Friday, 5 June 2015

Cult Mechanicus Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

Welcome to part 2 of our Codex: Cult Mechanicus review AKA This is why Formations deserve to die in the burning pits of Hades. To see our look at the lore, you can find my thoughts here.

There's no other word for it. Codex: Eldar Craftworlds, in all of its broken demented glory looks almost completely balanced compared to this damn thing. Oh it doesn't seem all that bad at first, it doesn't go full on Wraith-train as that book did or give the army the mecha version of Kratos, yet somehow it manages to pull off even more batshit insane nonsense than the pointy eared gits ever dreamed of! This codex is like a puzzle with Cthulhu's face on it. Each individual bit seems to be fine at first for the most part as you skim over it, but as you examine it in detail and go through each aspect, your mind starts to crumble at just what Games Workshop has wrought upon this world.

These books were already being stretched thin to the bare bones. Some were somewhat excusable as they re-used units from other armies a-la Space Marine codices in order to bulk them out, but these ones were being sold off piecemeal. Apparently the only way the towering evil overlords in Nottingham think they can get people to buy this is by pulling a Ward. Hell's teeth, the many isn't even a part of the company anymore and yet Warhammer 40,000 somehow slides ever more towards his way of thinking!

Normally i'd try to compose these a little more professionally, but after reading that, what else is there to say? The Formations are borked beyond belief. With so few units on offer here they instead opted to just make every single formation exceedingly easy to get, require few to no models and buff them up to the Nth degree, often covering the single biggest weakness or giving them some staggering advantage.

Let's just take a look at this one for a second, the Elimination Maniple, which requires only two units of Karaphron Destroyers (effectively Obliterator lites) and one unit of your finest Kastelan Robots. What's its special rule?

"Elimination Volley: If a Kastelan Robot from this Formation scores one or more unsaved wounds, glancing hits or penetrating hits on an enemy unit with a weapon that has the Luminagen special rule, all Kataphron Destroyer units from this formation that target the same enemy unit add 1 to their Ballistic Skill characteristic and their weapons gain the Ignores Cover special rule until the end of that Phase."

Now, this sounds a little powerful but not too bad until you consider the bigger picture on hand here. The main weapons carried by Kastelans which have the Luminagen special rule are certain special killy guns known as Heavy Phosphor Blasters, range "36 with Strength 6 and AP 3. These can be twin linked and are Heavy 3, but that's not all on offer here. Oh no, now we have the actual special rule itself behind them. Luminagen rules effectively allow for any unit which has one or more unsaved penetrating/glancing/wounds caused by these guns to count all cover saves as being -1 until the end of the phase, and atop this they allow for any attacking units to re-roll their charge ranges against them.

Now, atop of all of that then consider that the vast number of tracked Servitor mini-tanks accompanying this small mob of 'roid raging substitute Dreadnoughts are all armed with either more Phosphor weapons or Strength 7 AP 2 Heavy 2 plasma weapons. So what you have is quite possibly a mob of Tau Pathfinders all armed with Strength 6 twin-linked Markerlights, who can blow up tanks, ignore cover and all have at least two shots each. They're also all hitting at BS4, and as if this weren't enough this can be done multiple times. They don't all need to focus upon one target, this can be for any single model or unit which fails a roll. On, and to make matters even better, it's so insanely flexible you can have just about all of your army under this one formation and has no restrictions.

The sad thing is that Elimination Maniple actually sets the tone for just about all of the formations here. Some of the more tame ones like Holy Requisition are underpowered by comparison because they only give your slow moving tracked bastards (all of which have 3+ saves, multiple wounds, Strength 7 melee weapons and Strength 6 Heavy 2 cannons) the ability to Deep Strike, Counter-Attack and Zealot. Ones which do not scatter when they're on objective markers.

Really, the whole codex is less tactics than it is yet another bloody great sledgehammer. Oh no, apparently we don't need skill, we don't need actual strategic thought, we don't need actual risk, we just need more firepower than God to win our games for us! Better yet, we're barely having to write full army lists now, we can just take most of what Games Workshop lists in their book, and they'll reward us for it with even more overpowered crap!

Now, before we even get onto the units, you need to see just how bad certain power-creep aspects have struck Codex: Mechanicus. This can be best depicted in their weapons, all of which read as if they were supposed to be the heavy support choices for another army, but were shunted into becoming a new codex at the last second. How so? I hear you ask, well, here's a few basic facts:

- Discounting flamers, of the Ranged weapons only five of the twelve on offer hit at below Strength 6, and one of those only because it is a Graviton weapon. 
- Only five do not fire multiple shots in standard bursts and a further five are all Heavy weapons.
- Of the four dedicated melee weapons on offer, three boost the user's innate strength by at least one point (the majority add two) and the only one which does not, grants the wielder the ability to strike at Initiative 10.
- Almost all melee weapons have special rules to help them. One is the aforementioned Initiative 10 Dataspike, the others offer Instant Death on 6s when Rolling to Wound, or double the user's Strength in single strikes, up to Strength 10. Were it not for that limitation, most models be hitting on Strength 14.

What we effectively have here is someone taking the Relics page of a codex and deciding to use it as a guideline for equipping an entire army. There's nothing remotely normal about this, no standard weapons of any kind, nothing for basic troops choices, nothing which isn't borderline insta-kill against anything without insane toughness or Tactical Dreadnought Armour. Again, it's nothing but sheer, pure power and little else. Even the few special rules added to the weapons boil down to either simple gimmicks or the ability to just quickly up and murder whatever's in front of them without any need for thought or timing.

Ultimately these are the reasons i'm not going into so much detail as per usual with these at the moment, because this entire review would sound like a broken record. The vast majority of what's on offer here seems to just be present to reward downright lazy gaming and it's yet another small sized, overly powerful elite army which can muller anything it stumbles upon. The old idea behind buffs and nerfs in any game tends to be to create a kind of balance, yet here we are with an entirely new faction which can all but utterly wipe the floor with its foes.

Just to prove the point further, we might as well look into the units, starting with both groups of Servitors. When they were called Obliterator lites earlier, it was with good reason. They're all outfitted with powerful long range heavy weapons and can withstand most small-scale fire with Toughness 5 and a 3+ armour save atop that. While they might only be Weapons Skill and Ballistic Skill 3, the book offers plenty of opportunities to remedy that mistake, and it even has the upgraded version of Slow and Purposeful.
Said rule is listed as "Heavy Battle Servitors" the crux of which is effectively preventing them from running, but at the same time allowing them to fire multiple weapons at a time and ignoring any negative effects moving might have on them. This is to the point where Heavy and Salvo weapons can be fired as if the Servitor were stationary, and they can charge even after using Rapid Fire, Heavy or Salvo weapons.

The gist of what both Kataphoron versions of Servitors can do is move up, pump a metric ton of Strength 6 shots into an enemy as needed, roll about without any negative effects to their shooting, and charge in with mini-power fists. 

These are the troops choices for this army!

Really, I understand the desire to sell a brand new army to people, but good fucking god writers, what in hell were you drinking when you made this decision!? Did someone just look at the Necron Destroyers one day and go "Pah, you call that tough!? Here's a real machine!"
These things would be counted as specialist forces of any kind in practically any other army, not the bog-standard frontline troops for this force. Things are only made worse once you realise these things are only 150 and 165 points per individual squadron, but they also can be bulked up to squads of nine at a time. Yeah, these things are nasty as all hell, and it only gets worse with the rest.

Next on the agenda we of course have the Elites choices for this particular codex, the electro-priests, a single faction which has been divided into two for cost cutting purposes innovative new thinking. Now, there's actually a little more variety between the two and there was at least some effort to create a little innovative thinking with each one. For starters, they effectively have your common or garden Guardsman's stats line save for being Leadership 9, having two attacks basic and BS or WS 4 depending upon which version you're looking at. Atop of this, at first glance they seem to be balanced; as while they carry +2 Strength boosting Instant Kill staves and +1 Strength attack gauntlets with Assault 2 Strength 4 attacks, they have little toughness and no armour. So, it seems at first as if they're glass cannons whose attacks you need to time correctly. Then you notice what else they have.

First up, they all have Feel No Pain and Zealot, making them excellent road blocks to bog down enemy elite troops while still killing quite a few of them. Then atop of this, they also have the Voltaheist Field, which gives all of them all 5+ Invulnerable saves, and Hammer of Wrath at Strength 4 without any Initiative penalties. So. Yeah. Suddenly they're equally outstanding at hacking their way through any and all fodder at a rate of knots, but also can serve as the best possible way to bog down anything which comes to stop them. Oh, but wait, there's more!

Atop of everything else listed about about them, we then have two special rules, Shock and Siphoned Vigour. 
Shock allows the wielders to fire off two more additional shots with their Gauntlets in the Assault or Shooting phases when ever they roll a six on a hit. Now, that seems fine at first until you note one thing: It doesn't state any limit here. Yeah, so you can end up with exploding dice theoretically annihilating a full twenty man squad of Guardsmen or producing several times the firepower the unit could have otherwise possibly accomplished.
Siphoned Vigour? Oh that one's even worse. Destroying an enemy unit (bludgeoning the last man to death or intercepting an enemy unit in the middle of Sweeping Advance) instantly upgrades their invulnerable saves from 5+ to 3+. 

So, on the one hand you have a group which has a potentially insanely powerful alpha strike (admittedly I can see how such a dumb rule could be funny though) and on the other yet another example of sudden power-boosts if a strong unit gets enough kills. Honestly, there's nothing to stop players from dropping the Fulfgurites atop a bunch of Gretchin and suddenly having them emerge with the ability to stonewall entire armies at a time. Really, when will people learn how easily this sort of thing can be abused!?

Well, to top all of this off, we have the big bastards the codex spent the entire time hyping, the Kastelan Robots. These things are effectively Contemptor wannabes with a few gimmicks the writers tacked on to try and cash in on any Rogue Trader nostalgia. Well, that and some even more insane bullshit which you can almost see how it could have worked as a fun, stylish and engaging addition to the rules.

The first of these stems from the Repulsor Grid which, atop of their standard 3+ save, gives each robot a 5+ invulnerable save to boot. Now, that's fair enough, until you see the special rule it's given. Namely the following bit: "Each time a Kastelan Robot is targeted and passes a saving throw of any kind on the roll of a 6, the shot is deflected." What does deflected mean? It immediately bounces back and instantly hits the person who fired it. So, anything with a Lascannon, Dark Lance, Bright Lance or Railgun has the chance of getting themselves turned into bubbling slag by their own guns. This could have been amusing, playing upon their bullet magnet nature, until you note that one little bit there which states this covers all kinds of saves.

Now, the Repulsor Grid is still something you could potentially put down to being a fun addition, at least until you see how every single damn Kastelan has been built like a brick shithouse lined with kevlar. For starters they have 3 Wounds, Toughness 7 and have Strength 6. Atop of coming equipped with two power fists, someone felt it fitting to make every single last damn one of these a Monsterous Creature. No, really. This makes it extremely easy to justify switching out those two power fists for phosphor blasters, twin linked ones at that.

Now, even such bonuses would have made the unit solid, but then there's the Battle Protocols. The old idea behind these was to make these things extremely powerful but limited in their approach, serving as a kind of predictable battering ram and one which you could easily flip things around and exploit as needed. Well, as they used that idea for the Ultramarines and their successors this edition, someone thought it was a smart idea to give them selective temporary min-maxing. In effect you get the following:

Conqueror Protocol AKA Rocket Punch Mode: Attacks are doubled (five on a charge) but you can't shoot.
Aegis Protocol: Everything has Feel No Pain.
Protector Protocol AKA Dakka Turret Mode: All of them can fire their carapace gun twice but not move.

Yeah, there's not quite the same degree of fun predictability and offsetting elements to allow people to exploit their failings here. It's just what power boost you choose to have this turn, and how many things die. As they go from turn to turn, you can jump right from Protector to Conqueror without any problems, meaning you can rain death down on an advancing Hormagaunt horde then violently charge in while ripping them a new one. Hell, you could probably leave Aegis mode on all the time and not lose out to much.

Even the potential weakness of the Datasmith has been negated, as by all rights they're almost as hard to kill as the damn robots! While they might only have Toughness 4, they have a basic 2+ save, a 5+ invulnerable, and come with that damn Initiative 10 Dataspike. Oh, and another Power fist, as if the Kastelans didn't have enough of those already. Hell, even if you do kill him that just means they're stuck on one exceptionally killy protocol, not much of a weakness given most players will probably only stick to one for most of the game. Oh, and the Datasmith himself can also access Special Issue Wargear and Relics, because why not by this point!

The last thing worthy of real mention is the head honcho behind this band of metal nightmares, the Tech-Priest Dominus. He's effectively a Techmarine if they were ever outfitted with Terminator armour and a pistol which can take out whole squads at a time. Oh, and he also has Feel No Pain, Relentless and access to power weapons even in Vanilla, all for 105 points. That really speaks for itself here. Moving on.

The sad thing is that the Special Issue Wargear, in its own right, might not have been all that bad. When you look at it on its own, while it might have needed a little tweaking and been a little invulnerable save happy, would have made for a good character equipment table. It offers a bit more variety than usual and there seems to have been a push to actually do a little beyond the usual mix of generic items. 
For example, there's a Stasis Field option which can be taken as a kind of defensive mechanism which actually sounds oddly fun. When you go to ground, it's switched on meaning your WS and BS are reduced to zero but you get a 2+ invulnerable save. The same goes with the Infoslave Skull, which adds +1 Leadership and Acute Senses, both useful and avoid falling into the usual power happy trap.

Even the Arcana Mechanicum, while still visibly broken in many places, still offers a few flimers of good dieas here and there. Sure, it still boils down to the usual killy-thing/stats-booster/wierd-thing combo, but for once it doesn't seem to have been written on autopilot. So while the Anzion's Pseudogentor (Strength 4 AP 5 Shred, Melee weapon) and Arkham Land's pimp cane (giving the bearer It Will Not Die) fall into the more expected categories; you have the Uncreator Gauntlet, which serves as a Hull Point healing device, and the Scryerskull Perspicatus which can be used to highlight Mysterious Objects or allow Mechanicum factions to re-roll glancing or penetration hits against vehicles. Admittedly the former doesn't help much given this is an army with no vehicles. The same goes for the Raiment of Technomartyr which gives a 2+ armour save, but also allows the bearer and any unit with him to fire Snap shots and Overwatch at BS 2. Not too shabby, even if what we have reads as if it were pushed out the door a little too early.

Now, the big, big gimmick which hangs over the whole book is the Canticles of the Omnissiah which really is another army wide boost. In the same way which Khorne Daemonkin had its points system to be influenced by the entire army and the Sisters of Battle have their Faith system, the Cult have this one. Rather than just slightly influencing WS and BS, or spawning in brand new units, each one is an exceedingly diverse series of influences which is easy to manage. More interestingly, it's not a single set effect as each one has several possible ones divided up into three sub-categories. How strong it is depends upon the number of units engaging in it. For weak ones it's just three units or less, for stronger ones up to seven, and for the strongest eight units or more. Just to list them off one by one (in order of options):

Incantation of the Iron Soul - Focuses primarily upon making it harder for your troops to falter or fail Leadership tests. In turn you are given the option for all units to gain Stubborn, all units to gain Stubborn along with the ability to re-roll failed Morale, Fear and Pinning tests. Or, in the top result, you can get Fearless.

Shroudpsalm - All units gain Stealth. All units gain Shrouded. All units gain both Stealth and Shrouded.

Litany of the Electromancer - All enemy units in combat with Cult Mechanicus forces suffer a Strength 4 AP - hit in combat, with later versions offering two or three hits instead.

Invocation of Machine-Might - Strength bonuses for that turn ranging from +1 to +3.

Chant of the Remorseless Fist - All units in close combat re-roll missed attacks on a 1, a 1 or 2, or any and all misses in combat.

Benediction of Omniscience - Same as the above option, only for shooting this time.

It really is hard to cover these as, like some previous times, you can see shades of how this could have been a good idea. There are bits and pieces, pushes to try something dynamic, but the problem is that when you account for the rest, some of this is absolutely obscene. Think for a second what Kastelans are going to be like when they have the ability to Stealth themselves, or for that matter how insanely capable massed fire from Servitors would be with the Benediction of Omniscience. Some of these certainly might have worked if they had been toned down a little or made to effect certain roles, but when you have an army consisting largely of Strength 7 models or figures armed with Power fists, some of this makes things all too easy for victory. Again, you don't need much thought, just a vague idea of what units you want this to affect and when.

The bigger problem atop the obvious ones surrounding the Canticles is how they unsuitably encourage massive armies again. Yeah, we've been over how failing to account for smaller forces or games is a bad thing in the past, but really, look at this damn thing. The army has an integral mechanic which downright penalizes smaller scale armies with fewer units from the start, as it makes their main gimmick far less effective. As insulted as I should be that this is another easy way to gain rapid power-boosts with no control or real skill needed, the fact this is limiting those unwilling to shill out their entire wallet is all the worse. You can just imagine Games Workshop rubbing their hands at this idea, I mean honestly, what next, an Edition which penalizes armies which lack a super-heavy vehicle? This one was bad enough, imagine for a second what could happen if codices start being written to limit armies which don't contain the absolute latest units.

Anyway, that's Codex: Cult Mechanicus. If this one seemed a little more scattershot or generalised than usual, it's honestly because what else was there to say? Really, you could have just had me sitting here, scanning in full listings of rules and then rattling off colourful expletives in response to them. While there's sure to be a few things to beat it out when it comes to dominating the current metagame, thanks largely to its very limited size, it's still going to whale on a lot of the less spotlight-stealing armies. Yet despite this metric ton of sins, expect to see numbers of players with this army explode overnight. Sometimes there really is no justice when it comes to wargaming.

Still, there's one final bit to this review, so click here to see part three.


  1. I think the idea of formations is a good one, but I think the implementation in this case is terrible. I figure the ideal implementation would be things like the more rigid Horus Heresy Rites of War. Those give the specific advantages/disadvantages. that these try to do without being horribly overpowered (none of them give ignores cover/no scatter deep striking for example).

    I think you slightly misread the rules for Shock, you don't roll 2 additional dice, they're two additional automatic hits, that said if you're really lucky one model shooting then charging can do 16 wounds on its own, so it's still a big problem.

    Something really funny is in that formation I mentioned in the previous article everyone gets Canticles of the Omnissiah, including the knight can now have stealth and shrouded, which while funny is ultimately useless since its normal invulnerable save is almost always better. Much less useless are some of the other benefits though.

    There really isn't that much else to say as I agree with everything else on here. The combined Mechanicus are going to be THE competitive army to play and it's going to be really annoying to play against them.

    1. Oh, Formations have their place, but it's sure as all hell not in basic 40K. When they were all good and fun was in the stupidly large battles or huge conflicts, like what we had with Apocalypse. Having stuff there like Lyander's hammer crew and some of the utter insanity of certain formations worked for three reasons. The game wasn't supposed to be played competitively so there was more freedom, the scale of power was far larger so there was less damage to potentially be done, and many could be thematic without going so utterly nuts like here. After all, fielding a full company of space marines with rhinos is considerably different than some cyber bishop with a couple of servitors.

      Ah, my bad then. It did seem to be oddly slightly weaker than its contemporary, so that small correction suddenly explains a hell of a lot. Thank you for pointing that out, i'll have to correct that as soon as I have moment.

      It's funny at its basic level yeah, but you know that certain rules are going to be written with the basic expectation of those things being applied to smaller stealthy models. For example, a mission involving a sensor array could easily be written have a rule giving bonuses for advancing forces with stealth or shrouded. In this case the Cult Mechanicum would have an obscene advantage over everyone else.

      Well, that's the final point which is truly irksome. This is Games Workshop trying to see how well they can get away with selling each and every army piecemeal. Given the sheer power they're using to try and get people to spend twice the usual price on armybooks, and if they have this much of an advantage this could well be a greenlight to have more nonsense ahead. Given we have Codex: Space Marines right around the corner, can you imagine for a second what it'd be like if they broke up multiple units chapter by chapter (Ultras, Imp Fists, Iron Hands, Raven Guard, White Scars), then had people spend £20 per book.

  2. I thought I would point out that the Kastelan bouncing shots doesn't include Psykic powers or blasts or templates.

    "A repulsor grid cannot deflect Blast or Template weapons or psychic shooting attacks."

    Personally. I enjoy the book and it's what brought em back into 40k. I can see the balance issues but I'm not a power gamer.......And I wanted my damn robots.

  3. I honestly don't see the elite priests as being remotely playable for their point per model cost (can't remember but think it was 18).
    With toughness 3 and 5+ save they will day to anyone looking at them funny. Yes if they get there they can put out a lot of attacks but sadly they won't

  4. A few months on I don't think this post is accurate at all. Cult mechanics don't warrent nearly as much but hurt as the author implies. It just reads like a massive overeaction. Both varieties of priests are terrible. The troops are middling. The castellan are good as is the dominus. The only formation that is worth using is the cohort. The army can't stand on its own and has only seen success at tournaments with the war convocation allied with flesh tearrers for drop pods. That detachemwnt is strong because it makes all upgrades free and allows everything to benefit from canticles. So the statement that pure cult mechanics without drop pods and the war convocation makes eldar look balanced is laughable. I'm still waiting for the release that means I can field my eldar without being called a WAAC power gamer, and I can tell you cult mechanics aint it.