Arks of Omen Abaddon Review – Warhammer 40,000
The Cicatrix Maledictum has ripped the galaxy asunder, and in this darkest hour Abaddon the Warmaster has formed a pact with a terrible new ally Vashtorr the Arkifane. Together they have created the Arks of Omen and will use them to spell doom to the Galaxy – but is there another reason behind this nightmarish assault?
in Arks of Omen Abaddon, up for pre order today we learn what is happening in the continuing narrative for Warhammer 40k with the culmination of the 9th edition storyline. In addition to the new story, we also get a brand new way of playing games of Warhammer 40,000 with Boarding Actions – 500 point games on a Space Hulk!
In our full review of Arks of Omen Abaddon we’ll be taking a look at the developing story and taking some guesses as to what we will see in the future, and also see how Boarding Actions work and all the fun things involved with this new game mode!
Massive thanks to Games Workshop for sending us a free review copy to take a look at a little head of time. If you would like to support the site then why not order your copy of Arks of Omen through our affiliate Element Games and save yourself 20% too?
If you would rather watch than read, we have a full review video below, or up over on YouTube!
Still with us? Then gather your Boarding Party as we explore the Arks of Omen…
Arks of Omen Abaddon Review
The Gathering Storm. Malign Portents. Psychic Awaking. At the end of every edition for the last few editions, Games Workshop have closed out the story line of the current edition of mainline games with a series of narrative supplements that tell the bridging story between the two editions. With Arks of Omen it seems that the time has come for the final chapter of Warhammer 40k 9th Edition.
Can you believe the Indomitus box was released in June 2020, which seems a lifetime ago now with all the various lockdowns we have had, and this summer we’ll be 3 years in – which tends to be the average lifespan of an edition of the game. In that time we have had a lot of supplements that have added additional rules and options for units and armies. But with Arks of Omen Abaddon Games Workshop are doing things a little differently.
There are no army rules in this book. No sub factions or alternate builds for armies. Not even any unit profiles. Instead this is a book focused on just two things – The narrative of the creation of the Arks of Omen and Abaddon’s newest Crusade, and a brand new way of playing games of Warhammer 40k.
We’ll jump into the narrative first – but I just want to warn anyone who wants to read this book for themselves that there will be spoilers ahead. If you would rather experience it for yourself I’ll have a header for Boarding Action that you can scroll down to in order to miss any spoiler content!
For those who do want to know about the narrative, there’s some very fun stuff ahead…
One of my favorite releases that Games Workshop have put out over the last few years was the Broken Realms series for Warhammer Age of Sigmar. In stark contrast to some of the supplements that had come before it for other “end of edition” series, Broken Realms pushed the narrative forward in new and exciting ways. Major events happened, unexpected twists and realm shattering events that changed the narrative forever.
So coming into Arks of Omen I was hoping for something that captured the excitement I had from reading the Broken Realms series.
And I was not disapointed!
Arks of Omen Abaddon tells the story of Abaddon’s latest assault on the galaxy and how the titular Arks of Omen came to be. We also find out about his new ally Vashtor the Arkifane and what their goals are in this story ark.
The book opens with a prophecy which I have paraphrased here to keep it punchy:
The stars are dying.
But something is hidden with the power to stop this, but it has been hidden well and sealed away out of reach,
It talks of furnaces and screaming mouths, of chains and hammers and a figure with eyes like burning cinders
It talks of a forest that grows, dies and grows again
It talks of an ancient knight weeping tears
It talks of circles within circles within circles, and at the center… nothing.
Now that is pretty mysterious, and we’ll come back later as to what I think this means, but this seems to be at the core of what Abaddon is up to in this story. We learn that a daemonic entity that calls itself Vashtorr has influenced cultists onboard The Vengeful Spirit to enact a ritual that allows the creature entry onto Abaddon’s flagship so that it can broker a deal with The Warmaster. We learn that this entity calls itself the Arkifane and is a demigod that wants to become a new Chaos God. Interestingly, Vashtorr is the demigod of technology and creation formed from the inventive personality of life making new things in the same way that Khorne was created from war and spilling blood. In order to achieve his goals of godhood, Vashtorr shares some information with Abaddon about something related to the prophecy mentioned earlier that will alter the course of the war and fundamentally change the Imperium of Man. We don’t learn the specifics of what is sealed away, but we do learn that “keys” are required to open it, and these keys are scattered across the galaxy. The keys themselves take the form of relics and trinkets that may look completely inconsequential to the eye, but in actuality unlock something of massive importance.
Time is of the essence, and both Abaddon and Vashtorr believe a rapid simultaneous strike at all the locations where these artifacts are rumored to be hidden will enable them to achieve their goals before the Imperium even realises what’s happening. In order to facilitate this Vashtorr creates the Arks of Omen.
The Arks of Omen are essentially weaponised Space Hulks, imbued with daemonic power, armed with arcane and deadly weaponry and outfitted with a captive Warp Portal – we’re talking Event Horizon style stuff here that can be used to spirit away the spacecraft back to the warp once it has completed it’s mission.
Another technological wonder created by Vashtorr are the Obelyskane – these are basically a Dark Astronomicon – Daemonic locator beacons that can be used to coordinate the grand naval assault, navigate the tides of the great warp storm and ensure that the Chaos fleet always has the upper hand against the Imperium forces.
With a shotgun approach to his plan, Abaddon has assigned many, many chaos warbands to crew these ships – some going to critical locations that hold one of these relics may have a more hand picked crew, while others may simply be filled with renegades to throw at a random planet to sow despair and terror and distract the Imperium from his true goals. Each Ark has the firepower of a fleet and represents a considerable threat to it’s target. Abaddon isn’t stupid though, he has a network of Alpha Legion operatives spread throughout each ship ready to assume command and use the Warp Portal to ensure the keys are returned to him, even if the crew mutiny or rebel against him.
Over the course of the story we see these ships sent out and the chaos they spread. We also see Abaddon himself lead some assaults on critical locations and actually get to see one of the prizes he is after – not a mighty weapon or a physical key, but just a simple chalice with a carved motif of trees embossed on it hidden within a temple. Throughout the story we get little hints and teases, but in this book we do not learn what these “keys” open or what the ultimate reward within is…
The narrative ends with a formidable Imperium force massing at Malakbael consisting of the entirety of the forth Crusade fleet – Vashtorr fears that this is enough force to stop the fleet that has been sent there, however Abaddon simply laughs at how unlucky that Imperium fleet is, as Angron is on Malakbael…
So what is going on? And what are Abadoon and Vashtorr after?
I strongly believe that this is all to do with the Primarch of the I Legion – Lion El’Jonson.
If we look back at the prophesy, the line about furnaces and screaming mouths is clearly talking about Vashtorr The Arkifane, this is the guy who creates Daemon Engines and has mastery over technology
But what of the other lines? We see a line talking about a forest, and the chalice that Abaddon recovers is embossed with trees. To me, this is a reference to Caliban , the original homework of the Dark Angels is a forest planet which is also thematically nodded to in the green of their armour.
The ancient knight weeping could be The Lion himself, though perhaps it could be Azreal – we do know he is getting a new model, and presumably this is released over the course of the Arks of Omen Series
But the thing that seals the deal for me is the reference to circles within circles within circles. The Dark Angels progress through circles as they learn the secrets of their order. With each circle they pass through they learn more and more until finally they get to the inner circle and learn the truth about the Dark Angels. Is this secret key to the prophecy? The Lion is rumoured to be deep within The Rock, could Abaddon be aware of this and has found how to access him – perhaps with the intent to turn him to his side and shatter the Imperium asunder with this revelation.
But has Abaddon misread the signs perhaps? Could whatever is contained within actually be the savior of the Imperium? The opening line of the prophecy talks about the stars going out which may be a reference to the Cicatrix Maledictum blotting out the stars. But maybe this is literal, perhaps the stars are being consumed by Tyranids as they are drawn towards our Galaxy? Are the bugs the big overarching threat being built up for 10th edition?
We still have another 3 books to learn all the secrets, and I love that they have left some things ambiguous for us to try and deduce!
So with the Lore investigated, let’s move on and take a look at the gaming content within the book!
Boarding Action is a brand new game mode for Warhammer 40k, bringing the action to close and claustrophobic combat onboard Space Hulks and other spacecraft.
The game mode is designed to be used with the recent Gallowdark scenery from the recent Kill Team sets, and if you own both of the Kill Team boxes from this season then you actually own enough scenery to play your own Boarding Action games. If you haven’t been picking up these boxes, then Games Workshop actually have a boxed Boarding Action set containing the boards and enough scenery to play a game for £130 (Or head over to Element Games to save 20% off this!)
Like with Kill Team, all these scenery pieces are labeled with reference numbers that make building the map really easy, as each piece is coded for reference when checking the scenarios. This also makes it easy to make and document your own maps too, which is really handy for people who like to create their own missions.
The game mode has some considerable changes from vanilla 40k – for example, stratagems have been stripped back massively with only 3 able to be used in missions: Command Re-roll, Counter-Offensive and Insane Bravery. I really like this as it removes something that I feel adds a lot of bloat to regular 40k, and brings us back to the basics of those early games with command points. I hope this is perhaps a sign to 10th edition 40k having a similar change.
Visibility is also very important in games of Boarding Action – if you are shooting at a unit, you can only kill models that you can see, meaning that if you are shooting at a unit of 5, but you can only see one of them then even if you caused multiple wounds to the unit, only the model that is visible can have wounds allocated to it – once that model is dead all other wounds are wasted! This makes positioning very important and rewards you for making the best use of cover you can. On a similar note you can also only charge a unit you can see – however in combat every model in each unit can have wounds allocated to them, to represent the fact it is easier to see and locate these targets at close quarters.
The range for controlling objectives is a lot tighter in Boarding Actions with models having to get within an inch of an objective to claim it – making these hard fought locations!
My favorite addition to Boarding Actions however are the new actions that can be performed within the games.
Secure Site – this action can be used on models with Objective Secured and once completed allows your unit to still have control of an objective even when they are outside of range of the objective. This is a great action and really makes you have to choose if its worth making some shots, or should you take the time to instead lock down the objective fully! This is something I would love to see added to 10th edition in order to make the objective game a little more tactical.
Set Overwatch – Fans of Warhammer 40k 2nd edition rejoice! Old school overwatch has returned! Overwatch is no longer tied to a stratagem in Boarding Action, but is instead activated as an action. While set, a unit on Overwatch can shoot an enemy unit it can see once they have completed a move – so yes, this could be a charge like at the moment, but it could also be as they open a door opposite you, or as they skirt out of cover to get ready to shoot you. You still hit on 6’s, but the functionality of Overwatch has increased greatly – and rather than costing your command points you are simply giving up your ability to shoot in the shooting phase in order to shoot in your opponents turn. Again, I would love to see this in 10th edition.
Set to Defend – Similar to the above, however you instead perform the action in order to grant +1 to hit to your units – this is really cool as gives you a bit of a threat where an enemy may think twice about charging you if you can hit better in combat.
Operate Hatchway – There’s lots of doors in the Boarding Action missions, so this new action lets you opperate them! If theres no enemy by the door then things are simple, you simply open the door at the end of the movement phase (Note though, this means that you have to set up door openings to move through ahead of time unless you have a leader with the expert breacher enhancement – more on this later) If there is an enemy within 1″ of the the door however things get more interesting as both sides to an opposed strength test to try and either force the door open, or hold it shut. This is really fun and offers some really fun cinematic moments as a poor lone guardsman manages to hold a door shut against the odds as a Chaos Terminator tries to rip it open!
Army construction is also somewhat different in games of Boarding Action. For a start armies are only 500 points, as these are elite forces of specialists that have been brought in to clear out a target location.
You can take a single optional HQ choice, 0-3 troops choices, and 0-3 elite choices. You’ll note that you don’t have to take a HQ choice, as a unit champion can be your warlord if you want, however there is benefit in taking a character as they get access to Enhancements. If you do take elites then each elite choice must be different – so no taking multiples of the same unit.
You are also not allowed to bring any monsters, vehicles, jump packs,cavalry, bikers or anything with fly. So we’re talking small and focused groups of infantry. The maximum size of a unit is 10 models, and any unit with 10 models has to be then split down into multiple 5 man squads to represent how these squads would form into separate boarding parties to facilitate moving around the tight confines of a spacecraft.
Games Workshop have also recently shared some Boarding Action army lists over on Warhammer Community with some additional army construction rules to add flavour to the various forces in the game.
If you choose to take a character as your warlord then they gain access to Enhancements – these replace Warlord Traits and Relics and give your leader one of 6 bonuses – for example Superior boarding tactics lets you start the game with additional CP, a Personal Teleporter allows them to deploy by teleport strike elsewhere on the craft, or expert breacher allows them to open doors immediately rather than at the end of the movement phase, allowing them to open the way for your troops to pass through.
9 Missions are included, which gives you lots of playability, and I really hope this is supported with further missions down the line as they are really fun! With the interchangeable nature of the Boarding Action scenery it would also be really easy to create your own maps and modify these missions further.
So what do I think of Arks of Omen Abaddon? This is a brilliant start to the Arks of Omen series! From the awesome new narrative ark that gives us new lore and mysteries to solve, to the refreshing breath of fresh air that is Boarding Actions there is something for everyone in this book. I’m really excited to read the continuing story and seeing where things lead on the run up to 10th edition 40k. I assume we are getting new models with this series, and I do wonder if we will see the profiles for these models released in these books, or if Games Workshop will make this digital only. I also wonder if we will see new game modes in each of these books – with City Fight, Planet Strike and Apocalypse battles being obvious choices for new or updated game modes in the remaining 3 books.
I’m also excited to put together some fun and thematic 500 point boarding action forces and seeing how they get on!
Arks of Omen Abaddon is up for pre order today and is released Saturday 14th January.
Games Workshop provided Sprues & Brews with a free copy for review purposes.