Star Wars: Legion – A Review

swl01_anc_slider

Writing this review was kind of weird for me. I felt a similar pressure starting as I did when I penned my highly opinionated – albeit heavily considered – reflective on The Last Jedi.

Star Wars has a tendency to polarise opinions one way or the other. The irony of that isn’t lost on me at all and I hope it isn’t for the super fans, although I suspect it is.

A double dose of irony, like a double espresso is enough to make anyone on edge.

The timing of Star Wars Legion couldn’t be more opportune for Fantasy Flight Games. It’s at a time when Star Wars has never generated so much money but has also never been more divisive.

With the early reviews of Solo: A Star Wars Story as mixed as a bag of liquorice all sorts we can expect the fanbase to get their collective panties in a wad things might start to rupture.

Use the Force(s)

So just as well then that a tapletop wargame should appear on the scene that allows fans to recreate battles for the Galactic Civil War. Or, as most people around my age will claim – the proper Star Wars.

It’s no accident that FFG have played it safe with the initial releases because they know that’s where the money is. But – in their defence – it’s also the part of the Star Wars universe that feels the richest.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader leading Endor gear Rebel soldiers and classic Stormtroopers oozes broad appeal not to mention a strong awesome factor. I can’t think of a single wargamer I’ve met over the years who isn’t positively erect at the thought of getting to paint and game with 25mm versions of the most recognised hero and villain double act in modern history.

Of course what makes it an even easier sell is we’ve had over 40 years for the characters, weapons and vehicles to become iconic. I mean who wouldn’t want a T-47 or an AT-ST?

Plus the sheer deluge of – albeit defunct – books, comics and video games helped to make the Galactic Civil War and the core characters feel very real. Although Marvel certainly isn’t wasting any time churning out properties that fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So there’s that too.

For the fans that are still smarting from The Last Jedi and already deriding Solo it’s an opportunity to tell the story the way they want. To play out the civil war the way they want. And that’s fine.

For the rest of us we get to play at being Star Wars heroes and villains without resorting to shoddy cosplay outfits bought off eBay.

Although it goes without saying we’ll still make the appropriate sound effects whenever any of the models do anything.

GAMEON-LEGION_1

This is where the fun begins…

Speaking of which – the models are very nice.

The core set comes with Bespin Luke Skywalker, two units of Rebels, a Rebel AT-RT, Darth Vadar, two units of Stormtroopers and two speeder bikes which makes for pretty reasonable starting forces. Plus the deluge of counters, cards and other chuff FFG like to stuff their games with.

There’s no denying the boxset is incredible value when you consider individual unit prices. Two core sets between mates is the absolute best way to start collecting Legion.

I’ve always straddled the fence whenever it came to FFG playing pieces. Although X-Wing and Armada models were amazing, the Rebellion pieces were only okay. I understand the Imperial Assault was a big leap in quality but they are also the company who produced the Horus Heresy game. And those playing pieces were the poor side of average.

To be clear, this ins’t a criticism of any one particularly title more highlighting the inconsistency.

Star Wars Legion however has seen the love.

The models do have limitations however. For a start they aren’t posable. They’re multipart in the sense that you have to glue the arms on but there are 7 Rebel poses and 7 Stormtrooper poses and that’s it.

So if you buy more you’ll end up with an army of identically posed miniatures. This is rather disappointing and I”m not entirely sure what Fantasy Flight were thinking.

This is clearly their first proper foray in to the world of tabletop wargaming (the messy divorce with Games Workshop makes much more sense now) so I guess they’re testing the waters in terms of their capabilities verses expectations.

I suspect most fans are still so hyped up about the game existing at all that they’re willing to forgive a lot. Including the price tag. Those 7 plastic 25mm blokes with set you back £20 or more. That’s Games Workshop money and at least they’re properly multipart and 30mm.

However the level of detail is pretty good (not stonking but good enough) and the casting quality is excellent. I genuinely can’t fault that.

swl01_photo_combat2

I have the core set and an additional squad of Stormtroopers and Rebels and they’re all pretty much perfect. So props to FFG on that.

Ultimately though the lack of variety is going to sting the Rebel players the hardest. Stormtroopers are faceless instruments of the Emperor’s will so beyond the unit leader, ranks of identical soldiers isn’t an issue.

It doesn’t work quite so well for the Rebels and only gets worse when you add in models like the AT-RT as that only comes in one pose too.

Admittedly the are opportunities for conversions and that’s all fine but I’m of the opinion that a conversion should be a choice not a necessity to stop your army from looking like the Stepford Rebels.

It’s made worse by the key cut joints (I fucking hate that) so – again – short of carving up your very expensive models, there is no freedom with poses. I think this is a mistake on the part of Fantasy Flight. Aside from giving games more freedom, sculpting models with flat body and arm joins is both easier and cheaper to produce.

So they kinda screwed everyone with that decision. It feels like FFG thinks of the models more like playing pieces than scale miniatures so to them, lots of repetition isn’t an issue.

Of course it doesn’t impact of the playability of the game but to ensure longevity and engagement Fantasy Flight need to up their game.

Yes it’s Star Wars but they need to recognise they’re breaking into an incredibly saturated market and competing with their former business partner. Who do this sort of thing incredibly well. And has done for decades.

Control, control, you must learn control

Reading the rules I’ll admit to feeling a little frustrated. Fantasy Flight have a really annoying habit of assuming that everyone picking up the rules is – in some way – a moron.

I don’t necessarily think it’s ego because surely they know they’ve written a really straight forward – albeit poorly written – game. However, they felt the need to split the rules into a ‘learning battle’ section and ‘advanced rules’.

First of all – they’re not advanced rules. Advanced rules implies they are in some way optional. If you want to play the game correctly you need to read the whole thing. That’s a fact. Secondly it actually makes the game harder to understand by explaining the rules only to then discover an entire list of rules that tie in with them.

Except their not in a logical order. They did it with X-Wing and it was annoying as balls then too.

On the basis that the wargaming hobby is incredibly well established with millions of gamers around the world enjoying hundreds – if not thousands – of rules sets far more complex than Legion or X-Wing, it’s safe to assume that a traditional lay out works fine. That is to say all the movement rules in the movement section, all the shooting rules in the shooting section etc.

It’s not that the rules are overly complicated, it’s just easier to read all the related rules in one place. It also makes it much easier to find rules for reference.

I do understand then motive to make the game easy to learn but the assumption is that the game is hard to learn in the first place. Which it isn’t.

Although the annoyance goes deeper because there’s a 50 page PDF of complete rules which not only includes rules not in the core box rules – which means you have to read it – it’s better written. So having spent some time trying to fully understand certain sections of the rules I have, there was a better version on the internet.

I would have gladly paid slightly more money to get a book of the complete rules in with the box.

The game

Star Wars Legion works on alternating activations – which seems fairly common practise these days – activating a single squad, character or vehicle and carrying out two actions each.

Fairly predictably those actions are move, shoot, melee, dodge and a couple of others.

This is nothing particularly groundbreaking but that’s absolutely fine. FFG have a penchant for needlessly complicating things for no obvious reason so this is joyous.

Where it gets fruity is – unless a unit receives an order from a hero – the units activate in a random order. This may seem a bit mental but it actually keeps things really balanced. No army can steam roller another because there is an added layer of unpredictability.

It also forces you to keep your eye on achieving the objective because you can never fully rely on the combat effectiveness of your army. It also makes the inclusion and use of heroes significantly important – but more on that in a bit.

Set up

One of the coolest things about Legion is the set up rules. Much like 40k’s Open War deck, Legion uses deployment, objective and condition cards to keep the game interesting.

The nice thing is that these cards are always drawn after you’ve set up the board forcing you to to think on your feet. It also stops people from covertly setting up the board in a way that’ll favour them, because the deployment card could properly spoil your day.

The important thing to remember here is that Legion isn’t like 40k or – in fact – most other table top wargames. It isn’t about kick as much face as possible, it’s about achieving mission objectives.

After all the plucky Rebels lacked the military might to take the Empire head on. All of the engagements were chosen carefully…or reluctantly.

The emphasis on achieving your mission keeps players on their toes and encourages balanced force building.

Of course units and characters have various upgrades available to them to give that competitive edge. What’s cool is that some upgrades are only available to specific unit types which elegantly prevents units or models from becoming overpowered.

Command

Legion also has a command phase.

I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of skipping over phases like this in games because they usually add very little and slow down the rate of play.

However in Legion it’s actually pretty important and rather elegantly represents the chaos of war and the limited yet powerful influence a single hero can have on the outcome of the game.

In Star Wars victories have always been down to great leaders on both sides whether it’s General Veers on Hoth or Han on Endor. Okay, he had help from the Care Bears but you get my point.

Han Solo

As such heroes play an important role in Star Wars Legion. They are unusually capable warriors but also bring with them skills to augment the soldiers around them.

More immediately they are able to issue orders to units within ranges 1-3. This is significant because any unit given an order by a hero can activate when you choose rather than in a random order as described earlier.

The dilemma then becomes about how to use them. It’s almost like fighting a war is hard or something…

Movement

The rules for moving are simple in so far as a model has a movement value and you can move that model or unit of models up to the stated value. This is groovy and fairly standard across most – if not all – games.

However rather than using good old reliable inches or centimetres, Legion uses a sodding measuring tool. This was fine in X-Wing and Armada because abstracting space combat is hard and generalising movements of either tiny tiny snubfighters or slightly less tiny warships in this way works.

For Legion it seems unnecessarily restrictive and awkward as balls on a busy tabletop. Hilariously FFG even acknowledge this by specifically stating that – when circumstances prevent players placing the movement tool on the board – it can be held over the model instead of in base contact. So why not use a sodding tape measure and make everything easier for everyone?

In fairness it does makes sense for the vehicles as some – such as walkers – are naturally clumsy and difficult to manoeuvre but it feels like the rules make a concession in the wrong direction in the interests of consistency.

The reality is that most of the time you won’t bother to use the movement tool properly – at least not for the infantry because there’s just no point.

Shooting and Melee

These rules are actually pretty cool as they’re simple and requires involvement from both players so between that an alternating activations, no one ever really gets the chance to be idle in the game.

The attacker simply rolls dice for every model firing which keeps shooting simple yet satisfying. Some weapons get more than one dice but as a base line you get a roll for every model on the board more or less.

You can buff this by spending an action aiming at your target or with upgrades. The right up grades and the right combination of actions can make units utterly savage in a fight.

The defender then rolls defence dice to discount hits. This can augmented by upgrades, character bestowed buffs and  cover. The cover rules aren’t brilliantly defined in the standard rules I’m pretty sure at one point they contradict the line of sight rules but hey-ho.

Any unsaved hits are translated to wounds and models are either removed as casualties or accumulate damage – such as vehicles.

Where it gets cool though is being shot at – even if no one dies – earns your unit a suppression token. Earn too many and you lose an action. This presents a really interesting tactical element – on top of all the others – as you’re constantly forced to choose between resting your models or pressing the attack.

Whilst resting for an action removes a suppression token, you can give your opponent room to breathe. It’s a simple yet highly effective way of adding in psychology without it being a massive faff.

Melee works more or less the same way. I’m giving it as much attention as the rules do purely because most thing are armed with blasters. Yes you can charge Luke or Darth into combat and when they do it’s hilarious but they are very much in the minority. This game is all about blaster death.

The mechanic makes the game feel very fast and doesn’t allow you to stop and think. Considering engagements in Legion are meant to be relatively small scale and objective based, this keeps the pressure on and gives the game a sense of authenticity when compared to the movies.

Shooting does, however, require a range ruler, much like moving. Again, I fail to see how a range ruler would be better than a tape measure and makes less and less sense as you work your way up the levels of destructive potential of the weapons you employ.

Whilst I accept that a laser bolt can be less effective over distance, the kind of distances we’re talking about in the average game of Legion doesn’t make any sense.

Especially when you consider that the laser cannons on a T-47 Airspeeder have a significantly longer range than any given hand held weapon. It could be argued that because of the speed they’re moving at – which isn’t that far because that’s limited too – that it can only effectively target units at close range.

swl09_a2_cardfan

This is of course utter bollocks and limiting both movement and range will inevitably make certain units identical in all but name.

I’ve seen it happen before with games like Dystopian Wars. When the mechanic doesn’t have enough flex then inevitably points of difference become arbitrary in an effort to appear original.

When you consider how powerful the laser cannons are, limiting the range could be a way of preventing it from being overpowered but it still doesn’t make sense. There are more logical ways of making a unit balanced but the mechanic doesn’t allow for it.

However this a relatively minor bug bear when you consider the overall experience and the fact that Fantasy Flight aren’t intending this to be anything close the kind of games Warhammer 40,000 can support. At least not yet.

That doesn’t mean they’re not going to release all of the things – especially as the fans will want 25mm scale Y-Wings for bombing runs and T-16s to bullseye womp rats. They’re only human after all.

With this in mind the mechanic may have been better suited to a 15mm game instead of 25mm.

From a certain point of view

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I don’t like Legion very much.

There are things wrong with the game. Aside from a poorly laid out and written rule book, the movement and shooting distances are too limiting. This will undoubtedly cause problems with scalability in the medium to long term.

I can see what they were trying to do but if you want to keep things simple then actually keep them simple, abstracting an abstract is dumb.

There are also other ways you can prevent units from being overpowered.

In reality these rules don’t ruin the game but inevitably there will be balancing issues that will mean – like X-Wing – models coming with their own set of rules because they simply won’t work any other way.

xwing-starwars

However, those grievances aside, Star Wars Legion is a very fun game.

It’s as expensive as balls but there’s no ignoring the fact that you get to field an army of Rebels against an army of Stormtroopers. That’s hella cool.

The mechanic itself, with the random activation element, the balanced importance of characters and the slick dicing make for a fast paced game that really makes you work hard.

The set up deck and the heavy emphasis on objectives over blasting everything you see actually makes you play for the win rather than resorting to overwhelming force.

This makes it a very difficult game to power game with. This is good news. Although the range is still evolving so that could change.

Of course blasting your opponent to oblivion is always an option but you won’t necessarily win the game in the process.

What would be cool is an expansion deck with objectives and mission types around certain formations and types of terrain. It’ll prolong the life expectancy of the game and incentivise Gale Force 9 and 4Ground to make Legion scenery other than rocks and the industrial stuff.

One of the great things about the Star Wars Universe is the sheer variety of alien environments so the hobby element from a scenery board making point of view is endless.

This is particularly good as a rule set needs to do more than be a great game. It needs to inspire great games to be played. Playing over a Tatooine settlement is one thing, busting stuff to look tough on Mustafar is quite another.

To get the most out of Star Wars Legion you have to accept its odd quirks and limitations and take it for what it is: a fast and fun objective driven Star Wars strategy game.

For those use to playing games with more depth this could be frustrating but equally its overarching simplicity means it won’t take you as long to learn, master or play. Once you’ve got the rules down you can play a decent sized game in just a couple of hours. Including all the time spent making ‘pew pew’ noises.

Warhammer 40k 8th Edition – A Review

The time is upon us. The moment when I wade in on arguably the biggest game release of the year.

I’ll be honest, I’m not known for being a shrinking violet when it comes to my opinions but on this occasion I wanted to take my time to form an opinion on what is essentially a totally new game.

For those new to the Warhammer 40,000 Universe – either you started playing 7th edition in its twilight months or 8th edition is your first foray in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium – you may not see what all the fuss is about, but fuss there is. And lots of it.

The fuss comes in the form of both new rules and new background. It’s a fuss because Games Workshop aren’t really known for moving things forward. Although since Age of Sigmar all bets were firmly off.

But why should they? They’ve spent 30+ years cultivating an incredibly rich background with 10,000 years of history they can draw on whenever they feel like it. Change is unnecessary, messy, often complicated and can upset the proverbial apple cart.

But change it they have and they apples, they be everywhere.

WarComm-Cover-DarkImperiumLogov2-1600x800

The Background

If you’ve read the Gathering Storm supplements for 7th edition much of what’s discussed in the book won’t come as a big surprise. For those that haven’t, I strongly recommend making the purchase. It’s quite a big investment especially as half the books are effectively useless, but it really helps to bring the 8th edition 40k Universe to life.

For reasons I can’t go into, I knew about a lot of the background changes that were coming as far back as the release of 6th edition. They’ve been on the drawing board that long.

It’s changed a bit since then because frankly what they proposed then would have upset way too many gamers (especially Blood Angel players) but the core of it is still the same.

So in the new 40k universe everything is basically stuffed. The galaxy has been ripped in two and the Imperium to the galactic North of the rent is blind to the guiding light of the Astronomican. This not only makes for some very interesting games but some incredible plot developments along the way too.

Not to mention the Black Library novels that are no doubt being penned furiously by Messrs Thorpe, Abnett, Wraight, Kyme et al.

Roboute Guilliman is running the Imperium in his father’s stead and has introduced a shattered Imperium to the Primaris Space Marines – the secret experiment to end all secret experiments.

The superist of super soldiers.

The badassest of badasses.

The tits, basically.

I’m not going to review the Primaris models here because the review would simply be too vast but suffice to say, they’re mental.

New40kArtContent4

A lot of gamers, this one included, are slightly concerned that this is a subtle precursor to Games Workshop phasing out the current Space Marine range in favour of something a little truer to scale. However, there are little tidbits in the background that hint at the existence of the Primaris so perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom on that front.

Although we have bugger all say what Games Workshop do so there’s no point in worrying about it.

The other cool thing about the new background is the opportunities it presents for gamers to create some fantastic gaming boards. Historically fighting on demon worlds was limited to Chaos and Grey Knights or underpinned by the flimsiest of justification.

Thanks to the massive tear in the fabric of reality, the baleful influence of the warp is slowly infecting worlds nearby. That means games can be played on worlds that are twisted shadows of their former selves. From a hobby standpoint this is very exciting.

As one would expect from Games Workshop these days, the book is beautifully turned out and the background is realised with a host of artworks both old and new. Some of the classic artwork is a nice touch to make us old buggers feel loved.

There’s a marked improvement in the quality of the writing compared to some of the recent codices too. There’s flailing at gravitas and a lot more focus on getting the material to resonate. It’s not perfect though and all the new stuff is pretty clunky and a bit confused.

Much like Age of Sigmar and other games before it, it doesn’t really know what it is yet. Whilst I can understand the concrete being a little soft on this particular foundation I don’t excuse it.

The Gathering Storm did an awful lot of heavy lifting and if the writers couldn’t get the Primaris to set right in the background they should have:

a) tried harder
b) not bothered
c) put Robin Cruddace back in his box and let someone else take a swing.

Personal vendettas aside, overall the background still feels like the Grim Dark we all know and love but realistically we’re not going to really know where these changes are heading until 9th edition.

The Rules

One of the reasons this review took me a while to publish is because I needed to get a few games under my belt to form an accurate opinion.

This isn’t like the previous editions where it’s essentially the same game with a few tweaks, juicing the psychic phase or throwing in flyers.

This was a whole new beast and it wasn’t until I played the first game a couple of days after getting the boxset that I cottoned on to that fact.

Unlearn What You Have Learned

I’ve been playing 40k a long time. Since the twilight moments of Rogue Trader to be exact, some 27 years ago. I mention this because I’ve been playing what is essentially the third edition mechanic (with the aforementioned tweaks) since 1998.

Almost twenty years of everything moves 6 inches and even longer of using tables (although I had them all memorised) to determine what I needed to hit and what I needed to wound.

All that has gone. Along with most of the other rules.

Warhammer 40,000 has undergone the wargaming equivalent of liposuction and bitch be looking skinny.

The rules are, essentially a pamphlet.

Everything has been streamlined to such an extent that, as a veteran gamer, I found the first few games genuinely uncomfortable. My first game against Lee lasted hours because we kept checking the book because we couldn’t get used to the absence of rules.

Deep Striking for example is now just a thing you can do as opposed to gut wrenching, anxiety inducing test or nerve and dice rolling prowess it once was. Whilst simple and much quicker, I kind of miss the peril.

And that really is the issue with 8th edition.

At its core the mechanic is brilliant. Games play is slick and fast. The new tables make dice rolling simpler and making vehicles effectively behave like infantry cuts out a lot of wanky nonsensical rules that both crippled rate of play and frustrate gamers.

But despite all that, it’s lost a little bit of its charm.

I’m sure it’ll come back as the Codices are released and special rules are inevitably reintroduced, but in Games Workshop’s efforts to make a game that pleases both narrative and tournament gamers, the rules that made it 40k have fallen by the way side.

That said, broadly the changes are positive.

The most positive being variable movements are back! No longer are fast armies limited by magical powers, strong winds or name calling by their opponents.

Units are once again as fast as they always should have been. It’s also made the game far more strategic and far harder for armies that use to just sit back and shoot.

Tau players especially are in for a very rocky ride against the likes or Orks and Tyranids

Speed Rolling

The tables to determine hit and wounds rolls are gone and I couldn’t be happier. The design studio had been tinkering with them for years to try and make them work with the burgeoning array of units and weapons in an effort to make them all unique whilst keeping the game balanced.

Depending on who you talk to, they never really got it right and I was constantly irritated by having weapons becoming more or less reliable with each iteration.

Now stats are a dice roll: 2+, 3+ 4+ etc. Simple as that. It’s such an agonisingly obvious approach I’m kind of amazed that it took them (and us) 30 years to figure it out.

It redefines the playing field as 2+ in combat is back making certain units and characters absolutely terrifying.

New-40k-Infantry-TableSimilarly wounding is now determined by a simple comparison (see right). And that’s it.

You may notice that it is also possible to wound everything. And I mean everything. A Lagun toting Guardsman can now wound a Titan. The truest of true facts.

This is made possible by the other major change – vehicles are treated exactly the same as units in so far as they have a toughness and wounds.

But it gets an armour save. As do most things against basic weapons now because save modifiers have returned. Although it slows play slightly because it effectively increases the number of dice rolls in the game, it’s a good thing because it increase the number of dice rolls in a the game.

Plus it has the added benefit of being much fairer. It gives units that thematically can shrug of major damage a chance to do so, rather than being turned to so much fine mist.

All these changes aren’t to everyone’s taste, it makes total sense and shrewdly pleases both narrative and tournament gamers.

How it does this is simple:

Tournament gamers like fast games with the minimum of cocking about flicking through rules. 7th edition was not that game. 8th edition, with this new mechanic means that rule flick is kept to an absolute minimum. Tournament gamers around the world must be positively dancing around their parent’s basement with glee.

Narrative gamers on the other hand get to re-enact all the heroic shenanigans from their favourite Black Library novels. The heroic Guardsman spotting a weak point in the Titan’s armour and squeezing off one last shot before his certain demise, only for the Titan to explode before his stunned eyes.

It reflects the simple fact that if you through enough firepower at something it will eventually die. A lucky shot through a vision slit, damage to minor systems that cause a cascade reaction…

Whatever it may be, it makes for some pretty interesting games.

Whilst not everyone is a fan of the change, personally I like it. It’s made vehicles more vulnerable but harder to kill. Gone are the days of having your much-loved Dreadnoughts glanced to death.

The other

Lean and Mean

Amongst the wallowing, bloated frame of 7th Edition was rules that I could never get to grips with. I suspect because the studio struggled to make them balanced amidst the 20 or so armies vying for an edge in a 30-year-old mechanic.

Principal amongst these were the assault phase and the morale.

Now whilst this may make sound like a simpleton, bear with me and hear me out.

The assault phase had become, over the years, more complicated especially when it come to resolving the combat because it bucked the system completely.

Initiative meant that no matter how well executed your strategy was, if you were low initiative you were going to struggle in combat. Even if you were a close combat focused army. Which was mental.

Then when it came to figuring out who won, it didn’t follow the standard ‘test to bugger off’ method of old.

Similarly with morale checks, if something failed a morale test you had to role to see if it ran off, but depending on the unit type it rolled different dice. Unless it had a special rule, then it didn’t. Or it did but you could re-roll. Or it didn’t give a toss and stood there smirking at you because…reasons. Or science. Or magic. Or magical science. Take your pick.

Now the assault phase works as one would expect. You run up to someone, punch them really really hard in the face, they fall down. Whoever is left tries to do the same to you. Simple as that. Initiative has fucked right off and with it the prayers of Ork players have been answered. Who have become one of the most lethal armies in the game.

Morale checks as we knew them are gone and it’s a genuine game changer. Units no longer run away. Really thing about that. How many times have we hinged a strategy or an entire win on an enemy unit failing a morale test and legging it?

Now a simple test whenever you suffer capitulates (no more 25% business) determines if you lose any more models, either because they’re succumbed to their wounds or simply lost their nerve and abandoned the rest of the unit.

This rule is awesome because it gives low leadership armies a fighting chance, it’s far more thematic (and realistic) and allows things like And They Shall Know No Fear and Commissars to serve a real and decisive purpose.

It also means that perseverance, chipping away at heavy infantry and the like, will be rewarded.

And now for the But

It’s not a terribly big but – liposuction will do that to you: it’s not quite the lean mean Grim Darkness machine Games Workshop would have us think.

Although there is a lot to be pleased about – not least of which being split fire making a triumphant return – but there are, much like an op gone a bit wrong, complications.

For one thing, the rules aren’t terribly well written and hopelessly laid out in places so even though there’s less to learn you’ll spend ages trying to find specific rules.

You’ll find it an age later written in greyish text in a grey box on a grey background, tucked off to the side in a grey border. Only to find the explanation is vague to the point of retarded.

It’s deeply irritating and alarmingly reminiscent of the crap Spartan Games used to pull.

Now admittedly, this comes back to unlearning what I have learned. I’m used to things being far more complicated (and well written) than they now are. But I’m also used to properly structured sentences and games designers who have a fucking clue what they’re on about.

For all the posturing and bottom wiggling by 8th edition about how lithe and sinuous it now is, the reality is it has just palmed all the cakes (and extracted fat) on to its once slimmer siblings: the Codices.

You army book is now the conveyor of all your army’s special rules.

On the upside the debate of the need for Codices is well and truly over. With the rules so utterly stripped back, each Codex is now the sole repository for what all the special rules and the various ‘keywords’ do.

Except it doesn’t really explain them all that well. The new and very cluttered layout of the unit profiles means that I forget to use my special rules/keywords more now than I ever did with 7th edition.

The keywords – aside from a stupid name – are supposed to act as categorisations.

So anything with the Fly keyword is subject to the flying rules. However, whereas in the past the rule book provided you with an explanation, each unit has its own explanation including how fast it can move and how many turns it can make.

Again, it’s just a very different way of doing things but its inelegant and makes having keywords arbitrary becomes no two definitions are the same.

Admittedly this is likely a transition thing for someone too stuck in their ways but there is no getting away from the fact that feels fairly unnecessary and is as annoying to remember as all those wanky special rules on the reverse of the Dystopian Wars data cards.

However…

For all the things that bug me about 8th edition, I know they are largely because I’m still getting to gripes with it. It takes a lot to forget 20 years of rules and replace them with something that is, at its core, a totally different game.

Whilst in isolation the rules seem a bit sterile the game is still very good and the thought of Apocalypse games no longer fill me with a sense of dread.

The biggest change is anchoring the rules in both the core book and the Codices. Doing away with the compendium of special rules is huge so gamers can expect to rely on their codex more and more once they’ve got the core rules nailed.

Anyone on the fence about 8th edition shouldn’t be. Whilst Games Workshop seems a bit scatter brained at the moment they’re getting use to things the same as we are. Which is a very weird place for us all to find ourselves.

Deathwatch: The Space Marine army we’ve all been waiting for

Followers on Twitter will know that I’ve started collecting Deathwatch.

It wasn’t entirely planned. When I picked up a copy of Deathwatch: Overkill it was to have a natty boxed game that could be whipped out of a games night and  to collect Genestealer Cultists.

The plan was to collect a small Deathwatch army afterwards to compliment my unnecessarily big Ultramarines army. Made more unnecessary by my Forge World purchases last year… #sorrynotsorry

Then I read the codex.

60030109002_deathwatchcodexeng01

For the novice or the oblivious, the Deathwatch are a dedicated chapter of alien hunters made up from all the other Space Marine chapters. Yes, all.

They deviate from standard Space Marines in a number of ways – how they’re recruited being the most notable. But more than that, they have specialist equipment that flies in the face of Adeptus Mechanicus doctrine which would be enough to brand them heretics in the eyes of many.

The amazing Corvus Blackstar and the highly effective Frag Cannon being just two examples of this particular brand of non-conformity.

They don’t follow the Codex Astartes in any meaningful way in so much as they don’t use Battle company formations and they’re squads not only have diverse armaments but they also attach members from other unit types to their standard Killteams to bolster their strength.

This lends them extra punch either at range or up close (or both) allowing you to make some very focussed, very powerful units. The other very that should go with that is expensive.

deathwatch-hor

It does, however, make them interesting.

Anyone who has read the multitude of Black Library novels about Space Marines (which is a lot of them) will no doubt have experienced a degree of disappointment over the comparative blandness of the models and rules to how they are portrayed in the books.

Depending on the chapter the novel is about, there’s all sorts of subtle armour variations, minor modifications and other distinguishing features that make the armies feel markedly different from their brothers that can’t always be reflected in the army.

Especially when the practicalities of model making dictate that the more generic a model the broader the commercial appeal. Obviously there are always exceptions to this – Blood Angels and Space Wolves most notably – but those ranges are justified through a significant divergence in game play and a large enough customer base to justify it.

But more than that, in the books the Space Marines are absolutely devastating.

Whilst Space Marine armies are hardly limp wristed in the fisticuffs department, they are also hugely watered down to allow for (a) Marine players to take more than a squad and (b) to give other players a chance.

A few years ago White Dwarf published, for bants presumably, the movie marine rules. Essentially a fairly tongue in cheek set of rules to demonstrate how tough a Space Marine should be in a game of 40k.

They started at 100 points a model, had multiple wounds, a 3+ invulnerable save with a re-roll and their profile had lots of 5s and 6s in it.

A bit of fun for some, an eye-rolling annoyance for those who feel Space Marines get too much of the attention already, it’s a reminder that Space Marines are absurdly tough. They were, after all, originally intended as a single squad ally for Imperial Guard armies. But Space Marines are cool and only an idiot wouldn’t want capitalise on that opportunity.

The Deathwatch provides the faithful marine nerd with the variety and customisation options we’ve all craved. The fact that the entire army is made up of Veterans gives the army that super elite, against all odds, feel. A base level model is an eye watering 22 points, plus upgrades.

codex_deathwatch_art_tau_battlesuits

Moreover the mixed squads of Killteams, terminators, vanguard veterans and characters fits really nicely with some of the more dramatic moments in the books. Especially where the fighting is at its most desperate and the heroes of the Imperium are moving through the lines to support where they’re needed most.

I had the opportunity to play a 1500 point game with a standard Codex Space Marines army. Whereas I took a fully kitted out army which, excluding the Corvus Blackstar and the Dreadnought, was made up of 25 models.

My opponent, on the other hand took a captain, 30 Tactical Marines, 10 scouts, 10 assault marines, 5 devastators, 5 terminators, a predator, a rhino and two dreadnoughts.

Whilst there were very few (almost no) upgrades in the army, that was still 61 infantry models and 4 models with armour values. Considering the average cost of my models were weighing in at 37 points a model, being out numbered over 2:1 was about right.

However, despite my early apprehension that I was going to get absolutely slaughtered, I actually went on to win the game by a very narrow margin. The butcher’s bill was high but considering how I thought it was going to go I was content that the tithes would replenish the losses in good order.

The formations, because who takes an army without formations these days, actively encourage you to take the Space Marine army of your boyhood dreams, complete with re-rolls to wound differing units types depending on the formation.

Throw in Killteam Cassius and an absurdly good Watch Master (who is mental for the points) and you have the hardened, individualistic, monsters of war I’ve certainly always imagined space marines to be.

Seeing that translated onto the board is really quite something. The Deathwatch look and feel like the super elite army many (if not all) of us have always imagined taking. The models are imposing and the load-outs diverse. The heavy thunder hammer is hilarious.

The rules make them a small but highly effective team when used correctly (and sparingly). But more than that, the additions of things like the Corvus and the Infernus Heavy Bolter also make them elite because no one gets to play with their toys. Much like Grey Knights.

The background is also rich, interesting and tells of a force relentlessly committed to the cause unto death. They are the hero’s hero. They are the bending, but unbreakable line that pushes back against the alien.

They are the Deathwatch.

Rogue One – A Review

rogue_one_logo

Along long time ago a massive media company known for an animated mouse bought one of the most successful intellectual properties in history.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm for, quite literally, huge piles of cash there were a lot of very nervous fans. It didn’t matter that their purchase of Marvel a couple of years before had proved that they could be respectful of fans and intellectual property alike, it was a huge deal.

Shortly after the purchase they announced an aggressive schedule of new movies, effectively giving Star Wars the Marvel Cinematic Universe treatment. A new movie, every year, for the foreseeable future.

Fans, this one included, were apprehensive when Episode VII was announced. It needed to be brilliant. It needed to right so many wrongs. It needed…not to be shit.

For the most part, our prayers were answered. It was not shit. The new cast had a great chemistry in their own right and gelled brilliantly with characters of old.

But even before Episode VII was out, Rogue One was announced. A stand alone movie set between Episode’s III and IV.

As time wore on my scepticism gave way to delight. Historically Star Wars has always been a trilogy kind of franchise. Even the books tended to work in threes and the stand alone’s tended to be the weaker offerings.

However, as the first trailers began to drop I felt a new hope (geddit). Rogue One looked like an original Star Wars movie and had a plot that nestled it up against Episode IV rather than Episode III which immediately made me like it more.

For those that don’t know, Rogue One follows the exploits of a small Rebel band tasked with getting their hands on the Death Star plans in the hope of destroying it. Anyone that’s seen Episode IV will know how this pans out.

The movie focuses on Jyn Erso, daughter of the man behind the Death Star and reluctant hero played by the extraordinarily talented Felicity Jones.

star-wars-rogue-one-cast

Unlike those around her, Jyn is not a solider. She’s a tear away with a traumatic past that keeps her awake at night. Much like Luke Skywalker and Rey, destiny (or the Force) chooses her to change the galaxy.

Whilst a female protagonist is becoming increasingly common I feel Jones’ efforts were a cut above. Jyn Erso as a character is so wonderfully flawed and vulnerable yet she’s strong and resolute. She’s incredibly brave and utterly determined not to give into fear and loss.

As a character she rises to every challenge despite her fear not because of it and whilst she’s opposite the Rebel intelligence officer, Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), at no point does she rely on his big manly manliness.

In a nice contrast to most movies, he plays the conscience and the voice in her ear not to give up rather than the other way around.

And unlike the reboot of Ghostbusters, at no point does the movie makers do anything to undermine her gender. At no point does the movie nudge you in the ribs and say ‘don’t worry, she’s only a girl’. Which is wonderful and refreshing.

Jones’ performance is captivating and enhanced by Alan Tudyk’s utterly brilliant delivery of K-2SO. A former Imperial strategy droid, it provides a delightfully matter of fact counter-point to Erso’s dogged determination without the camp contrariness of a 3PO clone.

K-2 is cynical, sarcastic, hilarious but steadfast and loyal, a natural complement to Erso’s reluctant and wounded hero. And he’s awesome. He gets some of the best scenes so between the three lead characters, the chemistry that exists is a joy to watch.

Plus anyone who knows and loves Laputa (Castle in the Sky) will enjoy the nod to the design athetic of the robot protectors.

The film is orgiastically pretty. Whereas Episode I had special and visual effects thrown at the screen in an unwitting attempt to conceal the weak plot and terrible acting, Rogue One’s slice of the Star Wars universe is almost incidental. It enhances something that is already brilliantly executed.

Rogue One is epic yet personal. It’s a classic Star Wars tale of a small band of individuals becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. The formula is very similar to that of Episode IV. Which is no bad thing.

Each character hints at a life lived in the shadow of the Empire and it communicates how quickly society has decayed in the 20 years since the events of Episode III. The speed at which all evidence to the existence of the Jedi being one.Which is a really nice touch.

What’s really cool is the insight you get into the Rebellion. Episode IV conveys a merry band of liberals unified against the choking grip of an evil Empire. Rogue One hints at a far more fragmented structure, held together by a desperate few. Their tactics are dirty and distasteful and many of their soldiers are no better, if not worse, than the storm troopers they willingly hunt.

The engagements that go on in the film will have every hardcore Star Wars fan reaching for tissues because they’re fantastic. They have the gritty, brutality of recent sci-fi offerings like the new Star Trek movies and, of course, Episode VII.

Anyone who played any of the Star Wars video games over the last 20 years or read the books (particularly the X-Wing novels) will be struck by the fidelity of the action sequences.

Visually it all feels so right. So deliciously perfect. It’s the ultimate thank you present from Lucasfilm to the fans that hung on in there during the years of nothing then the disappointing prequels and all the inconsistent, rudderless bollocks that followed.

Every planet (including the beautifully realised Yavin 4) helps to communicate the story, the conflicts of the individuals and team, all the while exuding the grandeur of the Star Wars universe. It really is stunning.

Every single drop of love that could be crammed into the action scenes, both in space and on the various planets, was done so.

However (come on, you knew it was coming), for all of the love I felt watching X-Wings be awesome, I didn’t feel the story quite connected emotionally. And this is a bit of a problem because it’s meant to be a deeply emotional film. It’s about friendship, family, survival, defiance, victory, loss and sacrifice.

NEnar4COULH0qv_2_b.jpg

They’re all right there on the screen but cramming all of those highly nuanced themes and the orgasm inducing visuals means it doesn’t quite pull it off.

Maybe it’s because, as with any prequel, you know how the story plays out but I think it’s more to do with the pace with which the film moves, it lacks subtlty. It doesn’t give you the chance to be moved. To reflect on events as they unfold. Until the very end which can leave you feeling a little cold.

It’s all a little bit lost.

Speaking of lost, the Imperial presence in the film is so muted that the storm troopers and starships consistently out perform the villains.

Director Krennic (played by Ben Mendelsohn) comes off as little more than an egotistical child, who tantrums and stomps from one scene to another. Even the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin overshadows him.

Lord Vadar crops up but his scene is a fan pleaser and adds nothing to the plot. Even the performance lacked the slow grace and simmering menace of the original, he felt slightly wrong from start to finish.

Rogue One is a superb film It looks and feels like a Star Wars movie. In many ways more so than Episode VII. Everything just looks…right.

It is, of course, a genius mechanism to bridge the gap between Episode’s III & IV. It does an admirable job of dovetailing with Episode IV despite breaking part of the original movie (I’ll let you find it). References to the previous movies are so nicely done that fans will get a real kick out of it.

It’s a wonderful and deserving addition to the Star Wars canon that adds so much heart to an already rich universe that it is a shame it’s just a stand alone.

Criticisms aside, Rogue One has easily slipped into my top 3 Star Wars movies. It’s a very bold claim having only seen it the once but, honestly, it offers much of the same mix that makes The Empire Strikes Back the best of the bunch (shut up, yes it is!).

It’s not a perfect movie but then again neither are any of the Star Wars movies that preceded them. And that’s okay because what it is, is a proper Star Wars movie. And that is more than good enough.

 

Kill Team – A Review

warhammer-40000-logo

So in the spirit of getting back into the swing of things I thought I’d revert to type and do what I’m good at: being very opinionated about other people’s shit.

And what better way to kick off than a game I lost at the night before. What could possibly go wrong?

So, Kill Team – Warhammer 40k’s remedial little brother.

Kill Team is one of a growing number of ‘route to entry’ boxes that Games Workshop is churning out at a fairly prodigious rate.

Whilst those without a bottomless hobby budget may well be struggling to find £100 every couple of months, Kill Team offers a genuinely affordable (by modern standards) route to entry into the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

60010699008_engkillteam01

In the box you get a Space Marine tactical squad, a Tau Fire Warrior squad, a groovy tactical turret and everything you need to play, including a data sheet for both squads with points values and the mini rule book.

The models are as you would expect from the individual boxes rather than the okay (yet slightly disappointing) push-together’s we’ve seen in the past which really enhances both the value of the box and the gaming experience for those new to the hobby.

Games Workshop has finally remembered that short-changing new gamers is a great way to make them fuck off and never come back.

The truth is, for the money this is really quite good. The only things missing is some form of measure and a few dice but I guess you need some top-up sales somewhere.

But the fact that the rules are in there too means that novices are getting a proper introduction to the game rather than a bullshit stripped down version of the rules that means they’ll have to buy another version 3 months down the road.

Obviously for the seasoned gamers it represents a fairly hefty outlay when the only thing they’ll need to play Kill Team is the Kill Team rules booklet. For those of you who just want the booklet I suggest eBay or the fair trading group on Facebook.

The booklet itself is, for all intents and purposes the main event. Whilst the models are all good and groovy, they can (along with the rules) be purchased by other means.

Whilst far from the majesty of Mordheim or Necromunda, Kill Team does give you the merest taste of those long past glory days allowing you to take 200 points worth of your chosen army against your opponent.

There are certain restrictions of course. Such as no HQ choices, no vehicles with more than 4 hull points, nothing with a 2+ save (so no Terminators) and a smattering of others.

The idea is it encourages you to be incredibly careful with how you choose your force. For a season gamer and an Ultramarine player, I actually found this quite difficult as I’m so used to structuring my armies around the teachings of Guilliman.

Because, you know, nerd.

Whilst 200 points doesn’t seem all that much, depending on the army you can actually be pretty creative.

It’s a tooled up tactical squad, or a basic 5 man squad and a slightly tooled up Dreadnought.

Or 30 Ork boys plus a couple of upgrades.

Never before has the differences in points and unit composition been so starkly demonstrated as it is with Kill Team and it’s easily one of its best-selling points.

It so aptly highlights what an immensely diverse universe in which we game and how desperate even the smallest scale engagement can be.

Had I put my list together in plenty of time, rather than in a Burger King on my way over to Jezza’s I could have taken a small, but tooled up, unit of Sternguard which would have been hilarious. And short-lived.

Unlike Mordheim and Necromunda, beyond models being able to act independently of one another, the rules work more or less the same as standard 40k. Which means stuff dies just as easily as it always did. Or not.

This highlights Kill Team’s one glaring flaw. It is, essentially, 40k without unit coherency. Which means splitting up your models gets them killed. Which rather defeats the point.

You’re almost better off playing a 500 point game and have the freedom to take what you want.

However, what Kill Team does offer is specialists. In a nutshell, three of your models can be made specialists from a number of lists which gives them access to one of a variety of special rules.

Things like Feel No Pain, Armourbane, Infiltrate, Fear, Eternal Warrior and a host of others feature, all designed to give you a tactical edge if used correctly. There is undoubtedly some trial and error in selecting the right skills for your Kill Team.

It was very much more error on my part when I played Jezza but that was because I tried to be too clever and failed to consider how a lone Space Marine, whilst tough is still just a lone Space Marine and he’ll die just as easily when mobbed.

Looking at the skills on offer, the likes of Scouts and similar units can become hilarious broken, especially if you use them as a team. Which sort of defeats the purpose of Kill Team but there we are.

The scenarios in the book are broadly very good. They work well with the limitations of the both the size of army and lend themselves well to beginners.

But beyond the specialists and the scenarios, there’s not much more to Kill Team. There’s no progression to speak which is a real shame. Something that slow expands the engagement size as a way of scaling gamers up to a full game of 40k would have been really cool and a missed opportunity.

As a starter boxes go it’s not bad for the cash. For someone who wants to ease themselves into 40k without a huge outlay, this is pretty much on the nose. It has plenty of replay value for the beginners and lots of nuance for the veterans.

It’s also brilliant if you’re pressed for time or fancy dabbling in a spot of 40k in 40 minutes over a lunch break.

Kill Team suffers from being neither one thing or another which as a long-term investment makes it a bit of a waste but, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran, Kill Team at its heart bloody good fun.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth – A Review

HHBetrayalAtCalthMinis_Slot2

Okay okay, I know I said I didn’t have any interest in getting this game but I’m weak and…well who gives a shit whatever other reason I have?

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth (for those living under a rock or too idle to go to the Games Workshop website) is a boxed game depicting the running battle between the Ultramarine and the Word Bearers Legions in the catacombs below the radiation ravaged surface of…well, Calth. Obviously.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Horus Heresy novels then you’ll be fairly aware of the events leading up to it and the major players. If you haven’t please run full pelt into a wall as punishment. Then go read them.

So Betrayal at Calth is a very splendid looking board game pitting the Ultramarines against the Word Bearers in the dingy tunnels and chambers of subterranean Calth. I do have to address the elephant in the room. Yes it’s kind of like Advanced Space Crusade…and Space Crusade. But in a lot of crucial ways it’s not. It’s easy to make direct comparisons between this and its forefathers but the truth is Space Crusade’s focus was exploration whereas Betrayal at Calth is open war and a fight for survival. It’s tunnel fighting at its very worst. The need for blip counters and a lot of the other very cool things that made Space Crusade iconic just don’t fit.

THHBetrayalatCalthENG01

Truth be told, Betrayal at Calth is a pretty good game. Much like Deadzone, the game uses a grid movement system with an occupation limit. However, unlike Deadzone it isn’t shit. The main differences are the hex system works instead of the vague and wooly cube system in Deadzone…and it doesn’t have all the other reasons that made Deadzone poor.

Broadly, the mechanic in Betrayal at Calth works much like its forebears. You roll some very groovy dice with icons denoting a hit or critical hit or a shield (which is either a miss or a defensive success). Unlike Space Crusade it’s far simpler with a straight forward activation system that allows turns to be rattled through very quickly. Much like the reboot of Space Hulk. Unlike Space Crusade it doesn’t bother with the two tier dice system so you’ll actually bother firing your boltguns in this game.

The aforementioned hex system allows for not only slick movement, shooting and combat but very elegantly represents the cramped environs of the tunnels the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers were fighting through. This is a very good thing. Best of all it’s a simple value equals dice rolled process with additional dice being rolled in certain circumstances. Which makes for a far quicker gaming experience. Of course it gets a little abstract but, to be honest, it doesn’t matter because it works.

It allows you to hamper the movement of your opponent or outright bottle neck areas by using the accumulative bulk of your Space Marines or, better yet, your Terminators. It’s a surprisingly tactical game for what otherwise would be a ‘go here and shoot them’ offering.

The production value is also amazing. The cards are thick and premium, the book almost as luxurious as one of Forge World’s Horus Heresy publications and is resplendent with their artwork. The double sided tiles are also loving rendered. The only negative is that they’re not quite as premium as the Space Hulk tiles. But considering the amount of plastic you get in Betrayal at Calth I’m willing to let it slide.

At first I thought a game of Space Marines vs Space Marines would be deeply deeply dull but the differences in the forces – big scary dreadnought vs badass terminators – and the legion specific decks players can call upon actually really works. Plus the critical hit system actually has the stench of genius about it. Rather than the obvious bonus hits, the effects vary from stripping away activation points to reducing enemy characteristics to zero…which means they get pulped basically. And the exploding assault cannon is back! Huzzah!

The scenarios are…actually a bit like Deadzone’s. They’re paced to gradually introduce gamers to the different unit types which rather highlights one of the reasons I suspect Games Workshop put the game out. To introduce new gamers to the 30/40k Universe. Considering the revival of Specialist Games it makes complete sense.

Betrayal at Calth has a simple mechanic, it’s quick and it doesn’t bombard you with the lore like the main rulebook does. Plus the models are superb.

Honestly, they’re all awesome. The terminators and contemptor suffer slightly from being plastics in a starter set compared to their awesome Forge World counterparts, but broadly Betrayal at Calth is absolutely worth getting just for the models. What really sells it is that the Space Marines aren’t the usual push together at but genuine multi-part models as detailed as the plastic tactical squad. They don’t have Forge World’s fidelity of detail to be sure but they don’t have warping, miscast detail or fucking horrid mould lines either.

Regular readers will know that I’ve got two companies of Ultramarines already and, because all the models are non-Legion specific, this box could put me well on my way to a 30% of third. If I felt so inclined. I’ve had to promise Lee that I wouldn’t use them as Ultramarines…at least not all of them. It’s a fantastic starter army though: force commander, chaplain, dreadnought, terminators and 3 tactical squads. I think it roughly works out you get the characters and a tactical squad for free based on rule retail price which is an absolute winner.

However where it does fall down is it lacks the progression of Space Crusade…which is absurd considering it’s 25 years old and, in that regard, the stronger offering. One of the criticisms I’ve heard is that the tiles used in Betrayal at Calth overall make up a smaller gaming space than Space Crusade. Whilst that’s true, they are double sided and the mechanic makes use of that space very effectively so larger tiles aren’t needed. Plus Space Crusade took forever to play so I’m not sorry that Betrayal at Calth is a quicker game.

Between the simple rules, straight forward mechanic, interesting critical hit system and some truly gorgeous models, Betrayal at Calth is a rare solid hit from Games Workshop. It isn’t cheap but we’re use to that. Plus buying 30 tactical marines alone would cost over £60 so in terms of getting some very cool models for not tonnes of money it actually makes complete sense.

The models really are worth every penny. They look fantastic, they’re cast perfectly and would look amazing either as the core of a new army or swapping out some of the older Mk6 and Mk7 armoured plastics. As I mentioned the terminators and the contemptor do suffer from the limitations of their kits, to be more child friendly, but it does nothing to diminish just how cool they all look.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is a brilliant little game. It looks great and plays well. It does lack some longevity but I believe the Games Workshop are remedying that with new scenarios and such. But even if that wasn’t true, you have the beginnings of a seriously cool looking Space Marine army.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is available from Firestorm Games priced £79.99.

Batman Miniatures Game Model Review

Back at the start of October I reviewed the Batman Miniatures Game and after a considerable amount of preamble I got down to the business of reviewing the game. As it turned out it was pretty good, much to my relief. It had its issues and bug bears of course. The main one being that it had a painful habit of over explaining everything which I couldn’t figure out was either the writer’s need to make sure everyone knew what they were doing or a ‘lost in translation’ thing.

A worry I had, when flicking through the book, was that the models weren’t going to be up to snuff. The photography and the paint jobs weren’t stellar and pap models could rather sour the pudding.

Of course there was only one thing for it: I was going to have to get some.

I opted for the Dark Knight himself, obviously, and some Joker Clowns. Rather usefully the rules came with a limited edition Alfred Pennyworth model as well…which was nice.

Let’s start with the Joker Clowns. Simply put these are the models that should have had the least amount of effort on the basis that they are just lowly minions. However, at £13.99 RRP for two I was expecting a certain something.

JokerThugs

Where to begin…well, the casting quality is very good. The models needed little clean up at all which is impressive from a small studio games company like Knight. The nice thing about the models is that they are immediately identifiable as Joker Clowns from Arkham City. This, of course, means there are lots of nice little details like the thugs being a little bit on the podge and il-fitting boots.

However the overall standard of the sculpts isn’t amazing. It’s not bad, but not amazing. The clown masks have been sculpted so flat that it’s impossible to see any real detail until there’s any paint on them and even then low lighting maybe in order so they don’t look too washed out.

The arms – which were separate for these models – were quite disappointing. The casting quality didn’t match the rest of the model and the arms don’t fit the bodies very well. The axe arms required me to bend the impossibly thin axe shaft which almost snapped.

I’m all for accurate scaling but I think some consideration needs to be given for scale and the material the models will be cast in. The shotgun, whilst having a pretty decent amount of detail for its size, came with a barrel at a 45 degree angle. Drop that model once and you’ll be fielding a Clown armed with a sawn off whether you like it or not.

I’ve seen hundreds of 28mm scale models with scale weapons and they always suffer from being cast from metal. Barrels, blades or handles are too thin and it’s only a matter of time before they break. It’s a shame because £7 a model is quite a lot for something that’s got a good chance of breaking in the building process like the one I received.

The models also come with the all important profile cards – one per model which is excellent – so you can actually use them in the game. This is a real barrier to entry as far as I’m concerned as, looking at the game insolation, you have no way of knowing how good or not the models you’re buying are until you get them home.

As one would expect the Joker Clowns are pretty generic in a fight but what’s very cool is the subtle but significant differences between the two models. They aren’t just Clown 1 and Clown 2. Triston (shotgun bloke) gets a point more endurance, a point less willpower and has the Runaway trait. August, on the other hand, gets that slightly higher willpower and the Psycho trait. Which makes sense as his weapon of choice is an axe.

But what of the Dark Knight himself? This was the model I was most anxious the pose was rather uninteresting. The paint job had something to do with it as all the low lighting and shadowing makes the model incredibly flat.

Batman

The reality, though, is the model is let down by an average sculpt and the fact it was cast in metal. The quality shown in the image above is nowhere near what you actually get. You just can’t get the crispness of detail needed for something as subtly designed as the bat-suit depicted in the Arkham City game. It’s not that the detail isn’t there but it’s that it lacks definition.

Batman‘s pose is fine but not really cool enough in my opinion. They did a very good job of making the cape feel dynamic yet weighty enough that it could be used to glide across the fair city of Gotham. The cowl was a different matter entirely. One of the ears(?) was bent so badly inwards that bending it back broke it. Not clean off but enough that I can’t touch it again. The metal was just too thin and for £13.99 a pop it’s not acceptable. Thankfully the arm holding the batarang was cast of sturdier stuff and even fit the model which is a bonus.

Overall it kind of reminds of the Nolan Batman trilogy. It looks like Batman but doesn’t feel like Batman. It’s not a bad model – casting issues aside – and with the right paint job could actually look pretty good, it’s just not the centre piece model I think it should be. Especially as a very high percentage of gamers collecting the good guys will want Batman at some point.

With good reason too. In the game Batman is, unsurprisingly, nails. Not impossible to defeat but they the writers of the game managed to strike the balance between video game badassery and the vulnerability that is often communicated through the comics. He can comfortably take on three, maybe even four, thugs but anything more than that and he’s going to get his head kicked in.

Obviously his bevy of gadgets and gizmos makes Batman far more than a blunt instrument but we all know that that’s where the fun happens. At reputation 130 he’s worth 5 thugs so making use of all his talents is the best way of making the most of the investment.

It’s a tricky one because the game is great and something I would happily play but the quality issues around the models have given me pause. Realistically the problem with the cowl is unlucky but proves a point, the axe shaft is just poor sculpting. It reminds me of something Lee said to me – wargaming is the only industry in which consumers routinely put with a ‘that’ll do’ mentality from the manufacturers. Which is very true.

The Batman Miniatures Game models I have seen are good models. Not amazing but good. They are sculpted to a good standard and with a lot of love and fidelity but between the insistence of true scale and casting them from metal you may well be frustrated with the repair work involved.

All that said, the models are cool enough that you’ll want them and the game is cool enough that you’ll buy lots of them.

Batman Miniatures games models are available from Firestorm Games and the range starts at £3.15.

Infinity: Operation Icestorm – A Review

image

If I had to give an excuse, if ever one were needed, as to why I hadn’t looked at one of the major game systems until now I would have to say…because I just didn’t care.

Now before I get flamed back to the Stone Age bear with me and hear me out:

Infinity is a super groovy scifi game that has lots of super groovy troopers, super groovy guns, super groovy robots and all in super groovy artwork that depicts said super groovy guns being toted by said super groovy trooper types. The models are, equally, painted in a super groovy style in super groovy bright colours and as super groovy as they do in said super groovy artwork.

But despite the sheer super levels of grooviness Infinity suffered from one big issue: accessibility.

Infinity is prohibitively expensive. Granted you don’t need many models to play a game but just because you’ve only been screwed with your pants on the once doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.

I also found the premise to be weak, a little vague and the apparent super grooviness, despite all the shooting, a bit hard to believe. I know I’m used to the grim dark of the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium but countless games have proven a balance can be struck.

More over Corvus Belli’s determination to make the factions in Infinity seem unique compared to other games requires you to study what the fuck everything is for before you can figure out what it does and what to buy. O.R.Cs? Really? But the worst thing is adding all that together means that a novice gamer wouldn’t know where to start without the specialist help of a game store employee or the local games club oracle. Which isn’t really good enough.

I appreciate I’m probably in the minority with most, if not all, of these views. But, if I had to give an excuse, that would be it.

Does this make the review a foregone conclusion? Of course not. All that super grooviness does count for a lot.

So what’s in the Infinity: Operation Icestorm box? Fourteen of the prettiest models you ever did see, some groovy counters, a paper gaming mat, some fold out card buildings and the introductory rules.

All joking aside, I love the Infinity design aesthetic. Everything is sexy and shiny and fits nicely with my vision of the future. And reminds me of Halo which is never a bad thing. The downside is that everything is too clean. It doesn’t feel like a war, skirmish or even mild bout of fisticuffs is raging through the streets. Unless they’re the most considerate band of professional killers there ever was.

Of course this doesn’t stop you from building your own vision of a shattered (reasonably) near future utopia, it just would be nice if the oh so beautiful card buildings and fold out mat weren’t quite so neat and tidy.

The models – PanOceania and Nomads – are awesome. As I said, I like the Infinity style a great deal and when I’ve ummed, erred and stared at my bank balance before quietly slinking away; it was always PanOceania that I looked at collecting. The Nomads are cool too, I’m just excited to finally have some models that I’ve coveted for the last 4 years.

image

Sculpts and casting quality – these models are metal don’t forget – are excellent but considering retail they’d be about £30 a set one would expect that. But what makes the models so good is that real thought went into them to strike the balance between super groovy scifi armour and super groovy scifi guns but to maintain proportions. I’ve been collecting oversized post humans for so long I’d almost forgotten what scale weapons looked like.

Unfortunately the only part of the models that does suffer any loss of detail are the weapons but that’s the price you pay for working with metal and keeping things in proportion. But it’s such a minor niggle compared to the overall quality and super grooviness of the model you just won’t care all that much. Although wargaming does seem to be the only market in the world where ‘that’ll do’ is good enough. But more on that another time…

The rulebook, such as it is, puzzles me somewhat. And I’ve read a butt tonne of rule books over the years. The background is just 5 paragraphs long which for someone new to the Infinity universe is a little light. And by light, I mean I’ve read longer poems. I appreciate it’s an introductory rulebook but it doesn’t do much to sell the universe gamers are venturing into.

image

The rules for Infinity, however are fantastically straight forward. Not amazingly written or laid out but it’s the first time in ages I felt like I’d understood just about everything on my first read through. There are a few niggles but it’s more to do with the aforementioned issue with trying to be different for difference sake. The explanation of Face to Face rolls was so poorly written that it made no sense until the first instance of a face to face roll cropped up further into the book. Quite why the writers couldn’t use the word ‘simultaneous’ is beyond me. Because that’s what they meant. Simultaneous…

It’s an ambitious book however as Corvus Belli approached it almost like the tutorial mode of an RTS game. Each scenario introduces you to different game elements, building your knowledge up gradually so by the time you get to the final scenario you’re fully versed in the core rules of the game.

It works reasonably well but the rules aren’t particularly difficult to master so reading through is a bit of a faff. The other thing is to follow the format of the book, scenario by scenario, would mean you’d be unlikely to run through all the rules in a single gaming session. That’s a bit of a two-edged sword. On the one hand you’re encouraged to digest the rules, on the other you’ll just get pissed off having to reset the game each time.

But that aside, the rules are good and allowing models to react as the action unfolds is a nice touch And adds an extra layer of strategy as you have to weigh up what your opponent will react to as well as what they’ll do in their own turn.

The way models are activated is pretty cool too. Instead of every model being activated they, instead, generate an order counter which can be used on them or pooled with others to allow other models or single model to perform multiple actions. This allows for very quick turns and incredibly fast paced, cinematic action. The variety of actions available, much like the Batman Miniatures Game, makes Infinity a pretty exciting game to play.

It also adds a further layer to the way you build your force. Opting for cheaper units means more orders but you’re putting weaker troops in the field which could mean you’re burning orders on failed attacks. Additionally certain, crappier, units make irregular actions which basically means you can only spend the actions they generate on them. So whilst you may get more actions you’re forced to allocate a proportion of them. It’s actually a very shrewd way of keeping the game balanced that I’ve never seen before so hats off to Corvus Belli for that one.

The irregular actions also elegantly represents the reluctance or inability of certain soldiers to fight without making them disproportionately shit compared to everything else in the army which is something a lot of other games are guilty of. But most importantly it adds character without getting bogged down in special rules.

The rulebook is awash with gorgeous artwork throughout. It’s the kind of standard seen in the Transformers comics produced by Dreamwave in the early noughties. What bugs the shit out of me though is the rulebook actually mentions its influences which rather ruins any sense of originality that the models and artwork had. I’m the first person to point out influences and I know I have mine, but to actively broadcast those influences seems somewhat counter productive to me.

But the biggest sin of the Infinity introductory rulebook, by a mile, is it’s not an introductory rulebook. It’s a pamphlet. Half the book is the same set of rules but in Spanish, which I don’t mind but it actually makes the rules provided, whichever language you’re reading it in, embarrassingly short for a box set that retails at £75.00. And judging by the thickness of the full Infinity rules a lot of stuff was left out.

To put it in context let’s compare Operation Icestorm to the 40k starter set…

40k is £65 retail compared to £75, has 3.5 times more models, plastic templates instead of card, a full colour how to play guide and a full set of rules. For £10 less. It’s a rare day when Games Workshop comes off as good value.

However, I’m not sure if Infinity isn’t just worth it. It’s a great game with beautiful models and a slick mechanic. The model stat names are a little fussy and I can well imagine it takes a fair bit of referring back to but dozens of other games a just as guilty of that sin.

The price point is hard to swallow but at least the models are sufficient you can get a lot out of them before you start to add to the collection. Although the ranges are so pretty that won’t take long. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rules. If you want to play the game properly you’ll be shelling out £50 for a copy of the rulebook before you know it.

The truth is boutique games need starter sets like fat kids need salad…it’s vital to their survival. However the Infinity: Operation Icestorm doesn’t really do a great job because it’s a false economy. Buying two boxes of blokes and the full rules with set you back roughly £110 retail. The starter set and the full rules, which you’ll need almost as soon as you’ve worked through the Icestorm scenarios, will set you back roughly £125 retail. £15 more for some cardboard and fewer rules.

So despite a starter set, accessibility is still an issue. It’s still prohibitively expensive. There’s still nothing to clearly explain how the various units work or how they fit into the wider army. There’s still nothing to get your teeth into from a background perspective. Or anything to encourage the hobby either for that matter.

All things considered: between the high price and low content compared to other starter sets out there, would I still recommend it Infinity: Operation Icestorm? Yes, with a but. Yes, but only to people who are new to the hobby but know which end of a tape measure to hold. Gamers who have maybe tried Infinity once or twice and want to get in a few games at home before they fully commit. I appreciate that’s very specific but I don’t see it benefitting anyone else.

If you’re a novice or experienced gamer you’re far better buying the products separately. Granted, you miss out on the card templates but for roughly £30 you can get super groovy plastic ones which will last far longer than the flimsy card ones.

Infinity: Operation Icestorm is available from Firestorm Games priced £65.00.

Batman : Miniatures Game – A Review

This review has been a long time in the making. Years really. Let me explain why:

I’ve always liked Batman. As a child I liked the Adam West TV series. But that’s the thing: I liked it. I didn’t love it. It was too woolly and everything felt like they didn’t really understand where they were going with it. It was 2 Dimensional TV for the masses and that would have been fine had it been based on a 2 Dimensional comic book for the masses.

Even in the pastel tinted abyss that was the Silver Age Batman was still a conflicted character. Sure he’d been softened but that was because, unlike any other flagship IP, Batman was a commercial failure. At the time readers couldn’t get to grips with such a dark character. It was a case of evolve or die. The problem was it didn’t evolve, it rebooted.

Truth be told DC are stuffed whatever they do with an era in the Batman timeline that was erased decades ago. Ignore it and people still go na na na na na na na na Batman!…and I die a little inside. Acknowledge it and the only thing that dies is my soul.

The two things that saved Batman, in my opinion, was the Frank Miller’s non-canonical series The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and the Batman Animated Series (1992). The former re-established the character as a crime fighting, bone breaking, badass and the latter gave it the commercial appeal it always needed. In the space of 6 years Batman was changed forever.

So what’s this Bat-history lesson in aide of? Put simply it’s to highlight just how much has changed. Obviously there’s been hiccups along the way, particularly with the movies franchises, but the character has come out of the other side as one of the most important and iconic characters of this and last century.

The release of a miniatures game may seem like small potatoes compared to rebooted franchises, multi million dollar movies and we haven’t even mentioned the Arkham video games. But it’s not. It’s important because Batman was and is a universal constant. He’s a hero that has successfully transcended genres, genders and ages.

Allowing a miniatures game is further recognition that we all, basically, want to be the Bat. In whatever form that may take. Even if that form may take running around the house with a bed sheet pinned around my shoulders thattotallyneverhappenedshutup.

But on to the game…

image

The first thing that is immediately apparent about the Batman Miniatures Game is that the book is a labour of love. The set piece photography has been so lovingly put together you can tell that the writers put everything into it producing something that DC and the fans would be proud of. It reminds me of the first edition of Games Workshop’s Fellowship of the Ring rulebook.

The production value is great. There’s a healthy mix of artwork from the comics and images from the Arkham video games. The book opens with a double page image from the Dark Knight Rises but I won’t hold it against them. It’s a premium production that’s roughly the same price as a Games Workshop codex but, if I’m brutally honest, is of a better quality. My only gripe is the showcase section of the book is 18 pages. Yes the models are cool but they could have been displayed in a more efficient way than that…like in the gang list section that doesn’t exist. But more on that later…

So in the Batman Miniatures Game players build crews of various types be they villains, cops or superheroes. The nice thing about the game, thanks to the variety of criminal scum in Batman, is that you can quite comfortably pit two criminal gangs against one another. Penguin verses Black Mask for example. Equally you can play games using just cops against the crims or just superheroes.

What has been well done is striking the balance between having the superheroes as walking examples of badassdom but still capable of being defeated if they’re singled out and attacked en masse.

The profiles are reasonable straight forward with key stats such as endurance, defence and attack all making an appearance. Where it suffers is the writing. It’s not badly written. It’s over written. Knights Models clearly wanted everyone to enjoy the Batman Miniatures Game so much that much of the book is over explained to the point that some parts I had to re-read to fully understand their meaning. It’s not the whole way through but I found myself skimming because I was getting bored of the repetition.

However this shouldn’t detract from what is essentially a very good game. A lot of thought went into the mechanic and how best to represent the fast paced action of the comics. For one thing every game is assumed to be set at night limiting line of sight to 30cm. This makes the game hugely tactical but suddenly makes anything that produces light a major threat or a major advantage depending on which end of it you’re standing.

image

In the Batman Miniatures Game each character has a Willpower value which indicates how many actions they can perform per turn. This elegantly allows the superheroes to kick face without having preposterously buffed stat lines as is common practise. Instead Batman gets to perform 8 actions per turn whereas your common crim only gets 5.

I can’t tell you much more about any character other than Batman because there are no profiles included in the book. Now, I didn’t know this which means that there’s a fair chance others picking up the book won’t either which is going to make for a big disappointment. Fortunately each model comes with a card so you won’t be forced to buy additional products so you can play the game.

That fairly major grumble aside the mechanic in Batman works well despite the abundance of tokens required to keep track of everything so, providing you know what you’re doing, each activation is reasonably quick.

Where it comes slightly unstuck is the two tiers of damage. Once you lose your endurance points you get knocked out. But there’s other forms of damage beside, which I’m not sure are needed and it took me three tries to understand how to inflict it and I’m still not sure how it works.

What is cool about the Batman Miniatures Game is the sheer volume of actions you can perform. Sure there’s running and face kicking but you can also do stuff like ping shots off objects to hit targets that would otherwise be hidden. Which is absolutely spot on for characters like Deadshot.

There’s also a list of special rules to put the 40k rulebook to shame. But it all goes towards making the game very cinematic and also encourages you to build and make use of, cool and groovy boards. Basically anything any character in a Batman comic has done you can do in the game. All you have to do is remember you have the option.

The sheer variety available reminds me of Inquisitor and that’s no bad thing.

What’s also pretty cool is a summary of the background at the back of the book for the less nerdy/initiated so everyone, not just the die yards, has a firm understanding of who’s who so they can make an informed choice over who to collect. Other than Batman. Obviously.

The Batman Miniatures Game is a good game. I was pleasantly surprised at how well thought out the game was to balance game play and authenticity. Yes the rules are a bit laboured in places but it doesn’t detract enough that I wouldn’t happily play it.

It’s touches like using reputation instead of points to govern the size of your crew as well as affixing a cash sum for equipment which stops players from having piles of hardware. The simple fact that superheroes are worth far more than henchmen you’re actually encouraged to think and fight like The Bat because you’ll get utterly spanked if you don’t. What the henchmen lack in ability they make up for in numbers and unbridled violence.

It’s great that the Batman Miniatures Game allows for and encourages you to take Jim Gordon and members of the GCPD and better still that going up against a supervillain is a genuine challenge for them. But most importantly, Batman or any member of the Bat Family aren’t unstoppable. Very tough to stop but still stoppable.

The Batman Miniatures Game rulebook is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.49.