Thursday, February 21, 2019

Genestealer Cults Codex Review: Units

Before I properly dive into this, I'd like to mention one of the fluff bits in the new GSC Dex that I particularly appreciated. Back in Rogue Trader, one of the big things about Genestealers was that they could infect and hybridize with pretty much anything, but when GSC came back in 7th, the only Models made were of hybrids with humans. In that version of the Codex, there was no particular explanation, but in this one, they actually spent a bit of time talking about why humans are the most common hosts for Stealer Cults. Even Genestealer hybridization can't do much to speed up the Aeldari reproduction rate, for instance. T'au, particularly the Ethereals, can to some degree sense Hybrids through the same (as yet unexplained) means that they keep all the Castes working together; they just "feel wrong". Similarly, Orks are linked by a low-level psychic connection that Hybrids don't fit into properly, and so they get shunned by the real Orks. I know it's basically just a means of justifying a more limited Model line, but I still like that they actually put some thought into it, and got a much better explanation than the usual GW handwaving. Anyhow.

Genestealer Cults Squads, Packs, and Broods can be divided up by two functional criteria: Whether or not they are Troops, and thus gain the Insurrectionists (Objective Secured) Rule in Battle-Forged Armies, and whether or not they benefit from Cult Creeds. I'm going to be starting with the two Units that get both.

Acolyte Hybrids: The Close Combat Troops option. Their basic statline, other than being only T3, is pretty similar to that of Ork Boyz, which is certainly not a bad starting point for an Assault Unit in the Troops slot. The compensation for their lack of toughness compared to Boyz is made up by their Rending Claws and greater access to special CC Weapons, rather than them only being available to the Nob. My fave is the Heavy Rock Saw, which is essentially a Chainfist without the penalty to Hit, but the Heavy Rock Drill isn't far behind. They can also all take Hand Flamers, which let them dump out a shocking amount of auto-hitting firepower. It may only be 6" range and S3, but with the various Deployment shenanigans available to GSC and the sheer number they can take, that's more than enough to clear out screens, and will put some hurt on pretty much anything short of T6 and/or a 2+Sv. For those things, in addition to the Saws and Drills, they can take Demolition Charges, which are pretty close to one shot, Grenade d6 versions of Krak Missiles. They've got a Stratagem to let up to five of them chuck one at once, too.

Very much a Unit that dishes it out better than they can take it, but not quite to the point where I think I'd really call them a "glass cannon" Unit. Available in Units from 5 to 20 strong, with 2 Specials per 5 Models, but they need some sort of Morale support if you're taking larger Units. A Cult Icon, to let them re-roll 1s to Hit in Close Combat, seems like an excellent choice for larger Units as well. Four-Armed Emperor and Rusted Claw seem the like the Cults they'll get the most from, but Pauper Princes lets them get more effectiveness from smaller Units and makes their Special CC Weapons more reliable, while going up to S5 from Twisted Helix makes them even scarier, too. Seems like it's hard to go wrong with taking these guys regardless of Cult, but I don't think I'd want to rely on them as my only Troops.

Neophyte Hybrids: Weaker (S3), but cheaper and shootier than Acolytes, Neophytes are good backfield/midfield Objective holders, screens, and close-mid range fire support. They can get some heavier Weapons, but you're going to want to be sparing with those, since cheapness is one of the prime virtues here, and those can run up the price of a Squad surprisingly quickly. I'd generally keep it to Heavy Stubbers and Grenade Launchers for Units that are going to be hanging back a bit, and Flamers, or possibly Web Guns, for Units that you know are getting up close. The signature special Rule for Web Guns is rarely going to matter (they use the lesser of the Target's Strength or Toughness to Wound against), but they have a 16" range for their d3 auto-Hits, which means you can use them immediately with Units Deploying from Underground, and they're the cheapest Special Weapon option.

10-20 per Squad, but there's no real benefit to running them in larger than minimum Squads most of the time, and they'll need help with Morale at that point, while minimum Units are unlikely to lose more than you can afford to let run. The extra durability against basic Attacks from Rusted Claw seems like the most useful Creed for Neophytes to me, but Hivecult and Bladed Cog have their attractions as well, and going up to S4 with Twisted Helix brings them much closer to being solid all-rounders.

Brood Brothers Infantry Squad: The very cheapest Troops Unit available. Basically a standard Astra Militarum Squad, but with fewer options and less support. They can bring proper Heavy Weapons, but without Orders, Doctrines, or Creeds, I don't see any but the high RoF Weapons like Mortars or Heavy Bolters being very useful. Even more so than Neophytes, these guys are really just here to screen and hold Objectives. They probably will show up fairly regularly, because they do bring something unique to the table, and are really cheap, but they'll likely be the least common of the three Troops Units because the lack of a Cult Keyword cuts them off from the vast majority of the bonuses that GSC can hand out.

Hybrid Metamorphs: Basically Acolytes+1. Not sure how I feel about these from a competitive point of view. On the one hand, they're certainly better than Acolytes on a per-Model basis, but on the other hand, they also cost something like 30-60% more, depending on how you equip them, they die just as easily, and they don't get ObSec. On yet another hand (these are Stealer Hybrids we're talking about here), GSC have some great tools for getting a glass cannon combat Unit into action without getting shot up too much. I think I'm going to have to get some actual play experience to know how they really work. From a Narrative/Modeling point of view, however, they're absolutely and unquestionably fantastic. So many cool gribbly options.

For the most part, I think I like them basic, with either a Metamorph Talon and Rending Claw or two Metamorph Talons, just go for mass of Attacks. Maybe the occasional Metamorph Claw for some harder hitting Attacks, especially in Twisted Helix, where it hits S7 (or even 8 if you add in the Icon of the Cult Ascendant as well), and a Bonesword for the Leader is probably worth taking. Hand Flamers seem better suited to regular Acolytes, and the Metamorph Whip, while it's free, keeps the bearer from taking any of the other Weapons that would make the Attacks that grants when they die worthwhile. A Cult Icon is probably worth taking, since you're going to want as many of those Attacks you're paying so many Points for to land as possible. Four-Armed Emperor is probably my favourite Cult for them, but Pauper Princes, Rusted Claw, and Twisted Helix all seem good, too. Probably best to pile as much support on them as you can, for as long as they last. Character Auras, Psychic Powers, the works.

Aberrants: These are what I would probably take instead of Metamorphs if going for a competitive choice. T4, 2 Wounds, a 5+ "FNP" roll, and reducing the damage of incoming hits by 1 makes them pretty damn hard to drop. On a per-Model basis, they're the toughest Squad in the Codex, and they're close to it on a per-Point basis, despite how expensive they are. They also hit like a ton of bricks, with even their basic loadout making 4 S5 Attacks, variously at AP-1, -2, and -4. I don't really care for the Heavy Power Hammer (basically a Thunder Hammer) unless you've got some pretty good buffs on them to overcome the to-Hit penalty, but Hypermorphs with Heavy Improvised Weapons (i.e. the dude with the street sign) look really good, dishing out 6 S10(!) Attacks, plus an extra at S5, just because. The Cult of the Twisted Helix is made for these guys (well, fluff-wise it's the other way around, but anyhow), with not just a useful Creed but also a Stratagem just for them. All of the others except Hivecult have something for them, tho, with Four-Armed Emperor and Pauper Princes probably being next best. If you're taking a big Unit, and/or multiple Units, some dedicated support from at least a Biophagus seems like a no-brainer, and probably also an Abominant, some Psychic support, and other Character Auras. Don't forget Monstrous Vigour if you suspect they're going to get hit a bunch over the next Turn. It's 2CP, but taking their "FNP" up to a 4+ is pretty awesome.

Purestrain Genestealers: Where it all started. While they might not be the unholy terrors in 40K that they were in Space Hulk, there is still very little that a big Brood of Purestrains can't shred, especially when properly supported. A Patriarch along with them is ideal, for the +1 to Hit, immunity to Morale (because you want a big Brood to get the +1A), and Psychic support like Mass Hypnosis and/or Might from Beyond. Give them a Strength buff from the Icon of the Cult Ascendant or Might from Beyond, and they're Wounding even Knights on 5+, with half of those being AP-4. Or run them alongside a Bladed Cog Warlord for full re-rolls to Wound against one chosen Unit. They don't benefit from the Cult Creed, but the Warlord Trait can still buff them. They also have a Stratagem just for them, The First Curse, but it feels kind of risky to me. Yeah, there are two good results, but losing the ability to Advance and Charge on the third result is pretty bad, and 4+ Armour does not make up for it.

Atalan Jackals: I've seen a bunch of people talking these guys down, but I just don't see it myself. Yeah, they're not terribly impressive on a per-Model basis, but they're also dirt cheap. They're the same price per Wound as Neophytes, but they also get an extra point of Toughness and a -1 to Hit penalty on anyone shooting at them. Against D1 shooting, they're very nearly as durable as Aberrants on a per-Model basis, and less than half the price. I haven't run the numbers for every Unit, but I'm fairly certain that, on a per-Point basis, they're the most durable non-Character, non-Vehicle Unit in the Codex, unless you go way overboard loading them up with Power Weapons and Demolition Charges and such. I figure if you stick mostly with Shotguns and Cultist Knives, with a Stubber or maybe an Incinerator on the Wolfquad(s), they should do fine for your investment.

Rusted Claw is the obvious Creed for Jackals. It's a significant buff to their durability, makes the Mining Laser viable on Wolfquads, gives them extra threat range with Shotguns and Grenade Launchers, and has an absolutely fantastic Stratagem that lets them Move twice (but not Charge), and gives them a buff to their Grenades for the Turn. It's a ton of CP, so I'll probably never actually do it, but I love the idea of them showing up right in someone's face with Lying in Wait, unloading a ton of Grenades on them with Extra Explosives and Drive-By Demolitions, and then using the extra Move from Drive-By to get the hell out of dodge before the enemy gets a chance to hit back.

Brood Brothers Heavy Weapons Squads: Honestly, I'm not even a huge fan of most options for Heavy Weapons Squads in an actual Astra Militarum Army, and without Orders, they're significantly worse here. The one option I actually like is Mortar Squads. 39 Points to sit on a backfield Objective out of LoS and kick out 3d6 shots per Turn is a pretty great deal. Paying more than that to put the same 6 T3 Wounds out in LoS of the enemy is just throwing Points away in my experience. Theoretically you could use Lurk in the Shadows to protect one, but that's a lot of CP to devote to less than 100 Points of your Army that isn't going to be a game-changer on its own anyhow. Like the Brood Bros Infantry Squad, the choice of Cult is entirely irrelevant here.

Overall, we've got 8 different Squads, 6 of which are pretty damn good in at least one build, and only one of which looks like it might be particularly bad to me. Further, they're distributed nicely across the FOC, and many of them are quite cheap, making a Brigade a pretty viable option for all those tasty, tasty CP. I'm still processing the last of the pics and finishing the write-up for the Nightmare Hulks, but that should be up in a couple of days. Then there's one last group of Units to review (Vehicles), and maybe an overall wrap-up post. Not sure what comes after that. Until then, y'all have a good one, y'hear!


  1. I’m liking Brood Brothers with Lascannons as they bring proper Anti Tank long range to a Objective camping squad, not reliable I know but cheap and can reach out and dent big stuff.

    1. They're just so fragile that I've seen too many games where they ended up being nothing more than KP/First Blood for the Opponent. For a lot of Armies, it's barely more than trivial to take them out.

  2. "On yet another hand". Haha, nice. Another great write up. The cynic in me wonders why Jackals appear to be so points efficient.

    1. Thanks! On the Jackals, I think there are two parts to that. The pure game-balance part is that they aren't particularly efficient from an offensive point of view. The other part is that they're down there near Acolytes in terms of Points per Dollar spent on kits, which is probably the aspect of it your internal cynic is picking up on.

  3. Nice analysis - I look forward to seeing how you put together a list. GW seems to have done a really good job with this release.

    1. Thanks! The more I think about it, the more I think I am going to have to do a conclusion/list building post at the end. And yeah, I think GW has really knocked this one out of the park.