40k: Small Games Tactics


Playing really small games of Warhammer 40,000 can be a really fun change of pace.  Here’s why you should give it a shot:

Hey Folks! NoName1 here again, long time! Let me start off by declaring this article, like my subject, short and sweet. So! First off –

Why Small Games?

Why should you be playing small games (i.e., less than 1000 pts)? Well, because it makes for shorter games – which is often a plus – it’s the number one best way to introduce a new player to the game, and keeping it simple is a really great way to learn your rules and *the* rules. Hopefully that settles the case 🙂

But, what can you put in 500 pts? Not a lot – which is where the Tactics bit comes in. In a small game, you have to trim your list down to the barest minimum, but you still have to be prepared to handle just about anything.

Most recently I played a few matches in a local Escalation League. The idea (for those who don’t know) is a Tournament where the points limit goes up with each successive match. In this case, it starts at 500 pts, then goes up by 250 each round (750, 1000, 1250, etc). In the 500 pt. game, there was also the added limitation that no single model could be over 180 pts, and no Flyers. Since this is a Tournament with a lot of new players, that limitation was a really good idea I think!

So, here’s the list I brought:


Eldar CAD (old Codex)

– Farseer (Jetbike, Singing Spear, Mantle of the Laughing God)

– Guardian Jetbikes (6x, two units of 3, one Shuriken Cannon/unit)

– Warp Spiders (5x)

– Night Spinner

492 pts.

Seeing as it was 500 pts, I needed to play to my strengths. Which, as Eldar, are mobility and Rending. I wanted basic Troops with some teeth, but also wanted to points to spread elsewhere, so the minimum Jetbikes with Cannons were my go-to. I also wanted to keep my opponents at arm’s-length, so the Night Spinner is there to deal with Mobs and back-field Objective campers. The Warp Spiders are my swiss-army unit; fast-moving, hard-hitting, and reasonably durable for the cost. The Farseer I kitted that way because I have a sweet, sweet model I couldn’t resist using, and because the Mantle is cheaper than a Bodyguard unit, and does a wonderful job of denying Slay the Warlord, especially in games without much Ignores Cover.

Now, you can already see the logic in list building here – I’m using efficient, low-cost units that are good at a variety of things, but a number of my choices are also shaped by the thought “It’s a small game, so there won’t be much *blank.*”

Decisions, Decisions

And that’s what makes these games particularly interesting. While you’re scrambling for meagre points, so is the other guy. And they also only have so many tools they can bring! It also makes each unit, and each objective, that much more critical. When you’ve got 20 units running all over the table, losing one is kind of ok. If you have five units on the table? Losing one is baaaad news. Plus, with so much less noise in-game, it’s more likely your one mega-character will get in that epic duel with the other guy’s mega character, and that their duel will actually decide the game.

Any thoughts on what my list above was *not* prepared for? I’m sure you guessed it, gold star! You said “Bro, armor…”! Yes, I had very little to handle heavier armor. I was prepared for the lighter armor I expected to see, but not the AV13 Ghost Ark that I faced in my first round. But, lesson learned, and next time I’ll be more prepared for Necrons. I did quite well in that game, considering, but I still took a hefty loss to start off the Tournament.

Still, it was a great game, and I loved playing the smaller-scale! – How about you?

And that’s it, a short piece on a small subject. In other news, does anyone else want to see a YouTube parody of “Material Girl” sung by a Sister of Battle as “Imperial Girl”? Get on that, Internet!

  • Galaxy S40,000

    Escalation leagues exist for the following reason: GW pushing noobs towards purchasing more models (the closest they’ll ever get a filthy casual to a subscription business model)

    Small games under 1500 are hideously unbalanced. Pointing at someone’s army or reading a list and telling them “I won’t play that” shouldn’t be a required skill when searching for a game.

    • Aaron

      I can still flood the board with cheap guard models

      • Houghten

        That’s why it’s unbalanced.

        • Avensis Astari

          I know, man, those Lasguns be scary.

          • Muninwing

            how many lasgun shots to kill a terminator? (bs3 = 1/2 chance to hit s3/t4 means 1/3 chance to wound, and 2+ means 1/6 chance to not save… so 36 las shots to kill each terminator?)

            in 500 points i can field 5, one HQ (Belial), and a dreadnought for my Deathwing. if you can field at least 30 lasguns and something that can pop dread armor (which, to be fair, isn’t hard) anymore, then despite how intimidating the heavy troops might seem before doing the math, the guard will probably win in a face-to-face.

          • Nameless

            what if instead of taking the dreadnaught and Belail, you take a tactical squad and a cheaper character. regular bolter fire will deal with guardsmen fairly easily.

            I suspect that anything costing that higher % cost for a single model is detrimental to your overall army

          • Muninwing

            you’re right, in a more varied force you could do that… but not in a straight Deathwing army.

            forgive me for being a purist.

            in all reality, i’d whip out another army instead. it was just an example of balance.

          • Nameless

            I’ll be honest, I know very little of Dark Angels. however I thought that all marine chapters used tactical marines to some degree or another?

            secondly if you are going to field a list based on one aspect of any book, regardless of points costs and rules, its not going to be balanced.

          • Muninwing

            well, yes. but it depends on how you play it. if you’re playing the book instead of the fluff army, you have more options.

            the old 3rd ed DA book had rules for the deathwing that i prefer to follow more or less… Terminator troops, Landraider heavies, and Dreadnought elites are the only allowed units.

            it’s viable, interesting, fluffy, but not overpowered (especially with the current meta). it’s also reacted to strongly by many who claim it’s OP, so it’s a good example of an extreme, even though it’s not hard to beat if you know your game fundamentals.

          • Markus Beckers

            So you are saying, that 40k is unbalanced in small games because you refuse to adapt to the point limit ? Then 40k is also unbalanced in bigger games, if i can’t win with a pure imperial guard infantry list at 1850 points ?!?!

          • Muninwing

            if you notice, i actually said nothing of the sort.

            i would have fun playing a Deathwing army at 500 points, even if i would know i wouldn’t win without stellar playing.

            as far as the balance issues… really, the game needs a recalibration. there’s lots of issues with breakability, uneven points costs, and general over-advantage in key places.

            what could fix that? easy

            1. finish releasing all current codices in 7th
            2. examine points-costs as a constant instead of a nebulous cloud
            3. pay attention to tournament results and react accordingly
            4. release biannual FAQs that clarified rules just as much as they adjusted the game to be a bit more balanced… altering points-costs, changing options, and trying to bring it all generally in line with standardization… like the Dark Elf armybook back in early 7th that was so poorly constructed that it needed a quick-fix

            then, the FAQs could be updated 3 months after new rules in a “Chapter Approved” style biannual expansion that gave new formations and the occasional new unit.

          • NagaBaboon

            You’ve kind of missed something in your math though, if he puts 36 guard on the table he can kill 1 termie a turn on average assuming he loses no models for the whole game. He’d need 180 guard on average to kill your termies before you could start shooting back. I’d never claim 40k is a balanced game but it is not that unbalanced.

          • Muninwing

            you’re right… he’d need 36 guard on the table to doubletap and kill two a turn (out of, say six). but in the first turn i could kill about 9 or so… and there’s diminishing returns from there.

            this also doesn’t account for unit size, terrain, firing lanes, positioning, objectives, etc. you know, the actualy playing of the game.

            90 guardsmen are 450 points. they can kill the terminators in one round in range. a terminator unit that size with a heavy weapon loadout would be able to kill the same number in five rounds.

            there’s a lot to consider.

          • fab

            yes, people just do math and forget terrain, objectives, and the mobility of units. short sighted and lack of experience. armchair generals armed with calculators. I’ve played dozens of 500 point games as IG and have lost the same percentage, against the same group of players, as larger point games.

          • Benderisgreat

            I gunned down half a Terminator squad with Meltavets carrying shotguns from a Chimera. 3 meltas missed, but all the shotguns hit. It wasn’t pretty.

          • Avensis Astari

            Yup, I’ve had some lucky rolls as well.

      • Benderisgreat

        And even more cheap orks.

      • nurglitch

        You don’t have to though. You can always talk to your opponent before the game and come up with armies you can agree to be classified as ‘fair’ by the rules of the mission and table set-up.

    • Lewis Everitt

      It works a bit better with a totally different FOC(CADw/e). The drawback is the codexes are unbalanced at every scale in my experience, but It can make a pleasant change for a while until you realise that.

      • fab

        my club has a clique that plays smaller games weekly, and we have for the better part of a year. we have created a rules set based on the old combat patrol rules and the adepticon rules. they work wonderfully for us.
        and the game has the same lack of balance at every point level. you just gotta play! good tactics can overcome game imbalance often enough!

        • Lewis Everitt

          That’s true until you play equally good opponents, in which case either the most overpowered army wins or in cases of a draw there it is pure luck. Either way it doesn’t make for fun games. I’m very glad you’re having fun with your clique though.

    • Da Masta Cheef

      Oh and games above 1500 are never hideously unbalanced?


      • Galaxy S40,000

        just massively unbalanced heheh

    • Nicholas D Western

      I find the less points the more balanced it becomes. It makes you choose between taking that 500 point unit of termies(exaggeration) or taking those 2 units of troops who can score points for the same price.

      • Azrell

        so your also playing 5th edition then?

        • USS Daedalus

          I play 7th when I visit my FLGS, but with my mates I often do play 5th edition. Mostly because it’s the easiest, as that was our edition we played the most in. And so we are super familiar with rules, makes the game easy. When I go to the FLGS I am constantly re-reading rules. I know your comment was aimed at Mr. Western, but thought I would chime in.

      • Benderisgreat

        Does your everyone in your group only play Imperial Guard?

    • James Regan

      Games over 1500 are also hideously unbalanced. It all comes back to the point that GW do not accurately balance their codices, and when they do, they balance it for 1500 points. 1250 is about as balanced as 1750, and 1000 is no more unbalanced than 2000, because the game is designed around a points bracket where some armies can afford to take certain units, but only a certain number without gimping themselves.
      The game wasn’t designed to scale, which causes broken death stars and combos to both be more common and less self defeating at higher points brackets (because they don’t prevent you from taking troops), and some armies to be surprisingly overpowered at lower points brackets (because they pack more power into their troops, or because they can do things others can’t at small scales). This is why apocalypse was considered separate for so long- people wanted to play at brackets where the designers knew the game flat out didn’t work.

      • Frank O’Donnell

        Then why is it that GW are now trying to get us all playing apocalypse ? because if you think that GW want you to play at 1500 you sadly mistaken.
        Just look at some of the new formations you wouldn’t fit them into 1500pts 40K is the new epic.

        • Lewis Everitt


        • Azrell

          we have had formations going back to 5th edition, they just said “apocalypse” before the word formation.

        • ICHI

          I think jervis wanted us to play small games, but he’s sick of writing about the spirit of the game to a bunch of people who keep asking for bigger and better. So that’s what we’re getting weather we like it/or it works, or not

        • James Regan

          I don’t think GW want you to play 1500, or even play, they want you to buy models, as that is their bottom line and their legal obligation to their shareholders. Apocalypse sells more models. I just think that the game is, as it always has been designed at 1500 points. This could even be because the design studio only has time to playtest games at that scale (apocalypse games take longer, and no one will know the rules off by heart if they are still writing them).

      • wibbling

        It’s really time you grew up. The game isn’t ‘designed’ for anything except to sell models.

        On this nonsense issue of ‘balanced’ codices – you’re again comparing the wrong things. A carnifex is a tank killer. It can nobble a 250 point land raider yet it’s rubbish against infantry. Plague bearers are great against a carnifex, yet are 90 points.

        You’re making the classic child mistake of thinking the cost of something is comparable to something that costs the same, not looking at what that unit is designed to do.

        • USS Daedalus

          Right, look at the Eldar Aspects. Don’t ask Fire Dragons to kill guardsmen, but don’t ask Striking Scorpians to kill Land Raiders.

        • MarcoT

          That’s not at all his argument. He didn’t compare unit-by-unit. Are you in the wrong thread?
          You’re right in saying units don’t need to be balanced to each other unit in existance, but I think pretty much everyone will agree with that.

      • Muninwing

        an intersting idea, but i doubt you can prove it.

        though… if you want more balance, then why not use an additional metric to balance? i know highlander games were trying to do just that by forcing and limiting choices. i’ve made mention here in the past about a “build points” system that would do the same (5 points, used to allow psykers, flyers, superheavies, additional detachments, FW-only models, additional or multiple non-troop choices, etc).

        why not come up with a system to use in your LGS that causes certain choices and drives the building of a list?

        that;s what i like about this article — 500 points, no flyers, no superheavies, consideration of non-cheez means for a fun series of short games. and if you have people who won’t try to break the system and instead would offer basic gaming politeness to their opponent, the balance really isn’t so much an issue.

    • Mark Pearce

      I don’t know what you’re talking about, we often have 500 pt games here and they are always very even.

      • Azrell

        All 500 pt games iv played have been very uneven. So my statement cancels yours out right? or does the experience of a single player maybe not reflect everyone else.

        • Mark Pearce

          Not what I said, I simply haven’t seen it in the group I play with.

          • ICHI

            I think a lot of the unevenness of 40k comes from the people you play against. I set myself personal boundaries or rules on list building, not in the codex. Partly because I think things like space wolves shouldn’t be able to summon daemons, but also because I would rather challenge myself and my opponent than try and make something always unbeatable. If you play against sh!ts then your games will be cr@p

          • Mark Pearce

            This exactly.

          • Muninwing

            belial, one troops choice, and one dreadnought… that’s all a straight-Deathwing army can take in a 500-point list.

            would you consider that balanced? on one hand, it’s seven models, 2 units, not maeiverable, and would have ahard time scoring. on the other, that’s over 200 lasgun shots to kill all but the dread, and if there are no heavy weapons or grenades, the dread is unkillable.

            some people would consider that heavily unbalanced, accuse me of cheezing it up, and whine when i won. others would laugh at my bad choices. i’m betting it’d be challenging to play, but a win would be an achievement.

            and if both players have fun, what care else i about balance?

        • Nik Dixon

          You do realise that the codex give you options. You choose a list from them. If your group is too inexperienced to make reasonable lists at the moment, give it time and enjoy the journey.

          If you’re experienced and deliberately manipulating the rules for advantage you’ll get the game you’re playing.

          I really enjoy small games, you get a wide variety of match ups and a limited selection of troops to use. The kill team rules are great too.

        • RexScarlet

          exactly, what is that mark of the wolfen wolfguard in termie armor that walks through a 500 point army by himself?
          or two demon prince lists

        • Muninwing

          case 1: WHF escalation, round 1
          my first oppoent brought 3 goblin fanatics and a giant, in addition to the minimum else he could field. i brought beasts. i threw everything at the giant after everything else was dead, but i los tto “yell and bawl.” i knew that the player in question was not in the spirit of the game.

          case 2: 40K escalation, round 2
          my opponent brought a stormraven, inquisitor and retinue, and sanctioned psyker choir. he could have been worse, but he was trying to utilize advantage. i still got lucky and shot him out of the sky, killing over half his army in one turn. imbalance one way went the other way really fast.

          case 3: 40k escalation, round 1
          i brought wych-cult (old book), my opponent brought marines. one mistake of positioning, and he routed half my army. one assault phase later, i was up again. game ended in a tie.

          if inordinate advantages are not taken, or not allowed, low points balanced lists are actually pretty even against each other. but they are unforgiving — a small mistake on your part and the whole mess goes bad fast. but that’s true for either player.

    • Commissar Molotov

      Well, there’s another good reason for escalation leagues:

      They help get people to paint their darned miniatures. Painting 250 points or so in a go is a lot less daunting than sitting down in front of an unpainted 2000 point horde army.

      • pskontz

        make a house rule. painted models have “preferred enemy unpainted model” motivates in my area

        • USS Daedalus

          That’s brilliant, but I would be flexible in application. Is someone not painting because they play too much CoD or because they are busy? Use it to motivate slackers, not demotivate busy people from still participating.

          • Muninwing

            that’s (imho) the best use for an escalation elague: earn points for completing models to a certain standard. great motivation.

        • Avensis Astari

          Considered that at our store, but as it would only penalise the people who work, people who take their time to paint to a very good standard and people who haven’t got the cash to buy paints nor the skill to use them well, (mainly kids.)

          I know that personally, I take as long as it takes to paint a mini, as I want each one looking as good as I can make it. I’m not going to rush my paintjob to a crappy standard just to silence a snob opposite the table.

    • I’m guessing you’re the sort, who, at some point, has used the words “kool-aid” to describe people associated with GW.

      And yet here you are, pushing the same “it’s cool to hate GW” tripe as half the other commenters present.

      Want some ice in that?

      • Galaxy S40,000

        nah man cool has nothing to do with it, i was just stating facts. if i wanted to be cool i’d be hashtagging and using /tg/ slang

        *tips fedora* m’sir

    • RexScarlet

      exactly this, then add in “trial and error.”
      The units a “new” player; buys, “builds,” paints, and fields at lower points on a “smaller playing area (500 points = 4’x2′ 1000 points = 4’x4′) may not perform at higher points , and (1500+ points = 4’x6′) (ex; flamers) so, a player can waste hard earned doll hairs, exactly what GW wants them to do.

      GW is selling products with tricks and gimmicks, rather than with a good rules-set, sad…

      • Have they used a “good rules set” as a selling point ever tho?

    • Muninwing

      i have been involved in a number of escalation leagues, usually during the summer, and while some of what you claim might be tangentally valid, the main idea of them is to (a) get new players into the game and (b) allow veterans a chance to start a new army.

      they can be fun, are definitely an intersting exercise, and involve a number of important skills. plus, it gives focus to the hobby end of things — ones i’ve belonged to have had painting requirements or earned points toward the league for painting a new unit each game. so rather than skip around from project to project, i’m more likely to finish one.

      what’s more, games at low points are not unbalanced if you play like you’re a member of a community instead of trying to seek advantage. often, it’s harder to use more exploitative builds in small games, so it’s a better way of learning the basics and fundamentals of your army.

      i may enjoy large-points games with a whole full-field table stacked with models, but there is a place for the 500-point game. not everything is a shady ploy by an evil megacorporation…

    • Yeah, I had to refuse to play 3 of 6 games in the last league because they were mega cheese builds which would have been miserable experiences to play.

      • nurglitch

        I take it you talked to the guys (girls?) involved to communicate why you didn’t want to play?

        • Yes they then complained to the lead organizer and told me that they didn’t understand where was coming from and we’re tired of hearing you complain about the game where their style of play.

          4 tzeentch heralds on discs, a rhino with “the fall of kasr lutien”, a flying nurgle deamonprince, and a void shield generator. That was the 700 point “for fun” list he wanted to take.

          • nurglitch

            Do you mean “He then complained to the lead organizer and told me that he didn’t understand where I was coming from and he was tired of hearing me complain about the local style of play?”

      • Galaxy S40,000

        yeah i feel you on that man. happens to me all the time and i happen to play mono god CSM (khorne). so i’m basically at the sh!t tier. i don’t think all these naysayers in the comment thread have been properly abused by unbound in 500 points.

        • What I really find frustrating is how players who will abuse the game (ie: playing diliberately in a way to render the game unenjoyable for their opponent by removing the give and take “I kill some stuff then you kill some stuff but we all have fun” element from the game through list design.) tend to acuse players like myself who play characterful/fluffy lists for fun of being dumb or foolish in not also abusing the game.

          It’s like saying “everyone is stealing from elderly, you’re a fool if you don’t do it too”.

    • fab

      having played smaller games for over a year, once or twice weekly, I have found the exact opposite. I feel the smaller games are MORE balanced than the larger. have you played many?

      • Galaxy S40,000

        boah, i was playin 500 point games with HG wells in his basement when your great-great-great grandfather was still in diapers

  • 40kgamer

    These work ok if you use the really old Combat Patrol restrictions.

    • Commissar Molotov

      Amen – particularly the vehicle restrictions.

      • 40kgamer

        Another good natural restriction for smaller games is playing Zone Mortalis… although actually having the terrain to pull this off is a challenge. 🙂

        • Commissar Molotov

          Huh – I’d never heard of it, but I just Googled it and it does look interesting. I can make some simple scenery that’d work just fine.

          • 40kgamer

            Did you find the free pdf rules? it’s an interesting way to play. Basically the terrain makes it impossible to field fliers and most vehicles. And all the short LOS keeps down a lot of the long range shenanigans from things like Eldar bike spam. It’s also easy to incorporate Combat Patrol restrictions into it as a game too.

          • Commissar Molotov

            Yup, downloaded ’em off of FW.

    • fab

      or better yet, update them a little!

  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    Adepticon’s combat patrol rules are here if you want to try them:

    • 40kgamer

      Thanks for sharing the link! They seem like a reasonable modernization of the old CP rules. We’ll have to see how they play for us.

    • Nameless

      okay, as usual as a guard player I feel pretty hard done too with those rules. I can understand disallowing heavier units leman ruses and so forth, but armoured sentinels and hellhounds don’t seem to me to be in the same category. no more than 2 wounds prohibits all of the non auxiliary HQ choices limit use of orders.

      might just be me not liking having my options limited, but as always I feel the rules are written more with marines in mind

      • grim_dork

        Hey, it’s a great opportunity to break out the Rough Riders and rock a cavalry charge.

        • Nameless

          just hope your playing someone without bolters/shuriken/spinter weapons that will mow them down just as fast as models that cost half as many points.

          I wish Rough Riders where good, but lets face it anything above a stern glance can kill 5 t3 5+ save models, add in the face that win or lose after the first round of combat they are in the game they might as well be put away.

      • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

        to be fair, armies with lots of cheap troops do have an advantage at low points levels so I wouldn’t feel too hard done by.

        • Nameless

          not to disagree, I don’t really have enough experience in small points games however I am curious as to your reasoning.

          personally I would have assumed that being vulnerable to the basic fire of most other armies, would easily be enough to counteract the weight of numbers.

          • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

            board control is easier for infantry heavy armies on a smaller board, there are less units to hold objectives so sometimes just having a higher unit count is an advantage, as is having spare units to contest or just speedbump.

          • fab

            having played dozens of 500 point games as IG, usually with a blob, I can tell you that it is not an advantage at all. in my league, we play small games several times a week. tau and eldar win the majority, just as usual. orks and IG, even with a table full of minis, get hammered at just the same rate.

        • RexScarlet

          two demon prince lists at 500
          mark of the wolfen woflguard at 500

          • joshua jury

            How do you take two DPs in a CAD at 500 points?

          • Nameless

            two units of minimum cultists leaves you with 400pts, demon princes come in at 155pts minimum leaving you with 90pts for upgrades wings and so forth

    • RexScarlet

      exactly this, only with a governing body, house rules, restrictions and etc.

  • Shawn

    I like small games as well. In addition to teaching new players about the game, it gives you a chance to relax a little bit more, since you aren’t worrying about a hundred models. I’ve done a couple of small games with a new ork player where we forged the narrative.
    The Iron Hands were the remnant of a larger battle against an Ork Waaugh! and were trying to make to the extract point where they would be lifted offworld. They needed to avoid getting annihilated by the orks. I won if I made it off of his table edge, and he won if he would prevent me or kill all my models by turn five. We played about 300 points. He didn’t have all the models he needed so we tricked his army out so he wold have more nobs and an ammo runt for the warboss. It was a great time.

    • Me

      Who won?

      • Sh4d0wProph3t


        • Shawn

          GW always wins, lol

        • francis maybury

          does games workshop win every time you have fun with their games and/or miniatures ? if so do you hate having anything you purchase bring you the slightest satisfaction? just saying kinda seems silly that Gw wins if you had fun, unless you have an addiction to buying plastic you cannot satiate and nothing about the game brings you joy because you buy these toys out of utter compulsion.

          • Sh4d0wProph3t

            Well I meant it as a tongue in cheek quip but actually, now I think about it – it is out of compulsion. I’ve not enjoyed the game itself in a long time but carried on because my social circle did.

            But now we’re playing more x-wing so I guess I can actually stop buying GW for games and instead just pick up the occasional model if I want to paint something. I owe you thanks random keyboard warrior.

          • RexScarlet

            exactly this

      • Shawn

        A partial victory.His boyz piled up the middle and whittled down two units of marines. I had a scout unit and tactical unit free and he only sent a unit of nobz to deal with them. The space marines shot them before they could get to them.

  • Nicholas D Western

    I was actually having this conversation with a friend last night. I’ve been on a recent kick of playing skirmish games, and I played a ACW adaptation of a F&I rule set. The guy running the game was trying to explain to other (purely)Historical gamers what the concepts of a skirmish game were, and how it varies from the traditional Battalion or Divisional level games. He made some very valid points and it got me to thinking. When you look at it 40K is more of a skirmish game then a large scale full on battle game. Which to me justifies 7th edition’s removal of the FOC, as well as the crazy cost of owning an army. I got to talking with my friend about this, and we decided to never exceed 1000 points again. The game stays more balanced under 1000 points and required more strategy then list building.

    • vonDietdrich

      40k is absolutely not a skirmish game in any capacity.

      If you play with a hard limit of one Monstrous Creature, Walker, or Vehicle per list, avoid unique HQs and HQs over 150 points, avoid models in general over 150-180 points (your preference may vary), and mandate the need for troop choices/battleforged, it’s still a very unbalanced game. It’s not a complete circus but it’s barely playable.

      The problem lies in how the factions are balanced.

      Certain factions get things for cheap that are really good. For example. Guard, Orks, Tyranids and Daemons can put so many bodies on the table that it’s almost impossible to chew through all of them with weight of fire in a small match.

      Other factions are given things to ‘make up for’ this, but these things are usually expensive and combo-centric (drop pods, wave serpents, Tau shooting, Chapter Masters).

      In small games the balance falls apart because if we say ‘750 points battleforged one sourcebook’ with no other limitations, I can run a mech Eldar list with 3 Wave Serpents and have plenty left over for troops and an HQ. But on the other hand, if we limit vehicles, suddenly the Imperial Guard player with 70 infantry models on the table at 750 points with some points to spare for a nice single tank has the advantage.

      If we limit HQ choices, suddenly Tyranids lose access to Hive Tyrants and Space Marines lose access to Chapter Masters etc, which are big advantages for their respective factions. So factions with weaker HQ choices (but compensation in other areas like mech or infantry spam) gain an advantage over them.

      And that just keeps going ad nauseum. But if you leave it all in, you wind up with frequent match-ups where one player is at a huge disadvantage from the list-building phase onwards. For example, a Chapter Master with bubble wrap winding up in melee with skirmish-sized Dark Eldar and tabling the entire force almost single-handedly.

      You also need to ban Imperial Knights from the outset, of course.

      It’s a mess, frankly. I’ve tried it.

      • fab

        I disagree. I’ve played dozens of small (500) games. there is no overall benefit to being the guard over tau or marines or anything.
        I’ve not just tried it, I’ve been playing it for over a year. you need to modify your way of thinking in army building and in tactics.
        it sounds to me like you are trying to play a 1500 point game in a 500 point skin.
        and for every way in which you say the smaller game is unbalanced, I can correctly counterpoint with a similar way in which the larger games are unbalanced.
        a person plays tau or eldar, gets all the advantages in larger games, then cry when you play smaller games because those advantages are gone. and then says smaller games are not valid because god forbid! someone else might have a advantage this time!

        but they don’t. I have a lot of experience in this. dozens of games against all armies, except sisters.
        it has DIFFERENT balance issues, but just as many as larger games.

  • If anyone is interested in really small games, my club and I have been maintaining very simple 40k skirmish rules:


    They’re essentially like the official Kill Team rules, but we’d argue that our rules are better adapted to 7th edition and tighter overall.

  • Small point games are great. The problem is that by default someone can show up with something like 3 wraith knights and there’s little you can do.

    If you want to play small point games, I think there needs to also be restrictions on what you can take. Playing 1000 point games and someone dropping in gargantuan creatures, wraith knights, imperial knights, etc… are a problem if you want a good even game.

    • georgelabour

      Only thing you need to do to prevent that guy who may some day at some point somewhere show up with 3 wraith knights to a 1000 point game is to use battleforged armies only.

      There, problem solved simply through use of the core rule book.

      • Azrell

        Eldar can take detachments that would still allow it.

        • Michael Shaw

          not at 1000

  • Jet Black

    Or just play infinity, a small scale game with better rules and better models.

    • Marky

      Or Necromunda which is better still 🙂

      • standardleft

        or chess

        • georgelabour

          Or hot dog eating.

          • moonshadow101

            Buy some G.I.Joes and make shooty noises with you mouth.

          • Houghten

            With it stuffed full of hot dogs? Have you no manners, sir?

          • Muninwing

            you could get one of those toy guns that make machine gun or laser noises…

            but that would be corrupting the youth and desensitizing them to violence, so instead we should just let them read books about slaaneshi cultists… claim it’s reading homework

      • Jet Black


      • USS Daedalus

        I love Necromunda and have adapted the rule set with new custom gangs (mostly so as to be able to use currently produced models) but it is by no means without exploitation. I can have a guy who shoots three times at +2 to hit each time and then gets a free 3″ move afterwards. Granted it takes some luck to get that combo but it’s possible. Still, love that damn game.

    • Lewis Everitt

      I find them overly complicated compared to 40k, but that may just be because it’s different to GW style rules.

    • francis maybury

      with all due respect how do you define infinity miniatures as better? the aesthetics may appeal to you but when i see them all i see high quality generic miniatures.

    • Azrell

      small and metal does not = better. When they start producing detailed plastic models you can say that. Infinity does not have better models.

      • StingrayP226

        It opinion really… Personally I find Infinity models very detailed (well the ones I have), and they actually look human proportion wise
        (for the most part the biggest offenders are boobs), and despite being inspired
        by anime the majority of the human models feel more serious/realistic than the
        more cartoony 40K. Sorry I find the super armored to the point of clunky Space
        Marines as cartoony/silly, and the sleeker modern commando style of Infinity as
        a tad more interesting.

        Plastic is nice but it does not automatically mean the miniature is better. Yes I prefer working with a good plastic, but in the end what matters is the detailing and sculpting that went into the model. The biggest argument I would make against Infinity miniatures is how they are made to be mono pose for the most part compared to 40k miniatures (well non $30 clam pack ones which are ironically mono posed).

  • Adam Murray

    I don’t know about 40k but in Fantasy small point games 500-1500pts can be ridiculously imbalanced. 500pts buys a lot of skaven, not so many high elves.

  • Tesq

    cheap army have an edge in lower game point. Thus they are unbalance, i found that 1500 pt game are best balance atm.
    Alredy 1850 goes like a apo style game

    • generalchaos34

      im a big fan of 1750. 1500 seems to get you the toolbox of everything you need, while that extra 250 lets you get something nice and flavorful into the mix.

      • Mr.Gold

        I am a fan of 1250 myself, if my opponents and I limit ourselves to one Lord of War or Flyer total, (if any) it is a fairly balanced game,

  • IndigoJack

    Still recycling articles? This is clearly the old eldar codex (mantle was a dead give away), can we at least get an editor’s note saying as much?

    • Me

      There is such a note in the title of his army list.

  • Hazzmat

    I’ll soon be playing a doubles 750 point per person game which is really making me scratch my head. I’ll be playing Guard and my partner will be using Tau.

    At these points, we are looking at one person focusing on the AI/AA and the other person focusing on the AT. It’s just so hard when we could be looking potentially at up to 3 Imperial Knights on the board.

    It’s the unknown that makes me think, “Is it worth the HQ triple vanquisher/paskuisher + lascannons + hunter-killer missile AT deathstar coming in at 535 pts or not?”

  • If GW planned for this, encouraged games of this size/point level, and aimed for 1 hour or less they might be able to pull in some of the Xwing players I game with. They all love the look and universe, but have zero desire to waste their entire night on 1 game with 1 army that cost a grand to field.

    At 500ish points an army would be very cheap. I know GW sees that as a minus, but I would probably end up starting more armies than I ever will as the game stands. I wouldn’t be alone in that either.

    • Boondox

      A long long time ago they used to offer a rules variation called “40K in 40 minutes” which eventually evolved into the school league ruleset. It made for some interesting games. Not sure if they still do that but there might be some unofficial versions online…

  • Bayne MacGregor

    Some of the best games of 40k i’ve ever played were Kill Team games. I’m looking forward to some small games with my Skitarii soon 🙂

  • Boondox

    Does GW still support the School League? I remember those having an interesting set of rules for smaller games…

  • ICHI

    My gaming group used to regularly hold 600pt games. We would have the limitation that no unit could be over 100pts and you would have to have 1HQ, 2 Troops, 1 Elite, 1 Fast attack, 1 Heavy. Very good for, not just learning rules, but learning the best tactics and how to write a good list, which in my opinion should include a lot of bog standard stuff. If I play someone that has spent half their points allotment on specialist units, they usually are an easy kilI.

  • It’s been a long time since I played a game of 40k that wasn’t 1000pts or less. I love the small games and how you feel the loss of every mini. While not perfect I have rarely come up against many problems of balance but maybe thats down to our gaming group.

    I’m currently planning on trying out some games at 100pts on a terrain heavy 2×3′ board and using the KT rules (or at least a version of them), I think they should be great fun! 😀

  • vonevilstein

    Interesting article but a bit brief. I’m interested in playing small games but I’d like a bit more info on the rules involved. For instance what size table do you use? What’s the scoring system? If objectives what’s the objective system?

    Also Mantle of Laughing God in a 500 point game, not cool fella…;) Mind you to be fair a Ghost Ark in a 500 point is also taking the p*ss…

    • Commissar Molotov

      Previous editions had a “Combat Patrol” or “40K in 40 Minutes” set of guidelines which limited what you could bring (no armor values over 12, can’t take anything with more than 2 wounds unless it’s a swarm, etc.) Give those terms a good Googling and I bet the rules will pop up somewhere on the glorious intarwebz.

  • doughouseman

    We play 3 sets of small games at Origins each year. The 500 point speed tournament, the 8 army challenge, and the build, paint and battle. Everyone has a great time and we can get far more games in.

    Many people who fly in appreciate the fact that they can still carry an army that is playable on the airplane.

    If you want to see our rules they are at 40KOrigin.com.

  • RexScarlet

    Small escalation games are designed to create “Trial and error” which was the old way (before the Interwebs) to figure out if units, codices, and etc. were good or bad, and players had to figure this out by themselves; buy, build, paint, field, discover. (wash rinse repeat). This is exactly what GW wants. And when wash rinse repeat comes to an end, wipe, and START ALL OVER (WHFB 9e).

    The entire game is unbalanced, 500-1000 points is worst of all.

  • paddy alexander

    Some of the most fun I had playing 40k was using the (fan created and published in White Dwarf) 40k in 40 minutes rules in 3rd edition and the renamed Combat Patrol rules in 4th edition, particularly with the Rules of Engagement scenario rules from White Dwarf.

    Basically, 400 points aside, no saves better than a 3+, no model with more than two wounds, no characters, HQ are 0-1, must have 1 troops choice and the 3 sides of a vehichle couldn’t exceed 33 when added together.

    The bad side was the format was unplayable for Necrons & very restricted for Tyranids.

    If I was ever to go back to 40k for a game or two then this would be the format I’d play.

    • Nameless

      a lot of the rules where I believe breakable: but it gave your opponent more points to spend (it might have been a house rule). I do though remember those rules as it was impossible to play guard with them as the infantry platoon was the only troops choice and it had 2 wounds (doctrines and similar rules weren’t included/permitted)

  • Gridloc

    I truly love how much work the players have to do to make a fun game… You would think it would be the company producing the game… guess you really are just buying models.

  • nurglitch

    Something that’s often over-looked is how well 7th edition works for small games. I’d encourage everyone to try a platoon of AM vs another, identical platoon, to try it out.

  • Yeah we tried that locally. Most players just built a super cheese list designed to negate anything their opponent could take at that points level. It didn’t make the “WAAC” side of things any better and as a result half the players dropped out in a mixture of frustration and disgust.

    • nurglitch

      I think the trick is to sit players down to negotiate lists prior to play rather than just say “1000pts, give’er.” So that people know what they’re getting into. It’s just like negotiating any other non-tournament game – you need to communicate your needs and inclinations to your gaming partners (aka ‘opponents’).

    • This happened to our escalation league as well. The eldar players were bringing 2 wraith knights in 1000 point games.

      So we had to refine the league packet and put hard restrictions in place.

      • I’ve recommended this dozens of times, and I am not the only player who feels the way that I do, however those who have been organizing the leagues don’t want to ” penalize” anyone and so they have refused repeatedly to make restrictions. I’m planning on organizing my own league has results that will have some restrictions

        • I will say I’ve been organizing events for 17 years now. What I have learned is that there is generally two trains of thought that are very much at odds with each other.

          The first is that the game is unbalanced and that the event organizer tries to restore some of that balance with house rules.

          The second is that no one has the authority to change the game but the company itself and any who do are destroying the community and teaching people wrong.

          I am of the first mindset, and have battled with the second for a very long time.

          Granted – for everything you fix something else can crop up. However, when I do apply a house rule it is to eliminate something grotesquely unfun… such as a pair of wraith knights in a 1000 point game.

          That is not a game to me.

          That is a foregone conclusion.

          Much like 5+1 is always 6.

  • Commissar Molotov

    Small-points games (400 or 500 points) can also be good for honing your tactics – when you’ve only got two or three units to mind, you can pay more attention to the finer details of placement, movement, etc. that tend to get “lost in the sauce” when you’re having to shepherd ten or twelve units around.

    • Muninwing

      it’d be interesting to see a tournament setup that escalated… in round one you had 500 points, round 2 1000, and round 3 1500 (or the like). but the points from the first list must be in the next one up.

      different skills at different levels.

      • Commissar Molotov

        That’s kinda like an escalation league we ran one summer – we did it to get new players into the game and to encourage “old timers” to get their armies painted. We started with 250 points of “scouting forces” and upped the points by 250 points a week as we went. When we got to 3000 points, we played some Apocalypse. It was an awful lot of fun!

        • fab

          we play those as well. are you in the states? PM me!

  • fab

    I have a lot of experience with both smaller games and escalation campaigns. I find both preferable to larger games. they go faster, they allow you to feature a more skirmish feel, and your lowly troops actually shine as heroes.
    you need to adopt a rules set, like the old combat patrol or adepticon rules. in my club, we have created our own rule set based on those two.
    as far as balance, once again having played many games at 300-750 points, there is no advantage beyond the usual imbalance of 40k. people imagining that IG gets a boost in smaller games are wrong. for one, in larger games, elder and tau have the advanatage, so if the shoe is on the other foot, what is the difference? you a tau or elder player? well, see how it feels. however, it is an illusion.
    the mistake people here are making is taking the best 500 points from their 1500 list and imagining that as a 500 point army. that’s not how you do it. you must rethink your army list and tailor it to the smaller game.
    also, you must tailor the mission to smaller games. we’ve played everything from maelstrom games to old style battle missions and they all work fine and are just as balanced as larger games. but they take half the time, are more accessible for new players, feature a higher percentage of painted minis, need less terrain and space, and force you to carry less armies.
    I greatly prefer games of 200-1000.

  • Christopher A. Herrera

    No wraithknight? Such a scrub. EDIT: was being facetious, but just saw the 180 point limitation thing lol.