Star Wars: Legion – A Review

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Writing this review was kind of weird for me. I felt a similar pressure starting as I did when I penned my highly opinionated – albeit heavily considered – reflective on The Last Jedi.

Star Wars has a tendency to polarise opinions one way or the other. The irony of that isn’t lost on me at all and I hope it isn’t for the super fans, although I suspect it is.

A double dose of irony, like a double espresso is enough to make anyone on edge.

The timing of Star Wars Legion couldn’t be more opportune for Fantasy Flight Games. It’s at a time when Star Wars has never generated so much money but has also never been more divisive.

With the early reviews of Solo: A Star Wars Story as mixed as a bag of liquorice all sorts we can expect the fanbase to get their collective panties in a wad things might start to rupture.

Use the Force(s)

So just as well then that a tapletop wargame should appear on the scene that allows fans to recreate battles for the Galactic Civil War. Or, as most people around my age will claim – the proper Star Wars.

It’s no accident that FFG have played it safe with the initial releases because they know that’s where the money is. But – in their defence – it’s also the part of the Star Wars universe that feels the richest.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader leading Endor gear Rebel soldiers and classic Stormtroopers oozes broad appeal not to mention a strong awesome factor. I can’t think of a single wargamer I’ve met over the years who isn’t positively erect at the thought of getting to paint and game with 25mm versions of the most recognised hero and villain double act in modern history.

Of course what makes it an even easier sell is we’ve had over 40 years for the characters, weapons and vehicles to become iconic. I mean who wouldn’t want a T-47 or an AT-ST?

Plus the sheer deluge of – albeit defunct – books, comics and video games helped to make the Galactic Civil War and the core characters feel very real. Although Marvel certainly isn’t wasting any time churning out properties that fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So there’s that too.

For the fans that are still smarting from The Last Jedi and already deriding Solo it’s an opportunity to tell the story the way they want. To play out the civil war the way they want. And that’s fine.

For the rest of us we get to play at being Star Wars heroes and villains without resorting to shoddy cosplay outfits bought off eBay.

Although it goes without saying we’ll still make the appropriate sound effects whenever any of the models do anything.

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This is where the fun begins…

Speaking of which – the models are very nice.

The core set comes with Bespin Luke Skywalker, two units of Rebels, a Rebel AT-RT, Darth Vadar, two units of Stormtroopers and two speeder bikes which makes for pretty reasonable starting forces. Plus the deluge of counters, cards and other chuff FFG like to stuff their games with.

There’s no denying the boxset is incredible value when you consider individual unit prices. Two core sets between mates is the absolute best way to start collecting Legion.

I’ve always straddled the fence whenever it came to FFG playing pieces. Although X-Wing and Armada models were amazing, the Rebellion pieces were only okay. I understand the Imperial Assault was a big leap in quality but they are also the company who produced the Horus Heresy game. And those playing pieces were the poor side of average.

To be clear, this ins’t a criticism of any one particularly title more highlighting the inconsistency.

Star Wars Legion however has seen the love.

The models do have limitations however. For a start they aren’t posable. They’re multipart in the sense that you have to glue the arms on but there are 7 Rebel poses and 7 Stormtrooper poses and that’s it.

So if you buy more you’ll end up with an army of identically posed miniatures. This is rather disappointing and I”m not entirely sure what Fantasy Flight were thinking.

This is clearly their first proper foray in to the world of tabletop wargaming (the messy divorce with Games Workshop makes much more sense now) so I guess they’re testing the waters in terms of their capabilities verses expectations.

I suspect most fans are still so hyped up about the game existing at all that they’re willing to forgive a lot. Including the price tag. Those 7 plastic 25mm blokes with set you back £20 or more. That’s Games Workshop money and at least they’re properly multipart and 30mm.

However the level of detail is pretty good (not stonking but good enough) and the casting quality is excellent. I genuinely can’t fault that.

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I have the core set and an additional squad of Stormtroopers and Rebels and they’re all pretty much perfect. So props to FFG on that.

Ultimately though the lack of variety is going to sting the Rebel players the hardest. Stormtroopers are faceless instruments of the Emperor’s will so beyond the unit leader, ranks of identical soldiers isn’t an issue.

It doesn’t work quite so well for the Rebels and only gets worse when you add in models like the AT-RT as that only comes in one pose too.

Admittedly the are opportunities for conversions and that’s all fine but I’m of the opinion that a conversion should be a choice not a necessity to stop your army from looking like the Stepford Rebels.

It’s made worse by the key cut joints (I fucking hate that) so – again – short of carving up your very expensive models, there is no freedom with poses. I think this is a mistake on the part of Fantasy Flight. Aside from giving games more freedom, sculpting models with flat body and arm joins is both easier and cheaper to produce.

So they kinda screwed everyone with that decision. It feels like FFG thinks of the models more like playing pieces than scale miniatures so to them, lots of repetition isn’t an issue.

Of course it doesn’t impact of the playability of the game but to ensure longevity and engagement Fantasy Flight need to up their game.

Yes it’s Star Wars but they need to recognise they’re breaking into an incredibly saturated market and competing with their former business partner. Who do this sort of thing incredibly well. And has done for decades.

Control, control, you must learn control

Reading the rules I’ll admit to feeling a little frustrated. Fantasy Flight have a really annoying habit of assuming that everyone picking up the rules is – in some way – a moron.

I don’t necessarily think it’s ego because surely they know they’ve written a really straight forward – albeit poorly written – game. However, they felt the need to split the rules into a ‘learning battle’ section and ‘advanced rules’.

First of all – they’re not advanced rules. Advanced rules implies they are in some way optional. If you want to play the game correctly you need to read the whole thing. That’s a fact. Secondly it actually makes the game harder to understand by explaining the rules only to then discover an entire list of rules that tie in with them.

Except their not in a logical order. They did it with X-Wing and it was annoying as balls then too.

On the basis that the wargaming hobby is incredibly well established with millions of gamers around the world enjoying hundreds – if not thousands – of rules sets far more complex than Legion or X-Wing, it’s safe to assume that a traditional lay out works fine. That is to say all the movement rules in the movement section, all the shooting rules in the shooting section etc.

It’s not that the rules are overly complicated, it’s just easier to read all the related rules in one place. It also makes it much easier to find rules for reference.

I do understand then motive to make the game easy to learn but the assumption is that the game is hard to learn in the first place. Which it isn’t.

Although the annoyance goes deeper because there’s a 50 page PDF of complete rules which not only includes rules not in the core box rules – which means you have to read it – it’s better written. So having spent some time trying to fully understand certain sections of the rules I have, there was a better version on the internet.

I would have gladly paid slightly more money to get a book of the complete rules in with the box.

The game

Star Wars Legion works on alternating activations – which seems fairly common practise these days – activating a single squad, character or vehicle and carrying out two actions each.

Fairly predictably those actions are move, shoot, melee, dodge and a couple of others.

This is nothing particularly groundbreaking but that’s absolutely fine. FFG have a penchant for needlessly complicating things for no obvious reason so this is joyous.

Where it gets fruity is – unless a unit receives an order from a hero – the units activate in a random order. This may seem a bit mental but it actually keeps things really balanced. No army can steam roller another because there is an added layer of unpredictability.

It also forces you to keep your eye on achieving the objective because you can never fully rely on the combat effectiveness of your army. It also makes the inclusion and use of heroes significantly important – but more on that in a bit.

Set up

One of the coolest things about Legion is the set up rules. Much like 40k’s Open War deck, Legion uses deployment, objective and condition cards to keep the game interesting.

The nice thing is that these cards are always drawn after you’ve set up the board forcing you to to think on your feet. It also stops people from covertly setting up the board in a way that’ll favour them, because the deployment card could properly spoil your day.

The important thing to remember here is that Legion isn’t like 40k or – in fact – most other table top wargames. It isn’t about kick as much face as possible, it’s about achieving mission objectives.

After all the plucky Rebels lacked the military might to take the Empire head on. All of the engagements were chosen carefully…or reluctantly.

The emphasis on achieving your mission keeps players on their toes and encourages balanced force building.

Of course units and characters have various upgrades available to them to give that competitive edge. What’s cool is that some upgrades are only available to specific unit types which elegantly prevents units or models from becoming overpowered.

Command

Legion also has a command phase.

I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of skipping over phases like this in games because they usually add very little and slow down the rate of play.

However in Legion it’s actually pretty important and rather elegantly represents the chaos of war and the limited yet powerful influence a single hero can have on the outcome of the game.

In Star Wars victories have always been down to great leaders on both sides whether it’s General Veers on Hoth or Han on Endor. Okay, he had help from the Care Bears but you get my point.

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As such heroes play an important role in Star Wars Legion. They are unusually capable warriors but also bring with them skills to augment the soldiers around them.

More immediately they are able to issue orders to units within ranges 1-3. This is significant because any unit given an order by a hero can activate when you choose rather than in a random order as described earlier.

The dilemma then becomes about how to use them. It’s almost like fighting a war is hard or something…

Movement

The rules for moving are simple in so far as a model has a movement value and you can move that model or unit of models up to the stated value. This is groovy and fairly standard across most – if not all – games.

However rather than using good old reliable inches or centimetres, Legion uses a sodding measuring tool. This was fine in X-Wing and Armada because abstracting space combat is hard and generalising movements of either tiny tiny snubfighters or slightly less tiny warships in this way works.

For Legion it seems unnecessarily restrictive and awkward as balls on a busy tabletop. Hilariously FFG even acknowledge this by specifically stating that – when circumstances prevent players placing the movement tool on the board – it can be held over the model instead of in base contact. So why not use a sodding tape measure and make everything easier for everyone?

In fairness it does makes sense for the vehicles as some – such as walkers – are naturally clumsy and difficult to manoeuvre but it feels like the rules make a concession in the wrong direction in the interests of consistency.

The reality is that most of the time you won’t bother to use the movement tool properly – at least not for the infantry because there’s just no point.

Shooting and Melee

These rules are actually pretty cool as they’re simple and requires involvement from both players so between that an alternating activations, no one ever really gets the chance to be idle in the game.

The attacker simply rolls dice for every model firing which keeps shooting simple yet satisfying. Some weapons get more than one dice but as a base line you get a roll for every model on the board more or less.

You can buff this by spending an action aiming at your target or with upgrades. The right up grades and the right combination of actions can make units utterly savage in a fight.

The defender then rolls defence dice to discount hits. This can augmented by upgrades, character bestowed buffs and  cover. The cover rules aren’t brilliantly defined in the standard rules I’m pretty sure at one point they contradict the line of sight rules but hey-ho.

Any unsaved hits are translated to wounds and models are either removed as casualties or accumulate damage – such as vehicles.

Where it gets cool though is being shot at – even if no one dies – earns your unit a suppression token. Earn too many and you lose an action. This presents a really interesting tactical element – on top of all the others – as you’re constantly forced to choose between resting your models or pressing the attack.

Whilst resting for an action removes a suppression token, you can give your opponent room to breathe. It’s a simple yet highly effective way of adding in psychology without it being a massive faff.

Melee works more or less the same way. I’m giving it as much attention as the rules do purely because most thing are armed with blasters. Yes you can charge Luke or Darth into combat and when they do it’s hilarious but they are very much in the minority. This game is all about blaster death.

The mechanic makes the game feel very fast and doesn’t allow you to stop and think. Considering engagements in Legion are meant to be relatively small scale and objective based, this keeps the pressure on and gives the game a sense of authenticity when compared to the movies.

Shooting does, however, require a range ruler, much like moving. Again, I fail to see how a range ruler would be better than a tape measure and makes less and less sense as you work your way up the levels of destructive potential of the weapons you employ.

Whilst I accept that a laser bolt can be less effective over distance, the kind of distances we’re talking about in the average game of Legion doesn’t make any sense.

Especially when you consider that the laser cannons on a T-47 Airspeeder have a significantly longer range than any given hand held weapon. It could be argued that because of the speed they’re moving at – which isn’t that far because that’s limited too – that it can only effectively target units at close range.

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This is of course utter bollocks and limiting both movement and range will inevitably make certain units identical in all but name.

I’ve seen it happen before with games like Dystopian Wars. When the mechanic doesn’t have enough flex then inevitably points of difference become arbitrary in an effort to appear original.

When you consider how powerful the laser cannons are, limiting the range could be a way of preventing it from being overpowered but it still doesn’t make sense. There are more logical ways of making a unit balanced but the mechanic doesn’t allow for it.

However this a relatively minor bug bear when you consider the overall experience and the fact that Fantasy Flight aren’t intending this to be anything close the kind of games Warhammer 40,000 can support. At least not yet.

That doesn’t mean they’re not going to release all of the things – especially as the fans will want 25mm scale Y-Wings for bombing runs and T-16s to bullseye womp rats. They’re only human after all.

With this in mind the mechanic may have been better suited to a 15mm game instead of 25mm.

From a certain point of view

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I don’t like Legion very much.

There are things wrong with the game. Aside from a poorly laid out and written rule book, the movement and shooting distances are too limiting. This will undoubtedly cause problems with scalability in the medium to long term.

I can see what they were trying to do but if you want to keep things simple then actually keep them simple, abstracting an abstract is dumb.

There are also other ways you can prevent units from being overpowered.

In reality these rules don’t ruin the game but inevitably there will be balancing issues that will mean – like X-Wing – models coming with their own set of rules because they simply won’t work any other way.

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However, those grievances aside, Star Wars Legion is a very fun game.

It’s as expensive as balls but there’s no ignoring the fact that you get to field an army of Rebels against an army of Stormtroopers. That’s hella cool.

The mechanic itself, with the random activation element, the balanced importance of characters and the slick dicing make for a fast paced game that really makes you work hard.

The set up deck and the heavy emphasis on objectives over blasting everything you see actually makes you play for the win rather than resorting to overwhelming force.

This makes it a very difficult game to power game with. This is good news. Although the range is still evolving so that could change.

Of course blasting your opponent to oblivion is always an option but you won’t necessarily win the game in the process.

What would be cool is an expansion deck with objectives and mission types around certain formations and types of terrain. It’ll prolong the life expectancy of the game and incentivise Gale Force 9 and 4Ground to make Legion scenery other than rocks and the industrial stuff.

One of the great things about the Star Wars Universe is the sheer variety of alien environments so the hobby element from a scenery board making point of view is endless.

This is particularly good as a rule set needs to do more than be a great game. It needs to inspire great games to be played. Playing over a Tatooine settlement is one thing, busting stuff to look tough on Mustafar is quite another.

To get the most out of Star Wars Legion you have to accept its odd quirks and limitations and take it for what it is: a fast and fun objective driven Star Wars strategy game.

For those use to playing games with more depth this could be frustrating but equally its overarching simplicity means it won’t take you as long to learn, master or play. Once you’ve got the rules down you can play a decent sized game in just a couple of hours. Including all the time spent making ‘pew pew’ noises.

Star Wars Armada Giveaway Winner

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As some of you may have seen earlier I closed the giveaway far earlier than planned. Someone shared it on a money saving forum and it all went a bit mad. I received more than 600 entries, 200 of which came through in a truly alarming flurry around 4:30 today.

To clarify, I have nothing against money saving sites or their users but The Shell Case is a but a small corner of the internet that exists for the wargaming community. Whislt I would never impose limitations on who can enter a line had to be drawn.

With the giveaway closed there was little point In waiting until the original draw date so a winner has been randomly selected. The lucky bastard/winner (delete as appropriate) is none other than much loved/mocked (delete as appropriate) #warmonger, @shavenwookie.

The Star Wars Armada starter set worth £67.99, courtesy of Firestorm Games, will be winging it’s way to him shortly.

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Star Wars Armada – Giveaway

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IMPORTANT UPDATE – It is with regret that I’m closing this competition early. I apologise to those wargamers who haven’t yet had an opportunity to enter. However this competition/page has been shared on a money saving advice forum and since Friday night I have bombarded by hundreds of entries. 200 entries have come through in the time it’s taken me to write this update.

Whilst I can’t comment on the motives of those entering, I can say having my devices going off all day and night has not been fun. I’m not criticising the members of the forum by any means, but I’m just one person trying to do something fun for the community I love. Frankly, having emails come through 24 hours a day for the last 3 days has been…intimidating.

I will randomly determine a winner as per the details below.

It’s been way too long since I did one of these but thanks to those lovely people at Firestorm Games I’m giving away a copy of Star Wars Armada starter box to one lucky person.

All you need to do is tell me what 3 word line from Return of the Jedi that made Admiral Ackbar a household name. And if it helps I mentioned it in the review

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Complete the for below and hit submit. A winner will be drawn at random. They will be contacted via email and the winner announced The same day.

One entry per person. No substitute or cash alternative offered. My decision will be final. Disputes will not be entered into. This competition may be withdrawn at any time.

Good luck!

This competition has been closed early. I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Star Wars Armada – A Review

swm01_featureNow I seem to remember saying some time ago, around about the time I had a game of X-Wing involving a full squadron of fighters, that X-Wing – as much as I love it – doesn’t have the slick rules or the flexibility for really big games. A dozen fighters a side took ages and the dogfights, whilst awesome, did get really messy on the board. Shortly after Star Wars Armada was announced which leads me to conclude either FFG have planted a bug somewhere about my person or they had the same thought but about a year prior… I know, it’s totally the bug thing.

So fleet sized engagements in the Star Wars universe huh? Well all I can say is: fucking yes! This has been a long time coming and, if I’m honest, I almost needed this game to be good. X-Wing is so much fun but the mechanic was buckling beneath the weight of FFG’s ambition. As cool as it was to have a Corellian Corvette on your board, it wasn’t the most practical thing to play with. That goes double for the Imperial Raider.

Star Wars Armada, it seems, is the answer to our prayers – a game that allows Star Wars fans to don the warbly bits of Admiral Ackbar and yell ‘It’s a trap!’ at least once a turn. Even when it isn’t.

My other reservation about the game was the price. It’s more than twice the price of the X-wing starter set. Sure you get twice the plastic but as the X-Wing box was a lot of money for a lot of cardboard it still doesn’t feel like great value. The thought being: if the starter set is £80 how much is it going to cost to build any kind of viable fleet? The answer is: shit loads. A lot just doesn’t cover it. Expansions start at around £17 full retail but the average cost of a decent ship is £35 upwards. And you’ll need roughly a dozen to make the games tasty. So almost 3 times what it costs to play X-Wing. The concluding thought after all this was: this game better be fantastic…

swm01_boximageIn truth? It’s not far off. The rules are terribly laid out – think Dystopian Wars 1st edition (sorry Spartan Games but it’s true). It’s so poor that all the rules that explain how the hell you do all the things you’re told about in the main rules are called ‘Additional Rules’. I can only assume that some one meant to write ‘Essential Rules’ but just wasn’t paying attention.

Considering Star Wars Armada isn’t excessively complicated it takes far more concentration than it should to understand how to do anything. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe what FFG thought was: if the rules are so laboriously written people will really put the effort in.

The reality is there’s irritated gamers and Star Wars fans lurking outside FFG’s offices waiting to slap anyone that looks remotely responsible.

I stress the rules themselves are not bad, you’ll just spend the first half of the rulebook looking confused and the second half of the rulebook looking both relieved and annoyed.

The weird thing is that there’s a reference booklet included in the box that’s actually clearer than the rulebook. Which makes no sense what-so-ever. It’s still clumsily written so the rulebook has the edge because it provides you with examples without which you’d be lost.

However, once you’ve ploughed your way through Star Wars Armada‘s rules, what you have is actually a pretty slick game. It takes the simple principles of the X-Wing game and builds on them so the basic phases and functions of the game are just as simple but you get all the fun of hammering capitol ships thrown in to the mix as well.

The result is a game that’s quick and involves throwing fistfuls of dice. It’s fair to say that’s usually a hallmark of a good game.

The fact that you need to measure arcs for both shooting and damage isn’t as much of faff as you’d think and fighter squadrons make a real contribution to the action in Armada, much like they did in the movie so bravo to FFG for striking the balance as well as they did. Although if you’re a Rebel player always take Luke Skywalker, his special rule is broken. And very useful…

All the various phases are quick and the shooting mechanic not only works but reminds me of the days of my long-lost youth playing X-Wing on the PC. What I mean is this: the longer the range the fewer shots the ship will make and the less accurate they become. This took me back to making attack runs and seeing ranging shots flash past the cockpit only to find my shields being hammered a few seconds later as I closed within effective range. How it’s worked it is simple and visually represented on profile cards and the range rule so you don’t have to waste time buggering about with the rulebook.

Damage in Star Wars Armada is tracked much like X-Wing, using cards, which is good because it’s a satisfying thing making your opponent draw them. Where it does differ is shields are tracked on the base using wheels for the four arcs. Again this is inspired because large games of X-Wing were a nightmare of models covered in wobbly stacks of cardboard.

My only real gripe is tracking the activation of fighters is needlessly complicated. The stands have slides which move under the base to denote if they’ve been activated or not. The colour representing activated changes depending on the colour of the initiative counter. It’s confusing. Surly a far simpler solution would have been to have sliders marked with ‘awaiting’ and ‘activated’ or similar?

Other than that though it’s a really tidy little game. The profile cards have subtle differences almost to the point of being unnecessary, much like in X-Wing but it didn’t bother me then so why should it bother me with Star Wars Armada? Like X-Wing, the upgrades offer some interesting game changes to keep players amused.

armada_stp1_compAs for the models themselves for what they are and their size, pretty good. You get a Nebulon-B Frigate and a CR90 Corellian Corvette for the Rebels and a Victory Class Star Destroyer for the Imperials. The detail is more than sufficient and the pre-painted standard is okay. Roughly the same as that of X-Wing. However because the models in Star Wars Armada are of a small-scale that quick, slightly slapdash, approach works far better. A black wash works far better on something the size of the corvettes in Armada than the fooking huge one in X-Wing. Ultimately, they look good and they escape feeling like expensive Micro Machines.

In fact the whole set, as one would expect from Fantasy Flight Games is produced to a very high standard. I seriously doubt it’s £80 high though. Although maybe we’re paying fro the truly outrageous amounts of packaging. The box is 5.5 inches deep. It could be half that and there’d still be rattling around room. There really is no excuse for such an excessively big box other than to make people think they’re getting something hefty. I can well imagine new gamers feeling slightly cheated when they open Star Wars Armada for the first time. I didn’t because I knew  what to expect. I knew what to expect because they fooled me with X-Wing.

The mad sized box and the price tag aside there’s no denying that Star Wars Armada is a brilliant game. It’s fun, it’s fast paced yet you’ll still get to spend a decent amount of time smacking each other around the board without it dragging on for too long. Whilst the various counters etc all make sense there’s going to be somewhat of a learning curve making sure they all get used in the right way at the right time but that’s not an unusual condition for a new game.

So is Star Wars Armada worth the hefty price tag? No with a but. It is flatly not worth full retail price. It’s still a push at £68 (from Firestorm Games) but considering the entire offering of the box and the contents will actually keep you entertained for quite a while, it can be justified. Barely. However it’s important to consider the quality of the game, not just the models and piles of cardboard. It is a good game. A game that you’ll wince paying or but the point is you will pay for it because ultimately you’ll enjoy it.

Star Wars Armada is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.99.

 

Special Ammunition

6 months ago I took a leave of absence. My life was getting very complicated and things were reaching a critical mass that would have seen, amongst other things, myself explode like a poodle in a microwave.

Things are much better. Still complicated but I am happier. It’s taken a lot of reflection and a lot of changes many of which are personal and those closest to me will know what those are and the rest of you…well tough shit.

This site and my hobby – and the future of both – hung in the balance for quite some time. This website, once a source of great joy for me, had become something negative with the resounding screwing over I and it got last year. Equally my fixation on making it a success and its ultimate downfall cost me a lot. It cost me my health, it strained relationships, it impacted on my work performance – particularly during the aforementioned screwing over – and my hobby suffered too. It took a lot to reconcile all that and decide if I wanted the site as part of my life. The fact that I’m here typing suggests I do but I’m yet to full decide in what form that will take.

As for my hobby…like a fat chick fresh out of an LA cosmetic surgeons office, it’s looking pretty unrecognisable. Most of it has gone including items with obligations attached. I apologise sincerely to all those concerned, but promised content won’t be forthcoming. They were assignments taken on at a pretty difficult time in my life and I needed a cleansing of all the negative shit that had built up around the site. Which is why, beyond esteemed guest writers like the immense Gav Thorpe, you won’t see contributors on this site whilst it exists in its current form. Again, certain contributors had made promises, none of which were kept and rather than continually setting myself up for disappointment, I’m putting a stop to it all together. This does mean various series will not be concluded and, again I apologise for that also.

But back to my hobby. As I say, it’s all pretty much gone. I’ve kept my Games Workshop stuff, my X-Wing fleet, and the Terran contents from the Firestorm Armada box and that’s it. The rest was sold or given away. The reason why isn’t because my hobby had become my job. I’d love my hobby to be my job. It was because I had too much content to produce and not enough time or willing hands to achieve it. Whether it was ambition or ego (or both) I overestimated a great many things last year and it cost me.

So where does it leave this site? Well, I was amazed to find that despite being untouched since Christmas people were still visiting the site. That’s a very humbling thing. As for content, it won’t be every day. Hell, it may not be every week but I’ll be writing again. I’m also going to be writing about what I’m up to in the hobby with a smattering of whatever takes my interest thrown in. Essentially I’m taking the site back to what I created it for. To talk about my hobby.

I hope to still do the odd product review because I really enjoy them. Firestorm Games being the amazing people they are, stuck by me when they had every right to cut me loose so I’m looking forward to renewing our friendship. Equally there are a great many companies I’ve gotten to know over the years that I hope I can still support in some small way.

I also owe an apology to fellow #warmongers who expected to see me at Salute 2015. I had a ticket but the reality was it was better for me to stay away. Granted I had the worst cold I’ve had in years over the weekend, but to represent this site wouldn’t have done me any favours. I wouldn’t have been there to network like previous years – Mr McVey I still owe you that beer! – and I’d done no hobby to speak of. Plus I’d just got back from Houston, Texas (big up to the guys at Fat Ogre) so it’s not like I could dropped a wad of notes at Forge World like I normally do.

But the fact that all the Horus Heresy armour variants I bought at Salute 2014 – intended to get me painting my Ultramarines again – remain distinctly resin grey means that buying more shit I don’t use is a great way of putting myself into a flat spin again.

So. I’ll conclude with this: I’m back, at least in part. Thank you to everyone for the outpouring of support when I went on hiatus and after.

I’m working on a couple of Mordheim warbands at the moment so I shall be kicking things off with some stuff about them.

Until next time…

X-Wing Expansion: Lambda Class Shuttle – A Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesA slightly different tack for me for this X-Wing ship review. I’m going Imperial. But just this once. I’m Imperial-curious I guess you could say. And for my dabble in the Dark Side I’ll be looking at the iconic and epically cool Lambda Class Shuttle.

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First: the model. Which is, even by the gaming standard pre-paint jobs that Fantasy Flight churn out, not awesome. Admittedly there’s not a lot you can do with a grey ship with lots of flat surfaces but visible brush strokes are a little much. The model itself though is way cool and I love the fact that the wings move. As arguably there will never be a situation when the wings will be folded up they didn’t have to design the model with movable wings so it’s kind cool that they did.

And that’s really the point of the Lambda Class. It’s just cool. It looks bad ass. It looks bad ass despite the average paint job and the alarmingly flimsy blaster cannons mounted on the wings. Those buggers will snap faster than someone with anger management issues at a twat convention.

In the game the Lambda Class Shuttle is a mess of contradictions. In terms of movement it is a slow, wallowing, turd of a ship that is quite at odds with the fast movers that make up the bulk of the Imperial fleet. This does mean it’ll need baby sitters like a teenager needs supervision at the magazine rack. That said, it’ll take some killing. With 5 shields and hull points it’s very solid and that makes it a problem for Rebels as their smaller numbers requires them to make clean kills and move on to the next one. Ten hits are a heck of a lot of punishment to have to dish out. Not to mention having to wade through all the other ships to get to the shuttle in the first place.

And it’s no slouch in a fight either with three shots and for 2 points it can take an anti-pursuit laser which means, much like the Firespray, you can only really catch it amidships. But for around 10 points less. However this fact does actually play to the Rebel’s strengths but providing you’ve not left the Lambda Class alone you should have a very meaty anchor unit in your fleet.

So the Lambda Class is a slow-moving, durable, weapons platform and a rally point. But that’s not all. Oh no. The pilots provide very useful advantages like taking on stress tokens or target locks which keeps you flimsier but faster fighter in the fight for longer. Colonel Jendon can assign his blue target lock action to another ship, presumably even if they can’t normally acquire it. Which for the likes of a TIE fighter is very useful indeed. Double that up with the ST-321 upgrade and you can acquire a target lock on any enemy on the board. Which, for an extra 3 points, is a lethal mix.

All the upgrades are a bit mental actually and none of them are over 3 points. Including being able to take Darth Vadar who gives you the opportunity to inflict a critical hit on a target in exchange for taking 2 points of damage. A two-edged sword but timed right and it could be decisive. Although the cheekiest card by a mile is the Rebel captive who inflicts a stress token on any Rebel ship firing on the user. Which is just horrendous and anyone using the Lambda Class without that card should probably have a slap. And, theoretically, on the basis that Rebel captives aren’t in that short supply, you can take one per shuttle.

And really that’s the Lambda Class Shuttle‘s strength: investing in sensible upgrades which dramatically increase the fleets longevity, allowing you to offset its weaknesses. And then take two.

I gameplay terms I’m not sure at which point you’d take a Lambda Class Shuttle over other elements. Especially now things like the TIE Defender is readily(isn) available. The unit buffs and upgrades are a strong lure but it’s slow speed forces you to change tactics and that’s worth considering. Points wise it’s embarrassingly cheap for what it gives you. TIE Defenders are the more expensive option and it’s only their aggression and tasty mix of Ion Cannons and Laser Cannons that makes them my first choice but in the right scenario a Lambda class is devastating. Especially anything that requires the Rebels to attack a specific point. The fact that the Lambda can actually come to a complete stop gives you floating bunkers and that’s terrifying.

The Lambda Class Shuttle is available from Firestorm Games priced £19.99.

-Phil

X-Wing Expansion: Tantive IV – A Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesI was very young when I was first exposed to Star Wars. Return of the Jedi was released when I was just a year old and so I was watching the Original trilogy on VHS (kids you’ll have to Google that) from around 2/3 years old. I didn’t have that seminal, life changing, moment that friends that are a few years older had. Instead I was born to a world with Star Wars and actually that makes me pretty lucky. I grew up watching and rewatching those incredible, industry changing, films countless times.

Even now, 30 odd years later, the opening scene of Episode IV is just as exciting as it was when my tiny infant mind was first exposed to intergalactic violence. And even now I still look upon the ‘Blockade Runner’ as it became known with great fondness.

So when Fantasy Flight Games announced that the Tantive IV would be released I must admit to a certain degree of nerdgasm. And with fairly good reason. Aside from being an incredibly cool looking ship and an iconic one at that, it was also going to completely change the way X-Wing played. Introducing large vessels not only could make for some scenarios very close to the kind available on the X-Wing PC game but introduce campaigns and even ship to ship combat rather than just snubfighters.

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When the Tantive IV arrived from the good people at Firestorm Games I was, according to my wife, as excited as a kid at Christmas. Who am I to argue. I was. It’s the Tantive IV for crying out loud! And it’s massive. I thought the Rebel Transport was big (a review will eventually be written I promise) but the Tantive is crazy big. Below is a size comparison (swanky star mat kindly provided by Deep Cut Studio) and as you can see it dwarfs the transport and makes the X-Wing look very flimsy indeed.

IMG_3026But as one would expect from something classified in the game as Epic. And it is. Very. But so is the truly embarrassing amount of packaging. I’ve commented on this before but it’s just mad on this occasion. If Fantasy Flight were willing to have just one window on the box rather than two it could be half the height. Granted, most of it can be recycled but it’s an unnecessary cost of production which gets built into the cost of the model.

The model itself is impressive. The larger the X-Wing models get the better the detail – stands to reason – so the Tantive is impressive. I even brought up images on Google to compare the model with the original and it’s all pretty faithfully done, right down to the asymmetrical hull sections. The ventral turrets and radar dish move which is a nice touch. But be aware they’re a little on the flimsy side so if you don’t have a case for the Tantive make sure you keep the plastic tray it comes in so you can keep it safe between games. It is epic though. I mean so impressive. And the joy of scrutinising the model and identifying little details cannot be emphasised enough. Being able to use this ship in a game is, well, epic. There’s also the usual stack of cardboard. Cards, upgrades, energy tokens etc. And all produced to Fantasy Flight’s usual standards.

What really lets the Tantive IV down, however, is the paint job. Now I appreciate and accept that having mass-produced pre-painted models is going to mean a drop in quality somewhere along the road, especially considering the volumes Fantasy Flight are being forced to ship now. However some parts of the paint job are just down right sloppy. And for the money they’re asking this shouldn’t be the case. Of all the ships I own – which is a lot – this is the only ship I think I’m going to have to repaint. Not because the quality is staggeringly under par compared to the rest of the range but because it’s so big the flaws are glaring obvious which is a bit of a shame. Overall and when on the board it does look awesome but once you spot a mistake your eye will be drawn to it every time.

In game terms the Tantive behaves rather differently to its more agile cousins. For start its a walling cow of a craft when it comes to movement. There’s two reasons for this. 1 the designers shrewdly acknowledged that it was represented at the speed depicted in A New Hope it’d fly off the board in a single turn. 2 this game is about the fighters ultimately and being able to have a squadron of anything swarming around a Corellian Corvette is immensely cool. Just putting an X-Wing or the Falcon next to it gives me hobby stirrings so you can only image what it’s like in-game.

The Tantive – again in difference to the fact that to behave any way would make it devastating – has to generate energy before it can do anything. For those that remember Titan Legions and using the Imperator or Mega Gargants, it’s not entirely dissimilar to that. Energy is produced and then directed to systems which allow it to perform special actions and fire secondary weapon systems. The good news is firing its range 5 (yes I said 5) turbo lasers isn’t included. It’s assumed there’s enough energy available to fire primary weapons and drive the engines. As the ship takes damage energy can be lost or you have to make the choice between diverting energy to make repairs to continue to fight. It’s kind of a game within a game which is a nice touch.

Upgrades can obviously augment the energy levels as well as generally up its lethality. Not that much is needed. Especially if you have a fighter escort within the vulnerable 1-2 ranges. However the option to take Prince Leia, Raymus Antilles, R2D2 and C3PO is pretty cool and most of the upgrades are worth taking. And some of them can be taken with other craft as well so there’s some nice buffs to be had across your fleet with our without the Tantive IV on the board.

The added bonus that comes with the Tantive IV box is a campaign leaflet which is something that’s always been lacking. Yes there’s been missions but they’ve always been stand alone. This adds the missing piece of the puzzle. Whilst not long or complicated it’s something you can build on and gives you a series of missions that allow you to bust out the Tantive in various capacities which certainly increases your return on investment.

Although the X-Wing Miniature Game has never been about value for money. It’s been about Star Wars on your gaming board. It’s about X-Wings facing down TIE Fighters and daring dogfights. Heroes and villains, good and evil and some way cool ships all smashed together in the form of little plastic ships. So in those terms the Tantive IV ticks all the boxes because it’s the iconic ship of the Rebellion, a desperate and ultimately failed gambit and all wrapped up in that gorgeous looking craft. And it’s all mine.

The X-Wing Miniature Game expansion, the Tantive IV is available from Firestorm Games priced £67.49.

X-Wing Miniatures Game – A Three Party System

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesIt doesn’t take much to realise that I’m really enjoying the X-Wing Miniatures Game at the moment. I’ve been a Star Wars fan ever since I saw Return of the Jedi at the age of 2 or 3 and that love grown over the years with the introduction of the Star Wars novels, specifically the X-Wing series by Michael A Stackpole and Aaron Allston. If you haven’t read them do so, they’re awesome.

As Mat and I have grown our fleets Lee has found himself increasingly interested but was always put off by the fact that there was only ever two sides to choose from – The Rebellion or The Empire. Being a Rebel through and through, and the person he was going to play the most it left him with little option but to collect the Empire, which he didn’t want because, in his own words, he ‘had no love of the Empire and their ways’.

And that by rights would be that. He’d either have to collect a Rebel fleet and we never really get to play one another, or we have to play ‘training missions’ from now until the galaxy far far away collides with our own thanks to interstellar drift.

However, thanks to those wonderful novels mentioned above I was reminded of a third party that features often in the books and indeed one of the best loved characters fell firmly in their ranks for a while. I refer, of course, to scum and villainy. Smugglers, outlaws and raiders and pirates.

Granted, a certain degree of artistic license is going to be required as such ne’er do wells in the books and comics used Uglies, pilot slang for mongrel craft cobbled together from components salvaged from both sides of the conflict.

ZCeptorThey’re pretty cool but to recreate the craft above it would require the purchase, and subsequent chopping up, of an X-Wing a Y-Wing & a TIE Interceptor. And that’s £36 you could be spending on three ships and not chopping them up.

The point is this – a faction without allegiance is a faction that allows you to pick and choose whatever you want from the range. The transports and the Firespray are obvious places to start affording your fleet a solid core that’s entirely in keeping with its shady origins. A Rebel Transport suits the role of a mother ship or mobile base of operations just as fine as it works as its purpose for the Rebellion. And the fighters on both sides are fair game. Personally I’d set myself limitations – TIE Defenders, for example, are unlikely to make it into a pirate fleet. The robotic TIE-D – should it ever be released – would be almost impossible to maintain. The E-Wing would be too new and in too few numbers and in the likely event raiders did get their hands on one they wouldn’t know about the laser cooling issues.

But the most important piece of the puzzle if fielding unnamed pilots. This puts the pirates at a disadvantage in terms of skill but this tracks as few to none would have had military training. Plus the points saved by buying cheap pilots will mean you’ll have more of them. Coupled with the option of being able to mix the durability of the Rebel fighters with the speed and numbers of Imperial fighters and it becomes a very interesting fleet to go up against.

Moreover it represents the only truly legitimate painting opportunity for the X-Wing Miniatures Game. Whilst you can repaint the models you get for your Imperial and Rebel fleets, you don’t have to and generally the quality is gaming standard which suits most of us just fine. However with a pirate fleet there’s an opportunity to do some really fun stuff with your ships, making up for the fact that converting a fleet of Uglies would be prohibitively expensive.

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Throw in the fact that you have the pick of the Imperial and Rebel fleet lists (with the aforementioned limitations) and you’ve got a fresh set of tactical challenges along with the fun of painting up a truly individual looking force.

If your Photoshop skills can stretch to it there’s nothing stopping you from making up your own pilot cards to give your piratical dogs even more flavour.

Whilst somewhat of a bodge, putting together a raider/pirate force is relatively straight forward. It allows you to cherry pick all the ships you like from the Star Wars universe and use the various larger ships – with a groovy paint job – to add some real flavour to the force.

The X-Wing Miniatures Range is available from Firestorm Games from £6.29

 

 

X-Wing Expansion: E-Wing – A Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight GamesI’ve always loved the E-Wing. Ever since I read the Dark Empire comic book. At the time my brother and I were elbow deep in the Expanded Universe and the X-Wing game series on the PC. I waited and waited for a patch or expansion for the E-Wing but it never came to be. So when Fantasy Flight announced the E-Wing would be released I may of squee’d a bit. Just a bit.

Ewing_negvvThe E-Wing was designed to have the punch of the X-Wing with the speed and manoeuvrability of the A-Wing it was the first star fighter commissioned by the New Republic. With an enhanced sensor suite and engines, a large torpedo magazine and greater firepower it should have replaced the A-Wing but critical overheating problems slowed its roll out and in the end became a fighter that complimented, rather than replaced,

With this in mind I got my hands of two E-Wings to mirror the interceptor/fast mover role of my two A-Wings. With a solid core of 5 X-Wings and a flight of bombers in the form of Y-Wings and a B-Wing, they would give me the edge of Imperial players allowing  me to deal with nasties like TIE Bombers before cutting back and splatting the more troublesome Defenders.

I’d wondered how Fantasy Flight would tackle the E-Wing as the lasers were even flimsier than that of the X-WIngs and their locations would almost guarantee them breaking off.

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Rather simply they just tweaked the lasers, making them shorter and thicker so the model would be robust but not at the cost of the ship design. And I do love the design. It’s slightly crude and a bit of a shit kicker which is great because the Rebel ships always had that slightly rough and ready feel. But the model actually has quite a lot of detail faithfully recreated from the comic books including the the support strut from the hull to the stabiliser foil, the armoured hatch to the astromech compartment and the various bits of hardware on its flanks. It’s a very cool model.

Rule wise it’s not quite the stone cold killer I was expecting/hoping (delete as appropriate). Don’t get me wrong – it gets one more shield than an A-Wing and has overall better manoeuvrability it doesn’t come with terribly sexy upgrades. They’re useful but noting to get too excited about. The named E-Wing pilots are also incredibly expensive. To the point that I thought it was a typo. 35 and 32 points. Wedge Antilles, generally regarded as the greatest fighter pilot ever, is only 29 points.

The more expensive pilot is my joint favourite (with Wedge) character in Star Wars. Corran Horn. A former CorSec officer, he joined the New Republic as a member of the newly reformed Rogue Squadron under Wedge Antilles. He later discovered he had Force powers and became a powerful Jedi and staunch ally of Luke Skywalker. So quite why he’s flying an E-Wing I don’t know, but I’m delighted to have him in my squadron. His pilot trait allows you to make your next turn’s attack at the end of the current activation. This is extremely useful as it can mean the difference between taking return fire and not. Finishing an enemy and not or taking down two targets in quick succession. As traits go it’s pretty awesome. Throw in a skill of 8 and he’s pretty lethal. Partner him with any of other pilot aces – Luke, Wedge, Tycho – and it all gets a little bit unpleasant.

The second named E-Wing pilot, Etahn A’Baht lacks skill – only 5 – but it does get to turn a hit into a critical if the ship it’s targeting attempts to defend. Which is nice. But at 32 points, with the aforementioned skill of 5, he’s a risk as Imperials will get to shoot before him and that could be a problem. Although E-Wings get to focus, evade, lock-on and barrel roll so they are very nimble. This not only increases their survivability but increases your chances of getting in behind the Imperials to counter attack.

Whilst expensive the E-Wing is worth the points. The extra shield gives it that extra bit of survivability and the two pilot traits are very useful. Partnered with other craft and timed right they’d be invaluable. Moreover the do a fantastic job of not only taking the fight to the Empire but being able to double back and allow the squadron to encircle their enemies. This is a very good thing.

I’m fairly delighted with the E-Wing expansion pack.The model is way cool. The upgrades and cost of the pilots is a little disappointing but there’s no escaping just how useful the pilots are in a fight. Especially Corran Horn. 

The X-Wing Miniatures Game range is available at Firestorm Games from £6.29.

 

X-Wing Expansion: B-Wing – A Review

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game By Fantasy Flight Games

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the B-Wing. When it dove into view in Return of the Jedi I was fascinated by the design. Of all the Rebel fighters it looked the least like a conventional/modern/atmospheric craft. But this had a lot to do with it being designed by Admiral Ackbar, a Mon Calamari who has no reason to think like a human and therefore design like one. In the movie it seemed to keep up with the fighting and the squadron did themselves proud in the Battle for Endor taking down two Imperial Star Destroyers.

When I got my hands on the X-Wing game for the PC and my opinion soured slightly. Whilst undeniably well armed, the B-Wing was a turd to fly. Slow and lazy in its turns, it was a pig to fly in a dog fight. Whilst I appreciate it’s a bomber and shouldn’t be in the middle of a furball it was an often inescapable situation in that game. Especially if you were a young, aggressive rookie pilot like I was back in the day. I can’t say I’ve mellowed in my piloting style but I do now, at least, appreciate the combat role the B-Wing is supposed to play which is that of a ship killer. How convenient that two are now available…

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Similarly with the X-Wing Miniatures game I wasn’t sure about including a B-Wing in my rag-tag interpretation of Rogue Squadron. Especially as the majority of the unit is made up of fast-moving X-Wings and even faster moving A-Wings & E-Wings (the latter are on their way and a review will follow). That was, however, until I read the rules for the B-Wing.

Whilst slow and alarmingly prone to stress, it is as well shielded as the Millennium Falcon and nearly as well armed. And for near enough half the points. That’s incredibly good. Partner a B-Wing with the Falcon, or a couple of Y-Wings and you have an incredibly capable killing blow after the fighting wedge of your fast movers punches a hole in the enemy formation.

Whilst I can’t see myself taking one (or more) B-Wing in every game I can definitely see the pros in taking one at all.Especially against larger craft. Aside from its crazy resilience to damage and meaty amounts of basic fire power the two special rules on offer from the character pilots are incredibly good. Being able to either prevent a critical hit from being cancelled or being able to re-roll a dice when under stress (which will happen al lot!) is very useful. Not cheap however. 31 and 28 points respectively. But this has something to do with the B-Wing being nails and able to take piles of upgrades including two missile types which is just as well because the expansion comes with both proton torpedoes and advanced proton torpedoes. For 6 points (ouch) the advanced torpedoes gives you 5 dice and allows any blank results to be turned into focus results. Which if you’re smart ensures you utterly destroy whatever you shoot at.

To be honest, you’d be mad not to take all the upgrades for the B-Wing. The Fire Control System being a must for 2 points, giving you a target lock on the ship you just fired on. For. Two. Points. Chuck in a focus action and advanced torpedoes and that’s a heady mix and shaves a turn off delivering the aforementioned destruction. However, all this kitting up will set you back around 15 points. On top of the 28-31 points for the pilot and ship. Or to put it another way, roughly the same number of points as the Falcon. The only saving grace being it’s harder to hit.

The model itself is actually pretty cool. And massive. It’s significantly bigger than the X-Wing and dwarfs the A-Wing which makes the B-Wing pretty good value for that reason alone. Fantasy Flight did a nice job of work around the design of the ship and the flight stand. And already I’ve seen conversion were gamers have worked the stand loose and rotated it 90 degrees to get the horizontal pose which actually works better.

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The B-Wing is a bit of a surprise choice for me. I was expecting to be indifferent at best but I can actually see a real benefit to taking them in your fleet. Whilst very high in points they have more than potential enough to make those points back thanks to the prodigious amounts of damage it can do. Its lack of speed isn’t such a problem because targets will be flying towards it. The hard part will be keeping it  alive once the Imperials get behind it because it lacks the ability to turn and face. I’m not sure how it’ll fit in with my aggressive playing style but if used correctly the B-Wing is a devastating asset.

The X-Wing Miniatures Game B-Wing Expansion is available from Firestorm Games priced £10.79.