Little Wars: Combat Patrol Mission Gameplay in 9th

We’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to Strike Force missions in 9th edition, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about some of the other new ways to play 40k with smaller armies. In today’s article, we’re looking at Combat Patrol missions.

Among the many shakeups of 9th edition, one of the more interesting changes has been a new emphasis on being able to play 40k at different points values. Yes, in older editions you could play at any scale you wanted, but the game was clearly balanced around a specific value and so the level of balance you could achieve was often very strange or unfair and if you elected to play an official mission you’d be stuck on a huge table with little to work with. With 9th edition we now have two new game modes: Combat Patrol and Incursion, which give us rules and Matched Play missions for smaller games.

For players looking for something that allows them to use their new models or just play a fast game, these new mission variants are very handy and fun. For players used to competitive games at large scale, you may find that these play levels and missions have a surprising amount of depth. In this article, we’ll talk about these missions and our experiences playing games with them – what works, what doesn’t, and how to get the most out of them.

Combat Patrol terrain
A dense setup for Combat Patrol. Credit: Pendulin



Set-up and Deployment

As we mentioned in our previous article on the subject, there are positive and negative aspects to these missions with their smaller game scale. The 44″ x 30″ board size can make things feel extremely claustrophobic and some of the objective placement (and deployment maps) is scaled for a full 44×60″ board size which can translate to objectives in odds locations. Considering that the designers wanted to go with ease of use and “use the board size you want” it makes sense to standardize distances, but as you shrink the table for smaller games it just “looks” off.

After some initial apprehension we found that this wasn’t as big an issue as we feared: With fewer units to manage objectives, keeping them distant (even occasionally at 1″ from the table edge) makes things a bit more interesting than a general clash at the center of the table. The need for multiple fast-scoring units places a bit more weight on units that have flexibility, but interestingly also devalues the use of units with special movement abilities such as Infiltrators because just about any unit with a “normal” movement attribute can make it a good way across the table in a single turn. As you might expect, units and factions that can assault after advancing can be extremely powerful when they have such little distance to cover.


Combat Patrol Gameplay

A major part of the appeal of a Combat Patrol is the “40K in 40 minutes” style game, where you have a fast and furious battle that comes to a close with a pretty definitive winner most of the time. Army building is limited to a single patrol detachment with the exception of Knights armies, which can only take a single Super-Heavy detachment. Players receive 3 Command Points (CP) to work with.

Credit: Games Workshop

In addition to the detachment restriction, list building at 500 points is limited which can lead to making some difficult decisions and forces players to cut some of the more “flavorful” units in favor of better core choices. In a Matched Play environment, it’s likely each army will have one or two “heavy-hitter” units that will devastate the opposing force if given the chance to do so. There’s the potential for one player’s army or faction to vastly outmatch the other just by virtue of the rock-paper-scissors aspect of some units and weapons. The small army sizes means that games will often be decided well before Turn 5; one side simply won’t have enough units left to compete.

With every model on the table being more valuable it’s even more important to utilize terrain to mitigate losses. Compared to Incursion, armies in Combat Patrol use half the points spread over the same battlefield area, which means there should be less competition for cover and units will more easily fit behind terrain with the Obscuring trait. We highly recommend sticking with the rubric of 1 terrain piece per 12″ x 12″ square which for a 44″ x 30″ board translates to around 9 to 10 pieces of terrain. With the low model count it’s very important to avoid firing lanes that can cross the entire battlefield.

Placing units into Strategic Reserves at this game size may not be a wise decision, both because units don’t have that much ground to cover and you have so few units to start that even small choices can make the difference in active forces seem significant. That’s not to say that there’s not a place for it if you have a plan, but like all aspects at this point-level your choice for that unit or two will have a very large impact on the game. The small battlefield and relatively large 9″ (or more) denial bubble will makes positioning Strategic Reserves outside of your deployment zone difficult.

Grey Knights vs Tyranids
Grey Knights vs Tyranids
Credit: Pendulin

Due to the low model count and reduced overall damage output, mission secondary objectives at the Combat Patrol level can be tricky to achieve. This makes picking up points where you can all that much more important. Planning small (and likely disposable) infantry units for objective capture and actions can be very helpful. Even a lowly Servitor unit can swing the game if you keep them well protected as they go about their clandestine work. Some factions have cheap units as a default Troop choice, but others might want to get creative with units that are light on points. For Imperial forces this could mean spending 60 points on an Inquisitor with a bolt pistol and chainsword, and Custodes in particular could look into adding Sisters of Silence.

Unless you’re playing softer lists, with so few units Combat Patrol is the scale where you may just have a turn one/two blowout that leads to concession. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing–it’s pretty consistent with how games at this point value have played for ages but it’s likely why Combat Patrol has official Matched Play missions but did not receive any treatment for Grand Tournament. If you’re familiar enough with the rules to play without referencing materials, a single game should run you about 30-45 minutes. Since this is a much shorter time-frame than a “regular” scale game, it may be a good idea to come up with a few lists (including different factions if you have them available) to make things more interesting and potentially get in multiple games in a same session.


Combat Patrol Missions

The Core Book offers three missions specifically meant for the 500 point scale. Although the Grand Tournament packet does not include Combat Patrol missions, we still recommend using the GT Secondaries over those in the Core Rulebook. Overall these secondary objectives feel better designed and offer more options.

Incisive Attack

This mission has a rule that we feel should have been applied everywhere for games at the Combat Patrol scale: Sweep and Clear. Since you’re only playing with a handful of units and scoring objectives is a major part of the game, being able to plant a flag and move on (when not being threatened by encroaching enemies) is extremely freeing and opens the game up to more possibilities. Babysitting objectives with units isn’t part of a thrilling game and needing to commit a large percentage of your army to doing so just stings.

The mission secondary Surgical Assault is pretty solid if you can get it–hold your opponent’s objective marker at the end of your turn. 5 VP is a solid win if you can force your enemy away or lock them in combat with some ObSec unit(s), but it also feels like at the game size if your opponent has lost their backfield the game is likely won already.


Outriders can be played like any normal game and its secondary, Survey, lends to a nice split battle between two objective markers. Considering both players are already gunning for 3+ markers, it’s certainly not a bad option. Unlike the other missions this progressive objective is scored in your next turn (Command phase) instead of the end of your turn, so you can’t just sneak in a quick grab without reprisal.


This mission does not have any special rules on its own, but does have a unique deployment zone and objective marker arrangement that make things a bit interesting. The mission-specific Secondary Objective appropriately called Encircle really requires units with some speed, as you need both a unit back near your table edge and one to reach within 6″ from your opponent’s edge in order to score it at the end of your turn. Considering how sparse things are in terms of units, it’s possible you might be able to claim this one with either a great obscured spot or a tough enough unit to weather some fire. You are, however, asking your opponent to shoot/assault you as soon as possible. Another snag is that your unit must be wholly within the area, which might make larger units difficult to work with. You can get a bigger boost to your score if you have your unit wholly within their deployment zone, but I have a suspicion if you’re able to score that easily your enemy is already dead. It would be a little tricky to justify taking this objective, but I could see some faster armies doing well with it.



When it comes at list building at this level, it’s a good idea to have a general list with as many small units as you can comfortably fit. One thing that’s nice to try is to have each player build a small die-divisible number of lists (2, 3, 6, etc.) and roll off for random match-ups. Since the games are fast this can keep things fresh and interesting.

Kevin’s “If The Game Ever Makes It To Turn 3 They’re Gonna Have a Bad Time” White Scars

Space Marines Patrol (495pts, 2CP)
Chapter: White Scars

HQ: Primaris Chaplain (Master of Sanctity, Wise Orator, Plume of the Plainsrunner, Litanies: Catechism of Fire, Recitation of Focus, Litany of Hate, Strike off the Head)

Troop: Intercessor Squad (Auto Bolt Rifles, Auxiliary Grenade Launcher, Thunder Hammer)
Troop: Intercessor Squad (Auto Bolt Rifles, Auxiliary Grenade Launcher, Thunder Hammer)

Elite: Servitors
Elite: Servitors

HS: Eradicator Squad

The idea here is to provide a combination of melee and shooting that only gets nastier as the game moves on. The Eradicators can take advantage of Catechism and Fire as well as Recitation of Focus to address any major threats early on, and later when the game inevitably descends into melee you can use the Chaplain to provide very powerful auras via Litany of Hate and Strike off the Head. Both the Intercessors and Eradicators can Advance and shoot without penalty courtesy of the White Scar’s updated Lighting Assault Chapter Tactic, and if the game does make it to turn three then under the Assault doctrine the units will be attacking with +1D in melee. The Servitors serve as cheap objective sitter and action performers; at 28 points they combine very well with the 117 Intercessor Squads.

PierreTheMime’s “Yes I Brought a T8 Unit That Ignores LOS in Combat Patrol” Death Guard

Death Guard (500pts, 3CP)
Plague Company: Poxmongers

HQ: Malignant Plaguecaster (Warlord Trait: Arch Contaminator, Relic: Ironglot Furnace, Powers: Miasma of Pestilence, Putrescent Vitality)

Troop: 5x Plague Marine (2x Blight Launcher)
Troop: 10x Chaos Cultist
Troop: 10x Chaos Cultist

HS: Plagueburst Crawler (Plaguespitter)

Credit: PierreTheMime

This list provides a nigh-invulnerable murder machine Plagueburst Crawler to drive forward, sheltering the Plaguecaster who is granting it Nurgles boon as it goes. Poxmongers are a pretty standard company to see–aside from the 4++ it affords the PBC via relic, it also grants access to Bilious Bloodrush which allows your tank to engage and bully units and still back out and spread its blessings to all applicable targets in its next turn. Meanwhile, the Plague Marines are incredibly sturdy mid-field objective-holders and can take advantage of the ‘casters Arch Contaminator while they’re within range using either just the Blight Launchers or everything if you want to spring 1CP for Virulent Rounds. Overall just a tough list with an absolute monster you can shove down peoples throats.

PierreTheMime’s “Threat Saturation is Your Problem, Not Mine” Tyranids

Tyranids (497pts, 3CP)
Hive Fleet Jormungandr

HQ: Neurothrope (Relic: Resonance Barb, Powers: Catalyst, Smite)

Troop: 6x Tyranid Warrior (Adaptive Physiology: Enhanced Resistance, 6x Scything Talons, 4x Deathspitters, 2x Venom Cannon)
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarms
Troop: 3x Ripper Swarms

Elite: 3x Hive Guard (Impaler Cannon)

Credit: PierreTheMime

A lesser version of bigger lists, this Tyranid list gives you an extraordinarily hearty core of Catalyst’d Warriors in cover to capture midfield objectives while offering solid shooting. Meanwhile, Rippers can handle holding the backfield objective while the Hive Guard hide out of sight as best they can and take out the largest threat. With such a small board size, the 36″ gun range will scratch most itches and even at just 3CP to start if things are going well for you you could use Single-minded Annihilation for turns one and two to ensure your threats are removed.


Just like the old days, Combat Patrol is a good way to have a quick fun game with a friend without investing too much of your time. If anything, this point level is a useful way to practice honing army builds and understanding how to fit the best punch in to the smallest package. Every decision has a lot more weight than in larger games, which makes list design both more interesting as well as agonizing. While it’s nice to have a little more structure and some relatively generic missions to supplement the format, it may not be best to get too involved on a win or loss because there’s almost no room for errors or bad luck.

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