Alternate activation rules for 40K 9

Warhammer 40,000 (1987) came out in a 9thth edition in 2020. It has always used an “IGOUGO” design where players take turns controlling their entire armies: I go, then you go. This is a mistake.

Because 40K armies start the game within shooting distance of one another, IGOUGO gives the first player—who is randomly selected—an unfair advantage, reducing the amount of opposing units that can ever fire back, by destroying them. IGOUGO hits players with analysis paralysis trying to optimize every possible synergy their army can achieve through a full turn. IGOUGO is also boring: Even with the bulky “Stratagem” subsystem introduced in 8thth edition (2017), the inactive player has too little to do but supervise.

These problems can be fixed by shifting the cadence of players taking turns, away from the army level and down to the unit level. This is sometimes called “alternate activations”. The following is an example of how alternate activations can replace IGOUGO as a house rule in 40K 9, without having to rewrite many of the hundreds of special rules that litter the game and tie into its initiative system.



Instead of players taking turns, with each turn containing every phase from Command to Morale, the round as a whole proceeds as follows:

  1. Command phase for both players.
  2. Activation phase. Each unit has its own:
    1. Movement subphase.
    2. Psychic subphase.
    3. Shooting subphase.
    4. Charge subphase.
    5. Fight subphase.
  3. Morale phase for both players.

In each phase, the attacker plays first, followed by the defender. In the activation phase, the attacker therefore has the first choice of activating one friendly unit. That unit is active for the duration of its subphases, and then ceases activation. The defender then activates one of their units. Players take turns activating one unit at a time this way until all units have been activated or all players have passed. Once a player has passed, they may not activate another unit in that round.


Effects caused by a unit are initiated during the activation of that unit. Original rules referring to effects thus initiated in a player’s subphase are reinterpreted to refer to the corresponding subphase of any of the same player’s simultaneous and later activations in the same round.

Original rules referring to effects ending during a specific phase of a subsequent turn are reinterpreted to refer to the corresponding subphase of the initiating unit’s next activation. If the initiating unit is destroyed before it is activated again, the effect ends with the round.

Example: Astropath powers

This section uses the Astropath from Codex Astra Militarum (2017, 8thth edition) because it provides two abilities with duration.

Astropaths can take Psychic Barrier, a psychic power. Its description ends:

Until the start of your next Psychic phase, add 1 to that unit’s saving throws.

In accordance with the rules given above, “your next Psychic phase” is interpreted to refer to the Psychic subphase of the Astropath’s next activation. Also in accordance with the alternate activation rule, the effect can last no longer than the round in which the Astropath is destroyed.

Another ability, Astral Divination, has the following description:

At the start of your Shooting phase, pick an enemy unit within 18" of this model. For the duration of the phase, the unit you picked gains no bonus to their saving throws for being in cover when it is targeted by attacks made by friendly Astra Militarum units within 6" of this model.

For the purposes of alternate activations, this effect is considered to be the work of the Astropath because it is not stated to be an impersonal ability of the Astropath’s army. Astral Divination thus comes into play when the Astropath reaches the Shooting subphase of its own activation.

Because the original rules state that the ability remains in play for the duration of the phase, the effect remains available to friendly units in the Shooting subphase of their activations for the rest of the round.

No further exceptions are made for this ability. The effect would therefore be stopped immediately if the Astropath was destroyed, not because of any reinterpretation but because units cannot be within 6” of a destroyed model. Similarly, the effect is not available to any units activated before the Astropath in the same round, nor to any units activated before the Astropath in the subsequent round, nor to friendly units attacking the designated target in melee or in Overwatch within 6” of the Astropath, nor to friendly units who are activated within 6” of the Astropath and who move outside that range before shooting.

Reactive fighting

In the Fight subphase, after every active unit has fought, each enemy unit involved in a fight with an active unit may fight in reaction. As in the original rules, no unit may fight more than twice per round: At most once as an active unit, and at most once in reaction.

Reactive fighting neither prevents, constitutes, nor is prevented by activation. It happens in the active units’ Fight subphase. In reactive fighting, units fight in an order determined by their player. Preserving the intent of the original rules, they are not limited to fighting active units.

Adaptations for specific factions

See Exceptions to alternate activation rules for 40K 9.

Advanced rule: Simultaneous activation

This option is intended to prevent Characters from falling out of step, risking the loss of aura abilities.

Under the following circumstances, a player can activate more than one unit at the same time.

When there are multiple active units, they go through a shared sequence of subphases, moving together before shooting together etc.

Advanced rule: Random player order

When players always take turns in the Activation phase, numerically superior armies tend to conceal their most valuable units in the first half of a round and deploy them later in the round, when the opponent can no longer react. The following rule counteracts that tendency to recreate IGOUGO for personal advantage.

This rule uses initiative markers. You need one type of them per player, and as many of that type as the player will have units. Each type must be distinguishable by sight (e.g. colour) and not by touch. For example, a Knights player might use three blue dice as initiative markers and the opposing Orks player ten yellow dice of the same shape, size and weight as the blue dice.

At the end of each Command phase, each player takes as many initiative markers of their personal type as they have units left in the game, including units held in Strategic Reserves. All players’ markers are then put in an opaque container.

Each time that a new unit should be activated, a marker is drawn from the container at random. The corresponding player then chooses one of their units to activate. The marker is placed next to that unit on the board. In a simultaneous activation of nearby units (see above), additional markers of the same player’s colour are picked from the container and placed next to each unit.1

If a player gains a unit they did not have in the Command phase, a new marker of their type is immediately added to the container.2 If a player selected by the drawing of a marker cannot or will not activate a unit, they automatically pass and all further markers of their colour are ignored.

At the end of each Morale phase, all initiative markers are removed from the board and from the container.


I formulated these rules based on an oral tradition, originally developed by Emil Broberg for an earlier edition of the game. They have been playtested in a casual 2022 tournament by John Pettersson, Andreas Skyman, Petter Hellqvist, Emil Broberg and myself.

Random player order is inspired by the “order” subsystem of Bolt Action (2012) and Beyond the Gates of Antares (2015).

  1. Rationale: Picking from the container in this case is intended to make it easy to predict the required amount of markers. 

  2. Clarification: If a unit is destroyed, no marker in the container is removed. Rationale: Minimal administration.