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Codex Chaos Space Marines has recently been revised, adding a lot of variety to the army and making it very formidable. This variety makes it potent, but also adds a small degree of difficulty to the army, as some players will be tempted to take strange combinations of "super" troops that will not work. The key to winning with the Chaos Space Marines is to find a balance of troops that will work, and then using them to compliment each other on the battlefield. To this end, look for a good mix of close combat and firepower units, emphasizing the aspect you believe is better for your style of play. Without fire support, your close combat troops would be chewed up by opposing fire. Similarly, without close combat troops, your firepower units can easily be assaulted and overrun.
LORDS OF CHAOS
Lords and Lieutenants fit into the same category, leaders. In a small army, it can be a wise decision to choose a Lieutenant over a Lord. A Lieutenant can also be fielded in a
larger battle in addition to a Lord. This can be useful, allowing you to take a large army and split it, with the Lord and Lieutenant leading the two portions of the army.
Don't go overboard on wargear and daemonic gifts. They are very useful and can make your character very powerful, but the points add up and you can have a prohibitively expensive character that causes you to have less Chaos Marines in the army than you otherwise could have. Choose the gear and gifts that you think would do the most good first, and then move on to choose anything else you feel you have the points for. Don't jump toward Daemonic Stature, either, unless you're willing to make your Lord a big target.
Your Lord's Mark of Chaos should be the Mark which best suits the type of army you're going to be playing. If you plan on playing a Khornate army, go for a Mark of Khorne. If you plan on mixing a few different gods in the army, go for the
Mark of Chaos Undivided.
The Sorceror ability can be useful, giving you access to psychic powers. If you do choose to make your Lord(s) a Sorceror, pick a psychic power that supplements your army. Doombolt is a boon to to close-combat heavy armies that have little firepower, and Gift of Chaos can be useful in any type of army.
CHOSEN OF CHAOS
The Chosen are one of the most flexible and potent units in Warhammer 40,000. However, this also makes them potentially expensive. You should first choose what role you want your Chosen to play. They can be used as a Retinue for a Lord or Lieutenant, as well as a basic squad. You can split your Chosen among these tasks, or take just one unit. If you choose to go with one unit, it's worth noting that you can take it as an Elites unit that is not a retinue, and then have your Lord join it in the battle. In this manner it becomes a "detachable retinue".
The Chosen should have the Mark of your Lord. Think before you start handing out options, wargear, Terminator armour, and Aspiring Champion status. Terminators are useful, as are one or two Aspiring Champions. But too many players see the ability to make a super-squad, and take it. Yes, it's possible to make a squad of eight Chosen of Khorne that rip through twenty-four Space Marines in one round of close combat (without
exaggeration), but it will also cost you upwards of 500 or 600 points for those eight models. Similarly, a unit of Tzeentchian sorcerors with Bolt of Change will get expensive quickly. That will cut down on your army's effectiveness, and put a lot of points in a single unit that could be wiped out in one turn, leaving your army seriously weakened.
The basic Chaos Space Marine squad is a versatile unit that can be equipped for either close combat or ranged firing. It does either of these well, especially when given abilities like Furious Charge. True Grit is a neat little ability that can be helpful if you choose to take a ranged unit. It allows you to take bolters and close combat weapons for your unit and gain an extra attack when the unit is charged. It's a good idea to take a mix of both types of unit.
Marking the basic Chaos Marines gives you Berzerkers, Noise Marines, Plague Marines, and Thousand Sons. Berzerkers are naturally close combat units, Thousand Sons provide you with some resilient mobile firepower, and both Noise Marines and Plague Marines give you some decent fire support that can hold its own in close combat.
Chaos Marine Bikers are a good support unit. They are fast, and can be equipped to fight both close combat and have some ranged ability. Use them as a mobile reserve, moving quickly to shore up your lines where they're needed. Another role they do well is quick assault, matched up with other fast units to make a fast run on the enemy. The best Mark to consider for Bikers, aside from the Mark of Chaos Undivided, is probably the Mark of Khorne, which makes them even more dangerous in close combat.
Havocs are purely a fire support unit. They can't do anything else, nor should they. You should emphasize either anti-tank or anti-infantry heavy weapons, but if you want to mix them go for an even split of both types. Missile launchers and autocannons can work for both roles. For a nice, relatively mobile Havoc squad, you can give the squad the Mark of Slaanesh and give it Noise Marine weapons. These weapons are versatile, giving you the same anti-infantry and anti-vehicle ability as the basic Havoc weapons.
Obliterators are a wonderful unit. They are resilient, and can put out some heavy firepower. They are also decent for aiding in an assault, using their power fists. Obliterators are great for tearing into vehicles both at range and in close combat. The only drawbacks are that they are vulnerable to fast well-armed assault units, and are not cheap, at 70 points each a unit of three will cost the same as fifteen Chaos Marines!
Possessed Marines are pretty much a close combat unit that be given a daemonic ability. Whatever Mark you give them, they will still be primarily a close combat unit, though the Mark of Tzeentch makes them Sorcerors and allows them to have psychic powers, giving them some limited ranged ability.
Raptors are a speedy assault unit. They can jump across the battlefield, hiding behind intervening terrain, keeping themselves out of line of sight until they pounce on the enemy. Raptors do well with the Mark of Khorne or Chaos Undivided. They should be supported by other units when they make their assault, or take on a unit that can be beaten quickly and doesn't have much support. Raptors make a fine "retinue" for a Lord with Daemonic Flight. They pair up well with Possessed who have the Daemonic Flight ability also.
DAEMONS OF CHAOS
Greater Daemons are very powerful models, but in order to make sure you can summon one, you should probably take Daemon Chains for its host. Don't fight the possession too long, because you're taking a chance on the host getting killed, which could cause the Greater Daemon to have only a brief presence on the battlefield.
Choice of Greater Daemon should be directed by your army's patronage. All are quite nasty in close combat, and can spearhead an assault.
Daemon Packs are basically some extra assault ability for the army, which can be brought in after the battle starts. Tzeentch daemons are the exception to the rule, being more suited to a ranged attack role. Make sure you have plenty of Icons, so you don't miss any chance to bring your daemons into play.
Nurglings are a nuisance to the enemy force, and little else. They can be a great annoyance when set up around a unit of Havocs to act as a screen against assaults, forcing units to assault them first. They can also lead an assault and tie up a powerful unit for a good amount of time, keeping it out of the action until you're ready to deal with it.
Daemonic Beasts are fast close combat units, nothing else. They are great for supplementing an assault, and Screamers and Furies work good with Raptor squads. Again, make sure you have a few Icons, to give yourself some choice where to place them.
Rhinos are almost essential for all of your close combat units that don't have Daemonic Flight. They will help the units reach the enemy faster and safer. Mutated Hull and Parasitic Possession are both useful upgrades, but get pricey in batches. Havoc missile launchers and additional combi-bolters give you some extra fire support, which can be useful, but should held to a minimum unless
your army is lacking in firepower else wise.
A Dreadnought is a nice investment, but can be slightly dangerous with its Fire Frenzy. Still, it gives you some decent ranged firepower and great close combat ability tied up in one package. Vehicle upgrades should help the Dreadnought's survivability, and can help boost its combat abilities.
Predators are simply fire support that can move around. You can equip it for anti-infantry, anti-vehicle, or both. Daemonic Possession is a good upgrade, as it allows your Predator to always be able to fire and move (provided the weapons aren't destroyed and the vehicle isn't immobilized). To help the vehicle even further, you can boost its armour with Mutated Hull, and give it Parasitic Possession to repair damage. With those upgrades, the Predator becomes a very survivable firepower base.
Land Raiders will be low in number in any Chaos army. They are firepower and transport combined. If you choose a Land Raider for your army, let it transport your most important squad(s), such as your Lord and Chosen. Parasitic Possession is helpful, but Mutated Hull and Daemonic Possession are both unusable for the Land Raider.
The Defiler is interesting, giving you an ordnance weapon that you can even fire indirect should you choose to hide it behind some terrain. Only take the indirect fire option if you know you'll use it. The Defiler's other weapons will mostly come into play when you need to move the vehicle. Don't bother with assaulting anything other than a vehicle, because the Defiler isn't very good in an assault.
TACTICS OF THE DARK LEGIONS
The basic tactics for Chaos Space Marines all center around the same principle. Set up a firepower base, and use it to support your assault troops as they move forward to engage the enemy. It's certainly true that this is the idea around which almost all tactics are formed. However, there are many variations to this theme that can be used by the Chaos Space Marines, especially with its flexibility in army design. Below, I'll examine a few of those variations.
This is a simple variation on the theme of run forward with the assault troops while the firepower units sit back and shoot. A flank assault is simply taking all of your assault units and running them up the side of the battlefield, hitting your opponent's army in its flank, or side. This can be very effective, as many people tend to stick their least powerful units on the flanks, or leave them otherwise
under protected. By hitting the flank of the army, you can drive through weak units and begin to push forward into the stronger units from the side or rear, catching them between your flank assault and your firepower base. This tactic is sometimes known as the "hammer and anvil", with the hammer being your flanking force and the anvil being your firepower base, the idea being to smash the opposing army flat against your anvil, using your hammer to do so.
A simple variation to this tactic would be to use faster units for the flanking force, and send slower-moving assault units up the center of the battlefield, giving you a two-pronged attack to catch your enemy in. This can also be very effective.
The Chaos Space Marine army has access to a lot of vehicles. This tactic exploits that access by throwing forward a force of armoured vehicles carrying assault units. At the forefront is the Lord's Rhino or Land Raider, and behind it or to its sides are Rhinos bearing other units. Predators can bring up the rear slowly, or hold back and fire with full effect at the opposing army.
Once the armoured thrust is in position, the assault units dismount and launch their attack, hitting the opposing army is a swift wave with minimal losses. The vehicles then move aside, but stay close to their troops in case they're needed to move the units again.
You can give your armoured thrust an extra amount of firepower by putting some havoc missile launchers on the Rhinos, allowing them to put out a stream of missiles while moving forward, and then support the units while they're fighting.
This is an infantry-based tactic that works very well. A wedge is formed consisting of assault units forming two diagonal lines, with fire support units coming up behind them to form the third wall of the triangular wedge. The assault troops move forward and assault the enemy once in range. The firepower units move with them, supporting them by weakening units for assault or discouraging the involvement of other enemy units. In this role, Noise Marines and Thousand Sons work best. The Thousand Sons are able to fire their bolters on the move, while the Noise Marines have access to Assault weapons. A Dreadnought is tempting to have in the midst of the wedge, but it can be dangerous to the units in the wedge.
Another themed assault force is the winged assault. This is an assault force made up of Raptors, Possessed Chaos Marines with Daemonic Flight, and can include Screamers and Furies. The idea is to move quickly toward the enemy, hopping around behind terrain to keep them out of line of sight, and then pounce on the opposing army once they're in assault range. Try to have some icons with the Raptors and Possessed, so you can summon the daemons to them. Another useful trick is to use an Aspiring Champion in one of the units as a daemonhost for a Greater Daemon such as a Bloodthirster, who will make the assault that much more deadly.
As a last trick, this force can summon basic daemon packs into the midst of the opposing army, or close to it early in the game. A unit of Bloodletters or even
Horrors in the midst of an army can cause a lot of havoc, and will go a good distance in disrupting your opponent's plans and causing him to have to react to yours.
DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!
There you have it, a treatise on tactics available to the legions of the Traitor
Astartes, and the units available to them. Versatility is the key to success in any Chaos Space Marine army, and is the most important aspect of their forces. With a good mix of units, you can face a wide variety of foes with confidence, knowing you've more than a fighting chance to take them on. With the above tactics, and those you're likely to create as you gain experience, you can take the fight to Terra and bring death to the False Emperor and crush the weakling Imperium of Mankind!