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Warhammer 40K: The Problem With Imperial Fists

8 Minute Read
Oct 31 2019
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Let’s talk about why Imperial Fists are a missed opportunity for greatness.

After some time in the dumps, Marines have a couple of pretty good months. They’ve got a new Codex, new units, and new power Codex Supplements. Even after Iron Hands blew the meta away, and quickly got nerfed, they are still taking the meta by storm.  After a bit of a wait, we’ve finally got the complete set with the arrival of Salamanders and Imperial Fists.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like GW saved the best for last. Though Salamanders have a lot to offer, Imperial Fists, a much-anticipated release, are a disappointment. Their rules are disjointed; they get less them every other chapter, and overall don’t live up to the hype of the sons of Rogal Dorn. Let’s dig in and take a look at why the Defenders of Terra are so underwhelming.

N.B. I’m only looking at Imperial Fists today; I’ll discuss Crimson Fists later.

A Pair of Troubled Heroes

Imperial Fists get two unique characters, and neither one is particularly exciting. The first hero is Captain Lysander, returning from previous books. Lysander remains mostly unchanged for his old version and has not undergone the Primaris transformation. The only difference is his Icon of Obstinacy now makes nearby units unable to lose more than one model to morale, rather than increasing LD by 1. This is overall a pretty minor ability as Marines have high leadership and plenty of ways to just ignore morale. I’d even say the old version was better as it helped defend against the few random attacks that target leadership. Besides this, he is just a terminator captain with S10 and brings very little to the table. 

Tor Garadon, the new Primaris Captain, is slightly better. He is a slightly buffed Gravis Captain, which also means he’s slow and has few transport options. Garadon isn’t bad per se; He’s decent in combat, has an OK, if a short-ranged attack, and will wreck a vehicle if he can get to one. He is also not any better in combat than plenty of generic builds you can make. He does have a Signum Array, which lets him give a friendly unit 2+ BS. This is a nice buff, but at odds with the rest of him, to use it, you really want to have him hang bank with support units, wasting his close-ranged attacks. Again it’s not bad, but underwhelming when compared to say, Iron Father Feirros who has the same Signum Array, plus other buff, and a set of abilities that synergize better, or the Salamanders’ Agatone, who has a similar close range and close combat ability, but an aura buff that actually makes sense with it. Overall you might be better off with just a generic Chapter Master.

Legacy of Dorn

Legacy of Dorn is the Imperial Fists’ special ability, and boy do I have mixed feelings about it. It has the effect of giving Imperial Fists heavy weapons +1 damage in Devastator Doctrine when targeting vehicles or buildings. Now there is no doubt that this can be a very powerful ability (thought the building part is based in fluffy, but extremely corner-case). The extra damage is great, and this turn event the most basic of heavy weapons, like heavy bolters or even stubbers, into credible threats vs. enemy armor. However, it has two key issues.

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The first is that it’s rather at odds with the rest of what Imperial Fists want to do, and with their Chapter Doctrine. Lore wise, while the Fists are a siege army, they are built around infantry and bolter use; in fact, they are known for their bolter drill and getting extra bolter attacks. To take advantage of that, and a lot of their other options, they really want to be Tactical Doctrine, which doesn’t mesh with the ability. Legacy of Dorn wants to push Fists into being an army of cheap light vehicles to mass the heaviest weapons and get the most benefit, which drives the army into two different directions. 

The other issue with the rule is that it’s entirely dependent on the enemy army to have any effect. While this rule can be a big bonus vs. some armies (and in the current meta with flyers, knights, and an Iron Hands armor around a lot its got a place), it can be useless against others. If an enemy army takes only minimal vehicles, say one tank, your unique rule gives you only a minor buff. Since the rule doesn’t work against monsters, you might well face a whole army, like Nids, or the popular event winning Tau lists, that your rule doesn’t work against. This makes building an army around the rule pretty risky. While the rule CAN be powerful, it’s far less generically useful then say the Iron Hands buff to heavy weapons.

Decent Warlord Traits

I will say that Imperial Fists have pretty decent, if not amazing, warlord traits. Siege Master lets you get +1 to wound vs. vehicles and buildings (which doesn’t matter), which is a nice buff for a combat hero. Indomitable makes it so that unmodified wound rolls of 1-3 always fail, which is also nice, though I liked it better as a relic (in the Salamanders book), which still gives some extra durability. Fleetmaster lets you call down an Orbital Strike (like the stratagem), which I don’t think is worth it. With Stubborn Heroism, you halve all damage, which again makes you a lot tougher (combo this with Indomitable and it seems decent). Architect of War basically lets friendly units within 6″ and in cover ignore AP -1, which is pretty good and the only aura buff they get- also the most thematic.

Lastly, a lot of people are talking about Hand of Dorn, which just gives you D3 command points. While this isn’t bad, paying for it can lead to just a wash, and I’m not really a fan of a Warlord Trait that just gives you more of your stratagems rather than something new. Overall though, it’s not a bad set.

Imperial Relics

With Relics, we come to the first part where Imperial Fists just get less than everyone else. Like all the other books, there are six unique relics. However, the Imperial Fists only get 4, with 2 of them being Crimson Fists only relics. While this doesn’t seem huge, it’s a pretty big disappointment. Rather than including extra relics in the book to give both Chapters a fair shake, both the Fists get the short end of the stick. It doesn’t help that the Imperial Fists relics are pretty underwhelming. The Banner of Staganda, which gives +1 to hit in combat, is actually good, but the rest underwhelm. The Spartean, for instance, is the relic bolt pistol, which is a bit underpowered. I’d say the only other really good relic is the generic Fist of Terra, which is a powerfist with +1 attack and no -1 to hit.

Expensive Stratagems 

Here again, Imperial Fists get the short end of the stick. Like all supplements, the box has 16 new stratagems. However, Imperial Fists only get 14, with Crimson Fists getting two, which again means Imperial Fists, just get fewer strats. Their strats are also a pretty pricey lot. Three of the strats are pre-game ones, dealing with relics and traits, and are identical to ones found in the other supplements. That leaves 11 for use in-game. Of these 11, 6, or more than half, cost two CP (compare this to Salamanders who had only 4, our of 13 in-game strats that cost 2CP), making them a costly bunch. Nor are most of them potent, with a lot of situational or random strats. None, however, sum up my disappointment more than Tank Hunters.

What a deal for the Sallies!

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For 2CP, you can give one friendly unit a +1 to wound vs. a vehicle unit. On its own, this isn’t a horrible stratagem and pairs well with the Legacy of Dorn. However, it just seems underwhelming, and even unfair, when compared to the Salamanders Crucible of Battle. For only 1 CP, you can give a unit +1 to wound against ANY target. This is a better stratagem at half the cost. And sure you could argue that Tank Hunters costs extra due to Legacy of Dorn, but its also just far less useful, and Salamanders already have lots of ways to get +1 to wound, so this lets even basic units gain a +2 to wound. Overall the Imperial Fists stratagems feel like overpriced and underpowered.

Onto Librarians

Imperial Fists get the Geokinsis Discipline, which falls a little flat. Wrack and Ruin, Iron Inferno and Chasm are all OK direct damage spells, though Wrack and Ruin is pretty situational and Chasm more random then I’d like, and only really good against slow enemies. Tectonic Purge gives enemy units within 12″ a -2 to charge roles, this seems useful, especially if combined with a minus for charging a repulsor or the effect of tremor shells. However, it’s short-range means either you Librarian has to be dangerously exposed, or more likely the enemy will simply be able to avoid being in range of its effects.

Aspect of Stone gives the Libby +2S and +2T, which is a nice buff, but I’ve never really seen the point of buffing basic Librarians as they simply aren’t good in combat- you’d be better off smiting. Lastly, Fortify is an ok healing spell, though it has limited targets. It still could be useful at keeping Centurions in the fight.

Overall it feels like a kind of cookie-cutter supplement that lacks much internal synergy. A book that really should have been all about buffing bolter fire and basic infantry is instead a book about… well, I’m not really sure what. While it does make Fists better (they get new stuff and didn’t lose anything), it’s not a power book, and if you’re looking for anything competitive, you’d be better served by another chapter. Pretty much anything the Fists do, one of the other supplemental books does better.

Let us know how you feel about the new Imperial Fists, down in the comments!

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