The Star Wars Special Editions

Hey everybody,
Today is the day, twenty years ago, that Lucasfilm released the Special Edition of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in theatres, and so I thought I’d ramble on for a bit about these controversial versions of the three movies, because that’s the sort of thing I do!

Back in 1997, I was what I suppose I could call a Star Wars fan, but probably nowhere near how much of a fan I became once I’d discovered the wider expanded universe a couple of years later. A bunch of friends and I had made plans to go see the films when they were released in the cinema, but the vagaries of trying to wrangle a group of 14 year old nerds into this was evidently more trouble than any of us had expected, and in the end, we missed out, and I retained my tired videos for my Star Wars fix. However, when they were eventually released on VHS back in 2000, my mum totally made up for that heartache by buying me the boxset at Easter-time. During the two weeks’ school holiday, I think I watched each movie at least five or six times, and it’s for this reason that Easter retains such a strong connection to the original Star Wars trilogy for me!

Of course, I was aware of the changes that had been made to these films – who couldn’t be, with the nascent internet going crazy over the whole Han shoots first controversy. But I have to say, I think that the overall reaction can sometimes be out of proportion. Let’s take a look at the differences made by these Special Editions, and I’ll try to explain what I mean.

A New Hope (re-released 31 January 1997)

There are a lot of changes made to this movie. Lucas apparently spent $15 million of his own money on the Special Editions, $10 million of which went on episode IV. We have a lot of almost-pointless establishing shots and background-fidgeting, most noticeably in the scenes where the stormtroopers discover the droids’ presence, and as Luke and the gang arrive into Mos Eisley. The original A New Hope does have a very vibrant feel to a lot of the Tatooine scenes, I think, but there are a number of moments that do have a bit of a static look, as well. The dewbacks in particular were massive models with stormtroopers perched on top, and amounted to little more than set-dressing at the time. For the Special Edition, that set-dressing is now moving, at least.

Of course, Han shoots Greedo first in the original version, but for the Special Edition, Lucas decided to make Han “a good guy” from the very beginning, and had some very jerky animation that made the Rodian bounty hunter shoot Han and miss from about three feet away, before Han almost-instantly fires back. A lot of fans have raised issue with this, so I’m not going to rehash these arguments, but suffice it to say, they’re not wrong in my book! The scene that offends me the most out of the entire Special Edition, however, is this one:

Jabba the Hutt Star Wars Special Editions

Jabba the Hutt was originally just a name that hung over Han’s entire story across the trilogy, before we finally met the big guy in Return of the Jedi, and despite feeling a little like a Muppets movie at times, there is nevertheless a real sense of danger in Jabba’s Palace. Seeing Jabba at the beginning of the trilogy – and especially seeing Han’s disdainful interaction with him – removes a lot of that threat. Of course, these movies are how George wanted them to be all along, as demonstrated by the fact this footage with the young Harrison Ford clearly dates from the time, though again there’s some jerky animation as Han walks behind Jabba. During filming, a stand-in was used while they intended to superimpose Jabba’s final image, but that proved too costly and hence the scene was cut. Since Jabba was shown to be a big worm in Jedi, he now had a tail in the way, so Han was moved up and down like some kind of puppet.

All of these things aside, though, the CG of Jabba himself is just bad. He looks kinda watery, and when Han is presumably stroking the Hutt’s face while asking for a little more time, there’s a complete lack of interactivity. It’s just bad, and lets the movie down so much.

But there are a lot of small improvements that have been made to the movie. The superimposed blur under the landspeeder has been removed for a smoother look, and the Death Star has had a lot of its corridors lengthened to create a more labyrinthine experience. We also have the Luke and Biggs reunion before the briefing on Yavin, which I do believe is something that definitely adds to the film overall. I mean, Luke talks about Biggs on Tatooine, and there’s a fighter pilot called Biggs in the battle, but no connection is made between the two otherwise, you know?

Overall: despite the harm the changes to do Han’s character, and some flaky CGI effects, the film could be worse.

Cloud City Star Wars Special Editions

The Empire Strikes Back (re-released 21 February, 1997)

Empire arguably suffers the least from the Special Edition changes. Indeed, most of the new footage consists of establishing shots on Cloud City, along with more made of the Wampa attacking Luke. We also get to see precisely how Vader got back from Cloud City to his Star Destroyer, using a combination of alternative footage from Return of the Jedi (look closely – Moff Jerjerrod greets Vader when he gets back…)

Director Irving Kershner had intended for the whole movie to show a transition from the blue of the Hoth tundra to the red of Cloud City at sunset, but this overall effect is largely negated by the lack of any meaty Cloud City shots in the latter portion of the film. Establishing shots were therefore created, including following the Falcon onto the landing platform, and essentially creating windows in a lot of the corridor scenes to show the cityscape more fully. While a lot of this really is quite arbitrary, it does create a nice effect in this sense of colour.

Back in the day, starwars.com put a series of articles up that showcased the different changes they’d made to the film, which also talked about the fact that they’d considerably cleaned the negative of the film, resulting in a much better visual experience. It’s probably something that would go unnoticed by a lot of people, but is perhaps one of the most important things to happen to the film overall.

Sy Snootles Star Wars Special Edition

Return of the Jedi (re-released

Much like A New Hope, Return of the Jedi has seen quite a few changes made, some of which are quite as controversial as those in the earlier movie. To start with, we have that bloody song-and-dance number in Jabba’s palace, Jedi Rocks. I mean, sure, I get the fact that Lucas wanted a musical item in the movie, and it replaced the pretty shaky Lapti Nek, though the new piece is vastly out of place in the scope of the original, and kinda derails the movie at this point. I mean, the focus of Jabba’s palace is supposed to be the danger and whatnot, and we’re getting a lot of build-up as we slowly see the major players manoeuvre into position in order to free Han, but the new musical number obnoxiously shoulders its way into the plot for no other reason than to have some unnecessary comic relief.

Speaking of musical numbers, we also have a new end celebration. In the original, we’re firmly on Endor, with the fireworks over the trees transitioning into the vaunted “Yub Nub” song that is a decidedly weird way to end the trilogy. This was re-composed by John Williams as a much more peaceful celebration theme, and extended by a montage showing Mos Eisley, Cloud City and Coruscant liberated before the dancing Ewoks close out the movie (including a scene with Luke and Wedge hugging). I actually prefer this version, predominantly because I like the way the montage really draws the three movies together. The music somehow also fits with the triumph of the little people over the galactic dictatorship of the Empire – we don’t get some bombastic victory celebration, but something much more along the lines of a weary, “we did it”. It really just fits well, I find.

It’s also important to note that, while not identified as Coruscant until 1999’s The Phantom Menace, this was the first instance we have of Lucas being influenced by the expanded universe – the name “Coruscant” was invented by Timothy Zahn for Heir to the Empire. The more you know!

We also get a new Sarlacc pit, which is less hole-in-the-ground and more weird alien thing. Not sure if it was a necessary change or not, but it’s largely a cosmetic thing. There are also some very minor changes that are made, such as adding CG rope around Han’s legs as he hangs above the pit, which seem a little… unnecessary? But Lucas is of course renowned for obsessing over minor details, so I guess why not.

Coruscant Star Wars Special Edition

Overall, I think the Special Editions are perhaps mired by the fact that we have the infamous Han shot first, or Jedi Rocks, which overshadow some of the more important things, such as cleaning up Empire, or even the increased scope of the ending of Jedi. The CGI is still a bit too ropey, however, as shown in the washed-out/watery Jabba and that singing Yuzzem, to name but two instances, but it’s nice to see how Cloud City has been expanded upon, and the Death Star does feel a lot bigger this time around.

Unfortunately, we’d have to wait until 2004 and the DVD releases before Ian McDiarmid would replace the weird monkey/woman composite for the Emperor in episode V….

Star Wars Special Editions

Gangs of Commorragh: first look

Hey everybody!
It’s time for games day here at spalanz.com, and today sees a first look at the latest board game release from Games Workshop: Gangs of Commorragh!

Reinforcements! #Warhammer40k #DarkEldar #GangsOfCommorragh #awesome

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First of all, I absolutely love the fact that I can say something like “the latest board game” in conjunction with GW. I picked this bad boy up on Friday, along with a few other reinforcements for my growing Dark Eldar army, and while I don’t think anybody is going to be picking this box up for the actual game, I nevertheless wanted to take a look at it from this perspective to see if it’s actually worthwhile getting even if you aren’t a Dark Eldar player.

Some obligatory background: I started collecting a Dark Eldar army just before New Year, and when this game was announced I was quite impressed. The box costs £35 retail, but comes with £79-worth of miniatures alone. That in itself is cause to really celebrate, I would say! However, while the main selling point for this game is undoubtedly going to be based on that saving, GW has been quite committed to marketing this as an actual boardgame for folks to play independently of the main 40k tabletop war game. I caught the last half hour or so of their live stream last week, where they were demonstrating the game, and I have to say, it did seem like it should be a pretty interesting experience!

So, first of all, you get the miniatures. Six reaver jetbikes and ten hellions. As I’ve said, it’s a better-than 50% saving, so you could get this box to bulk out a Dark Eldar force, albeit with miniatures that are regarded as sub-par on the tabletop, and we could stop there. However, Gangs of Commorragh is a pretty interesting game, from my read-through of the rules, and I think it’s actually worth your time to look into playing it for its own sake…

Murder-Packs
The game is for two players, who each control a “murder-pack” of Hellions and Reavers. The rulebook suggests that you start with a pack of either six Hellions or five Reavers, but it also includes rules to allow you to create your own pack that can actually be mixed model types. Packs are created and upgraded using a points system not unlike actual 40k (more on this later).

The game is played on a 3′ x 3′ battlefield, with cardboard terrain that signifies the sky-scraping towers of Commorragh. After deploying your murder-pack, the game begins with the players selecting hunters and quarry. Basically, a model can hunt another if it has that model in its front arc of 90º, and the hunted model has that hunter in its rear arc of 90º, and both are within 18″. Markers are used – much like the target lock markers in X-Wing – to denote those models which are Hunters and their respective Quarry. These models are then moved, the Quarry moving first, and the Hunter chasing after it.

The models have specific distances they can travel, and can choose to turn by using the semi-circular template either before or after they have moved. Once the Hunters and Quarry have moved, any remaining models can then also move, before it’s time for everybody to attack, with the first attacker determined through a roll-off.

Gangs of Commorragh

Attack!
The attacking player rolls 2D6 and compares the result to the agility value of the model he is attacking. If the roll equals or exceeds the agility value, then he scores a hit. He then looks on the reference chart against the weapon used, and rolls 2D6 again – the “kill roll” – and if he equals or exceeds the weapon’s kill value, the target is destroyed and removed from the board.

For example, let’s say I’m attacking a Hellion. The agility value is 8, so I need to roll 8+ in order to hit it. I roll a 10, so I score a hit! I then check the weapon I used – let’s say I was firing a Splinter rifle. I need to roll 10+ in order to kill that Hellion, but I get +1 to that roll because I’m targeting a Hellion (they’re more vulnerable), and I’d get another +1 if I were within 12″ thanks to the Splinter rifle’s special rule. I roll 11, modified to 12, so the Hellion is destroyed. Hooray!

It’s worth pointing out that a natural 2 is always a miss, and a natural 12 is always a hit.

If I had hit the Hellion, but missed on the Kill Roll, the Hellion takes one point of damage. While there are no hit/hull points in this game, damage reduces a models agility value by 1 and provides a +1 bonus to subsequent Kill Rolls made against it, so you effectively wear the model down over time. Damage is denoted by placing a marker next to the model, which I imagine would clutter up the board quickly unless the model is quickly killed off!

Battles continue until one side Breaks – either voluntarily, or by failing a Break Test at the end of the fight round. If a murder-pack has lost one third of its models during a fight round, roll a D6 – if the result is less than or equal to the number of models removed, then the murder-pack breaks.

Campaign Play
Gangs of Commorragh features campaign rules to provide a really customised feel to the game, starting with the models that make up your murder-pack. You get 750 points to spend on your gang, with each model and weapon option having a points cost (which has no bearing on that weapon/model’s points cost in 40k, I might add!)

Campaigns are basically linked games of Gangs of Commorragh, with some rolls made on pre-fight and post-fight tables in the rulebook to determine things like what level of income or victory points you’re fighting for, and any special effects that take place during the fight. Income can be used to recruit new models into your gang, though you will only be able to fight with a murder-pack of between 3 and 10 models at any time. There are also rules for a campaign game where the rival gangs come together in one massive Skywar, though!

Gangs of Commorragh

Gangs of Commorragh looks like it should be a really fun game!

It feels very much like it is intended to bring new gamers into 40k, with a lot of the basic concepts such as movement and line of sight, and even list-building involved. While the points costs have no bearing – if only an agoniser was +5 points to equip in 40k – things like cover saves, jinking and weapon ranges are all things that will prepare new players for making the move into 40k. While one copy of Gangs of Commorragh isn’t going to get them started with a decent army (the models represent just 226 points of models, unupgraded), I can see people getting their toes wet with this, before moving on with a Start Collecting box and maybe a Kabalite Skysplinter to get the basic combined arms detachment. Sure, that’s an additional £82.50 at retail, and you still need the Codex and rulebook, but there are definitely more expensive ways to build an army.  (These sorts of hypotheticals always come down to what your meta is like, though; I would be perfectly fine with playing a game with someone who had the contents of this game and the above-mentioned add-ons, even if it’s nowhere near a competitive list. It’s small scale, and should be a great way to get used to the game, so why not?!)

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how straightforward yet tactical the gameplay appears at first glance. It does actually seem like a really good game, not just worth getting for the models alone – in fact, in many ways it reminds me of X-Wing. And at this price, I don’t think anyone could really complain too loudly! Look out for more blogs once I’ve managed to both build my models, and hopefully start a campaign!

Hobby Progress 2017!

Hey everybody!
Hobby Progress is back! That’s right – after last year’s weekly update blogs, I’ve decided to go for a monthly update throughout 2017, as I had been feeling a bit pressured at times to get something done, and a lot of things were rushed as a result. I still think I managed to turn out some pretty nice miniatures, compared with my previous standards, but I really want to level up my painting and try to really improve my skills this year, so I thought I’d go for the monthly check-ins rather than the more relentless stuff.

That all said, January has been a tough month for getting anywhere with painting models! I’ve had several different kits on the tabletop that I’ve really struggled to get very far with, and I do believe it has something to do with the lack of any real incentive to get them progressed. But for now, I want to stick to the monthly thing. Without any further ado, though, let’s take a look at what I’ve been up to!

First of all, I’ve well and truly started on my Dark Eldar. I bought the Start Collecting box and a Venom on New Year’s Eve, and after giving the Codex a once-over, added a box of Wyches to the roster in order to start out by making a kill-team. Over the course of the long New Year weekend, I actually built everything up, but have been struggling to get the models painted ever since! To start with, I chose the Kabal of the Obsidian Rose for my colour scheme, a wonderful rich brown colour. Brown is something that I’ve had no recourse to paint before, of course, so I thought it’d be a nice way to increase the breadth of my painting.

The scheme I’ve used has a basecoat of Rhinox Hide, followed by a very light drybrush of Doombull Brown. I then lightly drybrush Skrag Brown and Squig Orange, increasingly focused onto the raised details of the armour, before a very thin wash of Agrax Earthshade across the whole lot. You can see in the above photo that it has worked better on some than others, but I think that’s more due to the fact I’ve been testing it with my actual miniatures – never a bright idea, I know! The splinter rifles, where they’ve been painted, have just got Leadbelcher shaded with Nuln Oil, with those weird bulbous bits painted Balthasar Gold. It’s very straightforward, which I want it to be for the line troops, but I think it has come out really well, by and large!

For the Wych Cult, I’ve gone for something that is different, yet still tied into the general scheme of things. Where they have kabalite armour, such as the left knee and arm, I’ve done the same scheme as the warriors. The wychsuit, however, is just Khorne Red shaded with Agrax Earthshade, then lighly drybrushed with Wazdakka Red.

For the longest time, I was trying to figure out what to do with the skin, as I wanted to try for that pale skin tone, but when I tried it, it just didn’t work out for me. I used Celestra Grey, washed with Druchii Violet, and then layered with Pallid Wych Flesh on the Wyches (urgh!) and Ulthuan Grey on the warriors (yikes!) It just wasn’t happening for me, and I couldn’t work out a way forward. Then, I was pointed in the direction of The War Gamer on youtube, specifically his Captain Artemis tutorial, and that put me in mind of painting the skin with the wash last. After talking about it at my local GW on Friday, I went back in with Kislev Flesh and Reikland Fleshshade, and it really came out looking nice, I think! I’ve subsequently painted the rest of the Wyches that I had hanging about with Celestra Grey/Kislev Flesh/Reikland Fleshshade, and I think they look okay. I do think part of my reticence comes from the fact that the hair is still making the models look a bit weird, so that’s my next port of call, and hopefully I’ll feel a lot better about them once that has been done.

The Venom has so far only been painted with Rhinox Hide. I wanted to get some kind of gradient going along it, but I’m kinda intimidated at the large surface area, so I think I’m going to practice my skills there a bit first…

Hobby Progress January

Moving away from xenos now, the “Strokes of Heresy” painting competition continues at my local Games Workshop store, with the January challenge being an elite choice. Many people have gone for cataphractii terminators or contemptor dreadnoughts, but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to get anything major done, what with the Dark Eldar going on, so had bought the apothecary there specifically for the event. Even that one model has taken it out of me this month, though! I’ve eventually managed to get him finished with my usual Alpha Legion scheme, painting all of those vials and canisters all over him with a variety of washes. We’re in pre-Codex Astartes times, of course, so there’s no actual requirement for a white scheme – hence the black shoulder pad, I suppose! The narthecium has been painted with Stormvermin Fur and shaded with Nuln Oil, as per the usual scheme for bolter cases, to help tie him in with the rest of the army. I don’t yet know what the challenge is going to be for February, but I’m hoping that I can get the five terminators I’ve had built for over a year painted, if nothing else!!

Hobby Progress January

Finally, let me share with you a true labour of love: the conclusion of phase one of my Novamarines army build! I started to build a kill-team a little over two months ago, now, and managed to get the assault squad and the veteran sergeant of the tactical squad painted up back in December. The four remaining tactical marines, however, have been waiting around patiently until the last week or so, when I’ve really scrabbled around to get them finished (however, I’ve since noticed that the purity seal on the rightmost marine’s leg hasn’t been painted – gah!)

I’ve also added the Chapter Master to the ranks. He was a miniature that I’ve really enjoyed kitbashing together – the legs are from the Sternguard kit, as is the power fist and backpack; the body is from the Commander kit that I had as part of the Demi Company box set I’ve had hanging about for a while now; the sword is from the Vanguard Veterans, and I’m honestly not sure where the head is from! Possibly the Sternguard kit as well. That kit is actually a treasure-trove for kit-bashing fancy marines like this, I have to say!

While I’m pleased to have them now finished, I do feel unfortunately that the Chapter Master is a little beyond the realms of my skills to complete to a properly high standard. I’d have liked him to look a little better, but I think for now, he’s as good as I can absolutely get him!

I do still have a dreadnought that is in the throes of almost being completed, and I’m in the process of rescuing the marines from my initial attempt at painting Novamarines from last April, so I’ll hopefully be able to add them to the force soon enough (though unfortunately, they won’t have the fancy shoulder pads). I want to try to get these guys built up into a fighting force soon enough, but obviously it’s not the sort of scheme that lends itself to fast painting!

Hobby Progress January

So that’s been my progress this month! Check back in with me next month to see how far I get with the Dark Eldar, and whether I manage to complete any other miniatures… I’m aiming to paint one unit per month, so we’ll see how well I can manage that!

The Beheading

Well folks, I made it! It’s been a little over five months since I started reading The Beast Arises series from Black Library, and I’ve finally made it through to the end of the twelve book series at the weekend. I want to take a look first at the final installment, before putting down some rambling thoughts on the series as a whole for you all to enjoy, so sit back and see what I’ve made of it all!

I said in my blog on the previous novel, Shadow of Ullanor, that the series felt done right there, and I was a bit curious as to why we needed a twelfth book when the saga of the War of the Beast had pretty much been wrapped up, but The Beheading deals with the political fallout of the war, and in that respect, it is very much required reading.

We start with the return of Maximus Thane to Terra, where he takes up the position of Lord Commander at the political manoeuvring of Vangorich, however the space marine has no intention of remaining on Terra, and appoints the Grand Master of the Assassinorum as his regent. Vangorich, despite his protestations of wishing to remain behind the scenes, promptly goes about removing all of the High Lords and replacing them with his own puppets, which forms the main portion of this book – and, indeed, the ‘beheading’ of the title. With little check on his power, Vangorich goes insane and, after a century of despotism, Thane returns to put an end to the assassin’s rule.

Of course, coming at the end of a twelve-book series, there is rather a lot going on in the middle of all this, and we get closure on pretty much all of the plot threads, so far as I could see. Firstly, the Fists Exemplar/Iron Warriors storyline is resolved in fairly explosive fashion, with Zerberyn joining forces fully with Kalkator, and leading to the removal of the Fists Exemplar Chapter from the records of the Imperium. I was not actually expecting the story to turn out that way, and was actually in open-mouthed horror when I read it, which I suppose is the mark of a well-written plot!

Another plot twist concerns the death of Inquisitor Veritus, and the reveal of his real identity. I don’t want to spoil it here (despite spoiling pretty much everything else!) but it was nicely done, and I suppose not entirely far-fetched. I did like the fact that we get to see the Grey Knights at last, but I thought it was a bit weird how the final chapter forms a quite abrupt jump in the narrative, as we move from Titan to a century later. Discussing it at my local store, a lot of folks think it leaves the door open for more story later on, which I suppose makes sense, though Black Library did market this as a self-contained series that would be told in twelve books and that would be all. Hm.

There have been many cinematic moments throughout the series, such as the pursuit of the Harlequins through the palace at the start of Guy Haley’s previous entry Throneworld, to the co-ordinated assaults of the Deathwatch in The Last Son of Dorn, and to those can be added the central episode of this novel, the assassinations of the High Lords. I also think the confrontation between Zerberyn, Bohemond and Kalkator, and that scene’s terrible conclusion, is one of the highest points of drama I’ve read in a 40k novel so far. It unfolds over only a handful of pages, but that tension becomes almost unbearable – I only hope we get something comparable when the Horus Heresy series concludes.

At any rate, the book was a decent end to the series.

The series as a whole, then, was pretty uneven. To start with, I think there were some bad editing choices – I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems like there’s some kind of rule that these books absolutely could not be more than 250 pages in length, which led to some instances (such as the aforementioned leap of a century) that felt oddly disjointed. Even those books that weren’t nearing the limit felt like they could have had some more material to help them along a bit. Watchers in Death in particular felt a bit weird towards the end there.

However, I also feel that the series as a whole was oddly padded sometimes. I’ve made no secret of the fact I really disliked the second book, but throughout the series there have been instances where it felt a little like the story was being dragged out. I think it’s entirely possible that the original plot line for this could have been ten novels at most, and someone then decided to drag it out over twelve to do the one-a-month release thing. I’ve read that the Black Library have had the series in their vaults for years, which I do entirely believe – I mean, how else could they get these books released on time like that? But it does kinda sadden me when little inconsistencies, and extended sequences of padding slip into the narrative.

Anyway!

All of that said, I thought the overall story was pretty decent, more for what we learnt along the way than anything else. It annoyed me that we never really get an explanation for why the Orks are so technologically advanced here, whereas everywhere else they’re described with something akin to madness in their engineering. They can launch co-ordinated assaults across the galaxy, using teleportation technology that the Mechanicus cannot quite get the hang of? What caused this development? How did the Orks manage to get such huge numbers when the Imperium thought they had been crushed at (pre-Heresy) Ullanor? There were a lot of unanswered questions about the Beast, for me, and it really irked me as the series went on that we never get the Orks’ perspective. Sure, I should have expected it, but there was just too much missing for me to adequately maintain my interest over the series. The closest we ever came was Beast Krule’s infiltration of Gorkogrod, but one moment of insight across a twelve novel series does not really make up for it, in my view!

What I found interesting here, though, was the way that several important elements of the 40k lore were bound together into the narrative, which really seemed to lead to the sense of this series being an Event. For years now, fans have known that the Imperial Fists were almost decimated to a man and had to be rebuilt from successor chapters; we’ve known about the shadowy beginnings of the Deathwatch and the Grey Knights, and all the rest of it. Something I hadn’t actually realised was that we’ve even known Vangorich would eliminate the High Lords of Terra in an event known as The Beheading! Shows how much I’ve read those timelines of events in the rulebook!! All of these strands are brought together into one narrative and, despite all of the criticisms that I’ve just leveled at the series, I’ve actually really enjoyed seeing them all come together in one place!

Along the way, we get some really compelling characters. I was always surprised by the choice of Koorland as something of the central character, as he was never someone I had pegged as all that interesting. But then, I suppose that’s part of the problem with space marines – while the Horus Heresy has done great things to show us some very interesting sides to the superhuman warriors, they are a bit boring. Put them among the political shenanigans of the Council of Terra, and they come off even worse. But even so, I was surprised at how much I warmed to him as the figurehead of the series, and was shocked to see him go. Thane, who takes over the mantle, always seemed even less interesting than Koorland, but I do like how strident he could be.

While Zerberyn and Kalkator are hardly going to feature very prominently in any top ten space marine characters list, I was nevertheless totally sucked into that storyline, and found myself missing it when neither appeared. Worried about how it would be concluded, I was pleased to see it take a suitably dramatic turn at the end. There are so many shades of grey in the Imperium, I thought it was really interesting to explore this post-Heresy brother against brother kind of tale.

Over time, I also found myself enjoying the Mechanicus side of the storyline. We never truly know what’s going on with the Lords of Mars, of course, but even so, I enjoyed some of these scenes much more than I’ve previously enjoyed any story featuring them (Mechanicum, for a start), and have even found myself looking into collecting some Skitarii! Inevitably, I found myself most enjoying the scenes that showed the Inquisition and Vangorich. I’m a huge sucker for political skulduggery, so this should’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I vastly preferred to read about the machinations of the High Lords to any extended battle sequences. Wienand really interested me at first, while Veritus annoyed me to hell with his zealotry, but I think, having now read who he really is, it makes a lot more sense.

This, however, brings me back to what I’ve said earlier, the series is just too over-long for my tastes. I think showing three attacks on Ullanor really goes to show this point, but the fact that we have some mysteries that are dragged out, and some that we didn’t even know about until the end, it just feels like this series has outstayed its welcome. I’m glad I made it to the end, and I’m glad I’ve read it for its impact on the lore of the 40k universe, and while I’d recommend it to anyone who likes 40k for that reason alone, I don’t think I’ll ever bother reading it again.

Let’s end with some favourites, though!

Favourite book: The Last Son of Dorn
Favourite character: Vangorich sounds like so much of a cop-out, so Wienand 🙂
Favourite moment: Pursuit of the Harlequins to the Eternity Gate (Throneworld)

How about you? Have you made it to the end? Let me know what you thought of the series in the comments!

So much change!

Hey everybody!
It’s another week of Change over at Games Workshop, as we enter the third week of Tzeentch releases for Age of Sigmar! After the human cultists and the beastmen, we’re now in the realm of the daemons, including the previously previewed Lord of Change / Kairos Fateweaver.

Tzeentch Kairos Fateweaver

This week’s releases, while exciting, are predominantly re-packs, however. From what I can tell, we have the new Lord of Change, and the Blue/Brimstone Horrors that we’ve previously seen in Silver Tower, but the rest of the range is the pre-existing stuff from back in the day, such as Flamers, Screamers, and Pink Horrors. Bit of a shame that those two “new” Pink Horrors from the boxed game haven’t made an appearance, but I guess they have to keep something in these boxes to prompt folks to buy them! While I might sound a bit down on the release, I do actually like the fact that they’re slowly getting round to re-packing all of their minis in the new stuff, so we have a more consistent look and all the rest of it.

There’s also a new Start Collecting box for Tzeentch daemons, which is good to see! I’ve been toying with the idea of getting more bits to flesh out my Silver Tower enemies for a while, so it would be a good way to do that!

Stormcast Eternals Lord Aquilor

It looks like this is the end of Tzaanuary now, however, with February once more bringing new Stormcast Eternals to the Mortal Realms. I mentioned these the other day, the so-called Rangers of the Stormcast forces, and we’re seeing some more of these guys now, with another Lord Celestant type miniature, the Lord Aquilor (above). Gryph-hounds have always struck me as a bit silly, and I’ve previously used High Elf lions to replace them with my Lord Castellant, but with this new batch of releases… I don’t know. It looks to be a bigger release than last year’s Extremis Chamber, which only gave us the dracoth riders and the stardrake of course, but so many silly animals have left me feeling a bit disappointed, overall.

Unless I can somehow build that Lord Aquilor to look like he’s riding a Tauntaun. That might do the trick…

Reinforcements! #Warhammer40k #DarkEldar #GangsOfCommorragh #awesome

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I’ve picked up the new Gangs of Commorragh boardgame, and I’m very excited for more Dark Eldar, so expect a first look at that bad boy on this Tuesday’s game day blog!

I must admit, I’ve been really slow with painting stuff so far this year, and the purchases in the above instagram picture are kinda unnecessary really – I still have the first Venom only partly painted, after all! I think moving from weekly to monthly painting update blogs may have been a bad move, but keep your eyes peeled for the January update in the next few days, where I’ll talk about this more. While I may have been slow in getting anywhere with painting them, however, I am still very much enjoying the Dark Eldar miniatures!


Age of Sigmar isn’t the only thing to experience Change at the minute, anyway. I’d like to get a little more philosophical for a moment, as I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of late, as is often the case at the start of a year. In 2017, I’m going to be moving house, and while I’m currently renting the flat I’m in, I’ve decided to actually buy myself a house and move away from where I am currently. Naturally, then, I’ve been looking to downsize a lot of the stuff that I’ve managed to accumulate in the time that I’ve been here, to say nothing of what I’d accumulated prior to that! One of the biggest cuts, therefore, is the boardgames that I’ve amassed.

I’ve been slimming down the collection for a while now, and games that have previously featured here on my game day blogs have since been sold on ebay – who knows, you may be reading this having bought one of them! But while I’ve been doing so fairly infrequently up to this point, I think it’s time to really trim the fat now. While I have no intention of cutting back on game day blogs, as it’s one of my favourite aspects of my blog, I suppose it’s entirely possible that there may be a narrowing of focus as my collection shrinks. After all, pretty much every game day blog features a game that I personally own and have played. I think I might try and do more session report type blogs, though, rather than merely churning out review type blogs all the time, and see if I can mix things up a bit! I’d also like to do more news-y type game day blogs, which I did try towards the back end of last year, but haven’t really done that many since.

At any rate, if you’re a regular reader of this here blog – first of all, thank you very much! But let me know if you have any views on these thoughts, as I’m still very much in the sort of planning stages of everything!

For now, at least, the first look at Gangs of Commorragh will be coming up this week, so it’s not about to change overnight!

Shadow of Ullanor

Almost finished with #TheBeastArises now! #Warhammer40k

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Earlier this week, I finished the penultimate novel in The Beast Arises series, Shadow of Ullanor, which I have to say was quite a strange book! Following on from The Last Son of Dorn, the Imperial Fists chapter is no more. During the memorial for Koorland, Thane comes to the decision to re-form the Imperial Fists out of the various successor chapters, much as had been done in the wake of the Ardamantua catastrophe, and musters this new chapter on Terra with the approval of Vangorich, though the other High Lords remain hesitant at best.

Thane takes the “new” Imperial Fists to Ullanor to destroy the Orks once and for all, and leads a frontal assault on the planet. The marines use Mechanicus technology to crash a series of asteroids into Ullanor, one of which contains the marines, and a massive pitched-battle follows as the upper hand moves between the combatants. Thane also brings more Sisters of Silence with more Ork psykers, and the plan is basically the same as last time – rile the Orks up, and detonate the psykers.

With a few odd twists and turns, this is exactly what happens, and ultimately, The Beast is killed. While in the previous book, we thought we had seen the end of the greenskin menace only to discover there was another, bigger Beast out there, but this time, the big baddie at the centre of the maze has been killed.

And this is precisely why I think this is an odd book. We know that there is a twelfth book to cap the series off, and it is called The Beheading, but I feel that this book has finished the series, and there is no real impulse to read the last one. Sure, it’s one book, and we knew it was coming, but if you read this novel series without that knowledge, there is no logical need to continue the story from this point. It’s just very weird!

I feel really bad for being so hard on this book, because I was as hard on Rob Sanders in the last installment he wrote for this series. But the story was just, well, boring. I mean, it’s the third incursion to Ullanor against the Orks in the course of this series, a full frontal assault once again – which had been decided against as the best course of action prior to the Deathwatch attack in Watchers in Death. It does feel a lot like it is going over the same ground again, and I found myself getting bored quite easily this time around. The pace also feels quite padded – the story just seems so slight, when compared with the more recent books.

Overall, I do feel it’s just a bit of a let down once again. Hopefully the series will go out on a high…

Thornwood Siege

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and it’s time to look at another expansion to that deck-building classic Thunderstone – we’re heading to the Thornwood Forest in search of the Stone of Blight!

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

Thornwood Siege was released in 2011, and is the fourth expansion to the game, coming out after the big-box expansion Dragonspire. While there is a level of thematic expansion here, as we get some hero types who have more of a woodlands-theme to them, in the main this is very much a “more of the same” type of expansion for the game, with a lot of the sort of generic items and spells that would be playable in any game of Thunderstone.

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

The heroes include the Krell that features one of the rare – if not the only – hero type that can be levelled up four times rather than the usual three. The others, as I say, are fairly standard fare for the game at this point. It’s a similar story with the village items, though with some twists such as the Guiding Light magical item that gives all players a universal +1 light for the rest of the round if you defeat a monster while it is in play. However, while this feels like a very co-op orientated idea, there is also the Stalking Spell spell that forces other players to enter the dungeon on their turn, which can be used in a very player-vs-player way.

It’s also worth mentioning the Time Bend spell, which lets you keep an unused card from your hand to add it to your next hand. This tempo-shift comes into play more strongly with the new monster mechanics (more shortly), but it’s something that’s always useful to have in deck-building games!

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

The new mechanics, however, are featured on the new monster cards we get in the expansion: Raid and Stalk.

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

Raid is a new mechanic that represents the raiders coming out of Thornwood Forest to, well, raid the village. The mechanic forces you to destroy cards from the village stacks, meaning that over time there will be fewer items to choose from. They tend to destroy the most expensive cards as well, adding some pressure if you want to save your gold to get the good stuff! There are also Siege cards that function in a similar manner if they breach the dungeon hall, for instance, further adding pressure to the game.

Stalk is a keyword that will take effect on your next turn, adding to the tempo-shift mechanics mentioned earlier on the Time Bend spell card. When you reveal a monster with the Stalk mechanic, you take a token that matches the card’s effect, and then proceed with your turn as normal. Then, on your next turn, you suffer the effects of that token (or tokens) at the beginning of your turn. It’s an interesting sort of mechanic that plays around with the established turn structure, at any rate.

Thunderstone Thornwood Siege

Thornwood Siege, while offering much of the same in terms of game content, is still a fairly decent expansion to the game. Of all of the original line of Thunderstone expansions, this one is weirdly the one still most readily available (at the time of writing this blog, at least), which perhaps leads me to think it didn’t sell so well?

Thunderstone still has one expansion left for me to feature here, at any rate, so hopefully soon I’ll get round to the final battle at the Heart of Doom! Stay tuned for that!