Review: “Deathwatch: The Jericho Reach”

In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there is endless job security (mumble mumble). After taking a hiatus to attempt to slay the foes of my God-Wallet, I’ve returned with Deathwatch: The Jericho Reach. This product is easy to confuse with Deathwatch: Achilus Assault. Both of them are setting books about the Jericho Reach – a corner of the Imperium accessible only via a series of warp gates, under assault by many of the Imperium’s most clever, powerful and cruel foes: Chaos, the Tau, and the Tyranids. This is the setting crafted for the Deathwatch game line, and both the books are serviceable to develop a deeper understanding the area – but this one is focused more on giving everyone new toys to play with than Achilus Assault was. Achilus Assault was more involved with fleshing out in detail the history of the setting.

While the Achilus Assault focuses on the military realities of the Imperium in the Jericho Reach, including the history of the conflict itself and its political and military implications for the people within and without, The Jericho Reach is more of a ‘traditional’ setting book. The book boasts three chapters each involving one of the salients of the Achilus Crusade and the enemy it faces, and it offers information on several planets, installations, conflicts and enemies that can serve as home bases, or as objectives in the thick of the Crusade. The final chapter is a sample adventure incorporating some of these elements. I would probably recommend The Jericho Reach if you have to buy just one.

The three Salients of the Achilus Crusade are represented, with the Acheros Salient and the fight against Chaos taking the first chapter, the Canis Salient and the Tau in the second, and the Orpheus Salient against the Tyranids in the third. Each of the Salients has descriptions of planets, fortresses and allies of importance, from the Wicked Sisters, paradise planets of Slaneesh that have lured the Imperium into a trap they still have not uncovered; the vast fortress of Hethguard, steeling itself against the Tyranid advance; and the contested world of Pelegius, fought over between the Imperium and Tau. Planet descriptions contain histories, locations, an Imperial Datafile entry on the planet with population numbers, government and so on, as well as uses for all of these areas in thematic missions or focused campaigns.

Each chapter also includes both narrative and mechanical tidbits for the players’ Space Marine characters. Fighting chaos is radically different to fighting the tau; both also quite different from fighting the Tyranids. The Jericho Reach provides new assets, demeanors, oaths and powers suited to fighting each of the great foes found in the Jericho Reach. The Demeanors in particular are a treasure trove of roleplaying tips. To acquire these abilities, you must fight several missions within one salient in order to prove your worth and experience. All of these are quite flavorful, though some are of fairly suspect game balance. For example there is a power that renders you instantly aware if someone is aligned with chaos, which is either essentially useless, or able to short circuit certain mission plots almost immediately. Another ability lets you reroll reactions against Daemons, which is very powerful against Daemons, and worth nothing at all against other enemies – and a chaos mission can put you up against traitor marines or heretics without you seeing a single daemon. All of these are worth hard-earned XP to buy, as well, so you have to really be gunning for certain kinds of foes and missions to put them to use.

Assets, introduced in Rites of Battle, are strategic deployments of Imperial troops, servants, munitions and craft to help the Deathwatch mission. The Assets included The Jericho Reach are fairly interesting, though again, some are strange for the kind of game that Deathwatch is, including an asset that sends a diplomatic team for dealing with Tau peacefully (which is either fairly useless, or so incredibly essential to a mission that you shouldn’t even have to spend Requisition on it) and a Xeno-Archeologist, which is another sort of built-in escort mission that is flavorful, but a dubious use of Requisition. However, there are plenty of badass assets to bring misfortune to the Emperor’s foes, including a squad of Sisters of Battle to purge the unholy alongside you, or calling in the Grey Knights to exterminate some daemons!

Each Chapter includes a couple of sections of interest for the Game Master, such as tips on running each Salient’s missions. For the Acheros Salient, there is an expansion to the Mass Combat rules introduced in Mark of the Xenos, including running a Massed Battle as a setting rather than a setpiece, as well as a series of examples, with turning points and complications that can arise as the Space Marines wade through the thick of combat. The Tyranid chapter includes a whole mess of new Tyranids, including Bio-Titans, to make life miserable for the Imperium. The Tyranid chapter is delectably cruel – there’s so many new creatures and things to play with. If you have Mark of the Xenos and the Core rulebook, you now have access to basically every Tyranid creature in the tabletop game, including some of the Forge World guys.

In the back of the book is an Adventure focused on the Tyranids, called Fall Into Darkness. It has some tips for incorporating it into a long campaign along with the previous two Tyranid-centric adventures released by Fantasy Flight Games, the Preview Adventure Final Sanction, and the Core Rulebook adventure Extraction. It is fairly interesting, with the Space Marines running around a dying world in the final stages of Tyranid infestation, as the Hive Fleet looms to devour it. The Space Marines will have to make hard choices with little outside aid in this ravaged landscape.

You can understand the setting as a whole very well with just the core rulebook, and if you need more critters you can get Mark of the Xenos. However, The Jericho Reach lets you focus on specific sections on the setting in much more detail, giving your players and you a lot of incentives to focus your missions, and to really get to know one segment of the war over all of the others. The material is interesting, with competently-written story text, interesting (if a bit weird at times) player options, and a slew of tips, seeds and system additions for the GM to employ. It is a great setting book.