Warhammer Reflections – 4 years on

Hey everybody,
It’s approaching the time of year where I generally get quite nostalgic for my “career” within the Warhammer hobby, so I thought I’d ramble a bit here about some of the good times I’ve had with little plastic men over the last four years. In a manner of speaking…

Can you believe it’s been four years since I started this little adventure? Well, if you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’re not only extremely classy, but you probably can… It all started because of Shadows of Brimstone, that kickstarter from Flying Frog Productions that I backed massively, only to find out in the months following the end of the campaign that the miniatures would require assembly. To practice, I therefore bought a Beast of Nurgle from Games Workshop, having been aware of their products for a number of years thanks to the card game Warhammer: Invasion, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a side note, I should really look at doing a blog devoted to that game. I know it’s long-dead, but it was one of my all-time favourites, so definitely deserves some love here on the blog!

While I was initially really heavily into the Old World, due in part to the fact that I was so familiar with the card game, I think the negative reactions I was exposed to following the End Times series really started me moving away from the fantasy setting, and instead looking into the 40k stuff. While I felt like I had a decent grounding, between the card game and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I was really flying blind when it came to the grim dark of the far future, but threw myself into the lore of the Necrons, having discovered the Lychguard kit (as has been mentioned on this blog before, of course!) I suppose, to some extent, it was only natural that I would gravitate towards those chaps, seeing as how I was a huge Tomb Kings fan. It was a real heartache when I recently decided to sell my stock of TKs, having been so assiduous in gathering up as many of the kits as I could when they went Last Chance to Buy. But that’s beside the point.

I really enjoyed the look of metallic skeletons, and as has been well chronicled on the blog now, I really fell for those Lychguard like there was no tomorrow. While they weren’t the only contenders for my first 40k army – it was a toss-up between Necrons, Tyranids and Dark Eldar as to who I was going to pursue as a first army choice – the undead space robots won out! Tyranids were an extremely close second, due in part to the awesome Shield of Baal series that started very soon after I’d made the decision, but I think I’ll always love those undead space robots…

Of course, since then I’ve managed to build up an extremely large Dark Eldar army, as well as having started to build a number of big bugs, too! Recently, I’ve embarked on repainting my Necron force, as it was my first army (and you can tell), though I’ve not yet managed to get very far. Always something to distract me!

It’s really been 40k that has been a driving force behind my passion and enthusiasm for this hobby, despite dipping my toe into fantasy every once in a while. I have very fond memories of the launch of Age of Sigmar, and while I’ve bought and sold more fantasy armies than I care to remember, I think I’m definitely keeping hold of my Stormcast Eternals for the fact that I enjoyed assembling that force so much.

Age of Sigmar

40k has been huge for me since then, and I honestly can’t ever see myself moving away from it. Whether it’s through the tabletop game itself, or any of the specialist games like Deathwatch Overkill or Necromunda – or even keeping some of the FFG games alive such as Conquest or, the classic, Space Hulk Death Angel – I can see myself forever staying with the grim dark of the far future, and look forward to sharing that with as many people as possible.

It’s definitely been an exciting four years, and there has been so much that I’ve enjoyed. While this blog started life as a sort of general nerdy thing with a lot of variety (at least, I think it did!), I’ve been very conscious of the fact that it has now become very focused on Warhammer, with Magic and Star Wars being a bit of a sideline.

And this is because I basically love the Warhammer 40k universe now!

I had a bit of a realisation a week or so ago, as I was laboriously reading through the latest new canon Star Wars novel Last Shot, that I don’t actually enjoy the new Star Wars as much as I enjoyed the franchise back before 2015. I don’t mean to turn this into some kind of Warhammer 40k vs Star Wars debate, but let’s leave it at I’m enjoying the former an awful lot more than the latter, right now!

And I suppose that’s partly due to the interactive nature of Warhammer 40k for me. There hasn’t really been a stand-out Star Wars game since WotC produced Star Wars miniatures, whereas there’s a whole hobby-gaming side to 40k that makes it a great deal more immersive.

I’d like to think that I’ve improved a great deal as a painter in the last four years – certainly, I’m more willing to show off my Drukhari, my Genestealer Cult, or my Thokt Necrons before bringing out that Beast of Nurgle – though there is always room for improvement. I’m still quite a lazy painter, something I’ve noticed when painting some Van Saar gangers recently. I rely a lot on drybrushing, while not always taking the time to drybrush properly. More models than I care to remember are quite streaky as a result! But I do feel a lot happier with my miniatures that I’m painting now, than I have done with the older lot. One of the reasons why I’m intending to re-do my entire Necron army, actually!

I don’t really have any sort of hobby goals in mind right now, except maybe to paint more than I buy, and get smarter with just what I’m buying in the first place, though who doesn’t have those sorts of goals in this hobby, right?! I’ve got a number of projects on the go that feel like they’re overwhelming me, particularly since Kill Team came along and I’m finding myself with plans for several small bands of infantry! Since delving back into my Genestealer Cults for that, however, I’ve been feeling in the mood to try some Tyranids, having bought quite a lot of kits for that army back at the start of the year. I find myself forever floating around from one project to another, without really getting anywhere with one (a notable exception being the Drukhari last year, that was amazing how I managed to apply myself and get over 2000 points painted up in a few months!)

I definitely want to plan my purchases more, and really try to work out just what I need before wandering into the store and picking up all manner of pretty looking kits just because they look nice. I also want to try to paint more, as has been shown by the variety of ‘painting goals’ style blogs that I’ve written so far this year. Having added Tau to my army rosters back in March, I really do feel a bit overwhelmed with everything, so definitely want to start scaling things back on that front. Going forward, I want to try (as much as I can) to pick a unit of, say, five guys, and just do what I need to do to get them finished. I think that’s how I eventually got going with the Drukhari, just five or ten at a time, and as whole units were added to the force, things really just snowballed…

I also want to play more games! Who doesn’t, I guess? But with Kill Team a thing now, the ability to have a lot of small games should make things easier. I’m keen to try my hand at Necromunda, having kitted out the Van Saars to be a proper gang and ready for the skirmish there, though I’m not sure if it’s that popular at my store… Skirmish games are fine, of course, but I also want to try and be a bit more serious with my efforts in mainstream 40k. I’ve got three big armies now as far as my Drukhari, Necrons (if I include the old ones that need re-doing), and T’au, along with a lot of smaller forces (with a lot of unbuilt kits that will one day make them bigger forces), so it would be a shame to not make the most of that and actually do something with them!

All this talk of Necromunda and Genestealer Cults brings me to something that I find a bit odd, but let’s talk about it anyway. I’ve not been in the hobby that long, and I’ve especially not been within the 40k universe that long, but there’s a weird kind of borrowed-nostalgia that I get from these re-imagining of classic aspects of the 40k universe. I suppose I get swept up in the moment, and find it all quite wonderful, though it could just be down to the fact that the miniatures are obviously designed with such care and attention to detail that I find myself really enamoured with them, despite not having a basis for any kind of nostalgia-response. It also helps that Necromunda, in particular, just looks like such a cool, immersive game that I can’t help but be swept up within the tidal wave of awesome that it is!

Rogue Trader is obviously coming out at Christmastime, and also promises to be every fanboy’s dream – including mine! I’m going to have to do some serious negotiation to get that under the tree for Christmas, but it looks like it will be so damn worth it!

The Rogue Trader release in 3-4 months’ time makes me wonder just when we can be expecting the last three Codexes for Warhammer 40k, though. There has been a hell of a lot of talk about a big campaign box for Space Wolves vs Orks, but as we’re now getting closer to the end of the year, I just don’t see this coming out anytime soon. It’s been two months since the announcement, on 1 June, about these books – looking at the last such announcement, when those for Imperial Knights, Harlequins and Deathwatch were talked about, it’s roughly two-to-three months between the announcement and the books being released. So I’m guessing that September will see the start of these things. It’s kinda unheard of for a big box game to have not been spoiled if it is, in fact, only a month or so away…

But that said, the Warhammer 40k facebook page did just unveil this…

Space Wolves vs Genestealer Cult? Who saw that one coming?!

Just another little tangent there! I did say this would be rambling!

Where was I? Ah yes, how much I need to be more careful with my purchases, rather than simply throwing my money at all the new shiny releases. Erm…

At any rate, after almost a year where I moved house and have since struggled to find a place to paint properly, I’m finding myself sliding closer to that point where I’m happily applying acrylic to plastic, so I’m hoping that I can at least make good on one of the many, many painting promises I’ve talked about on this blog before the end of the year…

While I like the thought of Tyranids and having a big bugs army, I’m also moving back towards my Drukhari, having lost interest a little when I felt the Codex had tried to force me to play a mixed list. However, I think I’m most excited right now for the Militarum Tempestus army that I’ve been wanting to build for a number of years now.

To date, I’ve still only painted two models for them. However, this is where the joy of Kill Team comes in, as I’ve excitedly been writing up a list that I think will make it relatively easy to get done, at which point I might as well just carry on and paint up a platoon! Oh, I make it sound so easy. But I think, if I can get some of these done, and some more Skitarii painted by the end of the year, I’ll be a very happy bunny, indeed.

So, thanks for reading all the way through this extremely rambling blog post about my jumbled thoughts on 40k right now, as well as something of a potted history of my life with the game, and stay tuned to the blog as I begin to delve more seriously into Kill Team campaigns – and, of course, Necromunda!

Battles of Westeros

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and this week is the first in a two-part series that takes a look at a pair of fairly similar games from Fantasy Flight, tabletop wargames that use a hex-based map the players fight over. This week, we’re going to Westeros!

Battles of Westeros

Battles of Westeros was published in 2010 by Fantasy Flight, as “A Battlelore Game”, and uses a lot of the mechanics from the earlier, fantasy-based game. Set in the now-iconic universe of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, players take the armies of Stark and Lannister to bloody combat across a series of scenarios that recreate some of the climactic battles of the novel series.

The scenario-based system means that you get to play different games each time you play, as the victory conditions are always changing. There is, of course, also the option of a Skirmish game that allows for less-prescriptive games. The system is fairly straightforward, with one side needing to secure objectives and such, and the gameplay tends to be uncluttered, allowing you to focus more on strategy than rules.

Each game round has four phases: rally, order, marshalling, and regroup. Rallying the troops is basically refreshing all of those units that have acted already in your last turn. Ordering the troops is where you dish out the orders for the coming battle; Marshalling is where those orders happen, such as movement and combat; and finally Regroup is the cleanup step where you check for victory and the like.

Battles of Westeros

The army you choose will give you a choice of Commanders you can play, as shown above. Commanders have some powerful in-game mechanics, and always come with a group of bodyguard units. Jaime Lannister comes with Lannisport Guard, for example, so he will take up one slot in the Guard’s grouping when deployed. His abilities, however, will usually affect the whole army, and not just the army unit he’s with. For example, Commanders have a one-use “commit” ability that is quite powerful, but can only be used once in the game before the card is flipped over. Jaime’s commit ability affects all of the units adjacent to him whenever he captures an enemy Commander, while his regular ability only affects the unit he’s in.

In addition, Commanders come with a suite of Leadership cards that are added to your deck at the start of the game. These Leadership cards form something of the meat of the game. Usually, a card will have one ability that will require you to spend tokens to use them (Jaime Lannister has three such tokens to spend per turn, denoted in the bottom-right of his card). These cards are used during the Order phase to give your army direction for the coming turn. The Commander’s Leadership cards, however, have multiple choices on them, providing for greater tactical flexibility over the course of the game.

Battles of Westeros

The combat system is notable for using 8-sided dice (a precursor to X-Wing). Each unit is colour-coded, from the most basic infantry troops (green), to the middle-guys (blue), and finally the elite units (red). There are more green symbols on these dice than red, naturally, and in order to roll a successful hit against a unit, the dice need to match that unit’s colour. Additionally, green units roll 2 dice, while red units roll 4 dice, so while it is possible to defeat an elite unit with your chumps, it can be a slog. However, it is also possible to roll a Valor symbol, which is a bit like a wild card and will cause a hit no matter what colour of unit you’re attacking. Of course, the very chumpiest of infantry have a further restriction that denies them this ability, but it does mean you have more of a chance than you might think.

The dice also have the potential to cause Morale hits, which force the unit to retreat one hex. this can be important as some units can Counterattack if they survive the first round of melee combat. When hits are resolved, one model from the unit is removed for each hit, so you can potentially wipe out a unit, which causes a Morale loss for the army overall. If your House’s morale gets too low, your army will flee the battlefield immediately. Importantly, Commanders are not removed as casualties in this way, but instead have a “capture rating”, denoting the number of hits that must be done to them in a single round of combat once all other models in the Commander’s unit have been removed as casualties. Captured Commanders are removed from the board, and their abilities can no longer be used.

Battles of Westeros is a really fun and engaging game, and will appeal especially to fans of the books looking to get something deep out of a board game. It does use a lot of elements of the traditional war game, of course, such as morale and line of sight, and games tend to take around 2 hours to get through, so it will likely appeal to pretty dedicated folks! I had a lot of fun playing this game back in the day, though as other games have taken over my game nights in recent years, its long set-up and play times meant that BoW became relegated to the point where I eventually sold it all last year. Which was a shame, as it’s a really great game.

The game has been kinda languishing in FFG’s inventory for a while, however, with no new expansions since 2012’s House Baratheon box. While they have launched the LCG in a second edition, I think Cool Mini Or Not’s upcoming miniatures game will likely mean that Battles of Westeros has seen its time in the sun…

Forbidden Stars: first impressions

On Sunday, this happened:

Forbidden Stars is a massive board game of strategy and conflict set in the iconic Warhammer 40k universe, and was released earlier in the summer by Fantasy Flight Games. It had been mentioned jokingly at my local store, as I have notoriously poor willpower where either Fantasy Flight or Games Workshop are concerned (so it’s even worse when the two combine!), but I’d managed to resist thus far. Then, a couple of weekends ago, the manager broke open one of the boxes on display for a demo copy, and I was hoping to get to play soon after.

I was actually really impressed, I have to say!

We played a two-player intro game, I took command of the Ultramarines while the manager of the store, also Mark, played as Chaos. The object of the game is to take control of as many objective markers as there are people in the game – so we needed two – or, whoever controls the most after eight rounds is the winner. So already, 40k players should be seeing similarities to the tabletop game here.

I didn’t take a whole lot of pictures – in fact, only that one from my tweet above – so here’s the always great Rodney Smith from Watch It Played to give an overview of the pieces and their functions:

As an aside, I love this channel, which is currently doing an indiegogo fundraiser for the next season – you should definitely take a look!

Anyhow.

First off, let me just say that I really liked this game. It was a bit of a beast to crack, with a lot of stuff going on, but it turned into a really immersive experience with a lot to think about on your turn. Let’s take a look:

Preparation

Each game round is divided into three phases – they do actually have names, but I’ll just call them start, middle and end. At the start, you’re sorting out your army for that round, which is done through the order tokens – two each of four different types, placed in a system in which you want to do something. Multiple players can place orders in the same system, providing they have a friendly unit there, so the tactics of what to do where can be really engrossing. For the most part during my game, we were doing things separately, but when it came down to sharing a system, the order in which you place your tokens becomes key, as you need to ensure you activate in the right way. In this way, it’s also possible to be locked out of a turn as your opponent(s) might have tokens on top of yours, ruining your plans by forcing combat and killing your guys before you can claim an objective.

Movement

Part one of the middle phase, movement was a little confusing, I won’t deny. You can only move through a friendly “corridor”, which you open through use of your ships. Each system tile has planets and void spaces, and the ships float in the void, providing this passage to your ground troops. Pile-ins are controlled by only being able to move your guys from the same adjacent system, and each planet has a total capacity for each player. So there is an element of balance there.

Combat

If you move onto a planet with an opponent, this triggers a combat. This was a bit long-winded at first, but I thought it was actually fantastic once I got the hang of it! A lot of FFG big board games, such as Mansions of Madness and Dungeonquest, have card-based combat, where you flip a card and combat happens as dictated there. I like this, as it allows for so much more theme to emerge than merely throwing dice at each other, but I’ve also heard a lot of negative comments about it. Forbidden Stars uses both dice (and custom dice, at that!) and cards, and the result is actually pretty great!

Each unit has a power value that determines how many dice you throw. When that’s done, you draw five combat cards and choose one to play into the combat. Each card has a number of symbols down the left side, as well as two effects; one in a green box, which happens anyway, and one in a brown box, which happens if you have a specific unit in the combat. The symbols down the left add the relevant die to your totals, but the effects can either add more dice or tokens with the same symbols. This is important, because you’re limited to a total of eight dice per combat, so you should always look to gain more tokens. However, these tokens are discarded after each combat round, so you need to plan carefully!

There are up to three rounds of combat (called executions, if I remember correctly), depending on whether you have surviving units at the end of each. During combat, if a unit is dealt damage equal to its hit points, it is destroyed; if it has hit points remaining, it is routed, and placed on its side. At the end of three combat rounds, the person with the most morale (the aquila symbol) wins, giving them the opportunity to claim any structures on the planet as their own (more later) or, more importantly, claim any objectives on the planet.

The end

The end phase has several steps that I can’t completely remember, though any routed units stand up and, obviously, victory conditions are checked. There’s also a cool mechanic of drawing and playing event cards based on whether you played a Strategize order earlier in the game (more shortly). Event cards fall into two types – tactics and schemes. Tactics give you a one-time boost, then get discarded, but schemes are in play until you play another. I managed to pull the excellent Exterminatus scheme on one of my rounds, which has a wonderful effect I’ll get to shortly. During this step, however, you also move the Warp Storm marker – a dividing token that is placed between system tiles, making them impassable during the next round. This can be great for fencing off an important system from your opponent.

Other stuff

Like I said at the start, there’s a lot going on in this game, but that just means there’s a lot to like about it. The four different orders allow you to do different stuff, but you get two of each, and you must play four on your turn, so you can do the same thing twice somewhere. There’s a useful one called Dominate, which gains you resources and allows you to use a special faction ability, and Deploy, which allows you to bring new units into play. Each faction has a host of units you can use, but they’re costed in such a way that also provides some good balance, from what I’ve seen, so you can’t go nuts and bring out a Wraithknight until the late game, as you’ll need to have built three cities to provide the resources. There is also a materiel cost to units, which you gain from controlling planets. It’s all pretty nicely tied together into an immersive experience, like I said!

Strategize allows you to purchase upgrade cards for your combat deck, as well as Order upgrades – cards that provide a better effect when you play that Order on a future turn. During my demo game, I managed to draw the excellent combo of the Order upgrade that gave me a better Orbital Strike, followed by the Exterminatus scheme that made that Orbital Strike even better! An Orbital Strike happens if you only moved ships into a system on your movement step – you roll dice equal to the ship’s power value, and apply any damage to enemy units in the system. My order upgrade allowed me to add an extra dice to the pool, and Exterminatus changes all the dice results to damage results, which allowed me to clear away a lot of Chaos awfulness in one swoop!

Warhammer Ultramarines

I enjoyed playing as the Space Marines – a lot of people think the Ultramarines are the blandest of the chapters, and I hear a lot of snide remarks about them and whatnot, but they’re pretty badass. Plus, the above image is only of my all-time favourite Warhammer art pieces. Win-win!

I’ve talked a lot about balance in this game, and from what I’ve seen of it, I think it really does come across as balanced. Whether, because we were learning the rules as we played, we were both as inept as each other, I don’t know, but it didn’t feel like anyone had a particular advantage over the other. I’m assuming there will be expansions, though I suppose that does depend on how well sales of the base game do (fyi, it is actually out of stock on FFG’s webstore, so I assume that means good stuff), but we were talking afterwards and agreed it’s likely we’ll get Astra Militarum, Tau, Dark Eldar, and presumably more of the stand-out Space Marine chapters such as Blood Angels, Space Wolves or Dark Angels. Tyranids could potentially tip the balance too much, I think, but they’re an iconic 40k race, so it might seem disingenuous to leave them out. I hope Necrons also make an appearance, but I don’t know if they’re enough of a mainstream race to warrant bringing in. But certainly I can see them expanding the line almost in reflection of the Conquest LCG. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, anyway!

I haven’t actually bought the game, and at £72 for a game I’m not sure how often I could play, I don’t even know if I will. However, it is a really great experience, one of those games that you need to set aside some good time to play – our game ended in a draw after just over two hours, only because the store was closing. In this, Forbidden Stars has really pleased me, as it feels like those sorts of board games – those that I rather elitist-ly call “serious” board games – are still a thing worth pursuing. It’s a proper battle game, and while nobody will try to convince you it’s a viable alternative to the tabletop wargame if that’s your thing, it’s nevertheless a really great complement to it if you want a different experience in the same universe.

Definitely worth investigating, if you can!