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....

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