This CONCEPTS article looks at troops - why we need them, how to protect them and useful tools for hunting them down.
Quick note - I had finished writing this just before Escalation and Stronghold Assault were released but have now added a few extra points. Although I expect these releases to redefine 40k, they have not changed the way that the basic missions are won. How we build our lists will need to change and adapt, but the requirements to actually win the game are the same.
Troops units are usually scoring, allowing them to control or deny objectives when within 3" of the marker. Exceptions generally include vehicles, embarked units, swarms, units that are falling back or anything with a special rule stating that they can never score (e.g. fenrisian wolf packs). The special mission rules for Big Guns Never Tire and The Scouring make heavy support and fast attack slots scoring (but not denial units), even if they are, for example, vehicles. See pages 123 and 128-129 of the small rule book for more.
Personally, I think that a large majority of the tournament armies I see run very light on troops in favour of bigger threats. I can understand why, especially if an army has troops that don't really contribute much other than sitting on an objective - this is part of the reason I like codexes with troops that can be a threat not just a deckchair unit!
However, the risk with running a small number of troops is that these key units will be focused on in objective games to deny your scoring ability. Even if your opponent is getting hammered, if they can wipe out all your troops they can force a draw on the primary mission, which leaves you relying on secondaries to win (not good if your going second due to First Blood or say if you're running a squishy HQ).
Having more uncontested scoring units on objectives than your opponent wins 4/6 of the basic missions. You also need a troop unit to pick up the Relic. It really doesn't matter how much of a beating you can take or dish out if you can't win the game (ok maybe in battlepoint tournaments, but we'll leave that for now!).
Protecting Scoring Units
A common tactic is to reserve your troops to keep them safe (the later they arrive the better). Currently the best example of this is the 3 man Elder jetbike unit due to it's incredible speed and small size, making it much easier to hide out of LOS.
Walking a backfield scoring unit in from the board edge is fine if there's conveniently an objective close by, preferably with good cover or even better line of sight blocking terrain to hide behind. But this is not always the case, so the more mobility your scoring units have the better. Being fast (jetbikes), able to deep strike (plague bearers, Farsight crisis suits), outflank (kroot) or deploy from a flier (necron warriors, IG) are all very valuable and gives you options on which objectives to go for late game.
Throw in reserve manipulation, possibly from comms relays, warlord traits, scriers gaze, Tigerius for Ultramarines, autarchs for Eldar and it's possible for some armies to have a great deal of control of when their troops come in, meaning that it's somewhat safer to run smaller number of troops as they are more likely to be alive at the end of the game when you need them. Not my preferred style, but a calculated risk for some.
I will also throw in some initial reactions to D-weapons. At the time of writing I've yet to see these in action first hand but it is clear that some traditional techniques of protecting your units, like using cover or invulnerable saves, are straight up ignored by strength D (SD) hits. However, the simultaneous advent of the Stronghold supplement gives some potential protection through layers of void shields, assuming that you can keep the enemy Lord of War (LoW) outside the bubble. Other options still include the reserves game, use of transport fliers (protecting your units from SD blasts and templates), hiding out of line of sight (LOS) where possible and using multiple small units (MSU). For MSU, a few more scoring units than usual probably isn't going to cut it against D weapons, so I'm thinking about extreme MSU as a possible starting point. Either way, it's early days for but let's keep calm and experiment to see if there is anything that works before jumping ship!
Hunting Scoring Units
Knowing that opponents may try to protect their troops by keeping them in reserve, out of sight, in cover and in transports for as long as possible, having the ability to root out hard to reach enemy scoring units is key.
One of the first things I do when I open a new codex is look for any weapons or units that have ignore cover. Then I look for anything that can fire at targets out of line of sight. Then anything with interceptor. After this I usually look to see how mobile units can be (including using transports) and what their threat range is (movement plus weapon range/typical charge distance). If any of these abilities come from a scoring unit for a reasonable amount of points, brilliant. It's also worth noting here that these abilities usually come at a premium, so it's entirely possible to miss out things like ignores cover if it's more efficient to torrent fire instead.
So it's not surprising that I typically put enemy units with the above abilities very high on my target priority list. Helldrakes, wave serpents, Tau markerlights, units with SMS, long range barrage weapons (I'm looking at you thunderfire cannons and IG artillery) and anything with interceptor (especially if it has skyfire and I'm running a flier) are in my opinion some of the biggest threats in the game. If they're allowed to rinse through my own scoring units and key threats unopposed I know I have a much smaller chance of winning the game.
Something I'm thinking about more and more is the benefit of durable contesting units. These don't have to be scoring, but need to be able to get to within 3" of an objective and sit there despite concerted effort to shift them. We already see plenty of wraithknights, riptides, FMCs and dreadknights used for this (notice a theme?) but I've also seen this done well by tough combat units such as beasts and drones of Nurgle. Anything with a decent toughness, lots and lots of wounds and preferably a reasonable invulnerable save and FNP can be a royal pain in the butt to clear without D weapons, even if the damage output of these units isn't incredible. I'm becoming particularly interested in these types of units because they rely on movement rather than damage to help win the game. Anything that removes relying on rolling dice to do it's job is good for me!
So when building a list, I like to try to keep everything discussed above in mind. My priorities are:
- Multiple mobile troop units, ideally with a decent threat profile. The more mobile the better.
- A couple of cheap backfield scoring units that I can reserve if needed without reducing my offensive capabilities.
- Scoring units that I can drop/jump/boost in my opponents backfield, preferably with the ability to kill troops (e.g. with flamers).
- Troop hunters, including the ability to crack transports (including fliers). Anything with decent reach (mobility and range), ignores cover and that doesn't need line of sight is most valuable.
- Threat removal. Units that can take out my opponents ability to threaten my scoring potential.
- Tough/numerous/fast objective contesters.
Troops are often considered to be a bit of a dead-weight, not particularly dangerous and a liability to protect. This is a reality for armies without useful troops, but armies that can protect their troops for longer may be able to afford to put more points into non-scoring threats.
In early 6th, this was done very well by Necrons with their night scythes and IG with their vendettas. The durability offered by fliers in an environment with little skyfire and interceptor meant that points could be spent loading up on other offensive units (e.g. wraiths and blob squads) that were difficult to ignore. Now we have Eldar with their jetbikes and wave serpents, either as primary or an ally. The future may well hold alternatives, but the idea will remain the same - if you're troops can't do much, only take as many as you think you need and keep them as safe and as mobile as possible. Then spend your remaining points as efficiently as possible wrecking face.
There are a lot of good reasons to take troops choices in your army. You need scoring units to win 4/6 missions and you need a troops choice to pick up the Relic. 3/6 missions use multiple (3-6) objectives. Troops are (nearly) always scoring, so can claim objectives in each of the associated missions. However, not all codexes have effective troops and will generally try to minimise and protect these units in order to take bigger threats. In both cases the better your own army is at hunting down and removing enemy scoring units, the easier it is to win games.
It's really up to you as a general and a list builder to balance what you think you need and refine it with analysis and play testing, but if your troop units can be a legitimate threat and not just a target, all the better.
Comments and thoughts always welcome. I'd be interested to hear any other arguments for or against troops that I may have missed, especially now Escalation and Stronghold Assault have been released!