Tuesday, 20 September 2016
Black Crusade: Angel's Blade Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Campaign Book Review, 7th Edition)
As mentioned before, Angel's Blade unfortunately has a bit less variety to it than Traitor's Hate. While the previous book might have been extremely Black Legion focused in the rules department, it did ultimately have segments built to favour secondary legions or the lore. In this case however, what we get is lots and lots of Blood Angels, and this unfortunately lacks some of the variety people might have wanted. That's not a knock against the chapter of course, but simply having a First Company detachment isn't quite so fun or unique as a single Dark Apostle whipping a mob into a frenzy and creating an unending tide of Chaos fodder.
The lack of originality here is well worth mentioning as many of the old criticisms made last time rear their heads here as well. Many of the same formations show up, just with a different paint job, quite a few rules are carried over, and even the psychic powers are once again lifted wholesale from Codex: Angels of Death. As such, you'll have to forgive me if some of this stuff is brief. It's not even a case of "been there, done that, worn the T-shirt" so much as "... half my wardrobe consists of this stuff." It's even more irksome when two forces which are supposed to be dark mirrors of one another have so many abilities which are utterly identical to one another.
So, with that cheerfully pessimistic start to this review, here's a look at the core contents of the book:
New Units & Detachments
Those who read the story no doubt know what's coming - The Death Company. Fielded in unprecedented numbers, with almost a full hundred astartes falling to the Black Rage, it was only natural for the book to put this aspect first and foremost, covering something which no codex could accomplish.
Oddly enough though, it's not the one the book offers first billing, instead favouring the "Angel's Blade Strike Force". This is a formation which mashes together elements from across the Blood Angel's chapter, but it's an odd choice to put before the more unique option.
Still, for what we get, the decurion is okay. Hardly remarkable, and certainly playing it safe even when compared with the Black Legion mob from last time, but not all that bad either. While the initial Command Benefit (or special rules, for that is ultimately what they are) titled The Angel's Virtue is just an opportunity to re-roll results on the Warlord tale, the following options are much more fun. The Red Thirst allows models from the detachment to increase their Initiative by a single point, allowing your standard troops to hit the foe that much harder in the opening phases of a fight. A useful thing to be sure if you need to beak a massed foe quickly. The Sons of Sanguinius meanwhile is a booster for any Blood Angels unit which finds itself badly mauled in battle. Once they are cut down to half strength, each and every model in the unit gains Zealot.
While the former rule is titled the "Red Thirst" it is a push to break away from some of the usual Blood Angels cliches while sticking to their combat doctrines. What it suggests is a force which is varied, is versatile and covers a wide array of combat doctrines, but excels at hard hitting assaults and goes down hard when their back is to the wall. Overall, not too bad.
As for the Death Company choice, we have the "Lost Brotherhood Strike Force" which is admittedly far more limited by comparison. Compared with its predicessor, it seems to be almost treated like an afterthought, something to be thrown in at the last second. We don't end up with a few fun ideas, a number of interesting unique formations asking things like "So, what happens when the First Company veterans fall?" or focusing upon their differing heritage in some way. No, instead it's just a single Death Company Strike Force backed by a bunch of Auxiliary units carried over from the Angel's Blade. Hell, even the bulk of their Command Benefits are identical, only switching out Sons of Sanguinius for Unleashed Upon the Foe. As such, they lose the Zealot focused rule - understandably - but gain the ability to move 6" towards the enemy right after setting up your models. Yeah, something which kicks in to have the Blood Angels Hulk out in favour of a single bonus move. Not exactly the best trade-off even when the unique Relics are taken into account, but it is admittedly made much more attractive thanks to the fact Stormravens are dedicated transports which can be taken by the entire Strike Force. Yeah, even Death Company need heavy artillery and air support once in a while.
As usual, we'll be covering these one by one, starting with the Command formations and working our way down to the auxiliary options. It's really in no particular order besides that, but expect us to stop periodically to discuss some of the really fun ones.
The Golden Host - Or as I like to call it, "The Angelic Pimp-Hand." This is basically an opportunity to combine together anyone clad in golden armour and send them into battle. As such you have the option to take Dante or the Sanguinor at their head and then back them up with between two to five units of Sanguiary Guard to inflict some real damage.
As you can imagine this is a very fast moving sledgehammer force, as you have plenty of jump packs and plenty of power weapons to call upon here. The formation further emphasises this by allowing them to assault immediately after Deep Striking right out of the army's reserves. While this does mean they're entering battle in a disordered charge - robbing the unit of that lovely +1 Initiative rule - it at least means you don't have a massive blob of points caught out in the open. It's going to hurt no matter how you cut it, but the negatives and opportunities to counter this abrupt charge do help even things out somewhat.
Leaders of the Angelic Host - And welcome to another of our cliches, the specialist leader mob. We have seen this in just about every damn book from the vanilla codex to Curse of the Wulfen, combining a Captain, Librarian and Chaplain (well, Sanguinary Priest in this case) into a single unit. While the rules do sometimes differ a little from one section to the next, it's never enough to make it seem like a single idea tailored for various seperate chapters.
While it does give you the opportunity to switch out the generic HQ choices to Tycho, Mephiston and Corbulo with a command squad and a Storm Raven, what else is there to say? It's either gloriously stupid, or just downright stupid.
Chapter Ancients - Dreadnought spam. Really, that's it, this is just Dreadnought spam wheeled out once again as a major choice. While there is admittedly a little variety on offer thanks to the Blood Angels being involved here, meaning you have access to Furioso, normal, or Librarian choices, this is once again something we've seen before.
It's a damn shame that this is something we've seen far too many times before, as the actual formation itself is pretty fun to use in its own right. The big difference this time is a certain special rule where, once per game, you can switch out movement for an extra round of attacks either in melee or at range. Useful for sure, especially given the power fists they wield, but even then it needs to be pointed out that we keep seeing this idea over and over again. Traitor's Hate alone used this idea three times in three separate formations, and at this rate the idea is quickly going to wear out its welcome.
Battle Demi-Company - This is exactly what it sounds like and, again, you know what's coming if you've seen any other space marine book in the last few years. To be completely fair, this one is at least justified as it's supposed to reflect a standard Codex approved company, and all the units within it. As such, players are gifted a nice mix of a Dreadnought, three Tactical Squads, an Assault or Devastator Squad, and then a Captain and Command Squad or Chaplain and Furioso Dreadnought.
So, what does it offer this book in particular? Well, oddly enough, it actually screws over the Blood Angels by robbing them of something which would have worked well with their focus upon speedy assaults. Unlike almost every other version, Blood Angels players have to make do without Objective Secured or free transports upon taking two of these formations. It's a choice likely planned for balance reasons but instead it just comes across as baffling, singling out the army most suited to this way of war and saying they can't have their fun. Hell, it wouldn't be all that bad, even with their innate bonuses, and if anything it might have just given them enough of an edge to level the playing field against more gun-happy forces.
Archangels Battle Demi-Company - Welcome to the elite of the elite, the hard hitting warriors who are given the right to don Tactical Dreadnought Armour. So that's a Terminator Captain, five Vanguard Veteran squads, or the same number of Sternguard Veterans, Assault Terminators, and normal Terminators, and 2 Furioso Dreads. It's a nice and very varied range of units, with plenty of ranged and melee options alike. No more or less than you would expect from something like this in all honesty, but it's nice to see they didn't leave anything out while knowing where to draw the line. Librarian Dreadnoughts might have taken this a few steps too far.
The big gimmick here is that it speeds up Deep Strike attacks and offers a few basic benefits. You can bring on reserves from the first turn - well, start rolling for them anyway - and you only roll a single D6 for scattering while Striking. This, by comparison, is pretty bland and it would have seriously benefited from some more inspiring ideas. Even that oddly absent Objective Seccured would certainly be welcome here, even if a few more fun ideas could be wheeled out in its place. I mean, hell, an "Assault Drill" would be enough to make them stand out a bit, and that's hardly all that original these days.
Death Company Strike Force - So here we have a bunch of screaming madmen with chainsaws. Well, even more screaming madmen. You can have up to three standard units of Death Company marines, a single one of their infamous black clad Dreads and a company Chaplain at their head. Really, this is unfortunately very straight forwards as there's little really done to play with the ideas behind the Death Company or experiment with just what they might be capable of. While the formation bonuses of an extra attack while the marines are within 12" of the Chaplain is equal parts broken and hilarious, it seems very underwhelming for all the hype the story made when it comes to such a force.
Much like the Golden Host this is a fast moving sledgehammer of a formation, where you trade out characters and an early strike for extra ferocity. While some will likely cite the unfairness of being unable to Deep Strike into enemy lines, charging in actually benefits the Blood Angels a little more. With a few lucky rolls you end up not only with a very big bullet magnet who can keep getting back up, but also one who can dish it out in combat. As such, it's a charging bull capable of keeping your more flimsy units from being blown up. So, it's underwhelming, but still inherently useful.
Archangels Orbital Intervention Force - Ah, now here's your Deep Strike option. Offering players the option to drop masses of Terminators - both the shooty and stabby versions - into battle, three squads are left at your disposal. While they must be deployed via Deep Strike right out of the reserves, each has a few benefits to keep them alive. They all deploy as a single unit - which will admittedly hurt you quite badly with some ill luck, tying up a large chunk of your army for the game - and have a few nasty surprises upon arrival. The vanilla ones can shoot twice upon storming in, while the Assault variants can charge the second they show up.
Now, personally, this seems to be a step too far. While for the most part this is balanced, having access to both at once of that final bit is unfortunately a little too harsh. It means a Blood Angels player can immediately have twenty shots from bolters hammering into any chaff squads nearby, and then two units of Terminators with Thunder Hammers weighing into combat right afterwards. Between the two, it's going to wreck a vast chunk of a person's army and personally it's a step too far. Instead, there should have been a limiting special rule forcing a player to choose one or the other. While, yes, this would still be powerful, it would limit some of that overall initial impact and leave a bit more room for counter-attacks as needed.
10th Company Ambush Force - This is one you'll want lots and lots of snipers for. While the formation offers players the ability to take up to five units of Scouts or Scout Bikers, the former are far more tempting thanks to its special rule - Everyone has stealth if they don't infiltrate, and everyone has Precision Shots. This means that you can use the formation in a manner akin to the infamous Kroot sniper horde tactic Tau Empire players wheel out, albeit at a higher expense and durability.
On the one hand, it's unfortunate that this lacks anything in terms of co-ordination with allies, the ability to harass an arriving army or any real espionage options. On the other though, as basic rules go, this one is okay. It's enough to cause some real strife for anyone attempting to advance forwards via infantry swarm, and the Stealth rule is a nice natural deterrent. Still, like the others, the big issue of creative stagnation hangs heavy over this one.
Lucifer Armoured Task Force - Right, three guesses as to what this one does. Really, go on, guess. If you predicted this would have a Techmarine and up to three Predators, or Land Raiders then congratulations, you're aware of how often this bloody thing shows up. This one is unfortunately one of those ideas which keeps showing up time and time again, and quite a few of the old tropes rear their heads alongside them. However, there are a few new things which are going to turn a few heads of loyalist players, and send everyone else running for the hills. What is it? Everything here has Scout to edge forwards and cause all kinds of hell, and each tank has Fast. Yes, even the Land Raiders.
While normally I would add more to that, what in the hell can you possibly say to something which basically gives an eighteen ton assault tank a nitrous injector? It largely speaks for itself in the gameplay department.
Stormraven Squadron - Welcome to the airborne option, offering players the chance to attack their foes with two to four Stormravens at once. However, unlike the previous seek and destroy option the Heldrakes benefited from, locking down and driving back enemy squads, the Blood Angels instead favour something else - a multi-gunship missile spam which would make Honour Harrington proud. Once per game, the gunships can all opt to fire all of their missiles simultaneously, hammering everything in sight and blowing anything unfortunate enough to be targeted to hell and back. Worse still, as you might guess, this does not limit movement nor shooting for that turn, so you can merrily inflict this and then mop up whoever is left at your discretion.
Now, as welcome as the variety is, this is going way too damn far. For starters, there's no limit on as and when it can be used, so the Stormravens can drop down out of reserve into an enemy deployment zone, target anything close by, and unleash two turns worth of ordinance before they have a chance to get moving. There's no limit upon focusing their fire, possibly running out of rockets, nor even some general stopper to prevent them laying waste to an entire army at once. This just reminds me of when these damn things were first introduced, steamrolling entire armies in a single turn, and almost makes me think someone wanted a return to those "glory days".
Rapid Assault Force - This is a very broadly defined formation, as it covered just about anything which can move faster than a guy on foot and isn't a tank. You have the option here to take one to three units of Assault Marines, Bikes, Attack Bikes or Land Speeders, and go from there.
More than anything else, this is probably something players will use as something of a dump option to get around spending too many points on attaining the Strike Force's benefits. After all, with one core formation and a single Land Speeder you have lots of marines all with Zealot and that extra +1 Initiative. Quite the thing to have in low cost games indeed.
Fire Support Force - This is the polar opposite of the above example, instead focusing upon taking one to three units of Devastators, Vindicators or Whirlwinds without much in the way of real benefits at all. Unless you have a serious need too ape the Imperial Guard and spam artillery, this one is entirely forgettable.
Death Company Warlord Traits and Relics
Despite the limited focus, the Death Company did gain a few things to help them stand out and draw in new players.
Blood-Augur - Once per game players are permitted to re-roll any dice for any test, from Reserve rolls to basic armour saves. In effect, this is just a proxy for having Corbulo in your army. It's a nice bonus for sure, but a little directionless.
Beacon of Rage - All Death Company units within 12" of the Warlord immediately gain Fleet when your're charging into combat. This is definitely the most useful of the various choices as it means you can leap forwards those final few inches and have your warriors in combat before the enemy army can fully react.
Caged Fury - The Warlord gains Rampage, because we needed at least one unremarkable abrupt rule addition in here apparently.
Infectious Tanacity - Your Warlord gains Feel No Pain or, more likely, immediately has his own save upgraded with a +1 effect, which makes for a good stonewall when facing bigger, tougher foes. You can't do much more than keep them locked in combat when facing this army, after all.
Black Fury - The Warlord gains Rage. That's it. Moving on.
Visions of Heresy - All friendly Death Company units within 12" of the Warlord now have Hatred: Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Demons. A bit overly specific, but the focus upon lore related rules above all else is certainly welcome.
Overall, actually not too bad at all. While three of the choices are unremarkable average, the others are relatively fun and stick close to the lore. We've certainly seen far worse and, unlike other examples, this is focused enough to fit into just about any and all tactics involving the Death Company. You won't be stuck with some useless rule which doesn't benefit your army structure or plans for your Warlord.
So, that brings us onto the Relics, and we do have quite the selection to look into here.
Reliquary Armour: This is a set of Artificer Armour which grants the wearer Adamantium Will and Crusader, giving them a great edge in combat. Expect whoever is wearing this to go down hard, and at its price it's definitely a must when playing higher point games.
Guardian's Blade: A Relic Blade on steroids with a few new rules. This grants your HQ choices an AP2 Power sword which has access to Armourbane while being Two-Handed. This is the sort of thing you want to help slay bigger, beefier walkers in melee, so it's probably best kept for assaulting Dunewalkers or the like in melee. A bit pricey but good overall.
Blood Shard: A horribly overpriced weapon which grants Counter-Attack to the wielder. Useful for sure, but given that is its only claim to fame, thirty points is simply far too high to really consider it worth taking.
Baal's Vengeance: This is the first of the two ranged weapons, but as this is a melee focused army, someone was smart enough to focus upon flamers above all else. So, what you have here is a Hand Flamer with Poisoned (4+) and AP6. Not all THAT great really, as most of those affected by this will be brought down easy enough in combat as it is.
Fyrestorm: This is a bit unremarkable but not bad either, as it's just a Master Crafted Inferno Pistol with a 12" firing range. Good for some tanks or foes, and not too badly priced either.
The Guilded Crozius: As this is understandably limited to chaplains, this is something intended to work whilst augmenting anyone close by. While it hits hard with Master Crafted hits at AP3, it grants a further +1 to Feel No Pain rolls on a entire unit. Stacked with the right Warlord trait and it's a definite win for any Chaplains looking to give someone a really bad day.
There's little to say overall here which hasn't already been made clear - It's competently made but very run of the mill. If you're a Blood Angels fan and want a few new ideas or formations, or even want a Death Company themed force, it's well worth a look. However, if you're happy with what you've got, this one isn't really going to change your mind or add much to your army. Give it a look if you really want a few competitive ideas, or want to see a good spin on a few of the more overdone concepts of late, but don't feel you need to rush to pick this one up.
Unlike last time, there won't be any part three for this one. These two parts have covered all the essentials and, while it has its promising points and redeeming factors, there's little to really discuss further when it comes to the story. Probably the only thing worth highlighting is the fact that a lot of Forgeworld models are brought into the book, to help strengthen the story rather than to shill them. This is a good thing, it helps broaden the universe and gives the writers more freedom to craft their tales, and that's that.