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.
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?
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.
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.
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.