Thursday, 18 August 2016

Deathwatch Part 3 - Formations (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

So, finally we reach the end of the rules. Not the review entirely, we do have a highly opinionated finale for this book, but this will be it for the crunch. Many readers will now of a personal dislike for Formations, their effects and how easily they can be abused. Just to reiterate for those joining - In effect I personally see them as encouraging players to follow a certain army build by the designer rather than being creative, and then rewarding them with buffs. This would be bad enough in of itself, but you often get those which take things a step too far. The Tau Gun Drone Factory is a particularly infamous example of where what was intended to be a light hit and run attack design, turned into a way to spam dozens of free Gun Drones onto the board each turn. 

However, Formations can on occasion be done properly to help better reflect the lore or innate nature of an army. The Deathwing for example - for as often as their main appeal is stolen and gifted to other armies - retains some unique rules and ideas to help emphasie their innate tactics. Sometimes it works, other times it can fall a bit short or fail to be truly competitive, but with the Deathwatch the writers have a fresh slate. Given how often they're combining together wildly diverse troops into single units, their varying tactics and unique mix of troops for their Kill-Teams, it's a golden opportunity for something new. Sadly, what we get is not only unoriginal, but completely and utterly boring for the most part. In fact, it's easy to argue this one really is downright bad at the end of the day.

So, with that out of the way, let's get a move on with this list.

Aquila Kill Team

The Aquila Kill Team is the first one you're introduced to upon opening up the book, and it's quite surprisingly bland. On the one hand, it does encourage multi-unit combinations and high cost, hard hitting, forces pressed into extremely small units. What you have here is a unit of Veterans as a starting point, and then an ability to add one or more of the following choices - A Librarian, any number of Bikes, Vanguard Veterans, and Terminators. 

The Formation itself has a couple of relatively basic special rules, one which it shares with quite a few various squads here. Listed simply as Kill Team, which combines the various units of this formation into a single force. So, they act, fight and move as a single squad, but unlike usual you can't break them up into Combat Squads at any point during the battle. Even with an Independent Character, you're required to keep them all together. It's not much but it really is a basic thing to help give the sense of a varied force mashed together. It's a minor thing admittedly, but something like this was definitely essential to help get things running smoothly. Given how often this arises here, we'll just note that it's present for the relevant ones rather than repeating this every single time.

The other rule here is sadly also quite basic overall. Basically, anything you target allows you to re-roll ones on dice when attempting to wound or penetrate the armour of targets. There's little to really say about it besides that as it's serviceable, but half the rules in this book already surround this sort of thing. The problem is that the book doesn't say whether or not this stacks up with some of the other rules or Mission Tactics, otherwise you could end up with a re-roll of a re-roll against certain targets.

Furor Kill Team

This one is pretty much the same as the last one. You have the Kill Team special rule once again, and a Furor Doctrine is basically the same as the prior listing with a couple of tweaks. Whereas the previous one covers just about everyone, this one works only on vehicles and Troops. Yes, we're going to be seeing this a lot.

The combination of units here consists of a group of Veterans (at least one of who must be armed with a Frag Cannon or the flambe heavy bolter), a unit of Terminators and any number of Librarians, Vanguard Veterans or Bikers. So, second verse same as the first, but with a slightly different melody.

Venator Kill Team

Switch out the Terminators from last time with a full unit of Bikers, and ditch the Frag Cannon restriction with the requirement for at least two bikes; from there you can guess exactly what this is like. Oh, and you can instead re-roll to wound Fast Attack choices over Troops.

Dominatus Kill Team

Combine Veterans with Vanguard Veterans. Have them gain bonuses for killing Elites choices, and require them to take two Vanguard models.

Yes, we're going to keep these ones quite short as they're basically xerox versions of one another with a few slight edits.

Malleus Kill Team

Mash together Terminators with Veterans once again, this time with a restriction placed upon Thunder Hammers or Heavy Thunder Hammers. Two models are required to carry these, and the kill team gains bonuses to help murder Heavy Support choices, each is the same as the prior examples.

Purgatus Kill Team

As you can guess, this one helps to focus upon killing HQ choices and it's the same re-rolling ones on Wounds which they gain as a bonus. Rather than a single unit, a Librarian and Terminators are paired up with the Veterans here and at least one Veteran must be armed with a Stalker pattern boltgun. So, yep, there's that as well. Thankfully this is the last of this very basic combination here, so the good news is that from this point on things start to get a bit more interesting. The bad news is that we only have three Formations left to cover.

Strategium Command Team

This is basically a very solid choice, with you mixing together a Watch Captain, Chaplain and Librarian, and then pairing them up with almost any option of your choice. Really, the unit listed consist of a basic unit of Veterans, or any other kill team Formation listed thus far. This somewhat helps to justify the previous mix of choices, but even counting them as the building blocks for everything else here, it's still a lot of wasted space.

The special rules on this one are thankfully much more interesting than past choices and a lot more interesting by comparison. Fight to the Last Breath, for example, allows all models within this formation a standard 6+ Feel No Pain save so long as the Watch Captain remains standing, offering some solid durability in the face of staggering odds. The Chaplain, meanwhile, ties into the Suffer Not the Alien to Live special rule. So long as he stands you get the Furious Assault special rule for all involved in this Formation. Finally, we have the Pure of Spirit, Strong of Soul which ties into the Librarian; in this case this grants them Stubborn and Adamantium Will.

On the one hand, this is once more very heavy on pressing HQ choices to prominence and making everything here hook upon them. On the other hand though, it does help to seriously reflect upon how the varied units combine their abilities together to assist one another, and how badly their loss affects the unit on the whole. So, it's problematic but it's somewhat forgivable given what it offers here. That said, the lack of any points cost at all to using this Formation as the sheer number of new bonuses it offers really aren't balanced out by any major shortcoming of any kind.

The sad thing is, this is as good as any of the formations get with this codex. Really, this is the single most inventive and creative Formation in the entire damn book, and it comes down to spamming certain buffs via HQ choices. It's all down mountain from here folks.

Watch Company

Welcome to the spam list. Whereas every previous one was merely a mash up of two units, this one is a mix-up of four of the previous kill team Formations, led by a Watch Captain. Unlike before you don't need to mob them together, and they gain a new special rules atop of the previous ones they're offered. Unfortunately this is once again just a re-roll to Wound option, once more against everything. This renders most of the previous Formations pretty damn useless in their own innate buffs, and once again it needs to be stated that the codex doesn't confirm if this stacks with the previous special rules.

This is very boring, very lazily written, and a waste of potentially great material. Moving on.

Corvus Dropship Wing

So, the final one is, of course, one intended to help buy as many of the new fliers as possible. You basically group together three Blackstars at once, and then roll into battle with no limitations of any kind. While it doesn't specify whether or not you're allowed to actually carry troops in their holds or not, it does make it clear that these are intended to be used as Gunships. How? Guess how, we've been repeating it for this entire damn article. Yes, it's another re-roll to wound special rule, but this time it's limited to enemy fliers and Monstrous Creatures. That's it nothing else, nothing exciting, no push to make anything stand out.


This was bad. No effort, nothing interesting, no push to take advantage of fun combos, just a very boring series of recycled ideas and very basic themes. I'd say more, but if the writers aren't going to put in the effort, i'm not going to waste time on this either.

We're almost done here now, so join us here for one final section of this review before we close this book for good.


  1. I think it's a good idea to explore combinations of the kill teams. Would you add a vanguard to every kill team? Or just for certain teams or for certain roles? When would you add a terminator, librarian and bike? I think that would make this article quite useful for people. Right now it's quite negative about the codex which is fine, but adding a few tips would make it more useful too :)

    1. To be fair to Bellarius it's a review of what's in the books, not a tactics page, so if something is pretty bare bones/shallow there's not much need to dig any deeper.

    2. I'm inclined to agree with gradaat here, as this is more of a general analysis of the rules, their strengths and how well the lore stands out. It's not meant to tell people how to win their battles, just to know whether or not the skeleton of this book does the army justice or not.

      That said, this is going to be a rare four parter review with the final section more closely examining some of the greater rules failings and missed opportunities and you'd better believe the Formations are going to be a huge part of that.

  2. I noticed there were two Kill Teams mentioned getting bonuses against elites and none against heavy support. Is this a mistake?