Space Marine Tactics

Pre-heresy Dark Angel Space Marine

Space Marines! Heroes of the Imperium and genetically modified super soldiers. However you will find that you are often outnumbered. This means that tactical cunning is imperative. read this tactica to find out how to get the most from your Space marines.

Space Marines are the easiest army for a new player to learn. They are very flexible in their tactics. For example a standard tactical team can fulfil the roles of infantry, support and assault. The downside of this flexibility is that Space Marines tend to be out numbered by enemy troops. When you play using Space Marines you are saying that quality is better than quantity!

Space Marine General Tactics looks at tactics and strategies that work for all the Space Marines Chapters. Chapters that have different codex’s may find these pages useful.


General Space Marine Advice

Due to the ‘all round’ nature of the Space Marines you should be able to adapt to use any tactics that you find on this site or elsewhere. In addition to searching this and other Warhammer sites for tactical advice. Search the net and your local library for ideas on what tactics great historical generals used in their campaigns. Alexander the Great may not have used  Lascannons but his formations are worthy of study.

Learn the Rules

I have said this in the general advice for all armies but it does need saying again:-

Get The Rule Books and Read Them!

You will need the main Warhammer 40k Rule Book, and the Codex: Space Marines for the Space Marine specific rules.

Sharing rule books with friends might work for a week or two, until you decide whether you like the game or not. After that you do need the books. If you have to decide between spending money on the rule books or on models get the books. Use Plasticine / coins / used match sticks / silver foil, to make some home made models.  If you have models with out the rules then they will just sit on a shelf looking pretty.

Tactical Squads

A WH40k Space Marine Tactical Squad Learn how to use the Space Marine Tactical Squads in your army, and everything else will fall in to place. Learn when to stand your ground, when to advance and when to retreat. If you learn these three skill with this one squad type you will win 60% to 70% of the games you play.

Keep it Simple

As a new player keep your army simple. Four tactical Squads and one HQ. choice is all that you require of the first few games.

Playing Styles

It won’t take you long to spot that different Space Marine players have different styles of playing. Some will charge forward and get in to close assault as soon as possible, others will stand as far back as possible and use their guns to whittle down the advancing enemy. Other players will use fast troops and vehicles to wage a hit-and-run style campaign, and some prefer a close ranged fire fight. In this section I will be examining different playing styles and the pros and cons of each.

Close Assault Armies

Space Marine unit with jet packsClose Assault armies are very successful. They are so successful that Games Workshop have changes the assault rules to weaken them a notch or two. The reason that they are so good is that you have two assault rounds each turn and only one shooting turn (your assault phase, and the opponents assault phase). Some of the issues that a close assault army has are speed, grouping, and cover.


With a close assault army speed is of the essence. The sooner you are in combat the sooner you will be using your killing skills. Speed can be achieved by putting jet-packs to the back of your troops, putting then in transport, or dropping them on to the battle field with drop pods and teleport.


With assaults it is much better to attack a weak defence with a much larger force. To do this you need to identify a weak spot in the defence and hit it with all your army. That requires all your army to arrive at the same time. If your troops arrive in a piece-meal fashion then your opponent will be able to hack you down before you reach critical mass.


To effective assaulting force you need to reach the target in one piece. This means that you have to avoid being shot at. Cover has several different forms. Buildings and hard cover that you can run up behind reducing the number of shots that the enemy can take at you.

Tanks can provide moving cover for the troops inside them, and any troops that follow them.

Your opponent will use cover to protect his troops. This allows him to attack first when he is assaulted, probably killing some of your troops before they can strike back. This advantage can be minimized by  taking frag grenades.

Shooty Armies

Space Marines defend a power plant in a Planetstrike gameWith all these close assault armies around, sometimes the best option is to stand back and shoot them down as they charge in.

The Best Starter Space Marine Army

The Space Marines are a great army for a player to start with when they are starting to learn to play Warhammer 40k. The question I am often asked is what type / style of army should a starting player choose, and which models should they get.

If you are just starting out here is a simple 500 point list to get you started:

Points Models


Captain with basic equipment


10 Basic Man Marine Squad with Missile Launcher, Meltagun, and Rhino with 2nd Storm Bolter fitted


10 Basic Man Marine Squad with Missile Launcher, Meltagun, and Rhino with 2nd Storm Bolter fitted

This should give you a tactically flexible force that can take on either large monstrous creature armies or armies with hordes of troops, to the same points value. It is also a good base to start from when building up your army later.

Another option is to get the Dark Vengeance starter Box Set. This box set includes a full Space Marine Tactical Unit, a Terminator Squad, a Bike Squad and two HQ characters for £65 ( retail at time of writing, internet discounts are available). The bonus is that you get a full set of Chaos baddies to fight and all the rules, rulers and dice that you need.

Space Marines Special Rules

Space Marines only have a couple of special rules. It is worth getting to know them.

They Know no Fear

This special rule represents the high level of training that a Space Marine receives and comes in three parts; passes re-group tests; re-group with less than half strength; and resisting sweeping advances.

Automatically Passes Re-group tests

Using this rule Space Marines automatically pass a re-group test . This normally happens the turn after the Space Marines failed a leadership test. Be aware that if the Space Marines do not get chance to test then they will still be fleeing. This happens if the enemy are within 6 inches of the squad at the start of our turn.

If your Space Marines pass the re-group test, then they can move & fire as normal. This gives you an option to run for cover, or fire heavy weapons.

Not Wiped Out by Sweeping Advances

This rule represents the steel hard resolve that all the Imperial Space Marines have. In game terms this rule means that your Space Marines will not be wiped by a sweeping advance. Instead they get a second to fight. This rule will not help you against overwhelming odds but it will tie up your opponents for another critical(?) turn.

Combat Doctrines

Generic Space Marine chapters ( ie, not Dark Angels, Blood Angels, or Space Wolfs, & etc. ) have Combat Doctrines. These are spacial skills different Space Marine chapters hsave. In the 2015 Space Marine Codex these doctrines gave moved to be special rules that can with the formations. This means that if you can organize your forces to use the formation then do it. The Combat Doctrines are well worth having.

Space Marine Combat Squads

Most 10 man Space Marine Squads can be split in to two 5 man squads. These are called combat squads. You get to choose if you want to split your 10 man squads in to combat squads just before you choose your Warlord Traits, This means that you will be able to see what you are facing before you decide. Don’t choose lightly because once split the squads cannot rejoin forces again this game.

Combat squads have the strength of being able to cover more ground, and you can divide your assault weapons away from your squad heavy weapon. This means that you can have a squad of 5 holding an objective with a heavy weapon while another squad of 5 can go after another objective.

The weakness of combat squads in that two small squads is frequently weaker that one large one. Your opponent can focus his efforts to wipe one small squad before swinging around to take out the other small squad,