Engine War Preview: Imperial Knights First Impressions

Welcome back for another edition of “I’m too excited by even the slightest mention of new rules for my army, so here’s a whole article about a rules teaser”. I’m your host, Nick Powell. In this article, we’ll take a look at the Engine War preview for Imperial Knights, which showcases a handful of new Stratagems and abilities from the upcoming Psychic Awakening: Engine War. That book will be up for pre-order this Saturday, May 30th, releasing June 6th, 2020.

Much like the Chaos Knights, Imperial Knights are an insanely fun and unique army to build and play – being an army made up entirely of lords of war, and none of these “bases smaller than 80mm” nonsense that other factions deal with.

Also like Chaos Knights, Imperial Knights as a stand-alone faction have some serious drawbacks competitively that prevent them from being a top contender on their own. They had a really exciting (or terrible, depending on which side of the table you were on) run when their codex first released in June 2018 that lasted for nearly a year, when they were seen on tabletops the world over with a brigade or double battalion of Astra Militarum or Admech (or one of each!).

But with the changes to command point regeneration (a good change), the increase in points cost of the Knight Castellan, and the increase in CP cost to core Stratagems that helped the Knight Castellan keep firing effectively as House Raven, the faction has seen a drop in popularity and effectiveness. The army is now, either stand-alone or souped with other Imperials, very much a gatekeeper faction rather than a top table contender.

They suffer from some of the same drawbacks as I spoke about in the Chaos Knight teaser article yesterday, but I’ll reiterate:

  • Too Few Command Points: Souping in imperial detachments (for much cheaper than chaos can, albeit) was and is still one of the most popular ways to run knights. They require 3-4 CP every turn to really keep effective, and when you only start a game with 6 or 7 after an extra relic and warlord trait, that doesn’t get you very far in a 6 turn game.
  • Lack of Board Control: Having an army of mega robots is cool – but when you only have 4-5 units in your 2000 point army, none of which have objective secured natively, you’re going to start losing objectives to any army in the game with a Troop choice (read: all other armies but Knights).
  • Hard Countered Easily: Having multiple T8 and 24 wound super heavies is a lot to chew through…until it’s not. Many armies in this game have great options for easily spammable anti-tank weapons – hence why this army is relegated to gatekeeper status at events. If you bring a balanced list, you are going to struggle against Knights. If you skew your list to be able to take out vehicles, you’ll be able to table them in many cases.
  • Too Many Essential Stratagems: Tied into “too few command points” above, one of my biggest gripes with the Knight codex is that many of the Stratagems in the Knight codex are mandatory to run the army. Stratagems were intended to be a sort of utility-based “bonus” on top of what your army already does, to help you flex into different situations game to game. But strats like Rotate Ion Shields, Noble Sacrifice, Full Tilt, Machine Spirit Resurgent, and things like Order of Companions/Our Darkest Hour are too critical to how the army functions and too expensive to utilize effectively in most games.

As I look into the rules teaser and the book itself, those are the kinds of things I am looking to have resolved in some capacity. As a disclaimer, I fully understand some of this stuff will be resolved in some way with 9th edition (we already know that CP is now tied to army size, not detachment use, so everyone at 2000 points will have the same starting CP for example – which should help tremendously), but for the next month or so we’re still playing 8th ed, so that’s the lens I’m using when analyzing what we see.

New Stratagems

Now I know I may have been harsh on the Imperial Knight Stratagems for being too essential, and having more Stratagems just means those precious command points are spread even more thing, but everyone likes having more tools in the toolbox, so more Stratagems is always a good thing in my book.

Getting an automatic 12 shots at a unit of 6+ models is great – Armiger Autocannons are one of the best anti-primaris weapons in the game as it is, and space marines are everywhere these days. Making them more likely to take out full-size Intercessors or Aggressors is huge – even Iron Hands, with their “Feel No Pain” saves, are more likely than not to fall to a flat 3 damage autocannon. Love this Stratagem, immediately makes taking at least 1 Helverin enticing, and it’s not faction locked to a specific household. Nice!

Another winner in my book. Avenger Gatling Cannons are maybe the best weapon in the codex, and some competitive lists had started running Wardens instead of triple Crusaders in order to have some better close combat punch vs other knights. GW’s article implies that you will have to sacrifice by getting your Knight closer to the enemy than you want – but I think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Knight army plays.

Whether you are a combat Knight or a shooty Knight, you basically always want to be running into the enemy and getting into combat. Your Warden wants to be stuck in combat with its 12 S8 feet attacks, so it can then flee over infantry and swarms, fire its Gatling Cannon point-blank, then charge back in (or into something else, since that unit might be dead now), rinse and repeat. Great Stratagem, though it would have been possibly too good if you could use it on any Knight with an AGC like a Crusader.

It makes sense for something like this to pop up in Engine War, with the narrative being Chaos Knights and Imperial Knights clashing on worlds across the galaxy. GW seems to have a penchant for trying to include ways for your Knights to target and kill other Knights, but it’s pretty rare these days that there are enough Knight players at a tournament to reliably run into the mirror matchmaking these Stratagems fun to think about, but rarely will you find a situation to use it effectively.

But if you do get a beefed up Gallant into another Knight and kill it, having yet another attack (you can get up to 7 before this Stratagem kicks in), just makes you all the deadlier to everything you run into. Imagine a Knight with 8 attacks with a Paragon Gauntlet or Reaper Chainsword, or 24 (!!!!) attacks with its titanic feet as it tap dances all over your enemy battle lines…truly horrific!

Household Traditions

Like other factions in Psychic Awakening, Imperial Knights are getting their own custom traits. Pick 2 from the list of traditions instead of one of the normal households, and off you go! We’re unsure how many we’ll be getting in the book, but 2 were previewed:

More choice is always good, and there may be some great combinations in this list that make giving up your normal household rules (and more importantly, relic, warlord trait, and Stratagem) worth while.

I can see edge cases for using either of these 2 traits. I wouldn’t want to give up House Griffith for Guardians of the Frontier – a flat +1 to attacks (Griffith) is better than +1 only while near hordes. And while adding +1 to movement and always using your top bracket movement is extremely useful to keep your Knights getting to objectives or into charge range late game is amazing, House Hawkshroud is giving you a similar benefit already but for all of your characteristics rather than just your movement speed.

Now granted – this is basically a mini-Griffith and mini-Hawkshroud that can be used together, and that is not lost on me – but I think if I was building a movement based combat force, I would stick with the tried and true House Griffith, Landstrider warlord, judicious use of the Full Tilt strat, and spend an extra CP to give my Knight lance character an extra attack. But like I said – seeing the full list will help determine if they’re viable; however, I suspect they’ll be more fun and fluff than competitive like many of the other factions’ “custom army traits” rules.

New Allegiance Abilities

This is something that I don’t think anyone saw coming – but Imperial Knights look to be getting a variation of the Chaos Knight Iconoclast vs Infernal abilities.

Where previously, choosing a Mechanicum Household or Imperial Household simply meant you had access to different household traditions and were locked out of 2-3 Stratagems that were Mechanicum or Imperial only, it looks like you will now also be getting a layered benefit for being one or the other in addition to your household.

For example, if you run a Mechanicum household (ie Raven, Taranis, Krast – the top 3 meta choices for Knight house historically), you get:

1 wound every turn doesn’t seem like anything crazy, but across the whole army that can really add up. Situations abound where opponents have split fire unsuccessfully trying to take down 2 Knights simultaneously – and when both of those Knights regain a wound, or heaven forbid go up a bracket and become deadlier, it can be a real headache for your opponent.

Whether this is the only Mechanicum “pledge” or if there are several to choose from remains to be seen, and the same goes for Imperial households, but free layered abilities are never going to get a complaint from me. It will be doubly interesting if you can use these pledges/oaths even with custom households, to reduce any downside of losing out on codex household traditions.

Each allegiance also offers 3 new warlord traits for a total of 6 new traits in the book. The core codex traits area already fairly good, but again more choice is never a bad thing – and rather than always taking the same 2 traits on your Knights, having a good reason to branch out and try new combos can really help shake loose the cobwebs and show you new strategies and synergies for your army:

Like this one for example – House Griffith Knights all get to heroically intervene as if they were characters, which is great. Now your warlord can do so 6″ instead of 3 – anyone who plays space wolves (or has played against them) can tell you how good a 6″ heroic intervention can be.

Overall Impressions

Overall, I think new rules are always exciting and it will be great to test out some new Stratagems and combos with the new household traditions.

Do these rules change how the army fundamentally plays? No. Do they really impact any of the key drawbacks outlined above? Also no – but as with the Imperial Knight preview article yesterday, I don’t think Psychic Awakening can be expected to.

The gap between running Knights as a standalone faction and as an ingredient for soup is just too wide. From what we’ve seen, Imperial Knights will have more tools to work with, but there is still basically 0 downside to taking your core 3 Knights in a super heavy detachment and slapping a battalion or brigade on the side for added command points and board control.

We’ll see if the rumored changes to 9th edition address any of that – it sounds like they might, which is great – but for now, in the last days of 8th edition, soup is probably still the best dish on the menu.

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

If you’re interested in joining our Discord community, reach out to us at grimdarkfilthycasuals@gmail.com and please follow us on the usual platforms to stay up-to-date with all of the latest releases from GDFC.