Welcome to Horus Heresy Tactica, our series that provides a deep dive in a specific mechanic, interaction or aspect of play in Warhammer: the Horus Heresy.
This is our second article in a mini series on the assault phase, the most complex and confusing of the phases. Last week we looked at the Charge sub-phase, where you made it into combat (or didn’t). Today we’re looking hard at the Fight sub-phase, and the outcomes of assaults.
Now you (the active player) pick a combat at a time to resolve, rather like you picked units to charge (though they don’t have to be in the same order, and you can resolve combats that are ongoing and those that begun this turn in whatever order you like). When you pick a combat to resolve, all the participants fight.
Fighting a combat isn’t really a case of all the participants throwing out attacks, because it’s broken down into initiative steps. Starting with the highest initiative in the combat you resolve all attacks at that initiative, then at the next highest, and so on until you’ve resolved attacks at the lowest initiative present in the combat. This absolutely means some models might not get to fight at all if they’re killed in early initiative steps, which can be a shock to players coming from Warhammer 40,000 in particular.
Before we look at what happens in each initiative step let’s have a look at the things that determine what step you’re fighting in. Every model has an Initiative stat if it can fight in combats, and that’s the baseline you start with, but a lot of modifiers can crop up.
Here’s an (inevitably incomplete) list of the common modifiers to initiative:
- Charged through difficult terrain: all your attacks are at Initiative 1 if you do this, unless you have wargear or a special rule that says otherwise (the most common one is Frag Grenades on marines).
- Unwieldy: makes you fight at initiative 1 – it doesn’t modify your stat (so primarchs can’t ignore it), just makes you fight then.
- Sudden Strike (x): weapons with sudden strike give you a bonus to your initiative characteristic of x if you charged this turn. Since this is a special rule that is determined by a charge, a Disordered Charge will stop this working.
- Reach (x): weapons increase your initiative by x if you choose to fight with them, which is great for getting the drop on your opponents.
Because your weapon determines what step you fight in, and you can’t split your attacks between different weapons, if you have several weapons to choose from you need to decide when the initiative step comes up for that weapon if you’re using it or not.
When an initiative step comes up that some models are going to fight in, the first pile in. If they’re then in base contact with an enemy model, or within coherency of a model in base contact with an enemy model, they can fight. This is important because it means a couple of things:
- you need to be a bit careful about the arrangement of your models if you’re getting into a fight and have different initiatives at play – you can’t pile in with models until their initiative step comes up, so you can accidentally block off your faster fighters from getting stuck in
- units with larger coherencies (like Skirmish sub-types) can actually get into fights more easily, as they don’t need to be so close to a model in base contact with an enemy model
Once you’ve worked out what models can fight, work out how many attacks they make. This is worked out by:
- Their base attacks characteristic
- +1 for having a second weapon (accounting for Specialist weapons and other rules like Two-handed)
- +1 for having charged (as long as the charge wasn’t disordered)
- bonuses from special rules like Reaping Blow (x), Counter-Attack (x) and Spite of the Legion (among others)
If you have combatants all fighting with the same weapon and stats you can roll them together, otherwise you’ll need to split them up and roll them separately. You then resolve this like a shooting attack – that means rolling hits and wounds and then forming wound pools.
When you have a wound pool, your opponent allocates wounds from it to models in the unit you’re fighting that are engaged (technically one at a time, but you can fast roll if all the saves and so on are the same) until the wound pool is exhausted. They do this for all the wound pools you generate from models fighting at this initiative step, and you do it for all the ones they generate, and this is resolved simultaneously in the same step. So everyone fighting at the same initiative step gets to fight.
One quirk to note (and thanks to the comments for reminding me to mention this) is that you can only remove models that are engaged. This means that if your high initiative fighter is only engaged with a couple of models because the rest haven’t piled in yet, only those two can be removed and any remaining wounds are lost.
Perhaps worse there’s some real removal shenanigans that can happen here. If I remove the three models that are in base contact with a unit, the models behind (that were, until this moment, engaged) no longer are – they’re not within engagement range of a model in base contact because there are no models in base contact. Remember that wound pool is allocated one at a time! So any more wounds are lost.
However once that’s done and casualties have been removed, you move onto the next initiative step until all models in the units fighting have fought. When this is done, it’s time to move onto the assault results.
But What Does it Achieve?
So you’ve fought hard, you’ve (hopefully) killed some bad  guys but what happens now?
Well, now you count up the wounds each unit has inflicted (including the full wounds lost in the case of instant death) and see which has done more. If one side as more than the other, then they’ve won the combat. Their opponent must make a morale check with a penalty equal to the amount they lost by and see if they run away. If they do then you both immediately roll a die and add their Initiatives and if the victorious side gets more they catch the enemy as they flee and sweep them, removing them from the board entirely. If they’re not swept, they roll 2d6 and move that many inches away If it’s a draw none of this happens and the two units remain locked in place. Of course there are so many exceptions to this process, so let’s go through them one step at a time.
First of all, counting up those wounds you inflicted. There are a bunch of modifiers to this total with the most common being ubiquitous wargear like Vexilla, but the source of these modifiers can come from everything from warlord traits to unit special rules to almost anything else. These modifiers can be extremely valuable – if you manage to have something like a +2 to your assault result then you can lose the fight comparatively badly and still hold your ground.
Speaking of holding your ground, there are of course a bunch of reasons why the losing side might not take a morale check, or might take it in a different way. Fearless is the key one – whole types and subtypes of units will always hold their ground (dreadnoughts: not known for running away) while a bunch of units have this special rule as an added extra to their profile. Even if they don’t a lot of units have Stubborn or Inexorable which means that how much you lost the fight by doesn’t matter – you’re always testing at full leadership. This is one of the reasons why terminators are so good in combat by the by, it’s not just that they’re tough it’s that even if you put some of them down the chances of them running are minimal.
But assuming one side does run we get to sweeping advances. First of all they are optional, though why you wouldn’t do one is beyond me – unless you’re in cataphractii armour of course, where you can’t sweep even if you want to, which is a mark against it. Secondly there are again a bunch of special rules that impact this – Crusader is the big one, which makes units just absurdly madly good at sweeping advances. If you’re swept though that’s the Big Bad. The unit is just done, no saves no mitigation nothing, it’s removed from the board. Being swept is the ultimate loss. So how can you avoid it?
Well, picking your battles is key, of course, but so is Fearless. There are a surprising number of ways of making a key unit fearless, especially with consuls (heralds and champions both make units they’re in fearless, with some caveats), and some of making them stubborn (hello chaplains). Of course Mechanicum armies are laughing all the way to the bank since almost all their units are fearless thanks to the Automata type.
If no one wins and you remain locked in combat that’s it for now, come back next player turn to fight again. But if someone has won and the enemy has run (whether they got swept or not) or is just wiped out, it’s time for consolidation. A consolidation move is very simply just a move equal to your Initiative stat in any direction you like. You absolutely do not have to chase after that unit running away, and this is a great moment to reposition and set up for the next combat or encounter.
The fight sub-phase is probably the simplest part of the entire affair as long as you remember that attacks build up a wound pool and then those wounds are assigned to models, and that everyone is fighting as a unit. That said there’s a just a lot of stuff going on here, and it’s easy to lose track – hopefully this deep dive helps you do so in the heat of battle.