Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – A Review

gw-rules-bannerI leave the hobby alone for five minutes!

A lot has changed during my hiatus. There’s bat shit crazy amounts of new stuff for X-Wing. There’s whole new armies for 40k and yet more re-released rulebooks. Spartan Games has landed a Halo fleet game (soooo getting that!) and it seems the entire Warhammer World has been destroyed. Careless.

Now I must be honest, I wasn’t living in a hole in the ground, I was aware that 9th Edition Warhammer was looming. I was also aware of the End Times books and the bonkers models but as I couldn’t give it any time I didn’t give it any thought. Oh what a mistake that was. It was a mistake because 9th Edition Warhammer isn’t 9th Edition anything. Warhammer ended with 8th Edition. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, 1st Edition, however has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Well I was unsuspecting so sod the rest of you.

If I’m honest, for the interests of this review, it’s actually a good thing I didn’t have a clue what the hell was going on. It’s kept me far more objective than someone that’s been in the hobby as long as I have has any right being. Because it’s changed. A. Lot.

The premise is basically this: everything is fucked. No really. The Warhammer World as we knew it has been destroyed. Archaon decided to blow everything up. Just coz. The result was Chaos running riot over the world and the fabric of reality unravelling like a sweat shop jumper. There are now multiple plains on which the various forces of order, chaos, death, destruction and candy floss duke it out for…well, I have no idea what for because there’s nothing left worth holding on to. It’s a Chaos wasteland. Not to be confused with a teenage wasteland, that would have more cider cans and used condoms I suspect.

The problem is most of that information was explained to me by my brother Sunday evening because I haven’t read the End Times books and without them you don’t have a clue what the background book is banging on about. Whoever wrote it tried to follow a similar mythical vein to Warhammer 40,000 but falls so woefully short of the mark that it’s just a confused, vague, mess. I have no idea how new gamers are supposed to understand the first thing about the world when the writer clearly didn’t.

And it’s not just that it’s vague, it’s poorly written. The word vengeance is so heinous in its overuse that I gave up keeping a tally. The number of ways they’ve tried to cram the word Sigmar into places, items and objects is embarrassing. There is only one, maybe two, references to other races in the game and there is nothing remotely scroll-like about the warscrolls, but on to those later.

On the upside the book is beautiful. It’s nicely put together and the artwork is amazing. The layout is broken down into logical sections allowing new gamers to absorb the information (and they’re going to need to!) before moving on to the next. I suppose that’s the point of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, it’s not aimed at old wargaming dinosaurs like me. It’s for a new and far younger audience that have grown up on a diet of Pokemon, Adventure Time and copious amounts of Capri Sun. The book bludgeons you over the head with heroes and villains. Of vengeance and slaughter. It’s kinda like sitting next to the weird chatty person on the bus. After a while you just tune out.

The reason I’ve spent 600 words complaining about the background, or lack thereof, is because I’m a fluff gamer. It’s the background that kept me into the various Games Workshop systems all the while my wallet begged me to leave. The fact that it was always five minutes to midnight, at the very brink of annihilation, is what made it compelling. The small glimmer of hope, the nobility of sacrifice, the feats of heroism and all supported by a rich and vibrant history. Boy is it history now. So much so it’s only referenced as the time before. The Games Workshop have hit the big red reset button of destiny. Warhammer is dead. Long live Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.

And speaking of the hammer wielding God-King: his gold clad Fantasy Marines, also known as the Stormcast Eternal (no really) are really quite awesome models. I mean seriously cool. Side stepping the quite shameless attempt to waggle them at young gamers shouting ‘hey these are like those Space Marines you like but with big hammers’, they are quite excellently sculpted. The detail on them is not just impressive but cleverly incorporated into the design. And us old buggers will inevitably draw comparisons to MkI Thunder Armour.

They’re big too. Bigger than a Terminator big. They feel substantial and look every bit the vengeful (fantasy) Angels of Death you’d want them to be. Plus all the hammers look amazing. Considering it’s a bit of a gimmick, they actually do a good job of making all the various hammers look distinct yet fit for purpose. That purpose being vengeance. Apparently. The styling is very close to that of the Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard which will no doubt spark a deluge of highly groovy conversions although I certainly wouldn’t want to try to get the comet sigil of all the surfaces.

Truth be told, I don’t have a problem with their being a Space Marine style army in Warhammer. It’s been lacking for years. If you wanted to do an elite army your options were either Warriors of Chaos or some super wanky army list that made you lose friends quicker than acute halitosis. Or something so achingly characterful that you’d lose all the time. So hooray, big armour clad (vengeful) heroes for everyone.

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Equally the Khorne models are awesome. Some of the poses are a little flat with the time-honoured brandishing weapons to the side poses, but the detail is there in spades and considering it’s Khorne it doesn’t get too daft. Apart from Bloodstoker, he’s shit. Even the icon bearer, Bloodsecrator (no really) doesn’t look preposterous. The icon itself is fantastic and would have made a stupendous battle standard-bearer for 8th Edition – and he still might sports fans. You’d think the spinal column he has for a ponytail would be eyebrow raisingly silly but actually it just works.

I’m side stepping Khorgoraths model because whilst it isn’t bad, it doesn’t wow me either but it’s such a shameless rip off of the Slaughterbrute from 40k that it pretty much has the same pose. Tisk tisk.

The Blood Warriors are my favourites though. Effectively the equivalent of the Chaos Space Marines in the 40k boxset the level of detail on them is impressive and they’d make fantastic Chosen warriors in the 8th Edition army. As would the lower level Bloodreavers to be honest, they’re that hench.

But on to the game itself. Now, a lot has been said about the lack of points and such and one must assume the Games Workshop has something up its sleeve on this topic because if it was simply a case of ‘I have 20 blokes, you have 20 blokes’ why are the number of models you get for each side in the box different? There’s clearly a balance there which suggests, at some point, there will be a system for selecting your forces.

I deliberately didn’t use the word armies there because you can’t take them any more. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is very much a detachment level game like 40k is/was. Whilst the rules have been streamlined to near collectible card game levels of simplicity, the multiple wounds for every model on the board would make it impossible to play a large game. More on that shortly.

It’s been widely publicised that the rules have gone from a big beast of a book to 4 sides of A4. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the biggest barriers to entry for any kind of wargame is the size of the rules. Stripping it back to little more than a pamphlet is a very brave move and a clear signal from the Games Workshop that they want as many people enjoying the game as possible. I’d like to point out it probably would have been less hassle just to make the models cheaper but there we go…

If I were to cast my mind back to the distant past of the early noughties when I worked for the Games Workshop Warhammer was by far the hardest game to get younger games psyched about. Not because the world was lacking, far from it (*cough cough*) but because the intricacies of deployment and movement were lost on them or seemed like too much hassle compared to the board next door which had blokes running around in every direction blowing one another’s faces off. When a game went well it really went well and Little Jimmy would toddle out of the store having spent all his allowance as well as his father’s booze fund for the month. But for every 3 Warhammer starter sets I sold, I’d sell 9 40k’s.

Under the new rules the longest section, by a mile, is the battlefield section. This actually makes a great deal of sense as one of the big draws for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar isn’t just the new shiny models – although they are – but the mad as bat shit world those models now inhabit. Because it’s all a bit mental boards can be as varied as those used in games of Warhmmer 40,000. And because the models are now on round bases the boards can be used almost universally.

This is a shrewd move by Games Workshop. It encourages the hobbyist to go all out on a board, buying up all the things, knowing that they can use it for either system (more or less). The logic is that gamers were put off purchasing because they knew they were going to do have to build a board twice. Two large hobby projects that don’t involve armies would put off just about everyone except Lee of The Chaps. But the cost remains. Now a daemon world board, for example, is now good for both systems.

The rules for movement are largely unchanged. You have a value, you move the value etc. Shooting and combat are now so aligned in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar that they may as well have written one long section called ‘Twatting Shit’. Again, this isn’t a criticism but to highlight how surprisingly elegant they’ve made the rules. All weapons have a range. You may raise a cynical eyebrow but it makes sense. A bloody great big hammer has a longer range/reach than a regular hammer. It’s logic lifted straight from the pages of Inquisitor and that was a great game.

It’s weapons and not the man that do the heavy lifting in W:AoS, which has more irony  than perhaps was intended. The profile of the model has been stripped right back to Movement, Wounds, Bravery and Save. And because of how the weapons work it stops characters from becoming complete monsters like they could in 8th Edition thanks to the heady cocktail of weapons and items available to them. They’re still as tough as old boots but due to the way some weapons can inflict multiple points of damage they’re not invincible either.

But the system is simpler because there’s no charts any more. A weapon has a number of attacks, a required roll to hit, roll to wound and will inflict x number of damage points/wounds. It also has a rending value which is the fancy new name for the save modifier.

Indeed the fact that some weapons can inflict multiple wounds is just as well because most models have multiple wounds now which is gonna mean lots of record keeping. Which would have been a nightmare under the old system with so many models on the board. And that’s really the biggest thing I had to reconcile with: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is not a game of big fisty-cuffs any more.

Again, this isn’t a complaint as such. Big games of 8th Edition Warhammer took forever to play depending on your army and rules knowledge. It’s a huge barrier to entry. Throw in the precise set up and movement and it’s little wonder Games Workshop had such a hard time not just drawing in, but keeping younger gamers. Granted, there’s an argument to be had for the game being for the seasoned gamer but how commercially viable is that?

You can now get through a game similar in size increments to 40k in an evening and still have time to tell smutty jokes to your mates. This, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is a good thing.

I really like the rules. It makes life so much simpler. I hate the stupid names they’re trying to give everything but you can’t win them all. And some of the special rules included in the book are a bit iffy but overall, they’re pretty strong and, perhaps the biggest thing, they’re quick!

Where it gets let down – and I’m by no means the first person to say this – is the army structure and points system. In that there isn’t one. You can literally take whatever the hell you like as long as the forces are equal. Which is impossible to determine because there are no values.

I understand the logic – if you take a wanky army no one will play you so take a balanced army. Games Workshop has woefully underestimated the sheer volume of beardy, smelly, friendless tossers that prowl games clubs and infest tournaments looking for some poor unsuspecting (and usually novice) gamer to absolutely destroy. I’ve known dozens of them over the years. I’m willing to bet that everyone can think of at least one at their local hobby store or club as well.

Moreover the people with the biggest model collections will win. Not because they’re using the most models but because they can pull out the unit that will best counter the army of someone who is just starting out. The whole idea relies on people being good and decent which isn’t impossible, just very hard with no guidelines on how to balance your forces.

The daft thing is I could take a starting army of Chaos Lords. Under the rules I can summon a Slave to Darkness unit per model per turn on a 4+. So for every Lord I take I can attempt to summon anything in the army which has the Slave to Darkness special rule. Chaos Warriors come in units of at least 10. And I may be getting this wrong but I think I could summon more Chaos Lords too. Who in turn can summon more on top. It’s just mental! Again the counter argument is ‘but no one would play you’. 1. That’s just not true and 2. the argument should never ever take place. Points limits, unit limits and army organisation was never and is not a bad thing. It was far easier to spot a power-gamer before. Now everyone has the potential to be one.

And as I’m on the subject of the warscrolls – three things.

1. It’s an utterly stupid, deliberately commercial, name aimed at Generation I Choose You!

2. It’s awesome that Games Workshop have made warscrolls available for all the various armies for free. I have no idea if these are just place holders, whether or not new books will come out or if it’ll stay digital. That’s not for here, it’s just cool that we got something for free. However…

3. Whoever wrote the warscrolls was either high, mentally deranged or has utter contempt for those that would use them. There are special rules within the warscrolls that demand gamers to grunt like animals, shout Waaagh or lay on some form of amateur dramatics if they want to get the most out of certain special rules or spells. Seriously.

Now I’m the first to admit to inciting a Waaagh of a Sunday morning with a table full of beginners. But they were 10. And even they felt like twats. How is a seasoned gamer in his 40’s or 50’s supposed to feel about shouting Waaagh in his dining room or, worse, a games club if he wants to use his army properly? It’s insulting.

It’s insulting because Games Workshop are either so woefully out of touch that they thought it was a good idea or they wanted to stop people from using certain units because they’re being phased out and it would soften the blow. I can’t accept that someone woke up one morning thinking that it would be a valuable and worthwhile addition to the rules to have gamers cavort for the amusement of others.

So what of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar? Well, if you hadn’t guessed: I’m a bit mixed on the whole thing. The models are stupendous. I mean really top-notch. A little bonkers in places but that’s hardly a new direction for Games Worksop, or indeed most wargaming companies.

The background is mess. Not poor as such, just poorly written (there’s a difference) and very confused. It needs seriously tightening up if there’s going to be a second edition Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I honestly didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on until I got the summary from my brother. And this is bad because it’s obviously aimed at a new and much younger audience who probably wouldn’t have read the End Times books.

The rules are actually very good. Super slick and whilst pixie dice will no doubt be needed it’s a significantly smaller commitment in time. Throw in the fact that you need fewer models for a good-sized game and the impact of hobby time shrinks as well which means more people will complete projects. And when I say people I mean me. Huzzah.

The army lists/warscrolls/post-it notes of power/whatever are stupidly named but nicely laid out and, more or less, pretty clear in their intent. But some of the free to download warscrolls have some utterly maddening rules in them so I strongly urge you to take a red pen to them.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar isn’t 9th Edition no matter what anyone says. It just isn’t. It’s a totally different beast living in a totally different world. Actually nine of them. And you know what? It’s fine. Overall it’s a reasonable attempt. It’s a good game let down by the simple fact that the majority, if not all, of the lore keepers, who wrote the really strong stuff, departed years ago and the heavy lifting is now done by the Black Library writers.

I freely admit that I will continue to play 8th Edition. For me it was the best, and as it turns out, last version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I will complete my Warriors of Chaos army as best I can and enjoy 8th Edition the same way I do Mordheim: as a finished game, forever unchanging.

But I can also see myself playing Age of Sigmar in some small way. It’s a good game. But the departure for me is that I won’t be invested in this world the way I was the old one. 26 years of hobby experience aside (shut up I started when I was very young), the world just isnt’ as rich and it won’t be for a little while yet I fear. Which is fine as long as I know going in.

Should seasoned gamers pick up Warhammer: Age of Sigmar? Yes, they absolutely should. Firstly, the models are awesome and have fantastic hobby potential. Secondly, t’s a great game and should be enjoyed as such, just leave your memories at home next to your shattered innocence.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is available from Firestorm Games priced £63.75.

Empire vs Khorne Tactica Part 2

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In Part 1 of this Tactica, we covered which units to take against the pure combat focus of a Khorne army and with an idea of what your list includes, let’s now look at deploying and using them effectively.

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I’m a firm believer in having a strong core at the heart of your army with everything else flowing around it – the expendable stuff, and that word synergy is at its most prominent at this point as you will want as many of your units as possible to benefit from your ability ‘bubbles’ and not have to spend time shuffling about after the game starts to get into range.

By keeping your core intact you can still win even if the rest of your army gets smeared into a fine red paste, which is still a very real possibility no matter how well you’ve prepared.  This core will of course tend to be your slower foot troops who don’t tend to move much, backed up by their support elements which make them better, and the simple diagram below shows that by deploying them in a compact line with the Celestial Hurricanum behind them, all three infantry blocks will be benefitting from the +1 to hit in combat.  The white squares in the Greatsword unit represent characters which can also then spread their influence to these units – namely the re-rolling of Leadership tests provided by your Battle Standard Bearer and the increased Leadership of 9 provided by your General in the shape of an Arch Lector. This entire group is now re-rolling its Leadership tests on an unmodified Ld of 9 (through Steadfast and Stubborn) whilst hitting back on 3’s with a ton of Strength 4 and 5 attacks. The Lector is also granting Hatred to the Greatswords and can also cast a prayer on them either increasing their chances to wound or improving their survivability. It would take a brave enemy General to charge headlong into that and he will bleed for the damage he inflicts – and seeing as you have around 110-120 wounds in that formation he’ll be hard pressed to outlast you.

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Once you throw in your Archer Detachments that can range in front of your line, you should be able to divert enemies units looking to charge you and set up favourable flank charges for when you do want to step out of formation.  This core also has the benefit of accounting for a significant proportion of your points making it harder for your opponent to achieve a victory and easier for you to avoid defeat.

Some of your more combat capable units can also act as powerful deterrents to those who think themselves strong enough to break your core.  For example, a Steam Tank makes a brilliant protector of this formations flank, it’s hard as nails and unbreakable letting you focus on what’s in front of you.  A counterattacking unit of Demigryphs or Knights can also fulfil this role.

If circumstances are permitting, always endeavour to get a unit of Demigryphs in a position to flank the enemy. This doesn’t have to be out on a flank necessarily, simply using a piece of terrain to hide behind waiting for the enemy to come past is just as, if not more useful.  At worst it delays your enemy as he doesn’t want to get flanked, at best you get to pull off a devastating charge that can roll right up a battle line.

You should always try to place your cannons out on the flanks and this is for two reasons. Many opponents forget to look sideways across a battlefield when moving their army forwards and often assume you will shoot the unit directly in front of the Cannon in an effort to keep them alive. Whilst this is an option, shooting across the battle field into the flanks of units of Skull Crushers and Chaos Knights is far more damaging to your opponent.  Your Cannons’ days are numbered as your opponent will do much to remove them as a threat as quickly as possible, so their only job is to inflict as much damage as possible before they go. The other reason to put them on the flanks plays into this.  They’re a great distraction and buy the rest of your army time while they’re being dealt with – and if they’re way out on a flank it’s even longer before their disposers get back into the fight.  I usually deploy the small halberdier units with my cannons to buy them another turn or two of firing to really soften up the enemy before they go and make sure my opponent has to commit a significant unit or two to deal with them – playing even further into reason two.

In the compressed battle line below, you can see the core formation in the centre – although it can be positioned anywhere – supported by the Steam Tank and unit of Knights protecting its flanks. These, and any other units, moving to assist the centre also have the advantage of coming under your ability bubbles too, further adding to their potential.  The Cannons are way out wide supported by the small halberdier units and the Demigryphs are well placed on either side to support either the centre by arcing around or the flank if necessary, or even to advance forwards and punch a hole through vulnerable points through the enemy line.  You can also see how a simple copse of trees can be hidden behind to set up a trap for any unit advancing on the core formations, with the screen of skirmishing archers being used to pull enemy units into favourable positions for flank or dual charges.

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By angling the archers correctly, you should be able to ensure a flank charge at least somewhere along the line and your opponent will likely be hoping to pass his Ld tests to stop his frenzied units charging into your traps.  Don’t be afraid to advance your skirmish screen aggressively to take the initiative away from your opponent who is used to having it when playing with such an offensive army. By getting those archer units high up the board you can clog up his approach with unexpected combats or slowed units trying to avoid getting into combat with them, and then overrunning into your lines unsupported.

The elements not visible in the diagram such as the Helblaster, Outriders etc. can be placed where they are needed as your enemy deploys.   If you can see he’s going to try to rush your core in force, put your Helblaster down in the centre to really make him suffer – or even abandon his plan. If he’s emphasizing (refusing) a flank, you should have an opportunity for your Outriders to find a prime firing position. A lot will depend on how your opponent deploys so try to keep your best stuff until the end. Things like Halberdiers and Knights aren’t going to hold many surprises with where they go, but the likes of Demigryphs and Steam Tanks are crucial units so try to get favourable match ups across the board to maximise their damage potential – and your opponent will be doing the same as he will be fully aware of the danger these units possess. Steam Tanks need to avoid anything with multiple high strength attacks like Slaughterbrutes, Dragon Ogres and tooled up characters. Demigryphs should simply avoid wasting their offensive power on grinding down units in multiple rounds of combat.  They are the point of the blade and if applied correctly should be able to take on almost any unit if they avoid a frontal charge.

The army is also surprisingly offensive when needed, with three mounted offensive units plus a Steam Tank battering ram, you can really take the initiative when the time comes and launch a crippling counter attack to carry the day.  Look for gaps or vulnerable points in the enemy line, as charges are made these holes will appear and capitalising on those moments to get a unit in behind his line will create a real headache as to how to deal with them – all the while you’re pounding him with black powder and magic.

Don’t be afraid to feed your expendable units into his to buy you the time you need to whittle him down with your shooting and get into position with your best units.  Expendable covers everything that isn’t in your core formation – even things like the Demigryphs.  As long as they are buying you an advantage with their sacrifice, you know that by protecting your core (which accounts for around half your victory points) you can still win.

The trick is to get him to underestimate your army.  Let him think he can roll over any unit you’ve got without consideration with his hulking combat monsters, ignoring the risks of charging across the board as fast as he can [With a Khorne army one doesn’t have much choice in the matter. – Ed].  Capitalising on his overconfidence and haste in avoiding warmachine fire will let you dictate where the combats happen and with who. Constantly deflect his best units, either into flank traps or off the board to waste their time, and only taking them on when the circumstances are in your favour.  Do this and you will win the battle.

Empire vs Khorne Tactica Part 1

 

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAs we near the end of our ‘Tale of Two Armies’ series, I thought it would be helpful for those interested to put the lessons I have learnt into a Tactica article of sorts – but one that focuses on tackling a specific opponent. This is the first part of that article which will cover general army selection against a foe which favours combat over all else, with the second part moving on to deployment and tactics.

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I’ve enjoyed a large amount of success in the series of games Phil and I have played out, only losing once in the first game – to a total bloodbath where but a single Chaos Warrior was left standing at the end, a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.  This was in stark contrast to how I thought the series was going to go after the decision was taken to do it and getting my hands on the army books.  I still stand by what I said in my Empire Army Book review, the subtleties of the changes in the Empire book still leave a slightly sour taste in my mouth knowing what the author’s motivations were, and the fact that the list suffers from significant imbalances corroborates my opinions when paired with the Chaos book.

I feel a large portion of my success was actually down to Phil’s choice of which Chaos God to theme his army on as much as it is to my playing ability. Playing as Khorne is certainly a limitation – at least when it comes to playing the Empire.  I’m sure it would have been harder for me to succeed if I was playing against say, an Undivided list, with all its magical gizmos and tailoring potential – it has a hideously powerful potential in the hands of someone willing to throw any kind of theme or fluff out the window. The lack of any shooting or magic are both huge advantages to an Empire player as you don’t have to invest any of those precious points into protecting yourself from those elements and can focus more on directly dealing with the biggest threats you know you’ll face. But anyway, on to what I’ve learnt which will hopefully benefit those budding Empire General’s out there for the times when they’ve run into an army of Khorne frothing at the mouth.

Army List Selection

Games of Warhammer Fantasy Battle can be won and lost before a dice is even rolled, the choices you make in building your list will have a significant say in how easy or hard your games will be to win.

Frenzied Khorne units are like lawnmowers when it comes to the green grass of the Empire.  Most of your soldiers will die horribly by the wagon load in a stand up fight – you will typically be striking last, with inferior weapon skill, lower strength, and with far less attacks. You will need numbers, and it will be crucial to get your units working together – synergy is a term used a lot with Empire armies and harnessing it is the key to victory.

For your Core, you will need at least one, maybe two, big blocks of State Troops to act as both an anchor for your battle line and an anvil to break the enemy on.  They will need to hold their ground in the face of the whirlwind of death that will inevitably hack its way to them, at least 40-50 bodies if you’re going down the single block route.  I personally prefer to go with two units of 35-40 but that’s what works for me against my opponent and it can be hard to maintain character support across the two of them which we will come onto a bit later.  Which type of State Troops to use for this depends on your style of play, but there are some definite good and bad choices when it comes to deciding which to field.

Swordsmen are the most durable being able to make full use of shields that also provide them with a parry save, plus having an extra point of WS meaning Marauders and Hounds only hit you on 4+ instead of 3+ adds to their durability. They are great for absorbing attacks but will kill very little in return, particularly against anything wearing Chaos Armour.  They are an ideal choice for a true anvil with which to hold the enemy against, but are also the most expensive in points per man.

Halberdiers can actually kill something occasionally, but will die doing so. The extra strength helps with causing wounds and also getting through the thick armour you’ll face. However, the inability to use a shield at the same time as a Halberd means they die very quickly. For a mere 6 points they are generally considered to be the best all round choice in any Empire Army – shields are only worth taking against armies with lots of shooting so leave them behind against Chaos and take more bodies instead.  They are probably the best choice against Chaos.

Spearmen give you many attacks – albeit with very little chance of success against the high toughness and armour saves.  The Spears also make them very static and completely defensive as they only work if they don’t charge. They are the worst choice against Chaos, limited in their usefulness to only the weaker units, which are few in a Chaos army.

To back up your block/s you can add in detachments if you so choose – although there is a lot of debate as to whether they are worth it anymore after the changes made to them. My opinion is generally no, with one exception. There is a definite use for smaller 10/15/20 man units in the army, for sure, but now without the benefit of the auto flank counter charge rule, attaching them to parent units means they often just provide additional squishy bodies for your opponents superior troops to kill and gain yet more combat resolution with – that goes double for Chaos units, and triple for Khorne.  Add in all the Psychology involved with having them in amongst your line means I rather have the flexibility of taking small units on their own.  Independent 10 man Halberdier units (cheap) are fantastically useful and can be used as warmarchine protectors, charge redirectors, speed bumps, flank protectors etc.  Easily worth the measly 60 points they cost per unit.  The exception is for the lowly Archer – they’re brilliant.  They can range in front of the army and become a very irritating distraction for your opponent who must overcome their charge redirecting and blocking. Panic isn’t a problem when they die as they are out in front and the fact they can shoot is just a bonus which lets them soften up the hounds which are usually tasked with removing them.  Costing as little as 35 points in units of 5 makes them invaluable at buying you time – they are one of the most important units available to the Empire.

The rest of the ranged State Troops unfortunately are poor.  They are now very expensive for what they do and against a Khorne army with no real shooting or magic to worry about the more fragile Outriders are a much better choice.  10 Handgunners costs you 90 points for 10 shots, 5 Outriders cost you 105 points for 15 shots – all at the same equivalent BS.  Plus the Outriders get a free move at the start of the game to get into a better position, and also have horses for if they ever do need to move again – which you should avoid.

Knightly Orders are decent. The 1+ armour save is still very hard for even Chaos Warriors to get through, just stay away from Chaos Knights, or worse Skull Crushers,  who will still make a mess of them. You can also choose to equip them with Greatswords as you’ll be striking last anyway, but losing the 1+ save is a big decision as it’s their biggest strength. They won’t win in a head on charge against most units but get them in a flank and they will be hard to shift – particularly the Stubborn Reiksguard who can pin a unit in place almost indefinitely.  Their problem is they struggle to deal out enough damage and need character support if you want them to charge through units of any significance – mounted Warrior Priest’s help them massively with their Hatred.

One of, if not the best units available to you will be the Demigryph Knights – they are the one truly combat capable unit available to the Empire and can eat their way through almost anything if you play them right – just don’t forget you’re playing Chaos who are also very combat capable.  If you’re careless with them they will die just as quickly as anything else in the Empire army. Their armour-piercing beaks are tailor-made to beat Chaos units, get them in a Flank and watch them go – its carnage. Take two units if possible.

Warmachines are fairly straight forward.  The Steam Tank is a beast and you should always take it when possible.  Its hull mounted cannon is a bonus but it’s the D6 plus D3 impact hits per steam point used in moving when it charges is where the real use is. Plough it into units like Chaos Knights and Warriors and watch it mangle them – but stay away from Dragon Ogres unless you’re confident of crippling them in the impact.  Their S7 Great Weapons can do a lot of damage and at 4 wounds each are still durable despite the lack of decent armour or high toughness. The steam turret is still useful against Chaos despite their smaller units and generally high toughness.  One bad roll for armour saves can still be crippling if you ramp it up to S4 so keep an eye out for opportunities to use it.

Take at least one Cannon, preferable two – there’s multitude of fast-moving units with either high armour or multiple wounds running around for you to shoot at: Skull crushers, Dragon Ogres, Chariots, Chaos Knights, Slaughterbrutes etc. Back these up with a Volley Gun and Engineer (he’s a must).  Chaos players are terrified of the Helblaster and rightly so – it can and will remove entire units when it fires using the Engineers BS and re-roll, and will also act as an area denial weapon.

A few other things I’ve found useful are Greatswords and the Celestial Hurricanum.  Greatswords are a 50/50 for a lot of Empire players as they’re expensive, but against Chaos Warriors their weapons can wreak havoc against their tough units. Put a Battle Standard bearer in the unit and they will (almost) never ever run away. Cold blooded, unmodified leadership 8 with a re-roll is nearly impossible to break and it’s easier to just slay the entire unit, and although expensive they are very hard to get points out of because of this.  The Hurricanum enjoys the benefit being something of a wild card as well providing some reliable effects. The +1 to hit 6” bubble is valuable beyond measure for your troop blocks and means that when you do finally get to hit back, those numbers you’ve sunk your points into will do some serious damage.  It also provides an extra power dice to help get those all-important spells off, and that means the random weather spell is a bit of a bonus afterthought really – you’d take it for the first two reasons alone.

And last but no means least, we have the characters – Empire armies rely very heavily on them and thankfully they’re cheap.  First up is a Captain upgraded to a Battle Standard Bearer and he really is non-negotiable as it will be the rock of your entire army. Back him up with as with a few Warrior priests where you think you’ll need them and you should have a pretty formidable formation all benefitting from each others abilities. After you include the previously mentioned Engineer for the Helblaster, you just need some Magical firepower in the form of some wizard levels – Level 2 or more, it’s up to you really. As you don’t have to worry about any spells coming back your way you can put as much or as little into magic levels as you want. Lore of Metal really hurts Khorne with their sky-high armour saves so I take at least one Wizard with that lore in my army. The biggest choice you will face in your character selection is who to make your general.  A Wizard Lord gives you access to the very desirable Ld 9 and can hang back from the battle line relatively safe.  Another good choice is to make one of the Warrior Priests an Arch Lector, who can sit in your battle line and benefit the whole formation with his leadership and prayers – just remember to protect him adequately.

Things like Grand Masters and Generals are good but typically being mounted they tend to move away from your force so the army doesn’t usually benefit from the leadership bonus.  Sitting still in units are a waste of points for what a cheaper character can do – and if you do want them to go charging off to plough through enemy units you really have to invest the points in his unit and his magic items – which all significantly weakens the rest of your army.  Besides, who’s stupid enough to actually go chasing a Khorne army?

So based on what I’ve gone over, in a 3000 point list you should have a unit roster looking something like this:

Captain – BSB

Wizard/s

Engineer

Arch Lector/Warrior Priests/s

Halberdier Block  x2

Small Halberdier Unit  x2

Inner Circle Knights Block

Archer detachment  x2

Demigryphs  x2

Greatsword Block

Outriders

Great Cannon  x2

Steam Tank

Helblaster Volley Gun

Celestial Hurricanum

Don’t be under any illusions, its hard work getting it all to fit – there just never seems to be enough points when making Empire lists – but it can be done. Some sacrifices will need to be made depending on how many magic levels you want or how many points you wish to invest in magic items.  A few things can easily be trimmed to free up points like the Outriders or one of the small halberdier units, but by including at least most of the units above you should have a flexible and tough army that your opponent will struggle to do any meaningful damage to.

In the next part we’ll look at deploying the army to get the maximum benefit out of each unit and how to use them once battle is joined.

-Lee

Short Daemon Tactica: Bloodcrushers of Khorne

warhammer 40000 logo

Bloodcrushers of Khorne are pretty deadly, even though they have been somewhat downgraded since last edition, and are still a prime assault unit of any Daemon force.  There are even a few ways to overcome the units’ new problem with 2+ armour saves. Plus, it also gives me an excuse to break out a  MegaDeth song.

Ok, lets start from the beginning, because it colours a lot of people’s perceptions about the usability of Bloodcrushers. It will also explain why, depending on where you play, Daemon players are likely to throttle you if you try to bring up the unit in a conversation.

Bloodcrushers useful
A typical reaction to “I still think Bloodcrushers are useful”

Now, last edition the unit were god level good. They had a one point higher toughness, a 3+ save and power weapons still ignored all saves completely instead of just being AP3 Hellblades like they are now – so naturally every Daemon force had a unit or two.  But instead of screaming ‘Worst.Unit. Ever!’ like some parts of the internet, I’ll be explaining how to use them best, despite their diminished status. Call it an act of spite for having to wade through a year of forum after forum saying Phil Kelly is the worst human alive [I thought it was The Cruddace? – Ed]

For a start, Bloodcrushers are now Cavalry, making them able to cross the board by Turn 2 instead of being late game challengers as they were in the past. This increased speed somewhat makes up for a diminished survivability and means that the unit is now able to do flanking attacks or surprise a unit or two (not to mention they can pick and choose their targets more readily to avoid those pesky 2+ saves). Combine this with the ability to strip a unit of cover from the Bloodcannon and they can still kick a lot of arse.

Bloodcrusher model by Games Workshop
Bloodcrusher model by Games Workshop

Now, whilst their use is mostly limited to killing 3+ save units (of which there are many), the addition of a unit champion or Heralds gives you access to AP2 weaponry. The Axe of Khorne is one of the few god specific weapons I would consider trading the humble Etherblade for, as it has the same stats and swaps Master-Crafted for Instant Death on a 6 to
wound. What your play style is will determine which upgrade you choose I think.

One big change to Bloodcrushers is that I would now consider Deep Striking them, or at the very least hugging cover. That increased vulnerability, paired with their reputation from the last codex, means they will attract a lot of firepower – especially in Space Marine or Necron armies where AP3 close combat weapons are a scary prospect.

All in all, Bloodcrushers aren’t the strongest of units you can have in a mono Khorne force. But use them well as they will still eat a few units before their demise and draw a lot of firepower. For that, and the awesome models, they are worth trying.

So what are you waiting for? Its time to crush ’em!

Bloodcrushers are available from Firestorm Games, priced £30.15.

A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 4

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAfter a longer pause than intended, we submit to you, dear reader, the fourth chapter in the continuing saga of von Bomburg and von Strauss…

All along the clearing the forces of Order and Chaos clashed. Skullcrushers rampaged through units of infantry, Chaos Knights, atop mighty, yet twisted, steeds charged through regiments five times their size and laid them low. Yet amidst the seemingly senseless, explosive, violence there was an out-of-place oasis of calm. The eye of the storm. An implacable block of Warriors of Khorne, their armour daubed a muddy red, their shields locked and their feet beating the ground in perfect time moved towards the familiar form of the von Bomburg household guard. At it’s centre: the emaciated form of Ludwig von Bomburg.

Otto clucked his tongue. It saddened him to see how far his brother had fallen, but it was understandable what with that brute von Strauss dogging him for years. Were it not for a touch of luck and his own guiding hand, the Red would have had Ludwig’s head on a spike years ago. Poor bastard. But his own patron had plans for his brother, as she did him. And she would not be denied.

The battle flowed back and forth, losses mounting on both sides. Carrion birds circled overhead, squawking to the men below to hurry up and finish the bloody business before them. Mangy dogs that followed the scent of death were already pulling at corpses. Growling and snapping amongst themselves to be the first to feed. To Otto’s gifted sight he could see daemon things licking at the fabric of the world, hungry to taste the blood of the fallen. To caper amongst the entrails and severed heads. And to take the skulls back to their master.

von Strauss was yet to commit himself to the fight, content, it seemed, to allow his Skullcrushers and their deranged mounts the chance to gorge themselves on sweet meats of Marienburg fighting men. Although losses were mounting for the subjects of the Blood God, they would ultimately prevail. Nothing could stop their ferocity. Or deter their mortal master.

Otto closed his eyes for a moment and reached out with his nethersight, touching the minds of the Demigryphs. Nudging their curiosity and firing their hunger, he coaxed them to turn their heads from the main force they were galloping towards and focus on the clanking wall of doom that made up von Strauss’ escorting regiment of Warriors. The minds of disciplined soldiers were hard to manipulate at this range but creatures were far easier. Base instincts were something he understood all too well, and with the tiniest poke and prod he had done little more than stoke the fires of the Demigryphs’ natural aggression.

Otto smiled to himself, his pale features folding around lips painted thick with rouge, as he saw the alarm on the faces of the Demigryphs’ riders. He suspected it was as much to do with their hulking, clanking, target as it was the unprovoked change of direction. The Demigryphs picked up speed, shrieks ringing out from their cruel, hooked, beaks. Otto’s smile broadened as a ragtag mob of primitives turned to face the creatures, their bearded thug of a leader raising a crude axe and bellowing orders in their guttural language. They didn’t stand a chance. Had they not been in the grip of their blood frenzy they might have seen it.

The marauders didn’t so much collide with the Demigryphs as explode against them. They were hopelessly, hilariously, outclassed. Otto’s fingers twitched as his mind poked and prodded the minds of the Demigryphs, like a conductor directing a grand orchestra. Every tear of muscle, spray of blood and scream blended together into a symphony. The creatures lunged and rendered with unerring accuracy. Within minutes the entire mob was bloodied chunks of meat in pools of spreading gore. The Demigrphys hooted and chirruped their satisfaction and began to move on, towards the Warriors and hulking form of von Strauss. He had stopped to watch the slaughter. Otto had assumed the simple-minded brute was merely transfixed by the carnage but he corrected himself. For the followers of the Blood God it wasn’t, as most assumed, a sexual high or even a euphoric one. The frenzy didn’t stop them in their tracks, it drove them onwards as if Khorne himself was at the press of his follower’s backs.

No, he was thinking. Otto felt unease settle in his stomach as he scanned the tree line and then the hills. Eventually the featureless gaze of his horned helm rested on Otto. Even though he was miles away, Otto knew that von Strauss could see him. The blessings of Khorne had seen to it that the Red was far more than a mere man. Otto watched with a growing sense of fear – that made his body tremble so new was the sensation – as von Strauss lift his hunting spear in challenge before quitting the battle field with his warriors in tow, leaving five of his finest warriors to slow the Demigryphs down if only for a moment.

von Strauss didn’t even give his forces a cursory glance as he rushed back towards his own lines and into the trees, his retinue close at his heels. On the battlefield the tide had turned. The various arcane contraptions with which Ludwig waged war were taking their toll. Although the Marieburger force would be lucky to have a soul left alive but the forces of ruination would be wiped out. Not that it seemed to bother all that much.

‘Well,’ He said to himself as much as his patron, he was always listening, ‘I suppose it would be rude to pack up and leave.’ He drew a gnarled root from the flowing folds of his purple rob and began chewing on it. He closed his eyes as he felt the narcotics working their magic. He chuckled to himself as he got comfy, perching atop an old tree bole, root clenched in between his teeth as he patiently awaited the Red.

***

The armoured fist around his throat snapped Otto from his trance state. He had cast his mental net wide and was reaching out trying to soak up the raging storm of emotions that seethed in the forest and nearby townsteads. His body was opening up to the nature of existence as seen through the eyes of Slannesh only to be yanked free so close to enlightenment…

von Strauss would pay.

Before he could utter a word of protest or lay a curse upon von Strauss, the armoured giant lifted him into the air and began to squeeze. What little colour was left in his sallow complexion drained away and he gasped and flailed against the iron grip.

‘Why?’ The sound was like an avalanche. A deep bass rumble that threatened unimaginable violence. Otto, in his own way, was just as powerful as von Strauss. He had been blessed many times over by his mistress but with his brain being rapidly starved of oxygen he could do little more than try to stay conscious. And it was a battle he was losing. Forcing his manicured hands between the purpling skin of his throat and the gore red gauntlet he used all his diminishing strength to bend a digit back enough that he could draw a wheezing gasp.

‘Because She wills it.’ He managed.

von Strauss’ obvious disgust was punctuated by throwing the sorcerer bodily to the floor. Otto hit the ground hard and he felt something break and his arm exploded in pain. He rolled on the floor in a state of ecstasy, momentarily lost to the pain pleasure that was surging around his body, lost to the gravity of the situation. But the sensation passed all too quickly and his mind returned to the moment and the armoured monster looming over him.

‘So weak.’ von Strauss growled, disgust dripping from every word. He reached for the spear lashed to his back, the blade a seething mess of madness and dark light, preparing to finish off the whelp of Slannesh. Otto lashed out a hand, speaking a string of oily words that had no place in the material realm. A seething wave of energy struck von Strauss and for a moment the Khorne lord disappeared. Otto’s elation was replaced with cold dread as von Strauss appeared seemingly unharmed. Something approximating a laugh emanated from his helmet. It made Otto feel immediately sick and his head began to swim. von Strauss drew his spear and deftly spun it in his grip raising it high above his head, ready to plunge it into the stricken form of Otto von Bomburg. In the distance the sounds of battle had died away. He knew his forces were scattered but he cared not. More flocked to his banner with each passing day. For every skull he took and town he burned in his efforts to wreak misery on the son of Marienburg his power grew.

Silence fell upon the hill. Even the cawing flocks of carrion birds had given up their incessant complaining. Even the low rumble of von Strauss’ heavy breathing had faded to nothing. Otto blanched in the face of his own mortality, the fear gripping him tasting bitter depriving him of the thrill he’d felt so often in his life. He screwed his eyes shut, earning a snort of disgust from von Strauss, as he offered up prayers to his mistress, promising her his soul, the soul of his brother and all who follow him and the life of von Strauss, the favoured of Khorne. The spear lunged downwards, the blade an ever-changing horror of leering faces and daemonic fire. The edge rippled with black light as it sliced through the air.

The blade impacted with the thin, accentuated, metal of Otto’s chest plate and shattered. von Strauss was thrown from his feet as the dark energies bound within the ancient weapon were suddenly unleashed. Otto howled as the dark energies scoured his form, cooking his flesh and fusing his ornate armour to his body. But he did not die.

By the time Otto stood on quivering legs von Strauss had already recovered, his armour scorched and smoking but otherwise unharmed. The chuckle again. ‘It seems, little man, your God favours you. No matter.’ He said tossing the splintered spear haft into the bushes, the smoking end immediately setting the brittle branches alight. ‘ I will have your brother’s head, and yours. And you will perish in such agony not even you will find pleasure there. Besides,’ He growled, ‘This will make it much greater sport.’

As von Strauss left the shattered form of Otto von Bomburg, the Deviant of Altdorf, surrounded by flames and atop scorched earth where once thick grasses grew he cast one last glance back. ‘No more hiding for you, little man.’

Skullcrushers of Khorne – A Review

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAs we’re well into the second month of A Tale of Two Armies I thought it was about time I wrote about one of the units that would make up the next 500 points of my army. The rest being made up of the Chaos Knights that I reviewed at the start of the month. I refer, of course, to the Skullcrushers of Khorne.

Warhammer-logoThere may be those that ask why, in a 1,000 point game of Warhammer would I opt for a unit of Skullcrushers of Khorne. And it’s a perfectly legitimate question. And my response? Because they’re fucking cool. And really, in a hobby like ours, what better reason is there?

SkullcrushersofKhorne

The simple fact of the matter is that Skullcrushers are the models that made me want to collect a Khorne army. Bear in mind that I didn’t have the army book – hell, I didn’t have the rule book at that point – so I didn’t know any of the rules. I just, whilst piecing together A Tale of Two Armies as a project, came across those models and uttered the word that millions of wargamers the world over say to themselves on a regular basis: want. And I did. I mean I really did. Over the last couple of years writing/running/editing this site I’ve seen and reviewed a lot of cool models but reviewing a model as an object and looking at a model as something to own, build, paint and use is very different.  And these I wanted to own, build, and paint and use. Well, I’ve got the first two done…

I must be honest, the name is stupid. Considering the God they worship is partial to his home furnishings to be made from people’s bonces, I’d say he’d be pretty pissed off with the Skullcrushers on account of the fact they keep crushing the skulls rather than handing them over. Perhaps in a gift bag with a little hand written note.

But that aside, the Skullcrushers kit is way cool. Juggernauts have come a long way from the boxy metal model I owned when the first Codex Chaos was released back in 1996. The new ones are also a flobbidy-gillion times more dynamic and detailed than that one too. They strike the perfect balance between a creature that has been forged and one born into existence. The iconography is also a cross between savage and ornate and I love how they tie in with the shield designs. The collars for the juggernauts are also a fantastic touch. Because they’re a separate piece they feel far more ‘real’ and every bit like they are there to restrain the creatures than for decoration or symbolism. And they look it too. They’re big, mean, spiky, and look every bit as savage as one would expect and it all rather points towards their masters barely being able to contain them. And considering who their masters are that’s saying quite a bit.

The riders themselves are equally cool. There’s one too many skulls on a couple of the heads but otherwise they look as brutal as they should and the weapons are fantastic. And because they’re designed the same way as the Chaos Knights the weapons are interchangeable. Which is great news for giving knights a bit of variety. It does mean the legs are bit irritating to stick together but it’s a minor grumble. You also get a couple of extra bodies and heads too so if you’re planning to have a few units of Khorne knights in your army you could do some pretty awesome unit champions.

The kit though is very well thought out and it all goes together seamlessly. The casting is nice and tidy too so the clean up won’t take too long which is just as well as there’s a lot of components. And I mean a lot. And some of the nooks and crannies can be a bit fiddly to get a knife-edge or file into. But otherwise it’s a good kit that you’ll smash out in an evening. Okay, a long evening.

In the game Skullcrushers are as nasty as one would expect. The riders are little more than Chaos Warriors. I say little more, they’ll still kick in just about any other unit type they’ll come across. Chuck in the Mark of Khorne and Ensorcelled weapons (or lances if you think you can guarantee the charge) and they pack quite a wallop. Oh, and like knights, they cause Fear. Although that’s somewhat of a given considering the big bastards between their legs. Wait, did that sound gay…

The Juggernauts are combat monsters with murderous charge, daemonic attacks, and three attacks at strength 5 basic. The initiative of two is their only downside but thanks to the overall durability of the unit it shouldn’t prove too much of a problem. And as they’re weapons skill 5 as well they’re going to kick, bite and generally mangle much face.

The only downside is that Skullcrushers weigh in at 75 points each plus upgrades which means units are expensive. And annoyingly at their best in units of 4. So it’s a big commitment of points and a big target for cannons. You’d also have to buy two boxes. And as you’re buying two you may as well buy three and take two units and use the spare bod for a battle standard-bearer. Chuck in a Lord on Juggernaut and you’ve got two units of 5 running about the place. Which is incredibly nasty.

The Skullcrushers are a great kit, a fantastic centre piece to a small army and lethal en masse. They epitomise the Khorne army and I’m so pleased the kit lived up to my expectations (the aforementioned skull on helmet issue aside).  I can’t wait to get them on to the battlefield and see how they perform. Let’s just hope Lee’s cannon misfires again…

The Skullcrushers of Khorne are available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

A Tale of Two Armies

TaleOfTwoArmies copy

Followers on Twitter will have gotten wind by now that Lee (@leefaccini) and I will be setting sail for the Olde World after a break of a fair few years. Rather than run the risk of starting with great gumption and fizzling out after gathering too many models and those models gathering too little paint, we’ll be embarking on a Tale of Two Armies.

The concept is common enough and been attempted by the various White Dwarf teams over the years under the title of a Tale of Two Gamers, but let’s be honest; you’re all far more interested in the toys than Lee and I.

So, what’s the plan? Well, put simply we shall be collecting two brand spanking new armies. Lee shall be collecting Empire and I shall be doing a pure Khorne Warriors of Chaos army.

Following from the review of the Warhammer rulebook coming up in the next few days, we’ll be reviewing our respective army books and then we’ll get down to the nitty gritty of collecting armies and kicking face…and remembering which end of the brush you’re supposed to put the paint on.

The rules will be simple:

Each month we shall collect and paint 500 points of our chosen army and play a game. As an incentive if a unit is unpainted when we meet up for the game we won’t be allowed to use it. The target will be 3,000 points after which point we’ll reward ourselves with something large and barmy from Forge World as a centre piece.

Alongside hobby articles chronicling our progress and battle reports they’ll also be reviews of all the units we collect and a growing narrative which will expand after each game is fought. Regular readers and followers will by now have heard of Ludwig Von Bomburg, Lee’s mercenary captain for Mordheim. He will be leading the Empire army in this tale in the days before he became an alcohol guzzling, womanising boar.

It’s an exciting challenge for us as between time commitments on my part and Lee taking a million years to paint anything we both struggle to complete projects and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you all. And as you may have seen at the top of the page, every article about A Tale of Two Armies will feature that banner as well as the tag. And it wouldn’t be possible without the truly humbling level of support given to The Shell Case by Firestorm Games.

So stay tuned folks…