The Betrayal At Calth

‘My devotion is my strength.’ Lorgar clenched his perfect teeth. ‘You have no heart, and no soul.’ A snort blackened his angelic features with a disgusted twist. ‘I pray that one day, you feel as I feel. Would you smile if one of Ultramar’s worlds died in fire? Tarentus? Espandor? Calth?’
– The Primarch Lorgar to his brother Roboute Guilliman in the ruins of Monarchia.
From The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.

Well here we are at last, official memorabilia from Lorgar and Angron’s show-stopping tour of Ultramar. For those of you who’ve been cast adrift in your incubation pods by the machinations of the Chaos Gods and have only just been rediscovered by civilisation, today sees the release of Betrayal at Calth, the first plastic boxset for Warhammer 30k (in 28mm scale)*. For us fans of the Heresy this is quite a big moment, the latest step in an evolution that has taken the story of Horus and the founding of the Imperium from myth and legend into a fully fleshed out universe in its own right. For those loyal to Chaos this is where that ten thousand year old grudge really began. Oh and Space Marine fans get more plastic marines to play with – but you were never short of those were you 😉

*Caveats abound as fans of the tiny titans from Adeptus Titanicus emerge from the woodwork to demand that they are not forgotten by history. Somewhat pedantically…

A Place In The Background

There’s really only one place to start the Heresy. Before Isstvan, or Davin, or even Ullanor; Monarchia. In the ruins of that world the Great Crusade went sour.

However although Monarchia makes for a great scene in a novel it hardly works as a gripping battle on the tabletop. Both players set up their armies. Place the model for the Emperor in the middle. Knock down all the Word Bearers miniatures. Both players pack up and go home. Word Bearer’s player bears a grudge for the next fifty years and plots genocidal retribution against the Ultramarines player.

It wasn’t until Calth that this grudge-match finally got the chance to be realised. Thus Calth makes a natural start-point to GW’s latest exploration of the Heresy. It also featured just two legions, unlike Isstvan III (four legions) or Isstvan V (eleven) which makes it much more user friendly as an introduction to the game. And for anyone thinking ‘what about Prospero?’ – well those two Legions (Space Wolves and Thousand Sons) would require very distinct miniatures and rules, rather unsuitable for a mass-appeal starter set. They’d also take away some of the thunder from Forge World exploration of that iconic campaign – although one wonders if GW might be planning some kind of follow-up or expansion set to coincide? At this stage one can only guess.

Many people have wishlisted about seeing a match-up between one of the other long-standing legion grudges from the Heresy era – Iron Warriors vs Imperial Fists is a popular choice, although I would have preferred Night Lords vs Dark Angels (or, ending with a twist, Dark Angels vs Dark Angels). However all these legions have, to a greater or lesser extent, unique characteristics that make them visually distinct and this would run counter to the design philosophy of this boxset. The message from GW is clear; if you want Imperial Fists vs Iron Warriors then paint them yellow and silver – and many people will. If you want more than that Forgeworld have come to the rescue with their Legion Upgrade kits which allows you to turn these models into the legion of your choice – although unless you’re a real nerd about getting the armour mark right on your Space Marine’s knees you could do this already.

Why Now?

I suppose my first question, when it comes to this latest development, is not why they’ve done it but why it’s taken them so long to get round to it? Surely they’ve known this was a goldmine for a very long time. Some would say that until now the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have been taking up valuable space in stores but frankly those ranges have seen such minimal investment over the last few years that this hardly seems convincing, especially for a company as large and businesslike as GW. Others would suggest that this is intended to support their finances if Age of Sigmar proves to be a less than resounding success – and certainly there may be something to this. If AoS succeeds all well and good, if it flops then at least there is the Horus Heresy to fall back on. It’s rather unfair that so many conversations about the Betrayal at Calth are currently being derailed by rAge Against the Sigmarines, but understandably the death of Warhammer has been the defining moment for the hobby this year and there are naturally going to be comparisons.

In contrast to AoS Betrayal at Calth seems a far more conservative move. Rather than burn the world down and start afresh Calth builds on an already popular series (ironically because burning the world down was exactly what the Word Bearers were planning…). Instead of offering new races to play it simply expands the range for one that’s already popular. The boardgame is also a clever addition. Rather than asking new players to paint up hundred of models before they can take their legion to war they start off with a few squads and a game to play with them. If they enjoy it they can add more units and expand up to larger battles. Again one has to wonder why they didn’t do something similar set in the Old World, a skirmish scale game set in the ruins of an Empire city as a last few heroes struggled to stall the End Times and stop the final victory of Chaos. They could have called it Mordheim  or something…

I could speculate about this a little more but frankly AoS is taking over enough other topics of conversation at the moment and to look at it properly demands a blog (or perhaps a book) in its own right – moving on!

Of course many people will be enjoying their first chance to look at the new rules, but even GW admits that they are mostly a bonus. The real meat here is the models themselves.

Contemptor

I’ll admit I’m not at all a fan of the Contemptors, much preferring a standard dreadnaught (even if it does look like a fridge on legs). This new one, sadly, does nothing to change my mind, but if you like Contemptors (and as far as I can tell most of you do) then this should be good news round your house. In fact as the model seems to be extremely popular making it more widely available seems like a no-brainer and I expect to see one in every household by the end of the year.

Being plastic it should be easier to convert that the Forge World variants so I might decide to pick one up at some stage, either to convert into a Chaos Contemptor (I like them better for some reason) or, if I’m feeling brave and want to break out the greenstuff, a Mhara Gal.

Chaplain

Of course, you can’t have the Word Bearers without their chaplains, bringing the truth of the Primordial Annihilator to the impure servants of the False Emperor.

Personally I would have preferred something more like Zardu Layak, which frankly would have been a ‘must buy’ for me. However once again the model they did release seems like a savvy choice, being usable as a chaplain or captain for any legion, or for any loyalist chapter in 40k, with the exception of the Wolves. This, however, is why I start to find fault with the release because one of the few places this guy isn’t a neat fit is amongst the Word Bearers themselves. By Calth they were revelling in their new faith, throwing off the secrecy that they had girded themselves with for so long, and now looked more like this.

I can see why they chose the route they did because this is a damn fine model with an amazing future ahead of it, both in its own right and as the basis of all kinds of conversions. However he still looks like a loyalist to me and with my focus very much on the forces of Chaos at the moment I’m struggling to see how I could fit it into my collection without destroying many of the elements that make it so striking.

Cataphractii

More exciting by far, for me, are the Cataphractii. I wanted to see models for these since long before Forge World released their versions and if I ever get round to working on my loyalists again these will be essential purchases. I can also imagine Black Legion fans snapping these up. A few restrained conversions (snarling helms, daemonic weapons) could easily turn these in Falkus Kibre and the surviving Justaerin.

For anyone else firmly rooted in the 41st Millennium these could still make a stylish addition to any Chapter’s First Company. As for the Chaos Legions, most have changed sufficiently that these no longer work for them but there are a few possibilities – Emperor’s Children still love an ostentatious suit, Thousand Sons haven’t changed much (bless them, they can’t really anymore can they?) and of course there’s still the Word Bearers themselves.

Captain

Just as the Word Bearers have their Dark Apostle so the Ultramarines have a suitably square-jawed and heroic looking Captain to lead them. For Space Marines players this chap looks to be another cracking addition to the range. At last here is a model for a generic Chapter Master, meeting the new Games Workshop policy of ‘no model, no codex entry’. Unfortunately, I’m led to believe that this same policy has seen Chapter Masters reduced from a unit in their own right to an upgrade for Captains. Nonetheless if you’re just starting out and want the big man himself to lead your army (and why not – start with a hero you can believe in!) but don’t want to tackle converting your models just yet, this is the miniature for you.

One other thing that struck me, and this is rather late in the game to be mentioning to Games Workshop, but doesn’t he look better in Word Bearer’s colours? I can really see him as the bullish captain of a Word Bearers chapter – not yet as tainted as his Chaplains but vicious in his determination to prove himself in the new creed. Likewise the Chaplain looks much better painted as an Ultramarine. Head over to the Games Workshop site and see if you agree with me.

The Marines

As for the marines – well they’re basically just marines. Unless this is your first day in the hobby (in which case stick with me kid, I’ll see you right) you’ve already made up your mind about them. If you like supersoldiers in power-armour these are your lads. If you’d prefer space elves or green dudes with rusty hatchets then this isn’t for you. Oh and if you’re looking for black-powder guns, handlebar moustaches, floppy hats and cannons then not only have you found the wrong Empire but I’ve got very bad news so you’d better sit down and prepare yourself for a shock.

For connoisseurs of power-armour (read nerds) it’s rather nice to get a better range of marks available for modelling and converting (I rather like those heavy studded grieves and the snouts of the helms) but it’s hardly a deal breaker for me. Some of you though will undoubtedly be wetting yourselves.

Getting more access to heresy era weaponry is more exciting – especially for those of us who’s predilections lie towards the evil and chaotic. Our thin-blooded inheritors in the Imperium may have chosen to upgrade to newer models of rocket-launchers but we who fought and fell alongside our Primarchs prefer something a little more old fashioned. Iron Warriors fans must be salivating.

Again though the generic nature of these models is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand you can paint them as any legion, but on the other hand there’s nothing at all to distinguish them beyond the colour they’re painted. Part of what makes the Heresy so compelling is the different character that the Legions have developed – and that character is much deeper a more complex than simply ‘this one is red, this one is blue’. I’m not suggesting that everyone in the Word Bearers was running around looking like the Gal Vorbak but at the moment there’s nothing to distinguish them from Blood Angels, or Alpha Legionaries pretending to be Blood Angels. Of course Forge World are here to help you, but it’ll cost more. Then again you’re already making a saving compared to buying from Forge World. Thus I’m hesitant to say this release is that great if you’ve already established your legion – but if you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the Heresy then now is the time to do it. Start off with a few models, play the board game, add a few more and slowly upgrade. Who knows – stick with it and someday you could have an army as impressive as this one?

Now for the real question; if I were to pick this up – and I won’t because I’m far too busy preparing my Black Crusade for the Second Siege of Terra to worry about a failed revolt ten millennia ago – but if I was – Iron Warriors or Night Lords?

All images copyright Games Workshop. Obviously.

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29 responses to “The Betrayal At Calth

  • bigbossredskullz

    I’m quite tempted tbh as this is a good way of getting the bulk in a 30k army for a reasonable coin and then just expand it with a few choice FW kits.

    Though here’s the thing. What legion should I take? It’s a question that has eluded me so far and no one has quite managed to sell me a pitch so far.

  • Alex

    Nice write-up dude, and a nice set of models. Cataphractii & Captain are the stand-out ones for me as a non-marine fan – I reckon I could do something suitably Inquisatorial with those bad boys. That Contemptor looks a bit off to me…

    • Wudugast

      Cheers!
      I think I’m reaching the point where I need to admit to myself that I like Space Marines. However Contemptors in general just look strange to me – I think it’s the narrow waste and bubble body that does it. Plus this is the Imperium, where smooth flowing lines are regarded with great suspicion – if we wanted that kind of fancy carry on we’d be Eldar! I’ll have an impractical, heavily riveted box thank you!

      • Alex

        Very true… many rivets… how else is stuff supposed to stick together! Just got back from the local GeeDub and saw the set first hand btw – must say, the marines are very very nice too. I’m a little bit tempted!

  • imperialrebelork

    A nice write up sir. But of a history lesson for me. I’ve really only just started getting into Space/Chaos marines as of late.

    • Wudugast

      Cheers 🙂 I used to be a bit of a marines hater but I’ve really come round on them lately – mostly because of the Heresy. It really defines who the Space Marines are, how they’ve come to be the way they are – both amongst the traitors and the loyalists. My only real criticism of the way the Heresy has been written in the Black Library novels are the scenes where Chaos actually plays an active role in the corruption of the Legions (by daemons showing up and tempting characters or manipulating events). It’s not needed, human nature would have damned them, their own choices led them to where they ended up. That’s part of what makes it so compelling for me – both sides are making justifiable decisions. Of course there are flaws and bits of bad writing but I’m not going to give myself an ulcer worrying over them (apart from Battle for the Abyss – that was just awful!). The books from Forgeworld are just blindingly good as well.

      • imperialrebelork

        The books are on my wish list for Santa this year. I certainly didn’t need any Daemons to force me to make bad decisions in my life haha.

      • Wudugast

        No, nor me! Well the early ones are all fairly good, Horus Rising and First Heretic are standouts but there are some real crackers in there. I’ve just finished Deliverance Lost so can’t really comment after that yet. Avoid Battle for the Abyss though – it really is unmitigated crap, there should be some kind of international convention set up to support those unfortunate enough to have read it. Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life the one I can least understand or justify to myself is why I didn’t just put that book down after about ten pages.

      • imperialrebelork

        Haha. You made me laugh out loud.

  • Ruins of Arotha

    As much as I think this is a great idea…I still can’t bring myself to front £95 or however much it was for 2 identical SM armies and a board game. I love the self contained boxed games, I really do. I play all sorts of things and I think GW could really do something great again with this niche. But the HH boxed set for me just seems a little bland. I’m not really that keen on any of the models either. Nothing strikes my fancy. Mediocre. Sorry to be the doom-sayer here, that was a great article. But I’m uninspired.

    • Wudugast

      Not doom-saying at all, your points are all very fair. At the end of the day if you don’t like the models then this is never going to be for you. Plenty of people out there won’t want this just because its space marines (if they did this with Tau or High Elves I’d pass on it myself). As it is I doubt I’ll buy it in spite of my positive opinion of it over all.

      I didn’t really get on to the price (because that’s a can of worms in and of itself). In some ways though it’s a relative value – a few years ago £95 would have been astronomically out of my price range, now it’s affordable but only with a bit of judicious saving. Some people will pick up a couple of boxes without a thought – it’s really relative and as this is a luxury item I’m not going to start crusading over it when people are starving to death. (As an aside I had someone assure me recently with absolute seriousness and conviction that Warhammer models are not a luxury item – i.e. that they might die without them. It’s a miracle we made it out of the stone age without our plastic space marines…).

      Having said that the argument that the higher price in comparison to the starter boxsets like Dark Vengeance is justified by the comparative cost of getting these pieces in resin from Forgeworld doesn’t fly for me. Yes, I’d be making a saving by buying this rather than going to Forgeworld. I’m making an even bigger saving if I was planning to have all the models carved out of marble or set with diamonds. What of it?

      Anyway, I sense I’ve wandered off topic a little so to summarise, glad you liked the article and, without getting into my personal finances too closely, I don’t think I’ll be picking it up either (at least until someone decides they’re bored of it and decides to flog it on ebay for a fraction of its cost!)

      • Ruins of Arotha

        Ha, hit me with an essay why don’t you!? :p
        Yeah you got me there, the whole HH thing never really piqued my interest, so that’s probably it. Now if it was ‘Battle for Armageddon’ for example, and was a little bit more complex with room for expansion etc I’d be inclined to grab it. Much in the same vein as Necromunda used to be, or even INQ28 where there’s so much more scope to build on the existing core ruleset. I’m sure they could do with this the Calth game too, maybe (although they probably wont lets face it).
        I think the real issue for me here is that GW have really let down their customer base over the past few years with cash-grabs. Especially time of year. It looks like a way to try and get a ton of money late year because it’s almost christmas. Same happened with Imperial Knights, and Space Hulk, and Escalation/Bunker Assault thing, and now how all of a sudden every army ever has to have some hulking great model that’s £60+…bloodthirster, new tau gargantuan, nagash etc…
        Can’t help but feel a little jaded tis all.

      • Wudugast

        Hehe, cheers for coming back with an essay in reply! I find discussions like this interesting because they help keep me in touch with a broader ‘hobby community’. Away from this blog I’m actually quite isolated from other hobbyists – very few of my friends are involved anymore and so I don’t really have a community around me, which means there’s no peer pressure to buy things. When I buy models it’s because I want to add them to my collection – rather than because I feel need them to keep up with trends in the local scene. It does sometimes concern me – particularly with younger players – that there is a push to keep up, to have the latest thing in order to maintain status. Much as I love the internet though I do see a pressure from some of the more trollish or aggressive elements on some forums that says ‘you need to have release X – if you don’t you suk, your army sux, and you’re a l00zer. N00b”.
        The one thing that really gets my goat, and would have made me hate this release instantly had the rumours saying this about it proved true, is limited edition releases. Fair-play they put out limited run codexs with fancy stuff in them – that I don’t mind, the real meat is still available for most of us in the normal release and the collectors can pick up the special codex for their shelf. With models though it bothers me a lot more – especially combined with their policy of keeping releases secret until the last minute. It pushes people to buy now, without being able to plan ahead.

        Anyway, onto a far more important matter: is that Battle for Armageddon Round 1 – Grey Knights vs Khorne Berserkers (don’t forget the additional £150 limited edition Daemon Angron model) or Round 2 – Orks getting stuck in? Either would do me nicely. Wish they’d bring back Necromunda too – I missed it first time round.

      • Ruins of Arotha

        Yeah they’re very hard with the keeping up to date pressure. I think it’s a sort of way to peer pressure you into panic buying. Regarding Armageddon, it was an example really. But I think probably round 2 would be more fun (and cost effective). Who doesn’t love taking on some Orks??? That really sucks about your isolation, it must be really hard to stay enthusiastic about this kinda hobby with no community links. I’m lucky, I’ve got a local GW store and a few people round here who I can play, my partner included. And even then I barely see a game once every 3 months. Keep doing what makes you happy 🙂

      • Wudugast

        Cheers! And don’t worry – I wasn’t breaking out the world’s smallest violin over here – my motivation comes from the painting/modelling side of the hobby (luckily!) 🙂

      • Ruins of Arotha

        Ha…I’m more of a gamer funnily enough. I love the modelling and painting etc but it also feels very laborious at the same time. I get a real kick out of creating army lists actually…bit of a strange quirk of the hobby, but yeah.

      • Wudugast

        Yeah, weirdly enough for armies I do collect I just make it up as I go along and buy whatever I fancy. I do write army lists for armies I don’t collect though, dunno why but like you say it’s weirdly entertaining. Warhammer Dwarf/Ogre cross-over was the latest.

        And did I say a few posts back ‘wish they’d bring back Necromunda’ and now the internet is awash with claims that they’re going to do just that. Even if it proves to be nonsense I’m claiming it as proof of my Nostradamus like powers!

      • Ruins of Arotha

        Ha yeah, seems likes we’re getting some specialist games back in store. This is a good move me thinks. Hopefully they wont be limited edition, that really gets my goat…

  • Arkhangelsk

    Good write up, already Pre-Ordered it! Cant wait. Though the Word Bearers units feel so… unchaosy? And also look like my Crimson Slaughter. And the runes on them might take more freehand skill than Ill ever have. So I am at a bit of a cross roads to what I want to do with the Marines. Can I use the CSM kit for 30k Word Bearers? Or would people freakout about that?

    But the Contemptor and Termis are going to be word bearers, with some skulls and hopefully scripture on them. I prefer my own Chaplin/Dark Apostle I built to this one, and so Luna is going to turn it into a Dark Angel. The Captains home is undecided yet. But Ultramarines vs Word Bearers is a classic match up. The great backstory and hate is strong there and look forward to playing the board game and this in 40k (and 30k if I get the rules)

    • Wudugast

      Looking forward to seeing what you do with them (and to seeing that converted Dark Angel). I also have no doubt at all that you can manage some freehand runes (or at least the old faithful – tiny squiggly lines that look like text).

      I don’t think people would freak-out over some chaos marines as Heresy era Word Bearers. After all by the time of the Heresy they had already been dabbling with Chaos for fifty-odd years. They had things like the Ghal Vorbak and were binding daemons. Their new allegiance went a long way beyond just repainting their armour – in fact I would say that for a ‘fiction purist’ (I really cannot bear the word ‘fluff’) chaos marines are more representative of Heresy era Word Bearers than the models in this box. You could at least drop in the odd chaos shoulderpad or helm to add to the effect and perhaps steer away from the weird mutations that come from being immersed in the Eye for ten thousand years.

      • Arkhangelsk

        Fair point, thinking 10 to Ultra, 10 to DA and 10 to Word Bearers or Crimson Slaughter. My CS might win as ive always had the idea to add in some normal looking ones seeing as their fall to Chaos was fairly recent. I can do squiggles so might stick to that.
        I was hoping to see special rules for the characters in the box for 30k or 40k, esp the contemptor but sadly that’s not happening. Here’s to hoping they end up in a white dwarf. Good release though, I really hope this heralds things like plastic Gal Vorbrak and Mhara Gal because God damn do I want those models.

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    […] in addition to my following review, let me also recommend Wudugast’s very interesting look at Betrayal at Calth, which raises some excellent points and makes for a very good companion piece to my post, I think. […]

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