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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.

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!

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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.


Sick And Twisted

So, hands up anyone who didn’t see this coming? After the release of the Thousand Sons was followed by a wave of Tzeentchian daemons it seemed inevitable that the Death Guard would soon be bolstered by a warp-spawned horde of Nurgle’s own. Time to roll up our sleeves and wallow in the filth once more!

Great Unclean One

Great Unclean One

If a wave of Nurgle daemons was inevitable then the rotund form of the Great Unclean One at the head of the cavalcade was even more so. For what seemed like an eternity people were crying out for plastic kits for the greater daemons and even now it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long to get them. As each has emerged however they’ve proved their worth. First we had the Bloodthirster, then the Lord of Change, and now the hulking Great Unclean One (and let us not forget the Verminlord, a greater daemon in all but name and a model which often stands in for a rather butch Keeper of Secrets until Slaanesh finally gets his hour).

GreatUncleanOne

In many ways the new Great Unclean One finds itself facing a more critical reception than it’s predecessors amongst the pantheon of greater daemons. Unlike, for example, the Bloodthirster – which had a reputation for ugliness that the incoming plastic model found all too easy to dismiss – the outgoing Great Unclean One was fairly well loved. Furthermore the Forge World version has a well deserved reputation and together they cast a long shadow into which the new model must step. No longer are plastic greater daemons the stuff of feverish wish-listing and the wild claims of the more hyperbolic corners of the internet. No longer is it enough for a plastic Great Unclean One to simply be, now it has to be good to boot.

Luckily the model that has emerged is downright spectacular and Nurgle fans everywhere can breathe a fetid sigh of relief.

GreatUncleanTwo

There’s nothing fancy here, nothing unexpected. It’s a conservative model that owes a lot to its forerunners, both from the Games Workshop and Forgeworld stables. Hell it’s pretty much lifted straight from the cover of The Lost and the Damned – which is exactly how it should be. Best new model of 2018? The bar has already been set high!

Great Unclean One Face

As ever with Nurgle there are plenty of little Nurglings along for the ride, and the six which accompany the Great Unclean One are a real treat. Indeed it’s hard to pick a favourite, between the warrior nurgling, the fly-faced wizard nurgling and the ever-so-casual reclining-on-a-roll-of-fat-nurgling, but special credit has to go to this little guy who’s in the process of being squashed flat.

Splat

And for those wondering exactly where the poor little chap has been placed on the studio model look no further. What a hideous way to go!

GreatUncleanBum

Given his presence in previous codices and army books, and his starring role in the novel Dark Imperium as a morbid, moping architect of the plague wars in Ultramar, one might have expected to see Ku’gath the Plaguefather appearing as a special character. Ku’gath however has always seemed like something of a mouthful for GW to produce, as if a normal Great Unclean One wasn’t big enough Ku’gath comes mounted on a swaying palanquin, and carries a whole laboratory around with him. Not that GW have balked at creating envelope-pushing models before but as a special character Ku’gath was always going to be an expensive proposition with limited appeal. Whilst the more enthusiastic Nurgle fans will be picking up three Great Unclean Ones to create the full suite of these monsters even the most fervent of the plague-god’s servants would buy only one Ku’gath. Who knows if the sorrowful chap will re-emerge someday down the line, as Skarbrand did in the wake of the Bloodthirster release? If not however there are plenty of talented people out there ready and willing to summon him and with the right mixture of plasticard, greenstuff and the new Great Unclean One kit I expect to see him bursting back out of the warp in no-time flat.

So instead of Ku’gath we get Rotigus Rainfather, styled as a wizard with a gnarled staff and outstretched casting hand. Sadly Rotigus falls a little short in comparison to the standard Great Unclean One. That’s not to say he’s bad, far from it, just that the Great Unclean One is so perfectly formed that any attempt to add flourish comes off as slightly superfluous.

Rotigus

Whilst the normal Great Unclean One manages a suitably horrifying expression by dint of gurning alone Rotigus vomits maggots as well. And whilst maggot spewing is suitably horrible, and well in keeping with Nurgle, alongside all the guts, sores, lesions and other details – each of which is wonderfully ugly in its own right – it just gets a little lost.

Meanwhile his hand, beyond the standard issue fingers and thumbs that most of us have, comes with a mane of seven tentacles and a hideous part-flayed face. Whilst I’m usually in favour of a bit of extraneous mutation on my chaos followers this seems a little excessive even for me. The face especially seems like a missed opportunity because it’s actually more viscerally horrifying and attention focussing that the one on Rotigus’ head. Surely having designed such an excellent looking visage they could have found a better way to include it in the kit, even as only another alternative head, and just give Rotigus a normal hand? Indeed a look at the sprue suggests that, so long as one doesn’t mind a little cutting and probably a smidgen of greenstuff, it shouldn’t be impossible to do just that for hobbiests with at least an intermediate level of experience. The ingredients are good but in their desperation to make their special character more special GW have overcooked them and the result is a little too rich for my taste. Never has the expression *facepalm* been more appropriate.

Ultimately Rotigus isn’t a bad model but given that he’ll always be in direct comparison to the standard Great Unclean One he falls short. Goes to show you can’t improve on perfection!

Great Unclean One Face (2)

Horticulous Slimux

The concept of Nurgle as a cultivator has long been established in the background; his realm is a garden, his tender hand nurturing the fragile seedlings of plagues until they are hardy enough to be unleashed upon the galaxy. Lately the concept has been expanded onto the miniatures themselves, for example through the tree-like growths sprouting from the plague marines. Now we get to see Nurgle’s personal gardener, the Grand Cultivator Horticulous Slimux – and what a deeply flawed model it is.

Horticulous Slimux

First appearing as an exclusive to the Blightwar boxset Horticulous Slimux’s stand-alone release, and introduction to the 41st Millennium, is a matter of dubious excitement at best. On the one hand more characters and creativity can only be a good thing, on the other he’s just downright ugly.

HorticulusSlimux03

The gormless expression on Horticulous’ face, the bone pipe clamped in his mouth, the plough tilling the rotten earth behind him, the gnarled branch rising overhead; it could all add up to a wonderfully quirky and dark model, if it wasn’t ruined by all the silly touches – especially on his steed, Mulch – that make him look like an escapee from children’s TV. A few of these quirky elements (the gardening sheers as weapons, the dangling Nurgling used to coax the beast into movement like a carrot hanging just out of reach in from of a donkey) would work well enough, but the daft expression of Mulsh’s face is too Disney for my taste. That said he could be fixed – snip off the dropping moustache and leave off the eyestalks however and who knows, what at first appears to be an abomination might just be salvageable.

Mulsh

Sloppity Bilepiper

Whilst Slimux is a little too silly for my taste there’s nothing to criticise about the sheer mad brilliance of the Sloppity Bilepiper.

Sloppity Bilepiper 01

Perhaps one of the most striking things about the model is the sense of dynamic movement that it contains. In general dancing hasn’t been Nurgle’s forte – Khorne may charge, Slaanesh pounce and Tzeentch sail through the air on winged disks but Nurgle has made an art form of trudging. Whilst the other gods have speed on their side the followers of Nurgle prefer an inexorable advance, slow and steady as Aesop’s tortoise, and equally unyielding under fire. To see one of the plague god’s daemons boogying with the best of them is mould breaking, but also serves to redefine the rest of the range.

Nurgle loves a party. He’s the god of life and death and though the latter aspect has often been the focus when it comes to the models, with sloughing flesh, weeping sores and spilled guts everywhere, with the Bilepiper we get to see the other side of things. Here is a model which encapsulates the core message of Nurgle’s worshippers – today we celebrate for tomorrow it will be too late. They party like there’s no tomorrow and one glance at the diseases they play host to suggests there probably isn’t.

Lesser companies often make the mistake of trying to make every model in a range “dynamic” until a collection looks less like an army and more like a nightclub in which everyone has suddenly become subject to an especially unpleasant palsy. There’s much to be said for a restrained look, leaving the particularly vigorous poses for those who really need it (Eldar Harlequins for instance) and letting other races show they can fight without needing to perform a dance-off. It would be easy to make Nurgle the party-god, a rotten Bacchus with a host of capering followers, yet by restraining themselves to just one GW neatly brings a sense of fun to the range without diluting the grimmer aspects.

Sloppity Bilepiper 02

Much childish – if well deserved – humour has been made of the silly naming conventions GW has been employing in recent years. Given the similarity of some of these names it can be tricky for the likes of me to remember what’s a Lord of Blights and what’s a Lord of Plagues. The Sloppity Bilepiper however may just be the one that sticks in my head. It may well be the silliest of the recent names but it’s also probably the most forgivable, and the most memorable. Of course GW could have saved everyone a lot of hassle by shortening a lot of their recent names (a squad of Blightkings rather than Putrid Blightkings, a Plaguecaster rather than a Malignant Plaguecaster) and likewise this chap would have managed just as well as a simple Bilepiper – but one look at his goofy, joyful face and I can excuse him being a little Sloppity as well.

Spoilpox Scrivener

Nurgle is a god of extremes, a deity who exists in a world of contrasts and opposites. Not for nothing is he known as the God of Life and Death, for his world is one of constant growth, decay and rebirth, his servants the maggots and fungus that feed upon festering flesh and the diseases that rage with fresh life whilst devouring living flesh and spreading death in their wake. Likewise his daemons tend towards either joy or melancholy and whilst the Sloppity Bilepiper has found himself possessed of unplanned levity following his infection by the chortling murrain the Spoilpox Scrivener has a job to do, and no time for silliness or unproductive capering.

Spoilpox Scrivener

Of all the chaos gods it’s Nurgle who is allowed the chance to be funny. One cannot really picture Khorne or Slaanesh doing jokes and even Tzeentch, with his hosts of silly-looking horrors, is simply too weird and labyrinthine to be humorous. Nurgle however gets to be funny, indeed he needs to be funny to prevent him from simply being gross. Nurgle comes to the table with everything to lose; his followers are filthy and sickly, covered head to festering toe in boils, sores and weeping wounds. It’s enough to turn even the hardiest painter’s stomach. Whilst his brothers are, respectively, lean and sexy, muscular and macho or weird and magical, poor old Nurgle sends a smelly corpse with an abscess for a face and still expects to win the hearts and minds (not to mention wallets) of the miniature buying public. How does he manage it so consistently? By throwing in a little humour, by adding an element of comedy relief to balance out the grossness. The Sloppity Bilepiper plays this to a T but, with his caricatured seriousness, the Spoilpox Scrivener pulls it off with equal aplomb. I may have thought at first glance that he had a giant squig perched like a parrot on his shoulder but his outsize mouth brings more than a touch of wit and absurdity to the model. Whilst any other creature would baulk at the idea of storing valuable scrolls in their own bowels it makes perfect sense for one of Nurgle’s host – and whilst he pompously records details of the battle on his giant scroll a cheeky nurgling is eating the other end of it. All in all he’s a self-important jobsworth with a big mouth, and who hasn’t worked with one or two of them in our lives? His frowning, grumpy face makes for a neat contrast with the levity of the Bilepiper to the extent that the two models are really crying out to be placed together, one shuddering with passive-aggressive rage as he attempts to focus on his impossible task whilst the other capers carelessly around him.

Spoilpox

Yet whilst the Scrivener appears at first to be an utterly humourless git there are a few clues that he’s got more life in him than meets the eye. His quill for example is clearly plucked from the tail of a Lord of Change proving that even this dour bureaucrat finds time to direct a little cheek towards Nurgle’s old enemy Tzeentch.

Lord of Blights

Recently it’s become something of a cliché to praise GW for their creativity and willingness to embrace new ideas. It seems the days have now passed in which each release was a lot like the last, power armour ruled and new models harked back only to the less outrageous ideas of the early years. The Bilepiper and Spoilpox Scrivener both recall Rackham at its height and though I’m less than impressed with Horticulous I can’t fault the inventiveness behind him. Alas however before we get too full of praise for this bold, imaginative new incarnation of Games Workshop, there’s the Lord of Blights to look at.

Lord of Blights 01

Back when the Nurgle Lord (now called a Lord of Plagues) was released it became an instant classic. Painters loved it whilst to dedicated convertors it became a staple, a model that pretty much everyone who’s ever turned their hand to converting has tackled to a greater or lesser degree. Naturally GW must have been desperate to recreate its success and with the Blightkings they turned it from a single hero to a whole squad of equally impressive models, whilst Gutrot Spume took the static, no-frills lord and reinvented him as a dynamic character. There comes a point however when even the fattest cash cow starts to run out of milk.

There were lots of options for GW when they decided to add another mortal hero to fight for Nurgle in the Age of Sigmar. They could have gone for some kind of shaman or sorcerer in matted robes. They might have made a once-noble knight in rusting armour, a bestial pestigor champion, a crazed doctor or the demented ringmaster from Nurgle’s caravan. What about a priest of decay, a maggot tamer, a skeletally thin harbinger of famine or a bloated ogre, vast bulk struggling to contain the decay within? Given the wars that have raged in the Realm of Life between the Rotbringers and the Sylvaneth perhaps a corrupted branchwraith would have been appropriate. Disease affects all living things so here was a chance to show what happens when Nurgle’s ailments are contracted by someone other than a well-built male barbarian. We could have seen a sickly elf, twisted with bitterness as his immortality became a curse. We could have had a disease ravaged dwarf in a rust-caked suit of armour, great vats of toxin on his hunched back whilst intestinal pipes, throbbing with peristaltic action, spew jets of filth ahead of him? We could even have had a woman. Of course Nurgle isn’t all that interested in high heels and boob-armour but this is an age of equal opportunities and girls can worship an unglamorous god of disease and putrefaction just as well as boys.

But no, they decided to release a slightly tweaked version of the Nurgle Lord instead.

Lord of Blights 02

Talk about a disappointment. Having stuck to the tried-and-tested with the Great Unclean One now was the time to let their hair down and do something creative, and they dropped the ball spectacularly. There’s nothing new here, nothing note-worthy. It’s the model that’s famed for being converted by everyone, and GW’s converted it themselves. It’s not that it’s particularly bad – in fact it’s pretty good all things considered. However the mark of Nurgle made out of maggots is a bit half-arsed, the gallows is a good idea amateurishly executed, the head and helmet are nice, and pretty much everything else could have been put together by even the most inexperienced of kitbashers. Needless to say if the Nurgle Lord hadn’t been released all those years ago I’d be jumping up and down with excitement over this, but it was so I’m not. With this one GW have failed entirely to match their own standards and in doing so have let both themselves and their fans down. Next!

Pusgoyle Blightlords

Not that being obvious is always a bad thing. When the World Eaters see a full scale release it seems fair to assume that we’ll see new berserkers (in both power-armour and terminator armour), the primarch Angron and champions riding on juggernaughts. All obvious choices (hence my guess that this is what we’ll see) but none of them bad. Indeed many people would be disappointed if we don’t see those models in the final release.

Likewise the pusgoyle blightlords. Given the well deserved popularity of the blightkings returning to them was a natural decision on GW’s part and the pusgoyles do it in style. Whilst the Lord of Blights is simply a half-baked remodelling of its predecessor the Nurgle Lord, the pusgoyles take the blightkings and add something which is both in keeping with its forerunner and a natural evolution of it. What does one give to a champion of Nurgle prior to his ascension to daemonhood? Why a huge fly to ride around on of course! What does one give to a fan of Nurgle looking to add flare to their collection? How about a whole heap of useful bits (weapons, heads, handy mutations). It’s just a pity the price tag is so high or this would be a must-have for everyone with a Nurgle collection just for the bits. Of course one would tend to assume that a blightking would outrank a blightlord – so much for forward thinking eh GW?

Pusgoyle Blightlords 1

If I have one major query about the pusgoyles it’s what on earth GW were thinking giving the riders such impressively erect horns between their legs? Has the design studio become so po-faced that no-one was caught giggling at these rather Slaaneshi protuberances? Did the Alpha Legion agent behind the infamous “farting  sorcerer” of the Thousand Sons strike again? This one is the worst of all – stop it man you’ll go blind!

Pusgoyle 1

Already some of the finest minds of the 40k converting community will be focussed on the question of how to translate these to the 41st Millennium with alternative bloat-drones, plague-drones or death guard champions on winged mounts all natural possibilities. Or what about using them as the basis of a Nurgle heldrake – or even a daemon prince?

Nurgle Daemon Prince Convert Or Die

The remaining bits can then be scattered around Death Guard champions, sorcerers and so on to show the extent of Nurgle’s favour. For a unique looking Death Guard or other Nurgle collection this has the makings of a goldmine.

Pusgoyle Blightlords 2

Beasts of Nurgle

The followers of Nurgle tend to the extremes when it comes to mood. Whilst Khorne’s legions are angry to a man those of the Plague God lean either towards the gloomy (Plaguebearers especially) or the jolly (Great Unclean Ones and Nurglings). No-one, however, is as happy as a Beast of Nurgle – an overexcited puppy in the bulky body of a mutant slug.

Beast of Nurgle

The new kit plays this sense of joy and energy perfectly, and nowhere better than with the tongue-lolling, bug-eyed faces.

Beasts of Nurgle Faces

Traditionally the Beasts of Nurgle have been described as boisterous, puppy-like creatures, joyfully seeking new friends amongst their horrified enemies. The outgoing beast however never seemed particularly friendly or happy, looking instead like a slightly sour-faced slug. Of course one could argue that this is more a case of its alien physiology but I would disagree. The daemons of chaos are formed from the gestalt reflection of human emotion. The new beast may have cartoon-like qualities but I put that down to an exaggeration of human qualities, a distorted reflection of ourselves. The old beast on the other hand would still make a good chaos spawn of Nurgle.

Old Beast of Nurgle

According to the background fiction Beasts of Nurgle become bitter  after finding themselves repeatedly rejected by their mortal playmates (who tend to react with unbridled horror at the prospect of a slug weighing several tonnes jumping up to lick their faces). Returning to Nurgle’s garden they sulk, eventually transforming into rot-flies.

A great idea but there’s no sign on either model to suggest a link. Don’t get me wrong – the beasts look awesome, the rot-flies look awesome, but there’s nothing to suggest that one develops into the other. Of course I’m aware that fly larva look nothing like adult flies (my day job involves peering through a microscope at hundreds of the little buggers) and that in the shifting, dreamlike world of the Warp intention and metaphor are worth more than physics and biology. Nonetheless here was an opportunity – particularly with the tweaking of the rot-fly design for the pusgoyles and the considerable overhaul of the Beasts – to play to that particular aspect of the background and tie the two together and GW missed it.

Beast of Nurgle 2

Having watched the reaction of the fans in several places online the response seems to have echoed the life-cycle of the beasts themselves. Initially exuberant when pictures of the Beasts began to circulate the fans became rancorous and dejected when they discovered that their money bought only a single model rather than a squad. That said few of the fans have so far turned into rot-flies, although some have a similar degree of personal hygiene. As for the debate over the cost of the beast I think it’s best avoided here but suffice to say that this isn’t a small model by any means and, rightly or wrongly, anyone who expects to get a model of this size from GW for a lower price is thinking very wishfully indeed.

Certainly some aspects of the model could have been improved to make it more customisable. For example although there are plenty of options (four stomachs, two crests, a choice of paws, various heads and so on) the overall pose is repeated. The raised paw is a clever touch on a lone miniature, reminiscent of a dog taught to shake hands or someone giving a high-five. GW however probably intends for these to be used in squads, at which point the raised paw becomes a problem, unless you’re planning to model daemonic version of a Mexican wave. That said whoever posed this group shot so that the Beast appears to be grabbing his boss’ arse is a hero of mine.

Nurgle Group

Sadly a look at the sprue suggests that changing the position of the raised arm without greenstuff won’t be easy. Sadly this rather undermines what would otherwise be another stand-out kit although not so much as to put me off the model entirely, it has too many good qualities to let a little thing like that come between us. Ultimately the Beast loves you in spite of your flaws – and I love it back.

Beast of Nurgle Face

Feculent Gnarlmaw

Now this is exciting. I may not own much terrain (something I’m determined once again to rectify this year – but as with previous years may very well not) but I’m still a big fan of it. At its heart the hobby that we all participate in is about participation in the worlds that Games Workshop (or others) have created, be that the war-torn galaxy of the 41st Millennium, the Mortal Realms, the Old World of Warhammer, or wherever. When it comes to playing games there are better experiences out there, more tactically challenging and vividly rendered, just waiting to be unlocked by anyone with access to a half-way decent computer. You can’t beat miniatures with pixels though and the worlds that GW have created breath best when we add terrain and let them come alive. Why pour hours into painting a beautiful army only for it to battle over the bare wood of the dining room table? Yet building terrain often plays second fiddle to collecting armies. Lately GW have been churning out some downright beautiful kits to make this kind of world building easier and easier, yet unless you’re planning a war based in the ruins of an Imperial city there’s still a gap to be filled. The appeal of 40k and the Mortal Realms alike hinges on their potential for variety, so where are the terrain kits for daemonworlds, tyranid infestations, ork strongholds, eldar craftworlds and so on (to be fair there is the tau tidewall but I almost forgot about it – blame my prejudice against the fish-faced do-gooders). At last however, with the release of the feculent gnarlmaw you can own a little slice of the Garden of Nurgle for yourself.

Feculent Gnarlmaw

Years ago, when the most recent beastmen army book was released for Warhammer, a rumour did the rounds that, as part of the release we’d see a treeman, bloated and corrupted by the power of Nurgle. Then as now there was a section of the online community which treated such claims as fact, and heaped withering scorn upon the doubters, right up to the point at which the story proved false. In the end the only tainted treeman to emerge from GW was not a new kit but this (still rather excellent) terrain piece featured in White Dwarf.

Hag Tree

And I’m not suggesting that GW steal all their ideas from me – but it does go to show that life is always better with a pestilent tree for a friend…

Tree of Nurgle Convert Or Die

Time however sometimes dredges a good idea back from the grave. Perhaps someone at GW spotted of what proved to be an inspired piece of wishlisting and the idea took root (boom boom). Perhaps great minds simply thought alike. Regardless we have a hideous daemon tree ready to make all kinds of landscapes a little more ghastly and unearthly. Of course I’ll be using the skulls pack GW released last year to fill the tree’s mouth with skulls rather than maggots – after all I look at maggots all day at work whilst the worlds of the 41st millennium can never contain too many skulls.

Those Who’re Left Behind

In spite of all the good things packed into this release – and with exception of a few bum-notes it’s been crammed with quality – there’s still a lot of things missing that I expected to see. Ku’gath has already been mentioned but what about Epidermus, the special-character herald of the plague-god who surely deserved a new model? With the Death Guard release seeing a new Typhus, the Tzeentchian daemons a new Changling, the Thousand Sons a new Ahriman and so on, a new model for the tallyman seemed inevitable, until of course it failed to appear. What about a palanquin, Nurgle’s iconic steed? Surely leaving them out entirely is like working on Tzeentch without disks or Khorne without juggernauts. Meanwhile anyone who examined the newest edition of the 40k rulebook closely found so many mentions of pestigors alongside the Death Guard that they felt certain the plague-ridden beastmen would soon be amongst us, yet here a second wave of Nurgley models has swept onto our painting desks and gaming tables and not a single rot-infested goat has emerged.

Epidemius

One wonders if there might be a second wave of the Plague God’s followers lurking in the wings, ready to be unleashed as part of another expansion further down the line? After all fans of Nurgle have been extraordinarily blessed over recent months but GW must be wary of over-saturating their market, leaving Nurgle-lovers overwhelmed and Nurgle-haters left out in the cold. Rather than drowning us all in a tidal wave of filth, exciting though that might sound to some of us, a more considered approach pays dividends in the long run. Furthermore a lot of the aforementioned releases would seem like obvious choices, but that would have left little room in the release schedule for some of the more creative options such as the Gnarlmaw or the Bilepiper.

Maybe I’m setting myself up with false hope but one cannot help but wonder if Ku’gath and his servants have been banished only temporarily to the Warp and wait to be let loose in a year or so’s time. I’d like to claim that this gives me plenty of time to get my desk cleared of part-painted models in anticipation but, especially in the wake of a release as rich as this one, that really is setting myself up with false hope.

As ever with these reviews if a picture isn’t of one of my miniatures, or clearly labelled otherwise, it’s property of Games Workshop and used without permission. Think of me as the Sloppity Bilepiper to GW’s legal Scriveners!


For Those About To Rot

As if the Thousand Son’s release last autumn wasn’t exciting enough the Death Guard are here, a fully realised Chaos Legion as distinct – indeed arguably even more so – from the Chaos Space Marines as the Space Wolves are from the Space Marines. This is something that we Chaos fans have been banging on about wanting to see pretty much forever so there’s no way I was going to let the occasion pass without comment. Let the suffering of the False Emperor’s servants begin!

Nurgle 2

Needless to say this release has been hotly anticipated not just since GW teased us with shots of the Sons of Barbarus back in the spring, nor even since we saw the Thousand Sons last autumn, but pretty much as far back as there have been chaos fans who looked at the love and attention GW lavished on their loyalist cousins and dared to dream. Let’s not forget after all that the first ever codex to be released covered the Space Wolves, yet for a very long time it seemed that even to hope for the same treatment for the traitors was to imagine the ridiculous. To even suggest that such a thing might some day be possible was to invite ridicule with many chaos fans, as stubborn and bitter as the legionaries they unleash on the tabletop, insistent that GW would never indulge us as they have the Emperor’s pampered lapdogs.

Unsurprisingly then this release has also been hotly debated. We’ve been waiting for it for so long that expectation management has gone out of the window. Everyone agrees that something foul has been unleashed upon the galaxy but the gloves are off when it comes to the question of whether that’s in a good way or not. Hobbyists are divided; is this mana from a particularly pestilent heaven or an affront to the eyes and an affront to the sensibilities? For some anything less than perfection will be an insult, for others the fact that GW has acknowledged our existence at all is justification for grovelling abasement. For those of you without a strong opinion on the subject, but who want to join in on the general bickering, I’m here to help. Simply pass off my thoughts as your own and hey presto – heated argument can be yours!Death Guard (1)One of the most popular criticisms levelled at the Death Guard is that they are too heavily mutated, that they should be more restrained, the dreadfulness of their disease ravished forms a subtle horror that creeps up on the viewer as the model is explored rather that leaping at them bombastically from the moment you open the box. It’s a complaint I can certainly sympathise with, although I enjoy a good mutation myself my vision of the 41st Millennium also calls for a degree of nuance and realism.

Part of the problem, as ever, are the studio paint jobs. With almost every release from GW you hear the same refrain (and I’ll confess I’m as guilty of this as the rest of us). “I don’t like it”, we cry, “it looks too cartoony!” Then we see the bare plastic, or a version painted in a suitably grubby, gritty, Blanchian style and suddenly we realise it’s not so bad after all. The Death Guard encapsulate this to a T – and we shouldn’t blame GW for that, their hands were tied on this from the beginning.

At the end of the day the Citadel house style is all about making the models look bright and sharp, having them pop out at a distance, and not about making them look too real. This is particularly true with Nurgle – these models are thick with open sores and weeping wounds, spilled guts hanging from rotting flesh, fly-like mutations and crawling maggots. Paint these bad boys as too realistic and people will be loosing their lunches left, right and centre. Certainly that kid who’s trying to convince his mum to put some Blightlord’s on her credit card is going to be out of luck if the outside of the box looks like a still from a particularly gruesome slasher flick.Blight Lord TerminatorWe’re also familiar with Plague Marines of a less mutated stripe than we’re seeing now. We’ve been sticking horns and spikes onto loyalist space marines and greenstuffing on guts to create our own Plague Marines that we’ve become used to it. Now when we see a bunch of hideous mutants shambling towards us with murder in mind we react with horror rather than embracing them as we should. Yet our situation hasn’t really changed, it’s just reversed. Whereas once we had to stick extra mutations on to our models now we need to snip them off but the result is the same, if you don’t like the models that come in the box then change them. Nothing will ever be good enough to please everyone after all.

Many dislike the level of mutation on the new models, accusing them of being cluttered and defined by their horns, tentacles and other mutations. Personally I like my 40k models to be “blinged-up” but it really is a matter of taste. That said I’m pleased to see that most of them don’t have their guts hanging out – it’s a powerful look but the shock value of it has been reduced by the fact that for a while every Nurgle model was suffering from it.

Beneath the mutations however these models still owe a lot to the original Death Guard designs.

Plague Marine

Exciting though the new Death Guard are, we do not need to be passive consumers here, fat little baby birds glutted with new plastic toys but still begging hungrily for more from GW. The New GWTM prides itself on listening to the fans, but listening to the fans is a dangerous and soul destroying business akin of wading through a river of sewage. Visit any website where more than a handful of GW fans are gathered together and the complaining of the entitled becomes a deafening chorus. Yet why should we build our shrines to the GW cargo cult and wait for the gods in Nottingham to deliver us a bounty only to moan that the sculpts we receive have too many tentacles (or not enough)? No-one was asking for Sky-dwarves or crying out for an expanded range of treemen whilst Sisters of Battle fans continue to pour their rage into the uncaring void and receive nothing.

Our hobby is one of craftspeople and it is at its best when we embrace that. If you love the new Death Guard get them painted. If you hate them make them better. If you want to see Chaos developed to the level and depth which it deserves get on and develop it. We don’t need to sit in a passive aggressive-sulk waiting for GW to see fit to provide us with a fully realised suite of plastic models for the Iron Warriors or an Alpha Legion codex – we are Chaos fans and born convertors. Our hobby lives and breaths through the efforts of those who push the envelope, who refuse to accept what they have been given by GW but strive to make it better, to fit it to their own vision. Without such creatives it would wither and become stale and be swept aside by newer, flashier pastimes (and now you know why I chose to name this blog the way I did).

ghisguth-the-reaper-nurgle-lord-convert-or-die-4

It’s this that makes events like #MakeTheDeathGuardGreatAgain so exciting to me. Now without wishing to open up a political debate or imply criticism of any politicians or their voters, the phrase “Make (insert cause here) Great Again” has been used by such massive arseholes lately that it’s now so toxic even Mortarion won’t touch it. Truthfully just that hashtag was enough to put me off the whole idea at first, especially as I think the new Death Guard are pretty damn great to begin with. However once I got over that I actually got pretty excited about the idea.

Plus, as I’ve noted above, I love a grittier, darker, more honest version of the 41st Millennium than the somewhat over-the-top style favoured by GW. Hopefully #MDGGA will bring out the Inq28/Blanchian creative streak which would lend so much to Mortarion’s sons and I highly recommend that anyone who’s dissatisfied with the new models (or even those like me who love them) get’s involved.

Malignant Plaguecaster Conversion Convert Or Die (4)

The Malignant Plaguecaster – a model simply crying out to be made great.

Another complaint levelled at the new Death Guard is the odd proportions of their torsos (the old rib-cage-fusing-straight-onto-the-pelvis ailment that marred pre-primaris space marines). Having suffered for my art and googled images of fat men I’m still unconvinced by this.

People will say “of course their proportions are odd, it’s Nurgle, they’re all mutated in there” but that’s a cop-out. The truth is their proportions are odd because they’re really fat. These are not the Primaris marines who have the chiselled torsos of Greek gods under that armour. The Death Guard may well be muscular but they carry a lot of weight with it.

Then we need to factor in the weight and thickness of power armour. After all this is the 41st Millennium where everything is outsized and over-engineered. Sci-fi which chooses to depict a shiny, hopeful future may provide its soldiers with formfitting, bullet deflecting body-armour which owes its life-saving properties to the wonders of technology but in the 40k universe such heresy is best left to filthy xenos like the Eldar. Humans, regardless of which gods they worship, know that the best way to make armour better is to make it thicker.

So is it really fair to claim that their proportions are wrong? Time to break out the artist’s dummies!Plague Marine Proportions

Well, I’m satisfied but, as a picture is worth a thousand words, you can make up your own mind.

Another complaint about the marines we saw released in the past was just how short they were – hardly the towering warrior giants described in the background. Thankfully GW seem have woken up to this glaring error at last. Seen next to a Primaris marine the new models remain suitably bulky and imposing.

Death Guard Convert Or Die (1)

And now we see why the defenders of the Cadian gate were so worried – there were fully armoured Chaos Marines in there that were actually taller than guardsmen!

Death Guard Convert Or Die (7)

Whilst old-fashioned space marines look more ridiculous than ever now that they’re surrounded by sensibly proportioned models.

Death Guard Convert Or Die (4)

Plus, I’m pleased to see that my old Blightking based Chosen fit rather well alongside the new Plague Marines and can look forward to being incorporated into the ranks of my new squads.

Death Guard Convert Or Die (3)

Ah, how our little family has grown!

Death Guard Convert Or Die (6)

This also seems like a good time to mention the Thousand Sons. Although not quite on the same scale as the Death Guard and the Primaris they come pretty close and, in spite of my inclination to rail at GW for the kind of fence-sitting that’s left the sons of Magnus looking a little short beside their brother legions, they’re close enough that a few spacers will save the day. Simply by blue-tacking this one together I’ve added enough height that he can meet a Primaris’s gaze.

Death Guard Convert Or Die (2)

And I could hardly move on without a power-armoured line up for those like me who like to see who’s tall and who’s not. Just keep in mind that the Thousand Son is a little longer in the neck than he will be once his head is glued in place.

Death Guard Convert Or Die (5)

One thing that’s slightly marred this release for me has been the number of extra releases tacked on, seeming only by way of spinning a little extra money for GW. Whilst the plague marines in Dark Imperium and First Strike were excellent, did we really need things like the Plague Brethren as well? Surely with so many plague marine champions already available (one in the Dark Imperium boxset, one in First Strike and one in the plague marine box itself), did we really need another one; particularly one that’s aimed straight at the completists and hobbyists on higher incomes? Nice though this model may it brings nothing to the release beyond a unique head and a humorous nurgling – the latter of which could be converted easily from a spare nurgling and leftover helmet, both things that Death Guard fans are likely to have lying around in abundance.

Plague Champion with Funky Nurgling

Plus, amazing though this banner is, surely it could have been added to the main plague marines kit rather than justifying a £15 price tag by itself?

I've Got Standards

Terminators

In the run-up to this release a betting man would have guessed that some kind of terminators would be present. The return of terminators dedicated to the individual gods has been at the top of many a wishlist for years, the Thousand Sons have the Scarab Occult and loyalists like the Blood Angels, Space Wolves and Dark Angels all have their own variants so something for Nurgle sounded like a safe bet. Those of us who were boldest (or most fanciful) even speculated that there might be some kind of duel kit, providing alternative heads and scythes so that one could build one’s Nurgle terminators as Mortarion’s elite Deathshroud. Two entirely separate kits though – that was a bounty we didn’t dare dream of.

Deathshroud

With the Death Guard terminators we actually get to see a nice microcosm of the knife edge path walked by a champion of the dark gods. The Deathshroud stand tall and proud. Their proportions are accurate, their mutations generally functional. Chaos has bloated them in strength and stature but they retain an appearance which implies autonomy of will. They look like humans, albeit humans which have been empowered by the very best that Chaos and the pre-heresy Imperium could offer. Look at a Deathshroud miniature and one sees a character and, by implication, a mind.

Not so the Blightlords. Their mutations are more severe and crippling. Their poses are hunched, their stance feral. Here are men who’ve been killing so long they’ve forgotten how to do anything else. The weapons and armour they carry on themselves are remnants, the collected scraps that hint at the kind of men they once were. These are not the accoutrements selected by a warrior to aid him in battle but the part-sloughed skin of a creature on the path to becoming something other. The Deathshroud are stationary, controlling an objective, letting the enemy come to them through the flesh-devouring toxic fog. Meanwhile the Blightlords are lunging forwards, desperate to bring the battle to their unfortunate victims. The suggestion is that these are warriors who have lost their way, their instincts becoming animalistic, their bodies mere puppets to Chaos. Whilst the Deathshroud appear to be on the path of champions with Princehood lying within their grasp, the Blightlords are each on the slippery slope to becoming spawn.

99120102074_DeathGuardBlightLordTerminators12

Look at this one for instance – he’s turning into a fly. He’s not going to be making any tactical decisions apart from how to get into the jam.

99120102074_DeathGuardBlightLordTerminators11

Typhus

The new incarnation of Typhus has certainly proved to be a divisive model, not least because of the lofty pedestal the old version was placed upon. Yet whilst the old model was contemplative the new one is anything but, showing the captain of the Terminus Est as a dynamic warleader urging his rotten troops onwards to victory. That said I’m not entirely sure I love the new pose, there’s something slightly over the top about it that recalls an anime character more than the brutal hostility of the 40k universe. Personally my inclination would be to build him with the pose adjusted, scythe held at his side as he scans the battlefield for his next victim, rather than the super-power-up pose GW have gone for.

Typhus (2)

That said this disappointment is tempered by the fact that he can be build without the ridiculous looking cloud of gas and flies venting from the destroyer hive. What’s more this one, clipped free of the trailing gas, would make for a fine sidekick/familiar/pet to a Nurgle character.

Typhus Flies

 In spite of these reservations, and the vigorous slagging that the model has received in some quarters, I’m actually rather fond of the new Typhus. Notwithstanding the radical difference in pose a lot of elements from the old model have been repeated in the new, from the head to this cheeky nurgling fishing around in his guts.

Typhus Nurgling

Indeed if one really wanted to one could recreate the old Typhus fairly easily  as the old model has been translated almost exactly into plastic as part of the Deathshroud set. In fact the designers probably had little choice but to amp up Typhus’ pose a little to make him stand out from Mortarion’s impressive new bodyguard.

Typhus Comparison

Please note, this isn’t a size comparison, old Typhus is dwarfed by the new Deathshroud.

Another nice thing about this release is the level of effort that’s been put into expanding the Death Guard as a legion. From being just plague marines, a colour scheme and some greenstuffed boils they’ve been rebuilt into an army packed with depth and character. Nowhere is this more apparent than the range of specialists that have been added to the army. By giving the Death Guard their own unique units in this way GW have moved the army out of the shadow of the legions and turned them into their own entity. No longer are they a Nurgle version of the space marines whereby one took the same base units and added furs for Space Wolves, hoods for Dark Angels and boils for Death Guard – and in the later instance renamed the Librarian as a Sorcerer and stuck some spikes on all the tanks. These guys have spent their time in the warp evolving, both in appearance and in organisation. Just as each loyalist chapter has become a separate entity from the codex adherent Space Marines so too have the Thousand Sons and Death Guard evolved away from being just another flavour of Chaos Space Marines. Nor is the Death Guard simply a copy of the Thousand Sons release – an event that seemed staggeringly generous at the time but which now almost seems miserly in comparison. It would have been easy enough for GW to turn out a similar package to that received by the sons of Magnus; a squad in power armour, some terminators, a character, a primarch and something to add flourish – hell, if they’d kept to the Thousand Sons framework exactly and given us pestigors in place of the tzaangors I’d have been happy enough. Instead, probably inspired by the popularity of Nurgle, they went above and beyond, choosing to release the Lords of the Plague Planet as a legion entire with a fleet of Nurgly vehicles and a cast of specialist individuals.

Of these one of my personal favourites is the Plague Surgeon, a lean, reaper-like figure who looms, ghastly and imposing, over the ranks of his brothers. Unlike the other Nurgle models, all of whom feature a distinct distended gut, the Plague Surgeon is a gaunt figure, tall and thin in a way that is both instantly befitting a servant of Nurgle and yet strikingly new in a range otherwise dominated by jolly fat men. Indeed the slender, slightly spiky look of the figure helps emphasise its grim bitterness, especially in comparison to the malevolent cheer of his allies. After all this was once an Apothecary, and one only need look at the rest of the Death Guard army to see how badly he failed in his duty.

Plague Surgeon

Sadly they can’t all be winners and the Foul Blightspawn, like the Plaguecaster from Dark Imperium, feels a bit like a grab bag of crazy ideas. In essence a miniature should represent a character doing something (locked in battle, standing guard, casting a spell, pointing out an interesting local attraction). The trouble with the Blightspawn is that he appears to be doing a bit of everything. He’s throwing a grenade, and he’s stepping forward to do so, but the implied lack of speed suggests he’s only chucking it a few feet away rather than lobbing it maliciously into a trench full of cowering guardsmen. Meanwhile he’s also filling another grenade from the noxious pump on his back but the fact that he’s not looking where he’s pouring suggests he’s about to slop the toxic gunk all over both himself and his nurgling sidekick. Luckily they’d both enjoy it but that’s hardly the point. In the end he should pick one thing and stick with it, rather than trying to do both at once, and this lack of co-ordination suggests a level of incompetence in the character portrayed. The nurgling itself is described as an optional component (although any convertor would tell you that every component is optional) but including an element in a kit and then telling people not to use it if they don’t like it seems a little redundant. Indeed, speaking personally I’d rather have a model that was concentrating on loading the grenade with gunk, assisted by his diminutive sidekick, rather than trying to multitask.

Foul Blightspawn

The cross-eyed appearance of the helmet doesn’t help and, cool and quirky though it is, it doesn’t fit with the model and adds another layer of oddness at a stage where less would very definitely have been more.

Blighty McBlightface

Blighty McBlightface Strikes Again!

Ultimately, the Blightspawn is just a bit too odd for me as is, although that could be fixed with some careful cutting to remove the head and replace it with something more restrained. Not that I don’t love his odd, horse-faced gasmask, I do. I just feel that it overeggs an already complex model, turning its gleefully grubby eccentricity into out and out zaniness. Perhaps it would look better on a terminator?

Biologus Putrifier

The Biologus Putrifier, on the other hand does weirdness with far more aplomb. Whilst the Blightspawn is muddled by its many quirky components the Putrifier is a model of greater maturity and co-ordination. The model may have lots of odd or impractical elements (if one is going into battle whilst carrying a large number of fragile glass vials perhaps attaching them to frail wooden wings on your back where they’re hard to reach may not be for the best) but because everything is kept to a single theme it works. Indeed, in spite of some stiff competition, this may actually be my favourite of the new Death Guard character models.

Tallyman

Whilst the other characters develops the Death Guard’s use of biological weapons the Tallyman stands in for the Dark Apostles of other Chaos factions and explores their relationship with their patron god. Combining Nurgle (and the Death Guard)’s love of order with a Chaos factions’ need for a priest class, the Tallyman counts and records every aspect of battle in an attempt to divine their noxious god’s will. It’s a very structured, some might even say scientific, approach to religion. Rather than just taking things on faith the Death Guard seek to further their understanding and force order onto the esoteric. After all a paranoid like Mortarion would never just accept an interpretation of Nurgle’s will unquestioningly, especially not if it is whispered to him by some treacherous warp entity. He’d want to get as much inside knowledge as he could so as to plan his campaigns appropriately.

Nurgly Shopping List

Furthermore the inclusion of the Tallymen helps to emphasise that the Death Guard remain a structured, co-ordinated Legion, not just a bunch of rampaging fanatics. Furthermore whilst the Plague Surgeon represents the outcome of leaving a morbidly obsessed Apothecary in the Warp for ten thousand years the Tallymen are something new, a result of the Death Guard’s evolution in Nurgle’s service rather than a holdover from their days fighting for the Emperor.

Scrying The Warp

So what’s next? With Mortarion and Magnus on the loose, plus their do-gooder brother holding the Imperium together, it seems like a fairly safe bet that over the next few years we’ll see Khorne and Slaanesh receiving the same treatment as Tzeentch and Nurgle with full army releases for the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children, and their respective primarchs to boot. It also seems like a sensible line of reasoning to assume that Imperial customers won’t be left out – no-one at the head of GW will be thinking “do we really need to open another goldmine? Surely we have enough money by now?” Imagine though if GW was brave enough to really pursue the possibilities, and plunge into the potential that the background offers. Could we ever live in a world where the likes of Lorgar or Perturabo bestride the tabletop, directing the fanatical priesthoods or massed heavy artillery of their (very different) legions?

Mortarion

As for the loyalists three chapters in particular have received a lot of attention in the past and it seems sensible to assume they will in the future; the Space Wolves, Dark Angels and Blood Angels. From GW’s point of view Leman Russ must look like a licence to print money (although the fact that they already sell a model called the Leman Russ is bound to be a source of confusion…). Indeed an older, wilder, wolfier Russ loping back out of the Eye of Terror after ten thousand years would contrast nicely with the clean shaven young Russ Forge World produced for the Heresy era. The Lion too just needs to wake up from his Rip Van Winkle style nap beneath the Rock and reignite his partnership with Guilliman from the Imperium Secundus days. Sanguinius of course is still rather dead but have no doubt, a money-man in Nottingham is thinking right now about how much cash could be made and some poor designer is trying to work out how it could be done without bringing all the nerd-rage in the world down on their heads. I may not particularly like having any loyalist primarchs back in action but now the jar has been opened it’s unlikely to be stoppered again soon although GW must be aware that something as extreme as Sanguinius would be a risky move and likely to alienate more fans than it attracts.

In the nearer future, if I was asked to guess, I’d put my money on seeing a Nurgle release for Age of Sigmar coming soon, mirroring that we saw for Tzeentch earlier in the year. The Blightwar boxset introduced the next phase in the story of the Mortal Realms as Nurgle takes over from Khorne as the main protagonist.

Already we’ve seen the arrival of this hideous model, a miniature so ugly that it’s crying out to be #Made Great Again (although given that I’m fairly short on funds at the moment I think I’ll restrain myself – buying an ugly model specifically because I think it’s ugly sounds counterintuitive even to me).

Damn Ugly

A further release seems likely, with sensible money being on a new Great Unclean One joining the pantheon of bigger, better Greater Daemons. Those who read my review of the Death Guard half of the Dark Imperium boxset may also recall that I predicted we’d see pestigors as part of this release (and so know not to trust me when it comes to predictions) but I still wonder if they might be forthcoming for AoS.

Anyway, having made my predictions (and prepared myself for the shame of their wild inaccuracy) I’ll wrap this post up before I write myself into a corner. Consider a pun about gutsy moves to have been made and if you have thoughts of your own the floor (or at least the comments box) is yours.

As ever if the pictures aren’t mine then I’ve pinched them off GW without asking. Don’t get on your high horse with me GW – you could have made the Thousand Sons bigger!


Dark Imperium – Nurgle

“Sickness, disease, plague and pox, suffering and the slow, living rot. Such wondrous gifts does Nurgle seek to bestow upon the unworthy human cattle of the Imperium. We are merely the vectors by which his virulent beneficence may be spread to the undeserving masses”

– Urgloth Rotheart, Plague Champion of the Death Guard.

+++

So, having cast my eye over the Space Marines in the Dark Imperium boxset, now we turn our attention to Mortarion’s sons, the plague infested legion of the Death Lord and the most devoted of Nurgle’s followers; the Death Guard. Move over loyalist scum – this is the real release that I’m excited about!

Nurgle Header

Lord of Contagion

Chaos worshipper’s being a fractious lot there was always going to need to be someone in charge who could stamp their authority on the Nurgly warriors in this boxset. Indeed, in a generous move on GW’s part, we get three of them. Of those three however it doesn’t take an expert to spot which one is in overall command. A hulking warrior-king glad in slab-like Terminator armour the Lord of Contagion stands out at a glance and will be both a staple of painting contests and an imposing presence on the tabletop for years to come. Expect to see this guy showing up at Golden Daemon a lot (don’t worry – as an entry, not a contestant!).

Lord of Contagion

In a recent interview sculptor Maxime Pastourel said he intended the model to be a 40k iteration of the Brian Nelson Nurgle Lord, justly regarded as a modern classic. However, in spite of some superficial similarities – they’re both champions of the Plague God with distended guts, pitted armour and outsized axes – there’s not a huge crossover between the two. The Nurgle Lord is a paragon of simplicity, without frills or fussy details. Its strength is its minimalism, without a single extraneous element. It’s this that makes it so popular with convertors, to the extent that it is often joked that everyone in the world has converted at least one.

The Lord of Contagion however is the exact opposite of this. It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most talented and dedicated making much of it as the basis for conversions, and it’s decked out with the kind of details that will have painters rejoicing and convertors tearing their hair in frustration. What it is however is an outstanding example of the sort of single figure plastic characters that GW excels at.

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Having said that I couldn’t help but stand it next to the leader of my Nurgle army, Ghisguth the Reaper. Once an impressive figure (in my eyes at least), poor Ghisguth now seems a little on the small side (a recurring theme throughout this release you may have noticed). Next to this rival his chances of remaining in charge for long look almost as poor as Theresa May’s (and the similarities don’t end there – just look at the scythe I’ve armed him with, you wouldn’t let him anywhere near a field of wheat either). Thus I find myself wondering about the potential of converting a new version of Ghisguth from the Lord of Contagion. It wouldn’t require any major changes to the new model, which is a relief as anything more than altering a few details looks to be hideously difficult. It’s also fair to say that I really like the original model so making any major alterations risks destroying the character of the piece that I loved to begin with. However, the one downside I see in the excellent HQ figures released in GW’s starter sets is that their popularity soon means one is bombarded with them – every greenskin army in the world contains this Ork warboss for example. By making at least some changes, I get around the problem of having the same centrepiece figure as everyone else – after all, it was a desire to own unique models that drew me to Chaos in the first place!

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The Lord of Contagion towers over his loyalist kin and looks more than capable of putting the Corpse-God’s servants in their place!

Noxious Blightbringer

Could this be my favourite model in the box? That would be a high honour, and the competition is stiff, but there’s no denying this is an impressive figure. There is a restrained horror to the model, the hideous diseases and weird mutations that presumably wrack it are hinted at, but never openly shown, which allows the imagination to glut itself on the possibilities. What vileness is concealed behind the heavy iron mask or sagging apron? Rather than just showing us the sculptors allow us to draw our own conclusions, a move which displays a real maturity on their part. Anyone can splatter greenstuffed guts around the place but in their moderation and self-discipline they have created a model of lasting impact and quality.

What’s more the bells that swing at the model’s sides, and most obviously the great sweep of bone above his head, give the Blightbringer a real elegance – not a word often associated with Nurgle but definitely applicable here. The bell itself has a genuine sense of weight, you can imagine it rocking slowly back and forth in time with the monstrous space marine’s trudging steps.

Noxious Blightbringer

Those wanting to add a second Blightbringer to their army could adjust the angle of the bell or, by carefully cutting away the mask, give the model a headswap. The bell itself would look magnificent mounted atop almost any Nurgle vehicle you can imagine (tanks, dreadnaughts, palanquins etc) or as a piece of terrain or objective marker.

The one element I don’t find particularly necessary are the maggots which crawl over the model’s pitted armour. What do they bring to it that wouldn’t exist without them? To my eye they look like a box ticking exercise, as though the model fell short on some supposed scale of disgustingness, and could be raised a few percentage points towards a preset repugnance threshold through the addition of a few wriggling larva. Take them away and the mind is drawn back to all that is hidden from view and all the revolting possibilities thus contained.

Malignant Plaguecaster

And then they went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like “Hey, we need an extra model, this one will do!” The poor old Malignant Plaguecaster has crawled from the Garden of Nurgle into a torrent of universal distain, cheap jokes and general abuse. There’s no denying that it’s a hard model to love, seemingly cobbled together from a grab bag of bad ideas into one disappointing whole. From the weird baby face to the silly-looking headgear, from the staff – apparently borrowed from the Sylvaneth – to the farty lump representing some kind of spell, it’s a mish-mash of failed ideas that somehow manages to be even worse than the sum of its parts.Malignant Plaguecaster (2)

Seen from the side the cape is revealed, another attempt to make this model flashier than it should have been. Clearly intended to echo the shape of a fly’s wings, and balance out the spell effect, it instead adds another dimension of mistakes to an already troubled miniature. Capes billowing out at head height are an effect that many sculptors have attempted over the years but none have succeeded at and this model was never going to be the place that it suddenly came into its own.Malignant Plaguecaster (1)

Overall then this is a model which would have benefited greatly from a more conservative approach. Rather than attempting to show off GW could simply have copied the old Forge World Nurgle sorcerer, creating a model which was both a highly customisable blank canvas for convertors and a striking miniature in its own right.

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The question that thousands of Nurgle fans across the globe are currently asking themselves is; can it be saved? Personally I’m fairly certain it can and intend to attempt just that, so check back over the next few weeks to see how I get on.

Plague Marines

Moving on to more instantly appealing models we have the Plague Marines. On the Nurgle side of the box these form the core of the set, the lynchpin around which the rest of the army is built. Nail this and any mistakes elsewhere can be forgiven, mess it up the whole release starts to look like a flop. Did they manage it? With Maxime Pastourel, the man who made the Plague Bones, as lead sculptor? Of course they managed it! After putting up with frankly less than impressive Plague Marines for years these are a revelation and a true joy to see at last.

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The sheer amount of detail that’s been packed into them is astounding. Each one is a character in his own right, hulking brutes festooned with elements that combine to instantly characterise them as the ten-thousand year old plague infested warriors they are. The only downside is that, much like the Chosen from the Dark Vengeance box, they look to be a real headache to convert – although far from impossible – but I’ve not given up hope that a multi-part kit is somewhere in our future. What is exciting is the way that some components have been re-used, meaning that – in a huge improvement on previous boxsets – even without making any adjustments every one of these Plague Marines is unique. Those wanting to take things further should look to the Putrid Blightkings, the ever reliable workhorse of Nurgle kits – some wonderfully disgusting conversions await!

Standing next to my old Plague Marines the new models look positively gigantic, although the blame for that lies with the shortness of the old models who barely reach the shoulder of the lowly cultists that serve them.

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Even my beloved (although as yet unfinished) ‘tall’ Plague Marines come up a little small next to these chaps, matching them in height but not in bulk.

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My converted Plague Terminators still have the edge in terms of size although there’s not a lot in it. Of course I’m still praying (in a suitably filthy and germ-infested fane!) for an official Plague Terminators kit, whilst at the same time worrying that it’ll make my lovingly converted models look as stunty as the finecast Plague Marines do next to their new plastic brothers. Ah the complex duality of being a Chaos fan!

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Of course having painted a second edition Plague Marine last week we can now take a look at a family photo charting the development of Nurgle’s followers down the years. The newcomers may be bigger and more impressive but they’re still models that recall their history from the spidery arms of their backpacks to the tips of their hooves.

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In spite of being considerably bigger than the previous incarnation of the Plague Marines however these models don’t quite match the Primaris marines for height, at least partly because they still lack the fully developed abdomen of their loyalist cousins. It’s not a major issue, the quality of the models is so high it’s easy to overlook and the bloated guts cover up most of the abdomen anyway, but it’s something GW will have to watch when they come to working on the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children (which given the long lead in time required to create these models probably happened long ago).

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On Sunday Games Workshop announced the first follow up release to bolster the contents of Dark Imperium. Alongside a new Captain and Librarian we see the new Space Marine Reivers who wear leering skull masks intended to inspire terror in their enemies. What was it Konrad Curze said about death being nothing compared to vindication? Don’t worry Konrad, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

More excitingly however we also saw new Plague Marines, each easily the equal of those included with Dark Imperium.New Plague Marines

 

What’s as yet unclear however is how many models will be included in these new boxsets. At the time of writing only three have been revealed and none of them look like this chap. Hopefully that means a multipart kit is still waiting for us over the coming months but as yet we have to wait and see.

More New Death Guard

Foetid Bloat-Drone

The biggest model in the entire set, and therefore one that was bound to grab attention, is the Foetid Bloat-Drone. Again this is an outstanding model, the fly icon on the carapace is an excellent touch whilst the three spiked-turbines – echoing the shape of Nurgle’s sigil – gives it an instantly striking and recognisable silhouette. It’s also a real chimera, combining elements of the organic and mechanical with considerable flair. Look over it and you’ll spot elements that suggest both buzzing insect and bloated, earth-grubbing mammal, drifting sea-creature and archaic machinery. In spite of this it remains a tightly co-ordinated model, without any unnecessary details, making it another example of the kind of blank canvas that convertors of all stripes will love. I’m already pondering how easy it would be to remove the spikes and horns and turn it back into whatever Mechanicum engine it originated as, before Nurgle started to mutate it (the fleshy belly would be a problem – but not an insurmountable one…). Those thinking even bigger might start to wonder how the front part of the model – from the fly icon forward, without the turbines, guns or trailing cables – would look as the head of a corrupted Knight.  Bloat Drone 4

Using something slightly more unusual as the vehicle kit was always going to be a gamble (people know where they stand with a dreadnaught and those who know what they like and like what they know may have raised an eyebrow at this) but they pulled it off with aplomb. By putting the weirdness front and centre have stamped their creativity very firmly on this set, whilst still remaining true to the Death Guard’s roots and providing the fans with plenty of “wish list” kits, the kind of thing we’ve been banging on about wanting to see for years all wrapped up in a single straightforward kit.

Of course the Bloat-drone is a plastic reinvention of Forge World’s classic Blight Drone (now known as a “Greater Blight Drone” – presumably to differentiate it further from the Bloat-drone). It’s something that GW have made use of many times before, using Forge World as a test bed for new ideas from the Trygon to Heresy-era Space Marine armour. Who knows, perhaps when they get around to a full World Eaters release we’ll see plastic Blood Slaughterers as well. A man can dream eh!

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It’s easy to wax lyrical over the qualities of the new GW but for Chaos fans there is a particular joy in this box. For how long have we been putting up with our ancient plague marine models and wishing, but never believing, that we might someday see Zombies or Blight Drones in plastic? Yet throughout most of that time extracting a single scrap of corrupted power armour from Citadel’s forges has been a particularly arduous exercise in pulling teeth. Now, after what’s felt like ten millennia of fighting over scraps and kitbashing loyalist models with bits of daemons, the Great Rift has torn reality from here to Nottingham and the models we’ve been crying out for have started to spill out.

Poxwalkers

For some time now Nurgle’s legions have been described marching to war preceded by a shambling host of infected corpses; the Plague Zombies. Spread by Typhus, the Death Guard’s most famous son after the Primarch himself, the infection reanimates the dead and sends them lurching towards their former allies in the sort of terrifying horde familiar to horror movie fans everywhere. In the most recent Chaos Marines codex these zombies could be created as an upgrade to chaos cultists, if Typhus himself was in play, but models were not forthcoming. Instead players converted their own, often mixing parts from the Imperial Guard range with the zombies from Warhammer’s Vampire Counts range – itself almost ten thousand years old. Until recently I was pondering making my own by applying greenstuff to Cadians – and then the Poxwalkers arrived and saved the day.

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Slightly more nuanced than simple zombies, these combine elements of Nurgle cultists and mutants with the living dead, leading one to surmise that – whilst some are undoubtedly unwilling victims of Nurgle’s afflictions – others have gleefully embraced their infections. Brilliantly they also include lots of visual references to the Plague Bearers, suggesting that their eventual fate is to become part of Nurgle’s daemonic legions.

Some, like this one, are simply brilliant little character sketches, packed with the kind of personality that we’re used to seeing from GW’s character models.

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This little chap just wants to be as cool and iconic as his big brother.

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Others seem faintly ridiculous, the various tentacles and appendages flailing around without any apparent common direction to suggest co-ordinated motion. Of course zombies are given to shambling awkwardly, no-one ever heard of a lithe or balletic zombie, but a unified direction at least is vital to creating a sense of threat. Many of the Poxwalkers appear to be looking right at you, plotting behind that rictus grin how to cross the distance between you and them as quickly as their rotting limbs will allow and mess you up as badly as fate has messed them up. This one however appears to be doing the hokey-cokey.

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A bit of snipping and slicing went a long way towards improving him though, taking away or adjusting those elements which deviated from the direction of the model’s gaze. The result, hopefully, is something with an appearance of singular purpose and threat.

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Meanwhile, this one is appears to be wearing some kind of chem-suit, presumably designed for use in the most hostile of environments, but still utterly wasted against Nurgle.Poxwalkers Convert Or Die (3)

The one thing I really dislike about this one is the gas tank swinging at his side, a feature which only serves to make the model look ungainly without bringing any positive benefits. Cue some more swift converting as the gas tank is snipped off and a new one added (taken from the Kharadron Overlords). Whilst I was about it I adjusted the positioning of the knife he’s carrying to make him a little more aggressive and a little less flailing.

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When I first saw the Poxwalkers this disparity between the models I loved and the ones that jarred with me left me dissatisfied by the whole set. However after I spotted this chap I started to rethink a little.

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Poxwalker – painted and converted by Nic from Mystarikum.

Painted by Nic over at the Mystarikum this is a rather grubbier Poxwalker than those produced by ‘Eavy Metal. It’s also, in my opinion, a rather more fitting look for them, the clean, sharp style preferred by ‘Eavy Metal doing no favours to these filthy walking corpses.

Those planning a Poxwalker horde over their own should also take a look at WilhelMiniatures. Wilhelm has toned his models down considerably in comparison to the exotically mutated originals, to create a set of nicely restrained zombies. Even if you want to keep the crazy mutations among your own ranks I’d still highly recommend following his progress – after all a bit of variety is a must in any zombie horde.

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Poxwalker by WilhelMiniatures.

Fresh Fevers

Back in March Games Workshop announced a forthcoming Death Guard release and, in spite of the many Nurgle worshipping models in the Dark Imperium boxset, it’s safe to say that this isn’t it. Various models shown in the video remain unaccounted for, this Plague Marine for example, which suggests a further release is still to come.

New Death Guard Incoming

Precisely what models will emerge alongside said release remains a topic of hot debate wherever fans of the Plague God are gathered together. Just as the Thousand Sons release included both Ahriman and the Primarch Magnus the Red so it seems likely that a new model for Typhus will appear alongside the Primarch Mortarion – a character widely referenced in recent 40k fiction. A multi-part Plague Marines box seems likely, Plague Terminators would be a safe bet and many people have pointed to the similarity between the grub-like monstrosities appearing alongside the Death Guard in recent artwork and hints shown in GW’s “Rumour Engine” promotional material. Of course a new model for the Great Unclean Ones would also be wonderful. Allow me, however, to suggest another contender for a forthcoming release. Alongside all the wonderful miniatures I’ve been pouring over in the last two posts the Dark Imperium box contains the full rulebook for Warhammer 40,000. Those with a copy handy should turn to pages 159 and 161 which detail, respectively, the forces engaged in the Plague Wars of Ultramar and the Fall of Cadia. Alongside the familiar Nurgle forces we find reference to Blight Towers – most likely a new name for the Plague Towers of Nurgle – and two Pestigor Legions.

Youngsters may be scratching their heads at this but older hands may remember that the beastmen of Chaos once contained four distinct breeds, one for each of the Gods. Slaangors served Slaanesh, Tzaangors Tzeentch, Bloodgors or Khorngors Khorne and Pestigors Nurgle. With the Tzaangors unexpectedly resurrected alongside the Silver Tower release and then gathered into the fold of the Thousand Sons Legion  it suddenly seems entirely possible that the Plague God’s cloven followers will soon join them, especially given their unexpected referencing in the fiction. Time to resurrect my Bloodgor conversions I think…

As for the Blight Towers this may simply be a reference to an old Epic model that’s continued to pop up in the background but, given that Plague Towers had rules in Apocalypse until very recently and that the Lord of Skulls demonstrates GW’s willingness to experiment with god-specific super heavy vehicles, it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that a new kit might be on its way for these as well. I’m not holding my breath for them mind you but if I was a betting man then the Pestigors would have my money.

Passing On The Infection

So now it’s over to you. Do you love the new models with an uncritical passion, or should I face the Emperor’s judgment for expressing such heretical views. Do you think I’m talking rot (boom boom!) or do you already have some pestilent models in the works? The comment’s box, as ever, is your stage and soapbox.

 

All images are either mine, credited to their respective creators or belong to Games Workshop. Let the galaxy burn!


Dark Imperium – The Marines

By now the eighth edition of Warhammer 40,000 has well and truly launched, with copies of the new Dark Imperium boxset falling into the grubby paws of hobbyists the world over and the internet groaning under the weight of unboxing videos and reviews. Some might go so far as to wonder if another one is really necessary but when has that ever stopped me before? Indeed this release is proving to be so seminal, and my resultant spiel so lengthy, that I’ll be splitting it over two posts. In the second half we’ll don our rebreathers, daub the mark of Nurgle on our foreheads and wallow in the Death Guard side of the box but for today let’s armour ourselves in faith and ceramite and tackle the models everyone’s been talking about; the Space Marines.

The Avenging Son

Much has already been made of this newest addition to the 40k back-story with the fan-base polarising between those who’re overjoyed at seeing progression in a stagnating universe and those who’d have preferred if those responsible had been drowned at birth. Pity the poor Games Workshop writer who must tread the fine line between the fanatical fans and the equally frothing outraged, especially when the former seems able to become the latter in a heartbeat if things don’t play out exactly as they’d have liked.

Whilst much sound and fury has been expended over the fiction however the models themselves have been almost universally praised, and rightly so. These are the towering, powerful warriors that have always been described in the background fiction, not the stunted figures that we’ve been forced to contend with on the table top.

Space Marine Intercessors

The meat of this release, on the Space Marine side of the box, are the Intercessors  and their plasma firing buddies the Hellblasters. Essentially these are Tactical Marines scaled up to the size they should have been to begin with. People may bang on about Cawl-pattern bolters and Mark X armour with subtly different trims but at the end of the day these are True-scale marines gift-wrapped in just enough fiction (of hotly debated quality) to avoid invalidating the existing range. Whether or not that proves to be a good move remains to be seen.

In many ways there’s not a whole lot to say about them, they’re Space Marines plain and simple, just  a bit bigger than we’re used to. This simplicity is their greatest strength however, allowing one to adorn them as much or as little as one wants to, to create the Space Marines you’ve always imagined. Even I, an avowed heretic, who’s struggled in the past to conjure much more than disinterest when it comes to the Emperor’s Finest (in spite of painting quite a few of them a couple of years ago) will admit to sketching out ideas for a new Chapter when I’m meant to be thinking about work.

It’s worth noting however that although these are essentially just up-scaled space marines there have been some subtle tweaks which create a much needed appearance of functionality. The squashed torsos of the old marines are gone replaced with a longer abdomen, providing the Space Marine with much needed storage space for all his internal organs, and a bit of extra height into the bargain. Not only does this mean the Primaris marines are taller, they look taller too – or to put it differently, the old marines not only suffered from being short they also had specific design features which made them look even shorter than they were.

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Making them bigger has also given the designers more space to work with, enough that they can expand on details which themselves add to the functional appearance of the armour. Take a look at the ribbed material which provides the suit’s flexibility and you’ll find there’s more of it, creating the impression that the wearer could actually move and fight at speed, without constantly having to struggle against the friction of scraping armour panels.

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A nice comparison shot of Space Marine bums – bet you didn’t think you’d be seeing that when you woke up this morning!

Best of all, in my opinion, we now have nice big power-packs for our marines. The silhouette of the Space Marine is so familiar to us all that there’s something subtly wrong with truescaled marines saddled with tiny backpacks.Backpack Space Marine

However, whilst a lot of elements have scaled up, two key components have stayed the same size; the heads and the shoulder pads. Again this relieves the Primaris marines from the problem of having outsized heads and shoulders that the old-marines suffered from, with the neat knock-on benefit of allowing Space Marine fans access to a huge range of customisation options right from the get-go. You want Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Grey Knights, or to cobble in bits and pieces of older armour marks? Knock yourself out! No need to wait for them to get their own dedicated Primaris release, just dig into your bits box and get started now! Bits sellers and ebayers must be rubbing their hands with glee and expanding their property portfolios as we speak.

Snarky comments aside though the great benefit of this is the ability to customise the new Space Marines straight off the bat and naturally I was unable to resist. Once a multipart version of the kit is released (pretty much inevitable I’d say) with separate shoulder-pads the options will really expand and whole armies of individualised true-scaled space-knights will suddenly be within the grasp of everyone, without the tremendous effort that was once required.

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” Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, moulded by it…”

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Just for fun, and because I’m an unrepentant heretic at heart, I cobbled together a Chaos marine from Primaris parts; a three dimensional sketch if you will, to help me plan out some future projects. Of course I’m looking forward to it popping up on Natfka any day now, tagged as “New plastic Chaos Marines spotted!”

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Of course not everything in the box is perfect. I think by now my feelings on Space Marines wielding bolters one handed are probably well know. This chap may have the rule of cool on his side but think about how he’d look in action, blazing away with that huge, unwieldy bolter in one hand (the kickback alone sending shots all over the place) and the pistol in the other.

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Seen side by side with the Mark IV helmet (right) the similarities are clear, although the Primaris has a flatter face and more slanted “ears” which helps it to fit into the family of Space Marine helmet designs, whilst remaining its own entity. In this way the Primaris models are actually given a degree of personality, as most of the other featured changes represent an up-scaling of the armour and the introduction of greater functionality, nothing that one would not have expected from a straightforward truescaling of the old astartes.

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In spite of all the celebrating that must be going on at Games Workshop HQ and the congratulations echoing from every corner of the internet as reviewers get their hands on the new kits, spare a thought for those who already have armies of power armoured warriors painted and waiting for battle. Thanks to GW’s insistence on putting Space Marines front and centre in every conceivable release over the last three decades there are now quite a lot of us. At one time a widely quoted statistic (veracity unknown) was that one in four miniatures purchased, across all companies (not just GW) was a Space Marine. Whilst I’ve no idea if that’s true there’s certainly a lot of us out there.

Imperial Fist

On the loyalist side we have Space Marines in a host of different colours and rules, plus Dark Angels, Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Grey Knights and the Deathwatch, whilst the traitors get in on the act with our own array of spiky, angry mutant super-soldiers. That’s a lot of power armour that suddenly looks distinctly short and awkward. Many will choose to ignore this, some of us (myself included) will accept that we’ve no-one to blame but ourselves for not true-scaling earlier and begin the work of bulking up those models we think are saveable. Many will see this as an opportunity to set aside old armies and start new ones and cash registers will light up in branches of Games Workshop the world over, to the heartfelt delight of the shareholders. Some people however will feel distinctly cheesed off – and who can blame them? When Games Workshop first released those stunted little marines all those years ago they ignored the first tenant of being in a hole – stop digging! Instead they went on burrowing assiduously and we, the customers, joined them in droves. So energetic was our participation in expediting this screw up that we hit oil down there, enough to make GW rich. For years they must have been aware of the scale of their mistake yet they chose not to attempt to rectify it, continuing to ring every penny from a flawed range until finally it became apparent that more money could be made from reinventing it. Then, and only then, was the decision taken to put right that old wrong. So whilst I’m overjoyed by the arrival of appropriately scaled Space Marines I can empathise with those who’ve poured money and time into armies of short-marines and are now angry enough to put Khorne to shame.

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My own Space Marines. Making up in garish paintwork for what they lack in stature.

Last time I discussed this I pondered if the arrival of the Primaris marines would see the death of truescaling. Increasingly however I feel sure that it shall see the death of the Space Marines themselves. Indeed, in the short term, interest in true-scaling will increase as people attempt to get their old models to an appropriate scale alongside the new releases.

Now that we have Primaris marines in our hands the old style “short-marines” of the past will almost certainly see no further releases. Imagine Games Workshop trying to drum up enthusiasm for a new Space Marine release in the old scale now. It would be a flop and they know it.

Of course that’s going to be bad news for pre-existing and well loved Space Marine characters like Dante, Mephiston and Ragnar Blackmane. Will they ever see new models now, and if they do will they have quietly grown to the proportions of their new brothers or will they still be smashing up the galaxy with nothing but short-man syndrome as an ally?

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Ragnar Blackmane. If you had to face Magnus the Red whilst looking this ugly you’d be angry too.

So how big are the new Primaris marines? By now we’ve all seen plenty of size comparisons online or even in the flesh, yet the difference in scale between the new models and their older counterparts (here a Dark Vengeance marine) remains shocking.

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Even standing next to a Terminator (from the Black Reach boxset) the Primaris looks big, although the Terminator still has the edge in bulk. As it stands we’re still waiting to discover if GW will be releasing Primaris-scale Terminators over the coming months or if terminator armour has been replaced by Gravis armour (as worn by the Captain in the Dark Imperium boxset). If it’s the latter – surely a mistake on GW’s part – then truescaling terminators will be the next step. Watch this space!

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Next to the common soldiers of the Imperium the size difference is even more acute. Finally the Emperor’s Finest look as mighty and terrifying as they are supposed to.

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They’re still shorter than an Ogryn, which is as it should be, but the size difference is no longer as extreme, and the similarity in height to the hulking brutes actually helps to establish the Space Marines as giants in their own right. Mind you I’m suspicious that this particular Ogryn has been exposed to something heretical. Someone phone the Inquisition!

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I’m also pleased to see that they look suitably bulky next to my old scout conversions, meaning that – with a quick lick of paint – these at least can be migrated over to the new collection.

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This Imperial family photo shows the progression I was hoping for, the Scout is clearly bigger and bulkier than the Guardsman but is yet to complete the process which will turn him into a warrior-giant able to support and fight in the weight of power armour. And yes, that is a part painted Skitarii on the end there – don’t hold your breath though, he’s been waiting for the rest of his paint for a while!

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The new marines also scale nicely next to the enemies of the Imperium. The Ork nob still looks suitably brutish but the boy, although an imposing thug next to a guardsman no longer out-performs humanity’s elite on size and muscle mass. The slight visual toning down of the orks that occurs as a result helps to make them into a more believable force – in the old days when they were bigger than space marines, came in hordes and had powerful technology to boot things always looked a little one-sided when they stood face to face with the Imperium. One was left feeling that there must be something terribly wrong with ones orks when one read descriptions of space marines tearing through whole squads of boys single-handedly. Now they look more believable – still terrifying to a guardsman but only a threat to a space marine when there are a lot of them.

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At times one feels that Games Workshop themselves aren’t quite sure what to make of this release. Are these the Space Marines we’ve always dreamed of, shoe-horned into the background, or are they a faction in their own right, for better or worse? GW aren’t sure. With the Intercessors  and the Lieutenants they’ve simply recreated existing Space Marines on a bigger scale, but the same cannot be said of the Inceptors who have almost as much in common with Centurions as they do with Assault Marines. They may have jump packs to carry them hurling through the skies but they are heavier, more industrial, more in keeping with the over engineered Imperial aesthetic, than their little brothers. Again I expect to see talented individuals converting them into Assault Marines but one has to wonder why GW felt we should be forced to, or even how successful they’ll be. Many will undoubted wait to see what else is introduced to the new Primaris range before taking the plunge, hoping for running legs on a future kit which could be mixed with existing Assault Marine bits to truescale the old models.

Inceptor

Of course it may well be the case that GW are relying on us thinking in a now outdated paradigm. When Age of Sigmar was first released many people looked at it through the lens of Warhammer. The Khorne models all had an equivalent in the old game and people soon took to debating which faction could best be proxied with the Stormcasts and how they could most easily fit into the background of the Old World. With the Primaris marines GW are almost certainly relying on us doing the same thing. We will talk about true-scaling and pretending that Roboute is still on ice whilst new players join the ranks, only dimly aware that there was a world before the Gathering Storm. Meanwhile White Dwarf will be full of pictures of gloriously dramatic Primaris models, and slowly our shelves will fill up with them, the idea bedding in until one day we wake up and find that having two sizes of Space Marine is the new normal and only bitter old grognards are still spitting into their beards about the “good old days”, and being ignored by precisely everyone.

Meanwhile, I suspect, that the old scale Space Marines will quietly go out of stock, slipping away into the night one at a time until only the giants are left. In future editions the supposed size difference between the Space Marines and the Primaris will be reduced until one day the little Space Marines so familiar to us today are as rare on the tabletop as their Rogue Trader era equivalents.

BLWritingDarkImpArt2

It’s only been a few months since Guilliman was released and in that time the 40k galaxy has changed vastly. When the Primarch first woke up I was angry and disappointed. How could the writers be so careless with the universe they had inherited? How could they put their own selfish desire to stamp their own ideas onto the story without considering the effect it would have on the fan base? What about the subtle implications of introducing hope to a universe which had excused the fascism of its central faction as a pastiche of a hopeless and crumbling empire? After all if Guilliman succeeded in making the Imperium great again he implicitly proved that the brutality of the preceding centuries had been a necessary evil, a burden to be borne in order to reach a more glorious future.

In spite of my initial upset however I got over it. Guilliman faded into the background, as far away from the filthy hives and ragged inward-looking tech-peasants that inhabit my own vision of the Imperium as any other high lord. 40k rumbled onwards on its pedestal, no more forgiving in actuality of the right-wing than it is of any other political persuasion. In six months time the Primaris marines will have gone to join him, accreted into the ever growing background of 40k. Meanwhile we who gnashed our teeth in such horror in the immediate aftermath of his reawakening will say “well, bringing back Guilliman was one thing, but resurrecting Ferrus Manus as a talking head really is the final straw!”

We’ll get over it, or we’ll wander off to pastures new if we really can’t stomach the new 40k. If you don’t believe me think how ridiculous that one guy in your local gaming group or favoured forum is, the one who’s still talking about how lame Age of Sigmar is, how much GW sucks for killing off the Old World. His tantrums may have sounded like a passionate rallying cry against the injustices inflicted on your favourite fantasy battle game two years ago, now they’re as dull and monotonous as the traffic passing outside your window – and as worthy of your attention.

In the meantime the Space Marines are dead – long live the Space Marines! Now then, what colour am I going to paint them?

 

Further Reading:

If you’ve not still read enough about Primaris marines there’s an excellent article over at Between the Bolter and Me that I highly recommend.

 

If the pictures you see here aren’t photographs of my own miniatures then I’ve lifted them from Games Workshop’s website without even bothering to ask. Agents of the Assassinorum have inevitably been dispatched to silence me. Not to worry, death shall be nothing compared to vindication!


Bigger And Better Than Ever Before

For quite a while now rumours have been circulating of a new breed of Space Marine on the way; bigger, tougher and generally meaner than their brothers. Today, after remaining fairly tight-lipped on the subject, Games Workshop have finally made the big reveal; the Primaris Space Marines are just around the corner, ready to dispense justice to filthy heretics like me. What’s more as I’m laid up on the sofa feeling sorry for myself after a trip to the dentist, and lacking the energy to paint anything (that Chaos Marine you saw earlier was finished yesterday, before the old toothwright got his drills out) I find myself with the time to actually write a few words on the subject whilst it’s all still fresh in my mind.

Primaris Space Marine (3)

First off I’d better issue an apology, or at least a retraction, for having insisted for so long that the rumours of these new “big marines” was unmitigated rubbish. In my defence however, 99% of the ‘rumours’ spread around online turn out to be nonsense of the highest order so who can blame me for thinking this one was also?

Part of the reason behind my scepticism is a general aversion to too much hyperbole. These marines are bigger and better and even more awesome than ever before, ten thousand years in the making and the most heroic yet! Even Grey Knights are envious! Rush out and buy them now! Perhaps I should have seen it coming just based on that, after all in spite of what we fans of the grim darkness like to tell ourselves GW has never been as subtle as we want to believe and whilst we bury our heads in the clever complexities of the Inq28/Blanchitsu side of the universe, front of house remains bright and brash and over-the-top.

Then there’s the questionable fiction that frames these new marines – that Guilliman has swept aside ten millennia of religious fanaticism, technological stagnation and apocalyptic thinking and succeeded where Corax and Fabius Bile alike have failed; in improving on the Emperor’s vision for the ultimate warriors. Perhaps he’ll make some new Primarchs are well (you read it here first folks!)

Primaris Space Marine (2)

More and more the size of the Space Marines has started to look like an albatross around Games Workshop’s neck. On the one hand they are their most popular range, the iconic poster boys for the setting with a number of spin offs – each an army in its own right (Space Wolves, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Grey Knights and Deathwatch alongside the standard codex marines, and the various Chaos-worshipping variants). On the other hand they’re a long way from the power-armoured giants they’re supposed to be, with the result that a whole scene has developed around the art of true-scaling (that is to say, converting Space Marines to be as big as the fiction describes them). This is a problem for Games Workshop; not only are their poster-boys conspicuously flawed but third-party companies are already circling, looking for ways to give the customers what they want without infringing GW’s IP and finding themselves in court. The first company to break into that market stands to make a tidy profit off the back of Games Workshop’s promotional effort. However simply replacing all the existing kits would cost them a fortune, take a very long time to roll out (all the while hurting sales of those Chapters not yet updated) and hacking off lots of fans who’d already poured time, effort and money into collections of the old, smaller marines. Quite the conundrum.

For Games Workshop the solution comes in the form of Roboute Guilliman’s plus-sized marines. By making them bigger than standard marines they neatly fulfil the function of true-scale marines, without all the expensive hassle that comes from invalidating the existing range. Better yet their helmets and shoulderpads are cross compatible with the existing Space Marine ranges so, even if various alternative versions aren’t immediately available, you can easily convert them into Space Wolves, Blood Angels and so on. Even Chaos versions shouldn’t be too much work, so that ghastly, ancient legionary you’ve always wanted stalking the ruins of the your Inq28 game can now be a reality.

Of course in some ways GW have failed to recognise the first axiom of being in a hole; stop digging. The new Primaris Space Marines are just as out of scale as the old Space Marines were, they’re just bigger. The Primaris are roughly the right size for Space Marines but still considerably smaller than the Primaris themselves are said to be meaning that true aficionados will soon be buying up Primaris models to use as Space Marines and more Primaris models to true scale into Primarises*. Even more confusing; some people will be using Primaris models as Primaris Space Marines and some will be using them as true-scale Space Marines. It’s enough to make your head spin.

*what is the plural of Primaris anyway? Somebody get Roboute on the phone, he knows these things!

Primaris Space Marine (4)

Overall though, in spite of the liberties that have been taken with the background (a subject on which I’m somewhat mollified by reports that Aaron Dembski-Bowden is working on a novel about them), I’m rather exited about these new Marines. I’ve always fancied an Imperial army to stand against my Chaos forces; a rag tag combination of the Cult Mechanicus and the Imperial Guard bolstered by a core of Custodes, Sisters of Silence, Assassins and other elite units. Of course such a collection would never be complete without a few true-scale Space Marines but the work involved in converting them kept putting me off. For this job the Primaris models could be perfect, especially as I very much doubt I’d want any actual Primarises in the collection (unless ADB manages something positively superhuman to convince me of their place in the background).

Especially exciting is the announcement that, as well as new vehicles, a Primaris Redemptor Dreadnought will be on its way. It’s enough to get me wondering if they’ll get their own Terminator armour as well – after all, true-scaling Terminators is hard work but life without Terminators is hardly life at all.

Plus, there’s no denying this is good news for fans of Inq28 who’ll have a ready source of appropriately sized Marines, it’s almost a shame they’ll never need more than one or two. What is a little sad however is that this may represent the death knell of the art of true-scaling. Having produced some real craftsmanship down the years it may now be a redundant art.

Primaris Space Marine (5)

So, will you be using these as true-scale marines or will you be adding them to a Space Marine army in the function for which they were originally intended? Is this an exciting new development in the story of the Dark Millennium or one abuse of the fiction too many? If you have a feeling this is a safe space, get it off your chest in the comments’ box below.