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Tabletop Game / Battlefleet Gothic

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There is no peace among the stars...

What happens when the people behind Warhammer 40,000 decide to make a Wargame about spaceships?

Battlefleet Gothic takes everything cool about naval combat throughout history, and mixes it with the gothic aesthetic and unending, chaotic grimdarkness of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Joyfully embracing Space Is an Ocean in every way possible, the game throws together vast hypertech spaceships, Napoleonic line tactics and broadsides, torpedoes and torpedo boats, sailing, planet-splitting weapons, ramming and boarding actions, Old School Dogfights, sea shanties and alien monsters.

The Imperial Navy, the focus of much of the game's art and background, is the very definition of Cool, but Inefficient. Imperial capital ships are millennia-old vessels resembling kilometres-long Gothic cathedrals, with spikes and spires for sensor masts, covered with pointless bling in the form of giant skulls or mile-high statues of eagles made of solid gold. They are filled with millions of press-ganged ratings and chanting priest-mechanics, loading gigantic shells by the back-breaking labour of thousands and unloading broadsides from gun decks the size of towns. Maintenance is ritualised, tech-adepts praying to machines they don't understand, anointing them with sacred unguents and beating them with holy wrenches. Warships are so old, so vast and so complex they develop their own cultures; entire societies of feral humans, the descendents of lost crewmen, lurk in forgotten decks.

The rulebook focuses on one campaign in particular, the twenty-year Gothic War, Abaddon the Despoiler's 12th Black Crusade against the Imperium. This scheme involves the Gothic Sector being cut off from the rest of the Imperium by warp storms, a lot of spiky warships, and six ancient space stations known as the Blackstone Fortresses. As with all of Games Workshop's Gaiden Games, Battlefleet Gothic enjoyed several months of publicity in stores and White Dwarf magazine before essentially dropping off the radar, new rules and models only occasionally being brought out. A supplement entitled Battlefleet Gothic: Armadanote  was released in 2003 that collated rules published in various official magazines and introduced a number of new factions, such as the Tau and the Dark Eldar, as well as a number of new ships for the existing factions. The supplement also included background and scenarios for fighting battles during the Third Armageddon War and the 13th Black Crusade. The game was published by Games Workshop's Specialist Games division until it, along with the rest of the Specialist Games line, was discontinued in 2013.

It did, however, remain one of the most enduringly popular spinoffs the studio had ever produced, helped in no small part by focusing on what was otherwise a critically-ignored part of the 40k universe and having ships with a much different aesthetic sense compared to others in its genre; fans of it therefore tended to like it passionately, and it remains more or less tied with Necromunda as the most beloved of GW's spinoff games. Thanks to this, even after the tabletop line was discontinued, multiple video game adaptations were greenlit and became reality: a Real-Time Strategy game series for PC, titled Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (and its numbered sequel), and a Turn-Based Strategy mobile game, Battlefleet Gothic: Leviathan.

Being set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the game features a large number of the tropes on that page, as well as employing setting and gameplay tropes of its own.

Battlefleet Gothic provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 2-D Space: The game's rulebook acknowledges this as a necessity due to the difficulty of accurately representing three-dimensional space on the tabletop without immensely complicated rules. The book goes on to explain that the ships actually occupy an infinitesimally small point within their base's stem and allows ships to move and fire 'through' each other to represent the fact that they are at differing 'altitudes'.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Some Fleet Lists include the option of taking high ranking characters, such as Warlords in an Ork List or Abaddon the Despoiler himself in a Chaos Fleet, as a Fleet Commander. Taking such a character will give bonuses to the ship they are commanding during boarding actions to represent the fighting abilities of the character and the elite troops that generally accompany them.
  • Ancestral Weapon: Ancestral spaceships. The ships are all invariably ancient (especially the Chaos ships, which date back to the Horus Heresy and before).
  • Apocalypse How: From the main batteries of most cruisers, which can inflict regional catastrophes, to the combined efforts of three Blackstone Fortresses, which can supernova a star, Gothic has one at every level.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Present in the game as "terrain" to fight around. Anything unguided (a space hulk, torpedoes and so on) is automatically destroyed upon entry. Attack craft have a 1 in 6 chance of destruction and full space ships (from escorts to capital ships) must take a command check, and if they fail it they can take crippling damage in a single instance.
  • Bad Boss: Abaddon, per standard. Aside from the You Have Failed Me below, Chaos Lords can't be used on the same ship as him because they're too scared of him.
  • The Battlestar: While they lack the shear firepower of dedicated battleships, every ship above Light Cruiser size in the game with launch bays also carries a healthy compliment of traditional guns, particularly those ships designed to be allrounders such as the Mars class Battlecruiser, the Retaliator class Grand Cruiser or the kustom Ork Battleship Gorbag's Revenge. The Tau in particular field a large variety of Battlestars as the majority of their capital ships consist of refitted exploration, colonization and trading vessels. Tau vessels even feature "gravitic hooks" used to tow and launch full sized escort vessels.
  • Big Bad: Abaddon the Despoiler, the Warmaster of Chaos, is the primary antagonist and architect of the Gothic War that forms the basis of the game's original narrative as his forces invade the Sector in order to gain control of mysterious alien artefacts of great power.
  • Boarding Pod:
    • The game features both one-shot boarding torpedoes (usually unguided) and reusable Assault Boats (shuttlecraft that attach to the hull to cut through) that are available to most fleets. Most ships are too big and well defended to be captured outright, so most boarding parties in the game attack to damage a critical system and then evacuate if possible. In the background material, a few naval forces have an element dedicated to capturing enemy ships, but this usually amounts to a small army.
    • Dark Eldar ships have a unique form of boarding pod known as Impaler Assault Modules. Far larger than the Assault Boats of other races, the Impaler carries far more troops, and so has a far greater chance of causing damage in a boarding action, than a regular boarding pod but requires the Dark Eldar ship to forgo taking other weaponry.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Imperial Navy Reserve Fleets consist of many old and obsolete classes of ship that are no longer used in regular Navy Fleets, including many that are more commonly seen fighting with Chaos Fleets such as the Repulsive-class Grand Cruiser and the Carnage-class Cruiser. The Imperial Navy is reluctant to use these fleets due to their ships' lack of regular maintenance and their hastily assembled crews having a tendency to be unreliable at best, if not outright mutinous. The game rules represent this by allowing the player to choose certain ships from the Chaos Fleet list but makes all Reserve Fleet Ships more likely to disengage from combat or, when fighting against Chaos, defect to the opponents control.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel:
    • In the background material for the Gothic Warnote  the Eldar allowed allied Imperial fleets to use the Webway so that they could redeploy far quicker and more reliably than if they had been using the traditional form of interstellar travel.
    • ZigZagged in the core game's campaign rules where fleets are able to travel between planetary systems to attack opponents but only along the relatively safe established warp routes as travelling directly from system to system is far too unpredictable.
  • Cool Starship: Every ship. Because of 40K's love of huge scales, the implications of operating 5,000-meter-long cruisers and 9,000-meter-long battleships are taken seriously. (Unlike other franchises) Each ship is built over decades or even generations and then operated for hundreds or thousands of years. A BFG ship absorbs as big a proportion of a world's resources as building a medieval cathedral, and it is the focus of just as much cultural activity. Ships invariably accumulate their own traditions, legends, mechanical quirks and even hereditary shipboard societies.
  • Cool, but Inefficient:
    • Chaos warships are essentially Imperial vessels ten thousand years past their use-by date, with added mutations, daemons and an internal culture of insanity, backstabbing, blood sacrifices, torture and random slaughter.
    • Eldar ships are fragile vessels with solar sails, needing to be angled to the nearest sun to work most efficiently. Yes, tacking in space.
    • Ork ships are essentially improvised weapons (that work because the Orks think they can work), bolted together out of scrap by lunatics.
    • Tyranid "vessels" are living organisms, with much of their armament being claws, blades, teeth and tentacles on a ridiculous scale. Even in space, they try to jump on you and bite your face off.
    • Imperial ships are mile-long space cathedrals packed with impossibly advanced weaponry... but their building-sized gun batteries are loaded by hand. Hundreds of hands per gun, to be precise.
  • Combat Tentacles: Many Tyranid bio-ships can be equipped with feeder tentacles that allow them to latch on to enemy ships in base contact. These tentacles can also be used by the bio-ship's warrior organisms to board the enemy ship, flooding their corridors with bio-engineered killing machines.
  • Covers Always Lie: Cover of the boxed set (see page image) depicts an Imperial ship with two lance turrets, a macrocannon deck, and a lance deck. This weapon layout corresponds to Armageddon-class Battlecruiser, except that it wasn't present in the base game. The class was added in the Armada expansion, four years into the game's run, and even then it featured a completly different bow design.
  • The Dreaded Dreadnought: Averted. Dreadnoughts are conspicuous by their absence, with ships being grouped into Escorts, Light Cruisers, Cruisers, Battlecruisers, the odd Grand Cruiser, and Battleships. Unique and powerful vessels like Abaddon's Planet Killer could qualify as Dreadnoughts, but are not named as such.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom:
    • The Planet Killer specializes in these.
    • Two Blackstone fortresses working together can destroy a planet. Three cause a sun to go supernova. According to game rules (specifically, the Exteminatus! scenario) a single Activated Blackstone Fortress is sufficient to at the very least destroy all life on a planet.
  • Elite Mooks: Space Marines and their Chaos counterparts, as putting them on a ship gives it a better leadership rating as well as boarding and hit-and-run attack ratings. Among them there are also Terminator marines, which improve hit-and-run attacks even further.
  • Enemy Mine: Anybody siding with anybody against anybody, with the sole exception of an Adeptus Arbites ship (yes, they have one) siding with the Imperial Navy. Even the Astartes don't like working with the Navy.
  • Experience Points: The campaign rules for the game allow a fleet commander to gain and lose experience points, known as Renown, for things like winning or losing, capturing enemy ships and completing bonus mission objectives. When a Commander gains enough Renown they get a promotion to a higher level, with each level allowing the Commander to use an increasing number of re-rolls and improves their Leadership characteristic. The Commander's renown also allows them to appeal to their superiors for reinforcements or Refits (extra skills and improved equipment) for their ships.
  • Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon: Some ships have a nose mounted main cannon. Ork ships quite often have a large main gun, and the Imperium has the Nova Cannon, which is a massive mass driver that runs through most of the ship and fires building-sized projectiles at relativistic speeds.
  • Flying Cutlery Spaceship: In keeping with their race's devilish design aesthetic, Dark Eldar starships, such as the Torture class cruiser, sporting sweeping blades and spikes, often in place of the solar sails used by their Craftworld and Corsair cousins.
  • Fragile Speedster: Eldar ships go faster than anyone else's, but have next to no armor or damage resistance.
  • Gaiden Game: One of several "Specialist Games" in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
  • Glass Cannon:
    • As in most other games, the Eldar ships are able to unleash a lot of firepower but their lack of traditional shielding and weak armour make them vulnerable to return fire.
    • The Tau have extremely powerful long-range ordinance, but weak broadside firepower and a vulnerability to boarding actions.
  • Grand Theft Prototype: The Chaos Fleet’s Infidel-class Raiders were created from designs for a prototype heavy escort vessel stolen from the Monsk shipyards and have proven to be a thorn in the Imperium’s side ever since.
  • Hidden Weapons: Q-ships are freighters that have been equipped with concealed lances and weapons batteries that a defender can purchase to defend their convoys in some scenarios. Deployed as regular Transport ships during the mission, Q-ships can reveal their weapons at any time in order to surprise attacking ships.
  • Homing Projectile:
    • Seeking torpedoes are special torpedoes upgraded with logic engines and matriculators that enable them to identify targets and change their trajectory so that they are more likely to hit. The game represents this by allowing seeking torpedoes to make a turn towards the nearest enemy ship at the beginning of the Ordinance Phase rather than traveling in a straight line like other forms of torpedo.
    • The missiles used by the Tau Fleet in place of torpedoes are fitted with artificial intelligence similar to that used by Tau Attack Drones. In game this is represented by the missiles being able to alter their speed and course when they move.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: "Scary" does not even begin to cover it. As in the main 40k fluff, FTL travel is accomplished by sending your ship into the Warp, which is basically Hell (the Eldar, Necrons, and Tau have different ways of cheating this). Not only is your ship subjected to psychic assault and daemonic invasion if you don't keep your Gellar Field up, navigation requires certified astropaths, and even if you navigate successfully, there's no telling when you'll arrive at your destination. . . before you left, or centuries after. The game doesn't really go into detail about the difficulty of the logistics of moving fleets and supplies under this haphazard system, since that would get in the way of massive ships blowing the stuffing out of each other.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Necron ships, which has the fastest movement consistent movement, pack a heavy punch, and are pretty durable.
  • Living Ship: As with all Tyranid equipment, the ships of the Hive Fleets are living things, void-swimming monsters that act as nodes for the Hive Mind and bio-factories that create Tyranid organisms. In game terms this is represented by a number of special rules, such as allowing Tyranid bio-ships to avoid tests for navigating through celestial phenomena (as they are naturally adapted to live in the void), using Spores instead of point-defence turrets and Deflector Shields, and never running out of Ordinance or attack craft (as they can just bread more).
  • Long-Range Fighter: The Tau take this to the point of Crippling Overspecialization, where they have only minimal broadside firepower and are extremely vulnerable to boarding actions. However, maneuvering to take advantage of those weaknesses is tricky, because the Tau will do their best to use their devastating long-range spinal armaments and extremely smart and nimble missile salvos to cripple anyone who tries an uncoordinated charge.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Many ships can fire salvos of torpedos across the gulfs of space. While these can be devastating when they hit, they travel slowly compared to most weapons, and can be shot down by Space Fighter squadrons and capital ship point defense while en route. The Tau, added in a later supplement, are especially good at these.
  • Madness Mantra: The Chaos warship Killfrenzy, so named because it continually broadcasts an endless loop of "KILLFRENZY KILLFRENZY KILLFRENZY" on all channels.
  • Molotov Truck: Fire ships are decommissioned vessels filled with unstable plasma and explosives that are used as desperate measure when a world comes under attack. These ships can be purchased alongside other forms of planetary defences that can be detonated to cause serious damage to enemy ships.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: All over the place among the various fleets. Especially Chaos fleet.
    • Imperial Navy: Ship classes Apocalypse, Armageddon, Tyrant, Dominator, and Dictator, and individual ship names like Bloodhawk, Flame of Purity, and Incendrius.
    • Chaos Fleet loves these, given their Card-Carrying Villain nature:
      • Classes: Despoiler, Desecrator, Desolator, Repulsive, Executor, Devastation, Murder, Carnage, Slaughter, Inferno, Havoc
      • Individual ships: Merciless Death, Eternity of Pain, Heartless Destroyer, Malignus Maximus, Despicable Ecstasy, Doombringer, Deahskull… The list goes on.
      • Even their small crafts are named Doomfire bomber, Swiftdeath fighter, and Dreadclaw assault boat.
    • Dark Eldar are mostly Out of Focus in this game, but they still have Torture-class cruisers.
    • Averted for the Eldar and the Tau, the two "nicer" races, who give more coventional names to their ships, and the Tyranids, who don't need names for their bio-ships at all.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The Eye of Terror, through which Abaddon and the Chaos fleets attack the Materium; rules for a number of other "celestial phenomena" are featured, few of them pleasant.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Demiurg often act as mercenary forces for other races, especially those under threat from Ork raids. To represent this, in-game, any fleet, except Orks, Tyranids and Necrons, are able to hire Demiurg cruisers as mercenaries. Due to their lack of investment in the battle however, these mercenary ships will attempt to disengage from combat should they suffer too much damage.
  • Ramming Always Works: Many Imperial and all Ork vessels have heavily armoured prows, designed with intimately connecting with other warships in mind. The Ork "Brute" ram ship is designed specifically for ramming, consisting of a gigantic armoured prow, a powerful engine and minimal weaponry, they are perhaps the least subtle device in the entire 40k universe.
  • Ram Scoop: Demiurg capital ships are equipped with electromagnetic force fields around their prows designed to scoop up interstellar hydrogen that is then used to power their engines. This effect can also be reversed to produce a powerful, if short ranged, cutting beam that the Demiurg use for mining operations, as well as to cut up enemy ships.
  • Reactionless Drives: Necron ships have them and they are unique to the faction. Higher-tier Necron ships, much like their Monoliths in the ground game, have no 'front' 'back' or 'side' and can fire all facing guns while moving backwards from the foe, something no other faction in the game can do.
  • Running the Blockade: 'Blockade Run' is one of the Raidnote  scenarios available to play in the core rulebook. The scenario sees one player try to break through a larger blockading fleet, gaining victory points for each of their ships that they manage to move off the blockading player's table edge.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Very carefully averted. The actual models are completely out of scale with the rest of the game, distances being measured being from the centre of the ships' bases so that you can have nice looking miniatures without also requiring a spare country to play the game in. Base-contact in the game is "close range", generally of the order of tens of thousands of kilometres. This is also the reason you need a command check to ram another ship — the captain not only has to order a potentially suicidal course of action and make it stick with the crew, he also has to hit a target equivalent to headbutting a pinhead from a mile away...
  • Schizo Tech: Imperial ships use warp cores of impossibly old, forgotten technology from before the founding of the Imperium more than 10,000 years ago. Maybe that's why they prefer to use teams of hundreds of slave laborers for simple things like loading a main battery gun. An Imperial ship's engineering spaces form a hermetic society of Adeptus Mechanicus Enginseers, and its navigation is handled by a spire which the genetically mutated navigator never leaves. But its crew also includes tens of thousands of menial laborers, whose only occupation in life is to haul on chains to load macro-cannons or torpedo rounds.
  • Shout-Out
    War is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength
  • Sleeper Ship: The Dhows utilised by the Tau Empire’s Nicassar subjects are primarily sleeper ships, each containing a hibernating extended family of the semi-nomadic Nicassar as they slowly travel across the gulfs of interstellar space.
  • Solar Sail: Eldar Craftworld and Corsair starships are propelled by large solar sails. In game this is represented by Eldar ships having three movement speeds representing whether they are moving towards, away from or parallel to the sun, meaning that they have to tack like a sailing ship in order to get the best speed across the battlefield.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Taken to unbelievable levels. Some series call spaceships "boats", BFG has masts, sails and space shanties. That said, the physics of space are at least acknowledged. Mostly.
  • Space Pirates: Orks and some Eldar, there are rules for the other factions to field a piratey force, excepting Space Marines.
  • Space Sailing: Eldar ships, who fill their sails with solar winds. This means they need to adjust their movement based on their position respective to the system's sun, and can tack in space.
  • Space Station:
    • The game includes rules for numerous types of space stations that can be purchased for various scenarios, from the basic orbital defence stations available to every faction, the massive Ramilies Star Forts and fleet specific stations such as Tau Orbitals.
    • The Blackstone Fortresses are the most iconic space stations in the game with the entire narrative story of the original release ultimately revolving around them. Powerful xenos artefacts of mysterious origin, the Fortresses were converted into powerful centres of power for the Imperial Fleet until Abaddon unlocked their secrets and active their powerful, star killing weaponry. Rules for both Imperial and Chaos controlled Blackstone Fortresses were included in the original game, with additional rules for their most powerful weaponry released in later supplements.
  • Spiritual Successor: Battlefleet Gothic was an updated follow-up to the short lived 1991 Gaiden Game Space Fleet with the original development name for the game even being Space Fleet Gothic.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: As a general rule, all ships fit into five categories: Escort, Light Cruiser, Cruiser, Battlecruiser, and Battleship. Chaos had the sole Grand Cruiser until expansions happened. Some fleets are weighted towards the light or heavy end, and the Space Marines notably only have Strike Cruisers (basically a light cruiser) and Battle Barges (basically a battleship), but almost all ships fit the standard.
  • Supernatural Fear Inducer: Some Tyranid hive ships emit a constant psychic reverberation that can induce a state of sheer terror in the minds of the crew of ships that approach too close. The Psychic Scream Evolutionnote  reduces the Leadership of nearby enemy vessels.
  • Tractor Beam: The Ork Fleets Grunt Assault Ship is a more sophisticated version of the Brute Ram Ship that incorporates a massive traktor field reactor that not only increase the damage done when it rams into an enemy but also allows it to stick to the enemy vessel so that the mobs of Ork Boyz it carries can perform a more effective boarding action. On the downside, the poorly distributed mass of the ship considerably reduces its manoeuvrability.
  • Turn-Based Strategy: Players take turns moving, shooting, and doing other things to try and make their fleet come out on top.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: Even with a crew of 100,000 and cavernous machinery spaces, it's hard to come up with ideas that fill the volume of a cruiser that's four miles long and a kilometer wide. On an Imperial cruiser, the fuel tank alone is the size of 50 Nimitz class aircraft carriers. Entire societies of troglodytes and alien parasites live in the forgotten bilges of Battlefleet Gothic capital ships.
  • Units Not to Scale: And then some! Specifically, the rulebook flat-out admits that the models are not to scale with the game environment (or necessarily with each other), but that they're designed in such a way that you can build and paint them to look pretty. Actual distances are measured from the "stem" which holds the actual model to its base, representing the much smaller area of space the ship actually occupies. Ships in base-to-base contact are "close" (i.e., a few thousand kilometers apart) while the shortest-range of weapons, 30 centimeters, may be capable of firing across millions of kilometers of space.
  • Wave-Motion Gun:
    • The Armageddon Gun mounted on Abaddon's flagship, the Planet Killer, is one of the most powerful weapons in the game capable of destroying anything and everything in its line of fire.
    • The Warp Cannons of the activated Blackstone Fortresses unleash a beam of pure Immaterium, bypassing a ship's shields and tearing apart anything it hits. When multiple Warp Cannons combine their fire they are even capable of destroying stars.
  • We Will Use Manual Labour in the Future: On Imperial ships, the enormous shells are loaded into the cannons by crowds of press-ganged sailors.
  • Weapon Running Time: Torpedoes move a set distance (usually 30cm) every turn, which means that at long ranges they're more useful for limiting enemy movements than actually attacking.
  • You Have Failed Me: Abaddon the Despoiler's "You have failed me for the last time..." special rule means that if a vessels from his fleet fails a Command check while using his re-roll, Abaddon's ship will fire on the offending ship or squadron with at least half its weaponry. Should Abaddon's own ship fail a test despite his re-roll, it will take a point of Damage as his retinue slaughter a portion of the crew.