Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Fate of the Space Marine?


I'd like to open a topic for discussion regarding the Space Marine.  It's fairly hard to play 40k, and not see the imagery or artwork of the stoic Space Marine embraced by the loving arms of conflict.  Everything from GW official to fan art depicts these warriors in epic proportions, fending off hundreds of xenos, heretics, and mutants alike.  The Black Library features a near in-exhaustible amount of reading materials, all depicting the Space Marine as the bravest and best of the Imperium of Man.

With all that, surely the Space Marines must feel epic on the tabletop, right?  To that I say, no... and don't call me Sherly!

So what is it that has me feeling this way?  It's quite simple.  Having played 40k for so long, I remember a good bit of the previous editions, or at least how they felt.  In 3rd edition, which was really where the bulk of my first games were played, Space Marines were expensive, hearty models.  It felt like a real challenge, and thus a sense of accomplishment when you were able to remove an entire squad of them from the table in those days.  Their saves were great, and almost no other army in the game could claim to get that kind of a save, that much of the time.

However, nowadays the story is quite different.  The interesting bit in this player's opinion is that it has happened without doing much to the Space Marine at all.  In fact, Space Marines are generally about the exact same as they were back then.  But therein lies the problem... everyone else has been updated.  From new, more powerful units, to points costs, to better wargear, the new armies of today just make the Marines, who generally have the same units as before with a few new twists feel, well... obsolete.  Obviously not every codex has been reworked, but we have reached a point where few codexes are beyond the 5th edition point, save Templar, Eldar, Sisters, and Orks.  So what changes have we seen that really hit Marines below the belt.

Anti-Mech, Anti-Personal Weaponry
There is no mistaking that the game has changed, son of Flynn.  In fifth edition, there was a greater amount of emphasis on bringing mechanized units in ones army.  Games Workshop in their infinite wisdom decided that as this was the case, armies would inherently require more weapons in their army to answer such high numbers of enemy hulls.  But when we stop to think about some simple facts, reducing the points and increasing the number of unit choices that can bring these weapons really starts to reduce the effective level of the power armor Space Marines pay big points per to have.

Point Cost Reductions
Another fairly evident issue is with the general point reduction on models.  Guardsmen are all of 4 points per model, Dark Eldar are 9 points a model, and now the Tau Firewarrior is 9 points.  While I accept the fact that the new codex for Space Marines, the Dark Angels, puts them solidly below where they were... we still see a drastic difference in the points per model, which sill sits a good 4 to 5 points more per than the non-MEQ units... at minimum.

This poses a serious problem when we compound it with the first issue, as marine armies are still smaller than most other forces, and beyond that... they don't get to utilize their wargear nearly as often.  It's hard to feel like a marine, when you are forced into cover like everyone else, because plasmaguns, missile launchers, or sheer number of cheap, spamable shots will just reduce your small force into a non-existent one.

Thunderstruck by Alpha Strikes
Marines generally don't pack a huge punch in terms of alpha strike, unless they play something like "shock drop" lists.  Because of their tactics and style of unit organization, the basic fact is that it is extremely unlikely all models will be used.  By this I mean, a tactical squad will be holding some manner of heavy weapon.  As these are designed to be one of the armies answers to mech targets, the others in the squad, you know those marines with not but a boltgun and bolt pistol, will simply stand in front of these weapons to allow them to fire, thus not taking an active roll.  When we really stop to think about this... is it healthy for armies that are already based on smaller numbers to have this happen?  Can Marines afford to keep having troops not doing something?

Because of this, the army is extremely prone to being outclassed in nearly every phase.  Specifically, most of the new armies have impressive ranges with which to hit you early... and again, many of these shots will reduce a Marine which finds himself in the open to a pile of slag.  I recognize that Marines can pack quite a punch up front too... but in my experience, never to the same degree as several other armies out there.  Not much one can do against superior firepower but take the old highway to hell, it would seem.

Precisely My Dear Watson
The inclusion of the precise shot rule hits the Marine harder than any other force out there.  While I can hear some people claiming "that's not true... any unit can have a sergeant" coming from the masses, I respectfully disagree.  You see, because of the Marine style, there are roughly 3 important models in each tactical squad.  The sergeant of course... but also the two Marines holding the special weapon and the heavy weapon.  Sadly these models are not characters, and therefor do not receive a look out sir role.  If someone lands a precise shot on them, it is save or die... if they get a save at all.

This can drastically reduce the units capabilities on the table, and could even be considered a huge handicap all things considered.  I am very aware that the xeno mentality of "if this unit dies, I just lost a lot of my anti-whatever" has the problem of those units being shot down as well.  But that has always been a con to balance the higher levels of consistency and potential output it offers, or at least that is my opinion.  The Marine mentality now just feels outdated and ineffective.

The "If you can't beat em... join em" Approach
But with all of this, I think the biggest problem is what I am seeing with new Marine codexes is the fact that they are trying to compete in the same way as everyone else.  The new Dark Angels book, as well as the Chaos Space Marines show that the marines are trying to compete by going down in points.  This is a race they will never win in my opinion, as their points cost are just going down like everyone else... and will therefor just present the same limitations we already see.  Odd as it may seem, I would be more than happy to see the Marine stay the same price as we've seen, or even go up... just make them worth taking at those points.

There are plenty of options that we could see to make the Tactical Marine worth his salt.  A close combat weapon, a second wound, FNP (even a 6+), ignore night fight, better stats for bolt weapons, etc. etc. etc.  They of course still gain a lot from ATSKNF, but it just doesn't save them.  These ideas are just something that could make the Marine army worth bringing in my opinion, and would also adhere better to the established iconography and fluff GW has already established with a small force of Marines capable of combating large enemy forces.  I think lowering the point cost just so you can simply bring more of them ruins that feel, and makes the marine feel like less of the super soldier they are supposed to embody.

I would personally like to see Marines remain a smaller force.  I just feel that in order to compete, GW needs to start treating them like they designed them.  I can assume it is never going to be the case, because higher point models, mean less models are required... and that means less money for GW... but wouldn't it be great if Marines felt like Marines again.  I miss that sense of accomplishment when fighting them, and I miss the feeling that they can be expected to do so much more then their enemy.  I'd love to see that feeling return to the game.  Please don't mistake this as a cry that Marines are worthless... because they aren't.  They're still good at what they do, I just feel they are backed into a corner by the oppressive new power level of more recent codexes, and the sheer mass of changes made to the game.  I think perhaps it may be time for GW to re-imagine what it is to be a Space Marine.  What about you? 


  1. Interesting you mention points savings. The green tactical squad, kitted identically, costs only 5 or 10 points less than a blue one. Meaning that marines have gone down between .5 and 1 points per model, and such savings can almost be passed off to grim resolve that the Dark Angels bear.

    1. I mention it because the squad is given the option to not take vet sergeant, and the way special and heavy weapons (while yes, similar in cost) are taken in far less arbitrary ways than before.

      The savings aren't much, but they are there. I thought it was only fair to mention them. I do still stand by my thought that I'd prefer the marines just become stronger than they are now for a few extra points. Might make them worth more to me at least :P