Review: Chapter Approved 2019

An article by    Gaming Reviews Warhammer 40k        0

It’s December again, and with the return of the holiday season comes the return of Games Workshop’s annual Chapter Approved supplement, an annual volume filled with new rules and updates for Open, Narrative, and Matched Play. And with this year’s update, they’ve smartly decided to separate the new Matched Play points update, putting it into a separate, smaller booklet called the Munitorum Field Manual containing all of the game’s points values in one place – a welcome change.

If you’re interested in reading about those point changes, or how they’re going to affect your army moving forward, we’ve already done a broad overview in our points balance recap here

Otherwise, you may be surprised to learn that Chapter Approved also includes a host of other content, such as new missions, rules, and datasheets. In today’s review, I’m going to talk about all the other stuff, and why the non-points part of Chapter Approved 2019 is worth your time.

Open Play Content

As always, Chapter Approved includes new content for Open Play, AKA that mode that everyone is vaguely aware of, but that no one is really sure actually gets played. The two big things here are Open War Cards and the Open War Army Generator.

Open War Cards

The Open War Deck is a card pack that Games Workshop released in 2018 that allows players to build their own randomized missions on the fly for Open Play (though it also mostly works for Narrative and Matched Play as well. More on that in a bit). Open War Decks consist of a few different types of cards:

  • Deployments, which contain a series of deployment zones, including the six standard ones from the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook.
  • Objectives, which create the victory conditions for a game and the method of scoring victory points.
  • Twists, which add an extra element of unpredictability to the mission.
  • Ruses, which help one player if they are outmatched.
  • Sudden Deaths, which create additional victory conditions for players who are outnumbered by 2-to-1 in terms of total army Power Levels.

In a standard game, players use the Open War deck to generate a Deployment, an Objective, and a Twist to determine their mission. If one player has an army with a much larger power level than their opponents, the underdog can get one or more Ruses to help them out, and in games where the underdog has less than half the Overdog’s power level, they can take a Sudden Death objective, which gives them a hidden way to win if the opponent isn’t careful and can really even things up.

While conceptually, Open War Cards are a neat idea, in practice, they’re kind of a nightmare. Many of the cards are wildly unbalanced or just create unfun game scenarios, such as deployment maps with no space between deployment zones, or Twists that give all models +1 Attack. These can often create missions where one player feels like they’ve lost the game before it even starts.

The good news is that Chapter Approved 2019 introduces new ways to use Open War Cards that should hopefully lead to more fun, balanced scenarios. CA19 introduces three new ways to use Open War Cards:

  1. Drafting Cards – In this format, one randomly-chosen player becomes player A and the other B. When determining which cards to use, Player A selects 3 Deployment Zone cards and B picks one of those. Then Player A selects 3 Objective cards and B picks one of those to use. Then Player A removes the Many Paths to Victory card from the Twists deck, shuffles the rest and splits them into two piles and each player takes a pile and picks a Twist to use during the game. This helps mitigate the truly shit scenarios by giving both players control over the card effects, and is similar to the method that my friends and I use, though I still think ours is better. In our method, players shuffle each pile and flip the top 3 cards, then each player can choose to remove one card and the remaining card is the one used, with the process repeated for Deployment, Objective, and Twist.
  2. Secret Agenda – In this format, players randomly determine who will be Player A and B, and randomly generate a Deployment map and Objective. Then players remove a few specific cards from the Twist deck, shuffle those up, make two piles, and each player gets one and picks a Twist, keeping it face-down. At the start of each battle round, players roll a D6 and on a 4+, they reveal their Twist and it becomes active for the rest of the game. After picking Twists, players are randomly dealt one Ruse and one Sudden Death. This mode is interesting because it uses the entire deck, but Ruses can vary in strength from “game breaking” to “totally worthless” if you aren’t built to use them and if you don’t know all of the Sudden Death options, you may find yourself losing out of nowhere with no way to prevent it. It’s an OK idea, but probably needs a bit less randomization.
  3. Covert Operations – In this format, players randomly generate a Deployment and a Twist (remove Many Paths before picking a Twist), and then each player is given two random Sudden Death objectives; a player automatically wins when they have achieved both Sudden Death objectives, and doesn’t reveal them until they’ve been achieved. This is an interesting mode as well, though Sudden Death win conditions can be pretty insane — one requires you to survive until the end of turn 5, which isn’t crazy, but gives your opponent a lot of time to achieve both of their Sudden Death objectives. Another requires you destroy the largest vehicle/monster in the opponent’s army, by Wound total and another requires not having any enemy models in your deployment zone on the third battle round or later. Some combinations are better than others. Still, there are only six of these in the deck, so memorizing them all isn’t too bad.

Of these, I’m most interested in trying out Covert Operations; Drafting is already an inferior version to my playgroup’s “draw 3, each player chooses one to discard” method and Secret Agenda looks too random to be fun most of the time.

Open War Army Generator

No one:

Games Workshop: Hey what if instead of building your army, you rolled on a chart to create it instead?

I know, I know — I’m not being entirely fair to this. But I really see army building as another outlet for creativity in 40k, and so taking that away for a randomized process that will likely generate subpar lists just doesn’t sound like much fun to me, nor does it help lead to fluffy, expressive armies. With the Open War Army Generator, players choose a power level prior to the game, rolling for new units as they need to deploy them. It’s also not completely random – the table essentially gives you unit types to add to your army, so for example, rolling a 12 on your D66 roll gives you a Troops unit, while higher rolls give you more options (a 66 basically lets you pick whatever you want, role-wise). Note that the table does not include Lords of War or Flyers as potential unit entries, but you can sub them for Heavy Support and Fast Attack choices, respectively These rules are really designed for Open Play as they’re written with Power Level in mind and the Open War Deck and overall they’re OK, I guess. They clearly aren’t for me, but this implementation isn’t terrible either.

 

Narrative Play Content

Some of the more substantial content for this year’s Chapter Approved falls into the Narrative Play section, which details a new game mode called Spearhead, some rules and concepts for playing linked games that will work well in a campaign with some adjustments, and Challenge Missions, for when you want to do some really lop-sided games.

Spearhead

Spearhead is a game mode that focuses on mechanized combat, with tanks zooming all over the battlefield, tearing each other apart. The Spearhead rules contain 3 Narrative play missions that have an Attacker and a Defender, and rules for army construction for these games. Spearhead introduces the Tank Graveyard Battlezone, a minefield of torn-up tanks and unexploded ordnance, alongside 3 warlord traits and some extra rules around ruins and Dangerous Terrain. The missions all represent different tank-on-tank fighting scenarios, but notably none of them require a specific detachment format. Finally, Spearhead also gives players 10 custom stratagems they can use for games of Spearhead, each of which is specific to a faction (note that not all factions are covered), and many of which only affect a single unit, such as the Tau Composite Accelerators Stratagem, which changes a Hammerhead’s Solid Shot munitions to Heavy 3 for a turn for 1 CP, or the Dark Eldar Blasts of Dark Energy Stratagem, which gives a Ravager +1 to its wound rolls for a phase. It’s worth noting that none of these affect Imperium units, and maybe the designers have realized that Imperium tanks and vehicles already have all the support they need for a game mode like this. It’s a good sign.

Additionally, in Spearhead games, both players get access to the following stratagem:

  • Tank Ace (1/3 CP): Use before the battle. Pick a Vehicle from your army that is not Titanic (you can pick a Titanic one for 3 CP). For the rest of the game, add 1 to its hit rolls and re-roll hit rolls of 1 for friendly vehicles within 6″ of that unit. Use only once per battle. A very strong ability that basically gives every army the ability to have a tank/knight commander. You’re going to want to use this in all of your games of Spearhead.

Spearhead seems like a fun way to play. I admittedly don’t have enough tanks to get the most out of it – I might be able to make something happen with my Iron Warriors, but even there my inventory is like, three Vindicators, a Land Raider, and a Defiler. Which suggests to me that this is really a play mode that’s going to work for Astra Militarum and Ork players. At the very least, it’s an interesting new game mode those are always welcome. For me the biggest miss here is that they didn’t release Zone Mortalis missions to accompany the new Dark Uprising/terrain release. The new stuff looks great, and with terrain on the market it would have been a perfect time to release missions for rough battles in cramped spaceship corridors.

Linked Games

This section presents some interesting materials and frameworks for running linked games, which here are basically defined as min-campaigns of several games whose outcomes influence the next. It’s a good starting point for players who are looking to run a first campaign and either looking for inspiration or an easy way to get their feet wet. The linked game rules in CA19 focus primarily on connecting games of 40k to Kill Team and Apocalypse, and much of the content focuses on guidelines for creating your own linked games and how to dole out rewards to winning sides. They present four broad campaign frameworks – Assault on the Scrap Cities, which goes Kill Team > 40k > Apocalypse, War of Nightmares, which goes Kill Team > Apocalypse > 40k, Decisive Strike, which goes 40k > Apocalypse > Kill Team, and Titan Down, which goes Kill Team > 40k > Apocalypse. These are interesting hooks for you to create your own larger campaigns off of, but as presented they’re basically just three-step Linear Narrative campaigns that pull games from three different game systems. 

There’s also a section on Concurrent Games, where you run multiple games at the same time that can affect each other, though rather than having rules or anything concrete, this is more like a series of story hooks and broadly-sketched scenario concepts. Death From Above sees two kill teams fighting over an orbital defense platform while a game of Apocalypse or Warhammer 40k goes on, and control of the platform determines who gets to use the Laserburn/Orbital Bombardment effects each turn. This is presented as playing your first turn/battle round of Apocalypse/40k, then playing a game of Kill Team, and then finishing the larger game with the outcome granting the appropriate effect to the winner. I’d just as soon have these two games played concurrently by different players, with potential control of the effects shifting, but that may not always be feasible. In Secure the Artefact, Players take on a game of 40k or Apocalypse that uses the Relic mission rules, but rather than place the relic on the table at the game’s start, they place a building in the center of the table and if both players get units within 3″ of it by turn 3, the game is paused as kill teams fight over the relic in an underground facility, with the winning team gaining control when play reverts back to the larger game. If only one player gets there, no game of Kill Team is played, which is kind of a miss to me. In Saboteurs, players play  game of Kill Team Arena after the first battle round/turn of their 40k/Apocalypse game, with the winner gaining the ability to sabotage their enemy’s units at the start of the second turn.

These are all interesting, but they’re kind of a dud to me. I was hoping for something a little more grand, though I am also aware that the current 40k rules aren’t really built to support complex missions. Of these, Death from Above gets the closest to what I was hoping for, but still doesn’t quite get there, and all of the presented scenarios focus on interweaving kill team games between turns of a larger game. I’d have liked to see something talking about running multiple games of kill team or 40k concurrently, and having multiple tables interact here. Overall these are fine, just not particularly inspired.

Challenge Missions

The final set of narrative content is Challenge Missions, a series of lopsided battles that present one player with a near-impossible scenario from which they have to eke out the next-best thing to a victory. Think heroic last stands and spiteful detonations of reactors designed to kill as many of the enemy as possible and you’ve got the right idea. The section includes a bunch of narrative plot hooks for setting the stage for these, and I’ll confess that they’re a cool notion for including in a campaign when you want to do something special. There are three missions in this section:

  • In Last Stand, you’re basically playing a force left behind after the evacuation and now your aim is to kill as many enemies as possible. So like playing the final mission in Halo: Reach. This one basically plays out until the Defender’s forces are dead and has a set of 6 custom stratagems to use. Scoring for these missions is based around how well you do in terms of survival; you score 1 star if you lose in battle rounds 1 to 3, and 5 stars if you make it to the end of battle round 7.
  • In Headhunters, the Attacker’s goal is to take out enemy leaders and players score kill points for each Character they kill (and they get 2 for a kill in the Fight phase), and the armies are required to be loaded with Character units. The Attacker is supposed to be the larger force, and like with Last Stand, the Defender’s performance receives a star-based ranking depending on how many kill points they score compared to the attacker.
  • In Domination, the Attacker is coming at the Defender from all angles and uses reserves rules to arrive on the table, but can arrive from any table edge. The Defender scores for having a unit in each table quarter at the end of the game, plus an extra one for having their warlord alive. The number of victory points determines their star rating, 1-5.

Challenge Missions ended up being a more interesting concept than I expected them to be when they were first announced. They seem well-built, and I like the star rating system for completion, which makes it feel like something you’d actually consider doing multiple runs of. For me the only miss here – and it’s a big one – is that there’s no guidance given on the points or power level discrepancies that should be used, which seems like it defeats the entire purpose. In fact, the missions themselves tell you they can be played with equal power levels. Where exactly is the challenge in a heroic last stand where the forces are equally matched? Come on, guys.

Otherwise, they’re conceptually pretty cool and I think it won’t take a lot of work to figure out what the best discrepancies are if you really want to test things.

 

Matched Play Content

Chapter Approved also has new matched play content. Well, “new” is a relative term here. Almost everything published in this year’s Matched Play section was printed or released earlier this year, either in an FAQ, White Dwarf, or another boxed set. Still, it’s great to have all of this in one place finally, and for some of these things, it’s the first time they’ve actually been printed somewhere.

Matched Play Rules

Like I mentioned above, CA19 finally puts into print Matched Play rules that have been around  since mid last-year, but were put in place after CA18 went to the printers. We get print versions of the following:

  • Battle Brothers – all the units in every detachment of your Battle-forged army have to share a keyword, and it can’t be CHAOS, IMPERIUM, AELDARI, YNNARI, or TYRANIDS.
  • Boots on the Ground – Units with the Flyer battlefield role can’t hold objective markers. Note that this is often used as shorthand for the Flyer Sudden Death rule, which says that if all you have on the battlefield are units with the Flyer Battlefield role when determining if a player has units on the table, you lose. That’s a separate rule, and has been added to the 40k rules for Sudden Death via the rulebook FAQ.
  • Limits of Command – CP Re-rolls can’t be used to affect mission dice rolls (things that happen before/after the battle, or rolls that determine VP or whether the game goes another turn).
  • Prepared Positions – The Prepared Positions Stratagem finally gets printed in a rulebook somewhere. This one is a major asset ot the game and should just be one of the universal stratagems.
  • Psychic Focus – The updated Psychic Focus rule gets a reprint here, with provisions exempting Thousand Sons and Grey Knights.
  • Strategic Discipline – Also reprinted here. Prevents a player from using any stratagem more than once per phase.
  • Tactical Reserves – Reprinted from the FAQs. Players can’t put more than half of their units in Reserves, and units arriving from Reserves can’t arrive before turn 2, and if they aren’t on the table after turn 3, they’re destroyed.
  • Tactical Restraint – Gets its first official printing here. You can’t gain or be refunded more than 1 CP per Battle Round, with a couple of exceptions noted in the rule.
  • Targeting Characters – Reprinted here. You can only target a CHARACTER with a Wounds characteristic less than 10 if it’s the closest target.
  • Understrength Support – Reprinted here. Understrength units can only be in Auxiliary Support Detachments.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

New Missions

Chapter Approved 2019 also includes 12 missions to play – 6 Eternal War and 6 Maelstrom of War missions, though these use the new Schemes of War rules. More on that below.

Eternal War

The Eternal War missions are a weird mixed bag in CA19. The six missions includes two new missions (Crusade and Lockdown) and four reprints from Chapter Approved 2017 and 2018. 

  1. In Crusade, players place six objective markers and deploy using full side deployment, with the player who deploys first automatically getting the first turn unless the other player can seize. The mission uses the Acceptable Casualties and Random Battle Length rules and players only score for holding objective markers at the start of their turn, beginning with the second battle round. The standard trio of Slay the Warlord, First Strike, and Linebreaker have been included as secondary objectives. This is the closest GW has gotten to ITC/NOVA progressive scoring with a standard mission and is a fine “baseline” mission to have for 40k players. I think this is a great addition to the game, and it’s kind of weird it took this long for it to happen.
  2. Scorched Earth is a reprint from Chapter Approved 2017. The mission has been updated in a few ways. First, players no longer alternate deploying units, but instead deploy whole armies and the player who deploys first gets first turn (unless their opponent can seize). Second, it adds Acceptable Casualties to the mix and replaces First Blood with First Strike. Third, the rules for holding an objective have been updated to be less terrible: Now players don’t score until the second battle round, and tat the start of their turns, they score 1 point for each marker they control. They can also choose to raze a marker they control if it’s in the Enemy’s deployment zone, in which case the marker is destroyed and they score D3 victory points. This is a good update to the mission, which previously had scoring at end-of-turn.
  3. Ascension is a reprint from CA17 and has similar adjustments to Deployment and adding Acceptable Casualties and replacing First Blood with First Strike. Players still score progressively at the end of each turn, and scores extra points for having a CHARACTER holding an objective. This mission isn’t great, in part because it’s so easy to put untargetable characters on objectives and just mass victory points insanely fast, and some armies can do that way better than others.
  4. Front-Line Warfare is another reprint from CA17, updated with Deployment and Acceptable Casualties and replacing First Blood with First Strike. The mission uses four objective markers and the value of each marker is based on where it is — the marker in your opponent’s deployment one is worth 4 points, the ones in no man’s land are worth 2 each, and the one in your own deployment zone is worth 1. Scoring has been updated to be progressive, with players scoring at the end of each battle round, instead of at the end of the game. This mission is OK. I tend to favor progressive scoring over endgame, so more missions that have that is fine by me.
  5. The Four Pillars is a straight reprint from Chapter Approved 2018. Players place four objective markers along the center lines of the battlefield and score points at the end of each battle round for controlling more objective markers than the opponent, plus 1 point if they destroyed more units from their opponent’s army than their opponent did theirs. Basically a kind of reproduction of the ITC Hold More/Kill More rules, plus secondaries for Slay the Warlord, First Strike, and Linebreaker. It’s a decent mission and works well alongside Crusade.
  6. Lockdown is a new mission. It uses full-side Deployment and has the Acceptable Casualties and Random Battle Length rules. Players alternate setting up 6 objective markers before deployment, but don’t number them until the start of the first battle round. At the start of the first battle round, the player taking the first turn picks which marker is #1 and the player going second picks which marker is #2, and then players randomly determine the other 4 objective markers’ numbers. At the start of each battle round after the first, remove from the battlefield the objective marker that corresponds to the current battle round number. Players score a VP at the end of each turn for each objective they control, and an extra VP for controlling more objectives than their opponent. It’s an interesting mission where rapidly-disappearing objective markers mean that the “Hold More” victory condition will become harder and harder to score, and act as a kind of “bonus points” add-on for a player who can score them early. In most games it will also mean that the only markers left at the end of the game are the ones closest to each player’s deployment zone.

Schemes of War

The schemes of War rules that were printed in an issue of White Dwarf earlier this year get a full reprint in CA19 and it’s awesome. We’ve already raved about the Schemes of War rules and written two articles about them – check out part 1 here and part 2 here. The schemes of war rules are a great way to take the well-intentioned Maelstrom of War rules and turn them into something that’s actually strategic and fun to play. The Maelstrom of War missions in CA19 are all designed to reflect the use of Schemes of War instead of the full deck, and it’s a welcome change. Each one basically runs standard Maelstrom using Schemes, with a twist. The six missions are:

  1. Covert Manoeuvres – Starting in the second battle round, the player with fewer victory points can flip their Tactical Objectives face-down, and play them face down, while the player with more places and plays theirs face-up.
  2. Ambitious Surge – At the start of each player’s Movement phase, if a player has any Tactical objective cards in play, their opponent has to pick one, and that one is worth 1 extra VP if the player can score it in the following two turns.
  3. Critical Objective – At the start of each player’s turn before playing Tactical Objectives, a player picks one card in their discard pile and shuffles it back into their deck.
  4. Disruptive Tactics – At the start of each player’s turn before playing Tactical Objectives, a player reveals the top 3 cards of their deck and their opponent picks one to put on the bottom of their deck.
  5. Territorial Control – At the start of each player’s turn after the first, if that player controls more objective markers, they can draw one card from their deck before playing Tactical Objectives.
  6. Confined Command – At the start of each player’s Movement phase, their opponent can pick a Tactical Objective they have in play and return it to their hand. The player can then put a different objective into play.

I’m not a huge fan of the disruptive rules. I really like Covert Manoeuvres, Ambitious Surge, and Critical Objective, I’m not a fan of Disruptive Tactics or Confined Command, and Territorial Control feels like it helps the winning player too much to me. I like the incentive but I always worry that Maelstrom missions can get out of hand.

That said, these are a huge step in the right direction! If you don’t like Maelstrom or haven’t played it in a while, I strongly suggest you give Schemes of War a try. It completely changes things and makes the mode much more playable and fun.

New Datasheets

There are two sets of Datasheets in the new Chapter Approved:

  • Fortifications – As with CA17 and CA18, the datasheets for fortifications have been reprinted here. I haven’t gone through all of them, but they don’t appear to have changed.
  • 40k Units – Several 40k units have datasheets in CA19. These are mostly Chaos Daemons units, whose updated datasheets aren’t in Codex: Chaos Daemons, such as Horrors, Bloodcrushers, the new Keeper of Secrets, Shalaxi Helbane, Skulltaker, Flesh Hounds, the Contorted Epitome, and the various Heralds of Slaanesh. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about these compared to their prior incarnations, but if you don’t have the scattered materials these are in, having them all reprinted in Chapter Approved is a welcome help.

Terrain Rules

As with last year’s Chapter Approved, this year’s edition has updated terrain rules. That’s good because technically the small rulebook printing invalidated all of the Chapter Approved 2018 terrain rules in a way that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about (that’s for the best). The new rules are largely identical to what was published last year, with a few tweaks to reflect the current way rules are worded in Games Workshop rulebooks and two notable changes:

  • Barricades – Now allow charging models to successfully charge if they finish their move within 2″ of a model on the other side of a barricade. They could always fight through a barricade at targets within 2″, but still had to get within 1″ when charging. Where this is most going to matter is for Deep Striking units – now if you teleport in and charge a unit on the other side of a barricade, you need only roll an 8+ to reach your target. This would be a very big deal if any tournaments used barricades as terrain.
  • Sealed Fronteris Structure – Rules for the Fronteris building from that one Kill Team set have been added to 40k. These are largely unremarkable, allowing only infantry, Beasts, Swarms, and units with FLY on top and no units to move inside. Ideally this would create precendent for tournaments on how to handle closed buildings, but we don’t see that happening.

The changes are interesting but 40k really needs a complete overhaul of its terrain system and frankly the focus on Games Workshop terrain kits isn’t something anyone was asking for when what we really need are rules for how to handle multi-level combats that work sensibly and terrain rules that make something like the Cities of Death rules broadly active. As-is, no one uses barricades or Sealed Fronteris structures in most levels of play so without broader rules defining how to handle close structures and waist-high walls, these rules just don’t mean all that much.

 

Final Verdict

I’m not going to tell you to buy Chapter Approved. You already need it for the packed-in Munitorum Field Manual. But what I do want to do is implore you to give the non-points content a shot! Both CA17 and CA18 had tons of great stuff in terms of missions and narrative play content, and this year’s edition also has good stuff. In particular, the new missions are very good, and if nothing else, it’s worth your time to try out the Schemes of War rules. Otherwise, this year’s Chapter Approved is somehow more essential for matched play than ever before, and yet less full of good stuff. It’s still worth your time, but on the whole I was less impressed by the Narrative Play content than I was by the 2018 and 2017 editions, and was pretty surprised we didn’t get Zone Mortalis rules. Look for us to update the Goonhammer ZM rules in the next month or two as a result.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or feedback, shoot us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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