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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Comparison: MSU in Marine armies and non-Marine armies

This was started by me but I couldn't really get the point across which I wanted. BrotherLoring was kind enough to edit it and finish it off so lots of credit goes to him!

The other month we looked at the differences between large and small (MSU) units. The article identified clear differences between the two which revolved around different strengths and weaknesses and when utilised heavily in a given list, defined how said list would generally operate. At the same time, combining the two was discussed to cover each others' weaknesses whilst attempting to gain the best of both worlds. This discussion was focused specifically on Marine based armies however and no mention was given to other Imperial or Xenos forces. Let's take a look at some key differences and how MSU differs for other races.

Before we go any further, we should have a look at what is meant by MSU. We've previously discussed how some terms aren't always what they seem on the surface. 'Mech' can be used to describe forces that aren't all transport mounted. Mech is more of a description of forces that have high durability and have good mobility i.e. the main reasons why mounted troops are what they are. So how would we define Multiple Small Units of 'MSU'?

For marines, we have taken 'small' to mean 5-6 man units, usually utilising the unit + transport (1+1) option to maximise output and redundancy. IG, WH, DEldar, Eldar and Tau all have access to the small units with transports. Whether builds using these units alone creates a decent build is another debate. Necrons, Tyranids and Chaos Daemons will be considered later. This just leaves us with Orks. Orks do have the ability to take Nobz in small units with transports, but their troop choices come only in units of 10+. Does this immediately rule them out of the 'MSU' build? I would say no... we're getting to this definition, I promise. For me 'small' is a relative term. A 10-strong ork unit is small in comparison to a 30-strong ork unit. I would therefore say the term 'small' should be used with several things in mind...
  1. Relativity to squad potential
  2. Point costing
  3. Survivability
A 12-strong unit of ork boyz with a PK nob and trukk comes in at 142 points. With some extra upgrades we're going to be around the 160 point mark - about the same costing as a small SM unit with a razorback. The ork transport and bodies are much less survivable than the marines in their box, but we have at least twice as many bodies and some jazzy upgrades. So, MSU doesn't have to mean 5-6 man units, it is more about minimising on squad expenditure whilst maximising on FoC filling, fire output (efficiency) and redundancy. Let's look at MVBs Ork list. We have a near full FoC (1 HQ and 1 elite slot free), and the most expensive unit coming in at 175 points. Now the buggies and the kans are coming in at their max potential squad size, but the squads are still small and are very cheap - especially compared to some of the units that could be build in similar slots - 12 warbikers with upgrades (350 pts) or 20 stromboyz (upto 350 pts). So... we have lots of cheap units whose survivability isn't a linchpin, that help us maximise FoC slots and fire output.

There are however obvious differences between how these armies work. An MSU ork list will have more than double the number of bodies and vehicles of a Space marine list. The same can be said of IG lists with the use of Platoons (10 man infantry squads with Chimeras would still be considered MSU - Cheap, 1+1, redundancy, could be blobbed instead etc etc). This however just makes them a different type of MSU force. In most cases, these 'different' MSU variants contain weaker model than MEQ with T3/5+ saves but game mechanics such as cover and go to ground can significantly increase their durability. 30 T3/5+ guys as your whole scoring ability may be cheap but at 2000 points is very weak and an easily exploited aspect of your army in an objective based game. Increasing this to 60 models and factor in transports + cover, we have a much harder brute. All at a comparative cost to MEq 5 x 6 builds.

Often, just like marines, we need to take a mix of MSU and larger squads. There is a huge variety and as such is difficult to define. Is a 17-strong unit of Kroot considered 'MSU'? It's cheap and survivable, but doesn't benefit from access to transports and we often only take 2 - not exactly 'multiple'. This certainly becomes a grey area.

However, MSU army effectiveness is also highly dependent upon the transport options available to units. This is important because you are minimising the squad size you have available and these transports must therefore add to your army in some way (it doesn't always have to be through firepower). Marines have the obvious Razorback which provides a decently durable and cheap platform which comes with a heavy weapon and the often overlooked Rhino which is cheap and comes with two firepoints. All in all pretty good and this is one of the main reasons Marine MSU armies work well and can determine the success or failure of other armies attempting to MSU. Eldar for example have highly durable and mobile transports with multiple weapon systems which make them excellent for MSU based forces. They are however way overpriced in this current edition and thus ultimately lead to a lack-luster tournament force. Dark Eldar on the other hand have paper-thin transports which are pretty expensive but have great offensive output. They aren't very good at protecting their contents but they are mobile and add significant firepower to a list when taken in multiples. All that being said, Dark Eldar still suffer in scoring when taking only MSU Troops due to their fragility which their transports don't really defend against whilst Eldar can take a lot less MSU Troops due to the durability of their transports but cannot take many thanks to point constraints. MEQ armies have a balance of both worlds with transports that add to survivability and to the army's firepower which don't break the bank. This leads to significant success for MSU themes in MEQ based armies.

What this all boils down to is how MSU is best utilised in MEQ armies compared to non-MEQ armies. Both can make effective MSU based armies though Marines seem to have an easier time of it. Maybe this is because of their cheap, reliable transports or maybe it is just a fallacy because marines are discussed, scrutinised and tested more? Both can also use MSU units to support a durable and reliable core of an army and this is where I think non-MEQ armies should look to take advantage of the MSU concept, as support.


The MSU is concept is centered around filling force organisation slots. By doing this we have more targets for our opponent and much greater division of fire or 'threat vectors' as Venerable likes to call it. The concept also factors the 'mech' basis, which increases survivability. When considering non-MEq forces, it must be remembered how these armies do MSU differently. Armies like Orks and Imperial Guard aren't always capable of taking really tiny (i.e. 5 strong) units in transports but can put down lots of cheap infantry in transports to generate a lot of bodies and tanks. This is still using MSU constructs but can feel like a very different list construct compared to MEQ based armies due to the bodies on the table. Despite common perception of marines having an easy time, Non-MEQ armies can do MSU very well, it's just different.

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