I started writing this post a couple of days ago and it was intended to be about how I ended up collecting the 1st & 5th companies of the Ultramarines. 750 words in I realised that it was a sinfully boring post and that no one gives a flying fanatic about why I chose the 5th company or that in lieu of payment for a painting commission I was given 30 Terminators which prompted me collecting the 1st.
What, hopefully, you will care about is why the Ultramarines at all. It’s little wonder that background has a lot to do with it. Regular readers will know that narrative is what drives me in the hobby and the flimsier the background the quicker I lose interest in a game/faction. It all started with the 4th edition Codex and the multipart plastic Space Marine Captain.
I had bought the multipart plastic Space Marine Captain just as something to paint. At this point I had no idea what to paint it as and decided that I’d wait until I got the new Codex before I’d build and paint it as, if I ever decided to collect an army around it, I wanted it to be game legal.
The first thing I do whenever I get my hands on a Codex is flick to the colour section and dribble over the new models. I’d heard about the (then) new models and was excited to see them but the thing that surprised me was the new paint job the Ultramarines received at that point. Gone was the flat coat of Ultramarines Blue (may it rest in peace), red housed bolters and Sunburst Yellow shoulder guard trims. In their place was a deeper blue, black guns and gold shoulder trims. The book itself revealed further that the bright colours of the company markings had been replaced with metallics. The God awful pink of the 7th company had been replaced with a more palatable metallic Warlock Purple. At this point you could colour me impressed. The Games Workshop had done the impossible; they’d made me want to paint a model as an Ultarmarine.
However, what made want to collect an army was the Codex itself. It has long been established that the Ultramarines were the exemplars of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. They had the largest legion during the Horus Heresy and so sired the greatest number of successor chapters in the aftermath. They were stoic in their adherence to the Codex Astartes and followed the rules. Equally, Ultramar was established as, quite simply, the nicest place to live in the Imperium. It was little wonder that the Ultramarines were the Marines Vanilla of the 40k Universe, or earned the reputation of being utterly bland. I can say that because I too held that belief.
The 4th (and later the 5th) edition Codex changed all that. The Ultramarines finally got the ‘fleshing out’ that chapters like the Blood Angels, Dark Angels & Space Wolves had benefited from over the years. This was helped considerably by Graham McNeill’s awesome Ultramarine novels, but it was the proverbial facelift the ‘blue ones’ needed. The Ultramarines stopped being the Galactic Boy Scouts and started becoming the Imperium’s staunchest defenders. The dogmatic use of the Codex Astartes was for good reason and took on a life of its own. It is not a static tome that hasn’t been touched in 10,000 years. Indeed Marneus Calgar and First Captain Agemman have written many chapters of the sacred work. Which leads on to the notion that Chapter Masters across the galaxy can and have contributed to it and as such, provides its venerators with a tremendous wealth of tactical knowledge. It isn’t the restrictive ‘Idiots Guide to Warfare’ many have assumed it to be and only grows with the ages and the Ultramarines and their brother Astartes wage war in the Emperor’s name.
The Ultramarines themselves were elevated to shining examples to the Imperium of heroism, nobility, martial prowess and sacrifice. Their victories are countless, their martyrs legion. Imperial Guard regiments raised in Ultramar are some of the finest warriors ever produced by the Imperium and every one of them looks to the Ultramarines as an example. The epitome of what a soldier should be. And even Ultramar itself became more than a ‘nice place’, instead being a haven of philosophy, architecture and learning.
It is little surprise that so many Space Marine chapters are raised using the Ultramarine geneseed, the nobility of their deeds written into their very DNA and even to other Adeptus Astartes, the Ultramarines represent all that a Space Marine and a Chapter aspire to. It is said that each of the Primarchs possessed a facet of the Emperor, a splinter of his personality and ability. But of all of his children, Roboute Guilliman embodied him most completely. It is fitting then that the Ultramarines are the keepers of his lore and their chapter structure allows them to respond to any threat whereas other chapters, such as the White Scars or Raven Guard may not be so flexible, their style of warfare being too specialised.
I found myself embracing this background more and more and as I found myself with more and more models it seemed entirely reasonable to collect the 1st & 5th companies in full as I felt that Ultramarines SOP would be to deploy battle companies and only in dire circumstances employ the 1st in part or in force. Using just a battle company in a game denies you all the plush stuff like Terminators, Veterans, Land Raiders, etc, but it means that you no longer rely on those elements to win the game. It becomes far far more tactical and you start to realise the potential of a battle company and exactly what Roboute Guilliman was banging on about.
The downside is that I’ve only used the 1st company twice – it’s about 5,500 points – but it’s awesome and, again, because of its elite nature is a real challenge to use. It’s all or nothing, do or die. It’s all about, as I’ve said so many times before, having faith that the Marines on the ground can hold the line long enough for the reserve elements to drop in and close the trap on the enemy, crushing them between two forces too elite to be held back. It’s a risky move but hugely satisfying when it works.
You stand back and nod approvingly as your children lay waste to your foes and you momentarily get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a Primarch, master, creator and executioner.