Codex: Death Guard Review – Unnatural Vitality

In what feels like a lifetime ago, the putrid Death Guard ushered in Dark Imperium alongside their Daemon Primarch Mortarion. As a long-standing fan of the XIV Legion, I was beyond joyous over this particular release that brought with it an enjoyable codex and stellar line of miniatures. With a new edition firmly in the laps of players, the Death Guard now have a brand new codex to further embed themselves into the warfare of the 41st millennium. Join us as we go through some of the changes to Nurgle’s favoured sons.

Waging a Sickly War

Let’s go over the core rules for the Death Guard, first. There is a great deal of changes, so we’ll cover the big-hitters here and the stuff that is likely to impact you and your Death Guard most notably. One of the first things to jump out at me for Codex: Death Guard was the Diseased Minions rule. This inclusion means that the number of follower units (Cultists and Poxwalkers) can never outnumber your core units. Thus, for each squad of Poxwalkers, you’ll need that number of Plague Marines and/or Blightlord Terminators to field them. This is likely a way to ensure that players don’t pay a very cheap Troop tax per detachment with the intention of pouring 90% of their points into more powerful and rare units. This should be a welcomed constraint since Death Guard are infantry-focused in the lore.

One of the other new parts of Codex: Death Guard is the Deadly Pathogens, a list of powerful weapon upgrades alike the Cyptek Arcana from Codex: Necrons. These improve the strength of the chosen weapon by 1 and incur abilities. For instance, the Acidic Malady improves Armour Penetration by 1 of your chosen champion’s weapon. Again, this feels like a safe way to implement some uniqueness into your Death Guard forces and further develop a sense of individual identity for your army.

Death Guard Codex

Contagions of Nurgle are a huge new boon for the Death Guard. Depending on your chosen Plague Company, these can work in a number of ways. They could decrease enemy toughness, improve Armour Penetration against affected enemies or even disable enemy units from firing Overwatch. The effective range of these aura abilities increases as the game goes on. This means that the positioning of the units that bring about these contagions is crucial. Although, most units in the book have this ability and so it’s hard to imagine a game hitting Turn 4 and the Death Guard not dominating most of the battlefield. This is certainly a consideration when you look at the changes some Death Guard units have received in their datasheets.

Let the Bodies Hit The Table

Codex: Death Guard has made strides to highlight elements of the Death Guard that are core to their background. One of these focuses is on infantry and sheer bodies. Poxwalkers and Cultists are cheaper now at 5pts per model. Thus, fielding a whole plethora of these just got easier (providing you have the Core units to field alongside them). Poxwalkers continue to act as the shuffling mindless horde, immune to Morale checks and able to turn butchered enemy infantry into even more undead. Their Disgustingly Resilient rule of the past is no longer, but they do get a flat 6+ save against wounds as opposed to an armour save. This may sound a little rough at first, but with them now being Toughness 4, they should last a little longer on the field and still serve their prime purpose.

Plague Marines see a minute rise in cost at 21pts per model, but with an additional wound and in-built Disgustingly Resilient (now reducing all damage taken by 1 to a minimum of 1), these guys are still the bread and butter of your army. Enough of these guys sitting on an objective will require your opponent to expend serious firepower to move them. Plus, with an additional attack in the profile, they’re now much more threatening in close combat. This is further bolstered when wielding dual Plague Knives and Flails of Corruption are drawn! Even their icons got updated. The Icon of Despair potentially dishes mortal wounds to enemies within combat. Meanwhile, the Sigil of Decay has bolt weapons in the squad automatically wound on a hit roll of a 6.

Codex: Death Guard Datasheets

However, no other unit in Codex: Death Guard has seen more blessings from Grandfather Nurgle than the Blightlord Terminators. Now at 40pts per model (including wargear, which I believe now means they’re cheaper overall), the Elite of the Death Guard are an absolute powerhouse. With their 2+ Armour Save, 4+ Invulnerable Save and whopping 3 Wounds per model, these things will be monsters. It’s almost entertaining to imagine loading these guys out with combi-weapons, sitting them on an objective and cackling as bullets ping off of them. With the right support through psychic powers and other abilities, these things will be the near-perfect immovable object. Deathshroud Terminators have also come out as winners, with improved Manreaper attack profiles and consistent increases to their durability, too!

Entropy Comes to All

Of course, not every unit in Codex: Death Guard could have survived unscathed or thrice-blessed. The effectiveness of some units took a relentless hit. For instance, Myphitic Blight-Haulers have lost some of their most interesting rules! They no longer obscure nearby infantry and have also lost their Tri-lobe ability. Granted, they are now Ballistic Skill 3+ by default. However, the Tri-lobe rule meant that fielding them in threes gave them an extra level of threat whilst also adhering to classic Nurgle iconography. Consider this with the fact they’re now costing 140pts, these guys are definitely not the most-favoured of Codex: Death Guard.

A useful character unit has also had the joviality knocked from his festering lungs. Previously, the Noxious Blightbringer would allow you to roll two dice and pick the highest when advancing nearby infantry; great for Plague Marines and Poxwalkers slogging up the board! Sadly, he now merely provides an additional 1″ to movement or advancement to nearby infantry. This feels like a huge blow to the value of the unit. Not only did it have a concise purpose and utility for the army, but it also remains one of the more eye-catching Death Guard character models. To see it laid low like this feels like a true shame.

Death Guard Codex Artwork

Other units seem relatively unchanged, especially the more vanilla Chaos units (such as Rhinos, Predators, Helbrutes, etc). However, Chaos Lords and Sorcerer datasheets are now more befitting of the Death Guard. Their stat lines and rules more consistent with other Death Guard HQ units. Toughness 5, Contagions of Nurgle, Disgustingly Resilient, it’s all there, making them feel more “at home” than previously.

Crusading for the Plague God

Following other recent codex releases, some of the new additions for the Death Guard include bespoke elements for Crusade Mode. Crusade games allow players to run more narrative-drenched games with units gaining experience and improving over time; perfect for campaigns. The rules for the Death Guard include a flurry of relics and traits, akin to other recent codex releases.

However, the Death Guard get something quite distinct. Death Guard armies can gain Virulence Points to spend on spreading unique plagues throughout their games. When you start a Death Guard Crusade force, you randomly roll to create your plague. You can then harness it to contaminate enemy units in battle. Three factors determine each plague:

  • Vectors – This determines how contamination begins.
  • Infections – These are the actual effects/impacts of the contamination.
  • Terminus – This determines how contamination ends.

Additionally, you can adjust these plagues over time by spending Requisition Points, too. Having a unique plague for your army helps to give Death Guard a rather remarkable twist in Crusade. It’s thematic, fun and particularly gruesome! My only concern would be that it’s yet another counter or dice tracker needed to be monitored and updated during games. Whilst this isn’t game-breaking in Crusade Mode at all, it feels like Crusade may be starting to wane in its accessibility.

As an example, I rolled for a Vector, Infection and Terminus and ended up with – Haemorrhaging, Ravaging Ulcers. With this, I have a chance to contaminate enemy units within 3-inches of a Plague Carrier unit at the end of my movement phase. The enemy then suffers mortal wounds immediately and at the start of each of my command phases. I’d then roll at the end of my opponent’s turn, with a chance that the contamination ends. Or it could spread to a nearby enemy unit!

Codex: Death Guard Crusade

One Big, Sickly Package

When going over Codex: Death Guard, it feels like some rather ironic vitality has been plunged into this decrepit army. It’s become more unto itself with some sweeping changes that, when viewed in isolation, may seem quite alarming to existing Death Guard players. However, changes to things like Disgustingly Resilient when viewed alongside things like Contagions of Nurgle, are much easier to swallow when you consider the bigger picture of the army and the other, numerous changes included.

Some of the rules and updates may raise some eyebrows. It’s exciting to imagine what some players will do with hordes of Death Guard Terminators as, on paper, they should be incredibly difficult to remove from the table. With circumstances as they are in the world right now, it’s likely that we won’t see the true impact of these new rules for a little longer than usual due to lockdowns. Are some of the Death Guard units, when combined with certain rules, worryingly overpowered? Right now, it’s hard to say. It seems as though we will not know that for sure until some Space Marine players are perhaps knocked down a peg or two…or seven?

Codex: Death Guard does invoke some notable alterations to Death Guard, but ultimately leaves the army feeling more like…well, Death Guard. There is very little here that feels like a misstep, bar what they’ve done to the adorable Myphitic Blight-Hauler. Whilst some units are seemingly cruelly hampered, it’s fair to say that, at this time, Death Guard players should treat these impediments as their army would treat a trivial wound. Shrug it off, for there are many more bountiful gifts to be enjoyed from the ever-so generous Nurgle.

Codex: Death Guard is available for pre-order on January 16th 2020. You can keep up to date on all news and reviews in tabletop by following us on Facebook.

Article originally written by the author for The Unrelenting Brush blog in affiliation with Boards and Swords Hobbies.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.