Monday, 3 October 2016

Genestealer Cults Part 2 - Units, Special Rules & Equipment (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

Welcome to part two. If you're interested in a general analysis of the lore, you can find it here. Otherwise, please read on for a look into the rules.

Even among the forces found in M41, Genestealer Cults had a big emphasis upon cannon fodder. When they were introduced back in Second Edition, the creators placed a heavy emphasis upon how this was not a trained army. They were poorly equipped, badly armoured and ill disciplined, and lacked the innate qualities of the Ork WAAAGH! to make up for those shortcomings. While they could win battles against the right foe, much of that was down to very careful use of the Purestrain broods and hurling units of fifty ill equipped cultists into enemy lines; beating them down via sheer numbers, or turning it into one gigantic moshpit for their more evolved kin to come and finish off.

This is something which the new army has partially kept, as there is a big emphasis upon how they are an armed civillian fighting force making use of anything they have on hand. At the same time though, each has received some notable buffs and general upgrades, from better weaponry to a few surprising bonuses to their durability. 

So, without further ado, let's take a look at many of the book's new rules.

Command Benefits & Special Rules

As with just about every army these days, Codex: Genestealer Cults comes with a few core rules to help bolster its forces, each worked into the army's core structure. We have seen plenty of good and bad examples over the past few years, from forces which help to better characterise the army on a whole to those which seem purely tacked on. In this case, it's decidedly hit and miss.

For starters, Cult Father permits that a Patriarch in your force can re-roll the results of Warlord Traits. This is something just about every single damn army seems to have these days, and there's little to really add to it. This really comes down to how much you value getting specific traits over others. 

Following it up though, we have An Uprising Generations in the Making, which tries to emphasise just how well prepared and ingrained this Cult is into society. This is accomplished by giving anything not in a vehicle the Infiltrate special rule, upgrading those who already have Infiltrate to Shrouded and altering reserve roles; with the Cult player gaining +1 to all rolls while the enemy force suffers -1 results. This is actually not all that bad in all honesty. Okay, it's far from perfect and it does leave me questioning how this works against certain invading forces, but at the same time it works within the lore. It emphasizes the idea that this is a force which hides its number within civillian crowds, can work to interfere with basic responses via their connections, and retains alarming co-ordination. So, kudos for nailing this aspect of the force and reflecting it within the rules.

The final rule among its number is Numbers Beyond Counting, which is fairly self-explanatory. In effect, there's lots of these guys, and for every one who dies to a bolt round to the head, another one pops up and piles into the fight. It specifically states that "Every time a unit from this Detachment arrives from Ongoing Reserves, it is reinforced - You can return D6 models to the unit that were slain previously during the battle." Okay, it's not the sort of level that will put Kubrik Chenkov to shame, but it's still pretty damn useful, and it gives the impression of distant forces piling into a fight or arriving late. 

So, overall, that's two Command Benefits which reflect the lore extremely well and offer some very nice bonuses when it comes to basic gameplay. Not bad at all, and it's further helped by the army's unique special rules.

Return to the Shadows, a rather interesting choice, allows any unit to effectively fade into the ether. Really, any unit which isn't within 6" of an enemy force can be removed from the battlefield and placed back into the Ongoing Reserve, allowing them to quickly pull out of abrupt deathtraps. What balances this out somewhat is that they can't do this near perpetually, so it can't phase out and then immediately come back on via Reserves. Unlike the others though, while it is lore friendly, it seems that the writers went a little nuts with this choice, giving it to just about anything and everything. This means that the entire army can more or less disappear and re-emerge between turns, which we're probably going to see abused quite often in the years to come.

Besides that particular choice, Undying Loyalty is another fairly self-explanatory choice, though it doesn't immediately make them Fearless. Instead, it allows each and every cultist to pass a Look Out, Sir! test and dive in front of a bullet, and can even apply during challenges. Given how easily they die, this one seems a bit more reasonable, and does fit in with the swarm theme.

Finally however, we have Cult Ambush, a choice which is oddly similar to one of the Command Benefits. In this case, it's a series of tables where you opt to have a unit with Infiltrate or is in Reserve ignore the option to immediately arrive, and you can roll on the following D6 random table -

1 - Cult Reinforcements - The unit moves onto the board from your own table edge, as per usual.

2 - Encircling the Foe - Roll another D6: On a 1-2, the ambushing unit comes in from the table edge to the left of your own table edge; on a 3-4 they come on from the table edge to the right of your own table edge; on a 5-4, you can choose left or right.

3 - Lying in Wait - Set up the ambushing unit anywhere on the table that is more than 9" away from an enemy unit. You can alternatively set up the ambushing unit elsewhere on the table that is more than 6" from any enemy model so long as no enemy model can draw line of sight on them. 

4 - A Perfect Ambush - Set up the ambushing unit as before, but it can be within 6".

5 - A Deadly trap - After placing down the ambushing unit, you can immediately make a bonus shooting attack as per usual. However, this does not count as your attack for this turn, and the unit can fire again in as standard during the Shooting phase. While it cannot cause Morale Tests, it can cause Pinning on an enemy target, and a unit without guns can opt just to move forwards instead.

6 - They Came From Below - Unlike other units which are capable of Infiltrating, this group can charge the moment they arrive in from either Reserves or immediately upon showing up.

Honestly, this is more the sort of thing I personally tend to look for in these books. While it doesn't take some of these ideas quite so far as I would personally hope, and it is admittedly more than a little gimmicky, it's presented in the right way to fully emphasize their tactics, stratagems and approach to war. It would have, admittedly, been nice to show more moments of the force infiltrating or affecting the enemy army if the cult spread to them, but this is still pretty good.

On the whole, this is actually quite a nice selection of special rules to help the army stand out. Nothing is overly broken or truly problematic (well, at least not Tau Empire levels of the stuff) and it's a good step towards cementing their role within the game once more.

General Weapons & Equipment

As many of these weapons present in the units are not only entirely new but re-purposed civillian weapons, meaning they're a little different than usual. Many retain the Unwieldy special rule, especially the two-handed ones, or have some immediate drawback despite their sheer unrelenting power. That or they're incredibly versatile thanks to having been born from tyranid bio-engineering, allowing for some odd if very fun attacks per turn.

So, let's begin with the melee weapons -

Power Hammer: This is basically a poor man's Thunder Hammer, retaining many of the weaknesses and basic effects but lacking that same effective punch. While still striking last and still causing Concussion on a target, it only adds +3 to a user's Strength and is unfortunately limited to being a two-handed weapon. Given that these are given to the already obscenely overly muscled Aberrants, you'll still be hitting targets with S8, but don't expect an extra attack in melee.

Heavy Rock Saw: This fun little item actually does the job of the above choice a bit better than the hammers themselves. Along with doubling the wielder's Strength, it has an AP2 stat and Armourbane, despite being two-handed and unwieldy. As such, it's a useful item to hide within a mob or take out an enemy vehicle via a desperate charge.

Heavy Rock Cutter: Like the above example - and the one below - this is yet again a weapon which doubles the Strength of the user, is two-handed and Unwieldy. However, it retains a special rule known as Snip, which can be very, very nice if you need to bring down a bigger multi-wound beast. In effect, if you successfully wound a target and it survives it, it then needs to pass a Toughness test for every other wound or it is literally cut in half. While sadly not too effective against the average Monsterous Creature, this is the sort of thing which would be very helpful in countering the sheer number of Eternal Warriors on the board these days.

Heavy Rock Drill: So here we are with another Sx2, AP2, Two-handed, and Unwieldy weapon, but with another special rule by the name of Pulverise. What does it do? It turns a civillian weapon into a close range railgun, loosing a single attack at S10 AP1. It's another dangerous weapon to carry, but useful if you need to inflict some damage on a Land Raider, counter some especially stubborn targets, or even nail a Knight if you're feeling lucky. It's risky, but like so many units in this list, you'll usually have the troops to spare in attempting such a charge.

Metamorph Weapons: Taking a break from the two handed designs, we have here a literal hand which has been morphed into a melee weapon. There's a few versions of this for players to mix and match, each using the wielder's Strength and hitting at AP5. However, the Claw versions offer +2 Strength, the Talons confer +1 WS and stack if you want two, and the Whip offers +3 Initiative. What's interesting here is that the rules permit you to carry other melee weapons alongside this one and note "A model equipped with..." to describe them. As such, you can still give them the likes of Rending Claws but still use the benefits of these weapons.

Now, those done, we have a few ranged heavy weapons and an icon to help offer a few extra bonuses - 

Mining Laser: This is one which could have been quite fun, but the writers opted to go for something very basic and direct. It's just a lascannon really, only with half of its overall range and a slightly cheapter cost at ten points. Given how many of these things you can fit into a unit - turning them into a mini-Devastator squad - they're not too bad, but you'll soon be thanking the Great Devourer that these units have Infiltrate.

Seismic Cannon: This is a bizarre if fun one, as its strength and overall effect is entirely dependent upon the range of the enemy target. For example, if an enemy is within 12" of when it fires, you're basically unloading two krak missiles into their faces, but if they're between 12-24" then you're armed with a four shot heavy bolter to cut through enemy troops. Not too bad at all, and the fact that it comes with Rending - all of which is resolved at AP1 - makes this one of the army's most potent weapons.

Cult Icon: This is a basic upgrade available to a multitude of squads, and so long as the model carrying it is still alive, it offers a bonus +1 WS to anyone within cohesion. It's especially useful for Acolyte Hybrids, who you'll want to be in combat far more often than their Neophyte kin.


The first thing which needs to be established before we really get into the units, is that Codex: Genestealer Cults does lift a few forces from other books. The most notable ones here are the Leman Russ battle tanks, Sentinels, Scout Sentinels, and Chimeras. Now, on the one hand, I personally have no issue with this for once. Why? Well, it's a perfect reflection of what these guys are supposed to do - They go in, infiltrate society, and turn its guns against itself. 

That said, while it's reasonable, it's a damn shame it's just there with so little actually done with it. There are no real special rules to reflect the mentality or altered genetics of the crew, nor are the models depicted vastly altered from the common or garden Imperial Guard tanks. It honestly would have been much more fun to have some table present to reflect which tanks or vehicles they could pillage depending upon their location (I.E. They could grab Guard, Mechanicus or possibly even Arbites vehicles, but only one or the other due to where they had focused their forces), and it seems as if the writers have passed up an opportunity for some major customization options. So, it's acceptable and even appreciated, but it's a shame the basic idea wasn't taken a bit further. Still, at least this way it fills out several tactical shortcomings the other army suffered from.

Now, that done, let's move onto the new/old/revamped guys.

First up we have the big guy - The Patriarch. This is the sort of Genestealer which even a Broodlord bows before and is at the very heart of any invasion, slowly building up their Cult from the very start. Originally intended to hit like a truck and shred their way through enemy troops, this is the closest thing the army has to a single character "big gun" overall. It's certainly good at its job that's for sure. With a WS7 BS4 S6 T5 W3 I7 A4 Ld10 stats line, a 4+ standard save and even a psyker upgrade option to give it Level 2 abilities, he's a swiss army knife that can hit with the force of an Elephant Gun. Unleash him into a mob of heavy infantry units, from Terminators to Scions, and he's going to rip them limb from limb before they get the chance to throw a singe punch. 

It also helps that he's backed by no end of special rules, with Fear, Fleet, Fearless, infiltrate and Move Through Cover all standing out here. Not to mention their specialist rules Return to the Shadows and Unquestioning Loyalty applying to him, both of which means he's going to have a much more solid chance of reaching the enemy in combat or surviving a fight if he's given half a chance to break away/hide behind his meat shields. All of which he can make Fearless so long as they're within 12" of him. In fact, at 90 points standard, he seems remarkably cheap if anything else, so what are his shortcomings? Well, the big obvious one over anything else is the lack of any invulnerable save. Against a few truly effective heavy weapons or something used to flattening Avatars, he's going to fold quite quickly. As such, players need to be careful where they send him; he's tough and hits hard, but he's not nearly so invincible as some other choices in the game

The Magus is the other side of the coin from the Patriarch - Less the slavering monster and more of a cheap, inspiring choice to keep the troops happy. Whereas the Patriarch can shrug off most general attacks thanks to his high toughness, this guy has WS4 BS4 S3 T3 W2 I4 A2 Lc9 Sv5+ so he's hardly going to win any fights on his lonesome. in addition, while he might have Adamantium Will, he only has a Psyker Mastery Level of 2 at the most, even when fully upgraded. He can admittedly spread that Adamantium Will bonus to other units when they're in close proximity, but that's about it.

So, what are his advantages, if any, then? Unlike the Patriarch he's extremely cheap, clocking in at 40 points for a standard build, and he can take relics from their personal armory as well. As such he can be better tailored for a single role within the force, or he can be present when you need to free up those extra 50 points elsewhere. He's a cheap replacement really, but he's one with some benefits and comes outfitted with a Force Weapon; so, if you are going to take him it's best to have a carefully thought out army in mind beforehand.

The Primus is the last of this trio of HQ choices, and he's the balance between the two. The Genestealer Cult only goes out killing in the name of the Hive Mind once he shows up, and he does have a few major edges of the Magus. The big one is his weaponry, as (opposed to the Magus' Force Weapon and pistol) this guy has a needle pistol, bonesword, rending claws, blast charges and even a toxin injector. Suffice to say he's well armed, and between the bunch of them, he is more than capable of inflicting a few solid wounds in combat. he also has an extra point of WS over his predecessor, along with an additional Attack, Wound and a higher Leadership score. While he might lack the Adamantium Will special rule, he also attains Hatred and can pass this onto any other Cult unit within 12" of him. 

He's certainly not a bad choice at all, but he does have a few downsides. For starters, he's only 15 points less than the Patriarch, and as he retains the low Toughness and 5+ save of the Magus; meaning that without a few prominent relics he's not going to last long in combat. Like the Magus, he's harder to recommend unless you have a specific army list in mind to work around him.

The Acolyte Iconward is up next, who is effectively the Primus lite, but comes with a few very nice bonus elements. While he lacks the bonesword and toxin injector, and loses the needle pistol for a more standard autopistol, he's ten points cheaper and retains all the Primus' stats. In fact, the only things he loses out on is having WS4 and, TL10 and two Wounds. 

So, why is he being recommended here? Well, much of that comes down to the Nexus of Devotion special rule, which is another 12" buff to nearby units. However, rather than Hatred or Adamantium Will, this one confers a 6+ Feel No Pain save to any nearby units, allowing your Genestealers or Cultist fodder to have that bit more suitability. Something you'll need in the face of gun happy armies, even with the Cult's ambush special rules. So, this guy definitely has a nice role in the middle of a mob or at the forefront of an assault.

Now, with the HQ equivalents done, that brings us on to the Acolyte Hybrids. These are among the least human of the half-breeds and are visibly much more Stealer-like than their Neophyte kin. While they have a 5+ save and a Guardsman's toughness, they make up for it with WS4, S4, A2 and Ld8 bonuses to their stats. not bad for a unit which is 40 points for a basic five model squad. They're also 8 points per model atop of this and can be beefed up into squads of twenty overall, with a fair number of bonus weapons and upgrades atop of this. 

The weapons present include a hand flamer, bonesword, cult icon and a wide variety of heavy melee instruments, such as a rock drill, cutter or saw. While they're ultimately fodder, they can usually be relied upon to cut their way through chaff units and serve as a versatile choice if you need someone to run in and personally cut a tank to bits. The only thing here which really holds them back more than anything else is their basic Toughness, as they're likely to die by the dozen to Assault Marines or Striking Scorpions if caught flat-footed.

In comparison to the Acolytes, we have the more human Neophyte Hybrids, who lack so many of the alien qualities usually associated with this breed. They're the guns to the blades of the Acolytes, and while they have a few general purpose melee upgrades, for the most part their big attraction is the sheer volume of guns they can get their claws on. A basic unit of 10 costs 50 points, with an extra 5 points required for each and every extra model you add into the squad. There's a basic requirement that two of their number must take two of their heavy weapons, while an extra two have the option of carrying heavy mining weapons into combat. There's also the option for switching out their autoguns for las or shotguns, a useful option at times, and the option for two of their number to carry the expected types of special weapons. 

There's a unique special rule for this unit as well, titled Neophyte Weapons Team (the guys with the heavier guns and those supplying them). This states that each team counts as a single model with the Bulky special rule. So, they can only fire one weapon in the shooting phase, no bonus attacks in assault and only counts as a single model for Morale Tests. It's not that big of a failing, as they have enough numbers to make up for any possible shortcomings, and the sheer number of ways they can be used as a useful fire support base more than makes up for it. The combination of seismic cannons and grenade launchers is likely to be a popular one though, as it fits in well with their ambush capabilities and adds more than enough firepower to thin out enemy squads. Yes, they're going to die a lot and they'll probably not bring down anything in melee, but they're a solid choice for their intended role.

The Hybrid Metamorphs are up next, and prove to be something of an odd choice here. They occupy a very similar role to the Acolytes, but have taken it a few steps further without any real disadvantages. The obvious big bonus from the start is their access to Metamorph Weapons, which can be used for any number of fun things at close range, and a balanced mix of them can quickly cut apart an enemy squad's greatest strengths. Besides this though, they retain a few core stats increases(2 Attacks standard, 3 for the head honcho) but nothing special. If anything, they're at a slight disadvantage compared with their other counterpart as they lack the variety of heavy melee weapons to call upon, so you'll usually be limiting these guys to crowd control. You know the kind, where you need to hurl them into mobs of enemy models and cut them to shreds. They're useful, but probably not the be-all-end-all unit some people are already describing them as among these fodder choices.

It wouldn't be a true Genestealer Cult codex without the Purestrain versions among them. These guys are the hard hitters here, intended to rush in and hack their way through anything caught up fighting the Cultists, or quickly rip limb from limb anything too isolated from the main army. However, what needs to be emphasised more than anything else is that they're not quite so varied or malleable as those churned out en mass by the Hive Fleets. So, you don't have the option to take a Broodlord, or a few of the small extra upgrades usually taken for granted when working in combination with bigger tyranid beasts.

However, what's curious is that for all their limitations, these are actually the superiors beasts, and it seems that Games Workshop have offered this version the very things they needed most. Each model now has 3 Attacks basic, they have access to Stealth and, best of all, each one has a 5+ Invulnerable save. So, they're hitting harder and have that slight edge when it comes to shrugging off the usual weapons which tend to bring these units low. Seriously, this is the kind of danger they posed back in their glory days. If you do really want to give them a big edge though, you might want to consider adding a Patriarch, as he can grant the unit Furious Charge as well.

We can only hope that Codex: Tyranids sees this kind of love in their next update, and a few of these tweaks are carried over to there.

Aberrant Hybrids are the mutations and failures, the kind of half-baked Igors the cult uses as its enforcers and disposable gigantic thugs. Armed with power picks and power hammers, their Strength 5 stat works in their favour against big targets, and they do offer the codex's only real method of quickly dealing with some of the bigger AV14 vehicles or tougher heavy infantry choices. That said, these things aren't all that tough (Toughness 4 to be exact), they're limited to two Attacks basic and have an armour save of 5+. For something which costs almost as much as a Terminator, they're surprisingly overpriced. honestly, you would probably do better to spend your points elsewhere than with this group, or limit them purely to ambush tactics.

The Goliath Truck is one of the big mining vehicles which replaced the famed cultist limousines (damn it) and for a scant 50 points they're surprisingly good. While they can't transport Purestrain Genestealers of the Patriarch himself, and are limited to ten models per vehicle, they're well armed with a twin-linked autocannon and heavy stubber. Their Rugged Construction special rule also means that they're not likely to be hindered or slowed down by repeated glancing hits, as they can ignore Crew Shaken, Crew Stunned or Immobilised on the roll of a 4+. This said, they still lose a hull point when damaged, and with a forwards AV11 and 10 everywhere else, these aren't the sort of vehicles you'll want to send out into open combat. 

At the most, it's best to look at the Goliath purely in its intended role - an APC. Use it to rush certain units about the board, stick to hull down terrain and serve as a kind of force multiplier when fighting enemy targets. Either popping open their own transports, or using the heavier guns to cause them hell. 

Compared with the truck, Goliath Rockgrinders are the real killers. While still lightly armoured, they at least have a forwards AV12 and the autocannon has been switched out with a much more meaty laser (which in turn can be replaced with an incinerator or seismic cannon). Because of this, they're useful for hanging back and sniping at targets before rushing forwards, breaking up or mauling squads to make way for the cultists' own attacks.

The big attraction of this unit is the massive series of grinders mounted on its forwards plating, which hurt exactly as much as you'd think they would. When ramming a vehicle, you can add an extra D6 to the end result, hacking its way through transports and bigger tanks alike, while a Tank Shock attack can inflict D3 Strength 10 AP2 hits upon failing an Initative test. This can happen again if they fail to bring down the tank upon standing and shooting. Honestly, despite the bigger guns and armour, these things unfortunately aren't worth the points. They're too light and the fact that their main offensive measure is down to a charging move means their uses are fairly limited, even when working as a squadron.

Their best use overall is, ironically, down to a possible oversight on the writer's part. While limited to only six models in its internal capacity, it lacks the the small note stating it cannot transport Purestrains or the Patriarch, which could be useful in a pinch.


Overall, this is actually pretty good as well. While not the single most outstanding series of models ever to be seen in the game, what's here is well balanced and relatively well thought out. Between the loaned Guard units and its own variety of new models, there's plenty to work with here, and it can cover most of its bases well, though against a massed force of heavy duty tanks, these guys will likely fold quite easily. Then again, that's probably a big incentive to have them paired up with an Imperial Guard force or an actual Tyranid Hive Fleet to cover all their bases. Really though, it's fun and tries to be original without breaking the game, so we can definitely make this in the win column.

Join here as we finish off this book by going over the relics and formations.


  1. The rules I find are a mixture of intriguing and disappointing. What's intriguing are all the special rules, they're the real flavour of the army even if Cult Ambush is too random to be as fun as it could be from what little I've seen anyway, it could also be that I think it's the bad kind of random table, the kind that can screw over your battle plan depending on how well you roll (though the other special rules do help mitigate this).

    What's disappointing are the units themselves, there's really not a lot here that you could say shows that they're a Genestealer Cult, capable or springing up anywhere besides the HQ choices and the Genestealers themselves, and that brings me to my next point, there's not enough units.
    There's a total of 10 without the HQ choices and the regular Genestealers, 6 of which are vehicles. For whatever reason there's no fast vehicles (excluding Sentinels, but I'm not sure they should count) or even any bikes (or a suitable substitute for bikes) in the army, and you brought it up in part one, they seem to assume the only cults that spawn are those that happen on mining worlds so even the combat gear's pretty limited.

    It's a real shame because they could have fully taken advantage of the different planets in the Imperium, given you a choice to options to choose similar to the chapter tactics with different benefits depending on your homeworld. For example, if you're going on a world renowned for medicine then give the option to buy poisoned attacks for various units, if you're in a Hive World then decrease either WS or BS of a unit but make them cheaper to show there's more of them around, a Fortress World could have had options for better weapons or better troops whereas a Mechanicus World could have had the options for various Bionics (think about it, Bionic Genestealers, reinforced carapaces but they keep their natural claws).

    Even Tim Huckelberry's list had a lot more variety to it, and that was a list created for Third Edition.
    Speaking of that, with your permission I'd like to post a link to the version of his list that I made into a pdf book, just so that anyone who's curious can see the older semi-official list without having to hunt for it since his website's dead now.

    That being said, I don't think it's a bad list by any means, just limited. The only thing I'm iffy on are the Demolition Charges (I've seen how powerful they are in the D-99 list but at least Genestealer Cults don't have the ability to use them in close combat) however I do think it's a large leap in the right direction.

    1. Of course, i'd be more than happy to have you link it. It's actually one I have not read personally, so I can't compare or contrast all that well with other examples. Though, the final point about the lack of units is something i'm going to discuss further in the final part, examining whether or not the limitations are justified or there should have been more to this army from the outset.

    2. That's good to know, so here's the second book I made then:

      Like I said it's done in the same style as the Kroot Mercenaries, as I was still trying to see what worked best with it. It was also made for pdf viewers that could view 2 pages simultaneously (hence the book-like layout), it was also done earlier than the Kroot Codex, and it was made for an earlier edition so the points cost is going to seem absurd in the face of modern day Codex Creep (if you want to use it with modern codices, decrease the cost of everything by 22% and the playing field will be about even).

      That being said I think you'll be impressed with the amount of options on hand, and I think you'll also understand my disappointment with the lack of units from this current codex after reading it.

  2. This is an excellent review. Thanks for a good read.