Codex Adeptus Astartes – A Review

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I must admit, when I saw a new Codex Space Marines had been released I had to check the date of my last review to make sure I wasn’t going mad. The previous edition was just 2 years old. Now I’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress (stop laughing) but that does seem a little soon and understandably makes people nervous about committing to a £35 book if it’s going to be replaced just 24 months later. It’s little wonder the illegal download underground is getting bigger all the time.

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As with other, more recent, Games Workshop publications, the by line is absent. Presumably to stop the bilious tirade directed at any one person that ensues when a new codex comes out. Bringing a new book so soon is bound to cause a certain degree of justified gnashing of teeth.

As with the previous book it’s just lovely to look at. From the cover art to every picture on every page is glorious and much of it, if I’m not mistaken, is new. Which for us old buggers is a bit of a treat. But there’s also a couple of images realised in colour that I’ve only seen in black and white, which is nice.

The quality of production has been increasedThe lining paper is a better fit and feels less luck it was stuck down by PVA. The hateful fold-in reference sheet is gone and with it the embarrassingly shonky folds.

Sadly the increase in quality doesn’t extend to the writing. There are fewer typos than the last book and they weren’t on the first page but they are still there. There’s also some stellar mixed metaphors, the worst of which is in the opening gambit. The background of Codex Adeptus Astartes feels, if I’m honest, nearly as lacklustre as the previous version. There have been some improvements for but the overarching theme doesn’t have any of the sense of urgency, drama or presence that previous books sweated from every surface. This book kinda feels like the Codex equivalent of the Amazing Spider-man 2: it’s drips with obligation rather than inspiration. It’s fulfilling of an intellectual property requirement rather than a promise of excitement, heroism and valour.

So Codex Adpetus Astartes isn’t worse than the 2013 Codex Space Marines. Hooray! Although I’m fairly certain there’s a smaller word count despite it being a thicker book (200 pages to 180). The artwork, splendid as it is, occupies a half page apiece on average. Sometimes more. The timelines in the previous edition were not only far prettier to look at, but more substantial. Each of the first founding chapters got fluff and timelines, that’s all been replaced by three of four paragraphs. It’s shame because the Ultramarines end up dominating the book more than they did before which does nothing to smooth over the – by this point – fairly mean-spirited bitching and belly-aching that is abound within the 40k community towards them. It would be good news for Ultramarines if the their background was written with any personality what-so-ever.

That said there’s some interesting tweaks to the background, one of which actually makes the Iron Hands interesting. Like: Horus Heresy books interesting. Like they’re all a bunch of repressed, self mutilating, sociopaths that are all one tin-man joke away from losing their shit and killing everyone. It’s brilliant. The best bits about the Heresy Salamanders is also evident, emphasising their compassion and their place as leaders of humanity rather than rulers. So whilst Codex Adeptus Astartes does condense, it does work harder to draw gamers towards the more exotic adherents of the Codex Astartes.

Overall though the layout of Codex Adeptus Astartes is strong and brings it in line with Codex Orks, which is a fantastic book. The army list is long but clear. The variety of Space Marine units available means there’s going to be a fair bit of flicking backwards and forwards for the purposes of army list writing but the upside it that you shouldn’t miss any notes or special rules with everything right there in front of you.

It does get a bit woolly in places and the Imperial Fists and their successor chapters are relegated to tertiary chapters whose histories focus around Lysander, Helbrecht and Grimaldus. But the good news for Black Templar players is they get an apology by way of really good Chapter Tactics. The Black Templars used to piss me off royally with their bullshit list of special rules. Whilst this list is thankfully a thing of the past, they still fare far better than most benefiting from bonuses to running, bonuses to Deny the Witch rolls, they get Counter Attack and Rage and all its cost them is the use of Librarians.

The rest of the rules are largely unchanged with a few points changes here and there. There’s been a subtle push towards flyers and anti-flyer units as the Stormtalon’s weapons systems have been halved in points and they get +1 to their jink save when hovering which makes them a massively more appealing option albeit at the cost of the Escort Craft special rule (this has been thrown into a formation instead). Equally the Stalker’s gun has lost a shot but can now split fire with its remaining three shots at Ballistic Skill 4 or, if it shoots at a single target it’s twin-linked. That’s nasty.

One of the changes that’s tickled me and is up there with equipping Havoc squads with plasma guns and a rhino as something to try is you can turn Tactical Squads into Wraightknight hunters. All you need to do is equip the squad with a grav-cannon, grav-gun and a grav-combi bolter. Although you could do similar with Devastator squads in a Rhino. You’d need to pick your moments wisely but it’d certainly make a real mess.

Master of the Forge appears to have gone the way of the Dodo and instead the humble Techmarine has had a 15 points increase but got an extra wound for their trouble with the option of all the cool and groovy upgrades. This is by no means the end of the world as you can still have a Techmarine leading your army but you’ve saved 25 points and it’s cost 1 point of Ballistic Skill.

The formations are no doubt what will get many hot and hard as it affords lots of big delicious bonuses for taking certain combinations of models. I deliberately missed out the word ‘expensive’ because it was obvious. Unfortunately it’s those with the deepest pockets or the biggest collections (they’re not necessarily the same thing) that will really benefit from these formations and they’re bonkers special rules.

Regular readers will know that I have two full companies of Ultramarines – 1st and 5th. This means I can, and often do, field a full battle company. This means I get all my transports for free. Hurrah! I can also field a Land Raider Spearhead the bonuses of which means I get to ignore everything but immobilised and vehicle destroyed results on the damage table as long as they stay in formation. Oh, and re-roll failed rolls to wound or for armour penetration. I mean really? I would actually feel embarrassed fielding that. I mean I’m gonna, but I’ll blush slightly as I kick the shit out of whoever I’m playing against.

Although there’s still no way to take a legal 1st Company army list which is such a shame, especially as the 1st Company formation feels more like they’re trying to push expensive models than because it’s accurate. It’s not the end of the world as gamers can just use an unbound list, it just would have been nice to give the option.

The hobby/showcase section in this Codex is huge. A fairly indulgent 43 pages compared to the previous 28 pages. So 15 of the extra pages in this version have been given over to pictures basically. Although I shouldn’t be surprised as most of the pages in the book have been given over to pictures. That said, because of the way the images are presented it’s going to make painting and marking Space Marine chapters are less painful experience now which is an extremely good thing. Thinking back to my staff days, one of the hardest things younger gamers had to deal with was getting that stuff right and it’s nice to see the book written inclusively rather than targeted at one audience or the other. I just wish it wasn’t quite so much of the book.

The reality of Codex Adeptus Astartes is that it’s essentially the second edition of the previous one. The background is blah rather than bad. The rules have had a review and there’s been a few interesting changes. Some subtle, some not so much. The presentation of the army list is clear and concise. The irritating things about the old book, like the folded reference sheet, are gone. It’s a nicer, better put together book.

I do still yearn for the days of Chapter traits because they made them all far more interesting. The tactics are fine and being an Ultramarine player I certainly can’t grumble but it still doesn’t quite grab me by the hobby spot. This said, there is still some improvements in there that’ll please one or two of the wargaming community. Unfortunately this book is, again, very much aimed at gamers that use Codex chapters. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing in there for Salamander players etc but there’s just not as much. Actually I’m pretty sure there’s less than before but I suspect that’ll be remedied with supplement books.

Overall Codex Adeptus Astartes is an average offering fixing many of the bugs in the previous books whilst introducing some interesting – albeit Easter egg sized – changes that will have far more impact than some appreciate. The formations are interesting enough that people will want to take them and broken enough that they’ll feel guilty doing it. But with some of the combinations out there, they won’t be alone. The background is a little stale but it is better but there’s still huge room for improvement. It is, end to end, beautiful. It’s also a big book about Space Marines.

Codex Adeptus Astartes is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

Codex Space Marines – A Review

warhammer 40000 logoSo to mix things up a bit from my barrage of Warhammer Fantasy Battles articles for A Tale of Two Armies I thought I’d take a look at the new Codex Space Marines. Written, as it goes, by Robin Cruddace who wrote both the Empire book and Warriors of Chaos.

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The good news is that Robin Cruddace collects Space Marines so he hasn’t completely shafted the army like he did the Empire. The bad news is that it’s the most boring iteration of any Codex Space Marines I’ve ever read. And I’ve read them all. Robin’s strength isn’t creative writing. And that’s fine, we can’t be good at everything, but his lack of flair means that much of the background is lack lustre or just copy and pasted from previous iterations. The worst bit being that none of the background except the Raven Guard entry reflects any of the stuff written in the Horus Heresy novels. Seeing as they’re canonical* that’s really rather poor form and a bit of a slap in the face. It also reads like he was terrified of offending someone as just about every Space Marine chapter mentioned in the book is a brotherhood of warriors without peer with more victories than any other. I defy you to read the book and tell me I’m wrong. The funniest one being the Howling Griffins which he collects and he may as well have just written, in crayon, these ones are the bestest. It’s all just so unnecessary. It’s also rife with typos, some sentences with multiple errors which really pisses me off and goes to show how little care was shown. Yes I make mistakes and use the wrong word from time to time, but I don’t charge you for it.

The good news is that, for the first time ever, the first founding codex chapters actually get proper sections now, which makes for a very thick book. And despite the average writing there’s some good stuff in there and it’s nice to see those chapters finally getting a mention rather than the book being Codex Ultramarines by any other name. As an Ultramarine player I did feel like something was missing but that’s just me being spoilt. The book is lovely. Much of the artwork is from previous books, which isn’t a complaint as it’s in colour for the first time which is nice to see. There’s a full-page piece of art of a Raven Guard Thunderhawk which is superb. So kudos to the art studio.

As has been established, the Space Marines new kits were in the form of re-releases and Centurions as well as the official additions of Storm Talons and Storm Ravens. I was slightly disappointed about the latter as I never had a problem with an army or armies having exclusive units. That said, they will undoubtedly perform a vital battlefield role and give Codex Chapters a real edge over…well everyone. As does a lot of the new gadgets and gizmos. The graviton guns are a new weapon option that wasn’t needed and will spank Chaos Space Marines. The army that frequently kicks Cruddace’s Griffins about the board all the time.

The Centurions I was a bit mixed on at first. I know a lot of people have slated the models but I kinda like them. And I kinda like what they’ll do for Space Marine armies. Their addition to the Codex is a little on the woolly side but it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. They’re nasty buggers that’s for sure and actually with the right force composition could be really nasty. The Devastator Centurions are, on paper, better than a Devastator Squad thanks to being able to move and fire. Assuming they make it into range. The Assault variation will need a transport because both types are slow and purposeful. But if your opponent lets them get into combat then things will bleed. A lot. At 190 points for 3 they’re not a casual addition but the strength & toughness of 5 with 2 wounds is a real consideration and potential performance verses points they’re actually pretty good value.

There’s a few subtle changes throughout Codex Space Marines. Vanguard Veterans don’t get to assault on the turn they deep strike any more which is a real shame as that was their one big advantage and offset the horrendous points cost. So in terms of assaulting they’re a bit worse than Warp Talons now. But they’re now much much cheaper which is good because it means you can juice them as much as you like. They are Elite choices now though which is shit. And there’s still no way of fielding a first company outside of robbing rules of the Dark Angels which is massively disappointing. But even if it was, having Vanguard & Sternguard together makes fielding the Ultramarines 1st Company impossible. Which is a real shame I suspect grouping them together was a convenience thing rather than it being a carefully thought out decision.

There’s also been plenty of points changes throughout the book. So Captains are cheaper, as are Space Marine Tactical, Assault & Devastator squads. Which is a massive deal as across a 3,000 point game you’re going to gather up, across the army, quite a few spare points. Some weapons have gone up in price, almost arbitrarily, and assault cannons have got much more expensive. Because they’re amazing in 6th edition. It’s a shame someone noticed as I rather enjoyed taking advantage of that.

Big changes in the Codex, or changes back, is the flexible squad sizes with special or heavy weapons in tactical squads. Which is great news for the less conventional armies. Being an Ultramarine player I shall still be taking the full ten men as Guilliman intended. Squads that have split into combat squads now get to occupy the same Rhino which game changing. It means that for the first time since Second Edition you can move a squad up the field and then send them on their separate ways. It gives Space Marines a massive tactical advantage over everyone else and will actually mean the kind of flexibility you read about in the books.

But the biggest change/reversion by a mile in Codex Space Marines is the introduction of chapter tactics. They’re actually very good – which makes up for the fairly average warlord traits – and reflect the personalities of the armies incredibly well so full marks to Cruddace on that front. Ultramarines and Imperial Fists seem to benefit the most with their traits being very much performance enhancing across the entire army, which rather does reflect the personality of the chapters. That’s not to say the others aren’t without teeth they’re just far more specialist. Again, as one would expect. The Raven Guard’s ability to infiltrate everyone is pretty bad ass.

It’s a real shame that the background isn’t as strongly written as the rest of the Codex. There’s some good stuff buried beneath the average writing – and it really comes down to someone needing to take a firm hand. The repetition phrases and poorly constructed sentences is embarrassing. However, the army list, chapter traits and tweaks and new additions are actually pretty spot on with the exception of making the Vanguard, cheaper, in the wrong place and shitter.

The Centurions do, after some consideration, fulfil genuine battlefield roles that is more than just dreaming up something new for release. Well, actually, no it was dreamt up for release but it works is my point. And it gives players – particularly Iron Hands and Imperial Fists – a different way of fielding an army whilst still making it competitive. You may notice I’ve not really commented on the new anti-air Rhino variants. And that’s because they’re a necessary unit and they are what they. They shoot down flyers. Hooray. The rules for them are actually pretty nasty and they’re pretty good value for points but they’re Space Marine anti-air guns, there’s not much more to be said.

Overall Codex Space Marines is a good book. The background isn’t terrible, not by a long chalk. It’s just not as well written as it should have been and would have taken little more than a couple of proof reads to make it better. This said it’s tolerable enough that those new to Space Marines or only got in to collecting Space Marines with the previous Codex will still enjoy reading it. The rest of the book is pretty sound and the army list works. The point adjustments are for the most part valid and the chapter traits and flexibility in army selection is a welcome change and will make a lot of gamers very pleased. And interestingly thanks to the subtle change that you can now take Techmarines as part of your HQ choice, you can free up an Elite slot in battle company list. Which is rather handy. And it may just be in the shape of some Assault Centurions. And the free Heavy Support slot may just have to feature a Storm Raven. Just saying…

Codex Space Marines is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

*A heated discussions has erupted over my use of this word which I’ve deleted because I felt it was inappropriate. This isn’t censorship but avoidance of an argument that simply could not be settled on a comments board and shouldn’t take place there either. I’m all for healthy debate but when there is a fundamental disagreement that cannot be resolved there is little merit in making it public. My use of the term may have been incorrect but refers to the simple truth that the games developers reap a tremendous harvest from the ideas and characters in the BL novels. To say they’re non-canonical is as inaccurate as saying, apparently, they are. Equally the Forge World Horus Heresy books rely so heavily on the novels for material it would be a great injustice to the series, the writers and those that have enjoyed reading them to condemn to little more than fan fiction.

Poster Boys

I may have done something rather silly. I’ve briefly handed over the reigns to Timothy Stephens (@tjstep83) who has written a little article poking fun at the noble warriors of Macragge and why they’ve become the poster boys for the Imperium and Warhammer 40,000 as a whole.

Before I unleash Tim on my beloved Ultramarines I will say this; I started collecting an Ultramarines army after years of watching kids paint them terribly because they were the ones on the box. I was determined to prove that you could field a nicely painted Ultramarines army. It was only until I’d started down my journey to Ultramar that I realised what a fantastic and honourable heritage the chapter had. It resonated with me and started a passion for those blue armoured bastards that is approaching 10 years and 2 full companies…

Ultramarines are perhaps the single most prolific space marine army on the tabletop in the science fiction or fantasy realm of Warhammer 40,000. Since Second Edition the Ultramarines have also formed the basis, whether we like it or not, of every vanilla marine codex ever printed. Ultimately, for whatever unfathomable reason, Games Workshop chose the Ultramarines as their poster boy. In the following article the question is raised, why did Games Workshop make the Ultramarines their poster boy and not some other Space Marine chapter like the Imperial Fists?

Why not choose the Imperial Fists? The sons of Dorn were featured in one of the first ever Games Workshop printed novels entitled Space Marine and have inspired many a gamer since. Imperial Fists were there at Terra by the Emperor’s side when Horus came knocking, surely that is a worthy enough deed! In addition they successfully helped to defend Cadia against the thirteenth black crusade, have fought against Tyranids and stopped many an Ork WAAGH! Surely that must be taken into consideration when deciding who gets to be Games Workshop’s poster boy?

However, only Ultramarines are worthy enough to be put on the cover of 3 out of 4 vanilla marine codices (We won’t mention third edition now will we?). Only Ultramarines are good enough to be pictured on the Vanilla Marine Box Sets. Well to be honest that marvel of a movie “Ultramarine: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie” says it all about why the Ultramarines are the Games Workshop poster boys! When John Hurt states in the introduction that “the greatest of them all are the Ultramarines.” You don’t need to debate the issue anymore! Quite simply they are the greatest, no qualifier as to why is needed.

Ultramarines have a proud history of slaying the alien, burning the heretic and knowing no fear! Indeed on many occasions they have stuck to the holy tenants of the Codex Astartes, as laid out by Roboute Guilliman, to persecute a war in a timely and efficient manner that any management team would be proud of! They defeated the Tyrannic hoard at Macragge and destroyed the Necron menace at Deimos all in quick order and without incident. Compare that to the blundering efforts of the Imperial Fists who’s greatest contribution to date was letting valuable gene-seed fall into the hands of the Iron Warriors Traitor Legion, or First Captain Lysander’s dubious escape from Malodrax.

A further reason why Games Workshop would choose the Ultramarines over the Imperial Fists comes from fluff relating to the scouring, that event in which the Loyalists pushed the Traitor Legions back into the eye of terror. During the scouring the Imperial Fists located the Iron Warriors final bastion, the Eternal Fortress. The Imperial Fists under Rogal Dorn leaped head first into a war of attrition with no forethought or planning. Needless to say the legion was nearly wiped out to a man. The remaining sons of Dorn were rescued by the heroic actions of the newly formed Ultramarine Chapter who also forced the Iron Warriors to retreat. Thus the Imperial Fists could never hope to challenge the Ultramarines as poster boys!

The choice of the colour palate is a more practical example on why Games Workshop chose the Ultramarines over the Imperial Fists. Unfortunately, for the Ultramarines, this is a point of derision that seems to rear its head occasionally. The most common dig seems to be Ultra-Smurf for obvious reasons. However painting an army yellow is for either the most experienced pro or the bravest amateur around! Good yellow often starts with a dark brown and works its way up, layer after painstaking layer. Blue on the other hand only requires one coat if you’re a beginner or maybe three if you want to put some more effort into it. This is why ultramarines are great for Games Workshop’s target market, the tween boy! As a result the Ultramarines have their own free how to paint guide available and if someone wants to go all out, they can purchase the “how to paint Ultramarines” guide from iBooks. You don’t see a guide on how to paint Imperial Fists on iBooks now do you?

Clearly Ultramarines are the number one choice for poster boy for a number of reasons. Let’s recap! Their Fluff is better than the Imperial Fists, being more noble and pure of heart than any other chapter of space marines. According to John Hurt they are the greatest, no qualifier needed! They also rescued the Imperial Fists from certain doom at the Eternal Fortress, while they are much easier to paint than other space marine chapters featuring their own free how to paint guide. At the end of the day however it is easy to see why a jealous Rogal Dorn that started these anti-Ultramarine shenanigans all because he couldn’t choose the colour he wanted for his legion.