9E Tau Codex Review: Fast Attack: Tactical Drones

Today we look at Tactical Drones, a somewhat unusual choice from the Tau codex. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.


Tactical Drones are the pattern on which drones throughout the Tau codex are based, as virtually all of them have a statline identical or nearly-identical to this basic unit. With an 8″ movement they are able able to keep up with most battlesuits, and strength three and toughness four presents them with a reasonable baseline and makes them noticably harder to kill than Tau troops. Weapon skill and ballistic skill 5+ give them pretty poor offensive output, though, especially with only a single attack. Leadership six and a 4+ armor save round out their statline. Tactical Drones can be taken in squads of four to twelve in any combination; they cost 10pts per model for Gun Drones and Marker Drones, or 15pts per model for Shield Drones.

Special Rules and Wargear

All Drones possess the For the Greater Good ability, allowing them to fire overwatch in support of nearby units, as well as Manta Strike, allowing them to deploy into reserves for free and arrive 9″ away from any enemies.

All Drones also have the Savior Protocols rule, which allows them to take wounds for a nearby Tau Infantry or Battlesuit unit on a 2+; if passed, the drone suffers a mortal wound instead, typically killing it. Beyond that, each of the three types of Drones has its own unique rules and gear.

Gun Drones come with two Pulse Carbines (18″ S5 AP0 Dmg1 Assault 2) as their main armament, being the only one of the three with any offensive output. However, they also come with a downside, the Threat Protocols rule, which forces them to only shoot at the nearest legal target. Note that this determination is made model-by-model, not on a per-unit basis.

Marker Drones come with a Markerlight as well as the Stable Firing Platform rule, which does nothing in 9E.

Shield Drones have a 4+ invulnerable save as well as a 5+ ability to negate wounds they suffer, which is generally used to soak damage from Savior Protocols (though it will work against anything.)


Tactical Drones used to be seen in large numbers when Tau armies were reliant on attrition wars with Riptides to soak enemy firepower while outputting their own. However, with the meta shifts of 9E those days are long since gone, and you rarely see Tactical Drones taken by themselves anymore; if they appear, it is in ones and twos attached to various other units in the army. It is also usually only Gun and Marker Drones that make appearances in lists, as a result of the prince increase on Shield Drones to fully 50% more than either of their two cousins.

In this respect, however, Marker Drones can provide a reasonably-useful role in the army by giving incidental Markerlight support. By spreading around an army’s Markerlights to a large number of targets, it makes it difficult for the enemy to deal with them efficiently. And while the weight of Markerlights is often lacking in this strategy, modern Tau armies typically don’t rely as heavily on stacking maximum Markerlights to maximal effect and so would rather spread them out a bit to ensure they are getting good returns against various different targets.

Tactical Drones’ ability to come in from reserves is also theoretically useful, but in practice it isn’t often something you can take advantage of. Other units (e.g. troops, Vespid, Stealth Suits, etc) can perform a similar role for less points or with more flexibility, and thus they have largely been displaced. However, for sheer weight of shots they are still unmatched and if you can get them in range of the right bonuses- for example, a Drone Controller and a Cadre Fireblade- you can put out a truly unholy number of shots with surprising accuracy. That is largely a pipe dream right now, though, and so for the time being they are largely relegated to their role in supporting other units. The ability to slough wounds via Savior Protocols may not have its status as the be-all end-all that it once was for the codex, but it’s still a very useful option to have around in a world where Multimeltas and Dark Lances are still quite popular.

Final Thoughts

Tactical Drones themselves are not an oft-taken unit, but their flexibility and utility in being attached to other units in the codex means that they are something you will see a fair amount of in most Tau lists, competitive or not. Hopefully some price adjustments in the codex, if and when it gets released, will give the unit as a whole a more distinct role in the army compared to other options that can do similar tasks.

As always, remember 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.


About abusepuppy

I was there, reader- I was there three editions ago. When Games Workshop released the Ynnari. When the strength of men failed.
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