Iron Star Alliance: Faction Overview & first buys

Faction Overview

ISA is the galactic empire of humans in The Thousand Worlds. It grew from the ashes of once great empires before and its planning to go the distance the way the others didn’t. The single philosophy of ISA is that humanity must be united under its banner to survive, and promises terrible consequences to those it cannot convince or connive to join. It bases its success on Trade, resource extraction and the strength of its legions of Paladin infantry. ISA technology, magic, and strategy are standardised to keep it’s huge elite forces as cheap as possible: it prioritises consistency over excellence, and discipline over wild heroism or cunning. The predictability means that troops, warjacks and warcasters can act in perfect unison: knowing when each will do their part in battle.

On the table, ISA troops are among the best of the human factions, fitting in as all rounders with good melee, range, and among the best survivability. This leaves them as a flexible faction, with answers to any situation. ISA Warjacks are solid: the weapons are simple and utilitarian, but give a lot of flexibility. The key is the ability to take shields, and use multiples if you need: Don’t expect flashy continuous effects, but expect the warjacks to take a pounding and be ready to retaliate. Supporting the warjacks: the ISA Weaver can charge them to full arc with a spike: giving access to the ‘Arcane Synthesis’ effect during his activation.

Key to faction identity is the ability to spawn extra gates to flood the board with troops early. Morningstar with Gate Crasher and the Eschatonic Well cypher both give this option. Once you have 3 arc gate, you can deploy that turn: a good option is a firebrand and a solo to give you a pair that can activate next turn. If the solo is an Automech you can remove activation from the Morningstar and Gate Launch again next turn. A spicy choice from a gate is to put it near an enemy and summon 2 mantlets to surround them, stopping them from moving until they destroy them. Adding to this feeling of overwhelming the enemy, null weapons are the signature of the faction, letting you target enemy gates to reduce their own reinforcements.

The ability to redirect or retaliate against hits is also widespread in faction: letting you choose who takes the blow when defending an objective or keeping supporting models alive. Morningstar with Defender cortex is particularly good: spiking to take a hit (from melee or range), shrug it off his shield(s), then spike again to retaliate with its main gun. Note the retaliation does not need to be at the target that shot you: so can threaten to shoot a model holding an objective, or using immolator to set fire to the next model to attack. The mere threat of this could stop an enemy from attacking anything within 5” if they have only a single solo on an objective. Other models with abilities to move hits around are Paladin Defenders, and Voss can ignore hits. Models that can move after taking a hit include Firebrand and Interceptor.

The fun comes from always having an out, always having more troops to shove onto the board no matter how many your opponents kill and, unlike most games, those troops actually being good models who will really do damage if your opponent fails to deal with them. 

There is only war

Example Warjack Loadouts

Old Reliable

Firebrand with Reflex Cortex, Shield, Assault Rifle & Bayonet, Maelstrom

(requires both A & B weapon pack. You could substitute with just Firebrand A box if you ignore the cortex and swap Maelstrom for Null or Harbinger, or get the Maelstrom from a Morningstar B kit)

This is the typical Firebrand you will see in an ISA list, and probably even multiples. Reflex allows it to move 3” after being targeted, the shield is essential to make it survive the attack. Assault rifle & Bayonet is a really good 1pt option: giving 2 attacks to make the most out of putting arc on the jack. Maelstrom is an amazing 2pt weapon: giving more defense against ballistics, and a pow 4 spray attack.

Gates of Hell: Cerberus class Morningstar

Morningstar with Defender Cortex, 2x Assault Shields, Gate Launcher, Immolator

(Requires 2 A and 1 B weapon pack: only way to reduce would be to swap the 2nd shield to eliminate 1x A pack)

This would often be deployed first, to start using gate launcher turn 1. As it advances, the goal is to claim ground early and keep the stream of reinforcements coming, to overwhelm objectives before your opponent gets going. Later in game, it can sit on an objective and just stand there surviving, ready to open the gate again if necessary, or take hits with defender and protect other vital targets. 

ISA Starter Box: Commander (top left), Weaver (top middle), Firebrand Warjack (top Right), and Enforcer squad (bottom row)

Recommended first lists

Skirmish List (8 units, plus 1 hero)

  • 2x Paladin Weaver
  • 1x Paladin Commander
  • “Old Faithful” Firebrand ꞏ Reflex Cortex, Maelstrom, Assault Rifle & Bayonet, Repulsor Shield
  • “Old Faithful” Firebrand ꞏ Reflex Cortex, Maelstrom, Assault Rifle & Bayonet, Repulsor Shield
  • “Gates of Hell” Morningstar ꞏ Defender, Gate Crasher, Immolator, Assault Shield, Assault Shield
  • 1x Paladin Enforcers
  • 1x Paladin Annihilators
  • 1x Major Aysa Drayce (“free” hero choice)
  • 1x Paladin Aegis (“free” squad attachment)

Built around the starter box, this is a great way to start: with cypher deck, rules, tokens, and a Commander, Weaver, Firebrand (A) and Enforcer squad. From there, you can add

  • a variant weaver (to get a different sculpt): these are needed to cast ‘fury’ cards: hugely powerful attacks. They can also fully charge your warjacks quickly
  • another Firebrand (You can get sculpt B, although this comes with B weapons, and the A weapon pack has more useful shields and assault rifles),
  • the all important Morningstar (you will need weapons packs here: shields are in A, and gate launcher B), and
  • Paladin Annihlators: Who work great with Reiteration complex cypher: giving a huge number of shots which respond well to other buffs
  • Now is also a good time to buy a Paladin Aegis attachment, who can be included when any Paladin squad is summoned, and when charged gives cover to his squad. He comes with a good gun that can slam too – he pairs really well with Annihlators giving them extra attacks when Charged and under Reiteration Complex: maximising the 1 squad firing line, though in a pinch does well with Enforcers too.

Major Drayce is the first hero: mainly chosen for her support spike ability with 3 great effects.

  • “Battle Matrix” gives friendly models within 10″ +1 power dice on attacks, which is the only ability like it in the game and can really pump up the power of the paladins: especially annihlators.
  • Field Promotion is good: letting you replace a squad trooper with a solo, and while we don’t have any big solos yet (see Siegebreaker & Reeves in next expansion), it can be good if you need a weaver somewhere now.
  • Arc exchange is an efficiency ability: letting you leave her empty, give her a token arc in activation then spike it off to use her abilities (after making an attack of course – why not).
  • Like all heroes, she will die if you don’t protect her, and she is more fragile than a lot of them with only 3def / 3arm. Either keep her back or near the morningstar, make your opponents have to work to take her down so they are not putting effort into their objectives. She is useful, but the list can fight on without her, so if she dies “c’est la vie”.

Modified Skirmish List (11 Units, plus 2 heroes)

  • Remove Paladin Commander
  • 1x Siegebreaker
  • 1x Regulator Reeve
  • 1x Regulators
  • 1x Tracers
  • 1x Headsman (“free” cadre champion)
  • 1x Axel for Hire (“free” hero choice)

Most of this addition comes from the Regulators Cadre: a secretive group of witch hunters dedicated to investigating magic in their realms.

  • Tracers are a mobile flying squad of drones: key is spd 8, and a pow 4 gun that can spike into a spray or ignore cover with a charge.
  • Reeves is mat 5, flinging fire at his enemies even as he removes arc from them, and is a weaver to boot. To top it off, his armour is on the chonky end of the scale.
  • Regulators are a solid multi-wound unit with giant null hammers: on the table I have heard complaints they can struggle to get around, but rule of cool they are great, and are necessary to unlock…
  • The Headsman is the “Champion”: who is a free choice that can only be taken if the rest of the cadre is in the list. Read his gun, that is the most destructive weapon in the game, with POW6, rng12, spray, strafe, ignoring Line of Sight for warriors, and can spike to give enemies -1arm. Being a warjack he comes with “heavy” level stats and can be charged with 3 arc, multiplying the destruction even more.
  • Rounding out the additions, the Paladin Siegebreaker is not from the cadre, but a solid choice with a chunky statline and huge array of weapons., while Axel is a suggested wildcard hero: a sniper robot with a one shot, one kill rifle.
Regulator Cadre forms most of the “Modified Skirmish” list additions

Full Battle Force List (15 Units, plus 3 heroes)

  • 1x Paladin Siegebreaker
  • 1x Paladin Annihilators
  • 1x Automech
  • Interceptor – Tempest Cannon
  • 1x Doctor Myra Hurst (3rd “Free” hero choice)

If you’ve played Modified size a bit, you can get some experience and decide what you want next. the 11 unit list above already includes most of the key pieces, you can get duplicates of most of that, or splash out for different models. This suggestion gets more squads: since in most Full Size scenarios only squads can score.

Automech is a useful piece who you could get in smaller games to try: both jump start (remove activation from warjack) and repair are useful warjack support. If you lean into your Morningstars, he can keep them moving. You could even get a second morningstar to carry more guns, instead this list brings an Interceptor vehicle: fast and manouvrable, although he cannot use cover and can be surprisingly frail. But jet bikes have got to be a good time.

Myra Hurst is an Alliance doctor known to drift… treacherously close… to Empyrean space (ISA / Empyrean wildcard). Her main abilities are Arc Amplifier which lets any unit in 10″ gain 1 arc if it has none when it activates, and Psycho Relay which give you an extra cypher card in your hand. Like Drayce, she is on the squishier end of heroes and is mostly about efficient support, so keep her away from anything too dangerous and make your opponent pay if they do harm her.

First Cypher Deck

  • Fury (3)
      – Instability Equation
      – Velocity Projector
      – Volition Anchor
  • Geometric (3)
      – Displacement Index
      – Reiteration Complex
      – Tachytelic Metamorphosis
  • Harmonic (4)
      – Aggression Theorem
      – Arcane Synthesis
      – Encrypted Command
      – Eschatonic Well
  • Overdrive (3)
      – Ascension Catalyst
      – Devastation Optimizer
      – Impulse Inducer

This is a recommendation to start out with and tweak, for more information a full cypher article is coming. Feel free to tweak if you want to try a different card, but this suggestion should give a good starting point.

Unique ISA cyphers used are Volition Anchor and Tachytelic Metamorphosis: both of which lean into buffing your troops. Finally, Eschatonic Well is another chance to launch an extra gate onto the board.

Remember Eschatonic Well is removed after being cast: this has the side effect of reducing your deck size, letting you cycle through other high value cards faster.

Additional Resources – Podcast focussed on ISA list building and tactics

Rules for all models are available free here: or in the back of the excellent “Thousand Worlds Sourcebook”: which includes rulebook, scenarios, rules for all models released to date, and a huge amount of lore for Warcaster.

Privateer press faction overview: lore, strategies and list building (note timing was before the release of Cadres, so slightly out of date)

If you want more or have any questions, feel free to ask in the ISA channel of the Warcaster Discord

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