Warhammer 40k Apocalypse – A Review

warhammer 40000 logoSo the time has come for me to cast my eye over the supplement that has had both sides of the community foaming at the mouth but for very different reasons. I of course can only mean the second iteration of the 40k supplement: Apocalypse.

It’s an aptly named book because it’s fooking huge. And were you to drop it on any gaming board containing any models at all – especially those of a resin persuasion – much mayhem and destruction would ensue. Not to mention what your opponent would do to you.

ApocBookSo what’s all the fuss about? Well it takes 40k and tries to turn it into Epic. As I say, there are those that get hot and hard at the merest mention of 9,000+ points of aside of 40k. There are others who roll their eyes and think back to the old days when epic battles were fought with tiny wee space marines and titans a bit smaller than 40k dreadnoughts. I fall somewhere in the middle of these two groups. So I suppose that would mean I have a semi…

I fall in the middle because I have two companies of Ultramarines. The 1st and 5th. The former rocks in at about 6,500 points, the latter about 3,000. Or there abouts. That’s a lot of blue blokes. At least they would be if they were painted. But anyway, it does mean that I rarely get to use all my toys at once. Apocalypse, despite being a bit mental, does make that a bit easier.

Now let’s clear two things up. The first is the book is beautifully presented. Lots of gorgeous artwork. Lots of fold outs. There is however 30 pages of photos. Thirty. Now I’m all for a showcase but they could have made the book twenty pages thinner and knocked a fiver off the price. The second issue is to address the elephant in the room dressed in the suit made of money, there is a case to be made that Apocalypse exists purely to sell shit loads of toys but you know what? I don’t think the Games Workshop’s motives are entirely sinister. I think this for the following reasons: 1. It’s fun to have shit loads of toys. 2. It’s fun to use shit loads or toys. 3. It’s fun to roll shit loads of dice whilst using shit loads of toys and 4. the book brings more to the table than just taking massive formations of stuff.

What makes Apocalypse interesting is that, at its heart, its driving force is to make Warhammer 40,000 as close to the novels as is possible to do within the existing mechanic. For a start there are various tables that juice your heroes to legendary levels. The Sons of the Primarch table is ace. And it makes me immeasurably glad I collect Ultramarines because there’s is awesome. Not that any of them are to be sniffed at. Space Wolves players get to double the strength of their character in an assault. I mean really? Chuck in the right weapon combo and that is one choppy bastard.

Equally the strategic asset cards add a nice flavour to the game which can easily be migrated across to standard games of 40k. As can the formation special rules from most, if not all, of the formation profiles in the book. With the emphasis on flavour, the special rules do add a characterful something extra rather than charging a additional points for something you were going to take in the first place as seemed to be the case with the first book.

Obviously you also get the added bonus of rules for super heavy tanks, super heavy flyers (including the Thunderhawk Gunship – huzzah!) and Titans. Now although the likelihood of you taking a Titan in anything other than an Apocalypse style game the fact that the rules are now available to me is rather nice to know.

And I think that’s this book’s greatest asset: it gives you a lot of cool stuff, like the character boots, the profile for all the big kits, the strategic assets and the like and lets you have fun with them. I’d happily adopt the formation rules in my standard games of 40k. I think it’d also be fun using the Sons of the Primarch and Exemplar tables. But I’m a Space Marine player, so I would. Especially as it does feel like Space Marines on both sides of the divide do rather well on the cool rules front.

A really nice touch is, aside from the usual scenario chuff, narrative campaigns around the third war for Armageddon. It’s got lots of lovely fluff, specific scenarios as well as formation cards specific to the factions that were there. It was this addition that convinced me that maybe, just maybe, the writers were trying to make Apocalypse like Epic and this was a small tribute to its origins.

So it’s all rosy then? Well…not quite. Apocalypse is still played using the 40k mechanic. Nothing strips anything down or speeds anything up. So instead of moving 60 blokes around a board you’re moving 215 blokes around the board. And that means you’re also rolling nearly four times as many dice. All of which takes time. The book doesn’t make any bones about how long it’ll take to play, which it suggests will be a full day. In response to this issue the writers came up with the simple, if inelegant, solution of just blowing massive holes in everything. Templates are bigger as are many of the weapons.

The object of the exercise can rather seem like whoever gets the first turn wins as, providing you’ve taken the biggest of the big toys you can afford, you get to unleash hell upon your opponent first and wipe out entire sections of the board. In a turn. No matter how many blokes you started with no one can lose a significant part of their force and keep fighting the good fight.

And this is the part of the book that certain people struggle with. They’ve made a lot of models with the Destroyer special rule (which may as well be changed to Death Ray) which inflicts untold misery and harm. But just to really speed things along, they’ve introduced unnatural disasters. Now, I’m not saying that they serve no purpose. I am saying that I think that there is an element of speeding up a game that would take forever by blowing up huge swathes of the board as quickly possible. That’s not to say that they don’t add flavour to the game, I’m just not sure if you’d like the taste.

The affect of all this wanton carnage is that you can very quickly find yourself playing a standard game of 40k with the odd super heavy chucked in for good measure. At least that would be the case for me and The Chaps and, I dare say, most gamers out there. Apocalypse is designed for huge games. So take whatever points value you were thinking of and double it. Then possibly double it again. Looking at the size of the templates and option to take, and the overwhelming urge to buy, the biggest baddest war machines going, this really is Epic, 40k style. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a bit of a mind fuck.

Arguably to get the best out of Apocalypse you need either one of the following:

1. Lots of toys to us against a mate with an equally vast collection.

2. Lots of mates with reasonable numbers of toys.

The latter is more likely. But then we’re into the murky waters of justifying why Tau would be fighting alongside Tyranids or Chaos with Imperial Guard. But, as Apocalypse is, quite literally, Epic 40k let’s take a leaf out of the grand an honourable Epic Space Marine. Which is to not give a shit. I lost count of the number of games I played when arrayed against my Space Marine Legions were Chaos, Guard & Orks. It just didn’t matter because it was all about the scale and the ambition. Apocalypse is exactly the same. It’ s about fun. It’s about grand tales, epic sagas and legend forging battles.

Everything about it screams ‘yes we know it’s a bit daft but, who cares, look at all the toys!’. And that’s fine with me. It’s not for everyone. Some gamers won’t have the desire to play big games. Or the time. Or, arguably, the money. But the great thing about the book is that it gives the core rules some nice optional extras, and most importantly puts the narrative and the spectacle of war in the 41st millennium firmly in the driving seat. Yes you might end up spending loads of money and yes you may only play Apocalypse a handful of times but that’s true of any gamer who plays multiple systems. And if we really worried about the money we wouldn’t be in the hobby, let alone playing Games Workshop games.

Apocalypse is all about what we as gamers choose to take away from it. There’s no shortage of coolness in there to jazz up standard games, or to make standard games bigger. And with a little organising an ‘epic’ sized game of Apocalypse is well within reach. Certainly if you attend a games club with any regularity.

I’m still not sold on the power of some of the unnatural disasters. They’re just a bit too mental and feel like they’re designed out of lunacy rather than because they work. That said, who doesn’t want a zombie uprising mid game? But Apocalypse is a book that you can take from rather than use verbatim. Leaving them out or toning them down won’t have a detrimental effect and quite possibly make it a bit more appealing. Some of the weapons and the sizes of the templates, too, bother me as most games could be won by fielding two Shadowswords. Because they’re mental. But with all things in balance, if you’re fielding two Shadowswords, your opponent will be fielding something that can stomp on them.

I began reading Apocalypse almost determined to dislike it and write it off as little more than a money making exercise by the Games Workshop. Although I can’t deny they will no doubt do very well from it, I do feel that this book is about fun first and foremost. It’s that teenager in all of us that just wants to get all the toys out and have a big scrap. And its a thin but tangible link Epic and all it did for the Games Workshop hobby. And for that reason alone I’m happy to dust off my Ultramarines, buy a super heavy, slap some blue paint on the lot and challenge all to a battle for the fate of the world.

Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse is available from Firestorm Games priced £40.50.

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