Codex Astra Militarum – A Review

warhammer-40000-logo With their name changed for reasons unknown, or at least unconfirmed *cough* copyright *cough*, here comes the Star Army – or Astra Militarum in High Gothic.  Or just the plain old Imperial Guard to those of us who will always know them as such (it even says so on the title page). Astra Militarum Codex We’re mostly all familiar with the new format Codex’s so I’ll just say it’s on par with the best of them.  The artwork is beautiful, it’s full colour (although I still reserve my love for the monochrome inks) and top quality throughout, everything you expect from the hardbacks. I’ve been quite looking forward to seeing what [insert authors name here as Games Workshop won’t tell you anymore] has done for the Imperial Guard as I wasn’t a big fan of the last codex, I don’t know why. Maybe because it was crap (in my humble opinion). Specifically, I didn’t like how the orders worked – the 6” range for Platoon Command squads was just unworkable, Vox Casters didn’t give you extra range to issue orders which just seemed plain stupid to me.  Seeing as how the orders system was supposed to be the Imperial Guard’s ‘thing’, I didn’t feel like it was executed properly as it wasn’t inclusive of most of the list, and forced you to either play in a very limited way, always take Ursarker Creed, or join the Valkyrie party like everyone else who wanted to occasionally win a game. So addressing the orders first, you’ll be happy to know they have changed for the better – not perfect, but definitely better.  It’s a blanket 12” range for everyone now unless stated in a special rule – and this can be extended out to 18” through the Warlord Trait table. The Imperium can send a message trillions of miles across the galaxy, but still can’t send one from one side of the battlefield to the other, so Vox Casters still don’t affect range – granting you the re-roll to the leadership test for the order to be carried out instead.  There are more orders now for total of nine – three of which are still for senior officers only, defined with an additional special rule over the new ‘Voice of Command’ rule which is what enables you to issue orders in the first place.  But a few of the old orders have gone (like go to ground) so a lot of the list is actually new – and also better accommodates things like Storm Troopers, I mean Storm Army, I mean Militarum Tempestus. Damn copyright. The Storm Troopers have changed considerably, now taken as elite platoons in the same way as standard infantry, with the officer able to issue orders to them and so actually including them in the whole army ‘thing’ this time round whereas before they just…weren’t really.  This is a good thing as it removes some of the reliance on the Valkyries as it becomes difficult to move an entire platoon around in flyers and is not really feasible points wise now the Valkyrie/Vulture points cost has gone up massively – which it needed to, as they were a bit too good.  And this leads into the primary reason for the new Rhinox Transport coming into being: it’s a cheap, heavily gunned transport able to negotiate difficult terrain – essentially a poor troopers Valkyrie on tracks – and now the go to method of moving around your expensive Storm Troopers without inviting the dangers of deep strike. It’s also worth noting Storm Troopers have now lost their Hellpistols and so are significantly worse in the assaults they often find themselves in, what with being so daring and everything. I’m unsure of the reasoning behind this, but the cynic in me is looking at the Ogryn shaped other new kit that came out and is now the only unit which can actually do anything in an assault without placing your Command units in harm’s way. Which is a shame because, for as much as Storm Troopers had a definite lean towards shooting, they are still supposed to be special forces bad asses who could mix it up in an assault too. A big plus is the addition of Tank Commanders, enabling you to do proper armoured companies with Veteran Grenadiers mounted in Chimera’s still acting as your troops.  The tank orders, whilst not amazing, encourage you to race your Leman Russ’ around the board terrifying your opponent, which sounds fun.  But while this is good if you are doing an armoured company, it may not be so desirable if you’re sticking with some foot sloggers. The orders also revolve around taking squadrons of tanks which again, is something that would typically appeal to armoured companies over everything else – in short, standard Tank Commanders only makes sense if you’re doing an armoured company.  Everyone else can take Knight Commander Pask –who’s got even better, and cheaper, and he now has a different effect depending on the type of tank he’s riding in (whilst also clearing up any ambiguity over what he could ride in for the pedantic souls amongst us). Take him with an Executioner and you can fire a single large blast instead 3 small ones, or give a Punisher Rending? Yes please, thank you very much, don’t mind if I do, much obliged….you get the picture, he’s cool. Very cool.

The Paskinator - now with added Rendingness
The Paskinator – now with added Rending

Some of the Tanks have got cheaper (although a couple did go up a bit too), most notably the aforementioned Executioner – which I’m guessing is to compensate for the fact it tends to glance itself to death with the inevitable overheats that come from firing three plasma cannons a turn.  But at least that can part pay for Pask, and then if you’re only firing a single large blast the chances are even slimmer. Conscripts also made it onto the reduced points list and are now very cheap – presumably in line with the Chaos Cultists who are identical. This makes horde armies more appealing now and if you can get your Commissar ‘Voice of Command’ via two of the Warlord Traits they can issue orders to them too – as long as they are your only HQ choice that is, which is a nice bit of character making its way back into the list.  And I think that’s where the book triumphs, it brings the character of the army back and away from the special characters you were forced to take previously.  There are of course casualties in doing this (poor Marbo) and it will never have the full flavour of a list dedicated to each world (still a possibility?), but it’s enough for you to generally field the army you want in the way you want. The book is a big improvement on its predecessor. The unit choices are generally cheaper and work better with each other, giving you a little more flexibility in what is an otherwise clunky army.  The improved order system keeps the flavour of the army intact and rewards you for holding your nerve and timing them right for maximum effect. It’s methodical, organised death – just the way the Imperial Guard should be.

Codex Astra Militarum is available from Firestorm Games priced £27.00.

-Lee

A Thousand Sons – Review

Cast your mind back. It’s 2002 and Games Workshop are preparing for the Eye of Terror campaign. A fledgling Black Library released Storm of Iron, a book by Graham McNeill, who at the time was perhaps best known for his work on the Games Workshop Design Team. It was good. Like, really good. The community’s reaction was pretty positive. Yet since then, it feels like that same community seems to have soured on him, if only for the crime of liking Ultramarines. [Fuckers! – Ed.]

A-Thousand-Sons

For my own part, I’ve not always enjoyed everything Graham has written, but he’s one of the few writers that seems to be experimenting and testing his limits with each new book he writes. His books often don’t quite work for me, but his ability to mix of 40k battles and more nuanced exploration of the universe wins me over more often than not.

My pre ramble is important, because if there was a way of describing my gut feeling of A Thousand Sons, it’s “Mostly works, if not quite as much as it should”. It’s going to take the rest of this review to explain why.

Now, how go best go about it? If you are familiar with the history of the 40k universe at all, you will know the Fall of Prospero is one of the defining moments of the Horus Heresy. A Thousand Sons starts sometime before that and allows us to get to know the legion, as it explores the galaxy trying to increase mankind’s knowledge, which they see as the real purpose of the Great Crusade.  Censured at the Council of Nikaea for treading a dangerous path, events soon spiral out of control and the Imperium will never be the same again.

The main drive and focus of the book is secrets. Everyone has them, from our humble Remembrancers, the human element of the book, to Magnus, Primarch of the Thousand Sons himself. Even the Space Wolves, usually portrayed as being as subtle as an axe to the face, are keeping back something, which suits a book about a Legion that one day will become the servants of the trickster god Tzeentch.

The novel is certainly very effective at allowing you to empathise with the 15th Legion, as by allowing you to see their triumphs through to their lows, you gain a real sense of the tragedy of the situation, as two Primarchs refuse to back down from one another until it’s too late. Getting to see the glorious paradise of Prospero and how the Space Wolves appear as alien invaders allows for a great contrast to A Thousand Sons sister book Prospero Burns. It really makes you root for a legion that could otherwise come off as more arrogant and monstrous than the Emperor’s Children.

McNeill is good at penning an action scene and the description of the fall of Prospero as one continuous piece in the latter half of the book manages to capture both a personal scale of Magnus’ folly and the larger more epic of the war around him, that an event like the Horus Heresy demands. The only real failing of the book is its human characters. Whilst fairly prominent at the start of the novel, the Remembrancers seem to be lost and forgotten by the second half, until suddenly they become prominent characters at a time that is disruptive to the more interesting narrative of Magnus and his son’s discovery of Horus’ plans. By the time of the invasion the characters have any further involvement cut off, in a sentence that seems to hint they make it back to Prospero, without any follow-up. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but it’s an odd ending to characters that have been written to make us care about them, only to have them dropped as any hint of a future absent once the big fighting scenes kick in. [I think the point was that fate can call upon even the lowliest soul to change the galaxy, but be just as quick to discard them. But that’s just me. -Ed.]

All in all, apart from the odd bit of clunky dialogue, I really have no actual complaints about the book. It flows well, and Graham manages his usual trick of making each battle about more than just cool explosions and bolter porn. A real blast from start to finish and a nice counterpart to Dan Annett’s  Prospero Burns. It’s probably the best work I’ve read of Graham’s yet and I look forward to reading his further contributions to both the 30k and 40k universe.

A Thousand Sons is available via The Black Library as an E-book or physical copy, or is available from all good high street booksellers. And Waterstones.

The Tragedy of Leman Russ

leman_russ_-_prospero

Continuing my series on the Primarchs, I thought I’d look next at the Wolf King, the Lord of Fenris and Primarch of the Space Wolves and inventor of a bad ass battle tank; Leman Russ.

I rather suspect that Leman Russ was at his happiest when he was on the ice fields of Fenris busting heads and uniting the clans under his rule. It was a simple existence that suited his martial prowess and his sense of courage and honour. It bore none of the burden that his true calling would entail.

Whereas all of Russ’ brothers possessed a facet of the Emperor’s magnificence to a greater or lesser extent; Lorgar possessing his father’s single-minded devotion, Vulkan his compassion. Russ was born apart on a genetic, physical and psychological level for the very simple reason that he was created to kill them. He was the Emperor’s executioner: held in reserve for the very worst foes faced by the Crusade fleets, capable of unleashing extraordinary amounts of violence but displaying a level of cold control that Angron’s bezerkers could never come close to. And when necessity demanded, that controlled savagery and channelled rage could be directed towards an entirely more familiar target.

Leman Russ was created to be fiercely, violently, loyal to the Emperor. He and his legion were the Emperor’s protectors just as much as the Custodian Guard. If not more so as the legion had to not only be ready to defend the Imperium from aliens but domestic threats as well. Although he was happy to wage war on Magnus and his Thousand Sons, because he above all other Primarchs loathed psykers, but because he was ordered to do so. The sheer scale and brutality demonstrated by the Space Wolves wasn’t killers gone mad, sociopaths unchained or even hate filled bezerkers slipped from the leash, it’s the understanding of the level of force required to stop a legion of Astartes. It’s also worth noting that it has been referenced that Space Wolves have a particular resistance to psychic influence which suggests the Emperor was very much covering all the bases.

Russ, I believe, was a pragmatic and philosophical soul, despite his outward appearance, and was very accepting of his role in the galaxy. He bore it with typical Fenrisian stoicism and understood more than any of his brothers that he was a product of a process rather than a son to a parent. And as such saw his relationship much more as master and servant forever separating him from his brothers but at the same time earning him no favour with his father which, despite everything, he still sought. And despite all that, Russ had a great fondness for his brothers despite their petty manoeuvring and imagined slights. However, his true calling prevented him from forging any strong bonds concealing it behind the borish and barbaric personae that all his brothers believed he possessed although that was as much a defence mechanism on their part as none could ignore the efficiency with which he and his legion broke the 2nd and 11th legions.

Had the Heresy not burned the galaxy from arm to arm Leman Russ knew that he and his legion had no place in a unified Imperium. Their method of waging war and their true purpose would become obsolete. They would be disbanded and cast amongst the galaxy as peacekeepers and enforcers being reduced to little more than tattle tailers and political heavies worse than an Imperial Commissar. The bitterest truth is that the destruction of the Thousand Sons was a manipulation by Horus and his cohorts to eliminate the two Legions that could truly oppose him. And in so doing Russ failed in his duty as both executioner and protector, unable to reach his master in time to prevent his demise or cut the head off the snake before it struck. And as the legion counted its dead above the burning remains of Prospero he knew it too. Russ would have been forced into impotency knowing that he would never reach his father in time, and caging an animal such as Russ is a cruel trick indeed.

The true tragedy of Leman Russ wasn’t that he was mistreated, delivered to a world in Chaos, given too much responsibility too soon or lacked the mental faculties to do what was asked of him. The true tragedy of Leman Russ was actually just as capable as Guilliman or Dorn and saw the patterns as the cogs of the Imperial Drama turned and is crushed his soul. So much so he chose to close his eyes to it lest he betray his orders and unleash his Wolves without orders. His own sense of honour and duty, and his genetically hard-wired obedience prevented him from acting as, for all the Space Wolves overt acts of rebellion, not a single one would ever defy the Emperor. Even in the 41st Millennium the Space Wolves are a law unto themselves but they would never defy an edict if they believed it in line with the Emperor’s wishes.

Leman Russ was arguably his greatest triumph – the pinnacle of what he was intended to be. But in reality, he was made too well, the yoke about his neck too tight and it choked him from giving the order he knew needed to be given.

The Emperor and the Wolf

The rumour mill has been working over time today with chatter that Forgeworld will be releasing a Horus Heresy supplement in the coming year or so. This is of no surprise to me at all. If anything I’m a little surprised it’s taken them this long to do it. But the clues were there with all the power armour and pre-heresy tank variants coming out.

There’s also rumours of a supplement that, basically, is the early years of the 42nd millennium. The Emperor is dead, and his body is in the hands of the Ultramarines. The Imperiuam has been torn asunder and is now a group smaller empires controlled by the Astartes who are at war with one another. Needless to say the Ultramarines and their successors control the biggest chunk of space. Terra is in the hand of the Imperial Fists and believe the Emperor’s body needs to be laid to rest so he may be reborn. The rumours prattle on at length but the point is that the supplement, if it ever comes to light, would take 40k from 5 to midnight to about quarter past. The commercial sense is clear as the majority of players have Space Marine armies and therefore a high percentage of games are Marine vs Marine and it’s just a ‘training exercise’. This would allow players to legitimately play one another.

Anyway, I wonder how the Heresy supplement will tie in to the books. I’d like to think there’ll be rules for Primarchs and, therefore, models. But more importantly a balance needs to be found between what the Astartes were and what they become, especially in respect of the traitor legions. I’m a little apprehensive if I’m honest as the Horus Heresy novels are doing a fine job of fleshing out the events. An IA book, if allowed to, could run roughshod over everything Dan Abneet, Graham McNeill and the others have cultivated.

The talk of the Horus Heresy supplement got me thinking about, once more, the fluff. Specifically about the Space Wolves as I think they’re probably one of the hardest Legions to capture in game and more so for Warhammer 30,000 (as it’ll inevitably be dubbed) – the chapter of the 41st millennium being fairly different from their Heresy incarnation. More than that I started thinking about the Space Wolves and their relationship with the Emperor.

We know that the Space Wolves were the Emperor’s executioners. His attack dogs. It’s also fair to assume that the other Legions were aware of the the secondary role the Space Wolves had beyond prosecuting the Emperor’s Great Crusade. But the question I’m throwing out there is what was the extent that the Primarchs and the other Legions aware? Did they believe that the Space Wolves were given the task because they were eager to please savages or because they knew the strength that the Space Wolves possess.

Those that had read the Horus Heresy novels will know that the Wolves were unleashed on three separate occasions. Once against each of the lost legions, the third time against the Thousand Sons obviously to great effect. The thing that has always made the Space Wolves more dangerous than the World Eaters was their self control. Their savagery in combat was always tempered by strategy and an awareness of the violence they unleash. It’s almost a grudging acceptance of their savagery. They see a problem and their mind immediately leaps to the most expedient way of dealing with it. Such as throwing a space station at planet. It’s brutal, mind bendingly violent but the undertone of logic is what makes them so terrifying. Whereas the World Eaters would and did descend into mindless slaughter. The World Eaters were content to wreak havoc for havocs sake. To butcher all before them because they liked it.

The Space Wolves were designed to be able to take on any of their brother legions. They’re psychically resistant, their ferocity and lupine heritage makes them difficult to scare and even hard to put down. Their tactics are uncompromising and unpredictable and their savagery tempered by reason and cold logic. It is a terrifying cocktail of traits. And makes me ask the question; to what extent was Leman Russ truly a brother to the other Primarchs?

All the other Primarchs possess obvious facets of the Emperor’s personality. Some even share traits. Roboute Guilliman, it is said, was almost a straight up clone. I’ve always thought that Leman Russ possessed the animal, bestial nature of the Emperor that lurks within all of us. But the more I’ve thought about it the less I’m sure. Considering the task that the Emperor had in mind when he created Leman Russ and the Space Wolves it would make far more sense for Leman Russ to not share the same familial bonds to make his task that much easier. His loyalty had to be, first and foremost to the Emperor.

It tracks as the Legion/Chapter is fiercely loyal to themselves and the Emperor. They had disdain for the bureaucracy of the Imperium as a whole and although close to his brothers Leman Russ never shared the kind of bonds of kinship that, for example, Fulgrim and Ferrus Manus shared. Granted that didn’t end well…

It makes me wonder what the Emperor had in mind for the Space Wolves after the Great Crusade. Or all the Legions for that matter. It makes me suspect that the Emperor intended for the Space Wolves to be a galactic patrol force. A force brutal enough that it would quell insurrection and keep the other Legions in line.

However the far more likely thought is that the Emperor created the Space Wolves because he always suspected something could go wrong, whatever that may be. The Space Wolves were an insurance policy, for want of a better term. But it all comes back to that decisive moment when the Primarchs were scattered denying the Emperor the chance to nurture the Primarchs into what he needed them to be. But I suspect that Leman Russ was created exactly as he was intended to be. He was the Emperor’s greatest creation and most devastating weapon.

It occurs to me of all the loyalist Legions the Space Wolves would have been most feared by the traitors. As not only were they the most capable to bring the fight to the traitors but they already had experience of doing just that. They would have also been fired by a righteous indignation that the Emperor was defied, rather than the hurt of a brothers betrayed.

The funny thing is that the Primarchs spend an awful lot of time not trusting the Space Wolves because of their tribal nature, unkempt appearance and savagery in combat, but of all of the Emperor’s creations they were the only ones that ever acted with wholeheartedly the Imperium’s best interests in mind, the Emperor’s fullest support and his unwavering approval. For all the power games, manipulations and rivalries that went on amongst the other Primarchs, Leman Russ was the most trusted and equally the most loyal of all the Emperor’s sons. This despite Leman Russ never seeking it out or even acknowledging it. If anything I rather feel that Leman Russ, incorrectly, believed the Emperor tolerated him in the same way a father tolerates a dog bought to keep the children safe. A necessity rather than something to be loved.

I suspect the opposite to be true. He loved Leman Russ precisely because he was the immovable rock beneath his feet. He knew that Russ would do what he could not – to protect his children and his subjects, even from themselves, no matter the cost.