Sunday, October 7, 2007

REVIEW: Apocalypse

I'll get this out of the way first; I've re-posted another Chaos Space Marine battle report here.

On to the review.

Apocalypse is a 200 page expansion book for Warhammer 40,000 which lets players fight cataclysmic battles using their whole model collections, as well as super-heavy vehicles and titans.

The book is split into six main sections along with three massive battle reports.

Part one explains what Apocalypse is all about. Jervis Johnson outlines the philosophy behind these larger games. They are not ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs games, but sociable get togethers where players can use all their models, even the dusty ones that have languished on the shelf because they 'don't make their points back.'

The Apocalypse mission is described in depth - normal 40k missions aren't used. This is because a standard deployment zone wouldn't hold a 6000 point army, for example. A neat innovation is the bidding method for deployment. Each side bids up to 30 minutes, with the lowest bidder setting up first but automatically taking first turn. They only have the number of minutes to set up that they bid, with undeployed models going into reserve. This will hopefully encourage players to set up quick and loose rather than slow and methodical, so that everyone can get on with the game. Having played a few mega-battles before and endured two hour deployments followed by an hour-long game I think this is a very good idea.

Reserves are dealt with differently, too. They are called strategic reserves and half of them (chosen by the player) enter on turn two while the remainder arrive on turn three. This ensures that all units will reach the battlefield with enough time to contribute to the battle.

Thank the Emperor that victory points aren't used to determine the winner! Imagine trying to add up the victory points for 20,000 point armies. Instead, half a dozen objectives are placed on the board and the victor is the player who captures the most objectives. This will encourage gung-ho play, I reckon, rather than players hanging back with troops to preserve victory points.

The second part of the expansion book concerns organising a battle. It's only four pages long but gives important, practical advice on how to run an Apocalypse game. Games Workshop staff would do worse than read this bit of the book, because I've had nightmares with previous mega-battles!

Armies and battlefields are covered in the third section. This is the 'thinnest' but prettiest part of the book. It has lots of photos of big armies; artillery companies, a horde of Orks, a phalanx of Necrons and lots of players own armies which they have expanded for Apocalypse. Vehicles are looked at in particular, with their markings examined as well as super-heavies and scratch built variants. Tables and terrain get some love too.

It was right about here that I realised that Apocalypse was essentially the first 40k coffee table book. It is in a suitably large format which makes the colour photographs all the more impressive and is the sort of book you could leave lying around and just pick up and leaf through for a spare five minutes. It's probably the best book you could show to someone who does not 'get' the Games Workshop hobby and make them understand why the games are fun to play. The three battle reports are even more glossy as they come in fold-out format, meaning the pages fold out to show an in-game photograph across four pages. They are truly impressive, especially the Exterminatus battle at 40,000 points! The scale of the game is truly staggering. If you don't have a big goofy grin on your face while reading these battle reports then you must have a geeky heart of stone.

Part four introduces the only new rules to the game. Games Workshop have long since decided that expansions won't alter the core mechanics of 40k, so these rules only add what is required; rules for gargantuan creatures such as Ork Squiggoths, rules for super-heavy vehicles like the Baneblade, rules for flyers and new weapon rules. The weapon rules are the most fun to read for their sheer destructive power. The blast markers are gigantic (10", 7" a 4x5" barrage template and a 16.5" flamer template) and there are special rules for destroyer weapons, which always inflict penetrating hits on vehicles and cause instant death on living creatures regardless of toughness.

The datasheets are explored in the largest chapter, chapter five. There are two variants; legendary units (which describe super-heavy tanks, titans, flyers and other stuff you wouldn't find in a regular codex) and battle formations (organisations of units beyond the scope of a normal 40k game such as an Imperial Guard artillery company - 9 basilisks!).

Each 40k faction, other than Daemonhunters and Witch hunters, gets it's own selection of datasheets. The best part of this section, and something I wasn't expecting at all, was the explanation of the higher level organisation of each faction. One of the best is the genesis of an Ork Waaagh which ingeniously combines numbers of Orks with planets conquered and timescale in one diagram. Entirely new background material is outlined in the Necron pages, while a whole expeditionary force is described in the Tau section. I know I'll be plundering this for my Skolarii Sector background.

Games Workshop promises to create more datasheets in the future and post them on their website and publish them in White Dwarf.

The sixth and last section covers strategic assets. They work a little like strategems in Cities of Death, representing tactical assets (such as the vortex grenade), battlefield assets (like minefields), front line assets (shield generators and the like) and support assets (such as anti-plant barrages). Players always begin with one asset each and then the side with the least number of points gets bonus assets. Some of the datasheets for battle formations give you more strategic assets; fielding an entire space marine battle company(!) gives you three, for example. Many of them seem unbalanced upon first reading them, but in the context of the wholesale carnage on the tabletop anyway, perhaps they are just fine. Anyway, they should provide some memorable moments during the game, which seems to be what Apocalypse is all about.

I was suitably impressed by this book. I know that a lot of people have taken Apocalypse to be a cynical marketing ploy by Games Workshop to sell more models, to pull new gamers into the hobby with the spectacle or see it as a diversion from producing more 'competitive' codexes, but I don't buy it.

Of course Games Workshop want to sell more models; they are a business, and that's what business' do, they sell product. If Apocalypse sells well that will benefit the company and will allow them to invest in other areas which will benefit all gamers.

I don't see it as a game for 'newbies' either. I see it as a game for veterans who don't concentrate solely on competitive play and who have already collected several armies but rarely get to play them. I don't have to spend anything on models to get use out of this expansion.

Some people have moaned that models such as the new plastic Baneblade are a con because they cost so much (£60) and you won't be able to play them in every game. Sure, you won't play them week in week out in 1500 point pick up games, but they don't represent the whole hobby. What's wrong with writing your own scenarios to include the Baneblade in smaller games? Can't someone buy the Baneblade just to model and paint it? Not everyone plays only tournament games. At the very least Apocalypse gives players a framework in order to play multi-player battles.

Apocalypse has really whetted my appetite after a break from 40k and it has made me pull out all my models and write up Apocalypse lists for them. I'm looking forward to playing some really spectacular games in the future.

My final score for Apocalypse is 9/10.


All of my reviews end in a score out of ten for the product. The table below explains what that score means.

  • 10/10 Perfect, absolutely nothing better
  • 9/10 Excellent, highly recommended
  • 8/10 Very good, recommended
  • 7/10 Good
  • 6/10 Above average, some problems
  • 5/10 Average, some good points some bad points
  • 4/10 Below average, some redeeming features
  • 3/10 Poor, major flaws
  • 2/10 Very poor, avoid if possible
  • 1/10 Absolutely appalling

No comments:

Post a Comment