Small Men + Big Guns

It all started as an April fools bluff…

The Leagues of Votann are basically space dwarves re-imagined for the modern age. After being a shorthand for any army at risk of being removed from the setting, Squats are back on the menu, as GW have ushered in another new faction for Warhammer 40k.

Having seen a lot of these little guys around the internet in recent months, it has got me thinking as to whether I’d want to collect any of them, as well. I have models for ten full armies already, with a correspondingly massive backlog of stuff to paint, so I don’t really want to start yet another new army as I do have a lot to be getting on with. But I do really like the look of them, I have to say!

I’ve been reading up on the WarCom articles that I’d missed over the last five months, and I’m quite intrigued by the lore behind them – specifically, how the whole Dwarf thing has been brought into the far future. The whole cult of the ancestors thing is there in glorious technicolour, as we learn that they jealously guard their “Votann”, a type of super-computer that holds all the wisdom of the centuries. It’s fascinating, in its way, because it’s definitely on-theme for the sort of future that Warhammer 40k represents. A people that has developed a way to collate all of their wealth of knowledge and protects it in true isolationist fashion.

The startling thing, I think, is that all of the kin are cloned – not identical clones, but it seems to be a bit like they had reached a perfect level of society, so stopped at that point and just started to clone themselves rather than reproduce normally. Reminds me a little of Dorsk in the Jedi Academy trilogy and later, Darksaber.

The space dwarves have some very interesting tech, for sure. Hover trikes?! Blimey, I never thought I’d see the day. It seems to stem from the fact that the Votann contain, among other things, a set of fully-functional STCs, which means they are able to fabricate much better weaponry than their Imperial cousins. They also do not find themselves constrained by the Adeptus Mechanicus and the taboo on trying to improve on their designs. As such, they have all sorts of crazy stuff going on, and as this has been translated to the tabletop, it has already been called out for being slightly ridiculous.

There are a few stratagems that have been officially shown that seem to be ridiculous, from the bikers ability to shut down re-rolls to the strat that rolls what would be two or three effects for other armies into one. All for a single command point. I am a bit salty about that, even while considering collecting them! I don’t think that designing rules to sell these models was necessary, given the reception they’ve had so far, but I suppose we already have stupid possibilities in space marines, which turn off the fun in any game where you’re going up against them. If only the rules writers thought as highly of literally any xenos race!

Something that I’ve found particularly confusing is the new type of weapon, HunTR, which I suppose can be thought of as a basic gun – you can’t run and shoot with it, you can’t double-fire at half range, it’s just a gun that you can shoot things with, but which is still affected by other rules for shooting. That said, it’s a stupid name for the weapon…

At least it doesn’t ignore invuln saves and the damage doesn’t overspill through a unit. That’s just oppressive and unnecessary (except to sell new models).

The rules feel stupid and a blatant case of power-creep, possibly the worst we’ve yet seen. I’ve complained before about how oppressive it can be to play against space marines, but these little chaps are doing things which might well exist within the lore they’ve established for the race, but because it’s brand new to the setting, it’s like some other game has been imported into 40k. Sure, they aren’t constrained by AdMech prohibitions on tech development, but neither are the Tau, who also have an established thing for developing new weapons, and having experimental weaponry etc. But they don’t have the stupid overpowering rules these guys have. It’s probably great to sell the models, but the models look good regardless, so they don’t need the ability to put out 20+ mortal wounds per turn, in addition to all the shooting and stuff they’ll be doing. It feels like a bit of a mess, and I’m now seeing rumours online that the faction has been banned in some tournaments because of their as-yet-unreleased codex. It’s just stupid.

But the models!! The models!! The more I think about these little guys, the more I kinda feel like getting my hands on some. They do look like they would be fun to paint, with some interesting contrasts between the armour plate, the leather, and the undersuit. The little details like the shades and the wrist comm things do just make it even more interesting.

I think the hover-trikes look a bit funny, but they have some good looking vehicles in the garage, such as the Sagitaur (above) and the Hekaton land fortress (below).

These things somehow manage to give off that rugged miner/prospector vibe while also being credible vehicles of war, rather than the way the Genestealer Cults look like they’ve gone into battle with what they’ve got. I suppose part of that is due to the lore of being isolationist, and prepared for hostile encounters as they move on to start plundering new areas.

One of the models that most impresses me is the psyker, the Grimnir. I think anybody who strides into battle in a leather robe with his floating gun-buddies gets my vote! A lot of these models are taking a lot of design cues from the Primaris range, when you look at the rounded greaves or the multi-layered plackart, which specifically calls to mind the Gravis Captain. This guy is fairly similar, at first glance, to the Phobos librarian, too. It also strikes me that it’s becoming a thing to have units that consist of a character with retinue, and here we get the psyker but also the techmarine-analogue coming with his mates, as well.

Some of the models are a little silly though. There are some very weird and wonderful things coming up for the new force, I can’t imagine if I were to start a new army of these guys, I would be getting everything from the range…

Yet other models look like they might be worth picking up regardless, as it’s always good to have multiple options for ranged and melee combat. I would put the bikes in this category as well, because they look a bit daft, but by the same token they look like they should be useful on the battlefield. They also have some amazing details in there, too, which makes me think they would be a lot of fun to paint up.

It all started with the Squat Prospectors for Necromunda, of course, and the more I’m thinking about it all, the more I’m thinking it might be a better idea to get the gang box and be done with! I mean, I really like the basic troops for the Kin, but I like the Ironhead blokes better

Due to the rules controversy, and given how many projects that I currently have on the go, I should probably think long and hard about it before I go ahead and buy anything else, though…

Did someone say bugs?

Hey everybody,
It only seems like five minutes since I was happily writing up my plans at the end of August for what I would like to get finished, painting-wise, and patting myself on the back for how well I was doing for burning through the backlog. September is always a great hobby month for me, and I think I was looking forward to getting loads more done again, and then I just seemed to stall! At the very start of the month, I finished painting (and re-painting) the Dark Eldar Wyches that had found their way to the front of the queue, so I now have 20 Wyches and a Succubus finished for that aspect of the army, which is definitely exciting! It’s been far too long that I’ve had these miniatures floundering.

But then, I started to paint Tyranid Carnifexes! Why? I don’t know – I mean, they’re a project that has been going on almost as long as I’ve been in the hobby, it seems, but I had started to paint one of them around the time my eldest was born (she’s 3 next month), so I suppose it’s nice to have finished painting the two of them now.

I do love the Tyranids army, there’s something about seeing all my big bugs that just fills me with a weird kind of joy! The carnifex model, while I hate the fact that it goes together so poorly (it is quite old, after all), is one of the best 40k models out there, too. I just love the fact it’s this huge beastie that somehow manages to sit nicely in the palm of my hand while being full of deadly claws and teeth! I have been doing a bit of investigation into the carnifex unit, as well, and I am quite impressed, I have to say!

The first guy I have has got a pair of scything talons and a pair of crushing claws, in addition to which he has a bone mace, chitin thorns, acid maw and toxin sacs. He’s pretty tooled-up, then! As a base, carnifexes are S6, T7, W9 and A4. They move 8” and have WS3+. So they’re not the brightest buttons, bless them, but that does link in to the lore of them being mindless beasts that get flung into combat. Anyway. The way I’m thinking about splitting the four attacks is as follows:
– 1 attack for the bone mace (which grants 1 additional attack) – S7 AP-2 D2. Respectable.
– 2 attacks for the claws – S10 AP-3 Dd3+3
– 1 attack for the talons (which grants 1 additional attack) – S6 AP-3 D3.

So already, we’ve got a potential maximum 11 damage just from the basic attacks he’s making. Let’s make things really interesting, though:
– toxin sacs allow for unmodified 6s to hit auto-wounding (and Gorgon have a strat for 1CP to make that a 5+).
– the chitin thorns means I get to improve the AP of my attacks by 1.
– acid maw allows me to roll 3D6 before the fight begins, and for each 3+ I get to dish out 1 mortal wound.
– for 1CP, Voracious Appetite allows me to re-roll the wound roll.

This means that I could potentially add a maximum of 3 additional mortal wounds, so the maximum damage output is now 14 for these bad boys, if all goes well. But let’s not stop there, hey?

I’m playing as Hive Fleet Gorgon, which means that 4+ to wound is always successful (except against vehicles or titanic models). In addition, I’ve chosen exoskeletal reinforcement as my secondary hive fleet ability, which means AP-1 attacks are treated as AP0 attacks by my models. So that’s a nice bit of defensive capability there. The Gorgon-specific psychic power means that units affected by it deal one mortal wound on an unmodified 6 to wound, in addition to the usual damage – so it kinda goes against the toxin sacs ability a little bit, as I won’t be rolling those wound rolls for any 6s to hit, but the way I roll dice, it could still come into play. Finally, the warlord trait that I have chosen is Direct Guidance, which grants units +1 to hit (which works nicely, as any 2s will become 3s, so it will help to make them more accurate from the off).

Of course, I have another carnifex in the party as well. This one is a little more basic, just with four scything talons, but he also has tusks and adrenal glands. He’s modelled with a bone mace, but I’m not paying for that option (in retrospect, I wish I’d put a thresher scythe on his tail, but never mind!)

The scything talons mean he’s making a straight up 8 attacks at S6 AP-3 D3 each. He also has tusks, which means that I have access to a 1CP strat to roll a D6 at the end of the charge phase, on a 2-4 the target suffers 3 mortal wounds, but on a 5+ they suffer D3+3 mortal wounds. Very nice! His adrenal glands mean those talons are actually S7, and he’s moving 9” instead of 8”, and there is a stratagem that can boost the attacks by D3 on the charge for 1CP. So that is potentially 11 attacks at S7 AP-3 D3 each, with potentially 6 mortal wounds being dished out before we even start to trade punches!

Now, they are clocking in at around 130 points each, and there is a fair investment of command points for each of them, but I could see these guys being let loose in a squad of marines and just tearing them to literal pieces. It’s very exciting, I have to say!

I have yet to fully digest the Tyranids codex, mainly because it hasn’t really been a priority for me with having other army projects going on and whatnot – and the Tyranids army isn’t really close to completion as far as painting goes (though I do think I have all of the models that I would ever need for it, all the same…) I think I will need to overcome my natural reticence to get into melee, something that I have started to see with my Necrons in the last couple of games, with Lychguard and Wraiths doing so well, but even so – I think we’ll soon be looking at more bugs on the menu!

The Great Prequel Re-Read, part eight

Star Wars

Here we are, then – the long-awaited conclusion to the Quinlan Vos storyline that had begun all those years back! When we last saw him, he was moving his troops to Boz Pity (as we learnt from the movie, too), having finally embraced the position of General within the Grand Army of the Republic. He’s now on Kashyyyk, supporting Luminara Unduli as the Republic helps to defend the Wookiees against the Separatist incursions. The Separatists seem to be bolstered here by Trandoshian raiders, who are after more than Wookiee pelts this time – the promise of secret hyperspace routes has brought an invasion in force, and ultimately leads to Master Yoda himself coming to aid in the defence of the planet.

With the raid on Kachirho as we see in the film comes a fairly significant Republic victory, with no small part played by none other than Vilmarh Grahrk coming back into the limelight. Seems Villie has turned almost noble during the war, as every side has got it in for him. Villie has been running supplies to the Wookiees, and befriended many of them. One of those Wookiees who has accompanied him on a supply run leaked info regarding the routes, leading to the Separatist attack.

However, there’s little time to do anything, as just at that moment, Order 66 is enacted and Luminara is killed. Quinlan narrowly escapes death, with Clone Commander Faie leading sorties into the jungle trying to find him. Quin is able to evade capture, but comes dangerously close to the dark side in the face of the loss of what he thinks is the entire Jedi Order. However, Villie is able to rescue him, and they leave the planet for Nar Shaddaa to get Quinlan the medical attention that he needs.

Eight months later, the two return to Kashyyyk, where Tholme and T’ra Saa have arrived with Khaleen, who has been safely delivered of a baby boy, Korto Vos.

I think, as the end of the whole arc of Quinlan Vos and stuff, it’s a nice story to finish the Republic run. Looking back, it was probably always going to be on the cards for Quinlan to survive Order 66, as otherwise the story would have become far too bleak, if realistic, for Khaleen to have been left to raise Korto by herself, or even with Tholme’s help or something. It does make sense for someone as sneaky as Tholme to survive, and I guess T’ra Saa making it through is reasonable as well. There is a part of me that just finds it convenient though, and if it weren’t for Lucas deciding to kill Aayla off in the movie, I would guess she would have also been in that final all-together-now scene. But schmaltz aside, it was a decent finish.

Part of me does wish that we had the opportunity to see more of the Jedi in hiding in later stories, though that never came to pass of course. Not that he should have necessarily shown up repeatedly in the Dark Times run or anything, but I think an isolated miniseries set ten years later or something might have been nice! Jedi in hiding during the dark times does interest me though, so I suppose I am biased on that front.

Volume 9 of the Clone Wars graphic novel series also features arguably the first story in the Dark Times series. Into the Unknown introduces us to some of the key players in the later ongoing series, such as Dass Jennir, as we see the fallout of Order 66, and learn that the Emperor’s purge isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Speaking of Purge, the final comic in the collection is the one-shot that serves as a bit of a showcase for the new Darth Vader. Several Jedi band together in an attempt to take him down, but with disastrous results. Mostly nobodies, we nevertheless get to learn the final tragic fate of Tsui Choi, who featured all the way back in Jedi Council: Acts of War, as well as Bultar Swan, who was one of the arena Jedi from episode 2.

It feels a little bit emotional at this point, to have finished my Prequel Re-Read of the comics! I think there’s just one more novel on my horizon, and then I’m done, but yeah, what a ride it has been! I’ve missed out a few of the graphic novels that I wasn’t really looking forward to, and now I don’t know whether I ought to have re-read those as well, just for completion’s sake! That said, if I had re-read everything, I doubt it would have been a matter of months to finish this project – more like years!

In checking off the stories on Goodreads, I’ve found it interesting how many of the reviewers over on that site refer to their own personal canon of what constitutes the clone wars, and even more interestingly, many align with my own! I’m glad that I’m not the only one to miss out some of those less-than-stellar storylines.

The Republic run with Quinlan Vos has always been a favourite of mine, though. I think I have especially enjoyed how it broadened out to the high point with the Siege of Saleucami story. That arc really crystallised most of what we as readers had been enjoying for years already, and gave a really satisfying pay-off for having stuck with the series since the beginning. I think the way in which it followed a good number of characters, and interweaved them so beautifully, is worth commending time and again. I particularly enjoyed the four Jedi one-shot issues, which due to their increased size from a regular 32-page comic meant they could cover a lot more ground. They really pulled together a great number of threads, such as Aurra Sing and Dark Woman coming back in the Aayla issue, or introducing big players like K’Kruhk and Jiesel in the Mace Windu book, to have them go on to recur throughout. It was a big cast, but it seemed to perfectly run that line between not being so big as to be unwieldy, and not being so small as to shrink the galaxy.

The story arc has so many twists and turns that it becomes hard to follow at times – just whose side is he on? Well, mostly it seems that the answer to that is “his own”. Having infiltrated Dooku’s camp, and been forced to do some pretty unsavoury things along the way, killing the second Sith is Quinlan’s sole motivation as means of some kind of atonement. He does some very dark deeds, but does he ever go down the dark path? Yoda and others will often say that the dark side will forever dominate you if you so much as give it a toe-hold, but Quinlan is eventually able to fully reject the dark side almost like Luke aboard the second Death Star, and walks away from the Jedi Order as one of the lucky few who survived.

Of course, Order 66 doesn’t appear to have been quite so effective as we all thought, and rightly so, really. It was arguably only ever meant to break the back of Jedi supremacy, and eliminate as many as possible, not all of them. We see plenty of Jedi mystics who roam the wilds of the Outer Rim, and who were never part of the war effort – presumably, all of them survived? I find it interesting that we basically buy into the Empire’s propaganda by believing so many Jedi would be killed when, in reality, probably hundreds of them never went near a clone trooper…

Anyway, I’m getting massively off topic here!

Once I’ve read Dark Lord, I think it might be fun to have a proper look back on my Summer of Star Wars, and write up some more rambling thoughts about the clone wars in general – so stay tuned for that!!

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

After three years of fighting, the Clone Wars have taken a dramatic turn when Coruscant itself is under siege, and the leader of the droid army, General Grievous, has kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. He has been prevented from leaving the system by a massive clone trooper response, and during the pitched battle, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are able to fight their way onto Grievous’ flagship, the Invisible Hand, and locate the Chancellor thanks to his personal tracker. However, once they have found him, it seems to have been part of a trap, as Count Dooku arrives to duel with the two Jedi.

Dooku is able to incapacitate Obi-Wan, but Anakin manages to overpower the Sith Lord, and urged on by Palpatine, he beheads Dooku. Palpatine urges Anakin to leave Obi-Wan as well, but Anakin is determined all three of them will escape the ship. At this point, however, the flagship receives a concerted attack from Republic ships, and the droids are able to capture the fleeing Jedi. They are brought before Grievous but manage to escape their bonds, destroying the droids on the bridge. Grievous escapes, and jettisons all the escape pods while fleeing to a nearby Trade Federation vessel. Unfortunately, the amount of damage sustained during the Republic attack causes the ship to break apart, and Anakin is barely able to land the remaining portion on the surface.

With the loss of Count Dooku, Grievous becomes the de facto leader of the Separatists, and retreats to their current base of operations on Utapau. There, he is instructed by Darth Sidious to move the Separatist Council to Mustafar. Sidious also expresses his confidence that he will soon have a better replacement for Dooku.

On Coruscant, Anakin is reunited with Padme, who tells him that she is pregnant. Soon after, Anakin begins to have prophetic dreams similar to those he had about his mother, which suggest Padme will die in childbirth. Anakin meets with the Chancellor, who tells him that he is being appointed as the Chancellor’s personal representative on the Jedi Council. Anakin, who already mistrusts the Masters, is irritated when they refuse to grant him the rank of Jedi Master, leading to further friction. The Council agrees to send Yoda to Kashyyyk to assist the Wookiees in their battle against the droid army, and privately Mace Windu expresses his distrust of Anakin to both Yoda and Obi-Wan. Privately, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that the Council has asked that he report on the Chancellor’s dealings.

At the Galaxies Opera House, Palpatine meets with Anakin and tells him that clone intelligence has discovered Grievous is hiding in the Utapau system, and later learns that the Council has asked Anakin to spy on him. Palpatine further sows seeds of mistrust, suggesting the Jedi Masters are holding Anakin back, and goes on to tell of the story of a Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis, who was rumoured to be able to keep people from dying. Anakin reports to the Council and tells them that the Chancellor has recommended him for the mission, but Mace Windu overrides that decision and the Council votes to send Obi-Wan instead.

Obi-Wan arrives on Utapau and makes contact with the chairman of Pau City, Tion Medon, who informs him that the population is being held hostage by Grievous and the droids. Obi-Wan sends his ship back into orbit, aware that Grievous’ spies will be watching him, then begins his search of the city. He finds Grievous just as the Separatist Council is leaving the world, and the two engage in a lightsaber duel, Grievous having been trained in combat by Count Dooku. At that moment, Obi-Wan’s clone trooper escort arrives, led by Commander Cody, and a fierce battle ensues. Grievous flees, with Obi-Wan in close pursuit, however he loses his lightsaber in the process.

On Coruscant, Anakin tells Palpatine that Obi-Wan has engaged Grievous, and in their ensuing conversation, Palpatine reveals himself to have knowledge of the Dark Side. Anakin realises that the Chancellor is the Sith Lord that Count Dooku told them about. Despite the fact Palpatine represents Anakin’s best hope of saving Padme’s life, he decides to turn him over to the Jedi Council. He informs Mace Windu, who tells Anakin to stay in the Temple while he gathers a team of Masters to confront the Sith Lord – Agen Kolar, Saesee Tiin and Kit Fisto. The four Jedi arrive at the Chancellor’s office, and Sidious attacks them, dispatching Kolar, Tiin and Fisto quickly. Anakin is unable to remain at the Jedi Temple, however, and returns to the Chancellor’s office as Mace Windu overcomes Sidious. However, when Anakin prevents Mace from killing Sidious by cutting off his sword hand, Sidious unleashes a barrage of Force lightning that pushes the Jedi Master out of the window. Anakin is distraught at what he has done, but Sidious twists the events to show that the Jedi were plotting all along to take over the Republic. He accepts Anakin as his new apprentice, dubbing him Darth Vader, and sends him to the Jedi Temple to consolidate their position by killing any Jedi still on Coruscant.

Obi-Wan is able to kill Grievous, and reunites with his clone troopers, Cody returning his lightsaber. Within minutes, however, all clone commanders begin to receive communications directly from the Chancellor, telling them to enact Order 66 – the Jedi are traitors to the Republic and must be killed. As Jedi across the galaxy are cut down by their clone troopers, Yoda feels the disturbance in the Force and is on guard when Commander Gree attempts to enact the order, Yoda killing him before he is able to execute it. Yoda escapes Kashyyyk with the help of Tarfful and Chewbacca, and while Obi-Wan is initially attacked by Cody and his clone troopers, he is able to escape Utapau in General Grievous’ personal starfighter. Both Jedi Masters are picked up by Bail Organa, who had witnessed the clone troopers killing Jedi at the Temple, and determined to search for survivors elsewhere in the galaxy. Upon learning of a coded message to all Jedi informing them the war is over and to return to the Temple, Obi-Wan determines to return there to re-calibrate the message, warning any Jedi survivors away.

Following the attack on the Jedi Temple, Anakin returns to Padme and tells her that he has helped the Chancellor to thwart a Jedi plot to overthrow the Republic. He informs her that he is heading to the Mustafar system to end the war, and once there he systematically kills the Separatist Council. The Chancellor holds a special session of the Senate, for which Bail Organa returns to the capitol, allowing Obi-Wan and Yoda the opportunity to slip into the Temple and re-calibrate the message. There, the two check the security footage and realise that Anakin is responsible for leading the attack on his fellow Jedi. Yoda determines to confront Darth Sidious, while Obi-Wan is sent to find Anakin. He visits Padme, who refuses to believe Anakin could have done anything so brutal. Obi-Wan stows away aboard her ship when she decides to follow her husband to Mustafar to learn the truth.

Palpatine informs the Senate of the Jedi plot, and declares the foundation of the Galactic Empire, to general approval. Later, in his office, he is surprised to learn that Yoda survived, and the two engage in a titanic battle that moves into the Senate chamber itself, Sidious flinging the pods around in an attempt to kill the Jedi Grand Master. Yoda, realising he cannot defeat the Sith Lord, flees the building with Bail Organa’s help.

On Mustafar, Padme confronts Anakin and cannot believe the path he has begun to follow. When he catches sight of Obi-Wan, he leaps to the conclusion that they are conspiring against him, and Force chokes his wife, only letting her go when Obi-Wan intervenes. The two erstwhile friends clash, and their lightsaber duel takes them across the mining facility and into the lavafields, ending when Obi-Wan dismembers Vader, watching as the lava sets his body alight. He leaves, C-3PO having already begun to administer medical help to Padme, shortly before Sidious, having felt through the Force the danger that Vader was in, arrives and is able to keep his apprentice barely alive for transport back to Coruscant.

Obi-Wan and Padme arrive at the asteroid field of Polis Massa, and reunite with Bail Organa and Yoda. There, Padme gives birth to twins, Luke and Leia, but dies after seemingly losing the will to live. Yoda determines the twins should be split up, until the time is right, and Bail Organa offers to adopt Leia as his own. Obi-Wan volunteers to take Luke to the Lars family on Tatooine, and watch over him – Yoda tells him that his old master, Qui-Gon Jinn, has discovered the secret to immortality, and will train him while in exile, too.

Darth Vader is reconstructed on Coruscant with replacement limbs, and given a mechanical suit to keep him alive. Sidious tells him that it was Vader who killed Padme, which causes him to further give way to his anger. Later, the two Sith Lords are seen on the bridge of a Star Destroyer with Governor Tarkin, overlooking the construction site of the Death Star.

Padme’s funeral is held on Naboo, her body made up to look like she was still pregnant at the time of death. Bail Organa returns to Alderaan with Leia, and Obi-Wan delivers Luke to his family on Tatooine before heading into the desert.


This is a very busy film! Lucas had a lot of ground to cover, and it really shows with the massive synopsis there! There was a lot to do with the film, and as such many things were cut, unfortunately a significant portion of Padme’s role. I think this is one of the things that annoys me the most about this film, because Padme’s character arc goes from such a strong female lead in Episode I, to just a casualty of Anakin’s fall in Episode III. Originally, she was to have a small handful of scenes that showed the formation of the Rebellion, in broad terms, as Padme was part of a group of senators that included Bail Organa and Mon Mothma who were opposed to the ongoing war and Palpatine’s never-ending term as Chancellor.

We’re left with some fairly stilted “romance” dialogue and awkward moments, which makes the unlikely romance all the more suspicious – did Palpatine really engineer all of this? Possibly. Many people have complained about the wooden acting from Hayden Christensen, which I won’t reiterate, but suffice it to say, Anakin does not come across as a sympathetic character here. He’s whining about the Council not making him a Master (in the Legends continuity, Ki-Adi-Mundi was not a Master during Episode I, at least), which does grate on me. I mean, there’s a moment after the rescue of the Chancellor when you think, yes – that’s the sort of thing that may have drawn the attentions of Senator Amidala.

For all that, though, I do like the film. I think it’s interesting to see how the story develops and serves to link the two trilogies, as it starts out still in-keeping with the pomp and splendour of the art-deco style established in the first two films, but shifts ever-so-subtly into the more austere tone that we know from the original trilogy as the story focuses down on Anakin and Obi-Wan, Yoda and Palpatine. The fact that most of the new characters are dead by the time the film is over is perhaps a help here. Certainly by the time we get to the view of the Death Star from the bridge of that star destroyer, it does feel like a very smooth transition into the original movies.

While Count Dooku was criminally under-used, General Grievous is an interesting villain for the film, and one that I think we could benefit from discovering more about. We did get some further insights in the Clone Wars cartoon series, but it is something of a shame that he just pops into the movie with very little explanation. For such a significant part of the Prequel trilogy, we don’t yet have much in the way of canon media for him, either, which is quite a glaring hole really, but I suppose it’s only with the recent TV shows that Disney seems to have begun to embrace the Prequel era further.

It’s perhaps a casualty of the fact that the film covers so much ground, but I do find myself wanting to learn more about a lot of the stuff that we see on screen. For example, Mustafar is a planet that has begun to be heavily developed in the canon lore, being the site of Vader’s castle etc, but its only purpose here is to serve as the backdrop to the climactic duel. Utapau, a name from the very earliest drafts of Star Wars, is a fascinating world that particularly intrigues me when we see the clones rounding up the natives during Obi-Wan’s escape from the planet. The Order 66 montage has since been explored, with worlds such as Cato Neimoidia and Felucia receiving attention in The Force Unleashed series. Interestingly, the dialogue has a lot more throw-away lines that tie it back to the expanded universe than we have otherwise seen, with mention of Saleucami (also seen in the Order 66 montage) and “Master Vos” – Quinlan Vos is of course a huge figure from the Dark Horse Republic series. It’s something that really surprised me when I first saw the movie, I suppose it’s along the lines of the bounty hunter on Ord Mantell.

The novelization of Episode III is one of the most-lauded of all those books based on the movies. Written by Matthew Stover, who had by this time written a some really stand-out books for the expanded universe, it is renowned for including a lot of additional material that manages to round out the story much more than we’ve seen previously.

So there we have it! The final movie in the Prequel trilogy caps off the clone wars, in what must have been a decidedly odd move for people who only watch the films – it starts in the last third of episode two, and it finished in the first half of episode three. Is that it? We should definitely have had a movie that dealt with the major story beats, I feel. Constraining himself to the character drama of Anakin’s fall to the dark side, Lucas has made a major plot point into nothing but backdrop, really. But I’ll have more to ramble on about this when I finally finish my Great Prequel Re-Read of 2022, so stay tuned! The end is in sight!

Labyrinth of Evil

Well folks, we’re hurtling towards the end of my Summer of Star Wars now – is September still the summer? Well, I’m counting it. Today it’s the turn of Labyrinth of Evil. This is one of my favourite Prequel-era novels, so as with some of the other blogs in my great prequel re-read, prepare for some slightly biased reporting!

Labyrinth of Evil

The Clone Wars are raging across the galaxy, with the Separatists finally on the run. Dooku and his forces have been pushed back from the core and inner rim, and the war is predominantly being fought now in the Outer Rim, as Palpatine is committing more troops to besieging the worlds still held by the Confederacy there.

Obi-Wan and Anakin are on the trail of Nute Gunray, who has stopped off at the Trade Federation purse world of Cato Neimoidia. In his rush to flee the planet, however, the Neimoidian Viceroy has left a mechno-chair behind, which incorporates a hyperwave transmission grid into its seat that Anakin quickly discovers contains a recording of part of a call between Darth Sidious and Nute Gunray. Having the final proof of the existence of the Sith Lord, after Dooku’s initial confession to Obi-Wan on Geonosis, the Jedi Council decide to pursue the lead, and Anakin and Obi-Wan head to Charros IV, to speak to the Xi Char artisan who made the chair.

The trail leads from the manufacturer of the chair to that of the transmission chip, a Bith technician currently holed up in a mining facility on Escarte. He points the Jedi to a pilot who delivered the device to Coruscant, a Twi’lek who is now living on Naos III, and she is able to indicate a factory building in The Works on Coruscant where she delivered the Sith Infiltrator ship. However, Grievous has attempted to contact Gunray through the mechno-chair, telling him that the Separatist Council will soon be re-located to Belderone – when Gunray disn’t answer, and the Jedi had a task force waiting in orbit at Belderone for the Separatists, Dooku informs Sidious that their comms are compromised, and the Jedi are on the Sith Lord’s trail.

While Anakin and Obi-Wan are dispatched to Tythe to confront Dooku, Mace Windu and Shaak Ti lead an investigation team into The Works and soon discover forensic evidence of both Dooku and Sidious being in the building. They learn that the tunnels used by Sidious leading eventually to the sub-basement of 500 Republica, the monad where so many senators and other celebrities live, including the Supreme Chancellor. However, just when the Jedi team has made this discovery, Grievous launches his attack on the capitol planet, and the Jedi are soon called to the defence of the Chancellor.

Grievous has been furnished with intelligence supplied by Count Dooku, and is able to pursue Palpatine across the planet as the Jedi and Senate Guards attempt to spirit him to his armoured bunker. The Separatist General captures the Chancellor, and is able to return to his flagship in orbit, while Anakin and Obi-Wan realise Tythe was a ruse to keep them away from Coruscant after all.


The book is pretty action-packed, especially considering it is something of a detective story. The opening on Cato Neimoidia is fairly tense at times, and there are space battles at Belderone and Tythe, as well as a snow sledge chase on Naos III and of course, the climactic battle of Coruscant, which takes up roughly the last 100 pages of the book. In some respects, it’s similar to Luceno’s earlier Cloak of Deception, as we follow the Jedi as they’re tracking down clues, with intermittent action sequences, though I think the earlier book is much superior, as it doesn’t have quite such a tight deadline to meet. With Labyrinth of Evil, we have a lot of plot threads to weave into the tapestry, and there is a definite end-point with the beginning of Revenge of the Sith.

That’s not to say it’s not a good book, however! Indeed, I think it’s one of the best prequel-era books out there. We get to learn a lot about the major players, including a complete backstory on General Grievous. Luceno is adept at bringing together many strands of stories to make a cohesive narrative, perhaps reminiscent of the fact his original role in the New Jedi Order was a continuity overseer. Threads from the comics, particularly Quinlan Vos’ storyline, Yoda’s meeting with Dooku on Vjun in Dark Rendezvous, as well as the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars cartoon series, are woven in here to make things feel like we’re in one coherent narrative. Ironically, though, it’s with the Clone Wars cartoon that things become a little unstuck, as we know that the third season of the cartoon essentially deals with Grievous and his invasion, but also involves Anakin and Obi-Wan on the planet Nelvaan, in an episode that once again rams it down our throats that Anakin will become Darth Vader. I believe the cartoon was based on the novel’s outline as it existed at the time, though once the animation was finished, it then caused the novel to change as things had been sexed-up for TV.

Nevertheless, the invasion sequence is pretty spectacular, I have to say. It is absolutely frenetic, as Grievous is pursuing the Chancellor and his bodyguard across the planet. There is a lot of reference made to the real-world politics of the Second Iraq War during the Clone Wars, as we were at war while these stories were being published. It was perhaps natural, even if Lucas and others refuted the claim at the time. Palpatine makes a State of the Republic address, we have the Triad of Evil in Felucia, Mygeeto and Saleucami, etc. However, the way Palpatine was spirited to his hardened bunker was apparently purposefully modelled on the way vice president Cheney was moved during the 9/11 attacks – I remember reading something years ago where Luceno said he had originally planned to write it where Palpatine was instead flown around the planet on the Star Wars equivalent of Air Force One, as happened for president Bush.

There isn’t as much politics as you might expect in this one, perhaps in reflection to how Cloak of Deception had been received. There are a few scenes with Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and Padme where they try to persuade Palpatine to find a diplomatic resolution to the war, though they are few and far between, and eventually the three senators are caught up in the invasion and don’t really have much more of a part to play. It is a shame, given that the political stuff with the Loyalist Committee was cut from the final film, that more wasn’t afforded to it here, but I suppose this novel is more about the intrigue with the search for Sidious than mere political machinations.

We do have a very angry Anakin in this book, and sometimes it seems like he’s almost primal, like when he brings the roof down on top of both him and Obi-Wan simply by being annoyed with Dooku. Now, it might just be me, but this kind of behaviour must surely be setting off alarm bells to someone like Obi-Wan, a member of the Jedi Council? Hm? I get that they kinda cut him some slack, him being the Chosen One, and the late training and all, but even so. On the subject of coming to training late in life, it’s always kinda bothered me that they allowed Obi-Wan to train such an important, such a potentially difficult padawan when he had barely made Jedi Knight the day before. Someone like Mace or Yoda should surely have taken on the fabled Son of Suns? At any rate, Angry Anakin is given a lot of lassitude, even when Obi-Wan is dropping massive hints that he knows what’s going on between him and Padme. Another hm.

But I guess that’s part of Lucas’ overall plot. There are some genuinely good spots of camaraderie between the two of them throughout, and you begin to see that perhaps they were friends after all. Angry Anakin might bristle at the merest hint of Obi-Wan in the majority of the Clone Wars media, but even Count Dooku remarks on how well they have come to work together here. It does go some way to help show that Alec Guinness wasn’t lying when he called Anakin “a good friend”.

There isn’t really a great deal more to be said on this one, though, I guess. It’s a good book, tells a very good tale as we lead directly into episode III. One of the downfalls of the story, of course, is that it doesn’t resolve, and you kinda have to watch the movie to finish it off – even if you know that going into it, it still manages to leave you hanging on the edge of things, more so than Rogue One. Of course, this works both ways, and if you have ever been bothered by the fact that Revenge of the Sith opens directly into the middle of a battle, and you’ve wanted to know what was going on, then you can wonder no more as to what is going on there!

The Great Prequel Re-Read, part seven

Hey everybody,
We’re very much getting towards the end now with the Star Wars Prequel Re-Read, and today I have a pair of graphic novels to update you all with!

Clone Wars

Let’s start with Volume 7: When They Were Brothers. It’s basically the five-part Obsession storyline that was touted as the comics’ lead-in to episode III. Obi-Wan is convinced Asajj Ventress still lives, something that Anakin takes issue with since he electrocuted her and tossed her body down a chasm on Coruscant during the finale of Dreadnoughts of Rendili. However, Obi-Wan drags his former padawan away from his leave on Naboo on a hunt across the galaxy to find her. We meet up again with Durge, General Grievous makes an appearance, and we get some first-looks at some of the ships from Revenge of the Sith. While the book ostensibly deals with Ventress, and wraps up her story before the final prequel movie, it primarily seems to exist to show Anakin and Obi-Wan “as brothers”, but after so many stories having missed that opportunity within the run, it does feel a little late to try and establish this relationship. I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but I honestly think the whole prequel series pays a great disservice to this dynamic, and we’re left with a long series of stories where the principal motivation is to show how Anakin can become Darth Vader. As such, he’s rarely allowed to be a nice guy, and his relationship with Obi-Wan suffers greatly for it.

Let’s move on!

Volume 8: The Last Siege, The Final Truth, continues to draw story threads to a close, with two distinct arcs from the Republic run. To start with, we have Trackdown, a two-parter where Tholme heads to Anzat to speak with an old friend about the existence of Anzati-trained Nikto Morgukai assassins. I can remember reading this coming when it came out, and being really struck by just how many story-threads it manages to pull together from just those two things – reaching back into the earlier days of the Republic series, such as Darkness and Rite of Passage. Tholme learns that they are being trained on Saleucami, so heads there and is ambushed by Sora Bulq. Tholme heads into the catacombs of the planet, and the Jedi Council mobilises for war!

The next arc, The Siege of Saleucami, deals with the Jedi offensive as they attempt to overcome the Separatist facilities there. Turns out, they’re cloning Nikto in a very quick-and-dirty way, not breeding soldiers like the Republic “because Count Dooku doesn’t need them to last long”. It’s kinda creepy, and you have to wonder why on earth the Separatists hadn’t tried their hand at it before – Dexter Jettster’s comments about Kaminoans being “damn good cloners” does seem to suggest there are other groups in the galaxy (Spaarti?) who perhaps aren’t as good, after all! The Jedi offensive is led by Oppo Rancisis, who has always been very much a background Jedi for the entire run up to this point, but always with reference to the fact he is excellent at battle meditation. He is co-ordinating the Jedi and clones as they attack the Separatists, and while the Republic forces aren’t making much headway, they are at least continually able to repel the Separatists. Sora Bulq therefore assassinates him to give the Separatists the upper hand, but a showdown in the caverns with Quinlan Vos ultimately turns the tide in the Republic’s favour, as Quinlan finally is able to proclaim the fact that he is a Jedi.

I’ve said it before, but it’s been incredible to follow this arc throughout the larger clone wars, as in many respects Quinlan’s storyline is more interesting than Anakin’s, which is a foregone conclusion, and mostly consists of foreshadowing his fall to the dark side. Quinlan definitely flip-flops between whether he is a Jedi or not – did he ever go over to the dark side, for reals? The story ends with his redeployment to Boz Pity, which of course is mentioned during Episode III, after which he intends to leave the Jedi Order, as Khaleen is pregnant with their child. It’s all feeling very much like it’s being set up for tragedy, but next we’re back to a novel, with another of my favourites: Labyrinth of Evil! I wonder what Mr Bookstooge will think of this one!!

Star Wars: Yoda – Dark Rendezvous

Hey everybody,
We’re getting close to the end of the Great Prequel Re-Read 2022 now – I’ve got to be honest, I thought I’d have finished this by now, but this is the way it goes, I guess! There isn’t much left, in fairness, but I think it surprises me because in the past I’ve been able to read the bulk of my Prequel plans in just the month of December! Just a couple of graphic novels, and a couple of novels left though!

Yoda: Dark Rendezvous was the last of the original Clone Wars Multimedia Project novels to be published, prior to the release of Revenge of the Sith. As such, it is able to reference things like General Grievous, although we don’t get to meet the cyborg general during the course of the book. There are plenty of references to the wider conflict at this point, as well, which is quite a nice way of dating the book – a lot is made of the recent devastation of Honoghr, which was dealt with during the one-shot Armor storyline. The battle of Omwat is referenced as well, without further elaboration – but it’s worth mentioning that Tarkin was involved in that conflict, where he eventually abducted a number of Omwati children to work on his superweapons, as later detailed in the Jedi Academy trilogy. Quite an impressive reference, I think, even if it’s all Legends so it doesn’t matter any more!

The premise of the novel is that Count Dooku wants peace with the Jedi, and sends a message that he will meet only with Yoda. The Grand Master of the Jedi agrees, and travels incognito with Jai Maruk and Maks Leem, and their respective padawans, Scout and Whie, to Vjun. Along the way, however, they are ambushed by Asajj Ventress, who thinks killing Yoda will land her in Dooku’s good graces and he will make her his apprentice. She kills the Jedi Knights, but Yoda is able to escape with the padawans, and they travel on to Vjun, a planet strong in the dark side and, unbeknownst to him initially, Whie’s homeworld. With the loss of the Jedi Knights, Mace Windu dispatches Anakin and Obi-Wan to help out, because of course he does. Yoda and Dooku meet, but Anakin’s intervention causes the meeting to go sour, and Dooku escapes from the planet.

I’ve only read this once previously, and I can remember loving it back in the day. The writing was somehow just incredible, the way Sean Stewart is able to use sounds in the narrative to drive forth the story is really quite something. You really get the sense of foreboding from the click of Asajj’s heels, or the incessant tapping of the rain on the windows of Dooku’s lair. The atmosphere of the book is also just stupendous – Vjun is a planet steeped in the dark side, first mentioned way back in Dark Empire, and Dooku has holed himself up in the mansion of a nobleman who went mad and killed his staff and family. It’s got overtones of a gothic horror novel about it, which of course is just perfect for the aristocratic Dooku, and it works tremendously well.

The story, as well, is beautifully told. Dooku and Yoda have history, of course – Yoda trained Dooku as his own padawan, not merely as a youngling, and that sense of shared history comes out really strongly during the initial overtures each of them makes, when trying to broker this peace negotiation. It’s interesting, because we never really know if peace is Dooku’s intention – is he fooling himself when he says it was almost on a whim, or is it actually a more deep-seated desire? Is he genuinely feeling as though he has gone too far with the war? It’s a fascinating character study into Count Dooku the man. Interestingly, throughout the whole prequel era, we hardly ever know him as Darth Tyranus, and Dooku’s Sith Lord status is intentionally kept murky, in part I suppose because he needs to be the suave, urbane leader of the alternative to the Republic. Does Dooku want to end the war, and therefore go against his Master, Darth Sidious? How strong is his loyalty to the Sith Lord, given he has spent decades of his life as a Jedi, regardless of how far in opposition to the Council he placed himself.

The book leads up to his interview with Yoda, and after their meeting on Geonosis, I remember being intensely curious as to how this was going to play out. In the end, it’s mostly a conversation – Yoda asks Dooku to turn him to the dark side, in an effort to make Dooku see how useless the dark side really is. It’s only when the Count catches sight of Anakin on one of the security cams, fuelling the older man’s jealousy of the so-called “chosen one”, that any possibility of détente is ended. We’re left wondering just whether Dooku would have come back into the light.

Yoda, for his part, is complex in another way. The book places him front and centre – the title was even changed during development to include him. However, this is mainly because of his presence throughout the book – we don’t really get to learn anything new about him, it’s all stuff that we already knew. For the majority of the book, he is very much in adorable/annoying scamp mode, much like we first meet in Empire Strikes Back. At times, the author doesn’t quite get his speech right, either, making it more backwards than it usually is. (There’s a pretty funny part where the two padawans are fixing a ship and talking to each other like Yoda, as well, which you just know most of the Jedi have done at some point during their youth). There are, however, some moments where the incredible wisdom of the little guy comes out, and his showdown with Dooku is a really amazing piece of intellectual sparring.

Naturally, Anakin and Obi-Wan appear, because what is a clone wars novel without them? Considering they’re meant to be saving the galaxy every five minutes, it’s incredibly annoying to see them show up quite literally everywhere. Their presence here, and in Outbound Flight, and in plenty of other places, is completely unnecessary – I kinda get the fact they’re in Outbound Flight, as otherwise that book has almost zero connection to the films, but this book has Yoda in it, there’s no need for the daring duo to be shoehorned in yet again. If they really needed to send Jedi after Yoda, and I’m hardly convinced that Yoda needs an escort, then why couldn’t it have been another pair of new characters, to raise the stakes as they too might fall victim to Dooku or Ventress? Or why not Ki-Adi-Mundi, or Plo Koon, or Agen Kolar, or literally anybody else who has appeared as set-dressing in Attack of the Clones? Bah! I suppose you could say that Anakin being on Vjun, a planet which amplifies the dark side in a Jedi, is another way to foreshadow his fall; but seriously, Star Wars stories that only exist to foreshadow existing events or situations from the movies are just the worst.

The best parts of the novel are those that involve Dooku. Unfortunately, however, there’s a lot of this book that deals with the Jedi on their journey, and as much as we’re supposed to like the padawans, I did find these parts of the story a bit boring. There’s a Padawan Tournament that takes up a couple of chapters near the start, where we are introduced to them, but it’s just in the way, somehow. It also annoys me, a bit, because it plays into what is becoming a familiar whine from me recently – “this is meant to be a Clone Wars novel, but it’s not!” Now, this book does tenuously walk that line as it is predominantly a character drama, and even involving as it does the leader of the Separatists and the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, the fact that there is a war going on across the galaxy is barely touched upon.

In many ways, it’s quite an introspective look at things, though. We get to see the effect of events such as the Battle of Geonosis, where so many Jedi were killed, on the padawans who were left behind, for instance. Whie is a padawan tormented by prophetic dreams, including a vision of his own death at the hands of a Jedi (he is actually seen among the holorecordings Obi-Wan flits through following Order 66, where he is killed alongside Cin Drallig). It makes for a very introspective character. Dooku is very thoughtful about where he currently stands in life, as I’ve already mentioned. To this extent, then, it kinda makes sense that the book wouldn’t focus on the massive conflict at large, but even so, this series of books really does feel like a missed opportunity to show us the actual Clone Wars conflict. It continually bemuses me how nobody seemed to plot out how the war would be told – instead, it seems to be a continual series of vignettes or worse, where we’re told that the war really is raging, just not on this particular corner.

As it stands, we have no clear idea of what the clone wars are about, really. The Separatists are trying to break planets away from the Republic, and the Republic is trying to keep them in the fold – why does that need millions of clones? Why has diplomacy failed? Why is it a military conflict? Well, reading these novels won’t make that clear, despite “a Clone Wars novel” being emblazoned on the cover. It all boils down to – there’s a conflict going on called the Clone Wars, and this is a book set during that time, but telling a different kind of story.

But all of this is criticism that is more properly levelled at the overarching publishing programme, and not the book in and of itself. It’s actually really good, if a little slow at times. The atmosphere of the book is all-pervasive, and while the climax is a little stunted, it is nevertheless gripping as Yoda and Dooku face each other once more.

Up next, we have a couple of graphic novels, where we get to see what Asajj Ventress does next, and we catch up with Quinlan Vos and the tangled web in which he has found himself!

I saved the world last night

Arkham was swarming with robed cultists, trying to bring down the end of the world. They were using the newspaper building to distract me with their depraved rituals, but I was able to foil their plans and ward the city against the blind idiot god coming down and destroying the world. Of course it was at the black cave, the nexus of their foul sorceries, where it all went down. The city was mad with anomalies erupting across neighbourhoods, but in the end it didn’t matter, because we live to fight anew. Azathoth has not claimed this world. For now.

Well folks, I had my second ever game of Arkham Horror (third edition) last night, and I somehow managed to win! I think it was almost entirely by accident, but I’m still claiming it as a success!

Arkham Horror third edition

Arkham Horror is still a long game, I think it took me close to 3 hours to play it, but that did include roughly 40 minutes of set-up time. I was really surprised, I think, by just how quickly I seemed to grasp the rules this time around – considering my only other game was in January 2021, I can hardly say I’m an expert but somehow things just seemed to flow better. The rhythm of what I can do as an investigator, for example, was quite easy to get into, and the structure of each round quickly became ingrained so that I was just able to play the game, rather than continually looking things up.

I think my investigator choice helped here, though. I was playing as Jenny Barnes and Dexter Drake, and both of them had ways to take an additional action very early on in the game. Jenny, with her pistols, was a combat beast, and Dexter was able to keep doom in check for as long as possible. I can’t say enough how much it helped to have those additional actions though, and I think that was probably how I was able to play it fairly quickly.

Learning Point #1: You cannot take the same action twice in each round! At least once I had Jenny move twice, or move, kill, move, which probably explains why it felt a lot easier this time around!

Arkham Horror third edition

Dexter was quite the beast at removing doom, as well, and I found it quite useful to send him into Anomalies to try to close those gates etc. Even when monsters found their way to him, he is able to evade them using his will attribute, making him quite impressive, I have to say! He’s a spellcaster, of course, but I found that spells just didn’t really come up for this game. He did pretty well as my clue gatherer, although I found that I had to focus his observation attribute to ensure he was able to spend the clues.

Learning Point #2: Focus tokens are only “spent” to re-roll dice, and not when you use that attribute! I was discarding the token when I took a Research action, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works!

As I’ve said, the structure of the game really seemed to flow this time around. It was useful having Jenny out hunting monsters, of course, because once the Action phase was done, there were often no monsters on the board to worry about. True, sometimes I was putting my investigators into a specific neighbourhood to get them to have an encounter there, in the hope of gathering clues – as such, once they had moved I found I was at a loss for the second (or third) action to take, and would just randomly focus an attribute, or get $1. Money is something I wasn’t really finding myself concerned with, as only a couple of encounters seemed to want me to have any, or didn’t really have any bad things happen if I didn’t spend any money.

Arkham Horror third edition

Now, I did wonder if I was playing it wrong at first, when I was using Jenny to attack monsters. If she is going on the hunt and actively engaging them, it seemed quite easy to kill them by having her roll 6 dice. Maybe I got lucky, of course, but nothing really seemed to be a problem for her – of course, by the mid-point in the game she was taking an additional action, re-rolling one of the dice, +1 to a dice, and so on, so her attack suite was quite formidable! Even the monsters with four health she was able to pretty much one-shot, so it wasn’t much trouble. It’s only in the monster phase that they attack the investigators, though, so the fact that nothing survived to get there worked really well.

Ultimately, though, there are only five pages of rules, which set things out really well and enable you to work out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and when. While the game might look complicated, especially in terms of its table presence, but also the fact I said it takes 40 minutes to set up, it plays really well, and I’m actually surprised that I haven’t played this more since I originally got it out last year. There’s a reputation, though, for Arkham games to be quite sprawling, and stuff like second edition, or Eldritch Horror, even the LCG, come with that feel of “this is going to take all day!” when you play them.

Arkham Horror third edition

In comparison to second edition, I find third edition to be a real delight. The older game is one of the greats, don’t get me wrong, and you can really lose yourself in the mythos as you spend the whole evening playing. Games lasting 5 hours or more were quite common, and sometimes I quite enjoyed the fact that I could plan to play this thing all night. However, it does suffer from essentially being the same game each time, just with a different Ancient One and different investigators. The monsters are all the same, the encounters are all (mostly) the same, and so on. Adding in expansions does give you more monsters, more encounters, and more Ancient Ones, but you’re mostly doing the same thing each time. Later expansions tried to have different stuff going on as well, of course, but overall it’s very much the same premise.

Third Edition Arkham Horror is scenario-based, so whereas it could be said you’re playing the same scenario in the older game, here you’re tweaking almost everything to suit. The board layout is different, the monsters are different, the “mythos deck” / Codex is different, and so forth. You’re doing the same things, mechanically, but thematically you’re trying to accomplish different goals. I think having the scenario event deck is a great way to give more variety right out of the box, as otherwise you do only have 8 cards per neighbourhood, and we all know how stale that situation got for Second Edition. Having additional cards which get shuffled into the encounter deck when you’re investigating clues, which change given each scenario, is a great way to mix things up.

Arkham Horror third edition

I think this game is a great addition to the shelf, and in many respects it has improved on the last one. I sold all of my second edition stuff a few years ago, so no longer have it to play with regardless, but I remember it well enough that I can positively say this is a real step up. It makes the game a story, which was definitely missing from the last game – it could be really quite random and becomes really abstract by comparison. Sure, this game is still representative of battling the eldritch mysteries of the cosmos, but it isn’t quite so random. The monsters feel right for what you’re doing, for instance, and everything pulls together really well to tell a good story of what you’re trying to do. Having that narrative backdrop is really key, I think, and it’s probably a good portion of the success of the LCG, which is supreme at giving that kind of narrative.

I’m going to make a real effort to play more of this going forward, and I think before the end of the year I’m going to want to pick up at least the first expansion, which adds more of the same. I’m not entirely sure, of course, but I think there are more encounter cards as well as more investigators and so on, which is always a welcome bonus. After the Silver Twilight expansion that came out last year, I think there’s a feeling that the game might be finished already, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing as sometimes Arkham Files games can go on quite a bit! While I always love to have more game to play and enjoy, there is that danger of just repeating the old game’s line of expansions, so we can look forward to the Dunwich expansion, the Innsmouth expansion, etc. As much as I like the idea of getting more game to play, expansions for the sake of it aren’t the way to do this. I think that having stuff that adds more to the game, without necessarily cluttering the experience, is the way to go, and from my limited knowledge of the expansions for this game, it seems that’s what we have here. Arkham Horror third edition is a traditional FFG board game, where we have the base game and one expansion per year. As I’m getting older, with far less time for these sorts of things, that is exactly the kind of schedule that I think the company should keep to!

The Great Prequel Re-Read, part six

Continuing the Prequel re-read today, let’s start with Hero of Cartao. It’s a short novella from the pen of Timothy Zahn no less, and deals with the Separatist invasion of the planet Cartao. The planet has an industrial facility called Spaarti Creations, which is notable for the alien species who work there, who are able to make pretty much anything to order. They’re pressed into service by Kinman Doriana to make cloning tanks to help bolster the clone troopers, because apparently Kamino’s process is taking too long. Whether the Trade Federation actually got wind of this or not is unclear, but they soon arrive on-world as well and take over the plant. A lot of fighting ensues, but both sides don’t want to damage the plant itself. However, a Republic cruiser is eventually sent to help the beleaguered Republic fighters, and crashes straight into the factory.

This story basically exists to explain why the Emperor had Spaarti cloning tanks in his facility on Wayland, after the revelation that the clones were good, and made in Kamino. I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but when Tim Zahn was writing his original Thrawn trilogy, it was theorized that the Clone Wars pitted evil clonemasters against the Republic, and Palpatine was able to capitalize upon this to ensure his election to Supreme Chancellor. With the reversal that the clones we see are actually fighting on the side of the Republic, some retconning was required!

That said, the story isn’t bad in and of itself, it just seems a bit by the numbers at times. It’s fascinating to see Kinman Doriana again, of course, as he thinks he is playing both sides by serving both Sidious and Palpatine, without knowing they’re the same person. There’s an element here that suggests he thinks he’s pulling the wool over Palpatine’s eyes, which is kinda interesting. A significant part of the story deals with the droid siege of the factory complex, and the atmosphere of an occupied planet is really well-written, I think.

It’s by no means an important story, even when taken as the explanation for the Spaarti cylinders. I suppose it’s nice to have, but it wasn’t a huge burning question that I had, that is now answered!

From Cartao, let’s now head to Praesitlyn. Yes, we must!

Jedi Trial is the fifth novel in the original Clone Wars multimedia project, which began with Shatterpoint. In case you didn’t read my earlier blog on that book, between 2002-2005, Del Rey aimed to tell the story of the clone wars in real time, publishing these books while Revenge of the Sith was filming. Written by real-life veterans of war, it tells the story of Anakin’s progression from padawan to Jedi Knight, during a mission to the strategic comms centre of Praesitlyn. With Obi-Wan off doing other stuff, Anakin is cooling his heels at the temple when Nejaa Halcyon asks for him to join him on his mission. Nejaa, himself something of a rogue Jedi, is of course the Jedi grandfather of Corran Horn, who was one of the great stalwarts of the old expanded universe, and star of any book written by Michael Stackpole. Nejaa and Anakin both have secret wives, and they bond over their shared transgressions against the Jedi Code.

The leader of the droids on this instance is Pors Tonith, of the Intergalactic Banking Clan. The ground forces on Praesitlyn take up the main chunk of the story, however, which is probably because of the authors’ experience in similar fields. We get to go through military strategy where it actually makes sense (even if the situation doesn’t), and the exhaustive detail over stuff like military supply is, well, exhausting.

When you read this as a military sci-fi novel with Star Wars characters, it’s kinda fascinating. When you read it as a Star Wars novel that promises to show Anakin front and centre, possibly facing off against Asajj Ventress given how prominent she is on the cover, you’re going to be disappointed to the point where it’s just criminal. Before or since, we’ve never had a Star Wars novel tell us how important the quartermaster is to the army. The level of detail, which I keep banging on about, is off the charts impressive. But this isn’t what Star Wars is about. At least, not for me.

Nejaa and Anakin arrive to relieve the Praesitlyn Defense Force, and find barely anybody left. Anakin is in his element during combat, and performs exceptionally in both rescuing some hostages and capturing Pors Tonith. In the later space battle, his Force-aided skills allow him to cheat death, and the Council has no choice but to agree that his actions are worthy of becoming a Jedi Knight.

Somewhere in here there is a good idea for a story, which showcases Anakin’s ability when he is unfettered from Obi-Wan’s caution. Indeed, I don’t think there has been a story where I’ve actually liked Anakin Skywalker as a character, because authors are forever trying to foreshadow his turn into Darth Vader. But Anakin here is actually a pretty competent military commander, and his command of the Force is almost instinctive, as though he really is some kinda living prophecy. There’s a lot of derring-do, of course, but I don’t think it has ever been explained so clearly before that Anakin behaves like this because he knows he can do it. It might seem like suicide for him to lead a charge on the Separatists’ position, but he knows he will be successful, so of course he does it. It’s an interesting take on Anakin, and reminds me somewhat of how Horus Lupercal is portrayed in Horus Rising – no effort to foreshadow the monster he will become, instead we have a genuinely likeable guy.

Unfortunately, the story ignores Anakin for about half of the page count. Instead, we get Odie and Erk, the unlikely romance plotline that I really, really wish had been stripped out of the book. We also barely get any Asajj Ventress, only when Pors Tonith reports in to her. Why is she featured so prominently on the cover? Grr.

Overall, the book is just bad. I’ve read it three times now, and each time it has been, well, a trial to get through. I remember one Christmas-time, reading only the interesting bits and skipping over the other stuff – I basically read it in half a day, because the bad far outweighed the good. Like I said, somewhere in here there is a good story, but for a book that deals with Anakin’s Jedi trials, I was expecting far more Jedi stuff as we got to learn all about how the Council decides who is ready to graduate from Jedi school. The fact that the Prequels have been institutionalising the Jedi to make us believe the Trials are basically a formal test, it turns out that it’s actually much closer to what Luke has to do in Return of the Jedi, and it amounts to basically doing really well as a Jedi without supervision.

Every time I think about this book, I want to like it, because I want it to be good. And every time, bloody Odie and Erk drag me down and infuriate me over everything that’s bad about it. While it’s arguably a better Star Wars book than Shatterpoint, because it gives us more of the actual war and so on, I think the Clone Wars novels series in general is just a bit of a let-down. In Shatterpoint, we learnt that there haven’t really been any major offensives in the conflict, but instead we’ve had a lot of shadow operations as Jedi have attempted to negotiate planetary governments staying in the Republic, or destabilising those who have joined the Separatists. However, given that this is a galactic conflict, we should imagine that there are massive theatres of contested space. Instead, we get these kinds of stories where major characters are sent to tiny backwater worlds where the book stays on one world for the most part. It’s a complaint that I’ve made before, I know, but we just don’t get that kind of galactic sweep that we have in stuff like Zahn’s books – or, for that matter, in the movies themselves.

Anyway, I think I’ve talked this one to death. Anyone else notice how I spend far too much time talking about the books I don’t like?! Up next is Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, and I seem to remember that I do like this one!