Space Marines are a very interesting army in the 40K CCG. Often finding themselves outnumbered by most other armies in the game, they must find ways to overcome their lack of numbers – which, in this game, can be quite the uphill battle.
(Note: check out Chris B.’s fleet card review on BoardGameGeek for supplemental reading!)
The Emperor’s Finest
Pandora Prime introduced us to the vanilla Space Marines fleet card:
The vanilla fleet ability is a bit like pouring salt on a wound: for an army that is already outnumbered due to its First Wave of 1, having to play between 6 and 10 characters in order to reliably draw extra command cards means you have even fewer units to draw from your deck.
This deckbuilding tension led me to three rather straightforward conclusions:
- Every unit in your deck must count – it must have at least armor 3 and/or equipped to deal at least 3 damage. If it has neither of these things, you’d better have a good reason for playing it.
- Every command card must count – either though discard outlets (read this article to learn more!) or through quality command lines.
- Every character must count – either by keeping your units alive or helping your units destroy enemy units.
The upside is that the entirety of the Space Marines card pool is available to you, and you have no other deckbuilding restrictions. With this freedom, however, you must be incredibly careful with every card you decide to include.
The Wolves of Fenris
Delos V brought us our second Space Marines fleet card: Space Wolves.
Space Wolves are just as reliant on characters as vanilla Space Marines, but instead use characters to gain a tempo advantage against the enemy. Although it is rare to have more than two characters at a battle, even having one character will enable a Space Wolves player to charge one unit before the battle starts. In addition to getting a jump on the enemy, the fleet ability will take advantage of those Space Wolf assault units that boost your army while they are charging:
In the case of Squad Grimr, I can’t understate the power of a +1 armor boost to all your units before the battle even starts – especially with high-armor units like Space Marines. Likewise, a blanket +1 speed boost or +2 to any roll can be immensely powerful, even if the unit only lives for a couple BAs. In addition, Space Wolves have units that can confound their opponents’ target priorities:
While I have yet to build and play a Space Wolves deck, I think there’s a lot of potential in having an assault-themed Space Marine faction that builds synergies around charging. Is it enough to overcome the First Wave of 1 and a character-dependent deckbuilding restriction? Maybe we’ll answer that question in a future article.
The Angels of Vengeance
The following expansion, Invasion: Verdicon, introduced the Dark Angels fleet card:
The first fleet ability is interesting perhaps more for its historical value than its gameplay value. Verdicon was the first set that took exceptional strides to rebalance the game. With the overbearing presence of mass-kill units (such as Avatars and Greater Daemons) and extra BAs, Verdicon included many cards meant to rein in these mechanics. The Dark Angels’ first fleet ability is one such example: it allows you to save units that otherwise might be butchered by a Great Unclean One or Vindicator. I’d like to note, however, that post-Verdicon, these situations are not as prevalent as one might think. With the banning of the Avatar and lowered power level of subsequent Avatars, and the introduction of extra-BA hate cards like Planetary Defence Cannon, you both have less incentive to play extra BAs, plus against an unknown opponent you play extra BAs at your own risk.
This fleet ability is also not as effective against armies not known for running mass-kill units – such as Dark Eldar or Imperial Guard (excepting a lucky series of artillery rolls). Against those armies, this ability is much less relevant.
It’s worth noting that Dark Angels places much more thematic emphasis on counterattacking than other Space Marine factions:
Counterattacking becomes the main avenue through which Dark Angels can even the numbers in a game. This theme, combined with the fleet card ability to resist multi-kills, positions Dark Angels as a reactive, implacable fighting force.
The second Dark Angels fleet ability is reminiscent of the vanilla Space Marines’ extra card draw – although in most cases a weaker version. In the cases where you are able to draw more than two cards due to this ability, you are either fighting a massive battle, or you have too few units to make a difference.
Overall, I would consider the Dark Angels fleet card to be slightly underpowered, unless you are playing an army known for their heavy hitters – namely Chaos and Eldar. Hopefully, I can test out a Dark Angels deck in the near future.
The Angels of Death
The final Space Marines fleet card, Blood Angels, was released in Malogrim Hive:
Although First Wave 2 does not look like a big change on the surface, it is actually a massive advantage. The impact of every additional Space Marine unit that hits the battlefield is compounded by its innate toughness, which far exceeds other armies with identical First Wave values. It feels rather unfair when Blood Angels get to deploy just as many cards as Imperial Guard.
Suddenly, playing a lot of characters isn’t as much of a drawback. You could even swing in the opposite direction and maximize your flag count, ensuring that you have a generous number of units that can take sectors.
Showing every deployment to your opponent seems like a drawback, until you think about the best way to capitalize on the Blood Angels’ command hand ability. With an 8-card deployment, you will need to deploy to a maximum of two sectors to guarantee an average command hand size of 4 cards. The fewer units you deploy to a sector, the worse your odds become of taking that sector. Therefore, maximizing the Blood Angels’ fleet abilities requires you to commit to one or two sectors every turn. If this is the case, then you don’t really care if your opponent knows what you’re deploying, because your units will ideally be deployed at maximum strength to a limited number of sectors anyways. Just take care to deploy your lynchpin units (e.g., Balthial’s Death Company, Miller’s Bodyguard, Captain Miller) last, so your opponent can’t prepare for them.
The snowball effect comes into play when you have leftover units from a sector battle carrying over into the next turn. In subsequent battles, you can easily find yourself drawing between 6 and 8 cards in a battle, which, combined with the right outlets, can make your Blood Angels virtually invincible:
Blood Angels, however, aren’t without their weaknesses. In many cases you must decide between playing a great unit with a crappy command line, or a subpar unit with a great die roll and versatile command line. Without a discard outlet, a large command hand doesn’t mean much if most of your cards are trash. Many abilities also require discarding random cards – the effects of which can be mitigated with a large command hand, but with hand sizes of 4 or less, can be unpredictable in a bad way.
Although I am slightly biased with my testing results, I believe Blood Angels are the strongest of all the Space Marine factions. If you’re willing to play with a smaller pool of cards, you gain access to the unprecedented First Wave of 2, exceptional Assault Marine units, and command hands that can skyrocket to ridiculous sizes.
With four fleet cards to choose from, you have a variety of playstyles at your disposal if you’re a fan of the Astartes. I believe, however, that no matter which fleet card you choose, you will have quite a deckbuilding challenge ahead of you. I wouldn’t call Space Marines a beginner army, but I think they can be rewarding if you manage to hone your deck into a fine-tuned machine. Good luck!