Apocalypse: Right on Time

I’ve been toying around with the idea of time management with Apocalypse games for some time, ever since the first Apocalypse event I attended locally, wherein they set an arbitrary time limit on phases (I believe of 20 minutes).  It seemed pretty obvious that imposed time limits helped provide structure to a pretty chaotic environment, and helped keep things progressing throughout the day.  The sticking point is that players seemed to lack a sense of urgency, which resulted in a great game lasting a measley 3-4 turns.  Without committing to a multi-day affair, it’s nigh impossible to get a full game in.

So, I looked at how I could speed this up (a common problem I’ve been trying to address for some time).  Timed phases are a good first step, but they are limiting to certain armies.  For instance, assault based armies often have little to nothing to do in the shooting phase, but can easily consume 20 minutes (or more) in the assault phase–especially due to the interaction with other players.  

How do you balance the time spent between the phases then?  A simple answer would to be stop timing phases, and just time turns.  Instead of 20 minute phases, just allow each team a total of 60 minutes per turn and allow them to manage how they spend their time.  It’s a simple, and eloquent solution, that I think could work. 

But let’s take that one step farther:  if we can trust each team to handle the time management for each of their turns, why not just allow them to do it for an entire game?  So, instead of giving them blocks of time for phases, or turns, just give them one big block of time, and allow them to manage it all.    The idea intrigued me from day one, and luckily there’s already been a solution designed that will do just that.

The Chess Clock.

It’s called a clock, but in all actuality, it’s two clocks built into one, each tied to a button.  When you depress the button for one clock, it stops ticking, and the other begins (And vice versa).    Why bother reinventing the wheel, when this device will do exactly what we need.  It should be noted that there are various settings for such clocks, and what I’ve described above is only the most basic option.

The guys over at The Wraith Gate had a post on using a clock like this (only for timing tournaments–not Apocalypse games), using a Fischer methodology (wherein a fixed amount of time is added after each turn).  So, it’s obvious that there are other practical uses for the device in our games. 

If you’re interested in learning more about chess clocks, check out this wikipedia post on the subject.  My experience is limited (I’ve now officially used it for one game), but I do think it added to the experience.   If you’re looking to buy one, here are some things I advise looking for:

  • Relibility – Obviously, make sure that the clock itself is going to keep accurate time.  I wouldn’t know how to do much research on this, and frankly, I would assume that anything I’d purchased would do a relatively good job at it’s basic function, so reliability is more of a concern of reputability.  Since I don’t know anything about chess clocks, I’d focus more on the reputability of the seller.  Purchasing from Amazon, or another known quantity is a good idea.  Alternately, purchasing from an ebay seller with a high rating is likely a low-risk option as well (for the record, that’s what I did).
  • Durability – Cheap plastic stuff from China tends to fall apart over time.  Depending upon how “inspired” your players are, they might wind up smacking the timers fairly hard, which will lead to the clock breaking down.  I’m sure some of the nicer clocks account for this level of abuse.
  • Configurability – For starters, just make sure the clock allows for the duration you want to play.  This may be unnecsesary, as chess clocks might all be configurable for up to 24 hours–I just don’t know.  I did know that I wanted to play 8 hour games, so I checked with the vendor to confirm my model would work for that.  Also, it would be good to ensure that any timing features you intend to use are available on that model (for instance, can it do a Fischer sequence?)

The one I purchased can be found on ebay from this vendor (it’s the same one as pictured in this post).  It does a decent job, but I can’t say how well it will hold up over time, since it’s only seen a single game so far–but then again, we only play about three games per year…  Perhaps someone who’s more familiar with chess/game clocks can help shed some light on which brand(s) are best? 

For proposed rules, I’ll put my suggestions below:

  • Unlike previous games, individual phases and turns will not be timed.  Instead, each team will be allotted 3.5 hours with which to play all of their turns.  Time will be tracked using a digital chess clock.  When all time has been used for a team, the other team is allowed to play out their turns in succession until their time runs out. 
  • In order to determine when the team is finished with it’s moves, it’s recommended that each team choose a captain to determine when the turn ends.  In this event, only the team captain should touch the time clock.
  • To conserve time, units may forgo non-compulsory movement or shooting, but assaults may not be skipped.   Opponents, please do not game the system in an attempt to delay the other team during their assault phase.  We’re all adults, please respect their assaults as you would have them do yours.
  • To prevent abuse, the game will end after seven turns, regardless of whether either team still has time on the clock.  This is in an attempt to prevent players from squatting objectives for infinite turns and winning the game that way.

If you’re interested in how it worked out in a game, see our last battle-rep for our Apoc Vacillite Campaign here.  It was greatly received by everyone involved.  I dare say, of all of the tweaks I’ve thrown into the game, this is the single one that seemed to be unanimously considered to be a great improvement.  In short, I highly recommend you implementing on of your own.


6 comments on “Apocalypse: Right on Time

  1. I like the idea of using a timer – it sounds like it might be fun, despite the potential to remove some of the ‘chilling out with friends’ factor.

    What I’d like to know is whether you can stop BOTH clocks at once.   So, can you have a lunch break for example where the game pauses for everyone and then you go back to the table to resume fighting?

    • Yup, someone else asked that question during the game. There is a pause feature on it to stop both clocks. I debated using that, but ultimately decided to let people break when and how they wanted. I guess that plan could ultimately be abused if you’re trying to do your assault phase and no opponents are there to roll armor saves, etc., but we were amongst friends, so that wasn’t an issue.

      Heck, a clock isn’t strictly necessary for that matter (and in the end, it wound up being a bit of a wash for time management. Each team actually had about the same amount of time left on their clocks in the end), but it was an interesting take on things that helped the game keep progressing.

      Otherwise, in my experience, Apoc games seem to drone on with no real purpose, and if you’ve set a hard time to expire the game, you barely get all your reserves on before you have to call it.

      • I’ve never played an Apoc game, but I can certainly see the merit in using a chess clock.   I’ve played 24 hour games before (a long time ago now, sadly) and they’ve been big enough that people can drift in and out to get food etc, but I’d like to know that I could pause the game for a lunch break.   Especially useful to avoid people getting cumbs and greasy fingers on my models!

        Have you seen Mantic’s ‘Kings of War’ WFB-type game?   It’s been specifically designed to allow you to use a chess clock (your opponent rolls zero dice during your turn, so there’s no chance of anyone slowing you down).   Not that I think people timewasting is going to be a problem in a friendly Apoc game, but I’m interested to see how these timed games go.

      • An apoc game shouldn’t differ much from just a massive 40k game, though I don’t recall having any massive games since the days of 2nd edition (which was pre-Force Org Charts so it wasn’t hard to arbitrarily choose a high point limit and adhere to army composition rules). I assume in current games to kick the scale up significantly, you’d just let people expand to multiple FoCs then?

        With that in mind, there really isn’t much difference between large games and Apoc, with the exceptions being superheavies and strategic assets. Really though, aside from STR-D weapons, superheavies seem to be inferior to their lesser counterparts in a point-per-point comparison, so then you’re just talking assets… some of which add nice variants to the normal rules, and some of which are pretty broken.

        I guess there is also the fact that people like to abuse squad sizes in Apoc too. I mean, why field my 18 sentinels as 6 squads of three when I can split them all up independently to split fire and waste overkill shots?
        On the topic of Kings of War–I’ve looked at it (but solely for the models). I don’t really expand my table-top gaming into different arenas, as I figure I’ve far too many resources committed to 40k to even think of looking elsewhere. But the zombies from mantic do seem like they’d make reasonable plague zombies for my chaos forces.

        Have I mentioned that I have an addition?…

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