Right at the end of 2013 Games Workshop released a new official Kill Team rules booklet. As a devoted fan of smaller, skirmish level games, I am all about Kill Team’s lightweight take on tiny 40k battles. These are some thoughts reading through the new mini-supplement.
This was my first attempt trying to buy a GW digital product… And it was a huge disaster.
No surprise to anyone, GW’s website and online systems are not very good, and the Digital Editions really highlight that. Even though a ton of focus is going to them now, it’s still just a tiny little text link hidden up above the headliner box on the main GW page. But even that doesn’t actually go to the store! You have to click through another page for the actual stores, but the big obvious buttons there to do so aren’t actually links—you have to click on the little text links below them… Finally you’re shown actual products and click to buy. But nothing happened? And again? Hmm. Oh wait, the purchase was silently added to your cart, and now you have two of them in there. Fine, let’s remove one and checkout. Ok, I have to login. Wait, I just keep going to the account login landing? Oh, I have to change my secret question, but it never said that. Maybe now finally I can buy this? Oh, no, logging in for some reason changed my currency to UK pounds and I’m no longer in the right region to buy this product. Let’s correct that and try to purchase again. Ok, so far so good, let’s verify my Visa card and confirm this order! Wait… GW? Come back GW? Where is the order confirmation button, GW??? Why are you just showing me a white screen, GW?
After five attempts across three days, two web browsers, and probably an hour total, I have been completely unable to give GW my money and acquire a basic digital product in a very simple transaction that even 1-man shops have had figured out for two decades now. In contrast, it took literally a minute at most to find and download this puppy from BitTorrent. GW has to learn a lesson the music industry never did until Apple, Amazon, and others had already taken a huge slice of its pie: Piracy isn’t just about money. It’s also a lot about convenience and access to goods. I would have been—and am—pretty ok with throwing dollars at GW for their efforts here, even though I think the booklet is overpriced. But their poor implementation has made it literally impossible for me to do so, let alone a huge hassle.
The cover is really good. That sounds like it might be a silly thing to say except I’m still traumatized by some of the really hideous, poorly executed covers of the past, like the 5th edition Blood Angels codex. With this Kill Team cover, the yellow Imperial Fist on the black background is just very appealing, and I’m a big fan of this particular painterly style of GW artwork.
After that the presentation’s a mess. Kill Team has the usual cool little marginalia doodads, another painterly piece, and a couple good photos, but it looks worse than a large number of fan-made efforts out there. The older Warhammer World Kill Team Rules Pack looked way better and more professionally done. If I didn’t know otherwise I’d chalk it up as some nobody’s lame effort in a Word document, not a serious effort from any book publisher, let alone one of the biggest gaming companies in the world.
Part of that is the media. eBooks just aren’t made for this kind of document. They’re great for novels, consisting solely of pages of text paragraphs, and little else. The formats provide absolutely no control over pagination, and little over the layout and flow of the text. Documents with a lot of lists, tables, and short paragraphs or sentences and a lot of mixed in graphics thus look bad and are hard to read, and this is no exception. The opening fluff story even looks super bad on a laptop screen, a stream of small single sentences centered on the page, almost looks like they tried to present it as a poem but didn’t quite make it.
Eventually if you screw around with the font sizes and such you can make the pages layout ok, but it’s not particularly impressive looking as a document. These issues are a huge problem I have with all eBooks that aren’t just straight paragraphs, like novels or basic non-fiction text, and the type of artsy looking efforts GW’s books should be really suffer in the medium.
After making a strong push in 5th and early 6th edition to correct the problem, lately GW has been getting back to one of its worst textual tendencies: Copy-pasting rules instead of referencing them. There’s some of that going on in the recent Stronghold Assault, and a lot of it here. About a third of the Kill Team content is Specialist abilities that get applied to your models. Every single one is just pasted from the main rulebook instead of simply referencing the USRs there. So when the new 6.1/7th edition rulebook comes out this summer, or one of those rules gets otherwise errata’d, these lists will be out of date.
I’d accuse GW of doing this specifically to pad out an otherwise already very short product, but they would never do that, right?
Conceptually, sure, there’s a small argument to be made that it could make some sense to copy rules precisely so that they don’t change with time. But that’s rarely justifiable in 40k, and historically has almost never worked out well. Recent editions and codexes made big improvements in simply pointing to a single source for a variety of common rules and gear, so it’s a significant step backwards that GW seems to be moving the other way again.
Similar goes for usual repetition of the same mission maps and boilerplate text 6 times, but that’s a smaller issue and more defensible.
Compared to the most recent semi-official Kill Team setup, the 2013 Warhammer World Rules Pack, the changes are modest. Nothing ground breaking, either positively or negatively, but a few interesting things and largely for the better. It is certainly ridiculously better than the last “for-sale” Kill Team, the 1 page junk rules in the quickly forgotten Battle Missions supplement.
Force Organization is the same: 0–2 Troops, 0–1 Elites, 0–1 Fast. Pretty awesomely, the Space Marine Kill Team in the photo with Mission 3 isn’t actually a valid Kill Team: The Librarian at stage center is an HQ. To that point, I actually think HQs should be allowed. A small support HQ like a Librarian or Commissar produces a pretty cool, fairly fluffy squad, just like in the photo. Beefy over-the-top HQs would be prohibited without the explicit FOC restriction just by the point limit, requirement to have 4+ models, and the fact that spending half your points or more on a single model would cripple your ability to claim objectives.
One notable change is that the Wounds limit per model was bumped from 2 to 3. Given that HQs like Space Marine Captains are out because of the FOC, off the cuff I think this mostly lets in some of the fluffy mid-sized Tyranids that were previously excluded by that restriction. I support this modification, it was weird previously that some of them weren’t allowed.
Another small but eye catching change is that there are more specialists powers, but they’ve been divided into categories that can’t be repeated. So you have more options, but at the same time are forced to not concentrate on one area. I’m more or less neutral on this one, though it doesn’t seem like a problem to let someone focus their team on close combat, or shooting, or whatever.
The biggest change though is Break Tests. Previously, once a team had fallen below half strength, the Leader would have to take a Leadership Test at the start of every turn. If they failed the team would flee, ending the battle immediately and losing the game. In the new rules, once a team falls below half strength every model starts taking a Leadership Test every turn and flees individually if they fail. The Leader model provides a cool bonus such that if they pass the test, every friendly model within 6″ of them automatically passes the test.
Overall I like that modified Break Test. The Leader command radius mechanic is really appealing, giving a fluffy incentive to bring your troops toward your leader as you start to lose models. One change I would consider is having models Fall Back if they fail, rather than just being removed immediately. That would give the other player more time to kill them, which yields a point in several missions while them breaking doesn’t. Models with Fearless automatically pass the test and those with And They Shall Know No Fear reroll, so those would work out pretty similarly falling back. My one concern with this change is having to chase down that one last model way off in the corner, or playing out the turns with no one moving on top of the objectives.
Somewhat interestingly, the old style break rules aren’t that ridiculous when loosely compared to real life battles. I don’t think most game players realize actual military units are generally considered broken once they go above something like 10% casualties, and decimated above 25%. That said, if Kill Team is supposed to capture a very small, close quarters & short firefight, then it makes sense that it’s every man, to the death, more similar to the new rules.
For a final rules note, one bugaboo that stood out to me is that the first mission has an odd number of objectives, with the first player placing the extra. That’d be understandable if it was a thematic mission with a specific attacker/defender or something, but that’s not the case. Placing more or more valuable objectives is a significant advantage that GW should really get a clue about and stop doing. Objectives should be even, or the odd one out centrally placed. In general though the six included missions actually seem fairly good. Nothing crazy original, but there’s some interesting bits here and there.
Overall Kill Team is solid, though probably overpriced. The length of eBooks is really hard to gauge due to the pagination and presentation, but this is probably about 12 pages if formatted to standard GW design, maybe more with all the copy-pasted USRs. More importantly, the existing free Warhammer World rules are basically just as functional, let alone more substantial fan efforts like Galaxy in Flames’ Killzone. As a free download it’d be great—though the presentation issues would still be inexcusable—and at $4 it’d be a good bargain that I’d happily encourage people paying to support the effort. At $12 though it’s hard to gauge. On the upside, at a minimum that means it’s not ridiculous. In stark contrast, I felt clearly burned and extorted by the very slim $33 Stronghold Assault, which in some sense has a fair bit more content than this, but much of which is just copy-pasted from the main rules and Apocalypse 2.0 book. In that light this looks comparatively reasonably priced, though it takes a ding for being very weakly presented.
So I have to say that I’m happy with the content here and the forward progress in the evolution of Kill Team rules. However, I wouldn’t particularly push anybody to discontinue playing from any of the existing free sources and plunk down for this; they all basically get the same job done. Kill Team tournaments are going to be particularly tricky in this regard, i.e., whether or not they just roll their own rules, the basics being well established at this point, or make everyone pick up this release.