Drinking From A Firehose: The New Space Marines Codex

If you’re having deja vu, it’s because Games Workshop published a Space Marine codex in 2019, and here we are, a year later, with a brand new one for 9th Edition. So, consider this review a follow-on to the one I did before.

As always, I’m not going to cover everything, because there is so much jammed into the new book’s 200+ pages. Instead, I’ll only discuss the things that jumped out at me. Like last time, I focus on the rules, but rest assured that there are plenty of cool background material and artwork in the new codex, almost 90 pages’ worth.


What I Like, and Why

As you might imagine, there is a lot of carry-over from the previous codex: you’ll find Chapter Tactics, Stratagems, Warlord Traits, Relics, Librarius and Obscuration Disciplines, and Litanies of Battle. You’ll also find the Angels of Death rules: And They Shall Know No Fear, Bolter Discipline, Shock Assault, and Combat Doctrines.

There are also deployment abilities, such as the familiar Combat Squads rule. If you wondered how your Drop Pods and teleporting Terminators were going to work with the restrictive Strategic Reserve rules in the Core Book, fret not: you’ll be able to bring those guys in where and when you want.

New to this year’s book are the Crusade rules, which I look to walk through with my gaming neighbors the Becker Boys when they come home from college.

The Becker Boys’ combined force of Space Marines and Space Wolves face off against the Dvergar

So, what else is new and cool?

Well, let’s start with the biggest thing: your basic, old-school Space Marine now has 2 Wounds. This is the biggest shot-in-the-arm that GW has given them since increasing their Toughness from 3 to 4 (back in the “Rogue Trader” days). I don’t know what prompted this—maybe sales dropped through the floor because everyone was buying Primaris models?—but I’ll take it, and the corresponding bump for Terminators, characters, etc.

(One can only assume that those douchebag Traitor- and Renegade Chaos Space Marines will likewise enjoy this Wound upgrade. And because of this +1 Wound thing, my Ork-playing brother-in-law now hates Marines even more than he hates the Pittsburgh Penguins)

Good…good. Let the hate flow through you, Caps fans

Primaris Marines did not get this +1 to their Wounds, so now, pretty much, the differences between them and the Marines you knew and grew up with are +1 Attack, snazzier weapons and wargear (though we’ll get to that), and a few Stratagems.

Upgraded weapons. A bunch of them now have the Blast rule: frag grenades and missiles, plasma cannons, Whirlwind launchers, etc. Flamers and heavy flamers are 12″ range instead of 8″.

The heavy bolter, which I once called the bologna-on-white-bread sandwich of the Space Marines, now does a most-manly 2 Wounds each. Best of all, the multi-melta now gets two shots a round, because there are few things more annoying than finally getting an MM in range of an enemy vehicle, and whiffing with a “1” when you roll to hit.

Don’t be sad anymore, heavy bolter. Daddy is sorry for what he said about you before.

Several melee weapons—chainswords, chainfists, power axes and -fists and -swords—do all kinds of brutality that will make close-combat junkie and Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel very, very happy.

So, what else?

Masters of the Chapter. If your SM army is Battle-forged, you can upgrade your Captain, Chaplain, Librarian, Techmarine, Apothecary, Ancient, and/or Company Champion to be more badass. The Captain can be a Chapter Master, the Techmarine can be a Master of the Forge, the Librarian can be Chief Librarian, and so on.

The Redhead is back to being a Chapter Master

Upgraded characters have increased Power Ratings and cost more points (provided you still use those), but gain special abilities, and access to special Relics and Warlord Traits. The only downside to all this is that you can’t start off a Crusade army with an upgraded character.

Command Squads are doable again. If, under the previous codex, you wanted to run your old-school Command Squad of Veterans + a standard bearer + a champion/medic, they took up multiple Elite slots, so, why would you bother?

Back in business!

This year’s book says that if you have a Captain, you can take a Company Veteran Squad without using a slot, and the others (Company Ancient, Co. Champion, and Apothecary) can be included without using slots as well. Technically, you don’t even have to attach them to the Vet Squad.

What I Don’t Like, and Why

Scouts aren’t Troops anymore. Speaking of Elites, who thought it was a good idea to move Scouts into that Battlefield Role? There are 26 Elite units in Codex: Space Marines, and players are going to pick the other 25 over Scouts. Don’t expect to see many on the table for a while.

It’s been nice working with you, boys. Good luck at your next job.

Vindicators still suck. Before 8th Edition, the Vindicator tank and its demolisher cannon were the bane of Ork mobs, Tyranid broods, and anyone else who was allergic to getting a S10 Pie-Plate-of-Death dropped on them. The Vindi was also good at blasting holes in other vehicles, but its prime purpose, especially when two or more were fielded, together, was to require opponents to use both hands to scoop miniatures off the table.

The previous codex replaced the dreaded PPoD with d6 shots, and the new codex has mitigated that weak sauce by giving the demolisher cannon the Blast rule. Which still means that when a 30-strong Ork mob is bearing down on your front lines, your Vindicator can kill—at most—six of them.

Makes a fine paperweight, though

“Okay,” you might say, “so now, the Vindicator is best at taking out Marine equivalents, or vehicles.” For the same Power Rating or 5 points less, I’d rather have a Whirlwind to hit MEQs from farther away. And as for enemy vehicles, the demolisher still has a 24″ range; coupled with the Vindi’s 10″ move, good luck with being able to reach the other guys’ tanks on anything besides the shrimpiest of tables.

Space Wolves—wha? I can only assume that the soon-to-be released Codex: Space Wolves resolves several issues that this book has with them, the most notable being that Space Wolves can’t take Tactical Squads (you know, like, Gray Hunters), Assault Squads (Swiftclaws?), or Devastator Squads (Long Fangs). I haven’t yet been able to determine if one needs to have a copy of C:SM and C:SW to play Wolves, or if the latter will do in place of the former.

Hard to read. I know I’m getting older, but my eyes are still decent, and it’s not my imagination. When compared with last year’s version, this year’s physical book has smaller and lighter print (presumably to save on costs), making it much more difficult to read. Yes, some of us still buy printed books: I’m not going to feel embarrassed about that.

What I’m “Meh” About

Speaking of other non-codex chapters, like the Dark Angels, Blood Angels, Black Templars, and Deathwatch, you can use this book for them, but your guys won’t be anything much different from other Marine chapters. At best, C:SM is a stop-gap until you get your own books. At worst, you’ll need this book and your supplemental codex. Sorry.

Even more new units. At some point in the not-too-distant future, there will be more unit choices for Space Marines than there are breeds of dogs. Here’s what the new book adds to the already-lengthy list that the Emperor’s Finest enjoyed:

  • Captain with Master-Crafted Heavy Bolt Rifle
  • Lieutenant in Reiver Armor
  • Primaris Chaplain on Bike
  • Primaris Techmarine
  • Assault Intercessor Squad
  • Heavy Intercessor Squad
  • Bladeguard Ancient
  • Veteran Intercessor Squad
  • Bladeguard Veteran Squad
  • Judicar
  • Relic Terminator Squad (replacing Cataphractii and Tartaros Termies)
  • Outrider Squad
  • Invader ATV Squad
  • Storm Speeders (in Hailstrike, Thuderstrike, and Hammerstrike varieties)
  • Eradicator Squad
  • Firestrike Servo-Turrets
  • Gladiators (Lancer, Reaper, and Valiant)
  • Hammerfall Bunker

Good googly-moogly. At lot of these, especially the vehicles, are redundant and over-the-top, deliberately so. Remember when you used to field a Predator Destructor with an autocannon and heavy bolters, and you thought that was cool? Now, the only reason you would use that instead of, say, a Gladiator Reaper (which spits 32 shots a round), is if you a) wanted to save on Power Ratings or points; or b) you don’t want to chuck out a beloved older model.

Yeah, a bunch of these new units are cool, and I’m certainly going to have some of my older models “count as” some of them. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.


Like it or not, we have a new Space Marine codex, and there’s a whole firehose worth of stuff in it to digest. My advice is to not try to read over all the rules at once, but a section or two at a time over a few evenings. And once you do, it’ll be time to mount up and kill some filthy xenos and traitors. For the Emperor!

When I’m not playing or blogging about 40K, I’m writing killer SF/F  for young adults, and adults who are still young.  This Wasted Land, mylatest 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.

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

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

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