Tau Tactica: The Pathfinder's Devilfish
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Throughout 3rd and some of 4th Edition (where the only missions I played was straight up victory point kill-off games, me and 90% of the other players I knew), I struggled with it's usage, but it was always an interesting annoyance factor, especially those two little gun drones on it, which seemed to almost always do something of high importance.
Now in Fifth Edition with the Tau Empire Codex, there are a few things to be noted in my successful experience that I wanted to share. I hope that they continue requiring the Devilfish in the future.
One obvious use is allowing a unit Deep Striking within LOS to it to re-roll the Scatter dice. It doesn't seem like too much but think about it. Where are you going to find your Pathfinder's Devilfish? Hopefully somewhere near the action. This means that for the Battlesuits Deep Striking in a visible location to the Devilfish allows for them a slightly better chance of getting somewhere where the action is (rather than scattering close to a CC heavy unit you don't want to bother with, that slow Carnifex, or in a completely useless location out of sight to everything or worse, so far in the open, everyone can shoot them but they can't do much back).
The important thing to remember is that you have the Devilfish, but that means you have the Pathfinders. If you're using the Pathfinders to support the troops, the Devilfish is usually somewhere near-by allowing both the Devilfish and the Pathfinders to assist your Battlesuits as they unleash destruction upon the enemy.
The Devilfish seems underpowered compared to some of the other threats in the Tau army giving it the edge of being largely ignored. This allows them to annoy your opponents by popping off shots and if it has the gun drones, hopefully impose pinning. From Point #1 above, if you can force even a basic infantry squad to go to ground, that means you are enhancing your control over the location of interest.
In Objective-based games, you can also use the Devilfish as a contester of Objectives. I have done this on more than one occasion very easily and with great pride. This can also allow me to use the Pathfinder's Devilfish as a lure for my enemies to expose themselves and move into designated firing lanes where my Pathfinders, in view of the Devilfish, are ready to help.
The Devilfish, especially if it's cheap, can be used to block enemy units from objectives and force them to either slow down on a collision course with it, or move around it's very long posterior. This I have done a number of times to my delight, picking off models as I do. If you keep the two Gun Drones, they can detach and become the greatest nuisance when contesting Objectives!
In KP games, the Devilfish seems like an easy target to obtain points. This is actually fairly deceptive. With a front armor of 12, side of 11, only moderate to extreme anti-tank weapons can really be threatening enough to take it out. As a mobile vehicle, close combatants have to face 4+ or 6+ to land any hits. So he can either shoot his anti-tank weaponry at the Devilfish or expose himself trying to reach it/get LOS, or say he can shoot at the Broadsides you have tucked away waiting.
On the basic level, the Devilfish is armed with an 18" range Burst Cannon and two Gun Drones. For the same cost, Imperial and (more easily) Chaos players must heavily modify their Rhinos to get close to that cost. For +30 points, it has +1 front armor value difference, holds 2 more models, and is a skimmer with two Gun Drones, but also with -1 to the BS.Definition: Battle Sister or Ballistic Skill The Chimera comes with the same front armor value, but can easily be equipped with much heavier weaponry and up to 5 models inside can shoot from the hatch (a seemingly popular choice for Guard players right now) for a cheaper cost (by a whole 25 points!).
So tactically it seems hardly worth it. But the advantages to upgrades can make that a whole different story. The Warfish Pattern tune-up on your basic APC Definition: Armoured Personal Carriercan muscle it up into a fighting machine with bite. This is possible because, unlike the Eldar players, Tau have relatively cheap vehicle upgrades.
Smart Missile System -- The true point of the upgrade is giving your Devilfish not 3, but 7 pulse shots. At medium range, this can be frustrating for those units that opponents think are just out of reach or trying to hide. Make note, this is the most expensive upgrade, but it costs the same as two Fire Warriors. It's like adding 4 Fire Warriors to the group of shooting when you're shooting at further than 12" range.
Target Array -- A nifty upgrade that gives your Devilfish more teeth in his bite. Now you gave all of those 7 shots more hitting power without expending a Markerlight token.
Disruption Pod -- Allows your Devilfish to do every suggestion I have out in the open more safely from long-range anti-tank weapons. This makes your opponent think through his options again. This also helps protect this little mobile bit of firepower.
Multi-tracker -- Why sit still to shoot those 7 pulse rounds? This gives your Devilfish the advantage of mobile firepower to be redirected as needed. And that's what's mobility is all about; battlefield flexibility through effective movement.
Flechette Dischargers -- [optional] Remember where your Pathfinder's Devilfish is supposed to be? Yes, in the thick of the fight or close to it. This means that it is vulnerable to those basic infantry units armed with grenades that don't have another or better target. It allows you to do even more damage against your opponent's unit (maybe that troop choice trying to hold that Objective?) as he wastes his time and possibly men trying to take out this APC.Definition: Armoured Personal Carrier
Seeker Missiles -- [optional] If you don't have a Sky Ray (and 80% of you won't), Seeker Missiles are good to stick on the Pathfinder's Devilfish, but probably just 1. The more you attach to your Devilfish, the less points you have allocated to the more scary things in your army, and the more it stands out. However, unlike your Hammerheads and fast-moving Piranhas, the Devilfish is lower on the threat scale to your opponent, keeping that Seeker Missile safely tucked in for a short time.
Decoy Launchers -- [optional] A relatively cheap upgrade compared to other vehicle upgrades. In 5th Edition, the Glancing Hit is now a 6. This means, that unless your opponent rolls another 6, he's going to get a lower result. Also, if the Devilfish is already Immobilized, you can prevent it from losing another weapon system by forcing a re-roll. The best part: the Tau player may force the re-roll. If you want to be Immobilized, you can.
Now we have a fighting APC Definition: Armoured Personal Carriervehicle that isn't on the same standard as the lowly Rhino or Chimera being expensive for what it is. Compare to a Chimera for close the same cost. Let's compare a Chimera to a good Warfish.
For the Chimera to be of equal points, it has to keep 6 shots at +1 Strength (but nothing nifty like the SMS), with -1 BS Definition: Battle Sister or Ballistic Skilland half the mobility, and must take every upgrade: the storm bolter/heavy stubber, camo netting, Hunter-Killer missile, Dozer Blade, Extra Armor, and Camo Netting.
It does come with Smoke Launchers, but when that comes out you can't even shoot out (and it only lasts for 1 turn). The DP is constant. The Camo Netting is good, but is 3x more expensive than the super-cheap DP, and isn't useful out in the open or when you move.
The Dozer Blade lets you re-roll the die for moving through cover, but the Warfish can just fly over what it can or, with Sensor Spines, not roll at all for the same points.
The Hunter-Killer missile is a one-shot like the Seeker Missile, but the Seeker Missile doesn't need LOS to the target and hits on a 2+ and not on a BS:3.
That leaves the Extra Armor, but with all the other upgrades and needing to hold still for the guys inside, well, I think it would be a waste of points (and the Warfish can take DL and DP for the same cost ).
We can also compare the Warfish with only the base upgrades I listed to a Wave Serpent. The Wave Serpent starts off even more expensive than the Devilfish and is required to take a weapon system. With a Twin-linked Scatter Laser (4 shots at Str:6, AP:6), Shuriken Cannon (3 shots, Str:6 AP:5), and Spirit Stones, it has already reached the same point cost. While it is much faster and has slightly better armament with stronger weapons, it comes equipped with that Energy Field as well. But now we are comparing what was a light APC Definition: Armoured Personal Carrierto the mighty Wave Serpent, which is often a focus point for the enemy and will be taking more shots. It still doesn't have a cover save out in the open unless it moves Flat Out (but then it can't shoot).
Once you upgrade the Devilfish to the Warfish Pattern, now you are getting something tactically worthwhile. Now the reason I bring this up specifically is because you have taken a requirement of your army and turned it into an independent fighting force; a unit that can actually be used alongside the rest of your army rather than loafing along as an expensive asset or long-term investment. In addition, you'll find that if facing the right armor value or a light enough vehicle squadron, the Warfish can quickly make up for it's point cost. If it survives long enough (and it will probably do so unless the rest of your army is in Reserves), it can slowly make up for the cost, especially with the Pathfinder's Markerlights assisting it.
I have done this before as well. I find it particularly useful in higher point games when my opponent shoots at my Honor Guard. I can stick them in the Devilfish and more safely move them around. In one instance, it proved pivotal as the first move I made in Turn 1 was stick the Honor Guard in the Pathfinder's Devilfish. When the Legion of the Damned Deep Striked behind my lines, I eased up the Warfish 12", unloaded the Honor Guard, and thanks to my Pathfinders next to them, I was pulsing 25 times at 2+ to hit and 3+ to wound.
It can also have an impact when you stick a small (or dying) group of Fire Warriors inside it. It helps protect them and hold Objectives without directly being targeted. It negates the Fire Warriors' high vulnerability to Heavy Bolters and Assault Cannons (and the like), makes them mobile, and you didn't even pay for another Devilfish.
Something I haven't seen yet, but imagine the look of your opponent's face when a unit of Kroot come out. By doing this, you can have your Kroot remain in terrain, and further inside a transport. Once the transport goes, say to close combat attacks, your Kroot are now there waiting. If it was due to firepower, they can utilize their Fieldcraft and deploy in the terrain.
This is a rare thing to do that I normally do not normally put forth, but something is to be considered here. Most people try to keep their Pathfinders locked up far away from the enemy and use the Markerlights to good effect before they are completely destroyed by enemy firepower. If you're like me, you'll cry when you lose them.
But what about as a mobile, fighting force? It's like having 8 Fire Warriors armed with Pulse Carbines in a Devilfish that can't hold Objectives. If you give the Shas'ui two Gun Drones, and keep the two Gun Drones on the Devilfish, you have 12 pulse carbines coming out of that Outflanking move, and with the Devilfish, a Burst Cannon with it, pulsing 15 times. If you can Outflank in the right location at the right time, you can have all that pulse fire going into the rear/side armor of enemy vehicles, or other long-ranged units with wounds that just won't die. No doubt, having the Warfish Pattern is better, as you now pulse with a stronger 17 times.
Giving them EMP/Photon grenades makes them a fluffy sabotage unit to take care of those vehicles hanging in the back. If they survive another turn, you can then use Markerlights from the enemy's own sidelines or a section of the board you might not have been able to access earlier.
Alternatively if the Pathfinders are still there next turn, and if your shooting left behind few enough models when you didn't move, you can even follow up your pulse shooting with a charge, heaping more attacks on the enemy (before they charge you or shoot heavy weapons back anyway) and possibly tying them up in combat. If you can pin the enemy unit you were shooting at (like those Imperial Guard heavy weapon teams), you don't have to worry about them shooting back or assaulting you next turn.
Sensor Spines--do I need them?
I personally don't take the Sensor Spines simply due to the cost, but there were some occasions I really wish I had it and others when I saw players use them well. In any case, in order to impose a more threatening posture to your opponent, Sensor Spines are a neat thing to have as you don't have to worry about Immobilizing it and not getting there. This also allows you to sometimes gain access to that cover save. You can also unload troops further into the cover and can put a blockade between the deploying unit and the enemy. Don't forget also, the Disruption Pod only works when the enemy is more than 12" away.
Fish of Fury no longer exists
This isn't entirely true. The concept behind the Fish of Fury is that you could tuck your troops behind the Devilfish and unload on the enemy and they would have to move around the Devilfish to reach you. With proper positioning, you can still utilize the same technique. Now your opponents may get a cover save sometimes, but your Markerlights can reduce that if you feel you need to when the survivability of the Fire Warriors is higher than the attempted destruction of the enemy. (And trust me, that can do some wonders!) Besides, your opponents would have to have a 5+ or worse save to begin with.
What I tend to do is stick Fire Warriors on either side (since there are 3 hatches) and have 1 maybe 2 in the back who don't have LOS. Everyone else still does, and when you have 10 out of 12 Fire Warriors in sight, it's all good (or a Drone/Ethereal as I usually do). This can be made up for the Devilfish with a BS:4, adding to the pulsing firepower.
Modeling with a higher base
This sounds strange, but if you look at your Pathfinder models, you'll find that they are relatively low to the ground, and the ones with rail rifles are even lower. Because everything is "true LOS", you can keep your Devilfish in the front and certain angles so that, while your opponents are getting a cover save, it's not very useful when you don't get them from Markerlights in the first place. When you couple this with the Sensor Spine upgrade, you can place your unit further in the back or possibly mostly behind the terrain, and further elevate your Devilfish.