So, I have a copy of the new Codex: Eldar Craftworlds, very possibly the most controversial book released by Games Workshop since, well, ever, really. It certainly has the various gaming forums alight with people ‘debating’ the rumours and leaks that have surrounded this tome. Are they right?
The first thing you notice – it is a big book, the size of Codex: Space Marines, and with the same price tag. And if pretty Codexes are your thing, you will not be disappointed.
There are some re-used pieces of art, but plenty of brand new items too, including a nice colour picture of an entire craftworld floating through space, the first time we have really seen that kind of detail.
As you would expect with a book of this size, there is a lot of background material, covering not just the individual units but the different craftworlds too, including…
… the lesser known ones. Interesting point here, the Altansar Craftworld on the top left of that picture is almost exactly the same colour scheme as my own Altsain Craftworld. Obviously just a variant spelling from a different part of the galaxy.
And, of course, the obligatory ‘hobby’ section, which has everything you need to get inspired to do the forces of an entire craftworld.
However, I am guessing that at least 92% of you don’t give two figs about any of that in a review, and want me to get into the heart of things – the rules and army lists.
I will say this to begin with – after spending a few days with this book, I think Games Workshop have hit the nail right on the head with Codex: Eldar Craftworlds, in terms of both rules and (shock!) game balance. The trick I think GW has managed to pull off is that they have got people looking at various units and saying ‘OMG, how do I fight such a beast?’ And yet, within the structure of the army, everything balances – as a games designer myself, I am impressed. This is exactly what you want to aim for when you release a new army/army list.
Perhaps I should explain.
Yes, there are some really nasty units in this book, and the Internet has been alight with S6 Jetbikes and D Weapons. However, there are some balancing factors…
Balance Factor 1
These ‘super’ units all have weaknesses that can be exploited. For example, our local Dark Eldar player had his eyes light up when he saw the new Craftworld Jetbikes, as he saw immediately that his own Jetbikes could have the edge on them, being geared to close combat. And close combat is certainly the Achilles’ Heel of Craftworlders. Anything that can close in and nobble Marine Equivalents, as they are called, will be well suited to engaging Jetbikes.
This is just one side of the equation, of course. A bunch of ten Jetbikes armed with Scatter Lasers (which is possibly the wrong choice, incidentally, Shuriken Cannon may be the better option – the reduced range is neither here nor there, and you get the poor man’s Rending on top) is a fearsome thing with enough shots to glance an AV12 vehicle to death and force Terminators to make enough saving throws that a sizeable number will fall.
All well and good. However, that Jetbike unit is going to ring in at over 300 points (you will put a Warlock with them). And, more to the point, it is as vulnerable to shooting as Marines are – if you can kill Marines, you can kill these guys. Sure, they get a Jink against low AP weapons, but that is the point – you want them to Jink. As soon as your Eldar opponent declares a Jink, give yourself a pat on the back as you have just eroded his ability to fight greatly. And when you do it in one round, make sure you do it the next.
In short, there are some seriously tasty units in this Codex that can do some seriously nasty things to you – but that has always been the case with Eldar, specialising in one area to a degree beyond other armies. However, every such unit also has its weakness, and they have not been removed in this edition.
Balance Factor 2
This point will not be popular, so I will use an analogy to begin with.
I have used Imperial Knights in the past. My opponents want to use Imperial Knights themselves – but I recommend them not to do so.
From their point of view, they see this big, strong killing machine that marches straight over their troops and wins battles. But that is not how it appears from my point of view. I see the problems in deploying knights. I see the huge points cost that gouges a hole in my army list. I see the limited number of targets it can engage. And I see how an allied knight never, ever earns its points during a battle.
Basically, I am saying people are looking at various Eldar units in fear, without appreciating what life is like for the Eldar player (I know, I know, poor little Eldar player, life might actually happen to him…).
The balancing factor in this Codex rests with the Craftworld Warhost detachment and its resulting formations. In a nutshell, you will never, ever have everything you want or even think you need in a battle. The points costs will knock you over every time and, when you look at your army, it will seem pitifully small.
The problem starts with the core Battlehost/Windrider Host/Stormhost – they will rock in at over 600 points, without having too many ‘toys’ added. And you can forget about Wave Serpents being present. The Wraith Host, with all those D weapons, is over 1,000 points – so, in a 1,500 point game, you won’t see it due to the Battlehost cost. There is an awesome combo involving never-scattering Falcons unloading BS 5 Aspe ct Warriors right in your opponents back line – but take it in a 1,500 point game and you won’t have anything else beyond the Battlehost.
And that is the issue. The mandatory Battlehost (of whatever flavour rocks your boat) is not merely a tax to get access to other goodies. It is enough points that it actually has to perform in a battle. You cannot just rely on the ‘cool’ stuff, the Battlehost has to earn its points and place in the army – and three Guardian squads, even with free weapons platforms, are going to struggle with that against many armies. Even the Windrider Host will not be that awesome when you start working out how many points it is sucking up and then realise it is just three Battle Cannon templates (or whatever) from being rendered down to BS 1.
So, whatever horrors you think you will face when fighting Eldar, there will never be very many of them, and your opponent will have had issues just getting those on the table.
Balance Factor 3
The counterpoint here is, of course, to screw the new detachment and just use Combined Arms. Yes, you can do that, but here is the thing – as an Eldar player, you want to use the Warhost detachment, simply because the additional benefits are so nice and, of course, the whole power behind Eldar is getting the synergy between your units going to magnify the effects of all. That is what wins you the games, not the single awesome unit.
So, how could GW possibly tempt you away from the (near) free choice of Combined Arms and the ObSec it gives to boot? Well, let me list a few examples…
Craftworld Warhost: If you go for the big detachment, the first thing you get is Matchless Agility, which always counts the dice as a 6 when you Run. Nice enough when you consider a) your Guardians are probably walking now and b) Banshees can now reliably move and run 15″, but there is another nice benefit lurking a little further on.
Guardian Battlehost: You now get free weapons platforms for your Guardians. Nice enough but, so long as they stay close to the Guardians, the Vypers, War Walkers and Vaul’s Wrath also get Preferred Enemy. Worth thinking about.
Windrider Host: Once per game, the Shuriken units (see, told you not go go heavy on Scatter lasers) gain Shred. Actually not the sexiest of benefits.
Guardian Stormhost: Like the Battlehost, but you get free flamers/fusion guns and power swords.
Seer Council: Harness Warp Charges on a 3+. Got to love that.
Aspect Host: Pick WS or BS, then +1 to it for all units in this formation. Think about Fire Dragons and/or Dark Reapers for a moment. Oh, and the units get to re-roll failed Morale, Pinning and Fear. Then think about putting them in three Falcons and putting them down on the table exactly where you want them…
Dire Avenger Shrine: BS 5 for your Avengers, re-roll Morale, etc, and once per game everyone gets an extra shot.
Crimson Death: Three Crimson Hunters that get a 4+ cover save all the time and, if you choose to Jink, you get to re-roll it.
Wraith Host: If you are near to the Spiritseer, you get to re-roll misses. Nice enough, but glance upwards on that page – you might just have missed the bit where it says the units of this formation gain Battle Focus. Now go back to the top of this section and re-read the benefit of the Craftworld Warhost detachment as a whole…
As you go through this book, you will constantly hit upon bits and pieces that make you think twice (in dread if you are fighting Eldar, with a smile if they are your army). Fire Dragons, for example, gain +1 on the vehicle damage table – they can one shot a Land Raider (say) on a 4+. Dark Eldar Raiders and Ork Trukks pop on a 3+. Howling Banshee Exarchs reduce enemy Leadership by -2. Dire Avengers Overwatch at BS 2.
Lots of little things like that, and I think we are looking at a good few months before everything is shaken out of this Codex and people start leaning one way or another when it comes to tactics.
However, it is clear that a lot of different tactics are possible with this Codex (I haven’t even glanced at a Wave Serpent yet when building army lists, and they remain quite good!).
In all, I think GW have done rather a good job here.