Warzone Resurection – A Review Part 3

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It’s a strange thing to read through the rules for a game that you are almost certain you will never actually play. In one way it helps one be objective but I appreciate that it might blind me to some of the practical implications of what I’m reading. What seems perfectly clear when I was reading it on the bus might seem a lot more ambiguous when the dice are rolling and you need to know exactly how much you need to roll for that crucial armour test.

Overall, there are about 80 pages of rules, including about 20 on scenarios and army selection. The text is broken up with artwork so never becomes too dense and there are helpful summary flowcharts and diagrams (using some of the few pictures of painted models in the book).

My overriding impression of the rules is that the game writers must have been trying really hard to make everything as clear as possible. I’ve read rules written by a few different companies now and it’s rare to come across such clear and seemingly unambiguous instructions on how to play. Having only read through the rule section once I feel like I understood pretty much all the mechanics described.

There are even paragraphs setting out things like rerolling dice that go of the table, how to calculate multiple modifiers (multiply, then add), pre-measuring, etc. The designers seem to want to minimise disagreements/arguments/cage fights as much as possible.
On the other hand, the rules are laid out in one of the most eccentric orders I have other come across. Granted my expectations are shaped by games which have generally had a very different game/turn sequence but even so, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of logic to the order the rule sections are printed in.

Warzone Resurrection uses a D20 based system wherein all stats are given out of 20 and all actions (rolling to hit, armour tests, break tests) are decided by rolling under the appropriate stat. This contrasts to some systems which use a variety of different dice mechanics for different things. Having the stats being out of 20 also means there can be a bit more granularity with stats more fully showing a range of ability.

Every model has two actions per turn which can be spent on a variety of basic (1point) and advanced (2point) actions. Models are activated individually and although bound by squad coherency can act relatively independently. Alternatively models in a squad can spend points to contribute to combined actions which produce a single more powerful attack for use against larger, more dangerous foes. It’s quite an intuitive system and seems quite flexible.

There are some interesting rules which seem like an attempt to inject a bit more fluff/narrative into the game itself such as different types of weapons being more/less effective against certain kinds of armour and the rules which allow bonuses to template weapons used against targets in cover. There is also a diverse selection of special rules, not dissimilar to the compendium of universal special rules in the 40k rulebook. These all do pretty much what you would expect, though quite a few seem to have fairly similar effects.

My biggest doubts are over the vehicle rules, which seem a bit over complicated. Alarm bells rang for me when I saw that individual locations take damage separately, and it’s not entirely clear how you (if indeed you can) actually destroy a vehicle rather than just wreck its systems.

The biggest ‘narrative’ rule though is probably the resource card system. In the game each player receives a number of resource cards determined by their army composition and choice of warlord (meaning you can choose a leader who is less personally potent in combat but allows extra resource cards). Resources are renewed each turn but can be lost permanently as you take casualties. In the basic version of these rules the cards can be spent – “turn to burn” is the terminology used – to gain bonuses or re-rolls. In the more advanced version, cards are spent to play certain ‘gear’, ‘tactic’, and ‘strategy’ cards. Each player selects cards to play from a hand drawn from their respective deck of bonus cards. Each player preselects the contents of their deck before the game (within guidelines set out in the book) though the deck is shuffled and cut before play begins and your hand of cards is drawn randomly from the deck.

The resource mechanics seem to be one of the most innovative parts of this rule set. I am sure gamers will quickly find whether they prefer the basic or advanced version. The advanced version can potentially add a lot of depth, challenge, diversity and surprise to a game, but I imagine some gamers might prefer to avoid the extra preparation it requires. Though I imagine that selecting a deck that synergies with your chosen force and will not be rendered useless by an unlucky draw order will be a challenge some gamers will embrace.

Army selection is based on an organization chart similar to 40k, though the chart grows with the size of game. There are also options to swap out some slots – for example exchanging a heavy vehicle slot for two light vehicle/monster slots or vice versa. There is also a bevy of options to create a custom lord or warlord as an alternative to the existing special characters. The options allow you to alter their stats, modify their weapon and give them any of a vast array of special rules, all for the appropriate points costs.

Overall, with only very few exceptions I would say that this is a very solid rule set. And in some ways it’s a shame that the fluff and the models (especially the models) aren’t quite up to the same level. Obviously the fluff, rules and other factors that appeal to any #warmonger is a very subjective thing so I would certainly suggest that people give this game a look to see if it might be right for them, but that would be qualified by admitting that it doesn’t do it for me. There are not as many sci-fi battle games out there as you might think, though a recent crop of games like WZR, MERCs, Deadzone, etc has gone some way to redress this. Sadly I don’t think that WZR is the best of the crop.

– Chris

Warzone Resurrection – A Review Part 2

warzoneFor the second of my articles on the new Warzone Resurrection game I am taking a quick look at the fluff and background in the core rulebook.

Overall, this is an extremely well presented book, well bound and full colour throughout. It is well illustrated, though some of the artwork taken from the original 1990’s incarnation of Warzone has now seems almost excruciatingly dated in contrast to the new artwork. On the other hand, there were virtually no pictures of actual miniatures which is something of a let down. I appreciate that most of the models were funded through the recent Kickstarter and so were still being designed at the time the book was being written but it does feel like a really big thing to be missing.

The fluff is well written and reading through I got a very clear impression of the setting of a war-torn solar system fought over by competing mega-corporations, and menaced by the eldritch abominations of the Dark Legion, which is opposed by the religious warriors of the Brotherhood. Each of the mega-corporations described (Capitol, Bauhaus, Mishima & Cybertronic) has a distinct identity, though some do feel a little mired in cliché [A little?! – Ed.]. Mishima especially seems entirely rooted in Japanese stereotypes, in contrast both Bauhuas and Capitol seem to be a much more nuanced representations of German and American themes. Likewise, the portrayal Brotherhood seems a little limited in imagination, tending to cling to the same ‘Catholic Space Nazi’ themes seen in other sci-fi wargames. Their units seem a little samey too, being a number of fairly similarly described varieties of righteous warriors.

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There are some other disappointing omissions from the fluff given in the book. Very little information is given about either the Imperial mega-corporation, or the Cartel with their elite Doomtroopers. I would also have like some expansion on the numerous references to Freelancers scattered throughout the text. Again, I realise that only so many factions were funded by the Kickstarter, but the fact that key players in this universe are only referred to but not explored at all is annoying, especially as the limited references in the main text do raise questions one would want answered. I also have to ask how Prodos plan on introducing these factions as the game develops, whether there will be a large expansion or some sort of faction books.

I think my biggest criticism of the fluff in this book is that there seem to be two stories here which don’t quite gel. On the one hand you have the struggle for resources and dominance of the Solar System between the various mega-corporations; and on the other you have the battle between good an evil represented by the Dark Legion and the Brotherhood. To me, these two conflicts don’t quite work together as part of a setting. Partly this is because of the huge thematic differences, partly it’s because it feels like the fight with the Dark Legion should ultimately trump the various corporate rivalries and agendas. I appreciate that part of the Dark Legion’s MO is to encourage conflict in order to divide and conquer, but given that the other factions know this it still feels like we are in idiot ball territory. It also rather means that there is a subtle implication that battles fought between the mega-corps are not the important ones, which does not exactly help when trying to forge the narrative. It’s also difficult trying to imagine many scenarios where the Brotherhood would fight the mega-corps, simply because they should have more important things to do. With so many other games out there who manage to justify an all-against-all setting, this is something of a weakness in contrast.

It doesn’t help that the Brotherhood and the Dark Legion are, to me at least, the least interesting of the factions. The Brotherhood feels like any other church-militant faction in any other setting and the fluff is surprisingly vague about what the actual beliefs of this church actually are beyond standing against the darkness. The Dark Legion lack the wow factor of either Chaos in 40k or Cryx/Everblight in Warmahordes. Chaos is entirely fundamental to both Games Workshop’s settings with every other faction influenced, even shaped, by it. The Dark Legion feel tacked on in contrast and attempts to make the Dark Soul/Dark Symmetry feel like an equally ancient evil feel perfunctory and shallow. The dragon-blight factions of the Iron Kingdoms genuinely feel like all but unbeatable nightmares. In-universe, the Dark Legion have already been defeated once in the past. While limiting the setting to a handful of terraformed planets  in a single solar system helps in some respects, making it a believable theatre for the corporate wars, and making it easier, at least in principle, to believe the existence of humanity is genuinely at risk, it lacks gravitas when dealing with depictions of the legions of ultimate evil. Of course the Dark Symmetry is also the sole justification of the technologically-regressed diesel-punk aesthetic for the game.

Personally, I find the normal mega-corp factions much more interesting. Mishima might owe a little too much to samurai clichés but they are still vividly described and you at least get a snapshot of there being a whole society functioning there. I quite like Capitol, though I would like to see a little more thematic consistency in their special units. They do have the coolest tank though and I really like their Heavy Infantry (which are totally not a rip off of terminator suits from 40k). Bauhaus benefit from a very coherent and consistent look and feel and some cool walkers. One of the biggest surprises in the fluff is that they make the Cybertronic corporation rather more than the sterotypical ruthless evil cyborgs that you might assume them to be at first glance. As with a lot of wargames, there is a definite feel of everyone being a bit of a bunch of bastards (although with ruthless mega-corporations, what else would you expect?) and it’s left to the player to select the bastards whose particularly brand and style of bastardry most suits them.

There are a few thematic similarities to 40k, especially in terms of the technological regression (although in this case, the knowledge is not lost, merely embargoed) and the idea of humanity being menaced by an unspeakable evil that bring corruption and horror in its wake. But the execution and detail is quite different. in contrast to Warhammer, 40K, Warmachine, Hordes and several other games, Warzone tends to play things relatively ‘straight’ and makes much less attempt to take things up to eleven and invoke the Rule of Cool.

So a mixed bag, four quite strong and interesting factions, and two less so, not to mention a couple of gaps where other factions will hopefully be slotted in, in due course. I honestly feel that I would find this all much more interesting without the Brotherhood and Dark Legion. Maybe if those factions had been a bit better implemented I might feel differently. But they both embody ideas which have been done better elsewhere and still feel like awkward additions to the universe, and  which undermine a lot of the rest of the fluff. I would be interested to see how Prodos develop the fluff to insert the remaining factions and develop the existing ones. Obviously, for the launch of the core book the writers were having to focus on recreating the original fluff from the 1990’s, which was obviously written with 90’s tastes in mind. Likewise the fluff has not had the decade or so of development and refinement that several other games have had so we have to be slightly generous in judging this book if it feels a bit underdeveloped and doesn’t quite fit in with our current Zeitgeist. This fluff is certainly better than what I’ve seen in some core rulebooks (Spartan Games and Hawk Wargames, I am looking at you) so I’m not saying it’s bad. I can certainly see people getting into this fluff and definitely think that there are lots to appeal to different people.

Overall, I would give this book a solid 7 for fluff.  There is a lot of good stuff in here but there is still work to be done before we can stand alongside the real leaders in the field.

Warzone Resurrection – A Review Part 1

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As some readers will know, back in April I backed the Warzone Resurrection Kickstarter. This Kickstarter was run by Prodos Games in order to revive the Mutant Chonicles: Warzone game which was originally produced by Target Games back in the 1990s.

The Kickstarter was a roaring success, and while the original target was to launch the game with four factions enough stretch goals were met to be able to launch with six. Inevitably this meant that the original June shipping date was a hopelessly optimistic target now Prodos had so much more to produce. This backlog was not helped by flooding in the production facilities in the late summer. All this meant that my stuff finally arrived in early December, when I had all but forgotten about it.

My Kickstarter pledge netted me rewards in the shape of the hardback Warzone Resurrection rule book and the Capitol faction starter set. I will look at the rules and background laid out in the book in later articles but for today I will look at the miniatures I received. Capitol, put very simply as a strongly ‘American’ themed faction (in contrast to the pseudo-Germans, Brits and Japanese of Bauhaus, Imperial and Mishima).

The starter pack included two themed D20s a deck of resource/equipment cards, the special character Big Bob Watts, ten Light Infantry figures and two Purple Shark jet bikes. All lovingly rendered in blue resin.

MCWGrab

Of the three units, the most disappointing is definitely the Purple Sharks, which is a shame as I was quite looking forward to these. They lack the crisp detail of the other two kits and are the only one with serious mould line issues. Indeed the belly of the bikes is marred by an unsightly ridge resembling nothing more than a patch of scar tissue. The two halves of the bike do not fit together well, with a visible gap between the two halves at the nose. Assembling resin models with superglue can be a frustrating experience at the best of times, but the number of times I wanted to scream while trying to get the pilot of the bike in situ was something else. Possibly the most unforgivable issue though is the fact that the models are not supplied with a flying stand, but only with a resin post intended to be glued onto a standard plastic base and then fitted into the corresponding hole on the underside of the bike. I would definitely recommend anyone looking to field Purple Sharks  in their force to make alternative basing arrangements.

The other models in the set are much, much better. The detail is crisp and there are very few visible mould lines. That said some of the very fine detail was so fine as to be easily damaged. The character of Big Bob Watts is a very cool model  and by far the easiest of the set to assemble. A model like this really illustrates the difference between heroic scale miniatures and the relatively realistic scale that Prodos have designed in. I think everyone will have their preference about what approach works best, though for such a larger than life character as Big Bob (a huge man who wields Gatling cannon like pistols) whether a naturalistic model can do the idea justice.

The Light Infantry are pretty nice, especially considering these are the basic troop choice for the army. Putting together any model this size using superglue is a tricky task at the best of times, but these came together without too much trouble, barring a slightly awkward shoulder joint. I like the look of these models and the design is nicely straightforward. My only mild criticism is that the heads with the mask and goggles look could have been sculpted with slightly more defined details as they look quite blank at first glance.

The models had a fair bit of flash on the sprue, but nothing that was onerous to clean off. In most cases it could be scratched off with a thumbnail. Only the Purple Sharks had any significant problems with mould lines, though all  the models required substantial clipping and trimming where they met the sprue and in most cases this had to be done carefully so as to not bugger the point where the component would be glued on to another part of the model. There were a few little bubbles in the casts, the worst being a fist sized hole in a jet bike pilot

As a starter set I think this a pretty good pack, though like all such sets the value depends on whether the units and characters included suit your tastes and preferred play style, and the mediocre quality of the Purple Sharks is another minus point. If Prodos can keep a handle on the production quality and implement their ideas properly Warzone Resurrection could be a hit.

According to their reply the last time I asked, Firestorm Games do plan to stock Warzone Resurrection.

How to Breach Hulls and Influence People

The other week Spartan Games released new free PDF downloads of the Six core Fleet Manuals for version 2.0 of Firestorm Armada. Having had a look through the new files, I’m quite impressed, and there are clearly a lot of new ideas in the new version of the game.

So far, we only have Fleet Manuals for the six core factions (Aquans, Terrans, Sorylians, Directorate, Dindrenzi and Relthoza), but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Alliance of Kurak and the Zenian League (not to mention other factions like the Syndicate) get their own treatment. These free downloads contain the key rules for choosing a fleet and the ship stats and options. For background material or shiny artwork however you will have to wait (and pay for) the shiny printed versions to be released in early 2014. It will be interesting to see how this pairing of premium book and free bare-bones download works out for both Spartan and the players. Certainly it means not having to lug a heavy book around when you can just look up stats on a phone/tablet; or carry around a printout and not get your nice book all scuffed.

The fact that the downloads are intended to be ‘living documents’ which will be updated as rules errata come up or new ships are released. This is undoubtedly a good thing, though I can imagine a few people being narked about having to download an updated PDF every so often.  I have to wonder how people with the hard copy versions will be updated. Whether Spartan will take the GW route of releasing updated manuals every so often or the Privateer Press route of releasing periodic anthologies with new toys for all factions. [Or downloadable paragraphs that you can glue over the redundant paragraphs. -Ed.]

Looking at the Manuals themselves, it’s clear that the fleet selection rules have been expanded and refined. Ships are now chosen from one of three Tiers, with minimum and maximum selections for each. Tiers group ships roughly according to size and the what falls within a particular Tier changes based on the size of the game, so large ships are heavily restricted in small games but are more widely available in larger games. The minimum and maximum choice restrictions for each size Tier both also scale with the size of game so fleets should have a reasonable balance of small, medium and large ships at all game sizes. That said, the gap between the minimum and maximum choices at each tier is quite narrow and I would not be entirely surprised if some players ran out of slots before they ran out of points.

Most importantly to some players, it is no longer possible to build a fleet with a token single squadron each of small or medium ships and spend the rest of your points on dreadnoughts.

The rules covering Alliance Fleets in the Fleet Manuals are clear and straightforward. While Alliance fleets do face some penalties in terms of Tactical ratings and access to cards, this is presumably to balance out the fact that including allies can be used to offset the perceived weaknesses of a particular fleet. Interestingly, each core fleet now has a ‘Natural Ally’, a minor faction whose ships can be taken in greater proportion and with slightly reduced penalties, for example Terrans with Hawker or Dindrenzi with RSN. This is a nice touch as it is evocative of the background and helps encourage players to vary their collection without having to take too great a wallop  from the nerf bat.

Interestingly, in very large games, you now assemble your force out of multiple separate battlegroups which are considered independent for a lot of rules purposes. Again this has a nice evocative feel of distinct formations coming together in common cause, but it also appears to be another way of including allies without the same penalties you incur when you are simply lumping allied ships in with a single detachment.

Looking at the ship rules themselves, the most obvious change is that virtually everything bigger than an escort now has at least a few options. I’m sure this will please anyone who has ever felt that playing Firestorm Armada felt a bit samey after a while and longed for the chance to make their personal armada just that little bit more theirs. The options seem to be thematically consistent throughout each fleet list and combined with the fact that ship weapons are now broken down by type (scatter weapons, beam weapons etc) means that each fleet has a lot more personality now. The only question is how to represent these options on the model as most FSA ships lack any kind of options in the kit. Players may find themselves having to concentrate very hard to keep track of which squadron of cruisers has the overcharged engines and which has the juiced up guns.

Coupled to this is the fact that in most, but not all cases ships of the same type (for example the Terran Razorthorn and Apollo battleships, but not the Tyrant battleship) have been rolled together and are  covered by a single profile and options list. This is slightly disappointing as it seems like they have missed of on a way of introducing more opportunities to vary and/or theme your force. Most of the ships affected by this are the MK1 and Mk2 cruisers, carriers and battleships so perhaps there is some reason for similar capabilities, but to potentially have them running with entirely identical stats – and even identical upgrades – seems a bit of a shame. I can appreciate that you can in principle use, for example, Sentinel and Hermes class cruisers to represent cruisers upgraded to different capabilities, but I can imagine unscrupulous players keeping their opponents guess about what they are facing, maybe luring the enemy into a trap with a ‘humble’ mk 1 cruiser.

Overall these are pretty impressive documents. All the more so given that they are being offered free to download. I’ve not had a chance to read the version 2.0 rules yet but what we see hints of in these PDFs suggests big changes and a lot more investment in making the game more diverse and characterful. I think FSA players have a lot to look forward to.

A Diet of Supplements

So far this year, we have seen the release of three of the new Codex Supplements for Warhammer 40,000. Of the three, two (Iyanden and Farsight Enclaves) have been generally well received. On the other hand the Black Legion supplement seems to have had a more mixed reception.

I was initially quite sceptical about the Codex Supplements. This is probably due to my negative memories of the ‘mini-codices’ of 3rd Edition 40k which were deeply uninspiring little pamphlets (though in all fairness the main codices were pretty meagre in those days too). Also, it seemed vaguely unfair that some gamers were having to pay extra in order to get the core codex and the additional mini-‘dex.

In most respects, allowing ‘off-shoot’ armies like Space Wolves or Blood Angels to have their own full codices seems like the ideal solution. That said however the onus then falls upon the folks at the Design Studio to make that army genuinely different enough to justify the separate codex. The fate of Black Templars being reabsorbed into the main Space Marine Codex demonstrates the importance of introducing some genuine distinction that works on the table top and in terms of fluff.

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So I was hostile to the Codex Supplements at first – especially when it became clear that they would be the same price as a real codex. But my feelings mellowed when it became clear that no one needs to buy the supplement in order to do, say, an Iyanden style wraith construct army, the supplement merely allows you the option to further emphasise and deepen the theme and character of your chosen force.  This is really important, as in the past variant lists like Iyanden or White Scars were made possible by artificially limiting the main list – so it was only until 5th edition that Space Marine Chapters other than the White Scars got to deploy their bike companies (which they almost all have) to the table top. So you can still do an Eldar wraith army or a Tau army led by Farsight without the Codex and you only have to buy the supplement if you want to take the theme up to eleven.

Of course, the supplements also bring you scenarios, and extra stuff to enhance your games of Apocalypse and/or Cities of Death. Obviously the appeal of those sections will depend on your own views of those particular game variants. I never had much time for either (though I can imagine a few people being swayed out of the desire to try out something in the supplement).

The question hanging over this issue is whether any current Space Marine armies might be relegated to a mere supplement. Obviously Dark Angels already have a 6th edition codex, and the Space Wolves are probably too distinct for this to work, but one does wonder about the Blood Angels. In some respects this might be a helpful as it would prevent some of the inter-Astartes rules clashes that developed over previous editions (eg what save does a Storm Shield grant?) and reduce the need for FAQs about whether existing books get the latest shiny toys in the core book (eg, can Dark Angels take Hunters?).

So surprisingly, GW seen to have hit the right level here rather than make the supplements a blatant cash grab, allowing the journeyman gamer to stick to the main codex and the more dedicated fluff gamer to choose to upgrade their gaming experience with the supplement. Choose wisely which path to take, as it’s a £30 decision.

Something Special

Following the excellent posts by The Shell Case team on the passing of the Games Workshop Specialist Games range I thought I’d offer my own thoughts as it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Epic I may never have gotten into wargaming at all.

As Phil and I have recounted before, we got our first taste of the Games Workshop universes through Hero Quest and Space Crusade. Looking for extra cool stuff for those games led us to White Dwarf magazine, and it was in a copy of White Dwarf (owned by Phil as it happens) [I’d saved up my pocket-money and everything. – Ed] that I first encountered Epic. More specifically I encountered an Epic battle report between Blood Angels (backed up by Imperial Guard super-heavy tanks and Warhound Titans) and the Thousand Sons Chaos space Marines (and an assortments of daemonic and monstrous allies, including Magnus the daemon primarch and a Khornate Lord of Battle). After more than twenty years, it’s difficult to remember exactly what it was about the game that was played out in that article that won me over. It probably had something to do with the Titans, and the diversity of troops on the board from chaos trolls to the Stormhammer super heavy tank, but mainly the Titans. For those  of you too young to remember the Stormhammer, imagine a Baneblade with two turrets with twin cannon and four sponsons. [They were…ahem…epic. – Ed]

At the time I had assembled a motley collection of slightly random miniatures for use in Space Crusade (including the old RTB01 Space Marines) but the first miniatures I bought seriously with the thought that I might actually use them in a ‘proper’ Games Workshop game were a box of six of the classic plastic Warlord Titans. [Which he bought in a toy shop whilst on holiday in Cornwall of all places. – Ed] These sadly never got at much use is I might have liked. But at least one got deployed in anger a few times.

Once I finally got my hands on the Space Marine box set (Epic 2nd Edition for those of you keeping track) I was hooked and accumulated quite a collection. Enough to have a 2,000 point army for most of the available factions (even the Squats), albeit not necessarily very competitive ones, and certainly not very well painted ones. I certainly played the game a lot, though. Long before I was able to persuade my parents that I really did need a 6′ x 4′ expanse of chipboard to play one, we roughed out a playing area on the floor using white card with deployment zones handily marked out in biro. [Oh God! I’d repressed that! – Ed] Several glorious battles were fought out, and one or two humiliating fiascos.

This was the era of 1st Edition 40k and 4th Edition WFB, and it wasn’t for some time that either of those games tempted me into straying from my 6mm legions. But peer pressure eventually took its toll as none of my friends were into the 6mm side of things.

I enjoyed Epic. It was a cool concept and the rules were enjoyable to play.  Some individual unit rules may have been absurdly complicated but the overall system was straightforward. Though I remember some of my 40k playing friends complaining about how it didn’t quite match how things worked on a 40k table. Things only improved when Titan Legions (essentially version 2.5 of the game) came out and I could start using entire companies of Titans.

I sometimes wonder if Epic would have been consigned to the slow death of the Specialist Game section if Epic 40k (version 3.0 of the rules) hadn’t tanked so badly. While I see what they were trying to do, the total rule change (it was literally a new system designed almost from scratch) alienated many and ultimately it was a bland over-abstracted system that was still inexplicably fiddly at times. The final version, Epic Armageddon is a much improved version, being based on the similarly excellent Battlefleet Gothic.

Of course, the damage was done by that point, and Epic has gone the way of all the Specialist Games. A loss made all the tragic by it having once been a core game the way 40k is. I will miss Epic, and will probably regret never getting back into it while I had the chance, but I could never quite bring myself to give Games Workshop money for a game or miniatures they were blatantly never going to update or support.

While I appreciate that Games Workshop is a company that sometimes has to make hard-nosed business decisions, and that the Specialist Games were not very profitable, I can’t help but wonder if things might have been different if they had invested a bit of effort into making them more profitable through further development. Certainly the Necromunda or Mordheim rule sets were ripe for redevelopment into a full-blown skirmish campaign game for their respective universes.

Some might say that the development of Apocalypse for 40k makes Epic obsolete. But Epic would allow battles beyond the reach of even the most ambitious Apocalypse game, and what’s more would probably still be over sometime before two o’clock the following morning. So many units and concepts that started out in Epic have been extrapolated into 40k – Whirlwinds, Vindicators, Mantacores, Falcons, Leman Russ tanks, Baneblades, Deathstrike Launchers, Trygons, Vypers, Daemon Engines. And the list will continue to grow. It shows how much the 40k universe owes to that game and maybe one day, the demand to deploy whole titan legions against each other will reach a point when a new version of Epic might be feasible.

Until the day when the God Machines stride again…

What Good to Gain the World but Lose Your Soul?

After much speculation, it now looks like Games Workshop will not be applying an across the board price increase on models this year.

And there was much rejoicing.

Or was there?

Because this month we have seen Eldar Dire Avengers repackaged into a five model box for the same price as the previous box of ten. So the price might technically have gone up, but the cost certainly has, to the tune of 100%.

This sparked a furious debate among Phil and the rest of the gang on the Of Dice and Men podcast. There was a lot of speculation about whether we might see other sets like Space Marine Tactical Squads similarly repackaged. Sadly this possibility seems all too plausible to me.

I try not to be too irrational about GW prices. I try not to be like the people who feel entitled to protest when a publicly traded company with responsibilities to its shareholders acts like one. But this latest move really is bullshit. It’s a nasty, sneaky, petty little move, and it’s been carried out so blatantly and crassly that you can’t help but feel your intelligence has been insulted that they would do this right under our noses.

As I’ve said in previous posts, the cost has always been the biggest barrier to me getting back into GW games. I had been lured back into their orbit by the shiny Tau Empire, High Elves and Eldar releases, but this has been an important reminder, not just of the cost issue, but also of the all important cock-factor that helps us determine who we want to give our money too.

Prices go up. Inflation applies to pretty much everything, from crayons to laptops, from brushes to Forgeworld titans. But gratuitous price hikes like this really do piss off the consumer. Sure other companies raise their model prices too, but never to the same degree and they are still generally cheaper pound for pound. The few who are really expensive are generally producing minis for games you only need a handful of models for like MERCS, where once you have parted with your platinum and rubies for a faction box, you never really need spend a penny on it again.

The problem with GW has always been the amount of stuff you have to buy compared to other companies to have a viable force, especially the amount of ‘boring’ stuff you have to buy before you can try to squeeze in the cool shiny stuff with loads of dakka. And if you want lots of the cool stuff, you need to get more of the dull stuff too. It is unfortunate also that a lot of the really cool stuff is the most expensive, simply because of basic economies of scale and the fact that GW can’t sell as much of them so have to make their cost back with higher prices. This is why Greatswords cost so much more than State Troops and the Ball Predator is more than a normal one.

Collecting a GW army is increasingly looking like a long, tortuous and above all expensive road to follow. I think I will try another path.

In other news, my Warzone stuff is being sent out on the 24th, so hopefully I will have something new play with – and to review for The Shell Case – soon. Plus, I’m minded to check out Sedition Wars. [Because it’s the tits. Ed]

Any skirmish games my fellow Warmongers would suggest I check out? Leave a comment below.

Warhammer Armies: High Elves – A review

Warhammer-logo

I recently picked up the new High Elves army book for Warhammer Fantasy and spent last weekend having a read.

highelfbook copy

This is the first 8th Edition army book I have had the opportunity to examine closely and I was fairly impressed with the quality of the book itself. The full colour certainly adds to the experience of reading through the book and the hardback format doesn’t make the book as heavy and clunky as I feared it might. That said, the cynic in me still wonders if this lavish quality is entirely appropriate for a wargaming sourcebook, which is intended to be lugged about in bags, urgently thumbed and generally chucked about. Especially as you are paying for this with money you would otherwise spend on toys.

The book is well laid out overall, there is a goodly amount of background at the beginning, telling the history of Ulthuan broken down by the reigns of the successive Pheonix Kings, plus an overview of the ten provinces of the island and their distinctive characters and geographies. A lot of the information is not completely new (let’s be honest) but there are new bits. I certainly don’t remember learning as much about the elven pantheon from previous editions as I did from this one. Likewise, I don’t recall any previous book discussing the fate of elven souls.

The standard of writing is maintained in the entries detailing the various troop types. One thing I particularly like is the way that units in the bestiary have been grouped largely according to their provinces of origin, which adds to the sense of theme in the book and provides food for thought for potential army styles.

The new units I was most interested to see were the selection of new lords and heroes, which bring a welcome dose of both character and variety to what had previously been some of the blander sections of the army list. It’s nice to see the High Elves gain a range of more characterful choices comparable to the likes of the Empire. Of course, the traditional noble, prince, mage and archmage do have the benefits of flexibility.

My personal favourite is the new Loremaster, which is a kind character I’ve long thought the High Elves should be able to field. The Loremaster is a respectable fighter and comes with a Swordmaster style great weapon, and automatically knows all the signature spells of the eight core lores of magic. This could create a potentially very flexible character with a diverse magical toolkit to build cunning plans around. It will also be interesting to see if he can benefit from the appropriate lore attributes as and when he casts spells from each lore.

I also quite like the new Anointed of Asuryan, who could be a real boost to a unit. So much so that giving him a phoenix to ride almost seems a waste. I can well imagine a lot of players adding an Anointed to a unit of Phoenix Guard, turning it into even more of an immovable object.

The Lorthern Sea Helm (or Big Hat Shouty Man as Phil dubbed him) [What’s your point? Ed.] seems like a respectable hero choice. That said however, I think he would be best employed riding on a Skycutter as together they could form a formidable attack unit.

The Core Troops section has seem some welcome expansion. I was slightly disappointed that Shadow Warriors didn’t make it into core, as was widely rumoured, but having Silver Helms and Reavers both move to Core is nothing to be sniffed at. I know that there are many players who bemoaned the inability of fielding an all-cavalry army in the previous book. I imagine that Reavers may make a few more appearances now that they don’t count against the points you need for your precious units of Swordmasters et al. It also means that the Core content of the Island of Blood box has shifted in a way that may make it a more attractive deal to some. I can certainly imagine squeezing a few small squadrons of fast cavalry into an army, if only because they are a bit smarter than the now very old spearmen and archer models.

The Special Choices remain packed with strong units, and I think it comes to personal preference and/or the theme you are trying to create which you take. My own favourites remain the Swordmasters and Phoenix Guard. Though I have always had a soft spot for Shadow Warriors too. This is also the section where you find your Chariots and the White Lions which are solid choices. I think that the Dragon Princes are a decent unit too, but there’s no ignoring the fact that we are talking about some expensive elite heavy cavalry and you really have to commit to that idea to get the most out of them, with enough models and appropriate supporting choices. But toughness 3 heavy cavalry is a tough sell.

There has been a lot of grumbling about the new Lorthern Skycutter model and about how it is step too far in terms of introducing fantastical elements into the game. Personally I think the complaints say more about the failure of the imagination of the complainer than a problem with the idea. It helps that the model is quite a good one and executes the concept well. Game wise, it’s a nippy enough unit. Though it has the option to add a bolt thrower, this might not be the best option for a mobile unit. Personally, I would add a Sea Helm with a magic weapon to maximise the damage on the charge and increase the chance of breaking the enemy.While the Special section of the High Elf list has usually been an embarrassment of riches, the Rare section has generally been a more spartan affair. You will still find the Great Eagle and that ubiquitous old standby the Repeater Bolt Thrower here, but you will now also find Phoenixes and the Sisters of Avelorn so you have some real choices to make about how to spend your rare allocation. That said, I predict there will still be a lot of bolt throwers, because you would be a fool not to. The new Phoenix is another nice kit. Of the two variations, I personally prefer the Frostheart, simply because of the higher strength and toughness. I like that either version can be taken as an independent rare choice rather than just as a character mount. I can see the appeal of taking it either way, depending on your preferred tactics. As the only unit who can ride it is the Anointed, you will have to decide if that is the best use of that particular Lord choice.The new Sisters of Avelorn are quite a cool unit. They are a potentially powerful shooting unit and certainly a much more interesting version than the old 5th edition Maiden Guard, which were essentially Sea Guard by a different name. Like a lit of units in this book, the Sisters benefit from synergies with an appropriate character, in this case the Handmaiden, who can enhance the unit with the Quick to Fire rule. It’s nice to see the Everqueen reintroduced into the game too, and I notice that her inclusion is encouraged by being able to unlock magical enhancements for Sisters units.

The Sisters kit can also be used to make Shadow Warriors, and to my mind these new models are the best version of this unit ever and possibly my favourite of the new models included in this release. The models really capture the dark and sinister feel of these particular elven avengers and I can imagine them being used in a lot of Dark Elf conversions as well as High Elf ones.

The magic items are not much to write home about to be honest, though the Blade of Leaping Gold is an old favourite of mine. Otherwise, only the Shield of the Merwyrm and the Banner of the World Dragon really caught my interest. I’m guessing it’s easier to balance the magic items in the core rulebook. Or maybe GW just want to discourage taking magic items so we have to spend more money on units?

The rules that allow High Elves to always strike first have been slightly tweaked. The main effect is that ASF is cancelled out by the always strike last effect of great weapons. This means that Swordmasters and White Lions no longer get to reroll attacks and are now vulnerable to high initiative attackers like Vampires. This goes a little way to mitigate the perceived beardiness of the old Speed of the Asur rule. The rule that allows all High Elf units to fight in an extra rank is potentially more devastating as that can add up to a lot of extra attacks from the big units encouraged under 8th edition, all with the typically high weapon skill of an elf.

Overall, we’re looking at a well updated book, with some cool new bells band whistles, but no obviously overpowered units. The only serious disappointment in the whole release has been the failure to update the dated core archer and spearmen models. I imagine that lots of us will be hitting eBay in search of Sea Guard models instead. All the old stand by units are still up to snuff and none of them are overshadowed by new units. Indeed, a lot of the new units are best used in synergy with other units.

The High Elf army book is available from Firestorm Games for the sum of £27 of our Earth Pounds.

Decisions, Decisions

I recall as a child that it would take me an age to decide what toys to buy. The reason for this was simple, I had only a finite amount of pocket money and no matter how much I might wish I could, I could never possess all the shiny Transformers, GI Joe, or MASK toys that I had to choose from. The worst thing in the world would be to buy something that I would regret buying. Especially as you never knew when something else you really wanted could be discontinued without any warning, never to be seen on the shop shelves again.

Twenty-odd years later and to be honest, little has changed. The toys are just a bit more expensive and require assembly and painting.

Fatherhood has brought many challenges, and among them is having to keep to a much stricter personal spending limit for as long as we are a single-income family. I would never begrudge this state of affairs, but it certainly has made me aware of the importance off choosing what I spend my ‘pocket money’ on.

This might not have been so hard a few years ago, when I was only really aware of GW games, but now I am aware of other companies like Spartan, Privateer, Prodos, Mantic, Hawk, and so on. This means that there is a dizzying array of options to stun one into the paralysis of indecision, barely able to choose a game system, let alone an army (or perhaps that should be which army, first). I’m the kind of person who gets stressed if I feel I can’t do something ‘properly’ and this goes especially so with hobby projects so the prospect of juggling multiple army projects across multiple systems has always filled me with an irrational sense of horror. I’m also capable of getting irrationally resentful of the time it takes to build a fieldable army in some games, which is perhaps a sign that I need to relax and enjoy the collecting more.

That said, in times when I have had more disposable income I have managed to splurge hundreds on models that I never touched, so clearly a happy medium is the ideal.

I blogged a few weeks ago about the siren lure of 40k and Warhammer that never really goes away, even though it’s been years since I played either. If money was no object, I could probably slip back into the embrace of GW with only a few qualms, but the fact remains that you have to buy a great deal of pricey models to play those games. That said, it’s a lot harder to ignore the temptation now that the codices and army books for armies I might actually want to collect are being updated.

Skirmish games might be the way forward, but finding one that appeals is the key thing. One thing I have liked though is the new Warzone Resurrection game from Prodos, which I backed on Kickstarter, and in the next week or so I should be invited to select which new shiny things I want them to send to me. I’m 99% sure I’m going to get some of the Capitol faction. For a long while I was leaning toward Bauhaus, but Capitol won me over with models like the Orca walker, Terminator-esque Heavy Infantry and the Purple Shark jetbikes.

After clearing the decks, getting rid of a lot of unwanted stuff and letting the dust settle after some rather abortive attempts at getting back into the wargaming hobby. It’s good to find something I feel happy committing my money too and to have what could be the beginnings of a proper hobby project.

Spurred by this I’m also starting to seriously look at maybe doing some small forces for 40k and WFB – maybe starting at a Combat Patrol sort of size, and maybe only aiming at a 1000 points I can use for the occasional knockabout game. Something that size should be reasonably easy to collect even if I can only buy one box per month and/or set myself a ‘no new toys until what I have is painted’ rule. In addition to the box of unpainted Dystopian Wars ships somewhere in my spare room, it looks like I could have a goodly few projects. Which will mean it is important that I remember what i said in my last post about taking responsibility for making sure I get some enjoyment out of my hobby.