Sunday, 9 October 2016
Genestealer Cults Part 3 - Formations & Relics (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)
For the first part of the rules section of this review, please click here.
So, after a brief break we're back at last with the final part analyzing the book. While there will be a part four to discuss ideas for the future of this army, and how it can expand upon what has been established here, this is going to be it for the full on actual examination. So, if you've yet to fully look into the codex, here's the lowdown on the quality and concepts of this book's formations and special items -
This is a curious thing to have for sure. While having a Genestealer Cult gaining some lost or venerable wargear is hardly unsurprising, having something born purely of the Cult itself is questionable. Each is only supposed to be about for a few hundred years at the most and then die out, with their brethren and ideologies consumed by the coming Hive Fleet. So, for them to forge these "Sacred Relics of the Cult" - items powerful enough to be handed from one group to the next - is dubious to say the least. Personally speaking, it would have made more sense to have them pillaging certain items from other armies or retaining the relics of Imperial nobility. What we get isn't bad, and there has been a concerted effort to avoid the obvious problems, but it could have definitely been better handed for sure.
Still, that doesn't say much about their actual quality on the tabletop does it. So, let's get into their rules -
Icon of the Cult Ascendant: This is a platinum icon which has been bathed in the psychic energies of the patriarch for so long it has become infused with an echo of his power. As such, along with the typical morale boosting effect such an item retains, there are a few bonus effects to help your troops along.
It's an interesting idea, but it basically comes down to repeating the same "bubble" effect of the Magus, but with a few bonuses to it. While it remains active, all friendly Cult units within 12" get Furious Charge and can re-roll failed Morale, Pinning and Fear tests, but with the added bonus of +1 attack in combat. This is unfortunately very mixed as it's another idea repeated yet again, and it already laps over something very similar. It's not usefulness so much as sulfurous, and you'd be hard pressed to find a real use for this item.
Dagger of Swift Sacrifice: A sacrificial dagger used by the Cult to perform a quick kill, this is laced with poison and has a few nasty surprises for a foe. While the lore is sadly a little generic, it more than makes up for this with the basic effect. During combat, the user can opt to make a single attack with this weapon over his usual claws/swords. This works with his strength, but it has Instant Death and Poisoned (2+). This is a very welcome bonus among this arsenal, giving the weedier HQ choices some much needed killing power, and a nasty surprise for the harder-to-slay enemy characters. There's certainly risk involved with it though, so it's not the usual "uber skilly hacky sword" you would expect. Simple, but definitely quite nice.
Scourge of Distant Stars: This is odd and its existence opens up a world of questions surrounding the Hive Mind. It's supposedly a sentient aspect of the guiding force behind the Tyranid Hive Fleets, imbuing itself within the blades or weapons of the various Cults, blessing them with its passing.
You can use this to force an opposing model to take a Toughness test. Should they fail, not only do they immediately take a wound, but they suffer a -1 against both their Initiative stat and Attacks for that turn. Much like the above weapon this is an interesting choice but not too bad a one either. It's the other side of the coin from the dagger, where that one serves as a killing stroke, this one opens the way for others to bring him down. The main issue is that the Initiative order means it's difficult to pair this up with Purestrain units, which could have made this very effective indeed.
Staff of the Subterranean Master: Making a minor shout-out towards the Cthulhu Mythos, this one is another item which has somehow attained the psychic essence of their alien progenitors, and has been passed from one Cult to the next as a result. This would be fine, but its effects are rather odd, turning the bearer suddenly into the Beastmaster somehow, despite the creatures involved lacking any form of Hive Mind influence.
In effect, rather than shooting, the wielder can target a unit within 18" and slam the staff onto the ground, turning any vermin or insects about them violent. This in turn causes ten Strength 2 AP- Attacks, which Ignore Cover and retain Rending. The low Strength is obviously the Achilles' Heel here, and it is better used for massed crowd control or occasionally finishing off some big monsters than anything else. This ironically makes it most useful against Codex: Tyranids units, thanks to their fodder-like state, and against most other armies you'd be hard pressed to find a situation where it's truly effective. Combined with the fact Purestrain units will rip through just about anything this thing is best at combating, you would do best just to skip this one.
Sword of the Void's Eye: This is the more traditionally kill crazy weapon you would expect to find in a codex. To stick with the short version - It conveys an extra point of Strength, hits at AP3, rerolls failed hits and wound rolls of 1, also causes Instant Death when wounding on a 6. This is definitely a weapon well worth giving to your Primus as, in the hands of anyone else, it's going to be pretty useless. With this, the guy can walk through enemy heavy forces, and while he will be overwhelmed by swarms, it's another opportunity to help take down big, tough units which would usually slaughter all in their wake. Not too bad, a tad overpowered, but shortcomings elsewhere make up for it.
The Crouchling: This is an odd one, as it's almost a special character in its own right. This is a very special genestealer familiar which can be used to general extra points of psychic power, but without increasing the psyker's mastery level. This is a must for anyone looking to bring the Magus into battle given how reliant they are upon their psychic abilities, and its low points cost means you should seriously consider using this in just about any game.
So, overall, not too bad at all really. For once we actually ditched a lot of the old, typical tropes and the only one which remained was actually well justified. Let's see if that streak stays for the final part where we examine the formations.
Lord of the Cult
This is just a Patriarch, Magus, Primus or Cult Iconward. There are no special rules here, it's just an excuse to get all of them together as one in a single list. Possibly helpful in big games, but it's really quite unremarkable.
The First Curse
This is probably the most obvious one to have - Massing together the purest elements of the Hive Mind's servants and amassing them into a single force. With Invulnerable saves and hard-hitting attacks aplenty, it's a solid mix to begin with, but given how simple it is, the addition of special rules for this just seems a little unfair. It's not even a reward for fitting into a certain thematic idea, it's just putting two obvious units together and getting free, instant special rules.
The special rules in question are a random table, where a random bonus rule comes about thanks to a dice roll at the start of the game-
1. Fleshhooks: Grenades, effectively
2. Hardened Carapace: 4+ saves
3. Toxin Glands: Poisoned attacks
4. Adrenal Sacs: Rage
5. Feeder Tendrils: Preferred Enemy
6. Perfect Killing Machine: choose your result.
Some of these are good, while others are fantastic, but for the most part you're going to get something useful. Unlike other random chart it's not so diversely widespread that it's completely wasted on the unit in question, nor will it end up potentially screwing up your army formation. It's unnecessary in terms of gaming design, but mostly harmless really.
And we bump into our first cliche. Damn, and to think the codex was doing so well up to this point. This is the usual expected combination of HQ choices we have bumped into a thousand times over now, with each conferring a single special rule to the others - Patriarch gives them Fleet, the Magus gives them Counter-Attack, and Primus passes on Preferred Enemy. This is overly expensive, and quite counter-intuitive. Even if this is the best combination we have seen to date, it doesn't take much to kill the Magus, and you would need to seriously buff out the more human leaders to make them truly viable in close combat. If you have a couple of templates land on them, that's a lot-a points down the drain.
This is the "kitchen sink" formation for those playing the codex cliche game. By this point we could probably have formation bingo given how often certain ideas show up. This one consists of a Cult Iconward, three squads of Acolyte Hybrids, two units of Neophyte Hybrids, a single force of Metamorph Hybrids, one unit of Purestrain Genestealers, up to a single squad of Aberrants, and up to one Goliath Rockgrinder. A hell of a lot, in other words. It's basically a full army list in of itself, and anything of this scale should be put down purely to the player's intuitive or genius. Having a codex make the army for them, and then giving them special rules just seems so wrong.
The rules this time are especially wince worthy. While not overtly bad and certainly useful, it's what they can do and how easily they're pulled off which is so alarming. In effect, squash any two units from this formation near one another (within 6" specifically) and they instantly gain +1WS and Leadership. This covers anything, so if you have a group of Purestrains next to some Abberants, they are going to rip anything they bump into limb from limb without much difficulty. However, this isn't the only bonus. Get within 24" of the Iconward, and the units not only gain Feel No Pain, but Furious Charge as well meaning it's chunky salsa time for any Guardsmen in the nearby vicinity.
The only thing which really balances this out is that it can be easily outmaneuvered thanks to its size, and anyone with a mass of template weapons is going to have a field day. Still, something like this really should not have needed to exist.
This is a bit of a predicable one, but admittedly also a fun choice. It's basically the closest thing the Genestealer Cults come to an armoured company, amassing together a host of tanks, vehicles and the like. It's a nice contrast to a standard army which is much more generally focused upon infantry combat over all else, and admittedly this is one of those few examples where innate special rules are both thematic and justified.
Consisting of a single Leman Russ Squadron, 1-2 Sentinel squads, and two units of Neophyte Hybrids in Chimera APCs. Perfect for an Imperial Guard company turning upon Imperial defenders and joining the Cult in open battle. All vehicles get the Outflank special rule, overcoming the most obvious failing of the Genestealer Cults' vehicles (being unable to keep up with the ambushing troops), and giving ranged units hanging back a living hell. It makes them easy to hurt an army quite considerably, admittedly, but it lacks the immediate bonuses to BS or whatnot. So, not too bad at all, and it is a fun contrast to the usual things.
While not nearly so overly large as the Brood Cycle, this formation is nevertheless still pretty damn big. Led by a Primus, you can take between one to three Hybrid Metamorph squads, two to four Acolyte Hybrids squads, and up to three Aberrant squads. The big bonus of this one is offering each squad the ability to Infiltrate onto the battlefield and, when paired up with the big army special rules, Shrouded on the first turn.
Like before they're good bonuses on the whole, and do fit with the army's thematic elements. This time though, I do have to question this extra set of over all else here. It doesn't do that much to enhance what is already there, and for the most part it means the Genestealers will be getting in one quick shot before falling back. Some might appreciate or find a good use for that, but against a fast moving army this just seems like a way to get very quickly bogged down in close combat when you least need it. Especially if you have infiltrated all units as far forwards as you can, and you're fighting the likes of the White Scars.
Everyone gets a transport. Really, that's the main theme of this one, you take between two and six squads of Neophyte Hybrids and all of them gain a Goliath Truck to wheel them about the tabletop. Already you can imagine the thousand and one players jumping at the chance to create a Genestealer Cult led by an Immortan Joe stand-in. Apparently the developers must have been watching Fury Road as well, because all of the special rules seem to reflect the antics seen in that film.
Each truck now gains the ability to ignore Crew Shaken/Stunned results, and the squads within gain the ability to pile out so long as it's not moving flat out. This said, the latter do need to take Dangerous Terrain tests each time for obvious reasons. As a result of these elements, this is both a good and bad formation, depending upon how you look at it. On the one hand, the Trucks are more an auxiliary force rather than something you should use en mass, and any direct charge towards a gunline is likely to leave burning vehicles scattered across the tabletop. That said, in certain environments this might be the only option. Tabletops which lack obvious cover for ambushes or areas to fall back on are going to require the ability to hit hard and hit fast, getting troops into combat as soon as they can. Equally, the autocannons on these vehicles serve as far more effective transport poppers than anything on the Chimeras. Against massed lighter vehicles or APCs, the extra firepower would be very helpful in fully immobilizing a force.
Overall, this does have a place in the army, but you really have to work hard to find a game where this can work to its fullest.
This combines together between two to three units of Acolyte Hybrids - each with a Demolition Charge or four - and two to three Goliath Rockgrinders with the "Cache of Demolition Charges" upgrade. Yes, this is grenade spam galore, and it seems almost intended to go hand in hand with the previous example. Why? Because it immediately gives each and every unit in the formation Tank Hunter, the ability to re-roll scattered Demolition Charges, and the ability to grab more Charges when a squad using them is within 6" of a vehicle.
The idea here is admittedly a good, fun and exaggerated one, but it clearly comes at something of a cost. For starters, the Acolytes you have here are the sort you would want starting far ahead of your deployment zone, getting a shot in on the enemy first and then moving in for the kill. This is fine, but the Rockgrinders need to deploy conventionally, so either you end up with half your army moving ahead of the rest, or you're forced to abandon your one big advantage. Even if you add them onto the Rockgrinders, the limited space means you're stuck with very fragile low number squads. Not a good situation to be sure.
The only viable way I see of getting around this is taking advantage of the lack of any limitations surrounding transport options. Keep the Rockgrinders, of course, but have the Acolytes on their own standard Trucks separate from the main units, and race them into battle as one. It will present more targets for a foe, and might give your vehicles a sightly better chance of survival despite their poor side armour.
Overall, it's good for the "Witness Me!" approach to Cults, but it clearly needed to be reworked from scratch to be competative.
The Doting Throng
This time it's back to the massed infantry lists, with this one combining together up to one Magus and between three to six units of Acolyte or Neophyte Hybrids. So, what's the big special rule this time? Everyone gains Zealot when they're within 12" of a Magus and re-rolls fails to hit in close combat if the HQ choice joins a unit, and the added bonus of re-rolling any blessings. Now, there's a key factor your need to pay attention to here - The codex specifies a Magus, not the Magus. As such, this can easily be worked around or combined with other formations to add multiple Magi into the battlefield and boost their strengths.
Like its predecessor, it's one which has been oddly thought out. It's much more combat effective to be sure, and it doesn't quite cross into the territory of just handing out special abilities, but this limit to only one Magus (and an optional one at that) just hurts it. One to three would have made far more sense overall, and because of this it's difficult to fit this one into certain games. Give it a look if you're considering using a more directly offensive force, but make sure you back this formation up with a few other options.
Shadow Skulkers and Cult Mutants
These are two very basic formations which really lack any details or special rules of any kind. The first is just a single unit of Purestrain Genestealers, while the second consists of a single unit of Aberrants or Hybrid Metamorphs. Some are defending this as an extra option for the armies - a kind of bonus force to "fill in the gaps" between bigger formations, but it only serves to highlight how flawed a system formations are. While the old Force Organisation Chart had its issues, it was more clearly structured and direct, without need for these sorts of oddly conflicting measures. The closest you might get is minimum requirement for two Troops choices and and HQ, but that just prevented players focusing upon spamming a single unit above all else.
Really, there's nothing to say here, it just shows how difficult a system this one is.
Like the above examples, this one is bereft of any special rules and consists only of a single unit (well, squadron in this case). Here you have the option to take a trio of Leman Russ battle tanks, or a Sentinel squad. Full stop, nothing to add, moving on.
The formations are easily the weakest part of the whole codex, which is sadly to be expected by this point. Beyond that though, this is honestly a very solid book. We have good if not great lore, a very nice mixture of basic units, some surprisingly original bits of wargear, a rare example of combining armies done well, and a concerted effort to avoid cliches. Even at its worst, this codex can still be respected for trying to get out of the creative rut Games Workshop has been in for a while, and working its way back towards the better codices we were seeing a few years back.
Is it going to be the most popular codex on the planet because of this? In all honestly, sadly not. With the Craftworld Eldar and Tau Empire still rampaging about the tabletop game, there's not much here which can really counter their sheer refined cheese, masses of Strength D weapons and super heavy murderers. The old habits are going to beat out the good in a full fledged conflict, but in terms of which is creatively better and more stable, Codex: Genestealer Cults is definitely a winner. It's a definite step in the right diction, and a definite improvement over many past books. Here's just hoping future writers follow its example.
Still, we're not quite done. Join us in a few days when we look into what the book could have accomplished by pushing things a bit further, or future ideas which could help to build upon what's been established here.