Why The Last Jedi is actually brilliant

Star_Wars_-_The_Last_Jedi_logo

I had planned on writing a review after I saw The Last Jedi at the cinema. I thought it would be the review of the blockbuster that would kickstart my blogging again after far too many months (years) of absence.

Then I saw the film and to my horror I didn’t love it. In fact, I wasn’t sure I even liked it. Undeterred I did what I do best – I reflected on it and in the end I couldn’t decide one way or the other which would make for a pretty terrible review.

Plus I was genuinely shocked by the abuse Star Wars fans who loved the film were directing at those who didn’t – so much so it stopped me writing. Which is pretty terrible really. I’ve never been scared into silence before and I didn’t like it.

To all those people guilty of abusing their fellow fans, regardless of which camp you’re in – I remind you that fandom is subjective and we are all entitled to our preferences.

But moving on…

I felt so conflicted that I eventually went to see it again. This time with no expectations and able to focus on the story rather than the orgy of special effects and battles. Which are as splendid as one might think.

However, this isn’t a review. Those that care will have already seen it and they certainly would have bought the Blu-ray.

This instead is more about why The Last Jedi is the movie that ties all the various Star Wars elements together. It – weirdly – makes the prequels better and The Force Awakens, unfortunately, slightly worse.

To be clear, the movie isn’t perfect. A lot of people were rightly annoyed by the casual way in which much-loved characters were killed off.  They may have a point.

Personally I think there could have been a more elegant way of doing it but I suspect Rian Johnson was trying to make the point that even heroes can die lousy deaths.

Raddus_Ship_at_DQar

Dan Abnett does the same thing in many of his books. It’s a valid plot device but it doesn’t work as well in movies – usually because things move too quickly for the audience to process it. Or appreciate it.

Similarly the entire casino sequence tries to make an important point but it’s too obvious and exaggerated and rang a little too true to the naffer moments of the prequels. The daft thing was that the point Johnson was scrabbling around for was made just after the absurdity was over. But more on that later.

Breathe. Just breathe…

Star Wars has always been very much ‘of its time’. The original movies were made during a time when people were rebelling against the idea of ‘the man’ and big government.

The prequels were made at a time when governments were being corrupted by big business to allow them to do more or less what they please and – more significantly – profit from warfare. Thank goodness that isn’t a problem any more…

The Last Jedi was made at a point when – certainly in the UK and the US – there is a widening political divide, especially between the generations and something needs to change.

The vast majority of the Baby Boomers and Generation X are clinging bitterly to the I’m alright Jack, fatally flawed infinite growth model with a healthy dose of zero sum gain economics thrown in. Xennials, Millennials and Generation Y (presumably because they say why the fuck a lot) are sick of the corruption, the dodgy dealings and the post truth bullshit of a the Trumpian era we now find ourselves in.

We’re also tired of a system that gave the generations before us free university educations and salaries sufficient to become home owners. The generations after spend half their salaries on rent and are lucky to own a home before the age of 35.

Where lies are the norm and we regularly question the motives of our leaders and the mainstream media to keep us objectively informed, the system is broken.

This is not a brilliant situation by any measure.

[NB: If you disagree with my politics just stop reading. Our lives are too short for you to spend ages writing an angry comment only for me to waste a few seconds deleting it unread.]

Regardless of political leaning, the movie speaks to this need for a new beginning. The New Republic falls so easily in The Force Awakens because the lessons of the past weren’t learned. Complacency or just good old-fashioned bureaucracy blinded the Senate to the threat posed by The First Order.

Korr_Sella_final_moments
That face says it all.

Similarly The First Order – or the Empire 2.0 – is as hopelessly paranoid, inflexible and as arrogant as the Empire was, if not more so.

Neither system works. And when they collide it only goes one way. A cycle that has repeated in the Star Wars universe for thousands of years in one form or another and one that we see repeated in the real world too.

The Last Jedi challenges the audience with the idea that there needs to be a new way. It’s an uncomfortable thought for those who have grown up with the originals because they feel so just and true. Their motives so pure. More so for those who read the old books – willing the Rebellion ever onwards to turn into the New Republic.

Most of us aren’t politicians or powerful business types so it’s easy to identify with the Rebellion. It’s easy for us to see the Empire as evil because it’s immediately relatable to our world. The prequels were less relatable because the vast majority of people – until recently – were totally unaware just how toxically intertwined big business, special interest groups and politics have become.

Restoration of the Republic was always the ideal – the symbol of hope that drove the characters and the fans through the fighting.

The Last Jedi forces us to come to terms with the idea that we may have been wrong this entire time. And this is when the wheels come off the cart…

This is not going to go the way you think…

The prequels were heavily criticised for being over sanitised and kid friendly. I suspect – and admittedly I could be reading into things to prove my point – that this was deliberate.

In episode 1 the Republic was a shining beacon of democracy. The planets within its borders were shining utopias. Spaceships were new and shiny because it was a very prosperous place to be.

Although you stray outside of the Republic and everything becomes a lot darker. However the Republic leaves the Outer Rim to criminals and despots like the Hutts because it’s convenient to do so. Not so sanitised when you think about it.

But as the films move on and the Republic is not only torn apart by war but by bankruptcy too. By episode 3 we’re starting to get the ‘worn future’ look of the originals. The tone also darkens considerably. The mass execution of the Jedi and the mutilation of Anakin. Being the most obvious ones.

501st-ROTS

Then there’s the millions upon millions of clone troopers who fought and died for absolutely no reason at all. If Star Wars was set in the 40k universe Khorne would be positively erect at that level of callous blood-letting.

For now we have to side step the debate surrounding the appalling acting by some of the cast and the equally dire dialogue (especially in Episode 2). As Harrison Ford once said to Lucas after a table read: You can read this shit George, but you can’t say it.

On that we can all agree.

But the Republic was a galaxy spanning organisation who were at their most powerful – and their most prideful. The Jedi Order served as peacekeepers to the Republic yet they were also an autonomous agency with near limitless resources and the ability to pursue their own agenda should the need arise.

Within the bounds of the Jedi code and Republic law of course.

For all of its assumptions of superiority, the Republic’s inner workings were snarled with infighting, territorial disputes, power grabs and jealousy exacerbated by special interests groups pushing their own agendas. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the Jedi Order – so supremely confident in their powers and the extent of their reach – completely failed to uncover a plot by a single Sith to not only defeat them with their own army but seize complete control of the galaxy in the process. I think Luke sums it up rather well:

‘…at the height of their power, the Jedi allowed a Sith Lord to take over the Republic and turn it into an Empire.  That’s their legacy.  Hubris.’

Their arrogance was their undoing. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure that leads to the dark side?

The Jedi Order, at it’s most powerful were at their weakest and the reason is really quite obvious.

Why on Earth would Luke – or any other Jedi – want to recreate that order, using the same teachings, with the same totally binary view of the force – the light vs the dark.

And I’m pretty sure that only a Sith deals in absolutes. I mean, I’m just throwing it out there.

The greatest teacher, failure is…

When you stop and think – and not even that hard – The Last Jedi is about balance.

The extremes of the Republic and First Order leave an incredibly large grey area for profiteering weapons dealer types to make oh so very much hay out of both sides.

Engineering increasingly more destructive weapons of war (heavy AT AT walkers or the comically named battering ram cannon anyone?) causing escalation and more fighting.

Which is exactly what happened in the Clone Wars. The pattern is repeating only each time the level of destruction increases and balance disappears.

In the absence of balance does Chaos reign.

This has never been more true when the same thinking is applied to the Force. When Rey stretches is out with her feelings everything in nature is balanced.

Luke says as much himself – On Ahch-to, in line with the source of light there is a source of great darkness. Balance.

Significantly Rey is drawn to both.

star-wars-last-jedi

And here is in lies the big reveal – the galaxy doesn’t need Luke Skywalker. As painful that is to accept, it is true – whether you agree with the ending of the movie or not.

At first I resisted the idea that Luke was redundant. I wanted him to fight but this Obi-wan quote from Star Wars Rebels sums it up rather elegantly:

‘If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.’

…then you have nothing.

The galaxy has as little need for Luke and the old ways of the Jedi as it does broken governments.

A single Jedi cannot halt the advance of a galactic power and to believe different is that hubris we spoke of earlier. The call back to later line later in the film is brilliant and emphasises how absurd we all are for naturally assuming Luke could single-handedly save the galaxy.

luke vs first order

The Jedi cannot be rebuilt as they were because an absolute good only gives rise to an absolute evil and they are compelled to destroy each other.

Even as peacekeepers Jedi were often punitive in their rulings because their definition of fairness didn’t come from a place of balance, it came from a place of righteousness that no other being could hope to meet.

In many ways fighting the Clone Wars revealed the Jedi for what they had become – a self-righteous instrument of judgement. They weren’t soldiers, nor did they have any experience in large-scale warfare and yet they led the armies because they believed they were the superior choice…than the soldiers genetically engineered for that exact role.

But on a deeper level they were the light clashing against the dark. Jedi history is littered with bloody conflicts be it against the Sith, the Mandalorians or anyone else. Their righteousness in the light side drives them to conflict just as the dark side does the Sith.

Instead the Jedi need to occupy a place of balance. That middle ground – neither light nor dark – but fair…balanced. Truly just and therefore truly just if they take action.

Equally the people they serve need to find a new path away from the Republic and the First Order. Neither system works because there is no balance.

Ironically both systems benefit a tiny minority just through different methods. Something to do with power and corruption. But when systems exist to consolidate power and eliminate balance the effect is always the same.

Again, this is being echoed in chambers of government around the world right now.

In the absence of balance, the people in charge become only concerned with staying in charge because their way is the right way.

And there’s those absolutes again.

We are what they grow beyond…

The Last Jedi is brilliant becomes it turns everything we have accepted about the Star Wars universe on its head and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. So much so that some consider it to be the worst Star Wars film of the bunch.

Until I gave it some thought I would have agreed. I actually think it’s one the best. And not because of all the torch passing bollocks that most critics have spouted on about – of course new characters are picking up where the old ones left off.

tlj-main-characters

There was a transition between Episode 3 and Episode 4 so why did we expect this trilogy to be any different? We’re only grumpy because we wanted more of the same. The reality is had Star Wars been made today, with today’s budgets and special effects, it would have been a TV show and it would have blown people’s minds.

The Last Jedi is brilliant because it really is a Star Wars movie for Star Wars fans. Not fans of specific bits of Star Wars. The Force Awakens by comparison is a busted, plot holed homage to the originals in an effort to apologise for the prequels. An apology that no one needed. Apart from Jar Jar.

I originally thought that Johnson was the fan boy making the movie he always wanted. Now I think it may have been the other way round.

The Last Jedi owns the sins of the Force Awakens – like why did Han and Luke both bugger off when Kylo goes bad. Until the Last Jedi that goes painfully unexplained.

It also brings everything together. It gives the three acts of the story cohesion made all the richer if you’ve watched The Clone Wars and Rebels programmes as well.

It also directly challenges the notion that every problem can be solved by ‘jumping in a cockpit and blowing something up’. Again it’s an uncomfortable thought because the word Wars is in the title and X-wings are awesome.

But the point is that although there will be battles, the war won’t end at the end of a gun.

Mordheim – Building a Warband in a Round Base World

Mordheim_Intro_Logo

The chaps – including a few new members – and I have started yet another Mordheim campaign.

In our particular world this is nothing new. We love Mordheim. Like love love.

We also have two or three warbands each so it’s merely just a case of dusting off whichever one tickles our fancy and off we go.

However we have 3 new members to the group, none of whom have played before let alone got warbands.

So what are they to do in a time when the kind of models they need are either in short supply, are no longer available or come on the wrong kind of bases. And by wrong I mean round.

And by round I mean wrong.

mordheim-1.jpg

I’ve heard a lot of arguments in favour of round bases in Warhammer. The argument largely holds up only because of how  Warhammer now works. To play Fantasy sized games in the Age of Sigmar, on round bases, would be a fucking nightmare.

So, if Age of Sigmar works fine with round bases, does it matter if you use them for Mordheim as well.

I would argue yes and here’s why.

Desgin

Mordheim is an incredibly well balanced game. The starting warbands, for all their differences are more or less evenly matched – this is very hard to achieve.

It’s also what makes the game so fun when the stat increases and the skills start rolling in. A single point of weapon skill or strength over your opponent early on in the campaign really upsets the plague cart.

This balance extends – whether it’s been intended or not – to the bases too.

Thanks to the majesty of right angles it’s possible for for 8 models to surround a single model. Depending on the models involved and how far along in the campaign you are, this ability is fairly decisive.

Round bases and square bases just don’t mix. They either hamper your warband’s ability to get into combat or prevent as many models from attacking them.

Sure, if you’re the one with round bases then why should you care. Fewer models attacking you is a good thing, right?

Strictly speaking, yes but there’s also a question of fairness. Mixed base shapes will, inevitably cause problems.

Gameplay

In the closed in streets of a Mordheim space is ever at a premium. Whereas some could see the wider round bases (and the varying sizes round base models now come on) as an advantage to clog up the streets, that’s hardly in the spirit of the game.

Plus that particular annoyance flows both ways.

Especially as the game is all about getting stuck in with as many models as possible. It’s not a game of Mordheim without a really big, really messy scrap going on somewhere.

Square bases are neater. I’m the first to admit that the poses of some models make base to base contact…problematic but this is a minor issue compared to a base shape that limits base contact when movement and model placement is one of the most nuanced and therefore important rules in the game.

Models mounted on larger square bases shift the balance by limiting the number of models that can charge them and, equally give them a wider frontage to charge multiple models should they so choose.

The problem with round bases is that models that would normally be mounted on a 20mm square base end up on a 25 mm round base, affording them this game altering advantage.

Were this on one or two models – such as a captain and a champion – it perhaps wouldn’t matter. But when it’s across an entire warband it can actually be a game changer.

Things get really sticky when those bases jump to 30mm and above as is often the case with modern character models in Age of Smegmar*.

*yes, it was deliberate

Collecting a Warband

So if round bases aren’t an option what’s a Mordheim novice to do when collecting a warband when increasingly square bases are becoming a thing of the past?

You can, of course, try to pick up an original Mordheim warband on eBay. Personally I wouldn’t for 3 reasons.

  1. They are absurdly expensive. Some warbands – especially Carnival of Chaos – go for insane money. Resist the urge to have a piece of Games Workshop history. They don’t give a shit so neither should you.
  2. The models have broadly speaking dated very poorly. There are much nicer models out there for a lot less money.
  3. They aren’t scaleable. If you’re playing a campaign your warband won’t stay its starting size for long. After two games my Lahmian warband has grown by 5 models.
    Relying on out of production models doesn’t work.

Mordheim-Witch-Hunters

Fortunately there a couple of options.

Option 1 – Source your warband from the Age of Sigmar Range

Thanks to a confused and – quite frankly – bungled initial release there are still a fair few models out that can be used for Mordheim with little or no conversion. However as the game becomes more established and the writers flesh out the Age of Sigmar world, these will start to disappear.

Some Age of Sigmar regiments and single miniatures come with a square base still. Especially those that were sculpted with a plastic scenic base as part of the model. They are ideal but will eventually be superseded.

If the Kharadron Overlords and the Idoneth Deepkin are anything to go by, what replaces them will be fairly unrecognisable. That’s not a complaint but a mere statement of fact.

The good news on that front is it gives you the opportunity to plump for some really refreshing hired sword models for you campaigns. Again, considering the inflated prices on eBay you may as well go for something totally new.

Assuming you’re able to gather together the models you want then it’s just a case of finding some square bases. Fortunately there’s still a few companies out there who stock some amazing scenic bases. Better still you can get enough to deck out your entire warband for only a few pounds.

I can personally recommend Tiny Worlds. I’ve reviewed their products in the past and can speak to their quality and their customer service. But others like Daemonscape also produce some nice bases.

Option 2 – Mix and match

This is my preferred method and one I’ve used for the last 3 warbands I’ve created.

Companies like Freebooter Miniatures produce some awesome metal models, all mounted on scenic square bases as standard and because Freebooter’s Fate uses named characters they are all individual sculpts. This is awesome for sourcing your character models.

In fact at Salute I bought a chunk of the Brotherhood range to replace the hodge podge of old GW models I had used for my Lahmians. They weren’t telling the story I wanted to convey well enough. It was great on paper but on the board they looked messy.

The rebooted Lahmians have a darker story and a unifying look centred around an ostentatious and beautiful Lahmian vampire that will look deliberately out of place.

I even replaced the Henchmen models with Brotherhood models. Scaleability is a slight concern but there are enough models across the entire Freebooter Miniatures range that I can make it work easily enough.

Just two of the new models I purchased from Freebooter to serve as the Beloved and a Thrall respectively.

The only downside is it’s a fairly expensive way of collecting a warband but – in my opinion worth it (a) for a really unique looking warband and (b) a model range that is supported and not going anywhere.

Plus when you consider buying up entire regiments of GW models to only use one or two, it becomes entirely reasonable.

Fortunately we operate in a saturated market place so there are plenty of fantasy games that can easily proxy for Mordheim miniatures – such as Frostrgrave and Avatars of War.

frostgrave
The Frostgrave models aren’t GW standard but neither are you paying GW money. As henchmen they’re perfectly serviceable and (you guessed it) scalable.

Again sometimes this will mean paying slightly over the odds for a single miniature but I do believe it’s worth it to get a warband that’s unique to look at and fun to play with. After all the reason why armies Warhammer and 40k look amazing is because of the sense of uniformity, punctuated by cool characters.

Mordheim warbands work because of the subtle uniformity underpinning a group of individual models.

Where you may struggle is with GW specific creations such as Skaven. For the time being Skaven are staying as is so, beyond a base swap, you should be fairly safe buying those.

Taking to the Streets

Any hobby project is a deeply personal thing. If you’re investing time and money into something you need to love it.

It’s for this reason that so many of us start armies, lose interest and sell them on. In some cases it’s because we can’t be fecked but in the majority of cases it’s because we don’t love the army enough to continue.

I painted a battle company in 3 weeks and a Imperial Knight household in 6. I did this because I loved the armies I’m collecting. My Death Guard will be fully done by November for the next trip to Warhammer World for the same reason.

It’s really important to choose the right models for your warband that allows you to get the most of the game both mechanically and aesthetically.

Most arguments I hear against this are usually born from inconvenience. We’re wargamers! Everything we do is an inconvenience.

We build fiddly models with noxious glues, then spending hour upon back breaking hour to painting them to then spend hour upon hour stood around a table, ending the night with sore knees to go with our sore backs. It sounds pretty damned inconvenient.

But we do it because we love it.

Mordheim isn one of the best games I’ve played in my almost 30 years of wargaming and still one of the best rule sets out of the dozens I’ve reviewed over the years.

Give it some love.

 

Warhammer 40,000 – Coping with Change

So most of us have had 8th edition for a little while now and have likely invested in an Index or two.

Aside from ditching the 3rd edition mechanic almost entirely which has served as a rebirth for a number of weapons and tactics,  there has been a conscious effort to redress the balance for certain armies. Armies that, no matter how hard the design studio tried, were consistently mugged off by every codex that came out for them.

The main victims were the Imperial Guard, Tyranids and Orks who for years never quite lived up to the potential, despite a consistent top up of new and groovy models. Arguably Eldar and Dark Eldar occupied the other slots in the ‘Top 5 Most Mugged Off Armies’ chart but they are less of a focus.

anti_tyranids_by_lathander1987-d4hkcrc

Speed

One of the biggest changes from 7th to 8th edition was reintroducing different move rates. Back in 1998 I actually really liked the change because it made things simpler and made the game feel faster.

Back then it probably did play faster too but as the years and the editions wore on more and more special rules had to be introduced to cope with the dizzying array of faster units, including flyers the game introduced.

It became clumsy, awkward and completely deballed the argument for having flat movement values in the first place. So they’ve gone.

This is extremely good news for Eldar armies but it’s utterly terrifying for another fighting Tyranids. Because by the Emperor’s shrivelled nut sack are they quick.

Whilst the majority may shrug because they should be, it blows all army compositions and battle plans that rely on gun lines clear out of the water. Some units under 8th edition can more or less assault on turn 1. That’s 2nd edition levels of crazy and I love it.

This is the 41st Millennium after all where either insanely advanced tech, unholy powers of the Immaterium or super fast, super agile alien life forms exist. Of course shit should move that fast.

Those who relied on whittling down enemy units with shooting and then weathering the inevitable assault with superior stats need to think again because you no longer have that kind of time.

For Guard players the change in movement coupled with the move towards treating vehicles like infantry has turned the Leman Russ variants into hilarious and incredibly hard to kill, fast-moving flanking units as opposed to the armoured pill boxes of yesteryear.

Survival

As if blinding speed wasn’t bad enough, the flimsy base units aren’t so flimsy any more. With the change of AP from a value weapons can ignore to a modifier – ala 2nd Edition – Imperial Guard, Hormagaunts and Ork Boys all get a save against most basic weapons.

orks-vs-marines

This is a major change because up to now mobs of Orks could be culled with almost impunity by Space Marines unless the Ork players coughed up for the ‘Ard Boy upgrade. Which, again, completely undermined a big advantage for fielding Orks: numbers.

The same was true for Imperial Guard. Take Grenadiers or storm troopers or be prepared for a very static game.

Whilst standing still and shooting (or attempting to) everything that moves is a tried and tested tactic of the Imperial Guard, it doesn’t take long for that way of playing to get old.

With how modifiers work: Tyranids, Orks and Imperial Guard become a lot more dynamic. Of course leapfrogging form one building to another will still keep your blokes alive for longer because of the +1 to armour save, but they now stand a fighting chance when they’re forced to run across open ground too.

It’s hard to say who benefits the more from this as all of the flimsier armies benefits. The only armies who don’t are the Space Marine derived. But on the upside they get a more gripping game.

Power

In 8th edition a lot of things got a lot more power from units to weapons.

The move to flat rolls over tables means that Orks, who have suffered for years with a statline that never really reflected the sheer brutality of the army, are now horrendous.

Broadly speaking 8th edition favours horde armies over any other but Tyranids and Orks definitely come out on top.

The durability when combined with higher to hit and wound rolls have turned the lowly Ork boy in to a combat monster. Whilst I’m of the opinion this is a positive and needed to happen, a lot of gamers are about to get smacked around by opponents that historically posed no real threat.

Orks are now fucking mental.

Anyone who read my review of the core rules will start to see that the apple cart his so much been upset as been shelled from space.

But it goes further than that. Guard’s traditional utter mediocrity is no completely offset by the fact that everything can wound everything.

Whilst you’re unlikely to lose a Land Raider to concentrated lasgun fire, it is now possible.

But for the Imperial Guard it isn’t just the fact that infantry units are now incredibly worthwhile, it’s the sheer variety of special and heavy weapons you can cram into the army.

For example Plasma weapons have always been handy but now they are more or less the go to ‘everything killer’. Although there are more powerful weapons out there, point for point – especially as the plasma gun is as destructive as a plasma cannon – they can tackle most things.

A plasma gun and a plasma pistol in every squad and suddenly you have units that can overwhelm small elite units and chip away at medium and light tanks with ease.

Brace, Brace, Brace!

Whilst Space Marines make out okay in 8th edition, not least because of the addition of Primaris marines, it’s the horde armies that are the ones to watch. Especially with the introduction of power levels.

Asymmetric gaming overwhelmingly benefits horde armies simply because they get the most pop for their points. If you’re using the Open War deck (which everyone should because it’s awesome) then you can be in for some really fun and very messy games.

Of course the real prize-fight will be seeing one horde army face off against another. Especially Orks vs Tyranids. Speed and aggression vs savagery and unrelenting toughness.

 

Why You Should Set Deadlines

Anyone who follows me on Twitter would have seen pictures going up of my House Terryn Imperial Knights army as it slowly progressed to completion.

Some of The Chaps and I were heading up to Warhammer World at the start of May and I wanted to take a fully painted army with me.

Something of an encore to getting the 5th Company of my Ultramarines done the year before.

5thCompany

However, having learned my lesson from last year, I gave myself a little longer than 6 weeks to paint a 3,000 point army. This is old 7th edition points you understand. Fuck knows what the armies will cost out now.

This time round, having already decided back in January to make a return pilgrimage to Warhammer World, I gave myself 12 weeks.

12 weeks to build and paint 7 (because one was already painted) Imperial Knights ready for May.

IMG_1767

If I’m honest, I barely finished in time.

But the point is this: setting deadlines focuses your mind.

Don’t Stagnate

I’ve been doing the hobby a very long time and in that time I have collected, for Warhammer 40,000 alone (in no particular order):

  • Dark Angels
  • Eldar (thrice)
  • Space Wolves
  • Tyranids (twice)
  • Chaos Space Marines (twice)
  • Necrons
  • Imperial Guard Armoured Company
  • Imperial Guard Deathworld Veterans
  • Tau (twice)
  • Grey Knights (sort of)
  • Orks
  • Ultramarines (1st & 5th)
  • Imperial Knights
  • Deathwatch
  • Dark Eldar (new project)

Of that list none but the Ultramarines, Knights, Deathwatch and Dark Eldar survived. The latter three are all new in fairness so hardly count.

The other armies, however, were all sold or given away as the projects ground to a halt either because I didn’t like the way they played or I just lost momentum with collecting the army.

That is a lot of abandoned projects. Although one or two were sold because I was flat broke and it was that or starve.

But I did what a lot of gamers do: buy too much, too quickly and then not paint any of it. Eventually the prospect of painting that much grey would become overwhelming and then my head would be turned by the latest army and that would be that.

So what changed?

In short…nothing.

I still get new army syndrome like I did what I was a kid.

I still buy too much, too quickly. You just need to ask The Chaps to verify that one.

But now I’m setting myself targets. Last year I gave myself 6 weeks to paint an army.

This year I gave myself 12 weeks to paint an army.

Starting mid June, having taken a couple of months off to defrazzle my brain, I’m planning to paint my Dark Eldar by November for the next Black Library event. So that’s around 24 weeks.

Why so long?

The reasons are very simple:

  1. Setting reasonable deadlines keeps you focused but avoids burnout
  2. It allows you to plan your project and allow time for doing cool stuff like bases
  3. It accommodates having a life outside of the hobby
  4. It allows for time off to do something else of any evening
  5. You don’t rush

Whilst, all are important, the last two points are really important. Painting a battle company in 6 weeks is hard. The churn was roughly a 10 man (Marine) squad every 3.5 days from undercoat to done. Obviously there were some tanks in there as well but that was the average.

It meant no time off and no doing anything else. I was writing a novel that I had to put on hold because I simple couldn’t do both.

Each Knight averaged 12 days which included building, painting (including hand painting the heraldry from the Codex) and building scenic bases. The reality was slightly less but the real life regularly encroached.

And that’s why you need to give yourself 5-6 months to paint an army. Because it’s allows for you to power up the Xbox one evening or actually leave the house.

It allows you to go to bed at a reasonable hour or not feel guilty because you turned the desk lamp off at 11 rather than when your eyes start to sting.

Most importantly it stops the hobby from feeling like a chore.

Setting deadlines absolutely works. Probably because we’re all used to working to them in our day jobs. Regardless, it gives you the motivation you need to progress your armies at a steady pace, seeing regular improvements – which of itself spurs you on – and at the end you get to play with a fully painted army.

Who doesn’t want that?

Why Princess Leia Matters

2016 has been an interesting year.

It’s been an interesting year for me personally and, having overcome some pretty huge challenges, it’s actually been a pretty good one all things considered. The fact that I’m putting fingers to keyboard again is indication of how different things are now to a year ago. Let alone 2 years ago.

For the rest of the world the year has racked up an astonishing butcher’s bill. In places like Aleppo and across Afghanistan, Iraq, Paris, Berlin and a host of other places. A string of shootings in the US which has inflamed already fraught race relations in the country. Regardless of the politics all these people mattered and is a tragedy of wasted life and potential.

We’ve also seen a rise in some of the most divisive and damaging politics since the 1930’s, when people on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the debate marched to the polls disillusioned, angry and (if we’re really honest with ourselves) ill-informed and mistrustful of the other side. The results have been troubling, potentially catastrophic and will take years to sort out and years more to understand the true ramifications.

And amongst it all, a steady stream of celebrities and geniuses have died. There are those that will gleefully point out how selfish and shallow we are, weeping over famous people we never met but sparing barely a thought for a war-torn city and its traumatised inhabitants.

To those people I say this: we care. We all care. Some care more than others but humanity is blessed with a near limitless reservoir for kindness that we pour out towards our friends, family, charitable causes, the homeless person on the street and towards the seemingly endless stream of victims of violence on the news. The victims of egomaniacal, power-hungry men and women who would rather see nations burn than give an inch. Who confuse compromise with weakness. And would happily blame everyone else for the oligarchical problems they themselves created.

Why should celebrities get all the attention?

It’s simple: from David Bowie to Prince to our very own and beloved princess, Carrie Fisher, they all moved us with their art.

Whether it’s a song that resonated with us or helped us through a break up. Or a movie that defined our childhood and our view of the world: their gifts connected with us in a way that gives us hope despite the wanton destruction both physically and politically that fills the news cycle. It also connects us in a profound and unbreakable way with those who feel the same.

This is why, for me, Carrie Fisher’s passing is all the more poignant.

One of the first movies I sat through as a young child – barely 4 years old – was Star Wars. I didn’t fully understand everything that went on. I thought the Stormtroopers were robots, Darth Vadar scared the living shit out of me and my tiny child mind had no clue at the colossal loss of life resulting from Alderaan and the Death Star being destroyed (bugger off about spoilers, it’s been 40 years!).

But what I did understand was heroism and sacrifice. I may not have had those labels for them but I knew what I was looking at and Luke, Leia, Han & Chewie all fit the bill. That and X-Wings are awesome.

Growing up I was enamoured with Leia not because she was beautiful, although she was, or because of the infamous Gold Bikini – partly because I was just too young when RotJ came out to know what to do with that image – but because she was remarkable.

She was the leader of a rebellion. She was strong, yet compassionate. Fearless yet afraid. Stubborn yet vulnerable. Strong willed but sensitive. She was all these things and more. She was a character as rich and as heroic as Luke or Han which, for the 70’s and early 80’s was really saying something.

Her character, albeit written, defied society. Leia, portrayed by the wonderful Carrie Fisher, dared the chauvinists to tell her to sit down and shut up. Dared educators to do more than just tell generations of young girls to aim for mediocre grades or not to waste their time with science and technology.

Carrie Fisher understood that character and what she represented to girls and women better than anyone.

In the Star Wars universe, women weren’t just politicians, they were soldiers, pilots, leaders and did so on their own merit, not because hubby or daddy had pulled some strings.

Star Wars, as a franchise, has always challenged ideas of race and gender. This is a universe in which humans of both genders and all colours cohabited, fought and died alongside aliens for their freedom. It’s important to note that the Empire heavily persecuted non-humans and the Rebellion was largely made up of humans, fighting against that oppression.

It teaches every generation who watches it how remarkably capable we are and how staggeringly short sighted and pointless nationalism and divisiveness is. Granted the theme of the movie is a violent rebellion but I think we all know the message I mean. And at its heart is a young woman, raised in privilege, who could have stayed home but instead chose to stand.

I’m immensely proud of my daughter. I’m proud of her humour, her sarcasm (at nearly 4 I really have made a rod for my own back), her precociousness, her curiosity, her intelligence, her bravery, her compassion and her emotional sensitivity.

I really want her to see Star Wars (well, the original 3, Episode VII and Rogue One) not just because it’s a brilliant and exciting story but because I want her to see wonderful, capable and powerful women making a difference. Being heroes. Whether it’s stood at a strategy table like Mon Mothma sending soldiers into harms way or with a blaster in their hand like Leia.

Princess Leia matters as a character because there had never been anyone quite like her or will be ever again. Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia, for me were one and the same. For all of her problems in the years following Star Wars, Carrie Fisher never gave up. She strove to do better and to enrich the lives of the people she came in to contact with.

And judging by the outpouring on Social Media within minutes of today’s sad announcement I’d say she achieved that end. Not to mention her effect on the millions of Star Wars fans around the world.

I can’t wait for my daughter to see Star Wars and for me to point to Princess Leia and say: ‘that’s Princess Leia, she leads the Rebellion’. And when my daughter turns to me and asks ‘is she a goody?’ I shall look at her, smile and say ‘yes, my love, she is a goody. Just about the best there ever was.’

carrie_fisher_n

Re:Boot

After the fantastic Black Library Live ended, Lee and I were fortunate enough to catch up with the legendary Gav Thorpe over a pint (of Coke) in Bugman’s.

He reminded me that I had set up this blog, made some bold claims and then kind of did fuck all with it.

We got on to the Tragedies of the Primarchs series I began writing and, again, I was nudged by Gav and Lee that perhaps I should get my arse in gear and finish writing them.

It occurred to me that some work needed to be done on this site and what once was The Shell Case. The weight of years and sheer effort hung around The Shell Case made starting over a little daunting. Plus losing out on all that content was kinda sucky.

So, I’ve consolidated the two.

On this site you’ll now be able to find all of the old The Shell Case content, as well as the new stuff for SILO41. Tragedies of the Primarchs are here as is the classic Shell Case Shorts.

The Shell Case as it once was is no more and the domain has been redirected.

I’ve also updated the look (obviously) so it’s a little more user friendly.

There’s a few additions still to be made – like a page about Aurora Games – but this is my new virtual home. Welcome.

Reflections on an Old World

A week or so ago I reviewed the all new, all shiny, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I reflected on the idea that this game wasn’t Warhammer Fantasy Battles ninth Edition but the first edition of an entirely new game.

It’s fair comment as whilst the models haven’t changed just about everything else has from the army names, to the rules, to the Warhammer world itself. Which got me to thinking: just what are the veterans of Warhammer supposed to do now?

What I mean by this is this some of us have spent a very long time not just learning vast amounts of rules and stat lines but absorbing, remembering, understanding and debating the background. Understanding the background wasn’t just part of understanding why these mighty empires were at war but why the armies and units were designed the way they were. It also gave us insight how best to use them.

Thus far it seems all this knowledge is now broadly surplus to requirements. This is somewhat of a bitter pill for me because I got into the hobby far younger than most and so saying goodbye to the Warhammer World as it was is saying goodbye to 25 years of study in one form or another. It’s left me feeling…homeless for want of a better word. It does feel like that’s slightly the point. The amount I spend on Warhammer Fantasy is slight. I have a large Warriors of Chaos army that requires tweaking rather than investment. Because of its size I’m unlikely to invest in a second army of similar size. Therefore can I be called a Games Workshop customer? Strictly speaking: no.

Fresh, enthused, cash rich, time rich, new gamers are what the Games Workshop are after. The 10 year olds and above who haven’t discovered boobs yet or if they have it’s because they cracked their parent’s password to get to the really good sites on the internet.

Going purely off the back of the shonky book included in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar boxset there is little or no talk of the time before it all went a little bit Adventure Time. That of course doesn’t mean there won’t be but it seems almost counter productive to go to the trouble of hitting the big red reset button of destiny only to go back to the old stuff.

My question is this: what the hell am I supposed to do now? If any future book references the old background new gamers aren’t going to have a fucking clue what the writer is banging on about. Heaven for fend they reference something from the Time of Legends books. The history before the history if you will.

I feel like I’m going to become akin to a clan elder. In charge of tomes of history and trotted out for special occasions to tut and look whimsical about a place called the Old World. A place where heroes of valour commanded armies of light to hold back towering villains of tremendous power and their hordes of foul creatures, corrupted men and capering daemons.

How do you summarise 30 plus years of history in a conversation? You can’t. It once took me three hours to tell a friend a brief history of the 40k Universe. Three. Hours.

So where does that leave me, The Chaps and other veteran Warhammer players? Do we walk away? Hit the red reset button of destiny ourselves wipe the slate clean and embrace the brave new/mental world and just get on with it? Or do we become living relics? Become those clan elders and gather as much knowledge as we can and guard it jealously against time and the seep of the new canon.

The sad truth is suspect it’ll be somewhere in the middle. Some of the old guard will walk away. Others will play both versions and the rest will become those living relics. I certainly feel like one.

But as I said in my review, the great thing about the re-imagining of Warhammer is that eighth edition will remain forever as it is: the strongest version of that pillar of wargaming heritage and epic fantasy battles. It’ll never be updated, the army books won’t change. And as long as we can find square bases our armies can continue to march in beautiful sharp cornered blocks in numbers that fill the board.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the wargaming world has changed and we, like Warhammer, have to move with the times or become obsolete. I’m certainly not ready to give up on Warhammer Fantasy Battles and maybe that says more about me than I realised.

Fast Movers in 40k

warhammer-40000-logo

Last Thursday I got a game of 40k in using my new Ork army. As it was their second outing I thought I’d mix it up a bit and give the Dakkajet a try because, well it’s freaking cool. For reasons passing my understanding, I told Lee I’d be taking a flyer which prompted him to tweak his army list to cram in a Strom Raven. I can’t blame him, I just wanted to be a sod and spend all game strafing him with impunity.

OrkBommerNEW01

I was my usual jammy self and managed to get my Dakkajet on the board at the start of turn 2 and immediately set about hosing down an Imperial Guard squad. The Storm Raven came on the following turn and turned the sky around my Dakkajet into a swirling storm of explosions and hot lead in an attempt to turn the Howlin Git into a big cloud of tin foil and fire. But as I mentioned, I was jammy. Passing 6 out of the 7 Jink saves forced upon me resulted in me breaking off and attacking a second Guard section with the Raven in hot pursuit. The Dakkajet’s number as inevitably up but it struck me how (a) cinematic it all looked (b) how flyers didn’t break the game as I feared and (c) how introducing flyers is a natural evolution in army selection and encourages gamers to take ‘all comers’ lists rather than tailoring them to suit a specific force or army composition.

Lee had a tactical advantage in so much as I’d told him I was taking a flyer. However ‘best practice’ as it were suggests that he should allow for that likelihood anyway. With pretty much every army having a flyer of some sort it’s reasonable for us as gamers to have a contingency to deal with them should we find the sky filling up with fast movers. Units with skyfire rules or an upgrade or ammo type. A flyer of your own is not unreasonable and if it turns out your opponent hasn’t taken one then you get to dominate the skies. It’s not exactly a lose lose situation other than the often heavy point investment required. Or you make the decision to ignore it and hope for the best. Having witnessed what my piddly Ork flyer can do I don’t necessarily recommend that option. A flyer will rarely win you the game, but it will give your opponent a headache whilst the rest of your army does the business.

But the point is this: Flyers were an important missing piece of the 40k puzzle. I was quite possibly the biggest sceptic (well joint first with Lee) when they first started to appear in 40k. It was a combination of things as to why. Firstly it was how simply flyers worked in Space Marine – that was never going to translate well in the creaking behemoth that is the 40k rule book. Secondly, the rules seemed reminiscent of Epic 40k. Which was such a wallowing turd of a game I was immediately concerned. And finally my feeling was that they would unbalance the game and give Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines and Necrons an insurmountable edge.

Whilst the latter is partially true it re-emphasises the point that 40k is at its best when armies are interesting. Built around combined arms rather than designing a power list to spank the living shit out of your opponent in three turns or less. And then hit on their momma. Solid cores of troops, elite units, assault elements, armour, artillery. All working together to the greatest effect. Add in aircraft and it all suddenly makes sense. It adds an extra layer to the combat, adds a new threat to the previously tame skies. It forces gamers to think in three dimensions beyond vantage points in buildings.

Plus it’s outrageous amounts of fun. Building the kits is awesome. It takes those early days of building Airfix F14 super Tomcats to a whole new (and way cooler) level. And using them is ace. They look great on the board, the rules make for new and interesting tactical decisions for both players. And board set up too has never been more important. Playing hideously open boards that have no place being anywhere other than Warhammer Fantasy or Lord of the Rings will spell doom and misery for any units that fall under the guns of a flyer. But I suppose that could make for interesting scenarios too and allow you to recreate the odd scene from the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. No bad thing there.

In short – flyers have changed the game of 40k far more than I ever realised, and for the better. The potential for aerial shenanigans encourages gamers to write more flexible army lists. Tactics have to be rethought and adapted. The space has never been more three-dimensional and board layout is vital to affording your troops the protection they’ll need. It doesn’t mean flyers are overpowered because they’re not. They’ll still get shot to bits by one another and even without skyfire, it’s not as hard as you’d think to shoot something down, because I’ve done it. Of course there’s a commercial argument. If you have a flyer I have to buy one too. Little bit of yes, little bit of no. No one forces you to do anything and there are alternatives. But I struggle to entertain the financial point of view because chances are we’ve already spent a couple of hundred pounds on our armies already. What’s another thirty? Flyers represent an opportunity to bring some of the excitement, dynamism and scale from the artwork to the board. And that cannot be a bad thing.

-Phil

Gamers Gonna Game

It’s that time of year again when the Games Workshop releases their financials and the community explodes with rumours that they’re going under, that Hasbro will buy them out, that they’re woefully out of touch and they can basically go fuck themselves.

I freely admit to being guilty of this to some degree in the past. I’m the first to admit that I gripe about the pricing model either on The Shell Case or on Of Dice & Men (I promise there’ll be another episode up soon!) with some regularity. And I stand by those comments. The models are expensive. But you know what? I still play their games and I still pay their prices so who’s the bigger mug?

Reading Twitter today I was quite shocked by some of the comments that wargamers were making. Whilst I’m sure similar comments were made 6 months ago and the 6 months before that and so on, I’ve just never noticed until now.

For a hobby that is as inclusive as ours I’m bummed out to see so many people are willing the company to fail. People that moved to Warmachine or other game systems as an act of protest or to spite the Games Workshop – as if the Games Workshop knows each and every one of us and gives a shit what we do, say or think – berate for playing Games Workshop games and celebrate every penny lost in profit as a personal victory. And before I get pelted with angry comments I have to point out that no company genuinely gives a shit what we do, say or think. Not truly. If they did the XBox One would be free and delivered on a velvet pillow by the glamour model of my choice (don’t pretend I’m the only one who made the suggestion on the forums).encourage

I play Games Workshop games. I play the games they discontinued too and whilst I really wish they hadn’t canned Battlefleet Gothic and Mordheim, I understand why they did. But as I say, my understanding, my compliance or even consent is not required. Just my acceptance because there’s sod all I can do about it. Because I’ll live a longer happier life if I do. And not because they’ll send the Black Ships for me otherwise.

But I also play other games. I love Mantic’s Dreadball. Although they’ve been in a case for a while , I really enjoy Dystopian Wars and Firestorm Armada. I love X-Wing. And Studio McVey’s Sedition Wars, and lots more games beside. Whilst I’m not a fan of the Warmachine fluff or the sculpting style I can appreciate the quality of the game. And I know I ‘bash on it’ during episodes of Of Dice & Men, but it is all in jest. I honestly don’t give a monkeys what games people play. All I care about is everyone having fun.

Games nights with The Chaps – good and dear friends all – are a bevy of game systems and that’s cool because the key ingredient is we’re having a giggle. Good games, good models, good mates and good banter. What more could you possibly want. Apart from maybe the aforementioned glamour model to serve light refreshments. But you can’t win them all.

The point is this, before arguments break out – and I’ve seen it happen – just let it go. I urge all to stop sabre rattling. To stop clamouring for a company’s demise when that company not only represents a lot of enjoyment but people’s livelihoods as well. It is callous to forget that there are folk, just like you and I, doing a job there. A select few make the decisions that impact on us and whether or not we agree with those decisions, the majority shouldn’t be punished. Yes people are entitled to and should have opinions and yes they should be discussed but let’s remember the object of the exercise is not to win at all costs, or to be nasty or snide or bitter or resentful for some imagined slight. We have zero rights. Zero say. You’re a director or a board member you have as much entitlement to piss and moan as you have to tell me what colour socks to wear.

DontBeADickYes it’s frustrating that prices go up. Yes Games Workshop have us over a barrel and yes they know it. But the reality is this: play their games or don’t. Pay their prices or don’t. Just don’t be a dick about it.