Games Workshop is best known for its miniatures games, Warhammer 40k and Age of Sigmar. But these present a significant barrier to new players in terms of digesting rules and collecting a whole army to put into the field. As such, it has long offered cut-down, introductory versions to entice the unwary.
The latest is Warhammer 40,000: Fireteam, in which a squad of close-combat Space Marines take on the sinister, robotic Necrons. However, Fireteam takes a fresh approach by adopting a stripped-down version of the miniatures rules for what is inarguably a board game. It has cards, a hex grid and there’s not a range ruler to be seen.
What’s in the Box
Fireteam doesn’t look like much when you slide off the lid. Underneath a double-sided board, each surface printed with an abstract sci-fi battlefield, are a bunch of nondescript orange and white cards of various sizes. It’s when you realize that the box is deeper than the storage tray that the magic happens. Beneath are three sprues of brilliant miniatures.
You’ll need tools, time and ideally some glue to assemble them, but the results are amazing. The five Marine figures are outstanding, energetic and elegant despite their bulky armor. Their thirteen Necron opponents are harder to assemble and less striking to behold, but still detailed and disquieting.
Among the box contents are rules and cards for four other Fireteams that don’t have included models. They’re all factions from the 40k universe: Tau, Eldar, Orks and Imperial Guard and each corresponds to a single of models you can buy separately.
Rules and How It Plays
Fireteam uses a simplified version of the Kill Team rules, which are themselves a simplified version of the full Warhammer 40k rules. When you activate a model it gains a certain number of action points it can spend to move and fire. In combat you choose a weapon and roll its specified number of dice, trying to get its to-hit number. The target then rolls its specified number of defense dice, trying to get its armor save number to cancel any hits.
Because this is a board game rather than a miniatures game, it can do away with the often clumsy rules required for measured movement. Instead, when you move or check range, you count hexes. To determine a line of sight, you draw a bead from the center of one hex to the middle of the target. It’s clean and fast, as you’d want a firefight game to be.
You wouldn’t imagine, however, that such a basic framework would offer many strategies, but Fireteam gets its missions, boards, and cards to do the lifting in this department. There are twelve missions, each supposedly representing the pivotal moment of a larger battle. The introductory one puts the teams in opposite corners, seeking to control two objective hexes. Things escalate from there into terrain interactions, fetch and carry missions, and many more besides.
Each gives you particular ways to score points which often have little to do with eliminating enemy combatants. As such, it’s quite common to see your squad decimated and still win, one of several ideas it’s taken from its sister title Warhammer Underworlds. Others include its tight three-turn structure, keeping things tense, and giving each player a hand of objective cards. These give bonus points for fulfilling particular goals, like keeping your models spaced several hexes apart.
The two included Fireteams are also very different in character. The Marines are fast and have the edge in melee. The Necrons, by contrast, are lethal at range but have a special rule that means they can’t take the same action twice. In practice this makes them ponderously slow, leaving a single model only able to move six hexes for the entire game. To compensate they have three fast but weak scarab swarms.
All the Fireteams have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Alongside the combat stats, each also has three ploys, special abilities of which they can activate one per turn. Those of the Marines center around combat boosts and claiming objectives. The Necrons, meanwhile, can make up for their slow speed by warping a single model across the board or reanimating fallen warriors. Making good use of these at the right time can help to swing the game in your favor.
Each mission thus becomes a strategic puzzle in how to use cover, terrain and the unique qualities of your soldiers to achieve objectives. For that first, objective-based mission, the Necrons must work out how they can stop the speedy Marines from claiming those objectives on the first turn and gaining an unstoppable lead. Among other issues, this involves coordinating movement on their crowded starting area to ensure the lumbering robots don’t block each other’s line of sight.
Of course, in a three-turn game where every attack and defense pivots on a fistful of dice, “strategy” is perhaps too strong a word. But unless you’re dedicated to the deepest fare, solving each scenario puzzle despite the best efforts of the dice to thwart you offers a pleasing balancing of tension and tactics. Once the best approach to a mission is understood, the dice become more decisive. But the way missions prioritize objectives over kills tends to swing the balance away from combat and toward strategy.
Although the asymmetry is a key part of Fireteam’s appeal, it does lead to some rather unintuitive rules. Each side gets to activate eight models per turn, which means that the Marines will end up activating at least one model more than once. A second activation only gets a single action, and you focus all your extra activations on the same model if you want. While this offers some fun tactical possibilities, it simply feels wrong to have a single warrior running halfway across the board and laying down a hail of fire all in the same turn.
There’s another aspect that throws a robotic wrench into the otherwise smooth gears of Fireteam, which is the sheer number of counters it uses. Models accrue counters to track wounds, activations and status effects. Stacks of large counters on a crowded board quickly become very hard to track, losing cohesion over which model owns which stack. And at the end of each turn, you must ferret out the non-wound ones without displacing the others. It’s a clumsy, awkward administrative task that sticks out badly in such a fast-playing game.
Where To Buy
Warhammer 40,000: Fireteam retails for $49.99 and is available at select local hobby stores, as well as at the national retailers below.