Chapter Approved: Tactical Deployment is perhaps the strangest release I’ve ever seen come from Games Workshop. Billed simultaneously as a way to have players bring their own terrain to competitive games and a way to add tactical considerations to terrain choices and placement, the competitive community lost its damn mind at the initial marketing for the release, arguing about the merits of player-placed terrain and whether this bold new system would replace existing tournament play or fracture the playerbase. The reality was quite a bit less exciting: Tactical Deployment (read our review here) ended up being a bit of a wet fart, a book with lots of interesting ideas about missions and secondaries but very few good ideas about terrain itself. The terrain rules were needlessly complex, time-consuming to play with and, in the strangest twist, incomplete. The review copy Games Workshop sent us did not include the Terrain Datasheet cards that are necessary to actually play with Tactical Deployment – the datasheets required aren’t printed in the rulebook itself save for a single example image on a reference page.
This baffling decision, combined with the notion that only specific GW terrain sets built in a certain configuration would work in the Tactical Deployment game mode, ensured that Tactical Deployment wouldn’t be a consideration for most players, let alone competitive. And not only did the datasheet cards release separately, they released a week after the rulebook that required them, so you’d have to wait a full week to even play with the new book. What I’m saying is, mistakes were made.
So, interested in closing the loop on this supplement, I picked up a copy of the Battlezone: Manufactorum Terrain Datasheet Cards this past weekend from my friendly local game store. Would these cards save the supplement? And if not, is there anything here worth pulling out for narrative play? Let’s dive in to find out.
What You Get
For $25 the pack comes with 22 cards: 9 Tactical Terrain Datasheets, 9 Narrative Terrain Datasheets for the exact same pieces, 3 Battlezone rules cards, and one completely superfluous art card. It’s a lot to pay for some oversized index cards.
The terrain covered is exactly what we’ve already seen previews for – there’s the terrain from the Vertigus set, plus Munitorum Armoured Containers, the Sanctum Administratus, and “Conservators,” which is the fancy name for the combination of a Servo-Hauler, Servo-Welder, and a Hauling Trailer, which is a munitorum armoured container with wheels.
Alright let’s talk about the rules. There are three things I’m going to talk about here: The Tactical Terrain Datasheets, the Narrative Play Terrain Datasheets, and the Battlezone rules.
Tactical Terrain Datasheets
There are 9 datasheets in the Tactical Terrain set. In a standard 2,000-point Strike Force game, you’ll have to take a minimum of 4 datasheets and spend a minimum of 150 terrain points on your terrain, up to a maximum of 200. That’s not so bad – the Sanctum Administratus is 60 points, some of the other buildings are 50 points; you could just take 3 Sanctums (180) and a set of storage containers (20), and if both players do that you’ve got a table with 4 decently-sized line of sight blocking pieces. It’s not amazing and it’s very expensive, but it’s not bad.
Oh wait, what’s this? Turns out the four largest terrain features with cards are also CRITICAL FEATURES, which means they can only be taken once in a Strike Force game or below. So that means one Sanctum. And that’s where we start to get into the real problems with these datacards. All four of the largest terrain features – the Sanctum, the Engine Shed, the Thermo-Exchanger Shrine, and the Auto-Choral Transmitter – all have the CRITICAL FEATURE keyword. That’s good in the sense that you will have to put larger terrain features in the middle of the table (smart!), but bad in the sense that you will kind of have to take each one of them to have big terrain you need in a regular game. Also–only three datasheets in the entire set have Obscuring despite four of them being ruins that are more than 5″ tall – and it’s not the ones you think: It’s The Sanctum (ok fine), the Auto-Choral Transmitter (wait, what?), and the Thermo-Exchanger Shrine (bruh). Not a single one of the terrain features has the Dense rule. There’s a weird dynamic here where some of the rules are good – like the ones that have you putting larger pieces of terrain near the middle of the table, and on the table first – but they’re at odds with the terrain being sold and how you’re asked to use them. I think it’s a little too easy for a less experienced player to end up making a table half that’s just woefully inadequate because they thought more about the volume of terrain or some of the special rules (more on those in a bit) than the size of the terrain features and their function as line-of-sight blockers.
- Sanctum Administratus (60)
- Engine Shed (60)
- Munitorum Armoured Containers (20)
- Munitorum Armoured Containers (20)
- Storage Fane (40)
That gives you 5 terrain features that can all reasonably block line of sight to something, though only one of them is Obscuring and large enough to really block bigger units, and three features that can actually give you a bonus to your cover save. It’s… not a bad setup, to be honest, but that’s also a setup I’ve created with with the explicit goal of trying to pack my half of the table with terrain, which is what I think most armies are going to want to do. If you aren’t thinking this way, you’re going to end up with a lot of sparse tables. I think that munitorum armoured containers are going to do a lot of the heavy lifting for this game mode, since they come 3 to a datasheet and can be stacked and placed within 3″ of each other to make small LOS blockers that protect infantry.
The other challenge these rules create is that many of the rules for terrain encourage you to stay well, in that terrain. This is a bit of a weird criticism but hear me out: One of the better features of 9th edition is the way it forces you to push forward and hold objectives early. These rules on the other hand, encourage you to sit in terrain in order to reap those bonuses, doing the opposite and either encouraging a bad play style or if the objectives are in the buildings, making it even harder for an opponent to dislodge units sitting on them. There’s also the challenge of not being able to put your terrain in your opponent’s territory, meaning that crossing midfield on the table is even more dangerous. I’m not sure how I feel about that, though the custom secondaries in the Tactical Deployment missions do give you more options for dealing with this and several are quite good.
The Terrain Rules
It’s worth calling out the rules for this terrain as well. There are some interesting effects here, with some unintended consequences.
- Thermo Pipes are the only terrain feature that can be set up within 3″ of another terrain feature if you connect them via a pipeline access point, and have a rule that enemy units ending a charge move touching the pipes and within 2″ of one of your models suffers D3 mortal wounds on a 4+. Otherwise, they also give you Light Cover, Heavy Cover, Defensible, and Defense Line, making them really nasty for hiding gunlines behind. If you set these up right connecting buildings, you can build a kind of protective walking path from your deployment zone to the middle of the table, which is kind of neat. Connecting buildings via the pipes gives them the connected rule, which matters for exactly two pieces of terrain we’ll discuss below.
- Conservators can repair vehicles within 1″ at the end of the Movement phase, healing them for D3 lost wounds. This makes them a cheap source of wound regen on vehicles that can be very handy if you’re Knights or Death Guard.
- Munitorum Armoured Containers are just crates, and cheap, but you can pay to give them storm bolters that can be fired by models standing on top of the containers (don’t do this). Otherwise, they’re the best list-filler of the group since you can stack them to make LOS blockers.
- The Storage Fane gives a unit inside it re-rolls to hit on rolls of 1 with ranged attacks, and it lets you pick a unit inside it during the Shooting phase and up to half the models in the unit can lob grenades instead of just one. The re-rolls of 1 to hit for ranged attacks is quite good, especially for armies that don’t normally get that ability easily.
- The Auto-Choral Transmitter is the first piece of terrain I’ve seen with the Inspiring terrain trait, which gives units within 6″ +1 to their Leadership. The terrain gives a single CHARACTER from your army within 1″ a +3″ boost to their Aura abilities. This is also one of two terrain features that actually uses the rules for connected terrain: This aura extension ability gets added to each building connected to the Transmitter, meaning that you have a potential reason to take those thermo pipes.
- The Sub-Cloister is likely the true degenerate of the bunch – its Hidden Basement rule lets you set up an INFANTRY unit of up to 10 models in its hidden basement during Deployment instead of on the battlefield; then during the Reserves step they can show up wholly within the terrain feature, as a kind of terrain-specific deep strike. This is potentially stupid good for slower INFANTRY units that need to get to mid-table, but can’t deep strike. I’m looking at you, Centurions. Also Berserkers.
- The Thermo-Exchanger Shrine is a Critical Feature that is also Inspiring for some reason, and has a Thermal Suppresion Field that gives INFANTRY the ability to shrug off the negative effects of Overcharging/Supercharging on a D6 roll of a 4+. This is also the other spot where being connected matters, because every terrain feature connected to the shrine also gets this ability. So Greg, if you’re reading this, you should consider playing Tactical Deployment to take one of these so you don’t lose half your army to overcharge mishaps. Or uh, “bravery mode,” as you refer to it.
- The Engine Shed is a Critical Feature that can heal a friendly VEHICLE that is wholly within the feature for up to D3 lost wounds if you have a friendly INFANTRY unit also within the Engine Shed. It’s a lot more complicated and carries with it some real questions about which vehicles can actually fit in the building’s footprint, and also you have to park the thing in there, and at this point I start wondering why you wouldn’t just take the Conservators instead of this 60-point structure.
- The Sanctum Administratus is the biggest feature of the lot, a large multi-story Critical Feature that makes a decent mid-table LOS blocker. It has the Plunging Fire rule, which gives models on the top floor the ability to ignore Look Out, Sir with ranged attacks. That’s pretty good, but given that this will usually go in the middle of the table, it’ll be something you have to put some thought/work into getting a unit on. Great for Infiltrators/Eliminators/Incursors, though.
Having gone through the cards, I’ll admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the way some of the rules account for challenges setting up a table, but I still have my doubts about setting up a good table with these rules. If I were building something for my Death Guard, I’d likely consider the following:
- Sanctum Administratus (60)
- Sub-Cloister (50)
- Sub-Cloister (50)
- Munitorum Armoured Containers (20)
- Conservators (20)
Where the Sanctum gives me mid-table LOS blocking and the two sub-cloisters, at over 5″ tall with few windows, help do the same but also give me what are basically deep striking options for my plague marine units so they can fast track their way to the middle of the table to join the party. Meanwhile the Conservators make a good accompaniment to my daemon engines, which helps them heal even faster and makes them a nightmare to take down thanks to being T7 or T8 with a 4+ invulnerable save thanks to the Ironclot Furnace and then a 5+ Disgustingly Resilient save.
In addition to the Tactical Terrain Datasheets, the pack comes with a set of 9 cards for Narrative/regular play. These are the same exact terrain features as the Tactical Terrain set, and they’re identical except for they add an additional rule for each terrain feature. This is… pretty bad, actually. The terrain rules are already adding a ton of extra complexity to the game with bespoke rules for each feature, and adding a second one just makes things insanely complex. The Sanctum Administratus adds a rule for calling in an artillery strike. The Conservators can be moved around with a custom Action. The Storage Fane has a rule for giving VEHICLEs a second shot on once-per-game weapons. Taken as a whole, it’s a bunch of needless extra cruft that players are likely to forget and follows some of the worse GW design instincts around Narrative Play that saw them just tacking on a ton of extra rules. This complexity isn’t good for anyone and the casual, narrative-focused players I play with tend to want fewer rules when they play unless there’s something really cool you can make a rule for. These… don’t really do that.
Finally we have the three Battlezone cards. These define the Battlezone Manufactorum and how to play with it. It’s worth noting that all of the terrain datasheets above except the Munitorum Armoured Containers have the BATTLEZONE MANUFACTORUM keyword, meaning they can only be used on this battlezone, and only they can be used with it if you’re doing Tactical Deployment.
The Theater of War card defines a random chart of effects you can apply to your battle, rolled before set-up. Half of these randomly dole out mortal wounds; they all affect the terrain features on the table. This table, like the Kill Team Killzone random effects table, isn’t particularly inspired and could have been three more focused effects. You can skip this one in Narrative Play in my opinion.
The Battlezone Manufactorum Abilities card defines how pipes work, basically – how they connect and how you can use them to connect features.
The Battlezone Manufactorum Agendas card is the hidden gem of this set, defining four additional agendas you can take in Crusade if you’re playing in the Battlezone Manufactorum. These are all pretty neat, and focus on terrain and doing actions on or around certain terrain features. Secure the Cargo sees you investigating and locking down Munitorum Armoured Containers. Place Beacons has you placing beacons Ruins with the Obscuring trait to score experience points. Assist in the Repairs gives you experience points for repairing vehicles in an Engine Shed. And Siphon Energy has your units pulling power out of Thermo Coil regulators. They’re all pretty neat and make a good addition to Crusade games that you might want to set in a specific type of battlefield, but they’re hamstrung a bit by the lack of a good framing device – the rules for the battlezone itself are otherwise kind of lame, and there isn’t a framework for or reason to use the battlezone rules to begin with, which is a shame. Otherwise, they’re great.
I’ll admit, I started to come around a bit on the Tactical Deployment datasheets midway through writing this article. I think there’s a lot of potential in that game mode – the missions are good and the framework for the terrain rules is at least decent – but it’s all kind of wasted on Tactical Deployment, where the terrain itself is only kind of blah and there’s very little flexibility to create or use your own terrain layouts. It’s also a mode no one will likely play, or that very few people will spend the time on. I want to say that’s a shame, but ultimately I don’t think it’s that big a loss — I just want to see some of these rules and missions make it into next year’s GT missions pack. The other thing here are the Narrative rules which, aside from the Agendas, are dog shit. If you want to play Tactical Deployment, you need this set of cards. If you don’t want to play that mode, you can skip these – the Agendas are cool but they aren’t worth paying for everything else here.
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