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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Space Marine Tactica Part 2: Elites Choices

Continuing my quest to help Walls either get into Marines or realize they aren't the army for him, I give more opinion-ed ramblings about Space Marines!

This time I delve into the Elites section of the book.  However, in keeping with my last post, I'm going to stick to the stuff that worked for me.  In this case we are talking about Dreadnoughts, Terminators, and Sternguard.

Now, why am I not covering Legion of the Damned and Techmarines?  Mostly because I feel those are choices best left to flavour.  Especially the Legion.  They are a cool unit, but they were never a linchpin to the success of the army back when I played, and looking at their cost, they aren't now.  Techmarines are great if you want your vehicles to survive longer, but they also slow down your vehicles to keep them safe inside 'the repair bubble', which I feel defeats the purpose of transports.  Are either of them bad choices?  No, certainly not.  But when I build a list, I look for synergy between units, and I  have never found either unit to be able to synergize well with the rest of the army.  A few units, yes, but not the whole army.

Terminators, on the other, fill that role excellently.  I'm talking your 'tactical' variety here.  Assault Terminators work, usually when stuffed in a Land Raider with a Librarian or a Chaplain supporting them, but at that point they have gone from 'support unit', to 'your whole battle plan'.  If you want to do that, it works, and I've seen an Assault unit rip through most things sheerly on resilience, but a skilled player is going to see that Land Raider full of psychos in heavy armour and either steer clear or lead it on a wild goose-chase for the entire game, effectively making you play with 700-ish less points than the other guy.  The last time I faced a last like this, I kept my Dire Avengers in their Wave Serpents and and picked apart the rest of the army.  Come game's end, he had nothing left to hold objectives with, and I barely had a scratch on me. His Terminators didn't deploy the whole game.

Your default Terminators though, are a whole different thing.  Every one of them has a storm bolter.  That's 2 shots at 24", which gives them a 30" threat.  Plus you can put a mobile heavy weapon on them.  My personal favourite was the assault cannon, since it could threaten the same distance, had 4 shots for anti-infantry and rending for vehicles.  Much like the Tactical squad, this is a unit that can threaten a lot of different things.  However, I also haven't used them since they got Heavy 2 on the Cyclone Missile Launcher, and with that, it becomes the new favourite.  2 shots against armour or 2 small blasts against infantry?  Sign me up!  This unit, with a cyclone, clocks in around the same points as a Tactical squad, and while not delivering as many shots up close, not having as many wounds, they have same, if not slightly better ranged threat as a tactical.  They can move and shoot the same number of basic shots as a Tactical can standing still, with an extra missile shot. That's a deal.  It becomes a better deal when you realize that unlike in previous versions of the army, it's not viable to put your HQ in a Tactical Squad any more.  So this becomes the new ideal place to put him.  You get an invulnerable save for being in Terminator Armour (which can be made better with a Storm Shield), a 2+ armour save, and some really tough ablative wounds.  It's a win-win.  If you are going the route of Librarian (which I always did, Librarians were my biggest draw to Marines in the first place), Gate of Infinity gives these guys an 'out' if they get into trouble, or need to be elsewhere to provide support.  I'll talk more about HQ's in another post.

So my other big running favourite in the Elites section is the Dreadnought.  It's is such a characterful choice.  Nothing says Space Marines more than a walking coffin.  It's so grim-dark it blows my mind.  Luckily it is also a well-performing unit.  And there are a number of load-outs available.

I'm going to focus on a basic Dreadnought. That's not to say I find them better (okay, I kind of do), but more that the variant Dreadnoughts are too specialized for what I want to do in a Marine list.  The Venerable exchanges a it's efficient points cost for more survivability, but as a long-time Eldar player, I find he's survivable enough as a regular Dreadnought.  The Ironclad is also more resilient, and packs way more close combat punch, but sacrifices range and cost-efficiency.  Again, these are my opinions,  I'm sure you'll find/have a lot of evidence to refute these claims.  All I'm saying is a basic Dreadnought does it's job well for its points.  Where you go past a basic Dreadnought is personal preference.

That said, your basic Dreadnought still has a lot of options.  You can outfit it with a number of heavy weapons, in both arm slots.  And you finally have some choice for that second arm other than just close combat weapon or missile launcher.  They've added in the ubiquitous Autocannon in the latest book.  As I'm sure you'll have guessed by now, my lists tend to go with more of a 'little bit of everything' approach when doing Marines, and my Dread choices are usually the same.  In this case, I'm a big fan of the Close Combat weapon with a Heavy Flamer (for getting up close and personal), and a decent ranged weapon on the second arm.  I lean heavily towards the Assault Cannon here, because of it's wonderful utility, but the Multi-Melta is another solid choice.  I want my Dreadnoughts to be able to handle both infantry and vehicles.  The heavy flamer, combined with the close combat arm, are very solid against any infantry in the game, and the assault cannon handles infantry as well as tanks.  The multi-melta is pretty much a tank only option, but nothing is better at busting armour 14 at close-range (though the assault cannon comes close; hence why I prefer it as my weapon option).

Here's where I make some important distinctions: Never run either of these units alone.  A dreadnought off by itself is just asking to be blown up.  Terminators can not hold an entire flank themselves.  They'll have a throw-away unit tie them up in combat forever, or they'll get focus-fired to oblivion.  But here's the fun part: much like I pair my Tactical Squads, these are 2 units that work great together.  Deploy them close and threaten the enemy from turn one with a 6" move.  This takes some pressure off your Rhinos, providing some much-needed cover fire, and has a nice combination of anti-tank or anti-infantry first turn to make your enemy put a target on their heads.

It's important to note that I never leave these units out on the field.  Cover is their friend.  In today's 'meta' (I can't tell you how much I hate that word, it's right up there with 'fluff' in my 'stupid things gamers say about their own hobby') it's easy to break armour 12.  It's more difficult when they have obscurement.  Likewise, a 5+ invulnerable is nice, but a 4+ cover save is better.  I never count on the 2+ armour save, because there are way too many guns and templates that ignore it.  Cover might slow these units down, but they can threaten most things on turn one as long as they are moving forward.

A few paragraphs back I mentioned how Gate of Infinity works well with Terminators to give them the mobility they lack.  Sadly, the Dreadnought can not share this ability.  Also, I said I like to run these units together.  But if I Gate those terminators away, I've left the Dread all alone on the battlefield.  This is another of those situations, where much like I said in the Tactical Marine article, you have to stay fluid.  You can leave the dread alone if you've managed to create a 'safe-zone' for him where he can walk around and still threaten, but not worry about return fire from anti-tank weapons.  However, without those terminators there, you run the risk of having him tied up by a cheap throw-away unit that likely can't even hurt him, but will stop him from shooting.  But that's not always a bad thing.  In a kill point game, you've actually just made him more survivable, and in theory in an objective game, by the time your enemy is diverting resources to tie up a 125-point walker, your Tactical Marines have the game well in hand.

So in summation, these units are a lot like smaller, more fragile Tactical Squads with a bit more punch at 24".  Treat them as such.  They are never going to win the game for you.  There is nothing in this list that can do that without taxing your resources to the point where it becomes an 'eggs-in-one-basket' army.  But they assist with the overall plan and have the tools to do what they need to do without draining your resource budget (points cost).  Another way to look at it is, your Tactical Marines are your short-range fire, these guys are your mid-range fire, and your Heavy Supports choices are your long range fire (more about them in another post).

But haven't I forgotten Sternguard?  Nope.  Because here they are.  I left them for last because they have a special function in the army.  As I'm sure you've guessed by now, I favour balance and redundancy in my Marine lists, and I don't think Sternguard provide either.  They are really, really good at taking out certain things, but to get them to the point where the can handle any target, in my mind, requires diverting to many resources to a single unit.  The 'best' way to field these guys is to give them all combi-meltas, which a 5 points a pop, takes an already expensive model, and prices him out of the market.  Plus I've never been a fan of one-shot weapons.  If something is going to be on the field, I need it to reliably do what it does over and over again.  A single-shot weapon has a 66% chance of doing what you want it do, once a game.  Which takes down it's actual success rate by quite a bit, once you factor in the number of turns you don't get to fire that weapon.

You might ask: But you can have a combi-melta on every model, and you could have 6 models, that's a shot for every turn of the game isn't it?  Yes and no.  You see, the strength of this unit is in their special issue ammunition.  That's why they are so expensive.  Without that, they are just expensive Tactical Marines with an extra attack.  And if you've noticed, my Marine lists don't tend to be focused on assaulting the enemy.  Basically, what I'm saying is that to use these guy to their potential, you need to be shooting at monsters or at infantry.  And if you are using a combi-melta, chances are you are shooting at tanks.  And for 25 points for 5 shots, you might as well have just bought a meltagun.  But then that model loses special ammunition, so what's the point.  Do you see where I'm going here?  Of course you could fire the combi-meltas at monsters or heavy infantry, but you already have ammunition just for those unit types.

The bottom line with Sternguard, in my opinion, is that there really isn't anything they can do that a Tactical Squad can't do almost as well for less points.  Yes I have had a Sternguard squad take out a Trygon on their own.  But I've also paired up Tactical Squads and done the same, then had those Tactical Squads move on to clean up Gaunts and other things in the army.  The Sternguard unload, made a big, scary noise, then spent the rest of the game being picked apart.  Which can be nice because it takes pressure off the other units in your army, but it's a pretty big point commitment just to be loud and scary.  I'd rather invest in something that actively contributes the entire game than something that contributes a lot once a game.

So that about wraps up what I have to say about the Elites in a Marine list.  Again, these are my opinions based on the games I've played, your mileage may vary.  No one is wrong here.  A good case can be made for pretty much every unit in the list (except maybe Vanguard... WAY too expensive), so feel free to take your Legion of the Damned or your combi-melta Sternguard.  Whatever works for you.  I can't assume that everyone plays the game the same way I do, but I can give insight into my list-building process and overall strategy.  Especially if it helps breathe some life into an iconic army that has been getting dirt kicked in its face by it's 'cooler' younger brothers.  I'm looking at you unholy trinity: Wolves, Vampires and Mary-Sues.

Oh, and you'll notice I didn't talk about Deep Striking.  It's because I never, ever do.  Too risky.  I want stuff to be where it should be all the time, and contributing every round.  I don't want a good chunk of my army sitting on the side of the table for 5 turns because the dice have once again betrayed me.  Or to have a unit scatter so badly they can't contribute when they arrive.  Or mishap and I lose them all together without firing a shot... I think you see where I'm going here.  It's the same reason I always chose Rhinos over Drop Pods.  A drop Pod can scatter, and I only get half of them first turn.  A rhino is there from the start, making my opponent prioritize more targets.  And if a Rhino is out of position, it's my fault, not the random luck of the dice.

Next time I'll talk about HQ Choices, focusing on my personal favorite: the Librarian.

And once again, don't sue me for using your images.  They are yours.  I admit it.  I just wanted to break up my giant wall of text.  And boy-oh-boy is it hard to find pictures of Terminators that aren't Space Wolves or Grey Knights.


  1. Good tips; thanks.

    I've never run a combi-melta sternguard squad, but it occurs to me that being able to use *all* the melta in one turn to take out a high priority target and special ammunition every other turn makes them a bit more versatile than just a squad with a meltagun.

  2. You raise a good point, however I would stick my guns on this one. You'd be paying 25 points minimum to allow the unit to tackle a unit they weren't really intended to tackle for one turn, and you'd have to be close enough to the enemy that you're likely going to see combat. And I never want my Sternguard in combat. In combat they are just marines with an extra attack. I feel using them as a covering fire base is the best way to use them. Set them up in some elevated cover, and have them secure a 24" perimeter, being able to really punish anything that gets within 12". If they go tank hunting you're ignoring their signature abilities, and getting close enough to the enemy that you'll likely get dragged down in combat. For that price, you might as well have just used a Tactical Squad.

    Again, just my opinion.

    1. I read your troop blog yesterday again really great input its really giving me a good view on good and bad space marine units.

  3. This is probably the most useful tactics articles I've read yet. Although you and I both have very different playing styles, you definitely give some great strategies that I'll be using.