So this was it, the first step into the unknown, the book for my new army of choice – The Empire. As Phil and I discussed the project it seemed only natural to continue the exploits of my much-loved Mordheim Captain and his followers into the wider Old World. But as we talked about the narrative we realised that despite Bomberg’s Bombardiers success amongst the ruins of Mordheim, it would make a far more interesting story of how he ended up the drunken, washed up, treasure hunter. So A Tale of Two Armies is basically a prequel to the campaign that The Chaps and I have been playing all this time. The up shot will be some more narrative focussed stuff for the campaign which we’ll be posting on The Shell Case towards the end of the year, into next as AToTA draws to a close.
Now obviously this review is somewhat outdated in terms of its timing versus the books release date and a lot of what is written here as already been said, so I’ll try to not linger too long on the obvious points. It’s also worth mentioning that these opinions are based on a comparison between the previous army book and the new one, with as much consideration given to the 8th edition rules as possible without actually having played the army in its new state.
The Empire army book is in the standard hardback format, all very well presented and good production quality. The colour artwork is beautiful, as are the page headers and frame details. Although I will point out that some of the very best pieces of artwork from the previous book have not returned. This seems to be simply because they weren’t colour, and inferior pieces have been included because someone bothered to colour them in. This is a shame as I’m a big fan of the black and white inks, and thought they conveyed the mood of certain scenes better than if they were coloured.
The background is largely unchanged and I didn’t find out anything much I didn’t already know with a lot of passages either only slightly rewritten or lifted directly from the previous book. I was slightly miffed at this as I expected a bit more considering the price. The new look map is a riot of colour and visually stunning. In fact a few more detailing specific areas or the Old World’s position in the wider world instead of the tiny corner image provided would have been welcome. The timeline and magic orders/magic wheel have been tidied up and set into some great looking layouts – the colour graphics bring the pages to life. Overall it’s a great looking book from start to finish.
Having a quick glance at the model galleries my eyes were first drawn to the new kits which I had seen in White Dwarf. Generally they’re pretty good models. The Demigryph Knights look fab, the Luminark/Hurricanum although different and likely to divide opinion, reinforces the magical yet mechanical theme ever-present in The Empire (I really like the Blue one). The Large Griffon with General was an obvious release with ‘Monster Hammer’ in full swing at the moment, but the Witch Hunter was a little expected and is way cool. I was extremely disappointed the old Empire Knights kit is still kicking around, they are really showing their age and it doesn’t even look like they painted up a fresh set for the new army book – they look absolutely awful. But seeing as they’re in the battalion box I guess Games Workshop thought it could get away with it for the time being.
I couldn’t resist flicking to the rules section of The Empire book to see what they could all do. Demigryph Knights? Yes please. Magical chariot things? Seem pretty good for the points. Big ol’ Griffin? Now even bigger, thank you very much. Witch Hunter? Oh yes. The Demigryph Knights are a truly hard-hitting unit giving the army some sorely needed bite (or peck) in attack while the Magic Wagons have some handy radius effects to buff your units to go with their bound spells which have potential – either lobbing meteors at your face or firing solar-powered lasers. I immediately thought about taking both in my forthcoming army. [Oh goody… – Ed.]
Now usually I’m a Warriors of Chaos player (Slannesh if you want to know. Because I’m a pervert if you must know), and my opponents used to include a number of Empire players so I developed a healthy black powder aversion and know all the things to look out for in The Empire book when you’re of the armoured persuasion– which is most of it. And seeing as my main opponent is going to be using an all Khorne force I kept all these lessons in mind and flicked eagerly to the war machines to see what manner of nastiness I now had access to. To my horror the once proud ranks of the Imperial artillery has been whittled down mostly to an occasional option rather than an army staple.
Almost of all it has gone up in points and some pieces have also had their rules changed for the worse. Now I know rule changes in 8th edition have meant some reining in has been necessary, specifically relating to the way templates work and the removal of guess range, but did a Mortar really need to be reduced to Strength 2 and then have its points increased by 33%? I detected the beginnings of a more sinister motive at work here. On to core. Everything except Spearmen and Archers have gone up in points and the Knights got a single, solitary, point reduction. I tried to think of a reason why a swordsman deserved to go up in points when it had got worse with -1 Initiative (now one of the most important stats in 8th edition). My fears were now terrors.
Special choices are a mixed bag. We know Demigryphs are awesome, Greatswords have gone up for no reason but still represent a solid block of choppy death. The addition of stubborn knights in the Reiksguard has potential but Flagellants have suffered with their table of crazy person skills not being quite what it was. On the surface the Rare choices didn’t look too bad. There was the addition of the magical chariots which looked good value and the Steam Tank has been reduced by a substantial 50 points, while the Helstorm had gotten both worse and slightly more expensive.
I focused on the changes made to two of the scariest units for a Chaos player to face in the form of the Helblaster and Steam Tank. As I guessed, the 50 point reduction for the Steam Tank had come at a price – it is now more unreliable to use and the steam turret no longer ignores armour saves. By having to roll the artillery dice straight away when you use it and the number of Steam points you generated being used to affect any misfire means you are now unable to adjust how many Steam points you want to generate to prevent it from misfiring. It’s a subtle change but a significant one, meaning they’re unlikely to survive the game if you’re generating more than 3 points a turn and unlikely to do as much as they used to once suffering a single wound – if you don’t want it to explode. Conversely, the Helblaster has been made more reliable – the first misfire rolled now only halves the remaining shots with a second misfire resulting in a roll on the misfire table (and the third is kaboom for everybody involved). Again, a subtle change but one that now means the Helblaster has lost some of its destructive potential while being less likely to explode. I scratched my head briefly as to which direction the author was trying for to end up taking these two units in opposite directions, but it soon became apparent.
Now, I have it on good authority that the author, Robin Cruddace, is a Chaos player (he wrote that book too if you couldn’t tell). I also have knowledge that the army he liked playing against the least, owing to a number of plates of his own arse being served to him, was The Empire. I mentioned before I detected a sinister undertone during my analysis of the army list and it seems to have been realised – Robin Cruddace has taken the opportunity to dick on the army he had the most trouble beating. I know this sound’s somewhat reactionary and a little whiny, but remember I’m a Chaos player normally and with that hat on I had a grin across my face when reading this book. Almost every unit that you would choose for its effectiveness on Toughness 4, high armour save troops has been made worse or more expensive: Hand gunners and Crossbows? Check. Halberdiers? Check. Artillery? Check. Steam Tank? Check. Greatswords? Check. It goes on and on.
Now I’m not saying the list is bad. It actually looks like it plays rather well against most opponents, which has always been the Empire’s strength. But at the same time it’s a master work of subterfuge for the forces of Chaos with slight tweaks, switches and distractions throughout all working together to improve the Warriors of Chaos’ chances against its typical nemesis. I only hope Mr. Cruddace goes on to write the next iteration of the Skaven book because if he puts half as much effort into that as he has into the subtleties of this book it should be an absolute stinker.
The Heroes section is strong and you will want all of them – although warrior priests really pay for their point reduction. The new ‘Hold the Line’ rule for Generals/Captains means you should run away less – but you will need it as you’re not going to kill much with your core units. The Runefang has gone down in points – but almost every other item has gone up. The internal balance of the army is atrocious with some units being all but useless (Flagellants and the Helstorm really lose out) but the new units are bargains points wise (the cynics will say to sell more – you decide).
Despite all of this I still really want to do the army. I now feel more like an embattled Captain of the Empire, an underdog against the mighty horrors arrayed before him. Not expected to win, just to give a good account of himself before the end comes. I resent being forced to play a specific way just to win and will always resist it, preferring to have a theme behind everything I do. My concept for the army was always to take as much of the crazy stuff as possible to fit my General’s character and I’m going to still do this. I love The Empire range and am struggling to decide what to take from the vast wealth of options available – which can only be a good thing surely? It’s just that none of that has anything to do with the book’s author which is a shame. Only time will tell if it can stand up to the close combat monsters of Khorne with its shooting adversely affected and core troops a bit thinner on the ground, but I’m wholeheartedly looking forward to the challenge.
As a final note; Games Workshop, please always put at least two people in charge of writing army books/codices – they’ll will balance each other’s biases. Just a thought.
The Empire book is available from Firestorm Games priced £24.75.