This is not about the Imperial Guard (boring); this article is about my favorite 5th edition codex (before the Dark Eldar codex) the Space Marines. The beauty of the Space Marine codex is the flexible and fun combinations that are accessible for anyone, but complex enough to challenge the best generals. The Space Wolves and Blood Angels codex are exercises in easy mode when compared to Space Marine codex. The Space Marine codex doesn’t do anything spectacular– it just does everything good. You might guess, is this going to devolve into some diatribe about why vanilla Space Marine need more attention? Sadly no, instead I want to talk about perhaps one of the most under used units in the Space Marine codex: Honour Guard.
Jumping right in…
Honour Guard are overlooked by the other sexier choices in the SM dex; Assault Terminations, Command Squad, and Legion of the Damned (just kidding). Another problem with the Honour Guard is having to take Pedro, Calgar, or a Chapter Master to use them. Why would you want to take any of those when you can take Vulcan or Khan? Also there is always that pesky point cost of 35 points per model and no invul save.
What Honour Guard and their leaders lack in flexibly they make up in pure killing ability. As much as loath to use mathhammer for comparisons here is an example to give you a good idea of what I am talking about. On the charge an average five-man (185 pts) Honour Guard squad inflicts about 6.5 power weapon wounds (against a WS: 4 T: 5 opponent) when our five-man (200 pts) Assault Termies squad does about 6 thunder hammer wounds or 7 lightning claw wounds. Now that is bare bones Honour Guard, if you add for 25+ points the Chapter Banner for +1 attack and a 210 point investment. That bonus attack adds another two wounds on average and remember this almost bare bones Honour Guard.
So I am dealing two more wounds and I lose MC killing ability, 3+ invul save, tank busting, and double out potential? That hardly sounds worth it, right?
What do you get instead with Honour Guard?
Sweeping Advance: bad combat results by Termies often lead to unfinished units regrouping and coming back to haunt players. There is also the whole initiative order thing in combat as well: Honour Guard strike at I4 instead of I1 like most Terminators. Cheap rides: Termies only fit in Land Raiders while Honour Guard can get Rhinos. Higher damage output threshold: Chapter Banners provide Honour Guard with more attacks than Termies or any other unit in the Space Marine codex. Relic Blades: Many 5th ed codices have design gems that point players in certain directions– only Honour Guard can equip its entire squad with relic blades. Chapter Champion: Higher WS and IC killing potential makes him one nasty little dude. Doesn’t take a Force Org slot: Honour Guard don’t have to compete with other unit selections.
Does all this make them better than Assault Termies? Probably not, but it does give you another way to play your Space Marine army. Comparing Honour Guard to Assault Terminators you get a clear understanding exactly what you can expect from Honour Guard and not expect.
So how do you maximize the Honour Guard potential?
First off, you have to under the role you want them to play in your army. The best role for me is horde and scoring unit removal. There is hardly a unit better (with one major caveat) for Grey Hunter removal or 30 man Boyz squads. A bare bones Honour Guard unit with a Chapter Banner is removing 8 Grey Hunters or Ork Boyz leaving on average about 2.5 (if they have some sort of power weapon) dead Honour Guard in their wake on the charge. So I just traded 105 points for 78 pts (if you include combat resolution) of Boyz or 120 points worth of Grey Hunters.
That is hardly a good trade-off. So how do we go about improving that number (remember that caveat)? Honour Guard really only excel if can provide a little extra something for your points– you need help from a secondary HQ choice. The best choices are either Khan or Cassius. Just from a numbers point of view the results against Grey Hunters are devastating. All of sudden Grey Hunters are on average are only having one man standing that might kill one Honour Guard with Khan on the charge– negating the Wolf Standard and other inherent advantages the Grey Hunters posses. This is also being conservative as I didn’t include Khan attacks in the equation.
Is Khan though the best choice? Against Marine variants perhaps, against Orks or Nids Cassius is the best tool for the job, especially when you upgrade to Relic Blades. A five-man Honour Guard squad with Cassius and Relic Blades on the charge is doing on average doing 15 wounds before the Orks swing and in return you are losing about two Honour Guard, resulting in an obliterated Boyz Squad. You still just lost 100 points from a unit that is 285 points to equip and now the kill potential has diminished dramatically especially now being more likely out in the open. Killing a 30-man boy squad is probably a good trade for the Honour Guard in the whole grand scheme of things, but what about those Grey Hunters squads that have five other redundant units waiting to take their place? Well let us answer that question a little further down the road.
The most glaringly problem people find with Honour Guard is survivability. How do you get such a spendy unit across the board safely?
Well you know that other HQ you have just for the honor of playing Honour Guard? This is where he becomes important. Let us set aside the Chapter Master he is the most pointless HQ choice in the codex and just look the other way. So that leaves us with Pedro and Calgar. Typically I prefer Calgar in most situations, not only does he make your entire army immune to moral checks he is Eternal Warrior that can deliver out some serious hurt. So now you have this monster unit of 700 points of five Honour Guard, Calgar, and Cassius all riding in a Rhino. This is where your smarts come in and using the current meta to your advantage. Let us assume your Rhino only makes it one turn across the board now you have this stranded unit about to take the full brunt of your opponents firing. If you played it smart you at least had that Rhino in cover when it was wrecked. So against most incoming fire your unit is pretty protected.
With everyone obsessed with Missile Launchers and Autocannons your Honour Guard have just the same chance of survival as Terminators. Even better is that you have Cassius who is still getting a 3+ and 4+ save against most of fire. What about Melta and those stray Lascannons? This is where Calgar come to rescue, while Calgar is amazing he is the worse situations 4 wounds of ablative armor to your Honour Guard and with Cassius you have six defacto Honour Guard wounds. Since most Lascannons are shot one at a time (damn you Vendettas) running the risk of Calgar not making a 4+ save is quite worth it.
So that leaves the biggest threat to your little squad’s survival is melta spam. Once again I am assuming you are smart player and positioned yourself to only take three melta shots at once from your opponent. At worse you should lose 1 Honour guard, though the chances are just as likely you take no wounds. Of course this doesn’t stop your opponent from shooting everything at the unit. That is where terrain and flanking become important. No matter how cool or cinematic it might be charge straight down the middle with this unit it just too many eggs in one basket to risk. Unlike Termies in a Land Raider it is much easier to hide this unit from your opponent increasing it survivability greatly, especially if you play with the proper amount of terrain.
So what about Pedro? Well Pedro is a force multiplier and is the better HQ choice with Honour Guard at higher points. If you are spamming scoring units or running multiple Death Stars, Pedro just makes them all better. If I am running Pedro you can assume 10 TH/SS Termies are walking across the board. This unit relieves SO much pressure for the Honour Guard and provides the best distraction for getting into position. If you like running three Sternguard units with Pedro then Honour guard are a great compliment since you will need some extra punch without Termies.
Part 2 will focused we will have some fun with Honour Guard army lists and explain how to use Honour Guard when faced with too many scoring units.