Shadow War Armageddon – First Impressions

Adam, being an ex-GW salesperson, is always pushing folks to buy models. He’s been talking about playing Shadow War: Armageddon for awhile, and has been casting about to see if other folks are interested in playing too. He didn’t even have to convince me to buy in! I had these things lying about from the before time:

The Team

I had attached torsos to legs, but just about everything else was still on the sprue, so an afternoon of gluing and shaving plastic was in order. I had forgotten how pleasant working with plastic was, especially using plastic cement. The brush application process and the quick set time (at least until the point where you can let go) are really nice. My bottle is a few years old and a bunch of it had clearly evaporated. Ah well, that’s what I get for not assembling plastics for a long time. Pewter has its own perks, I like the weight and the fact that you can pose it, but plastic has a place in my heart too. Especially for these guys!
In any case, after stuffing everything together haphazardly on the bases I bought for my Tau YEARS ago, I had a fireteam thrown together. I really like the plastic Pathfinders box. They have a lot of really cool bits and poses available. I read up on what the grognards over at Advanced Tau Tactica were recommending and here’s what I ended up with:

Fireteam Kau’shan

Pathfinder Shas’ui Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Pulse Carbine
Pathfinder Specialist Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Rail Rifle, Photo-visor
Pathfinder Specialist Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Rail Rifle, Photo-visor
Pathfinder Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Pulse Carbine, Photon Grenades
Pathfinder Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Pulse Carbine, Photon Grenades
MV31 Pulse Accelerator Drone Pulse Accelerator, Combat Blade, Drone Carapace
Pathfinder Cadet Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Pulse Carbine, Markerlight
Pathfinder Cadet Combat Blade, Recon Armour, Pulse Carbine, Markerlight

1000 Points

I took 6 Pathfinders, with basically the same kit, except two of them had Photon Grenades and two had Markerlights, and a pulse accelerator drone. There didn’t seem to be a global consensus on Advanced Tau Tactica other than that the 18″ range on our carbines sucks, so getting the 6″ boost from the drone was very helpful in a lot of cases. Some folks liked the Burst Cannon drone, others pooh poohed it for having BS 2, and so on, but everyone agreed that moar range = bettar. Based on that feedback, I took two Rail Rifles, because Ion Rifles are bad at their max range and have less range than the Rail Rifle with an otherwise identical stat line.

Markerlights in this version of the game just remove cover bonuses, and can be fired on the move, but Rail Rifles cannot fire if you move. I figured I’d park my snipers somewhere good and just blast away. To make them self-sufficient, I gave them Photon Visors, which basically negate one “level” of cover. Okay great. I’ve got a bunch of pulse carbines and two big guns, should be pretty straightforward. Tau are terrible in close combat, so I didn’t even bother reading the close combat rules. I figured I’d just pick up the model once something got into base to base with it ’cause… that’s how Tau work. Keep stuff at range, pew pew all day until all my guys are dead or they are. List made, game plan in place, let’s roll!

The Games

I packed up my 7 models (by dumping them into the spot where my Gecko usually lives in my Infinity foam) and drove over to Adam’s place to hang out and get some games in. After a lovely evening of talking shop and getting some grub, we sat down at his dining room table with some Infinity terrain and gave it a go. Adam brought something like this list:

Spanish Inquisition

Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Combat Blade, Combat Blade, Carapace Armour, Needle Pistol
Crusader Combat Blade, Carapace Armour, Power Sword, Storm Shield, Plasma Pistol
Inquisitorial Acolyte Combat Blade, Flak Armour, Storm Bolter, Red Dot Laser Sight
Inquisitorial Acolyte Combat Blade, Flak Armour, Sniper Rifle, Red Dot Laser Sight
Inquisitorial Initiate Combat Blade, Flak Armour, Chainsword, Bolt Pistol
Inquisitorial Initiate Combat Blade, Flak Armour, Lasgun
Inquisitorial Initiate Combat Blade, Flak Armour, Laspistol

1000 Points

One thing I’ll note, as I was building his list, Inquisition has SO MANY MORE TOYS in comparison to the Tau. Not just in weapon options, but in random wargear and weapons attachments. It’s definitely clear that Shadow War has its roots in Necromunda, so lots of the Xenos factions don’t have cool stuff. That’s okay. No big deal, not like I was going to go and buy a ton of bits and start converting up my Pathfinders anyway. Besides, pulse weapons are the bees’ knees.

After flailing our way through setup, here was my first deployment. If you can’t tell from the positioning, I play Infinity! Everything is hugging buildings to “gain cover” and is watching long firelanes.

Of course, absolutely none of that matters, because there are no AROs in Shadow War, unless you put units in Overwatch. So on his first turn, Adam was able to just run all his guys up in relative safety. It’s at this point I note that I really want a Hellcat BSG, because those guys are in perfect shotgun formation, but I digress.

Our first game, I just put a bunch of guys in Overwatch (marked here by Suppression tokens), and Adam steamrolls my Tau into failing their “bottle” test, which is… apparently a retreat threshold test of some sort? No idea on the nomenclature, but that’s what it’s called.As he advances, I retreat my guys into my backfield, trying to focus fire on the most threatening target. Actually, I’m obligated to shoot at either 1) the closest target or 2) the target with the best odds. This will become relevant later. I roll a ton of 1’s and a bunch of Tau fall over. One thing I’m noticing: Tau are kinda bad at shooting, even with Markerlights, but when they hit, they hit like a truck, often negating armor saves.Even with three guys shooting away at the guy in the open, I fail to bring him down.
One of the nice things about the game is that it plays REALLY fast. Even fumbling our way through the rules and having to stop every few minutes to puzzle through some interaction, our first game was ~45 minutes. After getting smushed, we re-racked, shuffled the terrain around a bit, and tried again with the same lists.

This time, I deployed strong on the left side and let Adam have a clear shot up the my right flank. I have to say, this deployment made me extremely uncomfortable as an Infinity player, especially since Adam plays USARF. I half expected Van Zant to walk on and start chopping up my Pathfinders with an axe. I got over myself and starting chucking dice.This time, I threw pretty much everything into Overwatch on my turn, since Adam spent most of his first turn running his guys up into places where I couldn’t see them anyway. It paid off, with me hitting a few guys on their way up the board and stalling them out a bit (hitting someone pins them in addition to giving you a chance to wound them, which is nice). The dice were in my favor this game, and Adam ended up exposing his Inquisitor to a few Pathfinders and they just gunned him down. I failed some ammo rolls, so I actually threw my ammo-less Pathfinders into the path of Adam’s close combat specialists who had been racing up the right flank. This sufficiently speed bumped them, letting me snipe Adam’s Inquisitor with him failing his bottle test on the next turn. So chalk up a victory for both of us.

First Impressions

The Good

I’ll preface this with the caveat that I haven’t played 40k since 6th edition, right when the Tau codex for that edition came out. I quit shortly thereafter. I love the Tau aesthetic, lore, and playstyle. I really enjoyed Jump-Shoot-Jumping my XV8 Crisis suits around and the smooth yet boxy vehicles. I especially was excited about the new at the time Pathfinder plastic kits that had just come out, and was looking forward to firing Ion rifles at stuff and dropping cupcake templates on everyone. Then the game store in my town closed, and 40k died locally. When a new store opened, it was on to Warmachine and ultimately Infinity.

So, Shadow War Armageddon is really ideally suited for me. It gives me an opportunity to play with some of my favorite 40k Tau Models, and with relatively low time investment. I only have to assemble 10ish models, can do it out of a single box (so it’s cheap), and the game plays in under 45 minutes with two reasonably experienced players. I get to have my grimdark fix of fish-headed aliens pew pewing their pulse weapons at all these Gue’la that just don’t see the benefits of the Greater Good and shout “Tau’va!” at the top of my lungs while rolling dice. Life is good!

SWA captures the best parts of the 40k experience for me, which were telling a little narrative about your little dudes running around on a tabletop in a world you care about. I don’t need it to be at the 2000+ point scale with giant engines of war and troop transports getting blown up by D-weapons and deep-striking Crisis suits supported by XV88 railguns. I’m quite happy to have my little plucky Pathfinder team slogging it out in the underhive of some nameless Imperial world.

While Adam and I didn’t get into it, SWA has a campaign system with persistent troops that gain experience and may die over time. This is pretty cool, and I think where most of the allure and character of SWA lies. If all SWA amounted to was “push your old 40k models around every once in awhile and roll some D6’s” I would’ve been ok, but the staying power lies in the campaign system. My primary game, Infinity, has some campaign systems, but they seem more bolted on as opposed to woven into the game as they are in SWA.

I won’t get into the myriad of reasons many folks don’t like 40k as a game anymore, because that’s not the point of this article. What I will say is that SWA lets me play 40k with minimal impact to my hobby time and my gaming time, which is really what I’m looking for these days. If I want to really dump money and time into a game, it’ll be on Infinity, which I enjoy far more as a game system and world. SWA is perfect as a side game that captures the magic of 40k, at least for me. I think SWA will see play as a “hey, we have 30 minutes and the Infinity table is already set up” type of game system for me.

The Bad

I’ll have to compare SWA to Infinity now, because they occupy the same space. They’re both skirmish level games with 10ish models, intended to be played in under 2 hours or so. I gotta say, after playing Infinity, SWA is not a very tactically challenging or deep game. I think a lot of this has to do with the choice of D6 as the base die. Modifiers and ability scores are MUCH more relevant in such a system. The difference between BS11 and BS12 in Infinity is not nearly as big as that between BS3 and BS4 in SWA.

This can make tactical decisions pretty much invalidated by dice rolls. Perfect example, I had a sniper rifle shot lined up on a guy standing in the open in SWA, as well as some Pulse Carbine shots on the same guy. All of them were misses, and the guy had no defensive modifiers from running, cover, or wargear. Sure, I rolled poorly, but this happens more often in a D6 game than in a D20 game as there are simply more faces that I can roll a success on (in general). In Infinity, running a guy out into the open and leaving him out there is a very very risky and often deadly proposition, but in SWA it’s a reasonable tactic against low-BS models.

I can also have the perfect double envelopment in SWA, have the right synergies and wargear to negate your cover or other defensive bonuses, and then just roll horribly and do nothing. Let’s ignore math for a moment and purely examine only my subjective perception of the game. I feel more in control of my models in Infinity, and that my choices matter. The outcome of the game in SWA feels more tied to the outcome of the dice, and not about model positioning, wargear you took, or even what army you play. There’s certainly room in my gaming experience for such a game, but it feels more akin to playing roulette than playing a tactical game. I guess the right way to put it is that SWA feels like a push-your-luck dice game done up with in a 40k skin. If I’m in the right mood, I’m down, but I want a game with tactical depth that rewards introspection, analysis, and ultimately mastery.

The Ugly

SWA has the same problems as 40k does. For one, there’s a lot more attention lavished on the more popular factions. Just looking at the differences in the list building experience between the Inquisition and the Tau outlines this pretty clearly. There’s a lot more cool, thematic upgrades for the Inquisition forces, where my Tau just seem to have access to bog-standard Tau gear. Even the guns are kinda boring. There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference in the statlines between the Ion and Rail Rifles, which is disappointing. I’ll have to try them all out on the tabletop before I can make an actual judgement, but it feels kinda meh.

Like 40k, SWA immediately activates the rules lawyer in me. As an example, you’re obligated to shoot the closest model, so it behooves me to move my ammo-less sniper in the way of your approaching forces to screen my other guys. Yes, this has implications to the campaign metagame–I might lose an expensive, experienced sniper model forever, but in the tactical sense I want to do this to force you to waste your shots on what is effectively a useless trooper to me. This feels tactically unsound and encourages the “gotcha” mentality which I found unattractive in 40k play. If you had read one line in the rulebook that I hadn’t, you could have a massive edge. This could be improved with better rulebook writing, but 40k and SWA seem to be about who remembers the right rule interactions and can bring the forces that trigger the most favorable rules interactions the most frequently.

Final Thoughts

Will I play Shadow Wars Armageddon again? Absolutely. I’ll probably even buy a box or two of other armies to get some other Kill Team options. But, like 40k itself and Magic the Gathering, the list of people I would play SWA with is pretty small. Basically, the ex-40k players who aren’t predisposed to being rules lawyers and just want to shout “WAAAAGH!” and “FOR DA EMPAHAROR!” while pushing little plastic mans around and have a good time.

There will always be a warm place in my heart for the Tau, and SWA will be there for when I want to break them out again.



I primarily play Infinity (Nomads) these days and I’m getting into Heavy Gear (CEF). I’m toying with some wet navy ships and some spaceships too, and still have a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart for XV8 Crisis Suits.

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