Habershaw's Review Of:

Codex: Chaos Space Marines

      So, the new Chaos Codex has been out for anywhere from a week to several weeks (depending on what part of the world you call home), and most of us who care have already gone to the trouble of purchasing and pondering this newest release from good ol' GW. Hobby-related sites have been afire with debate over the new book, ranging from those who claim that it was the worst single crime committed upon an army since the 3rd Edition took the 2nd Edition Orks into the woods and shot it them the 'fun' parts of their brains, to those who insist that this codex represents the second coming of Horus and everybody should just get in line and stop whining. Whatever your stance, the new book represents a significant change in the nature of Chaos forces and, being an opinionated fellow myself, I figured it was high time I rolled up my sleeves and started slugging with the rest of the riotous mob.

Why Do I Play Chaos?

      Chaos has always been a secondary army for me. I've always had a bit of a fascination with the idea of millennia-old warriors who betrayed their own and have been doomed to an eternity of hatred and war. I love the fluff of some of the Traitor Legions, specifically the Thousand Sons, Alpha Legion, and Night Lords. To my mind, a Chaos army is all about character. I mean this both literally in the form of massive, tooled-up super-HQs who slaughter whole units single-handed, and figuratively in the form of uniquely equipped and modified Lords and Daemon Princes who do not simply take the field as nameless commanders among a sea of nameless commanders, but as unique, named individuals with a long backstory and intricate personalities.

      When I built my Thousand Sons force, it wasn't because I wanted some kind of uber-killy super force, but because I liked the fluff and thought the models were cool. I built my army to reflect a theme of large, lumbering, baroque daemon-engines and ghostly rubric marines who would crush opposition with a slow, inexorable advance and misleading, deceptive magicks. I was never interested in playing the 'vanilla' Black Legion lists, or the hilariously unbalanced 9-obliterator Iron Warriors force-neither of them had enough personality to keep me interested and, in the case of the second example, I considered their tactics ham-handed and dull. The Thousand Sons, though, represented a unique (and sometimes insurmountable) tactical challenge that I welcomed, and managed to keep my imagination fired up to boot.

      So, what does all this have to do with the new codex, you ask? Let's just say I'm giving you a little perspective, so you'll know where I'm coming from when I say the following:

Ummm... Isn't Chaos Supposed to be Interesting?

      My major problem with the new codex is very simple: It is boring. GW, in their infinite wisdom, has seen fit to excise much of the former variety and uniqueness of the Chaos we have known and loved for the past decade or so. Gone are the umpteen-billion different army lists variations, with the 5 interlocking lists of wargear, and the pages upon pages of units, unit variations, and special abilities. It has all been replaced with a single, solitary list of moderate flexibility.

      Now this, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. To be honest, the 3rd Edition Chaos Codex was ridiculously complicated and poorly organized, with many of the numerous options provided being either completely useless or ridiculously overpowered. The army list was in dire need of an overhaul, and some streamlining was definitely in order. Still, it is my opinion that what GW decided to do to fix this problem was to simply chop out entirely anything that didn't seem to work. This decision is, frankly, mind-boggling to me what with the fine job I felt they did with the latest Eldar Codex when dealing with a similar problem.

      Whoa! I just heard about a million Eldar players scream at me from across space and time. Allow me to explain: The 3rd Edition Eldar, along with the Craftworld supplement, resulted in a series of army lists very similar to that of Chaos (though somewhat less varied). This multitude of options and almost no or poor gameplay balance meant that half of the Eldar players out there used rather unfluffy lists that were absurdly overpowered (Starcannon guardian swarms with massive Seer Councils, anyone?) or rather fluffy lists that had a hard time earning their bacon (Siam Hann jetbike hosts, anything featuring Dark Reapers or Dire Avengers, etc.). GWs solution to this was to remove a few of the more ridiculous options, like Black Guardians and the Infinite Seer Council, circumvent some of the army compositional changes by shaking up the force org chart, and rebalancing and buffing units that had been largely ignored. The result was an army list that, while not as specifically themed as a half dozen craftworld lists, was still able to represent the fluff of most craftworlds without losing (or gaining) too much viability. Now, Ulthwe is just as valid an option as Siam Hann and vice versa, without the need for special rules to make either one work. Furthermore, all of the Craftworlds work as advertised-the Eldar hosts match their fluff when performing on the field. This, because of my personal focus on fluff, is the highest state any army list can achieve in my opinion.

Pirates in SPAAAAAACE!

    This brings me back to the Chaos Codex again. The new codex has been re-balanced, yes, and it is significantly more streamlined. However, one cannot viably play almost any of the Traitor Legion lists anymore, and many of the Undivided Legion sub-lists have, likewise, been rendered completely inoperable. Why is this? Well, as I mentioned before, GW decided that, rather than re-balance the armies to better represent the fluff, they have re-modified the fluff to better represent the army they wish to support.

    Nowhere is this more evident that in the increased focus on 'renegade' Space Marines in the codex fluff. Of the 104 pages in the book, only about 12 of them are devoted to any specific legion and, in reality, this boils down to each of the four major Traitor Legions (World Eaters, Death Guard, Thousand Sons, and Emperor's Children) getting 3 pages apiece (counting their special character entries), the Alpha Legion receiving a single dialogue box, and the rest of the book devoted to vanilla, undivided lists of either Renegade Marines or the Black Legion. Thorpe and Cavatore (the authors) have made a conscious effort to marginalize the many, fluffy armies that (in my unofficial opinion) were the things that got more people interested in Chaos in the first place. I, personally, find the idea of 'renegade' marines ridiculously boring and the flagrant attempt the codex makes to glorify the 'Red Corsairs' to be frankly absurd. The fluff surrounding chaos has transmuted from ancient, moldering warrior-gods living in bitter exile to a bunch of power-hungry thugs who would be just as happy robbing a gas station or stealing a car as they would committing heinous acts of psychological violence or avenging some millennia-old vendetta against the servants of the False Emperor. The renegades aren't the agents of ultimate evil I signed on to play-they are two-bit traitor wannabes and Johnny-come-lately drudges who betrayed the Emperor for no better reason than they just up an decided to try out the dark side and see if it paid better. I'm sorry, but Space Marines who forsake their vows without Horus to follow are the kind of losers I don't want on my team.

Enough About the Fluff! Can I Still Kick Ass?

    In a word, yes. Despite much malignant talk from some folks out there (myself included), you can still play a capable and devastating Chaos force using this book. However, as I alluded to earlier, in order to do so you are going to have to play lists that are not as purely fluffy as they once were. Allow me to go into depth here, army list by army list:

The Black Legion/Vanilla Chaos: If you are fond of playing the kind of chaos that uses a little bit of everything and only has a theme insofar as everybody wears spikes and has a similar paintjob on their armor, you can rest easy. Apart from some minor shifts (and the depressing removal of Veteran Skills from pretty much everybody ), the army is just as viable as before, with a couple new options to boot. For one thing, Vindicators are now available to all traitor forces, giving you access to Iron Warrior-esque firepower. Furthermore, dreadnoughts have been moved to Elites, Daemon Princes are cheaper on the whole (and still nasty), and Traitor marines like Rubrics, Plague Marines, and Bezerkers now count as troops. Your force is more flexible and your access to formerly Legion-only equipment is now unlimited (what little of it is left). Enjoy!

The World Eaters: Happily enough, the Khorne-Boys came out of this revision pretty clean. Gone is a lot of the extra stuff that made them exceptionally cool (Axes of Khorne, Blood Frenzy, Khornate Chainaxes, etc.), but they will still function on the field. Plus, if you aren't too particular, you can take things like Havocs, Raptors, and Obliterators to round out your force. Plus, with no more Frenzy screwing with your movement phase, you can more reliably control your own army.

The Death Guard: The Death Guard got a lot more expensive to get a bit more durable (Feel No Pain). Plus, the standardization of all Daemons along with the complete loss of Nurglings and pretty much all of the cool wargear options that made the Death Guard unique means that, while they can still be played, their tactics and army compositions will have to change a bit to adjust. Also, I think they've become a tad less fun, if for no other reason than they have lost a lot of their individual flare (no Nurgle's Rot? Come on!).

The Emperor's Children: Well, if you can get over the fact that Daemonettes are a thing of the past and that giving your troops noise weapons is prohibitively expensive (not much of a change, truth be told), you should be able to play an Emperor's Children list without failing miserably. Still, there aren't any more combat drugs, nifty minor psychic powers, or any of the other things that, you know, made them unique.

The Thousand Sons: Hoo, boy. My favorite little mindless automatons have become, well, even harder to play than before. This is for one reason, and one reason only: Rubrics lost their second wound only to have it replaced with a 4+ invulnerable save. While not significantly cheaper than before, they are now twice as likely to be killed by enemy small arms fire, but half as likely to die from big guns like battlecannons. Besides the fact that this doesn't make one bit of sense to me from a fluff perspective, it also means that the frighteningly slow, expensive Rubrics are likely to be gunned down before they have a prayer of making their points back. Throw in the fact that their Sorcerers, while being able to use two psychic powers a turn, can't use two psychic powers that act as shooting powers (thus virtually eliminating whatever usefulness this advantage has), and you are still looking at a severely undergunned, undermanned, and now *fragile* fighting force. Of course, as with all the other cults, you could just compromise on fluff and take stuff like non-rubric regular Tzeentch marines, raptors, and flightless Lords of Change, but then you aren't really playing the Ksons anymore, are you?

The Iron Warriors: Well, you can't play the super-Obliterator nightmare list, and can't take Basilisks anymore, but you can still play IW style with Vindicators and Defilers. Again, the same loss of most of their cool, special options are gone, though-no vet abilities, no servo-arm, no extra heavy slot. They're still playable and viable, they have just lost some of their polish. To tell the truth, with the way these guys were abused, they largely deserved the balancing. I just can't see why vet skills and servo-arms were so terrible as to force their retirement.

Alpha Legion: With only one infiltrating unit, no vet skills to speak of, and no cultists available at all, the Alpha Legion no longer functions in accordance with its fluff. Yes, you *can* field three units of infiltrating Chosen, but in my opinion this doesn't make an Alpha Legion list. It was all about the cultists and the fact that every single unit infiltrated. As is the rule with this codex, though, they decided to cut that stuff entirely instead of making it work with the codex as a whole. Boo, I say.

Night Lords: As with many Undivided List, it is still doable, but without as much panache. Plenty of Raptors are still available, if you want them, but gone are the vet skills and odds and ends that let this style of list really shine. Not as badly off as some sublists, but still suffering from a case of 'not playable in accordance with fluff.'

Word Bearers: *sigh* I'm really sorry if you used to play this list. With daemons siphoned of every special rule that made them fun and interesting, the deletion of the Dark Apostle, and, again, a lack of Veteran Skills to enable a bit of customization of your basic troops, this list not only fails to function as a representation of the fluff, it has become very difficult to play *at all*.

The Roundup

So, to wrap this whole thing up, here's what the new Codex: Chaos Space Marines has given us:

  • A more streamlined, easier to use book with a flexible, if not very varied, list.

  • The Veteran Abilities replaced with the Icons of Chaos, including 'Icon of Chaos Glory', which may be the stupidest sounding thing I've ever heard of. They may as well have called it 'the Icon of Super Badguy Awesomeness.'

  • The removal of *most* army options that aren't also available to loyalists. Anything you can do, they can do too. And often they do it better.

  • Chaos Spawn as a unit... that has no armor save and costs a boatload of points to field. If this were fantasy, okay, but in the land of S5 shooting, these are probably best interpreted as 'Free VPs for anybody with a gun!'

  • Generic Daemons. I won't go so far as to say they are worthless (they aren't), but if you get excited about them you probably also get excited about the side salad you get at Wendy's.

  • A Fleeting Defiler! My oh my, doesn't *that* make a confused unit? Why does a battlecannon want to run really fast towards the enemy? Why does a HTH monster have a WS of 3? Ugh.

  • Hamstrung or toned down cult and undivided lists.

  • No Daemonic Beasts

  • One new psychic power-warp time-along with some minor changes to the old ones for no tangible change.

  • Force Weapons

  • A cheaper, less useful Land Raider

  • Huron Blackheart, the single least inspiring Special Character since Aun'va on his 'George Jetson Special' flying chair.

      Is this the worst codex ever? No, of course not. Will it weaken Chaos as a Tourney-placing army? Maybe a little, but not by much. Is it completely free of exploitative power-gaming? I seriously doubt it (2 Daemon Prince, 1 GD, 3 Dread, 3 Defiler CC list, anyone?). Will it be fine for folks just starting with Chaos? Yes, it probably will. Do I hate it? Absolutley.

      This codex has removed the things I liked about playing Chaos: Intensely customizable armies and special characters with intriguing, fluffy storylines and interesting tactical applications. It has been replaced with an army very much like its loyalist counterpart, except with a couple different options. Gone is the vast and textured variety of the Warp, replaced with boring, plodding, Black Legion clones who have the same tactics and the same units and use the same narrow selection of wargear. Whether this codex is a failure or not isn't up to me-it's up to other people who see it as a fun army to play and have a good time using it. As far as I'm concerned, though, Chaos has changed for the worse, and I, for one, won't be using my Thousand Sons for a very long time.