PAGE Apocalypse 2016: Rebuffed at Barnes 595

kingbreakers-iconWithout a home and newly without their major supply base, the Kingbreakers Space Marines drifted through the void for a time seeming interminable. Then they turned toward action and their sworn enemies: “They take one of ours, we take one of theirs…”

Another year, another PAGE Winter Apocalypse! Our club’s annual mega-Apocalypse is in the books. Seven players came out for the Recon Squad skirmish prologue last Saturday, and thirteen for the all-day mega-battle on Sunday. Each team fielded 26,000 points across an array of factions:

  • Legions of Discord: Daemons, Daemonkin, Chaos Marines, Renegades, Eldar, Dark Eldar, and Tyranids
    • Hierophant, Harridan, Hierodule, Scabeiathrax, Angrath, Samus, Baneblade-chassis, Corrupted Knight, Macro-Cannon Strongpoint
  • Forces of Order: Adeptus Mechanicus, Steel Legion, Death Korps of Krieg, Valhallans, Grey Knights, Dark Angels, Kingbreakers Space Marines
    • Warhound, eight Imperial Knights, Crassus Armored Transport, Marauder, two Baneblade-chassis, Vortex Missile Strongpoint, Plasma Obliterator
Daemonettes attack the Steel Legion's position.

Daemonettes attack the Steel Legion’s position.

Although both days in the end came out a couple players smaller than last year, it was a stellar weekend of gaming. Supported by some fantastic looking boards and armies, the Recon Squad matches were excellent. A new terrain theme for the Apocalypse brought a different look and revised tactics to that game, while double blind deployment significantly changed the startup phase. In the end it was a full day of great 40k with giant warmachines exploding, lone sergeants defending critical positions, and everything in between. Bonus points go to Alex and Dan for making the trip to Philly all the way from Cleveland and DC respectively!

Join the Fight!

Join us!

Join us!

The full story is below, and many more photos are in the Flickr gallery. If you are interested in events like this in & around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), or the supporting campaigns, game variants, and other materials we post from time to time, we invite you to get involved or follow along in any of several ways:

The field of war.

The field of war.

Backstory

Years ago the Legions of Discord assaulted Kimball Prime, intent on taking or destroying the primary Imperial manufactorum in the sector. After many lives given in devotion to the Emperor, the invasion was successfully brought to a halt and then itself put on the defensive. Elsewhere in the sector though the Legions finally acquired the legendary Scythe of Unbound Light super-weapon after a years-long campaign across Caldor IV. Deploying it on Kimball Prime, the traitors crashed through the front gates of the manufactorum and won the planet.

With Kimball Prime fallen and its system lost, leaders of the in-sector armies of the Astra Militarum and Adeptus Astartes regrouped in secret. Drawn by the loss of a major manufactorum, the Adeptus Mechanicus joined their strategic auguries. Hungry for revenge, the Astartes proposed to conquer and cleanse the corrupted Chaos temple world of Barnes 595—an act of symbolism over pure strategy. Although initially hesitant to partake in this emotional response, the Mechanicus was swayed by the promise of archeotech believed lost in the planet’s swamps and dead forests, or buried in the collapsed sub-basements of its byzantine shrines.

Gazing into the strategios, the representatives of the Imperial Guard remained silent, then assented. They were also unconvinced by the Astartes’ constant vainglorious prioritization of honor and ideals over blood. However, the cogs of the Imperial war machine had already ratcheted toward the sector. Regiments and equipment must go toward some target, and it matters little which—there is no stopping the tide of war now, and it will wash over all the sector in time.

Recon Squad games underway.

Recon Squad games underway.

Commanders of the Legions of Discord plot their strategy.

Commanders of the Legions of Discord plot their strategy.

Recon Squads

Preparing for the onslaught to come, the Forces of Order sent small teams to reconnoiter and sabotage Chaos sites on Barnes 595. These were all played using our Kill Team-style Recon Squad rules combined with our Zone Mortalis-style Mortalis Solypsus boards and rules. The missions came from a set of eight worked out for last year’s larger Recon Squad campaign. Most are asymmetric and have specific thematic objectives, e.g., defending an installation, or assassinating a special character. In this year’s smaller form, each round the teams alternated putting forward a mission, role, and player. The other team responded with a player and a table. The third match contested the default Recon Squad skirmish mission.

Round 1

A band of Plaguemarines manages to intercept and ambush a Deathwatch team infiltrating a Chaos planetary missile complex. The fighting quickly concentrates in a hall junction and comes down to a single warrior from each side in hand-to-hand combat. At last the Imperial veteran gains an opening and jams his combat blade up to the hilt in the rotted traitor, another pyrrhic victory won for the Emperor.

Meanwhile, an Imperial commander met with a group of Tau to learn of mysterious energy signals they have detected buried within a collapsed underground extraction facility. They were beset however by a pack of ancient Bloodcrushers, and unable to prevent the assassination of the commander.

Deathwatch skulk through a complex.

Deathwatch skulk through the missile complex.

A Tau exploration team warily enters the collapsed mine.

A Tau exploration team warily enters the collapsed mine.

Round 2

Routed by Daemons, the Tau continue their desperate struggle within the collapsed mine. Quickly encircled, the xenos fight bravely but are caught in a pincer of Plaguemarine reinforcements.

Having regrouped and treated their wounded as best as possible, the Deathwatch also continue their own fight. With the missile complex’s defenders alerted by the battle with the Plaguemarines, they are attacked by Renegade infantry. Fortunately the Emperor’s light guides them into surrounding and neutralizing the heretics.

Elsewhere, the Steel Legion arrive at Barnes 595. Small teams land and begin making their way through a Chaos temple serving as a gate to the missile complex. Although believed to be abandoned, the gate turns out to be infested with daemonic devotees of Khorne. The battle proceeds slowly among the site’s barricades and overgrowth, but eventually the soldiers break through.

Short on ammo, a plague brother resorts to simply bashing in heads.

Short on ammo, a Plaguemarine resorts to simply bashing in heads.

The Renegade Sergeant bellows out orders...

The Renegade Sergeant bellows out orders…

As Renegades hunt for the Deathwatch team loose in their complex.

As his men hunt for the Deathwatch team loose in their complex.

Steel Legion enter the closed-off base.

Steel Legion enter the closed-off base.

Round 3

Their position underground untenable, the Tau attempt to fight back to the surface. Moving into the overgrown upper levels of the collapsed mine they are caught by Renegade militia and wiped out in bitter skirmishing.

Too late to reinforce the Tau, Skitarii renew the exploration of the collapsed facility at the fore of a Mechanicus excavation mission. Although beset by Bloodcrushers at every junction, their arcane weaponry bears them through. Fighting ceases with Mars in control of whatever secrets lay beneath the choking dust.

Simultaneously, a Steel Legion special missions team follows the wake of the Deathwatch into the heart of the missile complex. Though harried by Plaguemarines, they succeed in destroying a critical cogitator bank.

Outcomes

Order won the Recon Squad matches handily, 46 to 29. Together the Imperium and allies had captured an important planetary-scale missile complex, greatly aiding their establishment of a beachhead on the planet. Early excavation efforts in the collapsed mine also unearthed a long forgotten Imperial Shrine.

Steel Legion move against a vital cogitator bank...

Steel Legion move against a vital cogitator bank…

Defended by Plaguemarines.

Defended by Plaguemarines.

Skitarii work their way underground...

Skitarii work their way underground…

While battling Bloodcrushers for control of the collapsed facility.

While battling Bloodcrushers for control of the collapsed facility.

APOCALYPSE

Finally the big day.

It’s worth noting that our Apocalypse games are not the cliche of just dumping out all the models you own, or whatever ridiculously overpowered Titans you happen to have spent a fortune on. A good amount of effort is put into balancing the teams. For example, all superheavies/gargantuans must be declared in advance, and models with more than 9 hull points/wounds are negotiated between the teams. Between switching players to balance for skill, asking that Reaver or Warlord Titans (!) or such sit out the game if the other side can’t match it, and so on, we usually wind up fairly closely matched. Scoring and other mechanisms further ensure that troops matter and tactics count, even as whole units are obliterated.

Although a few people bailed right beforehand, this was probably the smoothest we’ve launched one of these mega-battles. We made it clear than anybody who showed up late would go into reserve, and in the end that only almost applied to me as I scrambled to finish my army list during deployment… (I was planning to reserve the bulk anyway). Everybody came prepared to fill out up to ~1k in additional points or trim down a bit to balance for the no-shows. When the time came we ran through a roll call, did some quick math, adjusted a couple armies, and away we went.

A Knight Errant stalks its prey across the crowded battlefield.

A Knight Errant stalks its prey across the crowded battlefield.

Field of War

Having fought largely among Imperial ruins the past two years, we moved this year to a wasteland forest with many barbaric Chaos fortifications and shrines. The final table was exactly 6′ by 18′, cluttered up with just enough line-of-sight blockers and scatter terrain. As usual the deployment zones were marked off with tape to speed things up and improve adherence. Seven primary objectives were symmetrically placed, two in each deployment zone and three along the midline, each associated with some particularly notable piece of terrain.

After doing an ‘L’ shaped deployment last year, we switched it up even more by using Vanguard Strike deployment zones, diagonal table corners with a 2′ buffer zone. I was concerned about the reduced frontage of this configuration leading to armies just sitting around in the comparatively deep backfield. If the table had a narrower aspect ratio or our armies included less deep striking and other fast mobility that may have been the case. As it was however, there was plenty of action all over the board, with significant charges both across and down the board, as well as deep strikers and outflankers coming in from all sides.

Traitor melta-bikers race through a slave village toward a Knight Errant threatening their perimeter bastions.

Traitor melta-bikers race through a slave village toward a Knight Errant threatening their perimeter bastions.

Double Blind

In previous Apocalypse matches we’ve used a bidding mechanism for deployment and turn order: Both teams make a bid on deployment time, up to 30 minutes. The lower bid would deploy first and play first, but only got that long to set up. At first that worked great. In the 2014 Winter Apocalypse, Order spent a lot of time debating its need to deploy lots of static gunlines versus trying to scoop Discord for an Alpha strike, only to have Discord bid a ridiculous 3 minutes… In the couple Apoc and Apoc-styled games we’ve had since then though, both sides have taken to bidding 30 minutes, through a combination of having more players to coordinate, more models to start on the board, and most importantly wanting to play second.

So this year we changed things up a lot: Double blind deployment. That’s a bold departure from standard 40k play, and risky for Apocalypse—we usually try to be a bit conservative with Apoc given the time commitment and how easy it is for things to go sideways with so many points and overpowered models in play.

Physically it would be really difficult to screen such a big table so the teams couldn’t see each others’ activities, let alone to not have the screen fall and crush models. Strategically we also really wanted players to have some idea what they were facing across the table before deploying. So instead we used a two step process. We drew a simple map of the table and gave each team a copy. The map showed all the primary objectives, deployment zones, and a grid of 2′ by 1.5′ sectors. The teams then huddled up and each player committed to deploying in up to two sectors by marking up the map, also making note of any superheavies, gargantuans, mighty bulwarks, or lords of war.

Those maps were then revealed to the opposing team, and the two sides simultaneously deployed. That worked well because at this scale of game players generally aren’t super concerned about the precise positioning of enemy units while they deploy, so there’s no gaming of trying to see what the other side is doing while deploying. There’s also only so much adjustment you can do within the 30 minute time limit. But you did have a rough idea of what’s likely coming after you and could take that into account while deploying. As a bonus, by deploying simultaneously, we shaved half an hour off the schedule. Choice of first or second turn was set as the prize for overall victory of the Recon Squad games.

Barnes 595.

Barnes 595.

Means of Victory

We also tweaked our scoring mechanism to be every turn rather than every other, the better to either end games earlier than expected or run an extra turn as time permits (the latter never happens…). The rules are:

  • All players designate a warlord as usual, one of which on each team is nominated to be the warmaster.
  • After deployment, each team alternates having each player place a secondary objective anywhere on the board, caveat the usual restrictions (at least 12″ from other objectives, 6″ from table edges).
    • Any player and either team can score any secondary objective, they’re just placed by a particular player to represent their personal goals.
  • Only troops may score objective markers until the final scoring, at which point all scoring units count.
  • Scoring happens at the end of each game turn:
    • Primary objectives are worth the current game turn number;
    • Secondary objectives are always worth 1 victory point;
    • The warmasters are worth 3 points;
    • Eliminating a superheavy, gargantuan, mighty bulwark, lord of war, or warlord is worth 1 point each.
A Harridan prepares to chow down on some Dark Angels.

A Harridan prepares to chow down on some Dark Angels.

The rule about troops is a huge deal. It does have the downside that it encourages players to bring a lot of individual infantry rather than sinking points into big models, which makes it hard to meet turn time constraints. However, it ensures that regular troopers are critical and armies have to include a good contingent of them to be viable, which consequently makes the match feel a lot like a regular game of 40k writ huge, rather than a whole different game of giant robot/monster battles.

The escalating value of primary objectives is another balancing mechanism. It’s difficult for teams to run away with the game by controlling objectives over the early turns since they’re worth so much more at the end. Conversely, by not scoring solely at the end, alpha striking and high-mobility armies are given a better chance than they otherwise would have against deathstar and brick armies.

The other points for killing supers, etc., are also of course a balancing mechanism. They and the secondary objectives become less important as the game goes on and the primaries scale up, which is how you want the focus to change heading toward the end of the game. However, those single points still add up over time and are critical to overall victory, as played out in this very game.

In practice this basic scoring scheme and the other balancing efforts have worked out very well, producing a number of close games over several years now.

Deployment

Following their successes in the Recon Squad campaign, the Forces of Order established their invasion base around the Missile Complex and Imperial Shrine and chose to play second. They turned their aim on the heavily defended Broken Altar and Warp Tower, important sites to all the disciples of Chaos. In between lay a disused Comms Tower that might be reclaimed for the invasion, a Side Gate barring the way to a complex of temples beyond, and of course the wreckage of Sergeant Titus’ Rhino, an important relic of the Kingbreakers claimed by Nurgle’s servants in the aftermath of the Apocalypse on Solypsus 9.

Deployment commitments.

Deployment commitments.

Fight!

The invasion begun, the mighty armies on both sides rumbled to war. A gang of monstrous Tyranids held captive on Barnes 595 was unleashed on the Death Korps, with many fatalities in the earliest phase of the combat as the flying ones raked their dagger-like talons across exposed infantry. Worse, a Crassus superheavy armored transport poised toward the enemy lines was obliterated before it could even move from the landing point, with the entire platoon inside lost to the Emperor’s grace. A desperate struggle between the Death Korps and the gargantuan Tyranids towering over them would last throughout the battle.

Meanwhile, in Order’s backfield, a coterie of Slaneesh’s followers lead by a formation of Daemonettes made a devastating surprise attack. Spawning directly onto the Steel Legion’s lines, many tanks were immediately destroyed. Only after prolonged fighting and the death of the Order warmaster was their charge finally blunted by the arrival of the Shadowsword Indominator. No longer imperiled, the Steel Legion supported the Valhallans moving on the Comms Tower, as well as the defense of the Imperial Shrine and Missile Complex.

Matching that aggression, squad after squad of Kingbreakers, Grey Knights, and Dark Angels dropped directly into Discord’s backfield. Dark Angels claimed secondary objectives while Grey Knights fought Dark Eldar come to capture whatever they could in the heat of battle. Kingbreakers fought valiantly all around the Warp Tower and contested the site for some time, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the flood of Daemons and Daemonkin pouring into the area, guided and supported by the Renegades sworn to Discord warmaster Hellboy.

Major movements and drops throughout the game.

Major movements and drops throughout the game.

All across the land in between, daemons and traitors clashed with the Emperor’s finest. Dark Angels made an early play for Titus’ Rhino, but were eventually pushed off by the legions of Nurgle inexorably marching to reclaim the prize they had so carelessly left laying around. Valhallan air cavalry flew bravely into the daemons guarding the Comms Tower and successfully held it at several critical junctures. By their landing base, Commissar Yarrick almost singlehandedly defended the Missile Complex despite repeated wounds that would have been mortal for any lesser man. Nearly all the armies wound up engaged at some point in the fierce battle for the Side Gate as one unit after another claimed it, only to be blasted away and replaced by another in rapid succession.

Throughout all this, Adeptus Mechanicus light units guarded the Imperial Shrine while their heavy war machines were dispatched up and down the Order line wherever a heavy threat appeared. Surely the center would have caved but for a Warhound Titan come to lock in close combat with an enraged Hierophant. By the Side Gate, a Cerastus Lancer bravely launched into combat with Angrath, piercing the beast squarely to dispatch him back to the Warp and save that flank. On the opposite end, Knight Errants and Castigators blasted away at giant Tyranids and Daemons alike as they fought over the Missile Complex. Many irreplaceable war machines were lost throughout the battle, but no doubt their sacrifice prevented the total collapse of Order’s position.

In the end though that was all the might of Mars was able to ensure. The steadfast troops of the Legions of Discord stood firm against the combined attack on the planet. With their strike forces extinguished or hastily falling back, by the end the Forces of Order had been rebuffed, claiming little more than their initial beachhead. Although not repulsed entirely from the planet, the effort to cleanse the temple world had ground to a halt, its only trace yet more bones rotting among the dead forests and abandoned shrines of Barnes 595.

Monsters and war machines towering over the troops below go at each other's throats.

Monsters and war machines towering over the troops below go at each other’s throats.

A Death Korps Marauder swoops in to aerial combat with a Harridan menacing its Guard compatriots below.

A Death Korps Marauder swoops in to aerial combat with a Harridan menacing its Guard compatriots below.

A Soulgrinder prepares to crush a lesser walker.

A Soulgrinder prepares to crush a lesser walker.

A molten daemon lurks in the bushes.

A molten daemon lurks in the bushes.

Troops prepare to give their lives by the score.

Troops prepare to give their lives by the score.

Harbinger’s Charge

I wouldn’t want to play Apocalypse all the time, but with all our balancing mechanisms and other rules it’s actually a really good, strategic and tactical game.

As a small example, one of my own favorite stories from this game is that of the Kingbreakers’ Sergeant Harbinger. He and his Tacticals are part of the mass Drop Pod assault on the Warp Tower objective in Turn 1. His men blow up a Rhino, the rest of his squad gets obliterated, and he ducks back behind his Drop Pod while other units contest that primary objective.

Next, Captain Angholan splits from the Deathwatch team he dropped with, and I have a choice: Charge him at Samus now, or use him to wipe out Bloodletters standing between Harbinger and the objective. I go for the latter, and the Chaos players look at me like I’m silly for giving up the preemptive charge on Samus.

Turn 3, the Kingbreakers on the objective have all been wiped out. Samus has gone after Captain Angholan, who blocked him from doing anything else and stood there taunting the beast. But Sergeant Harbinger alone now has a clear path to run up onto the Warp Tower base and just barely contest the objective, shocking Discord and denying them 3 points. Didn’t win the game, but didn’t hurt either. And it wouldn’t have happened without just a bit of advance thinking on my part and forcing moves and mistakes on my opponents’ part to make sure I had that one Tactical left and a clear path for him. Meanwhile I’m also making larger decisions about where to commit reserves, use my stratagem, etc..

So even though it might look and even sometimes feel like a silly game of simply putting down units, shooting, and removing units, at least in the form we run Apocalypse there is actually both tactics and strategy.

Sergeant Harbinger contests the Warp Tower objective, against impossible odds.

Sergeant Harbinger contests the Warp Tower objective, against impossible odds.

Outcome

This was a very back-and-forth battle. Order opened the game in the lead, felt like it lost all momentum in the middle, then rallied to pull close but not enough to seize the day. In the final tally Discord won, 79 victory points to Order’s 70, a close result given the scoring structure. The last turn was a nail-biter right down until we’d gone over the final disposition of the objectives twice and tallied everything up.

The turn-by-turn breakdown lines up with how I felt things were going during the match. Order essentially lost on Turn 3. Taking ten less points that round was the biggest turn deficit of the game, and we never made it up. By the end of that Discord player turn I was actually telling Lovell that we were getting creamed and would be lucky to not fall tens of points behind and have zero hope for the remainder of the game. Fortunately Order managed to make some desperate moves that just barely tied us on primary objectives for the turn; I was shocked to sum everything and find us only seven points behind overall. But we got smoked on secondaries and tertiaries that round as Discord contested a bunch of our home base markers and destroyed a couple superheavies and warlords. With our alpha strike depleted that was just too much of a gap to cover by the end.

Turn-by-turn breakdown of the scoring.

Turn-by-turn breakdown of the scoring.

Analysis

Directly from that, I think Order’s big strategic issue continues to be that it puts itself in the position of half-committing to an alpha strike. One way to look at the loss is that we needed to scoop a couple more objectives early, and ideally keep Discord off them longer. Alternatively, maybe we needed to sit back and save more resources for the closing turns. I view the Discord team as largely following the latter. Brett frequently does some pretty aggressive alpha striking deep into enemy territory, and Justin did some as well this game. But everybody else tends to sit back a bit more and work their way across the table in a more traditional fashion. Their most aggressive flanking attacks usually come late in the game, after we’re spread thin and out of steam. So, Order should consider two paths:

  • Tone down the alpha strike. It can’t go away completely just given some of the armies and players. But it should be smaller, and be better concentrated on taking and holding specific objectives. Part of this is that the forces being dropped need to be modernized and hardier: More Centurions and Venerable Dreadnoughts, fewer ridiculously brave but foolish Tactical Marines.
  • Amp up the alpha strike! Just go for broke, and dump a lot more forces on the other side of the table early on. Sure, we’ll regret it horribly as the bad guys roll right onto our home base objectives. But so what, as long as we’ve taken theirs? Further, most of their stuff moving across the ground might be either blocked or more or less forced to turn back and reckon with the drop.
Elite Valhallans fly over the battlefield on their mission to take the Comms Tower.

Elite Valhallans fly over the battlefield on their mission to take the Comms Tower.

The big meta-point to make that happen is that we probably need to establish a commander not also entangled in organizing this and many of our other events. With the Winter Combat Patrol and NOVA taking up much more time than I had hoped, I wasn’t able to foster any team discussion leading up to the Apocalypse. What little strategizing did happen pre-game was actually instigated by Colin stepping in to help out. Which, you know, is awesome, because it basically amounts to the Discord warmaster saying “You puny Imperials are no match for our dark strategies! Come, come, please talk amongst yourselves such that you may offer at least some challenge to our warriors!” With Colin at the helm, Discord does just a bit more planning over army focii; use of reserves and their entry vectors; and stratagems. Although we generally manage to keep the games close, that extra bit of coordination shows in the closing turns and the slightly higher percentage of Discord wins across all our Apocalypse battles.

Revisions

Back to the organizational side, I have just a couple notes for next year.

One issue in this match was that the armies were too large. Discord in particular had a hard time completing all of its actions in the early turns. Next year we should cut the baseline back down to 3000 points, but allow people to field up to 4000 if at least a quarter of that is made up of superheavy, gargantuan, or mighty bulwark models. That way they should have a low enough model count to be a touch more comfortable in the turn time limits, yet still field lots of toys.

A Knight Castigator marches toward deadly combat with rotted Scabeiathrax.

A Knight Castigator marches toward deadly combat with rotted Scabeiathrax.

We should also perhaps try to find a way to limit how many different sections of the table in which a single person can have units. That’s tough, because sprawling interaction across a huge landscape is part of the appeal of Apocalypse, and important to some armies playing more of a supporting or counter-attacking role. You can’t limit people down to a single table or such, as then you may as well play separate games in a linked campaign. But that’s a major cause of slowdowns, when one person is getting shot at or is in assaults all over the place. Even with other people helping resolve them, it’s a bottleneck. One possible idea is to have players secretly record several reserve vectors and deep strike locations on the map, and only allow their reserves to enter from those sectors. Obviously many units could still move around the board quite a bit regardless, but that would prevent a great deal of the spreading out which occurs. Most people shouldn’t have armies literally all over the place because it hurts their focus and encourages mistakes, let alone generally weakening their forces. But lots of people do, and as a side benefit, a mechanism like this would cut down on that.

Finally, although this is just a free, semi-invitational event, next year we’ll probably require $20 deposits to sign-up. For those that show, the money will be put toward food for the day and the remainder returned, or maybe we just put it toward club expenses or new activities. It would not be returned for people that bail after some cut-off close to the event. That will likely eliminate the usual couple of people who sign-up but aren’t committed and simply don’t come through, as opposed to those that legitimately have something come up at the last minute.

Wrap-Up

more-photosAlthough not without its trying moments in preparation, this was another great event. Some old friends made the trip, some new friends joined up, and we had a bunch of excellent Recon Squad games and another epic, closely fought Apocalypse featuring some interesting new mechanisms. Again, there are tons more photos in the Flickr gallery. We’ll see you next year!

The Lord of Skulls cares not the victor, for he wins the loser regardless!

The Lord of Skulls cares not the victor, for he wins the loser regardless!

 

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PAGE Apocalypse 2015: The Fall of Kimball Prime

kingbreakers-iconThe Kingbreakers’ First Squad burst from their Drop Pod even before it hit the ground, running as one toward their objective. Flamers swept away a pack of zombie cultists without pause. Sergeant Scolirus’ powerfist dispatched an intercepting greater daemon on the fly, preserving momentum. The battle brothers each felt the tingling energy crackle as they breached the overlapping void shields but none had a moment to reflect on it. Their target in sight, Captain Angholan jumped in a single bound to the top of the shield generators, ran across the battlements, and leapt into space, hurling an ancient Vortex Grenade into the smoking maw of the corrupted Warhound directly in front of them. At this range the wildly unpredictable warp attack might prove as deadly to themselves as the traitor Titan itself. But none would ever be able to say they had not given everything for the Emperor that had saved them.

This past weekend the Philadelphia Area Gaming Enthusiasts (PAGE) crew held its roughly annual major Apocalypse match. The event was expanded this year to two days: One of Recon Squad skirmishes and a Cataclysm mini-mega battle, and another day of full-on Apocalypse battle royale. Sixteen players participated, with 24,000 points per side in the finale.

A largely successful push was made by the entire group this year to field painted armies and terrain, and tons of photos are up in the Flickr galleries:

A full report of the campaign follows below.

IMG_9619

We march to war!

The Long War

This was basically the finale of a series of events loosely connected by narrative and players over the past half decade:

Campaign map from the 2010 Combat Patrol League.

Campaign map from the 2010 Combat Patrol League.

For 2015’s climax of this story arc, the Legions of Discord brought The Scythe of Unbound Light to the gates of the Kimball Prime Manufactorum, bulwark of the Forces of Order on the planet and last bastion of the Imperium in this system. Meanwhile the instigator behind this entire campaign was also revealed…

Kimball Prime

The entire weekend was fought over a single board, representing the main gate to the major Manufacturom on Kimball Prime (the venue, my house, being on Kimball St and my painting log being the Kimball Prime Manufactorum Log). Though we’ve previously done well at building good Apocalypse boards, this year a bunch of people built even more terrain so we’d have a single unified look.

The table was just over 6′ by 17′ long, following our usual calculations on sizing multiplayer and mega-battle tables. Apocalypse deployment zones were L-shapes, with the teams taking one short edge and all but 4′ of their respective long edges, creating a 2′ strip of S-shaped no-man’s land. At one end was the parade ground and main gate fortress of the Kimball Prime Manufactorum, built for a display board at this year’s NOVA Team Trios Tournament. The other end was anchored by a series of giant skulls emplaced on Chaos temples, representing The Scythe of Unbound Light. Both were essentially played as Aquila Strongpoints with Macro-cannons, the fortress actually being two strongpoints but one cannon, and The Scythe having two annexes. These were blended into an urban core in the middle, with the ruins progressively more dense toward the center. Between and among all this both sides deployed defensive constructs, with Discord’s Iron Warriors in particular laying down extensive siege works.

The field of battle prepped and ready.

The field of battle prepped and ready.

Recon Squad + Cataclysm

The first part of the campaign used our Recon Squad rules for 200 pt skirmishes. These are very similar to the traditional GW Kill Team variant, but with tighter rules and better adaptations to 7th edition. Around these we used our Twilight on Caldor IV campaign mechanics, in which each player picks a legacy like Bodyguards, Sentinels, Headhunters, or Scouts from eight options, and tries to achieve that legacy through winning several specific scenarios from eight missions like Assassination, Installation, Excavation, or Breakthrough. The main table was divided up with twine into four 4×4 Recon Squad boards, with two more side boards assembled for fighting at the poles and in the swamps of Kimball Prime.

Legacy card for the Sentinels.

Legacy card for the Sentinels.

A pack of Screamers dominated their matches, helping the Legions of Discord to a healthy 116 to 83 victory in the vanguard battles of the imminent Apocalypse. In a key moment, however, a squad of The Fallen were run to ground in a ruined Imperial chapel, yielding the first hints of the greater forces at work behind the scenes.

kingbreakers-iconBrother Teleos stepped carefully among the rubble, futilely trying to avoid crunching in the loose debris. The shadowy figures had clearly retreated into these chapel ruins once the cultists they’d been using as meat shields had been pulped. At the distinctive boom of a bolter firing behind him, instinct spun Teleos around instantly even as another part of his mind registered that it was too late already. It took a moment then to process that he was still functioning, and then another to fully register the robed, power armored figure falling to the ground mere feet away, a long monoblade raised toward him. Framed in the archway beyond stood Ghost Sergeant Harmon. The black clad Kingbreaker gave Teleos the sign for eyes-up before silently stalking on deeper into the chapel.

Fallen and Kingbreakers have a standoff in a ruined Imperial chapel.

Fallen and Kingbreakers have a standoff in a ruined Imperial chapel.

In the next part the Recon Squads gained 300 points of reinforcements and piled into a single Cataclysm battle over half the main board. On the edges of the parade grounds a seesawing conflict was fought between Mechanicum automata and Chaos Cultists joined by summoned daemons. Across the battlefield, an isolated band of Imperial Fists were rolled off the flanks of the temple grounds by daemons and traitor Marines. Coming to reinforce the position, Clan Raukaan troops found themselves ambushed by Night Lords. Despite a steady armored push up the center of the battle, Major Zdarsky’s 59th Armageddon crashed onto the enemy objectives too late to swing the Imperials’ fortunes.

By the end both warmasters were slain but Discord continued its successes, holding the majority of the six primary objectives in scoring rounds after Turns 2, 4, and 6 to earn 20 points to Order’s 14, both having also assassinated several opposing warlords. Squads on both teams squads secured their legacies, with the daemons’ Penetrators claiming an Order objective and the Kingbreakers’ Bodyguards successfully executing a flying block for Major Zdarsky and his armored column.

Lizardmen fight against the Imperium that would scorn them.

Lizardmen fight against the Imperium that would scorn them.

Night Lords stalk the shadowed alleys and ruins.

Night Lords stalk the shadowed alleys and ruins.

The Cataclysm underway.

The Cataclysm underway.

Apocalypse

The next day the conflict at the Manufactorum gates expanded again. Companies of Space Marines, packs of Cultists and Daemons, Mechanicus war engines, and all manner of armies descended on the battlefield.

Setup

Six primary objectives were placed before deployment in a ring around the board:

  • The main gates of the Kimball Prime Manufacturom;
  • The base of The Scythe of Unbound Light;
  • The headquarters of Discord’s siege works;
  • Clerics’ dormitories at an Imperial Shrine;
  • An Imperial Aquila Strongpoint with Vortex Missiles;
  • A newly arisen Necron Citadel.

After all deployment was complete, each player additionally placed a secondary objective anywhere 12″ from table edges and other objectives.

apoc-board

Scoring was held after turns 2, 4, and 5 (game end). Primary objectives could only be scored by troops in the mid-game rounds. All troops had Objective Secured regardless of detachment structure. Primaries were each worth the current turn number. Secondaries were worth one point each. Warlords, superheavies, gargantuan creatures, and mighty bulwarks were additionally worth a point each, with an additional point for slaying the designated warmaster (chief warlord).

Having handily won the preceding day, Discord took the prerogative of choosing to deploy and play first or second and chose second. They also got a free Macro-Cannon on The Scythe for their successes throughout the campaigns. Each team took up to 30 minutes to deploy, with Seize the Initiative unavailable. Modified Apocalyptic Reserves were applied, with a schedule of earliest arrival based on maximum unit movement speed. Each turn the commander for each team could designate one unit to make an All Out Attack, advancing at triple its movement but foregoing shooting/running/moving flat out. Both commanders also selected eight Strategic Asset cards to be given to their warlords in need throughout the match.

The Sentinels of Terra and the 59th Armageddon await the onslaught.

The Sentinels of Terra and the 59th Armageddon await the onslaught.

Battle

The Forces of Order had a nearly decisive first turn, inflicting major losses. The Kingbreakers’ Librarius of Rorschach make a suicidal Drop Pod strike into the heart of the enemy deployment zone. Binding their psychic potential together, they cast a massive Warp Vortex directly on top of a corrupted Hellhammer, blasting it immediately into the Immaterium. Though the entirety of the Librarius gave their lives for the action, their angry spirits lived on in the vortex they’d spawned, sucking a number of Greater Daemons back into the Warp throughout the battle.

Nearby, punishing bombardment from the 59th Armageddon and a contingent of the Sentinels of Terra on the parapets of the main gate fortress obliterated a Void Shield Generator and a corrupted Baneblade on the leading edge of the Discord siege works. Covered by the withering hail of fire, the Knight Errant Greenheart simultaneously charged across the battlefield and plowed through the zombie cultists futilely blocking its way, stomping through their lines and crushing the other Void Shield Generator guarding the Discord siege headquarters.

At the far end of the battlefield, Clan Raukaan Centurions and Sternguard made a mass drop on the Necron Citadel and astoundingly earned a critical first turn kill of the emerging Transcendant C’Tan before it could wreak havoc.

A Great Unclean One exchanges mighty blows with a Terminator Sergeant.

A Great Unclean One exchanges mighty blows with a Terminator Sergeant.

Reeling from these blows, the Legions of Discord worked grimly to pull their battle plan back together. Four greater Daemons bound together in a Tetragon of Darkness shrouded the Chaos troops in protective wards from the enemies now running amok among their lines, while the nanites and scarabs of the Necron Citadel did the same for the automatons. A massive blind barrage shielded the advance of hordes of Lizardmen, Night Lords, and other traitors in the shadows of a many-legged Greater Brass Scorpion toward the Mechanicum’s Aquila Strongpoint. One of Ahriman’s Covens sacrificed itself en masse ahead of the group to spawn a bevy of warp rift vortexes that would plague the soldiers of Mars for the entire battle. Responding in kind, a Dark Angels Librarius began tearing at reality ahead of the oncoming army. Together the two bands of psykers turned that entire quadrant of the battlefield into a crazed, unpredictable nightmare where instant death might come at any moment, no matter how brave the warrior or thick the armor.

A Dark Angels Librarius recklessly tears rifts in reality all about the incoming Chaos Marines from their Aquila Strongpoint.

A Dark Angels Librarius recklessly tears rifts in reality all about the incoming Chaos Marines from their Aquila Strongpoint.

A band of Chaos Marines marches toward the Mechanicum's Strongpoint.

A band of Chaos Marines marches toward the Mechanicum’s Strongpoint.

With little left in reserve following the punishing first round strike, the Forces of Order were stretched thin to cope with seemingly endless Discord reinforcements and slowly the momentum shifted.

Deep in the Discord lines, isolated bands of Kingbreakers, Dark Angels, and Raukaan fought brave tactical battles to claim important ground, but were repeatedly swept away by outnumbering opponents: Once the Siege HQ was threatened by Order forces, Land Raiders full of Chaos troops appeared to fight them back. With the Necron Citadel about to be overrun by combined arms, a large band of Cultists arrived to hold it until the Maynarkh could regroup. Again and again the story repeated, snatching victory from the loyalists.

On the Imperial side, wave after wave of Necron flyers harrassed the Mechanicum position. Though many Tech Thralls and reinforcing Raukaan gave their lives to shore up the Strongpoint and the Greater Brass Scorpion was eventually brought down, the redoubt was inevitably overcome in a flood of Chaos Marines.

Deathwing drag down a daemon spawned on the parapets of the main gate fortress.

Deathwing drag down a daemon spawned on the parapets of the main gate fortress.

Most devastatingly, late in the battle several small squads of Chaos space marines outflanked onto the Imperials’ position around the shrine dormitories. Having already repelled a large attack of Soulgrinders, lesser daemons, and zombies, the position had been thought secure. Heavy shelling from the 59th Armageddon combined with sustained fire and assaults from the Kingbreakers and allies eventually cleared the position, but the damage had been done. Stretched thin across the multiple objectives in the area, there wasn’t enough time for Order forces to shore up the position before a final, desperate, high speed strafing run of an entire squadron of Necron Doom Scythes managed to wipe the defenders off the primary objective in the closing moments of the battle.

Inquisitor Hersch and Kingbreakers Tacticals investigate noises in the alleys around the shrine dormitory.

Inquisitor Hersch and Kingbreakers Tacticals investigate noises in the alleys around the shrine dormitory.

Maynarkh Doom Scythes make a high speed formation strafing run through the occupied city ruins.

Maynarkh Doom Scythes make a high speed formation strafing run through the occupied city ruins.

Midway through the battle, however, the last of Discord’s primary siege works had been finally cracked open. Exposed therein was the treacherous mastermind of the entire campaign: No less than Cypher himself! His position was immediately obliterated beyond all recognition by the Sentinels of Terra and the 59th Armageddon. Presumably nothing could have survived the severe overkill, but the Fallen’s fate is unconfirmed: Deathwing rushing to the site were intercepted en route and unable to gather evidence either way.

apoc-movement

Outcome

The Imperial bulwarks on Kimball Prime are lost before the might of The Scythe of Unbound Light and the Manufacturom lost to Chaos, but the instigator of this campaign throwing the sector into disarray is revealed!

Both teams claimed 5 superheavy/gargantuan/bulwark and 3 warlord kills, though Order also dispatched the Discord warmaster—Cypher cowardly hiding in a bunker! After Turn 2 Order had a small lead (19 to 15), but Discord gained a slight advantage by Turn 4 (40 to 37), and then Order’s long edge collapsed in Turn 5, yielding a final total score of 65 to 51 in favor of the traitors, heretics, and xenos.

A solitary sniper eyes up the battlefield.

A solitary sniper eyes up the battlefield.

Analysis

A few points on the game play itself as well as the design of the match.

Game End

With 120 points up for grabs, the 65-51 Apocalypse outcome certainly wasn’t a blow out. With another turn before scoring the end several of the objectives would have been closely fought, potentially dramatically changing the outcome. The Kingbreakers in particular were setup for 6 turns, and didn’t have time to move back onto the Dormitory objective when the game ended early. By that point though most of the (merely mortal) warlords were ready to pack it in after a long, brutal campaign. We did a reasonable job of keeping things to our schedule, but this was a packed weekend of two long days of gaming. Regardless, in the future we’ll probably score every turn and commanders will have to be prepared for the game to end early in the event that the group starts to flag.

The Mechanicum's Strongpoint is overwhelmed in a combined tide of living and corrupted metal.

The Mechanicum’s Strongpoint is overwhelmed in a combined tide of living and corrupted metal.

Balance

Our group consciously works to make our Apocalypse battles more than just Titans point & clicking at each other from across the table. In this match basic troops, heroic warriors, and giant war machines all felt equally important and critical. To a very large extent the game came down to a couple combat squads of Tacticals slugging it out with some Chaos Marine stragglers over a primary objective in the last turn. Among the factors contributing to this are:

  • Major units, defined as anything with more than 9 hull points/wounds, are “negotiated” between the teams. For this match we agreed not to allow Reavers, though we have in the past, mostly because one in the group isn’t painted and very very few of our players are familiar enough to use them effectively. Otherwise everything was allowed and this rule basically just prevents surprises, and enables some shifting around of excess Baneblade-chassis to roughly balance the superheavies across the two teams.
  • Tons of line of sight blocking terrain as well as barricades, rubble, and other smaller terrain providing places for the little guys to hang out. In addition to the board pieces placed pre-game, we ignore the official Apoc rules and leave ruined vehicles in place (as destroyable wreckage) as well as amending the 7th edition core to still replace exploded vehicles with craters, so that infantry have places to hide, particularly after spilling out of a transport.
  • Permitting only Troops to hold the primary objectives in the mid-game scoring obviously makes them critical. Giving all Troops the Objective Secured rule regardless of detachment is also a nice and very relevant buff. A good number of points came down to having Elites vs Troops on the secondary objectives.
A full handful of plasmacannon Sentinels lurched about in Order's backfield waiting for deep striking traitor Terminators to squish.

A full handful of plasmacannon Sentinels lurched about in Order’s backfield waiting for deep striking traitor Terminators to squish.

Deployment Zones

The funky deployment zones used here definitely made things interesting. It’s certainly not uncommon in Apocalypse for a section of the board to get blown away early. This setup though makes the long ends of the L-shapes “obvious” focal points for massive bombardments and attack because they’re exposed on two sides.

Despite Discord’s significant siege works, most of their forces on that point were obliterated early on. Probably Order’s Sentinels and 59th Armageddon should have advanced en masse to roll down that flank a bit after it was opened up, but they were harassed enough by deep striking Oblits and Daemons to stay put. In turn, that gave space for the large number of reserves Discord had held back to roll on and just barely mantain that point.

On the opposite end, Discord didn’t manage to knockout Order’s Strongpoint at that leading edge for quite some time, but the writing was on the wall with an inexorable wave of enemies working toward it from multiple angles. Order placed a ridiculous amount of forces around the main gate objective for mostly psychological reasons, as well as not wanting to split up commanders’ forces, but we should have allocated some of them down at the opposite end.

So, both sides expected the brunt of the fighting to be at those points, but neither adequately realized how true that would be. Encouraging that kind of analysis is a good thing, so I think this deployment setup worked well without being more punishing on any particular player than Apocalypse can be anyway.

Grenadiers oversee the battlefield.

Grenadiers oversee the battlefield.

Strategy

To that end, this match was actually really strategic. Though definitely not a perfect game, 40k done well is by no means a beer and pretzels affair. That’s surprisingly also true of Apocalypse. With enough attention to terrain, scenario, schedules, and balanced teams, there’s a ton of strategy to be had.

For the most part, Apocalypse doesn’t have the same tactical game that standard 40k does. There’s just too much going on, and not enough time to micro-optimize play or avoid all mistakes. I almost certainly removed my warlord on a failed save he didn’t actually fail but was too harried to catch that the power weapon attacking him didn’t defeat his artificier armor. At the same time, I know his unit lived through a turn when they could have gotten crushed because an opposing player was moving too fast trying to get in all of his actions, and accidentally blocked the Discord Warhound from going after them. It was actually jarring going from Recon Squad, which is very tactical, to this monstrosity. My skirmish Saturday against Colin’s Fallen was extremely chess-like and tight (and awesome!), whereas Sunday’s chaos was all about the broad strokes, having a well designed list and making the appropriate large scale moves that sailed well above all the really fine grained stuff.

A Typhoon heads out on patrol.

A Typhoon heads out on patrol.

To a large extent, 40k is a game of resource management and area control rather than micro-maneuvering, and in my eyes is a better game for it. Apocalypse done right takes that to a different level even as it swings on pivotal dice rolls just like any other match. Discord won this game because they kept a large number of units in reserve and combined them well with strategic asset cards to bring them on in the most effective places at just the right times. Ultimately it came down to just a couple Chaos Marines posing a significant threat, combined with a few flyers in position to sweep away the counter-response.

Though the gambit looked very promising at the start, Order didn’t have enough oomph left after its initial alpha strike even though it was largely successful. Compounding that, we didn’t wipe out enough of the opposing defenders in the mid-game to prevent Discord from sneaking small groups of reserves into critical positions. Most importantly though, the alpha strike and serious buildup around the main gates left all our troops committed in the wrong places going into the end game, and we just weren’t as able to adapt as the opposing army bringing in new troops all around the board.

In sum: Two very different strategies, both almost worked out, one wound up with a solid win through intentful strategic play and a lot of pre-game thought. That’s exactly how it should work. And along the way there were ridiculous piles of armies and huge models being pushed all around the table…

The Apocalypse somewhere in the early turns.

The Apocalypse somewhere in the early turns.

Closing

It took a lot of advance work and was a looong weekend, but this was a stellar event encompassing a huge swathe of 40k gaming: Skirmishing, Apocalypse, campaigns, narrative, frantic late night painting, the whole shebang.

Again, lots of photos are up in the Flickr galleries:

g6587We’ll also be posting the PDFs driving all of this, and are also considering hosting a larger event around the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) area sometime in the future. If you are interested in either of those, please sign up for our very low-volume, announcements-only mailing list!

Next up is our regular tournament/event at Redcap’s Corner on Saturday, January 24th. Details will be posted to the store’s 40k mailing list and the PAGE Forums shortly, but armies are 1850 points and entry $10. Be there or be forever a traitor enslaved to laughing gods!

kingbreakers-iconCaptain Angholan subtly motioned for his men to wait as he stepped forward onto the dais. In the complete silence he could hear the soft boom and crunch of the colossal battle going on outside the courtyard. Here though the air was completely still and stale, dead. Ahead stood the motionless monarch, flanked by row after row of his automatons. Eyes locked on his opponent, Angholan swept his softly flaming Vorpal Blade languidly across the arc of the room, then pointed it straight at the Nemesor. Deep in its hollowed eye sockets he thought he could see a slight upbeat in the small lights set there. Then, wordlessly and as one, the ranks of automatons slowly moved forward, enclosing their leader safely behind. The licks of flames at the edge of Angholan’s blade burst to life as First Squad stepped up to join him. It could go down that way too.

The Kingbreakers' Captain Angholan and Squad Scolirus fight their way onto the Necron Citadel to challenge Nemesor Zahndrekh personally.

The Kingbreakers’ Captain Angholan and Squad Scolirus fight their way onto the Necron Citadel to challenge Nemesor Zahndrekh personally.

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PAGE Apocalypse 2014: The Defense of Kimball Prime

kingbreakers-icon

With the fall of Caldor IV and Rittenhouse Hive, yet another of Abaddon’s years-long black crusades continues to build momentum.  Gazing deep into sector holomaps, Kingbreakers’ leadership decides to make a stand on Kimball Prime.  Great works begin as the planet is made into a fortress world, with bunkers, shield generators, and innumerable weapons batteries built from the ice wastes of the poles to the sweltering jungles of the equator.  Here the traitor’s tide of war will be blunted, or the incursion will rage through the sector unstoppable.

Despite a snowstorm shortly before and a variety of other hiccups, most of the PAGE crew got together for its much planned 2014 New Year’s Apocalypse this weekend, to smashing success.  Brett, Colin, Lovell, Steve, Tom, and Warren joined armies to form the Forces of Discord.  Akil, Jason, Justin, Owen, and myself made up the Forces of Order.

Lots more photos are in the Flickr gallery.

The battle underway!

The battle underway!

Listen, we could spend all day rollin' butt loads of dice, or you and me could just Rochambeau right now and get a beer?

Listen, we could spend all day rollin’ butt loads of dice, or you and me could just Rochambeau right now and get a beer?

Armies

After extensive ad hoc rebalancing for missing players—presumably caught in the Warp—the two teams came out to about 20,400 points each, from an originally planned 24,000, including all Titans, superheavies, and gargantuan creatures.  The armies of Discord brought a variety of Chaos Marines, Daemons, Cultists, Traitor Guard, and Necrons, supported by a Reaver, Warhound, a Baneblade chassis, Greater Bloodthirster of Khorne, Great Brass Scorpion, all lead by Abaddon.  The Forces of Order brought together many allies, including Space Marines, Space Wolves, Dark Angels, Tau, and Imperial Guard, supported by a Reaver, Warhound, and three Baneblade chassis, lead by Librarian Rorschach.

The planet writhes in flames as the war grinds on to near stalemate.  Finally all the hosts come to a head in a single line of battle stretching across half the planet.  Desperate times at hand, the great heroes Grimnar, Belial, and Creed together with legendary commander Farsight hurl themselves into combat at the head of great columns of men and vehicles.  Awaiting them lies a brutal gallows roll of all the mightiest foes of the Imperium, from blackest Abaddon himself to the greatest daemons of the Warp, with even the machined strategist Imhotekh and all his advisors rising from a newly awoken Tomb Citadel to throw in his lot with the bid to take down an Imperial sector.  The last push begun, Captain Angholan clasps gauntlets with his battle brother Rorschach and embarks to the front, leaving the latter and his Council of Librarians to divine the Emperor’s light and guide the forces of order.

This planet is ours now.

This planet is ours now.

Party's on the other side of the table, boys!

Party’s on the other side of the table, boys!

Scenario

The board was 6′ x 17’4″, with teams each taking a 2ft long-edge deployment zone.  Chaos won zone selection in a roll-off, and then took first turn as well after bidding 5 minutes’ deployment.  The Imperium, expecting such a low bid from the heretics and having significant foot and vehicular forces to field, bid for a full 30 minutes of setup.  Discord placed a dual set of Void Shield Generators and Vengeance Battery fortifications, with a Necron Tomb Citadel nearby.  Loyalist fortifications included multiple Imperial Bunkers, Vengeance Batteries, and a Void Shield Generator creating a 12″ protective bubble over their central position.

Heretics placed one home objective in the Citadel, another safely ensconced within the overlapping Shield Generators, and targeted an immensely important fir tree among the ice caves on the Imperial flank for their opposed objective.  Kingbreakers declared their central command buildings as tightly clustered home objectives, while the Dark Angels and Tau targeted a critical defensive wall in the jungle temple on Discord’s far right flank as the breach point through which to break the crusade.

Table setup and deployment; click for larger view.

Table setup and deployment; click for larger view.

We followed standard 6th edition Apocalypse scoring for the match: Killing superheavies, gargantuans, and the designated supreme Warmaster are each worth a point; objectives are scored at multiple times and progressively increase in value, in this case after Turns 2, 4, and 5 (game end), and for 1, 2, and 3 points per objective each time.

Let's do this thing!  Steve's scratchbuilt Warhound Titan.

Let’s do this thing! Steve’s scratchbuilt Warhound Titan.

Battle

How quickly shift the tides of war!

Major axes of movement & reserve arrivals; click to enlarge.

Major axes of movement & reserve arrivals; click to enlarge.

Turn 1

Combat began hectically, with the defensive Imperials in particular rushing to activate all of their comparatively numerous models and ultimately skipping a fair bit of shooting when time ran out.  Chaos declared a Trophy Kill objective on Grimnar on the Imperial right flank and began pursuing it with a massive Traitor Guard armoured spearhead combined with Abaddon himself and his Terminator bodyguards.  Innumerable daemons spawned into existence, anchored to the Materium by a host of greater daemons bursting forth from the Warp at each corner of the battle and shrouding the field in their Tetragon of Darkness.  A massive Necron Pylon came into existence in the very center of the combat, while Necron Sentry Pylons also beamed into place around the Discord objectives.  Discord claimed a Baneblade chassis while Imperials killed the Pylon to gain one point each through the course of the first turn.

Necron, Traitor Guard, and Abaddon, what could go wrong?!

Necron, Traitor Guard, and Abaddon, what could go wrong?!

Turn 2

The Emperor’s light shone brightly in the next round as the Great Brass Scorpion approached Imperial lines but fell to massed multi-melta and lascannon fire.  Chaos’ foul Tetragon was also quickly broken, with several greater daemons assassinated at their anchor points.  Imperial shooting also took out a Baneblade chassis, and all this without giving up a kill point themselves.  Further, Discord discarded their previously earned point to enact the Lies of Tzeentch Strategic Resource and temporarily control the opposing Reaver, forcing it to friendly fire and obliterate a number of Dark Angels Terminators.  Fast moving Necron Destroyers rushing from their recently awoken Citadel did manage to contest the Space Wolves’ objective, leaving Order only 2 points on objectives versus the Discord 3, but the Imperials and allies still came out ahead after Turn 2.

Ohmygod, we're so behind schedule; I need to take a break...

Ohmygod, we’re so behind schedule; I need to take a break…

Turn 3

Quickly though the clouds darkened over the Imperium.  Abaddon and friends bested Logan Grimnar in personal combat, achieving a Trophy Kill strategic asset and claiming 3 points.  Simultaneously the traitor Reaver and tank columns took down a loyalist Baneblade chassis for another point, the earth shaking crunch as its flaming pieces hit the ground second only to that of Grimnar.  These combined losses in the polar fighting left the Space Wolves distraught and open to systematic decimation in the coming turns.

Ongoing tremendous amounts of heavy shooting also did little to stop the inexorable flanking march of the Greater Bloodthirster onto the Imperial’s command bunker.  Only sustained sacrificial delaying tactics and careful positioning of many Space Marines, Imperial Guard, and Tau vehicles and infantry continued to keep it from reaching the Kingbreakers’ encampment and cracking open the critical Void Shields.  Ultimately Order gained no points and ceded its lead in the planet-wide battle royale.

For the greater good!  Blood for the Blood God!

For the greater good! Blood for the Blood God!

Turn 4

Approaching the endgame, the match pitched into a grinding battle of quarter inches and small chances.  Discord caused a cataclysmic explosion on the jungle flank by exploding the Imperial Reaver.  More damningly, the raging Bloodthirster, chosen warrior of Khorne, achieved his primary objective and crushed in a single blow the Imperials’ Void Shield Generator, exposing the command bunker and both objectives previously under its aegis.

Recovering from their mounting losses though, Order achieved several critical successes.  Hulking in screaming victory over the savaged ruins of the Shield Generator, the massive Bloodthirster was yet again lit up and wracked by fire from every possible weapon across half the field of battle and finally succumbed, sent back to its blood god at the very door of the Imperial command bunker.  The great warmonger Abaddon was similarly forced to flee the battle in the face of mounting personal injury, yielding Order 2 points for these kills.

Significantly, the Dark Angels’ long battle through the heart of an equatorial jungle temple paid dividends.  With the bulk of the Chaos flank guards tied up by the Unforgiven, the Tau, Imperial Guard, and Kingbreakers were able to sweep the targeted strategic breach point.  At the same time, Kroot reserves and Imperial Guard bombardments arrived to reinforce the Space Wolves struggling under massive combined assault and help prevent further Necron and Traitor Guard incursion.  These actions denied Discord a third objective for the second round of scoring, which awarded two objectives each.

Air cav inbound!

Air cav inbound!

Turn 5

In its last moments the epic battle for Kimball Prime reached a fever pitch of critical moves, last-chance shots, and final coups de grâce.  Resurrecting the courage of Russ, Space Wolves squadrons regrouped into secure positions overlooking the bizarrely anonymous Discord objective in their midst.  Charged thrusts from elite soldiers and fast attack vehicles of the Tau, Dark Angels, Imperial Guard, and Kingbreakers also swept away the straggling Chaos Cultists and lesser daemons attempting to resecure the breachpoint, the nearby traitor Warhound stomping in rage at its inability to stop the loyalist troops swarming about its feet.

These are not the droids you're looking for!

These are not the droids you’re looking for!

But even as the Forces of Order prepped for these advances on the flanks, Discord piled all of its remaining heavy shooting onto the Kingbreakers’ command headquarters, the Bloodthirster’s suicidal, singleminded, successful mission to cripple the Shield Generator having rendered it exposed for the first time in the battle.  With the points near tied and Discord’s two home objectives safely held but the third stripped away and Order claiming its own flank objective, everything came down to the two on the bunker complex.

With nearly all other long range shooting eliminated or crippled, the traitor Reaver and Warhound Titans combined fire to strip away the bunker’s internal Void Shields and then pummel it with the most powerful weaponry ever fielded.  They were prevented though from directly targeting the most critical troop units and the bunker itself by a well placed Shield Generator Strategic Asset, carefully saved for exactly a deeply dire moment such as this.  A precious few Forest Guard platoon members survive the incoming blasts, even as nearby Kingbreakers Tactical Squads rush in to shore them up.  The Forces of Order continued to hold their two home objectives.

The last of the flanking Obliterators dead and Skarbrand sent back to the Warp, Captain Angholan pauses to survey the battlefield and catch his breath.  His muscles all clench though and his eyes yield to horror as he turns just in time to watch a final massive overcharged plasma blast from a retreating tainted Reaver slam into the newly unshielded command bunker, instantly obliterating its top ramparts and engulfing an extraordinary area in blazing gouts of flame.  Sprinting into the blinding rockrete dust, he calls on all his decades of steely training to choke back surging memories of the fall of Forestway and his own long entrapment in the collapsed capital building.  Armor servos shriek in protest as he rips apart nanobar and flings away huge chunks of rockrete.  Finally tossing aside an entire interior wall, he falls to his knees.  Ahead of him is a large energy bubble supporting all the tremendous rubble of the upper levels.  Huddled inside are a few all-but-dead yet still living Guardsmen and Space Marines.  At the center is his great, troubled friend Rorschach and the Kingbreakers’ Council of Librarians, eyes closed and faces a rictus of concentration from the inconceivable effort of maintaining the telekinetic shield.  With Angholan frozen in relieved shock, Squad Scolirus finally catches up and slips around their Captain to begin carefully extricating the survivors.  The battle is won.

Kingbreakers dance in the flames!

Kingbreakers dance in the flames!

Results

The Forces of Order break Discord’s Apocalypse winning streak!

Reap the tallyman, Nurgle!

Reap the tallyman, Nurgle!

Order claimed 5 of the 7 possible kill points offered by the Discord forces by tagging the Pylon, Scorpion, Bloodthirster, Baneblade chassis, and the Warmaster (Abaddon), leaving the Warhound and Reaver on the table.  Order also held two objectives after Turns 2 and 4 as well as three after game end, for a total of 20 points.

Discord claimed 3 of the 6 possible bonus points offered by the Order forces by eliminating the Warhound and two Baneblade chassis, leaving the Reaver standing.  It also claimed 3 more in achieving a Trophy Kill on Grimnar, declared as one of their Strategic Asset selections.  However it spent 1 to enact Lies of Tzeentch.  Discord also held three objectives after Turn 2, as well as two after Turn 4 and game end, for a total of 18 points.

Final disposition; click to enlarge.

Final disposition; click to enlarge.

Game Thoughts

In a game like this there’s a thousand big and small things of note that happen.  These are just a couple very top level notable observations.

Range and Formations

It was really helpful to have Owen, a newcomer to our Apoc fights, be able to make the battle.  That made a big difference in equalizing the 6th edition experience levels across the two teams, helping Order play both better and within the time limits.  Tactically speaking, it was particularly helpful that he plays Guard and has played a few large battles before as he thus brought a significant increase in Order’s long range, heavy shooting.  On an 18′ long table even the normally impressive 48″ reach of a lascannon just doesn’t amount to much.  Without that we would have been in real trouble.  I was really counting on some of the missing players’ armies to provide the ability to go out offensively and hit things at distance, but the Guard shooting at range probably present a safer way to do that anyway.

Sometimes you just gotta call in the veterans.

Sometimes you just gotta call in the veterans.

Despite the story text above, my Librarians were yet again a huge, huge disappointment.  At this point I’m pretty used to how limited in appeal they are for normal play.  But I had high hopes for the Apocalypse formation I fielded, basically 5 Librarians potentially tossing out a D weapon large blast every turn.  Literally nothing walked into their line of sight and range though that wasn’t immediately swept away by much less risky shooting.  One consequence of having two redundantly Void Shielded, heavily armed encampments staring at each other across a relatively open expanse was that almost nothing ventured into what became a completely empty dead man’s land across the desert terrain.  I thought about having them disembark the bunker to get better sightlines, but even then not that many targets wandered close enough, and our little Warmaster would be out running around with giant Greater Bloodthirsters and such running amok in close quarters.  I love the models & concept so much, but…

In stark contrast to the Kingbreakers' flaming self-entombment, the Necron basically stand around all day just talkin' about how awesome their fortress is, not even noticing it blasting stuff on its own.

In stark contrast to the Kingbreakers’ flaming self-entombment, the Necron basically stand around all day just talkin’ about how awesome their fortress is, not even noticing it blasting stuff on its own.

The general point there though is that the Apocalypse formations are basically dumb.  They’re either (1) incredibly hard to field, (2) very brittle, or (3) have limited effect.  To (1), of the Space Marine formations, the majority involve fielding a full company of troops or a weird collection of very specific HQs.  On (2), a great many of their effects can be easily defeated, e.g., no one walking within two whole feet of my Librarians, or Brett’s Tetragon of Darkness being popped almost immediately.  For (3), due to the extra points available with the missing players Justin did actually field and use a Space Wolves Great Company.  But despite the large number of models and points that entails, I couldn’t tell you that I noticed the benefits.  Similarly, I actually fielded the requirements for a Space Marine Predator Assassin Squadron.  But I didn’t select the formation because it seemed more limiting than useful.

Hey, hey, buddy, don't start nothin', won't be nothin'!

Hey, hey, buddy, don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin’!

Balance

Obviously critical to the success of all of our Apocalypse games is the effort put beforehand into balancing the headliner models.  Coincidentally but unfortunately, the Forces of Discord have many more Titans, superheavies, and gargantuans at hand than Order.  Fortunately though they have so many that there’s enough—and they’re more than willing—to share them around and balance things out.

But, to that need to put a lot of effort into balancing things, D weapons are pretty dumb.  Since they’re so strong against everything, they make everything else all uniformly worthless.  With no protection of any kind being allowed against them, there’s no reason to field anything but the cheapest possible options and put all the points toward your own D weapons.  Given that they’re both equally dead if tagged, and equally unable to strike back at the shooter, why field 14 point Marines when a 5 point Guardsman is just as useless?  A ~250 point Landraider versus a 55 point Chimera?  Previously I had mixed feelings about the recent expansion of D weapons into the regular game.  Watching them up close again though has really pushed me to be very concerned.

Yep...  Good luck with that axe, buddy!

Yep… Good luck with that axe, buddy!

Similarly but in the other direction, the new Void Shields fortifications are probably also a problem.  I don’t have as much of an issue with them because ultimately they don’t directly remove models, and they’re somewhat readily countered on their own as well as much more internally balanced—you do what the Bloodthirster did: Walk right in, get protected from remote shooting by the Void Shields themselves, and then smash them.  But they’re almost certainly too cheap though for such a massive buff to a potentially large number of units.

Conclusion

Beyond that, I’m going to save for another post some thoughts on organizing and executing Apocalypse battles.  Ultimately we all collectively put a lot of thought into crafting a good plan and come at the game with the right mindset, and that all paid off in overcoming near disaster with multiple missing players and instead having a truly great day of gaming.

Again, more photos are in the Flickr gallery.  Till next time; the Emperor protects!

Huh... I guess he's really good with that axe?  Sergeant Harmon contests the Discord flank objective!

Huh… I guess he’s really good with that axe? Sergeant Harmon contests the Discord flank objective!