Command Academy: Astartes Overview

Because I know the ins & outs of space marines far better than any other Kill Team faction, I’ll start this series of Academy articles by diving into some general ideas about the faction.

An Elite Force

Astartes are expensive. There’s no way around that. Even our ‘cheap’ units, scouts, cost 10 points, twice the going rate of a guardsman and over three times the cost of a poxwalker. True, they’re essentially a space marine with a worse save, but it’s far from obvious that they’re a bargain at that cost.

Against almost everyone you are likely to fight with fewer bodies on the table. So what are you getting for that cost?

– Good armor: 3+ for tactical marines, reivers, and intercessors. 4+ for scouts. With a constricted dice flow (lots of penalties to hit, lots of low strength weapons), the save on marines can give a lot of teams fits.

– Stiff morale: leadership 7 and a re-roll on failed Nerve tests means your models should rarely, if ever, find themselves shaken.

– That extra half wound: ok, that’s exaggerating, but Transhuman Physiology, which allows all space marine models to ignore the effects of one flesh wound on hit rolls, keeps your guys fighting at peak efficiency even after they’ve been poked. Given how few models you’ll have, this is an important ability that can turn the tide of battle over the course of the game as opposing models lose the ability to reliably score hits.

– Options, options, options: the Astartes have more wargear options (33) than any other team, along with four unit types. Many of those loadouts are unlikely to see play (meltagun, anyone?), but there are plenty of good ones that have a place on your command roster. You’ll rarely enjoy a walk in the park, but the scope of your toolbox should give you game against all opponents.

– Versatile weapons: though limited in how many of certain weapons (e.g. plasma) the Emperor’s finest can take, some of the best guns can be applied in dramatically different ways. Thus, you can plan for cultist spam and still sit pretty if you find yourself up against heretic Astartes. It also allows you to capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves in the course of the game, employing the ideal weapon each time.

– Accurate shooting: marines can take the Sniper and Comms specializations, plus two auspexes on their team. When you want to hit something, you will.

– Pistols: All Astartes come equipped with a pistol. For a survivable team like the space marines, it pays to get a shooting phase should melee combat continue past the first round.

– Primaris marines: this might raise a few eyebrows, as some people don’t like primaris marines for various reasons, but they grant your team access to 2 wound models with 2 attacks base. There are reasons not to take them, but a few should find their way into almost any list. In another article I’ll detail some primaris set-ups that have a lot to offer your team.

– Four sergeants: All four unit types feature a sergeant option. The scout offers a cheap leader you can hide on a rear objective, the reiver can easily become a 5 attack melee meat grinder, the intercessor represents incredible versatility on the battlefield, and the tactical marine is the most flexible slot in the faction. Because you’ll usually be running more than one, you should be taking break tests at leadership 8 if necessary.

– Powerful tactics: we’ll cover these in a later article, so suffice it to say that the Astartes have some great tactics. 2 command points to turn out-of-action into a flesh wound, no questions asked? Yes, please!

What Can You Do For Me?

Space marines perform best when each team member fulfills a specific role. Though they’re not nearly as one-sided as certain teams and can do a bit of everything in a pinch, Astartes really work best when each team member contributes as efficiently as possible to the overall strategy.

This requires the use of your command roster to lay out the best possible combination of troops for each match-up. With such a small team at your disposal, you’ll need each member to perform his task well, often without a lot of redundancy.

Specializations need to be carefully chosen and wisely deployed. Do I take a heavy, sniper, or demolitions specialization on that heavy bolter? That depends what you think will give you the greatest edge against the enemy you’re facing and how you intend to make use of the gun’s capabilities. Some weapons work well without a specialization behind them, leaving you room to maximize the effectiveness of others. Others require a specialist to bring out their full potential.

Yeah, but How Good Are They?

On balance I’d say they’re somewhere in the middle. Some factions just have busted mechanics, and they tend to lean on one strategy that others can do little to disrupt. The individual efficiency of Astartes isn’t ideal, as all those elite qualities come at a price in points. On the flip side, when your opponent manages to impose his style of play on you, you’ve got a chance to beat him at his own game.

As I said above, marines have the versatility to put forth a respectable foil to whatever sits across the table from you. Smaller teams mean that your command roster can be stocked with highly differentiated elements suited to a particular purpose. You won’t be able to create the kind of mismatches that more linear teams can, but neither should you face an insurmountable hard counter, either.

With intelligent and opportunistic play, space marines will serve you well on the tabletop. Their flexibility makes them a fairly forgiving force, but they need judicious command to really shine.


I’ll be back with more articles delving further into possibilities of the Adeptus Astartes in Kill Team. In the process, I’ll be building, painting, and testing new models to offer a fuller picture of the faction.

Please feel free to comment on this and other Command Academy content. I’m always eager to hear someone’s different perspective, relevant experience, or shared enthusiasm.

All glory to the Emperor of Mankind!

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