Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Codex Adeptus Astates: Space Marines. 6 months in.


Greetings all, welcome again to the hallowed halls of my blog, where today I reflect upon 6 months of the 8th edition space marine codex, my thoughts on how the book stands up after many other faction releases, and plenty of game time!



Overview

The book in its entirety I think holds up well, there's a nice balance between narrative and backgrounds sections, information on the different chapters of space marines and their histories, and good narrative section regarding organisation and unit type histories. Whilst in my own experience, I mostly use the book for gaming purposes, there is plenty of information in there for those who like a complete experience to get plenty out of it. If you're not a gamer then it's probably a little pricey, but that's something I think is unavoidable when it's clearly designed to be used as a resource for both narrative and gaming purposes.

Gaming content.

Special rules.

Defenders of Humanity, effectively granting objective secured to troops units from the codex, has now become standard across the entire faction range, as it always should have been (to be honest, why this wasn't in the indices is a puzzler). No argument there, with the exception being that with how the rule is worded, a tactical squad (for example) will always lose out to a larger enemy unit in terms of holding objectives, which is a shame. Personally I'd have preferred to see no reference to model count being a factor if units have the relevant obsec rule.

And They Shall Know No Fear. This went from being absolute king of all special rules in 7th edition to being, quite frankly, pretty poor in 8th. Yes, in theory it limits the damage that morale can do to a marine squad on the tabletop, allowing you to risk taking larger units, but to be honest I'm a little unnerved at the idea that a space marine would fall back in the face of enemy fire due to casualties in his squad anyway! Immune to losing models to morale would fit the fluff far better, or granting a default Ld10 for morale check purposes (which means that a combat squad of marines would never need to fear a morale test).

Chapter tactics.

This was in my opinion a huge triumph of the 7th edition codex when they were introduced, and I'm really pleased to see it has been rolled out further than just the Space Marines in 8th edition. My biggest issue with the chapter tactics really is that some are clearly intended to represent narrative concepts already established, whilst the (probably unintended) consequences of some is to bring units that are the exact opposite of what you would expect (like Raven Guard)

Warlord Traits.

In my view probably the most balanced section of the book, all of the standard warlord traits give a nice little flavoursome boost to your army, without any being obviously better than others, and none are so good as to build an army around, but could just tip the balance in a finely poised game, which is as it should be.

Relics.
There's a bit more variety here, some are great, some are decidedly lacklustre, but even the great ones are still not so good that you can rely on them to build a strategy around. I think this section could do with some polishing, but it needs nothing major.

Stratagems.
Now here's where the book does need major surgery in my view. 26 stratagems are provided, although 7 are limited to a specific chapter or their successors, so in reality we're looking at 20. That number is further reduced though by the additional limitations of units to which they apply. In practice, there are only about 5 that don't require a specific unit or combination of units to use. I'm not saying that all the stratagems should apply to every unit, and in practice I usually have access to more because of the army composition I use, but given how many of the stratagems are direct ports of old formation benefits (4) or apply not just to specific units but to specific weapons (flakk missile and hellfire shells) I can't help but feel a little hard done by in comparison to some of the newer books. Equally, Orbital Bombardment in particular seems massively over costed for its effect. I'd certainly like to see a significant re-vamp of this section when the codex is re-done.

Psychic powers.
The next section most in need of revision! Librarians and psychic powers were significant in 7th edition, and smite in particular remains a massive boost to your army in 8th, if you can leverage it properly, however my issue is that the remainder of the librarius discipline is once again somehwat underwhelming. Veil of Time and Might of Heroes are certainly useful, but the range limitations of Fury of the Ancients and Null Zone make them of extremely limited use (FotA in particular I'd say is just plain poor) whilst Psychic Scourge and Psychic Fortress look decent on paper only to be of limited use when you get to the tabletop.

Datasheets

HQs.

Captains are great, the buffs they give out are significant, and they are decent characters able to hold their own except against the best. I'd have preferred to see a single data sheet for each type though ('Normal' and 'Primaris') with different armour types having profiles specified on the sheets instead. My only other issue with captains is the manner in which one is upgraded to being a chapter master, since 3 command points is a hugely steep price to pay to get access to the extra buff, especially when taking a certain other chapter master actually adds command points to your stash!

Chaplains however, I have a big issue with, as they simply don't seem to give any kind of real benefit to an army except in one very specific instance. I love the imagery of the chaplain but I think he needs a drastic re-think in terms of in-game effects.

Librarians are fine as they are, notwithstanding my issues over their powers, and techmarines perform exactly how they should within a list. Lieutenants I believe are a superb addition to the book, if only they were upgradeable in the way of the captain to allow a specific lieutenant to be (for example) the chapter master's right hand, allowing re-rolls of any failed wounds.

Troops.

Not a hugely large section of the book considering how many units are around in some of the other sections, though the Intercessor squads do at least bulk things out a bit. I must admit I like the Intercessors as a concept, though I'd have preferred to see their stats reflect the 'faster, stronger, tougher' mantra that accompanied their entry into the game. -1AP bolters with a snip of extra range makes a huge difference to them, I just wish normal boltguns had that -1AP as well.

Speaking of which, I can't quite put into words how disappointed I am with tactical squads now. In 7th edition these units were brilliant, drop pods allowed them to really influence a game by putting something difficult to deal with into the enemy's heart. Now, drop pods themselves are poor (I'll get to them later) whilst tactical marines are less survivable than they've ever been thanks to armour modifiers. Boltguns are barely more impressive than a lasgun (and against some targets are statistically exactly the same) and an army that bases itself around tactical squads is one that I feel is deliberately hampering itself in order to adhere to the narrative (nothing wrong with that to those who play that way, but you can see why others don't!).

Crusader Squads are ok, though chainswords remain sub-par in my view and so really they're only a way of getting more special weapons into minimum sized squads in practice. Scouts are therefore where the troops choice really shines, with just about the equal of a tactical marine's profile, a good choice of significantly different weapons to use and the excellent camo cloaks plus a very flexible way of deploying means I can't really see a gaming reason to take a tactical squad over a squad of scouts any more.

Elites.

I'm gonna start with the elephant in the room. Terminators. Still a massive disappointment I have to say, and for two reasons.
1. Damage output. Storm/combi bolter fire just isn't that impressive, at least not on the basis of 4 shots per guy given how many points they cost. I realise it might go some way towards making sternguard redundant, but giving them special issue combi/storm bolters would be a bloody good start in my view - AP-2 would have a massive effect on their damage output.
2. Resilience. Supposed to be like a walking tank in the narrative, we all know that those 1's crop up way too often in reality, and given the way armour modifiers now work, they're more vulnerable to a lot of weapons fire than they ever have been, even with the increase to 2 wounds.

On the flip side of that, both Sternguard and Vanguard Veterans have great damage output for their points cost, and good unit options. I'd prefer to see them with an extra wound to represent their experience and survivability but that's probably not going to happen.

In my experience, dreadnoughts have been the really big winner of 8th edition. 7th saw them languishing sorrowfully at the bottom of many a pile of miniatures, overlooked and underwhelming. Boy is that not the case now. For most of last year after 8th hit, you could guarantee you'd see two contemptor dreads in my lists. One game in particular I even bolstered them with a pair of venerable 'noughts too!

The Elites section has been filled out hugely with the transfer of banner bearers, apothecaries etc, all of which is a good thing in my mind, and there are some great choices available in there. Possibly the best of the new breed though is the aggressor squad. I've often heard it said that these guys are what centurions should have been, but for my money they fill a very different role, but a very dangerous one all the same, especially if they get to fire without moving!

Fast Attack.

This is probably the most disappointing section of the whole book in my view. Assault as a concept is back, but the assault squad is still pretty poor, the lack of any real penetration from their weapons leaves them struggling. Attack bikes also are no longer the staple they used to be in 7th, with the short range of melta hampering them along with the reduction in capability of destroying vehicles. now they can't be 'one-shotted'. Bike squads, yeah still decent but also not the all-conquering force they once were.

Landspeeders are probably the saddest entry in my view now. Massively quick vehicles with some great armament, the fact that they're encouraged to stay stock still when they fire to avoid a BS penalty (double entendre intended) is tragic.

Scout bikes also got a nerf, but probably escaped with the least damage from the new book, thanks mainly to their ability to deploy a mortal wound stratagem.

Heavy support.

Interesting section this. Centurions were the shiz in 7th. Lascannons are now the most popular weapon in the whole codex, but the sheer cost of fielding a squad of three dual lascannon centurions is eye-watering, especially when you consider the cost of providing a similar level of firepower through devastator squads or predators. Well and truly shafted by the nerf bat, I've only used mine twice since 8th hit the shelves.

On the other hand, Devastators and Hellblasters are very definitely in vogue - the ability to stack up heavy weapons for multiple damage is hard to resist, and my own Dusk Knights now have a potential 5 Devastator Squads to call upon.

But now the ugly runts of the litter. Whirlwinds, Hunters, Stalkers, and the Vindicator. It's true, I don't have any of these in my collection (though I used to own a stalker) but currently I have no particular desire to even dream about adding one. Of any of them. Lascannons are very much where it's at at the moment, and with flyers being easier to hit than before, the anti air tanks don't have so much of a role to fill. Stalkers get the double hit of autocannons not being what they once were, while how the mighty vindicator has fallen! Sure, it's still a nasty gun but compared to a tri-las predator? No contest. Finally the whirlwind. Still has two different missile options, but you can no longer switch between them in-game. Neither is bad per-se, but equally neither is an obvious standout option. It's only realy benefit is you don't need line of sight to use it, but that's only a small crumb of comfort when it's so poor - if you want to take down hordes, take a thunderfire, for tanks killing, take a tri-las pred.

Land raiders. Everything that terminators should be, the land raider is back in a big way, and you see them around a lot now courtesy of either the 4 lascannon shots or the hideously obscene amounts of fire that hurricane bolters can put out. Great armour and a decent chunk of wounds sees this tank back to the very forefront of a space marine list, where it should always have been, with the only downside being the investment in actually including one (well, that and the investment in actually buying one).

Thunderfire cannon. At least I don't feel dirty using one any more! Like the landraider, I think that the Thunderfire has been changed to hit the absolute perfect spot for it. Good number of shots, and I also like the reliability that 4D3 gives you over 2D6. I'm so relieved that they brought some AP back to the weapon's profile, and the stratagem to supplement it is cool, fluffy and harks back to the age of the mole mortar really nicely. Personally I think it's one of the best stratagems in the book from that point of view. It's also good to note that the techmarine gunner isn't the same as a techmarine, getting fewer wounds on his profile than the HQ option, so there's still some debate to be had whether you take one or the other for healing your vehicles (I'm inclined to the gunner version if you were wondering).

Flyers

Our second to last category, we have three entries here, and they're all good! The Storm Raven took tables by storm (haha) when the book was released, and we saw GW act quickly to nerf the armies that were abusing them. Thankfully, it's still a very good option and does a great job on the table, it's got plenty of guns for damage dealing but the transport capacity allows it to perform in a dual role - in fact the only downside these days is that it's got such a rep your opponent is unlikely to let it live very long.

The Storm Talon is a very flexible flyer, with the potential to take all kinds of specialist target hunting weaponry, coupled with the ever excellent assault cannons. It may be a bit more fragile than the other two options, but it's also cheaper and when compared to the stormhawk, the option to hover makes the choice more difficult than it otherwise would be.

The Stormhawk is my favourite unit in the whole book I think, and I almost always take it in my lists and it very rarely lets me down. The sheer amount of guns it brings is comforting, and its particular abilities mean its great for targeting enemy flyers, whilst there are enough shots there to worry ground targets as well.

Dedicated Transports

Rhino
It's always been 'old reliable' and nothing has really changed in that respect. The ability to add a second storm bolter means it has pretty good fire output against infantry, and it's no slouch in terms of resilience either. It retains the role it's always had, and if anything you'll see more use out of it than you will drop pods now.

Drop Pods
Speaking of which, oh how the mighty have fallen. Considering the place that it came from, the drop pod really has gone from hero to zero very quickly and to be honest I think it needs something to allow it to see the tabletop again - quite a hefty points drop for starters! It's a shame because it's such an iconic unit, but there really is little point to them now, the rhino achieves almost the same results on a much more flexible and, ultimately, cheap frame.

Razorback
On the other side of things, this little baby just got a huge boost, and thanks to a certain Mr Baker is being seen much more in many space marine lists. I always liked them (I had 4 back in the days of 6th ed) but these days they're a regular in many lists. Twin Lascannons or Twin Assault Cannons are definitely the weapons of choice, but the whole package is great for supporting your force in terms of both firepower and mobility, especially with the leaning towards small units meaning you don't necessarily need a rhino.

Land Speeder Storm
Unbelievably quick and with a reasonable capacity for scouts, this little beauty has lost some of its uniqueness in the current edition thanks to deep strike no longer scattering. My personal preference is to load it up with shotgun scouts and to use its speed to get them into range, whilst the fly keyword lets you fall back out of a combat without any real drop in effectiveness.

Repulsor
Finally the new daddy on the block, the land raider for the primaris marines! Some dislike the sheer number of guns this thing has, but I personally think it's the perfect transport for the 42nd millenium, I can easily see this thing ploughing straight into the heart of the enemy, fire blazing all round before its doors open and out charges some raging Primaris marines, swords and fists swinging. It kind of reminds me of the Flying Fortress from WWII (watch Memphis Belle) with the idea that if you can't outrun the enemy, just add more guns so they'll want to stay away (hopefully the theory works slightly better here than it did then). Very effective, again its only real drawback is the high points cost, but for the guns you get it's a reasonable price to pay I think.


Conclusions

Right, so overall then what do I think now 8th ed is properly settled in and I've played plenty.

To be honest, I think the Space Marine book has aged pretty quickly. The sheer number of units and options within it dwarf any other faction out there as you'd expect, and by and large there's some good balance in there. Where I think it has issues is that some iconic units still don't often see the light of day (cough, terminators, cough) and the newer elements (stratagems, psychic powers) are pretty lacklustre when viewed against what has come after. Had all the books simply looked at regurgitating formation benefits into stratagems then likely it would have been fine, but when you look at lists now you don't see people taking 3 vindicators simply to access the linebreaker strategy, or even 3 predators to use killshot! For me, the book is solid, but unspectacular, which is ok if they were aiming for that, but in the narrative I think marines should sit slightly above that level - yes on a galactic scale they're not top dogs but they should also be competitive with those that are, and I think they're not quite there.

Three things I really want to see done to improve the book?

Ditch the old formation based stratagems, come up with something new and funky to actually represent space marine tactics and fighting methods

Sort out terminators. Special issue combi/storm bolters would be my first thought, but consider making them 3 wounds too or jumping their invuns up by a point (perhaps give cataphracts a FNP type save to keep them different)

Make assault squads work better. Please, give marine chainswords an AP value, even if it's only -1.

What do you think to the marine book now we've had chance to get used to it, any gems I've missed, or units I've overrated? Let me know in the comments section below.

Till next time,
TBE