Command Points are 8th Edition’s Psychic Dice

TL;DR: They’re good at injecting flavor into the game, are fun in small quantities, but when deployed en masse break the game.

This started as what was just going to be a flippant post to the Variance Hammer Facebook page, but on the drive home things…took a turn. So here we are, talking about how Command Points, and the problems with them, run pretty parallel to the problems 7th edition had with the Psychic phase.

But What About Formations?

“Wait!” You say. “Command Points and Stratagems replaced formations, everyone knows this!”

From a gameplay and source of mechanics perspective, this is correct. Command Points and Stratagems replaced Formations as “The expandable way to inject army-specific feel and special rules into the game”. But it’s not the intent of a mechanic, or what role it fills, that is often problematic. Sometimes, it’s the mechanic itself – and that’s where we hit the 7th edition psychic phase.

Looking back on my 7th edition retrospective, I had this to say about the Psychic phase:

I get what GW was trying to do with the psychic phase. Turning it into a mini-game with interaction on both sides and a little more strategy than it just being a “buff up and occasionally attack” phase. And with two or three Mastery Levels per side, it was enjoyable enough.

The problem was that it did not scale. As the number of warp charges goes up, powers become cumbersome to generate and to case. Everything slowed down, and because of the sheer volume of psykers on the field, the interaction of being able to try to Deny the Witch fades away under the avalanche of things being cast. And on the defense, there comes a point where, with enough dice being thrown, even needing 6’s doesn’t provide an obstruction to shutting down an opponent’s phase if they only have a caster or two.

Whether or not that’s “balanced” it’s anti-fun – you sit there while your opponent rolls dice, and with two, three, or four Mastery Levels being functionally equivalent to none, you sit there staring at your Librarian going “Why did I even bother?”

When it comes to it, the psychic phase when it was a Librarian vs. a Farseer, or a Chaos Sorcerer throwing down against a Rune Priest, was fun. It added a twist, it could push or pull units in particular directions, and allowed a player to concentrate a bit of force multiplying power on a particular unit.

But certain armies had access to lots of power dice, and that’s when things got bad. I asserted at the time that the psychic phase wasn’t fun for three reasons:

  • Having access to lots of powers boosted units well past their “standard” strength
  • There was no interaction with your opponent – this was just something that happened to you
  • There were few/no counters available

Do those elements seem…a little familiar?

The Problem with Command Points

There’s two problems, as I see it, with Command Points as a game mechanic: 1) They’re deterministic. 2) They don’t involve interaction. Let’s talk about each of these in turn:

Deterministic: As opposed to stochastic (or random), deterministic processes have a predictable outcome. Most of Warhammer 40K is random – you can say what should happen, but not what will happen. Indeed, the entire existence of this blog is predicated on that fact. But by and large, Stratagems are not – you spend your points, you get your effect. Sure, some of these effects are themselves random, but many of them are not. The units hiding in the Webway show up. Your lone surviving Space Wolf goes on a rampage. You get your extra artifact. Your dying Knight can make that last shooting attack…you get the idea.

Now this isn’t, inherently, a problem.

But it does make other problems worse.


Because deterministic elements of the game are easy to optimize against. A long, long time ago in a Forge the Narrative episode, Paul Murphy talked about anything you can do to make the game less random is good for a competitive player. Which means Stratagems are particularly useful for the competitive scene, because, by and large, they will work.  This is especially true of deployment and movement related Stratagems.

This is also, incidentally, why Agents of Vect is so disruptive – it makes other Stratagems that should be deterministic not reliable. And that’s a really big deal.

No Interaction: The fastest way to “anti-fun” mechanics in 40K, in my experience, is the removal of interaction between players. Mechanics where one side is doing things, and the other side is taking models off the table. This was true for the psychic phase in 7th, and I think it was also true for a lot of the hatred the Tau got, despite being an objectively middling army. With many Stratagems, there’s a similar pattern – things just happen. There’s no meaningful way to counter them, and there’s no amount of clever game-play that will save you. And even when there is, it’s often not what people play 40K for. Even people who are good at board control seldom think back on the games of years past and go “Man, I screened those units really well…” as the story they tell with friends.

I think this aspect plays particularly poorly with the ability to front-load your CP expenditures if you so desire, and the already alpha-strike heavy nature of the game.

Did the Big FAQ II Do Enough?

Maybe. We’ll see. It dialed down the ability to generate nigh unlimited Command Points, which is definitely a start, and which did put the damper on some particular builds – but there’s still definitely armies that are awash in Command Points, and others that still treat them as precious resources. And it’s pretty clear from the new Knights that GW hasn’t quite found the happy medium between viable single-army builds using stratagems and the current preponderance of ways to cram cheap, high-CP detachments into many tournament builds (and indeed, I’d argue the ability to do that being one of the defining features of most tournament builds).

With a number of tournaments coming up, I suspect we’ll know soon.

Where Does This Leave Us?

In many ways, unfortunately, the cat is already out of the bag as far as Command Points and 8th Edition are concerned. There are a few armies with access to either massively cheap (Imperial Guard) or remarkably effective (Dark Eldar). The changes to Command Points, thus far, have made these generators better, not worse.

But there are, I think, a few interesting changes that could be considered in the future:

  • Army-wide vs. Faction Specific CPs. A battle forged army has some CPs that can move around and use for anything, but other CPs are locked into the same keyword that made them. Bring some cheap IG detachments? You’ve got plenty of CPs to make your guardsmen better.
  • Moving toward a Kill Team-style CP system, where they’re generated per turn, rather than available all at once. That at least spreads out the problem a little, and makes the expensive CP stratagems feel a little more precious since they’re all you might get this turn.

Personally, I’d like to see them changed because, as is, they put a huge amount of pressure to structure things as Brigade/Battalions, which I think shoehorns the other detachments into inherently gimmicky roles, rather than providing a number of different foundations to build an army off of. At the end of the day, CPs and stratagems are an interesting aspect of the game – but one that’s proven vulnerable to uneven scaling and the ease at which multiple-Codex armies can be built to exploit them.

Enjoy what you read? Enjoyed that it was ad free? Both of those things are courtesy of our generous Patreon supporters. If you’d like more quantitatively driven thoughts on 40K and miniatures wargaming, and a hand in deciding what we cover, please consider joining them.


  1. What might be a neat idea is a modification of the Age of Sigmar battalion system, where you get one Command Point per turn, with a flat plus one per battalion you have. In 40k, with its variable pointed Stratagems, this might translate to a flat X, with plus Y per turn, with Y being determined by what type of force organisation you have. So, bring a Battalion and gain +2 Points per turn, while a Vanguard is +1.

    Another option that might be too drastic is that you can only use the Command Points that a detachment generates on that specific detachment.


  2. I’ve debated with a friend before about this, and specifically that 7e’s psychic phase sucked cos it lacked interaction. He said I don’t get to act in his movement or shooting phases, so why should I in the psychic. Do you have a response to that? Feel like it might also apply to strategems.


    1. I can think of two responses:

      1) Partially, I agree with him a little bit. 8th edition has much less clever back and forth with the idea of cover, vehicle facing, etc.

      2) Leaving the movement phase aside a little bit as “No one has whole units removed in the movement phase” and moving on to shooting – you do get to interact in the Shooting phase because you get one too. Your opponent going all in on a gunline doesn’t suddenly make your Leman Russ tanks fire any less effectively, in the same way 7th Edition’s meant that if someone went psychic heavy they could shut your Lvl. 2 Librarian down entirely.

      Similarly, you do still get to do stuff – make saves, etc. 7th Edition’s psychic phase was so buff heavy that there was genuinely very little interaction – you just sat there while your opponent triggered buffs. It was the phase of the game most amenable to “I’m going to go grab a beer, tell me what happened”.


  3. I was thinking about something similar to your first suggestion, but for limiting CP regeneration. Abilities that gave back CP for your Stratagems would only work if the Stratagem had the same Faction as the ability. As a blanket restriction on who can use which CP, it gets kind of logistically cumbersome, tho. At the very least, I’d do it by Faction rather than Detachment, so someone who brings a Cadian Spearhead to add some extra Tanks to back up their Cadian Battalion doesn’t have to track which CP go with which Units.

    I think reversing the increase in CP from Battalions and Brigades from the first Big FAQ might help a bit. I could also see basing it on your Warlord’s Faction, say, Detachments that don’t share a Faction Keyword with your Warlord only generate half as much CP, and/or Stratagems used from a Faction other than your Warlord cost more.

    More generally, trying to find the balance point between Deterministic and Stochastic mechanics in a competitive system is a real tightrope walk. Very easy to slide so far as to put the outcome more or less in the hands of either the dice or pre-game factors, rather than what decisions are actually made at the table.


    1. Yeah – if they were restricted, I’d restrict it by keyword at most, rather than detachment. Because as you noted, it would suck to penalize someone who brought all Cadians/Biel-tan/Blood Angels etc. because it came in the form of multiple detachments.


  4. There’s a reason I got into Shadespire from 40K and you’ve hit the nail on the head. I absolutely love the ruleset for 8th, but for the reason you’ve covered, I just can’t play it. I hate chasing the metagame in any system I play, so between Command Point issues, and the fact I can’t financially compete with most, I’m taking a break.


  5. I feel like Command points would have been better executed as something that you pay for, and while the opportunity cost of taking x formation over y formation is sort of a cost, it feels like something that should equalize un-equal forces.


    1. I think this is how Adeptus Titanicus does it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.