It must have been over five years ago or so that I participated in the biggest game of Apocalypse I had ever played. After spending a weekend playing a single game I was sworn off of Apocalypse. I found myself not keen to spend half a weekend moving my miniatures whilst the other half was me sitting and watching my opponents move theirs. It felt like a textbook error in simply scaling up a game system and expecting it to work fine. However, the re-imagined and reinvigorated rule set for grand-scale warfare in Warhammer 40,000 sees me keen to dive back into the mayhem.
The premise of Apocalypse, for those with their head firmly in the heretical sands, involves playing Warhammer 40,000 with immensely large armies. Apocalypse advises a minimum of 300 Power Level, where typical 40K games are played at around 100 Power Level. With my Death Guard and Chaos Space Marine armies combined, this brings me to around 160 models for a single battle to last around three hours.
Whilst three hours may not sound particularly stark on either end of the spectrum, I have seen previous Apocalypse games take place over whole days or weekends. These previous time-frames are enough to kill the excitement for me. Sacrificing this much time over a single game which could be decided by the half-way point simply bores me to tears. The new iteration of apocalyptic warfare curbs this thanks to the new rules systems introduced in the field manual provided in the box.
The field manual is something of an anomaly for me. I love the feeling of a dense tome in my hands. It’s surprising that the rule book comes to a meagre 120 pages with Apocalypse being all about bigger, more explosive battles. Not just that, but a good chunk of the book is predominantly artwork and army showcases. With Imperial Knights (both loyal and heretical) appearing alongside Titans in numerous places, I’d not be surprised to see the upcoming Chaos Knights go on pre-order in a matter of days.
The actual gameplay rules for Apocalypse unfurl as welcome changes to accommodate battles of this size. The inclusion of orders and activating “detachments” rather than units means that the games feel streamlined. The adapted turn sequence and rules feel considerate for players and these grand clashes. Most changes are welcome and I’ll go into them a little more shortly.
The wounding system employed into Apocalypse is a particularly intriguing aspect of the rules. Players roll for their own units to hit enemies based on their ballistic skill or weapon skill. After this the player must roll to wound based on the enemy their fighting. You roll against a stat that can be either Strength Against Personnel or Strength Against Tanks. It amalgamates the combat system of Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Age of Sigmar; and it works. By combining the two it doesn’t feel horrendously simplified but is still swift and easy to understand. I find myself wondering if we’ll be seeing this sort of combat elsewhere in Games Workshop game systems.
You may be wondering, how can you possibly track the damage inflicted and sustained across so many units? Especially in such densely-packed battlefields? The provision of tokens makes tracking your detachments and units easier as to avoid mistakes; easily done in these colossal bouts. However, some elements feel notably unforgiving and inflexible. For instance, having units get a certain distance away from the commander of their detachment can have them simply destroyed at the end of the turn if they are at all damaged. This will likely provoke strategy and tactics when building detachments. Although, reading it off the page imbues me with an inference of rigidity and constraint. It’ll be considerations such as this that keep tactics at the forefront of Apocalypse.
One of the big-ticket items included in the Apocalypse box are the Command Asset cards. Containing a harrowing 300 cards taking up a good portion of the contents within. Sadly, the value of them quickly dissipates when you organise the ones you need against the ones you don’t.
For those who own multiple armies at a suitable size for Apocalypse, you’ll be fine. Unfortunately, that feels like a very small subset of players. For the rest of us who own an army or two at most, many of these cards will rarely leave the box. Should you wish to share the contents with friends for games then that certainly works out better.
Thankfully, at the very least, unit rules for every unit in Warhammer 40,000 are available for free for Apocalypse. A lovely gesture indeed and upon going through the sheer number of datasheets you realise that this must have been something of a herculean undertaking.
One handy thing about the 8th edition 40K datasheets is that nearly all the rules for each model or unit are on the datasheets themselves. In Apocalypse this is almost the case, too. However, there are also some “Common Abilities” which behave akin to the “Special Rules” back in 7th edition Warhammer 40,000. Thankfully, all of these Common Abilities are on a single page. I will state that it’s a little curious to see Games Workshop revert back to book-bound-rules/abilities which was one of the complaints of 7th and major fixes in 8th.
The book also includes a deluge of missions, mission generator options and warzones to further help you weave your games. There’s also rules and guidelines on running a campaign. Needless to say, this is should you truly fancy spending a lot of time in these immense conflicts. Including these supplementary rules are proving essential in contemporary publications and is absolutely something I’m welcoming with open arms. These games can be tremendous undertakings, after all. Assisting players by providing frameworks to play upon is both helpful and considerate. Less time planning and waiting, more time playing; a core stance of this new form of Apocalypse.
There are also smaller touches that add to these battles to help emphasise their grandeur. For instance, model coherency is tighter, meaning units are more huddled together. Furthermore, individual models are not removed when units take damage. Units can decrease in effectiveness through damage, but the only time models are removed through damage is after total destruction. This means that the battles can begin swamped with models, especially to begin with. Yet, after a couple of turns, you will see swathes of miniatures removed. All of this adds to the nuances of Apocalypse and helps it to stand out from Warhammer 40,000 proper.
Accomplishing the Apocalypse
Apocalypse is not perfect, though. The first issue I found with the Apocalypse box is the price. It feels a little high for the contents of the box. This includes the manual, sheets of tokens and the aforementioned excessive throng of cards, most of which you may never use. Splitting the box with a friend or group of friends is an option, of course.
If you played strategy video games in the days of old, Apocalypse ticks that box. It proficiently incurs battles that ooze an essence of monumental destruction. It does this successfully with new rules that make the games not just stimulating but run for reasonable lengths of time. Whilst overseeing your detachments, a true sense of command can be felt. There’s great satisfaction as they lurch forward, covering ground to cataclysmic battle where Games Workshop have clearly thought to put player experience first.
The product itself might be expensive for what it is. It could likely have been released in segments for players and their desired factions. Although, the cost is dwarfed by the barrier to entry imposed by the sheer amount of models you need to play. Should you be happy with more typical-sized games of Warhammer 40,000 then you’re not missing a great deal here.
However, if you have ever wanted to see every model you own for your army clash against the entire force of an opponent, Apocalypse will grant you the opportunity for memorable battles that will stick with you for their fun and exciting moments, as opposed to spending an entire weekend painstakingly moving models one by one.
If you have tales of gigantic battles you’d love to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. Alternatively, feel free to let us know on Facebook!