May 2022 retrospective

Hey everybody,
What a month May has been! I’ve been on quite the writing spree this month, and have been able to write a blog every day for the whole month, which is just unheard of normally in my little corner of the internet! How is this possible, I hear you ask? Well, I have no idea. I suppose quite a bit has been going on, though, resulting in more to talk about, and there have been some planned bits and pieces that I was intending to cover in here regardless, but it’s been good to see the posts come out!

To start with, I’ve continued to be interested in a wider variety of games than usual, something that began in April really when I seemed to go into a bit of a hobby slump around Easter. Rediscovering such games as the Star Wars LCG, as well as playing more Arkham Horror LCG and Lord of the Rings LCG has definitely helped, I think, to give me fodder to talk about. While I have recently been getting back into the plastic crack, predominantly thanks to the upsurge of interest in Age of Sigmar, I think so far this spring, I have seen a much more varied games focus than usual.

Lord of the Rings in particular has been really great to get back into playing, as it feels like a really long time since I have properly been involved in that game. Indeed, it feels like years since I last built a deck from scratch, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and I’ve really enjoyed it! In the past, I’ve been in the sort of position where I play a couple of games, enjoy them, but then don’t follow up for ages (if ever), but I am hopeful that this will change now.

Age of Sigmar always seems to get me somewhat excited, as it is a really nice-looking game in many respects. I’ve talked about it many times now, but I think it is significant that Fantasy is what got me into Games Workshop stores back in the day, so it’s perhaps to be expected that AoS will fire up my imagination like that.

I’ve been working on the Khorne Bloodbound models that I had started around the time I moved here, so summer 2019, and have finished the first five Bloodreavers. I’m sure I’ll need to add some Blood for the Blood God at some point, but for now they’re done! I’ve started on the next five, as well, but this is where I’ve become distracted by Slaanesh once more, and have moved on to painting the Exalted Seeker Chariot that I’d built up in the winter of 2018, I think it was.

Slaanesh is a big thing for me, and always has been. I think it’s one of these armies that I’ve just always wanted to have, but have so often been distracted away from. This time, however, I’m hoping to actually make it happen! Slow and steady, like. We shall see, anyway.

I think I’m going to end up with three armies for Age of Sigmar – Slaanesh, Khorne, and the Ossiarch Bonereapers. I don’t think it’s going to be too excessive, but I need to make sure I don’t go mad! I was hoping to get a game in with James at the end of last week, but we had to cancel as his little boy wasn’t very well. Hopefully soon, though, I’ll get to see what third edition has to offer! We’re starting very small, with just a couple of units to see how everything works, so stay tuned for more of that!!

I’ve finally started to build up the Defiled Ruins terrain box for Warcry, as well. This thing has been in and out of the project queue for ages now, so it’s nice to finally have it built, if not fully “ready” in terms of painted as well! I think the original Warcry stuff has got a great look to it, but these more generic Azyrite ruins look great as well, and the set mixes nicely with the other ruins that I’d already painted up around 12 months ago. Indeed, I’ve also built up some more of those ruined bits that I had picked up from the Mortal Realms magazine, so that I have some nice bits to add further variety to my boards. I now have four Warcry environments, and I’m at the point where I’m thinking that I probably have enough to be going on with now. The new box that seems to be suggesting we’re moving into the swamp hasn’t grabbed my attention yet, but I remember being underwhelmed by Red Harvest until I’d seen exactly what we were getting!

For the scatter terrain that I painted up last year, I followed the scheme in the magazine. However, I’ve now come across this beautiful stuff that has got me considering a lighter grey colour scheme. I suppose it’s testament to how good the terrain looks that it would work well with so many different colour schemes!

It’s been a very productive month on the reading front, too, as I’ve made my way through quite a few Star Wars books in my Great Prequel Re-read! This month, I’ve enjoyed revisiting one of my all-time favourite Star Wars novels, Cloak of Deception!! I’ve reached the first movie milestone, The Phantom Menace, and have begun to read the long line of Republic graphic novels that follow, starting with Outlander. It’s exciting to come back to these books, as I think it must be easily ten years since I last read them, possibly longer.

Something that I didn’t mention in my episode one blog is the short story Darth Maul: Endgame. It’s by James Luceno and I think was written for a re-issue of Shadow Hunter, and is set during the timeline of the movie, as we follow Maul after his duel with Qui-Gon as he returns to Naboo to wait for the Queen to return. His principal task, it seems, is to root out the Gungans, but along the way we get to meet Captain Magneta, former chief of security to King Veruna, which I thought was fascinating. Indeed, the whole story, while perhaps a little needless, was nevertheless an interesting look at both the Naboo invasion on the ground, and also a look at Maul as a character. He learns of Hego Damask, and begins to question his role at Sidious’ side. I think it’s interesting because this really seems to crystallise Darth Maul as a character, where he is portrayed as such an obedient servant to Darth Sidious, with such a one-dimensional hatred of the Jedi, that you have to wonder where the character could have gone if Obi-Wan hadn’t bisected him. I don’t think he would have been an effective Sith Lord, otherwise, but clearly being killed has done him the world of good in terms of his criminal empire!

I’ve also watched the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which was really quite sensational, I have to say. In a nutshell, Obi-Wan has given up, and works on the production line very much in a rut. When Bail Organa contacts him for help when Leia is kidnapped, he is very reluctant to intervene, thinking he needs to stay on Tatooine to look after Luke. However, he is eventually persuaded, and travels to the planet Daiyu to track her down. Turns out the kidnap was a ruse by the Imperial Inquisitor Reva, known as the Third Sister, to draw out Kenobi. She has heard that Darth Vader has been looking for Kenobi, so reasons that bringing him in will elevate her position.

It is from the Third Sister that Kenobi learns about Anakin’s survival following their duel on Mustafar.

It’s a really good-looking series so far, I’m very impressed. I think it’s feeling very much like this is an event in terms of Star Wars tv, like it’s much more important than what we’ve seen before. I mean, up to now we’ve been getting Luke in a very marginal role only, but here we have Obi-Wan going to rescue a child Princess Leia, while being pursued by the Inquisition and, by the looks of things, Vader himself. It’s like a movie sequel, told in 6 parts.

I’m very impressed, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes next, though I’m still a bit annoyed with how it’s going to potentially mess with the dialogue in A New Hope, where it feels very much like Vader and Obi-Wan shouldn’t meet until the Death Star corridor…

It’s been a very busy month, but I don’t think I’ll be able to keep this up through June as well… We shall, of course, see!!

Hedonites of Slaanesh

Following on from Friday’s post, I wanted to give a bit of an update on my Exalted Seeker Chariot project, as well as a few fruits of my research into the new units in the army. I’m trying not to get excited, of course, as I have quite enough to be going along with, but as always with projects like this, it’s hard to not look around at what else there is, and where I might like to go with it!

The Chariot is going well, despite the fact that the whole thing is glued together. I’m enjoying the challenge of trying to get it painted, of course, and seeing it all come together at last, so hopefully things will continue on like this for now. It’s really nice to finally be getting some Slaanesh models painted, even if this is the third project diversion I’ve had so far this year!!

Starting with the latest additions to the army, Dexcessa looks like a lovely model to think about. Not only can it move 12” and fly, it’s-1 to hit and can fall back and later charge, it can issue a command once per turn without spending a command point, and Daemon units within 12” do not take battle shock tests. Something that I really like is the fact that, after it has attacked once, you add 1 to the attacks of each of its weapons at the start of each round. It starts out with 6 attacks, between its talons and its scourge, so that’ll quickly get up there, which I find quite exciting!!

The alternative build is Synessa, a wizard who knows all of the spells in the Slaanesh lore, and can issue commands to friendly models anywhere on the battlefield, provided it has line of sight to the model. Very interesting as a wizard choice!

The Shardspeaker is one of my favourites of the new models. It is also a wizard, and gets +1 to save rolls, and gets access to a magical attack if it casts a spell that isn’t unbound. It has a couple of ways in which it can mess with enemy units in somewhat close range, which I like, though I think it could definitely benefit from being screened somehow if you’re getting within 9” of an enemy, as it only has 5 wounds.

Myrmidesh Painbringers are a very attractive choice for that screen. Each model has 2 wounds, and at a full complement of five models, they’re making ten attacks, hitting and wounding on 3s, with -1 rend. For an unmodified wound roll of 6, they’re dishing out an additional mortal wound, too. Sure, they aren’t a tank, but they’re pretty nasty, I would think.

Hedonite models get the additional rule of Euphoric Killers, each hit roll of 6 inflicts 2 hits on the target. You still need to roll to wound, but ten attack rolls should score some 6s, which just gives yet more fodder for the possible mortal wounds.

The alternative build for the kit is the Symbaresh Twinsouls, who have 3 attacks each but a slightly worse stat line otherwise.

I particularly like the Dread Pageant, though that’s mainly in the context of their original incarnation as an Underworlds warband. In Age of Sigmar, they don’t particularly stand out for me, though they do have the useful ability of dishing out mortal wounds on 6s to hit, and with 13 attacks coming from the unit as a whole, there’s definitely scope there!

Now, I really like the idea of the Slaangors, but I’ve not really read good things about them. They have 3 wounds, and they make 3 attacks (4 on the charge). They move 8” and, at the end of combat you get to roll a dice for each Slaangor model left, dishing out a mortal wound on a 4+ to any unit within 3”.

I suppose part of the problem might be how you fit in a unit that costs 130 points if that’s all it’s going to do, but I do think there might be a place for them in the list somewhere! Rules like Euphoric Killers do make high-attack units a bit more interesting, as the possibility of rolling 6s is increased.

As always, the spells and command traits etc available to the army offer more bits and pieces that will stack in favour, it’s always exciting to sit down with a book and try to put all the pieces into a list! Of course, I’m really trying not to go overboard with buying more models, so I don’t want to run away with my plans just now!!

That said, I’ve recently picked up the Slaanesh Sybarites box for Warcry, which is very impressive to me. You get some Myrmidesh Painbringers, and some Blissbarb Archers, and all of the cards for all of the possible unit types in a Slaanesh Sybarites warband, which is a lot! Clearly, Sybarites are distinct from Hedonites in Warcry, as the latter seem to be entirely the daemon units, but this box was a revelation to me. I don’t remember them being released, but it seems to have come out alongside boxes for Stormcast, Lumineth and the new swamp orruks. Very interesting, if for no other reason than they give all the cards you need.

Anyway, that’s probably enough from me for now. I’m going to continue to try to not buy more Slaanesh units, despite the fact I really, really like that Dexcessa model!!

The High Republic, phase two

Oh, this is interesting, folks!!

Celebration Anaheim 2022 has given us a look at the next phase of The High Republic publishing, which is taking a bit of a left curve and going back 150 years prior to phase one. Wasn’t really expecting that one, so I’m wondering what’s going to happen following the events following the Starlight Beacon crash.

Phase 2 is ‘The Quest of the Jedi’, and it seems like things are going to be really low-tech. Makes me quite intrigued about how the history of the universe is evolving under Disney, as this is about 400 years before The Phantom Menace, but if we’re in this low-tech environment now, how does stuff like The Old Republic factor in? Or Tales of the Jedi? I don’t understand it…

However, we’ve got this coming, and it looks amazing.

I love Rogue One, and the upcoming Andor has got me very excited. The potential for learning more about Jedha is really intriguing!

I do also wonder if Yoda will be making an appearance in the series. Hopefully it’ll be awesome if/when he does!!

Exciting times, at any rate. But what’s going on with the people we already know from phase one? Maybe phase three will tell us…

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Episode I opens with the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi arriving in orbit around the planet Naboo, in an attempt to open diplomatic discussions with the Neimoidians of the Trade Federation who have blockaded the planet. The Federation Viceroy, Nute Gunray, confers with his shadowy master Lord Sidious about what to do, and is ordered to kill the Jedi ambassadors. However, the Jedi are able to escape from their assassination attempts, and when they discover a waiting droid army in the ship’s hangar bays, they stow away on the landing craft as the Federation begin landing their droid troops.

On the planet, the droid invasion succeeds with a relatively bloodless coup, capturing Queen Amidala and her court easily. Gunray suggests that the Queen signs a treaty to legitimise the Federation’s occupancy of the planet, and at her refusal he tells her that the suffering to be inflicted on the planet will in time change her mind. However, before the Queen and her entourage are taken to a detention camp, the Jedi arrive to rescue her, along with the Gungan native Jar Jar Binks, who has sworn a life-debt to Qui-Gon after the Jedi rescued him out in the swamps. Qui-Gon suggests the Queen accompanies the Jedi back to Coruscant, where she can plead their case directly to the Senate. Leaving her courtiers behind, the Queen and her handmaidens manage to escape the blockade, although during their flight the ship was damaged and so they are forced to put down on the nearest world outside of Trade Federation control: Tatooine.

The desert planet doesn’t hold much hope for the party, but Qui-Gon discovers the parts they require to repair the vessel at the junk dealer Watto’s shop. However, Watto refuses to accept Republic currency, and proves resistant to Qui-Gon’s mind tricks. There, the Queen’s handmaiden Padme befriends a young slave named Anakin Skywalker, who later offers them shelter when a sandstorm blows in. During the storm, Anakin offers a way for the party to get the parts they need by gambling on a pod race that is scheduled to take place the following day. Anakin himself is a decent pod racer, so offers to pilot a pod for Qui-Gon, betting against the cost of the parts. Qui-Gon is intrigued by the boy, and under the guise of cleaning a cut he sends a blood sample to Obi-Wan back at the Queen’s ship, to be tested for his Force potential. The results are off the chart.

Darth Sidious has grown exasperated with the Trade Federation’s inability to get the treaty signed by the Queen, and so has sent his apprentice, Darth Maul, to track her. The Sith are able to track the Queen to Tatooine, and Lord Maul leaves at once for the Outer Rim.

Despite the efforts of his fellow competitors to sabotage the race, Anakin is able to win the pod race and so Qui-Gon gets the parts to repair the ship. Unbeknownst to Anakin, Qui-Gon had also contrived to release the boy from his slavery, although he unfortunately couldn’t do the same for Anakin’s mother. After a tearful farewell, Anakin and Qui-Gon return to the ship but are ambushed by Darth Maul, who fights a brief duel with Qui-Gon before the Jedi is able to flee on the newly-repaired vessel.

The party arrives on Coruscant and meets with Senator Palpatine and Chancellor Valorum, who has called for a special session of the senate to hear the Naboo case. Palpatine privately confides to Queen Amidala that the Chancellor has grown weak, however, and he does not think it likely the senate will support their cause as a result. He suggests that she call for a Vote of No Confidence in Valorum, and when the session pans out as Palpatine suspected, Amidala calls for the vote. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan report back on their mission, informing them of the possibility that the Sith have returned, as well as his discovery of Anakin, who he believes to be the fabled Chosen One who was prophesied to restore balance to the Force. Upon testing him, the Council agrees that he is strong with the Force, but refuses to train him at the current time, as the diplomatic incident at Naboo is escalating and they need to focus their efforts there. The Council orders Qui-Gon to return to Naboo with the Queen, who has decided to take the fight back to the Trade Federation in the face of the lack of action on the part of the Republic.

The group are able to land on Naboo, as the blockade has been reduced to a single vessel now that the planet is occupied by the Federation forces. Queen Amidala asks Jar Jar to help her broker a peace between the human population and the Gungans, and it is revealed that Padme is in fact the Queen, who has been using her handmaiden Sabe as a body double. The Queen plans to use the Gungan army to draw the droid army away from the capital city of Theed, allowing for a small strike force to penetrate the Palace and capture the Viceroy, forcing the Federation to surrender. In order to minimise Gungan casualties, Queen Amidala further proposes to send the handful of pilots they have into orbit to destroy the droid control ship that is left there, which should shut down the army.

Everything begins to proceed according to this plan, however when Darth Maul ambushes the strike force in the palace hangar bay, the Jedi break off to deal with the Sith Lord while the Queen and her group are forced to take the longer route to the throne room. They are able to capture the Viceroy thanks again to Sabe acting as the Queen’s double, while Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan duel Darth Maul but become separated, and Maul is able to defeat Qui-Gon. Anakin, who had taken refuge in a starfighter, is taken into orbit by the autopilot but, once R2-D2 is able to override it, he accidentally flies into the Trade Federation vessel and launches a pair of proton torpedoes that destroy the reactor, starting the chain reaction to destroy the vessel and shut-down the droids on the planet. Obi-Wan is able to defeat Darth Maul, and with his dying breath, Qui-Gon requests for his erstwhile padawan to train Anakin as a Jedi.

At a ceremony to celebrate the defeat of the droid army, the Gungans and the human population of Naboo are formally brought together, and Obi-Wan Kenobi is formally given the rank of Jedi Knight. He is permitted to train Anakin Skywalker, despite the latter being too old by the Council’s standards.

I think it’s important to say that I have a tremendous amount of affection for the first movie in the series, despite its many flaws. I mean, it isn’t a cinema classic; at times it’s downright painful to watch, but even so, I can’t help but find myself enjoying it whenever I do watch it. When George Lucas came to write the Prequel trilogy, he wanted to make them feel like a spectacle, and give a sense of splendour and whatnot – to “blow open” the universe that we had seen in the original trilogy. The broad sweep of Naboo, Coruscant, even the podrace sequence on Tatooine. Everything feels much bigger than it did back in the original trilogy, even if there is perhaps an over-reliance on CGI effects to achieve this. Nevertheless, whereas the original trilogy had a lot of dirt and grime from places like Tatooine, Endor and Dagobah, it’s interesting to see the clean lines and fabulous grandeur of Naboo and Coruscant.

There are some fairly awkward moments along the way, though. I don’t particularly mind Jake Lloyd’s acting as Anakin – he is supposed to be a nice kid, after all – but many people seemed to hate him to the point where he pretty much gave up on acting as a career. It’s a similar story for Ahmed Best, who did the voice and motion capture for Jar Jar. In recent years, it has come to light how the vitriol from the fanbase caused him to suffer a severe depression, something which makes me really ashamed to call myself a Star Wars fan. The complaints made against this film are too many to go into, of course, but I just wanted to bring out these two in particular as I wanted to distance myself from those especially.

My principal issue with the film lies in the fact that we don’t really get the background to the trade dispute, from either the opening crawl or from exposition within the film. Indeed, it took a whole novel to give us this background, which came out a couple of years after the film. Lucas has stated many times that his original plan was to have his story broken down into chunks, and each chunk would be a trilogy of films – the middle chunk was the exciting action-adventure war story, which was filmed first, and the first chunk was always going to be a more political thriller kind of story, which he thought wouldn’t appeal as much. The fact that the film’s catalyst is a trade dispute was deemed to be boring back in the day, but personally I love the political thriller type of story, so wanted more, if anything!

The novelization of The Phantom Menace was written by Terry Brooks, of Shannara fame, and features a lot of material that was written specifically for the book. While there are many scenes that are lifted wholesale from the script, often with little to no additions beyond the dialogue, there are whole chapters that were never written for the film, where we see Anakin in his previous pod race, and going out into the Jundland Wastes to scavenge for scrap / barter with the Jawas for Watto. There is a famous section where Sidious broods on the history of the Sith (at the point in the movie when he has his little chat with Maul on the Coruscant balcony) and we get the first instance of the name Darth Bane. It’s always great to get these additional little bits and pieces that help to flesh out the story, and in the case of this particular book, Brooks and Lucas spent a long time thrashing out details to ensure that the additional material is as close to G-canon as is possible.

As far as cut scenes from the movie go, there are a number of scenes related to the pod race that were finished for the home video release, and added back in to the DVD release back in the day. For bonus content, we have the slightly unfinished waterfall sequence where Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Jar Jar arrive at Theed City only to then almost drop over the edge of one of the waterfalls. There are a couple of Tatooine scenes, where Anakin gets into a fight with a young Greedo when he suggests Anakin cheated – meant to foreshadow Anakin’s anger issues – and another where Anakin says farewell to Jira, and Qui-Gon slices through one of Darth Maul’s probe droids, which at least explains why the two are running to the Queen’s ship just prior to Maul’s attack.

Interestingly, among the unfinished scenes shot for the film, we have Adrian Dunbar playing Bail Antilles of Alderaan, shown very briefly seconding the motion of No Confidence immediately after it is called. Dunbar was originally supposed to play Bail Organa, but the scene was cut, the name was changed, and Jimmy Smits was cast for the role in Episode II. It has led to some confusion since, however.

While the movie might not be my favourite from the franchise, I do still hold a lot of affection for it, and I think as far as the Prequels go, it’s one that I can still enjoy a great deal.

The Dark Prince

Hey everybody,
I’m definitely on an Age of Sigmar kick at the minute. I’ve been working on the Khorne Bloodbound units, of course, but now I’ve turned to another of the four. It was inevitable really, wasn’t it?

Of all the four Chaos gods, Slaanesh is the one that I keep coming back to, time and again. It weirdly plays into the whole thing about the allure of the Dark Prince that I talked about a fair few years ago now; he’s very definitely got his crab-claws into me!

I’ve currently got five Khorne Bloodreavers finished, and have not only begun work on the next batch of five, I’ve also got the Wrathmongers out as well! However, getting my head once more into Age of Sigmar has got me thinking again about Slaanesh, and I’ve started to paint up the Shardspeaker as well.

Thing is, I love the idea of a Slaanesh army. I love the lore, I love playing Chaos in Warhammer Invasion principally because I love the Slaanesh cards, and I really love the models. I think the fact they have had such a huge overhaul into almost entirely plastic is just wonderful, and we’ve got such delights now as to be truly spoilt.

Here’s the thing. I’ve bought and sold a Slaanesh army twice so far in my hobby life, and am currently sitting on my third iteration. I’ve kept this the longest, as I’ve had these guys with me for about four years now. I think having such beautiful models as that glorious Keeper of Secrets probably helps, of course.

I really want to make a go of it this time, though, so intend to get this project underway at some point in 2022. I’m particularly keen to make an effort with the Exalted Chariot, which is my biggest hobby mistake so far, in that I built the whole thing before trying to paint it.

To date, however, I have only painted a single Daemonette, and she isn’t really finished, if you count the base. But she was painted up slightly over 3 years ago now, so I do think it’s time that I made more of an effort to get some more models finished. Especially as I seem to recall the paint scheme I came up with for them isn’t particularly onerous.

I’ve been Instagram-stalking myself, and June 2016 is the earliest mention of Slaanesh (above), so I’ve had this idea for 6 years now, almost! I think it’s time I made it come to fruition, though getting a good balance is going to be key of course. I know that I have too many projects on the go, and I know I made the decision this very month to focus on the Black Legion, but within days of doing so I’ve had this massive swerve. However, I do find all that trim a bit exhausting, and unfortunately I’m now in the position where I need a new brush for all of that. Bah! I don’t want to fall into that trap again, but I think in more general terms, 2022 will be something of a year of Chaos for me!

I think I just enjoy painting up models for Age of Sigmar, almost more than I do for 40k. So I’m looking forward to getting underway with this!

Andor teaser trailer

I have no words…

Okay, so I have some words. I’m in love. The fact that Kenobi is out today doesn’t really matter to me. I’m all about seeing just what this is going to be about. We get early-years Rebellion stuff, Mon Mothma at cocktail parties and Cassian Andor at the thin end of the wedge. I am beside myself with joy.

That’s right, beside myself!

It’s not even 2 minutes of footage, but I’m already so glad to know that we’re getting a second season!!

August 31 cannot come too quickly!!

Star Wars: Darth Maul Shadow Hunter

Following, to some extent, hot on the heels of the last book in the prequel timeline, Darth Maul Shadow Hunter takes place in the roughly 48 hours before The Phantom Menace begins. Darth Sidious has positioned Nute Gunray and his Neinoidian brethren at the head of the Trade Federation and, in retaliation for the Republic’s taxation of the Free Trade Zones, has told them to blockade Naboo, whose Senator Palpatine was one of the biggest supporters of taxation.

The problem that arises here is that Gunray’s deputy viceroy, Hath Monchar, has gone missing, clearly with the idea of selling the information about the impending blockade to the highest bidder, so Sidious sends his murderous apprentice to kill him. The Neimoidians, however, engage a bounty hunter to attempt to reel the wayward Monchar back in, and so we begin the manhunt.

On Coruscant, we meet down-on-his-luck information broker Lorn Pavan, and his protocol droid “business partner” I-Five. Desperate for money, the two meet with Monchar and agree to pay half a million credits for a holocron with the Neimoidian’s info. I-Five commits a bank fraud to finance the deal, but Darth Maul beats them to it and kills the Neimoidian, but fails to retrieve the holocron crystal due to the intervention of the bounty hunter Mawhi Lihnn. She blows up the domicile, forcing Maul to flee, but when Pavan arrives for the meeting, he is able to retrieve the crystal from the wreckage.

The manhunt goes up a notch then, as Maul is on the trail of Pavan. Meanwhile, Jedi padawan Darsha Assant is assigned to escort the Black Sun informant Oolth from the Crimson Corridor, a particularly rough area of the city, as her Jedi trials. She fails to do this, and Oolth is presumed dead when the two are attacked by hawk-bats. She returns to her master Anoon Bondara, who suggests they go to check before reporting it to the Council, but in the course of their investigation they discover the swirling maelstrom in the Force that is Darth Maul, and go to investigate. The two rescue Pavan and I-Five, and Anoon Bondara gives his life to allow for Darsha and the two information merchants to flee into the depths of the city.

The chase is on through the bowels of Coruscant, as the trio evade subhuman cannibals and Force-immune monsters before they arrive back in the Crimson Corridor, whereupon they are able to use a street gang’s secret method of getting up-levels and arrive in a disused power plant. Darth Maul, tired of continually chasing his quarry, hacks into the security cams to get ahead of them, and arrives at the power plant at the same time. He and Darsha duel, while I-Five uses a carbonite freezing chamber to allow for him and Pavan to survive the ensuing explosion that Darsha engineers, sacrificing herself in the process. Maul, using the Force to make sure, believes everyone to have died, and reports in to his master.

When they’ve thawed out, Pavan calls in a favour to get himself a ship to follow Maul to an orbital skyhook. He also asks for I-Five to be delivered to the Jedi Temple, but unfortunately his associate takes the opportunity to steal the droid. Meanwhile, Pavan travels to the skyhook and is able to retake the holocron due to having a Force-nullifying skin nodule from the earlier encounter in the labyrinth under the surface. Pavan flees into the public area of the skyhook, and runs straight into Senator Palpatine, who takes the holocron from him and offers him help. However, there is no escape from Darth Maul, and Pavan is killed.

I grew up with this book, more so than with Cloak of Deception as that one came out later. I used to love it so much, as it’s such an enjoyable adventure across the planet of Coruscant, being pretty much entirely set on the capital world. However, re-reading the book for the first time in years this past week, it surprised me a little just how it has slipped down in my estimation. Cloak of Deception will, I think, forever be a 5-star book, but this one has dropped to just the 3-stars now.

I still like it, don’t get me wrong, but I think that the story doesn’t feel particularly like Star Wars. I mean, sure, it makes all the right noises, but it’s like more of a noir-type detective story that’s set in New York or something, or maybe even something like a Batman story. But with Darth Maul as the villain. The mean streets of the Crimson Corridor are straight out of Gotham, or Hell’s Kitchen, and it kinda surprised me this time around just how tacked-on the GFFA is.

Something that struck me this time around was the fact we never follow up with the Neimoidians towards the end. Sidious calls them at the start, realises something is amiss with Monchar not being there, so sends Maul to look into it. The next time we see Sidious and the Neimoidians is in episode one, when they tell him about the Jedi ambassadors. I feel like we need some kind of closure there, even if it’s “your wayward colleague has been dealt with by the Sith – never lie to me again, Viceroy” or something. But I realise that this is a very minor thing!!

Lorn Pavan is an interesting protagonist, with a very interesting reason for disliking Jedi, but does suffer a bit of the Marty Sue complex – indeed, he’s even described by an alien bartender in glowing terms, which is just awkward. I-Five has always reminded me of Bender from Futurama, which I find hilarious when I think back on it. He is an interesting idea, and almost the precursor for Lando’s L3 in Solo, being free-thinking and all. I’m glad he crops up again in later stories, and I think I might actually add in the Medstar duology to my reading list as a result.

Darsha Assant is another interesting idea, a Jedi padawan failing her mission completely, but her growth along the rest of the story is really interesting to watch. I get the feeling that she passed her tests, after all. I’m not exactly annoyed with her, but what she represents. It’s fairly well-documented online and beyond how Episode I destroyed a lot of the mystique of the Force by bringing in midi-chlorians. Now, stuff like Darsha’s story here, at least how it starts, really abuse this further, as the Jedi trials become basically a final exam before graduating from university, and it’s just utterly ridiculous to me. I get that there wasn’t really anything in the established canon at this point to support my ideas of what the Jedi were, but the prequel trilogy really does a good job of making them a corporation (with Yoda as CEO), and material like this book just continue to reduce the situation down to something too worldly.

Another problem with the novel, I think, is it’s reliance on the movies. I’ve rambled about this before, but while Tatooine is a nothing dustball far away from anywhere, here it seems to be the planet in the universe where everybody plans to run away to – and while I get that he’s an information broker, Lorn Pavan’s knowledge of the geography of the planet is phenomenal indeed. We also have people surviving explosions by encasing themselves in carbonite. Hutt gangsters (because no other species will do), Gamorreans are the bodyguard species of choice, and so on. Obi-Wan Kenobi is really shoehorned into the story as being the one assigned to investigate Darsha’s disappearance, because clearly there are no other Jedi on Coruscant. It rather serves to shrink the universe, but that’s just my perspective, I guess.

All in all, it’s not a bad read. It’s not the best Star Wars story, but it’s a very straightforward book, and I don’t think it tries to be anything more than it is. It does stretch credulity a little, when the book takes place over roughly 48 hours, and the blockade is in place at the end of the story anyway, so you do finish the book wondering why Sidious was so worried about a potential leak if the timeframe was that short anyway. Surely he could adapt and just send the Federation out two days earlier than planned to blockade the planet? If there was some mention of the politics to justify that, it might have been a bit more believable.

But I do like to nit-pick here, and this is a book that I’ve read many times, so I’ve thought about these things a lot!

Up next is the big one, it’s the movie itself!!

Deck building in Middle Earth

Following on from yesterday’s post about my recent adventures in the shadow of Mordor, I thought I’d continue in that vein a little longer and waffle about my decks that I had built for the game, and share some observations on their performance, etc. I know that Lord of the Rings LCG isn’t a competitive game, and so it can seem a bit like it relies more on personal choice as to what you include in your deck, but nevertheless, I find this kind of thing interesting!

Both decks are tri-sphere, and so resource matching can be horrendous to manage at times! The first deck involves Aragorn (leadership), Legolas (tactics), and Glorfindel (spirit). I’ve got two attachments in the deck that go on Aragorn to give him the spirit and tactics icons, to help smooth that out, and there’s another attachment I’ve given to him that gives an extra resource each round. Nevertheless, it can be very tricky at times to get this moving in the right direction.

In a way, I do feel as though the resource match rule is the most punishing aspect of this game, as you need a total match, it’s not like the Star Wars LCG, where at least one resource needs to come from the relevant faction. Cards like Haldir, for instance, aren’t coming out until turn 4, whereas the encounter deck is at you straightaway, turn 1. I do often think about trying to implement a house rule of using the Star Wars matching system, but I think that could bring its own problems. The alternative that has also crossed my mind is having at least one free pass/starting with more than one resource token per hero when playing a tri-sphere deck.

Anyway, it’s beginning to sound like I’m complaining about the game, but this is a blog post about deck building!

Up until about 18 months ago, I played this game exclusively solo, with one deck of three heroes. However, since playing with two decks has opened up the multiplayer co-op aspect so much, I don’t think I’d ever go back! However, I think I’m still in that former mindset with using tri-sphere, and should probably think about shifting things around so that the two spirit heroes are together, and the two tactics heroes are together. Making decks dual-sphere decks are a lot easier to manage, of course, but I think that would potentially open up an issue as regards how the encounter deck targets the first player in the Vengeance of Mordor cycle.

See, having a good range of Ranged and Sentinel characters on both sides means (in theory, at least!) that I can attack and defend from both decks, no matter where the attacks are coming from. This is something that took me a while to get to grips with, if I’m honest, as the single deck approach meant those keywords were meaningless for me for so many years. As they tend to be in specific spheres, too, it would need careful planning to rearrange the decks, so for now I’m just plodding on!

In my Faramir deck, I have a spread of Song cards, the original Mirkwood Songs that grant different icons to the heroes they’re attached to. Now, invariably in this game, you’ll draw cards for the wrong hero, leaving one stuck with most of the tokens because you’re not drawing anything they can play. Perfect target for a Song, normally! I found it interesting in my last game, though, that no good target really presented himself, because I was drawing a good spread of cards so was managing fine – the best use I could put these Songs to was discarding for travel effects!

I suppose this is the interesting thing about this sort of card game, though. Due to shuffling your deck, your cards are randomised, so you never really know what you’re going to get next. Obvious, I know, but in practice this can mean you draw really well, or you only draw event cards whose triggers just aren’t coming up. Or you only draw leadership cards, meaning you end up with the Bank of Legolas or something.

This is why “search your deck” effects can be so useful, as not only do you have the chance to go look for exactly what you need, but you also (usually!) have to shuffle your deck afterwards. Any additional shuffle is usually very useful, I find – regardless of the fact that most of the game is often down to luck of the draw, it just feels good to shuffle your deck when you’re not drawing anything useful, because it feels like you’re going to change the game. Regardless of the fact that Galadhrim’s Greeting might well have been the next card you were going to draw, anyway!!

So, heroes having multiple spheres is very useful, the Ranged and Sentinel keywords are very useful, and being able to search for specific cards is very useful. The fourth “pillar” to all of this is, of course, getting multiple uses out of your characters, particularly heroes. Aragorn has this ability natively, of course, where you can pay one resource from his pool to ready him when he has committed to the quest. Given his all-round great stats, plus Sentinel, makes this really useful, but it does assume that you have the resources to pay for it. Light of Valinor is just made for Glorfindel, as it means the guy doesn’t exhaust to quest in the first place. Stuff like Leather Boots, which allow the attached to character to ready when a certain card is revealed from the encounter deck, is also really good, although somewhat situational. I mean, if Faramir has his boots on, and only enemies come out of the deck, you’re stuck with a Ranger character who can’t do anything to help out.

The gold standard in these types of cards is, of course, Unexpected Courage, which allows you to ready the attached hero, regardless of what has happened. I’m not sure a character can defend, then attack back, all that often, but this allows you to do that. (As another side note about the rules in general, I don’t understand why characters have to throw themselves in the line of fire without getting to retaliate. There should either be a kind of simultaneous combat, or a rule that allows a defender, if he survives the attack, to attack back before attackers are declared properly. But maybe that would skew things too much, as well).

The final subset of cards worth mentioning is not that well-represented in these decks, but I would say is still fairly important – the ‘cancel’ effect cards, and other generally playing-outside-the-rules. So cards such as A Test of Will, which cancels the when revealed effect of a card from the encounter deck, or the lore events that ignore the threat of a location or an enemy in the staging area, giving you some questing room. Direct damage cards are also useful, as they bypass the need for engaging enemies, though obviously there are Dúnedain cards that want you to be engaged. Tactics has a variety of cards that allow you to directly attack an enemy, which used to confuse me a bit because I thought I was engaging those enemies as well. Nope. Hands Upon the Bow, for example, let’s you attack someone at +1 to that attack, without the need for enduring an attack coming from that enemy first. It’s a really powerful effect, especially on a heavy-hitting hero tooled up with something like a Rivendell Blade, which reduces the defence on that enemy.

With all of these card types to take into account, along with a sprinkling of buffs and other one-time events, it’s no wonder I’m enjoying the game much more since I stopped playing just the one deck! In all honesty, playing two-handed has almost been like learning how to play the game anew, but it’s been really quite a great experience to see all of these effects and combos come out as I’ve done so! There will always be bad hands drawn, even after a mulligan, but sometimes, you get to draw Light of Valinor for Glorfindel in your opening hand three games in a row. And that, my friends, is glorious!!

A Shadow in the East

Hey everybody,
Today’s blog is perhaps unsurprisingly taking us into Middle Earth, following on from last week’s exciting discussion of new decks for the game! I’m currently investigating the later cycles for the game, having pretty much stopped playing the game regularly during the fourth cycle, The Voice of Isengard. So, even though this expansion was released back in 2018, it’s new to me!

A Shadow in the East starts off when the heroes are resting in Dale, after the previous cycle’s adventures had concluded. Envoys from Dorwinion, in the east, arrive with news of spreading darkness – disappearances, mainly, but with no army for defence, the people have turned to King Brand for aid. The heroes volunteer for the mission, and off we go!

The first scenario, The River Running, reminds me a great deal of the first scenario from The Voice of Isengard – being relentlessly pursued by enemies, this time, Easterlings. We have a tremendous amount of pressure exerted through the Objective card, which forces the arrival of more enemies every third round. Coupled with this is a set-aside Side Quest, and the annoying number of Treachery cards which, for this scenario, function as attachments for enemies! Don’t get me wrong, I like that mechanic, and was surprised it took so long to be implemented in the game, but even so, it does make things so much more difficult!!

Assuming that we make it out alive, our next task is to head for the city of Dorwinion, built on the shores of the sea of Rhûn. Here, we learn that people have been disappearing, so we head out into the city to investigate.

Danger in Dorwinion is the second scenario, and bears a striking resemblance to the first scenario from the Against the Shadow cycle, The Steward’s Fear. We’re running round a city, ferreting out a cult; we have a random cultist enemy to defeat, and a random objective revealed to affect the game. It’s almost like being back in the realm of Gondor!

This scenario plays greatly around the threat level, and everything coalesces really quite catastrophically for the heroes, the way that the encounter deck just keeps on raising the threat. I actually lost half of the team when the Faramir/Dúnhere/Elladan side threated-out.

If we’re able to survive, one of the cultist prisoners tells us that cityfolk have been taken to a hidden temple in the Hills of Rhûn, and so we March onwards!

The Temple of Doom concludes the deluxe expansion, and is interesting to me in that it was complicated in terms of how it shakes up the main rules, but didn’t feel impossible like some third scenarios can be. We have a quest deck where each stage goes into the victory display upon completion; the number of stages there informs the threat level of the boss, Thane Ulchor, who cannot be defeated until there are 4 stages in the victory display, and there’s a side quest that cannot be completed until Thane Ulchor has 0HP left, at which point we win. That side quest is working against us though, as every fourth round it’ll force us to draw from the Power of Mordor deck; we have another boss, the Tower of Barad-Dur location (which can never be traveled to, and reduces the threat elimination level by 5), and three obnoxious objectives. With just five cards in the deck, the maths-savvy among us will realise that this means we have 23 rounds to defeat the whole thing (if you cannot draw from the Power of Mordor deck, you lose). But there are also other effects going on that will speed this up – yikes!

For all of the complicated goings-on here, it wasn’t particularly bad to play through, as the encounter deck is predominantly location cards and treacheries, and both decks I was using to play have got significant willpower output when I get them going, which has happened really quite well so far in this play-through! Regularly throwing out 20+ willpower for the quest, with numerous ways to re-use heroes for combat as well, has meant that it was fairly okay. I’m not trying to call it easy, far from it, but it didn’t feel that bad.

I wonder if I would find some of the earlier quests easier with these decks, as they benefit from the entirety of the card pool…

Story-wise, we have an unexpected call-back to an earlier villain (is it a spoiler if we’re over 4 years since this came out?) and we seem to be firmly in Sauron-country for the foreseeable future. There is a definite Against the Shadow feel to this cycle so far, so I’m intrigued as to where the story is going to take us as we move further into the cycle.

Difficulty ratings are not really something that you can really trust, yet I was still surprised that Danger in Dorwinion only merited a 5, when I was just one round from losing. True, I’ve lost to Passage through Mirkwood before now, and that rating is 1, but even so, this feels much more difficult than The Dead Marshes, but both have the same difficulty! Interestingly, it also shares that rating with The Steward’s Fear. But perhaps there’s a perceived ease about The Dead Marshes, as I’ve played that scenario quite a lot now.

This kinda brings me on to the next point, anyway. These later quests really don’t feel like the same game as those earlier ones. Maybe I’m just too struck on the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, but I do have incredible nostalgia for that one, and there feels like too much going on in these later quests to really give the same sort of feeling. I can’t quite describe it, but I much prefer my hundredth run through Emyn Muil, say, than these new things. Maybe I’m just becoming a grouchy old man…

For all that, though, I am really enjoying finally getting to see what the later quests are all about. They’re often difficult, with a lot to keep track of, but it’s good to play them all the same. I don’t think I’m going to be in for an easy time of it, however, as I head into the cycle itself!

Building an Army in Age of Sigmar (3rd edition)

The Age of Sigmar exploration continues!

After looking at the core rules themselves on Saturday, today I’m looking into the other half of that, army building. It’s a part of the game that can sometimes sound a bit too straightforward – you muster an army, then start throwing dice around as per the rules, which is where most of your focus ends up. However, there are some fairly stringent rules as to how you build your army, so let’s take a look!

I’m hoping to get my first game in on Friday, too, so this will be a useful exercise as I build my list for that!

It was first edition AoS that gave us the three ways to play that have become the norm for Games Workshop now; open, narrative and matched play. That’s still true here, and as with 9th edition 40k before it, a lot of the development has gone into narrative play this time around, as we get a new and improved Path to Glory system. Narrative play, as I remember it, used to be “historical” missions that would often stipulate how the game should run, even sometimes which armies should be used for each mission. Path to Glory has existed for the whole lifetime of the game too, first as an expansion book in first edition, then as a part of each battletome. Now, it’s very much like 40k’s new Crusade system, albeit simplified.

Open Play used to be a case of “bring whatever you want, and go smash!” – with correspondingly little time given to it. In third edition, open play uses points and features a battle plan generation system straight out of Warcry, which is interesting!

Matched Play is pretty much the standard though, I would say, with strict rules around points and how many of which unit types you can bring for each level. Third edition goes a bit further and suggests table sizes and number of scenery pieces for each size of game, as well. It’s interesting to see this development, and along with the player code and other bits and pieces, I feel like GW are more than ever trying to tell people how they should be playing the game. Which is a good thing, but being the eternal optimist, I just wish it didn’t have to be such a thing, you know?

For my first game on Friday, we’re playing at around the 600 points mark, because that’s how many points James can muster from his Slaves to Darkness. I’m still back-and-forth a bit, but I’m currently planning a list of Ossiarch Bonereapers. I had been thinking I would try the Khorne guys, but I don’t have their book, and I don’t really want to buy it when it could well be replaced in a year or less! Last year, I did a lot of work in a short space of time to get a lot of these guys painted up, as well, so I think it’ll be nice to get them on the table and see what they can do!

The points limits start at 750, and within this bracket I need 1 battleline unit, and can have 1-2 leaders. Everything else is 0-1 of, so I’ve decided to bring the following:

Mortisan Boneshaper (135 points), two units of Mortek Guard (140 points each), and one unit of Immortis Guard (190 points).

The Boneshaper is a wizard, and can natively cast an offensive spell but I’ve given him a second that improves the combat effectiveness of my other units. He also has the ability to heal units, which may be very handy! My two battleline units are the Mortek Guard (both sword and spear varieties). They strike me as pretty tough for basic troops, making two attacks per model, and with a 4+ save that their sergeant can allow them to reroll with his command ability. They also have exploding 6s that the Boneshaper’s extra spell changes to exploding 5s to hit. Nice! The Immortis Guard have a similar ability, whereby they can attack with their massive shields and dish out mortal wounds on 6s. Their command ability is to pile in and attack again with shields only once combat is finished, which seems kinda bonkers but I do love it!!

I’m going with the Petrifex Elite, which is the colour scheme for my army. Interestingly, their army-wide special ability used to be +1 to save across the board, but I seem to recall that was deemed too powerful so it is now worsen the rend of attacking units that target a Petrifex Elite unit. Could be handy, I suppose!

The big thing with Ossiarch Bonereapers is that they don’t get to use command points or command abilities, but instead generate relentless discipline points which can only be spent on their own command abilities. A recent Tome Celestial in White Dwarf has helped out with this a bit, by giving more options, but it definitely feels like the Bonereapers are getting a rough deal at the moment!

Now, there are a lot of other bits and pieces that go along with list building in Age of Sigmar 3rd edition which I’ll go over now, but which I’m not sure I’m using in this list.

First up, all of the old warscroll battalions are gone, instead we have new core battalions which grant you specific bonuses based on how you build your army. The only one I could use in this force is the Vanguard, which allows me to issue a command ability without using a command point, but both of those things don’t apply to my army, sad face. They’re interesting ways to organise your force, and while I don’t know much about the game yet, I don’t think they’re too broken…

Enhancements are the catch-all term for relics, command traits and all those lovely bits and pieces that I enjoy from list building in the past. Something completely new, though, are Grand Strategies and Battle Tactics. It seems like an effort to incorporate the Objectives stuff from 40k, but as I’m not a huge fan of that, I do find myself a bit lost here. I’ve chosen Vendetta as my Grand Strategy, which is basically Slay the Warlord.

Overall, it seems like list building in third edition is a bit tighter than last time around. I seem to recall it was a little bit faffy in second edition to find all of the rules that you need, but while there is more to it this time around, I feel like it’s getting better. I suppose I need to wait for my actual battletome before I can fully judge it though, to see what I can do these days!