10 Years of Dawn of War

warhammerdowI was surprised to learn today that it’s been 10 years since the release of the original Dawn of War game. This auspicious occasion couldn’t be marked without a few words about a game that I not only invested hours of my life in but helped redefine the RTS genre.

When I first heard about the game I don’t mind saying that I was not optimistic. Up to then all the Games Workshop video games had been pretty shit. With the possible exception of the Space Hulk game on the Amiga and Commodore 64. Yes, I’m that old. Sod off. However as details began to emerge about gameplay – such as making use of hard and soft cover, as well as some semblance of a force organisation chart – I started to grow more positive.

Then I saw the graphics. Whilst it looks a little dated now, at the time they looked pretty sweet. The environment felt like the 41st Millennium. The Space Marines were a loyal representation. The animation was believable. And the finishing moves for each of the commanders was awesome. And best of all you could zoom right down into the action. Granted you needed a pretty meaty machine (10 years ago) to do that and it not crash but that was and is the joy of PC gaming.

When my copy arrived and I went through the lengthy install process then hit play. And I’m so very glad I did. The opening cut scene even now looks awesome. It bugs the living hell out of me because those few Orks could never take down a squad of Space Marines. And no sane Space Marine squad sergeant would allow his unit to meet a mob of Orks in open combat, but as I say, it looks awesome.

Actually it was awe inspiring. Those kinds of animations were rarely seen let alone in a Games Workshop computer game. Moreover it declared to the world that an animated Space Marine movie was possible. We’ve had one stab at it already and the fan made Lord Inquisitor on its way. One day… But the point is that it set imaginations on fire.

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The campaign was a little ropey in terms of plot and voice acting. It was caught in that classic trap of a publisher wanting it to be accessible to non-fans and a team of writers who knew the lore but couldn’t write very well. But well enough that the campaign trundled along quite happily albeit laboriously at times. I do confess to being quite glad it was over when I finished the final mission.

What it did do very well was encourage different styles of play and tactical decisions rather than the classic ‘build a base, build loads of blokes’ approach. Which whilst fun is never gonna win you the big scores in the press.

The game also introduced us to the Blood Ravens. A most intriguing bunch who I guessed from the get-go their true origins. A chapter that likes psykers and wears red and bone armour. Remind you of anyone? That aside, they’ve become a part of the 40k lore and I’ve seen many an army take to the table. Which I think is a benchmark of the game’s success. That it’s influencing hobby as well as the hobby influencing it.

That said, it was never the plot that made Dawn of War the game we know and love today. It was how faithfully the models had been lifted from the table and put into a PC game. No one had tried to be clever with the styling or reinvent the wheel. They looked like rendered models kicking the living shit out of each other and that was and is awesome. It was incredibly satisfying watching a tactical squad take apart a unit of Ork Boyz. And the first time a Land Raider rolled off the production line and opened up with its lascannons was a very special moment.

However, where the game got really fun was the skirmish mode. 4 players, either online or AI or both, racing to build a base and kick the living daylights out of each other. My online experiences were tarnished by people running a force commander into my base, calling down a lance strike to cripple my capacity to do, well, anything and then suffer the indignity of sitting and watching a single tactical squad slowly shoot the few buildings that survived to pieces. However, if you went up against an opponent that wasn’t a total bell end it was the best fun. And you could spend hours with the delicate dance of war.

One of my favourite memories was a game against a vastly superior player to me. He was out foxing me at every turn and it was only through sheer tenacity I was able to hold him back long enough to force a withdrawal. Up to this point I’d been putting my efforts into building a strike force so instead I put everything I had into building an overlapping defence network with a few Dreadnoughts in amongst there as well. By the time the inevitable attack came there were so many heavy bolter turrets opening up that entire secitons of the map weren’t visible. And by this point I had a few squads in reserve so once committed what was a holding action became a route and I was able to roll up his force and destroy his base. It truly was a superb game.

And that’s really the point. Dawn of War is a superb game. The supplements kept the game fresh and kept fans of the armies happy. Although I never completed the Winter Assault campaign. I just found using the Imperial Guard tedious. Which is exactly how I feel about using them on the board so they clearly got the feel for the army dead on.

It’s times like this that you realise how much you enjoyed something and the only reason you stopped playing was because you forgot you had it. It’s easy to blame time but the reality is that we all filled our days with new games like Dawn of War II – which I just couldn’t get on with – and left it on a shelf to collect dust and ultimately get sold on.

But for those that did sell on your copies – you fools! – you’re in luck. The lovely people over at Relic are doing a competition to celebrate Dawn of War’s anniversary by giving away a big pile of cool shit including the games. Head over to their site to find out how you could win.

And remember, only in death does duty end… Ugh.

-Phil

Amera City Block Ruins – A Review

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It’s been a good few weeks since Salute and now the excitement of building all of the things has worn off slightly, it’s about time I put fingers to keyboard and typed up some reviews. First up is the City Block Ruins from Amera Plastic Mouldings.

City Block Ruin (with Buttresses cut to fit)
City Block Ruin (with Buttresses cut to fit)

I’ve never had the pleasure of assembling one of Amera’s kits before, although I have played over a number of them, so building one was going to be a new experience for me. For those of you who don’t know: Amera’s kits are made from vacuum formed plastic sheets which are very durable and almost act like a frame-work, or blank canvas if you will, for you to put in as much or as little effort as you wish into getting the piece ready for the table top.  Some effort does have to go into cutting out the pieces from these sheets, but it’s nothing more than the trimming you have to do with any kit, and you can be quite rough and ready depending on the look you’re going for.

This was one thing I found myself having to get accustomed to as I’m so used to carefully trimming and assembling each piece so as not to do anything wrong.  The Amera kits are quite a departure from that and allow you to go cutting pieces all over the place and so alien was this concept to me I actually had to consult the website to check how I was supposed to use the buttresses, only to find out you just cut them to the desired length and put them wherever you want – which left me feeling slightly silly at not having surmised this myself [He even checked with me. – Ed].

The kit itself is surprisingly big, topping out at just about 4 levels if you include the ground floor and is significantly wide enough that it almost accounts for an entire building itself and thus needs less supporting scenery to represent a complete building footprint.  Equivalent kits from other companies often don’t cover enough ground and need at least another full kit to complete what could be considered a realistic structure – whereas you could get away with just adding some piles of rubble with this just to show where part of the building had collapsed. Or seeing as they’re half the price of comparable kits you could just get two and make one even bigger ruin, whatever you want really – and therein lays one of the pieces biggest strengths, its cost.  At less than £10 a pop you don’t have to compromise with your scenery coverage on a board as you’ll generally be getting double the amount, and this enables you to do some pretty epic looking boards without breaking the bank. I’m sure many of us have gazed across a fully modelled board in awe and then resigned ourselves to the thought we will likely never come to owning such a pretty set of matching terrain – but with Amera you can.

The blank canvas approach makes owning a an entire board’s worth of matching scenery a reality by keeping it simple and giving you the option of adding as much or as little detail as you want.  Only got time for a basecoat and a drybrush – no problem, it looks fine.  Or sand it up and add some flock? Now it looks even better.  Or you can go to town and start adding in details like interior walls and extra structures like scaffolds to make it look really good.  The point is it’s up to you and it does the job no matter how much effort you put into it. I personally love building terrain – it was one of things that really drew me into the hobby when I was a kid.  Back then it was all on you to find interesting bits and pieces that could represent structures and then detail them to look realistic, and this is an evolution of that. It brings back some of the creativity that has been somewhat lost with the growth of more complex scenery ranges which has taken away the need to be inventive.

Amera - City Block Ruin (painted)

£9.95 for what is almost a complete building is great value, and it’s almost a victim of Amera’s cheap prices across the range – the same price can also get you even more impressive pieces.  But like I said, as they are so reasonably priced you don’t have to compromise, you don’t have to go straight for the biggest pieces you can afford because you need to stretch your budget as far you can. Instead you can pick the right piece for the right job without worrying if you’ll have enough, which means you should assemble a better and looking and better playing scenery set as a result.  And if you need a ruined building that is versatile enough to suit almost any 28mm game that uses a gun then look no further, this one does the job perfectly well.

The City Block Ruin is available from Amera Plastic Mouldings for £9.95.  Additional City Block Buttresses Sets are also available priced £1.50.

-Lee

April 5th 2014 – International Tabletop Day

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One of the most spectacularly wonderful things about being a geek who games is being part of a wide, vibrant and varied community that organises some brilliant events.

We’ve got Adepticon on right now and Salute in a week or so, and this Saturday, 5th April it is International Tabletop Day.

“What is International Tabletop Day Rob?” I hear you all cry. Well, gather round and I will tell you a tale of valour and intrigue, oh wait, wrong blog post. Sorry about that, where was I? Oh yes, International Tabletop Day. Well in a nutshell it’s a world-wide tabletop gaming extravaganza, where anyone who wants to can organise and register an event through the Tabletop Day website. The site then serves as a really clever discovery tool for anyone wanting to find an event local to them. There’s a great map-driven interface so you can see whereabouts all the events are near and far and find something that will entertain you for the day.

I, for example, happen to be in Munich for the day and a quick search reveals that there will be two events local to me, one organised by the “Toytown fan group” and the other at a place called “Funtainment”. I will be trying my level best to get to one of them just to see what’s going on and join in the gaming fervour. At the very least I’ll be taking a couple of games in my luggage to play with my family; my daughter is hooked on Labyrinth at the moment and I think I’ll be slipping my copy of Boss Monster in there as well.

Phil and Mat will be X-Winging it up all day and they’ve registered their event through the site, so go find them and shout ‘pew-pew’ noises in their general direction, they’ll bloody love it. Mat also said he’s going to try to spread the good word about the hobby a little closer to home by teaching his wife how to play Dreadball. Anything that encourages understanding and appreciation of the hobby (and potentially gives  you more freedom to spend!) is all part of the fun of the day.

Ashley is of course already caught up in the mega-maelstrom that is Adepticon (she laughs at our one-day gaming feebleness!), and will be playing Necromunda, or Saga, or Lord of the Rings. Or all three, though presumably not simultaneously. I assume that Adepticon (it is registered on the site) will be the largest playing group on the day, would be interesting to get the official word from the organisers on that front.

Reece informs me that he’ll be starting out his celebration of all things tabletop by doing unspeakable things to his washing machine. Rock and roll. Sounds like the afternoon will definitely improve the awesomeness quotient of his day with a spot of painting Lizardmen with his wife and then rounding the day out with a bunch of friends playing Zombies and Space Hulk – now that’s more like it!

So far there are over 2,300 events registered world-wide, which is seriously impressive, including well over 250 in the UK. So, if you’re hitting up your FLGS on Saturday, get them registered on the site so that the world knows you exist!

Follow events as they unfold by looking up @TableTopDay and @GeekandSundry on Twitter and lots of folks seem to be using the #TableTopDay hashtag already.

I love stuff like this, it reminds me just how huge our community is, and how wide the range of options is for participation in tabletop gaming. It also shows the world and celebrates what a social and sociable group we are and that we have bags of enthusiasm for welcoming new people into the gaming fold and dragging those who are already playing one lot of games into intriguing and exciting new gaming formats.

Want to find out more? There’s a video for that:

The Great Betrayer

Yesterday lunch time Lee, of The Chaps, and I were talking about the game of Dystopian Wars I’d played against our friend Neil, also of The Chaps the night before.

As I detailed how, thanks to some truly prodigious dice rolling, I’d managed to inflict 2 critical hits on a cruiser with a single shot from a Zeno class’ particle accelerator, immolating it, we got on to the subject of dice.

Within Games Workshop gaming circles and The Chaps it is accepted that red ones roll higher. If ever there’s a critical roll to be made you break out the red dice. Equally if you’re rolling for leadership you roll white ones. And rolling red ones all the time uses up all their specialness.

At the end of this 20 minute prattling session we concluded the following:

1. Dice will betray you if you don’t treat them right. Unless you roll like you mean it they will let you down.

2. Gamers are all psychically in tune with their dice. We’ll know instantly the result of a roll just by picking up the dice and how they feel in our hand.

3. Dice of one colour don’t like being rolled with dice of another. Particularly if rolled alongside the favoured (red) dice.

This special breed of plastic prejudice will usually result in a higher than average failure rate. Unless you’re Ian of The Chaps, then it’ll be even worse than that.

4. Certain dice will never serve you. We’ve concluded that this psychic connection endures which is why it always feels wrong using someone else’s dice.

What this means is that dice you inherit, buy second hand – however that happens – or, God forbid, you nick off your mates will always work towards your downfall as they serve another.
And woe betide should you use those dice against their true master.

5. Dice know if you didn’t like the game they were from. It’s the equivalent of slagging off your best mate’s sainted mother. On the surface everything seems fine until one day, when you least expect it, they will put the boot in so hard you’ll be sick in your mouth.

If at all possible those dice should be thrown in the same swamp where the last 10 seconds of Prometheus should reside.

6. Finally, dice will only help those who help themselves. Blaming your dice will not help your cause. In fact, you might as well pack up your toys and go home.