Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How many Troops are "Enough"?

Hello boys and girls! Today, I've decided to talk about a critical component of army list building: balancing for "enough" Troops.

Cruising around the interwebs yesterday, Sildani asked me to take a look at his armylist on Warseer. Some of the comments made me shake my head in despair, but one in particular caught my eye: that Eldar should have "one Troop per 500 points".

This comment pained on several levels. Not only did was I misquoted, but he also called it an "adage". Ouch. All things considered, there's worse rules you could follow when building a list, but it's mediocre to use such a generic formula. Not all Troops choices were created equally. There's massive differences in cost, stats, offensive effect, battlefield role and other special rules. This diversity means you need to apply more complex analysis.

Troops are often the bland, common, grunt soldiers of the army. Everything Troops can do, selections from other Force Orgs do larger, faster, stronger and louder. For example, compare to the basic Tactical Marine. Assault Marines are faster and better in assault, Devastators get more heavy weapons, Terminators tougher and better in assault... heck, even most Troops Transports are outclassed by dedicated platforms such as the Predator. But there's one thing the humble Tac Marine has that they don't: Scoring status.

Now what does Scoring really mean? In 2/3's of normal games, living Troops will be critical to winning the game. It only takes ONE guy to survive and be standing next to that objective. The likelihood of a unit surviving is mainly a factor of Toughness, Save, Wounds/Unit Size, and Cost. Low survival units like IG Troopers or Eldar Guardians balance out by having a cheap cost and high unit size. While high survival units like Plague Marines balance with a high cost. How you play, how aggressively the unit is used, the unit's maneuverability, the necessity of having them on the board rather than in Reserves, and even their perceived threat level can affect overall survivability too.

A unit's overall value should also be rated against what is needed to protect them versus the amount invested in them versus what is needed to make them actually "do something" other than Score. For example, Dire Avengers as a Vehicle Upgrade are a durable Troops choice because they're cheap enough to not care about ever getting out of their tank. Plague Marines are also a good Troops choice because they're extremely durable even without the a protection of a tank, meaning they're happy to get out of the tank and zap with a couple meltaguns.

So the truth is, there's no one "perfect" system for figuring out what is "enough" versus "too much" or "not enough". You'll have to find that sweet spot based upon your own army and playstyle. However, I'll share my general formula for Eldar:
5 Guardians, 5 DA or 3 Jetbikes = .5 points per multiple
10 Wraithguard as Troops = 3 points
Non-mechanized but with FortuneSeer = x1.5 points
Mounted in a Tank = +1 point
Tank has Holofields = +1 point
Unit designed to not leave their Tank or hide in Reserves (ex: DAVU) = +1 point
Mechanized with FortuneSeer = +1 point

A force should have a minimum of 1 point per 500 points of game. Optimal seems about 1 point per 275-300 spent. More than 1 point per 200-250 spent and you're probably overspending on Troops. So at 1750 you want a minimum score of 3.5, optimal is about 6-6.5 and going much over 7 is questionable.
2x10 Guardians or 2x3 Jetbikes? 1-2 points and asking for trouble.
2x DAVU Falcons? 7 points... viable but a little limited.
1x10 Wraithguard w Eldrad and a 9+Jetbike squad with Fortune Jetseer? 6.75, fun, durable, and surprisingly effective.
2x Storm Squads in Serpents and a DAVU HoloFalcon? 7.5 points and so solid that more Troops will often be a waste.

Hrm... for more articles on list building, check out Sandwyrm's "4 Things", Raptor1313's "Opportunity Cost", Stelek's "Unit Redundancy", Kirby's "Army Composition", and TheKingElessar's "Dropping the Metaphor". These authors all have some excellent articles on the subject if you poke around a bit, but the ones linked are items I think every 40ker should read. Cheers and see you next time!


  1. "Troops are often the bland, common, grunt soldiers of the army. Everything Troops can do, selections from other Force Orgs do larger, faster, stronger and louder."

    This needs to be copied down by everyone 200 times until they can repeat it. They should put a tape on at night saying this to them as they fall asleep. It's simply so mind bogging how many people dump half their army into troops (*stares at Warseer =D*).

    This line should get some sort of award. Line of the day? lol

  2. It should be noted though that this does not hold true for every army list.

    Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Orks, and Nids all have very potent and cost effective troop units which can make-up a much larger portion of their army lists then other armies. Army list composition will determine how much you can rely on your troops to get the job done and how much additional support is needed.

    As with every good list in 40K, it all comes down to the details...

  3. I've only got two 5-man squads (that count as scoring troops) at 1500 points for my Deathwing. It can be a challenge even with them being Terminators, but it's definitely fun.

  4. No link for this [http://hobbyinfobythekingelessar.blogspot.com/2010/03/part-three-dropping-metaphormaking-foc.html] article. :(

    Ah well. lol

    Good article overall, though I question the award of Wraithguard as so high. They cannot take a Transport, have terribad range, virtually nil duality, and the lack of Invul Save makes them remarkably easy to kill given the stats.

  5. I have to disagree with you on this Dverning and Kirby, with a couple of caveats.

    "Troops are often the bland, common, grunt soldiers of the army. Everything Troops can do, selections from other Force Orgs do larger, faster, stronger and louder."

    Perhaps this is true in many ways but it's far too much of a blanket statement for me and is focused very much on competitive gaming. In a friendly game recently, I took 20 tactical marines, 5 scouts and 10 Grey Knight allies. They were all useful in the game, survived well and killed their fair share. Perhaps the points would have been more effectively spent on other things in a cutthroat game but that doesn't mean that playing troops heavy is ineffective by any means.

    To take issue with the core of the statement though:
    Ork Boyz are seriously cost effective for nasty assault and firepower, Genestealers rip things up in combat, termagents with a Tervigon have remarkable staing power, Plague marines are nasty enough that I feel you could go heavy on them without losing too much power, bloodletters hit pretty hard, necron warriors give you nasty hitting power (admittedly in an outdated codex, but still), Space Wolves and Blood Angels have great troops, Dark Eldar get to spam nasty shooting with dark lances etc., SOB get close in shooty, burny death dealers and the Imperial Guard Platoons can put out punishing fire while absorbing massive casualties.

    That's not to say that you should overspend on troops by any means. As mchmr6677 said, it's all about the details. You should take the number and type of troops that work for your list and for the type of games you play.

    But that is a really interesting way to break down ratios of troops Dverning, I'm intrigued.

  6. I guess I am in the minority, but I tend to really like the troop choices available to me using CSM's. Actually, this is probably just a result of using this particular codex. With codex CSM, my troop choices are a whole lot better than all of my fast attack choices and better than most of my elite choices. Why? Mainly because my troop choices are fearless, it really hurts to pay for an expensive bike unit or raptor unit, only to have it run off the table when someone looks at it the wrong way.
    Having said all that, I think a lot of my preference comes from the simple fact that I like troops. I run 4 choices in my army most of the time. Maybe this is a byproduct of being a retired Marine, but I like the grunts!

  7. Wow. I wasn't expecting this post to generate any comments, what with wandering off into game theory... I had to break this into two replies due to length.

    @Kirby: Heh. Thanks. If there's one thing I HATE, it's when I've designed a list with durable Troops and a bent towards wipeouts... only to have some idiot pop in with "Two Troops isn't enough! You need more Troops!" It's about having the RIGHT Troops in the right amounts for your codex and playstyle. Not every list needs 6 Troops choices at 1K+.

    @mchmr6677: "this does not hold true for every army list." Very true and I tried to address this. Some armies, such as Nids or Orks, have Troops that are somewhat fragile and you take lots of them to make up for it. That very act creates is what creates their potency. Others, especially newer Codexes, have Troops that come close to the effect of other Force Orgs, especially when you factor price and/or lost opportunity.
    I'm not trying to advocate that every army needs to strip to minimal Troops. My point was that people should think about what their Troops choices are and why they are taken. Not all armies, nor even the Troops within each army, are created the equally.
    Also, my hope was to illustrate that there's more to cost/value analysis that just offensive power.

    @RonSaikowski: And that's a perfect example for finding that personal sweet spot of "enough". You're minimizing but balancing with two VERY durable choices. You understand the limitation and make it part of the fun and challenge.

    @TKE: Oh yes, I'd spaced on that article. Duly added. And the reason the Wraithguard are rated such is because they are durable if you play them right. Are they cost effective and useful? Not particularly. Can you deny that one squad's about as durable as 30 foot Guardians or a single DAVU HoloFalcon?

  8. @PeteW: Fair enough. I think it worth noting that I don't designate competitive=tournament and non-competitive=friendly. For me, all games are competitive and friendly no matter if I'm playing in a tournament or a pick-up. I'm not trying to debate semantics so much as express my mentality towards the game.
    That being said... I'm not knocking Troops choices in general. You give some good examples of decent Troops choices for positive effect. I think my statement still holds true though. Ork Boyz may be assaulty and shooty, but Nobz or Lootas are more so in their specialty. The same holds true with every other example given. Now, as to what's cost-efficient and utile? That's a whole different boat.
    What I'm knocking is people who spout "must have moar Troops" as an "army review". Troops should be a balanced part of your army with a focus on more than just their offensive capability. I 100% agree with your statement "You should take the number and type of troops that work for your list and for the type of games you play." That was the kind of message I was trying to convey.
    The ratio of Troops for Eldar? That comes from playing them a LOT. I could probably build a similar ratio system for other races but it wouldn't be nearly as clean and tested.

    @Magilla: Yeah, that is really a result of that Codex. Even though other selections do certain specializations "better", the Troops generally have more cost efficiency and longevity. It's why competitive CSM armies tend to be fairly cookie cutter... there's no reason nor incentive to really diversify.
    As to running 4 Troops? The point isn't that you're just running 4 Troops or 12. You're not running 4x5 CSM or 4x5 Lesser Daemons and expecting that to be sufficient, right? You're running 2 units of 8 Zerkers as an assaultinf forward element additionally protected in Rhinos. You've also got the 2 squads of Plaguers as mid-range and backfield that rely on their tank, Toughness and FNP to keep them around to Score at the end of the game.
    Heck, the Zerkers are such a disposable/sacrifice unit that I'd contest their Scoring isn't really a promary consideration. It's just something nice for if they manage to survive the game. It's a little extra to draw fire into them when they're aggressing on an enemy held objective... Thus I'd score them lower on the survival scale.
    I guess the key to this article is the suggestion to look beyond the idea of just "I have 4 Troops" and into "I have 2 Scoring units with a 10% chance of living long enough for it to matter, so I'm backing that up with 2 Scoring units that have an 80% each." That make sense?

  9. Dverning, I absolutely agree with your comments and didn't mean to come off as being against competitive play or players. I love playing to win as much as I do playing to have a cool story, win or lose.

    I agree with your statement too that troops are generally outclassed by other parts of the codex. I play Tau and fire warriors/kroot are a real challenge to have. Their firepower isn't that much and their survivability is low. Those I would consider tough troops to use well, especially compared to my marines and the tactical squads.

    I think we're definitely in the same boat here with regards to taking a close and careful look at what is the 'right' troop quantity for your army and the game(s) you're playing. That kind of one line army review (SM Scouts suck!!!11!) really bugs me and I find it equally annoying when people say things like, you should never take X unit, or you should always use multiple Ys.

    Let's have some careful thought in the army lists so that you do well in whatever you're playing. In a regular game, think hard about the best balance of forces to make your army the most effective and in a narrative/scenario game think about what will be the best balance of units to represent the involved armies in that part of the fluff.

    All the best,


  10. I have to adress the point about Plague Marines - I think they actually have very little punch indeed. Around here (and on much of the internets, after here, it must be said) the use of them has mostly 'graduated' to 5-man Rhino squads with 2 Meltas. This is as much anti-tank as they can get, doesn't sacrifice much in the way of survivability, yet provides very poor anti-infantry. Of course, if they're in the Rhino at all, the only way to provide better quality anti-Infantry is to drop a Meltagun, or both, which seems folly to me. The damage they can take is great, but output is poor. Adding even 5 Bolters doesn't make much difference, especially at over 100 points for the 'privilege'.

    Thanks for linking it, I wasn't really offended or anything, but I couldn't recall if you'd commented on it, so you could have missed it. While I doubt you gained anything from it, it wasn't written with experienced players in mind, and I'm honestly quite proud of it.
    And, no, I can't deny that, lol. They're just not as killy. ;)

  11. @PeteW: Yeah, it sounds like we're on exactly the same page. As with most 4th ed Codexes, Tau are an exemplar of the issue Troops can have. I understand firsthand as Tau were one of my secondary armies up until a couple years ago. They were too much like my Eldar and didn't make the downsizing cut. Cheers and thanks for the thoughtful feedback.

    @TKE: I do agree with your assessment of the Plaguers. The following comments are more for the edification of other readers...
    2 Meltaguns isn't a "hard" punch, but it's decent. It would be silly to drop a meltagun for a flamer when CSMs do anti-infantry pretty well already. I can see a decent point for taking plasmas instead, but that's another debate. Anyways, any additional guys added to the unit are just bringing another Bolter... something CSMs have everywhere. The benefit of more models is minimal on an offensive level, but the extra depth of durability is worthwhile defensively.
    The 5-man model comes from an MSU modus that ignores KP in favor of maximal firepower. Those players still invest about the same amount in Plague Marines, they just diversify into more units. Rather than taking 2x8 w 2 meltas in Rhinos (478 points), they're taking 3x5 w 2 meltas in Rhinos (510 points). Same way of reaching "enough", just with different thought patterns driving it. Both have the same total models. The MSU side gets extra durability as they have 6 distinct targets rather than four, but the non-MSU is cheaper and harder to wipe out. (The larger size would also be good if they were subject to Morale checks. Not pertinent here, but certainly for other units when looking at these modii.)
    I wouldn't say that one is more inherently "right" than another... just one side is more offensive, the other more defensive. This is one of those tipping points where personal preference and playstyle can outweigh pure netlisting.

  12. Thanks for the interesting article.

    Some of my recent games have been against armies like Death Guard, Ravenwing, and Emperor's Children. They all have Troops picks that are tougher, more resilient and/or shootier than what's available to Eldar.

    Your "Eldar Troops Calculus" is elegant. In one go you arrive at the same conclusion I came to only after gradually paring away at my beloved Dire Avengers.

    I used to run big squads with Exarchs in Serpents. Now, at the 1500 point level I'm down to a couple of small squads in tanks, whose boots hit the ground mostly only if their ride gets blown up.


  13. Hey DaveV! I'm glad you like the "Eldar Troops Calculus" (that name might stick), it was the process of WAY too much time spent thinking about my beloved Space Elves.

    And I'm not surprised that you're seeing the hidden message in the math... that DAVU and mech Stormies are the real core strengths. It really shows how a "transitioning to 5th" Codex just isn't the same as a true 5th ed Codex.