Anyone who’s dipped more than half a toe into the Warhammer fandom (whether Warhammer 40K or Warhammer Age of Sigmar) comes to learn at least two fundamental laws of this particular nerdiverse, and both are highly relevant to 40K’s new-and-improved Cadian Shock Troops kit.
First: whatever stupendous new sculpted-plastic glories Games Workshop makes, there will always be several tribes of fans for whom all their troubled heart desires is an update to some poor, forgotten units in their army of choice, instead. When you’ve been releasing as many different boxed plastic model kits as GW has, for as long as GW has – and especially if you improved your manufacturing technology halfway through, to produce far more detailed and dynamic-looking models – you end up with quite a long queue of ‘ugly ducklings’. For in-game mechanical reasons, they’ll still see extensive use in tabletop battles, but they’ll look increasingly rubbish, and out of place among their newer, snazzier counterparts.
And, second: any kit with multiple construction options will inevitably annoy some people because of the numbers of certain components it does, or doesn’t, include. If the sprues have loads of alternate faces, gun options and accessories, some will complain it costs too much, and is stuffed with bits they won’t use.
If you strip the contents down to only one choice of loadout per soldier, some will pipe up that it’s ridiculous they have to pay for extra kits to build the specialists they need for their army. The perfect balance between the two is rarely found.
Enter the workhorse troops unit of Warhammer 40K’s Imperial Guard (aka Astra Militarum) faction: the Cadian Infantry kit. For several years, they’ve been an unfortunate victim of both tendencies. On the one hand, their current plastic body and head sculpts date back to the early noughties, and their faces are, to put it mildly, not incredibly lifelike.
And, on the other hand, in all that time, the standard Cadians box has only included two of the five special weapons available to a standard infantry squad (grenade launcher and flamer), with the other three (plasma gun, melta gun and sniper rifle) only available in the separate Command Squad kit. Since these stumpy, carapace-armoured human troopers are the backbone of the vast majority of Guard armies on the 40K tabletop, with most army lists fielding at least 30 – and up to 90 – of them, Astra Militarum players have had to paint scores of the same ten goofy faces for years.
Plus, if they wanted their one special weapons trooper per ten-model squad to carry an actually useful weapon (usually a plasma gun) – or, Emperor forbid, intended to build them as a Veterans squad, with three special weapons troopers – they’d have to buy multiple Command Squad boxes just to get the gun bits required.
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In the process, they’d spend a lot of cash, and end up with a big pile of assorted banner, med kit, and sniper rifle bits they didn’t need – not to mention the equally gurning faces on the Command Squad heads. The whole situation has been a pain point for Guard players for nigh-on 20 years.
But fear not, for GW provides: as of this week’s pre-order round, the firm has rolled out an all-new Cadian Shock Troops box, which contains everything it did before, plus a brand-new upgrade sprue featuring 25 (!) new, much-improved heads, one of each missing special weapon, and some of the Sergeant-specific wargear options previously only available in the Command Squad box: a boltgun, a power sword, a bolt pistol and a plasma pistol.
GW kindly sent us one of these boxes to review, free of charge, and – as a lapsed Guard player who got turned off by the unattractive prospects of painting lots of the same weird faces, and paying for lots of spare plastic – I’m pretty impressed with it. Sure, the weapons, while they will make your plasma gun-armed infantry squads much cheaper (in real-world cash) to put together, are just the same bits you’ve been nipping out of the Command Squad sprues for years, more or less.
But it’s a very welcome cost-effectiveness change – while the kit has gone up in price from $36 / £22.50 RRP to $45 / £29, that price difference is a whole lot less than buying a whole $36 / £22.50 Command Squad each time.
And real draw of this upgrade kit is the suite of 25 new heads, which finally breathe a bit more humanity and variety into your downtrodden legions of footslogging meat-shields.
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It’s certainly a pleasure to see this expanded range of heads including some non-male faces, for a change.
In the lore, the Imperial Guard has always been a strictly gender neutral war machine – with men, women, and, presumably, humans of any conceivable gender identity from across the Imperium equally welcome to die horribly in the service of the Emperor.
But the welcome addition of guardswomen is just one part of an across-the-board personality injection for your disposable grunts, to remind us of the fundamental tragedy of 40K’s eternal war: each one of them is a person, like us.
They wear bandanas to soak up sweat; they wear bandages over injuries; they strap playing cards to their helmets for good luck, or just for a little levity. It’s real show-not-tell stuff, and we love to see it. Narrative fans should be glad of the change.
Besides, for just a small nudge to a workhorse unit in a popular army, I think this is really encouraging signal from GW, that its studios are working on various different ways to modernise old kits.
It’s no secret that Warhammer miniatures are among the most expensive around. Many factions of its flagship games are littered with these little ‘Catch 22’ situations, where players must buy boxes of models they don’t strictly want, in order to build other models ‘effectively’ according to the rules. Any change that starts filling in those historical potholes is a positive step.
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Naturally, some will grumble that it’s just ‘tinkering around the edges’, and the Guard should have a brand new, redesigned kit instead. This is, of course, what every Warhammer fan wants for all their favourite models. So has it ever been, and so shall it ever be.
As far as I’m concerned, the most exciting question it raises is: will this ‘built-in upgrade sprue’ strategy allow GW to bring more of its older kits up to speed, more quickly?
Also, er, GW – the Catachan Jungle Fighters want a word…