In something that Games Workshop have been referring to as Tzaanuary, the last few weeks have seen a series of releases dedicated to the chaos god Tzeentch. Now events are reaching a crescendo with the appearance of the spectacular Lord of Change so this seems like a good time to look back over these releases and try to determine who’re the architects of fate and what’s just loose change.
The Cult Rises
First out of the gate were the Kairic Acolytes. Like many of the Tzeentchian models released this month they first saw the light of day last May with the release of Silver Tower. Now they’re back in numbers, throwing off their disguises and revealing themselves to be almost as muscular and clothes-averse as the Fyreslayers. Perhaps they go to the same gym?
As Age of Sigmar shrugs off the shackles of the Warhammer-That-Was GW’s designers are clearly enjoying the chance to make some models that aren’t so closely tied to one particular place – no need for these lads to be swaddled in furs against the cold of the polar wastes.
Quoting myself, with my usual hubris, I claimed in pervious editorial that ” Of all the gods Tzeentch is the chance for them to be the most creative, to come up with something visually arresting and unique”. At times this is something they’ve pulled off spectacularly; The Thousand Sons, the Tzaangors, the Gaunt Summoners and, of course, the Lord of Change itself. On other occasions however they’ve flopped badly, the Pink Horrors – not including Heralds and those in the Silver Tower boxset – are wonky-looking cartoon characters and I’m still rather undecided on the Flamers. Now the Kairic Acolytes find their way into what is, for me, a growing list of Tzeentchian misses.
In small doses, scattered through a squad or guarding the depths of the Silver Tower, I actually quite like them. The problem, however, develops when one starts to see them on mass. In my mind these were the elite of the Tzeentchian cults, bloated with magical power and using their strength to lord it over their weaker acolytes, so discovering that they was intended to be the rank-and-file of the cults was a little disappointing.
To expand on my point let’s take a look at this John Blanche illustration that formed the initial concept art for the Kairic Acolytes. Of course many of the features show here made it right the way through to the finished models, the weird mask, the curved blade, the naked torso and kilted legs.
There are however, a couple of big differences. For one thing this chap has started to mutate, sprouting a third arm (more on that below). More noticeable however is the thinness of the character in comparison to the bodybuilders that were finally released.
When I built this Tzeentchian cultist I captured my idea of what an Acolyte of the Changer of Ways should look like. Not for him the raw muscles and brute strength that Khorne’s thugs use to batter their way through life. Rather he’s light and slim, relying on cunning schemes to get him through. The Kairic’s however are very much cast in the mould of the Bloodreavers with their Schwarzenegger muscles. Clearly these chaps have their grimoires on audiobook so they can listen to them whilst they pump iron. That seems a little odd to me, of all the Chaos gods Tzeentch is the one who’s cultists are most likely to be stuck in the library all day and so unfamiliar with the gym that they have to call it James.
As I’ve noted the Kairics are also rather lacking in the mutations that are Tzeentch’s stock-in-trade. Now too many overt mutations run the risk of creating a mess of miss-matched that struggle to create a coherent looking model. Take a look at the old Forsaken box from Warhammer – a great resource for spicing up one’s Chaos collection but some truly terrible models when constructed straight from the box.
The Kairic Acolytes however seem to be a little too far in the opposite direction. There’s something a bit too uniform about them and whilst this is great for creating unified collections it also reduces their Tzeentchian appearance. They also don’t tie in particularly closely with any of the other Tzeentchian miniatures available, and so looking at a mixed force of Tzeentchian daemons, Kairic Acolytes, Tzaangors and Warhammer-era Chaos Warriors is rather like looking at four different armies which all happen to be marching in the same direction.
40k fans may find a use of them as cultists dedicated to Tzeentch but, as you’ll already be wanting to convert them anyway to give them suitable guns and other futuristic accoutrements, one might as well go the whole hog and borrow components from this kit to Tzeentch-up your cultists and traitor guard. Of course that would be easier if GW would get the finger out and sort out a multi-part chaos cultist kit for us but, as no amount of moaning on my part will make that happen any faster, I’ll carry on grumpily making do. Mind you, by the time they do that I’ll probably have already built a lifetime’s supply of cultists but never mind, you can never have too many fanatics to choke the Imperial guns!
Ultimately then, although these are decent models in their own right, they fail to fit in with the rest of the release and compared to the depths of creativity displayed elsewhere they are undoubtedly the weak point.
The Warflocks Emerge
Far more exciting to me are the Tzaangors which emerged last week. The rank and file we’ve seen before of course, roaming out of the wastelands of Sortiarius, but the Skyfires, Enlightened and Shaman are new additions.
As a tribal race dedicated to the god of magic its no surprise that the Tzaangors now have a leader in the form of a Shaman, borne aloft on a disk of Tzeentch. As well as being rather exciting for those who’ve dedicated themselves to the Changer of Ways in Age of Sigmar there’s no reason this chap couldn’t be converted into a leader for the bestial herds that roam in the wake of the Thousand Sons. The 40k incarnation of the Tzaangors rank and file provides plenty of spare bits to aid in the process. Of course what rules you use for such a beast would require more thought but really that’s up to you, I can wash my hands of the matter by declaring that story is king and rules should be evocative, not competitive.
More unexpected are the Enlightened and Skyfires (which I keep misnaming “Skygors” – perhaps because I’ve been unconsciously influenced by AoS’s seemingly slapdash naming conventions) who swoop into battle atop Disks of Tzeentch.
It strikes that these would combine nicely with a Thousand Sons force. For what is, these days, a remarkable moderate price (£22.50 in UK money), you get three Tzaangor unit champions, plenty of bits to add a bit of a spin to your herd, and three disks upon which your Exalted Sorcerers can ride to war in style.
With such lavish attention being paid to the beastmen for just one god one starts to dream of someday seeing Slaangors, Bloodgors and Pestigors putting in an appearance. Of course GW is under no obligation to do so, part of the aim of Age of Sigmar seems to be freeing them from the structures that Warhammer, with its weight of accumulated history and lore, had imposed on them. Furthermore both Bloodgors and Pestigors are fairly easy to convert – the former from the plethora of Khornate kits now on the market, the latter from a blending of beastmen and plaguebearers. That being said why should we not dream of seeing models for the units and creatures we’ve dreamed of for so long? I’ll always be a convertor but that joy should be a bonus, a way of adding something unique to your collection, not an expectation – but more on that below!
For me one of the most exciting things about the Tzaangors is the fact that, at last, we have a rank-and-file unit for Tzeentch that actually looks good. Personally I’ve always fancied a few daemonic heralds swooping into battle on their disks, but I wanted a mass of troops trudging (or bounding) beneath them and frankly the pink horrors are terrible. Now, at long last, Tzeentch can hold his head high in the presence of the other gods and I wouldn’t be surprised to see plenty of tzaangor based conversions standing in for pink horrors in the future.
My enthusiasm for the Tzaangors is no secret, first expressed when they emerged in Silver Tower, reiterated when they got the multi-part kit treatment in November and expounded once again now as they’re reinforced with a choice of elite units. However one has to wonder if my surprise at seeing such lavish treatment for these beastmen is indicative of the unhealthy, and at times downright antagonistic, relationship we, the fans, have had with GW in the past. Both sides seemed to feel that ours was not to question why, merely to accept with good graces whatever they chose to throw our way (normally more space marines). If we got something genuinely exciting it always felt like a special treat, which would have to be paid for with a few months of the space marine releases which GW needed to churn out to pay the bills. At one time a number widely quoted and believed in the industry (note that this doesn’t mean it was true – just that lots of people working in fields related to miniatures gaming thought it was) stated that one of every four miniatures sold, by all companies – not just GW – was a space marine. The story went that if the production of space marines faltered the customers would up and leave, GW would go to the wall and without them the whole industry surrounding tabletop miniatures would shrink into untenable oblivion. Most people, the consensus went, wouldn’t buy anything that didn’t wear shiny power armour and by asking for anything else we were displaying the height of selfishness. Any break from the space marine production line risked bankrupting GW and then there would be no nice things for anyone ever again.
For us older hands this way of thinking has become so engrained that it’s hard to cogitate the idea of seeing not merely one but multiple releases all focussed on a species of beastmen (already a fringe faction) dedicated to an equally fringe chaos god. Years of psychological programming is compelling me to go barefoot to Nottingham and prostrate myself before the studio doors crying “thank you master, thank you” every time someone goes in or out before popping into the shop to buy a few boxes of tactical marines just to “do my bit” economically. Is this really an appropriate response or have our ideas of what the normal relationship between a company and its customers is become muddled up? If any other company produces products that aren’t of interest to its customers those customers take their money elsewhere, they don’t hang around on the internet murmuring to each other like a hive of passive-aggressive bees and hoping that some day, if they wait long enough, whatever it is they want to buy will be made available to them. Luckily GW’s attitude towards its customers seems to have improved dramatically in recent times yet we fans continue to be surprised that we’re getting what we want rather than simply being doled out a diet of more of the same and told to enjoy it.
Alternatively of course it may be simply the case that, in creating two universes of such outstanding complexity and depth, GW have set themselves up to face the outrage of their fans. After all with 28 factions in 40k, plus who knows how many in Age of Sigmar, a wait of only a few years between releases still makes your faction one of the lucky ones, whilst others must languish far longer before GW finally frees up the resources to consider it. We may have had to wait a ridiculously long time for god-specific beastmen but any celebration is likely to be drowned out by Sisters of Battle fans demanding to know when attention will turn to them. You can have no doubt however that when those long awaited models do arrive there will be plenty of people, even those who’re cheering on the poor long suffering Sisters fans, who’re silently thinking “but when are they going to get to us!?”
Exacerbating the situation is the range of models each faction enjoys which means all too often something new comes at the cost of replacing something old. Take the Eldar for instance – they’re soon to be bolstered by some amazing new models dedicated to the newborn god Ynnead. Yet even in my excitement at seeing them – and what kind of heathen would one have to be not to be excited – part of my brain was thinking “what about a new Avatar of Khaine? Where are our plastic Aspect Warriors?”
On the final note of what has been a rather meandering off-topic ramble I feel that the level of quality in miniature’s design is now hitting a peak. It’s hard to imagine how much further they’ll be able to push things and still remain within the bounds of the medium. Kits can’t get much more detailed and still remain straightforward enough for the average person to assemble and paint. In the past the march of technological progress meant that many kits started to look dated after a few years on the shelves and that which was once praised became fodder for complaints as it was compared to its newer, better brethren.
It may be however that this age is over and that kits will no longer need to be replaced every few years just to stay current. Sisters of Battle haven’t seen an update in twenty years and it certainly shows (medium aside), whereas models released even five or six years ago (Grey Knights, Skaven, Dark Eldar) still look as good today as they did when they first hit the shelves. This frees GW from the need to keep returning to the same factions in order to update them. When the Eldar do get new Aspect Warriors those should last them, not just for the next five or ten years, but for the foreseeable future. Likewise one hopes that new Sisters of Battle will still look as good at twenty as they do on the day of release – which is more than one can say for the current lot. Of course this is a double-edged sword (if you’re disappointed in your army’s rank and file you’re likely to be stuck with them for a while) but, freed of the constraints of needing to constantly update their most popular lines with new iterations of stock units GW are able to play in uncharted waters – both by bringing new and unique ideas to the fore (Sylvaneth, Fyreslayers), exploring long untouched corners of their history (Tzaangors, Genestealer Cults) or adding depth to those factions which are already popular (new Stormcast Eternals or an increased range of Space Marine armour marks). Of course there’s still a way to go on updating those units yet to be treated to new models. Take the greater daemons for example…
The Warp Unleashed
In the wake of all these Tzeentchian goings-on the Changling has thrown off his latest disguise with a new plastic incarnation. Once again GW have shown what they can do with the medium, the model stands tall and imposing, floating on a coil of magical energy, it’s attention clearly focussed on whatever unfortunate is about to be rendered down beneath a barrage of arcane bolts. The characteristics of the model haven’t changed much, it still has four arms, including three grouped to one side, it still wields a long staff and it’s face – if it has one – remains hidden beneath the cowl of its robes. The trick is all the pose which has turned him from a skulking, albeit somewhat mischievous, figure to one with real impact and threat.
Then we have the Blue Horrors which attempt, with a fair degree of success I would say, to bring the same boisterous and well-loved cuteness to Tzeentch as Nurglings already brought to Nurgle.
Nowadays Games Workshop applies a policy of “no model – no rules” a blanket ban presumably intended to avoid driving customers towards third-party companies whilst at the same time making life easier for newcomers to the hobby which has nonetheless seen the demise or disappearance of everyone from Lukas Bastonne to Asdrubael Vect. In the old days however the idea of fans converting models to represent units without models was widely accepted, even encouraged. Even then though blue horrors were something of an oddity. The rules stated that, when a pink horror died, rather than simply vanishing back into the Warp it split into two bickering blue horrors (and so the removed pink horror model should be replaced on the board by a pair of blue horrors). The trouble was, no model existed for blue horrors and successfully converting a half-sized version of the pink horrors was by no means an easy task. With no suitable models of the right scale to use as a base a good knowledge of greenstuff was required – and that’s just to make one. Subjected to the right amount of damage a squad of ten pink horrors would require twenty blue horrors to replace them, at which point most right-thinking people quite understandably gave it up as a bad job. Add to this the fact that the newest iteration of the pink horrors kit has been widely regarded as a bit duff anyway and the grumbling of Tzeentch fans could be heard throughout the land. Since last year this problem has been mediated by the option to loot the blue horrors from the Silver Tower but the option of a full kit is still long overdue and extremely welcome.
Exciting as blue (and brimstone) horrors and a new incarnation of the Changling are it’s not these which have been drumming up a fever of excitement for this release. That honour goes to the Lord of Change, a beast of real magnificence from its saurian head to the tips of its glorious wings.
It’s been a long time since the greater daemons really cut the mustard and the feeling of dissatisfaction aimed at them has only grown since Khorne came stomping out of the gate with a Bloodthirster which in spite of a few flaws (less said about those sigils on its wings the better) still outclassed its predecessor by an almost infinite degree. From that point on fans of daemonic avian wizards have been praying for something that looks better than this:
Has GW managed it? Well if my glowing praise a mere paragraph ago wasn’t enough to tip you off then yes, I think it’s safe to say they have.Just look at it! (Go on, click it to see it full size – revel in its glory!)
With its magnificent wingspan adding considerably to its height it manages to look downright enormous (a must for a greater daemon in this age of Imperial Knights and super-heavies) whilst still retaining the slim, almost snakelike figure conveyed by the artwork.
As well as the standard version of the bird wizard the kit also allows hobbyists to create Kairos Fateweaver Tzeentch’s vizier and personal oracle who’s twin heads see past and future with perfect clarity but can’t keep track of what’s happening in the present (I’m sure we all know someone like that…)
When the Bloodthirster was released, Skarbrand, the special character variant appeared several months later as a separate model, albeit one which shared many of the components of the original kit. In many ways this decision was forced on Games Workshop, Skarbrand is defined by his ragged, tattered wings – ruined when Khorne kicked him out for getting too fighty and actually attacking the big man himself. Including both sets of wings, as well as Skarbrand’s signature twin axes, would have driven up the cost of the kit to the point at which it would have undoubtedly impacted sales.
This time round they’ve been able to box clever, incorporating Kairos into the same kit as the standard Lord of Change. For us customers this doesn’t make a huge difference – beyond getting both units released in one go – but one can see the immediate benefits to GW in terms of saving shelf space in shops and warehouses. What’s impressive is how well they’ve managed to make the two models look different to one another, whilst still using mostly the same core components. By adding different tips to the wings, altering the top of the staff and switching the staff from one hand to the other there’s a lot more to differentiate them than just an extra head.
His hand also features a hamsa eye in a nice visual link to Magnus.
With all kinds of stylish details like this staff top rendered as a living version of the sigil of Tzeentch, there’s a lot more to Kairos than just a pretty face or two.I suppose two heads are better than one and all that.
When, and although I don’t think it’ll be for a while I also think it is now inevitable, I do get around to buying and painting Kairos that icon of living flame should act as a nice, albeit entirely coincidental, link to Mazzakim, the mortal leader of my (still embryonic) Tzeentchian forces.
On a final note its worth reiterating yet again how much of the groundwork of this release was laid back in May when the Silver Tower boxed game arrived. With GW announcing this week that a follow up game is on-route its worth taking a quick look at the cover art they’ve shown us so far.
The bloated, Nurgly figures of the antagonists are distinctive enough to leave little doubt over which God’s followers will be troubling the heroes this time around which begs the question; will this game be the catalyst for a series of pestilent releases to echo that which the Changer of Ways has received over the past year? Given Nurgle’s popularity, with new plague marines and great unclean one long overdue and with Mortarion putting in an appearance in Wrath of Magnus it’s easy to convince oneself that the stars are aligning for a plague ridden 2017. You may wish to start speculating wildly now…