My first Games Workshop army of any kind was a custom loyalist Space Marine chapter, and for the first couple of years I played I held the traitors to the Imperium in disdain. Naturally, my second army in the 40K line was a Chaos Marine army, bringing me through the same arc as that played out by the fiction, and like those traitors I embraced the fall enthusiastically when it happened. My Death Guard, true children of Grandfather Nurgle, have served me well through the last two codices, but how do they fare with the newest update to the forces of Chaos. And, less selfishly, how is the new codex overall? Well, it’s very good, but does have some missteps in my view.
The Good (Or Bad, since they’re bad guys. Whatever. This is what works.)
First and briefly, the fluff is excellent. A lot of it will be old hat to long time 40K fans, but there’s some really good briefs on each of the Traitor Legions as well as a decent number of Renegade Chapters that offer solid alternatives to anyone wanting to collect a version of Chaos Marines that hasn’t been done ten thousand times before but is still canonical. There’s also an excellent history of the Abyssal Crusade which drives home the dangers of even fighting Chaos. All in all it makes for a nice historical sourcebook for the Heretics.
The physical presentation is heads and shoulders above any previous codex in the 40K line – like the newer Fantasy Army Books we’re now getting codices in full color hardcover and while the price tag predictably went up accordingly I very much prefer this format over the old softcovers. How well the binding will hold up over time remains to be seen, but it looks pretty solid so far and the book just feels a lot less flimsy than a previous codex. On top of which, the full color art jumps off the pages and does a fantastic job of pulling the reader into the setting in a way I don’t think the old black and white art could.
Now to the meat of the book – the new Chaos army list. First thing to address is a new special rule, Veterans of the Long War. The last codex had very little to distinguish between a recent Renegade Marine and one of the ancient warriors of the Legions from Horus’ time. This special rule accomplishes that distinction nicely, providing any marine with it a boost to Leadership and Hatred of Space Marines. Now a band of Renegades will play out a bit less organized, a bit more selfish and self-serving whereas the old Legions and veterans will show more focus and determination to the extermination of mankind – a much-needed means of tailoring your Chaos Marines to taste.
There’s also a special rule for the Champions of Chaos which forces them to make and accept challenges whenever possible – and rewards successful slayers of characters with a roll on a random table of Chaos “Gifts” which range from nothing at all, to mutation to a Chaos Spawn, basic advantages like bonus attacks or strength, all the way up to Apotheosis as a Daemon Prince. The table is too random to really count on in a strict competitive setting, but in play it’s freaking awesome. And the benefits do significantly outweigh the negatives.
In the army list itself, there’s a lot of similarities to the last codex but with tweaks and enhancements – specialist Marine forces like Plague Marines and Noise Guard are back to Elite forces but having a Lord of the appropriate Chaos God will make them Troops for that army. Characters are back to selecting equipment from a Chaos Armory, which while not as extensive as the old 4th edition one, is a welcome throwback to the customizability of that older codex. Sorcerers now benefit from the new Psychic powers as well as revamped and largely improved Chaos God-specific psychic lists, as well as being able to purchase extra levels of Psychic Mastery all the way up to 3 (and Ahriman is an eye popping Level 4 Psyker!)
Chaos also gets some new units that provide some hefty punch – the Maulerfiend is a devastating close combat walker and the Forgefiend is a fantastic walking gun platform. Of the two the Forgefiend seems like the better option, as you still have to get the Maulerfiend across the table and into combat, and Monstrous Creatures with the extra penetration die are going to be a problem, but both look like they’ll be able to pull their weight. Chaos also got a new flier, the Heldrake, to play in the 6th edition reindeer games, and with the AP3 Baleflamer option and Vector Strike it’s a terror on infantry, but less so against Air Superiority – more on that in a bit. Regardless of its role, it’s a gorgeous model. As a plus, all of the Daemon Engines which also includes the Defiler get the 5+ Invulnerable Save from the Daemon Special rule, and a once-per-game re-roll to Wound and Armor Penetration.
Other new options include Mutilators, which are Close-Combat versions of Obliterators; not a spectacular choice for the same reasons as the Maulerfiend, except I think they’ll be even more vulnerable to shooting overall being only Toughness 4, 5 at best with a Mark of Nurgle. And Cultists make their reappearance as cheap Troops which can be fielded in units of up to 35 with the option of a Mark of Chaos; a swarm of these guys can be deceptively dangerous as my experience is opponents will overlook them in favor of larger threats. Led by one of the new Dark Apostles, which are HQ units that can share their Leadership with nearby units and grant re-rolls on the Chaos Gifts table, this can be a powerful swarm unit. Or a meat shield, depending on your preferences.
Special Characters are going to look similar to previous editions, in many cases with minor upgrades. Speaking from personal interest, Typhus is much more appealing with his ability to convert Cultists to Plague Zombies, and a truly horrifying once-per-game AP2 large template close combat attack with the Destroyer Hive. Similarly the existing Chaos Marines of various flavors are much like the previous codex, with some tweaks and additional options such as Poisoned Plague knives for all Plague Marines and the Aspiring Sorcerer being included in the cost of a Thousand Sons unit.
All in all, there is a lot to like in the new Codex. It’s not perfect though…
The Bad (Or Good, since they’re… oh, screw it.)
My Daemon Prince. My poor, poor Daemon Prince. Ever since the metal Daemon Prince of Nurgle was issued, this guy has been the centerpiece of my Chaos Space Marine army, but no longer. Everyone likes talking about which of their favorite units got nerfed in a new codex, this is the one for me. Let’s break down the problems.
First and foremost, he lost Eternal Warrior. For a Monstrous Creature the ability to avoid single-hit death is essential, it’s just too large a target otherwise. Previously for Nurgle it still wasn’t too bad, since the Mark of Nurgle boosted him to Toughness 6 which under 6th edition meant only the Instant Death special rule would have been able to kill him without Eternal Warrior… but as written, the Daemon Prince doesn’t get to take the Marks either. Instead you must choose which Chaos God he is a Daemon of, and this grants a set of completely different upgrades from the Marks, none of which increase toughness. And, frankly, the upgrades of Nurgle – Hatred of Tzeentch Daemons, Shrouded, and Slow and Purposeful – are pretty awful.
So, no matter how many points you pour into this guy, and he’s going to require quite a few to be worthwhile at all, he can be instant-killed by any weapon with the special rule or any strength 10 weapon. While Strength 10 is hardly ubiquitous, it’s common enough to make this an un-fieldable choice barring an errata update. Oh well… Daemon Allies, I’ll always have the Prince from you.
The other glaring issue with the new codex is the lack of effective anti-air options. Frankly it feels like this codex was already well underway before the rules for 6th edition were set in stone, certainly before Fliers started dominating 6th edition games. The only additions the codex provides to counter enemy Fliers are a Flakk missile upgrade to Havok unit Missile Launchers, and the Heldrake. Of the two, the Heldrake is the far less effective option – as a Daemon it only has BS3 and has at most a single Heavy 4 Strength 8 gun to shoot with. It can Vector Strike enemy Fliers, but that’s only another single Strength 7 hit. Not the Air Superiority monstrosity the fluff makes it out to be, the Heldrake is far more effective as an anti-infantry weapon with the Baleflamer – which of course can’t be used against Fliers at all.
That leaves Havok squads as the only other anti-air option in the codex, combined with a Fortification from the 40K corebook, which means Havoks with Flakk Missiles are going to become a near-must take unit for any competitive Chaos list. I have always hated when the metagame dictates a unit choice for competitiveness, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened here. And with the new Forgefiend model I feel like an obvious opportunity to provide a (probably points-expensive) upgrade for the Skyfire special rule was missed.
The Ugly (Because I couldn’t come up with anything more clever for My Closing Thoughts)
The new Chaos Space Marine codex is a great first effort at a 6th edition codex, with excellent production values and largely an improved army list over the previous codex in both customizability and competitiveness. In spite of my issues with the Daemon Prince and the lack of variety in anti-air options, I’m extremely excited to use it for bringing the glory of Grandfather Nurgle to the masses. While I suspect it will be somewhat overshadowed in integrating with the full 6th edition ruleset by later codices, the Chaos Marines should be competitive and gloriously evil for the foreseeable future.