Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Product Review - New Imperial Guard Codex

Readers of this blog may recall that it took a bit more effort than actually anticipated, but I did finally acquire a copy of the "new" Imperial Guard Codex for Warhammer 40,000. I use the quotation marks because, like so much of the 40k universe these days, there is almost nothing truly "new", just a middling re-shuffling of piddling rules that had little impact on the fighting ability of the Imperial Guard forces themselves, but will still f**k with the players sufficiently to compel them to have to reorganize their "army" (editor's note - a 40k force is a "detachment" at most, but anyway...)

So you may be asking "why go through the frustration of continuing on the Codex Carousel then?" What can I say? As Dallas has already hinted at in a recent post, there is something about the game which snagged me in its Rogue Trader era. Especially the Imperial Guard (once known as just the "Imperial Army"). They were the first figures I painted. And when I got tired of the paint job, I re-painted them! Then again! They had like four layers of paint on them, including a layer of Testors...

Yes - the 40k fan boy is still in there somewhere. With some really excellent rules out there (including elsewhere in their own company!), I hope one day the 40k über tubes will see a business case for wargaming that is actually engaging and fun, and not an exercise in soul-draining scoring-unit power calculation.

So, with this in mind, let's do a little review of the book.

The fluff is pretty much cut and paste from prior GW publications. The Imperial Guard is big. They are loyal to the Emperor. At some point in the past, Human Resources had issues with a guy named Horus, leading to some manner of intergalactic civl war. Commissars are mean. Cadians are organized. It's cold on Valhalla. Yawn.

The fluff in many ways is the most depressing aspect of this codex (and others). The paint-by-numbers-nothing-new cut-and-paste approach to the character of the faction is an implicit endorsement of the core dominance of power gaming calculation in the 40k aspect of the "Games Workshop Hobby".

You can almost hear the writers at the 40k studio talking. "This key audience doesn't really care about the fluff. We know it. They know it. They know we know. Let's get right to the rules, and include enough fluff to have covered all the bases." Depressing to see the results of that in print. In the Rogue Trader days, a single article about a single new type of Imperial Guard squad would have more entertaining and engaging writing than this entire Codex. The 40k Compendium is still the best "book" for liking, and reading about, the Imperial Guard!

As for the rules themselves, there are certainly "new" things. Some good, and some bad, and some I have missed because I don't have the necessary 40k background to immediately spot rules changes. I'm sure the more knowledgeable 40k gamers out there will correct me.

The Good

Great news everyone - we're all a troops choice!

First big change - no more "doctrines". I think that a lot of Guard players were ticked at this - at least they were if they were trying to give their army character (as opposed to some kind of Necron player). At one level, this ticks me off too - by eliminating the doctrines, my Storm-Trooper Grenadier Cadian Force - which never won a single game - was rendered invalid!

But if you think about it, the doctrines were so restrictive that it was very difficult to get real differences into your force. People who may have done "drop troop" armies, "armoured" forces (i.e. Vostroyans) or even bizarre things like "warrior weapons" may feel the pain. But chances are these will re-emerge in some White Dwarf article (if you're lucky) or appalling Imperial Armour book (if you're unlucky).

The other "doctrines", that helped perhaps in close combat, or with firing, were very restrictive as well. The system of issuing orders I think is less bureaucratic in terms of organizing the force (although it will be more bureaucratic on the table).

Other positives - Storm Troopers now have a weapon that will actually hurt something. The 40k game is all about Armour Penetration or "AP", and they have an AP of 3 on their weapons now. So, assuming they wound something, it will probably drop. Which makes sense, given the size of the stupid backpacks on the figures!

Veterans are a troops choice now - so you can pack your army with veterans and still get credit for picking "troops" slots (this is an example of how some players should not pine so much for the doctrines).

Heavy Weapon and Special Weapon squads are now wrapped into the "infantry platoon" troop choice. This is a big improvement, as previously they were in the HQ section, or a heavy support choice. So you can now have these without sacrificing a selection of a tank, or having an HQ echelon so large it looks like the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

It's nice to see the plastic Valkyrie on the scene too, despite the challenges of the model. And the Vendetta variant will clearly draw a lot of adherents.

The Bad

Sly Marbo sez "For the Emperor..."

The Guard can get vehicles in "squadrons" now. In theory, even more tanks, artillery, etc. In practice, not a big advantage. Squadrons have a variety of ridiculous conditions that apply to them, and a squadron of tanks actually makes them a liability to one-another. Just take two or three seperate vehicles using your three heavy support choices!

The new rules around issuing orders, while compensating for the lack of doctrines, will slow the game quite a bit. Each officer gets a certain number of a certain type of orders...conceptually it's fine, but why would the Guard only have this? Why would your Eldar or Space Marine opponent play a normal turn, and then your turn have to resemble a game of Cold War Commander?

Oh, and Catachans are still around. Worst. Models. Ever.

The Ugly

"How many shots do I get?"

The Hydra - finally in the game without the encumbrance of Imperial Armour! You still need to pick up a kit from the clowns at Forge World, but it's progress. So why is this "ugly"? Well, why is it that a quad auto-cannon vehicle has such a limited number of shots????? It's like a ZSU-23-4 set to single-shot. Worried about game balance? Then why allow a stupid Leman Russ variant with 20 shots (see below)?

The Meaningless

"Fire on that sniper!"

Not content with the nine (by my count) variants of the Leman Russ already available, GW seems to think the storied tank is some kind of app-store, with even more new variants that, frankly, are so similar to some of the others that you lose track. There is one that even has 20 strength five shots! Don't get too excited - the AP is "-", meaning it will help you slaughter things you can already slaughter with your troops. Classic.

Joining the ranks of the whatever, GW has also issued a whole new set of command figures - which double up nicely on the ones that are already available....they are fine figures, and plastic to boot, but again - did we need them?

Also, even more Commissars. Don't get me wrong - they are very nice figures. So were the other ones. How many frigging Commissars are needed????

Another blip - the "advisers" - Astropath, Fleet Officer, and some Ordnance Dude. Nice figures, but really marginal little odds and sods. A potential to delay your reserves slightly? No compensation for being obliterated a turn late.

Final Red Herring - the Guard can have a Death Strike Missile Launcher now. Because those would really apply in a tactical situation.

Final Thoughts

Chimera with Autocannon - no longer valid, but still for sale

It seems increasingly each new 40k Codex is like some kind of government bail-out bill, where some factions win, and other lose, and no core issues are addressed. When you see the final product, you often wonder at what sort of Potemkin groupthink led to a given change. Like the "vox-caster", now with a limited range. Was someone out there cleaning up at tournaments thanks to vox-caster loop hole? Seriously?

Imperial Officers can issue orders - but what, the Space Marines lack the discipline to concentrate fire? Or the Eldar?

Was some group of players out there saying "Get me rules for the Death Strike Missile Launcher or I'll never play again!"? Seriously?

Why is the Chimera not able to have an autocannon? Especially when you can still purchase one for a cool 8.80 GBPs? Were autocannon Chimeras cleaning up at the GW tournaments?

What could have been - whole new regiments? Including rules for the Elysian Drop Troops or Death Korps? Why mention the Valhallans and Steel Legion guys when they are like 40$ US per squad now as "collectors"?

In the final estimation, this book is a C+ disappointment - like much of the 40k universe - not so much because of what it is, but what it could have been....


DaveV said...


Thanks a lot for the very thoughtful review.

I'm rather obviously a GW fanboy. I'm usually jonesing to play with my Eldar, but how many around here remember that the IG were my first army? I still have over a hundred painted figs plus tanks.

Older players, especially, are into the fluff. Just take a look at KevinH's Valhallans or the Astro armies made by Mario or then other Kevin.

However, just a few points.

RE: The Good:
'The 40k game is all about Armour Penetration or "AP"...'

Respectfully, no it isn't. For anti-infantry, it's about shot volume. IIRC, the Stormtrooper hotshot lasgun is a Rapid Fire weapon with only 18" range. So, if they're standing still they can't reach out as far (normal lasguns shoot 24"), and moving they're only 12" range. Also, they cannot use the order system to gain an extra shot. With only S3, they just cannot deliver enough shot power at enough range to ever prevent being charged in close combat by the survivors of their shooting. IMO, this weapon is not worth taking.

It would've been more viable either as Range 18"/Assault2, or with an increase in Strength to 4.

RE: The Bad:
Giving orders doesn't seem to have slowed the game down much. Recently, I fought against two players' Imperial Guard armies at Astro, and the orders just consumed a die roll to successfully issue them.

I liken their use to the invocation of other factions' special powers. For example, the Eldar Dire Avenger Exarch can take "Bladestorm" for his squad's shuriken weapons. This is substantially the same as "First rank...fire! Second rank...fire!" - namely, an extra shot per man for specified weapons.

RE: The Meaningless:
The Advisors are kind of interesting, especially for their relatively low cost. I've been up against both the Master of Ordnance and the Master of the Fleet. The former (basically an observer for off-board artillery) dropped big pie plate explosions that could've devastated a less-mechanized force than mine. The Fleet officer (the ground control officer for off-table close air support) delayed my Eldar reserves; the model negated my Autarch's special power to give +1 on reserves rolls, forcing me to re-think Reserves Denial type ploys.

I agree, there's no real need to have all the new tank variants, except to sell the new models. To be fair, I've seen photos of the new tank model sprues. They look re-cut; very nice.

At the end of the day, the new IG codex may have made the Guard more viable on the tournament scene (cheaper transports, cheaper infantry, streamlined force org, melta spam, etc.). Certainly, I saw more of them at the most recent Astro than I have in the past.

I think you make a very good case that the Codex hasn't added a lot to the back story of what is ostensibly the most numerous Human force in the 40K universe.

Greg B said...

Dave - while the exploits of your Eldar are well-established, nobody who knows you whould challenge your cred on the Imperial Guard. The figures that you and Kevin had painted back in "the day" were part of what got me hooked into the hobby!

My entire "blue" Imperial Guard force was painted to match that one Imperial Guard Commander I got from Kevin H. I love that fig!

I will have to disagree on the AP vs. shot volume...I think the notion of "melta spam" is a confirmation of that. Melta has an awesome AP value, which helps venitlate things with certainty, and the more you can have, the better chance you have in any given scenario. If Plasma guns weren't stupidly baking off all the time, it would be plasma spam.

The Bladestorm is lethal not only because of shot volume, but high ballistic skill and an AP sufficient to fleanse most "average" troops.

I think the improved strom troopers are solid, and higher AP is the way to go with them. The lack of orders is superfluous from my perspective, mainly because the "First rank fire" etc. serves as compensation for lame ballistic skill of 3 on the regular lads, as opposed to something that will really tilt the game. To the extent that rapid volleys of an S3 are going to really pay off, chances are you are shooting at something you should not have been afraid of regardless.

I should have added the variant Hellhounds as a plus - some interesting new variants there. That gas-spewing variant is kind of ominous...

DaveV said...

RE: Melta:
I acknowledge that melta spam is "The New Black" of 40K. That's due to the peculiarities of the vehicle damage table, where AP1 gets you +1 on your damage roll and "melta" weapons add a +1D6 to vehicle penetration. That's a somewhat different kind of spam than with anti-infantry, with malta spamming armies I've seen fielding a meltagun or two in, say, three different squads.

I've actually toned down my Fire Dragons to a mere 5-man squad. I used to field 9 or 10 of them. I remember you fielding 10-strong Dragon squads, back in the day.

However, I've found that low-AP guns (AP1 or AP2) like Starcannons and Fusion (melta) guns don't necessarily do the job any more against powered armour. This is due to the ubiquity of cover saves.

Still and all, having more low AP guns may be better than not having them at all.

Can the new Stormtroopers have special weapons like plasma or melta? I don't have the codex yet.

RE: Hellhound
Yeah, I'm liking the new Hellhound tank variants the more I see of the kit:

The napalmfuel tanks exist; they're inside the hull and can be seen if the hatch is opened. Leaving the turret gun unglued, or using magnets, may allow a swap-off of the flamer and chemical gun barrels.

Greg B said...

Oh man - that kit looks cool! Flame-tastic good times await.

Greg B said...

Dave - quick additional response - the Storm Troopers can have a flamer, plasma gun, melta gun or grenade launcher (that is, two per squad - not each trooper :)

Evernevermore said...

I'm going to avoid talking about fluff, as it seems that GW has decided if you want the fluff to be good you should buy one of thier little fluff books like the "Uplifting Infantryman's Primer".

The AP game is now much more a head game then a dice game, like it was in 4th. With cover its probably not going to be an issue of the die rolls as much as scaring the Marine player that your little Stormtroopers will mow down his Terminators. This goes double for the Leman Russ Punisher - give me a squadron of 3 against most players with an "elite" army and I'll control or atleast contest a flank very easily. He'll be more worried about rolling a 1 for a save then the simple fact its still a BS3 unit.

Orders - well the Guard have this because Marines can think for themselves (and get shiny stuff like "And they shall know no fear" and power armor)

The Hydra - did you read the nasty little rule about ignoring stuff like Turbo boost? Its extremely nasty if still a little under dakka'ed

The meaningless - this is where I disagree the most.
Leman Russ Punisher, this thing is purely psychological warfare as you roll buckets of dice. Ive statted up a squadron that rolled over 100 dice in one turn of sitting still.

Command Squads - look at the bits before you dismiss them, one of the coolest IG kits ever when it comes to that.

Advisors - all about delaying the inevitable until you get your troops in position to deal with them. Oh and dropping orbital strikes on stuff in cover..

Chimera with autocannon is available in a PDF from Forgeworld - for FREE!!! Basically its just GW not posting stuff it doesnt directly make.

Course this is all my opinion - your mileage may vary

Greg B said...

Evernermore - thanks for chiming in!

I still think orders would be an excellent concept for the Space Marines - surely a redoubled fire effect from a Marine Sergeant would be an appropriate outcome, on top of bits like "They Shall Know No Fear" etc?

Regarding the Hydra, I did see that bit about ignoring the boost. Yet I still feel strongly about the absurdity, given that this still limits the effects against infantry!

If you have ever played modern or WW2 games, with kit like a ZSU-23-4 or Wirbelwind, AAA vehicles often end up as good times against infantry. The Hydra, as currently in the codex, comes across as having some kind of hot sh*t radar. Screw that - give it a million shots, enough to overcome the boost advantages of enemy skimmers. Especially if you are going to have some Leman Russ variant with 20 shots!

Evernevermore said...

What I would prefer orderwise for the Space Marines is something more along the lines of the old "Bolter Drill" special rule that Lysander had before they plunked him in Termi armor.

AA usually works wonders against infantry but the Hydra has more in common with the Sergeant York or the Gepard - which I havent ever really seen stated for any game I have. Maybe Cold War Commander would have the answer?