Empire Greatswords – A Review

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Woohoo! I’ve finally got my hands on a box of Greatswords, who are one of the units in the Empire list I am genuinely excited about from both a gaming and hobby perspective. When I first skimmed through the Empire book and started piecing together in my head what I wanted my army to look like, a massed unit of Greatswords standing proud in the centre of my battle line was an image I definitely wanted to see through to completion. They are the elite infantry of man. Clad in Full Plate armour and wielding their hefty swords, they are one of the units in the Empire army that can do some significant damage to the enemy.  A horde of 40 would certainly help them do that but alas, as with everything in the current Empire book, a compromise has to reached as they are not cheap, so a trimmed down 30-35 will be more likely – and affordable [Poor baby. – Ed].

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There has been some debate over whether Greatswords are actually a worthwhile choice as their points cost makes them a very significant investment.  At 11 points each they weigh in at almost double that of the staple Halberdier and it’s been argued that the 100-150 points you save by going with a Halberdier block come in very handy elsewhere in the army – and this of course is an extremely valid argument.  A unit of 5 Outriders, for example, is only 105 points for 15 Handgun shots per turn – on top of those 40 Halberdiers.  Or even another Helblaster perhaps? (cackle)

However, my opinion is that Greatswords offer you one of the best options for dealing with elite troops head on in combat.  I plan on taking quite an infantry heavy army – three large blocks with one of them being the Greatswords, because I think Empire armies look way cool when there are a lot of boots/socks/tights on the ground.  However my opponents plays Khorne for A Tale of Two Armies, which has many units (read all) which fall into the ‘Infantry Blender’ category that can quite easily chop their way through half a horde of state troops a turn.

In the Greatswords I believe the Empire have a unit that can actually stand up to these and then dish some hurt back.  Their Weapon Skill of 4 is only a limited improvement in my situation against the combat superstars of Chaos, but against many other armies it vastly improves their survivability by immediately cutting 25% off the numbers of wounds they would suffer.  When you then add in the Full Plate armour save of 4+ that’s potentially another 50% off the wounds tally, meaning not only do they stick around for twice as long, but they give up less combat resolution in the process making it easier to break your opponent.

When it’s their turn to strike they can really dish out the hurt – even against heavily armoured opponents with the -2 armour save from their Strength 5 attacks.  They are one of the few Empire units you’d probably want to run a bit wider than the minimum of 5 as you do want to make the most of their high strength attacks, and as they’re Stubborn you don’t have to worry about stacking ranks to gain Steadfast.  We know they can wound easily but the only problem is hitting the target, Weapon Skill 4 is good but not great, but this is where the Empire army synergy comes into play.

The Celestial Hurricanum is almost a must have if going for an Infantry heavy army. The +1 to hit bubble is invaluable for actually doing some damage to your opponent rather than just holding him in combat.  With your Greatswords now hitting on 3’s and wounding on 2’s or 3’s they are going to leave a mark.  If you really fancy juicing them up, put a Warrior Priest in there (or better yet, an Arch Lector for Leadership 9 Stubborn) for re-rolling misses straight off the bat and then your choice between re-rolling to wound, for increased damage output, or a 5+ Ward Save to make them even harder to shift.  You’ve now got a unit that even Chaos Warriors would hesitate to engage – start throwing in magic buffs and it’s getting silly. But I’ll again mention the cost, all this doesn’t come cheap and it really has to be part of your strategy to get all your units working together and squeezing the most out of your army.  Your points investment gets you a unit that doesn’t need to hold on for dear life while help comes over the horizon like your state troops will, they can mix it up and even though they may not always win, they will have almost certainly ground your opponent down and held them in combat for a long while – giving you time to prioritize who gets assistance and when.  Just remember to keep you Battle Standard Bearer close by as you wouldn’t want your 400+ point unit running away due to one unlucky dice roll.

As for the models themselves?  They’re – ahem – great. Sorry couldn’t resist.  But seriously, they’re a really nice plastic kit with minimal mould lines and some very desirable components for use on them and elsewhere.  Their design is excellent and lends itself easily to a more lavish paint job with the slashed sleeves just crying out for a colour combination befitting their status.  You get two sets of arms for every soldier letting you choose between straight or wiggly sword blades, a load of extra torsos and multiple head options.  But that’s where the one gripe about this set comes in, with Games Workshop charging over £25 a pop for only ten pairs of legs on bases, the set is actually only missing just that – more legs.  You could make another 2 or 3 out of each box if you had the legs to do it! Buy two boxes of them and if you could find somewhere selling individual components then get hold of some more legs (I did) and your unit size increases a nice chunk. Thankfully our friends at Firestorm Games charge less than Games Workshop so make sure you buy them from them as that shrinks a potential outlay for a large unit of 30 from £76.50 to more like the £45.90 for two boxes plus the cost of obtaining a some extra legs and a torso or two– not too shabby.

It’s going to be a daunting task to paint up 30 or 40 of these guys but the effect on display when they’re done will be well worth it – and hopefully they’ll repay my faith and effort in their performances on the table top.  To arms!

Empire Greatswords are available from Firestorm Games priced £22.95.

Hero Crusade

Having just recently played the thoroughly enjoyable Firefly game, The Chaps caught a bit of board game fever and wanted to organise an evening playing a myriad of our favourite cardboard based entertainment.  A second go on Firefly was welcome and Space Hulk always goes down well, amongst the numerous other potentials.

Now Space Hulk is a game that’s close to my heart and really demonstrates what you can do with a boxed game through the quality of the pieces, variety of the board, and tactical game mechanic. Whenever the game is mentioned I’m reminded of the time I was fortunate enough to get the last copy in London (really) when its release sneaked out so sneakily I almost missed it entirely.

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I was late picking up my copy of White Dwarf that month and was not yet keyed in with social media, so by the time I realised that yes, one of my favourite childhood games had actually been re-released, I was very late to the party.  My local store at the time was the Plaza on Oxford Street and upon walking in the lack of Space Hulk shaped boxes on the shelves worried me – and my fears were confirmed when the staff informed me they had none left and then proceeded to reel through all the other stores they had already called trying to get more.  The only possibility was the Bromley branch (barely even London) which had two left – down to one by the time he managed to get the words ‘reserve it’ out of his mouth.  Lucky me. But even more luckily the store manager was attending a meeting at that store in a few days, so he let me have a box that had already been sold and was awaiting collection in a week and would bring the reserved one back with him.  So I got to walk out of Plaza that day with the last box of Space Hulk to be sold in London grinning like an idiot – super mega lucky me.

All this got me thinking, are Games Workshop missing a vitally important component from their Machine Spirit?  Their special release games have largely been a success (although they over egged it a bit with Dreadfleet), but is there a place for something a bit more permanent?  And focussed?  Board or Boxed games provide a ready-made doorway into their IP’s and their absence seems to be a missed opportunity. There were two (well, three) games that led me up the path of war gaming and I know I won’t be alone when I say their names; Hero Quest and Space Crusade (and to a lesser extent Battle Masters).  These are still two of my most favouritest games to this day, I own them, I play them, I’ll never forget them. For those of you who don’t know, these three games were made in conjunction with MB Games and had a very wide distribution as a result – retailers you would NEVER see Games Workshop products in today.  They even had TV adverts (I know, right?!) such was the benefit of working with a mainstream manufacturer like Milton Bradley.  And it worked, an entire generation of war gamers born out a present they got for their birthday from granddad that he picked up in Argos [I got mine at the tender age of 7 from my parents. -Ed].

We all know the company recently posted far from good financial results and this has been largely attributed to their prices over anything lacking product wise.  From what I’ve heard, they conducted price tests which demonstrated customers (i.e. us) were willing to pay whatever the price (with a pinch of salt) to obtain what they wanted from the company.  You can form your own opinions as to the veracity and ethicality of this information but taking it at face value I would say in principal it’s true – we all know we are paying significant amounts of money for things that don’t have an inherent value to anyone other than ourselves as a community, but we enjoy our hobby and are willing to pay to do so.  Am I not going to buy those Empire State Troops because you only get 10 in a box now?  Of course I am – eventually.  Although the rise of eBay has provided the savvy wargamer with an alternative retailer with which they can obtain their wants cheaper, not to mention the Independents who regularly sell for less than RRP.  Games Workshop has taken steps to limit the impact these have on its sales by cutting the range available to its independents stockists as well reducing their trade discounts, and some would argue that part of the reason for phasing out metal models entirely was to tear the bottom out of the resale market.  I must assume they would have factored in people leaving the hobby as a result of the prices rising, so far above the rate of inflation (at least I would hope so), and is expected anytime prices go up, but one area I think they have seriously underestimated the affect their business strategy is having is at the entry-level – the young ‘uns.

I am personally of the opinion that the hobby has never been harder to get into as a child than now, despite the games having been aligned more to younger gamers than in the past – the myriad of products at very steep prices means the start-up cost has gone way beyond the reach of your average 12-year-old to enjoy fully, even with birthdays and Christmases.  You can learn more complex rules with practice, but you can’t magic money into your pockets.  I don’t have any numbers to back this up but I can’t imagine the new starter uptake could be improving given the current economic climate combined with the premium pricing of products, and their financial results seem to agree. I did notice Games Workshop were cunning in their approach and closed a number of stores in order to open others in the more affluent areas (of London) no doubt as part of their strategy to raise prices whilst maintaining the influx of new starters, but you can’t say that it worked, at least not on a company-wide basis. Maybe because even though kids with little knowledge on the value of money may be willing to pay whatever the cost, perhaps their parents weren’t? Or maybe that new Xbox or Playstation game which is cheaper than a box of centurions is just too tempting – and better value?

I know times change, businesses progress, tastes differ, the world moves on.  GW no doubt had its reasons for not continuing with this particular approach but is it time to re-evaluate this view?  I don’t see their prices coming down any time, like ever, maybe freezing for a while at best, so a moderately priced all in one game could eventually (we’re talking long-term) provide the sorely needed influx of new blood the company needs to brighten its future.  Cast your net far and wide, as the saying goes, and you will catch many…er… children?

There’s rumours abound as to what the next special release will be, if there still is one, Bloodbowl perhaps?  Regardless, I will most likely buy it as these are the games I grew up with and still enjoy. The seed was planted long ago and has taken route so deep it can never be fully torn out.  But I fear I’m in a dwindling group with the fewer young gamers coming through having no experience of these games and sharing a lesser bond with the hobby for it. Older gamers will understand even more than I having seen the birth of the company and the changes it’s gone through.  Specialist Games have gone the way of the Dodo that’s yet another way uptake has been eroded by the company’s need for profit.  But all is not lost, things break and can be fixed (anyone who’s bought Games Workshop’s glue can attest to that), it’s just whether those who make the decisions can make the right ones this time.

Empire Celestial Hurricanum – A Review

TaleOfTwoArmies copyPhil just had to get one more review in before Christmas and it fell to old muggins here to get the job done. So sit back with your coco/brandy/hot toddy/hot piece of ass and enjoy.

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After I had finished reviewing the Empire army book one of the units I came away thinking would be fairly key to the performance of any future army of mine were the magical chariots of doom, aka the Celestial Hurricanum and Luminark of Hysh.  They each offer a great unit buff to your army with a very handy 12” bubble, added bonus to dice to your magic phase and also possess a bound spell to complete a trifecta of goodness.

I was certain I was going to include one of them in my army, and maybe both in a 3,000 point list [Beardy fucker. -Ed.] if I could stretch the points far enough – which in the end they didn’t (as anyone who’s written a list for the current Empire army will know too well).

Having settled on just the one (for now) I had the task of choosing between them, which actually turned out to be easier than I thought. When I scored the two’s abilities the Hurricanum came up trumps quite convincingly, although it must be said the Luminark is still a very viable option.  The Hurricanum wins on the bubble effect with the +1 to hit being very useful in adding some sorely needed combat effectiveness to the very lowly rank and file, whereas the Luminark’s 6+ ward save, although desirable, wasn’t going to stop them dying in their droves.  Likewise the bonus dice in the magic phase, an extra power dice being infinitely more desirable for me (given my Khorne playing opponent) than the extra dispel dice.

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The bound spell is where it was a bit harder to choose between them. The Luminark casts Solheim’s Bolt of Illumination which is a very dangerous Strength 8 bolt thrower with flaming attacks that causes D3 wounds and no armour saves (yikes!), which is perfect for disposing of all the scary monsters and monstrous cavalry running around.  In comparison the Hurricanum is a little more subtle with its Storm of Shemtek, which scatters a small template that causes a random weather affect – most results cause hits at varying strengths with other minor side effects, and the most interesting being the tornado that rotates the target’s facing. One small gripe is that the ‘Sudden Downpour’ result causes no additional effects on the target – I thought an effect on black powder weapons would have been suitable here, friend or foe, as it’s just logical.  For sheer destructive power I’d say the Luminark is superior, but at the same time it’s that obvious damage which means you’re unlikely to ever get the spell off as your opponent will almost always keep a dice or two back to dispel it.  You can of course use this to try to get other spells off but the less obvious nature of the Storm of Shemtek means most opponents will ignore it which then could potentially result in a game winning result with the afore-mentioned tornado.

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Games Workshop seems to like making its new kits very appealing when they’re first released, no doubt in order to boost sales, and these are no exception as they are both a steal for the points.  Like I said earlier, if I could, I would take both but points be scarce least so instead I must choose. Even though the Hurricanum is the better of the two, the Luminark no doubt has its many uses and that mega laser beam of death just does not keep quiet – it constantly whispers its power to you like the oversized assembly of rings it is. As such, I’ve been looking into the possibility of assembling it so that you can flip between the two – you can easily switch out the contraption mounted on the top as each has its own dedicated parts, and then as long as you build the platform to the rear it won’t obstruct anything on top.  This is no big deal as I think any wizard operating the Hurricanum would actually be staring up at it at the back rather than just ignoring it as he rides up front so this doesn’t spoil the aesthetic.  The peripheral telescopes and what nots can go anywhere as can the scribes who crew it, the only real obstacle is the paint job.  Something a bit more neutral will be needed with more definition being possible on the contraptions themselves but it is possible.  I think I might actually give it a go, if it doesn’t look right I’ll just settle on the most appropriate and look to getting another at some stage.

As a bonus you also get an extra wizard included in the box, which is nice.  Either a Light or Celestial wizard of course which gives you the possibility of mounting your Wizard Lords onto their respective magical chariot.  Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think this is a bad idea though as it offers no additional protection and presents your most powerful individual model as a huge shiny bull’s eye. Eggs and baskets basically, but no bother as a bonus wizard on foot is better than kick in the baubles [Nice Christmas reference. -Ed].

Overall I think this is a great kit, I know not everyone was a fan of the design but I think it’s the right kind of crazy for the Empire.  The sheer size and ambition of the Hurricanum again being the better of the two.  The frames are packed full of cool little bits and pieces which will find their way onto your other models and guess what? You get new horses! Yay! If you also consider the bonus wizard that’s included, that has actual value, half of the Empire Wizards box which retails for up to £18. Once you knock that off the price it’s pretty reasonable.  And we already know rules wise is pretty amazing for the points, so what are you waiting for?

The Hurricanum/Luminark kit is available from Firestorm Games priced £29.25.

A Tale of Two Armies: Genesis of a Hero

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As part of A Tale of Two Armies one of the things we wanted to look at, as part of the wider narrative, was how hero and villain of the piece evolved from our early conversations to the characters they’ll become at the series’ conclusion. I elected to go first as I had the luxury of having much of my character’s back story long ago established.

‘It all started with a game of Mordheim’ I guess is the best way to begin explaining the almost sentient growth of a humble assembly of plastic pieces into a character worthy enough to actually write about.

When The Chaps decided to run a Mordheim Campaign and we were deciding who would do which warband, I plumped for the rich boys of Marienburg figuring the extra gold pieces they had would give me a significant head start to turn them into a dominant force – even if they were a bit lacking in the rules department.  That gold enabled me to tool up my Captain with all the cool toys he could want including a pair of very shiny, and very expensive, Duelling Pistols.  I had the image of a lethal sharpshooter in my mind, wading through combat, picking off enemies one after the other with deadly accurate head shots – none able to get close for fear of ending up face down in the dirt in an expanding pool of their own vital fluids. But it never really happened like that, quite the opposite really.

During the campaign von Bomburg wasn’t exactly living up to those expectations I had when gleefully listing his equipment I invested so heavily in. Dice are fickle at best of times but he could almost be guaranteed to roll a ‘1’ when it really mattered.  During the early days of a character’s progression you forgive poor performances knowing that experience will no doubt improve through skills and stat increases. von Bomburg had now accumulated a few of these (through the rest of his warband performing quite well – love those crossbows), most notably an extra point of Ballistic Skill taking him to a very healthy 5 and the Pistolier skill letting him shoot both of his pistols together if needed.  And a suit Gromril armour – very handy indeed. With the firepower at his disposal he should have been kicking asses and taking names, but it just wasn’t happening for him.

The specific game in question has been mentioned before in other posts and relates specifically to Bomburg’s lack of shooting accuracy.  As this game was playing out he was demonstrating his usual ineptitude with all things ballistic only this time he happened to be in the beer garden of the town tavern.  Standing upon a table acting all heroic like, he took careful aim at the horde of enemies rushing towards him and his fellow Marienburgers, and then proceeded to miss both his shots despite hitting on 2’s as if bestowed with eyes that stared at each other. As this stage his sub par performances could go unnoticed no longer and the rest of The Chaps threw their 2 pence/cents/maple leaves worth into the mire of my disappointment. Amongst the usual tit for tat one comment was latched upon which was he must have been enjoying the beer garden a bit too much and thus impaired his vision [That may have been me… – Ed.].  It stuck and so began the effervescent evolution of Ludwig von Bomburg – the wealthy drunkard fallen on hard times. The son of a wealthy family looking for adventure whilst slowly drinking his fortune away. Somewhere between Paul Whitehouse’s 13th Duke of Wybourne and Rowley Birkin QC (for those of you that watch The Fast Show) – he no doubt possessed the sleazy suaveness of the former but was far more inebriated like the latter.

As the campaign continued, von Bomburg’s performance did improve under the avalanche of additional skills he acquired but he was always below what was expected – the others feared his potential, but never surprised by his failure.  As Bomburg’s ability had improved somewhat during the campaign it seemed natural that he would once have been a formidable foe – the kind of which I wanted at the start, but impact of life’s vices had dulled his skills. The constant state of combat he endures in Mordheim being enough to reawaken some of the potential he lost to the drink, drugs and women.

Another of von Bomburg’s traits were brought to light when he seized on an opportunity to take down Ian’s Vampire who had got a little isolated – von Bomburg stepped forward pistols in hand and proceeded to miss with both shots. von Bomburg and Ian’s Vampire have a little history as way back in the first games of the campaign von Bomburg critically wounded him which resulted in him losing his hand. With us being the fun guys we are, we decided to let Ian graft the crossbow pistol he possessed permanently onto the stump to mitigate such a severe blow so early in the campaign and add a bit of character to proceedings.  This had not been forgotten and so the tables now reversed as Ian managed to distract von Bomburg’s guards and charge him with said Vampire in retaliation. Bomburg was easily out matched but through a healthy dose of luck he managed to survive several rounds of combat and long enough for Ian to fail his route test as my Marienburgers dispatched his minions – sparing Bomburg his doom.  The outcome highlighted that he’s really really lucky when it comes to staying alive. There’s the time he got brained by the handgun only for me to remember his Lucky Charm at the very last second prior to removing the model, or the time he side stepped that Strength 5 lightning bolt.  He rarely dies and always seems to have a way out a sticky situation – often thanks to his long-suffering bodyguard, Viktor holding the enemy up long enough for him make his escape.

By this time I had themed all of the Marienburg warband around what would have been members of his household guard; Viktor was the head of the Household Guard with the Halberdiers being members, one of the Young bloods was his disturbed cousin etc. but Viktor with his role as bodyguard stood out as a key figure in Bomburg’s development – constantly being the difference between him living and dying.  We started to fill out why Viktor accompanied von Bomburg and why Bomburg was even in Mordheim in the first place, a fall from grace seemed to fit the bill and tied in with his truly outrageous drinking, overall poor performance punctuated with flourishes of mad skills.

As Phil and I started to make our foray into the wider Old World in the ‘A Tale of Two Armies’ series it was a no-brainer to expand the Marienburg warband into a fully fledged army of the Empire, but that would then need an explanation as to where any such army he would have been part of had gone and then led to him coming to the cursed city. Part of this story has been told in the articles Phil has been writing and without wishing to spoil anything I can only say so much – the short of it being he loses much and leads his final few followers into Mordheim as a final gambit.

Bomburg has come a long way from the original model I created for my captain using parts from the old Mordheim box.  After the Pub Garden incident I remodelled him to have a wine glass in hand and moved the second pistol to his belt to better represent his character.  He’s tremendous fun to play and almost takes the decision-making out of my hands with his personality deciding what he should do. I’m now getting just as much enjoyment bringing his supporting cast up to a similar level with the dour Viktor and perverted relative having already been mentioned and accumulating their own anecdotes.

Playing games in A Tale of Two Armies allows me to see von Bomburg as a young man, before years of war and booze ruined his mind and as the narrative develops we’ll learn more just what brings von Bomburg to his fate of a tortured existence amidst the ruins of Mordheim.

I’ve also come into possession of a few plastic wine bottles and have designs in mind to add them to the Captain of the Land Ship from Forgeworld and give the young von Bomburg the model he deserves.  It’s an absolutely ace piece and comes with a fantastic looking crew – particularly said Captain.  It would be perfectly fitting as his chariot of choosing, being overly wealthy (at the time) he would no doubt select the biggest and most expensive vehicle he could find.  I can’t wait to send it careening across the battlefield with him loose at the wheel, it’s practically what Warhammer was made for!

Empire Steam Tank – A Review

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAs Phil made the fairly straight forward to decision to get another battalion box to give him his next 500 points (and beyond) I had to do something thinking about what would best to deal with even more blood crazed, heavily armoured hard nuts. The obvious option was more cannons but I decided that nothing with a little bit more manoeuvrability…

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To the whistle of escaping steam and the clank and grind of pistons and gears, the Empire Steam Tank has rolled into my possession.  Excited?  Me? Yup.

When I initially ran the rule over the new incarnation of the Steam Tank I was unconvinced.  A lot had been done to reduce the models effectiveness in-game and even with a significant points reduction it seemed to be a choice of vanity over necessity and potentially a point sink.  However, reading how others used them in their games I realised it was still an immensely useful unit but in a different way – a way very much in keeping with the current Empire list (for better or worse depending on your opinion).

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The biggest grumble had been the reduction of its Toughness from 10 to 6 making it far more vulnerable to damage from higher strength enemies – followed by the Steam Gun no longer ignoring armour saves blunting its teeth considerably.  My main concern was the new steam generation method meant you could misfire even at full wounds. When combined with the lower toughness and thus increased damage being sustained it could be seen as a bit of a liability as there would be a 1 in 3 chance of misfiring after taking just a single wound. Which is a bit shit.

The misfire table could be mitigated somewhat by limiting the amount of steam you produced – but that meant losing yet more effectiveness from the unit. The cannon was better (now just a standard Great Cannon with variable range) and the point cost had gone down by 50 to 250 points, but like I said, I was still unconvinced.

However, the consensus seems to be that regardless of its perceived reduced output, its use as a roadblock to tie up dangerous units was still unrivalled and worth the price of entry alone.  The improved cannon also meant that if all else fails it could still be used as a piece of artillery without the need for a unit to babysit it.  The misfire table, although inconvenient, is more forgiving than its previous version, so although you will misfire more often it will be less severe and you should still be able to do at least something most of the time. The all-conquering all-powerful Steam Tank of old had gone, and in its place was a leaner machine which had to be used more tactically to get the most benefit out of it for the good of your army. Able to hold up, divert and mitigate enemy strong points but not necessarily kill them, it at would at least buy you the time needed for your plan to work.

It all points to the ‘combined arms’ approach that The Cruddace seemed to have been aiming for with rather iffy success. And of course, it’s all still theoretical for me having yet to use it in a game (coming soon), but it has at least convinced me it still has its uses in an army where every point is precious, and I can’t wait it try it out.

The kit itself it wonderfully simple to assemble whilst still being crammed with detail and possessing a refreshing degree of sturdiness. It’s a far, and welcome, cry from the old metal kit which was utter misery to build and required near pro-sculpting skills to plug and smooth all the gaps between components.

There are a few nice choices to make too, like which cannon barrel to choose (I went with the hexagonal one) and what to hang off the tail hook.  You don’t even have to attach the heraldry with it all being separate enabling you to field a stripped down, more aggressive looking vehicle. Which is actually way cool and side steps the recurring grumble that everyone’s models look pretty much the same, despite being a plastic multi-part kit.

The Engineer you get with it is ace and comes with a multitude of options for his head, arms/weapons choice, and if you’re smart you don’t have to permanently glue him in and can use him on foot. There are a few gripes however, firstly the size of the finished kit – I’m sure the old metal version used to be bigger.  Don’t get me wrong, it more than fills it’s base and will stand as tall as any cavalry unit (minus the lances) but it is a tank and I would have thought it’s transition to plastic would mean it could have grown in size rather than shrink.

Secondly, speaking of the old metal kit, does anyone remember the mail order only variants? You had the fighting platform variant, the mortar variant, the battering ram etc. They were great fun and worked well with the Empire’s tendency to tinker and innovate.  Again with the transition to plastic along with GW’s love of giving you model options rather than the actual models themselves, it seems to me to be another missed opportunity to do something a bit special.  Up the price slightly, throw in an extra frame, and you’ve got a kit that can fulfil multiple roles –again in keeping with army character of having a tool for every job.

Overall it is a very good kit – the model really is one of the better ones.  My gripes aside, I’m just a bit too fond of the good ‘ol days, you’ll not be disappointed in its appearance or its performance.  It’s a piece you can really go to town on painting wise and it will take pride of place at the forefront of your army once you’ve finished driving it around the tabletop whilst making funny noises (you know the ones).  Who knows, if all goes well you may even want to take two – much to your opponents dismay.  Good luck and happy grinding.

Sadly the Empire Steam Tank is no longer available from Firestorm Games due to a change in GW’s trade range but there’s plenty to choose from, prices starting at £8.10.

Empire Demigryph Knights – A Review

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The second unit of reinforcements for my 1,000 point list comes in the form of the new and very promising Demigryph Knights.  I mentioned in the Wizard review that I needed to give my force some more teeth, well it turned out to be some beak instead.  And claws, lots of claws.

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I don’t know about you but I really like the models for the Demigryph Knights. They have the right balance of fantasy and functionality that, for me, is required in an Empire army. The oversized heavy plate barding gives them a real sense of war worthiness: something to keep all but the pointiest of sticks at bay, all the while the Demigryphs get down to the business of ripping off faces.

Their riders are regal and imposing with just a tinge of arrogance to them, which is exactly as they should be seeing as they’re knights. Riding on Demigryphs. With big sticks. Of the three poses for the Demigryphs themselves, one is awesome, one is good, and the last one is a bit meh – it’s cocking its head to the side which although accurate fluff wise, is a little too much like an oversized chocobo for me. Younger readers will have to Google what one of those is. You young whipper snappers. They really are another unit goes under the ‘reward’ title for painting as they look great and as there’s only three of them you’ll stay the course in terms of effort.

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When Games Workshop started to release Monstrous Cavalry for the various armies I wasn’t sure if the Empire would even get any at all, or if they did, what would the mounts be as the Pegasus had sort of been bagsied by the Bretonnians – despite it still being a mount choice in the Empire book. The use of a ‘half’ griffon made me wonder why I hadn’t thought of it before, which is a good sign as the decision is a little obvious in hindsight and makes total sense. Rare praise for Games Workshop these days.  And in doing so has given the Empire a unit capable of actually doing some real damage in combat (honestly).

The Knights themselves are fantastic, and just make me weep over the missed opportunity that is the old Knightly Order kit even more.  The heads are great, gifting you the pleasure of choosing which ones to leave out rather than which ones to include – likewise for the shields, plenty of good choice with a nice range. The stylization of certain armour elements into pointed beak shapes works very well and really tells the story that these guys are an elite unit rather than Knights given Demigryphs to ride for the day. All the weapons arms/options included look good enough to make you pause for a difficult aesthetic choice. If and when the old Knights do get a new kit, if they look anything like this there will be much rejoicing in the street, songs will be sung, mead will be drunk and babies will be named in honour of the sculptor. I’m predicting a significant rise in the number of Empire cavalry armies you’ll see galloping around what with them being a pretty good investment for the points.

Rules wise, you couldn’t ask for much more as an Empire player: the Demigryph Knights are a unit to be feared by almost anything. [Except Skullcrushers! -Ed.]  The Demigryph itself kicks out 3 Strength 5 attacks basic plus another for its Stomp for a total of 4 at Strength 5, and then the already Inner Circle Knight on its back adds another at either Strength 5 or 6 depending on how you arm them.  But this is where one of the very few annoyances rears its head: if you choose to equip them with halberds instead of lances (which is a choice most people would usually go for) there’s no rules exception for using a halberd while mounted so you lose your shield.  The 1+ armour save is a big deal for mounted units and sacrificing it for an extra point of Strength is not a decision to be taken lightly – and most seem to have stuck with the Lances as a result.  I fail to see why the Halberd could not have been an upgrade rather than a free weapon swap and let you still use the shield – as represented on the models themselves.

But still, with a box of three being able to chuck out up to 16 attacks at Strength 5 or 6, they can tear apart small to medium-sized units and elites really have a lot to fear as the Demigryphs have the armour-piercing rule to boot giving them -3 to armour saves.  With the errata on Monstrous Cavalry stating you use the higher value for both Wounds and Toughness now, you’ve also got a unit that is now quite resilient too at Toughness 4, 1+ armour save and 3 wounds each.  Deliver them into an enemy flank and they’ll eat anything. Someone even mathed out that they can beat Skull Crushers in straight up combat as the Initiative 4 on the Demigryph means it goes before the Juggernaut, and that’s at 12 points less per model too. [It’s worth noting though that the article go the Skullcrushers armour save wrong so it’s probably about even. -Ed.] It’s just a pity you can’t take them as character mounts so they can lead a unit, but maybe that is just taking the cracker.

Demigryph Knights are available from Firestorm Games priced £30.15.

Empire Battle Wizards – A Review

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With the 500 points game in the bag (and the blood running off the table in rivers), the next 500 was on the horizon and it was time to think about how I could improve on the core force and give it some more teeth.  It was fairly easy to guess what Phil’s additions were going be, he already had a unit of Fear causing (yes, really) Chaos Knights [Hells yeah! -Ed.] on his mantel piece and I knew the box of fear causing (yes, really) Skullcrushers wouldn’t be far behind.  Armed with this information and fully aware that I had very little, if anything, that could stand up to their offensive abilities I resorted to the one area where I had the advantage – Magic.

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It’s not that the Empire is particularly good at Magic, there are races a lot better at it than they, but the fact they can select from all of the eight Lore’s of Magic is what gives them an advantage over most races. This ability means there should be a wizard for all occasions, and when you then consider my opponent has selected an army that eschews Magic in favour of large axes, having this kind of versatility becomes extremely useful, crucial even. [I couldn’t make it too easy for myself. – Ed.]

In one army so lacking in units that can charge into a combat safe in the knowledge they will bludgeon their way through their target in an explosion of body parts, what do you then do against an army that is made up almost entirely of the bastards? The typical tactic is twofold: Shoot them – a lot (and then again just to be sure), and then gang up on what’s left. But this has been made a lot harder in the 8th edition Empire book as most units went up in points and this has had the very real effect of taking away one or two units from you depending on the army size.

This makes a 2 on 1 situation actually rather difficult to engineer in your favour – buts that’s where the Magic comes in. With no enemy wizards arrayed against me I am already at an advantage over any dispel attempts as he will not be adding any magic levels to his dispel attempt rolls and should mean I can get at least one decent spell off a turn. But what would be my Lore of choice for any plucky Battle Wizards I sent to war? There are some very good ones to choose from but in a game this size with what I’m up against, there’s really only one – Metal. [Bastard. -Ed.]

Who’s read the Lore of Metal signature spell? Well it’s practically made for destroying targets in Chaos armour and this is what I will be using to swing the odds in my favour. If I could get just one decent cast to remove a small elite unit, it would make engineering that favourable combat far more likely. When you look at some of the Augment/Hex spells present in the Lore too it’s a one of the best to use when facing Chaos no question – in particular Khorne.

With my wizard decided I got my hands on the Empire Battle Wizard box.

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Know the lore you want to take is important as the Battle Wizard box comes with a lot of components and I had to down to the business of selecting the ones I wanted from the array of choice laid out on the frames. In the box there are two main body sections with which to assemble two Wizards but three sets of arms to give some real variety in the poses.

One of the poses is easily the best and a no brainer in selecting, so it becomes a toss-up between the other two. The crystal ball pair of arms was a bit too Celestial for me (plus I remembered you get a Celestial Wizard in the Hurricanum kit too – but I’m getting ahead of myself) so I went with the more animatedly posed arms and it was these I used for my Metal Wizard – with the potential to double up as a Light Wizard depending on the paint job. I gave him a book to be reading off and I really liked the Celestial Wizard staff top over the nondescript meteor symbol, so I removed all the protrusions to reduce it to a simple orb contained within a crescent of metal, very fitting I thought. Combined with the animated pose, the components portray a Battle Wizard on the brink of unleashing a devastating spell, so far so good.

For the second Battle Wizard the sheer beauty of the components pretty much forced me to do a Death Wizard with the rose entwined scythe and hourglass combo being too good to pass up, but I’m thinking I’ll end up using him for Shadow instead as it’s a better Lore that suits the army better – and a grey Wizard is just a bit boring. There were loads of other good components to choose from and you can make most of the Lore’s quite easily, the exceptions being Life and Beasts. And by exceptions I mean pieces synonymous with those Lore’s. You can still make a generic Battle Wizard and paint it to suit though. They look an absolute treat to paint too, but I’ll have to resist and get some rank and file done first for there are many and characters are few.

The Battle Wizard box was one of the first of the multi-part plastic character kits to come out along with the Empire General box. They’ve aged rather well, despite the stylised design not being to everyone’s taste. The slightly angular look of the robes weirdly works for the wizards but the array of items and details on the rest of the models make the robes the backdrop to the main event. Although, again, stuff like the flaming sword isn’t going to get everyone excited, all the other bits are way cool. And all the spares you’ll have knocking around will come in very handy be it pimping characters or making your Mordheim warband a bit more interesting/occult.

 

All in all a it’s good kit for the money. Two Battle Wizards and a bunch of really good components to use on the rest of the army, everyone’s a winner. Except Khorne, they’ll likely die a molten death.

Empire Battle Wizards are available from Firestorm Games priced £16.20.

 

Empire Handgunners – A Review

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And finally, the last unit from the Empire Battalion box – the Hand Gunners/Crossbowmen.

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I find few units more synonymous with the Empire than the humble Handgunner.   Physically weak, but armed with a technologically superior weapon with which to keep their enemies at arm’s reach, or in a bloody heap on the floor, lest they coming into contact with the enemy and meet a gruesome yet inevitable death. I couldn’t envisage an Empire army without at least one unit for them.

Looking at the Handgunner frames, they were good.  Really good.  They followed a similar format to the state troopers with the all in one body and legs and multiple arm options, but the extra parts is where they have the edge.  All the marksmen weapons are included with a myriad of pistols, rifles and rotary guns present.  Who’s needs an Engineer when you got all these?  Generally, the command group parts are far superior to that of the state troopers too (and knights) and you’ll really want to buy the two kits in tandem as the amount of swapping between them will be significant – but it all results in better looking units.  Throw in some other bits and pieces, like a powder monkey, and it all adds up to a great kit worth the cash.

Unfortunately The Cruddace has struck again and taken all those cool bits of equipment for the Handgunners over pointed them all so you will probably never end up taking them in your armies.  A Repeater Hand Gun seems a snip at 10 points, but when you consider it would cost you 29 points for a marksmen equipped with one, you can get three standard Hand Gunners for only 27 points – all hitting on the same roll to hit (-1 to hit for multiple shots) and with same number of shots, there really is no point taking one.  The Long Rifle is a bit more useful as the ability to snipe characters and command models can tip the scales in close call combat.  But at a whopping 20 points and only likely to cause a wound every 5 or 6 shots means they’re a bit of a gamble for the same points as a decent magic item.

Like the State Troopers, opinion is divided between taking Hand Gunners or Crossbowmen.  Most seem to prefer the extra 6” range of the Crossbow’s, but the extra -1 armour save is not so easily discarded.  As always, the type of opponent faced will decide and I opted for Hand Gunners in the end, thinking the armour-piercing would enable them to drop a Chaos Knight or two before they got trampled to death.  But my choice of target has highlighted an underlying problem, they’re role has been marginalised even further by their increased points cost from 8 to 9 points per model.

With a small unit of 10 Handgunners costing 90 points and only likely to take down one Chaos Warrior per turn, their chances of paying for themselves are very small – hence why using them against more expensive models is necessary as they just won’t do enough damage against anything else.  If you were fortunate enough to have a hill in your deployment zone with which to perch them where they can stay relatively safe then they could do some real damage over the course of a game.

The longer range of the crossbow’s being better suited to this as they’ll most likely be deploying back from the line.  But if forced to take up a position on the line, most probably as a detachment, they’re days really are numbered short and will more likely gift victory points to your opponent than win you any in return.  On the flip side, an opponent cannot afford to ignore them as if left unmolested their Strength 4 shots will take their toll, particularly once the range has closed.  Careful positioning can be used to drag dangerous units out of the fight for a couple of turns and it is in doing this they can be very valuable to your army.

Overall, Handgunners and Crossbowmen still have a part to play in your Empire armies but it is now quite different from that of the gun line they used to form.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if this change is for the better or worse, but the kit itself cannot be faulted and is not bad value at all when compared with the State Troopers.

The Empire Handgunners/Crossbowmen kit is available from Firestorm Games priced £13.95.

Empire State Troopers – A Review

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Third time round for reviews from the Empire Battalion box and I’m finally into the new kits. Yay.  I present to you the Empire State Troopers.

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Now I’m sure you’ve all come to terms with the new pricing format of the rank file for ‘new’ armies, which is 10 in a box for around £15 – £20? No? Me neither.  The State Troopers are no different, but you do get a wealth of components to make them into either spearmen, swordsmen or halberdiers which is quite nice as you have everything you need to cover all the army options for a change (see Knightly Orders).  Games Workshop made this one of their key objectives in all new releases and for the most part they’re succeeding – but at the cost of troops on the ground.

I don’t think the box of 10 is a problem as such, it’s just that if you want to do an infantry heavy army you’ll pay more as you need a lot of boxes to make the larger/horde units we’re being encouraged to take.  And as there’s no balance in the numbers you get in a box between the elite and lesser army troops, this could discourage people from choosing the more numerous army choices over the smaller elite ones purely as matter of expense. Simply throwing a few extra models into the lesser troops would go a long way to redressing this imbalance.

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When it came to the State Trooper frames I was actually quite surprised by the amount of detail crammed onto the main body components – armour, bags, belts, knives, kitchen sinks (okay, I made that one up), each one has something approaching a character model level of detail.  Which is great, but at the same time not so great.  The more I studied the models the more I was daunted by the prospect of painting up big blocks of 30 or 40 of them.

Overall though I really liked the kit, the models were very good and versatile enough to be turned to variety of poses if needed with the use of other components.  There are a few bug bears, like the banner being a bit crap and demanding an instant trade with the one from the Hand Gunners box (see next review), not enough head choice (e.g. you can’t do all feathered), and the way the spear/halberd tips attach to the hafts is a bit finicky, but it’s more than up to the task and a big improvement on the previous sculpts. Oh, and I hate the guy with no shoes (personal choice).

I sized up the models for their possible paint job hoping to gain some inspiration as I’ve actually been struggling with what colour scheme to do my Empire army in – my general is from Marienburg with its Red, Blue and Yellow colours but really you can do anything you want as they’re all ‘mercenaries’.  But Phil and I were both keen on tying in certain background elements – with the household colours being purple and white, plus I liked the idea of painting all the armour black.

The problem is Bogenhafen is very similar with a half white half purple uniform, so I figured by doing the same colours quartered and adding in the black armour and accessories it would provide enough of a difference for it to be distinct.  This colour scheme translated very well to the state troopers and the quantities of armour on some of them meant the black would be the prominent feature I wanted. Unfortunately a couple of the bodies didn’t have any armour at all to reflect the somewhat inconsistent nature with which Empire soldiers are equipped, but hey, you can’t have it all – they’ll just be relegated to the back ranks. [And die first. – Ed.]

An added bonus for all the extra arms you get in the kit is that Forgeworld have actually released a kit that enables you to make use of them – Mannan’s Blades.  They’re a group of Marienburg mercenary marines and would be perfect for my army, freeing those spare parts from their plastic framed prison.

I thought long and hard about how to assemble the 20 State Troops from the Battalion box.  There are various opinions on which choice is best but I had to slant any advice towards the fact I would be largely facing tough, heavily armoured, Chaos Warriors – or worse.  After the dreadful changes The Cruddace afflicted upon the Swordsmen (-1 Initiative and +1point) they’re usefulness has been seriously reduced.  So I figured if I was to add them (probably in the form of Mannan’s Blades mentioned above) it would be at a later stage in a detachment capacity – so they were a no for now.  I read somewhere that halberdiers were the best way to go for your blocks as they were statistically better is most situations, but I wasn’t convinced as the extra rank of attacks spears provided couldn’t be ignored.

I decided to put it to the test worked out the probabilities (because I’m cool like that) and the results were not so clear-cut as I had suspected. The short of it is Halberdiers are better the wider their formation is – and only against opponents that aren’t going to decimate you before you get to attack. This pretty much rules them out against Chaos despite the extra strength because A) you want as narrow a frontage as you can against Chaos armies to reduce the number of incoming attacks and B) those incoming attacks decimate the unit before you get to retaliate. The Spearmen have the (slim) chance of killing something simply because the extra rank provides more bodies than can be killed to actually attack back.

Armed with this knowledge I decided to go for blocks of Spearmen supported by the Halberdiers in detachments, where they would hopefully get more attacks to make their extra strength count.  However, seeing as I only had 20 Troops and Spearmen needed more to be effective, I decided to go for a Halberdier block now and split them down into detachments once I added the necessary amount of Spearmen.

With everything decided it was onward towards getting things painted – to the sound of beating drums and blaring trumpets, and maybe the crack of a whip at my back… [The whip cracks a purely motivational. -Ed.]

Empire State Troopers are available from Firestorm Games priced £13.95.

Empire Knightly Orders – A Review

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Next is the turn of the Knightly Orders to get the once over. It’s a tough one because the kit is old. Really old actually. The horses have been knocking around for 25 years or so and their riders best past of a decade…to quote the young people: damn! Bitch is old!

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Like the Empire Great Cannon/Mortar the Knightly Orders box is creaking beneath the weight of years. It’s a real shame as the Knightly Orders are supposed to be a major part of the Empire’s military strength and character, with glorious histories tracing back centuries.  They represent the toughest core unit the empire has access to – as well as being the same kit used to field the elite Reiksguard.  They should be taking pride of place at the heart of your army rather than skulking in quietly.

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The kit actually had a recut not too long ago, with the frames being shuffled about and even a few new components being sculpted for the frame.  I ask the question, why bother sculpting a new horse head on to the Knight frame when you could have just re-sculpted the horse? There are currently only two types of horse body and just a few heads so that’s not many parts to sculpt to completely change the look of the kit. Plus it’s still got the woeful banner, the stupid arm for the musician and the champion that thinks he’ll be better off in a fight without his helmet on.

When you consider that the War Altar and the Luminark/Hurricanum kits had two new horses sculpted as part of their frames (taking up almost an entire frame!) it beggars belief they passed up the chance to redo the horses and just add them to all the kits that needed them.  In truth, the entire War Altar itself can be seen as a waste of a plastic kit when something so key like the Knightly Orders needed a new one that badly – another plastic special character in addition to the Karl Franz Griffon was not needed at all.

I used the word ‘key’ as gaming wise, they are very valuable troops to an Empire player – 22 points is fairly cheap for 1+ armour and good mobility. They may not hit the hardest but are capable of being both a ‘Hammer’ and an ‘Anvil’ unit in your army which makes them very versatile and thus valuable. Upgrading a unit of ten to Inner Circle for the +1 Strength certainly gives them the potential for a hammer unit to smash opposing units, particularly with a character in there.

If you keep them cheap and cheerful they’re more than capable of absorbing a large number attacks and still come out the other side which is perfect for an anvil to hold a dangerous enemy in place.  Plus you can give them great weapons for free,  which is a no brainer if you’re going up against an army that has higher initiative than you – just remember you lose a point of armour so they may not be so suited as an anvil.  But at a push, any option can perform either role satisfactorily and it’s this tactical flexibility which will reward their inclusion in your army.

With their usefulness cemented, I had to find a solution to fielding a kit I personally had reservations about – I really struggle to field models that don’t appeal to me aesthetically, and struggle even greater to paint them. So, I decided to keep the Knights themselves, as I said before they were okay, and replace the horses with Bretonnian ones.  Some minor clipping of the saddles on the horses backs was all that was needed, plus I flexed the Knights legs in a bit to make sure they ranked up nicely (unlike Phil’s spiky ones).

Now they look great!  The Bretonnian horses are huge compared with the old empire ones and makes the unit look really imposing, so much so the size difference with their evil counterparts isn’t so pronounced. I’m hoping this will remove any inferiority complex they may have possessed and result in a greater performance on the battlefield, all thanks to their new horses – take note GW, it’s not just special rules that make your models do better!

As a bonus, whilst digging through my (extensive) bits box(s) I came up with enough parts to assemble two extra Knights, so now my extra beefy unit of 10 is ready for action with two full ranks.  In the end I chose to forgo the Great Weapons and stuck with the lances as I thought I’d play the long game and eventually upgrade them to inner circle once the army size increases.  If I do decide to add another unit, I will most likely convert them to have Great Weapons and use them as a relatively cheap flanker. Because they don’t come with great weapons…

The Empire Knightly Orders regiment is part of the Empire Battalion box available from Firestorm Games priced £58.50
If you too want to convert you Empire Knights, Bretonnian Knights are available from Firestorm Games priced £18.00