The Manly Art of Fisticuffs in the 41st Millennium

Reecius here delivering some tips and tricks on surviving grim-dark melee. So put up yer dukes, and get ready for some two-fisted action, ya pansies!

How do you bring the uber pwnage to combat in the 41st millennium? Simple.

  1. Shave Head.
  2. Scream.
  3. Profit.

Not really, but close.

So here we are, settling in to 6th edition and getting used to all of its kinks and quirks. There’s still a lot to learn of course, and the nuances of the game will only reveal themselves to us over time and with experience. However, here are some fundamentals to help you survive when it comes time to fix bayonets and charge!

Combat works MUCH differently in 6th than it did in 5th, to the point where you really need to completely rethink your tactics. A combat now is actually a series of mini-battle all occurring within a larger melee.

Here are some of the main changes:

  1. You have to see a unit to declare a charge against it. A lot of folks miss this, but it is the single biggest change to assault, IMO.
  2. Random charge lengths, overwatch, and disordered charges are the next biggest changes as I see it, and something you need to plan for, and understand.
  3. Wound allocation and LoS! make combat really, really wonky and opens up the doors to tricks that make wound allocation in 5th ed look like a work of genius.
  4. Initiative is more important in combat than ever before as it allows you to dictate where fights happen within a larger combat as well as who gets hit
  5. Challenges open up many opportunities for gamesmanship.
  6. Independent Characters are a part of a squad now. No longer do they become their own unit in assault as they once did.
  7. The loss of fearless saves means that tar-pitting a tactic that you simply can’t ignore. Lastly, the changes to assaulting vehicles has changed significantly.


So the first topic is self-explanatory, so let’s skip it. Random charges have been covered in depth and all I will say on the topic is that with an average roll of 7 on 2D6, plan on 6” assaults to be safe and curse Mat Ward’s name every time you fail a 3” charge in the open! It doesn’t actually do anything, but it makes me feel better.

The other thing to remember is that due to the changes to Fleet of Foot, you can now shoot pistols/assault weapons and still gain the benefit for fleet. This is pretty awesome, as it means that every unit out there that had to choose to either fleet or shoot, can now do both.

Disordered charges are another basic that folks miss often (I have several times myself). Whenever you declare a multi-assault, you lose both your attack charge bonus and Furious Assault (if you had it to begin with). This means these types of assaults, combined with taking overwatch from every target unit, can be a rather risky endeavor unless your assaulting unit is very powerful in comparison to the target units.

Overwatch is a weird one. With some units it’s literally nothing (Genesteelers), with others it can be very intimidating (Nob Bikers). There are some tricks to minimizing the amount of damage you take from overwatch. As overwatch is executed right after an assault is declared, but before you roll to see how far your charging unit goes, you can use terrain, vehicles, etc. to limit LoS to your charging unit. This reduces the amount of firing enemy units that can see and which of your models can actually be hit. For example, if you have a single model in LoS of an enemy unit and you declare a charge (let’s say the rest of the squad is behind a Rhino), only that one model can be killed. As the unit only needs to have LoS when it declares the charge, the rest of the unit can engage the target so long as you roll high enough to cover the distance.

Another trick with overwatch is to remember that a unit can only fire overwatch once per assault phase, and cannot fire overwatch once it is engaged. So, if you have multiple units in position to assault a target unit, send in the more disposable and/or resilient unit first to absorb the overwatch. If the target unit opts not to use its overwatch on your unit, and they make it into combat, the target unit will not be able to fire overwatch at all.

Wound Allocation

Wound allocation is the next biggie. You really need to be aware of how these rules work as I get the feeling in my interwebs meanderings that folks still aren’t doing this right. In combat, the defending player chooses which model in base to base contact with the enemy will start taking each wound that is dealt at the initiative step of the model(s) it is in contact with. This is easy in homogenous units (all models have the same save/imitative) but gets a lot more convoluted in complex units (differing saves and initiative).

Sound confusing? It is. So, let’s use an example. Say you have a squad of Grey Hunters with a Wolf Guard pack leader wearing Terminator Armor in B2B with a unit of Orks with a Power Klaw equipped Nob in Eavy Armor. The Grey Hunters go first and so long as the Nob is in B2B with at least one of the Grey Hunters, he can take every single wound that they dealt until he dies since he has a different armor save. Once he dies, the remaining wounds would then be passed on, killing all of the closest Boyz until there were no more wounds to be dealt. The Orks then strike back and in reverse the Wolf Guard Pack Leader, so long as he is in B2B with at least one of the Boyz, can tank every single wound on his 2+ save until he dies, in which case remaining wounds would be passed on to the squad in the normal fashion.

What this means is that you have situations where a single model can soak an inordinate amount of attacks, effectively acting as the “tank” for a unit. Now, if you really want to have your mind blown, think about how insane this gets when you have a model that is ULTRA tough, such as with a 2+ rerollable save. They’re more common than you think.

In the above example, let’s say the Wolf Guard in Termie armor was leading a squad that had a Wolf Standard. If the Wolf Standard had been popped for that combat the Wolf Guard pack leader would now have a 2+ with a reroll. He basically goes god mode for a round of combat, with only 1/36, AP3 or worse wounds suffered actually getting through his armor. He could effectively absorb the entire mob of Boyz attacks for a round of combat, taking no wounds in return. To make this even more frustrating, it takes a long time to resolve, as you have to roll each wound one at a time, rerolling any failures. Eldar can also pull this off with Fortune, Fateweaver with Termies/Oblits, Necrons with reroll Crypteks, as can any Psyker with a 2+ save and access to the Divination school of powers if they roll up the Precognition power. There are more means of pulling this off too, if you dig for them.

So how do you get around this? There are two ways: Challenges (which we will get to in a bit) and having complex units.

In the example we had used above, the Nob would strike at initiative 1 with his Power Klaw. What that means in application is that you CAN determine who the closest model to the Nob is in many cases. If it is a single model only in B2B with him, then it’s REALLY easy to determine. This means you can effectively snipe models out of a unit without precision strike.

For example, if you got said Nob into B2B with a Grey Hunter equipped with a Melta gun only, then that Grey Hunter would HAVE to be the first casualty pulled out of combat due to wounds caused by the Nob, then any additional models would be pulled by the defending player, starting with the closest to that Nob.

What this means on a larger scale is that if you have a unit with multiple imitative steps, you can dictate where and who your models hit. This allows the skilled player with a well built unit to pick an enemy unit apart like a surgeon while absorbing hits on chosen characters to receive little damage in return.

You put your higher initiative models in B2B (or as close as possible) to enemy models with lower initiative that you want taken out (fists, special weapons, etc.). You then position your tanking characters in B2B with dangerous enemy models and/or the chumps whose attacks you want removed from the combat. For example, let’s say that in the Ork/Wolf combat, the Grey Hunters also had a Wolf Lord with Wolf Claws. The Wolf Lord would pile-in to combat before anyone else. If you could get him into B2B with the Nob, he could kill the Nob at In5, ensuring the Nob would never swing. Your Grey Hunters would then pile-in, and attack. The Ork Boyz would then pile-in and so long as your Wolf Guard Pack Leader in Termie armor was in B2B with at least one of them, you could take every single wound on him until he died. Had you popped that wolf standard, odds are he’d soak all the wounds. This means in that round of combat, you neuter the Orks, taking not a single wound in return.

On the defensive, how do you get around this? The Ork player in said example would want to do his utmost to keep his Nob out of B2B with any high In models that could kill him before he swings, or any tank characters that could soak up his attacks.

By having as many different initiative steps as possible in a unit, you have the most flexibility to dictate the course of the combat.

Look out Sir, is fairly self explanatory, just don’t forget there is a range of 6″ on it, so if someone is trying to kick wounds back to characters more than 6″ away, use your pimp hand to stop that noise! The only trick to this to remember is that IC’s disperse wounds more reliably with LoS! than to characters, and that if they have different saves the LoS! must be rolled before saves, if they have the same save, LoS1 is rolled for after saving throws.

Sounds great, right? Well now let’s look at Challenges.


Challenges allow the smart player to remove key enemy models from combat, or to protect their own valuable models.

When to challenge?

When it is to your advantage to do so. If you are attacking a unit that has a very potent combat model that can receive a challenge, and you have a disposable model capable of issuing a challenge (naked Sarge, for example), then by all means issue that challenge and limit the amount of damage the enemy model can do. Sucks for Sarge, but hey, he can go cry on the Plasma gunner’s shoulder.

In the running example we’ve been using, the Grey Hunter squad would be in the advantageous position. They would not want to issue a challenge as they want the Wolf Guard Pack Leader tanking wounds and the Wolf Lord dealing death with his twin wolf claws. If the Ork Player did issue a challenge though, the Wolf Player would want to accept with the Wolf Lord. With Wolf Claws and In5, odds are good that the Nob will die before swinging. If the Wolf Lord did choose to issue a challenge, there is the possibility that the Ork player would decline, thereby removing that Nob (and his leadership) from the combat.

That is why it is usually better to either run assault squads with no characters, a throw away character, or with 2 or more. The old format of a single, tooled up squad leader that has been so popular for nearly every edition of the game has become a largely inefficient model. Why? Say for example you have what was the ubiquitous Power Fist Sarge in your squad of Tac Marines. Now, if you come up against a squad with a naked Sarge who issues you a challenge, there are decent odds he’ll kill you before you swing (about 1/3 if he was charging), and if not, you can only do 1 wound total in the combat if you do kill him. This means that the squad with the naked Sarge is the more efficient choice in many cases. Plus, when you consider the changes to rapid fire weapons and how much better ATSKNF and Combat Tactics are now, Marine Squads on foot with minimal kit have become pretty damn awesome. But I digress, that is for next week’s article on shooting.

With multiple character models in a squad, you have the advantage of flexibility: you can either issue or accept challenges on your own terms. With either a throw away character model for falling on the sword should the sacrifice be necessitated, a tank character for soaking wounds, and a choppy character for assassinating key enemy models in a unit or just killing a lot of enemy models, this load-out is the best of all your choices. However, it is usually also the most expensive (unless you have a unit comprised of character models such as Nob Bikers or Chaos Terminator Champions).

The other choice is to simply not take a character model in a unit at all. I have been running large mobs of Shoota Boyz in my Ork list with no Nob, something you probably wouldn’t even consider in previous editions. But with the Nob’s susceptibility to dying in a challenge, high point cost, and the changes to fearless, I find the unit is more efficient without him. That way, if an enemy model does have characters tooled up for taking advantage of the challenge game, you simply shut it down by not playing.

Independent Characters

This ties in to point 6 as well: IC’s are no longer their own unit in HtH as they once were. They become a part of the squad they are in for all intents and purposes. Think of them as glorified Squad Leaders.

This means they do not have to be in B2B to attack, simply engaged. You can keep them a row of chumps deep into a unit so that they can choose where to go in a combat to either hide, or strike at a vital unit or model. They also have the precision strike ability (as do all character models) so be sure to use that to your advantage should they not be locked into a challenge. Since there apparently is no range on precision strikes, this can get pretty weird.


The change to fearless in 6th ed fairly dramatically changes the way assaults play out. Looking at the above information, if you want an effective, potent assault unit, it makes sense to take a big unit with a character model to take or accept challenges, deal damage and another to tank damage. That gets pricey, but means you will have a large advantage going into combat….until you meet the fearless tar-pit.

The tar-pit allows you to remove these very threatening types of units from the game, rendering all the points spent on them largely wasted for a (hopefully) smaller points investment in your fearless tar-pit unit.

The classic example of this is Termagants. Nid lists can crap Gant squads all over the place and pin down foot units fairly easily. Even with small units of Gants, you can accomplish this task because so long as a single Gant survives a combat, the unit it is engaged with is going nowhere for a turn.

One very simple and effective tactic for this is to send in one unit of models (fearless or otherwise) to engage as many models from the target unit in B2B as possible, and then to send in a second fearless unit to engage as few models as possible, preferably a single model. What this means is that the first unit ties up the target unit, probably gets murdered horribly, but the other fearless unit that engaged only a single model, can only be hit by that model. This fairly well assures the target unit being stuck, and can be done with a really small amount of models.

The counter to this, obviously, is the ability to get out of a Tar-Pit either through massive killing power or Hit and Run. Not much you can do to counter massive killing power outside of just shooting them down to a manageable level. But with Hit and Run, as I have mentioned in previous articles, don’t forget that the Hit and Running unit can move through the unit it is engaged with, but not any other units. So, if you can bubble wrap the combat with another unit(s) to ensure the unit you want stuck, stays stuck, it is worth it to do so. This might sound excessive but when you’re looking at playing Deathstars with a points cost upwards of 1,000pts, it is a good investment.

Closing Thoughts

What this all means is that we have a very different landscape in 6th ed. We have the ability as players to build units that can use the rules to gain a very large advantage in combat that benefits the skilled player. I love that. These units, when built right, tend to be rather expensive and limited by the amount of characters you can fit into an army.

However, we also have the ability to take these units out of play with cheap throw away units. What this means is that the better player will often come out on top due to smart play. I love this, too.

So what do you do? Take a small amount of tooled up combat units, or a large amount of expendable assault units? Perhaps a mixture of both? The choice is yours and so far we’re finding that they’re all viable. What we are also seeing is that once again, balance tends to be the safest path to building an effective list. The trick is to having the necessary skill to use it well enough to overcome the extreme lists. You can have all the tools but without knowing how to use them, you lose. And as Gi Joe always says: Knowing is half the battle!


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

11 Responses to “The Manly Art of Fisticuffs in the 41st Millennium”

  1. Avatar
    Darthdiggler August 1, 2012 3:33 am #

    Good article. Very informative.

  2. Avatar
    benji August 1, 2012 8:18 am #

    Nice article, also on bubble wrapping hit and run units you can leave a small gap to try and lure an opponent to hit and run into a better position to be shot at seeing as they have to go in the nominated direction.

    • Reecius
      Reecius August 1, 2012 11:05 am #

      Very nice, that is a good way to bait, hadn’t thought of that.

  3. Avatar
    Mark August 1, 2012 8:22 am #

    Reece, if you’re interested, I did some math around 1000 random charges and charted the results, then posted the chart on dakka. I’m hoping to solve the fleet through difficult terrain math, but that beasty is a challenge for my puny brain 🙂

    • Reecius
      Reecius August 1, 2012 11:49 am #

      That’s great! Thanks, that really helps people to visualize what the odds are for getting up field.

  4. Avatar
    Son Of Dorn August 1, 2012 5:13 pm #

    Great article. I look forward to the installment on shooting. What do you think of a Sgts that have a power weapon (to strike at initiative) and a melta bomb (for vehicles/monstrous creatures) but still wind up 5 points cheaper than a powerfist… ? 🙂 Also, it’s Furious Charge, not Furious Assault. Always throws me for a loop when I read it.

    • Reecius
      Reecius August 2, 2012 12:57 pm #

      Yeah, it used to be Furious Charge back in 4th and I still say that from time to time. And glad you liked the article!

      • Avatar
        Son Of Dorn August 2, 2012 10:46 pm #

        I loved it. So much of what’s out there is just rambling. Lots of words, but saying nothing. It’s always great to see what you have to say and I always gain new insights from it. 🙂 That you’re probably the best received author on /b/ols should say that, too! 😀

  5. Avatar
    edwin August 1, 2012 8:12 pm #

    I love the article. I expect to see specialized sarges. Anti challenge guys will be more common. Storm shields may be coming back for challengers

    • Reecius
      Reecius August 2, 2012 12:58 pm #

      Yeah, there are a lot of things gong on at once now with assault, it is pretty incredibly complex. Glad you liked the article!

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