This CCG is the second installment of Sabertooth's conversion of the tabletop battlegame Warhammer 40K to a cardgame. The game should not be viewed as any attempt to replace the tabletop game which is a game of 28mm miniatures fought on a 4x8 table with terrain, etc. I am a longtime fan of Warhammer 40K -- it is set in a dystopic future where mankind teeters on the brink of extinction surrounded by enemies. Dark Millenium is the successor to the well designed CCG Horus Heresy. It uses basically the same rules, but is not limited in scope to a specific period of time which was true of the Horus Heresy. HH cards are still available, and it is a fine game in its own right, especially for those who are interested in the terrible civil war that rent the Imperium of Man and ended with the bitter defeat of evil and the imprisonment of the Emperor in the statis field of the Golden Throne.
In Dark Millenium as it is currently released, four of the factions or races of the WH40K universe are brought into play: 1) Imperial troops (humans) consisting of Inquisition, Imperial Guard and mostly Dark Angel Space Marine troops at this time. Imperial players can make use of legal Horus Heresy cards in their decks until approximately October, 2006; 2) Chaos troops (demons, cultists, and corrupted Imperial Guard and Space Marines left over from the Heresy or recently corrupted by the vile forces of the warp); 3) Eldar -- an ancient older race of beings who once ruled the stars and live in giant cities floating in space called Craftworld. The Eldar have great technology and are gifted psychically, but have dark secrets of their own and are more fragile than human beings; 4) Orks -- a brutal race who thrive on conflict and aggression, the Orks are poorly organized, but they are physicially resilient to an extreme -- tough, intimidating, and capable of grafting bionic parts directly onto their bodies!
There are hints from Sabertooth that future boxed sets of DM will be used to highlight some of the other "beloved" races of this dark future including the Tau, the Tyranids, and possibly the Necrons? Stay tuned.
The game mechanics are basically the same as those of the Horus Heresy. The game consists of only four turns (which can take up to two hours if you play slowly and are unfamiliar with the cards). However, in recent tournament play, I won two rounds by the end of the second turn. Victory conditions are quite simple: by the end of turn four (if not before), any player that takes two sectors wins the game. If two sectors are not taken, the one who has taken the sector that is most difficult wins the game. "Sectors" refers to cards that are laid out between the players and represent different theatres of war, usually on the same planet. So, the game essentially represents widespread conflict between opposing forces on an embattled planet. In order to take a sector, you must end the battle at that sector with more "flag" units (units that can hold ground and have a flag in the upper left) than your opponent. In addition, you must have at least as many flags as is indicated for the given sector (usually ranging from 3 to 7). Obviously, it is much harder to take a sector that requires 7 flags than one that takes 3. It is not unusual for one sector to be won by the end of the first turn, but taking the second sector may take longer!
The Demo review by Todd Sweet gives the basic outline of the steps taken during each turn. I'll just add a few comments. There are two battles for each turn -- one chosen by the attacker and one chosen by the defender. There are two waves of deployment in each turn. The first wave is face up -- think of this as scouts reporting the basics of the incoming enemy's deployment -- some units are recognized, number of dropships is counted, etc. The second wave of deployment is mostly hidden -- cards are placed face down in whatever sectors the owner chooses. Think of this as the dropships disgorging their troops -- harder to keep track of the enemy deployment at that point. A key tactical issue in the game at this point is that each player can figure out where the enemy is bulking up their troops, but you are not sure which troops are coming into the battle. Thus, key decisions involve whether one should bulk up in response, throwing troops into what could become a meat grinder, or try and fake out your opponent and divert most of your troops into a relatively unprotected sector. The decision may hinge on whether you have already won one sector or he has!
In general, the art on the cards is very good -- very iconic from the 40K universe and full of action. Cards have interesting abilities and each card can be used in multiple ways -- in its own right as troops in battle, as a substitute for rolling dice (each card has a die printed at the bottom that shapes strategic decisions about which cards to include in your deck), and for its Command Line which is used by turning cards upside down and affects the course of an ongoing battle. No card is wasted! I really love that quality of the game. The armies are each also quite distinct and match the flavor of their faction. For example, Eldar cards can be quite powerful, but their dice are quite low, so they often include cards which modify or alter die rolls. Of course, these cards may also modify the die rolls of the enemy, causing them to fail etc. This represents the "capricious" nature of the Eldar and the way that their psykers look into the future to try and choose the best course of action. On the other hand, the Orks are a juggernaut on assaults into hand to hand combat with lots of amazing support troops. They also have some very powerful cards, some of which malfunction in typically orky fashion with potentially devestating consequences to all!
I also love the concepts of the ships. You can include ship cards in your decks. These are cards that have no flags and cannot hold ground, but they are usually very useful -- they can unleash orbital bombardments of any sector, they can transport or ferry troops from one sector to another and do other powerful things. When a ship is deployed to a sector, it immediately leaves the sector and goes to your lower left which represents the ship in orbit above the planet. Having ships adds to the sense of planetwide conflict. However, you shouldn't go hog wild with ships -- they have no flags and while they may confer some awesome abilities, you could lose a sector if you deploy too many ships to it and cannot hold the strategic high ground.
In my opinion, Dark Millenium, like Horus Heresy before it, has some of the most streamlined and clean design features of any CCG I have ever played (and I've played quite a few!). If you play WH40K, do not view DM as a competitor -- it really isn't. It is a complement. Sometimes you are too busy or there is not enough time to pack up your terrain and models for a full blown 40K battle, but you could put a DM deck in your pocket and enjoy the 40K universe with a friend.
A note to those who might have played the 1st edition of the CCG: the 1st edition cards are NOT compatible nor legal with Dark Millenium.
If you love the 40K universe, or if you would like to check it out, I encourage you to try the game. I am greatly looking forward to new releases from Sabertooth. I hope you enjoyed my review -- sorry it is so long!