2+ Ain’t What It Used to Be: Fixing the Space Marine Terminator

Variance Hammer passed a milestone with it’s last post – 100 posts – and in honor of that I thought I’d take a look at a beloved and classic unit: the Space Marine Terminator.

Terminators are perhaps one of the most iconic units in the game, featuring heavily in the fluff, in Space Hulk, and generally speaking being billed as the baddest of the bad-asses. They are the stuff legends are made of. Horus’ Justaerin, the Deathwing, the Ultramarine’s 1st Company on Macragge. Lysander.

And yet you rarely see them on the tabletop, at least in competitive settings, and when you do it’s with a defensive “I know, I know, but they’re too cool not to bring…”. So what’s wrong with them?

Many people point to their survivability, which is ironic given Terminators are defined by their armor. It’s just too easy to shoot apart a Terminator squad, and 2+ saves only do so much against weight of fire. When you combine that with AP2 weapons, they’re just too fragile and too expensive for a unit with a high risk of being wiped off the table. By and large, I’m inclined to agree with this perspective. In my review of Curse of the Wulfen I noted that there’s essentially no reason to take Wolf Guard Terminators – Thunderwolf Cavalry are faster, Wulfen are harder hitting, and the survivability between them is pretty much a wash.

In an ideal world, that wouldn’t be true. There would be some sort of trade-off between these units, a consideration of if you want faster, or harder hitting, or more survivable. And lets say that the first two niches are already taken: It’s really hard to argue that Terminators should be the mobile option, and there’s lots of units defined by being hard-hitting. So Terminators should be dangerous (and really, when they do get into combat they are), but more important than that, Terminators should be durable.

There are three stats in the game that determine survivability: Armor, Toughness and Wounds. Armor is already spoken for – 2+ is as good as it gets. So lets look at Toughness and Wounds. I simulated 10,000 games of a full Tactical Squad in rapid-fire range shooting at a unit of Terminators, to represent a decent representation of weight of fire, along with two “alternate” Terminator units – one with two wounds, and one with T5. Here are the results:

bolters

The purple distribution is the “standard” terminator squad, while the blue distribution is 2W, and the green is T5. The assumptions are a little friendly to the 2W unit, as I simply divide the wounds done in half to arrive at Terminators killed, representing the “worst case” of just having to chew through a full squad.

The verdict? Higher toughness is marginally better at ensuring only one or two Terminators die, though both T5 and 2W have vastly better survival outcomes than the standard squad. How does the “best” of those, the T5 version, stack up against something like Thunderwolf Cavalry, which exists in my mind as “Everything Terminators should be and aren’t” and is a unit you see in competitive games?

vstwc

 

Here the red distribution is the Thunderwolves, and rather than looking at models killed, we’re looking at points removed to even the playing field between the cheaper Terminators and the more expensive Thunderwolves. The distributions are at least more in line with one another. Keep in mind here that the Thunderwolves I’m modeling are the most durable version of them – they’ve all got Stormshields for a 3++ save. Without that, facing AP3 fire power, the Terminators manifestly have an edge.

And what if we combined both T5 and 2W?

combitwc

Clearly, here the Terminators are pretty much the superior choice, though it’s not so lopsided that you’d never take Thunderwolf Cavalry – they are stupid fast, and harder hitting. But this may indeed be too durable comparatively – the Thunderwolves here are, again, sacrificing 1 attack each for more durability in the form of a Stormshield. And their mobility advantage is somewhat offset by an increasing number of ways for Terminators to arrive on the table from Deep Strike, some of which allow them to assault afterwards.

More caveats come in when we think about AP2 weaponry. Something like a Pulse Laser (S8 AP2) utterly resets everything – T5 doesn’t really matter, and 2W are useless unless you’re already T5. But these are weapons that are meant to kill elite units – they should be able to accomplish that.

On the main? Either T5 or 2W, without a concordant increase in points cost, would do wonders for improving the competitiveness of Terminators, by giving them a definitive, if situational, edge in survival over other elite units. Giving them both, while certainly tempting for those of us who have a lot of Terminators, might be overkill. Personally, I’d favor T5, as if this applied to characters as well, it would vastly boost the survivability and utility of multi-wound Terminator models, who would now be doubled out only by S10 attacks, instead of the current, and fairly common, S8.

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13 Comments


  1. I think it might be worth running some numbers vs bikes, especially vis a vis character upgrade options. I feel like even with the +1 toughness, terminator armour seems marginal for a character that could take a bike, I think, especially where artificer armor is an option.

    Reply

    1. An interesting thought. I think you’re correct – for many circumstances, a bike is likely a better choice. This was mostly focused on the units themselves, and wanting Terminator armor to at least be a choice worth considering.

      But the Thunderwolf comparison can be pictured as essentially “Biker-plus” – T5, 3+, high mobility, but 2W.

      Reply

      1. Aha. Not familiar with space wolves, so I wasn’t sure if they had the toughness bump. Do you think it’s a worthwhile goal to try to make terminator armour a viable alternative to a bike? Or perhaps simply make it the cheaper option of the two?

        Reply

  2. I think that neither option is the best — why not reduce the amount of AP2 firepower available to either army?

    The problem with terminators isn’t their resiliency, instead, it’s that there are far too many AP2 weapons available.

    If there were less AP2 options, terminators become very powerful, and if there were less methods to get 2+ armor saves, Terminators become the elite tier soldier that they should be.

    Instead, you want to inflate them to 2 wounds, or increase their Toughness value? That just adds a dimension of power creep that the game doesn’t need.

    The answer isn’t adjusting Terminator statlines. It is eliminating the abundance of AP2 firepower that is readily available for most armies — and those armies without readily available AP2 are on the bottom tier.

    Reply

    1. While I might agree, that’s a genie that’s *very* hard to put back in the bottle. The suggested change is a single sentence in an FAQ, rather than trying to dig out AP 2 weapons from the entire game line.

      Reply

      1. I figured that maybe a change in the AP vs Sv relation might work. Instead of:

        AP > Sv then Sv
        AP= Sv then Sv
        AP = Sv then 4+
        AP < Sv then no Sv

        Reply

        1. Actually, now that you mention it one fix for terminators I had considered a while back was giving terminator armour a new special rule that basically reduces the AP of any weapon targeting them by 1, so they’re only susceptible to AP 1 weapons. It gives AP 1 more value, and also makes terminators more durable. They probably do still need some sort of buff vs small arms fire though, as well.

          Reply

          1. It also screws any armies without access to meltas – I’m looking at Tyranids.


          2. I’ll grant it’s not great for Tyranids. But honestly, if you’re putting constraints on designs of “can Tyranids deal with this”, that doesn’t leave a lot of design space. And I say that as a Tyranid player, the current codex just can’t be used as a benchmark like that. Tyranids just need a bit of a rework, especially with regards to their anti-armor options (make venom cannons assault 3 non-blast again, for a start). I could see crushing claws getting a bump to ap1, among other things.


    2. That’s all good and nice but you forget that AP2 weapons are only one part of the problem….a pretty minor part even. Weight of fire is often more than enough to get rid of a few expensive terminators.
      On average you’d need only 18 lasrifle hits to kill a terminator or 9 Pulse Rifle hits. That’s really not a lot considering their costs, being troop basic weapons and their range.
      T5 or 2w would help a lot here but even tho T5 is more fluffy (imo) 2w would take a lot of the luck part out of it (you don’t lose an expensive guy by a single bad roll)

      Reply

      1. I’m not sure an entire analysis that starts with “So what if 10 guys with bolters unload?” counts as “Forgot weight of fire”.

        Reply

  3. Maybe feel-no-pain is another option?

    Reply

    1. It is! A couple notes on FnP:

      1. It’s mathematical equiv. to two wounds over large samples, so the 2W scenario is a decent approximation of what FnP would look like. Clearly, as I argued either T5 or 2W would work, FnP would work as well.

      2. I think a stat-line change is marginally easier in terms of pushing it out in an FAQ, or at least they’re more willing to do so.

      3. One of the things I like about T5 is that you can get FnP from other sources. A Wolf Priest, Biomancy powers, being Iron Hands, Deathwing Command Squads, etc. And being T5 makes those FnP sources way more meaningful, as you now need to be hitting at S10/D in order to negate it, rather than S8 AP2 weapons blazing through FnP as well.

      Reply

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