Getting Started: Genestealer Cults

At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are.

Who Are the Genestealer Cults?

Genestealer Cults are quite a different faction from most others in 40k. Generally Warhammer armies are massive forces of destruction, whether that’s the galaxy-spanning hammer of the Astra Militarum, the ever-travelling craftworlds of the Eldar, the ancient tomb-lords of the Necrons, or some other faction which turns up anywhere and everywhere. Genestealer Cults are a lot more personal; they’re not made up of super-soldiers or faceless killers, but instead of the men and women of a single world. They’re alien-infected, psychically controlled, and often monsters, but for 40k that still makes them average people, damnit.

Army Strengths

  • An unparalleled toolbox of tricks, allowing you to run rings around the unwary.
  • Exceptionally deadly melee units with good delivery options.
  • Powerful characters – slamming a Patriarch into the right target is extremely satisfying.
  • Cheap, viable choices in every mandatory slot, so have tons of CP.

Army Weaknesses

  • Crumble if you let the opponent land a counterattack.
  • Weak against Space Marines, and Space Marines are everywhere.
  • Weaker the better your opponent knows your army.
  • Very expensive to buy into (though they at least have a good Start Collecting box now)

Neophyte Hybrids
Genestealer Cults Neophyte Hybrids. Credit: Corrode

Recommended Steps

  • Get the Codex
  • Plan your army
  • Buy some starting units
  • Expand on that

The Books

There’s two core books for Genestealer Cults, the codex and Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good. The codex is of course essential, and like the other Psychic Awakening books, The Greater Good has a bunch of extra rules in it for T’au Empire, Astra Militarum, and of course our topic here, Genestealer Cults. Sadly for the Stealy Bois their expansion content in The Greater Good wasn’t that great compared to the other two factions – you can read our review of it here. Although it was outshone a bit by the other two though there’s some useful stuff in there, so it’s worth picking up. There’s also the GSC datacards – a lot of this is just a reprint of the Maelstrom deck, which isn’t that helpful as we look into 9th edition, but it also includes all the stratagems and psychic powers in handy card format. If you’re the kind of player who forgets a stratagem exists if it’s not on a card in front of you these will be very helpful, especially in a faction as stratagem-dependent as the Cult.


Genestealer Cults are, in the fluff, offshoots of Tyranid hive fleets, which send out Genestealers to infect human populations and create cults to lay the groundwork for the Tyranid invasion. As such, you can ally them together – both armies have the TYRANIDS keyword, allowing you to make an army with both elements in it. This is very cool, and opens up some other options for your army, but if you think collecting one horde army is expensive just wait until you’re doing two! Early on it might be best to stick to just the one faction, but if you’re determined to do a big all-encompassing force of bug monsters and their cultist servants, then go hog wild – you’ll need the Tyranids codex and the Blood of Baal Psychic Awakening book.

Astra Militarum

One rule that is unique to the Genestealer Cults is “Brood Brothers.” There’s some Genestealer Cults units called “Brood Brothers,” but additionally there’s this rule, confusingly named the same thing, which is separate. Soup armies in 40k are generally controlled by a faction keyword, like IMPERIUM or CHAOS, and you can only ally with other factions which share that keyword. Genestealer Cults have the TYRANIDS keyword and so normally would only be able to ally with them, but the Brood Brothers special rule allows you to bring some Astra Militarum along for the ride too, representing the Planetary Defence Forces of whatever world your cult is from. Again, probably not one to jump into immediately, but it’s an option if you want to expand your army in the future. Happily The Greater Good also covers the Militarum so you don’t need another Psychic Awakening book, though of course you will want to pick up the codex.

Brood Brothers
Brood Brothers. Credit: ThatGobbo

Starting Your Army

That’s the books out of the way, then – so what next?

Well, Genestealer Cults have featured in a couple of battle boxes and such over the years – they were in the Kill Team starter set and also featured in the Tooth and Claw box a couple of years ago – but they haven’t been in any since.

What they do have is an excellent Start Collecting box, recently released. It’s on the more expensive end of the Start Collecting sets, retailing at £60/$95 in the UK and US respectively, but it’s packed with useful units. Genestealer Cults are a horde army, and you’ll want lots of the basic Troops, those being Neophyte Hybrids and Acolyte Hybrids, and both are in the box. Additionally, there’s an Acolyte Iconward, and also an Achilles Ridgerunner. You will want at least one Iconward in most Genestealer Cults armies (handily, although you probably don’t want more than one, you can just adapt the body to use some of the gear from the Acolyte Hybrids kit and effectively gain a bonus Acolyte per box), and Achilles Ridgerunners are currently a very good unit too, plus they’re super cool.

The good thing about this box is that you can reasonably build a Genestealer Cults army just by buying a bunch of them, and they’re a good discount on the contents – the RRP is £97.50 in the UK or $160 US, so a saving of £37.50 or $65 respectively. It would not be an unreasonable start to an army to buy 6 of them and a Broodcoven (a collection of the basic characters for a Genestealer Cults army, which includes a Patriarch, a Magus, a Primus, and a couple of Familiars). If you’ve just had a sharp intake of breath at the idea of dropping several hundred on tiny mutant men as a “Getting Started” – sorry. We did say up top that they’re very expensive to buy into!

The other option is to try and dig out the Genestealer Cults Insurrection Force from a couple of Christmases ago, which contained a Rockgrinder, a Broodcoven, an Acolyte Hybrids squad, a Neophyte Hybrids squad, and a set of Cadians which could be converted into Brood Brothers Infantry. This box had a great discount on the retail price, but Rockgrinders aren’t really a thing people take most of the time, and it’s also unlikely that you’ll find one anywhere other than eBay – at which point the savings probably evaporate away.

Cult Heroes are Defended
Cult Heroes are Defended. Credit: ThatGobbo


What’s Next

Moving on slightly from the Start Collecting or box deals, there’s a wealth of options for the Cults. There are of course the awesome dirtbikes, and the heavily mutated Aberrants, but the greatest set of options in the army come from the number of different character units you can bring, ranging from the Sanctus assassin to the tactically-minded Nexos. If you have a particular thing you really want to build towards, it’s a good idea to decide that early, because whatever you do with GSC you will probably need a lot to be worth it. It’s worth bearing in mind though that the characters are all one per detachment. In 8th edition you want to take multiple Battalions for command point reasons, and also to take advantage of maximising all the different faction traits GSC have available, but in 9th edition you may well find that you only want a single Battalion or Brigade and so having three Kelermorphs is a lot less worthwhile. In your starting army, pretty much everything except the Biophagus and maybe the Locus is worth looking at taking, but probably don’t buy them in triplicate just yet.

The Kelermorph. Credit: BuffaloChicken

Sample List

Wings here. I have been asked to take the wheel and come up with a starter list recommendation that tries as hard as possible not to be completely unreasonable to buy into – we can understand that the advice of buy six start collecting boxes might sound a little extreme. In addition, Genestealer Cults currently lean very hard into 8th’s version of army construction for successful lists, and it’s likely 9th is going to change them a lot, so going all-in on what’s currently good might not work out. I’m happy that what I’ve put together below should remain a decent foundation going forward – all the stuff you end up with is good. I’m afraid I am still going to ask you to buy three start collectings, but Kevin assures me that three is a smaller number than six, and in this case that’s better.

Note: this list was written for 8th edition and uses 8th edition points costs. We will update it shortly.

The shopping list for this 1000pt army is as follows:

  • Broodcoven
  • 3x Start Collecting Genestealer Cults
  • Jackal Alphus
  • 1x Acolyte Hybrids (or use the ones from another Start Collecting if you do want to buy more)

With that we can build the following:

Battalion – Bladed Cog

HQ: Patriarch – WarlordBiomorph Adaptation
HQ: Primus – Broodcoven Alien Majesty
Jackal Alphus

Troops: 10 Neophyte Hybrids, 2x mining laser, 2x webber
Troops: 10 Neophyte Hybrids, 2x mining laser, 2x webber
Troops: 10 Neophyte Hybrids, 1x mining laser, 1x heavy stubber, 2x webber

Fast Attack: 3 Achilles Ridgerunners with heavy mining laser, flare launchers, 2x heavy stubbers

Battalion – Bladed Cog – Deliverance Broodsurge

HQ: Acolyte Iconward – Field Commander – Augur of the Insurgent, Relic – Icon of the Cult Ascendent
Magus – Broodcoven – Single Minded Obsession, The Cults Psyche

Troops: 10 Acolyte Hybrids, cult icon, 2x rocksaws
Troops: 5 Acolyte Hybrids, cult icon, 2x rocksaws
Troops: 5 Acolyte Hybrids

As is probably obvious from this Genestealer Cults are fairly complex to play with, and this list has a lot more going on than we’d normally include simply because if you don’t make use of a bunch of GSC’s tricks they tend to fall apart. We’ve written a tactical deep dive on the faction take a look at the Start Competing article here, and this army starts to make use of some of the elements we discuss in there. This army plans to start the Ridgerunners and the Neophytes in “normal” cult ambush, along with at least the Jackal Alphus and Magus (and maybe the bare-bones Acolyte squad to hold an objective). That gets you over the hump of having half your points and units “on the board”, allowing you to deploy the rest in or out of deep strike as needed. This contingent gives you a surprising amount of shooting punch when they initially appear, with the wound re-rolls from the Magus’s broodcoven trait and the hit boost from the Jackal Alphus you should be able to take out your opponent’s nastiest long range threat straight away.

While they’re reeling from that, your second wave of the Acolytes, Patriarch and Primus come in buffed up by the Iconward to try and punch your opponent out of the game, while your ranged units continue dealing damage from afar. The army is, just like all Genestealer Cult armies, relatively fragile, so you need to focus on making sure your units deal as much damage as possible before they get taken out. With the array of nasty tricks available to you, hopefully you can use this list to make a decent impact, and it should provide some good foundational lessons as to how the army plays.

Atalan Jackals. Credit: Soggy


That’s it for Getting Started: Genestealer Cults. May the Four-Armed Emperor bless you! As ever, if you have any feedback, or would like to know more, than either comment below, hit us up on Facebook, or e-mail us at