Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team Pariah Nexus is the latest big-box release from Games Workshop, which is riding high on the unprecedented popularity of its science-fiction franchise. Priced at $160, there’s a lot of mass inside the box. But the substance of Kill Team Pariah Nexus is lacking. The expansion feels like a product trying to serve too many masters, and coming up short.
The latest incarnation of Kill Team was released in 2018 to rave reviews. It’s a small-unit skirmish game that uses the same miniatures as full-fledged Warhammer 40,000, but with a modified ruleset. There are multiple benefits to that approach. First, consumers don’t need to purchase as many miniatures to play with their friends, either casually or competitively. Second, games are lightning fast. Once familiar with the rules, engagements can end in as little as 30 minutes. That’s a boon to both matched (competitive) and narrative (casual) play.
Many, myself included, hyped Kill Team when it was released as a potential onramp for new players to get into the mainstream Warhammer 40,000 hobby. As far as collecting and painting miniatures goes, that’s certainly held true. But Kill Team has grown a dedicated following and a competitive culture all its own over the last few years. The price of entry is still relatively low. All you need to get started is a $40 rulebook, about a dozen miniatures, some six- and 10-sided dice, and you’re off to the races.
Pariah Nexus is an expansion for Kill Team and not a starter set. If you’re new to the game and purchase this new boxed set, you’ll still need those dice and a rulebook to play.
Inside Pariah Nexus are 12 gorgeous new miniatures, six for the Space Marines and six for the Necrons. Both forces featured prominently in the latest boxed release for 9th edition Warhammer 40,000, a sought-after set called Indomitus. There’s also a bunch of Necron-themed terrain, nearly all of it solid, single-piece casts that are a breeze to paint.
The miniatures themselves are fantastic. No company makes multipart plastic kits better than Games Workshop, and Pariah Nexus lives up to that pedigree. The Space Marines are highly detailed, and include all the accessories you’ll need to make a custom force that’s all your own. The Necrons are thin and lithe, all of them captured in fluid poses that make each sculpt unique. Like most non-human factions in the 40K universe, however, don’t expect much variety in how they’re built right out of the box.
Pariah Nexus’ printed instructions are, just like the miniatures, excellent. I’ve put together Ikea furniture recently, and the furniture company could stand to learn a thing or two from Games Workshop. There’s also a full-color gameboard, two identical decks of cards, and a 112-page rules booklet. It’s here, with all these paper goods, that things begin to go south.
Let’s start with the cards: Games Workshop shrink-wrapped them edge-to-edge in two even stacks, a solution that I’ve simply never seen before in more than a decade reviewing tabletop games. They flopped and wiggled around during shipment, bending corners and tearing the thin card stock. Gameplay-wise, the two decks are identical, with one for each player. There’s no change in color or font to differentiate them, however, and they’re not numbered in any way. Get them mixed up and you’ll need to sort them all out by hand in order to straighten things out again.
Making matters worse, while colorful and highly detailed, the double-sided game board in our set is warped and won’t lay flat on the table. That presents a huge problem considering that all the pieces in play — including the bits of terrain — are feather-light plastic. Just touching the board with the tip of a finger can tip things over or move them around. For a game of precise measurements and carefully determined line of sight like Kill Team, that’s unacceptable.
Finally, the paperback rules book is either bound too tightly or the pages have not been given enough bleed room along the inside edge. When fully opened, about a quarter inch of either page gets lost in the binding. That makes deciphering two-page diagrams and appreciating some of the game’s excellent art a hassle.
On the upside, the fluff inside that rule book is fun, especially in the beginning of the document. Pariah Nexus makes the unboxing of the expansion into a kind of narrative tutorial, encouraging you to lay out the bits and admire the scenarios you can depict with them all. But the prose is tortured in places, the passive voice piling up pronouns into languid gridlock. An example, from a sequence depicting a teleportation gone bad: “The blade in his outstretched hand lies buried in a quantum node, and Tessimus submits a swift and silent thanks to the Emperor that it was not also him himself.”
Fluff aside, the first 50 pages of the rule book are where the action is. Pariah Nexus tells the story of a Space Marine assault on a mysterious Necron facility deep underground. It includes new rules for “ultra-close confines,” which do away with some of the complexity of fighting outdoors. The battles fought by owners of this box will be strictly two-dimensional, and Pariah Nexus includes two new battlefields on the double-sided game board.
These two battlefields are the only setting for six new matched-play scenarios and two narrative missions, all of which are excellent. Balance is also a bit of an issue with Pariah Nexus; while the Space Marines are heavily armed and armored, the Necrons are much more fragile. Like a dragon in its lair, the Necrons are fighting on their home turf, so Pariah Nexus presents the battlefield itself as a seventh character for the Necron forces. The gem-encrusted gubbins all over the board are just as good at killing Space Marines as the Necron’s Chronomancer leader (and the deadly Flayed Ones who serve her).
Unfortunately, after simulating a few of the included scenarios, neither of the forces included in the box feels well-rounded for matched play. The Space Marines are extremely overpowered. Necron players especially will need to supplement their forces with additional models.
Narrative play, on the other hand, was a blast. Given that unbalance, I would have personally liked to see the numbers reversed; with six narrative missions and two matched-play scenarios. Your mileage will vary, but overall it would have been nice to just get more options for scenarios included in the box.
The remainder of the Pariah Nexus rules booklet is either reprinted rules from other books, or fresh datasheets for new or existing units. That means you can now use every type of infantry unit from the Space Marine and the Necron range for Kill Team games — including the new Bladeguard veterans and the other excellent units inside Indomitus. That’s great news for collectors and those already invested in the 40K franchise and the Kill Team system in particular.
Quality issues aside, it’s pretty easy to recommend Pariah Nexus, even at full price. Given the cost of Games Workshop models, you’re essentially getting the rules and paper products inside this box for free. But I’d gladly pay a bit more (or do with less green Necron furniture) to see the issues with all the paper goods sorted out. If you’re really put off, but still want all these models, maybe wait a few months for them to go on sale individually.
For fans of the Kill Team franchise, however, it’s just altogether a bit of a disappointment. Having tracked Games Workshop closely since the launch of 9th edition of Warhammer 40,000, I can’t help but feel that the publisher is slowly falling behind the rest of the tabletop industry in terms of the quality of its boxed products. As a stand-alone expansion, Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team Pariah Nexus could be so much more than the sum of its parts.
Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team Pariah Nexus was reviewed with a pre-release copy of the expansion provided by Games Workshop. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.