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Giving apocalyptic battles a story

There’s a bunch of stuff that has to be sorted out whenever you want to play a game of Warhammer 40K Apocalypse: your friends all getting the same day off work, transport, a venue, and Ork-glyph-themed cupcakes (you’re the best, Mark).

The thing is, the wargaming demographic crosses over quite extensively with the I couldn’t organise my way out of a wet paper bag even if you gave me the Jaws of Life demographic. Concordantly, amongst all that last-minute faffing, there’s one thing which is often left behind.

That thing is a narrative.

So, when myself and three of my fellow Beard Bunkerettes* decided to head up to Warhammer World for Nerd Thunder III (our third annual game of Apocalypse) we needed a narrative. To my mind, the constituent components of a game’s narrative are as follows:

  • The armies being used
  • The battlefield being used
  • The overall narrative concept (Last stand? Planetary assault? Hold the line?)

The armies were Blood Angels and White Hands Space Marines versus Orks. The battlefield? See below.

The twelve-by-six-foot table representing Helsreach Bridge (on  the hilariously-named planet Armageddon, for those of you unfamiliar with the lore).
Thus we had the overall concept: during the Third War for Armageddon, Chapter Master Spektre of the White Hands would be cut off from reinforcements and surrounded whilst holding Helsreach Bridge against the Ork advance. Having spent several days holding the bridge against all comers, the White Hands are about to be overwhelmed. It’s at this point that Captain Tycho and the Blood Angels 3rd Company come to their rescue.

This gave us the overall shape of the game, but it put too much emphasis on the middle of the table. We needed more objectives than that to break the game up and stop it becoming one grinding ruck in the centre. At this point, we looked at the photo of the board, thought about the scenery, and added two more objectives.

Firstly, the Imperial buildings in the photo were scatter scenery, which meant we’d be able to cluster them on one side of the river to represent the outskirts of Helsreach Hive. On the other side, we’d bring our Ork shanty town** to Warhammer World and use that to represent the Orks building a forward base.

So, we now had three areas: the hive’s outskirts, the bridge, and the Mek’s garage. Maisey’s Imperial Guard Redshirts would attempt to hold the outskirts in case his White Hands lost the bridge, and the Blood Angels, whilst coming to the aid of the White Hands, would also attempt to knock out the Ork base.

You’ll notice that’s only three objectives; we weren’t using the standard Apocalypse mission from the book (which was, in fairness, intended only as a rough guide). To represent how badly surrounded the White Hands were at the beginning of the game, the diagram below shows the deployment/reinforcement zones.

Ork deployment in green, Imperial deployment in red (naturally).

We made certain other adjustments, namely, that the Blood Angels were allowed to deploy as many units as they wanted on turn two, to represent their heroic intervention, whereas the Orks would use the normal Apocalypse reserve rules. Furthermore, the Blood Angels could deploy everything by deep strike, as Thunderhawks came roaring out of the sky (Rhino-sized tanks would have to land in pairs, back-to-back, to represent the Thunderhawk Transporters doing the work).

One final rule we introduced, to better take Captain Tycho’s background into account, was to make him roll for Black Rage every turn (for those of you who don't know their background, the Blood Angels have a flaw in their geneseed which can make them throw all their toys out of the civilisation pram; it's an awesome slice of backstory that I don't really have the space to explain here, but it's all in their Codex). After all, it was the Battle for Helsreach in which Tycho finally succumbed to the Curse, and we wanted to game with the knowledge that he could lose it at any moment.

To further emphasise the narrative aspects, Mark and I agreed to deploy the Orks in clans, so that the Orks in different parts of the board would all have distinct colour schemes and look like three different tribes rumbling around the same battlefield.

Oh, and one final thing: as with pretty much all our other games, we would use only finished models. It was so satisfying seeing a bunch of armies that had benefitted from time and love all beating the snot out of each other, and I can’t imagine enjoying the game half as much as I did had Maisey and I not spend the previous night desperately slapping paint all over my 'Ard Boyz.***

Anyway, that was the theory behind Nerd Thunder III. In the event, having a story encouraged us to play fast and loose with the rules if it meant doing something cool, and as such, even the losers had fun. Who were the losers? I shall tell you soon, via the medium of a battle report, as the last one seemed to go down well.


*The Beard Bunkerettes sound like an Post-apocalyptic motown band.
**We’ll do a showcase of the Ork scenery in another post, because we’ve not really touched on scenery yet, and I fear that’s something of an oversight.
***Dear sweet baby Jesus on a snowboard did that sentence sound less filthy in my head.