Today we look at the Sniper Drone unit from the Tau codex. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Sniper Drones are a unit with a fairly unsurprising statline, as it’s one they share with virtually all other drone units. Movement 8″ makes them reasonably quick but not exceptionally so, though Fly does help. Toughness four and a 4+ save mean that they won’t fold instantly under fire, but neither will they be able to suffer sustained hits- especially as they are not Infantry to benefit from cover. Weapon skill and ballistic skill 5+ means that they have very mediocre output, especially with strength three and only one attack. Finally, leadership six means they are prone to running even if only a single casualty is suffered, which can be a big problem. At 20pts per body in squads of three to nine, they are also quite pricey.
Special Rules and Wargear
Sniper Drones come with three special rules, though two of them are shared with other units. For the Greater Good gives them the ability to overwatch in support of nearby units, and Savior Protocols allows them to take wounds in place of nearby infantry or battlesuit models on a 2+. Note that unlike Tactical Drones, Sniper Drones cannot use Manta Strike.
Sniper Drones also possess Sniper Drone Stealth Fields, which subtract one from enemy hit rolls if they are not within 12″. Although weaker than some other versions of this rule, it is still useful, as you don’t really want to be getting that close to the enemy anyways.
Each drone is armed with a Longshot Pulse Rifle (48″ S5 AP0 Dmg1 Rapid Fire 1, ignores Look Out Sir and does a mortal wound on 6 to wound.) The squad does not have any options.
Although nominally existing to kill characters, the changes to terrain, profiles, hit rolls, and more have all worked in combination to render the Sniper Drone all but worthless in this edition. Although they do something unique in the codex, they are simply too inefficient at that job to really be attractive.
A large part of this comes from their inability to actually kill characters- a role that would otherwise be quite useful to Tau armies in eliminating enemy support pieces. This comes in several layers- for example, drawing line of sight to characters is much harder with the proliferation of Obscuring terrain now, even compared to the “magic boxes” of yore. Add in also the boosts many characters are getting to their toughness values, with far more of them sporting T5 or even higher, and it becomes even more difficult. And then top it off with easily-accessible 2+ saves (from cover, storm shields, etc, etc) and you have a recipe for characters that simply don’t care about the existence of drones.
Another issue is one of bonus stacking- prior to this edition, you could combine a Drone Controller with a Firesight Marksman to make the unit effectively BS3+ (an interaction that was probably intentional, since they were at one point BS2+ in an earlier iteration.) However, the 9E rules no longer allow you to benefit from two different +1s to hit, meaning that they are stuck at hitting on 4s at best, even if you have Markerlights, both types of bonuses, or more.
The real problem, though, is one of cost. At nearly twice the price per body of most other drones, Sniper Drones are just too expensive for how fragile they are. The innate -1 to hit can do some work against enemy shooting armies, but it is by no means going to stop them from chipping away at you and you are a 4+ save model that won’t benefit from cover and that costs as much as a Primaris Marine. With even a single casualty having the potential to send more models scurrying from the unit, Sniper Drones are just too risky to field in any numbers- and the squad is at its best when running in larger numbers to take advantage of various buffs. The stratagem from Greater Good tries to improve this by making their guns AP-1 (or AP-2 when within half range), but as it’s rather expensive at 2CP this isn’t a very attractive prospect given all of the other problems the unit suffers from.
Although there’s a fair amount of competition for worst unit in the Tau codex, Sniper Drones are certainly somewhere in the running. I think that the prize they take most easily, however, is Most Worsened unit in the codex; while they were certainly not an all-star in 8E they were at least pretty functional and occasionally made appearances in odd niche lists or as a one-off component. Now, however, they are an absolute trash-barrel unit, fit only for armies looking to steer their way into the 1-4 bracket.
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 expand your current army or start a new one.