Friday, 19 February 2010

Tau Army Review - Fire Warriors

Tau Army Review - Fire Warriors

Rather than starting with HQ I'm going to start with the unit that will be in every Tau Army. At least one unit of Fire Warriors must be taken in any Tau list. I'll quickly go through their basic strengths and weaknesses, the equipment they can be upgraded with, and various typical unit loadouts, and finally my opinion of them.


Obviously the 30” range on their pulse rifles are a good strength, but in 5th edition I think the strength 5 and rapid fire ability of their pulse rifles is more of a strength than the range. Fire Warriors also have a decent (but not good) armour save of 4+ which means they get a save against most basic weapons, however heavy bolters and autocannons rip straight through their armour.

Fire Warriors are also one of the two units that can claim objectives in 5th edition, and it’s essential to have enough scoring units.


Fire Warriors have only leadership 7 and can only be upgraded to leadership 8. This is one of the lowest leaderships in the game, and nearly all other low leadership troops have some rule to help them against it (Tyranid Snapse, Imperial Guard Orders, Orc Mob Size etc.)

I also believe that Fire Warriors are quite overcoated for their abilities, with the release of each new codex Fire Warriors just don’t compete with other armies troop choices in term of effectiveness for their cost.


Below is a quick run down of the upgrades fire warriors can take and their usefulness:

Bonding Knife (Shas’ui only): Useful for large squads, particularly if they either don’t have a transport or intend to be out of a transport for most of the game

Photon Grenades: Never take them, in close combat a Fire Warrior will still lose (and you want them to lose on the turn they are charged), Photon grenades only increase the chance that the Fire Warriors may stay in combat the turn they are charged, but the survivors will probably lose and get cut down in the Tau turn, meaning the assaulters have escaped the Tau firepower response.

EMP Grenades: Some people suggest having a small specialised EMP grenade squad. However there are much better vehicle killers in the Tau list, and the chance is still quite slim of a small EMP squad killing a moving vehicle. I would advice against using grenades at all, keep the Fire Warriors with little equipment to keep them cheap and focused on what they do best (firing str 5 shots into the enemy).

Carbines: Allows the Fire Warriors to move and fire, however what ever they fire at is in range to move forward and rapid fire at the them, or if they have fleet, jump packs or are beasts/cavalry they can still charge the Fire Warriors. In 4th edition they could be used well, but in 5th edition the rifle is better, as you want to either shoot from far away or get 2 shots at 12” with the intention of wiping the enemy out. The secondary effect of pinning with carbines comes up rarely due to the high leadership of most armies or special rules they can use to offset their poor leadership. If you want carbine I’d recommend that you use gun drones instead that are jet pack infantry and can move back after shooting.

Markerlight (Shas’ui only): Can be useful in a gun-line squad, especially if the shas’ui has a target lock so he can fire at a different target to the rest of his unit, eg. lighting up a vehicle for a broadside unit to use the markerlight while the rest of the squad can still fire at infantry.

Gun Drones: These are the same toughness and armour save as the Tau, another fire warrior is better than gun drones, unless you want to bring the largest squad you can. A maximum sized unit with drones takes 4 rather than 3 casualties to require a morale test, however they now can't fit in a transport, and the gun drones can’t fire at the same range as rifle equipped fire warriors. I wouldn’t recommend gun drones.

Shield Drones: A bit of extra survivability, but on the whole I recommend sticking with just fire warriors.

Marker Drones: A very expensive source of markerlights. If you want markerlights I recommend you use Pathfinders, Skyrays, or Stealth Teams with Marker drones (in that order)

Typical Unit Set-ups

Gun-line Squad

A typical squad that is meant to be part of a gun-line type army needs to be big and have good leadership because it will be taking casualties (plus it can make the best use of markerlights if you have any). Also because they are a scoring unit a bonding knife is useful because the enemy has to kill every last one to ensure they can’t take an objective.

12 Fire warriors, incl Shas’ui with Bonding Knife – 135 Pts

Optional Extras: Markerlight and a Target Lock for the Shas’ui, bringing the cost up to 150 Pts.

Devilfish Scoring Unit Upgrade

6 Fire Warriors – 60 Pts

Optional Extras: None

This squad is meant to fulfil the minimum requirement of one unit of fire warriors. They should spend most of the game either in reserve or in a devilfish. Starting in reserve and then embarking onto a pathfinder devilfish when they arrive is a good way to keep them alive.

The squad should only occassionly get out of a devilfish to rapid fire at the small remnants of an enemy squad. You have to be careful with this squad (particularly if they you have a small number of scoring units) as they will die to enemy fire very easily.

Fish of Fury

This unit is designed to move around the battlefield in a devilfish and then get out and rapid fire enemy squads, supported by markerlights, and other fire warrior units doing the same. Protected inside a devilfish the unit has mobility and resilience.

10-12 Fire Warriors – 100-120 Pts

Optional Extras: Shas'ui with Bonding Knife

10 is sometimes better than 12, as it allows you more units, and it can sometimes be hard to disembark 12 warriors within 12” of the enemy while still being safe from assault. The way to be safe from assault is to fire at the enemy under the devilfish (the enemy won't reach the fire warriors because they have to go round devilfish, and they will need 6's to hit the devilfish in combat, as it should have moved 12”). Alternatively the devilfish drones and be used to get between the fire warriors and the enemy so the enemy can't reach the fire warriors.

A full fire warrior unit with a devilfish (upgraded with an SMS) will put out 31 str 5 shots (or 28 shots if the devilfish moved more than 6”). However without markerlight hits that will only kill 3.7 marines on average, therefore to take out a tactical squad you will need to do this with two units and have other firepower to take out the remaining 3 marines.

This tactic therefore needs to whittle down enemy squads to a manageable size and then coordinate attacks of multiple units, and losing a devilfish to enemy fire will hamper the coordination of this manoeuvre. A full fire warrior squad with an upgraded devilfish will cost around 240 pts, and if it does the rapid fire manoeuvre 3 times a game (optimistic) it will kill roughly 11 marines, much less than it's points cost. So a final point of this tactic is that it's more about keeping the fire warriors safe and mobile to capture objectives rather than it's damage output.

My Experiences with Fire Warriors

I'm sure most people would agree that fire warriors are a bit overcoated for their abilities in the current environment. 5th edition has made 40k a faster game, due to transports being more survivable and the run rule.

Their leadership is poor, and the change in the meta game to a more even mix of MEQ (Toughness 4, 3+ save enemy) and Horde (Guard, Nids, Orks), and increase in cover saves has increased the use of weapons such as heavy bolters, autocannons, whirlwinds, and scatterlasers etc. These weapons are the bane of a fire warriors existence.

In 3rd and 4th edition I always used 30+ fire warriors, but the 40k game was slower and more predictable. In 5th edition I have tried to find a tactic that makes fire warriors good. Gun-line type lists didn't do enough damage before the enemy got to them, a mix of gun-line and Fish of Fury took so many points away from the rest of the army and the fire warriors still couldn't pull their weight.

Fire Warriors give a hard choice for the Tau player in 5th edition. They are fragile, but you need troops to capture objectives. My solution at the moment is to use just one unit (Devilfish Scoring Unit Upgrade configuration), rather than have a second unit I use 10 kroot to go into a second pathfinder devilfish because I think they are so much more flexible for the 10 extra points.

I could advice against taking many gun-line type units, however even though I don't use it, I have seen multiple Fish of Fury units used well. My concern is that 3 units of Fish of Fury takes so many points away from the army, and I prefer to spend the points on more Hammerheads, Broadsides & Crisis Suits.

For an alternative view point and a very good example of a Fish of Fury type army played well, I recommend you view the battle reports of Adam from Warhammer Tau.

Lastly it's also important to pick the style of Tau army you will like playing, and I think that starts with the type, number and configuration of your troop choices. All successful Tau armies outmanoeuvre the enemy while bring firepower to bear. If you like the idea of outmanoeuvring your opponent while bring devastating pin-point fire power to a section of the enemy force before moving off again you may prefer the Fish of Fury type lists. If you like manoeuvring, but prefer to do your killing from further away, and don't mind sacrificing a unit for the greater good to do more devastating firepower from turn one, you may prefer sticking with less troops and putting more points in Broadsides & Crisis Suits.

If you have any questions, comments, or areas you think I have missed out please leave a comment.


Related Army Review Articles

Devilfish Review

[Army Styles – Link to Article will be added shortly]

[Kroot – Link to Article will be added shortly]


  1. I've never seen a post about the Tau with which I could agree more! Well done!

    Alas our fire warriors aren't as mighty as they seem at first glance. I started about a year ago, and I was in love with their 4+ armor save and 30" S5 weapon. Then I started to play with them and I had to realize that the best FW unit is as follows:
    6FW + DF with a DP. This costs 145 points and You have to keep it in reserve. The longer the better.
    Any time I tried fish of fury ,or even disembarked, I got slaughtered.

  2. Glad you liked the article.

    I'm just writing the devilfish article, and I'm half way through the draft of the kroot article, so stay tuned for more.

    If there's a particular unit you'd like me to write about please leave a comment.


  3. Great article, I personally can't think of anything that you haven't covered about the humble firewarrior.
    Wonder how they are going to change when the new codex comes out. Personally I'd like to see a 2 point drop and free EMP grenades.
    Any thoughts?

  4. A great review that really breaks down the Fire Warrior well. As you've mentioned, they don't hold up well compared to other troop units in 5th Edition, but they still have their uses. I've moved from using them in a gunline to using the Devilfish scoring unit model, and I can't say I'm disappointed. I will say, though, that against some enemies a gunline is better (or at least starting your FWs outside of their 'fishes to get some shots at 30"). Dark Eldar, for example, really don't care for having a large volume of Strength 5 shots hitting their AV10 transports before they can cross the field.

  5. @Firewasp: I'm hoping the get both defensive and EMP grenades as well as a 2pt drop, however as we'll be waiting a while for a new Tau codex, we'll have to make do with what we've got.

    @NockerGeek: I suppose it's depends on how many troop choices you've got. If you've got a 2-3 units of 9+ fire warriors (plus some kroot) it's a good idea, however in my army I only have one unit of 6 at the moment, and only 3 troop choices in total. I'd rather keep one of my few troop choices alive than cause a bit more damage. A lot depends on the style of Tau army being played, eg. My army can't do some of the nice things a full mech army can do.




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