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The 9th Age Part 2: A World of Story, A World of War

We kick off part two of our 9th Age review just after the release of the “legendary” version of the “Warriors of the Dark Gods” faction and by the gods, it’s packed full of cool stuff. This is great timing as we’re going to be looking at the background, theme and lore of the 9th Age (you can find part one, here).

In this Article

  • We shall briefly look at the world composition and history of the 9th Age,
  • Introduce some of the darker themes,
  • Take a look at a couple of the factions, comparing them to similar factions from Games Workshop’s old Warhammer Fantasy Battles,
  • Finally, we’ll look into the new Warriors of the Dark Gods faction book to see just what the 9th Age team are capable of.

The Written Lore

Before I begin, it’s worth mentioning the writing style of the lore and setting of the 9th Age. Rather than being a single monotonous view point, the style instead portrays the world through personal accounts, letters and journals, detailing the wonders and horrors of the 9th Age. Some of the characters are recurring throughout the texts providing successive layers to their often woeful stories. This style of writing was common during the early decades of the last century but dropped out of favour with the advancement of film and TV.

Pick up any fictional book from that early era and you’ll see what I mean: H.P Lovecraft (Cthulhu mythos), H.G Wells (War of the Worlds), Mary Shelly (Frankenstein / The Modern Prometheus), all use this style of writing. It’s effective because it puts the reader next to the author and immediately draws our attention. The reader knows from the outset that the account is first hand, likely to be believable. In my opinion, a well executed literary move by the 9th Age writers.

The World of the 9th Age

Dark & Gritty? We shall see. What I think stands out from the history is the poetic style. The 9th Age history is presented to us in several verses, similar to something we would find in a bible or viking saga. They call it the “World Hymn,” found on a tapestry thought to be ancient in years, perhaps a copy of a similar, older Dwarven text. The Hymn details the previous ages in allegory, of how the ancient lizards races once ruled the world, and how a comet gave the first sign to rebel and break free.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Perhaps because it is still early days the world seems to be breathing and growing slowly. The groundwork seems to be there and we’re likely to see more content as each faction receives its legendary faction book. We must remember that the 9th Age is designed with tournaments in mind but with all the effort into creating such a beautiful world, are we asking too much to hope that there will at some point be a narrative story arc? Maybe we might one day see the “Storm of Father Chaos” as a campaign?

Indeed in the executive board mission statement it is made very clear that they believe the background is critical for players to access and fully enjoy the 9th Age. They’ve given the Background Team powers to oversee the story development, so expect to see full on Legendary versions for each faction over the coming years… and if they’re anything like Warriors of the Dark Gods, we’re all in for a great deal (free, totally free!)

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Perusing one of the 9th Age forums recently suggested by Ghiznuk (a member of the Translation Team Russian), I gained an insight into the world setting development. In it, Ghiznuk explains how the world map is designed and how it must permit different factions to have a reliable narrative reasoning for encountering one another. It’s such a simple idea but one that never seemed to be fully realised in Warhammer Fantasy Battles.An example: the Highborn Elves were once part of a huge empire which has since crumbled, leaving countless outposts in the form of harbors and ports scattered across the world. These elves are a mighty naval force and thus have strong trading routes, allowing factions to encounter them.

An example: the Highborn Elves were once part of a huge empire which has since crumbled, leaving countless outposts in the form of harbors and ports scattered across the world. These elves are a mighty naval force and thus have strong trading routes, allowing factions to encounter them.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

I think it is fair to say that in their mission to gather and develop more players, the 9th Age teams are performing a herculean effort to produce something of quality – the fact that this is essentially volunteer work towards something created by and for the community makes it more remarkable. If the last two paragraphs haven’t given you enough to believe in it, I guess you’ll just have to read on…

Killing for Fun, or with Purpose

It came to my attention on one of many frequented sub-reddits that a few people are put off by the fact that the 9th Age was, as they understood it, designed purely for tournament players. I can see where this misconception came from. One redditor went as far as to say that they wished the game had some sort of scenarios to make the game-play more engaging, much like Age of Sigmar does now (you pretty much HAVE to play Age of Sigmar as a scenario). It did not take me long to find what I was looking for…

The 9th Age Scenario Supplement!

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With a book of 18 scenarios, there’s plenty of scope to create a series of skirmishes or mammoth battles with a purpose beyond simple annihilation. Each game can be randomly generated with some dice rolls, or picked from a list to create narrative campaigns. Problem solved!

A Note on Equal Representation

Reading all the different snippets of background out there, we get the impression that female characters are more represented than in Games Workshop, even by their current standards. There’s little reason that GW can’t rectify this quickly, but it seems to be going at a slow pace for them currently. Not so for the 9th Age! This is great, and I’m certain the inclusivity will encourage players of all identities.

Moving onward, I think it is time we had a spotlight review on some of the factions. I chose these two factions because they are my favourite themes; noble elves and efficient troops of the empire!

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Factions Spotlight

I should point out that the background lore for most of the factions is pretty slim at the moment. The exceptions to this are Demon Legions, Sylvan Elves, Undying Dynasties and the newly released Warriors of the Dark Gods (which I’ll take a deeper look at later). For the time being, most of the background is contained within snippets of accounts and journals scattered throughout the 9th Age website or contained within the above mentioned faction books. There is an effort to get everything into one easy to access source, fully translated, but community driven projects on this scale can take time. As mentioned previously, there is a concerted push to achieve this grand goal!

Still, even with these little taster pieces, the nature of the different factions should be familiar to those who possessed an interest in the Warhammer Fantasy brand. Even if you’ve never played the tabletop war-game, some of you will be familiar through digital or role-playing games such as the Total War series or Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing Game (recently published again by Cubicle 7).

I’ll admit that my Warhammer lore is a little rusty, but if you get a chance, leave a comment after reading this and let me know if you’re getting a similar feeling with any of the factions currently in the 9th Age!

Highborn Elves

Look and Feel

The Highborn Elves are similar to the middle-era of Warhammer Fantasy Battles. In a nutshell they are:

  • A civilisation in retreat,
  • A nation of naval traditions with settlements all over the world,
  • Highly trained troops who are quick to strike,
  • Heavily armoured or mixed lightly armoured
  • An adaptable force, with giant dragons, powerful or swift cavalry & multipurpose infantry,
  • Brimming with high magical potential
  • Disciplined troops, less likely to behave poorly and let you down!

History

There are a tonne of similarities with the Elves of the Warhammer world and the 9th Age, which is pleasing to see because there’s such a rich and noble history involved. From the snippets of information we have we can glean that the Highborn are in retreat, very Tolkien-esque. We are told that they’re divided into three hence the factions symbol of 3 spheres, each representing an elemental theme such as wind, waves and fire.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

For ease, I’ve copied the brief history snippets for you to read here.

“The white isles of Celeda Ablan, home of the Highborn Elves, are said to be a truly awe inspiring sight. They are guarded by fleets of the finest ships to set sail, and phalanxes of Elves blessed with the natural grace and skill of their people. Led by Princes borne aloft on terrifying dragons, the Highborn have ever maintained a proud and aloof manner, yet they are capable of fighting with the same savagery their cousins display.”

“Although they have the greatest naval power the world has seen, the Highborn Elves have retreated from many of their former conquests. Despite this, they continue to hold outposts on coastlines across the globe. The fall of the Highborn’s appointed Raj, ruling over the Sagarika Kingdoms in their name, marked the extent of their decline. Yet even with increasing resources diverted to combat the Dread Elf threat, they still dominate the seas and the resulting trade.”

“In the mists of time, they rebelled against the enigmatic Saurians to become guardians of much of the world, while the ancestors of the Dwarves held the rest. Once they were a single race, yet their united rule could not endure. Even these most graceful of beings are not immune to in-fighting or betrayal. The details are veiled in allegory and myth, but it is clear a great schism rent the Elven peoples asunder, resulting in the three powers we see today.”

Note that these small parcels of information hint or mention other factions, such as their cousins, the Dread Elves and the human Sagarika Kingdoms (which we learn in other sources was sponsored by the Elves to help overthrow the rule of the Ogre Khans!)

Game Abilities

Martial discipline is a key faction ability which gives the elves some staying power. What they lack in physical resistance they make up with strong training. This ability allows the player to roll two dice instead of one, and choose the lowest (best) score for tests of leadership.

Unlike most elves in fantasy worlds, there doesn’t seem to be a huge physical weakness to them. The Resilience characteristic determines how “easily the model withstands blows” much like the toughness characteristic in Warhammer Fantasy. Compared to humans troops, Highborn troops are just as resilient however, their commanders are weaker, retaining a resilience of 3 compared to 4 for humans.

Their agility is great – in the 9th Age models with a higher agility score attack first. What I loved about the High Elves from Warhammer Fantasy was their speed but I didn’t agree with the “always strike first” rule as it seemed too forced. In 9th Age elves are fast not because of a rule, but because of their profile: a typical Highborn elf has an agility score of 5 compared to a normal human warrior who has a score of 3, making elves super agile.

I punched a simple army into BattleScribe and assuming it’s up-to-date, I was amazed that Citizen Spears (a regular unit of spear-men for the Highborn Elves faction) were even more agile in certain circumstances.

I’ll explain…

In the 9th Age, weapons all possess special rules. For spears this means they provide fighting in extra ranks (which Citizen Spears do already, so there’s plenty of attacks there), they provide a bonus to penetrating their targets armour (+1) and assuming they unit did not charge, are engaged and not flanked, grant a further bonus to agility and armour penetration. This amounts to an agility of 7, armour penetration of +2 and if they’re fighting in 3 ranks of 5, you’re looking at 15 attacks – sounds like a very effective greek-styled phalanx.

It seems that simple (basic) units are capable troops and are not just there to provide filler units to your armies. I got excited when I played around with the BattleScribe app and so purchased some Oathmark Elves – you get 30 miniatures in a box for around £25, so £50 essentially gets you 3 units of mixed spears, bows or hand weapons (I’ll review them another time).

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Empire of Sonnstahl

Look and Feel

The Empire of Sonnstahl echoes the Empire from the old Warhammer world, as you would expect. It is:

  • Blocks of trained state troops,
  • Gothic knights riding heavily armoured horses,
  • Battle mages and War Priests,
  • Cannons and siege engines galore,
  • Works best when units are used together as a whole.

History

Replace the bearded Sigmar with Sunna, a female goddess who united the human tribes, and you’ve pretty much got the gist of the Sonnstahl Empire (Sonnstahl, as we learn below, is the name of Sunnas sword).

Throughout the snippets we get the idea that the Sonnstahl Empire, while lacking the extensive age and focus of the elder races, makes up its shortfalls in dedication and record keeping. It really is an interesting and refreshing idea that humans are able to record and pass down their learnings so that each successive generation is better prepared and able to learn more. It really gives the human faction a great feel.

“A nation founded upon the exploits of Sunna, goddess given flesh, our ally has developed far from its early days. The tribes Sunna unified have endured together, never forgetting her memory and glory, symbolised by her eponymous sword Sonnstahl. The core of human supremacy in Vetia, with Destrian wealth now united through marriage with its grand armies and economy, there is no limit to the Empire’s ambition.”

“But, to command such a diverse nation, an Emperor must not simply conquer in battle, he or she must compete in the political arena, navigating the treacherous currents of rival families and churches, to unite the nation against its enemies. A true seat of learning, with magic and technology refined into effective weapons, the Empire has become a master of many trades and has begun extending its grasp to foreign lands.”

Game Abilities

The Empire has a great feeling of tradition to it. Much like in Warhammer, the main human faction is designed with cooperation in mind. What individuals lack in raw brute strength, they make up in battlefield tactics and cunning.

Detachments allow for support units to respond on behalf of their parents units, meaning they can counter charge, shoot or support those units in trouble. This low-level mastery gives the Empire faction a strong sense of unity and training which marries well with the “state troop” feel it possesses. Lines of missile troops supporting blocks of eavy infantry has nice historical feel to it, which will appeal to history buffs, while allowing the fantasy element to smooth over a need for absolute accuracy.

Generals and Commanders of the Empire can also issue “Orders” once per turn. These play into the feel of the troops, as orders allow units to move faster, embolden them against losses or near defeat, make shooting units more accurate or brace a unit against an incoming charge. Multiple characters who can give orders stack up so long as the order isn’t the same, so in theory a stout line of missile troops and spears troops could effectively gain the accurate rule and fight in extra ranks which feels nice thematically.

An example of the above is a simple army list created with BattleScribe:

1 Commander, with bits and pieces.

15 Imperials Guard with greatswords (think, WFB “Greatswords”) as a parent unit, with a magical banner, the “Banner of Unity.”

2 units of 10 handgunners, both as support units.

This combination means that if the Commander issues an order to the Imperial Guard unit, the banner allows a further free order to be given to a support unit, effectively providing a chain of command across the units. They make ideal rank and file strategies when you start to add in extra commanders capable of giving orders.

Dark Lore – the Lore of Badass

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

So, the bit that’s really caught my attention and imagination this week: Warriors of the Dark Gods!

Warriors of the Dark Gods

This faction book is packed. I mean, seriously stuffed with stories and lore generating the background of the world effortlessly. It is a piece of art in its own right, with writers and artists packing in their hard work to create something that exceeds the stuff we see written by the likes of Games Workshop. I’ve said it before in previous articles, but for a group of people working for nothing, this is exceptional. It feels more like Warhammer Fantasy Battles than Warhammer Fantasy Battles! If this is what we’re to expect for all of the factions in the 9th Age, then we are to be truly blessed with something amazing.

Even the artwork is superb, but for me, the art looks REAL. It hasn’t just been banged out by a Wacom tablet and stylus, no, these artists have spent a great deal of time on their art and it really shows! (I have nothing against digital artists, I just expect more from the likes of GW who are funded by their sales!)

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

We are treated with 80 pages of storytelling, lore and fantastic artwork before we even get to the game mechanics section, of which there are nearly 30 pages of army choices and stat lines, completed with a quick reference guide to make consulting your stats easy. And don’t forget, you can simply download the “slim” version of the army book, which contains only the game mechanic components.

At the beginning of the book we are given a story of the trials of commander Ilarion Yanovich, whose frontier town becomes surrounded by raiders. Yanovich is visited each night by one of seven envoys from each camp, enticing him to their dark gods. In this story, we are given insights into the dark gods and how their warriors behave. The temptations and trials are reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno, with each envoy representing what we would call a sin. Yanovich appears throughout the stories, each snippet exploring the newer peaks of his plight.

The artwork here is amazing: tall, robust warrior figures in heavy plated armour representing each of the envoys. Take a look at the images below (courtesy of the 9th Age book). I can certainly feel the nostalgia rising in the artwork. Some examples carry a 90’s style I’ve missed so much, emulated so well that they could have passed the high standard of golden age of Games Workshop and the White Dwarf magazine. It is probably unfair to keep comparing the 9th Age with a well established setting, but the creative talents behind the 9th Age have managed to not just copy the art, but perfect it further.

9th Age tabletop wargame fantasy warhammer battles gamesworkshop

Moving on: as we read further we get an idea of how the world was made, of the Mother & Father who make up the twin worlds and of the veil, a hair’s breadth barrier between the two worlds. Mother is law and Father Chaos is the opposite. We’ve learned now that there are seven dark gods, but also an extra layer to the hierarchy, with Father Chaos acting as the Overlord.

The story of Anaba by a mysterious sorcerer further defines the pantheon, describing the symbol of the dark gods, an eight-pointed star. The longest point of the star symbolising Father Chaos. In the lore, it is said that Father’s plans underpin the plans of the seven. We also learn that those dark gods fashioned themselves on the sins of mortals.

The richness of this cosmic lore could go on and on, but I can’t stress enough how much you will learn about the 9th Age from this.

I could go on, but this article is already over 3K words and it is late in the night!

Join us for the next part, where we will undertake to create some armies of the 9th Age and battle it out over several scenarios to get an actual feel for the game. We will cover:

  • Choosing and creating our armed forces,
  • Create a narrative mini-campaign using the scenarios supplement,
  • A brief overview of the battles, with some analysis,

Then we will answer some questions, such as:

  • How long does it take to setup a game,
  • How long does it take to play a game,
  • How much it costs (potentially)
  • Is it accessible to new players and how easy was it to learn.

Join us, and we’ll see if we can’t convince you to try it for yourself!

(All images borrowed from the 9th Age website library, unless otherwise stated. 11/7/19)

Ferris, for the Creator Consortium

@FerrisWrites for Twitter

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Controversial article on why we game Age of Sigmar a second chance.

Building Terrain for tabletop war games? Part One, Two, Three & Four!

Give Sigmar a Chance: Why I’m giving Games Workshops ‘Age of Sigmar’ a Second Look…

Age of Sigmar is a tabletop war-game set in a fantasy world created by Games Workshop (GW). The game involves miniatures to represent warriors and monsters, with dices rolls used to represent the fray of battle as two or more players strive to defeat their opponents.

Warhammer Fantasy Battles (WFB) was the precursor to Age of Sigmar, and its development into the newer game was fraught with poor decision making and knee jerk reactions, with an unhealthy dose of corporate foolery.

I was a long time fan of Warhammer in its earlier and middle life. It was something I grew up with. Its strong sense of fantasy and rich lore was inspiring to a young boy, teenager and adult. As a nerd, it was a binding force among friends that ran alongside games like Dungeons & Dragons. It was a large part of our youth.

I took time out from Warhammer and GW they fell out of favour with me for many reasons. So when I heard about the new Age of Sigmar I was hopeful for a balanced and fun game. I felt let down and the following history tale feels like a terrible loss to something I held very dearly.

But I’m giving GW a second chance, and I’ll explain why later.

First, some history…

warhammer games workshop fantasy battles oldhammer tabletop game miniatures

The Lore Unflinching

Since its inception in 1983, Warhammer Fantasy Battle has been rich in its setting, abundant history and legends combined with inspiring artwork and grandiose tales. It was for the most part, a thing of beauty, the likes of which no other company had managed to create. WFB ran until 2010, with 27 years of added legends and story, enriching its own lore within each incarnation, eventually ploughing itself into an 8th and final edition.

However, a common complaint is that the story of the world never really advanced. Most of the rich storytelling, the history of the world, had already taken place. Global political and natural events had already shaped the world, from the war between Elves and Dwarves to the cataclysms that shaped the geography. With the exception of the incursions forces of Chaos (the ultimate big bad guys of the setting) very little else changed, and for 27 years humanity and its allies stood on the brink of extermination and extinction… yet was never quite defeated or victorious.

Arguably there’s a difference between the campaign world and the larger written fiction world: Despite gaps in the world, the GW development team failed to seize and advanced certain narrative arcs or historical campaigns, such as the War of the Beard, pitching Elves and Dwarves into a war that lasted years, creating offshoots of each nation / faction. Despite having untapped regions on the world map, it seemed that GW prematurely ran out of geographical room, never actually filling out all the regions in detail. The missed opportunities were vast.

warhammer games workshop fantasy battles oldhammer tabletop game miniatures

A Lore Uncopyrighted

WFB was expanded in the 80’s and as such borrowed much of its history and cultural ideas from Lord of the Rings which saw a rise in popularity and profile during that decade. Warhammer was generally considered a variant of many different stories and world settings at a time when copyrighting the name of a species wasn’t ever considered.

This borrowing of cultures and ideas meant that other, smaller companies were able to borrow in turn from GW. Being a large and successful company, GW didn’t like that idea. The prime example of this is the novel “Spots the Space Marinewhich GW wanted removed for copyright reasons. Owning ‘Space Marine’ for themselves was apparently critical to their business model.

When you considered how much GW borrowed from other media, you realise that much of their content was not their own. Copyrighting that content and cornering the market to their benefit was not possible with the old WFB lore. They would have to change everything… which Age of Sigmar does; the heart warming Elves, Dwarves, Goblins and Orcs were replaced with Aelves, Duardin, Grots and Orruk. It’s also hard to copyright historical figures and names, looking at you Bretonnian players!

warhammer games workshop fantasy battles oldhammer tabletop game miniatures

Compounding the Fractures

For new players, starting a game of Warhammer can be costly, with players investing their time and precious money into buying miniatures, paints, brushes, terrain boards and books to create their armies. If you just look at the price of the miniatures, you can spend hundreds of your precious monies before you’ve assembled anything. So when a game loses its appeal to old gamers, and new gamers can’t afford to start playing, sales begin drop and any company is likely to worry. But GW didn’t seem to learn with each new edition of WFB…

The 6th Edition of WFB was considered ‘alright’ in its early days for game balance. It still had its problems, much like any game. Unfortunately it was the start of the fall, where the final few Army Books published showed an increase in the power creep (where successive armies would be significantly tougher and cheaper to purchase in-game). Matching armies to play a fair game was harder and players started to emulate the winners creating a stale gaming style. Spending hundreds of pounds on an impressive army didn’t guarantee a satisfactory win/lose ratio.

7th Edition compounded on 6th edition and was the point in time when the famous (probably misquote) “We’re a miniature company not a games company” by the CEO of that time, Kirby. This was considered the primary unbalanced version of the game. This was also the time of the GW store changes, where a single member of staff was expected to run the store. This lead to an end of local store tournaments and a reliance on local independent gaming stores to do the hard work, which they were not prepared to do.

8th Edition simply added on top of this again, removing some parts of the game that required skill and understanding and replaced them with unbalanced armies and rules in totality.

 

Mat Ward held the creative reigns during these times of troubles and was supposedly responsible for the power creep of factions – most of the army supplement books were under his name which unfortunately lead to a loss in popularity. This lower-quality “modelling business” seems to have driven a core of players away, especially when GW tried to claim gamers only made up 20% of their sales (maybe they included digital games and fiction in those sales numbers, who knows). Still, 20% is a huge chunk of your market and not to be sniffed at.

The messiah Jedi to bring balance should have been 9th Edition and was rumoured to be an amazing game of fortitude and fun. However, some internet folks believe that this dropped the sales of the 8th edition as players saved their cash ready to spend it all in a glorious fit of nerd-frenzy… GW scrapped most of what 9th edition could have been. Frankly, GW had failed its panic test and bottled it, doing something so knee jerk worthy that many of their core fans and players simply stared in disbelief.

They killed it all off.

In an act of terrible corporate zeal, it was deemed unworthy and so all of it had to burn, apparently.

Warhammer 40K, the Expanding Galaxy

On the other hand, GW’s Warhammer 40,000 (40K) storyline moved onwards in the grim darkness of the 41st millenium. Players still flocked to it and it seemed always popular. Everyone loves “Spess Ma-reens!” So while WFB fell, GW put their time and effort into 40K. This lead to more delays and lethargy in creating content for WFB, hammering further nails into its coffin.

warhammer games workshop fantasy battles oldhammer tabletop game miniatures age of sigmar

Birth of the Mortal Realms, the Age of Sigmar

It was expected that 9th edition was going to mend itself, bandage its blood spouting wounds, stick on an eye patch and throw itself back into the fight for the old world with a grizzled low growl. But with the panicked reaction from a slump in sales, GW rushed ahead with Age of Sigmar and dumped the Old World. The lore and world history of WFB was abolished, the relics and lessons of the Old World were forgotten and the new world, the world of Mortal Realms was born.

Many fans were outraged (I mean, it is the internet) and a solid core of supporting players felt abandoned and ignored. No doubt many miniatures ended up in the bin, or left to fend for themselves Toy Story style in a box of Barbie dolls… or likely ended up on eBay.

Warhammer now looked like something from Magic the Gathering, minus the charm.

So why, after the loss of something held very dear, am I giving Age of Sigmar and Games Workshop another chance?

warhammer games workshop fantasy battles oldhammer tabletop game miniatures age of sigmar

Age of Sigmar

The new game is very accessible and despite frankly large problems, holds promise. The core rules are completely free and readily available online to print out yourselves.

Now you can play the game as a narrative (discard point values for armies) or you can carry out matched play, where you decide on the points values for your forces. This means you can tailor games for competitions or story driven wars.

A Battle Narrative

The revived and quick to learn rules have given GW a chance at another shot to regain the glory of the old days – quite simply it’s a shame they had to destroy everything the fans loved about the setting (but all is not lost). Games are now played in scenarios. This put me off originally, because I love a good ruck in the mud with swords and death, but actually, scenarios allows me to play a relatively weak force (High Elves, who are now Swifthawk Riders) against an incredibly overpowered force (such as the Beastclaw Raiders) and hopefully run rings around them, because no army is able to be perfect in a randomly determined scenario.

Embers of the Old World

Thankfully, GW are still publishing fiction related to the Old World. They’ve even gone back further and re-released fiction before the time of Karl Franz (the emperor with the big hammer at WFB peak). Third parties such as Cubicle 7 have brought fresh life to the Old World with a renewed and updated version of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game (we had a peek early on here…) and God’s bless the Creative Assembly for sticking with the Old World in their very successful Total War: Warhammer series (which merges two of my favourite things wonderfully).

And finally… Gotrek Gurnison lives! The doom-seeking Slayer wandered out of the time warping Chaos Wastes of the Old World to bring some good old fashioned Slayer perspective in Realm Slayer. Gotrek quests through the Mortal Realms to find his manling sidekick, Felix Jaeger, who may have been reincarnated as a Stormcast Eternal! This is a great tale that sets the scene for Age of Sigmar and throws us veteran players a much desired connection to the World that Once was.

Gotrek Gurnison Felix Jaeger troll salay beast slayer everything slayer

So, like with the new Star Wars movies – the new stuff doesn’t invalidate the old stuff – you can still read and watch the old stories and enjoy them for what they are. You can do the same for Warhammer.

GW took a huge gamble which seems to have paid off.

At least for now…

Absolutely Final Bit

If you keep up to date with the acts of GW and their Age of sigmar game, you may want to take a look at this petition that is over five years old. If you read it you’ll see that most of what the petition was asking for has actually been met by the GW. Shame they never actually replied to the petition…

https://www.change.org/p/games-workshop-limited-refocus-your-business-model-on-the-sale-of-a-game-and-support-of-a-gaming-community-vice-the-pure-sale-of-collectible-miniatures

That about wraps it up for now! Thanks for reading, and as ever, your comments and discussion are always welcome. perhaps you know something we don’t and would like to share your thoughts?

@FerrisWrites for Twitter and our Facebook page.

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Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

In the last few weeks I’ve gone over some of the techniques for making battlefield terrain. The focus has been on buildings and structures and this week we’re going to finish that theme off by bringing it all together. I promised some multistory buildings too. Read on to see more of the good stuff and how I achieved the beginnings of some great results!

What am I doing?

I decided to make everything so that it would fit on convenient 15 x 15 cm tiles. This was so that I could orientate the same tiles to create different looking terrain, whether I’m playing Age of Sigmar, AoS Skirmish, Frostgrave or even some Dungeons & Dragons.

Similar tiles can be used to create urban scenery in Warhammer 40,000, which I’ll cover at some point in the future.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I also upgraded my hot-wire cutter. It was a little more expensive, in the £50-60 region, but the arm doesn’t flex, the wire doesn’t bend and it heats up consistently making its ability to cut through foam much better! Alarmingly, the wire does glow bright orange, which was a little disconcerting at first!

So how did I do, what did I do, and how did I do it? Read on…

A trial run…

I decided to test my formula for creating tabletop scenery with an unsuspecting volunteer. I quickly ran down the basic steps of creating the terrain piece, introduced the volunteer to a hot glue gun and Styrofoam, hefted a tonne of miniature bricks onto the table and allowed that person to run away with their imagination. This is the outcome so far (note, it still needs painting).

 

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As you can see, it really doesn’t take much to get stuck in and have a go. Once again, there wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved in the creation of this quaint little tower – imagination provided the blueprints and away they went!

The Tile Set Blueprints

OK, so creating as many 15 x 15 cm tiles as required. To make my life easier, I got hold of some 1 cm thick black Styrofoam. It was an eBay purchase and cost me about £16 but may be cheaper in other parts of the world. Why did I buy these? It’s quite difficult to thin down thick Styrofoam on account of the wobbly nature of the hot-wire cutter.

So, not everything needs be to broken or derelict, no, there needs to be more so I’m going to build some complete structures which fit on the 15 cm tiles; watchtowers, tall walls, dead-ends, bell towers, warehouses, pig pens, shambolic defensive positions – you name it!

Because each tile is essentially 6 x 6 inches, I can fit four in a single square foot. Multiply this by four and you’ve got yourself an interchangeable, customisable and modular tabletop terrain system. I’ll go to town on some bigger open plazas with ruined columns etc in the future (to make it easier and give any missile troops a chance).

Footpaths & Plazas

From a design point of view, I’d like to build some footpaths, essentially narrow death traps that must be risked to get to different places on the map.  Here are some images of the test pieces I worked on. It can take time to get it right, so give yourself an open mind when you’re trying out ideas – you won’t put pressure on yourself and get worked up by perceived ‘failures’ at the end of your crafting session.

 

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The dirt footpaths are 5 x 15 cm. By applying a lot of pressure with some scrunched up tin foil to the centre of the Styrofoam piece, and lighter touches to the outer quarters I was able to create the impression that the path had been used for many years. I cut some 0.5 x 0.5 x 15 slithers of foam and cut them up, weathering and aging them with the foil to look like curb pieces.

In the future when I attempt larger roads, I will use the ‘crazy pathing’ idea and simply trim the pieces down to compensate for the curb. I’ll also impress the foam in places to make it look like carts had been through, wearing down the road over the years.

The roads should be at least 10 cm wide and up to 30 cm long (the extent of my purchased Styrofoam sheets) – they will look good running through the centre of the board, or alongside the boards on bigger battle arenas. Details are important here, so I need to think about how I’m going to decorate the pieces to make them believable.

It sounds easy, but it’s actually very hard to make simple open spaces and retain the feeling of interest and wonder. Because there’s likely no focal point to grab the eye, it needs to have a few extra details to keep the area ‘alive’ and quirky.

I’ve decided on a single gallows with some stakes rammed into the ground to keep people away from ‘justice’ being served…

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I added some ‘crazy pathing’ for a bit more variety, weathering the whole lot with the tin foil method. To make the pathing stones I cut foam strips 2 x 2 cm then went over the corners, freehand cutting in irregular ways. I then cut the stones from the end of the strips at 0.5 cm, creating odd and mismatched but flat stones. In hindsight, I should have cut these narrow than 0.5 cm, maybe half that again to 0.25 cm.

Texture is also important, so I’ll likely be using some of the rolling pins from Green Stuff World. An example of my trial run with these can be found in the images below…

 

 

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Ramping It Up!

Finally, I decided to have a go at the multistory building idea.

I wanted to make this bigger, but I also wanted to be able to use different parts of it at different times. To achieve this, I started with 4 tiles to make a jumbo tile and began building a wall which would interconnect. I added a ruined wall around the edges of the jumbo tile, leaving plenty of gaps and debris for cover and interesting features.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I then started to make a second story of brickwork, which I could lock or lay in place and built this up a few times. Finally, I made a third story set of brickwork, but this time to accommodate half a roof.

The roof in these pieces was made from foam board, which is light and tough. I cut out rows of packing card (the sort of thin card your Amazon books are delivered in). Each row was 2 cm high with a cut  1 cm deep every 1 cm along the row. I then just cut and hacked out pieces to create the impression of roof slates. This was time consuming, but quite rewarding. You can see some of the details in the image below.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Finally, here’s a series of images showing you how to connect together.

 

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OK, so its not complete yet (I mean, I did just complete an entire week of a UK LARP event!) So I’ll post some images next week.

That’s it for now, and the end of this miniseries for terrain and scenery. If you’ve learnt anything, or if you have some advice and tips of your own, please leave a message in the comments below.

There will be more on tabletop terrain in the future, but for now, I really want to get these pieces finished and have them lined up for some gaming!

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Two…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

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BattleScribe: The Only Army List Builder you’ll need for Warhammer 40,000 & Other War games (Opinion)

I first mentioned BattleScribe in this article, briefly and frankly I think it deserves far more than a mere mention. So here it is, my closer look at the free army builder for nearly every war game out there!

I’m a lazy gamer when it comes to war games. Often I forget to bring or just haven’t bought the hard copies of the books that I really do need to play the game. Often I just borrow those belonging to my friends, and more often than not they never see them again for several years as they gather dust.

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But now, I’ve found something amazing. Something so great that it will blast the dust away from my bookshelf, shoot laser beams from the eyes of my wraithlord and generally add the power of the god-emperor on his relic throne to every aspect of my wargaming.

I’m talking about BattleScribe and I’m talking about Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000.

I’ll point out that BattleScribe doesn’t just do Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 stuff. It covers just about every war game currently out there. The data is maintained by the community, so it’s fairly balanced and as far as we can tell, canon (if that’s even possible for anything Games Workshop?)

Just a few games that jump up as popular, to give you an idea of the coverage:

  • A song of Ice & fire: Tabletop Miniature Game (which I kickstarted but yet to play)
  • AvP: Unleashed
  • Battletech
  • Bolt Action
  • Star Wars Armada, X-Wing & Legion
  • Firestorm
  • Fantasy Battles (the 9th Age guys!)
  • Infinity
  • Halo games
  • Harry potter games
  • Warmachine Hordes
  • Warhammer – all of it, from just about every age and era!

There’s something for just about everyone.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve used much in the way of similar programs, but the ones I have seen are poorly maintained, have hidden pay schemes for some or all content or just don’t have the scope to cover everything war gaming.

But BattleScribe has it all. I’m just getting started. Can you tell?

Features

I lied a bit – there are parts of BattleScribe that you can pay for. But this really doesn’t diminish the value of the program if you use only the free version. I think that after a couple of uses you may be tempted to even throw some spare money their way as a thanks for making your life much easier.

Pros

  • I’m terrible at flicking through the book and understanding how armies come together, detachments and points values, layers of this and that, the colour of the banner under a martian moon, etc. This feisty little program does all that for me – it even tells me if there’s something missing, if I’ve over spent on points, how many command points I have, what I need to eat for breakfast the week before (actually, my mother does that but she’s just as thorough too).
  • You want that list but can’t stand squinting at a screen like a cyberpunk mole? Yeah me too – BattleScribe can export your files as text and HTML. I believe the phone app for android also does PDF. So you can print out your army list, with options for including rules, points values etc.
  • You can share the data using URLs and they can be linked to Dropbox – I don’t ever have to pack a book ever again!
  • You can use BattleScribe on just about any modern platform, from desktops to phones, all makes, and versions.
  • Finally, according to their website you can update and edit files if you spot mistakes.

Cons

  • Using the Android App, it can be a bit fiddly when you first use it, and it does take a little bit of time to learn how it functions and how to edit your choices, such as war gear, detachments and commanders etc. Once you pick this up, and it is fairly intuitive, you’ll be fine. I still didn’t fully understand army detachments and specialist forces, so it took a bit of extra reading – it won’t tell you what things actually are until you select them, then it tells you what is missing. It was a bit of trial and error on coffee break.
  • The data files are community driven – there’s a tonne of slimy teenagers and Dorito dusted nerds out there who may want to fudge the rules a little bit. Those errors you friend found… yeah they may have just been a few tweeks to fit the “theme” of their army.

There are extra features for paying customers, mostly nice fluffy stuff like saving and customising units with names, quick views, some dice tools for when you don’t have any dice or math skills and of course, removing adverts, which I have to say, always sounds worth it.

So what does it all look like?

Well I had a bit of a fiddle and worked an army list which I think is legal, according to BattleScribe.

Here is an example of the output from PDF form, as you can see it lists everything I need to know about the unit. Other than a copy of the rules (which are brief now, thanks to GW’s overhaul) I’m covered.

BattleScribe Example Wraith Lord

You’ll notice that some of the Characteristics are labelled “Characteristic 1” etc. These follow a logical order of the stat line. It’s not really a bad point or a con, but worth mentioning in case you don’t realise in a rush.

The overall PDF has each unit nicely sectioned to set pages, so there’s very little run over. I suspect for something really powerful, like, I dunno, a Chaos character (?) the list may go on for quite a bit, but you’ll have to play around.

Here’s the whole PDF for you to look at. It’s not my final list, but I guess it’s pretty close!

Wraithhost Spearhead (HTML)

warhammer 40000 40k fantasy battlescribe army list army builder armylist armybuilder gamesworkshop games workshop

Finally, the link you’ve all been waiting for for BattleScribe.

So there you have it! Let me know what you think about the BattleScribe and maybe pass them a little donation if you like the work they’ve done!

J.D. Ferris, CC

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Title Art taken from Warhammer Art (I bought a copy) – you can find the poster for sale here.

Forge World: My first Experience with the Specialist Supplier for Games Workshop – The Craftworld Aeldari Wraithseer Model

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Most of us have seen or heard of Forge World. If you have, you’ve likely stared in disbelief at the prices of some of the miniatures they supply – even compared to Games Workshop – a notorious money snatcher – the prices are pretty high.

But are we getting upset by the price for no reason?

I’ve been gaming for years but I’ve never actually looked into Forge World before. I’ve heard many things, but as a scientist and forensic student, I would not be doing myself any favours without investigating the facts myself.

So, here goes.

My current Project…

I’ve been looking for a nice centerpiece miniature model for this new collection, which had to fit the theme of the faction and the type of army I was hoping to create. Since most of the troops I’ve selected are essentially ghosts and spirits animating some (very cool) looking suits of armour, some random space elf dude wasn’t going to live up to the aesthetic. So I looked around – and stumbled upon a new miniature I haven’t seen before… the Wraithseer. But, oh no, you can’t buy this miniature from Games Workshop, no. You have to order it from Forge World. Hmm… there’s a risk there, I’m sure.

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So I’ve looked into Forge World and I placed an order. I started to put this centerpiece commander together. These are my experiences and conclusions about the quality and worthiness of models bought from Forge World.

You’re gonna get some background on Forge World and I’ll throw in some images of how I went about the process of opening the box and putting it all together. Then I’m going to tell you if I think Forge World are worth it.

But First, some Background

Who the hell are Forge world? Forge World are a supplier of specialists model miniatures and conversion kits as well as specialist games. They generally use a type of resin for their products which is different from normal plastic. You’ll find they make all sorts of wondrous miniatures.

And to be perfectly clear, they are Games Workshop through and through. Same company. Same HQ. Same offices and same website design.

Games Workshop are a UK miniature war-gaming manufacturer. They are best known for their tabletop war-games such as; Warhammer Age of Sigmar (Fantasy Battle), Warhammer 40,000 and The Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game.

There’s a tonne of controversy with Games workshop and its various branch-off businesses, mainly; the pricing of their products, the way in which their new products are generally more powerful than the current stuff and the way in which they imply everything for Games Workshop has to be gold plated to be used. But despite all this, they generally do make some really good miniatures, to a good standard of quality. But if you ask the internet, they hate their customer base. I’m sitting on the fence of absolutes here – I enjoy the stuff they create, but I kind of agree that they are generally over priced.

My First Order from Forge World

Since May I’ve been an adult and started collecting miniatures from Games Workshop to play one of their main game lines, Warhammer 40K. Since childhood I enjoyed the setting and themes of GW’s universe, but I never really understood the concepts of some of the factions (armies) that are available for play. So, since I’ve had a little more free time in the evenings I started to collect miniatures for a faction known as the Aeldari (formerly, the Eldar). Think space-elves are you’re pretty much there. These guys captured my imagination from an early age and it’s taken me over two decades to start collecting them.

This is what I purchased, the Wraithseer, a variant of the Wraithlord.

 

Here’s what I found with my first experience with Forge World:

You essentially get a normal product with extra components to create the specialist unit. Since the Wraithseer is a Wraith Lord, you get all the parts for the Wraith Lord, with some extra bits to make the model into the Wraithseer. GW’s Wraithlord = £28, FW’s Wraithseer = £41. I’m spending £13 on some extra bits. Is that too pricey? Well, we’ll look at the quality later and draw some conclusions.

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The extra components are a different quality resin, lighter grey and more pliable. In the past, this resin was labelled as ‘Fine cast’ which suggested that the detailing on each model was of superior quality. It turns out, that wasn’t the case, so they ditched that marketing and decided to refer to the new range of products as simply, resin.

Edit (17/2/19, 17:30 GMT) – The above stricken text was later found to be incorrect. There is supposedly no link between Fine Cast and Forge World. However, this does not mean that GW dropped Finecast completely, as I’m sure there was overlap at some point between the manufacture. I’m open for more comments on this, so feel free to educate me!

Accurate-Finecast

Was anything bent out of shape or wildly irregular that it will not work? No, apart from a slightly wavy long narrow spear shaft, this model seems fine.

What did I have to do that was different to preparing a regular plastic miniature?

There’s a lot more flash (excessive build up of plastic / resin which you don’t normally get from the regular plastic kits) that needs cleaning and cutting away. If, like me, you’re haven’t done this sort of thing for years, you’ll really need to take your time and go slow. Look at, and think about, what you’re going to cut and how you’re going to cut it – these kits are expensive and you don’t want to mess it up! They’re also much softer, so any cutting risks cutting too deep! Resin kits need super glue to bond efficiently too, and they bond fast!

Bubbles

The Resin components: How does it look and feel, is the detail any better?

Hmm… yes I think it is. Some of that detail may be lost in the excess resin flash though. It certainly seems crisper in some places, but on areas of the blades, such as this cool looking spear, I had to re-carve the back of the blade so it looked less like a portion of cheese left to rot in Nurgle’s undercarriage. And check out some of those random bubble holes still!

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It glues and sticks fast. Really handy when you’re relying on your heartbeat to not force your fingers to break the delicate bonds using a more brittle and fragile plastic.

It is more pliable. It feels smooth and clean, but there is a bubbling effect in areas which will require more modelling to fill in the gaps. More time required, I guess!

How hard was the model kit to assemble?

Actually, not too hard at all compared to the regular wraith lord (of which, I’ve made three since May). Some of the components are very small and fiddly but if you plan the assembly properly, you shouldn’t have any problems at all!

 

Am I happy with the product?

Yeah, I think I am, but let’s discuss some final thoughts. I did realise later on however that the bases provided for the Wraithlords are scenic, they have nice detail touches like cracked earth and debris. There is no such base for the more expensive Wraithseer. What’s that all about? Well, it’s either money, or laziness on the part of GW’s package planning.

Final Thoughts: Is Forge world worth it?

I think this all depends on the buyer:

If like me, you’re a regular war-gamer with limited funds, then I suspect Forge world products are not for you – simply put, you don’t need them to enjoy the tabletop war games produced by Games workshop.

If your sole attraction to miniatures is to assemble, convert and paint models, then actually yeah, I think it’s for you – I suspect you’ll buy one-off miniatures, paint them to a really high standard and marvel at them in a highly polished glass case. Or sell them on Ebay for a little bit of extra money.

Forge World is not for kids. They’re out-priced for a start – unless you have wealthy middle class parents, but also because they’re not recommended for anyone under the age of 15. Why? Well they’re fiddly, require you to use sharp points and blades… and apparently the resin is toxic as a dust. Perhaps most teenagers probably won’t know how to assemble the over priced miniature too – there’s no instructions provided!

Edit (14/2/19, 21:00 GMT) – Many of you have praised the customer services of Forge World. Apparently they are more than happy to offer replacement parts should your model not be usable, or even if any of its components are not usable. So much so, no one I’ve spoken can fault them for it. Seems they actually care!

And finally – you can’t buy the rules for these models or download them separately like you can for some products on the GW website. No, you need to buy a separate book for about £15.

HOWEVER – I have recently discovered a very cool app called BattleScribe.

BattleScribe is a free army builder app for Warhammer 40,000. It contains everything, which means you don’t need to have any of the books for any of the Warhammer 40K factions and this app even lets you download your selected army as an easy-print PDF with ALL the rules associated with the models and the choices you made for the army.

Yes, it is FREE.

So there you go – it is unlikely I’ll be buying anything else from Forge World in the near future (unless I come into a large amount of prize money for something). But if you’re a collector of interesting miniatures or if you like a challenge, then its good for you.

I’d like to hear your views and opinions on Forge World and their product line, so feel free to add a comment or message us. You can join our slowly building mailing list here.

J.D. Ferris

Warhammer Quest Blackstone Fortress: One Stronghold Down & Still Learning

Prior to the Festive period we got our hands on a box of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress. So far we’ve been loving the game. Some of us have had reservations about Games Workshop in the past, their ability to piss their hardcore fans off – which seems to be normal for any company in the 21st Century, but more so because of the blatant greed. I digress, I actually enjoy the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K universe.

Over the festive period we’ve managed to get in three solid gaming sessions; the first to get to know the game and try to figure out the rules; another to start a proper campaign and see how far we could get; and the most recent session to take on the first of several strongholds in the game. Allow me to explain…

In Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress you play characters from a band of adventurers in the 41st Millenium, investigating an ancient and monolithic structure drifting in space. Access points to this fortress allow you to gain entry into different parts of the fortress, where you seek clues to find the much sought after Hidden Vault.

warhammer quest blackstone fortress games workshop

In game terms you need to find clue cards from your expeditions into the Blackstone Fortress. At first glance we thought this could take a good number of games, and now after a few more sessions we have a better understanding…

In session 2 we ploughed our way through a regular expedition, taking some heavy fire but actually finding a total of 5 clues, 1 more than we actually needed. This allowed us to gather the information and put it together into locating one of several strongholds which held a higher echelon of clues, to eventually permit us deeper into the fortress (we guess). So in actual fact, we don’t need to play hundreds of games as we at first thought. No, you can get all the clues you need in a single nights session of gaming.

So in session 3 we blitzed the run-up to this stronghold, the Descent, where the players must traverse a two layered dungeon map (sorry, Combat map) and then get to a focus point and access it several times to end the game. Whilst this was happening, the monsters and bad guys were spawning 50% of the time, because reinforcements in Strongholds happens on a 1-10 of a 20 sided dice.

But we cheated..!

Ok, so we had 6 players this time round (usually its 4 characters tops), so it was much easier. But in our defence, we still nearly lost several characters in the process which would have crippled our chances of completing the game as a whole and never opening that secret envelope for the Hidden Vault.

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Mmm, secrets…

So, to the naysayers on reddit who told me that the price of the game (even discounted to ~£70) was not worth it because, on average, people would maybe play the game 4-5 times a year: your loss. Even if you hate Games Workshop for being the money making powerhouse that it is, they’ve actually hit upon a good game, that has more depth and story than any of the current or previous games they’ve made.

You see, the game relies on players not always being present every gaming session, so that the characters they play, which are persistent throughout the gaming sessions, get played by other members of your gaming group. If that character dies, there’s no chance of them coming back, they lose all of their equipment, focus and abilities not only of themselves, but of the adventuring group. That adds up to quite a loss.

Why is this a good thing?

Because it adds a sense of realism and makes the game harder challenging.

We’ve felt challenged by this game each session, more so because there is no genius mastermind controlling the bad guys. Cooperatively, we were still getting our buns handed to us by an insubstantial  entity that is the games master.

A bit like a omnipresent  entity in the form of a floating space fortress…

Our advice for the average gamers with families (thus limiting your game time) – play Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress with less  Exploration Cards. Normally you create the deck of Exploration cards by taking 4 from the challenges and 4 from the Combat decks. This, in our opinion, can take more hours than are fair in an evening.

Three cards from each can take you 3 hours, you just get less chance of finding clue cards, but then you just play an extra session later. It’s pretty straight forward!

Let’s see if we can get that envelope opened!

Warhammer Quest, Blackstone Fortress – Hero Quest in Space or More?

Blackstone Fortress is the latest adventure board game to come from Games Workshop set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, Warhammer 40K to most nerds. It is labelled as Warhammer Quest. For those you in your thirties this will take you back to the glory days of heroic ineptitude – the golden age of adventure. For everyone else, it’s the latest in the Warhammer Quest Series. Alongside Blackstone Fortress in the Warhammer Quest series are Silver Tower (currently discontinued) and Shadows of Hammerhal both of which are set in GW’s fantasy setting, Age of Sigmar. All of these games follow similar game styles and mechanics, so if you’ve played one you should be able to pick up the others with relative ease.

Blackstone Fortress promises exploration and adventure in the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium, a vast void of horror and terror.

It delivers.

With character choices ranging from outlawed Artificial Intelligence robot, rogue trader and Imperial Navigator to fanatic, Ratling snipers (who are twins) and alien hunters, there should be something for anyone who has an interest in grim and gritty science fiction.

A few of you older players out there who have not ventured in table top adventure games in some time may be thinking ‘is this just Hero Quest in the modern era of gaming?’ I think it’s a fair and realistic question. So is it just Hero Quest in space? Well yes, at least in concept.

The Goal

The whole point of Blackstone Fortress is to find your way into the Hidden Vault, deep inside the drifting hulk of the mysterious Blackstone Fortress. To do this, players need to discover clues during their expeditions. These clues will lead to special scenarios called Strongholds, which will eventually lead to the hidden vault. Even when a stronghold attack can be mounted, the players still need to get to them, with a 4 card expedition, purely of combat – more of this later. Getting to the hidden vault will take a lot of gaming hours, but I am certain that it will be a challenge and a worthy one at that!

In the game fluff, the Blackstone Fortress learns and adapts after each incursion of adventurers. Legacy cards add to the danger in this aspect, increasing the threat level for some monsters, such as the Spindle Drone. They up the ante during the expeditions. Once in play they stay and generally add flair and layers of danger to the expeditions. Once there are no more legacy cards in left in play, you’ve run out of time, and lose the game, no matter where you’re up to!

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with the character ships, two varieties of the Grav-lifts and the Leader token.

Let’s take a look at the goods first though…

Manufacturing Quality

The important bit to most gamers and war-gamers: are the miniatures any good? Yes. The miniatures are amazing and better still, they clip together – no glue required. You just need something to cut them from the plastic sprue. This took me a couple of hours whilst watching a series on Netflix so anyone with more experience may get it done in half that time.

The miniatures are constructed in such a way that they appear seamless, which took a bit of jigsaw magic to see how they fitted together – but as previously mentioned, no glue is required, so you can take your time. The same great GW quality of miniature manufacture is found throughout. I think my Kill Team just got bigger too – the models are in hot demand, check out ebay if you don’t believe me.

The game tiles are a really thick and good quality card. They pop out easily, which reduces tearing of the precious printed sides. They’re double sided but unlike Imperial Assault by Fantasy Flight, there’s not a million small pieces to get lost or confused with. The game counters are all pretty unique, with the majority of them being wound tokens (which are double sided for critical wounds). The rest are for game effects and inspiration points, which I’ll mention later on.

There are three rule-books.

Don’t despair.

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Five books from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress. One is fluff, one of rules for Warhammer 40K and the other three are for game play.

Each one is written chronologically for each section of the game as you progress. They are written to the usual standard for GW, guiding you through in simple steps. The terminology may be a little different if you haven’t tried GW games before, so take your time. If you are familiar with any of the GW games, such as Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, you’ll find the turn sequence and rounds familiar.

Once you have the turn sequence in your mind, it’s pretty straight forward from there. There is a bit of juggling with the game on the first play through, as you consult different books to figure out when you can heal or how to carry out certain actions. This is a minor point, however it does highlight the importance of reading through the rules before the gaming session!

Blackstone Fortress is split into two game sections by exploration cards; challenges and combats, which are drawn randomly from the Exploration card deck. The exploration deck is large, 36 cards, so it should always be a different combination. You randomly pick 4 challenge cards and 4 combat cards which make up the Exploration deck for the Expedition. When combined, these are like a campaign story arc. These are shuffled and placed on the Precipice board, which is like the character staging area.

There are 18 cards each for both challenges and combats (36 cards in total). By drawing 4 of each randomly, you’re looking at 1 in 18 chance of drawing the same cards each time you create the exploration deck. The chances of drawing the same 8 cards are something like a 1 in 105,000 chance, by my shoddy calculations. That’s a lot of gaming before statistically you get the same play-through.

Challenges

The challenges are narrative encounters which do not make use of models and board pieces. They are usually a way of grabbing gear and tech (treasure, clues to future explorations), usually by causing damage to assailants. They include short narrative pieces such as ‘Get them all!’ where the players are required to inflict as much damage as they can to a fleeing group of hostiles – anyone who can deal 4 or more wound gets to draw a card from the discovery deck. Simples.

On a balancing note, these may be to help characters build up with less risk than combats or offer special cards for future explorations.

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The Precipice section of the board game, from Games Workshop’s Blackstone Fortress, with two of the character ships, the Destiny dice, Exploration cards and Discovery cards.

Combat Setup

Combats involve board pieces and miniatures and are the biggest portion of the game. Each combat exploration card shows how the map tiles are set up so anyone can setup the board while others are chasing through the rules books or determine where the bad guys and monsters are placed. They also mark where certain mission specific specials may be placed.

Keeping track of the game during combat is achieved with the Initiative tracker. The players get the option to attempt to help each other by swapping places with allies or attempting to swap their place with the enemy to get the drop on them. This all happens in the Initiative phase, followed by the Gambit phase. The Gambit phase can be costly as an action dice has to be spent, followed by an ability roll to determine success. These mechanics help to really bring the tension to the game, forcing the players to plan ahead. The players feel the pressure when the cards are redrawn each round, as their plans will likely need to change.

Hostiles and bad guys are drawn from the Encounter cards deck and placed in the starting positions according to the combat exploration card, which are given a specific place on the board and the tracker. The number of hostiles on a card are determined by where on the tracker they are, for example, you may get 2 drones on position 1, or 4 on position 2. Hostiles gain reinforcements each turn and are spawned on their turn in the Initiative track with a roll of a 20 sided dice, called the Blackstone Dice (which is black and looks like a stone if you’re not familiar with 20 sided dice). This adds threat, because even if all the bad guys are dead, they can keep re-spawning as happened with our test games!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

Hostiles in the game are given over to an AI system, where they react depending on a dice roll. It is not completely random, as each action they are given depends on a set few variables which allows them to act organically. Each set of rules for the monsters appears on very handy cards, giving you everything you need to know in a single place. So much easier than consulting multiple books!

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The Traitor Guardsmen for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop. The reverse side shows how the AI results on a dice roll.

Hostiles are terrifying in their own specific ways; if they’re not ripping you to ribbons with frenzied claw attacks they’re punching through your armour and ignoring your save rolls with shocking power! Case in point, UR-025 (or Mr Robot man to you and I) is a heavy duty fighter, with a better chance of rolling saves against wounds, with an added re-roll too – then he gets hit by a Negavolt Cultist and suddenly he has no armour saves. Surprises await those unprepared!

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Game tiles for Games Workshops Blackstone Fortress. Double sided and durable for all your grim and gritty science fiction adventures in the hopeless voids of Warhammer 40K!

Characters in the Game

At the start of each combat round Characters are allocated action dice, regular six sided dice. The dice are stored on their character card with whatever score they rolled. These dice are used / spent on actions which require a set number on one or more of those dice. Moving require a dice with a score of 1 or more, other actions may require 4 or more on a dice etc. There are standard actions and character specific actions, which are found on the character cards, usually weapon actions.

Explore with caution. When you are wounded the dice you roll at the start of each round are blocked, covered by wound markers, meaning the potential number of actions you can make are severely impaired! Fear not however, each round an extra pool of destiny dice are rolled which any one can use – but the power of the warp means that any duplicate scores on these dice are removed, so you better roll fresh to get the most out of destiny! A lot of dice multiples came up during our game, causing tension and nail biting in equal measure.

A second type of dice rolls are attribute dice which are used to evade damage, carry out special tasks and try to recover wounds. There are wounds and then there are critical wounds – wounds can be recovered during the combat part of the game, whereas critical wounds require a trip back to your ship to try and heal. As with Warhammer Quest back in the golden age, however, there’s always a chance something may not heal fully…

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The Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

The dice rolls are easy to interpret: you either fail, succeed or critically succeed. Each of the ability dice (6, 8 and 12 sided dice) are colour coded to match the information on the character sheets. These dice rolls are not always friendly, you can feel like the end of times can result from a failed roll. On the plus side, there’s very few calculations as in some GW games – just check to see how many symbols you rolled and away you go. GW have followed Fantasy Flight in this – so don’t lose those dice! Otherwise you could end up paying for more specialist dice in the future…

Toward the end of the combat sections, characters need to escape by summoning the escape lift, usually under duress. There’s no way out otherwise! When the remaining characters get to the escape lift, they have to decide to carry on fighting the growing horde, or to head back to their ships to lick their wounds. Heading back restarts the exploration so if you really need to finish you’re gonna find it hard to do!

When a character kills a number of monsters on their turn, they can roll the Blackstone Dice to see if they gain Inspiration points, where they are required to roll under the wounds they caused on a 20-sided dice. Inspiration points are used to re-roll some dice throughout the game, usually the activation dice at the start of the round, or give flip your character card over to increase their effectiveness. A bit like leveling up!

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The ‘Inspired’ Kroot Tracker for Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress by Games Workshop

At the end of each round of the game, in combat or otherwise, a leadership token passes around the table, allowing each player to call the shots in equal measure (with a discussion, of course).

First Impressions & Thoughts

In a single evening gaming session, including learning how to play the game, we managed to get through 1 challenge and 2 combats. Assuming we don’t have to relearn the game, we could probably manage drawing 4 of the Exploration cards, which equates to half an Expedition. At this rate, in theory, we could spend hundreds of hours playing this game. So unlike Hero Quest, there is a seemingly limitless combination of events from challenges, combats and encounter (monster) cards. There’s probably scope for fan made or self made encounters too, let’s watch the internet pensively for these.

The game has a very nostalgic feel to it, similar to previous board games from GW decades ago. The hostile creatures are just as deadly as you’d expect, in their own ways. Players without prior knowledge will make mistakes which make the game intense and ups the challenge rating greatly. In this way, very much like Hero Quest!

The open form and random generation of each Expedition is a similar mechanic used by other games and it works just as well in Blackstone Fortress. It will take some serious play testing to get through all of the different combinations. In our initial play-through we had four players and one person acting as the games master. We felt this worked best for our first game so we could focus on the different parts of the game – just like in Hero Quest! You can play this game solo or without a games master, as the monsters follow an AI system, meaning all you need to do is move the pieces around and roll the dice.

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Dice, lots of six-sided dice, with the special ability dice, from 6, 8 & 12-sided dice. The 20-sided dice is the Blackstone dice…

What we did wrong…

We went wrong in some parts, missing the exploration round which would have made the combat a little easier if we had rolled on the event table. Although, the table isn’t all good – sometimes it can go horribly wrong… So it’s not all bad!

Why did we miss this section? It’s right at the end of the combat book, and there’s a lot in some sections. As we frenziedly played through the rounds we completely missed it! No one said nerds were thorough. So be sure to have all books to hand and refer to them often.

Value Ratio

It is a thorough and playable game. It has the same high quality of most Games Workshop products, but you will pay through the nose for it if you don’t shop around. I was lucky, I found an ebay seller with about 20% off the RRP, I then applied a free 10% discount from ebay to get it even cheaper.

If bought from a third party retailer the price becomes a little more affordable for a game of this type. The miniatures are worth a heavy bit of gold. The card tiles are sturdy. Even the box is sturdy (I mean, it has to be, it’s a heavy one). You get all the dice you need.

Edit: This may look like a silly thing to say, but £95 is a hefty price tag for any board game. Shop around, GW will get their money, so it helps smaller businesses if you go through them!

Since this is a complete game (£95.00), there’s no expansions as far as we know, and given the replay ability of expeditions is very high, it is feasible to play over a hundred games. Maybe even twice that. So you’re looking at about £0.5 – £1 per game. Let’s be conservative and say each full expedition takes 4 hours. You’re looking at £0.25 to £0.50 per hour of play. That’s really good money for a game that should be different each time. You’re snacks will cost you more to eat!

In Conclusion

The Feels – a dark, desperate setting with mechanics that fit those feelings. Thrilling, because when you do score a critical roll it feels like the cosmos is backing you up – any other time it’s trying to eat you!

No silly measuring distances, just count the hexes. Can you draw a straight line from the centre of a hex to the hex your target is standing in? Then you have line of sight, roll your dice. It’s that easy.

Edit: Downsides include what some players have described as ‘chaff’ play. This means that a few players think the amount of combats that are required to complete the game can get a bit samey. GW, do we need to go through quite so much to complete the game? On a personal level, I think it’s important to understand that the fighting during the combat sections are not about clearing the board – it is about surviving the battle and gathering the clues before time runs out. Perhaps GW could do with giving us more information on the bigger picture of the game earlier on.

So is it like Hero Quest? Yeah I think it is, it certainly has that heroic quality to it, and I’m sure it will one day be one of those nostalgic games we all reminisce about.

If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them! you can find us on our discord server.

You can get a few more articles by us on other Games Workshop products here or here.

Enjoy!

 

*Edited 24/12/18 to reflect some feedback from our gaming group and affiliates.