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5th Edition Imperial Guard Codex Review (Polonius)

Introduction to the Review

Codex reviews have become a sort of new phenomenon, with a good review often propelling discussion for weeks, such as HBMC’s delightful Chaos Codex review, or form the initial frame of discussion for a codex’s tactical options, like the Ork Codex review by Voodoo Boys. In that grand tradition I endeavor to share some thoughts and analysis on this latest incarnation of the Imperial Guard. The focus of this review is more from a player’s perspective, glossing over the background and art and focusing on the army selection. With a healthy discussion already brewing about the most tactically powerful options in the book, I’m going to try to discuss more “mid level” tactics, and hopefully entertain and enlighten.

Codex Imperial Guard:

Artwork and Introduction

While I promise not to dwell on this, tradition demands at least token attention be paid to these elements of the IG book. The cover is busy, to be sure, but I think it does a better job of showing that the IG relies on masses of soldiers, tanks, and support than previous covers did. I do wonder what the officer in the red lined cape is standing on, however. It’s either nothing at all or the tracks of a Chimera, neither of which seem like a wise place to lead soldiers from. The cynical part of me notices the grey clad, masked rebel dead in the lower right hand corner and notices that those would be more interesting than more Cadian plastics… but it passes.

Credit is prominently given to Robin Cruddace on the first page, which is a new development. I can only ponder why this change has occurred, but I assume it’s simply cheaper than paying the development staff more. The inner cover shows a small Cadian force, and I’m reminded of how boring the Studio Cadians really are, and how silly the new IG Hunter Killer missiles look, particularly when mounted on the side of a Chimera. The Table of Contents is fine, but notably relabeled the old color hobby section “Soldiers of the Imperial Guard,” which is very vague. The introduction is as much filler as always, at least I assume it is because I didn't really actually read it. The first of many recycled art pieces adorns this page: a black and white version of the beautiful two page piece of Creed and Kell leading the 8th from the old codex. I have no problem with recycled art or fluff, as I think the good stuff should stay in circulation. Five years ago I would have added that the fluff can always be expanded and refreshed in White Dwarf, but now I almost wonder if they shouldn't put the old, venerable fluff in White Dwarf to cater to the magazines target market and make the codices the home for interesting new stuff.

Fluff and Background

Moving on, the next section describes the history and organization of the Imperial Guard. After reading every one of these sections thought GW’s history, I have to admit that they have finally figured out how to make the IG seem real, part of the 40K universe, and interesting all at the same time. The regimental system, which seems clunky, is now more fully explained. Not only are regiments formed from a single planet, they are also typically formed of only one type of company: infantry, artillery, armored, etc. This is both to allow planets to specialize and to prevent regimental mutinies from have adequate support. It makes an odd sort of sense, while still dovetailing neatly with the established regiments. Cadians, Catachans, etc. are allowed combined arms formations not only because they are veterans, but because they are notoriously loyal. Thus, while an infantry regiment from PigsKnuckle IV has to rely on seconded armored support, the Cadians can be trusted to operate in more self contained units. It’s a neat bit of fluff, and also partially explains why Cadians and Catachans are the best soldiers in the Galaxy but are still indistinguishable from other regiments in the rules. This segment closes with a page on Lord Solar Macharius, which does a fine job of retelling his story for one more time.

The next segment, “Famous Regiments of the Imperial Guard” distills many of the old familiar bits of background for easy consumption. In the grand tradition of Catachan fluff, they include the bit “every animal is a carnivore, and every plant is poisonous,” which leads me to ask why a planet with not herbivores would have any poisonous plants at all? It is also made clear that Catachans, despite not being able to produce tanks, do have tank crews, thus making it clear that even Jungle Fighters like a good tank. The rest of the regimental fluff, while brief, does a good job outlining them, with the notable lack of mention of my beloved Praetorians or the RT era Necromundan Spiders. Given GW’s nostalgia kick of late, I was surprised not to find a reference to the latter. As for the Praetorians, while I’d heard rumors that GW are faintly embarrassed that people like them, no company that produces Space Hobbit Snipers or Orc Cheerleaders can really pretend to feel shame for making Brits in Space.

Next up are four pages of “Notable Battles of the Imperial Guard.” While most of the stuff reads like bad Silmarillion fan-fic (Lord Awesome lead 23 Billion warriors to destroy General Stinky, and all but four died, and the planet was destroyed), there are some good bits. Notable is the description of an artillery bombardment on a rebel hive that lasted for 10 years: two years after all life signs ended and five after its unconditional surrender. Kept to a dull background level, it’s useful to remind the reader that the 40K universe is fundamentally insane. Too much and it becomes hard to read, but I like the little bits in the corners of the fluff like that.

Forces of the Imperium, Wargear, and Army list.

While there is no really good way to separate fluff, rules, wargear rules, army rules, special rules, and point costs between the various codex sections, it makes any sort of tactical review nearly impossible. For the purposes of this review, I shall instead review based on FOC slot, referring to all three sections as is required. I’m not going to tee off on the layout, as far wittier members of the board will fill that gap, but rest assured that while it makes reading the book for pleasure much nicer, it makes game play a hassle.

It is interesting to note that the IG really doesn't have any army wide special rules. Yes, their heavy weapon teams are super special for no real reason, and the orders system is new, but units like a special weapon team have literally no rules beyond their stats and their weapons. I think it makes a certain amount of sense, as IG are basic troops that shouldn't need special rules to mark them out, but part of me also thinks that the days when GW can really claim that the human, all 3’s stat-line are the basis for the gaming system are long past. Make Marines the new calibration point for “normal,” and give the IG something special, similar to how Orks are only S3 but have A2 base and furious charge.

Stealing the idea of ranking the units from that Ork review, I’m going to score each unit, and many major upgrades, as either Casual, semi-competitive, competitive, or highly competitive. The rankings are a bit squishy, but essentially conform to the highest level of list that would feature the unit or upgrade could still succeed at. Thus, if a unit is ranked as highly competitive, it means it could be a key component of a highly competitive list, excelling at GTs and Hard boys type environments. A semi-competitive unit is one that will seldom be seen in successful lists in environments beyond small local tournament. To provide a rough calibration, here are few examples from other codices:

Highly Competitive: Sternguard, Ork Boys, Blood Crushers, Plague Marines

Competitive: Fiends of Slaanesh, Tactical squads, Killa kans, Chaos terminators

Semi-Competitive: Trukk boys, Thunderfire Cannon, Defiler, Seekers of Slaanesh

Casual: Flash Gitz, Venerable Dreadnought, Chaos Furies, Spawn

Terms and Rules Defined

In the tactical review, there are few aphorisms that I've coined over the years that I’m injecting. I’ll explain them here so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The Half Priced Rule

When discussing whether an upgrade (be it a special rule, a weapon, or even a character upgrade) is overpriced, I like to apply the half priced rule. If the upgrade were half the current price, would it be an absolute no-brainer? If not, the upgrade is probably over-costed. This doesn't mean that the upgrade is twice the optimum cost; it simply means that it’s pretty clearly above what the fair market value of the upgrade is. The classic example of this was in the 4th edition Space Marine codex, when it cost 20pts to upgrade from an assault cannon to a twin linked lascannon, despite the Assault cannon being superior against nearly every target and only being really limited by range. If the lascannon had only been 10pts more, it would have been a tough call between the lascannon and the assault cannon. Thus, at 20pts, it was pretty clearly over-costed. The counter example is something like lascannon sponsons on the new SM Predator. 65 pts might be too high, but 35pts would make the upgrade, a no-brainer.

The 20% off Rule

A variant on the above rule, this one is meant for basic units, not upgrades. Essentially, if a unit could take a 20% price cut, and still not be a top tier unit, it’s clearly over-costed. The classic example here is probably Chaos Possessed. At 20% off, they’d be 21pts per unit, and still not clearly a top tier unit, especially when compared to Berserkers. This rule is more often than not also linked to BINAT.

But It’s Not A Troop

BINAT is often the final nail in the coffin for mediocre units that aren't troops. If two units are nearly comparable, and one is a troops choice, it will nearly always get the nod to it its ability to score in objective games, and often clearing space out for superior non-troops choices.

The GW Rule of Threes

In any given list of options, very rarely will more than three be truly useful. Keep in mind that the focus is very narrow; restricted to a single slate of options for one single unit. If the same five upgrades appear in multiple different entries, different ones might be useful in different entries, of course. There are counter examples, of course, and sometimes people swear by 4th place options, but in general most people stick to the top three options. The classic example here would be Eldar Guardian heavy weapon options in 3rd edition, when there were five options but you hardly saw anything but Bright Lance or Starcannon. More recently, Devastators have five weapon options, but are seldom fielded with Multi-meltas or Lascannons. Even in tactical squads seeing heavy bolters or Plasma Cannons is rare.

Pro-Am Special

This is term used to describe any unit or upgrade that’s very good in a casual play environment, but generally avoided in very high level play. Not to be confused with a Timmy style unit (giant impressive units that eat up way too many points), it usually has a strong psychological effect on midlevel players, and tends to do better against midlevel build. A great current example are probably Thousand Sons: not a bad unit, but they’re far better in a low terrain, mostly MEQ environment.

Further Articles

IG Codex Review HQ

IG Codex Review Elites

IG Codex Review Troops

IG Codex Review Fast Attack

IG Codex Review Heavy Support


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