With Warhammer 40k entering its 5th edition as of this past Friday, one chapter of the game’s history comes to an end, while another begins. As I thought about the past edition I decided it would be good to take one last look at all of the units in the Space Marine Codex. There are always numerous assessments of a unit’s abilities during the course of an edition, but it is rare that a unit is examined and assessed after an edition ends. And yet the end of an edition seems to be the best time to make an assessment, because that is the time when all of the other codexes have been released, all of the games have been played, and all of the ‘data’ has been collected.
The following article, therefore, is an assessment of every unit in the Space Marine Codex, as they operated under the 4th edition rules. Mind you, this is no hard-tested, quantitatively analyzed assessment; rather, it is my personal opinion of each unit, based on my experiences – and the experiences of many others – in countless battles with and against these units. You may agree with my opinions; you may not. If you don’t agree, feel free to comment with your own opinions.
I have decided to ‘rate’ each unit in the form of a letter grade, ranging from A (high) to F (low), with a C being about average. About 50% of the grade is how the unit compares to other units within the Space Marine Codex, particularly with those that fulfill the same role on the battlefield or those that occupy the same place on the force organization chart. The other 50% of the grade is how the unit compares to units from other codexes, again, particularly with those that fulfill the same role or that occupy the same place on the force organization chart. In the end, though, the grade represents my gut feeling about how good the unit is.
My review is too long to put into one article, so I decided to break it up into three parts. The first part covers HQ, Troops and Transports, the second part covers Elites and Fast Attack, and the third part covers Heavy Support and Special Characters.
One more caveat: I play Ultramarines, and my experiences are necessarily adapted from that perspective. Therefore, all ratings will be from the perspective of an Ultramarine player, or (if you prefer) from a straight codex chapter without any of the traits. The ratings might be different if playing with a traited chapter. And without further ado…
This unit’s effectiveness really depends on whether you field a shooty army or a choppy army. I find this unit to be a must-take in any shooty army. Since I field primarily shooty armies, this is the HQ unit that I usually field. Having leadership 10 for your whole army is very good, and the relatively low point cost – especially compared to the other HQ choices – is another big advantage. Close combat armies would do well, however, to take a Chaplain or Librarian instead. In the end, this is a good unit, but it lacks any special abilities that would make it an excellent unit.
For close combat armies, I find this to be the must-take unit. The Reclusiarch is actually better than the Master of Sanctity – one less wound for 15 fewer points – but you still get the Fearless ability & Litanies of Hate, and the free Crozius Arcanum & Rosarius. The ‘free’ equipment is a big advantage, assuming you don’t replace the Crozius with some other weapon, and making a unit fearless is quite good. While this unit is very good, I don’t think it stacks up with some of the really great HQ units available to some other armies, so I can’t justify giving it an A.
Librarians are customizable thanks to the psychic power choices, and they also come with ‘free’ equipment. They are also the best hand-to-hand fighters, if you are willing to pay the points for a bunch of upgrades. In my experience, though, space marine characters are better at performing supporting roles instead of front-line slaughtering roles, so the Librarian seemed like a unit trying to fulfill a role that was somewhat out-of-place in the army. The other major disadvantage with Librarians is their point cost – they cost a minimum of 100 points for the 2-wound variant, whereas a 2-wound commander costs only 60 points. I think the Chaplain and the Commander are better choices, but the Librarian is still a bit above the average 40k HQ unit.
An extremely customizable unit, the Command Squad was one of the most improved from 3rd edition to 4th edition. They are a below average long-range fire support squad, and are too expensive if you give all of them terminator honors. But if you are willing to limit them to just special weapons, a veteran skill, and a few specialists, this unit can be very good. Apothecaries are a must-take, as even 2 ignored failed saves for the entire game is enough to justify the points cost, and anything extra is just gravy. It is worth remembering that if you want your independent character to be able to drop-pod in or ride in a transport, you have to take a Command Squad for them. As the power-armored version is cheaper (or more numerous) and more flexible than the terminator version, I find that it is usually the better choice.
This unit shares the same advantages and disadvantages as a regular Terminator Squad [see part 2 for my analysis], but with less flexibility (must stay with independent character) and less survivability (bigger target). As compared to a normal terminator squad, this unit takes up no spot on the force org chart, so if you were strapped for elites choices you could field a Terminator Command squad and squeeze in an ‘extra’ elites choice. Alternatively, if you were strapped for heavy support choices, you could field one of these, give them a Land Raider transport, and squeeze in an ‘extra’ heavy support choice – though this option is expensive! While the squeezing in of an extra heavy support choice is nice, I usually prefer the power armored command squad because I can buy more models for the same points, and thus have more ablative wounds to soak incoming fire. Still, assault cannons are assault cannons, and you can never go wrong with them. Good, but not great.
Tactical squads are better than most other troops in the game. They are not the best basic troops, but they are certainly above average. They are much more flexible than most basic troops. Consider, for example, that while fire warriors are better shooters, tactical marines are decent shooters but also fare much better in close combat. Or consider hormaguants and genestealers, which are much better in close combat, but have no shooting and much less durability. Tactical marines epitomize the unit that is not the best at any one thing, but makes up for it by being above average at almost everything. Large drop-pod units, small las-plas or fire support squads, veteran sergeant-led assault units, this unit can do it all, and forms the perfect backbone for the space marine army.
This unit seems like it might be even better than the tactical squad, but it is not. The lack of a special weapon or AP 2 heavy weapons limit this unit’s effectiveness as a fire support unit. Sure you can get sniper rifles for the whole unit, but that makes them expensive and a tasty target for enemy shooting, especially considering the lower armor save. I also find that sniper rifles, in general, are only effective against poorly armored opponents – further limiting this unit’s flexibility. The greatest asset this unit possesses is its ability to infiltrate, and its dirt-cheap cost if taken without upgrades. A small un-upgraded unit of scouts makes for an excellent harassment unit, counter-attack unit, or cannon fodder unit. And you can greatly increase their punch by buying a veteran sergeant with a powerfist. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good unit, but not quite as useful as a tactical squad.
Rhinos were really good in 3rd edition, and got totally nerfed in 4th. Compared to the transport units other armies have access to, this is probably the worst in the game (Wave Serpents, Dark Eldar Raiders, Ork Trukks, Chimeras, and Devilfish APCs are all better). Even Chaos Rhinos are better thanks to having access to better upgrades. Comparisons aside, this unit just isn’t worth 50 points. You can’t assault when you get out of it, and it is so easy to blow up / penetrate that it is laughable. It’s no coincidence that all Space Marine players take both extra armor and smoke launchers whenever they take Rhinos. The reason is because the unit just doesn’t have the necessary protection to get the job done without them. The much more effective way to transport your units across the battlefield is by using a drop pod, which can’t get shot on the way to its destination and costs 60% of the points that a Rhino does.
This unit is still a bad transport unit. It is no better at surviving than the Rhino, and is probably worse considering it makes a more attractive target, thanks to the shiny gun on top and the greater points value. Still, at least this unit has its uses. By putting a gun on top, you add a little more firepower to your army, and more importantly you add one more target to the list that your opponent must deal with. On its own this is not a big deal, but if you take several razorbacks, in conjunction with lots of other small units, you can create a real target selection problem for your opponent. It doesn’t work with every army build, and even when it does, the Razorbacks are usually some of the first to go because they are easy to kill. Still, at least it’s a viable strategy. Heck, in a pinch you can even use this unit to transport something!
An outstanding unit. One of the best transports in the game. Never gets shot before delivering its cargo. Can drop units off anywhere on the board, even behind enemy lines. Unlike every other deep striking unit in the game, it is NOT destroyed when it scatters into enemy units. And it comes with a gun. For 30 points. That alone warrants a high grade, but the fact that you can also transport Terminators (which are generally non-transportable), and Dreadnoughts (which can’t be transported by anything else at all) makes drop pods even better. Additionally, a skilled player can use the line-of-sight blocking feature of the drop pods to his advantage, covering the dropped unit from enemy fire while isolating a portion of the enemy force. You can use just one or two pods, or you can put your whole army in them – either way works fine. The only disadvantage with drop pods is that they are considered immobilized as soon as they touch down, which gives your opponent 15 points per pod right off the bat. Oh well, I suppose you can’t have everything.
Space Marines have a very good, but not great, selection of HQ choices and Troops choices. Aside from Drop Pods, the Transports leave something to be desired, but all in all, Space Marine players should be pleased that they have a good backbone to build off of given the above average Troops and HQ choices.