Space Marines have long been an army built focally around two Troops choices; Tactical Squads and Scout Squads. Both fit the bill of utilitarian with varying degrees of effectiveness, and both can be specialized into more niche roles as you so choose. However, in the case of Tactical Marines, no matter how you try to equip them they will always be primarily a generalist anti-infantry unit; there will always be at least seven bolters in a ten man squad, or three bolters in a five man squad. Scouts, on the other hand, can opt to take sniper rifles instead of their usual ranged armament, built more for neutralizing special weapon carriers in squads or racking up more reliable wounds on monstrous creatures. Either way, the Troops choices for Space Marines are hardly 'stars' like those of some other codices; they have restrictions that limit their effectiveness in comparison to, for example, Battle Sisters from the new digital Sisters of Battle codex, at least in the role of cheap special weapon delivery units. Similarly, Scouts get some cool abilities to make up for a weakened profile and worse armour, but are - in most cases - typically inferior as an overall Troops choice to Tactical Squads and the 'infiltrator' equivalents of other armies.
Ultimately, the big issue is that paying more for Troops choices, no matter how much better they are point-for-point than those of other armies, is very much a negative in an edition where the firepower is so ridiculous that it really doesn't matter what you are paying for. If you pay more, you just lose more; power armour, aspect armour, flak armour, what difference does it make against a cover-ignoring Strength 8 AP3 large blast? When such weaponry is in abundance throughout competitive army lists, it really highlights just how the current meta punishes elite forces above almost any other. Regardless, Space Marine Troops choices - Tactical Marines in particular - have so much flexibility in terms of potential builds and differing abilities from their Chapter Tactics that they actually can prove to be good, even great Troops choices with the right support. The key to Space Marines is buffs provided from characters and Chapter Tactics; these define the army in such a way that almost no army list will ever be entirely similar. A note that due to extensive article length, I've separated the two Troops choices into separate articles.
Overview - The bread and butter Troops choice of almost every Space Marine codex out there, Tactical Squads are cost-effective elite warriors that, while lacking specialization, make up for it with sheer utility. That the basic Space Marine has a better mix of equipment than the elite infantry of other armies - such as Orks or Tyranids - allows them to adopt a wide range of roles with varying degrees of effectiveness. They pay to be utilitarians, and this generalist focus means that while they can do a number of roles decently - such as ranged anti-tank with two melta weapons, ranged anti-infantry with bolters and flamers, and a durable scoring unit with power armour - they aren't specialists in any of those roles. They lack the number of anti-tank guns to destroy vehicles as effectively as the armour-stripping Necron Warriors, they aren't quite as deadly to infantry as Dire Avengers, and nor are they as good an objective holder as Plaguebearers. This is due in no small part to their restrictions on one special and one heavy weapon when taking a ten man squad, or one of each at five. This narrows the chosen role for the squad, leaving them either wanting to sit at home so as not to waste a heavy weapon, or moving abroad so that their special weapon can get into range. That the special and heavy weapons simply don't mix well for the most part, as the latter is pretty much a waste if the squad employs a transport for the purpose of being a mobile firebase, support and scoring unit, is the real kicker for the squad. Outside of maximising the potential of their massed boltguns, you really can't make them as strong a specialist as you would want them to be; even with a plasma gun and a combi-plasma with a Rhino, they are still good mostly for situational shots at light vehicles or monstrous creatures. And even combined with Vulkan and both a meltagun and a multi-melta, they won't be that godly tank-hunting unit you want them to be in an army with cheap flamers from Assault Squads, or specialist ammunition from Sternguard. Invariably, lacking the option of a second special or a second heavy, particularly at five-strong, dually limits their usage in a multiple-small-unit (MSU) role, and forces them to keep the generalist tag and stick mostly to gunning down enemy infantry.
Now, for some players this will not be an issue whatsoever obviously; having a unit that does many roles but doesn't really excel in any of them can pay off in a number of situations. Though the strongest army lists are invariably given to some form of spam, there is always variety in any good list so as to effectively deal with any potential threat. Where a Tactical Squad comes in handy here is through practical application, and to prove this we will use an Eldar opponent as an example. First up, everyone knows how phenomenal Wave Serpents are, how ridiculous Bladestorm on basic Troops is, and the sheer durability of monstrous creatures such as Wraithknights. A Tactical Squad with a standard load-out - a combi-plasma, a plasma gun and a rhino - might not be looking so pretty against any of these targets, but they fare quite a bit better than any single choice of those would against the others. Let me explain; a Tactical Squad - if it can get close enough - will obliterate a Wave Serpent in melee through their krak grenades. Dire Avengers, even with their guns, can't hope to take on a Wave Serpent in any meaningful sense. Dire Avengers are crazy hard to deal with for elite infantry, but using a Rhino for protection means that a Tactical Squad can ideally be deployed within close range of the Avengers and put out a large numbers of wounds, forcing those Toughness 3 bodies to take lots of casualties before they can fire. A Wraithknight, on the other hand, isn't as Fearless as it seems when faced with massed pseudo-Rending weapons. While a Wraithknight is very scary and almost impossible for any unit to deal with, Tactical Squads can offer a speed-bump to it and hold it up for a decent amount of time through a combination of And They Shall Know No Fear, potential wounds from krak grenades and that combi-plasma and plasma gun, and potential buffs from characters such as Marneus Calgar. The reality here is that a Wave Serpent, for example, is scared to death of a Wraithknight as being a vehicle when faced with two Strength 10 AP2 shots per turn and a very fast melee monster is pretty much the sole standing to throw the towel in. Are Tactical Squads so afraid of them? Not really, as the guns don't really kill them quickly enough, nor are the Wraithknight's melee capabilities that prominent to wipe them out quickly. Just fail a Leadership test, fall back, and continue to annoy it or the opponent's other units.
This is the key to understanding how to use Tactical Squads effectively; though trying to align their special and combi-weapon - or another combination, if it is viable - is certainly important, few Troops choices in the game can match their staggering utility. This is where putting them in situations where they can potentially fulfill any one of these roles will both provide you with a lot of options, but consequently some tough decisions as well. Do you employ your squad to put some wounds on those Terminators through mass rate of fire, or take a risk and charge that allied Leman Russ Demolisher with rear armour eleven? Usually, there is a 'right' decision, but it is entirely dependent on circumstance; if those Terminators are in a position to charge and knock off another of your squads from an objective, they will likely be the larger threat, particularly if it is the second last or last turn. On the other hand, that Leman Russ may be staring down your Hunter with a single hull point remaining, which given the imminent return of an opposing Stormtalon, really needs to be saved it at all possible. In that sense, the Tactical Squad really rewards the use of the most basic tactics and tricks available to a Warhammer 40000 player; effective use of target priority to determine the most immediately important threats, and reactionary tactics to change your strategy on a per-action basis. Moving up in a Rhino to clear that devastating Dark Reaper squad in the enemy deployment zone may seem a smart tactic early on, but if your other scoring units have been cleared from the Relic and it is turn four or five, moving to the key objective will likely be necessary for victory, no matter how much damage those Reapers are likely to inflict. Don't be afraid to switch targets rapidly throughout the game as Tactical Squads are versatile enough to actually reward this type of play, but always make sure to combine the firepower of the Tactical Squad with that of other units to focus down those targets one at a time. Against Necrons in particular, nothing is worse than leaving a handful of survivors in a bunch of squads as opposed to completely annihilating a few of them.
The best aspect of Tactical Squads is undoubtedly their versatility, and as far as sheer points-to-ability ratios go, they rank very high when compared to other Troops choices. Of course, as mentioned earlier, paying more for better Infantry isn't necessarily the best idea when they still die just as quickly against Riptides and Heldrakes, but that doesn't mean one should ignore the advantages Tactical Marines do have. Their superior equipment overall gives them a good edge here, with both frag and krak grenades alone making Warp Talons blush; they can assault into cover without Initiative penalties, and they can take on vehicles - including walkers - in combat. Though Tactical Marines aren't really a classy melee unit, it is still important to remember that their profile consisting mostly of 4s does make them generally better than the Troops of other armies, who counter the better stats and gear through greater numbers. Hell, being one of the more threatening units to Wave Serpents simply because of possessing krak grenades is a big plus in my books. Added to this, each Space Marine has both boltguns and bolt pistols, giving them a decent anti-infantry gun for medium range encounters, as well as a nice little pistol if you do want to risk an assault. Many other Troops choices don't enjoy the utility of having both decent rapid-fire guns as well as pistols when they need to get stuck into an assault; after all, being stuck in combat with Fire Warriors is much better than being shot at by cover-ignoring Ion Cannons! Last of all is what gives Tactical Marines both their biggest edge and their key weakness when compared to those enemy units; your basic Troops choice has a 3+ armour save, which is naturally the realm of expensive elites for other armies. On the one hand, this is great as it means your scoring units are very hard to kill through conventional firepower - and it does make a difference, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. On the other hand, unfortunately, it doesn't matter much against Strength 6 or higher and AP 3 weapons that are so commonly found through the 6th Edition codices; the Tacticals die just as quickly as Cultists, for example, but pay significantly more per model. For such reasons alone, I think a Drop Pod or a Rhino is almost mandatory for Tacticals, but I'll cover that in further detail later.
Where Tactical Marines really start to come into their own, and what chiefly makes them so valuable, is the oft derided 'And They Shall Know No Fear' special rule. This special rule lets them ignore the danger of being on the end of a sweeping advance, and they never have to test to regroup as they do so automatically. In addition, it lets Space Marines make the usual regroup move of three inches, but still fire normally unlike any other regrouping unit in the game - whom are forced to snap-fire - and they even count as being stationary for the purpose of shooting heavy weapons. Did I forget to mention the free six inch move after the usual three inch regroup move, that neither disallows further shooting or even launching an assault? The cherry on top is that Space Marines are completely immune to the increasingly-seen Fear special rule, and are thus singly responsible for most players abandoning tactics based around it. The infantry units of other armies almost universally wish they had And They Shall Know No Fear, and few more keenly than the Chaos Space Marines. When you throw in Chapter Tactics and the wide range of potential buffs that they provide, it is really easy to see just why Tactical Marines are such cost-effective models. Really, their biggest issue is the ubiquity of AP3 cover-ignoring templates and large blasts, and while it is a critical factor, it doesn't stop Tactical Marines from being a strong Troops choice. They won't slaughter elite infantry and monstrous creatures quite like Dire Avengers, they won't annihilate vehicles as well as the scoring Sabre Defence Platforms, they won't sit out the storm on an objective with the same ease as Plaguebearers, and they can't match the sheer specializations of Imperial Guard Veterans. But what they will do, and do so well, is perform all the roles those units can with reduced effectiveness, and all the roles those units can't by themselves.
How to Equip Them - Because of the restriction on only one heavy weapon and one special weapon in a squad, I tend to favour one or the other based on where the squad will be on the battlefield. If the squad is in a Rhino or a Drop Pod, I like a combi-weapon as well as a special weapon. If it is a unit that is sitting behind an Aegis Defence Line or in cover without a transport, I like a heavy weapon and maybe a special weapon with a good range. Generally speaking, you don't want to mix the two fields, as invariably one of the weapons will be wasted; taking a heavy weapon on a mobile squad will be a waste as they will need to keep moving to take objectives. Consequently, taking anything other than a flamer or perhaps a plasma gun on a back-field squad probably won't be used to good effect due to the lack of range. In the latter case, a flamer is helpful for any kind of squad simply due to the defensive benefits it brings, as is a plasma gun because of its wide threat range. I generally don't recommend plasma cannons or heavy bolters, the former due to its unreliability, and the latter due to its limited damage output, but using Imperial Fists Chapter Tactics with the latter may be decent. Missile Launchers are ok, though I generally prefer lascannons for heavy weapons due to the minimal cost difference and the highly superior damage output against vehicles.
For special weapons and combi-weapons, I usually prefer plasma for Rhino squads due to the range, and melta for Drop Pod squads because it is the best delivery system for short ranged weaponry. There is no real "right" way to equip Tacticals; if there is, it is based solely on whether they are drop-podding, in a Rhino or razorback, or on foot. I'm not sold on grav weapons for Tactical Marines, as their Salvo profile and 9" range on the move leaves them with too short a threat range to really be useful even inside a Rhino. As for the Sergeant, I would usually leave the Veteran Sergeant upgrade alone as the boost in Leadership isn't as important for the squad as it would be for Troops lacking And They Shall Know No Fear. I would only really give them a combi-weapon in all cases, as even with power weapons and the Veteran upgrade they are still mediocre at best in an assault when put up against the nasty melee units dominating the meta.
Where to Put Them - This ties hand in hand with what weapon upgrades you want to give to your Tactical Marines. If you equip them with a plasma gun and a combi-plasma, stick them in a Rhino and make sure to take at least three such squads for target saturation. If you have a meltagun and a combi-melta, take a Drop Pod and either put them in the first wave to take out a tank, or keep the risks for a scoring unit minimal and leave the alpha strike to someone else. With any heavy weapon as well as either a plasma gun or flamer, I would keep them on your home objective - preferably in cover - and not bother with a transport. Minimal squads with a special weapon and a combi weapon are also feasible in a Razorback.
Chapter Tactics - Tactical Squads are one of the few units in the Space Marine codex that receives readily apparent benefits from every single available Chapter Tactic, and it is incredibly difficult to really say one is more valuable than the rest. The reason for this is the sheer diversity of roles with Tactical Marines and their uses within an army, rewarding experimentation with each of the Chapter Tactics. For this reason, I'm going to be dividing the Chapter Tactics into sub-divisions. A note here that I won't cover the recently updated Forge World Chapter Tactics here as this is a Codex: Space Marines review only, but I did cover them elsewhere.
Ultramarines - Tactical Marines get a lot of benefit not just from the Chapter Tactics, but also from the Ultramarine Special Characters. First up are the three Combat Doctrines, one-use abilities that last for the duration of a single game turn. The first gives Tactical Marines re-rolls to hit with all their shooting, which is obviously a very large bonus; maximising this comes from using, for example, a combi-plasma and plasma gun at rapid fire range with the bolters on the turn they jump out from a Rhino. The second gives Tacticals re-rolls for their random assault length, and while this can be cool, I generally recommend keeping them out of combat anyway; if you want to hide from nasty shooting though, then this is very useful. The third gives Tacticals re-rolls to hit on Overwatch which, as more of a generalist unit that wants to stay out of combat, does give them a very handy defensive boost. Where the value of Ultramarines really starts to shine is through characters such as Marneus Calgar, who gives Ultramarines a superior form of the much beloved Combat Tactics from the previous codex. Taking Calgar and lots of Tactical Marines for this reason is not a bad idea at all, particularly when Calgar lets you use that nasty Tactical Doctrine twice in a game. This is my personal pick for the best Chapter Tactic with Tactical Marines, but only if you really focus on it by using Calgar and masses of Tactical Squads.
White Scars - There are two main benefits for Tacticals in a White Scars army, and the first is that they gain the Hit and Run special rule. Hit and Run is an amazing ability for any unit, including those that want to get out of combat as quickly as possible and on their terms. For a unit like Tactical Marines, this makes it an invaluable ability against more assault-oriented armies such as Chaos Daemons and Tyranids, and even the gun-line armies; charge into Fire Warriors to get out of sight of a Riptide, then Hit and Run out on their turn if you don't just kill them. Nice! The second benefit comes from Kor'sarro Khan, who gives them all Scout provided they took a dedicated transport. This won't affect Drop Pods obviously, but it gives Tacticals in Rhinos or Razorback a huge boost to mobility and potential for counter-deployment; a free twelve inch move before the game starts and after deployment is an amazing ability. Though White Scars armies are usually better served with Bikers as their mobile scoring units, they nonetheless give great advantages to their basic Troops.
Imperial Fists - The Fists give Tacticals the most obvious benefit through Bolter Drill; re-rolling 50% of your misses with bolt weapons, provided that the Tacticals aren't snap-firing, is a pretty good boost in offensive effectiveness. It also gives Tacticals a decent reason to include Heavy Bolters, and it combines best with the more gun-line focused Devastators who get the most benefit from the Chapter Tactics. If you want to include Tactical Marines with a heavy weapon as back or midfield objective sitters, I definitely recommend Imperial Fists.
Black Templars - Though a Black Templars army list is probably better served with Crusader Squads - who receive greater benefits from the Chapter Tactics due to their stock melee focus - the Tacticals do nonetheless get some decent buffs. Characters with re-rolls to hit and Rending on their melee weapons when fighting in a challenge gives you the best reason to take Veteran Sergeants with power weapons. As well, Crusader and Adamantium Will do help quite a bit for getting into position, sweeping advances and denying enemy psychic powers; of course, as has been proven, the best psychic powers are generally blessings, though it is still a helpful defensive boost. Overall, I think Black Templars don't really give Tacticals as much benefit as the other Chapter Tactics due to favouring melee units most of all - of which Tacticals really aren't - and also because the superior and exclusive (both for Black Templars) Crusader Squads are available in the same slot.
Iron Hands - Tactical Marines get the biggest defensive boost from (codex) Chapter Tactics with the Iron Hands. Giving each model Feel No Pain (6+) isn't that much to write home about, but much like Shield of Faith for Sisters of Battle, unit-wide 6+ saves can make a big difference, particularly where Heldrakes are concerned. Otherwise, Tacticals don't really get much benefit from Iron Hands.
Salamanders - The army-wide 'master-crafting' of flame-based weapons is useful only for combi-flamers and flamers in regards to Tactical Marines, which means you aren't very likely to see much benefit from them most of the time. Re-rolling failed saves against such weapons is certainly useful, but given that the scariest of those is AP3 anyway, it isn't quite the saving grace you would want it to be. For a Sergeant, however, a free master-crafting to any single weapon they have can be a really handy ability, particularly when using a very much recommended combi-weapon. Hell, it even gives melta bombs a big boost in reliability. But where Tactical Squads get the biggest benefit from Salamanders is through Vulkan He'stan, who master-crafts all melta weapons in the army. Add a combi-melta and a meltagun to a Tactical Squad - and perhaps even a multi-melta if you have spare points - and put them in a Drop Pod for a ridiculously cost effective anti-tank alpha strike unit. As befits their fighting style, Salamanders are the best Chapter Tactics for a highly aggressive short-ranged army, particularly a Drop Pod list.
Raven Guard - There's a bit of conflict here for Tactical Marines; Raven Guard gives them the aforementioned very useful Scout special rule without paying for a special character, but the Stealth benefit on the first turn won't help a mounted squad. A Scout redeployment is always useful, whether it is six inches or twelve inches, though I would definitely recommend taking massed Tacticals in Rhinos to make the most of the mobility boost. Along with White Scars, this is best for mobile, mechanized Tactical Squads.
Did you find this an entertaining and insightful read? Cheers! If you have any feedback for me, feel free to post a comment here or speak to me over on +Bell of Lost Souls. Happy hunting!
"Let them bestride the galaxy like the gods of old, sheltering Mankind from destruction at the hands of an uncaring universe."
- Roboute Guilliman