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Arbitrary Headcount Limit

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"No no no, you don't understand. You see, I only had one ring left to protect my teammates from being in the Edge, so I had to leave the rest behind. I mean, what kind of idiot goes into battle with half his team behind? How stupid would you have to-... R-Rolf, why are you beating your head against the wall like that?"
Chaz, Conversations Within Elsydeon

Trope common in Real-Time Strategy games, in which the overall number of units or the count of a particular powerful, but not unique unit are limited by assigning a completely arbitrary Cap to them. This limit is often far lower than what the resources available or the technical limits of the game engine could allow. Particularly ridiculous when the rule can be broken through scenario design or using a perfectly legitimate game feature. Most often implemented as a way to enforce game balance.

It may be hardware related. Doing rendering, AI, collision, etc. for many units at once can slow a game down, particularly on high graphics settings, resulting in a need to limit how many units the player may have at any given time. Since developers have to take console hardware limitations into account, or multiple PC configurations, they will usually try to balance between gameplay and allowing the game to still run smoothly.

Many Role Playing Games have this as well, centered around the three-to-six-person size of the active party—see Player Character Calculus for additional classification. In addition to the Hand Wave explanations common in Real-Time Strategy games, Role Playing Games can use the plot to explain the size limit. For example, in Final Fantasy IV, every time it looks like the party will grow beyond five, one of your current members will discover pressing business elsewhere. Or die. Or betray you.

See also Cap, Uniqueness Rule and You Require More Vespene Gas. Kind of related to Conservation of Ninjutsu, Serendipity Writes the Plot, and Construct Additional Pylons. Will often invoke Lazy Backup when less than half your party at a time can actually fight. When applied to temporary things like active bullets, it's One Bullet at a Time.


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    Adventure Games 
  • In The Legend of Zelda game Hyrule Warriors, playing Co-op Mode makes it easier to accomplish your objectives more quickly and rack up the rupees and knockouts. However, the performance optimization that's required to allow two players makes it harder to completely clear an area of all enemies because not only do fewer of them appear on-screen than in single-player mode, they will only register onscreen, within the player's reduced "draw distance", after the first few have been eliminated or scrolled away far enough. The draw distance limitations can also make enemies suddenly manifest in single-player, but it's much less frequent (most often on "Rack up KOs" missions).
  • In Maniac Mansion, Dave has six friends who he can ask to help him rescue Sandy, yet he can only bring two no matter how motivated the other four seem.

    Beat'em Up 
  • River City Girls: The max party size is 2, to fit the starting party size and have two players playing together. But in New Game Plus, there's 4 selectable characters but still only 2 can be played at once.

    Collectible Card Games 
  • Unlike many CCGs, Hearthstone has several fairly arbitrary limits. Decks are restricted to exactly 30 cards, mana is restricted to a maximum of 10, hand size is restricted to a maximum of 10, and minions are restricted to a maximum of 7 per player. The number of cards that a deck can hold can be increased by actions taken during players in a game; however there is still a maximum cap of 60 cards that can be put into either deck. All of these values are hard caps, with anything that would go over the cap being lost. This can be used as a tactic by some decks, such as destroying minions by returning them to a player's hand when their hand is already full.

    Fighting Games 
  • Until the Dreamcast came out, most console wrestling games only ever allowed 4 wrestlers in the ring at the same time, regardless of the match type. This included Royal Rumble matches, where you would fight through 29 other wrestlers but only 3 at a time.
    • The WWE Day of Reckoning games for the Nintendo GameCube also had this limit. This would change following the release of the PS2 Smackdown vs. RAW, which would up the limit to 6 playable characters on screen at any time (depending on the game and system, the non-playable Referee would or wouldn't also show up), which would persist through most of the series' following lifespan.

    Platform Games 
  • In Aliens: Infestation, the player is initially given control of one of four Colonial Marines who form a fireteam, and which can be switched around at various rooms throughout the playable locations. If and when you encounter any additional Marines (survivors who have either holed up in an isolated area or are behind initially-impassible doors, they will tell the active Marine, to a T, that although they lost the rest of their fireteam and presume they are dead, they will refuse to join you (due to the Nintendo 3DS' hardcoded party limit). This occurs even in dire situations, such as when the U.S.S. Sulaco is in imminent danger of being destroyed due to the player character setting it on a collision course with Mars to destroy the xenos aboard.
  • The Lost Vikings 2 has five playable characters. However, only 3 are present per level. It is lampshaded throughout the game.
  • The enemies in Yoshi's Island are subject to a headcount limit when spawned by pipes or other similar sources. Oddly, the limit depends on Yoshi - specifically, the number of eggs he has. If the pipe/whatever plus the number of eggs Yoshi has number six or more, it will stop spawning monsters. The real reason, of course, is because these spawn points really only exist to help Yoshi fill up on ammo.


    RPG — MMO 
  • Fleets in EVE Online are restricted to 256 characters with every command position filled. This can cause some issues with larger fights featuring well over a thousand players, the largest so far featuring over 3000.
    • Generally most Nullsec Alliances fighting on this scale get around said headcount by groups of 256 a specific fleet doctrine, whose fleet commander is in turn on a shared comm channel with whomever is considered the leader of the forces, or at least the other F.C.s in order to coordinate better.
  • Aside from the main character of Granblue Fantasy, the player can only choose up to 5 more party members in battle. However, as the game can only accommodate four character sprites in the right side of the battle, the rest of the party will be at the "back line" and will only be swapped out when one of the "front line" members are defeated, or by using certain skills.
  • Guild Wars imposes an Arbitrary Headcount Limit in every area of the game, including outposts, where players can't even fight. In the training area it's 2; in low-level areas it's 4-6; in the high-level areas it's 8; and in elite areas it's 8-12. Usually, this limit isn't a big deal, since low-level areas are balanced for small teams. But just see what happens when a team of 4 tries to kill things in the same newbie area in hard mode...
    • Originally, players could only have 3 heroes in their party at any given time, despite having access to almost 30. These days it's possible to bring 7.
  • In The Lord of the Rings Online, some things can only be done by a single person, some can only be done by groups of 3 or less, some are only possible in groups of 6 or less, and some in groups of 12 or less. Especially egregious in that, depending on the classes of the players involved, there could potentially be up to twice that number of actual combatants in the party. though half will be NPCs (pets/henchmen).
  • In O Game, if you attempt to send a colony ship towards an unoccupied planet when you already have colonized the maximum number of planets that you cannote  you get a message that goes something as "riots on the main planet of your Empire as it's too big to be controlled forcing the colonizer to return to the planet from where it was launched.
  • In RuneScape, you are only allowed to have one follower, either it be a pet, summoning familiar, or someone relevant to a quest. However in 2014, rules changes now means you can play as many characters simultaneously as you can micromanage by hand. Some particularly crazy people run 20 characters at the same time, with many of them running around with their own pets too!
  • Star Trek Online: In an away team, you can bring 4 bridge officers. Except when you can't. Sometimes you can bring only 1 or 2, sometimes none at all.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, each character eventually accumulates six companions in their party. Only one companion may be active at a given time. Certain class story missions justify this by having you assign each of your companions to a specific task — while you and one companion are storming the enemy ship, for example, the others are holding the bridge, planting charges, guarding the airlock, etc.
    • This carries through to the group content as well; flashpoints are limited to four individuals, with companions able to 'fill in' if you don't have four characters in the group; in a group of three, one character can have a companion out, and in a group of two, each character can have a companion out. A solo player would still only be able to have one companion out, so the 'story mode' (solo content) flashpoints equip you with an overpowered NPC droid to make up for the loss in firepower.

    RPG — Western 
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura uses a system similar to Fallout 2, where the follower count is determined by Charisma (getting Expert training in Persuasion enables an extra follower slot); maxing out both Charisma and Persuasion allows recruiting followers of the opposite alignment and keeping around people who don't like each other. However, this only affects NPCs who actually care about your personality - the only limit to the number of mechanical or summoned creatures you can get is the hardware potency. Quest-only NPCs always join regardless of the limit, however, and there exist exploits that let you keep them afterwards.
  • Avadon draws some obvious inspiration from the Bioware franchises above, and so runs into this trope as well. The party cannot be bigger than three people. Where this gets weird is the companion loyalty quests, in which one of your companions has run off to deal with some personal quest of theirs. If you take the usual two companions with you when leaving Avadon in pursuit of your wayward friend, when you catch up with them you have to send one of the two home because you can't have more than three people in the party. "Enjoy the walk back!"
  • In Baldur's Gate, not only is your party restricted on size (6 maximum) but also on philosophical differences. If you get too popular with the rabble, the more evil characters in the party will simply up and leave. On the other hand, the whole Dungeons & Dragons system is keyed to this, mostly because the calculation of what monsters constitute a challenge for a party depend on the said party being 4-6 strong.
  • Baldur's Gate II. Specifically coming to save a friend of yours, but not being able to lead her out of the dungeon of the Big Bad because your party was full (There actually was a dialogue option that said this). At least Bioware added an optional NPC that would betray you at a very convenient time, opening a slot for the Damsel in Distress, if you had him with you.
  • Baldur's Gate III restricts your party to four (the Player Character plus three companions). While this isn't quite as much of a problem since the game is still in Early Access (so you only have five companions total), it will inevitably become more noticeable when the game is fully released and all companions are available.
  • In Deltarune, the party only ever has three members when entering battle. When Lancer joins in Chapter 1, he only does so for a brief period, leaving the party before entering combat. Likewise, when Noelle and Kris reunite with Susie and Ralsei, Noelle gets conveniently occupied whenever the other characters are fighting.
  • In Dungeon Siege, your party is arbitrarily limited to 8 characters. Once full, you have to abandon existing characters when you want to recruit new ones. Your pack mules are included in this, so counter-intuitively your party can keep track of less animals as there are more of you.
    • Frustratingly, to a mind-boggling degree, you don't start with the ability to have a maximum-size party in Dungeon Siege 2. You start with two and have to find an NPC and purchase the right to have progressively more active party members at one time. You can't reach the real limit until you've already beaten the game twice.
      • The blow is arguably lessened to a degree due to the fact that the first 4 potential party members you come across are one of each of the four main classes (Lothar the warrior, Deru the archer, Taar the Nature Mage, and Finala the combat mage).
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins: You'd think as one of the only two people able to stop a horde from destroying the world, you'd be able to take all your companions into battle, but you're limited to a party of four. Unlike the other games, though, during the final battle in Denerim, all your companions join the initial assault. Then you make your party selections for the final boss battle, leaving the rest to defend the gates. Kudos to Bioware for actually letting the players control the remaining companions during the defense (one of only two occasions in the game where the party does not include the main player, the other one being a rescue mission for the main character).
    • In Dragon Age II, the three-companion limit is explained for most of the game by the fact that most of Hawke's companions are established as having their own lives and things to do outside of running around with Hawke. Aveline has a day job with the city guard, Anders runs a clinic in Darktown, Varric is a writer and is implied to have other business going on as well, Merrill is working on restoring the Eluvian, Isabela is trying to track down her relic and Sebastian is working for the Chantry; only Fenris and (in the first act) Hawke's sibling seem to have nothing better to do. However, when all hell breaks loose during the final mission and the survival of potentially everyone in the city hangs in the balance, it makes considerably less sense that half your friends see fit to sit this one out. At least at the start and end of the final mission your entire party is fighting (as well as some NPC allies you've picked up along the way) although only three of them are under your direct control.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition: While the three-companion limit remains, it is repeatedly implied that you're actually bringing all of them with you, you just can't use them because of Gameplay and Story Segregation. Talking to them after major quests has them speaking as if they were there, and sometimes they'll just pop up out of nowhere during the quest itself. For example, if you exile the Grey Wardens and Blackwall isn't in your party, he'll still randomly appear to ask the Inquisitor permission to stay. Additionally, characters who are not in the active party at the time may still express approval or disapproval for your choices. The primary exception to this is the Fade sequence in Adamant; conversations afterward make it clear that your chosen party members were the only ones with you.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In-Universe, due to the structure of the Aurbis (loosely, the universe or "totality"), the number of Daedric Princes is limited. Any other powerful Daedra are considered "lords" but not true Princes. However, there have been instances of "new" Princes coming into being, though each instance to date seems to be a case of Loophole Abuse, with a sphere being "split" or something similar. Examples including Alduin "cursing" Mehrunes Dagon to his role, Boethiah "eating" and corrupting Trinimac into Malacath, and Sheogorath passing that mantle onto a mortal to become Jyggalag full-time.
    • Averted in Morrowind with NPC followers who join you as part of a quest. You can be followed by as many as you wish as long as you don't complete their respective quests. Generally inadvisable, however, as the combination of Artificial Stupidity and the Anyone Can Die nature of the game (unlike later games in the series where quest-related followers are "essential" and only get knocked out if they hit zero health) turns having even one NPC follower from an advantage into a tedious Escort Mission, much less having several followers.
    • Skyrim:
      • Played straight with NPC companions in that you can only have one companion at a time, with no explanation as to why. If you ask another to join you when you already have one, they'll just say "Looks like you already have someone following you."
      • Averted with non-NPC companions, however. If you randomly find and then adopt one of the wild dogs wandering Skyrim (or meet Meeko), you can expand your party to three. Additionally, with the proper Conjuration perks, you can revive up to two dead bodies (permanently in buggy cases) to expand your possible party to five.
      • You can also get around it during the Dawnguard DLC main quest. Serana will follow you until you complete her quest (which is a long one and which you are not forced to complete) while still allowing you to have a standard companion. After the quest, she can still follow you but occupies the standard companion slot.
  • In Evil Islands, you can't have more than two allies at a time, although Lazy Backup is avoided and you can just pick another one if one of them is killed.
  • Fallout:
    • While most tabletop-derived CRPGs simply insist that you cough up some party members whenever you recruit more than 3-6 for no particular reason, Fallout 2 gave your character a statistical limit on their ability to schmooze people into following them, based primarily on charisma (the first game had no limit, but there were only five recruitable characters anyway).
    • Fallout 3:
      • The main game limits you to one follower and a dog at one time, no matter what your stats are. Various exploits allow you to break this limit, however.
      • In the Operation:Anchorage DLC, you are tasked with leading a squad to several objectives and eliminating the Commies therein. You have a limited number of tokens, and different kinds of troops use different numbers of tokens depending on how strong they are. For example, a soldier with a rifle will take up 1 token, while a Mr. Gutsy will take up 5. The reason supplied is that too large a force will tip off the Commies that you're attacking.
    • Fallout: New Vegas also continues this tradition, although it is greatly alleviated by mods:
      • The number of companions is coded in-game at a maximum of one human and one non-human (ED-E or Rex) follower, with the added wrinkles of the Lucky 38 Presidential Suite being where your extra companions can stay (and complain about being stuck there while others are doing stuff). When you attempt to ask a fourth person to join your party, they'll often complain that "it looks like you're already travelling with a big enough group" and refuse to take part.
      • In addition, no companions can enter or leave DLC areas. Sometimes it's handwaved (starting Honest Hearts requires joining a caravan by yourself, as bringing others would make it unprofitable for the investors, even though it's possible to convince one of the members to back out before the DLC begins proper), but most of the time it's not (Dead Money and Old World Blues warn you that you'll be going through their areas alone before you start, and dismiss your companions without fanfare when you start them, while trying to start Lonesome Road with companions just brings up a message that "This road is one The Courier must walk alone" and makes you manually dismiss your companions).
  • On the surface, Geneforge is generous about this, with a party limit of eight. Due to the way your Mons work, you'd have a hard time getting more than five anyway. Then again, there's also the matter of the experience penalties for large parties, which seem designed to make you not want more than eight party members anyways.
  • The old SSI Gold Box games generally had six slots for player characters that you'd generate yourself at the start of the game plus two more for any NPCs that might join. This generally managed not to feel overly contrived since for plot reasons such NPCs were only ever met in ones and twos for particular occasions and would leave again as soon as their part was played out, leaving those slots open once more for others (or the same character(s) again later in the game).
  • Zig-Zagged in GreedFall. The game gives you five companions, but you're only allowed to take two with you at any time. You're also not allowed to take less than two.
  • In Jade Empire, only one other character can join you at a time. Additionally, one of these does not fight but only allows you to use the Drunken Master style. Another character is in your party pool but is only there to trade with you. With him being a disembodied spirit, this makes a little sense.
  • Knights of the Old Republic:
    • In both games, you quickly acquire a party of 8 or so characters, but can only ever wander around the planet with two characters other than yourself.
    • In the second game, there is a sequence where the Exile is captured and sent to G0-T0's yacht in orbit above Nar Shaddaa. The team mounts a rescue mission (along with reformed bounty hunter Mira) to save them... and yet, you can only take two people total to the yacht, which is done so that the Exile will inevitably resume control of the party when they are rescued. There is no in-game explanation for this, despite there likely being several highly capable squadmates at this point.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, any person on the battlefield can switch out for any one not on the battlefield at any time, but only three can actually fight at one time. And if someone gets knocked out? Nobody will fill in for them. They just lie there, taking up a perfectly good slot. To make matters worse, there are occasionally guest characters who can't be switched out, even if they're very poorly suited to whatever enemy you're up against at the time.
  • Throughout the Mass Effect series, the protagonist is limited to two squadmates accompanying them on away missions.
    • Mass Effect:
      • Four of the NPC's aren't even part of the ship's crew, so it's not like they are needed on board. The other two are marines, so they wouldn't be much help in a starship battle. It's never explained why Shepard can't take the entire group of 6 with them. Even in levels where the Mako is mandatory, it's shown on Feros the Mako is capable of transporting 4 people, so space isn't why your team limit is three. Especially when the entire universe is in the balance. In fact, the only person in the party who would have a logical reason to remain on the ship is the Player Character themself, as Shepard is the ship's Commanding Officer.
      • Especially odd during the Virmire mission, when the game explicitly shows the entire crew on the planet and ready for the battle, and the narrative points out that every last soldier is necessary for the mission. Depending on your choices, either Ashley or Kaidan will go with Captain Kirrahe, the other will eventually take the bomb, and Wrex will end up dead unless you have either done his mission or have the Charm/Intimidate points to talk him down but you'll still wind up with at least one of Tali, Garrus, and Liara totally unaccounted for. Stranger still, when either Ashley or Kaidan go to set the bomb you get the chance to totally reconfigure your party on the spot from all the remaining party members, despite the fact that you're standing in the middle of an enemy base and the ones you aren't using are nowhere to be seen (maybe they were on the Normandy?).
      • Inverted for the confrontation in the middle of the Virmire level. If, for some reason, you went to Wrex first in Expose Saren, then refused Garrus' offer to join the Normandy Squad, and haven't yet recovered Liara, then Wrex will automatically back down, with no options to ensure you kill him. This is due to a section later in the level: you have to leave one of your human Squad Mates at the bomb to go and rescue the one at the AA Tower: if you don't have Garrus and Liara and killed Wrex in the confrontation, you'd only have Tali left to take with you, putting you at a HUGE disadvantage for the rest of the level, since it features the toughest enemies in the game and a boss fight!
    • Mass Effect 2:
      • At one point, the entire team goes away on a "mission", and it is explained that Shepard would then choose who to take with them when they get to their destination. The "mission" is actually a transparent plot device to get all the combat-capable people out of the ship so the Collectors can kidnap the crew.
      • In The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, your whole team gets to participate. However, you can still only have two squadmates with you, which depending at the point is either justified or playing this ludicrously straight. In the "Long Walk" segment your Biotic specialist explicitly states that they cannot create a field big enough to cover everyone, so you take a small group with you while the rest lead a diversion. When you go to confront the final boss, you take two people with you while everyone else stays being to Hold the Line, and it makes a certain amount of sense to leave as many people behind as possible. The weird part is the first section. The tech specialist is in a thermal vent, and as such cannot be used, and another squadmate is leading the second group. If you have recruited everyone, and no one is dead yet that means (for no clear reason) you are leading a group of 3 (yourself and two companions), while the other group is made up of nine people, instead of a more balanced division.
      • Particularly jarring in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. After meeting up with Liara, you are prompted to choose which one of your teammates to take with you, despite there being absolutely no point to leaving one of them behind. Sure, it makes some sense to leave part of the team behind on the Normandy (that would've really helped in the Collector attack), but in this case, there is literally no reason for this other than the headcount limit. Made even more ridiculous by the fact that the group of three then enters a skycar - which explicitly has four seats.
    • Mass Effect 3:
      • The game attempts to justify the limited party size early on (in "Priority: Mars", James is told to go get the shuttle after Liara joins the team, just so he can reappear later and help during a crucial moment) and has squadmates being involved with official/personal business when they're not in the player's party, but the game slips back into the usual problems later on.
      • In the "Priority: Cerberus Headquarters" mission, EDI essentially pushes her way onto the team by telling Shepard that she is the only one who knows the command codes for the Cerberus base and can provide tactical advice. Even though there should be nothing stopping Shepard from taking additional personnel for support (as this is an important mission, and EDI's main role is to network with the various systems), s/he elects to do the same "only bring one other squadmate" routine.
      • During "Priority: Earth", the squadmate(s) the player doesn't pick simply up and disappear, with no real reason given why Shepard can't bring more than two squadmates along to the most important part of the battle for Earth's survival. Earlier drafts of the script would have mitigated this problem, as there would have been a sequence where Shepard would have had to help one of the squadmates who was travelling with an armored infantry column during the "No Man's Land" segment of the mission, and several of the past squadmates would have been shown fighting on their own or with a group.
      • Played with in the "Citadel" DLC. When Brooks mentions it's a shame Shepard can't bring their whole team on this mission, Shepard decides to do just that. The controllable party is the same size (they're the guys taking point with Shepard), but the rest of the crew is there to provide covering fire. The radio chatter consists of the good guys loving how much ass they're kicking and mooks soiling themselves. Lampshaded again later when Joker's skycar only has room for Shepard and two others. This leaves the rest of the roster standing around, complaining about not getting picked. Amusingly, complainers includes the squad mate that the player has used the least throughout the rest of the game, the squad mate that the player has used the most, or Wrex.
  • Might and Magic had this, though in different ways in different chapters:
    • I to V had parties restricted to six (I, IV-V) or eight (II and III), in-game creation and switching out of characters at inns, and no explanation for why a larger party would not have worked. The two extra slots in II and III could only be filled with hirelings, who would desert the party when you rested if you couldn't pay their wage from your gold on hand.
    • VI, VII and IX had a party of four, with all created at start, and reasons for them not expandingnote ... but one could also recruit up to two 'followers' that gave some perks, with no explanation given for why three followers were one too many. VIII had parties of five, with one created at start and unable to be switched out, and others found as the game progresses, but no explanation for why, once you have that many adventurers, any excess over five has to stay at the inn.
  • Mount & Blade has a limit to the number of lieutenants and soldiers that can be added to the party at any one time. However, this limit can be increased by raising your charisma statistic when you level up, or by increasing your renown by winning battles, and there is no upper limit on how high you can raise your party cap.
  • Neverwinter Nights:
    • In the original game, you could only have one henchman at any one time. Hordes of the Underdark expanded this to two, but still required you to leave three or four perfectly capable allies waiting around back at base in the first chapter.
    • In Neverwinter Nights 2, you can have as many as ten party members, but you can never have more than 3 with you at once - except for Shandra, who doesn't count towards the limit. For some reason, after Shandra dies, the limit remains at 4.
    • The second game also started out with allowing you three followers, then increased the limit over the course of the game without much explanation. In the final battle, you're controlling every single member of your group, so one wonders why no one thought to do this when fighting any of the other big bads. Meta-game-wise, it's mostly because it's very difficult for the player to keep track of so many characters.
    • Mask of the Betrayer is particularly annoying in this regard. You can take up to three companions with you, but there are only four in the first place. (To be more precise, the game has five different companions, but two are mutually exclusive and after you pick one, the other doesn't even become a companion option, so you have access to four and not five.)
  • The party in Planescape: Torment can have up to six people, counting the Nameless One. There are only eight recruitable characters, and one of them is almost universally considered The Load, and another is a batshit insane Knight Templar who even a good aligned Nameless One probably wouldn't want.
  • In Sands of Salzaar from Han Squirrel Studio, your party can have maximum limit of 5 heroes other than yourself and 20 troops with only 2 of those units able to be Tier 6, the ultimate tier. And to achieve these maximums you need to earn the appropriate talents and/or have certain legacies when you crested your character.
  • The Shadowrun game for Super Nintendo limited how many runners you could hire based on your charisma. The Sega Genesis version limited Joshua to hiring no more than two other runners at a time, period.
  • Sonic Chronicles limits you at four with Sonic always in the lead. Counting Cream and Omega, you can have eleven.
  • As with many RPGs, Spellforce III restricts you to a party of four despite having recruited many more characters. It is particularly odd in this case, however, given that the game is also part RTS. On many occasions you are commanding large armies with potentially hundreds of members, but are still restricted to only four named characters. There is even an additional limit on the armies themselves - by midway through the game you will have recruited three separate armies to your cause, but any level in which they fight always forces you to pick just one to actually use.
  • Steven Universe:
    • In Save the Light, your in-game party is Steven and three others. This limit clearly doesn't exist in-story, as one cutscene has the entire party show up in the middle of a dungeon, only to be forcibly split into two teams to rescue Steven: Connie and Peridot on one side of the dungeon, and Greg, Amethyst and Pearl on the other. Garnet is also split into Ruby and Sapphire, but they each serve as non-playable dungeon guides for the two teams.
    • In Unleash the Light, there can only be Steven and three other characters in your party at any given time, but the story proceeds as though all of the playable characters are present. For example, Amethyst will still show up during the Crystal Gems' first meeting with the Bismuthnote  even if she's not in the party.
  • Ultima had this in many of the games. In Ultima IV you are limited to 8 party members and there are 8 recruitable, but the game dictates that you cannot recruit whichever NPC matches your class. ''V-VII play this totally straight.
    • Ultima V was the straightest example of all, you could only have five companions join the Avatar out of fifteen total options. At least it was possible to mix and match at will, by depositing spare companions to stay at inns with available rooms.
    • Ultima VI was a lot more annoying in that it again have fifteen companions to choose from, with seven able to be in your party at any one time. However three companion slots are permanently taken by Dupre, Iolo and Shamino, with another locked in by a later arrival that is mandatory to complete the main quest. Further, two of the other options would refuse to ever rejoin if dismissed from the party. This effectively means that out of eleven options, you have room to include three.

  • The End Times: Vermintide and Vermintide II: Only four of the Ubersreik Five can be played at a time, a fact that's lampshaded in banter about the absence.
    Kruber: We're the bloody Ubersreik Five! Or four, doesn't matter!
  • The original Half-Life only allows for two Black Mesa personnel to accompany Gordon at any given time. Half-Life: Opposing Force ups the limit with up to four HECU marines allowed in Shephard's squad at a time, and Half-Life 2 permits the same number of Resistance fighters to follow Gordon during the Uprising chapters.
  • The ill-fated Jurassic Park: Trespasser, rushed to completion for the sake of deadlines, had to be released long before many of its reliability and performance issues could be resolved. Lots of cool ideas were abandoned, along with one entire level, because they just couldn't get them working in that amount of time. The quick fix they introduced to minimize, at the very least, the rampant in-game slowdown? They coded in a hard limit on the number of dinosaurs the engine could generate per level. Seven. Of any kind, hostile or non-hostile, something you have to fight or something that's standing off in the background and completely irrelevant. The total can't exceed seven.
    • Within a certain distance. There can be more than seven, but they just stand there, being invincible and doing nothing until you get within the required distance. This makes long range combat even more infeasible.
  • In Operation Flashpoint, squads are limited to twelve soldiers at a time, including the leader. This is due to technical limitations: squadmates are selected with the function keys. The AI is also affected by this as the mission editor won't let you link more than twelve soldiers into a squad.
  • Postal 2 has an option to limit the number of people spawned in one map area at a time, to prevent overloading and causing the game to crash. Depending on the player's setup, one can increase that number for more carnage.
  • "Tactical" shooters like Rainbow Six or SWAT 4 give you long, impressive-looking rosters of potential teammates to aid you in your missions... then limit you to a small squad of operators regardless of the size of the level. Particularly glaring when you're asked to clear large structures - cargo ships, oil rigs, warehouses, hospitals - with less than 10 people.
  • In the Star Wars: Battlefront games, bots are limited to a maximum of thirty two per side. However modders have found that by altering a few lines of script in their mod maps, they can have battles with over a hundred troops on the battlefield at any given time. Granted, a hundred soliders on the Tantive IV would probably be overkill, but it would make sense for those large outdoor levels.
  • The Tenno squads in Warframe are limited to four players. Your Railjack can be crewed by up to three AI-controlled crewmates who will be phased out one-by-one when additional players join your squad.

    Simulation Games 
  • Aerobiz: The first two games limit your airline to no more then 40 total flight routes. Frustrating in the second game due to how the region system works and the fact that there are about 90 or so cities in the game.
  • Each Animal Crossing game has a maximum number of animal villagers who can live in your town: 15 in the original, 8 in Wild World, 10 in City Folk, 10 again in New Leafnote , and 10 once more in New Horizons. In all of the games, a maximum of four humans can live in the town at once.
  • Many combat flight simulations, such as B-17: The Mighty Eighth or IL-2 Sturmovik have a limit to the number of planes in a given scenario. This means that the player's 3 or 4 fighters are typically attacking enemy bomber formations of 8-12, rather than the 80-100 common in the Battle of Britain, with predictably catastrophic results for the bombers.
    • Modifications have also been released that alter this limit. One even allows you to go all the way to fifty.
  • In the City-Building Series:
    • Caesar III and Pharaoh both limit your city to six forts of soldiers, each with a maximum company size of sixteen. Pharaoh also lets a city build up to six warship wharves.
    • Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom: Each city can only build as many forts as it can support with well-developed Elite Housing, each with a maximum company size from sixteen (for infantry) to four (for chariots). On top of that, there is a limit of twelve forts per city.
  • The iOS game Dangerous has a Hand Wave for this. When your Player Character first asks about wingmen, she replies that you may only take two with you into battle, while the rest hang back and gossip. When asked why, she claimed that your ship's nanocomputer must interface with the others. Attempting to do this with more than two other computers results in some very unpleasant temporal paradoxes. When asked if it's a joke, the computer is offended.
  • In Dwarf Fortress, Adventure Mode places a limit on how many companions you can recruit, based on social stats and fame. Meanwhile in Fortress Mode, your fortress population has a cap that the player defines in the setting files, though it isn't strictly adhered to.
  • In Evil Genius, there is an upper maximum limit of 100 non-henchmen minions that you can have. Editing the game's data files to allow you to have more minions is possible.
  • Your spaceship in FTL: Faster Than Light can hold a maximum of eight crewmen; if you get one more than that, you will be forced to dismiss someone. Can be justified since in real spacecraft design every gram counts, including those of spacemen.
  • In MechWarrior Living Legends, each team is limited to three armored personnel carriers to prevent dedicated Powered Armor players from dumping dozens of them across the map to spawn at. The same limitation applies to the resupply trucks in the game MWLL is based on, Crysis.
  • In The Sims series, you're only allowed to have eight playable Sims per household. The game still works just fine if you use a cheat to raise the limit. (Adding to the arbitrariness, pets count, even though they take up much less space and player effort than human Sims. For example, a couple with six children couldn't get a dog.)
    • One minor variation on the rule is The Sims 2, which still enforces the eight-person limit for humanoid Sims, but allows households to go up to ten individuals with the addition of pets (with said pets limited to six per household). This was presumably to make it easier to breed litters of puppies and kittens while still maintaining a human-Sim family in the household. The hard eight limit rule resumed in later sequels, however.

    Strategy — 4 X 
  • Alien Legacy has 77 possible places for colonies (47 ground sites and 30 space stations), but for some reason allows to build only about 40 "colony platforms". To build more you have to dismantle one of the existing ones. Extra colonies wouldn't have taken much RAM or CPU, the cap does not affect game balance, but it may force the player to juggle resources at the most unfortunate times.
  • The older Civilization games had an Arbitrary City Count Limit (255 for Civ II, to be specific). The table of cities only had room for 255 entries.
    • Civilization IV forbids each civilization from having more than three missionaries of a given religion at any given time. However, since missionaries are self-consuming (you send them into a city, order them to spread the faith, and whether they succeed or not that's the end of the missionary), the limit is not nearly as annoying. Certain mods included with the game (notably the Next War sci-fi mod) also use this concept on certain extremely powerful units. The vanilla version of the game also limits the number of national wonders a single city can have.
    • Enforced with Venice in Civilization V, which is only allowed one city at all times.
  • The first Imperium Galactica game caps the size of an individual fleet at 28 capital ships and 180 fighters, and fleet flagships can only carry a limited number of tanks for planetary assaults. However, the former cap can be easily circumvented by merging fleets. The sequel drops the fleet size cap and removes flagships; each capital ship now has its own tank limit.
  • The first two Master of Orion games limited fleets to the number of ships that could fit down the side of the turn-based battle map.
    • The third game had real time combat instead, but limited each side of a battle to a maximum of 10 armadas, with a maximum of 18 ships in each. This could be exploited when defending a system, since planets could not be attacked if there were any ships remaining and only one battle could occur between the same players in the same system each turn. If the player is able to build ships fast enough, even a total loss of all ships involved in a battle can stop a system being conquered as long as they could top up the number of ships back up to more than 180 every turn.
  • Since Sorcerer King lacks a gold resource for unit upkeep, it instead has "logistics", a straight cap on the number of units you can produce at your cities and have on the field at any one time. Note the wording - units not deliberately produced (such as quest rewards) don't have a logistics cost. Logistics as a hard cap to raise, so this distinction is vital.
  • Stars! (1995) has a few limits mostly related to variable sizes and its reliance on 16-bit Windows - 32,767 of any one ship type in a fleet, 512 separate fleets, 512 separate minefields, and 256 tokens in a single battle. In games with a large universe that might last a long time, these limits could be reached and be exploited. For example, the 256 tokens in a single battle could be tweaked to keep vulnerable bombers or freighters out of a battle at a planet.
  • Stellaris has a cap on the number of military ships one can have, raised by building additional starbases and modules. This has a couple of interesting quirks:
    • This cap only represents your empire's ability to maintain ships at their posted upkeep costs. You can freely build above the cap, but doing so causes upkeep costs to increase exponentially.
    • Each ship only takes a single point on the cap, from lowly corvettes to mighty dreadnaughts. Considering all ships have a permanent niche (even when those corvettes aren't even a military speedbump, they're still the best ships for protecting your trade lanes), this becomes an interesting balancing act.
    • Each nation also has a cap on the number of leaders that can be recruited, which is shared across scientists, governors, and admirals. Again, you can recruit leaders beyond the cap, but each one will come with continuously and massively increased costs.
  • Sword of the Stars doesn't limit the size of the fleets, but it does limit how many ships that can participate in a battle at each moment. Each side gets command points based on on the size of the command ship (if any), some technology upgrades, and if they outnumber their opponent; when a ship gets destroyed (freeing up associated command points), new ship(s) will arrive as reinforcements from the reserve. You are also limited to only one flagship-type dreadnought. The sequel does, however, limit the size of the fleet, and every ship participates in battle, including supply and repair ships. The reinforcement mechanic has been removed.
  • The multi-player VGA Planets limits the total amount of ships that all the players can build to around 500, to encourage the players to engage in battle, and because doing up a turn with "just" 100 ships can take an hour or two.

    Strategy — Real Time 
  • Every Age of... game had a headcount limit. This is particularly ridiculous, since the Age of... games are supposed to portray great battles of times long gone, which were normally conducted with hundreds and hundreds of men. The first Age of Empires had a unit limit of fifty! However, it is possible to convert enemy units using priests to go indefinitely beyond this cap. Additionally, all units built before the population limit is reached will be completed regardless. Employees of Ensemble, the company that developed Age of Empires, were famous for building, for example, 20 barracks at 49/50 population and queuing each building to produce one soldier, which gave them 19 units over the limit.
    • In the original game's expansion set "Rise of Rome", the technology "logistics" allow infantry to count as 1/2 a unit, thus allowing a larger army. The basic head count is also raised to 75.
    • This can be extended to 200 per player in the multiplayer mode (since each unit counts as 1, this limit is almost never reached), and the number of units placed in the campaign editor is limited only by the power of the computer running the game.
    • In the original Age of Kings and Conquerors campaign of Age of Empires II, the unit cap was 75, which makes them oddballs with the HD Edition as they retain the unit cap, even when later expansion use higher unit cap. This is remedied in the Definitive Edition, which extends the unit cap for the original campaigns.
    • Age of Empires III also includes headcount limits for certain unit types, most notably ships. Most Civs have a generous cap of 99 Settlers (half of your population cap), although the Ottomans, who produce Settlers automatically and for free, have a more substantial cap of 25 until you raise the limit via certain techs.
    • Certain special units have a Limit of One. Most notable is Age of Mythology, which has several of these units, including the Titans, the Hippocampus, and a few others. In one case, the clever combination of an Egyptian technological upgrade (allowing two Pharaohs) and a cheat code (allowing reuse of a god power that transforms a pharaoh into a lightning-wielding Son of Osiris) actually allows the player to create an infinite number of Sons of Osiris, provided he has enough houses for them all.
    • Age Of Mythology added a new feature to screw the headcount even further: some units take more space from the population slots than others (i.e. a villager or a simple soldier takes one; a siege weapon or a mythological unit can take up to five).
      • The game features a rather flexible limit, though. Every player can build houses for 100 slots and as many Town Centers as he can get a hand on (they can only be built on specific spots). They provide 25 slots each if upgraded, and a certain relic allows them to give 3 more, while the Citadel god power adds 10 slots to a town center, in addition to making it much harder to destroy.
      • The final max Arbitrary Headcount is 300, as can be demonstrated in the final level of the original campaign by building on as many locations as possible. We Have Reserves indeed.
      • There are also hard limits on the number of each type of building you can have.
    • Units/buildings that can carry other units inside them, like Transport Ships, also have an arbitrary limit, usually 10 units. Combines with Units Not to Scale to produce the rather odd fact that 10 elephants fit in a boat, but 11 infantrymen don't.
  • The maximum number of troops that you can train in Clash of Clans is directly proportional to the maximum space that your Army Camps can house (240 at maximum).
  • The Command & Conquer series is notable for having no such limit, with the exception of a port on the Xbox 360, and some "Hero" units which are limited to one for each team.
    • Up to Command & Conquer 4, where one of the features include... a headcount limit.
      • Strangely, said headcount limit was variable between missions (even in skirmishes!), though you were usually limited to 60 points, and could break it by commandeering fallen enemy heavy vehicles. One upgrade brings your dead heavy vehicles back to life, even if that puts you over the limit. Build five Mammoth tanks, kill them, build five more and wait for the other five to come back to life, you've got ten, and you can repeat until everything else is dead.
      • The headcount limit comes up in Tiberium Alliances, where even the buildings have a limit.
  • Also seen in Company of Heroes. This is mostly done to prevent tank-zerging (which is still possible to a limited extent). Your population cap is dependent on the number of resource points you control. If your cap is reduced, existing units do not suffer, but cannot be replaced.
    • Certain units are also capped; you can only ever deploy a single King Tiger to the battlefield in a game, and it costs an insane amount of resources to deploy as well as a considerable percentage of your population cap.
    • US Armour players are also limited to 1 Pershing at a time, although replacements can be deployed. The Pershing is much weaker than the King Tiger however.
    • The same is employed on several defensive emplacements to reduce the effectiveness of turtling. A prime example is the German factions, who can deploy devastating Flak-88 anti-tank guns. They are effectively forced to choose between having an offense and a defense.
  • In Crying Suns, the player’s battleship can carry up to twelve squadrons, sixteen if they pick the Kaos class, but cannot deploy them all into battle. The number of squadrons they can deploy depends on the battleship’s number of Squadron Docks: most battleships can deploy up to four squadrons, the Kaos can deploy up to five, and the Jericho can deploy up to three.
  • This trope hits much harder for the Space Marines inside Dawn of War 2's multiplayer - you'll generally be able to have around 8 infantry squads for them, or more likely around 5 if they are upgraded with a sergeant. The standard squad size for them is 3, potentially 4 if you get a sergeant. With a cap of 100 population with generally 5 for one Space Marine squad member, needless to say, you won't have many men out at one time. Other races may have around two or three times as many for their infantry squads at the same rough cost, however. The most infantry one may have at one time in the multiplayer is 98 Rippers for the Tyranids. But, Rippers are pretty much Redshirts, so don't expect much from such an army.
    • As a cross between an RTS and RPG, the Dawn of War 2 single player hit both versions of the trope. In the original game and first expansion, you had six squads available for use but could only take four on missions, usually with no justification given at all. The second expansion introduces more RTS elements to the campaign with resources and unit building added to the "hero" units chosen at the start, and these additional units were subject to very strict limits with both a hard cap as well as the soft cap caused by the limited available resources.
  • One of the earliest RTS games, Dune II, uses this as well — however, in this case, the explanation could be the very real technical limitations of the PCs and Amigas the players of those days possessed. In its sequel, Emperor: Battle for Dune, the headcount limit was lifted.
    • It was also lifted in the remake, Dune 2000... but they forgot to update the AI to compensate, causing a bug where taking too long to make an attack against an enemy would cause them to have an army so vast that victory was impossible, as they were perfectly efficient at building units, and never stopped, expecting to run up against a hard-coded cap that no longer existed.
    • The original also kind of screwed up its limits. While you couldn't build anything beyond a limit of 25 units, you could Starport in anything up to a total of 99. This basically meant that your later armies consisted of about two Devastators (which can't be bought) and ninety-seven Siege Tanks (which can).
    • Incidentally, in Dune II, a similar limit existed for buildings. This was actually rather exploitable, since the building limit was global: if you reached the building cap, then you could prevent the enemy from rebuilding by destroying one of their buildings and immediately replacing it with one of your own.
  • Empire Earth:
    • The gamepretty good about this; although it did have a unit cap, it was a unit cap for the entire game you were playing, and you were allowed to set it along with the rest of the game options. This meant that players with slow machines could have lower unit caps to compensate, while players for whom it didn't matter could have a max cap of 1200. Mind you, this was for the whole game, but even with the games maximum 8 players , that's still 150 units to play with. The game even had a building ingame that allowed you to steal a portion of everyone else's cap and add it to your own.
    • There was also a building that was used solely to contain up to 40 of your units, then return them. When inside, they are removed from the limit, but not from the game. So if you had the resources, you could attack with an obscenely large numerical advantage.
    • In case of the Russian campaign mission A Change in Heart, the heroes defect to the other side, causing your former units to be transferred to the bad guys. This causes the AI player to have more units than the cap, causing a memory overflow and the game to crash.
  • EndWar hardcaps the units on the field for any given side to 12 - while also only allowing 6 infantry units, 2 artillery, and 1 command vehicle, as well. No real explanation is given for this.
  • Subverted for military units in Europa Universalis 4, where both the land and naval force limits are soft limits: you can go over it, but you'll pay an increasingly higher maintenance per unit, due to lack of administrative infrastructure. Played straight, however, with advisors: you can only have three employed at any time, one for each tech category, with a similarly limited number of advisors available for hire. The latter cap can be increased with certain buffs, however.
  • Hearts of Iron IV has a few different headcount caps, some of which are hard and some of which are soft. Hard caps include the division designer which allows a maximum of 25 combat battalions and 5 support battalions per division, while your government is limited to three political advisors and three military high command (on top of the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Airforce). Soft caps include the armies, which can hold 24 (or 72, if set to garrison duty) divisions each before they begin to suffer penalties.
  • In Homeworld, there is a limit as to how many ships can be built by your own ship construction facilities. This could be explained with Fleet Command being unable to direct more at one time, or not having enough crews to man more vessels, if it weren't for the fact that one can go far beyond this limit by capturing enemy ships and adding them to one's own fleet.
    • However, in the sequels, breaking the headcount limit is stopped: all ships, captured or built, are counted under the fleet cap (and a capture that failed because of this didn't even have the decency to scuttle the ship).
    • Moreover, the limit is on ships of a given size - 50 fighters of any kind, xx corvettes of any kind, 18 frigates of any kind, 4 destroyers, 4 carriers, and three cruisers) - which could lead to not being able to build more fighters but being quite capable of building a whole pile of corvettes that would all be turned to scrap metal in under three seconds. The exception is Hiigaran Mothership/Vaygr Flagship: It is possible (as far as official 1.1 patch is concerned) to have a 6-player match and ending up with each player's flagship as your own. Didn't See That Coming did you?
    • Homeworld Catclysm makes the population cap visible, under the name "Support Units", and allows you to expand it by building Carriers and Support Modules. Otherwise it still keeps your fleet fairly small, especially compared to the previous game. This is justified by the fact that, as effective and formidable as the Kuun-Lan is, it just doesn't have the resources or manpower aof the Mothership, nor indeed the size or space to store them.
    • Homeworld is one of the few games where going above the arbitrary limit is likely to cause more grief than benefit to the player. The size of the enemy fleets one encounters during the levels is calculated depending on the size of your own; if, by capturing or editing the game files, you start a level with a supermassive fleet, you'll be fighting a lot more enemies.
    • Your fleet begins every level by hyperspacing in, with all your ships one alongside the other in a line which never wraps around. If you've expanded past the unit cap by dramatic enough proportions, that line will stretch way into the distance - right into mission triggers that are meant to be activated at some other point in the level. This can result in immediate attacks before you can prepare and scripted plot events that make no sense.
  • In Little King's Story you can only have as many troops following you as you have badges for them. Apparently, no one's going to fight for a king that doesn't hand out shiny badges.
  • Minecraft Legends: Originally, the player can control 40 units. However, by building additional Flames of Creation improvement structures, the player can control up to 100 units.
  • Pikmin:
    • The series in general caps the total number of Pikmin on the field at any one time at 100. If you try to spawn any more, the characters will note that the Pikmin "refuse to come out." The characters theorize that it might be a survival tactic to make sure an entire colony doesn't get wiped out at once.
    • Pikmin 4: The game starts you at a mere 20 Pikmin, with the player being able to increase this cap throughout the game by collecting Flarlics, which each increase the limit by 10 until you reach the 100 Pikmin maximum. In addition, you can only have three Pikmin types out at any given time.
  • Populous: The Beginning had your tribe limited to 200 followers. An exploit allowed players to exceed this, but this could lead to game instability.
  • In Puzzles & Survival, only five heroes may be deployed at one time per march or puzzle battle. You can also only assign five heroes to sanctuary defense, with the rest being on standby.
  • Rise of Nations was fortunate to have a comparatively huge Headcount Limit of 250 units, which could be raised to 320 with the right combination of civilization (Bantu) and wonders (the Colossus). Some units, of course, count as two heads, but it still allows for some really, really big armies.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire has this in spades. Your total number of ships is capped by a number called "supply", with different ships costing more or less (a scout frigate might need 2, while an assult corvette could be 7 or 8). This limit starts out at 100 and can be increased with research, though doing so increases the upkeep deducted from your resource income. Then there are capital ships, which need a whopping fifty supply, and are limited by how many crews you have avaliable to man such sophisticated ships, which can again be increased with research. Each planet can also support only a limited number of logistic and military structures, and while this can be increased on a planet-by-planet basis, the highest possible cap is determined by planet type (a fully-developed asteroid can support fewer structures than a fully-developed terran planet, for instance). There is one exception to this rule. The Advent Rapture capital ship has an ability, Dominate, which allows it to takeover enemy ships except capital ships. Used over a long period of time and without sustaining massive casualties, an Advent player can have a fleet that exceeds the capacity. However, the caveat is that you're unable to build any ships until the limit goes back into positive numbers. Each player can only build one Titan-class ship. Even building one is an enormous investment in resources and time, and all other players are notified the moment you start building it and where the shipyard is located.
  • In Starcraft, one could only have a maximum of 200 supply worth of units on one's side; if you tried to make another after the limit was reached, it simply wouldn't work. However, in the Expansion Pack, Starcraft: Brood War, the "Dark Archon" could capture the other side's worker units, thus allowing you to create buildings and build up to 200 of each of the three races in the game.
    • The Dark Archon can also capture units in excess of the Arbitrary Headcount Limit. In a team game, it is possible to exploit this to create a ridiculously huge army; Player A cranks out unit after unit, while player B methodically seizes control of each unit with Dark Archons. Not usually a very effective tactic (most games are over long before anyone hits the cap), but amusing.
    • The Unit Limit in Starcraft was put in place not as a balancing factor, but to prevent players from building units in excess of what the game could process. Despite this, it is possible for a Zerg player to force the game's memory out by building Overlords (the only unit in the game that does not use up supply) en masse, causing units to stop spawning when the game runs out of memory. Not a very useful tactic in high-level play, due to the tendency of games to end quickly, and the resource limit imposed by most maps.
      • It's also possible to construct so many buildings that the game won't allow any more units to be built (or any more buildings, for that matter)— discovered when using Dark Archons to seize an ally's Carriers; additional Interceptors couldn't be built until some building were razed.
      • This has been an issue with Terran Valkyries as well, who shoot several missiles in a broad area. The missiles can sometimes not fire because of the aforementioned technical limitations. This was cited as a reason, though not the main one, for the lack of Valkyries in the Metagame.
      • With the use of cheat codes, it's possible to make the game crash itself in missions where the AI receives infinite units after an event trigger. Try using "Staying Alive" on Terran Mission 9 in the first game.
    • It sure wreaks hell on a great many Use Map Settings games featuring trigger-spawns of many units, and hundreds of buildings across the map. The "Cannot Create More Units" is so bad in maps like "The World in the 1800s" that the game literally begins to drop players en masse.
    • Starcraft II has the Protoss Mothership, a unit which uses no normal supplies, but of which there can only be one at a time (per player), or which can be built like any other unit (i.e. as many as you can afford) but costs a metric fuckton of resources - Blizzard has been flipping back and forth with it.
  • Star Wars: Empire at War and its expansion are interesting with this. There is both a population cap and a reinforcements cap. The population cap increase with every planet captured and every Space Station built and/or upgraded. The larger and more powerful a unit is, the more population it takes up (but heroes always take only one point). However, the tactical battle cap is different. In Space Battles, one can bring in 20 (Empire) or 25 (Rebellion) points' worth of ships, with each starship/fighter squadron/hero requiring the same number of points they require in the Galactic Map. Land units always take one point (but most consist of multiple troops/vehicles), and there's a different system: the defender's limited to ten units, while the attacker is limited by the number of Reinforcement Points they capture; each contains a different number of points, and they are still limited to ten population points.
  • Star Wars: Rebellion has "maintenance points". Every planet you control gives you a certain number of maintenance points. Planets also generate raw materials in their mines. Raw materials can then be refined with refineries; you have to pay a one-time cost in refined materials, but it also takes maintenance points, which return to you after the object is destroyed. You're further limited to eight groups of capital ships and four groups of starfighters. But that's not an actual limit on the size of your fleet; it just means you start having to conflate different ones. (In the case of starfighters, they're typically arranged by model, with the most popular model being split into two or three (or if all that model, four, as can happen when you're the Empire and your only decent fighter is the TIE Defender) groups. Finally, you can only have one Commander, Admiral, and General in a given fleet.
  • Stick War: Like with many Real-Time Strategy games, there is a population limit. The first game has a limit of 20 units (of any kind), while the sequel sets a cap of 80 but gives each unit a different population cost. Notably, you could easily go over the cap in the first game with Magikill minions, as the Magikill's summoning spell was not restricted by the population cap even though their minions counted towards it. Legacy has a population cap of 40 with different units having different population costs, and Magikill minions no longer count towards the limit.
  • Supreme Commander, TA's spiritual sequel, has a default limit of 500 in multiplayer/skirmish games. It can be increased up to 1000, and also decreased to 250 (for the unlucky ones whose computers can't handle the number of units in a capped-to-500 game. This tends to be particularly annoying in the last campaign missions, some of which start you off with 300 or more units and a maximum cap of 500. Editing the game files can theoretically increase the unit limit to arbitrary numbers, but the frame rate really starts suffering (even on high-end systems) after 800 or so, and going much above 1000 is guaranteed to cause a crash.
    • In Supreme Commander everything you build (except walls) counts as a unit- not only tanks and aircraft, but power generators, point defense and radar systems.
  • Total Annihilation was released with a unit limit of 250 units per side. A patch was released that raised this limit to 500. The large modification community for that game had even found a way to increase the unit limit to 5000 units per side. Given that the game allowed for easy adding of new unit types up to 256 different units, 512 with a community made fix, that means you couldn't build one of unit available.
  • In the Total War games, you can build as many units as you want, provided you can maintain their upkeep. However, in battle, you are limited to twenty units per army stack. On the maximum scale settings, this can give you a maximum of 4800 soldiers to command in a single battle. In Rome: Total War, this is a bit of Fridge Brilliance, since that number isn't far off from the total number of fighting men in a Roman Legion. (Not counting the thousands of support soldiers). The armies in the first two games couldn't have more than a given number of units (with the exception of crusades and jihads in Medieval, that could have 4 times the standard number, however only standard-number units could take part in battles at the same time, with the rest trickling in as reinforcements over the course of the battle when other units were killed off or routed off the map). The third and fourth game feature both this unit limit, but also a limit to how many individual soldiers can be in one army regardless of the unit count. To be fair, the soldier thing is more of a technical issue, and can be expanded by tweaking the game files. In "The Fall of the Samurai" campaign for Shogun 2, there are only a certain number of ironclads that can be built per faction (1 Warrior, 2 Oceans, 2 Roanokes, and 6 Kōtetsus).
  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon: Zigzagged, the maximum fleet size for each player in open skirmishes can be set between 1 and 10, if the maximum number of ships is reached in the fleet customisation screen, the player cannot purchase any more, even if they still have enough Victory Points to buy more ships. However, the fleet size limit may be exceeded if enemy ships are successfully boarded (which causes enemy ships to become part of the fleet).
  • Justified in another Paradox game, Victoria2, where how many troops you can keep in the field is related to your population, specifically your number of soldier pops.
  • Warcraft: One must build farms in order to have units, with the limit increasing with the number of farms built. The rationale for this is that the units need food. Yet sometimes one starts a scenario without any farms at all, or an inadequate number to feed one's troops, or your farms in a normal level get destroyed. Said units suffer no ill effects for this.
    • Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness: There is a hidden limit of 600 units (and buildings) divided by the number of players. (Meaning only 75 per player in an eight player game.) Extraneous units simply disappear when their construction completes, wasting resources.
    • Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos: There is also a global supply limit of 90 (raised to 100 in the expansion) on the total number of units a player can train (although it is possible to go over this limit if the extra units are acquired via means other than training, like resurrection spells or a scenario script). Unlike Starcraft, there is only one supply pool (as opposed to a separate one for each race), and the limit thus cannot be circumvented by building units of different races.
      • Most units require between 2 and 5 supplies in this game however, limiting a normal army to about 20 units at most.
      • It's also worth noting that if you want a higher supply limit (assuming it's a non-campaign map), changing the Game Values is possible, though it only goes up to 300. However, the game's engine can't seem to handle more than about 250 units per player— if more are generated through scripts or other tricks, movements become very erratic.
      • You can also change the supply requirements of the units, including setting them to zero.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War has a max limit for the number of units that can be requisitioned (similar to the point system used to limit the size of armies in the tabletop war game it is based on).
    • Furthermore, the Expansion Pack Dark Crusade takes this concept further by limiting the availability of certain of the more powerful units in the game to a number below what resources and the regular "unit cap" would allow for (though such units may still be purchased and queued up to be fielded, once the original units are lost). Again, in many cases this is based on field allowances in the tabletop version. For example, the Imperial Guard is limited to having two of their Leman Russ main battle tanks on the field at a time — ie by real-world measures you are only allotted half a platoon even for the most important battles.
      • This also makes the game harder for some factions. For example, the standard infantry doctrine of the Imperial Guard is Death of a Thousand Cuts, as Guardsmen are too weak to fight melee. They need something to keep the enemy at bay to Beam Spam the enemy with their lasguns — the only thing they're good at is to Zerg Rush the enemy with ranged attacks. Ogryns assisted by a Priest are perfect for this task — but in Dark Crusade, Ogryns are capped at one squad at a time. If the entire enemy force is concentrating their fire on the Ogryns, the meatshield will be gone long before the Guardsmen can put a dent in their targets. This can be horribly jarring to players who got used to Winter Assault's capless units.
      • As a rule of thumb, every unit beside basic ones is capped. High-tier units (even ones that don't need relics) are usually limited to one at a time. This makes Assault Terminators nigh-useless as they die too quickly (since they're melee-only, they are always the ones at the front of the army and thus, the first ones targeted but they don't have enough HP/armor to take massed firepower).
      • In at least one level of said expansion's single player campaign, it is possible to circumvent these caps by exploiting the enemy's use of a weapon that puts units within its range in temporary stasis: once a player loses control of his units, they do not count towards his army total so long as they remain that way, and so further units may be built to "replace" them in that span of time.
      • The most impressive case of all, however, is the practice of building and killing as many Necron warrior units (in the same place) as the player can be bothered, and then using an upgrade for the commander to revive all of them (allowing armies of at least twice the pop cap). This is helped by the fact that a basic squad of warriors - 3 - costs nothing. Which was why they capped it in the next (and somewhat disregarded) expansion, Soulstorm.
      • One of the Game Breaking Bugs in Soulstorm is that, if an enemy Essence of the Deceiver briefly converts a player's capped squads to the Necron side, a fast enough affected player can build another of the affected squad type and retain use of it even after he regains control of the converted units.
  • The Warlords Battlecry series has no arbitrary limit: you can build as many units as your buildings + charisma + upgrades provide room for. However, the games do have a tendency to crash, especially as the number of units on the map increase, so building ludicrously huge armies is generally not possible before you suffer a precipitous crash to desktop.
  • In Warzone 2100 each player (a game can have up to 8 players) is allowed to have 300 units (though only a dozen or so trucks — the game's worker unit — are allowed). That cap is several times higher than the AI and pathfinding is able to handle though, resulting in that in long matches with several players on big maps, some units are unable to move or take minutes after being issued an order before they actually carry them out, and clouds of attacking VTOL bombers can slow even the fastest computer available to a crawl.
  • World in Conflict has a variation of this, every player has a limited pool of reinforcement points to buy units with. Different in that losing an unit doesn't allow you to replace it immediately, the reinforcement points are instead regained slowly. Paratroops and light tanks ordered as tactical aids rather than as reinforcements for some reason don't count towards this, though.

    Strategy — Turn-Based 
  • The Advance Wars series of turn based strategy games has an arbitrary cap on the number of units you can build (50), but it's high enough that it's very rare for anyone to actually reach it unless you're spamming Sensei's power. The unit cap is 60 in Super Famicom Wars.
  • Artery Gear: Fusion: Present in both teams and the fleet.
    • Teams are limited to a maximum of four Artery Gears.
    • The fleet can be upgraded up to five times to hold five rooms. Each one of these rooms can hold a maximum of five Artery Gears, up to a total of twenty five.
  • Harebrained Schemes' Battletech limits the player to one lance (four 'mechs) at any time, for all missions. While somewhat justifiable in the beginning of story mode (the Marauders only own four 'mechs and a single Leopard-class Drop Ship with space for six, and the mech techs are implied to pile up their equipment in the spare 'mech hangars), by the time the player controls the Argo and owns enough C-bills to buy a second Leopard for the Argo's second docking port the in-game reasons for why you can't simply deploy a company (12 'mechs) at a time grows a lot thinner.
  • In Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, each fleet is limited to no more than 7 warships. There's also a command point cap that can be raised by assigning and promoting an officer. Still, you can't have 7 battlestars in any fleet because even a top-tier officer doesn't have enough command points to allow that (such a fleet would be OP).
  • In Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land, there are five main characters taking part in the plot and who must survive, and a sixth one who is a kind of expendable overcompetent Red Shirt. Between levels, you have the option to hire other troops, but only to replace losses, and you can't have more than six Investigators at a time.
  • In Cross Edge you get a rather large cast of playable characters from different games, but only four can be in battle at any time. Granted you can swap out characters (even dead ones) for other members of the in-active party, except for some plot battles that require certain party members to be in at all times, you are still only allowed four in the battle party.
  • In Dota Underlords, the number of units you can have in play is equal to your current level. An important aspect of the game's strategy is balancing between spending gold on units, and using it to buy experience points so you can have more of them active.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics, though listed partially as a Role-Playing Game, does give the player the ability to hire new recruits, in addition to the plethora of warriors who are constantly joining your party. The game allows space only for a limited number of troops in one's party. On one hand, this makes sense, as it would be impractical for game space as well as time spent on training a large army of troops 4 or 5 at a time in battles (the allowed number per skirmishes). On the other hand, sending a dozen or so warriors against the ultimate evil does seem a little low on firepower, and makes one wonder if anyone truly cares about the state of the world. (See Apathetic Citizens.)
    • In Tactics Ogre in that respect: the player can form parties of ten soldiers, the only limitation being that only two L-class soldiers (such as Golems and Octopi) are permitted.
  • Fire Emblem has a limited number of deployments per chapter. It changes each chapter as to how many troops can come with you, often gradually increasing over the course of the game. A few of these they will make a passing mention of how this is supposed to be a 'low key' attack or how only so many people can pass, or the others are guarding something. In general it's just to make it challenging, as Fire Emblem is Nintendo Hard. Although Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn try to justify it as a rearguard.
    • Even with attempts to justify its final chapter unit limit, Radiant Dawn is hit pretty hard with this since, provided you didn't allow anyone to die, and recruited every possible character, you'll have over 70 different units by the endgame (the largest canon army of playable characters in the series at the time! note ), but can only bring 17 with you. Most likely, over half the spots will be taken by mandatory characters (Ike, Micaiah, Sothe, etc) and the Laguz Royals, with the rest being whatever characters you fancied enough to grind into total badasses.
    • Averted in Genealogy of the Holy War, where the player could field every unit (somewhat necessary, as the maps were HUGE, not to mention that the game had far fewer units to choose from than do the other games in the series).
    • In Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, while you are restricted to 10 units in dungeons, you are allowed to deploy up to 20 units in overworld battles. The biggest group you will realistically have before Alm and Celica's parties merge in the postgame is 17, and it takes recruiting the four DLC characters to actually have enough people to break that cap before Act 6.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses has a non-combat example. Every week you can hold a "seminar" that ups certain stats of the characters who attend, and visually these seminars are conducted in a spacious classroom filled with empty desks. But only eight characters can attend a seminar, for some reason.
  • In Genjuu Ryodan, the player and the opponent can deploy a maximum of 20 units at any time. The player is also allowed only 20 out of 65 different types of units to be summoned, but player can repeat cleared missions to regain specific units needed when they are discarded.
  • Hogs of War never lets you control more than five pigs at once, with some missions in single-player and most multi-player battles limiting you to less than that. Multi-player deathmatches are interesting, as thanks to respawning you'll always have the maximum number of pigs - no more, no less.
  • In Luminous Arc, the character limit is 8 characters maximum in battle.
    • Luminous Arc 2 changed the limit to a maximum of 6 characters that can be deployed into any single battle, unless otherwise (generally at a smaller number).
    • Luminous Arc 3 followed the previous game with the 6 characters limit.
  • Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden: You start with two playable characters and end up with five. Only three are in the active party. You can swap characters in and out of the active party any time that you are not in combat, so The Other Two are clearly not staying back at base.
  • Nippon Ichi games generally have limits:
    • The Disgaea games limit you to ten on the field at once (though you can switch between them). There is also an arbitrary limit on the number of specialists you can put onto any given item in the Disgaea games, based on rarity.
    • Phantom Brave limits you to 16 units, including weapons, and the characters also have an Arbitrary Time Limit (Ivore Island, Marona's home, has an Arbitrary Limit of 50 Things, whether that be items or Phantoms).
    • Makai Kingdom allows a work around which then ends up running into a headcount limit anyway. You still have a limited number of characters on the field, but you can send in warehouses full of additional people, and then throw some of the foes into the warehouses to force them to try fighting all of the friendly people inside. These warehouses could have so many units that you could have situations where you had sheathed your weapon to pick someone up and couldn't take your weapon back out again because it would go over the limit to have the weapon displayed.
    • Soul Nomad & the World Eaters limits your number of units by "rooms"; each room holds a number of troops in a neat squad. The rooms are kept in a pocket dimension Gig created (with considerable ease, he claims) and the number of available rooms only increase by the progression of the plot, not any expenses made by you. Technically Gig should be able to give you all the rooms you need right away, although his being a card-carrying Jerkass might explain it. (And the fact that he'd much prefer if you just took his friendly offer to share his immense power... cue Bad End.)
  • North and South limits armies to a maximum of eighteen infantry, nine cavalry and three cannon.
  • Ogre Battle allows you only ten units at a time, and each unit can have 5 characters, but a large character (dragons, monsters, golems, giants, or some demons) counts as two.
    • Tactics Ogre has perhaps one of the largest player parties outside of real time strategy games, at ten party members during battles. And when one includes any potential Guests adding to the roster, it can be even more. This leads to one battle early in the game where you just disgustingly outmatch the enemy, since you not only have your ten party members, but Kachua, Vice, and Leonard...against just little old Nybbas, two Mooks, and a couple undead that die easily.
    • Its Gaiden Game Knight Of Lodis also has a cap that exceeds the maximum battle limit, but this is likely because not only is it a strategy RPG, but there are two parts in the game in which you have to split up and attack from two sides at once.
  • Averted in the first Project × Zone game. Everyone in the active party will be on the field. Even if the group is separated, they'll just start on opposite ends of the battlefield. Only if the plot says people are really separated (we're talking dimensional travel here) will you be working with less than a full headcount. The second game plays this straight and generally lets you only choose 10 characters to use per level, with only a select few stages letting you use the entire cast.
  • In Rondo of Swords, you can only have a maximum of six active units in your party. To limit things even further, Serdic is obligatory in all missions save for "A Kidnapping".
  • In the Shining Series of video games you were restricted to the number of people in your "army", thus you normally ended up with an army of twelve while the enemy army sometimes had well over 30. In game mechanics this made sense but in plot line when you're about to fight the Big Bad it doesn't make a lot of sense not to use all your men.
    • Shining Force III had a battle in scenario 1 had your force split into two. The primary group, whom you had been playing with all game and so were all ridiculously high levels took one force, leaving the secondary group filled with characters you used once and discarded to take on the roughly same size force in a separate battle that determined when the primary group could stop fighting an unkillable killing machine.
  • Super Robot Wars follows the Fire Emblem model, and typically by the end of the game you'll have at least two or three times as many robots sitting on the sidelines as actually participating in a fight. The exceptions are the squad-based games, Alpha 2, Alpha 3 and Z, which group up to three or four robots into a single squad and then let you deploy of to 20 of those, allowing all or almost all the player's forces to participate in many battles. The "pair-based" games do the same thing, though on a slightly smaller scale, deploying two characters in one controllable unit.
    • This limit is pushed to the extreme in the Super Robot Wars Z2 games, which include a whole game's worth of a new cast, while including every included series from the first Z. While only around half or less of the previous game's cast return, it does include all the best units from each series. However... There is no squad system. The result is well over 100 deployable units, and enough deployment slots for around a quarter of that, until getting the extra slots during very last stages. You cannot even deploy a single character from each series without hitting the limit.
    • Worked around, in Super Robot Wars W, where your ships could gain the ability to switch out active and reserve mecha during battle. The game also had the "Support Request" ability, which allowed characters to call in a reserve character for a supporting attack, as if they had been right next to them the whole time.
    • In Endless Frontier, out of seven units, only four can fight, but the other three can do Support Attacks, which can be helpful - maintaining combos, finishing weakened enemies without wasting a turn, and increasing the Frontier gauge as a bonus.
  • In the Telepath RPG series, you can deploy more characters at once by increasing the Player Character's Personality stat, but it still caps out at 8.
    • In Telepath Tactics, the limit is keyed to individual maps. In the campaign, you are usually limited to 8 characters, though the final battle allows 12. There are two exceptions to this: the "defend the camp" battle, where every unit you've recruited is deployed automatically, and the fortress outer wall battle, where Teresa and Phoebe are automatically deployed in addition to your usual 8.
  • In Templar Battleforce the starting limit changes from mission to mission. The limit increases as you control more strategic points, but that doesn't automatically bring in more characters; you have to spend requisition to do that.
  • Wild AR Ms XF allows a maximum of 8 units on any map, sometimes less. You can create as many Player Mooks as you want, though.
  • Both Justified and played straight in Wintermoor Tactics Club. The Principal, upon realizing the Tactics Club has been recruiting, bans them from using more than three members, since he views adding more students to the club after the competition's start as cheating. Thus, it makes sense that the player can't bring more than three people to each snowball tournament fight. Now, why this applies to their games of C&C, or the more obvious life-and-death battles against the Clubless Club and the actual demon, on the other hand...
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown limits your squad to 4 members, later upgradable to 6, and a single Skyranger, allowing you to only respond to one crisis at a time (while the aliens are smart enough to perform three simultaneous attacks). Apparently 6 soldiers in 1 plane is enough to defend the entire world from a hostile alien menace.
  • XCOM: Chimera Squad has only one APC, limiting the number of squad members available for a mission. The ones not sent out on the main missions can be assigned other tasks, like training, researching, or conducting special solo missions. But even they have a limit of one per activity, so once you fill out your roster there will inevitably be a few who just sit around twiddling their thumbs because there's nothing for them to do.
  • Averted in Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars, for both the main characters and enemies. Only the plot dictates whether or not anyone is absent from any given stage.

    Survival Horror 
  • In the original Corpse Party for the PC-98, there are five party members. Though they start out together, they're quickly split into a main party of three and a secondary party of two, the latter of which stays behind where they think they're safest, only to end up separated from the others, at which point they spend most of the game simply trying to get back together. Once they've finally reunited, it's time for the Final Boss — the only fight in the game — and the player must select which three survivors to bring into the battle.
  • ObsCure features five playable characters, but only go around in groups of two at a time (characters that die are permanently dead). The rest of the playable characters usually just wait in a central area.
  • Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners: For most of the game, you can only travel with one companion at a time. (Professor Tsuchida won't permit you to group up more than that, as he fears you might attempt to overpower him.) Before the Final Boss, you can pick up to four others to fight alongside you... assuming there's that many left.
  • Both installments of Resident Evil: Outbreak only allowed four players to play together online, despite the fact that "Outbreak" (the first scenario) proves in the intro that all eight characters were together at the time. Offline it's even worse, as the player is only joined by two AI partners. A fourth occasionally shows up, but they exist only to be killed during gameplay.

    Tower Defense Games 
  • Arknights has two of these. The first is the party size limit, or how many operators you can bring with you per mission. In general, most missions will allow you to bring up to 13 operators at a time: 12 operators of your own, and 1 support operator that you can borrow from other players. The second one is the deployment slot limit, or how many operators you can actually bring out at a time in the map. Unlike the party size limit, deployment limits are dependent on the mission.
    • Certain maps and events have challenge missions that further reduces the limit of either of the two headcounts, but never both. In fact, selecting the challenges in the Contingency Contract will always cross one out if the other is picked.
    • Some operators, mostly Summoners, can deploy summons that count towards deployment limit. Conversely, there are also operators that bypass the deployment limit due to their talent but usually have a long redeployment cooldown to offset it.
    • On maps with Command Terminals, deployment limit will be reduced initially until the player can activate the terminals.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Zero Escape series:
    • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has the loosest ruleset because Zero knew that the Ninth Man would break the rules and made an example out of him. A group of 3-5 people are needed to open a numbered door by having the digital root of the sum of their bracelet numbers equal the number on the door. If anyone enters a numbered door, then a bomb inside their body will explode in 81 seconds. To turn the bombs off, the exact same 3-5 people who opened the door need to scan in at a similar device somewhere inside the door. This only turns off their bombs, however, so if you enter a door you didn't help open, you're screwed. Also, everyone who opened the door needs to scan in to turn off the bombs, so if even one person in the group gets stuck outside the door after it closes, then the people inside are screwed even if they helped open it. Ace capitalizes on this when he murders (who he thinks is) Snake, using the Ninth Man's bracelet, his own and his victim's to open the door then shoving his victim through, getting him blown up. He also previously murdered the Ninth Man in much the same way. Or rather, he got him to happily off himself by lying to him that he'd be able to turn off his bomb by himself, knowing that he'd immediately try to progress on his own and get himself blown up for his trouble.
    • Virtue's Last Reward is much stricter, enforcing teams of exactly three players. Instead of numbers, each player is assigned one of three colours at the beginning of each new round, resulting in three of each colour. Each colour consists of one solo player and one pair whose members must stick together. To go through one of the Chromatic Doors, a team must either match or contrast the colour of the door. For example, a magenta door can be entered by combining red and blue (either red solo + blue pair or red pair + blue solo) to make magenta or by putting all three green players on one team since green is the contrasting colour. Failure to enter a door before the time limit expires will result in death by lethal injection. Entering a door with a wrong combination of players (either too many, not enough, or three players who simply make the wrong colour) will result in the secondary door beyond it not opening, sparing you from the injection but leaving you trapped in a tiny room forever until you die eventually anyway.
    • Zero Time Dilemma again has three people in a team, but there's no choice in the matter at all - Zero has split the teams up and is forcing them to compete against each other in Decision Games. Except that one of the teams has four members instead of three...
  • In the Spirit Hunter series, only two people may investigate each area at a time, so you will end up having to choose who among your current companions to take along. In Spirit Hunter: Death Mark, Mary explains that having any more than two people could attract the attention of the titular Spirits and get them to attack, so it is safer to only travel in duos. Except this is a complete lie and a truly arbitrary limit imposed by Mary because she wants the humans to be as terrified as possible, and groups of three or more could ruin that.

    Wide-Open Sandbox 
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. No matter how much the cut-scene emphasizes the importance of the current mission, if your respect level is low, your allies won't go with you.
    • You do get a huge amount of respect from doing the missions though, so you should have a more than big enough gang to help out.
  • In Kerbal Space Program, the first 2 levels of the VAB and SPH are limited to a size restriction (to fit within the hangar) and a total parts number restriction. There's no weight to a part's value, meaning you may have to choose between a Mainsail rocket booster or a handheld thermometer, because putting both on would put you 1 part above the limit.
  • In Saints Row, you can only bring three gang members along with you at a time. However, you can only fit so many into a car, but they'll hop into the nearest car and follow you, which sometimes may be a Police APC.

Non-video game examples:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Death Note: One of the less well-known rules of the titular notebook is that only six Death Notes can exist in the human world at the same time. If another ends up falling into the human world, it will not be able to be used to kill people unless another is destroyed or returned to the Shinigami world. The rule is never played out in the series proper because there have only been four Death Notes existing at the same time (Ryuk's, Sidoh's, Gelus', and Rem's). It does become a plot point in Death Note: Light Up the New World, however.

    Card Games 
  • The Defictionalization of the card game from Cardfight!! Vanguard has a maximum of four copies of anything, a maximum of four Heal triggers, and exactly six slots on the field: your vanguard, two front rearguard, and three back rearguard. You cannot, under pretty much any circumstances, have more than these six creatures active. Of course, you can retire any creature other than your vanguard at any point during your turn, much like deleting a worker in a strategy game so you have room for another giant stompy robot.
    • Link Joker users take full advantage of this. You can only attack with the three units in the front row, and Link Joker's special Lock ability makes not only a unit useless, but the circle it was standing on as well. The only way to make a locked unit usable is either waiting for the end of your turn, or using a niche unlocking skill. In short: Lock the front two rearguards, and your opponent can then only attack with their vanguard this turn.
  • Magic: The Gathering has a limit of of four copies of a card in a deck. Early in the game's history, people won tournaments with decks of twenty Black Lotuses, twenty Channels and twenty Fireballs; the somewhat-arbitrary limit of four was decided on as a reasonable compromise between flexibility and cheese.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game is a rather... alternative version of this. There are several rules for constructing one's Deck, and they change quite often to fit the newest anime-rules. Currently, there must be at least 40 cards in a deck, 60 at most, and a player can only have 3 copies of each card with the same name in their deck, regardless of how many cards they have. Then there's the Extra Deck and Side Deck (the latter of which only serves as extra cards to switch with between matches), both of which are currently limited to 15 cards, though originally the Extra Deck was unlimited. And just to add to the arbitrarity of the rules, some cards are Semi-Limited, Limited or Forbidden, reducing the maximum number of copies you can use by 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
    • Then there is the other limit: what you can have on the field. 5 monsters, 1 field spell and 5 other spell/traps*.

    Fan Works 
  • Sr. Pelo's Kirby Star Allies spoof "Making Friends" takes a grim turn whenever Kirby's party exceeds four members. Kirby and his three newest allies glare angrily at the fourth, while Kirby deeply whispers, "You not my friend [sic]", imploding him.
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, Samantha Shepard discusses this feature from the games, and it's ultimately blamed on computer limitations. A subsequent system upgrade allows squad leaders to more effectively manage groups larger than three, but there is still a (higher) limit imposed by the mental faculties of the commander—keeping track of all the squadmates could actually make performance worse, not better.

  • Alluded to at one point near the end of The Lost Fleet series, when Admiral Geary is trying to coordinate the movements of six different sub-formations each composed of several squadrons of capital ships and their destroyer escorts and it starts to overwhelm his ability to multi-task until common sense prevails and he orders two squadrons commanded by some of his best officers to manouevre independently, which makes a good example of the Doylist reason for invoking this trope in a computer game.
  • In The Rithmatist, there can only be so many Rithmatists at any one time. So a new Rithmatist can't be created until one of the old ones dies. This is central to the enemy's plan. By transforming young Rithmatists into monsters, they are out of the fight but not actually dead. Meaning that eventually, there wouldn't be enough Rithmatists left to defend the nation.
  • Skyward: For some reason, the Krell never deploy more than a hundred interceptors at once, despite having an apparently limitless supply. Eventually explained: the Krell interceptors are actually remote-controlled drones, and they only have a hundred pilots.
  • Rhythm of War: At the start of the book, the numbers of several of the Radiant Orders are limited by the number of spren available to bond. Kaladin has dozens of squires ready to step forward and speak the Oaths, but he remains capped at about fifty Windrunners because there are only that many honorspren willing to risk bonding humans. This is what prompts Dalinar to send an embassy to the honorspren to try and persuade more of them to ally with the humans.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Subverted in Exalted. The Scarlett Empress placed no limit on the number of Senators in the Greater Chamber of the Deliberative, so if a majority who disagreed with the Empress's intentions started to form, she could pump Senators who supported her into the Greater Chamber to shift the balance in her favour without taking any hostile actions.
  • In Homeworlds, there can be no more than threenote  pieces of a given size and color combination in play at once. The limit is shared between players, and is shared between spaceships and stars (which are represented using the same physical pieces). This means that, for example, building three large red spaceships prevents your opponent from building red spaceships of their own or discovering any large red stars. Restricting your opponent's access to pieces by building them first is a key part of the game's strategy.
  • Necromunda:
    • The number of leaders and special fighters a gang can include on their roster is limited, either by total number or by other factors such as the number of regular fighters the gang contains. 1st and 2nd Edition gangs could only include 2 Heavies (or their equivalents) while 3rd Edition limits the number of Champions (or equivalents) to 2 plus 1 more per 10 Reputation the gang has, while Hangers-Onnote  and Brutes are limited to 1 plus 1 more for every 5 Reputation the gang has. Each type of Hanger-On and Brute also has its own limit: three Ammo Jacks, two Ambots, one Slopper for example. 3rd Edition Chaos Cult gangs are also only allowed to have up to one Witch.
    • While there is no upper limit to the number of members a gang can contain in 3rd Edition Necromunda, beyond the credits cost of the fighters and their equipment, it is rare for both gangs to use their entire roster for a battle with each scenario detailing how many fighters a player is able to use for the game, known as a Crew. The number of fighters in a Crew is often randomly determined and of the seven scenarios included in the core Necromunda: Underhive rulebook, only one allows both players to use their entire gang. The first Necromunda: Gang War supplement also introduces additional methods of creating a Crew.
  • Star Wars: Legion, in addition to the 800-point cost limit, also has a limit on how many units of each rank you can take; generally 2-3, but you can take up to 6 Corps units. The 'Entourage' ability allows some Commanders to bring a specific unit with them that does not count towards the unit cap.
  • Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and Warhammer: Age of Sigmar all have their own sets of restrictions. For balance purposes, each player gets a certain number of points they spend on building their armies, but there are also rules about how many units if a given type you can have, how many individuals can be in a given unit and so on.

  • Parodied in this 8-Bit Theater strip.
    Stone Dragon: BLARG! I'M A DRAGON! OR TWELVE!
    Red Mage: Impossible! Only a maximum of nine enemies may be onscreen!
    Stone Dragon: FUCK YOU.
    Red Mage: Run.
  • Like every other RPG trope, the webcomic Adventurers! makes fun of this.
  • Discussed in Dragon Mango, where 3 person parties is the usual amount, with four really pushing it. At one point, when traveling through a portal that enforces the trope, they complain and use Loophole Abuse to send two parties one after another.
  • In Yokoka's Quest, the between-chapter status screens show 5 slots for members of Yokoka's and Mao's parties, which implies an Interface Spoiler that their parties will max out at 5 characters each - though Chirpy is shown in Misha's character slot, and other characters often accompany the parties without being included at all.
  • In Awkward Zombie it turns out that ignoring the rules of Pokémon battles has... consequences.

    Western Animation 
  • Buddy Thunderstruck has a local law enforcing a six racer limit for the local races for no real reason other than to force Belvedere Moneybags to run for mayor so he can change the law to make the cap seven if he wants to join the race.

    Real Life 
  • Ancient Greek theatres had a limit of up to three actors on a stage at once. Much of this had to do with requiring plays that could be performed with a cast of only three main actors. (Or in some early Aeschylus works, two.)
  • Very common in political legislatures. In the UK, the House of Commons has 650 members (one per constituency), though the House of Lords has no limit. In the US, the Senate has 100 (two per state), the House of Representatives has 435 (split among the 50 states based on census data), and the Supreme Court has 9 justices.note 

Alternative Title(s): Unit Cap, Population Cap