As requested by a fellow player in a tournament, I've decided to give my first army a good examination. Now it is true that I have something of a love-hate relationship with the boys in blue. My first and biggest army is my 2nd Company of Ultramarines and I will always keep them in a special place on the gaming shelf, but as more 5th edition books come out I've been more and more disapointed with their codex. It's not that theirs is particularly bad, more that those that have come after are just so much better. Space Wolves and Blood Angels can do almost everything the Space Marines do, only better and cheaper points-wise. Having said that, I do think Marines still have a few things going for them and I think they deserve a closer look. Besides, this is my soapbox and since you chose to come here, you might s well read what I have to say. Fair warning...this will be long, but I think worth the read.
Might as well start with the Headquarters options. After all, SM HQ choices dictate a great deal about the army so we'll spend lots of time here. I'm not entirely fond of this since GW basically took away the old traits and then said if you want to do the same thing you have to take a certain commander. We'll start with the generic ones. I'll skim over a few since they're somewhat sub-par. The Chapter Master comes up first. He's pretty much identical to the Captain but gets an Orbital Bombardment and unlocks the Honor Guard. These guys are basically a point-sink and while the bombardment looks good on paper, in practice it's not all tht great so I'd rather save the points and run a Captain. As for him, honestly the only time I see one being a better choice then a named character is if you're really scraping for points or you want bikes as troops. The Captain unlocks this option and while an all-bike army isn't the most competative build it can be plenty of fun and still win games.
Moving on we have the Chaplain and librarian. I put these two together for a few reasons. First, I don't like that both lost their upgraded versions. I much prefered the 3 wound options the old book allowed. Though it is an option, I think they aren't up to par with the Captain for an army leader. They're good at lower points or as a secondary character, but I'd rather have a Captain in a fist fight. The Chaplain isn't as nasty in CC as he used to be, but still capable and thanks to Litanies of Hate (which is what it will always be to me) he's useful supporting an assault unit. The Librarian is an oddity. He has some potent powers, but again he lost some effectiveness. Also you do have to jump through a few hoops to give him an invulnerable save. Considering that they are the only potential defense to a Perils roll having him not come with one seems strange. Of brief note also is the Master of the Forge. I don't like techmarines as much as I used to so I'm not thrilled with the jacked up HQ version. His conversion beamer is kind of cool and being able to double up on dreads can be fun but again I think there are better choices.
Finally we have the named characters. I'm going to try and get through this and focus on a few, but since this is where a Space Marine can be defined there a few that I'll spend time on. Every special character brings something unique to the table and some fall under that often discussed "force multiplier" category. These guys all have their usefulness, but often to get their true potential, you really have to build the entire army around them. Don't take Vulkan if you don't use meltas for example.
First, sadly are the Ultramarine characters. Calgar is interesting with his "pass or fail" leadership rule, but he's a few more points then I'd like to spend, espically in Terminator armor. Sicarius is OK and has a few tricks. He's the first one that acts as a force multiplier by giving a tac squad a bit more capability and he's not a killer on points. Cassius and Tigris are basically beefed up forms of their generic counterparts. If you're taking a Power Armored Chaplain, Cassius is worth it, but since Tigris can't take wargear for an invul. you have the supposed best psyker in the Imperium with no way to stop his brain from leaking out of his head should he roll snake eyes or boxcars. The Ultramarines are GW's poster children so they do get so many characters, but unfortunately the other chapters just have more to offer.
Moving on we have Pedro Kantor. He's a master so he does come with a bombardment, but that's not what makes him cool. He can make Sternguard scoring. I do like these guys, but they're a bit pricey so giving them the ability to hold objectives really increases their usefulness. He also makes your army stubborn which comes in handy since Marines will end up losing lots of close combats and I'd rather be stubborn then have to deal with ATSKNF and possible no retreat wounds. Add to it his ability to give nearby squads an extra attack and you really have something to consider. He's not too expensive, but can be a potent fighter on his own, or attached to something nasty to give it an extra punch.
Next is Darnath Lysander. He also brings stubborn to the party and makes a good pairing with any shooting part of your army that involves the word "bolt". Pistols, bolters, heavy bolters and storm bolters all become more deadly. He can also bolster defenses, giving you added durability. Plus Lysander basically kicks ass. He's immune to instant death, comes with a 2+\3+ save and a strength 10 Thunder hammer. Point this guy at what you want to die and send him on his way. It would cost plenty of points, but Lysander, Kantor and 10 Sternguard would be awesome. Park them in a bolstered spot on an objective and open fire. If your opponent wants to try and assault them, Lysander will make him think twice and Kantor will give everyone an extra attack.
Forgefather Vulkan He'stan is next and again we have a potent force multiplier. In the current meta, Meltas and Flamers are dangerous weapons and Vulkan just makes them that much more awesome. He also helps TH/SS Termies...not that they need it but it's pretty sweet. He's great, but only with the right build. Of course spamming these weapons will bring some pain down, but remember you'll be a very close range force. Against an alpha strike army like IG, you'll have a hard time getting close enough to your foe before he destroys you but that's when things like drop pods come in.
The last two aren't particularly bad, but they are really CC focused and lets be honest, Marines don't want to be in combat. Shrike lets you fleet and fleeting assault terminators are scary...plus he lets one unit infiltrate which can be awesome. Khan lets the whole army outflank basically as well as giving his unit some punch. These guys could be fun, but I don't think they're the best choice if you're looking for a tournament list. They don't really compliment the rest of the Marine choices...if Shrike did to assaulty squads what Kantor did to Sternguard or Khan came with the bike I might like them more, but unless they are exactly what you want in your army, there are just better choices.
So there you have it, the great leaders of the Emperor's finest. Next time, we'll look at troops and fast attack choices.