Thursday, 19 January 2017

40k Tactical insight - The Space Marine Tactical Squad

Right, let's sit down and have a good think about things shall we? Last week I wrote about how I was going to go back to first principles with my space marine army, re-learning how they work to improve my performance and win percentage. First up, let's have a look at the primary building block of the space marine army and its various options, the tactical squad. I'm not gonna pretend this isn't a review, but I'm under no illusions that they haven't been reviewed before, this is more for my own edification and learning experience and for you to share in that journey, maybe even learn a few things in the meantime.

5 men. 70 points. 3+ armour and a S4 AP5 rapid firing boltgun.

The basic fireteam unit of the space marines, but the big question as always is whether or not they are worth taking in numbers, or are they simply something you need to take to fulfill your minimum requirements so that you can fill the rest of your list with more effective goodness.

So, how do we start to evaluate these units? It's tricky in some ways because we aren't evaluating the unit against anything, this unit is actually going to become our frame of reference to evaluate other units.

We have to start somewhere else then, and I've decided I'm going to use the following categories to assess the units I'm looking at. I make no apologies for any similarities between this and my unit reviews I've done before! What I've not done before is actually assign a rating for each of these headings, which will give us a final score out of 30 for each unit.


Games are won and lost by your units being in the right place at the right time, so an assessment of their mobility is essential to rating their battlefield use.

Firepower - basic, enhanced and maxed

This is a difficult one, because many units can vary in size and bring alternative weapons. Therefore the basic section will rate the unit on the standard loadout in the codex for the minimum unit size. Enhanced firepower will keep the basic unit size but introduce either alternative or special weapons etc, and the maxed firepower will increase the unit size to its maximum and also assess the alternative weapons.


This will be an assessment of the unit's ability to engage a variety of targets based on their available weapon range, not necessarily the actual fieldable weapon options of a unit - for example if a unit can take meltas or flamers, they'll get a high versatility rating, even if they couldn't take both at the same time.


Resistance to damage is always an important factor, but it includes more elements than just toughness and armour. Use of cover is important, for example a guard unit going to ground behind an aegis defence line gains a 2+ cover save, and with order they can do that without any negative impact on their fire output, whilst a marine squad doing the same is restricted to snap shots. Where there's an unusual situation such as that I'll note it, though it may affect the score resulting in a surprisingly high score for some units.


Slightly different to resilience, this factor is about the unit actually being likely to do what you want it to. Even Space Marines will fail a leadership check 1/3 of the time, but they would get a high courage score because of the And They Shall Know No Fear rule that allows them to regroup automatically.


Sort of a bit of a combination score of everything above, this is an assessment of the different battlefield roles a unit can undertake. Is it solely focused on one particular task such as shooting the enemy, or does it have other uses, such as transportation or objective holding?

Ok, so with that basis for our assessment set out, we can start looking at things in more detail.

Space Marine Tactical Squad


The basic tactical squad is an infantry unit, and is therefore on its own fairly limited in mobility terms. For those of you who've seen my reviews before, it has a poor innate mobility.

However, with 3 different transport options comprising the Rhino, Razorback and Drop Pod the tactical squad has an unparalleled choice of how to go about getting to where it wants to be. Drop Pods have extremely high initial mobility, and are a very safe way of getting to the table thanks to their inertial guidance system, but once they're down then your troops will struggle to redeploy. Consequently in any drop pod army you either need to be careful to deploy in such a way that your squads begin to support each other, or include alternative methods of staying mobile on the tabletop.

Rhinos are the simplest, cheapest way for marines to get around the table, fitting a whole squad inside (I still don't get why their capacity isn't 11 in case you want to put a character with them) and they're very cheap. They triple the potential move of your troops in any particular turn, and so the Tactical Squad becomes a highly mobile element of your army, effectively allowing them to shift across the table in a couple of turns. The only thing to really watch out for is that the Rhino has pretty limited armour.

The third option provides a genuine third choice for the space marine player, as the razorback sacrifices some troop capacity for a turret weapon. The choice of weapons is pretty wide, allowing for a variety in target to match any special weapons your unit might have. It's just as fast as the Rhino so the only downside really is that you're getting fewer guys on the table.

In mobility terms therefore, the tactical squad is pretty poor without upgrades, which each have their own drawbacks. Without a transport they'd get a 1/5, but the variety of transport options and the usefulness of those options bumps them up to a 3/5.


The basic unit is just that, pretty basic! They are the standard by which other units in 40k are always assessed, so firepower armies need to outshoot them, whilst combat armies do the opposite.

The basic level of firepower should, as a mathematical expression only, result in 0.5 kills of another marine (assuming no fnp) at maximum range. obviously at half range this doubles as they fire twice as many shots. Against a human guardsman equivalent that boosts to 2.2 kills, and 4.4 at half range. Basic firepower therefore is pretty limited, you're looking at this unit just about killing double figures in terms of points.

When we enhance that firepower, I'll take the best option against each target type from the special list (not heavy weapons due to snap firing), so against marines that will be the grav gun (assuming max fire pattern) and probably a flamer against the guardsmen (conservatively saying we'll cover 6 models). That boosts damage up to 1.1 kills against marines and 5.7 against guardsmen.

The maximum firepower figures will include taking a combi-weapon to match the special weapon, and a heavy weapon suited to the target. So against marines that will mean grav, combi-grav and grav cannon (best ratio of shots/ap), which results in grav killing five, and the remaining bolters getting 0.8 kills at long range, so five and 1.6 at short range. Against guardsmen (flamer, combi flamer, heavy bolter moving), that jumps to 8 from the flamer, 3.1 kills at long range from bolters and 6.2 at short range, totaling 14 kills at short range.

So, what does all that actually mean? Well first off it means that a marine squad will need to be well kitted out in order to be able to take down even a guardsman's squad. Not quite world-shatteringly stellar I think you'll agree. However, that does give us a decent look  at what we need to do with them! Don't go dropping a tactical squad into the midst of the enemy and expect them to shred anything they can find. It also gives us another hint as to how best to utilise the squads! We can clearly infer from the above that a single tactical squad is unlikely to do such a large amount of damage to a target that it is wiped out, and therefore the most points effective method of utilising tactical squads for damage output in a game is by splitting them into combat squads when they arrive. This breaks down their firepower into more discrete sections, and means therefore that less of it is wasted on overkilling the target. MSU (Multiple Small Units) in action there folks!

So, I think that overall in that section, we can reasonably argue a score of 3/5 for firepower


Here's where I think the Tactical Squad really shines (even without the razorback, though if you add that in its just gets better).

Every model comes equipped with krak grenades for S6 potential. The special weapons available to the unit cover just about every type of possible unit you might want to shoot at, from horde killers to anti tank guns and all points in between. One of the best basic troop types of all in this regard so they're definitely justifying a score of 4. The only thing holding them back really is the way the special/heavy weapons are limited.


Above average toughness, extremely above average save, and with dedicated transport options to force your opponent to break you out of your tanks first if necessary, there are few armies out there that can genuinely look at the space marines and say 'we're tougher than you', in fact I think it pretty much comes down to the Necrons really in terms of across the board refusal to die.

Marines in that respect really are the byword for resilient units in the 40k universe, but that's not to say they can weather a storm without damage - one thing I have noticed recently is that even with that high toughness and that fantastic armour, it doesn't take anything particularly spectacular to take down a squad of marines - perhaps it's codex creep and the introduction of new factions and new weapons making the game bigger in scope and the humble space marine a much smaller part of it, but you can't afford to leave these guys out in the open and in range and expect to get away with it.

That being said, with only a single faction having a troops choice that is obviously more resilient I think I still have to score these guys a solid 4/5.


Give a space marine an order and it's as good as done, right? Well, almost.

I for one have to say that a Space Marine Sergeant's leadership of 8 scares me. I can fail that a lot. And I do. Thankfully, with the ATSKNF rule (look it up if you don't know what it means) they can at least get straight back into things without being disrupted too much. What that says to me is that marines are obedient, but not stupid, and they will fall back if things get rough, but only so they can regroup and make things rougher for their opponent as they advance once more!

I know that a lot of players consider ATSKNF to be the most broken rule in the game, but I honestly believe that it is also probably one of the fluffiest rules in the book - if you read any of the Black Library's fiction then you can be certain that there's no way a marine would flee from a fight - fall back yes, flee no. That being said, the rule could easily be re-written to represent this in a more appropriate fashion to the rest of the ruleset, but I digress!

Short of army-wide fearless (Nids? Ish?) there's not much else that an army could do to be more courageous, so I'm gonna go there and give them a 5/5 in this section!


In the fluff the tactical squad is the tool to pick every lock in the space marine arsenal, and in tabletop terms whilst it's not quite that effective, there are few jobs that they can't at least assist with. Lots of guns, of a variety of types depending on the target they're after, transport options to allow them to get around the field and resilient enough to take and hold objectives, even in the face of some pretty scary units (some, not all!).

To be perfectly honest, the only units in the entire marine roster that have a better utility are those who fit the same mould, but with more effective weaponry or a greater number of the same weapons. I pretty much mean sternguard in case you hadn't guessed.

I think the all round ability of the Tactical Squad certainly warrants a 4/5 here.


Overall that gives us - 23/30

I think that's a pretty good score to be honest, perhaps seems a little high but then this is an overall assessment here, not a specific task-related score. Mono-tasked units will inevitably score lower in that respect, but when I start looking at such units I can always limit the categories that apply.

So, that seems to suggest that tactical squads should be pretty good at forming the basis of our armies, but with any assessment, looking at a single unit on its own doesn't give us the whole picture - that's a good score but if a scout squad scores 27 why would we take the tactical squad?

I have two 750pt games booked in for this week, and in the spirit of learning my units I've written two separate lists to get a first look at a variety of different things.

List 1

Chaplain in Terminator Armour, The Primarch's Wrath

Sternguard (5), Drop Pod

Scout Squad (9), Camo Cloaks, Sniper Rifles
Tactical Squad (10), Drop Pod, Multi Melta, Meltagun

Heavy Support
Devastator Squad (5), Plasma Cannon (3)

This list really tries to focus on the infantry element of the Space Marine roster. It does have a limited table presence due to the small number of units, and with only 30 infantry on the table in total it's a pretty light force. The Chaplain wouldn't normally make this kind of list but I wanted to use the model so I made a compromise.

The list has a good balance I think between deployed units and reserves, with the Plasma Devastators having a decent range they should help to limit my opponent's own deployment and by using the Ultramarines chapter tactics I can also give them re-rolls on their gets hot results for 2 of the 5 turns.

The main drawback of the list is the lack of mobility and anti-air firepower. No doubt given I've chosen not to include any anti-air my opponent will inevitably bring fliers, but that's a choice I had to make given the points limit. My other option would have been to take a missile devastator squad but that gets pricey quite quickly!

I should be able to deliver the drop pods where they are needed, though it will be incumbent on me to try and group together the objectives if we play maelstrom so that I don't have to go too far to claim them!

List 2

Librarian, level 1

Venerable Dreadnought, Drop Pod, Assault Cannon, Heavy Flamer
Venerable Dreadnought, Drop Pod with Deathwind, Multi Melta, Heavy Flamer

Scout Squad (6), Camo Cloaks, Sniper Rifles
Scout Squad (6), Camo Cloaks, Sniper Rifles

Fast Attack
Land Speeder, Heavy Bolter, Assault Cannon
Land Speeder, Heavy Bolter, Assault Cannon

This list is all about maxing out on the devastation of the weaponry available in the marine list (without going grav as I could be facing Orks!), taking more exotic choices than the first list combined with taking models I actually own (ish). The Land Speeders give me a mobile element to the list whilst the Drop Pods ensure that my heavy hitting dreadnoughts will get almost exactly where I want them. The Librarian warlord is vulnerable, but dependent on his powers will be able to buff up the units around him. This list is also pretty strong in terms of deployment, allowing me to leave almost everything off the table if I need/want to.

It still has weaknesses, again I have no real anti air, though in a pinch the landspeeders could throw a hull point or two at them, and if the dreads do go down early, for example if my opponent has a lucky melta shot, then I lost a big chunk of very versatile points, but I should learn quite a bit about my units from this game.

There won't be battle reports but I'll take plenty of notes and see you next week!

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