Back in early 8th edition, which feels shrouded in the mists of time but was in fact only 3 years ago, the Astra Militarum codex was released to great wailing and gnashing of teeth. Guard, you see, had broken the game. They shot too much and their models were too cheap and they were, undoubtedly, a book so broken that it had already ruined 8th edition. There was nothing to be done – game over, man.
Here in 2020, as we live under the menacing oppression of our Iron Hands masters, this all looks quite quaint. Guard have been firmly relegated to also-rans, with only a very few brave souls running pure Guard lists to any success and most of the rest of their appearances coming in the form of Loyal 32s with maybe a sprinkling of Tank Commanders. Ironically, the two armies which they share The Greater Good with did a lot to rein in the supposedly all-powerful Astra Militarum – T’au Empire have been consistent performers in the tournament scene and are perfectly willing to slug it out in a shooting war with the Guard, and Genestealer Cults had a lengthy run on top in part because their deep striking trickery helps to neuter the kind of static, shooting-based parking lot that many Guard players favour.
With that in mind, then, this is an army which if not bad, at least could use a bit of help. Judging by the previews you could be forgiven for thinking they weren’t getting it, since they were rather overshadowed by Genestealer Cults and Tau Empire in the run-up. That said, the final book is in our hands in the form of a review copy kindly provided by Games Workshop, let’s take a look and see how things have turned out for the Guard.
What They Get
Well, first and foremost, there’s a name generator. Roll a d66 and generate your very own Pompilius Magnificus, or possibly Petyr “Rathead” Buttery if your regiment is more informal.
You probably wanted to read about rules content though. In that case, there’s a selection of custom regimental doctrines for your regular-flavour Guard, rules for Tank Aces which are similar to the type of unit upgrades that Tyranids got in Blood of Baal, and a package of new stratagems. Additionally to this, there’s a whole extra supplement for the Ordo Tempestus, giving regimental doctrines for 6 Tempestor regiments from the fluff, and 14 new Militarum Tempestus-specific stratagems. There’s also Warlord Traits and relics, which rounds it out into a full mini-supplement for the Stormtroopers. Neat!
Let’s take this in order, and start by talking about Regimental Doctrines. There’s 12 in total, and you can pick 2. They range from good to, uh, confusing. Standout picks are Spotter Details, which adds 6″ range to any Heavy weapons with 24″ range or better – great for getting your Demolisher-cannon toting Leman Russes to be effective from that little bit further away, and Jury-Rigged Repairs, which allows each damaged VEHICLE in your army to roll 1d6 at the top of your turn; on a 2-4 it repairs 1 wound and on a 5+ it repairs d3 wounds. Self-regenerating Tank Commanders with 30″ Demolisher cannons certainly have some upside. There’s also Gunnery Experts, which is ripped straight out of the Catachan trait – re-roll one dice when determining the number of shots of a VEHICLE model’s weapon. If you really wanted this but didn’t want to be running Catachan, congratulations, now you can have it.
At the other end of the scale, there’s some choices which are kind of baffling. Slum Fighters gets you an extra hit for each unmodified 6 to hit by an INFANTRY unit in melee, and Lords’ Approval improves the AP of melee attacks by 1 for INFANTRY units within 9″ of one of their OFFICER models. Ironically, given the fluff behind them, these probably work best if paired together, and also that combo is still not really that good. If you want Guard melee, then Straken, a Priest, and a block of Catachans is still the way to do it.
The real weakness here though is that these new doctrines are just that – much like the other custom sub-faction offerings, they’re for entirely new regiments created out of whole cloth. One of the hidden strengths of the Marine Successor Chapters is that they trade the Chapter trait away, but they get to keep the faction-specific stratagems and Doctrine, and even access the relics. It’s a shame that GW have never revisited that formula.
That’s the doctrines, then; what about the other generic-Guard option, the Tank Aces? These are a bit more promising. There’s 12 options available in total – 6 for “Main Battle Tank Aces”, i.e. LEMAN RUSS models, then 3 each for “Support Aces” (BASILISK, HYDRA, WYVERN, MANTICORE, or DEATHSTRIKE) and “Super-heavy Aces” (TITANIC models).
Much like Tyranids, you can give up the Warlord trait on your Warlord and instead take a Tank Ace ability. Additionally, you can spend 1CP to make another model a Tank Ace (or get one without giving up your Warlord trait – you don’t even need to have an ASTRA MILITARUM Warlord to do this, just an ASTRA MILITARUM CHARACTER, so you can use it in soup too). Note that named characters cannot be Tank Aces, no model can have more than one ability, and BROOD BROTHERS can never have them – sorry, traitors, maybe you should have stayed loyal and praised the Emperor.
The Main Battle Tank traits are surprisingly diverse. The only real miss is Armoured Rush, which allows you to Advance and still fire your turret weapon – given this is an ability you can already get from the Vigilus detachment, it’s kind of a waste of time to take it here. The rest range from “usable” to “great.” Master Mechanic lets your Tank Commander reduce the Damage of ranged weapons by 1, to minimum 1, giving your Tank Commander much improved survivability. Weapons Expert improves the AP of a weapon by 1, and notably is not restricted when it comes to Relics – feel free to windmill slam this onto a Commander with the Hammer of Sunderance, especially once we get to the Stratagems section.
For Support, there’s one which stands head and shoulders above the others – Full Payload. Do not roll to determine the Damage characteristic of weapons that model is equipped with; they have their maximum values. Ever gone through all the sound and fury of a Manticore barrage only to roll a fistful of 1s for damage? Suffer no more. 2d6 damage 3 shots, coming up.
Super-heavies are a bit more low-key and they suffer for it – none of the three traits is essential, but Steadfast Leviathan is handy for still getting a Regimental Doctrine in a Super-heavy Auxiliary detachment (though you could always just take the tank in a Supreme Command if that mattered to you). I feel like they could have been a bit more daring with these – Shadowswords aren’t the meta menace they once were, and having something to make Guard super-heavies hit the board again would have been nice, especially the ones that aren’t mounting volcano cannons.
Overall, I’d expect to see at least one Tank Ace in every Guard army from now on, and potentially two – especially since (as we will see in the Militarum Tempestus section) you don’t actually have to totally give up a Warlord trait to get one.
Astra Militarum Stratagems
14 new stratagems is 14 new things to remember, a heavy burden. Luckily, Furious Charge allows a unit of Ogryn to spend 1CP to do a mortal wound on a 4+ for each model in the unit that finishes a charge within 1″, so you can reduce that to 13 things you need to remember.
Instead, save your brain power for Hail of Fire. Spend 2CP when you select a LEMAN RUSS unit to fire; until the end of the phase, when resolving an attack with that model against a VEHICLE unit, do not roll for the number of shots. It automatically fires its maximum value. That’s certainly one way to fix variance. Anyone fancy an AP-3 Hammer of Sunderance which auto-fires its maximum shots? Yes, me too.
Wings Note: Or alternatively, on a Vostroyan Demolisher Commander also using Firstborn Pride. Very few things in this came want to have 12 demo cannon shots hitting on 2s coming at them. Trust me.
In a similar vein, Focused Bombardment is a mere 1CP and allows a Master of Ordnance to fire their artillery barrage at Heavy 6 instead of Heavy D6. The barrage is already fine and being able to ensure that you get off the maximum possible output from it is great, especially for a single command point.
There’s also the already-previewed Shield of Flesh, which for 1CP allows a unit of Bullgryn to body-block for one of your INFANTRY units – note that this is not, at least at present, faction-locked, so you can use the Bullgryn in a soup army to protect something vital like, say, a big block of Kataphrons. Direct Onslaught is also a generous 1CP, allowing you to add 1 to hit rolls for a MANTICORE or WYVERN for the Shooting phase. What if that max-damage Manticore now hit on a 3+? asks someone who really, really wants things to be flattened by an artillery barrage.
Less good is Deft Manouevring, a half-damage stratagem which mysteriously only applies to Armoured Sentinels; people certainly have been using Sentinels but I can’t say they’d be my first choice for a half-damage strat if I had the option to write one. The rest of what’s on offer is at least interesting and possibly opens up some new choices, like Psychic Barrage, a kind of quasi-Seer Council stratagem which might see Wyrdvane Psykers make it onto the board for the first time this edition. Overall a mixed bag, but what’s good here is really good, and I look forward to sighing every time I hear the words “Hail of Fire” shortly before one of my tanks is obliterated.
Wings Note: Sentinels get another bit of love in Strike First, Strike Hard, allowing a squad to add 2 to their hit rolls in the first battle round. Bizarrely, in combination with Deft Manoeuvering that almost makes me want to think about them.
The Ordo Tempestus
I think the inclusion of a full Ordo Tempestus supplement was a surprise to many – it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting from Guard in a Psychic Awakening book. It’s here, though, and there’s some very tasty options available from it.
There’s Doctrines available for the 54th Psian Jackals, the 32nd Thetoid Eagles, the 133rd Lambdan Lions, the 43rd Iotan Dragons, the 55th Kappic Eagles, and the 9th Iotan Gorgonnes. Good, solid, regimental names right there. You can also still use the default Storm Troopers doctrine from the codex, should you wish.
The 54th Psian Jackals and their trait, Death from the Dark, deserve recognition purely for doing something new with Morale. Each model destroyed by an attack from a model with this doctrine in the Shooting phase counts as 2 destroyed models in the following Morale phase. I’m not sure the doctrine is actually good – although it does do interesting things to 5-model units, which often don’t care about Morale right now but very much might do if they’re suddenly at +4 to their roll after losing a mere 2 models, and definitely will if it’s +6 for 3 – but it’s nice to see new design space opening up. The Lambdan Lions’ Prized Weaponry is more straightforward, improving the AP of their weapons by an additional -1 (AP-3 hotshot lasguns, anyone?) and the 43rd Iotan Dragons’ Crack Shots extends your Rapid Fire weapons’ range by 6″, which suddenly means that deep striking Scions can actually be in Rapid Fire range with their hotshot lasguns when they arrive. This is a straight doubling of the weapon’s output for no real cost, which is great.
Wings Note: There’s a tonne of nice stuff here, especially since Scions got cheaper in CA, but the +6″ range of the Iotan Dragons is a huge deal, as double tapping out of deep strike makes Scions spectacularly better.
If you have a full Militarum Tempestus detachment you also gain access to another 14 new stratagems, of which 8 are general and 6 are specific to individual regiments, and there’s some top stuff in here. Point-Blank Efficacy follows the Ronseal rule by making your models immediately more efficient – for 1CP, you gain +1 Strength on hotshot lasguns, laspistols, or volley guns that are firing at half range. This combines nicely with Crack Shots to let you deep strike in a unit of Scions in Rapid Fire range at S4, or even utilise some hot-shot volley guns at S5.
Hammer Blow brings in an interesting pinning effect. If an AERONAUTICA IMPERIALIS model with the Flyer battlefield role (i.e. Valkyries) kills a model, you can spend 2CP to pin that model’s unit until the start of your next turn. It halves Advance and charge rolls, and shoots at -1 to hit. Status effects like this are becoming more common, and this is a fun one that opens up a new dimension for Guard play and neatly fits in with a Tempestus Drop Force. You can also make the plane harder to hit with Advanced Counter-measures, which for 1CP lets you drop into hover mode without giving up the Hard to Hit ability (i.e. the -1 to be hit in shooting).
Another highlight is the 1CP Progeny of Conflict, which allows you to give a non-Warlord MILITARUM TEMPESTUS CHARACTER a Warlord trait – great for throwing Grand Strategist on a guy while still having two Tank Aces on the table. Killing Zone also stands out – after firing with a <TEMPESTUS REGIMENT> INFANTRY unit, pick a unit which had a model destroyed by that unit’s attacks – any other <TEMPESTUS REGIMENT> INFANTRY units firing at it are at +1 to wound.
In terms of the regiment-specific stratagems, one really interesting one is Daring Descent for the 9th Iotan Gorgonnes, which allows them to drop 5″ away instead of 9″ away for 1CP. They can’t charge that turn (so no dropping in and touching tanks with a 5″ charge) but like other stratagems that reduce deep strike distance, this can be a great way to sneakily assassinate a character or blow up a backfield artillery piece which isn’t screened as carefully as it should have been.
Wings Note: Being able to drop four melta guns in melta range sure is A Thing.
Tempestus also get Warlord traits. There’s one trait per regiment with no generics, which is a little limited, but at least they exist now. Standout highs are Keys to the Armoury for the 133rd Lambdan Lions – it’s just a 6″ re-roll hit rolls of 1 for ranged weapons, but that frees up your order to do something else – and Precision Targeting, the 43rd Iotan Dragons trait which allows you to pick a unit within 18″ and ignore cover for friendly Iotan Dragons units within 6″ which are shooting at it. Sanctity of Spirit for the 9th Iotan Gorgonnes sees the appearance of an effect which is being slowly spread around different factions, causing psykers within 24″ to Perils on any double rather than just double 1s or double 6s – better here than in many places because the model with it can deep strike threateningly close to a psyker and limit its options to run away out of range. Honestly, the worst I can say here is that the Master Vox trait on the 55th Kappic Eagles trait seems to be trying to make mech Tempestus happen when that really isn’t a thing right now, but at least it expands the viability of doing that.
Heirlooms of the Regiments
Finally we have the relics, again one per regiment with no generics. There are, uh, 3 different relic guns here, plus a relic chainsword. The chainsword at least looks fun, letting your 54th Psian Jackals character swing at S+1, AP-2, D2, with +3 attacks and re-rolls to wound against AELDARI. Wings Note: I’m being attacked. The 9th Iotan Gorgonnes’ Blessed Boltgun could also be a surprise pick against something like an Eldar army that’s heavy on the Warlocks, replacing a boltgun with a weapon which has a mere 12″ range but is also Rapid Fire 1, S5, AP-2, D2, can target characters without restriction, and is damage 3 against PSYKERS.
Putting aside the weaopns, there’s two utility relics for the 133rd Lambdan Lions and the 55th Kappic Eagles. The 133rd get the Refractor Field Generator, a 6″ bubble of 5+ invulnerable save – not nothing when your guys are usually toting 4+ saves in the AP-2 Marine meta – while the most interesting effect is Distraction Charges. When a 55th Kappic Eagles unit within 3″ is charged, any of their Overwatch attacks hitting means that the charge rolls is halved. This could potentially save the bacon of a unit of Scions.
It’s hard to know immediately how this book will change things for the Imperial Guard. There is an element here of the rich getting richer – stratagems like Hail of Fire make all the stuff that was already good better, as do Tank Aces in general, while the new Regimental Doctrines probably don’t do that much to displace Tallarn as the “don’t let your Tank Commanders die” doctrine of choice. That said, there’s certainly some stuff worth picking over, and where options have considerably expanded are on the Scion side of things, with some genuine new options which might at least increase list diversity. Is this the book which sees Guard leapfrog Marines back to being king of the meta and the army which all should fear? Probably not. Is it a solid 7/10 release which breathes some life into one of the older books in 8th ed, and at least opens up new choices? Yes, absolutely.
Wings Note: My take here is that I think viable Scion detachments, probably as Iotan Dragons, are going to be a real thing. The rules are good enough that I think they’ve got serious play.
Stay tuned for part 3 of our reviews of the gaming side of The Greater Good, with Genestealer Cults coming in hot shortly, and as ever, if you want to get at us then please feel free to do so in the comments here, on our Facebook page, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.