Monday, 16 November 2015

Boxed Game Review: Betrayal at Calth

Though it was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement of GW creating a new studio to focus on one off box sets and specialist games, Betrayal at Calth is still one of the biggest releases in recent years.  Though the plastic Heresy models may have been the world's worst kept secret (and quite likely the main reason that it has sold so well and had people picking up multiple boxes), there is actually a game attached to it which i'm sure at least some people will end up playing. I myself have picked up two boxes, representing the start of my Ultramarine Heresy army. So let's take a look at this box of wonders that Games Workshop have created.

An underwhelming box but what inside is very impressive

The Box:

The first thing that I noticed was the box seems a little smaller than I am used to. I can only assume that this is as a result of recently receiving such behemoth boxes as AVP: The Hunt Begins and Journey: Wrath of Demons. Nonetheless compared to these (and other recent releases) Betrayal at Calth seems remarkably compact, especially given its eye watering price tag.

The box art also seems decidedly low budget. It serves its purpose sure enough, and is a step up from the likes of Dark Vengeance in my opinion, but it's just not jumping off the shelf at me. Assuming that there is a limited miniature release to follow i hope they work on the box design and make it a little more compelling. Of course no one is buying this for the box, just as likely no one is buying it for the game, but first impressions count.

This is destined to be released as a separate kit i am sure

The Models:

No, it's the models that people will be primarily picking Betrayal at Calth for and once you have savoured the particularly satisfying 'new box smell' you are greeted be a veritable mass of sprues. Now the first thing you  will notice is that these are NOT snap fit models. In fact they are as far from it as you can get. No, instead these sprues hark back to those that were in the 3rd Edition Warhammer 40,000 starter, they are multipart models the same as you will pick up in a squad box off the shelf. The next thing you will notice is all the options. There are alternate weapons, ammo packs, alternate heads, each sprue is festooned with 'bitz'. This is not a starter set sprue, this is 100% a miniature kit destined for later release. There are no legion markings on the models and i'd be very surprised if many people actually end up painting the models as they are on the back of the box, nearly everyone i know has bought this to start a legionnaire army.


For this is not a Boardgame, though it is disguised as one. It is far removed from the likes of Space Hulk and even the Assassin Board Game Execution Force. This is a loss leading introduction into a full 30k release and FW Horus Heresy Sales. And it is a very smart move from GW.

The Tactical marines we have largely discussed. Already ready made for release separately, they are completely interchangeable with FW upgrade packs and for that matter current 40k kits. As i'm sure everyone knows you get 30 marines in the box. A squad of ten marines is conveniently split across three sprues. I can see these being released separately for at least £30.00 each maybe more such is the amount of content.

An impressive feat to get it all on a small sprue. 

The Contemptor has come under a little bit of fire, mainly for its very static pose. I will agree that it is somewhat staid and stationary but i think they have tried to keep the number of parts down to get it in the box. I'm hopeful that in a full release there will be a little more to it than at present. That said, it is a fairly complex build (the Assault cannon arm is four separate pieces alone) And it is impressive that they have managed to take this solid lump of resin and convert it into a plastic kit. It just would have been so much more impressive if they had made the legs more posable. The arms are easily interchangeable with Forgeworld ones but that is about it. It is also fairly easy to convert the arms as they are symmetrical if you want a twin gun or twin fist option. (assuming you picked up two boxes). I'll be magnetising to take advatage of all options. Also of note is the carapace which is separate from the main body. Perfect for variant legion specific versions. Whether or not this potential is realised is another matter. i would expect them to come from Forge World in any event.

Could we see FW  variants of this piece?

Thankfully the Terminators are a touch more varied, though no more customisable. Again, this is a kit that can be released later on, everything you need for a squad of 5 Cataphractii terminators contained on 2 sprues. One leg is separate at the knee on each model allowing for a little more dynamism than you often see which is nice. I had planned on magnetising all the arms but you don't get enough shoulder pads with the sprue, so ill either pick some up from a bitz store or improvise. with a bit of work you could also rework the arms to add to the pose but in all honesty these have been quite nicely designed and should be a lot of fun to build and paint. One thing that would be converters should take note of is that you do only get half a head, this is something i would have liked to see changed though if you cut through the plate on the back piece you could likely get round this and fit an alternate head in it. Heavy weapons are also lacking, you only get the heavy flamer, but again, FW has all your needs for any alternatives. There is also the chance that when this gets released separately there will be a heavy weapon sprue.

Superbly engineered character figures.

Which leaves us with the two command models. These are the most 'starter like' in the set and also comprised of the fewest pieces, they are also testament to what can be achieved with plastic, and although they reek of CAD design they are superbly engineered. If you recall that the Space Hulk Terminators blew everyone away in 2009, these are light years ahead. Though they are somewhat limited in terms of pose they look fantastic, certainly much better than the Assassin models that were released for Execution force, which i really did not care for. Conversion wise Kurtha sedd will be easier to modifiy as Aetheon is a rather chunky figure.

Overall this is an  AMAZING set of models, there are few mould lines and the sharpness of the detail is exceptional. The Contemptor could be a little more impressive but overall the quality is very high indeed.

The Other stuff:

So that's the models out of the way, what else do we have? Well bases (32mm and up) dice, (12 non D6 - bit like the Space Crusade ones) and the card stock are next. The card is essentially 4 large double sided hex tiles. They are of a very nice finish and premium quality, they are a little thinner than Space Hulk, and lack the embossing of that standard setting board game but they are still very nice. I thought at first that the fact there are only four boards was very limiting but in all honesty I am sick of taking ages to set up games (Imperial Assault i'm looking at you) so after further consideration I am all for it, it can still be put together in a variety of ways. The design varies between machinery and ruined temples and caves, representing the subterranean Arcologies of Calth very well. Not much to say but refreshingly in keeping with the quality of the rest of the game. As are the tokens for tracking activation (we'll discuss these more a little later)

A good finish, and they are double sided to add variety. 

The cards are oversized and also very nice. Separate decks for Ultramarines and Word Bearers tactics and another deck for the various dread locations with a reference card for the types of unit each too. Nice glossy finish and feel good in the hand.

The cards are great and quite large

The transfer sheet also deserves special mention, it is much more like the FW ones and again of very high quality, I plan on painting my fine detail on for the most part but the Word Bearer elements like all the cruciform and armour details are particularly impressive. As an aside GW have also popped a couple of extra baggies in the box for your tokens and such. Nice one GW. Cheers,

Excellent transfers. 

Which leaves us with just the books. Instruction manual first. At 20 pages it's quite the beast! These are complex kits Other than that, what to say? It's an instruction manual. It shows you how to put the models together and does it very well, you will need to refer to it. The kits are not especially intuitive. Looking at the manual will also help you decide how to paint and which if any sub assemblies and magnet points you will use.

As you can see, this is no snap fit kit

The other book is the rules manual and this is a thing of exquisite beauty. Styled like the Horus Heresy hardback books it is thick paged, glossy and just really quite nice. There is some lovely artwork, some fluff (though not enough in my opinion) and a breakdown of the rules and the six included scenarios. The rules are pretty basic but we will discuss those in a sec, It's all well described and the armoury section in particular is wonderful, very evocative of the Wargear book in the old second edition starter. The back cover, as you might expect features a concise quick reference sheet.

Though im not overly keen on the box the cover of the rulebook is sublime. 

The Game:

The game is played on the hexagonal maps, these are preset arrangements depending on the scenario. The game works on the alternate activation principle. Each unit has two actions of which it can take one at a time when it activates. When you take an action you flip the units token over then remove it when it takes its second. A unit is quite simply whichever models occupy the hex at any given time and this is quite fluid as you can move models between hexes by taking a consolidation move (this does take an activation). Each Hex has a maximum capacity so you can have three models at the most in a hex (less if terminators are included)

Other actions you can take include run, advance, shoot and assault. You move one hex for an advance and 2 for a run. There is a simple cover mechanic and the tiles have no go hexes that block line of sight, so tactical positioning is a factor in the game. Looking at the rules i cant see that there is too much of a difference between advancing and running when it comes to shooting with your second action.

As mentioned the game does not use D6 nor anything you would recognise as a statline. In an effort to keep things as simple as possible the game uses bespoke dice with only blank, hit, critical hit and shield faces. Its a fairly basic premise. Each weapon in the unit adds to the amount of dice rolled, criticals trigger the critical hit effect of one weapon in the unit and also count as a normal hit. Dice are then rolled equal to the armour value to try to get shields to get negate damage, Different weapons have different critical rules. A bolter critical hit takes away a remaining tactical point from a target and a multimelta at close range can negate any defence dice altogether, instantly killing the target! Very much in keeping with the established fluff and making it a tactical choice over what you have in a unit. I'm not sure Plasma guns are worth the effort though (two criticals and they kill the firer)

The book is very well presented

Further mixing things up are the command cards. To be played when the card states these can really throw a spanner in the works and there are some well and truly nasty cards in there, particularly for the Wordbearers. Sometimes the scenario will dictate the cards you use, other times you will draw from a deck. The scenario also dictates sides and often has bespoke special actions that can be taken by either side. As mentioned, the other cards are for the Contemptor and each represents a location. You draw a card at random to see where you hit it, a welcome return to Second edition sensibilites! And that is not the only one, indeed the Assault cannon blows up if you roll 4 criticals on the dice and as its normal critical allows you to reroll misses and shields as much as you want to increase your hits it represents  a delicious risk/reward mechanic.

A bit of narrative to set the scene

The game itself plays well, not exactly fast and furious but not complicated to the point that it will  deter the uninitiated. Being able to think forward a turn or two will certainly lend you a strategic edge. The cards lend a welcome element of randomness to the game and a well played card can put a spanner in the works of any strategy. Triggered events in many of the scenarios will also keep players on their toes. You will need to think about unit construction, movement and in which order you take your actions. I can see the game being a great deal of fun and there are many opportunities for memorable moments of heroics and treachery that have come to typify the Heresy. Rad grenades (a command card) for example are a a characterful (only the Word Bearer deck has the card) and devastating weapon.

And its the little things like this that make Betrayal at Calth so compelling, the RTB01 era Missile Launcher, the jamming and exploding Assault Cannon and multiple locations on the Contemptor. This is a set that has grabbed the attention of jaded old veterans and younger gamers alike. I'm sure that this is only the beginning too, The Horus Heresy is a massive source of potential revenue for Games Workshop and they would be fools to not exploit it to its fullest.


So lets talk about price, well there is no denying that Betrayal at Calth is a premium product, in line with GWs usual high standards. Certainly it carries a price to match coming in at £95.00. It could have been much worse, the rumoured price was over £100.00 and indeed leaks of an issue of Warhammer Visions had it up at a RRP of £115.00 which I would have thought was too much, So what makes it worth £20.00 less? Which lets face it is still a substantial sum.

Dark Vengeance: Yes it's a lot of stuff but the models are pretty basic. 

Well, to answer that let's go another £20.00 down and look at Execution Force, that was released as a limited edition at £75.00. It had 4 new sculpts and three boards and that was it. The sculpts were Assassins and of wildly varying quality, between the clown footed Vindicare, square groined Eversor, gurning Cullexus, and the ridiculously disproportional Callidus i didn't really think that any of them were particularly impressive, I guess the nicely dynamic Eversor came off the best. They were also all way too big scaled to everything else. All the rest of the figures were either from Dark Vengeance or already released in 40k. Add to that the fact that there was only one mission and very little replay value and it is clear to see it was a lazy and half assed game slapped together to sell some new Assassins and though some picked it up it is still available now which should tell  you everything you need to know about sales volumes. 23 figures, only 4 of which are new sculpts, for £75.00. Not good value.

Officio Assasinorium: Execution Force. Not good value

So lets compare that with Betrayal at Calth, ok its still only 38 models for £20 more but they are all new multipart kits, these are not plug and play starter models like you will find in Dark Vengeance this is more like a couple of battleforces. Much has been made of the cost saving compared to Forge World resin and this is substantial as to get this from Forge World would cost you well over £300. I prefer not to make this comparison as this is not resin you are paying for, but even when compared to plastic prices it comes off favourably. To get this content as 40k units would set you back over £150. When released separately I would imagine these kits to amount to closer to £200.

Your number one route to the Heresy

So Betrayal at Calth is good value just for the models, but lets not forget the high quality of all the other components, the book, the board tiles. The replay value inherent in the game and the general attention and care that has been spent on it. Betrayal at Calth probably would have still represented good value at the original tag of £115.00. However to cross that hundred pound mark is a big stretch, I think the current price is much more attractive and fair and it would seem people agree with me as copies are being snapped up at an incredible rate. It may be GWs most expensive starter yet, but it is hard to argue that you do not get what you pay for. It's a very accomplished release although it is most certainly NOT a pick up and play boardgame and i just wonder if that will impact casual sales.

So what for the future? We already know that there will be a limited 30k range released in the new year. I would not expect them to make everything that FW does, just the basics with FW supplying anything else such as upgrades. Will we see plastic tanks? I'm honestly not sure, it would be nice, FW ones are very expensive and resin really does not lend itself to that kind of model tending to need a lot of unwarping and work. Books? Well maybe but i think the rules will stay where they are. I expect a modest core army in plastic with FW support for the more esoteric and legion specific elements. The important thing is that GW have finally made the Heresy open to all and this is only the beginning.

And further in the future? Well Betrayal at Calth would be VERY easy to release additional content for, new missions even if user created will be a breeze and i really hope that GW capitialise on the popularity of this set. There are always many more practicals and theoreticals for the Ultramarines to try. There is already one extra mission released in White Dwarf but in a rather cheeky move you require two copies to play it, Still it is a start.

It's happening, it's really happening!

And of course lets not forget that GW have recently done what we all thought was the impossible, they have announced the return of Specialist and one off games. In fact they are creating a new studio just for this purpose. Could this be a return to the halcyon days of old? It is too early to tell but the official release DID mention Necromunda BFG and Epic by name so i guess anything is possible. Whilst it would appear that FW is largely going to take over the majority of production for these games that doesn't mean they are not going to be in plastic. It's a long time off and likely to be premium priced but the grim darkness of the far future has never looked brighter....

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Horus Heresy Book Review: Macgragge's Honour by Dan Abnett and Neil Roberts

Yet another nostalgia inducing GW product arrived at my front door Sunday last week. (Yes a delivery on a Sunday!) As I received my copy of Macgragge’s Honour from Amazon. Originally released alongside the Horus Heresy novel 'Know no Fear' a few years back as a hardback deluxe limited edition, it has now, as most of the limited edition stuff is wont to do, arrived as a mass release for a saner price. I’d managed to keep from reading it so it would be a nice surprise and if nothing else it’s been an age since I have read anything from Dan Abnett anyway, stolen away by Hollywood and Marvel as he has been.

Of course this is far from GWs first foray into the comic world. Many of you will remember Warhammer Monthly, GWs own comic back in the early days of the Black Library and where legends such as Malus Darkblade, Ephrael Stern and Ulli and Marquand first came to be. In more recent years BOOM! Publishing produced a range of Warhammer and 40k Comics that are worth tracking down though they will never be regarded as classics. It is a medium that has always seemed to lend itself well to the universes of Warhammer and it is perhaps surprising that more have not been produced. Certainly based on the quality of Macragge’s Honour I fervently hope it is not a one off and that Neil Roberts will lend his talents to more than book covers again soon.

Upon getting the book the first thing that struck me was the size. Somewhere between A5 and A4 it is destined to look slightly odd on your bookshelf, the spine matches up with the gold on black design that has become so familiar but its size will most definitely stand out, larger than the novellas and hardback books it will stand alongside. Of course this is still substantially smaller than its original release and one would expect that the reason this decision was made was so not to diminish the impact of the artwork within. As it turns out this was a wise choice.

The book starts with a small excerpt of text. Following on from the last pages of his book 'Know no Fear', Dan explains how Kor Phaeon, gravely wounded by Roboute Gulliman, flees Calth; his work done. The Ultramarines Primarch will not allow this to stand and issues an imperative that the traitor must be destroyed. So Macgragge’s Honour sets off in pursuit of the renegade vessel.

The first thing that smacks you in the face is the artwork. Neil Roberts wonderful panels are a sight to behold. For one thing the scale that he manages to impart in his pictures is amazing. You really get a sense of the size of the ships involved and the epic nature of the conflict taking place. The damage that gets inflicted on both ships is spectacular and Neil nails the look of the book 100% from the mechanical aspects to the personnel on the ship. I’ll let the pictures I have included in the review speak for themselves but I particularly loved his depiction of the Warp. Very 80’s.

The size of the book works, there is so much detail in Neil’s work that to make it any smaller would be a crime. Any larger and you risk it not fitting on most bookshelves. So although it will look somewhat out of place the choice of size seems to be the right one. I do wonder if the original might have been a bit TOO big but in all honesty Neil works so much detail into the pictures im sure larger pictures are not an issue.

But of course pictures can only tell part of the story, thankfully Dan is on fine form here with a classic turn. Mr Abnett obviously has a great deal of Pedigree as a comic writer already having turned his hand to many different subjects and his work here is as solid as you would expect. It’s not the Watchmen but he moves everything along at a brisk pace whilst keeping the reader informed.

Don’t expect Macragge’s Honour to advance the plot of the Heresy either. The emphasis of this book is firmly on action and finding ways to show off Neil Robert’s art. Yes there are a couple of characters that get a little more time than others and there is the usual tales of sacrifice and valour that you expect from the increasingly large Ultramarines vs Word Bearers aspect of the Heresy, which lest we forget, was no more than a footnote in the original narrative of the Horus Heresy.

These are spoiler free reviews so I wont tell you what happens in the book but suffice to say that the Macragge’s Honour’s pursuit of Kor Phaeon is far from straightforward and there are plenty of twists and turns in store. There are space battles. boarding battles and even a bit of chaos daemon action for good measure. With the recent leaks of the Betrayal at Calth Board game (which this was surely released to coincide with) it got me even more fired up to start my own Ultramarine HH army. The ending is also left fairly open, begging a continuation.

Even after the action ends there is a 'behind the scenes' look at the book with story boards and pages of Abnetts orginal script. Its a nice touch and i'm glad they included it, it is nice to see the work that has gone into such a polished product.

There isn’t really a great more to say in all honesty. It’s a well written and superbly illustrated slice of Horus Heresy action. I’ve tried to include plenty of pictures in here but I really would recommend picking a copy up if you can find it a bit cheaper than the £30.00 GW want for it (I paid £17.99). It won’t take you long to read but the time it does take you should have a great big grin plastered on your face every time you turn the page.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Game Review: X-wing the miniature game: The Force Awakens Edition

It seems a long time ago that X-wing launched now, it's popularity catching all (including FFG) by surprise and leaving it unavailable for some time after its release, although it is readily available now. Though I feel it doesn't really work at the 'epic' scale I feel as a small scale skirmish/dog fighting game it is peerless. Besides for the larger stuff I have Star Wars Armada, and that I am REALLY enjoying.

And it was Armada that lead me to Wayland Games Hockley recently. Ostensibly there to snag a deal or two on the Armada blisters for their grand opening, my eyes were suddenly drawn to the Force Awakens X-wing core set. Of course I  was already aware of it as it had been leaked a good few months ago and FFG have been actively previewing it since, but now it was available to buy. Reasoning that this was no impulse buy but in the cause of genuine Conclave research (at least that's what i told my girlfriend) and that it was only £24.00 i nabbed a copy.

The same, yet different.... note the new turns on the templates....

At first glance it doesn't really look all that different. Sporting a blue scheme rather than red, even the front cover art looks similar at first glance. The ships are presented in exactly the same way too. Of course those ships are brand spanking new shiny Star Wars goodness. Nestled in the plastic inlay are two F/O TIES and a  Incom T-70 X-wing. I would expect you to already be aware of these ships but just in case, the T-70 has a look much like the old one till you get to the back. With a new split wing profile and engines that are split too it looks like an update of the old model and is familiar and exciting all at once.

Just looking at this is getting me excited for December!

The TIE is so similar to the old one i thought it was actually the same mould! It's not, I checked, but it really does just look like it has been recoloured. The differences are minimal to say the least. Black with white panels it looks like a negative exposure version of the original. One thing i will say is that although these are new moulds they are different to the actual TIEs that we have seen so far from the Film, even the other TIE toys seem to be more accurate than the X-wing ships.  Something of a surprise given how much FFG lauds its collaborative relationship with Lucasfilm and the absolute authenticity of their product.

A fine looking ship...

They are different but you will have to look really closely to tell..

As an aside there was a rumour going round that the recently released Micro Machines would serve as substitutes for the X-wing models. At three for a fiver it would be a cheap way to bolster your fleet.  Well I grabbed a pack (research reasons again obviously) and as you can see they are poor in comparison when put next to the real thing. Yes they would fit on the flight stands no problem and you could probably get away with it but they are softy and bendy and quite frankly would stick out like a sore thumb. Stick with the real deal folks.

For one thing, the holes are too big for the stands. 

The TIEs are smaller and made of a very bendy plastic. But they look more authentic than the X-wing ships.

No comparison in my eyes... stick with the real thing.

Despite it's similarities to its predecessor the Force Awakens edition is far from the same game repackaged. X-wing has been around for some time now and many minor revisions have been wrought into the game mechanics and this edition has those incorporated. More tightening and a bit of clarifying than reinventing the wheel, it is more a case of correcting a few incongruities than anything else. A few of the steps have been re organised to correct glitches that have arisen as the game has got more complex and the wording in places has been revised for clarity's sake.

In addition, in line with other Fantasy Flight Games X-wing now comes with a separate rules reference guide. Acting as a glossary/index it should make any rules disputes super quick to resolve.
Another change is the addition of two new maneuvers. There are two new turns that will really shake up the way the game works. Now these turns may have actually made an appearance in later X-wing expansions i'm not sure. I'll freely admit I have lost a little interest in X-wing, As time has gone on the game has become more grand and more complicated and i don't think that it works as well at that scale. Still i look forward to trying these new maneuvers, it looks like the new T-70 can literally dance round the board as i said.

The separate rules reference will help a lot...

The damage deck has also been re balanced. The new version completely replaces the old deck. There were a few imbalances and a few cards that affected certain classes of ship a lot more than others. It's nice that FFG have taken this step and i look forward to seeing how the new decks affect critical hits that are doled out. Part of this change might be that due to the new ship stats criticals may well be dealt out more often.

The game works the same way but check out those new T-70 stats!

Ah yes, new ships. The new fighters in the box have been considerably beefed up. For a start the F/O TIE has SHIELDS, well one. Yes you read that right. it's shielded. Still not a tough ship by any means and the X wing has gained another shield too, but at least the games you play with your core set will last a little longer. In addition the TIE can now lock on and the X wings get a boost action added to their action bar. This in addition with the new turns that are introduced make them a LOT more survivable. These new turns have been introduced I think, to combat the problem of ships just endlessly doing J turns, a problem i encountered in many of my games of  X-wing. One of the new turns is a hard turn where you then rotate the fighter another 90 degrees, another is a slight turn but you flip the fighter much like a J turn (Korigan loop)

Dancing i tell you, DANCING!

These additions, in combination with the new upgrade cards should prove to be a welcome shot in the arm for X-wing. The new T-70 can practically dance around the battlefield and the more durable TIEs and retooled damage deck should make for exciting and balanced play. Obviously as time goes on more and more Force Awakens ships are bound to be released and it will be interesting to see how they incorporate these into the game. I still think X wing works best with just a few ships on either side and becomes somewhat clumsy at the 'Epic' scale but this is a very promising revision of a game that was already rather strong with the Force......

Warhammer End Times Book Review: Rise of the Horned Rat

Now that Age of Sigmar has been released I am getting a renewed sense of sadness from these books. As I have previously said, I have not read all of the large hardback campaign books but that is something I am going have to change. It has become increasingly apparent that each of these novels will focus on a very specific part of the cataclysmic saga that signals the end of the Warhammer World. I was rather hoping that by reading these novels  would be gaining a greater perspective of the End Times as a whole, enriching what seems to be a fairly superficial overview in the books. Sadly this is not the case, instead each novel seems to focus upon only one character. Indeed it could be said that each book wraps up the story of a character, being handled by the Author that contributed most directly to their background. For The Fall of Altdorf  Chris Wraight tied up Hellborg and Schwarzhelm of the Empire's story. Gav Thorpe did the same in The Curse of Khaine, bringing Malekith's and indeed the Elves, tale to a satisfying conclusion and finishing his Sundering saga. Now it is the time of the Skaven.

Well more accurately Queek Headtaker, as it is his tale that concludes here. Therefore one would expect David Guymer, author of the characterful but unfocused Headtaker, to be penning this book. However it is Guy Haley that has taken writing duties this time round. Aside from a few shorts i'm more or less new to Guy's work so i was unsure how well he would pick up the character of the Skaven and Queek in particular.

I'd needn't have worried. Guy superbly brings the maniacal Skaven to life, showing a great deal of respect to Davids work and adding one or two minor embellishments of his own. Queek is a Skaven, a short lived race anyway, who is running out of time, , The Headtaker is getting old, and slow, he knows it and he fears his approaching infirmity. Knowing that soon he will not be able to fight and will succumb to one of the frequent attempts made on his life. He is offered a way out, an elixir to grant him eternal youth, by another Skaven warlord. The Price? King Belegars Head.

Thus embarks Queeks quest, to finish the job that he undertook a few years ago and kill the Dwarven King. The Skaven are ascendent, the countless hordes of ratmen sweeping across the Old World and destroying all before them heralding the coming of the Lord of the End Times . The Dwarves on the other hand. are very much the opposite, in decline and preparing their final stand. The sense of prevailing doom is very strong in this book. In many ways it is as much about the Dwarves as it is the Skaven. Doughty and brave but no less doomed, there is some great characterisation here for the Dwarf race as they prepare to meet their end.

And although the book primarily focuses on these two elements there are other factions too. Skarsnik is present, sensing the opportunity to do what he has been thwarted in many times before. Although his is a comparatively minor role in the scheme of things the sections of the book that featured him were actually my absolute favourite. Of course this should have come as no surprise given that Guy wrote the Skarsnik Warhammer novel, a book I have not read yet but that has risen towards the top of my reading list. Guy's portrayal of Skarsnik is wonderful, a tired, old school, London style gangster in the very best traditions of GW past, i'd imagine the late Mike Reid or perhaps Ray Winstone reading the audiobook. Just reading the Skarsnik based passages gave me a pang of nostalgia, i doubt that the Orcs and Goblins of the Age of Sigmar will be as characterful and irreverent.

Also briefly featured are the Ogres, along with probably the only time i'll ever see a Blur lyric in a fantasy book (though that said I have seen Slayer and Metallica and even Father Ted lines in other Black Library publications so you never know,...) The Ogres are portrayed more or less exactly as you would expect and it's a shame that they aren't featured more. Though theirs is a small part they add another layer to the deception and skullduggery you would expect from a Skaven book. Along with Skarsnik also add some levity to what is otherwise a rather dark book. Yes, this is the End Times and this book REALLY feels like it. With the Dwarves in particular the situation is truly dire. Though they meet their end stoically and, well, like a Dwarf, meet their end they do. It is quite relentless as they are ground down and forced back again and again, It is the rout of their civilization, the massacre of Dwarf kind.....

So with some fantastic characterization, brutal action and events that actually make a difference this is the perfect End Times novel right? The one that finally lives up to the name? Well no, not quite. Though what is here is rather good, it is not exactly a page turner. The myriad of plots and schemes inherent with the Skaven means it is at times a muddled read. In addition with the focus on Queek, you don't really get a sense of the machinations of the Skaven Lords. At the start of the book there is a section where the Lords are vying for influence and power but any ambitions put across here are lost as soon as the focus shifts to the Headtaker. In addition, the fate of the Lizardmen, a large part of the Campaign book from what i am lead to believe, is summed up in one line. ONE. LINE.

So whilst what is here is fairly well written (though it does suffer from a lack of focus in places) it still falls somewhat short of doing justice to the End Times as a concept. It is a good read and worth your time but like its fellows i don't think it will ever be regarded as a classic. Sadly with one book to go i'm not sure that the series can be turned around. Then again, the books are steadily increasing in quality with this being the best yet so you never know.....

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Horus Heresy Novella Review: The Purge By Anthony Reynolds

It's funny you know, how books can relate to your gaming hobby. Be it being inspired by something in a novel and using it in your army or games, or taking character names or places and tying it into your own narrative. For me The Purge has reignited a rivalry that i have had with my Conclave of Har compatriot Lee Trayler for many many years....

I've always enjoyed playing games against Lee, we've faced off against each other so many times, from 2nd edition (which we have been revisiting) to current. My Ultramarines versus his Word Bearers, my Eldar versus his Emperors Children, My Ultramarines vs his Emperors Children and the Arch Fiend De'Sade (oh the stories that could be told of those battles!) and more recently my Emperors Blades vs his Eldar, through the last two decades we have crossed swords/bolters many, many times. 

And another classic face off beckons, Lee has been amassing a 30k Word Bearers army in preparation for the worlds worst kept secret, the Horus Heresy plastic starter, a return to the army he used so very long ago. I in return will be returning to my original army. The Ultramarines. I'd not really put much thought into it till now, as Ying and Yang it was just assumed that we would face off again with this new release. All of that has changed since I read The Purge.

I headed into this novella after the giddy highs of Scorched Earth. (review Here) Indeed, the novellas I am reading are actually better than the full length novels at the moment (and certainly more frequent!) which is a sad indication of the state of the series in all honesty. I thought that i'd be bored by the book, after all, the 'Shadow Crusade' is something that has been well explored (and some would say belaboured) in the Horus Heresy. Reams of paper have been devoted to what was essentially a footnote in the original narrative of the Heresy.  What more could 'The Purge' possibly contribute? 

Well quite a lot actually, this is one of those nice little character background books that fleshes out the legions depicted in lieu of a slew of bolter porn. This is not to say that there is not action within, there certainly is, it's just this is more of a considered and subtle and dare i say grown up, Heresy story.

The story revolves around one individual, Sor Talgron, though there are many other characters in minor roles (more than most novellas in all honesty) this is his story. The main narrative is broken into two sections, there are flashbacks to Terra, before Isstvan V but after Isstvan III as Sol Talgron is bought before Rogal Dorn in the wake of Horus's first seditous act. Nathaniel Garro features in a walk on - walk off cameo as we gain a rare glimpse into how Horus's rebellion is initially perceived back on Terrra.

However, although events on Terra are important (indeed pivotal in many ways) it is the part of the book set in the present that is of most note. Sol Talgron leads his army of Word Bearers against the remainders of an Ultramarine force in the Shadow Crusade. Here we see the desperation that Gullimans legion can be driven to and their absolute hatred of the Word Bearers. I found it inspiring to say the least! The Ultramarines have never been driven like this and I felt they were portrayed here like never before, very much diminished are the 'theoretical and practical' this is survival, and failing that, revenge. They can't win and they know it, Hero after Hero lays down his life in order to ensure they can deal the Word Bearers a bloody blow. Reading it really makes me want to pick up a Horus Heresy army so i can take the fight to Lees Word Bearers.

But despite the action, inherent in this part of the book as the Ultramarines make their desperate and heroic last stand, this IS a book about the Word Bearers and Sol Talgron in particular. The character study of the Word Bearers captain is exceptionally well written. Sol Talgron is a soldier through and through. He turned heretic with the rest of his legion but doesn't subscribe to their new found beliefs, put simply is is of the old school. He is following Lorgar's orders because he is a loyal soldier and though he may agree with Horus he is having trouble reconciling how he feels about the Gods of Chaos. This makes him a liability and something of an outcast in his own legion. He is balanced by Jarulek, who in comparison has totally sold his soul to the Dark Gods. Talgron hates Jarulek, hates what he represents but knows that unfortunately he is a necessary evil. Much as he bemoans what has happened to his Legion, he follows orders.

Unfortunately The Purge tails off DRASTICALLY at the end. Put simply the ending is rushed and Sol Talgrons eventual fate is not explained well at all. Though the reader is left with some idea of what has happened (presumably to be expanded up on in a novel at some point) it certainly does not do justice to the rest of the novella. The author has done exceptionally well given the page length but the final few chapters cannot come close what has come before.

And that is the real problem here, some novellas feel like an excerpt from a much longer book, some feel like a few ideas coblled together. The Purge feels like it should have been longer, much longer. It feels like a novel that has been compressed into a much smaller format. The purge has plenty of ideas and content. It is however severely hamstrung by its format. Its a shame as much of what is here makes for fine reading and as i say, it is the type of book we just don't get enough of in the Heresy, So i would say that Th Purge is worth picking up but this should have been a novel, and given that there are precious few of those released these days that is all the more damning, .I am lead to understand that the book heavily ties into Reynolds's 40k Word Bearer trilogy and I shall have to pick that up sometime to see if it gives me fresh perspective. For now though, if you will excuse me i have a 30k Ultramarines army to plan..... 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Warhammer Quest Mobile Game Review

Warhammer Quest by Rodeo games, Creators of Carnage and Space Wolf, is a faithful recreation of the revered board game RPG produced by Games Workshop in the 90's. And when I mean faithful I mean faithful, with even the rooms in the game being taken straight from the tiles in the box. In fact the production values practically scream Old World and mid 90's GW's charm which made me both nostalgic and sad at the same time. Fear not, i'm sure an Age of Sigmar game will be announced in due course.

Priced at £4.00 (though i paid half this in a launch sale) Warhammer Quest is not the cheapest of games out there (though if i recall Carnage was around the same amount) but i think it is well worth the money. Of course the content doesn't last forever and that is where the extra payments come in, we will get there in a moment.

The presentation behind the game really is excellent. The core game comes with one province of the Empire encompassing seven towns each with a bespoke quest (some have two) increasing in difficulty. There are also hidden quests dotted around the map which is quite nice. Each of these is faithful in tone to the original quests in the board game, though i don't recall off hand if they are the exact same quests. after leaving each settlement you will be presented with either the bespoke narrative quest or a number of alternative short quests perfect for grinding and leveling up your characters.

Once you enter the dungeon it is pure WHQ goodness. You move and you attack, its all gridded and the whole thing plays as a faithful adaptation of the game with random encounters in corridors and enemies to defeat in every room. The rules are straight out of the game and even the abilities are the same as you level up. Once you have moved all your warriors and attacked it is the monster phase so tactical nous will be required to make sure you get the most out of your turn. For example, once you have attacked you cannot move, but Spells can be used before or after moving. Monsters encountered include Spiders, Bats and Greenskins, No Undead (they are DLC) but there are different variants of each and they are quite tough, a vicious Troll (replacing the Minotaurs from the box) is quite the challenge to defeat.

The random element of the game is also well captured although no dice are seen. This can sometimes be frustrating as your Dwarf  fails to hit his target three times in a row but lets face it, we have all had a bad run of dice rolls from time to time! Overall, it's not too bad but a nasty run of luck can see you struggle as you lose a warrior due to a crucial moment of failure. I found it OK though, failing a few quests but no massive problems once I had leveled up a few times. My time with the game was a great deal of fun. Problem is that time has come to an end. It was a fun 20 hours but i have leveled everybody to 6 or higher (7 is the cap) and completed all the quests in this region.

So what other options do I have? Well, I could try it at the harder difficulty, where warriors stay dead. Problem is there I would really need to purchase extra character packs and at over £2 a pop they would sure stack up quickly if I have to replace characters all the time. Might try it a little later as there are one or two I like the look of. The other option is to purchase additional content. Two other areas of the Empire are available at the princely sum of £4.00 each. One has Savage Orcs and the other Skaven. I lumped for the Skaven one even though it is a little shorter. So far it's more of the same mainly though the quests are a little different. I'm about half way through it and tbh fatigue is starting to kick in, without an antagonist or end game to work towards i'm not sure I can muster the enthusiasm to continue, although there is slightly more of a narrative this time round. Once i get to the end of it i'll have to once again make a  decision regarding the game. Do i abandon it? Restart it? Or fork out once again for an extended fix? Bear in mind that if you pay for all the DLC in the game it will cost  more than most full price console games and about the same as FFGs WHQ contemporary boardgame
Descent which seems like a much more sensible investment.

With high production values and gripping addictive game play there is a LOT to recommend about WHQ. It is authentic and well made with none of the game crashing bugs that plague Space Wolf.
It is easily playable on a phone due to its simple interface and your first few dozen hours with the game will be some of the most fun you have had for some time. It is an all too short lived affair though and although you could play the generic missions ad infiniatum,  i'm sure you would lose interest. To get your fix you will have to pay more. That said the game is in no way Pay to Win in format and I haven't had to purchase additional resources to get through the game. Overall I recommend Warhammer Quest, it is well worth your time, however long that time is.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Horus Heresy Novella Review: Scorched Earth by Nick Kyme

You know it's not often I head into a review with such a cast iron perspective of the subject I am reviewing. More often than not I actually construct the review as I rethink points in my head ruminating and considering various aspects and elements so as to ensure the review is balanced and free of any bias that might arise from a skewed first impression. Often I can find my view on the subject more malleable than first thought, and can often find myself at conflict with my initial perspective and I can find that my final assessment varies slightly over the course of the review.

Not so with Scorched Earth, I bloody well love this book, I really do. The funny thing is it isn't really all that spectacular (or original for that matter)just one of the most enjoyable reads i have had of late. 

When thinking of the myriad of novellas that have been released Scorched Earth is actually one that had slipped my mind. Indeed it seems to have been released only to coincide with with the latest full length novel Deathfire, from the same author. 

And I'll freely admit that I approached Scorched Earth with a certain amount of trepidation upon seeing the authors name. Not that i particularly dislike Nick Kyme's work (I still have the Salamanders Omnibus sitting on my shelf to read) but I did find Vulkan Lives a particularly frustrating read for reasons that you will find here (be warned, the very nature of my beef with Vulkan Lives means that it is one of the few reviews I have done that is NOT spoiler free) So the prospect of reading what is essentially a prequel to that book wasn't exactly a tantalising one. 

Set, as much of the recent Heresy material has been, in the wake of the Dropsite Massacre of Istvaan V, this is the first book that i have read that has been set solely on the devastated planet itself. Nick does an excellent job of establishing just how dead Istvaan is, a desolate wasteland, completely inimical and hostile.

The story itself revolves around a select few characters, all survivors of the Dropsite Massacre, being hunted down by traitor legions kill teams. The reader is left under no illusion that this is anything other than a desperate last stand. No grand resistance, just a shattered defiance against the inevitable. 

And they are indeed shattered. The characters that Nick has created are flawed and deeply wounded. Broken versions of Astartes, falling back upon training and instinct to survive. In fact the strong characterization is one of the major highlights of the book, with the characters being memorable yet identifiable, pleasingly human yet still Astartes albeit crippled versions of their former selves. 

Nick doesn't really venture that far from the established legion tropes, there is no need to. Instead he strips those tropes down to their elements to make his characters more vulnerable. The Iron Hands, rendered fatherless, seek strength as always. Be it from their augments, acceptance of Ferrus Manus's demise and the hatred derived from it, or a stubborn refusal of the same fact. The Raven Guard are as dogged and pragmatic as you would expect, dangerous like a wounded animal. Ever vigilant though few in number, and using their hit and run tactics best as they can in the face of vastly superior forces. The Salamanders are in the position of not having any idea what has become of their primarch, stoically clinging to the mantra 'Vulkan Lives'. of course Scorched Earth was bought out subsequent to Vulkan Lives meaning the reader is quite aware of Vulkan's fate. 

Still, the Salamanders are not privy to the events of Vulkan Lives and are making frequent forays away from the relative safety of their base of operations to deploy sensor beacons in the hope of locating Vulkan's ship whilst avoiding the attentions of the roving traitor kill squads. This includes the main two characters in the book, Ra'stan and Usabius who decide that rather than waiting to die they will venture out into the wastes of Istvaan to try to find out what has happened to their primarch. 

So begins (albeit more than half way into the book) a buddy story of sorts as the marines encounter all sorts of trials in their quest, This gives Nick an excellent opportunity to work on the camaraderie  between the two marines and also embellish upon the base nature of the traitor forces as the true extent of their depravity is laid bare.

The rest of the book covers the sojourn across the surface of Istvaan on their quest. This is where all the action takes place such as it it. The actual ending itself is somewhat undercooked and revolves around one clever idea.Very well implemented it will certainly cause you to flick back through a few choice pages. It's not original although it is done with a twist but the SKILL with which Nick has pulled it off is considerable. Certainly i was very impressed.

But then i was already impressed. Impressed by the masterful characters that Nick created and the way he has simultaneously portrayed them as strong yet damaged and wounded. We have not really seen Astartes portrayed this way before and i found it a breath of fresh air. It is not the most action packed book but in my opinion it in no way suffers for it. Nick seems to be in his element writing these smaller length novellas and i have certainly enjoyed his short stories as well. It seems only when he is attempting something much larger that he comes unstuck. Still, maybe that track record will change with Deathfire which i hope to have in a few weeks.

In the meantime I thoroughly recommend this book, it really is that good. Though not spectacular or a game changer it is written with real skill and is one of the more fun reads I have had recently. The ending, although pulled off with finesse is secondary to the exceptional character work within and I look forward to seeing if he can continue that strong characterisation in the future, now i'm off to read the Salamanders Omnibus

Book Review: The Unforgiven by Gav Thorpe.

It seems some writers have become synonymous with certain marine chapters. Nick Kyme has the Salamanders, Graham McNeil, the Iron Warriors, ADB took the Night Lords as his own some time ago and Gav Thorpe will always be linked with the Dark Angels.

And whilst we wait for Gav to make his first full length Dark Angels Heresy entry with Angels of Caliban, we have had his Legacy of Caliban series, a continuation of the story he started in Angels of Darkness. I have already reviewed Ravenwing and Master of Sanctity and now it is time for the third and final book. The Unforgiven, the book that should tie up and finish the arc begun so long ago.

One has to wonder how Gav views Angels of Darkness. A firm fan favourite, the book is regarded very highly and at the time added significantly to the fluff of the Dark Angels with some truly shocking revelations. Like many artists who have produced a magnum opus Gav has been judged by it ever since. Living up to a previous high point is notoriously tough and one can tell that Gav has been trying his best to do justice to Angels of Darkness with the Legacy of Caliban. Sadly thus far he doesn't seem to have quite managed it (though i did enjoy Ravenwing a great deal). Perhaps The Unforgiven will prove third time lucky.

The first of the legacy of Caliban and the best

The Unforgiven picks up the exact second after Master of Sanctity ends. The Dark Angels, as always, are on the hunt for one of the Fallen. This time they have been guided by one of the Fallen themselves and this has led to Cypher, who surrenders himself. Having apprehended Cypher the Dark Angels return to The Rock in order to find out more about him and his agenda and how it all keys into the Fallen's plans and indeed the Dark Angels very destiny.

The Unforgiven is the first book to feature Azrael in a primary role. Ravenwing established the characters we will discuss in a moment and Master of Sanctity focused on Asmodai and Sapphon. Now it is time for the Grand Master of the Dark Angels. Overall The Unforgiven actually features more characters than any of the other books and Gav is to be commended for the job he does of cramming them all in. obviously this means that some characters have a vastly reduced presence this time round, most notably Asmodai and Sapphon, this is a shame as the interplay between these two characters was one of the highlights of the last book.

Worth it for the tension between Asmodai and Sapphon

Still this is the final book in the series so Gav rightly has to make concessions as he still needs to get to a suitably climatic conclusion. We do find out a fair bit more about the Inner Circle and with Azrael being featured the Watchers in the Dark also make an appearance. Though nothing too earth shattering is revealed there are some tidbits here and there. Gav even manages to work some of his Horus Heresy work into the convoluted narrative and one has to wonder if this was his intention all along. Certainly i'm expecting more of the same with his yet to come Horus Heresy novel.

The main part of the book is taken up with the interrogation of Cypher and another infamous Fallen and inner machinations of the Dark Angels as they attempt to unravel the Fallen's plans. As mentioned Gav also brings the characters in Ravenwing's arcs to a close. Telemenus continues his woefully unsatisfying story. I find it difficult to believe that such an inept individual could survive in the ranks of ANY marine chapter for so long. Made Deathwing purely by the virtue of having seen one of the Fallen, he has since bumbled his way through his career as an elite Dark Angel, His eventual fate (no spoilers) will likely come as a surprise to none that have read thus far but makes an utter mockery of Dark Angel progression and resources. His hallucinations of the Emperor in no way endeared his character to me either. Gav has a go at justifying it all but i was left less than convinced.

So too i had problems with Annael's continuing tale. The Ravenwing Black Knight goes against orders to search for his comrade and ends up doing penance. In itself not an issue but he at this point becomes one of the most annoying and detestable characters i have ever read. Churlish, sulky, self doubting and whiny it is a poor poor example of an Astartes, especially one of advanced rank. I'd have written him off and shot him in the head personally. I have frequently championed Gavs ability to write well rounded and believable characters, but here as with his Eldar books what he has created is wholly unlikable. With the Eldar books it was understandable, after all as a race they are meant to be aloof and arrogant, so to write them as total dicks (and they were) kind of made sense.

Republished to co incide with the rest of the Legacy of Caliban and probably better than all of it. 

But to write Space Marines as whining, self pitying and self doubting oafs does them no justice at all. In particular it makes the Dark Angels come off really quite badly (man they got ISSUES) and combined with all the internal strife its all just a little odd. It's likely that id not be judging it quite so harshly and might be a little more forgiving had I not just read Scorched Earth. Gav could really do with taking some notes from that book on how to portray Marines as vulnerable and damaged yet still Astartes and retain their integrity.

Alongside all this soap opera the actual pain plot grinds to its conclusion. Sadly this element of the book is less realised than the afore mentioned character story arcs, Fairly convoluted and awkward it nonetheless builds towards a suitably epic if somewhat overreaching action packed climax as the Forces of Chaos mount an all out attack on The Rock. Here we actually get the battle scenes that so much of the saga has cried out for and it does make for a satisfying end to the book. Finally showing the Dark Angels at their best. As for the VERY end of the book, well it is audacious and bombastic and a potential game changer. I'm sure it will prove very divisive. The only way I can really describe it is 40K meets Star Trek but that really is the best I can do without spoiling it totally. If taken as canon (and i see no reason why it wouldn't be it is a pretty big deal and something that will echo throughout the background of the 40K universe.

And so to a close comes the Legacy of Caliban Trilogy/Saga, the official continuation and indeed conclusion of the narrative started in Angels of Darkness. I do not think that Gav has equaled that book, the series is too awkward and inconsistent. However, i do personally think that Gav has already written books better than Angels of Darkness so as far as i am concerned he has nothing to prove anyway. That is not to say that this series is without merit, I genuinely enjoyed Ravenwing a great deal, i thought it was a very promising start to a series and that it offered something not previously seen. Master of Sanctity had it's charms too, mainly the interplay between the titular character and Asmodai. However it was a book betrayed by it's own concept and Gav failed to really sell the concept to me. What seemed plausible in Angels of Darkness was rapidly becoming more and more far fetched and making the 1st legion look like a chapter of fools. The Unforgiven doesn't really delvier the end we deserve. The Fallen's plan seems somewhat poorly thought out and the plot seemingly exists as a secondary consideration to some truly exasperating character writing. The poor characters stand out against the lackluster overall narrative which is buried under masses of indulgence and hastily contrived ideas. The overall climax is pretty 'out there' and doesn't really feel '40K' .

Overall I just don't think the books are a good representation of the Dark Angels, I much prefer Gav's work thus far in the Horus Heresy. Angels of Darkness did a great deal for the Dark Angels within a very limited page count. The Legacy of Caliban does rather less despite being more than triple the size. Still, I look forward to Gav's Heresy novel, Angels of Caliban with great interest. I still think he is the man for the job, I just hope he reins in the characters a little as in this book I was really rooting for the Fallen and that probably wasn't his aim...