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40K: The MAX in Min/Max

6 Minute Read
Jan 20 2012

Blogosphere pundits never seem to tire of extolling the virtues of MSU builds, but how often do we discuss the alternative?

The HBU.
The (drumroll please) Honking Big Unit!
Not sure that will catch on anytime soon, but let’s agree to roll with it for the purpose of this article.  
Some definitions are in order.  The term MSU means  ‘Multiple Small Unit’ and refers to a philosophy of maximum points efficiency.  Units are lean and mean, generally taking advantage of undercosted or inexpensive units that can then be copied multiple times across a Force Organization slot.  
You can read ‘copied multiple times’ as ‘spamming,’ yet another Blogosphere term you’re almost certainly familiar with, being the loyal reader of this site that you are!
Here’s an example of a fairly standard MSU build:  
Space Wolves, 1500 Points
Rune Priest; Living Lightning, Murderous Hurricane, Melta Bombs:  105
Wolf Scouts: 5-strong, Melta Gun:  85
Grey Hunters; 5-strong, Melta Gun with Las-Plas Razorback:  155
Grey Hunters; 5-strong, Melta Gun with Las-Plas Razorback:  155
Grey Hunters; 5-strong, Melta Gun with Las-Plas Razorback:  155
Grey Hunters; 5-strong, Melta Gun with Las-Plas Razorback:  155
Grey Hunters; 5-strong, Melta Gun with Las-Plas Razorback:  155
Grey Hunters; 5-strong, Melta Gun with Las-Plas Razorback:  155
Long Fangs; 5-strong, Missile Launchers x4 with Las-Plas Razorback:  190
Long Fangs; 5-strong, Missile Launchers x4 with Las-Plas Razorback:  190
I’ve copied the squads to bring home the point of the ‘multiple’ in Multiple Small Units.  There are nine infantry squads and eight Razorbacks – so eighteen (18) units, including the Rune Priest.  Obviously the potential is there to give up a lot of Kill Points if things go south, but in practice it can be hard to collect the points.  
Why?  Brother, there are eight Lascannons and Missile Launchers shooting at range starting Round One!  Not to mention d6 Strength 7 lightning bolts, just for the frosting.  Just as obviously, things get pretty grim inside of 24-inches and positively brutal at 12.
Er… do I need to point out its pretty spammy?  (Don’t miss Reecius’ fantastic article on the subject, linked here!)
Army purists will cry foul at the lack of originality, but the player will probably say something like, “How can you say that?  I’ve filled the Troops slot!”
Bah!  Who cares?  I don’t, and that’s not really the focus of this article.  Or at least, only peripherally.  Nor am I trying to advocate for MSU builds…
…they’re fine, they work – and again, who cares?  We’ve read it all before!
Let’s flip this puppy around; is the opposite workable?
If the opposite of trim and points efficient is bloated and unmanageable, then we’re not really on to anything great yet.  But MSU works because there is an inherent strategy in the build…
…the ‘min’ in Min/Max.  While we can’t turn the concept on its head, tweaking it a bit by occasionally including a large unit or two to anchor an army has produced results in my games over the years.

Enter the HBU!  A Honking Big Unit makes a virtue of its size and survivability to soak shots, tie up units, and hold advanced objectives.

Daemons!  Still by far my favorite army, and it’s how I cut my teeth writing for Bell back in 2010.
My standard optimized list used 5-strong Plaguebearers or Pink Horrors, for pretty obvious reasons.  The former was widely considered the best option in the book, and only considered useful for going to ground on objectives.  I didn’t give it any thought beyond that until Da Boyz in Rochester, New York the year before last.  Being a ‘comp’ event, my list included a larger than normal squad of ‘Bearers – my sad nod to fluff.
The unit blew my expectations out of the water!  The ‘Bearers played strong-center to the army and were useful in every game.  Well, except the embarrassing beat down Greg Spark’s Footdar handed me, but those tears are dry.
Excuse me for a moment.
Being hardheaded, I chalked it up as an anomaly and didn’t learn a thing.  But some synapses must have fired off, because I dusted off the idea in last year’s Hard Boyz tournament as an answer to a ‘grab-the-center’ mission.
Again, the unit of 15 ‘Bearers over-performed in every mission!  It was the Swiss Army knife of the army, capable of filling in a number of roles.  They created space, held objectives, tied up stronger units… and just never, ever went away easily.
Recently I’ve been applying the same concept to the Necrons, where my Troops are filled out by one squad of 20 Warriors, one squad of 10 Warriors, and two squads of 5 Immortals.
I toyed with some ideas on paper and in play-testing, but the real test came over the weekend in a local tournament.  Suffice it to say, the 20-strong Warriors exceeded my expectations in the same way the Plaguebearers did.
And for the same reason!  I think it boils down to two reasons:  
Large units are less susceptible to bad luck.  Your opponent has to apply more resources across more turns to put away a HBU.  With a largish sum of models at hand, chances are a lucky round of shooting won’t put them away.  Lady Luck should look away by the following round and things will even out.
Large units are less susceptible to good dice.  Wait, what??
If you think like me, you don’t want good dice – you want average dice!  A lucky round of shooting can make any crap unit seem great; alternatively a bad round of cover saves can seem overly frustrating.  Thing is, you can’t really count on either of these.
I’ll take nice and predictable, thank you!  Luck comes and goes, but dependable… that you can count on.
Dependability is important, but the Plaguebearers and Necron Warriors both work for HBU’s because they share a key characteristic:  survivability!  The former have a Toughness 5, Feel No Pain, and an Invulnerable Save; the latter aren’t quite so good, but then they aren’t expected to perform in close combat.  Still, Reanimation Protocols make even a humble 4+ save seem pretty great.
Not every HBU uses special rules for its effectiveness.  The standard Ork Mob has strength in numbers.  Cannon fodder has its place, after all.
And keep in mind, Lascannons become a lot less impressive when shooting Infantry models in cover!

Here’s a last thought on the advantages of the HBU: Kill Points denial.  Some builds can take advantage of a low unit count to play spoiler in Annihilation.  Just ask Paladins how effective that can be!  You’ll know you played into this tactic if your opponent starts griping about winning on Victory Points but losing the game to Kill Points… usually launching a diatribe about how KP’s ‘killed the game.’

As always, play the objective!  Just nod and chalk it up to luck – it doesn’t cost you anything.

This has been a rather generalist article, but it’s important to mention that each HBU I’ve included had a purpose, a role in the strategy of the list.  Build with a purpose in mind!  Randomly dropping points on anything isn’t a great idea.

For example, in the Necron Warriors mentioned in this article included an attached Crytek with Veil of Darkness.  The purpose behind the numbers was making sure the unit could not only punish the enemy with Rapid Fire Gauss but survive after the Deepstrike that got it there!

So, any takers?  Are there similar strategies you can advocate, or units you think might work in this role?

Any hugs and gropings on this one?


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