Like creeping behemoths, the armies converged on the Forgotten Reach. Eldritch in nature, unfathomable in scope, the bizarre realm was in truth a vast webway underpinning the entirety of the Caluphel Sector. Dubbed the Forgotten Reach, the webway appeared to be a cyclopean megastructure that existed beneath the physical realm in the Caluphel Sector. Its purpose and origin was shrouded in mystery.
After years fighting across the myriad worlds of the sector, the enemies of the Imperium — slavering Tyranids beyond number, and foul raiding parties of Heretic Astartes — felt themselves being summoned into the Forgotten Reach by an inscrutable, unknowable force. To oppose them, the Imperium mustered a desperate defense consisting of the Salamanders Astartes chapter alongside the massed ranks of the Juventius Provisional Imperial Authority and the mighty 42nd Auxiliary Armored Fist Relief Battalion.
Descending into the Forgotten Reach, the defenders met the attackers amid the wreckage of an ancient starship, near a mysterious ziggurat that pulsed with psychic power. As war machines roared and bio-titans shrieked, the two sides clashed in an epic battle for the very fate of the sector.
OK, let’s get to it! The club gathered for our annual Apoc-Luck event earlier this month. As in years past, we rented out a local community center and set up a gigantic mega-battle to serve as the capstone to our 40k narrative campaign. This particular battle was masterminded by Alex, who developed the Forgotten Reach storyline over the course of the summer. The idea is that Malice, the renegade Chaos god who was inadvertently freed from his planet-sized prison at the conclusion of last year’s campaign, was now striving to break out of the Caluphel Sector itself by destroying the webway underpinning the sector.
I’ve structured this as a two-part battle report, with the first half focusing on the setup and opening turns, and the second part dealing with the endgame and a fun little Secret Santa mini swap. Click here to read Part Two!
Anyway, the armies should look fairly familiar if you’ve followed any of our games. Paul commanded a vast horde of Tyranids from Hive Fleet Tiamat, with some new and exciting additions that he painted up over the summer.
We called her “Big Bird.”
Allied with him were two Heretic Astartes players: Mark, commanding a small detachment of Alpha Legion backed up by a Chaos Knight and some Traitor Guard, and me, fielding (for the first time ever) the entirety of my modest Night Lords army. I have been adding quite a few new and nifty units to my Night Lords army over the last few months, so I was excited to get them onto the table.
On the other side of the table, Jim arrived with the full force of his Imperial Guard motorized battalion, anchored by a gnarly Baneblade and fearsome Knight. Gun barrels, sponsons, and armor, oh my!
John mustered a contingent of the Imperium’s finest, including a full complement of his newly painted Tempestus Scions, which played a crucial role in the latter half of the game. He also slammed down some new tanks and regular squads. Truly, it was a display of might fit for the Emperor. Extra corpse rations for everyone!
Lastly, Alex’s Salamanders took to the field and occupied a fortified strongpoint on the right flank of the battle, where they stayed pretty much the entire game, despite our earnest efforts to pry them out with a crowbar made of Tyranid claws.
Oh, and he also had a vicious Thunderhawk gunship, wonderfully assembled and painted by Jim, to win the air war. Read on to see how the battle in the skies played out…
We were joined at the beginning of the game by Vince and Lawrence, both of whom took part in dinner and our Secret Santa mini swap (more on that in the next post!). They had to leave before the actual Apocalypse game started, though. We kept them apprised of our progress throughout the evening via our Slack channel.
Alex set up six objective markers on the battlefield. We would score each objective marker at the end of each turn, which meant that there were 6 points per turn to potentially secure. Lastly, the side with the most HQ units on the ziggurat in the center of the battlefield could achieve a special narrative victory at the end of the game.
And now, a note about the rules. We were playing actual Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse, using the new boxed set that came out earlier this year. I have to say, it’s a fantastic ruleset for playing games at this scale. The game deliberately abstracts a lot of the more fiddly elements that slow down games of regular 40k. For example, most infantry squads have just 1 or 2 weapon descriptions that represent all of the offensive firepower they can produce. Likewise, most squads have just 1 wound, which means you remove entire squads as casualties (rather than individual models). Even big models like battle tanks and dreadnoughts rarely have more than 3 wounds.
All actions are taken at the detachment level (this is a mixed force that is about the size of a small 40k army). So the entire detachment fires, or charges, or retreats, rather than individual squads or vehicles.
This is abstract, yes, but it’s easy to get into the flow of the game. Once you accept the abstraction that is required to get all of your cool models onto the table, the game actually gives a decent sense of command and control. You feel like a warmaster, not just a battlefield general. Movement trays helped immensely with this task. For our game, we had roughly 500 Power Level per side … a modest sized game for Apocalypse, but more than sufficient for the six of us.
The game started with the Imperium defenders advancing carefully from behind their prepared positions, probing the xenos lines and exchanging ranging volleys with the Heretic Astartes elements. Behind them, armored APCs of the Imperial Guard rumbled into position as mobile reserves.
Elsewhere the Salamanders hunkered down in their improvised fortifications, unleashing devastating firepower on the Tyranids and Tzeentch-aligned Astartes advancing up the table at them.
Mark’s Alpha Legion guys were a joy to see on the tabletop — a real riot of color with plenty of old-school inspired Chaos conversions. They got into a pretty good scrap with both the Salamanders and a small contingent of Raven Guard that had been deployed as infiltrators.
The single largest army in this game was absolutely Paul’s Tyranid swarm. He’s put a lot of effort into this army over the last few years, and the results are outstanding. They’re beautiful and deadly and they surged out of their deployment zone with shocking speed. Woe to the Imperial defenders who thought they might get another turn to pour on the firepower!
I couldn’t resist posting a photo of the perfectly themed craft brew I picked out to commemorate our annual mega-battle. Apocalypse IPA!
Over on the right flank, the Night Lords secured their objectives early on, but they did so in the face of fearsome firepower. Jim and John sent their mobile reserve surging forward to strike back and knock the Night Lords off the objectives before they could rack up too many points. I returned fire as best I could, but it appeared that the skirmish on the right flank would be settled in a close quarters melee duel.
The photo above also shows a tremendous terrain set that Paul created specially for this game. It’s a 3D-printed crashed Imperial spaceship, and it’s just awesome. You can see the “nose” of the craft toward the center of the table, with a little curl of fire coming out of it. The bulkheads are in the midground and the shattered engine components are in the foreground. It’s a stunning centerpiece and we were lucky to play on it.
Apocalypse includes a unique and wonderful method of handling damage. As you might expect, big battles feature terrible firepower and nonstop casualties. And players of the current edition of Warhammer 40k will tell you how un-fun it is to see half (or all!) of your army wiped off the table before you’ve had a chance to respond. Apocalypse deals with this by placing damage markers of varying sizes next to models as they receive hits, then those markers are resolved simultaneously for all players at the end of each turn. This ensures that you always get a chance to shoot back, and it also opens up some interesting gameplay options related to damage markers and how various ability interact with them.
Well, that pretty much encapsulates the opening turns. The Imperium had the firepower, but their enemies had speed and resilience (probably due to some better than average dice rolls). The stage is set for an absolutely brutal endgame. Click here to read Part Two of this battle report!