Tau Codex Review: Heavy Support: Heavy Gun Drone Squadron

You would think that just being heavier than normal drones wouldn’t be all that much of an advantage- it puts more of a strain on their gravitic repulsors, makes them move slower, and causes problems with transport, but apparently the Tau Empire knows things we don’t. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

The statline on units of Heavy Gun Drones are pretty much what you would expect- 8″ movement and fly allows them to scoot around reasonably well, and toughness four with 4+ armor makes them shrug off a fair amount of damage, while ballistic skill 5+ is unimpressive (but easily buffed by other effects.) Weapon skill 5+ and a single strength 3 attack is of course laughably bad, and leadership six is similarly a pretty weak value, though with the small squad size it’s not as much of a problem as it might otherwise be. However, there is one standout number: at three wounds apiece, Heavy Gun Drones are bizarrely durable in their own way and are one of the very few drones with multiple wounds. However, at 34pts per model, they are very pricey for what you get.

Special Rules and Wargear

As with almost all Tau units, Heavy Gun Drones come with the For the Greater Good special rule, which allows them to support nearby units with overwatch. It’s a core part of the Tau strategy, and its presence is really more the default than anything. Like other drone units, they also have Savior Protocols, allowing them to take hits for nearby units- we’ll get into that a bit more later, but suffice to say it’s one of their main attractions.

Each Heavy Gun Drone comes equipped with a pair of Burst Cannons (18″ S5 AP0 Assault 4), meaning that it essentially has the firepower of two normal Gun Drones- though at more than twice the cost. One of the guns can be swapped out for a Markerlight, and the drone’s own special rules allow you to fire the Markerlight alongside other weapons, though in that case the unit can’t benefit from Markerlights themselves. Making this replacement does save you 5pts on the cost of the model, so it’s pretty attractive as a prospect overall.

Uses

So, as a source of firepower Heavy Gun Drones are pretty suspect even by the most optimistic of views; they cost more than triple what a standard Gun Drone would run you and have double the firepower, making them rather lackluster overall. They do have a small side advantage in that they are allowed to shoot any target they please (whereas regular Gun Drones must always shoot the closest target), but this really can’t be considered a sufficient upside to make them at all worthwhile.

However, there are some small factors that are worth thinking about, even if they ultimately aren’t enough to redeem the unit. First of all, they are a heavy support choice, and although many of the other Tau heavy support choices have been improved as of late, the slot is still typically pretty expensive and/or awkward to fill. Broadsides and Hammerheads cost quite a bit, and Sniper Drones necessitate the presence of both a Firesight Marksman and Drone Controller of the appropriate sept, which isn’t always convenient to do. Heavy Gun Drones may not be the cheapest option available to you (as that goes to Sniper Drones, who come in 4pts cheaper for a minimum squad), but they don’t require any other support elements to be doing their job, which contrasts heavily with the other options, all of which require 100+pts of support units.

Heavy Gun Drones also are one of the cheapest ways to bring drone wounds, technically speaking- at 29pts for three wounds, they edge out the other drones available- though that is discounting the Shield Drones’ 5+++ as well as the Recon Drone’s cheap two-wound profile that is available in limited amounts. Still, having three wounds on a drone is actually somewhat impressive, as it allows you to soak multiple hits from enemy weapons with no need for a morale test- each use of Savior Protocols inflicts only a single mortal wound to the drone, regardless of the damage of the original weapon. Three hits from a Volcano Lance? It’s cool, the drone has got this.

However, as we have already said, this isn’t really enough to make the Heavy Gun Drone worthwhile. It’s fairly trivial to take essentially as many drone units as you want in a Tau list, so the Rule of Three is no limitation at all, nor are having force org slots available. And while the unit does bring a decent number of wounds to the table, Shield Drones are still more resilient per point (having an effective cost of 6.6 points per wound compared to 9.7 on the Heavy Gun Drone) and Sniper Drones are in the same slot and less vulnerable to being blasted off the table prior to the enemy pointing their guns at the battlesuits.

Countering

Really, the only strategy you need with Heavy Gun Drones is to remember the usual mantra against Tau: shoot the drones first. The multidamage weapons you are intending to use to kill battlesuits once the drones are dead are extremely efficient at removing Heavy Gun Drones, and until those drones are dead they serve no real purpose anyways. Things like Armiger Autocannons are exceptionally good against the unit, but honestly almost anything will do.

Final Thoughts

Sadly, Heavy Gun Drones are one of the many, many Forge World units that suffers from poor writing and having no real role on the table. Of course, with the model long out of production (and being a pretty bland model at that), I don’t think anyone is crying too hard about their lack of utility, but it’s still a bit of a shame to have it be a blank page in the book. If and when the Indices ever get rewritten, there is a lot of room for improvement there.

As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.

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