The Ultramarines are the template for the Space Marines: unflinchingly loyal, uncompromising in war, civilised and refined in their home domain of Ultramar. The scions of the recently resurrected Primarch Roboute Guilliman, the Ultramarines have been at the forefront of the Imperium’s wars since its founding – and the forefront of Warhammer 40k advertising for almost as long.
If you’re only aware of one Warhammer 40k faction, it’s probably the Ultramarines. An Ultramarine stars in the videogame Space Marine 2 and many of the other Warhammer 40k video games, not to mention the covers of many Warhammer 40k books from the Black Library. If you hear a 40K fan discussing ‘Smurfs’, it’s not the charming, azure-skinned Belgian cartoon gnomes they’re talking about – it’s these guys.
But just who are the Ultramarines, why are they so special in the universe of Warhammer 40k, and, when it’s time to roll dice and take to the battlefield – how do they play? If you’re new to Warhammer 40,000 and seeking your first figures or simply looking for a bit more background on your next army, here’s our beginner’s guide to everything Ultramarines.
The Ultramarines Space Marines Chapter dates right back to the imperial pre-history of Warhammer 40k. Originally known as the XIII Legion Astartes, they were developed using the genetic template laid down from their primarch, Roboute Guilliman.
Unlike many legions, the Ultramarines became renowned for their well-rounded approach to life. They became philosophers as well as warriors, eventually carving out a small, and comparatively benevolent empire in the region of space around their homeworld, Macragge.
Unfortunately, this golden age couldn’t last forever; soon after the fall of the Emperor during the Horus Heresy, the Ultramarines Primarch was also near-fatally wounded in battle. Placed into life-preserving stasis, Guilliman was to remain out cold through the 10,000 tumultuous years that followed.
Now, in the 41st millennium, Roboute Guilliman has awoken from his long, healing sleep, ready to lead the Ultramarines again (not to mention the entire Imperium of Man). The future looks set to be very interesting indeed for the honourable warriors of Macragge.
On the tabletop, the Ultramarines focus on providing a well-rounded, balanced army that can be deployed into a wide variety of situations to great effect.
Nothing shows this flexible approach to the battlefield more than in the Ultramarines Legion Tactic, Scions of Guilliman. This gives Ultramarines the ability to Fall Back out of melee combat, and still shoot their weapons afterward. It makes the Ultramarines slippery to pin down in melee combat, forming an inexorable, tactically agile force.
In addition to their doctrine and trait, the Ultramarines have one of the widest selection of choices for Psyker spells, units, relics, and characters in the game.
Chief amongst all of these is the Primarch of the Ultramarines and Imperial Regent himself, Roboute Guilliman, who has recently become one of the most powerful characters in Warhammer 40k.
Not only does he have a brilliant model, Ultramarines near him can reroll all their failed hits (and some failed wound rolls too). It’s a tremendous boost to any army. Ultramarines players will grumble that he’s no longer the powerhouse of shooting buff mayhem he once was, but a) that’s a good thing for the game, and b) he’s still mighty powerful.
You’ll also find the boys in blue have access to one of the most powerful Psyker models in the game, in the form of Chief Librarian Tigurius.
Tigurius is a super-powered Librarian with the ability to re-roll all psychic powers, Deny enemy psychic powers across the entire board, and drop a -1 hit modifier on another unit that lasts the entire game. Ouch.
If the Ultramarines have downsides, they’re slim – as they are practically designed to excel in almost any situation. However, if you have a hankering to optimise for one particular playstyle or other, you may find the generalist Ultramarines don’t quite cater to it as well as other, more specialist forces.
The Ultramarines’ distinctive chapter badge – derived from the ancient Greek capital letter Omega, inverted to resemble a rounded capital ‘U’ – can be found emblazoned all over their armour, weapons, vehicles, equipment, and, of course, displayed proudly on the Ultramarines’ battle standards.
Besides the chapter badge, Ultramarines’ battle dress and iconography is heavily influenced by the aesthetics of real-world ancient Rome, with company and squad numbers written in Roman numerals, gladius-style power swords, laurel wreath rank decorations, and skirts of heavy leather strips integrated into their armour.
Towards the end of Warhammer 40k 8th Edition, in 2019, Ultramarines got their own codex supplement, adding a whole bunch of new chapter specific rules and upgrades. These rules are still part of the game, but a lot of wording and stats have been updated to be compatible with 9th Edition, via a free Errata document.
You don’t have long to wait before Warhammer 40k 10th edition arrives this summer, at which point it’s year zero for all the 40k factions – every army list is being updated.
Ultramarines Combat patrol
As properly befits such a super-balanced, easy-access starter army, it’s dead easy to start collecting Ultramarines, and it only takes a couple of beginner-friendly kits to get yourself a small, but workable Space Marine force.
In fact, it only really takes one: your first move is to grab a Space Marines combat patrol box – this gives you a compact but powerful shooting-heavy force of Vanguard Space Marines all in one box. You also get the excellent Impulsor transport tank – a useful wound sink and distraction unit in your early games, and, later on, an indispensable tool for getting your toughest units onto key objectives quickly. Hot tip: give it the Shield Dome; don’t bother with the gun turrets – a 4+ invulnerable save on your Impulsor is very good indeed.
From there, you’ll want more bolt weapon troops to benefit from Ultramarines’ great synergies for Core units – go with either more Infiltrators, or plain old Intercessors with Bolt Rifles.
To maximise your buffs, you’ll also want a second HQ. The simplest choice is a Space Marine Captain (there are many flavours, with different strengths and weaknesses; pick one that suits your list) – but, to be honest, if you’re collecting Ultramarines, sooner or later, you’ll want to grab the big man himself, Roboute Guilliman – so you might as well get it out of the way now. He’s a beast on the tabletop, and a blast to paint, so have no regrets with that one.
And, once you’ve a strong leader (or Primarch) in your army, you can pretty much go anywhere you like. Pile into Outriders for a super-fast force, shooting accurate volleys on the move; bring in strike teams of deadly Eradicators or bolt-spraying Aggressors from Reserves to break the enemy lines mid-game; or simply muster a coordinated battleline of Intercessor squads to take the field through well-drilled fire manoeuvres, just like in the books. The choice is yours.
The Ultramarines are a strong starting army for anyone looking to pick up a fighting force to perform well in most situations. If, however, they’re not what you’re looking for, why not check out the other forces of humanity in our Imperium factions guide, or take a peek behind the veil of the unknown with our Chaos guide.