Chess, guns, and chainswords collide in Warhammer 40,000: Regicide

— 11:39 AM on September 25, 2015

Dakka! Dakka dakka dakka! That, my friends, is the most beautiful sound in the universe. Well, second best, perhaps, after the dulcet tones of a Nissan GT-R revving up.

For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40K is a tabletop miniatures game with a long pedigree. The series hails from 1987, but it's been constantly modernized since, much like Dungeons and Dragons. It's been the subject of various spin-offs and video game adaptations along the way, like Dawn of War I & II, which some of you may already know. WH40K's universe is a mix of science fiction and fantasy. Think something like very futuristic Tolkien, except the setting is dystopian, dark, and grim. The game world spans entire galaxies, and universal war is the only constant there.

Hello-o, gorgeous

Today, we're taking a look at Warhammer 40K: Regicide, a mash-up of WH40K and a usually-much-less-bloody game: chess. Regicide is developed and published by Hammerfall Publishing.

Although the Warhammer universe is known for its diverse races and (military) cultures, Regicide focuses on humans and orcs, or rather, Space Marines and Orks. Space Marines are militaristic and authoritarian, with an almost religious fanaticism and set of rituals, while Orks are chaotic and hell-bent on spreading that chaos everywhere. They worship dakka—gunfire—above all. The choice to focus on Orks and Space Marines underscores the fact that there are no good guys in WH40K. At best, there are only several forms of lesser evils, and the situation is made bleaker still by the game's fading-golden-age setting.

A beautiful collision of chessboards, guns, and chainswords
Let's start with the basic question: how exactly do you define Regicide? The best description I can come up with is Chess+. Or Chess², Chess XP, Chess-Ish, or Chess and Dakka (which, incidentally, is also the name of a popular Ork sandwich).

Regicide has two game modes: Regicide and Classic. We'll only discuss Regicide, as Classic is just chess with animations—and that got old back in 1988. The mechanics of Regicide mode, on the other hand, are deceptively simple at first glance. The game arena is a basic chess board, and all your Space Marines (or Orks) are also chess pieces like pawns, knights, and so forth. Each turn starts off with players moving a single piece within chess rules. The moves recorded in a little history window like they would be in a proper chess Grand Prix.

Trouble is brewing

Then, all of a sudden, everything goes shooty-bangy-stabby.

You see, after the initial move, it's time to whip out the guns and chainswords. All of the units have a number of aggressive behaviors from which to choose, including ranged and melee attacks, grenades, and other special powers. Each player only gets a certain number of actions per turn, but one is free to mix and match those various attacks. Saving up actions for later turns is also a viable tactic, and doing so is sometimes necessary for triggering some mega-dakka attacks.

Imma let you finish your jump, but let me blow your head off first

Although the addition of those various attacks may not sound like an earth-shattering change, it really is. If you try to play standard chess in this mode, you'll be dakka'd to oblivion.

For example, that fancy bishop capture you just made, the one you thought would make Magnus Carlsen turn green with envy? Say your bishop ends close to three pawns. You feel safe and smug because they can't take it under chess rules. In Regicide, that brilliant move could end in tears anyway, as your piece will be dakka'd into Swiss cheese when the turn rolls around.

Further complicating matters, board-wide moves eventually become available. These moves can be used after the player's usual turn, and they don't depend on a particular piece to activate—though, like some character abilities, they are subject to cool-down periods.

Eeeny, meeny, miney, moe...

Regicide is addictive. My thought process as I got ready to write about the game was something like "Well, I really should take a look at this," which proceeded to mutate into "Man, Regicide is intelligent and interesting!" and finally blossomed into "OH CRAP IT'S 3:00 AM ALREADY."

I hate thoz Spesh Murhins!
The game's campaign mode puts players inside the Power Armor of the Blood Angels Space Marines Chapter, with orders to cleanse a planet of the Ork threat. The two main characters are Commander Dracomedes, who's just your run-of-the-mill "I'm so awesome" military leader, and Librarian Baldessar, who actually seems to have a few brain cells to connect to the power armor. There aren't any RPG-like choices or conversations of any sort here, though. The campaign is simply a sequence of missions spanning several acts, and for Regicide, that's just fine.

This is my staff! There are many like it, but this one is mine!

Too bad I actually like the Orks. I only killed them grudgingly in the campaign because it was my duty. You see, while the Space Marines are all badass and stuff, the Orks simply do war (WAAAUUGH!) because WAAAUGH. I mean, they will their cobbled-together weapons into working, and they don't need a reason to fight. Dakka itself is the reason.

Once players finish the campaign, they'll find some replay value, since there are optional objectives throughout the course of the game that require careful planning, often from several turns ahead—almost like a game of chess, one would say.

Regicide also has multiplayer matchmaking functionality, which works fine: it allows players to find opponents according to game type and a few more preferences. Given that it's a one-on-one tabletop game, the usual considerations about servers and ping time don't really apply, unless perhaps your opponent sits on another planet entirely. Correspondence play is also available, which could turn a single match into a multi-month affair, if that's your thing.

Blood, guts, and glory
Warhammer 40K is brutal and gory, and Regicide lives up to that reputation.  All the unit movements and actions are fully animated, and no bullet or blood splatter was spared in making them. The graphics and animation quality in general are pretty good—certainly not Crysis 24 material, but more than good enough for a board game. Also, the visuals should scale down well  to the game's mobile ports (more on those in a moment).


Sound-wise, everything is as it should be: all of the dakka is backed by an epic soundtrack, along with chunky, meaty gun and chainsword sounds. The campaign portion uses voice-overs during story and mission descriptions, and they're well integrated with the game world. Librarian Baldessar in particular is pretty charismatic. But again, Orks are way more fun.

On the technical side, you'll be pleased to hear that Regicide starts up at the system's native resolution and with reasonable graphics defaults. In my case, the eye candy was automatically set to maximum for my GeForce GTX 970. Because the game's levels are literally glorified chess boards, it doesn't demand a lot of graphical horsepower. The gameplay proceeds smoothly. The mouse and keyboard controls are all configurable and work well, too.

In an interesting twist, the player's Regicide account and saved games should sync across multiple devices with the game's upcoming companion mobile apps. Players should be able to fire up a campaign on their desktops and take it with them on the train during their morning commutes before finishing the job after dinner.

The journey's end
By now I'm sure you know that I like Regicide. It's one of those "simple to learn, difficult to master" titles. Despite using chess as its base, the integration with Warhammer 40K's tabletop gameplay stylings makes it feel original and refreshing. That's quite relevant in a series that's already seen several video game incarnations, some better than others. Given how well the dueling format lends itself to multiplayer games, players can look forward to many a wasted evening with other players once the campaign is complete.

The game's presentation and storyline do a great job of fleshing out a sliver of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, given the somewhat limited scope of the chessboard-like environments. I got a good sense of what makes the Space Marines tick and the Orks explode, and the Regicide manages to maintain a bit of an epic feel despite its roots on the game board. My verdict: strongly recommended. Warhammer 40,000: Regicide is available on Steam for $15.

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