My love of Chaos is no secret. If you’re looking for someone to take up an axe and lead his barbarian tribe against the Empire of the Old World, to stand at Abaddon’s right hand as Cadia burns, or conduct dark rituals on some grim and bitter moor to conjure daemons into the Mortal Realms, then I like to think I’m the man for the job.
Likewise I’m drawn to skirmish games, to small bands of warriors packed with character and personality. Thus, if Games Workshop’s developers had reached into my head by some arcane means – and who’s to say they didn’t? – and tried to craft the perfect game based to what they found there, then the result would have been something a lot like Warcry. Given the hype that’s been generated recently it seems I’m not the only one who feels this way – indeed the concept of small groups of Chaos-loving warriors beating merry hell out of each another is starting to feel like the most obviously popular, yet previous unexplored idea, since Games Workshop invented dogs.
For those who’ve managed to avoid that overenthusiastic juggernaut that is GW’s promotional engines, Warcry is the latest of their skirmish games, the tale of small bands of Chaos worshippers drawn from all corners of Age of Sigmar’s Mortal Realms to gather at a place called the Eightpoints. Once there they attempt to inveigle themselves into Chaos overlord Archaon’s good books through committing heinous acts of violence to each other, armed with everything from swords to whips to meat tenderizers, bones, even live snakes. Don’t try this at home kids!
Rather than the armies of the gods which we are familiar with these are people born and raised to the cultures abandoned by Sigmar when he hid himself away in Azyr and ceded control of the Mortal Realms to Chaos at the end of the Age of Myth. Rather than the all-encompassing top-down view enjoyed by fans of the game or the blinkered fanaticism of an acolyte bound to a single god, like a blood warrior or a blight king, these are in the main just people to whom Chaos is an ever-present elemental force which must be appeased, for whom being mauled by a spawn is an occupational hazard and who cannot rely on the Stormcast Eternals to come and rescue them, but are otherwise attempting to get on with their lives. Or at least they were until, for one reason or another, Archaon called them to the Eightpoints. That’s not to say that they’re just misunderstood, that they are a top bunch of lads if you just get to know them or that they’re all nice to their mums. Indeed I think it’s fair to assume that they’re a bunch of right bastards, as evidenced by their love of gritty violence and their willingness to throw in their lot with Archaon rather than let millennia old bygones be bygones and give Sigmar another chance. In the main however these are not professional warriors – indeed much like Necromunda these are armed civilians – the man on the street in the Mortal Realms.
Walking adverts for steroid abuse and guaranteed to give every man they encounter body image issues, the Untamed Beasts hail – perhaps unsurprisingly – from the Realm of Beasts. These are your classic barbarians, caked in ’80s charm down to the last loin cloth, oiled muscle and cod-Austrian accent. They’re comfortable enough to at least indulge the trappings of civilisation with the odd metal helmet and so on but for the most part they like to keep things as primal as possible, using bones for weapons and wearing enough fur to turn a Space Wolf green with envy.
Seriously, if you can look at their leader and not hear a shredding guitar solo ringing in your head then you have no soul!
If you hadn’t already gathered from the above, I’ll admit I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned, cheesy barbarian so this warband was always going to appeal to me. Nor are they solely devoted to the art of masculine power posing. Indeed the best model in the group is this dynamic young lady. Note also the tail she’s wearing (or at least we presume she’s wearing it – you know Chaos!) – a nice visual reference to the Beasts and the predatory animals with which they are intrinsically linked.
And who doesn’t love a part-goat part-lion?
However it’s not all perfection. Part of the knack of pulling off over the top cheese is not taking it so far that it ends up looking like a pastiche of itself. Making the weapons of some of these warriors a little smaller (something I’m told happens as a side effect of taking steroids anyway…) would have made a big difference. Take a look at this chap for example and see if you agree that the huge bone in their hand (chortle chortle) throws out the proportions of the whole model.
Another offender is the First Fang. Overall there’s a lot to like here but his pose makes him look awkward and undecided, as though he’s torn between throwing his spear and hitting someone with his axe. I suspect that the intention was to have his sweeping someone aside with the axe, blocking a low blow perhaps or knowing their feet from under them whilst the spear jabs in to make the kill, but it doesn’t quite come across. Personally I’d have preferred to see the axe strapped to his back whilst he goes all in with impaling someone on that spear.
These are minor gripes though, things that I’ll either kitbash my way around or learn to live with. They may not be my favourite warband but they still look like they’ll be a lot of fun to paint and frankly it would be a sin not to be listening to Manowar whilst I’m about it!
Speaking of heavy metal the Untamed Beasts share the Warcry starter set with the Iron Golem, a group of blacksmiths from the Realm of Metal. As someone who enjoys painting bare flesh and battered iron and who’s been feeling the itch to paint some more Goliath gangers lately, these are pretty much perfect for me. They don’t look particularly subtle but who needs cunning when blunt force trauma will do?
You could see these as being somewhat simplistic, there’s no cloth, nothing soft, no blades or sharp edges, just heavy armour and heavier hammers, the very epitome of Warhammer. It’s a straightforward concept but it’s kept interesting by the style with which it is pulled off and the variety of models to which it is applied. Whilst traditionally such thuggish brutality would have been exclusively the domain of the male, the Golems continue the diversity demonstrated by the Beasts, including amongst the ranks what I can only describe as iron maidens.
As though the humans weren’t enough to emphasise their raw power and aggression of this warband they’ve also recruited an ogre (I still refuse to write Ogor) who looks more than capable of taking on anything life throws at them all by himself. We seem to be having a good run of Chaos Ogres at the moment, and I’m already wondering about getting my hands on a second one to turn into a Goliath ‘zerker. Many people have asked how he eats without the use of his hands, which is a fair question although I suspect that the answer is implied by the horrifying, lamprey-like aperture in the front of his helmet. After all it only takes a quick glance at him to confirm that he hasn’t been missing many meals.
Of course if you’re going to have an ogre, why stop there? Who better to join up with a band of craftsmen and metal workers than a dwarf? Fans have been muttering about the absence of Chaos Dwarves for many a year and so it’s nice to see that they’re still around in the Mortal Realms. (I must admit I thought their next official appearance would be for Blood Bowl – I’m sure a team will be along sooner or later). Like the Squats that have been popping up in Necromunda, skirmish games like this are a golden opportunity to keep these concepts current, even if they don’t have an army of their own in the main games at the moment. The dwarf himself obviously feels glad to have been included – rarely has a worshipper of the dark gods looked so delighted!
Whilst the Iron Golem may be cloth-phobic and brutally simple, and the Untamed Beasts wild and, well, bestial, the Cypher Lords sit at the other end of the spectrum; civilised, subtle, some might even say downright sneaky. There’s something unearthly about these denizens of the Realm of Light and with their masks and crests many people have suggested something Tzeentchian about them. Personally I’d go so far as to say these are everything that the Kairic Acolytes should have been – I wonder how they’d look wearing those wonderful masks, far and away the best thing about the Kairics? That said there is something rather Slaaneshi about them too, a product of the dancing poses and air of sophistication.
I’ll admit I’m still in two minds about these. When I first saw them I loved them but the more I looked the more uncertain I became. However the past couple of weeks, and particularly looking at them again as I write this review, has reignited some of my enthusiasm. Part of a problem is their top heavy appearance, a side effect of those wonderfully ornate helmets combined with their trailing hair-do’s. I did consider whether building them without the hair would improve matters but I’ll wait to pass judgement until I’ve explored that option further. That said, I really love those sinister helms and beautiful crests, so my fall to the embrace of madness is surely assured.
These models are very much defined by their grace, leaping and lunging more like dancers than fighters, and a world away from the straightforward brutality encapsulated by the Iron Golem. With many of us starting our path to darkness in the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy, or amongst the hulking power-armoured marines of Warhammer 40k, our mental image of Chaos is often tied up with muscular barbarians in heavy armour, bludgeoning their way to daemonhood. It’s exciting to get a fresh look at Chaos, and once again explore the creative options opened up by the Mortal Realms. After all, why shouldn’t a servant of the Dark Gods be light on their feet?
Of course even whilst I took the time to make up my mind about the rank and file of the warband the leader grabbed me from the start. It hardly needs to be said that this Thrallmaster is the epitome of style and a truly outstanding miniature, or at least it will be once I snip off that silly looking smoke effect!
In their stylish costume, and with a third arm hidden beneath their robes, one could even convert them into a Locus for a Genestealer Cult that’s infiltrating the very highest echelons of Imperial society.
So I there was, sitting on the hillside, eating my sandwich and about to start writing about the Splintered Fang when along came this awesome little dude, sliding right past my boots. It’s a sign I tell ye!
As it turns out it was a sign that I should really take a second look at the Splintered Fang before giving them the slagging I intended to. The fact is they’re actually quite a nice-looking gang, let down by their leader, the Trueblood. The gladiatorial rank-and-file in their scaled armour are excellent models. Like the Cypher Lords there’s nothing overtly chaotic here, file off the odd blasphemous symbol and these would fit in nicely amongst the loyal Cities of Sigmar, indeed these are closer to my mental image of what the common man of the Realms might look like than the old citizenry of the Empire.
Continuing at the racially inclusive trend started in the box set they’ve even managed to recruit an elf.
Furthermore, as denizens of the Realm of Life, they can bring along a bunch of snakes, reminiscent of the old jungle swarms that used to accompany the Lizardmen.
Indeed, despite my initial uncertainty about this warband, the more closely I look at them, and the more I get over the Trueblood and the Serpent Caller and turn my attention to the rest of their colleagues, the more I grow to like them. Indeed, leaving aside those two, the rest of the gang may be amongst my favourites of the whole range.
The Serpent Caller however is, in my opinion, simultaneously the best and worst model in the warband. On the one hand the dynamic pose is pulled off in style, the fanged mask beneath the hood is wonderfully sinister and there’s a nice sense of danger and motion. On the other hand I feel like he’s about to hit the floor face first after getting tangled up in all those snakes whilst the dart in his hand appears to be being flicked away to the side with no suggestion that it might actually hurt anyone, apart from possibly one of the poor snakes. For these reasons I want to dislike it but it’s still a charming model with a lot of appealing qualities, and I suspect once I learn to stop taking it seriously I’ll grow to like it.
The Trueblood on the other hand is another matter. There are so many other poses that could have been used here to greater effect; casting the net, stabbing with the trident, posing ominously. Instead they’re neither one thing nor the other, stepping forward whilst wafting the net to the side in a manner that leaves them looking awkward and ineffectual. It’s not a terrible pose but it’s a long way from being the powerful, attention capturing stance one expects from a leader. Something with a bit more punch would have made a world of difference. Whether anything can be done about it remains to be seen, without pictures of the sprue available online – we’ll have to wait and see what can be done once I have the model in front of me.
That said, when viewed from the side the model has a lot more power, and the tail is a nice touch. There may be hope for it yet!
I’ve mentioned dynamic poses a few times in this review so let’s turn our attention to the gold standard, the warband that consistently gets that (and pretty much everything else) right. Hailing from the realm of Shadows this crow loving tribe are strong contenders to be my favourite of the six warbands we’ve seen so far.
Far more so than the Splintered Fang or the Untamed Beasts they wear their totem animal on their metaphorical sleeves. The crow theme is stamped across all of the models in the warband down to the lowliest Cabalist and the result is a strikingly cohesive, yet wonderfully diverse and original, group of characters.
The dynamic poses are pulled off with universal aplomb, there are loads of details for a painter to get their teeth into and every last one feels like a unique character. Meanwhile the prize for the most spectacularly creative model in the entire war cry range has to go to the wonderful Shrike Talon. Channelling all of the weirdness that’s made the Inq28 scene great, and bound to be the basis of some gloriously strange conversions, this birdman is proof positive that GW are at the top of their game when it comes to creativity. Speaking of crazy conversions I’m very curious to see if I can kitbash these with some Space Marines to create a suitably strange Raven Guard squad. Watch this space!
Overall then these are the best of the bunch for me although there is one other warband left to discuss and they’re so mad that they almost snatched the Cabal’s crown.
What does one do when all of one’s learning and sophistication has come to naught and a hoard of the undead is kicking down the door? Why cut off your own face and swear yourself to the Dark Gods of course! Bringing a whole new meaning to the expression “where will I put my face” it’s the grimmest of the bunch, the hideous masters of body-horror that are the Unmade.
You could be mistaken at times for thinking that life amongst the Slaves to Darkness might not be so bad. Everyone is welcome regardless of race or gender, there is little sign of hideous mutation or daemon worship here and if you’re lucky you even get a pet. What’s not to like? Luckily the Unmade are here to set the record straight chopping off their own appendages and replacing them with instruments of torture.
Torment and cruelty are the order of the day here – just look at this flail for instance and imagine the fate of someone unfortunate enough to be snagged by it.
Unlike some of the other warbands which star all kinds of characters the Unmade are actually quite uniform, although the rank and file are still a long way from being faceless drones (boom boom). However the real star of the show has to be the terrifying scarecrow like figure of the Blissful One. One almost suspect that this figure was approved simply to put to bed once and for all the claims that GW had dumbed down and become family friendly.
Of course that’s still not all. The starter box set also contains a selection of chaotic beasts; the weird looking but oddly endearing Raptoryx…
… And a reimagined version of the old furies.
In the latter case this was something desperately overdue, these unaligned chaos daemons being amongst the oldest and least attractive models in GWs entire catalogue.
What’s more the box also comes with a range of handy train perfect for recreating the three-dimensional environments in which the warbands battle it out. Here we see the ruins of an ancient civilisation long eroded by time and war and now build over by barbaric newcomers.
Amongst the details of these ruins we see a fallen statue of Sigmar and this skeleton which appears to have been queuing for the toilet for quite some time…
Looking at the selection of terrain in the box one wonders if Necromunda had any influence here. When the new edition of the classic game was released many people moaned about the lack of terrain in the box set. Personally I felt that including enough terrain for a game of Necromunda would have made the box too heavy to lift and too expensive to buy, that the terrain of yesteryear which so many people praised may not have been quite as perfect as nostalgia suggests and that the use of tiles was an elegant solution, but the carping was certainly pervasive. Warcry meanwhile follows in the footsteps of Kill Team with a smaller footprint and enough terrain to create a densely packed, immersive environment. Of course I’m still miles behind with my Necromunda terrain collection let alone adding anything else…
So there we have it, plenty for us fans of the Dark Gods to get our claws into regardless of which faction takes our fancy. Much like Necromunda and Blood Bowl I can easily see myself trying out all of these in time – part of the joy of skirmish games for me being that each faction is relatively inexpensive, I’d never have the time or money to apply such a broad brush interest to one of the main games for instance.
Those who refuse to bow before the True Gods can always indulge their craven weakness with one of the other available factions, with everything from Stormcast Eternals to Gloomspite Gits (on a quest to collect glass bottles – I kid you not!) having rules for the game. Indeed I may well take the excuse to paint up a few warbands for these other factions just for the fun of it, regardless of whether I ever actually play the game.
Speaking of playing though, I tend to avoid mentioning the rules in these reviews – I rarely if ever play, preferring to focus on painting, and my rules insights are likely to be less than engaging. However from what I’ve seen so far this does look like a lot of fun, and fairly straightforward to get the hang of, so I may well give it a bash in the near future.
Meanwhile GW have been keen to remind us that this isn’t intended as a flash in the pan, but that plenty more lies ahead for the game. What that might be remains to be seen, although we do know that there are two more Chaos warbands which we’re yet to see revealed. The Scions of the Flame originate from the Realm of Fire and like to catch and eat fire elementals to prove their strength – much like some lads on a night out encountering a particularly vicious vindaloo. They worship Chaos as the Ever-Raging Flame which they believe will someday consume all life, with a little encouragement of course. Turns out some men really do want to watch the world burn!
Having seen warbands from seven of the eight realms I must admit I assumed that the final set, the Spire Tyrants, would be coming from Azyr itself, as hints have been dropped in the background fiction that even amongst Sigmar’s great bastion a few scurrilous rogues have hidden away, plotting the downfall of the God King and the final victory of the Dark Gods. The Tyrants however turn out to be natives of the Eightpoints, champions of the arenas and fighting pits of the Varanspire who have cut their way to freedom and now seek even greater excesses of violence and glory by joining Archaon’s elite. Angron would be so proud!
As for what comes next your guess is as good as mine, although personally I’d love to someday see a Destruction themed spin off. Rather than questing all the way to the Eightpoints it could instead features tribes of Orcs, Gobbos and Orgres knocking seven-shades out of one another down their local cave.
Having got this far I’ll confess that I mostly started writing this whilst waiting for my copy of the boxset to arrive and, having watched the poor postman struggle to the door with it, I’m off to delve into it properly. As usual though I’m interested to hear any thoughts or comments you may have. Will you be starting a warband of your own, and if so which has you tempted? Have you, or a loved one, ever been called to the Varanspire for a life of unremitting violence, or been affected by any of the other issues discussed in this blog? If so, the comments box is as ever, the place to speak your mind.