Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Blood in the Badlands

A week or so back I picked up Blood in the Badlands, Games Workshop's new Warhammer supplement, more on a whim than anything else, but I have been pretty distracted and it has taken me a while to gather my thoughts.

It's an unusual book, billed as a set of campaign rules, but it also covers fighting underground and provides siege rules for the first time since 6th edition. I was half expecting something like the old Generals Compendium, a mix of rules and articles none of which quite fitted into a coherent supplement. It is a bit like that but not quite.

Basically, the White Dwarf staff ran a campaign set in the eponymous Badlands region of the Warhammer World and this is an account of it, along with the rules they used. At heart its not very different than the kind of "campaign chronicle" that any gaming group might put together except for being nicely bound and illustrated with colour photographs. It's an unusual way for Games Workshop to present a set of rules, essentially introducing them with examples in the form of battle reports and accounts from the players. It's also quite a good way to stagger the rules, with certain elements only coming into play as the campaign evolves.

In a strange way this reminds me of the old Realms of Chaos books, or of Warlord's Black Powder and Hail Caesar rules, not in terms of tone and content, but more in the sense that this provides a tool box of ideas that players can dip into as it suits them, taking what they like and discarding the rest. It is certainly possible to play the campaign as written using everything and background to the Badlands is included, but equally players can simply take inspiration from it and develop their own rules using the book as a pointer as to the kind of problems they will need to solve.

The rules are also enjoyably personal, with elements that clearly only apply to the team's own campaign. For example, the siege rules include a specific over the top Skaven artillery piece clearly converted by one of the players. I don't think the intent is to give the Skaven a specific advantage so much as to inspire players to develop their own custom rules.

The only real draw back to the book is the price, which at £20 seems rather high for the amount of content. I suspect I have mostly paid for full colour pictures and hard back binding. Though, in its defence I think it benefits more from being well illustrated than from the recent Warhammer Army books as illustration is a large part of the point of the book.

Overall, I am rather fond of this. It won't be to everyone's tastes, especially if you prefer rules to be highly rigorous and complete. And I don't know how much of it I will actually use as yet, but I still think there is a fair bit here of interest. More than that though, I enjoy the concept and style of presentation. It feels like a book about gaming rather than simply one to sell games and these days, from Games Workshop, that is quite refreshing.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Psychology of Nurgle

Having written a general view of the Tamurkhan book, I wanted to write a more substantial post on the subject of its titular character, the Nurgle Lord Tamurkhan himself. It's an idea that has been germinating for a while and I wanted to devote the time time and space needed to do it justice.

I was interested in Tamurkhan, the character, from early on because he is a Nurgle special character and Nurgle has always seemed poorly represented by special characters. There were none at all in 4th edition and the Fifth edition Champions of Chaos there was only one, Valnir the Reaper, a hero level character who was effectively an undead Marauder. In the latest edition, while each of the other powers got a Lord level character of their own, Nurgle only has the relatively uninspiring Festus the Leach Lord, a low level Sorcerer. In Warhammer 40,000 there is Typhus a spectacular model that always seemed, to me, lacking in personality. With all that in mind, I was keen to see what Forge World came up with.

Tamurkhan is a fantastically (in both senses of the word) horrible concept. A giant, sentient maggot who eats is way into the flesh of a host victim before using its decaying body as a vehicle to drag itself around. In the game this is represented by a decidedly inconvenient rule that allows him to latch on to his killer and potential use him as a new host. This is decidedly nasty and interesting, but essentially from the outside. The concept of being driven around by your killer as your body rots is ghastly and even more so for Tamurkhan's first host, a Slaanesh champion, whose good looks and bejewelled armour slowly decay over time much to Tamurkhan's amusement.

The problem is that all of this horror is from the perspective of the observer. We never get a sense of the personality of motivation of Tamurkhan himself, he remains completely effusive. At heart he is a monster who does monstrous things because he is monstrous. And while there can be some mileage in this kind of nihilistic antagonist the best villains, in my opinion, are those whose motivations you can sympathise with or at least understand. The horribly misguided are much more interesting than the merely horrible.

This is a common problem for Nurgle characters in general and on the surface this is understandable. If given a choice of Chaos Gods to serve why chose the one who makes your intestines rot out of your stomach? It is for that reason that Nurgle followers are often presented as lunatics and death fetishists.

But I think that is a rather tragic misreading of the Chaos God. For a better understanding of Nurgle, we have to turn all the way back to Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned.
"The living know that they will die, and many know that they will live with disease or other torment, yet they drive that knowledge into a corner of their minds and keep it pinioned there with all manner of dreams and activity. Nurgle is the embodiment of that knowledge and of the unconscious response to it of the hidden fear of disease and decay, and of the power of life which that fear generates." (Realms of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned, Rick Priestly and Bryan Ansell, page 12)

This sums up Nurgle's and, by extension, his Champion's motivation. Essentially contradictory, like all Chaos characters, they are individuals who deny or even ignore their hideous appearance in favour of their hugely charismatic minds. Unwilling to face their inevitable decay they simply ignore it. Nurgle is less the Chaos God of decay than the God of human attitude to it, namely denial.

This is how we need to understand Nurgle Champions. Champions of Khorne are blood grazed slaughterers and Slaanesh self-indulgent narcisists, easy. Tzeentch Champions are more complex, but at heart they are weak or ambitious individuals looking to change their fate for the better. Nurgle, Tzeentch's opposite number, is about denying or fighting change. If Tzeentch Champions are the weak wanting to be strong, Nurgle Champions are the strong not wanting to be weak. This need not mean they are struck down with disease. Disease is simply representative of wider decay and collapse which is inevitable in all human activity. Nurgle champions have something, whether it is health, wealth, strength, intelligence or even family, that they desperately want to protect and are unable to do so.

This is why, for me, the most effective Nurgle character was the Death Guard Primarch Mortarion. Faced with a disease even his legendary endurance couldn't resist, he turned to Nurgle in desperation to preserve his and his legions lives, or some semblance of them. In the long run it probably went worse for them than death, but this is the heart of Chaos, entering into a bargain whose long term consequences can only be terrible.

This is why when I invented a background for my randomly generated Nurgle Champion, Rolf Hurtziger, I made him an embittered Mercenary Captain, cast down by Chaos and forced into a pact with Nurgle as no-one else would take him.

As for Tamurkhan, it wouldn't be hard to make him a more interesting and convincing character. At heart he is a physically weak and deformed being who needs to latch onto a host to survive. But each host has a limited duration as it inevitably decays around him. This is never really touched on in the narrative, in fact it says that Tamurkhan held onto the body of the Ogre Tyrant too long and this started to effect his mind. More effective would be to make Tamurkhan desperate needing an endless succession of new hosts in order to survive.

Physically feeble, totally dependent, parasitic and yet charismatic enough to hold together a disparate Chaos Horde, to me this is more interesting that a simple monster.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tamurkhan - A Review

I managed to get my hands on a copy of Forge World's Tamurkhan book, on Wednesday. I only popped into the local Games Workshop during my lunch break for a pot of Gryphon Sepia, so this was something of an unexpected purchase.

To be fair, it wasn't entirely on a whim, I had been meaning to get the book sooner or later, I just hadn't anticipated seeing it in my local Games Workshop. As a Chaos Warrior player, the books interest is obvious, but my principle reason for forking out £45 was to get my hands on the new Chaos Dwarf rules. Back in the days of Warhammer 5th edition I had a pretty substantial army and was quite keen to dig it out again. Especially as the Forge World models so far released are not too far removed from their old aesthetic.

The book is presented as being written by Alan Bligh, with an original story by Bligh and Rick Priestly. This is as much of a credit as Priestly gets in the book and its hard to determine how much of his original idea made it into the finished draft before his sudden departure from GW. The rumours talked about Tamurkhan being the first in a series of "alternate future" Warhammer books, chronicling a time when Chaos finally destroys the world. Apparently, Tamurkhan was to be the first of four books each dealing with a different Chaos Champion, one for each God, in a different part of the world.

There was some resistance to this idea, notably from non-Chaos Players, because it put so much focus on Chaos. I am not sure I agree. Quite apart from the fact the Chaos is now considered to be three seperate armies, thus justifying three books, this concept hearkens back to the old idea that Chaos permeates every aspect of the Warhammer world; it's great unifying theme if you like. Given that Tamurkhan manages to cover Chaos, Chaos Dwarfs and the Empire, it's easy to see how the subsequent books could have given space for an ally and an enemy army in addition to Chaos. Imagine a book about a Slaanesh Champion making common course with the Elves to assault Ulthuan, a Khorne champion recruiting greenskins before rampaging across the Dwarf strongholds or a Tzeentchian champion allying with Skaven in an underground assault on Bretonnia.

As it is, Tamurkhan presents a pretty conventional narrative, in which a Chaos Champion rampages out of the north, recruits an army of suitably unpleasant allies, destroys a few opponents to prove his bad-assness and attacks the Empire where he is defeated. We've seen it before in a few different army books, Tamurkhan just takes longer to tell the story and its hard not to see it as a missed opportunity.

That said, Tamurkhan does a good job of translating its central narrative into a Campaign system and a series of scenarios. The campaign system is nicely open-ended, allowing for multiple players and a wide range of armies. Despite its official status as the story of Tamurkhan it's easy to see it being used to tell the story of any Chaos Warlord. The scenarios are a suitably quirky bunch and, for the most part, don't demand too much of players miniature collection. Whether or not I manage to mount a whole campaign, I can see myself getting some value out of them.

Also on offer are rules for building a huge Chaos Horde containing units from the Warriors, Daemons and Beastmen army lists. Although it's fairly easy to do this without the official rules, there are, nevertheless, a few interesting ideas here. Including Antagonistic units, who may prove unreliable, and the dangerous possibility of attracting the Scorn of Chaos and having to roll on a chart to determine a negative effect. The general is declared the Paragaon with a number of different types available depending on the Champions Mark of Chaos (or not) and there own special rules.

The core of the book, and its obvious reason for existing in the first place, are the new rules for the various Forge World models. These are divided into three sections, Chaos, Empire and Chaos Dwarfs. The first two sections are simply new units and characters for the existing armies. Chaos gets eight new options:
Sayl the Faithless (a Sorcerer accompanied by a Chaos Spawn);
Kayzk the Befouled (a champion on a rot beast who allows Chaos Knights to ride Rot Beasts);
Chaos Siege Giant;
Plague Toads;
Pox Riders (Plague Bearers riding the Plague Toads);
Bile Trolls;
and the Chaos War Mammoth, getting its own proper rules after being part of the Forge World range for years.
The Plague Ogres that Forgeworld also released don't get full rules of their own and so, presumably, should be used as regular Chaos Ogres with the mark of Nurgle.

The Empire selection is made up mostly of Special characters, including a Lord on a Demi Gryph (like a Griffin without wings), an Amethyst Wizard on a Dragon, a Mercenary captain and two hero choices that allow you to upgrade your infantry. The last option is the Marienburg land ship, a huge war machine and a nice alternative to the Steam Tank.

But the most important part of the whole book for me is the final section which presents the Chaos Dwarf army list. I was quite pleased with this overall. For a start, just about everything from my old Chaos Dwarf army has an analogue in the new, so using the list presents no problem. About the only thing left out is the old Hobgoblin bolt thrower. The new Dread Quake mortar and Shrieker rockets are just the old Earthshaker cannon and Death Rocket by new names, my Chaos Dwarf warriors can be used as Infernal Guard, which have options for Great Weapons and Blunderbusses, and the Bull Centaurs and Hobgoblins are included.

The list includes:
Sorcerer Prophets (Lord and Sorcerer Lord combined into one, they can ride a Great Taurus, a Bale Taurus or a Lammasu);
Heroes (Chaos Dwarf, Bull Centaur and Hobgoblin);
Daemonsmith (Level 1/2 Wizard);
Infernal Guard (Expensive infantry with Great Weapons, Blunderbusses or Fireglaives - a fire throwing halberd);
Hobgoblins (they can have daggers so can be represented by the old sneaky gitz models);
Bull Centaurs;
Shrieker Rockets;
Magma Cannon (a new short range cannon thing);
Iron Daemon (Steam powered, cannon covered land train that can tow the other war machines);
Dread Quake Mortar;
K'Dai (Daemonic constructs, no models as yet);
Hobgoblin Wolf Riders;
Siege Giant;
Hell Cannon (the same one from the Warriors of Chaos list).

I'm not sure I would want to build a whole army from scratch at Forge World prices, but I may pick up one or two of the newer items. I certainly think it would be possible to mix Mantic's Abyssal Dwarfs with the Forge World models comfortably. Also included is a small selection of Magic items and the Law of Hashut, which gives the Chaos Dwarf Sorcerers a distinctive quality of their own.

I'm not sure how balanced the army list will be, the Infernal Guard seem very expensive in points and some of the warmachines are more than a little extreme. Also, annoyingly, the Lammasu is allowed as a mount for a Chaos Dwarf Sorcerer Prophet, but if you want the rules you have to buy the Storm of Magic book. This feels pretty cheap given that you have to fork out £45 for the Tamurkhan book. At least the Great Taurus rules are included.

The book is extremely lushly presented, with a red leather effect cover, full colour throughout and illustrated in a suitably grim and moody style. However, the book is marred by a number of simple errors. For example, the Infernal Guard Champion is called a Deathmask, but in the army list it states that "the Overseer may be equipped with a pistol..." A relic of the earlie experimental rules where the champion was called an Overseer.

The special character Drazhoath the Ashen rides Cinderbreath. In the bestiary it states that Cinderbreath is a Bale Taurus, but in the army lists notes that he has a stronger breath attack and an enhanced profile. But is you compare Cinderbreath's profile to a regular Bale Taurus there is no difference.

Then there's the repeated references to the Chaos Dwarfs being usable as part of aforementioned Great Host of Chaos, but no rules to do so. Or the odd way that the rules for Blunderbusses are listed under Chaos Dwarfs, but the rules for Fire Glaives under Infernal Guard even though only the latter can use either weapon. Or the odd repetition of the generic Chaos Dwarf rules Resolute, Relentless and Contempt under the Chaos Dwarf bestiary and the general army rules. I could go on.

Six people are credited as proof readers at the end of the book, so there is really no excuse for this kind of sloppiness, especially given the price you have to pay for the book.

In summary a very lushly produced book that is let down by silly mistakes and a lack of ambition. What we have is a fairly standard Warhammer saga with the rules for a few nice models and some extra bits and bobs. Would I recommend it? I'm not sure it matters. If you want to play Chaos Dwarfs or use any of the associated Forge World models than these are the only rules you are going to get. I will probably get some value out of it and probably more than I would have from a standard army book. But, for the price I paid, I can't help feeling this was a wasted opportunity.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Dreadfleet - Second ship completed

I have finished painting the Bloody Reaver (queue joke about the bloody Reaver that only works if you can here my tone of voice) and boy is it a strange looking beast. I made the comment in my last post that it was the one ship in Dreadfleet that I don't think quite works and that's all the more apparent when it's finished and put together.

It's the front part that's the biggest problem. I get the idea of a floating castle protected by the hulks of wrecked ships, but what is going on with the weird rocky outcrop at the front. Is it a natural feature? Dragged along with the castle? Or has Noctilus bent the front half out of the water and, if so, why? And what is going on with the boney sea serpent sculpture thing, is it really just there to hold up the sail?

Speaking of sails, the ones sticking out of the castle don't work for me. They are just too big. I know the Heldenhammer's sails are bigger, but that looks like a real battle ship scaled up and exaggerated. By having the sails stick out of a castle it draws attention to how ludicrously massive they must be. For a start, where do you get that much cloth? And how do you stitch on a skull that big. Just the letters in "Bloody Reaver" must be several time the height of a man. Or is the whole thing another magical effect? Not to mention the question of why a magically transported floating castle should be wind powered in the first place?

Given that I spent my last post arguing in favour of less realism in fantasy, this argument could look hypocritical or even contradictory. However, this isn't really about realism, so much as whether something looks good.

I remember a similar argument when these were released:

Comments were made about the weirdly bulging muscles, the fur that looks more like dead leaves, the strangely flat 'hooves' and the utterly un-bull-like faces. Many responded that they didn't have to be realistic, that these were fantasy creatures and they didn't have to look like bulls.

But while Fantasy creatures don't have to follow the laws of physics, they do have to follow the laws of aesthetics. Put simply, those models looked rubbish. Yes Fantasy should depart from reality, but it makes sense to use reality as a base. Its not hard to take real world concepts like a well muscled man and the head of bull and combine them. But when your design looks nothing like any real world creature of thing they end result is just jarring.

The Bloody Reaver isn't as bad as the Minotaurs, but elements of it look wrong. Why the huge sails? Why the odd rocky outcrop? Why do the wrecked ships suddenly stop? Rather than being strange and uncanny it just looks a bit wrong, like too many odd elements thrown together. So, overall, not the best piece of design.

On the plus side is the most complex ship in the game by a mile and with it done and out of the way, everything else feels a lot more manageable.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Dreadfleet - One ship down

I actually managed to get some painting done this weekend. With the Heldenhammer complete, I got started out the monstrously fiddly Bloody Reaver. With these two painted I will have enough painted ships to try out the first scenario from Dreadfleet.

The Heldenhammer stands proud on the painting table
over the partially painted pieces of the Bloody Reaver

I've not painted a model ship before and am really quite pleased with the results. Lots of flat surfaces which are tough to highlight and the sail detail was a nightmare. It is so finally cast that you can end up burying it in plaint if you're not careful, a lesson I have learned for the Reaver. It's certainly not up to professional standards, but it is one of the best models I have personally painted.

The overally Dreadfleet aesthetic has been quite controversial, but I rather like the diverse little collection of ships. The Bloody Reaver is probably the weakest. The concept is good, a floating castle with a hull made up of the wrecked remains of its opponents, a properly undead ship. But the model seems to give up half way; quite literally as the rear of the ship is right, but the front end has a strange rocky outcrop sticking out to no good purpose. It isn't clear whether the boney lizard thing is a sculpture or a actual bones and the way the rock curves up is just odd.

But some of the other sculpts are wonderful. The Shadewraith is a marvel of sculpting and casting technology, Grimnir's Thunder is absolutely everything a dwarf ship should be and I love the use of the Elementals on the Flaming Scimitar. To my mind this is what fantasy sculpting should be. If I'm gaming in a fantasy world I want some evidence of that fact. This is why I never got into Uncharted Seas. The ships are perfectly well sculpted, but they seem too mundane and the ships of one fleet often look the same as each other but on a different scale. Not all the ships in Dreadfleet work, but there is imagination behind all of them.

I was reading this blog post the other day on old John Blanche art, and the author notes that the Warhammer world of old was often depicted as a truly unnatural place, where the laws of nature and physics don't work quite as they do in ours. For all of its tiresome obsession with putting skulls on everything, modern Games Workshop seems to be tapping into that idea in Dreadfleet. Everything from the ships, to the Islands, to the Sea Scape itself has been designed to be strange and uncanny.

Similarly, the background section of Warhammer Third edition states:

"Although similar to Europe in general outline, the Old World is larger..."

"The largest mountains in the Old World are the Worlds Edge Mountains which delineate its eastern edge - the tallest of these peaks climb almost five thousand feet above the plains below."

"The grandiose scale of the mountain ranges is matched by that of the largest rivers... Of these the Reik, Sannez, Grismerie, Brienne and Morceauz are so vast that they are navigable by sea-going ships for much of their length."
In a world built on this scale, a Battleship carrying a cathedral or a floating castle seems feasible. There are fantasy worlds that, although interesting in the own right, are essentially like alien worlds. They follow the same essential rules as our own, but are simply populated with alien races and cultures. Whatever you might say against the Warhammer world, it certainly was a truly fantastic place and Dreadfleet follows that tradition.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Underwhelmed by Warpath

So after months of build up Mantic has finally released Warpath. One thing you can't say is that they've failed to generate sufficient buzz. The release strategy has a been a master piece of slowly released data. You might quibble over the final product, but not with the way the release has been managed. And yet I find myself unlikely to start on Warpath any time soon.

Regular readers of this blog (I think there may actually be some now) may have realised that I have a fair bit of time for Mantic. I applaud their ambition and am glad to see a company attempt to take on Games Workshop at their own game (in more ways than one). I have generally found their miniatures to be well sculpted and good value. In spite of this I have not invested in Kings of War, at least not yet.

The reason for this had little to do with the quality or value of the product and more that it felt like more of the same. After nearly twenty years of Warhammer, I don't have much enthusiasm for starting on another army of generic fantasy types, however, cheap or well sculpted. So far I have acquired Dwarf Kings hold and left it at that.

Warpath, however, was of greater interest. I have been a Warhammer 40,000 player in the past, but not with anything like the same dedication. I have one fully painted army and a few scraps of others. Also, Warhammer 40,000 is a much more distinctive setting and, while they share the same Fantasy in Space, concept Warpath does seem to be aiming for a different style. What we know of their humans is that they represent ruthless capitalists rather than excessively gothic, bigoted, religious fanatics. So, initial impressions were good.

I have not been put off, as some people had, by the discovery that the Orx sprues are essentially Orc sprues with different arms. This isn't exactly a selling point, especially as the Orcs sprue offers only three different bodies, but isn't a deal breaker either.

When Mantic first started out, they released their first miniatures with no game of any kind. Kings of War had a logo and that was that. The miniatures were co-opted for Warhammer, mostly, and any other game players liked. The releases trickled out steadily, Undead followed Elves, and then Dwarves. It wasn't until the last release that we saw any game rules at all. By this point all the major armies had several plastic boxes. When the Kings of War starter set appeared, it came with two substantial armies and was followed by army boxes that put Games Workshop's battalions to shame.

In contrast, with Warpath the rules were out months before the models. We know that eight armies are planned and we have a good sense of what's going in them. The first of the Forge Fathers and Marauders have been released, but so far there isn't much. It's at this point that Mantic have put out a starter box and two starter armies.

Compare and contrast the Kings of War dwarf army box with the Warpath Forge Fathers box. The former has 85 infantry figures and 2 artillery pieces, the latter 30 figures and 2 artillery pieces (admittedly, huge artillery pieces). The former is a really stunning amount of figures for the price, the latter is a decent deal. The story is the same with the Marauders. The Orcs get 84 figures, the Orx get 50 and 2 vehicles.

A good part of the reason for this is the inclusion of resin-plastic figures in the Warpath boxes. While the small number of releases so far mean would mean that including more plastic would mean much less variety. But the contrast is still striking and presents a very different idea of the game. Both are meant to be based around big armies, but while Kings of War makes a big army look achievable, for Warpath it much more of a challenge.

Putting it simply, I was expecting to be wowed by Mantics Warpath starter sets. So far I haven't been wowed. They look like decent value, but that's all. And to really grab me from the word go Warpath needed to be more than decent.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Too Many Projects

I have simply too much on the go at the moment, and with Warfare Reading coming up in just over a week it's set to get worse before it gets better. A quick rundown:

I managed to get all my initial figures painted, but then GCT released Aiko and Gorilla, and now I have two more to do.

Anima Tactics
I have generally been pretty good with these guys, getting them painted not long after purchase. But a general slowing of releases lulled me into a false sense of security and before I knew it I had five to do.

I got the Immortals boxed set at Salute for a ludicrous £10, only just got around to assembling it.

One model done so far. I like the colour scheme, but still a dozen to go.

I have two Masters plus warbands unpainted.

Horde of the Things
I painted my Fantasy Chinese army a while back, but I still have a Goblin army and another Fantasy East Asian army to do. Warfare Reading marks a year since I started this project.

More Warhammer
In spite of myself I succumbed to lure of new and cheap(ish) models and my Chaos army is set to get bigger.

Yes I am a mug, but I couldn't resist the little ships. One down, so far, nine to go.

Normans and Saxons
The real nightmare, I got these at Salute and so far have one unit a quarter done.

The curse of the wargamer is too have either too little money or too little time. During an unpleasant period of unemployment I managed to get my Warhammer Chaos army done (job hunting in the morning painting in the afternoon), but these days I only seem to skirt around the edges. It doesn't help that the lure of new models is always so strong and that lovely new model you picked up at the convention rapidly looks dull and lifeless next to the new shiny thing.

In some ways its like comfort eating. Frustrated at your lack of progress you compensate and indulge in new toys which makes the problem worse. Still, with Summer well and truly over and no more holidays to distract me, maybe I can get down to some regular painting.

That said, I am updating this blog right now when I could be painting

Monday, 7 November 2011

Bushido - A Review

I've mentioned Bushido, from GCT studios before. It's one of the most recent of the 'Boutique games', a rather nice term I picked up from RobH at the Miniature Page, for the recent trend for small scale skirmish games with comparatively expensive but characterful models. Bushido is based in a fantasy version of Medieval Japan and its four factions take their inspiration from Japanese History and Mythology, but with a somewhat Manga/Anime inspired aesthetic.

I always planned to write a review of the game once I had a chance to paint some models and play a game. Yesterday my little brother and I tried out the game with my Temple of Rokan taking on his Cult of Yurei.

Master Ekusa

I have already written with approval at the GCT approach of producing starter sets complete with rules and dice. Each miniature also has a card summarising their stats and special abilities.

The rules don't really present any truly original elements, but combine a number of features I have seen in previous games. The basic activation sequence is reminiscent of Malifaux. Players alternate activating models and each one has two action points to spend. Actions can be simple or complex using one or two action points respectively. A slightly unusual rule is that models only carry out one action at a time, potentially acting twice in each turn.


In addition to the standard actions, which include the usual attacks, movement, charging and few special ones such as aim, is the Ki mechanism. This is somewhat similar to Anima Tactic's action point system. Characters recover a number of Ki points each turn and they can be held from turn to turn, though each character has a maximum reserve. Ki points can be spent on special Ki feats, which can be anything from special attacks, buffs or debuffs or healing effects. Ki feats can be simple, complex or free. The simple and complex feats require the spending of actions, but free feats can be used at any time, even when the model isn't active.

The combat system is based on a series of opposed dice rolls. Players roll a number of dice equal to a stat such as Ki, Combat or Ranged combat and compare their highest roll. In the event of a draw additional dice are taken into account. In combat an element familiar to players of Confrontation 2nd or 3rd edition comes into play. Players can assign dice to attack or defence. All dice are rolled together, but opposing attack and defence dice are compared. This adds a small tactical element to the combat phase.


In addition to stats and feats, each character has a number of key words corresponding to general special rules. These can be quite numerous and keeping track can be quite difficult, though Bushido is by no means the worst offender here (*cough*Malifaux*cough*) and, fortunately, most rules are only a sentence or two long.

For our first game, MLB and myself used only the contents of the starter sets, my temple of Rokan and MLB's Cult of Yurei. Rokan are martial artist monks, supported by peasants and lead by Master Ekusa riding on a turtle. In contrast the Cult is made up of Zombies and spirits and lead by the Necromancer/Puppet Master Kato. The match up ended up not being very fair. The Cult seems to be quite a fiddly faction to play, relying on fear rules and Kato's ability to raise new zombies and keep the others from dying. The Temple proved to be quite straight forward with two very strong combatants in the Martial artists Kenko and Yumi. The peasants are weak fighters, but use their bodyguard rule to protect the other monks, while Master Ekusa is a hugely effective disruptor able to prevent all hostile actions within a particular radius and having a nasty Ki-based attack that can prevent an enemy from acting.

One odd element is that are no stats for strength or toughness. Weapons can provide strength bonuses and number of wounds provides a kind of resilience, but these are, in practice, not as important as the number of combat dice rolled. The key determinant of damage is success level, the difference between the attackers die and the defenders. What this means, is that a character with a high combat stat will be generally good at fighting across the board and it is not easy to differentiate between a skilled but weak fighter and a clumsy but strong one.

Ichiro and Atsuko, Peasants of Rokan

There are a lot of distinct processes and rules to keep track of, particularly the keywords and MLB forgot about fear several times. However, most of the processes are quite straightforward and there are some clever mechanisms, such as turning the character cards to keep track of whether a character has activated. We will play again, but I suspect the Cult will prove more effective as MLB gets a better handle on their special rules.

One thing that is definite is that the miniatures are well sculpted and distinctive and the game world suitably different from other Boutique games. Definitely worth further investment of time and energy.

White Dwarf 157

This issue marks a definite break from the previous ones. A transition point on a journey, albeit a fuzzily defined one. The cover image was also used at the front cover of the first Orc and Goblin army book, which says something about the direction of travel.

I should emphasise that I have no knowledge of what was actually going in Games Workshop studio at the time these issues were produced, but my sense is that when I first started out collecting, miniatures were being produced and rules written without a clear sense of how they would be distributed. A number of experimental rules articles found their way into White Dwarf without much of a sense of where they ultimately belonged. At its most extreme, this lead to a compilation of White Dwarf articles being the official source for most Warhammer 40,000 army lists. Even when books were planned, for example Realms of Chaos or the Warhammer 40,000 Ork books, they often read more like a collection of articles than a single, coherent work.

By White Dwarf 157, this had started to change. Games Workshop started producing complete, coherent rules supplements with all the rules needed for a particular army. This often meant producing rules for models not yet released. This transition was a staggered process that actually began with second edition Epic released at the same time as White Dwarf 141. These supplements were boxes rather than books and covered two armies each, but they were the first attempt at a coherent set of army list supplements, where every supplement was in the same format. Warhammer 4th edition followed in White Dwarf 153 and Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition in White Dwarf 166. To me, this transition marks the beginning of modern Games Workshop, though there were still a great number to come.

I have written about the subject of rules distribution before and regard this increased coherence as generally a good thing, but there were definite drawbacks. One was the change in White Dwarf. New rules articles had been its bread and butter. As the army book started to appear, White Dwarf shifted from printing new and experimental rules to reprinting pages from just released or soon to be released army books.

The transition is very marked in White Dwarf 157, which, remarkably, has only four substantial articles, though this is probably because two of them take up over twenty pages each. The first of these big articles is the new Space Wolf army list for Warhammer 40,000 first edition. In many respects, this feels very much like a WD article of old. Lots of experimental new material, with no sense of where it would ultimately end up. It is also notable that the army card concept we saw in White Dwarf 145 had already been abandoned. Despite the article's retro feel, it was probably released because the Space Wolves were being developed for 2nd edition WD only nine months away.

The article itself is interesting read, but mostly because most of the key elements of the current Space Wolf army are already present - Blood Claws, Grey Hunters, Long Fangs and Wolf Guard are all familiar to modern players. It shows how strong a concept the Space Wolf army was.

The second article stands in stark contrast. The Grand Theogonist rules were reprinted straight from the Empire army book, enlivened only by illustrations of the new model. While it might have inspired a few new players, the article is of little real value as anyone likely to use it would need or already own the army book.

Following this is an 'Eavy Metal article on painting the Grand Theogonist and other models shown this issue. 'Eavy Metal was also changing. In previous issues it had shown models from the team's personal collections, whatever they were working on, or the works of other talented painters. But now it had become a showcase for newly released models.

The final article is yet another break with tradition. My first encounter, in this series, with a battle report. They had appeared sporadically before, the first (I believe) was in White Dwarf 107, but from 153 they became a regular feature. This sort of article made ideal White Dwarf content. Highly visual, it provides a good introduction to new players, a good showcase of armies and tactics for more experienced players and potentially ideas for players own game. Also, although Games Workshop printed a few compilation books and put some in army books, they really work better as magazine content. With rules becoming less important this article was a good way to fill twenty pages.
This report saw the Empire vs the Greenskins and highlights some new models. It also showed that the new spirit of organised professionalism hadn't quite reached army production as the Greenskins had only one unit of Orcs, despite featuring an Orc Warlord, and is made up mostly of Goblins, some in some not very viable units - there are only 5 netters and clubbers for instance. Meanwhile, the Empire fields two units of Knights, the new War Altar and a War Wagon.

This Battle Report is notable for another reason: the apparently accidental creation of a special character. Games Workshop had just released an Orc Shaman on a War Wyvern, but this was not a very valuable model tactically as Orc Shamans had to stay close to Orc units to benefit from their special rules. As a way round this problem, the model is recast as an Orc Warlord and equipped with the Crown of Sorcery, then a generic magic item making its user a level 3 Wizard. The idea stuck and Azhag has been a special character ever since. This in spite of a not very impressive performance in this battle. He got himself killed in turn 2 charging into the smaller of the two Imperial Knight units unsupported.

The rest of the battle manages to be reasonably interesting, as the Goblins put up a surprisingly good fight, putting a good part of the Empire army to flight. But in the end they get bogged down in unwinnable combats. The Empire general, then White Dwarf editor Robin Dews, concedes in his notes that he won mostly by look, though the limited choices available to Jervis Johnson, as the Orc General must have played a part.

So, very much an issue that marks a change from what went before. The magazine is glossier, with far more colour pages and more professional produced. But also seems to have less useful content than before.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Random Factors

There has been a lot of discussion, much of it highly critical, about Games Workshop's new game, Dreadfleet. The bulk of the criticism seems to have been focused on the extent to which the game is dominated by random factors, leaving the outcome of the game too dependent on the roll of a dice. I don't want to get into the Dreadfleet debate at the moment as I haven't played it yet, but the discussion did get me thinking about randomness in gaming.

There currently exists a theoretical dividing line between looser, friendlier, 'beer and pretzels' rules and more competitive games. The latter being considered a genuine contest of skill with rigorous rules and less scope for randomness to play a part. The odd thing is, that if you want to design a contest of skill you probably couldn't find a worse field of human endeavor to base it on than warfare.

Lets take a look at one significant example, the Battle of Sekigahara, the largest Samurai battle in history which saw over 160,000 men take the field. On one side was Tokugawa Ieyasu, future founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that would rule Japan for 200 years. On the other, Ishida Mitsunari, loyal defender of the Toyetomi family, that of the Toyetomi Hideyoshi previous ruler of Japan, Toyetomi Hideyoshi and his young son Hideyori. At stake, nothing less than the future of the country.

Despite the stakes and the historical impact that echoed down the centuries to this day (For example, Tokyo only became the capital of Japan because of this battle) very little hinged on military tactics on the the day. Mitsunari had the slightly stronger position on the high ground, but what swung the battle in Ieyasu's favour was that a good proportion of Mitsunari's army refused to move when ordered or actively switched sides. A lot of this had to do with Mitsunari's personality, he was disliked and distrusted by his own side and had insulted several high ranking supporters, and much due to Ieyasu's political maneuvering before hand, but in the end the battle was decided by events outside of the field.

The point illustrated by this battle, is that so much of the outcome on the day is beyond the General's control, at least once they take to the field. Sekigahara is a nightmare to recreate as a wargame because the betrayals either have to be predictable, in which case the Mitsunari player is at a disadvantage but is able to plan for the betrayals in a way that the historical Mitsunari could not, or the betrayals are determined randomly, in which case the outcome is largely out of the control of the players. Sekigahara is a particularly good example of the outcome of a battle being determined by chance, but it is scarcely unique.

A while back, I read a post on a message board in which a gamer complained about the the command and control rules in Black Powder. The crux of the complaint was that real General's don't roll dice to determine if their orders will be carried out. The point missed was that these rules simulate, in an abstract way, the extent to which a general's orders can be lost, misunderstood or simply not followed. There are abundant examples. The Charge of the Light Brigade is probably the most famous example of orders being misinterpreted. Another, less well known example is Agincourt. Although remembered as the famous defeat of the flower of French chivalry by English Archers, what is less well known is that the French general could see it coming. Unfortunately for him, as he had born a commoner elevated to his rank by skill rather than birth, his orders were largely ignored by his Knights.

In the end the outcome of many battles is down to luck, by which I mean the chance collision of uncontrollable factors. To be a good simulation of warfare, a good wargame needs to reflect this. This applies to command and control, but also to troop performance. When committing his forces the general should know that unit x will defeat unit y 9 times out of 10, but also that unit y will be triumphant 1 in 10 times and, crucially, have no way of knowing if this is one of those times. Good generalship is often about gambling with the most favourable odds, not certainties.

It is worth remembering that real generals didn't do this for fun or as an attempt simply to prove their tactical skill. Mitsunari and Ieyasu were in contest for control of Japan. Sekigahara was about contesting the forces they could marshall. There was no use afterwards complaining that the rules were unfair.

Of course, making a wargame a realistic simulation of warfare is not the same thing as making it a good game. This is why some famous historical battles are better to wargame than others. It is also why most wargames tend to allow both players roughly equal forces or skew the victory conditions to make it a contest of skill. Historical Generals didn't fight for fun and wargamers don't play to contest the fate of nations. If Dreadfleet is a terrible game (and I mean if) then arguing that its realistic is no defence.

However, it is still worth considering that adding random elements to a wargame may make it more realistic, rather than less.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

White Dwarf Retrospective - 145 January 1992

The front cover of White Dwarf 145 comes as something of a shock, the main logo has been displaced to make way for the logos of HeroQuest and Space Crusade. I have written about HeroQuest before and Space Crusade was its Warhammer 40,000 inspired equivalent, in which players took control of squads of Space Marines battling Orks. Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Androids (the fore-runners of the Necrons). This was White Dwarf's second special issue dedicated to these more mainstream board games (the first being 134). It seems like a smart piece of marketing. The prominent logos could entice younger fans of the game while existing Games Workshop players could expand the games with a wider range of miniatures.

The Space Crusade article is particular elaborate, featuring a five part campaign with rules for Genestealer Hybrids, Terminators and Librarians. Given that Space Crusade had no system for psychic powers, the inclusion of psychic power cards for all the marine players, albeit ones you have to cut out or photocopy, is particularly ambitious. On the down-side, to make full use of the rules you are going to need a lot of models. One mission requires you to replace all the Orks with Genestealer Hybrids. With that in mind, its hard to see who this is aimed. Younger players would have to buy a lot of new models to play the missions, while the only players likely to have the required miniatures already would probably have a copy of Space Hulk and play that instead.

The HeroQuest article is rather better in my view. It consists of a two part quest called the Eyes of Chaos. It is illustrated with some imposing pictures of metal Games Workshop Ogres, but was released hot on the heels of the HeroQuest expansion 'Against the Ogre Horde' which featured seven plastic Ogres, so plenty of existing players would have the necessary models. The only truly new character is a Bretonnian Knight on foot, not a particularly challenging character to proxy. In fact I gave the Eyes of Chaos a go at the time of its release, but never player the Space Crusade rules at all.

The Eyes of Chaos for HeroQuest

In a clever piece of synergy, the issue also contains a version of Eyes of Chaos for Advanced HeroQuest, Games Workshops more complex HeroQuest spin off. The latter may not have offered the straight forward fun of HeroQuest, but had a number of enjoyable features, including its random dungeon generator tables, and was well supported in White Dwarf.

and again for Advanced HeroQuest

Moving on from the HeroQuest and Space Crusade material, the issue also features an article on Dragon Masters. This was a slightly odd game, written by Ian Livingstone one of Games Workshop's co-founders who ultimately went on to found video games company Eidos. He had long since left Games Workshop by the time the game was released and it feels like a product of a much earlier time in the companies history.

A self contained board game in which players took on the roles of rival High Elf lords sending out armies to explore a map board, it had the rather interesting mechanic of counters that were placed in each space face down and flipped over when an army entered the space to show what they encountered. This article provides a series of new counters to expand the game. A nice stand alone expansion that sadly has the drawback that, in a time before downloads and scanners, the new counters would have stood out a mile next to the professional printed counter-parts from the main game.

New Counter rules for Dragon Master

The final article is a new army list for Tyranids in Warhammer 40,000. It says something about the way Games Workshop has developed as a marketing machine that this article is weirdly low key, almost an after-thought.

It does feature an intriguing new idea. The whole list is printed on cards, or rather on paper intended to be cut out or photo-copied and used as cards, with background and images on one side and rules on the other. I suspect this idea was inspired by the recently release 2nd edition Epic which also used card-based army selection to good effect. It certainly pre-dates the modern fad for card-supported miniature rules and it is intriguing to imagine a world with army card decks instead of books. They would have been easier to refer to mid game, if trickier to read and store, and also would have allowed the seemless introduction of new units. Sadly this was not to be and the idea was never used again.

Army Cards - an idea that never caught on

The army list itself is a bit of a hodge-podge seemingly put together from existing models with as few totally new elements as possible. Some elements will be familiar to modern players, even if the models have changed, Tyranid Warriors, Genestealers, Termagents and Carnifex (the last two called Hunter-slayers and Screamer-Killers). Also present are Genestealer Hybrids, brood brothers, the Patriarch and the Magus. In fact, there is enough Genestealer elements here to comfortably put together a Genestealer cult army without recourse to Tyranid specific elements at all. Then there is the rather odd inclusion of Squig hordes which are apparently Tyranid-modified Orks, Zoats, effectively armadillo centaurs imported from Warhammer 3rd edition, and Mind Slaves, really an excuse to import chaos space marines and others into the list.

So ultimately, a decidedly bitty army list and one that doesn't seem to have much of a coherent plan behind it, except, perhaps, to put together an army with as little recourse to new models as possible.

This was an unusual and slightly special issue, but we still haven't moved very far from the format of White Dwarf we have seen so far. The bulk of the magazine, and all the key articles, are new, experimental rules for a variety of games. Much of the magazine is black and white with a few colour pages only. However, although not readily apparent from this issue, Games Workshop was starting to change in a way that would seriously impact White Dwarf as we will begin to see from the next issue in our tour.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Startup Costs

In my last post I mentioned that I had bought some models for Bushido, from GCT games, a fantasy skirmish game set in a version of Medieval Japan.

Although by no means its strongest attraction, one element that drew me to it was its nicely constructed starter sets. As well as containing five or six models, it also included dice, cards and, tucked away at the back, a full set of rules. GCT games had already been handing out these small-sized rule books at the event so I came away with two copies. It was quite gratifying to see a skirmish game with a complete rule book included like this and it made me think of the late Rackham and Confrontation second edition.

Confrontation was Rackham's fantasy skirmish game, which was on to its second edition by the time it really started to make waves in the UK. This was also the time I started playing. At the time, Confrontations distribution method was highly original. Each blister back or box came with cards which contained all the rules for the models. This was a novelty at the time, miniature rules on cards were still a new thing, but Rackham took it to extremes by never printing the rules for the miniatures anywhere but on the cards, there were no Army Books until Rackham made its foray into pre-painted plastic. Also each blister came bundled with a mini-rulebook. Most models included Confrontation, the basic rules for moving and fighting, but Wizards and Clerics came with Divination and Incantation, which provided rules for magic and faith, artillery included Fortification and some characters Incarnation, which gave the rules for ongoing campaigns.

The great advantage of this approach was that you could buy a few blisters of models and be confident of having all the rules you needed to play. The points values of the models were printed on the cards, which were visible through the packaging, so you could even have a good idea of how many points you were getting.

Sadly, this all came to an end when third edition was released. Although, in many respects superior to its predecessor, the rules now came in a lushly produced hard back rulebook costing £15. The rules booklets that came with the figures were relegated to starter rules.

It has always surprised me that more games don't follow the Confrontation 2nd edition approach. Starter sets, like Bushido's, are common enough, but these generally come with 'starter rule' if any at all, with the bulk of the came relegated to a large, usually hardback, book.

As far as I can see, there are two principle motivations for producing a set of game rules. One is a belief in the rules themselves. That is to say, that the writer(s) have an excellent idea for an enjoyable game, or even a particular rules mechanic, or they see an area not well catered for by existing rules and produce a set to meet that need. This seems to be the main motivation behind a lot of historical rules writing, where the rule publishers are often different from the miniature makers, but also appears to be the case for many stand alone fantasy and sci-fi rules sets.

The other motivation, is to support a range of miniatures. In this case the miniature concept comes first, and the rules exist to justify the miniatures. That isn't to say that the rules are not well thought through or simply an after thought, but it is the miniatures that drive the game. Games Workshop have been open about this for years: the purpose of the rules is to sell miniatures. But I also suspect that it is true of a number of high concept fantasy and skirmish games, such as Malifaux, Helldorado and Infinity. In the case of Anima Tactics, I know that it is a spin off of an RPG and that the principle motivation behind the game was to create a miniature game set in that world.

When looking at this second motivation, it seems to me that a rule book simply represents a barrier to entry. If your goal is to get people buying miniatures and playing with them, then you want to minimise any additional start up costs. The great advantage of the Confrontation 2nd edition approach was that you could buy a few blisters packs and get started. If you have to buy a rulebook first, then that's money you can't spend on miniatures. Warhammer now requires a rule book and an army book meaning that the start up cost, before any miniatures are put down, is close to £70. But this is less noticeable in a mass battle game, where the number of miniatures required is large and you would expect to spend some time collecting before you can play a full sized game. With some skirmish games we have ended up in the bizarre situation where you can spend as much, or even more, on the rules than the miniatures. When a significant selling point of your game is that it is quick and easy to pick up and play, why do anything to slow it down?

It's possible that there is serious money to be made in rulebooks. I'm not really sure where to find data on this, but it may be that the cost of rulebooks provides a valuable supplement to the income of miniature companies. Though I do wonder if the profit is offset by the cost of potential players who never get into the game in the first place.

Another potential justification is the need for background material. While there are some games based on existing IP, the majority of Fantasy and Sci-Fi games are set in their own unique world. If you want customers to invest in the miniatures you need them to invest in the game world. If this is your goal, then pages of flavour text and illustrations is obviously likely to be of benefit. In this scenario, if you sell the players on the rulebook, you sell them on the game.

But while players may drawn into a game by its flavour text and imagery, we often want very different things during a game. Hundreds of pages of non-rules material can be a serious pain when you just want to look up the rules. Wyrd games seem to have realised that, hence their decision to release a background free 'rules manual' half the size of their full rulebook.

This is an area where I think GCT games have been very smart with Bushido. They have kept their background material and illustrations to a minimum within the rulebook, but put a considerable amount of material on their website. There are short stories and illustrations for every faction and, so far, they have seen frequent updates. They are not the first company to do this, Mantic has been trying it for one, but they seem to be doing a better job than most.

This was one area where Confrontation 2 fell down. The Rackham website was never as extensive as it might have been and players had to turn to Cry Havoc, their quarterly magazine, for more background information. Releasing a regular magazine is beyond the resources of most game companies, but updating a website is increasingly easy. With all that in mind, I am watching GCT with interest and wondering who else may follow their lead.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Colours at Newbury Racecourse - A Show Report

Before we start, apologies for the poor quality of the pictures. I forgot to take my regular camera so these were taken with my IPhone.

Colours, hosted by Newbury and Reading Wargames Society, has been always a show that I thought was too far away and too small to be worth the effort. This only goes to show my poor geography skills as I discovered earlier this year that it was only two short train journeys away and so, with My Little Brother in tow, I set out to see what it had to offer.

Colours certainly takes place at a slightly unusual venue. Rather than the more common school hall, convention centre of leisure complex it takes place at Newbury race course. Or rather one of the substantial hospitality buildings set up to watch the races. It certainly provides ample space, but in a building designed for height and view rather. The end effect is three long and thin floors. In fact it was rather like taking a conventional hall, slicing it in three and stacking the three bits on top of one another with quite a lot of stairs in between. This still left plenty of room for games and stands, but did leave a few rather squeezed. Simple Miniature games had inadvisedly brought an extra stand up display rack which meant getting to their stall was like squeezing down a narrow alley. Atmospheric, but not very convenient.

The Venue - in its rain-soaked glory

I had thought of Colours as medium-sized show, but that probably comes from comparison with Salute which is insanely massive. In fact it was quite big, with over 70 traders in attendance including plenty of familiar local faces but also a few bigger names like Warlord and West Wind. I was surprised not to see Mantic, as they had sent a stand to the much smaller Valhalla earlier in the year. But there was no shortage of their products on offer. In fact the bigger companies may have suffered on the day as they generally stick to official prices while stands all around undercut them. Why pay full price for Warlord miniatures when you can save a couple of pounds by walking to the stand next door?

The show format put the traders at bottom, working up to a level of half traders, half games and then to games, tournaments and the bring and buy, with a few exceptions for contrary traders putting on demo games, like West Wind showing off Mercs and GCT demoing Bushido (of which more below). I thought the layout worked quite well, allowing you to get your shopping out of the way before ascending a few (well quite a lot) stairs to play some games.

I went along with no fixed purchasing plans and allowed myself to get lost in the ranges on offer. GCT games and Bushido caught my eye. I had been vaguely aware of them from news items on TMP and TGN, but never paid very much attention. They were another fantasy skirmish game and I had plenty. Sadly a good display demonstrated that you can never have too many games and their fantasy take on Medieval Japan was an immediate draw. Both MLB and myself left satisfied with a starter pack each to try.

Gaming wise there was a good mix of Historical, Fantasy and Sci-Fi games and also of participation and demo games, though there seemed to be fewer quick 'pick up' games then I have seen at other shows. Many of the participation games seemed quite long runners requiring you to dedicate an hour or two of your time. Though perhaps this was more about timing and I simply missed the shorter games.

A few games caught my eye. Crooked Dice's 7TV demo looked impressive and quirky as always. 7TV uses the same basic engine as their previous Doctor Who miniature game, but with a theme based around cult TV shows and films from the 60s to the 80s, like the Avengers and James Bond at its camp height. The rules make reference to episodes and cast, rather than games and armies. It also has the advantage of needing no licence and so they can actually sell it, unlike the Doctor Who game which remains determinedly unofficial.

This set up saw a team of heroes face a villainous alliance in their lair in a dormant volcano (where else). Obviously a great deal of work had gone into the board, with the obligatory giant missile and the little yellow helicopter a particular highlight.

MLB and myself spent enjoyable hour with the RAF Wargames Association playing a Stargate themed games searching for missing scientists in an ancient Egyptian temple. The scenery for this came from a Playmobil set purchased on Ebay which shows that you don't need to spend ages on bespoke terrain to produce a good looking game.

A couple of other demo games stood out from the crowd. A stone age people hunting mammoths scenario by Lincombe Barn Wargames Society featured some striking mammoth models and well made fire templates. And I finally saw a game based around the opening scene of Gangs of New York by Maidenhead and District Gamers, something I have been wanting to see since I first saw the film.

On a side note, the food on offer was also slightly better than normal for a show of this size. Taking advantage of the Race course catering facilities there was a range of pasties and paninis, albeit with a long queue, and a licensed bar. Definitely a perk for some gamers, though as a non-drinker not so important for me.

Overall an enjoyable show with a good range of traders and games. My only regret being that I missed it in previous years.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Realms of Chaos Battle Report 2 - The Battle of Bogwurst

Having gathered a band of followers, Rolf made for the village of Bogwurst. He knew that the village was weakly defended and would be an ideal place to gather supplies. But as the warband approached the village, smouldering fire and the smell of blood revealed that Rolf was not the first to have this idea.

The village was abandoned, its population fled or killed. In the village square a band of drunken chaos thugs danced around a hastily constructed pyre, onto which a man in ragged robes had been tied. The Thugs danced around in a drunken frenzy. Even bound, gagged and helpless Rolf could sense the touch of chaos on their victim.

As Rolf considered his next move, a second band of chaos followers approached from the other side of the town. Five were men dressed in similar ragged robes to the sacrificial victims, five more were dwarves in armour, their leader carrying a large and ornate sword. Rolf made his decision, if this warband wanted this man, then clearly he was a prize worth taking.

Rolf ordered his warband to advance, quickly pushing past the drunken thugs who put up little resistance. From the other side, the enemy warband did the same. But as one of the thugs stumbled towards the lead dwarf he swung out his sword. As the sword touched the man there was a wailing hiss and his body shrivelled away to nothing. As if in response to his leader, one of the robed humans, who Rolf could now see had no skin on his face, stretched out a finger and let loose a bolt of lightning. Two more men collapsed in a pile of smoking ash.

Seeing that their rivals wielded magic, Rolf was daunted, but even more determined. He sent the Orcs to meet the lead dwarf, while the beastmen secured their captive. Rolf's warband reached the pyre first and the beastmen braved the flames to secure their prize. Rolf prepared himself to meet the ragged cultists, but then a second bolt of lightning leapt out and Rolf was struck down, his body crackling with energy.

With their leader fallen, the Beastmen and Orcs faltered, but the lead Beastmen, who carried Rolf's banner, bellowed a cry of defiance, hoisted his captive onto his shoulders and lead his comrades away. The Orcs braced themselves to receive the charge of the Dwarf champion. He launched himself forward his blade dancing, but the Orcs held out. However, when they struck back, they found their spear points deflected. His black skin was was harder than iron. Despite their resistance, the Orcs were slowly pushed back.

As the Beastmen retreated, the cultists saw their chance and attacked from the rear. But the beastmen disdainfully received their charge cutting down one of the cultists. Shocked by the strength of the resistance, the cultists panicked and fled. The Beastmen ignored them and marched on. The dwarves pursued, but were unable to keep pace. It seemed that Rolf's warband might claim victory after all. But then, the sorcerer hurled two more bolts of lightning and two beastmen fell. At the same time, the dwarf champion hacked through the leg of one Orc and skewered another on the point of his blade. Like the Chaos Thug before, the life was drained out of the Orc's body leaving an empty husk. Seeing the comrade subject to such a grizzly fate, the Orcs nerve gave and they fled.

The Beastman leader was not so easily bowed. Hoisting his captive he made a break for the trees at the edge of the village. Two more lightning bolts followed him, but the beastman was gone into the woods.

* * * * *

Rolf awoke to the sight of his beastman follower standing over him. It explained, in its guttural tone, that he had fled into the woods with his captive, that the rival warband had pursued but had been unable to find him. He had returned to the village and gathered up the scattered Orcs and beastmen. Despite being knocked out, the bolt of lightning had left Rolf scorched but unharmed. He gave a quiet prayer to his God for protecting him.

With his warband recovered Rolf turned his attention to his prisoner. The man was battered, but alive, but still gave Rolf a look of defiant hatred. Rolf was confused, but then he saw the twisting S shaped rune on the pendent around his neck. Somehow Rolf recognised it and hated it. Then his beastmen follower hissed a word “Tzeentch” with utter contempt and Rolf realised his prisoner was a champion of an rival God. Rolf smiled.

He tortured and killed his prisoner with sadistic glee and with a final contemptuous sneer, Rolf beheaded the man. The body fell and lay still. But then the body started to shake and convulse. Rolf stepped back as it exploded into a pile of offal and filth. Still it shook, rising up into a bloated, slug-like shape crowned by a mass of tentacles. The vile thing bounded forward toward Rolf. He backed away, but then the creature leaped towards him, licking him with its putrid Tongue like an affectionate hunting hound.

Preventing the rescue of a follower of Tzeentch was a worthy deed for a Champion of Nurgle, but to risk his life to capture and kill the champion himself had caught the attention of his God who had gifted him with one of his own Beasts. Rolf, as a champion, was quite unaffected by the creatures paralysing poisons. For his loyalty and dedication to his master his Beastman follower was rewarded with a tentacle arm like his master.

Gathering up his battered followers, Rolf made to leave Bogwurst, only to be disturbed by the lumbering arrival of a Dragon-Ogre, attracted by Sorcerer's lightning. Rolf readied himself for another fight, but the Dragon-Ogre, recognising a Chaos Champion, pledged himself to Rolf.

Casualties: 1 Orc killed, 1 serious leg injury.

Reward: Beast of Nurgle

Booty: None

Followers Reward: Chaos Attribute (Tentacle arm) for a Beastman

New Followers: 1 Dragon Ogre

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This was my second battle using the Realms of Chaos rules against My Little Brother and we were each using our second warbands. This was not a prospect to which I was greatly looking forward, largely because MLB's other warband is crazy. He managed to roll up a Level 10 Chaos Dwarf Sorcerer and decided to make him a follower of Tzeentch. This gave him a randomly generated Magic item, which turned out to be Daemon Sword (it started out as having a Daemon Prince sealed inside it but we agreed this was going a bit far and down-graded it to a Pink Horror).

So far so overpowered, but worse was to come. Tzeentchian champions get D3 chaos attributes instead of 1, and MLB rolled 3. His first two were the harmlessly ineffective big ears and black skin, but he rolled metal body for his third, giving his champion a strength and toughness of 6 and AN IMMUNITY TO NON-MAGICAL WEAPONS! His Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill were halved but this was largely compensated for by the Daemon Sword. Given that nothing in my warband could even hurt this guy this was not going to be an easy challenge.

With all that in mind, we settled on a scenario were I had a hope of achieving something. We selected a scenario from the Realms of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned book in which the two warbands have to compete to rescue a captured cultist coven leader from a band of drunken beastmen. I didn't have the beastmen to spare, but had no shortage of plastic chaos marauders, so we decided to substitute them. We decided that the coven leader was part of the same cult as MLB's cultists and so would be a Tzeentchian.

Unsurprisingly my warband was pretty badly massacred. But thanks to taking a more direct route to my goal I managed to get the coven leader first. Had it gone the other way I wouldn't have stood a chance of getting him off MLB's warband. My Beastmen performed stirlingly, surviving a rear charge, breaking the cultists and passing a leadership test so they weren't compelled to pursue (which would have taken them in the wrong direction). To cap it all, the standard bearer passed a panic test when two of his colleagues were taken out by lightning bolts from MLB's Cultist Magus and made it into the woods.

The Orcs also did well, given they were fighting an enemy they couldn't hurt. Poor old Rolf was the real loser, taken out without a fight and not even being able to claim the Victory Points for 'Surviving the Battle on the Winning side.'

Post battle I was extraordinarily lucky. Despite losing all but two of my warband I suffered only one fatality and one injury (an Orc with a severely injured leg who I may 'retire' as he will slow down the whole unit). Even Rolf escaped unscathed, gaining his first reward and a Dragon Ogre follower. Given his impressive performance winning the day, I had to pass my follower reward onto the beastman survivor. Now I just have to get my hands on a Beast of Nurgle.