Space Marines Review: Heavy Support: Thunderfire Cannons


Oh… hello there. I didn’t see you come in! Welcome, to our discussion of the Space Marine Thunderfire Cannon. Scuba Steve here, and I’ll be giving you a brief walkthrough of what you can expect when you field on of these things and a few ways you can use them to great effectiveness. As always, for more great articles be sure to check out the Tactics Corner!

Thundering Guns

Space Marines are some of the bravest warriors in all the galaxy. For ages and ages, the Imperium of Man has expanded and triumphed thanks to their incredible bravery and thundering guns. Let’s talk briefly about the most thundering of all those guns – the Thunderfire Cannon. As I do with all of my articles and whenever you sit down to review a unit critically, it is best to break down all of their abilities and special rules, so you can see the truth of their value on the table top.


  • Thunderfire Cannon (Good): Any weapon that can be fired with a few different profiles gives you options, nobody ever says that flexibility and options are a bad thing. The gun has multiple profiles that you can choose to use when you fire the weapon (it is good to note that you cannot mix n’ match the types of shots you use when you fire the unit as a battery): The first profile is the most basic (Surface Detonation: 60″ range, Str 6, AP 5, Barrage) – The second profile is good tool for getting rid of units that require a decent cover save (Airburst: 60″ range, Str 5, AP 6, Ignores Cover, Barrage), and the last profile makes use of the Strikedown special rule (Subterranean Blast: 60″ range, Str 4, AP -, Barrage, Strikedown). When you look at the effectiveness that the Thunderfire Cannon will have in your army, consider that regardless of profile, the cannon fires 4 times (each of which is a small blast). For the rookies out there, if you do choose to use this unit, I would urge you to brush up on the rules in the BRB for firing barrage weapons, they fire differently than your basic blast weapon.
  • Bolt Pistol, Frag Grenades, Krak Grenades (Good): *Techmarine only* – He’s a Space Marine, all of these are standard issue and surprisingly effective.
  • Servo-harness (Good): *Techmarine only* – Servo-harness is effectively equivalent to a twin-linked plasma pistol, a flamer, and a pair of power fists… yeah… not bad at all. Additionally, it allows the Techmarine to fire two weapons in the shooting phase, either both servo-weapons or one servo-weapon and a Thunderfire Cannon.


Special Rules (Techmarine)

  • And They Shall Know No Fear (Good): Yup, this is a crazy good rule.
  • Blessing of the Omnissiah (Just Okay): The rule itself is solid, you can use it to repair vehicles, etc… however, if this Techmarine is shooting the cannon, you likely won’t have any time to play mechanic.
  • Bolster Defences (Good): This is great! Considering that this artillery unit will likely not be going anywhere very quickly, you can set the unit up in a piece of Ruins terrain and give it a better cover save. It’s a great addition to a primarily stationary unit.
  • Chapter Tactics (Good): The Chapter Tactics for this particular model don’t really matter a great deal, however there are two notable chapters that synergize well with Thunderfire Cannons: Raven Guard and White Scars. Raven Guard tactics will give the Techmarine shrouded on the first turn of the game, giving him a 2+ cover save (in all likelihood), especially when you combine it with Bolster Defences. White Scars are good because you give the entire unit Hit and Run (not too shabby for a unit you really DON’T want locked in combat).
  • Convergent Targeting (Just Okay): People will argue with me that this is a great ability, however there is a cost to getting +1 to an already high Ballistic Skill. The cost of THREE Thunderfire Cannons is FAR too high to justify a small step from BS 5 to BS 6.
  • Drop Pod (Just Okay): The issue with this options is that you give up your first round of shooting with the cannon because of having to move out of the transport and get into position. Additionally, you likely won’t be using your Bolster Defences ability to its maximum potential – if you’re using a Drop Pod to deep strike artillery into your own deployment zone, you’re doing something really wrong.

Alright, definitely a great line up of special rules and wargear. We have the makings of a truly awesome addition to almost any army, so how can we best put this thing to use?

On a side note… I wondered if humans ever tried to build a Thunderfire Cannon… apparently we did!


A little old school… but hey, it’s vintage – you gotta respect that… look how many Techmarines it took to man the gun back then! We’ve come a long way!


A Serious Case of Thunder Clap

I have found that there are two really effective ways to use/abuse the Thunderfire Cannon. of course – feel free to express any of your personal strategies in the comment section below and get your tricks and tactics out to the community!

  • Tiggy-fire Cannons: The premise of this strategy is a simple one… put Chief Librarian Tigurius in a unit of Thunderfire Cannons and rain hell upon your enemies. There are a few reasons why this works so well: 1) You make Tiggy your warlord and then use his Warlord trait to give the unit of Thunderfire Cannons Rending until the end of the turn – not only is this incredibly reliable, but even a unit of two cannons become ludicrously deadly when you’re dishing out rending all willy-nilly. 2) Tiggy can assist the cannons by using powers like Prescience and Perfect Timing to make them hit more reliably and make their Str 6 shots ignore cover. This strategy is really easy to do and incredibly effective, one of the better “two-piece” combos I can think of.
  • On Walk-a-bout: This is also a really easy “two-piece” combo that make Thunderfire Cannons just a little bit better. Now, thanks to their incredible range, you may not need to take advantage of this very often, however it is worth suggesting because it can be very useful in a tight spot. If you include in your army a Terminator Captain in Catiphractii Armor, you can bestow the effects of Slow and Purposeful on a unit of Thunderfire Cannons by simply joining the Captain with the cannons. This gives them the uncanny ability to move and shoot unhindered – even though the cannons are barrage weapons, tricks like this could assist in avoiding firing their weapons indirectly or if you need to work your way to an objective and still be on the offensive.


By Thunder!!

Unfortunately, there are very few places where the Thunderfire Cannon fits into most lists of today. The reason for this is because it doesn’t fit very well into the Gladius Strike Force (or any other of the “Decurion” style detachments, for that matter). The only formation that allows it to be included is the Armored Task Force… and I cannot think of the last time I saw a Battle Company player use that as their auxiliary for the Gladius. It is a damn shame too, having it so limitied to particular detachments has really cut in to how often you see it on the table top. Now, hypothetically, if it were a stand-alone choice for an auxiliary option, or if there was a Formation made up of Thunderfire Cannons, I think that you’d see them much more often… until then though, they are just a little too hard to stuff into a list.

Beyond Thunderdome!

I think that the Thunderfire Cannon is an awesome unit and I believe that it has a place on the table top in a competitive setting – it just got a raw deal when GW starting dishing up Formations. The new list building strategies and mindsets started to do away with units that aren’t included in the latest and greatest detachment or formation. However, it is a really big and effective gun… and we can all make room for that, right? As I do with all of my articles, I challenge you all to test of some of the strategies I laid out above and experiment with your own! If you come up with anything really gnarly, be sure to post it below for us all to see and gawk over.

Scuba Steve, Signing Out

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off retail, every day!


21 Responses to “Space Marines Review: Heavy Support: Thunderfire Cannons”

  1. Blight1 June 18, 2016 12:19 pm #

    So was this going to talk about what the gun actually does at all?

    • Dakkath June 18, 2016 11:19 pm #

      Well, I managed to figure out that it’s str 6 barrage from hints in various paragraphs.

  2. Julien June 19, 2016 5:04 am #

    The TFC in itself is a great unit, and it’s worth mentioning that the Sternhammer Strike force can take a unit of TFCs as an auxiliary formation.

    It fills in roles that SMs don’t always have handily: barrage weaponry, ignore cover blasts at S5, and horde-control.

    It’s main problem is that it’s a static unit in a very dynamic competitive scene. Most people will take mobility over static firepower. The Tiggy + TFCs combi is ok but will only get you so far.

  3. Petey Pab June 19, 2016 9:31 am #

    Don’t forget Steve you can also just throw a grenade and shoot a weapon off the servo-harness too! Also there is a formation based detachment in the Angels of Death supplement that lets you take Thunderfire cannons. I don’t have the book on me right now but honestly TFCs are an amazing unit and the only reason they don’t see more play is because they were not in the Gladius. They are also dirt cheap!

    • Stephen Wilhite June 19, 2016 7:37 pm #

      You’re right, Angels of Death does allow you to take one as an auxiliary; I left Angels of Death out of the this article because I’m assuming there are going to be stand alone articles that will cover those detachments and will likely link the reader back to this article and a few others, though very good point for all the readers out there. For the sake of discussion, I feel like if you’re not using the cannon, you aren’t really getting the most bang for your buck – though, I totally get why you would do what you point out, disembarking from a pod or if you’re forced to move and cannot shoot the main gun.

      • westrider June 19, 2016 9:21 pm #

        Oh, another point on the Pod: The TFC can sometimes be a good place to pick up one that’s going to drop empty, so as to bump more loaded Pods into your First Turn Drop.

  4. westrider June 19, 2016 2:09 pm #

    [AC/DC intensifies]

    One more reason to be happy I’m using a SternHammer for my Iron Warriors Counts-As!

    • AngryPanda June 19, 2016 4:02 pm #

      Grats on the great choice of doing that. More Chaos Marine players should just do this. At the very least anyoen who wants to play a traitor legion instead of some warband.

      • westrider June 19, 2016 5:36 pm #

        Angels of Death just made it even easier, too. So many great options in that book. Looking at using the Talon Strike Force for my Alpha Legion as well. The only real issue I have is that there’s no way to use all my Autocannon dudes.

      • Threllen June 20, 2016 9:03 am #

        Or GW should just give CSM a viable, complete codex >.>

        Instead of forcing traitors/CSM to play “counts-as” bad guys using loyalist rules.

        • westrider June 20, 2016 6:52 pm #

          This would be ideal. But I’d rather not leave my CSM Models on the shelf that long. Not sure I’m gonna live long enough to see that happen again, tbh.

  5. Nightman June 19, 2016 2:13 pm #

    I played against the tiggy + 3 TFC, it was a lot less scary then anticipated, it’s just so many points. A single one thrown in to the list is still pretty sweet, but quad mortars just seem flat out better due to the lower cost and str8 options for taking out transports / knights.

    • Adam June 20, 2016 5:39 am #

      I played against a similar list, three TFC, Tiggy, Coteaz on a Skyshield, next to a Typhon, surrounded by Tank Traps in Hammer and Anvil Deployment with Skyhammer waiting in the wings. It, was awful.

      I was playing a Bike Star and Acheron with some other odds and ends. I was able to hide everything behind a center LOS blocking piece, with the exception of my Invisible Knight poking over top and one Rhino that Immobilized itself, just barely in LOS of his Typhus and TFC’s. He was able to walk rending blasts all over my army. It was a real feel bad experience. lol

  6. Lord Krungharr June 19, 2016 6:56 pm #

    I am itching to make a Fist of Medusa detachment (from Angels of Death), and because I don’t wanna paint a bunch of tactical marines, the Armored Task Force as a core caught my eye. I like the idea of a bunch of Predators and Vindicators taking out stuff with AP2 shots/blasts while the Thunderfire can deal with less-armored foes or pesky special dudes in enemy squads.

  7. hillshire June 20, 2016 3:05 am #

    Another excellent advantage is their ability to “walk” their multiple shots. Particularly if Tiggy is using Prescience to get more “hit” results. You can use this to:

    *Correct a miss by walking the blasts back onto the target

    *Walk the blasts across multiple units, spreading the damage and hopefully causing more morale checks

    *Walk the blasts from a nearby target onto an Invisible unit and pound it into the tabletop.

    *With S6 Rending (thanks to Tiggy or Sgt Telion), you have at least a chance to hurt almost anything in the game except zooming flyers and swooping FMCs.

    You can wrack up quite a large amount of wounds when you have 12 blasts (3 Thunderfire Cannons) to work with. But there are down sides:

    *Unless the target has a weak save and/or is vulnerable to blasts, you don’t usually convert as many wounds into actual kills as you might think. Sometimes, it’s amazing and wipes several bike squads off the board. Other times, just a few models here and there

    *Rolling to hit, re-rolling if you have prescience, placing templates, figuring out who’s been hit, rolling to wound, rolling to save, and implementing an accounting method when multiple targets are involved can be time consuming. Have a method ready to go thats quick and easy to use. I used a pile of little skull markers and a stack of 12 blast templates. I’d discard a template after each hit and make little (sometimes large) piles of skulls beside each effected unit (maybe they were affected too, i really should have asked them).

    *Even with a relatively efficient accounting method, it’s a long process and will seriously eat into your game time. This is fine when you have all day in the basement but can work against you in a tournament. Something to consider when considering your list’s goals. Practice and experience will help speed the process up but there’s a limit to much you can increase the tempo.

    Side note, the tech marines are surprisingly good in close combat. 3 Attacks base, 4 on the charge. So a unit of three Techmarines would have 9 base, 12 on the charge, attacks @ S8 can really put the hurt on. And if they are charged, that’s 3d3 guaranteed Wall of Death wounds plus any lucky hits from their plasma cutters. Not bad.

    And finally, being artillery gives them Toughness 7 which greatly increases their survivability vs most weapons. That plus a possible 2+ Cover save in ruins can make them difficult to remove. And with Tiggy around, it is possible to give them a 4++ Invulnerable save too. Maybe even re-rolling thanks to Angles of Death.

    I had great fun with them for a while but eventually gave up on the concept because it wasn’t generating as much damage as I hoped and slowed the game down too much.

    • Vonvilkee June 21, 2016 1:39 pm #

      Artillery can’t charge nor over watch I believe. I know it can’t charge drives me nuts!

      • westrider June 21, 2016 1:49 pm #

        The guns can’t Overwatch, but the Crew can. I learned that one the hard way 😉

      • hillshire June 22, 2016 6:05 am #

        As westrider stated, while the guns can’t Overwatch, the crew can. And since the Techmarine can use two weapons in the Shooting phase, they can also use two in Overwatch. Usually, the flamer and plasma cutter unless for some reason you wanted to substitute the bolt pistol for one of those.

        Also, it is true that the Techmarine cannot charge while there are still Thunderfire Cannons in the unit. I should have specified that if the TFCs were destroyed, then a Techmarine can assault with 4 attacks on the charge. So many details!

  8. Zero-Charisma June 20, 2016 7:58 pm #

    I liked the idea of attaching an inquisitor with psyocculum I think it’s called giving unit bs 10 vs psykers to pick out specific casters. And the toughness 3 makes the unit still majority 7 toughness instead of 4 when you add tiggy.

    • westrider June 20, 2016 10:55 pm #

      It’s T7 vs. Shooting regardless of who’s Attached. Artillery work differently from other Units in that regard.

      • Zero-Charisma June 21, 2016 4:13 pm #

        Oh! Interesting thanks for that.

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