Engine War Preview: Chaos Knights initial Impressions

Games Workshop is about to begin shipping new releases again, and first up on the docket is Psychic Awakening: Engine War and a whole slew of new goodies for Admech, Imperial Knights, Chaos Knights, and Daemons.

As they often do with new book releases, GW posted a teaser of some of the new rules for each faction leading up to the preorder (This coming Saturday, May 30th, 2020) – and as a massive fan of all things…er…massive and mechanical, I want to talk about the Chaos Knights preview and what it means for the direction of the faction.

Like many Chaos factions, as a stand-alone list, Chaos Knights tend to be a bit of a gatekeeper – meaning, they are tough and hit hard enough to beat new players or players whose armies aren’t specifically geared towards dealing with multiple T8 24W units, but they struggle against any capable general with an army that is built to tackle the current competitive meta. They won’t get you a GT win, but you may go 3-2 or 2-3 with them, and they have an overall win % of 44% since their release in the summer of 2019.

The main reasons why Chaos Knights aren’t successful as a stand alone faction are:

  • Too Few Command Points: The only detachment these units can fill is a Super Heavy detachment, which gets costly fast. With no ability to run “cheap” detachments of only War Dogs (they have a special rule that grants 0 command points if you do this), this forces the faction to rely on chaos space marine, thousand sons or daemon allies in many cases.
  • Lack of Board Control: As powerful and tough as these guys are, without special relics or warlord traits they still only count as 1 model for holding an objective, and nothing in the force gets objective secured.
  • Somewhat Easily Hard Countered: Many top-meta lists are capable of bringing down 2 or even 3 knights in a single turn, which can very quickly turn a game against Knights into a rout.
  • Only 2 “Houses”: Where Imperial Knights have fully 9 houses (5 under the Imperialis tag, 4 under the Mechanicus tag) to customize the army and add unique abilities, Chaos Knights only get the top-level tag of being either Iconoclast (analogous to Imperialis) or Infernal (analogous to Mechanicus) despite the codex even going into great detail on some of the greatest dread households across the galaxy.

So as I look into the rules teaser and the book itself further upon release, those are the kinds of things that I am looking to have plugged up where possible in order to bring the faction up a level in terms of competitive viability (and yes, I know some of that stuff is being taken care of in 9th edition, but hey that’s not out yet so bear with me!).

Chaos Knight Households

YAS QUEEN. Right off the top, Games Workshop confirmed that Chaos Knights get household diversity – thank the dark gods!

Iconoclast households can now declare for Hous Lucaris, House Herpetrax, or House Kyhmere. Infernal households can declare for House Vertrix or House Khomentis. These each come with a household bond, warlord trait, stratagem and artefact of tyranny for a total of 5 new abilities, traits, strats, and relics on top of the sizeable number you already have in the codex.

While its still fewer options than our Imperial counter parts, having additional abilities and unlocked strats and traits is a welcome addition to the already very very good Iconoclast or Infernal household rules.

Taking a closer look at specifics – we are shown the House Herpetrax household bond:

That’s wild. Just throwing 2 wounds on every tyrant, Despoiler or Rampager in your force (and 1 to every War Dog) just for showing up, can make a drastic impact on the survivability of your forces. Combine this with the Vow of Dominance (aka, Transhuman Physiology, but for Knights!) and you can make one of them (your warlord most likely) even more survivable.

You may only have 3-4 “big knights” in your list, but 6-8 additional T8 3+ 5++ wounds are nothing to sneeze at. Anything that makes your opponent rethink their strategy, such as having to focus their fire differently in order to reliably bring down a knight, or having to waste high damage weapons better used against a fully healthy knight in order to finish off a knight on its last leg, are great tools to have in the toolbox.

For warlords traits, House Lucaris gets:

Anytime you can fight first is a boon, effectively saving you 2CP for not having to use Counter Attack. It means your opponent needs to have a plan for how to deal with your warlord that differs from their practiced tactics – if they’re charging multiple knights with smash captains, they now have to either only charge one in, or carefully choose which one attacks first before the other one is liable to get smacked (though he’ll then probably swing on death and maybe kill you anyway…because Space Marines!). I don’t know that you take House Lucaris purely for this trait, or that you take this trait over Eager for the Kill or Infernal Quest, but it has its uses.

For relics, House Vextrix gets this juicy little number:

A lot of the strategy for Chaos Knights is trying to stack the various abilities, warlord traits, and household bonds that grant you additional movement and charge range – and this relic one-ups that by layering in even more damage just for fun, both on the attack and when you die, making you explode fully 33% of the time.

Stack this with the baseline infernal household ambition allowing you to add 2″ to your move and 1 to advance and charge rolls, plus Eager for the Kill, plus a good roll on Daemonic Vigour for your dreadblade pact, and 2CP for Full Tilt. Now you’ve got a knight despoiler with a 17″ move, D6+2″ advance, 2d6+2″ charge, and 6 attacks with a Damage 7 chainsword.

Take that bad boy and shoot it straight into your enemy lines on turn 1 for an average 32″ threat range, and max of 39″. Layer in the additional dreadblade pact Arch-Fiend, and tap dance happily through your opponent’s lines as you heroically intervene 6″ even if they fall back from combat on their turn. For icing on the cake, spend 2 CP to make the knight explode on 3+, further decimating your enemy’s lines.

Even not knowing what the Vextrix stratagem, bond, and warlord trait are, this is an early favorite for me personally.

We’re shown a couple of stratagems – one for House Khomentis and one for House Khymere:

Encircling the foe with a unit of 3 Khomentis War Dogs is huge – one of the biggest downfalls of the War Dog (and Armigers, but that’s for another article) is that even with a 14″ movement, it dies too quickly at T7 W12 to make it into combat with anything other than screens. Being able to protect them for 2 or 3 turns and bringing them on within 9″ of the enemy, and then splitting the unit into 3 individual models, allowing you to charge off into different directions and forcing your opponent to split their fire to deal with them, is an enormous boon in my opinion. And for 1 CP, you can’t beat it. Go ahead and throw the meltagun upgrade on those bad boys, they’re finally going to get to use them!

Mortal Wound output is a big part of 40k, and armies that can do it reliably (Thousand Sons, Grey Knights, looking at you) tend to automatically move up a tier due to their ability to negate invulnerable saves and abilities like shield drones which rely on wound rolls to take effect. Knight armies for the most part have almost 0 mortal wound output – but a stratagem like this, even for 2CP, can be a game-changer.

Your knights want to be in combat – even the shooty ones. Being able to shoot, charge, stomp, flee, shoot, charge, stomp, repeat is the best way to get the most bang for your buck out of your giant death walkers. Adding in an extra layer of mortal wound output is outstanding. There’s still the issue that knights tend toward not having enough CP to begin with, so this isn’t something you’ll use every turn, but in a pinch when you really need to knock that vehicle or monster down a bracket or remove enough models for you to charge past your enemy’s screen into something juicier, or just to help you whittle down a horde you got tar pitted by, this strat can come in extremely handy.

Dread Households

Not only did Chaos Knights get specific households like their imperial cousins, but they also received the ability to create custom households (like most other factions in Psychic Awakening) in one fell swoop! Where once Chaos Knight players like me were stuck with just Iconoclast and Infernal, we’re about to be spoiled for choice.

Bonuses to hit are nice, but being specific to monsters and vehicles, it loses some punch. By and large monsters and vehicles are what Knights are already super good at killing. Our combat knights hit on 2s with their S8 feet or S14 sword and hit on 3s with their S16 fists, and only need to get 2 or 3 wounds through in order to kill anything short of other knights with flat 6 damage on their main combat weapons.

Rerolling damage for your attacks is really nice – but again, very situational. In combat, the only variable damage weapon you have is your titanic feet, and only getting to reroll a single d3 out of the 12, 15, or even 18 titanic stomp attacks you’ll be making is of minimal use. Using this bond in the shooting phase is where it really shines – being able to reroll the damage on one of your Volcano Lance dice, or on your double thermal cannon/double battle cannon Despoilers, to make sure that it counts, can be very good. But… it’s still just a single dice, not the full roll – so the buff is limited.

Ultimately, both of these bonds can help certainly – hitting with your fist on 2s, or making sure you avoid the dreaded 3 damage on a volcano lance shot, is definitely useful…but I’m not sure it makes up for what Iconoclast and Infernal ambitions provide. If you get to take 2 custom bonds in addition to iconoclast or infernal, well now we may be on to something – guess we’ll find out for sure on Saturday!

Overall Impressions

Overall, I’m excited about what we’re seeing so far. Fleshed out household rules is high on the list of things that can help bring Chaos Knights up a tier in competitive play, and that seems to be the big focus for this book (for both knight factions, frankly). We’re still going to be behind our imperial cousins in terms of sheer number of options available to us, but that’s never stopped the forces of the dark gods before!

If there’s a sneaky buff in the book for how Knight armies can gain CP, or ways for us to better control the board or additional mortal wound output to what we’ve seen here today, I’ll be even happier.

Ultimately, the gap between running Knights in a soup army and running them functionally as a stand-alone is pretty wide – and I don’t expect Psychic Awakening to really address that. From what we’ve seen, standalone armies of Chaos Knights will indeed have more tools to work with, but there is still going to be a massive benefit in terms of CP and board control to souping in thousand sons, daemons, or chaos space marines per usual – and almost 0 downsides, other than having fewer monstrous engines of warp fueled rage and destruction waddling around the board.

What do you think? We would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave us a comment or hit us up on social media!

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