Codex Adeptus Astartes – A Review

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I must admit, when I saw a new Codex Space Marines had been released I had to check the date of my last review to make sure I wasn’t going mad. The previous edition was just 2 years old. Now I’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress (stop laughing) but that does seem a little soon and understandably makes people nervous about committing to a £35 book if it’s going to be replaced just 24 months later. It’s little wonder the illegal download underground is getting bigger all the time.

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As with other, more recent, Games Workshop publications, the by line is absent. Presumably to stop the bilious tirade directed at any one person that ensues when a new codex comes out. Bringing a new book so soon is bound to cause a certain degree of justified gnashing of teeth.

As with the previous book it’s just lovely to look at. From the cover art to every picture on every page is glorious and much of it, if I’m not mistaken, is new. Which for us old buggers is a bit of a treat. But there’s also a couple of images realised in colour that I’ve only seen in black and white, which is nice.

The quality of production has been increasedThe lining paper is a better fit and feels less luck it was stuck down by PVA. The hateful fold-in reference sheet is gone and with it the embarrassingly shonky folds.

Sadly the increase in quality doesn’t extend to the writing. There are fewer typos than the last book and they weren’t on the first page but they are still there. There’s also some stellar mixed metaphors, the worst of which is in the opening gambit. The background of Codex Adeptus Astartes feels, if I’m honest, nearly as lacklustre as the previous version. There have been some improvements for but the overarching theme doesn’t have any of the sense of urgency, drama or presence that previous books sweated from every surface. This book kinda feels like the Codex equivalent of the Amazing Spider-man 2: it’s drips with obligation rather than inspiration. It’s fulfilling of an intellectual property requirement rather than a promise of excitement, heroism and valour.

So Codex Adpetus Astartes isn’t worse than the 2013 Codex Space Marines. Hooray! Although I’m fairly certain there’s a smaller word count despite it being a thicker book (200 pages to 180). The artwork, splendid as it is, occupies a half page apiece on average. Sometimes more. The timelines in the previous edition were not only far prettier to look at, but more substantial. Each of the first founding chapters got fluff and timelines, that’s all been replaced by three of four paragraphs. It’s shame because the Ultramarines end up dominating the book more than they did before which does nothing to smooth over the – by this point – fairly mean-spirited bitching and belly-aching that is abound within the 40k community towards them. It would be good news for Ultramarines if the their background was written with any personality what-so-ever.

That said there’s some interesting tweaks to the background, one of which actually makes the Iron Hands interesting. Like: Horus Heresy books interesting. Like they’re all a bunch of repressed, self mutilating, sociopaths that are all one tin-man joke away from losing their shit and killing everyone. It’s brilliant. The best bits about the Heresy Salamanders is also evident, emphasising their compassion and their place as leaders of humanity rather than rulers. So whilst Codex Adeptus Astartes does condense, it does work harder to draw gamers towards the more exotic adherents of the Codex Astartes.

Overall though the layout of Codex Adeptus Astartes is strong and brings it in line with Codex Orks, which is a fantastic book. The army list is long but clear. The variety of Space Marine units available means there’s going to be a fair bit of flicking backwards and forwards for the purposes of army list writing but the upside it that you shouldn’t miss any notes or special rules with everything right there in front of you.

It does get a bit woolly in places and the Imperial Fists and their successor chapters are relegated to tertiary chapters whose histories focus around Lysander, Helbrecht and Grimaldus. But the good news for Black Templar players is they get an apology by way of really good Chapter Tactics. The Black Templars used to piss me off royally with their bullshit list of special rules. Whilst this list is thankfully a thing of the past, they still fare far better than most benefiting from bonuses to running, bonuses to Deny the Witch rolls, they get Counter Attack and Rage and all its cost them is the use of Librarians.

The rest of the rules are largely unchanged with a few points changes here and there. There’s been a subtle push towards flyers and anti-flyer units as the Stormtalon’s weapons systems have been halved in points and they get +1 to their jink save when hovering which makes them a massively more appealing option albeit at the cost of the Escort Craft special rule (this has been thrown into a formation instead). Equally the Stalker’s gun has lost a shot but can now split fire with its remaining three shots at Ballistic Skill 4 or, if it shoots at a single target it’s twin-linked. That’s nasty.

One of the changes that’s tickled me and is up there with equipping Havoc squads with plasma guns and a rhino as something to try is you can turn Tactical Squads into Wraightknight hunters. All you need to do is equip the squad with a grav-cannon, grav-gun and a grav-combi bolter. Although you could do similar with Devastator squads in a Rhino. You’d need to pick your moments wisely but it’d certainly make a real mess.

Master of the Forge appears to have gone the way of the Dodo and instead the humble Techmarine has had a 15 points increase but got an extra wound for their trouble with the option of all the cool and groovy upgrades. This is by no means the end of the world as you can still have a Techmarine leading your army but you’ve saved 25 points and it’s cost 1 point of Ballistic Skill.

The formations are no doubt what will get many hot and hard as it affords lots of big delicious bonuses for taking certain combinations of models. I deliberately missed out the word ‘expensive’ because it was obvious. Unfortunately it’s those with the deepest pockets or the biggest collections (they’re not necessarily the same thing) that will really benefit from these formations and they’re bonkers special rules.

Regular readers will know that I have two full companies of Ultramarines – 1st and 5th. This means I can, and often do, field a full battle company. This means I get all my transports for free. Hurrah! I can also field a Land Raider Spearhead the bonuses of which means I get to ignore everything but immobilised and vehicle destroyed results on the damage table as long as they stay in formation. Oh, and re-roll failed rolls to wound or for armour penetration. I mean really? I would actually feel embarrassed fielding that. I mean I’m gonna, but I’ll blush slightly as I kick the shit out of whoever I’m playing against.

Although there’s still no way to take a legal 1st Company army list which is such a shame, especially as the 1st Company formation feels more like they’re trying to push expensive models than because it’s accurate. It’s not the end of the world as gamers can just use an unbound list, it just would have been nice to give the option.

The hobby/showcase section in this Codex is huge. A fairly indulgent 43 pages compared to the previous 28 pages. So 15 of the extra pages in this version have been given over to pictures basically. Although I shouldn’t be surprised as most of the pages in the book have been given over to pictures. That said, because of the way the images are presented it’s going to make painting and marking Space Marine chapters are less painful experience now which is an extremely good thing. Thinking back to my staff days, one of the hardest things younger gamers had to deal with was getting that stuff right and it’s nice to see the book written inclusively rather than targeted at one audience or the other. I just wish it wasn’t quite so much of the book.

The reality of Codex Adeptus Astartes is that it’s essentially the second edition of the previous one. The background is blah rather than bad. The rules have had a review and there’s been a few interesting changes. Some subtle, some not so much. The presentation of the army list is clear and concise. The irritating things about the old book, like the folded reference sheet, are gone. It’s a nicer, better put together book.

I do still yearn for the days of Chapter traits because they made them all far more interesting. The tactics are fine and being an Ultramarine player I certainly can’t grumble but it still doesn’t quite grab me by the hobby spot. This said, there is still some improvements in there that’ll please one or two of the wargaming community. Unfortunately this book is, again, very much aimed at gamers that use Codex chapters. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing in there for Salamander players etc but there’s just not as much. Actually I’m pretty sure there’s less than before but I suspect that’ll be remedied with supplement books.

Overall Codex Adeptus Astartes is an average offering fixing many of the bugs in the previous books whilst introducing some interesting – albeit Easter egg sized – changes that will have far more impact than some appreciate. The formations are interesting enough that people will want to take them and broken enough that they’ll feel guilty doing it. But with some of the combinations out there, they won’t be alone. The background is a little stale but it is better but there’s still huge room for improvement. It is, end to end, beautiful. It’s also a big book about Space Marines.

Codex Adeptus Astartes is available from Firestorm Games priced £31.50.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – A Review

gw-rules-bannerI leave the hobby alone for five minutes!

A lot has changed during my hiatus. There’s bat shit crazy amounts of new stuff for X-Wing. There’s whole new armies for 40k and yet more re-released rulebooks. Spartan Games has landed a Halo fleet game (soooo getting that!) and it seems the entire Warhammer World has been destroyed. Careless.

Now I must be honest, I wasn’t living in a hole in the ground, I was aware that 9th Edition Warhammer was looming. I was also aware of the End Times books and the bonkers models but as I couldn’t give it any time I didn’t give it any thought. Oh what a mistake that was. It was a mistake because 9th Edition Warhammer isn’t 9th Edition anything. Warhammer ended with 8th Edition. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, 1st Edition, however has been unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Well I was unsuspecting so sod the rest of you.

If I’m honest, for the interests of this review, it’s actually a good thing I didn’t have a clue what the hell was going on. It’s kept me far more objective than someone that’s been in the hobby as long as I have has any right being. Because it’s changed. A. Lot.

The premise is basically this: everything is fucked. No really. The Warhammer World as we knew it has been destroyed. Archaon decided to blow everything up. Just coz. The result was Chaos running riot over the world and the fabric of reality unravelling like a sweat shop jumper. There are now multiple plains on which the various forces of order, chaos, death, destruction and candy floss duke it out for…well, I have no idea what for because there’s nothing left worth holding on to. It’s a Chaos wasteland. Not to be confused with a teenage wasteland, that would have more cider cans and used condoms I suspect.

The problem is most of that information was explained to me by my brother Sunday evening because I haven’t read the End Times books and without them you don’t have a clue what the background book is banging on about. Whoever wrote it tried to follow a similar mythical vein to Warhammer 40,000 but falls so woefully short of the mark that it’s just a confused, vague, mess. I have no idea how new gamers are supposed to understand the first thing about the world when the writer clearly didn’t.

And it’s not just that it’s vague, it’s poorly written. The word vengeance is so heinous in its overuse that I gave up keeping a tally. The number of ways they’ve tried to cram the word Sigmar into places, items and objects is embarrassing. There is only one, maybe two, references to other races in the game and there is nothing remotely scroll-like about the warscrolls, but on to those later.

On the upside the book is beautiful. It’s nicely put together and the artwork is amazing. The layout is broken down into logical sections allowing new gamers to absorb the information (and they’re going to need to!) before moving on to the next. I suppose that’s the point of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, it’s not aimed at old wargaming dinosaurs like me. It’s for a new and far younger audience that have grown up on a diet of Pokemon, Adventure Time and copious amounts of Capri Sun. The book bludgeons you over the head with heroes and villains. Of vengeance and slaughter. It’s kinda like sitting next to the weird chatty person on the bus. After a while you just tune out.

The reason I’ve spent 600 words complaining about the background, or lack thereof, is because I’m a fluff gamer. It’s the background that kept me into the various Games Workshop systems all the while my wallet begged me to leave. The fact that it was always five minutes to midnight, at the very brink of annihilation, is what made it compelling. The small glimmer of hope, the nobility of sacrifice, the feats of heroism and all supported by a rich and vibrant history. Boy is it history now. So much so it’s only referenced as the time before. The Games Workshop have hit the big red reset button of destiny. Warhammer is dead. Long live Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.

And speaking of the hammer wielding God-King: his gold clad Fantasy Marines, also known as the Stormcast Eternal (no really) are really quite awesome models. I mean seriously cool. Side stepping the quite shameless attempt to waggle them at young gamers shouting ‘hey these are like those Space Marines you like but with big hammers’, they are quite excellently sculpted. The detail on them is not just impressive but cleverly incorporated into the design. And us old buggers will inevitably draw comparisons to MkI Thunder Armour.

They’re big too. Bigger than a Terminator big. They feel substantial and look every bit the vengeful (fantasy) Angels of Death you’d want them to be. Plus all the hammers look amazing. Considering it’s a bit of a gimmick, they actually do a good job of making all the various hammers look distinct yet fit for purpose. That purpose being vengeance. Apparently. The styling is very close to that of the Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard which will no doubt spark a deluge of highly groovy conversions although I certainly wouldn’t want to try to get the comet sigil of all the surfaces.

Truth be told, I don’t have a problem with their being a Space Marine style army in Warhammer. It’s been lacking for years. If you wanted to do an elite army your options were either Warriors of Chaos or some super wanky army list that made you lose friends quicker than acute halitosis. Or something so achingly characterful that you’d lose all the time. So hooray, big armour clad (vengeful) heroes for everyone.

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Equally the Khorne models are awesome. Some of the poses are a little flat with the time-honoured brandishing weapons to the side poses, but the detail is there in spades and considering it’s Khorne it doesn’t get too daft. Apart from Bloodstoker, he’s shit. Even the icon bearer, Bloodsecrator (no really) doesn’t look preposterous. The icon itself is fantastic and would have made a stupendous battle standard-bearer for 8th Edition – and he still might sports fans. You’d think the spinal column he has for a ponytail would be eyebrow raisingly silly but actually it just works.

I’m side stepping Khorgoraths model because whilst it isn’t bad, it doesn’t wow me either but it’s such a shameless rip off of the Slaughterbrute from 40k that it pretty much has the same pose. Tisk tisk.

The Blood Warriors are my favourites though. Effectively the equivalent of the Chaos Space Marines in the 40k boxset the level of detail on them is impressive and they’d make fantastic Chosen warriors in the 8th Edition army. As would the lower level Bloodreavers to be honest, they’re that hench.

But on to the game itself. Now, a lot has been said about the lack of points and such and one must assume the Games Workshop has something up its sleeve on this topic because if it was simply a case of ‘I have 20 blokes, you have 20 blokes’ why are the number of models you get for each side in the box different? There’s clearly a balance there which suggests, at some point, there will be a system for selecting your forces.

I deliberately didn’t use the word armies there because you can’t take them any more. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is very much a detachment level game like 40k is/was. Whilst the rules have been streamlined to near collectible card game levels of simplicity, the multiple wounds for every model on the board would make it impossible to play a large game. More on that shortly.

It’s been widely publicised that the rules have gone from a big beast of a book to 4 sides of A4. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One of the biggest barriers to entry for any kind of wargame is the size of the rules. Stripping it back to little more than a pamphlet is a very brave move and a clear signal from the Games Workshop that they want as many people enjoying the game as possible. I’d like to point out it probably would have been less hassle just to make the models cheaper but there we go…

If I were to cast my mind back to the distant past of the early noughties when I worked for the Games Workshop Warhammer was by far the hardest game to get younger games psyched about. Not because the world was lacking, far from it (*cough cough*) but because the intricacies of deployment and movement were lost on them or seemed like too much hassle compared to the board next door which had blokes running around in every direction blowing one another’s faces off. When a game went well it really went well and Little Jimmy would toddle out of the store having spent all his allowance as well as his father’s booze fund for the month. But for every 3 Warhammer starter sets I sold, I’d sell 9 40k’s.

Under the new rules the longest section, by a mile, is the battlefield section. This actually makes a great deal of sense as one of the big draws for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar isn’t just the new shiny models – although they are – but the mad as bat shit world those models now inhabit. Because it’s all a bit mental boards can be as varied as those used in games of Warhmmer 40,000. And because the models are now on round bases the boards can be used almost universally.

This is a shrewd move by Games Workshop. It encourages the hobbyist to go all out on a board, buying up all the things, knowing that they can use it for either system (more or less). The logic is that gamers were put off purchasing because they knew they were going to do have to build a board twice. Two large hobby projects that don’t involve armies would put off just about everyone except Lee of The Chaps. But the cost remains. Now a daemon world board, for example, is now good for both systems.

The rules for movement are largely unchanged. You have a value, you move the value etc. Shooting and combat are now so aligned in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar that they may as well have written one long section called ‘Twatting Shit’. Again, this isn’t a criticism but to highlight how surprisingly elegant they’ve made the rules. All weapons have a range. You may raise a cynical eyebrow but it makes sense. A bloody great big hammer has a longer range/reach than a regular hammer. It’s logic lifted straight from the pages of Inquisitor and that was a great game.

It’s weapons and not the man that do the heavy lifting in W:AoS, which has more irony  than perhaps was intended. The profile of the model has been stripped right back to Movement, Wounds, Bravery and Save. And because of how the weapons work it stops characters from becoming complete monsters like they could in 8th Edition thanks to the heady cocktail of weapons and items available to them. They’re still as tough as old boots but due to the way some weapons can inflict multiple points of damage they’re not invincible either.

But the system is simpler because there’s no charts any more. A weapon has a number of attacks, a required roll to hit, roll to wound and will inflict x number of damage points/wounds. It also has a rending value which is the fancy new name for the save modifier.

Indeed the fact that some weapons can inflict multiple wounds is just as well because most models have multiple wounds now which is gonna mean lots of record keeping. Which would have been a nightmare under the old system with so many models on the board. And that’s really the biggest thing I had to reconcile with: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is not a game of big fisty-cuffs any more.

Again, this isn’t a complaint as such. Big games of 8th Edition Warhammer took forever to play depending on your army and rules knowledge. It’s a huge barrier to entry. Throw in the precise set up and movement and it’s little wonder Games Workshop had such a hard time not just drawing in, but keeping younger gamers. Granted, there’s an argument to be had for the game being for the seasoned gamer but how commercially viable is that?

You can now get through a game similar in size increments to 40k in an evening and still have time to tell smutty jokes to your mates. This, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is a good thing.

I really like the rules. It makes life so much simpler. I hate the stupid names they’re trying to give everything but you can’t win them all. And some of the special rules included in the book are a bit iffy but overall, they’re pretty strong and, perhaps the biggest thing, they’re quick!

Where it gets let down – and I’m by no means the first person to say this – is the army structure and points system. In that there isn’t one. You can literally take whatever the hell you like as long as the forces are equal. Which is impossible to determine because there are no values.

I understand the logic – if you take a wanky army no one will play you so take a balanced army. Games Workshop has woefully underestimated the sheer volume of beardy, smelly, friendless tossers that prowl games clubs and infest tournaments looking for some poor unsuspecting (and usually novice) gamer to absolutely destroy. I’ve known dozens of them over the years. I’m willing to bet that everyone can think of at least one at their local hobby store or club as well.

Moreover the people with the biggest model collections will win. Not because they’re using the most models but because they can pull out the unit that will best counter the army of someone who is just starting out. The whole idea relies on people being good and decent which isn’t impossible, just very hard with no guidelines on how to balance your forces.

The daft thing is I could take a starting army of Chaos Lords. Under the rules I can summon a Slave to Darkness unit per model per turn on a 4+. So for every Lord I take I can attempt to summon anything in the army which has the Slave to Darkness special rule. Chaos Warriors come in units of at least 10. And I may be getting this wrong but I think I could summon more Chaos Lords too. Who in turn can summon more on top. It’s just mental! Again the counter argument is ‘but no one would play you’. 1. That’s just not true and 2. the argument should never ever take place. Points limits, unit limits and army organisation was never and is not a bad thing. It was far easier to spot a power-gamer before. Now everyone has the potential to be one.

And as I’m on the subject of the warscrolls – three things.

1. It’s an utterly stupid, deliberately commercial, name aimed at Generation I Choose You!

2. It’s awesome that Games Workshop have made warscrolls available for all the various armies for free. I have no idea if these are just place holders, whether or not new books will come out or if it’ll stay digital. That’s not for here, it’s just cool that we got something for free. However…

3. Whoever wrote the warscrolls was either high, mentally deranged or has utter contempt for those that would use them. There are special rules within the warscrolls that demand gamers to grunt like animals, shout Waaagh or lay on some form of amateur dramatics if they want to get the most out of certain special rules or spells. Seriously.

Now I’m the first to admit to inciting a Waaagh of a Sunday morning with a table full of beginners. But they were 10. And even they felt like twats. How is a seasoned gamer in his 40’s or 50’s supposed to feel about shouting Waaagh in his dining room or, worse, a games club if he wants to use his army properly? It’s insulting.

It’s insulting because Games Workshop are either so woefully out of touch that they thought it was a good idea or they wanted to stop people from using certain units because they’re being phased out and it would soften the blow. I can’t accept that someone woke up one morning thinking that it would be a valuable and worthwhile addition to the rules to have gamers cavort for the amusement of others.

So what of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar? Well, if you hadn’t guessed: I’m a bit mixed on the whole thing. The models are stupendous. I mean really top-notch. A little bonkers in places but that’s hardly a new direction for Games Worksop, or indeed most wargaming companies.

The background is mess. Not poor as such, just poorly written (there’s a difference) and very confused. It needs seriously tightening up if there’s going to be a second edition Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I honestly didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on until I got the summary from my brother. And this is bad because it’s obviously aimed at a new and much younger audience who probably wouldn’t have read the End Times books.

The rules are actually very good. Super slick and whilst pixie dice will no doubt be needed it’s a significantly smaller commitment in time. Throw in the fact that you need fewer models for a good-sized game and the impact of hobby time shrinks as well which means more people will complete projects. And when I say people I mean me. Huzzah.

The army lists/warscrolls/post-it notes of power/whatever are stupidly named but nicely laid out and, more or less, pretty clear in their intent. But some of the free to download warscrolls have some utterly maddening rules in them so I strongly urge you to take a red pen to them.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar isn’t 9th Edition no matter what anyone says. It just isn’t. It’s a totally different beast living in a totally different world. Actually nine of them. And you know what? It’s fine. Overall it’s a reasonable attempt. It’s a good game let down by the simple fact that the majority, if not all, of the lore keepers, who wrote the really strong stuff, departed years ago and the heavy lifting is now done by the Black Library writers.

I freely admit that I will continue to play 8th Edition. For me it was the best, and as it turns out, last version of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I will complete my Warriors of Chaos army as best I can and enjoy 8th Edition the same way I do Mordheim: as a finished game, forever unchanging.

But I can also see myself playing Age of Sigmar in some small way. It’s a good game. But the departure for me is that I won’t be invested in this world the way I was the old one. 26 years of hobby experience aside (shut up I started when I was very young), the world just isnt’ as rich and it won’t be for a little while yet I fear. Which is fine as long as I know going in.

Should seasoned gamers pick up Warhammer: Age of Sigmar? Yes, they absolutely should. Firstly, the models are awesome and have fantastic hobby potential. Secondly, t’s a great game and should be enjoyed as such, just leave your memories at home next to your shattered innocence.

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is available from Firestorm Games priced £63.75.

Ork Gorkanaut – A Review

warhammer-40000-logoThis review is later than planned because my daughter selfishly got sick and meant all my evenings were spent caring for her instead of building the Gorkanaut. I’ve still not finished it but I’m far enough along that I can confidently review it.

It’s awesome.

Review over.

Gorkanaut_MorkanautAs if! My opinions can never be confined to two words.

Just for the benefit of those that have been living in an Ork free cave for the last few months, the Gorkanaut/Morkanaut is the latest big kit to roll off the production line bring the Green Menace up to snuff with the Imperium, Tau and Eldar. And like the Imperial Knight there are options to build one of two types of big clanky architects of destruction.

Whilst I plan on having both variants in my Freebooter’s army I kicked things off with the Gorkanaut because it’s my favourite of the two. The only real difference is the primary weapon and the absence of the Kustom Forcefield. And a less mekky head.

The kit has needed instructions. There’s a lot of parts and some of them need to keep moving after the gluing and it wouldn’t take much to get that wrong without the guidance from the below par diagrams. And between the below par diagrams and the sheer volume of cool bits and bobs to add it takes a good long while to build the kit. If you’re planning on using it the day you buy it, start early.

It’s brilliant fun to build though. The kit strikes the balance between strength and posibility perfectly aside from the legs being a little static, but it’s forgivable considering the design of the model and the inevitable limitations. But there are options enough you can mix it up a bit. Plus if you’ve bought any other Ork vehicles there’s no shortage of odds and sods to really make it feel individual. Which is just as well if you’re planning on having more than one of these bad boys in your army. And why wouldn’t you?

The detail on the kit is awesome. The bulkheads have that rough and uneven feel of something that’s been hand-made which, of course, they would be. And the areas around the legs and feet have wearing from the legs being poorly designed and made which, of course, they would be.

The hard points and the weapons design means you can build either configuration without the need of lots of spare and wasteful plastic. It also affords some subtle variation as well as conversion opportunities. The big shootas would also look awesome slapped across the wings of Dakkajets for anyone wanting to really tool up their flyers.

There are lots of little touches to the kit that imply real thought on behalf of the Meks albeit none of it terribly clever. Like the mud guards by the leg and the fact it kinda looks like a Mek got carried away trying to build a suit of Terminator armour. It is a poor man’s Stompa in many ways though, in the same way that a Killa Kan is a poor man’s Deff Dred. It’s not a gripe as such but it does lack the same gravitas or the same degree of crudity to its construction. But it will still look badass on the board. Until you buy a Stompa. And for the difference in money you kinda have to ask yourself why you’d opt for the Gorkanaut.

But truth be told it’s an excellent kit in its own right and whilst the Gorkanaut’s big brother is the cooler and better value option it’s also the less practical one. And you can field two Gorkanauts for the points.

In game terms it’s typically Orky in its application. Volumes of dice from a big shooty weapon, in the case of the Gorkanaut, that will miss more than it hits, and a claw to tear open…well, everything. And it’s needed. The fact that it’s armour is 13 to the front and side is pretty amazing for Orks but it’ll still be vulnerable through sheer weight of fire and most armies having vastly superior anti-tank. So for the points it’s a gamble as you’ll be forced to send it stomping across the board in the hope of it making its points back.

The Morkanaut more so for me. Whilst it’s Kustom Forcefield affords it durability – which is handy considering the small transport capacity – but it’s single shot weapon will be useless 4 times out of 6. And even then the kustom mega-blasta lacks the punch to be major threat to heavily armoured vehicles like Leman Russ or Land Raiders. Instead it’s far better put to use crippling APCs and support vehicles forcing the enemy out into the open where the rest of the Ork army can wade in. The claw is for the big meaty stuff. But even then don’t hinge your game plan on it.

Annoyingly the support weapons will probably be more use considering how likely either ‘Naut is to get mobbed by nasty choppy units.. Especially on the Morkanaut as it lacks the anti-personnel potency of the Gorkanaut to thin the herd.

But it’s an Ork vehicle and Ork players have come to expect very little from their army so anything that does come off is a bonus. And in the mean time they have a very cool model on the board that looks scary and might draw some fire for a couple of turns. And maybe, just maybe, it may take something down with it. If it doesn’t just console yourself with the fact that it was immense fun to build and looks awesome.

The Gorkanaut kit is available from Firestorm Games priced £55.25

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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