Tuesday 16 January 2018

Codex Review: Space Marines

I started playing 40K on the original release day back in 1987 and space marines were my army of choice back then. The fluff for them really grabbed my attention. Although I skipped 2nd edition when I came back at the end of 3rd edition space marines were again my come back to choice. I stuck with them all the way through till 7th when I finally lost interest due to their being a "jack of all trades master of none" type army that never did well for me.

Now with a much better edition of the game I've got my hands on the new space marine codex and ready to do my review. The thing to keep in mind as I do these reviews is that I come from a casual narrative background for my wargaming so be aware that not everything is going to gel with your own experiences.

So how do space marines play? Well, this time round they are a hell of a lot better. Where the Death Guard is all about getting those mortal wounds out there, the Space Marines are all about the re-rolls to hit which makes them far more dangerous especially, if like me, you enjoy using plasma weapons. Much less chance of blowing yourself up than previous editions. The codex also gives us the primaris marines who are larger, more survivable (2 wounds) but with less options. You have to take them as they are pretty much. I have a problem deciding whether they are worth including though as the roles their, to my mind, conflict with their regular brothers.

Originally I was going to write up this review like I did with the Death Guard codex but after several unsuccessful tries I realised that there are too many units and characters to realistically cover them all. So I am instead going to narrow the focus down a bit and hope that it still comes across well enough.

There are a lot of named space marine characters mainly for those of you playing Ultramarines or Black Templars but for a handful of other chapters as well. Unlike with other armies the characters for the space marines do not readily jump out at me. They very much feel as though they are just slightly better than the regular captains, chaplains and librarians. They feel to me as though you will take them purely because they are the thematic character for your chosen chapter.
I was quite surprised initially to notice that there is no generic chapter master. Instead you have to use a stratagem to elevate a captain to be a chapter master. This seems a bit of an odd choice but with so many new units added to the codex perhaps it was just to save space in the book.
The only thing that stands out to me as something I couldn't get my head around was the primaris variants for the HQ units. I will mention this again and again through this review I am sure but I do not see why you would take a primaris version when all they are essentially are the same unit but with an extra wound and maybe an extra attack but more expensive points wise. Although I don't play loyalist marines anymore I would be more tempted to play a regular marine HQ over a primaris one.

Troops have always been where space marine armies strengths lie. The basic tactical squad is still, in my opinion, the best troop option the book has. You have the versatility to take special and heavy weapons suited to the role you want that unit to take. The intercessor squad, which is the primaris equivalent, just does not have the same versatility. You are stuck with just a slightly better ranged bolter unit with an extra wound.
The codex includes a crusader squad for the Black Templars chapter but after reading and re-reading it I cannot see why you would take it over a standard tactical squad if given the choice. Both are quite similar but I think the tactical squad's options have to win out.

A lot of what used to make up the old command squad are now separate units - apothecary, ancients (standard bearer) and champion. Under previous editions I would have loved to have taken separate and multiple apothecaries to keep my marines alive. Now you can. A couple of them seem to be a bit odd now though. I will focus on the Ancient here. They have the same ability but the primaris ancient is a shooty character while the regular chapter ancient seems more combat based. Was there a need to do that or was it simply because Games Workshop wanted to add the primaris in across the various character options?
Terminators were always a big thing for me because they had a lot more survivability than regular marines. 8th edition has sort of changed that because rather than denying you a save with the old AP2 or 1 weapons, everything now has an armour save modifier. I may be wrong as I've only played my own Blightlord and Deathshround terminators a couple of times but weapons that reduce such a good save make these less of a viable option for me. They are expensive as is without that strength of such a good save. I'm probably wrong there but that is my gut feeling about them under this edition. One nice addition however, is the inclusion of cataphractii and tartaros terminator units from the Horus Heresy era armies.
Dreadnoughts are a lot better I find under 8th edition as just like with vehicles it is very rare to one shot them anymore. Units like this actually survive for a while now. I am a big fan of the new Redemptor Dreadnought which feels to me what a dreadnought has always wanted to be on the tabletop.
For the primaris there is also the inclusion of the new Reiver squad. These feel like a primaris scout unit but much more close combat and in your face. Depending on your choice of chapter and it's tactics these look like they could be very good.

Fast Attack.
Fast Attack options in the codex don't seem to have really changed an awful lot with the exception of assault marines, who just by how 8th edition assault rules work are now a lot better than they used to be. Inceptors are the primaris version but they are a shooty unit rather than a close combat one. I'm in two minds again on this one but I can see a place for them in your army as a fast moving objective grabber.
Bikes are still good and worth including. Land Speeders have been condensed into a single entry with you just putting the weapon options on to create the variant that you want. The movement boost for having three in the unit seems good for getting firepower where you really need it but makes wonder whether Games Workshop aren't selling enough of them at the moment.

Heavy Support.
This is where your tanks and all your proper shooty units are. As expected 8th edition has made all your tanks a lot tougher and able to survive a lot of incoming firepower while dealing the same out. Land Raiders especially are an awesome choice these days over what they used to be.
The main addition here is your new primaris unit, the Helblasters! This unit is really nasty and able to pump out a lot damage. Combine these guys with all the re-rolls that a space marine army can spread around and you are able to more safely use their nice plasma weapons to avoid 1's. The thing is though that once again, I cannot decide whether I would want a unit of these or I'd rather have a Devastator squad. I find myself erring on the side of taking the dedicated heavy weapon squad because of being able to take lascannons dealing D6 damage a piece! Helblasters seem good for taking down troops or light vehicles but they don't do enough effective damage to bring down large vehicles or monsters.

I find it odd that the Transports section comes with such an eclectic mix of vehicles. Rhino's and drop pods I fully get but surely things like the Repulsor should be a Heavy Support unit and not classed as a transport. Repulsors are crazy units that come with far too many weapons. They are a nice unit but a little over the top in their design for me.

The Stormraven is always a good nice solid unit. The Stormtalon and the new-ish Stormhawk seem to be competing for the same slot - infantry and light vehicle hunting but the only difference seems to be that the stormtalon can hover. They are a little too similar for my taste. I may be missing something but they need something to give them a different battlefield role.

Lord of War.
The man himself... Roboute Guilliman! Love him or hate him you cannot deny that this character is awesome. But I would expect nothing less from a Primarch. It is a shame though that his ability only applies to Ultramarines themselves as I would have thought it would Ultramarines and their successors. I can see non-Ultramarine painted armies pretending to be Ultramarines just to use him.
A lot of players seem to dislike him but I think he is fine. The only problem comes from using him in a smaller point game where his strengths will dominate the game too much in favour of the Ultramarine player.


The Space Marines codex is a very good codex as you would probably expect. What I find nice about it is that in the past space marines were very much the introductory level army. You played them for a while, realsied that they were not all that, and then moved on to another codex. This book changes that. This is a really good army now but I put a lot of that down to the new rules of 8th edition. I still think they are probably the best army to start playing 40K with but they aren't necessarily the one that you abandon because it doesn't hold up as you wanted.

I'm still not convinced on the primaris units. Every time I try and weigh them up I find that the classic space marine units are a better choice but mainly because they have the wargear options allowing you to customize them. Primaris units are very much fixed with what they have and they aren't what you might necessarily what.
A lot of players, especially those who started with the Dark Imperium box set may well starting up a pure primaris army. I can't see them being as well rounded as a classic space marine army. I really want to be convinced otherwise but even talking to the space marine players at my local club I am having trouble. Hopefully time will tell.


  1. I just can't get excited about Primaris Marines. As you have said, they aren't particularly flexible and that is what attracted me to Space Marines in the first place, back in 2nd Edition. I still haven't played a narrative-focused game of 8th yet, so I feel like it is a tough slog at the moment :-)

  2. With every new codex release I find myself more disappointed by what the marine dex is.
    Tactical squads are poor, drop pods that used to make them effective have been nerfed into oblivion and you're better off taking sternguard and/or scouts. These days I only take tactical marines for narrative reasons.

    Primaris units are good in general, hellblasters are amazing because of the combination of range and kitting out the whole squad.

    Speeders are now hopeless because their weapons are all heavy so they only hit on 4's if you move, which kind of defeats the point of having a fast vehicle in my view.

    Terminators remain the biggest frustration of a unit in the whole book, I really don't know what they need to become worthwhile, but taking special issue combi/storm bolters for -2 AP would be a good start - even with the number of shots they can put out it's just not good value - great for horde control but why would you want to use your elite infantry for that? Equally now power fists are -1 to hit and there's no attack bonus for charging, only hitting once with each power fist in combat on average feels lacklustre.

    Stratagems are also a big disappointment to me, with very few available to use in most games. On the whole the stratagems seem to fall into a category of either chapter specific (7-8 I think) or recreating a formation benefit from the 7th ed codex such as killshot or linebreaker bombardment. That's fine, but including such an unbalanced mix of units feel counter intuitive to the purpose of 8th. There are some cool ones, like tremor shells for the thunderfire, and auspex scan, but the good ones are few and far between.

    Not a bad codex, but I feel a missed opportunity to create something truly balanced and synergistic, Evaluating the Eldar book has really showed me how such balance can be done because that's a book where 95% of the units are really viable and work with each other.

    I agree with you about Primaris in general though, having used them a few times, they're not really designed to work on their own yet in my opinion, and Reivers in particular suffer from not really knowing what their true purpose is. How can Cawl spend 10,000 years improving on the Astartes template but not manage to make any combat weapons nastier than a knife...

    1. You've hit on some very good points there. The only codex which is worse is the Grey Knights I think (which I'm currently trying to read). Maybe it is because as the poster boys of the game GW worked on them first and the later codexes are the ones that they have ironed the issues out of.

  3. Nice review buddy. One point I must disagree with though is the crusader squads. Although they are limited to black Templar only chapter tactics they are one of the best units in the book for min-maxing. The ability to take a heavy, special and combo weapon in a 5 man squad while the other two marines just act as ablative wounds makes them pretty strong imo, allowing you to fill obsec troop choices on the cheap that still pack more firepower than an equivalent tactical squad.

    1. I'll have to take another look when I get the chance and see how they measure up points wise because that may be where I change my mind.


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