If you haven’t played any of the 500pt Combat Patrol missions yet, you are missing out on a great new way to play 40k. These games are fast, surprisingly dynamic, and highly tactical. I admit that I was a little worried that the Combat Patrol format would either just be a dice game or would come down to rock-paper-scissors list construction where both players could tell who was going to win just by looking at the lists before the game started. My experience so far has been that neither of these things is true. In 9th edition, 500pt play presents many of the same tactical considerations as 2000pt play but with a much faster pace.
The big difference between the 500pt format and larger games is that in a small game almost every decision you make is critical. To put it another way, mistakes are catastrophic. For example, in one 500pt game I played recently, I moved my Shinning Spears too far forward on the first turn in order to score both a primary and a secondary objective; (I was counting on my opponent’s tiny unit of Custodes failing a charge roll.) It felt like a really dodgey choice at the time, but the reality of my bad decision was made manifest three minutes later when my Spears were completely annihilated in a single round of combat after my opponent sensibly rerolled the failed charge. At that point, I had pretty much lost the game.
I actually love this about Combat Patrol games. Because turns happen so rapidly and because consequences are so significant, it’s easy to identify what works and what doesn’t; these games will make you a better player. And if you do lose because of a single bad choice, it’s no big deal. 500pt are over so fast that you can play three of four in an evening, so knowing you have blown one of the them with a single stupid move doesn’t matter.
I need to mention one more reason that I love this format before I get into exactly how to approach 500pt list building as a Craftworlds player. The low number of units on the table makes it easy to keep track of relevant stratagems and combos, (not just your own but your opponent’s too!) As a result, 500 point games frequently have the mental intensity of a good chess match, which generally only happens in 2000pt play if both players are veterans with encyclopedic knowledge of one another’s units. This makes 500pt games ideal for new players who want to master particular combos and tactics without having to keep track of twelve different unit profiles and 15 relevant stratagems while not forgetting to roll their feel-no-pain saves or whatever. Also, losing over and over again simply because your opponent can continuously “gotcha” you with powerful stratagems or unit abilities is less likely to happen in 500 point play, where you can quickly learn what every one of your opponent’s units can do and which stratagems are most likely to appear. 500pt play is a great way for new players to learn 40k and for experienced players to hone their skills.
A Few General Notes on Combat Patrols
1) Durable Units Have Added Value
Because players have so few units on the field, losing one can be pretty devastating. As a result, durable units with a good invulnerable save are gold. Think Wraithblades with Ghost Axes.
2) Monsters and Vehicles Without Declining Profiles Have Added Value
Vypers and Warwalkers fight just as well with 1 wound remaining as they do with 6 wounds remaining, which makes them especially strong when you only have a small handful of heavy weapons.
3) Low Movement Values are Less of a Problem
With such a small board and objective-driven victory conditions, even very slow units like wraithguard have no trouble getting into the fray turn 2. Hard-hitting durable units whose only drawback is that they are slow-moving are a total bargain in 500pt play. The drawback is that factions with many such units, like Custodes, can be monstrous to play against in small games, which is all the more reason to bring lumbering beat-sticks of your own.
4) Deepstrikers are Even More Powerful
With so few models on the table, it is very difficult to spread out and prevent deepstrikers from appearing in your backfield or within charge-distance of a vulnerable unit. As a result, units that can deepstrike, especially those that can do so without spending CP, are especially useful.
5) The Big One: You Probably Need to Switch Up Your Preferred Secondary Objectives
You might find that your go-to secondary objectives are less viable in 500pt play.
For example, “Engage on All Fronts” is almost a necessity for a 2000pt Craftworlds list, but in 500pt games what few units you have are likely to need to be in very particular places each turn in order to contest primary objectives while remaining alive, and those locations might not conveniently line up with the requirements for this secondary objective. You can still make “Engage on All Fronts” viable, but you really have to build your list around it to do so, and even then you may struggle to score points as you inevitably lose one or two units early on.
The psychic objects also become dubious in low-point play. You probably only have room for one psyker in your list, and scoring psychic objectives requires you to give up casting, which is a big sacrifice for an army that relies on its psykers. Psychic objectives might still make sense if you are running a warlock skyrunner, who only has one worthwhile cast and baby smite, but you want to think carefully about this path before taking it.
One of my favorite secondary objectives for Combat Patrol play is “Teleport Homer,” as you can deepstrike a reasonably cheap infantry unit into an obscure corner of your opponent’s backfield and rack up 4 points per turn. In order to prevent this, your opponent needs to divert resources away from the engagement, which may give you leverage the more valuable primary objectives. Good 40k players consistently force their opponents to make choices between 2 almost equally bad outcomes. (Also of note: “Teleport Homer” might actually be a rare 9th edition use for a single unit of rangers if you don’t plan to take any other troops or even a unit of scorpions if you only have exactly 65 points to spare.)
You also need to remain flexible about secondaries going into a match as each of the Combat Patrol missions in the core book comes with a unique secondary objective that you can select, while your other secondary choices may change based on what your opponent brings to the table. For example, if three or more bikes or other super light vehicles turn up for the battle, “Bring it Down” becomes a good option. As such, you need to familiarize yourself with the secondary objectives before the game so you can make good decisions when it comes time to make a selection.
Last Note: don’t shy away from an objective because it can only score you 8 or even 6 points as you would in a 2K game. A secondary objective that can reliably score you 6 points without diverting resources from your primary objective game or altering your list-building is probably worth taking in 500pt play, especially if you have one or two other secondaries likely to score you more.
How to Build a Craftworlds List for a 500 point game
Building an effective 500pt list is a much like building a 2k list; it’s a matter of thinking about what obstacles your list is likely to encounter and making sure it has ways to overcome them. With so few points at your disposal, however, every unit needs to offer an effective answer to one or more of these obstacles. Here are some questions you should ask yourself during list construction:
1) How will my army play the primary objective game?
All of the combat patrol missions feature 4 objectives that are scored during your command phase starting turn 2. You get 5 points for controlling one, 5 more for controlling 2, and another 5 for controlling more than your opponent. (Consider also that this last objective is worth even more mathematically because scoring it by definition means you are also preventing you opponent from scoring at least 5 points. In two-player games, preventing your opponent from scoring is the same as scoring yourself.)
This means that if you can control at least 2 objectives on turns 2 and 3 while shooting your opponent off at least 1, you will win the game except in the most bizarre of circumstances. You don’t necessarily achieve this outcome in the most obvious way, however, which would be to cluster all of your units on two objectives and shoot at enemies on a third. Instead, you might want to threaten all the objectives, or at least three of them so that your opponent needs to divide her resources to meet your challenge. Alternatively, you may only seek to tie your opponent on primary objectives, but win the secondary objective game.
You also need to consider how you will defend objectives once you hold them, which leads to our next questions.
2) How will my objective-holders deal with potent melee threats?
The board is so small in 500pt games that melee units, even slow melee units like wraithgurad, have no trouble reaching combat on turn 2. If your opponent has claws and teeth and swords at her disposal, your forward-most objective holders are going to be tangling with them turn 2. Also, because melee units fight on both players turns, their damage output is significantly higher than that of shooting units once they are engaged. What are you going to do about 15 genestealers or some terminators with axes the size of a volkswagon beatle?
The most obvious solution is a robust melee unit of your own. Wraithblades with ghost axes, especially with PROTECT cast on them can take a serious beating without giving up much ground. If you fan them out in a “V” shape 2.5 inches in front of an objective you should be able to hold it against most challengers at least for a couple of turns.
Alternatively, you could try to melt away from engagement when challenged by powerful melee units and shoot the hell out of them before your opponent can score at the beginning of her next command phase. This tactic requires a highly mobile force with brutal fire output and might be unreliable if your opponent is running an army with lots of invulnerable saves.
3) How will my objective holders deal with potent shooting armies.
It’s all well and good to move a unit of Dire Avengers onto your backfield objective turn 1, but what happens when your opponent hoses them with 30 S3 -1AP shots at long range? You need to make sure that you have ways to hold objectives against armies that have high fire output and effective indirect fire.
This is why invulnerable saves and feel-no-pain rolls are so valuable in small games, as are units with good defensive stats that pay relatively few points per wound. Against that shooting army I just mentioned maybe your Dire Avengers start the game in deepstrike, and instead on turn 1 you park 3 Shining Spears with “Expert Rider” on that backfield objective and cast PROTECT on them for a 2++ invuln save against shooting.
Whatever you do, if you come up against a shooting army don’t just shrug and say “my exarch has Battle Fortune, so I’ll hope for hot dice.” That way lies ruin and defeat.
5) What if my opponent brings something big and tough?
You don’t need enough heavy weapons fire to be able to eliminate a space marine dreadnought in a single turn, but you should have some way to damage robust units preferably at range. I like Star Cannons and AMLs because they can damage hard targets, but are still useful against opponents that aren’t running tanks and monsters.
That said, another strategy for dealing with big tough units is to ignore them. There are some tanks, for example, that don’t hit hard enough to constitute a serious threat. If your opponent parks a tank on his backfield objective, you might be better off focusing on killing off her other units, the ones with “Objective Secured.” Even better, avoid presenting any target to the tank except for units with good Invuln. saves, like Wraithblades or Spears with PROTECT.
6) What if my opponent brings a horde of low cost units with “objective secured”?
This one can really be a challenge. Do you have a way to deal with 50 Tyranid termagants in squads of 10 all with “Objective Secured?” Powerful melee units that can shred fragile enemies on both players’ turns can be a good option here, as well as BLAST weapons like the AML. A Farseer who can cast both SMITE and EXECUTIONER is also valuable against hordes.
2) What secondary objectives will I favor and how will I score them?
I already talked a bit about secondaries in the General Notes section, so I am not going to rehash it all here. Just remember that you need to consider secondaries while you are building your list, not just afterward. For example, “Teleport Homer” will not be viable unless you have included a unit of low-cost infantry that can deepstrike without CP.
7) Have you considered your meta?
Ultimately, you will not be able to build a list that can bring the Asuryani A-game against all comers. You will need to slant your list towards dealing with the armies you are mostly likely to encounter in your local play group. There is a delicate balance between building a list that is both flexible and fine-tuned for the most likely challengers. If you know you will come up against lots of marines, for example, take Star Cannons instead of AMLs and so on.
Our Best Units for 500pt Play
Most of our best units in small games are the same ones that are most effective in 2000 points lists, but there are a few key differences in how you choose from among these units.
Here is a quick run-down of the go-to units for Combat Patrol Missions.
The space elf necromancer is my own personal favorite HQ for Combat Patrol play. He is only 60 points, can cast full SMITE, has better stats than a warlock, and naturally buffs the unit of wraithblades that he is likely to travel with. Also, because the board is so small, the Spiritseer’s limited mobility relative to that of a Warlock Skyrunner is no longer much of a sacrifice. If you make a Spiritseer your warlord, give him the trait “Seer of the Shifting Vector” so he can reroll his psychic powers without spending CP.
The Farseer on foot with Falchou’s Wing:
The footseer with the cheater wings is another fantastic option. This elf is a powerful psyker with good mobility and deadly offensive powers in such a small game. I like giving either GUIDE, DOOM, or FORTUNE along with EXECUTIONER. The Farseer can travel behind a small unit of Shinning Spears dealing 3D3 mortal wounds per turn with SMITE and EXECUTIONER while also enhancing the spears with FORTUNE if you spend a CP. In a 500pt game, 3D3 mortal wounds is a wrecking ball.
The Warlock Skyrunner:
This option is inexpensive and highly mobile. The WS can stay out of line-of-site while buffing your units with PROTECT and in the late game can grab undefended primary objectives. The Phoenix Gem relic will help keep this fragile elf alive and “Seer of the Shifting Vector” will make casting more reliable. Although I personally find the Spiritseer has greater utility (and is 5 points cheaper,) the bike warlock can more easily escape if things go pear-shaped for the escort unit.
A NOTE ON PSYKERS
-PROTECT has extra utility in 500pt games as your opponent often will not be able to just ignore the protected unit and shoot something else. PROTECT works especially well on units with an invulnerable save like a Dire Avenger Exarch, Wraithblades with ghost axes and shields, or Shining Spears with “Expert Rider.”
-If you are running the Farseer, consider paying 1CP for the stratagem “Unparalleled Mastery” that lets you cast an additional power. Mortal wounds are a powerful tool with so few models on the table so getting off SMITE each turn can be a game-changer.
As our cheapest and most durable troop option, a unit of 5 Dire Avengers is almost certainly going to be the way to go for a Combat Patrol. On a terrain-rich board, they can hold an objective that is out of line-line-of-sight and then emerge to lay down some late-game fire power that might even do some good. If your opponent brings a horde, DAs can go on the offensive using those shuriken catapults to cut up termagants, ork boyz, pox walkers, or whatever. In rare cases, it’s even worth paying a CP to use DAs as late game deepstrikers to seize an objective in your opponent’s deployment zone, as some missions reward that tactic handsomely.
Under very specific circumstances you might consider ten guardians or 5 scouts in place of the DAs. Against a horde army that avoids melee, guardians can do some damage and be preserved with the “Celestial Shield” stratagem and PROTECT, but they are easily slaughtered in close combat, which is easy to initiate against them as they have a 12″ range. Rangers are a good pick if you know that you want to deepstrike them into your opponent’s backfield to score “Teleport Homer,” but they are less survivable than Avengers under fire. DAs are without a doubt your most flexible option for an all-comers list.
Wraithblades with Axes and Shields:
Despite being costly at 200pts, these tenacious ghost-golems have been the anchor of every one of my most successful 500pt lists. Wraithblades can grab a midfield objective turn 2 and hold it reliably against all comers for 2 turns, especially if you cast PROTECT on them to raise their invulnerable save to a 3++. The usual disadvantage of Wraithblades with axes and shields, (that they only have 2 attacks and hit of 4+,) is hugely mitigated by the “Hunters of Ancient Relics” custom craftworld trait, which boosts their damage output by 50% as well as “Expert Crafters” which gives them a couple of rerolls. If you also have them team up with a Spiritseer warlord to reroll hit rolls of ones, they are absolute monsters.
The only significant drawback Wraithblades face in the objective game is that they don’t have “Objective Secured.” You can mitigate this by positioning them in a “V” patters in front of the objective marker such that they are just barely able to score it. Units engaged with them will struggle to get within range of the objective, at least in the first turn of combat.
Note: it’s worth taking “Hunters of Ancient Relics” just for the Wraithblades, but it can also give a minimum squad of Shining Spears a nice damage boost.
The versatility of Shining Spears makes them one of the best options for small games where you have limited resources at your disposal and yet need to be ready for a variety of enemy builds. Spears pose a threat to light infantry, heavy infantry, tanks, monsters, wandering characters, pretty much everything. They can also be used to sit on an objective in your backfield in full view of the enemy heavy weapons so long as you take the exarch trait “expert rider” and cast PROTECT on them for a 2++ invulnerable save against shooting. This is an especially strong tactic on turn 1 where your opponent’s heavy weapons might only have a single target available to them. Spears also make good deepstrikers if you select the exarch trait “swooping dive” and save a command point for a charge reroll.
Unless you see an opportunity to trade your Spears for something that really has to die, be conservative with them. They are at their best when they are nipping around the margins of the field picking off enemy units that have strayed too far from melee support, and Spears are especially powerful in the late game. So be cautious; it’s quite easy to get your Spears killed in the first two turns by making a heroic cavalry charge. That charge is generally followed by a melee counterpunch and Spears don’t hold up well against powerful melee units.
In 500pt games, a minimum squad of the 3 Spears is especially effective, especially as they only cost 105pts.
Vypers are an inexpensive way to bring more heavy weapons fire to the table even after you have used up your two heavy support slots. They also have good durability for their cost with T5 6wounds, a 3+ save, and no declining profile. I advise running them in squads of 1 with “Expert Crafters” and the AML for versatility.
A pair of War Walkers run as individual units each with two star cannons and “Expert Crafters” is currently my favorite heavy support option for 500pt games. The fact that they can deepstrike if they need to means they always get first crack at the enemy anywhere on the field and also help with board control. They are highly efficient for the points.
You might be thinking that the Aeldari Missile Launcher is a better investment in a limited list that needs to be highly flexible, but I have found that on Warwalkers the star cannons perform better in part because you can fire them even if your warwalker is charged by a melee unit. Also, Star Cannons are better at dealing with heavy infantry like marines and custodes that are so popular at the moment.
Honorable Mention: Falcons & Wave Serpents, Dark Reapers, Heavy Support Weapons
I feel obligated to put Falcons and Wave Serpents on this list because in some metas they perform very well as midfield objective holders that can crash into units of enemy infantry to force those units to fall back or sacrifice shooting. In my own meta, I have found that there are too many powerful melee units that will tear these tanks apart in a single battle round. With no invuln save and declining profiles, Falcons and Wave Serpents are not as universally strong an investment as Walkers and Vypers, but they in certain metas they may be strong.
Dark Reapers have impressive damage output for their points and can be particularly effective in metas with lots of heavy infantry and bikes with 2 or 3 wounds. The reason that Reapers don’t quite make the A-list cut in small games is that they are too fragile and CP-intensive. With so few models on the table, it’s hard to insulate them from deepstrikers and even if your opponent doesn’t run deepstikers, the go-to strategems for keeping Reapers alive, (“Fire and Fade,” and “Lightening Fast Reactions,”) are each 2CP which is problematic in Combat Patrol play where you start with only 3CP. That said, against particular opponents and lists, Reapers have the potential to basically win the game for you turn 1.
Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to support weapons. The Shadow Weaver especially can sit on an objective totally out of line-of-site while providing support fire. Just from the perspective of points-per-wounds alone, the Shadow Weaver is strong: T5, 4+ save, 5 wounds. That’s a pretty robust objective holder at only 10 points per wound.
You might also consider a D-Cannon as it too can target units out of line-of-site and at HeavyD3, S12, -4AP D6 damage, it packs a brutal punch. That said, I would only run the D-Cannon in a tank and monster heavy meta and only with “Expert Crafters,” as for similar points you could get a War Walker.
A final unit suggestion:
Hornets: I don’t usually mention Forgeworld options on this website because the Craftworlds Codex alone already has more than enough units for a player new to the faction to learn, but it bares mentioning that Hornets are great pick for 500pt games. These light tanks are relatively cheap and each one puts out six S6 -3AP 2Damage shots per turn. They hit about as hard as Dark Reapers, but they are cheaper and much tougher.
A SAMPLE LIST: Wrath of the Necromancer
Custom Craftworld Traits: Hunters of Ancient Relics, Expert Crafters
Spiritseer with the psychic power PROTECT/JYNX, the Warlord Trait “Seer of Shifting Vector,” and the relic Faolchu’s Wing
5 Dire Avengers with the exarch power “Battle Fortune.” (May start in deepstrike)
5 Wraithblades with ghost Axes and Shields
Fast Attack: 105pts
3 Shining Spears with the exarch power “Expert Rider”
Heavy Support: 70pts
Warwalker with 2 starcannons (Usually starts in deepstrike)
So there you have it. Combat Patrols are lots of fun and a great way to improve your game, but you need to think a little differently about list building as you prepare for your first foray into these much smaller and therefore more exclusive engagements.
Feel free to drop me a note using the Contact tab above if you want to send me a picture of your 500pt army, share some useful discoveries, or ask a question about a list that is giving you trouble.