Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Horus Heresy Book Review: Vengeful Spirit, by Graham McNeil

It's weird having to wait for Horus Heresy books again, now while i wait for either the next limited edition novella to be mass released or the next entry in the series (Damnation of Pythos by David Annandale) i find myself even more looking forward to the continuation of the story even though i know 80% of what happens!
Still this means i get to get some other reading in, i am still wading through the molasses that is Malodrax and i have Thorpe's latest Dark Angels book to read, i also have the Tome of Fire omnibus sitting on my shelf so you could say there is plenty to keep me occupied but always my mind keeps coming back to the Heresy.

Much of this i put down to the high quality of the books of late, aside from a few noticeable exceptions the titles most recently released have been very good (Angel Exterminatus almost single handedly galvanized my interest in the series after it had been sapped by endless shorts and novellas. Of course that book was written by Graham McNeil, certainly one of the finest in the series it was the veteran author in top form and i loved every single second of it. Now McNeil returns, a scant 6 books later with Vengeful Spirit.

It has to be said that although there has been a cameo here or there, Horus has been somewhat absent from his own heresy. Of course this is understandable given that there are 18 legions to cover and even now some of them haven't really had their moment. Still it's nice to see the Warmaster take centre stage again even if he is not the only Primarch to be featured. Here it is Horuses attack on Molech that is under the spotlight as his legion return to the very world they bought to compliance so many years ago.

Now i will say that i don't really care for the reasoning behind the Warmaster's return to Molech, a hackneyed plot regarding seizing the power of the Emperor that He had for some reason left there. In general i feel far too much is being attempted with  the Emperor. I preferred the mystery, He is diminished and made to look like little more than an opportunistic trickster by events here. I can see on one hand why they are doing it this way i just don't think it is to the Heresy's benefit.

Horus himself is also starting to grate ever so slightly, although he is still well written and rounded he actually comes across as more humane and gregarious than many of the loyalist primarchs. Now i know that Horus is meant to be charismatic and likable but i am having a few problems reconciling the Horus we are seeing now with the monster that will assault Terra and destroy his father. Still there is still time for this transition i suppose, at the moment im just wondering when the real Horus will stand up. One thing that is very well portrayed is how Horus feels towards his fellows. In this book more than perhaps any other i really got a strong sense of brotherhood that has not always been prevalent in this series.

There was only one other thing that really bothered me about this novel and that was the blatant plug for Imperial Knights. Now i guess we will never know whether Graham just wanted to write about the Knights because they are awesome or he was instructed or pressured to do so in some way. But the way in which they are shoehorned in is pretty shameful and superfluous. Now in fairness Graham does do a pretty good job of integrating them into the plot (even if it is something we have seen MANY times before) it just feels a little forced on the whole.

So what DO i like about Vengeful Spirit? Well there is some great Nurgle stuff in here although on the whole Mortarion takes backseat for much of the book. Fans will cast a knowing nod as one of Grandfather Nurgles favoured scions makes a reappearance on these pages. Also pleasing was the reintroduction of some characters that we had not seen (i have not indulged in a great many of the Audiodramas yet) since the early days of the Heresy although their role in the book seems largely designed purely to have them in a set place at a set time and makes very little sense overall.

In fact there is a pervading sense of a return to the opening books of the series, be it returning adversaries, the Mournival, or just echoes of events of Istvaan III it is pleasing to see in a series which has arguably become too engrossed in breaking new ground. Ironically it is Vengeful Spirit's insistence on trying to do too much of both though, which really proves its undoing. There are far too many different plots and sub plots going on for this to be a coherent narrative. I've not even mentioned the plot thread about yet ANOTHER perpetual. Overall it means that things get a bit jumbled and this is why the addition of the Knights feels even more superfluous than it might have.

Of course the action is very well written as you would expect and there is a fair bit more carnage in this entry than there has been in many of the recent books in the series. It is also probably worth mentioning that this is by some way the most substantial book released of late. Giving BL an excuse to raise the price by a couple of quid notwithstanding this is a mighty tome indeed. Weighing in at over 500 pages there is a lot of story for your money here its just a shame its not more coherent. It's almost the opposite of Unremembered Empire. That felt like half a book, this feels like 2 books crammed into the space of one large novel with the narrative suffering as a result.

So that is Vengeful Spirit, thanks to Graham McNeil's talents it is still a pretty good read though by no means his best work. It certainly pales in comparison to Angel Exterminatus. It suffers from a bad case of bloat and far too many disparate nonsensical plot threads all going on at once. It does have some superb battle scenes and yet again finds a way to cram Ultramarines into the narrative as their profile in the Heresy is raised still further. It has a pleasing tendency to refer back to earlier books in the series and if you have not read at least the opening trilogy of the Heresy i would certainly advise doing so before picking this up. For all its failings it is by no means a disaster but one is left to wonder just how much better a more focused and coherent story would have been. At the end of the day i finished this book in less nights than there are knights in the book itself so i guess it cant be all that bad.


3.5 Knights out of 5

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Kickstarter review: Battle Systems Sci Fi terrain

Kickstarters, we all know about them, many of us have even backed some. Crowdfunding is a big thing now and possibly nowhere more has the impact been felt than in the hobby we all love. Hundreds of small companies and even one man bands with a great idea can now launch those ideas without having to take out a potentially crippling loan to raise the required capital. Of course this has the double effect of saturating the market with lots of alternatives (no bad thing) whilst eating away at our hobby budgets all the more. From there being just three or four options we now have potentially hundreds of different games and systems to choose from. 

The picture that sold me on the Terrain

So what makes a good Kickstarter? Well, an original idea helps, well presented with decent stretch goals. Delivering it on time (or at least with minimal delay) is also a bonus, albeit one that fewer and fewer manage these days. Keeping the backers informed is also a massive thing, after all these people have put their cash into your idea, they are essentially investors. And of course you have to deliver a quality product at the end of it that matches what you promised in the first place. Some KS do very well at some of these things but I’m not sure I have seen one that delivers on all fronts until now. Step forward Battle Systems. Surely one of the best run KS campaigns I have seen to date and one that will take some beating. 

Plenty of Stretch Goals will always help a project along

The product was simple. A stunning looking terrain set made from cardboard that could be assembled in a variety of different ways and had the capacity for multi level builds. It was something that hadn’t been offered before (the closest would be the Terraclix stuff but that was largely Fantasy based) and presented in a very exciting way. Stretch goals in the forms of unlockable add ons and free extras combined with the great updates and obvious enthusiasm from creators Colin and Wayne ensured the project was funded in short order and ended up generating a great deal of interest. It raised £219,000 from a £21,000 goal so was  extremely successful. The fact that it was released (coincidentally or otherwise))) alongside Prodos games’ AVP probably helped no end. Certainly the two seem to go together perfectly and have already been featured together at several open days. 

Really fantastic looking stuff, this is exactly what we ended up with

Now as many people know once you have funded the project quite often it will go very dark with sporadic updates from time to time usually informing of a delay of some description. As I write this it has been well over a month since I had an update on three of the five KS I backed at the end of last year. This is nothing unusual, sometimes there is nothing to say, the production of the goods is underway and until they are actually shipped the companies involved are often far too busy to do much in the way of updating. However some would argue that these parties have a duty to keep their customers/investors informed, after all its our cash that they have and Kickstarter firmly removes itself from any responsibility meaning that that money is essentially lost should things go tits up (just ask the backers of the recently cancelled Altfest) 

Which made it all the more pleasant that Battle Systems embarked on a sterling campaign of updates and communication. Be it little previews of artwork or updates on the design process, we never felt neglected. Production updates followed along with assembly videos and tutorials on everything from care to storage to tips on improving the durability of your scenery. It was exceptional and added a personal touch that many Kickstarters lack. It was clear that they were just as excited about the project as we were and I am very pleased to say that the Conclave will have an interview with these most excellent chaps soon. Any problems (and to my memory there was only one, involving the clips) were revealed upfront with no subterfuge and a revised shipping date was revealed and met. They even provided the name of the ship transporting our goodies so it could be tracked every nautical mile of the way! Absolutely flawless and a benchmark for every other Kickstarter out there. 

So after a superlative campaign I finally have the scenery in my hands, and after pottering about with it for a few days (closer to a week) I’ve finally assembled most of it, got it all off the cardboard sheets and can tell you all about it. 

We all tracked it every inch of the way thanks to Colin and Waynes updates. 

Firstly it looks GREAT, the design work that has gone into it is truly excellent and I envisage a great many games being played over this stuff as it looks stunning with a lovely high quality finish. Now I will say it doesn’t work out particularly cheap, I paid around £150 to cover a 3x3 space which admittedly is pretty much standard these days. But when I see the amount of actual product that I got for my money I in no way feel short changed. Not only is the look of it fantastic, much thought has also gone into variation with many of the components designed double sided so you can have pristine or damaged looking items. It’s another nice touch that helps you mix things up a bit or change things up mid game (though ill discuss that a little later). Even the floor tiles are double sided. Its things like this and other little touches that add so much character to the set. Battlesystems have provided everything you could need to build a multilevel Sci Fi interior and designed it in a way that makes assembly reasonably easy if not necessarily quick. 

Pretty much everything comes off of the sheets nice and easily, with only a few of the gantries tearing and requiring a little repair at some point so I would advise using a knife on these. Assembly is also for the most part pretty easy and intuitive although there were a few bits that flummoxed me somewhat. Thankfully Battle Systems have a series of assembly videos that will have you covered, showing you not only how to put it together but also where you may need to make adjustments to make up for imperfections in the cutting tools.

Ah yes adjustments. You will be making a great deal of these to your set. Now to be fair Battle Systems have never shied away from this, being totally up front about the fact that you will need to take to the set with a knife from time to time as minute variations in cutting are inevitable. Their reasoning is that it was better to make the slots err on the thin side rather than be too large as you can always cut a little out. In practice this does mean that a SHARP knife and cutting mat is utterly essential in the assembling of this set. Failure to do so will result in you having to force parts and that is where you will damage things. In all honesty although the percentage of adjustments required was pretty low (maybe something like 20%) it was still far more than I had expected and greatly added to the time required to get this thing together and thus write this review!

Can't wait to get some games in on this!

Another unfortunate side effect of this is that extra strain is placed on the card and sometimes your adjustments (particularly to smaller parts will cause the cardboard to fray. Now again Wayne and Colin have been up front about this and did do a video advising that you can use liquid superglue applied with a brush to the edges which will essentially coat it with plastic making it much more durable. It’s wonderful advice but my experience is that this is in no way an option. It is MANDATORY, it’s not that the card quality is crap or ill designed it’s just something that is always going to happen with card scenery of this ambition and complexity. To be honest there are many parts that you will probably glue together anyway as you will be unlikely to take them apart again. 

At the moment none of this is glued but it will be, things like the turbine will never need to be taken apart. 

So that’s a knife and superglue that you will need to assemble all this stuff (and there is a lot of it!) Thankfully 80% of the stuff went together absolutely fine, the elements that caused a little hair tearing were the doors (the surrounds require adjustments EVERY time – make sure you watch the vids!) the struts for the docking bay (an add on so not many of you will have to worry about that but I nearly lost my shit) and the crates.

Oh the crates! One of the main issues with card scenery is anything bent in a U shape, basically as you make the bend the tension on the concave part of the card will cause it to try to come away and fray. Certainly I encountered this problem on more than one of the crates I assembled. No adjustment will prevent this you just have to be VERY careful when you bend the card. Grip it tightly and bend it slowly and hope for the best. Thankfully this will be on the inside of the crate where you’ll likely not see it but it is there nonetheless and could impact the durability of the item. Again, just glue it, you may as well and these are one of the few bits that are non-reversible. In face even with many of the parts that ARE reversible, I’ll likely be gluing them anyway. I don’t really see this a set where you will constantly be able to switch stuff around without damaging it anyway so likely much of it will remain semi assembled for me. 

Dynamic and multi leveled. Pretty easy to assemble too

Now if it sounds like I am being overly negative about the terrain please be assured that is NOT my intention. I love this stuff, I think it looks great, it is designed around the gamer and you can do a great deal with it. Zone Mortalis, AVP, Infinity, Sedition Wars, the list of games that this could be utilised for is massive and I can see it getting a great deal of use. It is a quality product which has been supported and delivered in an amazing way. With the Fantasy/Dungeon equivalent soon to be unleashed I can only see this getting bigger and bigger and it should put Battle Systems on the map in a way that they absolutely deserve. 

The set does require a little work from you then in order to get the most out of it. My recommendation would be to use the superglue edging (after you have penned any sections you want to) otherwise the set may well not bear up to the rigours of regular gaming and assembly. There are only a few bits here and there you will need to worry about though and due to the inventive design you can easily store much of the set at least semi assembled. Plastic tubs are my own method and should keep everything nice and safe. 

Storage is a piece of cake... much of it is still assembled. 

and plastic tubs for smaller parts. 


So I have rambled on long enough about this wonderful terrain set, im sure you will all agree. As a kickstarter its was beyond my wildest expectations. First to arrive out of all the ones I backed (and by some time by the looks of things) and a quality product to boot with great communication and post campaign content. From care to storage to even using pens to colour in the exposed edges Colin and Wayne have gone above and beyond the call of duty on this one and I greatly look forward to their future projects. 

As a retail product I am not so sure however, the product is certainly of a high enough quality for general distribution and there are no obvious flaws with it that I can discern but the amount of preparation work needed may dissuade some. I cannot honestly say that Battlesystems is ready to assemble out of the box. Certainly its not suitable for the young due to the amount of cutting that is flat out required. Whether or not Colin and Wayne can find a way round this for the eventual retail release or whether the issue is insurmountable time will tell I guess. Even in the event that this issue cannot be overcome I would still readily recommend the terrain set, just be prepared to put some time into it before you can use it. I also am unsure about the durability if it is constantly taken apart and reassembled but as i have said you can get round this by gluing some bits together and storing it semi assembled. 

Made for each other?

So that’s Battlesystems, it’s a great set and a shame that I have to wait for the other KS to turn up so I can get the full use out of it. With loads of potential and possibilities in set up it’s a set I can see being utilised a great deal and as much of it can be stored semi assembled it should be reasonably easy to assemble. Its a great product that has been produced with a lot of love and enthusiasm and i cant wait to get some games in on it. If you missed the KS experience (and I would recommend it) then the Dungeon version should be launching anytime now. …

Next up from Battle Systems......