I have really enjoyed playing my Horus Heresy Warp Cult army list (‘The Covenant Of The Octet Pantheon’) and so I thought I would do a quick write up of my observations of the strengths & weaknesses.
If you are not familiar with the the Imperialis Milita & Cults army list, it can be found in the Crusade Imperialis (‘red book’) and in Horus Heresy Campaign Book 5 (‘Tempest’). The army list is actually exceptionally flexible and is ideal for anyone who is interested kitbashing a unique looking and themed army.
The key to the Militia list is the ability to purchase a Force Commmander HQ, which has the ability to be upgraded with ‘Provenances of War’ backgrounds that modify the abilities and core stats of your infantry. Up to two can be purchased from a selection 9 different options (some combinations are prohibited). My favoured option is the two Traitor only selections: Cult Horde & Tainted Flesh.
Cult Horde confers the Zealot special rule at a cost of 35pts and also adding the limitation of shooting being limited to snap shots and always having to charge into close assault if able to. Furthermore, Grenadier squads cannot be chosen.
Tainted Flesh confers, Fear, Feel No Pain (6+) at a cost of 35pts and Rending in close combat. However, it does make Inducted Levies compulsory troops and additionally a maximum no. of other infantry selections can be made only equal to the number of Levy squads taken. i.e. if you have three levy squads, then you can only have up to 3 additional non-Levy squads in the force (excluding HQ choices). HQ options are limited to the Force Commander and Rogue Psykers.
If you are interested in the details of my core list then you can find that here.
Most combined arms Heresy armies tend to be built around the ability to kill marine equivalent infantry (T4/3+ save) or terminators (T4/2+/4++ or 5++) to some extent. Most lists will have in the region of 20-40 marines bodies depending on how elite and armour/vehicle heavy their build is. You can then normally expect a Spartan (AV14 all around commonly with Armoured Ceramite & Flare Shield) normally with a Primarch/Praetor & bodyguard deathstar or Super Heavy tank variant (Front AV14; 6-12 HPs).
Warp Cults tend to deviate very significantly from this. You can very easily have 100-200 (admittedly weak T3) infantry backed up by a number of super heavies (given that the core troops are so cheap). This actually ends up being a surprisingly resilient list for a number of reasons: the Zealot rule makes the infantry effectively fearless and so you cannot run them down in close combat if they lose; super heavy vehicles (like the Gorgon & Malcador) do not degrade as they take damage – so their shooting is fully effective until they are destroyed; most legion lists will be optimised for anti-infantry or anti-armour and so this means that they will only usually be effect against half of your list. Finally of course as Joe Stalin might have said quantity has a quality all of its own – having a large no. of infantry and super-heavies means that you are statistically likely to get more average/reliable results than with smaller, more elite armies.
Psychic capability & Daemonology
Heresy era armies tend to be light on Psykers (or at least this is the case until Book 6 drops with rules for the Thousand Sons). A Warp Cult list will typically dominate the psychic phase when facing off against a typical Psyker free legion list and they also get the fluffy and effective option of using Malefic Daemonology to summon daemons. I am certainly not an advocate of attempting the kinds of abusive use of Daemonology prevalent in the 40k competitive landscape (I’m looking at you Tzeentchian Horror Summoning spam), but I think it is quite fun and fitting to have your Rogue Psykers attempting to summon daemon allies. More often than not they will be exploding from failed perils of the warp rolls, but they are a fun if unreliable unit. I personally like summoning Plague Bearers as they are more resilient compared with most of the other daemon troops and also with their Touch of Rust rules give them some ability to glance out high AV armour like Spartans.
Levy squads start at 20 and can be expanded up to 50. Even if you take casualties on the way into assault, you will normally be able to ensure that at least 15 make it contact. If you equip with pistol & close combat weapons then that is a solid 45 attacks on the charge. They might only by WS2, but Zealot confers hatred in the first round of combat and so that allows you to re-roll misses on the charge. If you do the quick & dirty math taking into account rending on the attacks then you should have a realistic expectation of killing around 7-8 T4/3+ save infantry. Rending also means that again vehicles you can potentially damage AV12 – again if you do the dirty math you have a good chance of doing a two hull points of damage on the charge against an AV12 vehicle. Anything higher than AV12 will have to be dealt with by your tanks or ogryns.
You can’t take dedicated transport for levies so they only have the option of foot slogging. Gorgons may be super heavy transports, but they are expensive in points and are not open-topped or assault vehicles and so even if you take them you won’t be able to disembark and charge on the same turn. My usual experience is that if I am planing long board edges then I am much more likely to use as the levies either won’t get into combat or objectives in the enemy deployment zone.
High Strength Blast Templates
Large template weapons will make quick work of your Levies and if they are high strength too then they will be just as effective at damaging your tanks. Some of the games that have gone the worst for me have been when the enemy has a large no. of barrage attacks: a Warp Cult Army has a high space foot print and so even if a blast misses the intended target, it is still likely to scatter onto something else.
Deflagrate is simply vicious against levies. A 10 man squad with volkite chargers or calivers has a good chance of killing 20 levies in a single round of shooting. The very worst match-up and near tabling for me was when my enemy had a Glaive – a single well aimed shot with the frame template managed to decimated four of my levy squads at the same time as finishing off one of my Malcadors. Brutal!
The most cost effective Legion counter to your a Warp Cult list is actually the ubiquitous 10 man tactical squad – when using Fury of the Legion they will pump out 40 shots that will probably kill around 17-18 levies on average.
Things that you might worry about initial, but aren’t actually to big a problem
AV 13 Dreadnoughts/Walkers
Since they are immunes to your levies’ close combat attacks they have to charge if able, it is very easy to goad your troops into charge into a unit that they cannot damage and that they cannot flee from – net result is they simply get ground down every turn until wiped out.
Often I have found this isn’t actually a problem – you may end up loosing a troops squad after a few turns, but effectively you are usually tying up a 200-300 points of enemy with a measly 50-60pt distraction unit – the net effect being that your tanks are then being left alone to do significant damage to the enemy.