The thing about campaigns is that one can be daunted by the perceived work involved, and yet anyone who's played in a good campaign knows how much a narrative link from one game to the next really brings games to life.
If you're a regular reader you'll know we have a persistent sandbox for our 40k games called the Eridani Sector; it's less a campaign than it is a setting. Individual campaigns occur within that sandbox, and become part of its history. When coming up with the individual arcs it's fun to think of big, ambitious conquests of populous worlds, integrating ground combat with fleet actions, Kill Team, Aeronautica Imperialis, and whatever else.
Sometimes you just don't have time for that shit.
This is where the nano campaign comes in. Three games is technically enough for a beginning, middle and end, so when my friend Dan and I realised we both happened to have a week off work at the same time, we made a point of booking a trio of 1K games, and decided we'd link them together for maximum juice.
Choosing a Format for the Nano Campaign
Three games is not enough games to justify a map campaign, and anyway the whole point is to keep it quick and simple. For my money there's two main options.
First is the sandbox option; just discuss with your opponent(s) what you think the factions would be trying to accomplish, and figure out a suitable first scenario, and then based on how that goes, decide what scenario to play next, bearing in mind that the story has to wrap up in the final game.
Second is the good old tree campaign, where you pick the first scenario, and from that, decide up front which scenario you'll play if side A win, and which scenario you'll play if B wins instead, and then which scenarios would follow on from those in game 3.
To figure out which to go for, Dan and I needed a bit of a think about the context.
Dan was breaking in a new Crusade roster, which meant no big games and with only 3 games in the offing, no protracted wars. A border skirmish made sense. We chose IOL-804, a mostly uninhabited system in the Iolan Reaches, where Dan's Red Corsairs had learned (after a good rummage in stolen Imperial databases) that there were as-yet untapped deposits of blackstone. They landed unopposed and began mining operations. With the Corsairs having been their usual brutal selves when stealing the data, the Cobalt Scions were well aware the Corsairs were looking for something, so analysed the data for things Chaos lads get thirsty for. Having compiled a shortlist the Scions sent out scout ships and consulted the Thonician Oracles.
The Corsairs were soon discovered in the uninhabited system designated IOL-804. Martellus Lucullus took a section of the 3rd company and went after them.
We figured the Scions wouldn't assume easy victory against traitor Astartes, and so would deploy a Forward Operating Base (FOB) before moving on the Corsairs. Likewise the Corsairs already had their own base well established, so our little campaign would essentially be a tug of war, beginning with a meeting engagement in the desert between the FOBs, and then a base defence mission for the loser. If the base defender lost game 2 they'd lose the campaign, with the third mission being an evacuation scenario. If the base defender won, however, they'd get a chance to attack the enemy FOB.
We figured if the Scions couldn't shift the Corsairs they'd retreat, expecting Chaos reinforcements any day. Whichever side won would get to keep the blackstone mine, which would either mean Dan building a Noctilith Crown to summon a very, very angry daemon primarch (meep), or the Scions having their first territory outside their home system. It's fair to say that even if the Scions won, we knew the Chaos lads would be back, so really this is also serving to set up future tabletop violence.
Game 1: Meeting Engagement
The only prior inhabitants of IOL-804 were the local orks, so we scattered some ork shanties among the desert hills and then went at each other like men with a long-standing grudge.
The Corsairs took some real punishment, but Dan absolutely played to the scenario, distracting me with bikers and blasting big chunks out of my intercessors with the newly en-thiccened forgefiend. While I was kept pinned on the starting line, he moved a rhino full of marines up on his right flank, moving to pass my army and off my table edge, as per the objective to break each other's line. The game was incredibly close, with the flanking Corsairs losing their rhino and having to cover the last inches on foot, all while being peppered with bolt rifle rounds and narrowly avoiding a charge by the pursuing Scions. Ultimately, though, Dan successfully kept me penned in and unable to get units into his backfield, which meant for game 2 I'd have to fall back and defend my FOB.
Game 2: The Cobalt Scions defend their FOB
Oh dear. This game went incredibly badly for Dan. Servo turrets might be regarded as trash, but 8 lascannon shots will sort a forgefiend right out, and they did so in the very first turn. On top of that, my redemptor dread Gaius Atalus rolled 5 shots for three turns in a row, and ultimately the Scions' firepower was just too punishing for the few Corsairs who got close enough to engage. I didn't even make particularly clever decisions, I just had hot dice, and the Corsairs came in just piecemeal enough that their assault was vigorously repulsed. Dan was a real gentleman about this vigorous pounding; indeed he is quite possibly the most sporting player I know.
|The Scions' FOB. Why are the hellblasters pointing backwards? Because there was, briefly, a squad of terminators behind them. Moo ha haa.|
Game 3: The Red Corsairs defend their mining base
Going into the third game we were at 1-1, so the final game was the decider. The Scions' default tactics are quite defensive, but I forced myself to be a lot more aggressive in this game, mounting up in an impulsor and in Boriel's Wrath, my repulsor executioner. The former contained Captain Lucullus and a trio of bladeguard, plus Apothecary Eudemus to keep them all fighting fit.
That was the plan, at least.
|Battle pickup truck only have 2 wounds. Battle pickup truck very smoky.|
I was expecting Dan to pop the impulsor - arguably it was just there to provide ablative wounds by the time it got that close to his base - but of my 5 emergency disembarkation rolls, I managed a triple 1. The ignominy! One lascannon shot has never been so potent: an impulsor, an apothecary, and two bladeguard all in one shot! Suffice to say, my primary melee force was gutted, and when Warlord Krow took the legs out from under my dreadnought I was starting to think it was all over. There was just one teeny, weeny, mostly unseen-y problem: Boriel's Wrath was chugging around the flank, and it had taken out Dan's primary anti-armour weapons. The battle became a game of hide and cry as the Corsairs endeavoured to stay on objectives while taking an absolute barrage of fire. Some last turn manoeuvres behind some LOS-blocking terrain from Dan forced me to make a choice: I could use the Wrath to finish off his 2-wound rhino on one objective, or his legionaries on another, but not both.
|Just two wounds left on that rhino, lads. You get to shoot twice, you've got a grenade launcher, and it's all AP-2. Come on. Come on! You can do it!|
... After I foolishly trusted the 5 remaining intercessors of Squad Cato to do those two wounds on the rhino, we ended up in the awkward position of having a draw in the final game. Ultimately, we figured with the Corsairs having been tabled but for a 2-wound rhino, versus 5 marines and a fully armed and operational battle tank, that the Scions had earned a pyrrhic victory. The Corsairs evacuated, and the Scions took over the blackstone mine.
Narratively I see this as setting up a much more extensive fight when Dan returns, bringing in Chaos friends like Jeff's Word Bearers, Maisey's Thousand Sons, Andy's Alpha Legion, Harvey's Night Lords, or even Tom's Iron Warriors (oh god so much Chaos), to try and punt my Scions off-world. Of course, with time to dig in, who knows what defences I might have prepared for them? Or which allies I might call on to aid me?
This little mini-campaign, and the bigger fight that could follow, both made it definitely necessary to speedpaint the Fronteris terrain I've had waiting in the wings. As you can see from the photos in this post I had to make do with a quick two-stage zenithal prime as a make-do scheme, but I'll be going over the detailing next, so look out for guidance on ultra-lazy fronteris terrain painting in a future post.
In conclusion: yay
These three games show how little effort it takes to link some games, and for me at least, doing so really enhances the experience and gives a sense of consequences. It also encourages little thematic choices; during these three games I tended to avoid reusing units that had been utterly mangled in the preceding games, for instance.
Finally, and most importantly, I'd like to thank Dan for being such a fun opponent and getting just as into it as I did.