Warhammer 40,000: Relic – A Review

I’m a reviewing machine! Things have been a bit crazy at Shell Case towers these last few weeks but I’ve managed to find some time to clear down the review backlog. And you know what that means: more reviews to come! Huzzah!

This time it’s the turn of Warhammer 40,000: Relic from Fantasy Flight Games.

Box-Left-noGMAs it says right on the box, this romp in the 40k Universe uses the Talisman game system. Nay sayers may comment that it’s a bit of a cheat just to reskin another game, but seeing as Talisman – or at least the version I played last in the mists of time – was bloody fantastic I’m really not bothered. And if it works, why wouldn’t you co-opt the mechanic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and all that.

So what’s in the box? Well Fantasy Flight’s usual forest levelling amounts of card and carboard, a rulebook and some truly awesome playing pieces.

Warhammer 40k relic board game layoutAs one would expect from FFG, the production value is exceptionally good. The board is exquisite, as are the cards, counters and character trackers. And the playing pieces have GW casting quality. They all look lovely. Although the little stands are a stupidly tight fit.

However the the cards are really a touch too small. They’re small to save space but that’s only because there’s so many different kinds of cards. Because of this ergonomic design the easiest way of shuffling them is to make a pile and mess them all together. Aside from being annoying, it’ll quickly damage the cards.

And I don’t particularly understand why there’s three Threat decks. Aside from having a stupid – and oft-times misleading – name I question the logic of splitting out the three types of combat as it makes it very easy for players to game to their strengths, actively avoiding the style of combat they’re weakest in and using level ups to augment those attributes having done nothing to hone them.

For example: I used the Ogryn who is the strongest character in the game – yes stronger than the Space Marine – so I simply moved to red threat squares as much as possible to fight strength battles rapidly boosting my stats to the point that within a couple of hours I had maxed out my strength and health stats making me as hard as Ghazghkull Thraka.

I can totally understand why they did it but it has the potential to be abused by any character that has an above average stat in one of the three fields. And because of the point differences in stats the three best characters are the Orgryn, Ratling and Sister of Battle. And some characters turn out to be a bit rubbish. Weirdly the Callidus Assassin being one of them. Granted she has a special rule that gives you extra dice but that’s only really any use against harder targets. In reality she’s gonna get beaten up by the middle of the road enemies a lot.

To be fair, maybe that’s a conscious decision by the writers as part of the fun of Talisman was beating the game with the really shitty characters. But with certain characters not only getting the lion’s share of the cool rules but also having the ability to develop any attributes they want you’d be forgiven for feeling hard done by if you end up with one of the other characters.

Those grumbles aside though, the game works incredibly well. Everything is designed for quick decisions, quick play and quick progression. Which is just as well as the suggested playing time is utter tosh. Lee and I played for three hours and I was just reaching the point where I could attempt the third tier of the board. And that was thanks to so truly jammy missions and level ups on my part to make my Ogryn hench. But to be fair, providing you focus your efforts, you can get your character levelled relatively quickly which does give you quite a sense of achievement until you draw the Keeper of Secrets and it rips your face off.

You progress in Relic by completing missions which range from buying wargear at a specific location to deliberately picking fights with critters harder than you so you. This encourages you to explore the board, acquire equipment and, with it, develop your character and have a blood good chuckle in the process. In exchange for every 3 missions completed you earn Relics – geddit?! – which give your character a significant boost in some way. And only by having Relics are you able to complete the mission card placed in the centre of the board. Although you get to slog your way through a third tier which is just misery. You have to be tooled to the tits to stand any chance of surviving. Although the doom you can bring upon yourself is hilarious in its brutality and reminiscent of the various trials you have to roll for when you get to the middle of the Talisman board.

If I’m honest, the premise is a little flimsy and the volume of cards, counters and special rules you have to contend with meant that during the game we played, we weren’t entirely sure what the point of anything was but we just had to get one with it. Talisman’s objective was the far simpler – albeit less re-playable – goal of killing the dragon. Relic has a range of missions which creates a narrative but the rule book doesn’t really give any indication to that. And considering how excessively wordy it is you’d think they would have found space.

For all that the cards, although small and voluminous, they do serve a strategic purpose, particularly when you consider it’s possible to purchase, as well as find, wargear so augmenting your character is a very possible, and arguable vital, part of the gaming process. Although it does require the trading of influence which isn’t as easy to come by as one would like but it keeps the game balanced.

And encouraging players to level-up and improve their characters with relics and wargear keeps the pace and allows friendly rivalries to evolve between other players. And of course, as you stumble across the big beasties and fail to kill them because you’re too weak and shit, they stay there on the square so the board can quickly fill up with horrors that kick you in the hojos as you pass through. Which, again, can be hilarious for everyone else.

And as some of the cards are required to be placed on specific squares, your opponents can get some nasty surprises. Which is nice. But more than anything, despite Fantasy Flight making the rulebook horribly wooly, it’s a bloody good game. It’s got a nice and simple mechanic which means it’s quick to pick up. 20 minutes after kicking the game off we found our stride and had a huge amount of fun. It isn’t a quick game mind. We had played for 3 hours and still had at least an hour before I would have been in a position to comfortably enter the third tier.

For all my moaning, Relic really is a pretty good game. It’s simple to grasp – despite the iffy rulebook – and therefore simple to play and quick to enjoy. The character progression is nicely done and the character cards and progress trackers are brilliant albeit some of the characters seem a bit broken. It’s also such a pretty game that you’ll take time just to scrutinise the artwork as you land on each square. I’m still not convinced about the three separate Threat decks but it’s not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the game, but it does make the game easier to manipulate.

Relic coin for coin is one of the best board games I’ve played and one of the best value considering it’s a licensed product. It isn’t quick – you’ll need a solid evening or possibly a full day if there’s four of you and a tough mission drawn. But it’s a fun game, it looks great, the playing pieces are awesome and you’ll be with your mates so really I don’t see a problem. And I’m itching to play it again.

Warhammer 40,000 Relic is available from Firestorm Games priced £45.

Board!

So a thought occurred to me last night as Neil (of The Chaps) and I played quite possibly the most nail-biting game of Dreadball, or any game, that I’ve ever played. The thought was this: board games are awesome.

I don’t know why this comes as a surprise to me seeing as I cut my wargaming teeth at the age of 7 on Hero Quest and Space Crusade. Even now I still remember the thrill of excitement when I opened the box and read the rules and set up my first dungeon. Even now, almost 24 years later I look at the artwork and still feel that spark of wonderment.

heroquest

Of course, by today’s standards; the models are shit. I mean spectacularly. But you know what? Back there and back then they were the most incredible things I’d ever seen and it took me on a life long journey of boards, armies and dice that I’ll never trade and never forget.

But back to the present. Ish. As I say, it was the monthly games night and Neil and I were playing the Dreadball game to end all Dreadball games that went down to the last rush and the last dice throw that won me the game. Next to us Ian and Jeremy were playing Memoir ’44 another, by pure chance, hex based game.

What made it so good was that we all got to sit around a single table – a barrier of munch separating the boards – the games were hugely fun, were over in under two hours and didn’t require an hour either side to set up and tidy away. Now, I’m not opposed to a tabletop game. Of course I’m not, I have two full companies of Ultramarines for crying out loud. I’m all for boards, crammed with scenery, hundreds of models and dozens of dice. But board games have their place too. Even over a skirmish game which still requires faff and time to set up.

I suppose my thought is this – a board game, if well written, can have a tremendous amount of variety and diverse outcomes all wrapped up in a relatively restrictive setting. Let’s go back to Hero Quest. The outcome of a quest was determined as much by the people playing and the routes their heroes took as it did the dice being rolled, the objective or the beasties they had to face.

This thought has run in parallel with a couple of others I’ve been having recently. The first is that time for me is about to come in extremely short supply. At least for the next few months. The second is that I have so much shit, I don’t know what to do with it when I do find myself with a rare window of free time. And the third is that for some of it I just don’t care enough. No matter how awesome a range of models is or how good a game can be potentially, if it’s hours of debate over badly written rules or page flicking because the book was compiled by a room full of retarded monkeys then what’s the point? It’s meant to be fun, after all.

As wargamers we invest a huge amount of time and effort into our hobby so the return absolutely has to be there and I’ve begun to wonder if there is a strong enough one for certain games that I collect and play. This isn’t to say that’ll jack them in. At least not yet. But it does mean that I’m going to start looking at games that give me a better return on the investment I make both financially and my time.

My recent forays in to boardgames like Last Night on Earth, Guards Guards, Dreadball and observing Memoir ’44 has presented me with a new and relatively inexpensive avenue to enjoy a game with my mates that doesn’t require a huge outlay for any of us. Granted there is a sliding scale. Level 7 by Privateer Press and Super Dungeon Explore are around the £40 and £65 respectively but both are still relatively inexpensive games that still retain their roots in wargaming. But with the likes of Halo Risk out and Mass Effect Risk on the way it’s hard not to have one’s heard turned by the more conventional wargame.

large_product_large_RI006-289

This isn’t to say that I’m hanging up my tape measure or anything like that but it’s an avenue of wargaming that needs far greater exploration and far greater attention paid because, when time is short, a board game allows you the opportunity to play a game and often allows the entire group to game together especially with the likes of Level 7, Zombicide, the soon to be released Warhammer 40,000: Relic by Fantasy Flight and the recently announced Firefly the Game from Gale Force 9 .

RE01 copy

I’m still madly in love with Mordheim. 40k is still my jam and Godslayer has me and The Chaps so hot and hard we can barely look each other in the eye, but you know what? I have room in my heart and in my cupboard for a couple of boardgames. And when it’s a school night and everyone needs to be in bed by eleven, I think something like Level 7 or Dreadball fits the bill nicely.

 

Space Marine – The Full Review

Following my first look review a couple of weeks ago, I thought it best to write a follow-up now I finally have my grubby little mits on the full game. Now, I’m going to break from my usual ramblings and try to do this in a structured fashion to give you, my loyal readers, a balanced opinion. I’ll break it down in to 40kishness, Gameplay & Graphics.

40kishness
To explain; I’ve been doing the Games Workshop hobby for 22 years and for about 20 of them have been immersed in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. And 8 years of that I have been collecting Ultramarines. I have two full companies in fact. Not that I’m obsessive or anything.

So ’40kishness’ is a very important to me as there’s been a few Warhammer 40,000 titles over the years and although they’ve had various levels of success – the most successful up to this point being the Dawn of War series – and for me they’ve never quite got the 40kishness right. They’ve come pretty damn close, but it never felt right.

Space Marine had some pretty high expectations to meet. Not just for the look of the Space Marines, to how they moved, the weapons, the buildings. Pretty much everything. And, all things considered Relic did a pretty good job. The Space Marines especially look awesome. The world they created is very loyal to the Warhammer 40,000 universe. My problem with Dawn of War was that the environments always felt a little improvised. An after thought almost. But in Space Marine the environments are well thought out and massive. The sense of scale is there in spades. High vaulted ceilings, cathedral-like chambers and massive open spaces. The other thing that really impressed me was the little details. Elements of the plastic scenery kits popping up on walls and consoles. The door controls match those on the kits too. The aquila stamped on everything is a nice touch too.

The plot is suitably 40kish too. Forgeworld comes under Ork invasion, 3 Space Marines are dispatched. Between them much stuff is broken. I really liked the fact that only 3 marines were initially sent seeing as a battle company could reclaim a star system. It felt like the person holding the pen really understood the universe he or she was writing about. And I’m grateful for that fact. They also managed to capture the menace of both the Orks and the Chaos factions. And neither one felt comical, something Dawn of War can’t claim.

There’s a couple of conventions don’t quite work for me. How you get new weapons is daft as, as the game goes on, discarded weapons are scattered about to allow you to re-arm. One or the other if you please Mr Games Developer. Also the ability to carry 4 weapons s a perculiar departure from the current 2 weapon convention of just about every shooter around. It allows you to have a variety of weapons to choose from, but as weapons are scattered about the levels there’s really no point in forcing players to make a choice because there will never be a part of the game that a bolter won’t get you through it, let alone a plasma gun or lascannon.

Gameplay
As you’re hopefully aware Space Marine is a third person shooter, a first for a Games Workshop game. And it works rather well, allowing the player to view the entire landscape. I will say, though, that the camera isn’t always a team player and its angle will mean that sometimes you get stuck on the tiniest piece of rubble that you can’t quite see or, when the combat gets really nasty, the camera will focus on Captain Titus’ chest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terribly heroic and manly chest but I’d much rather see the thing trying to cave my skull in.

One of the biggest draws of this game was the boast that the flow between ranged and melee combat was seamless. And it is. Wonderfully, brutally, violently so. In fact, whether by design or by accident, the gameplay captures the nature of war in the Warhammer 40,000 universe perfectly. It’s an exhilarating thing; standing your ground whilst hordes of Orks rush you. If you’re lucky you’ll manage to empty 2 clips into those green-skinned bastards before they’re amongst you and then it’s down to your wits and how hard you can hammer the X button. Which is awesome.

Space Marine also features execution moves which are utterly spectacular and a key part of the way the game is played. As you take damage, and you will, you can perform executions, by stunning your opponent then kicking seven shades of shit out of him, to regain your health. The intention being to force you into brutal melee. The only other way is to unleash your ‘fury’ which is essentially like a combo-metre and filled by killing things. Once activated you become faster and more devastating than just about anything. It also regenerates your health. I did find, though, that it’s so rarely needed and I find myself reluctant to use it unless absolutely necessary just in case something bigger than me rocked up. But when it happens it is an insane amount of fun. I managed to take on 3 Nobz at once whilst under the influence of fury. I actually felt bad for them. The last one to fall I actually managed to stun then pin it to the flow with my power axe then twist its head off its neck. I shit you not, I’ve been playing video games for 27 years and that was the single greatest moment of gaming I’ve ever had.

The toys that Space Marine brings to the party gives you plenty to smile about, including a jump pack that allows you to deliver a ground shattering drop attack, and a thunder hammer. And yes it is as awesome as you imagine it is. The choice of ranged weapons will also get most 40k players hot and hard; from the trusty bolter to the meltagun, which literally evaporates things. The heavy bolter and autocannon are also a silly amount of fun. I now know what ‘drunk with power’ means. Plus there’s no shortage of enemies to point them at. But this actually brings me to my first irritation. The damage mechanic when it comes to ranged combat seems a little broken. Now this is either down to the developers trying to make the game challenging or having not read the Ork codex. Ranged fire does an alarming amount of damage to your plucky Space Marine which is strange for a game that encourages you to run head long into the fray because by the time you get there you’re often in no fit state to do anything. The reality is standing your ground, often times behind the huge amounts of cover (considering it isn’t a cover based shooter) trying to pick off the ranged fuckers leaving you clear to get stuck in. Which actually gets kinda dull, and if it weren’t for the plot moving things forward the game would get old very quickly.

Considering this is a game for fans the ranged combat lets it down a little bit. For example, you can take an Ork Boy down with two bolt rounds to the head. A Tank Busta, which is no different to a regular Ork other than its armament , can take half a magazine to drop. I could forgive the game if it applies to just ‘Ard Boyz but it doesn’t. And considering the frequency of the Tank Bustas and the number of rockets they fire, it’s a pain in the arse. I was also eagerly awaiting the use of the lascannon in the hope that I’d get the opportunity to blow up vehicles and the like but it’s used primarily as a sniper rifle which is as stupid as it is disappointing. That’s not to say I haven’t used it repeatedly during play but it’s an easy option and, because of its power, you find yourself taking it over the other weapons available.

To be fair the weapons, generally are really satisfying to use. The tremendous amounts of blood produced by a bolt shell going through someones head is quite rewarding in a depraved sort of way but you can’t help but thrive on it. The sheer amount of destruction you can unleash on your foes is intoxicating. And because of the execution moves you can perform giving you those often game saving health boosts you feel as invincible as you should as a Space Marine and something so important to capture to make this game a success. A Space Marine can sustain huge amounts of damage to their bodies before they die. Add a fucking massive suit of power armour over the top of that and you have a post human that can put their fist through tank armour. If you’re going to go striding through a war-torn world with a fire arm that fires mass reactive ammunition you need to feel like a double hard bastard. And Space Marine really delivers on that expectation.

Where it does fall a bit flat is the aforementioned glitchy engine so you will get stuck on the seemingly harmless bits of detritus or the area of effect for the cover you’re standing behind will extend past it so your precious lascannon shot hits a solid wall of nothing instead of the target the scope is telling you is under the cross hairs. I discarded a spent heavy bolter and it became an immovable, impassable object but a fellow Space Marine was able to walk right through a solid metal container. And that’s the real disappointment of the game. You have two Space Marines follow you around for the duration of the game. In theory they are just as fast, just as skilled and just as deadly as you. But they’re not. They’re rubbish. I could live with the fact that they kill nothing, ever, if only they’d use themselves as human shields because they’re immune to every single form of damage. And you can’t help but be resentful of that. Every time a grenade gets tossed at your feet you have to run in the opposite direction like a little bitch (and it will happen a lot) but your sub-ordinates stand there and take it like men, staring gormlessly at you. Presumably wondering how the hell you made it to captain.

Graphics
In a word? Beautiful. Pretty much everything that moves and shoots has been so loving created. The Space Marines themselves look incredible. If I’m honest, Space Marine is how the Ultramarines movie should have looked. The attention to detail on the armour, the faces, how they move, how they hold their gun when they sprint has all been so carefully considered and translates through to the gameplay. You feel as massive and as powerful as you should.

Similarly, the Orks are loping, brutal beasts and they, in fairness steal the show. Orks in previous Games Workshop games looked rubbish. Exaggerated jaws, spikey teeth that looked like they’d been drawn by children. In Space Marine the Orks look real. Relic has really thought about how these creatures, based on the Games Workshop’s realisation of them, would move and fight. But their features are amazingly animated.

Nothing that moves in this game will disappoint you. Even the wisps of sand caught in the wind look lovely. To be fair, the buildings, rubble, debris, sand, pipes, Roks, etc are all beautifully realised, it’s an incredible environment to behold and encourages you to explore, which is just as well as you’ll never find all the Servo Skulls if you don’t.

In the interests of balance, there’s a couple of little bits that disappoint, like the Adeptus Mechanicus seal on the walls just being a graphic rather than a 3-dimensional polygon structure. It’s a small niggle but it’s just a shame when things look better from a distance. Generally though, the world looks as it should. Knackered. Everything is broken, torn down, burnt, crumbling or in a state of decay and it looks brilliant. Especially when it constrasts to clear skies and the sun shining in the sky. It’s a slightly twisted contrast but it works and works really really well.

In Conclusion
Space Marine really is an excellent game. Yes it has a few niggles and you can often find your arrogant sense of immortality challenged by a shoota boy but not, strangely, by a Chaos Havoc with a plasma cannon, but what Space Marine is an enormous amount of fun and the first game that has successfully captured the incredible universe that the Games Workshop has created around the Warhmmer 40,000 game.

The combat is fast, visceral and enough of a challenge that you’ll thrive on your successes. Especially when you take on two dozen Orks at once and come out the other side drenched in blood and a little battered but utterly unbowed. I’d actually go so far as to say that Space Marine is quite a special game because it represents a massive leap forward not just for gaming by for Games Workshop’s evolution and its video game projects in the future. This will be the benchmark.

It’s not perfect. The little glitches can irritate and I’m not yet convinced of the replay value as finding all the servo skulls isn’t enough to make you slug your way through that war-torn world all over again. However, the totally bonkers level of action and combat will.

Were I the kind of person to give a game a score I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10 and I’ll end to say this; if you love 40k buy this game. If you don’t love 40k buy this game anyway because you won’t find a more action packed gaming experience anywhere else.