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Author Topic: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)  (Read 9313 times)

Offline Valegorn

  • Posts: 10
The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« on: November 16, 2010, 01:24:59 AM »

Hello again,

When looking at spearmen especially in 8th edition, its hard to see how they might've been short changed. In this article I will show you how spearmen are better then swordsmen. I think you might like what you see.

First lets take a look as Spearmen, what are they? At first glance they don't look like much. The only benefit of taking them is the extra rank they can fight with (being equipped with spears). And they only get this extra rank bonus when they didn't charge. So what does this tell us? Simply put, they are a defensive unit. When you think about it that makes perfect sense. Many of the famous spear formations in history were slow moving and devastating when repelling a charge. If any of you have ever played Rome Total War, or have seen any of the big period movies showing how effective a phalanx can be then you know what I'm talking about. Well believe it or not, these epic pointy tipped blocks of units exist in Warhammer. I'm guessing the game desingers wanted to make sure they functioned just like many of the historic examples. Hence a unit of spears is a defensive unit.

Understanding their battlefield role
Ok, so we've figured out that a spearmen unit is a defensive unit, (at least as far as the Empire is concerned). How does this effect our battlefield tactics? For starters our unit of spearmen aren't going to race the Greatswords to see who can get into combat first, oh no. What we should do is pick a spot and hold it. Usually its a spot where the enemy has to charge you in order to get where they need to go, things like bridges, draw gates, narrow passages. Chances are 80% of the time you're not going to be that lucky, most of the games I've played the field is pretty open. So what do you do? Luckily we have a pretty useful tool called the "detachment" system. This can help funnel our enemy towards our eager spearmen. Even then this can be maneuvered around. But the best tactic I have found is just to march as far as you can, then continue to slowly walk into the enemy until they have no choice but to charge you, kinda like the Greeks did it. But beware, if you charge, then you might as well use swordsmen or halberdiers, because there are no advantages to charging when you're a spearmen.

So for the entierty of this post, all examples are given as if the unit is receiving a charge

Equipment
Spearmen by themselves are pretty lame. They have a 6+ armor save, and can fight from and extra rank (when they don't charge). Thats it, OH, and they're human..... so yeah, ... lame. But fear not, most of the Empire Army is lame, but their strenght isn't their lameness, its how well they work together. But since we know that, back to spearmen.......

Basically the best thing that will put them on par with swordsmen is if you upgrade your spearmen with shields. This not only doubles their chances of surviving, (going from 6+ to a 5+ armor save), but it gives them a 6+ Ward save. Now that isn't much, but it could make all the difference between running and holding the line. This in turn makes them cost as much as a Swordsman.

The Numbers don't lie
A unit of 5x4 spearmen still kill more then a same size unit of swordsmen when receiving a charge. Using my first example (against another Empire unit with a better Sv; (I just noticed now noticed I mistakenly gave them a higher Armor save, but I'll roll with it anyways)
WS  T  Sv
  3   3  5+

Remember, this is only when the units get charged.

Spearmen
# of Attacks:16
To Hit:4's
To Wound:4's
Armor Sv:5+ (S3 doesn't modify the Sv)
Average Unsaved Wounds: 2.67

Swordsmen
# of Attacks:11
To Hit:3's (This is if you you're opponent has a WS 3)
To Wound:4's
Armor Sv:5+ (S3 doesn't modify the Sv)
Average Unsaved Wounds: 2.44

As you can see, spearmen a slightly more killy then swordsmen when they get charged. But on the other hand, swordsmen do have a better WS, I, and SV, and they get a ward save. I've pointed out before having a higher WS isn't that great, the only time it pays off is if its higher then the person you're tying to hit (i.e. units with WS 3) If the enemy unit has a WS 4 or higher, this is what it would look like for Swordsmen;

Swordsmen facing a unit with WS 4+
# of Attacks:11
To Hit:4's
To Wound:4's
Armor Sv:5+ (S3 doesn't modify the Sv)
Average Unsaved Wounds: 1.83

The average killed wouldn't change for spearmen because 90% of the time they're going to be hitting on 4's. So if an enemy unit with WS4 charged, the spearmen would fair a lot better. So essentially you're trading a higher WS for more attacks.

Having I4 doesn't tip the scale too much in the direction of swordsmen because changes are, you're going first or last with I3, not at the same time. Its only when you are facing a unit with a standard I3, that is when swordsmen would shine (but the only two core units I can think of off the top of my head with an I3 are Bretonnian men-at-arms, or Two of the Beastmen Core choices)


Hordes
The only time the numbers start to even out is when you take these units in hordes. A unit of 40 swordsmen will do just as well as a unit of 40 spearmen when they are charged, BUT(Thats only if the enemy unit has a WS of 3).

If the Enemy unit has a WS3, 40 swordsmen perform about the same.
(using same example as above except enemy unit has WS3)
40 Swordsmen kill on average = 6.66
40 Spearmen kill on average = 6.66

V.S. units with WS4+ as a horde
If the Enemy unit has a WS4+, 40 spearmen will out-perform 40 swordsmen in almost every scenario. See below;
(using same example as above except enemy unit has WS4)
40 Swordsmen kill on average = 5.00
40 Spearmen kill on average = 6.66

The only way to make Swordsmen do just as well as spearmen in a horde (when they are up against an enemy unit with WS4+) is to take 30 swordsmen. You still will kill on average the same, but point for point on average you kill as many enemy per model. Basically, if you divide the units average kills by how many points the unit is, you can see how many kills you get per point. So for example;
(using same example as above except enemy unit has WS4)
30 Swordsmen kill on average = 5.00000; 5.000/180 = .02777778 wounds per point.
40 Spearmen kill on average = 6.66667; 6.666/240 = .02777775 wounds per point.

V.S. units with WS2 and below as a horde
You'd think that a model with a WS4+ would be able to hit a model with WS2 easier then someone with a WS3. Not so. Even in Warhammer 40k the Hit Table is still the same. So what does that have to do with Swordsmen & Spearmen, well a lot actually.
(v.s. a unit with WS2 or below)
Swordsmen with a WS4 need to roll 3+ to hit,
Spearmen with WS3 also need to roll 3+ to hit.
(so when doing the math)
40 Swordsmen will kill on average = 6.66
40 Spearmen will kill on average = 8.88

Only time Swordsmen are better then Spearmen when defending, (V.S. WS3 ONLY)
It all comes down to points. I've already shown that a unit of 30 swordsmen cost the same as a unit of 40 spearmen when the enemy's WS4+. The only time Swordsmen come out on top when comparing Spearmen v.s. Swordsmen, is when a unit of 30 swordsmen is charged by a unit that has WS3.
30 Swordsmen kill on average = 6.66, and the unit weighs in at 180pts
40 Spearmen kill on average = 6.66, and the unit weighs in at 240pts

Even if the Toughness is higher then 3, the averaged unsaved wounds would still be the same between these two in this situation.


Conclusion
In order for spearmen to out perform swordsmen you need to do two things.
1) Upgrade the unit of Spearmen with a Shield.
2) Must be defending against a charge.

As long as you use Spearmen defensively, they will perform better then swordsmen and be just as survivable. If you use them like Halberdiers or Swordsmen, you're going to get bad results. But when you use spearmen defensively, they do much better. As I've mentioned in my Halberdier article, it all comes down to using your units correctly.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article
~Valegorn

Offline nazgul12

  • Posts: 17
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2010, 04:00:53 AM »
Real quick, spearmen don't get a 6+ ward save in combat as they are using spears and shields and not hand weapons and shields.  Also, while spearmen do on average dish out slightly more damage to enemy units the extra survivability of swordsmen denies combat resolution to your opponent.  I find it's a rare battle indeed that I'm hoping my empire infantry will win by killing things.  Generally my block units are there to either win through combat resolution or else hold things in place as an anvil while one of my hammer units comes in to do the real killing.  Either way, I still find swordsmen to be more effective.  Of course, if spearmen work well for you I say go for it.  I'm just explaining why I believe so many people prefer swordsmen.

Offline Valegorn

  • Posts: 10
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2010, 06:53:45 AM »
Thanks on the shield/hand weapon parry save.

I've never really won combat with my Empire infantry either. I just try to hold the line till my Templars (or some other hard hitting flanking unit) comes.

This post was to try and find a situation where Spearmen would out perform Swordsmen. I enjoy math-hammer, so after crunching some numbers, come to find out, spearmen still hit harder then swordsmen when defending. But I tend to use Halberdiers more then anything. Swordsmen are very good, but they're not the end all be all. I was merely trying to show how each one of the "State Troopers" have a place.

Offline nazgul12

  • Posts: 17
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2010, 02:26:44 AM »
I'll agree that math hammer can be fun at times.  Perhaps it's good you tried to show the use of spearmen...  The poor blighters need someone on their side after all!

Offline Jörgen Andreasson

  • Posts: 404
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2010, 12:24:00 AM »
Spearmen are by far worse than swordsmen...

*Swordsmen take fewer losses.
*Swordsmen have a better combat resolution ratio against all WS3, 4, and 6 opponents and opponents with strength 6 and above (parry save).
*Spears will begin to loose their advantage once they take losses and have less than three ranks, Swordsmen wont.
*Spears loose their second rank when they charge.

Swordsmen is a much better tactical and defensive unit than spears. Spears might do slightly more damage against some units, but swordsmen take much fewer casualties and will thus stay on the field longer. This make the swordsmen a much more solid and dynamic unit to use in almost all situation.

Spearmen are clearly better against WS2, I2 units such as Undead and Goblins... but if you create a general list then spearmen are actually quite bad for their cost in comparison to either swordsmen or haberdiers.

In the 8th Edition... everyone will soon run Halberds as parent units and swords as detachment, this give you the best tactical advantage. You want survivability for your detachment to make them keep their disruption to enemy flanks... the parent unit in Horde formation will kill and attrition the foe most efficiently.

Offline Ranillon

  • Posts: 3
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2011, 01:01:18 AM »
Spearmen are by far worse than swordsmen...

*Swordsmen take fewer losses.
*Swordsmen have a better combat resolution ratio against all WS3, 4, and 6 opponents and opponents with strength 6 and above (parry save).
*Spears will begin to loose their advantage once they take losses and have less than three ranks, Swordsmen wont.
*Spears loose their second rank when they charge.

Swordsmen is a much better tactical and defensive unit than spears. Spears might do slightly more damage against some units, but swordsmen take much fewer casualties and will thus stay on the field longer. This make the swordsmen a much more solid and dynamic unit to use in almost all situation.

I know it's been a while for a response on this topic, but I was so surprised that no one responded to this post I just couldn't resist.  That's because I think the arguments above are deeply flawed.

1)  The Claim that Swordsmen take (Much) Fewer Losses:  This is a borderline lie, quite frankly, or at least a statement made without any close look at the facts.  This only is true when facing strength 5 or better attacks and even then we are talking about just having a 17% chance of making your saving throw.  That's what a 1-in-6 ward save is, a mere 17%.  That's so small as to not be very useful, certainly not something one would normally consider causing "much fewer" loses.

For example, when attacked by your typical 5 man front unit depending on the abilities of your enemy the chances of making even ONE 6+ Ward Save roughly range from 40%-80%.  That is, you can't even be guaranteed of saving even one extra over spearmen.  What's more, in many cases those 5+ strength attacks will come only in the first round (via weapons like lances or flails) meaning that you have just that one chance to roll well and really get your money's worth out of that ward save.  Sure, you could get lucky and save more than one, but you'd be even more likely to save none.  So, just one bad round of rolling and that vaunted 6+ ward save turns out to be a big fat goose egg.  At the very least it means making your "plan" for the successful use of swordsmen versus strength 5 or better attacks little more than, "...and then I get lucky."  That doesn't sound like a dependable means for success to me!

Yes, all things being equal you will lose fewer swordsmen to high strength attacks than spearmen, but for strength 4 or less (which are far more common H-to-H strengths) the two unit types are identical when it comes to sucking up damage.  So, the question then becomes...

2)  The Claim that Any Advantages of Spearmen Aren't There or Will Quickly Disappear:  Again, this seems to be a very glib and unsupported assertion.  First of all, any Empire general with half-a-brain is going to take a large main infantry unit of at least 25 if not 30+.  That means that at standard 5 across formations spearmen need to lose 15-20 men before losing their extra attacks when compared to swordsmen.  I submit that's a hell of a lot -- and if you've already lost that many without winning the combat that unit it doomed without outside help (which renders any unit vs. unit comparison moot).

By comparison, as the original poster in this threat showed, in most cases the extra attacks from spearmen get you more than the better skill of swordsmen.  Note that better skill ONLY applies versus WS 3 enemies -- enemies of any other skill level treat spearmen and swordsmen the same.  Yet, even then the two types are about as effective assuming the spearmen don't charge.  So, yes, swordsmen do have an advantage there, but how often as you going to get the charge with your infantry blocks?  Again, are you going to build your army around the principle of not just always getting the charge with your swordsmen, but in always winning the combat (since any lingering combats shift back in favor of spearmen when they regain their full three ranks)?

And, of course, the whole basis of this claim is, again, the notion that somehow swordsmen will take "far fewer" casualties than spearmen which, unless you consider a 17% chance of success (and then only against strength 5 or better) to constitute "far fewer", is otherwise pretty weak.

3)  The (Implied) Claim that "Math Hammer" is Somehow Frivolous or Doesn't Really Matter for Real Games:  This just makes no sense to me, but it is clear from the tone of dismissal used in a number of the replies here that somehow many people think that applying accurate probability studies to Warhammer is either pointless or doesn't matter beyond the strictly theoretically.  Well, in fact those probabilities are the only sure thing about figuring out the usefulness of units.  They can't just be ignored or casually dismissed with a wave of the hand.  They are real and immutable -- if the equations say that spearmen are going to be more effective in situation X over swordsmen then no amount of "Well, that doesn't happen in my games" can change that.  Sure, you won't get straight probabilities in any single instance, but they will even out over time.  And, more importantly, we human beings are well known for something called "confirmation bias" where we only see what we want to see -- which, in this case, seems to be being able to ignore probabilities in favor of what we wish to be true.

Mind you, I am not suggesting that we should only ever use "Math Hammer" to determine what units we play as there are other factors -- personal taste, the sorts of enemies we frequently fight, the models we prefer to paint and collect, etc. -- that go into what units we play.  Those are all valid reasons.  My point isn't that you shouldn't ever play any unit that doesn't max out your probabilities of success, only that we can't delude ourselves into ignoring such facts and replace our best wishes with reality.

Point is, there is no valid reason to dismiss what the probabilities say, only valid reasons to ignore them in favor of personal taste.  So, one cannot look at "Math Hammer" results and honestly wave them away with claims of "that's not what I see" or glib responses that (grossly) overestimate the usefulness of a meager 6+ save.

4)  One Final Note:  The only reason why swordsmen are still good choices compared to halberdiers or spearmen is that they effectively receive better characteristics (WS and I) for free.  Take that away -- that is, strictly compare weapon vs. weapon -- are swords are clearly inferior to any other choice.  I bring this up because while swordsmen have those artificial advantages in the current (technically out-of-date) army list can we be sure they will when we finally get a new Empire book?  I sure hope so as I have a painted block of swordsmen as well, but the danger of insisting now that swordsmen are "clearly" superior (despite evidence to the contrary) is that it would take very little for swordsmen to become near worthless when the new army book arrives.  Just drop that extra point of WS and you just have an entire painted unit(s) that is just standing in the way of bringing something -- anything -- better.

Offline Athiuen

  • Posts: 1545
  • Warhammerless since 2015. FeelsBadMan
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2011, 05:47:34 AM »
I'm pretty sure the above arguement was made in 7th ed and spearmen were much better in 7th ed as loosing a rank or two meant you could still attack.

Spearmen are by far worse than swordsmen...

*Swordsmen take fewer losses.
*Swordsmen have a better combat resolution ratio against all WS3, 4, and 6 opponents and opponents with strength 6 and above (parry save).
*Spears will begin to loose their advantage once they take losses and have less than three ranks, Swordsmen wont.
*Spears loose their second rank when they charge.

Swordsmen is a much better tactical and defensive unit than spears. Spears might do slightly more damage against some units, but swordsmen take much fewer casualties and will thus stay on the field longer. This make the swordsmen a much more solid and dynamic unit to use in almost all situation.

I know it's been a while for a response on this topic, but I was so surprised that no one responded to this post I just couldn't resist.  That's because I think the arguments above are deeply flawed.

1)  The Claim that Swordsmen take (Much) Fewer Losses:  This is a borderline lie, quite frankly, or at least a statement made without any close look at the facts.  This only is true when facing strength 5 or better attacks and even then we are talking about just having a 17% chance of making your saving throw.  That's what a 1-in-6 ward save is, a mere 17%.  That's so small as to not be very useful, certainly not something one would normally consider causing "much fewer" loses.

For example, when attacked by your typical 5 man front unit depending on the abilities of your enemy the chances of making even ONE 6+ Ward Save roughly range from 40%-80%.  That is, you can't even be guaranteed of saving even one extra over spearmen.  What's more, in many cases those 5+ strength attacks will come only in the first round (via weapons like lances or flails) meaning that you have just that one chance to roll well and really get your money's worth out of that ward save.  Sure, you could get lucky and save more than one, but you'd be even more likely to save none.  So, just one bad round of rolling and that vaunted 6+ ward save turns out to be a big fat goose egg.  At the very least it means making your "plan" for the successful use of swordsmen versus strength 5 or better attacks little more than, "...and then I get lucky."  That doesn't sound like a dependable means for success to me!

Yes because getting 'lucky or 'unlucky' is part of mathhammer....

IF CIRCUMSTANCES WERE DIFFERENT my goblins would beat down your chaos warriors; but that's not how mathhammer works...

3)  The (Implied) Claim that "Math Hammer" is Somehow Frivolous or Doesn't Really Matter for Real Games:  This just makes no sense to me, but it is clear from the tone of dismissal used in a number of the replies here that somehow many people think that applying accurate probability studies to Warhammer is either pointless or doesn't matter beyond the strictly theoretically.  Well, in fact those probabilities are the only sure thing about figuring out the usefulness of units.  They can't just be ignored or casually dismissed with a wave of the hand.  They are real and immutable -- if the equations say that spearmen are going to be more effective in situation X over swordsmen then no amount of "Well, that doesn't happen in my games" can change that.  Sure, you won't get straight probabilities in any single instance, but they will even out over time.  And, more importantly, we human beings are well known for something called "confirmation bias" where we only see what we want to see -- which, in this case, seems to be being able to ignore probabilities in favor of what we wish to be true.

But at least he's the one doing the mathhammer and not speculating about lucky rolls and what not.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2011, 05:54:53 AM by Athiuen »
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Offline Ranillon

  • Posts: 3
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2011, 06:08:43 AM »
I'm pretty sure the above arguement was made in 7th ed and spearmen were much better in 7th ed as loosing a rank or two meant you could still attack.

Why should we assume that given that the first post was made just this last December and explicitly states it is referring to 8th edition?

Quote
Yes because getting 'lucky or 'unlucky' is part of mathhammer....

And your point is?  Probabilities are still probabilities.  Going in with the attitude of something like "well, it'll be okay as I'll be 'lucky' this time" is hardly a logical argument.  Nor does it do anything to suddenly change the odds.

Quote
But at least he's the one doing the mathhammer and not speculating about lucky rolls and what not.

I'm not arguing with the original poster (in fact, I am agreeing with him), but rather with the glib, dismissive replies he received.  Replies that seem to hold bold (often inaccurate) statements and easy assumptions as superior to actual facts and probabilities.  That's the part that makes no sense -- how can someone, for example,  argue that having a 6+ ward save somehow makes swordsmen "far more" survivable over spearmen?  Do people really misunderstand chance and probability that badly?

Offline Derek Contyre

  • Posts: 1749
  • Duke of Nueremburg
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2011, 11:16:34 PM »
Alot of this argument seems to revolve around logical points.

I use mathammer in my games, not to determine what can and will happen between unit a) and unit b) in scenario x). But rather to find quickly in my head the 'average' rolls that should happen and take them with a grain of salt. My Imperial state troops will never win a combat against chaos warriors, but I can have a fairly good guess that the chaos warriors of two ranks will kill about ten spearmen and that my spearmen should kill 2 back(or whatever, I run my spearmen 8*5) but I do know that my spearmen will hold those chaos warriors for that vital turn while my other combat units engage the now vulnerable flanks and rear as I have more ranks than them and a LD 10 general nearby(I take the banner of discipline and put my general in a unit of greatswords= LD 10).

The point is, people can use mathammer for whatever reason, but it will only tell you what should happen on average, there are too many variables inbetween the diffrerent army lists, scenarios, tactics, and myriad other things to make mathammer truly a driving force for me winning games.

Over ten years of playing empire(and various others) I have discovered that it is more about planning your moves in deployment and sticking to a general plan when your army goes down on the table. Stacking the odds in your favour with combined charges and outmaneuvering/shooting/magicking your opponent brings victory far more than anything else.

Also, about the swordsmen spearmen debate, I converted my spears into pikes, so they are there everytime. Casue they are awesome
A man who builds his army around his fluff . . . respect . . .  :::cheers:::

Offline sebster

  • Posts: 293
Re: The Truth about Spearmen (when they are better then swordsmen)
« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2011, 08:53:13 AM »
There seems to be an assumption in this thread that people should consider spending the extra point on shields for their spearmen - this is madness and they shouldn't.  There is just no way to justify increasing spearmen by 20% in price for +1 AS.

Between WS 4 and the parry save, swordsmen are flat out more survivable, and initiative 4 and the 5+ save is just a nice bonus on top of that.  Whether its worth paying an extra point per model for those advantages is debatable, and I can see both sides.

At which point the unit you're left comparing spearmen to halberdiers, who are identical defensively (unless you want to spring for the shields for some reason) and there spearmen win against unarmoured T3 opponents, draw against unarmoured T4 opponents, and perform worse against every other kind of opponent.

The new edition hasn't been kind to spears (because while halberds double their attacks, spears only increased there's by 50%).  The difference isn't so great that taking spears will cripple your chances of winning, but there's no point pretending they're a viable option.


Oh, and Ranillon, in WHFB you get an armour save and a ward save, this isn't like 40K where you get one or the other.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2011, 08:59:12 AM by sebster »