One of the most interesting new parts of 8th Edition was the integration of command points into the game. Earned via the detachments you take and spent on various once-per-phase abilities, command points represent an entirely new system of resources for players to play around with during the list-building step and over the course of a game. But how should you be using them, and how many is enough? In this next part of our Pieces of 8th series, we’ll be looking at the subject in a bit more depth.
Warhammer 40K, like most types of strategy games, is at its heart a game of resource management. That may not sound particularly exciting when said like that, but most games are based on the idea of giving players a finite set of resources- actions, turns, cards, points, etc- and then presenting them with the different paths towards using those resources in the most efficient way possible. So, at its most fundamental level, the command point system isn’t anything new; indeed, it shares a lot in common with the warp charge allocation systems of 7E and 2E as well as the faith points of 3E Witchhunters in terms of its general structure.
However, for most players command points are something rather unusual, a pool of points that refresh between games and allow them to enhance the effectiveness of their units. So it’s worth examining some of the outfalls of the system and understanding where, when, and why we ought to be spending our command points in order to get the best use out of them. I will be focusing mainly on their uses for the stratagems of the core rulebook, as most armies do not yet have access to unique stratagems of their own. (We will, however, talk about these codex stratagems in brief later.)
If we’re looking at the ways to get the most out of our command points, what we usually are looking at is the Command Re-Roll stratagem, which gives us a once-per-phase reroll of any single die we want (including rerolling one die out of a 2d6 or 3d6 roll, where appropriate.) But the crux of the problem is when do you spend that command point on something? With only one reroll available per phase- and a relatively small pool of points to draw on over the course of a game- how and when we choose to take those rerolls can be critically important. It can be the difference between a model dying or living to fight another turn, between holding an objective and losing it, or between a psychic power failing and it going off.
So, I’m gonna lay out some general rules of thumb here, along with explanations for why they exist. That doesn’t mean you’ll should never break them- they are, after all, only general rules- but if you understand the reasoning behind them then you should also be able to start to figure out when you should violate them to some more-specific purpose in your game. They aren’t precisely in order, but in general the hierarchy of what you’ll want to be considering works its way down from the top.
Rule #1: Reroll on big dice, not on small ones.
This one is pretty simple. You can only reroll one die per phase, but not all dice are equal. With many weapons dealing multiple damage these days, you’re generally going to be better off taking a reroll on a Lascannon or other big gun than you will against a Bolter or the like. This one may seem obvious, but far too often I see players violate it because they feel frustrated failing a 2+ or 3+ save on one of their models. While it’s never fun to take three or four wounds on some Terminators from Boltguns, that single rerolled die is not going to alter the outcome very much, so you’re probably better off not bothering. So where possible, you are going to reroll a die on a something that
Rule #2: Reroll on your best number, not your worst.
Oftentimes, you’ll be shooting multiple guns at the enemy and have several chances to reroll over the course of the attack- but which step is the most effective to use them on? The short answer is, you want to reroll when you have the best chance of the reroll succeeding- an answer which should make sense if you think about it for a bit. If you are firing several Lascannons at someone’s HQ in an attempt to get rid of them, it is better to reroll your 2+ to-wound roll than it is your 3+ to-hit roll. In both cases, you have already failed the roll- but a 2+ has an 83% chance of improving from a failure, whereas the 3+ only has a 66% chance to do so.
In general, you will not want to waste a command point on any roll that is 5+ or worse- your odds of succeeding simply aren’t good enough to expect it to do anything, except in unusual situations.
Rule #3: Rerolling a miss or failed wound is better than doing so for damage. Rerolling number of shots is better than doing so for a miss/wound.
The math on this one is a little bit more complicated, but it comes back around to the same fundamental idea: you want the highest possible improvement to what you’re doing. If you’re shooting several Lascannons at a critical target and one of them misses or fails to wound, you probably are better off taking the reroll on that miss than you are at a later step with damage (unless you’re already hitting it with so much firepower that you’ll likely vaporize it in this single volley.) Rerolling damage is an improvement of margin, since you will always deal at least one wound with the hit- even if you’re rerolling a ‘1’ on a d6 damage weapon, your improvement of damage is essentially d6-1, or in other words a range from zero to five. But a reroll on a hit or wound roll is a potential improvement of d6 damage- a range from one to six, in other words, and thus greater magnitude than our damage reroll. We thus fall back to Rule #1: reroll on big dice. Similarly, rerolling a single shot’s hit or wound roll is, at most, giving you one “bonus shot” from your second chance there- but rerolling the number of shots you get can easily add two or more extra shots beyond what you initially got, provided you aren’t getting greedy and rerolling 3s or 4s.
(One caveat here: sometimes extraordinarily-bad rolls on damage can mean you fail to kill a target, such as three Lascannons going through on a wounded transport and leaving it alive. If you roll snake eyes on your damage result, it may be worthwhile to reroll one of those dice in an attempt to finish the target off without having to dedicate other guns to it- but this will depend on what other guns you have available and how much better your roll needs to be to finish the job. If you hit a tank with two wounds remaining and get a ‘1’ on damage, you can probably go for it- but if you need to do six damage and do only three, probably not. Always know your math on things so you can refer back to Rule #2 in these cases.)
Rule #4: Reroll on big units, not on small ones.
This one is largely relevant in the defensive sense (e.g. saving throws or similar special rules), and as before it may seem obvious but isn’t always: use your rerolls to affect the most important possible models. Usually this means vehicles, monsters, and characters, all of whom can have critical effects on a battle no matter how damaged, but sometimes it can apply to that single model carrying a heavy weapon, too. In cases where a single roll affects the whole unit (e.g. number of shots with a Burna, charge distance, etc) this rule can also apply- once again, what we care about most is the magnitude of the effect from our reroll. Saving a single squad member from death isn’t going to be a big deal; but saving a single Titanic model most certainly will be.
Rule #5: Reroll where it changes things, not where it doesn’t.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes at this point about the level of advice here, but I wouldn’t be saying these things if I didn’t see players violate them so often. Sometimes, a unit is doomed- they’re standing in the open in front of all the enemy’s guns, or they’re in combat with a powerful melee unit, or otherwise facing such overwhelming firepower coming in that there’s no reasonable way to expect them to survive. So just… don’t. Don’t reroll those saves in hopes of a miracle unless you’ve already passed so many of them that it qualifies as one already. If you have six Lascannons pointed at your HQ, don’t bother trying to reroll that 5++ save of yours unless you’ve already passed four of the saves; it simply won’t change anything otherwise.
The same goes for the other way around- if you have an abundance of guns that can shoot one target and can’t be aimed elsewhere (because they don’t have line of sight, or range, or they won’t be effective on other targets) don’t worry about failing to hurt your target with some of them. It may seem frustrating to miss and fail to wound with five of your six Dark Lances, but if the sixth one kills the target and they had nowhere else to shoot, what does it matter?
Rule #6: Reroll early and often.
The I-go-you-go system of 40K has always heavily favored the early turns of the game; armies that can wipe out their opponent with an alpha (or beta) strike can essentially just coast through the remainder of the match on the virtue of their successes in that single game turn. But even for armies that don’t focus on these sorts of strategies, the early turns are the most important ones because of the linear nature of things- a unit that is destroyed on turn 2 doesn’t get to make rolls on turns 3, 4, or 5. As a result, the best strategy for spending your command points will typically be to bias them towards the early turns of the game, when most of the big punchers are still functioning and the major action is occurring. While there is some value in saving a point or two for the late game, where lots of single rolls predominate due to units suffering attrition, very often the reality is that if you can take the advantage early, the game won’t ever get to that point. Use your command points, both offensively and defensively, to do what you can in the early game and you’ll find it often works out better.
Rule #7: Look forward when considering if you’ll reroll.
This is the flip side of the above, in many ways- even when focusing on an early-game strategy, you still need to be considering the long-term implications of things. If your psyker suffers Perils now, those d3 wounds are unlikely to kill them… but what will it mean later on, when you’re taking firepower from the enemy? Will the damage you take from a failed save be enough to drop you down a tier on your stats, or are other guns going to do the same anyways regardless of the consequences of this roll? Do you have ways to restore wounds to this model, or are losses permanent? Is this model even likely to suffer damage later in the game, or will other protections (character status, blocking terrain, higher-priority units) mean it is not going to be the focus of the enemy’s attentions? This can be particularly relevant for models that provide important buffs (psychic powers, auras) that your army relies on as well as giving up the victory point for Slay the Warlord.
(Not listed here: Rule #0, reroll your attempt to Seize the Initiative if your local tournaments allow that. ITC does not, since it uses a more generous roll-off system for determining who goes first, but if you are playing the “standard” missions then you will usually benefit noticably from going first and thus spending a point to get an additional 16% chance at having top of turn is easily the single best reroll you can go for.)
Enough’s Enough’s Enough
So now we get to the next stage of things- you know how to spend command points, but how many of them should you have? Obviously “as many as possible,” but as always that involves tradeoffs against other factors in a list (firepower, unit count, etc) so we should get some idea of where our numbers lie.
At the very roughest level, most lists will be able to spend two command points per battle round (one on your own turn, one on the enemy turn)- this assumes that your army is focusing mostly on one phase of the game, which is usually true, and that your enemy is likewise doing most of their damage in a single phase and thus only giving you one major opportunity to spend a CP on their turn. But more realistically we could be spending up to four command points in one turn (psychic, shooting, assault, fight), so our “cap” is certainly going to be something above that.
A safe bet for most armies is that they will be able to spend 1-2 command points on one on the enemy turn without getting to the point of just wasting them; however, in a five-to-seven turn game, this can amount to a veritable mountain of CP spent, so very, very few lists will be able to manage anything like this many- even starting with 12CP (from a brigade) is on the upper limit of what you are likely to encounter in actual battles.
I typically aim for 6CP or more with a list- this gives enough to pull off some tricks without sacrificing all other concerns for the sake of having a ton of command points. However, it is worth thinking about what sorts of weapons and abilities you have at your disposal when considering this- if you have high-power weapons with lots of randomness built in (d6 shots or d6 damage) you have more reason to lean onto command points. Similarly, models with a very good save (3++) can also make excellent use of a reroll. But contrawise, if you have a lot of fixed-damage weapons or guns that hit automatically, you will have less reason to be spending CP on them- and if like Orks your innate accuracy is low, a reroll may also be of limited benefit to you.
It’s also important to remember that there are sometimes ways to finagle extra command points out of a list without actually changing any of the units in it- our own Matt-Shadowlord wrote an excellent article on the subject that is well worth reading. 8th Edition gives list-writers lots of puzzle pieces that can fit together different ways, so making best use of what you have is paramount. However, there are two basic rules of thumb that will cover most situations: A, three of any slot will earn you a new detachment; and B, taking a battalion/brigade is better than taking multiples of the other detachments.
So that brings us around to our final consideration, the one I said I’d put off for later: codex stratagems, All three of the codices released so far have some very strong stratagems in them and it can be a big boost to have a couple of extra command points laying around to make best use of these- however, they are also often very expensive compared to the 1CP for a reroll, so if you want to take real advantage of them you are going to need to take lists with a lot more starting resources. For some this isn’t too hard- CSM and SM both can lean on allies and cheap slot options to bring tons of extra punch, but Grey Knights will struggle more with it due to their expensive nature. Presumably future codices will be similar in character, so I think a trend towards having more command points available will be more the norm as the game goes on- powerful options like Strike from the Shadows and Endless Cacophony will definitely incentivize players to try and build a better resource pool (or tear through a smaller pool in one or two turns, hoping to blast the enemy out) in order to use them.
Command points are a powerful resource for players that use them right, but they can only be of as much help as you make them. If you spend your command points poorly or recklessly, you can quickly find yourself outclassed as the enemy passes critical rolls while you are simply dragged down. Make sure you know which rolls are important to the matchup your playing and act accordingly- if it’s critical that you keep your warlord alive in order to win on secondary objectives, save a CP or two for them. If it’s important that you break their tanks early in order to expose units inside to firepower, push that Melta wound through. If you need to get into close combat as soon as possible in so as to keep pressure on their list, have a point ready for that charge you’re making. Know what you need to do, and when, and where spending your command points will be most effective and you’ll have one more tool in your toolbox to try and tilt matches in your favor.