Kill Team 2021 Review: Scorched Earth Approach

I do feel as if I’ve written more Kill Team content than any other system at this point. Be it the tepid launch of the previous edition or the rocky and less-than-ideal release of the Pariah Nexus box. Despite the extent of coverage over what feels a small amount of time, I’m excited to dive in once more! The latest version brings with it a flurry of brand new changes and systems, reinventing the system almost entirely. Does this work wonders for Kill Team 2021? Or is it trying to fix something that simply wasn’t broken?

The premise of Kill Team 2021 remains unchanged. You deploy a small squad of operatives against enemy operatives to complete tactical objectives in urban warfare. The foundation of the game is still there with operatives coming in various flavours regardless of chosen faction. Most factions have standard warriors, along with the option for specialised operatives and leaders. Each perform better at certain tasks compared to others, be they nimble and flighty or hulking and fighty.

That is largely where the similarities end. As toted through the numerous previews, this new edition of Kill Team is built from the ground up. Almost nothing from the previous version has made its way in. Where the last edition was almost a Warhammer 40,000-lite version, this time round we’re given entirely new mechanics and systems for everything from movement, actions and even measurements…sort of.

Core Rules Reboot

As stated, near every single rule has been reimagined in Kill Team 2021. Gone are the familiar phases of Movement, Shooting and Combat. Each turn (or Turning Point) divides into three phases. The Initiative Phase has players deduce who has the initiative (and thus who’ll be going first in the proceeding phases). The Strategy Phase allows players to enact Strategic Ploys that will benefit them in the coming Firefight Phase. Unsurprisingly, the Firefight Phase is when operatives are activated to move, shoot and undertake other war-waging maneuvers.

The Initiative and Strategy phases tend to wrap up fairly swiftly. Along with choosing Strategic Ploys in the Strategy Phase, Tac Ops can also be revealed and begun. Tac Ops are secondary objectives to be completed as the game progresses, earning you more victory points alongside mission objectives. These are quite reminiscent of the old Kill Team: Arena objectives although they can be quite superfluous at times. These will certainly help to ensure that games feel different each time you play them, even if the mission objectives are ones you’ve tackled before. It adds another tier of planning and tactics to your game. The extra couple of victory points that Tac Ops can bring could mean the difference between victory or defeat.

Of course, knowing the structure of a Turning Point is all well and good, but how does the core gameplay feel? Does the Firefight Phase still capture that frantic and furious combat of close-quarters skirmish warfare?

Firefighting

This is the area that has seen the biggest overhaul within Kill Team 2021. The first notable difference is the way Operatives are represented via their datacards. Gone are the typical Movement, Ballistic Skill, Strength characteristics, etc. Operatives now have a completely new set of stats totally removed from the familiar Warhammer 40,000 system. Movement (M) is measured in a series of symbols to represent distance. APL determines the number of actions that Operatives can perform. GA shows how many Operatives of that type can be activated per the player’s activation, vital for the more plentiful kill teams.

Whilst a little jarring at first, these new elements quickly flow nicely in the game and soon become second nature. With combat and defence now different through the use of defence dice (DF) against your armour save (SV), the only remotely recognisable characteristic for each fighter is Wounds (W). Even then, Operatives in Kill Team 2021 have far more Wounds than the previous edition. Nevertheless, the damage output is also much higher, so there’s plenty of death, even on these smaller fields of battle!

The models and terrain supplied with the game certainly do add to the value of the box and make the price tag much easier to swallow.

These things combined make Kill Team 2021 particularly brutal. When you have a Heavy Intercessor face down a Chaos Cultist and mow them down with their Executor Bolt Rifle, the Cultist will soon be little more than a puddle on the ground and nearby walls. The combat feels like it’s balanced with all of this in mind. The more numerous kill teams covering more ground for objective scoring, whereas the small teams are usually far more devastating in fights. Thus, you’ll have some Operatives scrambling for cover to hold ground whilst enemies charge forward, power fists primed.

Where shooting is concerned, the new mechanics, once gotten used to, flow fairly well but can present some confusion. Operatives may fire a ranged weapon using the weapon’s Attack value for the number of shots against the provided Ballistic Skill. Successful hits are retained as the attack pool. The target Operative rolls their number of defence dice, needing to meet or exceed their SV value. These can then negate dice in the attack pool. Successes cancel each other out, with any remaining hit pool dice dealing damage based on their value.

Following Orders

The aforementioned confusion stems from the use of the engage and conceal orders. Each Operative always has an order set. They can either be set to engange which allows them to shoot and charge, but are more visible to enemy Operatives. On the other hand, conceal orders have your Operatives harder to see, but limits their optiosn in what they can do when activated. Page 70 shows how these orders impact an Operatives visibility to enemy Operatives. However, what Operatives can and cannot do is shown under the actions themselves which makes looking it up quite a pain. Here it feels like there should be a list of what is and isn’t permitted under the orders themselves.

Harnessing these orders does provide an additional layer of depth to the game. It’s just a shame that they’re not more concise. Especially when you can opt to change their orders when they activate, but rather than having the options altogether, you need to look at the actions and deduce what you can and can’t do. This will inevitably slow things down.

The system on its own works nicely and has a nice feel to it. However, the introduction of other rules such as obscured Operatives soon left me scratching my head and asking questions. I struggle to find answers quickly in the rule book but I accept these will likely get easier with time. Although some of this is down to the rule book itself, we’ll come to that a little later.

Fight! Parry! Strike!

Whilst shooting may be blemished with some verbose wording and rules, it’s close combat that is the real star of Kill Team 2021 for me! When two Operatives clash in melee, the results are usually always brutal. When an Operative charges an enemy, the two will fight at the same time. Each player rolls their attack dice for their chosen melee weapon, retaining successes based on their Weapon Skill. From here one at a time, starting with the attacker, each player chooses to use one of their attack pool dice to strike or parry.

It is here that some swift and tactical prowess must be called upon. Each dice of a six can be used to score critical damage via a strike, or can be used to parry the enemy Operative’s own critical hit. Parry is used to discard both dice in the process, reducing the number of attacks the enemy can unleash. Non-critical success dice can be used to deal damage or parry against the enemy Operative’s own successful dice pool. This is where determining whether you want to unleash a flurry of bloody attacks or play defensively and reduce incoming damage can lead to victory or defeat.

Special rules add an extra tier of strategy to close combat. For instance, an Ork Power Klaw has the Brutal special rule. This means that you can only parry hits against this weapon with critical hits. Thus, if you find yourself going toe-to-toe with an Ork Kommando Nob then you better be adept at rolling sixes! Else your brave Operative will likely be splattered across the room in a very swift fashion.

Reading and Warring

In the interest of restoring balance to the emotional universe, let’s move from my favourite part of Kill Team 2021 and onto possibly one of my biggest gripes with the new Kill Team – the rule book. The image and print quality are as wonderful as ever, unsurprisingly. However, the layout and presentation of some of the rules and sequences feel a little rough and contrived.

For instance, an Operative cannot perform the same action twice in an activation. You cannot shoot twice with an Operative in their activation unless a unique rule states otherwise, for instance. This is a very important rule to learn, but it’s left as the very last sentence after a number of paragraphs detailing the Firefight Phase, rather than the section explaining actions themselves on the same page. This bit of information was phenomenally easy to miss and certainly feels like it needs highlighting better as it can fundamentally change the game.

Another issue that draws my ire is the explanation about fighters in cover. There’s actually ample information on the traits and characteristics that each type of terrain has, including “Cover” as a rule. However, the explanation of the benefit that this actually provides is explained halfway through the shooting action segment earlier in the book. Why not have it in the rules regarding cover itself? Or at a stretch, simply restate it there and have it twice? Where the Age of Sigmar rulebook has made leaps and bounds in readability and organisation, the Kill Team 2021 rulebook feels as though it’s fallen behind.

However, another problem that I have with Kill Team doesn’t strictly come from the rules themselves, but the contents of the box. The first segment of this tirade is regarding tokens. The tokens included in the box are fine and serve their purposes, be it as objective markers or order tokens, but there’s something crucial missing here – wound tokens! Warcry has a tremendous token set for marking wounds on a model but Kill Team comes with absolutely no equivalent. In a game where you can have 10 Veteran Guardsmen with at least 7 wounds each and not have tokens to represent their wounds feels like a misstep. Other factions will have heftier Operatives with higher wound counts. Thus, having dice strewn across the table to track damage will likely become cumbersome. My fear here is that wound tokens will come, but they’ll be additional purchases coinciding with each faction.

Sure, there are quite a few tokens. But the exclusion of wound tokens really does feel like a mistake. In-game where you can have 10 Orks running around with 10+ wounds each, you’ve suddenly got a table covered in dice, otherwise.

Gauging Interest

A slightly less aggravating, yet still unfortunate issue regards the measurement gauges provided. Measurements are displayed as symbols instead of distances, but this isn’t my issue. Although, this seems to have kicked up far more of a stink than I ever thought it would. No, my issue is that whilst one of the gauges is duplicated (one for each player), one of them (the hexagon 6″ measurement gauge) is not duplicated – you only get one. Granted, it’s likely to be less utilised compared to the other gauges, but it just feels a little bit half-baked.

With the physical parts of the box, actual models aside, it definitely feels like these few bits were simply thrown into the plan at the end with little thought/consideration. I would go as far as to say that there are some things about this box that reminds me of the Apocalypse box. Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons you don’t see that box for sale anymore.

It’s a little difficult to summarise Kill Team 2021, being honest with you. I remember clearly saying with the previous edition that I wish they’d taken more risks with the system. I can say with confidence that they’ve done this, completely leaping from the beaten path and carving a new route for the game. Generally, this works well. The system now has a unique sense of identity and stands apart from other Games Workshop systems. There’s a little bit of Warcry in here but other than that, this is a brand new game.

There are plenty of things that the game does well. The melee combat is exceptionally rapid and the important role that terrain plays only helps to accentuate the individuality of Kill Team 2021. Nonetheless, whilst some things are genuinely fun and enjoyable, it’s a shame there are issues that mar this system. The haphazard composition of the rulebook will slow players down and detract from the intent of Kill Team 2021. This coupled with the learning curve of the game means that the initial jump into this game may be enough to deter new players. However, if you can stick around long enough to familiarise yourself with the rules then this may just become one of your favourite new systems.

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Article originally written by the author for The Unrelenting Brush blog in affiliation with Boards and Swords Hobbies.

Note – Games Workshop supplied us with a copy of Kill Team 2021 for this review content.

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