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.

Valhalla Review

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At Salute I saw a lot of wonderful things, but each game system seemed to follow a similar path of a needing a large rulebook costing about £20,  so it’s nice to see a different approach in Valhalla, published by East Street Games. A Viking era skirmish game, harking back to the idea of cheap rule sets, no fixed model range and an emphasis on modifying as required rather than sticking to the letter of the rules.

It also has a unique online component built into the game, whereby you generate your warband, record any experience gained, and can then watch it grow with each victory.

As for the rules themselves, well they’re pretty solid, albeit with a few glaring holes that, at times, may be irritating. The most interesting of them is that you have several lines of health boxes which means, as they are filled in due to injury, a fighter gets progressively worse at fighting to represent having taken a few blows.

Games focus around ‘benches’ – groups of warriors commanded by a powerful leader who sets the morale and tells the warriors what to do. Each turn models have three action points to use which each model must use before moving to another, making turns quick and fast even with a dozen models on the table. In a nice nod to realism, you set your warriors tasks at the beginning of the game such as ‘burn those houses’ or ‘capture those villagers’ which your warriors won’t deviate from unless provoked, so its even possible that games could happen and warriors not encounter a fight at all, or else a crafty defender could pick off an opponent from afar before they have time to react.

Sod the historical realism though I hear you cry- how good is the combat!? Pleasantly brutal I have to say. Evoking the fast and deadly nature of hand to hand combat at the time, heroics by single models will result in a quick death for them as they get surrounded by enemies. So players with lone models caught off guard have to resort to stalling tactics until their friends turn up, or else risk running away. It’s for a good reason that Valhalla insists you start a game together as one bench. Teamwork is the name of the game here.

Now to talk about the online component, it’s pretty easy to set up and generate your own warband. Upload pictures of your models, choose what nationality you would like (Cornish, Saxon, Viking etc), the type of warrior you want, generate your models stats and then choose weaponry and equipment. Each page is dedicated to a single task, so you are never confused about what to do or how to do it and its a pretty quick process, with my two bands of Cornish and Gailic warriors (each 8 models strong) being generated in 30 mins.

Now the online mode is handy, but it also reveals some of the drawbacks of the method. For one, it relies on the East Street Games having the time to update the game as it promises it will. The rulebook itself has no scenarios in it and none on the site as of this time, so it would have been useful to have a few in the rulebook to get peoples imaginations going and tide them over until East Street Games found the time to upload a few more to the website. The reliance on the site for keeping track of each models generation, growth and equipment may irk a few used to doing that with pen and paper after each game. There’s also a few formatting errors in the rulebook that were very obvious and should have been caught by someone before printing happened.

Overall though, Valhalla is worth your time. Its a game that will reward you the more time you put into it if you are willing to meet it half way initially. The solid base of rules and encouragement of modding and changing the game yourself is an attitude I wish more game developers had.

If there’s a Viking era skirmish game worth trying today, try Valhalla. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at both the depth to the rules and at how cheap the game is, probably being £50+ for the two warbands of 12 warriors a side (depending on where you buy them) and a core rules system that should only get better with time.

Not bad for rules that only cost me £5.

Valhalla is available from East Street Games.

Last Saga – Final Hours

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So I owe the guys at Rocket Games an apology. I’d promised I’d write about the Beta rules of their game right back when their Kickstarter first…er…started. And whilst I read the rules I didn’t right about it. Or anything else. For almost a month. Can’t go into the whys and wherefores but it did mean I inadvertently dicked on a Kickstarter that I believe deserves every success. And they’re in to the last 2 days of their campaign.

Last Saga is 313% funded which is awesome. And having gotten to know the guys at Rocket I can say they deserve every penny and more. Having read the rules the game looks like a lot of fun. It has parallels with Bolt Action in the breakdown of actions but it has the flare of the cinematic as one would expect from a skirmish game, particularly one so driven by the narrative.

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Which, for me, is Last Saga’s big draw. It holds a butt tonne of stock in the story it tells both in the pages and on the board. This is a very very very good thing. All the factions have a distinctive feel rather than the same basic force with a wardrobe change. There is, of course, the bevy of skills and upgrades that make the different bods fun and make the campaign the best bit about skirmish games. I love the diversity of weapons (and big armoured suits) and the fact that these soldiers feel the strains of war – again, much like Bolt Action and Saga. Games of fine pedigree to be inspired by.

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Thanks to the success of the kickstarter thus far lot of models have been made available, all of which are on the kickstarter page. The rules are already undergoing revisions ready for release and models are being readied for production. It’s a very exciting time for the guys at Rocket.

Head over to the guy’s Facebook page to find out more about their game and then head to their kickstarter page to give them all the money.

Freebooter’s Fate – A Review

FF_logo_smallRegular readers will know the following:

1. I’ve reviewed quite a few Freebooter models.

2. I use them in Mordheim warbands because I like them far better than the Games Workshop models I’m supposed to use.

3. I have never played Freebooter’s Fate.

Well I decided that needed to change as it’s all well and good prattling on about how nice a range of models is, but it really should come from a place of understand as to how they work in the game they were intended for. So without further ado I give you Freebooter’s Fate

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Freebooter’s Fate is just another fantasy skirmish game. And you’d be right in so much as it’s a fantasy skirmish game. Where you’d be wrong though is that Freebooter’s Fate is really quite unique.

A main point of difference is that it’s unashamedly tongue in cheek. The book opens with a fantastic short story very elegantly introducing each of the main factions and why they want to kick each other’s heads in. But more than that it injects a light heartedness that is rarely seen in wargaming but doesn’t take it too far. It doesn’t mock itself or the gamer for that matter. It’s light and has a sense of humour but it’s still all about the kicking of face.

It’s other main point of difference, if two are allowed, is that it doesn’t use dice. At all. Of any kind. In fact the rule books threatens you with a miserable and gruesome death if you so much as look at a dice during play. No really. Freebooter’s Fate uses a deck of cards to determine not only the strength of the attack you unleash but also where you hit. The location, in turn, has a cumulative effect on the stats that part of the body relates to.

This is all rather clever because characters may not be terribly strong and therefore but brilliant at the swashbuckling game and so may take a while to reduce an opponents vitality to zero, however, they may have enough meat on bones to wound and wound reduces effectiveness which means that the character has a fighting chance of felling their opponent before, they too, get their face kicked in.

That’s not to say it’s without its frustrations as, depending on how well the deck is shuffled, you may find that you cave in someone’s skull quite quickly with a rash of high powered hits. However, because you can choose the location you hit and defend it adds an agonisingly tactical, and psychological element to the game as you attempt to second guess how your opponent will act.

What it also means, however, is that characters aren’t killed too quickly which is just as well as games can have a few as half a dozen blokes on the board each. Were it more along the lines of Mordheim it’d be over very quickly indeed. The downside of this, however, is paper work. I’ve always had mixed feelings about having to keep track of things by marking it on a card or paper. And with Freebooter’s Fate it’s made slightly worse because you either have to get card sleeves for all your character cards or, basically, ruin them by drawing all over them.

I have nothing against games in which all the characters are named…well I do actually, but Freebooter’s Fate has enough named tertiary characters that it works, but having to buy items that you wouldn’t normally need to play a wargame does bug me slightly. Dice, tape measures, boards, scenery. These are all things that are generally needed to play a wargame beyond toys and rules. Protective card sleeves and wipe clean pens, not so much. A roster pad, much like the ones available for Battlefleet Gothic, back in the day, or a double page spread that could be photocopied, I think would make things much easier. Granted, not as pretty as using the cards – which are very pretty – but it’ll keep the cards pretty for longer.

That aside, it’s a brilliant game. Characters are restricted to either 2 basic or 1 complex action a turn and the sheer volume of actions that characters can perform is staggering. There are dozens of them. This does mean that there’s quite a lot to remember, but that’s true of many games. Particularly one set in the grim dark distant grim dark future where there’s only grim dark war. Grim. Dark. There’s also a big pile of traits which make the characters unique. Although the mechanic is robust enough that there’s strong stat variation anyway. So coupled with the traits it does make for interesting games.

Although the rules are well written, and there’s handy tips throughout, I do wish that rules for actions is explained earlier on as the various rules mention simple and complex actions throughout but until you get to section 9 of the book you don’t know what any of them are. So I spent much of my time reading the rules slightly confused. And then felt like I had to go back and re-read the book with my finger marking the actions section like a child reading a fighting fantasy novel.

That aside, the game works very well. It’s detailed without being fussy, and quick without wondering why you bothered getting the game set up in the first place. The factions are also nicely presented, interesting and fairly balanced. I’m not sure how big you could take Freebooter’s Fate considering the record keeping involved but that’s fine. It won’t be the end of the world if you only play with half a dozen blokes at a time because the models are ace and the faction lists are varied enough that you can keep yourself amused for game after game whilst working your way through the fairly decent number of scenarios.

Freebooter’s Fate isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. It’s style and sense of humour is a different direction that not everyone will be on board with but I’m not one of them. I think Freebooter’s Fate is a brilliant fun game. I still want rosters, and I still want the rules to have a layout tweak but I’ll live without them. It’ll still be a characterful and fun skirmish game that allows me to swash-buckle, shout avast at my bemused opponents – even when it’s inappropriate to do so – and kick in a respectable amount of face.

Freebooter’s Fate is available from Firestorm Games priced £22.50 and the Freebooter’s Fate deck of cards priced £7.65.

The Freebooter’s Fate core model range is available from Firestorm Games from £7.19.

Dying Star Oblivion on Kickstarter

Another a week and another wargaming kickstarter I hear you say. Well yes, but we at The Shell Case don’t showcase any old tat; we have a far more sophisticated palate and so only waggle our searchlight on the shiniest and face mangiest of games.

This time it’s the turn of Dying Star Oblivion from Superfluid Industries based on the fantasy novels by Samsun Lobe.

For the uninitiated here’s the blurb from the first novel:

As the life-giving star, Shu, slowly makes its transition from a white to a black dwarf it changes the ocean planet of Gebshu and its moon beyond all recognition.

We follow Var of the Enki ocean tribe as he is thrust into a world he is struggling to understand. As Var battles against the elements, the unstable Emperor sends his two sons on a treacherous mission. We follow the characters as they encounter strange creatures, ancient races and each other. 

The bloody and violent action unfolds as the prophecy becomes entwined with Var’s destiny. Through his actions he will unknowingly decide the fate of the fading system.

Needless to say much crunching of heads and manging of faces ensues. And best of all you get to do it on a table top now. Huzzah I hear you shout.

Dying Star Oblivion looks so rather sexy. And, more importantly, it seems to be something a bit different. There’s not shortage of skirmish games out at the moment, each offering something unique but at the end of the day how much originality can there be when probability and dice are involved? Sometimes you just have to look at the premise and the toys and say ‘that makes me hot and hard’. DS: O is 28mm Techno Fantasy game and with its hugely differing tech levels and cultures it’s promising some very diverse factions with units and styles of play to match.

The Enki Anchorman

Granted it has the compulsory dwarf like blokes and something that looks a bit like a Chaos warrior, but as it has the bloke above and the critter below, so I’ll forgive it.

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Personally I’m really excited about this game. I like that it’s based on a trilogy of books and that the author is supporting it whole heartedly. It’ll only mean a continual enriching of the canon and new and exciting models, scenarios and campaigns which means it won’t stagnate. I like the premise of a far distant future in which technology has been lost, abandoned or forgotten so what little tech remains is jealously guarded or barely understood. I also like the fact that you can, if you so choose, play a small game on a 2×2 foot board or go all out on a 6×4 foot board.

I really think this project has legs so get your muscular butts over to the Dying Star Oblivion Kickstarter page and give them all your money.