Okay, seriously, let's talk about this. It's probably one of the most common sorts of questions I see in strategy/tactic boards - "how many X should I take?" "Is Y enough of Unit Z, or do I have to take more?" "What is the most competitive number of models in a unit of..."
It goes on and on, and I watch people answer it on and on and...and they act like there's an *actual* answer
Well, let me solve that for you right now, I'm going to give the one, ultimate, total, absolutely correct with NO QUESTIONS ASKED answer to the unit size question...
Yep, that's it, right there. that's the whole and total truth to the question. So, we're done here now and...wait...what's that? You say you'd like me to actually maybe explain the *issues* you can consider in order to understand the variables so that you can answer the unit size question yourself? Well, heck, that sounds like a good idea - let's do that!
The Three Core Values
Okay, so what are the issues, the real core issues that actually define this debate?Survivability
Access to Certain Wargear Options
Now, really what all three of those are about is "Value" You want the unit to do what you want to be able to do with it so you get "Value" on the tabletop. So, basically, you want it to be able to survive being hurt. You want it to be able to hurt things back, and...as a special tertiary consideration, you want to have enough members in the squad to get to the good stuff that you'll want to use in order to be harder to hurt or to hurt the enemy more.
Make sense? Good - let's consider these three things and talk about what you're looking for when it comes to DE in particular.
There are general ideas that hold very true for DE, and most of us know them.
Fast yet fragile.
Take objectives, don't hold them.
Spikey elves of pointy spikey spike-ness.
Well, besides that last one, what these are saying is basically DE are GOOD at inflicting damage and BAD at receiving damage - so we have some special considerations in thinking about our squad sizes. There are basically two schools of thought.
Full Squads - Our units are easy to kill, so we need to take the biggest squad we can in order to help them survive once they start getting hurt.
MSU - We're good at inflicting damage, so we should take lots of small squads so we can inflict the most damage possible, any of our units that are attacked are dead anyway, so why waste points bulking them up.
Most DE generals are aware of these decisions and have made a call somewhere along the sliding scale from minimal, to maximized. Now, I do have an admission to make before we go much further;Hullo, my name is Thor665 and...I'm an MSU addict.
Yeah, I'm an MSU fiend - that's because I feel exaggerating our strength is a better overall plan than trying to cover our weaknesses. I'll present my arguments below, but will also attempt to show some of the weaknesses inherent in small squads as well (there are quite a couple) but I want to try to make an honest showing of where both schools of thought get things "wrong" in my opinion.
Survivability and Unit Size
This is probably one of the biggest ones. More bodies in a squad makes the squad harder to kill, right?
Well...again...the answer is really 'maybe' Let's consider some specific DE issues with survivability;Exploding Raider/Venom syndrome
This is one of my favorites, and is one of the ones I think MSU really has an advantage on. But, I'm sure you've heard/said something like this "I take full size squads so when my transport blows up my unit isn't useless or all dead."
Well...let's examine that idea, and really look at it. Because, in terms of survivability in an exploding crash, I actually think smaller squads are *just* as survivable as large squads. Here's why;
Example 1 - Exploding Raider with DE Warriors inside5 Man Squad
5 dice - 2.5 wounds - 1.6 after armor7 Man Squad
7 dice - 3.5 wounds - 2.3 after armor10 Man Squad
10 dice - 5 wounds - 3.3 after armor
So...a 5 man squad loses 1-2 men.
A 10 man squad loses 3-4 men.
Both are having to deal with the 25% morale check situation.
Wha-what!?! But...but...ten men...TEN...it's stronger than FIVE, that's MATH! Damn you Thor, damn you and your lying math!!!
Yeah, it's math, and the issue with exploding vehicles is that the enemy *auto hits* and in any situation where an enemy auto hits a squad is going to lose the same *percentage* of units regardless of if it's 5 men or 20.
So - if you want to have bigger squads in order to survive exploding transports easier...there's no real point. If that's the only reason to take more men then you should probably save points and buy something else.
All the big squad might get you as a benefit is it will somewhat
help protect you from statistical improbabilities...but statistically those can swing to help you as much as hurt you, so I don't see the point.Leadership/Morale Checks and dealing with them when your Leadership usually is terrible
This one has been talked about almost to death, and I suspect most players understand it already, but let's do the quick breakdown. What we're looking at here is how many casualties will cause a morale test, and how many casualties the unit can take before it will never be allowed to rally if it fails a morale test;
|Unit number ||Morale check || no longer rally |
|5 ||2 ||3 |
|6 ||2 ||4 |
|7 ||2 ||4 |
|8 ||2 ||5 |
|9 ||3 ||5 |
|10 ||3 ||6 |
What has always been fascinating to me is that the so-called sweet spot of 7 with Wyches doesn't actually hit a sweet spot on this chart. 6 is probably the true and legitimate sweet spot for affordability. 10 is certainly a solid holding block.
So what does all this tell us?
That units you expect to take a bit more of a beating should probably have some extra bodies in order to ward off morale saves. (especially since DE leadership is, on the whole, kinda mediocre)
I would say my general advice is, from a morale survivability standpoint, that 6 is the true magic number when it comes to unit size, 5 being a bit more affordable for minor loss - again, an arguable win for MSU. That said, if you really want a unit to hold an objective, 10 starts looking a lot more viable. These numbers are, though, really kind of minor to my mind. The wins and losses from a morale standpoint can be rough - but I would say the only one to sweat yourself over is the 25% one - by the time any DE unit is under half strength it probably hardly matters that they're running really.Being shot up when all you have for armor is a fancy thong
You take more bodies to protect yourself from death, right?
Riiight. Let me open by saying, when it comes to shooting vs. DE...size does not matter.
But, let's consider some basic damage possibilities;
Example 2 - DE Warriors vs Shooting5 Marines rapid fire
- 10 shots - 6.6 hits - 4.4 dead DE10 Marines rapid fire
- 20 shots - 13.3 hits - 8.8 dead DE
If you check the morale chart you'll notice that any squad under 8 is in pretty much equal trouble regardless of how many guys you took. Even the 9 and 10 man squads are hurting, even with only 4-5 dead.
This is actually why I'm a big fan of MSU - I personally think that DE are going to die, and having a few extra bodies won't prevent it. One Flamer in the Combat Squad of 5 would really have just wiped out even a Warrior squad of 10. So - vs. Shooting - your unit size *really* barely matters with most DE units. Even things with Armor like Scourges or Reavers are really not going to absorb the damage very well at all. Let's consider one of the age old size questions; Reaver jetbikes
Example 3 - Reaver Jetbikes vs Shooting5 Marines rapid fire
- 10 shots - 6.6 hits - 3.3 armor saves - 1.6 dead DE10 Marines rapid fire
- 20 shots - 13.3 hits - 6.6 armor saves - 3.3 dead DE
Now, consider the two classic RJB builds;
3 RJBs w. some upgrade - let's say Blaster.
6 RJBs w. 2 of the same upgrade.
vs. 5 marines rapid firing at them - the squad of 3 will have to risk its Blaster - which is a point in favor of the 6 man squad option. The 3 man is definitely facing morale...the 6 man might be facing morale as well - risking 2 Blasters.
vs. 10 marines - the 3 man squad is probably dead (costing you 1 Blaster), and the 6 man has to risk both blasters and will no doubt have a morale check as well.
This is a good value with splitting your squads up - DE are so fragile that a squad of us that's twice as big isn't really twice as hard to kill, because a lot of enemy units will basically overkill us. So there's a certain defense in splitting your gear up between multiple units so the enemy needs multiple units of his own to deal with them. Yeah, Marines can cap gun us off the board with no difficulty...but if there are eight of our squads and only four of theirs - I know I'm going to get some shooting turns to return the favor.
The big drawback is, of course, more killpoints. Yes, MSU makes units harder to kill by forcing your opponent to have to have more units shoot at you, but it will make life potentially more difficult for you in KP missions.
Now, there is one place this rule is turned on it's head - and that's in Assault. DE units like Wyches and Wracks are as tough as old shoe leather in assault (plus, and I'll get to it in the damage section) they gain a *lot* more from extra bodies in assault than you do in shooting. This is because in Assault our saves become extremely superior, going to 4+ or we have assault units that are the various coven boys that inherently start with FNP and a natural higher toughness. This is interesting, as we can be very easy to kill with shooting, and very difficult to deal with in assault.
So, when deciding unit size;
Survivability vs. shooting - unit size almost doesn't matter.
Survivability vs. assault - unit size does matter.
Well, now you have a LOT of information about how unit size does or does not actually affect Survivability in a unit. We've seen that in exploding transports size doesn't matter, also, considering how weedy we are our unit size surprisingly makes only very moderate changes in survivability vs. shooting. In the more survivable environment of assault it becomes more viable to have a larger squad - but with morale checks the true super value is 6 unless you want to pay for 9-10.
So, small units seem to toally sweep the board, yeah? Well...not quite. Let's talk about our next section - damage output.
Damage Output and Unit Size
More bodies equates to more damage, yeah?
Well...actually...pretty much, yep.
You really cannot argue that 5 guys shooting is going to be more effective than 10 guys shooting, (at least not until we get into Wargear discussion). Still - we really should discuss the relative value gains;Assaulting via Horde
Flat out - more bodies will help your assault elements inflict more damge - and it's a pretty aggressive growth. This is because in our actual assault units (from Wyches and Wracks to even Grots and Beastmasters) you usually gain a dramatic number of extra attacks per body.
With Wyches, for 10 points I'm basically buying +3 attacks (and that's prior to drugs)
For 12 points I'm buying +3 attacks and +1 glancing hit on vehicles.
Also, and let's be clear on this, more Wyches/Wracks/whatev increases your ability to assault things. Why? Multi-assault. When you're barreling into an IG parking lot, having an extra 2-3 Wyches basically assures you an extra 1-2 enemy vehicles that are going to get messed up. That's 24 points managing to but a hurting on 80+ That's VALUE.
Now, it is important to understand, outside of vehicles, how much help Wyches are actually being. We've all heard the old standby of the Agonser what the Agoniser will do is basically +1-2 wounds per combat...vs. pretty much anything. Still, let's presume there is no Agoniser and just try to get a rough idea of what the squad numbers are doing versus three iconic assault foes;
Example 4 - Wyches in Assault, a Numbers Game5 Wyches vs. Guardsmen
10 hits - 5 wounds - 3. 3 dead Guardsmen after armor saves.10 Wyches vs. Guardsmen
20 hits - 10 wounds - 6.6 dead Guardsmen after armor saves.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------5 Wyches vs. Orks
7.5 hits - 2.5 wounds 2.08 dead Orks after armor10 Wyches vs. Orks
15 hits - 5 wounds 4.1 dead Orks after armor
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------5 Wyches vs. Marines
7.5 hits - 2.5 wounds .83 dead Marines after armor10 Wyches vs. Marines
15 hits - 5 wounds 1.6 dead Marines after armor
It's easy to see why the Agoniser is so useful vs. Marines, yeah? Every 5 Wyches is probably only killing 1 Marine, but the Hekatrix kills 1-2 all by herself. Now, these numbers are...slightly misleading, because with drugs all Wyches are indeed actually better at killing than this, but it gives you the idea.
Wyches are decent at chopping up blobs of mooks and suffer vs. high toughness and high armor saves, and the extra bodies help them out in a clear and obvious manner. Also, with assault, vs. MEQ the Agoniser is *very* valuable to the Wyches, so it's nice to be able to protect it with some mook bodies.
For pure damage output in assault - big squads win - hands down.How Many Splinter Rifles Can Dance on the Head of a Dakka Gunboat?
Shooting is a more moderate gain, because with most shooting attacks you're only gaining 1-2 extra shots per body purchased or, to get to that sweet Assault number of 3+ you're probably having to buy a body *and* a weapon upgrade of some sort.
So, when considering how many extra bodies you need for a shooting unit, the really important question is to ask yourself, "how often will I get this extra shooting benefit?" The more you can get the shooting benefit, the more valuable the extra bodes are.
Let's consider a basic one;
Example 5 - Warriors in a Raider Shooting Marines10 Warriors at 24"
6.6 hits - 3.3 wounds - 1.1 dead Marines after armor saves.10 Warriors at 12"
13.2 hits - 6.6 wounds - 2.2 dead Marines after armor saves.
That is a dramatic shift, yeah? When you're paying an extra 45 points for s.rifles, you better be planning to get them up in there and take advantage of them. 45 points for an extra .5 dead Space Marines is NOT a good value. 45 points for an extra 1 dead Space Marine starts looking pretty good - because you don't need to do that to too many Space Marines to say you got your value back from the unit.
So, when shooting, more bodies is better (duh) and you want to make sure if you buy those bodies you maximise them - otherwise there's no point to go bigger with the unit.So...pretty much MSU sucks at damage output, right?
This is a good question, and it's interesting to argue, because one has to start moving away from math and doing some theoreticals.MSU and Assault
This one is, I believe, a pretty clear win for bigger squads. MSU has *clear* advantages for SURVIVING. If I field 3 squads of 5 Wyches and you field 2 of 10 - well, I'm more likely to get Wyches into assault - not a question. I'm more survivable.
But, for equal points in Wyches, your squads will hit harder (except *maybe* vs. Space Marines if I manage to get more Agonisers into assault than you do)
So - for Assault damage - bigger squads win. No question.MSU and Shooting Part 1 - The RJB question
Shooting gets more fun though - let's consider the classic RJB question some more.
6 RJBs w. 2x Blaster
3 RJBs w. Blaster
3 RJBs w. Blaster
One squad versus two, the 2 squads cost identical to the big squad. We've already established that the 2 squads are indeed more survivable than the one squad, but who does more damage?
Well...that's tricky. We have the same number and types of weapons - so it's identical, right? Well...maybe.
The big difference comes when we're shooting and our ability to target. Let's say the enemy has 2 Predators that I want to prevent from shooting at my army. The 6 man squad literally has no way to do this - they're going to fire at 1 Predator, maybe mess with it, and that's all they're doing.
The two 3 man squads however, functionally can split there fire. I can shoot at one Predator and, if I happen to shake or stun it, I can then shoot at the other Predator with my second 3 Man squad. This is starting to get into tempo advantage (which is an article I think I should write) but I think it's clear to see how this is potentially better damage output than the six man squad.
Okay, but vehicles are different than infantry - in infantry shooting you can't make that distinction. Right?
Well...let's see;MSU and Shooting Part 2 - The Kabalite Warrior question
10 Warriors, 1 Blaster, 1 S.Cannon, in a Raider
5 Warriors, 1 Blaster, in a Raider.
Which is "better" for damage output? Well...again, this gets really difficult to compare, but I'll give you the MSU view and point at its weaknesses and strengths. First thing first, we need to compare an equal amount of points;
10 Warriors, 1 Blaster, 1 S.Cannon, in a Raider
10 Warriors, 1 Blaster, 1 S.Cannon, in a Raider
5 Warriors, 1 Blaster, in a Raider
5 Warriors, 1 Blaster, in a Raider
5 Warriors, 1 Blaster, in a Raider
Please note - I am giving Team MSU a 10 point advantage (20 points if I were to include FFs on all of these vehicles) but I do think this is reasonably close in points that is "fair" or at least as fair as I can make it.
So, let's consider what each squad can do when in rapid fire range;
Example 6 - Team Max Squad Sizevs. Guardsmen
13.3 dead from poison shooting - 1.1 from Blasters = 14.4 dead Guardsmenvs. Marines
4.44 dead from poison shooting - 1.1 from Blasters = 5.5 dead Marines
Example 7 - Team MSUvs. Guardsmen
8 dead from poison shooting - 1.6 from Blasters = 9.6 dead Guardsmenvs. Marines
2.2 dead from poison shooting - 1.6 from Blasters = 3.6 dead Marines
Yeah...there it is, and we MSU are not fond of admitting it, but for damage output the big Gunboats laugh at us.
Now - admittedly - we are getting +1 Transport (and +1 Lance or +12 poison shots is pretty nice) and +1 ability to target other units with our MSU choice, but for raw damage output vs. infantry the max Gunboat does it well and actually does it at a value compared to the MSU units. The big units also do better at longer range.
WAIT A MINUTE THOR! screech the MSU lovers. That is BS and YOU KNOW IT! We use the Blasters on vehicles and the Dakka Venoms on infantry.
Well...yeah, but let's be honest back;
Within 12" our mighty 3x Dakka Venom is less effective than those 2 Gunboats at killing both Guardsmen and Marines.
Ah, but you point out that the Dakka Venoms have better range and the ability to move 12" Well...yeah, but the Raider's Lances have better range and the ability to move unlike our Blasters in a Venom - and I would argue that Turn 1 it's better to be able to shoot a lance than it is to shoot 12 poison shots. I usually need more poison mid game and more anti-mech at game start.
The max Gunboat is better at inflicting damage on a point by point comparison.
The MSU Gunboats are *way* more survivable...but they do less damage.
Also, with both, you have to figure out what you need and win. I still go with MSU, but I do MSU of Raiders, not Venoms - so that I have that initial lance strike that I desire. There's ways to work around all the issues, but, as with the point of this article, the goal is to understand what you're doing when you choose one.
Access to Wargear and Unit Size
Unit size effects wargear, because that's the way the game is made. You need that sergeant upgrade to take 'weapon X' you need that fifth man to take 'upgrade B' you can get some 'Y' every time you take a multiple of 10. We all know the drill. So, at some stage, the optimal unit size matters because you need to get a certain piece of wargear.
Okay, this section should really be quite simple, and really comes down to an easy series of questions. I'm including it simply because it is a sometimes seen mistake.1. What is the purpose of your unit?
2. What gear will help it with its purpose?
3. Do you need more men than the minimum to buy that wargear?
Let's take these one at a time;1. What is the purpose of your unit?
In the grand scheme of the game there's really only a few actual goals;
I lurv this unit and shall take it always!
I'll leave the fourth one up to you guys to figure out properly, but the first three are easy enough. Your unit's goal is to help you kill some aspect of the enemy or to claim/hold objectives. All units should be doing one of these things because those are the only ways you actually win the game.
What about tarpit units?
What about transports?
What about Hellions?
1. Tarpits lock stuff up to prevent it from getting to/killing your units that are actually doing the killing. They are a tool to help kill because they prevent the enemy from killing you.
2. Transports usually have a dual role - in our army they have a gun and help kill stuff directly - usually they also carry a unit around to kill stuff/claim objectives and can sometimes be used to contest objectives themselves.
3. Hellions are terrible, so...
(but I'm pretty sure they're about killing infantry, at least they're supposed to be)
Okay, so now you know the purpose of your unit - everything you do should be to help the unit do that purpose. Some units have multiple purposes, that's fine, focus on making them good at their multiple purposes.2. What gear will help it with its purpose?
Gear that helps a unit's purpose should help them MOST OF THE TIME.
I think this is the biggest error with unit creation - a lot of things are taken "in case 'X' happens"
Well...how often does 'X' actually happen?
The game of 40k basically lasts 6 turns on average, sometimes 5 (especially in tournaments with limited playing times - I always finish well before the deadline, or well after, I never finish 'right' on time - does anyone?) So, you really only have 5-6 move/shoot/assault phases to do whatever it is your unit is supposed to be doing.
Usually Turn 1 lacks assault (even for DE - not the easiest thing to pull off, and we're the fastest codex out there). So you have probably about 5-6 moves, 5-6 times to shoot and 4-5 times to assault available to you.
If an upgrade is really worth taking (and isn't 1-shot, natch
), it should be useful to you about 3-4 times a game, at least. So what this basically means is - don't take an Agoniser and blast pistol Dracon in a squad of Trueborn with Dark Lances you're planning to deploy in a three story ruin. You have better uses for those points, and better uses for the squad (like, y'know, shooting dark lances)
Make sense?3. Do you need more men than the minimum to buy that wargear?
Short answer - no with a 'but' long answer yes with an 'if'
Really, this goes to two things;
1. The two earlier sections in this discussion about survivability and damage output.
2. The purpose of the squad combined with those.
If the squad is built to kill vehicles, and you need to take 5 men to get a Blaster so you can go kill vehicles, should you take 6? Well, survivability says 'yes'. Damage output says 'no' because extra s.rifles are not extra bodies for the purposes of killing vehicles, which is the squad's purpose.
Do you see that? Now you understand what the *choice* you're making is, and that's the way to get the real answer behind 'What is the best Unit Size'.
Putting it all Together aka are you going to tell me if MSU or Max Squads are best yet?
So now you (hopefully) were able to follow my pontificating well enough to find the few kernals of wisdom I have in there.
What unit size is all about is maximizing damage output, maximizing survivability, and optimizing your choices to what job the squad will have so that you have enough points to do everything you want to be able to do in a list.
I, personally, swear by MSU as the best tactic - that said, there are multiple times (even in "MSU" lists) where I'll take a large, or even maximized squad. Why? Because I believe it will help the squad do what it's supposed to do better and in a way that is worth the points I am spending.
Don't think that if you go MSU you always have to take the minimum numbers.
Don't think that if you go max squads you can't fudge a couple in order to afford that extra unit.
DO keep in mind what each unit is supposed to do, and how the size you're choosing will help/hurt it in doing its goal. If you get it just right you'll have a unit that is the perfect size for your army.
And that's the best unit size advice I can give.