Kurak Alliance Fleet Guide – A Review

firestorm-select copyContinuing on from looking at the second edition rules, it seemed only right to take a look at one of the Fleet Guides released by Spartan in answer to the recurring grumble that there were no defined army lists or background.

Never let it be said that Spartan don’t listen. Whilst not the cheapest of books, it’s a nice touch that they opted to divide the books by allegiances rather than individual fleets. This does mean there’s a strong chance you’ll get a fair chunk of book you don’t need or may even not read, and it’s debatable how cost-effective that is to get the full picture. Or at least the full picture of half the story.

FARB05-2 copyIt’s a very pretty book. I really dig the minimal cover and it feels very premium throughout. Some of the models in the photography could have been better painted but that’s not the fault of the book.

So the book is divided up into the various powers that make up the Kurak Alliance. Simple enough. Each with its own brief history and fleet lists. There’s a little bit of repeated content from the rulebook but fortunately the writing is better. It’s still not as polished as it should be and Spartan still have a flair for sucking the gravity out of a dire situation. But hey-ho. It’s getting better and that’s something.

The fleet lists in the Guide are nicely laid out, a huge improvement on the fleet cards which always irritated me for having important information on the reverse and thus almost always got forgotten. The improvements around the ship upgrades – weapons, hardpoints etc – pretty much require a proper fleet roster but it’s a good thing, it makes the game feel more thought out. It recognises that the array of ships on both sides of the conflict should be more than a swap of a statistic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the case, but the options and the new fleet structure really makes a big difference.

And it’s actually kinda fun pouring over the options, rather than a chore or a functional step between you and rolling huge piles of dice. And we know how much fun that can be. It’s a bit of a shame that the different classes of ship types have all been lumped together but again it comes back to swapping round columns but some special rules could have done the job just as well. Bit of a shame but there we are.

One of my stand out favourite bits of the Fleet Guide are the example colour schemes and fluff about the various fleets. It goes a really long way to flesh out the conflict and gives gamers the option to apply some narrative to their fleets which is something that is always quite lacking in non-Games Workshop games. What can I say? They just get that stuff nailed down.

From a hobby point of view having some example paint jobs in the Fleet Guide is a huge boon. The Spartan gallery only has a couple of examples at most – that’s not a criticism just how it is – so it’s good to get a better flavour of how they see the fleets looking. And of course it makes it much easier for hobbyists to come up with their own having that solid jumping off point.

The big downer for me in the book was the lack of race specific special rules. Heck even fleet specific rules would have been cool. Other than the tactical bonus and command distance and the upgrade variations there’s nothing that really adds some narrative to the game. Something like Preferred Enemy or some for the Dindrenzi against Terrans for example, or a regeneration rule for the Aquans would have been way cool.

I do appreciate that there are differences on a ship level but that’s true of any unit in any game. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity considering all the effort that Spartan has gone to improve the writing, rules and flesh out the fleet lists in the Second Edition rules and Fleet Guides.

The Fleet Guides are a good idea. I like the fact that you get all the good guy fleets and all the bad guy fleets in one place because the game does encourage taking allies be they from the major races or the Alliance members. I’m not wild about how much background is left out of the rulebook so you’re almost compelled to buy both Fleet Guides if you want the whole story. It makes for quite an expensive outlay when you’ll read them through once and then one fleet list repeatedly.

But to take the Kurak Alliance Fleet Guide on its own it’s a nice book. It looks great, reads well and it’s so good to have the ships laid out sensibly with all the options and MARs in one place. The background is still a bit woolly and there’s a couple of typos that tarnish an otherwise professionally produced book but that aside it’s a worthy investment.

The Kurak Alliance Fleet Guide is available from Firestorm Games priced £18.00.

Fancy Some Open Combat?

Gav Thorpe:

I think this will of interest to the Shell Case irregulars, so for those that haven’t seen it on my blog, here’s a brand new miniatures skirmish game.

Originally posted on Mechanical Hamster:

As some of you will be aware, I’ve been pootling about doing a bit of games design work in my free time, mostly for the fun of it because who doesn’t like inventing games, right? None of those projects are quite ready for the light of day, either commercially or just to share, but for the past three years I have also been helping out my friend Carl Brown* on a new skirmish wargame called Open Combat.

*Real old-timer Games Workshop fans may remember Carl as our top Greenskins Blood Bowl player in the Studio league back in the day. He even beat Jervis Johnson** in a battle report and had a tactics article published in White Dwarf.

**Okay, so who hasn’t? But that isn’t my point. I can’t start casting aspersions with my record, can I?

The Open combat rulebook

Modern, full-colour, easy-to-use design.

We’ve been having a great time devising a…

View original 822 more words

Storm Zone: Battle for Valhalla – A Review

firestorm-select copyPart 2 of my Firestorm Armada second edition review is finally here. Apologies for yet another long delay. There’s a lot going on in my world at the moment and it’s pulling me away from the site far more than I’d like.

But anyway…

Storm Zone: Battle for Valhalla is the starter set released by Spartan Games at the same time as their second edition Firestorm Armada rule set. I was really pleased to see Spartan go down this route for their games because starter sets are such excellent point of entry into a hobby. Games Workshop has produced some stonkers over the years – with the exception of one or two – and I’ve bought and loved just about all of them. And there’s no shame in copying something that works.

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In the Battle for Valhalla box you get two fairly modest fleets – Terran Alliance (yay me) and Dindrenzi (yay Lee) – and a space station to scrap over. I wasn’t wild about the models. There just aren’t enough of them and yes you basically get the station (that’s a bit poor), the flyer bases and the rules for free but it’s an £80 boxset and if I’m honest it doesn’t feel great value. Unless you’re going halves with someone but as you’ll inevitably end up buying a second rulebook there’s not really much in it. That said at least you get the full hardback rules in the box rather than a slimmed down version. Big tick for Spartan on that one.

The rulebook I’ve covered already so I’ll focus just on the models and other odds and sods.

So why is the space station a bit poor? Well my main issue is that it is the least exciting thing in the box. For a centrepiece it should be as pant tightening as something out of Star Trek. Plus the armatures for the dock are clear acrylic. No detail, no nuthin. And because Spartan wanted to keep them in one piece whilst in the box, none of the arms were fully lasered through the frame which means an agonising and slow cut through each join. 10 armatures, 2 cuts per arm. That’s a lot of time wasted especially when it could crack or shatter. And to add insult to injury, as far as I can tell, there’s no stand for it. So you have to sit it on the board each time you use it. Not awesome.

However, where Spartan redeem themselves is in the area that drew me to their games in the first place – the spaceships. The thing I like about Spartan Games is that they release new models but allow you to use the old ones – even writing rules for them to give a sense of time and technology progressing. It’s cool that my Terran fleet has two classes of Battleship and Cruiser in it. However I was a bit surprised that the starter set featured yet more new models when the mkII’s hadn’t been out all that long and are gorgeous. Plus it would mean painfully subtle rule differences in a game that already had a lot of painfully subtle rule differences. However they are all utterly awesome. Especially the Dindrenzi battleship. It’s a superb example of design and casting. It’s a glorious, beautiful thing that almost makes me want to start a Dindrenzi fleet. Lee is a very lucky chap to be getting his hands on that model.

Although the Terran models aren’t exactly ugly. Whilst I’m not 100% about all of the design tweaks moving it on from the Apollo Class battleship, there’s no denying that the Tyrant class battleship is a big, beautiful, ball buster of a ship. Albeit inappropriately named considering the Terran’s are supposed to be the nicer bunch of the two factions. My only real gripes about the models is the two halves of the Terran cruisers don’t sit flush, which is a shame as the gap is noticeable, the parts of the model that the flying stand goes into are separate on some models which makes me doubt long-term stability, and the thrusters on the Dindrenzi Praetorian Class battleship aren’t a brilliant fit.

But all that said, there’s no denying the quality of the detail and the superb casting quality. And in-game terms – as one would expect – they’re pretty evenly matched. Terran have less armour but shields. The Dindrenzi chuck out more shots but still have to put up with gun racks. The Terrans also get slightly more stuff which presumably is geared around the campaign book that’s also included in the box.

From a gaming point of view the Battle for Valhalla box is a bit of a deal as there are scenarios in the main book and then the campaign book on top. So from the point of view of smashing out a campaign – or just playing multiple games with some variety – it’s pretty good. The booklet itself is good. Some nice fluff at the start followed by some lovely scenarios (which make sense) and then the ship details at the back so you can get down to some face kicking without having to go online to download the data cards or buying the fleet book.

The other welcome addition is the counter sheets. This may seem a slightly inane thing to bring up but for me it’s very important for two reasons. 1. They’re pre-cut so none of that painstaking cutting out of counters that were printed on photo paper from Boots. The other is they’re all pleasingly designed. They’re all labelled which is a huge help but the design of each one is so simple that I just love looking at them. Especially as Spartan have been extremely clever with their use of colour palettes. They’re excellent and, for me, nicer to look at than the campaign book. But I’m a design nerd.

Overall the Battle for Valhalla is a good starter set. It’s not the cheapest starter set going but it’s not the most expensive either. The models are all gorgeous – the disappointment with the station not withstanding. The fact that you get the full rules and a campaign book is very good. I do have some reservations about the way some of the models go together but until they get regular use I can’t really say it’s a deal breaker. I would advise extra care though, especially as the battleships are heavy.

If you and a friend are looking to get into the Firestorm Armada hobby or you and friend want the new rules and some cool new ships for your existing fleets, this really is a path worth considering. Especially if you can survive on just one copy of the rules.

Firestorm Armada – Storm Zone: Battle for Valhalla is available from Firestorm Games priced £72.00.

Thon Available to Buy

1399569203You may remember a long while back The Shell Case looking at a truly gorgeous looking game called Thon. It briefly appeared on kickstarter but was cancelled due to some important changes in the game that meant it wouldn’t be ready for market.

I must admit that I forgot all about this very special looking game so when I discovered that the creators had managed to bring a 2 faction set to market I was pleased, proud and excited.

Thon1

I hope I’ll be able to take a closer look at this game as, almost a year ago, this was something I was desperately looking forward to.

If, like me, you can’t wait, then head over to the Thon website and check out the shiny new toys.

Firestorm Armada 2nd Edition – A Review

First an apology for being so quiet for so long. I was on holiday for a week which should have warranted an explosion of writing on my part. But there was no wifi. Heck there was very little phone signal. And chasing a toddler around acres of woodland, it turns out, was rather knackering so even writing offline proved too much as I was too wiped out after the little cherub went to bed. The review itself has taken a while to pen because I wanted to make sure I did the game justice. There was a couple of false starts where I began to write with no real direction which warranted the Ctrl-A, Delete bomb. So this review signals my return and I hope it was worth the wait.

firestorm-select copyIt’s been a wee while since I’ve reviewed anything from the Firestorm Armada universe so what better way than to look at the second edition rules and the new starter set? I’ll cover the rules in this article then look at the starter set and its bevy of toys later.

I’m a real fan of Firestorm Armada and the awesome models that accompany it. It was Firestorm Armada and its sister game, Dystopian Wars that I popped my non-GW-gaming cherry with. And it was a pretty easy decision to make as both games had gorgeous, reasonably priced, models and generally positive feedback from wargamers on Twitter.

FARB04-2 copy

For me, other than the sexy models, what makes Firestorm Armada, for me, such a brilliant fun game is the utterly embarrassing amount of dice you get to roll. When Firestorm Invasion (sort of) came out a while back it used a revised mechanic and I half expected Spartan to go that way with the second editions of Firestorm and Dystopian Wars. And I’m delighted to report that it isn’t the case. Because honest to God, starting an attack with 12 dice and ending it with 36 is immensely satisfying thanks to the exploding dice mechanic.

For the uninitiated the exploding dice mechanic works thus – any natural roll of a 6 counts as 2 hits and then you roll another dice. If that extra dice is a 6 it counts as 2 hits and you roll another dice. Repeat. It is, of course, a two-edged sword. What you can inflict on your enemy than can inflict on you but the trick is to get in first. And thanks to the retention of the alternating activation that’s still possible. It does mean that turns still take a while and big games will take half a day rather than an evening but that’s not the first game to be guilty of that.

So what’s new? Well quite a bit actually.

The main thing is upgrades for ships. There are options to swankify your weapon systems as well as hardpoints for system upgrades that give you largers ships extra armour, extra movement etc. It’s a big and important change for Spartan who did everything they could to keep the ships ‘factory standard’ to keep the game simple. But when you consider the variations across classification by fleet and by model was tiny and even non-existent something had to give beyond piling on more MARs special rules. Which I’ve always been irritated by and rarely used in any of the gamers I’ve played.

It’s great to see these options being opened up because it allows for real fleet building as well as applying some tactics to the process. Up to now every fleet list I’ve ever built has been entirely geared around the volume of dice I got to use. Because nothing else mattered. Whilst the upgrades won’t change the outcome of a game they’ll certainly make things more interesting. It’s also good that not all upgrades are available to everyone and allows you to tailor units into a specific combat role ala Battlefleet Gothic.

Another new addition is the battle log which is a poorly named means of tracking the game’s progress. If I’m honest it just doesn’t work. It’s based on morale which is a very iffy premise and fails to take into account how massively varied morale can be not just species to species but navy to navy, fleet to fleet and ship to ship. It’s a staggering over simplification that’s immediately made more complicated by the scoring system which forces you to take large squadrons of everything or face losing very quickly as it’s based around units being wiped out. Personally I think it’s just easier to total up the points the ships are worth. Fucking about with tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 ships and how many were wiped out which determines how many points is…well…fucking about.

There’s also some proper background in this book. It is, sadly, still quite poor. It lacks subtlety and presence. It just feels very safe whilst failing to really deliver any kind of impact. Yes it’s a big improvement. Yes I have a better idea of what’s going on. But does it shove its hand down my pants and have a good rummage? No it doesn’t. And that’s very frustrating for me because I’m a fluff gamer and I’ve always liked the idea of Firestorm. And with so many games out there with detailed background, there’s really no excuse for 15(ish) pages of background that felt like they were as much of a chore to write as they are to read. However it is an improvement, it is more detailed and it is more interesting than before. And the section on the planets is a nice touch too.

Overall though it is a huge improvement on the previous versions. The book is better presented for one thing – although there’s a few too many glossy photos – with examples that actually relate to the text around them. They’ve also finally done away with the profoundly irritating arbitrary use of bold that plagued all the other Spartan Games rule books up to now.

It all feels very tight. Rule explanations are clearer to the point that I didn’t have to read and re-read them to understand just what the hell the developers were on about. I still have that concern that there are too many steps to each stage so game play still won’t be as slick as it should be. But thanks to the standard of rule writing increasing at least there’ll be significantly less time wasted arguing over rule interpretation or spending an age flicking through an appallingly laid out book. Second edition is pretty bang on in that respect. It’s a much more natural, logical read. Thank the Lord.

One of my big buy bears about Firestorm (and Dystopian Wars) was the woefully vague rules for tiny flyers. Par of the problem was that explanations were dotted throughout the rule book and with no index it was all but impossible to find what you were looking for. All the rules are in one place now (huzzah) but they’ve also been hugely improved on to the point that one full understands how to use them. They’re still far too complicated for what should be a minor aspect of the game but it’s a big improvement. Improvement enough for me to buy more carriers? No, but at least I’ll make use of the one I have.

There’s also some scenarios. At last. It was badly needed in the core rules and far better than adding them into supplement books like Spartan did with Dystopian Wars. It was a frustrating move motivated by money rather than putting right a mistake. But the important thing one can feel like a campaign is no possible. Eventually anyway. The fleet lists have been taken from the book and put into two separate books costing £20 each. Comparatively cheaper than a Codex but that £20 covers all the good, or all the bad, species. So pence per page the value isn’t awesome if you only collect one fleet from the entire. book. But more on that another time.

The second edition rules for Firestorm Armada is a huge improvement on versions 1.0 and 1.5. The writing is stronger, the rules are clearer and have been – for the most part – logically improved upon. Not all the ideas work and it’s now a slightly more expensive game to get into but don’t let that put you off because it’s well worth it.

Firestorm Armada, second edition, and the Battle for Valhalla starter box are both available from Firestorm Games priced £18 and £72 respectively.

10 Years of Dawn of War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil