Good GM'ing - A Necron Monolith Formation deepstrikes into the middle of a combine Tau MIRAGE and Armoured Interdiction Formation ... FIGHT!
Reading around the web ... there seems to be a lot of consternation about running a manageable Apocalypse game. As we are all aware, running a normal game of 40k that runs below 3 hours for less than 2000pts can be a challenge. Unless you are a tournament player and have your armies approach to opponents down pat ... umming and erring can lead to a 4 hour game with ease.
Below is my advice, built upon some considerable APOC experience in the last year, for keeping games within a 5 hour bracket.
TIP #1: "Always have a GM!"
Do you want the game to run over? Do you want to be squabbling like children over the paradoxical and diametrically opposed rules of the GW codici? Or do you want to blow s*** up? Well then someone needs to be GM ... otherwise its all over. The GM should be a comparatively 'strong' personality (teachers, managers and storeholders come to mind), have a good grasp of the game and be as fair as possible.
Someone independent AND in charge who can order the 'roll a 4+ to decide' discussion ender. If nothing else, like in the classroom ... the 'but my rules say...' discussion dries up when the GM approaches.
GM's also have the option of being 'in' on the cunning plans and giving them his blessing. Meaning that cunning formations or dirty tricks are given the green light BEFORE they are de facto dropped in.
TIP #2: 2000-3000 pts per player
We usually run 14k to 16k battles with everyone bringing 2500-3000 (this changes from month to month) with 500pts of reserves. 2500-3000 is a hefty amount, allowing superheavies and titans on the board. It's also a manageable amount too. Each player can move their models (even if they are 5pts each), within a reasonable time frame, larger forces per player will result in longer turns ... and an over-run or 'caught short' 3.5 turn game ... and no-one wants that!
TIP #3: Player turn length ... 30 mins
This is an easy timescale to work to, as its short enough for us all to be acutely aware of. Players with superheavies will find this easy to achieve. The toughest time I ever had was fielding hordes of nids ... rolling the dice for a unit of 30 hormagaunts against Terminators proved more of a feat in counting and collecting than anything else ... I wouldn't recommend it!
The game automatically balances out, with the early turns going quick due to reserves and fewer weapons in range, and the latter speeding up as the casualties and assault dead-logs shorten the number of sequences units are involved in. The bell curve is observed.
Don't enforce 30 minutes like a Nazi ... but simply remind, remind, remind as the deadline approaches ... you'd be amazed to see the dice fly!
TIP #4: Turn sequence ... what turn sequence?
Keeping to a strict turn (move-shoot-assault) sequence is pretty pointless in APOC as you'll have between 2 and 4 players moving, shooting and assaulting in asynchronous mayhem. The simple answer is that players will be left standing while other 'complete' their movement phase, repeat for shooting and for assault.
Players (for both side) become acutely aware of the huge scale of decisions and actions they must take ... and the propensity to 'miss something completely' rather than just miss a sequence. The 30 mins rule also encourages the opposition to 'assist' the other player in moving models for them etc. Forgetting turn sequence also means allowing 'missed' shooting ... like "OH, my superheavy ... I completely forgot!" ... and letting the game roll forwards.
All good gamesmanship practice and essential in APOC, where strict adherence to the letter of the rules won't win friends and will irritate the GM.
TIP #5: Keep it simple, stupid... the gaming environment that is...
I've played split games, games with reserves from one board to another and games with underground sewers full of nurglings. After the first turn, no-one can remember all the special rules you sprinkled on the table. APOC is about a dirty great mashed up, so get the players to place objectives (or place them yourself GM) ... five is a good number and then get fighting down and dirty.
Your special Christmas tree bonus D6 roll with fun things will not get used ... there too much killing going on.
TIP #6: Strategic Assets ... my arse!
We've pretty much given up on allocating Strategic Assets for the same reason as the above... too much information. SA's can make or break a game, but usually by some nasty denial tactic (stopping reserves for example) and can ruin the game for the other team. Alike to the old 'magic cards' round in 2nd edition ... the Strategic assets become a guessing game of trying to out-fox your opponent and a huge delay on the fighting.
Why aren't we killing things?
As I highlighted in the previous blog on winning APOC, very cheap formations now come with a sprinkling of Strategic Assets all round ... so the old 'allocate 2 each' become redundant. There could be a good, fluffy, reason for it BUT it delays the game and makes things complex ... why bother?
In the same way ... hugely complicated reserve or a long board will benefit certain armies or reserves moves etc... I once played a Tyranid game where the tyranids had to run over 100" to reach the enemy. We were (unsurprisingly) losing quite quickly and very badly!
A straightforward rectangle board works fine. We tend to push 3-4 6x4 tables together and play a 6' by 12-16' board. Cover makes it interesting.
TIP #7: Share and Share alike...
As mentioned in the previous blog, sharing armies and controlling player 'zones' is the best way to play and play efficiently. In a similar way, if a general isn't 'controlling' his sub-commanders well (IE dividing the army up and allocating forces) and the team are playing 'tug of war' then the GM really needs to intervene.
That said, if they are playing like a bunch of numpties within 30mins ... don't bother.
The best rule ... everyone CAN roll for models on their team. One player is bound to bring Nids, Space Wolves, Black Templars or another particularly choppy army ... in this case they are bound to be deploying multiple assaults across the board. A good team commander would divide these assaults up for maximum team efficiency.
Remember, it's in the teams interest to divide and be efficient ... it gives them move mulling and thinking time (actually coordination time) ... if a team is being hugely inefficient and breaking the 30min rule ... then stop the turn. They won't like it ... but they won't take the piss again!
TIP #8: BRING the datasheet.
IF you field it, you better have the rules. This can be a photocopy, downloaded printout etc etc. If its a homemade gizmo, then it better be cleared with the club/GM or it's going home. Nothing's more frustrating than a player bringing models they don't know the rules for AND then DON'T HAVE the rules for... sort it out!
TIP #9: Qualify your scorers...
Is it FOC Troops only, all infantry, jetbikes, bikes, cavalry, non-immobile vehicles, Titans? What can hold and what can contest.
We adopt the 'any infantry can score' and anything else (including non-immobile vehicles) can contest. The balance is quite difficult, depending on your local metagame. If you see a lot of superheavies, then making FOC troops only scoring (IE following 5th edition rules) will make these squads target numero uno.
Think about this ... it may take several attempts to get it right.
A really good game we had involved the old 4th edition ... any unit at 50%...leading to some real throwdowns over objectives.
TIP #10: GM chooses teams and team commanders.
First up, choose the teams for balance and options. If they is gonna be a titan on the table ... make sure the opponents aren't mostly necrons with a few space wolves thrown in (my bad ... it wasn't pretty!) Make the player explain their forces and choose the sides for fairness.
As you can probably establish from above ... you need a GM no-one's gonna mess with (not a Gordon Brown bully, but not a pushover) ... in the same way DO NOT let teams choose or roll for their commanders. Team Commanders need to be the most tactically aware and 40k savvy player in each team with a positive personality and assertive streak.
Think of it in military terms. You need a solid NCO (Sergeant) in charge of the team, to organise and control their team to victory. Rolling dice or the leadership will inevitably end up with the person who doesn't want it ... they ignore it, they'll lose or be incoherent and the GM will have to effectively 'play the commander' in timekeeping and so on.
The better the NCO, the less work for the GM.
Despite my misgivings, I've found APOC to be a hugely enjoyable and fun thing to do. What it lacks in 'strategy' (that dies in the first turn), it more than delivers in great fun and hilarious exploits! The introduction of superheavies and titans is a daunting fearful fun than makes for great games... in the same way the explosion of said superheavy makes it all worth while.
The tips above aren't fullproof (and there's probably others to add) but they're good advice to keep the game rolling and you home before the kids bedtime/favourite TV show...