What’s the Astra Militarum, a.k.a. the Imperial Guard? Well, in the far future of Warhammer 40k, humanity is beset by dangers beyond comprehension. Dark gods, daemons, and aliens all plot humanity’s downfall. The most famous defenders of humanity are the Space Marines, demigods created by the God Emperor who stand as a bulwark against the worst the universe has to throw at them. Their bravery and prowess in battle is without peer, but they do not stand alone. A faction exists that, in its own way, possesses far more bravery, grit, and determination than even the Space Marines can muster.
The Astra Militarum, or Imperial Guard, are human’s first defenders against the evils of the universe. They’re the boundless armies of the Imperium, normal men and women who stand firm against their many foes. They possess no advanced armour or genetically engineered powers; they simply have their training, their weapons, and an unshakeable faith in the Imperium. Also tanks. A hell of a lot of tanks.
If standing with your fellow humans against all odds sounds like your cup of amasec, then join us as we take a look at the Astra Militarum in 9th Edition, along with how to start building your very own Imperial Guard army.
Where do we start? Why, with their rules, of course.
Astra Militarum Codex
At the time of writing, Imperial Guard fans are eagerly awaiting the announcement of a new Astra Militarum Codex for Warhammer 40k 9th Edition. For now, though, Astra Militarum forces currently rely on the 8th Edition Astra Militarum Codex for their essential rules, helping to put boots on the tabletop ground.
Imperial Guard currently have rules in three separate books
There’s no reason to go without new rules, however, as there are many available for super-heavy and specialised stalwarts of the Astra Militarum gunline. The Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good supplement gifted the Guard new Tank Ace upgrades to beef up your key vehicles, as well as rules for creating your own custom Regimental Doctrines. And the Imperial Armour Compendium, whilst mainly focusing on Forge World models, has plenty of rules that can be used in conjunction with your Astra Militarum force. For example, if you’re looking at building a Death Korps of Krieg army then the included Regimental Doctrine for them is well worth paying attention to.
Between these three books – the Astra Militarum 8th Edition Codex, Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good, and the Imperial Armour Compendium – you should have all the rules on hand you’ll need for your army. Then again, if you’re not in a tearing hurry, it might be better to hold on for the 9th Edition codex to come along. We can’t make that call for you – may the Emperor guide your decision.
Astra Militarum Tactics
Playing an Imperial Guard force in Warhammer 40,000 means paying close attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the army. There are many rules and tactics that make the Astra Militarum a compelling force to choose on the battlefield, and, like all the other Warhammer 40k armies, there’s a few weaknesses to look out for, too.
In terms of broad benefits for an Astra Militarum force, the first is simply the range of models you’ll have access to. The Imperial Guard has one of the widest selections available to any Warhammer 40k player, with tonnes of specialisation built in.
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This means that if you need a unit or a model for a specific purpose, chances are Games Workshop will have something out there for you. This also ties into how many models you can put onto the tabletop. The Imperial Guard is cheaper to play, in terms of points cost, than many other armies, allowing you to choose your force with some degree of redundancy.
Of course, you can’t throw bodies into the mincer, but you can (and indeed must) take a fair amount of casualties without wincing too much.
Similar to many armies, you’ll also get unique Astra Militarum tactics and rules that only they can use.
Orders are the Imperial Guard’s Speciality
Orders are the Imperial Guard’s speciality, allowing you to lay down an order each turn to each of your units. These can range from rerolling 1s to hit, through to allowing your units to move and advance, instead of shooting – essential if you’re planning on hoofing it up the field to grab an objective. The final main benefit for an Astra Militarum player is shooting. An Imperial Guard force simply has some of the best shooting in the game, with massed gun lines, cheap tanks, good artillery, and much more that can stand back and lay into the other side of the battlefield without budging an inch. If you’re into Warhammer 40,000 to make something go boom, then you’re in the right place.
For weaknesses we start by flipping one of their strengths; while their shooting is almost unmatched, the Imperial Guard, as an army, are vulnerable and weak in melee. In fact, the Astra Militarum do have some strong melee units – but they’re few and far between. Even the strongest Bullgryn melee units can’t stand toe-to-toe with armies that specialise in getting up close and personal, like Orks, Khorne Chaos Space Marines, or Tyranids. Astra Militarum units and models tend to be quite fragile in the face of incoming damage, too. This makes sense given what they are – we’re talking humans after all, not the daemons from a pain dimension which some armies can field – so it’s understandable that, model-for-model, the Imperial Guard can be squishy.
Even their special weapons platforms and Imperial Guard tanks aren’t as well armoured as some other forces’ equivalents, so you’ll have to keep an eye on damage if you want to succeed.
If you’re planning on fielding an Imperial Guard force, then the key is to pay attention to exploit your strengths, while attempting to ameliorate your weaknesses.
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You’ll have plenty of troops to throw into battle, which can be daunting for your foe to face, and your gun line will frankly be a ridiculous size – make sure you’ve brought enough dice. The size of your army, as well as your ability to toss out damage at distance, will mean you can control the board easily and make sure your opponent doesn’t dare pop out of cover for a single round.
Keep your distance, keep the big guns pounding, and remember to fire off core Orders like Move! Move! Move! or the lasgun-enhancing First Rank, Fire! Second Rank, Fire!, and you’ll have the board locked down in no time.
Imperial Guard Regiments
Throughout the Imperium, many planets are compelled to form their own Imperial Guard regiments, conscripting hundreds of thousands of troops in the name of the God Emperor Himself.
You can create your own Imperial Guard Regiment, with rules and colours you prefer
The Imperium is colossal beyond all imagination – meaning it’s more than possible to create your own Imperial Guard regiment, customising them to use the rules and paint schemes you prefer. Since the Psychic Awakening: The Greater Good rules release, Games Workshop have made sure that you’ll be able to make custom Astra Militarum regiments and have their specialities reflected in-game. However, as with other factions, the game features several canonical Imperial Guard regiments that have become legends throughout the Imperium, and, as a result, have specific rules and histories. Here are some of the most popular and famous regiments known to humanity.
The hive world of Armageddon is known for fending off a colossal horde of Orks on several separate occasions. As a result of the many invasions it’s survived, the planet maintains a large Imperial Guard regiment, known as the Armageddon Steel Legion. On the tabletop, an Armageddon force naturally gravitates towards keeping your troops safe in transports, popping out to deal damage. For example, their order Mount Up! lets a target unit immediately hop on a nearby transport after shooting, keeping them safe for another turn.
For millennia, the planet Cadia held vigil over the Eye of Terror, a hideous rent in space-time that led to a dimension ruled by Chaos. This proximity to humanity’s most deadly enemies led the Cadian forces to become one of the most famous and most numerous of all. Alas, during Abaddon the Despoiler’s 13th Black Crusade, Cadia was finally destroyed, leaving the remnants of its Imperial Guard scattered across the galaxy, taking the fight to Chaos wherever they can. When playing a Cadian force, you’ll find that their Regimental Doctrine – Born Soldiers – is a natural fit for staying still and pounding the enemy to dust, as it lets stationary units reroll 1s to hit, with many other rules also promoting a strong tank division.
This death world is a jungle paradise, until you set foot on it. Everything wants to kill you there, and we do mean /absolutely/ everything. The Catachan Jungle Fighters make up the core of their Imperial Guard regiment, deadly foes who look down on anyone who hasn’t suffered as they have. The Catachan Regimental Doctrine of Brutal Strength buffs Infantry units to gain +1 to Strength and +1 to Leadership if they’re near an officer, which can completely transform how you play your army. We mentioned above that the Astra Militarum doesn’t fare well in melee – that doesn’t apply to Catachan armies.
The planet of Krieg once suffered a civil war, with many trying to secede from the Imperium. Today, in shame, the Death Korps of Krieg attempt to make up for this betrayal by fighting harder, suffering more, and pushing themselves past fear in service of the Imperium. Their Regimental Doctrine reflects this, Cult of Sacrifice lets destroyed Vehicles or Characters shoot or fight once more before being removed from the table. Even when you think you’ve taken the Death Korps out, they still keep fighting.
The Iron Guard Regiment hails from the tidally locked hive world of Mordian. Renowned for standing up to repeated Chaos incursions, their troops are disciplined and fierce on the battlefield, never letting Chaos gain a foothold. When playing a Mordian regiment, you’ll see this discipline reflected with rules such as the Warlord Trait Iron Discipline, which can stop nearby troops fleeing on failed Leadership rolls.
This desert world is beset by dust storms at all times, so it’s no wonder their Astra Militarum regiment has such an affinity for staying inside their tanks. Staying still on this hot world means death, which shows itself in their Regimental Doctrine Swift as the Wind. This rule lets your Infantry shoot their non-heavy weapons after moving as well as gets rid of any penalties for Vehicles which move and shoot. Their other rules also focus on movement, especially Vehicle movement, making them an ideal fit for a mobile tank division.
Valhalla, as the name would suggest, has become a frozen world of ice and death. Their Imperial Guard made their name fending off a tide of Orks, while fighting their own bellies during a food shortage. They’re strong and unflinching in combat, with a Relic that displays their iron will. The Petrov’s MK 45 is a bolt pistol with -1 AP, dealing 2 damage – but it has a side effect that makes it a must-take on the tabletop. It stops more than one Valhallan model fleeing from units within 6 inches, making your meat shields suddenly become fearless in the face of overwhelming foes.
An industrial world, Vostroya has close links to the Mechanicus and Mars in particular. Their weapons tend to be well-maintained, out-performing other Imperial Guard regiments under similar circumstances. Their Regimental Doctrine, Heirloom Weapons, is the perfect example of this. It adds 6 inches to the range of rapid-fire and heavy weapons which have a base range of over 24 inches, making nowhere safe from a well-equipped Vostroyan force.
Imperial Guard Conversions
Converting models or buying components to customise your models can be difficult with Warhammer 40,000, as many armies are designed in ways that make them completely unlike anything available out there on the market.
The Astra Militarum, thankfully, allows for a huge degree of customisation, with many stunning armies being made up of innovative and creative Imperial Guard conversions. As the entire design behind the Astra Militarum takes inspiration from World War II and World War I armies, you can easily mix in third party parts or models from ranges like Warlord Games’ Bolt Action, or even Black Powder, to spice up your army’s visual appeal.
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Many companies, such as Pig Iron Productions, Victoria Miniatures (whose Guard-flavoured ‘Scrapper’s Bag of Bits’ product image you see above, or Anvil Industry also make troops that either focus on accurate historical miniatures, or ones that combine history with science fiction, making their models and conversion bits ideal for your Imperial Guard Conversions. If you want to diversify your forces, some companies offer a wider range female model options, such as the excellent Bad Squiddo Games.
Out of all the armies in Warhammer 40k, the Imperial Guard are maybe the best positioned for conversions; hell, even an Airfix kit can be easily taken apart and utilised in an upgrade or visual change for your army. When converting your troops and models, your imagination is the only thing holding you back, so grab your glue and a pair of snips and get going.
How to Start Collecting Astra Militarum
One of the prime benefits of an Astra Militarum force is the breadth of troops, models, and Imperial Guard tanks available to you. Whilst it’s incredibly exciting to look at the variety you can choose from, it can also be a little overwhelming. Here are our picks for how to start your own Astra Militarum force, starting from nothing and building your way to a small competitive army.
Start Collecting! Astra Militarum
This box is almost essential when looking to build your own Imperial Guard force, as, unlike some Start Collecting boxes, everything within it is useful. You’ll find a Leman Russ Battle Tank, a Cadian Heavy Weapon Team, an Officio Prefectus Commissar, and ten Cadian Shock Troops (your bog standard infantry; you’ll need a lot of these).
Cadian Defence Force
Unlike many armies, Games Workshop have collected some great starter boxes that include many units and models that’ll be useful no matter which direction you take with your force.
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The Cadian Defence Force includes some of the key units from the Astra Militarum line, including a Chimera, a Leman Russ, a Cadian Heavy Weapon Squad, a Cadian Imperial Guard Command Squad, and 20 Cadian Guardsmen. This is a flexible box that combines a little of everything that makes the Astra Militarum a joy to collect, from grunts to tanks – with a commander thrown in for good luck (and a couple more Orders).
Catachan Defence Force
The other option you could swing for is the Catachan Defence Force. This depends heavily on which direction you see your army taking, and if you wish to utilise more of a close-range, heavy-hitting force, over the Cadians’ static gun line.
This box includes a Chimera, a Leman Russ, a Catachan Heavy Weapon Squad, a Catachan Command Squad, and 20 Catachan Guardsmen. With a heftier price than the Cadian Defence Force, this box is a little harder to justify purchasing, and its Catachan contents will lead to more specialised play than the more versatile Cadians. That said, if you feel yourself pulled towards the thick-bicepped, monster-wrangling Catachans, then this box simply cannot be beaten for that regiment.
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From there, the sky is, quite frankly, the limit. If you want to toughen up your army against melee threats, some Bullgryns or Ogryns may be your next purchase – or you could focus on grabbing a Basilisk or a Manticore for some powerful, long-range heavy support. If you want to put the fear of the Imperium into your foes and your own troops, a Commissar is a worthy investment, bolstering your troops when facing overwhelming odds.
However you approach the Astra Militarum, you’ll find that they’re a strong force that embodies all that’s hopeful and noble in the grimdark Warhammer 40,000 universe. Whilst other armies can rely on magic powers or divine intervention, the Imperial Guard have only each other.
Oh, and tanks. Lots and lots of tanks.