Sunday, 20 March 2016

Boxed Game Review - Deathwatch: Overkill

Deathwatch: Overkill

I have to admit it, I am eating a slice of humble pie at the moment. I said that Games Workshop had completely forgotten about their veteran (some would say crusty) old school audience, I may have been wrong. I also said that I didn’t believe that plastic was the super medium that everyone makes it out to be and is inferior to other materials in terms of detail, well, ill freely admit. I may have been wrong there too if GW's most recent boxed game is anything to go by.

For Deathwatch: Overkill is the box that we all never dared to dream that we would get, the return of the Genestealer Cult, not seen in the pages of GW publications since the early 90’s, recreated in high detail super crisp plastic. Hold on tight guys, from here on anything is possible.

The return of the Cult!
It really does seem that the big GW have finally started to get things right, the last six months have seen Heresy plastic, the return of Specialist Games, the return of Battleforces (the excellent value ‘Start Collecting’ boxes) a slight advancement in the 40k timeline with the recent Fenris supplement, and now, the return of the Genestealer Cult. Surely it is only a matter of time till the Squats are revived! Certainly the 40k rules released alongside Overkill suggest a separate release at some point and with any luck an expansion (though I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a revised Limo). But for now we’ll have to make do with Overkill. And that is what we are here to review today:

Nice box, better than Betrayal at Calth. Still not very big though

Like with Betrayal at Calth the first thing you will notice is that the box is once again rather petite. Given it commands a £100 price tag this may pose a bit of a problem to the casual observer. Quite simply put, it doesn’t look like you get a lot for your money, even when you flip the box over to look at the back. Then again, GW has always been about the premium product and with such a premium price one can only assume there is something a bit special lurking within the slim line box of wonders.

Well, not a new box smell sadly, the ritualistic removal of shrink-wrap and box lid resulting in a rather anticlimactic and sterile experience. Even the book is lacking that tantalising aroma we all love so much. Still that was the end of the disappointment once it was open. With card on one side of the box (separately wrapped) and the sprues nestled in the other, once you are over the lack of nostalgic ambience its business as usual. The first thing you will probably do is pick up the sprues. These are without a shadow of doubt the finest boxed game sprues that GW have ever come up with. Rammed with models they are pleasantly full and nicely split should you wish to offload either side separately if you are picking up multiple boxes like me.

Typical GW quality, which is to say, very good. 

Looking at the Deathwatch first; it is important to note that these are not starter set Dark Vengeance marines, in fact they are not even the Betrayal at Calth multipart tactical squad plastics. These are full blown character models, each and every one, some admittedly more complex than others but all unique. Now the way they go together may make them a little more difficult to convert than some would like (an issue if you have picked up multiple sets for the marines) but being plastic I’m sure this can be overcome. Of the squad of eleven marines there are some obvious highlights and a few that are a little mediocre but all can be said to be nice models in their own right. I'm not going into great detail on all of them but I’ll pick out a few of my personal favourites.

Chaplain Ortan Cassius himself (here unscarred and sans bionics as Overkill takes place early in his career before the invasion of Hive Fleet Behemoth) looks great, a really good update (or should that be backdate) on the existing metal model and one that really stands far ahead of it in quality. Clear cut, not overly busy or dynamic for the sake of it, and pleasantly non heroic in proportions it’s a GREAT figure and it’s the first time I can think of that a plastic model has so utterly eclipsed its previous iteration. In fact with a head swap I’m sure the new plastic will serve as a normal Cassius too.

A sublime plastic figure. 
Next up and probably the most impressive model overall is the White scars Biker Suberei. Though some (me included) might dispute the wisdom of an Astartes bike in an enclosed mine but eh, rule of cool and all that. Suberei looks awesome, astride his bike, which is impressively detailed with scabbard and shield and White Scars iconography (the fluff for Suberei declares that he eschews the Deathwatch wargear offered to him) Could it be a sign of a potential dedicated White Scars set to come in the future? Well perhaps, let’s face it, all bets are off at the moment with GW. Suberei also features a Genestealer trophy and not to be overlooked, a cyber eagle attached to the bike just subtlety enough to be convincing.

Suberei on the left, Donatus on the right.

Another good one is Grytt, the Devastator. Lugging a frag cannon, there is a pleasing heft about the model helped no end by his reinforced helm, though i'll probably be converting mine to be helmetless. I also like Redblade, the Space Wolf, bounding forward, (though thankfully not on all fours) with melee weapons drawn and bolter holstered at his back its another nice characterful and dynamic piece. It is at least much better than those awful Wulfen, maybe that’s why I like it so much. Donatus also looks nice, typical marine shooty pose, braced, nice bits of detail. Sternguard like. Lastly the Salamander Terminator Branatar looks good, stacked to the gills with weapons and a nice Promethean cracked chest plate, big and bulky and easily as good as the Space Hulk Terminators from seven years ago. good stuff all round.


And that’s not to say the others aren’t good, they just aren’t AS good. Standard Dark Angel; robe, check, sword and plasma pistol, check. The Blood Ravens (I know) librarian, who silly fat face aside, is pretty good (ripe for conversion to a standard librarian).The assault troopers (Blood Angel and Ravenguard) are typical of their chapter yet not outstanding and the Iron Hand, awkward pose aside, will bring a cheer from the multitudes that have been awaiting Ferrus Manus' legion to be represented.

So overall a nice squad, some better than others, all nicely detailed and with those individual touches that make these things stand out, each having a unique backpack and details. Each of them shows a lot of potential if the model were to be used as a template for a full squad, the Bloodclaws and Dark Angels Veteran boxes are looking rather dated and could do with an update afterall. Though not all of the Deathwatch are QUITE up to the standard of the character model clampacks that GW have been releasing some of them certainly are.

Squad Cassius

But the Deathwatch only make up a small part of the game, most people are here for the Cult. The glorious, glorious cult to the four armed Emperor. There is a pleasant familiarity to the models, they really do look for the most part like the perfect update of the old 90s designs, which although undeniable classics are looking a touch dated now. People have previously been getting round this by utilising various conversions but that is no longer required due to these wonderful new miniatures.

Jes Goodwin's original sculpts
Lets start with the head honcho, the Patriarch. If i'm being honest, this is probably the one model I was a little disappointed with, and not just because of its rather dodgy looking tail. It's just too Broodlord like, even down to the pose. I have seen someone put one on a throne though and that looked quite good. Now i'm not rose-tint blinded enough to suggest that the old one was a superior sculpt (though i think it had more character). The new model does suffer the CAD curse of looking a touch blocky and not as organic as an actual sculpt but i do like the way it has a marine helm in one claw whilst touching another to its head as it uses its psychic powers. I think i will try to put mine on a throne. Or at least one of them as i'll have two.

The Patricarch, The biggest departure from it's previous incarnation. 

Much better is the Magus, if you are going to update the old model then this is how you would want to do it. more dynamic, more detailed and generally just a sublime piece. I love how they have carried over so many elements of the original. Its the perfect update. That said I really wish they'd painted it purple. Maybe they didn't want the comparisons to be too obvious. Great job.

The Genestealer Magus, a worthy update to the classic version above...

Though the Magus is an update the Genestealer Primus is all new (there were Genestealer Primes in the old days but they were just bigger Purestrains). A member of the ruling elite (so one must wonder why he is still wearing mining gear) it is another really nice piece. With a bone sword and needle pistol and some weird power fingers to emulate Genestealer claws its another great model and looks like a leader hybrid, which is exactly as it should.

The Genestealer Primus
The hybrids themselves are awesome models, really good updates of the classic models again. The detail on these models is sublime, crisp and hard, no soft details here. The Aberrants are large misshapen hulks, the heavy combat hitters that the Cult needed and cleverly designed to minimise any kind of mould lines. The fourth generation hybrids are the most human looking and could actually pass as human models for the most part. These are the ones that have some of the most impressive detail, from the ribbing on their garb to the cult symbol charms that they all carry.

The new hybrids are magnificent

Another pleasing thing is the scale with all the hybrids being a little smaller than you might expect, no giant Astartes sized humanoids here, they are all a little smaller than the marines (except the Aberrants of course). After the larger than life AOS models it is refreshing to be dealing with something you can comfortably call miniature again. The three armed hybrids are also great, more Genestealer like with three arms but still carrying over many of the humanoid features. Its all beautiful stuff with a satisfactory amount of variant poses though you do get two identical sprues to make up your force. It's what people have been crying out for and GW have finally listened.

So good, really the finest plastics i have seen, especially given the size of the models

With the models out of the way you can turn your attention to the card sections, as expected these are really nice, showing the mine workings with gantries and various objectives. Some are cracked and there are perilous gaps which come into play in the game. The artwork is great, nice and colourful with great touches, though I do wonder how there can be any mystery or ambiguity about the nature of the mine given all the cult symbols all over the place. In an unusual move for GW there is no grid. Instead each section of walkway or room is embossed to make it stand out and each is a separate space. this means rather than many tiles you get 8 doublesided large rectangular sections. It still looks great but it will make setup much quicker, enabling you to get to battle that much sooner.

Artwork on the cards aside it is all really nice.

The book is also worth a mention, of course it is of a high quality, that goes without saying but I also found the background to be quite strong, detailing the previous Deathwatch squad to attempt to unravel the mystery of Ghosal Prime. It doesn't really go into a great deal of detail, its all communicated as snippets of relayed comms and does a good job of setting up the scene. Delightfully, there are a number of non founding chapters featured here which is really quite refreshing (Howling Griffons anyone!?) and the story part of the rule book is actually pretty good as Cassisus demands to be sent to follow up the Inquisitor's disappearance. 

The Ghosar Broodkin...

Of course you have the rules section which is broken up, giving the backgrounds of the different Deathwatch members (complete with horrific artwork that probably should never have been approved) which adds a bit more depth to proceedings. I like the way they have done this, it prevents a big block of text for the rules (though they are reasonably straightforward) and really breaks things up a bit. Actually the layout of the book overall is really good. All the elements you expect are there, background, rules character and weapon fluff, and the missions. But the way it is presented is quite novel and much more attractive than it could have otherwise been, 

The way the rules are broken up with snippets of fluff is very cool.

The narrative theme is continued into the mission section of the book as comm channel excerpts are used to push the story along. Its great stuff if a little minimal. At the very end of the book is a page containing rules for playing the missions as one continuous campaign with restrictions and rewards for the sides dependent on the victor of each scenario and a table at the end for calculating the magnitude of victory.

At its most basic level the game plays like a very simplified version of space hulk. A faster and perhaps not as strategy heavy (yet still having tactical depth) version of GWs classic game. That's not to say that if you have Space Hulk this is not worthy of picking up though, there are more than enough features here to make this its very own game, that is just the easiest parallel to draw.

It's a fun game with lots of replayability.
The game itself is split into distinct phases, first in the Broodmind phase the Cultist player refills their hand of ambush cards. These can then be played facedown as reinforcements to come onto the board or held in hand to be used as tactical gambits. This straight away adds a strategic layer to the game, do you try to swamp the marines or do you hang on to your cards and hope a gambit sways the game?

The Deathwatch then get to attack before the Broodkin attack back and then the marines also get another attack afterwards, highlighting their lethality. Combat is fairly simple. it all revolves around the weapon being used. Each weapon has a different stat dependent on the range. Pistol weapons for example have no use at Maximum range, only working at 'Assault and Combat' ranges. Grytt's Frag Cannon is actually better at long range as the projectiles have time to arm. Melee combat can only be performed at Assault range some weapons have more dice at one range than another. Rather than having strength,, Toughness and so on, each weapon instead has a predetermined roll to wound. If you have a save you can try to make it, if not then you're dead.

The nine missions are nice and varied, easy to make your own too.

Marines and the Cult characers have two wounds, take the first and flip the card over, take another and you are gone. However marines can forgo an activation to heal a wound, making them quite tough to kill. They can be taken down (indeed i have done it) but it takes a fair bit of doing. Close range is your best bet, The Cult is not particularly effective at range, though those mining lasers can burn a hole in armour easily enough.

Each of the characters has a special ability but in the interest of fluidity the presence of special rules is kept to a minimum, Indeed there are only 3. Cleave, negates any save. Handy if you need to finish off a marine. Rend allows you to spread any hits you have to other models in the same tile section, and Blast affects ALL models on that tile. Speaking of Tiles, GW has come up with quite an ingenious solution to the problem of having no grid to measure range by. 

There is a good amount of background in the book.
The Range ruler is clear and split into three sections each denoting a range. Its a novel solution to the lack of a grid and refreshing in its efficiency and simplicity Placement on tiles is critical, you can rearrange your models on a tile as you like provided there are no enemy models on the same tile If so you are locked in combat. Given the relative unwieldiness of Prodos Games gridless AVP game it is all the more impressive. Of course Prodos's game is FAR more ambitious than Deathwatch: Overkill.

The Aberrants

As you might expect the best tactic for the Broodkin is to close on the Maries and rip them apart, they have numbers on their side but are weak and have to pick off the marines one by one before they are cut aparrt by the Astartes. The Astartes on the other hand are individually powerful but will still be overcome if they do not support each other. Its really a rather well balanced game and although some missions are definitely skewed one way or the other they are all winnable by either side. Overall I would say that perhaps the Deathwatch are a little too powerful but this can easily be countered with house ruling such as when a character is dead it stays dead and so on

So overall Overkill is a game that is definitely worth playing and i rather hope people do. But, is it worth the price? Well £100 is without a doubt expensive but we KNOW that Games Workshop products are expensive. Premium product, premium price, that has always been GWs ethos. Deathwatch: Overkill is without a doubt a premium product, no doubts there, but £100 on a board game is insanely pricey.

The Broodkin characters, look at those familiars!
Of course GW knows that the main reason that people will buy this, the games merits aside, is the models within. There are just over 50 models in this box so you could equate the price to £2 a model, which considering 11 of them are Space Marines is really not bad. Don't believe GWs rhetoric, which is that each of the Marines is worth 20 quid. They aren't. And in all honesty neither are the clam packs that GW are comparing them to. BUT given the quality of the models the price does seem equitable. These are not starter models, these are full blown releasable miniatures just like Betrayal at Calth. In terms of model content then Overkill would seem to be worth the outlay. Certainly it represents a cheap way to pick up a cult force and it was a VERY smart idea by GW to release rules for the models in 40K alongside the game,

...and of course you can use it all in 40K

The problem will be convincing casual buyers to pick the game up, if you do not have any plans for the models in the scheme of a larger force then it is qute difficult to see the value in the set. Yes they are nice models and yes the contents are all of a high quality but its still a very expensive outlay and there are MANY other games out there which are significantly cheaper. Still if you have any need for the marines or cultists or can pick the game up from a discount reseller then it really is worth a look. The game is fast paced, fluid and offers great strategic depth from a deceptively basic ruleset. The models are some of the finest that GW have ever released and come VERY close to living up to the claims of Plastic being the best medium for capturing detail. Certainly they cement GW as the premier manufacturer of toy soldiers.

So overall Overkill is a very expensive box of very nice models to play a rather fun game with. Whether or not it is worth the asking price probably comes down to how much stock you plut into the minatures themselves. Its also of significant nostlagic value, something that GW seems keen to continune to capitalise on with future releases. These really are exciting times for GW. They have got an awful lot right recently and are starting to gain favour that they had lost, with most hbbyists of the opinion that they are on the right track. The new CEO seems to have some tricks up his sleeves and we have had some very pleasant surprises of late. Now, about those Squats...... .



  1. not outstanding? ... the RG looks far better than most in that release

  2. Just my opinion, i'm not a fan of the jumping poses. Never have been. think they look a bit awkward

  3. Excellent review. Largely chimes with my own thinking.