An army’s HQ choice is one of the most important you can make in an army list. They serve as a unit (usually only one model) that helps increase the effectiveness of the army as a whole. If the troops are the glue for your army, the HQ is the duct-tape you wrap around it to make it stronger… Ok, maybe not the best analogy, but you get my point, right? With every new codex, we are seeing a trend towards special characters that act as “keys” to an army allowing for different types of lists to be created that wouldn’t be as effective otherwise. A good example is adding Kor’Sarro Khan to a Space Marine list because you will tend to hold most of your army in reserve to capitalize on their new-found ability to outflank where otherwise that would be an impossible tactic. A lot of people choose HQs based on their army’s theme (referring to fluff here), but when you get into a competitive circuit, this type of thinking rarely succeeds. An HQ choice, to be most effective, must help the army as a whole in some way. It needs to be cohesive with other elements in your army to be effective.
‘Tank’ HQs are the Characters or Units that are really just there to draw fire and dish out even more. A lot of times they are taken to just fill the mandatory FOC slot and other times they actually add an element to your army that wouldn’t be there otherwise (such as unlocking a unit in a new FOC slot or helping keep your weaker units alive). A great example for this is an Ork Warboss. He is tough, mean and will put the hurt on if you allow him to even touch your lines. Not to mention that if you see an Ork Warboss on the table, you’re almost guaranteed to see a unit of Nobz right behind him. These two units combined are tough, but even meaner than normal because the Nobz increase the Warboss’s survivability (there is no longer one target) and the Nobz can capture objective thanks to the Warboss (who allows them to be taken as Troops). However, as a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to avoid Tank HQs as they tend to be loners and not really help the army as a whole.
The Helping Hand
This tends to be my favorite type of HQ. It’s a unit that is not all that great on his own, but is able to dramatically increase the effectiveness of another squad. Space Marine Chaplains are a good example as on their own they are not the greatest, but with, say, an Assault Squad they prove to be worth far more than their cost as the Assault Squad gains the ability to re-roll failed rolls to hit when they charge into Close-Combat which usually results in far more deaths than what you’d see without the Chaplain. Now these ‘Helping Hand’ units may not increase the effectiveness of your army directly, but if you have a strategy in mind that uses a squad with this type of unit, your strategy is guaranteed to be far more effective (of course you also have to be an apt general, so we’ll assume that’s the case).
Glue units are the ones you see in weaker armies like Imperial Guard or Tyranids (weaker as in their basic troops die more easily than other armies). They’re the HQs that hold an army together through, usually, some sort of special ability. For Tyranids this is ‘Synapse’ and for Imperial Guard it is ‘Orders’. These particular units have the ability to increase the effectiveness of multiple squads in one turn and, thus, be able to either survive longer or dish out more damage than what they normally would. While their effectiveness increase generally does not reach levels that “Helping Hand” HQs provide, the idea that it can be spread through multiple squads more than makes up for it. A lot of practice is needed for most ‘Glue’ HQs to really understand the “mojo” he brings to the army. As with everything, practice makes perfect and when you practice enough with ‘Glue’ HQs your metagame will get more perfect as well since you will start to develop an knack for thinking turns ahead of where you currently are.
I touched on this unit at the beginning of the post: they ‘unlock’ certain army attributes. Whether this is allowing a unit to be taken in a different FOC slot or giving certain weapons better stats, Keys can be great weapons to have at hand. The problem with them, however, is that people often overlook their weaknesses and focus in only on their strengths which can cause an otherwise great list to fracture easily at the mercy of a smart opponent. A quick (not necessarily good, but it gets to the point quickly) example is if a Space Marine army takes Vulkan He’Stan then all of their Melta and Flamer weaponry is twin-linked. However, in taken Vulkan you are paying more points than if you took a cheaper HQ and thus cannot have as many models or weapons in your army as usual. A sacrifice that could be made is a unit has one twin-linked Melta weapon with He’Stan rather than two normal Melta weapons if said Character was not taken. While a twin-linked weapon does sound great, statistically you will hit about 40% more with two Melta shots rather than one twin-linked one. On the same note, you are more likely to spread Flamer and Melta weaponry throughout the army so that sacrifice may be made up for in the end, but it depends on how you create your list. I should also note that many ‘Key’ HQs have a “coolness” factor about them that may not be the most tactically sound choice for your army, but be so cool you want to take them anyways (I have done it with Khan multiple times!). The problem is that on paper their abilities are absolutely amazing, but in game this ability tends to perform less-than-adequately. As I said before, ‘Keys’ can be very useful choice for an army, but there are just as many, if not more, non-useful ones and you must be careful when evaluating which one will help your army’s performance more.
In closing, many HQs fall under more than one of these broad generalizations. It is crucial that when making a list you can recognize the pros and cons of each choice and determine which one will have the biggest positive impact on your army with the least sacrifice. Generally this will boil down to “Which does the most for the least amount of points”. HQ choices, obviously, depend on what type of list you’re building, what type of play style you have, and what you anticipate its role to be, but having a cohesive effect with your army is always one of the most important factors and should be looked at thoroughly when creating a list.
Next up on in the “mojo” series… Elites.
Feel free to put in your thoughts/additions. Any really good ideas and such I’ll add into this little article with your comment name. I’m hoping to create a really nice series that helps newcomers to the hobby build effective army-lists so anyone and everyone’s input is most welcome!