Friday, 19 November 2010

Apocalypse, do I love it or hate it?

More smurf like musings from me here. This time I'm focusing on the game of Apocalypse as it has been Apocalypse week over at GW.

So what is Apocalypse all about? In my mind it breaks down into two distinct properties; the modeling, painting and conversion potential, the gaming experience. Lets look at the gaming side of Apocalypse and what my musings deduce. I shall talk a bit about the hobby side tomorrow.

The game

Games workshop (God bless their zombie bones) markets the game of Apocalypse in a light that promotes the anything goes ethos. They claim that there is no limit to your imagination with apocalypse and that you can pretty much do what ever you like (they prefer to say 'fight the battle you have always wanted to fight').

What does this actually mean in practical terms? Well in my experience it usually means that the person/people with the most money buy the super heavies and everyone else just fields the models they own. An example of this can be seen in a recent apocalypse event that my original club in Telford held. The premise for this event was that they wanted to hold the largest apocalypse battle ever fought in the UK. The organisers worked very hard on the background and got the whole gaming community in Telford involved. They also invited GW to send representatives to take part in the event as well so as to make the claim 'official'. There was no limit placed on the amount of stuff you could bring but you could not use anything that was not Games Workshop produced (minor exceptions made for certain scratch builds).

Sounds good? Well no. From what I can gather it was a disaster. All the Imperial players were adults holding down full time jobs and spent a combined total of thousands of £'s on their armies. The forces of disorder were largely made up of the young members of the club, which held part time Saturday jobs on minimum wage, they simply could not compete in the money game. As a result, the event was a flop. Nobody had any fun.

What is it about Apocalypse that causes disappointing games such as the example given above and how can these problems be solved? Lets have a look at some of the issues that bug me.

The Super Heavies

I, like all of us, love to own the awesome killing machines. I have been drawing up plans for a stompa recently now I have some money coming in. When I have finished converting and painting it I will want to use it. That is why we buy models. But these machines can cause problems if not used properly.

1) They can be too powerful in certain battle situations
2) They can be too weak in others

oxymoronic or what?

1) 40k is a turn based gaming system. The person who goes first has a tremendous advantage in that ALL of his/her units can move and shoot together. In an Apocalypse setting this is usually game winning. Imagine all those super heavies just opening up and doing terrible damage to the opponent. Especially as many of the super heavies have weapons that can ignore cover and usually have an elevated position of fire. It's also a double whammy as the player that invests considerable amounts of points into super heavies often has less to deploy and so usually wins the deployment bid and goes first!

Some super heavies are just too hard and cannot be brought low without the aid of other super heavies. They are almost always expensive to buy, which limits their availability to people. I have been a student for 4 years and in that time I have not worked (I did a proper degree, which required hard work). I simply could not afford to buy a super heavy, even though the £60 price tag on the baneblade or the stompa is good value.

2) Believe it or not, I actually think that many super heavies are too weak. Take for example the shadow sword which I fielded as part of my traitor guard. It only really has one gun worthy of note and if that becomes damaged or is not allowed to fire it becomes worthless. Yes you can repair these issues with damage control and/or a field repair unit like a tech marine but it takes a turn to do. A turn in Apocalypse takes forever! One of the weakest results of the damage chart for super heavies is pick a weapon and it cannot fire for a turn! Ok if you are a baneblade, crappy for most other super heavies. This ruins the enjoyment you can get from your super heavy tank if its constantly not allowed to fire.

Apocalypse Game Structure

The game is stressful to play. With so much going on turns are prone to dragging on. People get bored and begin to pander for their turn. Tempers ware thin and voices are raised. Without drill sergeant like organisation Apocalypse games often descend into anarchy. This is not the loving image of amazing cinematic sequences that we are all led to believe from the pictures in the Apocalypse rule book. Ahhh look at those guys, all smiles and joy. One of them has a face like he's saying 'wow that was cool.' Total rubbish! Most people round the Apocalypse table have a face representing either; boredom, disappointment or smug elation (its a talented individual indeed that can process all 3 emotions at once).

My Musings and Remedies

I really do have mixed feelings about Apocalypse. It can be the best game you have ever played or the most pointless. I think the key here is to do what comes naturally and ignore GW's advice. The main correctional tool for all Apocalypse ills is organisation!

Plan the game to the last detail. If necessary appoint a games master to plan the event and deal with any and all issues during the game. Certainly have a lead planner.

When planning a game you must think of all the tiny details as well as the big stuff. You need to be aware of the models that each player will use and the points values as well. Both sides need to be fair. This does not mean both sides must have an equal amount of super heavies or stratagems, there are other factors that can correct the balance.

Terrain plays a massive role in Apocalypse. You can really limit the influence of certain super heavy units by a careful and appropriate use of LOS blocking terrain. If a player wants to just blast stuff with his/her big toy then let them do so on the flanks in a spot of open terrain, which will not necessarily affect the outcome of the battle too much. Let the main objectives be fought over in bloody close combat fighting in a dense city.

Some stratagems are totally overpowered and have a very negative effect on the game. The flankmarch asset immediately springs to mind and it has ruined a number of Apocalypse games for me over the years. The solution is to plan a narrative for the battle and govern which assets are available to each player before the battle. I find this not only adds to the story of the battle but also readdresses the balance significantly.

Something I have not used myself is the introduction of a FOC into the battle to limit the number of super heavies you may take. This is a great idea and keeps the sides fair, I would really like to try this out for myself at some point.

One final point I would like to make about improving your games of Apocalypse is that of discipline. It seems odd to mention I know but tempers flare up very easily in chaotic games of Apocalypse where multiple players are involved. Enforcing rules such as no speaking out of turn with others can really calm the game down and prevent people from getting agitated.

These are just a few issues I have had some time thinking about recently regarding Apocalypse. I think my take home message would be to plan a game of Apocalypse before hand and make sure all players involved know the details. A game of Apocalypse is an event so it is only right you treat it like one.


  1. Once again our musings are in sink. I totally get your statement "most people round the Apocalypse table have a face representing either; boredom, disappointment or smug elation".

    To me, Apoc lets me bring everything I have painted to the table in one giant battle. Being a footslogger by nature, this means loads of infantry models, with an occassional mech component.

    When Apoc came out my missus gave me a Baneblade (a present for finishing my degree). I duely painted that and wouold bring it out to the Apoc games organised at my local.

    What I found was that the early games were fun events. You had minimal Super Heavies (SH), and it was more about the horde of miniatures people had been collecting for the last 20-30 years. The SH were generally consigned to table edges, firing lengthways across a board dotted with terrain.

    But then more and more Apoc games came down to SH shoot outs with evermore titans and other really cool bits of kit turning up, but unbalancng the game.

    A good GM would level the playing field re the SH - either balance the forces appropriately, or restrict in some instances where it was obviously going to be a major effect on the game. No one wants to spend 30 minutes setting up lines of miniatures, only to have them destroyed on the first turn by arbitrary shooting from something on the opposite end of the table.

    Lacking good GM's, I turned away from the Apoc game. I have played a few at home where I balance the board around SH and terrain, and once in store which was a disaster.

    The target of the expansion was for fun. But recent events have lost that. As with most things store oriented, it comes down to dialogue. If you can have the dialogue at the start about what you want to achieve with a game like Apoc, place appropriate limits on players that are agreed to, Apoc can be an awesome sideshow to the main game. The alternative is to limit your play to buddies who you know share your views.

  2. It is a common feature I find with Apocalypse these days. Its definitely a game to be played amongst friends. The ideal situation is to set up a table in your front room, get three of your mates to turn up with pizza and beer and just have a fun game. Unfortunately, I don't yet own a table big enough to do that yet!

  3. I've been lucky. All my experiences of Apocalypse have been overwhelmingly positive. Maybe it was because I was the player with the smug expression. If so apologies to my opponents.

    Apocalypse games need to be really well managed to be fun. The guy in charge needs to know what everybody is bringing and balance the teams. An unbalanced game of apocalypse can be horrible to play. They drag on all day and you know you are going to lose from the start.

    I try to mix up my tricks in apocalypse and not just pull the same old flank march every game. I agree that it is the most game breaking stratagem. If you have a gun line army you need to choose stratagems just to stop it such as ambush and disruption beacon. Then it can turn out your opponent never had it anyway and is just messing with you.

    It's guard that are the most gun liney they can become ridiculous in apocalypse especially when backed up by multiple super heavies. With the lack of line of sight blocking terrain in 5th they can dominate the battlefield.

    Most other armies cannot match the fire power of the guard so the whole game becomes about using alternate deployment methods to get in close enough to break the guard armoured fist.

    I don't have any super heavies and I don't play guard. This means if I try to get in a shoot out in apocalypse I am going to get owned


    Keep it small. The best games of apoc I have played have been the smaller ones

    Have enough room. The bigger the table the better the game. A cramped table turns things into a turkey shoot.

    Limiting the super heavies to 1 per player/team

    Randomise stratagems

    Ban the Imperial Guard (lol). Really though I get tired of facing a gun line. Games between other armies would be great.

    No mixed teams. It seems odd to me for trygons to be on the same team as baneblades and wraithlords.

    Time limits on each of the turns to keep it moving.

    Good blog post by the way.

    I would like to know if anyone has ever faced or seen a Reaver Titan used? Especially the triple turbo laser config.

  4. Thanx Rob for the great post. I agree that the smaller games are much more enjoyable, which is ironic because that isnt want GW markets it as being for!