Grey Knights Codex – A Review

 

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One in a million. That’s how many recruits survive Grey Knight boot camp.  And if you consider that those recruits are the top percentage of those already chosen from their home worlds as being the top specimens on their respective planets, the numbers start to get a little crazy. The entire population of Earth would probably yield barely a single Grey Knight – rounding up. That’s a whole lot of sacrifice for a single marine in silver armour, but then who else is going to remember the ever-changing names of every Daemon in the Warp and throw it in their faces?

Grey Knight Codex

The new Grey Knights Codex describes such details to give you a better understanding than ever before of lengths the Imperium has had to go to in the endless war for its soul.  On reading through the background of the frankly beautiful book, I was surprised at the number of excellent additions to their background – a stellar map showing the locations of the known daemonic  incursions and Warp storms throughout the galaxy, a detailed breakdown of the Chapter’s fighting strength, descriptions of all the Brotherhoods,  plus the names and duties of each Grandmaster and their second in command Brother Captains, a double page spread on understanding their Heraldry with examples and ideas on creating your own. It goes on and on and all works to impress upon you just how few and individual they are, and the magnitude of the task they face.

Their Chapter breakdown reads with some very specific numbers, such as 44 Purifiers and 98 Paladins – in the entire galaxy. Even when reading the same lists for marines you’re still somewhat safe in the knowledge that there are at least another thousand or so other Chapters out there to lend a hand if someone screws up. It’s all wonderfully compelling  knowing just how close humanity teeters on the edge of its doom, and the individuality the book enables you to impart on your small army of ‘man’s greatest, and fewest, heroes’ creates a firm link to the consequences should you fail.

The fantastic new artwork does a much better job of portraying their supreme fighting ability (the first double page piece is particularly impressive) and lends itself well to the idea that they are extremely proficient at killing daemons – but constantly under threat of being overwhelmed by the never-ending hordes they struggle to hold back. Usually only barely a handful of Grey Knights will be sent to deal with a potential incursion which their prognosticators can foresee (kind of like ‘Minority Report’) which enables them to show up at the right time with the minimum of force to get the job – so precious is each and every Knight – and only the greatest and most threatening of incursions warrants the mustering of a full brotherhood.

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If I’m honest, I was disappointed with the photography.  Someone got a little carried away with the lighting effects and there was no showcase of individual models which is always one of my favourite sections of an army book – I’m unsure if this is consistent across the new format Codicies but it’s not a change I’m happy with as I get a lot of inspiration from the individual efforts of the ‘Eavy Metal team.  There‘s also what look to be not one, but two non ‘Eavy Metal, and I guess ‘reader/staff submitted’, armies used in the photography and the quality just isn’t there.  They are great armies that anyone would be proud to own (although I’m not sure about the one with all the trophy racks, seems very Chaos) but in a premium book I expect premium quality throughout.

Onto the army list and there’s quite a bit of change, and you can expect a mixed reaction from existing Grey Knight players. They had a reputation as one of the stronger armies in 40k and everyone was expecting them to be toned down – and this has indeed happened.  All the Inquisitor stuff has gone completely – even down to the fluff, with only a slight link to the Inquisition being maintained. Most of the equipment and upgrades has been wiped away, no more Psycannon Bolts, or Rad grenades, or Brain Mines, it’s all gone along with all the Grey Knight specific Vehicle upgrades. It’s a bit of a shame as not only is there  still a mention of the more exotic pieces they use in the background, but it seems a lot of the army identity has now gone into the Psychic phase removing most of the choice you had in how you played with them.

Non Grey Knight players will be happy to hear the (now) Lord of War choice, Kaldor Draigo has had his wings clipped. He’s still a beast but no longer strength or toughness 5 – again, as much as this was perhaps needed, it’s still a shame to see perhaps the greatest Marine in the Galaxy reduced to a majority stat line of 4’s [I think most Space Marine players would argue that point by go on… - Ed].

You’ll be kept busy re-learning the points costs of the basic elements of the army as there’s ups and downs all over the place.  Some changes of note are Grand Masters have gone up slightly and trade-off their Grand Strategy for psychic level 2, whereas Librarians have gone down by a whopping 40 points – and a further 25 less for a level 3!  Strike squads have gone up but their equipment options have gone down so you’re still better off, and Terminators have gone down significantly but lose out on the changes to the Nemesis weapons – which is swords now have no benefit beyond being a Nemesis Force weapon and Halberds are +1 Strength instead of +2 Initiative – so the Terminators are now either less durable in combat or a lot slower. Purifiers went up slightly and the Apothecary for the Paladins is now a massive 55 points less – which equates to a free Paladin! Other highlights include special weapons now being consistently priced, which actually makes equipping one on your HQ a feasible option, and the Dreadknight has been given the sales boost treatment as you can now take a tooled up teleporting monstrosity for, on average, 70 points less!  The Vehicles are largely unchanged.

Generally the list seems to be pushing you to take more from the troops choices which is a good thing as there were some big errors in the last codex which made taking Purifiers over Strike Squads a no brainer. And with Terminators getting worse but cheaper, it’s now a harder decision to choose between the two troops choices.  However, the adjusted force organisation means you only need one as a compulsory choice and gives you an extra Elite slot at a cost of one less Heavy and Fast Attack – go figure.  I said before, it’s a shame to lose all the toys and although the Relics are some consolation, it’s taken away some of the individuality from the HQ’s that the background did such a job of adding to them.

With less being spent on your HQ and generally cheaper units overall you’re army should be larger but will rely even more on the Psychic phase to assert itself with a number of units now having access to multiple powers – and a Librarian should still be the first name on the team sheet.  Beyond him and perhaps the Dreadknight, the army balance is a lot better with more of the choices being just that, rather than easy hits and misses, and I’m looking forward to getting some more models on the table – but man am I going to miss those Rad Grenades.

-Lee

A Tribute to Inquisitor

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Looking back on Inquisitor, there was a lot wrong with it when it came out. The models, whilst beautiful, were far too big compared to anything similar of the same type of gaming, which made getting into it quite hard and conversions harder. It also required a completely different painting style that only a handful of GW staffers were trained in at launch. The rules were this sort of weird hybrid of loosely defined gameplay mechanics with a smattering of RPG elements. The inclusion of Space Marines pretty much broke the game system, with long-term players having to adopt a no space marine policy except on special occasions.

Yet some of my fondest memories of wargaming are from playing Inquisitor. So what gives? I think it’s because Inquisitor, at its heart, encouraged creativity and experimentation. By having rules that were detailed, but not too thorough, it encouraged players to be a bit looser with the rules themselves, all in the aid of fun and the cinematic. I’ll never forget the trials of my friend’s Priest character with one cybernetic testicle that stopped him from running, (he had to take a toughness test if he did, due to the poorly made bionic smashing against his other gentleman plum) or the Elder Ranger that somehow always managed to miss every shot he took. Or the one time a group of us had nearly escaped a planet via shuttle, until a rogue Techpriest crashed a digger into it, causing much laughter from us all.

What I’m trying to get at is that, despite a slightly dodgy rule system, Inquisitor was all about having fun. I think in a way it wasn’t as successful because it required a bit of a shift of perspective from Games Workshop’s usual approach to wargaming. Whilst 40k or Necromunda may have narrative elements as a part of them, the underlying goal is still all about winning. Whereas Inquisitor was more about entering into a contract with other players, to have as fun a time a possible and create a fun story in the 40k universe. In that way, it was more akin to something like Dungeons and Dragons or other roleplaying games. It’s the only Games Workshop game I can remember that suggested you have a GM or ‘games master’, to help direct players actions and game flow.

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But there’s a bigger factor to Inquisitor than the gameplay side of things. It’s a fun game, but Inquisitor is more than that. The game has a legacy that fundamentally reshaped the approach people took to the 40k universe and its background. Inquisitor offered us a view of the Imperium away from the battlefield and expanded upon just how things worked on a local and sector wide scale in more detail than ever before. It let the Imperium of Man become a place people lived in, rather than a series of clichés and, more to the point, planetary punch ups. In many ways, though it’s a horrible place, the new direction to the background humanised the Imperium and made me actually care for it.

That was the joy of all the Specialist Games I suppose. They provided an outlet for their creators to truly experiment and play with the 40k universe and it came out the richer for it. Every small bit of artwork, every supposedly superfluous bit of detail fleshed out a universe that, whist epic in scale, never bothered much to explain exactly who, after all the world ending epic conflict, would wash the dishes*.

I certainly don’t think there would be half the current background on the Inquisition, nay the Imperium itself, that there is today without it. It explored this prior untapped resource, shadowy figures who toil unceasingly to protect the Imperium by whatever means necessary. It also introduced us to Radicals and in doing so, allowed 40k’s concept of a morally grey universe to finally take centre stage once more. We see this reflected in novels by the Black Library, in Fantasy Flights’ wonderful RPG games (in many ways spiritual successors to Inquisitor). Let us not forget that Inquisitor gave rise to the Eisenhorn trilogy which was vital to the success of the Black Library and the ever-expanding 40k universe found in their huge range of novels.

Though the 40k codices tend deal a bit more with absolutes these days, Inquisitors’ legacy is still in there, nipping at the heels of every ‘definitive’ statement and every ‘fact’. It makes me question everything I’m told about the Imperium of Man. Very apt for a game that starts with the phrase “Everything you have been told is a lie”. It really is a staggeringly good book to read.

I’m not sure how the rumored box set revival will change things up, but I bet it won’t allow for a priest with a bionic testicle. I’ll be watching from the shadows though, just in case.

*That phrase comes from a line that I remember a comedian saying on a late night show when I was younger, “If there were a new popular film to come out about an alien attack or a worldwide event, British people would be more interested in finding out about who cleans up afterwards and does the dishes”. It struck me as pretty apt and ever since I’ve referred to our cultural obsession with the small details and the underdog by that phrase.

A Farewell to Specialist Games

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It is common knowledge to all, by now, that the Specialist Games range is all but dead. The Games Workshop is no longer producing miniatures and the rule books have been withdrawn from sale.

With its demise I and the rest of The Shell Case team have decided that we had to do something to mark its passing. So, we have taken it upon ourselves to write a tribute to the games we loved the most. One will go up each day over this week, starting with Adam’s tribute Blood Bowl and working our way through the other games in the range, ending the week with my true love: Battlefleet Gothic. Sadly there won’t be one for Warmaster because none of us really played it, so if there’s someone out there that would like to write a guest post then get in touch.

The games will undoubtedly live on in the hearts of gamers everywhere but couldn’t let these incredible game fall into memory without giving them a send off of our own.

Stay tuned…

Inquisitor Returning?

As we’re approaching that time of year once more the rumour mill has made an abrupt gear change. All the indications were that the next limited edition boxed game would be Blood Bowl.

I, personally, wasn’t that excited because I’m not a fan of the game. I was when I was 12 but then I learned the importance of balanced rules and good models so quickly fell out of love.

But it seems that the limited edition release will, in fact, be…Warhammer 40,000: Inquisition. Although it’s welcome news that it’ll be something a little more original, it’s a bitter pill for many to swallow  considering the Specialist Games range has only just been sacked off.

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From what I’ve found on various rumour sites the indications are as follows…

Inquisition is designed for 2-4 players and each side will use custom cards and dice.
Army sizes consist of about 5-10 models per side.
A whole new set of models drawn from Blanche artwork will accompany. No indication of scale yet.
The game should be flexible as you can make and design your own Inquisitorial retinue.
As for rules complexity that is anyone’s guess, but the general marketing goal for Inquisition is a gateway game into the greater Warhammer 40k universe.

Beyond that GW, seems to be taking cues from Kickstarter projects like Sedition Wars and home-brewed rules like Inq28 for Inquisitor. This also might not end up as a limited edition run, but that all depends on sales, and if any support is continued will be done through digital expansions and updates.
As it is that is all I have for now, but if my sources hold true expect more information as it comes!

Being a bit Special

There’s been a lot of chatter on the interwebs lately about the lack of love the Games Workshop shows for its Specialist Range. I think this has been largely prompted by Fantasy Flight Games’ expanding range of licensed products such as the all new Blood Bowl Manager game. Although there’s a few rumours floating around that Blood Bowl will be the next in line for the Space Hulk treatment. Personally, I’d be quite happy with that because I think it’s the one game that never worked terribly well. I’m probably also the only one who thinks that.

There’s quite a few strong opinions out there. Some are understandable and passionate, others are the usual bilious nonsense that seems to follow Games Workshop around like a bad smell. As the Specialist Games range has been largely my sole focus for the Games Workshop part of my wargaming hobby at the moment I thought I’d wade in.

Whatever people feel, the simple truth behind Games Workshop’s lack of support towards the Specialist Games range boils down to three things:

1. There’s no money in it. This argument won’t come as a surprise to anyone. Any doubt gamers had that profit was at the forefront of Games Workshop’s mind has vanished following the recent price increases. But it’s a true and a fair reason (to a point – no profit means no company). Once you have the rules and a warband box for Mordheim you don’t need to spend another penny if you don’t want to. And all companies rely on repeat business.

2. The Specialist Games ranges stall peoples development in the hobby. This argument may well be anchored in economics but it’s valid. From my experience as a member of staff when Specialist Games was in its heyday, gamers that just played those games didn’t develop their modelling, painting and gaming skills as quickly as other gamers. A gamer that spent a couple of years playing skirmish games before graduating to Warhammer or 40k had their arses handed to them which put them off progressing further. Especially those that considered themselves ‘experienced gamers’.

3. There’s no space. The truth is there’s only so much space in a hobby store for stock and gaming boards and so the company has to give the space to what sells. Especially as ranges are getting bigger all the time. Even the Black Library is relegated to the smallest space possible in most stores. Granted more could be done online but the Games Workshop’s success is based on interaction and sharing the hobby with like-minded people. And, again, you’d still have to pay someone to write free content for a game that makes the business no real money in the first place.

I suppose, really it’s one reason when you scratch beneath the surface of points 2 & 3. Money. And that’s not unreasonable, but it does suck.

So, what can we as gamers do to enjoy the Specialist Games without the ongoing support of the publishers?
Obviously there’s nothing you can do about the lack of models or the relatively high cost of those that are. eBay is the obvious place to go but as I’ve talked about in my By Proxy post, starting a Necromunda gang that way can cost you twice as much as it should. Proxying is the obvious place to go but that’s not being covered here.

The great thing about the Specialist Games range is that the core rules are free to download from the website which is bloody handy and saves you a tidy bit of cash. Granted, printing it is a bind and it’s never the same as having the real deal but for zero investment you can suck it up if you ask me.

Beyond that and trying to track down the supplement magazines, the only thing left to you is writing campaigns.
And actually this is where the Specialist Games range gets one over on Warhammer & 40k because Epic Armageddon, Battlefleet Gothic, Mordheim and Necromunda are all set within a very specific place or time that gives you a very solid and detailed foundation from which to build your campaign on. Most of the leg work has already been done with regards to who’s who and why you’re there. All that’s left for you to do is think up a storyline, come up with some cracking scenarios and have fun. And I certainly have been with the chaps. You just need to have a read of the Blood in the Barrows scenario in the gaming resources part of this site to see that. And Inquisitor gives you a complete blank canvas. But that game does my box in so I’ll not say much more about it.

And if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s nothing to stop you from revising the rules yourself, a bit like the chaps at Coreheim did. It’s certainly an option and could give your game of choice a new lease on life I’d ask yourself first; is it really worth the effort?

Granted we still come back to the issue of models and often the need to proxy which becomes increasingly difficult with games like Epic & Battlefleet Gothic but the ranges are still largely intact. Especially for Gothic which reinforces my belief that the game is like the Games Workshop’s bastard love child. It desperately wants to embrace it as their own and give it all the love and support it needs but to do so would be at a tremendous financial and personal cost.

I don’t think Games Workshop willingly abandoned the Specialist Games range. If they really wanted them gone they’d just pretend they never existed like Gorkamorka. I just think that the business has a very single-minded strategy which doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Do I like it? No. Is it cost-effective? Yes. And with the recent, cliff like, drop off in sales that Dreadfleet will go some way to rescuing them from, probably as the result of the price increases, there’s even less chance the company will have the funds to put into these wonderful and very special games.