18 Jan 2016

Tactica Space Marines - Detachments and Formations

Greetings my fellow war-gamers and welcome to the final entry into my Space Marine Overview series! The last topic we have ahead of us comprises the various detachments and formations available to Space Marines in their current codex, and I think it goes without saying that the Adeptus Astartes most certainly did not get the shaft in this area. I hope you enjoy the article!


Gladius Strike Force - The combined-formation detachments are among the most competitive options for list-building to any codex currently for various reasons, whether it be in the way they unlock specific combinations of units that have phenomenal synergy or just the sheer weight of bonuses that one can provide. What is generally the case with them though is that the Core formation is seen as a "tax" that is still a very powerful formation in its' own right but serves to unlock the truly devastating options elsewhere, while using the formations as part of the combined detachment provides a host of worthwhile buffs. This is not at all the case with the Adeptus Astartes' unique detachment seeing as the general Space Marine formations are obviously strong but the real power of the army comes from the Core choice Demi-Companies when they are specifically used in a Gladius Strike Force. This is due to a number of factors that all contribute to a Core formation that defines competitive Space Marine armies, rather than being a stepping stone to the oft more useful auxiliary choices. The first of these is that when two separate Demi-Companies are taken as Core choices in a Gladius and one is led by a Captain and the other by a Chaplain, all Dedicated Transport options for the units in the formation become free extras which can incredibly save upwards of three to six hundred points depending on whether Rhinos, Drop Pods or Razorbacks are chosen.

The second important bonus is that all units chosen as part of a Demi-Company - including their transports, tellingly - possess the Objective Secured special rule, meaning you can literally flood the board with more "super-scoring" units than your opponent will likely ever be able to handle in a standard game. Combining the free transports with this ability gives a Gladius not only a significant points advantage over other armies but it is also the undisputed king of objective games, especially once you consider that Space Marines are naturally a close to medium ranged army wherein transports become so crucial for mobility. The other thing to consider is that not only do the Demi-Companies themselves gain a Tactical Doctrine to use once per game, the Gladius itself provides the army with one of each Combat Doctrine - usually meaning a non Ultramarine force will have one Tactical Doctrine specific to the Demi-Companies, and then a single instance for the Tactical, Devastator and Assault Doctrines that can benefit the entire army. This means that you can essentially combine the benefits of the Ultramarines Chapter Tactics with that of any other Chapter to create some incredibly powerful armies that have masses of re-rolls to supplement their weaponry, giving you some fantastic effective damage output, unparalleled objective takers and plenty of mobility. A fully formed Gladius Strike Force is a beautiful sight to behold and it is interesting because much of the army points allowance will often be invested into the near mandatory two Demi-Companies, with the auxiliaries often being seen as the "tax" in complete opposition to other multiple formation detachments.


Battle Demi-Company - Discussing the competitive merits of this formation really comes down to the context used; it is an entirely different beast based on whether you employ it as part of a Gladius or instead opt to take it as a stand-alone formation. As a solo formation the Demi-Company amounts to a specific list of infantry units with some steep minimum requirements in terms of points investment, all for some rather minimal buffs; much of the formation would already have Objective Secured as part of a Combined Arms detachment and the single bonus Tactical Doctrine specific to all Demi-Companies is a nice but not overwhelming bonus. Much like any other "Core" formation, the real value for the Demi-Company comes from its' place in the Gladius Strike Force or "Decurion-style" detachment; not only do they get all three Combat Doctrines on top of the aforementioned Tactical Doctrine, all dedicated transports for the formation become free if another Demi-Company with specific restrictions is taken. In that sense I probably wouldn't take a Demi-Company by itself as a solo formation to add to an army as opposed to a basic Combined Arms or Allied detachment with lesser restrictions that unlocks more of the heavy hitters of the codex such as Thunderfire Cannons or Stormtalons. However, the pair of Demi-Companies backed by free transports that make up the bulk of a Gladius list are undoubtedly the strongest and most dominant aspect of that army type; if you have the models to field what amounts to a Battle Company (or half of one if you don't max out your squads) then using the Demi-Companies in the Gladius is a no-brainer.

Anti-Air Defence Force - Consisting of a minimum of one Hunter and two Stalkers, the Anti-Air Defence Force is pretty appropriately named; if you require more extreme countermeasures to flyers or flying monstrous creatures from the codex then this should be your first stop. The formation benefit is somewhat middling; scoring a hit with the Hunter(s) on an aerial target allows the Stalkers to gain +1 Ballistic Skill if they shoot at the same enemy. Any boost to the effective damage output of a unit is always appreciated, especially for Stalkers which actually rank as one of the best dedicated anti-air tanks in the Imperium. Of course, the problem therein lies that the buff is reliant on the Hunter actually getting to shoot at a target which, considering it lacks Interceptor but the Stalkers do not, can lead to some problematic situations where trying to benefit from the formation bonus means sacrificing a chance to fire Interceptor shots at oncoming reserves before they get a chance to act. I honestly would prefer a trio of Stalkers in a Combined Arms detachment to the Anti-Air Defence Force given the amazing squadron bonus Stalkers gain as well as them having better synergy with each other, though truthfully I don't think anti-air requires such a large investment as it did in 6th Edition. It's a nifty little formation but not a spectacular one; take it as part of a Gladius if you need your anti-air needs fulfilled, or substitute it out for three Stalkers in other standard detachments.

1st Company Task Force - If you are looking for a meaty alpha strike formation to add some heavy hitters to a Gladius detachment outside of the core Battle Company, the 1st Company Task Force is a fairly good auxiliary choice indeed even if I would argue the Skyhammer is superior in the same role. It consists of between three and five squads of either type of Veterans and Terminators, and the formation benefits consist of all units causing Fear, being Fearless, having Preferred Enemy against a single enemy unit and forcing enemies to subtract two points from their Leadership characteristic when within 12" of three of the formations' squads. Combining this latter ability with Librarians rolling on Telepathy is a fairly obvious and deadly tactic, while the Preferred Enemy buff is well suited to the alpha strike potential of Sternguard Veterans wielding combi-weapons in particular. While you can make good use of nearly every unit available to the formation, I do think Sternguard Veterans are the best choice overall because they can get immediate use out of Preferred Enemy to simply tear their first target to shreds when arriving via Drop Pod, and depending on how many squads are present you should be able to impose the nasty Leadership debuff from turn two onwards; obviously, stacking this formation up with a Skyhammer Annihilation Force is not going to win you any friends. Of the various formations that are available both on their lonesome and as part of a Gladius, the 1st Company Task Force is definitely one of my favorites even if I would still argue you can probably get similar or even superior results out of the aforementioned Skyhammer.

Strike Force Ultra - If you want to field an all Terminator force with the "standard" Space Marine codex then the Strike Force Ultra is likely your best bet, even though I would say that the specific range of units on offer tend not to be competitive on their own merits. Regardless, the formation consists of four Terminator squads - two of each type - a Terminator Captain, a Venerable Dreadnought, a Stormraven Gunship and either a Land Raider Crusader or Land Raider Redeemer. The idea behind the formation is fairly simple; the Assault Terminators and Venerable Dreadnought start in the transports which themselves will be in Reserve, the ranged Terminators begin in Deep Strike Reserve - and that's not just the theme, that's the restriction too. The formation buffs are appropriately numerous given the incredible base price of all the units, the first of which is that all of the units can potentially arrive on the table on turn one rather than from turn two onward as normal. The regular Terminators gain a bonus shot with their ranged weapons the first time they are placed on the board - meaning arriving from Deep Strike Reserve or disembarking from a transport - while the Assault Terminators gain a bonus attack in close combat instead. While this does sound impressive at first given that all of the units start the game in Reserves - meaning they aren't easily dealt with by an alpha strike - and the Terminators specifically gain damage boosts when they initially strike out against the foe, there are some hefty limitations to keep in mind.

The first of these stifling problems is that the rules for generating the bonus attacks in either shooting or melee occur the first time a unit arrives from Reserve or leaves their transport, meaning that if - for example - the Land Raider is moving up and gets destroyed in the enemy turn, the attack bonus does not extend to the Terminators' oncoming turn and thus eliminates the major buff for the formation. Additionally, being forced to start in reserves with such a huge chunk of points removes the element of choice from deployment and narrows your tactical flexibility considerably, while it also makes the formation vulnerable to opposing reserves manipulation; heaven help you if a Horus Heresy era Alpha Legion force is on the other end of the table. On top of that, it's no secret that Terminators, Land Raiders and Stormravens are not really performing that well in 7th Edition; the first two types of unit are far too easily killed or neutered despite their excessive points costs, and the latter pays to be an assault transport despite being a mediocre one at that due to all the horrendous risks involved with flying ferries. That Stormravens are forced to sacrifice their saving grace - their durability in the skies - to drop their attached units off accurately and still allow them to benefit from the formation bonus is a crucial weakness of the unit that the latest codex failed to address. All in all, it is just too many points invested into mediocre or poor choices that don't really gain that much benefit from the formation rules; some extra damage output is nice but it doesn't address the core issues of the attendant squads and vehicles being both over-priced and frail in the face of massed Destroyer or Graviton weaponry.

Reclusiam Command Squad - Notable mostly for being available as a stand-alone box set, the Reclusiam Command Squad features a single Chaplain and a Command Squad inside of a Razorback; being close buddies, they all have to stay together and ply their trade as a group. While the 6" bubble surrounding the Chaplain that provides friendly units with pseudo Hatred is nice enough, it is fairly limited given the close proximity it requires for assaulting forces that are so often split apart. As for the unit itself, they benefit from Crusader to make themselves just a bit more mobile and likely of performing Sweeping Advances. You might think "fair enough" and you wouldn't be wrong; the benefits here are fairly limited and not really worth taking the formation for. Of course, that's before one even considers the unusual mix of units here; a Chaplain exists to buff a really nasty melee unit, to which a Command Squad is patently inferior to competitors such as Honour Guard or Assault Terminators - that they cannot take Bikes or Jump Packs effectively seals them as a ranged support unit in this case. It raises the question then; why would you want a Chaplain with a Command Squad that is most commonly used to inject numerous special weapons into your army, and if they are being billed as a kind of assault unit, why are they in a Razorback that is neither an assault transport nor possesses any fire points in case you do want to focus on the Command Squads' strengths? The answer is simple; no. Does that answer make any sense? No. Just like this formation. Humor aside, the real use for the Reclusiam Command Squad is as part of a hybrid force; a full Battle Company can situationally make use of the bubbled re-rolls on to-hit rolls for close combat attacks, especially as the unit can technically stick inside the protective Razorback and still project the aura. It's still not great or even good but I would refrain from saying it is useless.

10th Company Task Force - A mix of between three and five Scout Squads or Scout Bikers - the latter of which must be equipped with Cluster Mines if they are taken - might seem like it wouldn't offer that much to an army outside of more scoring bodies, but as a possible mandatory Auxiliary choice for a Gladius, it is the cheapest and most effective supplement to a Battle Company available. The formation benefits range from effectively free Camo Cloaks that function until the unit budges from a stationary position for any reason, while all the units present also gain Precision Shots for the duration of the first game turn. While losing out on Objective Secured means you probably wouldn't want to add this to an army as a stand-alone formation, it is perfect for a Gladius by providing a wealth of additional scoring bodies with super deployment abilities that also fulfill the single mandatory Auxiliary slot as cheaply as possible. This allows competitive Space Marine lists to feasibly add in a Skyhammer Annihilation Force, a powerful Allied detachment and various other choices to the army without investing too heavily into the secondary formations comprising a Gladius Strike Force. Of course, armies that just want some tough and cheap scoring bodies will struggle to beat the 10th Company Strike Force out for reliability given the fact that, as Space Marines, they are uniquely suited to taking and holding objectives with the amazing And They Shall Know No Fear rule.

Storm Wing - The other side of aerial dominance is actually taking to the skies with your own army rather than using specific, narrow countermeasures involving the various anti-air tanks; this is what the Storm Wing exists for, giving Space Marines their own awesome air-force. Consisting of one Stormraven and two Stormtalons that are all free to operate individually to an extent, the larger of the three flyers gains the always appreciated Strafing Run special rule as long as one of the lesser kin survives, while all three models arrive from Reserves simultaneously based off of one successful dice roll. What I really like about this formation is that it combines two great units (the Stormtalons) with one decent unit (the Stormraven) and goes out of its way to improve the most important aspect of the latter, especially given that flying transports not named the Night Scythe tend to be too much of an expensive gamble in 7th Edition - though the formation does not prevent you from loading it up if you so desire. This is quite a bit more expensive than the base version of an Anti-Air Defence Force but the overall firepower given the ability to choose to use Skyfire or not on a turn-by-turn basis as well as the many added benefits of being flyers - notably the improved durability - leads to me say the Storm Wing is certainly worth it if you can make up the points. The trio will dominate the air against most foes - the Crimson Death being the one major exception that comes to mind - and have the benefit of arriving as a group rather than potentially piece-meal, though this does raise another possible issue. Having over four hundred points worth of models tied to a single Reserves roll can be hugely crippling if you have bad dice luck or your opponent can play around with the dice roll, but for the most part it shouldn't really be much of a downside. I will say, however, that giving Strafing Run to a Stormraven that already has Twin-Linked on each of its ranged weapons barring the one-use-only Stormstrike Missiles really isn't that big of a formation benefit given that already hitting on threes with re-rolls tends to be near perfect accuracy anyway, but in the context of a Gladius Strike Force, a slot-deprived army or even as an Allied formation, taking a Storm Wing to provide an army with some incredible presence in the skies is rarely a bad idea.

Centurion Siegebreaker Cohort - Comprised of between two to four units of Centurion Devastators as well as a single mandatory Ironclad Dreadnought, this is an elite assault formation with benefits oriented around destroying both vehicles and buildings. The major buff is that any building or transport destroyed by units from the formation in any given Assault phase inflict 2D6 Strength 6 AP4 Ignores Cover hits on any unit embarked upon them, making them specialists against transport heavy and gun-line builds. Additionally, the Centurions can also re-roll all failed armor penetration rolls against buildings as well as being able to re-roll glances to try and get penetrating hits, but this particular buff only applies so long as the Sergeant of a given squad survives. As a primarily assault-based force that is slow moving and can't innately Deep Strike, purchasing Dedicated Transports for this formation is downright mandatory and only adds significantly to their purchase price; a Drop Pod will do the job for the Ironclad Dreadnought, but the Assault Centurions are sadly limited to Land Raiders and Fast Attack Drop Pods from a non-Gladius detachment to get around. Given that I don't think Centurion Assault Squads are necessarily a fantastic assault unit coupled with the incredible cost required to make this formation tick, it's not something I would just throw into any Gladius or standard army list as ultimately Space Marines can always deal with this formations' preferred targets at range fairly well in most cases. One cool combination is to use the Centurion Siegebreaker Cohort with the Land Raider Spearhead, making an incredibly tough but obnoxiously points intensive force that relies solely on the transports and the distraction offered by other elements such as the Ironclad. Speaking of the Land Raider Spearhead...

Land Raider Spearhead - Hoo boy, this one's a winner in my books if only for how darned awesome it is to see Land Raiders on the table-top again. Yes, it's almost half your total army allowance in a standard 1850 point game and it doesn't do that much damage, but by golly it will make it across the board against nearly anything short of the most powerful or massed anti-tank weapons. Usually, Land Raiders aren't seen too much because all it takes to render one nigh worthless is a single stray Graviton shot that rolls a lucky six and automatically Immobilizes it, or a few Destroyer weapons that completely bypass its incredibly high armor values; there are just too many ways to neuter the strengths of the unit. Enter the Land Raider Spearhead where, so long as each Land Raider is within 6" of each other, they ignore all results on the vehicle damage chart except for the Explodes result which means in most cases - due to the buffs vehicles did get with regards to the vehicle damage chart - that opponents will have to slowly strip every individual hull point off of each Land Raider to stop them. Also, don't let the secondary buff fool you into thinking these can be your primary damage dealers; re-rolling failed to-wound and armor penetration rolls against Gargantuan Creatures, Super Heavy Vehicles or Mighty Bulwarks is a much appreciated but very specific bonus to their effective damage output that fails to change the identity of the unit. Land Raiders are still primarily leviathan transports that function by safely and reliably disgorging powerful assault units right into the heart of an enemy battle-line, and the fact that this is a formation means it can be thrown into any given Armies of the Imperium force and used by the accompanying army for some surprisingly powerful assault tactics. Swathes of Honor Guard, Death Company, Centurion Assault Squads and so on can be made into bloodletting terrors of war with assistance from a Land Raider Spearhead, though I would deem it a more situational formation given that it will still have its hard counters - notably alpha-striking melta weaponry and Destroyer weapons.

Librarius Conclave - Widely seen as one of or perhaps the most powerful formations in the Space Marine codex in terms of general application to any kind of force comprised of one or more factions, the Librarius Conclave consists of three to five Librarians that gain a host of special benefits. As the Librarians do not form a single unit, you are free to spread them around to different squads and spread the psychic love without making themselves such an obvious target - however, they do gain special benefits for being in close proximity to one another. A single Librarian in the formation can be elected to learn the psychic powers of any fellow Librarians within 12" for the duration of a given psychic phase, acting as a nexus for all of the individual psykers. The other principal bonus for doing this is that the Librarian you elect as the focus for the formation harness Warp Charges on the roll of a 3+ rather than a 4+, increasing to a 2+ if two or more Librarians are in close proximity. The nominated Librarian can change between phases in case you need to split them up or make better use of line of sight for a given model, allowing some additional flexibility with the formation. A point of note here is that the rules indicate that the other Librarians sacrifice their ability to cast powers if you do nominate one to gain all the bonuses, but per the rules as written technically the others can still attempt to cast powers despite the intention of the rules seemingly pointing in the opposite direction. How you play this specific rule is up to you, but regardless, it goes without saying that the Librarius Conclave is an incredibly powerful tool for a competitive game; the freedom to equip between three and five Librarians how you want allows you to tailor them either as supporting elements of a larger army or to guide a death star with near guaranteed casting for the godly Invisibility psychic power and other impressive psychic buffs.

Armored Task Force - Making full use of the many and much improved Space Marine tanks, the Armored Task Force encompasses a wall of vehicular awesomeness that are led by a truly mighty Techmarine and provide Adeptus Astartes players that miss mechanized forces with an avenue back into that style of play; combine this formation with a Battle Company and laugh as opponents literally fail to bring enough anti-tank firepower to destroy even half of your tanks! Principally, the formation consists of three to five units of the main Rhino-chassis tanks - the Vindicator, Predator and Whirlwind - chosen in any combination to suit your armies' needs, with a single mandatory Techmarine joining the fray who himself can be attached to friendly squads acting as bodyguards. The optional Thunderfire Cannons give the Armored Task Force the unique distinction of being the only Gladius-approved formation to bear those sacred artillery pieces, but generally speaking the formation is mostly about the tanks and rightly so. The formation benefits revolve entirely around the Techmarine and any Techmarine Gunners manning Thunderfire Cannons in the detachment; vehicles within 6" of any Techmarine are immune to the Crew Shaken and Crew Stunned results and thus ignore over half of the vehicle damage chart, but also benefit from a +1 bonus to any Repair rolls made by the attending Techmarines. Given how much stronger all three tank types are now either generally speaking or with specific regard to their squadron bonuses, as well as the incredible points efficiency of the Thunderfire Cannons, and it isn't difficult to see the appeal of the formation; it adds tonnes of steel and guns to any army list and is mostly self-sufficient, save for having to find a squad to babysit the lone Techmarine. While a full Battle Company will often be points starved enough to not be able to really commit to an Armored Task Force or find more synergy with other specific formations, I still believe this is a great way of achieving the fully mechanized dream of many Space Marine players that recent rulebooks have mostly penalized.

Suppression Force - One of the more surprising formations in the Space Marine codex features two units that have been regarded as fairly mediocre or lackluster for the past couple of editions running, but what is really rather astounding is that this collection is actually pretty darned powerful. While Whirlwinds gained a very impressive squadron bonus - and the only restriction of the formation helps you along this path by forcing you to take at least two Whirlwinds in a single unit - the mix of units is rather unusual given their wildly differing battlefield roles. The formation bonuses are very interesting though; the Land Speeder squadron effectively act as spotters for your Whirlwind artillery, offering them infinite range and re-rolls to-hit against a single target per turn which, combined with Shred and Pinning from their squadron bonus, can make for some darned terrifying artillery that can operate in relative safety from across the board. Of course, the formation is hamstrung by the Land Speeders being the super fragile lynch-pins for the special rules, but the super low cost and awesome infantry bombardment potential of the units to add to a Gladius makes it a fine selection overall.

Thank you all for reading this article! Space Marines have consistently been a strong faction throughout Warhammer 40,000 and the latest codex most certainly emphasizes that with the various incredible units and alternate detachments on offer. If you have an opinion to share on this topic, feel free to voice it in the comments section below and I will do my best to respond. Thanks again everyone!


  1. I really hope they come out with more formations for the other chapters, like they did with Raven Guard and White Scars. More specifically, Salamanders.

    1. That would be awesome, the Raven Guard and White Scars formations are very thematic and powerful in their own right. I was a bit down on Raven Guard when the codex first released but their campaign rules certainly flipped my opinion on its head! I'm personally raring for Black Templars myself, but Salamanders would be very cool to see!

  2. What does the Skyhammer formation do?

    1. I don't want to quote the rules verbatim so I'll just give a brief run-down. Basically, it comprises two squads of Devastators in Drop Pods and two Assault Squads armed with Jump Packs. They all Deep Strike and gain some massive bonuses when they drop such as Relentless or charging out of reserves. It's very nasty and one of the strongest formations available to Space Marines!