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The Tiger Roars
Apocalypse Wow
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3 <> Part 4 <> Part 5

Apocalypse Wow: Analyzing a New Way to Play (Part 1)
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you might not know that Games Workshop has released “Apocalypse,” an expansion for Warhammer 40K, with rules for handling large games (3000+ points per side). Apocalypse is not a terribly long rulebook (200 pages, in the English version), but it packs a lot of information: so much, in fact, that it takes several articles to adequately discuss it. This series will walk through the new book, look at what’s there, and analyze what it means to players. 

Let’s get it started!

The Book of the Apocalypse 
Though, as I alluded, the book itself is not that thick, it is nevertheless physically imposing, as it measures 9 ¾ " x 13", larger (to the best of my knowledge) than any other rule books Games Workshop has ever issued. In Apocalypse games, not only are the battles bigger, but the book is bigger, too! 

Inside, the book is lavishly illustrated (of course, as all GW books are), with black-and-white and color artwork. Some pieces are reprints from previous works (e.g., the illustration on page 38 is from the second version of the Third Edition Codex: Chaos Space Marines), some are apparently new for this work. The book also has lots and lots and LOTS of color photos, many of them depicting new units (such as Baneblades) presented in the book, or Apocalypse games in progress, presumably to give you a sense of what these games look like. 

Speaking of visuals, Apocalypse features a number of fold-out pages that you open up to see huge pieces of artwork (the Ork-Imperial battle on pages 3-6) or game photos (the Imperial-Chaos battle on pages 83-86). While these are very cool, you must be careful when closing them so that you don’t crumple the edges. 

An example of the fold-out pages you'll find in Apocalypse. What you're looking at is a battle with 20,000 points per side

The text fonts seem larger than those used in other GW books, too, which makes the book easier to read and visually impressive (especially the headings for sections). As I said, everything about Apocalypse is BIG. It’s as if the thing were designed by Texans. 

A recurring complaint to be made about GW books is that the binding quickly falls apart. I’ve had my copy for several weeks, with repeated readings, and it seems to be holding up fine. Maybe the GW folks have finally taken care of this problem.

Apocalypse is organized into the following sections:

  • “Introduction”
  • “Fighting Apocalyptic Battles”
  • “Organizing a Battle”
  • “Armies and Battlefields”
  • “Apocalyptic Forces”
  • “Strategic Assets”
  • “Appendices”
Let’s look at each.

Introduction/Fighting Apocalyptic Battles
Right out of the starting gates, the book does an excellent job at setting the tone for Apocalypse games. With its approach of, “Just bring whatever you’ve got—never mind Force Organization Charts, and don’t worry much about points,” Apocalypse reminds me of those mega-games my friends and I used to play in the wild, woolly days of Rogue Trader, 1st Edition 40K. 

Back then, there were no missions, there were no FOCs—heck, there weren’t even rules for setting up the table, or deploying, or figuring out who won. Usually, we just divided the playing area (be it a table or, in several instances, the floor of whatever room we were in) in half: one player set up wherever he liked on one side; simultaneously, the other player set up wherever he liked on the other. If you wanted to keep something off the board, it started off the board, and it came on during the Movement Phase of whichever of your turns you wanted it to. When both players had set up, the game started, and didn’t stop until the other guy conceded. Not much more advanced from playing “army men” as a kid, come to think of it….

The Apocalypse rules would have come in handy for my 40th birthday mega-battle

Apocalypse seems to have received its mission statement from Rogue Trader and has not received follow-up memos concerning 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Editions (or, if it did receive them, it only gave them a quick read-over). Here’s how you start an Apocalypse game:

Bring whatever army you want, at whatever point value above 3000 that you want. Feel free to mix armies, so that, for example, my Space Marines, my Dark Eldar, and my Necrons could all be on the same side (if you must appease the Fluff-Monster that lurks deep within your breast, you can limit yourself to bringing only those armies, noted in the “Allies Matrix” on page 198, that exchange Christmas cards with each other every year). 

If you have more than two players, pick teams, each with comparable points and number of players. Again, feel free to mix armies, so that my aforementioned Space Marines-Dark Eldar-Necron force could find itself side-by-side with my friend Pat’s Space Wolves, Orks, Tyranids, and Eldar.

Set up the playing area (not your usual quarters or deployment zone running along the edge of the board). 

Decide on a time limit (this is a first for 40K games).

Pick strategic assets. Each side gets at least one per player; the side with fewer points gets an extra strategic asset for every 250 points they’re short. You can also get bonus assets by taking certain units or combinations of units.

Deploy (this is not, however, the “Heavy Support, Troops, Elite, HQ, Fast Attack” deployment you’re used to). 

Place objectives (these determine who wins).

Beat the snot out of each other until time’s up.

That’s not a whole lot different from how we used to do it back in the Bad Old Days. A bit more mature, a bit more sophisticated. But then, so are we. 

Some of the steps I just mentioned are different from what you’re probably used to, so let’s take a closer look at them. Picking the armies and teams is pretty straight forward once you adopt the attitude that “anything goes” and can convince yourself that’s okay that your Ultramarines are teaming up with your pal Bob’s World Eaters. Yeah, I know. It took me a while to get used to that, too. This also allows for the opportunity to use some underused figures in your collection, like, say, all of the Phoenix Lords, or multiple Assassins.

Set up. Setting up the battlefield is simply a matter of using bigger boards (Jervis Johnson, the author of Apocalypse, recommends at least a 4' x 8' table for 3000 points, and the table only gets bigger as the point values increase). He also suggests that you clump related pieces of scenery together and leave plenty of open spaces—the opposite of what gamers have been doing since 2nd Edition, where the mantra was, “the more terrain, the better the game.” 

The wacky part of setting up the battlefield comes when you roll a scatter die in the middle of the table and then draw lines to divide the table diagonally (see pages 20-21 for details). I’m no geometry whiz, but it seems very likely to me that one side is going to have a smaller deployment zone than the other, perhaps even much smaller. This might adversely affect static, shooty armies that need plenty of elbow room, but then, static, shooty armies seem to be going the way of the cassette tape, anyway.

Time limit. Regular 40K is like baseball: you play until a certain number of turns are done, and if that takes all frickin’ day, well, then, it takes all frickin’ day. Apocalypse is more like football: you play until a certain time, and then you quit. 

Yes, Apocalypse has a time limit—my wife will be so happy to learn this, and it’s really a wonder why no one came up with this idea before. At the end of the allotted time, you see how many objectives each side has, and that’s it. But lest you think the way to win an Apocalypse game is to go slowly and eat up as much time as possible, the rules state that “when the agreed time limit is reached, keep on playing long enough for both sides to complete the same number of turns, and then work out who has won.” Not even Bill Belichick can cheat his way out of that one.

Strategic assets. These are like the strategems from Codex: Cities of Death. They’re dirty little tricks you can pull on the other player to give your army an advantage. Of course, the other player also gets dirty little tricks to pull on you. In the Summer in the City Campaign, strategems often had big effects on our games, and I expect the same will be true for strategic assets in Apocalypse games. 

Each side can have as many assets equal to the largest number of players on a side. Strategic assets are GW’s method of managing point disparities: if your side has fewer points, your side gets another strategic asset for every 250 points difference. So if you and your buddy are bringing 5000 points against five other guys with 6000 points, you and your buddy get 9 strategic assets (5 for five guys on the other team, 4 for the 1000-point difference between the armies). The other guys get 5 assets (for their five members). You can also get additional strategic assets for taking certain formations (such as “Masters of the Chapter,” found on page 118).

Certain formations can provide additional strategic assets or other special benefits.
One formation makes Necrons even harder to kill. No, I'm not kidding. We'll talk about it later....

Unless a formation gives a side a certain strategic asset, a side can’t take the same asset more than once. Apocalypse says that, “It’s up to the players on the team to decide which of them gets to take each asset” (page 22). If you have an obnoxious, overbearing player on your team, anticipate having an “animated discussion” about which strategic assets to pick and who can use them….

Deployment. Ever since 3rd Edition began, we’ve gotten used to (in most games, anyway) deploying units one at a time, alternating between players, starting and ending with certain units (Heavy Support first, Fast Attack last). That doesn’t happen in Apocalypse: players secretly bid to see how fast (1 to 30 minutes) they can deploy their whole army: lowest bid wins, and then has to deploy within that time. The other team then deploys within the time they stated. Any units that aren’t deployed within that time go into “strategic reserves” and start off the table. I recommend players buy a stopwatch and practice deploying before games to get a sense of how long it actually takes. Canny players might purposely bid high to force their opponents to set up first.

The team that deployed first goes first. Strategic Reserves work differently from Reserves in regular 40K: on Turn 2, half of your reserves (you pick which) show up; the rest show up on Turn 3. This version first appeared several years ago in White Dwarf, and it’s really a pity that it was not incorporated into the 4th Edition rules, as the existing version can make it so that your prized, heavyweight unit that you were counting on to win you the game doesn’t show up until it’s too late—if it shows up at all. The Apocalypse version actually makes having units in reserve a good thing. 

Objectives. There are always six objectives in Apocalypse games, no variable number like in some 40K missions. The rules instruct each side to put one objective in their deployment zone, one in “no-man’s land” (the 12" wide strip between deployment zones), and one in the other side’s deployment zone. Victory is determined by how many objectives each side holds when time expires: thus, the key to winning is “Hold Two/Take Two.” If you can hold the two objectives in your deployment zone and nab two of the four not in your deployment zone, you win. 

Fighting the battle. While the rules impose a time limit to the game and potentially speed up deployment, Apocalypse still fights like 40K: one guy (or side, in the case of multi-player games) moves, shoots, and assaults while the other guy (or players on the other side) stands there and watches (this is known as “I-Go/You Go”). Not to mention that you still do all that rolling to hit and to wound, which can become very tiresome if you have a lot of mediocre troops who tend not to hit, and when they do, they hit about as hard as a Daisy Scout. 

Why, why, why, given the chance to do something different—not to mention the fact that by its very nature, Apocalyptic games will have a lot of units—didn’t the designers really go all out and try to cut down playing time? Maybe they could have altered the game turn structure so that players/sides move simultaneously, with the players/sides dicing off each round to see who fired first. Maybe they could have found a way to eliminate rolling “to wound,” perhaps by declaring that weapons that hit automatically wound targets whose Toughness is no more than 1 greater than the weapon’s Strength. 

I don’t know what the solution would be: I’m not a professional game designer. All I do know is that 40K takes a long time to play, and I anticipate that that Apocalypse, with more units, is going to take a long time to play, too. After all, not all of us will be using flyers and superheavy tanks to wipe out hordes at one shot….

If you aren't bringing a Baneblade or two, your games might take a while to play...

The Battle of Cold Steel Ridge
Having explained how the game works, the Apocalypse crew then presents “The Battle of Cold Steel Ridge,” an example of an Apocalyptic game pitting 10,700 points of Ultramarines and Imperial Guard vs. 10,800 points of Tyranids. The section nicely serves its purpose, but note on page 26 yet another example of Game Workshop’s sloppiness with battle reports: “…the Imperial side has fewer points than the Tyranid side, [so] it gains an additional strategic asset.” According to page 22, however, the Imperials would only get another asset if they had 250-499 points less than the Bugs. Another day, another screw up. I’d offer my services as an editor, but I’m sure they can’t afford me. 

The Battle of Cold Steel Ridge: Bugs vs. Team Blue on a way-cool board arctic scene board

Organizing a Battle
The next brief section offers sound advice on how to set up and run an Apocalyptic battle. Tournament organizers could also learn a thing or three from these pages. If you plan on running a multi-player Apocalyptic game, this section, is a must-read. Otherwise, skim it and go to “Armies and Battlefields,” which I’ll discuss in the next installment of this series.

Apocalypse Wow
Part 1 <> Part 2 <> Part 3 <> Part 4 <> Part 5

Posted November 2007. Apocalypse images are copyright 2007 by Games Workshop and are used for review purposes. 


Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle