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.....