Space Marines Reviews: Troops Part 1: Tactical Marines



Tactical Space Marines, probably the most iconic unit in 40K is up for review! For more reviews, bat reps and analysis, check out the Tactics Corner!

Tactical Marines. They form the backbone of a chapter of Space Marines and the backbone of the 40K universe. They’re described as being the most flexible of all Space Marines, and veterans of years of service, if not decades, in a Chapter’s Scout, Assault and Devastator companies. In the books, they’re soldiers par excellence, but how do they rate on the table top?


Tactical Marines are actually a very flexible scoring unit. Shocking! Jokes aside, this is a great unit, and one of the better troops in the game. While they are not nearly as powerful on the tabletop as they are in the books if you play to their strengths, they will consistently win you games. Their strength is their relatively low points cost–only 4pts over a Melta Gun–and they can be taken in squads of 5-10. The sheer amount of ways you can play this unit means you are able to shape them to fit into almost any type of list. They are also flexible on a game to game basis, able to Combat Squad when needed.


  • 3+
  • Bolter
  • Bolt Pistol
  • Grenades
  • Heaps of options! 1 Marine can take a Special Weapon or Heavy Weapon, 1 of each in a ten man unit.
  • The Sarge Vet Sarge can take Melta Bombs, a Teleport Homer, Melee Weapons or Ranged Weapons options or swap his Bolter or Bolt Pistol for a Chainsword for free.

Special Rules

  • Chapter Tactics
  • Combat Squads


Ohhhhhh, Tactical Marines! These guys go back to the beginning and they’ve always had a place on the table top. These days Tacticals are really solid and provide a truly flexible scoring unit that can be kitted out to do damn near anything you need them to do. And They Shall Know No Fear is hands down one of the best rules in the game and the core to what makes Tactical Marines so damn good: they’re reliable. Add in Chapter Tactics and Combat Squads and you have a really good all around unit.

Tactical Marines are cheap. That is truly their greatest strength this edition. While they really didn’t get a points reduction in an absolute sense (a unit of 10 with a Missile Launcher, Flamer and Vet Sarge is the exact same price as it was last edition) it’s the fact that you don’t have to kit them out that way that is such a nice change. You can shave points by not taking some of the options and focus on specializing the unit to perform a specific function or give them all the kit you did previously if you desire to do so.

Also, they have Frag and Krak Grenades. This truly is one of the best things going for Tacticals. These make them a threat to almost every target on the table and mean that they will almost never be without a tool to damage the enemy. As they now work on Monstrous Creatures in addition to Walkers and Vehicles, swarming Tactical Marines is a seriously viable build strategy for Marines.

Due to this huge amount of flexibility in unit design, the key to getting the most out of Tactical Marines is to determine what role they will be playing in your overall list strategy. This will inform all of the wargear choices and unit options that follow. Ask yourself what function your Tacticals will be filling within the context of your overall list. Do you need resilient scoring units that can sit on an objective, take a beating but reliably hold? 10 Tacticals with a Vet Sarge upgrade are great for that. You can give them a heavy or special weapon, or both, to give them some teeth. A heavy weapon is great for a backfield unit that is intended to hold an objective all game and take pot shots. A special weapon such as a Melta or Flamer is excellent for a unit that is advancing up the field to take an objective from your opponent and then hold it. Perhaps giving the Sarge Melta Bombs or an assault weapon will help in this role, too. Or, do you want a unit that can do either task depending on the mission and your opponent? In that case give them all the kit and have that flexibility at the cost of a greater points investment.

The point here being that you don’t want to just arbitrarily purchase upgrades for a unit without thinking about why you are purchasing them. Every point counts, and using them as efficiently as possible is the key to writing the best list you can.

Tactical Marines can be played in a plethora of ways but below are some examples of tried and true unit load-outs and tactics.


You can play them as Min/Maxed units which saves you a lot of points while still filling your all important troops slots. There are a number of ways to play this way, but the classic is 5 Marines, 1 Heavy Weapon. That’s a cheap, efficient scoring unit that contributes to your army’s offense and is usually a low target priority to your opponent and as such may not be attacked very frequently.

The strength of Min/Maxing is that you get the maximum offensive output for the minimum points investment. You can take 6 units of 5 Marines, each with a heavy weapon, and you have packed a lot of firepower onto the table for not much points AND you get 6 scoring units. You also have the mathematical advantage of being able to shoot 6 different targets which means you have the highest degree of efficiency. Ideally you want every weapon in your army to be able to shoot at a different target. If a Devastator Squad fires 4 Las Cannons at a target and the first shot was the one to destroy it, it’d be nice to have been able to fire the other 3 shots at different targets, right? It’s one of the reasons why Long Fangs are so dang good with their Split Fire. The other benefit to Min/Maxing is that it also means your opponent must use a minimum of 6 of his units to destroy all of yours. In an edition about crazy combos and super powerful attacks that can level an entire 10 man unit of Marines in a single attack, this is a viable defensive strategy again.

The downside to this type of build is that each individual unit is relatively weak and easily destroyed. In Purge the Alien (Kill Points) this can be a liability but in missions with multiple objectives it is a strength to have so many individual scoring units that can each take an objective and that must each be destroyed individually. If you are presenting your opponent with other, higher priority threats, he or she will be hard pressed to choose how best to allocate their resources in stopping your heavy hitting units from destroying their units but still focusing attention on your game winning scoring units.

Combat Squads also helps with this type of list strategy, obviously. You can take 3, 10 man units with a heavy and special weapon, and then Combat Squad them when it is advantageous to do so, or keep them together when that is the better choice, such as with Kill Points. The down side though, is that you don’t get as many heavy or special weapons if you are looking to maximize one or the other. You can, however, put both the special and heavy weapon in 1, 5 man unit to increase their hitting power while sending off the other 5 men as a purely skirmishing and scoring unit.

Razorback Spam

This is an extension of the Min/Maxing strategy that involves taking as many Razorbacks as possible for your Tactical squads. As you can now get 5 Tacticals for a low points cost as you do not have to take the Vet Sarge, this tactic is more points efficient than ever before for Marines. It works on the same principles but you also get the considerable firepower of the Razorback to add to that of the Tactical Marines.

For a relatively low points cost, you can have 5 Marines with a heavy or special weapon and a Razorback. Multiply this by 4 to 6 units of Tacticals and Razorbacks and you have a lot of units all able to shoot a different target, all requiring individual attention to destroy. The Razroback also gives you mobility for your Tacticals, and protects the unit within from small arms fire as well as providing some degree of protection from some of the MEQ killers that have risen in the game recently such as Riptides, Helldrakes, etc. Even if only shielding you form a single volley form these devastating Marine killers, that can be the difference between winning and losing a game.

The Razorback itself can pack in some great weapons. The Twin Las Cannon or Assault Cannon are excellent, and also provide decent AA options as being twin linked helps a ton to land those snap fire shots. The Las Cannon and Twin Plasma is also a solid choice for the increased offense but this build wants to hold still to maximize those shots.

The downside to this strategy is the same as with Min/Maxing: while you may have strength in numbers, you sacrifice individual durability as each unit is fairly easy to destroy. You can opt to take 10 man units and still take the Razorback for fire support or as a transport for one half of the unit if you Combat Squad.

Rhino Squads

10 Marines in a Rhino is about as old of a combo as it gets in this game and it is better than it has been in a long time. It has changed a lot in the way it works on the table top, though. Now, the Rhino and the unit work in concert with one another to increase durability, mobility and efficacy. With the rise of Marine killing units, as stated above, the defense a Rhino provides really helps to keep your boys alive and at effective fighting strength. If they soak even one Heldrake Baleflamer or Riptide Ion Cannon shot that could have otherwise wiped the unit out in a single attack, you can now hit back with your unit and turn the tide of a game.

A Rhino has about a million uses which we will get into in further depth on that unit review, but suffice it to say that they are extremely good. I run 6+ of them in my Marine lists. The key is understanding that you can move the Rhino twice each turn. Once in the movement phase, once in the shooting phase. You can have the unit inside get out, the Rhino moves along side them, they shoot, then it drives in front of them, blocking LoS from enemy units. You can leap frog like this up the table. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. You can use the Rhino to block your own LoS to be able to snipe out enemy models, tank shock units off of objectives or into template formation, block charges, etc. They are a great tool and even in death, can still serve. A wrecked Rhino still hides Marines! Check out the General Strategies section of the Tactics Corner for some How To videos on using these tactics.

How you build the squad inside depends, again, on their task. Are they moving up the table to take objectives? Give them a special weapon, melta bombs and/or a combi weapon on the sarge or an assault weapon on the vet sarge and a cheap heavy weapon, if any.

Do you want them holding an objective? Plasma Gun, maybe a Grav Gun and a Heavy Weapon, sit in the Rhino and use it as a mobile pill box, firing out of the top hatch and getting out at end game to take an objective.

For 200pts or less, you can take a versatile unit that does a bit of everything and is an all important scoring unit or two with Combat Squads. At that price point you can take a lot of them and overwhelm your opponent with power armored bodies and this is how I personally have been playing mine to very good effect.

Drop Pod Squads

Drop Pod squads are also going through a bit of a revival. Unfortunately, the popularity of Tau in the meta right now with their appallingly prevalent and cheap interceptor make this a risky gambit for tournament play; in general terms they work great.

These work as with Rhino Squads equipped to take objectives: special weapon, possibly a combi weapon/melta bombs/assault weapon on Sarge/Vet Sarge and perhaps a cheap heavy weapon. This is a unit that you kit our for maximum impact on the turn they pop out of the Pod. A well placed special weapon toting Tactical Marine coming out of a drop pod can destroy a target worth many times his points on the first turn before the target has a chance to do anything.

The benefit of this unit is it’s reach and punch the turn it arrives. You can put a scoring unit anywhere on the table, however, once down they’re out and exposed. As Tacticals on foot aren’t super mobile you can find yourself in a poor position to contribute to the game after you drop. A fast opponent can just move away from you and dance around your maximum threat range.

Assault Armies can also prove to be a problem as you are essentially delivering to them a unit to assault. Tyranids and Daemons, for example, will often love seeing a Drop Pod army across the table from them.

The fundamental issue I am driving at here is that when you use Drop Pods you are presenting to your opponent your game plan in no uncertain terms. He or she knows what you are going to do. A skilled opponent can use that knowledge to deploy in defensive formations to mitigate the damage you do on the drop and use reserve tactics to alpha strike your alpha strikers!

For these reasons I feel that Drop Pods are best used en masse if at all. A single pod unit can be very useful but against an opponent with ample interceptor, that unit can get evaporated before it does anything. If you take enough units of Tactical Marines in Drop Pods you can hit a critical mass where you have the numbers to survive interceptor fire, deliver a punishing blow to blunt assault army counter attacks, and then cause further disruption in later turns of the game, overwhelming your opponent with weight of numbers. The other benefit to this type of strategy is that you can essentially null deploy, presenting your opponent with no targets and thereby “stealing” a turn of shooting and assaulting from them if you go second.

Foot Slogging 10 Man Units

This was my preferred method of playing Tactical Marines at the dawn of 6th ed, but with the inclusion of units that can destroy an entire unit of Marines in a single attack, I have moved away from this, personally. That said, if in your meta you aren’t swarmed with Turkeys, Riptides, Missilsides, etc. you can save a lot of points by running these boys on foot. For this configuration, I would always go heavy and special weapon for flexibility and the Vet Sarge upgrade is appealing for the increased Ld as this unit will be taking break checks more frequently than other build types in all likelihood, and be closer to the edge of the board where they may run off before being able to rally.

Combat Squads helps to mitigate this so long as you aren’t playing Kill Points, as you double the amount of targets your opponent has to deal with, but it is a bit of a lame duck fix as you are still picking up Marines by the handful.

I was enjoying the Plasma/Multi Melta combo a lot as the two weapons compliment one another in terms of comparable range, strength and AP value. Toss a Melta Bomb on sarge for assault threat and you have a solid, well rounded unit.

Chapter Tactics

More so than with a lot of the other units in the codex, Tactical Marines are really impacted by Chapter Tactics and deserve special consideration.

Ultramarines: Ultramarines love Tactical Squads. Their Combat Doctrines are built for Tacticals and they excel at both Rhino and Drop Pod strategies as twin linking their weapons, rerolling snap fire, etc. are all superb for them. Special note also of Marneus Calgar with massed Tactical Marines should be made. He allows them to use a Combat Doctrine twice and he allows them to choose to pass or fail any morale check which is HUGE. This is a great set of CTs to use if your list utilizes a large number of Tactical Marines.

White Scars: Contrary to popular opinion that bikes are the best use of White Scars CTs, I am of the opinion that they provide some of the best Tacticals in the game. Hit and Run is amazing but when used in conjunction with Kor’Sarro Khan who gives them Scouts when in a dedicated transport, they become brutally good. Massed Tacticals scouting forward in Rhinos able to double tap turn 1, and then assault turn 2 with Hit and Run is just incredible and in our test games has proven devastating.

Imperial Fists: Imperial Fists CTs are built for Tacticals. Rerolling 1’s to hit with any Bolt weapons (or all misses at half range with the Sentinels of Terra Supplement) is fantastic as it makes your shooting so much more efficient. The Heavy Bolter is an obvious, and effective heavy weapon choice for them and they perform very well in Drop Pod, Rhino and Foot Slogging set-ups.

Black Templars: Yes, Black Templars can take Tactical Marines. The real question is, why would you over the even more flexible Crusader Squad? The answer is: you don’t!

Iron Hands: Iron Hands CTs really lend themselves to Razorspam or Rhino Squad tactics extremely well. It Will not Die on Razorbacks and Rhinos is really fantastic and gets better the more vehicles you have. Obviously, a 6+ FnP on the Tacticals helps to keep them around even longer. Due to their increased resiliency, Iron Hands also make better foot slogging units than other CTs provide and as such you can run min/Maxed units or Foot Sloggers with better results.

Salamanders: Salamanders CTs are great for Rhino and Drop Pod Tactical Squad load-outs. Special mention to Vulkan who Twin Links melta weapons in addition to the normal Flamers and single Master-crafted weapon on the sarges which makes the idea of giving them an assault or combi weapon even more appealing. This is also one of the few times I would consider taking the expensive Plasma or Grav Pistols as Master-crafted makes them much more reliable. This means you can take a very flexible load out of a Flamer/Melta, M.Melta and Melta Bombs on sarge and/or an assault weapon, pistol or combi weapon. This is a unit that really does a lot. A Twin Linked Multi Melta is actually pretty decent on the move or as an AA weapon, particularly when you have lots of them.

Raven Guard: Raven Guard do great in Rhino load-out Tactical units as they have Scouts, similar to White Scars. They also do well in Drop Pod units as first turn stealth is really useful when it works (a lot of armies ignore cover these days). Also, unlike a lot of the other Chapter Tactics, Raven Guard actually do very well on foot or min/maxed. Scouts and first turn Stealth is not bad if you take Tacticals en masse. As they all redeploy 6″ you could take massed Multi Melta Min/Maxed units, for example, and start unloading on your opponent first turn. Also, 60 Tactical Marines with just Bolters that start out 6″ closer with Stealth first turn really isn’t bad at all. Yes, it is a bit lack-luster compared to the other CTs but it can still be quite useful.

Grav Guns: The new hotness are Grav Weapons. While yes, they are really powerful, a Tactical Marine is not the best platform for them, in my opinion. It isn’t bad at all, not ideal. As Tacticals will typically be moving a lot, the 9″ salvo range on the Grav Gun is crippling. If Tacticals are sitting still and shooting, it’s typically form more than 18″ away and again, that rage is crippling. The two cases I think you can make for taking a Grav Gun in a Tactical Squad are in a Drop Pod or Scouting Rhino Squad where they typically are in range to fire it and are then in the middle of the enemy army where the 18″ range isn’t such a hindrance.


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

15 Responses to “Space Marines Reviews: Troops Part 1: Tactical Marines”

  1. Black Blow Fly November 4, 2013 4:46 am #

    Great review Reecius !!

  2. skari November 4, 2013 5:02 am #

    As a Black Templar player, the only reason I would take a Tac squad over a crusader squad is first… in addition to, so I would have both. And it would be a 10 man tac squad to have additional smaller scoring units as my larger crusader squads advance forward. Purealy a scoring reason.

    • Reecius November 4, 2013 9:15 am #

      I think I would still prefer the Crusader Squads which can pack in more firepower in smaller squads for holding the backfield (5 man las/plas).

  3. Baal Viper November 4, 2013 8:30 am #

    I ahve been scouting Raven Guard Tacticals in Rhinos (when going first) in order to open up with a nice slavo of Grav. Weapons on turn 1 against anything not within 6 inches of the enemy board edge. Its not bad, specailly if you deploy your ADL at mid field to give them cover. Though going 2nd and having to outflank with grav weapons on tacticals is not very good.

    • Reecius November 4, 2013 9:16 am #

      Yeah, that is a tactic we’ve been using here, too. It works REALLY well.

  4. Aegwymourn November 4, 2013 11:05 am #

    Just a side note about the Rhinos. I don’t believe you can flat out the turn a unit disembarks. When you talk about that section it could be confusing for someone who doesn’t know that.

    Love your guys articles!

    • Reecius November 4, 2013 11:34 am #

      You can if the Rhino has not moved. If it did move, you cannot.

  5. Hotsauceman1 November 4, 2013 11:30 am #

    I used to Combat squad my two tactical. they where a melta squad and another Plas squad. the squads would be heavy weapo playforms in the back.
    I think the relative slowness of tacts make them great for taking mid objectives, hide them in a building it gets even better

  6. Oberon November 4, 2013 12:52 pm #

    Regarding Crusaders vs tactical marines:
    Crusaders don’t have a regular sergeant=if you want a combi-weapon (=second plasma/melta/grav), you’ll have to pay for a veteran sergeant too. Also no combat squads.
    Crusaders make nice backfield fire support squads with lasplas, and are good (kinda, they’re troops after all) in combat, but if you want to advance into close range firing position (instead of melee range) tacticals have a tiny advantage.

    10 tacticals with heavy, special and combi could combat squad and leave the heavy behind while double special weapons advance, crusaders will have to use 2 troop slots to do the 2 roles.

    • Reecius November 4, 2013 1:07 pm #

      Fair assessment, I think you make some good points.

  7. Bigpig November 5, 2013 1:03 pm #

    Fantastic write up!

  8. Hotsauceman1 November 5, 2013 1:37 pm #

    I cant wait for you to give scouts some write up. The red headed step child of the Marine codex everyone forgets seems to exist

    • Reecius November 5, 2013 2:26 pm #

      I am working on a draft right now, actually. I love Scouts I think they are really, really viable this edition.

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