Last weekend Paul and I got together for a highly anticipated game that included a number of “firsts” for us, specifically:
- The first game played at Paul’s house, using his fantastically colorful subterranean cavern terrain.
- My first proper gamer of Warhammer 40,000 since my son was born in January.
- My first time trying out my new Google Pixel 2 camera for a battle report. (I have been very pleased with the quality of the camera so far.)
- And our first outing with the (somewhat) new Tyranid codex. (It was published last November but this was our first opportunity to try it out, for reasons that include point #2 above.)
Paul’s tabletop setup was both beautiful and visually stunning, as you’ll see in these photos. It was also a reminder that so many games of 40k take place on drab gray battlefields. Nothing wrong with that, but it makes colorful setups like this look extra special.
This game was set in our Caluphel Prime campaign setting — specifically, the as-yet-unexplored area known as the Hive Terror Spawning Pits, in the southeastern quadrant of the planetary map. Back when we were developing this campaign setting, I knew Paul was planning a Tyranid army, so I dropped an enigmatic location on the map that hinted at what was to come. I’m pleased that we’re now able to give the Spawning Pits a proper tabletop treatment!
We played at 70 Power Level, which allowed Paul to field most of his newly painted Tyranid monsters. I brought probably two-thirds of my Death Guard army to the table. As always, we spent a good 15 minutes before the game complimenting each other on our nicely painted armies and stellar terrain. Truly, this is an amazingly rewarding hobby, and it’s nice to pause and acknowledge that.
For our narrative, we decided that the Death Guard would be exploring the Spawning Pits, searching for the source of a psychic disturbance that had been gathering strength on Caluphel. We used a deck of Open War cards to generate random scenario rules and objectives for this game. Here’s what we came up with.
Hmm…Dead of Night fits perfectly with our subterranean tabletop and its bioluminescent flora. And maybe The Prize is some sort of Tyranid bio-spoor? Yeah, that sounds about right. With that, we were off!
We decided on a lark to use a chess clock for the game. We set it up so that each player had 90 minutes for their turns, for a grand total of 3 hours of playing time. It was good practice for using a chess clock for larger games, like our annual Apocalypse game.
One thing I learned since my first outing with my Death Guard back in December is that they really need to stick together in a big group to make the best use of their many, many overlapping aura effects. In practice, this meant that my best strategy was to form up and start marching forward!
Here’s a look at the Death Guard battle line as the game got going.
On the opposite side of the table, Paul mustered a fearsome array of slavering xenos. Most concerning was his big brood of Genestealers that seemed poised to pounce atop the bio-spoor “Prize” scenario objective.
Bleh, look at all those foul aliens. They must be purged!
Oh, and look, here’s a group of Tyranid warriors lurking in the depths of the cavern, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting (or even suspecting!) Plague Marines.
THEY ARE COMING.
Whew, what a gorgeous tabletop.
As the game got underway, it was clear that I was going to get out-flanked and surrounded quite badly by the more mobile Tyranids. I had been expecting this and was cautiously optimistic about my survival chances — after all, the Death Guard are incredibly tough and hard to kill. Getting swallowed by a chittering swarm of Tyranids is not necessarily the worst thing that could happen.
As luck would have it, I won the first turn and managed to trot my Helbrute up to the bio-spoor objective. The Helbrute was joined a moment later by my 10-man squad of Plague Marines, presenting what I hoped was a fairly solid obstacle for Paul to deal with.
The Plague Marines were supported by a Foul Blightspawn, which is one of several nifty character models released as part of the new Death Guard collection. The Blightspawn in particular proved to be incredibly potent, as he possessed one of the most powerful (and most unreliable) weapons on the battlefield in the form of his gnarly Plague Sprayer. It was great for the entire game, except toward the very end of the game, when it was OUTSTANDING. More on that later.
The Death Guard stomped forward in a slow, inexorable wave. Typhus (leading from the rear in the photo above) and my Malignant Plaguecaster used their psychic powers to buff some key frontline units, but sadly most of their offensive powers weren’t all that effective. Or maybe Paul’s anti-magic rolls were just really good?
The surging, roiling wave of Plague Marines and Poxwalkers weathered some absolutely horrendous firepower from the broods of termagants that harried their flanks. Paul was rolling 90 dice when attacking with some units, which made his new dice-rolling app essential to expediting our turns. These harassing units were kept at full strength by the monstrous Tervigon, which belched out a 10-man squad of termagants each and every turn.
In the photo above, a large unit of Poxwalkers had just finished annihilating one of those 10-man squads of termagants … which, thanks to their Curse of the Walking Pox ability, promptly swelled the ranks of the Poxwalkers by another 10 figures.
In the center of the table, my Helbrute had finally succumbed to a vicious melee involving Tyranid warriors and a Hive Tyrant. That left just a few gore-crusted Plague Marines, along with a handful of pitiful Poxwalkers, to hold the center of the table. As you can see, they were absolutely surrounded, hemmed in on all sides.
Oh, but I had the Foul Blightspawn. His Plague Sprayer finally struck gold for me, bringing down a sneaky Trygon as it burst from the ground in ambush. OUTSTANDING. (But not before its scything talons brought down my poor Malignant Plaguecaster, though.)
Anyway, it was a pyrrhic victory. While my Poxwalkers were chasing down the Tervigon, Paul’s few surviving Genestealers were sprinting across the battlefield with the bio-spoor objective, keeping it safely out of sight and out of range as we closed in on our turn limit.
Here’s the Tervigon, hissing in rage as a virtual wall of plague-ridden zombies close in on it. In the foreground, my other Plague Marine squad (newly painted, too!) was still fresh and untouched even as the game entered its final turns.
So Paul won the scenario even though I did my very best to kill his newly painted models with prejudice. From a narrative standpoint, the Death Guard turned the spawning pits into a charnel house once they realized the bio-spoor was beyond their grasp. Hence the savage butchery and take-no-quarter fighting in the eerie caverns.
Typhus was defeated, but once the Herald of the Plague God has a scent, he’s not likely to give up easily. The Spawning Pits beckon, and I foresee a rematch between the Death Guard and Tyranids in the not-too-distant future. For now, the Death Guard are content to lick their wounds and slink back to their fortifications at the Treyarch Defensive Salient (another campaign location that the Death Guard wrested from the Imperials in a previous game).
Paul and I agreed that this was one of our best games of 40k yet. The battlefield and terrain were absolutely top notch — the perfect venue for two beautifully painted armies to clash over.
For me, at least, the Death Guard finally “clicked” in terms of strategy and tactics. I still made plenty of mistakes and forgot a lot of details, but the play style of the army seemed to resonate with me. I never thought I’d say it, but I think the Death Guard might be emerging as my preferred Chaos Space Marine army — much to the horror of my beloved Night Lords.
I’ve got plenty more Plague Marines to paint up (virtually all the old school vintage metal guys) plus a batch of Blightlord Terminators and a few more special characters. So look for more battle reports in the future as I get these new toys ready for the tabletop!