Codex: Space Marines—Wait, Haven’t We Done This Before?

by Kenton Kilgore

The latest (but certainly not last) version of Codex: Space Marines is here, the previous one having arrived only two years ago, with the advent of 8th Edition.  As I’m a SM player since 1987, I thought I’d take a look and share my thoughts on the new book with you.

I won’t go over everything (at almost 200 pages, it’s 4 times larger than the 3rd Edition version issued in 1998), just the stuff that jumped out me.  Sound good?  Let’s do this!

What I Like, and Why

Lower Point Values.  Who doesn’t like being able to bring more toys to the table?  The numerous point adjustments that were originally printed in Chapter Approved 2018 have made it here, and the savings are substantial, particularly for heavy weapons.  Even little reductions, like Tactical Marines going from 13 points to 12, add up (I routinely have lists with 40+ Tac Marines).

Angels of Death.  Four rules in one, and they’re all good.  And They Shall Know No Fear is unchanged from its previous version.  Bolter Discipline is the final, approved version of the beta rule that GW floated a little while ago: in addition to double-tapping when in half range, Marines can do the same if standing still, or if they’re a Terminator, Bike, Centurion, or Dreadnought.  Termies moving and firing 4 shots per turn at 24″ range?  Yes, please.

Shock Assault adds +1 to Attacks when a Marine charges or is charged, nicely beefing them up during close encounters.  Combat Doctrines lowers AP by one for Heavy weapons and Grenades, Rapid Fire- and Assault weapons, and Pistol and melee weapons, to reflect the Adeptus Astartes starting off with long-range fire, moving to medium-range, then finishing off their opponents with a charge.

Lieutenants.  May I just say how much I appreciate having the option to take not just one, but two lower-priced leader types in a single HQ unit?  They’re not as good as Captains (one fewer Wound, Attack, and point of Leadership), but they’re 14 points cheaper.

Terminators.  Love the point reductions, love the extra Wound, and love doubling the firepower of the basic Termie.  Not a fan of how Teleport Homers work now (I preferred the Scouts + Terminator synergy of the 7th Edition codex), but I suppose it’s useful if you need to counter a sudden threat in your deployment zone (such as, say, Ork Kommandos appearing in your rear view mirror).

Redemptor Dreadnoughts.  They’re like Disney World: you’re going to pay a lot, but man, are you going to have a good time.  Up to 30 shots a round just from the standard loadout of two fragstorm grenade launchers, a heavy flamer, and the uber-yummy heavy onslaught gatling cannon make Wicked Uncle Kenton very, very happy.  And it has 13 Wounds?  Now you’re spoiling me.

Invictor Tactical Warsuit.  Wicked Uncle Kenton is also very pleased at the idea of an infiltrating cousin to the Dreadnought, complete with the also-yummy incendium cannon, a happy armament that auto-hits 2d6 shots (with Strength, AP, and Damage as a heavy bolter), albeit at 12″ range, which won’t be much of a factor, seeing as how you can start 9+” away from the enemy.  Some people hate on its resemblance to the loader from Aliens; I see that as a feature.  And I’m all kinds of down with its heavy bolter counting as a Pistol 3 in close combat.

Bikes and Speeders. Turbo Boost for Bikes (+6″ to Move instead of doing an Advance roll), and Anti-Grav Upwash for Land Speeders (a unit of three grants 20″ Move to all) were in the previous 8e codex, but I’m still a big fan.  So, now Bikes can move 22″ and fire their twin boltguns four times, at -1 AP if in Tactical Doctrine.  Why, I remember when Bikes sucked….

Devastator Squads and Armorium Cherubs.  Again, nothing new from the original 8th Edition codex, but I’m still happy about being able to pay a measly 5 points and get an extra lascannon shot.

Drop Pods Armies Return.  Loading up half–or more–of your army in Drop Pods and splashing them down into your opponent’s deployment zone is a thing again, thanks to one Emperor-blessed sentence:

Matched Play: This model [the Drop Pod] and any units embarked aboard it are exempt from the Tactical Reserves matched play rule.

Primaris Repulsor and Repulsor Executioner.  They’re a Space Marine player’s wet dream. These things have so much dakka, the Imperial Guard are jealous.  IMHO, Marines have always lacked in the tank department, as compared with other armies, but all that’s changed.

2d6 S4 shots (fragstorm grenade launchers) + 12 S5 shots (heavy onslaught gatling cannon) + d6 S8 shots (macro plasma incinerator) + 4 S4 shots (storm bolters) + 6 S4 shots (twin Icarus ironhail heavy stubber) each round, as standard equipment on the Executioner.  Who let me do that?

Chapter Tactics.  Time was, the only difference among Marine Chapters not named Blood Angels, Dark Angels, or Space Wolves was what color their armor was.  The current codex expands on previous versions to provide character to and cool battlefield advantages for First and Second Founding Chapters (Ultramarines, Imperial Fists, White Scars, Raven Guard, Salamanders, Iron Hands, Black Templars, and Crimson Fists).

For example, Iron Hands can ignore a wound on a roll of “6,” and they hit on 5’s and 6’s when they fire Overwatch.  Their vehicles are considered to have double the number of Wounds when determining which row to use on their damage table.

All for no extra point costs, and these abilities are in addition to the Angel of Death rules.  Successor chapters use the tactics of their parent, and if you made your own chapter, you can pick two Traits from those given on pages 176 and 177.

I’m thinking that for my Fighting Tigers, I’m going to use Long-Range Marksmen (+3″ range for Rapid Fire weapons), due to their experience fighting Orks and Chaos Space Marines; as well as Stealthy (considered as having cover when shot at from more than 12″ away), as my sucktastic paint jobs throw off the targeting.

Warlord Traits and Stratagems.  Chapters can also have specific Warlord Traits, in keeping with their fighting styles, but they can use the “generic” ones on page 178: none of them suck.  All of the Stratagems are solid, and none are specific for certain chapters, though some are only usable by certain units (such as Gene-Wrought Might, exclusive to Primaris Infantry).

What I Don’t Like, and Why

No Chapter Master Option.  In previous versions, “Chapter Master” was a unit you could take to lead your DIY army, so I don’t know why this isn’t available now.  Yes, you can just roll with the Captain stats, but one would think that a CM would be more badass than a Captain, with more Attacks, Wounds, and wargear options.

No HQ on Bikes (except Captains).  I suppose if you want Librarians, Chaplains, Techmarines, or any other HQ on bikes, you’re going to have to buy the White Scars supplement and do that, or hold on to your copy of the Index.  Speaking of which…

No Conversion Beamers for Techmarines. …I hope you still have your copy if, like me, you converted a Tech to pack one of these badass weapons that the 7e codex granted.

The Old Guard Will Cost You Elite Slots.  For the longest time, you could field three Company Veterans + an Apothecary + a Company Standard, and all of that was one Elite unit.  You can still put that squad together, but now it counts as three choices.  Bah.

Heavy Bolters. The heavy bolter has become the bologna-on-white-bread sandwich of the Space Marine armory.  It’s ubiquitous but boring (Heavy 3, Strength 5, -1 AP), only piquing anyone’s attention when you have several of them pointed at the same target. And it’s 10 points: why didn’t the game designers drop its price when they were lowering assault cannons and flamers?

Well, at least it still wounds Eldar on 2+…what’s that you say?  Because of how the rules changed regarding weapon Strength vs. target Toughness, it now wounds Eldar on 3+? And whatever vehicle you slap it on (like a Speeder) will be at -1 to hit with it when moving?  Pfffft….

No Drop Pods for Dreadnoughts.  For many years, Dreadnoughts were nothing to dread.  Compared to SM vehicles, they weren’t as fast, usually didn’t have as much firepower, and usually weren’t as resilient. They really only did well in close combat, but getting them there in one piece could be difficult.

When a previous codex gave them Drop Pods, Dreads became badass, suddenly appearing in the enemy’s deployment zone and wrecking shit.  Why then, did the game designers see fit to take away their ride?  Hell if I know.

Assault Marines—Why Bother?  Assault Marines are 12 points (15 a pop with jump packs, which you know you’re going to take), have 1 Attack each, and can have two plasma pistols, flamers, or eviscerators.

Vanguard Vets are 2 points more expensive, have 2 Attacks each, +1 LD, and each of them can take storm shields (3+ invulnerable save) and enhanced melee weapons like thunder hammers, lightning claws, power fists, etc.  I’ll go with the Vets, thanks.

“Vanguard? What Vanguard?”  Speaking of “vanguard,” this codex mentions “Vanguard detachments” every so often but never spells out exactly what those are (or maybe I just missed it).  Despite the name, they seem to have nothing to do with the aforementioned Vets, instead, being composed solely of Primaris units in phobos armor.  Is that it, or am I mistaken?   And AFAIK, it’s only a Primaris Librarian in phobos armor who can take the Obscuration psychic powers, correct?

Primaris Marines.  And here we segue into the contentious part of this review.  I like to think I’m not an old grognard, and I kept an open mind as I read the codex, but in the end, I just don’t like Primaris Marines, even though I feel like I ought to.  Why don’t I care for them?

One, the fluff doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Am I understanding correctly that Belisarius Cawl sat for 10,000 years on an army of mega-Marines in stasis, waiting for a good time to activate them?  Is that what actually happened?  That would be like the New England Patriots keeping Tom Brady on the bench for the entire season until the last two minutes of the Super Bowl.  Why wouldn’t the Imperium have unleashed them before, saving billions upon billions of lives and thousands of planets from destruction, by letting them destroy the enemies of mankind?

Two, Primaris Marines have battlefield roles redundant to existing units.  Intercessor Squads are like upgraded Tactical Squads; Infiltrators and Incursors are like Scouts, etc.  And they perform these roles in very odd ways: did we actually need floating Space Marines packing autocannons?

Image result for suppressor squad

This role-redundancy can’t really be helped, because there are so many Space Marine units available (more about that later), but it does lead to my third complaint, which is….

Three, they’re clearly intended as replacements for regular Adeptus Astartes, in the fluff and on the tabletop.  The Marines we’ve known and loved since the late 1980’s have become Woody from the first Toy Story movie, losing their position as the favorite to the new, way-cooler Space Rangers.

I understand why Games Workshop brought us Primaris Marines: they’re in business to make money, and if people who play Space Marines, the most popular army, can be persuaded to buy new, bigger Space Marines with fancier armor and snazzy guns, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

I also understand why players want them: yes, they are cool, and I like their vehicles, and if players want to add them to their army—or start a new army with nothing but Primaris Marines—I’m all for it.  And it’s not as if the “old” Marines have gotten nothing with the new codex: all the points reductions and special rules and chapter tactics do wonders for them.

But if it’s all the same to you, I’m sticking with my old models.  I’m just not into Primaris Marines.

What I’m “Meh” About

Too Many Units.  When Necrons first came out in 2nd Edition, you could count their number of units choices on literally one hand (Lords, Warriors, Destroyers, and Scarabs). When I started playing Dark Eldar, as 3rd Edition debuted, they had about a dozen choices in the whole army (and half of those were terrible).

In light of that, it seems odd for me to say, but you can have too much of a good thing.  Space Marines have well north of 75 units in the latest book, way more than any other army.  Sure, I like having choices, but this is a little over the top.  As I alluded to, some of them are redundant (did anyone actually ask for four flavors of Terminators?) or downright goofy (am I the only one who calls Centurions “Hulkbusters?”).

Image result for hulkbuster gif
Assault Centurion vs. Ork Warboss

No Named Characters.  Given that I’ve never liked them (as long-time Jungle visitors may know), it’s also odd for me to complain about a lack of what we used to call Special Characters—but here we are.  No, I’m not a fan, but many people are, so where are Marneus Calgar, Tigurius, and the other Ultramarine characters?  Not to mention the leaders from the Raven Guard, Salamanders, Black Templars, Iron Hands, and other chapters?  Presumably, you need to buy an upcoming supplement for them.

This guy comes with his own theme music.

Chaplains and Litanies of Battle.  On the one hand, the new ability of Chaplains to provide different combat options is cool and makes Chappies more interesting.  On the other hand, you now need to roll a 3+ to have any effect, and I was content with using the Litany of Hate (re-roll hit rolls for melee attacks for friendly <Chapter> units within 6″).  YMMV.


Despite my complaints, I’m happy with the new codex, and I’m itching to see how my Fighting Tigers do under it.  Stay tuned for some batreps soon!

When he isn’t playing or blogging about 40K, Kenton Kilgore writes killer SF/F for young adults, and adults who are still young.  This Wasted Land, his latest novel, isn’t your typical teenage love story.  It’s more like: Boy meets Girl–>Evil Witch takes Boy–>Girl goes to get Boy back.

This Wasted Land--coming Fall 2018

He is also the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog.  His first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons.  With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Visit, and follow Kenton on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch him on Instagram.