Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Space Marine Scouts

Today I'll be giving Space Marine Scouts the unit analysis treatment. It has turned into a bit of an essay so prepare yourself...

Scouts are pseudo-marines that have yet to complete the cornucopia of operations involved in the transformation of a man into ubermench. Basically they are going through a second puberty. The marines employ these "boys" in a scouting capacity.On the battlefield scouts provide a cheap scoring unit or distraction. While their grown up brethren charge around the battlefield in boxes of steel, spare a thought for the token scout squad siting in the backlines nursing an objective.

This review is for the scouts in Codex: Space Marines, but most of it will apply to scouts from the Dark Angels and Blood Angels codices - just remember that other scouts are Elites so take up a valuable Force Organisation slot and don't score. The Dark Angel scouts have BS and WS 4.


In many ways space marine scouts are very similar to their marine brothers. The most obvious difference is that they lack a 3+ save, which makes a big difference to their survivability. Sadly they also come with a mediocre WS and BS of 3 - veteran players will remember that they used to be able to shoot and fight better in earlier codices. The rest of their stats are marine level, so they are tough, strong and quick. They also come with the full set of modern marine equipment - frag / krak grenades and bolt pistol which we will discuss in more detail later.

Finally they share the Combat Squads and Combat Tactics rules with their big brothers. Combat Squads allows you to split for objective games, and keep in a single squad for kill points. This ability can help you customise your force to match an opponent, and play to the mission - which is never a bad idea. Combat Tactics is an awesome ability that can win games. It gives a chance of getting the models out of an impossible to win assault, allowing the rest of the army to shoot them up. Just remember that with a 4+ save they are going to take more damage if the enemy catches them on the withdrawal.

Apart from his 4+ save, the Sergeant model is a Space Marine in all respects. Don't forget that his BS is 4 and so hits on a 3+. Every bit counts! His WS 4 comes into play less often, but may make it harder for the unit to be hit if there are only two models left as it will become the majority.

So what makes scouts unique? They get three suitably sneaky special rules that allow them to play a different role in the game to the tactical squad. These rules are Infiltrate, Scout and Move Through Cover. Together these allow the scout a number of potentially useful mobility options.

Infiltrate allows you to deploy the scouts outside your deployment zone. Be careful that you aren't just providing the enemy with an opportunity to reach the relative safety of assault on turn 1. This is an ability that should be used with discretion. Combines well with a teleport homer, if you have teleporting troops who would like to land safely.

Scout gives you an additional move before the first turn of the game. This is really only useful when combined with Infiltrate, in that it lets you move your scouts within the 18" Infiltrate "barrier" and set up for a potential first turn rapid fire/shotgun burst. You still won't be able to assault though. Using Scout in this way is rarely going to be effective, unless you are playing a very aggressive army and they are going to get plenty of support in the first turn - its unlikely.

There isn't much to say about Move Through Cover, other than that it is a useful rule and will occasionally prove useful.

Weapon Options

You have four choices for main weapon when equipping your scouts. Each weapon cost is the same, so your choice is governed solely by the role you have in mind for the unit. Note that it is even possible to equip a single unit with a combination of main weapons - some people do this so that they can combat squad the unit into two different roles. I don't like this approach unless you are always going to combat squad the unit, although in that instance it does save you 15 points by avoiding a second Sergeant.

The default weapon is the iconic bolt gun, but this is rarely seen. It lacks the range of sniper rifles, so is most effective within 12". However there are other options that are better at such close range as they allow you to assault. So it is an all-round kind of weapon, and in most cases you are better off focussing your squads into a single role. Not an awful option, but there are better.

Let's move on to the signature scout weapon - the sniper rifle. One shot that hits half the time, wounds half the time and ignores armour for a third of those wounds. Sniper rifles have a few useful abilities: a 36" range, wounding on a 4+ regardless of Toughness (basically poison without the re-roll), Rending, and causing pinning tests if a model is successfully wounded.

With a 5 model squad you are killing about half a marine per turn - so you can only reliably cause a single morale check every second turn or so. Sniper rifles are a heavy weapon, so suit a unit whose purpose is to sit in the backfield and plink. They are of course as effective against high Toughness monstrous creatures as against normal infantry, so if present these will be your preferred target. Terminators might be a tempting target, but with a 5 man squad you are only going to roll a 6 to wound twice a game, so good luck with that!

Don't forget that as you roll an extra d3 when penetrating armour with sniper rifles, you have a slim chance of damaging light transports. You roll 3 + d6 for armour penetration, with an additional d3 if you roll a 6. Actually not bad odds against AV10, for such a cheap weapon.

Finally we can move on to the close range options - shotguns and combat blades (combined with the scout's bolt pistol). As these serve a very similar role it's easier to compare them together. The choice between the two is controversial, with supporters in each camp. Let's look into the pros and cons of each.

Firstly with shooting, both have a range of 12" and a Strength of 4, and both allow assault after firing. The bolt pistol shoots once instead of twice, but only has an AP of 5 (compared to '-' for the shotgun). As you will be normally shooting into cover the effect of AP is minimal, so the shotgun will basically deal twice the damage.

Against AV10 vehicles (including most rear armour) shotguns get twice the shots, but have the same chance of immobilising/stunning as the pistol shots due to their AP- (unless the vehicle is open topped). So only a minimal advantage to shotguns there, assuming your goal was to stun it so you could hit the vehicle automatically in an ensuing assault.

Obviously once the unit gets into assault the close combat weapon is the best choice, giving an extra attack in each player's turn (at Strength 4). So here is my conclusion: firstly if you expect to be assaulting with the unit, go ahead and give them the combat blades. If you expect to be going to ground a lot then combat blades are also better, as you won't get to shoot anyway. Shotguns  might cause enough casualties to the target unit to force a moral check - if they flee then your unit can hold their objective in peace. However the chances of this paying off are slim and not worth the trade of in my opinion.

There are two scenarios when I would use shotguns. Firstly they go nicely in a Land Speeder Storm, allowing the unit to shoot after the Storm has moved whilst keeping within the (questionable) safety of the transport. The second use of shotguns is to take a single shotgun  along with combat blades on the other scouts, and use the model for wound allocation. Try to stack power weapon wounds on him so that two wounds only kill one model.

It's been a long section, but we still need to talk about weapon options for the Sergeant - I'll try to be brief. The most useful upgrade is the power fist, transforming the unit from a weak scorer to something that can take out most battlefield threats with a little luck. Only take a power fist if your unit is mobile and survivable, such as in a Storm or a larger infiltrating unit. The melta-bombs provide some of the flexibility of the power fist in a much cheaper package. Still, you have krak grenades anyway and there are probably better places to spend that 5 points.

Combi weapons are an option - well melta and flamer anyway (plasma is only good en masse). Personally I prefer the flamer on a Storm squad as it covers the Storm's lack of a heavy flamer - assuming you gave it a multi-melta. Otherwise a combi-melta might be a good idea with an infiltrating unit, but it is nothin you can rely on, and there are probably better ways to spend those points. Still a melta in the right place can work miracles.

Don't take plasma pistols or power weapons - they are outclassed in this edition. Or in the case of plasma pistols, simply outclassed.

Other Options

Scouts come with frag and krak grenades just like marines. The frags are great for combat blade scouts as they will often be sitting in cover before assault, and the krak grenades make the scouts as effective as tacticals against walkers and vehicle rear armour.

The whole squad can be given camo cloaks, though this raises their price up to marine territory. I think these are well worth it for an objective holding unit, because being able to get a 2+ save by going to ground makes them twice as hard to kill as thunder hammmer / storm shield Terminators at range, for under half the cost! Don't forget that models like Lysander and the Thunderfire Cannon allow you to reinforce a ruin, giving a 2+ save to  the squad without having to go to ground. These units really complement a force with cloaked scouts.

You can give your scouts a teleport homer if you are playing with deep striking Terminators. It's an upgrade that relies on other units in your army, and further discussion belongs in a Teminator unit analysis, not here.

Unfortunately scouts lack any option for a dedicated transport. This makes them an ineffective choice in a heavily meched army as they make a target for long ranged anti-infantry weapons (albeit with a 2+ save) and do not contribute towards the saturation of mech targets.

I don't really want to go in to detail about Telion here. Suffice to say that he is fun, but a lot of points to pump into a unit whose best feature is it's cheapness. If you take him, don't forget that according to the latest FAQ he gives the unit Stealth for free.

Example Units

Plink, Plink. Score (100)
5 Scouts - camo cloaks, 4 sniper rifles, 1 missile launcher
Probably the best unit configuration, and an efficient use of points. Always placed in cover of course, and go to ground pretty much whenever they are shot at. An extra missile launcher is a welcome addition to any army, and the sniper rifles can support it's anti-tank role to some extent. Even better against monstrous creatures. Take Lysander and you can even get a 2+ save without hitting the dirt if there's a ruin near your deployment zone.

Behind Enemy Lines (170)
10 Scouts - 8 combat blades, 1 shotgun, sergeant with power fist, combi-melta
This squad is your only real option to outflank with as a Space Marine player (unless you take Khan). It's never going to take on elite enemy units, but should be able to deal with enemy backfield units like Devastators and tanks. They can be given a teleport homer and infiltrate forward if you are also employing aggressive deep striking. 

Drive By Shotty (110)
5 scouts - 4 shotguns, sergeant with shotgun, power fist, combi-flamer
Buy them a Land Speeder Storm (with a multi-melta), then fly around and be annoying, shooting from your open-topped vehicle. The combi-flamer compensates for the Storm's lack of a heavy flamer. The whole thing doubles as a power fist delivery system.

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