Monday, May 27, 2013

My Girlfriend Was Crushed By A Space Marine

To quote Big Red: "It helps with the English subtitles on... a little..."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Music from Space

 A revised version of David Bowie's Space Oddity, recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Games Workshop Was Right to Dump Specialist Games

Yep, they did the right thing if the rumours are true and ye old Specialist Games are going the way of the Man O War / Space Hulk / Dark Future / Chainsaw Warrior and so on.

Let me tell you about my opinions.

Why do I say this?

Well GW is a miniatures company first and foremost - they've said as much and they take (mostly) deserved pride in the quality of their new releases. But Specialist Games were, for the most part, a bit of a blot on that record.

For example, saw you saw one of Forge World's beautiful Warhounds:

But thought "hey, 250 quid is a bit much, but I love Titans so maybe I'll give this Epic game a look..."
Not so much interest now, I'd wager. One of the best looking minis available (not so much anymore) for Epic is the Phantom Titan, who turns 25 this year. Yes, Games Workshop, the leading light of miniatures technology, is selling miniatures it first released over two decades ago. Whether that's a testament to Jes Goodwin's skill and vision, or a sign they've never really known how to move Specialist Games forward, or both, I'll leave up to you.
Similarly there have been more "fantasy football" teams put out by non-GW companies than by GW themselves in the last decade, and the old models do not compare in most cases:

The way I look at it this: Specialist Games figures are the Christmas jumpers of miniature lines. They're too ugly to actually use, but you know your granny will get really upset if you throw it out.

Gee thanks, Grandpa Jervis, it's just what I wanted!

So instead they hang around the joint and you hope when you're showing off your wardrobe to a new squeeze they don't see them and laugh their ass off at you (to clarify this metaphor: you're GW and the girl is a new customer).

Just be honest and chuck 'em out - you never wear it and it's taking up space. The argument is made that the Specialist Games range was still profitable, but barely. That's... not a good argument for a business, especially one that seems to be doing loads of cost cutting in the way GW is (and the whole global economic turbulence thing). Say that one out of every ten casting jobs was for a Specialist Games range - and I'm probably being generous here. If you get rid of that you would, in theory, get a greater than 10% increase in another area as you would have the casting time plus the time needed to change moulds and so on shifted over. That would mean increase in production of the lines that sell well, so you can get them stocked up for their new release and out the door, concentrating then on the next lot.

Some, like Lord Frontline, pictured to the right, have indicated that GW were simply sitting on their stock since the Finecast introduction, and this is merely the last dregs of stock disappearing. But regardless, time taken from the logistics workforce to deal with Specialist Games, as well as just physical space, can now go to stuff that sells.

"But, mighty Gotthammer," I hear you cry as you grovel before my dread throne, "Blood Bowl / Epic / Necromunda still has players! What will become of that once great community now that our support is gone?"

Erm, what support? I guess it was nice of GW to put up the PDF rulebooks, but I've seen in discussion threads about this very topic enquiries about rules directed to go to fan site to get the latest fan-updated editions. As Porky the Wise, that intrepid traveller of the expanse, would say "the game is now totally in our hands. But, of course, it always has been. Also, there is no game, there is only ourselves."
Nothing, short of a DMCA notice *cough*, can stop people playing Blood Bowl or Necromunda. Hell, the Blood Bowl PC game comes with the rules as a PDF.


What should GW do now? I think they have three main options, and I'll address them in what I consider order of least to most likely to happen:

1) Re-release. They'll totally redo all the ranges and re-launch the Specialist Games line with much fanfare and it will be 1995 all over again. I find this unlikely because of the sheer amount of capital required to resculpt / move to finecast and build up stock for what is a gamble that gamers will, in fact, put their money where their mouth is and buy Specialist Games in any volume.
It is more likely that one or two games may be moved, Blood Bowl has been rumoured for some time and has a bit more exposure with the PC game, and Necromunda's miniature line still holds up well (much thanks to Jes again, no doubt).
The success of Space Hulk has shown there is demand, but I understand GW's trepidation to invest so much capital on a risk at a time of economic uncertainty (double given what some of their more... unusual corporate moves of late may indicate).
Also, they may have missed the boat for other titles. In the skirmish stakes Mordheim is effectively superseded my Malifaux, Freebooter's Fate and more; Necromunda by Infinity and Relic Knights to a certain degree. While Epic has been nobbled by Drop Zone Commander and the currently Kickstarting Robotech Battles for small-scale sci-fantasy. And there is, of course, Firestorm Armada taking over BFG's slot.
Had they done this even five years ago when the indies were still in their infancy GW could have potentially cleaned up. Or, like many big corporations reacting to upstarts, it could have lost a boatload of money (see TSR vs Magic the Gathering).
Also costs around four times as much.

2) Licencing. Most likely to Fantasy Flight, but perhaps to a new player. GW has shown they can make a lot of money with their IP through the RPG books and various games. They've also shown savvy by getting paid to let others take the risk for stuff they don't want to do (movies). However none of those have been real miniature games. The closest are Fantasy Flight's board games, and I'm not sure GW would be willing to outsource it's core area, or it would likely be so restrictive / costly for the licensor they may find the going tough.

3) Nothing. Yep, I think GW's likely course of action in the near future will be nothing. They'll let the dust settle long enough for this to all be forgotten or just remembered with a roll of the eyes or a joke like the Squats, and then, when the time is right, maybe bring one or two titles back. Perhaps they're waiting out the expiry of the LotR agreement, and we'll see Specialst Games, or maybe just a singular game, back with a vengeance in three or four years.

So I do think the loss of Specialist Games is sad, and certainly and end of an era, but it is also a positive in that it will no longer be confined to a hellish semi-death for decades on end with no reprieve, and that any activity within GW will now solely be on new products, be they re-imaginings of the forgotten games or simply faster updates of the current generation.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Review: Imperial Armour 12: The Fall of Orpheus

Imperial Armour Volume 12: The Fall of Orpheus is Forge World’s latest offering in the series, covering said fall at the hands of the dastardly Necrons. It’s the first to feature our cyborganised chums, but the Death Korps of Krieg and the Minotaurs Chapter are here for some familiarity.
What I’m interested to see is if they’ve overcome the all too familiar editing errors that hamstrung the last IA outing

Story and Background

In a departure from the last few IA books volume twelve, despite the title, isn’t the full story. The background is, in fact, merely the prelude to the campaign setting. See, the background charts the Orpheus sector all the way from its discovery pre-Heresy through to the Necron incursion, and then stops after the Necrons have flattened the Imperial forces. The campaign is designed to represent the war to reclaim the sector / save what’s left, so there is no fixed winner or loser as in books such as Vraks or Badab.
That said Alan Bligh’s introduction (itself a good read) indicates that there may be more to come from the sector, so who knows what end will be made canon.

Now, my biggest gripe of IA:11 (aside from the editing, or lack thereof) was that there wasn’t enough Eldar. This book does and doesn’t address that issue, but I was left overall happy with how it was balanced. It’s told as a history analysis, a textbook account interspersed with snippets of Inquisitorial insights to guide future generations so they may avoid the same fate. Because of that the Necrons themselves don’t appear in the flesh, as it were, until almost the end. The best comparison I can draw is the movie Predator – you don’t really see the Predator until very late, but its influence guides and shapes the story and actions of those it’s toying with.
We, as outside observers with the benefit of our meta knowledge, can see what all these portents and mysterious actions are shaping into, but the Imperial forces’ lack of action seems almost reasonable in the circumstances. The Necrons are always there, doing their Necron-y thing, but like all good horror monsters they have the good sense to do it off camera.

The Necrons themselves aren’t left as shadowy bogeymen, and there are a great number of insights into how the different courts interact with one another, the different methodologies behind their long sleeps, and even some tidbits about the origins of the Flayer Virus.
I’ve seen a few people comment that they’ve been looking forward to the rumoured return of the Red Harvest, and it is certainly back here with a bloody vengeance. The particular Necron dynasty in the book, the Maynarkh, are all touched by the Flayer if not all totally crazy, so whilst the Flayed Ones are of course doing their whole “it puts the lotion on the skin” thing the rest of them are given reason to participate, and it brings a degree of pathos to their actions in my eyes.

The Imperials get some loving, as would be expected ,with the Death Korps having the usual background blurb and some new bits thrown in to do with their names and organisation. The Minotaurs have their turbulent and shrouded history revealed a little more after the Badab books, but no conclusions are drawn (though there are plenty more implications).

There are no particularly amazing moments that I feel the need to gush about, but more importantly there are no brain-dead moments of editorial idiocy to cringe at. In fact I didn’t notice a single error in the entire book! There may well be some, but given the hack job they did to 11 and 8’s numerous missing rules, it’s a million percent improvement.
I found it an enthralling read, well planned and dripping with atmosphere. Like Badab I, Orpheus is also a great resource for background junkies. There are small details about the procedures for colonising planets (including edicts that can just up and move a population if the Imperium sees fit, or give them all over to the Mechanicus), politicking and inter departmento relations. Despite the growing doom it gives a view into how a sector runs day-to-day, with the disruption and tension pirate raids cause interspliced with the economic balancing required of the different worlds.

Mmmmmurder donut

There is not a lot of action when compared to other IA books, but the Death Korps get a few battles and are allowed to show off a bit, while the Minotaurs wreck some serious face. It’s never one-sided in the combat, or, if it is, it goes to the Necrons who annihilate the ever-loving-bejeezus out of a lot of stuff with contemptuous ease due to surprise or overwhelming numbers.
The story does contain a few links to the Badab books by virtue of the Minotaur’s presence, and has a few cameos, such as a brief appearance by the Grey Knights and a retro appearance of the 8th Necromunda “Spiders” regiment, which was pretty neat.

I would also be remiss if I failed to give special mention to the art. This is hands down the best looking Imperial Armour to date, and I personally think the best looking GW book since Rogue Trader days. The illustrations are beautiful, and rendering the character plates over a black background with deep, shadowed colours was the obvious, but totally correct choice. To put it simply this book sis just so evocative, there’s little besides total praise I can say.
Literally the only negative I can think with the art is that they a) didn’t make the Asterion Moloc art as a poster – it is phenominal, and b) they don’t show enough of the Necron minis in the book. Mind you that does mean the diorama shots of the Death Korps fighting through tunnels takes on a very Aliens feel with the shadowy half-seen or unseen foe. See – even the negative is a good point!

Rules, Armylists and Units

There are two complete army lists presented – the Necron Dark Harvest and Death Korps of Krieg Assault Brigade – while the Minotaurs are essentially a list of add-ons for the current line of Space Marine Codexes.

The Necron Dark Harvest list is, aside from the few unique Forge World units, close to identical to the Codex list. There are some minor force-org changes , and many units gains some minor wargear choices, but the biggest change is to the HQ units who, to tie in with the Dynasty’s flayer taint, all have special rules that can make them go crazy during the game. Additionally the list can be built to be very construct heavy, mainly due to the additional Forge World units present.
The list is geared as a high number aggressive attack force that can take a lot of casualties. No doubt many of the usual Necron uber-builds will work just as well, but then there is no need to use the list.
There are a couple of special characters to use as well. First is Dynasty’s most implacable and deadly warlord, Joan Collins:

With shoulder pads like that I'm surprised GW hasn't tried to sue her...

I mean Kutlakh the World Killer. He’s not overly remarkable, but unusual (for the Necrons) in that to befit the army he is built as a close combat monster.

The other is Toholk the Blinded, a Chronomancer and Arch-Cryptek. He is a buff-giver, doling out bonuses to his war machines and re-rolls to units he joins.  Of the two Toholk seems to be more useful to me from that point of view, but he’s nowhere near as tough to kill.

New units are the Tomb Stalker, Tomb Sentinel, Acanthrites, mini pylons, Tesseract Ark and the Night Shroud Bomber.
The Sentry Pylons are heavy support units, also purchasable for the standard Codex, and come in batteries of 1-3. They are unique in that they don’t need crew and can deploy in a slightly dispersed formation.
They have three weapon choices, though only one can Skyfire/Intercept, but it’s got 120” range, so all good.

Tomb Stalkers haven’t changed much from the previous rules, but have a couple of options to bring them in line with the new Codex.
The variant model, the Tomb Sentinel is basically a Stalker with a short ranged no-save make a Str test or die blast weapon.

Tha Acanthrites are jump infantry with short range melta weapons and aren’t too shabby in close combat either.

The Tesseract Ark is essentially a gunboat. Heavy with moderate defences, but well armed. It hits very hard and, while it can take a punch, it's not as tough as a Monolith.

The Night Shroud’s rules look ok to me, and it is definitely a bomber, armed with twin-linked tesla destructors and five Death Spheres – str10, AP1, large blast, blinding, pinning bombs – and nothing else. It is tough with 4hp but only moderate armour.

The rules for the Gauss Pylon are also updated (the only Super Heavy in the book, actually), and the Tomb citadel has its rules introduced. The Tomb Citadel improves the shooting of a unit docked to the main building, gives a save to any unit on the citadel and can take a pair of gun turrets. It seems underpriced for what it does, as Necron forces castled up there would get a 3+ invulnerable and re-rolls to 1s on resurrection rolls.

The Minotaurs characters are Lord Asterion Moloch, Chaplain Ivanus Enkomi, Dreadnought Hecaton Aiakos and Vigilator-Sergeant Hamath Kraatos.

Asterion Moloch, like most Marine characters, is an unholy death-machine in combat, and is geared solely towards close combat. His profile and abilities are reminiscent of Lysander, though beefed up as befits a Chapter Master.

Enkomi, in addition to having one of the most metal mini in GW’s history:


 is, amazingly, even more geared towards close combat than his glorious leader, buffing his squad into Rage filled Zealots.

Aiakos is a Contemptor dread with a special close combat attack.

Kraatos is, despite the name, not a(nother) hand to hand specialist, but the 2iC of the 9th company. He’s a devastator squad upgrade and carries a heavy bolter. Sorry, a sniper heavy bolter.

Most of the other units are updating some of the older units (Damoclese Rhino, Deathstorm Drop Pod, Sentry Gun) and including newer ones such as the Deimos Predators and Storm Eagles.

The Death Korps Assault Brigade list is, essentially, the Codex: Imperial Guard list with Forge World units subbed in.
They have the special character Marshal Karis Venner, who in keeping with the book’s theme, is a badass in melee. Yes, in IA12 even the Guard are hand to hand murder machines!
Otherwise the Death Korps, like the marines, are seeing a tidying up of older units (making the Hades less broken [it has to deep strike, as do units coming after so if the enemy blocks them they mishap]) and the inclusion of newer ones (Rapiers, Avenger).

As best I can tell every special rule is either cross-referenced or listed in the book, and I didn’t spot any particularly glaring oddities present in some of the more recent products. It seems the attention from the Horus Heresy series has made them pick up their game.

Campaign and other Rules

The Campaign is a pretty standard campaign set-up – multiple theatres, different battle types etc, with some limitations about assigning units to certain theatres making them unavailable in others, but nothing radically different from the last few books.
As mentioned above the campaign is less a reconstruction of the events in the book but a continuation of the war described. This is something I think Forge World would be better served by in some instances, so as to alleviate the debate of “the Imperium never wins” vs “they make the xenos suck and die too much” if nothing else.
The Zone Mortalis rules are also included here.

One notable thing I mentioned above is that there is only one Super Heavy in the book (the Gauss Pylon) and no Apocalypse formations – another sign Apoc is being updated soon?
One odd thing were the six pages of adverts in the back of the book for other IA tomes. Full colour ads for some of the newer releases. Given GW isn’t stocking FW in stores anymore it seems like a wasted effort to me as if you have this book you’re unlikely to be any more spurred to pick up a copy of IA Masterclass than you were ordering it from Forge World’s website.
Not a big deal, just… odd.

Summary and Scores

Overall a fantastic book. The army lists may not be divergent enough for everyone’s tastes, but then again they could be seen as not too divergent to be more widely acceptable. Even though the Necrons aren’t as visible as other xeno races in their books it felt they had a greater impact on the story, like the Tyranids in IA4.

Story and Background – 8/10. While you may think I’d give it higher I am aware that things like the methodology of a planet becoming an Imperial World isn’t something everyone is interested in, so the somewhat dryer text may be a bit dull for some folks. That said the story is skilfully crafted and the many asides and callouts are very characterful and enhance the book even more.

Art and Layout – 10/10. This is a gorgeous book that drips with atmosphere. Not much more to say than that.

Army Lists and Rules – 6/10. Again, a seemingly low score, but while well executed there is much of the same-old here. If you want new rules, or just to use one unit, this book will not hold a great deal of value for you. If you want rules that work, there will be no issues. On a positive units that have languished without a 6th ed update or have been long reviled are cleaned up and there is quite a host of special characters to choose from.

Extras – 7/10. The campaign fits the story, and is presented with a slight twist to the previous iterations. Zone Mortalis is a sensible addition and a great set of rules by themselves and a welcome inclusion.

Overall (not an average) – 9/10

Yep, I think it’s that good. Do keep in mind that I am basing this on a weighting towards the story and art over the rules as explained above. However if you’re a fan of 40k lore, this book is a great read.