Monday, July 11, 2011

40k Theory: Offense and Defense

Offense vs. Defense is a topic I’ve wanted to touch on since I made the very controversial statement in my metric series that points correlate to Defense and not Offense. 

I’ll restate my theory now so we are all up to speed: In 40k, a unit’s points cost correlates more directly with its defensive capability than its offensive capability.  A unit pays through the nose for FNP, 3+ saves, etc.  Adding a Missile Launcher (or 4!) to a unit doesn’t really cost that much more considering the vast increase of firepower.

Offense always wins.

In 40k, defense is also multi-directional.  Units can be resilient due to increased individual toughness, or by multiplicity of bodies.  A unit of 30 Orks can take a lot of pounding before it dies, so even though each Ork isn’t so hard to kill, there are a lot of them to kill.  What this means is, we can make any army more resilient by purchasing more bodies.  This is a key bit of information.

Since any army can be made tougher by purchasing more bodies and vehicles to house the bodies, we will find that even at 2,500 points, we will run out of points before we run out of bodies to purchase if we are trying to make the toughest, most defensive army available.  Thus, the limiting factor of defense in 40k is points. 

Offense, on the other hand has other limitations.  Yes, points are a limitation to offense, especially at low point level games.  But once you hit 2k and above, points cease to be the primary limiter on how much offense you can pack into your list.  At 2k, your Force Allocation slots become your limiting factor for many 5th Edition codices.  At 2,500, it is the limiting factor for all codices.  This is because units don’t gain offensive power by adding more bodies or more vehicles to existing units, but by adding more units with special/heavy weapons.   Playing a strict MSU list in order to absolutely maximize your firepower, you will fill you troops, elites, and heavy support before you run out of points.  Thus, the limiting factor of offense in 40k at higher point levels is Force Allocation slots.

But wait, there’s more.  Defense is, as I said, multi-directional.  More units ALSO makes the army more resilient/defensive.  This is a big validation for the MSU playstyle, because we can conclude that the “optimal” way to maximize your defensive ability is to add units before you add bodies.  Since adding units also maximizes your offense, adding units increases both at the same time, which is a far more efficient way to create a powerful list.

So did I really write 500 words to explain why MSU is the superior play style?  Basically so.  Aren’t you glad I’m here to repeat what you already knew?  Jokes aside, besides the MSU validation, it does support my thesis that defense is correlated to points to a much greater degree than offensive power. 


  1. What you're stating makes sense as far as shooting offense goes. For CC units offense scales proportionally with unit size. The same applies to a lesser extent to utility of screening or bubble-wrap units.

    The obvious example from my codex is genestealers - adding bodies to stealer units adds both resilience and punch. Large units are more resilient than multiple small units of stealers because of synergy with a Tervigon's catalyst power. It also makes it somewhat easier to take advantage of cover, as you can keep a majority in cover and saafely snake a conga line out to provide cover to other units or towards enemy you want to charge.

    Also the multiple combat rules can really hurt lots of small units of fearless troops - it's a risky strategy for nids. Wiping one gives you free wounds on the others.

  2. Actually, multiple combat rules hurt big units of fearless troops more than little ones. MSU Purifiers players don't complain about Fearless wounds. Ork/Nid players do, though.

    Anyway, I agree with your point about CC power increasing with unit size... but on a unit by unit basis. At the army level overall 2 units of 10 guys have the same total output as 1 unit of 20.

  3. This is one of those situations where the offensive potential is the same, but defensive strategy and synergy in the list pushes the stealers into large squads.

    While it doesn't change damage output, if you did manage to win a combat against those stealer units, you'd do double fearless wounds against the two units than you would against the single unit. And more likely, you'd be doing the wounds to termagants and getting them for free on the other units.

    The fearless wounds really hamstring monstrous creatures when they're around smaller creatures. It's not fun.

  4. Somehow I managed to miss my most important point out of that reply. It's the quality of army wide armour saves that makes you hurt with fearless wounds.

    Orks and nids both have units of poorly protected troops that are easy to tag into assault and inflict large numbers of casualties on. That then either forces a large number of saves on high toughness beasts with a good save and few wounds and/or units with lots of bodies and poor saves. Those free wounds are inflicted on every fearless unit in the combat, so if you lose it's better to have fewer units in the combat.

    Purifiers are a unit with a big incentive to MSU - each new unit brings more psycannons slots and can cast cleansing flame. The damage output of a stealer units scales linearly with each stealer you add, they don't rely on upgrade characters, and they have defensive incentives to take large units. I'd be interested if you have any examples of people maxing the nid force org chart with smaller units of stealers and doing well.

  5. I don't think I'd advocate MSU for Orks or Nids combat units.

    But certain units may be better MSU depending on the points level, like Hive Guard, Lootaz etc.

  6. Yep - 3 units of 2 hive guard give more bang for the buck than 2 units of 3. Can't argue there, but you quickly get to a position where you want to use that third elite slot. MSU philosophy just doesn't seem applicable very often when you're writing a nid list.

    Anyway - thanks for the recent articles... I've been enjoying them. Sorry to bang on about this fearless thing so much, with hindsight it's not as interesting as the defensive vs offensive points costing analysis. Please do continue!

  7. I don't think that you've spent 500 words explaining something we already know. Why? Because I had not yet consciously considered the comparison between adding more bodies and simply adding another unit.

    Great article, it has given me some insight about a list that I'm working on. Thank You!