A closer look at an unusual inclusion in the Tau army- a fortification not available to other armies. Click here to read on, or check the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
One of the areas of the game GW hasn’t explored much is the idea of fortifications- although the rules allow it, currently no fortifications with a faction alignment exist. The Tau, however, have several that come close and in my mind the most useful of them is the Sensor Tower, which provides from very useful bonuses for a very reasonable price.
Sensor Towers are taken in the fortification slot and come at 30pts apiece; up to four can be bought as a single fortification choice, and they have to be deployed such that they essentially have a “squad coherency” of six inches when deploying. They are classified as battlefield debris and functionally are a lot like the various gun emplacements- with Toughness 6 and two wounds each they are reasonably hard to hurt, although the 4+ armor save is on the low side. Cheap as they are, though, this isn’t a huge issue. As they are nominally drones, they start at BS2 and have no other stats.
Special Rules and Wargear
The useful parts of the Sensor Tower, as with most Tau units, come in here. Each tower is equipped with a twin-linked Markerlight and fires independently of the others and all units; they can also nominate a single Tau unit within 2″ during the Shooting phase to reroll 1s to hit. This second ability is the main reason you’ll be interested in them- it essentially lets you take an Ammo Dump without the need of any fortification to “attach” it to and for a much cheaper price, albeit at the cost of it potentially being destroyed during the game. While Tau have a few other ways to get reroll 1s, this is by far the cheapest of them.
Towers can also upgrade to either of a pair of useful support systems: for 10pts, they can take a Positional Relay. This one is a bit weird, since it lets any Outflanking units choose to arrive from their board edge so long as the Tower is within 6″ of it- not a huge ability, but can be sorta handy. However, this limits where you can place the Tower and is sometimes difficult/impossible because of terrain, so I don’t think it’s a good buy (especially because battlesuits can get the same for 5pts.) The second is the Homing Beacon, which is 15pts but prevents scatter when Deep Striking near the tower; this is a lot more helpful and can enable some nasty tricks, but unlike other platforms it can’t move and which thus limits its usefulness. However, as only a small number of units can access Beacons (Stealths, Ethereals, Pathfinders, Tetras) it’s worth at least giving cursory consideration to.
Like so many of the Tau support units, the Sensor Tower is all about being a force multiplier. By bringing not only a Markerlight but also a way to reroll misses for a unit, the Tower makes an excellent support structure for other parts of the army and is cheap enough to be worth using. Like all force multipliers, it does its best work when applied to a large and/or expensive unit such as a Riptide, Stormsurge, etc- and fortunately, these are some of the most common elements of Tau armies these days. It’s especially handy on units that have Gets Hot (like Burst Riptides) or on one-use weapons (such as Seeker/Destroyer Missiles.)
One important thing to note is that the Sensor Tower is, in fact, a piece of terrain and not a model. While it can be shot at normally, it cannot be assaulted (though it can be struck in close combat if models are close enough) and does not count for kill points, first blood, etc. It’s not exceptionally hard to remove, but doing so it completely without value apart from the actual need to deny its bonuses to your army. Its high Toughness value also syncs up well with the big suits that it wants to hang out with, giving the enemy difficult decisions as far as what to aim their guns at. And, at the end of the day, a Sensor Tower doesn’t really occupy a meaningful FoC slot, so it will almost never crowd you out of taking something else in its place, though technically you might want to bring it alongside something like a pair of other Void Shields or whatever.
Rerolling 1s is, mathematically, a pretty strong bonus and one that gets stronger the better your Ballistic Skill is; it’s not much for some BS2 drones or BS3 Strike Teams, but on a BS4 Skyray or anything boosted to BS5 with Markerlights it can virtually guarantee a hit. In this way its “main” bonus works as an excellent counterpart to Markerlights, which get less efficient the higher your BS rises- and since it brings a reasonably-reliable Markerlight itself, it can provide nearly-integral support to a single unit pretty consistently.
There is one big limiter on the Sensor Tower, though: range. Since its rerolls can only be given to a unit within 2″, whatever unit you are hoping to benefit from it has to stay pretty firmly in your deployment zone for as long as it wants to keep getting its enhancements. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t pass it out to a variety of units depending on what’s nearby, but in all likelihood you have an all-star that you think is gonna be the one getting it most games and if you can’t afford to have that guy sitting back the whole time, the Sensor Tower is not gonna work out very well for you. This is likely why you don’t see it in more of the Tau “monster mash” lists that bring 5+ MCs and GCs to the party- these units want to be aggressively moving forward into the enemy deployment zone most of the time, so the Tower quickly becomes a moot issue for them. Units that otherwise have built-in rerolls (such as Broadsides with their twin-linked weaponry or a Crisis deathstar with its signature systems) also have little use for a Sensor Tower, obviously- and so it may happen that some armies just have no real use for it at all.
Still, for all that, the Sensor Tower is really cheap for what it does. As an Ammo Dump costs 20pts on its own, you’re getting the spare Markerlight for a mere ten point surcharge, which is an absolute steal considering how much of a bonus it can be to some units. If you have a spare fort slot and some units sitting in your deployment zone, you might consider giving the Sensor Tower a shot- it’s a little-known workhorse of the codex.
As always, remember that you can get Games Workshop product at up to 25% off from Frontline Gaming if you’re looking to expand an army or start a new one.