Friday, 9 January 2015

Warzone: Damnos Part 2 - The Rules (A Warhammer 40,000 Apocalypse Supplement Review)

... Well, that was a long week wasn't it?

I do apologise for the delay in getting back to this rulebook and finishing things off, life just has those habits of making planned projects difficult. In my defence though, there's really very little to actually add to this book than what's already been covered. The real issues behind the Warzone rulebook stem primarily from a direction evident in the lore: The entire book is Ultramarines focused. This wasn't so much a book about a war as one where the Ultramarines semi-lose a battle, then go back and slaughter everything in sight, making a mockery of a Necron Dynasty. As you can guess, the rules aren't quite so balanced as one would hope.

This isn't to say that the book only focuses upon the Ultramarines, just that anything given to the Necron army seems to be a second thought. Something thrown in to fulfill some quota or element rather than that Phil Kelley actually wanted to write about. Far more elements just seem to buff and help the Imperium than they really do with the xenos race which really only loses thanks to author bias and bad writing.

Just as a quick example, the Ultramarines themselves get a fair number of tweaks and edits to characters to alter how they work. Sicarius in particular is given the option to roll in with a vortex grenade, reflecting his victory over the C'Tan Shard and even the Imperium's forces are given brief tweaks to reflect the Ultramarines chapter as depicted here. 

Yet despite all that, along with Calgar and Sicarius both getting Finest Hour rules, no time is taken to actually flesh out the necron characters on the tabletop. Despite being a peerless warrior who once fought the Eldar and drove the Ultramarines originally from their world, the Undying Overlord is given no special rules in any way. Neither is Sahtak, lord of the Flayed Ones, despite playing a critical role in the narrative and there's a real sense of so much being overlooked. The only one who actually gets any serious focus in terms of rules is Cryptek von Generic, who has nothing we've not seen before. Seriously, the guy is so generic that in the robot space Egyptian army he's a part of he's given the name Ankh.

The real highlight of all this is actually not in the rules themselves but the overall setting. When it comes down to the potentially hostile parts of the environment, the ravaging threats and defences the Necrons set up to protect their world. Rather than having multiple fortresses unearthed across the world, masses of pylons or technology from a bygone age, so much here seems woefully generic. You get swarms of scarabs and the like, but it's so sparse that the actual fixed emplacements the necrons have in their favour are hijacked Imperial guns. It's honesty disheartening to see given how truly powerful even the post-Wardening Necrons are supposed to be.

Now in fairness, once that's moved away from things become a little more balanced out. With this being an Apocalypse campaign book, much of the real focus comes down to missions and formations. Now, unlike the Supplement Codices, this isn't so bad here as it was there. The focus here is to try and build a campaign rather than flesh out an army, it's the sort of augmenting element which is entirely fitting of this book. The formations in particular are worthy of note as they do try to embrace the telltale insanity and manic scale of Apocalypse games, with all sorts of nutty elements emphasising interesting and unique elements.

The standout examples among these are the Deathwatch Strike Team, which are are insane a bunch of elite alien hunters as one would hope, offering bonus victory points for their Warlord kills and Preferred Enemy. In addition to this the likes of the Wall of Martyrs Defence Strongpoint buffs a lot of emplaced guns with bonus abilities and higher BS. The attention to the Necrons themselves are far better balanced out here. Some of the more interesting examples are the likes of the Canoptek Swarm burrowing beneath units Mawloc style and The Translocator Flight forcing opposing players to randomally remove units and Deep Strike them elsewhere on the board at random. It's these fun elements with unique units and balls to the wall insane rules which help make Apocalypse stand out, and at least a few embrace them.

On the other hand though, while the focus on units is evenly distributed, there's a good few which unfortunately still boil down to "Buy X no. of unit Y, gain special abilities". It's the same old song and dance we've seen many times over and it was getting old long before this started out. So while there might be fun choices and good ideas, there's also a few boring ones. This isn't to say that the more general concepts for massed formations are by any means bad. Sometimes you do need some more general rules in formations to ensure a game isn't completely mired in remembering special details. At the same time, more than a few of these examples seem to only encourage brute force sheer power. A big example of this on the Ultramarines side is the Centurion Decimator Cohort. What's that you ask? It's nothing more than six squads worth of giant armoured toddlers who get Ignores Cover, Tank Hunter and Monster Hunter all for free.

Moving onto the missions, they're an equally mixed bunch. Already you know how they set up one side for a true curb-stomping while pushing the other, but beyond that they're not too bad a mix of ideas. Somewhat generic if serviceable and fill out the usual expected variety of slots, ranging from the take-and-hold mission to the defensive mission. They're serviceable but not too much more and, it's really nothing more than was seen in just about every other armybook or failing to really capture the true strength of the setting. The only element here which really does help to fully flesh out the setting are the natural dangers of the world. These do add a fun element to each battle akin to Lustria's old threats or some of the better environmental hazards found in rulebooks. They're again not particularly notable but they at least make scenarios a little more distinctive.

Really though, this is about it overall. A lot of formations, a few missions, and no Wargear or real bonus elements to help enhance the Necron units. There's certainly a few gems to be found here and there along with some ideas which manage to reach that level of reasonable quality among the mire of mediocrity. The rest though? It fails to offer enough to justify the price. To be completely and utterly blunt, unless you're the type of wargaming supremacist who wholeheartedly ate "They can never be Ultramarines" and every lie which came with it, this is one to avoid.

Much like Codex: Iyanden, a new line of books by Games Workshop went off to a bad start, insulting one army and continuing the worst trends in another. Really, sometimes I have to wonder if quality control is some mythical beast to the company's staff which only exists in fairy tales.

Next time we conclude this review with a look at how things might have gone if it had been handled properly.


  1. I can see why it took a while, it was a very busy week for me too (Halloween on Monday, Christmas on Thursday, etc).

    Joking aside, I can agree that the rules don't really do much, I do like at least one of the scenarios, the one where the C'tan breaks free and can be controlled by either side was pretty neat because it adds an appropriate random factor in that you don't want to kill it as you might get control of it next turn, but it can and will destroy your battle lines if you aren't controlling it.

    It's kind of a shame that most of the scenarios are nothing special (and oddly enough one of them makes it very easy for the Necron player to win), but I'm not too sure what they could have added that would make it not only stand out well but also fit with the narrative in the main book, I've got plenty of ideas for things they could have done, it's just none of them would work with the storyline since none of them are the Ultramarines easily taking out the Necrons.

    Something I don't really like about these books either is that they're very linear, and I get that they're based off of the campaign, but there's no safeguards in place in case one side manages a complete victory over the other when they're not meant to, if they Necrons managed to hold back the Ultramarines in any of these scenarios... It just goes on to the next scenario as if the Ultramarines won, there's no scenario where you can try again in a different way, like not being able to use the Deathwatch as they're sabotaging stuff elsewhere so a part of the Necron force has to leave which makes the next fight easier for a few turns for example.

    I am curious though, what would your ideas of assaulting or defending from a Tomb World be like via Scenarios or Campaign set pieces? Because for a really simple Campaign I think you could use the big Storm of Chaos Campaign Tree and scenarios, it's surprisingly fitting if you replace Chaos with Necrons and Empire with Imperial Guard/Space Marines, or have Chaos as the Space Marines and the Necrons as the Empire fighting against the initial onslaughts. If you are unfamiliar with the scenarios in that campaign or the Campaign Tree I'd recommend looking it up as it has several good ideas, where the next battle can be played not only by who won but how much they won by (so it's not linear like Damnos is) and it isn't overly long either.

    1. Perhaps, but truth be told even that scenario is one i've seen done to death. They're usually fan made or store specific versions but having neutral units randomly switch sides is so done to death by this point, at least for me personally, that it's a bit hard to really comment upon it. It just seems like all the others, an old idea with very little actually done to really spice things up.

      Well, truth be told those are things i'm planning to cover in a third part to this. It's going to focus upon many of the missed opportunities which the book squandered, detailing a few possible issues with the overall direction (beyond the glaring one emphasised several times over) and how things could have been improved. Oddly enough though, while a campaign tree would have certainly been a welcome addition it's actually not the linearity of the scenarios which hurts it the most. If anything, if they had actually treated it like a military campaign, that might have worked extremely well, but i'll get into that more when it comes to the actual piece.