Codex Deathwatch Review Part 1: Army Special Rules

The Deathwatch Codex is here and what a gem it is! Let’s dive in and begin our review of this awesome codex.

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The Deathwatch Codex is absolutely awesome in my opinion as it is fun, characterful and powerful. The thing I really like about the Deathwatch is that they feel more like what Space Marines should be than really any other book.

Rating system

Here’s our rating system:

  • Competitive: This is a codex entry (unit, stratagem, item, etc.) that has a place in essentially any competitive list built with this faction regardless of unit choices or is the source of a significant force multiplication effect for other units.
  • EfficientThis is a codex entry that can stand on its own merit in a matched play list but works best when combined up with other units or in specific situations to become very powerful but may not always be seen.
  • SituationalThis is a codex entry that may not pass as competitive on its own merits but can be made effective in a creative list, as a meta-buster, or in a specific combo or scenario where it ratchets up in power to potentially very high strength but otherwise will not be seen very often.

Deathwatch Special Rules

The Deathwatch boast some really fantastic special rules that give them quite a boost. These rules can really define a faction and help to catapult them into popularity when done correctly and Deathwatch certainly are done well. Let’s take a look at them.

So, first and foremost, they have the basics common to all Space Marines:

  • And They Shall Know No Fear: Re-roll failed Morale tests. You know it, you love it. It’s a fantastic morale mitigation tool and a staple for Marines. Competitive.
  • Combat Squads: Units with this rule can split into two units of 5 if they maxed at 10, or two units of 3 if they maxed at 6. Not a bad rule but the way list building works in 8th it rarely comes up. The incentive is to take more units to fill up detachments to get more Command Points. However, after discussing this further in the comments section I wanted to add that Deathwatch make best use of this rule compared to other Marine armies as due to the fact they can mix and match unit types you can get some really solid benefits such as giving units that don’t normally get Defenders of Humanity the rule such as Bikers or Terminators. Or, allowing Vanguard Vets to peel off into sub units to allow them to leave combat and still charge, etc. Efficient
  • Defenders of Humanity: Your standard “objective secured” style rule for units in aBattle-forged Deathwatch detachment. This rule is quite good for controlling objectives–obviously–and as controlling objectives is typically the way you win the game, it is very strong. Deathwatch also have very good troops units so this is a double benefit for them. Competitive.

Those are the basic special rules, so to speak, but the real magic comes in the form of their unique army wide special rules.

  • Special Issue Ammunition Units with this rule gain the ability to shoot one of several different types of special issue ammo from a surprisingly long list of specific weapons, typically all “Bolter weapons” of various types. These ammo types are as follows:
    • Dragonfire Bolt: +1 to hit when shooting at a unit in cover.
    • Hellfire round: Always wound on a 2+ against units that are not Vehicles.
    • Kraken bolt: +3″ to pistols, +6″ to other weapons, and improve AP by -1 to a maximum of -2.
    • Vengeance round: -3″ to pistols, -6″ to other weapons, improve the AP by -2 to a maximum of -3.

This in my mind is what makes Deathwatch competitive more than any other rule. This is so powerful! In an edition where any weapon can hurt anything, throwing lots of dice around is going to be a massive benefit (and to be honest, that is a winning strategy in any edition of the game as you tend to smooth out the probability curve the more dice you toss). As Bolters, Storm Bolters, etc. are common and plentiful, the ability to dramatically impact the power of these weapons is huge. For example, if shooting at MEQs (Marine Equivalent) targets with decent armor saves, whereas a normal Bolter will deal a 1 damage/casualty per 3 wounds on a 3+ target, if you use Vengeance Rounds you will deal 2 damage/casualties per 3 wounds dealt. You literally double the effectiveness of your weapon in that context! The same goes for Hellfire Rounds. Normally shooting at say, Plague Bearers which are quite popular at the moment, a normal Bolter would deal 1 wound for every 2 hits or 50% conversion. A Hellfire Round would deal 5 wounds for every 6 hits or an 83% conversion. And if you account for Mission Tactics letting you re-roll 1’s to wound, it actually jumps up to a whopping 97% hits to wounds conversion! Again, nearly twice as effective in the right context. That is so impactful on the game and turns your basic guys into absolute killers.

We will expand on this as we go through this series but the real secret sauce is utilizing this rule to maximum advantage. The flexibility is massive as you can take on high toughness units or units that rely on an invulnerable save like Harliequins and Daemons pile wounds on to them, or take on heavily armored units and cut their defenses down, fire at longer range, etc. It’s just a tremendously good rule. Competitive.

  • Mission Tactics: Units with this special rule pick one of the Mission Tactics above to apply for the game. You can switch these mid-game with a variety of stratagems, relics, warlord traits, etc. This is another great rule and the second half of their “Chapter Tactics.” The two together are very, very good. What it means is that your units self-buff with very little support. Whereas normal Marine really want to have a number of characters nearby to give them re-rolls to hit and wound, Deathwatch only really need a Watch Captain or Watch Master nearby. This helps offset their high price point significantly and means they don’t have to stay near character models, giving them more freedom to move around the table. The downside is that you do have to be mindful of knowing when and if to switch Mission Tactics, but given the number of ways to do that it isn’t too challenging to stay on top of. Competitive.

Lots more to talk about with Deathwatch, but that coves the first part. Next up we will discuss Deathwatch Stratagems!


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About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

22 Responses to “Codex Deathwatch Review Part 1: Army Special Rules”

  1. Avatar
    WestRider May 11, 2018 3:46 pm #

    The way it seems to work with Kill Teams, Combat Squadding feels like a much stronger option for DeathWatch than other Marine forces. Considering taking a Vet Squad and a Bike Squad? Take a Kill Team with 5 of each and Combat Squad them. Now your Bikes have Defenders of Humanity! And if it’s more important to shave drops or KP for a Mission, you can run them together if you want.

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2018 4:06 pm #

      Good points! I may have to update the article to reflect that as it is better for them than others.

      • Avatar
        Lemondish May 11, 2018 7:08 pm #

        It gets even crazier. Take a kill team with 5 vets, 3 bikes and 2 Vanguard Vets. You now have a fast, ultra mobile melee squad that is majority T5 that can both shoot AND charge after falling back.

        Or for Primaris, since you can mix and match weapons now, you can equip 5 inceptors in both assault bolter and plasma flavours for a tac squad.

        • Reecius
          Reecius May 12, 2018 9:37 am #

          Yeah, also great ideas! I still prefer to min/max for more CP or to stay max size to take advantage of strats but you guys are 100% right that it is much better for Deathwatch than other Marines.

          • Avatar
            Dakkath May 12, 2018 3:13 pm

            So, how does the Deathwatch dex handle mixed toughness units? From what I understand that’s the very thing that made GW make all Tau drones separate units after deployment.

          • Avatar
            Lemondish May 12, 2018 7:09 pm

            Hey Dakkath, it’s really simply. Majority rules – if it’s a tie, you decide. Means a unit with 5 Intercessors and 5 Aggressors is T5.

        • Avatar
          throwaway May 13, 2018 1:21 am #

          dumb question (or 2), but how is a a kill team with 5 vets, 3 bikes and 2 Vanguard Vets majority T5? Wouldn’t you need 5 bikers, since the VV’s are T4??

          what would be the point of mixing both types of Inceptors in a Fortis squad???

          • Avatar
            WestRider May 13, 2018 9:26 am

            The full Unit isn’t majority T5, but when you Combat Squad it, the half with the 3 Bikes and two Vanguard Vets is.

            Mixing Inceptors gives you more flexibility, plus some cheaper ablative Wounds for the Plasma ones.

  2. Avatar
    Don Tomaso May 13, 2018 7:56 pm #

    My question would be something regarding codex building that I have seen ever since 8th started and that is now seen in the DW:

    Why are terminators STILL overpriced?
    Still deal very low melee damage for their points,
    still shoot costly heavy weapons at -1
    still have low survivability and still die like flies for what they cost in 8th?

    And these are the “super” terminators with SIA stormbolters.

    No I am drop dead serious since the real answer would reveal how the rule makers actually “think” (lol).
    This is what now, the 5th or 6th power armour codex out in 8th and at no instance have terminators being fixed, instead the codexes keep coming out with the same unit being given the same weak and overpriced statline/rules/costs.

    It actually brings to me the funny thing of what the definition of an idiot is. know when you make the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
    That is if the rule makers actually do expect people to start using terminators and even care about improving overly weak units instead of simply copypasting the exact same fail over and over again across 5 or 6 different codexes by now despite evidence telling them to do something positive about it.

    There is a nice little reason no one uses terminator heavy armies or that “sm” terminators are gone from all competitive play. I thought that finally the DW codex would bring some change in at least somethings that ail the whole SM family but nope, termies still collecting dust in a shelf.

    Yes, I am as usual overly blunt about it and yes, I am 100% correct!

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy May 13, 2018 11:17 pm #

      > know when you make the same thing over and over again while expecting different results

      He says, having posted the same complaint about GW in a dozen different threads.

      • Avatar
        Don Tomaso May 14, 2018 8:10 pm #

        Did I just detect a little face saver from the genius who claimed everyone loves 14 hellhound lists right before GW banned spam and who still cannot give me that awesome GK-are-strong recipe he bragged about?

        If you are to embarrassed about those strong GK of yours, you know, the single worst disaster codex in 8th as well as an example for how disgusting codex creep is then better run of and explain to me how vanilla SM are sooo strong nowdays instead of hiding kid.
        I´m still waiting.

        ..relating to “idiot” I mean.

        • Michael Corr
          Michael Corr May 15, 2018 2:08 am #

          Maybe he is just sick of you constantly complaining about issues that have no relevance to the thread or article you are commenting on.

          > Yes, I am as usual overly blunt about it and yes, I am 100% correct!

          Why even include this at the end of the post. It just says that you have made up your mind and there is no argument that can dissuade you otherwise. That’s how I like to go into a debate, with my mind entirely made up and convinced that I know everything and am correct.

          No one is arguing that Terminators are awesome or even good. They have struggled for several editions and are still struggling. Yes, mistakes are made with the codex and in the new edition, but I don’t see them getting a big points drop at this stage.

          And don’t say you are being overly blunt, just call it what it is- being flatly rude behind your internet anonymity and trolling.

          • Michael Corr
            Michael Corr May 15, 2018 2:25 am

            Rather than endlessly complaining, why not offer some solutions.

            What would you change about Terminators to make them playable? Change of stats, special rules, points costs? How much would they cost with new abilities and how would that tie in with other points costs internally within the codex and with other armies’ units with similar abilities or roles?

    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr May 13, 2018 11:31 pm #

      Terminators are a bit better in the Deathwatch codex. You can swap out the Power Fist for a Power Weapon on them, making them a bit cheaper. A Terminator with Storm Bolter and Power Sword comes in at 39 pts for the Deathwatch.

      Not saying they are amazing, but 195 pts for 20 deep striking storm bolter shots with special issue ammunition and a 2+ save (5++) isn’t terrible.

      • Reecius
        Reecius May 14, 2018 8:57 am #

        Yeah, they’re quite good, actually. Tons of awesome SIA shots, power weapon to save points, up to three heavy weapons and all of them can take a melta gun if you like.

        They’re perhaps a few points too expensive but they are not bad at all.

  3. Avatar
    Don Tomaso May 14, 2018 8:36 pm #

    Of course termies are a bit better in the DW codex, after all they get useful stormbolters.
    The points you pay for a stormbolter terminator outside DW are ridiculous.
    And despite this the DW terminators are still not worth what they cost.
    Let that sink in.

    Ponder the poor state of terminator armour else where outside the DW codex (where they are lackluster but not as down right bad as outside the DW codex) and answer me the question:
    Why, after 5-ish power armour codexs, an icon unit like the terminator is still so sub par relative to damage output and staying power and that nothing has been done about it.

    We are talking about the biggest player base of 40k, MEQ players, and not some obscure army seldom seen and seldom spent money on.

    To me it seems baffling that so little is done to bring the codex-creep stragglers, yes even vanilla SM are more akin to a joke today up to parity with the tournament glory codexes.
    Hence why I am asking.

    Basically put, and I´m not talking about the poor GKs here that no point costs deductions can ever save by now as they need a completely new codex done, preferably by someone with both brain halves actually being utilized.
    I´m talking about the thing where even after a handful of codexes the same unit that is very seldom, if ever taken due to it being sub par, is still copypasted-in to codex after codex and nothing is ever changed.

    Terminators, in this example, are bad, really bad in the SM codex, they are the same in the BA codex, DA codex etc etc, despite some cosmetic wargear differences, they are all b a d so where is this promised we-will-ensure-every-units-are-worth-being-taken geedub deal at?
    Again, we are talking about meq and not some small player base who dont spend enough money.
    I would think the question is a valid one.

    Now from what we have seen so far, after less then 12 months codex creep has made at least one army nigh unplayable, the biggest player base stuck with a bottom-third codex that for some reason gets their one and only guilliman-crutch nerfed time and time again, the need for 12+ separate documents to play a “serious” game/campaign and the new horror people are finally opening their eyes for is the terrible thought of:
    HELP, hope my army wont get their codex out as first in 9th edition because by now we all know what utter trash the first codex(es) are going to be a year later due to power creep and GWs inability to “fix” straggling units/codexes.

    Question is thus less about DW terminators per see and more more about how the rules makers are putting the same overly bad unit into codex after codex without altering it to a more useful state.

    My “guess” (prove me wrong) is that 8th has run its course with the rending system making power armor into a joke and the fix is no longer about lowered points making MEQ another cheap horde army but a changed core. MEQ are paying a lot of points for armors that are simply not working any more and that goes for terminators too.

  4. Michael Corr
    Michael Corr May 15, 2018 2:11 am #

    Seriously Don, that reply was practically unreadable.

    Yes, Terminators are overcosted and not that great in the current game. No one is arguing otherwise on this site or any other site I read. If you don’t like them, send your arguments to GW directly and try to influence them to change them. Otherwise, you are just repeating the same boring arguments over and over.

    As with 8th edition having run its course? It’s barely a year old at this point and still going as strong as ever in my local area. It’s a great game and a lot of fun to play. Is it perfect? No, but it is a damn sight better than the mess that was 7th edition.

  5. Avatar
    Don Tomaso May 16, 2018 1:32 pm #

    To simplify then:

    If a unit is very bad (terminators) in codex A then why is the same unit later copypasted in to codex B while still being bad, then later copypasted into codex C while getting even worse due to codex creep and later copypasted into codex D etc..without anything being done?

    To difficult to answer?

    Question 2:

    Where is the promised we-will-make-every-unit-usable that geedub bragged about?

    “As with 8th edition having run its course? It’s barely a year old at this point and still going as strong as ever in my local area. It’s a great game and a lot of fun to play. Is it perfect? No, but it is a damn sight better than the mess that was 7th edition.”

    True, but then again, anything including chernobyl is better then 7th so bragging about 8th from the perspective of 7th is pretty dishonest.
    Its like saying hey, I´m stronger then a 3yo baby so I deserve special creds.

    Boring arguments? Ok, at least I have the guts to talk about them over here where nobody dares mention how crap power armour has become.

    Bringing the points up to GW? LOL
    What are you, a naive 12 year old?

    Look at the avalanche of letters and board feedback sent to gw regarding the GK manure these clueless rules makers “thought” up and despite this..nothing or they get nerfed time and time again.


    • Michael Corr
      Michael Corr May 16, 2018 1:41 pm #

      If you are going to resort to personal insults, there is no point trying to have a rational conversation with you.

      Go ahead and extol the virtues of how you won the argument because I wouldn’t answer all your points. At this stage, it’s simply wasting my time to try and debate you.

      I see you didn’t answer the question of how to fix them. So easy to endlessly complain and not offer any changes or suggestions.

      • Avatar
        Don Tomaso May 19, 2018 11:54 pm #

        I dont have to extol anything, you ran away with your argument-less tail between your legs all by yourself while claiming the vincim card in some sort of face saving attempt because you really have zero arguments regarding terminators being useful in 8th and cant face up to it. congratulations!

        These sentiments are on all boards and are not taken from a clear blue sky:

        you can run into discussions like these while klicking blindfolded:

        A unit being a fail from the very inception of 8ed and its failed rend-power armor rules is then copypasted into codex after codex as the fail they are with nothing being done to it, me asking why this is so results in being met with the usual embarrassed avoidance because I and thousands of other players are right about these things and you on top of it all call it just complaining because you cant even manage to dreg up a single counter point or explanation to the 12 month long terminator fail.

        And then we are only talking one unit, not the whole SM codex and its power armor brethren else where.

        Without complaining there is no looking into flaws and without that there is no debate on how to fix things to the better so sure, keep living in your nid/eldar/ig rules all, nothing to see bubble and hug the miniature elitist little tournament consensus in here if it makes you feel like you got away from not having to bring an argument.

        You people are a laughing stock on the boards with your eternal defense of outdated rules and statlines for laughably weak units and your stubborn refusal to admit this crap.

        While looking over all the threads with frustrated sm players wondering how they are to use their overcosted garbage assault marines I stumbled upon where you squeezed out some glorified article proclaiming that assault marines really are awesome told me all I needed to know on where you stand.
        Hell, it took almost a whole year for the grey-knights-are-sooooo-good honcho to finally crawl forward and grudgingly admit that the army is maybe a wee bit tiny little harder kind of sort of to play then the rest..while everyone else already knows the whole codex is pretty much unusable toilet paper from the first unit to the last.
        But I understand, I would be f****g embarrassed beyond belief myself if I was part of making the gk codex. I would maybe even keep calling it awesome until the last possible second and then some in order to save face.

        Really shows the terror these people feel in admitting wrongs and correcting them. Now we know, 8th is just a new 7th where some codexes cant touch others due to imbalance and garbage rules/units design and we, the bottom third pile of the codex creep players simply have to wait all the way to 9th before someone with a spine and more then four brain cells will dare to fix this crap intelligently and make a vanilla sm, gk or primaris player actually enjoy having a game vs ynnari or nids rather then just frustratingly try not to be tabled.

        Sure, 8th is a miracle regarding gw sales, wonder why that is, maybe all the horde buffs driving sales..after all, a hobbyist buying 80 gaunts/conscripts/poxies generates gw more income then someone buying 5 deathwing paper weights..I mean terminators, especially when you nerf anti horde options like blasts into the ground while calling them soooo strong.

        Best corporate gw strategy ever, make a horde edition. Really a stroke of genius.

        Now keep running, oh and dont forget the victim card because you know, you are right or something.

  6. Avatar
    Snowb May 17, 2018 1:21 am #

    Great article. I am just getting into DW and I’m really hoping that next parts of the review will arrive soon 🙂

  7. Avatar
    AfroCelt May 25, 2018 7:27 am #

    Or you could be happy you’ve seen an update since the index dropped. I’m an ork and deathwatch player.

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