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Subject: Kill Team - More Fun Than Full-On 40K? rss

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matthew mclaughlin
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Kill Team - More Fun Than Full-On 40K?

Warhammer 40K Kill Team is one of my absolute favorite games right now.


Because I can play one of my favorite games without all the stuff I don’t like about it getting in the way of fun: no more spam units, no more internet-researched broken lists, no more overpowered models that make most of the opposing armies’ troops mere fodder.

All of which means less of my least favorite aspect of 40K: the Win-at-all-Costs Power Gamers.

I quit playing 40K a few years ago because the game just wasn’t fun for me anymore. The Power Gamers were starting to take over the league at my FLGS, and the games became list-breaking mathfests and headache inducing spamfests; instead of playing games for fun, you slugged it out with would-be bullies who want to out-plastic you rather than out-strategize you.

The game also became increasingly overly complicated and bloated, and flipping through rulebooks and codices replaced storytelling. The style of game I enjoy best is the kind that involves lots of roleplaying, lots of immersion – I like to slow down the game to enjoy the spectacles the games create, pausing to describe the crazy event that just happened with sound effects and dialogue.

(hey, we are playing toy soldiers, aren’t we?)

Every game has several fantastic moments that unfold during the playing of it; some of these moments are so fantastic that my friends and I will recall them years later – and still find ourselves retelling the tales as if they were actual battlefield myths and legends.

One of the most memorable games of 40K I played was one of my friend’s worst games of 40K, ever – but he can’t help but laugh when we recount the comedy of errors that befell his army that day. I was playing Khorne Chaos Space Marines, he was playing Blood Angels Space Marines. Right off the bat he deployed his drop pods – there were three of them – and all three crashed, killing most of the Marines inside. The same turn he jump-packed a squad of his Marines over dangerous terrain – and three out of five of them crashed and died. And THEN, next turn, he decided to go for broke and drove his Rhino straight at my Chaos Lord – who responded by charging the Rhino, punching it with his power fist and blowing it – and the squad of Terminators inside – to bits.

But even after that – even after his army bumbled around – his dice got hot. The game developed into an Alamo-type scenario as his remaining forces regrouped within a cluster of ruins and fought valiantly, nearly pulling out an impossible last-stand victory.

Neither of us cared if we won or lost the game, because a great story was told.

Sure, Kill Team doesn’t completely eliminate Power Gamers from the scene – there are still ways to abuse the game with (in my opinion) the broken or overpowered factions that port over from the mother game – but at least being scenario-and-objective-based, Kill Team almost forces players to tell a story whether they want to or not.

Gone is the lining up of 2000 points worth of spam armies to slug it out “because”; in Kill Team you have 200 points-worth of grunts dropped onto a battlefield to achieve certain objectives.

That’s right, 200 points. Of grunts.

No HQ, no Major Characters, no Daemons (models used in Kill Team can’t have more than three wounds), no big giant shooty things (combined 33 AV and 3 Hull Points is the limit for vehicles) – even Terminators are a no-go because in Kill Team no models with a 2+ save are allowed.

Here’s the list I took to a recent Kill Team tournament (with points breakdown):

8 Berserkers of Khorne
Base squad of 5 (including Berserker Champions at 105 points, 3 additional Berserkers at 19 points each. Total points: 162

I armed them all with chainaxes at 3 points per model, bringing my total points to 186. I decided to give the Berserker Champion a Gift of Mutation for 10 points, topping off at 196 total points.

Completing your roster, you’ll roll on a chart to assign an attribute to your Kill Team’s leader (in my case the Berserker Champion), and designate skills to three Specialists.

These skills are broken down into categories: Combat Specialist (close combat skills), Weapon Specialist (shooting skills), Dirty Fighter Specialist (killing skills), Indomitable Specialist (defensive skills), and Guerilla Specialist (stealth skills). You can choose one skill from each category and give that skill to one of your three Specialists.

My three Kill Team Specialists picked up Murderous Blow (rerolls failed to wound rolls) from the Dirty Fighter list, Feel No Pain (allows an extra saving throw) from the Indomitable list, and Killer Instinct (wounds on 2+) from the Combat Specialist list. My leader rolled Chasing Promotion (1 extra victory point if he slays the enemy Leader in a challenge) on the Leader Skill Chart and I rolled Warp Frenzy (+1 Attack) on the Chaos Gift of Mutation chart. My Kill Team was set to take the field.

For those unfamiliar with 40K, each type of troop or unit is given a stat line such as:

5 4 4 4 1 4 1 8 3+

(WS=Weapon Skill, BS+Ballistic Skill, S=Strength, T=Toughness, W=Wounds, I=Initiative, A=number of Attacks, LD=Leadership Quality, SV=Save)

I really enjoy Kill Team’s list building. With fewer models comprising your forces, each team member seems to have a little more personality; no one of them is fodder, and you care about them a little bit more – even if it’s because you can’t afford to lose anyone or you’ll lose the game.

I knew going into a tournament with Berserkers was probably certain death/tabling, but Berserkers are FUN and I had my heart set on winning a round or two with them…

Round One – vs. Thousand Sons

The tournament was set up so that we’d each play three rounds, earning victory points that would be tallied up at the end of the three rounds to determine the winner or the tournament. The first round combatants were assigned randomly, and I drew a Thousand Sons Kill Team as my opponent.

I didn’t feel too good about this matchup; Thousand Sons are tough for Berserkers, being good a long-range and packing heavy weapons – plus the Sorcerer/Psyker, being the only Psyker in the game, can be brutal against any faction.

But luckily for me the battlefield was a ruined city, which meant lots of cover for my Berserkers. There were basically two fire corridors – city streets – crossing the battlefield, and ruined buildings everywhere. The scenario was “Head Hunter”, the perfect game for Berserkers. Points are given for the death of the opposing Warlord/Commander and each of the three Specialists.

To start the game, Thousand Sons won with a higher initiative roll on the D6 – and we deployed our troops. Each model acts as an independent “unit”, so unit cohesion rules from the large-scale 40K game are thrown out the door.

After deployment, the player who lost the initiative roll has the chance to steal initiative by rolling a 6 on the D6 – and steal the initiative, I did! Stolen initiative can be a big thing with so few troops on the battlefield, as every model is incredibly important and even a single model out of position (because his player thought he was moving first) and being picked off on turn one can result in disaster: a battle plan wrecked before it gets started.

Really quickly, in case you’re not familiar with Warhammer 40K, I’ll pause my battle report and give you a basic rundown of the rules that carry over to Kill Team:

As I mentioned above, before the game starts, the players will roll for Initiative. Initiative can then be “stolen” by the player who rolled the lower initiative after the models have been deployed on the battlefield. Play is taken in turns through the following games phases:

During the Movement Phase you’ll move any models you wish to move, getting them into range for shooting or taking cover if they’re out in the open. Most models move up to six inches, though vehicles and certain models – such as those with jetpacks – can move further.

Psychic Phase
During the Psychic Phase your Sorcerers and Librarians get to tee off on the poor saps making up the other Kill Team. This is basically a “Magic Phase”, and spells can be cast – send a minor Psychic Storm raining down on your enemies, or seize control of an enemy model’s mind and make him shoot at his friends! (beware – there are risks involved in the psychic phase…)

During the Shooting Phase you’ll shoot – or run – with your models.

Shooting: Firstly, your model must have a clear line-of-sight at its target – this always leads to hilarious craning and crouching to get eye-level with your model squinting through terrain features to see if any part of the target model is reasonably peeking out of cover. Once line-of-sight is determined, the target model must be within the range of the shooting model’s weapon.

How do you score a hit? Check the model’s ballistic skill on its stat line – if the model has a ballistic skill of 3, a hit is scored with a 3+ rolled on a D6. To see if the target is wounded when hit, cross reference the fired weapon’s strength to the target’s toughness and consult the chart provided in the rules to see if a wound is struck. AFTER THAT, if the target is wounded it can make a saving throw to see it survives or dies.

Running: A model can forgo shooting and RUN – if you need to get a model to cover or get somewhere fast, you can decide not to shoot and instead roll a D6 to determine how many more inches of movement the model gains.

Close Combat
During the Close Combat Phase, models either engage in close combat or continue the melee from the previous turn. To engage in Close Combat a model charges – rolls two D6 to determine whether or not it can reach its intended opponent. As the unit charges, its target has a chance to snap-fire in Overwatch – a quick reactionary fire that hits only on the roll of 6.

Once engaged, each model will compare the Initiative given on its stat line, with the higher of the two striking first (an equal Initiative means that both models will attack simultaneously).

Close combat is resolved very similarly to shooting: a roll is made to hit, a roll is made to wound, and a roll is made to save. Close Combat continues each turn until there is a victor! (or until someone runs away, but who does that?)

Each player works through all of these phases before turning it over to the next player, continuing until at least turn 6. Once turn six is completed, a D6 is rolled (yes, you roll a lot of dice) and on a 1-3 the game ends and objective points are tallied to decide the winner, and on a 4-6 the game continues – and so on.

Back to the battle report:

Now having initiative, I split my Kill Team into two smaller groups of four and worked my way through the ruins until I flanked the Thousand Sons, who were advancing as a single force and defending the main corridor that ran through the city. I stuck close to cover, only losing a single Berserker before coming within striking distance – at which point I rushed my Berserkers head on towards the opposing forces, suffering two casualties during his phase of combat.

But then the Berserkers did what they did best.

Charging, they engaged with the enemy. Most units have the chance to snipe charging units as they close, but Thousand Sons with their heavier weapons don’t get Overwatch snapshots.

Berserkers get a ton of bonuses when charging into hand-to-hand combat, both in attacks and to wound rolls – conversely, Thousand Sons are pretty poor in close quarters. Hacking and slashing until blood splattered everything, each of the close combats my Berserkers engaged in were successful, severely depleting the Thousand Sons.

The real game-changer, however, came when the Thousand Sons Sorcerer attempted to cast a spell – and was dragged screaming into the Warp when he failed to do so.

One more turn and it was over, with my Berserkers surprisingly tabling the Thousand Sons.

I got really lucky, drawing that opponent on that battlefield with that scenario. Thousand Sons are built for long-range combat, but with the clustered city ruins provided very little clear fire lanes, they rarely had line-of-sight of the Berserkers. The Berserkers, on the other hand, could approach steadily and fairly easily by staying close to buildings and ruined walls until that final charge.

I tallied 9 objective points, good for first place at the end of round one.

This first round really got me in the spirit of things, not because I won but because my Berserkers, collected a bunch of heads true to the story I was making up for them.

Round Two – vs Skitarii

Next up, Skitarii, a force I had never played against before. They had some pretty awesome weapons, Feel No Pain down to a man, and a walker-thing that had crazy movement.

The battlefield was inside a military compound, so again, lots of cover although there were a few wide-open spaces I’d try to avoid. The scenario was “Higher Ground” – there was a tower at the center of the compound and the victory belonged to whoever controlled it at the end of the game.

Right out the gate, I rushed my Berserkers towards the tower and reached it by sacrificing my ranged combat phase instead to run on turn one. The Berserkers didn’t climb the tower, though; I didn’t want them sitting up there for five rounds, getting picked off by Skitarii snipers.

The Skitarii split into two groups, circling around to flank my Berserkers – a similar tactic I used in round one, but his walker’s movement got that thing in close really quickly. As the group of Skitarri on the right were nearest, I rushed a couple of Berserkers at it, getting in close with a charge. One of them was killed by snapshot fire, but the other’s Feel No Pain save kept him alive.

On the left flank, I made the mistake of charging the Walker without realizing that it has a high Initiative and is almost impossible to wound in H-2-H; it killed the Berserker who went after it.

With the Skitarii in close, I decided to forget the tower and go for the total kill. The Berserkers poured out of hiding and into combat – one of them was killed by overwatch fire, but the rest got in close, killing their enemies. I got his Warlord and thought the game was mine.


His dice caught fire next round, and he blasted three Berserkers who had just finished combat. I was down to two Berserkers against two Skitarii and the Walker. The Walker caught one of them, but luckily took three rounds to put him in his grave. Meanwhile my other Berserker killed two Skitarii in two rounds, bringing us to the end of turn six.

Had the game ended there we would have had a draw. I really wanted the game to end there.

The dice didn’t cooperate and we continued to the next turn. My last Berserker got caught and killed by the Walker and Skitarii won the round 6-5 in victory points, the tie-breaker being the fact that he ended up tabling me.

That was a real learning experience. I should have left that Walker alone earlier in the game and focused solely on his troops. I think I would have swept right through them, although his Feel No Pain saves were making things tougher on me than they were in round one.

Still, I had 14 points through two round and was tied for first place – way better than I could have expected. But then: disaster in the form of Sisters of Battle.

Round Three – vs Sisters of Battle

Simply put, I got my ass kicked.

All the good luck I had in the first two rounds with battlefields turned right around on me. The “Christmas” battlefield was a wide open expanse, no cover anywhere, no place to hide or creep up on the enemy and engage in close combat.

The scenario was also unfavorable for me on this particular battlefield; there were three objective points on the battlefield that had to be occupied and held. My Berserkers would be sitting ducks trying to hold any of those objectives without cover.

The Sisters of Battle list was just awesome, with the booster packs and flamers. There was really nothing I could do except charge forward with all my might and hope for the best. The Berserkers were mostly mowed down in two turns – turn three went really well for me, as I got into close combat and killed several Sisters, but next turn my boys were immediately blasted into oblivion.

Finally, the weaknesses of Berserkers came into play all at once. Out in the open, ineffective long-range shooting, and no saves against most of the Sisters’ weapons spelled a quick loss for me in Round Three.

Managing only a single point for killing the Leader, I dropped into 4th place in the standings and out of the running for any prizes. Disappointing after those first two really good rounds, but I had a lot of fun and played against some really cool opponents – and, outside of Round Three, the Berserkers competed much better than I thought they would!

In short, I like Kill Team because:

1. It uses a stripped-down (and more streamlined) version of 40K that allows for quicker-playing skirmish games.

2. The smaller forces/teams make every model feel that much more important; there is no cannon fodder on the board. This also gives the game a more personal feel – if you have to sacrifice a model, you really feel it – if a model gets killed, it really counts.

3. The scenario and objective-based games give a feeling of story.

4. The smaller forces/Kill Team means that if you’d like to try out other factions, you can do so on the cheap. Always wanted to play Space Wolves? Buy one box of models and you have a kill team. Of course, you’ll need a codex, but buying a codex is a lot less expensive than investing in a new army.

Having sung its praises, is there anything about Kill Team I don’t like? There are, although these don’t spoil the game for me:

1. No campaign. I always find myself wishing that there was a campaign or advancement/reward system built into Kill Team. Being able to develop a team or a warband in Kill Team like you can for games like Blood Bowl, Mordheim, or Necromunda would be amazing and add another realm of roleplaying to the game.

And this first minor dislike leads into my second minor dislike:

2. Games can be repetitive. With only a few scenarios provided in the rulebook, unless you come up with and design your own scenarios, you’re pretty limited in the types of games you’ll play. The kinds of Specialist Skills there are to choose from are also limited, though if you develop your own campaign system, you can possibly skill up other members of your Kill Team.

But really, these two issues are nothing to worry about as after a few plays you’ll be comfortable enough to write your own scenarios or develop your own campaign system.

In conclusion, 40K Kill Team is a fantastic game for players who no longer have the time to play huge games (or paint huge armies), players who don’t have the money to build huge armies, or players who love down-and-dirty skirmish games – or more personal, intimate games. In my experience, I’ve found less Power Gamers playing Kill Team as well (which is a major plus).

UPDATE: I wrote the above several weeks ago, but hadn’t had the time to redraft it. Very recently Games Workshop announced a new 40K skirmish game called Shadow War Armageddon, which is apparently a slight re-theme of Necromunda (you’ll now use 40K factions rather than gangs) and will use updated rules from that game.

This is great in that we’ll now get a campaign system and lots of scenarios, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like Kill Team is available any longer; Games Workshop has removed it from their site. Maybe Kill Team was a placeholder for Shadow War Armageddon, or maybe it was launched to test the waters and GW decided a skirmish-level 40K game would make money.

So it seems Kill Team might end up being obsolete.
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Major Havok
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Continuing to make and sell the kill team box doesn't make much sense - really the Kill Team pamphlet is the only needed item and it's still available digitally.

I like Kill Team - a nice change of pace from our larger 40k games. Always up for more way to play with my GW models.
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matthew mclaughlin
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I completely agree with you.

I only bought the pamphlet because I had no interest in playing Tau or SM.

Really, being a one-time avid Necromunda player, I'm HIGHLY anticipating Shadow War Armageddon. While I obviously can't comment yet on SWA's rules, I anticipate that they'll make playing Kill Team obsolete. Still, maybe with Kill Team's quick-and-easy setup they'll be useful if you've only got an hour to...erm...kill.

Thanks for reading!
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Gary McCammon
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There's an on-line Kill Team version called Kill Team: Heralds of Ruin, which tweaks the rules slightly. I've looked both over and HoR seems like a good option, and if GW has dropped Kill Team from their catalouge it's all the more worth checking it out if you haven't already.
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culix _
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Great review! Thanks for writing it. Writing about a tournament is a great way to show off some of the different teams, scenarios, and outcomes. Congrats on doing so well with your Berzerkers!

I agree that this is a great way to get into 40k at a lower cost or to try out some different models. I'm actually surprised GW doesn't push Kill Team more as a great intro game for getting people started on 40k. It looks like that's what the new Shadow War is for...

Even though the Kill Team boxed set has been taken down, for now you can still find the digital copy of 7th Edition Kill Team on Warhammer Digital. My guess is they might take that down once 8th edition hits in a few months.

I actually feel like Kill Team is pretty timeless regardless of edition. You could pick any edition ruleset, set a limit of 200 points, apply some special rules to Specialists, and still have a fun game. Even as editions change, you can always go back and play with the one you like the best.

I'll second the note about Kill Team: Heralds of Ruin. If you want to add a long-running campaign element they have some interesting rules there.
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