The Imperium’s elite, superhuman defenders. Eight foot tall, acid spitting, mini-rocket-launcher-machine gun wielding Zealots encased in ceramite plates. Awesome! Well the back story and fluff of the Tactical Space Marine is at least. Unfortunately The Tactical Squad just doesn’t cut the mustard on the table. When my Salamander Space Marine army fist came into being it contained three full ten man Tactical Squads. Surely, I thought, a solid core of ultimate bad asses would be the base of a great army. Heavy weapons splitting into combat squads, Sergeants charging off with powerfists waving. But it was not to be. They proved to be largely ineffective. But why were the greatest soldiers of the forty first millennium failing so hard. There are two major problems with Tactical Squads.

Firstly the Tactical Squad is neither a dedicated close combat unit or a dedicated shooting unit. And suffers greatly because of this, not being able to deal with enemy assault units or form a shooting squad with less then ten troopers. Ah! but isn’t that the purpose of combat squads! Well yes, but it does little to solve the problems.

If fluff was represented by a paint job…
Taking a Tactical Squad with a flamer, Missile Launcher and Sergeant armed with a power fist might look like a decent way of splitting the capabilities of the squad, but there are huge problems. To get the most out of the squad it needs to split down into combat squads. In a third of your games you want to avoid small easily killed squads, and five marines is not a hard target, especially with wound allocation being able to knock off the few models with special gear.

Alternatively you can leave the squad whole combining the durability of a large squad and weight of fire. But the negatives are just as bad. Having a squad comprised mostly of boltguns means that infantry are the preferred target, wasting the hitting power of the free heavy weapons. It also makes the squad static. Moving with heavy or rapid fire weapons severely limits range and ability to fire. In this game static is dead.

If their rules were represented by a paint job…
Secondly, they’re scoring units. Now this shouldn’t be a big problem but it is. A squad that’s not very good at fighting and not good at shooting on the run is going to have some problems if it needs to move to objectives and then deal with anyone who might already be there or on the way. On the other hand sitting on an objective makes you predictable, another thing that your opponent can use to his advantage. A unit that needs to hold objectives and isn’t very good at either of the two unit roles in the game would be fine if they didn’t come with such a high price tag. And to make the squad better at either role it costs points, a lot of points.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, they boys do have a few options. Keeping the squad cheap is a must. Transports provide an armoured shell that needs to be cut through first. Combining this with the reserves rule, The squad hopefully will avoid the enemy until they cannot afford to spend the firepower attempting to destroy a transport and squad. A Rhino is preferable for the role as it’s so cheap. 125 points buys five Marines in a Rhino.

Drop pods give some interesting tactical advantages. They do need a full size squad to be bought but they allow a squad to break down into combat squads after arriving. Although they do need at least 2 in the list to avoid your scoring units arriving turn one. But the advantages are reasonably good. Using the Deep Strike rule to arrive with the pods rules to protect them, the squad can drop in close to enemy artillery pieces with a meltagun and combi-melta and clear objectives away from the main battle. Or just drop in away from everyone.

Another build for the Tactical Squad is commonly referred to as the “Melta Bunker”, involving as much melta in a squad as is possible and a Rhino transport. The idea being to move to a good shooting position and firing from the top hatch, preferably having the transport obscured. The squad still remains expensive, but is more mobile and has the option of dumping the squad out. I feel it still suffers too much from the problems above, as well as shaking the vehicle neuters it’s offensive ability.

They do remain quite tough with a 3+ armour save and the rule “And They Shall Know No Fear” give marines great chances of sticking around, not so much in combat but hugely from shooting. The nine inch potential move after a fall back means avoiding the enemy can be quite easy. Combat Tactics makes this very powerful but as the best Space Marine characters come with Chapter Tactics, it doesn’t appear all that often.

Being armed with Krak Grenades as standard also adds so utility against vehicles. Against armies like Imperial Guard some Tactical Marines near Hydras or Leman Russ Battletanks can help reduce incoming fire as they move to avoid automatic hits.

So to conclude, They’re expensive, not great at any particular role, too many will cripple you. But they do have some redeeming features. Keeping them cheap and going to ground in the face of low AP fire can give your opponent problems in target selection. It also allows you to take more of the heavy hitting stuff. Remember if your opponent hasn’t got any guns left he can’t hurt you back.

Coming soon to a War Alter near you:
Scouting it out.
Are the sneaky fellas any better then their power armoured buddies?