The Piranha, the Tau’s answer to the Land Speeder and similar light vehicles. Never a big shower, but with a surprising number of uses and a very solid unit for those looking for a fast, multirole harassment element. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategy.
I have to admit- I am a Piranha fanatic. I have adored the speedy little things ever since I started the faction back in 4th edition and, though they have changed in a number of ways over the years, I always manage to find a way to slip them into many of my armies. The 6th Edition codex saw them get bumped up significantly in strength, which I was most appreciative of, and their addition to the recent slew of formations only more so- I had more than enough models to field a Firestream Wing before it was even released, though of course I had to order a few more from Frontline Gaming in order to field the full formation once I saw it.
The Piranha is superficially similar to many other vehicles of the same style such as the Vyper, Land Speeder, etc; however, what sets it apart from these units and gives it a much more distinct role are its role in the army as well as the unique features of Tau as a whole. As a result, while it may be numerically similar to these other units (which tend to be somewhat mediocre themselves) the Tau Piranha is actually a very solid addition to their arsenal.
The Piranha’s statline is nothing to get terribly excited about, although it’s far from bad. Front Armor 11 means that it can shrug off Boltguns under most circumstances and is at least reasonably resilient to the various anti-tank weapons. Side/Rear 10 is obviously less helpful, and having only two Hull Points is a distinct disadvantage. It has the same middling Ballistic Skill as nearly all Tau, which will do the job well enough.
More importantly than all that, however, is the fact that the Piranha is not only insanely cheap (only 40pts base) but also a Fast Skimmer that can be taken in squadrons of up to five, meaning it’s very easy to flood the field with them. They are also Open-Topped, which ends up only being a disadvantage but with two HP often won’t be a big deal.
Wargear and Rules
The Piranha comes with a pretty good set of kit for its price- it is armed with a Burst Cannon (18″ S5 AP5 four shots) and a pair of Gun Drones (each of which gets two S5 AP5 pinning shots.) As with all Tau vehicles, the Drones can either stay onboard (in which case they fire as passengers) or disembark (in which case all Drones from the squadron form a single unit), but any Drones onboard a wrecked Piranha are lost automatically. Combined, this means that a single Piranha is putting out eight S5 shots per turn- pretty impressive considering how cheap they are.
One important thing to remember is that the Drones are exactly like normal Gun Drones purchased as a unit, which means they have the Supporting Fire rule and as passengers in an Open-Topped vehicle may fire out from their positions in support of other units (or their own squadron) if a charge is declared. However, unlike the Piranhas themselves, they are not a scoring unit and do not count for mission objectives (including kill points, first blood, etc.)
The Piranha can also swap its Burst Cannon for a Fusion Blaster (a meltagun with 18″ range) for 10pts, which unfortunately ends up being a bit expensive for a vehicle that starts out so cheap, but if you’re looking for a way to bust tanks it’s a legit option, since it’s the only 12″ movement platform with melta that Tau have. Each Piranha in a unit can also take up to two Seeker Missiles at 8pts apiece, which are just Krak Missiles that can only fire once- though pricey, they can be devastating if you get them into someone’s rear arc and can drag down MCs in short order as well.
Piranhas also have access to the full Tau vehicle armory, although since they are priced for the heavier skimmers most selections are rather unattractive. However, one does stand out- Sensor Spines. Not only are they cheap at 5pts, but since Move Through Cover affects the whole unit if even a single model possesses it, you can save on points in a squadron by only buying it for one of the members. Terrain can be very hazardous for units like the Piranha that want to be moving a lot and getting very close to the enemy- Sensor Spines let you do this much more safely and reliably, so I find them to be a near-automatic inclusion for any unit of two or more.
I said earlier that the Pirnaha is in a class above most other light vehicles, so let’s go back to that- essentially this boils down to the issues that Tau face which other armies don’t. Tau, as an almost exclusive shooting army are very concerned with keeping their enemy at arm’s length; their various skimmers and jet pack units help with this, but many assault units can move just as fast as them (or even faster!) and there is only so much board space you can run to. With this in mind, many Tau armies will find it beneficial to not simply move their own units away from threats, but also to prevent threats from moving towards them- and this is where the Piranha comes in.
One of the features of 40K is that enemy units are essentially impassible barriers- although some unit types can move over or through them, even these units cannot land in the same space as an enemy unit or even come within 1″ of it, bar the assault phase. Thus, one of the important strategies for many armies is controlling the enemy’s movement by use of your own units- blocking their movement lanes and forcing them to deal with “chaff” units before they can reach your main force, the objectives, or whatever else you’re trying to protect. Simply interposing your own units in the right positions can go a long ways towards winning some games, as you can force them to waste one of their finite turns of movement trying to get around you (or standing still and waiting.) I won’t talk about this strategy in depth here because it’s worth a whole article unto itself , but players of nearly every skill level will probably have seen this sort of thing happen in their games either intentionally or on accident- units get in the way of each other.
And the Piranha, by whatever fluke, is almost perfectly-suited to this role. It is cheap and fieldable in large units, it comes with an extra built-in disposable unit (meaning each unit of Piranhas can actually hold up the enemy for two turns potentially), it’s almost as fast as any unit can be, and the chassis has quite a large footprint (measuring over 4″ across at its widest point.) All of these factors together mean that a squadron of Piranhas can section off a significant portion of the board almost at will, albeit in a highly suicidal fashion since any enemies in the area will likely shoot and/or charge them to death in short order. However, if such a unit can delay the enemy advance for even a single turn, most Tau players will consider it a more than fair price to pay, since it buys them time to keep up the shooting barrage and hopefully whittle the enemy down to nothing.
However, the Piranha doesn’t have to be just a suicide skimmer- in matchups where controlling the enemy’s movement isn’t as critical, it can still perform a variety of useful roles. Though it’s basic armament won’t typically impress most opponents, with the addition of just one or two Markerlight hits they become a much more terrifying threat- that squadron of three Piranhas is putting fifteen wounds on a squad of Marines, which is pretty strong for its point cost.
Outside of its sacrificiality, the Piranha typically serves three main roles- as a harassment unit on the enemy’s flanks, as a dedicated hunter unit, or as a main firepower unit. As a harassment unit its job is to hover around the edges of edges of the battlefield picking off vulnerable targets; this version is almost exclusively armed with the Burst Cannon, though it is not uncommon for it to carry a few Seeker Missiles distributed amongst the squad in order to take shots of opportunity. These units operate independently, forcing the enemy to deal with threats on multiple fronts and divide their attention rather than simply having a single, massed force that can be shot and assaulted as a group. These squadrons tend to be on the larger side (3-5 members) as they have to operate without other support in most cases.
The dedicated hunter role sees the Piranha used very differently; this version exists to take out a single enemy unit as quickly as possible and damn the cost; most commonly this is done with Fusion Blasters aimed at a critical enemy vehicle (like a Land Raider) before it can do its job. However, this variant can also be tasked with chasing down units in wide-scattered or inconvenient areas of the board the rest of your army can’t reach, like cleaning off a squad hiding behind terrain on an objective. Hunter units tend to be on the smaller side (2-3 models) due to their often-suicidal nature, but they consequently will also be more likely to get some Markerlights on that critical turn.
The final use for Piranhas is the simplest- as a fairly efficient and reasonably-resilient source of S5 firepower, the Piranha can serve as part of the main body of a Tau army when putting damage on the enemy forces. There is little subtlety to this use, but raw numbers can make up for that fairly easily and despite nominally being a scout vehicle the Piranha easily outshoots Fire Warriors, Burst Crisis, and many other sources of S5 firepower in the army.
As an aside- if you are using Piranhas, you are likely using them in squadrons. Since most people don’t often use vehicle squadrons, it pays to familiarize yourself with the oddities of their rules, including how to handle coherency, armor penetration and allocating hits, and abandoning squadron members.
The Piranha is also part of several of the new Tau formations that have been released and two of them in particular deserve specific mention. The Hunter Cadre can include up to three squads of them as “fast attack” choices in the core formation. This is largely notable because of the Coordinated Firepower rule that allows its units to combine their fire for greater effect- and the Piranha, at only 40pts is one of the cheapest possible options in this regard. However, it’s actually even better than that, because the Piranha is not one but TWO units (the skimmer and its drones) that can contribute to a Coordinated Firepower attack, meaning that a Piranha and just one other unit from your army are enough to qualify for the +1BS bonus if they shoot together.
The other significant formation including the Piranha is, of course, the Piranha Firestream Wing, which allows you to field four squads of them at once. Unfortunately, the ITC’s changes to the Firestream Wing’s rules- namely their inability to exit the board upon entering and inability to restore the squad to full strength- have rendered the formation all but useless in competitive play, as it ends up just being a bunch of fragile skimmers that can pretty easily be wrecked before they actually manage to do their job. If your opponent ignores you it’s still capable of launching a lot of Seeker Missiles and dumping quite a few drones onto the field, but chances are they won’t be so generous.
If you’re looking for a flexible and effective unit to add to a Tau army, the Piranha can be a great addition. It can excel against both infantry and tanks when properly equipped and supported and it gives an otherwise-slow faction a great tool to halt enemy advances, reach distant objectives or threats, and generally fulfills the promises its fluff makes with surprising accuracy. It won’t be making a place in any tournament lists, as virtually no Tau units will, but it’s more than acceptable for more casual play and can serve in good stead for many a list.