Less is More

a guest article by Gareth Topping

IT’S ALL TOO EASY to have too much of a good thing, and that certainly rings true for Warhammer 40,000.  Oh sure, it’s all well and good to propose a six-player, 10,000 point mega-battle with more tanks and Titans on the table than infantry, but as with most things the reality sadly doesn’t live up to the fantasy.

This is mostly because 40k tends to collapse under its own weight at games of 2,000 points or more (or 100 Power, if you’re a casual scrub like me who uses Power Ratings, aka one of the better things that 8th Edition introduced), simply because the rules aren’t optimised to work at that sort of size.  I’ve always held the opinion that things like super-heavy tanks, Knights (and their filthy xenos equivalents like Stompas and Riptides), and flyers basically don’t belong in normal-scale 40k.

Back in the day, GeeDubs had a Specialist Game called Epic, which was specifically designed to represent battles of massive scale, not least of all because the models were much smaller; this was a game where a Space Marine Tactical squad could fit on a plastic base that was 10mm x 40mm, and where you didn’t need to sell a kidney to purchase a Titan maniple.

The rules of Epic were heavily abstracted to represent the grander scale; it simply didn’t matter at that scale if a Devastator squad had heavy bolters or lascannons, the squad just had a single Firepower value.  You could resolve the shooting of an Astraperial Guarditarium (or whatever they’re called these days) infantry detachment (about 30 stands) in a few minutes.

How long do you think it takes to resolve the shooting of 150 Guardsmen in regular-scale 40k? Let’s go through the steps.

  • Check line of sight and declare targets.
  • Check range for each model to determine who might be in Rapid Fire range.
  • Grab dice, remembering dice of different colours for special/heavy weapons.
  • Roll to hit, then do re-rolls for any abilities, apply modifiers, etc.
  • Roll to wound, then do re-rolls for any abilities, apply modifiers, etc.
  • Opponent rolls to save, with re-rolls, modifiers, FNP-esque saves.
  • Opponent removes slain models or marks damage.

That’s one squad of ten dudes, and I’m not counting time for the extra time of discussing attacker-to-target visibility, whether something has a cover bonus, fishing for dice that have rolled into terrain or under furniture, time to actually visually and physically sort your dice roll results… it’s a lot.

And during all this time, your opponent is standing there, thumb up their ass, probably bored out of their skull and counting the seconds until they get to, you know, play the game, and no doubt deeply regretting their decision to play this megabattle.

What I’m getting at is that there’s a scale where a game of 40k inevitably becomes an ordeal, something to be endured rather than something to be enjoyed.  Part of that is due to the game’s granularity in terms of detailed unit and weapon characteristics, and part of it is due to its (frankly outdated) structure of I-GO-U-GO, which limits player interactivity and leads to crap like First Turn Syndrome.

So why am I ranting like this? Do I hate 40k?

No, far from it. You know why? Because 40k is a great game, and there’s definitely a scale of game where it shines, and that is the smaller, squad-based firefight.

40k veterans may remember a format called Combat Patrol from way back in the day. It’s since fallen to the wayside, but with GeeDubs’ recent push back into skirmish-level games with things like Kill Team and Necromunda (and to a lesser extent, Shadespire), perhaps it’s time for Combat Patrol to once again have its time in the grimdark sun.

What Is Combat Patrol?

For you nooblets, Combat Patrol (also fondly called “40k in 40 Minutes”) is a set of rules that seemed to come about from White Dwarf staff who wanted to play a full game of 40k in a lunch break, with the theme being of small recon forces clashing while on patrol (hence the name).

The rules were essentially a list of restrictions of what you could take in your Combat Patrol force; 400 points, nothing with 2+ Save or a certain Wounds or Toughness value, no heavy vehicles, limited Elites and Heavy Support, and so on.

“Boring!” you might say. “How can I enjoy 40k if I can’t take my big shiny toys?”

“Well,” I would respond, “You enjoy it by having a genuinely tense, tactical skirmish between basic and reliable Troops units, the unsung heroes of the game!”

I love Troops units. Tactical Marines, Fire Warriors, Guardsmen, Ork Boyz… they’re all great, because they’re often one of the iconic things about your faction, but it’s a sad fact that they never really get their chance to shine on the table, often serving as either objective campers or fodder to distract and delay enemy units.  In Combat Patrol though, those guys are your path to victory.

The low points limit of Combat Patrol can also go a long way to inspiring creativity in list-building and tactics.  Low point games are where certain units that are often ignored or overlooked can really shine.

Look at Druark Eldakhari (or whatever they’re called these days) Mandrakes.  In larger games, say 1500 points or more, they’re never really going to achieve too much, and they’ll get wiped off the table the second that a couple of decently shooty units even glance their way.  But in a small game, those same Mandrakes are a nightmare to deal with.

Case in point: a few weekends ago, my friend Ian and I took a long road trip up from the South Coast of England, where we live, to have a weekend at Warhammer World in Nottingham (it was excellent, by the way; the tables were incredible and the dioramas in the exhibit halls are mind-blowing, definitely worth a pilgrimage).

(Iyanden/Tyranid diorama – caption: Here’s just one example)

We decided that we were going to play some Combat Patrol games using a set of rules we’d put together and modified for 8th Edition.

I had my Death Guard, Genestealer Cult, and “Alpha Legion Operatives” (aka Deathwatch), and he had Dark Angels, T’au Empire, and Iyanden Craftworld.

I haven’t had too much luck with my Death Guard since we split the Dark Imperium box last year; normally we play games at about 50 Power, which is just enough for Ian to be able to field some truly nasty T’au suits, or some big blocks of d-scythe Wraithguard.

Meanwhile, I’m stuck with some fairly lacklustre choices (though this is partly a problem with the Death Guard codex, which I may rant about another time).  And that sucked!  I used to run Death Guard back in 4th/5th Edition, and loved that my Plague Marines were almost indestructible, but they were losing hard against Ian’s filthy xenos.

But when we played Combat Patrol, it was a completely different story. Suddenly, it was like the old days, when my Plague Marines were the relentless juggernauts that they’d once been, wearing Ian’s Dark Angel Tactical Squads down in a grinding war of attrition.

It was because the general power level of the game had been toned down, and it went both ways; we were reminded that normal no-frills Tactical Marines are still tough hombres, rather than just being “that group of guys you remove from the table in a double handful because your opponent fired their Heavy 20 Strength 10 AP -4 game-ruiner gun.”

Of course, Ian turned the tables in our T’au vs. Genestealer Cult throwdown, and then it came down to tense fight between Deathwatch and Iyanden, which I won… barely.

The face of a man who just had to endure Craftworld shenanigans

Meanwhile, the guys playing on one of the tables behind us had barely gotten into the top end of Turn 2, and in that time we’d had three games, which were, in all honesty, some of the best games of 40k I’ve had in quite a long time.  I think it was because it sort of captured the simple magic of early 3rd Edition, when I and my little circle of nerds simply had to make do with an HQ and two Troop choices each when we played (I mean, it was a big deal when someone in the group got a Rhino, because it was *gasp* a tank), but we still had great fun anyway.

These days, as an inevitable by-product of getting older, having responsibilities, and living further apart from friends, the time I can dedicate to Grimdark Plastic Fightdudes is limited, and I would rather play multiple smaller Combat Patrol games rather than one big battle.

Combat Patrol also serves as a great excuse to branch out and start collecting a new army; for instance I’ve always wanted to get some of those sexy-as-hell Tempestus Scions, and I think they’ll be perfect for Combat Patrol, where I can run them as a dedicated “spec ops” force.  I’d never collect a full 2000 point army of them, but I could definitely stretch to a couple of Start Collecting! boxes…

And then there’s Orks, I’ve always liked Orks… and Adeptus Mechanicus are pretty cool as well….

Thanks for taking the time to read my first guest article for the Jungle, and if I’ve managed to spark your interest in Combat Patrol and you want to give it a whirl, you can take a gander at the ruleset that Ian and I put together for 8th edition here.


One thought on “Less is More”

  1. Nice!
    Something to add to my refound love for 40K. This time with my son (8yrs), small games ftw!
    We’ve started with “first strike” and dabble a bit with kill-team now.
    This is a nice addition 🙂 so thanks for that.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *