Thursday, August 31, 2017

Necromunda Underhive and Evolving Team Games

One of the main bits of news passing through the internet over the past 24 hours from Games Workshop is the revealing of Necromunda Underhive. I have fond memories of the original version of this game, and of analogues in Warhammer Fantasy.

I will start with the latter. When Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness was released, its impact was huge and broad. Not just in fantasy but in 40k as well. What were once nearly abstract chaos entities were given very concrete forms in a very specific and hierarchical manner. More than this though, the Realms of Chaos books introduced new ways to have battles and new ways to consider building armies. One of these was to build up your very own chaos war band from scratch and improve it from mission to mission. Sure, there were pitfalls along the way (the notorious 1d1000 chart in the same book had some serious balancing issues that were barely levelled out by the large number of possible outcomes on the chaos attribute chart that your war band chaos lord could get, and indeed: her or his followers). But the idea that you could "evolve" your team from game to game is one that struck a chord with many an old-timer.

Fast forward a little bit and we see this kind of idea take shape with Necromunda. You control an under hive gang of violent men (and / or) women hell bent on proving themselves better than all others, taking control of different areas and potentially suffering from serious testosterone poisoning. However, the thing that struck me here was not so much the random gains that one could make to individuals. No. Rather it was that the person in control of the gang could "upgrade" them from mission to mission. A reclaimed flamer was perhaps discovered in a long forgotten alleyway in the darkness of the under hive that was brought back to functionality by the gang. Now one of your gang members is happily toting a (very useful) flamer to cleanse all in her path. It is this upgrade and evolution that really holds the appeal to me. Having members of the clan or gang get better over time and still risk permanent death by the end of the next game is exciting, heart breaking, and interesting. It adds a new dimension of caring about the team and the individuals within it that is not generally seen in Warhammer 40,000 so much. Well, not unless you are one of those painters who scribes the name of each and every miniature on to their base or their shoulder pads. I sometimes feel Dark Angels should engage in this a bit more, myself. I digress though.

Beyond this thought (and attractive feature) is the fact that for perhaps the first time, the game moved away from the epic scale battles and skirmishes fought by the elite Imperium and the malevolent Orks (etc.). These kind of skirmishes were at a very much lower level (pun not intended) and between distinctly ordinary citizens of the hives of the Imperium. Thus, we got a little bit closer to the grim darkness of everyday life for some of the (not quite average) citizenry of the Imperium. We got closer to explaining how the hierarchy of the Imperium works with the rich on the upper spires of the Hives controlling the wealth and industries, the elites below them, the working classes facilitating the production of promethium (or whatever it is they do - I'm not entirely clear), the slave classes and the down and outs below them, and the gangers at the lower levels literally fighting for their very lives on a day to day basis. It might not be Nostramo, but it might be close. What it did show was the very real grim dark nature of the setting in a new light. 

In some ways, this kind of game can be seen here and there in different formats. For instance, Frost Grave focuses exceptionally well on a wizard and her entourage trying to Lara Croft the pickings out of a frozen waste land. Kingdom Death might be a further example of this where a band of survivors tries to build up their village over several Lantern Years and improve their lot by taking out various monsters in the heinous world that surrounds them.

These kinds of evolutionary games are very well done. It is really appealing to see Games Workshop once again go down this route in a very complete and well thought through manner. Although I may or may not purchase the new Necromunda ultimately, it really does bode well for this type of game and game system. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Imperial Castellum Stronghold Unboxed

This is one of those pieces that I have long wanted to own ever since it came out: the Imperial Castellum Stronghold. Remarkably, it is also my first ever purchase in the Realms of Battle style of board pieces. This ultimately means that I may end up getting more at some point. But we will see how this one goes first.

My Horus Heresy Review of the Imperial Castellum Stronghold can be found here. Clearly there are many build options to think about if we are going to use it as part of a game. For my Alpha Legion - if indeed I use it for them - it will come as a surprise for many opponents who are just not ready to face either an Alpha Legion force holed up inside the Stronghold -- or a portion of it that are infiltrating way beyond its boarders. Who says that the Alpha Legion are no good at fortifying their positions. With tanks hunters special rule on the battlements, I think this idea has a lot of potential. 

Obviously, it can also be used as a scenery piece in its own right without needed to think of using it for any kind of force. In doing so, I think I would want to consider a special deployment zone arrangement so that the Castellum is situated in no man's land at the commencement of any game given how good it could be if all its rules are in play. Otherwise, it could just be used as pure "scenery" in the sense of blocking lines of sight and being able to be clambered all over.

The picture above shows the Imperial Castellum Stronghold straight out of the boxing. It comes in a very large box from Forge World that is very well packed and protected from minor dents whilst in transit. 

What surprised me a little was that the resin it was cast from is black. I think I was expecting some kind of grey colour to be perfectly honest. At first, I even worried that they had sold me some kind of second hand one that had already received an undercoat of black spray paint. But no. The resin on this piece really is black to begin with.

Being cast of this material, the details on the piece are really crisp in most places. Indeed, there are very few holes or mis-cast portions anywhere on the entire model. Cleaning up flash lines will take minimal work. That said, I think I will glue in to place some small stones and scatter material before I undercoat this board centre piece just to add to its ambience. More on this project at a later date. Its going to be a long-term project!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Alien Wasteland Gaming Mat (Kraken Mats)

Following a high profile and well-conceived kickstarter campaign a few years ago, Kraken launched a wide range of gaming mats for sale. They presently retail through the German company, FantasyWelt, for about the same price as high quality mats from other companies (about the same as special runs from Game Mat EU for instance -- which in turn is higher than their regular gaming mats or mats from Deep Cut Studio). 

One of the key things that Kraken sells their mats on is that they really constructed genuine playing boards for their principle photography. Most of their mats has their basis in a custom board that has been specifically constructed for gaming. After building and painting their boards, they then proceed to photograph it professionally at high resolution multiple times over. After this, it enters post production where the individual photographs are stitched together and overlaid (if needed) to produce a final big composite image. This image then has some post-processing applied to it. Some of their gaming mats have more post-processing effects applied than others it seems. The bottom line though is that the final image for production in to a gaming mat is simply not one hundred per cent digital. It really is based on a custom board build specifically to be photographed and transferred to mouse mat material for printing. 

It was on this basis that I decided I would make a purchase or two from Kraken.

Below is one of my purchases, laid out in partial sunshine in my back yard. This is the Alien Wasteland gaming mat. Clearly, it is Necron inspired in background from a first glance. But there is a whole lot more going on within the details here. 

The first thing that strikes me about the mat is the sheer level of detail present. Unlike some rival products, the gaming mat is not simply a backdrop that is filled up with much bland detail -- I'm sure many of us know of featureless mats of green grass, yellow sandy deserts, or NASA produced pictures of the Martian surface from orbit for instance. Instead, since the gaming mat has been produced from a real textured gaming board, there is an incredible level of detail present here. This ranges from the grains of red and black sand that are clear in the board, through to the painting of the green highlights that streak across the plains. 

My only real criticism is that some of the shadows and reliefs might have been implemented better. But to be honest, it really is not noticeable at all. Plus: it is actually what it should look like from a top-down vantage point anyway. Hence this is no criticism at all. It is actually a compliment that the photography is absolutely spot on and what it should look like in "real life". 

Below is a close up of one of the plateau regions.

The shadows caused by the nearby "raised" plateaus are clearly visible here toward the lower right of the shiny molten looking sea portion. Speaking of that, it is very clear that a whole lot of work has gone in to the construction of the real life custom board that was produced for this photograph. Everything, and I mean everything here is just in so much detail. The game mat is just as much a piece of artwork as anything else if I am perfectly honest. The raised plateaus have been done tremendous justice with their green markings across the surface. I have no idea how the molten looking ocean was made, but that is a real highlight for me as well. It really is so well textured overall. As if that were not enough, the paint job looks splendid with the right combinations of what I presume are airbrush techniques, highlighting and some selective drybrushing going on. It really is just splendid. 

How does it play though?

I subjected it to the best test that I could come up with. The daughter test. Jumping up and down on the mat and dancing and twirling all over it caused no real issue for it, and my girl was delighted with the mat. She wanted to use it herself for her own games (of Warhammer ... and of other games too). Full marks for robustness from me then. The rear of the mat is mouse mat material (I refuse to use anything else these days) hence the tumble of die on its surface is muffled rather than very loud. Additionally, any little spills of water on the surface of the mat can be rubbed / wiped away with minimal fuss.

Overall then, this is a very high quality product. I am highly pleased with this purchase and would certainly recommend these mats to my friends across the blogosphere and the gaming community. 

My intent is to try to produce some pseudo-necron looking scenery in the longer term to go with this gaming mat. I'm thinking dark coloured monoliths highlighted by green streaks across their surface (see here for a much earlier prototype) or maybe even electronic looking devices strewn across the surface to make for a very alien feeling planetscape. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Games Workshop Liverpool

This article is about Liverpool in England, United Kingdom. As opposed to Liverpool in New South Wales, Australia. Just so that we are clear from the outset(!)

I get the chance to do a bit of travel in the course of performing my job. Whenever I visit a place that I've not been to before, or not been to in a very long time, I attempt to visit the local Games Workshop store and do a bit of a "Mystery Shopper" act. My long term readers will know all about this via my reviews of stores from around England and Australia over many years. Today, it is Liverpool's turn. 

Liverpool is a city that I know well from my younger days - I had relatives who hailed from that part of the world. In a number of ways, Liverpool can potentially be misunderstood by those from outside the region. Let me tell you: it really is a high quality, International city of great dimensions and immense promise. Indeed, its history is littered with important contributions to the Empire of yester-century, let alone the cultural importance of its outputs in entertainment and sport. Don't let certain Fleet Street tabloid publications (which are banned or simply not sold in certain parts of this great city, I might add) sway your ideas about Liverpool -- it really is an amazing place and I do highly recommend it should you ever get chance to visit. The regeneration that has happened in this city over the past decade or so is amazing. The dock lands have completely been regenerated and the "Liverpool One" area is as high quality as one could want. There are more historic (listed) buildings in this city than almost anywhere else outside of London in the UK and there's something for everyone here. 

The Games Workshop in the city is not called Games Workshop. Instead, it is entitled Warhammer. It is one of those stores that have been re-branded in recent years. I still do not know quite how I feel about it, but the look of the store from the outside is very slick and it fits in well with its surroundings.

The physical location of the store is amazing. It is a unit that is right next door to Central Station. Explicitly, it is in the same building as Central Station. For those that do not know, Liverpool has an extensive underground railway system with a number of different lines. In the centre of Liverpool, the underground Wirral line go in a circle around a number of key stations (Lime Street, Central, James Street, and Moorfields) whilst the City Line and Northern Line cross through both Central and Moorfields. I really do not know how much Games Workshop is forking out to rent a unit in a location like this, but I can only imagine it must be a lot. Seriously: its location inside Central Station building is amazing. The sheer amount of footfall that happens in this area is huge. It has almost unrivalled access for anyone coming here from greater Liverpool, the inner city, and from the Wirral. I cannot underscore enough what a great and accessible location this is -- it is one of the best that I have been to to find and locate to say the least. 

The store itself is modest to slightly larger than some I've been to. There are several displays, and obvious items displayed in the front window for shoppers to have a gander at. The interior of the store is well laid out. Although the tables are nicely sized, there is still room to go around the edges and look at the merchandise on offer whilst people are painting or playing at the main table. 

The guys at the store asked me if I was going to take part in the Konor campaign. I politely said that I probably would, but it would be back at my home Games Workshop and that I was just visiting. They asked me about my armies. I mentioned Death Guard and the Alpha Legion and how I was toying with the idea of making my 30k army fit the 40k mould. I'm not yet sold on re-starting a 40k Death Guard army just yet to be honest, but the guys at the store did seem very interested in the fact that I was rather the veteran gamer with a long knowledge of the history of the game and surrounding fluff. I bought a couple of things before leaving. Overall, the staff were very friendly and I don't have a bad word to say about the store. Top marks from me. But over the top marks from me for the location. I was blown away how accessible it is and how easy to find (its certainly not tucked away in some shopping mall like others are). 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Grand Cultivator

Catching up on recent news from the gaming sphere, this chap stumbled across my desk, as I'm sure it did yours as well. Slimed on to my desk might have been a better turn of phrase though. This is Nurgle's Grand Cultivator, Horticulous Slimux. 

He is a plague bearer mounted on top of a monstrous garden snail-like creature in essence. I want to make a couple of observations here. Firstly, this miniature is one that has been featured (probably repeatedly) on the official Warhammer Community rumours mill. Check out the legs of the "snail" (I know -- snails don't have legs, but I haven't got another noun for it just yet) -- these are the ones that have been featured on the rumour site over the past few months. 

The miniature itself interests me from a number of different angles. Firstly is the sheer whimsy and joviality involved in the sculpt. By this, I mean the pose and demeanour of Slimux himself, the "face" of the snail, and the hapless nurgling that has been left dangling in front of the snail. Obviously the nurgling is being used as a kind of bait to lure the snail ever onward. Its a bit like the old cartoons of carrots being used of a lure in front of a donkey to urge it onward. The eyes of the snail are directed right at the little nurgling, who in turn is wrapped in in some kind of vine and is looking grumpy about his situation. 

Slimux himself seems to be rather chilled and laid back. He is chewing on an old bone (freshly plucked from the Garden of Nurgle probably) in much the same way as a cartoonish version of a farmer might have some wheat or crop in his mouth. Or at least I think that is what the vibe they were going for is. Given the short length of the bone, it could be that they were going for a cigar replacement instead as well. 

Striking on the painting side of things is the existence of the eyeballs. Not only on the snail, but also on Slimux. In the older fluff, plague bearers would be depicted as having white eyes (almost in totality) to represent some kind of blindness disease. This guy is just yellowed, as is his mount. Speaking of the older fluff, Nurgle and his minions are often depicted as being rather happy. Since through decay comes rebirth of life and vitality. I think this aspect is communicated very well in the sculpt overall with smiles all around (of one kind or another) and a certain level of levity associated with the vibe of what is being depicted. I've not seen this communicated outside of goblins and orcs (Orks) in a long while and its good so see something like this appear after all these years.

Further interesting aspects of the sculpt include the Venus flytrap looking plant on the rear of the miniature painted in red. I have not seen much like this elsewhere. Being towed behind are ploughing implements to break up the land ready for Nurgle's special cultivation treatments. These little details all add up to a very whimsy miniature that looks more ready for happy gardening (or even a party) than warfare. Then again, that is part of the point. Slimux is really harkening back to some of the earlier materials in a way I've not seen in a while. Its a nice new, slightly risky even, direction and one I'm pleased to see the sculptors take. 


Dear Readers,

We are now back from holidays and lining up new posts for the coming week. Thanks for your patience and support (and thank you in particular to those of you who messaged me over the holidays -- I think I've got back to you all now, but if not, just gimme a shout).

More very soon.
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