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March 3, 2013

40K Review: Chaos Daemons

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Just throwin' it out there.

Truth be told, this is probably one of the most controversial books ever written.  Did you see just how much internet hype there was?



I'm talking about negative energy, the world is ending, and that the army is unplayable kind of hype.  Don't worry guys, hopefully this review will clear some stuff up.

Before I go any deeper, I want to give brief overview of how I'm going to do this review and how things will be slightly different.  I will touch upon three major categories:  Overall Design, Internal Balance and External Balance.  You can find out what these terms mean here.

I will not go through each and every unit, instead, I will give you an more design-driven analysis of how the book turned out.  Let's begin shall we?

Overall Design

Most of the doom and gloom surrounding this book are the random elements.  I can see where the designers were going with this (Cruddace and Kelly wrote the book), and Chaos is supposed to be fickle, but sometimes you need to control the amount of random elements.  This will come back and bite them in the butt on more than one occasion.

Which occasions are these?  Well, for one is the Warp Storm table.  The major thing to note here is that it happens at the start of each of your shooting phase, and some of the results are just unwanted and overdone.  The ones that really stand out is the 11, which basically picks an enemy psyker and makes him test 3D6 for leadership.  If he fails, he's killed outright and you get a free Herald of your choice.  Now, I don't know about you guys, but I've never found anything that just does something to you, without any player control, for free, to be good game design.  Things like Dante's mask and this just makes you start off the game angry, and frustrates the other player who has no protection against pure luck and zero skill.  As you make your way through the table, you'll find that almost every roll has a consequence for a particular god, so if you have a heavily chromatic-god army, you'll be rolling a D6 every turn just in case you get hate on by a rival god.  Sure, you need a 6 for something to happen, and it can very well effect your enemy more than you, but this is completely out of the player's control.  Sometimes you you gain +1 to your invulnerable save army-wide, sometimes you -1 to your invulnerable.  And sometimes, like the enemy psyker, you just blow up.  You literally blow your up own Greater Demon before the game even starts.

Another thing is that there's no concrete way to customize your warriors the same way as other books.  Most of abilities have to be rolled for on a D6 "Gifts" table (Lesser, Greater, Exalted), and the points you pay to goes to buying X amount of these gifts.  Hope is not all lost though, there are default weapon choices for all your important guys (just like Primaris powers) just in case you don't like your roll.  Some of these weapons are also quite good!  As an army builder hobbyist myself, a major part of the game is sitting around and figuring out different army lists. It brings joy to my hobby and I think randomness kills a little bit of that.  Thankfully, Locus abilities for your Heralds can be configured and bought normally.  It would absolutely suck if you had to D3 for FNP or get something else for your Nurgle Herald.

Lastly, there's a thing that Tzeentch units have called Warpflame.  Whenever you inflict some unsaved wounds, your opponent takes a Toughness test.  If he fails, you get D3 more wounds with no armor/cover saves.  This sounds great right?  Sure, but if he passes, he gets +1 to his FNP for the rest of the game.  If he comes stock with none, he gains a 6+.  If he's a Plague Marine, have fun with his 4+ FNP.  This is the same thing that happened to Warriors of Chaos, and it's a change I do not like at all.  Rest of the game abilities should just be removed from all of Warhammer.  Most of it is tied to frustrating design elements.

Through all this, the one thing that bothers me the most is how much record-keeping there is.  In a game that already has a ton of randomness, why add more randomness that you have to keep tabs for?  You have to mark which units have Warpflame FNP for the rest of the game, what gifts did your Greater Demons/Heralds/unit Champions rolled, what you rolled on Warp Storm table every turn, who transformed what guy into who, so on, so forth.  The Warp Storm table itself takes forever because it not only affects your Khorne units for example (if you rolled the result that causes Slaanesh to emo-rage), but you also have to roll a D6 for every unengaged enemy unit.  There is just so much stuff you have to keep of, because you know, victory points, warlord traits, and who got first blood isn't enough already.

Design wise, I give this book a 2.5/5.  Good effort, but it failed on multiple levels.  The major failures of design was; the overwhelming amount of randomness (just too much), the sheer number of record-keeping elements and the insanely frustrating elements that no one can control.  No one wants to lose their Eldrad to freak luck, and no Demon player wants to lose their Warlord Bloodthirster before they get to do anything.  It's a loss/loss for both players that such a silly mechanic even exists.  The only thing that prevented me from ripping the score even lower is that this is a complete redesign of the Demon army.  If at first you don't succeed.. well.. don't fail us again.

Internal Balance

Here is the funny part.  Despite all the randomness that the book exhibits, it does a pretty decent job in terms of internal balance.  A lot of you are probably scratching your heads why, and I'll tell you why.  The book is balanced in terms that everything is playable and at the right price.  I say this with confidence because even if you are looking at that T4 Bloodcrusher that only has a 5+ Invulnerable save and you're screaming curses to Khorne, you have to look at all the other thing it gets.  It gains the ability to take a god-specific banner that allows a cool once-a-game ability, can now take a champ for a cheap attack, have different champion upgrades, +1 wound, and most importantly, now count as Cavalry.  Things change in a redesign, it's time to accept that.

Change is something that scares a lot of people and skews their perception at what works what doesn't.  Internally, I can say that the book is well-balanced.  I guarantee you that you will see every one of these units on the battlefield some time or another.  All the Greater Demons have a use:  Tzeentch gains Divination and better combat stats, the Great Unclean One is T7 and can Mastery Level 3 Biomancy, Keeper of Secrets are incredibly fast, powerful and cheap, while the vaulted Bloodthirster remains a beast to be feared.  Not to mention taking a Greater Demon unlocks Daemon Princes as Heavy Support, so the army-list remains flexible and scary if you take all flying MCs.

Heralds can be taken in 4 for 1, and all the Locus abilities have their use.  A few oddities stand out like Masque and Blue Scribes not being a herald, but they can still offer themselves as cheap HQ choice if you wanted that.  Troop-wise, you're looking at the next horde army.  Everything is dirt cheap and you'll be flooding the board with an near-endless amount of demons should you choose to go that route.  With so many different herald options, you can kite our your Plaguebearers to be killy with 2+ poison or hold points with FNP.  Beasts, Fiends,  Epidemius, Masque, and a few others have been redesigned to work differently.  I can say that all of the ones I named and many more will find their way into lists because of the army composition.  Fiends are no longer the no-brainer unit they were before, and now fills a role that disrupts enemy psykers or lowers an enemy units' Initiative by 5 just by charging.  Now that the Warpstorm table exists, many people will be thinking about mono-god armies to reduce the amount of randomness that can be rolled as well.

The biggest welcomed change to balance has to be the nerf to some units.  Remember the WD Flamers and Screamers?  Well, they have been toned down.  They are no longer the cheesy option that every powergamer will take, but the units that tinker gamers will ponder over.  There are now plenty of other interesting options in the book to explore that WAAC players can look elsewhere.  Besides, if anything, I doubt any super min-maxers will be looking at Daemons anyway!  In that sense, the book's randomness is one of its redeeming qualities.

In terms of Internal Balance, I give this book a solid 4/5.  It would be higher, but I don't like some things.  Besides, the fact that Masque, Blue Scribes and some others don't count as Heralds so you can't take them in 4-1 limits my HQ options quite a bit.  Furies have Ld.2 would be another and I wish some things like the Slaanesh chariots were a little better.  Not to mention the current state of Tzeentch Burning Chariot obviously needs an FAQ. Overall, I can't complain too much.

External Balance

Now that that's done, how will this book fare against the other armies out there?  I think it will do quite well for a 6th Ed. book.  Notice that I said 6th Ed. book?  That's because the armies written for 5th Ed. were questionably more powerful.  Even so, I think this book can give it a run for its money as long as the gods are with you.  That's the funny part, because in some ways, this book feels like the new Orks.  There's a certain amount of "chaos" that you just can't predict, and if things go your way, it really goes your way.  Of course when things go badly, it just spirals into a black abyss while you pull models off the table.

Internally, the codex has all the right tools for the job.  It has meaningful anti-air, with access to Divination and Shrouded Skyfire Soulginders.  Despite the Flamer nerf, you can now compete with T3 and horde units better with their S4 AP4 flames.  Screamers are not as deadly as before, but now you have access to Tzeentch Heralds with Prescience that can "guide" your units for more accurate damage.  I don't see a lack of anti-tank as well, as a melee-centric army with flying MCs tend to tear up anything that it gets its hands on.  Anti-MEQ is also not an issue either with Hellblades, torrent S5 AP3 flamer chariots, Rending, and other craziness.  Some people will complain that the army doesn't have any form of assault grenades anymore, but with cavalry and beast types running rampant, I think it will be just fine.  Not to mention the new Khorne cannon that gives your assaulters pseudo frag grenades when you charge in for the kill, as well as providing a S8 large blast shot at BS5.

Is this army going to topple Aircrons, Grey Knights or Space Wolves?  I don't think so.  It will be a lot of fun to play and that should be enough for some people.  The army certainly has all the tools for the job, it's just really up to the chaos gods of randomness to determine whether you pull through or not.  Now, more than ever.

Externally, I give this book a 4/5.  This number should constantly flux due to the randomness associated with it, but overall, it's really a nice book with nothing over the top at all.  If anything, it's underwhelming until you roll hot.

Conclusion

It's amazing to me how a book that's so utterly crazy and scatter-brained can be so well-balanced.  Honestly, it blows my mind.  There's obviously some bad mechanics in the book, but I love all the units and how much they cost.  Competitively, I think the book has its place, but only if the player who pilots them understands that randomness is blessing and a vice.  This is one of those rare circumstances that I can't divine the future for this book.  It's literally too chaotic to accurately predict.

Hero out , and may the dice gods be with you.
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