40K Tactics: Active & Passive Players

It all begins with a plan and the application of that plan in the face of resistance, and this is where we are going to start.

Take a moment and ask yourself what kind of Warhammer 40,000 player you are?

Are you an active player or a passive player?

Allow me to offer my definition of the two first…

A passive player is one that waits to see what happens. They set their models up on the table and don’t really have a direct plan to win the game, rather they react to what their opponent does. If a Land Raider moves out they intercept. A unit goes down, they reinforce, objective frees up they take it. Passive players react to the army and player across from them and THEN the mission or tournament goals they are playing.

On the other hand an active player knows what they are going to do- they have built their army to perform as an overall machine with each unit having a function creating form. Active players don’t care what they opponent does since their army will counter every move, and is playing to the mission/tournament goals first and foremost, and NEVER the other play or opposing army.

I want YOU to be an active player, so if you are more passive, time to throw that out the window and redefine yourself. If you are already naturally active, time to refine that into a razor like edge.

Passive players are ultimately at a huge disadvantage simply because we can’t read minds yet (I’m working on that!). I can attempt to understand what my opponent is doing based on the function of the units in their army and how they are moving and shooting them, but can I ever really be sure?

AND, even if I am sure, by playing the game in this manner I am always one step behind.

For example- my opponent has a land raider full of terminators and it moves out heading towards an objective I’m holding with some warriors. We can pretty sure guess what it is going to do- let those terminators out, and assault me with a sweeping advance. By being passive, even if I guess correctly I’m already one step behind since I allowed my opponent to move out the Land Raider. Being this one step behind allows my opponent to dictate the game, and keep in mind we never really know what is happening or what the real plan is.

On the opposite side if I am an active player, my army moves out to accomplish the mission, forcing my opponent to react to ME with our Land Raider example, making sure they are a step behind, and can never really know what I am doing.

So far so good?

Mistakes are another important part of 40K, as games are lost based on who made the most mistakes in the game, and who had the worst dice. While it is true that sometimes the dice go against you and they will be your downfall, honestly over the course of a game it is mistakes on the table that make or break the win.

The goal here is to force your opponent to make mistakes, and when they make those mistakes and weaken the position of their army it only magnifies the power of your army. Mistakes are opportunities you can capture, turn, and punish your opponent with.

Examples of mistakes?

Moving the wrong unit at the wrong time, using a specialized unit for something it is not intended, etc.

As an active player your chance for mistakes has been sliced down to as small as possible. You know what each unit is going to be doing, and what course of action it is going to take. You have a plan for what to do if the unit wins in shooting or the assault, and what to do if it loses and get’s wiped out.

There is no hesitation on your part, no using a specific unit for a function it was not intended for since all your bases are covered…

A passive player is mistakes waiting to happen. Being one move behind, guessing and reacting to your opponent means you are forced to adapt to the unfolding game with units that might not be equipped to handle the changes. Worse yet, as the game unfolds and your mistakes compound the pressure will grow and become a self fulfilling prophecy. Things will start falling apart for you on the table more and more, making securing the “win” more difficult.

Becoming an active player means knowing the rules of your army first- what each unit can and can’t do, and then slotting those units into an army template and following how that template unfolds on the table- stick to the plan, and let the units of your army go to action as a whole- each has a job to do in winning the game!

A final word on being an active player, don’t become intimidated when facing a strongly skilled player or if you have lost to an opponent before and are having a rematch. Don’t get psyched out, every game is new and different, so don’t let past losses carry over into future games. Easier said than done of course, but it is very important none the less…


  1. Well, nice read, but making battle plan and sticking to it can be damageing, ex: I build army and finds myself on a flat board with no real cover my evil plan gets arrow to knee. Im not saying that either way is wrong or better but I like my passive like play style, I fplow the flow of battle and wait for my opponent to trip....than I strike. This isnt propably the best way for tournes but pepole undr pressure tend to make more mistakes. As for part when active player has smaler chance for mistake cuz he/she make a move....what if he/she chose wrong moment/unit to shot or be shot at? I dont think active player have any less chance to make mistake over a passive one. Sory dont have time to use better worlds and sorry for spelling. Nice topic but I cant agree to your point. Cheers, GrenAcid.

    1. GrenAcid, making a 'mistake' isn't a disadvantage only active players make, it happens to everyone and you can't use it to try and claim that active is bad/worse. Doing the wrong thing is doing the wrong thing, not a trait of an active or passive player specifically.

      In fact if you actually know your army and play it as Fritz suggests then this example you provided will NOT happen, because you have your objectives, the strategies to achieve them, and your game plan.

      Simple logic states that the player who knows exactly what he/she is going to do (and hopefully has the insight to understand what their opponent will do as a reaction) will be one step ahead of the person who is always waiting to find out.
      There are only 6 turns a game, if you have to wait a turn for each enemy move then you are at a serious disadvantage. If you can force your enemies movement through your own actions not only do you disrupt their plans, but also remain a step ahead.

      The *BEST* passive player will be the general who had enough insight/forsight to understand the enemies plan and play in a way which prevents the opponent from succeeding, BUT you are relying upon being correct which won't always happen.

      Why play your opponents game when you can make them play yours? Surely your army plays it's own game better than the opponent's plays theirs? Except in rare mirror type matches where one army is just significantly better of course.

    2. "Surely your army plays it's own game better than the opponent's plays theirs?" This is not necessarily the case. Not all the codexes are equal and a shooty marine army will probably lose to a shooty imp. guard army. Having plan B's, C's D's and E's are often needed.

    3. That is kind of the point however. A shooty imperial guard army wouldn't play the same as a shooty marine army. Just because you have a plan for your army doesn't mean it remains unchanged against any opponent. As I said you leverage your armies strengths by playing your way. If you only react to your opponent you are allowing them to leverage their strengths putting you on the back foot and unless you have some specific defence which nullifies their offence, means you'll probably lose.

      In TrangleC's example he is mistaking an offensive player with an active player. They aren't the same thing. Knowing you need to take the objectives and hold them and working on that from the start is an active player.
      Not holding the objectives because your opponent dangled something tasty nearby or lured you into a different fight is more passive and reactionary, which is what you don't want to be!

      Someone who sits back and shoots also isn't necessarily a passive player. If you have a maximum firepower list which relies on killing enough of the enemy by the time they get to you to win then this is how your list plays. Obviously you need to address the objectives of the game to an extent unless you are pretty sure you'll win by annihilation, but again a defensive player isn't necessarily a passive player. Someone who ensures their army is entrenched so as to win the game and defends in this manner is more likely active than passive.

  2. I am the type of person who likes forcing my opponent to make decisions. Whether it be ignore this unit that is in your face or blow them up.

    I will sacrifice units and force my opponents to deal with things that they may not want to deal with that particular turn, but if they dont, bad things with come to them.

    Forcing my opponents hand and dictating his movements, shooting, and assaults I believe is the best way to play. I have seen it time and time again on my opponents' faces; the frustration, the agony, knowing they have to kill this squad that I placed so nicely in front of them.

    i definately agree that the active player role is the best way to go. Being passive and reacting rather than acting usually leads to uncertainty and choices to be made. Whereas, if your the active player, youve made the choice already and force your opponent to do somethign they dont want to do.

  3. I like playing aggressively and mobile but the 6th edition rules seem to penalize that. After pretty much every game I lost in 6th edition I had to realize that I probably would have won if I only would have sat on the mission markers in my deployment zone and used my long range fire power to try to clear one or two of my opponent's markers. And I'm playing Chaos Space Marines, not Imperial Army or Tau. Maybe it is just my local meta game and my gaming group/club, but it seems that currently the rule of thumb is: "You move, you lose."
    I hate that.
    I despise stand & shoot strategies since 4th edition, when I mostly played Dark Eldar and Tyranids. Even though I usually know that I should just hang back and hunker down in cover, I often can't bring myself to do so and against my better judgment do stupid stuff like putting mission markers in my opponent's deployment zone so I can go there and take them together with his, which worked in 5th edition, but apparently not anymore in 6th edition.

    Long story short, I don't really see that dichotomy of active versus passive players in my local meta game. Everybody just sits there and hopes the opponent comes to them and use a Drop Pod or two or Fliers as harassment units. That is a passive way to play but on the other hand a active way to force their way of playing on to the opponent.
    If I go out and attack, I'm reacting and doing what the other guy wants, if I stay put and try a long range shoot out, I'm not taking the bait but am also playing passively.

  4. It is a fine line distinguishing active and passive players. I strive to be active, as that (as Fritz is claiming) wins games. But, my play style revolves a lot around trying to figure out my opponents plan ... and making it fail ;).
    So, (if everything goes as I want), I might look passive the first half of the game, only to change pace during midgame after the trap is set, baited and triggered. Then revealing my true plan and go "pure" active. Well, I admit it does not always work, but I think it is a pretty good strategy against opponents who have a percieved upper hand in list strength. One example is luring super-assault units (like the harliestar) to do an offside assault which opens up their backfield to my (much weaker) assault units. That type of trap/trick requires 2-3 turns of baiting and acting passive in order for it to work.

    1. Gonka- I think you are absolutely correct. Doing what Fritz describes is ok IF you have equal lists. If you are at a list disadvantage, following a game plan is an easy way to lose. It is impossible to be a purely active player (not responding to an opponents action is a response). I was actually in the process of writing this piece (http://aspectsofthevoid.blogspot.com/2012/11/winning-with-eldar.html) today when I came across Fritz's post. I agree that being active is important but I disagree with Fritz's assumptions about what that means. To me being active means forcing the opponent to do something they don't want to (or shouldn't do if they see the trap)

    2. The problem is that you guys aren't seeing the differentiation between active and passive, offensive and defensive, and how your army, strategy and tactics fall into these categories.

      Setting your opponent up to be able to take advantage of them is active.

      You also seem to misunderstand the game plan concept steinerp, it takes into account your opponents list and relative strengths and weaknesses. There is always flexibility but it is about knowing how to win.

      Nearly everyone here disagreeing with Fritz and providing examples about why passive is good are actually talking about active gameplay.

      It's an extremely complex topic because there is so much depth to the issue.

    3. "It's an extremely complex topic because there is so much depth to the issue." Yep, which is why blanket statements like always be active or passive is always bad don't work

  5. I think tactical flexibility is important, and that means you can switch between passive and active mode whenever needed. You may come up with a wonderful plan, and then your opponent surprises you with a move you can't afford to ignore. Your plan doesn't die, it evolves...

    1. That's just two active players meeting. That has nothing to do with 'switching to passive mode'.
      Passive mode is simply waiting to see what happens before making a decision, being active and having to evolve your game plan for a changing environment is just part of being a good active player.

    2. Maybe. What i'm trying to say, is that active and passive are just words, and that you guys don't even agree about their meaning. Fritz, for example, thinks he's an active player. Good for him. Does that mean he never takes advantage of his opponent's mistakes? Sure he does. But some people may think that's merely a clever reaction. So, please don't get bogged down by semantics.

    3. I would offer that some of the better players are ones who utilize the abilities of both active and passive styles. I agree that active players will generally dictate the terms of engagement. However, no one can read minds as you stated above, and so having the skills to react in the middle of the game based on unknown variables is crucial to success.

      I'm not saying passive is better by any means, but the truly skilled generals out there will know when to abandon their usual tactic and play to a different cause based on the situation at hand. Rarely do things go 100% as anticipated, so garnering some skill in reading the opponent and reacting to their moves (a trait you describe as passive) to better drive home your own active strategy is something I have always found very helpful in determining the outcome of the game.

      Great read as usual!

    4. Elendi does a good job of explaining why Fritz's defination in the first few paragraphs are flawed. Good "passive" play and good "active" will often look identical. I think the reason people are reacting to the blog in this fashion is that it defines active in a very black and white manner and doesn't allow for adapting.

  6. Don't get me wrong. I come here to learn, because i'm still a freshman at 40K university, and i don't pretend i know better than you guys. That's why i want to make sure i understand what you mean when you start throwing around game specific terms such as active vs passive, tarpit units, cover save madness (nice one Fritz), deathstar units... You know? Respect & gratitude to y'all!

  7. It seems to me that the distinction Fritz is making is that an active player controls tempo and terms of engagement to fit a strategic concept. Generally speaking in real world, American football, and in 40K, if you fight the enemy on his terms, at the time and place of his choosing, you have already lost most of the time. You want to pick the time, place, conditions, and fight a battle to your strengths and create mismatches that favor you over your opponent. That requires planning and an idea of what you want to do and what your options are to do it. That plan can include things like having a "playbook" against horde armies, daemon armies, mechanized armies, etc. because you often have to be flexible tactically in order to achieve the mismatches in your favor.

    For example, I played against a daemon army. His strategic concept was that he was not going to worry about objectives - he had 2 minimal troop choices of plague demons. Instead, his strategic objective was the complete destruction of his opponent's army. this played to his army's strengths (brute killing power) and marginalized his weaknesses (lack of (inexpensive) troop choices). This was an an active play style even though he changed up his specific targets, etc. depending on the army he faced.

    Being active is all about planning (strategic and contingency) and using that to maintain control of the battle. Many field "tank hunting" units - this is an element of active play because that unit has a function and a specific target. It goes out to attack tanks. If the opponent can get you to react with your tank hunters to go after a squad of Dark Eldar warriors with your anti-tank weapons, he has caused you to waste the points you spent on those weapons. Likewise, you may have a unit armed to punch 3+ armor, but if you end up reacting so that they shoot all the time at 6+ armored targets, you probably got lured into wasting points. You should have a strategic plan for the way your army is supposed to work and not deviate from that plan lightly.

    A final example. I fought a Necron player about a week and a half ago. Hammer and Anvil, Purge. His transport was advancing up the table towards 12" from my forted up tactical squad. He should have kept coming for me come hell or high water. Instead, when I infiltrated my command squad and some terminators in his backfield, he reversed direction on his transport to come back towards them. It ended up that that transport spent all game in midfield, never getting into 12" range of anything, all because he reacted and in doing so changed his mind mid-game.

    It's not that active players make no mistakes, but executing a plan you had time to think through thoroughly usually makes far fewer mistakes on average than plans thrown together in a rush.


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