At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are.
The Chaos Space Marines had to wait a looooong time in 9th edition to get an update, but it was worth the wait – the faction’s new codex gives the army a huge update, with lots of new units and rules and cool new tricks for every legion.
In this article, I’m going to be talking about how to get started with Chaos Space Marines – what you need, the basic starting points, and how you can build on those to get something that’s effective and fluffy no matter what your budget or desired level of play.
First, let’s borrow a section from Start Competing: Chaos Space Marines and talk about the army, and its strengths and weaknesses.
Who Are the Chaos Space Marines?
Chaos Space Marines are former servants of the Imperium who have turned to Chaos. They can be either members of the original 20 first founding legions or renegades, recently turned through violent rebellion. Some of them openly worship the Chaos powers and have dedicated their mortal lives to pleasing a particular god, while others don’t care for The Great Game and instead are just here to destroy the Imperium and hurt people. Often, chaos legions will ride into battle alongside daemons, or with the support of the great towering war machines who have also turned traitor – Chaos Knights. Either way, the goal is simple: Despoil the galaxy and claim it, either for the Ruinous Powers or your own purposes.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it – if you’re playing Chaos Space Marines, you’re playing The Bad Guys. Not like the morally ambiguous, could-be-seen-as-the-heroes-depending-on-your-point-of-view bad guys but the Capital V, mustache-twirling villains of the setting. But the upside is that you have some extremely rad models, some cool powers, and look – as the saying goes: “Evil will always win because good is lame.”
The Chaos Space Marines army has several strengths that will impact how you build your army.
- Melee Combat. Chaos Space Marines are generally pretty good when it comes to melee combat. They have a ton of great units that excel at roughing up enemies in close combat, such as the Lord Discordant, Possessed, Chosen, and Terminators. It’s very easy to build a Chaos Space Marine army that can wreak absolute havoc once it reaches the enemy.
- Great HQ/Character Options. Chaos Space Marines have access to some nasty character options, and there are several that can find a place in most, if not all armies. Units like the Master of Possession and Master of Executions bring a ton of value.
- Cheap Troops. Chaos Cultists are 5 points per model and make great objective holders and action doers. They’re very good for filling out a roster with some extra bodies.
- Borrowed Units. Chaos Space Marine armies can run Plague Marines, Rubric Marines, and Berzerkers, and these each have some interesting play in the army.
- Shooting. Chaos Space Marine shooting is generally not very good; most CSM guns top out at 24″ or 36″ range and most of the army’s core units rely on AP 0 boltguns, which are not good. While Chaos Space Marines certainly have some better shooting options, such as Obliterators, Contemptors, and Havocs, it’s not the army’s strongest area.
- Mobility. Chaos Space Marines have a couple of pretty mobile units and some units that can deep strike, but almost all of their transport options leave something to be desired. As a result, many of your army’s nasty melee threats will have to walk across the table.
- CP Thirsty. A lot of the best Chaos Space Marine strategies rely on copious use of stratagems, relics, and Warlord Traits. That’s particularly a problem if you’re playing competitive play with the War Zone Nephilim: GT Missions Packs that’s currently in use. Forcing the army to start on 6 CP instead of 3 can mean taking away a lot of their early game juice.
- Get the Codex
- Pick a Legion/plan your army
- Buy some starting units
- Expand on that
If you’re playing Chaos Space Marines, chances are you’re probably going to need at least two books if you want to really play. We’ve talked about the rules a bit in our general Getting Started article on the rules, but I’ll go into a bit more depth here.
The Current codex is CODEX CHAOS SPACE MARINES. It was re-released in late June 2022, one week after the Nephilim GT missions. The book has rules for 8 Chaos Legions – Alpha Legion, Black Legion, Creations of Bile, Emperor’s Children, Iron Warriors, Night Lords, and Word Bearers.
Once you have the Codex, you can pretty much build anything you’ll want to field, but to really get the most out of them or dive into the different Chaos Legions, you’ll need to grab a few other books.
Death Guard, Thousand Sons, and World Eaters
OK, here’s where things get a bit complicated. Death Guard and Thousand Sons are both legions of the Chaos Space Marines. But they are also separate factions, and have their own full Codexes. If you want to play with either of those, they’re very cool and have their own great models, but they aren’t part of the “Chaos Space Marines’ umbrella. They make great allies, but they’re different beasts, and we’ll cover them in detail in their own articles.
likewise, the World Eaters are in transition to getting their own army at some point in the next year, and currently rules for the faction’s unique units can be found in White Dwarf 477.
One notable thing about these armies is that Chaos Space Marines can take units from each – the rules for Plague Marines, Rubric Marines, and Khorne Berzerkers are in each of these books/articles, and so you’ll need them if you want to include them in your army.
Imperial Armour Compendium
Finally if you want to bring anything from the Forge World library of Chaos models, such as the Kytan Ravager, Blood Slaughterer of Khorne, or the Hellforged dreadnoughts, you need this book. There’s some cool stuff in there, but it’s not a book that you absolutely need – you can run a perfectly great Chaos army using just the units in the Codex.
War Zone Charadon Act II: The Book of Fire
This book used to have crucial rules for the Chaos Legions, but as of the release of the Codex, it’s no longer valid. You can basically skip or ignore it for the purposes of Chaos Space Marines. The one set of rules in it that might still be legal however are the rules for Be’lakor and his army of renown, but it’s likely those rules will no longer be valid after the release of Codex: Chaos Daemons.
Starting Your Army
The best way to do this is to plan what you want to do with the army – pick a legion, figure out how you’d like to build a 2,000-point list, and start buying those units. But I know that it doesn’t really work that way. So let’s talk about the different ways you could tackle this.
Combat Patrol: Chaos Space Marines
The new Combat Patrol box for Chaos Space Marines replaces the older Start Collecting box, which had a ton of great units in it. The new box gives you:
- Dark Apostle
- 10 Chaos Space Marines (8 w/bolter or bolt pistol + chainsword, 1 champion, 1 melta/flamer/plasma, 1 heavy bolter/missile launcher)
- 5 Havocs
- 1 Helbrute
This is… just OK. As far as being a value vs. MSRP goes it’s fine, but long-term you’re probably not going to use the Helbrute and the Havocs are more of a situational add to the army. The Chaos Space Marines notably don’t come with the new sprue to upgrade the unit to have a psyker or a heavy chainaxe – those will be options for the kill team – and so I might generally recommend passing on this box in favor of buying the individual units you’ll need.
If you can still find the old “Start Collecting: Chaos Space Marines” box on Amazon or eBay for under $150, I might recommend picking that up instead. It comes with a Master of Possession, 10 Chaos Marines, a Venomcrawler, 2 Possessed, and 2 Obliterators. It needs a bit of help to make everything playable, but that’s a solid slate of units.
The Chaos Space Marines have a ton of powers and Stratagems, and if you’re like me, it’s helpful to have something to track those during games. I really like the datacards for this, and if you’re playing Chaos Space Marines, I’d recommend picking them up because there are just an absolute ton of them. But they’re absolutely not essential.
I Haven’t Bought Anything Yet!
If you haven’t bought anything yet, that’s great – you’ve come to the right place! Where you should start will depend on what legion you want to play and how competitive you want to go. For most players, the Start Collecting box (with the Shadowspear models) is a pretty good deal, and a great starting point regardless of which legion you’re playing. If you’re interested in being competitive right now and aren’t so concerned with money, then I’d start looking at ebay and 30 Chaos Cultists to fill out a Battalion detachment (3 units of 10). If money is an object, then there are a few things you can use as proxies – Necromunda Cawdor models work well here, as do traitor guardsmen from Blackstone Fortress.
Let’s jump into some particular goals you might have, and how I’d recommend building in the next section.
Expanding Your Army
So you’ve got your base (or not), and are looking for ways to expand. Here’s what I’d personally recommend looking at for taking your next steps:
…Just Want to Build a Competitive Army for Events
I can’t stress enough that this is going to cause you short-term wallet shock and long-term disappointment as which units and strategies are “good” changes, but then you probably already knew that. You’re going to need at least one Lord Discordant, a Master of Possession, 1-3 units of Cultists, several boxes of Chosen and Possessed, and likely 10 Terminators. You’ll have build options beyond that, but we suspect most armies will feature some or all of that as a regular base.
You can read more about competitive play and lists in our article Start Competing: Chaos Space Marines.
…Want to Go More Casual
If you want to build a more casual or fluff-driven army that doesn’t suck, we’re here for you too!
If you’re going Black Legion, start with Abaddon the Despoiler. He’s the best single model in the Codex and an absolute beast. You should also pick up Haarken Worldclaimer as well because he’s good now too. And if you’re getting him you’ll want a unit or two of Raptors to go with him. There are a ton of ways you can build a Black Legion army that is both fluffy and reasonably decent, so from here just kind of feel out what works and how you want to play. Terminators are great in Black Legion, and Obliterators are a solid choice as well. Chosen are also a great shout. Thanks to the army’s trait, they want to be up close and taking out enemies at a short range to get those +1 to hit bonuses, then charge in and finish the target off.
Creations of Bile
One of the more competitive options among the legions in the new book, the Creations of Bile get +1″ movement and +1 Strength on all their units and that translates into an army that wants to go fast and tear you apart in melee. This translates primarily in game terms to taking lots of Raptors and Warp Talons, who benefit the most from going to S5, but it’s plenty frightening on Possessed, Lords Discordant, and some of the Daemon Engines. Fabius Bile himself is only OK but he’s now thankfully optional in a Creations of Bile army.
One of the big benefits of the Emperor’s Children is the ability to take Noise Marines as troops. The good news is that Emperor’s Children Noise Marines are pretty good right now! The bad news is that there aren’t modern plastic models for Noise Marines. You’re going to want at least 10 and as many as 30 if you’re going heavy on them, and that means either doing custom conversions or buying a bunch of plastic Chaos Space Marines and adding the (ugh) Finecast Noise Marine upgrade kid weapons to them (in the photo above I used the Horus Heresy Kakophoni guns). Emperor’s Children are some of the shoot-ier Chaos Space Marines, but they’re also great in melee. It’s hard to go wrong with them.
The Siege Warfare specialists of the Chaos Space Marine legions, Iron Warriors are going to rely more on shooting, and will make a great fit for more Obliterators, Havocs, and Daemon Engines like Defilers, Maulerfiends, and Venomcrawlers. Add a Lord Discordant or two and some daemon engines, then support them with Obliterators and Havocs, and protect them with Chaos Cultists who can hold objectives and act as fuel for the Cannon Fodder Stratagem. The Vindicator is also now a great sleeper pick and Land Raiders may finally be usable again, thanks to updated profiles in the new Codex.
Night Lords specialize in sowing fear and discord among their enemies’ ranks and dropping in from the skies. Their legion trait gives enemies a Leadership debuff at close range, and they have a number of abilities that key off attacking enemies with lower Leadership. Because of this, they really want to take Raptors and Chaos Spawn, which can further stack another -1 Ld on targets to help grease the wheels on their trait abilities, taking units with Ld 8 down to 5.
Word Bearers are known for cavorting with Daemons, and are great fits for running lots of Possessed. You’ll want a Dark Apostle and a Master of Possession if you’re running them, and likely a daemon engine or two in addition to your possessed. The Word Bearers trait is very good for melee units that normally hit on a 3+.
Known for their stealth tactics and use of Cultist forces seeded and outfitted ahead of their arrival, Alpha Legion work well with most units thanks to being more difficult to hit from a distance, helping them close the gaps. The rules for the Alpha Legion tend to favor versatility and subterfuge, and they have several rules that can apply to Cultists by virtue of just being INFANTRY-keyworded, though you may find they don’t necessarily want to run a ton of cultists.
Photo & Models: TheChirurgeon
The Red Corsairs are the foremost renegade chapter, led by Huron Blackheart, a merciless warlord. Huron’s pretty solid in the game, acting as an efficiently-costed combo Psyker/Chaos Lord, but his model is ancient and bad. It’s worth converting your own. Even if you don’t, there are some cool things you can do with Red Corsairs, who can use their ability to Advance and Charge to get into combat quickly. Lord Discordants are great as Red Corsairs, and generally speaking they want to run lots of Possessed and Bikes, the latter of which benefit from the legion’s Stratagems and secondary objective.
A Sample List Using the Combat Patrol Box
If you already have the Combat Patrol box, here’s an example of an army you can build off it. While legion will normally have a bit of an impact on what you take, I’ve left this particular list legion-agnostic for the moment; it’ll work well in most if not all of the legions (and just play differently). Note that the Chaos Possessed aren’t out yet at the time of this writing, but when they are they’ll be worth picking up. They’re strong melee units with good speed.
HQ: Lord Discordant
HQ: Master of Possession
Troops: Cultists x10
Troops: Cultists x10
Elites: Chosen x5
Elites: Possessed x5
Elites: Possessed x5
Elites: Helbrute w/Fist + Twin Lascannons
Despoil the Galaxy
You should now have everything you need to start building a Chaos Space Marines army and playing with the faction but if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to answer questions and help new players out.