‘My devotion is my strength.’ Lorgar clenched his perfect teeth. ‘You have no heart, and no soul.’ A snort blackened his angelic features with a disgusted twist. ‘I pray that one day, you feel as I feel. Would you smile if one of Ultramar’s worlds died in fire? Tarentus? Espandor? Calth?’
– The Primarch Lorgar to his brother Roboute Guilliman in the ruins of Monarchia.
From The First Heretic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden.
Well here we are at last, official memorabilia from Lorgar and Angron’s show-stopping tour of Ultramar. For those of you who’ve been cast adrift in your incubation pods by the machinations of the Chaos Gods and have only just been rediscovered by civilisation, today sees the release of Betrayal at Calth, the first plastic boxset for Warhammer 30k (in 28mm scale)*. For us fans of the Heresy this is quite a big moment, the latest step in an evolution that has taken the story of Horus and the founding of the Imperium from myth and legend into a fully fleshed out universe in its own right. For those loyal to Chaos this is where that ten thousand year old grudge really began. Oh and Space Marine fans get more plastic marines to play with – but you were never short of those were you 😉
*Caveats abound as fans of the tiny titans from Adeptus Titanicus emerge from the woodwork to demand that they are not forgotten by history. Somewhat pedantically…
A Place In The Background
There’s really only one place to start the Heresy. Before Isstvan, or Davin, or even Ullanor; Monarchia. In the ruins of that world the Great Crusade went sour.
However although Monarchia makes for a great scene in a novel it hardly works as a gripping battle on the tabletop. Both players set up their armies. Place the model for the Emperor in the middle. Knock down all the Word Bearers miniatures. Both players pack up and go home. Word Bearer’s player bears a grudge for the next fifty years and plots genocidal retribution against the Ultramarines player.
It wasn’t until Calth that this grudge-match finally got the chance to be realised. Thus Calth makes a natural start-point to GW’s latest exploration of the Heresy. It also featured just two legions, unlike Isstvan III (four legions) or Isstvan V (eleven) which makes it much more user friendly as an introduction to the game. And for anyone thinking ‘what about Prospero?’ – well those two Legions (Space Wolves and Thousand Sons) would require very distinct miniatures and rules, rather unsuitable for a mass-appeal starter set. They’d also take away some of the thunder from Forge World exploration of that iconic campaign – although one wonders if GW might be planning some kind of follow-up or expansion set to coincide? At this stage one can only guess.
Many people have wishlisted about seeing a match-up between one of the other long-standing legion grudges from the Heresy era – Iron Warriors vs Imperial Fists is a popular choice, although I would have preferred Night Lords vs Dark Angels (or, ending with a twist, Dark Angels vs Dark Angels). However all these legions have, to a greater or lesser extent, unique characteristics that make them visually distinct and this would run counter to the design philosophy of this boxset. The message from GW is clear; if you want Imperial Fists vs Iron Warriors then paint them yellow and silver – and many people will. If you want more than that Forgeworld have come to the rescue with their Legion Upgrade kits which allows you to turn these models into the legion of your choice – although unless you’re a real nerd about getting the armour mark right on your Space Marine’s knees you could do this already.
I suppose my first question, when it comes to this latest development, is not why they’ve done it but why it’s taken them so long to get round to it? Surely they’ve known this was a goldmine for a very long time. Some would say that until now the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have been taking up valuable space in stores but frankly those ranges have seen such minimal investment over the last few years that this hardly seems convincing, especially for a company as large and businesslike as GW. Others would suggest that this is intended to support their finances if Age of Sigmar proves to be a less than resounding success – and certainly there may be something to this. If AoS succeeds all well and good, if it flops then at least there is the Horus Heresy to fall back on. It’s rather unfair that so many conversations about the Betrayal at Calth are currently being derailed by rAge Against the Sigmarines, but understandably the death of Warhammer has been the defining moment for the hobby this year and there are naturally going to be comparisons.
In contrast to AoS Betrayal at Calth seems a far more conservative move. Rather than burn the world down and start afresh Calth builds on an already popular series (ironically because burning the world down was exactly what the Word Bearers were planning…). Instead of offering new races to play it simply expands the range for one that’s already popular. The boardgame is also a clever addition. Rather than asking new players to paint up hundred of models before they can take their legion to war they start off with a few squads and a game to play with them. If they enjoy it they can add more units and expand up to larger battles. Again one has to wonder why they didn’t do something similar set in the Old World, a skirmish scale game set in the ruins of an Empire city as a last few heroes struggled to stall the End Times and stop the final victory of Chaos. They could have called it Mordheim or something…
I could speculate about this a little more but frankly AoS is taking over enough other topics of conversation at the moment and to look at it properly demands a blog (or perhaps a book) in its own right – moving on!
Of course many people will be enjoying their first chance to look at the new rules, but even GW admits that they are mostly a bonus. The real meat here is the models themselves.
I’ll admit I’m not at all a fan of the Contemptors, much preferring a standard dreadnaught (even if it does look like a fridge on legs). This new one, sadly, does nothing to change my mind, but if you like Contemptors (and as far as I can tell most of you do) then this should be good news round your house. In fact as the model seems to be extremely popular making it more widely available seems like a no-brainer and I expect to see one in every household by the end of the year.
Being plastic it should be easier to convert that the Forge World variants so I might decide to pick one up at some stage, either to convert into a Chaos Contemptor (I like them better for some reason) or, if I’m feeling brave and want to break out the greenstuff, a Mhara Gal.
Of course, you can’t have the Word Bearers without their chaplains, bringing the truth of the Primordial Annihilator to the impure servants of the False Emperor.
Personally I would have preferred something more like Zardu Layak, which frankly would have been a ‘must buy’ for me. However once again the model they did release seems like a savvy choice, being usable as a chaplain or captain for any legion, or for any loyalist chapter in 40k, with the exception of the Wolves. This, however, is why I start to find fault with the release because one of the few places this guy isn’t a neat fit is amongst the Word Bearers themselves. By Calth they were revelling in their new faith, throwing off the secrecy that they had girded themselves with for so long, and now looked more like this.
I can see why they chose the route they did because this is a damn fine model with an amazing future ahead of it, both in its own right and as the basis of all kinds of conversions. However he still looks like a loyalist to me and with my focus very much on the forces of Chaos at the moment I’m struggling to see how I could fit it into my collection without destroying many of the elements that make it so striking.
More exciting by far, for me, are the Cataphractii. I wanted to see models for these since long before Forge World released their versions and if I ever get round to working on my loyalists again these will be essential purchases. I can also imagine Black Legion fans snapping these up. A few restrained conversions (snarling helms, daemonic weapons) could easily turn these in Falkus Kibre and the surviving Justaerin.
For anyone else firmly rooted in the 41st Millennium these could still make a stylish addition to any Chapter’s First Company. As for the Chaos Legions, most have changed sufficiently that these no longer work for them but there are a few possibilities – Emperor’s Children still love an ostentatious suit, Thousand Sons haven’t changed much (bless them, they can’t really anymore can they?) and of course there’s still the Word Bearers themselves.
Just as the Word Bearers have their Dark Apostle so the Ultramarines have a suitably square-jawed and heroic looking Captain to lead them. For Space Marines players this chap looks to be another cracking addition to the range. At last here is a model for a generic Chapter Master, meeting the new Games Workshop policy of ‘no model, no codex entry’. Unfortunately, I’m led to believe that this same policy has seen Chapter Masters reduced from a unit in their own right to an upgrade for Captains. Nonetheless if you’re just starting out and want the big man himself to lead your army (and why not – start with a hero you can believe in!) but don’t want to tackle converting your models just yet, this is the miniature for you.
One other thing that struck me, and this is rather late in the game to be mentioning to Games Workshop, but doesn’t he look better in Word Bearer’s colours? I can really see him as the bullish captain of a Word Bearers chapter – not yet as tainted as his Chaplains but vicious in his determination to prove himself in the new creed. Likewise the Chaplain looks much better painted as an Ultramarine. Head over to the Games Workshop site and see if you agree with me.
As for the marines – well they’re basically just marines. Unless this is your first day in the hobby (in which case stick with me kid, I’ll see you right) you’ve already made up your mind about them. If you like supersoldiers in power-armour these are your lads. If you’d prefer space elves or green dudes with rusty hatchets then this isn’t for you. Oh and if you’re looking for black-powder guns, handlebar moustaches, floppy hats and cannons then not only have you found the wrong Empire but I’ve got very bad news so you’d better sit down and prepare yourself for a shock.
For connoisseurs of power-armour (read nerds) it’s rather nice to get a better range of marks available for modelling and converting (I rather like those heavy studded grieves and the snouts of the helms) but it’s hardly a deal breaker for me. Some of you though will undoubtedly be wetting yourselves.
Getting more access to heresy era weaponry is more exciting – especially for those of us who’s predilections lie towards the evil and chaotic. Our thin-blooded inheritors in the Imperium may have chosen to upgrade to newer models of rocket-launchers but we who fought and fell alongside our Primarchs prefer something a little more old fashioned. Iron Warriors fans must be salivating.
Again though the generic nature of these models is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand you can paint them as any legion, but on the other hand there’s nothing at all to distinguish them beyond the colour they’re painted. Part of what makes the Heresy so compelling is the different character that the Legions have developed – and that character is much deeper a more complex than simply ‘this one is red, this one is blue’. I’m not suggesting that everyone in the Word Bearers was running around looking like the Gal Vorbak but at the moment there’s nothing to distinguish them from Blood Angels, or Alpha Legionaries pretending to be Blood Angels. Of course Forge World are here to help you, but it’ll cost more. Then again you’re already making a saving compared to buying from Forge World. Thus I’m hesitant to say this release is that great if you’ve already established your legion – but if you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the Heresy then now is the time to do it. Start off with a few models, play the board game, add a few more and slowly upgrade. Who knows – stick with it and someday you could have an army as impressive as this one?
Now for the real question; if I were to pick this up – and I won’t because I’m far too busy preparing my Black Crusade for the Second Siege of Terra to worry about a failed revolt ten millennia ago – but if I was – Iron Warriors or Night Lords?
All images copyright Games Workshop. Obviously.