Tau Codex Review: Flyers: Orca Dropship

It’s named after a whale and it flies about like you’d expect from the name, but in compensation it’s also armed about the way you’d expect a hundred tons of blubber to be. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.


The Orca is the Tau Empire’s main superheavy transporter, not unlike the way modern armies use some of the more massive double-rotor transport helicopters. Never intended for front line service, the chassis is poorly armored and undergunned compared to many of the combat vehicles that are more commonly seen, but given its intended role that should not be surprising- it instead boasts a massive lift capacity capable of ferrying dozens of members of the Fire Caste into battle with rapidity from almost anywhere. Orcas typically represent an intermediate stage between dedicated orbital craft (such as the Manta) and ground-level vehicles (such as the Devilfish), providing the ability to move most kinds of materiel over continental distances with ease.

The statline on the Orca is rather weak, given the size of the model; it does at least have toughness eight, but with only fourteen wounds and a 4+ armor save it’s really not all that durable against most weapons. With a movement of 20″-55″ at its top tier, the Orca can move around the battlefield pretty effectively, which is important in its primary role, though in theory this is on the low side for a flyer. Its ballistic skill is likewise only 4+, which is rather low for a Tau vehicle, although since it isn’t really designed as a source of firepower this isn’t too much of an issue. Abysmal melee combat stats are, of course, pretty standard for any vehicle (and especially for a flyer.) But the real kicker is the price tag- at 360pts, it is a very expensive option given the other factors, which is especially strange considering that it is only PL14.

Special Rules and Wargear

As an aircraft, the Orca comes with a wide variety of special rules, most of them pretty standard. Hard to Hit means enemies have -1 to shoot at it, while Airborne prevents them from charging it unless they have Fly. Supersonic means it must turn only once at the beginning of its movement and proceed in a straight line, while Hover Jet allows it to sidestep all of the above bonuses and restrictions for a turn if it wants to. Finally, Crash and Burn means that when it dies, it has a chance to cause d6 mortal wounds to everything within 9″.

The Orca’s armament is similarly pretty basic. Two Long-Barreled Burst Cannons (36″ S5 AP0 Heavy 4) give it a little bit of dakka, while a single Missile Pod (36″ S7 AP-1 DmgD3 Assault 2) leaves it with a token anti-vehicle option. But really, these very minimal weapons are not going to make the vehicle worthwhile in any but the rarest of circumstances, so you hardly should even consider them.

The real value of the Orca is in its transport capacity- it can carry up to sixty-five models, one of the highest capacities in the game. It can even carry Crisis Battlesuits (but no other types), with each one taking the space of five regular models, which still leaves an impressive amount of space- it’s pretty plausible to fit most or all of a Tau list into a single Orca.


So the basic concept of the Orca- a mostly unarmed transporter unit- is actually not bad; Tau infantry function best at close range and a unit that can get them there without them being exposed to enemy fire is potentially quite useful. With its massive capacity and ability to bring even battlesuits along to the party, the Orca can potentially be a terrifying force for your opponent, not because of its own abilities but because of the potential it holds. With a belly full of Tau units, the Orca can present a threat to the entire battlefield- you can, with very little warning, deposit a massive force right in front of the enemy to deliver a devastating strike. If they separate their forces to take different objectives and hold the field, they’ll get picked apart piecemeal; if they castle up and hold back, the Tau can destroy them with their typical long-range shooting.

However, there are more than a few little speed bumps in the way of this plan working out. First of all, as we discussed earlier, the Orca is quite fragile- in fact, it’s honestly not that much harder to kill than a singular Devilfish, with its only real advantage being the built-in minus one penalty. And sure, that isn’t a trivial addition to the unit, but when you think about the kind of firepower your enemy is going to be aiming its way, it isn’t really going to fundamentally change the math.

Second, there’s the cost. At 360pts, the Orca is a huge investment; it costs significantly more than three Devilfish put together, but lacks almost all of the advantages that the ‘Fish have (such as locking units in combat, bonus drones, etc.) Now, if you could spend this many points to largely guarantee the success of your plan that might be acceptable, but with as prone to failure as it is I can’t really see it being a justifiable cost.

Finally, there’s the complete mono-role functionality. An Orca doesn’t do anything except transport units- its guns are completely laughable even for a transport, it can’t be used to hold objectives, it can’t hold objectives or block line of sight, it won’t be able to tie down enemy units, etc. It is carrying your mans from place to place, it is only carrying your mans from place to place, and it’s not doing even a great job of that- that combination of factors makes the Orca something of a joke overall, a unit that has only one role and isn’t even good at that role, yet still manages to be bad at everything else.

Now, of course, people are contrarian enough that if those were the only strikes against it the Orca might still be seen on the table occasionally, but the fact of the matter is that there’s also some significant other barriers as well. The Orca is not just a Forge World unit, but an out of production Forge World unit- and the rare times you see them go up for auction prices north of US$400 are pretty standard, if not more. But it’s also a large enough kit (while still being unpopular) that it’s too much hassle for the recasters to bother with, so even just finding an Orca to use is all but impossible in itself- to say nothing of what it will be able to do on the table once you get your hands on it.


Ask your opponent how much they paid for it, and how long it took them to paint it, then shoot it down with your first volley of Lascannons. Problem solved.

Final Thoughts

The Orca is unfortunately a missed opportunity, a chance for Forge World to potentially add elements of a style of warfare that isn’t actually seen in 40K very often to the tabletop, so it instead ends up as one of the purely-narrative “joke” units that are slowing fading from their product line. And that’s the sad reality of it and the lesson here- units that players can’t use on the tabletop simply won’t sell as well as the ones that they can; we all love having cool display pieces to add to our narrative games and whatnot, but those sort of things are more in the category of “a nice addition” rather than than something that we need to run a particular army, so they are what gets dropped out of the shopping cart when we realize our order costs nearly as much as a brand-new car and that maybe we should trim it down a bit.

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 army.

About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

4 Responses to “Tau Codex Review: Flyers: Orca Dropship”

  1. Kevin Lantz May 8, 2019 6:53 pm #

    If this guy was a bit cheaper, and actually sold right now totally useable. Dropping some fws out with a cadre anywhere you want in good numbers is amazing… But at this price you are better off simply foot slogging and advancing an extra nearly 40 fws…

    • abusepuppy May 8, 2019 8:42 pm #

      Yeah, at 280pts (as the PL would suggest) there _maybe_ is a gimmick army based around it. At 200pts, I think it’s a legit delivery system. But at nearly 400pts as it sits now, the unit is a total non-starter.

  2. zarlus May 8, 2019 7:02 pm #

    Outside of the manta; (which I will never own as it is just too big), this is the only Tau model I have left to get. I have always wanted an orca just because of how ridiculous it is to field. Sadly, the only way to own one now is to 3d print one, but it isn’t the same. I’d happily take a recast. However, I’ve only seen one willing to produce them, if they had a minimum quantity order of orcas. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many people interested in the orca to make it worth the silicone.

    The “counter” section had me rolling.
    An easy fix would be to allow it to carry anything on a 60mm base and smaller. Maybe even allowing for the “scorpionfish” gunship variant.

    • abusepuppy May 8, 2019 8:41 pm #

      Yeah, there are so many problems with the Orca that changing almost _anything_ about it would make a significant improvement.

      The 3D printed one I’ve seen actually looks pretty good, but it’s still a very expensive little pet project for a unit that does essentially nothing.

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