Band of Brothers

So I thought I’d talk a little tactics for a change. Specifically about fielding Space Marine Battle Companies in Warhammer 40,000. Regular readers and Twitter followers will know that I have two companies of Ultramarines, the 1st & 5th. How I ended up with over 200 Space Marines is a fairly dull story and, thankfully, required very little expenditure on my part. The important thing is that I didn’t plan on ending up with two full companies.

My Ultramarines army started life like most other people’s 40k armies – full of all the cool shit. I.e. Land Raiders, Terminators, Dreadnoughts maybe a squad of Veterans. However, finding myself with a large Space Marine force and a pile of Terminators in lieu of payment for a painting commission events over took me somewhat. But what I discovered as I worked on each of the companies to capacity was that I liked the fact that I had two very distinctive forces with obvious tactics innate yo each. Or one uber force of face kicking-ness for big games. And so I made the decision that I would only use 1 company or the other in smaller games and only combine them for Apocalypse style games. My reason for doing this was as much to do with the canon as it was the gaming challenge as, simply put, Space Marines deploy by company and only in extreme situations do they borrow from the reserve companies. The 1st company isn’t something other companies borrow from. They’re off kicking the fattests of evil arses, not waiting around for Sicarus, Ventris or Galenus to get on the blower and ask for help.

As a result I’ve been using primarily the 5th company for a year so now with, for the most part, real success. Because Battle Companies are awesome. And here’s why…

Most 40k players make two assumptions about Space Marines. 1. They’re unfairly/unreasonably hard 2. All the cool shit is in the Elite or Heavy Suppirt part of the list (To be fair, from a model point of view, this is kinda true). Both these assumptions are wrong. Space Marines, although awesome, are actually above average, but they are above average at everything . And that’s what sets them a part from all the other armies. An Ork army will have variation but you know they’re coming for you. The same can be said for Nids. With Space Marines a player never knows what they’ll be facing because Space Marines can take a fair stab at everything. Including your face. The second assumption is the most significant in this instance because, actually, all the cool shit is the bog standard Space Marine units as well, for precisely the reason why assumption 1 is wrong.

One of the biggest advantages of a Battle Company is numbers. My 5th company list including the recently added Techmarine and Servitors is 112 models. Not tanks, just pairs of boots on the ground. 108 or those have power armour or better, have WS & BS4 or better. That number includes 16 heavy weapons, 8 special weapons, 9 power weapons 2 power fists, 2 Dreadnoughts, 1 Razorback, 2 Rhinos, a Drop Pod, and a Predator. And all for a little under 3,500 points. Granted that’s a hefty game but, trimming the fat I’ve managed to field 107 marines, 2 Dreadnoughts and a Whirlwind for 3,000 points and I outnumbered my Ork opponent. Really think about that for a second. 107 marines. With a 3+ save or better. Hitting on 3+ or better. Requiring a 4+ to be wounded by most basic weapons. One. hundred. And. Seven. Space Marines. That’s a lot of post-human to chew through at toughness 4.

Compare that to a ‘standard’ Space Marine army for the same points. There’d be at least one Land Raider in there. Plus a Terminator squad, that’s 500 points straight away for 5 blokes and a tank that’s going to attract more attention than the slutty chick at holiday camp. That’s not to say they wouldn’t do some damage but it’s rare for Terminators to make their points back because 1. they attract the aforementioned attention and 2. they die too easily, as I bemoaned about the other day. This means you have to take two squads. One to put in the Land Raider, another to deep strike in to bolster the line. That’s now 750 points and you haven’t actually gotten to the elements that’ll win you the game.

I’m the first to admit that fielding a straight up Battle Company has it’s weaknesses. It lacks flanking ability afforded by Landspeeders or bikes. This means that the role falls to the assault troops who are expensive and get no more armour for your points than a tactical squad. They can also lack the ‘decisive’ blow or longevity that Terminators and Veterans can often deliver. If assault marines don’t break the back of a target on the first turn theyvreally struggle. Because they’re not specialists, they’re marines with rocket packs. Also the lack of speed from the tactical elements means that assault marines often have to stay close to home and provide counter attack support. This isn’t the end of the world, however, as 20 assault marines with 31 attacks a squad on the assault will make a mess of most things. Plus the addition of melta bombs is…useful.

Before these ‘problems’ make you give up and start cramming your list with Terminators and Veterans remember this, tactical marines are fucking awesome. Aside from the fact that you can split them into 5 man teams, every squad comes with its own pimpable Veteran, they always rally – which is supremely useful in the core of your force. Fielding 6 full squads gives you 6 heavy weapons, 6 special weapons, 48 bolters (with up to 96 shots) and 6 veteran sergeants that can all take power weapons or power fists. That’s a lot of bang for you buck. And they will, hands down, tackle just about anything but the most ferocious of close combat monsters. But that’s what all the guns are for, and the assault marines lurking nearby. The important thing to remember is that, yes, Vanguard & Sternguard Veterans are way cool and rolling fist fulls of dice in combat usually means there’ll be nothing but mush where your enemy was but they’re 25 points a model and they die just as easily as a tactical marine at 16 points a model. And die they will. Because they’re shit scary. And, little known fact – Veteran Power Armour is made from special bullet attracting metal. True fact.* Plus you can still draw upon the significant muscle that comes with a Captain and fully kitted command squad. Chuck them in a Razorback and not only will you have mobile fire support but a Command Squad can plug the gaps in a line or throw themselves into a fight with a handy fistful of dice that’ll include some power weapons. Always handy. Plus a Chaplain, with an assault squad is just hideous. And Chaplains are insane value for what you get. Liturgies of Battle anyone?

*May not be a true fact.

That many tactical squads allows you to leap-frog your squads whilst maintaining a significant base of fire on the enemy. Plus it’s hard to decide what’s the biggest threat in an army when, 1. it’s uniform and 2. there’s 60 marines all running at you. Using two full devastator squads guarantees a solid fire base as well as concentrated fire on those elements that are the most threatening to those all important scoring/tactical units. Both my squads have 4 missile launchers in them which allows for multi-role fire support. Yes they’ll struggle to deal with Land Raiders and the like but overall, a missile launcher is one of the best weapons in the game. And hugely underrated.

As are, in my opinion, Dreadnoughts. Dreadnoughts, although only armour 12 are immune to enough weaponry that you can ignore large elements of the enemy as a viable threat allowing you to make more effective combat decisions. They offer mobile fire support keeping pace with your tactical squads for no penalty and they get all the tasty guns (so Land Raiders aren’t such a problem). 135 points for a Dreadnought with twin-linked lascannon and a close combat weapon is awesome. Plus, they don’t distinguish between soft squishy flesh and adamantium armour in combat thanks to a Strength 10 close combat weapon. I’ve witnessed a Dreadnought worth 105 points hold an entire flank on its own simply through sensible deployment and liberal use of its power fist. And in a Battle Company you can justifiably take 3. Although 2 is standard. But for 105 points basic, you’ll struggle to find something better.

And don’t forget you have a spare Heavy Support choice that be used for a Predator or a Vindicator which can offer very real amounts of firepower and, again, draws attention away from the rest of your force. A Predator covered in lascannons in the middle of 107 Space Marines is usually delivers just enough despair that your opponent psychologically gives up and goes home because fielding that many of the Emperor’s finest is one thing, being able to afford Dreadnoughts and tanks too is just too much.

The thing about fielding a Battle Company is it’s all about nerve and faith. In that you need huge helpings of both. Because you lack the hammer blow that only Elite elements and heavy tanks can deliver your plans must be tempered by patience. Don’t get drawn out, don’t over commit elements to a fight they’re not equipped for. Just because a tactical marine is more than a match for a Guardsmen doesn’t mean you want to tie up a squad – 10% of your fighting strength – in a losing scrap with a platoon of them.

Using a Battle Company allows you to focus on the plan. You know what your force has. What its strengths are and where it is weak. The trick is turning those weaknesses to your advantage. Don’t worry about your lack of speed, let the enemy come to you, just be sure to know what you’re doing with them when they arrive, be in a position to close the trap. And don’t forget the most important thing; a Battle Company is incredibly intimidating. How does an enemy deploy a force to deal with that many Space Marines as, most likely, they will be staunch believers in those assumptions I mentioned earlier. So it’s as much about having faith in your opponent’s fear as its is faith that you do not.

You will never have an easy game fielding a Battle Company. They lack the heavy hitting elements, but by using all the different squads and weapon combinations in concert it is a formidable force that most opponents won’t know where to start with. Plus its size will make it a real challenge, even for horde armies to overwhelm. And the cherry on top of that particular cakey treat is that they’re still Space Marines. Although, word to the wise; make sure your special & heavy weapon load outs are balanced. 6 lasannons are ace until you fight a horde force.

Ultimately, field a Battle Company and you’ll take a beating but as long as you hold true to your plan, have faith, and don’t over reach you will win the day.

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