Saturday, January 7, 2023

REVIEW: Arks of Omen - Abaddon

The latest narrative series of supplements for 40k is here in the form of the Arks of Omen! This will be a series of books, with each on focusing on a different character, starting off with the big bad himself, Abaddon. So what does this book contain within its damned covers and what evils does it portend for the Imperium of Man?

First off, thank you to Games Workshop for sending me a copy of this for review. As with any gaming book, your very first impression starts with the cover, and I have to say, I'm a fan. Instead of depicting some epic battle scene, we instead get a much more "designy" take. The white and black, with the repeated arrow shapes of the Chaos spaceships, all framing Abaddon himself really strikes a chord with me. It reminds me of the design work used of the End Times books, which I also think were really strong. It's classy looking, and less cluttered than usual. The spaceship designs for 40k are also just awesome, so even just in silhouette they rock.

Unlike with past narrative campaign books in Warhammer, this one actually doesn't contain any rules NEEDED for matched play. No additional army rules or data slates. Instead, we get rules for a new form of game with boarding actions. The main draw of the book though for me is the narrative itself, which makes up the first 30 pages.

This opens up with a one page section of text that we learn is in fact a prophecy. If you already know the other books in the series that have been announced, Angron, Vashtorr, and a 4th mystery book, then you might have a pretty good idea of where this series is heading. The predictions in this prophecy seem to line up with each of the books, hinting at Angron and Vashtorr. If you're knowledgable with 40k lore, you can probably guess who one of the next books will be featuring. Or at least a pretty educated guess. I'll leave this potential spoiler for the end of this review though in case you want to keep the mystery.

After this we move to several pages of the Vengeful Spirit, Abaddon's flagship, becoming slowly infected with some strange mechanical parasite. This is presented as true narrative, like in a novel with dialogue and whatnot, instead of the kind of historical narrative, where it's more events being reported on. This culminates in the manifestation of Vashtorr upon the bridge of the ship. The demon has come to make an alliance with Abaddon.

Vashtorr is the lord of the Soul Forges, the area of the Warp where demon-machines are created, such as Soul Grinders and Heldrakes. He is less than a true Chaos god, but more than just a demon prince. He's described as essentially being a little below the status of a god. The other four powers let him be, as they need to court his favor to supply their own armies. Vashtorr presented Abaddon with the prophecy from the start of the book and said it was his aim to fulfill it. With their new alliance struck they assaulted the home world of the Iron Angels Space Marine Chapter and wiped them out completely to recover a single artifact vital to the demon's plans, an ancient pillar with a statue atop it. Still unsure what the importance of this was, Vashtorr explained it to Abaddon in secret. While we're not privy to the truth of this, Abaddon then claims that the followers of the Emperor are even greater traitors than themselves.

This is where the Arks of Omen come into play. The Arks are giant space hulks captured by Abaddon's fleet, and retrofitted with the help of Vashtorr to become more akin to grand flagships able to be captained. These are gifted to the greatest champions of Abaddon's army and tasked with assaulting the various areas in the galaxy that contain more of the artifacts needed to fulfill the prophecy. I won't go into a ton of detail here, but it gives us a look at how these Arks work as well as some of the battles the engage in. Not only do the targets of their wrath have to fight them, but the Chaos forces manning them often have to fight containment or eradication battles against whatever may still be lurking within the hulks. The narrative section ends with Abaddon leading a personal assault on one of the relics, and hinting at the coming of Angron.

This is then followed by 10 pages of model galleries. Surprisingly, there are no shots of the Vashtorr model, even though there is artwork of him and he's already been previewed. I imagine that probably just has to do with the shifting timetables of when stuff is getting released. I really do love a lot of the art in this book though. There's one of one of the Arks exploding which is just awesome looking.

After this we get to the rules, which like I said, is all about Boarding Actions. I'm not going to cover all of the specifics here, but I did want to touch on some of the basics. As the name implies, it's all about fighting boarding actions aboard ships, and as such, uses the new scenery from the newest Kill Team boxes. They previewed they'll also be releasing a separate box of this soon. The gameplay area is made up of 2 Boarding Action boards. I'm assuming these will be the ones that come with said set. I'm not sure on their size, as it doesn't say. It kind of looks like a larger Kill Team board in the mission layouts? I'm hoping the boards that come with the latest two Kill Team boxes work for this. Each mission tells you exactly how to lay out the scenery, which consists of various walls and doors. Some of the doors are open and some are closed.

There's a small selection of rules unique to this style of play, which mostly revolve around how you move, see, and fight around the various walls. Line of sight is much more important. You can also open and close doors and do various other actions. I won't go into the specifics of it, but it more or less works how you'd think it would. One of the bigger changes is that you only have access to 3 stratagems that are specific for boarding actions. No other universals, and none of you codex specific ones. In a Warhammer Community article they did mention that the other Arks of Omen books will expand upon these, but everything is self contained to this style of play. There's also a selection of Boarding Action enhancements you can give you warlord, such as making them an Expert Breacher or having a Personal Teleporter.

Your army is also constructed in a much different way. You only have 500 points and the force organization chart is 0-1 HQ, 0-3 Troops, and 0-3 Elite. You can't take anything with the monster, vehicle, jump pack, cavalry, biker, or fly keywords, and none of your units can be over 10 models. You can also only have one character. This can lead to some pretty cool, compact, and highly themed forces. They have already released an online supplement to this that gives some additional exceptions for various factions, such as Tau being able to take Crisis Suits, or Space Marines being able to take Eradicators. I'm half tempted to make a Boarding Action themed army, as not only will it be low model count, but I can really go to town on a theme for them. Of course they would all have to have appropriate bases too to match the confines of a spaceship. 

This is then followed by 9 different missions specific to Boarding Actions. Like I said, each one shows you exactly how to layout your terrain. There's a key showing you what each piece looks like on their maps so you know exactly what to use. Some of these missions look like a ton of fun and have some really cool twists, like one where the lights turn on and off, or another with rotating hull breachs in different compartments, or one with a furnace that you can turn on when models are inside. All in all, this seems like an awesome and fun ruleset. I've always loved the idea of boarding actions, and the compact size of the armies makes me think these would play pretty fast too. The rules are "crunchier" than a regular combat patrol game, but they don't seem like they'd cause a ton of issues. I'm excited to give them a try.

Okay, now we're onto SPOLIERS territory. I mean, kind of spoilers, because these are just my guesses and predictions based off what's hinted at in the book. So, let's start with the prophecy at the start. After it talks about what's obviously Angron and Vashtorr, it talks about a "knight," forests, circles within circles, and keys... So, best guess is Dark Angels and I'm going to say it's either the return of the Lion, or Luther. I was thinking the Lion at first, cause Primachs, but with the Chaos theme to every book I think it might actually be Luther. Then we come to what the plan is that Abaddon and Vashtorr are trying to achieve. Based off Abaddon saying the Imperium are bigger traitors than them and he seems to think this will be a crippling blow to the Imperium, I'm going to guess one of two things, either revelations about the Imperium Secondus, undermining Guilliman's rule, or revelations about the Dark Angels and the Fallen. Or both. The Lion was tied into the Imperium Secondus quite a bit. This all coupled with the reveal of the new Azrael model makes me pretty certain it's all Dark Angel related. The 4th book is already revealed to be xenos focused and one of the model previews seems to be Farsight for the T'au, so the Lion or Luther is most likely the finale to this whole series. The other big thing to think about, is that this is likely all leading into 10th edition this summer. Both The Gathering Storm and Psychic Awakening, the last two narrative campaign book series, led into a new edition, and there have been a ton of rumors lately about 10th edition. The return of either the Lion or Luther would certainly be an appropriately seismic event to usher in a new edition.

I was pretty happy with this book and I'm excited to see where the narrative goes, and as I said, the Boarding Action rules seem like a lot of fun. What are your thoughts on what's being hinted at for the future and are you excited to take your games of 40k into the confines of enemy spaceships?

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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