Sunday 25 September 2016

Progress Report - Beyond the Gates of Antares

Since I finished my Siege Campaign I haven't been entirely idle. I have been working on the models from the Beyond the Gates of Antares starter set that I got back in November of last year. It's been less than a year since I got them which, for me, is a pretty quick turn around.

My plan is to get two 500 point forces done, which is the minimum size for a game, so I can give the rules a decent go. Depending on how well that goes, I may paint some more.

The starter set comes with two small forces, the Pan Human Concord and the Ghar Empire. It was the Ghar that drew me to the game. They're weird, little, angry, mutant creatures that go around in big battle suits. In contrast, the Concord are relatively normal humans in sci-fi armour.

Despite that, I started with the Concord, partly because they seemed easier and partly because I was less invested in the outcome.

 Squad 1 running

You actually get 750 points plus of Concord in the starter box, which is really quite silly good value. So I didn't need to paint the lot to get a game worthy force. But it felt dissatisfying to paint 3/4 of the models and so I pushed on and painted all four squads.

 Squad 2 running

You get four identical sprues of Concord troopers, each of which has four troopers, 1 medium-sized drone and two small spotter drones (both of which hover on flying bases). Rather than try to turn each sprue into one squad, I tried mixing and matching the pieces so that the poses came together more naturally. This left me with two squads running, one advancing and one standing and shooting. I also ended up with 1 squad of 3 support drones and one general purpose drone with a Subverter Matrix (a kind of scrambler).

 Squad 3 advancing

I was not a fan of the white and green colour scheme of the official Concord models, and ended up taking inspiration from the rulebook cover art, which makes them look more blue. I gave them all a spray of Army Painter plate mail metal, which I washed with Games Workshop Nuln Oil ink. The blue areas were Vallejo dark Prussian blue and field blue, with Games Workshop Asurmen blue wash and then highlighted in Vallejo Prussian blue and a mix of field blue and sky blue. The black areas were actually Vallejo dark grey with Nuln oil washes. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results.

 Squad 4 stand and fire

Despite me dismissing the Concord earlier as generic humans, their background is a bit more interesting. Concord society is made up of planets covered in a cloud of microscopic nano-machines that interface with the humans. This forms an artificial intelligence network made up of the collective needs and desires of all citizens. But this network also manipulates and controls humans at a subconscious level so they don't truly think for themselves. The result is either a truly democratic or completely tyrannical society, depending on how you look at it.

 Support Drones

In fact, the only element of the society with any kind of free-will is the army, which operates outside of the nano-cloud, forcing its soldiers to think for themselves to a limited extent. Generally when the Concord encounters another society, it spreads its nano-cloud to it and takes over, integrating them into itself. This only fails with life forms that are incompatible with the machines or which actively resist. So my collection really represents the fringe of Concord society, only used when the usual approach has broken down.

General purpose Drone with Subverter Matrix

Overall, the Beyond the Gates of Antares is less overtly dystopian than Warhammer 40,000, as well as being harder sci-fi, but maintains a level of moral ambiguity. The concord reminds me, faintly, of Iain M Banks Culture novels, in that its a huge, semi-utopian society, that conquers mostly through stealth and manipulation, including of its own population, but it is not a straightforward tyrannical empire like the 40K Imperium. I think I'm going to have fun dabbling in this universe.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

If you can't beat them join them?

Things have been a bit quite on the blog since the end of my siege campaign. I have actually been working on another project, but more about that when it's a bit further along. Today, I want to write about this...

The Warhammer: Age of Sigmar General's Handbook.

I've not played any AOS since my try out game some time back. I was naturally inclined to be hostile to it because I liked the old Warhammer rules and the old Warhammer world and didn't like it when Games Workshop threw them both out. AOS is such an overhaul of Warhammer that it is really a new game and I'm not looking to start any new games. On the other hand, my principle complaint about AOS had been the absence of points values which the Compendium addresses and, at only £15, it's pretty cheap for a GW publication.

If previous AOS books had focused on background material and lots of pictures with very little rules content, this is pretty much the exact opposite. It's basically all rules. The book attempts to introduce three different ways to play AOS. What it calls "Open play", "narrative play" and "matched play" and has sections for each.

There's actually surprisingly little of this

"Open play" isn't actually a new style, however. It's just AOS as it has been up to now, no points, scenarios, use what you like. This section of the book instead concentrates on multiplayer games with some new scenarios to suit. As Warhammer never quite ironed this out, it's good to see this. How effective the rules are, I'm not sure.

The narrative play section is focused on campaigns and story driven scenarios. It introduces some new, deliberately asymmetrical scenarios, such as one in which a whole army takes on a single monster or another which is basically a last stand. It also has a section on recreating the great battles of history.

The most interesting part of this section is the rules for campaigns. There are several differnt types described, including map-based, tree-campaigns (in which the outcome of one scenario effects the next played) and matrix (in which both players make decisions that effect the scenario to be played).

The most appealing part of this section for me, however, is the "Path to Glory" campaign. This describes a campaign based on choosing a warband lead by a champion and playing scenarios to win "glory points" which can be used to recuits new troops or improve the ones you have. It reads like a simplified version of the old "Realms of Chaos". Usefully, it also specifies that you can randomly generate your warbands or choose from any of the options on the random tables, allowing you to use the campaign either with an existing army or as the basis for building a new one.

 Good, but could we have few more unit options?

It's not all good, however. Not every faction is represented in the tables. I can understand why the newer ones would have been left out, but I'm not sure why there's no tables for the Seraphon. Also, all of the factions from the Death and Chaos compendium books are included, but for some reason Order and Destruction are not. So while I can use my old Undead and Chaos armies to build a warband, I can't do anything with my Dwarfs or Greenskins as only the Fyreslayers and Ironjaws are included. Hopefully, GW will put out some more tables online.

The final section, "Match Play" is the one that most people will be buying the book for. This includes some tournament rules and scenarios as well as a battle report. This is a nice touch and reminds me of the days when GW supplements used to repurpose White Dwarf content. Though, I believe this battle report was written solely for the book.

 So that's what a battle looks like

The tournament rules include some fun random tables of artifacts and traits giving you some ability to customise your characters, which is a nice touch. But the most important bit is the points section. This is a very comprehensive list that includes all the existing war scrolls and even the formations. It also includes all the units from the early compendium PDFs that GW put out, even for models that have been discontinued like the Bretonnians. The only thing missing is Forge World. Hopefully, they will follow suit and put out there own points list.

Finally the book includes the four page basic AOS rules, so you don't have to print them out or buy any other books to play.

The book isn't all good. One of the "historical" scenarios included is a ridculously oversized batttle between the forces of Chaos and Death. All the units in it are way over the top. To give an example, it includes a unit of 24 Varanguard which would cost £480 alone at GW prices. The battle is designed to be multi-player, but would still rely on several players each with large Chaos or Death armies to put together. If you going to include a large multi-player battle, why not one with more mixed factions so there is a chance that someone out there might actually be able to play it?

Can anyone play this?

But that's my one major complaint. Overall this is pretty good stuff, that expands the AOS rules in an interesting way without undermining the simplicity which was the essential selling point. I have a few quibbles, but nothing major. I'm not sure I'm going to be playing a lot of AOS in the future, but this book does make it a lot more likely.