It is a question that several newer BT players present to their peers on various mediums. What is the best squad sizes for my units? Some of these questions are simply answered in absolutes and are accepted as correct. Are they really correct? Its hard to say, but giving players tools to decide for themselves with numbers and analysis will help people make the decision that is right for them.
First off, all my calculations that you'll see in this article are a result of the Heresy Combat Calculator. It is a handy tool and it quickly gives me the math I need for situations. Certainly saves me time from having to do all of this work by hand. ;)
Anyway, now that this obligatory link has been provided, we'll move on to the meat. I want to start with an unit that a great many players like using, never mind its effectiveness factor: Assault Terminators. It is widely known that to make them effective, you need to put them in a Land Raider Crusader so they have the mobility and protection to hopefully arrive where they need to go. Not to mention giving the unit Frag Grenades when they assault out of the vehicle. The transport capacity for the LRC is 8 terminators. But does that mean we need that many? Let's take a look at it.
Before we go further, how many points does that set us back? Assuming you're not giving the LRC Blessed Hull, but still taking the required smoke launchers, you're packing 612 points for those 8 Furious Charging terminators and their ride. Some players take 7 terminators and put one HQ unit with them, creating a more expensive monstrosity. Holy hell. What are the arguments for doing such a thing? Those that attempt such things tell me its so that if the LRC dies for whatever reason, the unit will have sufficient size (and therefore durability) to reach the enemy lines with sufficient strength to make an impact.
Fair enough. But consider this: an opponent that is going to kill or neutralize that LRC "rock" via movement blocking, is going to do it early game. Certainly while you're at least a third of the board away from them. Assuming you deployed maximum distances forward, its likely it took you a full two turns to get where you were before it died. And that is assuming perfect conditions. So now your LRC is dead. What now? A competent opponent will certainly not shoot at you, risking Righteous Zeal moves towards them. So you get your 6" movement, plus a D6" run without fleet. What happens if you're facing an mechanized opponent? Or an opponent that is fast (i.e. Blood Angels, Eldar, Dark Eldar)? Your goose is cooked. Those terminators will likely not make an impact on the game, beyond possibly eating a couple cheap sacrificial units meant to slow you down. While they did provide a "distraction" that needed to be dealt with, they did not fulfill the role they were taken for: assaulting the enemy to devastating results.
So all we gained from having those terminators was its distraction abilities. Why then, should we put so many points into something that is only meant to scare? Would it not be more efficient to minimize the squad size to create the illusion of a scary unit, so if it doesn't fulfill its job in battle, the "cost" isn't so high? If you look it like that, most players would agree. But you'll still get a few that say "Wait a second. Only 5 terminators aren't effective enough to kill their targets." Pulling out the Heresy Combat Calculator, I'll prove that this is not the case (assuming a 3 LC, 2 TH/SS ratio).
8-Man Terminator squad (5 LC, 3 TH/SS with AAC):
But how does this translate to the important unit in our codex: Crusader squads? We are in a unique position, as we can take both special and heavy weapons with any squad size. In addition, the squads can be complimented with the cheaper, but nearly as effective Neophytes. While its obvious that MSU-styled/Gunline builds will use 5-man units as their mainstay, what about the optimal sizes for a CC-oriented unit? How do you decide what is best for you?
We're going to assume that we're limiting our maximum squad size to 10, as to allow us to ride in a Rhino transport. We need at the very minimum 5 initiates, but we can add another 5 initiates to fill the squad. Or we could take up to 5 neophytes. I'll say right away that doing the 5/5 ratio is not one that you want to take. Why? Because if for some reason you lose more initiates than neophytes, you'll be forced to use the majority armor save and weapon skill. Which is now the inferior statline of the neophyte. You need a little bit of a buffer to allow for casualties.
In addition, having 10 initiates by themselves isn't an option in my mind, because it doesn't allow you to make use of our built in wound allocation. Without at least one neophyte, you'd be forced to put power weapons/low AP weapons against the "good" marines, which could potentially cause you to lose far more guys. All due to the wound allocation rules. So why would you eliminate the only defense against it: diversified units? Doesn't sound like good list building to me if you ignore your advantages. So that leaves us with a ratio range of 9/1 to a 6/4 (Initiates and Neophytes respectively). I'll present some numbers to you, assuming that the Crusader squad was armed with a meltagun, a powerfist, and BP/CCWs for the rest of the unit.
9/1 initiate to neophyte ratio (assuming charges and AAC):
Because numbers alone might not be enough to convince you, so I'll talk about why I choose the ratio I do. I'm of the opinion that the 8/2 ratio is best, or 7/2 + IC. That gives you a consistent 2 Neophyte buffer at all times, while keeping the combat efficiency high. Why don't I use the 9/1 ratio? To be quite honest, its because I don't think that a single neophyte is enough to handle all of the unit's wound allocations by himself during the course of a battle. You'll likely suffer through both shooting and combat, so only having one guy limits the options you have right away. It also comes down to points. You're only saving 6 points with the 9/1 option.
Well, why not the 7/3 or 6/4 ratio then? In this case, you save significantly more points on your units. And with a codex as "expensive" as ours is, we need as many discounts as we can find. The problem is that bringing your ratio to this level, your unit starts to become inefficient against most opponents in close combat. That is a problem, because that is the whole reason you take them. So that means I'm sticking to the higher two ratios, and I already ruled out 9/1.
The 8/2 ratio does several things for me. First, it chops off 12 points from the unit cost with very little loss in effectiveness. That takes care of most of the extra 18 points we have to pay for our Rhinos with smoke launchers, over our 5th Edition brethren. Sweet. Do that over 3 or 4 units, and you're looking at nearly a 50 point savings. That adds up. Having cheaper units across the board is beneficial in most cases. Second, you have two neophytes available in the squad to act as meat shields for the more valuable initiates. While they are almost as effective in CC as the initiates are, they aren't affected by AAC and have weaker armor saves, so that makes them expendable to me. This gives you two models for the cost of 20 points, that can potentially eat up a lot of power weapon/rending attacks depending on your opponent and wound allocation situation. Not bad. And when they die? The squad is still reasonably effective.
Next, if initiates do somehow die and my neophytes don't, I don't have to worry about losing the majority initiate statline. Some bad luck can seriously diminish the strength of your unit and allow it to be killed off much easier. That is bad news. Lastly, I do it for fluff reasons. While the first three reasons are optimization related, the final one is "theme" based. The background states that it is relatively rare for an initiate to take a neophyte under his wing, as so few survive to reach that stage in their training. As such, I don't think its appropriate to have so many in my force. But that is simply my perspective on the fluff, so don't make your choice based on that sole reason. You do not have to use the ratios I use, but understand why I outfit them the way I do. It certainly is not blind numerical choices. ;)
To conclude, there are several factors that you need to consider when creating the size and consistency of your units. The primary one is points cost. If the unit is too expensive, then will it allow you to fill the other important slots in your army? You have to be very careful when you consider such a unit at the expense of support. The loss of balance in an army tends to shift that list towards uncompetitiveness. Every unit has an opportunity cost and there more than a fair share of units that do not have a value to match their points cost. Each unit needs to be analyzed and examined to discover the best bang for buck.
The next factor is effectiveness on the board. Does the unit size or ratio allow itself to be useful in battle? Will it have the tools to be effective in the role that you have placed it? If a unit does not do its job well enough in your army, then why are you even spending the points to put it in? There is no use trying to force a sub-par unit to work. Learning how to decipher where that threshold is will come with experience. An example would be the Crusader squad. A 5/5 ratio would be considered sub-par because it doesn't pack enough of a punch to win combat's consistently, as well as having the great risk of having to use the Neophyte statline if you lose too many Initiates. However, that doesn't mean the Crusader squad is ineffective. By bumping the ratio up to 8/2, we find that the squad has sufficient power in combat where it was not effective before, while maintaining the benefits of having Neophytes in the squad.
You can also boost the effectiveness of a unit by giving it different weapons, wargear, or have IC's join the unit. On the other hand, you can also quickly cause that unit to become unoptimized. It is a very fine line, but there is usually tools available within the codex that allow players to alter squad sizes and ratios, while remaining fully effective and points efficient. Just don't go overboard, as even the most tricked out and efficient unit in the game can only be one place at once. :)
So what are your thoughts? Did I miss something important? Do you disagree with something? Agree with it? Let me know in the comments. ;)