I did write a similar post on unit positioning in Epic: Armageddon a while ago, but today’s Tactica Tuesday will take a look at our leaders and commanders in Warhammer 40K. We all like the idea of our champions leading from the front, gloriously heading the charge into enemy lines with sword raised high and a battle-cry on their lips – but how viable is it for your expensive character model to be at the front of a unit?
Being at the front of a unit in 40K poses numerous (potentially fatal) issues nowadays. Since wounds roll back through the unit, the leading models will be biting the vast majority of the firepower – and, unlike in Epic, wounds only roll back once the first model has been killed, so you can’t allocate that lasgun hit on your Chaos Lord and the meltagun on the poor marine behind him! This leads to most commanders faring better in the ‘second rank’, as it were, where they have a few bodies in front of them to soak up wounds and keep them from being shot down by the enemy. There’s exceptions, of course – Necron Lords in particular spring to mind with their 2+ armour save and 3+ invulnerable – but for the most part, if a unit’s going to be taking more than a few shots the commander’s often better off in the midst of the unit.
This doesn’t necessarily necessitate a ‘Skaven approach’ to gaming though. If your commander’s fairly central / near the front of the unit, s/he’ll be in a perfect position to move ahead and lead an assault, ensuring that they’ll be in combat and bringing their formidable fighting skills to bear. Even if your assault roll isn’t high enough to get the commander into base-to-base contact, they should still be within striking range – and if not, well, that’s what challenges were devised for!
Of course, all the above assumes that your commander is a combat machine whose prowess in combat is such that even a Bloodthirster would quake before them! Many commanders are far better off staying back – Imperial Guard officers, for example, or Tau Etherals. It’s sometimes worth keeping the rest of the unit arranged with them in mind – for example, any Thousand Sons Sorcerers I have with the Bolt of Change tend to be in the middle of their Rubric bodyguard (to soak up any hits) yet with enough space between the marines in front of them that their beam attack can still hit enemy units without passing through my own models. So while it’s often better for characters to hold fast in the middle of a unit, I think it’s still worth keeping them near the front and ready to lead that glorious charge. And I’l OK with that :)