Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Napoleonic Tactics in the 41st millenium?

Having seen Mercer use Roman style tactics in our games I was wondering if tactics used in other periods could be adapted to work on the tabletop.

I know it doesn't sound as if it would work but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the possibility. 

The main one I was thinking of was the Napoleonic tactic of "form square". This was the way infantry used to protect themselves against cavalry. By moving into a box formation they were able to provide all round defense which prevented flanking moves or the enemy getting behind them.

So let's have a look at the formation I'm talking about.

For this example I used an infantry platoon, comprising of four squads each with an autocannon (good for dealing with infantry and light armour) and plasma guns (independent chracter and monstrous creature killers). These are augmented by the command squad with four plasma guns who are put in the centre to either plug any gaps which appear or float from threat to threat taking down any unit foolish enough to get too close.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to using this sort of formation in a game.


i) If you are deployed around an objective, you have the whole area covered. This means that you opponent is going to have one hell of a time shifting your troops. He's going to have to punch a hole in one side before he can move in to take the objective from you, and even then there are three more squads all in a position to close down that unit without having to move.

ii) Having a heavy weapon team on each corner of the formation means that even units in transports are going to have trouble approaching this group without exposing themselves to your fire. Some of you may be wondering why I chose to use autocannons instead of lascannons in the image above, I did this because of the humble autocannons ability to deal with infantry and light armour. You could of course use missile launchers but just remember if your using IG your low balistic skill is going to cause you some issues.

ii) The closer your opponent gets to this formation the more dangetrous it becomes as more models are brought into effective range. Initially you start with a minimum of one squad and two heavy weapons, as the enemy unit closes this steadily increases until you have all four squads and depending on lines of fire up to four heavy weapons.

iii) Fast vehicles lose some of their advantages as there is no weak point to come at the formation from as all angles are covered. Plus the heavy weapons should be able to down most fast vehicles like bikes and land speeders, of course anything with a high AV is going to sneak through but to be honest you should have other units to deal with these high threat units and not leave it up to the grunts.


i) It's going to take some epic planning to pull this move off, the best way I can think of is to roll your chimera/valkyrie transports up to the position you want to set this up in, already in the rough formation, then de-bus your troops and set up. but again your going to have to do a lot of forward planning to get this to go off, not to mention the fact you opponent is going to be targeting those transports from turn 1.

ii) Once in position your opponents going to be throwing every blast marker he's got at you, as he is going to hit at least something with each shot, not too bad if your up against a list optimised to take out tanks (i.e. lots of melta and lascannons), but not good if your up against a lot of barrage or missile weapons. The best way to get around this is to use a screening unit to draw enemy fire.

iii) This is a very rigid formation which will either succeed totally or fail completely there is no grey area. Once in position your men will have to stand their ground and fight or die you don't have the luxury of being able to move too much to react to your opponents plans.

There you have it, it's either epic win or epic fail with no real middle ground. I'd love to see somebody have the minerals to try this just to see what would happen. Personally I believe this sort of move would shut down bike armies as they would not be able to dish out the templates needed to shift the formation, not mention the fact they are going to have to close on it to do real damage leaving themselves open to your fire.

I think it could even work against tyranids who rely on closing on an opponent and butchering them in close combat. It would work simply for the increase in fire power as they get closer.

Let me know what you think guys.


  1. The blast markers are the weakness, as they will kill loads of men, especially if they're not in cover. In napoleonic times the square was extremely vulnerable to artillery fire, and also they hade far less firepower than when in line. Only the first three or so lines of men could shoot, so in a square, which was normally six or so men deep, roughly 88% of the men wouldn't be able to fire. This isn't so much of a problem in 40k though as infantry can turn and face any direction. However, this formation still wastes quite a lot of firepower. I think the other problem, apart from firepower is that a square formation is hard to keep to unless in the open, which is the wrong place to be if you're a Guardsman. Sorry for posting such a long winded answer there by the way, but I hope it explains some things.

  2. Don't worry about the length of the response all thoughts and comment are appreciated.

    I thought it would be difficult to pull off but it would be fun to see the results of somebody actually trying to do it.

  3. While to rules of 40k make aspects of this tactic somewhat redundant (mainly the ability to fire through your own units, and the lack of facing for infantry) - it could have applications with respect to vehicle formations perhaps??