Imperial Agents: A Postmortem

Games Workshop has been hitting it out of the park on a pretty regular basis recently – with one notable exception. The Imperial Agents book, rather than being met with the same enthusiasm as most of their recent content, was pretty widely criticized. It’s been a few months since it came out, so I thought it might be interesting to take a step back and ask “What happened?”

I’d assert that the primary issues with Imperial Agents was one of misaligned expectations – the book itself actually serves a very useful purpose. More specifically, I think the framing of the book was off, I think it was critically missing important context and that it was the victim of unwarranted hype. I’ll touch on each of these in turn. It’s important to note that there were some genuine problems with the book’s rules as they’re written, such as the swiftly FAQ’d problem of Valkyries not being able to transport anyone.

Framing: I think this was the biggest problem with the book – it was framed poorly, and it took GW awhile to really articulate what Imperial Agents was – and in the meantime, people’s imaginations ran with it. It became a sort of Ur-Codex, that was going to be whatever someone was hoping it would be. And what we did know didn’t help. First, the name “Codex Imperial Agents”, and I think that “Codex” misaligned a lot of expectations. When you say “Codex” people think of a fully fleshed out army list. They think about new units. They think (and hope) about longstanding problems with their Codex getting fixed.

None of that happened in Imperial Agents. It wasn’t a new codex – it was a collection of unit entries, with a bit of fluff. Which actually makes it perfect for what it was intended for – splashing in a bit of color into an Imperial army. And for that, it’s perfect. Since 3rd edition I’ve wanted to add a squad of Grey Knight Terminators to my Sisters of Battle army (Marytr-pattern TDA). With the boxed games out, there’s tons of people with a single Deathwatch squad to mix into a Space Marine army. And for that, Imperial Agents is perfect, and represents a substantial savings over buying pick-n-mix codexes. It just wasn’t framed that way.

Context: The Imperial Agents book was…aid unlooked for. It’s a nice supplement, but it didn’t really seem needed, and there were definitely more pressing matters that might have rated GW’s attention. Several months and the “Castellans of the Imperium” detachment from Fall of Cadia later, this suddenly makes more sense – the mega-Imperial detachment is absolutely rife with units from Imperial Agents and it’s suddenly very convenient to have them all in the right place.

Hype: The lack of context and poor framing combined to generate a degree of hype – after all the Sisters of Battle were going to be in it, they were in dire need of an update…surely the time was nigh!

And then it came out – and fixed nothing. Got rid of Celestine – clearly for the coming campaign, as I ended up predicting on Reddit:

I put good odds that Celestine is being redone – GW’s holding tight to their “No Model, No Rules” thing. I’d expect her to return in a campaign book after her ancient sculpt is redone.

But coming down from such high expectations made for a very rocky landing. And that, I think, was the great downfall of Imperial Agents. It was a utility release in a time of revolutionary books. Three or four years ago this would have been solid, welcome, an interesting exploration of the concept of detachments, and a solid endorsement of Imperial Soup (as Forge the Narrative calls it) as a concept.

But sandwiched between Wrath of Magnus and Traitor Legions? And without the coming information from Fall of Cadia to justify it’s existence? It understandably fell flat.

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1 Comment

  1. I concur with this analysis.

    If you were around in the grim darkness of Second Edition, if you remembered the soft and flappy “Black Codex” that came in the first enormous core boxed set, the term “Imperial Agents” was familiar to you – it was the catch-all for “stuff that’s in the Imperium but not complex or well-equipped or ubiquitous enough to warrant a full Codex of its own”. You may even remember lamenting the emergence of Grey Knights and Sisters as whole armies in their own right – an error of judgement to those of us who remembered them as Imperial Agents, something to be ‘list tailored’ in when appropriate for the scenario at hand.

    If you weren’t there, of course, you wouldn’t know… and so events proceed as you described them.


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