When I picked up my first Death Guard models in the Dark Imperium set, I really did not intend to do them as a full army. After all, it was not as if I did not have plenty to be getting on with. However, there was just something about their sculpts and colour scheme that hooked me, and after I started playing them, oh boy, I knew they were for me!
So, it was with great interest that I started paging through the new Codex when it plopped onto my desk.
There have probably been more previews and leaks about this Codex than any other, so I am not going to give you a page-by-page, blow-by-blow account – instead, I’ll cover the highlights and what in particular tickled me…
In terms of the background behind the Death Guard, they have been rooted firmly in the Heresy-era, rather than just being marauding warbands of diseased marines. This may be because Mortarion has arrived on the battlefields of the 41st Millennium but it does give the legion a solid base. And if you really fancy a challenge, the organisation of the entire legion is provided, should you feel the urge ti paint it all…
By my very rough calculations, that would be about 2,500 Plague Marines, plus all the other bits and pieces (you have to figure the Poxwalkers and Cultists will push that number right up…).
The colour schemes of various companies and warbands may provide a little less inspiration than normal as, aside from one pale Plague Marines, they are all varying shades of green. Not that you are likely to expect anything else.
Unlike the Chaos Space Marine and Grey Knight Codexes, the Death Guard are getting a ‘proper’ release, which means new units to get to grips with!
Starting off with the characters, we get:
Mortarion: The Primarch, very hard. Don’t mess with him.
Foul Blightspawn: Champions who specialise in alchemy, bringing a variety of diseases to battle.
Biologus Putrifiers: These guys now watch the spread of disease and work out how to make them more effective. Tend to have their blight grenades explode when you shoot them.
Plague Surgeons: Once Apothecaries, they no longer fix their brother marines (the Death Guard are somewhat resilient anyway) and instead culture diseases among their fellows. They also nick gene-seed from loyalist marines.
Tallymen: Sort of like priests, the Tallymen like counting things – shots fired, fleeing enemies, plague-ridden flies. The other Death Guard enjoy this a lot. The Tallymen also act as guardians to the most horrific viral weapons in the legion’s arsenal.
So, the new characters tend to either be developments of the original legion, or are ‘normal’ Death Guard who have gone up the ranks, become champions, and then ‘specialised’.
We get new units and vehicles too:
Blightlord Terminators: Elite Cataphractii-equipped infantry, eclipsed only by…
Deathshroud Terminators: Those who know their Heresy-era will recognise these guys, the elite bodyguards of Mortarion, pre-daemon. Now, they are just nasty, but more of that later…
Myphitic Blight-Haulers: Kind of a Bloat-Drone with tracks, these little tanks pack a good anti-armour punch while chucking out gasses that cloak nearby Death Guard.
Plagueburst Crawlers: Mobile artillery, but part daemon.
Foetid Bloat-Drones: Not actually new, as we got one in the Dark Imperium set, but these chaps now have access to heavy blight launchers and flesh-mowers, so they are worth a mention.
One thing to mention here – the artwork of the Beasts of Nurgle is very different to the current Finecast model and, try as I might, I cannot find a single Beast in any of the army shots of this book. New plastic Beast of Nurgle confirmed?
Anyway, what are these guys like to play? Well, if you have been messing around with Death Guard in the new edition, you will already know the combination of T5 and Disgustingly Resilient is pretty cool, Miasma is powerful, Poxwalkers are fun, and Bloat-Drones can really ruin someone’s day. Oh, and that the Lord of Contagion is actually quite hard once he gets into combat.
Have things improved, we wonder?
The ‘common’ rules for the Death Guard include Death to the False Emperor (which is nice, so long as you remember to actually use it) and Plague Weapons (which used to more or less mean knives and swords but there are many, many new plague weapons in this book), which we have seen before, along with Disgustingly Resilient. All well and good.
However, if you keep to the Death Guard keyword in your detachments, you now also get Inexorable Advance (infantry and Helbrutes ignore penalties for shooting and moving with Heavy and Assault weapons, plus Rapid Fire up to 18″), and Plague Host (Troops grab objectives, even if the enemy has already got there).
Plague Host brings the Death Guard up to spec with loyalist marines, but Inexorable Advance is really quite funky. Bolters and Plasma Guns get a bit more terrifying but, more to the point, your Helbrutes can now peg it straight towards the enemy without losing accuracy. This would be the first clue that the new Death Guard have respectable long-ranged firepower…
It is worth paying attention to Datasheets you think you have already seen before. For example, you will note that Daemon Princes have become cheaper for the Death Guard, and come equipped with Disgustingly Resilient. Combined with some other bits and pieces we will come to in a minute, we might just be seeing the new ‘default’ warlord for Death Guard armies, though it should be noted that the Lord of Contagion has also had a drop in cost.
Plaguebearers had a drop in cost in the Chaos Space Marines Codex, and that has been repeated here. However, the Plague Drones have not only become cheaper, but they have received an extra Wound each – still not sure they are all that, though they are fully capable of holding up enemy units for a while…
Plague Marines have the same options as those in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, but they are certainly worth a careful look. I am thinking units of 20, geared to close combat, might be a way forward – hellishly expensive, but nigh on unstoppable once you add a few bits and pieces that we are about to come to.
The new characters sit squarely in the Elites choices, alongside the existing Noxious Blightbringer, so you don’t really have any cheap choices for HQs if you want something light to go alongside your Lord or Daemon Prince. However, the new guys are focussed squarely on improving other units rather than being cold killers in their own right (again, like the Blightbringer who speeds up other units).
The Foul Blightspawn is primarily around to stall enemy charges, removing their ability to fight first in a round. However, you will also be eyeing up his Plague Sprayer – this weapon is Assault D6 (9″ range) and automatically hits its target. The AP-3 and D3 are just mean, but the icing on the cake (the pus on the pustule?) is S 2D6 – an average of 7.
That thing is a Terminator-killer, whichever way you look at it, and characters are not going to be too happy getting hit either.
The Biologus Purifier pumps up Blight Grenades thrown by other units, turning them from Frag-a-likes to S4 and D2, with a potential for an additional mortal. That might be worth a shrug on your part, but keep it in mind as we begin to cover the Stratagems…
The Plague Surgeon is another model to keep close to your massed Plague Marine units, as he re-rolls any 1’s they make for being Disgustingly Resilient. His Gene-Seed Thief ability also means he is pretty handy in close combat against similarly-ranked loyalist Marine heroes.
The Tallyman will be another popular choice as he not only grants re-rolls to hits for nearby Death Guard, he also has a chance of refunding your Command Points – and, believe me, you will use a lot of Stratagems in a Death Guard army…
Well, those are the characters. There is still plenty more to get excited about…
Deathshroud Terminators: At 11 points for 3, these guys are hellishly expensive, but with 3 S8 attacks at AP-3 and D3 damage, they will tear apart, well, just about anything. On top of that, any Death Guard characters nearby will gain an extra attack and, if they happen to be hit, one of the Deathshroud will step in to take the blow. Your Lord of Contagion should never teleport onto the battlefield without three of these guys.
Blightlord Terminators: These guys are 14 points for 5, which may seem a little more reasonable. You cannot really argue with T5 Terminators though, it has to be said, the weapon selections of the Loyalists are probably stronger. However, you will get a lot of mileage out of the Flail of Corruption, which will fairly reap anyone in power amour, and the Balesword they all carry is solid, if not exciting (though their Aura of Rust can increase it to AP-4). More durable than killy, the Blightlords will still cause the enemy issues when they teleport in.
Foetid Bloat-Drone: The drone now can have a heavy blight launcher, which gives it respectable (if not awesome) fire power at long range. However, the star here is the Fleshmower which, if I am reading this right, gives it 9 attacks (3 base, plus 6 for the weapon’s special rule, right?) in close combat at S8, AP-2 and D2. Tactical Squads, Chaplains… you’ll mow them all down with a couple of these.
Myphitic Blight-Hauler: The drone on tracks – comes with a missile launcher and multi-melta, which cannot be changed, but have three in a squadron and you are hitting on 3+ on the move. Decent enough for a mid-sized anti-tank unit. The really funny things are that it also gives Death Guard infantry cover, has a daemonic invun, and is Disgustingly Resilient – all on a platform that is T7 and W8, and costs less than a Blight-Drone. Count me in.
Plagueburst Crawler: Short version? Get three of these. T8, W12, Daemonic and Disgustingly Resilient. Add Entropy Cannon, that are basically lascannon that are a smidgen weaker and shorter ranged, but have AP-4, and a Plagueburst Mortar that requires no line of sight, and still kicks out D6 attacks at S8, AP-2 and D3 damage. Either have this on the front line, or tuck it behind a building and when the inevitable deep strike comes, kick out twin Plaguespitters which operate at S8 on this beast.
Now, these new units are all very exciting but, funnily enough, I think what really makes the Death Guard sing as an army can be found in the last few pages of the book.
Let’s start with the Warlord traits.
The very first trait might be an automatic choice for you (until you get to the others, at least), as it effectively gives your warlord 4+ Disgustingly Resilient, for anything other than mortal wounds. That alone will keep your man in the game for a little longer.
Living Plague dishes out mortal wounds within 3″ of your warlord, which is easy enough to dismiss, but there are lots of different ways of kicking out mortals in this army, and they all start to add up…
However, you might well have your head turned by Tainted Regeneration – your warlord heals a wound at the start of each player’s turn. That is two wounds per round. Given how tough Death Guard warlords are in the first place, this might well put them beyond the reach of many enemies.
That Tainted Regeneration is going to be tough to beat but, depending on who you normally fight, Hulking Physique on your Lord of Contagion, taking him up to T6 could be worth a serious look, as S3 attacks (lasguns, puny mortals, etc) will just bounce off him all day.
In a similar vein to the last two, Rotten Constitution reduces all Damage by 1 (to a minimum of 1) which can really cut some of the weapons wielded by loyalist Space Marine heroes down to size.
The Warlord Traits are good – the Stratagems are even better, and really start to make the synergies within the Death Guard shine. Here are some highlights:
Cloud of Flies: Gives one infantry unit cover when they are in the open, for one measly Command Point. Think about that 20-man Plague Marine unit I suggested earlier, who are now pint-sized Terminators. Or, think about Terminators, who now bounce Krak Missiles on a 3+.
Grandfather’s Blessings: Heals an infantry model (or brings one back). This could have saved my Lord of Contagion more than once in the past…
Gifts of Decay: Gets your more relics – normally, I might skip this one, but the Death Guard relics are actually quite funky.
The Dead Walk Again: Every model (friend or foe) that dies within 7″ of Poxwalkers, becomes a Poxwalker. Not likely to win you the game, but very very funny.
Blight Bombardment: Your unit of 20 Plague Marines gets charged? How about every one of them lobbing a Blight Grenade in Overwatch? Did you keep your Biologus Purifier close by? I knew you would.
Veterans of the Long War: Add +1 to the wound rolls of one infantry unit. The damage that could do in the hands of Terminators (of either flavour) will give any Lord of Nurgle happy thoughts.
I mentioned relics earlier, and yes, they are pretty top drawer as far as Nurgle is concerned.
Suppurating Plate: I predict that you will see this on a Daemon Prince in more than half of the Death Guard armies you fight. It gives him a 2+ save, and bounces close combat hits that the armour catches – add that to some of the sexier warlord traits (Tainted Regeneration, perhaps), and the Daemon Prince will just keep on going… and going…
Pandemic Staff: Adds +1 to psychic tests made for Smite. Sounds a bit poor, but the amount of times I have failed that roll (plus gives you a better chance of turbo-blasting the power).
Fugaris’ Helm: Increases auras by 3″. Doesn’t sound so much but in some cases you will be doubling their range…
For psykers, the Contagion discipline gets new powers and… you know what… I am a little less excited by these – but I also know why.
Miasma of Pestilence is just so good. Not too good, but so good. It sort of over shadows all the others.
That said, you get Blades of Putrefaction which adds +1 to wound rolls of any Death Guard unit, with the possibility of kicking out mortals too. With a charge value of 5, this will get attention.
Putrescent Vitality has potential too, as it boosts the Strength and Toughness of an infantry unit by 1 – however, this could be quite situational, given that the Death Guard tend to be tough and strong to begin with. There will not be too many times, for example, where it is beneficial for Plague Marines to be T6. However, if they are S5, they are suddenly whacking normal Marines on a 3+. You’ll need to match up power and unit against a specific enemy.
Curse of the Leper rolls 7 dice and every one that beats the Toughness of the nearest enemy unit causes a mortal. Not desperately exciting, but a good roll could cause a typical character all sorts of problems.
The biggest issue with these powers is that the first you will pick is Miasma, cutting down on the other choices. Put another way, it is a brave Death Guard lord who goes into battle without tooling up on Miasma…
All in all, this Codex is, I think, a Win for Nurgle and the Death Guard. It is very characterful and while it may not have any obvious ‘Death Stars’, the sheer resilience of the army makes it very forgiving, and there are endless ways to confound your enemy as you gradually wear him down.
On the flip side there are a lot of rules to remember for each unit (what kicks out a mortal wound, and under what circumstances, for example), and you will forget a bunch of them when you first start playing. However, as I said, the Death Guard are a forgiving force, so you won’t be losing battles just because you forgot rules X, Y, and Z.
Overall, I would grade this Codex as making the Death Guard born again hard, and I can’t wait to get them onto the battlefield again!