Thursday, April 14, 2011

Efficiency vs. Utility

This isn't really going to be a full size update, but it's an idea that's been kicking around in my head for a while and I haven't really resolved it.  Hopefully it will spark some discussion and give me the insight I'm seeking.

The GK codex is where I began to think about this topic, Efficiency versus Utility.  In a vacuum where kill points are irrelevant, we can all agree that (in 40k at least) MSU is the optimal way to construct armies, for non-horde codices.  However, taken to an extreme, there are clearly limits.  

Efficient AND killy

Let's look at a hypothetical unit that is very points efficient.  5 Tactical Marines, no heavy or special weapon for 50 points.  No option to take a transport.  Under the normal SM codex rules, this unit should cost around 85 points, so in this hypothetical entry, 50 points for it is quite efficient...

...but it doesn't do anything.  It brings no utility to an army.  So clearly, there is a limit to where no matter how points efficient something is, it has to do something in order to be useful on the battlefield.

Back to GK.

The optimal size of Purifier units has been a hot topic.  Kirby says that 7-8 is the optimal size.  I've heard others argue for 10.  Stelek, sticking to his MSU guns as always, insists 5 is correct.

The argument boils down to efficiency vs. utility.  Kirby's argument, if I can put words into his mouth, is that 5 man units aren't exceptional as shooty units, and they aren't scary in close combat.  If they don't shoot that much better than GKSS, and they aren't that much better in close combat than GKSS, why pay the extra points?  The unit gains utility as it gains size.  A unit of 8 is a definite close combat threat to nearly any unit in the game.  And with 2 Psycannons and 6 storm bolters, it can lay down some shots.  It has definite, undeniable utility.  

The criticism is, that while an 8 man Purifier squad has utility, it isn't points efficient.  You can't have more than 4 units of 8 in a 2000pt force without sacrificing important support units.  And 4 scoring units at 2000 is stretching it, even if they are exceptionally good.

Stelek argues that since they suck as a close combat unit (I personally disagree) there is no need to spend points on extra bodies, so stick to 5.  Also, no need to spend points on halberds.  He advocates 5 man units, 2 psycannons, and MAYBE a hammer if you feel it's necessary for some reason.  This is efficient.  180 points in a Rhino.  If you goal is to put down as many scoring mech based psycannons as possible, this is how you do it.

My question is, while undeniably points efficient and clearly superior to taking 5 man GKSS with a lone Psycannon, is it useful?  It certainly lacks the CC punch of the 8 man halberd wielding unit.  The criticism is that it is sacrificing utility in the quest for efficiency.  That it becomes a sorta-shooty unit rather than a go anywhere, do anything unit.

I see both sides of the coin.  I love the utility of an 8 man Purifier unit.  It eats everything short of TH/SS for breakfast, AND can throw down serious firepower at 24".  I also see how running 12 psycannons at 2000 points inside Rhinos is enough firepower to be excited about to the point where you don't care about losing in CC.

The optimist in me (I'd love to meet him someday) would argue that is a sign the codex has great internal balance because the right answer is far from obvious.  The pessimist would say that maybe running Purifiers as troops doesn't have an obvious right answer because they suck as troops and if they were good troops the answer would be quite obvious.

Like I said at the start, I don't have the answer and hopefully we can get a discussion where we can work towards it.


  1. If you spend some more points on the Purifiers (Hammer, Halbeards and a few more bodies) you can make them effective in both the shooting phase and the close combat phase so I think it's worth it. Maybe not point efficient but at least now you can take advantage of all their rules and equipment.

  2. Interesting post. I have never had success with MSU nor have I seen anyone in our local area have any success with it. As a result, I simply don't confide in 5 man units.

    10 has flexibility and is forgiving but isn't very efficient. I think I'll try 8 and see how that does.

  3. heh, blogger ate my post. So, I'll keep it shorter, because I don't want to be forced to remove my hair in frustration should the same thing happen again.

    Good post, lots of good thoughts here :)

    I think that taking 8 guys vs. 5 guys in a purifier squad is interesting, but doesn't make them a way bigger combat threat- 6 extra attacks kills 1.5 more marines (or orks!) than the 5-man. Maybe it's worth it, if you want to do it. I think a better choice is to be had though.

    If you're taking the 8-man squad in a rhino, you have room for 2 more guys. Why not get two more PRETTY CHEAP psycannons, at that point. As you say, it's clearly more efficient.

    There are better close combat threats in the codex. A good list will cover up one unit's shortcomings with a unit that can make up for that, which GKs can do easily enough.

    Personally, I think the thing that changes my mind though, is the excellently cheap 'psyfleback' if you get a 5 or 6-man squad. It can drive them forward, disembark them in midfield, and then go to town.

  4. "The optimist in me (I'd love to meet him someday) would argue that is a sign the codex has great internal balance because the right answer is far from obvious. "

    nail on head

    here's a few thoughts. purifiers def dont suck as troops. 5 purifiers can do in cc what 10 normal gk's can to some degree, the auto wounds are awesome.

    i still think getting squads of 10 w/4 psycannons and combat squadding is where its at. no clue for sure though I haven't gotten to see the GK's throw down.

    2 cents

  5. @Xaereth: if you go the psyback route, it seems to me that you are way better off with GKSS since the advantage of taking two psycannons per 5 guys is shooting with them out of a rhino hatch.

    I know you say to disembark them, but that flies in the face of accepted 40k 5th edition tactics of not getting out of your boxes until you are forced to. It might, in fact, be a whole new paradigm that actually works for the GK. But since they die like any other marines, I suspect not. What's good for the Grey Hunter is good for the Purifier, so to speak.