Tactical Space Marines, probably the most iconic unit in 40K is up for review brought to you by SaltyJohn from TFGRadio and Capture and Control! For more reviews, bat reps and analysis, check out the Tactics Corner!
Tactical Marines, the bread and butter of the Battle Company. 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 14pts–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, kill units, hold objectives, tie up lesser troops in close combat, take down walls of rhinos with their Krak grenades, the list goes on. The coming of the 7th edition Marine codex gave the Tactical squad an increased prominence in Marine lists the world over but also a more min-maxed roll. While they’re still the bread and butter of every Marine list the Battle Company build means they have increased mobility but slightly decreased flexibility due to the lack of 10 man squads for Combat Squading.
- Bolt Pistol
- Heaps of options! 1 Marine can take a Special Weapon or Heavy Weapon at 5 men, at 10 you can take a second option from one not already used. I.e. you can take one special and one heavy weapon with 10 man squads.
- 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. This is also the only way to get them above Leadership 8…
- Chapter Tactics
- Combat Squads
The almightyTactical Marines! These guys go back to the beginning of GW and 40k, and they’ve always had a place on the table top. Currently Tac Marines are solid and provide a truly flexible scoring unit that can be kitted out to do nearly anything you need them to. Couple unit options flexibility, and tabel top role flexibility with And They Shall Know No Fear, which is hands down one of the best rules in the game, and you’ve got something special. The core to what makes Tactical Marines so good: they’re reliable. Add in Chapter Tactics and Combat Squads to everything else just covered in a few short(ish) sentences and you have a fantastic all around unit.
Tactical Marines are cheap, just 70 points for 5 bare-bones marines and that is truly their greatest strength in 7th edition. 7th edition is the Formation edition and Tactical Squads form the backbone of the most prolific, adaptable, and efficient formation in 40k today. The Demi, or Double, Battle Company. 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. The fact they fit so nicely into the best Marine formation and can remain cheap or be kitted out to serve your purposes is just icing on an already lavishly appointed cake. 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 desire.
Frag and Krak Grenades. This truly is one of the best things going for Tacticals, we’re assuming of course GW does not stick to their current Draft FAQ ruling on this. 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 work on Monstrous Creatures, Gargantuan 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 building strategy. This will influence all of the wargear choices and unit options that follow. Ask yourself what function your Tacs 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 Tac Marines 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 a combi weapon will help in this role. 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 is you don’t want to just arbitrarily purchase upgrades for a unit without thinking about why you are purchasing them. Every point counts, especially in Double Demi-Company Gladius Strike Force builds, 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. This build became very popular in 4th and 5th edition 40k and has remained a popular way to kit out Tac Squads. However the rise of the Gladius and Battle Company means Min/Max Tac Squads are everywhere now. There are a number of ways to play this way, but the classic is 5 Marines, 1 Heavy Weapon is a bit of a passe notion. 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 real new Min-Max build is going to be a 5 man squad with Meltagun or Grav-Gun and the corresponding Combi-bolter on the sarge in a Razorback.
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 special weapon, and you have packed a lot of firepower onto the table for not much points. If you’re running a Gladuis then you’ve also gotten them 6 free Drop Pods, Rhinos, or Razorbacks all with Objective Secured. 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, formations, 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.
This is an extension of the Min/Maxing strategy that involves taking as many Razorbacks as possible for your Tactical squads. This is also the most prevalent build among Battle Company Gladius players. As you get 5 Tacticals for a low points cost this tactic is more points efficient than ever before for Marines and probably free transports. 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 special weapon and a Razorback. Multiply this by 3 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 Tac Squads, 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 such as Riptides, Helldrakes, Stormsurges, Warpspiders, Vespids (??) etc. Even if only shielding you from 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 stock twin-linked Heavy Bolter, much maligned for editions on end, is actually a good choice now. Not that the weapon itself has improved but because it is “free” with the Razorback it is also essentially “free” in a Battle Company list. The twinlinked Heavy Flamer doesn’t get much attention which I think is a shame. It’s a great weapon and while most people rightly assume it will be hard to get the Razorback into range to use it, with all the Scouting and Outflanking in the Marine book these days the Twin-linked Heavy Flamer should be on a few of those 9+ razorbacks you’re running!
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. This simply isn’t plausible though for people playing Double-Demi Company Gladius builds.
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 since you could charge out of rhinos in 3rd ed. The Rhino Rush of doom was the hallmark of many winning 3rd ed lists, especially Space Wolves. It has changed a lot in the way it works on the table top through the editions. Now, the Rhino and the unit work in concert with one another to increase durability, mobility and efficacy rather than just being a delivery device. 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 have run 6 of them in my Marine lists, alongside 9 Drop Pods of course. 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!
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? Grav Gun and a Grav-Cannon, 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 in a Gladius, 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.
Drop Pod Squads
Oh baby, this is my bread and butter. Drop Pod squads have been going through 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 Tac Marines 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. Daemons and Space Wolves, for example, will often love seeing a Drop Pod army across the table from them.
The fundamental issue here is that when you use Drop Pods you are presenting your opponent with 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, just like I do. 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.
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. The ability to get upwards of 3 Tactical doctrines to use with a Battle Company Gladius Strike Force is amazing. What can stand up to that much re-rolling fire? Not a lot as it turns out.
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 Tac Squads 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 Tac Squads scouting forward in Rhinos or Razorbacks 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. Not to mention you can Outflank the units or if you use the new formations get out of the Rhino/RB shoot, and then jump back in it! All in one turn!
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: Battle Companies of Black Templars must use the Tactical Squads to fill slots in the Demi-Company formation! Too bad, so sad guys.
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. Really though, nobody is going to foot-slog Tac Squads with so many free transports available these days.
Salamanders: Salamanders CTs are great for Drop Pod Tactical Squad load-outs. Special mention to Vulkan who Master-crafts melta weapons in addition to twin-linked 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 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 get 1st turn shrouded (if not deployed in a transport), and they get to use jump packs in movement and assault. They also get to re-roll Hammer of Wrath attacks. Tactical Squads benefit from half of Raven Guard CT (obviously they don’t have Jump Packs), they get shrouded on turn one if the don’t deploy in a transport. The newest Raven Guard Formations make the Tactical Marines in those lists better as well. Raven Guard specific formations and detachment give them several options for outflanking and retaining their shrouded on turn 1. (This section was edited to reflect a previous error. Thanks Will and Bryan!)
The fulcrum point of most Space Marine armies these days are the tried and true Tactical Squads. The absolute dominance of the Gladius Strike Force featuring two Demi-Companies giving out their cornucopia of free transports has caused Space Marine players the world round to reassess the role of the Tac squad. At the end of the day the fact you can get 5 resilient Marines with a meltagun, combi-melta and Drop Pod x6 for just 450 points in a Gladius as opposed to 720 points in a CAD should tell you all you need to know.
As always, share your thoughts in the comments section! And remember, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off, every day.