First, though, let me take a small aside...
When I was a teenager way back in the early 1990s, there was a small game store in the local mall that carried a good selection of miniature games, especially GW. I had been exposed to RPGs in the 1980s but walking into that store and seeing the miniatures...something clicked. A few months later and I was working at that same store (for those of you in the Chicagoland area, that store was Gamers Paradise - both loved and reviled by many) and with my first check I bought my first miniature game - Necromunda. I played that game for ages and kept the box and components until they literally started falling apart. Lots of games came and went but Necromunda was always somewhere in the rotation. Unfortunately, the mentality at GW changed and Necromunda was given a (largely disliked) second version and, when the mentality of GW further changed, the game was abandoned entirely. Undaunted, I still played, eventually going on to run it in a tournament format at Adepticon and then expanding upon the ruleset with my own Inquisimunda rules.
I relate that story because - in full disclosure - I am probably not the most impartial judge when it comes to reviewing this ruleset. I would, however like to think that I have enough experience with the initial ruleset to adequately relate what works and what doesn't in SWA. Which leads to the biggest asset - and problem - with Shadow War. It is, at its core, a repackaged and slightly streamlined version of the original Necromunda ruleset from 1995.
In Shadow War (Necromunda), players control warbands (gangs) consisting of xenos, mutant, and human fighters (gangers) in the nightmare universe of Warhammer 40K. Warbands (gangs) consist of individual fighters (gangers) who engage in a series of linked games that form a campaign, acquiring experience, injuries, and Promethium (territories). So, while the game consists of individual scenarios, one of its big attractions was this semi-RPG element of treating in individual miniatures somewhat like player characters.
The book itself is nice. For $40, you get a 200 page softcover book consisting of background, the core ruleset, the original warband lists released with the boxed set, all the warband lists released as free PDFs, as well as two new warband lists only available with this ruleset - the Sisters of Battle and Inquisition. I personally would have preferred a hardcover in the style of the Necromunda/Outlanders big book from 1998 (because its held up very well over 20 years, whereas my softcovers have not), but this is a minor complaint.
Components necessary for SWA are almost exactly the same as Necromunda, with the exception of the small (2") blast template and the hand flamer/webber template. SWA retains the Flamer template, 3" & 5" blast templates, D6 base dice (as well as its - at the time - odd proxy 'D3' mechanic), Scatter dice, and Misfire/'Artillery' Dice (hope you saved all those from years ago!).
The other major component is the player's warband...and its here where we come to the largest departure from the Necromunda ruleset. Gone are the gangers, beasts, and hired guns in favor of warbands that more closely mimic units available to armies in the larger army-based game of 40K. To be fair, it is still possible to run your old Necromunda gangers using the Astra Militarum or Genestealer Cult rules (or even as Cultists in a Chaos Space Marine warband), but you will run into issues with Special Operative models. Warband composition is similar to Necromunda - you choose a Leader, at least 50% Basic Troops, New Recruits, and 2-3 Gunners (similar to Heavies) and this basic warband list is backed up by Special Operatives, which can be recruited using the warband's Promethium Stores, to help in each scenario (somewhat similar to Hired Guns). Additionally, each warband has one or more special abilities and (often) access to warband-specific weapons and equipment (similar to the Version 2.0 Necro lists). Warband composition is as follows:
Space Marines - selected and modeled from Scouts. Special Operatives include Apothecaries, Vets, Terminators, and Deathwatch (are fairly balanced list with good selection)
Orks - Nob leaders and Boyz troopers (Gorkamorka players will appreciate Recruits being "Yoofs"). Special Operatives include Meks, Doks, Flash Gitz, and (rather oddly) Runtherd & Grots (the lack of MegaNobz to compete against the abundance of other lists' heavy armor is a bit concern here)
Astra Militarum (IG) - standard human troops. Special Operatives include Commissars, Enginseer, Ogryn, and Scions. (seems fairly balanced but an Inquisitor or Space Marine should have been an Operative)
Sisters of Battle - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Repentia, Celestial, and Seraphim (nice list; Light of the Emperor ability could be absolutely brutal in a shooting-centric game like this)
Chaos Space Marines - Leaders, Troops, and Gunners are CSM; Recruits are Cultists. Special Operatives include Raptors, Terminators, and Spawn (an expensive and limited list probably not recommended for players new to skirmish level games but provides some nice modeling and fluff potential)
Dark Eldar - Wyches, nothing but Wyches. Special Operatives include Succubus, Haemonculus, and Scourges (a Hand-to-Hand list that gets over some of the issues of HtH lists in Necromunda by providing fighters with a 6" basic Move and high Initiative)
Craftworld Eldar - Dire Avenger Leaders and Troopers with Guardian Recruits and Gunners. Special Operatives include Autarch, Wraithblade, and Wraithguard (this seems like the weakest list with some very odd choices in the Dire Avengers and no aspect warrior Operatives. Rangers absolutely should have been in the basic list)
Genestealer Cult - Neophytes abound. Special Operatives include Hybrids, Metamorphs, and Genestealers themselves (probably the most "fun" list with lots of options for equipment and weapons and lots of modeling and fluff potential. This list seems much more at home here rather than at the army level in 40K)
Grey Knights - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Purifiers, Interceptor, Paladin, and Terminator (as with CSM, an expensive and limited list probably not recommended for players new to skirmish level games but provides some nice modeling and fluff potential)
Harlequin Troupe - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Death Jester, Solitaire, and Shadowseer (another HtH list with the same HtH advantages of Dark Eldar with a higher cost but an ability that makes them harder to shoot at. Expensive but this list could absolutely dominate the right tables)
Inquisition - an Inquisitor, their Acolytes, and with their "Gunners" being HtH Crusaders. Special Operatives include Arcoflagellants, Death Cultists, and Deathwatch (a nicely balanced list with some huge potential for modeling and fluff)
Necrons - Immortals, Warriors, and the Deathmark. Special Operatives include Lychguard and Praetorian (somewhat expensive and mainly focused on shooting but their ability makes them very tough and will require opponents to come up with a good strategy to force Bottle Tests)
Skiitari - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Enginseer, Ruststalkers, and Infiltrator (a list that heavily favors shooting but the points are right and some of their weapons could be absolutely devastating)
Tau Pathfinders - Tau and Drones. Special Operatives include Stealth Shas'ui, Fireblade, and Ethereal (another lists heavily favoring shooting with a large basic selection, not anything fascinating here though)
Tyranids - Nid's and Gun Beasts. Special Operatives include Ravener, Zoanthrope, and 'Nid Primes. (an expensive list with a mix of HtH and shooting, lots of abilities. I do find it odd that neither a Nid Leader or Troops cause Fear)
As far as the rules themselves are concerned, they are almost verbatim taken from the original Necromunda book with some minor tweaks. For example, Shooting works the same as the original rules, with the inclusion of the High Impact and Stray Shot rules from Version 2.0. High Impact was necessary to add due to more heavily armored fighters in this game, but Stray Shots seems like an odd choice which, I can only imagine, was included to prevent bunching of HtH-centric warbands. Flipping through the Hand-to-Hand and Leaderships sections of the rulebook alongside my hardback Necromunda copy the rules and layout are almost exactly alike. Those of you who are veteran players of Necromunda know all the in-and-outs and the subtle cheats to these rules so, while it is nice to see the good things about the ruleset reproduced, it does strike me as odd that practically nothing was either tweaked nor added to make it at least slightly different. The only new tweak, not inherent to either Necromunda edition, appears to be the rules for Falling...but than only slightly.
The scenario list is again almost verbatim taken from the original Necromunda book...and, unlike the other sections, I can't seem to find any tweaks. This isn't a big deal because the original scenarios were just so great but, again, it's odd that GW didn't even bother to add at least one new scenario, especially considering the host of scenarios that were produced in Outlanders and the Necromunda magazines. The campaign system is (somewhat disappointingly) the biggest change. Gone are the extensive injury chart, the trading post, the Territory list and income generation. Instead of territories and income, warbands generate a preset amount of Promethium caches which are used to pay for the services of Special Operatives in subsequent games on a one-to-one basis. To me, these were the most fun aspect of the original Necromunda rules because they added to the fluff and modeling aspect of the game. Without them, while the post-game sequence is more streamlined, it feels rather lifeless and generic. Luckily though, the Skill tables are still there with some minor improvements, which is a plus. With the rules being so similar, it's definitely easy to simply use those old scenarios if you still have access to them.
So, without any games under my belt, that's the long and short of Shadow War Armageddon. The verdict? It's nice - not terrible, not great. It's a good beer and pretzels game that will get some of us old 40K players to crack out our models, as well as providing a somewhat cheap springboard for newbies to get into 40K. It may also function to get more players interested in more intense, narrative-driven campaigns that can be accomplished with Inquisimunda supplements. With the developments within GW itself, I remain cautiously optimistic that SWA will be supported and perhaps widened in scope and playability.
- Great to see an skirmish-sized game for 40K
- Great "Beer and Pretzels" game
- (Most) everything you loved about the original Necromunda rules
- Smaller units allows play for newbies, seasoned players, and returning veterans
- Almost a page-for-page reprint of the original Necromunda rules
- Everything you hated about the original Necromunda rules
- Lack of real, campaign depth
- Some warbands are very bland with odd Specialist choices