Wednesday, October 25, 2017

REVIEW: Astra Militarum Codex

The Astra Militarum, or Imperial Guard, are a staple of the 40k universe, and the new edition of the game is no exception. Released with some shiny new rules, including rules for individual regiments, the Guard are back in a big way.

I've gotten every Imperial Guard codex since 3rd edition, with the exception of the last one from 6th edition, so I know quite a bit about them already. Funnily enough, despite owning all of those rulebooks, I have never actually played the army. There were several attempts that were then never finished, so the intention was there, I just failed on the follow through. They are also hugely important in many of the Black Library books and major story hooks of the 41st millennium, so I'm also familiar with them from there. The newest codex reuses the cover art from the previous one with some swanky new design work to bring it in line with the 8th edition aesthetic. It would have been cool to see a new piece of art, but I understand the need to get these out quickly most likely precluded them from doing that. That being said, the cover art is still pretty cool and it's not like it aged poorly or anything, it's only been a few years.

Once you crack the book open you delve right into the background lore for the army. It goes over all of the basics with how the Astra Militarum used to be a part of the Imperial Army before the Heresy, but was then broken up into the Militarum and the Navy to prevent one commander from ever having too much power. It also talks about how they fight and recruit as well as the typical organization. Most of this will be familiar to existing fans, but for anyone new to the army it's a treasure trove of information. There was quite a bit of new stuff in here for me as well, though like I said, I missed out on the 6th edition book, so it might have been in there.

The real meat though starts when they start diving into the more prominent regiments. The Cadians and Catachans both get a two page spread, detailing the history and traditions of each regiment. There's also a bunch of artwork for them, showing off different rank marking, uniform variants, and other cool things. After that we get looks at the Armageddon Steel Legion, the Tallarns, the Vostroyans, and the Valhallans. Each of these get's a whole page of their own, plus an illustration and a call out to a particularly famous regiment in their forces. Besides the history and traditions of each of these forces, we also see a bit of where some of them are at after the events of the Gathering Storm. The Cadians are obviously homeless now, but others like Valhallans are cut off from the light of the Astronomican on the other side of the Great Rift and are basically flying blind. The forces of Armageddon have found their home world suddenly invaded by demons, and in some cases are forced to temporarily team up with the orks to repels the chaotic invaders. I really enjoyed reading each of these and had to restrain myself from starting an army of each.

After the major regiments, some smaller ones get a bit of a spotlight, including the Mordian Guard. Sorry guys, don't know why you didn't make the cut for the larger regiments. Each of these only gets a few paragraphs, but the illustrations are awesome, and the artwork is just as good. It was really cool to see the Armageddon Ork Hunters and Savlar Chem Dogs in here, since they've been a part of the background for awhile, but not really ever featured. The Tanith First and Only also make an appearance, and while others talk about what the regiments are up to post-Gathering Storm, the Tanith remains a mystery. I imagine it's because their story isn't done being told in the Gaunt's Ghosts series yet. We also get a timeline of a bunch of the major engagements and battles the Militarum have had over the millennia. Some of these are familiar, like the Battles for Armageddon, while other are brand new (at least to me), and yet others take familiar engagements that we had previously only seen from the Space Marine's perspectives and puts a Guard spin on them. The events of the Gathering Storm are covered here, as well as some of the battles since the Great Rift split the galaxy, so there's plenty of new stuff here for older fans.

Just like with many Codexes and Battletomes, a lot of the meat of the background lore is in the individual unit descriptions. There are a ton of varied units in the Astra Militarum, so there's plenty that is covered here. A lot of it is pretty basic, like covering what an Infantry Squad is, but there are plenty of cool and unique ones as well. I particularly liked the bit about Sentinels, and the special characters are always a good read. 

Considering how many variants there are of certain tanks I like the approach they took for the Leman Russ and Super Heavies. Instead of each variant getting it's own entry, there is a general over-arching entry, and then a bunch of smaller ones, with profile shots of each one included. This whole section is divided up with the regular Guard all grouped together, followed by the Commissars and Scions, and then the Auxiliaries and Navy. It's an interesting, but logical way to group them all that threw me a bit at first.

The artwork in here is awesome all around. There's plenty of older pieces that are reused, but there's enough new stuff in here too. Like I said, I skipped the 6th edition book, so some of the new stuff to me may actually be older.

The miniatures gallery section has all of the model photgraphy you would expect, though it felt a little on the light side to me. I think it could have benefited from a few more pages to show off a bit more of the range, as some models aren't in there at all. This would have allowed them to fit in more regiments like the Steel Legion and Mordians as well. What was really cool though were all the conversions they had for some of the more unique regiments. There is a Savlar Chem Dog made from Cadian and Genestealer Cult parts that looks awesome, as well a Tanith and an all plastic Mordian.

Like I said previously, there are quite a few units in the army, so the rules section is very robust. Before the dataslates start you get the generic rules that apply across many models, like the Orders system. This isn't new to 40k, but I really like it nonetheless. There are a number of Orders an officer can chose from with different benefits, like re-rolling ones to hit, and they can issue that order to a friendly infantry unit within 6". If they are within 3" of a vox this range is increased to 18" as long as the other unit also has a vox. A lot of the units in here seem really solid and I think you can make a bunch of different builds that would all be unique from each other and still really effective. This, to me, is the hallmark of a good army, since you'll see more variety from it on the tabletop, even amongst top tier players.

Near the end of the codex we get all of the various special rules for the Astra Militarum. The most exciting of these to me are the Regimental Doctrines. These are unique rules for the major Guard regiments; the Cadians, Catachans, Steel Legion, Tallarns, Valhallans, Mordians, Militarum Tempestus, and Vostroyans. 

These rules give your army a little boost, and also flavor your force to more resemble the regiment from a background lore perspective. The Armageddon doctrine for example reflects the industrial output of the planet and rewards you for playing the army as a mechanized force, where as the Catachan doctrine exemplifies their raw strength and power of the Guardsmen who call the Death World home. These are simple tweaks that allow you to really theme your force, and also reward you for playing to theme. The doctrine rules only apply to units with the <regiment> keyword though, so that excludes Scions, Auxiliaries, and the like.

The Guard also get a whole host of Stratagems to use in their game. There are a bunch of generic ones that can be used by any Guard forces that seem like a lot of fun, but there is also a unique one for each named regiment. There are a few that stood out to me, like Mobile Command Vehicle, which lets you designate a transport as having a vox system, meaning your officer can issue orders from within it, or Grenadiers which allows every models in a unit to throw a grenade instead of just one. If you use this on a unit like Scions who all have frag and krak grenades this can be absolutely deadly.

The artifacts for the army all seem pretty good, with some being more fighty than other. Just like with the Stratagems, there is also a unique artifact for each regiment. The Warlord Traits follow the same pattern, with six generic ones and then one for each regiment. The two that stood out to me are Grand Strategist, which allows you to replenish a command point after spending it on a 5+ and Master of Command, which allows you to issue an additional order each turn. Lastly we get the psychic powers for the Guard, which see them getting six unique powers beyond Smite.

The points section rounds off the whole book, just like in every other codex. I do wish they had broken down the units by force organization, so all the HQs were in one table, then all the Troops, and so on. This is something they did with the Space Marine codex and it made it much easier to find the unit you were looking for. Instead, here they are all just in one table and in alphabetical order. It's not a deal breaker or anything, I just would have preferred it the other way.

All in all the Astra Militarum codex seems great to me. The background lore is just as good as ever, and with the focus on individual regiments we get a deeper dive than before. The unit rules seem very balanced and I can definitely see a bunch of varied army lists coming out of this. The new rules for the unique regiments adds a nice touch of flavor to the book, and really helps tie it into the background even more. If you're a Guard fan then this book is definitely for you. Out of all of the Guard codexes I've seen, I would say this is definitely the best one yet!

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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