Written by T0nkaTruckDriver, Edited by T0nkaTruckDriver
With S5 guns and no option for special/heavy weapons, the role that Firewarriors fill is largely pre-determined. Anti-infantry and in a pinch anti-light vehicle. Alternately, equipping a Shas'ui with a Markerlight as well as a Hardwired Drone Controller and a pair of Marker Drones allows a few minimum sized Firewarrior Squads to fill the Cadre's Markerlight quota. Let's examine the effectiveness and efficiency of Firewarriors in these two roles.
Anti-Infantry Shooting (Rifles)
Firewarriors posess excellent offensive anti-infantry punch. With a single shot at 30", their base efficiency rating is a respectable 90 points per Meq kill. But that's not the full story. Posessing rapid fire weapons, we can effectively double their efficiency by firing from the hip within 12" bringing them to 45 points per Meq kill. Firewarriors reach their peak efficiency when firing from inside 12" guided by a pair of Markerlight hits to boost their BS to 5 at which point they hit 27 points per Meq kill. For those not familiar with numbers like this, let me emphasize that there is nothing else in the entire Tau list that even comes close to this level of anti-infantry efficiency. Of course this analysis does not include the cost of the Markerlight carriers or the cost of the Devilfish that is likely necessary to achieve this situation, however each of these assets has their own quantifiable value independent of the Firewarriors they're supporting.
Anti-Infantry Shooting (Carbines)
Not quite as devastating as Rifle toting Firewarriors, Carbine equipped Shas'la nevertheless have their place in a Hunter Cadre. They're foot-mobile on their own, meaning they don't require points sunk into non-scoring transports, and bring a plethora of 18" range assault 1 guns to the table. The direct comparison we must consider here is with the very similarly equipped Gun Drones.
While Gun Drones have mobility on their side in the form of an Assault Move and the ability to Deep Strike, the Firewarriors have numbers and resiliency. In theory, the Assault Move is an excellent tool for avoiding casualties and therefore mitigating the issues Gun Drones have with morale. However in practice, their large base size makes it difficult to hide even a moderately sized unit of Drones behind a bit of LoS blocking terrain and still perform sucessful JSJ operations. This often forces you to choose between wasting shots or avoiding taking casualties. Carbine equipped Firewarriors on the other hand can (and should) buy a Shas'ui for an always welcome Leadership boost and have the benefit of being able to take advantage of an Ethereal's inspiring presence. Furthermore, if this Carbine equipped unit is being brought for their pinning weapons, the larger number of Firewarriors that can be brought in a squad helps ensure you'll get that one wound which is required to force a pinning check. By way of comparison, it takes 9 Firewarriors or 8.3 Gun Drones to cause an Meq wound... meaning that unless you roll above average, even a full squad of Gun Drones will have trouble causing the requisite wound required for a pinning check.
A Shas'ui toting a Markerlight and a Hardwired Target Lock costs 35 points. Factoring in his BS3, that equates to 70 pts per Markerlight hit. A 8-strong Pathfinder team weighs in at ~51.5 pts per Markerlight hit depending on upgrades... and that includes the cost of the Devilfish! So as you can see, using Firewarriors to bring Markerlights to the table is not particularly efficient. The advantage here though is that you can bring several similar squads thereby dispersing your Markerlights and preventing your opponent from being able to eliminate them in a single salvo. The Pathfinders also have advantages however. They're a Fast Attack choice, meaning they're deployed last allowing you to position your Markerlights to best be able to engage the most threatening targets. They have the Scout USR and all the tactical utility it brings. Their mandatory Devilfish offers some anti-tank dilution, a platform for the mounting of additional Seekers (especially important now that we're limited to 2 per chassis), as well as a handy buff for Deep Strikers.
Although they boast better armor than most other basic troopers, their 4+ save is by no means "good". It does offer fair protection against incidental fire (Rhino storm bolters, Assault Marine Pistols, etc) but these guys will feel the heat of any serious attempt to uproot them. Their low Toughness coupled with mediocre save means that unless they go completely unmolested, your Firewarriors will be taking casualties... which reveals their other serious flaw, Leadership.
Any foot-mobile squad should think seriously about including a Shas'ui for the Leadership boost alone, but even Ld8 is one of the worst in the game. A Shas'ui combined with the Inspiring Presence of an Ethereal gives you almost identically the equivalent of Ld10, which is certainly respectable, but keep in mind that Inspiring Presence only applies to morale checks (25% shooting casualties, breaking from combat, tank shock) which are only a small subset of the entire group of Leadership based tests. Some of the more notable tests which Inspiring Presence does not cover include target priority checks, last man standing checks, pinning checks, and psychic "Mind War" type checks. In general, Firewarriors are a superb offensive unit, especially when paired with Markerlight carriers; however they lack the defensibility to stand up to any quantity of return fire. We must therefore make the minimization of return fire a high priority when considering how to use and equip our Firewarrior teams if we're to see any significant return on our points investment.
Equipment Makes the Man... er, Tau
As with any unit, the equipment we give them should be complimentary to the role they're being assigned. In general, there are 3 main roles for Firewarriors. In this section, we'll go over each of the roles that Firewarriors can adopt, the pros and cons of using them in these roles, and how to equip them to best succeed.
Setting up a Firebase
We've already established that Firewarriors offer excellent offensive punch. With their large unit size, S5 and 30" range, Firewarriors are the best candidate unit in the Tau list for firebase construction. However, even as our "best" candidates, they're still not very good as far as firebase units go. In this section I'll compare a firebase of Firewarriors to a similar arrangement in IG and Marine armies, the two lists most adept at establishing shooty firebases. The reasoning here is subtle and threefold.
First, firebase units must be durable and/or cheap. Shooty Marines work well because they're durable enough to withstand a few turns of fire and still have enough Heavy Weaponry left alive to put the hurt on their attackers. Shooty IG work well because they have lots and lots and lots of 6 pt ablative wounds to withstand a few turns of fire and still have enough Heavy Weaponry left alive to put the hurt on their attackers. The Tau aren't quite durable enough and/or cheap enough to really fit into either of these categories.
Second, firebases units need to stay in place. Having a firebase does you no good if a squad takes 3 casualties and runs off the table. Including a Shas'ui and an Ethereal helps with this but is by no means a sure bet, especially once you're below 50% starting strength. Furthermore, With T4 and a 3+ save, it's much harder to inflict the necessary 25% casualties on a squad of Marines than it is on a squad of Firewarriors. Both Marines and IG also have better Morale mishap mitigation options. ATSKNF is far more useful than Bonding since the re-grouping for ATSKNF happens at the end of their turn rather than at the beginning of the next turn as is the case with bonding, meaning that the Marines can move/shoot/assault as normal, unlike the Firewarriors. While IG can have Ld10, Morale re-rolls, and if all that fails, the Commissar steps in.
Third and most importantly, the Tau lack heavy weapons. While it may seem a blessing that we essentially have a "one shot heavy weapon" on each and every one of our basic troopers, the fact of the matter is that this actually works against armies looking to construct a firebase. With IG and Marines, it's not until you remove the absolute last model that the squad can be forgotten. For example, a squad of 10 Marines with a Heavy Bolter and Plasma Gun takes 5 casualties. Since standard bolter Marines will be removed, the squad's shooting effectiveness is actually only reduced by 29%. With Firewarriors, each casualty results in a proportional reduction in shooting capacity, meaning that a 10-man squad of Firewarriors which takes 5 casualties will have its shooting effectiveness reduced by 50%.
Photon Grenades might seem like an attractive option on static Rifle squads, but generally including them just postpones the inevitable. Rarely is it that a Firewarrior squad will survive an assault from anything and even if you do bring Photons and do survive, chances are you would have survived anyway. In general, the way you "win assault" with Firewarriors is by losing combat in the first round, getting run down and wiped out and then rapid firing into the stranded squad in your next turn. Don't forget to pull all the models in base to base contact so your opponent can only consolidate. In order to better accomplish this, it's often a good idea to pull the Shas'ui of the squad as a combat casualty in order to easier fail your Morale check.
In summary, while 30" S5 basic guns may appear to make good firebases, the reality is that issues of durability and morale are still going to be significant drawbacks to Tau firebase armies. Clever use of cover and the inclusion of an Ethereal can somewhat mitigate these issues, however our lack of heavy weapons means we'll still never be able to construct firebases as successfully as Marines or IG. Tau firebases can occaisionally be effective, however if you're truly looking to "play to the strengths" of the Tau, this is not one of them.
Storming the Castle
Giving a squad of Rifle Firewarriors a Devilfish allows them to zoom up to an enemy emplacement and unleash hell in the form of 24 S5 shots. Statistically, this only puts down 2.7 Marines, however we can bump that to 4.4 with the guidance of a pair of Markerlight hits. Pure killing potential. Bottling up your Firewarriors for a turn or two while you approach their target reduces the squad's overall game efficiency; however, a skilled commander can more than compensate through greatly increased efficiency on the turn(s) they rapid-fire and careful preservation of their Victory Points.
Mounting your Firewarriors in a Devilfish makes them largely immune to casualties and morale issues thereby making a Shas'ui largely unnecessary, but carries with it an entirely new set of risks. Let's tackle these in order. First, you must keep your Devilfish alive. We've got one of the most durable transports in the game, but it can still be brought down. Any army which invests heavily in Devilfish mounted Firewarrior teams will be severely crippled by the loss of 1 or 2 'fish.
Assuming the dice gods are with you and your 'fish all make it to their intended drop zone, you then must find a way to deal with assault and/or shooting on the turn you dismount. While the Fish of Fury can help, it makes much more sense to simply eliminate all enemy models within 12" than to rely on skimmer chassis to block assault. The new Markerlight rules make this task possible, but it's still by no means easy.
The final issue an army with large numbers of 'fish borne Firewarrior teams must contend with is a decrease in the number of scoring units present on the table. With so many points invested in non-scoring transports, you must be very careful to protect the limited quantity of scoring units available to you... and frankly, rushing them up and rapid-firing isn't conducive to long life-spans, especially when talking about T3 models with a 4+ save and sub-par leadership. In conclusion, the new Markerlight rules have drastically improved the payoff associated with a sucessful rapid-fire drop. However, all the risks are still just as prevalent. It's up to you to decide if the potential benefit outweighs the potential danger in each situation.
An entire squad equipped with Carbines can fill a role very similar to Gun Drones. Although they lose the Jet Pack assault move, careful use of terrain can keep you safe from a majority of enemy fire. Because they have assault weapons, you can conduct a fighting retreat with them, potentially luring a dangerous enemy away from the battle, or into a Mont'ka. Because you're on foot and open to enemy fire, you're likely to take occaisional casualties. For this reason, including a Shas'ui is generally a good idea for foot-mobile squads.
A larger squad equipped in this manner is the best option we have for pinning an enemy. 10-12 Carbine shots can reliably put a wound on just about anything but Terminators thereby forcing a pinning check. With a little preparation, you can pre-position some Markerlight carriers to reduce the target's resistance to pinning on a crucial turn. Alternately, a full Pathfinder team paired with a Carbine-equipped Firewarrior squad can reliably keep an enemy squad pinned the entire game!
As with static Rifle squads, grenades seem useful at first glance and occaisionally even are, but in general these points would be better spent elsewhere. With their mobilty, assault really shouldn't be a problem, so Photons really aren't necessary. EMP's are an fun chioce, but the trick is crossing the field to use 'em without getting shot up on the way.
In general, there are 3 common sizes for units of Firewarriors:
If you've decided to bestow a Devilfish on your Firewarrior squad, you'll next be faced with the difficult task of equipping it with appropriate vehicle wargear. Although only a transport, it's often harder to choose the upgrades for a Devilfish than it is for a Hammerhead. With so many useful options, it's easy to rack up over 130 points for a single vehicle. For anyone considering bringing multiple 'fish or even moderate quantities of other non-scoring units (Commanders, Sniper teams, etc) this can be a very dangerous path.