Following the wrap-up of the Kill Team Invitational and entering the holiday season Games Workshop has decided to drop a big change onto the competitive scene in the form of a new set of Critical Operations Cards. These new cards come in a set available for purchase. Each pack contains a number of changes to matched play including: New Missions, New Maps, Updated Tac Ops, and variations on how players determine game setup. The initial impression is that this deck is meant to strictly update the Matched Play rules contained in the Core Rulebook as the provided missions adhere to the 22×30 inch layout as opposed to the 24×28 inch for games in the Gallowdark.
Before we dive into the review we’d like to thank Games Workshop for providing a preview copy of the cards for review purposes.
The first off we have an update to the Matched Play Mission Sequence (renamed to Game Sequence):
Step 1: Determine Mission and Map – This is basically a consolidation of Steps 1 and 2 in the Core Rulebook. The specifics of each mission and map will be covered further in this article, however the biggest change is that players now have only 3 Missions and 9 Maps, each of which always has 6 objectives, to choose from. This is a very interesting decision as this technically triples the number of unique mission layouts, but the differences to be found between them has been significantly reduced.
Steps 2: Setup Objectives and Kill Zone – A consolidation of Steps 3-5 that otherwise keeps them largely unchanged, however any mention of rolling off or anything else that implies one player gets to choose over another has been removed. Either this was done because it is assumed the players would be mature enough to figure things out, OR that in a Match Play environment the T.O. is likely to decide for them.
Step 3: Determine Attacker and Defender – The old step 6, however renaming it puts emphasis on what is being determined by the roll off.
Step 4: Select Kill Team – Team selection is unchanged, however players no longer need to worry about having a Leader to ensure they gain 2 Command Points prior to the first Turning Point. In fact, players simply receive 3 Command Points for simply creating a team that fulfills their faction’s requirements. For those of you paying attention this means you would still receive a 4th Command Point at the beginning of Turning Point 1.
Step 5: Select Tac Ops – Deck building is gone! Praise the Four Armed Emperor! Players now simply choose three Tac Ops from an Archetype available to their Kill Team. Additionally, ONE of those three may instead be a Faction Tac Op. This is a very welcome change as it removes another element of randomness, and prevents teams that have superior faction Tac Ops from having to much of advantage of teams that may have more difficult ones.
Steps 6 and 7: Select Equipment & Setup Barricades – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Step 8: Setup Operatives – Another big change. Players now must split their teams as evenly as possible into three groups. If a team wishes to use any forward deployment Ploys, they must declare them at this moment. Players then alternate placing their groups along with their designated Order, starting starting with the Defender. Another fantastic change! Before this the Defender was required to deploy their entire team and essentially broadcast their intent giving the Attacker full license to counter deploy. This, combined with the Attacker winning ties for Initiative in the Scouting Phase, meant that the Attacker was always at a slight advantage in matches.
Step 9: Scouting – This remains unchanged in how it determines Initiative for the first Turning Point, however Fortify and Recon have been altered slightly to make them better choices. A barricade placed using Fortify may now be placed ANYWHERE within your Territory (your board half), including Vantage Points. This is a potentially huge buff depending on the terrain of your particular board, especially on Vantage Points that normally don’t provide light cover for operatives standing on top of them, such as containers. Additionally, operatives using the free Dash Action via Recon count as having FLY, another great change.
The change to Fortify could be a potential problem depending on terrain setup. Certain Sniper operatives are VERY powerful, and having access to a Turning Point 1 nest could make certain firing lines into brutal death traps.
Steps 10-11: Playing and Ending the Battle – Another minor consolidation of steps, however nothing here was changed.
On the opposite side of the sheet that contains these updated rules there are a number of optional ways in which players can determine both Mission, Maps, and even Tac Op selection. While some of these seem like a fun way to spice up a casual game with a friend it is unlikely they will see adoption in tournament play.
Map and Mission Updates
As we mentioned earlier maps and missions have been separated from one another. We have 9 maps to choose from, which fall into 3 deployment categories: Corners, Long Edge, and Short Edge. Within these categories the only difference between each one is the objective arrangement. Despite the differing arrangements these maps all share several commonalities: there are 6 objective markers, all objectives are located outside of your Drop Zone, AND the distance between Drop Zones varies only slightly from being 16 inches at the shortest and approx. 18.5 on the widest maps.
As for our missions we are given only three primary missions to choose from. Players will recognize them from missions 1.1, 2.2, and 2.3 in the Core Rulebook.
Mission A – Loot – All operatives gain the Loot Action (1 AP) which can be performed on any objective they control once per Turning Point per objective for 1 VP.
Mission B – Secure – All operatives gain the Secure Action (1 AP) which all operatives can perform on an objective marker they control, and the marker is considered “secured” by your team until your opponent performs the action. At the end of the Turning Point you gain 1 VP for each objective marker you have secured in this way.
Mission C – Capture – At the end of each Turning Point any marker controlled by your team is considered “Captured” and remains under your control even if no operatives are near it. You gain 1 VP at the end of each Turning Point for each objective you have “Captured”.
This is the first possible “miss” of the update. Games Workshop has taken the 3 most similar missions and made them nearly identical. One might argue this is healthier from a PURELY competitive standpoint since it helps make things more even, but it runs the risk of creating a more boring play environment as players feel like every match is nearly identical. It remains to be seen if the variations in objective placement and drop zones provide enough flavor to make one match feel sufficiently different from another.
Reservations aside, this change means a significant shift in the meta, and even if the Missions don’t turn out to be to everyone’s taste there is nothing stopping T.O.s from using the original ones from the Core Rulebook.
Updated Tac Ops
At least for me this is one of the most anticipated changes to the game. For anyone who has been playing the last year the Tac Ops quickly highlighted themselves as one of the more underwhelming aspects of the game, simply because as time went on it became more clear, which ones were good, and which ones you should never take. The designers for their part seemed to have received this criticism loud and clear, and as such there are numerous changes to go over.
Considered by many to be one of the stronger Tac Ops categories we see the complete removal of Damage Limitation (the worst one) with some slight modifications to others leaving this Archetype mostly unchanged.
Seize Ground and Protect Assets
While these Tac Ops have been slightly reworded they remain entirely unchanged in function.
Hold Them Back
An update and minor nerf to Hold The Line, where as before you had to keep enemy operatives from being within 6 inches of your Drop Zone, you must now keep them out of your Territory, which will prove more difficult.
Almost unchanged, except that operatives on Vantage Points do not count when determining APL total within 3 inches of the center.
Secure Centre Line
An entirely new Tac Op that works nearly identically to Central Control, however working off total APL on the Centre Line (rather self explanatory).
Our second new Tac Op, which seems to be the successor to Plant Banner, instead now you may declare an operative at the beginning of TP1 or 2. At the end of the battle if that operative is within your opponent’s territory gain 1 VP. If they’re within 6 inches of the enemy’s Kill Zone edge score 1 VP. The ability to decide your operative on Turning Point 2, is a clear step up over Plant Banner, however if your designated operative is killed you have no other way to complete this Tac Op.
Overall these changes are a hit against Security, not only did they lose Hold The Line, but also the ability to score Central Control on TP1. Despite this there is still Seize Ground, while the new Secure Centre line could be a hidden gem on this Archetype.
Seek and Destroy
Here we see the removal of Deadly Marksman and Execution with a heavy modification and rename of Challenge.
Rout, Rob and Ransack, and Headhunter
Perhaps, as no surprise to anyone, these already reliable options are unchanged.
A variation of Protect Assets. At the end of every Target Reveal Step select one enemy operative within 2 inches of an objective that is either on the center line or within their territory. If that operative is killed during the Turning Point in which they were selected, gain 1 VP. Gain a second if you repeat this.
You may reveal this Tac Op during any Target Reveal Step, when you do you must select a friendly operative as your Executioner, and then must select an enemy operative. If your executioner kills that operative in the Turning Point he was selected, gain 1 VP. Rinse, Repeat, gain another VP.
Reveal this Tac Op in the first Turning Point, your opponent chooses one of THEIR operatives. If you incapacitate this operative you immediately gain 2 VP, if they lose more than half their wounds by the end of the battle you gain 1 VP.
I love both Eliminate Guards and Executioner, unfortunately Assassinate Target is largely a bust. As the spiritual successor to Challenge it now allows your opponent to pick the target instead of you, which unfortunately means they can very easily pick either non-combatants or a sniper operative that you may have little opportunity to target. This being said, this is a solid buff of the Archetype.
This Archetype has been seriously overhauled with all but one Tac Op either having been replaced or receiving significant changes.
The successor to Overrun, you must now have 4 APL worth of operatives within 6 inches of your opponents Drop Zone at the end of the Turning Point to gain 1 VP. Repeat! Gain 1 more.
In the target reveal step of any Turning Point you may select one operative to be your Courier. If that operative is within 6 inches of your opponent’s Drop Zone at the end of a Turning Point you gain 1 VP. If they do this again you receive another VP.
Essentially a more difficult version of Triangulate. Now you receive a VP for controlling both neutral Kill Zone edges which is done by having a greater amount of APL within 3 inches of the edge than your opponent while being over 6 inches from your own Drop Zone. This is an interesting one because it creates a very narrow strip in the center on each flank by which you and your opponent can fight over. Additionally, it can be influenced heavily by the map and objective placement.
A straight upgrade to Vantage. The action requirement has been removed, and now merely requires you have more APL on the vantage point at the end of the Turning Point than your opponent to gain 1 VP.
Retrieval, but easier! Now you place the token, and the only requirement is that it must be placed in your opponent’s territory. Otherwise the scoring conditions are unchanged, and the location of the token means you and your opponent have a near equal opportunity to reach it.
The replacement to Plant Signal Beacon, now we have the mission action Plant Transponder (1 AP) that must be performed in your opponent’s territory, more than 2 inches from terrain (including barricades), and more than 6 inches from where another Transponder has been placed. Do this in two separate Turning Points to gain 1 VP each time. The placement requirements on this objective seem like this could be very difficult on particularly terrain heavy maps, however opponents can no longer remove your tokens once they have been placed helping to offset these issues. Additionally, reducing the cost of the action to 1 AP makes it easier for teams that lack 3 APL operatives.
Overall this is a new beginning for recon players. Vantage and Recover Item are way more achievable, especially for teams with Dog operatives, while horde teams will want to take a look at Outflank and Surge forward.
Perhaps the most thoroughly changed of all the archetypes. Here we see the complete removal of 5 of the original 6 Tac Ops, and an overall huge buff to the archetype in general.
Reveal during any Turning Point, at the end of every Target Reveal Step select one enemy operative be stalked. At the end of the Turning Point if you have an operative within 3 inches, but not Engagement Range, that also has a Conceal Order, gain 1 VP. Repeat in a different Turning Point to gain another VP.
Reveal in the Target Reveal Step of any Turning Point, if you control an opponent’s barricade at the end of a Turning Point you gain 1 VP. Repeat in another Turning Point to gain 1 VP. Are you sensing a pattern at this point?
Reveal this Tac Op during any Turning Point, once you have you must select an operative at the end of each Target Reveal Step. If this operative is within enemy territory, has a Conceal Order, and more than 3 inches from enemy operatives at the end of the Turning Point in which it was selected, gain 1 VP. The inverse to Stalk Target where you want your operative to be away from your opponent, and you control the target.
Reveal in the target Reveal Step of the third or fourth Turning Point. If your operatives control an objective marker, not on the centre line, within your opponent’s territory during those Turning Points gain 1 VP.
One of the best Tac Ops in the game goes unchanged. Shocking.
Reveal this Tac Op when a friendly operative performs the Install Device Action (1 AP). Operatives can perform this action on objective markers they control either on the centre line or within their opponent’s territory. Doing so puts a Install Device token on that marker, your opponent may remove it by taking control of that objective. If a token remains in the Kill Zone at the end of a Turning Point you gain 1 VP, you may not have more than one token on the Kill Zone at a time.
Overall, this is a really nice rework, for melee oriented teams you can pick implant and the new seize defenses, while teams that can reduce Mission Action costs can be really interesting for Install Device. Kommandos and Wyrmblade specifically stand to benefit from this Archetype where as before Seek and Destroy almost always the group of choice.
We are looking at a lot of well needed changes to the game with this deck. The biggest single win here is the massive re-write to Tac Ops. Before one could make the argument that nearly half the Tac Ops were either unplayable or just vastly inferior choices to others within their Archetype, now almost all of them are viable to some degree. Perhaps the only downside to Tac Ops being reworked is the removal the deck building system. This means that if any of the Tac Ops prove to be inferior to the others (Assassinate Target for example) they will not be used at all where as the previous system occasionally forced players to adapt to a poor draw. The changes to Game Setup are more middling in their effect, while I am personally a big fan of all of them, an argument that some of them, such as the CP increase, were unnecessary, while others have the potential to slow down game setup. Overall, this pack is a big win for the game, and hopefully we will see a similar change to Into The Dark in the future.
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