Chaos Space Marine Tactics for Warhammer 40k 8th Ed

Warhammer 40k Khorne Berzerker Chaos Space Marine

In the age of the Great Heresy a full half measure of the Space Marine armies where corrupted by Chaos these corrupted Space Marines becomes the Heretic Astartes, or Chaos Space Marines!

On this page we will have a look at the Chaos Space Marines and their tactics.

Index: Chaos or Codex Chaos Space Marines

There are two rule books available with the rules for Chaos Space Marines. These are the ‘Index: Chaos’ rule book and the ‘Codex Chaos Space Marines’ rule book, so which do you get? Well the Index: Chaos was released right after the Warhammer 40000 8th edition rule book was released as a stop gap. This rule book allowed players to get going while the full Codex was being lined up for release. The Codex Chaps Space Marines has all the unit rules but also adds rules for special equipment, stratagems, and mission objectives. If you have the choice I highly recommend going for the Codex!

So what are the Data Cards and do you need them?

If you look at the Chaos Space Marine Essentials on the Games Workshop or re-sellers web sites you may see Chaos Space Marine Data Cards for sale. Data cards are packs of playing card sized cards with the most used rules from the Codex: Chaos Space Marine on them. For example the psychic powers, command point stratagems, Chaos Space Marine themed mission objectives. You do not get the rules for Chaos Space Marine units. For those you need the Index: Chaos or Codex Chaos Space Marines.

General Chaos Space Marine Tactics

The Chaos Space Marines are not just your vanilla Marines in spiky suits. There are a number of differences that make a huge difference to how they play.

Many players that are new to the Chaos Space Marines see the army as a close combat specific army. The reason for this is that there are a lot of close combat units available, specially for the popular Khorne themed army ( see Marks of Chaos below ).

Warhammer Chaos Lord with WingsRemember that the Chaos Space Marines are only half of the Chaos army. Much like the Imperium Space Marines have the Imperial Guard to back they up, the Chaos Space Marines have the Chaos Daemons as easy allies too. The link between these two forces in so strong that you can see some of the Daemon units slip in to the Chaos Space Marine too. If you are building a CSM army I highly recommend giving the Daemon army list a look over too.

Marks of Chaos

There are four Gods of Chaos. Khorne who loves violence for its own sake. Tzeentch who loves to trick, lie and confound. Nurgle loves decay, rot, and purification. Slaanesh loves sensory excess, pleasures of the flesh, exquisite pain, drugs and rock and roll!

Some Marines do not follow a single Chaos God, but Chaos in its raw form,. These Marines are said to follow Chaos Undivided.

Each Chaos Space Marine Legion follows one of the four Chaos Gods or Chaos Undivided. If you want to mix and match units with different marks of Chaos then you will need to have multiple factions.

Chaos Space Marine Abilities

On page 116 the Chaos Space Marine Codex introduces a couple of abilities that are shared between many of the Chaos Space Marine units. Also on page 155 additional Legion specific abilities are added.

Death The False Emperor

Most units in the Chaos Space Marine army get an additional ability called ‘Death To The False Emperor ‘. This reflects the Chaos Marine belief that the Imperial Emperor is not the saviour of human kind and needs to be removed through revolution.

How this ability works is that in the fight phase, and when targeting Imperial units (Space Marines, Guard, and friends), units with this ability get to have a bonus attack for each hit roll of 6 (before any modification). Note that bonus attacks cannot generate more bonus attacks. Also note also that these bonus attacks need to hit, wound, and etc. Also note that these attacks can be target a different unit from the initial attacks.

Note that this ability only works in the fight phase, but both fight phases. So you need to get into the fight!

Daemonic Ritual

Age of Sigmar chaos Blue Horrors of Tzeentch.. or how to get some reserves on the table fast!

How this ability works is that on a turn where any characters has not moved or arrived on the table in the movement phase, those characters can each summon a unit of daemons with the ‘Daemonic Ritual’ ability.

When you look at the army lists you will find that there are only four units that can be summoned ( but the rule has been left open for possible expansion ). The units are Khorne Bloodletters, Tzeentch Horrors (mixed units of Pink, Blue and Brimstone Horrors), Nurgle Plaugebearers, and Slaanesh Daemonettes.

There are limitations on what can be summoned, and as usual with the Chaos armies, if the summoning goes wrong there are consequences! First off you can only summon units that match the Character Chaos alignment. This means that Nurgle characters can only summon Nurgle Plaugebearers. Note that unaligned characters can summon any of the four daemonic units. This may be a factor when you choose the alliance for your character.

Units summoned using this ability does count as reserved and can only be brought in if you have enough reserve points. If you are not playing a point matched game, feel free to summon as many units as you like!

How you summon daemon units work like this. At the end of the movement phase pick your first character. Roll 3D6. Select a unit of Daemons who’s power level is equal or less that the dice total. As the average of 3D6 is 10.5 this should not be a problem. Place the unit of Daemons within 12″ of the character and beyond 9″ of and enemy units. You can repeat this process for any other Character that has not moved that turn.

Now here is what can go wrong. If you roll a double on your 3D6 roll then the character suffers a mortal wound. This should happen 1 in 12 times. However if you roll a triple then the character suffers D3 wounds. This should happen once in 216 times. I am expecting that the triple roll damage replaces the double roll damage and is not accumulative because in a triple you will always find 2 doubles!

Chaos Space Marine Stratagems

8th edition Warhammer 40000 introduced Stratagems and published 3 basic ones in the rule book. You can sometimes get extra stratagems at part of some missions, but in the Chaos Space Marine codex you get another 24 tailor made Stratagems! I feel like a kiddie in a sweet shop!

Chaos Space Marine Data Cards

Warhammer 40k 8th ed Chaos Space Marine Data CardsOne issue I have with the number of Stratagems / Special Chaos Space Marine Mission Objectives and Psychic powers is that I loose track of them, special during an intense game. I find this happens more often when using the e-book versions on the codex, but does happen when using the paper Codex too. Yes this is a memory issue and not a fault with the game. My advice in the past has been to focus on using one or two Stratagems or powers until you get use to them and expand from there. However these days there is another option, the Data Cards.

The Data Cards are a pack of playing card sized cards that have the special Mission Objectives, Stratagems and Psychic powers for that army, printed one per card. For an army like the Chaos Space Marines that adds up to a big pack of cards! 73 cards in total. Now these cards do come at an extra cost and are not essential to playing Chaos Space Marines like the codex is, but if you are playing Chaos Marines on a regular basis, or a member of a club that shares rulebooks & etc, then they are very useful!

The best way to use the cards is to split them in to 3 piles. Place the Stratagems you will use in one pile, the mission objectives in a second pile, and the psychic cards that you will use ( if any ) in a 3rd pile. These cards will act as a reminder to use these option and as a quick reference to their  rules.

It is a pity that the Chaos Space Marine units don’t have a similar card deck, say in A5 size. This would would make it easy to have just the information for the units that you are fielding to hand without having to flick from page to page to page to page in the Codex or on a tablet. The bes5t option I have found so far is to screen grab the pages from the eBooks for the units I am using and print them off. You could just photocopy pages from a paper Codex (for your use only!). The quality may not be great, but it does speed up the game!

Chaos Space Marine HQ Tactics

Warhammer 40k Chaos Space Marine LordEvery army needs a leader and this is where you will find the Chaos Marine leaders. Chaos HQ tend to be better at close combat fighting. They also have abilities that empower the troops around them.

The HQ section is also where you find the Chaos Psykers. Psykers use the power of the warp to Smite your foe directly and/or use their power to empower your troops too. You will note that there are no Khorne psykers. This is because the god of Khorne places brute force above all else.

Chaos Space Marine Psychic Powers

Soul Steal SpellAll the Chaos Psykers know the Smite Psychic power from the core rules. Most of them know two other power too. These Chaos Marine powers can be found on page 161 of the Chaos Codex.

There are nine Psychic power to choose from. Six in the main ‘Dark Heretics Discipline’ list and then one each for the 3 Chaos alliances that can have psykers. You can either just select which additional power your Psyker will have or roll for a random one. Obviously you would usually just select the power that best suits your play style and will help the most against whichever opposing army you are playing against that game. Usually you will be able to choose your power after you know which army you will be facing, and hopefully after you have seem the models on the table. There may be time when you agree to roll for your psykers power. You only want to do this if the opposition has more psykers that you, or because you have negotiated some other bonus for yourself!

Abaddon The Despoiler Tactics

Traditionally the biggest, badest, Heretic Space Marine. Armed with a nasty power fist with built in storm bolter, and a Daemon blade and wearing master crafted Terminator Armour.

Hopefully Games Workshop will release a new Abaddon model soon. The current one is out of scale with the new Chaos Terminators!

Cypher Tactics

Cypher by name, an enigma by nature! Even though Cypher appears in the Chaos Space Marine Codex, Cypher  and the Fallen are not a Chaos units. They are Imperium that fight with the Chaos Armies!

Cypher is a master pistolelio! Master Crafted bolt pistol in one hand and plasma pistol in the other he can blaze away with both weapons even if he has advanced or fallen back! A slippery character indeed!

Cypher is quite keen in close combat, but not fantastic. If you get in to close combat you will need to back him up with some close combat troops too.

Cyphers Ability: No-One’s Puppet

The Errata for the Codex Chaos Space Marines added an ability for Cypher that stops him from performing a Daemonic Ritual even though he has the ‘Chaos’ and ‘Character’ keywords.

Chaos Lord Tactics

Warhammer 40k Chaos Space Marine LordThe Chaos Lord is the standard Chaos Space Marine HQ choice. He can come on foot, on a bike, in terminator armour or with exotic transport like a Juggernaut of Khorne or Disc of Tzeentch.

The Chaos Lord is designed to be in the thick of the action, backed up with some good men. Load the Lord and his men in to a Rhino or Land Raider and charge in to the enemy front line!

Chaos Lord Abilities

Death to the False Emperor

Chaos Dark Apostle Tactics

The Dark Apostles are the Chaos Space Marine version of a Chaplin. He fulfils a similar role too. In the Fight Phase nearby friendly units of the same Legion can re-roll missed hits. This means that his main strength in in close assault surrounded by his mates! A popular tactic is to have a Dark Apostle in with the Chaos Lord and his posse.

Chaos Daemon Prince Tactics

Warhammer Chaos Lord with WingsIf the Chaos Gods are pleased enough with a Chaos Lord they can get promoted to being a Daemon Prince.

Daemon Princes are more Daemons than mortal, and as such take on many of the features of the Chaos Daemon army. The Daemonic 5+ save is an example of this.

Daemon Princes must take on an allegiance of one of the 4 Chaos Gods. You are not allowed to have an unaligned Prince. It is most usual to take on the allegiance that matches the rest of your Chaos Marine army.

Chaos Daemon Prince Psychic Powers

If your Daemon Prince is aligned with Tzeentch, Nurgle, or Slaanesh, then he is a psyker too. As a psyker he will have the Smite psychic power plus one from the Chaos Space Marine psychic power list.

Might Over Magic Ability

If your Daemon Prince is aligned with Khorne then you will not have any psychic powers, but don’t worry! you will get the ‘Might over Magic’ ability instead. This ability gives you one extra attack in close combat.

Chaos Daemon Prince and Wings

The Daemon Prince has the option to have wings. If you have.already built your Daemon Prince, this option may be moot. However if you are about to build your Daemon Prince, or if you have magnetised your Daemon Prince so that add or remove the wings at will, you will want to know if wings are worth the points!

If you are playing open games or games using Power Points, then there’s no additional points for adding wings, so do it! If you are playing points matched games then the wings adds 24 points to the model. For these additional points the movement speed goes up to 12″ a turn and you get the Fly keyword.

Chaos Space Marine Sorcerer Tactics

Warhammer 40k Chaos Space Marine SorcererSorcerers are the Psychics of the Chaos Space Marine army. This does not mean that they are no use in a fight!

Chaos Space Marine Sorcerers are closely linked to the power of Chaos that is the source of all psychic powers in the Warhammer 40k universe. Because of this they can cast two psychic powers in each of your psychic phases. Each Sorcerer can pick two powers from the Dark Heretics Discipline list.

Get Familiar With You Familiar!

In Warhammer 40k Chaos Familiars are not places on the board as models like Age of Sigmar, however they can be found in the Chaos Space Marine Stratagems (page 159). For 1CP Chaos Space Marine Psyker can swap on of his psychic powers for a different one. You can pick any of the powers from the Dark Hereticus discipline list. This is really useful if you started out with one psychic power for a specific job and halfway through the battle you find that it is no longer useful. In this case you can just call on your familiar and swap that power for one that will be useful here on in. Note that when you swap your power you keep the new one for the rest of the battle. Well unless you use this stratagem again later in the battle!

Where are the Khorne Sorcerers?

The Chaos God Khorne despises magic / psychic trickery. For this reason there are no Khorne Psykers. If you need one you will need to co-opt one that has a different Chaos alliance.


Space Marine Techmarines are not beyond the corrupting influence of Chaos. These corrupted Techmarines are called Warpsmiths.

The main use of the Warpsmith is to repair vehicles that have received damage during the game. The Warpsmith needs to be within 1″ of the vehicle at the end of the vehicle to repair it.

If you have two Warpsmiths there’s no point keeping them close together. A vehicle can only have one Warpsmith attend to repairs per turn, so if you spread them out you can repair two vehicles a turn.

Not got a vehicle to repair? Then how about jinxing an enemy vehicle? If the Warpsmith is within 18″ of an enemy vehicle, on a roll of 2+ on 1D6 he can inflict a mortal wound on the vehicle.

Warpsmith’s are available from the Games Workshop as a web store exclusive. There may be some available on eBay & similar.

Chaos Space Marine Troop Tactics

Chaos Space Marines have two troop choices, Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Cultists! This is not a great selection, but they are very flexible. With a bit of imagination the two unit choices will fulfil most needs.

Chaos Space Marine Tactics

Chaos Space Marines are the backbone of the Chaos Marine army. They can be configured for close combat fighting or more general / tactical role. The tactical role is where the Space Marine units excel. They can lay down withering fire clearing objectives or defending objectives, or fight at close quarter fighting.

Chaos Cultist Tactics

Chaos Cultists are the gun fodder of the Chaos army. Their stats are similar  to the Imperial Guard trooper, but costing only 3 power points for a unit of 10, you don’t expect much!

So if Cultists are so cheap, why take them? Well even cheap troops with a lot of shots can cause damage, even to Imperial Knights and Meknoughts! Otherwise you arm them with close combat weapons. This gives you an expendable close combat unit. Use this unit to defend tactical objectives, or as a moving shield for Characters or elite units.

For every 5 models in a unit you can take a Heavy Stubber or flamer. If you are planning to use your as a defensive force, load them up with Heavy Stubbers. Place them high and they will be able to give covering fire for advancing units. Assaulting units are best tooled up with flames. You can take a pot shot with these in the shooting phase before piling in for the fight. Assaulting units also find flamers useful if they are about to receive a counter assault.

Khorne Bloodletters Tactics

Tzeentch Horrors Tactics

Age of Sigmar chaos Blue Horrors of TzeentchAaagh! You kill one and two smaller ones pop-up, and they can throw Smite bolts around too!

Tzeentch horrors are tricky things. First off they come in 3 sizes and in the Chaos Space Marine Codex, you can have all 3 types in one unit. Also they are psykers. for simplicity the whole unit is treated as on psyker. Don’t expect a 30 model unit of Horrors chucking out 30 Smite bolts! Even so, having psykers as a troop choice will sent your foe in to utter panic. This is specially true now that psychic powers have been beefed up in 8th edition 40k. If that was not enough, Pink Horrors have 18″ A2 shooting attacks too.

Nurgle Plaugebearers Tactics

Slaanesh Daemonettes Tactics

Chaos Space Marine Elite Tactics

The Chaos Space Marine army has nine different elite choices. This could tempt you spend most of your points on Elite units. Avoid this temptation! You need a good volume of troop units and just a small number of Elite units.

Chaos Terminator Tactics

Warhammer 40k Chaos Space Marine TerminatorsChaos Terminators are veteran Space Marines in super though Terminator Armour. This armour gives the Terminators a 2+ basic save and a 5+ invulnerable save.

Terminators are classically used to weed out opposition from fortified positions. Their Teleport Strike allows them to get close to the enemy, and with a change of charging in on the turn they arrive. Their tough armour means that they can take on numerically superior units for several rounds, and their weapons will rip through tanks and monstrous creatures alike!

Khorne Bezerkers

Warhammer 40k Khorne Berzerker Chaos Space MarineKhorne Bezerkers are Elite Chaos Space Marines that have dedicated themselves to the Chaos God Khorne. The Chaos God Khorne is the god of war, and wanton destruction for it’s own end. They go in to a frenzy in battle, specially if you call them ‘bunny ears’!

Khorne Bezerkers are close combat specialists. To aid this role they have +1 strength and +1 attack over the basic Chaos Space Marine. However there is more! If the Bezerker had a chain axe they get an additional attack ( that’s 3, and 4 for the Champion). On top of this they have an ability ‘Blood for the Blood  God’ which effectively doubles the number of attacks Bezerker gets.

Khorne Bezerkers cannot take heavy weapons. You can arm your Bezerker Champion with a Bolter or Combi-Weapon from the Champions equipment list, but this is a waste. This means that your Bezerkers will be armed with short ranges pistols and close combat weapons. This means that Khorne Bezerker tactics is easy, get them in to the fight and keep them fighting for as many rounds as possible!

Khorne Bezerker Ability – Death to the False Emperor

Khorne Bezerkers get the ‘Death to the False Emperor’ special rule. This rule allows the Bezerkers to get a bonus attacks each time they hit, if they target and hit Imperial units and hit on a roll of a 6.