Last time I talked about the role of tactical squads in my maniple mindset marine army. You may have noticed that I sidestepped explaining how my tactical squads that were armed to the teeth would fit into a mindset where troops choices survive until the end of the game by being non-threatening to your opponent. I could drop the weapons from my tactical squads to make them less threatening, though at that point they begin to lose their utility beyond light anti-infantry support and scoring. Today's article is about why the combat squads aren't threatening in comparison to the distraction units in the army.
When we talk about a unit or armies in warhammer we generally talk relative terms like better and best, or least and most. For instance we might argue that thunderhammer terminators are a better assault unit than howling banshees are rather than saying that each attack they swing has a 41.66% chance of causing a wound to a model with no invulnerable save and a toughness of no more than six. The absolute abilities of a unit are not always taken into account and do not always matter because how we choose to address threats to our objective of winning the game is based on how dangerous those threats are relative to each other threat that is present. How each player assesses the level of each threat is a subjective process and can change from player to player, but there are some factors in how players will evaluate those threats.
The first factor in determining how threatening a unit can be is the opportunity cost of ignoring the unit. In economics we use the term opportunity cost to describe the benefits lost by choosing the next best choice. For instance, if you spend five dollars on a combo meal from McDonalds that choice doesn't only cost you five dollars, but all of the benefits you could have gained from whatever you could have spent those five dollars on. If you choose to fire a unit at any one target you are costing yourself whatever benefits you could have gained from firing at another unit. Your best choice is the choice where the benefits of that choice are greater than the benefits of not only the next best alternative, but of any alternative.
Now, the opportunity cost of ignoring troops choices for the entire game is very large as they have a large impact on how the game will be resolved, assuming it is an objectives based game, but the opportunity cost of ignoring them for one turn may be smaller than the opportunity cost of trying to kill them in that turn. This is where the distraction units of the maniple come into play. While the troops have the largest impact on how the game will be determined at the end, the distraction units exist to punish your opponent for choosing to focus on your troops while the distraction units are still alive and viable. If these units are able to even threaten to harm parts of your opponent's army that are critical to their success, the opportunity of ignoring them to focus on killing the troops units rises. These units protect the troops choices by making the cost of focusing on the troops higher than it would be otherwise.
Economics is fundamentally based on the concept of scarcity, that there are not enough resources to satisfy all desires. Scarcity reaches all corners of our lives including 40k because everything is scarce, especially time. In 40k there are a limited number of points you can have in a game and a limited number of slots in the force organization chart. Each point or slot you spend on any unit is a point or sot you cannot spend on another unit. Every point put toward bringing anti-infantry weapons is a point that could have been spent bringing anti-tank weapons. Balanced armies need both types of weapons and have a limited number of points available, so players cannot afford to have as many weapons of either type as they might desire. The limited number (scarcity) of weapons forces players to choose from turn to turn what use of those weapons will glean them the greatest benefits.
The goal of distraction units is to manipulate how your opponent assess the threats of different units in your army. One way to manipulate your opponent's perceptions is to remember the proverb "out of sight, out of mind." How you use your army will influence what your opponent's attention is drawn to. My primary distraction units are my dreadnoughts and my devastator teams. Each of these has the ability to begin causing serious harm to pivotal units in my opponents army on turn one, but my primary goal isn't just to make them threatening, but to draw attention to them in any way I can. My dreadnoughts are placed in drop pods not only because they can reach their optimum range quicker that way, but also because deep striking, especially when done dramatically, takes time. My choice of where and what I should deep strike first should be made in my opponent's first turn if not during deployment, but the actual deep striking should be played up as much as I can. I should bring the pod model in, talking up how much damage it will do, and try to draw attention to the dreadnought that is now in my opponent's face rather than the combat squads sulking around the board to get in position to seize objectives. If I am smart with how I place the drop pods (and lucky with the deviations), I can cause the pods themselves to be obstructions to my opponent and possibly force them to address the pods, after they address the dreadnoughts and before they address my troops.
The devastators will hopefully be less distracting than the dreadnoughts, but more threatening than my combat squads for precisely one of the reasons that tactical squads have been bemoaned in my experience. That complaint against the tactical squad is based on how the unit changed from fourth edition codices to fifth edition codices in regards to its ability to purchase special and heavy weapons. In the fourth edition codices any size squad was able to purchase a heavy and special weapon and there were no discounts for taking them in a larger squad. In fifth edition codices tactical squads cannot access special or heavy weapons until they reach ten models. Players that I have spoke which that wish the rules had not changed often say that they have to buy seven worthless models to get the special, heavy and sergeant models. The reason I believe this is in fact a useful change is how it works in conjunction with the combat squads special rule to lower the benefits of shooting at a combat squad in comparison to shooting at a devastator squad.
Each squad has the same models in it with the same defensive stats and should both be in cover, making the probability of destroying the same number of models in either squad equal, but remember that not all models are created equal. The choice as to which unit to shoot is a simple question on what does the shooter expect to get out of the investment of shots. The devastator team has four models that contribute actively to its damage output while the combat squad does not. Generally the sergeant and special weapon will be in the same combat squad, while the heavy weapon will be with four bolter marines. For either combat squad there are models that are not ideally suited for whatever purpose the squad is aimed at, either by having an anti-infantry weapon firing at a vehicle or having an anti-vehicle weapon firing at infantry. The dual purpose of the missile launcher makes armies that are concerned about anti-infantry and anti-tank weaponry both view killing a missile launcher as a desirable outcome, while an infantry based army might not care about killing a multimelta and a mechanized army might not care about killing a combi-flamer. So, because 80% of the devastator squad is actively contributing to harming an opponent, the likelihood of killing a model that would be beneficial to your opponent is greater in the choice of shooting at the devastator squad than the choice of shooting either combat squad.