Thursday, 16 March 2017
Gathering Storm: Rise of the Primarch Part 3 - Formations, Detachments, Psychic Powers (Warhammer 40,000 Supplement Review)
Welcome to the second part on this book's rules. If you're after the previous part, you can find it here.
You know, I think i'm going to need to figure out a better format for these reviews. While we have plenty of the first option and some of the second, there are no psychic powers to be found at all here. Oh there are a few notes in this book, but they're just reminders of certain Grey Knights rules. Hardly a bad thing to have as a reminder in games, admittedly, but after the more specialized stuff the other psychic heavy heroes received, the lack of anything new is oddly irksome.
So, with that odd introduction out of the way, let's get on with the remainder of this book's tabletop content.
Most of the new formations this time around are tied directly into the heroes, even more so than usual. Rather than blending together a mixture of units a-la Fracture of Biel-Tan, they focus upon individual armies one at a time, and often hinge upon the involvement of a single specific hero to lead them. It's certainly an odd contrast between the two, especially given how willing the writers of Fracture were to mix in any unit they felt was engaging for the force. This could either be down to writers seeing various astartes armies as more separate entities than different nations of eldar (and no, I will not be starting that little rant again) or it could just be down to experimentation. Either way, it's an odd quality given these books have been released side by side.
This is the one for Cypher's posse, if you'd not guessed from the name, and it largely serves as an excuse to deploy a heavily armied strike team into enemy lines. Consisting of Cypher himself and 1-3 units of Fallen (basically slightly better equipped versions of your standard astartes), it has no restrictions but a couple of key benefits. The highlighted special rule is the fact that any unit of Fallen within this formation gains And They Shall Know no Fear and Stubborn when within 12" of Cypher himself, but the more important one is the fact they call gain Infiltrate.
In effect, by taking this formation you end up with a substantial chunk of any army, capable of taking a variety of heavy weapons, power fists and grenades, and then dropping in on the enemy early on. On the one hand, there's nothing present to really boost their durability, and short of serving as a single massive (albeit a potentially very harmful) roadblock, they're unlikely to win the game themselves at high points sessions. These have not been written as veterans either, so it sidesteps the potential issue of allowing a player to drop thirty marines armed with lightning claws almost atop of the deployment zone in turn one; plus smart players will likely be able to wipe them out before reinforcements can fully show up to back them on the battlefield.
However, you then have to consider what impact this would have on smaller scale games of five-hundred or seven-hundred-and-fifty-point engagements. At those skirmishing sizes, this stops being an advanced force and starts being the majority of your opposition showing up all at once. As such, I personally like the concept of it and can see its use in more commonplace sessions, but at the same time it's another example of something written without budget battles in mind.
Bulwark of Purity
And now we're onto the Grey Knights. No points for anyone who predicted that, as there are few other armies quite so obsessed with having purity in their naming conventions as this lot. Well, perhaps besides the Sisters at any rate. The name is also fairly self-explanatory, as it allows you to have a rather big block of units which are hard to kill getting in the way of your army, and dishing out damage in return. Consisting of one Terminator Librarian, two units of Paladins and two units of Grey Knight Terminators, these guys have been custom made to screw with psykers and daemons at every turn. So long as three of these units are still standing - no matter how many of each might be left - everything in your army gains +1 to Deny the Witch rolls, severely screwing over Magnus' ilk. Furthermore, equally relying upon three of their number still standing, the Knights can pull an area-of-effect version of Banishment. If one lets it loose, anything with the Daemon special rule within 12" of any other unit from this detachment is immediately hit by the same attack.
While this is admittedly a much more specialized choice than most options in these books, it is nevertheless an extremely useful one. There are, after all, far more daemonic units on the tabletop than in past years thanks to Magnus showing up and the Thousand Sons getting a substantial overhaul. Furthermore, with psykers becoming ever more prominent in this game, the extra edge these guys offer as a counter is definitely a welcome bonus. It's not enough to end the unending tide of Horrors unfortunately, and lord knows we need a better counter to that than multiple Titans, but it is a step in the right direction at least.
The fact that the upgrades are largely defensive also helps this particular formation fulfill the role of an infantry based defender many marine armies lack. It's certainly a much more durable one than most expected options at any rate. As it serves more as a basic enhancement than a total game changer, it's one of the more moderate choices I personally like to see in these formations.
So, onto the Ultramarines choice, which is certainly quite the unexpected combo option of units. While you might have expected something to focus more upon their lauded tactical variety or, given the name, a massed force of Honour Guards, it instead consists of Sicarius, an Honour Guard unit, and then four Stern/Vanguard squads. These unfortunately can't take dedicated transports, which already hurts their capabilities quite a bit when it comes to the usual "Hi guys, I hope you like plasma!" drop pod attacks favoured by the Sternguard. Thankfully however, there is nothing to stop you taking jump packs for the melee orientated options on offer here.
The upgrades are somewhat basic unfortunately, with the big one being a basic +1 to WS and BS scores for everyone in the formation, for a bit of added firepower. Their real role though, seem to be to give Guilliman a few more meat shields, as any unit within 3" of him can perform Look Out, Sir! rolls as if he were part of their squad. While certainly not a bad choice, and a useful option to help prevent the primiarch from becoming bogged down by too many enemy units, it's a bit overly expensive for mere fodder. It really does seem to be a choice best left for extremely large games or Apocalypse battles, as it's too large and unwieldy to really fit into the average game.
Also, and this can't go without comment, but the use of Latin has taken a very odd turn here. Normally Warhammer on the whole is fairly loose when it comes to using the proper Latin pronouns or definitions, but "Victrix" specifically refers to a female warrior or champion of renown. I don't know if this was an odd jab at the female marines crowd or just a subtle in-joke, but either way it's a curious term to be sure.
Triumvirate of the Primarch
Now we reach the one everyone knew was coming. Really, as we mentioned, this combination of three distinct groups of heroes has been a winning option for the writers from the start, and they were hardly about to change anything now. With the choice of Guilliman, the Grand Master, and the Lord of the Fallen all together, you can expect that this is quite the powerful formation, and definitely the big gun of this book. Surprisingly though, it's actually the most tame out of everything we have seen thus far, at least in terms of Triumvirates, and relies more upon the heroes' individual special rules than any big bonus.
There are only two special rules on offer this time around, with the first offering the units here a bit of added durability. In effect, once per turn each model in this group can re-roll one save, but with Guilliman there to soak up so much firepower and the likes of Voldus being no slouch in just shrugging off bolt rounds himself, it's only a minor bonus really. In addition, the second rule really just gives every friendly Imperial unit on the tabletop Stubborn. While I am not complaining personally (as, again, having formations win games has been a pet peeve for a long time now) it's still odd that something so basic was thrown together for such a legendary mix of heroes.
So, those are the detachments. Nothing too bad, but nothing especially great either, and more reliable than anything truly outstanding. Let's see if the big army option can make up for that.
The only one on offer here this time is the Victrix Strike Force Detachment, which is an Ultramarines exclusive option. The combination of units is basically the "everything possible" approach to chocies, listing more or less anything present in the standard codex which isn't tied down to another chapter:
Strike Force Ultra
Strike Force Command
Reclusiam Command Squad
Armored Task Force
1st Company Task Force
Anti-Air Defence Force
10th Company Task Force
Land Raider Spearhead
Centurion Siegebreaker Cohort
So, you can effectively re-work this to combine together with almost any army in mind, but still take advantage of the new special rules. What are those? Again, nothing especially noteworthy, but certainly much more useful than a few of the previous examples. besides the "re-roll Warlord traits" option which is always present with these, you have the command benefits of taking the Ultramarines' tactical qualities to their absolute extreme. You can enact one extra Devastator/Assault/Tactical Doctrine per turn at the moment of your choosing, per turn no less, and atop of this almost anything can now take an objective. So long as it's just not a transport, anything within range of an objective can hold it, even if it is contested. While that latter point is pushing things a bit too far in my opinion, it's definitely a welcome improvement over the stuff seen in Fall of Cadia and Fracture of Biel-Tan. Rather than just piling everything into a formation and calling it a day or giving them suicide speed boosters, there's more of a sense of direction here without resorting to sheer raw power.
However, with that said, it's incredibly easy to see how this new ability could be easily abused. As the rule is not stopped or blocked by a unit falling under strength, it means you can end up with situations where the Ultramarines hold a single objective by having one guy next to it, overriding an entire army. It also isn't affected by any of the usual modifiers either, meaning that all you need to do is just stay somewhere close by and keep rolling saves, and the game is yours. The only reason I am not calling it broken is because there are so many units which can actively butcher their way through tactical squads with ease or break them in a single round of combat. Even with that though, it's still hard not to wince when you think of just how many easy victories this new rule could help someone pull off.
Like the lore and previous pages, these ideas seem semi-complete for the most part. They're rushed rather than truly bad, and it honestly reads as if someone was trying to experiment with something fun before having to submit a first-draft version of the rules. This unfortunately results in more than a few logical flaws and, as cited above, a number of rules which can result in insanely easy victories. While I would be hard pressed to call these rules truly bad, and you can have some fun with the formations, it's certainly not the best showing either. Overall, much like the rest of the Gathering Storm, the book retains good ideas but very flawed executions in many places.
So, with that done, join us next time when we rap up this book for good with a few thoughts on the returning primarchs and what can come from them.