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Warhammer 40K Patrol Detachment Tactics Guide

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

Do you know what to do with your models once they hit table top? You may know general strategies, but the actual placement and movements of models is not always clear. Would you like to know more? An intellectual and successful general like yourself probably would!

I've written (perhaps far too much!) on how to build an army for patrol detachments. I've based this off my experience in teaching student neophytes how to play 40K in my school club, and believe me when I say I've seen most of the (literal!) school boy errors out there.

A lot of guides on how to use models focus on specific units. Having done that myself, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking you know how your army works based on a thorough understanding of the unit itself. But knowing the strengths ad weaknesses of a particular unit won't help you to understand where to put them on a battlefield.

So let me give you some general guidelines.

Time for the caveat... all situations and armies are different, and you will need to think about how these guidelines apply to you. This is a game, and fun should take priority over winning. Hopefully I can help you make your games more fun by putting in some clever tactics. Also remember, people on the internet are always wrong, particularly teachers with blogs.

warhammer 40 list building guide patrol detachment tactics
In case you forgot the required units!

TL;DR Overview

This guide is based around the 4-unit structure outlined here. Then do this with them:

  • Troops move towards objectives, using cover and firing on other enemy Troops.
  • Fire support units move to convenient fire positions, and take out key targets.
  • Skirmishing units head to the front to disrupt the enemy.
  • Leader units position themselves to best support the patrol.
warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

As a rule of thumb, you should keep your army together as one cohesive whole. Since blast templates are gone, you can do this without risking too much area of effect damage. Moving as one group means that you can easily support each other as you move toward objectives. Assaulting a big mass of Space Marines is a scary prospect, as opposed to charging an isolated unit of Intercessors.

Standard deployment will look something like this, with the Troops and Skirmishes flanking the Fire Support. This means that any first turn alpha strikes won't take out your valuable units before they have a chance to be used in battle.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

Troop Tactics

Troops will move towards objectives. That is their purpose. If they get bogged down attacking another unit, then your army's momentum has stalled an you risk losing the chance to claim the objective.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

Regardless of the unit you use, you should always be trying to move from cover to cover. Whilst it may not seem very brave of a Space Marine, a power armoured giant in cover is effectively a terminator. Keeping your Troops alive until the end of the battle is important, as a single Guardsman surrounded by Thunderwolf cavalry still scores the objective.

Troops shoot at other enemy Troops. Their weaponry is usually not strong enough to deal significant damage to anything, and wearing down the enemy ability to score objectives is worth more than shaving a wound off a Leman Russ tank. There's also the fact that your Troops will end up face to face with the enemy, as they contest an objective!

Which brings us to the next, contentious point. Any Troop choice will be expected to get into close combat. Even T'au. If you are sitting on an objective the enemy will want to sit on it too. Which means that they will sit on top of you to contest it.

You will also move on to an objective to contest it... including T'au Firewarriors. Obviously assaulting  fresh unit of Ork Boyz would be suicide, but you will have been wearing them down with your superior shooting for the turns it takes you to get to your objective. And remember, if you get the charge, then you hit first. That counts for something!

There are some more nuanced tactics you can use for this, such as advancing beyond an objective to fall back on to it later, but that is a discussion for another time. Or in the comments below!

Fire Support Tactics

Your Fire support units are all about finding good firing lines to reduce the effect of cover, and maximise how much impact they have. This will often mean moving to the flanks to shoot around walls and trees.

Try to keep pace with your Troops, as they will be able to support you in the event of something bad happening. Again, keeping our army together turns individual units into one large monster the enemy has to del with. This won't always be possible, as in the case of static heavy weapons teams, so they'll need to be given a really good position to affect the hole of the battlefield, and may even be left behind. Avoid static teams if you can for Patrol Detachments, as it makes it more difficult for your army to support each other.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

Moving your Fire Support around is a balancing act between getting good angles on your enemy, and denying the enemy good angles back on you. Obviously don't be reckless, but getting good shots on the enemy is usually better than keeping this unit safe. The more threats you remove with this unit, the safer your whole army is. That is why you take them.

Skirmishing Tactics

These are your wild cards, and tend to be the most fun to play around with. There are a number of ways to get them do disrupt the enemy:

Be fast: This applies to bikes, cavalry and speedy tanks. The idea is to zoom ahead of your main force and engage exposed targets where you can. This is a bit tricky for some "cavalry" units, as they're not really all that fast. Aeldar jetbikes and White Scars excel in this role, with the best perhaps being Khorne-marked Renegade Chaos Space Marines.

Be scary: Heavier, tougher units tend to rely on them being a perceived threat to attract attention in the first turn, and doing the bulk of their work in the second and third. At a pinch, dreadnoughts can fill this role. This is the quintisential Distraction Carnifex route, which has merit in that the skirmishing unit can actually do something to the enemy!

Deep Strike: A way for slow units to be fast, this plonks a scary unit right in front or behind the enemy. They must react to it, or suffer the consequences. How effective they are will depend on your ability to place them where they will disrupt best... usually to the front flank of the enemy. Placing in the middle leads to the unit being wiped out in a single round of shooting, and placing behind can have them effectively out of the battle if the enemy does the smart thing and walks away.

Flanking Strikes: A more muted version of Deep Striking, this has a bit more of a disruptive effect on enemy deployment, as they will deploy away from table edges. At that point you can secure flanks for yourself, and thus an easy channel for your Fire Support unit to move up and down to get firing angles.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

The running theme is to put your units where they will have the maximum amount of disruption to the enemy. These units are not there to contest points or to kill units, but to delay and distract. If you've got an extra turn where the enemy Fire Support is not shooting, they've done their job well.

Leader Tactics

Were you place your leader depends on what you have. Unlike in earlier editions, every HQ choice in 8th Edition has the opportunity to be a Force Multiplier. The idea of a solo Chaos Lord Deep Striking into the enemy and simply causing havoc is not an effective use of their points (with the possible exception of T'au Commanders...).

Bubble Leaders: These leaders will have a close range bubble around them granting a buff. These will be best used keeping pace with your units, and maintaining their bubble around as many units as possible. If you have these, they will usually be in the center between Troops and Fire Support units.

Ranged Leaders: These are psykers or leaders with command abilities that target units.Unlike bubble leaders, these allow you to stagger your forces a bit more. Ideal for fast moving forces that like to spread out, you will still want to keep them close to either your Fire Support or Troops. It's usually best to keep them next to the Troops, as the Fire Support unit tends to be the first one to go, leaving your leader stranded.

Melee or Ranged: It's common sense now... if you have a melee commander keep them near the front line. If you have a ranged commander, keep them towards the rear. You won't often get that choice, such as in the case of bubble leaders, but still use common sense. Melee commanders with use Heroic Intervention to support any close combat going on, whereas ranged leaders will fire as the unit stuck in combat falls back.

Keep in mind that your leaders are Force Multipliers, and they make every other unit in the army better by their presence. Charging head long into the enemy guns for glory make sound good on paper, but the reality tends to be disappointing as they vanish under  deluge of failed save rolls. Don't be afraid to expose them to danger, but make sure you do it when it counts.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics


Theses are guidelines rather than hard rules. At the end of the day, we're playing a game. The Ork Warboss charging an entire Imperial Guard tank line is right and propa', but don't have unrealistic expectations about what will happen to him. My intention here is to help you get more enjoyment from games by understanding what's happening in front of you, rather than be at the mercy of the dice gods.

To give a painting analogy: you can have fun flinging paint at a model, and even find the mix of colours fun. But you get a much more rewarding experience from following advice and learning techniques.

Writing this was a lot of fun, but I have to admit I don't have a huge amount of experience in larger scale battles yet. The ideas here may scale up well, but hopefully people can leave me some comments saying if the game completely changes with larger armies.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

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  1. Really enjoy your articles, thanks. Keep it up!

    1. Glad you like them! And thanks. Comments like yours really do make my day.

  2. Thanks for this - I've been looking for some simple tactical advice, your blog fit's the bill! Can't believe GW don't publish more of this sort of thing themselves, but thanks for taking the time.

    1. You're welcome and thanks in return for the comment! They used to publish little pieces of tactical advice in the faction codex (where the infamous T'au Kauyon and Mont'ka tactics come from).

      Games Workshop usually write about interesting and fluffy tactics that get models killed, as opposed to boring, predictable but effective ones. Bearing in mind that 40K is more like a fantasy role playing game than a straight up war simulator, there's nothing wrong with that!


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