Valhalla Review

RulebookCover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not bad for rules that only cost me £5.

Valhalla is available from East Street Games.

Path of the Incubus – A Review

Path of the Incubus

Launching right after the events of its predecessor, Path of the Incubus rattles along at a frantic pace, successfully building upon themes introduced in the first novel.

Warning contains spoilers!

Things are bad in Commorragh. Really, really bad. Though the end of Path of the Warrior provided the death of the budding Daemon Lord, the damage has been done and cracks have formed in the shell that protects The Dark City from the predators of the Warp. Daemons are gathering for a feast, disjunction is imminent, and the only guys who can stop it left the city long ago.

Which leaves only the not-so-merry band of murderous sociopaths from the first book to clean up the mess whilst trying to blame it all on someone else [Sounds like most companies in Britain today. -Ed.]. So all is well then.

Path of the Incubus manages to perform the delicate balancing act of bringing periphery characters who were previously only part of the background into prominence, whilst spending a little less time with those who we got to know well in the first book but not to the detriment of the whole. The story is split into three…ahem…paths, all with different destinations, with several other sub plots spinning around them. In the hands of a lesser writer this sort of tale would collapse in on itself in a jumbled mess, but Andy Chambers keeps things all finely balanced and on tenterhooks, so we get to not only see how the many tiers of Commorragh are affected by the disjunction, but also on the wider galaxy.

Archon Yllithian is back and fighting to defend himself from daemons along with Asurbel Vect, who has begun to suspect he may have a hand in the events unfolding. The less fortunate characters are trapped fighting to ascend, and then descend, the levels of Commorragh in search of safety. Their hope? Freedom from the attentions of not only the Great Enemy, but their fellow Dark Eldar, who wish to destroy anyone who could be a vessel for daemons – and with this being the Dark City, they tend to shoot first and ask questions later.

But the real focus, carving their way through the core of the novel and into the halls of one of the greatest partnerships in fiction are Morr – a disgraced Incubi – and Motley – one of the mysterious Harlequins. Both have to travel outside the Dark City and though Morr at first seeks death, with gentle prodding from Motley, he comes to realise he can be of more use in achieving a greater goal.

The duo was the novel’s secret weapon, delivering payloads of character development into the joy centres of my brain.  Every small skirmish felt important and when the important themes of the book kicked in, they felt delivered by well-rounded beings instead of just mouthpieces for the author.

It’s worth mentioning the astonishing breadth of fight scenes and locations covered too. From long dead crone worlds, sheltering from daemons in the Dark City, to the heart of a Maiden world, each fight seemed determined to try to introduce a new element to it, a new emotion for me to feel.

It’s rare for a novel to so completely improve upon its predecessor, but Path of the Incubus does that. Whilst I was a bit more disappointed by the ending of this novel compared to the last, its one of the few complaints I can have and one must assume the next book in the series will explain all.

Pick up the Dark Path series today, with the last in the trilogy out now, it’s the perfect time to acquaint yourself with the Dark Eldar.

Path of the Incubus is available from the Black Library with the Dark Eldar bundle. The individual novels and the many shorts from Andy Chambers are also available.

Salute in Review: Aftermath

Salute 2014

This was my first time at Salute and I didn’t really know what to expect. Especially as my last experience of an event at London ExCel had been a pretty average Star Trek related event. So when I rolled up and saw the crowds it was kind of amazing.

Salute 2015 pic shellcase

That wasn’t even half of it!

I’m glad to say though that Salute didn’t disappoint. Though a bit overwhelming at times (not helped much by the map, which seemed to be a bit off on some of the stands locations) it nevertheless managed to combine the feel of a big event with the friendliness of a much smaller one.

Marking themselves out as I walked in were Hawk Games, whose Dropzone Commander large-scale model drew the crowds in with its elegance.

After that I had a bit of a ramble around to get myself acquainted with the layout of the place. What caught my eye was the diversity. Though admittedly the mainstay was futuristic military sci-fi games and the fantasy hack and slashers that every wargamer loves, dotted around were some more unusual fares.

From the Dark Age skirmish game Valhalla, to a strategy game about building a bee hive and making more honey than anyone else, there was plenty of variety if you were willing to look.

In typical wargamer fashion, more people were interested in the foam dice than the board with colours beyond red brown and metal.

In typical wargamer fashion, more people were interested in the foam dice than the board with colours beyond red, brown and metal.

Then it was time to meet up with the rest of The Shell Case team, who had bravely risked their lives trying to collect orders from the Forge World table during the peak time of the day. Plunder in tow we stopped to chat, grab a bite to eat and stare at all the pretty miniatures.

The standard was so high this year with an appearance by Mierce Minatures, though it seemed everywhere you looked there was something new and wonderful. Black Scorpion being nestled away in the corner with some fabulous models were another highlight, along with West Wind’s Secrets of the Third Reich line.

Then it was off to look at the KR Multicase stand. They were great guys and more than that, they had chairs available to the public – “And there was much rejoicing amongst The Shell Case Crew”. [Dogs were starting to bark by then. -Ed.]

What did surprise me was how inventive the folks running the stand were, constructing all manner of things out of the blue foam, including their banner, which could be clearly see from the other side of the hall.

DSC00149

I managed to grab myself some deals too, topping up the gangers I already have with some reinforcements from Heresy Miniatures, some very solid resin terrain from Simple Box Miniatures and a couple of rule sets that caught my eye (you’ll hear more on those in the future).

My thanks go out to all the #warmongers who met up with us on the day, the traders who were happy to chat and the many, many people running intro games, especially Christina, who graciously overlooked me calling her Selvig by accident after looking at the name on her t-shirt. You made Salute 2014 a great day and I’ll be glad to see you next year.

Now, where did I put that pen and paper? I have armies to plan!

Short Daemon Tactica: Bloodcrushers of Khorne

warhammer 40000 logo

Bloodcrushers of Khorne are pretty deadly, even though they have been somewhat downgraded since last edition, and are still a prime assault unit of any Daemon force.  There are even a few ways to overcome the units’ new problem with 2+ armour saves. Plus, it also gives me an excuse to break out a  MegaDeth song.

Ok, lets start from the beginning, because it colours a lot of people’s perceptions about the usability of Bloodcrushers. It will also explain why, depending on where you play, Daemon players are likely to throttle you if you try to bring up the unit in a conversation.

Bloodcrushers useful

A typical reaction to “I still think Bloodcrushers are useful”

Now, last edition the unit were god level good. They had a one point higher toughness, a 3+ save and power weapons still ignored all saves completely instead of just being AP3 Hellblades like they are now – so naturally every Daemon force had a unit or two.  But instead of screaming ‘Worst.Unit. Ever!’ like some parts of the internet, I’ll be explaining how to use them best, despite their diminished status. Call it an act of spite for having to wade through a year of forum after forum saying Phil Kelly is the worst human alive [I thought it was The Cruddace? - Ed]

For a start, Bloodcrushers are now Cavalry, making them able to cross the board by Turn 2 instead of being late game challengers as they were in the past. This increased speed somewhat makes up for a diminished survivability and means that the unit is now able to do flanking attacks or surprise a unit or two (not to mention they can pick and choose their targets more readily to avoid those pesky 2+ saves). Combine this with the ability to strip a unit of cover from the Bloodcannon and they can still kick a lot of arse.

Bloodcrusher model by Games Workshop

Bloodcrusher model by Games Workshop

Now, whilst their use is mostly limited to killing 3+ save units (of which there are many), the addition of a unit champion or Heralds gives you access to AP2 weaponry. The Axe of Khorne is one of the few god specific weapons I would consider trading the humble Etherblade for, as it has the same stats and swaps Master-Crafted for Instant Death on a 6 to
wound. What your play style is will determine which upgrade you choose I think.

One big change to Bloodcrushers is that I would now consider Deep Striking them, or at the very least hugging cover. That increased vulnerability, paired with their reputation from the last codex, means they will attract a lot of firepower – especially in Space Marine or Necron armies where AP3 close combat weapons are a scary prospect.

All in all, Bloodcrushers aren’t the strongest of units you can have in a mono Khorne force. But use them well as they will still eat a few units before their demise and draw a lot of firepower. For that, and the awesome models, they are worth trying.

So what are you waiting for? Its time to crush ‘em!

Bloodcrushers are available from Firestorm Games, priced £30.15.

Short Daemon Tactica: Fleshhounds of Khorne

warhammer 40000 logo

Flesh Hounds offer a Khorne player many things. Speed, power, resilience (and used to have hair Fabio would be proud of). But most importantly- a Turn 2 assault anywhere on the board. In this lies the units power. That and their hair.

Khorne_Flesh_Hounds

Seriously, check out those luscious locks. 

There’s something you’ll notice upon looking at the stats of Flesh Hounds- these guys are pretty brutal. Strength 6 and a decent number of Attacks gives you the ability to hurt almost everything in the game. An uncharacteristic Weapon Skill 5 (these are Beasts after all) means you will be able to deliver on that threat in combat and being Beasts means you can get there in time, before the unit gets worn down by these newfangled “ranged weapon” things I hear all the kids in the 40k universe are playing with these days.

Lord of Khorne's armies Fabio spits on you sir!

Lord of Khorne’s armies Fabio spits on you and your cowardly ways sir!

Then there’s the wonderful Scout rule the unit has. Sure, you can’t get a first Turn charge like you could in the days of old, but a free 12″ redeployment before the game starts isn’t too shabby. What’s more, as it’s a redeployment instead of a move, you can start in difficult terrain for the cover saves, confident it won’t be too much of a hindrance.

I would use Flesh Hounds as as smallish units of interceptors, picking off Heavy Weapon toting squads that can cause major pain to the rest of your army. They can mix it up with most units but assault specialists are probably beyond their capabilities most of the time.

Now available with fins!

Now available with fins!

Which brings us to the units only possible ‘upgrade’, in the form of Karanak, who can be purchased as a HQ choice and added to the unit. Though by ‘upgrade’ I mean ‘He costs HOW MUCH?!’

Coming in at just over the cost of 7 regular Flesh Hounds, he’s a little too pricey for me, even if by adding him in gives the unit Rage, re-rolls for himself against one enemy unit and his extra resistance to psychic powers.

Looking at the stats yourself, you may feel the model is worth those points, in which case bulk up the unit size wise and just make the most of it. Including Karanak changes the units focus to more of a character hunter, so use them as such, lest you miss out on the investment you made in getting him. It will turn the unit into a prime target though, which I’m not sure they will be well disposed to cope with – hence the need to increase the unit size.

All in all, Flesh Hounds offer a Khorne Daemon army flexibility and disruption abilities, getting up close and personal and locking down those which may hurt your army most.

Whilst they got unfairly overlooked in the past, now that Blood Crushers are no longer an auto include in every Daemon army you should try them out. Khorne is the god of all types of war after all.

Next Daemon Tactica, its Blood Crusher time.

Flesh Hounds of Khorne are available from Games Workshop, priced £30.

Path of the Renegade – A Review

Black Library logo v.2

A twisted alternative to the Path of The Eldar series, Path of the Renegade provides enough insight into Dark Eldar society to avoid it being left in it’s cousin’s shadow. I love Gav Thorpe’s ‘Path‘ series and not just because he’s a fellow writer on the site, focusing on the Craftworld Eldar, it provided the closest view of how they thought and functioned – albeit tough going at times.

Path-Renegade

Path of the Renegade, in contrast, is a far more accessible and entertaining (if shallower) blast through the home of the Dark Eldar. Still, it manages to provide enough thoughts and insights into the Dark Kin to make it more than fast food in book form. The book stars a number of characters* all of whom are cruel, selfish, manipulative and vain – which makes them perfect for a book set in Commorragh! The main plot of the book takes it’s starting point from the Codex, namely to become ruler of Commorragh, Aserbul Vect had to topple a lot of Noble Eldar families, many of which still remain plotting their revenge. The head of one such noble family and orchestrator of one such scheme is Yllithian, who has survived as long as he has by scrupulously hunting down and killing any relative that may potentially be a threat to his position. Path of the Renegade follows his perspective for most of the book, as he manipulates, bullies and coerces others into helping him with his plan, to unite the houses of old under the leadership of a legendary leader. The only challenge is avoiding Vect becoming suspicious…

Andy Chambers weaves the multiple narratives and perspectives together well throughout the book, each chapter building the tension slowly. Parts of the book seem to be constructed to bring to mind the Italian Canto, which is perfect considering POTR’s melodrama and range of characters who act out the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum. You can certainly see he had a lot of fun writing such characters, whose actions are so despicable but over the top it becomes rather funny. Yet Chambers’ pulls off a delicate balancing act, weaving titbits of Dark Eldar life and society into the proceedings, which help explain just how a society of sociopaths functions so efficiently without consuming itself within a matter of decades. It’s touches like this which raise the standard of the book and banish the old internet meme of the Dark Eldar being ‘Hell Raiser knockoffs’. I have heard that the book is the first of a planned trilogy like its Eldar Path cousin and there was clearly some thought put into this, with events being set up that won’t pay off until at least the next installment, including a cliffhanger so good I screamed out loud in frustration, so annoyed I was at where Chambers had left the plot. That the book affected me that much though shows how, despite initial impressions, Chambers’ own Path series has sunk its claws into . Just as well the next book is written, or I may have started petitioning Black Library to hurry up and launch it!

What this means is; the book comes highly recommended from me. If you’re a fan of the Eldar at all, upgrade that to ‘buy it now’.

Path of the Renegade is available from the Black Library in e-book and physical formats.

*I hesitate to call the characters of the book protagonists, because that would imply they have redeeming qualities.

Horus Heresy: Warmaster – A Review

warhammer-40000-logo

Jumping into the Horus Heresy can be pretty daunting. It is, after all, a galactic civil war that makes the one in Star Wars look like school yard fisticuffs, and Black Library don’t always make it easy on us. Between the books not always following on from one another – and even when they do they’re usually at a different place and time – and the sheer volume of general release titles coupled with the explosion of short stories, audio dramas, event exclusives or limited editions, its all a bit tricky to figure out what’s essential to read and what’s not. That’s before you even try to navigate the Black Library site, the organization of which would make the labyrinthine Imperial Administratum proud.

advent-warmaster

John French’s short audio finds Warmaster Horus in a reflective mood as he muses on the state of the rebellion against the Emperor that is raging in his name, and his fortunes thus far. It’s a thoughtful piece, Horus is well aware of just how flawed the legions on his side are and what a volatile mix that is, yet has no choice but to rely on his brothers and their wayward legions to get the work done. Each has their own agenda, their own vendettas, and mutual mistrust and loathing. Horus thoughts also, inevitably, turn to the conclusion of the war.

As he reviews the many theatres of war across the galaxy, he wonders why the Emperor created him and teases us with the notion that perhaps he was designed specifically to be the ruination of empires – to tear down all his father’s work, to start anew just as he’d done countless times before. The unasked question being was his father just another despot to be overthrown all along, just not yet?

It’s a good short if somewhat incidental. It’s a character piece that gives Horus a momentary return to the complex character we were introduced to in the early novels all those years ago. As the Heresy saga wears on Horus becomes increasingly vague, one minute a feckless killer, the next a cackling schemer content for his generals to fight amongst themselves as if the enemy. Neither portray much dimension as Horus is no longer meant to be relatable as a character. He’s too far gone. Essentially, at this point in the tale he’s as much an ideal as the Emperor is, albeit a dark reflection.

Warmaster gives us some of Horus’ (for want of a better turn) humanity back. It’s a brief lifting of the veil to get the merest glimpse of the great man that once unified the galaxy. Not to mention the crucial insight into Horus’ strategy which could challenge the myth surrounding the attack on the Emperor’s palace.

At £2.50 it’s not brilliant value. Not when you consider you can get a full audio drama, over an hour long, for £10. That’s not to say it’s not worth the money. If you’re a die hard Horus Heresy fan or just want to understand the arch heretic that little better then you may as well – it’s hardly big money. Fans of a  more nuanced 40k (or is that 30k) universe won’t be disappointed.

You can buy the audioshort from The Black Library priced £2.50.