If you need a secret kept, you can absolutely trust Rodeo Games with it. Over a year ago we learned that the next game from the makers ofWarhammer Quest would be another Games Workshop property, but aside from that we knew nothing at all. I prodded. I pleaded. Rodeo would divulge nothing. Pocket Tactics spies skulked off into the night to uncover what they could.
“It’s a game about 40K Inquisitors,” reported one. Other reports corroborated this. “It’s about Inquisitors, but it’s based on Cooking Mama,” said another. Eventually, I began to suspect that our spies had been turned. “It’s not a game — it’s an app that turns Siri into an Ork.”
Finally last week, after months of fruitless hypotheses and unworkable theories, Rodeo’s Ben Murch reached out to reveal what the Guildfordians had been working on. “Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion is set in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe, and focuses on the Deathwatch,” Murch tells us. “Our game is set in the Astolat Sector which is under threat of being consumed by Tyranids from Hive Fleet Leviathan. The Deathwatch are tasked with undertaking high risk missions to turn the tide of war and defeat the invaders.”
No Inquisitors. No Cooking Mama. But lots and lots of Space Marines and their most famous foes. “It’s a turn-based strategy game,” says Murch, “with the emphasis on strategy.” Now we’re talking.
Let’s pause a second for the sake of those not steeped in Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K lore: in the far, far future, the galaxy is a neo-gothic fascist hellhole, where the peace (such as it is) is kept by the Emperor’s Space Marines — genetically engineered post-human goliaths in powered armor. Prominent in the Space Marines’ rogues gallery are the parasitic Tyranids, who in the GW board games of the 1980s were a wink-wink nudge-nudge riff on Ridley Scott’s Aliens, but grew into an identity of their own.
In the 40K universe, every Space Marines chapter must provide a few of its finest Marines to the Deathwatch, a sort of special forces unit that specializes in fighting non-human aliens, or xenos in Games Workshop parlance.
There have already been Space Marines-versus-Tyranids games of course — starting with the fondly-remembered 1989 board game Space Hulk, which got a digital adaptation of its own a couple of years ago. But it’s the Deathwatch (and its intrinsic diversity) that frees Rodeo’s game from previous turn-based Tyranid-fighting games.
“The gameplay difference [between Deathwatch and] Space Hulk is huge,” says Murch. “More versatility in your team composition, weapons and wargear, means huge tactical flexibility and pace of play. You can take a whole load of Space Wolf Assault dudes into a mission, tool them up with shields, and fling them at the enemy! Or you could bring along Ultramarine Devastators, lead by the Master of Relics and perforate the enemy from afar. Or you could compose a team of Tactical guys armed solely with gravity guns to literally halt the enemy in their track. Or almost anything in-between and loads more, besides.”
Having a diverse lot of Space Marines is just the start of it. Space Hulk’s cast of Tyranid bad guys was rather same-y — ravenous monsters from space get boring after a while when they offer less variety than a North Korean barbershop.
“They’re a pretty interesting bunch of xenos to turn into the bad guys,” Murch tells us. “Not only is every unit very different (great for gameplay), but they all look hugely different. Obviously not the best from an art schedule point of view, but great for telling who’s who on the battlefield. They also provide a great kicking off point to the Deathwatch story. Our game is set in the Astolat sector. The Tyranids want to devour it. Who knows what ancient evil or foreign technology they may disturb along their way.” By that, I think Murch is suggesting that Games Workshop has given Rodeo a pretty free reign with the setting — Astolat seems like a part of space they’ve invented from scratch, meaning that just about anybody from GW’s vast universe of characters might show up.
Deathwatch is being built in Unreal Engine 4 (” I think we’re one of the first iOS games to be using it”) which Rodeo have used to create a fully-3D gameplay space. Unlike Warhammer Quest and their Hunters series, the camera in Deathwatch freely rotates. Another Rodeo first is online multiplayer. “You can actually take your marines from the game (with all their own wargear), and battle your friends,” Murch says. “Up to 4 players are supported.” There’s also an in-game Codex which acts like a sticker book that tracks unique items and heroes you’ve uncovered in the campaign — there’s over 250 unique weapons and other items in the game, Rodeo says.
I asked Murch how Rodeo had settled on this idea. After the huge success of Warhammer Quest, why not make another Games Workshop board game adaptation?
“It was a bit strange really. We took the idea to GW, but they had already talked about us doing a Deathwatch game. So when we pitched it, they were pretty much straight on-board! As a studio, we wanted to get back into space after our foray into fantasy. Not that we particularly prefer one or the other, it’s just a nice change of pace. I’m sure we’ll head back to a fantasy setting at some point.
“We also wanted to go back to crafting our own game experiences. Warhammer Quest was amazing. Like, seriously, a dream come true. However, there was always this feeling in the studio that we should follow the board game rule set. Not a requirement set upon us by GW or anything, more out of respect for the existing game. By taking an IP and not an existing game, we pretty much had carte blanche when it came to what type of game it could be. The first few months of development were taken up with trying out ideas. Someone would come up with a ruleset, and we’d play it using a tabletop and some miniatures. It was actually a very similar process to how we started the company with our first game Hunters.”
Deathwatch: Tyranid Invasion will be out on iOS “early summer” and I, for one, can’t wait to play it. We’ll do a preview just as soon as we can.
There’s a trailer below with the most unexpectedly sentimental piano music. Perhaps the Tyranids will break down into sobs before they reach the Space Marine skirmish line.