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Guest Commentary: Da Orcboy Pays Up
Rating the 40K Army Lists: The Armies of the Eagle – The Imperium (Eighth of 11 articles) by Ken Lacy
Even discounting the loyalist Marine chapters, there are still a vast array of different army lists in the 40K game that can be categorized as “Imperial.” They come in two broad varieties: Imperial Guard and variant lists (4 types), and Inquisitorial and pure ally lists (currently 3 types). Even these categorizations encompass a bewildering spread of abilities, strengths, and tactical styles. The cover term ‘Imperial Guard’, for instance, describes dozens of different possible army types, all capable of being created with the right combination of Doctrines. Those distinct variants (Armored Company, Catachans, and Last Chancers) I list separately are radically different enough, in some way or another, from even the panoply of combinatorial options that are the Imperial Guard.
Inquisition lists, however, are even more eclectic – if that’s possible to imagine. With its huge array of allied options, the basic Inquisition list is enormously customizable. The ‘pure’ lists, on the other hand, describe an army made up of nothing but one or another of the associated Inquisitorial allies present in one codex – Grey Knights, Sisters of Battle, or (probably, in the eventual 3rd codex) Deathwatch. These ‘pure’ lists generally are much more restricted in terms of their available unit types, although they have special rules of their own which can help make up for it. At least, to a degree.
Fortunately, the Imperial lists are pretty well supported – only the Armored Company receive a ‘poor’ rating because few stores carry tanks in large enough numbers – or all the appropriate variants – to equip a full Armored Company.
Portability ratings are all over the map, however. Although the boxy Imperial vehicles pack quite well, lists like the (vanilla) Imperial Guard can be enormous, and contain not only a huge number of models, but also a large number of quite bulky models such as Gun Teams and Sentinels – truly a pain to pack and transport. At the other end of the scale, the elite Grey Knights are a very compact force, their Nemesis Force weapons notwithstanding – as are the Last Chancers (at least in a ‘pure’ Last Chancers list).
Inquisition lists also rate low in terms of Paintability – whether due to high detail and ornateness (Grey Knights, Sisters), or sheer chaotic variety making cohesive schemes difficult (Inquisition). Imperial Guard lists do a fair job here, even if many lists do have models with a goodly amount of details. Only Armored Company rate above average, what with all the flat spaces and simple lines of those many, delightfully drybrush-able tanks.
When it comes to Ease-of-Assembly, these lists are again all over the board. Schaeffer’s Last Chancers and Sisters-of-Battle rate extremely well, with few ‘fiddly’ bits and relatively straightforward ‘slot-and-go’ assembly. Vanilla Imperial Guard, on the other hand, rate very poorly – tons of ‘fiddly bits’ in the plastic kits, tanks and walkers that require a good dealing of fudging or coaxing to put together well, and multi-part metals (like older Heavy Weapons teams) that take some patience to assemble. Grey Knights rate worst of all – all metal, plenty of fragile pieces, and pinning pretty much required. Armored Company and Catachans rate ‘average’ only because they’re primarily plastic kits, and as specialized forces they don’t have all the assembly issues of standard Imperial Guard.
Customizability similarly leads to a huge variety of different ratings. Grey Knights and Sisters-of-Battle are, as all-metal armies with virtually no archive presence, some of the least easily customizable lists in the game. Imperial Guard, on the other hand, have a huge archive, a major Forgeworld presence, tons of existing variety in the main line, and access to dozens of kits, including basically every ‘human’ plastic kit that Games Workshop makes, whether 40K or Fantasy. And Inquisitorial armies, given how broad a range of units they can field, have even more variety – if that can even be imagined.
Imperial Guard, especially with their array of doctrines, are enormously variable; Inquisition lists, with their ‘kitchen sink’ approach to army-building, have nearly as many (if not more) options available to them. The Armored Company have dozens of vehicle variants and loadouts to choose from, even before you consider all the Forgeworld variants. The other specialist lists fare a bit worse, however – some have virtually no variety in their codex at all.
When it comes to the Effectiveness of all this variety, however, many lists don’t do so well. The Imperial Guard and Inquisition do well, simply because there are so many options available to them, and Sisters of Battle are a surprisingly versatile list, given their relatively average unit variety and selection. Last Chancers and Grey Knights can present a good variety of different looks, too, but Armored Company and Catachans are extremely predictable lists. Catachans in particular have basically just the one effective design concept – Ambush in a Jungle.
As for reliability of their basic units, Imperial Guard fare very poorly – below-average stats, low Leadership, poor weaponry, fixed unit size (no strength in numbers) – only the availability of Leadership-enhancing characters and unit upgrades save them from the worst possible rating. Catachans aren’t world-beaters, but can be counted on to do their job at least, and while the Inquisition has many elites available to them, their mess of variety means that they aren’t always as solid and reliable as their best troops. The other Imperial lists have superior leadership, superior skills – and fare much better.
Imperials aren’t the most durable of armies, either. Last Chancers basically collapse if you make a single mistake in the game – they simply don’t have the numbers, armor, or toughness to afford any goof-ups. Catachans and Grey Knights are similarly unforgiving, though at least the Catachan advantage in jungles helps limit their vulnerabilities. The remainder have numbers, armor, or special abilities on their side, but not even the Armored Company, who can simply ignore most opponents and most enemy weapons, have the numbers to really do well here.
Next, adherence to the Core 40K rules. Here, it’s Imperial Guard (close adherence, with some variations), and everyone else. The Inquisition, at the other extreme, can break or supercede virtually every rule in the book, and calls on four (and eventually, or at least potentially, five) codex books for all its selections and gear. Sisters of Battle have Faith Points and prayers that allow the careful player to radically alter his circumstances, Catachans can literally force an opponent to play in the terrain of their choice (jungle), and Last Chancers can be ridiculously customized and come with a lengthy mess of special rules. By comparison, the psychic powers and special wargear of the Grey Knights, and the many big guns of the Armored Company, seem downright tame.
Last, Primary Aptitudes: Imperials are neither spectacularly speedy, nor especially maneuverable. Imperial Guard can be made drop-troops, or entirely mechanized, accounting for their “average” rating -- they frequently are found a good deal slower and more static. Armored Company can field fast vehicles, and being vehicular are inherently mobile. Sisters-of-Battle have a combination of mechanization and jump-infantry to give them reasonable speed as well. But only the Inquisition, which can put together some truly, impressively, aggressively fast lists, rate better than average. Footsloggers like the Grey Knights have the ability to Deep Strike, and have assault weapons which give them some mobility on the table-top, which keeps them from rating "worst", while Catachans have similar strengths (such as Ambush) in their ‘home’ jungle terrain. Outside it, however, they’re as slow as Orks, if not slower.
Imperials are quite shooty, however. Though a lack of big guns keeps Catachans and Last Chancers from being any better than average, the rest of the Imperial army lists are quite good at this aspect of the game – some of the best in 40K, in fact. That said, they’re frequently limited in some fashion from dominating the game in this way – Imperial Guard by their low Ballistic Skill and low-strength Lasguns, Armored Company and Grey Knights by their small numbers, and Sisters-of-Battle by their limited range.
On the other hand, Imperials are mediocre at best in assaults, with the exception of the fearsome Grey Knights and the 'kitchen-sink' Inquisition. The Imperial Guard are quite poor at close combat, although they are an amazing 'tar pit' list. And Armored Company have next to no assault capability at all!
For the Tactical/Veteran gamer, the lists rate a little differently. Inquisitorial lists are pure crack cocaine for army-building munchkins, with so many strengths, combined with a variety of unique units, items, and special rules. They compare favorably with the best army lists in the 40K game. Sisters of Battle have their own strengths, and careful use of Faith Points really brings this powerful list into its own. On the whole, however, the Imperial army lists are tricky to use, and not anywhere near being overpowered. Although the Armored Company, Grey Knights, and basic Imperial Guard have their strengths, they also have their clear weaknesses -- they are competitive lists, but will not dominate in games they play. Finally, the Last Chancers, and especially Catachans, are monstrously challenging lists to use and to play well. The Last Chancers do decently well in smaller games (1000 pts or less), but in larger games will provide progressively weaker returns. And Catachans "work" only in jungle terrain -- and even then, will struggle to pull out victories against even non-customized opponents.
More army ratings to come!
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