I did a quick headcount of my Tyranid models thus far, and I've got a Hive Tyrant, 17 Genestealers, 12 Hormagaunts and 8 Gaunts. All my Genestealers will be simple to arm, as all of their weapons are largely interchangeable, and no one in the local area will pitch a fit if some of the models in the unit have scything talons on the model, and others do not. So long as I clearly point out and mark which units have which upgrades, we're good.
Gaunts are a tougher choice, and I did some quick Mathhammer to see what guns work best in different situations. I compared the stock Fleshborer against Spinefists and Devourers. I skipped the spike rifle and the strangleweb, as those are flat out bad. The strangleweb is laughably bad.
Against T4 models, a unit of 10 Termagaunts manages 2.5 wounds with fleshborers, 2.475 with spinefists, and 7.5 with devourers. This is assuming they're all within 12", of course. For the fleshborers, you essentially pay 20 points per wound caused. Spinefists are 24.24 per, and devourers are 13.33 per. Devourers seem the most efficient.
Against T3 models, the same units do 3.3 wounds with fleshborers (15.15 pts/wound), 3.75 with spinefists (16 pts/wound) and 9.9 with devourers (10.10 pts/wound). Again, devourers win on efficiency in a vacuum.
So, the conventional wisdom holds true. Take fleshborers if you want masses of cheap, garbage units. Take devourers if you want a hailstorm of small arms fire. Seriously, a unit of 10 Gaunts with devourers is half as expensive as a Tactical Squad, and can outshoot them on raw wounds caused.
That's the kicker, though. Wounds caused is not wounds punched through. In the above scenarios, only the devourers will punch through Marine armor with anything resembling reliability.
I was curious how the changes that arrived with Sixth Edition altered the common thinking on Gaunt weapons, especially when it comes to Overwatch fire. As a Marine Bike player, I know how valuable twin-linking is, so maybe Overwatch is where the spinefist shines?
When you do the math, that 10-strong Gaunt unit does .85 wounds to a T4 unit during Overwatch with fleshborers, 1.03 with spinefists, and 2.5 with devourers. Points per wound for those are 58.82 for fleshborers, 58.25 with spinefists, and 40 with devourers. Devourers win again!
Now Overwatch versus T3 models: 1.12 wounds from fleshborers (44.64 pts/wound), 1.56 from spinefists (38.46 pts/wound), and 3.3 from devourers (30.3 pts/wound). Devourers again.
So, my theory that spinefists are more efficient during Overwatch is nuked. There doesn't seem to be a situation in which devourers lose to any other Gaunt weapon in pure points-to-wound ratio. That bums me out, as I really wanted to put to use some of the million spinefist bits I have.
The only time it seems spinefists outshine any weapon on a points-to-damage basis is when attempting to ground a flying monstrous creature. That functions purely on hits, so the spinefists clock in at 19.29 points per hit, compared to a flat 20 for devourers, and 29.4 for fleshborers. Not exactly a huge margin over devourers, and a bit of a ludicrous application of Gaunts.
Of course, this all feeds into the idea that Gaunts are not a "heavy lifter" unit. I've used that term before elsewhere when talking about Troops choices. Some armies, like Deathwing, Grey Knights, or Orks have Troops units that can and do pull a lot of weight on the table. They can and must kill enemy units reliably in order to win games. Those units are either so costly in points, or in board real estate that they are forced to do SOMETHING or risk losing through inaction. Gaunts are not a heavy lifter. They're cheap enough, and of such poor effectiveness that they lose nothing by inaction. A unit of 10 Gaunts with Fleshborers can be parked out of sight (and out of mind!) for an entire game, and it won't affect the damage output of your army by more than a model or two.
So, how will I arm my Gaunts? I've already vowed never to field a Tervigon, EVER, so I'm not forced to field fleshborers if I don't want to. It's a decision that's a ways off, as I'm determined to finish any and all Genestealers before I complete a unit of Gaunts, plus I only have 8 Termagaunt bodies at the moment, unless I want to plunder a few Hormagaunt bodies and put guns on them.
Right now, I'm leaning toward Devourers, because not only are they "most efficient", but they're more expensive, meaning I can get a tiny force on the table faster if I field Devourers.
As a final note, I know Mathhammer is unreliable, and never accounts for all of the different factors in a game. I also know that quantity has a quality all its own, that 100 points of Devilgaunts won't have as many bodies as 100 points of Fleshgaunts or Spinegaunts. I think that's a HUGE factor to realize, because Gaunts die to a stiff breeze, being T3 and no real save to speak of. How many times will I actually fire that full volley of Devilgaunts, as compared to firing off the survivors of a unit of Spinegaunts or Fleshgaunts that have taken the same incoming damage? Points-per-damage is an attempt to quantify that, but 0 is still 0 no matter what. If the unit of 10 Devilgaunts is down to no models, it's not shooting at all, where the double-sized unit of Fleshgaunts still has 10 models left.
I think that's one of the things I like about learning a new army. Marines don't tend to worry about such things, as they all run in units of 5-10, and you don't tend to make the same types of decisions with them.
Does anyone have any fun or radical methods for running Gaunts of either breed in their armies? I know all about the "best" loadouts. Adrenal Hormagaunts for cracking AV10 rear armor transports through sheer weight of numbers and hull point attrition. Toxin Hormagaunts for taking down anything with a wounds value and less than a 2+ armor save. But does anyone run anything really wacky and unconventional?