What I learned at 500 points
At 500 points, you don't have a lot of room, especially when playing CSM. You need your HQ and you need your troop choices, and that right there will eat up a large portion of your points. Even if you go with the minimum (1 Lord, 90, 2 CSM troops, 150, for 240), you've already used up almost half your points with no upgrades and debatable usefulness. In all the 500 point games I've played, I've had to build for both going against SM, Tyranid, and Ork armies. This meant having to build my small army for horde killing as well marine killing.
This isn't easy. You can't just load up a Rhino with 7 Plague Marines and 2 Meltas and be happy (216 points; 256 if you have a Champ with PF). Of course, you can leave off the Rhino as 500 point games are usually played on 4x4 boards, but even that is risky business. A Daemon Prince get's expensive really quick, and 3/5 saves are good up until you get jumped by a large mass of Orks. The shear numbers are on their side.
The point is, just like in larger games, every unit has to have a specific role. More importantly, every role must be self sufficient because you probably won't be able to double up. Finally, and most important, you still need to cover all the roles needed. You need close combat, you need anti-armor, you need everything you'd normally need at larger games to one degree or another.
For me, this meant clearly defining the rules of each squad as well as making the most out of each unit. This also meant being intelligent about deployment. A bad deployment will hurt you. With the small number of units you can take, every unit out of place can cost you. One unit dead is 1/4 your fighting force, generally, and that's a big blow at any level.
In my 500 point games, I found the following worked well for my CSM.
5 Noise Marines with Sonic Blasters: 125 points.
Role: Ranged anti-troop support. 15 shots at 24" with pinning is nothing scoff at. Even better is the 10 shots at 24" while moving. If you can get them into a position on the board with cover, they can provide support without moving, covering a large number of objectives and putting out a large amount of fire. 125 points is also reasonable for this type of fire power, considering that 8 CSM can only put out 8 shots at 24 inches while not moving, are not fearless, put out only 1 more shot while moving but only at 12 inches, and have 1 less initiative. So, for 5 more points, I felt like I got a lot more. Also, since they have longer range, and are fearless, I can keep the back away from the fighting holding a point. They'll still be useful, and will be out of close combat range.
5 CSM with AC w/PF and Flamer, Rhino w/TL Bolter and Dozer Blade: 165
This is my assault squad. The only scary part here is the non-fearless aspect of the group. I might drop the Dozer and the extra TL Bolter, but really, they are cheap for the added firepower and assured mobility. If there is only place where I have bad luck, it's dangerous terrain checks. They plague me like nothing else. But the Chaos Lord travels with the group. The Flamers give them the ability to help clear out hordes, and the PF help with armor killing should it be needed. Two TL Bolters on the Rhino also means it's got more weapons to fire. I mean, 5 more points for an extra TL bolter? Not bad. Easier to get in then a whole new SM at 15 points. Besides, in smaller games, you don't have as much anti-armor fire coming your way.
5 CSM with Melta: 85
Footslogging isn't always advised, but it's not bad. Remember, you are usually playing on a 4x4 board at 500 points. This means you don't have far to go. The melta is there for two reasons. The first is to provide a clear anti-armor ranged weapon. The other reason for the unit is to provide support for the troops in the Rhino. These marines will move in slower, of course, but not that much if they can afford to run the first turn. The unit is also small, meaning anyone firing at them is not firing at something else. Indeed, firing at my Melta squad is almost a waste. Again, morale might be an issue (and it was in one game for normal CSM), but these guys generally do their job well.
1 Chaos Lord w/PF and Combi-Flamer: 125
At this level, he's pretty strong. At 3 wounds, with a PF, and a Combi-Flamer, he's packing a punch. Coming in with the CSM squad in the Rhino, it's a fearsome force. Sure, he's no DP, but at a lower point value, he allows me to take more options in other areas.
This small force at 500 has the following:
- 2 Power Fists
- 1 Melta
- 3 Anti-Armor weapons
- Long Ranged anti-troop support
- Template weapons for Hordes
- 3 Scoring Units
- Small Unit sizes for easier cover
In some ways, larger games can get easier. You can throw more and more on the table. You can take all the wicked combos with ease. With smaller games, you have less to work with. You can't just throw those same combos on the table without suffering. Each unit needs to be able to fill multiple roles. And you have to fill those multiple roles while still giving you a solid model count in case a squad get's torn through early because of failed armor saves.