A stunning Kill Team expansion unlike any other Games Workshop release to date.
Games Workshop's trailer for the new Warhammer 40k Kill Team: Rogue Trader box set was a stunner, a short, sharp promo that looked and sounded more Cowboy Bebop than Warhammer 40k. My eyebrows had already been raised by the fact that GW was releasing a game with the same title as the first edition 40k book, but this teaser promised something unique and quite different from the Grimdark status quo. and not just because the game includes a plain old-fashioned Terran dog. A glimpse at the all-new models- a mysteriously veiled and colorfully plumed heroine called Elucia Vhane, Voidsmen with an almost Buck Rogers-like sense of style, a host of freshly Nurgled-up nasties- hinted at a game that would explore a new corner of the 40k universe.
Originally announced as (or assumed to be) a boxed game, Rogue Trader is a big-box expansion pack for the just-released and quite excellent Kill Team. You need the sold-separately core manual to play, but other than that this is a complete game with two full 100+ point kill teams, specifically focused on skirmish combat in "ultra-close confines" between the Elucidian Starstriders and the Gellerpox Infected as played out across two included Killzones represented on a double-sided board. One is the Truehawk, Elucia Vhane's starship. The other is an Adeptus Ministorum Shrine. Packed in the box are sprues of doors, control consoles, and plenty of other terrain specific to these environments and the book contains eleven very cool scenarios and missions to play with them including a great three-game historical campaign specific to this set's included characters and settings. But this is very much a toolbox expansion that applies to the full Kill Team game, so if you want to put a strike force of Tau Breachers to work on a Bridge Assault mission against an Ork crew intent on looting the Starhawk, it's all yours.
As for the rules additions, they move the game toward a more Zone Mortalis or Necromunda style format, where close quarters combat is emphasized over long range shooting due to limited firing lanes and restricted lines of sight. The new rules cover things like point-blank Overwatch, opening and closing doors, and not being able to fly over or move through walls (sorry, Harlequins- the Flip Belts do nothing here)- nothing is particularly surprising, and everything is intuitive and works well with the larger Kill Team system. Digging a little further, there are also new rules for Commanders- which is also indicated as part of an upcoming and hitherto unannounced Kill Team: Commanders expansion. Enabling players to field singularly powerful HQ-class characters with enhanced Commander tactics and upgradable traits, new opportunities for customization and development abound. As these rules are sort of a taster and only apply to the Starstriders and Gellerpox Infected as of right now, I'm eager to see how they will affect strategies and team compositions for the existing factions.
The rules expansion is fairly minimal but impactful- it could be debated that what is present here really coulda/shoulda been in the core manual to begin with. Or you might reasonably suggest that these streamlined 8th edition based rules for low model count, CQB skirmishes more or less completely renders Necromunda obsolete. You could also make the argument that in some ways, this box is really a better introduction to Kill Team than the starter set. But I would counter that Rogue Trader really had to be its own entity, because what is doing with its unique narrative, singular characters, and new Killzone concepts stands apart from the sort of introductory "all comers" Kill Team package. This expansion suggests a host of possibilities and potentials for Kill Team beyond the "40k lite" context of its host game. It's an important release because it, unlike a routine faction release or codex update, opens new doors in what is already the best setting in hobby gaming.
For example, the Starstriders and the Gellerpox Infected play unlike any others both in Kill Team and also 40k, since you can use the included mini-codices to add these models to an Imperium or Nurgle force. The former consists of a few unique characters with cool weapons- they are a fun-to-play motley crew of Firefly-like characters with a compelling background story. The latter are a horrifyingly misshapen bunch of Elucia Vhane's former crew members turned into mutants with high wound counts (coupled with Disgustingly Resilient), scary melee capabilities, and some attendant vermin. The models are all single-build with no options, which make irk some, but they are spectacular in their singularity- the usual CAD elements are nowhere to be seen so these sculpts feel fresh and genuinely new. I'm finding myself hoping that GW does more with the Voidsmen - I'd love to see more of these kinds of pulpy models that call to mind the sorts of miniatures and concepts that Citadel was doing in the 1980s. It isn't difficult to imagine how Kill Team could be an exploratory space for Games Workshop to introduce all sorts of smaller factions and unit types that don't quite fit into the scope or scale of the full 40k game as well as unique Killzones beyond what we have come to expect.
Although I find myself hoping that this release, like Kill Team, points the way to the future of Warhammer 40k I also love that it reclaims the Rogue Trader title that takes me back to picking up the very first edition of the rulebook over 30 years ago. There is almost a "back to the future" sensibility about the material in this set that I find very refreshing. The looser, more freewheeling tone calls to mind the formative days of the Warhammer world, when some of its concepts and storylines were emerging and not beholden to years and years of canon or expectation. This is reflected in the themes of the narrative, with the Rogue Traders acting at the request of Roboute Guilliman as explorers, colonizers, and trailblazers into new frontiers. Delivering on the promises of that initial trailer that was so strikingly different, Rogue Trader takes us into unknown areas of the 40k universe while enriching an excellent skirmish system that I am looking forward to playing for years to come.
An advance review copy of this game was provided courtesy of Games Workshop's Warhammer Community. There Will Be Games accepts no payment from publishers or designers for reviews, editorials, or other content.