9 Principles of War and 40K: Unity of Command

All right fellow gamers, we’ve made it to week 7. So far we’ve covered the Principles of Mass, Objective, Simplicity, Security, Maneuver, and Offensive. This brings us to Unity of Command, a Principle you might not think even applies to 40K, since most of the time there is only one commander per side. But let’s have a look.

Unity of Command: For every objective, seek unity of command and unity of effort.

“Things that must be together to work, usually can’t be shipped together”

  • Murphy’s Laws of Combat


We’ve all heard the proverb, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” This is just as true when playing large games, such as Apocalypse or team games. Prior to the game, select an overall commander to dictate strategy for your side. Alternatively, you might give folks sectors of the table to control, and you control everything in your sector and your partner controls everything in his, regardless of which parts of whose army is occupying it. You might not win, but it will make for a more organized game. Personally, I prefer choosing an overall commander before the game starts and having a quick huddle to talk about your grand strategy. I know that in some team games, I’ve annoyed my partners by questioning their actions, because I didn’t know what they were doing ahead of time, and it didn’t go along with what I thought we were doing. To go along with that, if you do go the one commander route, and you’re not the commander, cede control. Let that commander make the decisions and go along with them. The worst thing you can do is decide halfway through the game that your partner isn’t running things the way you’d like and go off and do your own thing. Advise but don’t mutiny.

Conversely, if you’re playing against a team, the key is dividing and conquering. Most of the time, people in team games won’t intersperse their units, they’ll deploy their units right in front of where they are standing. It’s just easier that way, and we gamers are nothing if not creatures of convenience. So pick on one teammate. Force the other teammate to come to his partner’s rescue. If you succeed, you took out half of the opposing army. If they succeed, they just rescued their friend from an unfortunate fate. Everyone likes to be the hero and it makes for a heck of a game. Even the poor soul you’re both assaulting will have fun. Some of my most memorable games have been variations of holding out in the ‘Alamo’ hoping the cavalry shows up in time.

But what if we’re just playing a normal game of 40K? That means one commander per side and by definition, unless you actually listen to those voices in your head, Unity of Command. But here is a different way to look at this Principle. Consider Unity of Command as a guide to focusing on your goal and making sure that all your units are serving a collective purpose towards that goal. Ask yourself; are those Nob Bikers who are chasing down the falling back marines working towards the common goal the rest of your force is pursuing? If you’re playing a Kill Points game, the answer is yes. If you’re playing Seize Ground, they aren’t capturing or contesting an objective. What exactly are they doing? Keeping those Marines from regrouping? Then they are serving the common goal. If those marines aren’t remotely threatening an objective, maybe those Bikers could be doing something else more useful.

You could almost refer to this Principle as the Tau Principle of War. When you take an action, ask yourself, does it serve the greater good?

What other ways can you see to apply the Principle of Unity of Command? How would it work best in other scenarios such as Planetstrike or Planetary Empires? I’m looking forward to reading your ideas!