Batman : Miniatures Game – A Review

This review has been a long time in the making. Years really. Let me explain why:

I’ve always liked Batman. As a child I liked the Adam West TV series. But that’s the thing: I liked it. I didn’t love it. It was too woolly and everything felt like they didn’t really understand where they were going with it. It was 2 Dimensional TV for the masses and that would have been fine had it been based on a 2 Dimensional comic book for the masses.

Even in the pastel tinted abyss that was the Silver Age Batman was still a conflicted character. Sure he’d been softened but that was because, unlike any other flagship IP, Batman was a commercial failure. At the time readers couldn’t get to grips with such a dark character. It was a case of evolve or die. The problem was it didn’t evolve, it rebooted.

Truth be told DC are stuffed whatever they do with an era in the Batman timeline that was erased decades ago. Ignore it and people still go na na na na na na na na Batman!…and I die a little inside. Acknowledge it and the only thing that dies is my soul.

The two things that saved Batman, in my opinion, was the Frank Miller’s non-canonical series The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and the Batman Animated Series (1992). The former re-established the character as a crime fighting, bone breaking, badass and the latter gave it the commercial appeal it always needed. In the space of 6 years Batman was changed forever.

So what’s this Bat-history lesson in aide of? Put simply it’s to highlight just how much has changed. Obviously there’s been hiccups along the way, particularly with the movies franchises, but the character has come out of the other side as one of the most important and iconic characters of this and last century.

The release of a miniatures game may seem like small potatoes compared to rebooted franchises, multi million dollar movies and we haven’t even mentioned the Arkham video games. But it’s not. It’s important because Batman was and is a universal constant. He’s a hero that has successfully transcended genres, genders and ages.

Allowing a miniatures game is further recognition that we all, basically, want to be the Bat. In whatever form that may take. Even if that form may take running around the house with a bed sheet pinned around my shoulders thattotallyneverhappenedshutup.

But on to the game…

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The first thing that is immediately apparent about the Batman Miniatures Game is that the book is a labour of love. The set piece photography has been so lovingly put together you can tell that the writers put everything into it producing something that DC and the fans would be proud of. It reminds me of the first edition of Games Workshop’s Fellowship of the Ring rulebook.

The production value is great. There’s a healthy mix of artwork from the comics and images from the Arkham video games. The book opens with a double page image from the Dark Knight Rises but I won’t hold it against them. It’s a premium production that’s roughly the same price as a Games Workshop codex but, if I’m brutally honest, is of a better quality. My only gripe is the showcase section of the book is 18 pages. Yes the models are cool but they could have been displayed in a more efficient way than that…like in the gang list section that doesn’t exist. But more on that later…

So in the Batman Miniatures Game players build crews of various types be they villains, cops or superheroes. The nice thing about the game, thanks to the variety of criminal scum in Batman, is that you can quite comfortably pit two criminal gangs against one another. Penguin verses Black Mask for example. Equally you can play games using just cops against the crims or just superheroes.

What has been well done is striking the balance between having the superheroes as walking examples of badassdom but still capable of being defeated if they’re singled out and attacked en masse.

The profiles are reasonable straight forward with key stats such as endurance, defence and attack all making an appearance. Where it suffers is the writing. It’s not badly written. It’s over written. Knights Models clearly wanted everyone to enjoy the Batman Miniatures Game so much that much of the book is over explained to the point that some parts I had to re-read to fully understand their meaning. It’s not the whole way through but I found myself skimming because I was getting bored of the repetition.

However this shouldn’t detract from what is essentially a very good game. A lot of thought went into the mechanic and how best to represent the fast paced action of the comics. For one thing every game is assumed to be set at night limiting line of sight to 30cm. This makes the game hugely tactical but suddenly makes anything that produces light a major threat or a major advantage depending on which end of it you’re standing.

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In the Batman Miniatures Game each character has a Willpower value which indicates how many actions they can perform per turn. This elegantly allows the superheroes to kick face without having preposterously buffed stat lines as is common practise. Instead Batman gets to perform 8 actions per turn whereas your common crim only gets 5.

I can’t tell you much more about any character other than Batman because there are no profiles included in the book. Now, I didn’t know this which means that there’s a fair chance others picking up the book won’t either which is going to make for a big disappointment. Fortunately each model comes with a card so you won’t be forced to buy additional products so you can play the game.

That fairly major grumble aside the mechanic in Batman works well despite the abundance of tokens required to keep track of everything so, providing you know what you’re doing, each activation is reasonably quick.

Where it comes slightly unstuck is the two tiers of damage. Once you lose your endurance points you get knocked out. But there’s other forms of damage beside, which I’m not sure are needed and it took me three tries to understand how to inflict it and I’m still not sure how it works.

What is cool about the Batman Miniatures Game is the sheer volume of actions you can perform. Sure there’s running and face kicking but you can also do stuff like ping shots off objects to hit targets that would otherwise be hidden. Which is absolutely spot on for characters like Deadshot.

There’s also a list of special rules to put the 40k rulebook to shame. But it all goes towards making the game very cinematic and also encourages you to build and make use of, cool and groovy boards. Basically anything any character in a Batman comic has done you can do in the game. All you have to do is remember you have the option.

The sheer variety available reminds me of Inquisitor and that’s no bad thing.

What’s also pretty cool is a summary of the background at the back of the book for the less nerdy/initiated so everyone, not just the die yards, has a firm understanding of who’s who so they can make an informed choice over who to collect. Other than Batman. Obviously.

The Batman Miniatures Game is a good game. I was pleasantly surprised at how well thought out the game was to balance game play and authenticity. Yes the rules are a bit laboured in places but it doesn’t detract enough that I wouldn’t happily play it.

It’s touches like using reputation instead of points to govern the size of your crew as well as affixing a cash sum for equipment which stops players from having piles of hardware. The simple fact that superheroes are worth far more than henchmen you’re actually encouraged to think and fight like The Bat because you’ll get utterly spanked if you don’t. What the henchmen lack in ability they make up for in numbers and unbridled violence.

It’s great that the Batman Miniatures Game allows for and encourages you to take Jim Gordon and members of the GCPD and better still that going up against a supervillain is a genuine challenge for them. But most importantly, Batman or any member of the Bat Family aren’t unstoppable. Very tough to stop but still stoppable.

The Batman Miniatures Game rulebook is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.49.

Ruination Battle Cards – A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars Armada Giveaway Winner

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As some of you may have seen earlier I closed the giveaway far earlier than planned. Someone shared it on a money saving forum and it all went a bit mad. I received more than 600 entries, 200 of which came through in a truly alarming flurry around 4:30 today.

To clarify, I have nothing against money saving sites or their users but The Shell Case is a but a small corner of the internet that exists for the wargaming community. Whislt I would never impose limitations on who can enter a line had to be drawn.

With the giveaway closed there was little point In waiting until the original draw date so a winner has been randomly selected. The lucky bastard/winner (delete as appropriate) is none other than much loved/mocked (delete as appropriate) #warmonger, @shavenwookie.

The Star Wars Armada starter set worth £67.99, courtesy of Firestorm Games, will be winging it’s way to him shortly.

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Star Wars Armada – Giveaway

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IMPORTANT UPDATE – It is with regret that I’m closing this competition early. I apologise to those wargamers who haven’t yet had an opportunity to enter. However this competition/page has been shared on a money saving advice forum and since Friday night I have bombarded by hundreds of entries. 200 entries have come through in the time it’s taken me to write this update.

Whilst I can’t comment on the motives of those entering, I can say having my devices going off all day and night has not been fun. I’m not criticising the members of the forum by any means, but I’m just one person trying to do something fun for the community I love. Frankly, having emails come through 24 hours a day for the last 3 days has been…intimidating.

I will randomly determine a winner as per the details below.

It’s been way too long since I did one of these but thanks to those lovely people at Firestorm Games I’m giving away a copy of Star Wars Armada starter box to one lucky person.

All you need to do is tell me what 3 word line from Return of the Jedi that made Admiral Ackbar a household name. And if it helps I mentioned it in the review

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Complete the for below and hit submit. A winner will be drawn at random. They will be contacted via email and the winner announced The same day.

One entry per person. No substitute or cash alternative offered. My decision will be final. Disputes will not be entered into. This competition may be withdrawn at any time.

Good luck!

This competition has been closed early. I apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Codex Craftworlds – A Review

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Another year another Eldar Codex.

At least it seems that way. Eldar have been a headache for the design team ever since the first Codex that came out for second edition 40k. They’re a fascinating army in terms of background, army composition and game play. Not even the Tau can match the Eldar for how well all the various units work in concert. Granted it’s very much the case of easy to learn, difficult to master but that’s true of armies like Space Marines. No really. No really. Shut up.

I’ve been frustrated with Eldar for a long time because the books are always brilliant until you get to the army organisation and then it all comes unstuck for one reason or another so I wasn’t surprised that another Codex was released so soon after the previous one despite the fact that the previous version was actually pretty strong.

But onto the current version. Which could have been superseded in to the time it took me to read it and write this review for al I know…

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Like the previous version the cover art is splendid. Not quite as dynamic but has veiled menace which I dig. It’s interesting that the Space Marine and Craftworlds codices both have junior officers on the covers rather than cool and groovy leader types. Not that they’re any less cool of course.

The production value has increased just as it did with the latest Codex Space Marines and there is lots of splendid new artwork. Not as much as I expected in light of Codex Space Marines but still plenty to make you boy parts and your girl parts (delete where appropriate) feel all warm and tingly. But like Codex Space Marines the artwork dominates double page spreads making the book incredibly thin in terms of actual content. Throw in 36 pages of photos and hobby section and the 160 page Codex Craftworlds doesn’t feel like…well a book. The artwork is beautiful, especially the newer stuff, but there’s just so much of it.

What content there is, however, is broadly well written. There’s still typos of course, but I’ve all but given up pointing those out because all it’s going to result in is an ulcer. There’s been a very well paced step forward in terms of the background for Codex Craftworlds. As with the previous version, this version seems to understand further still what it means to be an Eldar be it the path of the warrior, the outcast or balloon animal maker. Wait, what?

However some areas have been neglected either through space or the assumption that they won’t hold people’s attention. The biggest victim being the timeline. There’s fewer events and they just don’t feel as tightly written. The nice thing though is, overall, Codex Craftworlds does feel quite well written. I still feel at risk from hyperbolic overdose but nothing to the extent of Codex Space Marines. Although that was just poorly written rather than repetitive. Although it was that too.

There are some parts of the book that do feel rehashed and slightly lack lustre but overall all the Craftworlds have been given a vibrant lick of paint. Even Ulthwe has more going for it now than being stuck at the very edge of the Eye of Terror. Which is nice. I guess, more than anything, there feels like there’s a point to it all. The previous Codex did an awful lot in making the Eldar feel more tangible but this Codex builds on it and makes the Eldar feel like a people. More to the point a people that does actually interact with one another.

Weirdly that was always the thing with the Eldar: you never really got the impression that the various Craftworlds would have much to do with one another seeing as they have pretty different outlooks, ideologies, fighting styles and even agendas. This book does a lot to clarify that and to its very great credit. The Craftworlds feel more like nations now. Similar but yet different. Working towards common goals in very different ways that can cause friction, resentment and mistrust.

There’s also a general easing off the gas on the matter of the species dying out. Yes the race is the cusp but the emphasis is on that fact, not that they’re beyond saving. It’s an important distinction as one of the common grumbles was the point of playing as a species that was already doomed. Although if you really read into the background that can very much be argued for the Imperium. But I digress.

Broadly speaking the background in the Codex is great to read. Maybe it’s just me not remembering it much from the previous book but there seems to have been a lot of work done around the Wraith constructs and how Wraithguard, Wraithlords and Wraithknights fit into the grand scheme. I particularly like how unsavoury, yet necessary the entire situation is and that Spiritseers are treated with the same disgust as necrophiliacs.

The rules don’t seem to have changed…at all. A few things have gotten cheaper – like Howling Banshees. Presumably because everyone moaned that they were expensive die all the time. Now they’re less expensive and die all the time. So yay… That said the way Howling Banshees perform in this and the previous edition is a huge improvement on how they use to be.

The other tweak is that Dark Reapers get skyfire now which was badly needed.

The big deal in this Codex is, as with some of the others, the formations. Which are fucking mad. If it’s not free weapons platforms, it’s special rules or adding +1 to ballistic skill or weapons skill. Fire Dragons and Dark Reapers with a BS of 5 is just horrid. And wraith hosts make me want to vomit in terror. They get to re-roll failed hits against any enemy within 18 inches of the Spiritseer. I mean really?

Broadly speaking there wasn’t huge cause to redo the Codex. The points changes are convenient but I very much doubt they kept many Eldar players up at night. They will however be kept up masturbating furiously over the formations. There’s literally not a one I wouldn’t take. They’re all amazing. Dire Avengers get 3 shots. What the hell?

Of course the cynic in me would argue this entirely to sell all the models. But you know what? Who cares? Eldar range is gorgeous. Even the Eldar Guardians which must be around 17 years old now, are still awesome. And the bottom line is this:

The Eldar army has had significant weaknesses since 3rd Edition. Weaknesses that made the Eldar a real challenge to use. I’d go so far as to say that they’re one of the hardest armies to use. I’m certainly not the best gamer in the world but I’m certainly not the worst and I found them a challenge. I good challenge but I found strategy and tactics were tempered with faith far more than with other armies. And I’ve played with them all.

The formations in Codex Craftworlds give all the various units a buff that dramatically improves their combat effectiveness. It broadly doesn’t tackle their biggest issues – poor toughness and poor armour – but by increasing the odds of hitting or beefing up the fire power it goes some way to mitegating those weaknesses. Because, if you’re doing your job right, there will be fewer things alive to shoot back. The big revelation is this – it’s going to make the Eldar a challenge to play against.

You’re not going to save killer levels of points with the free support weapons and free upgrades but free guns are free guns. But it’s the special rules and stat buffs that you’re after anyway.

Is Codex Craftworlds going to set your world ablaze? Actually it might just. The formations are so good that no self respecting Eldar player should be without…any of them. The minor rule tweaks and points reductions are an added bonus. The flyers and wraith constructs are still sick and be crammed into your armies wherever possible.

Codex Craftworlds is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

Reflections on an Old World

A week or so ago I reviewed the all new, all shiny, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I reflected on the idea that this game wasn’t Warhammer Fantasy Battles ninth Edition but the first edition of an entirely new game.

It’s fair comment as whilst the models haven’t changed just about everything else has from the army names, to the rules, to the Warhammer world itself. Which got me to thinking: just what are the veterans of Warhammer supposed to do now?

What I mean by this is this some of us have spent a very long time not just learning vast amounts of rules and stat lines but absorbing, remembering, understanding and debating the background. Understanding the background wasn’t just part of understanding why these mighty empires were at war but why the armies and units were designed the way they were. It also gave us insight how best to use them.

Thus far it seems all this knowledge is now broadly surplus to requirements. This is somewhat of a bitter pill for me because I got into the hobby far younger than most and so saying goodbye to the Warhammer World as it was is saying goodbye to 25 years of study in one form or another. It’s left me feeling…homeless for want of a better word. It does feel like that’s slightly the point. The amount I spend on Warhammer Fantasy is slight. I have a large Warriors of Chaos army that requires tweaking rather than investment. Because of its size I’m unlikely to invest in a second army of similar size. Therefore can I be called a Games Workshop customer? Strictly speaking: no.

Fresh, enthused, cash rich, time rich, new gamers are what the Games Workshop are after. The 10 year olds and above who haven’t discovered boobs yet or if they have it’s because they cracked their parent’s password to get to the really good sites on the internet.

Going purely off the back of the shonky book included in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar boxset there is little or no talk of the time before it all went a little bit Adventure Time. That of course doesn’t mean there won’t be but it seems almost counter productive to go to the trouble of hitting the big red reset button of destiny only to go back to the old stuff.

My question is this: what the hell am I supposed to do now? If any future book references the old background new gamers aren’t going to have a fucking clue what the writer is banging on about. Heaven for fend they reference something from the Time of Legends books. The history before the history if you will.

I feel like I’m going to become akin to a clan elder. In charge of tomes of history and trotted out for special occasions to tut and look whimsical about a place called the Old World. A place where heroes of valour commanded armies of light to hold back towering villains of tremendous power and their hordes of foul creatures, corrupted men and capering daemons.

How do you summarise 30 plus years of history in a conversation? You can’t. It once took me three hours to tell a friend a brief history of the 40k Universe. Three. Hours.

So where does that leave me, The Chaps and other veteran Warhammer players? Do we walk away? Hit the red reset button of destiny ourselves wipe the slate clean and embrace the brave new/mental world and just get on with it? Or do we become living relics? Become those clan elders and gather as much knowledge as we can and guard it jealously against time and the seep of the new canon.

The sad truth is suspect it’ll be somewhere in the middle. Some of the old guard will walk away. Others will play both versions and the rest will become those living relics. I certainly feel like one.

But as I said in my review, the great thing about the re-imagining of Warhammer is that eighth edition will remain forever as it is: the strongest version of that pillar of wargaming heritage and epic fantasy battles. It’ll never be updated, the army books won’t change. And as long as we can find square bases our armies can continue to march in beautiful sharp cornered blocks in numbers that fill the board.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the wargaming world has changed and we, like Warhammer, have to move with the times or become obsolete. I’m certainly not ready to give up on Warhammer Fantasy Battles and maybe that says more about me than I realised.