Saturday, May 17, 2014

Back to Basics: Tactical Marines

This month is the third anniversary of my first game of 40K (my wife still curses that day). During that game, and for quite a few games afterward, I used a borrowed Space Marine army. Within a month I had bought a starter paint set and had finished my first Tactical Marine. By the three month mark I had finished the five paint set Marines and ten from the Black Reach set (I used to paint a lot faster). Unfortunately, those 15 Tactical Marines represent the entirety of my painted power armored Troops to this day.

My first Tactical Marine

Until 6th Edition was released, the Cabal focused almost entirely on annihilation games. I didn't even know what a "scoring unit" was until long after I started playing. In those early games, unless the army had awesome Troop choices (e.g., Grey Knights), the only Troop squads we bothered to bring were there to meet the minimum requirements of the Force Organization Chart. At the time, Tactical Marines seemed nearly worthless to me. Under 5th Edition, Tactical Marines were relatively expensive, they had to come in a squad of 10 just to get a special and/or a heavy weapon, the whole squad had to hold still just to fire the heavy weapon, and rapid fire weapons couldn't fire at their maximum range if the squad had moved.

All of my power armored Marines as of August 2011.
The number hasn't changed since then.

By February 2012 the Troops section of my lists consisted entirely of the Black Reach Tactical Squad and a six man Sniper Scout Squad with Sergeant Telion. My five paint set Marines gathered dust in a carrying case while I spent the rest of my points on more useful models. Then 6th Edition came along, rapid fire weapons got better, heavy weapons gained snap shots, and the Cabal started to shift its focus towards capturing and holding objectives rather than simply trying to wipe out the other player. (It had taken us over a year, but we had finally recognized that annihilation games tended to favor certain armies.) All of a sudden, Troops started to become more important.

When the 6th Edition C:SM came out, I found that 15 Tactical Marines - a number I had previously thought was too much - was a woefully inadequate number. Tactical Squads had become a lot cheaper once we were given the option to leave out upgrades whose cost had been hidden in the previous edition; e.g., Veterancy for the Sergeant and, depending on the weapon, all or part of the cost for the special and heavy weapons. The allowance to give a single special or heavy weapon to a squad with less than 10 models was huge (and something that had been allowed in prior editions). Finally, the introduction of the Ultramarines' Tactical Doctrine made it ridiculous not to maximize the number of Tactical Marines I field.

With that in mind, I recently mentioned that I desperately need more Tactical Marines. Although I knew that I hadn't worked on a power armored Marine in some time, I was surprised to find that every single one had been finished in my first three months of the hobby, over two and a half years ago. Fortunately, I've purchased several Tactical Squad kits since then, including the beautiful new kit released last year.

With my close combat Terminators and their Land Raider Crusader transport done, I've finally moved on to the Tactical Marines I primed last year as part of a spray painting marathon. This past Monday I started on a lone bolter Marine, eschewing my usual assembly line method that has burned me out so many times in the past. While working on him, I was reminded of how I was able to finish so many models early on; Tactical Marines are by far the most basic Marine models to paint. Sure, I'm taking a bit longer to finish this model than I did three years ago, but that's because my later models are more detailed. Still, it's nice to get back to the basics.

Now here's the really exciting part; after disastrous attempts to apply Ultramarine decals to the Black Reach Tactical Marines' shoulder pads drove me to hand painting logos on all infantry models for the next two and a half years, I've finally found a way to satisfactorily apply water-slide transfers to curved surfaces. As before with the Crusader, I first applied 'Ardcoat to the surface. To prevent the discontinuities in texture and color that I encountered before, I painted the 'Ardcoat on the entirety of the shoulder pad and used a much thinner layer than before.

Following the advice Red gave in this blog's comments section, I made a cut about 25% of the way down an Ultramarine decal, right through the opening in the inverted omega. After applying Micro-Set to the shoulder pad, I carefully slid the decal into place and let it dry enough to resist movement. Then, using an Army Painter-brand brush with soft, natural fibers, I brushed on the Micro-Sol. After the Micro-Sol dried, I used the tip of a razor to pierce any bubbles I found and then applied more Micro-Sol. I think I used between three and four applications of Micro-Sol before I was satisfied.

By the end, there was a slight wrinkle in the clear part of the decal at the bottom of my incision as well as two 1/64-inch wrinkles in the clear portion surrounding the logo. However, the Micro-Sol had significantly thinned those regions and I was able to scrape the wrinkles off with a sharp razor blade. A final application of Micro-Sol completely hid the edges of the decal and, exactly as the product advertises, it made the decal look like it had been painted on.

I used a final layer of 'Ardcoat to seal the transfer and two layers of Lahmian Medium to remove the gloss. I didn't apply any Nuln Oil wash to the shoulder pad until after I was finished with the protective layers. The lighter patches around the omega in the photos above aren't the edges of the decal, they're regions where I avoided painting the wash onto the logo.

Although several hours passed between preparing the surface and finishing up the decal, the amount of hands-on time was miniscule compared to hand painting the logo. While I've been proud of many of my hand-painted logos, the final result of this technique is sharper, more durable, and easier to achieve. In all, I'm extremely happy with Micro-Set and Micro-Sol, particularly since I had no idea how I was going to hand paint the squad logos on the Assault Marines and Land Speeder crews I want to get to in the next year.

A recent visit to GW's website suggests that someone needs to let GW know about Micro-Set and Micro-Sol:

An official promotional image from
Nothing detracts from a professional paint job like bad decals.

The photo above shows that at least one of GW's professionals avoided wrinkling by cutting away most of the clear part of the decal. The modified decal was so fragile that it obviously tore during application. Not only that, but its edges are extremely visible in this lighting. Micro-Sol would have caused the decal to conform to the surface with a minimum of cutting. It also would have dissolved the clear portion of the decal and effectively melted it onto the surface. This would have removed nearly all evidence of the decal's edges.

I've always found it odd that GW's painters will put huge amounts of effort into painting the miniatures just to ruin them with poorly applied decals.


  1. I started playing 40k in 98 and always found 6 tactical squads, 3 with missile launchers with frag and krak grenades and a flamed in the unit
    3 tactical squads with heavy bolters and melta guns backed up by a devastator squad littered with lascannons and a pair if possible of I dreadnoughts also with lascannons to be extremely effective, just well rounded; I never put high S heavy weapons in my tax squads; you want to shoot that land raider? Great now you have 7 other guys standing around (flamer and sergeant)
    Anyway just my two cents you make good points yourself.

    1. I've been considering adding a grav-cannon to a drop pod-based Tactical Squad. It's expensive but it's a salvo weapon, unlike the squad's other heavy weapons options.

      A squad with a combi-grav, a grav-gun, and a grav-cannon could do some serious damage to heavy infantry and monstrous creatures and is very likely to immobilize Land Raiders, Dreadnoughts, etc.


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