Thursday, 13 April 2017

Conclave Game Review: Shadow War: Armageddon

I wasn’t sure whether to even pen this review you know. Seeing as I was lucky/resourceful enough to secure a copy of the limited box set from a more obscure independent stockist a good couple of hours after release (Lvl Up Gaming as it happens – Great people, highly recommended) having figured that GW and the big resellers like Wayland and Dark Sphere would sell out very quickly. 

However, is there much point in reviewing something that can no longer be bought? I wasn’t sure but have decided to proceed anyway, focusing only briefly on the box set, and setting the majority of the review around the game, and book itself, which is being released separately by GW (in a more complete version to boot). I’ll also spend a bit of time talking about the new scenery as that too is being released separately. So, read on to find out about the game that caught GW completely by surprise and will likely be talked about for years to come.

As stated it will be pretty much a whirlwind tour of the box set so i’ll start with the box itself. Very deep, lovely new box smell and the box itself is of supreme quality. Very sturdy. It’s a real shame and error by GW in my opinion to make it limited edition and not produce more. 

A very big box. Double as deep as normal....

Within you have an absolute mountain of sprues. Eight separate scenery sprues and then your models. We’ll discuss those in a bit. In addition you have some dice (including some disappointingly small Artillery and scatter dice) and current plastic templates but reproduced in red. Looks pretty cool too. 

Lots of plastic

There is also a sheet of tokens for running, hiding, overwatch and the like and a few objective tokens, these are nice and glossy and high quality. 

The Artillery and Misfire dice could be bigger. 

Finally in what appears to be common practice for GW at the moment there is a piece of card artwork separating the book from the sprues presumably to protect them, it makes a nice little poster and has pictures of some of the scenery kits yet to come on the back.

Will make a nice poster. 

That’s the box, if you got one you know what I’m talking about if not then feel free to feel grumpy at GW for making it limited edition and enabling all those scalpers as it’s actually rather nice. Onwards.

Heretics most foul. 

It’s been common of late for the game to be quite secondary to the models in priority when it comes to GWs big game releases. Hand’s up if you have actually PLAYED Calth, Prospero or Overkill (My hand is not up). Largely these have been bought by people for the discount on the models (which were exclusive at the time) not the games within. This is quite the opposite, For one thing the models (not counting the scenery) are easily the weak point in the set. Space Marine Scouts and Ork Boyz. Two very old and very underwhelming kits. GW obviously needed to get rid of some. 

A new Scout sprue would have been a real selling point. Even if they just changed the head and recut the sprue. 

Just one look at the sprues will betray the inferiority of the kits to today’s releases. Let’s forgo the fact that the Scout kits (the heads in particular), are one of the more reviled kits that GW produce, the sprues are sparse to the extreme, clearly designed back in the early days of plastic production, it’s a far cry from today’s jam packed frames and highlights that although today’s kits might be a lot more expensive they are also far superior in terms of content. It’s a kit in dire need of an update. The Ork frame fares a little better but is still showing its age. As does that range in general.

Very robust and impressive 

Thankfully the scenery is a lot better, and also where the savings are made, I struggled somewhat with exactly how many scenery kits are included in the box, White Dwarf said two, but then also got the amount of dice (and the price) wrong so I wasn’t relying on that. I actually thought it was three separate kits but it turns out its actually two and a half. You see, most of the scenery kits that are being released in the coming months are actually an amalgamation of sprues from different kits.

Coming soon....

 Here you get two full kits and a couple of sprues of walkways and stanchions that are then incorporated into another kit to be released (Galvanic Magmavent i think) in total its eight chunky sprues of scenery, it makes the total value a little hard to calculate but overall i’d say the RRP of £80 covers the scenery and you get everything else for free. Not too bad but not on par with the savings of recent boxed sets. It also means that none of the sprues in this box are exclusive, you can get them all elsewhere.

And the scenery is really rather nice, just the first part of a multi month Sector Mechanicus scenery range (you can spot unreleased bits in WD if you look closely) 

It’s very robust and for the most part fairly modular, with a number of pegs and holes allowing for multiple configurations using a number of interlocking clips. You can attach pipes and chains and even the ladders slot into pegs. The barriers on the walkways are also removable and adjustable. 

The pipes and chimneys sadly are much less so and inexplicably will require gluing into place or will likely just fall over. Just how well painted pieces will stand up to repeated assembly and disassembly is up for debate but on the whole its impressive stuff. 

It’s not quite as detailed as a standard GW kit, coming from the Chinese Factory like all their other scenery but it is a step up from earlier efforts. I look forward to getting it all put together. 

Great scenery but as you can see you will need to supplement it with other scenery from your collection .

Despite the saving you make on the box I do have to say that the amount of scenery you get is not enough for a game. You would need two sets or at least supplementary kits from GWs vast range of buildings to cover even a small table. I plan to grab some Haematrope reactors and munitorum containers which will go nicely with what scenery I already have.

Leaving us with the book and the game itself. Now, GW have just announced plans to release the book separately with all the recent PDF content that GW have published included along with rules for Sisters of Battle and Inquisitor Warbands. This is certainly a little vexing to us early adopters as we have effectively ended up with an inferior product but I’ll talk more about that in a second. 

Really nice counters but the book is rather bare bones. Well this version is. 

The rule book as stands is 120 pages and essentially Necromunda. After a brief bit of fluff about Armageddon and Hive Acheron in particular it’s onto the rules. Now, it’s been a while since I played Necro. (too long I would say) but I’m fairly sure that the majority of the core rules are the same. Overwatch seems to have changed slightly, with there now being an initiative check to shoot a model that is going from and to cover, but other than that and the lack of sustained fire dice and jamming weapons it all seems fairly standard. The rule about not running within 8 inches of another model seems to be gone as well.

Certainly it bought a warm feeling to this veteran’s heart to see a movement value and modifiers for long range, ammo rolls, bottle tests. Aaah the days! Those who never played Necromunda are in for a treat. 

The rules are well presented and easy to understand and the game looks like it will be a lot of fun to play. There are six missions included within which to be honest isn’t many but probably enough, there is at least a table of game conditions that will add subplot and mix things up a little. So, so far so good right? A triumph right? Well, no, not quite. Let’s talk about the not so good stuff.

We played a game, feels a bit like Necro but it just isn't. It's basically Second Edition Kill Team. 

Firstly the rosters in the game are bare bones to say the least, Orks, Scouts and Imperial Guard and that’s yer lot. Really at the very least you would think a choice from each major faction would be the minimum. GW have now announced that they will be releasing a separate rulebook in response to the (quite justified) outrage over the low stock levels and seeming unavailability of the ruleset. 

The problem is that the rulebook will contain all the PDFs that they have produced and published and therefore have at least five or six times the amount of rosters that the box rulebook has, yes they will be available as PDFs online for free but I really do feel that is besides the point and get the impression that GW may be angling for a sneaky double dip on the rulebook. In addition Inquisitor Warbands will be in the new book and that is where I think the game will really have a chance to shine.

The major bugbear I have with Shadow War has nothing to do with rosters though, it has to do with the post game sequence. This has been brutally and unforgivably butchered, bearing very little resemblance to the sprawling possibilities presented by the underhive in Necromunda. 

For a start, levelling has completely changed. Rather than earning any kind of experience you simply nominate a model from your kill team to advance, New recruits (the equivalent of Juvies) automatically turn into troopers after three games. The only other way to advance is through injury by surviving against the odds after going out of action.

This really kills the buzz you got from scoring kills, in necromunda every kill meant more experience. In this it means nothing. Nothing at all. It's a real shame. Basically you are just forcing your opponent to roll on the injury table,

Speaking of the Injury table, that too has been pared down, no D66 rolls anymore, its a straight D6. Gone are all the hand and eye, head injuries, that used to affect stats and give mental conditions and with it is gone a good opportunity to add character to your kill team. Gone too are the trading posts and territories, now you just re-arm and re-supply. Of course given the context of the war on Armageddon this makes a certain amount of sense but it also kills a great deal of the variety and fun that you had in the post game phase.

You can however hire special operatives much in the same way as bounty hunters in Necromunda, this is pretty much the only way you have of using Power Armoured Marines and even Terminators in the game. Sadly these hired guns only last one game and do not advance unlike in Necro which puts a dampener on things but they are there. You pay for them with Promethium reserves as credits are a no no but as the only way to win the campaign is to accrue 15 promethium it seems a little counter intuitive. There are also no rules for underdogs that I could see so an advanced band versus a new one could be a big issue, indeed with the sprawl of races in 40k I would be very interested to see how they handle game balance. I feel it may well be a problem going forward. It may borrow the rules but Necromunda this aint.

And THAT is the biggest problem with Shadow Wars Armageddon, it ISN’T necromunda. It acts a bit like it but it just isn’t. I can see GW’s thinking. People wanted Necromunda, well all the old crusty gamers like me who played it first time round did anyway. 

The real deal... 

Problem is how do you make money from it? Once you sell the box and the gang isn’t that your lot? Also the cost of producing all new plastic ganger sprues is most prohibitive, eight gangs, two sprues for each (one for gangers and juves and one for heavies special weapons and leaders) and you are looking at quite the outlay. No, better to release something that can be used with the models that people already own. Test the waters and time it with a new scenery range to boot. I still believe that Necromunda will come out, hopefully with all the character that is missing from this release. I’d expect to see it at the end of the year perhaps with two gangs that will be supplemented much in he same way as Blood Bowl.

What Shadow Wars reminds me of most of all is Silver Tower, a pretender to the throne with similar rules and its own merits but none of the depth. Of course Silver Tower lead to the far superior Hammerhal and with luck we will see something more fleshed out following this, something called Necromunda. This game in the meantime will hopefully get much more interesting when the Inqusitor Warband rules are released. 

But for now you will have to make do with this slightly inferior clone. Thanks to the setting it is a compromise with both the character and variety greatly stripped down. For that matter what are Necrons, Tyranids and Tau doing on Armageddon anyway? It’s a hodge podge, a makeshift construction to produce an updated version of Kill Team/Skirmish 40K with Second Edition rules. 

It’s perfectly serviceable as is but the name is ironic as it is a pale shadow of what it could have been. I’m sure it will be fun to string a few games together but let’s face it, if a Headwound isn’t going to drive my mates Van Saar ganger mad so he ends up wearing my captured Escher leaders armoured corset and parading round the Underhive like a tech savvy Dr Frank’n’furter it’s just not going to be the same is it?

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