As this is part one, I'll get it out of the way now: I approach a Codex thusly - Open the Codex. Smell the Codex (New Book Smell = WIN!) Then, I read the book Cover to Cover. Yes, I start with the fluff. I don't often talk about fluff here on Mind War, because there are others better qualified than I...but also becasue it's more subjective, and harder to discuss, IMO. Take page 16 of C:BA, top right hand column, the 'Gehenna Campaign'. This was a war being prosecuted by the Blood Angels (of Blood) commanded by Chapter Master Dante, without doubt one of the most loyal servants of the Imperium...(and one who has been Chapter Master since even before Lysander was trapped in the Warp...) against the 'Necron Legions of the Silent King' Now, it's of course possible this is a retcon, and the 'Silent King' is a new C'Tan being introduced. Of course. It's more likely, IMO that it is in fact a Necron Lord of a more advanced type, one who is sufficiently independent to retain cognitive function and indeed have a personality NOT a mindless automaton like the previous Codexes represented.
Now, you may be wondering, if you haven't read this, what the point is. Well - the point is this. A Tyranid Splinter Fleet arrives, starts kicking ass, and the two *combine forces* and defeat the Tyranid menace. After this, the two part ways, the BA reluctant to fight such a recent ally, and both forces depleted.
A lot of people have/will have an issue with that. I don't see why, I find it interesting, and exciting. But I understand that they do. I long ago started using the term 'Fluff Nazis' to describe this type of hobbyist, those to whom any interpretation that does not mesh with and indeed match their own is an affront, and should not be allowed in their hobby. Well, I'm sorry guys, but this is my hobby too - and if I don't have a problem with Fabius Bile creating a chapter of Female Space Marines, or an army of Ork Mercs that fight for the Tau or Imperium, then neither should you. Let's all enjoy our hobby, huh? Let's take what we like about it, and not worry that that isn't always going to be the exact same as everyone else. If I want my Red Scorpions painted in Camo because that's how it used to be, I'll do that. If I think the Ultramarines 8th (that's the Assault Reserve) Company during the Battle for Macragge is better represented by the BA Codex, I'll play my Ultras as Ultramarines of Blood if I wish, thanks. If I think Valkyries would be much cooler as helicopters based on AirWolf, then I'll take the wings off if I want.
We can discuss Fluff, but it's a matter of personal interpretation - not fact. Army list construction is different. Some things are good, some aren't. Fact. Sure, a skilled player can mitigate the 'not good' in units, but the more of these there are in the army, the weaker it becomes as a whole - and there is always going to be at least one person out there who is no worse than you, likely better - and even if not better per se, they might just have a LITTLE more luck, and have a better list, and go on to thrash you. Not taking things that are better than what you use through choice is fine - it's an informed choice. Some of us like the challenge of winning with a sub-par list, I routinely do it myself against some local opponents. Sometimes it's more fun for BOTH players, even though they know you're gimping yourself. My aim is to make you think about your choices, and not take inferior units without that knowledge.
In the context of this Codex, that's reassuringly easy. This is Matt Ward's second 40k Codex. His first was Space Marines. The two are very similar in many ways, obviously sharing a lot of characteristics. It will be interesting to see how he gets on with his first non-Human Codex, but for now, he's excellent. I like to rag on Phil Kelly because some things in the Eldar book just weren't ever any good, the Codex hasn't aged as well as I'd like, and the points costs haven't changed significantly for several units since 2nd Ed, despite the whole move away from HeroHammer into 3rd. He's not entirely to blame - but when I realised that was the case, he took the brunt of it. The absence of Black Guardians, despite being easy to put in as a FoC related Unit Upgrade, also bugs me. Overall though, he writes very characterful Codexes, with a bunch of good stuff in them. Robin Cruddace, of IG and Tyranid fame, also writes very good stuff, excepting Ogyrns, Rough Riders, Venomthropes...well, there are a few. Overall though, these three are all good - let's make that clear. They've earned praise. So, well done - keep it up. [The point of this paragraph, is that this Codex is good because it was written by Matt Ward. I will sum up at the end of the review, but, tbh, I pretty much kinda have already.]
So...anyway. On to HQ choices. They start on page 82, end on 84. So we have a fair few to discuss. Ten, in all - note that I count Honour Guard, even though they're technically not on the FoC. Now, six of these guys are Special Characters - which I mention to highlight the increasing propensity of GW to rely on these oft-powerhouses to apply army edits that are often cumbersome and clumsy through other mechanisms. I refer, of course, to the 'Traits' system of Space Marines in 4th, or the 'Doctrines' of the Imperial Guard of the time. We can also extend this to include 'variant' Codices, such as Craftworld Eldar, Armageddon, or Eye of Terror. Now, while these have a clear role in narrative campaigns, the players most interested in these tend to be eminently capable of inventing their own rules, and usually happier with the end product when they do. I'm not saying that GW should stop producing them...but I wouldn't cry, either.
Special Characters, integrated into the main army list, grant much more creative freedom, and actually boost player choice by not forcing them to shell out more money on books that could be spent on miniatures. Those that consider them a 'crutch' really don't understand the role of the modern day Special Character, and need to stop looking at the likes of Kharn (not that he comes anything close to being a crutch for Chaos, but I can't think of another SC that has the relative power Kharn does within the army without affecting the way it plays significantly. I am open to suggestions.) and look instead at Eldrad or Pedro Kantor. These characters allow your army to function in a certain way, but have a significant cost to do so. Sometimes, like with Vulkan He'Stan, this goes a little wrong, in that he works out very cheap for his abilities and effect on the army - but this is what GW wants. We don't all want to sit and write 8 pages of fluff detailing our awesome Chapter and Captain we invented ourselves only to watch the 'cool' character fail his 50% chance to survive a Lascannon and die turn one. In fact, I'd posit that the majority of people who play this game wouldn't really like to sit down and write 8 pages of fluff to justify their army, or even one. More importantly, it is intimidating to new players. If you want the game to expand the playerbase, then you don't want people coming into the game to be told they HAVE to create a background for their commander, the representation of themselves on the tabletop. This isn't DnD, and it hasn't been close for a long time. It's not even a skirmish game anymore, which in my view is a good thing. You are welcome to disagree that it's good - but if you disagree that it's not skirmish based, then look again. Look especially at 2k, admittedly the upper band of what GW says it recommends -look at the numbers on either side, especially if one side is Guard, and tell me that's a skirmish. When a 50% increase in 'skirmishing' forces leads to an Apoc game territory, then you know it can't be a skirmish.
Gah, I'm getting far off course. The first HQ is Commander Dante. Dante is an odd fish. He's clearly a Chapter Master - but doesn't like to be called as much. Weird. Anyway, Dante is very much not a win-button, any more than he is a throwaway HQ. Dante affects the very way your army operates, in two vital ways. (No, I didn't like that sentence either, but live with it.)
- Firstly, he doesn't scatter when he comes into play via Descent of Angels. That's only partly linguistically correct, but screw you. He can Deep Strike himself and attendant squad, flawlessly, within 1.1" of the enemy - and use various Melta or Flamer weapons to smash face.
- Secondly, he shifts the FoC around, making Sanguinary Guard Troops. No stupid wording Fail - they are just Troops, deal with it.
These are tied together in a very obvious way - Sanguinary Guard have Jump Packs. While I'm going to deal with SG in the Elites Section of this review, it's kinda pointless to be in a position where you have the ability to take them as Troops, but choose not to, given that Dante adds none of the unit buffs you see with, say, Pedro Kantor or Logan Grimnar. He adds a little CC punch, with the Death Mask, and his own profile. Sadly, the Axe Mortalis doesn't provide any S buff, perhaps charging with S6 or more would be considered OP...Giving the unit he joins Hit and Run, coupled with the mobility and reach of Jump Packs, allows him to bounce around the table like some sort of powerful Mawloc, actually capable of killing things, and getting away from those he can't hurt. Oh, and there's the "stat-nerf" effect. It's pretty good - great, even for taking out lower level enemy characters, such as a Master of the Forge. While it obviously cannot kill people before the game begins, it allows you to use Dante to 'bully' enemy ICs, weakening them to a point where a quick slash from the Axe is usually fatal, or a round of shooting from the support elements in the army.
In summary - Dante is pretty good. He kinda demands the army be built around him, which has problems yet to be discussed - but overall he's neither too cheap or too powerful, despite being viable on paper. It'd be reckless to say something like 'this is the epitome of Special Character design' simply because his inclusion is neither a no-brainer, or a got-no-brainer but I like how the character has been crafted, with enough to suggest he'd be fun to play, but not un-fun to play against. I shall provide a couple of lists with him in them, later in this process.
Next up, Chapter Master Gabriel Seth. I'm not going to go into any depth on his fluff, largely for reasons already discussed above...but I f***ing love the Fleshtearers. For me, they are tragic heroes, doomed to ultimate failure but doing everything they can to stave off the inevitable, never giving in, and never giving up. Is this accurately represented in the rules? Is the hubris of these classically Greek protagonists reflected in some awesome army-wide special rule that makes fluff-bunnies shrivel up and die in ecstasy? Well...no. Quite simply, you have to do that yourself. This guy is designed less in the mould of Sicarius, and what he can do for the army, but in the mould of the characters of old (specifically, Kharn the Betrayer) and is simply a powerhouse.
That said, this is a pretty mediocre powerhouse. Only T4, only a 3+/4++ save, no FnP, no Power Weapon...Only 4W?! Oh, wait...that last was good. Hitting at S8 and Rending is pretty damn mean, too. His Power Armour at least means he can fit in Transports. His lack of Furious Charge and FnP is easily circumvented, just like with all the OTHER models in the army...though it's a little strange he doesn't get either naturally - or indeed Red Thirst. Meh. Whirlwind of Gore is a rule that I like to see - something to take advantage of being dog-piled, and let this (essentially) dirty street fighter come out on top. Ferocious Instincts is in the same vein - I might try and convert a 'Paul Phoenix' based Seth, though the 'Burning Fist' was never as swift as Seth is depicted.
In conclusion (yeah, much shorter - but there's less to say. Seth doesn't deliberately modify the army!) Seth is a bit of a Powerhouse, but not exactly. It's not that cut and dried. He's pretty powerful, but he also brings little to the army that it doesn't already have in spades, CC ability. Realistically, he fits into a non-CC oriented BA army more than anything else, and who wants that? That said, I have two variant lists in mind for him, so I'm going to do those at some stage. :) Take him, or don't. He's too expensive to throw in needlessly, so use him mostly for fluff, or for S8 Rending to help you kill Dreadnoughts.
Astorath the Grim appears next in the book. Statwise, he's a little worse than Seth. Nothing huge, but just enough to make his CC credentials below that of official 'powerhouse' status. (Yes, I know Seth barely gets that tag, that's ONLY because of his Save. 3+/4++ REALLY isn't all that without FnP or T5.) Astroboy at least gets the 2+ we so eagerly cry out for, and he gets a 4++ too. He's no powerhouse - that's clear. However, he does a mean job of killing Eldar psykers, and Daemons. His role in the army seems a little muddled, but it's his first time in a Codex, so I think we can forgive a little. He has a Jump Pack, so wants into CC to use it. But he has a MAX of 4A, so won't do a huge amount alone. No biggie, he gets his unit re-rolls - but which unit? Well, the DC makes it fluffy, and they get wound re-rolls too, just like a regular Chappy. Oh, wait, that then wastes his 'Honour of the Chapter' rule. Oh, and the 'Shadow of the Primarch'...yeah, that steps on Honour's toes a bit too...huh. Since you pay a premium for the ability, even though you will likely never use it, especially given the FoC change...*sad panda* Plus, is the ability to take up to 180 DC really a benefit? Well, again, we shall discuss that in the Unit Review...but the short answer is no. Conclusion = 220 points makes this guy a strange inclusion in competitive play. As in - don't.
The Sanguinor, Exemplar of the Host - well now. Another new guy on his first tentative outing. Unlike the pseudo-powerhouses above, this guy truly is one, 5A, charging at S6, PW, SS equivalent (so 2+/3++), the ability to bone an enemy HQ (not IC, no risk of uselessness like Dante) WS8...I could go on. I won't. Fact is, this guys hits pretty damn hard, which is great. Fortunately, that's not all he does - he also has a pair of 'buff' abilities, an attack bubble, and 'The Sanguinor's Blessing'. It's dealt with pretty thoroughly elsewhere, but the fact it's random DOES make it somewhat of an irritant. Being able to choose, say, an Honour Guard Serg would be pretty neato.
Carrying no FoC edits and, unusually, no ranged weaponry, the Sanguinor is only a CC monster. He's far from unbeatable (only T4) but Eternal Warrior, a quality save and a Jump Pack make him pretty damn decent. Then, we look at his cost. Oh. The same as Abaddon...and we all know his 'usefulness'. Er...This guy obviously provides a fair bit more than Abaddon, and probably works out a little more survivable because he can't wound himself. All the same, for 275 points you would be looking for a little more from your powerhouse, like, say T6. In conclusion - He's far from a bad option, but he just doesn't have enough in the tank when compared to the next guy.
Mephiston, the Lord of Death. Oh yeah. This guy RAWKS. Or does he? Well, he's got many plus points, so let's start there. Statline - equivalent to a Monstrous Creature of some sort, this guy is a CC machine! He quite literally could munch on an entire Combat Squad in a round he charged, without breaking a sweat. It would be less likely than failing - but eminently possible. The guy could go toe-to0toe with the biggest and baddest in the 40k universe, and reasonably be expected to come out on top, not least due to...Equipment - Arti Armour, for that increased survivability without the loss of Sweeping. Forcew Weapon, for tough things without Eternal Warrior. Plasma Pistol to punch holes in Chimera Side Armour before punching holes in Guardsmen's chests. F&K to...well, they're basic, really. Finally, a Hood, to shut down Zoes, and Fortune. Special Rules - No Fearless (but ATSKNF, so better in CC) no FnP...no FC...but Fleet, so that's all fine. The Gaze is ZOMG BR0K3N!!11! - or, rather, pretty damn nifty...but using it in your turn is folly. Since you don't want this guy shot at, you want to be locked. Better to win in the opponent's turn, and use Wings to find a new foe to engage. Psyker allows 3 powers, only 2 of which are above 'average' for 5th Ed psychic abilities. (Average being 'meh' such as Vortex, or Smite.) Of course, it also allows the use of the FW and the Hood, so awesomes! Overall, this guy is a tank. using him is literally like squeezing another Dreadnought out of your ass and onto the tabletop, and will probably get a similar look from the opponent - disgust, fear, revulsion, fury...it's all there. Try it. Um...Mephiston, yeah. Costs like a Land Raider - and well worth the points. However, he has no IC status, and can get shot to shit without EW, despite T6. Lack of an InvulSave also hurts him, badly. Personally, I don't think he can be simply splashed with no regard for the list, I think he's too good to ignore, but too expensive to use willy-nilly. If you DO decide to use him, don't go in half-assed, and don't expect him to win you games, this guy is as tough as a shark with knees, and comes at you as fast and deadly - but he will almost always end up looking like a swiss cheese.*
To be continued...
* - No, not full of holes - he'll be turned into a sort of gooey mess that frankly looks less than even vaguely appetizing. Where's the fun in fondue - now THAT's a Blog Topic...