Rogue One – A Review

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Ruination Battle Cards – A Review

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Now I think it’s fairly common knowledge that I’m not a massive fan of collectible card games. There’s 3 reasons for this:

  1. The absence of dice
  2. The absence of models
  3. The utterly twattish way I’ve seen some people build their decks.

However, whilst at the Bournemouth comic expo I spotted a familiar face. It belonged to the incredibly tall and extremely friendly Samsun Lobe, the man behind the Dying Star trilogy of books that the failed Kickstarter of the same name was based on.

Whilst the team behind the game are hard at work redoing the models and buffing up the rules for another run at Kickstarter (next year I believe) Samsun has been busy developing and putting out a collectible card game based on his second trilogy of books called Ruin.

Now before I get accused of betraying my principles and such this collectible card game uses, wait for it…dice. But more on that later.

The Ruination Battle Cards starter set that I was able to get my mits on comes with two decks, some spells, a game mat/board/sheet/thing and the aforementioned dice. It’s all nicely presented with foam inlay to keep everything nice although the cut out for the foam is a little snug which makes getting the cards in and out a slightly stressy experience. I was worried about ruining them.

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Part of the reason for that is that the cards don’t have rounded edges which makes them prone to foxing and excessive wear. And whilst production value is high the card feels s little thinner than other games – of any type – so a little more care will be needed in terms of keeping them nice.

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Although it’s care you won’t mind taking because all the cards are beautiful. There’s a lovely blend of conventional artwork and renders but all of it looks fantastic. Granted, there’s no associated fluff with the starter set so until you read the books or go to the website the various characters and spells aren’t going to mean…anything at all. Which is actually a bit of a shame. A leaflet on the world of Ruin would be a welcome addition to the starter set, just to wet your whistle.

To put it in context it’s like having Space Marine models without knowing anything about Space Marines. Yes they’re cool looking models but so what? Although at least with a deck of gaming cards you can at least muddle through a game.

And on to the game itself. As mentioned you get too decks and boosters are available so you have the option of building your deck as you see fit (grumble grumble grumble) however – and this what stops the game from being a duel of dickishness is the a combination of the cards and the dice.

The cards, like the time-honoured game of Top Trumps, has multiple values. Six in point of fact. So (and I think you can see where I’m going with this) in a game of Ruination a dice is rolled per round and that value determines the stat you compare. The weaker card is defeated and the winner stays on and the dice is rolled again. Spells can be used to augment the result but as you only get eight they have to be used sparingly.

The multiple profiles and the dice role means that building a deck is an agonising process as you need a firm strategy weighted by the law of averages both in terms of what cards you take but the order in which you stack your deck. Some cards are the proverbial Top Trump and nigh on unbeatable whereas others are much more of a risk. Which I like. The dice adds in that level of unpredictability that prevents the kind of power gaming that’s always put me off this kind of game.

The incredibly easy mechanic means that you’ll be playing within minutes and each game will be fast paced and actually a lot of fun. And for those gamers who don’t always have much time or want to smite a colleague over a lunch hour, this is ideal.

Ruination Battle Cards is actually a lot of fun. Am I a collectible card game convert? No. Will I play this? Yes. It still needs that last little spit and polish – mainly in the form of some kind of background sheet – to make it perfect but broadly it’s there.

You can purchase Ruination Battle Cards from Samsun Lobe’s website priced at £20.00.