After the fantastic Black Library Live ended, Lee and I were fortunate enough to catch up with the legendary Gav Thorpe over a pint (of Coke) in Bugman’s.
He reminded me that I had set up this blog, made some bold claims and then kind of did fuck all with it.
We got on to the Tragedies of the Primarchs series I began writing and, again, I was nudged by Gav and Lee that perhaps I should get my arse in gear and finish writing them.
It occurred to me that some work needed to be done on this site and what once was The Shell Case. The weight of years and sheer effort hung around The Shell Case made starting over a little daunting. Plus losing out on all that content was kinda sucky.
So, I’ve consolidated the two.
On this site you’ll now be able to find all of the old The Shell Case content, as well as the new stuff for SILO41. Tragedies of the Primarchs are here as is the classic Shell Case Shorts.
The Shell Case as it once was is no more and the domain has been redirected.
I’ve also updated the look (obviously) so it’s a little more user friendly.
There’s a few additions still to be made – like a page about Aurora Games – but this is my new virtual home. Welcome.
Those of you who have followed me over from The Shell Case will know that my journey into the hobby, like many gamers around my age, began with Hero Quest and Space Crusade.
However, unlike the majority of gamers my age, I didn’t progress into either Warhammer Fantasy (may she rest in peace) or Warhammer 40,000. Instead my brother and I moved in to Epic. If I’m honest the decision was made for me as it was the game my brother asked for (and subsequently got) for his birthday so it seemed obvious for me to play it too.
I’m glad I did because I think it gave me a flavour of just how…ahem…epic the conflicts in the 41st Millennium are and the sheer variety of destruction a commanding officer has at their disposal:
Bike detachments, assault division, tank division, gunships, titans…
It was impossible to be a child back then and not fall in love with Titans. It’s impossible to be a child now and not fall in love with Titans.
In 1994 the Games Workshop released Titan Legions. A big box of mental to compliment the existing box of mental that was the core Epic: Space Marine box set.
Titan Legions, as well as some new rules, introduced new models to the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The obvious two were the indomitable Imperator Titan and the awe inspiring Mega Gargant.
However, swallowed in the shadows of these walking cities were the Imperial Knights. They looked a little different back then but they unquestionably brought something special to the game and the canon.
I invested quite heavily in knights, picking up as many of the metal variants as I could. It never really came to anything as, by this point, we had started to move into 40k and Fantasy.
Titan Legions in many ways was the death of Epic as it made the game so big and unwieldy that 40k and Fantasy felt like quicker and easier games to play in comparison.
Whilst this wasn’t necessarily true, it did take a lot less time to set up because there wasn’t all that faffing about with (literally) hundreds of stands of infantry.
When Epic 40,000 appeared on the scene Knights were all but forgotten amidst a complete re-release of the core ranges that saw the very best and worst of the Games Workshop design studio.
However, I clearly wasn’t alone in my fondness for Knights as they are now a playable army in Warhammer 40,000.
Regardless of the various perspectives on big kit gamers and big kit gaming in general, I think introducing armies of this type are a good thing because it’s something different and presents a whole fresh set of tactical challenges both for the user and the opponent.
If anyone can think back to when Ogre Kingdoms first lumbered on to the fields of Warhammer Fantasy, you’ll get my meaning.
So, twenty years after I bought my first lot of Knights, I’ve acquired…seven for Warhammer 40,000.
My attitude towards the army was like any other. Build the models, paint the models, (hopefully) game with the models. As I looked at the model I’d built a couple of years ago I realised what a colossal ball ache painting a full constructed model would be.
So I did something I’ve refused to do in the past. Paint it partially built. I always refused to paint bolters separate to my Space Marines because it always felt an unnecessary faff.
As I started work on the first Knight I realised something that I wish I’d realised right from the start. Painting a Knight is a fucking huge amount of work. Actually, let me qualify that. It’s a fucking huge amount of work if you want them to look good. I have seen some shockers on the interwebs.
The other thing I realised is that painting a Knight army isn’t like painting any other army. Most armies are made up of infantry, tanks, bikes, jump troops, whatever. There will also be the odd model that acts as a centrepiece.
As armies evolve and grow that centrepiece will change. When my Ultramarines began life, the centrepiece was a MkIV Venerable Dreadnought from Forge World. Then it became the first Land Raider.
Now, 12 years on and two companies later, it currently stands at a Xiphon and a Sicaran. Eventually they will give way to a Fire Raptor. If I get really bored and/or affluent that may be superseded by a Thunderhawk or some other bonkers big Forge World purchase.
It’s one of the best things about our hobby. Lacing our armies with models that make our opponents stop and take note. Not because it’s a formidable model to deal with – although it is – but because it’s just fucking cool.
The thing about a Knight army is that they’re all centrepieces models. All of them need the same love and attention and commitment in time. I also felt like every Knight deserved a suitably extravagant base which resulted in me dropping £30 on various hobby materials.
I also invested in the House Terryn upgrade kits from Forge World for the same reason. If you’re going to blow hundreds of pounds on an army you might as well go balls deep.
I partially built and sprayed two Knights foolishly (oh so foolishly) thinking that I could effectively batch paint them. I was disillusioned within the first hour of painting.
The Knight model is a fantastic kit, it really is. The more I tinker and build, the quicker it’s working up the all time favourite model table.
It also takes a huge amount of work. This isn’t a bad thing but the realisation that nothing could be rushed killed any dream I had of getting the army done in the same time I painted my 5th Company.
To coin a phrase, I had to unlearn what I have learned. After a 6 week period of painting my 5th Company, I had worked out a really effective process that meant I could paint, base and varnish a squad every 3 days.
The Knight that I’ve actually finished threw all of that out of the window. For a start everything has to be thoroughly base coated because big models hide no sins.
As I mentioned, I opted for House Terryn as they’re the closest Knightly House to Ultramar and I felt it logical that House Terryn would have some form of mutual protection/support pact with the Ultramarines.
It did, of course, mean painting more bastard Macragge Blue but on the upside I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
The easiest way to achieve this was a combination of Leadbelcher and Macragge Blue sprays and a fair amount of laborious manual base coating. The gold was a ball ache on a blue undercoat. I’m not sure if there’s any real time saver but the finish is definitely better.
The really big lesson I learned, however, was even painting a Knight in the convention sense isn’t necessarily the way to go. By this I mean painting all the blue, then painting all the silver etc.
It’s a miserable experience. The sheer size of the model coupled with the aforementioned manual base coating over the spray meant progress felt very slow and I noticed I’d begun to put it off.
I’m really pleased with the end result (pictured above) especially as I’m copying the named Knights from the codex to the look and feel needed to be right.
When I started the second Knight I decided to change my approach. I split the painting into three batches: the armour, the weapons and the body.
It made the painting feel more manageable as well as more in keeping with the usual batch painting approach. The result is that you get to see progress on what would otherwise be a huge project.
When I began this army, quite a on whim, I was totally unprepared for the challenges I would encounter or how I would questions processes and techniques I’ve been using for years.
But the result has been that it has given me a new perspective on the hobby and made me feel confident about tackling something like a Titan further down the road.
It’s also taught me patience. Plus, thanks to a little bit of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way, it doesn’t particularly matter how long it takes so long as I enjoy the painting when I sit down to do it.
More importantly, however, I can see myself finishing the army and using it with pride.
It’s been 5 long years since I first discovered The Lord Inquisitor and 5 long years since I interviewed it’s creator, Erasmus Brosdau who, back then was making a 30 minute movie because he loved the Warhammer 40,000 universe. A project he actually began the year before.
The prologue is a 9 minute 42 second chunk of what’s to come. Take a look and then you can sit through 1,400 words of me explaining why I’m struggling to find any fucks to give. I even checked under the bed.
Credit where credit’s due, Erasmus achieved the impossible by convincing the Games Workshop to (a) not sue him and (b) let him finish the project. There were, however, some conditions of course. The first being that he had to let Aaron Demski-Bowden work on the script because it was, frankly, shit.
No disrespect to the guy but it was classic fan fiction that crammed in all the shit he liked, held together by something vaguely resembling a plot that failed to stay true to the lore.
I can say that because I’ve been guilty of the same sin in the past. Although thankfully all those atrocious attempts at writing have long been deleted.
If you’ve watched the video you may have noticed that not a single mention was given to our favourite beanie wearing Black Library author. The man himself said on two different websites that he and Erasmus were co-writing the script so I find it irksome that his name was left off. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. There may not.
In the interests of transparency, I have a bit of a beef with Mr Brosdau.
Having discovered his project in 2011 I tried really hard to help raise its profile. After two interviews on The Shell Case and heavily promoting his project on social media, he promptly declined any further contact after the first trailer hit.
In his words, he wanted to save interviews and exclusives for bigger websites than mine.
Maybe it’s sour grapes. Personally I feel it was an unnecessary snub towards a site and its readers that had shown enthusiasm for his project.
Despite all that though, I’ve kept close tabs on the project and now, after months of hinting, the prologue was been revealed to the world.
I’ve been keen to see things move forward and the movie to be a success although my enthusiasm has been tempered by Erasmus’ tendency to pull focus. I don’t like showoffs.
Which brings me neatly on to the video. If you’d never heard of Erasmus Brosdau before now and you’ve watched the trailer you’d know exactly who I was banging on about because his name is on almost everything.
As mentioned, it really annoyed me that Aaron Demski-Bowden isn’t mentioned until the end credits. It also annoyed me that Erasmus rather vaguely claimed creator credit. I can think of several people who live in Nottinghamshire that may feel differently.
The unnecessary credits aside, on to the the prologue itself.
It’s gorgeous. I mean really really lovely to look at. The first couple of frames remind me slightly of Transformers: The Movie with Unicron but I admit, I’m showing my age.
The opening shots of the various Imperial ships and the soundtrack booming over the top is excellent. Exactly what I’d expect if a feature film was ever made.
I’m pretty sure Terra doesn’t have an atmosphere any more but we’ll call that creative license.
Terra itself is impressive. Vast, gothic, ancient, unfathomable, cramped. It also feels a little Blade Runner in places and a little Final Fantasy VII in others. Look up Midgar and you’ll totally see my point. This ins’t a problem per se but it did detract from the imposing gothic style slightly.
That said, absolutely top marks to Erasmus and everyone involved for creating something that looks and feels very ’40k’. At least for the most part. Arguably more so than anything that’s come before it, including the Space Marine video game.
Also the soundtrack is fucking brilliant. Fantastically dramatic and orchestral yet there’s lots of contemporary influences to make it perfectly, delightfully science fantasy. I would buy that score happily.
It will shock none of you that there were things I didn’t like.
The big red balloons for one. They just seem a bit odd to me. The palanquins were stupid. Why they looked akin to Mars pattern warships is beyond me.
The procession was a confused mess of a military parade and a carnival. It’s as if the The trouping of the colour and the Day of the Dead had made an unholy, ghoulish baby.
The Space Marine animations annoyed me. They felt too lumbering and the perfect pace was to hide the fact they were all identical. Literally no difference. Plus I’m not convinced they would have been there in the first place. The Dreadnought’s definitely wouldn’t have been.
I have to accept that all these things fall under artistic license and at least are 40k and more or less accurate.
But seriously though, what the fuck is the deal with the mental hats the ecclesiarch are all wearing?
Sadly my gripes don’t stop there.
The animation of the characters is very rough around the edges. The Imperial Guard in the procession look super imposed. Their movement along the processional was faster than their footfalls so they appeared to slide down the road.
The death cult assassin is typically over sexualised complete with a bottom that, to coin a phrase, you could park a bike in. It’s okay if Erasmus is an ass man, I just think the rest of her needs to match.
Oh and it would have been nice if she wasn’t dressed in such a way to suggest she was going to chain you up and then assault your back passage with an array of silicone sex aids. It was lame when it was done in the Inquisitor game, it’s still lame 15 years later.
Whilst the features of the characters are very detailed and undoubtedly impressive, the facial animations are rubbery and the mouths don’t match the dialogue. I appreciate this is incredibly difficult but seeing as some video games have this down now, I feel my standards have been raised for me.
The voice acting is poor. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m not sure if it’s the script or the direction but it swings from being quite forced to very hurried. There’s no pace so during Marcus’ big scene he comes of as a sociopath, taking delight in the torment of his victim.
I have a real problem with this as whilst Inquisitors can be egomaniacs and their methods and perspectives vary wildly, I always feel like they would appreciate the gravity of finding and executing a traitor on Holy Terra.
Instead he’s the Inquisitorial equivalent of the kid who pulls wings off flies. Which makes him a total dick and a fairly unlikable protagonist.
Where it really falls down though, where it’s left me cold instead of ringing the sex-wee from my pants, is nothing really happens.
We’ve waited 6 years for basically eight and a half minutes of showing off. Before you start throwing objects at your screen and trying to find out where I live, really watch it.
I’ve watched it around ten times now to make sure.
We get a full minute of sexy ships. That’s fine. The ships are sexy and they deserve their time in the sun being sexy. The sequence is also beautifully, perfectly, shot.
We then get 4 minutes and forty seconds of shots of Terra: various locations, lots of dramatic panoramics and the parade. All the while with that brilliant soundtrack playing over the top.
Finally we see Marcus and co tormenting their prey. That scene lasts 2 minutes 19 seconds.
Then there’s 1 minutes 42 seconds of credits in which Erasmus is mentioned 15 times. Whilst I’m all for people getting the credit they deserve, I feel like this could have been done with a little less narcissism, with more time spent making the prologue good and less time spent making Erasmus’ career.
It’s entirely possible that I’m being too harsh, but I really don’t think I am. For all the time, hype and attention seeking that’s gone on these last five or six years I was expecting a lot more.
I don’t think it’s enough to reward your audience’s patience with 5 minutes of impressive visuals, 2 minutes of talking and almost 2 minutes of patting oneself on the back.
For all that though, I still want The Lord Inquisitor to be good and I want it to be a success. I want the glitches with bird animations to be smoothed out and the voice actors to find their feet with the material.
More than anything I want myself the other fans out there to lose their minds over how awesome it is and not get to the end, shrug their shoulders and say ‘meh’. Which is exactly what’s just happened.
It’s been a long damn while since I wrote a review of any stripe so what better way to get back in to the swing of things than with a movie that’s made a shit tonne of cash and has been universally panned by movie critics.
The first thing you need to remember about movie critics are they usually have an agenda. The second thing you need to remember about movie critics is that they are usually not the target demographic for comic book movies.
The third thing you need to remember about movie critics is that an awful lot of them are fuckheads.
For those not up on their Batman, Suicide Squad follows the exploits of a group of super villains press ganged into service by a secret government agency called Argus. They have the pleausre of carrying out the most dangerous and most unpalitable missions with little or no chance of survival. Should they survive they get 10 years knocked off their sentence.
For many, they’re serving multiple life sentences which rather incentivises them to keep going on missions.
Fail the mission – they die.
Disobey an order – they die.
Try to escape – they die.
Complete the mission but don’t get out in time – they die.
Being a member of the Suicide Squad does not equal happyfuntimes.
The movie is (sort of) based on the Nightshade Odyssey from 1988. A slightly odd choice considering the more recent story lines but considering Batman vs Superman borrowed heavily from Frank Miller’s non-canonical The Dark Knight Returns from around the same time, it kinda ties in. But not really.
In this story the Suicide Squad is sent in to stop Enchantress (who isn’t really Enchantress) from destroying all technology in the world. The dirty bastards tried to hit us right in the iPhones.
In reality, as per the Nightshade Odyssey, it’s actually the Succubus and her brother the Incubus melting shit and turning people into weird zombie…things.
Presumably the introduction of all powerful trans-dimensional beings will have a later purpose. Otherwise it’s something of a waste.
What also went to waste was the budget. At least as far as their scenes were concerned. They did their best but they were painfully CGI, really lacking the spit and polish from its older brothers or, dare I say it, Marvel.
However, kudos goes to the animators for how the Incubus’ powers melted shit, that was way cool. The Enchantress was also superbly animated, the ethereal energy in her eyes and the cinders swirling round her was awesome.
Broadly speaking I thought Cara Delevingne did a pretty good job considering she was made to do most of her acting via her chest.
That’s not a sexism thing, it’s the truth. As the Enchantress she was wearing a padded bra that was a size too small. As Succubus she had more tit-tape going on than a Kylie Minogue calendar. Not a complaint, just an observation.
In this interpretation of the Suicide Squad the lineup is similar to the DC animated movie, Assault on Arkham. Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang all make an appearance with the additions of Killer Croc, Katana and Diablo.
The former two are notable played by Will Smith and Margot Robbie. If you haven’t heard of either of them you sicken me. Google them.
The rest of the cast is made up of stars of greater or lesser import but frankly no one cares. Their performances are fine, apart from Killer Croc. He was rubbish. But he was rubbish because his script was rubbish. His dialogue was borderline racist and his voice was absurd. The writer and director also somewhat failed to understand the psyche shredding devolution Croc was going through.
Whilst Will Smith was fine I didn’t feel his performance warranted a big song and dance. He does the tragic character very well and has done in a number of movies in the past. If his characters from I am Legend and Bad Boys had a baby it would be Deadshot. Weird but accurate.
The shower stealer was Margot Robbie. Shocker right? Yes she’s gorgeous, yes she has a great body and yes she squeezes into the shortest sequin shorts (try saying that hammered) this side of my pubescent wank bank, but genuinely she absolutely nails it.
Margot Robbie did a lot of research into her character, far more than anyone else I would wager and it shows. The voice, the behaviour and mannerisms all scream of the fucked up little former therapist we all know and love.
There were lots of references to the animated series and the comics for Miss Robbie to play with which she did with great abandon. To the director’s credit there was a few references to one of the most iconic Joker orientated comics which made me smile.
Margot Robbie seems to totally understand that Harley Quinn’s character from the the dead pan humour to her explosive temper, particularly towards the Bat (who makes a couple of welcome appearances) because she’s trying to do everything she can to win not just the Joker’s attention but affection.
If only the writers and director knew this or gave a shit. Because unfortunately the subplot was the Joker trying to get back his main squeeze. Which rang really hollow. Really hollow.
I’ve read a lot of Batman comics and whilst the Joker doesn’t like people messing with his girl or, heave forbid his girl wanting to mess with anyone else, it isn’t because he loves her. It’s because he gets off on the power and control he has over her, all the while making every effort to get the Bat’s attention and (dare I say it) love.
Which brings me on to the Joker himself. God I wanted to like the Jared Leto’s performance. I really did. But it was, frankly, a bit shit. Again, rather let down by second rate writing presumably because (between Zack Snyder being a fucktard and Marvel nicking all the good ones) they were the only ones willing to work on the project.
The look of the Joker was stupid. The metal teeth make him look like a boxer that’s taken one too many shots to the mouth. Whilst I suspect it’s meant to represent all the run-ins with B-man over the years, it just doesn’t work because he looks so puffy lipped the whole time. The stupid, 1980s bling (that’s actually rife in the movie) and his portrayal of a spoilt child doesn’t do the character justice.
Don’t get me wrong, Leto did a better job of communicating the Joker’s sociopathy and penchant for extreme violence than the late Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight.
I say this because whilst Heath Ledger was brilliant as a super villain, I never felt like he understood the unbridled delight the Joker took from inflicting harm and chaos on others. I know it’s not a popular view so please save your scathing comments.
I would argue it’s almost sexual for the Joker, especially when it comes to attracting Batman’s attention. So in that respect, Leto was closer to the mark. But as usual Hollywood by design or by accident fails to understand the differences between a psychopath and a sociopath.
Leto’s efforts to convey the Joker’s menace never finds purchase. He just spends of the time looking weird. Because most of the film is set at night, his metal teeth are swamped in the gloom and so his howling mania makes him look like an old albino man who’s been smacked in the mouth.
The movie has been criticised for being a discordant mess. I agree with this but for two fairly divergent reasons.
On the one hand it’s evident that the studio fucked around with the movie. Whether it was to make it more violent or make it funnier (reports vary) it is noticeable at times. That said, the humour works. The violence works.
Even the violence erupts at different times in different ways. When Diablo lets loose (my stand out male performance purely because it was so understated), the extremity of the violence is only moderated by the wise crack that immediately follows it.
It reminds me of progressive rock. At times a big hideous mess, at times musical genius and overall it just works.
On the other hand, this movie is not a super hero movie. It’s a super villain movie. These guys (and gals) are arseholes. They’re selfish, sociopathic (or psychopathic), damaged, disturbed, twisted, narcissistic tossburgers.
It’s not the Avengers. It’s not all buddy buddy or the coming together for the greater good. They’re in it because they have to be. They literally have no choice. So the disharmony, the out of tune nature of the movie actually works. Whether it was meant to or not is another story.
For all my criticisms, Suicide Squad is actually a good movie. It has flaws. Big glaring flaws. It has ropey performances and forgettable performances. It has one annoying performance. It also has a couple of great performances. They don’t carry the movie but they do make me forgive a lot.
More than anything it’s just a bloody good romp. And the soundtrack is just superb. Whilst I won’t pretend they didn’t pick a couple of the same tracks used in Guardians of the Galaxy I’m glad they did. One, because they were great song choices and two, it’s a movie about scoundrels and thieves.
I think DC is getting slapped around unfairly by a lot of people right now but if we cast our minds back to the first three movies of the MCU – Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, I would argue DC are on a similar trajectory.
They’re finding their feet and whilst they should have turned up to the party loooooong ago I say let’s be grateful they’ve shown up now.
For all the things wrong with Suicide Squad, for all the blatant errors in Batman vs Superman, I’m excited for what DC and Warner has in store for us. I’m especially excited about the Wonder Woman movie, no not like that. Okay a little like that.
I’m also excited about Geoff Johns and Jon Berg heading up DC Movies because, frankly, Snyder can fuck right off. And seeing as these two chaps are involved in Wonder Woman, it fills me with a lot of hope.
Go see Suicide Squad, it does exactly what the comic was always about – provide fantastic, eccentric, albeit violent, entertainment. You’ll get a couple of really rewarding scenes and performances for your trouble.
I’ve started collecting an Imperial Knights army. I can say that because I now own more than the one I reviewed back in April 2014 back on The Shell Case. This is, of course, thanks to the comically good value of the Imperial Knights: Renegade boxset.
This may seem like I’ve lost the plot, especially if I stop to consider how many models I’ve got and how many of those are unpainted but bear with me and hear me out.
I’ve entered into something of a new chapter in the saga of my hobby and what’s more, I entered into it without even realising.
I think it happened when I went to Warhammer World. It was my birthday and I wanted to get something cool. The problem was there was nothing I needed. My Ultramarines are as big as they ever need to be.
Of course I could get more tactical squads and more assault squads but what would be the point? I’ve only ever fielded the 1st and 5th once in all the years I’ve had the army. It was glorious but hardly justification for collecting the 3rd company which I’d been considering.
Instead I did what anyone would do going to Warhammer World with a figurative pocket full of cash: I went to Forge World.
The thing is, when you have all the Space Marines you need, with all the tanks you need, there’s really nothing else to but get the stuff I want. Which is why I ended up with a Fire Raptor and a Sicaran battle tank.
And that’s the point. I don’t need anything any more. I have two 40k armies, one massive, both legal. I have a Fantasy Chaos army that’s massive and apart from the painting is complete. Ish. I have Mordheim warbands coming out of my ears and a Gothic fleet that can eclipse the stars themselves. I don’t need anything any more.
What want is a Knight army. For no other reason than because I can and it’s a fantastic hobby project to undertake. It’ll also be a very interesting army to use… assuming anyone is willing to let me field it.
It’s indulgent, it’s extravagant and it’s totally unnecessary but that’s what makes it so much fun. Unburdened by ‘I must’ and ‘I need’ I can just enjoy myself. What better way of enjoying myself than collecting an army of Mechs? But not just any old Mechs, Knightly Mechs with a code of honour and brotherhood. I can’t think of anything better.
It may explain why I’ve dropped £30+ on basing materials.
It also explains why I’m considering at least one Thunderbolt for air support purely because I’ve always loved the model.
Hilariously, 5 Knights only weighs in at 2100 points which means flyers and more Knights to get the army up to 3,000 points is on the cards. I knew I was on the right track when the news delighted me rather than put me off.
The bottom line, however, is this: it’s reminded me that collecting an army is exciting. It’s not work, although batch painting can feel that way, or something we have to do. Collecting Knights is a staggeringly expensive business but I had a choice. I decided that the fun of crafting the bases, building the models and painting them far outweighed the cost.
The finished result will be something splendid to behold and a point of pride. Unless I bodge the painting.
But, frankly, complaining about the cost of something I’ve chosen to do is as retarded as getting drunk then complaining about the hangover. I made the choice and I’m having a blast.
My name’s Phil and I’m a plastiholic. I’ve had a problem for 27 years.
Us hobbyists are a funny bunch of buggers. It’s genuinely incredible how we talk ourselves into ‘needing’ new armies. Take my good and dear friend Lee. When we were up at Warhammer World we started looking at the cabinet with the Solar Auxilia in it.
Those are some seriously pretty models. Every model is unique which is testament to Forge World’s skills, commitment and sheer mentalness. Inside fifteen minutes we’d already worked out key elements of the army Lee would collect. But it was okay because it was a slow burn project, mainly because it was going to cost all the monies. Last week he emailed me to say that he’d snapped up two artillery teams on eBay.
So it begins: a new army. There are few things more exciting for us happy band of uber geeks. That excitement that comes with the smell of the plastic or clipping out that first unit. Seeing that first unit painted and the army take shape is immensely satisfying.
But who I am to judge? I may or may not have just ordered two boxes of Imperial Knights: Renegade. And when I say may I mean I absolutely did. Why? Because the idea of a Knight army took seed ages ago and so when Renegade came out it was only a matter of time…
I already have one Knight so four more makes an army. An army of big stompy killer robots (sort of). A throw back to my days of playing Epic and where my hobby really took flight all those years ago.
It’s also an opportunity to build the showcase army we all secretly dream of collecting. To do something utterly crackpot that will either do or die and nothing in between. Something so delightfully, quintessentially 40k-esque that I just had to. Plus it’ll really wind up The Chaps.
It’s hard not feel the lure of a new army when history and emotion play such a big part. At least that’s how I’m justifying it at any rate.
Our hobby is so incredibly tactile that it’s impossible not to become very attached to our armies as we build and paint them. To stand back and marvel at our work, regardless of our painting prowess, is an entirely unique and intensely personal experience.
Which is probably why we all get so precious when our brand new army gets tabled in two turns. That goes double when it’s against some beardy little shitweasel who puts winning above enjoyment of the hobby. And for the record, fuck those guys in the ear.
Perhaps the answer is that we’re not all plastic-crackheads but romantics, creatives and enthusiasts. We’re not drawn to the models because they’re new but for the experience of creating and for the stories we tell with them. We invest our time and our passion to stand at the head of armies of darkness and light. Of ruination and order. And to tell tales of our glory.
It’s a common question. A question with more than one answer. ‘Because parenting doesn’t seem that hard in the movies’ would be an uncharitable response after the day I’ve had. ‘Because it seemed like a good idea at the time’ is a delightfully catch all answer that covers a multitude of sins. Including the aforementioned notion of parenting.
What I’m referring to, however, is creating another blog. For those that don’t know me, I ran the wargaming site called The Shell Case for four years. In that time thousands of wargaming enthusiasts visited my site every day because, astonishingly, they seemed to care what I thought.
After four years and a lot of blood sweat and tears I called time because it had stopped being fun. There are reasons and if you feel like trawling through the final few posts you’ll get some insight into a few of them. A handful know the full story and that’s the way it’ll stay.
At the time I was extremely surprised and humbled by the comments and emails I received thanking me for my efforts. Many asked me to reconsider and some, as recently as last month, asked me to bring it back.
To those the answer is ‘because this site isn’t that site’. This is not my return to wargaming journalism (such as it was) but a return to what The Shell Case was created for – a means for me to talk about the hobby that I love.
Followers of old will be comforted to know that I have, if anything, become more opinionated and so there will still be the odd review. But, first and foremost, this site will (and must) focus on my experiences in the hobby as it’s revived from near death and the creative projects I’m currently involved in.
It’s a new adventure with a familiar twist. A reboot, rather than a sequel. If this was a movie JJ Abrams would be directing it. Or, if it’s shit, Michael Bay.
Either way, I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing.
Okay okay, I know I said I didn’t have any interest in getting this game but I’m weak and…well who gives a shit whatever other reason I have?
The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth (for those living under a rock or too idle to go to the Games Workshop website) is a boxed game depicting the running battle between the Ultramarine and the Word Bearers Legions in the catacombs below the radiation ravaged surface of…well, Calth. Obviously.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Horus Heresy novels then you’ll be fairly aware of the events leading up to it and the major players. If you haven’t please run full pelt into a wall as punishment. Then go read them.
So Betrayal at Calth is a very splendid looking board game pitting the Ultramarines against the Word Bearers in the dingy tunnels and chambers of subterranean Calth. I do have to address the elephant in the room. Yes it’s kind of like Advanced Space Crusade…and Space Crusade. But in a lot of crucial ways it’s not. It’s easy to make direct comparisons between this and its forefathers but the truth is Space Crusade’s focus was exploration whereas Betrayal at Calth is open war and a fight for survival. It’s tunnel fighting at its very worst. The need for blip counters and a lot of the other very cool things that made Space Crusade iconic just don’t fit.
Truth be told, Betrayal at Calth is a pretty good game. Much like Deadzone, the game uses a grid movement system with an occupation limit. However, unlike Deadzone it isn’t shit. The main differences are the hex system works instead of the vague and wooly cube system in Deadzone…and it doesn’t have all the other reasons that made Deadzone poor.
Broadly, the mechanic in Betrayal at Calth works much like its forebears. You roll some very groovy dice with icons denoting a hit or critical hit or a shield (which is either a miss or a defensive success). Unlike Space Crusade it’s far simpler with a straight forward activation system that allows turns to be rattled through very quickly. Much like the reboot of Space Hulk. Unlike Space Crusade it doesn’t bother with the two tier dice system so you’ll actually bother firing your boltguns in this game.
The aforementioned hex system allows for not only slick movement, shooting and combat but very elegantly represents the cramped environs of the tunnels the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers were fighting through. This is a very good thing. Best of all it’s a simple value equals dice rolled process with additional dice being rolled in certain circumstances. Which makes for a far quicker gaming experience. Of course it gets a little abstract but, to be honest, it doesn’t matter because it works.
It allows you to hamper the movement of your opponent or outright bottle neck areas by using the accumulative bulk of your Space Marines or, better yet, your Terminators. It’s a surprisingly tactical game for what otherwise would be a ‘go here and shoot them’ offering.
The production value is also amazing. The cards are thick and premium, the book almost as luxurious as one of Forge World’s Horus Heresy publications and is resplendent with their artwork. The double sided tiles are also loving rendered. The only negative is that they’re not quite as premium as the Space Hulk tiles. But considering the amount of plastic you get in Betrayal at Calth I’m willing to let it slide.
At first I thought a game of Space Marines vs Space Marines would be deeply deeply dull but the differences in the forces – big scary dreadnought vs badass terminators – and the legion specific decks players can call upon actually really works. Plus the critical hit system actually has the stench of genius about it. Rather than the obvious bonus hits, the effects vary from stripping away activation points to reducing enemy characteristics to zero…which means they get pulped basically. And the exploding assault cannon is back! Huzzah!
The scenarios are…actually a bit like Deadzone’s. They’re paced to gradually introduce gamers to the different unit types which rather highlights one of the reasons I suspect Games Workshop put the game out. To introduce new gamers to the 30/40k Universe. Considering the revival of Specialist Games it makes complete sense.
Betrayal at Calth has a simple mechanic, it’s quick and it doesn’t bombard you with the lore like the main rulebook does. Plus the models are superb.
Honestly, they’re all awesome. The terminators and contemptor suffer slightly from being plastics in a starter set compared to their awesome Forge World counterparts, but broadly Betrayal at Calth is absolutely worth getting just for the models. What really sells it is that the Space Marines aren’t the usual push together at but genuine multi-part models as detailed as the plastic tactical squad. They don’t have Forge World’s fidelity of detail to be sure but they don’t have warping, miscast detail or fucking horrid mould lines either.
Regular readers will know that I’ve got two companies of Ultramarines already and, because all the models are non-Legion specific, this box could put me well on my way to a 30% of third. If I felt so inclined. I’ve had to promise Lee that I wouldn’t use them as Ultramarines…at least not all of them. It’s a fantastic starter army though: force commander, chaplain, dreadnought, terminators and 3 tactical squads. I think it roughly works out you get the characters and a tactical squad for free based on rule retail price which is an absolute winner.
However where it does fall down is it lacks the progression of Space Crusade…which is absurd considering it’s 25 years old and, in that regard, the stronger offering. One of the criticisms I’ve heard is that the tiles used in Betrayal at Calth overall make up a smaller gaming space than Space Crusade. Whilst that’s true, they are double sided and the mechanic makes use of that space very effectively so larger tiles aren’t needed. Plus Space Crusade took forever to play so I’m not sorry that Betrayal at Calth is a quicker game.
Between the simple rules, straight forward mechanic, interesting critical hit system and some truly gorgeous models, Betrayal at Calth is a rare solid hit from Games Workshop. It isn’t cheap but we’re use to that. Plus buying 30 tactical marines alone would cost over £60 so in terms of getting some very cool models for not tonnes of money it actually makes complete sense.
The models really are worth every penny. They look fantastic, they’re cast perfectly and would look amazing either as the core of a new army or swapping out some of the older Mk6 and Mk7 armoured plastics. As I mentioned the terminators and the contemptor do suffer from the limitations of their kits, to be more child friendly, but it does nothing to diminish just how cool they all look.
The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is a brilliant little game. It looks great and plays well. It does lack some longevity but I believe the Games Workshop are remedying that with new scenarios and such. But even if that wasn’t true, you have the beginnings of a seriously cool looking Space Marine army.
Well this review has taken me bloody ages to write. It’s a little from the ‘life kept getting in the way’ column but mainly it’s the ‘I’ve been putting this off’ column.
And why? Well because I didn’t like Deadzone very much.
I wish I could give you a better explanation than that but I can’t. It took me ages to read the rule book because it’s really poorly written. It, like the Dreadball books, are also padded like crazy. Lots of big graphics and lots of wasted white space on the page. On the upside the artwork and photography is pretty good. Which is just as well considering how much there is.
The background is flimsy and in some places I actually felt uncomfortable reading it. The page on the character Wrath, for example,is appalling. It’s frustrating as hell because I know Jake Thornton can do better, and has done better. I just didn’t feel remotely invested in any of it and it wasn’t because the premise is, basically, zombie apocalypse in space.
Much like Project Pandora was a Space Hulk knock off with not-Imperial Guard fighting not-Skaven in Space, Deadzone is not-Space Marines fighting not-Genestealer Cult. There’s a convoluted reason for it all but basically the premise is: a virus breaks out. It makes people weird. The Corporation sends in the marines to contain the problem.
Mantic are doing their utmost to flesh out the Warpath universe but this really isn’t the way to do it. Shit writing aside, it’s too specific a premise to have the column inches to talk about the whys and the wherefores of all the races in the Warpath universe.
The rules are a clumsy read and I found myself losing interest constantly. Which was odd considering they’re not actually that complicated.
The game operates the increasingly common alternating activation method which personally I like as it keeps gamers engaged. Plus with some of the mental stuff going into 40k these days the game can be over in a single turn if you’re unlucky. So this way means you at least get a couple of turns in before you’re crushed like a bug.
The gimmick for Deadzone is the movement across 3″x3″cubes (because movement is three-dimensional) which kinda works but weirdly it’s very limiting. As a result scenery and movement covers a full 8 pages and there’s a lot of buggering about with levels.
What is interesting, though, is by assigning sizes and size limits to the cubes, movement can become very tactical indeed. Moving something too big too soon can choke movement for everything behind it. This does give Deadzone a chess-like flavour.
This is partly to do with the line of sight rules. Basically if you can see any part of the model – including the base or silly hair cut – you can shoot at it. Which is absurd and penalises anyone taking a faction (their word, not mine) with overly dynamic models. It also ignores the golden rule of wargaming: a model represents a flesh and blood soldier/warrior with, if not training, then survival instincts. A game that allows you to shoot at literally any part of a model ignores that.
Other games do similar – the Batman Miniatures Game has an overly picky cylinder rule but even that is designed to prevent players abusing the posing of a model. Deadzone does the opposite. Which is shit.
But good news, you don’t get to shoot at them half as much as you would if you could see the whole model. Which makes it all better.
The action in Deadzone is also divided into long and short actions which is a needless layering of process when a single action with a plus or minus modifier would work just as well. Instead each action is, broadly, repeated including a modifiers table which includes around 6 modifiers per action to consider. It’s like playing second edition Warhammer 40,000. Although considering who wrote Deadzone, I shouldn’t be shocked.
What is good is the different conditions that the models can be under including suppressed, pinned, alert and enraged. Whilst I’m not sure about the the last one, the others reasonably represent the impact sustained combat can have on a person. However these aggression levels bring with them the aforementioned modifiers. Boo.
But wait, there’s more. Not content with an abstract movement system, a fairly silly line of sight rule and more modifiers than you can safely shake a tape measure at…there’s battle cards as well. This is a randomly generated deck of faction specific cards that can give your army a handy buff. Aside from being yet another thing to slow down play, it gives players an advantage that falls outside army special rules/abilities or their technological level. It’s the proverbial puff of smoke. Randomly a unit becomes markedly better for no obvious reason. But more than anything, it’s just yet another thing to remember. Again, it’s like second edition 40k. Oh, and there are mission cards too…see previous sentence.
The models are, as I’ve come to expect from Mantic, average. The casting of the Corporation models is probably the best I’ve ever seen form Mantic with the majority of the model very nicely defined. The detail is far crisper because they have lots of nice flat surfaces so it casts well. They have a very groovy and very obviously stolen Iron Man aesthetic which makes them my favourite Mantic models by far.
The armour plates are really nicely defined and they certainly look the part of inter-galatic badasses. I’d have liked to see some equipment/peripherals to inject some personality into what are otherwise pretty faceless models. The weapons are a bit of a disappointment in so much as they’re either lacking detail or fussy and lack definition. Whatever the problem it’s the same one that’s been dogging Mantic models for as long as I’ve been reviewing them and I suspect it’s down to their particular blend of plastic/rastic/whatever.
The Plague are another matter. There’s all sorts of madness going on there. The models are big, scaly and nasty looking as one would expect considering their name. It’s all very Tyranid/Genestealer/Scavvy in feel but that’s not a bad thing and not surprising considering everything Mantic has put out is a rip off of Games Workshop in one form or another.
Unlike the crispness of the Corporation models, the casting quality just isn’t as good. It’s fine and the models are certainly better than a lot of the other tat Mantic has put out over the years but fine all the same. I can’t figure out if the iffy texture on the carapace is down to sculpt or bad casting. Either way the detail just isn’t as sharp as the Corporation models. Although one most be grateful for the detail being there at all. The weapons are really quite poor though compared to any modern standard. Again, think early Necromunda and you’re not far off what to expect.
The scenery, on the other hand, is amazing. It’s cast from plastic for a start. So yay. The level is detail is pretty good and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want it any more so because it’d take forever to paint.
What’s groovy is the system uses clips to lock the panels in place which means you can chop and change the buildings. This gives the system remarkable versatility and makes the contents of the box last far long than it would otherwise.
The downside of that is you’ll spend more time than you’d like fucking about, making the buildings but that can be fine too. If I’m honest, I’d buy the Deadzone boxset for the scenery, because it’s genius. I mean genuinely genius. I’m the first to admit I’m overly critical of Mantic but that’s only because I can see the potential bubbling under the surface. The scenery is one of their best ideas by a huge margin.
Deadzone is full of good ideas but none of it feels terribly well executed. The models are pretty good and the scenery is incredible. The rules lack finesse and the background lacks…everything. That said there is a reasonable game in there somewhere if you can tough it out. I just couldn’t.