Friday, 14 June 2013

Iyanden: Part 1 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)


I have no words.

This level of incompetence is something I would not expect from this publisher even on its worst days.

Let's make this clear: Games Workshop has had a successful history with releases alien races, the eldar specifically, of late. They have a vast amount of talent which can deal with them competently.

They have Phil Kelley, the best writer GW has at the moment, who loves the eldar and created a book for them which stayed strong over several editions despite a lack of updates.
They have Jeremy Vetock, writer of Codex: Tau Empire, the single best alien codex we have had since Codex: Dark Eldar. One which has been near universally lauded and highly regarded in terms of both rules and background.

This is the first major supplement of its type. One which needs to sell fans on the idea, needs to be well written and crafted to a degree where players will accept the high price. Well written enough to accept the limited availability, some of the problems behind the idea and a writer who can take advantage of the additional space. Giving the faction the fluff it deserves and making people want to buy it. They need to get this written as close to perfection as humanly possible.


So, who did they give it to? 




The strategically shaved ape. The one screaming about how he is the best writer in the business and furiously pleasing himself over images of Guilliman. The man who has succeeding in doing at least as much damage to the hobby as the endless price hikes. The same one who has repeatedly proven for over the better part of a decade that he has no writing talent in any area of tabletop wargaming. 


Now, i'm all for giving someone a second chance. Or twelfth by this point. Yet they're choosing to risk an entirely new line of books on a writer who has only proven himself disliked and incapable of writing good background lore. One who most recently A) Succeeded in an act of massive character assassination by turning the High Elves into the Ultrameri Aldmeri Dominion and B) Tried to make the Wood Elves irrelevant by giving effectively all their traits and attributes to one optional High Elf Army.


I have honest questions for Games Workshop by this point: Is Ward the brother-in-law of someone high up in the company? Is he blackmailing the CEO and chairman to keep printing his stuff? By this point I would have more respect for them if he had illicit photos of depraved activities than knowing they willingly stamped "approved" on one more major balls up by Ward.


Still, I can't hold this off for much longer. Let's take a look at everything wrong with this monstrosity starting with its rules.


Now, the supplement has already earned the ire of a few websites due to the number of pages which actually place emphasis upon special rules. Those relevant specifically to 40K in general, making Iyanden an individual force and making it a distinct army to field.

Out of the one-hundred-and-ten pages, how many do you think actually focus upon special rules, army stats and items. The answer: Two. Two entire pages which actually try to make the army distinct and stand out from the book it is based upon. Bare in mind that, whatever its quality, the last time he did something like this with Codex: Blood Angels a good half of its pages gave it stats, unique units and a distinct playing style. Here you have perhaps 1,500 words in total to do the same, including basic details such as permitting wraithguard being taken as troops etc. It also goes without saying that it's pretty bad.


Now, being fair some of his rules and equipment are at the moment far more tame than usual. While this might be due to a lack of interest in the subject matter (probably due to the lack of excuses to throw in "for they can never be Ultramarines" at some point) a few of his rules and items aren't as balls out broken as you'd expect. They don't suddenly give all of your units jetpacks or the ability to ignore plasma weapons, but without that it shows another big flaw on Ward's part: His rules are childishly simplistic.

The Grey Knights, Blood Angels and Necrons were infamous as they required no actual skill to play. All were so hideously overpowered that all you need to do is run forwards with the right units and the enemy will die in front of you. Unlike Tau Empire or even the Imperial Guard for all the crap Cruddance gets, you don't need to think that much to put together a neigh unstoppable list because his rules were so blatantly broken. Here he's unable to use a lot of that sheer raw power and many items come across as downright generic. Something completely unremarkable you'd usually overlook and forget about anywhere else because they require no thought or timing on the player's part.

The Wraithforge Stone for example is one item which just gives back a wraithguard or wraithlord model within 6" of its wielder a wound on a 3+. Similarly the Guardian Helm of Xallathon just allows for automatic passes on "Look Out, Sir!" tests and for wraithguard to accept challenges. All you need to do is just remember you have them and you get a slight bonus once in a while. They don't stack in effect with anything else or allow for ingenious tactics on the part of the army's player. This isn't to say that every rule needs to be complex or some intelligence test, but these like many in the book are simply bland.

Of course it doesn't take much to get Ward back into his old "lol, insta-kill everything" ways. 

Many of the other items (Gifts of Asuryan to be specific) just rely upon you getting halfway decent rolls to slaughter everything in sight. One highlight of this is the Soulshrive, a master crafted close combat weapon which is S3 AP2 and gains a point of strength every time you kill something. So you can throw an Autarch at a group of gaunts with some Striking Scorpions and have the guy walk out with a weapon between S7 and 10 if you're lucky.
Then you have the Spear of Teuthlas (yes, Arienal's special weapon) a singing spear which is range 18" S9 AP - with rending, fleshbane, armourbane and everything you'd ask for to up and murder something quickly.

These are two examples of several very killy weapons which are definitely something which are far too easily to use and cripple the enemy. It's just a case of being in vaguely the right place and the right time. Admittedly this is an upgrade of what we would have seen from this author before, but the lack of skill required to really implement them in games is very eyebrow raising and they're not the only ones. Others such as the Celestial Lance emphases only on turning its carrier into a single minded combat monster, not enhancing the army as a whole.

There are very few items and rules beyond dictating how wraithguard now take up troops choices and the like actually help to bolster the army overall. Not just individual units or specifically give it elements to bolster your characters. Having armies driven purely by extremely buffed HQ units was something 40K was supposed once to be moving away from in some respects, but here it's just in full force. The few elements which do buff up the army overall are not devoted to specific troops choices but are given entirely over to HQ units. 


The first of these is the Shadow Council, a group of up to five Spirit Seers which only take up one HQ slot but still count as Independent Characters. The second is a power each of them has in place of Conceal/Reveal known as Voice of Twilight. Something which gives any wraith unit within a 12" bubble around the caster both Furious Charge and Battle Focus.

These are actually really good ideas and help to cover the army's obvious flaws without breaking anything in a severe way. There's still some elements of risk involved with using them and it gives the army a degree of mobility to make it more familiar to eldar players. The problem is that it again devotes nearly everything of importance to who you have taking up your HQ slots not any Elite or Fast Attack choices. 
Even when Ward tries to place more focus upon said units he just ends up turning them into glorified HQ choices with things like the Heroes of Iyanden. A rule which allows a player to declare a wraithknight or wraithlord to be a Warlord without having them take up an HQ slot.

That's more or less it as the devoted army rules go. Two pages of stuff which seems to have either been written by Ward bored out of his skull or determined to repeat the mistakes of the past. Only a handful of elements are actually halfway decent and even then they don't have anything to balance them out and make the Iyanden force ultra-reliant upon which unit choices are leading it.

What do we get beyond this that actually counts towards games? Pages upon pages devoted to Cities of Death rules, scenarios and stuff trying to get you to buy other Games Workshop books. Older codices did have these but it was usually only one or two per book at most, not the vast majority of its content. They didn't need more than that and even then they barely got used. That last detail is the real crux of the problem here.

Having been playing 40K since early 2001, I've seen few games actually make real use of the special scenarios. While you will get a few devoted to certain scenarios and ideas for games which serve as a break from the norm, many will just stick with the few listed in the rulebook. Usually either taking and holding certain areas of the map or more frequently simply shooting/cutting/punching-the-blood-out-of the opposing army in a direct fight. Few if any players will actually feel the need to utilise most of the book if any. At best a store might try to boost it by having a campaign surrounding them but beyond that these are going to be barely used.

The problems with scenarios are only made worse when you consider the devotion to the Battle for Iyanden during the conflicts with Hive Fleet Kraken, the campaign itself is extremely limited. Even if you tried to substitute the one army for another, you're repeatedly going to run into the problem of scenario specific rules designed for eldar and tyranids. Those which are devoted to other factions either feel inconsequential or not very well tied into the plot, usually also being very faction specific and isolated. A problem not helped by having only one scenario for fighting tau, one for other craftworld eldar (don't ask) etc.


When it comes down the the crunch, the Iyanden Codex Supplement is ultimately a huge failure. It has very little which is appealing, few proper rules, very HQ specific items and improvements and only a handful of good ideas. The additional campaign details and ideas are lackluster and very limited, having nothing to make them worth utilising for games. It's even a step down from the Codex: Sisters of Battle printed in a White Dwarf (then never re-printed or officially released in PDF form, thank you so much Games Workshop) and is all around badly written.

Still, this is only part of the book. Because of course the rules are only a part of a codex, with a huge portion always given to the background, history of the army and their place in the universe.  So when we look next at the rulebooks of Warhammer 40,000, we'll be looking into how Iyanden fared in its fluff rather than crunch.
Is Ward's fictional creativity any better than his rules? Well here's an early indication of its quality: He uses C.S. Goto's Eldar Prophecy as a basis for how houses work in eldar society. 
I wish I were joking.

Part 2 Can Be Found Here



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Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

7 comments:

  1. Kinda makes you wish they did it as a 2 page spread in WD and then brought out a black library novel about Iyanden instead.

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    1. Can't argue with that. It would have at least meant we got some decent fluff from Iyanden. Hell, after reading this I would have settled for a slightly updated Codex: Craftworld Eldar for the same price.

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  2. Definately would have preferred codex craftworld eldar than this by the sounds of it. £30 for two pages of usable rules is a bad joke.

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  3. So glad I read this review because if I hadn't I would have paid the £30 for Iyanden

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  4. An updated Codex: Craftworld Eldar would have been worth the price.

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  5. Yeeouch, this is the kind of thing that promotes internet piracy of their books: overpriced, overfluffed, contradictory and barely worth the cost of printing a White Dwarf, much less a whole supplement. And as I am typing this, we have thebFarsight Encleaves and Black Legion supplements out.

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  6. Oh man, I saw that little block of white with black text in it. 4 simple words, yet they made me visibly cringe.

    "Written by: Matt Ward" UGH. Why? Why why why???

    I was really debating on starting up an Eldar army for 6th edition. Like I literally had $400 earmarked for starting it. Now, I am really second guessing myself. I remember the first time I read through Codex: Necrons. I was like... "Is this a joke? How is some of this stuff even remotely fair?" Mind control units. Mind control tanks. Chance to make all your flame based weapons blow up in your face...ugh. I'm getting angry just thinking about it. It makes me so sad because Iyanden was always my favorite. Their color, story, focus on Wraiths. I think you may have single handedly saved me that money.
    Thank you.

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