Thursday, 24 August 2017

8th ed Space Marine codex review part 3 - troops and elite squads


Greetings all - welcome to the third part of my space marine codex review - this time I'm looking at the troops section, and the elites choices that come as squads rather than single models. Enjoy!



Tactical Squad

fluff-wise, the tactical squad is the basic unit that the whole space marine chapter is built from, and forms the backbone of the fighting force that is the adeptus astartes. Is that how they work on the tabletop? Let's find out!

The basic format of the tactical squad hasn't changed now for a very long time - 5 guys minimum, 10 guys maximum, at the minimum size you get access to either a special or heavy weapon if you want it, and once you get the full squad number then you can take one of each, whilst at any size the sergeant can take his pick from some choice items. In 8th edition, the squad can now split fire, so there's no more bemoaning the fact that the boltguns are wasted when your lascannon chooses to shoot the nearest tank, however there's a but coming, can't you tell?

My big issue with marine squads now is their damage output. Sure, bolters can now hurt tanks, even on a 5+, so massed bolter fire hass a chance of denting vehicles. If you do the maths though (I'm English, it has an 's' on the end) 10 bolters rapid firing against a T7 3+Sv tank will do on average about 1 wound. That's a hell of a lot of points to waste shooting at tanks in my view. Granted, that's not their purpose, they're meant to be shooting at infantry instead. Except that's hardly worth it either in my opinion - those same 10 bolters firing against orks will do maybe 6 wounds? Against boyz that means 36 points of dead orks, so assuming you get to fire that every turn over a 5 turn game you should make your points back (hint, you won't!).

Now, following the codex, we see that tactical squads (and indeed all marine troops units) get access to the defenders of humanity rule, but heads up people - come Christmas, so will every faction's troops units (or its equivalent) so whilst troops units will gain some utility over non-troops units holding objectives, unless your opponent ignores that part of their codex/index, you're still likely to be outnumbered when trying to claim objectives.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that tactical squads don't have a role, I just don't think they really pull their weight when set against most of the other options in the book, read on to find out why!

Scout Squads

Scout squads in the fluff are an interesting choice - not as common as tactical squads and mainly used just to scout (ironic) ahead of the main force to harass and support. Do they work like that in practice? Kind of, let's have a closer look.

Now for some time scouts have been looked upon as the most efficient troops unit in the marine book, mainly because they were cheaper than tactical squads. Whilst that's still true, the scout squad now gains something infinitely more useful than it ever had (actually more than one thing, but I can only type about one thing at a time). They can shoot just as well as a tactical marine, in fact the only difference in profile is their lesser save, which is counteracted mostly by the ability to take camo cloaks and then set up in cover, granting them a 2+ save thanks to cover that actually, flame weapons don't ignore now (don't believe me? check out the entries for flame weapons people - there's no ignoring cover bonuses there!). There are three build options for scouts as I see it - pistols and combat weapons and using their deployment ability (at least 9" from enemy deployment zone and enemy units, but not preventing movement and charging on turn 1) to put immediate pressure on the enemy line, though I wouldn't recommend this against some armies like orks, since that's exactly where they want you. The second option is as fire support, either using boltguns or shotguns to give you a variety of different types of firepower to support the rest of your units (definitely worth checking shotguns out now - a full unit of scouts at half range with shotguns puts out 20 S5 shots - just ask a Tau player if that's something you'd like to have access to!). The third is my personal favourite - the sniper teams.

If you're taking a battalion detachment then you need three troops choices. You can certainly do far worse than pick three teams of five scouts with sniper rifles and camo cloaks. That will run you to 270pts, but for that you get 15 shots per turn that can target enemy characters despite them not being the closest target, and will do mortal wounds on any wound rolls of 6. What that means of course is that against an average T4 character, you've got a pretty good chance of doing 2 mortal wounds per turn on them and forcing 5 armour saves on top - it's not unreasonable for that kind of firepower to take out a 5 wound character in a turn if your rolling is slightly hotter than average. In one of my recent games, I had my scout teams put 5-6 wounds on an imperial knight over the course of just 2 turns of shooting, certainly not the kind of output I would have expected from the equivalent points worth of tactical marines. The real key to this unit is that it's mortal wounds you're outputting - failed saves are a bonus, but the ability to pressurise those characters that thought they were safe forces your opponent to either hide them, or move them somewhere where they don't want to be, and that's what makes people make mistakes in their games. The actual points return is probably not enough to justify their inclusion most of the time, but you need troops units and the scouts have an ability that nothing else in your army really does, so in my mind they 're absolutely 100% worth the investment.

Intercessor squads

Basically works the same as a tactical squad for primaris marines, but they don't have the special or heavy weapon choices. What they do have instead is the ability to take stalker bolters in exchange for their auto bolt rifles. Now auto bolt rifles are just plain better than bolters, no questions asked, longer range and with -1AP, but the stalker bolter makes the intercessor stand still to fire at full effectiveness (its a heavy type weapon) but adds even more range, and an extra -1AP. If you're looking for a troops unit that doesn't want to move much then you can do much worse than this - keep them in cover for the +1 save and they'll also become really tough to shift too, since they have double the wounds of the normal tactical marines.

Crusader squads

The last of the troops units in the codex is the black templars specific Crusader Squad (it actually has the black templars keyword specified so you would have to use them as your chapter keyword to be able to use this choice).

In the fluff, the crusader squads are the Black Templars method of training their scouts in the ways of the chapter as they accompany full battle brother to assist and observe them on the field of battle. In game, that means the crusader squad can be up to 20 strong, consisting of 10 'scouts' and 10 'marines'.

They have a sneaky tactic though that means this squad type is flat out better than the standard tactical squad. Even at minimum size, the crusader squad can include both a special and a heavy weapon though the heavy weapon can also be changed for a power weapon. What that really means is that a five man crusader squad can include two power weapons (one for the sergeant as well) and a special weapon, making them one of the best bang for your buck choices in the book - stick several of these babies in razorbacks with heavier anti tank type weapons on and there's not many units would want to see them getting out of their transports with vengeance on their minds. Simply put, if you're taking black templars, then these guys and scouts are, in my opinion, your best two choices in this role.

Elites

Honour Guard

The honour guard in the fluff is the personal bodyguard of a space marine chapter master, and basically of no lesser individual than that, and they're amongst the most capable warriors that the chapter can muster.

On that basis, to be honest I'm a little disappointed. There are 2 models in the unit, fair enough, but with only 2 attacks each and no way of getting extras, only hitting on 3's in combat means 1-2 wounds against most units from these guys. I'm sorry, not good enough, what else do they have to offer? 2+ save yes, but on the flip side, their ability negates that benefit anyway.

The have a single ability, which allows them to take a mortal wound on a 2+ instead of a nearby character losing a wound. Nice, but to be honest, for the cost and damage output, I'd rather simply bubble wrap my characters with other models.

Company Veterans

Equivalent to the old command squad, the company veterans are a combination of lesser honour guard, and a step up from sternguard.

The unit comes with a minimum size of 2, expandable up to 5. It then basically can equip itself to do any job you happen to want them to - they can take freely from all the melee weapons, special weapons etc, so quite honestly assessing them is pretty much a nightmare. They come with an extra point of leadership and an extra attack over and above a tactical marine, for the bargain price of 3 points. That's not really why you take them though, because quite frankly the extra attack is nice in combat, but if you want combat marines you take vanguard veterans, who have the option of a jump pack that these guys don't. So, we're left with ranged weapons.

Any kind of combi weapon, any kind of special weapon, this squad can be tailored to whatever role you want them to perform. Yes, they will come out on the expensive side, but what price do you place on a unit that can put out 5 meltagun shots in a turn? My personal advice would be to put them in a razorback with a captain - they're supposed to protect him after all and he will make their shooting far more reliable - heck, even put a chapter master in there if you like, the investment in points that you're making is worth taking someone of that magnitude in there to enhance their performance.

The company veterans also come with the ability to intercept wounds from nearby characters like the honour guard, the difference being that with only 1 wound, they're going to die if you use it, but thankfully you don't have to, so probably best not to, and just protect that character instead.

Servitors

Well, servitors in theory accompany a techmarine providing them with protection whilst they're on the battlefield and assistance in their duties.

In practice, you have four comparatively cheap bodies that can hit relatively hard in combat, assuming they manage to hit. The problem is that each one hits on a 5+ in combat as standard, except that the servo arm that you really want to use gives you a -1 to hit, and with only 1 attack each the servo arm is so unlikely to actually achieve anything in combat it's not worth taking, even if you get that 1 back to hit from being within 6" of the techmarine.

So, onto the shooting options. Well, for starters I feel a bit cheated because only 2 of the 4 servitors can even take ranged weapons. Add to that, they replace their servo arm with the ranged weapon, and things aren't really getting any better. Multi melta, or plasma cannon, or heavy bolter. Hmm, even on a 4+ to hit, none of those are really gripping me, I'd probably go with the plasma cannons if you're going to do that, and just go mad and overcharge them, try and do something before they die. In all honesty though, I wouldn't bother taking them in the first place, if you want heavy weapons take devastators, they are much, much better value.

Reiver Squad

Terror squads, shock attacks, swift assaults, these guys in the fluff are supposed to come from nowhere, hit hard, and disappear again.

In practice then, how do they work? 5-10 in the squad, they come with a heavy bolt pistol as standard and a bolt carbine (-1 ap from a pistol yes please, and 2 shots at the standard range of a normal bolter is nothing to sniff at either). Not really a prime combat unit on that basis, but they can swap their carbines for combat knives that jump them up to 3 attacks each, which is pretty good this edition, though there's no ap to those attacks. A full unit should average out 10 wounds on a toughness 4 model however, which is definitely worth considering.

Extra abilities or equipment come thick and fast with the new unit, with grapnel launchers meaning they don't need to worry about vertical movement (awesome!), a leadership debuff for enemy units (awesomely awesome), grav-chutes allowing deployment equivalent to a teleport or jump pack deployment, and grapnel launchers also giving you the option to deploy up near a board edge. Of these, I'm not so sure about the grav chute - I think the grapnel launcher has more utility and although the grav chute lets you come in potentially anywhere on the board, the grapnel launcher still lets you get stuck in early on but gives you more mobility afterwards. Neither are expensive and aren't mutually exclusive so it might be worth taking both if your'e willing to pay the extra points.

In summary, I'm not sure the reivers are particularly the most impressive of close support units, but if you're looking for a primaris only force then they're the best you've got, and they're not bad. I would see them more as a harassing force though, rather than one that's going to fight their way through the enemy army.

Aggressor Squad

Aggressors are portrayed in the fluff as the unstoppable force, wading into a sea of unnumbered enemies.

In practice, there are a few characteristics that really define this unit. First up is the sheer volume of fire they can output - on average each member of the squad should fire 9-10 shots per turn, which is going to put a dent into any horde unit. They have two significant abilities. The first assists them in the mobility stakes, allowing them to advance without penalty to shooting, meaning they are actually pretty quick, 8-9" per turn. The second ability is even more devastating, allowing the unit to fire twice if they stay still. I've been on the receiving end of this pain, watching helpless as my opponent used the auspex scan stratagem to fire his unit against my vanguard veterans arriving from reserve. 6 of them died. Enough said really, the only question is how best to use them.

Sadly, T5 and only 2 wounds each means that whilst in the fluff they may be inviolate, in game mechanics terms, chuck enough shots at them and they'll go down easily enough, and although a unit of three won't exactly break the bank points-wise, they're costly enough that you really don't want to lose them to the kind of shooting that will kill them.

Terminator Squads

4 different types here. Great to see these guys getting more attention, I think terminators are some of the classic miniatures of the whole range, so the big question is are they worth it?

Standard termiantors remain basically the same in terms of options as they always have been. Thankfully storm bolters got better. Twice as good at close range in fact. That's still not really good enough for me though - sure a full squad of terminators will put out 40 bolter shots. Is that really what you want them doing though? No, you want them punching stuff with their fists, the bolters are the icing on the cake. So terminator value is all about getting up close.

Looking at that damage, we're basically talking about 4 hits from the minimum squad, so they're not going to be ploughing through a horde anytime soon, but equally 4 hits with a power fist isn't likely to be sufficient to smash through vehicles all that quickly. So, there is only one real role left for them, which is taking on charcters. Not many characters have enough wounds to survive 4 hits from power fists, but that doesn't really smack me as being appropriate to the purpose of the unit.

So, let's look at the terminator assault squad instead. This makes much more sense, lightning claws get the extra attack and the rerolls to wound so even a small unit is putting out significant damage to 1 wound models, whilst the thunder hammer and storm shield combination really does put out the damage against tougher targets, 12+ wounds not being an unreasonable expectation for the squad.

Cataphractii terminators are an interesting one for me. With a mix of weapon options, these guys basically have one major advantage, which is the extra pip on their invulnerable save, though it makes them slower on the advance. If anything, these guys suffer even more from the typical issue fo the standard terminator tactical squad. Combi bolters good, but not great on such an expensive unit. Power fists also good, but bloody expensive to take a big unit. Heavy flamer is of little worth offensively on this unit, since if you teleport in it's automatically out of range, though it's handy on overwatch - probably not scary enough though that it would put you off charging them if you wanted to.

Tartaros suits are the fastest of the terminator options, and get access to the plasma blaster or the volkite charger. Bottom line though is that neither gun is going to make too much impact from the one wielder. Reaper autocannon can be included as well, but I'm not hugely impressed with autocannons in this edition yet. 4 shots is most definitely an advantage, and it's not insignificant, but I wouldn't want to buy a whole squad to get access to it.

So, overall, terminators definitely got a boost, and the models are still freaking awesome, but in all honesty I still think that the assault squad is the best/most viable option, but I still resent paying all those points for something that's not doing a huge amount of damage each turn, and combi bolters just don't do it for me.

Vanguard Veteran Squad

The vanguard are the aggressive combat option for the 1st company. In my view, they're one of the biggest winners in the current book - with the drastic reduction in the cost of power weapons of the various kinds, even a squad of 10 is not horrendously expensive, and with jump packs they can get around the table very quickly when they need to.

I've been using them in all my games so far, and whilst they've often died relatively early, that in itself is partly due to my eagerness to get them on the table, and also the threat factor that my opponents have attributed to them what that means of course is that they have been important in distracting my enemy from shooting at other parts of my army, so they've been extremely helpful in my results.

As for weapon loadouts, genuinely it depends on what you're looking for. lightning claws wade through mid-level armoured opponents, thunder hammers pound on vehicles, power swords cut through armour but nor ideal against tougher units, whilst axes and fists also bring their own advantages against tougher and more heavily armoured enemies.

One strategy I do think is worth remembering however is that these guys also get access to pistols, in particular plasma or grav. I like grav pistols here, as they can drop in within pistol range of, say, terminators and let rip, wounding on 3;s and doing D3 damage each - their ranged fire in that sort of situation is not exactly able to be easily ignored.

Sternguard Veteran Squad

Fluff-wise, these are the brother of the first company when they don't go to war in their Tactical Dreadnought Armour. Essentially an elite version of the tactical squad, their standard bolters are upgraded, and they can take more special/heavy weapons than a normal tactical squad, and the rest can be filled out with combi weapons if you so choose.

In game terms therefore, they have many potential roles, and that's where any analysis of them becomes tricky. As such, I'll break this section down into three sections.

Anti-Horde
Not really the role you'd be looking for for one of your elite units in principle, as you end up using your more expensive models in a role taking out the cheapest stuff in the enemy list. However, it's also a role that they absolutely excel at! For example, have you seen what 40 boltgun shots (give them all combi-bolters for 4 shots each inside 12" can do to a horde unit? Especially if you have a captain nearby then these chaps are seriously capable of putting the hurt out on big units of cheap stuff. Equally the ability to take 2 heavy flamers in the unit is also very viable against hordes, though you then have an issue of how you want to deploy them, because if you go crazy and combi-flamer the whole unit then you should average 35 hits (plus your bolter shots) but then you're getting into the realms of very expensive. Could work quite nicely against conscript spam though, particularly with a lieutenant in tow!

Anti-Elite
This role is most definitely the least expensive of the options in terms of points, because quite frankly you just keep the special issue bolters they come with as standard. I honestly think that -2AP is the right balance between piercing armour and volume shooting, any more and you run the risk of hitting invun save territory whilst any less means you're dictated to by the armour save of the target. However, when you combine special issue boltguns with the masterful marksmen stratagem (you'll need to wait for that article) then a full unit of sternguard becomes a not insignificant threat to just about anything on the board that doesn't have a beastly invun save. Against T7 3+ save vehicles for example a 10-man unit should average 4 wounds at short range. Ok, not devastating performance, but do the same against a unit of 3+Sv T4 troops and your'e taking out around 5-6 guys, which also puts you into the realm of failed morale checks.

Anti-Tank
Stack up on melta weapons and jump in a drop pod, it's probably one of the few places where I'd really consider taking a pod, since those meltaguns will do some impressive damage in that turn. Not a huge amount else to say to be honest, it's a role they can perform, and one they can do very well, however I still think devastators are more efficient in this respect.

Centurion Assault Squad
Finally for this part of the review then (sorry it's been such a mammoth post) let's have a think about centurion assault squads. Basic squad brings 7 attacks, hitting on 3's, but then wounding almost anything on 3's or better, and doing a flat 3 damage whilst ignoring pretty much all armour saves. These guys should take down most average vehicles in a turn, but as ever the big issue is getting them into combat. With the wide availability of the armour modifiers, I wouldn't expect too much from these guys in terms of getting there, I certainly wouldn't let these three guys get anywhere close to my lines!

So, on that fairly short ending note, let's move on to the next post - Single model elite units - till next time!
TBE