The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth – A Review


Okay okay, I know I said I didn’t have any interest in getting this game but I’m weak and…well who gives a shit whatever other reason I have?

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth (for those living under a rock or too idle to go to the Games Workshop website) is a boxed game depicting the running battle between the Ultramarine and the Word Bearers Legions in the catacombs below the radiation ravaged surface of…well, Calth. Obviously.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Horus Heresy novels then you’ll be fairly aware of the events leading up to it and the major players. If you haven’t please run full pelt into a wall as punishment. Then go read them.

So Betrayal at Calth is a very splendid looking board game pitting the Ultramarines against the Word Bearers in the dingy tunnels and chambers of subterranean Calth. I do have to address the elephant in the room. Yes it’s kind of like Advanced Space Crusade…and Space Crusade. But in a lot of crucial ways it’s not. It’s easy to make direct comparisons between this and its forefathers but the truth is Space Crusade’s focus was exploration whereas Betrayal at Calth is open war and a fight for survival. It’s tunnel fighting at its very worst. The need for blip counters and a lot of the other very cool things that made Space Crusade iconic just don’t fit.


Truth be told, Betrayal at Calth is a pretty good game. Much like Deadzone, the game uses a grid movement system with an occupation limit. However, unlike Deadzone it isn’t shit. The main differences are the hex system works instead of the vague and wooly cube system in Deadzone…and it doesn’t have all the other reasons that made Deadzone poor.

Broadly, the mechanic in Betrayal at Calth works much like its forebears. You roll some very groovy dice with icons denoting a hit or critical hit or a shield (which is either a miss or a defensive success). Unlike Space Crusade it’s far simpler with a straight forward activation system that allows turns to be rattled through very quickly. Much like the reboot of Space Hulk. Unlike Space Crusade it doesn’t bother with the two tier dice system so you’ll actually bother firing your boltguns in this game.

The aforementioned hex system allows for not only slick movement, shooting and combat but very elegantly represents the cramped environs of the tunnels the Ultramarines and the Word Bearers were fighting through. This is a very good thing. Best of all it’s a simple value equals dice rolled process with additional dice being rolled in certain circumstances. Which makes for a far quicker gaming experience. Of course it gets a little abstract but, to be honest, it doesn’t matter because it works.

It allows you to hamper the movement of your opponent or outright bottle neck areas by using the accumulative bulk of your Space Marines or, better yet, your Terminators. It’s a surprisingly tactical game for what otherwise would be a ‘go here and shoot them’ offering.

The production value is also amazing. The cards are thick and premium, the book almost as luxurious as one of Forge World’s Horus Heresy publications and is resplendent with their artwork. The double sided tiles are also loving rendered. The only negative is that they’re not quite as premium as the Space Hulk tiles. But considering the amount of plastic you get in Betrayal at Calth I’m willing to let it slide.

At first I thought a game of Space Marines vs Space Marines would be deeply deeply dull but the differences in the forces – big scary dreadnought vs badass terminators – and the legion specific decks players can call upon actually really works. Plus the critical hit system actually has the stench of genius about it. Rather than the obvious bonus hits, the effects vary from stripping away activation points to reducing enemy characteristics to zero…which means they get pulped basically. And the exploding assault cannon is back! Huzzah!

The scenarios are…actually a bit like Deadzone’s. They’re paced to gradually introduce gamers to the different unit types which rather highlights one of the reasons I suspect Games Workshop put the game out. To introduce new gamers to the 30/40k Universe. Considering the revival of Specialist Games it makes complete sense.

Betrayal at Calth has a simple mechanic, it’s quick and it doesn’t bombard you with the lore like the main rulebook does. Plus the models are superb.

Honestly, they’re all awesome. The terminators and contemptor suffer slightly from being plastics in a starter set compared to their awesome Forge World counterparts, but broadly Betrayal at Calth is absolutely worth getting just for the models. What really sells it is that the Space Marines aren’t the usual push together at but genuine multi-part models as detailed as the plastic tactical squad. They don’t have Forge World’s fidelity of detail to be sure but they don’t have warping, miscast detail or fucking horrid mould lines either.

Regular readers will know that I’ve got two companies of Ultramarines already and, because all the models are non-Legion specific, this box could put me well on my way to a 30% of third. If I felt so inclined. I’ve had to promise Lee that I wouldn’t use them as Ultramarines…at least not all of them. It’s a fantastic starter army though: force commander, chaplain, dreadnought, terminators and 3 tactical squads. I think it roughly works out you get the characters and a tactical squad for free based on rule retail price which is an absolute winner.

However where it does fall down is it lacks the progression of Space Crusade…which is absurd considering it’s 25 years old and, in that regard, the stronger offering. One of the criticisms I’ve heard is that the tiles used in Betrayal at Calth overall make up a smaller gaming space than Space Crusade. Whilst that’s true, they are double sided and the mechanic makes use of that space very effectively so larger tiles aren’t needed. Plus Space Crusade took forever to play so I’m not sorry that Betrayal at Calth is a quicker game.

Between the simple rules, straight forward mechanic, interesting critical hit system and some truly gorgeous models, Betrayal at Calth is a rare solid hit from Games Workshop. It isn’t cheap but we’re use to that. Plus buying 30 tactical marines alone would cost over £60 so in terms of getting some very cool models for not tonnes of money it actually makes complete sense.

The models really are worth every penny. They look fantastic, they’re cast perfectly and would look amazing either as the core of a new army or swapping out some of the older Mk6 and Mk7 armoured plastics. As I mentioned the terminators and the contemptor do suffer from the limitations of their kits, to be more child friendly, but it does nothing to diminish just how cool they all look.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is a brilliant little game. It looks great and plays well. It does lack some longevity but I believe the Games Workshop are remedying that with new scenarios and such. But even if that wasn’t true, you have the beginnings of a seriously cool looking Space Marine army.

The Horus Heresy: Betrayal at Calth is available from Firestorm Games priced £79.99.

Codex Adeptus Astartes – A Review


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.


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.

Fast Movers in 40k


Last Thursday I got a game of 40k in using my new Ork army. As it was their second outing I thought I’d mix it up a bit and give the Dakkajet a try because, well it’s freaking cool. For reasons passing my understanding, I told Lee I’d be taking a flyer which prompted him to tweak his army list to cram in a Strom Raven. I can’t blame him, I just wanted to be a sod and spend all game strafing him with impunity.


I was my usual jammy self and managed to get my Dakkajet on the board at the start of turn 2 and immediately set about hosing down an Imperial Guard squad. The Storm Raven came on the following turn and turned the sky around my Dakkajet into a swirling storm of explosions and hot lead in an attempt to turn the Howlin Git into a big cloud of tin foil and fire. But as I mentioned, I was jammy. Passing 6 out of the 7 Jink saves forced upon me resulted in me breaking off and attacking a second Guard section with the Raven in hot pursuit. The Dakkajet’s number as inevitably up but it struck me how (a) cinematic it all looked (b) how flyers didn’t break the game as I feared and (c) how introducing flyers is a natural evolution in army selection and encourages gamers to take ‘all comers’ lists rather than tailoring them to suit a specific force or army composition.

Lee had a tactical advantage in so much as I’d told him I was taking a flyer. However ‘best practice’ as it were suggests that he should allow for that likelihood anyway. With pretty much every army having a flyer of some sort it’s reasonable for us as gamers to have a contingency to deal with them should we find the sky filling up with fast movers. Units with skyfire rules or an upgrade or ammo type. A flyer of your own is not unreasonable and if it turns out your opponent hasn’t taken one then you get to dominate the skies. It’s not exactly a lose lose situation other than the often heavy point investment required. Or you make the decision to ignore it and hope for the best. Having witnessed what my piddly Ork flyer can do I don’t necessarily recommend that option. A flyer will rarely win you the game, but it will give your opponent a headache whilst the rest of your army does the business.

But the point is this: Flyers were an important missing piece of the 40k puzzle. I was quite possibly the biggest sceptic (well joint first with Lee) when they first started to appear in 40k. It was a combination of things as to why. Firstly it was how simply flyers worked in Space Marine – that was never going to translate well in the creaking behemoth that is the 40k rule book. Secondly, the rules seemed reminiscent of Epic 40k. Which was such a wallowing turd of a game I was immediately concerned. And finally my feeling was that they would unbalance the game and give Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines and Necrons an insurmountable edge.

Whilst the latter is partially true it re-emphasises the point that 40k is at its best when armies are interesting. Built around combined arms rather than designing a power list to spank the living shit out of your opponent in three turns or less. And then hit on their momma. Solid cores of troops, elite units, assault elements, armour, artillery. All working together to the greatest effect. Add in aircraft and it all suddenly makes sense. It adds an extra layer to the combat, adds a new threat to the previously tame skies. It forces gamers to think in three dimensions beyond vantage points in buildings.

Plus it’s outrageous amounts of fun. Building the kits is awesome. It takes those early days of building Airfix F14 super Tomcats to a whole new (and way cooler) level. And using them is ace. They look great on the board, the rules make for new and interesting tactical decisions for both players. And board set up too has never been more important. Playing hideously open boards that have no place being anywhere other than Warhammer Fantasy or Lord of the Rings will spell doom and misery for any units that fall under the guns of a flyer. But I suppose that could make for interesting scenarios too and allow you to recreate the odd scene from the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. No bad thing there.

In short – flyers have changed the game of 40k far more than I ever realised, and for the better. The potential for aerial shenanigans encourages gamers to write more flexible army lists. Tactics have to be rethought and adapted. The space has never been more three-dimensional and board layout is vital to affording your troops the protection they’ll need. It doesn’t mean flyers are overpowered because they’re not. They’ll still get shot to bits by one another and even without skyfire, it’s not as hard as you’d think to shoot something down, because I’ve done it. Of course there’s a commercial argument. If you have a flyer I have to buy one too. Little bit of yes, little bit of no. No one forces you to do anything and there are alternatives. But I struggle to entertain the financial point of view because chances are we’ve already spent a couple of hundred pounds on our armies already. What’s another thirty? Flyers represent an opportunity to bring some of the excitement, dynamism and scale from the artwork to the board. And that cannot be a bad thing.


Warhammer 40,000: Regicide

So another Warhammer 40,000 game is in production. This time it’s 40k Chess. To be honest I have no feelings one way or the other on how good or not it will be. Or even how advisable it is to make a 40k version of the original strategy game when Games Workshop spend a lot of energy telling everyone theirs is the best. However the teaser and the animations look epic so for now I don’t really care.

And pay special attention to the bolters and heavy bolters when they fire. Because you can actually see the contrail of the bolt round’s rocket igniting. Which is pretty badass.

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.


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.


Warhammer 40k: Eternal Crusade Pre-Alpha Gameplay

Graphics aside, because it is pre-alpha, this so far looks like the Space Marine multiplayer. Which I personally thought sucked. One must assume there’s going to be some plot and many places to explore.

But right now here’s some poorly rendered Space Marines having fisty cuffs with some poorly rendered Chaos Space Marines…