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Warhammer 40k: Black Templars Army Set review – back in black

Games Workshop’s Black Templars army set, launching the new codex and model range, is finally here - but was it worth the wait?

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of all the infantry models in the box set

‘Black Templars Army Set review’ are not words that, one year ago, I’d ever imagined I’d be typing right now. My lifelong favourite Space Marine Chapter; black-clad, relic-obsessed, crusading sons of Rogal Dorn; and forever the ‘goth’ to the Raven Guard’s ‘emo’ – the Black Templars had their heyday in Warhammer 40k’s 4th and 5th editions (2004-2012), while I was at secondary school, and far too penniless to fund a wargaming hobby.

But, by the time I waded joyfully back into the nerd quicksand of Warhammer, with 40k’s 8th Edition launch in 2017, the Templars were woefully forgotten relics themselves – bereft of rules, never seen at competitive tables, and generally consigned to Warhammer’s well-populated, eternal waiting room of once-loved factions, forever to await rebirth and rejuvenation.

Well, the wait is over. The entire Black Templars Chapter has been found by Games Workshop’s Apothecaries, picked up, dusted off, and put through the reportedly agonising, but definitely beautifying, process of Primarisification. The Black Templars now have brand new, Primaris-scale plastic model sculpts for every single one of their unique units; we have the first dedicated Black Templars codex rulebook since 2005; and it all kicks off with a limited edition Army Set, that’s frankly a love letter to John Blanche’s Black Templar-themed cover art for the 3rd Edition 40k starter box.

GW has kindly provided Wargamer with a free copy to review, and boy, oh boy, there’s a lot to be excited about here – but some surprises and peccadilloes, too, so I’ll break it down for you bit by bit in this review. I should also clarify that we won’t be going too deep into the contents of the Black Templars codex supplement here.

We’re working on a full-on strategy guide to 9th Edition Black Templars, coming very soon, that’ll pull out all the seriously cool details, rules, and combos in this book, but, for now, this review is more about the box itself, with just a brief overview of the codex, what you’ll find in its pages, and the seismic changes it’s going to bring the Black Templars army. With that out of the way, let us charge on:

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of the army set box front artwork

Black Templars Army Set – what is it?

I don’t need to go into great detail here, because you can sift through the specifics of the box – and what’s coming after it – to your heart’s content in the comprehensive Black Templars launch guide we’ve been lovingly tending for months now.

The short version is: this is a ‘launch box’ to celebrate the release of a whole new Black Templars Space Marines model range (which, we now know, also includes brand new Primaris-scale models for High Marshal Helbrecht, High Chaplain Grimaldus, a spectacular (if somewhat controversial) Castellan, and full-on Sword Brethren squads, too.

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Like the Beast Snagga Orks and Sisters of Battle army sets before it, it’s a limited edition ‘core’ set to herald the arrival of a completely new (or, as in this case, completely redesigned) Warhammer 40k army, seemingly squarely aimed at long-time enthusiasts who’ve been sitting on unloved old collections for years, waiting on a refresh. People, in short, just like me.

The inclusion of the brand new codex, with alternate art, a month before its main release, is an extra selling point – though one that continues to draw ire from large portions of the 40k community who feel they shouldn’t be forced to buy a high-cost box set just to get the rulebook.

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of the templar helmet artwork on the edge of the box

It’s going up for pre-order, on the GW webstore and independent retailers, today (Saturday, October 9) and will ship out to eager Templar fans on Saturday, October 6. It costs a princely $199 / £125, in line with previous ‘Army Sets’.

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As with its recent Kill Team: Octarius launch box set, GW has also made a “Pre-order Promise” that everyone who pre-orders the Black Templars army set by 8am BST on Monday, October 11 will be guaranteed a copy, regardless of current stock. That’s 3am on Monday ET; and midnight Sunday, October 10, PT.

Let’s get specific, now – what’ll you see when you slip open this box?

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of the open box contents including sprues and cards

Black Templars Army Set – Contents and value

Right up top, let’s acknowledge the biggest disappointment of the lot: you simply don’t get a lot of toy soldiers for your money, compared to ‘bookless’ box sets like GW’s Combat Patrol boxes, or even earlier Army Sets like the Beast Snaggas box, which had 26 models total.

Here, $199 / £125 gets you only 13 plastic Citadel miniatures – and, while the 13th is, admittedly, a hulking Redemptor Dreadnought that sells for $65 / £40 on its lonesome, the Redemptor is not only not a brand new model (as one might expect everything in a ‘launch box’ to be); it’s been around almost since the start of 8th Edition in 2017 – meaning lots of existing Space Marine players already have all the Redemptor Dreadnoughts they want. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Here’s what you get in the Black Templars Army Set:

  • A gorgeously-printed inner box, again emblazoned with That John Blanche Artwork
  • A Primaris Marshal
  • A Primaris Emperor’s Champion
  • A ten-man Primaris Crusader Squad (one Sword Brother, five Initiates, four Neophytes)
  • A Redemptor Dreadnought
  • A copy of the alternate art Black Templars codex supplement
  • 28 Black Templars datacards, including all four Templar Vows
  • A sheet of 226 waterslide transfers with Templar iconography and heraldry

Of course, we then fall back on comparing the box’s price to the (probable) combined prices of all its constituent parts. Naturally it’s all speculative until the constituent models are released separately (as GW has confirmed they will be in “a few weeks”), but some rough maths shows the box set is overwhelmingly likely to offer a saving just shy of 20%:

Item Estimated Price
Black Templars Codex Supplement $30 / £17.50
Marshal $35 / £23.50
Emperor’s Champion $35 / £23.50
Primaris Crusader Squad $60 / £35
Redemptor Dreadnought $65 / £40
Black Templars Datacards $18 / £12
TOTAL $243 / £151.50

Nonetheless, the presence of that Redemptor Dreadnought does niggle at me. Don’t get me wrong, I adore this model, and it suits the army well; that’s why I’ve bought and painted two Black Templars Redemptors in the past few years.

But that’s just the point: I am the target market for this box – and I positively don’t want or need another Redemptor. I’m sure I’ll enjoy having it – but I wouldn’t have bought it on its own, and I rather resent having it included in a box that’s supposed to be launching a brand new army full of exciting new sculpts. If GW had only included something newer instead, that fewer people are likely to have bought already, it would feel less like a poorly veiled ploy to purge its warehouse’s surfeit of older models. An Impulsor, for example (just $10 / £5 more on its own than the Dread) would be far more appetising, and arguably more useful to a starter army.

Black Templars Army Set – new models

I’m pleased to report, though, that the brand new, plastic, Primaris Black Templars models look and feel just as awesome, characterful, and properly distinctively Templar-ish in the (grey plastic) flesh, as they do in GW’s badass trailer video below.

Construction is, for the most part, strikingly breezy. While you’ll have the odd spot of aggravating bit-searching in the two identical double-frames that make up your ten-marine Primaris Crusader Squad, it’s not as egregious as some examples. One particular touch of genius is that the bunched ridge of tabard under the belts on the Primaris Neophytes’ torsos neatly slides into their belt parts (which are attached to the tops of the legs) to ensure you always line the chaps’ top and bottom halves up just right. It’s a little thing, but highly satisfying for weirdos like me that like the building process almost as much as the painting.

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As for your build options, the Primaris Crusader Squad in the Army Set box has more flex to it than I, at least, was expecting. Your Marshal can have an Autoflamer (Combi-flamer, but based on an Auto Bolt Rifle) or Plasma Pistol in one hand, and a Power Sword or Power Axe in the other – plus a choice of two heads: bare with Helbrecht-style circlet, or bare with rebreather.

Out of your five Initiates,  you can build:

  • Up to four with Heavy Bolt Pistol and Astartes Chainsword, and one with Pyreblaster, or:
  • Up to three with Auto Bolt Rifles (plus one with HBP/Chainsword and one with Pyreblaster, or two with HBP/Chainsword)

And – just as nature intended – whichever combination of the above you choose, one of your Chainsword dudes can swap it out for a mighty, templar-cross-embossed Power Fist.

With the four Neophytes, you get enough bits to create whatever combination you want of the two loadout options:

  • Bolt Pistol and Astartes Chainsword
  • Bolt Carbine

Naysayers will likely be annoyed that this isn’t a bigger, old-fashioned, multi-pose kit, with more parts – perhaps so you can make loads of Neophytes to bulk out the ranks, or some such fiddly, competitive, min-maxing nonsense; but it’s really not necessary.

We can rejoice, because the Crusader Squad – the core unit of Black Templars troops – finally has a dedicated kit, and a damn good one, too. You can build it shooty, you can build it fighty, you can build it as a mix.

The codex confirms that the Primaris variant, like the Firstborn Crusader Squad (which remains a thing) ranges from ten to 20 total models (One Sword Brother, 5-11 Initiates and 4-8 Neophytes) – and the ‘Paired Combatants’ rule is gone, meaning that, beyond that first ten, there’s nothing to stop you customising the Initiate/Neophyte mix to suit your list. When the standalone kit comes out, 20-man Primaris Crusader Squads will very much be a thing, and we’ll have to test which loadouts work best for different armies. It’s going to be a blast.

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Personally, since I already have a solid backline of Intercessors for ranged fire, I went full punchy with my first ten Crusaders – Three Pistol/Chainsword Initiates, one Pistol/Power Fist Initiate, and one Pyreblaster Initiate – and then four Pistol/Chainsword Neophytes. Baptism of melee is the best thing for ’em, that’s what I say.

Black Templars Army Set – the Black Templars Codex

This book is, in almost every possible way, a perfect realisation of what Black Templars fans, so long left out of the party as other Space Marine Chapters got dedicated codex supplements and powerful custom rules, have been dutifully praying to the Emperor for for years.

Its aesthetics are, perhaps, its most faultless aspect. The soft-touch hardback material feels splendid and luxurious to the touch, and has a matt finish that, combined with the sharp print quality, simply looks excellent. The main event, obviously, is the classic John Blanche Black Templars artwork that’s borderlessly spread all over the front cover, in full, burning orange colour, pulling you into the scene. As a kid, I had a crumpled, stapled paper sales-catalogue/’how to play 40k’ pamphlet with this artwork on the cover, and it captivated me then, with its gothic, apocalyptic, but power-drenched energy. Now, as a full-on book cover, it’s nigh-on perfect.

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of a page of the Black Templars codex showing a parchment manuscript

Once you start looking inside, well, it’s mostly a tale of righteous ecstasy, and the satisfaction of good things coming to those who wait. The new Black Templars rules are both a proper step into making the tabletop army feel distinct, personal, and stylish again – and a significant upgrade to the Templars’ competitive power.

The Templar Vows give strong, army-wide buffs that ameliorate some of the Templars’ biggest weaknesses, while thematically binding your army to following the most Templar-ish of battleplans. Want a permanent extra attack and point of AP in combat? Sure thing, says the Accept Any Challenge, No Matter the Odds Vow – but you better win that fight, because you can never Fall Back.

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Want a permanent, army-wide 5+ invulnerable save, and be unable ever to be wounded on rolls of a 1 or 2, thanks to your all-consuming vow to Uphold the Honour of the Emperor? You got it – but you’ll never have the benefit of cover, so you’ll want to run straight into the thick of it.

The new stratagems provide a slate of 1CP tools to get your units into close-quarters combat, keep them there, and make them even more deadly in the fight. Black Templars’ Relics are beefed up, and we now get extra ‘mini’ relics, with the Relic Bearers rule, to add even more spice, and tie right into the idea of sprinkling storied, bulked up, knightly characters throughout your army.

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of a page of the Black Templars codex showing the words of the Templar Vows

If I have one slight sadness with this book, it’s simply the limits of its lore content. As a Codex Supplement, it’s hemmed in to a smaller page count than its full faction codex brothers, and, in order to fit in all the delicious new rules, the narrative side has taken some serious cuts.

But this really is just a case of yielding to necessity. The lore that is here is superb, and, while it’s light on the Chapter’s ancient history, and Sigismund himself – it’s heavy on the Templars’ more recent exploits, with accounts and heraldry from several crusades, and their role in Roboute Guilliman‘s Indomitus Crusade. It’s a cracking update that makes the Black Templars feel a little more like they’re ‘plugged in’ to the current Warhammer 40k narrative.

Black Templars Army Set – who is it for?

It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that this box set has been consciously developed as an indulgent, delicious gateau of nostalgia, catharsis, and excitement for old-timer Black Templar lovers.

That John Blanche Artwork is everywhere, including on an extra, inner cardboard box that now sits proudly on my shelf. In the rules, the Templar Vows are back, and they’re actually powerful. The Holy Hand Grenade – oh, sorry, I mean ‘Holy Orb’ – is back yet again; in fact, we get extra relics all over the place. Whole pages of the codex are given over to overwrought, Old-Testament-sounding religious screeds. The transfer sheet is full of glorious pomp and decoration that could scarcely scream louder the underlying message: ‘the Black Templars are back, baby – and it isn’t just about painting your Intercessor shoulders white any more’. It’s wonderful stuff.

And yet, I do wonder if all the overcharged, self-indulgent gothic silliness that captivated me as an 11-year-old, and fills me with joy now, will appeal to new players, in an age where the rest of the Primaris range is full of extra webbing pouches, satellite dishes, stealth systems, and all things ‘tacticool’. I do hope so – but, then again, each to their own. The good thing about GW being a vast, global games company now is that it can make more than one or two things at a time, and serve a wider variety of different tastes. More than ever, there is something for everyone – although I do wish it would talk straight to us fans a bit more.

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of the army set inner box decorated by the famous John Blanche artwork

Black Templars Army Set – the verdict

Reader, I think by now you should have a good idea just how impressed – not to say overjoyed – I am with what GW has delivered in this Army Set. As both a core set to, and celebratory opening fanfare for, a brand new range of Black Templars, it fits the bill excellently, using its packaging and design choices as a vehicle for lavish, long overdue, and much appreciated fan service.

Most GW boxes go in my recycling bin; this one is a display piece. The new models included are both perfect reimaginings of their classic counterparts, and, if need be, a solid start to a new army. The codex, thin as it is, has me more excited about getting back into playing an army than I’ve ever been.

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Sure, I hear you cry: for oath-sworn Black Templars fanboys like me, GW had an open goal with this set; it could have given us anything at all, and we’d still have been thankful.

And hey, you’re not far wrong. But it’s also true that, with fans having waited so many years for a resurgence, and with so many weeks of the GW hype machine on full blast, our expectations were spun up to incredibly high levels. There was a considerable chance Geedubs had over-egged the pudding; that this box, and its all-important codex, would turn out an infuriating, misleading anti-climax. But it hasn’t. It’s an absolute cracker.

Warhammer 40k Black Templars Army Set review - author photo of a page of the Black Templars codex showing an artwork of a Templar marine

The choice of the Redemptor Dreadnought is, in my view, the only serious, slightly bitter disappointment, in an otherwise rapturous pleasure of a box that Templar fans can only welcome with open arms. While fielding a trio of these gun-covered monsters is certainly an intriguing prospect for me, it’s still a four-year-old model I didn’t want or need, when more attractive, newer, similarly priced alternatives abound that GW could have included instead.

But hey, as with any big box set – if you really don’t like that one model, you can always sell it on (at a profit, if you’re lucky) – and besides, that one aspect really can’t stand in the way of a box set that, overall, feels like coming in from the cold after a very long time in the wilderness. It’s true that, in a very welcome change from its communications around earlier Army Sets, GW has confirmed that the models in this box will be available separately within “a few weeks” (presumably alongside the standalone codex, Helbrecht, Grimaldus, and Sword Brethren coming in November).

But, if you’re truly an initiate of the Chapter most holy, this set is well worth buying anyway, for the book, and for the box itself – because, taken as a whole, it’s simply a piece of Templar history worth owning. The Black Templars have finally returned to purge the galaxy of humanity’s many foes – and, if you ask me, they’ve made a bloody good start of it.