In response to some of the recent debates on this site, Kirby asked me to write an article about the usefulness of, and the reasons to take, Conscripts in 8th edition. I originally declined the invitation, but decided to write it in a long form of response to questions Kadeton posed in one of the discussions.
I took an army with 83 conscripts and about 50 other infantry to the Southern Hemisphere Open tournament this last weekend, a massive and highly professional event held in WA. The field was extremely varied as opponents included Forgeworld’s most hardcore deamons (see image above), massive ork hordes, the Tau Supremacy suit with ablative drones and a Dark Angel list centred around the impressively powerful Relic Falcion Tank-Destroyer boosted with the traditional DA -1 to hit, reroll all shots and 4++.
I managed to win all 6 games in a row, some were touch-and-go till the last moment, and a lot of that comes down to simply volume of boots on the ground and the usefulness of large volumes of infantry.
Kadeton: “I’m curious about the “more survivable” aspect of allowing units to join up – I’m just not sure how that works, exactly. Small units can more easily gain cover, ensure that any overkill is wasted, lessen the impact of falling back, can ride in transports, etc. The big advantages of large units would seem to be their efficiency in benefiting from Orders, and only taking one casualty from a Commissar.
Am I missing something important? Do the Commissar casualties spread across multiple units make that much of an impact that it outweighs all the survivability advantages of smaller units? Genuinely curious.
If Conscripts were no longer able to benefit from characters (Commissars, Orders etc), would they still have any advantage over the equivalent points of Guard infantry units?”
I’ll attempt to answer the several questions contained. Yes, there are advantages that may not immediately be apparent, and they’re mainly related the way unusually large units can be used.
Starting with the assumption that nobody reading 3++ needs to be convinced of the value of screens, scoring units or ‘bubble wrap’ around more sensitive units, the question becomes why take Conscripts over basic Infantry units. Not everybody does choose the conscripts over infantry, and if GW do a good job with the new codex we should expect to see the pendulum swing back towards more standard infantry.
For anyone not familiar with the point values, 40 conscripts cost as much as 3 squads of 10 Guard Infantry (120pts).
9 Disadvantages of Conscripts:
- Unlike the Infantry squads where, as Kadeton said “overkill is wasted”, the Conscripts continue to take casualties after the 10th man is removed
- lower leadership
- lower ballistic skill
- lower weapon skill
- can’t operate independently
- cover less table area (yes 3 squads of 10 can definitely prevent things like deepstrike in a larger area than 1 of 40, and can take more dispersed objectives etc)
- don’t get a free sergeant with chain sword or melee weapon
- can’t take heavy weapon
- can’t take special weapons
And since the price difference is just 1 point, that list sounds like it should end the debate!
8 Advantages over 10 man Infantry squads
These are the advantages of conscripts over infantry squads, in an IMHO reverse order of importance.
1) Officers: The unit can (at least for the next few weeks!) use orders more efficiently
With the caveat that it still takes 15 conscripts firing “Front Rank Fire” to get as many hits as 10 infantry with the same order.
2) Surviving to hit back
A large unit is more likely to have survivors to hit back in combat. It may only be 5s to hit, but there are games where every little bit helps.
3) A point saved is a point earned
Just getting that one out of the way; a cheaper price tag is the most obvious reason to buy a similar unit. What you’re really buying is more wounds for your money.
4) Commissars: The unit is easier to keep in a Commissar aura
It is so much easier to keep a few models from 2x 40 man Conscript units within the aura of a centrally-placed Commissar or two than it is to keep lots of infantry squads in the same auras. The same goes for other auras (like Straken’s giving a second close combat attack to all units with a model within 6).
5) Holding the Assault unit
A large unit is much more likely to have survivors to hold the assaulters in place, or at least stop them piling straight in to things behind them.
6) Singularity of purpose
This is a BIG deal; conscripts can’t do anything else, which makes it easier for players to use them correctly. Speaking from experience, when buying infantry squads, it’s very difficult not to buy the special weapons (flamers! plasma!) which start making the average price go up, or the Heavy Weapons (Autocannons etc with 9 ablative wounds!) that will tempt you as a player to stop and shoot.
Conscripts can’t do any of that. They form the front line as they should, they move, they shoot badly, fight badly, and they die well.
Everybody talks about the advantages of versatility, but some times singularity of purpose is a big deal.
7) Casualty Removal Options
Having the choice of who dies from a unit of 40 or more models stretched over a huge area of the table is massive. To me, this is the second biggest appeal of very large units of anything, not just Conscripts. There are so many tactics and tricks (and ok, fine, shenanigans) you can pull of when you’re given the choice of who lives and dies from a very large unit. Keep 1 man alive near a commissar and kill everyone else between him and a few survivors? They may never move again until he dies (due to coherency) but it still counts as in the aura.
One of my favourites is to keep the closest man to the enemy assaulters alive, and kill everyone within about 4″ of him. Then the enemy consolidation has to end closer to him, dramatically restricting their movement options. Then, the commissar shoots him at the end of the turn, and the survivors are out of combat and ready for Front Rank Fire!
Example from a recent game on Vassal:
Celestine and an Assassin assault the brown conscript formation (due to a lack of other viable targets at this time)
A few distant models die, along with everyone close to the assaulters – except for Lucky Luke, who is the furthest model in the opposite direction from the rest of the unit. Lucky Luke Lives!
The assaulting units can only consolidate towards the closest enemy, so choose not to.
The commissar suspects Lucky Luke of making a deal with the enemy to prevent them assaulting him. He can’t be certain, but it’s best to be sure. BLAM!
And the brown conscripts are now out of combat without having to fall back, and ready for a full Front Rank Fire revenge for their fallen comrades.
Here’s an example from another game I played at the Southern Hemisphere Open, that provides a counter point to the first argument in favour of Infantry Squads ‘Unlike the Infantry squads where, as Kadeton said “overkill is wasted”, the Conscripts continue to take casualties after the 10th man is removed’
1) Hammer And Anvil Deployment. Massive hordes of Orks including Gazz and Stormboys have turn 1. Guard have a line of 41 conscripts (beige Hoth Rebels) backed by a line of 42 conscripts (white Imperial Snowtroopers).
2) Uncountable numbers of orks swarm across, 4 units making the charge while only 1 fails.
Unfortunately I was only taking starting photos for an objective and deployment article I plan to finish soon, so you’ll have to bear with the fact that the ork moves are messily photoshopped. 😀
3) The first unit of orks (North) attack and do some ridiculous amount of wounds
4) A few outliers in the north are killed, but everyone, EVERYONE in the south dies. The result is 3 massive ork units standing there with nothing to do but hurl insults at their over-enthusiastic allies to the north.
The surviving conscripts hit back (double attacks thanks to Straken), then fall back and the White unit which was piled-in to by Orks but not actually attacked yet becomes the front line.
If the charges had been until 4 units of 10 infantry, all would have been killed and no orks would have been hit back in combat.
Alternatively, if my opponent HAD declared a charge against both the front lines and the characters behind it, the casualties would have been quite different. The new priority would be to prevent units that haven’t yet fought getting into 1″ of Straken and the Commissar, so a screen of central infantry could have been left alive and a different group of casualties could have been selected for the Ultimate Glory.
8) Finally, 10 bodies is not enough.
And finally, that’s the big one. With the rate at which things die in 8th Edition, wrapping your vulnerable warlord/commissar/commander/psyker/whatever in just 10 bodies is often not nearly enough. Smart opponents are the only ones worth really planning for, and they will find the angles to get the shots, deepstrikes or charges off and take your most essential models off the table. This is the same reason that I frequently park my Farseers and other Eldar characters in that convenient gap in the front of a wave serpent; units of things like 10 guardians aren’t going to screen them for long.
Photo from the tournament showing Orks who also believe 10 bodies isn’t enough:
Unless you’re using very hardy well-armoured troops, small units do not cut it as protection for vital characters. For all their versatility, improved statline and weapon options, units of infantry are not likely to be the option of choice for Guard front lines until they are either allowed to increase their unit size or Conscripts themselves are nerfed to being much less useful.
Quantity has a Quality all of its own.