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Warhammer 40k: Kill Team - The Game Itself Review

MB Updated January 28, 2019
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Warhammer 40k: Kill Team Review

Game Information

There Will Be Games

Scaled down, zoomed in, and awesome.

In part one of my review of the new Warhammer 40k Kill Team boxed set, I covered what you get in the box- a sort of product review. And as far as the models, value, accessibility and production quality Games Workshop knocked it out of the park. But that's kind of expected these days, when every boxed set the Nottingham miniature mongers sling is practically a must have. But I left us with a cliffhanger- what about the game.

Although Games Workshop is usually pretty tight-lipped about who designs their games, we know that some of the designers of Shadespire worked on Kill Team and that brought with it some expectations. These, at least as far as I'm concerned, included a more board game-y approach with extremely focused factions and a strong emphasis on tactical play in a short timeframe. To some extent that is exactly what Kill Team delivers, but let's not mischaracterize this game. It is 40k, whole cloth, and it is going to feel very familiar to players of 8th edition, albeit with some nips, tucks, and tweaks to make that already lean ruleset work with smaller skirmish teams. In some sense, it's hard not to feel a twinge of disappointment that more risks weren't taken or that Kill Team isn't more evolutionary than it is.

However, missed opportunities to innovate do not mean that Kill Team is a lesser game because it is already built on a great one. In fact, my initial hot take of Kill Team is that it feels like 9th Edition. Indeed, many of the elements of the main 40k game in its 8th iteration are present including the unique tactics available for each faction. And they are all here, sans Daemons. Most of the rules are practically the same, and if you were hoping for something new instead of the time-honored roll to hit/roll to wound/roll to save cadence- too bad. It's here again, and many other elements function exactly the same as they do in 8th edition. But there are also traces of Necromunda (and its ill-starred Shadow War iteration), with more granular rules allowing more discrete interaction with terrain and actions such as Readying (which gives a bonus during shooting) and an automatic Overwatch or Retreat option when a model is charged by another. There is now the possibility for a model to be Obscured by partial cover, imparting a -1 penalty to the hit roll. Models reduced to zero wounds suffer injury rolls, resulting in a penalizing Flesh Wound or an Out of Action result. There's a little more detail to match the scope.

Regardless of the dolly-in, this is, in many ways, the same 40k game you are playing on a buffet table with a 2000 point army and you are still playing a very dice-heavy game. It's always been that way, and I'm really kind of OK with it because it's what I expect from Warhammer. Narrative elements have also always been a key feature of any Warhammer game, and here they are played up to excellent effect. There is a scouting phase before each battle wherein players can set up ambushes, pre-emptively strike against the opponent, scout out hazardous terrain, or perform other tasks. There are rules for playing in different killzones, such as the included Sector Imperialis. There are ten different Specialist roles that can be assigned to your fighters, each with upgrade paths should you choose to campaign with them- and this gives them flavor and identity beyond the statline.

It's very easy to get into- especially for 8th edition players, who may need about five minutes to look over the new rules. New players may be intimidated by the thick rulebook, but almost all of it is fluff or special faction rules. Once again, on trend, GW has back-loaded most of the rules into the specific faction regulations and this works just fine for me. The more complicated elements of Necromunda (or Shadow War, if you must) are jettisoned, which makes this a much more approachable skirmish. Each faction has just a couple of possible units, and it's pretty easy to build a full Kill Team with a box of miniatures that can be had off the shelf for under $30. When we reflect on this Golden Age of Games Workshop in 20 years, one thing we should remember fondly is how welcoming and accessible the games of this period were.

This extends to the time commitment required to play Kill Team, which I think is one of its critical hits. You can play a full game in 30 to 45 minutes, which is considerably shorter than all but the lowest point value 8th edition game or one where a killer alpha strike wipes the board clean on turn 1. I love that I can go to the dining room table, throw out a play mat that actually fits on it, and play two games with my son in under an hour and a half- including going into my collection and selecting our forces. The new terrain makes it simple and quick to set up a fun battlefield, and the varied scenarios provide lots of awesome storytelling and compelling tactical situations.

I have to admit that at first I was sort of let down that this game isn't 40k Shadespire, but when I saw that the value of this game is that it lets me play something that feels like full blown 40k with all of the dicey combat, baroque pomp, and grimdark histrionics that I love in a scaled down but zoomed in format. To that end, I think this game could - should GW provide continuous support beyond launch - come to be the preferred way to play 40k for many players who don't have the time or space to play the larger game or that do not care to collect, assemble, and paint an army where the foundation is dozens and dozens of Astra Militarum Guardsmen- speaking from experience here.

So it's not a revolution or a stunning new design. What it is, as intended, is a new and very exciting, very accessible, and very awesome way to play 40k. Expectations should be tailored around that intention.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

(Updated: August 02, 2018)
Warrhammer 40K: Kill Team
Scaled down, zoomed in, and awesome.
Top 10 Reviewer 137 reviews
Warhammer 40k: Kill Team Review
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

Warhammer 40k: Kill Team Review
Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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DarthJoJo's Avatar
DarthJoJo replied the topic: #279352 06 Aug 2018 18:39
Getting a 404 when I hit the ‘Read more’ button.
barrowdown's Avatar
barrowdown replied the topic: #279353 06 Aug 2018 18:49

DarthJoJo wrote: Getting a 404 when I hit the ‘Read more’ button.

That's the score he gave it
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #279355 06 Aug 2018 19:03
This article won’t be published until Thursday. You just got a little sneak preview.
GorillaGrody's Avatar
GorillaGrody replied the topic: #279528 09 Aug 2018 09:52
The Shadespire pedigree was one of the reasons I was wary of Kill Team going in.

On paper, Shadespire looks like a Warhammer skirmish game of limited scope, using rules that put the economy of modern board game design into effect. In practice, it's an LCG with severely limited deck building options (which still requires the amount of study and base card knowledge a normal LCG requires), tacked onto a, to my mind, incredibly gamey and mechanical miniatures move and hold mechanism. As a consequence, it features a portfolio of casual play elements that, in practice, cannot be played casually at all. The necessity of having to build a deck before play means that Shadespire barely makes it to the table in my group. My friends just aren't going to adopt the rules of a completely new lifestyle in order to start playing it. This is in the same category as the barrier we had in enjoying Shadow War and Necromunda, both of which required us to learn 2nd edition rules and keep them mentally separate from the current edition rules.

Kill Team, on the other hand, is just a cheaper version of 40k 8e. The rules are not cut from a wholly different bolt of cloth, which is clutch. As you mentioned, Michael, I wish the mild tweaking of 8e had been in the form of subtraction (of hit, wound, save rolls designed with larger armies in mind) rather than addition (a fourth, new injury roll at the end). Still and all, I'm more pleased with this boxed product than with any previous Warhammer product. The limited scope of the play space alone makes it leaps and bounds better that the "I guess just go with 4 x 4" approach they've made with their other skirmish products.

I hope eventually they get around to giving Sigmar the same treatment, because Shadespire just doesn't scratch that itch for me. I'm glad Kill Team didn't come with custom dice or a meta-heavy card system.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #279536 09 Aug 2018 11:51
That is absolutely true- one of KT’s biggest successes is that it is far more -integrated- into the core 40k game whereas Shadespire exists in a very different space format and concept wise. It requires completely different equipment and it has virtually no resemblance to AOS. That said, I think it’s better skirmish than the AOS skirmish rules were...which, in reflection, were an evolutionary step toward KT.

I’m actually finding myself wondering if I really want to play full 40k right now. KT completely satisfies me in that area, and it is so quick to set up and put up. My son and I play pickup games with the precon teams (50-60 points) and we are playing within 10 minutes, spending 20-40 minutes on gameplay, and packing it in in the last 10. The only thing I miss, really, is that it isn’t scaled for vehicles or Lords of no Guilliman v. Mortarion epics or anything like that. But the trade off...its well worth it.

I actually haven’t even put a lick of paint on any of my new KT stuff. Everything is molded in color so it’s more board gamey in a way. I’ve actually thought about not painting it at least for a while since th backlog is so massive.

As for the rolls...I really do not know why GE is so beholden to the three stage resolution. The WS/BS roll paired with number of attacks/weapon type is great. But then you are rolling to compare the weapon’s strength versus toughness with an armor save on top of that. And then if you have FNP, Ethereal, Disgustingly Resilient or what we you have ANOTHER die roll screening the hits. This makes sense, somewhat, when you are rolling for 40 Plaguebearers that get an attack each. But not at all for a 1v1/man to man fight. The armor save seems to be the point where it gets doughy. It seems like there should be some way to handle that differently, like with units getting 1 or 2 auto blocks to maintain the concept and include the invulnerable save.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #279541 09 Aug 2018 13:42

GorillaGrody wrote: because Shadespire just doesn't scratch that itch for me. I'm glad Kill Team didn't come with custom dice or a meta-heavy card system.

I skipped Shadespire for the same reason. It appears to be a good game, but it doesn't scratch the itch I have. Gorechosen may be simpler, but in this case comparatively, it's to its benefit.

That said, I despise 8th Ed too. Without an entire reworking of the design, I doubt I'll ever touch it again. I'm glad they went the route of just taking existing rules and tweaking them a bit, similarly to what they did with kill team in 4th Ed.

I do admire kill team and think it is better than how they handled it in 4th Ed. But we're still dealing with GW's stubborn need to stick with UGOIGO that works some of the time in certain games, but is hardly groundbreaking or even noteworthy.

Thanks for the review. I can comfortably give this a hard pass.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #279544 09 Aug 2018 15:55
Personally I'm disappointed to hear that it's 40k lite. I was hoping for something more inventive and faster playing, which demanded some new strategies.

I'm particularly put off by the news it has lots of build options for all the factions. I'm done with that shit.

Shame, as it seemed a good excuse to get my hands on those sweet Skitarii miniatures and maybe get some plague marines. Maybe I'll invest anyway once I run out of things to paint.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #279545 09 Aug 2018 16:05
Don’t discount it completely. It definitely moves and plays out differently than 40k. It is a terrain-heavy skirmish game with some abilities, card play and light customization in the mix.

The squad building is actually hugely optional. It’s pretty light anyway, with just a couple of factions having a ton of options, but that is balanced by having fewer unit types. Deathwatch and Plague Marines for example have all kinds of kit but not a lot of unit types. Necrons have more unit types but lesser options.

But either way, you can forgo the squad building completely and just play with the precon squads. You get AdMech and GSC in the box along with data cards already filled out but there are also special boxed for Astra Militarum (Scions), Orks (Burna Boyz), Tyranids (Genestealers), and Space Wolves (Reivers). They are roughly the same points (50-60), which is half a standard 100 point game, but I’m loving games at half points anyway. So you just build the kits to match the precon cards/characters and you’re good to go. They are all molded in different colors, so painting isn’t an immediate concer.
Menat's Avatar
Menat replied the topic: #279603 11 Aug 2018 19:46
Kill Team has always been weirdly ass-backwards as an endeavor; first you need to buy the main 40k rules, then you need to have your own models, and a codex for their rules, and then some terrain, and then you get this extra supplement to play with a small subset of your army in a skirmish, with four different rulebooks between you and your opponent. Like, what??

This edition of Kill Team finally put it where it should be: the entry level. It's definitely the best 40k starter set they've ever made, even considering the Dark Imperium box, if only because it actually includes absolutely everything you need to START the game, and you can scale up to full 40k and be familiar with the rules as you do it.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #279605 11 Aug 2018 21:01
The three rolls combat resolution is particularly stupid, as there's no difference where you fail. Whether you failed the to hit or the enemy made the save roll, there's no difference, except in a very, very few cases.

What intrigues me is the movement/combat dynamics though. That's something I have to try.