Paul and I got together earlier this month for a trial game of Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse. We had been interested in trying out this ruleset ahead of our actual Apocalypse game that is coming up this month. In previous years, we’d just played using the regular 40k rules. The new Apocalypse rules have gotten quite a bit of good buzz, and Paul had dipped a toe in with a learning game of his own earlier this year.
The game was 60 Power Level per side — tiny for Apocalypse, but we kept it intentionally small so we could work through the rules. Paul ran his Tyranids and I captained my Night Lords in a savage clash on one of the moons of Cantho in the Erigaea Sub-Sector. Read on for a bit of lore from Paul that accurately encapsulated our battle.
The Last Thoughts of Zad Gryznic
We had nothing, but they came. Searching for the Emperor knows what. Redlands is a mining town, built of scraps and digging deeper. The mountains of earth and metal and forever-poly cover the planet. . . some sort of waste dumping ground for people or xenos during the Long Night. Or something like that. Who the fork knows. What I do know is that the lifters come every week and we load them with scrap we dig out of the mountains. Gotta be something worth the promethium.
Gotta be something else that brought the Night Lords.
They rounded up the townsfolk and flayed them all, one by one. I buried myself so I didn’t have to hear the screams. Didn’t work. I tell myself that they asked questions before flensing my friends alive. But deep down, I think the Lords did it for fun. Or whatever passes for fun for bastards like that. And when they were done, they loosed their machines on the scrap outbound for the next Lifter. Yeah, they were looking for something. I just gotta make it to tonight, I thought. They’ll find what they’re looking for and leave. It’ll get better.
It got worse.
Freaking Tyranid bioforms blot out the greasy sun and turn the sky mud brown and then green. Soon pods are landing and birthing these monsters and the Night Lords are firing in the air even as their slaves keep digging. One Lord is whipping his slave with his left hand while firing his weapon at a descending pod.
There’s so much noise, and I can taste poison on the air. It’s coming from the Tyranids. They’ve established a beachhead. A giant mother bug whose belly continuously shreds and bleeds as eggs and terrors rip their way out. She roars and staggers forward, leaving a trail of slime and chitin behind. Soon her children cover the town and are racing towards the Night Lords, frantically whipping their slaves.
But the Lords have their own monsters. A Prince of Night. I can’t look at him without images of Chaos addling my brain. But he has his minions about him too, and the horrors walking as machines. And the tanks adorned with human flesh and skulls. The smoke pouring from its smokestacks is the color of dried blood. Bolters crack and some of the Lords launch themselves into the air, their weapons blazing.
And then the Tyranids charge. So fast. So forking fast. You think you have time to breathe, to look at how the Lords will respond, but the bugs have covered the field in a blink. The ancient cracked behemoth is leading a herd of elephantine tanks with teeth. And they leap onto building, bringing them down on top of Night Lords. No, one of the Lords, another Captain is battling the One Eyed. A Sorcerer is chanting a ritual. I cannot bear to listen. . . the horns of the Carnifex trumpet their rage. I can taste blood and poison — the poison in the air has made my eyes bleed. Bloody tears in my mouth. It’s nearly over. The Carnifex have destroyed the Lords near the tower, and only the Sorcerer remains. He’s looking at the other half of the battlefield.
A raging shriek of torn metal and dying Tyranids fills every sense. A whirlwind of bone swords is hacking into a Tank, while demons and Captains bring down the Mother. Raptors fly through air green with poison, raining their bolters down on a battlefield meters deep in blood and chitin. Body parts and metal fly into the air, catching fire or melting with acid, only to rain down on the battlefield before flying up again.
It’s too much for the Night Lords, but they do not seem displeased. I see a slave raise something from the trashheap he’s working. He goes down, cut in twain, but his Lord holds it in his fist, even as his brethren fall about him. The metal airships are coming for the remaining Night Lords, winged steel eagles trailing catch ropes knotted with femurs and feet. The Night Lords evacuate. They have paid an enormous price for a piece of metal lain buried for 20 millennia. I curse them and wish the Tyranids good aim as they pour bio fire into the retreating aircraft.
I have no time to smile. More pods of Tyranids are raining down, the earth shaking. The scrap heap in which I’m hiding shifts and my legs are pinned under metal. I can’t reach my weapon. I need to end my life quickly and painlessly. But it’s out of reach. A monster hears my frantic breathing. He’s coming. My eyes give up their integrity to the poison in the air and I can feel the warmth of them pour down my face. Trapped and blind I wait. Now? Now? Now?
Well there you have it! The Night Lords were driven off, but not before they took plenty of Tyranid trophies, plus a relic of unspeakable power that will probably turn up in our grand finale next weekend.
Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse was a surprisingly satisfying game. I had expected more complexity layered on top of something close to the existing 40k ruleset, but what I found instead was a well written “mass battle” game that sacrified granularity in the name of fast gameplay and big units. The game gives a decent sense of strategic command and control; you really feel like you’re in command of a battalion or company sized detachment. Details such as wargear and individual models’ equipment was abstracted to the point where most infantry squads had rather generic combat stats — melee attacks for Raptors, and a few ranged options for battle tanks. Infantry units are mounted on movement trays for easy movement (and removal, as they typically die like ants). I found this refreshing, as it meant I didn’t have to track the performance of individual models.
Instead, we could focus on the overall ebb and flow of the game. Where did I need to commit my reserves? Could I hold the flank and counter-charge with the survivors? (The answer to this last question was a resounding NO, as Paul’s Tyranids used their fearsome speed to overwhelm the Night Lords before they could strike a decisive blow.)
The game’s command card system adds another layer of strategy, too. I have grown wary wargames that try to add a deckbuilding component, as I find the mashup aesthetically uncomfortable most of the time. It works in Apocalypse, though, because they’re not core to the game’s mechanics. You can play an entire game of Apocalypse without using a single card, and not suffer too badly as a result. The cards add a fun strategic element, but they’re not essential, which is a nice touch.
We use Power Level for our games of 40k, and we used it for this Apocalypse game, too. I found the Power Levels of our armies to be roughly approximate in both 40k and Apocalypse — that is, 60 Power Level bought roughly the same units, in the same quantities, in Warhammer 40k as it did in Apocalypse. The difference was that Apocalypse speeds up gameplay to the point where a 60 Power Level game barely took us 2 hours to play out. Again, that’s a feature, not a bug.
By the end of the game (which Paul generously described as a tactical retreat by the Night Lords in the face of an overwhelming Tyranid assault), I could easily see how we could accomplish a large game (200+ Power Level per side) without much hassle. Tune in later this month to see how it all turns out in our annual Apoc-Luck game! We’ll have food, a day of gaming, plus our club’s first-ever Secret Santa gift exchange!