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.