Mailfaux – A Review

Malifaux

Well actually it should technically be Malifaux 2nd edition – a review but who wants to get bogged down in semantics? So this review has probably been a long time coming, especially as I can’t resist a skirmish game and it must be said that with so many great games out there we did sort of let the 1st edition rules pass us by. That said good things come to those who wait and when Phil dropped the rule book off to me I wasn’t disappointed.

rules

So for those of you that don’t know, Malifaux is a skirmish game designed by Wyrd Miniatures for 32mm scale models. If you are anything like me then I am sure you are saying nothing new there (because I know I did). However that reaction was short-lived. The game, like many others, is based on an alternative version of Earth and is heavily focused on magic, but describes itself as a collection of Gothic, Steampunk and Victorian Horror with a dose of the Wild west thrown in. Now I’m sure you will agree that is quite a combination and makes for a game with a fairly unique feel.

With this mish-mash of genres the game has a really diverse background and brings with it some very unique factions and given Wyrd almost unlimited possibilities when designing the characters for each. This has resulted in some great miniatures and some really likeable characters that I am looking forward to collecting.

Mal img 1

Perhaps likeable is the wrong word…Mal img 2 Mal img 3 Mal img 4

For Malifaux 2.0, Wyrd has increased the number of factions so there are now 7 to choose from and with each one being very different. It means there is almost definitely a faction for every brand of mayhem. Wyrd have also been clever as there are different groups within each faction meaning that you can even take the same faction in several different directions.

With such an original background to get excited about I was initially surprised when the premise of the game was quite so standard. A city in ruins begins to be repopulated and opposing factions are fighting for territory and resources (in this case Soulstones). For any Mordheim player (or for that matter any skirmish gamer), this is nothing new. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that is a bad thing. There is a simple reason why so many games use this formula…because it is fun and it works. What Wyrd have done well with Malifaux is thinking up a variety of scenarios to play, including a lot of character driven stories, that will keep things fresh. And I must say some of them sound quite cinematic, which I always like.

So onto the book itself, I am pleased to say that my first impressions were positive. The print quality is pretty good and the book doesn’t feel cheap, which is one of my biggest gripes with some other gaming around, especially when you consider the price you are expected to pay for them. Considering the variety of styles Malifaux incorporates, most of the artwork has done a really good job of capturing the feel of the Malifaux universe and life through the breach.

The book is set out in a logical way which makes sense to read, taking you first on a journey through the background. There are a lot of great stories, setting the scene for each faction and some of their main characters which helped me decide which faction was for me. It also gives you all the profiles and rules you need for each faction so there is no need to buy a separate army book which is always a win. But it’s a two-edged sword as background can be sacrificed on the altar of page limits.

Wyrd have split the Malifaux rules into 3 parts, starting with the basics then going into more depth on the game’s core mechanics and then working examples of all elements of a turn within the game. Examples are well explained and although more diagrams could be useful, it seems that Wyrd have fine-tuned their explanations since version 1 as most of them are very clear. This methodical approach will hopefully prevent a lot of aimless flicking through the book for the one rule you really need but can’t find.

The game has some quite unique game mechanics that make it feel different to others with the biggest difference being that Malifaux doesn’t use any dice. At all. Instead you use a fate deck based on a standard poker deck, and if I’m honest I am not 100% sure of how I feel about this. Call it naivety or delusion but I always feel as if I have some influence over a random dice roll whereas with a card deck you know you will only ever score four 13’s and you are quite likely to score four 1’s. It certainly is an interesting way of ensuring a levelling the playing field, that is unless you want to cheat fate. Once I had read the rules I was interested to see that Wyrd have added a way to cheat fate by allowing you to have a small hand of fate cards you can choose to play instead of drawing from the main fate deck.

fate

The rules seem to work well and make for a very enjoyable game or short campaign, especially if you play one of the character driven story lines but there does seem to be one factor that other skirmish games may do better and that is character development. Malifaux hasn’t completely neglected this as they have included some faction specific upgrades that can be purchased for characters. Whilst this does help to slightly improve your characters I’m not entirely sure it will be enough to really get you attached to you heroes as they develop new skills or issues which is something that Mordheim, for example, really excels at. This could only really prove to be a real issue in long-term campaigns and certainly doesn’t stop it being really enjoyable for one-off games, or short campaigns and it is definitely a game I can’t wait to play more.

The Malifaux 2nd edition rule book is available at Firestorm Games priced £25.19.

– Neil

Dystopian Wars Russian Coalition – A Review

rc-naval-battle-group-gallery

As it’s been a while since I looked at something from Spartan I thought I’d take a look at the Russian Coalition starter set because, well, I think they look ace. And ace they are. Weirdly, for me, the tiny flyers are a stand out favourite. They’re just a very cool looking plane. Equally the rest of the ships  ooze that perfect balance of steampunk technology and the bludgeoning, relentless design aesthetic we’ve come to expect from anything Russian. So the hulls are very sleek and sharp but with ablative armour welded all over the place and the crudity of heavy industry evident along its flanks guns, bridge and engine room with dirty great smoke stacks, ugly piping, corrugated steel roofs and boilers on the outside. It’s a fantastic contrast which is carried through to the gun turrets which are much the same.

You’ll also notice that the frigates are round. Based on the poorly designed and ill-fated Popovkas the design is amusingly similar which rather suggests it would have the same catastrophic tendency to catch fire, spin itself around when firing its guns or otherwise just be a bloody nightmare to move or keep afloat. They’re very much a Marmite model and if I’m honest, I kind of like it. Unlike the bombers which look like, if I’m brutally honest, a steampunk fleshlight. And I suppose Sputnik. You can add your own jokes there.

Like other Spartan models the detail is very good and cast well, although not quite to their usual standards as I had a couple of tiny flyers that were miscast. Still usable but still. The larger ships had a bit of flash here and there but it was nothing to worry about and those models that require assembly all go together seamlessly. Which is nice.

As with all the non-core fleets, the starter set comes with a booklet containing a bit of background and the fleet list. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about Spartan’s ability to write fluff. It’s always felt a bit all over the placed and cobbled together because their focus has always been the models. The Russian background however was rather well done. It set the scene well, and read much like a Codex or Army Book. High praise indeed. Well almost. Just as it was getting good they decided to spoon feed us why Russia was at war with certain nations which thoroughly ruined the flow and feel of the background. But as it was at the end it could have been much worse.

But what of the ships themselves? Well, at first glance they look horrid. They’re not not horrid mind, but they’re not the unstoppable vessels of slaughter one might assume. Their guns throw out a lot of dice but only in range bands 1 & 2 but the sheer weight of fire will mean that if anything is unlucky enough to get caught will be tin foil and match wood before you can say ‘by Jove!’. The obvious response would be to soften them up at range or hammer them with torpedoes or rockets. Well no. Because the other thing the Russians have is special rules and generators ups the arse. Pages of the blessed things. It rather highlights the limitation of the mechanic if this many special rules are needed to make the faction different.

The Russians get generators to inhibit missile attacks, generators to inhibit torpedo attacks and, just to be cheeky, a generator that allows you to mimic the effects of another generator nearby. Oh and they have a glacier generator just coz. Throw in ablative armour that raises its damage rating to be the same as its critical rating until it sustains that first level of damage and Russian ships are unpleasantly tough nuts to crack using the obvious tactics of keep your distance and chip away at them, because it just won’t work. Which is rather bad news for the FSA.

They are, however, slow and not quite as tough would first appear. They have lower than average critical ratings and utterly shite ack and concussion charges. Againt, the obvious tactic of chipping away with rockets and torpedoes would have rather limited success considering the generators but they’d get absolutely battered by a strong air force. I can also see fleets like the Covenant and French making life unpleasant for them with particle cannons and thermal lances, providing they can get close enough, but their respective generators should give them a degree of protection and the redoubtable special rule for the French would help further still.

Equally their chunky broadsides and fairly decent fire arcs means that outflanking isn’t so straight forward either. However, if a Prussian flotilla were to bide its time and draw the Russians in they could easily get behind them and be able to harass them with impunity. And that’s where the Russians are vulnerable if they don’t keep their formations. The gung-ho, all guns blazing, approach won’t work despite their incredibly short-range.

The Russians are a nasty fleet, especially for the points. They’re hard to hurt and hard to handle when they close to range. They do, however, have easily exploitable weaknesses if your opponent knows their fleet and compared to other fleets they are horribly under armed. Only the weight of shots they can chuck out evens it up, although the ablative armour is perhaps over egging the pudding somewhat. But equally there are ways round that too.

I’m pleasantly surprised by how the Russians play. I honestly expected them to be a crude, cheap, and explosively violent fleet but actually it’s very considered that attempts to provoke its enemies. Then it becomes explosively violent. Interestingly I can see the Russians being good for beginners because they are, essentially, straight forward to use, but an experienced gamer would also enjoy the challenge they represent, particularly when it comes to all the rules.

The Russian Coalition starter fleet is available from Firestorm Games priced £29.25.

Britannia Rules the Waves

Well they like to think they do. Those damn Brits and their silly delusions of global dominance. The Covenant know what’s what.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a look at some of the goodies beyond the starter fleet and the dreadnought available to the tea drinking, stiff upper lip having, salty seamen (oh yes I did).

So first up is the Avenger Class fleet Carrier.

Now one of the thing I love about the Britannian fleet is, more than any others is that sense of improvised ‘it’ll do’. Good enough is good enough. The designs are low-budget and the contractors bid even lower than that to build them. They’re all crude steel, ballast tanks and prows akin to 1940’s bras.

The Avenger Class is, essentially, two Ruler Class battleships lashed together with a flight deck on top. Which is just awesome. Actually it’s batshit crazy but that’s what makes it awesome.

The great thing about the Avenger class from a modelling point of view is that it is, in fact, two Ruler Class battleships lashed together which means you know what to expect from that point of view. The rest of the model is pretty straight forward to put together with minimal faff and the flight deck is a nice thick bit of resin which holds the struts nicely.

My only gripe about the model there’s nothing to fill the two holes beneath the flight deck where the smoke stacks would normally go. To be fair it can’t be seen when you’re playing the game but you’ll know it’s there and cringe every time someone picks up the model to take a squizz at it.

In game terms she’s a bit of an expensive old dame considering how quickly she’ll fall to bits. But what she lacks in resilience she sure does make for it with bite. Toting no less than four weapon systems, two of which are torpedoes she’ll not only give you a bloody nose but she’ll do so at range band 4. The problem is that she’ll be most effective at range band 2, like most ships. And most ships are far more effective in a straight up fight, although 11 fore torpedoes is not to be sniffed at.

The Avenger Class is a genuine warship, unlike the FSA carrier that’s for girls. She won’t take a lot of punishment but the torpedoes means she’ll keep fighting to her last. If it were me I’d take two battleships and stick the Avenger in the middle.

On to the Agincourt Class gunship.

Now these suckers are a bit tasty. 20 points more than a Tribal Class cruiser it has an extra point of damage, critical rating and hull. For those 20 points you also get a slightly improved turret and fore torpedo battery. The gunship however, swaps out its torpedo broadside for a rear mounted torpedo turret. I’m not too sure about this as the cruisers enabled you to sail through an enemy formation and dish out damage all the way through and out the other side. The torpedo turret has a 180 degree arc to the rear which rather suggests that the tactic is deterring anything that’s survived which it will because you’re initial volley won’t be as punchy.

Tactically gunships rely either on a protracted flanking action so they can hammer a larger target, or work in concert with a unit of Tribal Class, one punching a hole, the other sailing through and delivering the killing blow. Just bear in mind they’re still British and will explode from a strong breeze.

The models themselves are a bit mixed for me. They’re kinda like someone put a Tribal Class in a car crusher for a few minutes being shorter and stockier than its sister ship. But I suppose its kinda the point. It’s a blunt instrument. Well, a blunt instrument by the usual blunt standards of the Britannian fleet.

The Swift Class Corvette is quite the contrast. It’s sleek, it’s sexy and…pointless.

Perhaps a little harsh but at 20 points a pop they’re soft and squishy and have a pretty shit gun. What makes them scary is when a unit of 5 mob something, but even then they’ll be outclassed by most opposing models of similar class. However, they are mad fast – movement 13 and they’ve got the Elusive Target special rule. Which I guess is the point of Corvettes, they’re the sacrificial lambs of the Britannian fleets. Not very sporting really but they’re great at getting up close and making a nuisance of themselves.

The models are seriously lovely. As I say, they’re sleek and look as fast as they play. If I’m honest, they’re my favourite models in the Britannian fleet next to the dreadnought (which is the automatic favourite of every fleet – it’s the law).

The Orion Class destroyers, on the other hand, are awesome. The big brother of the frigate and 10 points more it’s essentially the support ship equivalent of the gunship. And like the gunship its the bulkier option. Purely in the looks department you understand, in-game terms it’s no tougher.

What you get for the extra points is one fewer turret but an extra 2, 3 & 2 torpedoes at range bands 2-4. Which is actually bloody horrid. To put it another way, a unit of 4 Orion class destroyers at range band 2 will throw out 15 dice. Fifteen. Fucking. Dice. For 140 points.

They are the ultimate mob unit and worth every penny and every point. They’re just horrible and smell and they are bum faces. But for all their scary mobbing power they are still support ships and made from paper mache and positive thoughts. They will die. But if you use their firepower and 11 inch move wisely they will take something much bigger down with them.

 

 

 

The Covenant’s 5th Fleet – The Night Watch

With my Covenant fleet painted over a 15 day period and finished (for now) here’s the full background for them, as promised, and complete with shiny pictures.

Commissioned in 1860, the 5th Fleet was charged with patrolling the dark waters surrounding the Covenant’s domain. Initially little more than a task force made up of cruisers and frigates, coordinated by the battleship CSS Stalwart, the fleet was forced to spend prolonged periods of time isolated from one another as they plied the vast stretches of waters surrounding the ice floes for raiders or other threats to the Covenant’s sovereignty.

Before the renowned Commodore Aldus Stone took command, the 5th saw little action beyond clashes with the Kingdom of Britannia’s Falklands units that strayed too close to the Covenant’s borders, but these were little more than pot shots. Stone changed all that. A dour man hailing from the home counties of England he made a living as a game keeper in the employ of the Earl of Wessex. A tracker of superlative skill, a master of the silent kill and lethal with an elephant gun. Working for the Earl man and boy it was believed he was destined for great things. However fate had other ideas when the Earl’s eldest son drunk and in a rage with his father accidentally shot and killed Stone’s wife, the Earl’s housekeeper. Were this great tragedy not enough but the Earl utilising his significant influence had the entire matter swept under the carpet. Stone, realising his true place in Britannian society, was a broken man. Tired with toiling for a man whose sole interest was growing fat on the blood and sweat of the people, Stone made the long and dangerous journey South to the Covenant of Antarctica looking for a life with purpose.

Stone was not idle for long, being drafted into the Covenant armed forces in 1862. To his surprise, Stone was assigned to the navy and the 5th fleet rather than the army. His self-sufficiency and innate ability for the silent kill made him perfect for the dangers of patrolling the Covenant’s waters. Initially assigned to the frigate Too Quiet Stone impressed his superiors with his hit and run defence of the Western ice floes against a FSA raiding party. Although his ship was crippled, and eventually sunk, he delayed the FSA long enough that the rest of the 5th fleet was able to surround the FSA and destroy them utterly.

It didn’t take long for Stone to ascend the ranks and find himself at the head of the 5th fleet off the back of a string of daring actions keeping the Covenant’s borders safe. He achieved the rank of Commodore after he led the 5th fleet into the heart of Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands, on an unauthorised but successful rescue of Covenant POWs without a shot being fired in 1867. His first order was to have the fleet painted raven black to reflect the Night Watch moniker the fleet had earned in their many night sorties and defensive actions.

Although a lonely man with a solitary and single-minded command style that sat ill with the Covenant hierarchy, there was no denying that the 5th was clearly wasted as a patrol force and was pressed into front line service as the Covenant’s warmachine took the fight to the rest of the world in 1869. Under Stone’s command the 5th fleet won a score of victories against the great powers of the world,with more and more assets being assigned to the fleet to extent that Stone’s flag now resides aboard the dreadnought CSS History’s Judgement.

Despite the 5th Fleet’s many victories, Stone’s naturally cold nature combined with his unflinching belief in the Covenant’s cause, has seen several instances of excessive force by the vessels under Stone’s command. There have even been reports of executions of enemy sailors stranded at sea. However the fleet seem to reserve their worst brand of violence for the vessels of the Britannic navy. No one knows why this is, not even the crew of the Night Watch itself, but all sailors of the Kingdom of Britannia know that if they spy a black ship on the horizon they should beware. The condemnation of his superiors is never far behind the 5th Fleet but if Commodore Stone cares he gives no sign.

However, Stone’s popularity at home and infamy abroad has made it difficult for any meaningful sanction to be levelled against him or the captains beneath his command. Indeed there are many within the fleet that believe themselves untouchable, and even above the rest of the fleet. To many Stone is a hero. Others see Stone and the 5th as a rogue element that sooner or later will either turn on their own or be brought to task. Which ever the answer be, none can deny that Stone and his fleet of raven black ships are a powerful force both at home and abroad.

The battleships of the 5th fleet share a rivalry that borders on the reckless. The Sword of Truth has a long and illustrious history formerly at the hands of Commodore Stone and now with the firm hand of Captain Jacob Harris. The Shield of Reason however had only just been commissioned 2 years previously. Captain Oscar Ashwind, a native to the Polar South, is determined to see his vessel recorded in the annals of history no matter the cost.

The Sword of Truth was once known as the Stalwart, the flagship of the 5th Fleet prior to the commissioning of the CSS History’s Judgement. A proud ship with an illustrious and bloody history. It was the Stalwart, under Stone’s command, had sailed into Port Stanley during the daring raid to rescue Covenant POWs. When command passed to Captain Jacob Harris there was much pomp and ceremony as few ships in the Covenant navy had seen as much combat as the Stalwart. Captain Harris was one of Stone’s prodigies and was almost as angry and bitter with the world having come up through the ranks listening to Stone’s rhetoric.

Although Harris had every right to be bitter. Hailing from Boston in the FSA and raised Irish Catholic he had a successful fishing business, a well-regarded family and was betrothed to a lady of good standing and better breeding. And all at the age of twenty-two. Harris was a keen boxer and had a weakness for cards although a sixth sense kept him from losing either that often. But his real weakness was the comfort he found in his fiancée. Both were raised as devout Catholics and knew the risks of indulging in carnal desires but neither cared. Until his betrothed fell pregnant.

Buckling under the weight of responsibility, despite the mutual familial support, he fled to the ocean on-board one of his fishing steamers. It didn’t take long for him to realise his cowardice and brought the boat about. However fate intervened and a storm crippled the vessel before it could make port. Set adrift it took a month for Harris to coax the boat home. In his absence his assets had been seized by his fiancée’s family to support her as she was now all but outcast. Ostracised and destitute Harris stole one his former vessels and headed South.

Assigned to the 5th Fleet as a rating his seamanship skills were quickly noticed and quickly ascended the ranks. He saw Stone has a kindred spirit and proof, if any were needed, that a broken man need not stay broken and his could visit his vengeance on those wronged him. Harris was far better at concealing his anger at the world and his promotion to Captain was quickly affirmed. He wasted no time renaming the Stalwart as much to symbolise the passing of a torch as to represent the righteous history the ship had. Her hull black as night, she was a true predator of the oceans and had the kill count to suit.

To list its successes under Stone would take time but arguably longer under Harris’ command. Volunteering the Sword of Truth for any and all covert or surgical strike missions to test the mettle of his ship and crew. The Sword made headlines world-wide for infiltrating and laying waste to the naval yards at both Boston and New York city before slipping off into the night. The attack was condemned by the FSA and her allies for the loss of civilian life and although the Covenant didn’t agree with Harris’ methods, like much of the 5th Fleet, they couldn’t argue with the results.

The Sword of Truth would continue its reign of terror in the Atlantic Ocean both as part of wider fleet actions and on its own attacking supply ships and patrols with impunity, each attack more ruthless than the last as Harris and his crew became every more proficient at their craft until fate once again intervened. The FSA, frustrated with the constant loss of their supply ships laid a trap, arming the supply ships with turrets and concealing torpedo bombers where possible. As the Sword of Truth sailed silently amongst the supply ships all but submerged, it took its first ranging shot. However instead of scattering vessels, the ocean lit up with explosions as turrets responded all around the noble battleship.

In the same moment bombers took to the skies, the air filling with whizzing tracers and the howl of prop engines. Harris, furious at the FSA’s deception ordered all weapons to fire as the battleship fought free of the supply ships that were slowing encircling it. As explosions blossomed in the night sky the bombers dropped their payloads, torpedoes surging towards the Sword, ripping gaping wounds in the ship’s hull. Fires broke out across the Sword as she fought with all her worth to break out. Harris realised he stood at the edge of his undoing and was ready to give the evacuation order when explosions tore through a vessel on the Sword’s port side. A moment later another supply ship blew apart, its hull snapping in two and dropping beneath the waves. In the half-light of burning fuel Harris and his crew could make out the forms of jet black Covenant frigates as they dipped beneath the waves to unleash deadly torpedo salvos.

Seeing his opportunity Harris ordered the Sword to surface and make a break for it however a heavy transport blocked her path, a 36inch cannon mounted on her prow slowly rotating for a killing shot. Harris did not hesitate, ordering the use of the particle cannon. The force of the shot destroyed the transport utterly but the strain on the Sword was almost too much, blowing out systems and relays and all but crippled the ship.

It took 2 months for the frigates to tow the dying ship back to friendly waters, once again giving Harris plenty of time to consider his actions. That was twice his compulsive nature had almost gotten him killed and resolved to do better. Stone saw the change in him and knew he had become the officer that the Covenant needed him to be. It took a further 6 weeks for the Sword of Truth to be fully repaired. Once again a part of the 5th Fleet she has been restored to a position of fear in the hearts of her enemies and pride in those of her allies.

The Shield of Reason although visually identical to the Sword of Truth is the superior ship. All but brand new the Shield has the most sophisticated technology available to it including the type 2 range finders for faster target resolutions as well as the latest IFF device that allows the Covenant to identify its ships in the tumult of battle.

Captain Oscar Ashwind is as new a senior officer as his ship has rolled off the production line. Brought to Antarctica as a child by his South African parents amongst the first wave of travellers seeking a new life, Ashwind is as close to first generation Antarctican as can be. Growing up with his three brothers they were schooled in the discoveries that were being made on almost daily basis. All three excelled at their studies and all were destined for a life at the forefront of Covenant science. That was until the Covenant mobilised for war. Of the three, Oscar was the only one who felt an obligation to serve his adopted people in the coming dark days. Ever the idealist he joined the navy and bade his brothers farewell for what would prove to be the last time.

During his basic training Oscar received word that his two brothers had been killed aboard a science ship that was heading for a small chain of islands South East of the isle of South Georgia by whalers who mistook them for a military vessel. Distraught Ashwind threw himself into his career determined to make his brothers proud despite their misgivings about the armed forces. Oscar Ashwind was bright and eager and his scientific knowledge saw him spend much of his early career in engine rooms or in the R&D division. Ashwind’s potential, however, came to the fore when serving about the Stargazer, a Plato Class cruiser of the 9th fleet, as chief engineer.

Whilst on routine patrol the Stargazer was ambushed by a French flotilla. The initial volley struck just below the bridge, killing the senior staff and sowing disarray through the ship. Realising he was the most senior office on board, Ashwind took command of the vessel. He ordered a general distress call to be sent and then sent the Stargazer all ahead into battle. Through a series of daring scissor actions and hit and run attacks the Stargazer crippled two of its attackers and sunk a third all the while leading the French on a merry chase around the South Atlantic. Ashwind understood the odds all too well but was determined to reap a heavy toll for the craven acts of the French. Ashwind never got his chance as just as the French surrounded the battered Cruiser ready to deliver the killing blow the remainder of the 9th arrived and tore the French to pieces.

Upon his return home he was hailed as a hero and promoted. His actions against the French caught the eye of Commodore Stone and offered him the bridge of the Shield of Reason. The decision rankled his other officers, none more so than Harris of the Sword of Truth. But Stone cared little for their opinions and enjoyed sparking healthy competition as they strove to earn his notice. Stone had chosen Ashwind for his guile and determination under pressure. Not to mention it made an undeniable amount of sense for the most advanced vessel in his fleet to be commanded by a former chief engineer.

Between Harris and Ashwind relations are cordial. Harris loathes the young upstart for his meteoric rise through the ranks and the fame its brought him, not to mention a string of successful naval engagements that will only help his chances of further advancement. Ashwind looks up to Harris and takes his ship into the heart of the fight in the hope of winning his fellow battleship commander’s approval, unknowing that every victory and act of valour drives a great wedge between them.

In contrast the Olympia is one of the oldest ships in the Covenant armada. Of course in reality the Olympia has had just about every component and deck plank replaced for one reason or another by the ships soul remains pure. Before the war broke out the Olympia and all carriers were designed to be exploration vessels, the drones to be used to map vast areas of land, rather than instruments of war. Needless to say the fate of the Olympia took a different path.  The Olympia has been attached to, at one time or another, four different fleets. Prior becoming the only carrier of the 5th fleet it belonged to the 1st fleet. Revered by every serving member of the Covenant military and civilians alike the 1st fleet were at the spear tip of the Covenant warmachine and the Olympia was a grand a proud part of that.

Covenant carriers are tough by the standards of most battleships and the Olympia was no exception. Often found where the fighting was thickest, its drones flinging themselves into the hulls of enemy ships, she had as fearsome reputation as any warship in the warring world. However, one fateful day, during a prolonged and bloody engagement with the Prussians in the mid Atlantic the Olympia was surrounded and set upon by a unit of frigates. With little crew to defend itself the Olympia quickly fell with little crew to defender her.

Beset on all sides the 1st fleet were in danger of being destroyed. Only the timely intervention of a relief force consisting of elements from the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 9th fleets, including the 5th fleet frigate squadron The Coppertails prevented a complete disaster. Lieutenant Sampson Earl of the frigate Clever Girl spotted the Olympia running Prussian colours. Moving the rest of his squadron in position using the rough seas to cover their advance the crews attacked en masse. The Prussians lacked the numbers to make a concerted defence and within minutes the Olympia was once again in Covenant hands.

With the Prussians driven off the 1st fleet was escorted back to Antarctica for refit and repair. The Olympia’s fate however now rested with the 5th as it was Lieutenant Earl that rescued the carrier and was his to command. Being granted a promotion to full Commander, Earl is the most junior officer in Covenant history to command a carrier, but does so with great skill, putting the carriers fearsome weaponry to as great a use as its drones.

The Olympia is not the only ship to have been absorbed into the 5th fleet. Indeed the Titan, Deimos and Phobos were survivors of the Midway disaster in which elements of the 2nd, 7th and 10th fleets were ambushed by the FSA. Surrounded on all sides the Covenant fought valiantly against a vastly superior force.

The squadron of armoured cruisers moved as one, their co-ordination going far beyond the IFF that the Covenant have blessed their ships of war with. Hunting as a pack they punched holes in the FSA formations allowing their comrades to break out. Ultimately it was for nought and few made it beyond the range of the FSA’s guns. Only the Titan, Deimos and Phobos made it home.

Although officially still attached to the 7th, Stone recognised in their captains and crew the same thirst for revenge that burned in his heart and he gave them that chance. Leaving the Antarctic, Stone took the 5th fleet along the pacific coast of the Americas and, under the cover of darkness destroyed the FSA flotilla at anchor in Pearl Harbour. The destruction wrought by the armoured cruisers’ particle cannons was the stuff of nightmares. Such was the destruction the base was crippled for a full year and even now cannot hold a full battle group within its waters. Branded an act of cowardice by the FSA they placed a bounty on the heads of the captains of the Titan, Deimos and Phobos much to the amusement of them and their newly adopted fleet, earning them the nickname The Wanted.

So fearsome are the ships and crew of the squadron they are rarely found far from History’s Judgement when deployed, lending their strength to hers and leaving nothing but destruction on their wake.

The cruisers of the 5th fleet are its solid, immovable, core. Of all the changes experienced by the fleet, the cruisers of Orion Fornax squadrons have endured them all. Before Stone’s ascension to command the cruisers were the mainstay of the 5th fleet. Indeed when it was first commissioned the fleet was commanded by the cruiser  Galileo of Orion squadron. Superlative sailors to a man, the crews plied the icy waves with the ease of men and women born to it.

It was these mighty cruisers that rescued Stone and his crippled frigate from the clutches of the FSA, the cruisers utterly surrounding the American forces to catch them in a deadly cross fire of turret fire and broadsides. Ever since then the Galileo, Pegasus, Constellation, Ganymede, Griffin & Cassiopeia  have been at the heart of every action the 5th fleet has been apart of, both officially and unofficially.

The captains of these fine warships were at first resentful of Stone’s rise to command. Most of Captain Hendrik Boettcher, the junior of the 6. When Stone was given overall command, prior to the commissioning of the Relentless (Sword of Truth), he was given command of the Constellation, forcing him to take overall command of the frigates. In truth it was the best thing Captain Boettcher could have done. So use to fighting on his own against small raiding parties or single ships it reminded him of the importance and benefits of coordinated attacks at a time when the 5th fleet was beginning fleet sized actions.

After the Relentless had joined the fleet and Stone had moved his flag aboard, Boettcher once again took command of the Constellation, bringing with him a wealth of ideas of how the mainstay of the 5th fleet should operate and although Captain Theodore Bern has overall command, Boettcher’s insight into squadron tactics are invaluable.

Bern is a tough man to impress. Formerly of the Britannic navy and an instructor at the Portsmouth naval academy, Bern resigned his commission in protest over a suicide mission into Russian waters to steal the Whit Navy’s experimental glacia generator technology. His firm hand natural teaching ability has made him the ideal candidate to temper the wilder impulses of commanding officers that have graduated from the Coppertails. Those that don’t heed his lessons either find themselves demoted or killed.

Despite his British noble and naval background Stone respects and trusts Bern completely having proved himself time and time again both defending the Antarctic coast and in the open waters in the thick of the fighting. Indeed since taking command of the 5th, Stone has relied n Bern’s council and has become one of his most valuable and trusted advisors and has been granted the honorary title of master of the armoury. An outmoded idea but a sign of respect between the two men, both of whom were native to England. Bern is a master tactician. Indeed having a defector in your midst can certainly provide advantageous tactics and fleet deployments.

Although not as powerful as the larger capitol ships in the fleet they make up for it in adaptability and possessing shield generators makes them a very tough nut to crack, something that the captains take full advantage of. Indeed it is not uncommon for the vessels of Orion Fornax squadrons to sail into the heart of enemy formations, shields flaring, to unleash the full potential of their broadsides and turrets.

Both squads have served Stone with distinction since he took command taking part in the raid on the Falklands Islands, the Olympia rescue, Auckland schism and battle of the West Sturgeon Straights. They wear their black livery with pride acknowledging the achievements of Stone and the 5th fleet as a whole. Going from coastal patrols to full pitched battles in the open ocean was a gear shift that some of the crew struggled to make.

Up until recently the cohesion within the cruiser squadrons has been second to none. However, after Ashwind’s promotion and assignment to command the Shield of Reason tensions have grown between the senior staff as each captain fancies themselves in with a chance at commanding that mighty battleship. All the Cruiser captains covet the Shield and Sword equally and have begun to keep tallies of their kills and their after action reports submitted to Stone have become increasingly florid.

Fortunately for Stone, when in combat the crews of the Galileo, Pegasus, Constellation, Ganymede, Griffin & Cassiopeia conduct themselves with the utmost discipline. They save the bragging for after.

However few are more blohard than the Coppertails. 

Officially designated 109 squadron, the ‘Coppertails’ represent the light element of the 5th fleet under Commodore Aldous Stone. Made up of 12 Diogenes Class frigates it is rare for a Covenant fleet to favour a particular class of support vessel over others so overwhelmingly. However, the composition of a fleet has as much to do with the commanding officer as it does the Covenants ministry of war and Stone’s history with the vessel makes it a staple choice.

Painted black like all other vessels of the 5th Fleet, the Coppertails earned their moniker because of the copper plating encasing the rear or the ships. This was as much an aesthetic choice on the part of Commodore Stone as to improve the signal broadcast by the Covenant’s rudimentary IFF transmitter. The technology still in its early stages, the 5th fleet rely heavily on it due to their preference for night operations as it allows them to co-ordinate their attacks with unerring accuracy.

The crews of the Coppertails squadron are renowned in the Covenant armed services for their cavalier and bragging behaviour, prone to outrageous boasts and wagers amongst themselves and other personnel. This devil-may-care attitude has been carefully encouraged by Commodore Stone recognising the benefit of war hungry crews on board such small ships. Their bravado is born of those that have a considerably shorter life expectancy than almost any other element of the 5th fleet.

In the water the commanding officers of the Coppertails band together in three flights of 4, operating as a pack and isolating much larger vessels and harrying them to destruction with withering torpedo attacks. And boasting rights to the captain delivering the killing blow. Their boisterous and arrogant nature isolates them from their fellow officers, especially those in the 5th fleet who look upon them with mild shame as all officers in the 5th fleet start their lives as officers in the Coppertails and all were as insufferable as their junior fellow officers.

Commodore Stone started his career aboard a frigate and won much fame stood on its bridge. As well as some hard lessons. He sees to it that every newly commissioned officer assigned to his fleet serves with the renowned Coppertails. Some see it as a punishment, others as a test. In reality it’s both and about learning some valuable lessons. The crews of the Coppertails are exceptional having survived life aboard a frigate and in the hands of unproven and arrogant officers. The good officers will listen and learn, the bad ones will get themselves killed one way or another.

Despite this Stone does all he can to stir up competition between the officers of the squadron, offering rewards and plum assignments for valour and confirmed kills. But this too is a lesson; to help them understand the difference between arrogance and confidence and command and leadership. Those that fail to learn these lessons either end up dead, along with the men under their command, or spend their careers as boorish sea dogs taking ever greater risks to win glory and their Commodore’s praise although neither are forthcoming. Stone will never put these poor souls out of their misery as he recognises that a driven and reckless officer has its uses.

These disparate personalities can sometimes mean that the squadron lacks cohesion and will often follow their own objectives but this too has its benefits, quickly highlighting to Stone which are able to bring their flight or the squadron under control for the greater good.

This would normally sow confusion amongst the rest of the fleet but Stone’s will is absolute and his officers know to trust his command. And Stone is quite happy for his Coppertails to engage the enemy on their own terms as this only further benefits his plans. If anything their apparently haphazard approach to war can be a boon, their aggression and speed saved the lives of the Sword of Truth following a FSA trap.

The newest element of the 5th fleet is escort groups Skyshield and Sentinel. How they came to be attached to the 5th fleet is most unconventional and speaks of Stone’s strength of will and influence within the Covenant and the wider world.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbour and the bounties placed on the heads of The Wanted Aldus Stone began to receive death threats that indicated an assassin was within the Covenant. The admiralty immediately assigned bodyguards to keep Stone safe however the man was a cult of personality and as such refused to be seen so weak.

The six men charged with his protection were some of the finest marines ever produced by the Covenant but even they struggled to keep track of Stone. They even found themselves left behind after Stone had managed to slip aboard the Judgement and mobilise the fleet without telling a soul.

In a heated exchange with the admiralty he continually refused to acknowledge the need for protection but his superiors would not be dissuaded. In a fit of frustration he was recorded to have bellowed ‘If you want them to watch my arse, give them some escorts and put them to some real use.’ So they did. Each marine was prompted to Commander and charged with the protection of Commodore Stone. Although now a part of his fleet Stone still doesn’t make it easy on his protectors, choosing to assign them to his battleships rather than be chased around the waves by guard dogs.

This isn’t to say the escorts aren’t put to good use. Indeed the crews have flourished under the command of such hardened soldiers, drilling them to peak efficiency. Working seamlessly as squadrons these plucky escorts go after any threat without a second thought, filling the air with walls of lead or harrying ships much bigger than their own with weapons fire. How they have survived every without loss or serious damage after all this time is miraculous.

The final element of the 5th fleet is the 82nd bomber squadron the Night Furies. In truth Stone dislikes the use of aerial elements but can’t deny their effectiveness in battle. Especially with their extraordinary manoeuvrability allows them to strike and then withdraw with almost supernatural speed.

The 5th fleet’s penchant for night operations combined with their black colour scheme not only gives the Night Furies a tremendous advantage not only when making their attack runs but also their survivability quite at odds with the average life expectancy of similar squadrons in both the covenant and the wider world.

Despite this fact Stone generally prefers to leave the Night Furies in reserve seeing them as a liability due to their relatively limited range. One he commits to the hunt he is relentless and having to hold on station and await refuel for his bombers rankled him and has left them behind on more than one occasion.

For all their kills and valour in combat they remain an all but unused element of the 5th fleet but even Stone admits this must change with his foes relying on air elements more and more and has even requested a Daedalus class to be permanently attached to the fleet to bolster his air arm for when he inevitably needs it.

Shell Case Shorts 7

This month’s Shell Case Shorts is a little bit special because the prize is not a signed book, but a signed rule book. Those fine chaps at Spartan Games have donated a copy of Dystopian Wars signed by all the development team.

With this in mind, the Shell Case Shorts is going Steampunk. All entries should be based on a Steampunk IP such as Dystopian Wars, Wolsung, Empire of the Dead etc. And, because I’m nice, I’ll even include Warmachine in the mix.

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

Short story entries word limit should not exceed 3,000 words.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Tuesday 31st July 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Sponsored by

Next on the Shell Case Shorts…

With nine days to go until the second Shell Case Shorts competition closes I thought I’d let you know what was coming for the next competitions running over March & April.

March will be a Fantasy based competition. Like February’s it’ll be 5,000 words all based on Fantasy wargaming IP. This story will make up the last story of the Shell Case Shorts anthology. The prize will be two, yes two signed books from none other than Gav Thorpe.

April is all about Origins. 3,000 words on the history of a Space Marine chapter, military regiment, faction etc, created by you for an existing wargaming IP. It can be Sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, anything you like. But it must be an origins piece, not a story about them specifically. Consider homeworld/nation, doctrine, organisation, battle cry etc.

The prize for this hasn’t been confirmed yet but I’m on the case.

I won’t list Ts & Cs here but keep you eyes peeled for these posts, they’ll be going up on the 1st March & 1st April respectively.