So, with 8th Edition and the all-important Indexes finally in the grubby little paws/ tendrils/ digital manipulators/ tentacles of gamers all over the planet (except possibly North Korea, but I bet Kim the Young'un has got a set and is frantically painting his Primaris Marines as I type this) I thought it about time to have a look at the all new, if not exactly fresh, Death Guard. Hopefully without too many run-on-sentences. No promises.
With the Death Guard, GW seem at first blush to have if not dropped the ball, then at least fumbled it drawing a sharp intake of breath from the spectators. It doesn't help that the Traitor Legions book so recently finally gave the Legions some flavour and power, and it can feel like the Indexes have cruelly snatched it away again. We should remember, however, that even Loyalist Marines have lost Chapter Tactics and the poor little lambs suddenly have to take Morale tests like everyone else, so all supplicants are in some respects of equal height to this headsman.
Even allowing for that, though, the Death Guard are in a uniquely bad position. I'm not sure if the timing of their release was as GW intended, but at time of writing the 'true' Death Guard have a very limited roster of units, and worse, many models people thought were Death Guard a month or so ago now aren't. If, like me, you got excited by Relentless Death Guard Havoks or are one of the approximately 2/3 of all Chaos players to have Nurgle Obliterators, right now your nose is probably a little out of joint. Of course, since those units can still have the Mark of Nurgle and are still HERETIC ASTARTES you can still field them in the same Detachment, they just can't have the DEATH GUARD keyword for their <LEGION>.
|Dammit, can't use these either!|
The <LEGION> keyword is a bit of an odd beast. Functionally, it works like most other secondary faction keywords, like <CHAPTER> or <ORDER>- in order to receive various buffs, your unit needs to be from the same <LEGION> as the buff-giver. The oddity is, though, that unlike Marine Chapters and Sororitas Orders, we know who all the Legions are, so it feels strange to insert your own or use the name of a known Nurgle warband like The Purge. On the other hand, Huron Blackheart uses the RED CORSAIRS keyword which seems to work as a <LEGION> so what's in a word, eh?
The bottom line, though is that for the moment at least, if you want to use things like Chaos Terminators, Havoks, Obliterators, Dark Apostles or Warpsmiths, to name but a few, you're going to need to put something else in that <LEGION> space. This hurts the synergies of the army, though it doesn't give any penalties beyond that. (As a side note, the new army composition system doesn't seem to care if the Factions of your detachments don't match. As far as I can see, you can play a Slaanesh Daemons Patrol with an Aeldari Battalion and no-one bats an eyelid.)
|No rules for you!|
Down with the Sickness
Enough of this wittering. Let's take a look at what the Death Guard do get, and see if it makes up at all for what they lose out on.
Typhus looks pretty solid. He's very tough, with T5, 2+/ 4++ and, like all Death Guard, Disgustingly Resilient meaning it'll take a lot to strip all 6 of his Wounds. Notably, his Manreaper is a bit of a super-weapon, with S7, -3 AP, 3 Damage and a re-roll of 1s to wound, without any of the penalties usually associated with Power Fists or Daemon Weapons. His Destroyer Hive now works a lot better than it used to, and of course as a Pistol can be shot even when he's locked in combat. He buffs Poxwalkers, gives Death Guard units a deadly aura, and is a decent Psyker into the bargain. One annoyance is that his Cataphractii Armour slows him down for the 4++, despite many other characters getting that for no penalty and an Imperial Cataphractii Captain getting a 3++
LORD OF CONTAGION
Without going to the Points section, this looks like a first-class derp on GW's part. For the same Power, this guy does exactly the same as Typhus, only worse. His profile and saves are the same, his weapon is identical but for only being S6, he has no Destroyer Hive, doesn't buff Poxwalkers and isn't a psyker. On top of that, unless I'm spectacularly misreading the points system, in Matched Play he costs, er, more than Typhus. Unless you really, really want to spread Nurgle's Gift across a wide area, this poor chap looks set for shelf time. Hopefully GW will either give him his own rules or make him considerably cheaper when the Death Guard get their own book.
This fellow seems fine. He's as powerful as a stock Sorcerer as far as casting goes, is a point of Power cheaper, and causes Mortal Wounds to the enemy as a side-effect of casting. He's a bit less flexible, and slower, but like the rest of the Death Guard he's nice and tough. The Contagion Discipline is decently powerful, though given the slow speed of the Death Guard you might want a normal Sorcerer to get Warptime to move units about a bit faster.
I like these lads a lot, though they make me mourn my Poxwalker Hive Dark Apostle all the harder. For a pittance of Power, you get a nice solid blob of rot-brained morons who are immune to Morale and reinforce themselves by eating the enemy. Though they're only T3 and have that notorious 7+ save, Disgustingly Resilient makes them tougher than most chaff. Their Diseased Horde ability makes them vaguely competent in melee if there's more than 10 of them, which is 10 less than most similar abilities for units like Boyz, Daemonettes or Grots require. It's a little odd that 20 is the maximum unit size, but that's probably just to fit in with the new starter set. So long as you don't expect them to do much other than get in the enemy's way, eat Overwatch, and be generally annoying they compare well with Cultists, who are still available to Death Guard.
The signature Nurgle unit is in an odd place at the moment. Since Defensive Grenades are no longer a thing, their old trick of stuffing up units that needed Charge bonuses like Rage, Furious Charge, etc. no longer works, though on the plus side they no longer need to worry about Initiative. They retain their access to two Special Weapons, though Disgustingly Resilient is no help if a Plasma weapon blows up on them, sadly. Oddly, and probably to accommodate an older model, the Plague Champion can take a Plasma Gun/ Power Fist combo, which is nice since as previously lamented most Champions can't take a bolter or combi-weapon along with a special close combat weapon now. Another strange thing is the Blight Launcher, which seems to be some sort of poisonous Krak Grenade launcher but doesn't seem to have a model at the moment, suggesting a new kit is coming. Overall these guys are still pretty decent, if possibly not as impressive as they felt in 7th Ed, and you're going to be seeing them in Death Guard armies pretty much by default.
Not having had a chance to play Death Guard yet (there's only one weekend in a week, people) I find the Bloat Drone tricky to appraise. Its Power Rating puts it squarely in Dreadnought territory, but with only 3 Attacks it's not all that destructive in melee and will certainly struggle against other walkers. However, with T7, 10 Wounds, 3+/5++ and Disgustingly Resilient it's certainly quite tough, and with its two Plaguespitters will be putting out 2D6 automatic hits when shooting. Since it can Fly, that means it can Overwatch an assault unit and should it survive, back out of the fight and shoot them again, which coupled with a fast-for-Death-Guard speed of 10" makes it look like a handy unit. I'd have liked Nurgle units to be immune to damage from its Putrid Explosion, but hey.
This.. thing.. is just plain weird. He feels like somewhere where all the ideas they had left over got put. The Blightbringer has a plasma pistol (why the Death Guard, lords of decay, seem addicted to the most high-maintenance weapon in 40k I don't know) a Cursed Bell for close combat that's pretty mediocre, and the usual mix of low speed and decent durability. However, he just might be an essential unit due to his support abilities (and hello Age of Sigmar, nice to see you visiting us again.) Not only does he make Death Guard a little faster when they Advance within 7", but he has a Leadership debuff with the same area- 1 for most units, 2 for Psykers. This is ok on it's own, but when combined with an Icon of Despair, which Plague Marines can take, might mean -2 or even -3 Leadership penalties for enemy units. That puts many units into territory where even a single casualty might well mean failed Morale tests, which against units with several Wounds and decent defences is very big news indeed. This fellow is the chocolate-covered salted pretzel of the Death Guard- it makes no sense, but it sort of works.
So, that's yer Death Guard. Do the new units make up for the losses? Nope, at least not yet for me. If the full version of their Codex doesn't give me some way to use my Havoks, Apostle, Obliterators and Terminators without having to mess around with other Legions, I'm going to be a grumpy bunny. Does that mean I'll be dropping them? Hell no. What is here is pretty decent, with the very noteable exception of the Typhus vs Lord mess, and so long as GW get the lead out and fill out the army sooner rather than later I'm sure they'll be viable. But that's just my overly-long and yet insufficiently detailed take. I'd be interested to hear what I've missed!