The Devilfish is the Tau codex’s dedicated transport- in fact, the only transport of any kind that they get. (We will ignore the Forge World ones because A, it’s Forge World and thus not legal most places, B, they’re all superheavies anyways, and C, they’re atrocious.) Unfortunately the Devilfish didn’t change at all in armament or points cost from its last incarnation, although the rules did shift around it and some of its options were altered a bit. While it can’t really hope to hold a candle to the other AV12 skimmer transport in the game right now, the Devilfish ends up being a pretty respectable little platform that can get your mans around the battlefield to where they need to be and keep them alive.
The Devilfish is one of the tougher transports out there, clocking in at 12/11/10 as a skimmer; while this might only appear marginally tougher than a Rhino, the difference between AV11 and AV12, as we’ve discussed in the past, is actually rather major. It means that S6 weapons can’t penetrate you and S7 weapons are half as likely to score a roll on the damage charge- and both of these are very common profiles. As a skimmer, it also benefits from a 5+ Jink save most of the timeand can more easily traverse terrain. Add in a primary armament of a Burst Cannon and a pair of Gun Drones (each getting four S5 shots to 18″) and you have a vehicle with firepower on par with the Psyback, but with much greater ability to weather enemy shooting- albeit at a cost.
The cost is the main downside to the ‘Fish- starting at eighty points and going up from there, it is NOT a cheap vehicle. While this is counterbalanced somewhat by the low price on most upgrades as well as the squad inside, Tau certainly do not have the capacity to spam transports for transports’ sake the way some other armies can or have in the past. The Devilfish is just what the label says- a transport designed to move little soldiers around the table; it can contribute firepower, but isn’t going to be particularly overwhelming in that regard.
Note that while it can only be bought for Fire Warriors and Pathfinders, other units- so long as they are not Bulky- can embark on the Devilfish. This means that the various HQ options can mostly accompany a squad of buddies in a ‘Fish, but in emergencies a squad of Kroot can hitch a ride in there as well if they don’t have any weird mutants hanging around with them. Drones, by special exception, are also allowed to embark.
As with all Tau tanks, the onboard Drones have the option to disembark as you would other squads from a transport, moving about to act on their own. As they are not scoring or denial units, preventing some of the shenanigans that were possible last edition, neither do they count as killed units or otherwise count against you- they are entirely suicidal in nature. We’ll come back to them in a bit, but for the time being just keep in mind that small squads of Drones can be incredibly obnoxious to the enemy.
The Devilfish comes with only two native upgrades, the first being swapping the Drones out for a Smart Missile System for 10pts. This is a very cheap price for such an excellent weapon and significantly lowered from the previous edition, but there are some caveats. Since the Devilfish is not Fast, it is not quite so much of an upgrade as one might expect- Drones, since they are their own unit, fire as passengers and thus don’t count towards the vehicle’s quota of weapons, whereas an SMS will force you to snapfire that chin Burst Cannon most of the time. Since both armaments offer four S5 shots, they are very comparable, though the missiles are superior on a number of other fronts (BS3, 30″ range, Homing.) I often don’t take SMS on my vehicles both because of the above factors and because point constraints force me to make cuts and they are one of the earliest. However, some players swear by them, so we will leave it to the reader to make the decision.
Their other option is to purchase Seeker Missiles for 8pts each; since Devilfish generally won’t be in a great position to be launching missiles and aren’t otherwise inclined to be shooting at tanks, these aren’t a particularly attractive purchase overall. They are at least cheaper than the Marine version thanks to BS3, but you have better places to be spending your points if you want anti-tank firepower.
Beyond that, the Devilfish can be upgraded with any of the usual Tau vehicle accessories. The big kid in town is clearly the Disruption Pod; while it might be a bit pricey at 15pts, adding +1 to all your cover saves is very strong and helps keep the tank alive against incoming fire. A 5+ to a 4+ is no insignificant change, and if you Flat Out you end up with a 3+, which should easily deter all but the most dogged (or lucky) shooting. I consider a Disruption Pod to be a requirement for all Devilfish- the chassis simply starts at 95pts and goes from there.
Sensor Spines, at 5pts, are quite cheap and provide a very useful bonus- Move Through Cover lets the Devilfish pass all Dangerous Terrain tests automatically, so you can zip in an out of terrain with impunity. I don’t often invest in them, but as a way to shed 5pts you could certainly do a lot worse- and if you expect a fight on heavy terrain, they might be a very good option indeed. Flechette Discharges can also see some use; they inflict a S4 hit on all models in base contact with the vehicle during the beginning of a fight- they probably won’t save you from dying, but they can sometimes peel off a couple attackers and certain armies (like Tyranids and Orks) will find them very inconvenient indeed. The Automated Repair System, while rather marginal, is at least cheap and might randomly win you a game; it lets you get back a Damaged result from earlier in the game, giving you a gun to fire or letting you scoot to a better spot. Better than a Rhino’s repair rule, but no more likely to work and thus not a strong candidate.
The remaining upgrades are all pretty marginal or worthless- the ability to Overwatch, Precision shots (more expensive than the other version for some reason?!), defense against Interceptor, Night Vision, etc, are all fairly useless to a transport and thus aren’t really worth considering.
Role and Strategies
The Devilfish’s job is very simple: get Fire Warriors where they need to go. AV12 and a 4+ or 3+ save make it a very tough nut to crack and skimmer status allows it to maneuver with the rest of a Tau army while they output firepower. Tau often struggle to keep their troops alive through a game and the Devilfish is one solution to that problem- especially if you have other “hard” targets around to draw attention from it, many opponents will not or cannot afford to shoot your Devilfish in the early turns of the game, and by the final turns it is often too late from getting where they need to. With their relatively bulky chassis, it is quite easy to hide a small squad of Fire Warriors completely out of LoS behind one, often on an objective. And while it may not be unusually fast, crossing the board in a Devilfish is a lot quicker- and safer- than most Tau units trying to do so on foot, so it can be a good way to claim a distant objective.
The Devilfish’s role as a transport can extend to more than just getting troops to objectives, however; in a rather amusing twist of fate, the old 4th Edition tactic dubbed “Fish of Fury” went from rather derpy to rather dangerous thanks to a variety of factors. Although it still shouldn’t be anything like a primary plan of assault, as a hold-out defense against an enemy that has gotten too close it can be rather effective. Enabled by an Ethereal and possibly Markerlights, Through Unity Devastation, or other reroll effects, even just a pair of 9-strong Fire Warriors can put 18+ wounds on a squad of MEQs from point blank range, plus whatever firepower the tanks themselves contribute. (Remember that Drones, since they are not part of the vehicle, benefit from Storm of Fire as well.) With the ability to rain down shots from other parts of the force at a distance and then put a lethal volley of point-blank fire on the survivors, the Devilfish can be a very dangerous contributor to the Tau shooting game. Moreover, should some enemies survive the barrage, they are faced with two bad options: first, go after the actual threat, the Fire Warriors- this will mean a long walk around the Devilfish (which typically operate in pairs to maximize the strategy) and then an even longer attempt at a charge- and with the changes to multicharging, that simply won’t be an option in most cases. Second, assault the Devilfish themselves and then deal with the FW on a subsequent turn- but this still means eating a wave of Supporting Fire from both the FW on foot and the Drones still embarked. (Drones shoot as passengers, remember, and passengers are allowed to fire Overwatch.)
The Gun Drones attached to a Devilfish bear special mentioning here because they can be the source of endless amusement for you and frustration for your opponents. At a glance, they don’t look like much- some S5 pinning shots on pretty weak frames. However, Fantasy players (as well as some others) may see the value hidden inside- as a cheap (“free,” in fact) disposable squad with good movement, they make the perfect disruption unit. They can hound weakened squads and finish them off, saving you firepower for elsewhere; they can randomly force Pinning or Grounding tests, as any chance for the dice to turn up poorly for the other guy is a good thing for you; and most importantly, they can block movement and assault lanes.
You see, while Gun Drones may not be much of a unit, they still technically are a unit. This means that the enemy must obey the 1″ rule with them, and you can use this to your advantage, especially against armies where a disproportionate amount of firepower is concentrated into a few units (such as with deathstars, etc.) Using their exceptional maneuverability (Jet Pack Infantry), a small unit of Gun Drones can place themselves directly into the face of something that is trying to move towards you or your objectives and just sit there shouting “Hey! Hey! Hey! Pay attention to me! Hey! I’m not touching you, does this bug you? Hey! Listen! Hey!” until they finally get fed up with it and turn some guns on them… at which point they Go to Ground and you hope for some lucky dice. But even if they die then and there, they have already served their purpose- Gun Drones exist to draw attention and delay the enemy, and if they accomplish anything else in the process that is just a bonus. Every inch of ground the enemy is forced to cover to walk around them, every shot that is aimed at them rather than your actual troops is a benefit.
Of course, some armies- such as those with transports- have a lot of distributed firepower and can easily aim some random shots at your Drones until they die, but many others will not, and it is against these that your Gun Drones shine. Other vehicles in the army have access to Drones, but none come so cheaply and ubiquitously as the Devilfish’s.
So what armies actually need Devilfish? Well, unsurprisingly, the foot Tau list is right out the window pretty much by definition. Hybrid lists can do well with the ‘Fish if they have enough other heavy mech and infantry units to keep them from being sole targets- generally some Hammerheads, Skyrays, Broadsides, Riptides, and Crisis can do well here, but don’t forget allied armies that can bring similar chassis- Wave Serpents, Ghost Arks, Annihilation Barges, and other midrange or tougher vehicles complement them well. Also note that the frame of the Devilfish is easily big enough to hide JSJ units behind, so a small school of them can be a great place to hide your Crisis or Stealths.
Mechanized armies, of course, are wholly reliant on the Devilfish; for these, maxing out on armored targets is the obvious goal, whether from Tau or from allies. Here you’re more likely to see larger units of Fire Warriors inside the ‘Fish and thus also see them used as delivery vehicles rather than just metal boxes.
The Devilfish is a strong and flexible transport with both decent firepower and top-notch survivability, but its features do not come cheap and it is not enough for the army to ride on its back alone. Finding success with them requires knowing when you can afford to trade scoring units for firepower and vice versa, not to mention proper use of baiting, maneuver, and refused flank-style tactics. However, in the right army the Devilfish can soundly refute the meme of transports being dead in 6th edition, making it a valuable addition to the Tau armory.