Tag Archives: Review

Squabblin’ Goblins – Part 11

Last weekend saw the long-awaited release of new plastic squigs from Games Workshop. Formerly part of the Orcs and Goblins range these crazy little beasts have now found a home amongst the Gloomspite Gits, a re-imagining of the old night gobbos in the Mortal Realms. As a long-standing fan of greenskins in general and squigs in particular it’s fair to say that I’ve been looking forward to this release since long before the models were even sculpted, let alone announced. Having got my hands on them* I wanted to take the opportunity to share a few thoughts regarding my early impressions – illustrated with a few moody and atmospheric black and white images to compensate for the fact that I haven’t painted anything yet.

*I know I have plenty of other things to paint at the moment, and I know buying new models when I haven’t painted what I have is profligate, but how could I resist after dreaming of them for at least a decade?

The new Gloomspite Gits are an interesting proposition. Despite it being three years since the arrival of Age of Sigmar this release would have fitted quite comfortably into the Old World of Warhammer. Previously Age of Sigmar releases have either been entirely new races, such as the Stormcast Eternals or the Idoneth Deepkin, or have evolved old races into new forms, such as the Daughters of Khaine or the Sylvaneth. Sometimes models for this latter group would have fitted in well in the Old World, and some might even be effective proxies for older units – like Ironjaw Brutes as Orc Big ‘uns, but never have we seen such comprehensive coverage of models widely desired for an old Warhammer army as part of an Age of Sigmar release. Long before the End Times, before Nagash returned and with the Stormcasts no more than a games developer’s fevered imaginings, people were crying out for new squigs.

Having waited all these years for a nice plastic kit for the squigs (surely always a glaring gap in the Games Workshop roster) I found myself giving in to temptation and snapping them up as soon as I could. Acquiring them however has led to considerable food for thought. Many old school players will be rejoicing at the opportunity to add this iconic creature to their Orcs and Goblins armies but with the scale of many GW models creeping larger every year will these newcomers even fit on an old 20mm square base? They, at least, can relax, the answer is a firm “yes”.

squigs convert or die wudugast (1)squigs convert or die wudugast (2)

Indeed although many things have become bigger over the years the boisterous squig remains roughly the same.

squigs convert or die wudugast (3)

For myself I’m still debating exactly what to do with my newly acquired squigs. Long ago I started to build a Night Goblin army for WHFB and last year I actually got a sizeable chunk of it painted. When I painted the army last year I threw in a handful of squigs but left the squad incomplete in the hope that sooner or later more would come bouncing along. All too often such manoeuvring proves to be wishful thinking but this time it seems I guessed right.

Night Goblins Convert Or Die

As squigs were always intended to be a part of that army surely I should just pop the little beasts onto square bases and get painting. On the other hand however the style of base very much directs the game for which the model is intended. As it stands I’m unlikely to actually play with these, so the point is probably entirely academic. Nonetheless the idea of some AoS skirmish has a distinct appeal. In the unlikely event that I do ever decide to play some old fashioned Warhammer it’ll be my Skaven that hit the tabletop.

It’s also worth considering that despite the aesthetic punch which an old Warhammer army with its ranks of troops neatly defined possesses, a quality which no AoS army can quite capture, some models just don’t look as good in ranks. By putting them on round bases I’d be able to really enjoy and show off everything these dynamic models can do, rather than struggling to make the best of things and force them into ranks which they were never intended to form. After all “ranking up” was a rightly cursed aspect of old Warhammer, a chore which impeded miniatures design and made hobbyist’s lives a misery in equal measure, so burdening myself with it unnecessarily seems like foolishness.

Convert Or Die Squigs

A release as long awaited as this was always going to be of key importance to GW. This was a chance to win over lingering WHFB sounds to the new world of AoS. Furthermore there must have been a temptation to indulge the freedom of the new realms to push the Night Goblins in new and crazy directions, an urge they have wisely resisted. The Night Goblins and Squigs have always been amongst the company’s most classic and iconic races and as the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Look no further than the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanied the upscaling of the space marines, a range who’s undersized proportions meant it certainly was broke and did need fixed.

On the other hand as a species so intrinsically associated with the Old World there was always a real danger that these little dudes would seem glaringly out of place amid the Mortal Realms. Luckily good models save the day. Just as the sudden availability of truescale marines made it easier for many of us to swallow the new landscape of 40k so too do Night Goblins in the Mortal Realms seem much more palatable when accompanied by these glorious new squigs.

This is not to say that everything is just a rehash of the “good old days” however. New ideas have been brought in but they’ve done so in a way that sympathetic to the old. Take the new Boingrot Bounderz for instance. Again old school WHFB fans could use them as alternative squig hoppers (which the kit also makes) but there’s something irresistible entertaining about goblin knights. Picture, if you will, a whole court of them in full heraldic pageantry, with the squig hoppers as squires and a suitably deranged-looking king bouncing in the lead. Of course, in a process which will be familiar to all hobbyists, now I’ve thought of it I can’t stop thinking about it. Bretonnia may be gone but there is still room for a green knight or two.

squigs convert or die wudugast (6)squigs convert or die wudugast (7)

The only thing I’m not entirely happy out regarding these is the way they are held aloft on heaps of mushrooms. It’s just a little over the top for my tastes, although I stress that’s just a personal opinion, but it’s also rather tricky to do very much about it. The fungi are sculpted directly to the legs of the squigs, probably a sensible move when it comes to supporting the weight of the model but making it distinctly tricky to separate them. I did manage it with this one but, given what a faff it was, I don’t think I’ll be losing too much sleep over the others.

squigs convert or die wudugast (8)

The Night Goblins were always a race which combined spite and silliness with aplomb. there was an element of slapstick comedy about them that brought something uniquely enjoyable to their murderous ways. Whilst still clearly evil creatures this cheeky, quirky element put them in a class of their own, a long way from straightforward baddies like Chaos or the Vampire Counts, whilst their status as weak yet cunning distinguished them from the loutish Orcs. Again it’s pleasing to see that this trait lives on in their new iteration. Goblins of all kinds have always enjoyed seeing their mates suffering misfortune and goblin fans are no better. Can you imagine Stormcast fans universally applauding a model of a liberator being swallowed by a dracoline, as this poor little grot is gobbled up by a squig?

squigs convert or die wudugast

Amidst all this praise for the new models it would be remiss of me not to take a moment to mourn the passing of the Doom Diver from the range. It was a true icon of the old Orcs and Goblins army which seems not to have made the cut for a new model and has been quietly shuffled into retirement. Luckily for me I was given one a few years ago which will be joining my Night Goblins sooner or later.

Likewise goblin wolf riders, a staple of many childhoods thanks to The Hobbit, have been shuffled off into the great dank cave in the sky. These days if you want to go riding into battle on a big bad wolf you need to be a power-armoured futuristic Viking with a questionable hair-do’s.

squigs convert or die wudugast (5)

Few things are as evocative of GW’s stable as Night Goblins and Blood Bowl, so I’ve also found myself pondering how the two could be combined, a subject I’ve found myself returning to lately following conversations with fellow blogger and blood bowl enthusiast Faust. So far I’ve only dipped my toe into it but as this combination of Blood Bowl player and the (now retired) Night Goblin Fanatics shows, there’s certainly room to create some alternative members for a diverse looking team.

squigs convert or die wudugast (4)

Once again though I’d like to emphasise that I have plenty of other projects I ought to be concentrating on so although these squigs and gobbos will definitely get a turn on the painting table it won’t be straight away. In many ways however this is a blessing. I’ve been thinking about what to do with a release like this for a number of years so I won’t be rushing into anything, but instead will be taking the chance to explore the models, see what other hobbyists do with them, and bounce a few ideas around before I commit to anything. At this point I often say watch this space but this time I’ll add don’t hold your breath as well. However if you have any suggestions, ideas or words of wisdom, I’m all ears.

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2018 – In Case You Missed It

As the curtain falls on 2018 or (depending on where you are in the world and assuming you’re not reading this at the very moment of publication) the sun rises on 2019, it’s time to take a rambling look back at the year that’s past.

For fans of the various universes created by Games Workshop it’s been a packed twelve months. 40k has continued to grow into its post- Guilliman landscape and although at first I feared the impact a loyalist Primarch would have on the flavour of the setting I have to say I’m pleased with how things have developed so far. Guilliman himself, often maligned as the most boring of the Primarch (even by the other Primarchs), has developed into a strong character and may now hold the title of my second favourite loyalist (after the Khan of course). The reason this has been successful, in my view, is that GW have not forgotten the grim darkness which lies at the heart of 40k. Rather than allow Guilliman to become the super-heroic “good man” who saves the day at every turn, they’ve allowed the speck of light and hope he’s brought to the galaxy to emphasise how truly dire the setting truly is. 2016 saw the first Primarch making a return (the spectacular Magnus the Red), followed by two more in 2017 (Guilliman and Mortarion). 2018 gave us a bit of a rest, allowing us to become familiar with the new setting whilst turning the focus onto the dark corners and less explored parts of the galaxy, the shadows where Inquisitors roam and mighty heroes are few and far between. Thus, much like buses, after waiting thirty years for a Rogue Trader, this year we saw two of them come along at once, accompanied by a whole host equally interesting, but traditionally sidelined, characters; from mutants to death cult assassins, ratlings to navigators and beastmen to dogs. Who, at the start of the year, would have guessed that GW could reveal both a glimpse of the Old Ones and an actual Man of Iron, and what’s more do so to almost universal acclaim?

Doggo (1)

The only truly good boy in the 41st Millenium

My own relationship with 40k as a game remains complicated. Much as I love the setting, and building armies to fit within it, the game itself still fails to engage me. My heart as ever belongs to small-scale, “crunchy” games, which is why I’m being drawn ever further into the embrace of Necromunda. Thus the arrival of Kill Team did manage to excite me as a chance to engage with smaller, character driven, forays into the 41st Millennium, rather than the sprawling maths-fest of 40k proper. As yet I’ve not given the game itself a shot but the idea of creating some teams is certainly compelling, as is the opportunity to dip a toe into some of the factions which don’t engage me sufficiently to build a whole army around. For instance the likes of the Dark Eldar, Tau or Necrons have never really interested me but the chance to make a little Kill Team and see what I make of them could be a lot of fun.

Mobile Artillery

A plucky band of heroes who could someday become an Imperial Guard Kill Team, if only that Catachan would get off the phone!

Speaking of games which sound like they might be fun to play this year saw new editions of both Lord of the Rings and Adeptus Titanicus. Lord of the Rings has always been something of an oddity for me. I grew up with the books, indeed some of my formative memories are of my dad reading me the Hobbit, and later Lord of the Rings, when I was a child, something which undoubtedly paved the way for my love of fantasy and science fiction. The Lord of the Rings films remain some of my all time favourite movies, and are amongst the few films I’m happy to re-watch on a semi-regular basis (less so the Hobbit films which were a little hit-and-miss, although when they got it right they too proved to be outstanding). Thus I do find myself wondering why, given my love of Tolkien’s worlds, and my even greater love of painting miniatures, I’ve never been that interested in painting Lord of the Rings’ models? Admittedly some of the sculpts are less than impressive but some are truly outstanding, and from everything I’ve seen and heard the game itself looks like a lot of fun to play, but beyond the occasional brief flash of enthusiasm the thought of painting any models for it rarely raises any more than a mental shrug. I do have a heap of goblin town goblins lurking amongst my hobby stuff, but in typical fashion I’ll be converting them into Necromunda mutants. That said I did recently receive a warrior of Minas Tirith as part of a bits drop sent by the inimitable IRO so who knows, this could be the start of something.

Adeptus Titanicus is another game that looks genuinely entertaining. After all have many of us not dreamed of piloting a titan, duelling like metallic Godzillas as buildings tumble around us, or simply stepping on your boss’s flash new car on your way into the office? Watching a few demo games online it struck me that this one could be a lot of fun, but luckily the miniatures have failed to really capture my imagination, probably a good thing as the cost is quite eye-watering. Instead I think I’ll stick to things like Necromunda and Blood Bowl, where one can start a new faction without needing to give up food or take up crime to pay for it.

Unicorn Convert Or Die

Without a hobbit or a titan to my name, here’s a handsome unicorn instead.

2018 was also the year in which Age of Sigmar began to realise its potential, outgrowing the (frankly shoddy and underdeveloped) early years and tapping into the rich veins of creativity that the setting allows for. Morathi became perhaps the first of the established characters of old Warhammer to transition to the new setting without seeming jarringly out of place, a whole faction of ghosts were summoned (including some truly outstanding models) and GW even managed something previously thought impossible and created a faction of Stormcasts that seem genuinely interesting. In one of the standout releases of the year GW completed their elemental quartet, adding the watery Idoneth Deepkin to the firey Fyreslayers, earthy Sylvaneth and airy Kharadron Overlords (and proving at last that Fishmen would indeed get models before the Sisters of Battle).

As it stands I’ve yet to dip my toe into AoS properly. For me an interesting setting is one of the most important things when it comes to getting me into a new game and until recently AoS was almost completely lacking in this area. Like 40k the Old World had plenty of dark corners which you could make your own, and thus for me struck the right balance between the potential to develop your own ideas and still having a framework to work within. The “anything goes/make it up as you go along” blank canvass of early AoS was a little too intimidating and so I stuck with what I knew and kept my Skaven and Night Goblins firmly in the dank caves and filthy cities of the World That Was. The new edition however has reinvigorated my interest. At last the world has come alive and I’m finding myself drawn in. Over the last six months or so I’ve found myself increasingly tempted to sell my soul into Nagash’s service and recreate my Vampire Counts army in the Mortal Realms. I managed to get my hands on the ghosts from the AoS starter set when they were first released and I’ve enjoyed putting the first few together, so who knows – 2019 could be their year.

Ghosties

So what about the developments in my own collection? Tallying up the numbers I’ve discovered that, in 2018, I managed to paint a total of 277 models. This may not equate to  the same giddy heights which some hobbyists can accomplish but I’m still rather proud of this achievement, especially as I feel I’ve managed to achieve a reasonably high standard on all of them. It certainly beats (indeed it more than doubles) my 2017 output of 129, even if many of this year’s recruits were the (relatively easy to paint) Night Goblins.

Although I like to avoid deadlines as much as possible in my hobby activities I still took the chance to get involved in a number of challenges throughout the year, in addition to my self-imposed goal of “at least one Skaven per month”. Probably the most defining of these, in terms of my own output, were the monthly challenges organised by Azazel, a phenomenon which is fast becoming an institution amongst the blogging community, and which I’m pleased to hear is set to continue in 2019. Once again therefore Azazel deserves a huge “thank you” from me, and if you’ve not been following his blog, or getting involved in his challenges, I strongly urge you to do so. I’m not entirely sure how many models I painted this year that I wouldn’t have completed without Azazel’s challenges but there’s no denying it was a fair number, ranging from mighty centrepieces like the Screaming Bell to hordes of little Night Goblins. May, for example, was Neglected Model Month, aimed at encouraging participants to pick up that miniature which had been gathering dust and just finish the damn thing. With this as a spur I managed to complete this heap of chaotic characters, each of which had been abandoned on the shelf of shame for far too long.

Convert Or Die (3)

Meanwhile February was renamed Femruary by Alex of Leadballoony which aimed to encourage us to add some female models to our respective collections. This year I took the opportunity to paint up this little group of 41st Millennium ladies, and I’m already thinking ahead to Femruary 2019, with a heap of unpainted women ring-fenced to tackle.

Fembruary Group Shot Convert Or Die

February also saw Big Boss Redskullz putting out a call for genestealer corrupted civilians to take part in the Nestorian Infestation. This ongoing project is the product of collaboration between Big Boss RedskullzEchoes of Imperium and Wilhel Miniatures, and is set around a world overrun by genestealer cultists and the arrival of Imperial forces in the form of the Deathwatch.  The whole story has been a joy to follow and it was a real pleasure to be able to get involved. Here’s a few shots (courtesy of the guys themselves) of my models lurking on Wilhel’s beautifully grubby terrain, and probably only moments away from being casually murdered by the Imperium’s finest.

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Meanwhile at the opposite end of the year Orktober continued the longstanding tradition of greenskin fans building up their collections. Despite being an Ork fan for over a decade now I’m fairly certain this is the first year I’ve actually participated in it, turning out this mob of new recruits for the Waaagh!

Convert Or Die Orks (1)

I’ve already shown you the current state of my Skaven army but I’m not ashamed to show it off again (although you can read the full story here).

Skaven Convert Or Die Wudugast (29)

Their dominance of the tunnels won’t go uncontested however as a green menace has begun to emerge in the form of a growing clan of rapscallion Night Goblins. Most of these were painted in September and October which goes to show what one can achieve if one put other projects aside and focuses one’s efforts. Speaking of Night Gobbos I’m sure it comes as no surprise to many of you that, having seen the latest previews from Games Workshop, I’m already planning to expand my greenskin horde in the new year.

Night Goblins Convert Or Die

They are not the only greenskins I’ve worked on either as, in the grim darkness of the far future my Ork Waaagh! continued to gather in strength. Since the end of Orktober I’ve only managed to add a single Ork nob to my collection so this image still shows almost the full extent of the army.

Convert Or Die Orks (7)

That said when I finished the aforementioned nob I also completed his squad and as I never took a group shot of them all together at the time here’s one now.

Ork Nobs Convert or Die Wudugast

Greenskin fans will be pleased to hear that there are still plenty of Orks and Goblins on the painting desk waiting for attention so expect further additions to both collections in the new year.

Another army set to grow soon is my Death Guard collection. With the recent change in scale of the plague Marine models I’ve decided to retire many of my old models, whilst some of the others will be tweaked and improved upon. Expect to see this army growing larger and stranger over the next twelve months. Here’s a look at how it stands currently;

Nurgle Convert Or Die 2018 Wudugast

Of course whilst some of the older models have been banished to Nurgle’s garden a host of new recruits have crawled from the plague pits in the form of a growing hoard of poxwalkers – and you can definitely expect to see a lot more of them in 2019.

Poxwalkers Convert Or Die Wudugast

Faced with such a foul hoard it’s a good thing that the Imperium has received reinforcements in the form of a growing number of space marines, imperial guardsman and even a dog.

Imperium Convert Or Die Wudugast

2018 has also been the year in which I’ve really started to take an interest in Necromunda. Regular followers of the blog over the last month or so will have seen me painting up a gang of Genestealer cultists with which to carve out a corner of the Underhive in the name of the four armed emperor.

Genestealer Cultists Convert Or Die Wudugast (2)

Their foul xenos scheming will not go unopposed however, with the muscular men of the Goliath Irondogs gang standing ready to defend their turf.

Goliath Necromunda Convert Or Die Wudugast

The Ladykillers of House Escher are slightly further behind, boasting only six (exceptionally well dressed) ladies so far. Expect to see them undertaking a recruiting drive early in the new year.

Escher Convert Or Die Wudugast

Finally I also started work on a large terrain project for Necromunda. With each piece being so big this is taking me a while to produce but fear not, a desolate industrial hell will soon be revealed.

Terrain Imperial Convert Or Die Necromunda (8)

New Year’s Resolutions.

As noted above I don’t usually go in for setting myself strict targets when it comes to my hobbies, after all the aim of the exercise is to relax and enjoy myself. Deadlines are for work. That said here are a few things I’d like to do in the coming year.

Skaven; as mentioned previously I’m now at a point where I have pretty much everything I want for my Skaven army (unless of course Games Workshop decide to release some new models for the rats – no harm in hoping eh!). All that needs to be done now is to get them painted. Getting it all done by the end of 2019 looks quite achievable if I just knuckle down and get on with it.

Necromunda; this one almost goes without saying but you can expect to see plenty more of the denizens of the Underhive coming up. I’ve got another Goliath I want to finish, a few Eschers to work on plus various bounty hunters, scum and hangers on. I also have several new gangs planned, although I’m not sure which I’ll start with first but it’s safe to assume there will be plenty more of them appearing in the coming months.

Cawdor Convert Or Die

Terrain; this is a big project and as a result slow going. Nonetheless I’m keen to crack on with it and aiming to get it done in 2019 should be the spur I need to make sure the project doesn’t stall.

Chaos Knight; speaking of larger projects, it seems that every year I think “let’s get the Chaos Knight done this time” and every year it gathers another layer of dust. This time though right, this time I mean it!

Poxwalkers; a hoard of part-built/part-painted plague zombies is currently occupying my painting desk. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were all finished instead?

Blood Bowl; I know I’m about 20 years behind everyone else but I do like the look of Blood Bowl, I’ve just never got around to painting a team. Will I do it in 2019? I’m sure with people like Faust to chivy me I’ll get something done!

Blood Bowl Orcs

Of course only time will tell how many of these goals I actually managed to achieve, or whether some of the other projects I have planned manage to seize the entirety of the limelight.

Lastly I’d like to wish all of my readers a very happy New Year (there really are an intimidatingly large number of you now!) and to offer a particular thanks to everyone who has commented, offered feedback or encouragement, or just appealed to my ego in 2018 – here’s to plenty more hobby shenanigans in the coming year.

 


Rhythm and Blues; from Rock Gods to Ultramarines

This weekend has seen Games Workshop’s latest showcase event, the Vigilus Open Day. For the avoidance of doubt I’d better clarify that I wasn’t there myself but, like so many other hobbyists and fans, I was glued as best as I was able to the updates and reveals coming out of the event via social media. Being at work over the weekend I’m only just getting the chance to catch up properly on everything that was announced now, long after the rest of the internet has had its say, but I still couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pontificate a little and share my thoughts on the things we saw.

 

Boys In Blue

Poor old Marneus Calgar. One of the most iconic and long established space marine characters, he’s been the posterboy for the Ultramarines and, as a result, the man everyone loves to hate, since the early days of 40k, when he wore the kind of coat any pimp would be proud of, cultivated an imposing man-spread and kept dinosaurs as pets.

Commander Calgar

Ultramarines Commander Calgar, as painted by David Gallagher.

Alas, whilst it’s all very well being second only to Roboute Guilliman himself when the Primarch is lying in state it’s a lot less impressive when he’s walking, talking and taking command of the Imperium. Love him or loathe him, and for many of us it’s a little of both, it’s been hard not to feel a little sorry for Calgar over the last couple of years. The return of Roboute has seen him pushed firmly into the backseat, a poor man’s Primarch if ever there was one.

Since the arrival of Primaris marines a popular theory (although I stress that it remains only a theory) is that GW will seek to weed out the old, distinctly undersized, marines of yesteryear through a process of slow attrition, allowing the old-style small marines to look increasingly dated, moving them out of the limelight, promoting the newer, more imposing Primaris models whilst the background describes a winnowing of the older troops. It’s a convincing theory but it leaves us with the problem of the special characters. Whilst it’s one thing to get rid of a tactical marine in this manner and replace him with an intercessor, it’s quite another to dispose of Azrael, Ragnar Blackmane, Mephiston or Dante. The answer; to see them reforged, renewed and reborn as newer, bigger, better Primaris warriors -and who better than Calgar to lead the charge.

Calgar 1Calgar 2

Speculation of other loyalist Primarchs making a return and joining Guilliman in defending the Imperium continues to rumble on, and could easily fill a blog or two by itself, but it’s worth noting that, however things turn out, the creation of some imposing, modern models for the heroes of the Blood Angels, Space Wolves or Dark Angels could still provide centrepiece models to be proud of, without such controversial moves as bringing back Russ, the Lion or even – whisper it – Sanguinius.

Of course I still find myself wondering how GW would, under this scenario, choose to handle those amongst the Space Marines like Gabriel Seth, who has expressed a distinct disapproval for the Primaris newcomers, historic characters like Tycho or the Grey Knights who, we’ve been repeatedly told, have no Primaris brothers at all. Then there are the stranger elements, reflecting 40k’s more mythic and fantastic side. Will the likes of the Sanguinor and the Legion of the Damned find themselves growing bigger over the coming years or will they end their days as bizarrely short characters, manifesting at little more than chest height amongst their younger brothers? Only time will tell.

As an aside, interesting though Calgar is from a theoretical point of view, I’m actually more impressed by his Honour Guard. They haven’t had the same attention paid to them as their boss so far but their predecessors were amongst my favourite Space Marine models, real exemplars of how the range could look at its best and these are worthy successors.

Honour Guard

In the old days the rules allowed for every Chapter Master to have a squad of Honour Guard so part of me is already wondering about how these can be converted to serve the Chapter Master of my own Knights Mortis. Then again converting them might involve removing some of the features that make them so iconic so who knows, maybe, just maybe, I’ll cross the Rubicon and paint them as Ultramarines.

 

In Black And Gold Reborn

First off let me note that the size of the new Chaos Marines is still something that I’m struggling to establish my thoughts on. At some point I’ll write a full post on the subject once I have something to say that I’ve not already said multiple times before. In the meantime though I simply wanted to acknowledge the fact and move on. Instead, let’s take a look at Haarken Worldclaimer – a man who, true to his name, has sworn to claim Vigilus in the name of Abaddon. Given that the Despoiler has little patience for those who waste his time we’d better hope for Haarken’s sake he lives up to the hype…

Haakan back to the old days

Haarken Worldclaimer may undoubtedly be a member of the Black Legion but his origins amongst the Night Lords remain stamped upon him too, from the skull helm to the flayed skins to the Nostraman spear he’s armed with. It will be interesting to discover if this is a new special character for the forces of Chaos or simply a generic chaos lord with a unique name and a little background as we’ve seen with the likes of Kranon the Relentless in the past.

I’ve actually been wondering what might become of the special characters set out in the Chaos Marines codex. Already we’ve seen the likes of Typhus and Ahriman farmed off into their own respective legion codexes and it seems likely that in time the Emperor’s Children and World Eaters will see the same treatment, taking Kharn, Lucius and Fabious with them. Is Abaddon to be left on his own or will GW take the opportunity to bring in more characters that exemplify other aspects of the traitor legions. Nice though it is to imagine I suspect that the other traitors – the Night Lords, Word Bearers, Iron Warriors and Alpha Legion – may not get the full codex treatment for quite some time, if at all. Of course all of them could be made into a unique army, both in terms of rules and aesthetic, but who could blame GW for shying away from concentrating exclusively on Chaos for the length of time that would require. Instead I imagine that as the Chaos Marine range is developed in the future we’ll see more of these legions and less of their monotheistic brothers. Then, assuming that these prove popular, and the god-specific legions are a financial success for GW, we might someday see Lorgar or Perturabo emerging from the warp at the head of a horde of cultists and possessed, or massed ranks of daemon engines. In the interim some new characters might just be the way in which they decide to drip-feed us with a little taste of the direction they could someday choose to follow.

Regardless Haarken himself is a striking model, if just a little over the top for my tastes. Now we wait to discover if he’ll be bringing any new friends with him in his campaign to seize Vigilus in the form of more new Chaos models. Who knows, perhaps when Marneus Calgar inevitably beats him up his boss Abaddon will have to put in an appearance…

 

Joining A Cult

For me, the best bit of these reveals are, without doubt, the genestealer cultists. It’s an army I have a real affinity for in both 40k and Necromunda and I can see myself using these both in my long planned 40k army and in narrative, house-ruled scenarios around the Underhive. I’m already considering transforming a Goliath Rockgrinder into an Orlock rig and one could easily do something similar with these to make outriders to accompany it, House messengers who need to be intercepted by your gang or, turning the tables as so much of the recent genestealer cult range has been borrowed from the Imperial Guard, how about making them into rough riders. Plus there are probably several clever people already cooking up house rules to incorporate these into Speed Freeks.

Cultist Bike 2Cultist Bike 3Cultist BikeCult Quad

Accompanying them we have the tactician pondering his already famous map of Warhammer World, a model which old timers will recognise as a remake of a much older, and extremely rare, figure from the early days of the range.

Again this is a brilliant model, with the expressively grumpy face being an excellent touch. Give it a few tweaks and once again it could fit in well with an Imperial Guard army or an Inq28 retinue (where it will doubtless prove popular). The only downside is the defaced aquila which sadly just looks amateurish. All of us who are fans of Chaos Marines or Traitor Guard have scratched through an aquila at one point or another so we could make use of a torso or piece of equipment that wasn’t otherwise available, and for all that it’s a rite of passage it’s also a cliché. I’m sure GW could have thought of something better here.

GSC

In some of the more frothy corners of the Internet there’s been a little chatter that GW have somehow “forgotten” about the genestealer cultists, simply because their codex hasn’t arrived yet (and despite the fact that GW haven’t been shy about promoting them lately). Of course GW has form here, they essentially abandoned the Sisters of Battle for over two decades, but I think that the idea that genestealer cultists have been booted to the kerb so soon after their relaunch in 2016 seemed farfetched. Did we really imagine that they were going to leave them without an 8th Edition codex forever, or perhaps mark their demise only with a glib assertion that the Squats must have eaten them all?

 

The Wrathful and the Rapturous

Over the last little while GW have been drip feeding us images of the contents of the forthcoming Wrath and Rapture box set, an all-daemons collection starring the forces of Khorne and Slaanesh. With the release date confirmed as falling within the next month they’ve shown us the two new characters which will be joining the new Flesh Hounds (good thing I finally got my old ones painted eh!) and Fiends of Slaanesh in the box.

Karanak

Karanak looks a little odd but frankly a dog with three heads is always going to look rather weird as a physical object rather than as a mythological concept. Overall I’d say they’ve made the best job they could of done without straying too far from the design elements that had gone before. Meanwhile the Slaaneshi harpist has yet to be shown off properly beyond what can be made out from the promotional video and the photographs taken by those who attended the event. However it’s fair to say it’s looking very interesting already and packs a punch of body horror that should put paid to those claims that Slaanesh was going to be removed or toned down.

 

Not So Tiny-Titans

I almost overlooked the titan amongst all the other exciting stuff that was appearing, and judging by the chatter online I’m not the only one. For such a big and imposing model from me at least it’s only managed to generate a shrug.

Titan

The trouble with titans is that they are so astoundingly expensive. One could buy a few good armies for the price of a single warlord model so as a result the audience for them is extremely limited. I for one very much doubt that I will never own one. Of course I’ve always fancied the idea of riding to war in a Titan (or even just turning up to work in one) but not so much painting one (and certainly not applying for the bank loan required before buying one of the damn things).

Plus, as a small image on a screen they just don’t look their best. Nothing beats seeing a Titan in person. Even a gaming table isn’t really big enough for them, and the best place to really appreciate them is in huge dioramas such as the one at Warhammer World which shows the Ultramarines battling the World Eaters. Of course GW are a wealthy company and can afford to indulge in vanity projects such as this. However creating such a monster will have undoubtedly consumed a great deal of staff time and production resource. Surely that would have been better spent on subjects with a broader range of appeal such as Horus Heresy, Lord of the Rings, Necromunda characters and brutes or Blood Bowl star players, all of which still have plenty of gaps unfilled? Don’t get me wrong, the range we have already is great but do we really need more at this scale? perhaps I’m alone in this but for me the best place for Titans is Adeptus Titanicus.

angelus-prime-convertordie-18

Bring The Noise

Saving the best for last we have this attention commanding model. Before you scroll down put on your eye protection and prepare yourself to return to an era when the grim darkness of the far future had a distinctly green understory…

Noise Marine 2

Isn’t he just a sight for sore eyes? Or perhaps it’s more the case that he’s a sight which causes sore eyes. Yes, GW are continuing to pillage the archives, this time bringing back this iconic old model.

Noise Marine

Now honestly I wouldn’t want every Noise Marine to look like this, guitars as sonic weapons as just too silly even for me (although if GW fancied a modern revamp of the old Ork Goff Rockers I wouldn’t say no!). I’m hopeful that sooner or later we’ll see a full Emperor’s Children release, complete with a proper kit for Noise Marines, and if they all look like this I might grumble a little, but as a one off he’s excellent, a real nod to the hobby’s past and a great trip down memory lane for us old hands. Newcomers however, raised to a 40k of unrelenting seriousness, must be trying to work out what hit them!

 

Overall then a very interesting set of reveals that give us plenty to look forward to as we head towards 2019. As ever if you have any thoughts on what we’ve seen here I’d be very curious to hear them, after all if you don’t share your thoughts in the comments box how am I supposed to rip them off and claim them as my own later?


Blackstone Fortress

Well isn’t that always the way? You spend 30 years waiting for a rogue trader and then two of them show up at once! Yes, it’s time to take a look at Blackstone Fortress, the latest of what now seems like a tidal wave of boxsets to emerge from GW over recent months. From a rare glimpse of a robot in 40k to a pair of Rammstein loving hobbits this one really does have everything you could ask for! Naturally I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to enthuse a little, after all with pre-orders running for a fortnight I’ve got to pass the time waiting for it somehow right?

For those who’ve been living under a rock, or who’ve somehow found a way to hide from the Games Workshop hype machine (and well done if you have – that’s no easy task!) Blackstone Fortress features a band of explorers braving the twisting and labyrinthine depths of the aforementioned fortress. Best of all it features a whole raft of new models including lurking ghouls, ancient robots (of various descriptions), a small army of Chaos worshippers (enough to get me inspired by themselves) and of course the various roguish, self-serving troublemakers who act as the “good guys”. Let’s take a look at them first.

Heroes of the Blackstone Fortress

Every mysterious dungeon needs a party of brave adventurers to explore it, a ragtag band of unlikely heroes with clashing personalities and questionable motivations bound together by a common cause. Rather than fall back on old tropes GW have seized the opportunity presented to them and furnished us with a veritable smorgasbord of characters from the shady corners of the universe. Much like Necromunda this offers us a peek into the wider world of 40k, the individual heroics of people just going about their lives away from the monumental struggles of Space Marines, Titans and Primarchs. Even more so than Kill Team; Rogue Trader, which similarly brought us a small band of heroes struggling against the machinations of Chaos, this is GW flirting with everything good that the Inq28 scene brought to the feral underbelly of the setting and for that reason alone it’s worth celebrating. It also demonstrates a willingness on their part to explore what can be done with warbands made up of just a handful of characters, rather than the massed armies we’ve become used to. Surely two boxsets in as many months mean this is more than just a passing phase for them (backed up by repeated assertions that both Blackstone Fortress and Kill Team will receive further updates in the future)? Where might they go next? Suddenly even an inquisitorial retinue in plastic doesn’t seem unimaginable.

Space Hobbit

One of the glorious things about Necromunda is the way it has kept its focus narrow (a product of the long established setting but welcome nonetheless). In the past GW ran global 40k campaigns in which every faction would end up fighting over a single planet, a veritable circus that strained the credulity of even the most enthusiastic fan. Vigilus is starting to head in that direction too, although as the gateway to the Imperium Nihilus at least they’ve come up with a good excuse. For the most part Necromunda has kept its focus on Imperial humans, the occasional xenos or chaos cultist notwithstanding, and so has allowed us to see the true depths of culture present on a single planet in the 41st Millennium. Consider how many thousands of planets exist within the Imperium and the creative potential is jaw-dropping. Blackstone Fortress indulges a different take on this theme and broadens its scope to include various xenos and abhumans, even a robot, whilst still avoiding the temptation to throw in one of everything. 40k is home to an eclectic mix of cultures and species, yet all too often this has boiled down to little more than various colours of Space Marine. Here we see a real slice of life in the 41st Millennium, the sort of scum and villainy to be found in any Imperial star port, and just as the characters in the game explore a new corner of the universe so these models explore the kind of characters previously reserved for background fiction and artwork. For a perfect example of what can be done with this look no further than the two characters who, between them, reflect differing aspects of the Imperium’s state religion. On the one hand we have Taddeus the Purifier, a well dressed figure clearly used to the better things in life who undoubtedly consumes in a single meal more than a family of hive workers do in a month.

Space Pope

Meanwhile Pious Vorne is marked and driven by her faith, a restless crusader whose devotion to the God-Emperor compels her to a life of hardship and violence. Suffice to say I’m hopeful we’ll see more models in this style when the Sisters of Battle put in an appearance.

Burninating The Countryside

Top marks to GW also for the degree to which character and personality have been poured into these models. You can almost hear the bombastic oratory of Taddeus whilst that sharp-dressed man, the Rogue Trader Janus Draik simply oozes self-serving arrogance.

Sharp Dressed Man

The Kroot mercenary meanwhile has the confident professional bearing of the career soldier – this won’t be the first danger filled space station he’s found himself employed to explore.

I Am Kroot

Between them, our party band serve as a valuable reminder of the untapped potential still existing in 40k. Kroot mercenaries, navigator households, rogue trader fleets, even ratling militias (don’t laugh, it would be awesome!), could someday be expanded into full armies. As the range fills out GW are once more able to look beyond they’re power-armoured bread-and-butter and this little lot hints at the range of options still open to them for future exploration.

Flight Of The Navigator

Robots are a rare sight in 40k, the wars against the Men of Iron back in the Dark Age of Technology having rather soured humanity on the question of Abominable Intelligence. Thus UR-025 presents us with something rather interesting, and with photos of its background fiction circulating online many people will be aware of his true origins and motivations. I’ll keep my comments brief but anyone wanting to save the surprise for when they open the box should skip the next paragraph.

All too often we see fan theories being passed off as fact (Abaddon’s crusades have generally been very successful, and there are still no Necrons on Necromunda) so I’ll avoid too much wild speculation regarding the fate of the Men of Iron, and the question of how one has survived into the 41st Millennium without being corrupted by Chaos (assuming, of course, that he hasn’t…). Suffice to say that many long term fans will be as intrigued as I am by the appearance of a Man of Iron. Allegedly, by playing the game more of his background is revealed so allow me to say, with just a touch of hypocrisy, to those of you who play this faster than I do “no spoilers eh!”

I Am Ironman

Speaking of robots, aren’t these intriguing little beasts? As anyone who, like me, spent several years in their late teens and early 20s immersed in the Halo universe will be aware, when a mysterious ancient race leaves behind a huge space station that doubles as a super weapon they make sure to leave it staffed by little robot drones.

Spindle Drone

Smoothly mixing together clean organic lines with sleek technological components these little chaps blend together elements of the Eldar and Necrons to give us our first real glimpse of the Old Ones. Hopefully this will remain our only glimpse – it’s enough to savour this tantalising peak at the shadowy forerunner race, anything more would spoil the mystery.

Send In The Dancing Ghouls

Formerly known best from the courts of the Dark Eldar, where they serve as savage pets, the Ur-Ghuls appear to be living as feral denizens of the Fortress. Quite what they were eating up until now is best left to the imagination but luckily a whole mob of characters have turned up which should help to fatten them up nicely.

Seeing them here is great of course, and beyond Blackstone Fortress they’re sure to come in handy as Inq28 adversaries and Underhive baddies alike. It’s unfortunate then that their poses are so strange, awkward and samey. Anyone looking to convert an all ghoul cheerleading squad need look no further but personally I’d have preferred more personality here, perhaps crouched ready to lunge or hackles raised as they face the unfamiliar glow of the explorer’s lamps.

The Baddies

Of course a good adventure story needs serious villains, a crew of baddies racing for the prize and presenting a more challenging prospect for our heroes to overcome than can be mustered by mere ancient robots and dancing ghouls. Enter those perennial rascals, the forces of Chaos. Abaddon the Despoiler has demonstrated a real enthusiasm for Blackstone Fortresses in the past, launching entire Black Crusades just to claim them, and sure enough his boys are here to stake a claim to this one. Once again GW haven’t been backwards in taking the opportunity to explore some of the less often seen aspects of their worlds.

Just as space marines are willing to turn their backs on the God-Emperor and embrace instead the Ruinous Powers so too are regiments of the Imperial Guard. Traitor guard have long been popular amongst fans of Chaos with many of us going so far as to convert our own. For a long time the only official support for our endeavours was Forge World’s upgrade kit so there were rumblings of disquiet when these were retired earlier in the year. Now however all is (mostly) forgiven. After all, these models are simply gorgeous and worthy inheritors of the role left vacant by the outgoing Forge World kit.

Blackstone Fortress Traitor Guard (1)

A common criticism of the Imperial Guard range is the way in which most of the infantry only pay lip service to their place in the 41st millennium. The same however cannot be said of their rebellious colleagues. The 40k aesthetic is writ large here in their ragged blending of the post-apocalyptic and the medieval, the spiky and the impractical. The baddies of the Rogue Trader box had a slightly cartoony aspect to them, nothing which couldn’t be turned down by a suitably grubby paint job but present nonetheless. This little lot however are far more subtle yet also distinctly darker, Blanchian straight out of the box as it were. They may not have trailing guts and explosive mutations but they’re equally villainous in appearance. Ragged capes, furs, chainmail and gas-masks abound. The only downside is the fact that two identical sprues are included, leading to a squad made up entirely of twins. As with the Poxwalkers of Dark Imperium, and the Chaos Cultists of Dark Vengeance before that, I’ll be treating this as a challenge and trying to convert every single one of them into an individual.

Blackstone Fortress Traitor Guard (2)

A little food for thought occurred as I am looked at these. It’s often been suggested that the introduction of the Primaris Marines has been GW’s answer to the issue of Truescale Marines (more on that below). Rather than simply replace the tiny old models outright they brought in the new bigger boys and (theoretically) can allow attrition – both on the battlefields of the background and in the collections of their customers – to slowly erode the numbers of the little marines of yore. Over time the older kits would be quietly retired whilst the eyes (and wallets) of the public are distracted by the release of yet another Primaris lieutenant in a marginally different pose. It’s a compelling theory, although of course we’re yet to discover if there’s any truth to it at all. What if – I find myself wondering – the same is true of the Cadians? For a long time these poster boys of the Guard have been lambasted as painfully generic little green army men in space. Since the Chapterhouse court case and the dawning of the Age of Sigmar Games Workshop have retreated from clichés and common tropes with alacrity and fortified themselves in a realm of IP protectable names and concepts. Where once we had names like Eldar and Imperial Guard now we have a froth of Dog Latin (and the less said about the “Oh Grrrs” the better!). Where once we had High Elves and Dwarves now we have soulless fishmen and steampunk sky pirates. Do the clichéd Cadians live on borrowed time?  Is this why Abaddon was given carte blanche to blow up their homeworld? It seems entirely likely that the next Imperial Guard regiment to receive a plastic kit will be one closer to the 40k core aesthetic, and all the while the Cadians will get older, sell less, fade Into the background and finally vanish. Of course it’s only a theory…

Beastman

I’ve always had a real soft spot for the beastmen. For a while it looked like they might be excised from 40k altogether,  vanquished like the squats and genestealer cult limos to a faintly embarrassing chapter of the history books that speak of a time before 40k learnt to take itself seriously. Thankfully beastmen and squats are back (and best of all genestealer limos aren’t!). Better yet these aren’t just a rehash of fantasy beastmen with guns. In the old days beastmen came in all shapes and sizes, as befits creatures of Chaos. For many years however we saw only goatmen, Panish creatures with a stable morphology. Long faces, hoofs and horns were in, other bestial characteristics were out. The appearance of the Tzaangors suggested that this era might be coming to an end (and not a moment too soon). These newcomers don’t diverge as far from the goats of recent years but they put a sufficiently different spin on things to suggest that GW are warming up to the idea. Plus they look wonderful fearsome and savage. More please!

Witches

Meanwhile the rogue pyskers follow on from the Nighthaunt to really demonstrate what can be done with modern plastic models. In what is a very clever piece of miniature design they appear to be floating, their robes flapping as they are borne aloft by the unnatural powers at their command. Especially praiseworthy is the way the two of them are so radically different in appearance, whilst still being built from the same base model with just a few swapped components. Beyond being cracking miniatures in their own right (and perfect for witches in Necromunda) these should also make for fine Daemonhosts for those radical Inquisitors amongst you.

Dark Mechanicum

Chaos is us. It is our own nature twisted and turned back at us, and it’s weapons are our better instincts, our fears and aspirations, all clawing at us and dragging us down to hell. As a matter of course therefore any Imperial institution will almost certainly have an equivalent amongst the servants of the Primordial Annihilator. Just as there are Heretic Astartes, traitor guard and renegade knights, so there is a Dark Mechanicum. Until recently however even the loyalist worshippers of the Machine God had no official models. Only since their arrival in 2015 has the idea of seeing their daemon-binding former colleagues on our tabletops begun to glimmer with distant possibility. Once again GW give us a taste of what might someday come to be with the Negavolt Cultists.

Negavolt

The first thing that struck me about these, and perhaps my favourite aspect of them, is that they are not grossly Chaotic. Indeed compared to the loyal soldiers of the Mechanicum they’ve retained much of their human form. They still have their own arms and legs and all the other normal human accoutrements that most of the loyalists have long since done away with in favour of becoming giant mechanical centipedes. Indeed beyond what appear to be ocular dreadlocks these guys don’t have too many inbuilt machines at all – probably a wise move as their cult is dedicated to destroying and corrupting machines wherever they go!

Despite these differences they are instantly recognisable as a sect of the Mechanicum. Paint them in the red robes of Mars and they would fit in fairly well with a loyalist army, far more so than say a plague marine would amongst the Ultramarines.

It may be that these are another sign of things to come, or equally this could be an evolutionary dead end, a splinter cult which will never be developed any further than this even if the Dark Mechanicum become a fully fledged range in time. Either way they’re an interesting twist, even if those head tentacles look set to be a monumental faff to paint.

Black Legion Blackstone Fortress (1)

If it wasn’t for the Black Legionaries one could almost headline this as “40k boxset in no space marines shock!” (and yes, I know the same could be said of Rogue Trader, don’t try to use facts against my cheap mockery!). Speaking as a Chaos fan these are some of the most interesting models to appear here, representing as they do our first hint as to what a future Chaos Marines kit may look like. Power armoured warriors on both sides of the heretic/loyalist divide have enjoyed an eventful couple of years. For a very long time Games Workshop’s most popular line suffered from a fairly monumental flaw which the company seemed doggedly determined to ignore; namely that they appeared to be in an entirely different scale to the rest of the range. Whilst the background described the space marines as warrior-giants, genetically reforged into towering heroes, the actual models stood roughly the same height as an a normal guardsman, even clad as they were in thick plates of armour. Eventually GW got the finger out and decided to do something about this ridiculous situation. The Thousand Sons and Death Guard both saw releases of more sensibly scaled models, although the former do still have a few issues which need to be overcome, namely a distinct lack of lower torso and a general slimness of build. Mind you, who needs organs below the ribs when you’re made out of dust? Plus the Death Guard have more than enough guts for everyone! Whilst the traitor legions grew significantly in stature the loyalists did likewise, although fans waking up to discover that their existing models looked like children next to the new boys were at least offered the sop of some controversial new background involving a reborn Primarch and a 10,000 year mission to achieve what the Emperor could not and make the space marines tall. It’s something that I’ve discussed often on this blog so I won’t rake over it all again. The upshot is however that the old chaos space marine kit is left looking somewhat on the short side. Naturally this has led to an increasing desire from fans to see the vertically challenged and chunkily sculpted marines of yesteryear replaced with something a bit more imposing. Whether or not a new kit, or even a revamp of the whole range, really is on the way on if this is all just wishful thinking remains to be seen but with these three warriors we at least get a taste of what could lie ahead.

As yet it’s still early days for these models. Once I have the set in hand I’ll sort out some comparison photos, assuming a surfeit of them haven’t appeared online already, allowing a proper assessment of their portions alongside their brothers in the Death Guard and Thousand Sons – as well as the Corpse Emperor’s Primaris lap dogs of course! Needless to say if they prove to be smaller than they should GW will once again have an army of grumbling Chaos fans on their hands.

As it stands it appears that, as with the Death Guard, the bulkier armour of the Black Legion – as opposed to the slim fit Thousand Sons – hides a multitude of sins in the lower gut area, an element further disguised by their ‘at ease’ pose and low help bolters. Until I have the models in front of me I’m cautious to say more but needless to say of all the miniatures in the set these are the ones I’m approaching with the greatest uncertainty.

Black Legion Blackstone Fortress (2)

The models themselves are nice enough, recalling the more recent Chaos plastics such as the Raptors and Chaos Chosen (both kits sadly hamstrung by their diminutive scale). As an aside it’s also pleasing to note that the chaos space marine contingent is limited to just three figures. In this way these veterans of the Long War are really given their place as set out by the background. Here we have warriors who’ve been fighting to survive in hell itself for ten thousand years. Three should be more than enough to present any party of adventurers with a serious problem.

+++

Overall then I think GW nailed it here. They’ve walked a tightrope, pouring in an eclectic mix of units whilst keeping the focus sufficiently tight that the whole thing didn’t turn into a circus. I’m sure I could be accused of being a little fan-boyish and in all honesty that’s probably not too far from the truth. The world of 40k tournaments, rules beards and min-maxed death stars has always left me cold, and titanic clashes between space marines – whilst thrilling in small doses – represents only the surface layer of the universe. Give me gangs in the Underhive, give me Inquisitors and their retinues, give me rag-tag bands of mismatched adventurers chasing secrets in the grubby shadows; that’s the 40k I love best!

It’s often said these days that to guess GW’s future look to the past and in this respect the Blackstone Fortress box is almost a synopsis of where they are now, hinting at possible next moves whilst offering a respectful nod to what went before. It’s just a shame they didn’t include a Zoat!

Naturally (and having given it such a glowing review you might have guessed as much already) I’ve declared “hang the expense” and pre-ordered a copy, so expect to see plenty of models from this set popping up here over the coming months. Of course I’m always curious to know what you think. Has your unhealthy obsession with Space Hobbits led to you camping outside the store already or would you have preferred to see some more support for the terminally overlooked space marines? Share your thoughts – the God Emperor’s Holy Inquisition demands it!


To Boldly Go…

For over three decades the Rogue Traders who once gave their name to the entire Warhammer 40,000 setting have been lost in the warp or drifting on the shadowy edges of the map. Now they’re back, and they’ve brought a bunch of gribbly Chaos beasties with them. How could I resist this chance to pontificate!

Rogue Trader Art

Despite Warhammer 40k having existed for over thirty years now, there remain a number of prominent factions who have seen little or no attention from the miniatures’ designers. From Kroot mercenaries to Eldar Exodites there are plenty of options for the developers of the game to explore over the coming years. In recent times many fractions previously lurking in the background have come to prominence, genestealer cults, the adeptus mechanicus and the households of the Imperial Knights amongst them. Launching a whole new race however demands considerable investment of time and resources on the part of the company, and must make for an intimidating proposition. Games Workshop tested the waters with Deathwatch: Overkill, a boxed game which served primarily as a vehicle by which the Deathwatch and Genestealer Cults could be brought back into the game. Now we have Kill Team, building on the concept to form the perfect gateway through which new fractions can be introduced. Some may never grow beyond a handful of models, whilst others could develop in time into mighty fractions hundreds strong. Suffice to say I was already excited about Kill Team but this only serves to increase my interest.

First off the blocks then, we have Kill Team; Rogue Trader starring a plucky band of adventurers on a thirty-odd year mission in outer space to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before and to exterminate anyone who looks funny in the name of Him Upon Terra.

RT Banner

I actually pre-ordered this set, an unusual move for me, although I’m still not completely convinced of its qualities. When it hits it does so with incredible style, but equally when it misses it really misses. Much has already been made of the idea that this is GW bringing the Inq28 aesthetic back into its main range, with repeated assertions in all the promotional materials, that these models spring straight from the mind of John Blanche. Which is great, of course, and to be celebrated and encouraged, of course, but isn’t enough to make a set of models great by itself. What tipped the balance for me however was imagining all of the ways that what I perceive as mistakes could be rectified – and surely for the dedicated converter there’s no bigger draw to a model than that!

Before I go any further I’d highly recommend you check out Krautscientist’s excellent review of this set, indeed it was when the comment I intended to post on his blog sprawled to truly epic length that I decided to finish off this review and post it so he actually deserves a lot of credit/blame for the fact that you’re actually reading this.

Anyway, without further ado – let’s take a look at the contents of the box, starting with the brave men and women of the New Dawn.

Elucia Vhane

Vaine

The boxset is called Kill Team: Rogue Trader so it makes sense to assume we’d be seeing something suitably impressive from the Rogue Trader herself. The result however is rather subtle, and at first glance almost underwhelming, although it rewards proper scrutiny.

Aesthetically the veil over her face is an odd choice. As a concept it works well, and I find myself wanting to like it, plus it puts a stamp of individuality on her as a character. On the other hand it actually strips her of character, making her more aloof, enigmatic and unique but also fades her into the background somewhat when she should be the kind of person demanding everyone’s attention. In Universe it probably serves to increase her authority – after all a person like you is hardly important enough to merit the honour of looking at her face. Out of Universe however she’s a tiny lump of brightly coloured plastic and so needs to work a little harder to be engaging. Having a face would help with that a lot. Ultimately I’m left in two minds by it. If I decided to paint her as Elucia Vhane then of course I’ll keep it, it’s already as iconic of the character as Abaddon’s topknot. If, on the other hand, I decide to use the model as a Rogue Trader of my own devising I’ll replace it with a different head, I have one from a female vampire which might be perfect.

I must confess I also expected something a little more blinged up from our first Rogue Trader. The clothes and equipment she wears are nice enough and probably high fashion in the Imperium but I’m surprised we haven’t seen a more ostentatious display of wealth here. Where is the jewel encrusted servo-suit, the feathered riding beast or the servitor-borne sedan chair? Surely she doesn’t just walk everywhere like a commoner?

Before I’m accused of damning her with faint praise let me emphasize that Elucia Vhane is a very nice model indeed. The trouble is, she shares a boxset with the likes of Larsen van der Grauss, Knosso Prond and the voidsmen. A Rogue Trader should really be the most commanding and impressive model in any given room, yet poor Elucia is rather overshadowed by her sidekicks and employees. In part Elucia is burdened by being the first of her kind. If she was just another Rogue Trader I think she’d get a lot more leeway in terms of her looks. It’s not fair, and history will probably judge her very kindly, but for the moment this model needs to represent not only Elucia Vhane (something it does very well) but also all Rogue Traders (something which will always be beyond its scope).

Something I do really enjoy about her pose is how relaxed, confident and non-competitive it is. This model doesn’t represent her locked in the heat of battle as much as it does her standing at the helm of her starship or perhaps attending a briefing or the most exclusive of parties. If there is a fight going on she’s not launching herself into it like a barbarian queen but standing back and employing others to get their hands bloody on her behalf.

Also, in spite of its aesthetic failings, top marks to whoever on the design team recognised that a woman in a veil can also be a woman in charge – there are quite a few bigots across several cultures who need waking up to that idea.

Knosso Prond

Knosso Prond

There are some truly excellent models in this set but even amongst them Knosso Prond stands proud. There are few characters as iconic of the Inquistiot/Inq28 scene as the Death Cult Assassin. Like the Rogue Trader this was one of the key models in the set to get right and this time GW have managed it in style.

I particularly like how the model’s Asian aesthetic has been combined with that of 40k. Here we have someone from an Oriental culture which has changed and evolved over 40,000 years, with a result which is far more engaging than, for example, the cut-and-paste Viking trappings of the Space Wolves.

Also, take a look at that head she’s carrying. It’s not wearing a metal mask, making it our only glimpse of the “normal” mutants amongst the Gellerpox. On a more serious note however it’s probably the only thing I don’t like about the model. Surely carrying heads around has been done to death by now? I’d have preferred another blade (a fairly easy conversion to achieve at least) or an open hand as she invites her next adversary to join her in a dance of death.

Knosso Prond 2

Prond has been manoeuvred by her cult in  swearing a vow of silence never to be lifted until she has slain a thousand enemies of the Imperium. Of course it turns out that simply firing a warhead into an ork encampment and loudly shouting “Done” is cheating but thanks to the arrival of the Gellerpox she should be well on her way now. Perhaps she should be accompanied by a squat based off Gimli from Lord of the Rings just in case she goes up against a Chaos Knight or Greater Daemon. “It still only counts as one!”

Larsen van der Grauss

Every crew of spacefaring adventures needs a quirky scientist to look after the tech and amongst the Starstiders that roll falls to Larsen van der Grauss. Of course, given the Gellerpox currently infesting what is arguably the most important bit of the ship (the bit that stops daemons getting in and eating you) it’s fair to suggest he may have been falling down on the job. That’s not something I’m going to hold against him however because once again the miniature is absolutely gorgeous. His complex and archaic equipment ties him in nicely both to the Rogue Traders and to the Adeptus Mechanicus, making him a neat bridging model in a combined Imperial force.

Larsen van der Grauss

The Starstiders team introduces us to the Rogue Traders as a faction and Larsen repeats the trick in microcosm by showing us a previously unseen agent of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Lectro-Maesters. Like the electro-priests we’ve already seen these are initiates of the Motive Force but whilst those previously released models represent frothing fanatics these are artisans and explorers constantly questing for new sources of energy with which to supply their Forge Worlds. Indeed the background fiction compares them to missionaries, a popular position amongst the priests of Mars.

Sanistasia Minst

Dammit Elucia, I’m a doctor not the unwitting pawn of a dark god!

Sanistasia Minst

When times get tough and the bullets start flying it’s great to have a doctor on your team. Of course if her increasing obsession with battling diseases has turned her into a puppet of the plague god Nurgle then that’s unfortunate…

As every crew of space-faring adventurer’s knows it’s a long way to the nearest hospital so it pays to bring a doctor with you. The task of providing medical support to the Starstiders falls to Sanistasia Minst, and as is often the case with medical professionals in the Warhammer universes, the more closely you read her background the more you start to discover her involvement in sinister goings’ on.

As well as being a doctor she’s also a Rejuvenat Adept, charged with extending the lives of wealthy clients alongside performing various other act of healing. Of course, this is the Imperium where doctors carry concussion grenades and a life isn’t saved for its own sake but rather to ensure the wounded get back in the fight as soon as possible.

Like Vhane, she’s not shown in a combat pose (unless you count stepping on the head of a Nurgling, itself a nice metaphorical touch). Once again this is a good thing, and although she could undoubtedly give someone a nasty scratch with those scalpel fingers – which is probably the point of them – her job is to be a healer and the killing is best left to other people. She even manages to look very young which, giving up her job is to keep other people looking young too, is a clever bit of design work. it also creates a slight air of naivety about her which ties in neatly to her backstory.

Sanistasia Minst Art

There’s a lot of debate going on at the moment over whether the coloured plastics used by GW in some of the more recent sets is more brittle than the grey stuff we’re used to. Lots of technical information has been thrown around and as ever I’ll bow to the greater knowledge of the experts, but I will note that, based on this set the green plastic used for the Gellerpox Mutants seems to be fine whereas the red is distinctly more brittle, leading to real problems with fine details such as Sanistasia Minst’s bladed fingers in a way that I just wouldn’t expect in a normal GW kit.

Voidmaster Nitsch

Continuing to plunder the wonderful world of classic sci-fi tropes, here’s the chief of security, the guy we all look to when the killing starts, Voidmaster Nitsch.

Voidmaster Nitsch (1)

I know it’s just my personal taste  but I find models wielding two-handed weapons one-handed irritates me a little, especially when they’re using the free hand to wield yet another weapon. Space Marines are particularly guilty of this but Nitsch flirts with it too. I see the story that the model intends to convey, the switching from one weapon to another, the range of firepower that he brings to bear, the fact that here is a man who can never have too many guns, and it works – but only just.

What I do like however is the way he looks smartly turned out but still utterly lethal and competent as a killer. From the bodyguards of a mafia don to James Bond there have been plenty of people willing to prove that wearing a suit in no way prevents one from becoming proficient at the art of murder and Nitsch looks ready to step from having dinner with the planetary governor to handing the wet-work and back again without breaking sweat. Overall then he’s another success – it’s just a shame about the guns.

Stromian Grell

Grell

With mutant hoards on the march a big man with a rotor cannon is just the kind of chap you want around. It’s a classic of action movies and for good reason, so Grell makes for an excellent addition to the squad. My only criticism is that I would have preferred an alternative, preferably helmeted, head – the little cap really doesn’t work for me at all. Expect a quick head swap when I get around to him.

He is quite big compared to a guardsman but this is the Imperium where the scale of a normal unaugmented human varies considerably anyway. After all if a Goliath ganger can indulge in a growth stim habit then a rogue trader can undoubtedly afford to make the guy  who carries the rotor cannon suitably sturdy as well.

The Voidsmen

Tough though Nitsch and Grell appear to be they’re not going to fight off the Gellerpox alone. Luckily they don’t have to, because there are three more Voidsmen in the box.

Voidsman

I know it’s a common refrain of mine but there’s really nothing original, exciting or “40k” about the Cadians and Catachans. The Tempestus Scions are great, never let it be said otherwise, but we could still really use a kit for making baseline human soldiers of the Imperium. Like the Scions the Voidsmen demonstrate just what GW could do here if they put their minds to it. In fact just looking at one finds oneself wishing for a multi-part kit and the chance to start a whole army of them. And before you snort your derision and dismiss this as wishful thinking keep in mind that we just saw this with the genestealer aberrants so who knows what the future might hold?

Voidswoman

As a little aside it’s nice to note that although one of the Voidsmen is in fact a Voidslady this wasn’t something I noticed immediately. It’s not that she’s sexless or lacking in femininity, just that it’s rather more subtle than it once would have been. Hopefully the days are past when she would have gone into battle wearing enormous armoured cones on her chest like the love child of Maddona and Magnus the Red. I know this is hardly news these days, especially since the latest Stormcast release, but it’s still a welcome development and worth acknowledging and praising, especially with new Sisters of Battle on the way.

Lineup

It is worth noting that the Voidsmen are rather big compared to a baseline guardsman. In part this will be due to scalecreep, in part to the better diet they enjoy working for a Rogue Trader. Overall it’s not a bad thing, it still falls well within the range of heights normal amongst human’s today, but it worth being aware of nonetheless. Fear not though – next to a Primaris Space Marine they still look suitably frail and mortal.

Aximillion

Finally we have what may be the best model GW has released in the entirety of their history. Rather overenthusiastic praise? Perhaps, but would you say it to his face? After all, he’s such a good boy! It’s that true hero of the Imperium; Aximillion.

Dog

So naturally and obviously popular has he proven that it seems crazy that GW didn’t create him sooner. Surely not everyone in Nottingham is a cat person? Surely with retrospect it’s a little odd that we got a pet octopus before a dog? Picture the heated debate as GW’s board members wrestle with the eternal question of how to make even more money. Another space marine release? More stormcasts perhaps? How about the Primarch Leman Russ riding in a Leman Russ tank pulled by giant wolves with Nagash at the wheel, life getting complicated and the weasels closing in, loaded up on heinous chemicals and driving like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas? And then some mad genius says “how about a dog?”. Oh they must have laughed then but I’ll bet that same great mind will be being pounded on the shoulder by his colleagues now and told “you’re a maverick but dammit you get results!”

Something I hadn’t realised until I actually got the kit was that he’s really quite a little dog. Here he being taken for a walk by an Imperial Guardsman.

Dog and Guardsman

It’s also nice to see that GW’s skill at sculpting canids has come on a long way in the years since the terrible Fenrisian wolves were released. Next to Macula from Necromunda however he looks like he’d be little more than a snack for the bigger dog. Insert joke about cheering for the underdog here.

Ax vs Max

Of course one of the many nice thing about dogs is that they come in all shapes and sizes so although any fans of House Orlock who are hoping for an alternative model to represent a cyber-mastiff maybe slightly disappointed by his lack of stature he’ll still work nicely in all kinds of other Inq28 scenarios.

The Gellerpox Infected

So, whilst Elucia Vhane and her crew have been busy claiming new worlds for the Imperium, down in the engine room things have been going very wrong indeed. Ready to frustrate the plans of the Rogue Traders and spread all kinds of merry havoc we have the other half of the box; the Gellerpox Infected. As a notorious fan of Chaos you’d think this would be the part I’m most excited by but in my view this is where we see the greatest design miss-steps. I must emphasise, it’s not all bad, indeed most of it is very good, but it’s on this side of the box that I see the most things that I’d prefer to have been done differently or that I’d like to change. In part though that may be because I am such a fan of Chaos and so I have my own aesthetic expectations which I’m imposing on these models. However whilst the Starstriders feel very much like a team this lot seem more like a loose affiliation of monsters, giant mutants, outsized insects and zombies with no common purpose or mission beyond running amok. Again this is not necessarily a bad thing, and I’ll certainly find plenty of uses for them in my collection, but there is no denying that whilst the Starstriders are a tight knit team these are a collection of odds and ends cobbled together, and it shows.

Vulgrar Thrice-Cursed

Vulgrar Thrice-Cursed

The big boss of the mutants is, Vulgrar Thrice-Cursed, also known as the Twisted Lord, a towering, stamping, three-headed, four armed machine man with a boiler for a belly. Unlike his opposite number Elucia Vhane he’s unquestionably the one in charge and definitely one of the standout models from the Chaos set. The marks of Nurgle’s influence are present but they’re subtle and whilst this could have been a grab bag of clichés the designers have demonstrated the courage to get outside their comfort zone with the god of plagues and have reaped the rewards for doing so.

He reminds me of the Remade from China Miéville’s New Crobuzon novels, condemned criminals who are grafted with machine parts by way of punishment. As I recall there was at least one who had a boiler installed in place of their guts and had to beg and steal to find enough coal to feed it.

The boiler however is actually my main issue with the model. I know space on sprues is going to be an issue and all kinds of other design issues must come in to play but I really would have preferred it if the flames emerging from the grill on his gut were a separate piece that could be left off easily. To my eye the sculpted flame here is an example of overdoing things which sadly blights this half of the release.

That said I still think he’s ace and even went so far as treating myself to a second model of Vulgrar via eBay, which I’m hoping to turn into a Goliath ‘zerker. Watch this space!

Nightmare Hulks

On the Chaos side of the set the centrepiece models are the Nightmare Hulks, towering mutants grown from the most blessed of the Gellerpox infested crew. Twisted almost beyond recognition by the power of the Warp these men are mere steps away from becoming Chaos Spawn, and indeed would serve very nicely as proxies for exactly that.

As befits creatures spawned from humanity’s nightmares these three each play to a certain archetype; the mad butcher, the man-beast and the horror from the deeps. First up then, the butcher, or as he should properly be called, Gnasher-Screamer.

Gnasher Screamer (1)

Just when you thought GW had done all they could with the trope of Nurgle models having mouths in their stomachs eh?  With all them leading directly into his belly he’d also make a fine ogre Gastromancer (assuming those still exist in AoS).

There’s something truly horrifying about all the mouths erupting from the stomach, but then the designer has over-egged everything by adding cartoon faces to the arms. In my opinion this is a real miss step, distracting attention away from what should be the key feature whilst bringing little to the model themselves. My first move on getting hold of him was to carve them off, not too difficult to do but definitely demanding have a steady hand and a sharp knife. I also went for a different head, the big-haired cartoon redneck look doing the model no favours. Personally I’m much happier with the model now but of course if you feel differently please let me know in the comments box below.

Gnasher Screamer (2)Gnasher Screamer (3)

The sheer size and bulk of these chaps also bears repeating, despite of the promotional photos I don’t think I’d realised how big they are until I saw them in the flesh. Here’s the Gnasher-Screamer towering over my long-suffering guardsman.

Gnasher Screamer (4)

Whilst Gnasher-Screamer is a cannibalistic monstrosity, the Writher appears to have been sewn together from deep-sea beasts and bloated corpses. The designers definitely deserve extra points for this one, despite its bulk it seems to float forward as though carried by the tide. The ghastly face looking out through the hole in his belly is a nice touch, albeit one that the official paint job covers up rather than accentuates.

Writher

The hooded head would be a fine addition to a unique looking Nurgle lord or similar character, whilst the octopus arm would make an excellent head for a marine-themed monster or daemon prince.

Perhaps it’s my resurgent interest in Blood Bowl, perhaps it’s just the fact that Nurgle’s Rotters were released only a couple of weeks ago, but it strikes me that the Writher would also be perfect as a Rotspawn, the “big guy” for Nurgle teams (he certainly features, as the rules describe, a Foul Appearance and a Disturbing Presence, and he has plenty of tentacles to boot!). Now at the time of writing we have just seen early images of an official model for the Rotspawn but frankly I’m not a huge fan of it compared to my mental image of a converted Writher.

Rotspawn

The designers have a really laid the nautical theme on thick here, beyond the octopus arm he is encrusted with barnacles, impaled by a harpoon, snagged with fish hooks (one of which even has a fish attached) and even wearing a seaweed loincloth. Even alongside the hook hands, peg legs and other piratical trappings of the Glitchlings and Gellerpox mutants he just doesn’t quite fit in to 40k. Indeed there is not a single futuristic component on him which means he could transfer to AoS with ease. Indeed, if he was an AoS model I’d be sceptical that he could easily be made to fit into 40k. Slap some suitable shoulder pads and a helmet onto him however and he’d be more than ready to take to the Blood Bowl pitch.

Big Spike

The third hulk is Big Spike, who’d probably be the best of the three if it wasn’t for the fly head that replaces his arm. I do enjoy it when chaos comes with lots of crazy mutations but for my taste the fly arm is just a bit too much. a tiny withered arm on one side to offset the huge claw on the other would be great but this is overkill – most likely I’ll be chopping off the fly head and using it elsewhere, (unsurprisingly I’ll probably use it as a head).

Gellerpoxes (3)

Gellerpox Mutants

Falling somewhere between the plaguebearers and poxwalkers in design, but with a touch of punk-rock peacocking to boot, we have the Gellerpox Mutants, undoubtedly the models about which I’m feeling the most divided.

The pirate theme hangs heavily here in peg legs and hook hands. I found myself half expecting them to throw in a few eye patches and some servo parrots whilst they were about it.

Gellerpoxes (1)

This chap has an ear on his ankle. Talk about keeping your ear to the ground… 

Individually each one is great when you put them all together the result is a little gimmicky. As cool as zombie pirate punks may seem on paper they don’t quite gel in practice. As for the metal masks they make for fine bits for conversions or simply by way of adding some suitably weird 40k vibes but the fact that all three have them calls for an explanation and we end up with some faintly shoehorned sounding talk about metal flowing out of the Geller drive and encasing their heads.

If they had to have masks then why not give them some more in keeping with their role as engineers? Gas masks, welding mask, ad-mech gribby masks, pre-infection cybernetics, there were surely a range of better possibilities than goofy metals skulls? Once again it seems that GW chose a quirky cartoon zanyness over the dark realism some of us would have preferred but that’s true across the set, indeed across their whole range, look no further than some of the faces on the Nightmare Hulk’s for instance. The masks do however make for rather stylish additions to other models (in my humble opinion). I’ve already shown you this model but dammit I’m proud of him so I’ll show him again!

Necromunda Goliath Convert Or Die (2)Necromunda Goliath Convert Or Die (1)

What strikes me as odd is how few of them there are. We’re used to zombies appearing as great hoards and so it’s easy to conclude that a huge tide of plague mutated crewman would be trying to overwhelm the comparatively elite voidsmen. The background even describes them as a “gruesome horde”. In actuality however we only get three of them, which only serves to emphasise their flaws. If any one of them was released alone as a special character it would look excellent, and equally if there were a few more the whole thing might start to work as a gestalt carnival style mass.

Gellerpoxes (2)

In what may be an attempt to explain this we’re told that these three are the Apostles of the Twisted Lord, special characters whilst – presumably – the rest of the horde are lurking out of sight somewhere in the wings. Personally I might be tempted to convert a few more out of spare poxwalkers although that would entail reigning in my desire to decapitate the other existing Gellerpox to make more Goliath champions

Despite these criticisms I actually really like these models, in fact I wish there were a few more of them instead of all the giant insects.

Glitchlings

The Glitchlings are basically Nurglings with a tech/pirate veneer. There’s not a lot to say about them but there’s certainly nothing to complain about either.

 

Glitchlings

There’s also not a lot to add regarding the various other small gribblies to be found in the box. Collectively known as Mutoid Vermin these are the various invertebrates which live in the guts of the ship and, once exposed to the energies of Chaos, have grown to unnatural sizes. In appearance they’re painfully generic which is both a blessing and a curse.

Grubs

On the plus side they’d fit in almost anywhere in either 40k or AoS, from the marshlands of Ghyran to the sump-drains of Necromunda. Regardless of where your interests lie amongst GW’s universes there’s a good chance you’ll find a use for these. On the other hand there’s really nothing unique about them. The same warp energies that turned machines to living metal and gave men claws and screaming mouths for stomachs just took normal insects and made them bigger. Personally I think I would have preferred to see something more iconic of the setting; hybrid beasts, insectile chimeras, corrupted servo-skulls and the like. By making them so generic these feel a lot like filler designed to bulk out the otherwise fairly lean body count amongst the chaos range.

The grubs especially remind me of the larvae from Rackham’s Dwarves of Mid Nor although – despite the technological leaps and bounds we’ve seen since those were released – the newcomers still don’t hold up in comparison.

Larva 2

Overall then it’s a mixed bag although on the whole I’m pleased with it. The Skywalkers – sorry, Starstriders – are an excellent little crew that I can only hope will pave the way for a future Rogue Trader range. On the other hand the Gellerpox set contains a mixture of standout models bulked out by insectile filler with the designers seemingly not quite sure where to draw the line on mutation. The nightmare hulks are generally great, or can be made so with a little work, and the other Gellerpox mutants are nice enough individually but rather too quirky as a group and fail to really fit in with the broader chaos range. The insects, whilst I’ll find a use for them, are definitely the weak link here however and should have been thinned down with at least some of them replaced by more interesting gribblies.

In the end it’ll take a little work to turn me into a devoted worshipper of the Geller Drive but the Rogue Traders were well worth the thirty year wait. Of course I’m always interested to hear your views, if you agree or disagree tell me so and if you have any clever conversions planned for these I’m all ears (I even have one on my ankle).


Soul Survivors

It’s all kicking off in the Age of Sigmar. A whole new edition has arrived, bringing with it a stack of new models, which I’ll be gushing over shortly (or reviewing them dispassionately like the cold and emotionless agent of the grave I am, depending on your perspective). Once again we’re also seeing the timeline moving forward as Nagash makes his play to replace Chaos as the biggest baddie around. After all he’s been around for millennia and, despite being burdened with a truly terrible hat and getting murdered by the Skaven on a semi-regular basis, he’s risen to attain a well deserved godhood. Until now however he’s been stuck with the same bunch of minions he commanded back in the Old World, minus the Egyptian-looking ones. Of course, never one to back down from a fight or miss out on the merest hint of limelight, Sigmar has sent his Stormcast Eternals to give the agents of his old frenemy a good kicking. Don’t worry, it’s all in fun, none of them can really die.

A new edition means a new boxset and this time we get Soul Wars, the successor to the rather unimaginatively named “Age of Sigmar Starter Set”. Naturally lots of intelligent, literate people who actually have the box in front of them have already shared their opinions about it so you might be forgiven for thinking I wouldn’t bother, but of course you’d be wrong because here I am.

Soul Wars 2

Most excitingly of all I can now look forward to some nutter raving in the comments section about how much he hates AoS and what a truly terrible person I am because I personally murdered Warhammer and ruined everything. If you’re out there mate, the reason I don’t publish your comments is because I genuinely believe you’re unwell and need help and in a rare moment of frankness from me to you I would beg you to consider what this obsessive rage is doing to you and your life. Of course I’ll add that the misplaced bile you pour in my direction also brings a warm glow to my heart and makes me feel that I’ve truly arrived as a reviewer and commenter because I can’t imagine that a busy man like yourself has time to rage at every two bit blog around and you save your burning rage for those platforms where it will garner the most attention. Plus as you are happy to tell me, a stranger, that you hate me, I’m not above mocking you for  a cheap laugh.

So, having agreed that Age of Sigmar is responsible for every unpleasant and terrible thing that has ever happened, from flicking a cigarette butt towards the Hindenburg to producing the music of Shania Twain, let’s acknowledge our shared infamy in still being interested and take a look at the new models.

AoS 2

Faced with a rising tide of ghosts, and discovering that the Scooby-doo gang were unavailable, Sigmar has called in the support of another chamber of Stormcast Eternals; the warrior-mages of the Sacrosanct Chamber. Apparently he heard about the Grey Knights and decided that an army of armoured wizards were just the thing he needed to tackle an incorporeal adversary.

Of course, with tiresome predictability, some sectors of the internet are positively electric with self-satisfied outrage that once again Stormcast Eternals are featured in the boxset. It’s a bit like the people who complain constantly about there being Space Marines in the 40k starter-sets (indeed, it’s probably exactly the same people). Have the courage to admit that you’re just a tedious moaning bore rather than stretching for a silly complaint, especially when that complaint is one that you know will be fulfilled. “I’ll be upset if they put Stormcasts in the starter set” they bleat, smugly knowing that this is as inevitable as if they said “I’ll not buy it if they put the words Games Workshop anywhere on the packaging – after all that’s an anagram of Shag Pokes Worm!” Do you see a giant statue of an Idoneth Deepkin or a Bride of Khaine outside GW HQ in Nottingham? Neither do I – although there’s no denying that the latter would send a powerful message to Games Workshop’s competitors and local burglars alike.

Golden Boy

Still not marrying Khaine

When the first Age of Sigmar starter set was released the Khornate half represented something fairly traditional and familiar. Swap out the round bases for square ones and it would have fitted in nicely as a 9th Edition starter set for Warhammer. Korghos Khul would have made a fine lord of Khorne, the Bloodsecrator a champion with the battle standard, the blood warriors could have been chaos warriors with the mark of Khorne – and likewise the bloodreavers as marauders. Even the Khorgorath could have been a chaos spawn with the mark of Khorne. Alongside this the Stormcasts were the radical choice, making it indisputably clear that here we had something new and different, that the old world was gone and the new was defined by more than round bases and silly names.

This time things are different. This time it is the Stormcasts who are the conservative choice of faction to showcase in the starter set. Like Space Marines for 40k it’s safe to assume that for decades to come each new addition of Age of Sigmar will contain Stormcasts in the boxset.

Secateurs

The core of those Stormcasts are the rather stylish looking Sequitors. I’m not always that keen on Stormcasts, there’s something a little too uniform and faceless about them, but I’ll give the Sequitors two thumbs up. The robes help of course, giving the designers more to play with than plain armour would, but overall these have a lot more individuality and character than previous Stormcasts, whilst still maintaining their cohesiveness. After all, each one is a storied hero – a champion even before Sigmar raised them up – not a clone or another faceless soldier. Early Stormcasts were accused (often rightly) of being a bit repetitive but with these GW have got into their stride. Rather than lacking character each one is a character, and one could imagine oneself ascribing traits to them, identifying them from battle to battle and coming to regard them as individuals in their own right, more like Necromunda gangers than, for example, the twelfth ork in the unit.

Sequitors

I keep telling myself that I don’t need to buy the boxset because I’ll never paint an army of Stormcasts but if I ever do these will form the bulk of it.

Sequitors 1

There’s no denying the visual impact of the Castigators. Stormcasts with grenade launchers? What did the poor followers of Chaos do to deserve this?! As with the Sequitors the robes look great and there’s a real sense of power and weight to the models.

Castigators 2

It’s also good to see more female models as Games Workshop responds slowly to repeated reminders that women have a place in fantasy and science-fiction too (somewhere a fat and unhygienic Star-Wars obsessive is crying into his keyboard at this baldy-stated news but I’ve never sugar-coated anything and I’m not about to let the creepy lard-arse down gently). By subtle narrowing of the masks, waist and legs, and softening of the brow, the designers have rather cleverly managed to incorporate female Stormcasts into the ranks of the Castigators and Sequitors without needing to go down the road of form-fitting armour, boob-armour or even bare heads.

Castigators

I was never the biggest fan of Stormcast based truescale marines, finding that the sleeker armour shapes left them looking more like Stormcasts in space than Space Marines. The arrival of the Primaris marines has generally rendered them a thing of the past, as marines of most chapters can be kitbashed with ease from the Primaris chassis. The exception of course is the Sons of the Lion. Now there are plenty amongst the First Legion who go around dressed in plain power armour, and there’s no reason not to just paint your models green and have done with it. However to really capture the Dark Angels you want long monastic robes and between them the Castigators and Sequitors provide a lot of potential. The hammers, lightning bolts and other Sigmarite flourishes would need trimmed away but a virtue could be made of all the lion iconography.

As I say I’m not that keen on Stormcast based truescale marines, nor do I particularly like the Dark Angels (those filthy traitors!) but I might just pick up a few Sequitors to experiment with.

Evocators

After the excellence of the Castigators and Sequitors the Evocators prove to be a bit of a disappointment. The weird looking armpit robes are a bit too odd for my liking, whilst the tabards starting at the rib-cage makes the torso look very short. The tempest blades meanwhile look rather too long and heavy to be wielded one-handed.

In the early days the Stormcasts were often accused of looking rather blade, a charge which can now be firmly refuted.  The Evocators however seem to be trying too hard to put a flourish on the Stormcast aesthetic and the result is a little half-baked and falls short of the elite warrior-wizards these are intended to be.

Lord-Arcanum

This may sound a little overenthusiastic but I think the Lord-Arcanum is pretty damn magnificent. It showcases the glorious heroism of the Stormcasts and the fantastic richness of the Age of Sigmar in one fell swoop. My love of gritty realism and the “aesthetic of the pathetic” is well known but Age of Sigmar is big, bold and bombastic and this model encapsulates that perfectly. If we’re going to replace the toothless, shoeless Empire soldier as humanity’s defender with an immortal golden giant then let’s do it in style and give that giant a glorious haughty half-horse, half-eagle beast to ride around on. No half-measures here, no implied moral complexity, just over the top heroism through and through. Cut this man and he’ll bleed one-dimensional wholesomeness and moral fibre.

Many people – and I include myself here – took one look at the first Stormcasts and feared that Age of Sigmar would be dumbed down, simplistic and lacking the moral depths of old-Warhammer. Needless to say the likes of the Idoneth Deepkin and Daughters of Khaine have put paid to that, leaving the Stomcasts to encapsulate the goody-two-shoes heroism that they’ve become known for. Given that it’s only right that they be allowed to do it well and to the full extent of the designers’ abilities. Criticising this chap for being a bit OTT and overtly heroic would be like criticising the Idoneth for hanging around with fish.

Being harsh I’ll admit though the model does have a few flaws; the staff is a little top-heavy and cluttered with superfluous detail (just give him a hammer – it wouldn’t make him any less of a wizard) and there’s really no need for every beast in the Stormcast army to have two tails, but these niggles aside he’s still excellent.

Lord-Arcanum 2

Second in command to the Lord-Arcanum is the Knight-Incantor. Even at a glance it’s clear she’s a mage of some kind, the outspread arms, subtly upturned gaze and windblown, billowing robes neatly conveying her connection to the storm. Again her staff is a little top-heavy, as is her crest, and the silly armpit capes continue to look uncomfortable and impractical, but overall she’s a fine model who works in spite of her flaws. The sculpted musculature of the torso is an unusual, but very welcome, choice for a female miniature and would have been far better than the layered tabards of the Evocators. We can expect to see plenty of clever Inquisitrix and Cannoness conversions from this one I suspect. 

Knight-Incantor

The forces of the Stormcasts are diversified further by the arrival of their first artillery piece, the Celestar Ballista. No longer just clones in gold armour the faction has grown, chamber by chamber. Sigmar has unleashed legions of heavy infantry, flying warriors, knights on dragons, even adorable mini-gryphons and, finding his enemies are still going strong, now he’s rolled out the big guns. To my mind this model encapsulates a very Sigmarish, bullish attitude to solving a problem. One can almost hear him saying “Ghosts now you say? Have you tried shooting them?” The Stormcasts must be wishing they’d had access to this back when their enemies were a little more corporeal.

Celestar Ballista

A lot of the elements of the model are a little obvious, indeed this is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Stormcast artillery piece, but as it’s their first that’s no bad thing and very much to be expected. Plus it may well be the case that this is setting the template for further artillery and warmachines to come after.

What is interesting is that here is a glimpse of Stormcasts who’re not straight-forward fighters. Whilst previous Stormcasts have clearly been chosen by Sigmar for their combat prowess or tactical acumen, these follow on from the Lord-Ordinator, bringing more to engineering the future of the Realms than just hitting things with a hammer.

Ordinators

Overall I’d call the Stormcast half of the boxset a success. Games Workshop could have used it as an excuse to just churn out more Stormcasts, just as the 40k starter-sets of yesteryear always contained plenty of tactical marines. Instead they seized the chance to broaden the Stormcast range, bringing in mages and artillery and putting a new spin on an already ubiquitous army.

All the usual Stormcast characteristics are present, with hammers, anvils, masked helms, lion faces and more lightning bolts than a Harry Potter convention. Ultimately if you like the look of the Stormcasts then these will add further variety to your collection. If, on the other hand, you’re not so keen on the slightly different style might just sway you.

AoS 2 Knight of Shrouds

Another common complaint from the first edition of Age of Sigmar centred on the lack of mortal threat to any of the participants. Chaos lords were reborn by the gods, Stormcasts and Seraphon were reforged, even the Sylvaneth got in on the act with their soul-pods. Add in the Idoneth and their soul harvesting and a death god like Nagash starts to get seriously irritated. Indeed the situation has now become so grave (sorry – I couldn’t help myself) that he’s unleashed a whole army of ghosts to make his displeasure felt in no uncertain terms.

A number of vocal scoundrels have been calling for Age of Sigmar to give up the ghost since it was launched and, to my personal excitement, now it has. This is what they were wanting right?

First Knight Of Shrouds

Front and centre of the Nighthaunt half of the boxset is the glorious looking Knight of Shrouds. Earlier in the year Malign Portents brought us our first look at a Knight of Shrouds, a magnificently creepy and well executed model which, it is now apparent, was just the precursor to the deathly horde now descending upon us. So impressive is it that even if I wasn’t already a fan of the Death alliance I would have picked one up just to paint. Unfortunately the model was wildly overpriced for a single miniature, a product of Games Workshop’s location (both geographically and philosophically) in the UK’s deeply skewed economic landscape, so I never stumped up the cash for it. Never mind, a nicer one has come along now, and he’s on a horse.

Knight of Shrouds

Once again I may sound a little effusive in my praise here but the Nighthaunt are generally excellent and none more so than their undead general. For the ghosts the pressure to impress was always high. The Vampire Counts range was a well loved staple of Warhammer and for a while new releases were a regular occurrence, with each one including models even bigger and more impressive than the last. The culmination came at the beginning of the End Times with the arrival of the Mortarchs and Nagash himself – the latter being a model I’m not a big fan of but which is otherwise generally well loved.

After the triumph however came the fall. In the purge of Warhammer factions that followed the End Times the Tomb Kings, the Vampire Counts’ sister race and the other branch of the undead in GW’s stable, were swept roughly into the dustbin of history. There followed three years of near silence. The beginning of 2018 saw the arrival of the Malign Portents, something many of us assumed to be Death’s triumphant return. Of course it turned out we were right, just a little premature. Instead of a new army, the undead got an army book and a single overpriced model – but then so did everyone else. Only after two elven factions had appeared did the dead rise at last.

Thus I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went into this release desperately hoping it would be good and fearing the outcry that would come if it was anything less than perfect. Luckily when it comes to the risen dead GW are still very much on top of their game. If the Knight of Shrouds is suffering from any kind of performance anxiety he doesn’t show it and as a general he can stand proud alongside vampire lords, ghoul kings and Mortarchs alike. Death is back in style, top marks Games Workshop, I should never have doubted you!

Knight of Shrouds 2

There’s something slightly frail about the Knight of Shrouds, a whipped look in his thin arms and hunched shoulders which only adds to his sense of spiteful danger. Here is a ragged and wiry warrior, a pauper general, the very essence of his steed sloughing away in echo of its long rotted flesh. He’s a long way from the wall of golden musculature sent by Sigmar yet one suspects his sword would cut the deeper for the bitterness behind it.

Lord Executionar 2

Alongside the Knight of Shrouds Soul Wars spoils us with three more Nighthaunt characters. First up we have the Lord Executioner, an overenthusiastic headsman in life now bound to eternally serve Nagash. The elements are relatively simple; an executioner’s hood, a gallows and a great big axe. Nonetheless the model does a lot with these few ingredients and the result is delightfully sinister and imposing. A small group of ghosts swirl around him, framing the model’s face and helping to tie these newer models in to older figures like the spirit hosts and mortarchs.

Gallows Gallery

Back when I reviewed the Lord of Blights from the Nurgle release (in January) I described the gallows worn on his back as “a good idea amateurishly executed”. With the Lord Executioner we get to see it done properly.

Lord Executionar 3

An executioner never has to rush around chasing after victims and thus the model encapsulates a sense of slow-moving power. He calmly stares ahead, picking out his next victim, and the model’s golden angle has him looking directly at the viewer. Meanwhile his greater height above the base implies a potential for downward movement, he’s not racing into the sky but preparing for a powerful decapitating downswing. I’m also no fan of sculpted smoke, fire or magical effects, something you would think would put me off the Nighthaunts in general, but here it’s been done with such aplomb that it’s impossible not to be impressed.

Guardian of Souls

The Guardian of Souls is the first Nighthaunt wizard (you can tell by his staff, pointy hat and beard). Apparently his role involves guiding the spirits of the dead back into the Mortal Realms, a story that is subtly but skilfully told by his pose. His sword is held low – he’s not really a fighter after all – and his lantern is outstretched overhead to guide others, with wisps of ethereal flame coiling back behind him.

Spirit Torment

Whilst the Guardian of Souls and Lord Executioner clearly convey their mortal origins the Spirit Torment looks more like a cross between a deep sea fish and one of the bridges over the Seine that people cover in padlocks. The result is deliciously creepy, the eyeless face and gaping mouth creating a strong impression of something utterly without compassion, driven only by instinctual hunger.

Furthermore whilst most ghosts look soft and ethereal this one looks heavy, it’s pose hunched and bullish, it’s arms pulled low by the weight of the locks it carries, its thin flesh poking from beneath a shell of heavy iron. And whilst the locks are so heavy they almost scrape along the ground the keys float out of reach, hidden from the creature directly behind its sightless head.

Indeed the head itself deserves a special mention, an excellent bit which would prove handy in adding an extra level of creepiness to all kinds of characters, from tech-priests to archons. The only flaw is the padlock earring, a tiny bit silly and a detail too far I feel.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me, quite rightly, by Faust that this is a lock on a collar and not an earring. This is what I get for not double-checking my facts! Indeed on second examination it actually looks quite cool so anyone who was avoiding buying the entire Soul Wars boxset on account of this should now feel free to do so.

Chainrasp 2

The rank and file of the Nighthaunt contingent is made up of the chainrasps, of which we get 20 in the box. These are the middle of the road souls, criminals and bad ‘uns but not evil enough to have sold their souls to Chaos. For those who’ve been crying out to see the normal folk, the great unwashed of the Mortal Realms, this is them – it’s just unfortunate that by the time GW got around to them they were already dead.

Once again the undead maintain the theme of a mighty host of the risen slain at the core of their armies. Now we can choose between skeletons, ghouls, zombies (if you like really ugly models) and now ghosts as well. There’s nothing wildly unusual or creative with these but that’s no bad thing. If you want straight-forward ghosts, or a chassis upon which to build more unusual ghosts, you’ve got it. Whatever the setting, so long as the spectral dead wander around in a sheet moaning, these will have you covered.

Chainrasp 3

It’s safe to say that the Inq28 community will be having a field day with these (not that those geniuses couldn’t make gold out of anything). Expect plenty of little tech-thralls ahead.

Grimghast ReapersIf the Chainrasps are the rank and file of the Nighthaunt then the Grimghast Reapers are the shock troops; blindfolded spectral berserkers  sent to reap a fresh crop of souls for Nagash. Overall these are the closest to the cairn wraith, the spiritual forefather of the Nighthaunt. Indeed anyone still playing Vampire Counts in old-Warhammer would do well to consider these as a great way of making cairn wraith squads, alongside the Myrmourn Banshees as, well, Banshees.

The stereotypical Death archetypes are out in force here, from the tattered black robes to the long scythes. There’s a real sense of speed too, a darting, almost fish-like motion, combined with a sense of savagery in the sweeping blades. The unfortunate exception is the one holding his scythe directly overhead. The sense of motion is still there but the sense of direction isn’t, so whilst the others appear to have just made a killing blow he’s either indulging in some purposeless scythe waving to no real effect or he’s just blindly charging and probably about to suffer a comedic collision with something unyielding.

Charging Ghost

I also wonder if it’s strictly necessary for one of them to be wielding a bell on a stick? In old Warhammer pretty much every squad, regardless of how small, featured an optional command group  comprising a leader or champion, a banner and a musician. This practice has declined in Age of Sigmar and so a musician feels as unnecessary here as a banner would. It’s clear the ghost isn’t using it for its intended purpose, he appears to be smacking someone over the head with it, so why give him a musical instrument at all if he’s just going to break it by using it as a weapon? Plus although bells are closely associated with death in the real world, in the Warhammer universes they’ve become much more closely tied to Nurgle and the Skaven so if GW really wanted an instrument in the squad – presumably to some in-game effect – then why not pick something else? Wind instruments, not usually great for creatures without lungs, could be great here – how about bone pipes sticking out of his back that howl and moan as he flies around with his mouth open, turning the whole model into a giant set of bagpipes?

Bellend

In spite of these minor quibbles there’s a lot to like about the Reapers. They may be the most obvious and least original concepts in the Nighthaunt range but they do it with such style that I’m more than happy to forgive them.

Glaivewraith 2

Creativity and weirdness are becoming the trademarks of Age of Sigmar and although GW have been a little less wild with Soul Wars than they were with, for example, the Idoneth Deepkin or Kharadron Overlords (this is still stormcasts vs ghosts after all) they’ve still managed to sneak in some wonderfully innovative models all the same. Perhaps my personal favourites, and the models that first drew me to the Nighthaunt faction, are the Glaivewraith Stalkers.

Hunters in life the Glaivewraith have been fused in death with their steed creating bizarre hybrids, the hunting beasts of Nagash. I may have poured praise on the Nighthaunt rather exhaustively by this point but here GW have done it again, pulling another star out of the bag.

In theory one presumes a sufficiently powerful necromancer can resurrect almost anything, with the possible exception of a dwarf. In the old Vampire Counts era however the bestial companions of the undead were lifted straight from Bram Stoker’s rather hammy writing, with giant bats and wolves predominating. Sadly the superstition of the dark ages still seems to be associative with these creatures and unnecessary persecution has been heaped on them as a result (and yes, I did have to rescue my neighbour from a bat once whilst she screamed hysterically, and rather imaginatively, that “everyone knows they’re poisonous!” I restrained myself from pointing out that there was only one mad old bat in the room and it wasn’t the unfortunate flying mammal…).

Now I’ll forgive the later edition dire wolves which were suitable terrifying zombies (and even the most gentle of creatures becomes frightening once it’s a zombie as these lovable farm animals painted by Alex of Leadballoony prove). Regardless of how rare or endangered a species becomes I’m all in favour of killing it once its risen as a zombie but until then there’s really no reason for a hobby with its foundations in imagination and creativity to keep repeating the short-sighted ignorance of medieval peasants. Thankfully Nagash, and his mortal servants in Nottingham, have proved themselves capable of shrugging off the hackish prose of old Bram to invent a bestial pack of a rather more creative kind.

Vampire Counts Convert Or Die (2) - Copy

Wolves – majestic wild animals… until they rise from the grave…

Releases like the Kharadron Overlords and Idoneth Deepkin have really cemented Age of Sigmar as a setting in which Games Workshop can let their creative hair down and indulge their talents. With Soul Wars they’ve naturally been a little more restrained, Stormcasts are Stormcasts after all, but that hasn’t stopped them showing off a little on the ghostly side of the set. The Glaivewraith Stalkers are exactly the sort of thing one imagines skulking in the corner of a Blanche painting, or popping up in the margins of a rulebook.

Glaivewraith

I’m also tempted to a couple of pairs of human legs emerging from beneath one of them to create a macabre carnival beast, pantomime horse or suitably weird steed for an Inq28-style knight.

ETBGlaivewraithStalkers

Unfortunately the Easy To Build Glaivewraith Stalkers released to expand the set in Soul Wars don’t bring much more to the unit than was already present on the models in the core box. They do add a drum of course and a crow with a skull for a head, which is probably the cutest thing GW have ever come up with, but neither, to my eye, merits a whole new kit (and separate purchase) on its own when those two items could have been included in the core box just as easily. That said the Easy to Build sets are so cheap, and the models in them so nice, that it seems churlish to make a fuss about this.

Skull Crow

The drummer is apparently called a Deathbeat Drummer which sounds like something a music journalist would come up with to name a sub-genre of death metal. Really they should have gone the whole hog and called it a Deadbeat Drummer, which is after all what everyone will call it anyway.

Banshee 1

More exciting are the Myrmourn Banshees which are without a doubt one of the best bits in a release already full of wonders. Much has already been said about the clever use of negative space and the way that the greater part of what should be the model’s flesh is either hidden or absent. The torsos are hollow, the mouths screaming gaps which, in the absence of the model’s eyes, draw in the viewer’s gaze, and the models writhe and twist as though boneless, like cloth tugged by a breeze.

Banshee 2

Soul Wars picks it’s themes and sticks to them with an unyielding vigour. If you like heroes in shiny armour or lots and lots of ghosts you will not be disappointed. If, on the other hand, your predilections for the undead are more diverse and you’d like a skeleton or two, perhaps a zombie, or even – heaven forbid – a mummy, then you may find this something of a letdown.

I make no secret of my own bias, I started out as a vampire counts fan several editions of Warhammer ago and I’ve been tempted to join the undead legions of Nagash since Age of Sigmar began. I even painted a vampire count just the other day and, like the Lord of Undead himself, I fondly remember the World-That-Was, I have a healthy distrust of Stormcasts and I look silly in a big hat. I’ve tried to remain neutral in this review but if my praise for the Nighthaunts has been a little more emphatic than for the Stormcasts that may be part of it.

That said I really do feel that the Nighthaunt half of the box outshines the Stormcast half by a sizable margin. It doesn’t help that a Stormcast in a robe is still a Stormcast and so the look of the models was very much constrained by what had gone before, whereas with the Nighthaunt the designers were able to create something a bit stranger, darker and more creative, and thus more to my taste. Furthermore whilst the Stormcast set contains models both good (the Sequitors) and less so (the Evocators) the ghosts are consistently top-notch. Needless to say between this and the models already revealed I’m very much looking forward to the full Nighthaunt army when it arrives.

Ultimately I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy Soul Wars, partly because I’m not that excited by Stormcasts (no matter how beautiful the Sequitors are) and partly because GW are bombarding us with other releases more to my taste. I will however be seeking a good bargain on the ghosts, and plotting a spiritual awaking in Shyish. And of course it’s always possible that I’ll change my mind, those Sequitors really are pretty lovely, and I really want to read all about the realms in the new rule book and sometimes it’s easy to forget that I’m trying to save my pennies for all the other lovely things Games Workshop have been previewing lately…

Nighthaunt 1

So what about you? Are you already preparing yourself mind, body and soul by wandering the house with a sheet over your head making “woooo” noises, or are you a valiant servant of the God-King ready to take the fight to the dirty deadies? Or perhaps your sympathies lie with the somewhat under-represented forces of Destruction, in which case here’s hoping that with Stormcasts vs Chaos in the  first boxset and Stormcasts vs Death in the second I’ll be reviewing a box of Ogres (and Stormcasts!) in three years or so. You heard it here first folks!


The Golden Legion

It is often stated that in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war and this may well be the case. Nonetheless two battles stand out, head and shoulders above all others both in scale and importance. The great tank battle at Talarn, the sacking of Prospero, the devastation of Baal or the Fall of Cadia? These are mere skirmishes! Armageddon, Calth, Isstvan, Macragge? Simple border disputes! The great conflicts which rage unseen in Octarius, the Legion Wars in the Eye of Terror or the long lost struggles between the Old Ones and the Necrontyr? Hardly the stuff to define the Imperium-centric universe of the 41st Millennium. No, the battles of which I speak are of course the First Siege of Terra – in which two Primarchs are slain, the Emperor is placed within the Golden Throne and an age of darkness truly dawns, and the Second Siege of Terra, the one yet to come in which Abaddon brings the traitor legions and their daemonic primarchs back to humanity’s birth world for the final, apocalyptic showdown to define our species’ fate.

For those immersed in the world of the 41st Millennium one is the cornerstone of all history, the other the overshadowing conclusion to the future, the ultimate Ragnarok and day of judgement rolled into one. One cries out to be chronicled in a series of novels, the other demands to be left purely to the imagination.

Auric Custodians

I don’t want to see the final battle for Terra, either through official rules, global campaigns or Black Library novels. I don’t want the Long War to end. Yet with the ghoulish fascination that makes us rubberneck at car crashes my eye is drawn back to it, to that final apocalypse which ends only with chaos standing triumphant over the Emperor’s broken realm or breaking against its defences like a failing wave.

This is mankind defining our own fate. We shall come to this war in many guises, be it the common soldiers of the Astra Militarum or the frothing cultists that oppose them, the astartes rebuilt in the Emperor’s image, the Primarchs fabricated to be demi-gods among men, the bestial creatures of chaos or even the daemons grown from our nightmares and ambitions like the mould that sprouts from the yeast in bread. Xenos will not fight in this war, at least not in a major, defining way. There may be the odd Eldar sneaking about, a genestealer cultist or two in the shadows, an ork who heard this was the place to come for an especially good fight, but ultimately this is our war, fought amongst ourselves for the soul of our species. This is us taking back control.

The Talons of the Emperor

Of course, one can’t think of war on Terra without thinking of the Adeptus Custodes. For a long time they’ve floated at the edge of 40k fans’ wildest imaginings, yet for all we dreamed of seeing them on our tabletops and bestriding the battlefields of the 41st Millennium, it seemed at best a pipe-dream. After all the custodes were confined to Terra, having sworn oaths of penance in the wake of the Emperor’s death at the hands of his son Horus. GW were never going to make an army that only fought on one planet out of the hundreds of thousands in the galaxy, especially a planet that, almost by definition, wouldn’t see war on a grand scale until the setting itself reaches its ultimate end.

Times however have changed and 40k is an evolving beast. Like the Imperium itself stagnation has been replaced by transformation, and we’re yet to see for sure what shape its final form shall be. Many of us, myself included, cried out against the changes being wrought to the setting. Yet so far whilst the universe has developed it hasn’t strayed as far from the darkness at its core as many feared. We may have raged against the Primaris marines for the disregard of the background lore but we forgave them for giving us easy access to true-scale marines. Likewise I may not be thrilled to see the custodes leaving Terra at long last but I’ll let it pass because we now have the range of glorious golden-armoured warriors we long dreamed of.

Custodians

That said my pleasure at seeing the custodes doesn’t mean they get a free pass from criticism.  After all the custodes may be the Emperor’s golden boys with a long list of victories (almost) unmarred by defeat but they’re still a long way from perfect. They say the man who never made a mistake never made anything and true enough the custodes have spent the last ten millennia making damn sure they never made a mistake.

For those unfamiliar with the background to the custodes the crux of the matter is this; after a history in which they had never known defeat the custodes, sworn to protect the Emperor from all threats, were separated from him as they teleported aboard Horus’ battle barge. By the time they reached their master’s side he had been mortally wounded. Failure strengthens us, it teaches us both how to avoid failing again and how to cope if we do. The custodes had never failed before and now that they had they didn’t know how to cope. They carried the Emperor back to Terra and swore an oath never again to leave the Imperial Palace (admittedly a loosely defined area around the Sol system).

In many ways the custodes exemplified the ignorant, inward-looking nature of the Imperium and its cruelly wasteful treatment of its resources – most notably human lives. It’s always been one of the great ironies of the Imperium that whilst ork waarrghs and black crusades smashed thousands of worlds to rubble and whole chapters of space marines and regiments of imperial guard were being swallowed up by war the finest army at the Imperium’s disposal sat idle. Where were the custodes when Armageddon or Macragge were burning? Sitting on Terra feeling sorry for themselves that’s where.

Was it dereliction of duty on their part that saw the Emperor slain? I feel that’s a harsh judgement. Blame for Horus’ invasion of Terra, and the Emperor’s fateful decision to teleport aboard the Vengeful Spirit and take the fight to his wayward son, could hardly be laid at the custodes’ door. Yet the ten millennia of mourning and self-recrimination and penance that followed, whilst all around them the galaxy burned, that can be called dereliction of duty of the highest order.

Golden Legion

Yet whilst the custodes have exemplified the stubborn ignorance of their era they are not of it. Almost uniquely amongst the people of the Imperium they are granted access to all knowledge and trained in all things. Beyond their superlative combat abilities each is educated to the very limit that their superhuman brains can handle. They are statesmen, philosophers, artists and historians, cartographers of the heavens and a thousand other things beside. They are not oblivious to the threats that fall upon the Imperium, or to the state of decline into which that once great empire has fallen. They must have seen the doom that was swallowing everyone, from the lowliest tech-serf to the Emperor Himself, yet they chose to stay on Terra anyway, allowing self-indulgent misery at the failings of their long-dead ancestors to blind them to the fact that they’d been letting the side down for rather a long time.

They’ve sat on their hands, gathering dust whilst the Imperium collapsed around them. This isn’t a complaint mind you – although if they knew the truth a denizen of the 41st Millennium might feel otherwise. Rather I’ve always found it to be a wonderful part of the 40k background, the idea of a superlative army able to overcome any foe standing idle whilst enemies rage unchecked simply because they believe that they failed ten thousand years ago.

Of course they’ve not been entirely shiftless, there have been shadow wars and hidden conflicts conducted out of sight in the veiled byways and alleys of Terra as the forces of the arch-enemy attempt to corrupt the throne world. From the grander conflicts that the Imperium has endured however they have been absent, leaving the space marines and Imperial Guard to do the leg work.

Golden Throne edit

As far as we’ve seen the wars in which the custodes have taken part have hardly been taxing. Whilst many space marine chapters have come close to extinction the Golden Legion have managed to maintain their numbers at a rough ten thousand. This leads me to wonder; if the custodes are functionally immortal and can only be killed by catastrophic trauma, and they never leave the Emperor’s palace – the most heavily defended site in the galaxy, and when they do have to fight it is almost certainly against someone less skilled than themselves, then how do they ever die at all? The codex describes some as being over a thousand years old but surely many of them should be even older than that.

What happens to them? Surely the warriors who fought in the Horus Heresy aren’t still standing vigil now? It’s something I’ve often wondered, especially nowadays when Bjorn the Fell-handed’s claim to being the oldest living human has been knocked aside by the return of other Heresy-era oldsters like Guilliman and Cawl.

Thankfully we now have an answer. If a custodian finds himself no longer at the peak of fighting perfection he returns his equipment, resigns from his watch and, clad in hooded black robes, set’s off into the galaxy to act as a watchman, spying out any threats to the Emperor and sending word back to his former brothers. It’s a powerful image; a hooded giant, face almost hidden, watching from the shadows with his retinue of agents gathered around him, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t inspire a few Inq28 warbands.

Vertus Praetors

Now in the Imperium’s darkest hour the custodes are unleashed. With a loyalist primarch back in the fight, a new, more pro-active Captain-General at the helm and an attack by Khornate daemons at the very gates of the Imperial Palace to goad them into action, they begin to strike out into the galaxy at large. Cue much back-patting at GW HQ as they finally have the excuse to make the range of models they know we’re always wanted.

It would have been all too easy to make these golden armoured supermen into two-dimensional goodies but, perhaps learning from the accusations fired at the Stormcast Eternals, the writers have done a good job of describing a well rounded and distinctly human force. The custodes may have grown in stature, prowess and intellect above the common man but their flaws have grown with them and this keeps them rooted firmly in the 41st Millennium. Of course with the Sol system under threat from several directions one cannot help but wonder if the final battle might not be close at hand. Is it the wisest move on the part of the custodes to be abandoning their posts and going in search of battle at the precise moment that the battle they have long prepared for is finally coming to them? Perhaps not, but have pity on the Golden Legion as they attempt to find the right path through the pitiless horror of the 41st Millennium. They’re only human after all.

All artwork is copyright Games Workshop and is used without permission.