Even if you’re only tangentially aware of Warhammer 40,000, you’ll probably be at least slightly familiar with the Ultramarines. Often seen at the forefront of the miniatures maker’s products, Games Workshop’s big blue boys are one of their most instantly recognisable armies. You’ll see their gleaming blue armour adorning Warhammer 40k box art, videogames, even the Black Library novels. 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. Ultramarines are simply ever-present in 40K.
The Ultramarines aren’t just popular off the gaming table, they’re popular on it. Over the decades, they’ve tended to rank among the game’s most competitively powerful forces, as well as being one of the easiest to learn – giving the sons of Ultramar a unique appeal amongst Warhammer 40k players. It’s now rare to find a hobby group that doesn’t feature at least one player focusing on these omega-sporting warriors.
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 Ultramarine.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Ultramarines Lore and Background
The Ultramarines date 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.
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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.
Ultramarines Strategy and Tactics
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.
They’re wicked hard to pin down in melee
Nothing shows this flexible approach to the battlefield more than in the Ultramarines Legion Tactic and Chapter Doctrine. These two rules give Ultramarines the ability to Fall Back out of melee combat, and still shoot their weapons afterwards – as well as negating many of the usual penalties for moving and shooting. This combination of Chapter Doctrine (Scions of Guilliman) and Legion Tactic (Codex Discipline) makes the Ultramarines slippery to pin down in melee combat, forming an inexorable, tactically agile advance up the board.
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 himself, Roboute Guilliman, who has recently become one of the most powerful characters in Warhammer 40k. Not only does he have a brilliant model, his ability to help Ultramarines near him reroll all their failed hits (and some failed wound rolls too) is a tremendous boost to any army.
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You’ll also find they 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 are a strong starting army for anyone looking to pick up a fighting force that’ll 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.