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 - When one looks at Scouts and compares their points cost to Tactical Marines, seeing their value really isn't an easy task. They are a unit with weaker stats, a worse armour save, and a slew of useful but not obviously game-changing special rules, as well as fewer wargear options in regards to special and heavy weapons. However, you will quickly find that Scouts make for ideal scoring units and also provide a Space Marine force with cheap melee harassment units. First up, even though their stat-line isn't as impressive as that of Tactical Marines, they still compare incredibly well to the Troops of other codices. They have Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill 3, Strength, Toughness and Initiative 4, and a handy 4+ armour save. For only a few points more than a Fire Warrior, they are more durable, far better in combat, and even come armed with grenades, pistols and the gem of all special rules; And They Shall Know No Fear. This special rule really reviews itself - it is quite possibly the most defined and iconic special rule in the game - but it nonetheless bears mentioning; Scouts are a cheap Troops choice that will absolutely stick around to the last man, which can be so pivotal in objectives games. They have good Leadership to back this up, and will never be swept up in combat; handily, their good Initiative means they will often do the sweeping against their opponents anyway! And then you throw in their bolt pistols to fire a salvo before they charge, and - perhaps most importantly - their frag and krak grenades to assault into cover without penalty, and provide a really strong threat to non-walker vehicles. From Rhinos to Wave Serpents - the latter in particular fear assaults above all else - having unit-wide krak grenades incorporated into the basic cost of the squad is simply awesome, and a trait that few other Troops share.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself; "well that's neat, but Tactical Marines do all that and more". Well, yes that certainly is true, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Scouts have a mind-boggling array of special rules on top of those they share with Tactical Marines, including Infiltrate, Move Through Cover and Scout. For a squad that is as likely to be carrying weapons with the heavy classification as it is to be kitted out for melee, having these extra mobility and deployment options is a huge boon. Having both Scout and Infiltrate gives Scouts (haha) unparalleled flexibility when it comes to deployment, allowing them to effectively deploy 12" away from an enemy unit even in their line of sight if you so choose. They can hide in cover and then scout move into better positions with firing lanes while staying in the terrain, or they can freely move closer to a specific target vulnerable in a melee, such as Fire Warriors or a light vehicle. With Move Through Cover, Scouts don't suffer as much by moving through terrain as most other units, giving them the added incentive to stick to terrain with little downside. What really makes all these rules so crazy is that the ever frowned upon Land Speeder Storm has finally been changed into a dedicated transport for the Scouts, giving them one of the cheapest open-topped - and thus, assault - transports in the game. Combine that with above average - as far as Xenos are concerned - melee capabilities, such as the likelihood of destroying Wave Serpents and squads of Fire Warriors on the charge, even with a five-man limitation to the transport, and you have yourself the basis for an assault-oriented Space Marine army. The Land Speeder itself combines very well with the Initiates, as it too has the Scout special rule (I win!) and combines light firepower in a heavy bolter with a cerberus launcher. That the Storm can move up to twelve inches and fire both of its weapons is very handy, as well as being able to move 6" and afford a standard disembarkation move to its' occupants. This allows for almost guaranteed assaults on the first two turns, even if the Storm is destroyed. Of particular note though is the Cerberus Launcher, which with its' Blinding effect compliments the Scouts extremely well.
Initiates can take locator beacons on their Sergeants, giving your reserves some added reliability; having locator beacons on a unit that can Outflank, Scout and Infiltrate is just crazy good, especially given that they still are Space Marines and all that entails. Scouts also have access to unit-wide sniper rifles, extra close combat weapons and even camo cloaks. This gives the unit a sense of unity that can't be found with the more diverse Tactical Squad; the unit need not retain a measure of bolters, meaning that they don't compromise their specialist weapons. Scouts even have access to shotguns and come stock with boltguns, though I generally would recommend switching them out for other options depending on how you want to employ the unit. Still, Scouts aren't the be-all end-all Troops choice that Space Marine players would be hoping for; they are good value, certainly, but they are still quite fragile when the big guns come hunting. The advantage they have over Tactical Marines in this regard is that Scouts are cheaper per model and thus aren't as concerned when they are targeted with those big weapons; as well, you will likely be using them as your support Troops anyway. This is perhaps the key issue to running them en masse; while cheap in almost every variation, they don't quite provide the same utility and damage output as Tactical Marines do. Though I don't really see either of the main Space Marines Troops choices as damage dealers, it is nonetheless a sticking point that also ties hand in hand with their slightly more noticeable fragility. However, Scouts make for ideal scoring units in all situations; as snipers with camo cloaks, they are a strong and cheap defensive unit that can ward off light melee resistance, and as a mobile assault unit they are quite good at clearing out opposing Troops choices with a weaker profile. For this reason, I recommend employing them as the supporting elements of your main force for the most part, though there are certainly quite a few good reasons to run them as your primary scoring bodies as well. This is one of many tough choices that further characterizes the brilliance of this new codex; you can rarely say one unit is flat out better than another overall, promoting a wide range of army builds.
How to Equip Them - Scouts are a much more versatile unit than many army lists you can find would have you believe. Contrary to what you might see, Scouts armed with sniper rifles and camo cloaks are not the only build available to the unit. That isn't to say such a unit isn't viable, of course. It comes back to what you expect from your Scouts; do you want an objective camper, or an objective grabber? Objective camping units are best suited with that aforementioned load-out, mixing sniper rifles for light generalist firepower with camo cloaks and, ideally, cover for a cheap and pretty durable scoring unit. Combining Camo Cloaks with sniper rifles and ruins, for example, gives you a unit with a 3+ cover save and a 36" range gun that is viable against light vehicles, monstrous creatures and all kinds of infantry, and at the same points cost per model as a Tactical Marine. As each member of the squad can have the same gun, each bearing a long range, this unifies their firepower far better than what can be found with Tactical Marines, though they do also have access to heavy weapons.
There is a missile launcher that can be upgraded with flakk missiles, or a heavy bolter that has access to unique hellfire shells. Generally, I'm not at all sold on missile launchers even for Tactical Marines, and as such I don't really recommend them for Scouts at all; they are an expensive generalist weapon that simply isn't that good at either of the roles it tries to fill. And besides, if you do take a missile launcher, I would avoid the flakk missile upgrade at all costs; as with every other army featuring them so far, we have yet to see a really good use for flakk missiles. The heavy bolter is actually a good weapon option for Scouts, as it complements both the range and viable targets of sniper rifles perfectly, it is relatively cheap, and it can even take the nasty hellfire shells. The optimal size for the unit, regardless of the heavy weapon choice, is pretty much based on how many points you want to spend on the unit; a small unit is a perfect, cheap objective sitter, while a large unit earns its keep as well. Taking a locator beacon on the sergeant is also a good idea if you plan to employ deep striking units such as Terminators or Drop Pods; being able to drop precisely close to your target is always a bonus!
The other build that is rapidly increasing in popularity in the new codex involves Scouts armed with either shotguns and close combat weapons, run in units of five and with a Land Speeder Storm as a dedicated transport. This makes for an incredibly cheap little unit that fills a Troops slot, is guaranteed to be launching assaults into the enemy deployment zone on turn one or two provided they survive, and is quite capable of taking on most other Troops choices due to having Space Marine stats. Strength and Toughness 4 Troops with three attacks each on the charge at Weapon Skill 3 and Initiative 4 beats out most other Troops, particularly those of the dominant Eldar and Tau. Due to having a Scout deployment or Infiltrate, depending also on whether they get in a transport or not, this is an assault unit with crazy mobility that benefits hugely from its access to an open-topped fast skimmer transport. That the Land Speeder Storm also provides decent light firepower to complement the Scouts makes for an incredibly well rounded unit, but perhaps the biggest draw of this unit comes from their frag and krak grenades. That these units can be taken en masse due to their minimal cost and have both kinds of grenades actually makes them a rather strong counter to Eldar Wave Serpents, tanks that fear krak grenades above almost all other attacks. Such a unit really doesn't require upgrades at all, save that they be run five-strong in a Land Speeder Storm, or even ten-strong on foot. They are a cheap assault unit with incredible mobility that retains that unique Space Marine flexibility through their grenades and good stats.
Where to Put Them - This ties directly into how you equip the Scouts. Scouts with sniper rifles and heavy weapons want to be camped in cover on your home objective. Scouts with boltguns or shotguns want to be Infiltrating close to provide light fire support and counter-assault potential. And lastly, Scouts with close combat weapons want to be loaded in a Land Speeder Storm or in large units of ten, and sent right up to the enemy. Due to their mediocre armour save, keeping Scouts in cover is definitely the soundest strategy no matter how you intend to run them; that they have Move Through Cover eliminates most of the penalties to deploying them or moving them through terrain.
Best Uses - Scouts are such a cheap Troops choice unless you waste points on them that they can either be used as your primary scoring units or your supporting Troops. In large numbers, they can actually prove to be pretty decent, particularly when you take four or more units of them in Land Speeder Storms, or in large units that Infiltrate forward to launch turn two assaults. These provide cheap, decent assault units that are otherwise unavailable to Space Marines and don't care nearly as much as Tactical Marines do when a Heldrake gives them a call. Scouts with sniper rifles, on the other hand, are best served as your supporting Troops; they are designed to sit on an objective, survive and stay out of range, not to do damage. Tactical Marines do damage at range and in combat far better than 'Sniper Scouts', so I would use those as your primary Troops instead. In general though, as cheap and versatile in deployment and mobility as Scouts are, I feel they are usually suited to being your supporting cast rather than being the primary scoring units. This is because they don't quite have the general staying power and damage potential as Tactical Marines more than anything else.
Chapter Tactics - Scouts find a lot of benefits from most of the Chapter Tactics, much like Tactical Marines. Unlike Tactical Marines though, it is quite easy to see which give stronger benefits to Scouts than others due to the more varied ways to deploy them.
Ultramarines - Scouts get decent mileage out of the Ultramarines Chapter Tactics, but mostly due to the Assault Doctrine. Re-rolling snap shots and ones to hit with their guns from the other two Doctrines are nice, if slight, boosts, but giving them a turn to re-roll their charge distances is simply awesome. This gives an already very decent melee unit that much needed boost to hopefully ensure they make it into combat.
White Scars - Quite possibly the best of the Chapter Tactics for Scouts, giving the already Scouting and Infiltrating Space Marines Hit and Run, on top of already having Move Through Cover, is just crazy. Sniper Scouts got charged? Get them out. Assault Scouts wanting to get out of a nasty combat, or leave to re-charge their opponent? Hit and Run! This benefits assault Scouts the most by far as they are more likely both to use it and to require its' use.
Imperial Fists - Bolter Drill for Scouts, while certainly nice, doesn't enjoy the same boost as it does for other Space Marines. Their Ballistic Skill of 3 means that they are a mediocre ranged unit, and Bolter Drill doesn't really alleviate that issue.
Black Templars - Between Scout, Infiltrate, Land Speeder Storms as dedicated transports and potentially two close combat weapons, adding Crusader into the mix can be quite fun, particularly against the run of the mill Eldar and Tau forces. Adamantium Will is also useful, but as most psychic powers you will really worry about are Blessings, it is limited. These are actually pretty decent for assault-oriented Scout units.
Iron Hands - Having Feel No Pain (6+) isn't as useful here as it might be on the more valuable per model Tactical Marines, but it is nonetheless a slight defensive boost that can save Scouts against Baleflamers and general anti-infantry firepower.
Salamanders - Scouts gain some mixed benefits from these; the free master-crafting on the Sergeant is useful, particularly if they have a combi-weapon. On the other hand, re-rolling failed saves against template weapons won't work against the increasingly common AP4 or better templates, though it is handy against AP5 and AP6 templates - such as Doomweavers - of course. That Scouts themselves can't get template weapons outside of a combi-flamer on the Sergeant rather limits these Chapter Tactics for them.
Raven Guard - Rather surprisingly, unlike Tactical Marines, Scouts don't get much benefit at all from these Chapter Tactics; they already have Scout, and having Stealth on the first turn is a rather conditional ability, although certainly a useful one. Ultimately, Raven Guard Chapter Tactics don't really change Scouts as much as one would hope.
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!
"We are the Space Marines. The champions of Humanity. The Emperor's chosen warriors.
For every one of us that falls in battle one hundred enemies will die."