I often hear Space Marine players complain about their Tactical squads. It's commonly said that they "don't do anything" and that they cost too much, weakening the rest of the army. With the advent of Space Marine detachments requiring a large number of Tactical Marines, being able to use Tactical Marines well is more important than ever. In honor of the 30th Anniversary of the Space Marine, I thought I'd share some lessons I've learned about Tactical Marines.
They're not going to wipe out enemy squads on their own. Tactical Marines are all about board control. They get in the enemy's way, holding or contesting objectives, blocking important assaults, and threatening fragile shooting units. Sure, 5 Tactical Marines won't kill an enemy heavy weapon squad, but they will tie it up in assault for the rest of the game. Don't look for ways to wipe out the enemy with Tactical Marines. Figure out what your opponent's battle plan is and then look for ways that your Tactical Marines can throw a wrench into it. But to do so...
You need a lot of them. Often when players complain about their Tactical squads, they are playing with two minimum strength squads. Of course those won't do much! You need numbers to get in your enemy's way. Ten Marines won't be much of a speed bump. I prefer to take 3 full strength squads for games between 1,500 and 2,000 points, and 2 full squads for smaller games. This gives them the numbers to control the center of the table, provide some useful firepower, and survive enemy firepower.
Small squads are best. The multiple small unit (MSU) approach works best with Tactical Marines. It allows you to layer them, forcing your opponent to deal with one small unit at a time. If you're trying to delay an assault, you can put several squads in a row, blocking their path. Place them correctly and the enemy can only assault one of your units, which they'll wipe out in one phase. Then your remaining Tactical squads shoot them, and another sacrificial squad gets in the enemy's face (but doesn't assault them). Unless the enemy is very fast, they have no choice but to assault that unit. Repeat until you kill off the assaulting unit or run out of Tactical Marines. Shooty squads are similarly restricted. Those grav centurions won't be happy if they're limited to killing 5 Tactical Marines a turn.
I prefer to take full squads and combat squad them, so that I don't need as many transports. However, taking lots of 5 Marine squads and giving them Razorbacks is quite viable as well. Speaking of that...
They need transports. Whether Rhino, Razorback, or Drop Pod, Tactical Marines need a transport. The transport does two things. First, it speeds up your Marines. This allows them to go where they're needed to disrupt the enemy's plan as quickly as possible. Second, it protects them from enemy fire. Does your opponent have some great artillery or heavy weapons, like those grav Centurions I mentioned before? I bet they'd rather shoot them at the Tactical Marines directly rather than use all that firepower to kill a 40 point Rhino (always take dozer blades).
Never forget their basic equipment. Bolter, bolt pistol, frag and krak grenades. Most of the time you'll fire your bolters. If you need to assault, you'll fire bolt pistols. Close to a horde of Termagants? Throw a frag grenade. If you're shooting a meltagun at a tank, always remember to throw a krak grenade. I've killed Stormravens with krak grenades, and taken the last hull point off a charging Helbrute with an overwatched krak grenade. Your basic Tactical Marine is surprisingly flexible if you remember all of his equipment.
Tactical Marines need to be in mid-field. This is where they can clog up the enemy advance. This is also where their bolters and special weapons are most useful. Do you need a squad to hang out in your backfield and hold an objective? Take a Thunderfire Cannon or Devastator squad. If you're really worried about Objective Secured, take sniper Scouts. Putting 5 Marines with a heavy weapon in your backfield is a tremendous waste. That missile launcher shot every turn isn't going to make a difference, while the extra bodies in the middle of the table probably will.
Don't spread them out. You have to think like an Imperial Guard player here. If Tactical Marines are going to threaten anything serious, they need massed short ranged firepower. Trust me, very few units want to absorb almost 60 bolter shots as well as several special weapons worth of fire every turn. One of the big limitations of Tactical Marines is that they can only take one special weapon per squad, so they're not too reliable. You want to make them reliable, run 3 small squads with the same special weapon next to each other. If you spread them out across the table, you'll dilute their firepower and they won't accomplish much. As a matter of fact, one of the hardest parts of using Tactical Marines is spacing. You need to keep them close enough that they can support each other, but far enough apart that the enemy can't multi-assault them or catch multiple squads with blast weapons. Finally...
Don't sweat the upgrades. I often see players questioning what ratio of flamers, meltaguns, and plasma guns to take in their Tactical squads, and what heavy weapons to take. I'm going to take a controversial stand and say that it doesn't matter. Your Tactical squads will certainly get use out of their upgraded weapons, but that will be tangential to their main function. Your support units should be dealing with specialized targets.
For example, in my Executioners army, I have lascannon Devastators for killing tanks and Thunderfires for killing infantry. My Tactical squads have a mix of meltaguns and flamers to supplement those specialty units, but I don't rely on them. I'm fairly certain that I could run my Tactical squads with just bolters and they would do their jobs just as well, though I haven't tried yet.
Heavy weapons are much the same. I usually take a cheap heavy weapon, either a heavy bolter or multi-melta. When my combat squads hop out of their Rhinos, I disembark the squads with heavy weapons towards the back, usually allowing them to get a turn or two of static shooting in before they need to move somewhere else. However, I never shy from moving them if they need to. The heavy weapon is not important. Being in the right place to hold up the enemy is their job, and the heavy weapon can always snap fire. The one exception to this rule is the new grav-cannon. I haven't tried them out yet (just ordered some), but they allow your Tactical squads to maintain some serious short range firepower even on the move. They cost as much as a Rhino though. I'll have to find out if they're worth it.
|This badass sergeant never sees the table because he has 45 points worth of upgrades.|
Don't load upgrades onto the Sergeants. I usually stick with a combi-weapon, storm bolter, or melta bomb if I have the points. Veteran Sergeant upgrades and power weapons just aren't worth it if you're playing Tacticals this way (this of course doesn't apply to Blood Angels, Black Templars, and Space Wolves, though all of the previous points do).
I hope that helped dispel the myth of the useless Tactical Marine. Do you have any other tips for using them that you've discovered?