Genestealer Cults: Codex Review: Part 1: Special Rules and HQs


Hey everyone, Chandler here with Part One of my review on the new Codex: Genestealer Cults covering the Special Rules for the army as well as the HQ choices. For more reviews, analysis and battle reports, check out the Tactics Corner.

Genestealer Cults is finally back and honestly it seems like an uprising that was years in the making. Since their humble beginnings in the early 90’s Genestealer Cults have had a presence in the background of our grim dark universe. Now, years later, they make their triumphant return to plague imperial worlds across the galaxy. The army has a very unique background that has existed in 40k lore for decades. The Lovecraftian influence is apparent. It’s like Cthulhu meets the grim dark and how can you not love that?


So what is a Genestealer Cult anyway? Essentially genestealers act as heralds to a world whether they sneak their way onto an imperial vessel, or crash land in some meteoric impact, the genestealer seeks to infest and overtake a planet to prepare it for consumption by the greater Hive Fleet.

These genestealers will slurk away into the shadows hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity not to consume prey, but to infect them with their Genestealer’s Kiss. Once infected, the thrall begins the process of reproducing creatures which look much like genestealers themselves.


Through generations of breeding, the spawn become more and more human like. It is in this stage of the cult’s development where they attempt to plant themselves into positions of power on the world. Meanwhile the original genestealer has mutated into a Patriarch, and all of his spawn obey his every command. Once they have enough numbers and the right amount of influence on the planet, they appear from the shadows to overtake the world entirely by force.

Once this insurrection begins, a beacon is sent to the Hive Fleets and the Tyranids invade ready to consume the bio-mass of the planet. Humans nor cultists alike are safe as the bugs devour the entire world leaving an acidic wasteland behind.


As to the codex itself, the book is exceptional. The full color art and layout are amazing. It is the usual high quality Codex you have come to expect from GW. The fluff is fantastic as well describing how a Genestealer Cult operates and infects a planet. Reading it sent chills down my spine. As to how it functions on the table, what really sets this faction apart are it’s special rules.

Special Rules:

Cult Ambush – Units with this rule that Infiltrate, or arrive from Reserve or Ongoing Reserve can choose to roll on the Cult Ambush table instead of deploying or arriving normally. Units embarked in a vehicle can’t deploy via Cult Ambush. The table is as follows:

  • 1. The unit moves onto the board from your own table edge
  • 2. Come in as with the Outflank rule
  • 3. Set up anywhere on the table more than 9″ of an enemy unit or 6″ if line of sight is blocked
  • 4. Set up anywhere more than 6″ from an enemy unit
  • 5. Same as 4 only you can make a bonus Shooting attack immediately after placing the unit. Then you can shoot again in the Shooting phase. If the unit doesn’t have any ranged weapons they can instead Run in the Movement phase.
  • 6. Setup anywhere more than 3″ from an enemy unit. The unit can charge even if they Infiltrated.

Return to the Shadows – Instead of moving in the Movement phase, a unit with this rule that is not also within 6″ of an enemy model can be removed from the battlefield and palced into Ongoing Reserves. You can’t do it the same turn you arrive or when embarked in a vehicle.

These two rules are really what make this army tick. Essentially Cult Ambush allows you to place your units where you need them when you need them. All of the non-vehicle units in Genestealer Cults have it, but not all have Infiltrate built into their special rules.  If taken in a Cult Insurrection Detachment, however, all non-vehicle models also gain the Infiltrate special rule, allowing you to use Cult Ambush with all of these units in deployment.  Of course, rolling randomly isn’t the greatest thing and you could certainly get some less than optimal results, but none of them are particularly awful. What I find interesting is result 5 on the chart.  It allows you make a shooting attack immediately after placing the unit, and from the wording, that also includes in deployment.  You could shoot at a unit before the game really begins!  That is an incredibly strong ability.

Unquestioning Loyalty – Auto pass Look Out, Sir attempts and can even make Look Out, Sir attempts in a challenge.

All HQ units have Unquestioning Loyalty which makes them particularly difficult to kill. Considering many of them provide valuable buffs to the army, it allows you to keep those buffs for most of the game.


The Genestealer Cults army has four HQ choices all of which are good in their own ways.


Patriarch – The Patriarch is really the head of a Genestealer Cult insurrection. He is the first genestealer to infect a planet evolved into a grotesque alien monstrosity. His rules don’t disappoint either.

He comes with Patriarch’s Claws which are user strength AP3 Rending with Shred and with four base attacks at Weapon Skill 7 he can tear through just about anything in the game. He is only Toughness 5 with 3 Wounds and has a 4+ Armor Save. He has no Invulnerable Save, however, which is disappointing.

In addition to that he has the Cult Ambush rule, Fear, Fearless, Fleet, Independent Character, Infiltrate, Move Through Cover, Return to the Shadows, Psyker (Mastery Level 1) and Unquestioning Loyalty. In addition to those, he has the Living Idol special rule which gives a 12″ Fearless bubble to Genesteler Cults units.

He can be upgraded to a Mastery Level 2 Psyker and may take up to two Familiars which give him additional attacks at strength 4 with Rending.

As a psyker he can choose his powers from Biomancy, Telepathy, or the Broodmind disciplines.

The Unquestioning Loyalty is what makes the Patriarch a real killer, particularly in a challenge. He can Look Out, Sir and auto passes everytime meanwhile he’s swinging at the character he’s engaged with at Initiative 7!

The Patriarch is an absolute character killer and you’re likely to see him in just about every Genestealer Cults list probably attached to a blob of Purestrain Genestealers. Combined with the buffs he can receive from his psychic powers, for his points cost he is an auto-include in every list.


Magus – The Magus is more or less the face of the Cult’s leadership. While the Patriarch secretly rules from the darkness of the shadows, the Magus delivers his message to the cult’s followers.

The Magus comes equipped with a Force Stave and his special rules include Adamantium Will, of which he provides as a 12″ bubble, Cult Ambush, Return to the Shadows, Infiltrate, Psyker (Mastery Level 1), Unquestioning Loyalty, and Indpenedent Character.

He may be upgraded to a Mastery Level 2 and gains his powers from Biomancy, Telepathy, or Broodmind. He may also gain Familiars as with the Patriarch above, and he can take relics.

The Magus is a fairly inexpensive way to buff your warp charge. At only 65 points you can have a Mastery Level 2 psyker able to buff your units and de-buff the enemy.

The fact that he also has Unquestioning Loyalty makes him a bit more survivable in combat as well. He only has a 5+ Armor Save however and at Toughness 3, he’s pretty easy to kill if you can get through his meatshields.


Primus – The Primus is the on-the-ground leader of the Insurrection. He leads the Cultists into combat on the battlefield.

The Primus comes equipped with a Needle Pistol (12″ range Poisoned 2+), Bonesword (Powersword with Instant Death on roll of a 6), Rending Claws (AP 3, Rending), Blasting Charges (Assault Grenades), and a Toxin Injector (makes the Rending Claws Poisoned.)

His special rules include Cult Ambush, Return to the Shadows, Hatred, Infiltrate, Independent Character, and Unquestioning Loyalty. In addition he provides a 12″ Hatred bubble.

He may take Relics, but otherwise can’t change his wargear at all.

As with the other HQ choices he doesn’t have a particularly good save at only 5+ and no Invulnerable at all. He is Weapon Skill 5 with 3 Attacks at Initiative 4. He does have Strength 4 however, which makes his Bonesword and Rending Claw attacks a little more frightening. He is not as effecient at character sniping in challenges as the Patriarch, but makes a decent cheap alternative at only 75 points.


Acolyte Iconward – The Acolyte Iconward also leads the cultists into battle as a spritual leader on the ground.

He comes with an Autopistol, Rending Claws, Blasting Charges, and the Sacred Cult Banner (which gives a 12″ Furious Charge bubble.) In addition he provides a 12″ Feel No Pain (6+) bubble. He also has the ability to take Relics.

His special rules are Cult Ambush, Return to the Shadows, Feel No Pain (6+), Independent Character, and Unquestioning Loyalty.

This guy is all about buffing your units. The Feel No Pain and Furious Charge bubbles really enhance the killing power of the units. Again, like the other HQ choices he only has a 5+ save and only Toughness 3. For only 65 points he’s a great way to beef up those units that will be ambushing all over the board. Those bubbles are extended to 24″ when taken as part of a Brood Cycle Formation.


Overall the special rules provide a unique way to play 40k, which we haven’t really seen yet. Using Cult Ambush and Return to the Shadows gives you a lot of ways to interact with objectives and enemy units. The HQ choices are all very good with my personal favorites being the Patriarch and the Acolyte Iconward. This army is all about moving all over the board and buffing units that get ready to charge or are in a combat. It is disappointing that the Patriarch doesn’t come with an Invulnearble Save, but understandable for the points cost.  These HQ choices are inexpensive yet useful and will certainly make any Genestealer Cults army a force to be reckoned with on the table.

In the next part of this review I’ll cover the rest of the units that make up this amazing faction.


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About Chandler

Sometimes I play 40k. Sometimes I drink beer. Oftentimes I do both. I host an annual ITC Grand Tournament, Come the Apocalypse GT, as well as a podcast called Come the Apocalypse - a Warhammer 40k Podcast which you can find on iTunes or the Google Play Music store.

6 Responses to “Genestealer Cults: Codex Review: Part 1: Special Rules and HQs”

  1. Reecius November 2, 2016 9:07 am #

    Nice review, Chandler. I’ve found all of the GSC HQ’s to be very good.

  2. Davis Centis November 2, 2016 11:28 am #

    I’ve been very happy with the cult so far! My favourite thing about them is that they really make it feel like a horde army! The problem with hordes is that they can’t move, and can’t really “be everywhere”. With the combo of Return to the Shadows and Cult Ambush, you can finally feel like these guys are just EVERYWHERE.

    Looking forward to more in this series!

  3. Andrew November 2, 2016 12:20 pm #

    I have played a couple of games with the cult, and the main issue I have run into is that the army is slow to play. Every turn essentially involves a whole new deployment, and there is a bunch of extra book keeping. It is an incredibly fun army, and I look forward to playing more games, but I would not feel comfortable with them at a tournament simply for sake of time.

  4. CWDub November 2, 2016 5:17 pm #

    Very good review. The Patriarch puts in WORK. I’ve had him perform pretty well three games in a row — finally had the First Curse do pretty well (and didn’t even roll a ‘6’ on Ambush Turn 1) and kept staying locked in combat with 1 model (vs. DA Lion’s Blade Detatchment and stubborn squads..) during the opponent’s shooting phase so all of his heavy flamers had to sit and not shoot. I felt *dirty*.

    LoS (in a challenge no less) to a 5++ x20 is insane.

    I’m not sold on the Iconward as he’s harder to justify when not using the Brood Cycle (and I’m avoiding it due to confusing models with the Subterranean Uprising) as he’s competing in a CAD or Allied Detatchment with a Patriarch or Magus.

  5. Chandler November 3, 2016 6:02 am #

    Yes passing all those LoS automatically is so huge. I think the Iconward is a solid option depending on how you build your detachment. I’ll be covering that when I start reviewing the formations.

    I think what makes this army so devastating is their ability to jump on objectives with cult ambush and return to the shadows. That is just such a big deal and really puts your opponent at a disadvantage because it is hard to prioritize targets when they keep disappearing and reappearing on the other side of the board.

    For the competitive environment I would agree with Andrew that time is a bit issue. I think with a good amount of practice you can work around it though.

  6. Deviousdonut November 3, 2016 7:00 am #

    I played them in a GT 2 weeks ago and only had 1 game go to time. You just have to have your squads organized beforehand and know what you’re doing.

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