Space, The final Frontier?
We have seen Warhammer 40k, the game of squad based skirmish battles. We took that to the next level with Apocalypse, with a company or two per side. Finally we have visited Epic 40k, with five or six entire companies per side and battles that decided the fate of entire cities or perhaps even continents.
But for some people this is not enough. There is only so much of a difference one can make in the Warhammer universe with men, tanks, and titans. There comes a time when you want to change the fate of not a single battle but a war, when you want to decide the fate to entire planets, or perhaps even sectors. Enter Battlefleet Gothic.
A Brief History of BFG
The basic game is set during the famed “Gothic War,” and presents a core set of rules focusing on this Chaos invasion of the Imperium, lead by the mighty Abaddon the Despoiler. In this invasion, Abaddon seeks to gain control over the Blackstone Fortresses – eight mysterious space stations predating the Imperium whose origins are lost in time.
The primary factions in the original boxed game are: the ships that comprised the Imperial Battlefleet Gothic, the ships of Warmaster Abaddon’s fleet, and a handful of local Eldar pirates, and ravaging fleets of the Orks.
Neither of the latter two factions were designed for full proper playability. They were simply bonus antagonists and pirates for playing campaign games, which left the BFG universe with a lot of room to grow.
Fortunately, Battlefleet Gothic turned out to be a success; and with it, Games Workshop released its follow-up expansion, “Armada.” Contained within its pages are expanded rules for the existing Eldar and Ork fleets as well as Space Marine naval forces, Necrons, Tyranids, and Tau. There is even a limited section on Dark Eldar raiding fleets.
As with all 40k set games, each of the factions share certain traits with all its counterparts in the other game systems. Eldar fleets are a fragile but quick and well armed force that with a great amount of experience can be used to devastating effect. Necrons are frustratingly hard to kill and have some impressive weapons, but focused and careful fire can drive them to phase out. Orks possess some incredibly random weapons and lack proper co-ordination, but they come in serious numbers.
Space Combat 101
Duking it out in the icy cold of space requires BFG players to take a significant step back from traditional Warhammer rules and tactics. Gothic players for example will rarely have to roll more than ten dice at once for any reason. For the first time, the facing of your units has real and serious importance. Gone is 40k’s “free pivot”. In Gothic, the direction your ships face is closely governed; and it affects in which direction you are free to move, which guns your mighty vessels can bring to bear, and how much firepower can be fired at them in turn.
In addition, like its sister game Epic, Battlefleet Gothic strays into the unfamiliar realm of the centimetre. Mighty battleships travel on average a slow fifteen centimetres a turn, while nippy escorts travel double that amount. It also takes advantage of something Imperial Guard players will shortly be familiarising themselves with, “Special Orders”. These orders may be given to ships at the start of your turn, allowing that ship, on the passing of a successful leadership check, to perform better in one regard at the expense of others.
Above all, Battlefleet Gothic is a game of planning. These are mighty vessels of war you command, and they do not dance around like snub fighters. Like the wooden sailing ships from the times of yore, you must devise a plan and learn to anticipate the enemy’s next move, constantly staying one step ahead.
The battlefield too is a stark difference from your regular game. Games can frequently and easily be fought in blank, empty space without the complications that would arise from doing the same in 40k. This does not mean, however, that every game is fought in the empty expanse of the void. Games can feature everything from minefields, to the corona of a system’s star, to a mighty warp rift (fly into this at your own peril). This gives players the chance to make some truly impressive scenery, and it is sure to add an element of drama and visual flair to your tabletop.
Another key part of BFG’s charm are its models. Finally, a game in which you will never see a Land Raider again. Many of you will have seen the ships of the 40k universe. They make regular appearances in background art, and the stunning shots of the Emperor Class battleship were about the only thing for which it was worth playing Firewarrior. The smallest ships are about an inch long, while the largest are five or six times that and covered with stunning detail. As always, for those with deep pockets, Forgeworld created some spectacular additions to the range, including massive Star Fortresses, an entirely redesigned Tau Navy, and for those of an Inquisitorial nature, Grey-Knight’s cruisers.
As with all Specialist Games, GW has made all the rules for the game available for free on the GW website. Unlike Epic, the model range still contains everything you need to play and more – from the titanic Chaos Planet Killer, to the smallest Imperial Cobra Class escort.
Unfortunately, the starter box appears to have vanished from the GW website. To replicate the experience, grab a pack of Special Order dice, four cruisers from each race (buying the packs of two Chaos and Imperial cruisers are recommended because they are both the cheapest and only plastic models in the range), and download the rulebook for free. Lastly, grab one of those GW battlemats and flip it over. You are ready to wage war across the spacelanes Admiral!
~Join me next time as I give a run down of the rules for Battlefleet Gothic as well as some beginner’s tactics and tips for capturing the space lanes in the name of the Emperor/Chaos/Greater Good/Craftworlds/Ctan/Breakfast.
~Bigred here, Lets give it up for our latest guest writer, BoLS regular Admiral Halsey. You can expect an ongoing series covering Battlefleet Gothic from the Admiral, as he takes us all through the game’s paces and gets our hands dirty duking it out in the cosmos.