Assault is not Dead

assault is not dead

Hey everyone, Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to talk about the much maligned assault phase of 7th ed 40k!

If you surf ye old interwebs for any 40k advice, you will often hear folks say that assault is dead, or that assault armies don’t work in 40k anymore, etc. To this I say: nuts!

Assault is most certainly NOT dead and in fact, is one of the best tools in the tool-chest for dealing with a lot of the problem units in the game at present. Here at FLG we play a very competitive meta and a lot of the regulars I game with field extremely powerful lists. I personally prefer to play TAC (Take All Comers) lists, and so have been forced to find ways to counter some of the hyper powered combos and units that are prevalent in the area I play in. And in short, the solution is often the assault phase. But what’s a guy to do in the face of Wave Serpents, Lynx(s?), Barbed Heirodules, Knights, etc.?

Punch them in the dingus, that’s what! So why is assault good at clearing away enemy units? For one, there are two assault phases for every shooting phase. In theory, this allows twice as much damage to be dealt. In practice, you don’t often have turn 1 assaults and as such you don’t typically realize the full potential of the assault phase, but simple math tells us that if you can get half of the turns in combat as shooting, they still equal one another. Secondly, assault tends to be deadlier. No cover saves, generally more attacks and more powerful attacks, and decisive outcomes such as running a unit down or sending them screaming for the board edge and out of play. Good combat units routinely net the most damage for me, and played well, will consistently be all stars.

Don't bring a knife to a gun fight on planet bowling ball!

Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight on planet bowling ball!

I think the real reason many gamers out there feel that assault is weak is not because of actual game mechanics but because of the terrain they play on. Shooting will dominate an open table. If you use adequate LoS blocking terrain to allow units to hide and utilize maneuver, it is a very different story. Don’t play on planet bowling ball!

The keys to making these units work are as follows:

  1. Speed. I cannot emphasize this enough. You need to be able to get into combat as quickly as possible. Every turn you aren’t punching someone in the nuts, you are wasting points invested into this unit. You want something that ideally ignores or mitigates terrain penalties, too. Baring natural speed, you can settle for a good delivery system such as a transport vehicle, or some ability to rapidly move such as a Drop Pod, or psychic ability. Just note, if you rely on these things you may not be able to actually catch your opponent if they are also quick. I have often dropped a tough unit into the middle of my opponent’s force simply to have them move away and out of charge range.
    1. Note: as always, there is the exception to the rule. This is typically when you use your assault unit for board control/counter assault duties in which case charging headlong into them may not be the wisest choice. However, even in this instance, speed is still preferred as it allows the unit to perform these tasks more efficiently.
  2. Morale Control. It is disastrous to have a key assault unit unable to perform its function because it is broken or pinned. If you run away or get pinned, you typically lose 1-2 turns of impact. Fearless is best for these units, but baring that, high Ld, ATSKNF, a reroll on morale, stubborn, etc. are all extremely important to getting the most out of these units to keep enemy units tied up and not break at just the wrong time. Predictability is the name of the game.
  3. Durability. A good assault unit needs to be able to take damage on the way in and survive to deliver a powerful enough blow to have impact. This can take many forms and doesn’t have to simply mean being hard to kill. A unit with a lot of ablative wounds is a great example (meat shields), or some type of reroll save mechanic, or high toughness, multiple wounds, etc. You want some way to ensure that this unit can weather the storm and get to grips with the enemy. Also, a big point to note here is Eternal Warrior. You REALLY want this rule on a dedicated assault bad ass. The reason being, especially if you are only T5, is that every point spent on a model that can get splatted in one attack is a point spent at high risk. Unless the character/unit is cheap, you don’t want to crank up the points spent on them unless you have a way to mitigate them getting singled out and insta-gibbed, such as in a challenge.
  4. Impact. This may seem a bit like a Duh! point, but it is important. The unit needs to be able to damage ANY target to be a true TAC assault unit. Typically this means a good number of high Strength, low AP attacks, or some other type of mechanic such as Rending, Fleshbane, Armorbane, etc. If you find yourself facing something you can’t hurt, the points spent on this unit become wasted.
  5. Challenge Shenanigans. You need a way to be able to play the challenge game to your advantage. You can be the baddest dude in town, but if a canny player simply challenges your character into a fight it can’t win, or that takes it off of the models you actually want to kill, you just saw those points wasted. Often, the best way to play this game to advantage is to take cheapo characters that you cna sacrifice in a combat to either protect your characters or to take enemy characters out of play. A perfect example of this is with Orks. Orks typically HATE challenges as their low armor Nobs will often get killed in a challenge with dang near anything before they swing the Klaw that the rest of the unit needs wrakcing up kills in order to not lose combat. Tossing in a cheap Mek into a unit to serve no purpose other than saying, “yes, Abbaddon, I accept your challenge! Stand back Boyz, I got this!” while the Nob mops up the rest of the Chaos unit. Now, if your unit does not rely on a character to do the heavy lifting, say as in a unit of Daemonettes where the unit’s power comes form volume of dice contributed by each model, then this is less important.
  6. A part of the Whole. No assault unit is an island. It is a part of the overall tapestry that is your list and should be complimented by, and compliment other units in order to operate at maximum efficiency. Don’t just slap a unit into your list and expect outstanding results. Consider how it will impact and be impacted by your other units and how its strengths and weaknesses will interact with your list. And remember, everything counts in large amounts! If a single unit is getting smoked, try two or three. You get exponentially more utility out of duplicating units (which is why Spam armies often perform well). Note though, this doesn’t always mean taking the exact same things, but units that perform similar functions. If your opponent can destroy one assault unit before it gets there, he may not be able to destroy two and the survivor gets to get stuck in.


Hopefully this opens up some of the available options. There are limitless ways to pull this off, but keeping the above in mind, you can make effective assault units or armies in 7th ed and do quite well. So, to wrap up, here’s an example of a unit that does most or all of the above!

  • Space Wolf Battle Leader or Wolf Lord on a Thunderwolf with a Power Fist and Wolf Claw, 2+ armor, plus Invulnerable Save and 2 Fenresian Wolves (Note, you can sub in an Iron Priest on a Wolf to save points and still have great impact).
  • 15 Fenresian Wolves with a Cyberwolf

This unit is super fast, moving 12,” ignoring terrain, rerolling run rolls and assault rolls with Fleet. This is the unit’s greatest asset.

It also has morale control. With ATSKNF and either Ld9 or 10, this unit is unlikely to fail at a critical moment, cannot be broken and even if it does break, it will instantly rally. Pinning is the real threat in terms of morale, so be wary of that.

The Character joins the Fenresian Wolves. He brings along his little Wolf buddies and now has 17 ablative wounds. That is fantastic, especially considering you can easily get cover saves on the little Wolves who are a steal at 8ppm. The punchy character is also quite durable at T5, with a 2+ and either 3 or 4 wounds.

The unit hits hard. The little wolve sactually pack a decent punch with 2 attacks each which helps a ton with clearing out light infantry. The character is a murder machine with either 6 or 7 attacks on the charge either at I1, Strength 10, AP2 (yes, we interpret the rule that way) or Strength 6, Rending, Shred, AP3 attacks. As both weapons are Specialist, you do get the bonus attack and tons of flexibility. Even if you get charged, you still get the same number of attacks as everyone has Counter Attack. Nice! Primarily this means this unit is a threat to anything on the table with such a wide variety of powerful attacks available to it.

The unit also has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the Cyberwolf. Cyberwolves, aside from being awesome strictly because they are cyborg Dire Wolves, are also Characters, which means they cna accept or take a challenge. This is invaluable. Your Character has the critical weakness of being T5, which means a single strength 10 or ID attack can smush him, so you need to be prepared to work around that. Ye old Cyberwolf is there to save his master when it gets a little dicey!

Lastly, this unit works well in a wide variety of lists. You can support it with shooting units, other units like it, and get a lot out of it. It can provide a lot of pressure, take out key enemy units with ease and is very reasonably costed for what you get form it. I have been running the above with an Ironwolf+Cyberwolf and the unit is just incredibly good. The only times I really see it falter is in the face of high volume firepower that can ignore LoS and/or cover such as template heavy attacks, barrage, SMS, etc. The little Wolves melt and leave the characters without protection where they don’t last long. Knowing when and how to support them is critical.

Hopefully this has inspired you to get back out there and punch someone!…on the tabletop, of course.

Happy gaming.


About Reecius

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

40 Responses to “Assault is not Dead”

  1. Grimphister January 21, 2015 1:09 am #

    Yeah baby, the WGBL on a T-wolf with those two spec. weapons, 15 Fenrisian escorts (complete with a cyberwolf pimp) is pretty good with the armour of Russ for the 4++ and challenge shenanigans. I’ve been running 5 T-Wolves, 3 with SS, 1 PF, 2 Iron wolves and a Wolf Priest on a bike for a nice and fast fearless assault unit. Add a couple of T-Lords to make it expensive and fun…

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:33 pm #

      Yeah, it’s a great combo! Makes hay for me every time I put them on the table.

  2. Cavalier January 21, 2015 4:08 am #

    Excellent article Reece. I’ve been working on incorporating assault into my Eldar incrementally and its been of huge benefit. I think as the meta continues to evolve Eldar player will eventually have to go back into the tool box and use some of these units. Already have plans to try the Avatar and three Talos (converted to Corsairs beasts) backed up by a Wraithknight. Sort of a Footdar type unit combo. Anyway thanks Reece can always count on FLG to have articles of real value and insight.

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:41 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it! And good luck with your list, sounds like a lot of fun.

  3. NassirAmit January 21, 2015 4:43 am #

    My Flesh tearers thank you Reece 🙂 Now to get jump packs for my death company so Astorath can lead them into one last chance to tear a foe limb from limb…

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:42 pm #

      No kidding, Astorath+Death Company is brutal!

  4. DCannon4Life January 21, 2015 4:46 am #

    White Scars. Space Marines on bikes in general because, ATSKNF, etc.

  5. TrueKnight January 21, 2015 4:50 am #

    Ive had some good success with a 4 man grotesque unit with an Archon accompanying them in a raider. Archon has the shadowfield and agonizer. I love throwing them into a horde unit or even up against an MC. On the charge the grots have upwards of 30 attacks thanks to rampage (if outnumbered) and the archon can typically handle any challenges. I also have a wraithknight in my list to serve as back up.

    • Chris January 21, 2015 3:46 pm #

      Yeah a regular opponent of mine does pretty much that. An Archon, a Haemonculous and 4 Grots in either a raider or with a WW portal, and also a big unit of Talos. Hard to pew pew both of those……

  6. Adam O'Shovah January 21, 2015 5:32 am #

    Riptides can “do” assault, they can tarpit units in the most dire situations. But lately, I’ve been adding a Fusion Blade Commander into my list. 4-5 S8 AP1 Armourbane attacks at I4, WS4… not too shabby. It’s not as killy as your Wolf Pack (Who let the dogs out, who, who, who, who… who) but he can take and give a few punches.

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:42 pm #

      They are surprisingly good in assault with AP2, and a 2+/3++

  7. DCannon4Life January 21, 2015 6:39 am #

    I don’t know where ‘assault is dead’ comes from either. Is it because assault units used to be able to assault on turn one? Assault out of vehicles? Consolidate directly into another CC? There’s at least one assault–a real one, not a half-hearted, ‘oh well might as well give this a go’ one–per game, and usually two.

    I am considering at least adding a power sword to my Webstriking unit (Archon, Autarch, Fire Dragons). If they don’t get shot off the table after dumping their load, they often get assaulted. If they get assaulted, they’re often stuck there for the rest of the game. Having some AP3 would come in handy. They’re on the shelf for a bit, so I don’t have to figure out where to get the points from any time soon.

    For my CSM/Daemons (what I am playing for the next few months), I have put in three assault-ish units (rather than one, giant tooled-up unit): Slaanesh-marked bikes (Lightning Claw/Power Fist and Icon of Excess), 10 Daemonettes & The Masque (making a Wraith Knight move/assault D3 inches is funny), and a Slaanesh-marked Soulgrinder (with the flamer thing). I also gave a power sword and Icon of Excess to the Aspiring Champion in my Noise Marine unit. They’re not on the table to assault anything, but they stand a good chance of being assaulted themselves, so it’s a good idea to give them some resilience.

    One of the local guys plays a White Scars CC beatstick AND a Hammernator beatstick. It’s exceedingly difficult to shoot them both off the table before they make it into assault. I try to choose which unit to ‘feed’ to them, and also split my forces to make bikes/terminators decide whether to stay together or split up. It’s been important (and painful) to learn how to avoid being multi-charged (I didn’t see you addressing the importance of being able to multi-charge with your dedicated assault unit).

  8. JJ January 21, 2015 6:46 am #

    Any suggestion for assault marines? Which weapon on the sergeant, character to attach?

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:43 pm #

      IMO, take the cheap and lots of them. I would run 20-30, with 2 flamers or meltas (if you play BA) and a melta bomb on sarge, that;s it. You need to have a lot of bodies to make it and do anything with them.

  9. Chris January 21, 2015 8:27 am #

    Am working on putting out a unit of blood slaughterers. Pretty deadly in combat and front av13.

    Not super fast but fleet and can deepstrike. Can also use impalers to assault on the turn they DS if lucky.

    Pretty durable normally but you can ramp this up massively with usual daemon shenanigans like – legacy of 1st war of Armageddon, cursed earth, the grimoire or invisibilty.

    Major downside is no control over their movement, so need a unit like hounds to make sure they go the right way.

    3 S 10 attacks base, +d3 on the charge + another d3 if outnumbered.

  10. Rich with GSI January 21, 2015 8:43 am #

    The only time I felt like I did any real damage in 6th (haven’t played any 7th) was with some Nurgle Bikers. They typically destroyed what they came in contact with.

  11. fluger January 21, 2015 9:00 am #

    Admittedly, I don’t play in the rarefied air of high level competitive 40k, but I’ve found that my melee-focused Ork horde has been doing quite well. ‘Ere we go is SUCH a good special rule.

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:44 pm #

      Very good point, Ere we Go and WAAGH!! are awesome.

  12. Kwodd January 21, 2015 9:47 am #

    Awesome article Reece, my orks still love getting stuck in, especially with the nerf to shoota boyz. Blitz brigade w/ 100 choppa boyz for turn 2 assault has been a blast to play. Then send the wagons out for some wrecking ball flyer hunting to blow the opponents mind, make them pay for what GW did to def rollas.


  13. Fagerlund January 21, 2015 9:59 am #

    Are people seriously still saying that assault is dead?

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:45 pm #

      Maybe not in your area, Fagerlund, but I still read it online all the time.

  14. Panzer1944 January 21, 2015 11:31 am #

    I had someone proclaim after a game with me that the Assault Phase was overpowered. That brought a tear to my eye.

  15. winterman January 21, 2015 11:35 am #

    I think when people say assault is dead, they are talking more about lists that revolve around meat and potatoes assault units. The ones that aren’t checkboxing all those keys to making assault work, because frankly most assault units don’t have those attributes or have to jump through hoops to get them.

    To illustrate — awhile back Reece was trying to incorporate jump pack assault marines into his TAC marine list. He found them to be terrible and ditched them. They don’t pack enough punch for their points and durability. Lots of units have the same issue.

    • Deuce11 January 22, 2015 8:34 am #

      I think you nailed it.

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:44 pm #

      Yeah, much to my sadness, Assault Marines struggle. I think you need to take a ton of them to make them work.

  16. Adam ( January 21, 2015 11:38 am #

    I’ve always felt that the disparity between Assault and Shooting has been an issue with players, more than an issue with the assault rules. The Rulebook talks about terrain being the balancing factor between the two and when you have a situation where one player feels that either side is over powered, they try and add/remove terrain from the board.

    Last edition they had solid rules for the amount of terrain on the board (D3 per 2×2 board section, or ~12 pieces) and when you filled the board with the appropriate amount of GW terrain pieces (I say this because their terrain is both recommended by them and fairly good sized), there was actually a much stronger balance between Assault and Shooting, instead of leaving it up to the players to pick the right amount of terrain.

    • AbusePuppy January 21, 2015 1:38 pm #

      The “d3 pieces per 2×2” actually resulted in very terrain-light boards, in my experience. Even on boards with 25% coverage, which is what I consider to be “normal,” assault armies as a whole typically struggle a bit. They certainly exist, and assault elements are present in many armies, but assault as the primary element in a list tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

      • Adam ( January 21, 2015 2:24 pm #

        That’s my point, when playing with the ~12 pieces on the board, at least locally, there was a pretty good balance between assault and shooting. Typically those 12 pieces covered about 1/3 of the board. The 25% rule came from an edition with less penalties against assaulting armies (no overwatch, charging from stationary transports), so it makes sense that 25% was the norm back then. Unfortunately, people have clung to that 25% rule, despite it being now 2 editions out of date.

  17. Logan January 21, 2015 12:24 pm #

    I agree that assault isn’t dead. The issue I have is a lot fo codexes have issue getting into assault.

    Lack of Assault Vehicles (CSM since the CSM LR sucks)
    Lack of Vehicles in general (Nids and CD)
    Point Cost to Damage Output (Stealers and Wyches)
    Lack of Grenades (Incubi, Mandrakes, Hellions, Most Nids, CD)

    Really the only good assault based units are Wraiths, TWC, NDK, Screamers. Everything is just to fragile, no grenades and/or slow.

    • kontraktkiller January 26, 2015 10:14 am #

      Flesh hounds with heralds on juggers

  18. Arrias January 21, 2015 1:16 pm #

    As some have already mentioned, there appear to be very few dedicated close combat units that can check all the boxes needed for viability (movement, assault grenade equivalency, damage output upon contact). Regardless of your terrain density, these units will continue to have issues due to a rule set that has placed an impressive number of roadblocks and disadvantages in their way (defensive grenades, difficult terrain, random charge distances, overwatch, ATSKNF).

    Additionally, I think the issue is the scaling of ranged weaponry vs close combat weaponry. Powerful close combat weapons point for point (in general) cost more than equivalent ranged weaponry, which leads to a train of thought like, “Why spend more for something I have to work harder to use that is outperformed by a cheaper, easier to use, more cost effective option?” While it may not be a perfect example, why not spend fewer points for a plasma pistol/gun then a powerfist/thunderhammer? All four options are high strength/low AP. Both have pronounced disadvantages (don’t roll ones / you swing last).

  19. Deuce11 January 22, 2015 8:48 am #

    So where do the talos (pl.?) fit? Corpsethief is a 600-700 point investment.

    • Andrew January 22, 2015 10:07 am #

      I vote we pluralize it as “talosii” where the ‘ii’ is pronounced “eeh-eye”

      • AbusePuppy January 25, 2015 8:37 pm #

        I’ve always been partial to “Taloii” myself.

  20. Mokum January 22, 2015 9:40 am #

    I do have a lot of problems with assault. Being an assuault dependent army, my Orks are extremely brittle. Most units do not have, and can not get the necessary durability (in a bound list), and get very few attacks with enough strength to deal with the volume of armor and MCs people are fielding. In most games Boyz are relegated to a ‘bog’ unit. They can’t actually bring down the tank/MC/Termies they are up against.. but they can tie them down until their leadership fails.

    This is largely a problem caused by a lack of troop based armies in our circles. Army lists tend to be loaded with heavy armor, terminators, or MCs. Orks suffer greatly in the shooting phases without any decent armor, and are less than potent in assault against these opponents.

    I may still win my share.. but it’s usually thanks to that unit of gretchin hunkered down on the objectives at the end.

    • Alex January 26, 2015 2:07 pm #

      This sound like problem on how you use your army and not an assault problem. Just from what you wrote. if your area meta is not using troops base army then why are you assaulting MC/Termies? Why not just camp at the Obj at the end of the game? like you said you can tie them down for a bit. why not don’t engage the first half of the game and obj camping at the end game? of cause, just something I gather from little info you give. I am sure there is a lot more to it.

  21. Andrew January 22, 2015 10:02 am #

    My Ace in the hole for LVO2015 is going to be 5 terminators with TH/SS and a ministorum priest in a stormraven. Terminators with Hatred and Fearless and the chance to reroll wounds or invuls? Yes please

    • Reecius January 25, 2015 7:45 pm #

      Yeah, that unit is savage when you get the War Hymns off. Try taking two Priests as at Ld7, he has a 45% chance of failing to get it off.

  22. kontraktkiller January 26, 2015 10:45 am #

    I play chaos daemons and I have great success with assault. I’ve found that using overlappIng psychic buffs and well thought out unit deployment have been the biggest keys to success. The core of my list is always the same. Belakor, 2 div. heralds of tzeentch on discs in a pink horror blob, and 1jugger herald in a 15+ hound squad and at least 5 nurglings. The dogs will set up centrally to allow me to pick which side of the board i want to control. The pinkstar will most likely setup near and objective and keep in cover. Belakor will set up in the back line, preferably out of sight, ready to fly somewhere between the dogs and the horrors. the nurglings set up during infiltrate. I set them up as a chaff unit that my opponent has to shoot through. the first turn ill try to Grimoire the pink horrors, throw invis on the dogs, and cast shrouding for both units. If i pull forewarning and/or cursed earth from either the horrors or the heralds the brakes fall off of train. If all goes according to plan i should have multiple layers of protection. The disc heralds will end up having 2+ rerollable jink saves and 3+ invulns. 3+ invulns and 3+ cover for the horrors, invis dogs with at least a 3+ cover save if I’m in terrain. After that, it’s all about picking what I want dead. Multi charges are really easy to pull off with so many long bases and huge movement. I dunno, long winded way of saying “Assault is dead? I’ll come at you bro!”

    • Reecius January 26, 2015 10:57 am #

      Yeah, totally agree. Assault still works, for sure.

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