Insidious, fanatical, and with a dark heart beating at their core, Warhammer 40k‘s Genestealer Cults are an ever present threat for the Imperium of Man and, should they gain a foothold throughout the teeming cities of humanity, they may imperil the galaxy itself. No other Warhammer 40k xenos faction works so cunningly as the cults, embedding themselves within unsuspecting populations and dragging whole planets into bloody civil war, all so they’re extra vulnerable when the Tyranid hive fleets come to feed.
On the tabletop, they are a cornucopia of tricks and surprises. You may look at their workmanlike outfits and their cobbled-together weapons, and dismiss them – only to find yourself surrounded, your army neutered, your objectives taken. They excel at ambushes and target weak points with almost effortless ease, making them a challenge to play against on the tabletop, as well as a truly unpredictable foe in the lore.
Genestealer Cults are one of the newer playable factions in the Warhammer 40k tabletop game, despite having been woven into the game’s grim, dark future setting since almost the beginning. If you’re interested in learning more about these mind-controlled rioters or fancy starting your own army, read on as we give you the lowdown on everything Genestealer.
Here’s everything to know about Warhammer 40k’s Genestealer Cults:
- Genestealer Patriarch
- Genestealer Cults codex
- How to start collecting Genestealer Cults
- Genestealer Cults in Necromunda
It’s no surprise that the heart of a Genestealer Cult is the many-limbed purestrain Genestealers – in many ways the poster child of the fearsome Tyranids, especially for veteran Warhammer 40k players. As smart as humans, but with an utterly alien outlook, they infiltrate the Hive Worlds of humanity, looking to foment discord by creating webs of cults.
The (so-called) kiss of a Genestealer’s DNA-implanting tongue has an immediate and horrifying effect: it instantly subsumes the victim’s will and makes them slavishly devoted to their new Genestealer master. The unlucky recipient of the kiss then carries within them the next generation of Genestealer: Tyranid genetic structures immediately working within them to twist, repurpose, and recreate every cell.
The first generation offspring of the Genestealer is always a terrifying sight: engorged craniums, too many limbs, and mauve skin make them unrecognisable as even half-human progeny. The second generation maintains an extra arm, but the march towards passing as human has begun. The third generation is more humanoid than those before, though still alien in appearance.
Finally, the fourth generation arrive – smooth, hairless creatures who appear almost entirely human and can meld invisibly with the populace, but who still contain alien genetic structures and a dominated will. The offspring of these almost-humans revert to being purestrain Genestealers, and so the cycle begins again.
Every single Genestealer is capable of starting its own cult; it’s only by their total eradication that humanity can be kept safe.
While Genestealers are the core of the cult, it’s the Genestealer Patriarch that rules over each cell. These Patriarchs direct the cult’s actions through a psychic link known as the Broodmind as they build their numbers – before finally unveiling themselves in armed insurrection.
The crooning domination of the Genestealer Patriarch is so powerful it can control thousands of offspring and direct the forces of many more unwitting cultists, drawn in by promises of freedom from the Imperium and a new life uplifted by the incoming Star Children.
It’s only in the final moments, when those so-called Star Children arrive around an infested world, that the Broodmind link is dropped. In that moment, the hapless cultists see their Star Children for what they truly are: an invading Tyranid force who only see humanity as genetic material to be consumed and digested – cultist or no.
Genestealer Cults codex
The Genestealer Cults codex for Warhammer 40k 9th Edition exemplifies what seems to be much of the driving force in this edition of the game: an attempt to marry the narrative ‘feel’ of a faction with its rules.
In the faction’s lore, the cults are always outnumbered, using a hodge-podge of scavenged materials to run their covert insurrection. They have to use superior tactics, genetic surprises, and stolen weapons to gain the upper hand. In the Genestealer Cults Codex, this is all reflected through their tabletop rules, making them a tricky army for your opponents to pin down.
There are several abilities which reflect the Genestealer Cults’ propensity to strike from unexpected directions. Conceal allows units to be set up in Ambush instead of on the battlefield during deployment. Ambush lets you place an ambush marker in your deployment zone instead of placing the actual unit – to be revealed later on (during your Command phase if you go first, or at the end of your opponent’s Movement phase if you go second).
Underground, however, is where things get really interesting for the Genestealer Cults. This ability lets your unit be set up anywhere as long as it’s more than eight inches away from an enemy model, or outside of six inches, at the cost of being unable to charge that turn. This lets your army tunnel under the battlefield, popping up where they’re least expected – and least wanted.
The other main inclusion in the Genestealer Cults Codex is the Proficient Planning system. This allows you to expend points or power to upgrade units in myriad ways. For example, Lying in Wait allows a unit to emerge from being Underground more than three inches away from enemy models, albeit with its ability to charge that turn still denied.
Another ability, From Every Angle, lets you place a unit into Strategic Reserves at the start of the first Battle Round without incurring the usual CP cost – then lets you bring it back into battle from the first Battle Round onwards. These abilities, and other Proficient Planning upgrades, allow you a huge degree of flexibility when it comes to hashing out your plan of attack.
This Codex includes several Genestealer Cults subfactions to choose from, to further diversify your attack strategies. These range from The Pauper Princes (a dark mirror to the religious zealots of the Imperium) who perform better in melee – to The Bladed Cog, who benefit from an in-built invulnerable save, as well as re-rolls on wound rolls. If none of the included subfactions appeal, then building your own is possible using the Myriad Cults points-based system, allowing you to pick and choose an alien hybrid revolution that’s entirely your own.
When it comes to the actual units, there are several standouts. The Genestealer Patriarch is an obvious inclusion for many, given that it really is the father of your cult. The Patriarch is swift, deadly, and even comes with two psychic powers. For a true, thoroughbred psyker you may want to look at the Genestealer Magus, a pure psyker character that also comes with an aura letting nearby units ignore mortal wounds inflicted by psychic abilities on a 5+ roll.
Genestealer Cults troops options are limited to the Neophyte Hybrids and Acolyte Hybrids, but that doesn’t mean they’re lacking in any way. Neophyte Hybrids, in particular, have tons of weapon options, making them the bread-and-butter of your army. Acolyte Hybrids, meanwhile, are a little stronger and a little tougher, making them perfect for anyone looking to hold an objective or dive into melee. Both troop options come with the Crossfire rule which makes it easier – and deadlier – for your other units to hit enemy models your troopers have previously peppered. Strength in numbers, after all.
When it comes to Elites, you again have a few more options. Purestrain Genestealers are exactly what it says on the tin; they’re quick, scary, and will tear anything apart in melee. With a 4+ Invulnerable Save tossed into the mix, their survivability has been boosted too. Genestealer Cult Aberrants are a powerhouse for your force, with their Heavy Improvised Weapons able to tear tanks to pieces in melee with brutal efficiency.
Finally, we come to the vehicles, one of the reasons that the Genestealer Cults remain so popular. Atalan Jackals are your nippy, biker option, with a 14” move and enhanced move options before the battle even begins, helping them get everywhere your opponent doesn’t want them. The four-wheeled Achilles Ridgerunner, on the other hand, is still quick, but deals a lot more damage with an Achilles Missile Launcher, Heavy Mortar, Heavy Stubber, and Heavy Mining Laser.
How to start collecting Genestealer Cults
Thankfully, when beginning your own Genestealer Cults army you can’t go wrong with the Combat Patrol: Genestealer Cults box, which replaced the earlier Start Collecting! Genestealer Cults set.
This Warhammer 40k Combat Patrol box includes a firm foundation of units from which to build your force, namely:
- 1 Genestealer Cults Magus
- 1 Goliath Rockgrinder
- 5 Genestealer Cults Aberrants
- 5 Acolyte Hybrids
- 20 Neophyte Hybrids
Genestealer Cults Necromunda rules
We’ve spoken a lot about Warhammer 40k here, but what if your tastes run to the smaller board? Necromunda is a game set on the titular Hive World and, with Genestealer Cults commonly making Hives their base of operations, it’s natural that they would be a great fit for a Necromunda team.
Thankfully, Games Workshop agrees, which is why it’s provided free Genestealer Cults Necromunda rules – allowing you to take your genetically twisted army with you when you visit the Hive.
So it doesn’t matter whether your opponents are on the Warhammer 40k battlefield, or skulking in the underhive confines of Necromunda – you can bring your cultists to bear upon them. There’s no escape from the cults.