Saturday, 10 August 2013

I See Red People

Like many wargamers I was introduced to the hobby through Warhammer 40,000. Also like many wargamers I eventually gave up on 40K’s crappy rules in disgust, and went on to play other games with better rules. But despite this I was always a fan of the WH40K setting, and although they virtually never see the table I kept my old Imperial Guard army boxed away in the back of the wardrobe. For a long time I have been looking for a good 28mm sci-fi skirmish system to use my 40K figures with, and now I think I may have found it.

The system in question is Bolt Action, and it ticked almost all the boxes – it’s 28mm (although I’m told it works at other scales too), the rules encourage sensible tactics, it’s fast and playable, and it has points buy army lists that give a decent first-approximation of balance. But it fails at the last requirement – it’s not sci-fi. Using Bolt Action to play 40K would require me to write new army lists, plus a few new rules to cover sci-fi stuff.

Challenge accepted!

A few weeks ago my brother and I played a couple of “proof of concept” games using my Imperial Guard versus his Tyranids. We simply used the existing BA army lists, and declared what things “counts as”. So for example my lascannon team counted as a PaK38, Vaughan’s Hive Tyrant counted as a captain and two bodyguards with SMGs, and so forth. It worked surprisingly well, but obviously some of the “counts-as” approximations didn’t quite fit, particularly for the Tyranids.

Over the next couple of weeks I sat down and wrote dedicated army lists for both the Tyranids and Space Marines. I used the existing BA lists as a guide (particularly for point costs), but unlike the “counts-as” experiment I was willing to change things and/or add new special rules. I also painted up a small Space Marine force;

The whole 650 point force

My Land-Speeder Muninn

A Tactical Fireteam

My Veteran Sergeant and his bodyguard

Missile launcher team with bodyguard
The colours are the same as my Epic marine army and one of my BFG fleets, so I can now field my Red Hammers chapter in skirmish-level, operational-level, and space combat games.

This afternoon Vaughan and I playtested the army lists I had written. We used 650 point lists, and rolled a Point Defense mission with the Tyranids attacking. Vaughan had a Hive Tyrant, a Carnifex, and brood of 2 Tyranid Warriors, 3 broods of 5 Termagaunts, and 2 broods of 5 Hormagaunts. Against this I had a veteran sergeant with bodyguard, a missile launcher marine with bodyguard, 3 tactical fireteams of 3 marines, and a Land Speeder.

Defense of the right-hand objective

Defense of the left-hand objective

Tyranid first wave
Vaughan chose to put his Carnifex and both Hormagaunt broods on flank marches. His preparatory bombardment meant almost all my units started the game with one or two pin markers. Annoyingly this meant that (despite being Veterans) all of my long range fire units failed their order tests, so Vaughan’s units simply ran up unharmed. As the Tyranids closed to within 24” during turns 2 and 3 my firing started to improve, and I eliminated about half of what Vaughan had on the table without losing a marine. Unfortunately, at the end of turn 3 his Carnifex turned up.

Carnifex blasting my Tac team with bio-plasma

Having eliminated the Tac team, it moved on towards my gunship
This 10 wound monstrosity proved a game-changer. By mid turn 5 it had eliminated one of my Tactical fireteams, and had charged into assault my Land Speeder. On top of this Vaughan’s other flank marches had showed up. One Hormagaunt brood was quickly destroyed by the missile launcher (although this took valuable firepower away from the Carnifex), while the other assaulted and destroyed the Tactical fireteam holding the left-hand objective. Thankfully the Carnifex lost the assault against the Land Speeder, failing a morale test against a 10. The game ended on turn 6 with each of us holding one of the objectives.

I am extremely pleased how this turned out. Things were as effective (and in the right ways) to match their 40K fluff. It was a very close, hard fought game and no units stood out as being too good/bad, so I’m going to leave the points as they are for now. The only two things that need tweaking are (A) the Land Speeder (I need to add Fast Vehicle and Skimmer rules), and (B) adjust how Tyranids interact with vehicles in close combat.


  1. Good Idea John!

    I too gave up on 40k for the same reason (I preferred v3.5, with the modified vehicle rules) but reading your post brings back all sorts of nostalgia

    Only question would be is not a Hive Tyrant AND Carnifex a bit much for a skirmish game? ;)


  2. Do you mean too much in a game balance sense (too powerful) or a in-setting scarcity sense (rare units shouldn't appear in every game)?

    Game balance wise, I've only played one game but the combination didn't seem excessively strong. I'm converting based on colour-text descriptions more than WH40K game stats, so it's quite possible that my profiles make Hive Tyrants/Carnifexes less powerful than they are in WH40K.

    Scarcity wise, the equivalent of Hive Tyrant/Carnifex for WW2 forces would be a platoon accompanied by both a captain and a medium tank. So very unlikely but possible, and allowed in BA forces. I haven't decided exactly what force composition rules to use for BA40K yet - at the moment I just have a bunch of units with points costs, and it's anything goes. This is probably something I should start thinking about.

    1. Fair enough! I was considering "cannon" (such as it is) in regards to scarcity.

      Did you ever see the "movie marines" article in White Dwarf, where they gave the marines the stats they should have, rather than the ones they do have so they get game balance?

      If you use the sane ratios as GW for points you should get something that looks like a 40k army but plays with much better rules!

      But its your make believe adaption so anything goes - and I might just get some Tau to try it out :)


  3. Are you looking to expand this out over all the 40k races ?

    1. In principal yes, but that’s far too big a project for just me.

      My focus for the short-medium term will be finishing and balancing the Marine, Tyranid, and Guard army lists. If anybody wants to write lists for other forces, I will happily give them my support and advice. But my effort will be getting these core three lists finalized.