Sunday, 28 February 2016

Horus Heresy: Pharos (Book Review)


Much like David Annandale, Guy Haley is proving to be one of those authors my opinion has gradually shifted on. Despite the utter contempt I held towards Death of Integrity, his surprising success with Baneblade and later Valedor proved that he was a reliable author in his own right, capable of forging great stories. Now, with Pharos, we have some of his best work to date and a great spin on several major legions.

The story here focuses upon the Imperium Secundus once again and the world of Sotha, the lynchpin to Guilliman's new empire. Cut off from the outside world, loyalist forces seek to utilise the xenos beacon installation in order to seek out the remaining loyalists and expand their sphere of influence past the Ruinstorm. Yet, even as they take their first steps towards truly controlling the facility, Pharos has gained undue attention. Arriving in force, the Night Lords legion seeks to break the loyalist hold on the world and take the facility for their own ends...

Friday, 26 February 2016

Talisman: The Horus Heresy (Video Game Review)


Despite its staunch, dependable fanbase, there’s no denying that Warhammer Fantasy was always in the shadow of its science fiction counterpart. With stronger book and miniature sales alike, the success of the Horus Heresy series alongside the death of the Old World, has only further cemented that fact. Unfortunately, despite trading in its doomswords for plasma guns and bolters, this Horus Heresy version isn’t the game most fans were hoping for.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Past Mistakes and Future Plans


You might have noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here of late. While there has been a constant flow of new articles, some bits were a little on the short side with longer gaps than usual between major pieces. As a rule, I try to ensure that an article is posted every day to other day in order to keep things active, but that's been made a little difficult recently. One of my recent jobs became quite time consuming for quite a while and another developed a few complications, neither of which were helped by some unplanned failures screwing up my schedule. The end result was losing my day off and a lot of the time I tend to delegate to writing article for this blog, Starburst or The Founding Fields. Something not helped by the sheer scale of the recent articles.

While most codex reviews tend to be quite extensive - largely due to the fact I seem to be one of a small handful of reviewers who actually valued lore analysis as much as tabletop mechanics - he Curse of the Wulfen itself has been the biggest of late. It's probably going to be capping off at somewhere between 16,000 to 20,000 words by the time this is over, and between that and the limited time, a few mechanical errors were made. I have made the point of doing back to correct these once they were realised, but I can only offer my apologies that they emerged in the first place. The main reason I try to take so much time playtesting each rulebook with friends is so that each analysis can be as accurate as possible across as many armies, but when you're trying to do that at 4AM on your own rather than 6PM with two other people, you tend to miss a few things. 

As a result of the aforementioned mistakes, some of the mechanical parts of these reviews might be delayed a little longer than the usual lore segments. If I can't actively make the time to do them properly, then i'm simply going to save them until I can juggle them between other issues, and press ahead once the most critical details have been double checked. It might be infuriating for those wanting rapid updates or new information, but i'd rather do this right or not at all.

Now, speaking of new material, there's a brief plan I have in mind for the coming months. The first is that, to coincide with the release of a few promising Warhammer 40,000 video games, we'll be looking into more old material. The first among these is Battlefleet Gothic Armada, so naturally this will warrant a look into similar material and our first Specialist Games review: The original Battlefleet Gothic. This might take a different direction from usual, deliving into a few personal opinions as to the flaws and strengths found in building a new game from the ground up as the designers did, but it will ultimately have the same format: Lore, Rules and then a more opinionated piece relating to how I think things could have been improved or what direction might have helped strengthen the game as a whole.

Once the Gothic material is finished, hopefully alongside a substantial review of the video game, we'll then get into another long planned piece. It will either be a stage by stage review of Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn trilogy, building up to the long awaited Eisenhorn: Xenos adaptation in April, or springboard onto an introduction to Firestorm Armada. We've talked about this game in the past and, as one of the two truly fantastic worlds forged by Spartan Games, it's as good a place to start as any. That and it does admittedly help that there's a sizable number of local ex-Battlefleet Gothic players who seem to have migrated over to the game. Either would be welcome and, no matter which one comes first, you can be assured that the other will follow it without too much delay. Well, assuming I don't have to keep up with some abrupt announcement from Games Workshop anyway.

Content aside, there's also been a possible planned change for the website. While written reviews and building up attention here has always been a priority, and a definite success, it's time to try and push to the next stage. For every person with an attention span willing to actually read a review, there seems to be a thousand put off by the simple act of reading itself. I can't say what caused this exactly, but I have seen people completely give up on trying to get through even brief articles of less than a thousand words simply because they honestly seem to be intimidated by the size of the piece. Personally, I can actually understand both cases, especially if you're short on time or looking to multi-task in an increasingly busy life. As such, later on this year we'll be experimenting with video reviews.

Most planned reviews or articles are going to be audio variants of past reviews to begin with, or adapted articles. There are a few I already have in mind to help test the waters, and we'll decide where to go from there depending upon the initial response. If it's successful, you can expect the same text reviews as always, but perhaps headed by a video rather than an image. Plus, of course, it's a chance to show off a few War Thunder gameplay videos or even start experimenting with the odd first impression of certain video games. Please keep in mind, these won't be replacing the text reviews, but they will be made alongside them.

So, why are we holding off on starting videos rather than jumping in? Short answer: Youtube has been screwing up a lot lately. Long answer: Youtube has always been screwing up, and I trust the website less and less with every passing day. You can probably think of no end of issues people hate, from the constant redesigns of the front page until its unintuitive to the sudden change in the comments section and just about everything involving Google+. Copyright and its abuse has been a joke there, and the website refuses to help anyone protect themselves even when fair use is openly ignored and the law brushed aside by big corporations. This finally hit boiling point recently as the corporations have gone berserk and hundreds of content producers, minor and major alike, have come out in mass protest against them. 

So, why is the protest important, or Youtube repeatedly screwing up? Because it effectively is all video content on the internet. When people claim that text reviews are dead, when people claim that video reigns supreme and cites the millions watching someone screaming at a horror game, they point to someone on Youtube. Look at DailyMotion, Vimeo or any other provider and they lack even a fraction of that same audience. Hell, many front page videos on DailyMotion are lucky to hit triple digits, let alone hundreds of thousands of views. You effectively have one company running a near monopoly on an entire medium of content creation, but failing to provide even basic protection for those creators. That's not a world I want to get into right now, and have no desire to associate myself with until they realise they can't  run a multi-billion pound corporation like a lemonade stand.

Because of the ongoing protests and Youtube's failure, I want to hold back and see how things pan out. If they do start to get their act together, i'll join in and start using my account there again. If not, we'll just have to consider other options and look for other websites to help host work.

So, that's what the future holds for us and apologies for the past. I hope that each of you will be around to see the new content and watch as work on here improves further. Until then, I hope you enjoy the last part of the Curse of the Wulfen review.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Fenris: Curse of the Wulfen Part 3 - The Chaos Rules (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)


So, you might have noticed in the prior two parts we've said little about the Chaos forces themselves. There's a good reason for that: They're basically a non-entity here. Oh, they're present and they shoot/slash/attempt-to-devour-the-souls of various Imperial characters, but their impact upon the plot is minimal beyond serving as an obstacle to the heroes. You effectively get the Thousand Sons playing the role of Sir Not Appearing In This Book, a gibbering nonsensical cameo from the Changeling which is questionable at best (we'll get into that in the next book, assuming there is a follow-up) and that's really about it. Chaos itself might as well be ignoring most of Fenris, with a few sorcerers yelling "What, oh, um, just as planned!" as the Space Wolves shoot themselves in the foot. All of the core characters, conflicts and interactions are focused purely upon the Dark Angels, Grey Knights and Space Wolves. 

The only character from the Traitor Legions who actually bothers to show up on the battlefield is Skayle of the Alpha Legion. A Chaos warband leader who manages to be the least interesting member of that legion seen since Lord "SSSSSSSSIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNDDDDDRRIIIIIII!!!" Bale waltzed about Dawn of War. He pretty much just shows up, summons some daemons, fights the Deathwolves and dies having his arse handed to him on a runic platter. While the book describes him as "an arch-manipulator and master of intrigue" and a master of hit and fade tactics, we see little to none of that here. In fact, he gets taken down remarkably easily, with no backup plans of any kind. The moment a group of Scouts disable the flak guns helping him defend his stronghold, he's screwed. There's no Plan B, no thoughts to spread out and regroup, he's just defeated and we learn he's killed by an axe to the head within moments of being introduced to the reader. Even the daemons aren't all that impressive, and short of a few one-note descriptions they're basically fodder to die in battle.

Basically, overall the story wasn't very kind to Chaos on the whole. As for the rules though, well, that's a different matter. 


The entire rules section of the book is akin to how Mont'ka treated the Farsight Enclaves, focusing upon setting them up as an individual army within their own right. What we have here pushes to structure them like most other recent forces, setting the ground-work for an organisational structure akin to the Force Organisation Chart via formations. Named the Daemonic Incursion (yes, really) it mostly follows what you would expect at the end of the day in terms of unit hierarchies. You have a single core choice or more, up to three powerful additions and as many auxiliaries as you can afford atop of that. Each of the four set core choices reflects the forces of one of the major gods (The Flayertroupe consists of Slaanesh's forces etc) and you build things up from there.

Personally, i'm torn on this structure for two reasons. On the one hand, the actual core formations are, relatively speaking, more toned down than anything found with the Space Wolves. The only limits you have are that you require one Herald or special character (Changeling, Skulltaker, etc) and can then choose up to the gods' number of basic daemonic squads past that. Really, that's it, so you can quite happily enter the battle with nothing but Flesh Hounds if you desire. Between this and the focus upon dividing things up between the gods, it allows more of an opportunity to create varied and thematic armies rather than rigidly following a set structure. On the other hand though, the developers seemed to be relying a little too heavily upon this more free-form structure and didn't add much to support this past a few basics. Burning Skyhost just says take nine units of Screamers or Burning Chariots, and the same goes with Rotswarm, only with Plague Drones or Beasts of Nurgle. The few individual formations dedicated to specific units are few in number, and so limited that some really just are adding one model into the army.

Other problems arise from the fact that, despite the variation on hand, there's no obvious benefit for actually devoting the army to a single god. You can have a purely Slaaneshi tide of annihilation with Karnak attached, and there's no negative modifiers or issues which arise from this. While daemons have a hard enough of a time as it is without further debuffs, at the same time it seems unworthy not to reward players who stay thematically consistent over the cheesiest units of this edition. It doesn't even quite work as an undivided incursion either, as the normally unifying daemon princes are limited to a Command addition you simply add on afterwards, rather than as a core part of this force.

Still, despite the debatable issues it can't be denied that the Command Benefits are useful to any daemonic player. Two of them are basic, but they do help to add an additional layer of control to the game, allowing players the choice to re-roll daemonic instability tests for any unit in the detachment. Another fun one is the fact that they can also add or subtract one point from results of rolling on the Warp Storm table, meaning they can always prod things in the right direction. That said, the most interesting one is the Daemonic Corruption rule, which wrecks havoc with any and all objectives. Effectively, any marker taken by the army counts as controlled, even if they move on and out of the usual 3" range. This can only be disrupted once an enemy force moves in and cleanses them by taking the objective. It's a minor thing to be sure, but it frees up a lot of the army and allows the more melee orientated daemons to keep advancing right into the enemy. It's one of those minor additions which is simple, genuinely rewards the army, but doesn't push things into broken territory.

Much like with the Space Wolves, the book takes the time to list off a few key major choices. While the Wolves had Ulrik, Iron Priests, Wulfen, and Krom, Curse of the Wulfen lists the Unfettered Fury, Insensate Rage, and Wrath Bloodthirsters, Skarbrand, Exalted Flamers and Be'Lakor. Though, it's definitely a little hard to say exactly why this was done. It's hardly padding, but without the more extensive lists found in some of the other War Zone books, their addition just feels a little superfluous. 

What's most definitely a far better use of space is towards the back of the book, where the designers opted to give the daemons no small amount of new toys to play with. Disciplines, blessings, warlord traits and wargear all make an appearance, with some fun new ideas added into the mix. For all the story's focus upon the Wolves, it honestly seems that the tabletop half of the writing team were focusing heavily upon Chaos here. As such, we can probably expect the forces of Fenris, Titan and the Rock to have their own moment in the mechanical spotlight as the series continues, but let's hold off for the moment.

Starting with the Warlord (Daemonic Overlord) Traits, we have the following for each of the gods: Already I like this as it once again covers a much broader style of unique elements, but let's go into them one by one:

Warlord Traits:


Khorne Warlord Traits Table:



"Aspect of Death: Enemy units which fail a Fear test caused by your Warlord suffer 1 Wound for each point the test was failed by, with no saves of any kind allowed." 
Everything dies. This is definitely the fodder slaying option right here, and a good way to whittle down astartes squads in rapid succession. While a little simple, it serves the requisite role of skull-taking-killy-option quite nicely, and it fits in well with the other options.

"Glory of Battle: Your Warlord has the Rampage special rule." 
Give this to a Bloodthirster and watch him turn into an axe wielding blender of annihilation. 'Nuff said.

"Oblivious to Pain: Your Warlord has the Feel no Pain Special rule. In addition, all friendly units with the Daemon of Khorne special rule within 8" of your Warlord have the Feel No Pain (6+) special rule." 
This is sadly more of a mixed one, as it is fairly useless on surrounding units. While the concession of having a Warlord directly support his troops in a frontline assault is both lore-friendly and very useful, most things are going to override Feel No Pain on common or garden daemons. Useful for the Warlord, but not anyone else really.

"Immense Power: Add 1 to your Warlord's Strength Characteristic." 
Again this is a very nice choice for Bloodthirsters. While adding this onto a daemon prince or just about anything would be beneficial, this stacks up very nicely with Furious Charge, allowing Strength 8 attacks to hack anyone into chunks. It's a nice bonus to be sure, but a lot of the other ones on here are admittedly more useful.

"Devastating Blow: When making close combat attacks, your Warlord can instead choose to make a single Devastating Blow attack. To do so, roll To Hit as normal, but resolve the attack at Strength D AP2." 
Ouch. There's no limit on how many times you can pull this off per game, and the sudden strike means that your Warlord can merrily solo Land Raiders without too much trouble. This one is definitely most beneficial to a a Herald over anything else, as it makes them vastly more useful, assuming your single attack hits of course.

"Rage Incarnate: Your Warlord, and all friendly units with the Daemon of Khorne special rule gain the Rage special rule while they are within 8" of him." 
Okay, this is definitely the best of the bunch by far. While certainly not as obviously murderous as the others, or so useful on the Warlord himself, Rage is an absolute godsend to Hounds and Bloodletters alike, allowing them to scythe their way through armies. 

Now, in comparison to many of the prior books, especially supplements, these are most definitely Warlord Traits done right. They're intended to be a nice bonus, very focused rather than covering a broad range of (potentially useless) options, or risking contradicting the intended use of your leader. Plus, given that this is Khorne, it's understandable that most of them would be directed only towards murdering anything within sight of them.


Tzeentch Warlord Traits Table:



"Born of Sorcery: Your Warlord harnesses Warp Charge points on the result of a 3+." 
This is very basic, but insanely useful for anyone who has even the slightest inclination of hurling masses of spells at foes. Much like Aspect of Death, it's obviously augmented towards the favoured approach of the army and its patron god, and will work well with almost any role you have planned. The only difference is that this need not focused purely upon merely taking skulls.

"Incorporeal Form: Enemy models must reduce their Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill characteristics by 1 when targeting your Warlord and his unit." 
Nice to have, but hardly necessary. The slight modification will certainly add a level of survivability to your Warlord, but it's easily overcome. Plus, the Ballistic Skill angle is largely negated if you allow your Warlord to fly over the battlefield, at which point anyone is going to be hitting him on 6+ anyway. Okay, but not too useful.

"Warp Tether: Ass 1 to the invulnerable save of your Warlord and all friendly units with the Daemon of Tzeentch special rule within 9" of him." 
Oh sweet merciful lord is this very useful. While it makes your Warlord much more of a target, the bonus this offers by having him fly between two groups of Flamers, Horrors or bullet magnets makes them damn near unstoppable. 

"Lorekeeper of Tzeentch: Add 1 to your Warlord's Mastery level. If your Warlord is not a psyker, he instead has the Psyker (Mastery level 1) special rule and generates his powers from the Discipline of Change." 
Ultimately this is extremely hit and miss. While an additional level of Mastery is most definitely nothing to be sneezed at, the other is fairly useless. Admittedly, people are left wondering just why you'd be having a non-spell flinging leader in a Tzeentchian army, but each to their own.

"Tyrant of the Warp: Your Warlord ignores the first Perils of the Warp he suffers during each Psychic phase." 
Besides the awesome name, this is a true blessing to anyone who tends to flub rolls on psychic powers. We've all had that infuriating game where we keep botching dice rolls, so this really does come as a very nice bonus to keep your sorcerer in the fight.

"Daemonspark: Close combat attacks of your Warlord, and all friendly units with the Daemon of Tzeentch special rule whilst they are within 9" of him, gain the Soul Blaze special rule." 
This is sadly the truly useless one here. While the rest ranges from good to truly awesome, Soul Blaze's inability to offer anything of real worth means you'll rarely find a use for this one.

Overall, this was very much like Khorne's one: It's broad, offers some nice bonuses rather than anything so essential a list might hinge upon getting it, and is versatile enough to cover most bases. While some certainly lean towards the cheap and cheesy side of things and Daemonspark is just downright useless, overall it's another good, solid option for daemon users.


Nurgle Warlord Traits Table:


"Blessed with Corpulence: Add 1 to the Wounds characteristic of your Warlord." 
Eh, nice to have but that's about it. In Nurgle's case, more of a focus upon increased Toughness or perhaps even a method of regenerating damage. Still, an extra wound is never anything to be sneezed at.

"Acidic Ichor: Each time your Warlord suffers a Wound in the Assault phase, the unit that dealt the blow suffers a single Strength 1 AP2 hit with the Poisoned (4+) special rule." 
Another okay one, if nothing especially great. It's a good way for blunting assaults and limiting some dangerous foes, but there's nothing which seems really exciting here overall.

"Plaguefly Hive: Enemy units within 7" of your Warlord can only fire Snap Shots when targeting your Warlord and his unit." 
This is very useful for an assault orientated Warlord and certainly is pretty good for breaking through gunlines. Add a Herald onto a fast moving drone or with a few Toughness boosting attributes and it's bound to be downright broken in the right hands.

"Virulent Touch: If a model suffers any unsaved Wounds from your Warlord in the Assault phase, it must pass a Toughness test at the end of the phase or suffer 1 additional Wound. Armour or cover saves cannot be taken against this Wound." 
Right, now this is the sort of thing which fits Nurgle far better than the other stuff. Really, this is the kind of thing weaker armies dread, as it's a nightmare for eldar, tau, Imperial Guard or other low Toughness armies to properly combat. While it is again pushing your Warlord into becoming an assault specialist and character slayer, it's still nice to have.

"Impenetrable Hide: Your Warlord has the Feel No Pain special rule. If your Warlord already has the Feel No Pain rule, he instead adds 1 to his Feel No Pain rolls." 
Despite a rather odd choice of name, this is most definitely a very welcome addition to the table. As durability and extreme resistance to damage is a staple of Nurgle's blessings, this is probably the best reflection of his actual abilities on the table. Plus, come on, anything which stacks Feel No Pain without going nuts is certainly well worth a look.

"Miasma of Pestilence: Enemy units within 7" of your Warlord that uffer any unsaved Wounds during the Shooting or Assault phase suffer D6 additional Strength 1 hits with the Poisoned (5+) special rule at the end of that phase. Armour or cover saves cannot be taken against wounds suffered in this manner." 
So, this is another one which is very good at breaking up tough, multi-wound squads or causing problems for weaker heroes. It's certainly nice to be sure and will cause issues for some of the more traditional speed-bump units or linebreakers, and the poison bonus is a very welcome plus.

Overall, Nurgle is actually a little disappointing compared with the other two. In par this seems to be down to a lack of direction, as there's more hesitance here to fully focus upon making Nurgle units innately tougher. Most of their efforts to focus upon it and decaying others really kept boiling down to making them close combat monsters, so your options are somewhat limited with this one. Not bad, but probably the weakest of the bunch here.


Slaanesh Warlord Traits Table:



"Celerity of Slaanesh: Your Warlord and his unit can Run and charge in the same turn." 
Smack-bang from the very start we get a rule which focuses upon Slaanesh's speed and precision over all else, and it's general enough to work as a bonus element rather than making someone melee focused. Plus, given this crosses over to the unit they're with, there's a few fun combinations you can make to push up their effectiveness to the next level. Slaanesh Seekers with a Herald for starters. This said, it is concerning how far this could be taken when combined with certain formations and rules.

"Quicksilver Duelist: When fighting in a challenge, your Warlord re-rolls all failed To Hit rolls." 
This is another solid choice, and while again melee focused it fits in well with this god's lore. Nothing too broken, a nice bonus, and certainly a good way to emphasise the nature of Slaaneshi Champions when it comes to hunting down enemy foes of note.

"The Murderdance: Your Warlord and all friendly units with the Daemons of Slaanesh special rule re-roll failed To Hit rolls of 1 in the Assault phase." 
It's the same line of thought as the last two really, and there's a big emphasis upon direct assaults over all else. This said, the fact it can potentially cover an entire army is questionable. Come on, they're already hitting like extremely pink and attractive freight trains, daemonettes don't need this atop of all the rest of their stuff!

"Fatal Caress: Any To Wound rolls of a 6 made by your Warlord is the Assault phase have the Instant Death special rule." 
Ah, classic rending returns with a vengeance! 

"Savage Hedonist: Add 1 to the Attacks characteristic of your Warlord." Speaks for itself really, nothing bad but nothing great.

"Bewitching Aura: At the start of each Fight sub-phase, each enemy unit that is locked in combat with your Warlord must pass a Leadership test or reduce its Weapon Skill characteristic by 5 (to a minimum of 1) until the end of the phase." 
Sweet merciful lord is this one insane, allowing a Herald to leader in general to skewer any foe in sight. Really, this crosses the line from interesting to "you will all die by my hand!" The very idea of this really does speak for itself, as three or so would have been good enough, but five? Just to put this in perspective, this so badly handicaps certain elite troops that they're effectively on par with Imperial Guard conscripts in melee against anyone with this.

While it remains stronger than Nurgle thanks to its better focus, the Slaanesh choice here nevertheless has more than a few cracks where limited ideas or one bad one have pushed their way into the list. Unlike some of the others, there's no truly useless or terrible choice to be had here and nothing which isn't useful in some way, but this seemed like it needed a lot more play-testing before anyone settled on this. 

Still, while it might have been a mixed bag, these are reasonable Warlord Traits at worst and very good and well structured ones at best. Thanks to an obviously better direction behind their creation as much as a push to make things truly fit with the setting, the Khorne and Tzeentch examples at the very least are what future Warlord Traits should be measured against. After all, it's pretty rare we get something so surprisingly competitive and lore-friendly.


Psychic Disciplines



There's no one for Khorne, which already gives this book a major point in its favour. Really, after the whole wulfen thing I was dreading reading about Khornate sorcerors hurling fireballs all over again. Instead, we get the book faithfully sticking to the lore with spells, so kudos for doing so. Beyond that, the bulk of what we have here remains unchanged from prior releases. Tzeentch's Discipline is lopsided, consisting of some extremely powerful spells and some very weak ones which most people would never take in their right mind. Plague is the unstoppable juggernaut people know it as, and Excess remains the weird one caught between being offensive and just plane insane. 

The only real changes to be found here are minor modifications and confirmations. For example, the book imposes the rule that players must choose how many warp charges they use before casting Flickering Fire to avoid rampant abuse, but beyond minor tweaks there's nothing to really comment upon. So, onto the next bit.


Hellforged Artefacts

Now we get onto some of the really fun stuff, the various legendary items each warband can bring into battle. Well, okay, it's not spectacular but there is still some surprisingly engaging stuff to be found in here, especially when it comes to the special rules on each of the weapons offered from the gods. While some of these might either appear to be repeats of elements from the Warlord Traits table or simple copies, most have either been designed to stack atop one another or serve as an alternative. After all, the tables are generated at random, so some people are willing to spend a few points to grantee they get a slight bonus.


Artefacts of Khorne



First up on the list we have Blades R Us, with no end of melee weapons on offer to help Chaos slaughter loyalists en mass. While they all do inevitably boil down to just up and murdering people, there's a few entertaining bonus rules to be had. For example, A'Rgath the King of Blades is pretty much your standard Strength +1 AP 3 specialist weapon until you get into duels, where it becomes Strength +3.

Similarly, Deathdealer and Skullreaver both add a few bonuses should you manage to roll a 6 on sounds, they gain a massive bonus to hurting their foe; each offering Instant Death and Strength D hits respectively. This said, the Deathdealer offers a few more fun options to help slay swarms, as each wound inflicts D3 AP 4 hits upon any unit it is being used against. 

In comparison to the more useful weapons we then have Khartoth the Bloodhunger, which sadly has one of the far dumber special rules. While Strength +1 and AP 3 is certainly nice to have, the special rule behind it is ridiculous. No, I don't mean your traditional kind of ridiculous, I mean the kind of pants on head thinking which produced the initial wave of Age of Sigmar special rules. Known as the Sunderer of Time, we have the option for models to return to play. Any model killed by this blade needs to be kept track of and individually rolled off each turn. On the roll of a 4+ they Deep Strike back into the game, and are only counted as truly dead if they remain missing until the final turn. While the idea to add some fun random element to things is quite obvious, the sheer amount of busywork and unnecessary details you need to keep track of is insane. The rules are already clunky enough as it is without adding something like this into the mix, especially for every single model which fails a wound against this weapon.

The last two on this list are some of the less directly murderous options here, and they instead offer a few nice bonuses for the army on the whole. First up we have the Armour of Scorn, which offers a 3+ standard save but also the Adamantium Will special rule. This would be nice enough for its surprisingly low points cost, but there's also the added bonus of lowering the Strength of any attacking units by 1. Certainly quite a nice bonus for monsterous creatures to be sure. 
Then finally we have the Crimson Crown, which does the exact opposite and buffs allied forces. Any Daemons of Khorne within 8" of him gains an additional attack in combat. Again, it makes for a nice bonus for any spearhead.


Artefacts of Tzeentch




While it makes sense for Khorne's special items to all directly relate to killing an enemy unit somehow, Tzeentch was one of those which would have suited a more flexible design. This is the god best known for its subtlety and more indirect approach to war after all, and fully half his items are basically bludgeoning weapons.

Soul Bane is the  first up here, with no Strength enhancements but a very odd use of AP rules. Along with having Fleshbane, it has the unique special rule Incorporeal, which allows it to have an AP value equal to that of the target it's engaging. Against vehicles it counts as AP 1, so it's basically another mob culling choice here or something reserved for slow moving, bulkier heavy infantry. A similar, albeit much more useless, ranged choice is the Everstave which has two modes. The first is a standard melee option at AP 4, while the second is a ranged Heavy 1 shot at Strength 5 AP 3. This might have been nice unto itself, but the big bonus was supposed to be the special rules of Soul Blade and Warpflame, neither of which are especially impressive or all that useful.

A vastly more effective option on here is the Paradox. Boring name aside, while it operates on a user's Strength and only confers AP 4 to its hits in melee, Warp Contradiction offers a few major bonuses to spell-casting leaders. as once per Psychic Phase they are permitted to switch all the dice they have rolled, and flip hem to their opposite side. So, let's say you botch horribly when it comes to generating Warp Charges or setting off a spell, any 1s you roll can be flipped over 6s. Again, a nice option for anyone who hates a horrific botch.
The other big spellcasting option is the Endless Grimoire, which offers a Warlord all the powers from the Dicipline of Change rules. Simple but welcome indeed.

Next up is the Orcular Dais which serves equally as a personal steed and a bonus to help modify reserves. While it counts as a Disc of Tzeentch, you can choose once per turn for anything left in reserve to automatically arrive on the battlefield. Normally this would just be a nice bonus, but given how daemons tend to operate this is something which can very quickly change the course of most games.

The last one is the Impossible Robe which is a double edged sword and can horribly backfire upon its wearer. On the one hand, it can offer a 3+ invulnerable save, giving the usually squishy sorcerers some much needed durability. On the other, you have to pass a Leadership test to prevent him fading out of existence each time he fails a wound. So, this can horribly backfire in an instant. At 25 points it's hardly all that bad but still, this just seems like a disaster waiting to happen.


Artefacts of Nurgle



Now this is much more like it! While the Warlord traits managed to be oddly subdued and suffered from a distinct lack of identity, what we have here fully embraces Nurgle's greatest strengths. That and, while it is unfortunately largely murderous, a lot of the attacks and weapons relate more to decay, corruption and conferring worshipers a true immunity to real harm. 

The first among these is Corruption (and honestly, just what is it with Chaos the insanely generic names!?) which is a standard melee weapon with a few fun special rules. While it only operate's on the user's strength and has AP -, it comes with Hyper-Infection, which automatically inflicts wounds the moment they hit. While this is fairly useless against vehicles it's a strong way to take down big monsters, albeit a bit of a cheap one. Well, no, actually a lot of a cheap one, as the only real limit is that it's hard to cause Instant Death with this thing. This would have been nasty enough, but we also have Tough of Rust to consider. Basically you can always glance vehicles on the roll of a 6.

Next up we have Epidemia, which is another "take in inch, take a mile" approach when it comes to wounds. While it only confers Strength +1, it has the added bonus of forcing enemy units to take a Toughness test or suffer a wound they cannot save every time they lose a unit. not too bad for what it is, and another reasonable choice for anyone hoping to whittle down multi-wound squads.

In comparison to the others, the Doomsday Bell and Death's Head of Duke Olaks are sadly more than a little generic. The former merely forces a -1 to anyone on the opposing army, widespread if not overly useful against most opposing forces, while the latter is basically a Blight Grenade on steroids. Really, it offers a single use Assault 1 Large Blast at 12" and Poisoned (2+). Oh, and it's Strength 1 AP 4.

Grotti of the Nurglings, besides having a surprisingly extensive section devoted to its lore, is a close range debuff. Any non-Nurgle units (friend or foe) gain -1 Toughness while they're within "6 of whoever is holding this item.

The last option on this list are the Horn of Nurgle's Rot, which adds an additional model to a frienfly unit of Plaguebearers so long as they're within "12" of the bearer for each model that was slain." So you basically have a continuously re-spawning horde of Plaguebearers if you play your cards right, but in a manner which isn't quite so broken as the Gun Drone factory.


Artefacts of Slaanesh



Even more so than prior examples, Slaanesh is extremely melee focused, with over half off its arsenal devoted to stabbing people. While it's understandable the book would lean this way given that daemons are more of a melee orientated army, even more so than the Tyranid Hive Fleets, the problem is that this seems to have left the designers following a single pattern. Melee is apparently king here and just about anything else is secondary, and not all that useful beyond a few key exceptions. 

In this case we have only the Mark of Excess and Forbidden Gem to contrast with the list's many blades. The former is another Highlander style modifier, offering an additional attack for every Monster or Character they annihilate. It's another stab to try and put a spin on the Soulshrive idea, adding a bonus stat for every murder. Unlike that particular weapon however, the Mark of Excess at least has some obvious limitations present and prevents a character jumping to twenty attacks after butchering a small squad. Unfortunately it's gone to the other end of the spectrum, to the point where I do question its real effectiveness in most games. As for the Forbidden Gem though, it's another duel focused bonus item, offering the ability to subtract 3D6 from an enemy's overall Leadership value. Once that's done, their Weapon Skill and Initiative are lowered to the Leadership value. Not too shabby for what it is, and while a little clunky in its overall design, there is an odd elegance to its structure.

Next up we have the Whips of Agony, which is a standard Strength (user) and AP 5 melee weapon, which can re-roll failed Wounds. Anything which does suffer unsaved wound is then immobilized, unable to make any further attacks or engage enemy forces in any way. So, it's fairly brutal against more fragile forces and a solid way of locking down a major threat. Combine this with a high Initiative stat and you can potentially lock a foe into a continual cycle of being pinned down and whaled upon by their foes. Well, at least until someone intervenes anyway.

While still certainly potent weapons, the others present are not quite so fun in their overall execution. The Slothful Claw is a standard weapon which just comes with a single bonus attack which hits at Strength +2 AP 2 and has the Rending ability. The Silvershard adds 2 attacks to its wielder's basic stats at AP 3 and little else, while the Soulgreed is just a standard weapon which allows a model to regenerate one wound for every model it kills. There's nothing all that remarkable about any of these, and compared with the prior lists it really seems phoned in. I'd really add more to any of these but there's little to really say about any of these, and they serve largely as one-note ideas rather than anything truly fun. 


Formations

So, finally, we get onto the big formations and army groups which make up the bulk of this book. While there's definitely a good variety of units and ideas on offer, you might quickly start to see more than a few parallels which can be made with the Space Wolves' structure. Replace the Greatpacks Companies with daemonic hosts devoted to each individual god, and the vehicle orientated formations with bigger daemons and there's not too big a difference to be found here. This certainly isn't a bad thing but given how truly alien each army is supposed to be to the other, it's almost disappointing to see how easily one army replicates the core elements of another. Still, let's get onto the big ones, shall we?


Murderhorde



If you've not guessed it from the name, this is Khorne's mob. Consisting of Skulltaker or a Herald and eight units of Blooddletters, Flesh Hounds or Blood Crushers, it's one of those flexable mob lists we mentioned a while back. The only thing of real note here is the special rules, intended to reflect the innate abilities and traits of each god, helping to give them a little overall flavour. 

The first real special rule is nicknamed Escalating Bloodlust, which basically boils down to giving bonuses so long as one unit is in close proximity with the other. So long as one unit is in 6" of another unit, they gain 1 additional attack in close combat. The problem is that this doesn't specify whether or not this stacks or not or if it is a set value. As such, this could go from a nice bonus element to ensuring that a single group of Bloodletters gain an additional eight attacks in combat. Plus, you just know that there's one guy who is going to try and pull this sooner or later.

The second meanwhile is Harbinger of Khorne. If the Herald of Khorne within this group is a Lesser Locus of Abjuration, Greater Locus of Fury or Exalted Locus of Wrath, all special rules associated are spread among any other Formation unit within 12" of him. Unlike the prior example however, this is noted to actually stack, to where a unit within 12" of another Locus can also gain their abilities as well.

All in all this is admittedly one of the less fun ideas, and while fitting of Khorne to be sure it's just taking a few of his more generic traits and giving them a slight edge. Honestly, while the refusal to turn them into invincible phalanxes is definitely welcome, if they're going to add formations into an army at all a little creativity wouldn't hurt.


Gorethunder Battery



Consisting of a lone Herald and three Skull Cannons, this is a giant artillery battery. Besides the restriction that the Herlad must take a Blood Throne as a dedicated transport, that's about it. It retains the Harbinger of Khorne special rule from the prior formation but otherwise it just offers a couple of nice bombardment options. 

Named the Skullrain Salvo (which is either so bad its good or just a downright terrible name, you be the judge), if all cannons are fielded as a single squadron then they can fire a single salvo than their usual individual bombardments. Ranged at 36", this is an Apocalyptic Blast which ignores cover and hits at Strength 8 AP 3. Better yet, it ties right into the Dreadskulls special rule listed below it, where enemy units are left with a marker after being shot at by this formation. This effectively highlights them for allied daemon units of just about any kind, and they can charge into them without any Initiative penalty if there's terrain in the way.

While normally I would be the first to cry foul against this sort formation, here it honestly doesn't seem all that bad. It serves to augment the very limited ranged capabilities of daemons and stymies the effectiveness of a few easy tactics to cause daemons problems, and even without using the giant blast template, the Dreadskulls rule is a solid addition. Admittedly though, Apocalyptic Blast does seem to be overkill even for a formation such as this one.


Warpflame Host



As the core Tzeentch choice, this is very similar to the Murderhorde, with only a handful of minor changes here and there. For example, in place of the Khorne units we have Pink Horrors, Flamers and Exalted flamers, plus the prior Harbinger rule just shifted to Transmognification, Change and Conjuration. The same even goes for their secondary special rule, Storm of Daemonic fire, which just adds a slight bonus to the Strength of certain daemons (Flamers) when they're in this formation. Rather than having a 12" proximity limitation though, they just gain a bit more punch.

There's little to really say with this one, only that it adds a couple of minor bonuses just as the last one did. It works as a core choice, but it's certainly no better or worse than anything the Force Organisation Chart would ever offer.


Burning Skyhost



Welcome to the army's fast attack mob, intended to cause problems at high speed. Consisting of a lone Herald on a Burning Chariot, and a few more Chariots or Screamers, it's a very loose formation which just allows players to take nine of whatever they want from the above choices. The chief problem is that it can only be nine, and it means you're dishing out a lot of points just for this single force. There's no small measures here or even just the option to keep it as a harassment unit, and overall that really just limit's a player's options. 

As before, the formation carries over the Harbinger rules and also retains the Warpflame special rule from the Dicipline of Change. The only truly unique one present to them is the Trail of Transmuting Flame, which certainly adds some interesting gameplay elements to be sure. The primary advantage most people will pick out is the ability to add one additional Slashing Attack made by each Screamer, then adds in Soul Blaze and Warpflame special rules. Yeah, they're really fond of those two when it comes to Tzeentch. That aside however, the thing it tries to tout the most as an attractive bonus is the fact units in this formation can maul anything they Turbo-boost over. Should anything come into contact with this, it can cause D6 Strength 5 AP 4 wounds per model. Oh, and attacks on vehicles are decided against their side armour.

Overall, the choice is one which may have its uses and has a few good ideas, but it's let down by its own sheer size. Were this limited to groups of 3-9 I could seriously see this being used as quite a versatile choice when it comes to keeping armies on the backfoot. The whole thing is set up to be a solid vanguard force, moving ahead of the main assault line, weakening units and then charging others, but it really needed to offer a much broader structure.


Tallyband



As the core choice for Nurgle's daemons, you might expect more of the same when it comes to structure, special rules and the units on offer. For the most part you're in the right, as it requires a single Herald and then seven units of either Plaguebearers or Nurlgings. Oh, and there's also the whole Harbinger thing yet again. However, what helps to offer a little more variety this time is the additional special rules, with Distracting Swarm of Flies preventing Overwatch being used on any unit within this Formation. While they'll still get mauled during their ponderous advance towards the front-lines, there's at least one less weapon for gunnary focused armies to bring to bear against them.

Once they actually get into combat, they then have Enfeebling Nausea to help swing things in their favour. At the start of each Combat phase, any enemy squad engaged with units from this formation are required to tale a Leadership test or lose a point in Strength and Toughness. Like the others it's only a small modification, but combined with limiting the effectiveness of Overwatch, it's enough to make this one fluff-friendly. Really, designers need to understand they don't need to rework the entire game, just get enough basic elements down to reflect their general nature on the battlefield.


Rotswarm



This is the other semi-fast choice here, consisting of a lone Herald, then seven units of Beasts or Plague Drones. While Tzeentch's own Skyhost was built with speed and mobility in mind, this one is treated much more like a sledgehammer. It's intended to be hard hitting rather than purely fast, and comes with the added durability you would expect from Nurgle as a whole. 

Along with retaining the Harbinger rule as you might expect, there is also the Corrosive Slime effect in play. This ensures that any and all units within this formation gain Hammer of Wrath attack with a rather deadly edge in the form of Poison (4+) strikes to each one. This makes them serve as an excellent unit to either cripple heavy infantry or quickly counter attack durable assault squads, and this sort of crisis unit is something any Nurgle army could use. Let's face it, tough as they are, there's not many of them who are going to be moving anywhere fast. 

The second special rule is then a bit of an odd one as you might note from the name: Dubious Command. This allows the Herald to direct a single unit within 12" of him and order it to act separately. This requires a Leadership test to pull off. If it's successful then the unit can re-roll failed charges and gain an extra three attacks until the end of that turn, but if it fails then you must immediately have them charge forwards. It's a nice trade-off on the whole and does help to avoid the expected negative aspects people would have counteract the positive result. 


Flayertroupe 



Right after Nurgle at least tried to add a little more character to things, the book goes right back to the same baseline elements here. This really is just another recycling of the same thing we've seen several times now as a core choice, just with a negative 1 modifier to Weapon Skill and Initiative characteristics of anyone they attack. Yeah, while having a similar start point might make sense from a mechanical perspective, it's truly dull to see this repeated over and over again, bereft of almost all personality.


Grand Cavalcade



This one is comparable to the Tallyband, but with more of a Slaaneshi angle. Compared with Nurgle especially it's terrifyingly fast, and there's a big emphasis upon speed over durability. While this is to be expected of just about anything which uses Seekers as its mainline unit, the special rules really try to emphasise this above all else. For starters, all units within this gain an additional 6" when Running or moving Flat Out, ensuring they hit most enemy units within a couple of turns at the most and can react quickly to new threats. This is further enhanced by D6 Strength 4 Hammer of Wrath attacks, preventing them from becoming bogged down with most baseline infantry units. 

From their structure and special rules, this is a good option for quickly whittling through most armies. While it lacks the firepower you'd want to cripple vehicles, any footslogging force or defensive line is going to quickly be cut down in the face of formations like this one. If there is a criticism to be made it's that giving an additional 6" to stack atop of Slaanesh's usual bonuses seems rather cruel at the end of the day; then again though, this is a formation which can be easily blocked with a bit of know-how and thw right vehicles.


Infernal Tetrad



Now, we finally move onto the two undivided choices on this list. First up is this rather unusual formation which mashes together what would have previously been four separate HQ choices and assembles them into one formation. Requiring four daemon princes, this is one which really doesn't fit into anywhere specific unlike the others. With most of the dedicated forces you had a main swarm of general units backed up by either a long range or fast moving choice, and offered little beyond the basic special rules within its formation. As you can imagine, cavalry rushes are probably going to be a big draw in the coming years for daemon players. However, the Infernal Tetrad really seemed to be intended to be a heavy hitter. Something to help punch through units of Terminators or Immortals is rapid succession while serving as a mobile bullet magnet to draw fire away from more vulnerable troops.

The restriction present this time is that each daemon prince must be upgraded to follow a different god, representing the four powers. This does make them an excellent centerpiece for a massive Undivided army or generally massed daemonic horde, but in any dedicated or mono-god dedicated force, it stick out like a sore thumb. Plus, it doesn't help that many rules intended to help enhance the army will be limited to buffing only a quarter of the formation. As you might have noted, many are dedicated to Khorne/Tzeentch/Nurgle/Slaanesh only after all.

Still, what are the benefits of this one? Well, first up we have the Shared Power special rule, which is a bit of a confusing one. In effect, if you choose one daemon here to be your Warlord then his trait gets carried over to all others. This is a little confusing given that each of the various gods has a different table, but the book says it works even despite their different alignments. Methinks the lore was taking a backseat when it came to this one, but it's still a nice thing to have. As for the second choice, we have the Combined Might rule which offers more benefits the more daemon princes are still alive at one time, each stacking atop one another:

4 Alive - +1 Toughness
3 Alive - +1 Strength
2 Alive - Re-roll failed To Hit rolls of 1
1 Alive - No Benefit

Useful for any self-respecting bullet magnet. Despite a few odd choices it's definitely a reasonable option here if quite an expensive one. You might want to experiment and see just how well it really would work with each list in turn before pressing ahead with including this formation.


Forgehost



This is the second of the two more undivided options, which combines together a trio of Soul Grinders and let them loose. Unlike the prior example there's no limitations to be found here, and the actual special rule in question is pretty basic. Listed as Desperate Competition, it emphasises the idea that each of them is fighting to overshadow the others in its formation. So, if one inflicts enemy casualties during the Shooting or Assault phases then all others can re-roll both Hits and Wounds for the rest of the turn. A little overpowered really, as it basically means that unless you horribly, and I mean horribly, botch your rolls then these guys are going to annihilate most things in their path. While we've seen more egregious offenses and you are paying quite a bit for these guys as it is, it honestly just seems like re-rolls to Hit or Wound would have been better. Perhaps with the player choosing just which one they go with for that turn.



Overall, the Chaos options in this book are okay. There's a few fun ideas at work, and a lot of elements which are genuinely great when it comes to the wargear and Warlord traits. Some of the formations are relatively good as well, but for every good one it seems there's at least one mediocre or downright bad idea. It's worth a look if you truly want to expand your horizons with daemonic army choices and a few new options for your army, but don't rush out to get it.

So, we're almost done here. There's just one final part to cover.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Fenris: Curse of the Wulfen Part 2 - The Wolf Rules (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)


So, welcome to part two. As we're done with the lore, it's time to fully focus upon the rules.

Given the extremely polarized opinion of Space Wolves on the tabletop, the rules were always going to be a difficult thing to approach. While certainly not nearly as infamous as the Craftworld Eldar, Grey Knights, Blood Angels or many others, Russ' legion has comfortably sat at the higher end of the competitive curve for the past few years. In the face of some elements, from Lukas the Trickster's successful kamikaze streaks against Titans to thrown hammers striking with the force of a railgun, arguments that they've pushed into outright broken territory can hardly be completely disregarded. So, building upon that with a multitude of varied, specific formations and new rules without going nuts was going to be an uphill battle for anyone who cared about balance. Well, in fairness, it's actually not all that bad here. If anything, the book might have benefited from a fair bit more insanity being dished out among the Sons of Russ.

Much like the past books focusing upon the tau, there are more rules here to help someone build up a full army or work off of a new structure. In this case, said army structure is intended to reflect the Space Wolves as best as possible without veering too far away from the standard Codex: Space Marines format. In order to accomplish this the book introduces the Wolf Claw Strike Force, its own version of the usual Strike Force formations which are being pushed by Games Workshop as a standard structure. Requiring the player to put together a single Core, 0-5 Command units and at least one Auxiliary detachment, it retains a somewhat flexible design despite the army's focus upon melee combat. 

The big advantages the Strike Force offers stem from giving every last unit in the formation Counter-Charge and offering Fear and Furious Charge to Core units. This said, the latter two special rules retain an extremely high price, requiring players to dish out points for two Great Packs (we'll get to them in a second), each with a Wolf Lord and Wolf Guard Battle Leader. As such, unless you're determined to stroll in with several creates worth of posthuman werewolves under your arms and fight a battle on an obscene scale, you're never going to get those Fear inspiring Blood Claws many seem to desperately want. What's more is that, on a personal note, I genuinely dislike the addition to this in a Space Wolf book. 


With Codex: Space Marines and the Tau Empire forces, these kinds of formations made perfect sense. The Codex Astartes as Fire Caste doctrines both emphasized the use of mobile, combined military forces, picking out and assembling whatever they needed from the whole army, then throwing it into battle. The Space Wolves are the opposite of this. Like the true Iron Hands, while united under one banner, each Great Company is supposed to be an autonomous force unto itself. They would maintain most of their own arms and armour, differ heavily in ideology, distinctive traits and favoured units, and the packs themselves rarely fully broke up. While some might unite to confront a single massive threat, that was about it. It might seem like a minor quibble, but this is supposed to be the basis for the whole army and it's forgetting massive thematic elements of their nature. Seeing them trade units and assemble like this just seems very wrong, especially as it can't be put down to one Great Company taking new weapons out of its armoury. There's only one Wolf Lord per one after all.

Still, the Great Companies themselves (or Greatpacks as the book insists upon calling them, as if the book wasn't already drowning in furry lupine terminology) each have their own formations besides the Strike Force, somewhat resembling the old Force Organisation Chart. To put it in the simplest of terms:

Wolf Lord or Wolf Guard Battle Leader
0-1 Wolf Guard, Wolf Guard Terminators or Thunderwolf Cavalry
1-3 Blood Claws, Sky Claws or Swift Claws
0-1 Lukas The Trickster
3-5 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders
1-2 Long Fangs
0-3 Wolf Scouts

0-2 Lone Wolves

While certainly not the worst list on offer, there's some fairly blatant limitations here. First among them is how the army is being quite openly taxed for less competitive units. Go to any tournament and you'll find Land Speeders, Blood Claws, Grey Hunters, and Long Fangs being far less frequently fielded. So, on the one hand it is trying to force players to be more lore friendly and less reliant upon the flashiest choices in the book. On the other though, this isn't being done to make them more appealing so much as forcing armies down a certain direction without much player choice. Combine that with the problem that, overall, this is severely lacking in hard hitting units. A lot of the bigger, armoured forces on hand are limited to formations, and without them the army can be overly fragile. After all, even the Space Wolves need more than just Long Fangs when it comes down to blasting tanks from afar and notable bullet magnets. This artificially racks up the points costs and limits the overall freedom of choice when it comes to forming a full army. While this is by no means saying that there are no competitive or successful lists which can be made with this, it limits them to a few set choices or specific mindsets.

So, that brings us onto the formations themselves. If anything was going to be difficult here, it was going to be this. More-so than any other chapter in the lore, especially now the true Iron Hands are effectively dead, the Space Wolves have some of the most individually distinct companies in existence. While sharing the same resources, home and loyalty to the Allfather, they are individuals, fighting as part of their own packs or forces and retaining their own arms and armour. Each might as well be a chapter unto itself in this regard, with all the distinct quirks, variety and differing ideologies that entails.

Of the thirteen formations on offer, almost fully half were written to reflect these Great Companies (or Legendary Greatpacks) if you include the requisite Wulfen mob. Again, on the one hand this is most definitely appreciated, as it does show that whatever other problems the book has, the writing team were devoted to focusing upon this event as a chapter/legion/thingwhichisntquiteeitheranymore-wide event, and to include as many as they could. What's more, it offers a little more flavour and lore to the factions beyond simply their leaders, and the presence of special rules does mean they stand out more than anything previously depicted in codices. On the other hand though, it's not quite enough to do the whole thing justice. There's only one or two special rules they can offer after all and, while it does make each one somewhat individually distinct, no single Company feels like an individual army. That and sharing a lot of formations, further removes that sense of individuality.

So, onto the actual analysis of each of these Great Companies, and their increasingly ridiculous and/or awesome names:

The Firehowlers



This is ultimately the codex's hard hitting, fast attack army, favouring units who can bound across the battlefield in moments over the usual footslogging or drop pod spamming approaches. Alongside the requisite that any leader must be outfitted with a jump pack or bike, the list drops the Long Fangs requirement and instead replaces it with 2-4 units of Skyclaws/Swiftclaws and 2-4 units of Grey Hunters or Land Speeders. This means that the infantry heavy list can afford far more mobility than some past examples, and the special rules which make it more effective when slamming into gunlines. In this particular case, squads the Firehowlers assault are forced to make a Leadership test or they will immediately fail Overwatch tests. While Fearless units are immune to this, the formation backs this up with some rather tasty charge bonuses; specifically that all units under this can re-roll charges, and that combined rolls of 10 or more give the unit Furious Charge on that turn.

The actual options for Grey Hunters here seems extremely superfluous, as this is basically a White Scars list with fewer bikes and more space Vikings. You'll definitely want the Land Speeders to help support your claws and keep pace with the assault force, pinning down infantry or blowing up tanks as they close in. Given that you are limited to only one unit of Long Fangs in this list, that's firepower you will need. While sadly not the answer some people might have been hoping to help level the playing field against the unstoppable juggernaut which has become the Tau Empire, it's a solid list for combat flimsy or range focused armies. With the right rolls or tactics, this is the sort of list which could wipe the floor with the Imperial Guard and Dark Eldar, if not shootier astartes forces.

The big limiting factor here is, as mentioned previously, the lack of units which can offer some seriously hard hitting firepower and serve as bullet magnets. While Thunderwolves would have served perfectly in that role, their omission is down largely to lore reasons. With that in mind, a player's options would largely be limited to an Imperial Knight or perhaps even a squadron of Leman Russ battle tanks (just to call back on that old bit of lore).

The Ironwolves



Contrasting with the last example, we have here the hard hitting armoured division. While the actual list requires 2-3 Blood Claws, 2-4 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders (again), and at least one squad of Long Fangs atop of the Wolf Lord/Guard leader, its real strength lies in its mobility and vehicles. Each squad is required to have an attached dedicated transport of some kind, each buffed with special rules to help get them as close to the enemy as possible.

The special rules offer a very tasty additional six inches when moving flat out, a -2 Leadership modifier for tank shocking enemy units, and the ability to leap headlong out of transports which have moved up to 12". Oh, and then there's the best part - Every single last vehicle upgrade can be made completely for free. So while this might seem pricey on the surface, and it still is, you're shaving off a lot of points in the long run. It means you can have every squad outfitted with a Razorback, arm it up with a lascannon and a lot of fun bonuses, and happily beam spam enemy tanks to death. This gives it a lot of the additional killing power the prior examples were lacking without the cost issues, and better protection for its advancing forces. This said, these are still metal boxes you're shoving your troops inside, so they're hardly likely to withstand a full scale bombardment.

The Drakeslayers



This is more of an ambiguous choice really. While, despite a few slight variations on old ideas, it's hard to deny that the previous two companies were gimmick forces of sorts. One was a high speed charge list while the other was basically just a heavily tooled up Rhino Rush on steroids. The Drakeslayers, meanwhile, are defined largely as monster hunters and glory seekers. While still not quite offering some of the broad rules and detailed ideas some might have wanted, what you end up with here is a force which has a few more fluffy rules than usual. Infantry heavy as ever, the list now requires Krom Dragongaze or a Wolf Guard to lead the army, backed up by 1-2 Wolf Guard, Wolf Guard Terminators or Thunderwolf Cavalry, 2-3 Blood Claws, 2-4 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders, and 1-2 Long Fangs.

The formation is oddly broader than some might expect, despite retaining a prominent focus upon beheading an enemy force. This is reflected quite clearly in their special rules, with all units gaining Stubborn while Krom is still on the battlefield and the rather unusual Preferred Enemy (Characters) among squads, meaning they have an edge in meat-grinder engagements. It's useful for using squads as speed-bumps against big units. Better yet though, they can back this up quite easily with the additional special rules. The big one is that everyone, and I mean everyone, has Monster Hunter as a bonus rule to give Bloodthirsters, Avatars and Carnifexes living hell. Better yet, units can quickly back one another up in a rapid assault. So long as even one unit makes a successful charge, all other Drakeslayer units can re-roll their own assault ranges.

Personally, this is probably my favourite of the bunch as it's adventurous, attempts to break the mold and sticks to the lore without going so far as to break the game. While Dragongaze himself is hardly the strongest of the Wolf Lords, he has enough power to make most foes think twice before directly engaging him and bringing in killing strikes to enemy foes. Add to this the possibility of most of the army hitting units at once, bogging down shooty armies, and even the possibility of Counter-Charge atop of this, and you have an offensive army which can quickly pin down major threats. The real problem, as with past examples, is the lack of major armoured elements and durable forces. The closest you'll get without auxiliaries or adding other formations will likely be giving Wolf Guard Terminators a Land Raider as a transport. A good unit to be sure, but one which will eat up no end of points.

The Deathwolves



Eight times winners of the worst named Grand Company on Fenris, the Deathwolves can best be seen as a force focusing upon killing strikes. Many of their tactics and major attributes revolve around the use of reserves and sudden arrivals. This might seen a great deal like the Deathwing and certain White Scars forces, and you'd be absolutely right. However, what helps here is that there's a bigger emphasis on a more balanced overall force rather than full blown minmaxing or spamming certain units, requiring a little more overall skill as a result.

The core structure of this formation consist of Harald Deathwolf or a Wolf Guard leading the force, followed by a single unit of Thunderwolf Cavalry, 2-3 Blood Claws, Sky Claws or Swift Claws, 2-4 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders, 1-2 Long Fangs and a single unit of Wolf Scouts. While there is a very prominent focus placed upon assault forces and close combat units, it's still adaptable enough to work with long range strikes or close proximity firefights. So, what are the special rules then? Along with the expected Outflank rules, when all outflanking units in reserve arrive on the board is decided via a single dice roll. So, rather than being stuck with only a few units showing up, it's either all or nothing. However, it has the added bonus of being re-rollable and any units retain the Stealth special rule on the turn they arrive for a bit extra durability. Oh, and just to take advantage of the idea of sudden strikes, sweeping in advance is decided via rolling two dice and picking the highest result.

If you've not guessed, this isn't an overly competitive list by today's standards. While the surprise Thunderwolves might catch a few players flatfooted, it lacks some of the raw, broken nature favoured by a lot of formations and retains a little overall versatility in its structure. You can pick away or pin units at range, go all in with melee forces or even just use units as fodder for Harald and a massive unit of Thunderwolf Cavalry. It's intended to be fun and chaotic more than anything else, and it's perfect for short games with rapid conclusions. After all, let's face it, either the opposing player breaks your arriving units on their charges and they win, or you storm through kicking the living hell out of everything in sight and break the enemy army. Even if it is a little gimmicky, it's still fun enough to play to excuse that issue.

The Blackmanes



Something needs to be mentioned before we get into this. After the lore section of this review was done, a friend contacted me wondering if this might actually lead into Wolf's Honour rather than completely replacing it. After all, many key elements remained the same, with the abrupt corruption of a multitude of worlds, the return of the 13th Company and the mass spell to turn the Space Wolves' feral nature against them. Given that Ragnar wasn't directly mentioned, some hoped that this was a sign that Berek Thunderfist was still listed as Wolf Lord and that the two would link into one another. It's a good idea, and one which could have easily worked with a few edits, but sadly this isn't the case.

Multiple artworks depict Ragnar as Wolf Lord, leading his troops into battle and speaking during the council to decide the fate of the Wulfen. Then we have this formation, just to solidly say that, yes, William King's famed novels never happened; it's just that the book pinched more than a of Lee Lightner's now non-canon ideas. If it went any further with this, I would suspect the involvement of J J Abrams.

So, what does this particular Great Company offer players anyway? Well, for starters the basic requirements are honestly not very remarkable. It's more of the same from what we've seen in past examples, and the force is almost generic in its structure. Besides having Ragnar Blackmane or a Wolf Guard as leader, players are required to take one unit of Wolf Guard, Wolf Guard Terminators or Thunderwolf Cavalry. Then atop of this, they are expected to supply 3-5 units of Blood/Sky/Swift Claws, 4-6 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders, a unit of Long Fangs and a unit of Wolf Scouts. It's a massive list just for a starting force and means that players are going to be largely limited to large scale games. While, in fairness, most of the formations so far have been relatively good about allowing some degree of versatility in overall size, it's a shame to see the "go big or not at all" attitude hit this particular one so hard.

The special rules are just okay. They're by no means bad or really useless, but they sit in this odd spot where it really seems as if the designers really weren't sure what to do with them. Ragnar's force had never been depicted with any specific gimmick in past books or even certain tactics they favour over all others, so the designers just turned them into the Drop Pod army. Each unit which can gain a Drop Pod or transport of any kind may take it for free, and all Drop Pods automatically arrive on the first turn. All units disembarking from Drop Pods gain Fearless and Feel No Pain for the entirety of that turn and Claw units gain re-rolls to attack while Ragnar is on the battlefield. 

It's basically a hammer strike army, like the Deathwolves but with less overt fun to the idea. You hit the enemy with everything at once and hope for the best, with a heavy emphasis upon rapid deployments and assaults. This is fine in of itself, but there's a distinct lack of personality to this list, and it's just something we've seen too many times before. Matters aren't helped by the fact that, yet again, there's a distinct lack of seriously heavy hitters. I honestly don't know if the designers just planned upon leaving them to secondary formations or wanted to keep the focus placed squarely upon troops choices, but it hits the Blackmanes hard. You need to save this one for a seriously big battle to keep it competitive, and the almost arbitrary addition of the Long Fangs and Wolf Scouts only exacerbates the cost issue. Overall, it's a disappointing addition but not a wholly bad one.

The Champions of Fenris



This is ultimately supposed to fill the spot of highly elite army here, with a big emphasis placed upon Wolf Guard and the like. As Logan Grimnar's force, the structure and special rules here definitely favour anything which is regarded as a veteran, especially if they can punch holes in enemy formations. As in army formations, not... never mind.


Anyway, the starting units for this list as remarkably broad. Like the Blackmanes beforehand, this is definitely an army built and intended only for the biggest of games, with little option for anything else. Besides the expected Grimnar/Wolf Guard leader, players are required to take 2-3 Wolf Guard, Wolf Guard Terminators or Thunderwolf Cavalry units, 3-6 Blood/Sky/Swift Claws, 4-8 Grey Hunters or Land Speeders and 2-3 of Long Fangs. It's the kind of massed force which works best as a spearhead. The sort of army which either allows the Wolf Guard/Thunderwolves to draw the most fire as they charge in first or the more common Claws and Hunters serving as a screen to allow the elites to reach combat with few casualties. Both certainly work given the right circumstances, and much of the army is obviously intended to have a continually shifting role thanks to its special rules.

For starters, the Wolf Guard of all kinds and Thunderwolf Cavalry gain +1 to their Weapon Skill. Dubbed the Kingsguard (because apparently Kaldor Draigo was too subtle a reference to A Song of Ice and Fire), these are supposed to be the very best among the Space Wolves and it's certainly not the worst way to reflect that. However, the more interesting special rule stems from how the formation can pick and choose its strengths depending upon the flow of battle. Once per turn, the army may count as having one of the following: Furious Charge, Monster Hunter, Preferred Enemy, Relentless, or Tank Hunters. The major limitation is that this only affects those within 12" of Grimnar.

Honestly, these are the sorts of special rules I personally wish the book had more of. It's a subtle reflection of the wolf influence and pack mentality without going the usual "wolf wolf wolfing wolf" route which the codices so often fall back upon. It shows the army relying upon the experience and tactics of a frontline leader to bring down forces, shifting and directing them as they harry and bring down their foes like a hunter. It's just about generally presented that you could accept this as Grimnar's approach to war, but favours the pack predator nature enough to really see that if you want to. Plus, it's a rare moment where reflecting the Ultramarines worked. Grimnar is supposed to be a strategic genius after all, and having him be able to directly alter the special rules on a whim is a good reflection of that.

The fact that this entire thing hinges on Grimnar is definitely hit and miss. There's the lore aspect mentioned above and also the fact that it doesn't push things too far, instead rewarding players who know exactly where and when to bunch up units in battle. This said though, this is a little too heavily reliant upon one person, meaning you kill him and it's all over. What's more is that limiting a lot of their big rules upon a particular area means that it doesn't hold up too well against more openly competitive lists. It's a fun and interesting list to be sure, but kind of a victim of its own ambition at the end of the day. Save it for truly large scale games, as you're not going to find a way to use this one with anything else.

Wulfen Murderpack



... Well, I think someone will be beating the Deathwolves in the aweful naming contest of the century. 

This is pretty much the Wulfen spam list, and little else. With no other requirements beyond 2-5 units of Wulfen and no restrictions what so ever, you might as well name this the shill formation and it would be about as accurate. Still, there are a few special rules on offer here and at least a sign that the designers were most definitely trying to do something fun with this one. They didn't really succeed, but the effort is definitely appreciated. Anyway, the first one is basically adding exploding dice into combat. In battle, every time a unit from this formation rolls a 6 to hit, it immediately gains another attack. Yeah, there's not much to really say beyond that, but it can result in some moments of hilarity. Sometimes. If you're very lucky. The more interesting one is the Infectious Ferocity rule, which allows the units to roll on a Hunt and/or Kill table, something unique to them. Units within this formation basically have less of a chance to roll the worst option on that table and gain two better ones right at the top of the list, allowing units to either make a free move as if it were the movement phase or add +1 attack for the rest of the game.

Really, the formation just exists. I can't say anything truly bad about it, or even that it suffers from any major breaking or problematic ideas. It's just there if you have a lot of Wulfen and really want to use them.

Spear of Russ


So, as you might have gathered from the repeated complaints, a lot of the armoured or heavy duty units were being saved for their own formations. So here's the first of them, which is basically the tank mob one. Consisting of 1-3 Iron Priests, 1-3 Predators/Whirlwinds/Vindicators, and 1-3 Land Raiders of any acceptable variant, it's that sort of specific vehicle/support guy one we've seen many, many times before. Unlike the others though, it just seems as if the designers basically crammed them all together just to try and get the vehicles out of the way. It's flexible to be sure, and that has its advantages, but there's no real direction behind the formations of this one. 

The special rules this time are rather generic overall, and certainly nothing to write home about. Any vehicle in this formation within 12" of the Land Raiders gains Power of the Machine Spirit, and at the start of each turn any vehicle within 6" of a Priest gains one of the following: Monster Hunter, Precision Shots, Preferred Enemy, Tank Hunters. It's certainly useful and I do personally like the fact that the Priests have more to do than just fix things, but this still seems more than a little phoned in at the end of the day. One or two more fun options or vehicle formations focused upon a distinct approach to war wouldn't have gone amiss.

Ancients of the Fang



It's the dreadnought spam list. Yeah, you have a single Iron Priest and 2-5 dreadnoughts of just about any type which count as a single squadron, and they kill things. The rules are heavily focused upon turning this mob into the anvil for any army to break upon, massively boosting their durability and how well they can keep going in the face of horrific damage. With three dreadnoughts or more players gain re-rolls to hit in close combat, but also have It Will Not Die within 6" of the Iron Priest. Atop of this, any friendly Space Wolves within 6" of any dreadnought gains Stubborn so long as they're still standing. 

Despite being a little bland, the formation is most definitely a little more fun than the last two on here. It's useful for having a rolling strike force of Wolves if they lack some of the speed and rapid strikes offered by a few of the other formations, or to even help support more of a generally shooty Wolves list. It can make for a good cornerstone in any large army at least, and anything which gives the war sarcophagi a few bonuses is always welcome.

Heralds of the Great Wolf



Yeah, this one was just pointless. What you have here is a mash-up of a single Iron Priest, Wolf Priest and Rune Priest, pushing together three very different units so you can't fully use any one at their best. Throw them into combat and the Wolf Priest will be happy, but the Rune and Iron Priests will be away from their best benefits. Stick them near the vehicles, and the Iron Priest can do his thing and the Rune Priest can lob powers, but the Wolf Priest is just a waste of points. A better option honestly would have been just to limit this to two or three of the same Priest.

The special rules seem to be equally schizophrenic as the formation itself, offering the Wolf Priest It Will Not Die, the Rune Priest the ability to remove a point of BS from units shooting at the formation, and the Iron Priest allows them to ignore the first failed saving roll in each phase. Oh, and they can also add +1 to seizing the initiative and re-roll when determining who goes first. It's just a waste really, and one you'll rarely find a reason to ever pick up.

Wolfkin



Wolf-spam. As if the book didn't use wolf terms enough, we now have a full on giant pack of them as a formation. Consisting of 2-5 units of Fenrisian Wolves, any unit in this group has Monster Hunter and Outflank. While the latter is certainly useful, Monster Hunter isn't so beneficial given their more limited strength and general aptitude in close combat. They're certainly not good enough to solo a Bloodthirster, that's for sure. 

The more unique special rules consist of the ability to deploy all units as a single huge mob, and add +1 attacks per model so long as there are twenty or more on the battlefield. A more interesting point is that, once on the table after successfully outflanking an enemy, allowing you to automatically bring any friendly outflanking Space Wolves onto the board with them. It's a useful fall-back measure, but with the Deathwolves as an option, its usefulness is questionable. Consider it as a somewhat cheapter alternative, but otherwise it's one you might wish to just skip over.


So, that's the formations done. Some good, some bad, some bland and one very broken one. As the introduction said, it's very middle of the road in terms of overall rules and relatively inoffensive. While I personally do hope that the writers are given an excuse to build upon the good ideas present in future releases, the current release is really only okay overall. You'll probably find more people trying to buy it to use the new Wulfen rules rather than the formations here, and there's a sad emphasis upon rewarding bigger armies than covering a more general view of forces. The other problem is that, as said all too often, any speedy formation lacked a lot of the real punch it needed in close quarters. It seemed as if the developers intended to sacrifice one in order to use the other rather than fully balance the two out.

Still, we're not quite done yet. We still have to talk about the Wulfen themselves.



Going just from their basic stats line you'd be forgiven for calling these leaner, faster marines with and emphasis upon choppy gameplay. With WS4, BS2, S5, T4, W2, I5, A3, Ld8 and a 4+ standard save, they're not bad for thirty points per model. You'd most definitely want to keep them well covered and the lighter save does mean there's more of a chance of nailing them before they get into melee. Were it not for the lack of a stealth option when it came to anything with trees, i'd be almost tempted to call them what the kroot should have been, at least before getting into everything else.

For starters, we have the unit's special rules. The unit is capable of running and charging in the same turn, and then re-rolling that failed charge rolls. Bear in mind that these guys can leap out of Stormwolves to get close to the enemy, so overall they can basically bear down on their foes at several times the speed of the average Grey Hunter/Blood Claw. Their bonus rule, Death Frenzy, even limits the damage initial strikes can have, allowing dead units to pile in and launch their attacks in combat before finally keeling over and dying. This might have been enough to make them a solid glass cannon, but Games Workshop was sure to back up their new shilling units with no end of special rules. Here's the full list of the basic ones: Acute Senses, And They Shall Know No Fear, Bulky, Counter-Attack, Feel No Pain, Rage. Short of giving them Fearless and Eternal Warrior, i'm honestly not sure how much harder anyone could make them to kill.


The weapons carried by this unit are basically all relics. There's always been a running gag about the sheer number of power weapons and seemingly legendary blades the chapter hands out like candy, but this takes things to a whole new level. Any model in the unit may be equipped with a Great Frost Axe, Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield or Twin Frost Claws. This basically turns them into somewhat more invincible Assault Terminators at the drop of a hat, but with a greater charge range. Oh, and if you didn't think that this was enough, the giant Frost Axe turns their Strength up to 8(!) albeit with an Initiative 1 modifier for anything past the charging turn. Frost Claws meanwhile, only make them hit at Strength 6 AP 2 but come with the Shred special rule. I'd say more but, really, the stats speak for themselves.

Of course, atop of all that, we then have a couple of random tables to help enhance sheer killing potential. Listed as "Hunt" and "Kill" each is capable of dialing up unit stats a notch on every level.

Hunt:
1-3 Predatory Pounce: Afflicted Units have the Hammer of Wrath special rule and can re-roll charges.
4-5: Bestial Swiftness: Add 3" to maximum move distances when running or charging into combat.
6: Reckless Ferocity: All afflicted models have Furious Charge and D3 bonus attacks on charge.

Kill:
1-3: +1 to the Initiative characteristic on all afflicted models.
4-5: Models can re-roll failed wound rolls in close combat.
6: Models that are slain at the start of close combat are still permitted to pile in, launch all their attacks, and will only be removed at the very end of the phase.

You want to know the real kicker though? Those tables aren't simply reserved for the Wulfen themselves. No, instead they can count for any other Space Wolf unit nearby sans Servitors, Wulfen and wolves. It's 6" for the more experienced Grey Hunters and Long Fangs and 12" for Blood Claws, so shove a bunch of Sky Claws in with them, and you can potentially have the kind of nightmarish tide of frenzied murderers which even Khorne himself would balk at.


The actual rule itself is largely meant to reflect the ongoing plot about the Thousand Sons trying to transform the entire chapter into Wulfen. You see, the curse is actually present within the Wulfen themselves rather than so massively widespread that it covers entire systems, it's focused upon the Wulfen. It spreads to anyone close by, turning them more and more savage the longer they're in close proximity with them. This was actually going to be a point which was going to be discussed in the final part, until I set eyes on one specific bit of information. You remember the whole problem brought up in the last issue, surrounding the Wulfen retcon? Well, here's a bit of lore limited purely to the rules section of the book. Please keep in mind these two paragraphs are right next to one another and are presented exactly as found on page 52 of the rule book:

"The raw ferocity of the Wulfen is dangerously infectious, and has a profound effect on the psyches of any Space Wolves they fight alongside. This section contains new rules to reflect the terrifying savagery these bestial creatures provoke in nearby units of Space Wolves from your army.

All Space Wolves bear their Primarch's unique generic legacy in the form of the Canis Helix. Though a vital part of their transformation into Sky Warriors and the source of their greatest strength, exposure to the primal ferocity of a Wulfen in battle can overwhelm their senses, turning proud warriors into little more than beasts as they launch themselves at their prey. The Chapter's youngest warriors are especially susceptible to the call of the Wulfen, for firey aggression ever courses through their veins. Yet even though more experienced warriors have learned to control their battle fury, the potential lies within all Space Wolves to give to the raging murderbeast caged within them."

So yeah, the writers here did know of the Canis Helix. They knew of how the genetics of their primarch could alter them and they knew of how it could be used to push them into becoming murderous creatures; yet at the same time they somehow think that their plot can get away with presenting the Wulfen as a wholly new addition to the chapter. I'm honestly not sure if this was just a lack of caring, poor editing or a simple inability to comprehend prior lore. Personally, i'm almost tempted to say it was all of the above.

Overall, the Space Wolf side of things is most definitely a very mixed bag. The formations we've already talked about, but it honestly seems as if they saved every last ounce of gibbering insanity usually saved for the worst of codices, and limited it down to one unit. There are certainly worse ones which could have been made, but damn if they don't make me wince every time I look at what's become of the 13th Company.

Still, what about Chaos? If you want to see how they were treated in this book, you can find it here.