The Cities of Death expansion is a book from back around 4th edition of Warhammer 40K (just before the release of 5th ed.) introducing the rules for playing battles in packed urban environments. The rules have changed a decent amount since then, and many of the rules for covering terrain, ruins, rubble, tank traps, and occupying buildings can be found in the regular rules book in 7th edition. However, you can still add in a lot of variety and spice into your games by taking a look through this old supplement, which you should be able to find second hand for relatively cheap. I have found that Cities of Death is a cool thing to play with and create campaigns or novelty games for yourself. If you're interested in either narrative play where two forces are fighting over a ruined city, or simply want to make a change in the monotony of the standard missions from the rulebook every once in a while, Cities of Death could be a great way to explore those options. In this article I'll be taking a look at the contents of the book and making a case for why you might want to give it a try for yourself. Even if you aren't interested in the campaign building and storytelling parts of the gaming experience, there are still some really interesting mechanistic aspects to Cities of Death that can provide you with a new angle on your competition.
To begin, you roll off to determine which of the different magnitudes of scale you will fight with, which show how densely packed your city becomes and the size of your gaming area. This changes things like maneuverability, line of sight, etc. and can potentially make things like assault and flamer weapons more useful to provide some variety to your listbuilding. In addition to the regular dangerous terrain and ruins rules in the main rulebook, it also introduces specific rules for "Dangerous City Ruins" which have even more deadly effects and can make things challenging even more situations where dangerous terrain wouldn't normally be an issue. You may actually be interested in fielding fewer vehicles, because the dangerous terrain can be particularly hazardous for them, and can actually destroy vehicles rather than simply immobilizing them. You can also destroy normal ruins, elevating them to this 'super dangerous' status, and even further reduce them to rubble, blocking line of sight and altering the battlefield as play proceeds, increasing your tactical options and providing some level of uncertainty into the game. You will be able to hid units inside of ruins and get the cover save they provide, but your opponent can attempt to bring the building down on their heads, smashing them with falling debris and pinning them in place. In these ways, as well as some others, the rules and setup of the missions can force you to use units you normally wouldn't, and give you a breath of fresh air when you face an opponent with a list built differently than the standard 'netlist' power build for his or her force. The expansion book also has unique deployment rules: units set up in order depending on their force org position (and can be modified by deployment stratagems, which I will cover later). The book contains many strange missions and rules tweaks to mix up your gaming, providing an interesting twist on how you play the games that can break the monotony of the same 6 main rulebook missions. Overall, there will be some places where you may need adjustments to fit with 7th ed rules - only certain unit types count as scoring, for example. It up to you which method you use, so long as you and your opponent can figure things out in a cordial manner beforehand. If you think you can handle that, let's dive into the aspects of Cities of Death that make it so compelling as an alternative method of playing.
One of the features of Cities of Death that I have found to be most interesting are the stratagems. Depending on the size of your battle, you can select between one and three of them, and they come in different categories. These are available to allow for some customization of your force's specialties and provide additional tactical options for your force as they fight within the city. It also helps to create and really cinematic and engaging experience if you're playing from a narrative perspective, as your specialist forces take advantage of their unique skills to optimize their ability to fight within this dense environment.
your preferred playstyle. If you're a relatively defensive player, you can pick up obstacles and fortifying abilities, where a more aggressive player might want ones that allow for offensive ability or maneuverable forces. It all helps you play your way and have a great time doing it, which is really the end goal of any 40K game in general.
The book also comes packed with several missions, some of which are the 'standard' set, and others that fall into the "Special Missions", which provide additional details, a deeper narrative experience, and unusual gaming challenges and situations. There are 11 missions in all, 5 standard and 6 special, which you can choose to use and provide new styles of play if you would rather not use general missions. Of course, you're always able to play general rulebook missions using city fighting rules and stratagems, so you can really tailor the experience to your gaming group's preferences. That being said, if you choose to use the maelstrom missions from 7th edition in conjunction with the Cities of Death rules, you can have a ridiculously entertaining game as it forces you to move around the board in terrain setup and rules where it is difficult and dangerous to do so. The book also has two pages on how to design your own missions, so you can quite literally do anything with this expansion book that you see fit, and the only limitations are your imagination and your opponents' cooperation and consent.
The first standard mission, Firesweep, involves planting flags on captured buildings, and both players traverse the map attempting to capture buildings while taking away from the others. The mission High Ground is essentially king of the hill, where the first building placed on the table is the important one and both players fight to be the sole force occupying the building at the conclusion of the game. The Domination mission involves attempting to clear out the enemy units from ruins and hold them against counter attacks. This differs from the first mission in that you must maintain a troop presence in your dominated buildings, rather than simply planting a flag and moving on. Mission 4, Maximum Attrition, has both armies seeking total annihilation of their opponent's forces, gaining victory points per enemy unit destroyed. The fifth mission is called Urban Assault, in which you attempt to get into your opponent's deployment zone and capture their defended building or ruin.
The special missions are different in that you likely need to build your list a little different to suit the role you will be filling as either the attacker or the defender, rather than the normal pitched battle style seen in the standard missions. The first is The Gauntlet, in which the attackers must attempt to break through the defender's forces and escape the table. The Total Devastation mission in which the attacker must destroy as many buildings as they can, while the defender can better fortify them. In Relief Force, the attacker must secure a single building by the end of the game. In Grand Assault, the attacker must place flags on all of the buildings in the defender's deployment zone. The Thunder Run mission involves battling along a road that run the length of the map, and the Assassination mission uses a special optional Force Org Chart, and the attacker attempts to destroy the defender's HQ unit before the game ends.
Fluff and Aesthetic
Cities of death is a great expansion that details some new scenarios and unique ways to play them.
They really don't change the way 40k plays. It does reward certain builds and penalizes others, and you may find it's easier to capture buildings with smaller squads rather than larger ones and that you will want to make sure your vehicles have some way of re-rolling dangerous terrain tests because they have to take a lot of them on Cities of Death maps (if you're brave enough to take vehicles at all!). Ultimately the game boils down to lots of fun fighting in highly dense terrain, utilizing lots of infantry with emphasis on close range firefights and melee abilities. The book also allows for you to really add another element to any campaigns you are playing by featuring battles within a city that require different tactics and strategies, and can make for quite a memorable experience. Even if you don't intend to use it to play games, it's a great book simply for the visuals and cool ideas alone, and I strongly recommend it.
Have you played with Cities of Death? Are you interested in giving it a try? Let us know below in the comments!