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.

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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.

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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.

Why I’m Keeping My Old Codices

Tomorrow poor Mister Postie will be lugging an awful lot of very heavy boxes to the front doors of a lot very over excited geeks.

I am, of course, referring to the release of the much-anticipated and much debated 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000.

In addition to crippling postal workers across the globe (Dark Imperium weighs a stonking 2.5kg), the new edition of 40k is about to change the game and the background in some very dramatic ways.

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Anyone who follows the Warhammer Community page on the Facebooks will no doubt have seen the rule changes, the new – erection inducing – Primaris Space Marines and the galaxy map showing how royally fucked the Imperium is.

In the same way that Age of Sigmar rewrote (read erased) the Warhammer Fantasy universe, 8th edition Warhammer 40,000 is about to do something similar to the canon we know and love.

For new gamers this is no big deal. Total novices will enter Warhammer 40,000 with the galaxy already looking like someone spilt ink on a picture from Hubble. Or they’re new enough that the universe doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to more experienced gamers.

For us venerable old war dogs who have invested countless hours learning about the background – and 7 previous rule sets – we’re about to feel more like old dogs given new tricks.

That’s not to the say that the changes aren’t exciting (I actually knew about a lot of this for some time but more on that another day). I’m really pleased that the story is finally moving on and the freedom that can bring for narrative game play as well as future novels.

However, the background that I’ve spent the last 28 years learning is amazing and really rather precious to me so it seems a shame to cast out my old codices and supplements just because the rules aren’t relevant any more.

For me the background serves as a prologue for everything that comes next. Games Workshop have already stated that the previous books are still relevant from a background perspective.

The Gathering Storm books are especially worth hanging on to as they detail a lot of what’s referenced in the new book. Reading those before diving into the new edition will no doubt answer a lot of questions for the veterans gamers taking the leap from 7th to 8th.

I’m a little late to that party if I’m honest so let’s just acknowledge the fact that I turned up at all.

But there’s a few really simple reasons why the old codices and other books are worth keeping:

The Background is (in most cases) Really Good

The background has always been what made 40k and so walking away from that just seems crazy to me.

Change is good (you may as well embrace it because you’ve got no choice) but so is the journey so keeping a record is well worth it.

They give 8th Edition Context

The old source materials – particularly books like The Wrath of Magnus of the Gathering Storm trilogy – help to ground the new fluff so being able to refer back to that will be helpful.

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Plus according to a few sources there’s some easter eggs in the background that allude to all the mental shit that goes down. Finding them is proper nerdy fun.

The Books were Expensive

Let’s not kid ourselves, the rules, codices and supplements represent a significant investment.

I don’t begrudge that investment because a codex, per use, works out as one of the best value books you can own but that doesn’t mean you should just bin them every 5 years.

7th Edition isn’t Dead

As far as I can tell, the Horus Heresy will still be using the 7th Edition mechanic so there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t throw in some Orks or Eldar into your HH games.

We know the Imperium tussles with the other races of the galaxy before everything goes tits. To be honest, I’d love to see some games along those lines but I appreciate it would rather dilute the concept.

 

I cannot wait for my copy of 8th edition, or for the new Indexes or the new models. I’m excited to see where this is all headed and how many Primarchs will be returning to the fold.

But I’m also going to be looking back and marvelling at how far it’s all come and just how much fun it was getting there.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Codex Adeptus Astartes – A Review

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I must admit, when I saw a new Codex Space Marines had been released I had to check the date of my last review to make sure I wasn’t going mad. The previous edition was just 2 years old. Now I’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress (stop laughing) but that does seem a little soon and understandably makes people nervous about committing to a £35 book if it’s going to be replaced just 24 months later. It’s little wonder the illegal download underground is getting bigger all the time.

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As with other, more recent, Games Workshop publications, the by line is absent. Presumably to stop the bilious tirade directed at any one person that ensues when a new codex comes out. Bringing a new book so soon is bound to cause a certain degree of justified gnashing of teeth.

As with the previous book it’s just lovely to look at. From the cover art to every picture on every page is glorious and much of it, if I’m not mistaken, is new. Which for us old buggers is a bit of a treat. But there’s also a couple of images realised in colour that I’ve only seen in black and white, which is nice.

The quality of production has been increasedThe lining paper is a better fit and feels less luck it was stuck down by PVA. The hateful fold-in reference sheet is gone and with it the embarrassingly shonky folds.

Sadly the increase in quality doesn’t extend to the writing. There are fewer typos than the last book and they weren’t on the first page but they are still there. There’s also some stellar mixed metaphors, the worst of which is in the opening gambit. The background of Codex Adeptus Astartes feels, if I’m honest, nearly as lacklustre as the previous version. There have been some improvements for but the overarching theme doesn’t have any of the sense of urgency, drama or presence that previous books sweated from every surface. This book kinda feels like the Codex equivalent of the Amazing Spider-man 2: it’s drips with obligation rather than inspiration. It’s fulfilling of an intellectual property requirement rather than a promise of excitement, heroism and valour.

So Codex Adpetus Astartes isn’t worse than the 2013 Codex Space Marines. Hooray! Although I’m fairly certain there’s a smaller word count despite it being a thicker book (200 pages to 180). The artwork, splendid as it is, occupies a half page apiece on average. Sometimes more. The timelines in the previous edition were not only far prettier to look at, but more substantial. Each of the first founding chapters got fluff and timelines, that’s all been replaced by three of four paragraphs. It’s shame because the Ultramarines end up dominating the book more than they did before which does nothing to smooth over the – by this point – fairly mean-spirited bitching and belly-aching that is abound within the 40k community towards them. It would be good news for Ultramarines if the their background was written with any personality what-so-ever.

That said there’s some interesting tweaks to the background, one of which actually makes the Iron Hands interesting. Like: Horus Heresy books interesting. Like they’re all a bunch of repressed, self mutilating, sociopaths that are all one tin-man joke away from losing their shit and killing everyone. It’s brilliant. The best bits about the Heresy Salamanders is also evident, emphasising their compassion and their place as leaders of humanity rather than rulers. So whilst Codex Adeptus Astartes does condense, it does work harder to draw gamers towards the more exotic adherents of the Codex Astartes.

Overall though the layout of Codex Adeptus Astartes is strong and brings it in line with Codex Orks, which is a fantastic book. The army list is long but clear. The variety of Space Marine units available means there’s going to be a fair bit of flicking backwards and forwards for the purposes of army list writing but the upside it that you shouldn’t miss any notes or special rules with everything right there in front of you.

It does get a bit woolly in places and the Imperial Fists and their successor chapters are relegated to tertiary chapters whose histories focus around Lysander, Helbrecht and Grimaldus. But the good news for Black Templar players is they get an apology by way of really good Chapter Tactics. The Black Templars used to piss me off royally with their bullshit list of special rules. Whilst this list is thankfully a thing of the past, they still fare far better than most benefiting from bonuses to running, bonuses to Deny the Witch rolls, they get Counter Attack and Rage and all its cost them is the use of Librarians.

The rest of the rules are largely unchanged with a few points changes here and there. There’s been a subtle push towards flyers and anti-flyer units as the Stormtalon’s weapons systems have been halved in points and they get +1 to their jink save when hovering which makes them a massively more appealing option albeit at the cost of the Escort Craft special rule (this has been thrown into a formation instead). Equally the Stalker’s gun has lost a shot but can now split fire with its remaining three shots at Ballistic Skill 4 or, if it shoots at a single target it’s twin-linked. That’s nasty.

One of the changes that’s tickled me and is up there with equipping Havoc squads with plasma guns and a rhino as something to try is you can turn Tactical Squads into Wraightknight hunters. All you need to do is equip the squad with a grav-cannon, grav-gun and a grav-combi bolter. Although you could do similar with Devastator squads in a Rhino. You’d need to pick your moments wisely but it’d certainly make a real mess.

Master of the Forge appears to have gone the way of the Dodo and instead the humble Techmarine has had a 15 points increase but got an extra wound for their trouble with the option of all the cool and groovy upgrades. This is by no means the end of the world as you can still have a Techmarine leading your army but you’ve saved 25 points and it’s cost 1 point of Ballistic Skill.

The formations are no doubt what will get many hot and hard as it affords lots of big delicious bonuses for taking certain combinations of models. I deliberately missed out the word ‘expensive’ because it was obvious. Unfortunately it’s those with the deepest pockets or the biggest collections (they’re not necessarily the same thing) that will really benefit from these formations and they’re bonkers special rules.

Regular readers will know that I have two full companies of Ultramarines – 1st and 5th. This means I can, and often do, field a full battle company. This means I get all my transports for free. Hurrah! I can also field a Land Raider Spearhead the bonuses of which means I get to ignore everything but immobilised and vehicle destroyed results on the damage table as long as they stay in formation. Oh, and re-roll failed rolls to wound or for armour penetration. I mean really? I would actually feel embarrassed fielding that. I mean I’m gonna, but I’ll blush slightly as I kick the shit out of whoever I’m playing against.

Although there’s still no way to take a legal 1st Company army list which is such a shame, especially as the 1st Company formation feels more like they’re trying to push expensive models than because it’s accurate. It’s not the end of the world as gamers can just use an unbound list, it just would have been nice to give the option.

The hobby/showcase section in this Codex is huge. A fairly indulgent 43 pages compared to the previous 28 pages. So 15 of the extra pages in this version have been given over to pictures basically. Although I shouldn’t be surprised as most of the pages in the book have been given over to pictures. That said, because of the way the images are presented it’s going to make painting and marking Space Marine chapters are less painful experience now which is an extremely good thing. Thinking back to my staff days, one of the hardest things younger gamers had to deal with was getting that stuff right and it’s nice to see the book written inclusively rather than targeted at one audience or the other. I just wish it wasn’t quite so much of the book.

The reality of Codex Adeptus Astartes is that it’s essentially the second edition of the previous one. The background is blah rather than bad. The rules have had a review and there’s been a few interesting changes. Some subtle, some not so much. The presentation of the army list is clear and concise. The irritating things about the old book, like the folded reference sheet, are gone. It’s a nicer, better put together book.

I do still yearn for the days of Chapter traits because they made them all far more interesting. The tactics are fine and being an Ultramarine player I certainly can’t grumble but it still doesn’t quite grab me by the hobby spot. This said, there is still some improvements in there that’ll please one or two of the wargaming community. Unfortunately this book is, again, very much aimed at gamers that use Codex chapters. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing in there for Salamander players etc but there’s just not as much. Actually I’m pretty sure there’s less than before but I suspect that’ll be remedied with supplement books.

Overall Codex Adeptus Astartes is an average offering fixing many of the bugs in the previous books whilst introducing some interesting – albeit Easter egg sized – changes that will have far more impact than some appreciate. The formations are interesting enough that people will want to take them and broken enough that they’ll feel guilty doing it. But with some of the combinations out there, they won’t be alone. The background is a little stale but it is better but there’s still huge room for improvement. It is, end to end, beautiful. It’s also a big book about Space Marines.

Codex Adeptus Astartes is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

Fast Movers in 40k

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Last Thursday I got a game of 40k in using my new Ork army. As it was their second outing I thought I’d mix it up a bit and give the Dakkajet a try because, well it’s freaking cool. For reasons passing my understanding, I told Lee I’d be taking a flyer which prompted him to tweak his army list to cram in a Strom Raven. I can’t blame him, I just wanted to be a sod and spend all game strafing him with impunity.

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I was my usual jammy self and managed to get my Dakkajet on the board at the start of turn 2 and immediately set about hosing down an Imperial Guard squad. The Storm Raven came on the following turn and turned the sky around my Dakkajet into a swirling storm of explosions and hot lead in an attempt to turn the Howlin Git into a big cloud of tin foil and fire. But as I mentioned, I was jammy. Passing 6 out of the 7 Jink saves forced upon me resulted in me breaking off and attacking a second Guard section with the Raven in hot pursuit. The Dakkajet’s number as inevitably up but it struck me how (a) cinematic it all looked (b) how flyers didn’t break the game as I feared and (c) how introducing flyers is a natural evolution in army selection and encourages gamers to take ‘all comers’ lists rather than tailoring them to suit a specific force or army composition.

Lee had a tactical advantage in so much as I’d told him I was taking a flyer. However ‘best practice’ as it were suggests that he should allow for that likelihood anyway. With pretty much every army having a flyer of some sort it’s reasonable for us as gamers to have a contingency to deal with them should we find the sky filling up with fast movers. Units with skyfire rules or an upgrade or ammo type. A flyer of your own is not unreasonable and if it turns out your opponent hasn’t taken one then you get to dominate the skies. It’s not exactly a lose lose situation other than the often heavy point investment required. Or you make the decision to ignore it and hope for the best. Having witnessed what my piddly Ork flyer can do I don’t necessarily recommend that option. A flyer will rarely win you the game, but it will give your opponent a headache whilst the rest of your army does the business.

But the point is this: Flyers were an important missing piece of the 40k puzzle. I was quite possibly the biggest sceptic (well joint first with Lee) when they first started to appear in 40k. It was a combination of things as to why. Firstly it was how simply flyers worked in Space Marine – that was never going to translate well in the creaking behemoth that is the 40k rule book. Secondly, the rules seemed reminiscent of Epic 40k. Which was such a wallowing turd of a game I was immediately concerned. And finally my feeling was that they would unbalance the game and give Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines and Necrons an insurmountable edge.

Whilst the latter is partially true it re-emphasises the point that 40k is at its best when armies are interesting. Built around combined arms rather than designing a power list to spank the living shit out of your opponent in three turns or less. And then hit on their momma. Solid cores of troops, elite units, assault elements, armour, artillery. All working together to the greatest effect. Add in aircraft and it all suddenly makes sense. It adds an extra layer to the combat, adds a new threat to the previously tame skies. It forces gamers to think in three dimensions beyond vantage points in buildings.

Plus it’s outrageous amounts of fun. Building the kits is awesome. It takes those early days of building Airfix F14 super Tomcats to a whole new (and way cooler) level. And using them is ace. They look great on the board, the rules make for new and interesting tactical decisions for both players. And board set up too has never been more important. Playing hideously open boards that have no place being anywhere other than Warhammer Fantasy or Lord of the Rings will spell doom and misery for any units that fall under the guns of a flyer. But I suppose that could make for interesting scenarios too and allow you to recreate the odd scene from the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. No bad thing there.

In short – flyers have changed the game of 40k far more than I ever realised, and for the better. The potential for aerial shenanigans encourages gamers to write more flexible army lists. Tactics have to be rethought and adapted. The space has never been more three-dimensional and board layout is vital to affording your troops the protection they’ll need. It doesn’t mean flyers are overpowered because they’re not. They’ll still get shot to bits by one another and even without skyfire, it’s not as hard as you’d think to shoot something down, because I’ve done it. Of course there’s a commercial argument. If you have a flyer I have to buy one too. Little bit of yes, little bit of no. No one forces you to do anything and there are alternatives. But I struggle to entertain the financial point of view because chances are we’ve already spent a couple of hundred pounds on our armies already. What’s another thirty? Flyers represent an opportunity to bring some of the excitement, dynamism and scale from the artwork to the board. And that cannot be a bad thing.

-Phil

Warhammer 40,000: Regicide

So another Warhammer 40,000 game is in production. This time it’s 40k Chess. To be honest I have no feelings one way or the other on how good or not it will be. Or even how advisable it is to make a 40k version of the original strategy game when Games Workshop spend a lot of energy telling everyone theirs is the best. However the teaser and the animations look epic so for now I don’t really care.

And pay special attention to the bolters and heavy bolters when they fire. Because you can actually see the contrail of the bolt round’s rocket igniting. Which is pretty badass.

10 Years of Dawn of War

warhammerdowI was surprised to learn today that it’s been 10 years since the release of the original Dawn of War game. This auspicious occasion couldn’t be marked without a few words about a game that I not only invested hours of my life in but helped redefine the RTS genre.

When I first heard about the game I don’t mind saying that I was not optimistic. Up to then all the Games Workshop video games had been pretty shit. With the possible exception of the Space Hulk game on the Amiga and Commodore 64. Yes, I’m that old. Sod off. However as details began to emerge about gameplay – such as making use of hard and soft cover, as well as some semblance of a force organisation chart – I started to grow more positive.

Then I saw the graphics. Whilst it looks a little dated now, at the time they looked pretty sweet. The environment felt like the 41st Millennium. The Space Marines were a loyal representation. The animation was believable. And the finishing moves for each of the commanders was awesome. And best of all you could zoom right down into the action. Granted you needed a pretty meaty machine (10 years ago) to do that and it not crash but that was and is the joy of PC gaming.

When my copy arrived and I went through the lengthy install process then hit play. And I’m so very glad I did. The opening cut scene even now looks awesome. It bugs the living hell out of me because those few Orks could never take down a squad of Space Marines. And no sane Space Marine squad sergeant would allow his unit to meet a mob of Orks in open combat, but as I say, it looks awesome.

Actually it was awe inspiring. Those kinds of animations were rarely seen let alone in a Games Workshop computer game. Moreover it declared to the world that an animated Space Marine movie was possible. We’ve had one stab at it already and the fan made Lord Inquisitor on its way. One day… But the point is that it set imaginations on fire.

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The campaign was a little ropey in terms of plot and voice acting. It was caught in that classic trap of a publisher wanting it to be accessible to non-fans and a team of writers who knew the lore but couldn’t write very well. But well enough that the campaign trundled along quite happily albeit laboriously at times. I do confess to being quite glad it was over when I finished the final mission.

What it did do very well was encourage different styles of play and tactical decisions rather than the classic ‘build a base, build loads of blokes’ approach. Which whilst fun is never gonna win you the big scores in the press.

The game also introduced us to the Blood Ravens. A most intriguing bunch who I guessed from the get-go their true origins. A chapter that likes psykers and wears red and bone armour. Remind you of anyone? That aside, they’ve become a part of the 40k lore and I’ve seen many an army take to the table. Which I think is a benchmark of the game’s success. That it’s influencing hobby as well as the hobby influencing it.

That said, it was never the plot that made Dawn of War the game we know and love today. It was how faithfully the models had been lifted from the table and put into a PC game. No one had tried to be clever with the styling or reinvent the wheel. They looked like rendered models kicking the living shit out of each other and that was and is awesome. It was incredibly satisfying watching a tactical squad take apart a unit of Ork Boyz. And the first time a Land Raider rolled off the production line and opened up with its lascannons was a very special moment.

However, where the game got really fun was the skirmish mode. 4 players, either online or AI or both, racing to build a base and kick the living daylights out of each other. My online experiences were tarnished by people running a force commander into my base, calling down a lance strike to cripple my capacity to do, well, anything and then suffer the indignity of sitting and watching a single tactical squad slowly shoot the few buildings that survived to pieces. However, if you went up against an opponent that wasn’t a total bell end it was the best fun. And you could spend hours with the delicate dance of war.

One of my favourite memories was a game against a vastly superior player to me. He was out foxing me at every turn and it was only through sheer tenacity I was able to hold him back long enough to force a withdrawal. Up to this point I’d been putting my efforts into building a strike force so instead I put everything I had into building an overlapping defence network with a few Dreadnoughts in amongst there as well. By the time the inevitable attack came there were so many heavy bolter turrets opening up that entire secitons of the map weren’t visible. And by this point I had a few squads in reserve so once committed what was a holding action became a route and I was able to roll up his force and destroy his base. It truly was a superb game.

And that’s really the point. Dawn of War is a superb game. The supplements kept the game fresh and kept fans of the armies happy. Although I never completed the Winter Assault campaign. I just found using the Imperial Guard tedious. Which is exactly how I feel about using them on the board so they clearly got the feel for the army dead on.

It’s times like this that you realise how much you enjoyed something and the only reason you stopped playing was because you forgot you had it. It’s easy to blame time but the reality is that we all filled our days with new games like Dawn of War II – which I just couldn’t get on with – and left it on a shelf to collect dust and ultimately get sold on.

But for those that did sell on your copies – you fools! – you’re in luck. The lovely people over at Relic are doing a competition to celebrate Dawn of War’s anniversary by giving away a big pile of cool shit including the games. Head over to their site to find out how you could win.

And remember, only in death does duty end… Ugh.

-Phil

Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade Pre-Alpha Gameplay

Graphics aside, because it is pre-alpha, this so far looks like the Space Marine multiplayer. Which I personally thought sucked. One must assume there’s going to be some plot and many places to explore.

But right now here’s some poorly rendered Space Marines having fisty cuffs with some poorly rendered Chaos Space Marines…