Command Academy: Astartes Units

Attention, soldier! I’ve prepared a review of the four core unit types available to Space Marines in Kill Team. You’ll find my judgement on the value and limitations of each, how best to use them, and my judgement on the various armaments of the faction. Finally, I’ve shared a few of the standouts from my Command Roster.

Tactical Marines: Tacs make up the backbone of most Astartes kill teams. They possess the weapons flexibility that the rest of the faction generally lacks. While not useless in their basic configuration, their primary value lies in their ability to take powerful weapons unavailable to most other members of the team.

The baseline Tactical stat line, against which other units in the game are measured, makes for a relatively resilient soldier in Kill Team. Marines possess better toughness than most other shooty armies, an excellent armor save, and Transhuman Physiology. There are numerous weapons that are designed to hunt MEQs, such as plasma weapons, rail rifles, and similar guns, but a 3+ grants some kind of save against most attacks. And though they are not melee troops, Tacs won’t necessarily fold if they get charged.

The boltgun is nothing special, but it gets the job done against the T3 chaff one finds in many armies. Further, the fact that marines carry pistols can be a nice bonus when you find yourself in ongoing close combat. Frag grenades and krak grenades offer a modicum of anti-horde and anti-elite potential, albeit at only a 6″ range and only once per phase. Overall, the weapons of a bog-standard Tactical Marine can do a lot, but they don’t do it that impressively.

I do believe -contrary to what many others think- Tactical Marines have a place on a Command Roster, though it’s largely a matter of counting points. I have several times used a squad with three of them, landing me right on 100 points, to add bodies against T3 melee opponents that I know will get after my shooters. In addition to area control they provide, the extra targets and attacks, as well as their ability to contribute in the turn or two before close combat is joined have helped my Dark Angels take down opponents such as Harlequins and Drukhari, and the Tacticals contributed what I had hoped for each time. If you have the points to spare (and I often find Astartes points tallies awkward), Tacs are an easy upgrade over scouts, the other budget unit in the army. That said, I intend to continue testing other roster configurations to determine if those points are better spent elsewhere.

While I find a use for these most basic troops, Tactical Marines clearly shine brightest when they branch out beyond the standard bolter-bro loadout. Only two Tactical Marines can become Gunners, though, so these spots are at a premium. Choosing which guns to put on your Tactical Gunners is usually the most critical element in creating a team well-suited to combat your opponent’s faction’s capabilities.

Tactical Marines can only take one special and one heavy weapon, preventing a wholesale spam strategy like those favored by e.g. Imperial Guard.

Of the special weapons (flamer, grav, melta, and plasma), the flamer and plasma gun are by far the most popular. (Potentially) lots of auto-hitting dice make flamers a good choice against hordes (though range and variability are serious drawbacks), while the high strength, AP, and (if you overcharge) damage make plasma an ideal weapon against sturdier targets. you’ll often want to overcharge the plasma for S8 and 2D, so you’ll need a way to mitigate the risk of self-immolation on a valuable model. The grav gun interests me, but only because of the point cost; if I can afford plasma, I’m taking it. The range on a melta gun is simply too short to tempt me.

Marines can only field two heavy weapons options, but both are outstanding. Your kill team as a whole may contain up to three, as scouts can take either option in any combination.

The heavy bolter lays down a stready stream of three good shots each turn at a max range of 36″. This weapon presents a legitimate threat out to a large radius and can efficiently thin out a mob or pick off enemy objective campers. It also brings online the powerful Hellfire Shells tactic, which I’ll cover in another post.

A Tactical Marine can also lift a fearsome missile launcher to his shoulder. This tool grants not one, but two useful weapons profiles: a frag missile doing bolter damage on d6 shots or a krak missile to wound MEQs on twos for d6 damage. Range is never a problem, and the missile launcher can start laying into the enemy from the first turn.

You’re guaranteed two great weapons on your Tacs if you want them, but no more than that. Fortunately, the Tactical Sergeant and Scouts can extend that number.

Tactical Sergeants are the most flexible unit in the Astartes faction. They double as a second special weapon when they take combi-weapons, offer melee versatility with chainswords, power swords, and power fists, or support the gun line when equipped with an auspex. When you really need another plasma gun, the Tactical Sergeant is your (expensive) man.

Given how much the performance of Tactical Marines depends upon their weapons loadouts, their functional points cost is considerably higher than the base cost. It’s therefore important to maximize the effectiveness of these high powered, high value units.

Scouts: Scouts perform three functions well in Astartes lists: they bulk out a roster with cheap bodies, grant an inexpensive sergeant to serve as Leader, and provide access to two more heavy weapons slots.

If you’re sitting on eighty or ninety points, by all means bring scouts. Don’t forego stronger (and more costly) options to fit them in, though. Basic scouts will do little more than keep an objective warm. They can be kitted out with a boltgun, Astartes shotgun, and combat knife. Of the three, the boltgun is the clear winner, in my judgement. The shotgun wants to operate at 6″ from the enemy, where scouts don’t want to be and probably can’t get, while the combat knife grants a second attack to a unit that will be quickly dispatched in melee.

The next upgrade in gear is a sniper rifle & camo cloak. I’m not a huge fan of the sniper rifle: it’s a long range single shot boltgun with a slim chance to inflict a mortal wound. It’s also heavy. Don’t waste your time chasing mortal wounds by making your sniper a demolitions specialist; save your specializations for weapons that put out more and better shots/attacks. Despite these reservations, the sniper rifle does allow the bearer to contribute at full effectiveness while hiding in the backfield holding an objective. This is more easily accomplished while wearing the obligatory camo cloak, which makes obscured targets even more difficult to hit. Though many factions are able to negate the benefits of cover, many are not, and there are only so many targets of an auspex-like effect that can be pinpointed in a given turn.

Which brings us to the second use of scouts, their cheap sergeant. Astartes can take four sergeants, and it can be challenging to appoint one team leader. Both Reiver and Intercessor Sergeants tend to look for melee opportunities, while Tactical Sergeants carry expensive wargear best optimized with a specialization. The Scout Sergeant offers stripped down performance, but can camp on a friendly objective farming command points just as well as his more glamorous counterparts. If I have the points, I usually opt for the sniper rifle & cloak to provide some extra insurance against long ranged attacks.

Finally, scouts can take both of the heavy weapons available to Tactical Marines, and they can take two of either one you want. The weapons themselves are as flexible and powerful as they are in the hands of the boys in power armor. One key difference is the ability to add a Camo Cloak to a scout wielding a missile launcher. Given that the preferred role of the missile launcher is to use its extreme range to control important areas of the board from the (relative) safety of the backline, it makes sense to grab the cloak to keep your investment on the table as long as possible.

Intercessors: The new face of the Imperium possesses a strong and versatile profile for Kill Team. Intercessors do everything a Tac does better: they have better firepower shooting at better range, fight twice as well in melee, and (most importantly) stay in the fight longer with two wounds. Sure, most enemies will have an answer to Intercessors, but the point is they’re a unit that requires an answer. The mere fact that most weapons in the game cannot kill them outright can lead to difficult deliberations on the part of your opponent, such as whether to focus fire or look for an easier target.

Still, as with Tactical Marines, there is seldom space or justification to take vanilla-flavored Intercessors. Space Marines are simply too tight on points, and too long on superior options, for basic Intercessors to make the cut on most rosters.

Again, weapons loadouts will be the key to finding a place for Intercessors on your roster. Almost any team will be improved by the addition of an Intercessor Gunner armed with an auxiliary grenade launcher. By extending the range of grenade weapons to 30″, you can add what amounts to a mini missile launcher to a far superior platform, and avoid the heavy penalty to hit into the bargain. Don’t get me wrong, both the frag missile and the krak missile are substantially superior to their grenade counterparts, but the grenade launcher is a phenomenal weapon that allows the Intercessor Gunner to play an important backline role he could otherwise not fulfill. I’ll flesh out what I think his best application is below.

The other important Intercessor model who will take the field often is the Sergeant. His three attacks base present an imposing threat when he’s armed with a power sword, and he’s your best melee option against power armor. Because you’ll often want to send him into the fray, I tend not to make the Intercessor Sergeant my Leader, despite his survivability.

Reivers: Reivers present themselves as melee specialists, but fulfill that role more narrowly, while also providing other tactical options. Let me hastily point out that I have less experience with Reivers than other Astartes units, and will continue to test their applications in the weeks ahead (well, until Elites comes along and rearranges the game entirely). As I gain the experience I seek, I may edit this post to express the opinions I form or confirm.

The primary assets of Reivers are mobility and volume of close combat attacks.

Mobility comes in the form of the grapnel launcher, which lets Reivers move 6″ while ignoring vertical distance. You cannot charge or advance with grapnel launchers, so the freedom of movement they grant is less amazing than it could be. Still, they’re an auto-take, or close to it, as they help unlock the full potential of the unit.

Reivers gain a third melee attack by choosing a combat knife instead of the standard bolt carbine. A Combat specialization takes that number up to four, and the same set-up on a Sergeant nets you five attacks in close combat. The Sergeant alone can take both the bolt carbine and the combat knife. Standard Reivers cannot swap out their heavy bolt pistols as the Sergeant can.

The problem with Reivers as close combat specialists is their lack of AP. Though it is straightforward to increase the number of their attacks, durable opponents will shrug off any wounds they score. Still, it must be said, there is quality in quantity in Kill Team: enough attacks will bring down anything, if you can survive long enough to deliver them.

Despite this serious deficiency, Reivers can efficiently chew through T3 enemies, of which their are plenty, or enemies with invulnerable saves. Grapnel launchers allow them to stay hidden behind cover until they’re ready to launch their assault. And even if they manage only flesh wounds, their Terror Troops special rule (-1 Leadership to enemies within 3″) turns every nerve test into a minor crisis.

I have found that Reivers also work well when using their mobility to threaten opposing objectives held by vulnerable units. Not only can they potentially deny or steal points the opponent had deemed automatic, they can force a strategic reversal on the part of the opponent.

Reivers are very expensive, but I’ve been impressed by their potential to this point. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to further explore their potential on the battlefield.

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Here are a few favorite Astartes units, along with my thoughts on how and why to use them.

Scout Sergeant, sniper rifle & camo cloak, Leader: just a cheap, relatively survivable Leader. With Marines’ strong BS, he’ll end up pot shotting a few enemies along the way, and that occasional mortal wound is hilarious.

Intercessor Gunner, bolt rifle & auxiliary grenade launcher, auspex, Comms: the total package. The combination of Comms & auspex push him toward the backline where he can enhance the effectiveness of one of the heavy weapons, while the AGL allows him to lay down devastating firepower of his own. His wounds and two attacks help protect against a charge, too. This guy’s an all-star.

Tactical Gunner, heavy bolter, Heavy: a mobile platform for a versatile weapon, and a good candidate to partner with the Intercessor Comms specialist. With that support, he can put out three (or four, for 1CP) S5 AP-1 shots hitting on 2+, or nearly guarantee a mortal wound for 2CP. Since you can’t take the cloak with a heavy bolter, I prefer to put it in the hands of a Tac rather than a Scout.

Tactical Sergeant, combi-plasma, Sniper: Sniper & plasma are a natural combination, as the specialization allows you to reroll ones that would otherwise cause your guy to explode. I prefer to upgrade the weapon to a combi-plasma in case I get a crack at a group of enemies and want to double my shots. Combi-plasma also puts out four shots rather than two in overwatch, and the promotion to Sergeant also grants an extra attack to a model whose dangerous weapon makes him a likely target for a charge.

Intercessor Sergeant, auto bolt rifle & power sword: your melee problem solver against MEQs. -3AP cuts deep into even the best saving throws and the auto bolt rifle ensures you can shoot your way around the board when you go looking for a fight. He’d make a good Combat specialist or Leader, but I run him without a specialization to free up those slots for other models.

Scout Sergeant, missile launcher & camo cloak: unlimited range with firepower to match. If you’re in sight, you’re in danger. This is another prime target for Comms support, as his kraks are so devastating. Hitting & wounding everything except Plague Marines on 2+… yeah, that’s a good eraser. Another good loadout for a specialist, I run this guy as he comes. He is already deadly and rarely needs to move, while other pieces of the puzzle need to be optimized with special rules.

Reiver/Reiver Sergeant, combat knife & heavy bolt pistol, grapnel launcher, Combat/Veteran: an excellent choice to get into the opponent’s lines and bust things up. For a Reiver I might use the Combat specialization to get that fourth attack, while I’d probably pin Veteran on the Sergeant so he can close with the enemy ASAP. The -1AP heavy bolt pistol will help ensure that you finish the job if anything’s left standing after your assault.

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A few final points on building and deploying an effective Space Marine kill team:

– Astartes possess extreme range on excellent weapons. Rely upon it to put the enemy under immediate and urgent threat. Use buffs to maximize the chances of early kills on priority targets.

– Your heavy hitters present versatile firing options both in your command roster and on the battlefield. Missile launchers and the auxiliary grenade launcher both feature frag and krak profiles, so you can take these weapons and know that you’re prepared for e.g. Chaos Cultists or Heretic Astartes when facing CSM. Further, in the thick of the fight you can choose the tool best suited to the opportunities that present themselves.

– with only six or seven models in most Space Marine kill teams, few, if any, should be mere placeholders. Opponents should have a hard time prioritizing targets, and individual models should function well with or without support.

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Whew, that was a long one! I hope you enjoyed these reflections on the core units available to the Adeptus Astartes. These are my opinions, and I’d love to hear yours, especially if you disagree with me or think I’ve overlooked something powerful.

Dismissed!

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.

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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!

Introducing Kill Team Command Academy

Because I love playing Kill Team, talking about Kill Team, and thinking about Kill Team, I’ve decided to start a collection of articles on various strategic and tactical dimensions of the game.

These articles are aimed more at recreational rather than competitive play. I’m not teaching you how to min-max the most dominant factions. That said, I intend to offer what I hope will prove good advice for those wishing to play the game at a higher level and have fun doing it. Even in narrative-driven games, the tension of a tight showdown lends urgency to the story.

My playgroup at this point is small, and I’m hoping to expand it. We do have a lot of teams, though, as you may know from my battle reports.

The judgements you’ll find in the Command Academy are just that: our judgements. I invite you to comment when you disagree, have questions, or can offer other feedback. Let me know if you like what we’re doing or have a topic in mind you’d like us to try to address.

Dismissed!

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Adeptus Astartes

Overview

Units