Wot I Think: Warhammer 40,000 – Armageddon

This is one of the nicer people in the world of Warhammer

This is the third Warhammer feature I’ve written in since revisiting Space Hulk a couple of weeks ago. If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up actually going into a Games Workshop and spending all of my Christmas shopping money on a pile of codices. I always liked the books more than the figures, truth be told, and as I was playing through the solidly hexy Warhammer 40K: Armageddon, I had almost as much fun taking trips down memory lane as I did strategically picking my way to victory.

It’s a turn-based wargame, with many similarities to Panzer Corps, and I’d argue it has a place in today’s Flare Path. There are no logistical elements to fret about, just lots of units and a stack of maps to bolt across. In terms of long-term strategic planning, Armageddon is very basic indeed. Resources can be used to upgrade units during a campaign, or to recruit new ones, and that’s about your lot.

Where the game shines is in its use of the Warhammer fiction. Strong use of theme goes a long way in the land of hexes. The benefits that a convincingly portrayed fictional or historical setting can contribute is not only found in the flavour but in immediate accessibility. If you know your lasguns from your bolters and your Vindicators from your Predators, garnering a swift overview of your units’ capabilities is easy enough.

Armageddon is full of choke points

Every piece of information you need is displayed as you hover over units, but just as those with a knowledge of military history are likely to gravitate toward their favoured conflicts in the world of wargaming, anyone who has dabbled with the world of 40K will find Armageddon immediately inviting. That is unless they’re put off by the game’s rather plain appearance.

On one level, no, it’s not a looker and it never will be. Bursts of fire, and the smoke and explosions that mark impact are just about the only things animated on the field of play, but units are distinctive, and despite failing to reflect the scale of Titans and other monstrous machinery, they’re effective counterparts to the models on which they’re based. It’s not a lively portrayal but it’s efficient and clear.

My knowledge of Warhammer only extends as far as the nuts and the bolters, so the idea of fighting through the Second War of Armageddon didn’t hold any particular excitement for me. Beyond admiring the Imperium’s ability to have a sequel to the War of Armageddon, and the delightfully grim pessimism of naming a planet Armageddon in the first place, I knew nowt. Now I know that there are orks, imperial guard units and space marines involved. Who’da thunk it?

It's the Scarlet Angles!

Now that I’ve wrapped the campaign up neatly, I can say one thing about the Second War of Armageddon – it makes for good wargaming. Most scenarios have simple objectives – capture victory points before a number of turns have passed – but the maps and enemy forces are often cleverly laid out. There are frantic pushes through enemy lines, deceptions to draw heavy units from defensive positions, and plenty of last minute panics as a plan falters with only a couple of turns between success and failure.

Along with the obvious qualities such as how much damage they can inflict and how much damage they can endure, units in Armageddon have one vital stat – weapon range. Many wargames are about opposing fronts, lines of units seemingly toe to toe, or tread to tread, attempting to punch a hole in one another’s defensive setup. Cause a breach and units can spill through, like water through a hole in the dam, flooding the territory beyond.

Armageddon’s fronts are messy. Units with a range of one – meaning they have to sit alongside an enemy to attack – are rare. Vehicles and squads with more than one weapon are common, so an artillery unit might have a powerful cannon that can only operate at a range of 3-4 hexes and a puny backup weapon for ranges 1-2. Or maybe it’ll have no range 1 weapons at all, meaning its ripe for a chainsword assault.

Armageddon is not the prettiest planet in the universe

The emphasis on calculating range makes for jagged layouts and I’ve found that the relatively small maps combine with this feeling of greater specialisation to make the ebb and flow of conflict less fluid than I expected. I often take a smash and grab approach to victory point acquisitions, lacking the time and resources to slowly crank up the pressure. That’s a good thing. It’s an identifying feature of Armageddon, beyond the Warhammer paintjob, and one that makes for some entertaining headscratchers in later missions.

Most of the maps feel like strategic challenges rather than puzzles with a single solution, but I occasionally found my chosen upgrades left me trying to force square pegs into round holes. Persistence and experimentation usually won out, even when all seemed lost, and I am tempted to replay to see how much variety I can squeeze out of the campaign by opting for different approaches on various missions.

Despite the hundreds of unit types and meaty campaign, Armageddon feels like a snack rather than a feast, but it’s a tasty snack. It’s also a wargame that almost anyone will be able to pick up and play, with a decent set of tutorial missions and a theme that might carry an appeal for those that aren’t excited by intricate military history doesn’t. There are modding tools as well, but I haven’t been able to get my (bobbins) custom map working. File name changes are needed, apparently, but an easier method may be incoming.

There is a plot! It's very silly and quite enjoyable

It’s an accessible wargame and a good place to start for those familiar with the fiction and looking to make the jump to hex-based warfare. Given its Panzer Corps roots, I’m finding it difficult not to dream of other properties taking up the 40K gauntlet. Close Combat: Space Wolves could be tasty. Armageddon is a fine use of the property and brought back memories of those codices and the mad beauty of the Hazardous Enviroments PDF linked on this page.

Given this example, if the grim future of Warhammer were only (or mostly) wargames, I’d be rather pleased.

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon is out now.

24 Comments

  1. Fumarole says:

    $40 for this? Armageddon outta here.

    • misterT0AST says:

      “Wargames” Think they are not video games, but rather something “higher”, I think. I’ve seen them cost insane prices.
      They feel like they can charge a lot more for them. And apparently there’s an audience for them.

      An audience of people who probably have no idea that the money they are being charged is ridiculous.

      • Baines says:

        It isn’t expensive because it is a wargame. It is expensive because it is published by Slitherine.

        Slitherine gouges as hard as it thinks it can get away with, even though their games often look like freeware or maybe cheap shareware.

      • wengart says:

        I suspect that it is a result of a demographic gap between the 40+ year olds who grew up playing wargames and were a core of the audience in the 80s/90s, and the 20 somethings who are now interested in wargames.

        If you only play wargames and you grew up in the 60s and 70s the boardgames you had to buy cost 100s of dollars, and vehicle models were likewise as expensive. So from that point of view PC wargames being priced at $40-70 seem quite reasonable.

        On the other hand. If you didn’t grow up in the economic situation it is fucking absurd.

        • emperor_nero says:

          As a purchaser of modern hex and chit war games, $70 and $80 is still ridiculous. I can buy a physical game for $20 or $30. It is ridiculous to charge what they do for these games. They demand niche prices and screw people over by providing them with a subpar product under the guise of research. A lot of their games are adaptations of table top rules often built on the same engine.

          • farrier says:

            But the libraries of units’ and vehicles’ stats that you get! The libraries!

            I do think it’s a collision of worlds and values though. I know I personally value games less these days, always waiting for a sale (and not waiting long), so I balk at Matrix/Slitherine and Battlefront prices. But I can’t blame them for charging what they charge. If it didn’t make sense for their business, they wouldn’t do it. It makes it more costly for an inexperienced wargamer to get into it, but eh, there are so many games.

            Sure, many of these wargames are buggy, which doesn’t match well with the price of admission, but then just wait and see. Lurk on the forums; don’t buy right away. Just like any other game. Pay or don’t pay. Sucks if you really want to get into true grognarding and the game turns out buggy, but I don’t think there are any hardcore wargames out there that people doing complain about. WitP:AE sounds the best for the insanely involving games. WitE isn’t bad. Older games aren’t bad, still expensive, but if you want to play, that’s the price.

            In this age of Steam sales, their obstinacy is somewhat admirable. Now I’ll just go play something else.

          • malkav11 says:

            Trusting businesses to know what’s actually good for their bottom line is naive. Not that I (or internet commenters in general) have all the answers by any means, but in the real world companies demonstrably do stuff that hurts them financially all the time, whether it looked like a good idea at the time, or they were pressured by external forces/their shareholders, or it’s just how they’ve always done it and it’s more or less worked for them so far but times are changing or they’re simply not willing to risk something that would actually pay off far better for them.

            Pricing wargames highly has worked so far, for a “staying in business” value of working. It’s pretty clearly not making anyone rich, and it’s not expanding the audience. It might be that it’s sustainable to that degree in the modern age, and it might not. I would be extremely surprised if they didn’t see a dramatic improvement in profit and at least a moderate expansion of audience if they were to participate seriously in Steam’s sales, but I suppose at least selling on Steam is a step in the right direction.

          • Shadow says:

            Huh, I don’t know. I got the Panzer Corps Collection (includes all the expanded Great Campaign chunks, Allied Corps and Afrika Korps) for 56 dollars, discounted 30% from its steep $80 price, and have been having a pretty good time. I expect to get more value and over a hundred hours of entertainment from it than most any recent 60-dollar AAA game.

            Even though the standard 80-dollar price is quite high for me, I’ve paid 60 for games I’ve ended up playing less than 50 hours, so in that context, $80 isn’t entirely ludicrous for 100+. I didn’t gamble on it, either, trusting the company’s name or whatever: I just read reviews, heard opinions, and made my decision. It also helps that I’m really into strategy games and turn-based strategy if I can get my hands on it.

            And I don’t consider myself a grognard. I’m 28, live in Argentina and have a fairly regular job, salary-wise.

            Question is: what do you expect? To pay 20 dollars and routinely get 100 hours of entertainment? Can happen at times, especially given the Steam sales culture, but it’s not the norm and can’t be reasonably expected of every game out there.

          • malkav11 says:

            If you know that you will enjoy these games enough to pay the full price, you would qualify as a part of their niche, I’d say. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with paying $60-80 for something you know you will get $60-80 worth of enjoyment out of (if not more). I’ve been known to do it myself. Hell, I just spent $110 on a Bluray boxed set of the complete TV series The Sopranos, because I’ve seen enough of it to know I really enjoy it and owning a really high quality copy of the whole thing will be worth that much to me. (I’d never have paid the apparent list price of $280-300ish, though.)

            But if I’m not sure of that, I’m not going to pay those sorts of prices. Especially not in a videogame market where most things will sooner or later be available for $5-10 or even part of a bundle of games for that same price range. I don’t think most people that might be interested in these games are sure they’re that interested.

          • wengart says:

            I don’t ever expect to get 100s of hours of entertainment from any game. There are handful where that is true. Namely multiplayer games, especially Dota 2, but as a matter of course I will not play any game for longer than 30-40 hours tops. Most for maybe 20-25 hours.

            So the idea that $50 is getting me hundreds of hours of entertainment doesn’t hold water for me. Which is why I find the costs so frustrating.

            Recently I bought Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm for $30. Which I thought was very reasonable. I put maybe 20 hours into it, and haven;t touched it sense. Now I may go back and play it again, but never for more than a single scenario. Given a couple of years I might push the 50-60 hour mark, but I doubt it.

      • bill says:

        The problem, I think is that while avid wargamers will pay high prices that they’re pretty confident that they’ll like, more causal consumers are likely to balk at those same prices.

        These wargame companies have found an audience for their games, that audience likes and knows their games and therefore will pay for their games. But 40k is a much more mainstream property.

        As a non-wargamer who once was into 40k, I’d quite like to give this a try, but I have no idea if i’d like it and it’s quite possible that I’d give up or lose interest after 2 missions. In that case paying high prices is a big barrier to entry.
        I have no interest in Panzer Corps, as I know I wouldn’t like it. So the high price isn’t aimed at me.

        I’ll pick it up when it’s under $5 in a sale.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yeah, they may have a point with WWII Tank Mechanic Simulator, but for things like Distant Worlds or this that may have broader appeal they’re probably cutting off a lot of their potential market by pricing it outside their range. Shame, but eh, it’s their product and their money, I guess.

  2. DarkFenix says:

    The game needs a bit of balancing but otherwise it’s very good. Currently there’s little reason to take infantry at all, since the big beefy vehicles do a perfectly good job of cleaning out close quarters hexes and take no notable attrition in doing so.

    It also irks me that they’ve left gaps in the unit roster I’m familiar with from 40k.

    Not as good as Panzer Corps overall.

  3. Darkheart says:

    I’m pretty sure I will pick this up at one point or another. I really like turn-based games and the bleakness of WH40k.
    Though, why does it always have to be Orks? They are the one thing I hate about this universe. I understand they are pretty popular with the players, but what’s it with the silly names and the orcs in space theme? Way to comic-y for my taste and in my opinion completely immersion-breaking in this setting. Eldar at least kinda fit, though I could live without them, too…

    • Pneuma_antilogias says:

      The game depicts the Second War for Armageddon, which was fought between the forces of the Imperium and the Ork Warboss Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, so the game follows the canon.

      I think they’ve hinted about expanding the game to depict other major battles/wars in the Warhammer universe.

    • Pich says:

      40k IS silly.

      • Tom OBedlam says:

        Yeah, I adore 40k, but christ is it silly

        • P.Funk says:

          But there are degrees of silly. There’s the kind of silly that you can sorta look at in a very dark way and filter some of the silly out and make it into an almost serious thing and then there’s the silly thats so silly it just stands apart from your other sorta silly things that can be refined in your mind.

          Even a quick perusal of wiki identifies the Orks as the comic relief of the setting. So they are on another level of silly.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Yeah, there’s a lot that’s interesting about the universe, in terms of being a huge dying theocracy in a universe corrupted by malevolent gods, but at the end of the day it’s about beefy men cutting apart aliens with chainsaws.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Way to comic-y for my taste

      Well, given that a good third — at least! — of 40K is borrowed from 2000AD that makes sense.

      • Napalm Sushi says:

        Indeed, I’d say the Orks represent one of the last places where the setting actually retains some of the anarchic energy it started out with.

    • ceriphim says:

      I for one would GREATLY prefer the First War of Armageddon, but for some reason GW gives much more attention to the later (Ork) wars.

      Demon armies raging across the planet led by a Primarch, barely held in check by none of than Logan Grimnar himself, awaiting an entire company of Terminator-clad Grey Knights??? Who cares about orks!

      • Volcanu says:

        What ARE you talking about? There was no first war of Armageddon.

        Now will you please kindly step up into this Valkyrie….no you must be mistaken, that wasnt a symbol of the Inquisition on the ramp doors….

  4. wodin says:

    Still think Battle Academy 2 engine would have been so much better.