Episode 80.9: Kill Teams AKA The Game I Wish 40K Was

While I continue to toil away (paying people to assemble models counts as toiling right?) on my new, unexciting list that I'll be jamming people's throats until Games Workshop does another balance pass, I find myself looking for stuff to do. Fortunately my FLGS got an advance copy of Kill Teams, which officially launches on July 28th. I've been somewhat excited for Kill Teams since I started looking into it as I really enjoy faster paced, small model games. These types of systems are pretty limited in the Miniature Wargaming market while also having some degree of popularity, Infinity is pretty much there but the rules are so dense it turns many people, such as myself, off. X-Wing is its own beast for the most part and the only thing I can think of besides those are the Batman game, which isn't all that popular from what I understand. Most games are too big in scale to be truly Skirmish based e.g. Warmachine/Hordes.

Kill Teams solves a lot of these issues for me, and more. It's a true skirmish rule set as your roster is limited to 20 models for Matched Play and I suspect 6-12 will be a very standard number. The rules are extremely simple, even simpler if you're familiar with Warhammer 40K already. Even better there's no special models for Kill Teams, the most that's asked of a player is having WYSIWYG models. This turns out to be very easy if you have an existing 40K army and even easier if you're starting from scratch, most boxes of playable models come with all the necessary options. Finally the game should be fairly popular as it's more inclusive than Shadows of Armageddon and doesn't require new models ala Necromunda.

The Rules

What I like the most about Kill Teams are the rules. The game overcomes a lot of hurdles that bog down other skirmish games I've played, some of the most common are camping being too good, models being too resilient, and certain models dominating all levels of play. So what does Kill Team do correct (subjectively)?

First of all the models are almost the exact same as what a 40K player would be familiar with when it comes to stats. I haven't reviewed every model in-depth yet but I don't recall seeing any stat line changes, only ability changes. For example Rangers no longer have a static -1 to Hit from Shooting, instead they gain this if they're Obscured (in Cover). Space Marines also have some rules that make them a bit better at fighting through damage but not unduly so. This makes transitioning between the two games very fluid, even if an ability has changed it's usually similar across both offerings.

Continuing the familiarity are Stratagems, which work in the same way as 40K and are mostly lifted from the Core Rules and various Codexes. Of course some tweaks have been made but Eldar can still do things like shoot and move away, Marines can fight twice, Death Guard can make Poxwalkers, the list goes on. Many Stratagems are new but fit the flavor of the army and the lifted Stratagems have had their costs re-adjusted. For example fighting twice costs two CP instead of three in 40K while Veterans of the Long War costs two CP in Kill Teams. This is likely to reflect that you do not "pool" CP in Kill Teams, instead you accrue it as the game is played.

Once you get past the models Kill Team is a very melee focused and deadly game, two things I love. Shooting is very toned down compared to Warhammer 40K as there are a lot of penalties the game puts on models for doing things like being far away from the target, shooting into something that is Obscured (in Cover/through models) on top of the normal penalties in 40K. When models lose Wounds they don't automatically die, instead they are either removed or take a Flesh Wound. Having Flesh Wounds on a model makes them worse at just about everything, there's a chance they get scared and do nothing each turn, and they're more likely to die when taking future damage. Both of these systems balance each other out, while it can be hard to damage models at times things can really snowball once you get that first Flesh Wound. This also prevents not KO'ing a model from feeling like you got nothing done, sure removing models is the optimal outcome but dealing with you and your opponent's Flesh Wounds is a big part of the game.

Another notable difference is the departure from 40K's Turn System. Kill Teams uses this for Movement but Shooting and Combat are both "You Go, I Go" in that players take turns performing action. Initially I wanted Movement to be the same way but having played the game it's better the way it is. By taking turns in Movement, Combat models are hugely advantaged because Charges are done during the Movement Phase. Back and forth play would result in Fall Back being a useless option, you'd move away and then get Charged by the same model more than likely.

The Problems

 What I love most about Kill Teams, the fast play and how quickly models can be removed, turns into an issue when you play with the supplied Missions. I am only discussing the Matched Play Missions as I haven't looked at the Open/Narrative offerings and don't much care about them personally.

Kill Teams comes with four Missions for each style of play, I would have preferred six but that's a minor issue. The larger problem is how much the Matched Play Missions encourage camping and/or extremely defensive options. For example one Mission requires that you kill opposing models, while one of your models is in melee with it, and no enemy models are within 2" of the model killed. So you can very easily clump your roster together and only give up one Victory Point, for the last model slain, if the game even makes it that far. Tie-breakers are having the most Points lest on the table, again encouraging defensive play.

In and of itself a vanilla Kill Team game would have a lot of dice rolling but not much Movement unless you're playing one of the more melee focused rosters. Missions need to switch that up and force playing for the center or for the table, they don't do a good job of this though. In my opinion Kill Teams would do very well with Warmachine Missions such as keeping more models in a certain area, holding the middle, and so on. While this could hurt armies like Tau the rules are already made in such a way that long-range shooting is a poor option. What encourages camping is wanting to hug cover for dear life and the bonuses that can be accrued, or penalties that can be avoided. Without a reason to move, beyond being melee oriented, the game will quickly dissolve into just standing around and rolling dice.

Fortunately this is both the only real issue I see with the system and a very easy one to solve. 40K Players are already used to ignoring the official Missions, so that pattern can keep going. The downside is a lot of people will come to the game and may not have a good experience with the Missions, although frankly Kill Teams will probably be a largely casual game (just like 40K).

What Looks Good

At this time I've played two games of Kill Teams, one with Deathwatch and one with Genestealer Cults. I have played against Harlequins and Orks as well as watched a game between Harlequins and Dark Eldar. Based on that and reading the book over the game seems very well balanced as strategies that look awesome on paper don't hold up. I'll use Guard as an example.

Guard can easily field 20 Models, swarming the board in bodies. This makes them good at the activation economy e.g. they'll have a lot more models to attack with than an opponent and can start focusing models down with more efficiency. However once you put such a list on the table it's clear that it has issues. BS4 is a major drawback in a game where there are so many penalties to hit and WS4/S3 doesn't get the job done against many lists. Guardsmen are also not very tough with T3 and a 5+ Save so particular powerful models, such as those holding a Plasmagun, can be focused and either Flesh Wounded into oblivion or just removed. Furthermore the game really starts to punish "big" rosters when models get removed and others are wounded, that's when they can start taking Nerve tests and not activate during the next round. With Guardsmen having Ld6 it doesn't take much for them to start freaking out.

I've seen numerous other skew lists like 4 Lictors but none of them hold up past the idea phase, especially with Missions. What seems best to me is an actual balanced force. Chaff to tie things up or play to the Mission, various specialists to remove chaff/elites, and mid-rangers to protect your specialists. Fortunately every army can play this style although Tau feels the weakest as they have no melee options (Kroot would have been great) and their reliance on BS4 shooting, with or without Markerlights, is problematic.

The two Factions I most have my eye on are Thousand Sons and Deathwatch. Thousand Sons gets Psykers, one of only two armies, and All Is Dust is extremely powerful in a game with few d3/d6 Damage attacks. Being able to get a 2+ Save on top of penalties is very strong and they can also take Tzaangors for chaff/melee. Deathwatch are just incredibly adaptable, being able to put Storm Shields on a lot of models is great and their Shotguns having an auto-hit variant is extremely good. They also fight well as an MEQ profile goes a long way in Kill Teams, especially when all your guys have two Attacks. I don't think there are big power peaks/valleys in the game but those are my Factions that I want to play with and see where they fit in.


In the end Kill Teams is just a good system that has positioned itself well for balance and multiple play-styles. I'd recommend it to anyone with an existing 40K army, unless you play something like Knights/Custodes/Demons you'll be able to use stuff you already have. Right now the game has much more of my interest than 40K does, admittedly a lot of that is the newness of the game and meta but I also like being able to play quick matches during the week. I'm really hoping the game catches on and I'll be getting some Battle Reports for it once my list is up and running, let me know if you're excited for Kill Teams too!

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