2015 in review

Hey everybody!
It’s that time of the year again, when everybody is taking a look back over the last twelve months, so I thought I’d best join in and do a small retrospective here, too!

It’s been a fun year, if a little unexciting in parts. I’ve published 184 blogs on this site during 2015 (this one makes 185), taking a look at new games, old favourites, movies and comics and books, along with a bit of travel thrown in. In somewhat-chronological order, then, here are some of my own favourites from the past year:

D&D Week:
Adventures in the Underdark
Tales of the Drow
Back to the Dungeon

New Star Wars Comics

Escape from the Death Star

Indiana Jones!

Fallen

My Neighbour Totoro

Warhammer World

Miniature Painting – one year on

Summer of Sigmar

The Force Awakens

So here’s my top ten blogs from the year (I’m taking D&D week as one entry)! As I said, a lot of fun and excitement has happened, including my one-year anniversary back in April.

There’s a lot more to come in 2016, so I hope to see you again next year!

Horror Under the Pyramids!

Hey everybody!

It’s becoming something of a Christmas tradition for me here at spalanz.com, to take a look at the latest expansion for Eldritch Horror: it’s time to head Under the Pyramids!

Eldritch Horror Under the Pyramids

Similar to last year’s Mountains of Madness, this is a large-box expansion that includes a whole host of new stuff, primarily a new sideboard! This time, we’re off to Egypt, as we explore the mysteries of the pyramids. We have two new ancient ones, along with eight new investigators, some of whom are – excitingly! – from the Arkham Horror base game.

Eldritch Horror Under the Pyramids

We also get a lot of the usual stuff to be expected now from expansions by now – new location cards, new Other World cards, new assets and artifacts, spells and conditions, and new unique assets. Mountains of Madness brought the Focus mechanic, which was continued in Strange Remnants, while this time around we have a particular emphasis on skills – specifically, impairments. We’re used to training skills by now of course, however this time around skills can be decreased. Many of the new components – particularly the new Mythos cards – also have a focus on this mechanic. Whether this remains in the expected expansion next year will remain to be seen of course, but I do find it quite interesting to spot patterns like these.

Eldritch Horror Under the Pyramids

One thing we don’t get as an echo of last year is a specific Egyptian sideboard encounter deck. With that for Mountains of Madness, when encountering a clue on that sideboard, you draw from this specific deck rather than the research encounter deck. Here, however, we just draw from the research encounters as normal. While it would have been nice to see this tradition continue, I suppose there’s plenty enough to be getting along with in this game. We also get new Prelude cards that continue to allow for interesting ways to play the game. One of these gives us the Egypt sideboard, while another allows for two Expedition Encounter decks, which seems like an interesting way to play the game.

The new Ancient Ones are very intriguing. As with Mountains of Madness, we get one that has already been seen in Arkham Horror (Abhoth) as well as a new one (Nephren-ka). The latter is the most thematic for the expansion, using the sideboard in conjunction with the prelude card. Both Ancient Ones use two special encounter decks, something that has become the norm since the core set, and come with eight mysteries each, allowing for plenty of replayability.

Eldritch Horror Under the Pyramids

While we’re on the subject of the special encounters, it’s worth mentioning how the Children of Abhoth mechanic is implemented here. Abhoth is a deity of Hyperborea, the mythic realm of Clark Ashton Smith. It looks like an amorphous blob, and continually gives birth to mutant “children”, some of whom it devours while others go off to do its diabolic bidding. In both Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, the Children of Abhoth are represented by special monster tokens that need to be continually defeated, as horrible things take place when the token pool runs out. Here, however, the Cultists take the place of the Children, but when you encounter one on the board, you draw a Children of Abhoth special encounter rather than merely fighting a monster. It’s a really nice implementation, and adds to the theme and the story by having things actually happen rather than just fighting a monster and carrying on.

In general, theme is something that comes through really nicely in this expansion, with a lot of nods to the source material, such as Under the Pyramids and Haunter in the Dark. Having odd bits like this come through really appeals to me, I have to say!

I really love the course Eldritch Horror is taking, from what we’ve had so far. In particular, I like the fact that the game follows a very prescribed course as regards adding in these sideboards, so that we don’t end up with a bloated thing as could often happen with Arkham Horror and its expansions. The game takes a long time to set up of course, which has been putting me off playing it more than I’d like. That has absolutely no bearing, however, on my enjoyment of the game. I think, for 2016, I’d like to get this game to the table more often, and hopefully this will work out.

Eldritch Horror Under the Pyramids

Space Marines!

Hey everybody!

Hope you’ve all been having a fantastic festive break! I’ve been having a fairly enjoyable one, at any rate. Lots of games, lots of playing with plastic. Which brings me on to today’s blog, as I want to talk about some stuff that I’ve been enjoying for a while now: Space Marines!

Space Marines

First, a little history. Since my discovery of my love for Warhammer 40k, I’ve been almost entirely focused on the Necrons. However, earlier in 2015, I decided to try to paint the Space Hulk boardgame, and bought some kits to practice on – specifically, the old Space Marine assault squad. I assembled the squad, but didn’t actually do anything more with them. As the year went on, I became more interested in Space Marines, due to a perception that they aren’t often played. Certainly in my meta, it seems to primarily consist of Imperial Guard and Eldar. Anyway, I began to look at the various kits, and watched a few batrep videos online, and decided I’d collect some of them, as they looked like they could be a lot of fun.

Since this volte-face, I’ve lost count of the amount of kits that I’ve bought, only a fraction of which I’ve actually assembled (about right for a Warhammer devotee, right?)

10,000 guesses as to what I'm up to next… #Warhammer40k #GamesWorkshop

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Another successful haul! #GamesWorkshop #Warhammer40k #SpaceMarines #Ultramarines

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So having decided to collect an army, I was then faced with the task of deciding how to paint them. As it turned out, it didn’t take long to decide – again, under the impression that Ultramarines are almost frowned-upon as being too-prevalent, I was instantly attracted to the chapter, and here we are!

I’ve already mentioned the first two novels in the Ultramarines series (links at the end of this blog). While those books have been really excellent, I’m more attracted to them because of the Ancient Rome flavour they all have. The captains have a vaguely Centurion look to them, especially the helmet crests and the leather pteruges. Being very much interested in Ancient Rome, I really like these bits and pieces.

Nightbringer

So I’ve been off-and-on working on getting a Fourth Company assembled, echoing the adventures of that company in the novel series. Something that I’ve immediately noticed in doing this is just how much attention needs to be paid to military protocols.

For those who don’t know, some more history. Thousands of years before the 41st Millennium, the Emperor created twenty Primarchs to lead legions of super soldiers, called the adeptus astartes or space marines. During the cataclysmic Horus Heresy, several of these Primarchs rebelled against the Emperor’s dominion and succumbed to the warping power of Chaos. These traitor legions are now referred to Chaos Space Marines, while those loyalist legions were re-organised into Chapters, much smaller than the legions, in an attempt to curb any future civil war. This was all undertaken under the direction of Roboute Guilliman, Primarch of the Ultramarines, who decreed these reforms in the famous Codex Astartes.

Post-Heresy, the Ultramarines were said to be the largest Legion, and so fractured into several “successor chapters” during the reorganisation, known as the second founding. Each of the remaining loyalist legions also saw several successor chapters, of course, though the Ultramarines, being the largest, saw the most of these. Which was an ideal way to spread the word of the Codex.

This history has appeared to inform the game, which sees the Ultramarines almost as the ideal, perfect example of what a space marine ought to be. As such, I’ve been particularly concerned with making sure my space marines follow the correct protocols. For instance, the fourth company consists of six tactical squads, two assault squads, two devastator squads, and four dreadnoughts, along with a chaplain, an apothecary and a captain. Each company within the chapter has a specific colour trim – green for fourth – and distinct squad markings that I’m also keen to preserve.

So while for my Necrons – and even the Stormcast Eternals I’ve been putting together over the summer – I’ve been painting them as I see fit, I’m really concerned to have my space marines “correct”. It’s a different way of painting models, which I normally look upon as a way to exercise the imagination, but it’s been quite rewarding so far to see something come together like this.

In the middle of all of this, however, I’ve had a kind of side-project emerge. I said earlier that this whole thing started by my desire to paint the Space Hulk game. Part of this has been a particular interest in painting Space Marine terminators. I managed to get some Deathwing kits in the Black Friday extravaganza at Games Workshop early in December, which really helped to fuel this.

Ultramarines are the XIII legion of space marines; the first legion are the Dark Angels. Common to space marine chapters is a veteran squad as its first squad, and terminators are classed as veterans – the exception being the Grey Knights, whose entire chapter can be outfitted in the bulky terminator armour. For the Dark Angels, the first company is known as the Deathwing, and is entirely made up of terminator squads.

I love #SpaceMarines #terminators so much! #Warhammer40k #Deathwing #DarkAngels

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I’m not sure what it is about these chaps, but I really like their look! In particular, I like the creamy look of the Deathwing, offset with green and red bits.

Dark Angels Deathwing

So I’ve also been working on some of these guys, among the rest of my ongoing projects!

But that’s not all – because I’ve built up a third squad of terminators, this time painted as Genesis Chapter, the first of the Ultramarines’ successor chapters.

More Genesis Chapter progress – yellow aquilas! #Warhammer40k #SpaceMarines #Ultramarines

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I’ve said it before of course, but I enjoy painting miniatures for the way it exercises the imagination and promotes creativity. Part of this comes from trying out new things, and while it has been difficult to find the colour scheme for these chaps, it’s been very interesting for me to try these out. I mean, I’ve painted lots of silver men (Necrons) and lots of gold men (Stormcast Eternals), so getting to paint blue and red and cream men is yet another challenge that I’ve been excited to take up!

Another fine day's work! #Warhammer40k #SpaceMarines #Razorback #Dreadnought

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I bought myself a Razorback tank for Christmas, which has been yet another challenge that I have relished. The biggest models I’ve put together so far have been the Catacomb Command Barge for the Necrons. Building a plastic box has been very interesting, and I have to say I love the way this has turned out.

I’m still building way more than I’m painting, as the building is still the part of this hobby that I enjoy the most, but I’m hoping that 2016 will finally see me realise all of these bits of plastic as a true Ultramarines army – with support from the Dark Angels Deathwing and Genesis Chapter!

Check out the Ultramarines series:
Nightbringer
Warriors of Ultramar

Christmas eve!

Hey everybody!

To those of you who are celebrating, happy Christmas eve! For those of you who aren’t, hope you’re having an excellent Thursday! I can’t deny, I certainly feel it’s been an excellent Thursday for me!

Last night I finished reading Lost Stars, one of these books in the Journey to the Force Awakens series. It’s a young-adult novel that follows the careers of two children through their lives with the Imperial service, and it’s actually not that bad. Sure, it suffers from a little too much coincidence at times, much in the same way the novel Death Star seemed to take place just an inch or so to the left of the screen. Despite this, however, there were some very interesting developments over the course of the novel, particularly seeing the events following the Battle of Endor. For me, since the removal of all the Bantam novels as the expanded universe, I find it fascinating to see in which direction Star Wars is moving now.

There are two references to The Force Awakens here. Firstly, we see a brief rebel scouting mission to D’Qar, which of course later serves as the main Resistance base. We then see the Battle of Jakku, a year after Endor, that results in both the downed AT-AT and the crashed Star Destroyer.

The Force Awakens

All in all, it’s certainly worth investigating!

Deathwing Knights

I’ve pretty much spent all of today building more Dark Angels Deathwing stuff, which has been a lot of fun, I have to say! I’ve actually built four of these guys now, along with the Grand Master of the Deathwing himself, Belial! I’m not the biggest fan of Finecast stuff, as have had such little success with it in the past. While this one was a bit tricky to clean up, I nevertheless think it looks great, and hope I can do it justice when I get round to painting it! The Deathwing Knights also look fantastic, I think – I’m particularly looking forward to getting the maces of absolution done.

So have an excellent Thursday, whatever you’re up to!

The Holiday Devil!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today marks an extra-special game day blog as it’s Christmas week! Whether you’re celebrating with presents and food, or if it’s just time off work – or even if it’s just another week – I hope you’re all having a grand old time! Personally, I find there’s nothing so magical as spending a couple of hours with some supernatural horror, so it’s time once again to take a look at the always-excellent A Touch of Evil, and the second “holiday villain”, as we fight against the demonic Krampus!

You may recall, of course, this was a web villain exclusive from Flying Frog Productions last Christmas – which got me very excited at the time, as I love the amount of elaborate work that often goes into these web villains. While I didn’t get to try him out last year, I have now had the pleasure, and I want to give some brief impressions today!

A Touch of Evil Krampus

First of all, I liked this villain a lot. While not as wonderful as the Volgovian Nutcracker, he is nevertheless an interesting villain to go up against. For those unfamiliar with the folklore, Krampus is a devil who runs around at Christmastime punishing bad children by whipping them with birch rods, like a reverse St Nicholas. Indeed, Krampus punishes these children on the night before St Nicholas’ Day (6 December). For the town of Shadowbrook, many of the original immigrants brought the Germanic tradition of Krampus with them, and regularly celebrate with parades and feasting. And this is where the fun begins!

At the start of the game, Reveler tokens are placed on the dangerous locations, and a pool of townsfolk tokens is created by all the town elders and allies, whose cards are removed from their respective decks. One townsfolk token is placed in each corner location, and the stage is set for the festivities to begin!

Over the course of the game, heroes can search the crowd of revelers for clues by rolling a d6; if you roll a 5 or 6, you’ve found the real Krampus and he attacks you! On the roll of 1-4, however, you can either collect investigation tokens equal to the number rolled, or gain one Egg Grog token, which prevents up to two wounds being done to you or an ally with you. The band of revelers then moves on to a random location, but if they ever enter a space with a townsfolk token, that townsfolk is taken by Krampus and placed in his sack!

While there are of course a multitude of other things going on in the game, which I’ll get to shortly, this is the core of the new villain and how he changes the gameplay. I must admit, it took me a while to “get” this, and for a number of turns I wasn’t interacting with the revelers, which meant they were just nothing on the board, and the game didn’t feel that exciting or different. Reveler tokens don’t stop movement – instead, you search the crowd as an elective action. However, the potential benefits of the Egg Grog tokens (or even the bonus investigation) should get you searching the crowd as often as you’d search a corner location!

A Touch of Evil Krampus

The other big new mechanic here is Naughty and Nice. At the start of your turn, you choose whether your hero is naughty or nice, taking the corresponding token. If you were nice, then nothing immediately happens, and the token is returned to the bank. If you were naughty, however, you keep the token, you gain one investigation for each naughty token you have, then you roll a d6; if you equal or less than the number of tokens you have, you take as many wounds as naughty tokens you have, then return them all to the bank. In addition, if you roll a 5 you get a free event, and if you roll a 6 you get a free town item. Having multiple Egg Grog tokens really helps if you’re planning to push your luck here!

Naughty and Nice also has an interaction with the Minion Chart, which only includes one such minion – the faun – and two Events. Perchta is a follower of Krampus in the folklore, and the result of a roll of 3-4 on the Minion chart. Rewarding the virtuous and good, while punishing the wicked by ripping our their intestines and replacing them with straw, this event gives each nice hero d6 investigation, while forcing d3 hits on each naughty hero. Another event on the chart, Birkenrute, similarly punishes naughty heroes by forcing the discard of d6 investigation, items or allies (the chart also says “wounds”, but I’m guessing it doesn’t mean heal yourself…) Both of these events are very thematic for the villain, and while events seem to so rarely come up in games, they were nevertheless fun when they did!

But what about Krampus’ sack?

Well, folklore describes how Krampus roams the neighbourhood abducting particularly bad children, carrying them back to his lair in a sack, whereupon he eats them. In the game, any townsfolk in Krampus’ sack will be eaten on the roll of 4+ whenever the shadow track moves into a new stage. Hilariously, however, during a fight with the villain, you can target the sack and potentially rescue anyone trapped inside if you score a successful hit. The townsfolk rescued in this way immediately join you, which is nice! You can also attempt to team up with townsfolk still on the board by paying 3 investigation and rolling a 4+ when you encounter them.

A Touch of Evil Krampus

I really enjoyed this villain. The extent to which allies matter is really amazing – and can be increased if you have The Allies supplement for the game, of course! I always like to try to get a couple of extra folks whenever I’m playing, so you feel like you really have a posse going on there, and this has never been easier with this addition. While the potential is obviously there to ignore the revelers and see very little happen with regard the sack, and always choose to be nice, effectively rendering the large part of the game pointless, I can’t actually imagine anyone would elect to play in this manner.

It’s no Volgovian Nutcracker, which remains one of my all-time favourite villains for the game, (and I’m looking forward to going up against him again in my now-traditional game on Christmas Eve), but Krampus is still a really cool villain for the game, and one that I feel is well-implemented and enjoyably different. Variety is always great, and having a huge cast of villains to go up against is awesome.

He’s also free, so what are you waiting for?!

Christmas week!

Hey everybody!

It’s Christmas week! I’m not sure if you’re celebrating the season – personally, I’m not religious at all, but embrace the food and candles like there’s no tomorrow! It’s always an exciting time of year because of the stuff on offer, as well – being a shameless consumer, I love getting the big game releases and whatnot. This year, it’s another expansion for Eldritch Horror, Under the Pyramids, which I’m looking forward to immensely! Oh, yes, there’ll be a blog incoming once I’ve taken that through for a couple of plays!

It’s a game that I really love, I must say. Last Christmas we got Mountains of Madness, which I realised I hadn’t played all year, so got round to a game yesterday. Something I particularly like is how well the sideboard is integrated in this game. With Arkham Horror, there’s always something a little off about travelling to the new boards. Of course, it’s exciting and whatnot to see the differences, but I don’t know… There’s something a little more interesting about the new board here in Eldritch Horror.

Eldritch Horror Mountains of Madness

I’ve actually not played as much Eldritch Horror as I’d like, and I’m working on playing more in the future. For now, at least, I’m really excited to get more Horror for Christmas!

More Genesis Chapter progress – yellow aquilas! #Warhammer40k #SpaceMarines #Ultramarines

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I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last week painting these chaps up – Genesis Chapter terminators! I’ve been sorta working on painting Space Marines for a fair number of weeks now, going for the Ultramarines – eventually, I’m going to get round to a blog on these guys. Anyhow. Lots of blue made me investigate alternative options and, after getting some Deathwing Terminators in the Black Friday deal, decided to investigate a third option with the successor chapter to the Ultramarines – mainly because of the red colour scheme. Every so often I get in a bit of a painting rut, so when stuff inspires me like that I tend to go along with it. Recently I’ve been struggling to stay focused enough to finish models, but at least these guys are going well for now!

I’ve not really been keeping up with the advent calendar stuff this month, but did make the effort to check out the short story Godless, dealing with the ongoing search for Slaanesh following the End Times. It was pretty good, I have to say, easily worth the couple of pounds I paid for it.

Archaon Everchosen

While we’re on the subject of Warhammer, have you guys noticed the latest round of Age of Sigmar stuff coming out of Nottingham? Stuff seems to be getting bigger and bigger lately. I do like these new models, I have to say, even though some of them are a little too crazy to look at, such as the Varanguard, with all the armour banding going on there. Archaon is apparently the biggest model produced for the game, and does look splendid, but my goodness, I thought this was a miniature war game! The Everchosen releases do look nice – while I’m not really a Khorne guy, I like the rainbow colours of Tzeentch, and the Gaunt Summoner thing looks interesting. I’ve been thinking about buying the battletome, if nothing else, as I love the background for these things, and feel like I need to get more into the Age of Sigmar fluff, but for now I’m staying my hand!

I’m really hoping they produce some sort of cavalry for the Stormcast Eternals – talking with the manager of my local store recently, he reckons more is to come for the Stormcast to flesh out the other Chambers in the warband. That’d be nice, I think – perhaps more dracoth-like beasts with warriors on top…

I guess we’ll see what the new year brings!