Shield of Baal

The deadly worlds of the Cryptus System, always beset by the gravitational and radioactive forces of their twin stars, have come under a new threat – the xenos might of the tyranids. A tendril of Hive Fleet Leviathan has reached the Cryptus shieldworlds. The Imperium musters its strength, for the aliens must be stopped here, as next in the hive fleet’s path is the home world of the Blood Angels Space Marines, Baal itself.

Shield of Baal

That’s right, folks – time for a review of the Shield of Baal series of novellas and e-books from Black Library! These stories support the recent Shield of Baal campaign from Games Workshop that has helped to publicize the recent releases of Tyranid and Blood Angel models, which culminated in the Deathstorm box set. I don’t play Warhammer 40k, of course, but I do enjoy the setting, and part of that enjoyment has come from this series!

So…

Shield of Baal

Shield of Baal began back in November, with the publication of the campaign supplement Leviathan. Selling out within the first hour of being available for pre-order, it was either this or the Khaine supplement for Warhammer Fantasy’s End Times series that appears to have prompted GW into re-releasing these things in paperback. Anyhow, Leviathan was the first of two hardback supplements, the other being Exterminatus, both of which framed the box set release itself.

Shield of Baal

These books have some absolutely gorgeous art – for more on that, check out my tumblr posts here and here! The slipcase for each features two books, of course – the fluff and the crunch. The latter provides all of the rules for the models, including those for the new Tyranid releases that began in October/November. Anyhow!

Shield of Baal

These three novellas form what I suppose is the overarching storyline of the campaign, and function very much like the End Times novels we’ve been seeing in Fantasy. The fluff books in the campaign supplement releases can be seen as the history books of the time, so we see virtually everything that occurred, while the novels/novellas dramatise the story much like a historical film might present the events.

here be spoilers!

So we start with Tempestus. This story features the Adepta Sororitas fighting a heresy on the world of Lysios, before the arrival of an Imperial Inquisitor and his Tempestus Scions, on the trail of a new xenos threat. It’s a really nicely-crafted story, particularly interesting (to me) for featuring the Sisters of Battle so prominently – the fan community seems to bang on about these girls like they’re the most short-changed of all the factions, so it was interesting to see what they’re all about. The leader of them, Canoness Magda Grace, is a particularly compelling character, though unfortunately the story largely hinges around Inquisitor Ulrich, who annoyed me very early on for his attitude of career-advancement-at-all-costs. The story ends with Ulrich abandoning the Sisters and the Scions on the planet, just as the Tyranids begin their invasion, though whether he actually gets away is another question entirely…

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#Deathstorm #Warhammer – the next novella!

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The next short story is a bit longer, and coincides with the box set itself. Deathstorm begins as the Tyranid invasion is getting under way, and introduces the Blood Angels First Company, under the command of Captain Karlaen – the Shield of Baal himself. Karlaen is tasked with retrieving the Governor of Phodia, whose bloodline might hold the key to curing the Blood Angel’s Red Thirst. The story follows Karlaen and his men as they follow the trail of the governor, who holed himself up in a private bunker shortly after the Tyranids arrived. I enjoyed this one immensely! I was particularly impressed by the way Reynolds writes the Brood Lord as a point-of-view character, given the fact my previous encounters with 40k novels have had the xenos just as the antagonists. The twist at the end is also amazing, and actually really well-written (I think!) The other thing I really liked was the way all of the major players in the meat of the story (excepting the governor) are models from the Deathstorm box set – for me, this just goes to show the power of thematic, scenario play, where you can take a collection of models and spin an entertaining story out of them!

Shield of Baal

From there, we then have a couple of e-books, starting with Wraithflight. This brings the Eldar into the storyline, though quite gratuitously, in my opinion. Nothing seems to be added to the overall tale, it’s very much a sideline to the main event. If you’re an Eldar fan, it might be worth downloading – it also follows on from a previous novel, so you might like to read it if you’ve read Valedor, also. But to me, it didn’t really contribute anything.

The Word of the Silent King was a big thing for me, however! It was released for download a couple of days after the Exterminatus previews went online, where we finally had confirmation that the Necrons would be coming into the campaign, so it was an insta-download for me! While I was naturally predisposed to be favourable to it, nevertheless I thought it was a nice story, considering the e-books feel almost like filler than the main thing. It details the alliance between the Necrons and Blood Angels against the Tyranid threat, and is told from both sides, through one of the space marines and one of the Praetorian Guard. It feels quite important, as the story features both Commander Dante and Szerakh themselves, and the general sense from the story is that this is setting up the endgame for the campaign. Which brings us to…

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Shield of Baal concludes! #Warhammer

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The third and final novella (it seems), Devourer was released with Exterminatus, and was just far too exciting for my Necron-love, as it has Anrakyr the Traveller on the cover! Oh yes, this one promised to be excellent! Unfortunately, that promise didn’t quite hold true, in the end. Anrakyr is trying to awaken a tomb world amid the Tyranid invasion, without realising the world is already awakening. We follow the reactivation through the eyes of a Cryptek and her Lychguard, as she discovers the Flayer virus has crippled the Lords and Overlords – and the Phaeron herself! Unfortunately, the Tyranids prove to be too much, and Anrakyr is forced to flee the world, no great loss when he realises the extent of the virus.

I really wanted to like this story, given how the Necrons are centre-stage for it, but it sadly fell a bit flat for me. I really don’t mean to sound sexist when I say this, but I was surprised at how many female Necrons there are – I’d always just thought they were beyond such things as gender-recognition post-transformation, and all. The fact that we get inside Necron heads also seemed to destroy the mystique a little too much for me – ironic, given the fact that I’ve wanted to read a story with them for so long! However, my main issue is the fact that the story just doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and has such an inconclusive ending. Not to be too harsh, but the actual storyline is one I think that should be more suited to an e-book – Anrakyr tries to wake a tomb world, and finds them all infected with the Flayer virus, so flees the surface for the next one. The novella would be better-served with more of a conclusive ending, when he finds a tomb world and it’s all set and ready to smash the Tyranids!

There’s a side-story of Blood Angels guarding the dead planet Perdita, but following a Tyranid sortie they crash on the surface and have to fight their way through the caverns, latterly with the assistance of the Necrons. I feel that the story in Devourer is setting up something else, though as it’s (ostensibly) the last in the series, it appears to go nowhere… However, it’s not all bad – what we do get is a nice look into the reactivation of a tomb world, some excellent scenes that sent a little shiver of goodness over me as I read descriptions of my favourite army, including the Tomb Sentinel of all things! And there are some pretty awesome set-piece battle sequences to enjoy!

There is a third e-book worth downloading, called Shadow of the Leviathan, which features the Ultramarines in a different sector of space. The story centres around the Chief Librarian Tigurius and his struggles with a new psyker Tyranid monstrosity – never identified by name in-story, it’s not difficult to see it as the new Maleceptor model that was part of the wave of releases in November. It’s actually a nice little story, and definitely worth checking out if you’ve enjoyed any of the other tales in the Shield of Baal series!

Shield of Baal

Final Thoughts

These stories are lots of fun, for a variety of reasons, with Deathstorm by far being the best of the lot. There are some excellent battle descriptions, possibly my absolute favourite being Tigurius’ aristeia in Shadow of the Leviathan. And, of course, it’s always fun to have stories where you can imagine the goings-on through models on the tabletop!

Being a campaign supplement for the wargame, I suppose there is necessarily an open-ended feel, as people will be playing through these scenarios, and the Tyranids might win there. However, part of me wishes that a canon-ending could have been adopted, much like in the Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic games, where you could play it where you end up a Sith Lord, but the actual story is supposed to see the Jedi triumph. Perhaps GW don’t want to see the Tyranids defeated, of course, but throughout the series I feel we’re led to believe that the Space Marines will triumph.

The Necron thing is still a disappointment, of course. A large part of me still hopes we’ll see a fourth novella in the new year, once we have the new Zarathusa the Ineffable miniature available. Indeed, there is an oblique reference to this chap in Devourer, and I did feel a little cheated when nothing came of it! Time will tell on that, I suppose. There is also the fluff from both campaign supplements that can be read through – as this is intended as a review of the novellas only, I haven’t yet made my way through the bigger books; once I do, I’ll come back and add a post-script or something.

Before I close, I can’t help but mention the pricing. Tempestus and Devourer are £12, with Deathstorm £15. These are short books – less than 130pp for the first and third, and 175pp for the middle one. For £20, Black Library have published full novels of 400+pp, so it does feel like a terrible money-grab. It might be more worthwhile downloading them as e-books for £5, but I’m one of these people who prefers a proper book in my hand to anything else. It’s obviously my choice to have the tangible hardback, but it seems a little excessive markup there…

I don’t want to end on a low point, though – this campaign is really enjoyable, and worthwhile reading through for anyone who is interested in the setting. The three novellas take various facets of the 40k universe and showcase them to good effect – Blood Angels, Adepta Sororitas, Necrons, Tempestus Scions, etc.

Shield of Baal

Ah, Sunday!

Morning everyone!
It’s a sunny day here in the UK so far, which is good for the Remembrance Day services taking place throughout the country. It’s actually quite sedate and quiet in my little corner of the realm, too, which is very pleasant!

So, as you know, there have been some pretty major developments in the LCG world, starting with the introduction of Rotation a la Magic into the tournament scene. Of course, it’s not quite as bad as Magic, where players pretty much need to change their entire card pool to stay current. But still, while it’s a sensible move that should help lower the bar of entry for new folks, there is a part of me that sympathises with folks who are suddenly seeing their cards with finite lifespans now. As a non-tournament player (hell, I barely get to play at all these days!), it doesn’t really affect me, but still.

A Game of Thrones is also moving to a 2nd Edition, which I will in all likelihood not buy into. I’ve spent far too much money on the game already to want to start over, plus for all the time I get to play it, it’s just not worth it. It is, to me, a very good game as it stands, so given how I don’t play in tournaments, I have no real need to buy it all over again.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of other news coming out of Fantasy Flight this past week, however. Lord of the Rings LCG has had two very exciting announcements, but beyond that, it’s largely been taken up with the Worlds hoopla.

So first of all, Heirs of Númenor is getting its Nightmare Mode decks, which look like they’re really great. Something that particularly appeals to me is the new Peril in Pelargir, which sees a situation similar to that introduced in the nightmare Hunt for Gollum. In both cases, the nightmare mode introduces a much more aggressive encounter deck that actively works towards its own win condition, rather than passively waiting for the players to lose. Looking forward to seeing these!

The Treason of Saruman

The next Saga box has also been announced, The Treason of Saruman. Taking us through the first half of The Two Towers, we get a Fellowship version of Aragorn, as well as the possibility of new Hero versions of Gimli and Legolas, characters who haven’t seen an update since the Core Set. Of course, they’re both great cards, so whether they need an update is debatable, but it seems that fans of the game expect one, given how many times other heroes have seen new versions (Fellowship Aragorn will be that character’s fourth incarnation as a hero). It looks like it should be pretty amazing, anyway, with 11 new player cards that will hopefully add some more to the Rohan trait, so I’m really looking forward to this!

The Treason of Saruman

New packs for Warhammer Conquest and Android Netrunner have also been announced, and we’ve seen another preview for Imperial Assault. As far as new releases go, we’ve finally got our hands on some of the new LCG stuff in the UK…

IMAG1251

Ah, wonderful! I’ve not really looked into these cards yet, but take a look here at a very brief overview of the Descent stuff!

Y’know, I talk a lot about upcoming games and new releases here in this blog, but it seems to me that I never go into great detail over playing games, except in my Game Day blogs. Well, this past week I’ve only managed two games, due to one thing or another, but still! The other day I played Space Hulk: Death Angel again, adding the Tyranid expansion for a bit of variety. You may not be aware that Games Workshop are currently releasing more Tyranid monsters, but I’ve found myself somewhat enamoured of these big bugs, and have been thinking about getting myself a second army. I haven’t – heck, my Necrons are still troop-less – but still. Playing Space Hulk: Death Angel was therefore a useful way of getting my fix, I suppose!

Space Hulk Death Angel

If you haven’t already read my blog linked earlier, you really should take a look! Then come back here and laugh at how badly things are going in the above picture! The Tyranid cards are a lot more brutal than the Genestealers from the base game. Some of them have abilities on them, which can make the game so much more difficult than usual.

Space Hulk Death Angel

As a pretty difficult game anyway, this can be quite torturous! The way the swarms kept leaping around, however, made my best-laid plans crumble right before me. However, this is only my second game, so I’m hopeful that things might get better…

Speaking of Tyranids…

More bugs are on their way! Following last week’s big bug news, we’ll next be seeing some rather beautiful drop pods for the Tyranids – the Tyrannocyte/Sporocyst kit!

These things really are the sort of repulsive monstrosity that would make me fear the Tyranid army more than anything.

I’ve mentioned before how some of these models have the xenomorph look to them, of course, and something that really terrifies me about the Alien films is not the actual alien itself, but the breeding-chamber sequences. This latest kit seems to really draw on that kind of fear as well. A lot of the xenos stuff tries to play on these sorts of primal fears, it seems, including my own Necrons, with kits like the Tomb Stalker and Canoptek Acanthrites.

So yeah. The Tyrannocite is the drop-pod of the Tyranid army, fired at a planet in order to disgorge the Tyranids inside directly into battle. Alternatively, you can make a Sporocyst and Mucolid Spore:

Delightful, no? The Sporocyst is essentially an armoured bunker that spews forth spore mines, and the Mucolid Spore floats around the battlefield until it explodes over its enemies. Ah, bio-warfare!

It’s been mentioned before, of course, but I’m always a little surprised by the GW “web bundles” as being exactly the same price as the individual models. It seems odd because I would have thought almost any other company would have given a small discount for the bulk-buy, but evidently not!

Anyhow, these models do look really good, and should form a wonderful basis for a Tyranid swarm. Still not entirely convinced I want to get a second xenos army though – I bought last week’s White Dwarf thinking it might be handy if I come to get into Tyranids, but I’m not 100% sure. Even so, I love just how much new stuff they’re getting right now, and hope Tyranid players are as excited as I am!

I find myself hoping that my beloved Necrons will see a similarly awesome release when their time comes around. Which will hopefully be sooner rather than later!

The rumours still have more Tyranids on the horizon, however, with wave three consisting of the plastic remake of the Zoanthrope kit. Also, we have yet to see the rumoured new HQ for the Tyranids, so maybe there will be a fourth wave? November appears to be shaping up into quite the Tyranid month! Assuming Blood Angels really are next, then, I won’t likely be getting a Necron codex until the new year.

At least that gives me plenty of time to paint up my models…

Anyway!

Yesterday, I got in a game of Runebound. This game is truly excellent, as I’ve already mentioned here in my blog. It’s currently in something of a limbo, however, while a possible third edition is in the works, making it very difficult to get hold of. It’s one of my all-time favourites, at any rate, and I always enjoy escaping into Terrinoth for a while!

Runebound

Runebound is also one of these games that works well as something of an event. Last year, in the run up to Christmas, I played a series of games on Saturday night as a series of “Big Game Saturdays” – Runebound (Mists of Zanaga), Arkham Horror (Kingsport Horror), Fortune & Glory (with all the expansions), leading up to A Touch of Evil on Christmas eve, and then Eldritch Horror on Christmas day. Fantastic times, I feel! Not sure whether I’ll be doing that again this year, but I had so much fun last night that it’s a distinct possibility! I think one of the big appeals for me was that I used a character I don’t normally play, and a small adventure variant I don’t normally go for, and really just went forth on the adventure!

I really hope FFG haven’t completely abandoned Runebound. At GenCon this year, they made the very cagey reply that yes, they did still have plans for Runebound, before moving very swiftly on, but then they work a couple of years in the future, so we may not be seeing anything for a while. Or we may see something sooner, and that’s one of the reasons why Descent has suddenly slowed down. Who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Unlike A Game of Thrones, however, I’d very likely snap up a third edition of Runebound simply because it’s Runebound!

Tyranids!

So the bugs are back! Seems like the End Times II have run their course with today’s Glottkin release, and if the rumours are true, we’re getting set for a protracted release of 40k stuff, centred around a campaign box similar to the Stormclaw release for the Sanctus Reach. Rather than Space Wolves vs Orks, however, we’ll be seeing Blood Angels vs Tyranids in what struck me initially as Space Hulk 2.0. Of course, that could be wildly off the mark, but anyway!

Sanctus Reach was expanded after the initial release to also encompass Grey Knights, roughly around the same time as that army received its new codex. The current rumours I’ve come across this morning have indicated that the new campaign will be expanded in a similar way, to involve the Necrons!

Of course, this isn’t to suggest these rumours have anything to them. It could be a case of putting together the fact that we have a new Tyranid release, we’re expecting a new Blood Angels codex any day now, and the new Necron codex is supposed to be similar to that for Grey Knights earlier in the summer. So my hopes are not up, but it would be nice!

Anyway, I want to take a look at these new Tyranids today, because they look really awesome!

You may recall I posted this back in September, when I was still amid my Space Hulk frenzy? Well, Tyranids do still hold something of an allure, I can’t deny. Indeed, I sometimes think they could have been my army of choice, had I not discovered the Necrons first! These new models look quite horrid, anyway – the Maleceptor (above) and Toxicrene (below)

And if you’re wondering how to paint these guys…take a look!

Anyway. Something that has particularly struck me about this release is just how exciting it must be when your army gets a new release. I imagine, if I played Tyranids, I’d be rushing to preorder these guys as soon as I found out about them! I hope that the Necrons might see some love like that, but something tells me they won’t anytime soon. But it would be nice to have that sense of… I don’t know, identity, almost, for your army. From what I understand, Necrons haven’t had anything like this released since the main glut that came out with the codex two years ago. The Tesseract Vault being an exception, but that’s hardly the norm for regular games, I believe.

I’m not advocating masses of new stuff all the time, of course. I just think it’d be nice to have that sense of having new options every once in a while. I suppose this betrays my card gamer mentality, though, insofar as I like seeing the shiny new stuff!

Tyranids may yet win me over, but I have a lot of Necrons to get through yet!