2016 in review

Hey everybody!
I can’t believe 2016 is over already! It’s been a rough year for the world, but I’ve had a pretty great year on the blog here, so thought I’d stick with the tradition of looking through the last twelve months on the blog here and pick out my favourite ten – in chronological order! 209 blogs done (including this one), which is pretty impressive, I feel!!

Visionaries

#GWfor52 – the first of my weekly hobby update blogs

Tomb Kings Extravaganza (A Warhammer Story)

Playing Magic: House Dimir

Comics Catch-Up

The Original d6 – the West End Games Star Wars RPG!

Ghostbusters – the birthday week extravaganza!

Marvel Star Wars catch-up!

Ewoks! – a nostalgia trip with my favourite childhood cartoon for my 500th post!

Rogue One

It’s been a great year! Managed to read a lot of great stuff, including a whole lot of great DC comics, and continued my explorations of the Black Library. I’m really pleased and impressed to have posted my weekly hobby progress all the way through the year, as well! Star Wars has taken more of a back seat than I’d have liked, but with episode VIII on the horizon in 2017, that’ll no doubt be stepping up once again!

My one regret is not getting further with my creative writing. In February, I wrote a short introductory piece to what I’d hoped to be another series of short stories in the Star Wars universe, A New Beginning, but didn’t get any further. That’s partly due to time running away with me, but I’ve also lost the handwritten notes on the story that I had! Hopefully they’ll turn up, and I can resume this in the new year.

While 2016 has been great, I can’t wait to see how 2017 goes! Hope to have you all along for the ride!

Looking forward to Tzaanuary!

Hey everybody!
It’s been a few days now since Games Workshop dropped all the news about the forthcoming Tzeentch-related goodness that is coming our way in the new year, and I’ve finally gotten round to digesting it all!

I’ve kinda been neglecting Age of Sigmar for a while now, what with all of the amazing 40k releases coming from Nottingham. Following the Season of War campaign that took place over the summer, and the defeat of Chaos by the forces of Order, it looks like the mortal realms have been fairly settled for a while now, as cities are built and human populations have been moving back. All of this seems to be detailed in the upcoming battletome, Disciples of Tzeentch. This sounds like a great addition to the lineup of AoS books, apparently created from community feedback. Sounds like it should be a lot of fun, anyway – I’ve been a big fan of the Age of Sigmar books, so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in this one.

Warhammer Quest Silver Tower Ogroid Thaumaturge

It looks like the stuff from Warhammer Quest Silver Tower is coming into AoS formally – there are already warscrolls for these chaps available of course, though it looks like there are going to be some significant upgrades and stuff for the Tzaangors, at least!

Aside from the fact that the beastmen return from the Silver Tower game, we’re getting Tzaangor Shamans and these Skyfire guys, who have ranged attacks and fly into battle atop discs of Tzeentch. Much like the recent Thousand Sons release for 40k, these guys look very ornate, but pretty beautiful all the same. I’m not quite sure if I’m going to be investing in these things though, as it seems to be a bit of a theme coming out of the recent models that they’re really crazily over-ornamented. I’m all for some nice detail, but when your regular troops have this much detail…

Kairic Acolyte

The Kairic Acolytes were some of my favourite things in Silver Tower – Ogroid Thurmaturge and the new Pink Horrors, notwithstanding! Of all the upcoming releases that we’re expecting, I’m most looking forward to seeing what we get of these guys. New Lord of Change be damned, I want to see what these guys have to offer!

I’m intrigued as to what the mortals of this army will be offering, as well. I think I’m not alone in assuming it’s just Slaves to Darkness stuff, though I suppose it could be a surprise and have some kind of upgrade kit to have them look more individual. Maybe. I don’t know. It might be a thing, of course! But I somehow doubt it…

Out of all of this, of course, we’ve also been told that there will be new human populations for the mortal realms in the wake of Order’s victory. I’m assuming that means we’re actually going to have some new chaps for the Free Peoples, which could be pretty exciting!

Looking at the other rumours that have been doing the rounds for a while now, I think I’d trade all of this stuff for the idea of a plastic Keeper of Secrets!

Playing Magic: Commander

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about the multiplayer format for Magic: the Gathering – it’s time to talk about Commander! I had a game last week, after having built a deck up over the summer, and I have to say, it was pretty good! Let’s get into this…

Magic the Gathering Commander

Commander is a multiplayer format of Magic, where decks have 99 cards that work around a central Commander, which is any Legendary Creature from the long history of the game. Additionally, your Commander deck cannot have more than one copy of any card aside from basic land cards. The deck can only contain cards that are in your commander’s colour identity – that is to say, any colour that is referenced on your commander’s card, both in casting cost and the text box.

Magic the Gathering Commander

The commander starts the game in the Command Zone, and can be cast from that zone whenever you have the mana available. Whenever if would go into the graveyard, back into your hand/library or into exile, you can instead have it return to the Command Zone, whereupon you must pay 2 additional colourless mana to cast it again, and an additional 2 colourless mana each additional time you do so.

Finally, players start at 40 life, and in addition to the usual rules for decking out or being reduced to 0 life, you will be eliminated if your commander takes 21 total damage over the course of the game from any other single commander.

I actually managed to play a Commander variant called Duel Commander, which was 1v1 rather than the usual multiplayer buffet. For my game, I had constructed a black/white deck using Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim as my commander. She’s a cheap choice, and the deck doesn’t rely too much on her to function well. It’s very much a drain-and-gain deck that uses effects like Extort to work, rather than anything that I really wanted to have going on, such as the bigger spells for reducing my opponents’ life. But it worked well enough!

Magic the Gathering Commander

The deck has plenty of stuff to really bring the pain, such as Sanguine Bond or Defiant Bloodlord combined with things like Sunspring Expedition and Meditation Puzzle. Anything to really cause some serious lifeloss while also putting me ahead!

Ayli did make an appearance, but didn’t really set the world on fire. I did manage to sacrifice my Wall of Essence after a while, which did gain me some life so that I could later use her exile effect, but yeah, the deck mainly came together through Extort. Which is a shame, because that’s exactly what my Orzhov deck does! Should probably do a blog on my Orzhov deck at some point, that is one deck that I really enjoy playing…

Magic the Gathering Commander

So yeah, Commander was a fun game to try as something different, but I suppose it would have been more interesting if it was a full multi-player experience.

Anyway, here’s my Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim deck – enjoy!

Commander
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim (OGW)

Creatures
Suture Priest (NPH)
Defiant Bloodlord (BFZ)
Zulaport Cutthroat (BFZ)
Augur il-Vec (FUT)
Undercity Informer (GTC)
Zulaport Chainmage (OGW)
Scholar of Athreos (THS)
Treasury Thrull (GTC)
Wall of Essence (M15)
War Priest of Thune (M13)
Drana’s Emissary (BFZ)
Kingpin’s Pet (GTC)
Cliffhaven Vampire (OGW)
Pontiff of Blight (DGM)
Vampire Envoy (OGW)
Drana’s Chosen (OGW)
Alabaster Mage (M12)
Wakedancer (CNS)
Knight of Obligation (GTC)
Blood Host (M15)
Kalastria Healer (BFZ)
Paragon of New Dawns (M15)
Tithe Drinker (DGM)
Malakir Familiar (BFZ)
Shadow Alley Denizen (GTC)
Onyx Mage (M12)
Underworld Coinsmith (JOU)

Instants
Profit / Loss (DGM)
Executioner’s Swing (GTC)
Grisly Spectacle (GTC)
Rain of Blades (M13)
Congregate (M15)
Meditation Puzzle (M15)
Zealous Persecution (ARB)
Midnight Charm (PLC)
Sun’s Bounty (CSP)

Sorcery
Sign in Blood (M13)
Essence Drain (M13)
Shadow Slice (GTC)

Enchantments
Blind Obedience (GTC)
Feast on the Fallen (M15)
Eternal Thirst (M15)
Curse of Wizardry (ROE)
Lightmine Field (ROE)
Blood Reckoning (M13)
Divine Favor (M15)
Sunspring Expedition (ZEN)
Sanguine Bond (M14)
Campaign of Vengeance (EMN)

Artifacts
Phyrexian Totem (TSP)
Prism Ring (ORI)
Staff of the Death Magus (M15)
Dolmen Gate (LRW)
Thunder Totem (TSP)
Staff of the Sun Magus (M15)
Orzhov Cluestone (DGM)
Orzhov Keyrune (GTC)
Pristine Talisman (NPH)
Tainted Sigil (ARB)
Commander’s Sphere (C14)

Lands
Orzhov Guildgate (GTC)
Scoured Barrens (KTK)
Orzhov Basilica (GBT)
Temple of Silence (THS)
Forsaken Sanctuary (SOI)
Isolated Chapel (INN)
Caves of Koilos (M15)
Tainted Field (C15)
Piranha Marsh (ZEN)
Kabira Crossroads (ZEN)
Secluded Steppe (CMD)
Stalking Stones (MRD)
Shimmering Grotto (INN)
Unknown Shores (OGW)
Buried Ruin (M12)
Unstable Frontier (CON)
11 Plains
12 Swamps

I haven’t been playing a lot of Magic lately, so have been feeling kinda rusty with the whole thing. I also haven’t really been paying attention to a lot of the new cards released from Kaladesh onwards, if I’m honest! It might need a bit of a tune-up in light of some of the more recently-released cards, but I guess time will tell on that score. I’d also like to get down to some more Magic games and try this thing out in a full multi-player environment. So stay tuned for that in the new year!

The Hunt for Vulkan

Beast Arises Hunt for Vulkan

So I recently finished The Hunt for Vulkan, the seventh novel in The Beast Arises series, and also one of the shortest entries in that series so far. The book forms something of a turning point in the war between the Imperium and the Orks, as Chapter Master Koorland literally leads a hunt for the primarch Vulkan to aid in the fight.

Vulkan is the primarch of the Salamanders space marine legion, and in case you weren’t aware, he is a “perpetual”, which is the Warhammer version of saying “immortal”. He might seem to die many times, but he will always, always survive anything that he goes through – such as, famously, his torture at the hands of his brother primarch, Konrad Curze. So it’s no real surprise that he’s still kicking around a thousand years after the Horus Heresy and the age of the primarchs.

Inquisitor Veritus brings the news of Vulkan’s survival to Koorland, telling him he is on the planet of Caldera. Koorland also manages to reach something of a detente with the Mechanicum after the Fists Exemplar lead an incursion to Mars in order to recover Magos Urqidex who, at the end of the last book, had been trying to get the message that the Orks were based on Ullanor out to Terra. Now armed with this information, Koorland calls together yet more Space Marine chapters – the Ultramarines, the Dark Angels, the Blood Angels and the Space Wolves – to assist in a final push against the greenskins while he leads his Last Wall to Caldera to find Vulkan.

In orbit above the planet is a partially-constructed Ork battlemoon, and we get to see how they create these things, by using gravity-whips to pull chunks of the planet into orbit, where somehow they are grafted into the moon. Weird. During all the fighting on the planet, Koorland is almost convinced that they won’t in fact find him, but after some fairly brutal combat, the space marines do indeed discover Vulkan leading the resistance, almost single-handedly staving off the Orks. There’s a wonderful little scene where Koorland is totally awe-struck at the sight of the legendary primarch, and reflects that this must be how ordinary humans see the space marines. Having been reading a lot of the Horus Heresy novels this year, I suppose I’d grown accustomed to the idea of primarchs, so it was cool to see that they are actually super-human folks!

Vulkan agrees to lead the fight against Ullanor, once the Orks have been repelled from Caldera, so an offensive is launched on the installation where the Orks are sending chunks of the planet into space. After successfully destroying the Orks and leaving enough of the technology for the Mechanicum to study, Vulkan returns to Terra where he takes control of the war, leaving the High Lords in awe of his presence.

While it was a little slow at times, and the battles were pretty tough to get through, I did actually like this book. It’s been a bit of a gripe of mine for a while now that we don’t know enough about what the Orks are doing to really make them interesting, as they’re very much left as a threat that needs to be stopped. There has been some attempt to provide a mystery around why they’re doing what they’re doing, as well as just how are they so damn coordinated and effective all of a sudden, but that mystery has been stretched so thin, it’s beyond the breaking point for me now. The fact that we seem to be about to learn more stuff, as we’re poised on the attack on Ullanor, bodes well for me in this respect, so I’m hopeful we’ll begin to see some resolution soon.

In this book, we also get to see some of the mad scientist Orks, which does help to make the story a little more interesting, as well. We keep getting told throughout the series that the Orks have developed or whatever, and they’re apparently some kind of technical geniuses now. However, it is somewhat comforting to know that there are still eccentric Meks about who are more discovering these things by chance than anything else…

I’m not particularly a Salamanders fan, but I thought the inclusion of a primarch to lead the crusade against the Orks was a pretty great idea, and it’s treated with the appropriate reverence that you’d expect from this kind of thing. I was also really interested to finally see more Chapters than just Imperial Fists and their successors. Not being a huge fan of the chaps in yellow, I was excited to see the inclusion of the other guys, even if they are all first-founding chapters, and even if they do include the Space Wolves…

We also get a tiny bit of the Iron Warriors storyline that was the main focus of the previous book, as Zerberyn and Kalkator have a moment of reflection above the dying world of Prax. I thought that storyline was super interesting in the last few books, as we see the Fists Exemplar and the Iron Warriors working together to overcome the Ork menace, and the shifting perceptions of the Iron Warriors as traitors and heretics. There is still some of that in this very short scene here, but the fact that it was relegated to such a short moment had me concerned that there won’t be much more of a pay-off for this. Hopefully I’m wrong on that, though!

The Beast Arises has surprised me for being a story that is basically one continuous narrative, but written by different authors. I was expecting something more along the lines of the Horus Heresy, or some of the Star Wars multi-book series, where individual authors concentrate on their pet units and tell fragments of the story – so, for instance, if we had a book by Gav Thorpe, we’d know it would feature Dark Angels, and so on. It’s been a bit strange that we’ve had just one narrative, albeit a sprawling one, and while having a tight focus has been good on the one hand, it’s becoming a little tedious after seven books, so I’m happy to see some different stuff thrown into the mix now that we have four very different Chapters thrown into the mix.

Speaking of sprawling narratives, this blog is becoming something of the same now, so I think I’ll wrap it up for now! I’m currently planning to have a bit more Star Wars on the reading list for the festive season, so might not be back with the Beast for a while. But I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes!

Hobby Progress, week 51

It’s the penultimate week of my hobby progress blogs, and for those of you who are into this stuff, Merry Christmas! Get yourself another mince pie, and let’s take a look at what I’ve been up to this week!

It’s actually been another fairly slow week, as I’ve finished off a couple of the things I talked about in last week’s update, but very little else.

First of all, let’s look at this, my first ever attempt at proper freehand stuff. For a first attempt, I think it looks pretty great actually, but for what I was trying to achieve, it does leave quite a bit to be desired. The marines themselves look nice, though – I’m actually really pleased with how the Centurion has turned out, and the Command Squad guys look fine and stuff. Standard Alpha Legion scheme at this point, really, and there’s not a lot else I can say about them!

My attempt at OSL for the Corvus-Alpha legionaries has turned out pretty okay, again for my first serious attempt at doing it. I’d built up the blue on the armour with Temple Guard Blue, which is brighter than the usual Teclis Blue that I highlight it with anyway, but still hadn’t provided enough of an effect to be really noticeable, unfortunately. I then went in with Baharroth Blue, going lightly over the plasma coils and then building it up with a vaguely drybrush/stipple effect to create the diffuse glow, and while I do think it looks decent enough, I still think the fact that I’m basically doing a blue glow on blue armour leaves the effect somewhat lacking. But it’s serviceable, and I suppose that’s the main thing!

Finally, I’ve got a second Tactical Support Squad finished! These guys are equipped with flamers, so it’s the unupgraded version of the unit, and again, they’re just the standard Alpha Legionaries. Since reading about the concept of the tactical support squad, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of having these guys launched at the battlefield in a drop pod and just dousing the whole place in flame, covering a retreat or something super dramatic-like, so I’m glad to have them in the army, even if I never end up doing anything of that sort!

All together, it was a productive week for the Alpha Legion, as yesterday I built up a second Tactical Squad! And an apothecary…

I’d set myself a bit of a challenge for Christmas Eve, to get as far as I could with these chaps, and in the event I was just impressed that I’d managed to build them all. Once these have been painted, that will mean I have the minimum force required to play some 30k, so I hope that I can start getting some games in in the new year!

The apothecary is for the January painting challenge at my local GW store, where we need to paint an elite unit. I’m kinda taking the easy route, as I believe most people are using the plastics from the Calth and/or Prospero sets, so terminators, while I’m going for the single apothecary. I do now also have the necessary weapon options to start looking into building some Lernaean Terminators, but I’m hoping to work on some other stuff as we move into 2017, so I want to go easy on it!

Along with finishing off some of the Necron things I’ve had hanging about for a long time, I’ve decided to make my dream of a Slaaneshi daemon force a reality, and so want to get moving with the Daemonettes and Seeker Chariot that have both been built up since the summer, and then start adding things like Hellstriders and Daemon Princes to the roster, and eventually some bigger stuff like the Warshrine! Looking forward to seeing where that goes, anyway! Age of Sigmar is still as big as it ever has been at my local store, and I get the vague impression that the uncertainty around 40k’s future as we look at 8th edition has been causing a few 40k regulars to drift into AoS – the chap I played a few weeks ago has started a zombie force, for instance, and there are skaven rumblings from die-hard Eldar players. So I think it’ll be good to have a force for each system – while I do have Stormcast Eternals coming out of my ears, Slaanesh is something that I’ve wanted to build for a long time…

Finally, I built up five Tree-Revenants. I actually have no idea what I’m going to do with them now as, while I do have some dryads and whatnot, I don’t really need yet more miniatures to paint at the moment!!

Anyway, there’s just one week left before the end of the year and the culmination of my hobby progress blogs for 2016. Fortunately I do have the week off work, so I hope to get some things finished – stay tuned for that, at least!! And whatever you’ve been up to today, I hope it’s been a wonderful time!

We are Alpharius!

Hey everybody!
As you might well know, if you’ve been following my Painting Progress blogs I’ve been writing every Sunday this year, I’ve been slowly building up an Alpha Legion force, primarily to play 30k at some not-too-distant point. I’m a hugely fluffy gamer – by which I mean, I’m more interested in the theme of the game than whether I’m playing at all tactically – and so reading about the Legion has been a big part of this process. Of all the Space Marine Legions, the Alpha Legion is by far the most secretive, and while little is really known about them, there is a fair bit of conjecture, so I thought I’d add a little of my own thoughts to that in today’s blog!

Alpha Legion

The Alpha Legion was the twentieth and last of the Space Marine Legions created by the Emperor of Mankind during the First Founding. Unlike the majority of their brother legions, the Alpha Legion was created somewhat apart from the others, with a very specific purpose in mind. This purpose appears to have been one of secrecy and intrigue, assassins fighting in the shadows and doing the jobs that otherwise could not be performed openly.

Before they were reunited with their Primarch, there are records of a secretive Legion carrying out assassinations and other shady activities that were off-the-record, sometimes these operations took place alongside other legions, who had not been made aware of the Legion’s presence on the field.

Eventually, they were reunited with their Primarch, Alpharius. Or, that should be, their twin Primarchs, Alpharius and Omegon. Something that is truly unique to the Legion, nobody is sure if this was by accident or design that there are two of them – though, given the predilection for secrecy and misdirection, I would guess that it was more the latter.

Praetorian of Dorn

As a Primarch, Alpharius was the last to be found by the Emperor, hence the Legion was designated the XXth. Alpharius was a coolly calculating, brilliant tactician every bit the equal to Roboute Guilliman, and in fact the two legions formed something of a rivalry during the Heresy. Alpharius had few friends among his brother Primarchs, notably only Horus (though the Legion did campaign alongside the Dark Angels and the Iron Hands).

Alpharius’ wargear is particularly exotic, including the double-headed spear known as the sarrisanata, which is possibly of xenos design. I’m thinking about kit-bashing an Alpharius together, as a Stormcast Eternal paladin glaive might do the trick with this one, but I guess we’ll have to see. I kinda want to make him really stand out from the army…

Alpharius was said to be able to walk among his legion with some degree of anonymity, which must mean he was short for a Primarch. I mean, space marines are generally pretty huge, so he’s still definitely taller than the average human, but not as imposing as his brothers. Sources also talk about many other marines from the legion undergoing cosmetic surgery to further resemble Alpharius, deepening the level of subterfuge and intrigue. It was also common for any member of the Alpha Legion to call himself Alpharius when dealing with outsiders.

While a lot of folk online still say all of the Primarchs were super-human beings, I think the fact that his own legionaries could pass as his double must mean that Alpharius (and, by extension, Omegon) was of average space marine height, right? I mean, what’s the point in the rank and file undergoing cosmetic enhancement to further resemble him if he’s still two feet too short to pass as the Primarch?

Hobby Progress 43

That’s the principle I went with when I built my Omegon conversion a couple of weeks ago. The one concession I made to the idea that the Primarchs are stand-out characters was in using a head from the regular 40k range, which are slightly bigger/more rounded than those in the Betrayal at Calth marines. Otherwise, this guy is just one of the rank and file, and you’d never know who you were dealing with until it’s too late!

Hobby Progress 43

Omegon is the leader of the Effrit Stealth Squad, so I’ve paired him with the Reconnaissance Squad. In the game, Omegon doesn’t actually have any rules (yet), but the assassin Exodus does, and given the fact that he can only join Recon Squads, I thought it made perfect sense to basically use the Exodus rules for him.

In the lore, Exodus is thought to possibly be more a title than an actual person, with several deployments being made at the same time on some occasions. His skill as an assassin is legendary, rivaling even the members of the Officio Assassinorum.

Horus Heresy Legion

The Legion relies on stealth and subterfuge, and makes use of a lot of non-astartes personnel. This is seen quite prominently in the novel Legion by Dan Abnett, which is a remarkable novel in the Horus Heresy series for the fact that the space marines have such a small role – at least, it seems that way at first! It’s true that the genhanced space marines would find it difficult to move around in stealth even out of their power armour, but regular guys from the Imperial Army would be much better-placed for the most part. I’m not entirely sure how I’d add some regular troops to my army, but I’m bearing the thought in mind for the time being…

Hobby Progress 29

Something I couldn’t quite get my head around at first – but now really like about them – is the unit organization. Space Marine Legions were usually formed into some kind of fighting companies of varying sizes, such as the Fellowships of the Thousand Sons. Not so the Alpha Legion, however, which was organized into whatever fighting unit was required for the mission at hand. In painting up my Ultramarines, I’m trying to take some pride in the fact I will have the proper unit and squad markings, colours and all the rest of it – like a real military unit, essentially. With these chaps, though – I have no idea! But there is a bit of freedom to being able to use the miniatures however I feel, and I just know when it comes to fielding them in battle this will be right up my street. I never like to use the exact same combination twice, so a flexible fighting force really appeals to me like that.

I do love these guys, and I’ve really enjoyed building up my force over the last few months! All in all, I feel like I’m going to be in for some exciting times once I get into this Heresy game play!