In 1986, when I was busy developing as a foetus, Rick Priestly's seminal SF wargame, Rogue Trader, hit the shelves. It was pulp, dark, space-opera pulling ideas and inspiration from sources as varied as Dune and Blade Runner to Tolkein and the Spanish Inquisition. In addition to the instantly recognisable, and massively profitable, Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes, the book also introduced the world to the Imperial Army, the Hammer of the Emperor.
Of course, we now know the Army as the Guard, and they have long since lost their grav tanks, Land Raiders, conversion beamers, and much more besides. But what of the basic infantry squad? The PBI of the 41st Millenium has, apparently, changed a lot since the late 1980s - but just how much? This is a question I'm hoping to answer now, with the aid of my copies of Rogue Trader, Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd Ed), Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd Ed), Codex: Imperial Guard (4th Ed) and Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Ed). According to the rumour mills, the 6th Edition Codex is currently in playtesting, so we shall have to wait and see what wondrous madness comes forth from Nottingham next.
Anyway! On with the comparison...
Imperial Army Infantry Squad, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader:
'Warriors of the Army' pp 162-166.
A "typical squad" comprises a Sergeant, 8 troopers, and a special weapons trooper. They all wear flak armour, carry a knife, and a lasgun. The Sergeant has a laspistol as well, and the weapons trooper can have either a flamer or a rocket launcher.
In terms of optional wargear, there are several tables to roll a d100 on to see if your soldiers have been issued (or captured) anything from chainmail to shuriken weapons, rad-suits, bio-scanners, and so on and so forth. Some of the equipment will never be seen in future lists: flight packs, rad-gear, D-Cannons, Multi-Meltas, Graviton Guns, shuriken catapults, and so on.
Points Value: N/A - there were no points values. Scenarios and campaigns were king here.
So this sets up the basic format of an Imperial Army or Guard squad: 10 men, led by an NCO, all armed with lasguns and - in this case - just one special or heavy weapon. Although there was a 5% chance per man for the issue of boltguns, for example.
Imperial Guard Infantry Squad, 2nd Edition Warhammer 40,000:
Codex: Imperial Guard pg 79.
An Imperial Guard Squad consists of a Sergeant with laspistol and sword, and 9 Guardsmen with lasguns. All have frag grenades and flak armour as standard. Two can be turned into a Heavy Weapons team and one can be issued a special weapon.
Following the pattern of the Army squad, we shall equip our special weapons trooper with a flame-thrower, and the heavy weapons team can have a rocket launcher.
Points Value: 100 (basic) +7 (flamer) + 30 (rocket launcher) = 137
Suddenly the squad's firepower has dramatically increased, although the sheer variance of possible equipment options has been narrowed down enormously. All of a sudden those flight-pack wearing, shuriken-catapult wielding Army units with a D-Cannon in support have had to turn in their gear.
Imperial Guard Infantry Squad, 3rd Edition Warhammer 40,000:
Codex: Imperial Guard pg 17.
The squad remains identical in makeup: Sergeant and 9 troopers. However, their basic equipment has changed: now all come with only lasguns and flak armour. Again, two can be issued a heavy weapon and one a special weapon, but now they can have a comm-link, and the Sergeant can be made a Veteran.
We'll keep the same squad as before, in order to make it easier to compare at the end..
Points Value: 60 (basic) + 3 (flamer) + 15 (rocket launcher) + 10 (frag grenades) = 88
Although the Sergeant now comes with a lasgun as standard, this is - in my opinion - an improvement. Guard, and indeed Army, squads, are not for close combat. They are for shooting!
Imperial Guard Infantry Squad, 4th Edition Warhammer 40,000:
Codex: Imperial Guard pg 44.
As always, the squad is led by a Sergeant and has 9 Guardsmen. Here they retain their lasguns and their flak armour, and can now opt to take krak grenades as well as the same options as the previous iteration: a Veteran Sergeant, heavy weapons team, and special weapons operator. The comm-link is now called a vox-caster, though, because obviously 'comm-link' wasn't 40K enough.
We won't give our heroic soldiers krak grenades, as they have a perfectly good anti-tank rocket launcher anyway.
Points Value: 60 (basic) + 6 (flamer) + 15 (rocket launcher) + 10 (frag grenades) = 91
Imperial Guard Infantry Squad, 5th Edition Warhammer 40,000:
Codex: Imperial Guard pg 97.
Suddenly, the squad has changed! Although the basic unit of Sergeant and 9 Guardsmen remains the same, their is the option to take a Commissar in order to prevent serious cases of common sense and tactical withdrawal. Equipment wise, the Sergeant has been ordered to hand in his lasgun, and has had to go into battle with a laspistol and close combat weapon only. The rest of the squad has been specifically re-issued knives (close combat weapons) for the first time since Rogue Trader, and frag grenades for the first time since 2nd Edition.
We won't hinder our squad with a Commissar, as we want a like-for-like comparison at the end of all this.
Points Value: 50 (basic) + 5 (flamer) + 15 (rocket launcher) = 70
So what have we found? Well, since Warhammer 40,000 changed from being a role-playing skirmish game in which the scenario, campaign and collections dictated a squad's composition into a points-based company sized wargame, points have been dropping (except from 3rd to 4th edition, when the flame-thrower got more expensive). This is, of course, to encourage larger armies and therefore more profit for Games Workshop - not in and of itself a bad thing; I don't really want to rehash the old battles regarding price here - but what of our squad itself?
Firstly, the squad has been remarkably consistent. It has always been 10 strong, and has had very few equipment changes. The major ones are the introduction of both heavy AND special weapon in 2nd Edition, the introduction of comm-links in 3rd, and the option to have krak grenades in 4th. Oh, and the change from lasgun-armed sergeants in Rogue Trader to pistol-packing NCOs in 2nd... and then back again in 3rd, and back again to pistols in 5th.
Secondly, the points fluctuations. In 2nd Edition, when a game really portrayed a reinforced platoon or short company in action, a squad costs a whopping 137 points! This drops to 88 in 3rd, rises slightly to 91 in 4th, and falls dramatically to 70 in 5th. I suspect it may well go down again in 6th, if this trend is anything to go by. On average, a squad of 10 men with flamer and rocket launcher and carrying frag grenades, over the six editions, has cost (0+137+88+91+70)/5 = 77.2 points. More interestingly, between the first points costs in 2nd and the most recent in 5th, the squad has got 67 points cheaper overall, which means that for the price of one squad in 2nd Edition, you can now get nearly two full squads in 5th!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this trip through memory lane, and the pictures of my 'squads through the ages'...