Ever wanted to recreate the crazy and intense battes of the art of Warhammer 40,000 Universe on your tabletop and still be playable? Well, we’re told Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse is the game that can help you do just that… assuming you have enough miniatures of course!
Recently Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse was released and with it a tonne of new hype and excitement that we expect from the community of the world’s best marketed distributor of fantasy & science fiction wargaming miniatures, Games Workshop.
In this article we’re going to take a look at Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse to see what all the hype is about and what the actual gameplay is like. We’ll address some questions regarding its accessibility to players and outline how hard or easy it is to play. Finally, we’ll look at the costs involved and whether the game is worth the effort and financial commitment to regular players.
It turns out that Apocalypse isn’t a new thing at all; way back toward the end of fourth edition of Warhammer 40K (circa 2007) Apocalypse was first released. It was then updated a year later and then again in 2013. I was busy during much for this time, and totally missed anything to do with it!
What is Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse?
It’s pretty simple if you’re familiar with tabletop wargaming, but if you’re not, here’s the low-down:
Apocalypse is a game system that emulates large battlefields of miniatures and models set in a dark and gritty futuristic science fiction setting. Unlike the regular Warhammer 40,000 game, the system is designed to allow for a huge number of models to be placed on large gaming tables.
The differences between regular Warhammer 40,000 and Apocalypse are a little subtle to new gamers. The games run in a very similar fashion, in that each player takes turns to move and attack with portions of their armies. Armies are drawn up using a points system, with better “veteran” or command type models costing more points than regular or less experienced models. A typical game of Warhammer 40,000 can range from 1000-2000 points. For Apocalypse, the potential points values of the armies can exceed 5000 points or more, depending on the physical size of the gaming table.
What are the Key Differences between Warhammer 40,000 & Apocalypse
Playing a game of Warhammer 40,000 can take several hours, not including the time taken to draw up a points compliant battle force or army. To be fair, few tabletop wargames are quick to setup, and often entire afternoons or evenings are required to play. Looking at these new rules, it seems that a small game of Apocalypse should take no more than a 1-2 hours.
Apocalypse only uses the alternative points system called power level to draw up an army list. This version takes out much of the detailed choices of picking and choosing a force to play. So the footwork to setup a game is reduced in one aspect, but perhaps more if you take into account the much larger forces required to play.
If we’re to believe the game runs faster as detachments of units, instead of individual units or character models, then we can assume that the game has the potential to be very quick for smaller sized as well.
Six and twelve sided dice are used to determine when units successfully attack and wound their targets. Interestingly we think power playing antics are removed here, because the game is about huge battles where the individual models do not necessarily make much difference. Thus, most units possess only 2 wounds, which is unheard of for regular Warhammer 40,000 where commanders and huge aliens may have 5 wounds or more all to themselves (now, a commander character has a single wound, as we discovered during our play test).
T wound a successfully hit target, each unit has a required number to roll on a dice, which is found on the unit data sheet. Cutting out all of the extra work from Warhammer 40,000, the data cards give two very important weapon statistics: Strength Against Personel (SAP) and Strength Against Tanks (SAT). These represent the number you need to roll (or above) to successfully wound your target. Even the smallest weapon has the potential to cause damage to a tank… it’s just very unlikely… or 1 in 12 chance, perhaps!
Players will have to be careful where they place their comanders and warlords (commanders who are specifically character models), otherwise their detchment may find itself without leadership, potentially suffering more losses.
Orders are a way of telling your detachments what to do. They are given in secret at the start of the turn sequence with facedown tokens (to whole detachments instead of to units and characters, one at a time). This implies a level of forward thinking is required by the player to second guess their opponents, and practice their poker face. Where one unit goes, the others in the detachment must follow.
Wounds are given in the form of blast markers, which may increase in size the more a unit receives, for example, two minor blast markers go up to one large. Interestingly however, damage is not calculated until the final phase of the turn sequence, meaning both players get to take actions and execute their plans before wiping each other out in sequence – this is a HUGE selling to point to regular players who have ever experienced defeat before even taking a turn! Units are permitted a save and, if at the end of the damage phase, they have more blast markers than wounds, they are removed from the battle as losses.
The game system looks promising. Are we perhaps going to see more of this style of game system from Games Workshop? I suspect that a similar version for Age of Sigmar, Games Workshop’s fantasy tabletop wargame, would sell pretty well…
All gaming elements so far suggest fast-paced action and a balanced gaming system…
So, is it?
We set up a small game power level of 101 (don’t ask us why!), which equates to somewhere in the region of 2000-2500 points. This isn’t the scale that Apocalypse is designed for, however we felt it’s probably a good size to learn the core concepts of the game and see how smoothly it runs. We had in mind that if all goes well, we could ramp up the power level to somewhere in the region 200 or more another time.
Setup. Play. Findings.
- Battalion 3 units of Intercessors lead by a Primaris Lieutenant with a Redemptor Dreadnought.
- Spearhead detachment of 3 units of Hellblasters and 1 unit of Aggressors lead by a Primaris Captain.
- 2 Auxillary super heavy detachments; a Knight Errant and an Armiger Warglave.
- Battalion of 5 units of Ork Boyz lead by a Big Mek with a Shock-attack-gun
- Spearhead of 2 units of Flashgitz and a unit of Killakans lead by Captain Badrukk.
- Auxillary Superheavy stompa, Da Hunger of Gork.
As the marine player, I had in my force 3 warlords: the big mech, the captain and the leutenant. This was important for assets, which are cards drawn at the start of each turn depending on the number of warlords in your force. Three cards (to a hand size of 10 maximum) seemed like a good thing.
It took us mere minutes to setup up the game board and deploy our detachments. Since detachments have to always be within 12 inches of their commander, the choices are limited by the space you have on the board. We used Games Workshop’s Battle Board, 4 pieces by 2 (about 8ft by 4ft) with a heavy scattering of scenery from some KillTeam box sets.
Starting, including all the rules checks and doublechecks, it took us 2 hours to play a game with a power level of 101. If this was regular Warhammer 40,000 it would equate to a game of 2500 points, which would have taken double that time, in my humble opinion. Once we are comfortable with the rules however, I think we could have compressed this game into an hour if we pushed it.
This timing is important, as not all players are capable of devoting 4-5 hours for a game (family, work and life get in the way!)
Frequency of rules checks
Not as frequent as we initially thought. There was some discussion and checking up on close-quarter fighting and shooting, along with some clarification on the separate rules for large targets (apparently on the order to Charge gartangs and the like are allowed to shoot as well as use melee weapons). But otherwise we got on OK.
Quite good. It took a while to get out of the regular Warhammer 40,000 mindset.
Having won 4 out of 5 initiative rolls, I’m not convinced it’s such a great advantage, which is good because theres nothing worse than getting out maneuvered twice in a row! The players take it in turns to activate detachments meaning the initiative is only gained from certain parts of the battlefield – essentially I got to shoot first, which isn’t a great advantage as all damage and moral checks are carried out AFTER all detachments have been activated. But this doesn’t mean the mechanics is useless. Sometimes moving closer or ruther away can be usefull if you move a unit out of enemy range, wasting their Aim order!
Fooling your opponent can be a great feeling: at one point the relentless green horde was getting closer, and the marines had done a good job of aiming and shooting in previous turns. In the following round I expected the Orks to be in charge range so I gave the detachment the order to move… falling back and reorganizing the firing line was not expected and gained the marines a further turn of rapid fire next time around.
A minor bad point: If a unit misses, all the models in the unit miss if they share the same weapon type! Several times the Hellblasters were useless, by missing completely. However, if we had less but bigger units the marine units would gain 2 dice instead of 1 to roll to hit. Must remember that next time!
The marines won, but only after taking a pasting. It felt one sided until the gargantuan was destroyed. Even then, the Dreadnought was not very effective at taking out infantry with its huge load of automatic weapons. May have to see if Games Workshop errata some of the stats!
Blast markers are not the end of the world, but for infantry a large blast marker means they use a single 6-sided dice to roll for their save. This means marines, the tough human monsters in implacable armour have a 1 in 6 chance of surviving, even it was a hail of Gretchin shot! It did make them feel paper thin, but then it was likely worse for the Ork boyz! Balanced still, so not a negative point as such.
And I had a stack of useless asset cards applicable only to the destroyed Knight Errant!
Quick to Learn?
As regular gamers, Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse is very quick to learn. To master the game may take a couple of attempts but we found that second guessing your opponents choice of orders brings a level of cunning that you don’t often get to see in tabletop war games. If you’ve ever played Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing, you’ll get what we mean… sometimes you second guess too far! However, the anticipation and excitement has certainly been more frequent in the Apocalypse games we played.
Accessibility for Players
We found the game is very reminiscent of the old Epic scale Warhammer 40,000, only at the 28mm scale, which means if you want to harness the power of this quick to learn game, you’ll get the most out of it with a lot of miniatures. HOWEVER we’ve found it’s actually very fun to play with smaller forces as it cuts out a lot of the shenanigans you can get from some less reputable players. For smaller games, it also makes each game VERY quick.
So, accessible to new players? Only if you can borrow a lot of miniatures, otherwise quite good fun and impressive if you’re trying to get a friend into the hobby.
To regular players? Yeah, its not bad (see Cost & Worth below).
Cost & Worth
Warhammer 40,000: Apocalypse will set you back £60 in the UK. This buys you the rulebook, six and twelve sided dice and some 300 command cards. You also get 6 sheets of tokens which act as your blast markers and issued orders. We’re going to say this now: for essentially paper and card, this seems overpriced. Dice are cheaper than a bag of chips online, even twelve-sided ones, and massed produced card isn’t going to break the bank. So purely on a boxed goods scale, you’re not getting much if you compare it to say, a regular adventure board game complete with miniatures.
That said, if you’re the sort of player who has spent hundreds of pounds creating a large battle force of miniatures bought from Games Workshop, this isn’t exactly going to break your bank either. Personally, I think GW could have gone down the same route as they did with Age of Sigmar and provide the basic rules for free with optional physical purchases, but I’m not here to make money.
That said, the data cards required to play your chosen forces are actually free to download, so you don’t need to go out and buy any army specific literature to play.
If you have a gaming gang or group, £60 spread across 4 players is only £15 each… some people drink that in an evening! And to be fair, playing this game with mulitple allied forces could be quite good fun as friendly players can take charge of a detachment each.
As for the worth. If you have a lot of miniatures already and want to use absolutely all of them at the same time, or perhaps you and a few friends want to play a game pitting 2 vs 2 players, this is likely to be a good choice because the game is much quicker. It’s much more tactical from a birds eye view too, perfect to play if you’re into hushed combat analysis and poker faces around the gaming table.
We think the game is good, but not amazing. It addresses some of the issues that slow down the regular Warhammer 40,000 game system and honestly, if you have the miniatures to make it up, it would be ideal to play as an introduction for interested friends. That said, it’s quite an investment by nature of the huge amount of miniatures and models required to play, but as we point out, you can play it on a much smaller scale if required.
So, I say this, as I say about most Games Workshop products: If you’re already a fan this game will be worth playing, especially if shared across a gaming group. If you’re not into the hobby yet, this is an easier sytem to learn but with much more outlay financially.
Otherwise, this game system is a step forward for Games Workshop!
Now, if they could just address the high pricing issue… 😉
If you’re interested in creating your own terrain, I’ve got a few links to some how-to articles, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, along with an article on where to get materials and tools for terrain building (more beneficial if you’re based in the UK but helpful for the US, Canada and most of Europe).
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(All images borrowed from Games Workshop and Out of print products, unless otherwise stated.)