Most of my army lists contain scouts of one flavour or another; some as a core component, others as a cheap afterthought. But only a few of my lists will be without them. This is an article focussing on the pros and cons of scouts in a Space Marine list based on some mathammer, conjecture and experiences I’ve had with them.
Firstly to note, this article focuses on Codex SM scouts, so not fancy wolf scouts, improved BS/WS dark angel scouts, BT neophytes or FC/FNP BA scouts.
The first question to ask is what role you want scouts to perform in your army. Will they be the core of your force as a 10th company themed army, a evenly weighted contingent with your tactical squads or simply a basic 5-man squad because you have points to spare? The worst mistake in my opinion is to try and play scouts as a cheaper substitute for tactical marines – they aren’t! Scouts may have a near similar statline to tactical marines but the the 3 key differences will decrease both their effectiveness and resilience, namely WS/BS and Sv. We shall consider each of these in turn.
The armour save of 4+ makes a huge difference in certain situations, namely when you are exposed to any of the abundant AP4 weaponry in the game. Suddenly you go from an almost guaranteed save with power armour to being as fragile as tau when exposed to these weapons. The only saving grace will be cover and a higher toughness, though weapons such as autocannons and assault cannons will negate the benefit or higher toughness, where the dreaded heavy flamer will completely take the privilege of a save away from you. In my experience, heavy flamers are the bane of scout squads and should be targeted as a priority to keep your scouts alive and in the fight. We will discuss the WS/BS issues later in the article.
Scouts are 3 points cheaper than your average tactical marine, but they generally underperform when compared to similar units point for point. Their real strength lies in their wargear options and their special rules. There are three main loadouts for scouts – long, mid and short ranged. I always tend to use the long or short ranged squads, finding that the mid-ranged bolter/heavy weapon squads simply try to imitate the role of tactical squads but less well. Short ranged squads, I generally arm with bolt pistols and close combat weapons with one shotgun per 5 for good measure (and the cool model). Long ranged will always be armed with sniper rifles and a missile launcher, but there’s one more important option in the codex to help you survive – Telion.
In a 10-man squad, the sergeant is a bargain at 50 points, considering what he brings to the squad. He grants the entire squad stealth, which on a 10-man squad would normally set you back 30 points alone. His BS of 6 makes you almost guaranteed to hit the mark with a missile launcher, whereas if you choose to fire frag instead his stalker boltgun and eye of vengeance can be awesome for nailing squad leaders or ICs. I generally try not to split squads with snipers, but if you have to in smaller point games then I find it best to pair up the ML and telion with 3 scouts while leaving the other squad with just 5 scouts in. One other trick to make your scouts near untouchable is to add in a techmarine, MoTF or Lysander with bolster defences. Suddenly your scouts go from being 4+ to 2+ save, just beware template weapons such as the dreaded heavy flamer and any assault units getting too close.
As for other options if you’re not taking snipers, I find the heavy bolter/bolters to be somewhat lacklustre but will always give the sergeant maximum upgrades as, let’s face it, he’s the most important part of the squad. A combi-melta is almost mandatory, with a power weapon/melta bombs or power fist also. (preferably fist) I never take a teleport homer as I rarely teleport terminators in and can spend 15 points better elsewhere.
Deployment wise, The most obvious choice for snipers is in high cover (preferably on split levels to limit template weapon damage) near the centre of the table. Infiltrate can be useful here in order to confuse your opponent during deployment, yet what you need to try and achieve is being in the mid field (to avoid outflankers and get decent coverage with your 36” range) but not so far forward or exposed so as to make yourself vulnerable to early charges, especially with the likes of dark eldar around these days. With the close range scouts, the best options are either the first turn suicide tank charge described later, outflanking (delicious when you get a multi-charge on IG heavy weapons or Ork lootas) or in a land speeder storm, which if you decide to take I would always recommend a heavy flamer on to take the BS3 out of the equation.
You can try more orthodox deployments if you wish but, in my opinion, scouts have 3 special rules which are there to exploit to the maximum effect (infiltrate, scout, move through cover) so why not use them and leave orthodox to the tactical marines.
To illustrate the importance of selecting the correct role for your scouts, let us consider, point for point, 5 space marine BP/CCW scouts Vs 5 necron warriors, both of which are scoring units of the same value. The necron warriors only disadvantage over the scouts is the lack of initiative and the lack of flexibility with deployment. When considering the 5 scouts shooting bolt pistols and charging the warriors, from shooting the necrons will suffer 2.5 hits, 1.25 wounds and 0.75 failed saves for the necrons with a 33.3% chance to reanimate. From close combat, the scouts will hit first, with the necrons suffering 7.5 hits, 3.75 wounds and failing 1.875 saves, with the same 33.3% chance of reanimation. If we assume 3 necrons can strike back, the scouts would have to make a single armour save with a 50% chance of saving. Although the necrons will initially be on the backfoot, once the scouts are deprived of their charge bonus and shooting attacks, the situation would become more balanced in subsequent assault phases due to the necrons higher WS and reanimation protocols. If the situation were reversed and the necrons were rapid firing the scouts at close range, they would score 6.66 hits, 3.33 wounds and the scouts would fail 1.665 saves: a similar outcome to the scouts when we consider reanimation protocols.
Like all mathammer, this rarely will reflect the situation on the tabletop, and that’s where the real beauty of a small, 5-man unit of scouts comes into play. The best illustration of this is with my Raven Guard army in which there are 4, 5-man scout squads. These squads have different loadouts simply due to how I wanted to model them, however the most effective units are as follows. A 5-man scout squad with combi-melta and power fist costs 110 points. If you lose the turn to go first (or have a habit of having the initiative stolen from you) then the best way I find to use them is to place them into reserve. If you go first, then you are onto a winner.
Once your opponent has deployed, you place your scouts precisely 18” away from a priority vehicle target, such as a tank (land raiders and walkers are a bit more of a gamble). Then, you use your scout move to move precisely 12” away from said unit prior to the first turn, ensuring of course that your sergeant is at the tip of your assault. In the first turn you are then in a position to get off both a melta shot at half range and, most importantly, 3 power fist attacks on a stationary vehicle. At best, you will wreck the vehicle and will almost certainly have made your points back. At worst the vehicle will have been stunned long enough to advance the rest of your army into position. This tactic can be devastating if used correctly, but should not be used to plan your entire strategy around. Therefore I would only recommend one or two such suicide units per list.
Regarding the low WS/BS, this will affect different squads in different ways. The sniper units will be overall less effective, which can somewhat be compensated for by the presence of Telion if firing krak missiles. After all, it only takes one of the sniper rifles to cause an unsaved wound to cause that all important pinning test and in a 10 man squad the chances are one will get through. Having said that, the limitations of a 10-man sniper squad when not in combat-squads is that they will be either firing a single BS 6 missile to crack open transports or desperately trying to hit and wound to cause a pinning test.
I have found sniper rifles to be ineffective against vehicles for the most part. As for the close combat squads, both the WS/BS will be a hinderance when attacking MEQs and so I find their best uses to either be as tank-busting suicide squads or to outflank against already weakened targets. The advantage of both types of course is that you can use both to last minute grab or whole game babysit objectives, while the rest of your army focuses in keeping the enemy at bay.
In conclusion, there are only really two squads I use in lists:
5 Space marine scouts with BP/CCW, 1 shotgun and sergeant with power fist/combi-melta – 110pts
10 Space marine scouts with sniper rifles, missile launcher and sergeant Telion – 200pts
I run one list with land speeder storms +HFs to transport the smaller squads, but usually outflank or suicide those squads in other lists. I hope this has been helpful to read and may have persuaded one or two people to experiment with scouts from time to time. They can be fairly hit and miss, but add a fun dynamic to games and may catch your opponent offguard from time to time.