Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Crimson Slaughter: Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

Welcome to Part 2 where we examine the rules. If you're interested in the a review of the lore, you can find it here.

From past codices you can probably guess what is going to follow. As is sadly the case with so many Games Workshop books, mistakes are not a thing to be learnt from and instead they are to be repeated over and over again. At least assuming they are not mistaken for recommendations for the next book. So what we have here is very little in the way of rules to cover the army itself and a crapola of stuff which will only work if you buy more of Games Workshop's books. Oh, and scenarios of course.

Now, to be completely fair to the book contains some of the first scenarios in a while which seem like they would be worth playing. This is mostly because the writers seem to have gotten them right - they're relatively straight forwards to use and stick with what works. Rather than attempting to completely revolutionising the entire battlefield, they instead add fun gimmicks to keep things interesting.

Storm of Spirits is the most visible example of a gimmick game, which is your common or garden Take and Hold style mission. You have two sides, a series of objective markers, and a few basic conditions like Reserves, Slay the Warlord and Night Fighting. What makes it a little different is the presence of the Spectral Hurricane, which the Crimson Slaughter player moves about the board at 2D6 inches per turn and causes 2D6 AP3 hits on any enemy within 12". It's obviously weighted in the favour of one side, but it doesn't list any points costs, meaning players can balance this out between themselves with the Crimson Slaughter being a smaller force to even out their advantage.

Securing a Legacy meanwhile is something which seems to have been redone from Codex: Black Legion, with an endless torrent of Crimson Slaughter marines fighting an heavily fortified foe. One side brings back completely destroyed units from reserve, the other can take all the fortifications they want for no points cost. In any other situation I would probably be criticising the decision to re-use things, but this is the first time they've tried to do it with something which was anything but horrible. 

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Silence the Voices, which is a not very well thought out mission where the enemy is surrounded. Not much to be said there besides the fact it's a poor attempt to do a mission we've seen done far better elsewhere, especially when it comes to dividing up armies and thinking out how to balance sides.

Now, these would actually be fine on their own but the book yet again needs to push Cities of Death and its other works in Echoes of War missions. Even ignoring the fact these really have no place here and should have been used for rules, you soon realise all of them are either repeating bad habits or just recycling elements from the previous missions. 
Several involve endless waves of attackers coming on from reserve as soon as they die, another involves natural Warp events appearing and killing stuff in the middle of the table etc. Within mere pages of the last missions the authors are already recycling previous ideas! This is the sort of creative bankruptcy joked about Games Workshop or featured in parodied videos, not some new low for them to steep to!

Things only get worse from here as we bump into an entirely new variant of padding for the book! Already we have entire pages devoted to needless missions and rules for other games which should be included in books specifically devoted to them, not taking space away from army rules. We have pages upon pages devoted to single images of models people have seen in other armybooks. This already wastes a good third of the pages which should be devoted to beefing out and making the army fun to play. 

What else have they added atop all of this? A full glossary explaining things already in the rulebook!

Yes, you heard that correctly folks, we have multiple pages giving detailed explanations on how Large Blast Markers work, what the Daemon special rule means and how Veterans of the Long War improves units. Despite Codex: Crimson Slaughter specifically requiring you to own BOTH the Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook and Codex: Chaos Space Marines, it wastes time repeating things already explained in them! Someone needs to tell these people that glossaries were well received because they let players quickly look up stats, not things they should have learnt within their first few months of playing!

Okay, with that all done, what does small modicum of army rules does the book offer to people who actually want to use the Crimson Slaughter as a force? 

Upon opening the Warbands of the Crimson Slaughter section, that one bit which actually explores the army's unique nature, you're hit with a double whammy of surprises. One good, the other not so good.

The first is that every model in your army counts as having the Fear special rule, from Land Raiders to Cultists. While this might sound fairly basic, just consider the state of 40k at the moment: Codex: Eldar reigns supreme and Codex: Imperial Guard is right around the corner. While it might be useless against most space marine forces and the likes, this is going to give Chaos Space Marines a major edge against the two most buffed armies available at the moment.

The second is that Possessed count as Troops here, but they lack the Vessels of Chaos special rule. Instead they have a D3 Mutation table which works differently for every unit you have in your army, bestowing upon them a different trait:

1 - Spirit Beacons: The unit, and any vehicle they are embarked upon, gains the Shrouded special rule.
2 - Beast Forms: The unit's type changes from Infantry to Beasts.
3 - Incorporeal Bodies: The unit's invulnerable save is increased to 3+, and they gain the Rending special rule.

All that looks great, so what's the catch? This isn't rolled per game. It's rolled per turn. Every single turn you need to look up each of your Possessed units and roll off for each one, noting down and keeping track of them all as you go on. 
Along with being yet another needless random result table, it creates a reason for players not to want to use the book's second greatest strength. Either they ignore the ability to take Possessed as troops and lose out, or they do and they're lumbered with semi-unreliable units which create large amounts of downtime and lots to keep track of. Oh, and you just know whoever bought this book wants to use Possessed in as many Troops slots as you can. The book is once again shooting itself in the foot by creating problems for those people.

Speaking of random tables we have the Warlord Traits this time, which are the expected mishmash of elements. Actually, that's being unfair as for once the book actually keeps things relatively concise. Rather than the usual problem of having two different rules trying to cover a very different role of leader, all seem to have been written with the intent of your Warlord being a front line fighter. Someone who you either throw into combat or send charging to use their rule to influence combat in your favour.

Malestrom of Torment for example causes all enemy units within 12" of the Warlord to suffer -1 to Leadership tests. Better yet, also -2 to any Fear tests. 
Murderous Hate gives your Warlord Hatred (along with re-rolls in melee against Dark Angels). 
Maddening Rage gives him and his unit Rage and Furious Charge (with the requirement to move in and attack any enemy within 12"). 
Merciless Slaughter gives them the Crusader special rule. 
Pall of Mist gives them all the Shrouded special rule.
Finally, Spectral Assailants gives the Warlord D6 Strength 3 AP- hits at Initiative 10.

The only really useless one is the last choice on that list, worth it only for fodder, but the rest are relatively well focused. It's probably the best handled Warlord Traits list we've see in a supplement codex to date because it doesn't try to cover every possible use of an HQ choice. Sure, it might limit your options but at least you won't be stuck with a shooty guy relentlessly charging the enemy because he didn't get the trait you wanted.

The only other things of real note are that specialist troops (Khorne Bersekers, Plague Marines and Noise Marines) are the only ones who can take Veterans of the Long War, and that one group can be upgraded as Draznicht's Ravagers. For 10 points this effectively gives the unit Preferred Enemy Whoever-We're-Fighting.

Finally, we get onto the wargear. Like the Warlord traits, these seem to have actually been written with some focus and intention to have the army be melee orientated than the usual mistake seen. The few which aren't intended to help kill things are either designed to get into combat faster or last long enough to kill something.

Take for example the Daemonheart. With the note that it cannot be taken by a Daemon Prince, it offers the wielder a 2+ Armour Save and the special rule It Will Not Die. Pretty reasonable for 30 points, and it's not something which completely overpowers the unit. It provides some durability, but you still need to be careful who you throw this one against, making it suitable for taking down mobs without power weapons or high strength values.

Another is the Prophet of the Voices, not so much an item as a mutation which manifests through the user's armour. It forces the user to only join units of possessed, but offers them Daemon, Fearless and Fleet as special rules. Again for 30 points you could do much worse, and it allows you to make the best use of the codex's strengths with your HQ choice.
For those who don't want their leader stuck with Possessed, there's the slightly less useful but considerably cheaper Slaughterer's Horns. These bestow upon an HQ choice Furious Charge, Hammer of Wrath, and Rage as special rules at the cost of only 15 points. Not bad at all and definitely a wise option for any low points cost games.

The actual weapons themselves consist of the Crozius of the Dark Covenant and the Blades of the Relentless.

The former can only be taken by Dark Apostles in place of their power maul, but strike at +2 Strength AP 4 (because it seems to be mandatory there's always one weapon which offers this per codex) with the type rules Concussive and Warp-medium. What actually makes it worth taking is the fact it offers Zealot to any ally within 6" of the Apostle carrying the weapon. Again, not bad for 30 points though it could have been tweaked a little in terms of attributes.

The latter, the Blades of the Relentless manages to be even more broken than Codex: Iyanden's Soulshrive. Well, sort of. Where that weapon could slowly build up its stats by killing everything in the wielder's path until it was a Strength 10 weapon, this one is slightly more evenly handed. Starting at the user's strength and AP3, it doesn't count as a power weapon.  However, the first kill you make with it bumps up the strength by +1, the third improves the weapon to AP2, and the fifth improves it by +1 again. The user keeps all these attributes and on its own this would be fine. Unfortunately someone decided that, should the carrier get a tenth kill, they get Instant Death as an ability. 

So yes, with the right equipment you can throw however is holding this into a squad of Whiteshields or gretchin and he'll emerge the other side capable of slapping about anything in his path. It's a little too cheap for 30 points and seems as if it would benefit from some serious reworking.

The last one is the Balestar of Mannon which can be taken by a Sorcerer. It allows access to the Divination dicipline and gives the ability to re-roll failed Psychic tests. The unfortunate thing is that neither the carrier nor the unit he's with can benefit from any modifiers to Deny the Witch rolls, making the Sorcerer something of a glass cannon against enemy psykers. Not the worst balance though and it's okay at 25 points.

On the whole the supplement codex is actually a big step up from past editions, but that's only thanks to the extremely low bar which has been set. What you get really isn't that bad and some players will find use for the rules in here, but it's hard to justify the hefty price tag for a couple of pages of rules and some truly dire lore. If you truly want an army of Possessed and don't mind the busywork forced on you by the random tables, you might want to get this one but it's still very hard to recommend. 

Now, let's change things a little by judging it by the authors' intention.

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