun drones are passengers that can deploy at the same time as the Fire Warriors, however, crucially they do not become a part of the Fire Warrior’s squad. They’re a separate unit which does not give up a kill point – i.e. they are entirely disposable. When you’re using your ‘fish like this they are better than SMS, IMHO.

When positioning your ‘fish and its drones the most important consideration is protecting your Fire warriors from retaliation. You need to think about 2 things – cover from return fire, and blocking assaults. You can achieve both of these by careful positioning of the ‘fish and it’s Drones. Essentially you place the ‘fish and the Drones between your Fire Warriors and the units you think will shoot or assault them.  You’ll be shooting under the fish, or through the Gun Drones, giving your opponents a cover save, but their armour save is usually better than your Pulse rifle’s AP5, and if not, a couple of marker light hits will solve that problem.

The cover save gives some protection, but the real concern is assault- you don’t want anything assaulting your Fire Warriors - ever. By blocking assaults with the ‘fish and the Drones, the idea is that any incoming assaults need to hit either the Drones, or the ‘fish first, before they get to the Fire warriors. This allows you to use the supporting fire special rule to fire overwatch on any incoming assault when it hits the ‘Fish or the Drones, and buys you another phase of shooting in your next turn if the ‘fish goes down and you can’t extract the Fire Warriors.

Load Out

In my view you should keep your ‘fish cheap and cheerful.  If you're using them to move forward aggressively, as described above, then the only upgrades I would buy are D’pods and Sensor Spines. I thought about Flechette Dischargers and Point Defence Targeting Relays.  Flechette Discharges might work, but I worry about people manipulating charges so that only a few units get into assault at I10, with the rest coming in at later initiatives.  That said, IMHO Point Defence Targeting Relays are a waste of points on a D’fish.

The only other upgrade I thought about was an SMS.  An SMS might be the way to go if your fish is just hanging around waiting to deliver its "required" 6 Fire Warriors to an objective late game.  But if you’re using them aggressively, the Drones are far more useful (and they’re free!)

One final thought – you can take Seeker Missiles for 8 pts each.  If you’ve got the points -and the more importantly, the marker lights- it’s not a bad option (you don’t want to be firing Seeker Missiles at BS3). Particularly if you take Skyrays.  If you get a hits on a Flyer with the Skyray’s marker lights, the Seeker Missile on your 'fish can use it to launch, hitting the Flyer at BS4 and ignoring any jink saves.  

Combos, Synergies and Lists

IMHO, Devilfish combine very well with Fire Warriors and Fish of Fury tactics as described above. I struggle to see why you would want to use Devilfish if you were not combining them with Fire Warriors and Fish of Fury (or alternatively Pathfinders … which is another interesting option). I can see why you might use them simply to keep a small squad of scoring Fire Warriors alive until they can snatch objectives late game, but there are better units for that (Allied Eldar Jet Bikes for example).

They are best in a Mechanised list where there is other armour to draw fire (Skyrays and Hammer Heads) although they would also work in a Riptide List, where the Riptides tend to draw a lot of that heavy fire.


In the final analysis, the best use of the Devilfish is as a metal box to protect Fire Warriors until they can unleash their fire power, and as a battlefield taxi to make sure they are in the best place to unleash that fire power.

And it does this pretty well!



Pr0Golf3r said...
July 31, 2013 at 3:50 AM  

Very good article EYIG! I'm playing marines this Sunday So I will definitely use this and see how it works. Thanks again.

17yearoldhobbyist said...
July 31, 2013 at 8:54 AM  

Great tactica! When I finally flesh out my list, I'll have 1 'fish to rush 1 squad of fw around to kill stuff and capture objectives.

Embrace Your Inner Geek said...
August 1, 2013 at 12:25 PM  

Thanks Guys. Apprecaite the positive feed back.


Pr0Golf3r said...
August 4, 2013 at 9:46 AM  

Just finished the game but have one quick question. I positioned my drones in front of my firewarrior squad, he then declared a charge at my fire warriors after shooting at them. He rolled a 12" assault move, and I said he had to hit the drones first but he said that if he had enough movement to get around them then he could ignore the drones and if he fell short and came in contact with the drones then he wouldn't move. I just let him away with it since I won anyway but for future reference who was right? What should have happened? Thanks.

Embrace Your Inner Geek said...
August 4, 2013 at 10:46 AM  

Your opponent's right. He does not need to assault the drones he can, if he has the distance on his charge roll, go round them. BUT he needs the distance. If he hadn't rolled a 12" charge, he wouldn't have been able to get in. Which would have meant he would have killed neither the drones nor the fire warriors.

The drones don't guarantee he cant charge, but they do make it harder.


Hu Jin Tau said...
August 4, 2013 at 3:39 PM  

Excellent point. He does not have to charge in a straight line, but he does have to measure the exact distance of the detour he takes around your drones as well. He cannot simply measure his charge as a bird's eye view and then freely meander around obstacles.

Another factor may be strategic placement of your drones. Sometimes you can situate them in such a way that he cannot get to your firewarriors because of a combination of battlefield factors (terrain, etc) AND the placement of the drones. The devilfish can help here too as another (large) obstacle he has to go around -and going around that beast will quickly eat up even a 12 inch charge.

That said, rolling a 12 for an assault is the best he could have done, and if your firewarriors were less than 18 inches from him at the end of your turn that may have actually been the tactical error, not the placement of the drones. Perhaps three inches of movement on your part would have doubled your shots and decreased the effects of the charge somewhat.

Anonymous said...
October 5, 2013 at 11:35 PM  

P. 125 40k Rulebook. ''Unless stated otherwise, a unit cannot charge, or use any
abilities or special rules that must be used at the start of
the turn, in the turn it arrives from reserve.''

Doesn't this prevent you from using Invocation of fire on those GKTs

Hu Jin Tau said...
October 6, 2013 at 5:28 PM  

After reading through the post, I cannot see that he used invocation of fire, just rapid fire because he disembarked within their rapid fire range (15")

Unless I missed something.

Foll said...
October 14, 2013 at 12:55 AM  

I have a questin, isn't it better to use on those FW Pulse Carrabin isnted of rifle? Especialy when you dont have Ethernal. You got 2 shoots in 18" and pinning which can save you aginst a charge. Since Taxi drive you so close to oponent it will be rare to use shooting at range 18"-30"

Anonymous said...
November 23, 2013 at 7:41 AM  

Wait, doesn't the opponent need to declare what unit he charges? I mean, declare that he is attacking th FWs, and then, if he can't reach them, the charge fails? I dont recall that you may chose another unit to assault, if you can't reach the one you declared. I might be wrong, though - Assault isn't my thing!

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