Sunday, 25 September 2016

Conclave Review: New White Dwarf Monthly

So, like a certain Timelord the White Dwarf magazine has regenerated once again and we now have a fourth launch of the title. However, this latest launch comes at a time that GW really seem to be getting things right. No one can argue that under the direction of the new CEO the company has made a lot of decisions and policy changes that have been widely welcomed by the community at large and we do seem to be entering something of a new golden age as the turbulence of recent years abates. Will these days be looked at fondly as halcyon in years to come? Only time will tell I guess but certainly much promise is being shown

Still, back to White Dwarf. What i’ll be doing for the review of this inaugural issue is an article by article breakdown, going through the mag as a whole, offering insights and opinions on each section. Therefore this should be by far the most comprehensive breakdown possible of the new White Dwarf. Is this new publication a return to the ‘Fat Bloke’ glory days or is the new White Dwarf a mere pretender, unworthy of the name? Let’s find out...

So the first thing you will notice is that the mag has gone back to having artwork on the cover, this is a massively welcome return and looks far more exciting and evocative than the miniature photos that they had been using. The main problem with those was, no matter how finely the miniature is painted (and these were just standard studio paintjobs) once the picture is blown up to A4 size you will be able to see all the imperfections and it will look a great deal less spectacular, so yay for artwork.

Other than that the cover is standard, with a professional looking layout much like the weekly edition. They have utilised the rather nice faux embossed glossy effect that they used for Warhammer Visions though and this looks great adding a veneer of class to the front of the title as it sits on the shelf (though the nice glossy bit is on the bottom so maybe you won’t even see it!).

The inside cover has legal stuff and introductions to the new team. Apparently they are all playing Age of Sigmar at the moment. I’m still not however, so this is of limited interest to me, still it’s nice to see the people responsible for putting the mag together.

Planet Warhammer: Onto the new releases! In the last monthly edition the new releases would take up over a third of the mag as the White Dwarf team would wax lyrical about what was coming up to the extent that it really was a bit cringeworthy. Thankfully this has been toned down somewhat and although there is still a fair bit of text it is at least informative in places rather than being unreservedly gushing. Planet Warhammer presents a look at both products already released in the last few weeks and products yet to come that month as well as a roundup of everything in the GW world at the moment. In ‘already released’ you have Death Masque, (possibly to be reviewed but lets face it it’s really just two Start Collecting Boxes bundled together) the Kill Team box, which seems a bit expensive for two squads but does give us a whole new way to play 40k, and the rest of the Deathwatch release, which I actually found incredibly well priced with the kits being a good deal cheaper than i had expected in all instances, Especially the Watchmaster, coming in at 15 quid. Making Kharn the Betrayer’s 22 pound price point all the more baffling, I really thought we were seeing a reverse in trend but alas it would seem not as Traitors Hate, the new Chaos supplement (which seems to contain a fair bit of reprinted material as it is) is marked up at full codex price where as the Astartes equivalent was only twenty British pounds. Oh well. Other than this Gorechosen is up and coming and looks to be a good bit of fun and will likely be purchased and reviewed separately by yours truly and Grombrindal, The White Dwarf, who in the ultimate insult is just a repackaged existing generic Age of Sigmar figure. Grombrindal deserved better! Especially on the relaunch of his magazine. For shame GW! As the releases go up to the end of September it is fair to say that going forward the mag will feature the month to come’s models meaning we should get our first look at much of the stuff coming up, in the magazine.The new releases section also features computer games and Black Library releases and is well laid out, broken up and actually interesting to read rather than being a glorified sales pitch.

Also featured within the first few pages is a letters page which is very exciting. GW have shown a much greater willingness to listen to their customer base of late, with resurrecting their presence on social media and Beta FAQs showing they have perhaps learned the lessons of years past. The letters page seems well balanced and is not all mindless fanboyism, with some valid criticisms being addressed. It’s a shame that it’s not Grombrindal himself answering as that was something I loved from the weekly mag but maybe he will get his own column in the future again, it is his magazine after all.

Tale of Four Warlords: is a resurrection of the old article Tale of Four Gamers, which was a firm fan favourite back in the day. It allowed you to see an army being constructed over time and was interesting and inspiring in equal measure. Featuring some great and memorable forces with lots of nice little hints and touches on how to make unique armies. Much of the same is featured here as each player starts with an Age of Sigmar Start Collecting box, in particular there are lots of tips on how they painted the armies to the deadline and why they chose the schemes they did, something that I find very important when commencing my own projects. The only thing that I miss from the article was in its first couple of inceptions the challenge was money based. Each participant would have an allowance with which they could expand their force. Sometimes they would spend it all, sometimes they would carry part of it over to put towards a more expensive purchase. It made things a little more quantifiable and real at the time. Of course i guess its not really practical these days. It would spoil the article a little to see the disparity between prices and I imagine the allowance would have to be rather high to add anything worthwhile to the forces!. I remember back in the day though when they would only be able to buy the minimum squad size (or maybe even the command blister) and have to wait to add more the month after. AHH- nostalgic sigh.

The end product here is much the same as each of the four entrants starts an army varying between Orcs, Wood Elves, Vampire Counts, and Nurgle Daemons. (forgive the use of old names, i’ll also be calling Imperial Guard, Imperial Guard). The fledgling forces look good and if i had any interest in the simplified and straightforward rule set and play style I might be tempted. Still, it will be interesting when they start expanding armies and getting games under their belts.

Hall of Fame: is plastic Nagash, Again. (I’m sure he has been featured before) It’s an impressive if flawed model but come on I’m sure they could have chosen something more iconic! (and historic) Hopefully they will feature some older models too and it will not just be a glorified sales plug. (Though if it meant some out of date models being made available for sale that month that would be great! (you can have that idea for free GW)

Army of the month: is something from Warhammer Visions but here it is far superior. Not only are the photos of a more consistent quality than those in Visions but there is also detailed insight from the creator of the army themselves which really enhances the content. This was something I always felt was missing from the feature when it was in Warhammer Visions, an absence which all the trilingual captions in the world could not compensate for. The army (A massive Beil-tan force including lots of Forgeworld) is one of those that always makes me marvel at how people can paint a force so consistently and quickly and the creator’s tips are most useful and welcome. It also adds a bit of personality to the army as Gavin (the owner) tells of it’s exploits.

Cover feature:
is the name of the next section, in this issue it is a bunch of extra rules for many (and I mean MANY) of GW’s myriad of stand alone Board Games.

In fact, you know what, I think it might be all of them if you discount Dreadfleet (like everyone else did). SpaceHulk Mission, Check. Rules for Grombrindal in Silver Tower, check. Rules for Daemons in Execution Force? Check, cards for the Death Watch squad from Death Masque in Execution force? Check. Terminators in Lost Patrol? Check.

Actually a quick word about that. Lost Patrol is to reviewed separately and as a spoiler the game is Brutal, absolutely brutal. In fact i would say it is nigh on impossible for the Marine Scouts to complete their mission in any way (I was freakishly lucky with my dice rolls and STILL didn’t make more than half way through the jungle). The Terminators seem to swing things too far the other way, making things an absolute cakewalk for the marines. I was surprised that they didn’t feature Deathwatch tactical marines for a slightly more balanced option. Still, with the amount of Deathwatch featured elsewhere maybe they thought it was Overkill (sorry).

In addition to all this lot you have AOS rules for Grombrindal, Alternate forces for the missions in Betrayal at Calth, The Stormcloud rules for the sublime Corvus Blackstar, and extra character rules for Gorechosen, allowing you to use many of the other Chaos Models available. And lets not forget the Slaughterpriest that came on the front of the issue! Rules for this model in both Silver Tower and Gorchosen are included in this 25 page section of the magazine. In fact the mind boggles to think of what this could be replaced with next month! Of course most of these axtra rules will require you to have the models in what has always been a canny move by GW. ( I bought the extra Tzeentch Daemons to use in the bonus rules forSilver Tower for example, and I can see people making purchases based on these free rules.)

The ONLY criticism that I can level at all this goodness is that its all printed in the pages of the magazine, the only way to use them is to cut them out and stick them on card. (not practical as A you will ruin the mag and B its all double sided so you will have to choose – The Overkill cards actually back onto each other which is infuriating.) or to photocopy them. This crusty old gronkard can remember when WD regularly featured card stock inserts and it would have been icing on the cake to have had them in this issue, giving you actual printed cards you could use in your games, even if they had to break it down over a few issues rather than the glut we got this month. Still, some would say the free mini is more than enough (especially considering it is a clampack mini!) and asking for card on top is greedy, as I say though, it would have been the icing on the cake.

Golden Demon entries are something that has been featured often before but again there is a level of input from the winners that has not been seen before and it is fascinating reading about their thoughts, why certain choices were made with the entries and how they accomplished them. In addition there is input from the judges where they divulge exactly what chose them to pick out the piece in the first place. Great stuff but I wish the level of creator input was consistent as it is largely concentrated on the gold entry. Still far better than the simple gallery of entries that we have been presented with in the past.

Illuminations: is a great little section that highlights themed artwork, once again with notes from the artists. This month it is Deathwatch and some of the pieces, when presented without the surrounding text of the codex page are great and I enjoyed reviewing the pieces based upon the artists comments, picking up little tidbits here and there. An artist specific one in the future with the same level of commentary would be most welcome if perhaps not likely as it looks like they have quite a vast pool of artists these days (perhaps mostly freelance?).

Battle Reports: are back! Much has been made of the return of this loved section of the magazine. Back in the day Battle Reports were one of my favourite sections in White Dwarf. Presented with just the right mix of narrative and in game reporting, they were great to follow and inspired us to both collect and game. I can still remember several battle reports from nearly twenty years ago with the drawn maps and detailed tactics. Then over the years they got worse and worse and worse, becoming simplistic, often seemingly fixed (to allow the new release to win) and no longer giving any idea of the battle or tactics and becoming little more than a excuse to show off some models. I can remember not ONE of those...

Things came to a head in Warhammer Visions where they abandoned any pretence of explaining things at all. Eschewing any talk of army building or tactics and simply presenting a series of captioned pictures with an arbitrary victor proclaimed at the end. The ultimate insult to the once mighty Battle Report. They didn’t really appear again much. Instead it was a playthrough of whatever boxed Game GW had out that week in White Dwarf.

But now they are back. PROPER battle reports, well maybe. Its Age of Sigmar once more, (sadly the magazine does seem somewhat skewed that way, though its not massively obvious) and its a fairly well presented battle report I guess, though the report does assume that you understand the special rules the models are using and some comprehension of any strategy used is lost as a result. The game looks alright, a big rush and scrum to the middle and then remove models. Pretty much what Age of Sigmar seemed like to me, i didn’t see anything here to change my opinion of it. The victory conditions made it a little more interesting as a race against time ethic was employed as the Sigmar forces tried to stop a Chaotic ritual. I’ve never seen a worse advert for Bloodthirsters in my life either, utterly ineffective, maybe that’s because it’s as easy to hit them as anything else. Next month is Deathwatch vs Tyranids. Gribble. I do wish that the battle reports had a bit of fluff attached though to set the scene,like they used to back in the day. I know Black Library likes to sell every word of prose that is written these days but I’m sure a couple hundred words for the mag would have been OK.

Ultimate Guide to: This month it is Imperial Knights and let me just tell you, I LOVE this section. Some great background, lots of interesting little points here and there, it was a joy to read. I’m not sure its comprehensive enough to deserve to be called the ultimate guide but what is here is excellent. Think of it like Index Astartes but not focused on marines (or probably even 40k in the future) and you’ll not go far wrong. Can’t wait to see what else gets featured. Its a good way to learn about things that you may not be too familiar with, kind of like a bluffer's guide.

Temporal Distort: is a section I really enjoyed, it looks back to a past issue. This time it’s 202. An issue i remember well as it marked the start of my time employed with the company all those years ago. The article takes a brief look at the issue, showing the lizardmen and one of Blanche’s sketches from the brand new at the time Second edition Codex. I look forward to seeing what they feature in the future. A bit of irony in featuring card sections in an issue that really could have done with them though! And the battle report is one I remember well even from over 15 years ago. Overall a great article but one that left me hankering for the Fat Bloke days and starkly raising the contrast between what was on the page and what I held in my hands. Mixed feelings. Oh, and they pretty much say that the Bretonnians are done. Sorry.

Battlegrounds: Shows how they constructed one of the gaming tables that features at Warhammer World. It’s a nice piece with some decent insight into the processes used. It’s not a patch on the excellent Forge World Masterclass books though.

Blanchitsu: Again, migrating from the pages of Warhammer Visions, Blanchitsu is one of those articles that can be somewhat derivative yet have hidden wealth as hobbyist’s miniatures aping John Blanches stark style are put under the spotlight. Problem is after a while it could start to get a bit samey, I mean there are only so many times you can see that Nurgle Plague Lord being converted right? Thankfully this time it is the master himself showing us what he has been up to and he does not disappoint. Making great use of the Mechanicum and Grey knights kits we are presented in another masterclass in Grimdark from the artist who helped it’s conception. It’s also refreshing to see small warbands as opposed to giant armies. Makes me yearn for Necromunda again. Overall Blanchitsu is a reminder that Blanche’s work, more than perhaps any others, perfectly evokes the inhospitable and bizarre universe of Warhammer 40,000 vividly and disturbingly. Long may he continue to do so.

Parade Ground: Features some interesting Kill teams and again, its nice to see compact small forces with some nice colour schemes being used. Hopefully we see some more Kill team featured in future issues.

Sprues and Glue: is another thing that has carried over, as the mag looks to the assembly side of things. Some interesting kitbashes feature here and overall its a nice little article. This month it focuses on the models from this months new releases, time will tell if this changes in the future to be a bit more eclectic but i’d not hold your breath.

Paint Splatter: is something I am heartily sick of if I am being honest. I didn’t pick up every weekly White Dwarf but the ones I did get showed exactly the same thing with different colours each month. To be fair, with the extra page count in this iteration they have included a nice little guide to the ‘Citadel Painting Method’ but after this it is STILL just paint by numbers nonsense. Look, i can paint to Paint Splatter standards, in fact I can paint far better. (if I say so myself) There is NOTHING in Paint Splatter for the seasoned hobbyist to aspire to. I would say that there is actually nothing for people who have read Paint Splatter more than once to aspire to. I for one find it utterly redundant and feel it actually exists solely to advertise the paints that GW recommends. Sadly this is indicative of GWs approach to the painting side of things for the last few years. Somewhere along the line they decided that their superbly painted miniatures were not inspiring hobbyists but actually discouraging them and ever since the standard of paintjobs has dropped to the lowest denomitor and instead of developing your skills, mediocrity has been championed instead.

The thing is, it’s not like GW pretends that ‘Eavy Metal doesn’t exist anymore. Their work is still featured from time to time (though it is somewhat sporadic) to showcase some of their very talented miniature painters. So why not bring back the ‘Eavy Metal’ master classes? Its not even like the stuff they sell goes to that level, the painting guides are much the same as paint splatter. I mean in Grobrindal’s Paint Splatter they don’t even paint his EYES! At the very least have a side bar with an advanced tip or something in it. Otherwise where will the next generation of Golden Demon winners come from? Not from reading Paint Splatter that is for sure.

Army Focus/Designers notes: Pretty basic but we get a few pages of insight from the people behind the new deathwatch models, something a little more in depth would not have gone amiss. A bigger release may warrant more detail which I would welcome. Next month has an interview from Jes Goodwin which should be of great interest.

Readers models:
Speaks for itself. Some nice stuff here, this is another section of White Dwarf that seems to have been lifted wholesale from Warhammer Visions.

In the Bunker: Shows us what the Dwarfers have been up to, again, pretty standard stuff. Be nice if they included a look at something being worked on behind doors as a sneak peek. (note, i seem to be the only person on the planet that knows it’s sneak ‘peek’ not PEAK. Like an Imperial Grammar-Inquisitor i’d declare this particular trend Hereticus Extremis if I could. A PEAK refers to the top of something, PEEK, is to look covertly at. Rant over. )


Overall the new White Dwarf can be regarded a triumph, if not an overwhelming one. It is a solid professional looking publication, much like it’s weekly predecessor but now it has the content to back it up. Unfortunately I think the overall design of the interior of the magazine is quite sterile and samey. Though the content within is good the layout too often is unexciting and the presentation overall needs a little work, they got away with it in a small mag but here it is much too noticeable . It’s a bit too reminiscent of modern computing magazines perhaps betraying Mr Bickham’s previous work. More logos and branding please, less of the generic headers and font!

As I have previously alluded to, the amount of content featured is much improved. There is plenty here to read and a fair portion of it is worth your time, with the level and depth of interaction and analysis greatly increased, elevating this new White Dwarf above the previous monthly effort,which often came off as little more than a glorified sales brochure. That said adverts have returned with a good number of the articles succeeded by a double page advert related to the content before it. Be it boxed games for the cover feature or a large Deathwatch ad following the new release section, quite a few pages are sacrificed as GW promotes their product. Overall it’s not a massive amount though and the adverts do not feel overly intrusive. What is most welcome is to no longer lose half a dozen pages to a list of GW stores, it looks like the design team finally learned about search engines.

Next months freebie

Most of the articles work very well and those that have been resurrected from previous iterations of the magazine hold their own, with any perceived inferiority being charitably attributed to rose-tinted nostalgia for the moment. Some articles could use a bit more meat and it will beinteresting to see exactly what happens as the magazine develops. There is a marked focus on hobby articles which is very welcome and was much needed with a pleasing emphasis on input from the creators throughout. I’m also greatly interested to see what replaces the rules for the boxed games as they take up a large part of the page count at 25 pages. Will we get monthly rules? Certainly that would come at the top of most peoples lists (not me, i’d rather have more hobby tips, but then have always been more of a modeller than a gamer.)

Price wise i’m not too sure. At six pounds this new White Dwarf is more expensive than a lot of it’s peers ‘subject matter notwithstanding’ and once the ‘freebies’ era has passed it will be interesting to see if the magazine will continue to reflect favourably in terms of value. The subscription ‘deals’such as they are, are also lacklustre, featuring minimal savings and precious little incentive to subscribe over just picking up an issue as and when you feel like it when it features something particularly aligned to your interests. Certainly my own subscription which i have held for many years has become SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive and poorer in terms of value and the magazine will have to do something quite spectacular to keep me subscribing especially when i have only a passing interest in anything Age of Sigmar related.

Next Month!

But more than anything else, what strikes me about this magazine is how redundant it renders Warhammer Visions. In my letter where they told me that Visions was stopping and my sub would be increasing and transferring to White Dwarf they made it quite clear that they are intending for Warhammer Visions to return in an exciting new format. I honestly cannot see why, pretty much everything worthwhile has been included here and in most cases improved on. The plethora of pictures of new releases can be done without, Army of the Month is far improved here, Blanchitsu is the same, Paint Splatter, largely the same, readers models the same, the new White Dwarf is almost a perfect amalgamation of the two publications. The way i see it, either Visions steals the articles back when it relaunches in their new improved format OR it becomes what it always should have been, a coffee table book of sumptuous photography and artwork. A show case for imagery from the various Games Workshop universes, which let’s face it is nothing like what we got (artwork for example, wasn’t featured at all). White Dwarf has taken what was good about Warhammer Visions and absorbed it in order to better itself so I'll be intrigued as to Vision’s eventual fate.

So it’s early days but so far this new White Dwarf is looking good, it’s a bit slick, a bit corporate but in this way it mirrors GW perfectly, let’s face it, we are never going to see a return to the irreverence of the Fat Bloke days (sadly), GW is just too big and times and tastes have moved on. If this new mag can lose a little of it’s ridgity and awkwardness whilst still casting an eye back to what made it great in the first place then we may well have something special on our hands.

looks like there is still life in the old Dawi yet..

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