Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: Cadia Stands

This is another of the "current events" books for Warhammer 40,000 similar to Dark Imperium ... which I realize I never posted a review of on the blog so that will be coming later in the week!

The focus this time is on the battle for Cadia which is assaulted and finally destroyed during the 13th Black Crusade which is one of the big new timeline advances that arrived with 40K 8th edition. Cadia has been the "cork in the bottle" of the Eye of Terror (home of many chaos space marines) and the home of the famous imperial guard Cadian Shock Troops. This book covers events during it's fall.

The Good
If you wanted more detail on what exactly happened with Cadia, how a bastion of the Imperium could fail, this books covers it though only from the imperial point of view.  Abaddon is doing things beyond just throwing troops and ships at it this time but there's not a lot of discussion of what he's doing, why he's doing it, and why it works - it's mainly about imperial forces reacting to the attack.

The Bad
At a big picture level, there's not enough ... big picture. The books is presented in chapters, and starts off with a fairly consistent narrative covering a few units of the imperial guard - mainly their leaders - but then about halfway through the story it just shoots off in a bunch of different directions. What seemed like main characters drop out of the story entirely or fade into the background. Some new characters pop up. Many of them die. Not only does it lack any point of view from the chaos side it loses the larger view from the imperial side so there's not much context for what's going on.

The whole thing just turns into a mess.

Near the end many units evacuate the planet so we spend some time with the crews of a spaceship or two. For the finale we have a group of survivors making a last stand on a completely different planet where they are annihilated by a force of chaos marines. 

To give it a happy ending (I guess???) those chaos marines are then annihilated by an imperial relief force in the final chapter.

After reading this I don't feel like I know that much more about the fall of Cadia and I don't feel like I got to know much more about that characters than i did when they started out.

It's just a mess. That's the best way I can describe it.

I hate to criticize without some kind of deeper feedback so ... how could it have been better? How could this book have given us more?

To me there are two basic approaches you could take with a topic like this - a big event in the setting that affects a huge number of people:

  • You give the big picture approach. Leaders. Plans. Strategies. Battles. Preferably for both sides.
  • You go personal story. This squad experiences this and this and this as they fight their way through the huge planetary assault. Add in some other characters that cross paths with them - a tank crew, a pilot, some civilians - and give us a first-person view of the fight. 
This book seemed like it was starting out at the personal level, then kind of went high command on us, then went back to the personal level but it spread itself out so much that it had no real impact - on me anyway. 

I think there was a narrative issue with the finale too as there is no reason that last fight could not have happened on Cadia itself! It's much weaker to spend multiple chapters fleeing the scene of the event only to have them die by chaos marine somewhere else than it would have been to keep the story focused on Cadia and the losing fight happening there. 

I think it's ridiculous to end with an imperial victory of any kind too. This is the story of the Imperium getting punched in the face by Abaddon and the powers of chaos. It should be dark and grim etc. - there are no significant victories for the good guys here according to the other lore we have. Let's not try and sugarcoat it here. 

An example of a 40K book that does this better in my opinion is Rynn's World. That story really begins with the Crimson Fists fortress monastery getting blown up during an ork invasion and focuses on a group of surviving marines fighting and sneaking their way across the planet to the main city and then assisting in its defense. Heck, I reviewed it six years ago and yes - there's an example of a much tighter effort on a similar subject. 

Even with this one, I won't say "don't get it" but I will say that it may not do the things you'd like it to do. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dertosa, 215 BC

So Blaster and I have managed to restart our extremely long term Command and Colors Ancients series. This time we fought "Dertosa" which historically was a Carthaginian loss. Since the game plays fairly quickly we always play each scenario twice - once from each side. This time Blaster won both games so each side went 1-1 though that second game was really close as we both had 5 flags the last few turns and the win was to get 6.

The funny thing is we read through the "Cannae" scenario and were all fired up to fight one of the more famous battles of the ancient world but I walked away from the table and somehow the book got flipped over and we set up for Dertosa (the next battle in the book) instead. Ah well - it's probably good to have a warm-up before the bigger fight anyway.

I did not realize quite how long this had been going on til I looked back at the blog and find the first battle was in 2011 ... that is a really long time to still be playing through the first set of battles.

I suspect we will pick up the pace, considering how much we both like the game - especially now that I know.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Astro City TV Series

Well here's one I missed in my offline time: Astro City is wrapping up as a monthly book and is being seriously attempted as a TV show. Of all of the "modern"? "Retro"? -whatever - comics out there Astro City is my favorite and has been for a while. A decent take on it would make a great show.

Between this and the word that Wild Cards is also in development as a show from a year or two back there are two super-universes that I really like making their way into new channels. Cool!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A D&D Podcast for People Playing D&D, Not About People Playing D&D

I've been looking for a certain type of D&D podcast for a long time. So many of them now are people playing D&D - I don't need a ton of those myself but they do seem to be increasingly popular. What I am looking for is a podcast about D&D - news, reviews, rules debates, ideas for different things to try in play or approaches to common problems. Even if I don't agree with all - or any - of them it's good to hear people discussing these kinds of things about the games I like.

We used to get this kind of thing in Dragon Magazine - in fact I'd say that was it's primary purpose, outside of being a promotional vehicle for D&D itself.

When the web became a thing we saw more of this kind of thing migrate to websites, then forums, and now a lot of it turns up in Facebook groups - which are just terrible for presenting anything other than the "right now" of a discussion or exploration.

Podcasts are an interesting mix of forum and social media. They are definitely a snapshot of he "right now" discussion but they are persistent in that one can go back and listen to them even if they occurred before you were interested in that particular topic.

This is the current state of things in say Warhammer 40,000 podcasts, or Age of Sigmar, or Kings of War etc. There are the news and reviews type podcasts which focus on the game itself and what's happening right now, then there are battle reports which are people actually playing the game. Two different approaches, both pretty popular, and often both are done by some of the same people. The discussion happens on a podcast while the batreps tend to happen in a YouTube video.

So why is it so  hard to get this for D&D these days? Why do we have so many "battle report/actual play" casts and so few shows about the game?

Pathfinder has Know Direction. Star Wars has Order 66. D&D 4E had Radio Free Hommlett. Dungeon Crawl Classics has Spellburn, Mutant Crawl Classics has Glowburn. Savage Rifts has the Murderhobo Show. Savage Worlds has multiple shows of this type.

But the biggest RPG in the world has very few of them.

  • There's the official D&D podcast, Dragon Talk. It's even more "meta" than I am looking for as it tends to talk about the game as a whole rather than the game as something that is played. 
  • There's Radio Free Borderlands which is nice because it's a) short and b) focused on news which keeps it from wandering all over the place. This is one of my weekly staples now.
  • Finally there is Heroes Rise which is a fairly new show just starting up last fall. It's tied to the people who do Priority One which is a Star Trek Online show that's been going for years. That means it has decent production values, a framework to help with structure, an d experience behind it. It is probably the best example of what I am looking for It runs an hour or less each week and has had a consistent production schedule right from the beginning. 
So while I do not know why they are so rare I have found 3 shows that pretty much cover what I am looking for. Heroes Rise, in particular, is pretty close to what I really want. 

That said - there's always room for more, so if you know of one that fits into this category please pass it along.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bringing it Back Online

Well, it's been a few months but it's time to get things back online, spin up the FTL, climb out of the hole, re-ignite the forge,  and get the blog going again.

Catching Up:

  • Westworld! It's back and so far is looking good. I was concerned that they might not be able to match the first season and the total lack of knowledge we had - I mean, surprises are tougher once we know what's going on - but so far they seem intent on revealing even more about the park's place in the world and I am liking it all so far.
  • Ready Player One! Saw it, liked it, still haven't read the book. As pretty much the exact target demo for this movie I appreciate it quite a bit but it's not a Star Wars/Raiders/Iron Man level event. That said, there's a fight near the end that if you're a fan of various Japanese pop culture things - like say, Godzilla - that you will never see anywhere else and that alone pretty much made the movie for me. 
  • Pacific Rim 2 - Again I liked it, and again it just didn't quite hit the highest notes for me. The first one felt revolutionary. this one feels like we're just doing some business. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it felt like they could have done more.
  • Infinity War - YEAH! Started off strong, didn't waste time with a bunch of exposition, kept Iron Man awesome, put Thor back up to awesome - maybe even moreso than before - and stayed true to what they've been doing for the last ten years. 

Game-wise it was pretty rare thing for a few months but we're firing that up again too. It's pretty much cut down to two games for now:
  • Savage Rifts is going again with our first session since January in the books and another one on the way. No pre-planned campaign here, this one is all stuff from my head.
  • D&D is rolling again with the Storm King's Thunder game restarted for the first run since December. I had another sessions scheduled but we ran late and ended up playing Smash-Up instead and everyone still had a good time. 
  • I'm still playing in Steve's Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign. All is well there.
So I'm running Savage Worlds and D&D 5E which makes me a happy DM as I really like both systems. I expect we will get at least one more option in play for the summer. Reading Freedom City has me itching for a Supers game again, but a second 5E campaign has some attraction as does a second Savage Worlds game - resurrecting our Deadlands campaign probably tops that list. 

Anyway there's the restart update - more to come!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Sigmar Monday - Getting Started

My approach in getting into Age of Sigmar at this point is to go back to the beginning and pick up things in the order they came out. This should help me in both the game rules and the lore. Rules-wise there have been various updates - allegiance books, battle tomes, campaign books, and general's handbooks - that add to the game and there have also been lore releases outside of those with various novels.

This is easier because Games Workshop has taken an approach to releasing the game by using an ongoing story that shows the progression of the setting in chunks. The initial boxed set and novella covered the history of what happened between the end of the Old World and the beginning of the new. It described the resettling of the various "realms" and the emergence of the new gods, starting with Sigmar himself. The history part wraps up with the invasion of this new world by the chaos powers and the retreat back to a single realm by the non-chaos forces. The "now" part of the game kicks off with Sigmar's return to the realms, the first invasion with his new Stormcast forces to re-open a single realmgate and begin a war to reclaim the realms for order and life. The boxed set contains six scenarios - "battleplans" - that describe this initial campaign. By the end of them, Sigmar's forces have reclaimed this first gate and are ready for more.

The original hardback continues this with additional battleplans and text that cover the expansion of this campaign beyond that first invasion. Then there are a series of "Realmgate Wars" campaign books and novels that describe the liberation of the other realms and the battles across them. That's pretty much the story of the first year or two of the Age of Sigmar game. The second big arc is just getting started now with the "Malign Portents" campaign and series of releases that seems to focus on the Death faction but is also bringing out a bunch of the Elf lore too.  It should be an interesting year. I expect that AoS will get more attention this year now that the initial blast of 40K new edition support is out and done. We will see.

I admit that I have really come around on the lore for the game. Early on it was dismissed as "bubbles" of stuff that the various races lived in and it all sounded pretty shallow. Reading through the actual material though - well, it reads more like Runequest! It's a time of myth with gods and divine agents shaping the land and creating new races who sometimes do not get along. Time is vague (and flexible), geography is vague (and flexible), and heroes sometimes have multiple lives to live.

There are some elements of Planescape for D&D as well, and some from Stargate too. The 8 realms each seem to be associated with one of the old 8 winds of magic themes - heavens, metal, fire, life, death, beasts, light, and shadows. If you ever played an Empire wizard in the Warhammer RPG or miniatures game these should sound familiar. They each have inhabitants that fit that theme, while the powers of Chaos threaten all as they invade from outside of this reality.  They are not described as "planets" and there are not all-encompassing maps of the the whole realms, just certain regions where the fighting is taking place - they're more like "planes". To travel between these realms most beings need to use realmgates which are physical structures that connect one realm to another. Magic rituals can seal or open them so much of the wargame focus is on locating, controlling, and either opening or closing one of the gates.

A "Baleful Realmgate"
Now I like this for the miniatures game as it's definitely ramping up of the setting to a mythic high-magic that fits the figures well. I also like it because there are some new RPG's coming out later this year too:

  • There's a 40K RPG that is taking a different approach from the old one both mechanically and thematically. 
  • There's an update of the classic old world version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying that looks like it's being handled well and is basing off of the 2nd edition mechanics which were heavily based off of the 1st edition mechanics which is exactly what I was hoping for someday.  
  • On top of these there is also an Age of Sigmar RPG being developed, separate from the classic version above and I think there are a ton of possibilities for this one. 
The best description of the difference between on those last two is this quote:

WFRP 4e is meant to be the “Look, a Bloodthirster! Run!” game, while Age of Sigmar is meant to be the “Look, a Bloodthirster! Charge!” game. Different power levels, different gonzo levels. C7 said that while they and other writers on WFRP4 are big fans of the classic Old World, they’re actually really looking forward to Age of Sigmar as a chance to do something that feels very different within the Warhammer mythos. C7 said they have hopes to develop Age of Sigmar’s setting into something very special, and those who were originally turned off by Age of Sigmar should give the RPG take on it a second look.

Like I said above, I see a lot of RPG potential in there for some adventures outside the typical D&D approach, but they will still be taking care of the classic Warhammer fans too. Well done!

Originally I was thinking I just wanted a set of fantasy rules that was current and supported and the fact that they look a lot like 40K 8th was just a bonus. After reading the fluff though, I am buying into the game and setting as a whole, not just as a set of rules. 

So far, for AoS I have the starter set, the original hardback book, the four grand alliance books, and the first general's handbook. The GH is out of order but I wanted some point values to get started. I expect we will be working our way through these early battles for a while and I am still building the starter set miniatures, but I am betting I can be caught up to the game's "now" before the end of 2018.  Updates to follow. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Planning for 2018: The Miniatures

With the resurgence of Warhammer 40,000 last year it was somewhat easy to maintain focus as we were rally only playing the one game - everything else fell by the wayside as dove back in to 40K full time.

(Well, except for the RPGs - more on those coming later)

Now X-Wing, Attack Wing, and Armada are virtually painless as "side games" as they come pre-painted and have all of the relevant rules included with the model, I don't need to build them, I don't need to paint them, and I don't need to buy an expansion book to run them. The only downside is that I am a little less attached to them as I didn't paint them. Now you can paint them or customize them:

...but that does eliminate the huge benefit of being pre-painted. One of these days, but not right now.

This month, though, I have re-discovered Fantasy mini's via Age of Sigmar: The Second Look A Few Years Later much like I did with Pathfinder and 4E D&D and 5E D&D. Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in...

So how to manage this? I'm still building and painting armies for 40K and now I'm charged up about this Sigmar thing and looking at what I have for that has also re-sparked my interest in Kings of War. How do I make usable progress on armies for these games instead of ending up with a bunch of half-efforts? Let's look at it in the context of "2018". How do I get things done for all of these games this year? This guy has a pretty good idea: Nick Williams blog post.

It took me forever to get a full, painted Warhammer army together. I got my first set of Warhammer rules in 1984 (second edition) but didn't play a ton in the 80's and when I did it was with my Battlesystem counters or with other people's miniatures at Cons. I had multiple armies in the 90's, mainly High Elves and Orcs, but only some of them were painted. I finally got my Chaos Warriors organized, built, and painted in the early 2000's during 6th edition ... and they are still my only fully painted fantasy army! Those same High Elves and Orcs now form the core of the Kings of War armies for blaster and myself and yes, they are still only partially painted.

Given this, I like Nick's ideas:

  • Limit your games! This is similar to my constant reach for "focus" in my gaming. Play the same game a few times in a row. Play the same army for a while! Learn how the game - and a particular army - works! I have a tendency to jump around between games so I have to keep this in mind.
  • An army for each that I am proud of! This is more complicated as I have several painted armies:
    • 40K - Crimson Fists, Imperial Fists, Iron Warriors, Iyanden Eldar, Grey Knights (new for 2018!) and my old Howling Griffons - but I am always working on more. Plus there are unfinished units intended for those painted armies too. 
    • For Warhammer/KoW/Sigmar I have my Chaos Warriors
    • Bolt Action is the other game that lurks on our fringes and I have some sprayed 20mm figs but nothing I'd rate as "proud"
    • Oh, and Frostgrave, but that runs off of our D&D mini collection so no real worries there. 
So, limit games and try to finish one army - I can work with that. I just have to decide which one!

Games is fairly easy: 40K is top dog, with Kings of War a neglected favorite and Sigmar my current obsession. 

  • Kings of War - finish my old warhammer Orc army! I see others that I like but I would like to push this one over the "Finished" line before I start another.
  • Sigmar - I have a box full of Stormcasts and Chaos guys now so I should probably start with them. I have an idea for a fairly easy Stormcast paint scheme so that's probably where it will start. The 40K Daemon army works as-is in this game so that could be a bonus. After that I am split between Lizardmen (have some leftovers from the Warhammer days) and Vampire Counts and a "Death" army in general.
  • 40K - So many options - build new stuff for my Iron Warriors? finish the Blood Angels? 
    • I just put together 30 bloodletters so I'd say a Daemon army is probably at the front of the queue. I have all of the units I just need to finish building and painting them. Being able to use it for two games really makes this one important.
    • I've been playing around with the World Eaters for a while and they're mostly built. I really should finish them up and paint them
    • After that I'm leaning towards my Dark Angels as I have several lists I like that use a mix of certain units that would not take that long to finish if I just locked in and worked on them for a while. 
That's the plan for now. We will see to what degree I can stick to it. Maybe I can work up some kind of split schedule where I work on two armies per year - start one this year, finish up the one from last year, play both as the year goes on. That would be nice.

For 40K I'd like to finish the Blood Angels but I'm reading a bunch of DA books so they're more in my head right now. I love my Orks but I've made a conscious decision to set them aside until their codex comes out. Death Guard are an army I go back and forth on so they may show up at some point too. 

For fantasy in general I've always wanted a dwarf army and I'd say a Mantic Dwarf Starter is in my near future, probably for KoW. It's easier than hunting down an old Warhammer dwarf force unit by unit. I'm also liking the idea of an undead army and I'm thinking a more VC-type force for Sigmar and rescuing some old Tomb Kings stuff for a KoW Empire of Dust army. Not sure how far any of that will get in 2018 but it's good to have a plan, right?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Khorne Campaigns: World Eaters vs More Eldar!

After the last encounter with the eldar one of my main conclusions was that I needed more firepower. I considered havocs and predators and all the usual sources but I wanted to try something different - so I basically upgraded the rhinos to land raiders.

++ Battalion Detachment +3CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [47 PL, 848pts] ++

+ Flyer [10 PL, 185pts] +

Heldrake [10 PL, 185pts]: Baleflamer [30pts], Heldrake claws [17pts], Mark of Khorne

+ No Force Org Slot +

Legion: World Eaters

+ HQ [10 PL, 165pts] +

Dark Apostle [5 PL, 83pts]: Mark of Khorne, Plasma pistol [7pts], Power maul [4pts], The Black Mace

Exalted Champion [5 PL, 82pts]: Brass Collar of Borghaster, Mark of Khorne, Plasma pistol [7pts], Power axe [5pts]

+ Troops [27 PL, 498pts] +

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 166pts]
. Berzerker Champion [35pts]: Plasma pistol [7pts], Power fist [12pts]
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe [85pts]: 5x Chainaxe [5pts]
. Chainsword and plasma pistol [23pts]: Chainsword, Plasma pistol [7pts]
. Chainsword and plasma pistol [23pts]: Chainsword, Plasma pistol [7pts]

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 166pts]
. Berzerker Champion [35pts]: Plasma pistol [7pts], Power fist [12pts]
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe [85pts]: 5x Chainaxe [5pts]
. Chainsword and plasma pistol [23pts]: Chainsword, Plasma pistol [7pts]
. Chainsword and plasma pistol [23pts]: Chainsword, Plasma pistol [7pts]

Khorne Berzerkers [9 PL, 166pts]
. Berzerker Champion [35pts]: Plasma pistol [7pts], Power fist [12pts]
. 5x Chainsword and Chainaxe [85pts]: 5x Chainaxe [5pts]
. Chainsword and plasma pistol [23pts]: Chainsword, Plasma pistol [7pts]
. Chainsword and plasma pistol [23pts]: Chainsword, Plasma pistol [7pts]

++ Spearhead Detachment +1CP (Chaos - Chaos Space Marines) [62 PL, 1152pts] ++

+ No Force Org Slot +

Legion: World Eaters

+ Heavy Support [57 PL, 1074pts] +

Chaos Land Raider [19 PL, 358pts]: Combi-bolter [2pts], Mark of Khorne, Twin heavy bolter [17pts], 2x Twin lascannon [100pts]

Chaos Land Raider [19 PL, 358pts]: Combi-bolter [2pts], Mark of Khorne, Twin heavy bolter [17pts], 2x Twin lascannon [100pts]

Chaos Land Raider [19 PL, 358pts]: Combi-bolter [2pts], Mark of Khorne, Twin heavy bolter [17pts], 2x Twin lascannon [100pts]

+ HQ [5 PL, 78pts] +

Warpsmith [5 PL, 78pts]: Combi-bolter [2pts], Flamer [9pts], Mark of Khorne, Meltagun [17pts], Power axe [5pts]

++ Total: [109 PL, 2000pts] ++

So - no juggerlord, no daemon prince, no helbrutes but I do have firepower! I kept the Heldrake around for a second chance too.

Blaster took his usual force which you can see here and we played the same mission as well - "Dominate and Destroy" - involving objective-holding and kill points.

I started with 4 things on the table - 3 land raiders and a heldrake ... if only we were still using that fewest-drops-equals-first-turn rule. I still won first turn. My big tanks rolled up the table and started blasting away, while the heldrake did his usual thing too ...

... and you can see how it goes. He flies up, flame-breaths a guardian unit, then charges it, and the few survivors end up fleeing due to morale - awesome! Except that now he's in range of every gun in the eldar army and he's going to pay.

On the Eldar turn they kill the Heldrake, put some hurt on the big tanks, and drop these guys in behind me. The other thing I was concerned about from my last battle was the lack of objective holders. I knew I was doubling-down on offense with this army list, but it really hurt me here.

This shot above is actually from Turn 2 where I have managed to tear up the wraithguard and some of his other troops but it's not going to be enough.

By turn 3 two of the land raiders are gone, the berzerkers are exposed and my chances of winning are just about gone. Over on that left side I did manage to kill his wraithlord but he had killed enough zerks that it was going to be tough to get through his guardians and his jetbikes and the farseer and the spiritseer that were all sitting on that objective.

Then on turn 4 his Fire Prism and brightlance-armed Wave Serpent and his Dark Reapers managed to kill the third Land Raider and I conceded. The first 2 squads were mostly gone and there was nothing in charge range of the intact but now on foot 3rd squad. I was going to spend Turn 5 eating scatter laser and bright lace fire and there was no need to go through that exercise again.

So why are we failing here?

  • The board configuration is the toughest one for an assault army fighting a shooting army as the traditional setup has a 12" backfield while this one has 24". That means it takes me an extra turn to get to him (at least). That's a killer. With the Land Raider moving 10" instead of the Rhino's 12" I'm trading some speed for firepower and this setup only makes it worse. Advancing means I'm giving up 12 lascannon shots and 18 heavy bolter shots so that doesn't seem like a good idea. 
  • Only 4 maneuver units for probably half the game means I have limited board control. I can't hold objectives until the marines jump out and even that assumes the tanks are still in some kind of fighting shape. Even if things are dying a squad of cultists could have been racking up points in the backfield in those first couple of turns. 
  • The Heldrake is 185 points of one-turn-glory and then it dies, and I don't think it's soaking up enough firepower to really help my tanks (or my Rhinos) survive. The board wasn't helping here either as even with a 30" flying move, an 18" breath weapon, and a 2d6 charge range, there was really only one unit he could get to on Turn 1. If he could hit a Dark Reaper squad he would make a much bigger difference, but on this type of board I think a helbrute would have contributed more.
  • Tactics - I spread out across the whole board and I probably should have concentrated on one side to cut down on the number of units that could shoot at me. Eldar heavy weapons all have a 36" range or more but it might have cut out some of the shuriken weapons and their annoying bladestorm effect at least. 
  • Lack of speed is a problem, aside from everything else. What if I had dropped in a terminator squad somewhere near the Heldrake? Maybe some Obliterators? I need to create some threats on his end of the board, more than just a single unit.

So while I like the Land Raiders taking 3 of them leaves me no real flexibility. One or two of them might work and would free up enough points to add in some deep strikers and some other fire support. 

Logically it would make more sense to take the fire support elements from my Iron Warriors. they're better at shooting, already painted, and this would also open up the option of some psyker support too. There are quite a few places where Warptime would make this army better.

My other inclination is to go Maximum Khorne and get a Lord of Skulls. He's big, he has big guns, and he leaves room for some other things - like juggerlords - as well. 

We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The New Game for 2018

More than a year back I ran through all of the miniature games I was looking into and trying to find time to play. Well, a lot of those candidates fizzled out given our limited time and my reluctance to dive too deeply in unless at least one of the Apprentices was excited about it. As far as that 2016 list goes:

  • Bolt Action - they went to a second edition and my interest cooled because it seemed like everything else was going to new editions too and there's only so much money to spend. I really should have a decent set of WW2 miniatures by now given my interests but it just hasn't happened. Maybe next year.
  • Dropzone Commander - it seemed like a great replacement for Epic but the Apprentices were not super excited and then the creators seemed to get really caught up in their Dropship Commander Kickstarter and development and now they've sold their company off to another company ... call me when you get around to releasing second edition.
  • Frostgrave - we've played a few games of this and we like it so it will likely get played a few times this year too. It's an easy game to have "on the list" without buying a bunch of expensive books and huge armies. 
  • Flames of War - looked at the new edition, decided to skip it since their own fans seem to hate it. 
  • Kings of War - we liked it, played it quite a bit for a while, then once 40K 8th edition came out it's been gathering dust. I think we may be giving it another try soon though.
  • X-Wing - I bought the kids (and myself) a bunch of ships for Xmas 2016 and ... no one wanted to play it. As teenagers I know my friends and I would have killed for a game like this but for whatever reason it's just not anything they really care about. I haven't bought a ship for it since, nor have we played it in more than a year now. 
The latecomer: Armada. I talked about it here and while we haven't played it a ton it's the one Star Wars game that Blaster at least is interested in playing again. I picked up some more ships for it not too long ago and we're trying to find a place to give it the first run of this year.

Lately thought I was feeling a lack of fantasy gaming and I kept hearing good things about Shadespire. 

It's a skirmish sized game where you have a band of 3-5 characters from a particular force that fight it out on a tactical map. The characters are pre-set per band, but you have cards that let you customize everything from gear to objectives. It can be anywhere from 1 on 1 to a 4-way free for all and sounded fairly interesting as it plays really fast too - less than an hour is what I keep hearing. 

The base game comes with Sigmarites (the gold armored posterboys of Age of Sigmar) vs Khorne Blood-somethings - basically barbarians or chaos marauders. There are expansion sets now for orcs and undead. Sounds cool, and you can pick up the whole thing for about $100. 

Then I started looking around. I had picked up the General's Handbook for AoS a while back and was really impressed with what it did for that game. Maybe fantasy is the right answer, but not in the limited-and-somewhat-close-to-an-RPG form that is Shadespire.

I can get the starter set for Age of Sigmar, the big original one, for about the same amount. It has a good chunk of two fantasy armies in it. I'm a lot more friendly to the rules now after playing 40K 8th. Finally, I am busily building up my daemon armies for 40K and they are completely usable in AoS with no changes at all! With our leftover High Elf, Greenskin, and Chaos Warrior armies from Warhammer and Kings of War, plus my daemon forces, plus Apprentice Red's Wood Elves, plus what comes in the box, we could have 6-7-8 armies right now using a similar set of rules to 40K and using terrain we already have! 

So, Shadespire is sitting down for now and somewhat to my surprise we are moving into Age of Sigmar in a big way. I don't expect it to replace 40K but I expect it to jump to the #2 spot pretty quickly.

I know we only have a limited amount of time to play these thigns. I also would rather spend a big chunk of the budget diving deeply into one good game than spending a little on half a dozen games we play once or never play at all, so I try to pick one main game to dive into for the year - especially when it comes to miniatures. This year it's AoS. 

More to come, for sure.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

40K Catchup for February

Somewhere along the way 2018 has turned into the year of the new army.

I spent 2016 focused on my Eldar and getting them shaped into a decent, usable force and I was happy with the result.

It seemed like a good approach so I spent 2017 building up my Chaos armies, mainly my Iron Warriors, and I was pretty happy with the results there too even if I was a little less focused than before.

For 2018 I was thinking I would focus on my two "angel marine" armies, the Blood Angels and Dark Angels, especially since they both received a codex in December. Somehow, that has not happened.

For one, I just can't seem to shake the interest in the Chaos armies. I got distracted with World Eaters over the holidays. I played a series of battles with them and got sucked into trying to refine my force into something really nasty. I'm a little better now but I am still spending time on them each week refiguring the force. More on them Friday!

Chaos-wise I also checked back into my Death Guard army which had kind of been shelved for a while now. I took a fresh look at them, realized how much I had for them, put together some new army lists for them and started figuring out how I want to make them different than my other chaos marine forces. I haven't gone on a big acquisitions or painting binge for them just yet but it's close.

I still have Iron Warriors work to do but that's just production stuff at this point - I know what I want them to do, I just need to get them painted.

The first big new army thing that popped up was Chaos Daemons. I had been putting together demon forces all last year when I saw opportunities, but I had not really tried to play them with the index. I had a collection of stuff for each of the four powers but I had decided not to dig in too far until the codex was released. Well it was released in January and I really like what I see. I'm starting with my Khorne nasties and a side order of Nurgle and I'm sure the others will inevitably follow since I am clearly not good at limiting myself in this area. They will probably get their first run against one of the other new armies we've developed. Imperial Guard!

We've been toying with a guard army since 6th edition - Blaster and I - and it looks like this is finally the year we get it together, painted, and on the table. It's possible to do an all-tank army with guard (including HQs!) and that's our goal. We will mix in a few infantry squads here and there just because it's smart to get those Command Points, and psyker power is always nice to have too, but the focus is on tanks tanks tanks. We have around 10-12 right now and I'd like to run that up to around 15-16 plus a super heavy. Because we can. This is a "shared" army that I figure we will take turns playing as the mood strikes us.

Blaster has also been struck by the need for a new army of his own. He's very happy with his Eldar force (and he should be, grumble grumble) but with his Space Wolves still lacking a codex he's feeling a lack of power armor, especially with all the shiny new stuff out there. So he's building a Primaris army. An Ultramarines Primaris army.

He has a pretty good force of them already - beware your kids getting jobs, all of a sudden they don't need you as a gatekeeper on their toy soldiers - and he's ready to use them before he paints them. So, it looks like I'll be fighting Guilleman pretty soon. I'll let y'all know how that goes.

The final new army for me for now is a somewhat unexpected one - Grey Knights. I've known about them since the Rogue Trader metal mini's, but never picked any of those up. When their 5th edition book came out and they got all new plastic miniatures I thought they looked really really good but for whatever reason I did not feel like I needed to own or play them. With the coming of 8th edition I decided to pick up all of the codexes as they were released to keep up with the entire game and not just the armies I do play. So one day I sat down to read the Grey Knights book and the fluff totally grabbed me. It's really good! I mean really really good! And I say that as someone who has read a lot of 40K stuff over the years and isn't always impressed with it.

So I figured "well it's an elite army - I could pick up a few boxes and paint them all myself."

That's not happening.

For whatever reason, the GK's are pretty easily found in a decently painted form all over the place. They also have a pretty standard paint scheme of shiny silver with accents of white and red. So ... when a decently painted unit is available for the same or less (or quite a bit less) than an unbuilt and unpainted box of the same unit ... well it's an easy choice. One factor may be that since they are not perceived as a top competitive tournament army people are letting them go a little easier but I'm not planning to take them to a tournament so it works for me regardless. In fact this may be the first army I field that is entirely unpainted by me,other than some touch-ups here and there. I'll probably end up fighting orks or eldar or primaris marines since I'm the main chaos player here but I am looking forward to it regardless.

I'm also going to use these shiny Paladins of the 40K universe to try and drag in Paladin Steve and his kiddo to join in some of our games. Now if I can just get him to read the fluff ...

The immediate future with the newest codexes:

  • Custodes are out but I'm not jumping onto them - at least not until I finish my Grey Knight buildup!
  • Thousand Sons are cool but I don't think I need another Chaos Marine chapter right now. 
  • Necrons are coming - Red will be pleased!
  • Tau are coming - an army none of us have but one of Blaster's friends plays them. We'll see how that goes.
  • Dark Eldar are coming too. I have a force, I've played it a few times. Who knows, I might be ready to dive into them by the time the book arrives. Or I may still be painting Daemons.

That's about it for now. World Eater talk on Friday!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Four Years of Kingmaker

This month marks the 4-year anniversary of my friend Paladin Steve's Pathfinder game using the Kingmaker AP. The plan was to play once a month and yesterday was Session 39 so we haven't missed too many sessions over that time. I don't post much about it here - since I'm not running it I feel like it's not my story to tell, but since it is the only campaign where I am a player I will share some thoughts.

First, it's the only Pathfinder thing I am doing right now and has been for about a year. With a month between sessions and the occasional missed session the rules do get rusty. In an attempt to help with this I bought the "Pathfinder Rules Reference Flash Cards" and keep them in the bag I take to the game.

These are pretty solid and each one covers a specific topic. I'm playing a cavalier so it's handy to have the "Mounted Combat" rules in front of me, occasionally the Bull Rush or Grappling rules come up too, the Dying condition, etc. One of the issues is "Edition Bleed" - we've migrated from 3.0 to 3.5 to 4E to 5E all over the last decade so sometimes a situation comes up and the default tends to be what was last encountered in play rather than what did we read about it in this particular rulebook. It happens in 40K too, so it's not unique to D&D type RPGs. As an example just yesterday we had one player insisting that constructs were immune to critical hits. I was pretty sure that was not the case in Pathfinder and that he was remembering 3E D&D so we had to make some knowledge checks and eventually look it up. I assume stuff like this would be much less frequent if we played the game more often but then again, the player who brought this up plays in another PF game and even cited that in the discussion and yet he was still confused - so who knows?

Character-wise I'm playing a Human (Taldoran) Cavalier and we're up to 8th level. Progress is slower when you only go once a month but we don't really mind because there's some re-learning of the character when we sit down to play after a month gap anyway! I have a warhorse that is similar to a druid's animal companion in some ways so he gets better as we get better too. If nothing else this means I don't have to go find a new horse every time we get fireballed which is nice. He has his own character sheet and all that so I can pull off some fun horse tricks when needed.

If I'm being honest here the cavalier is a fairly limited class mechanically. You don't get a bunch of unique things to do - the companion horse thing is about it - you mainly get some numerical bonuses when on horseback. So I hit harder on horseback and can move around more when I charge something, but it's mostly a Bigger Numbers thing, not a Cool Things You Can Do kind of class. Then of course when I'm not on the horse the numbers go down a little and I'm pretty much a fighter with fewer feats.  I'm usually OK with this as when I am on the horse and I get a chance to charge and I have a lance and I do hit my target I am the nuclear missile of the campaign doing ridiculous amounts of damage and annihilating all but the toughest targets. Honestly a lot of Pathfinder classes are like this so it's just part of the deal.

Kingmaker is a great place to play a cavalier - lots of cross-country travel and outdoor encounters mean I am on horseback quite a bit. There are some dungeons though and the dismounted cavalier is a competent if slightly less explodey combatant.

As far as the campaign goes I'd say it's a unique experience - even at low levels there's a strategic part of the game where the party is building a kingdom and while it can get a little tedious to work through that sub-system at times it is a thing you do not see in low-level games at all, really, even in the old days. We've had some mass combat too, a system I was already familiar with from my Wrath of the Righteous game. I still like it as it's not all that complex but still feels different than normal combat and at least puts some kind of playable system around it instead of just hand-waving the larger conflict around the PC's. I won't say it's perfect but they're completely playable and both of these sub-systems make you think about the campaign in a different way than just bashing monsters for the greater good.

The traditional part of the campaign is excellent too so far. It's not just "hey there's a ruined keep over there" but it's all built around hexcrawling and exploration. The players choose where they're going and then deal with what they find as they find it. We've found traditional enemies, allies, wandering NPC's, recurring opponents, native populations ranging from kobolds to various faeries, and interesting terrain features too. We've made deals, signed treaties, avenged wrongs, and hung bandits. The fact that you're not working for the local government, you ARE the local government, puts a very different feel on these things.

Overall I'd say it's a great campaign. It is literally a sandbox campaign so you can do what you want with it as both DM and players. There are different things you can emphasize in different amounts as a DM to make it better fit your party. Players will inevitably show more interest in some elements than in others.  Steve works hard to make sure the NPC's are memorable and have their own agendas to a degree and he does a great job. He's also worked in some other Paizo adventures that fit the campaign. I am not seeing the seams so I'd say he's doing a good job there too. I think we're somewhere in the 3rd book out of the six, maybe the 4th, and I don't care because we're not on some heavily plotted timeline - we're building a kingdom, making allies, planning for the future, and dealing with various threats as they arise. Sounds exactly like what I was hoping for when we started this campaign.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Out of Office

LB here - I will be out of office for the next week. Lady Blacksteel and I are headed south to adventure ...

Friday, January 19, 2018

40K Friday: Building the World Eaters

Last year I had been building up and playing with my Iron Warriors and I realized that while I had some khorne berzerkers I really didn't want to make them a focus of my IW army. It was the "tank" army and also my "one of everything" army for chaos marines and so while I might add a squad or two I really wanted to make a separate force to focus on them. Besides, it's not like I can;t ally the two together.  That's how I came to build my second (after the Iron Warriors), er, third (after my Death Guard) chaos marine army.

I knew I wanted the core of the whole thing to be 3 squads of berzerkers, in rhinos, led by a Dark Apostle (for re-rolls to hit) and an Exalted Champion (for re-rolls to wound). I already knew I was going to go whole-hog and make them World Eaters and with zerks becoming troop choices for the WE's in the Codex it made for a nice little Battalion and came out to 900- 1000 points depending on how I load them out. So, about half of a normal army.

For the berzerker squads I made them identical: 8 guys (Khorne's sacred number), 5 with chainsword and chain axe, two with chainsword and plasma pistol, and the champion with powerfist and plasma pistol. I know some people prefer full melee and skipping the 21 points of plasma I have here but I just find it to be useful enough that I want that capability in my squads. It's not like they're going to be up close! Three plasma shots can often inflict a wound or two on the way in and that can really help against tougher targets. Does it matter against a dire avenger squad? No. But against the wave serpent that brought them to the fight, it's a nice boost.

The HQ's are mainly there to buff the squads and yes I do try to keep at least two squads within the buff radius when they debark, all three if possible. It ramps up the carnage to an unbelievable level when it all comes together like that. They also can contribute nicely themselves when I give them plasma pistols too, and/or as relic caddies - the Apostle gets the Black Mace pretty much every time and the Exalted Champ gets the Axe of Blind Fury sometimes, the Brass Collar other times.

So what about the other half of the army? I want to add either extreme speed, as in "causing hurt on turn 1" or I need some good long range firepower. Like lascannons.

Well, I like Helbrutes so I've been working those in, usually accompanied by a Khorne Lord on a Juggernaut. They all move 8 so they make a nice block of hurt moving up faster than normal infantry though slower than the rhinos. It hasn't worked out as well as I have hoped though I think some of that is on how I have used them more than the units themselves. It can be tricky to fit 3 rhinos into a small space so sometimes the third rhino is away from the other two. I think working this up as a group with the brutes and the juggerlord has a lot of potential so I need to try it out. Beyond that I will always try to find a way to fit in a helbrute or two in any chaos marine force.

On the Juggerlord - Juggernauts are just cool. I have always liked them but have never had a 40K era army that could use them outside of Epic - until now! I like the old metal ones. I like the newer plastic conversions people do. I really hope GW comes out wit ha new one at some point so they don't get squatted in the next edition - but that's a worry for another day!

I took two of them in my fight against the necrons and they did really well but it was almost overkill as they are redundant with the Apostle once the fighting starts (re-roll everything vs. re-roll ones) so from one point of view one is probably enough. They add neither speed nor firepower so they're really an extra helping of Turn 2-3 melee like the zerks themselves.

From another point of view though, 3 of them would fit nicely in a supreme command detachment and would give each rhino and squad a solid "buddy" to accompany them. I haven't done this yet but don't think I won't be considering it in the next fight or two. The biggest problem here is that there is only one Axe of Blind Fury! So the other two have to settle for power axes and get all sullen about it.

I tried a defiler and had mixed feelings about the whole thing. he makes for a nice big centerpiece model but is hurt by the split firepower/melee capabilities. What's fun on a 120-150 point Helbrute - a big fit and a big gun - becomes annoying to demoralizing on a 180-200 point crab scorpion monster. I'm trying to look at it as he adds some decent ranged firepower while still being a true melee monster like the rest of the army - I'm just not sure it's decent enough for the 177 points he cost me in the last battle.  Of course, here again the answer might be "take two or three instead of just one" but that's going to get expensive fast. I have to say though that the idea of sending one downfield alongside each rhino does have an impact. I'll have to see if I can work out the points.

Ah the Heldrake, hated scourge of early 6th Edition, almost forgotten chaos flyer of 8th. I wanted something that could get across the field fast and hurt some things - something that would present enough of a threat that it would divert some firepower away from my rhino's on turn 1 and maybe turn 2.

So I took one.

He did a few wounds and then died in my opponent's first shooting phase.

I took one in the next battle. he did manage to eliminate an entire squad this time, then he died in the opponent's first shooting phase. Again.

They are really cool - the model is amazing, and no other army has anything like them. I want to use mine but the obvious strategy is to zoom upfield, roast something, then execute a turn one charge and hurt something up close. he soaks up firepower for sure, but since he's right up on the enemy force a lot of it is short-ranged firepower that wouldn't be coming at my rhinos anyway. He's soaking a bright lance or two but he's also soaking a whole bunch of wraithweaver and shuriken fire.   I'm just not sure a single drake is an effective use of points. Once again I am thinking that either zero or two of them may be more effective than one.  Another thing to try out next fight.

 Things on the list that I haven't tried yet but am thinking about:

  • Obliterators: deep strike, fairly tough, lots of shooting - really need to try them out but at 195 points, well, ouch!
  • Terminators: I bought a box of chaos terminators for the army with what I thought was a good plan but ... they are still in the box as it doesn't seem so good now. Deep strike is a powerful thing but if it's mainly to shoot stuff I think the obliterators may do it better and without a psyker to cast Warptime on them (Khorne!) a 9" charge is pretty iffy, even with the Icon of Wrath added in for a re-roll. Still haven't given up but they will probably come in after the obliterator test. 
  • Cultists - no. I can take berzerkers as troops! This is a non-cultist army!
  • Bikers - maybe someday but not right now. Faster, yes, some firepoer yes but not really threatening enough to draw fire from the rhinos and not long ranged enough to really hurt something
  • Raptors - probably not. Not enough melee ability and not really enough firepower either though the deep strike option is nice. 
  • Warp Talons - yes, these will be getting a test. Melee only but can deep strike and can remove overwatch and are not too expensive - lots of potential here for a squad. 
  • Havocs - I actually did take missile havocs in one fight and I have to say it does feel nice to have a solid long ranged blasting unit in the backfield. It's not super-thematic but it's about as much as a Helbrute and can hurt things from Turn 1 while holding an objective. They may make a return at some point. 
So there's some thinking behind the army. Blaster and I are actually in the middle of another fight so I'll have an update on that next week!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

40K 8th: The Aweosmeness of Chaos Space Marine Helbrutes

I've liked dreadnoughts since they first showed up in Rogue Trader. Those early marine, ork, eldar, and chaos dreads were remarkably inspirational and I have ended up with quite a few of them over the years. Their effectiveness waxes and wanes over the editions and with different codexes, but they always manage to at least look cool.

Today I want to  discuss helbrutes, the current designation for chaos marine dreadnoughts. First up: they still look cool!

OK the original single-pose model from the 6th Edition boxed set can get a little old when you see it over and over but the full kit that was released later has a lot of flexibility.

I see posts online stating that you should either take the all-melee brute (usually fist + scourge) or the all-shooting brute (usually lascannons or plasma cannon + missile launcher) because those are the most optimized for their points. Sure. They're also missing the point: It's cool to have a tank that can punch things - hard.

Let's look at a helbrute compared to an all-LC predator, for example:


  • 140 points with the twin lascannon turret, + 50 more for the two side lascannons = 180
  • it's Toughness 7, has 11 wounds, and a 3+ armor save
  • In melee it has 3 attacks (to start) at Strength 6, no AP, Damage 1, hitting on 6's
  • Move is 12


  • 122 points with a twin lascannon arm, +40 for the fist = 162
  • It's Toughness 7, 8 wounds, and has a 3+ armor save
  • In melee it has 4 attacks at Strength 12, AP -3, Damage 3, hitting on 3's
  • Move is 8
So for 18 points less you lose speed , 3 wounds, and two lascannons - that's not inconsiderable. However you gain no degradation, chapter tactics, and a very effective melee capability.  You could put a heavy flamer on the fist which makes the points almost equivalent and adds a fairly decent short-ranged attack but is totally not the same as two lascannons.

In a vacuum, say a one on one gunfight starting at least 24" apart, the Predator should win - it has twice as many guns and doesn't have to move to be effective and so is not taking a -1 to hit every turn for moving with a heavy weapon that the Helbrute will be taking.

But we don't fight in a vacuum. All it takes is one model charging that Predator and it doesn't get to shoot for a turn. It has to back out of the fight in hopes of getting to shoot next turn. if the opponent keeps charging it with something, it will keep not getting to shoot. There are enough deep striking re-roll or roll an extra die shenanigans in the game now that this is a reasonable possibility in almost every game. This is even more true if you take the somewhat popular 3-predator option to use the killshot stratagem as you're an even bigger target to a savvy enemy. 

If one enemy model decides to charge the Helbrute, in contrast, he's going to get a Str 12 punch ... well first he's going to get auto-flamed if you took that option and then he's going to get 4 hard punches.  there is also the chance the Helbrute gets to charge in first, something you would never do with the Predator. 

You could go with a more comparable missile arm Helbrute which evens up the gunfight a bit (2 lascannon shots and a krak missile shot and no longer needing to move every turn vs. the 4 lascannon shots and not moving either of the predator) and reduces the brute's point cost down to 147 and is still way more effective in melee than the tank will ever be. 

Let's also not overlook the inclusion of Helbrutes in the Legion benefits as well: Iron Warrior brutes get to ignore cover! Predators do not! World Eater brutes get an extra attack on the charge! Renegade Legions can advance and charge in the same turn! Alpha Legion brutes are -1 to be hit at more than 12" away.

 While it's true that Predator trios get the killshot stratagem Helbrutes get "Fire Frenzy" which for 1 CP lets a brute fire twice - admittedly at the nearest target but still a nice option to have. 

There is of course the option for the double-melee Helbrute. With two combi-bolters this option only runs 126 points and can just run right up the table. He gets an extra attack from the second fist, or three extra from a scourge, so he's even nastier up close. Make him a World Eaters brute and you're looking at 9 swings on the charge - ouch! For about the price of two lascannon Predators you could take 3 of these guys - I won't say they're more effective in general but if the rest of your army can handle the ranged anti-tank, this could be a really fun option. 

If you want a more practical use for these guys than an across the board charge I would say "backfield defense". They are a lot tougher than a 5-man marine squad or a 10-man cultist squad, they can carry a decent gun, and they are notably charge-resistant to most things that can deep strike. If some Eldar yahoo wants to turbo-boost his wave serpent over into your deployment zone you can blast him and then go bash his hood in to finish him off! With an 8" move followed by a 2d6 charge you can actively defend a fairly large area. 

For me, well, I like to group up 2 or 3 of them with a Juggerlord or a Daemon Prince and go after something.   

Anyway they're fun! They're flexible! Check them out!