Yeah, I said it. Chaos Space Marines are for chumps!
Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to rant a bit.
Every now and then I engage in the sadomasochistic act of writing a competitive CSM list that actually has Chaos Space Marines in it. I love my Night Lords army and want to use it but every single time it blows my mind how incredibly awful CSMs are.
And when I say Chaos Space Marines I mean the actual Marines. Not the book in general but the core unit of the army: the Power Armored terrors of the galaxy...that are never, ever actually used in competitive Chaos lists.
The CSM book actually has a powerful build or two in it (and I mean literally, 1 or 2) but the supposed backbone of the army is absolutely, unequivocally the weakest troop to have come out in 6th edition. I would go further with that and state that the ONLY troop worse than the Chaos Space Marine in the entire game at the moment is the Black Templar Initiate...and even then, just barely. I would prefer a unit of Grots to a unit of CSMs. Seriously.
Why are these boys so utterly horrible? Let's discuss that point.
It's actually a combination of several very, very bad design decisions that combine to create a perfect storm of suck.
The first and biggest problem is morale. I guess when you turn away from the Emperor and decide to become a warrior of the dark, unforgiving Gods and live in a place as close to hell as it gets in 40K you also become a big, giant wimp where you previously Knew no Fear. How does that make any sense? I understand the desire to show that as they have become self serving they are no longer as stalwart as loyalist Marines, but come on, they shouldn't be total wussies.
This in and of itself isn't unforgivable, but we'll get to why this is the nail in the coffin of this crummy unit in a bit. Why this is immediately bad is obvious though. Getting run down in combat erases the entire unit. The MEQ stat line is nothing to get excited about, either, and there are so many units in the game that WILL beat them in combat and cost less points that it is a very real concern. For a unit that is meant for taking objectives, this is a huge liability.
If they break in any other phase, fail a tank shock test, etc. they fall back and IF they rally, they are essentially out of the game for a turn. Again, many units face this same issue but there is a HUGE difference with CSMs: point cost. Chaos units can get crazy expensive and they 100% do not justify that cost either in terms of their performance on the table or, particularly, in light of the fact that one flubbed morale check and you can kiss that pricey unit goodbye. Every single point invested into CSMs is a liability. It is far, far different to lose a 108pt unit of Firewarriors (who kick ass and take names for their points) than it is to lose a 200+ point unit of CSMs. Oh, and Tau get Ethereals too...for 50pts....which give all of them within 12" stubborn LD 10....yeah, eat your heart out, Dark Apostle. Because of their enormous vulnerability, you want to run CSMs as cheap as possible or not at all.
But, but, but...what about the Icon of Vengeance, I hear you crying! Forget it. That piece of junk is also for chumps. First of all, it is way overpriced. Second of all, precision strikes, barrage & tank sniping, etc. are HUGELY prevalent. Every sarge, IC, barrage weapon, sniper, etc. in the game is able to take this expensive Icon out of the unit and any good player will aim to do so. Since the model isn't a character or IC, you have no defense against this, either. You could put it on the Champ, but as he must challenge or accept a challenge, it makes the Icon even more vulnerable in combat although it does give you a tad more safety from shooting. Even without precision shots or barrage sniping, simple attrition will take it out. For 25pts there is no reason this upgrade shouldn't be permanent. Dark Angels, for example, pay 1 point more per model and get ATSKNF which makes them 1,000,000 times better. They are reliable. The Icon of Vengeance is more expensive and blows.
And that brings us to our second point: the stupid Champion of Chaos rule. Apparently when you turn to Chaos you also become a suicidal idiot. Rules that take player choice away are bad, bad, bad. The old Rage should have shown the game devs that. No one wants to watch their models act of their own accord, they want control. Watching your apparently clinically depressed CSM sarge accept a hopeless challenge is not fun. It's even less fun when you die in said challenge, fail your morale check and then the entire unit is run down. What fun, narratives forging all over the place.....
Now of course, you can babysit these scaredy cats with a Lord but that is not exactly a scaleable solution, is it? You can take 2, max and that is definitely not the best use of a Lord. IMO, you need a minimum of 4 troops to really get the job done in 6th. To exacerbate the issue, considering the Lord also suffers from suicidal depression and will gladly fall on the challenge sword, the unit is really not that safe. Trust me, I have seen a 20 man unit go down like punks when a 3 wound Lord gets owned in a challenge (and that is not hard to do) and subsequently gets swept. You could take Fabulous Vile if you wanted to, but he sucks as an IC and when you add his points into the cost of the unit he buffs, it is not at all worth it, IMO.
It frustrates me to no end (if you couldn't tell) to see what should be one of the best and most flexible units in the game suck sooooo hard. I have literally seen ONE person use regular CSMs in a tournament (and I go to tournaments all the time) since the new book dropped and he used 2 minimum 5 man squads with no upgrades in Rhinos with Havoc Launchers. They sat there all game and hoped out of their transports on the last turn. I know a lot of loyalist marines do the same thing but for one, they do it better and for two, that sucks, too! You could run them as naked Bolter slingers but why bother? Their damage output is meager and you could just about take 3 units of Cultists for the same points. Far more points efficient. Every Chaos list I see has no actual Chaos Space Marines in it! Haha, something is not right with that picture.
In the end, you see nothing but Cultists and Zombies with the occasional Noise Marine and Plague Marine. Chaos had the potential to the coolest book in the game and instead it is just a frustrating book with a very small amount of builds that actually function in a competitive setting. Looks like yet another edition of playing my CSMs as counts-as Loyalist Marines....I guess they are just deep under cover!