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March 23, 2010

40K: How Many Troops is Enough?

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Reader Mike S. mailed us with some observations about Troops (scoring) units. In his area, people took 5 or 6 Troop choices after the change to Fifth Edition, but he has noticed over time that this has scaled back, and he finds himself in the minority, still taking 5-6 scoring units, and sometimes Pedro Kantor with Sternguard (who are scoring due to his special rules). He wonders how many Troops is enough?

Jwolf here. Note: This article covers a topic too broad to have great detail in any area and still be readable over your morning coffee; if you want more detail, ask for specifics on a specific section in the comments – I will respond and either elaborate in the comments or write another long piece on the area of your interest.

The answer is two troops choices are enough, because that’s the minimum you have to take to have a legal list. But two Troops choices may not be optimal in all cases. For analytical purposes, I’ll review all 3 basic missions and the value of Troops in each, and then go into a more Army-focused look. EDIT: I am assuming a relatively standard force level of 1500 to 2000 points.

In Annihilation, Troops are just another unit that can become a kill point by dying and generate kill points for killing other units. In most cases, Troops choices are less effective at killing and as easy or easier to kill than similar Elite, Heavy, and Fast Attack units. This is obviously an overgeneralization, but it matches the game design and is more accurate than inaccurate as a general rule. So in Annihilation, fewer Troops choices are better for most armies. The exceptions include Chaos Space Marines Cult Troops - Khorne Berserkers are very killy, Plague Marines are among the most durable, Noise Marines produce significant Dakka, and Thousand Sons have great antipersonnel fire and are the best unit to take Demolisher cannon hits on. Dark Eldar should generally take a maximum number of Troops, as they are a bargain for their killing power. Imperial Guard can go with a large number of Troops, especially if they have a Platoon that collapses into a Commissariat Blob. Yes, you can mount the platoon squads in Chimeras, but blobbing 30+ in Annihilation makes the unit essentially nonviable as a kill point for most armies.

In Capture and Control, most armies really only need two scoring units, as there are only two possible objectives. Reserving a unit to hold your own objective at the end of the game and sending another towards the enemy objective (often obliquely – no sense trying to hold an objective against counter attacks for 3 turns) is generally a good default behavior. If you are Eldar, you need at least two units assigned to each job, as Wave Serpents break down at the most inconvenient times, and walking Eldar Troops aren’t known for their durability. Guardsmen need more units for defense (and possibly offense, but Guard should focus on eliminating all enemy scoring units and/or contesting the far objective, in most cases) – I like 3 units in the area to hold my home objective, and I tend to devote the rest of my Guard force to immobilizing and then eliminating enemy contesting and capturing units. Space Marines often do well to Combat Squad a couple of units for home defense, working on the premise that killing two units is harder than killing one.

Seize Ground can have up to 5 objectives – so obviously you need at least 5 scoring units, right? No, not at all. In almost no cases should you be able to take more than 3 objectives – your opponent has to be really asleep for you to get to 4, and if you’re looking at 5 objectives, just go ahead and go for Wipeout instead.
Seize Ground is the mission designed for Space Marines. Combat squads mean that 6 scoring units are very likely for most Space Marine players, and each unit essentially has to be destroyed totally to be stopped. Eldar also love Seize Ground; mobility is really all they have going for them, so having a lot of objectives to hope to tank shock a Wave Serpent of Dire Avengers onto is a very good thing.

One of the more common mistakes I see in Seize Ground is going for too many objectives. If you spread your forces too thin, it becomes trivial for your opponent to overwhelm some objectives and just shoot you off of the others. Having a smaller number of scoring units actually makes it less likely that you will over extend yourself, which is a good thing for newer players.

Overall, most players are fine with 3 or 4 scoring units in Seize Ground missions, and 2 units can be just as effective as 4 if you play aggressively with your non-scoring assets.

Breaking things down by Army:

Dark Eldar – Lots of Troops are great, because they are cheap for their killing power and not survivable against anything. I recommend 6 Troops for Dark Eldar in all cases.

Eldar – Eldar troops don’t kill anything, with the possible exception of a good Bladestorm every now and again. And they are also brittle, meaning you need spares to get much of anything done. But you cannot go Troop heavy and kill anything, and killing things is the way to win in 5e. You can get by with 3 Troops, but I recommend 4.

Necrons – Necron troops have the disadvantages of being expensive and ineffective. At almost any points level, more than 3 Troops of Necron Warriors is points spent poorly.

Imperial Guard – Any Imperial Guard force that has less than 6 potential scoring units has done something wrong. A basic Platoon with 3 squads and 2 Heavy Weapon units is 6 scoring units (if need be), and has a lot of utility if given Chimeras. If you prefer all Veterans, get at least 3, and at least one of those need to have carapace. Another option is Allied troops, but those generally don’t do much for you that you couldn’t do better for the same points from within your own Codex.

Space Marines – Space Marines can handle any mission with two full Tactical Squads, in Rhinos or Razorbacks. You can increase the number of scoring units or the number of killing units, to suit your fancy, but don’t confuse Tacticals with killing units. Space Marine Scouts are not good for holding or taking objectives, because Heavy Flamers can appear on top of them too easily.

Chaos Space Marines – Every troop option is worth taking, but I recommend at least 3 Troops in any force. A couple of small Daemon packs are great for popping out to grab objectives as well. So I would say at least 3 Troops for CSM, and more are great if you can spare the points from other units with more killing power.

Witch Hunters – ISTs should follow the Guard pattern, and inducted troops follow their codices. Sisters of Battle should have 2 units plus auxiliaries, or 3-4 units as a minimum if a pure Sisters force. Sisters are good killing units with good durability and staying power (assuming they are Booked, but isn’t the Book of St. Lucius built into the armor of every Veteran Sister by this point?)

Daemon Hunters – Grey Knights shouldn’t be wasted holding ground. Get some ISTs or (even better) a Guard platoon to do your holding, and get the Grey Knights into the Chimeras the platoon so handily gives them and across the board to kill the enemy on their home ground. Daemon hunters codex units are best used to kill and contest distant objectives; I would say 2 units of Grey Knights is sufficient to this task at almost any point level, and take an IG platoon to give you home base defensibilty and additional firepower.

Chaos Daemons – Plaguebearers can sit on objectives with the best of them. A couple of units of these will do very well, and a couple units of Horrors can be very effective as well. Overall, Chaos Daemons should make sure they have maximum Fiend units and solid Heavy choices, and then fill the rest in to suit themselves. 3 Troops choices seems like a reasonable minimum for any point value from 1500 up.

Tyranids – One or two Tervigons mean you will likely have at least 6 scoring units in fairly short order. Tyranid troop choices are cheap and plentiful, but shouldn’t be bought in such a way as to steal points from the more deadly options. I think two Tervigons in your Troops area will provide you with entirely adequate amounts of Troops for most point levels.

Tau – Tau troops are among the worst possible units in the game from the standpoint of value versus their units in other slots. A couple units of Fire Warriors to keep their Devilfish warm inside is a definite minimum, and you have to be careful not to limit your great firepower options with too many Troops. If more than 1/3 of your points are tied up on Troops and their transports, you’ve made a serious error.
Some people like Kroot with large Hound Packs; these can be good if held in Reserve, but suffer badly if on the board too early.

Orks – Ork troops are solid and affordable. 6 Ork Troop units are points generally well spent, if the game is large enough to support that. I would restrict troops to 50% or less of my total Orkish horde, but other philosophies on the subject have merit as well.

And a final note: Playstyle makes a huge difference in how many Troops you need. If you like Drop Pods or dismounted units, you need more Troops than you would in a fully mechanized force. Similarly, if you are an aggressive player who takes a lot of risks, an extra Troop or two will probably make your gambling s lot more profitable. A very conservative player who uses Reserves and nonlinear deployment very well might be able to slip in with minimum Troops on almost any mission, but the margin of error gets very slim very quickly.

I’ll be happy to go into more detail on individual sections in the comments, and I could easily right an article on the uses of Troops for every army listed, as well as the influence your playstyle has on the Troops needed. I hope this overview is useful to newer players and not too boring for the veterans, and look forward to your comments and questions. Jwolf out.
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