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Critiquing Codex: Space Marines
In October 2008, Games Workshop released the latest Codex: Space Marines. I started playing Marines back in 1987; this is the fourth version of the book I’ve bought, and in a lot of ways, it seems like a throwback to the 2nd Edition-era Ultramarines Codex

Odds are you already own the new book or have heard plenty about it, so I won’t waste your time describing its contents to you. Instead, I’ll tell you, from a veteran gamer’s perspective, what I like about it, what I don’t like, and what I’m undecided about. To keep this article from being almost as long as the codex itself, I won’t discuss everything that’s in the book, only the stuff that really got my attention: if I don’t mention a particular section or army unit, assume I’m okay with it. 

Clear? Off we go, then….

What I Like
Good Material for Newbs. Introducing 40K to my daughter Beth has reminded me of how overwhelming it can be for new players to learn about 40K: not just the rules and armies, but also the background. The new Space Marine codex nicely tells who and what Space Marines are, how they’re created and organized, what they do, whom they fight, how they fight, and why, all in several lavishly-presented pages right at the beginning of the book. Once you get to the “Battles of the Ultramarines” section, it all gets to be a bit much, but up until then, the GW folks have it spot on, as they say across The Pond.

The Ultramarines. Unlike the “Smurf haters” out there, I have nothing against the Ultramarines. They’re a very interesting army, with a great color scheme (the recent blue + gold is *much* better than the old “comic-book” blue + yellow look), a lot of history and characters (although one can have too much of a good thing), and a great theme (the whole Greco-Roman thing, complete with their own mini-empire within the Imperium). Ultramarines are plainly the “good guys,” one of the marquee Space Marine chapters of 40K, and it’s nice to see the latest version of the SM codex focus even more on them. If you’re an Ultra player, you haven’t ever had it so good, not even back in the 2nd Edition days.

Other Space Marine Chapters. This is not to say that non-Ultramarine chapters don’t get any love, however. There are plenty of them presented in the new book, with special emphasis on the Raven Guard, the Salamanders, the Fists (Crimson and Imperial), and the White Scars. All of these are good things, and are very inspirational for players who want to play a GW chapter besides the Boys in Blue. Admittedly, I would have preferred more examples of other chapters, but that’s just me….

Combat Tactics. The high Leadership that Space Marines enjoy has, since 3rd Edition, been a two-edged sword. Yes, there are plenty of times when you want your guys to make their Morale checks—and there are plenty of times (such as when your dudes have been charged by something they can’t possibly kill) when you want them to fail. Falling back to a better position is not cowardly, it’s smart, and Marines should always fight smart. They’re not Orks in powered armor, you know.

Chapter Masters. I’ve been waiting years—years, I tell you—for a version of Codex: Cosmic Jarheads to provide stats and rules to adequately represent the sheer badassitude that is a SM Chapter Master, and this version mostly delivers. In addition to being physically impressive (WS 6, BS 5, baby!), the CM also has a wide range of weapon, armor, and wargear options. A built-in Iron Halo and the Orbital Bombardment ability make the CM truly sweet. It's a pity that most folks are going to skip the CM to use those annoying Special Characters (more about them later). 

Masters of the Forge. You have to go back a long ways—back to the Rogue Trader or 2nd Edition days—to find the conversion beamer, one of the most interesting weapons (its effects grow stronger the farther it shoots) GW has ever come up with. As an old-school gamer, I’m very, very pleased to see the ‘beamer return. I’m also tickled that finally—FINALLY—the Space Marines have an HQ unit that packs a big gun. Yes, yes, I know, “real heroes get stuck in,” but a “shooty” HQ has been sorely missing for…well, longer than I care to remember. 

(While we’re on the subject, GW, can you bring back graviton guns? And webbers? Please? Pretty please?)

Sergeants. I’ve almost always taken what they used to call “veteran” Sergeants in my Marine units: it just felt right and made sense to me to have each group of jarheads led by an experienced fellow armed with a really cool weapon. I like that GW has built that into each Marine squad, and that the options for outfitting them are interesting and (usually) not too expensive.

Scouts. I own 60 Scout models, and I was relieved to learn that regular, “vanilla” Scouts would remain Troops and not become Elite units, like Dark Angel and Blood Angel Scouts. Even though it sounds odd, I am actually ok with Scouts having their WS and BS reduced to 3: Scouts are supposed to be newbs, yet in the last two versions of the SM codex, they fought and shot just as well as regular Space Marines. Indeed, the only difference between them was choice of armor and weapons. 

I also like that SM Scouts finally get the Scout special rule (which should have been a no-brainer), and though I would have preferred them to be a point cheaper or be able to take a special weapon, I really, really like the camo cloaks option. 

The Space Marine Drop Pod: you gotta love the model and the rules for it

Transports. I’m glad to see that Drop Pods remain in the SM motor pool (and that half of them come in on the first turn); that the cost of Rhinos has been lowered to match those rides used by the Scumbag Traitor Marines; and that Razorbacks can once again have the old-school lascannon/twin-linked plasma gun armament.

Sternguard Veteran Squads. The new codex’s repeal of Chapter Traits took away my Tactical Squads’ ability to use two special weapons (farewell, “Cleanse and Purify”), leaving me with way too many figures armed with flamers, melta guns, and plasma guns. Rather than having to retire, sell, or give away those figures, I assigned them into Sternguard Veteran units, easily one of my favorite new things about the codex.

I don’t like Sternguard just because their existence gets me out of a bind: I like them because they made Veterans “shooty.” In the last two (at least) iterations of the codex, there was no compelling reason to arm your Veterans for firefights; one was much better off tooling them up for close combat. 

Sternguard: easily my favorite new unit in the codex

Not only do Sternguard get to have two special weapons (increasing their mobility while still retaining the ability to dish out some serious firepower), not only are they not bound by the squad sizes of Tactical Marines (“Thou shalt have no cool guns unless thou hast 10 Marines”), but even their boltguns—boltguns!—are kickass. A lot of “shooty” squads—Devastators leap to mind—tend to have “bulletcatcher” dudes, armed with boltguns, who contribute little firepower and mostly suck up wounds. Not Sternguard: every squad member is armed with something special, and you still can upgrade the Sergeant to have way-cool close combat options. 

The downside to all this is that Sternguard are expensive, not too numerous (they are Elite units, after all), and don’t have “ablative wounds”—every guy you lose is significant. Still, I’m a big fan of them. And yes, yes, I know that if you take that Kantor special character, your Sternguard count as scoring units. But you know what? Unless you’re playing Crimson Fists, don’t vote for Pedro; more about that later.

Bike Squads/Scout Bike Squads. Long-time Jungle visitors will probably know that I used to really like Space Marine bikes, then I changed my mind and found them nigh-worthless. But the new codex has changed my mind again. At first, I wasn’t sure, but a closer look has convinced me that Bikes are back to being a Good Thing. 

Someone at GW has obviously paid attention to the previous shortcomings of SM Bikes and Scout Bikes. First off, the new codex lets you take up to eight Bikes and an Attack Bike in a squad, for some added beef that was missing before. The new bike rules from the 5th Edition rulebook really make bikes better than what they were. Best of all, the Combat Tactics rule will help pull your bikes out of tarpit fights that, in the past, always wore down my bikes (when I had them). Scout Bikes Infiltrate and Scout, and have the options for the hoopy cluster mines and locator beacons. And Astartes grenade launchers are awesome. 

Ignore the silly-looking antenna and pay attention to the grenade launcher

Okay, sure, Bikes are still expensive. Okay, sure, Scout Bikes are stuck with WS and BS 3, just like regular Scouts are. I have no regrets about turning my regular Bikes into Attack Bikes, because Attack Bikes are all kinds of good (and are 10 points cheaper than they used to be!), but regular Bikes and Scout Bikes are better now than ever. 

Land Raiders (and Variants). The standard Land Raider, with its twin lascannons and twin heavy bolters, has been, shall we say, less than the shiznit for the last 10 years, since 3rd Edition debuted and neutered most vehicles. The quintessential 40K jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, the Land Raider was simply too expensive for what it did. Want to transport squads, shoot infantry, hunt tanks? There were SM vehicles that did each cheaper and much better. 

The 4th Edition restrictions on assaulting from enclosed moving vehicles, and the introduction of assault ramps, made the standard LR a little better, but still not worth it. The toughening of vehicles under the current rules made Land Raiders more desirable, but still pricy. But the revised Power of the Machine Spirit rules, combined with the other rule changes, make standard LRs worth every penny and point. 

LRs are now able to fire one more weapon that they normally would be able to, at different units, at BS 4. That means you can hurtle your LR top speed at the enemy, firing your twin-heavy bolters as you go, then drop out a squad that can assault after they disembark. That means you can sit back and take out two tanks at a time with your lascannons. The fact that now you can carry 12 models—a full squad + two Barney Badass Independent Characters or one in Termie armor—is just icing on a very nice cake. The standard Land Raider is back to its Rogue Trader/2nd Edition glory.

The LR’s variants—the Crusader and the Redeemer—don’t suck, either. I’ve always liked the Crusader, and now that it can carry 16 models, you can cram a really large Terminator squad in there and seriously moogie with the other guy’s troops. And the flamestorm cannons on the Redeemer are sweeter than Megan Fox in a bikini. 

The Land Raider Redeemer: tell me that isn't beautiful

What I Don’t Like
Too Many Battles. As I mentioned before, I found much of the “fluff,” or background section, to be very worthwhile. However, there are only so many battle stories I can read before I begin thinking every fight that every Space Marine force has ever been in has been a desperate, universe-staggering slugfest where a handful of beleaguered heroes stood fast against the foul hordes of—Ugh, I must stop, or I’ll be ill again. It’s all much too much. Do we really need all that purple effusion, first about the Ultramarines, then about several other Space Marine chapters? No, I don’t think we do. Once, just once, for variety’s sake, I want to read a battle story where the Marines come in and, without breaking a sweat, totally kick in the teeth of tainted, filthy scum like Ghazghkull Thraka, or the Black Legion, or the Baltimore Ravens. Is that too much to ask? 

Special Characters. Special characters, for me, are where the new codex goes south. The special characters—most of them mightier than Marvel superheroes, many of them with special rules for the troops they lead—would be okay if they were limited to the actual chapters they appear in. If you’re playing Ultramarines and you want them led by Tigurius, that’s fine and dandy by me. Sadly, they are not limited to their actual armies, as noted in a paragraph I call “The Wanna-Be License:”

“You can use the model and rules for a named character to represent a mighty hero of a different Chapter—for example, using the rules and model for Marneus Calgar as the Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists, or a Space Marine Chapter of your own design—you just need to come up with a new name.” 
Good God Almighty, what was the GW staff thinking when they came up with that? Oh, I know: they were thinking, “We’re going to sell a [poop]load of miniatures as gamers everywhere fall down and hurt themselves as they sprint to our store to scoop up armloads of special characters.” 

Why is this a bad thing? Because if you haven’t seen it already, brace yourself for a tsunami of Space Marine armies loaded with these ersatz characters. The late, great E. Gary Gygax once said something along the lines of, “If you introduce something into a game and everyone jumps on it right away and starts doing it, you can be pretty sure you’ve blown it.” Judging by the number of Internet posts I’ve seen where someone talks about including one or more of the new “special characters” in their armies, GW has blown it big time.

Why bother making your own, “generic” characters using the stats for Chapter Masters, Captains, Chaplains, Librarians, etc. when you can cut-and-paste using GW’s? A special character is only “special” if it is rare; once you see your eighth or ninth Marneus Calgar in a row, what was “special” becomes commonplace. And no, I don’t find painting Marneus (or Sicarius, or Kantor, or Lysander) in different colors and slapping a new name on him to be clever or creative. You might think your repainted Kayvaan is “Captain Roberre Nostryl, Scourge of the Tyranids,” but everyone else is thinking he’s “Shrike in Sunburst Yellow.” 

All of this assumes, of course, that you give a flying rat’s feces about having a distinct army. If you don’t care about that, if you want to do what everyone else in the gaming store and on the tournament circuit is doing, go for it. The special characters are expensive (both in currency and points), but worth it for what they bring to your game. You won’t impress me, but I’m just some grumpy dinosaur with a low tolerance for gimmicky powergaming. Yes, “gimmicky powergaming,” because let’s be honest: the vast majority of folks who are adding special characters to their armies are doing it solely so that their Sternguard can be scoring units, or so their whole army can outflank, or so all their Marines can be Fleet. Isn’t that right? Honestly, now? Right? Look Wicked, Old, Cantankerous Uncle Kenton in the eye and tell me differently. 

Not you, of course: you know I’m speaking about other, lesser gamers. Fair enough. But if you want to make your own character, make your own character. Don’t ape one of GW’s golden boys.

Gahhhh! All this ranting about special characters has gotten me all torqued out. Sometimes I have to remind myself that playing solely to win is not a bad thing. Let me have a cup of tea and calm down and discuss something else….

Coming soon to a battlefield near you: 
enough special characters to choke a Carnifex

Expensive HQ units.  The 3rd Edition version of Codex: Space Marines had the option of taking a 30-point “Leader” as the HQ of your force; this represented a junior officer, and was ideal for low-point games. The 4th Edition version did away with low-cost “Leaders” and the latest version continues that. Captains, Chaplains, Librarians, and Masters of the Forge start off at 100 points (Chapter Masters start at 125), and any goodies you want merely add on to the cost. If you’re trying to save points, the Chaplain and the Librarian are your best bets, as their point costs include weaponry and, in the case of the Chaplain, an invulnerable save. Still, I wish there was an option for a lower-priced HQ for smaller games. 

Special and Heavy Weapons and 10-Man Tactical Squads. Apparently, enough people out there whined about how “cheesy” it was that the 3rd and 4th Edition versions of the codex allowed one to build 5-man Tactical Squads with a special and heavy weapon. I’ve never understood the fuss: sure, small squads allowed one to bring a lot of big guns, but small squads are easily taken out. But then, I’m of the opinion that there is no “cheese,” so what do I know?

In any event, the Powers-That-Be have ruled that now, one can only bring a special and a heavy weapon in a Tac Squad if one fields 10 Marines. No option to bring a special weapon with five Marines and a heavy when you add five more: no, now you get no big guns unless you bring all 10. A little heavy-handed, but now the whiners should be satisfied…until they realize that you can use Sternguard to build 5-man squads with a special weapon and a heavy weapon. So really, the net result is that you’ll see fewer of those “cheesy” squads most everyone (except me) seemed to hate, but they’re not eliminated. 

Terminators and Heavy Weapons. One of the few nice things I can say about 2nd Edition 40K is that during those awful times, Terminators rocked. Sure, they costed a lot, but their armor could shrug off just about anything and their weapons could vaporize big chunks of the battlefield at once (my favorite was the 6" blast radius of a full-on Cyclone missile launcher strike). Ah, the Bad Old Days weren’t completely bad, especially if you had some lads in Tactical Dreadnought armor….

Since then, Termies have been powered down. They were particularly weak under the 3rd Edition-era codex (so weak, that the game designers threw them a bone by later giving them a 5+ invulnerable save), and improved under the 4th Edition-era book. But following the same logic that 9 Tac Marines with a plasma gun and a lascannon is “cheesy,” so too must be five Terminators with two assault cannons. Oh, the horror! Oh, the unfairness! So someone somewhere in the brain trust of GW decreed that only 10-man Termie squads could have two heavy weapons: “That’ll learn the cheesemongers!” Well, so be it, then. 

All this talk about what I don’t like about the new book has really gotten me in a foul mood. Let’s discuss more pleasant things, shall we?

What I’m On the Fence About
Honor Guards. On the one hand, they’re very cool. On the other hand, they’re very expensive, and you can only take them with a Chapter Master, so how often are you actually going to use them? I would suggest that if you have some spare Veteran figures, you make a small squad to go along with your Main Guy, but I wouldn’t make a special trip to the store just for them.

Ironclad Dreadnoughts. It’s a Dread tooled up for close combat, especially against vehicles. A cool idea, but even with the increased armor, I’m concerned about its ability to actually get to close combat: my Defilers are usually immobilized way before they get anywhere near assault range. And once it’s stopped in its tracks, the Ironclad will have to rely on its storm bolter (and/or any h-k missiles you might have taken) to do any damage. Ehhh….

Techmarines. Let me tell you about my 2nd Edition Techmarine with the jump pack and the graviton gun. My Lord, did he put a hurt on…well, never mind. Under the 3rd and 4th Edition versions of the codex, I’d give my Tech a signum and let him hang out with my Devastators, re-rolling misses. Now that that role has been taken away, I’m not quite sure what to do with him. The ability to fortify a ruin is nice, I guess, but is it worth the 50 points minimum you’ll spend? I suppose you could give him a snazzy gun and/or a power weapon and let him run with the Sternguards or the Vanguard, but he doesn’t really seem that impressive in that vein. Have him hang around and try to fix broken vehicles? Yeah, I guess that’s about it, huh? And no, Servitors don’t do much for me.

Legion the Damned. Am I the only one that wants to see a whole army of these guys, not just a squad popping up here and there?

Vanguard: they're hoppy and choppy, but I don't know if I like them

Vanguard Veteran Squads. Yes, Vanguard can be plenty badass. A whole squad of dudes who can have jump packs AND power weapons/power fists? And who, if they have jump packs, can assault on the turn they Deep Strike? That’s like partying with two lingerie models at the same time: who’d pass that up?

Consider a few things, though. Yeah, you can load up on toys for this squad, but Vanguard don’t start off cheap (125 points for 5 guys), and they only get more expensive as you ladle on the gravy. If you’re not careful, you can wind up with a huge points-sink that the enemy can take out with…oh, say…one shot from a battle cannon. And wouldn’t that just suck anus?

Secondly, while the Heroic Intervention that lets Vanguard assault on the same turn as they Deep Strike is an awesome skill, it may be tricky to pull off. If you can arrange to have a locator beacon nearby when your Vannies arrive, then you’re sitting pretty. If not, and you deviate outside of assault range, your guys might be sitting ducks—because remember, you have to declare the Heroic Intervention before you roll for scatter. 

Land Speeder Storms. To me, this is an idea that sounds cooler than it probably works out to be on the table top. Load five Scouts on a Land Speeder variant and drop them behind enemy lines: almost as good as the aforementioned partying with hotties in lacy underthings, right? Well, I don’t know. 

If you’re going to do this, I suggest you go whole-hog and bring three fully-loaded LS Storms, because five Scouts by their lonesome don’t scare anyone except Guardsmen and Tau. You might want to beef up the weaponry on the Storms so they can provide some support fire. And don’t be surprised if you lose some Storms PDQ, as they’re open-topped, unlike other Land Speeders. Ask Dark Eldar players (if you can find some anymore) who run Raiders how fast their open-topped, lightly-armored skimmers go down…. 

Thunderfire Cannons. Maybe this is what you’re supposed to do with a Techmarine: plunk them behind a great big cannon (preferably set up in a fortified ruin) and unleash Acheron on the enemy. For 100 points, you get a tricked-out Techie and a really badass weapon, but artillery can be pretty fragile, especially when there’s only one on the board, and Space Marines are spoiled for Heavy Support choices, anyway. Still, if you’re playing a low-point game, the Thunderfire might be good to have. 

The Thunderfire: cool model, cool rules, but I'm still not sold on it

So, what’s my overall assessment of the new Codex: Space Marines? I have mixed feelings about …well, just about everything. The codex does some things really well (Combat Tactics, Sternguard, Bikes), then completely screws the pooch with other things (overblown fluff, restrictions on special and heavy weapons, and those annoying-as-all-hell special characters). The good things outweigh the bad, but while I like the book, it’s not nearly as good as the new Codex: Orks (probably the best codex ever written) or the most recent Codex: Chaos Space Marines

Posted November 2008. All images are copyright 2008 by Games Workshop and used for review purposes. 


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle