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The Way of Maxmin

In a game as complex and varied as Warhammer 40,000, the fortunes of individual units rise and fall over time. Sometimes years, sometimes decades. If you've ever found yourself lamenting the way your off-meta units languish in the carry case, never seeing the light of day, perhaps we can tempt you to join us in the cult of maxmin.

What is maxmin?

It's when you knowingly bring crap units to a game, then either savour the challenge of getting something out of them, or achieve a zen-like acceptance of their impotence while enjoying the sight of them on the table. You may well have lost the game just by turning up, but this does not sour the heart of the true maxminner.

Max-maxmin vs min-maxmin
Look, this is a broad church. Max-maxminners willingly build their whole army to be unrelenting shite. Just turning up to a game of Warhammer Fantasy with a pure goblin army is, arguably, getting there.

On the flip side, min-maxminners might enjoy putting a single crap unit in an otherwise solid list, because they just like the unit.

A true maxminner does not scorn other players for using decent units. To a maxminner, it's win-win. Either you go up against good units and have an interesting challenge on your hands, or you go up against a fellow adherent, whereupon you can nod approvingly at their Ratling Snipers and say, "this is the Way." Any time a crap unit hits a table, you know it's there because someone loves them. This is to be celebrated.

This isn't the Blunderdome
This isn't about trying to make a non-functional army that breaks the game in hilarious ways - see Goonhammer's glorious Blunderdome series for that - rather, it's taking units that make thematic sense, or just bring you joy, and doing your best with them, even if you know you've made your life harder.

Harvey: This is the crux of the concept, I think - it’s not about using shit units BECAUSE they’re shit; it’s more a practice of using the units that make sense for the theme you’re going for, rules (and meta) be damned. The former makes for an interesting mechanical challenge, the latter for a narrative army that I personally find the most satisfying.

Noble Examples

Harvey’s 31st Nightfall Light Infantry

These outdoorsy folk are a classic of the genre. I'd put them about two thirds of the way towards max-maxmin since there are some legitimately good units there to balance out the trash, and actually the new codex may have turned them into something quite frightening… to other maxmin armies.

Harvey please, at some point, I'd love a proper showcase article, but for now, why don't you give us the broad brushstrokes, and the steps you've taken to make the army work from a maxmin perspective?

A light smattering of the 31st Nightfall Light Infantry

: Ah, the Nightfallers: For an army I’ve only been painting for about 9 months they’ve quickly stolen my heart. I won’t start waxing lyrical about lore beyond the fact that they’re light infantry who come from a specialised reconnaissance regiment, which is an army I’ve always wanted to play, but never done up until now (and part of the decision to finally pull the trigger were the brilliant Border World Ranger sculpts by Victoria Miniatures).

This much of the lore at least, is important - as this army was designed from the ground up with Maxmin in mind. There’s always been a strong vision in my imagination of a regiment of Imperial Guardsmen that excel at skirmishing with a bunch of veterans and snipers, but that need the expertise of more heavily armoured regiments to properly engage in open battle. To that end, I started by planning for exactly that: A bunch of veterans and snipers.

Once I knew what I was taking, I considered what I wouldn’t. A light infantry recon regiment isn’t going to have much use for (or access to, given how the munitorum works) heavy armour or artillery, so I imposed a rule of no tanks heavier than a hellhound, and no tracked artillery. Classically, not something the Guard can do without.

Finally I thought about a few units I could use as substitutes for my obviously lacking big guns (and most notably a lack of anti-tank). Sentinels were an obvious choice, being a not entirely fragile chassis with the ability to pack some ranged punch, but I needed more. What if a light regiment has some sort of light tank, I wondered?

If you were thinking I got a Devil Dog, you’d be right. If you were thinking I found the old legends datasheet for chimaeras with autocannons and twin linked heavy bolter turrets, and strapped as many pintle mounts and hunter killers as I could to up gun those puppies... You’re mad. Because that’s what I did as well, and they’re absolutely shit. They look great though, if I do say so myself, and fit the theme of light regiment that can’t really do a stand up fight perfectly. They even let my troops cruise around in style. Luxury.

Lt Raan & squad

The result, then. The result is an army I’ve never not had fun with, and that makes most games into an absolute nail biter. They have the tools to technically deal with any threat, but rarely the best or most efficient one. It’s the Imperial Guard with no proper tanks or artillery, and that’s spending ANY points on snipers - but it kind of works when the enemy are also narrative forces.

All this was true on the old 8th Codex, and I’m yet to play them in 9th. Hopefully they don’t lose too much of that underdog charm.

Nightfall 31st Regimental Badge

Ratlings for the unstoppable win

Tom recently painted some Ratlings up for his guard. Now I'd say this is an example of min-maxmin, because the rest of the army is well equipped and without cruft. But there, in the middle of it all, are these little dudes. What's up with that, Tom?

Tom: I have a deep and abiding love for abhumans. I already had some Ogryns lying around when I started building my Guard army, so they were early joiners (it helped that they were a lot of points that were quick to paint, unlike Guard infantry). They turned out to be embarrassingly good. 

So I moved on to the glorious Ratlings and all their wonderful food piles. They did not disappoint. They recently got their first outing against Eldar, and I figured hitting and wounding on 3s they might do OK. They strongly did not. Not one wound was caused all game. Good job lads.

When maxmin becomes midmid

Primaris Marines in general and my Cobalt Scions in particular are odd, from a maxmin perspective, in that very few if any primaris units are actively bad in the way that some 40k units can be.

The champ.

I gleefully built a Gladiator Lancer back when they were prohibitively expensive, but they've since come down in points, and while nowhere near as effective as the Valiant, they're perfectly serviceable. Likewise I find Hellblasters to be entirely fine, even though a competitive player would point out I'd be better off with eradicators. But that unit is an overpowered outlier that makes things look bad by comparison. Just because one unit outperforms the others does not make the others crap. This isn't maxmin, it's just a refusal to minmax.

Sweet ovulating bumscruffles, the more times you write the word maxmin the more inane it gets.

I digress. Servo turrets are pretty hilarious; their damage output has real potential, but a 24" range on an eminently killable unit that moves 3" for 120 points sure is A Choice. But having them hanging out with my Space Romans made me feel like I had Space Ballistas, so I got two.

But honestly I've found my primaris marines perform pretty well. The only true dumpsterings they've received have been at the hands of a legit tournament player (Wings, who writes a lot of Goonhammer's competitive coverage) and Bristol Tom's Harlequins, which… holy balls. My regular opponents have also given the Scions firm rebuttals at points, but ultimately GW's flagship faction doesn't have any entirely useless units, just sub-optimal ones.

Tom: I'd love to counter your Servo-turrets with my Guard Lascannon Heavy Weapon Squad. Very much built because I had an idea for some cool anti-tank guns (before GW stole my idea but made them bigger), they are a similar level of potential danger to a Servo-turret but even more hilariously fragile with 6 T3 wounds and more optimism than armour.  

But then they were fairly low down on the painting priority and I never got around to actually using them until this weekend, with the new Codex.  They got a bit cheaper and with the Take Aim order and a stack of rerolls due to my Regimental Traits and Crusade Tour of Duty became shockingly potent anti-air firepower right out of the left field, absolutely brutalising a Dakkajet.  Twice.  I'm not doing maxmin very well am I…?


Tom: One of my many "oops new army" projects occurred after I read The Infinite and the Divine and discovered a machine after my own heart: Trazyn, Overlord of Solemnace and Archaeovist of the Prismatic Galleries, He-Who-Is-Called-Infinite. 

Trazyn, called by some the Infinite, Chief Archaeovist of the Solemnace Galleries. Master of Scattered Moments. Lord of the Great Library.

I played around and worked out a painting scheme I could knock out reasonably quickly and dived in. But Trazyn the Infinite is a collector, not a killer, so I made myself some rules. 

No Destroyer Cult. They can't be trusted with the exhibits. 
No Triarch units. We don't want them poking their noses in and misinterpreting “preservation of cultural artefacts” as some kind of petty theft.

The Triarch is not that big a deal, but no Destroyers knocks out a lot of seriously threatening units in the army. Having spent quite a lot of time playing against Andy’s Destroyer heavy Necrons, they have always felt like the main damage dealers to me, both in melee and at range.  

But it's worth it to preserve The Collection, future generations will thank me. Honestly it was a lot of fun trying to build a vaguely usable army with such a huge chunk of the Codex missing.  I’ve ended up with a pretty Canoptek-heavy army, and included several characters to represent some of Trazyn’s named servants.  

Royal Warden Ashkut

“Tactical-cryptek” Tekk-Nev, represented on the board as a lesser Lord

Arch-Cryptek Sannet the Light Sculptor, Chief Curator.

They haven't had many outings on the board so far but I had a memorable battle with Drew’s Eldar fighting the “The Relic” mission. As Craftworld Iybraesil are keen collectors themselves, it wasn’t so much fighting about if it belonged in a museum, but whose.  

My army of mostly Warriors and Canoptek units failed to do much damage but did resist dying quite well. Eventually I ended up with just Trazyn himself and a Doomstalker alive against most of an Eldar army still intact but it was enough to win me the game since I ended turn 5 with the Relic in my hands.  Bad luck Taliesin, but you’re welcome to come to Solemnace to see it once I’ve got it on display.  

It’s an older model, sir, but it checks out

Andy: There are two units from my armies that continue to see table time because of the gorgeous 2nd/3rd ed metal sculpts which I think are yet to be improved upon.

First are my Necron Flayed Ones.  A teleporting unit with absolutely no bonus to charge so almost certain to fail the charge when they turn up, no ability to deal damage at range, the staying power of a basic warrior, and other than a few extra attacks, the combat ability of a basic warrior.  However, the sculpts, oh the sculpts.  You can see the skin stretched over the metal so it's poking through, the bits of face draped over their heads.  I remember painting them and marvelling at each and every detail. 

Second are my collection of metal guard (Cadian and Catachan), and some old metal Necromunda models.  I dug these out of storage at the start of the pandemic and challenged myself to do the "best" paintjob I could (while still finishing them before I die).  I now have a collection of 50 or so lovingly painted humans that I want to see on the board as often as I can.  Mostly that means them acting as the cultists for my Alpha Legion (guard units, local gangs, and general hangers on who have all seen the failure of the wider Imperium and joined the Alphas cause of collapsing it to liberate the galaxy).  Cultists are at best a thorn in your opponent's side (at least as far as I can tell) and more often than not evaporate as soon as a gun is pointed at them, but the odd time they stick around on an objective far longer than expected (thank you Tide of Traitors), or that one time they killed two of Charlie's Bladeguard in overwatch make it all worthwhile.

The Min of Maxmin

Tom: Maxmin is not just about what you do take, but also what you don't.  Classic example from the new Gaurd codex: The Barbicant's Key. A Relic that lets one Guard unit teleport across the board.  Sorry, what, teleporting Guard? But…  What? I've heard a lot of Guard players enthusing about it recently, talking about arming up a Kasrkin unit and flinging it across the board to lethal effect but to me it just feels incredibly unlike Guard. 

Having got my hands on the new Codex I have learned that it’s a magic dagger that can cut through space itself (when I told Charlie about it, he suggested it should have been named “the unsubtle knife”).  Honestly I’d baulk at even an Astartes Chapter having that as their most prized relic, but giving it to a bunch of Guardsmen?  That’s not the feeling I want my mud-covered underdogs to evoke.

Charlie: I agree wholeheartedly; immersion and theme are classic motivations for not using potent stuff in games.

To Conclude

Field models because you love them.

If you, dear reader, have trash units you regularly field because you love them, I’d love to read about it in the comments section.

Andy: As a parting shot, perhaps we could follow this with a discussion of MinMaxxing.  Where you take units that are supposed to be the bees knees, or dogs danglies, and fail to achieve anything with them game after game.  That is a topic I could write entire novels about (although perhaps it's just because I'm not very good at gaming 😜).


  1. It's some time ago I've played a game, but I never used a unit just because it's strong in the game. (Maybe with the exception of a Goblin Leader in Killteam, but he got fluff and a comm unit with direct link to the Boss ;) )
    Just have a different name for it. Fluff Playing.
    I not even own models i dislike -.-

  2. Not trash, but (some say) overcoasted; the humble pikemen in a Dog of War army.
    Sure, 250 points for a 20 man unit with heavy armour and full command is a lot, but what DoW army is complete without a unit or them?

    Plus, if my mercenary captain hit's the field, they'll follow him to gold and glory (but mainly gold)

    1. Oh man I love those old pikemen minis, and Dogs of War in general. It inspired me with my Hochland army to make each unit more of a character than just "some state troops of Hochland." :D

    2. Yeah, I do give every unit in my DoW army some fluff, even if its the most basic stuff like a name and couple lines of background.

      That way it's not "this unit of crossbowmen has made X unit flee" but "Caprese's Certeri have proven their worth and sent the enemies packing".
      But that's up to each player, since some prefer the purely playing aspect of it while others like to build a narrative

    3. I completely agree, it's so much more fun being able to say the "Salzenmund Chancers declare a charge" than "those halberdiers, I guess." :D

      I do fully respect it's not everyone's preference, but also, those people are OBJECTIVELY WRONG :P

  3. I think there's a version of this that applies at army level, too. Take Chaos Space Marines. We all know that not all Traitor Legions are created equal: at any given time, some of them are very competitive and good, and some of them are Night Lords. But I love my criminal sons, even if they don't love themselves, and they're not going to be stripped, proxied or dodgily part-repainted into Red Corsairs or edged out by Word Bearers any time soon. The MinMax approach, on the flip side, would be the "these Chaos Space Marines? oh, they're Blood Angels this week" kind of "whatever power armour book is best" behaviour I remember from fifth edition. It wasn't a great time to be a Chaos boy but that level of dissonance never sat right with me.

    Down at unit level, does a die-hard insistence on full kit Skeleton Spearmen count? They're expensive, they're brittle, and they give up Better Saves for the opportunity to poke out with a few more goblin-tier attacks - but they were the first unit I finished for the army and as such, Lord Ruthven's Redoubtable Regiment of Foot will be the first unit I put in any army list until the day I die. They're (undead) soldiers of the Empire and that means they're getting armour, shields and spears and that's just the way things have to be. Harrumph.

    1. I found myself agreeing with this comment so hard I almost broke my keyboard.

  4. I've taken both a Dreadnought (AC/CCW) and a unit of deep-striking Terminators in probably every single game I have ever played with my Space Marines... And I've never played 8/9th. Surely I feel this has to qualify?

    They're just so gosh dang cool, though~

    1. Hell yeah, teleporting terminators are iconic :D


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