I just can’t quit you, Chaos Space Marines!
Maybe it’s because of my love of the fluff, the look of the models, the heavy metal vibe (and I love me some metal!), the fact that I have some sweet ass Night Lords painted….I don’t know, I just can’t let it go. I want my Chaos army to have–shock!–Chaos Space Marines in it.
So let’s just call it like it is: Chaos Space Marines (the unit) suck. They suck ass.
Why do I say that? Leadership. Lacking leadership mitigation makes them not worth their points cost in most competitive lists. It’s that simple and the reason why Tactical Marines are AWESOME scoring units and CSMs are not. In competitive play, the name of the game is risk mitigation. You need to have reliable scoring units. In a game where luck is such a huge part of the game, in order to win consistently (particularly in multi-round tournaments where anything that can happen, probably will at least once) you need to reduce variables in order to maximize the impact your skill has on the game. Units like CSMs which can get quite pricey, can be lost with one unlucky toss of the dice. It is too much of a risk to take. Compare that to cultists on the other hand, which can suffer the same fate, but at 50pts a unit? Oh well. CSMs soak up points you could be spending on reliable, damage dealing units. If you are using CSMs as your primary objective takers, they need to be either very cheap or very reliable. Chaos Space Marines are neither, unfortunately.
But wait, they’re only 13pts a piece! Well, considering you are going to take a unit of 10 in most cases, they actually come out to 14pts a piece with the mandatory champ. That is still pretty dang cheap but what do you do with them? They don’t serve well as an objective babysitting unit as they only have bolters. They don’t serve well as an objective taking unit as they get run down in combat so easily.
Let’s look at options you can give them that helps to offset those weaknesses. If you give them a heavy weapon, you are now paying a high price for that weapon (due to the other 10 models). In order to maximize the firepower of the unit you can then toss in a special weapon too, which further bloats the points cost. A las-cannon and plasma gun runs you 175pts which really isn’t that bad, to be honest. Loyalist Marines pay 190 for the same load out, but they have the all important ATSKNF, Combat Tactics and Combat Squads. Well worth the extra 15 pts and then some.
If we toss on VOTLW, 185pts total, we now have a unit with Ld10 and Hatred: Space Marines. That is pretty good, actually. Going to Ld10 halves your odds of failing a break test (from 1/6 to 1/12). That makes for as reliable of a shooting unit as you can ask for outside of being fearless. You can plop that unit on an objective, behind an Aegis or in cover and they will reliably hold it. If someone comes in to blow you off of it with assault, they fight decently well and with VOTLW, have fairly good odds of holding their ground. If they lose combat by a lot though, they are getting run down which is a lot to risk for that amount of points. However, that little extra boost Hatred gives you can mean the difference between winning and losing a fight with loyalist Marines which are still the most prevalent army you will face at a tournament. You may note I have not mentioned the Icon of Vengeance as for me at least, it isn’t worth considering. A 25pt upgrade that can be sniped out of a unit (and any good player WILL make that a priority) and boosts the cost of the unit 2.5pts per model is quite simply a bad investment.
So that may not be a bad set up, actually. Heavy weapon, plasma gun, VOTLW, put them in cover and camp an objective while contributing to the game offensively. Cultists camp an objective cheaper though, definitely not better on a unit to unit comparison but considering you can take almost 4 times as many for the same price point, are definitely more points efficient in performing the roll of objective holding. But, we’re talking about CSMs here.
Now, for taking objectives, can you make these guys work? Yes, but not at maximum efficiency I think. Running a unit of 10 CSMs with VOTLW and 2 Flamers would be pretty decent. That gives you a fairly reliable unit with a lot of small arms fire and 2 template weapons, Hatred: Space Marines and good leadership. That’s a unit that specializes in fighting light infantry and taking objectives from relatively soft targets. Considering that a lot of armies you’ll face will be using cheapo objective holding units like Gants, Cultists, Scouts, Guardian Jet Bikes, Firewarriors, IG, DE Warriors, Necron Warriors, etc, these guys can come in like bullies and kick their butts. Even against Tactical Marines they will likely win as Hatred and the extra attack on the Champ gives them that slight edge they need to win. Grey Hunters though, will still prove a tough fight and you will definitely want to soften them up before attacking.
You could also give them Melta or Plasma for more points, and specialize against different targets, but I like the Flamers as they’re cheap as chips and they compliment their Bolters, plus it gives them a nice defense against being assaulted once they’ve taken an objective. I feel comfortable with a unit that comes in at 160 points with Ld10 and the stats this unit does. Plus, if you fill out the rest of your army with high priority threats like Hell Turkies, Spawn, Maulerfiends, Lords, etc. these guys drop way down on the target priority list.
I’d say bring a Rhino….but that would just be funny. Poor Rhinos, why oh why do they suck so, so, so hard? All they need to do to make non-shooting transports not such pieces of junk is to get rid of the rule that stunned and shaken affect the units inside. That alone would be the tipping point for me personally to feel that they are worth the risk of giving up First Blood and being useful. They speed the unit up, keep them safe from barrage and template weapons for a turn which are good, but having the unit inside not be able to shoot or only snap fire if the vehicle gets hit is just one too many checks in the con column for me which is so annoying as I have 5 beautiful Night Lords Rhinos with Forge World doors and a gorgeous paint job. The only way I have seen them working is with a Havoc Launcher as a poor man’s gunship. However, that is a topic for another day.
What about some ulterior builds? You can kit them for assault by giving them just a CCW and Bolt Pistol, however this opens the door to a lot of other issues. For one, the same as always: Leadership. An expensive assault unit that stands good odds of getting run down in combat at a critical moment is a bummer. Plus, assault scoring units tend to not take objectives well as they very frequently die while performing their function: killing things in assault. I think if you are going to go this route, you need to go balls out. Either take lots of units with minimal kit: 2 Flamer or Meltas, CCWs and rely on safety in numbers, or kit a unit out to the gills.
A unit of 20 with CCW, Pistol and Bolters is solid. Give them a mark if you like (I like Slaneesh as for I5 which gives you the drop on your most common target: other MEQs and killing them before they can swing is an increase in offense and defense as you take less hits back). It also combos in with my favorite wargear kit for Champs and Chaos Characters: Power Fist and Lightening Claw. It’s pricey (40pts) but as you HAVE to challenge or accept a challenge, and again, your most common opponent is going to be I4, that combo gives you a lot of versatility. You can either swing with the Claw at I5 with a bonus attack and most likely kill the vast majority of other Sarge type characters you will face, or swing the fist when you need to against vehicles, things that are faster than you, against units that are susceptible to ID from Str8, units with no Character, MCs, etc. It is a really versatile combo and my go to kit for most Chaos characters. The other choice is to run Sarge naked and just let him fall on the sword when he has to challenge an enemy character that he will almost certainly die against. The other marks are good too (apart from MoT, definitely not worth it) but I find myself gravitating towards MoS as it would be most useful in the most circumstances. MoK is a very close second, though, possibly better. More attacks will always be good, even against things that are I6 or better (where MoS would be points wasted) and Counter Attack is always good, particularly in a unit this big. This is a nice segue into the next portion of this unit: ICs to run with them.
When you are now paying 17pts per model per CSM, plus the cost of the champ, special weapons, wargear, etc. the unit balloons in cost really fast. That means that the issue that underpins this entire article is exacerbated: Leadership. An Independent Character is just what the doctor ordered. Chaos Lords kick serious ass. Fearless, beastly in combat, highly customizeable. They’re great. Toss a Lord into this unit and it is now very reliable. They will make it up the field to engage the enemy, or soak a TON of firepower on the way in. Having Bolters and a CCW means that they are a threat at multiple ranges, or you can run them only with CCWs to save points and have them just run to speed them up. The only thing to be really careful about (and I have learned this one from experience, unfortunately) is that if that linchpin IC gets killed in combat, the entire unit can get run down.
A Nurgle Lord on Palanquin works great in this load-out as he is less likely to get smoked in combat (T5, 5 wounds) and is beastly himself in a fight. Obviously you can’t run him in a unit with MoS, but that is OK. You can run them sans mark. MoN is good, it makes them much more resilient against small arms but it is very pricey and most weapons that kill MEQs outright will be high enough strength that the bonus will be wasted. Any of the Lords can be made to be good, and to avoid this becoming a very long article I will not get into all of them, but a Bike or Juggernaut Lord bears mentioning as the tough 5 helps a ton to avoid ID, and he can jet out of the unit to kill something if you need him to.
A Sorcerer is a great compliment as the powers in the book are really fun to use and really useful. Enfeeble can turn a tough fight into a joke, and Endurance means you are much more resilient. Invisibility is obviously amazing, as is Terrify. I prefer to run my Sorcerers Lv3 with a Spell Familiar and no mark. That I have found is the most cost efficient load out, and I find book powers to be a lot more useful than Chaos Specific powers.
Another HQ that bears mentioning if you are running CSMs is the Dark Apostle. He’s easy to kill yes, doesn’t hit nearly as hard as a Lord, yes, but he is cheap and positioned correctly, he can benefit other units with his Leadership bubble. I wish it was 12″ but hey, work with what you’ve got. Zealot is also a great USR and in a large squad of CSMs, particularly with MoS or MoK, you will hit like a truck.
Lastly, Huron. He is pretty dang good himself, but being guaranteed Infiltrate, you can use him to position your CSMs really well to use their specified kit to maximum effect. 10 man units with dual Plasma can get positioned for side shots, dual Flamer units can position to make runs at weakly held objectives and the big 20 man units can start in a flanking position or just a little closer to the enemy, which always helps.
So there you have it. Some thoughts on how to make CSMs work. I would love to hear what others are thinking and using on the subject. Perhaps some of you have thought of combos and uses I may have missed.