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The big thing these days is 10 wide horde units to get a bunch of attacks and just burn through enemies, but that is generally at the cost of ranks. Wouldn't it be better to take a 5x8 over a 10x4 unit in a game where the hordes are more prevalent? They'd have less models in combat, you'd have more ranks, and steadfast at the cost of a rank of fighting. Am I missing something here?
40k: Silver Angels of Our Martyred Lady 7/2/3 - Daemons of the Great Squiggle! 3/1/0
Fantasy: Windhost of Athel'Loren 2/0/0 - Daemons of Another Great Squiggle! 0/0/0
Warmahordes: Legion of Everblight (Absylonia)
you would have the ranks... but consider 1 rank is worth the same combat res as 1 wound, the horde is nearly always garanteed to win combat, by sheer wounds alone, the rank bonus is great for anvil units, but for kill units its always better to go with 10 wide.
basically in answer to your question, it depends which unit your talking about. Some its better to be 10 wide to get the extra attack, some you want to bog down a unit for as long as possible, which is where rank and steadfest rule comes in useful
finding some space for naked Rhinos
The reasons are given above pretty succinctly but to add to it having both in an army is a good idea. For example in WoC lists if marauders are taken a lot of the time you see them in a deep formation whilst the warriors are in a shallower formation. Charging both in gives you a rank bonus but also makes that unit steadfast thus holding the horde in place.
Generally in most armies it's a good idea to have a combination.
Hordes can be a waste though. The extra attacks from that rank are all good but if the enemy are over a small frontage (such as bret lances) then you are better off with the ranks.
My rule of thumb tends to be get to max rank bonus then extra models go on the side to get the unit wider. Eg empire spearmen in a 30 will be 5 wide and won't think about horde till 40.
Hope that helps
Something I've found playing against highly shooty armies is that while the horde is great for getting the attacks in, rarely do you get a chance to get a unscathed unit into combat. Shooting always whittles down the back ranks and you're left with a wide unit with no depth, the worst of both worlds. A recent battle I saw involved a scary (at first) horde of 50 Gors slogging it into the teeth of a dwarf gunline. After two rounds of shooting and an efficient stand-and-shoot just 15 got into combat with some Dwarf Quarrellers. And lost the ensuing combat.
Maybe its just my experience playing HEs, but I prefer to go for a mix of width and depth, so 8x5 or 7x6 is common for my armies. Plus I think that big blocks of painted troops look really good on the battlefield!
But of course I'll agree with zhambah's comment that it entirely depends which unit you're talking about.