Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Mark of the Monstrous

“Our fear of monsters in the night probably has its origins far back in the evolution of our primate ancestors, whose tribes were pruned by horrors whose shadows continue to elicit our monkey screams in dark theatres” – David Quammen, Monster of God

 

Hot on the heels of the alien hunting Deathwatch the genestealer cults have arrived in force. Having lurked in the shadows for decades, they emerge to usher in the Four-Armed Emperor’s carnivorous reign! Loyal citizens of the Imperium – now is a good time to panic!

genestealer-cultists-3editI know I’ve wittered on about the genestealer cults before, back when Deathwatch: Overkill was released, but I’ve grown to find them one of 40k’s most engaging factions, particularly since the tall bald man with the stylish robes moved in next door, so I won’t miss the opportunity to discuss them again. Overkill brought us the core of the army but the ranks are now expanded with new boxsets for acolyte and neophyte hybrids, an upgrade sprue for corrupting Imperial Guard regiments and the excellent goliath truck. The engines of Imperial labour have been upgraded with unsanctioned weapons, their work-crews with unsanctioned genetics. The taint has spread from sump-slum to spiretop, the day of ascension is upon us and the impure are soon to be consumed. It’s easy to fear our new alien overlords but allow me to clamber onto my soapbox and try to convince you to love them instead.genestealer-cultists-hiding

Sympathy For The Alien

Oh, now we have it. Now the truth dawns. He felt the hairs on his skin rise. I’m not afraid of Horus. I’m afraid of finding out why he has turned against us. I cannot conceive of any justification for this schism, but Horus must have his reasons. I am afraid that when I know them, when they we explained to my baffled mind, I might… agree.”

– The Primarch Rogal Dorn; from The Lightning Tower by Dan Abnett

Terrifying though they are there’s something comfortable about killing Tyranids. They are, after all, ravenous monsters hellbent on the consumption of all life. Like zombies they make for a relatively safe mass-killing experience, with no-one in any doubt that the person doing the industrial scale murdering is still a good person. It’s often suggested that this is one of the key reasons why zombie horror films are so enduringly popular. Even the most terrible and barbarous terrorist or fascist dictator contains human traits, common points through which we can relate and upon which potential rests. Are they utterly irredeemable? Could they, given the right circumstances, give up their destructive ways? Could we, subjected to the right pressures, behave as they do? It’s a thought that sparks a flickering of guilt in all but the most psychopathic – a guilt which, I would argue, is necessary to avoid becoming monstrous ourselves in our search for justice. Like all guilt however it is uncomfortable, and like all uncomfortable sensations we are glad to be rid of it when we’re able. A zombie, or a termagaunt, cannot be redeemed, and all the potential violence that lurks within us and with which we are uncomfortable becomes justified. Mow down a crowd in your local high street and you’re a monster, do the same to a mob of flesh-eating zombies and you’re a hero and no-one will ever say ‘did you go too far, could they not have been convinced to change their brain-eating ways?’

At least zombies have the courtesy to shamble around in the street looking suitably dishevelled, blood-spattered and undead. Genestealer cultists, by the third and forth generations, blend in with wider society. Whilst you guiltily read this blog at work can you be sure that your balding colleague is not watching you with fathomless, alien hunger? Who can you truly trust to be without taint; your boss, your best friend, your wife?genestealer-cultists-2Yet the genestealer cultists share only a superficial similarity to the faceless Tyranid hordes. Whilst some, like the patriarch and purestrains are suitably weird and alien the rank and file are just like us. The relatable human character is a rare figure in the 40k universe, even in the Imperium. Unless one is a power-armoured superhuman or a religious fanatic oneself there’s a divide between ourselves and the space marines or the sororitas that’s harder to cross. The mechanicum are even more alien than some of the aliens, and although we might aspire to be as respected and authoritative as an inquisitor most of us are humble guardsmen. They alone offered us away of putting ourselves, unchanged, into the setting. No-one aspires to be a chaos cultist who will never rise high enough to be more than spawn food and whose best hope for personal development is to choke the guns of his master’s enemies.

With the arrival of the genestealer cultists we find a new faction in which we can see ourselves. Like zombies the cultists are distinctly working class but this is no mindless mass but a collaboration of individual acts of cunning. In a video released to promote the new codex the developers note that the cultists may lack much of the clout of their rivals but they’ve been making up for it by patiently stacking the deck in their favour for centuries. The conspiracy theories are all true. The aliens have infiltrated the government.

genestealer-cultists-4-5As usual Black Library have released some tie-in fiction to coincide with the new miniatures; the unimaginatively titled Genestealer Cults (which I haven’t read) and it’s much shorter and far better named prequel Cast A Hungry Shadow (which I have read), both by Peter Fehervari. I can’t comment on the full length novel but the e-short is definitely worth picking up, especially for chaos fans who’ll be hard pressed not to find a new hero in Gharth, leader of the Reedemed, a chaos worshipping, fire-breathing biker gang. The central protagonists of the story however are the Spiral Dawn, a peaceful sect of the Imperial Cult who tend to the spiritual needs of the local mine-workers, and treat those who’ve fallen ill with the black breath. Of course it soon becomes apparent that the Spiral Dawn’s worship of pantheistic star gods is not the same Imperial Cult we’re familiar with and many of their holiest members are far from wholly human.

Beyond the engaging cast and gripping plot which recommends the book by itself, this is also a chance to see things from the genestealer cults’ point of view. Caught between the monstrous Chaos murder-cults roaming the wastelands and the crushing, if currently distant, boot of Imperial authority they need to make use of their combination of cunning and single-minded devotion to survive. They’re a long way from the moment the gods rain down from the sky to gobble-up faithful and heathen alike. In fact they’re not even at the point of being able to ride openly down the street in goliath trucks or limos. The main characters retain much of their humanity and are pulled between the ghostly voice of their unseen prophet, the untainted masses around them and the murderous temptations of Chaos. As heroes they’re wonderfully sympathetic. This is the Imperium’s man on the street and it turns out he’s an alien.

It’s also wonderful to see 40k away from the familiar elements, away from the grandiose world of duelling Titans, ten-thousand year old traitors, sector-wide conflicts and continent sized shrines. Space Marine players, this is what your tactical squad died to defend – some mine workers with lung-rot and a xenos-serving militia. Makes you proud doesn’t it! genestealer-cultist-4

When people talk about the genestealer cults a name that often comes up is that of H.P. Lovecraft. Now good old HP, when he’s not being subjected to cultish adoration himself, get’s a fair bit of flack nowadays for being a terrible racist and an equally terrible writer. His enduring popularity among horror fans however comes from his mastery of one key fact; that compared to the universe humanity is very, very small indeed. On modern day Earth we boast that we are the dominant species and the background of 40k bloats that to extremes. The Imperium of Man is about humankind stamping its authority upon the stars, the eagle standard flying upon a million worlds, a gargantuan bureaucracy that has stood for ten millennia. The genestealer cults recognise that we are small. Against the vastness of space and time we are a mere blip and entropy will make our greatest achievements dust. Though they do not know it they too are but a chapter in our history, evolutionary successors whose plotting will usher in an apocalypse that will devour them in their turn. It’s all rather bleak isn’t it? Not to worry, you can always distract yourself by buying some plastic genestealer cultists. The old cliché has it that, in the grim darkness of the far future, every man is but a spark against the darkness. In truth however those of us familiar with the setting know that even this is an exaggeration. Even hives that team in their billions are but embers of a fire that burned out ten millennia ago. The forces of destruction ranged against us are so vast that who could blame a man for casting himself in worship before those terrible powers in exchange for a last lungful of influence before he drowns?  genestealer-cultists-5-5

You Are What You Eat

One thing we humans hate more than anything else is being eaten. In evolutionary terms an understanding of death is a relatively modern phenomenon and the thought of ourselves lying cold and inanimate on a mortuary slab remains abstract and distant. Not so the thought of being consumed, something that’s been with us since the first microbe realised that the fastest route to free energy was enveloping its neighbour. The thought of being prey horrifies us and where civilisation has swept aside the lions and crocodiles that used to gobble us up a host of authors and film-makers have discovered there’s a living to be made inventing new ones. All human cultures have their own practices by which they decorously dispose of their dead, the key feature uniting them being that its bad form to leave them outside to be feasted on. Even when the bodies are eaten (for example in those cultures which practice air-burials in which bodies are laid out on platforms for birds to pick clean) it’s always by something that wouldn’t normally eat them up in day to day life. Birds and maggots (politely out of sight of course) are fine but chucking granny in with some crocodiles and letting them have at it is generally considered to be bad form.

In this way the tyranids represent a definite horror. They’re not invading the galaxy so they can enslave us or force us to accept a new religion or political system. They’re coming to eat us up and in such a vast and apocalyptic fashion that there’s really not a lot we can do about it. From Gilgamesh and Beowulf to Ripley from the Alien films, if a hero wants to stamp mankind’s authority on the uncivilised wastes they have to do it by killing the local monster. Except in 40k the monster is too vast for lone heroics, the Hive Mind’s locust swarm grapples with the Imperium itself and will almost inevitably pull it apart. Even heroes get old and die but the thought of all life consumed, of the monster’s ultimate victory, is particularly alien to our enlightened sensibilities. Predators are always held to be the most terrifying, and the most holy, in human culture.

However there are worse things than being eaten. White Dwarf describes how the hypnotically entranced victims of a genestealer patriarch allow themselves to receive the ‘genestealer’s kiss’ – an ovipositor in the tongue injecting the alien DNA directly into the bloodstream (admit it – you were wondering how it was done). Thus contaminated you become the alien, or more specifically, the parent of the alien.

“One of the enduring images of these genestealer cultists…was the idea that the loving parents looked down at what they think is a lovely baby boy or girl but is actually a hissing monstrosity”

– Phil Kelly, GW developer.

 

genestealer-cultist-1

Thus the grim darkness of the far future is made considerably grimmer and darker by the presence of a lictor lurking somewhere in the pipes and ducting but it’s also made wilder and more free. To the hive worker who bludgeons it to death with a shovel goes the glory of real heroism and the gleam of hope as a man rises triumphant from an unequal struggle. Without it the best he might ever hope for is to be employee of the month at the manufactorum, to have a little space to lie down and sleep, a little food and water, and the hope that – all being well – his descendants might achieve the same for generations to come.

What’s more our humble hive worker with the shovel doesn’t have to go it alone. The Men in Black are here!

genestealer-cultists-75

The Thin Black Line

To me the race which makes the Deathwatch feel most vital is the Tyranids. Orcs are too funny, Eldar too cultured and Tau too damn nice to be a threat in the same way. The Necrons have the potential to join in as a galaxy ending threat but they’re place in the background has changed from faceless robot baddies to complex cultured alien pharaohs and they’re yet to re-establish the aura of vast threat that they could potentially present. The Hive Fleets however are too vast, too single-minded, too unstoppable in their determination of feast upon us all, to be considered without giving in to nihilism. They need heroes to battle them, no matter how long the odds, to keep us interested. Once the fight becomes one sided we loose interest. The Tyranid threat reminds us of our limitations and encourages our struggle to surpass them.

watch-master

It’s become something of a cliché to slag off Matt Ward but it’s hard to follow this line of thinking in regard to the Deathwatch without comparing them to their peers, the Grey Knights. Yet whilst the Knights of Titan are preposterously superhuman, and tackle foes so equally overwrought as to seem simplistic, the Deathwatch are a band of brothers, powerful only by their shared skills. They may be gene-wrought supermen but the scale of the threat that opposes them is so great that even they are dwarfed, humble and heroic at the same time. Their foes however remain creatures of flesh and blood, banished by the sword not occult witchery. The message the two factions send is markedly different; you have to be special to kill a daemon but you and I could deal with that genestealer if we work together and put our minds to it.

In more ways than one the genestealer cults are at the opposite end of the spectrum to their Deathwatch adversaries. As the Emperor’s finest the space marines have enjoyed the benefits of the finest genetic science available, carefully crafted into something more than human. Square-jawed and clean limbed they’re aspirational figures ready to sell male grooming products and gym membership to the masses. The genestealer cultists meanwhile are considerably less hale and hearty with their subtly misshapen profiles and the not-quite-human appearance even of the fourth generation hybrids. The tyranids may be undisputed masters of genetic engineering but they still haven’t found a cure for male pattern baldness. Whilst the Deathwatch have access to the best gear the Imperium can provide (Mk. VIII power armour, the stealthy Corvus Blackstar, Custodes guardian spears, even a consecrated Necron blade) the genestealer cultists have to make do with whatever the steal or scavenge (great news for chaos fans – at last we have easy access to lots of autoguns for traitor guard conversions).genestealer-cultists-6-5

Oddly the genestealer cults are also at the far end of the spectrum to the Tyranids themselves. The great devourer has sailed the intergalactic void, the cults remain trapped on a single world until they’re able to sneak aboard someone else’s space ship. The hive fleets storm a planet from the skies, the cults rise from the guts on the hives. The Tyranids rely on overwhelming numbers and powerful monsters to tear enemy armies apart in a storm which sweeps all but the most entrenched of defenders away in a matter of days, the cults must move slowly and with cunning, their schemes playing out over generations until the time is right. When the Tyranids need a new weapon they grow a whole new creature to carry it, endlessly inventing and re-inventing their alien DNA, whilst the cults must rely on rockdrills and waste incinerators.

They come across as plucky underdogs which is not something we see elsewhere among 40k’s cast of heavyweights. A battle won or lost by the genestealer cults feels like it means something. You could be saving a whole planet from falling into their clutches, or throwing off the Imperial yolk at last. Win a battle against the Tyranids and countless billions of hormaguants will swarm onwards towards Holy Terra anyway. Far from the ravenous hosts of the hive fleets the cults are confined to individual worlds and, fearsome though they might be to a squad of guardmen – or even a lone space marine – they pose a threat to the Imperium only through the combined weight of millions of tiny actions. They might overrun a world or two now and then but the Imperium suffers worse blows when one of the High Lords of Terra has a bad lunch. The epic is all very well but without the small scale, the personal, the day-to-day struggles of the common man, it becomes one dimensional and stale. We’ve seen the view from the spire-tops, from starship bridges and the cockpits of titans but the holy shadows make it come alive like never before.

All images copyright Games Workshop and deviously liberated without sanction.

Advertisements

All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 9

Behold! Another berserker ready to reap skulls to lay before the Blood God’s throne!

khorne-berserker-convert-or-die-1

khorne-berserker-convert-or-die-2

khorne-berserker-convert-or-die-3

khorne-berserker-convert-or-die-4

khorne-berserker-convert-or-die-5

khorne-berserker-convert-or-die-6


Dreadnaughts I Have Known

img_0188

I painted my first dreadnaught at some indeterminate point in the past, although exactly when is hard to tie down now. Assault on Black Reach had been released and the Orks had drawn me into 40k’s grim darkness at last but I was still unfamiliar with the universe and its protagonists. Having picked up the Black Reach boxset purely for the greenskins within I found myself with a bundle of space marines as well – and almost no interest in painting them. Only a grudging sense of duty got me through the tactical squad, although I admit I tackled the terminators with rather more enthusiasm. The only thing that really grabbed me however was the dreadnaught.

dreadnaught-convertordie-4

He’s been tweaked and improved once or twice over the years but even those improvements still look rather old and somewhat lacking in comparison to my modern standard. Still I was hooked, on dreadnaughts if not on space marines. Thus when a friend of mine was clearing out his cupboards and gave me his copy of Assault on Black Reach and the Chaos Space Marines codex I knew straight away that the next dreadnaught I painted would be something much darker, angrier and spikier than before. It was also at this point that I was discovering the joy of converting models and, although there remained much for me to learn, I was well on my way to becoming the kitbashing, greenstuffing heretic I am today.

dreadnaught-convertordie-3

Next up was an Ork deff dread – completed mere days before Games Workshop announced the release of the current plastic model. Sadly he was never the best of creations, leaning rather too heavily on Orky qualities of ‘cobble it together and hope for the best’ and now resides in the bottom of the bits box waiting for redemption and reconstruction.

With Dark Vengeance the chaos dreadnaught was reborn as the helbrute; the angry, spikey box of before replaced instead by the fleshy, unnaturally-organic beast of today.

helbrute-convertordie

Of course painting one of them wasn’t enough for me, especially after the release of the putrid blightkings made it possible to create a bloated, Nurgly hulk.

nurgle_helbrute_1_

Nor was that the end of my dreadnaught obsession. Last October feedyournerd ran the Dreadtober event which aimed to encourage as many people as possible to paint a dreadnaught (or similar sized model) in the month of October. Seeing the brilliant work that others were producing provided the spur I needed to crack on and bring this Khornate monster into being.

dreadnaught-convertordie-1

At the time I asserted (rather boldly) that if this event happened again I’d be sure to join in. One year on and it’s time to live up to that claim as DreadTober returns. This time responsibility for the event lies with Broken Paintbrush so I’d recommend getting across there to take a look at what’s planned. I’ll be taking on this unfortunate-looking former Crimson Fists dreadnaught. His loyalist masters may have abandoned him to ebay but I feel sure that, with Nurgley and Khornate dreadnaughts already in the bag, he’ll do very well indeed in the subtle embrace of Slaanesh. dreadnaught-convertordie-2

Naturally these events work best when lots of people join in so I encourage (nay – implore!) you to dig your own battered and abandoned dreadnaught projects out of the bitsbox, or take them down from the shelf of shame, and get to work on them. This is their moment!


All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 8

A second Berserker for the newest warband! I’m particularly pleased with the crest on his helmet and the bloodletter skin growing across his shoulderpad (a greenstuffed necessity to cover the join where the sigil of Khorne was added).img_7301

img_7302-2

img_7305

img_7311


All That’s Left Is Blood – Part 7

I believe I promised another squad of Khorne berserkers…

img_5714

img_5716

img_5717

img_5722

img_5751


Battle Hymn

Ok, I admit that I said a few weeks ago that I wouldn’t let anything distract me from Khorne until all the Berserkers were done, but I slipped. After painting Kharn I found myself overexcited about the idea of painting things red (the inner Ork rising to the surface perhaps) and flailed around eagerly until my hand fell on this chap.warrior-priest-convertordie-4

warrior-priest-convertordie-2

warrior-priest-convertordie-1

The priest, although sharing a distinct similarity to Games Workshop’s Empire warrior priests, comes from MOMminiaturas, a Spanish miniatures company who combine low-low prices with excellent quality models and are well worth checking out. One minor issue is that the website is almost entirely in Spanish, which makes the ordering process a little difficult for those of us who don’t speak the language. Then again most people in the world have the same issue with websites in English and they make do without too much complaint so I’d recommend manning up and applying a combination of common sense and the (debateable) charms of google-translate to get you where you need to be. Or better yet, make friends with an actual Spanish person – making repeat orders considerably easier and providing you with a boon companion and all the joy that results from having another human being to share life’s journey with.

As usual comments and feedback are welcome.


Grombrindal Rides Again

White DwarvesJune 1977: a legend is born… I know what you’re thinking but it wasn’t me, I was still seven years away. No the hero of which I speak is the White Dwarf, the magazine which for many of us provided our first peak into the world of fantasy miniatures. Back then Games Workshop was a very different beast to the one that stands astride the gaming world today and the pages of the magazine ranged far beyond the contents of their own stable.

White Dwarf #001

That first issue opened with the line “Over the past two years the state of the art of wargaming has seen dramatic change”. What they described was the birth of Dungeons and Dragons and the emergence of fantasy and science fiction into the world of gaming. Before that, the editorial asserted, there was nothing but historical miniatures, “only tanks, French Hussars and Ancient Britons” as far as the eye could see. Then suddenly, a revolution, a Big Bang, a singularity from which erupted all the orcs and aliens we know today. It’s quite a claim, and certainly one that puts the dawning of the Age of Sigmar into context doesn’t it?

The really interesting editorial however, when thinking about the recent history of the magazine, came with Issue 3. Describing the success of the first two issues they note “This does not, however, mean that the editorial staff of White Dwarf can become complacent and let the magazine drift into a safe, stereotyped format. We want to keep it alive and bubbling with new ideas and interesting articles. We put into its pages that which we find of interest”. Sadly, many would argue that in recent years this promise has failed to be fulfilled.

I joined the readership of White Dwarf much later of course, with Issue 351 in March 2009.White Dwarf with Stompa

Unlike (I’d suggest) the majority of people, I’d been painting miniatures for a long time already, and even had several years of collecting Games Workshop’s models under my belt before I finally picked up their magazine. Old hands would argue that by then the rot had firmly set in by then, but just as everyone remembers the James Bond of their childhood as the best one* so everyone hails their first White Dwarf as a classic from a golden era of miniatures journalism. All I can say is that Issue 351 ticked a lot of boxes for me; conversion articles on Warhammer heroes and the (then newly released) Stompa, a showcase of several enormous armies, an Ork painting tutorial and a well-rounded article on all things Lizardmen. Best of all there was an enormous battle report in which a ridiculously sized Ork army commanded by six different players took on an equally vast Imperial host across four different gaming tables simultaneously.

*Again, not strictly true in my case – Brosnan never cut it for me.

After that I bought it fairly often, although I didn’t subscribe until October 2012 when the magazine entered its next incarnation.White Dwarf Oct 2012

Straightaway it was clear that this was a classier beast, bigger and thicker than its predecessor, packed with beautiful images and genuinely interesting and readable articles. We had designers’ notes on the new Chaos Marines, painting tutorials, showcases covering painting, converting and terrain, a look back at the development of the Horus Heresy and Jervis Johnson and Jeremy Vetock rambling on (the latter two something of a guilty pleasure to read – I always complained about their wittering but I also always turned to them first…). Best of all there was Army of the Month (on that occasion showcasing the kind of Skaven force I’d feverishly dream about if I was able to eat cheese) and the return of Blanchitsu as a regular feature. To my mind those were the glory days and I’d have been quite happy to see something similar continue forever. Alas it was not to be. On the 1st of February 2014 White Dwarf transformed again. Like an amoeba reproducing it tore itself in two. The monthly edition was replaced by a slimmer weekly to reflect the new weekly release schedule, as well as an image heavy showcase piece entitled Warhammer: Visions.

New Dwarf In Town

To the surprise of no-one at all the internet was chock-a-block with negative reviews, GW-bashing and revisionist history in which a lost golden age was lamented. So vehement was the rage in some quarters that contrariness drove me to want to enjoy the new magazines but it was an uphill struggle. The weekly magazine was hard to get excited about and easy to overlook. With limited space for content there rarely seemed to be enough to warrant making the purchase and even when I did I was generally disappointed. Visions was far better, primarily because it retained Army of the Month and Blanchitsu (both enjoying more space) but the lack of actual text left a lot to be desired and the hefty price tag meant that when my subscription expired so did my interest. For a while it looked like the old dwarf must finally yield to history, swept away by the same digital tide that assails all print media and finally capsized by the disinterest of its captains. Old hands would lament the magazine of their youth and newcomers, if they looked up from their shiny stormcasts at all, would wonder what the fuss was about.

Let’s cast our minds back to that editorial from Issue 3. From being a statement of intent of the most admirable quality it transforms into a prophecy of End Times proportions as the magazine did indeed “drift into a safe, stereotyped format”. Could the editorial staff honestly claim, hand on heart, that it’s pages contained “new ideas and interesting articles” that they “found of interest” – or was it the case that they had in the end become complacent? To the last point at least let’s give them the benefit of the doubt because, whilst I and many others had given up on it, the old dwarf was fighting back.

Khorne on the Khover

Two Khorne worshipping gents enjoy a theological debate on the cover of the newest issue.

The contents of the new White Dwarf, which came through my letter box a couple of days ago, are all over the internet already and much has already been said about this latest iteration of Grombrindal’s august organ (ooh la la!). To my relief all the usual suspects are back; Army of the Month, Blanchitsu, Parade Ground, a Golden Daemon feature, Designer’s Notes, A Tale of Four Persons-Who-Paint-Little-Models, even a terrain feature. Slightly more innovative features include Temporal Distort (a White Dwarf that dares to run the gauntlet of reader nostalgia by comparing itself to an issue from yesteryear! Balls of steel on display there!) and Illuminations, in which GW gives their art department the credit and showcasing they’re so desperately due. Hopefully this latter heralds a resurgent recognition of the value of their artists and no more abominations like the most recent Dark Angel’s codex will be allowed to escape into the wild.

img_5968

Having seen the Ruins of Dras’shiel showcased in White Dwarf I sought it out for a closer look at Warhammer World.

img_5969

The article explains how the striking jade green buildings were painted, as well as describing how the team experimented and challenged themselves to create something truly outstanding.

There’s also a chunky battle-report, something people have been banging on about wanting to see given proper coverage in the new edition since it was first mooted. Now normally I’m not a big fan of battle reports (in fact I tend to think they’re often unbelievably dull) but the one in Issue 351 (my first issue)  inspired me with its sheer scale and complexity. For one thing the commanders of the two armies (in other words the leaders of each team) were fighting over an orbital fortress ‘The Destroyer Moon’ in a different part of the building to the other players – communicating with their underlings via written notes and photographs. The objective at the heart of the Destroyer Moon was a huge gun which allowed the controlling player to bomb the world below, whilst their teams fought over three boards representing different regions of the beleaguered planet. Flyers zoomed from table to table and every player had his own secret orders which often contradicted those of their team mates (my particular favourite; one player must protect the colonel of his team mate’s Imperial Guard, whilst his team mate needed to martyr him in a glorious and inspiring manner).

Stompa vs Space Marines

Just a snapshot of the action in Issue 351 as four Chapters of Space Marines, two Imperial Guard regiments and a company of Sisters of Battle take on six Ork clans.

Sadly the battle reports in the issues that followed failed to match this standard. Indeed most showcased a fairly standard set-up in which one side was whatever faction was enjoying a big release that month. Nonetheless they remain a popular staple of the magazine and something that many people have been crying out to see in the new magazine. As someone who’s generally not a fan of battle reports I asked around to get an idea of what people wanted to see. One friend replied “A battle report tells a story about a battle, often within the context of a grand, sweeping campaign. I like to see how it all unfolds and get a chance to see tactics in action, rather than just in theory. So it’s a combination of story-telling and application… I like reading about the players and their reactions to their extreme bad (or good) luck with the dice. There’s always a lone infantryman who refuses to surrender against all the odds and a greater daemon who rolls no wounds in close combat. There’s the sportsmanship, the gamesmanship and the good-natured ribbing.”

It seems that someone must have thought to pass this advice on the team at White Dwarf because their latest showdown – although not a patch on that fondly remembered battle described above – is a vast improvement on the rather stale and formulaic “this guy moved then that guy moved, then we rolled some dice, then some paint dried” tedium that we’ve been wading through since. Effort has been put in  to make the battle look engaging with lots of arrows to show troops moving and snippets of descriptive text to explain key moments. The text itself also strikes a good balance, not getting bogged down in fiddly explanations but ensuring enough clarification is provided that those who’re not familiar with the rules can follow along anyway. Certainly it managed to keep me engaged with the progress of the game and that’s no easy task.

Stardrake

From the battle report in the new issue: a Stardrake takes on the unenviable task of getting me excited about Stormcasts and succeeds.

The best thing of all about this newest incarnation are the words – there’s lots and lots of them. Visions gave us plenty to look at but if you actually wanted something to read, and an insight into the process behind the models, then there hasn’t been much worth bothering with in recent years. It says it all that my copy arrived a couple of days ago and I’ve still only skimmed it – whilst I powered through the weekly issue in half an hour tops. Welcome back old friend – you’ve been missed.

All images copyright Games Workshop and used without permission.