Chapter Approved 2019 – Matched Play Mission Review, Part 2: Schemes of War

An article by    Game Design Gaming Reviews Tactics Warhammer 40k        0

Welcome back to part 2 of our in-depth analysis of the missions released in Chapter Approved 2019. Last week, in part 1, we looked at the new and/or improved set of missions making up the Eternal War section of the book. Today, we’ll be diving into the Schemes of War missions which represent the new way to play games with Maelstrom cards. Just like last week, we’ll take a look at the general rules shared between the missions first, and then look at each of the individual missions and what strategies they might reward. In the Eternal War the per-mission analysis formed a big part of the content, but here we’re going to spend more time on the shared rules, as unlike previous iterations of Maelstrom the individual missions add no additional objectives (beyond the “standard” First Strike/Slay the Warlord/Linebreaker set) – all scoring is via cards, and each different mission just adds a twist on the mechanisms used to draw them and put them into play. With that in mind let’s get started.

Schemes of War Missions

Tactical Objectives

Before we dive too deeply into the rules of Schemes of War, we need to quickly identify what a Tactical Objective (also referred to as a “Maelstrom card”) is, for the uninitiated. Tactical objectives are a set of objectives designed to be dynamically generated and achieved during a mission. Each will have a condition under which you score it, and a number of victory points you receive if you do. The rules of the very first tactical objective, Secure Objective 1, demonstrate this nicely:

Secure Objective 1: Score 1 victory point if you control objective marker 1 at the end of your turn.

There are 36 tactical objectives outlined in the main rulebook, which you can roll for on a d66 table (i.e. roll one d6 for the tens and one for the units). You can also purchase a set of cards for these, which is highly, highly recommended if you’re playing them a lot, and de-facto required for the new set of missions we’re about to cover (and use of cards is often enforced by tournaments using them).

To further mix things up, each codex also includes six tactical objectives. In the “default” deck there are two copies of each of the “secure objective X” cards, and you can choose to replace the first set of these with the six objectives for your warlord’s faction. Games Workshop makes a set of datacards for each codex, which includes stratagems and a tactical objective deck with these cards included.

Both the basic rulebook and previous Chapter Approved books have included “Maelstrom of War” missions. These have provided various different conditions for generating and scoring tactical objectives, usually layered alongside some other scoring conditions or special rules. Schemes of War is a different way to play games with Tactical Objectives.

What is Schemes of War?

Back in June, Games Workshop quietly released the core Schemes of War rules in White Dwarf, as part of a battle report. We thought that they were interesting enough that Corrode put together both a review and a tactics article for them at the time. Our main takeaway at the time was that the core rules were really, really good (an opinion that’s held firm from playing with them since) but the recommendation that you could just layer them on top of any existing Maelstrom mission didn’t really hold together – too many of them have mechanisms for generating or managing cards that flatly didn’t work with the Schemes rules. We picked out a few missions that mostly worked with them either as written or with tiny tweaks, but were left hungry for a set of missions designed from the ground up to work with the Schemes rules.

The good news is that this is pretty much exactly what Games Workshop have delivered. The core Schemes rules are both unchanged and the central focus of the missions – as mentioned above, the only way to score points in the missions is via your cards and the standard three objectives, meaning how well you play the Schemes game will determine the winner. The mission design beyond that is very “light touch” – each provides a small change to the core rules that will change up play patterns and tactical incentives to some degree, but doesn’t attempt to completely overhaul things.

This continues a theme from the Eternal War missions this year of the game design being admirably restrained – the writers have the confidence that if they provide a robust, well balanced set of core rules then players will have a better time than if they’re dancing to the strings of a bizarre gimmick added in to try and come up with “way to draw cards #15”. Corrode and I went to an event using the 2018 Maelstrom missions right after they were released, and after a round in which “Tactical Cascade” was played the consensus that emerged over lunch was that not a single table had managed to play the mission 100% correctly. That mission is unusually crazy even for Maelstrom, but I’m much, much happier with getting the new, elegant mission set we see here than 6 more increasingly convoluted Maelstrom missions.

You can probably tell by now that I think these rules are pretty great – but how do they work?

Core Rules

The core Schemes of War rules have changed very little from the White Dwarf iteration, with the only update being the removal of the rules for discarding unachievable objectives and the Determined Push stratagem increasing in cost to 2CP. If you’ve played the White Dwarf rules and/or read our previous review you can probably skip straight to the strategy/individual mission sections. If not, read on!

Building a Deck

Rather than using the full set of 36 tactical objectives, in Schemes of War each player builds a deck of 18 cards from those available to them, with no duplicated card names. Given that the standard deck contains 6 duplicated cards (the second copy of each “Secure” card) that means that there are 30 cards everyone has access to, and 6 (or for a small number of factions such as Black Legion,12) cards that will be unique to your Warlord’s codex.

One thing that will emerge as these missions are used in tournaments is whether events require players to “lock-in” a deck of 18 cards alongside their army list, or to build their deck pre-game once they know their opponent’s list. I would expect the former to win out for the practical reason that building a deck takes time, and adding a pre-game time sink will just add another way for games to go to time. That does clash a bit with the fact that some cards are simply impossible against some opponents, and the rules for cycling these are gone, making including them in a fixed deck very risky. An alternative option for TOs would be to add a very strict, timeboxed limit (say five minutes) for players to build their decks in, but it’ll be a tricky thing to manage, and how you deal with a player managing to accidentally build an illegal deck would need thought as well.

Note: As a few commentors have pointed out, your deck only has to be at least 18 cards, so you can include more if you want to. In general keeping to the 18 best cards will be the better option, but if you’re worried about running out you could consider having a few more.

Setting Up the Board

All Schemes missions use 6 freely placed objectives, just like some of the Eternal War ones we talked about last week. Unlike Eternal War, the objectives are numbered, as some cards refer to specific ones. One gap in the rules is that it doesn’t specify how the objectives should be numbered, but the overwhelming consensus of events running with the previous Maelstrom missions has been to have the first player place the odd numbered objectives (i.e. 1, 3 and 5) and the second player place the even ones, with the objectives being put down in order.

Deployment and First Turn

Deployment works the same as in the Eternal War missions – you roll off and the winner chooses an Attacker and Defender. The Defender then rolls for a map and chooses a deployment zone. Because this is rolled after placing objectives, players need to be careful not to let one side get super stacked with objectives, because if they lose this roll off their opponent can grab it!

Once the Defender has chosen their deployment zone, the Attacker sets up their whole army, then the Defender sets up theirs. The Attacker then chooses who gets the first turn and the Defender can try to seize if the Attacker chooses to go first.

Drawing and Playing Cards

At the start of the first battle round each player shuffles their deck and draws 5 cards. If they don’t like their hand they can take the equivalent of a mulligan, putting their existing hand on the bottom of their deck in any order, then drawing 4 new cards.

At the start of a player’s turn, they must put cards from their hand into play until they have 3 cards in play (or no cards left in their hand). One of their cards can be put in play face down, and the other two must be face up. Any card that has a condition that triggers when a card is “generated” (such as Mission Critical Objective) occurs at the point it is put in play.

Once you have put cards in play, you draw from your deck until you have five cards, or your deck runs out.

There are some extra rules here to handle the Priority Orders Received card, and honestly there could probably do with being an additional rule preventing you putting a card face down that has an “on generated” condition, as this has historically been tremendously confusing in tournament situations (some older missions use face down objectives too).

Scoring and Discarding Cards

At the end of each turn, you check to see if you have achieved any of your in play objectives, and must score any that you have achieved. Some objectives “scale” their reward with incrementing conditions, so it’s important to try not to put an objective in play where you might be forced to cash it in for a low score if you could get a higher score from it on a later turn!

Objectives you have achieved go to the discard pile. In addition, at the end of the Morale phase you can discard any of your in-play objectives, which you will want to do if you don’t think you’ll ever achieve them, or have a clutch of good cards you want to put in play the next turn.

Notably absent from the rules in Chapter Approved were a set of conditions where you could discard cards straight from your hand if they were unachievable. That’s no longer present – now, if you’ve ended up with a card you can’t achieve you need to either put it in play then discard it at the end of the turn or use one of the Schemes-specific stratagems that we’ll look at in the second.

Schemes Stratagems

In Schemes of War missions, both players have access to the following stratagems:

  • Re-prioritise – 2CP: At the start of your turn, discard up to two cards and draw a card for each you discarded. Good for getting rid of unachievable cards, but bear in mind that your deck is a limited resources, so discarding cards that would still be possible later in the game isn’t always great!
  • Tactical Foresight – 1CP: Use at any time, once per turn. You can look at the top 3 cards of your deck, then put each on the top or bottom of your deck, in any order. This is a good effect, and something I think you will often want to use right at the start of your first turn before putting your first three cards into play and re-drawing. For 1CP, you can make sure any cards you can’t achieve right now get pushed to the late game, without burning them for good.
  • Determined Push – 2CP: Use at any time, once per turn. Shuffle up to three Tactical Objectives from your discard pile into your deck. A powerful effect, which went up in cost by 1CP from White Dwarf, this can both do the “obvious” thing of pulling back good objectives for another go, and also give you a chance to shuffle up your deck if you had to put something you want on the bottom either when re-drawing at the start of the game or with Tactical Foresight. If you think a game is going to run long close, saving 2CP for this can be well worth it! Do bear in mind that if you’ve recently used Tactical Foresight, you’re basically undoing any benefit from it by popping this.

These are all powerful effects in Schemes, and because the scoring from the cards is going to decide the winner a huge majority of the time you’re heavily incentivised to bring high-CP armies if you’re using these missions – aim for a double Battalion if at all possible, and maybe see if there’s a workable Brigade option.

Standard Mission Rules

All Schemes missions use:

  • The “standard” objectives of First Strike, Linebreaker and Slay the Warlord.
  • Random Game Length
  • Acceptable Casualties

You can see more details about these in last week’s Eternal War review, as they’re identical.

Deckbuilding Strategy

Genestealer Cults Primus

Genestealer Cults Primus. Credit: That Gobbo

Deckbuilding strategy is something that was extensively covered in our review of the original schemes rules, and we’re not going to rehash everything here – go have a read if you’re interested, including a full tier list of the basic cards. Now that there’s more support for Schemes in the offing, we’re also likely to do a run down of the best faction cards in the near future. For now, the key things you need to bear in mind are:

  • Have an overall plan. Make sure you’re skewing your deck towards things you can achieve.
  • Keep a balance of high reward and easy to accomplish cards. Because the scoring is so much based on the cards you do want to have some big points in there, but you don’t want to get stuck with only tricky cards in hand.
  • Avoid too many “target specific” cards if you’re building a deck you have to use for multiple games in a tournament. Unscorable cards are points you can never get!
  • Scoring quickly is good – you only have 15-21 opportunities to score a card in the whole game, so if a turn passes with a card in play you can’t score you’ve lost that chance.

I expect most decks to have at least some “secure” cards, as they’re quick and easy pickups a lot of the time, but whether you want to be adding “defends” as well or want to aim to score big via some of the scaling “kill” cards like no prisoners. You should also definitely have a good look at your faction cards – these vary wildly in power level, but some armies like Craftworlds get extremely good ones that are often just flat better for them to stack than the default choices.

Finally, it might be worth considering, if you’re going to include objective-based cards, whether you want to only pick a sub-set of the objectives. What I mean by that is, (and I think this is the most likely example) only taking secure objectives 3-6 rather than including 1 and 2 as well. Assuming objectives are being placed alternating in order, this lets you place your first objective without having to worry that much about where it goes, and start placing the objectives you actually care about once you know at least where your opponent’s first is going. While your opponent will still be able to tactically place some of your “target” objectives, it substantially reduces the risk of you ending up with an opening hand full of objectives you can’t score. I think this is particularly important if you’re going to put “defend” cards in your deck – having to only think about taking and holding four objectives rather than potentially six is very helpful to all but the most go-wide lists.

Managing Cards

Credit: Wings

Following on from the theme above, you want to be aggressively doing your best to be scoring three cards a turn, as that’s the only way you’re going to have a chance to get all the way through your deck. In most games, there are two likely causes for you to struggle with that.

  1. You get shot off the board in a few turns. *shrug*, not much you can do about this.
  2. You stall at the start of the game with a bad hand.

The easiest way to throw a game of Schemes is to keep a hand of five cards where you can only score one and hope that things will improve from there. The “mulligan” option is really generous – not only do the cards not get burnt, they go onto the bottom of the deck so you know you won’t redraw them – so you should be willing to use it pretty aggressively to deal with a mediocre hand. On top of that, using Tactical Foresight after you draw your initial hand but before playing cards also seems like a strong choice – for 1CP you substantially increase the chance you’ll have a good hand going into turn 2. This can also let you recover from a bad hand if you somehow still have one after a mulligan; while normally you want to avoid discarding cards un-scored, early in the game you might not be able to avoid having some unscorable ones in play, and getting rid of them for a better set from your T2 hand is worthwhile.

Generally, if you’re ever looking at a card in your Morale phase and thinking you’re unlikely to score it this turn or next you probably do need to discard it, but after the early game you mostly want to avoid ever ending up in that situation. Still, your priority for putting out cards is:

  1. Cards you can score this turn
  2. Cards you think you might never score and thus need rid of.
  3. Cards you can’t score till next turn or later

While that may seem contrary to what was just said, a card slot is only doing anything for you if you’re scoring it before the start of your next turn – so if it isn’t going to do that for you, and you have a card you are sure you want rid of, it’s more efficient to use the slot to do that.

A final thing to consider is the option to put a card into play hidden. You nearly always want to be taking advantage of it, but it’s most powerful when used for cards that your opponent has some level of agency to interfere with, like “Defend” objectives. If you have one face down card and move to put stuff on two objectives, your opponent isn’t going to know which unit to shoot off, and may either pick incorrectly or not bother at all! There is, also, obviously the possibility to play mind games with this, and if you’re putting a bad card in play just to “cycle” it away, you may as well put it in face down and not discard it till the end of your opponent’s turn, as until that point they might attempt to play around some of the possible things it could be.

The Missions

Covert Manoeuvres

Raven Guard Primaris Eliminators

Raven Guard Primaris Eliminators. Credit: Dan Boyd

The Rules

At the start of each battle round, work out which player has fewer VP. That player can put all of their objectives into play face down for the battle round rather than just one, and turn any existing ones face down. Meanwhile their opponent must put and keep all of theirs face up.

Comments

New design space – you love to see it! Or I certainly do, I’m that kind of nerd.

This is a neat little mechanic, and emblematic of the kind of design the Schemes missions use – a small tweak that nonetheless makes the game feel pretty different. This is also great for people who like designing custom missions – I designed a set of Schemes missions for an Escalation League recently, and they’re incredibly fast to knock out and can be easily tied in to things like wider campaign mechanics.

It’s not quite as impactful as it maybe could be thanks to the high proportion of cards where having them face down won’t make much of a difference. I feel like if GW were writing the set of objectives from scratch at this point a lot more cards would score at either the start of your turn or the end of an opponent’s turn, and if they did this would add a bigger advantage to the player behind on points. As it is, when you’re behind the last thing you want is to also have cards lingering in play for multiple turns, so the advantage you get from the hidden information is limited. I would probably have gone a bit further and also let the player behind swap an in-play objectives for one from their hand at the point the count is done.

Strategy

This mission slightly incentivises the inclusion of Defend objectives, as that’s where it does have a decent impact. If you’re behind on points scoring multiple defends quickly can be a way to get back into the game, and if your opponent doesn’t know where you’re planning to score then it’s harder to counter. Beyond that, the main thing is not to get wrapped up in over-valuing the gimmick – it’s helpful to the player who’s behind sure, but not so much as to do something galaxy brained like deliberately fall behind on scoring.

Rating

B. The mechanic is cute but doesn’t do quite enough to actually influence the game thanks to the legacy issue of what’s written on the cards.

Ambitious Surge

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Rules

At the start of a player’s movement phase, their opponent must choose one of their (the current player) in-play cards. That card is worth an extra point if it’s achieved prior to the end of the next (i.e. the opponent’s) turn.

Comments

This is much more interesting, and a very nice mechanic that actually plays well with the objectives in the default deck. By giving the opponent agency to set a goal within certain parameters, it leads to players actually needing to think about how much they value the extra victory point if doing so is going to be slightly trickier than what they otherwise planned for the turn. Giving a single extra point is also a much better mechanic than something like doubling, as it’s much less obnoxious with high-scoring cards. Finally, the “scope” is correct – some previous missions fell down by only caring about things that happened in the current turn, excluding freshly drawn “defend” cards from consideration.

Strategy

When building your deck for this, it’s even more important to be aiming to score all your cards every turn – after all, if you manage that, you’re always getting the bonus point! That allows you to skew a little bit more towards lower scoring cards, as you can make up a bit of a deficit through volume.

This also opens up some wonderful mind games with the face-down card, and gets big bonus game design points for making that a way more meaningful part of the experience. Do you put a card face down that you definitely can’t score, on the assumption that your opponent won’t risk it, or do you put an easy card face down with two “medium” cards face up and hope your opponent takes a chance on it? Both can come up.

As the person picking the card to allocate the bonus to, you obviously want to err towards cards your opponent can actually meaningfully fail, so if it’s a choice of two objectives that are in their deployment zone and one of them is face down, then you may as well roll the dice on the face down. Beyond that, you may at least sometimes be able to bait them into doing something risky that’s to your advantage, and watch out for your opponent doing the same back to you.

Rating

A. I think this mission is pretty much pitch perfect, in that it flows well, offers a balanced bonus and creates multiple extra layers of strategy with its relatively simple mechanic.

Critical Objective

Tyranid Hive Guard

Tyranid Hive Guard. Credit: That Gobbo

The Rules

At the start of each player’s turn, before they play objectives, they can shuffle an objective from their discard pile back into their deck.

Comments

Another strong mechanic here, which again shifts up some of your priorities in an interesting way.

Strategy

In this mission you can afford to be more aggressive about discarding cards than normal, and also really, really want to get access to at least one high-scoring objective on turn one so that you can start re-shuffling it. Be much more aggressive about mulliganing if you don’t have at least a d3 scoring objective in your first hand, and generally be much more willing to use Re-Prioritise. Don’t forget with that stratagem that while normally you won’t be able to draw an objective you shuffle back in until your following turn, because both it and the re-shuffle are done “at the start of your turn” if you want to you can shuffle a card in then cycle two from your hand to try and draw it straight away. This can be a good thing to do late game if you have the CP and lots of hard to score cards have built up.

Conversely, the Tactical Foresight stratagem is way less good than normal, because as soon as you re-shuffle the next turn you undo any of the stacking you did with it. Only use it immediately before you’re going to get to draw some cards, and probably be a bit more hesitant about that.

While you will often want to re-shuffle a card, don’t feel that you absolutely have to – the rule of thumb is to do so either if the card you’re going to shuffle in is better, on average, than what’s in your deck or if you’re burning through discard fast enough that you’re going to run out by the end of the game.

Finally, definitely have a look at your faction objectives – many sets have at least one additional high-roll card, and these can be very good in this mission. Combined Strike from Craftworlds and Power of the Cabal from Thousand Sons are good examples.

Rating

A. Another mission with a twist on the core rules that creates new incentives and good play patterns.

Disruptive Tactics

Imperial Assassin

Imperial Assassin by Corrode

The Rules

Before you play your objectives for the turn, reveal the top three cards of your deck, and your opponent puts up to one on the bottom of the deck and the rest on top in the order of their choice.

Comments

“Your opponent messes with your cards” was tried last year in Disruptive Signals (a stratagem could be used to switch off cards for a turn) and Visions of Victory (any time a card was drawn two were drawn and the opponent picked the one that was kept) and both were varying degrees of miserable. Disruptive Signals was sometimes OK but let a player with lots of CP put a stranglehold on the game and tended towards “win more” thanks to it. Visions of Victory was a disaster – it led to absurdly low scoring games that were often won or lost on one player being lucky enough to get a single hand that the opponent had no way to sabotage, and was just bad.

This is a much healthier and more restrained implementation of a mechanic playing in this design space – it will influence the game but not lock one player out of it entirely.

Strategy

One of the reasons that this works, unlike last years, is that pushing a card to the bottom is no actual guarantee that your opponent won’t get to score it at some point. With only 18 cards in decks, chewing through the whole thing in a game is feasible, so if your opponent is on a tear you might not hold a card off forever.

That doesn’t mean there’s no value in pushing a card away – quite the opposite. Generally, you’ll want to banish the high-scoring cards, because these will tend to be much harder for your opponent to get the full points on in the late game, and means that if you crush their forces early on they won’t have built up a big enough score that they could stil the game thanks to acceptable casualties. If given the choice between letting my opponent keep a dead-cert 1 point card or a card that scales but might be tricky this turn I’d probably let them keep the one-pointer – because once the high scoring card is in their hand it’s “safe” and they can deploy it whenever it will be most useful to them, whereas low scoring cards are probably quite interchangeable. As with a lot of the advice here the inverse is true – there can be quite a bit of value to having a big scaling card like No Prisoners in your hand from early on to deploy for max points when needed in what’s likely to be a slightly lower scoring game than normal.

As wil a few of the other missions, the mechanics change the value of the stratagems a bit. Tactical Foresight is still fine, but you should wait until after your opponent has done their interference with your deck before popping it. Determined Push has extra upsides and extra downsides. The upside is that it lets you shuffle your deck, so maybe put cards your opponent banished near the top again. The downside is that each individual good card in your deck is a little bit less good than normal, so reshuffling powerful cards is lower value.

Finally, Tactical Foresight gets a boost here because you know what you’re drawing towards, and it will often be disproportionately some of the better cards in your deck. You can also do it before your opponent gets to pick cards by choosing to order it first, giving you a chance to hit powerful options before your opponent can banish them.

Rating

B+. A good mission and a vast improvement on similar, previous attempts, only held back from an A because I think it will sometimes generate slightly unexciting games for a player that gets knocked out quickly.

Territorial Control

Astra Militarum Squad

Astra Militarum Squad. Credit: Jack Hunter

The Rules

At the start of your turn (after the first), if you control more objectives than your opponent you can draw a card before you play objectives.

Comments

Another very strong core mechanic here, encouraging players to fight for territory even if they aren’t after the objectives at the time. Anything that gives players multiple goals to work towards tends to make games more interesting, so I like this a lot.

Strategy

This one’s relatively obvious on the board – if you can stop your opponent holding more objectives than you then it’s probably worth it, although not high enough value that you want to do completely suicidal stuff to secure it. Tactical Foresight also goes up in value massively here – if you’re in your opponents morale phase and know that you’re going to get to draw a card pre-playing, then using it to make sure it’s a good ‘un is often going to be well worth it, especially if your hand is a bit lacklustre.

There’s also an impact on deckbuilding here. You’re more likely to get through your whole deck, so being able to score everything is higher priority, and discarding cards is a bit worse. It also changes the value for objective cards – for armie that are good at holding objectives they get better, as there’s a double incentive to hold them, but for armies that are a bit less good at it they might actually get worse, especially defends, as your opponent is motivated to kick you off of objectives they might otherwise ignore.

Rating

A. Good, clean fun all around.

Confined Command

Eldrad Ulthran in Ruins v2

Eldrad Ulthran by Corrode

The Rules

After you put objectives into play for the turn your opponent can bounce one to your hand. If they do, you can put a different objective from your hand into play.

Comments

Another “interference” mechanic and another one that’s way better than last years, because there’s actually some interaction and counterplay. Between the face down objective, and the ability to “bluff” out a card that might not actually be the one you want down the most, there are ways to interact with and play around your opponent’s meddling.

I like the little mini-game of bluffing and trying to get the cards you want out into play, but I do ultimately like this a little bit less than some of the others simply because that’s where a lot of the strategy here is concentrated – not in the actual game of 40k. Disruptive Tactics gives your opponent a choice between three cards and tests their ability to evaluate which is most useful to you, while this is, to a large degree, a mix of a memory game (which cards did they have before) and weird space blackjack – fun and all, but not really testing skill at Warhammer.

Strategy

…and like yeah, what do I really put here other than “bluff well so you get your way”? I guess be a bit less aggressive about discarding bad cards, because you can use them face down to bluff and get a good card into play, and if you end up with a small hand near the game end it will be very challenging to get a card you want into play.

Rating

C+. My least favourite mission and it’s still going to be a good time, which speaks to the overall high quality of these.

Wrap Up

Hopefully you now feel fully equipped to scheme your way to victory, and we hope you’re hyped to try out this new way to play if you haven’t already. Give us a shout at contact@goonhammer.com if you have any thoughts or feedback!

 

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