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.’

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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

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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.

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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.

That New Army Feel

I got my hands on the new Codex Orks earlier in the week (review coming very soon) and I’ve been reading it every chance I get and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. So much so I’m considering collecting an army of them. I don’t have much luck collecting enemies of the Imperium but the Orks I’m feeling particularly jazzed about.

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The issue I have is that I’m also planning a Lizardmen army once I (finally) finish my Warriors of Chaos army which has stalled somewhat of late. 

The reality is that I’ll probably end up doing both. Much to my wife’s dismay. Because there’s something fundamentally magic about finding an army that you really like to the extent that you want to part with hard earned cash to collect it. It’s a bit like a new relationship. Lots of excitement and trying to learn as much about them as possible. Occasionally a friend might advise caution or tell you all the bad bits that you don’t want to hear like they’re high maintenance.

But ultimately you don’t care because they’re so shiny and new and they’ll let you do stuff that your other armies won’t let you do. And if you’re really lucky you can field them at the same time…

Okay enough of that metaphor.

But the point remains, there’s nothing quite like that new army feel. The excitement of reading the army book, learning their place within the world and the first tentative thoughts around army formations.

Pouring over the model range, the eternal struggle between what’s shiny or characterful verses what will actually win you games. The latter rarely wins for me. And of course the ultimate question – once you’ve settled on your first purchases – what colour are you going to paint them? I never worry about the last one because I get too carried away with the collecting bit to actually apply brush to model. But I always have very high minded ideas and that has to count for something.

There’s obviously the trap of new army syndrome. The waves of shiny models, the new or updated rules and the hype is hard to ignore. I’ve fallen into the trap a couple of times. The Grey Knights stick in my mind the most. I bought the codex, worked out a 3,000 point army list then I realised I found them utterly boring. Just my opinion mind, please don’t fan rage me. I guess the moral of the story is: buy the book, read the book. If you’re agonising over what to take rather than struggling to find inspiration for your army list then they’re probably a keeper.

The hardest part of starting a new army is not going crazy. Resisting the urge to buy stuff before you’ve written an army list, or buying loads of stuff at once so you can get that first game in. I do it every time. 500 points isn’t manly enough so I collect the first 1,000 points. Which is just too many models to be a manageable new painting project so then it becomes a mountain to climb. Unless it was like my Covenant fleet which was black with a bit of copper and wood…

The point is this – be sensible. Don’t be envious of other people’s armies or feel like you need to race to get to 3,000 points because you want to play a proper sized game. Basically don’t do what I’ve been doing for 25 years. I’ve only ever completed one 40k army. And that was my Ultramarines when they were 2,000 points. The models to take them to 3,000 were partially painted. My Ultramarines are now 9,500 points… So…yeah…

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Starter sets, battle force and battalion boxes are a good jumping off point. They’re not as crammed as they use to be and you don’t always get everything you want but with a thriving second hand market there’s always a buyer for the units you don’t want. And chances are it’ll still work out cheaper anyway.

So to return to my earlier metaphor, starting a new army is a lot like starting a new relationship. There’s lots of temptation to go too fast too quickly. Too get too invested only to discover that there’s just no love there. And there’s always that one friend who can’t resist saying ‘I told you so’. But get it right and it’s a joy. It’s effortless and everything evolves naturally. 

Now, how many Stegadons can I take again…

Salute 2014

Salute 2014So tomorrow the big day will have finally arrived. And it cannot have come soon enough. These last few years I’ve pre-ordered my ticket as soon as possible. Not because I’m worried about missing out but because when I wake up the day after Salute I’m already looking forward to the next one.

For me Salute is the most important date in my wargaming calendar for the simple reason than it’s a room full of people, all passionate about ‘the hobby’ which has many facets to it that go far beyond genre, scale and metal vs resin vs plastic. For a day no one cares who plays what or how much crap we got painted from the year before. Or how much of the stuff we got from the year before we even still own. It’s a coming together of community behind the most inclusive and welcoming hobby there is. And then we walk, talk and breathe toys. And then we spend all of our money on all of the things.

It always tickles me that every year, and I include myself in this, there is a frantic burst of eBaying, Twitter bartering and the chucking of stuff on Amazon Marketplace in an effort to push the budget as far as possible. Because taking £100 isn’t enough. Oh no! £150, that’ll do. But if I sell this or that, or borrow from the savings and promise to put it back, I’ll have £200! And so on and so on. My budget this year is a little less than I’d have liked. The weight of home ownership has rested heavily these last few months. However, it has made me more focussed on what I want and what I need. The difference being that I don’t need the Praetors from Forge World but want them so I’m getting them anyway. But I do need a few bits to round off my X-Wing fleet until the next wave of stuff drops.

I also need to remember to take lunch money because walking around with a satchel or backpack all day is a pain in the arse.

Tomorrow is going to be a brilliant day. And not just because of the buying of all the things. Okay, a little bit that. But because it’s an opportunity to explore the parts of the hobby I haven’t seen, haven’t had the chance to look into or are totally new to me. It’s a chance to make new friends and get reacquainted with old ones and generally embrace this wonderful hobby of ours.

I’m really looking forward to the #warmongers Meet Up, as is the rest of the team. We’ll be meeting at 1pm outside the hall at which point we’ll find somewhere out-of-the-way and compare swag. The last couple of years it’s been a recessed section opposite the hall so we were nice and visible to any late comers.

Finally, we will have The Shell Case pin badges to give away to the first people who come and say hi to us on the day. We won’t be hard to miss, the entire team (apart from our beloved Ashley who is stuck on the other side of a very large bit of water) will be there in shirts. And just in case, they’ve got our names on them so you can tell us apart.

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See you all tomorrow.