Welcome suspiciously-purple-tinged friends! The Psychic Awakening train continues to roll ever onwards, and the latest payload of fancy new toys includes an update for the devious insurrectionists of the Genestealer Cults. As we extensively detailed in our Start Competing for the faction (at the cost of a lot of my sanity), Genestealer Cults were already one of the game’s most complicated factions to play with and against, with a huge number of powerful tricks in their base codex, but in the Marine dominated world we live in they’ve been pushed back from their one-time meta dominance, not helped by some hefty nerfs in Chapter Approved.
With that in mind, Cult players are probably wondering if the new toys in this book are going to put them back on top, finally allowing the inevitable overthrow of their Imperial Oppressors. The honest answer is probably not – there’s some great stuff in here that’s pure upside for the faction, but it’s arguably among the weaker Psychic Awakening upgrades, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to immediately deal with some of the challenges the army faces. Having said that, one thing that stands out from the book is excellent support for the Achilles Ridgerunner, a unit I’ve been high on for ages and that was recently used to good effect against Marines at the LVO, so this book just might herald a devious pivot in tactics to restore the supremacy of the faithful of the Star Gods. Thanks again to Games Workshop for providing a copy for us to review – let’s dive in!
What They Get
Genestealer Cults get three new things out of this book:
- A set of custom Cult Creeds, allowing you to build your own Cult.
- A set of new stratagems, augmenting the already considerable set they have.
- Cult psychic powers, giving the named Cults from the codex additional options.
In addition to this, there’s a reprint of the rules for Cult Ambush and Brood Brothers that merges in all of the errata that have been applied to them since the release of the Codex. Definitely no harm in having them in print.
One final thing I should quickly call out is that Brood Brother detachments explicitly can’t make use of the fancy new Tank Aces rules from the Astra Militarum section of the book. I’m afraid you’ll have to stick to devious cunning rather than unstoppable tanks to get the job done.
Custom faction traits have been pretty hit and miss thus far. Marines ones were pretty good (at least partially because taking them was almost cost-free thanks to the Successors rules) and the Craftworlds ones were the high point of Phoenix Rising, but the Kabalite ones from the same book were dire and the Tyranid options have largely landed with a whimper.
Sadly, Genestealers are on the weaker end of the spectrum – they don’t get that many choices and most are quite niche. In addition, their existing Cult Creeds are very much from the “phase 2” model of faction traits, with multiple powerful effects, so competing with them is a lot harder than it is for an army like Eldar.
That being said, one of the strengths of the Cults is how cheap their units are, and mixing and matching detachments from different Cults is a staple of competitive lists, so if any of the combinations in here do turn out to get there slotting them into armies is pretty easy.
The most interesting combination is probably:
Armour-Piercing Ammunition: Add -1AP within half range with autoguns, autopistols and heavy stubbers
Workers Arisen: re-roll hit rolls with heavy mining weapons (heavy stubbers, mining lasers and seismic cannons)
That gives you a different slant on the Bladed Cog Neophyte spam list, effectively trading the 6++ for some extra AP on autoguns, and giving you the option of buying heavy stubbers on the squads and still having some AP. I’m not convinced that it’s better, but it’s a different angle you can take, and adding some AP to basic weaponry is good in a power armour heavy metagame.
The other one that stands out is Innate Fighters, granting re-roll 1s to hit in the Fight phase when you charge, heroically intervene, or get charged. This is a good force multiplier if you’re taking lots of smaller units and don’t want to buy them banners, and is spicy on some of the melee character options (and will be on Aberrants if/when their cost comes back down, free the Aberrants from nerf prison GW). The main problem is that there isn’t a super obvious partner on it, but I think an absolute swarm of Metamorphs with metamorph talons (which add +1 to hit) and the Devout Worshippers trait (re-roll charges while within 3″ of friendly <CULT> Metamorphs) could be fun.
Ultimately, while there are some cute options here I don’t think these are about to light up the metagame – the core Cult Creeds are just too good, and locking yourself out of the cult stratagems, warlord traits and (now) powers is way too high a price to pay. It feels like there probably wasn’t enough free design space for there to be real standouts in here, as there are multiple that effectively only affect a single unit in the book, and a couple that pseudo-overlap, leaving you with not enough choices that bring broad benefits to the table and making them a bit of a miss.
Luckily, the story for the other parts of the GSC section is much brighter – while (like any stratagem page) there are some misses amount these there are also some big, big hits.
My favourite (and one of the reasons I’m very high on Ridgerunners coming out of this) is Overcharged Weaponry. For a mere 1CP, you get +1 to wound on all heavy mining laser, clearance incinerator or heavy seismic cannon shots out of a unit for a shooting phase. Given a full squad of Ridgerunners is essentially putting out six lascannon shots from their HMLs, and you can get them up to hitting on 3s re-rolling 1s in Hivecult, that’s a heck of a force multiplier. It also combos nicely with The Heart of the Creed (previewed by GW on Facebook), which lets a Primus pick two Meticulous Planner targets instead of one. That helps you take down a couple of big foes before you stop getting your wound re-rolls, and is a huge boon to the Ridgerunner strategy. Ridgerunners also get a unit-specific stratagem giving them bonuses to hit and wound with their heavy stubbers, another nice boost.
Elsewhere, as has been common in the PA books, there’s a theme of unit specific stratagems and upgrades. You can give a designated unit of Acolyte Hybrids the ability to Advance and Charge with a pre-game upgrade, which might be useful if you want to create a single squad that can independently roll through the enemy’s backfield. Goliath Rockgrinders get a couple of boosts, with Evasive Driving letting them ignore up to AP-2 for a phase and Annihilating Advance letting them do some mortals when they charge. It probably won’t make them competitive, but the units are super cool and it makes them vastly more exciting for people who want to have fun with them (not just immediately dying to a Whirlwind is a big boost).
A final standout is Close-Range Shoot-Out. For 1CP, an Atalan Jackal unit can re-roll wounds with Assault or Pistol weapons against an enemy within 12″ for a phase. While the demo charge bomb that was ubiquitous got nerfed hard in CA, just swarming the field with endless bikes remains a potent flex for Rusted Claw armies, and being able to re-roll a bunch of wounds with shotguns and grenade launchers will give these some real shooting punch.
I expect the Primus buff to be used a lot and for people to put some serious effort into getting the Ridgerunner builds onto the table thanks to these. The boosts for other units are also welcome, and should give GSC a few more options to squeeze out some efficiency in a pinch. Having said that, there are some pretty lacklustre ones in here too – several of the stratagems feel like they don’t do quite enough for their costs and probably won’t see much use. Obviously some misses are inevitable, but it feels like the design here was quite cautious, perhaps because GSC were much more dominant when these were being written.
Last, but definitely not least, we have psychic powers. Just like for their Tyranid progenitors, each cult gets a new power that their psykers can take in one of their slots. Genestealer Cults have some very good powers already, but there’s some really spicy stuff in here that should see a lot of use.
In a world full of Primaris Marines and Centurions, the Twisted Helix come in strong with Mutagenic Deviation (WC6). This lets you pick an enemy infantry unit and add 1 to your wound rolls against it from any melee attacks made by Helix models. While your top tier killers often don’t need the help, this lets you slam just waves of mid-quality stuff into a secondary target and wipe the floor with it, and also lets anything with rending claws make a huge mess of even heavily armoured stuff, as the rend procs on a 6+ so is affected by this modifier.
On a similar theme, the Rusted Claw can curse a vehicle within 18″ with Inescapable Decay (WC6). This improves the AP of all attacks against it by one until the end of the turn, letting you flense it to pieces with low quality stuff (this combos great with Close-Range Shoot-Out). However, what’s even more notable is that as it stands there are no keyword restrictions on this – it affects your whole army (and even team mates in doubles). That makes tapping a small detachment packing this into any Tyranid army feels like a near automatic play, as heavy armour is something they’ve often struggled with and this is a huge boon to both Hive Guard and Tyranid Warriors trying to blow tanks up with their mid-AP shooting. Unless it changes in an FAQ, this is easily the most powerful single ability in this section of the book.
The last big winner is the Bladed Cog, who get effectively Catalyst in Undying Vigour, granting a 5+ Feel No Pain. This feels good just on rate boosting any 20-model unit (remembering that Bladed Cog will always have a 6++ as well), but it’s sufficiently powerful on anything that’s just a huge blob of wounds that it makes both Atalans and Ridgerunners much more appealing in this creed. Since Bladed Cog was already one of the highest performing creeds, expect to see experimentation with those units in it instead of their natural homes of Rusted Claw and Hivecult (respectively).
The rest of the powers are probably weaker than the regular ones, and won’t see much as much use as these three. There’s good stuff you can do with them, but they’re all a bit behind the curve compared to the excellent choices already available. However, three potent new options in three well-used cults is a pretty good crop, and this section is a nice boost to the faction (and the Rusted Claw one is a huge boost to the Hive Mind in general).
…and that’s it for the factions in this book. All three get some great stuff, and while GSC probably get the smallest boost, there’s definitely still things to like here. It would have been nice to see some better options in the Cult Creeds, and maybe a bit more of an incentive to put Purestrain Genestealers into the army, but the Psychic boosts are very nice and the stratagems lift up several strategies.
We will, obviously, be back next month looking at the latest wild inventions of the Adeptus Mechanicus when Engine War lands, or possibly Saga of the Beast if anyone remembers it’s being released, and in the meantime will be putting out a review of the fluff from The Greater Good and delving deeper into some of the rules as well. Until then, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our Facebook Page.