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Friday, August 19, 2016

Do Space Marines Need an Assault Unit?


When looking at army list advice online, I commonly see Space Marine players discouraged from taking any assault units. The line of thought is that Space Marines are a shooting army, and any points spent on assault units are better spent on more firepower. This is compounded by the generally low opinion of Space Marine assault units. They generally either don't hit hard enough (Assault squads) or are too slow without an expensive Land Raider transport (Assault Terminators, Assault Centurions, Honor Guard).

This is true up to a point. An assault oriented Space Marine army is going to have a hard time on the table. However, an army with no assault units is going to be lacking some options that leave it vulnerable in certain match-ups. Space Marine assault units aren't going to tear up the table like Thunderwolves or Flesh Hounds, but they serve two important functions: they wipe out enemy units that are resistant to shooting and they tie up dangerous enemy units, effectively removing them from the battle until assault is resolved.


The first task of an assault unit is to deal with enemy units that are tough against shooting but weak against assault. This often includes shooty units with good cover saves, such as Space Marine Scouts, Eldar Rangers, and any Nurgle Daemons. However, it also includes more resilient units that are good at shooting but lack close combat punch, like Space Marine Devastators or Tau Broadsides. While your assault units may struggle to wipe out these units, you can easily keep them in combat for most of the game and prevent them from shooting.

For this role, the most important aspect of your assault unit is speed. The unit doesn't need to hit hard as long as it can engage the enemy. The unit should also be relatively cheap; if they need to tie up an enemy unit for multiple turns, you don't want to be losing that many points. I find both Assault Marines and Bike squads are great at this role. Conveniently, both of these units fill a required slot in a Demi-Company, so you have a good reason to take them rather than the cheaper Land Speeder or Attack Bike.


The second main role of an assault unit is to tie up an enemy death star. Quite often, death star units will be stupidly hard to kill with shooting. High toughness, invulnerable saves, or Invisibility combine to prevent you from stopping them from wiping out your army, no matter how good your shooting is. However, you can tie these very expensive units up in combat (as long as they don't have Hit and Run, which seems to have become much rarer than it used to be). For this role, durability is more important than anything. For Marines, this means only units armed with storm shields need apply. This limits your choices to Assault Terminators, Vanguard Veterans, and Command Squads.

I discovered just how vital this role is when using my bike Command squad. It's a pretty decent assault unit; it won't kill a true death star but it will mulch through just about anything else. I was amazed how many players just didn't have an answer to such a unit. Without any assault unit to answer my Command squad, it could wipe out multiple shooty units each turn with a multi-charge while soaking up any return fire.

That brings me to the final way that Space Marines can take an assault unit: as a wrecking ball. I didn't include this in the two reasons for having an assault unit because your army can function just fine without such a unit. Even so, they're very fun and effective on the table. Such a unit requires mobility, hitting power, and durability, and only one Space Marine unit really fits the bill: a Command Squad on bikes with several characters. Take an apothecary and load up on storm shields and power fists, and very little can stand up to this unit. It has the added bonus of being a good unit for tying up enemy death stars. You can engage them in assault and let them bounce off your storm shields for several turns. This generally means that both units are out of the game, but this squad is less expensive than many traditional death stars, so you should still come out ahead in the end.

What's you experience? Do you think Space Marines need some sort of assault threat or do you have success running a purely shooty army?

12 comments:

  1. Those terminators (executioner's?)
    Are superb! Nice article too.

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    1. Thanks! Those are my Executioners Assault Terminators.

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  2. My BA army had lots of assault units, 2x 10man assault squads, 5x DC and 5x vanguards and do alright. There good in maelstrom missions for zipping between objectives and do alright in combat. Last game one assault squad took out a 20 man necron squad for 3 turns, as only 1 of 2 squads on the table it dented his attack options alot.

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    1. My BA run a similar amount of assault units. I think it might be why I prefer my Codex Space Marines to run some as well. I'm just used to having them.

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  3. You left out dreadnoughts. Ironclads work well when they hit the back line against shooty units. They can act like an anvil while your mobile units act as the hammer.

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    1. Good point! I really need to get an Ironclad to try them out. I think they could fill that role very well when deployed by drop pod.

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  4. I think 30k mitigates this issue somewhat by giving tac squads the option of bolter, bolt pistol and CCWs making them literal swiss army knife units. I think that might migrate to 40k marines some day.

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    1. I'd love to see that too, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

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  5. I don't think it's 100% necessary, but most of the better SM Armies I see do have at least some Assault capability. Command Squads are probably the best place to go for it, since they're pretty much the only SM Unit that can combine durability, hitting power, and speed at a decent price point. I would never argue against someone who wants to include Assault elements in their SM Army, tho I might argue against certain specific choices.

    If you don't need to deal with DeathStars, Honour Guard are also worth a look. They're quite reasonably priced for Bolter/BP/Power Weapon/2+ Sv/A2 that they come with, and they can go in Rhinos or Drop Pods. The lack of Invul is the only real problem. Especially awesome with Pedro and/or a Chapter Banner/Standard of the Emperor Ascendant for still more Attacks.

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    1. I'm slowly building an Honor Guard unit, and I'm looking forward to playing with them. I think they fill a different assault role. They're too slow and too expensive for attacking backfield units, but not durable enough to take on death stars. They seem like they would do best in the center of the board, destroying enemy mainline units with impunity. I don't think this is as important as the roles I mentioned in the article as it can be done by shooty units, but it could still be very effective.

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  6. Great topic. Love this kind of discussions! :-D

    Assault units are a must have IMHO.
    They can help counter charge or harras enemy backfield units.
    Shooting alone hardly wins you the war (unless you're Imperial Guard or Tau).
    My preferred assault units in a Space Marines list are the Ironclad with two heavy flamers in a drop pod and a Chapter master with attached honour guard with a banner in another drop pod. Both units are able to weather some fire. Though as always you have to be careful of what units are close by. Plasma and grav weapons are obviously an easy way to waste your honour guard.

    On the other hand I love running my Dark Angels with Command Squad with Standard, one Powerfist and an Apothecary in a drop pod. The kicker is to have a Librarian and Azrael attached. My other unit for close quarters duty are actually a squad of regular Deathwing Terminators. Their Powerfists are sufficient to wreak some havoc. Though it's been hit and miss with me making their armour saves...

    Cheers,
    Henni

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    1. Also, getting some units into the enemy backfield has ruined more than one plan. Often enough people overreact which helps the rest of your army to get their job done.

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