So far this year, we have seen the release of three of the new Codex Supplements for Warhammer 40,000. Of the three, two (Iyanden and Farsight Enclaves) have been generally well received. On the other hand the Black Legion supplement seems to have had a more mixed reception.
I was initially quite sceptical about the Codex Supplements. This is probably due to my negative memories of the ‘mini-codices’ of 3rd Edition 40k which were deeply uninspiring little pamphlets (though in all fairness the main codices were pretty meagre in those days too). Also, it seemed vaguely unfair that some gamers were having to pay extra in order to get the core codex and the additional mini-‘dex.
In most respects, allowing ‘off-shoot’ armies like Space Wolves or Blood Angels to have their own full codices seems like the ideal solution. That said however the onus then falls upon the folks at the Design Studio to make that army genuinely different enough to justify the separate codex. The fate of Black Templars being reabsorbed into the main Space Marine Codex demonstrates the importance of introducing some genuine distinction that works on the table top and in terms of fluff.
So I was hostile to the Codex Supplements at first – especially when it became clear that they would be the same price as a real codex. But my feelings mellowed when it became clear that no one needs to buy the supplement in order to do, say, an Iyanden style wraith construct army, the supplement merely allows you the option to further emphasise and deepen the theme and character of your chosen force. This is really important, as in the past variant lists like Iyanden or White Scars were made possible by artificially limiting the main list – so it was only until 5th edition that Space Marine Chapters other than the White Scars got to deploy their bike companies (which they almost all have) to the table top. So you can still do an Eldar wraith army or a Tau army led by Farsight without the Codex and you only have to buy the supplement if you want to take the theme up to eleven.
Of course, the supplements also bring you scenarios, and extra stuff to enhance your games of Apocalypse and/or Cities of Death. Obviously the appeal of those sections will depend on your own views of those particular game variants. I never had much time for either (though I can imagine a few people being swayed out of the desire to try out something in the supplement).
The question hanging over this issue is whether any current Space Marine armies might be relegated to a mere supplement. Obviously Dark Angels already have a 6th edition codex, and the Space Wolves are probably too distinct for this to work, but one does wonder about the Blood Angels. In some respects this might be a helpful as it would prevent some of the inter-Astartes rules clashes that developed over previous editions (eg what save does a Storm Shield grant?) and reduce the need for FAQs about whether existing books get the latest shiny toys in the core book (eg, can Dark Angels take Hunters?).
So surprisingly, GW seen to have hit the right level here rather than make the supplements a blatant cash grab, allowing the journeyman gamer to stick to the main codex and the more dedicated fluff gamer to choose to upgrade their gaming experience with the supplement. Choose wisely which path to take, as it’s a £30 decision.