Wednesday 14 October 2020

Index Astartes Deathwatch- Review and Initial Thoughts

As you will probably have seen, a lot of armies have had their rules updated for 9th edition. The Deathwatch have been folded into the Space Marine codex, and as such, have their own supplement to modify their rules to update them with the new codex. I'm going to take a look at some of the rules that have been presented and what they may mean for the Deathwatch. 

Special Issue Ammunition

This has seen a big change, not only in what the ammo does, but in who and what weapons can utilise it. 

Dragonfire Bolts- Target unit does not gain the benefit of cover. 

This is a great change for Dragonfire bolts. Under the previous rules, I don't think I even used this round type in any of my games, now I can see it being very useful. Not only do you ignore the +1 to armour saves of cover (great with the Doctrines now in effect), but you also ignore the -1 to hit from some cover types. This should help to provide good accuracy for your Bolter weapons throughout the game. 

Hellfire Bolts- +1 to wound against targets that are not vehicles or Titanic. 

This is the biggest change and reduction in power to the SIA. Being able to wound almost any unit on a 2+ was incredible for the Deathwatch and one of the reasons that the Storm Bolter became such a feared weapon for the Deathwatch. I think the change was inevitable, but it is a big blow to the army. The bonus to wound is still great, allowing you to wound all but the toughest monsters on a 4+, as well as wounding Marines on a 3+. I'm not sure how often this will be used in my games now, I will need to run the numbers to see. 

Kraken Bolts- Add 6" to the weapon range and improve the AP by 1. 

The great thing about this is that there is now no longer a limit on the AP value and it still combines with Doctrines. On smaller boards, getting 30" bolters is great, allowing you to have a big threat range for the Veterans on the first turn. It also pairs well with other weaponry. For example, the Stalker Pattern Bolter is now AP-4 with Kraken rounds in Devastator Doctrine. Also adds 6" to Bolt Pistols rather than 3" as previously. This means your units armed with Bolt Pistols have a potent threat range. 

Vengeance Bolts- Add 1 to the damage. 

Again, a great change in my opinion. With Marines going to 2 wounds, this gives the Deathwatch a reliable way to deal with these and other multi-wound models. I much prefer this to the old rounds, which rarely saw use in most of my games. 

Overall, some big changes for the SIA. This means that there will be actual tactical choices to make with regards to which ammo type to use. Also, it appears that SIA now stacks with Bolter Discipline, increasing your firepower at range if you did not move. 

Sadly, a lot of units have lost access to SIA. At the moment, no Primaris units have access to SIA, reducing the effectiveness of Deathwatch Intercessors. Bikers and Terminators have also lost access to SIA on their Twin Bolters and Storm Bolters, meaning that there is little point in taking these units in the Deathwatch in my opinion. The biggest one is also the loss of SIA on Storm Bolters, meaning there are a lot of Storm Bolter/Storm Shield squads that may be getting shelved for the forseeable future. 

I like the changes to SIA overall. Even though Hellfire was diminished, I think the other ammo types have been made better. I think the biggest drawback is the change to who has access, with only Veterans and a few characters actually being able to utilise one of the key special rules of the Deathwatch. 


Some of the Deathwatch wargear also got changes to their rules, which may affect how they are used in the game. 

The big one is that Storm Bolters have been hit hard. They no longer have access to SIA, so the glory days of the Storm Bolter/Storm Shield squads are probably gone now. This was probably an expected reduction, as it was dominating the army. It was powerful, but on an army which wasn't overly powerful, so I don't think it was too bad. There are a lot of angry Deathwatch players online who went to the bother of converting the units to have Storm Bolters that they are probably not going to use all that much. 

The Frag Cannon also saw a big reduction in points and in power level as well. The range of the "flamer" profile increased to 12", but the number of shots it can put out has now halved to 2D3 and it lost the automatically hits ability (though did gain blast). The more powerful profile is similar, but lost the ability to do extra damage at short range. 

I think it was unrealistic to expect the Frag Cannon to go up to 12" range with 2D6 automatically hitting shots. I think 2D3 shots that hit automatically would have been a nice compromise. Having to roll to hit is a bit of a blow, so I don't think we'll be seeing the return of the Frag Cannon as a staple of Deathwatch armies. Glad I've only got 4 or 5 in my army!

One change I was glad to see was the Heavy Thunder Hammer. This has dropped to 15 pts, but is still AP-3 and now 4 damage. Finally! The D6 damage was the worst thing about this, as it was too unreliable over a regular Thunder Hammer. Now, there is actual reason to take this weapon, when combined with Shock Assault. It has been limited to one per five Veterans, so you wont be spamming it in your Veteran squads. 

Stalker Bolt Rifles also saw a change. They have gone from Heavy 2 to Heavy 1, but are now damage 2 (still AP-2). This still stacks with SIA, creating quite a potent backfield weapon for your Deathwatch teams to field. You can go up to damage 3 with Vengeance shells, ignore the penalties to hit with Dragonfire, or even get AP-3 with Kraken bolts (AP-4 in the Devastator Doctrine). 

Shotguns have also seen a bit of a change. They are free for Veterans and get some useful weapon profiles. They can be 18", S5 and assault 2, an 8" flamer or assault 2, S4, AP-1 and 2 damage. This provides a great array of weapon types to be used, as well as being fairly accurate on moving or advancing thanks to being Assault weapons. 

The Infernus heavy Bolter is also nasty at close range, thanks to the increased damage of the Heavy Bolter. This could be useful for hammering heavy infantry at close range if you are firing both profiles. 

The improved strength of Power Swords is also a great boost, as most Deathwatch units can access them as wargear. This gives them a potent strength and AP bonus against most basic troops in the game. 

Veteran Kill Teams

One big change is that Veterans have lost bonuses for adding a Terminator, Biker or Vanguard Veteran to the Kill Team. For me, there is little point in mixing the Veteran kill teams any more, as there is not much bonus in adding these models. 

Most of them lose access to SIA. The improved save of the Terminator is nice, but the change to Storm Shields means you can access a 2+ armour save and a better invulnerable save. However, a Terminator with a Storm Shield will provide a lot of durability for the squad, going to a 1+ save, making it highly effective against AP-1 firepower. 

Bikes added to the squad also gain the Core and Troops keywords. This allows them to benefit from a range of re-rolls, as well as gaining objective secured. After going up to 3 wounds, Bikes are pretty durable for holding objectives, so gaining objective secured is also a great bonus for them. Taking 5 in a squad and combat squad-ing will allow them to race forward for objectives, and give them a good way to hold them from non-Troops, or smaller squads if they can be whittled down. 


At the moment, Deathwatch have lost all their unique stratagems from the codex. Not only that, but all Relics and warlord traits are currently missing from the errata (these may be in the main codex, but I don't have my copy yet to check). 

The biggest blow is the loss of the Teleportarium stratagem. This limits them to deploying from strategic reserves, which has its own limitations, rather than being able to access most of the board from the second turn. 

Hopefully, many of these useful additions to the army will re-appear in the proper codex supplement. 


The Deathwatch saw some big changes to how the army will function. I like the new rules for special issue ammunition, but it is much more restricted in the army now, with Veterans being pretty much the only unit that can utilise it. 

The change to kill teams has also made them less useful for running mixed squads. There is little reason to take mixed units for Veterans. There is still some bonus for Primaris mixed kill teams, as you can take Intercessors as ablative wounds for more valuable models, such as Eradicators. 

Being able to access Phobos units (finally!) is also a nice boost for the army, as they were missing some form of infiltrating unit. I think Infiltrator Deathwatch could be very useful, especially if they gain access to SIA in the future. 

1 comment:

  1. There are a lot of changes going on with Marines right now, some good and some bad but overall I think things are heading in the right direction. I am interested to see what the various supplements bring us.