Thursday, 19 March 2015

Forbidden Stars - 40k Boardgame

Bring fire and bring shell and heap all upon the pyre. With flame and gun we shall make an end to the withered husk that is human life. And in the blazing furnace of battle we shall forge anew the iron will of a yet stronger race.
   –Warhammer 40,000

So Fantasy Flight Games have announced a real surprise here, and a game I think a lot of people didn't know they wanted. 

But now it's been announced, all I can think is "Is this really the first time we've gotten to play a grand strategy 40k game?"

Let me be blunt. 

I love the 40k setting, I think it's really evocative and compelling. I prefer 30k for personal reasons, but the whole Warhammer 40k experience is one of my favorite IP's ever. 

It's one of the few settings that gets me interested in a game before I even look at the content of the game. 

That said, I've given up on Warhammer 40k itself as a wargame, it just doesn't do it for me anymore. But I'm always on the lookout for ways to enjoy the setting without having to play 40k itself. 

So this game is a something i'm really excited about. 


First up, FFG have provided us with teaser information, but not a lot else. What we see so far is pretty exciting though. Yep, that's fleets and troops on the map and who doesn't want Eldar, Chaos, Marine and Ork fleets to move around. 

FFG made Twilight Imperium 3, one of the great "Space Empire" games, and the initial impression of Forbidden Stars is a cut down version of that. Which is good, for all TI3's majesty, it has a long play time. 

The board design is modular, and I cannot adequately express how good a decision that is. 

Variable boards simply add replay value like few other modifications to a game can. 

The zoom in of the board shows an unusual art style. And it appears that each sector receives orders, rather than each region like many other games. 

The game also reports to be objective focused rather than annihilation focused as well. This is good, as games that focus on defeating the enemy in their totality can drag on, far past the point where someone can actually fight back and win. 

The combat system seems to borrow ideas from both Horus Heresy and Starcraft by FFG.  

During combat, you will play combat cards that have a certain benefit. However, if you match the combat card to a specific unit, you gain an additional advantage. 

It's a curious mechanic that, depending on how cards are drawn, can be either very random (if you draw before the fight and get perfect cards) or very strategic (you plan your moves based on the cards you have in hand to take advantage of them). 

I'm curious to see how this is implemented in the final game.

Another interesting mechanic, which is very thematic, is the "Warp storm" shown below.  

This storm is impassable, but can be moved. There are multiple Warp Storms and you take turns moving them around each turn. This can be huge as smart placement can open up attack lanes, or make vulnerable systems impenetrable, bad placement can leave you vulnerable as well.

It's a curious mechanic, but a clever one that really suits the setting. 

Can I just say, I like seeing games that embrace a setting, rather than shoe-horn game mechanics into it. 

The four factions are a good choice, Ultramarines, Khorney Chaos, Iyaden craftworld and Evil Sunz Orks. I'm not sure if I like that they picked specific chapters/warbands/craftworlds or not, I guess it depends on how thematic and varied the play styles are.

Because if the only difference between Orks and Ultramarines is the pieces, I will feel a little let down. I hope they play quite differently, as that adds to replay-ability as well. 

The game is still a long way off, Q3 of this year...... which by FFG standards means the end of this year. So they will be doling out information over the next few months. 

Still, interesting news, lets keep expectations managed :)

Sunday, 15 March 2015

XCOM Solo - One man against the alien scum

XCOM the Boardgame is an app assisted board game set in the XCOM universe and was developed by Fantasy Flight games. 

It's designed as a co-op game, but it can actually work well as a single player experience, if you are insane a like mental anguish and having information overload that is. 

So, I took on the challenge of playing it solo, i've done that 4 times now and won twice and lost twice. The first time I attempted this report on my 3rd play through, I took a bunch of photos, and then found the camera data card in my computer........ so this is attempt four. In all it's glory. 

I'm always cagey about session reports, as i think they always soudna little like Rimmer from red dwarf, talking about the time he rolled a 3 and a 1 in a game of risk. 

Anyway, here it is. 

One of the refinements i made after my first attempts was to optimize the layout so that everything was easy to find in a hurry. Several of the actions in the turn have less than 10 seconds, so knowing where things are in crucial. It's also important to remember to use you cards, so i placed all the "timed phase cards" right in front of me. 

The mission is "domination", which appears to focus more on the air-war than other missions, my HQ was in Australia (which allowed me to zap 1 ufo a turn) and the Aliens were a reasonably easy assortment of outsiders, Sectoids, Sectoid commanders, Mutons and Muton Elites. The game was set to normal difficulty. 

Each turn will have two images, one from the end of the timed phase, and one from the end of the resolution phase. 

Turn one - And so it begins

I drew an unusual assortment of tech cards, and decided to go for dollars to keep me in cash for the whole game, so selected elerium and UFO power. Combined, these would give me $4 extra a turn, which would be helpful. 

Arc thrower was also there and as far as i'm concerned, it's a must have. That said, no floaters or thin men in the enemy deck, but alien special powers truly suck. UFO power and Arc thrower are obtained!

Crisis cards were laughable this round, Elite soliders don't get an extra dice and discard all salvage. Awesome, none of either of those. 

I slightly overspent this turn on Air and Space defence, thinking more aliens would be attacking later in the turn. But i figured that it would be good to stay on top. as it stands, the Satellites stuffed up and left a UFO alive....

The base was attacked by a Muton and Muton elite, and it took 3 rolls to kill the Muton. So i figured letting the base take 1 hit was better than losing 3 troopers. 

Which turned out to be a great move as the mission went horribly wrong. I passed the first check, then boom. An Outsider kills 2 soliders and the mission is failed for now...... 

I also forgot to increase panic by 1 in the lowest panic continent, oops. 

So after turn 1, things are looking pretty solid asides from some casualties in the troops. 

Turn two - More incompetence from squad command. 

Turn two i was focused on getting good tech and rebuilding squad command, so i really dipped into emergency funding to get the extra resources. 

Light activity in the skies again meant a minimal commitment there, and with troops training to be elite and out on the skyranger, I could commit few troops to the mission and base defence. 

Xenobiology is a great tech card as it allows you to get that extra tech a turn, and with arc thrower i wasn't too concerned about Outsiders not being salvageable. Firestorm also popped up, and it's a very useful card. Along with the Australia commander card, that's 2 dead UFO's a turn. 

Firestorm and Elerium tech's obtained this turn. 

Crisis cards were moderately annoying, increas panic in North America by 1, exhaust the Satelitte uplink and players cannot roll more than 3 times against each task. 

Space command again failed at the first step leaving two ufo's in orbit, and i remembered to increase panic this time. 

My base defender took 3 rolls to kill the sectoid, so i let the outsider damage the base again. 2 hits on the base, i think you can afford to take 1 a turn without getting too panicked, plus i am short on troops, despite buying 2 this turn. 

However, the mission again turned out to be a graveyard. Both soldiers died on the first roll, and with no satellite uplink or weapons tech, i was in trouble. 

After turn 2, XCOM is holding steady, things aren't out of control, but i'm not that well set up. The big thing is I now have an extra $4 a turn to spend. 

Turn 3 - Squad command finally does something. 

Ok, so far so good, but my soldiers need some toys to fight the aliens or they are going to keep dying. 

Money isn't too tight so I spend six credits on tech and raid the emergency funding hard. I have about $20 to spend, which is a lot in XCOM. The new techs on the agenda are Alloy cannon and light plasma, to help out the troopers. 

It's a clean sweep on the techs and i'm feeling good, despite spending all my salvage and six credits to get them. 

The air war heats up a little, and I commit a modest amount to it. It's a good turn in the skies as we nearly clear them for the loss of two interceptors and two satellites damaged. 

Base defense is again poorly done, and the 2 troopers struggle to kill the Sectoid Commander. I let the Muton Elite damage the base and trigger the invasion special, which does nothing. Also, no crisis cards this turn as the sole crisis "kill two soliders" was dealt with by the skyranger. 

Finally, the mission is one and my Squad Commander is saved from a summary execution. Winning the mission also reduces panic and grants me two additional troopers. 

Asides from being a little short on interceptors, things look really good heading into turn 4. 

Turn four - Holding steady, gaining power. 

Emergency funding is cleaned out, but that's ok. Our job here is to keep powering up for the final mission and making our troops as good as they can be. 

It's a full trooper tech selection, with Plasma Cannon, Plasma Sniper and Blaster Launcher. I think all 5 of these is overkill normally, but my other options were average at best. I used xenobiology to get Hyperwave comms in the timed phase to immediately reduce 1 continents panic by one. 

Both normal weapon tech's are obtained and my soliders are over the moon. 

I balls up a little by only having 1 satelitte this turn, as i forgot the crisis card was "spawn two ufo's in orbit". I spent my money on buying new interceptors, instead of placing satellites, oops. 

Base defence is easy this turn, with the 3 aliens all dying under a hail of good dice and new tech. The squad commander also rockets through a mission that reduces panic. Good round by squad command, and heaps of salvage for next turn. 

The only major issue this turn is those 4 UFO's in orbit. 

Turn five - Final mission, the push to win, oh god, what's that in the skies. 

Things really heat up in the skies this turn with 9 UFO's heading to Asia in one turn (the eight above, minus one from the Australia card)

I'm confident, that with two missions complete, that the final mission will be up this turn or next. So I continue to gear around that. 

I use xenobiology to get arcangel armour, and promptly gain more salvage for my tech rolls. The amazing UFO navigation is available, as is carapace armour. Cards that should really help me with the final mission (3 alien dice rerolls!)

Crisis cards are manageable, panic up in Africa by 1 and resolve the invasion critical effect. Not too scary. 

The Air and Space battle goes remarkably well..... sort of. I kill most of the UFO's on the board by interceptor command is in dire condition at the end of the turn with only 2 serviceable fighters. 

Base defence goes smoothly, with the sniper and heavy not even having to roll to kill the Muton due to our awesome weapons tech. 

Three soliders are committed to the final mission, and in retrospect, that was probably a mistake. I should have gone all out on it. 

The outsider dies under a hail of tech upgraded weapons, but I need 3 success on the next task. Two obtained, but 3 alien dice rerolls all end in a dead squad. 

While we are looking good to win if we survive this turn, the state of fighter command is really worrying. Africa becomes the first nation "in the red". 

Turn six - We need to nail this now!

At the start of the turn i reduce panic in Africa by 1.

This turn is all about survival and letting the strike team win the final mission. I discard two techs looking for "Shiv", but find Interceptor repair. Xenobiology brings that too the table immediately and two more fighters arrive at fighter command!

I fumble a bit this turn as it's a hectic one and don't make all the best decisions. I get revive as a tech, but fail to keep a support around to utilize it. No matter, just no one die this turn. 

I had to discard 3 techs and spawn 2 ufo's thanks to crisis cards. This game can't go much longer as Elerium, Xenobiology and UFO Power go in the bin, great techs, but i need to win this turn. 

The alien UFO fleet turns up in force, and despite that, Fighter command has a blinder of a turn, keeping the air above North America clear and reducing the alien fleet. There are some panic increase, but it's still very manageable. 

Base defence is again very smooth thanks to easy to beat aliens and weapons technology. 

The final mission comes down to 1 roll of 3 dice, and another roll of 2 dice, thankfully, I have 3 alien dice rerolls. And you know what..... i use all of them on the second roll.

Final mission nailed..... but as a solo game, you can't really 5 five anyone in victory. 

In the end, I felt I had good control through the whole session. getting Elerium and UFO power early on really helped, despite losses in fighter and squad command, I could just afford to buy dudes back. 

And while those big UFO swarms mad me feel I could be in real trouble, some good rolls on those turns really did help keep me in the game. 

My advice for XCOM players is this. Sort your economy out early and don't overplay on the first few turns, and don't be afraid to skip a mission for a turn or take some damage on the base. 

Once you have a small number of resource providing cards, the game becomes a bit easier to manage. And while I had Elerium and UFO power, revive, interceptor repair, alien construction, xenobiology, defence matrix all save you money over the course of the game. 

Once you are set up, you can then push to complete missions and build your squad for the finale. 

Oh, and take the time when it is offered. "Pick a mission" and "emergency funding available" have long timers, use the extra seconds to think about your next tech purchase or what timed cards you have available. 

I recommend XCOM solo to anyone who really likes a formidable mental challenge under pressure. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Age of Darkness - Horus Heresy review

Short stories are a pain to review. I don’t want to overcook each story, because I’ll be here for an ice age. But I don’t want to gloss over them too quickly, so let’s see how this goes.

Honestly though, this short story compilation was pretty flat. Tales of Heresy had many good stories, but this compilation, well…… a lot of it felt like filler.

Two stories stand head and shoulders above the rest in this compilation, but I’ll let you wonder what those are without spelling it out her.

It’s not that they were all bad stories in this book; some of them were quite interesting. But several of them were just an extra brush-stroke in the background painting of the Horus Heresy, while others seemed relatively pointless or even harmful to the world building.

And remember, spoilers abound in these reviews. If you don’t want spoilers, go elsewhere.

Rules of Engagement

I guess this story, or a story like it had to appear at some point. BEHOLD THE GLORY OF THE CODEX ASTARTES, ISN’T GULLIMAN THE SMARTEST.
The origins of this meme :)

This story really annoyed me because it pulled the old “bait and switch” on me. I don’t like “but it was all a dream” type stories, and this enders game-esque series of simulations boils down to that.

When your entire story is about simulations, that means nothing real happened.
At first you are led to believe that the “new rules of warfare” from Gulliam, (aka the codex astartes) is helping the protagonist (who I will call Ender) win a series of nail-biting encounters in Ultramar. There’s even a scene where one of his subordinates gets entirely bent out of shape because he thinks lives are being thrown away needlessly. But of course, Ender wins the wargame using his awesome strategy and everyone hi-fives him.

There are multiple engagements that Ender wins, until he loses to a “Sons of Horus” army led by Horus himself, or Gulliman cosplaying as Horus….. whatever. The lesson being, that the Codex is awesome and stuff, but Gulliman is more awesome.

To me, this isn’t a short story, it’s fan service. And it’s bad fan service.
Considering the last thing of McNeills I read was “A Thousand sons”, which in my opinion is his best work. I was really let down by this story.

Lair’s due

I quite like James Swallow as an author, but I feel he has been let down by the material he has been given to write. Secondary stories and side paths, what he does really well is “the horrors of the warp” as shown in Eisenstein.
This story has none of that, and it’s one of those stories that bugs me. Not because of how well it’s written, because the writing is fine. But because of the elitist assumptions it operates under.

In this story, one Alpha Legion operative moves to a world, does some stuff and the world falls to Horus out of hysteria and fear. My issue is that it’s simply too easy for him, and you never feel like his plans are in danger. The locals are, almost without exception, presented as sub-normal hicks completely lacking in cognitive reasoning skills.

The locals fall to in-fighting and side with Horus because of a few tricks the agent pulls with their communications. But it relies on assuming the people in a backwater planet are all idiots. There is one particular scene where a local man accidentally kills another one because of his panic, and then lynching’s occur….
I just don’t buy it. People can be dumb, but the dumbness of everyone involved was so amplified that it destroyed the believability of the story. In short, backwater hicks are retarded, so you can tell them a few lies and they will do exactly what you want, each and every time. That’s the hubris of an urban writer looking down on small town people if ever I saw it.

As an adenda, this short story is essentially a rewrite of a twilight zone episode

Forgotten Sons

Nick Kyne. I’ve never read anything of his before, but a quick scan of his background shows that he’s a “go to guy” for writing stuff about the Salamanders. And to be honest, we are 16 books in to the series and diddly squat has been said about them, so I was excited to see that a Salamander character was going to be one of the three protagonists.

Well, I thought there were going to be three protagonists, a Remembrancer, an Ultramarine and a Salamander, but it turned out that the Remembrancer was simply a “woman in a refrigerator” a trope I find lazy and tired.

So, this story is an odd one. The two main characters are pretty flat, and the Ultramarine in particular is a complete ass of a man. It’s meant to be about a negotiation, but the marines suck at negotiation, so it ends up being a scrap between the Marine characters, an Iron Warrior and an assassin/shapeshifter thing.


Unlikeable bland characters, a female character introduced and killed for some thin character development, a cliché t-1000 fight and a predictable outcome to the story. I also still have no idea why the Salamander dies at the end……

By this stage of the short story compilation, I was feeling very let down. None of the stories so far have been good. I was starting to get annoyed, but I pushed on and…

The Last Remembrancer

Just when you think you’ve read enough lazy fiction, you stumble across and excellently constructed story that is engaging, thought provoking and well written.

It pays attention to my golden rules of short story writing.
  • ·         Don’t try to do too much,
  • ·         Focus on a few characters only,
  • ·         Explore one central theme well.

In the last remembrancer, we have three core characters, two of which we are already familiar with. This helps out immersion into the story immediately, we know the “half-heard” from the first four books, and Dorn is reasonably well established by this point in the series. So two established characters are meeting a third new character to hear his story.

It’s such a simple setup but it works incredibly well.

The central theme is this, the greatest remembrancer of the order (Voss) has returned to Terra in a ship clearly sent by the Warmaster. Dorn and Qruze go to interrogate him, to see if he’s a spy or has been turned.

The beauty of the story is that he hasn’t been turned, not as such. But his message is that the imperium they have fought for is already dead because the necessities of war have already curtailed freedom of expression, and it is a powerful one. It has resonance with our current condition, as a lot of good sci-fi does, as we tackle the issues of information security, personal freedoms, terrorism and fear in our society.

The line explaining the Warmasters motivations for sending Voss back is especially good. “He wanted you to feel the ideals of the past dying in your hands”. Dorn is stuck with an uncomfortable paradox, let Voss go and risk his truths creating more fear and unrest, or murder an innocent man simply because his truths are bad for the war effort. 

Symbolically, the ideals of the imperial truth die with a single sword blow.


Can we please get Kharn’s character straight for once?

Is he a frothing madman as portrayed in this story or by Bum counter? Or is he the guy who is calm and collected most of the time, using his massive willpower to resist the nails, before occasionally losing it in battle? Thank goodness for Betrayer and ADB is all I can say.

And does he have teleport? I mean, he seems to have bounced from Istvaan to Propsero is a short amount of time, and then he’s out on the rim near Ultramar in another book.

This story started off strong, a group of Thousands Sons investigating Prospero after the Space Wolves levelled it. Ok, cool premise, I wonder what they will find……

They find World Eaters and Kharn? What?

The whole point of this story seems to be to talk ineloquently about the “butchers nails” in Kharn’s skull and how the thousand sons could help him remove them, if only he wasn’t so crazy. The Emperor couldn’t remove Angrons nails, which is why he essentially discards him in “After Desh’a”, so how could this random thousand son solve that issue.

Oh, and for the final insult, the Thousand son character escapes and runs off to fight another day.

I can’t express how pointless and incongruous this short story was.

The Face of Treachery

Well, this story is a solid story. It’s not great, but it’s certainly readable and it answers some questions that had previous been unanswered. Which is what you want from a Horus Heresy short story, a little more info, a little more of the world, or a concept explored that you hadn’t considered.

The World Eaters are again portrayed as absolute morons, a portrayal that bugs me a lot. But their stupidity is required for the story to work.

At least we now know how Corax escaped from Isstvan, and as this short story is by Gav Thorpe, who writes the next novel about the Raven Guard, we can view this as a preamble to “deliverance lost” (Which I haven’t read yet, so I’m assuming)

Asides from the awkward World eater problem, this is a passable, if bland short story. But at least it’s content matters.

Little Horus

When Dan Abnett writes, he uses a lot of repetition of passages to get his points across.

 “Of course when they reattached his face” is only used a few times in the story, but it feels far more frequent. I guess I’ve noticed this technique a lot more since Propsero burns, where he reintroduced the dream sequence a lot and “wet leopard growls”.

When Dan Abnett writes, he can get bogged down in trying to be too clever.
The core story is fine, as it deals with the recreation of the Mournival and focuses in on one of the featured characters of the first three Horus heresy novels. But I don’t really know what this story was about in the grand scheme of things.

It was almost like a postcard from the Sons of Horus.  “Hi everyone, Little Horus here, fought some white scars, lost my face, been dealing with that. Got new guys in the mournival, Abaddon is still being a toolbox. See you all on terra, love you pal Horus Aximand”

It’s not a bad story at all, Abnett writes well, but I don’t see much in this story. A little about him dealing with the ghost of Loken, but that’s it.

When Dan Abnett writes, perhaps I expect too much from him?

The Iron Within

The iron within is a fun, if completely nonsensical story, featuring the Iron Warriors and an impenetrable fortress.

Here’s some military strategy 101 for all you people out there. An impenetrable fortress means jack if it’s location isn’t strategic and it cannot be used as a staging group for operations.

The Schadenhold is on a planet that cannot sustain life, it’s garrisoned by a small group, and it’s a nightmare to take. It’s akin to building a super fortress on Svalbard, there is no reason to expend resources to take it, and you can blockade/isolate it and move on.

It is also a military maxim never to be drawn into an engaging on defensive terrain of your opponent’s choosing unless it is absolutely required. I never felt the author overcame the reasons to take the fort asides from Iron Warrior pride.
Get out! get out of there!
So, after putting military logic to one side, this story is quite a fun read as the extent of the fortresses defences are hilarious, it’s the “mary sue” of fortresses. Like a bunch of sci-fi nerds had a brainstorming session about the most impossible place in the universe to assault.

The real highlight of the story though is the conclusion, even if it is exactly what Kirk does in “search for spock”, it’s still quite clever.

Again, it’s a fun story, even if it is complete nonsense.

This is the Maginot line..... the Germans went around it, not through it

Savage Weapons

ADB is quickly becoming my favourite Horus Heresy author, and this is a great short story. First of all, it deals with some side-story issues we haven’t encountered before: The Dark Angels vs The Night Lords.

Secondly, the interaction between the Primarchs is really well written. Initially you would think that Johnson and Curze are so completely different that they would have nothing in common, but they explore a kinship between the two that I hadn’t considered.

Curze and Johnson also have an epic duel, and Curze’s words about the legacy of the Imperium and the Dark Angels role in the Heresy are well crafted.
The highlight of the story for me though is actually the interaction between the Night Lords and Dark Angels as they wait for their Primarchs. It’s a nice reminder of how similar legions are, despite their backgrounds and rituals. Astartes are closer to each other than anything else.

Great read, nice and epic as well as thought provoking.

PS. I hope Sevetar doesn’t become a “Lestat/Riddick” character the author falls too heavily for.


Only 2 great stories, a few “ok” ones, and a lot of forgettable material, only consider reading if you are reading the series, but don’t be too worried if you miss it.


Thursday, 5 March 2015

Mansions of Madness - the characters

This is probably becoming old-hat to any regular reader, but i will reiterate, that you don't have to labor over models for ages to make them look "reasonable" 

Boardgames look so much better with painted figures, even if those figures have only very simple paint schemes. 

Case in point is these characters from the Arkham series of game, specifically, the ones from Mansions of Madness.

Now the cool thing about this is that these characters are usable in all four Arkham games. Arkam Horror, Elder Sign, Mansions and Eldritch Horror. Also, i purchased the pre-painted figures for all the characters no included in Mansions. So I have painted figures for all 48 odd characters in that family of games.

Which is pretty sweet 

My usual "basic approach" of doing models quickly is repeated here. A solid base coat that is done in 2 layers normally to ensure coverage. An ink wash, so highlighting or dry-brushing, and a tiny amount of detail work. 

The one tricky thing on these guys here, is the pin stripe suit. Now that is a basic job, it is literally some grey lines painted over the black undercoat. Nothing more complicated than that, but it looks surprisingly good.

The Harvey model on the left is a great example of the deception in my painting. 

It looks like i meticulously highlighted the suit and did some fine detail work. The truth is that this is a two layer base coat + ink + drybrushing. Nothing more, and it took way less than 30 minutes to do. I was painting these guys in batches of 4, just to allow for drying time. 

GW has some fabulous inks and you can see the "agrx earthshade" at work across the different browns i employed on these models. It is literally doing all the work for me. 

I am also lazy enough to not remove the mold lines....... and it's really noticeable on Jenny on the far right.

Oh, and check out the "camoshade" ink on the green dress. That turned out really well. 

So, i get back to the original point. Models for boardgames are pieces for the game first, and works of art second. They will suffer a lot of "wear and tear" so you don't need to be a Michelangelo for every paint job.

There is a lot to say about amazingly well painted models. But don't let expert painting put you off the notion that you can have "good" looking models with a small amount of time and practice. And good is great once they are on the board. 

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