Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Product Review: Shadow War Armageddon (From A Necromunda Perspective)


Well, I hate to say it but I recently broke down and bought my first Games Workshop product in almost 10 years...and from a GW store on top of it! That product was the rulebook for Shadow War: Armageddon, Games Workshop's possible reentry into the skirmish gaming market. This review will consistent of my initial impressions of the book itself without having played any actual games. I will likely do a second review that takes a more in-depth look at the ruleset and how it actually plays on the tabletop.

First, though, let me take a small aside...

When I was a teenager way back in the early 1990s, there was a small game store in the local mall that carried a good selection of miniature games, especially GW. I had been exposed to RPGs in the 1980s but walking into that store and seeing the miniatures...something clicked. A few months later and I was working at that same store (for those of you in the Chicagoland area, that store was Gamers Paradise - both loved and reviled by many) and with my first check I bought my first miniature game - Necromunda. I played that game for ages and kept the box and components until they literally started falling apart. Lots of games came and went but Necromunda was always somewhere in the rotation. Unfortunately, the mentality at GW changed and Necromunda was given a (largely disliked) second version and, when the mentality of GW further changed, the game was abandoned entirely. Undaunted, I still played, eventually going on to run it in a tournament format at Adepticon and then expanding upon the ruleset with my own Inquisimunda rules.

I relate that story because - in full disclosure - I am probably not the most impartial judge when it comes to reviewing this ruleset. I would, however like to think that I have enough experience with the initial ruleset to adequately relate what works and what doesn't in SWA. Which leads to the biggest asset - and problem - with Shadow War. It is, at its core, a repackaged and slightly streamlined version of the original Necromunda ruleset from 1995.

In Shadow War (Necromunda), players control warbands (gangs) consisting of xenos, mutant, and human fighters (gangers) in the nightmare universe of Warhammer 40K. Warbands (gangs) consist of individual fighters (gangers) who engage in a series of linked games that form a campaign, acquiring experience, injuries, and Promethium (territories). So, while the game consists of individual scenarios, one of its big attractions was this semi-RPG element of treating in individual miniatures somewhat like player characters.

The book itself is nice. For $40, you get a 200 page softcover book consisting of background, the core ruleset, the original warband lists released with the boxed set, all the warband lists released as free PDFs, as well as two new warband lists only available with this ruleset - the Sisters of Battle and Inquisition. I personally would have preferred a hardcover in the style of the Necromunda/Outlanders big book from 1998 (because its held up very well over 20 years, whereas my softcovers have not), but this is a minor complaint.

Components necessary for SWA are almost exactly the same as Necromunda, with the exception of the small (2") blast template and the hand flamer/webber template. SWA retains the Flamer template, 3" & 5" blast templates, D6 base dice (as well as its - at the time - odd proxy 'D3' mechanic), Scatter dice, and Misfire/'Artillery' Dice (hope you saved all those from years ago!).

The other major component is the player's warband...and its here where we come to the largest departure from the Necromunda ruleset. Gone are the gangers, beasts, and hired guns in favor of warbands that more closely mimic units available to armies in the larger army-based game of 40K. To be fair, it is still possible to run your old Necromunda gangers using the Astra Militarum or Genestealer Cult rules (or even as Cultists in a Chaos Space Marine warband), but you will run into issues with Special Operative models. Warband composition is similar to Necromunda - you choose a Leader, at least 50% Basic Troops, New Recruits, and 2-3 Gunners (similar to Heavies) and this basic warband list is backed up by Special Operatives, which can be recruited using the warband's Promethium Stores, to help in each scenario (somewhat similar to Hired Guns). Additionally, each warband has one or more special abilities and (often) access to warband-specific weapons and equipment (similar to the Version 2.0 Necro lists). Warband composition is as follows:

Space Marines - selected and modeled from Scouts. Special Operatives include Apothecaries, Vets, Terminators, and Deathwatch (are fairly balanced list with good selection)

Orks - Nob leaders and Boyz troopers (Gorkamorka players will appreciate Recruits being "Yoofs"). Special Operatives include Meks, Doks, Flash Gitz, and (rather oddly) Runtherd & Grots (the lack of MegaNobz to compete against the abundance of other lists' heavy armor is a bit concern here)

Astra Militarum (IG) - standard human troops. Special Operatives include Commissars, Enginseer, Ogryn, and Scions. (seems fairly balanced but an Inquisitor or Space Marine should have been an Operative)

Sisters of Battle - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Repentia, Celestial, and Seraphim (nice list; Light of the Emperor ability could be absolutely brutal in a shooting-centric game like this)

Chaos Space Marines - Leaders, Troops, and Gunners are CSM; Recruits are Cultists. Special Operatives include Raptors, Terminators, and Spawn (an expensive and limited list probably not recommended for players new to skirmish level games but provides some nice modeling and fluff potential)

Dark Eldar - Wyches, nothing but Wyches. Special Operatives include Succubus, Haemonculus, and Scourges (a Hand-to-Hand list that gets over some of the issues of HtH lists in Necromunda by providing fighters with a 6" basic Move and high Initiative)

Craftworld Eldar - Dire Avenger Leaders and Troopers with Guardian Recruits and Gunners. Special Operatives include Autarch, Wraithblade, and Wraithguard (this seems like the weakest list with some very odd choices in the Dire Avengers and no aspect warrior Operatives. Rangers absolutely should have been in the basic list)

Genestealer Cult - Neophytes abound. Special Operatives include Hybrids, Metamorphs, and Genestealers themselves (probably the most "fun" list with lots of options for equipment and weapons and lots of modeling and fluff potential. This list seems much more at home here rather than at the army level in 40K)

Grey Knights - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Purifiers, Interceptor, Paladin, and Terminator (as with CSM, an expensive and limited list probably not recommended for players new to skirmish level games but provides some nice modeling and fluff potential)

Harlequin Troupe - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Death Jester, Solitaire, and Shadowseer (another HtH list with the same HtH advantages of Dark Eldar with a higher cost but an ability that makes them harder to shoot at. Expensive but this list could absolutely dominate the right tables)

Inquisition - an Inquisitor, their Acolytes, and with their "Gunners" being HtH Crusaders. Special Operatives include Arcoflagellants, Death Cultists, and Deathwatch (a nicely balanced list with some huge potential for modeling and fluff)

Necrons - Immortals, Warriors, and the Deathmark. Special Operatives include Lychguard and Praetorian (somewhat expensive and mainly focused on shooting but their ability makes them very tough and will require opponents to come up with a good strategy to force Bottle Tests)

Skiitari - exactly what you think. Special Operatives include Enginseer, Ruststalkers, and Infiltrator (a list that heavily favors shooting but the points are right and some of their weapons could be absolutely devastating)

Tau Pathfinders - Tau and Drones. Special Operatives include Stealth Shas'ui, Fireblade, and Ethereal (another lists heavily favoring shooting with a large basic selection, not anything fascinating here though)

Tyranids - Nid's and Gun Beasts. Special Operatives include Ravener, Zoanthrope, and 'Nid Primes. (an expensive list with a mix of HtH and shooting, lots of abilities. I do find it odd that neither a Nid Leader or Troops cause Fear)

As far as the rules themselves are concerned, they are almost verbatim taken from the original Necromunda book with some minor tweaks. For example, Shooting works the same as the original rules, with the inclusion of the High Impact and Stray Shot rules from Version 2.0. High Impact was necessary to add due to more heavily armored fighters in this game, but Stray Shots seems like an odd choice which, I can only imagine, was included to prevent bunching of HtH-centric warbands. Flipping through the Hand-to-Hand and Leaderships sections of the rulebook alongside my hardback Necromunda copy the rules and layout are almost exactly alike. Those of you who are veteran players of Necromunda know all the in-and-outs and the subtle cheats to these rules so, while it is nice to see the good things about the ruleset reproduced, it does strike me as odd that practically nothing was either tweaked nor added to make it at least slightly different. The only new tweak, not inherent to either Necromunda edition, appears to be the rules for Falling...but than only slightly.

The scenario list is again almost verbatim taken from the original Necromunda book...and, unlike the other sections, I can't seem to find any tweaks. This isn't a big deal because the original scenarios were just so great but, again, it's odd that GW didn't even bother to add at least one new scenario, especially considering the host of scenarios that were produced in Outlanders and the Necromunda magazines. The campaign system is (somewhat disappointingly) the biggest change. Gone are the extensive injury chart, the trading post, the Territory list and income generation. Instead of territories and income, warbands generate a preset amount of Promethium caches which are used to pay for the services of Special Operatives in subsequent games on a one-to-one basis. To me, these were the most fun aspect of the original Necromunda rules because they added to the fluff and modeling aspect of the game. Without them, while the post-game sequence is more streamlined, it feels rather lifeless and generic. Luckily though, the Skill tables are still there with some minor improvements, which is a plus. With the rules being so similar, it's definitely easy to simply use those old scenarios if you still have access to them.

So, without any games under my belt, that's the long and short of Shadow War Armageddon. The verdict? It's nice - not terrible, not great. It's a good beer and pretzels game that will get some of us old 40K players to crack out our models, as well as providing a somewhat cheap springboard for newbies to get into 40K. It may also function to get more players interested in more intense, narrative-driven campaigns that can be accomplished with Inquisimunda supplements. With the developments within GW itself, I remain cautiously optimistic that SWA will be supported and perhaps widened in scope and playability.



Pros
  • Great to see an skirmish-sized game for 40K
  • Great "Beer and Pretzels" game
  • (Most) everything you loved about the original Necromunda rules
  • Smaller units allows play for newbies, seasoned players, and returning veterans

Cons

  • Almost a page-for-page reprint of the original Necromunda rules
  • Everything you hated about the original Necromunda rules
  • Lack of real, campaign depth
  • Some warbands are very bland with odd Specialist choices

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Product Review: Oregon Trail Card Game




A few months ago, I bought my wife the Oregon Trail card game from Pressman, available through Target. She's a huge history buff and absolutely adored the computer game when she was a kid so I figured "what the heck?". I held off on reviewing it for several months because I really wanted to see how it played after multiple sittings, especially family game nights. And, after several months of playing it, I think I can reasonably conclude....

This is a game for masochists.

So, if you aren't of a certain age (born in the late 70s or early 80s), you probably won't know about the background of Oregon Trail. Way back in the day, before the current golden age of computer and console games, developers were still trying to find markets for the fledgling video game industry and one of those markets was education. The 1980s saw several now-classic educational games marketed towards children, among which was a game called The Oregon Trail. In the Oregon Trail, the child took on the role of early American pioneers journeying down the Oregon Trail to present-day Oregon.





The player would choose how to outfit and equip their party, what routes to take, when to hunt, and (most memorably) whether to ford or float across rivers. It was a game that had a learning curve and required a certain amount of skill and strategy to survive the wilds of the 1800s American West. As children, my wife and I fondly recall spending hours trying to win by reaching the fabled ending in Oregon. I can't be sure whether I ever actually beat the game (I was much more fond of Nintendo at the time), but I do recall it being difficult but fair.




And, I'd have to say this is where the card game goes awry. It's not fair. There is little to no strategy. I get the feeling that Pressman was banking on the nostalgia factor to make the game successful, rather than taking an existing franchise and building a good game from that foundation.

Play proceeds as such - each player has a certain number of Supply and Trail cards. Trail cards are laid out one at a time to build up "decks" of 5 trail cards each. A total of 10 decks of trail cards are required to reach the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Yes, you read that right, it takes 50 Trail cards to finish the game. Supply cards provide supplies to survive as reactions to Calamity cards - clothing, extra oxen, clean water, etc.

There's a couple of issues here right off the bat, before play even begins. First, depending on the number of players, there's a maximum of ~15 Supply cards TOTAL, meaning the group can only "survive" about 15 Calamity cards....if they aren't forced to discard their Supply cards. This leads to the second issue - the overwhelming majority of Trail cards force the player to either roll to cross a river (and if you fail you lose a Supply card) or automatically force the player to draw a Calamity card. Cards that do not have any effect are few and far between.

To be fair, there is a way to replenish lost Supply cards via Towns and Forts. However, there are a total of 4 of these cards, allowing players to take a total of 6 Supply cards (if they happen to lay down all 4 of these cards before dying). I'm not great at math, but I know that means you're either going to run out of Supplies long before you win or you have to have some damn good luck. Now, all these factors alone could still make for a challenging, but achievable, game. The problem comes in the fact that there are some Calamity cards that, once drawn, mean certain death for the player. No saves, no rolls, no using Supplies to avoid them. Death. You're out. This means that there's no good strategy - you can still plan and work your hardest, put one wrong draw and you die.

So after several months and several plays, none of us has won. And I would question the honesty of anyone who plays this card game and claims they did win. It's just not possible...and that makes for an unenjoyable game (unless you're a masochist). Don't get me wrong - I like challenging and difficult games. I don't mind wading through insane hardships to finally achieve victory. But I, the player, need to have some mechanism or strategy to be able to achieve victory and the problem with Pressman's Oregon Trail game is there isn't one. That makes replay value low. It's fun to play once or twice for the nostalgia factor...but it's clear Pressman didn't care if the customer actually was able to win.

While I would like to recommend this, I have to say if you want to play The Oregon Trail, find an emulator and play it on the computer.

Pros:
-Relatively inexpensive
-Easy to learn
-Some nice "old school" 8-bit graphic art

Cons
-Insanely hard to win
-Auto-death Calamity cards feel cheap
-Difficulty and lack of strategy prevent replayability


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Adepticon 2017 - Necromunda and Inquisimunda Recap

Since I've been back from Adepticon, I've been taking a short break from posting and modeling and working on some real life projects that got put on hold for the convention. Now, that I'm done, I'm finally putting up some pics from the inaugural Inquisimunda and annual Necromunda tournaments. Unfortunately, MANY photos did not turn out due to the consistently poor lighting in the banquet rooms. It's a constant point of contention that may see me resorting to bringing a full camera rig and lighting setup next year. As cool as these pics are, there are a lot of awesome warband/gang pictures that didn't come out.

If you played in the events and a picture of your work isn't posted, I apologize. However, if you have any pictures you would like to share and have posted here, please drop me a PM on Facebook or send me an email. You will be given credit and my thanks.

I had the most skepticism about how the Inquisimunda event would run but, oddly, we had more issues during the Necromunda event (which both started late, ran over time, and had a drop). Additionally, I lost half a crate of terrain (which included my awesome Collapsed Dome Walls) so we were down a table. Thankfully, the guys who run Open Gaming were gracious enough to loan me TWO tables worth of terrain!

Even with the setbacks, I think players had a good time and it was a nice change of pace for me as an organizer. Additionally, I've had a lot of questions about running other systems this year and, at this point, it's rather too early for me to decide what will happen at Adepticon 2018. If my math is correct, next year would mark 10 straight years of me running Necromunda which, as much as I enjoy the system and the players can be rough. Shadow War has (slightly) changed my outlook on GW as well. We'll see what the future holds but I should have a concrete explanation of what events I'll run this August.




























These are pics of the small Inquisimunda game the guys over at ExProfundis played that night. As I was running Necromunda, I couldn't get many pictures (or play, which is really what I wanted to do) but this was a truly amazing board with some awesome miniatures on it. Really inspirational.





Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bastogne Board Commission


UPDATE 4/24 - So, unfortunately, the client failed to pay for or pick up this completed table. As such, I'm now forced to sell it on the open market. Due to the nature of the board, it cannot be shipped and must be picked up in Woodstock, IL. Price is negotiable and I can provide written evidence that this project was abandoned by the client and that he has forfeited any claims to ownership or reimbursement.

If you are interested in purchasing this board, please contact me at ancientsociety79@gmail.com


So if you're subbed to my Facebook page (if you're not, the link is in the sidebar...*hint, hint*), you'll have seen my progress on building a full gaming board based around the Battle of the Bulge on commission. The client wanted a full board, with protected sides; one side consisting of pine forest on a ridgeline and the other side consisting of a town at a lower elevation. To break up two dense terrain on either end, the middle portion would consist of open fields divided by low walls and fences. To provide extra cover in the open fields, I added some artillery craters.

I started by building an open-topped box out of lumber. To cut down on weight, the bottom is 5mm hardboard supported by 1x2 slats laid underneath. Everything is glued and nailed to ensure rigidity, then any small gaps are sealed, and the entire box is sanded to remove sharp edges and roughness.


I then cut and glued in the bottom sheet of 1/2" foamboard for the groundwork. Once dry, I cut and glued in two pieces of foamboard to a height of 3" for the ridgeline. Once everything was dry, I sketched out the locations of all buildings, roads, walls, and craters. Using a dremel, I gouged out all the craters, the rutted dirt road, and the bunker interior and sanded down the ridgeline, filling in any cracks.



I built up the edges of the craters (as well as around the bunker exterior) slightly with clay for both realism and to provide a little more cover for minis. Using 1/2" foamboard, I made the "Belgian bunker", as well as several intact and ruined stone buildings that are common to the area. While nice, these buildings are heavily labor-intensive and a tad large, so I limited their inclusion here.



The stone houses are cut using a steel rule and very sharp Xacto and 1" utility knife, joined together with toothpicks (for strength) and construction adhesive. I then mark out the horizontal line of every third or fourth course of stone with a steel rule and dull pencil, filling in the rest of the courses afterward. I then take the pencil's erasure and lightly push in a couple of stones here and there, then press a large stone on the walls to texture them.

The bunker is similar but the walls are cut horizontally and sandwiched together to give a cast concrete appearance. I then drew out the cobblestone roads in the same way as the stone house technique...and I never want to draw another circle again! Once all these items are dry and assembled, I "prime" them with acrylic gesso then drybrush successively lighter tones of paint.


To fill out the village, I used Sarissa's European houses, as well as cutting out several ruined houses myself from 3mm MDF, as well as cutting roofs and additional floors for the stone houses. I also added some premixed vinyl spackle to smooth out and texture the craters while adding sand and gravel. I used two miscast Warlord vehicles for vehicle wrecks and tried to integrate them into the crater areas.

The low stone walls are a mix of plaster and Durham's rock putty. I "cast" them by laying the wet mixture in a low dish, then once dry, snapping irregular small chunks from the slab with my hands and by hitting it with a steel rule. I then glue these pieces together with construction adhesive, coat them with white glue to "seal" them, and then add just a little sprinkling of sand here and there. I also installed barbed wire fenceposts using basswood.


Next was to install the pine trees and, while I like the look of the "bottle brush" pines, they aren't particularly realistic. So I took regular pine trees, sprayed them with spray adhesive, and then sprinkled light flocking over them. While I do like the look, they took over a day to dry (on a project like this, that is a long time). I laid down the earth texture using a mixture of acrylic paints, some gesso, and a touch of white glue applied very thick and then sprinkled with a mixture of sand, model railroad ballast, and just a couple small stones. Once dry, I drybrushed with lighter colors of browns and tans.

On the ridgeline, I created a few areas of rocky outcroppings using premixed vinyl spackle mixed with small stones, then painted these grey and drybrushed in white. In the village, I added debris around each ruined building, again using the spackle/sand mixture. I also fully painted all the timber frame houses and the stone house roofs.

Areas of mud and debris were airbrushed to give them an irregular feel, as well as to feather their color into the surrounding groundwork.



Finally, I added areas of static grass and snow drifts. And, here is the completed board.