Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Valedor (Book Review)

aledor is a surprise success more than anything else. To me personally, this was most certainly not a good combination. It tied together the utterly atrocious lore of Codex: Iyanden with a writer who seemed to both avidly stick with the most current lore no matter how well it fitted the army, and whose previous effort was considerably less than stellar. However, while he certainly has his problems when it comes to astartes, it seems that Guy Haley has a serious talent when it comes to depicting the Craftworld Eldar in all their inhumanity.

The war to save Iyanden is over. While many of its populace lie dead, its towers ruined and Yriel having all but sold his soul to ensure victory, it still stands. There is now time for rebuilding, yet the bedraggled warhost soon finds that their campaign against the Tyranid Hive Fleets are not yet done. On the world of Valedor there will be a meeting. The remaining forces of Kraken are soon to meet with a newly arrived splinter of Hive Fleet Leviathan, and should they be allowed to join information on countless races within the galaxy will be known. Should the Tyranids merge, a power beyond reckoning will stride forth and bathe the galaxy in blood. Unable to stop this threat alone, Iyanden’s ruling elite petition the assistance of their former ally Biel-Tan and even their dark kin to halt this joining. Should they fail, then the galaxy itself will be utterly doomed…

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Eldar Craftworlds Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)

You really have to wonder what goes through the heads of Games Workshop writers some days. On some occasions they've produced fantastic, outstanding work which shows just why Warhammer 40,000 is the granddaddy of all tabletop wargaming. Then you have monuments, staggering monolithic works raised above all else which all but scream "There was a point, we bloody well missed it!" Guess which one this is.

This codex is not good. Not bad, certainly broken in quite a few ways, but it isn't the Clan Raukaan some people were dreading. That said, it's quite the accomplishment to name your codex after some single part of the universe, promising to focus upon it far more than ever before, even sticking a long underutilized faction on the front, then do bugger all with it. Perhaps the worst crime of all is that the codex is actually a sham, a misnomer, a pointless re-naming to get fan interest when this is little more than the next Codex: Eldar. Honestly, remove the cover and you'd never be able to tell that this was supposedly Eldar: Codex Craftworlds over the common or garden armybook.

Right off of the bat, let's get the first point established shall we? There's no expansions to prior lore. Unlike what people had hoped for, the writers do little to nothing with the craftworlds and we learn no new details about them. Nothing which past books didn't tell, no new revelations about their society or their nature, nor even a little more to the big name ones themselves.

Just about every craftworld here is stuck, yet again, with about two or three paragraphs to flesh them out, just about all of which emphasise upon nothing but the militarized side of things. Beil-Tan is still the Fascist state of the eldar race, Saim-Hann is still woefully underdeveloped, Alaitoc is Ranger Town once more (with a tacked on Necron Dynasty vendetta), nothing of importance happened to Iyanden prior to Kraken apparently, and Ulthwé has little else to it beyond "Chaos is coming, look busy!"

Even the minor craftworlds, those rarely seen, remain woefully underrepresented and lack much to help truly define them. Given even less space than the major craftworlds, each effectively boils down to one or two sections or ideas with little room to develop or help represent their way of life. Of those there, only Lugganath and Mymeara remain relatively well rounded, with the others focusing far too much upon a single recent, defining event or their warhost. Few even bother to go so far as to actually account for any battles, victories or the mass slaughters their kind are so frequently subjugated to thanks to lazy writing, and we're just stuck with the same cookie-cutter descriptions as last time.

The thing which really damns the book as a whole is that, ultimately, so much of this is effectively recycled from the last edition. Little to nothing new is actually added here, and the few parts which aren't borderline copy-paste jobs only exist to announce "yo dawg, these guys are good at what they do!" It follows the same format as Khorne Daemonkin did, yet at the same time the writers there seem to have failed to understand why that worked but it doesn't here. One was a full army and a religious cult, the other is a diverse fragmentary race of beings who are the last of their kind and venerate a lost homeland. You can't tell that by focusing entirely upon the military or just outlining what each unit does. Hell, if anything their new approach has actually made things all the worse in this regard. Khorne Daemonkin focused upon telling tales of massive battles and victories, while here the book instead focuses purely upon fragmentary eye-witness bits of conflicts first and foremost.

So many subtle elements or essential parts of the race's mythos are either overlooked, underutilised or barely commented upon at all. To give one quick example, the Rhana Dandra isn't mentioned at all in the book beyond a brief comparison by Nightspear. Atop of this, so many crucial ideas such as the fact Autarchs and Exarchs are accursed as much as blessed (trapped on their Path and ultimately at a dead end) is completely overlooked, as is any real relationship between the craftworlds and Exodite colonies. The many opportunities to do so are squandered so badly it's astounding to think that Games Workshop thought the book deserved this price tag. The actual lore, on the whole, is so bare bones that were you to remove the obvious padding and relentlessly repeated information, it would barely make up a third of its overall page count - and that's before getting to the actual damn padding!

In the codex's middle, from page fifty-seven to ninety-three, the entire damn armybook suddenly diverges to immediately spam images of model upon model. With pointless close-ups of armies over and over again, some of the worst painted minitures ever to bear the 'Eavy Metal logo (honestly, I know casual painters who could have produced a masterpiece compared to Yriel here) and some quite obvious photoshopped efforts to make certain units look imposing. Oh, but that's only after the book opts to repeat all the details and information about the craftworlds and Aspect Shrines it just showed the reader right before this section. This would be like reading the same chapter twice over in a novel, only for the characters to be wearing hats the second time around. Repeating information to pad out their books has long been a sin Games Workshop has wholeheartedly embraced, but this is just getting ridiculous by this point!

Consider for a moment what, rather than pointless spam, essential parts could have been added which the codex otherwise skipped: 
An examination of the psychic power of the eldar. 
Descriptions on how the eldar manipulate other races and alter fate to ensure their own survival. 
How the craftworlds have drifted apart. 
Why the craftworlds have drifted apart and how some distrust others. 
Lengthy campaigns and wars against their foes. 
The race's role on the galactic stage and how they have participated in major wars. 
How Craftworld and Dark Eldar interact with one another. 
The various ruins, vaults and seals left by their race all over the galaxy, desperately trying to hold Chaos at bay. 

No, sadly that last one is not an exaggeration. Go through this book and you'll find few to no actual wins made by any eldar army. Or any actual damn battles described involving the eldar army. "Show don't tell" is supposed to be one of the basic rules when it comes to showing off anything, from events to character abilities, so how the hell does Games Workshop keep getting this so utterly wrong? It's been bad enough on some previous books where they've gutted any actual stories of battles or campaigns, but now it seems even giving the army a player might be interested in a genuine win is utterly out of the question.

The writers' determination to utterly deny the eldar any kind of victory or glory moment can be best seen in the book's timeline. As if the title "The Doom of the Eldar" wasn't damning enough, what follows is a veritable plague of retreats, draws and losses without end. 
The entire opening section completely skips over anything of significant detail surrounding the Empire, and just opts to detail the bare basics of how it fell, then starts skipping forwards a few millennia, coveringly only a few known tibbits from the Horus Heresy. Then the real defeats start.

764.M34 is titled the Shattering of Lugganath, and contains the following:
"The Emperor's Children ravage Craftworld Lugganath in Slannesh's name, killing thousands of Eldar before the are repelled."

514.M38 has this lovely bit to it:
"The Eldar of Ulthwé and the Jade Knife Kabal of Commorragh battle for dominance within the shattered spars of the webway. An uneasy truce is called only when the death toll becomes unbearable."

794.M41 contains Khorne's pets running wild on a craftworld:
"Caelec the Wanderer breaches a sealed runic portal, only to find it leads of Khorne's realm. A warband of hound-headed fiends slays Caelec and follows his scent to Yme-Loc, causing utter carnage before it is finally banished to the ether."

Oh, and we can't go without the Imperium getting involved in 801.M41 with a lovely side dish of character assassination:
"When Craftworld Yme-Loc refuses to yield its secrets to an Adeptus Mechanicus war fleet, battle breaks out within the armouries of Vaul. Millions die before the Tech-Priests seize enough Eldar technology to sate their predatory curiosity."

... You know, you'd be forgiven for thinking someone on the writing team might not be the biggest fan of this army. 

The only things the eldar actually get as victories are stuff lifted wholesale from the most recent codices and Valedor, which even then seem to emphasise as much on eldar losses as possible. That and also open up some very big questions such as noting that certain craftworlds (Iyanden going from what the timeline suggests) set up multiple planetary colonies away from their mobile fortress planets. That and the fact said mobile fortress cities of psychic bone and raw firepower can easily be plundered by anyone looking to have a bit of fun at the space elves' expense. That or someone read the praise given to codices willingness to show armies losing once in a while, and used this as an excuse to go curb stomp the eldar into the dirt!

Perhaps the single worst thing though is how the codex utterly abandons any opportunity to detail lengthy conflicts, campaigns or even major battles for a few pages. Every shred of info here is delivered piecemeal and without any degree of lengthy explanation, and for all the conflicts it alludes to we see absolutely none of this. So, as a result even the very angle the book is going for in trying to only focus upon the eldar as an army is still woefully underrepresented and astoundingly shallow when it comes to any depictions of war.

So, is there anything good here? Yes and no. While the writers here might have heavily botched a great deal of lore when it comes to presenting the race, it didn't actually ruin any lore. There's no attempt to bulldoze their way through old ideas or cripple previous concepts, and even Codex: Iyanden itself seems to have been almost entirely ignored. The only actual bit referenced stems from the novel Valedor which, equally, seemed to utterly ignore the very codex it was supposed to promote. Atop of this there are a few minute gems of half good ideas and interesting elements flung about here and there. Some details surrounding the Aspect Shrines do try to present them as individual dojos of a kind, with their own traditions and histories. Each is given a paragraph to better flesh out certain bits of their style or history, and it genuinely does give the impression of a very individualistic army of specialist groups without going nuts. Atop of this the artwork, what little new stuff we get, is actually quite nice.

On the lore front Codex: Eldar Craftworlds is more a massive missed opportunity. It fails to expand upon anything we previously knew, fails to actually give any substantial focus to any of the major craftworlds, fails to account for even a fraction of the army's history or concepts, and fails to expand upon the basic army itself. With Codex: Space Marines showing how a book could be divided up to best represent several sub-factions and Codex: Tau Empire building a real society while still focusing primarily upon its army, there were no excuses here. While it might not be the gibbering realm of madness which was the last Supplement, this was just unimpressive as an effort. Honestly, you'd really do better just to save your money if you're in it for the background history and lore.

Still, that's only half the codex. Next time we delve into the rules. Oh sweet Emperor, the rules.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Lost Valley (Walking Simulator Review)

It’s a sad day when, in attempting to rise above its peers, a creator utterly squanders their medium’s greatest asset. This is the exact problem which plagues The Lost Valley as, following the example set by The Chinese Room, the developer has set out to strip their production of any and all interactivity. The only genuine choice you can truly make here is whether you want the game to be set in summer or winter, and what language you want the options menu to be in. Really you might as well not even be there.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Nekro (Video Game Review - Early Access)

If you ever wondered what might happen if a more arcade version of Diablo had a child with Dungeon Keeper, wonder no more.

Blending RPG lite elements with grim humour, exaggerated stylised locales, a booming narrator and gleaming red gore, Nekro is a true gem of a game. One which harkens back to past eras in the best way possible, aiming for competent performance over ground breaking ideas but backing that up with fantastic atmosphere and laughs a plenty.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

5 Ideas We Want To See In Codex: Craftworlds

So it's been confirmed now. The next codex about the eldar will focus upon the individual craftworlds, making each one stand out and fleshing out aspects of their existence. Quite frankly, it's about damn time. A previous criticism has been that, in comparison to all other races, the astartes receive a massive amount of attention and detail while other major factions of major races are effectively skimmed over. This has been especially true of both the Tau Empire and Craftworld Eldar over the years, and now is the time to correct that. While personally I still consider many points of a previous list to be very valid, there are several others which should be brought up as points to correct. So without further ado, here's a number of ideas we want to see in Codex: Craftworlds.

5. Customs, Traditions And Contacts

It's known that, while they have drifted apart and separated from one another, some craftworlds do maintain contact with one another. This can be for trade reasons, forging alliances and even going so far as to occasionally enter war with one another. Being so varied and often isolated for various reasons, it would be interesting nevertheless to see just how as a race they maintain communication and even alliances when needed. How also they might treat outsiders such as corsairs, how they even go so far as to break and separate themselves from all outsiders when needed.

The chief issue really is that, for all we know about the craftworlds, we don't truly know much actually about them. How have the End Times caused shifts in their cultures? What impact does believing in dead gods have upon them? How do they view humans and what schisms, alliances or even developments has their nomadic nature caused? What role or connotations do certain Aspect Shrines carry from world to world, and how does the Path system alter from one to the next if at all? Very few of these have been explored, often only with certain surface details or areas of their identity outlined. Even the better novels to focus upon the race such as Valedor completely skipped over these and left only minor elements here and there to flesh things out.

This is a true opportunity to really develop and show how the eldar differ from one another and there's plenty of opportunities to do so without massive retcons. They have shared aspects, differing ideologies, varying views and even potentially critical differences in the way their defensive measures against She Who Thirsts works. At the moment we only have a few basic elements to help make the craftworlds seem individual, this book is a chance to make them truly individual and stand out with their long histories.

4. Focus Upon The Craftworld, Not The Warhost

This does tie into the previous point a fair bit, but it is well worth mentioning despite that. A chief problem with how underdeveloped the Craftworld Eldar are is actually due to their nature. Unlike the Dark Eldar, orks or astartes, they are not all warriors. In fact, a vast number of those on a craftworld are following every different Path besides that of the Warrior to specifically avoid stagnation or a gradual death of their society. The thing is though, it often seems that writers have no idea how to actually deal with this. Unless a force is carrying guns, praying to some god or capable of unleashing hell itself, many societies and little details are instead skipped over.

The lack of focus and any real fleshing out of anything beyond a faction's armies has been seen again and again over the years, down to the point where we barely have anything about them which doesn't relate to war in some way. Biel-Tan is notably militaristic overall and ready for conflict. Iyanden, sadly, has its entire lore and detailed existence revolve around one single battle which ruined them. Alaitoc is the closest we ever get to anything beyond this, but that only comes down to noting how so many of their kind move upon the Path of the Outcast. Something which is almost purely there to help give them a distinctive unit to latch onto in war. This is only made worse as so many craftworlds have their lore narrowed down to paragraphs at the most in some books, just focusing upon those warlike details.

If Games Workshop really wanted to change things, to alter how things are depicted, they could shift the focus somewhat. Show how certain aspects of their society might lead towards massive numbers of a certain unit, but use it to focus upon those aspects over just the unit itself. Perhaps even detail the inner workings of the craftworld to a point which outlines their metal state in war, but to help show how a single ideology or elements of their traditions could help lead to certain way of war. All of these have been present to a degree, but the focus has always been upon the warlike aspects above all else, with any cultural significance coming second. It really wouldn't take much just to help better balance out these aspects and turn each craftworld into a true culture.

3. A Long-Lived Species

One sadly often forgotten detail is that the eldar tend to live for many thousands of years. They're elite, few in number and the natural end of their lifespan only comes after a truly staggering number of eons. This has always been noted in the books, but the problem is that so many writers seem to miss the real significance of this fact. Whereas the astartes remember and venerate their primarchs, the eldar of their craftworld sailed the galaxy during their time. When the Emperor himself was planning his Great Crusade, the eldar were already a well established force. Many of their number have witnessed generation after generation of humankind pass by, and have seen firsthand how their empire has decayed and knowledge lost. Think about what that means for a moment: We have an army where whose average soldier has probably been living and perhaps even serving from the time before the Sisters of Battle were founded.

There are a truly staggering number of story ideas and lore opportunities which could be had with this. Think for a moment what might happen if the eldar visited a world, gained an impression of it, and then returned at a later date only to find it completely transformed. Think what might happen if the eldar visited a human society, the impact of their arrival, only to have that turn into a legend. Hell, take that further and perhaps have them intentionally visiting it, prodding a society or race down the specific path they need or to develop along certain lines for some unknown purpose.

Even ignoring this fact, we then perhaps have how their race might have acted during certain openings, events or eras of human history where they were weak. At many points the Imperium's attention has been diverted elsewhere or isolated. The Black Crusades, certain xenos incursions, even Goge Vandire's bloody dominion, eras in which they might have times to strike back or carry out some plan of one kind or another. They can easily be written into the long, bloody events of the galaxy and interlinked into major events in one way or another. Not to just, as is so often the case, list only their origins and then major events in M41. 

Writers, to be put it simply, need to think about how a long-lived species would act, behave and even influence the events of the galaxy.

2. An Even Focus For All

For all the criticisms you can make of Games Workshop, they are willing to listen and try to improve when the voices of dissent are loud enough. This was best seen with Codex: Space Marines. After the gibbering insanity of the Fifth Edition Codex, the recent Sixth Edition book did everything it could to win back the crowd. It certainly didn't do it perfectly, but it was a big step in the right direction, the most notable among these being how it divided the book up. A vast number of major chapters were given a section of the book to help them stand out, to flesh out their traditions and histories rather than one being dominant overall.

Dividing the book up to focus upon several craftworlds at once would ultimately allow it the space it needs to really flesh out. Properly focusing upon them one at a time rather than just their distinct similarities and shared history would help them to individually stand out, but more than that to make it seem like a truly far flung society. Rather than just to be the same race with a new colour scheme or differing tactical doctrines, it could given each craftworld a real identity, one after the next. The reason this is a point rather than just something obvious to brush over is that, sadly, Codex: Space Marines is so far the only one to do this. No other book so far has attempted to emulate this quite as well, and the few times an army has left a faction to be fleshed out had been reserved for supplements and the like.

Call this a minor point if you want, but it's a truly important one if the codex wants to actually live up to its name and focus upon the craftworlds one at a time.

1. Make Them Alien

Of all the species in Warhammer, the eldar are the closest to being human. The misconception anyway, usually put down to their basic visual appearance. The truth is that, of all the species in the galaxy, the eldar are actually among the most inhuman, but all too often writers forget this. They share certain emotions, romance, love, hatred and understand loss, but these are different shades and elements to what humankind experiences. Their entire lives are dominated by single pathways intended to direct them away from total excess and encourage near total control. This is, however, only the barest start of the truth.

The eldar are insanely advanced beyond anything humankind can truly understand. Their language is complex, yes, with humans barely gaining elements of spoken word and its meanings, but there is far more beyond that. For example, this is a species which can have entire conversations in moments through basic body language, even to speak a word twice and for each one to have a billion different meanings depending upon slight inflections. Atop of this, there's also the nature of their biology. What's often forgotten is that the eldar are primarily psychic in everything, from their potential to bend reality to their very biological functions. Their body is built so that it never produces waste, has far more complex DNA, and (in the case of some) whose final stage of existence is to crystallise into a tree.

To put it bluntly: Comparing them so directly with humans is inaccurate at best. It would be like putting a pug next to a thunderwolf and claiming the two are very similar. You might be able to argue there are similarities, but in moments you can quickly see they're two very different beasts.

If writers want to approach the eldar and make them truly stand out as an individual race, they need to stop writing them as an overtly human force and use a more exaggerated style. Some have developed an approach which makes them seem more oddly formal or Old English in their behavior, more like something out of an overtly scripted play. While this does help to a degree, the truth is that they need to look to more alien inspirations or even amoral depictions to make them have a more unique form of morality and existence. If they truly want to make them stand out as a unique race, they need to actually seem like a unique race rather than just elves with shuriken guns.

So, those are five points which would be great for the codex to focus upon. These are more wishes than some truly necessary element to help properly make the codex a success, but they would help significantly. Well, that and treating the Phoenix Lords like the eldar equivalent of primarchs, rather than just glorified Autarchs.

Still, there's plenty more which could be said. If you have a few ideas of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Mordheim: Ulli and Marquand (Comic Book Review)

Warhammer and its interlinking series have seen no end of fictional heroes end up on the tabletop. Gotrek and Felix have both had multiple incarnations, the Tanith First and Only once had miniatures, and even grand old Inquisitor Eisenhorn had a rather hefty model of himself made. These were traditionally reserved for those of fame and with great fanbases, yet of all these two seem to have been forgotten by time: Ulli and Marquand, the cutthroat criminals of Mordheim. It’s a damn shame as well, as their comic is easily one of the best sources of dark humour to ever be centered around the Old World.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Eldar: A Flame In The Darkness - Hopes And Predictions

Many of you active on Youtube will likely have seen this trailer by now, and the leaks going with it. While the odd fabrication is always a possibility, images have shown signs of a Codex: Eldar - Craftworlds on the horizon, and with it a great deal of new models. Some to potentially replace ones such as the aging jetbikes, others to just offer a greater variety to their HQ choices. However, while it would be traditional to cover the hopes and a few necessities in a list, personally I feel that the previous article is still very relevant. Many of its core points still ring very true and need to be better emphasised in this new edition, whatever its direction. Personally I would also not rather base a few suggestions on something which could be easily made up. As such, this is going to analyse a few points from the trailer and go with the direction I hope this new book might be suggesting for the eldar.

Now, the key thing to note is three points: The craftworld used in images, the language and statements made, and some of the terms present in the quotes. Each of these seems to be emblematic of a different craftworld and bound to no single identity. The eldar there is, obviously, from Saim-Hann, yet the talk of conquest and reclaiming the galaxy is far more in line with the more militant Biel-Tan and their ways of war. Atop of that however, the use of flame and being a bright light against an all encroaching darkness is far more akin to what's usually found with Iyanden. This is both due to their sigil and some of the signs of hope shown in their newer lore. Even the better stuff such as Valedor.

As a result of the above points, I am personally hoping that this might finally see something the Craftworld Eldar have long needed: A better established identity. As cited previously, while as old as the chapters found in Codex: Space Marines, the eldar lack even a fraction of their fleshed out nature and detail. Much like so many alien races, their major factions are usually given one or two paragraphs at best, but little else. What i'm personally hoping is that this might be giving the Craftworlds a similar treatment as to what was found in the previous Codex: Space Marines, with each being gifted an entire section of the book. Rather than being narrowed down, several are allowed multiple pages to fully flesh out their lore and expand upon past details known to us, perhaps even incorporating older lore such as what was found within Battlefleet Gothic.

The primary advantage of such a change in approach would be to really give the race a far more substantial identity and fleshed out elements. The reason I personally believe that the astartes remain the poster boys for the setting so often is because they made better use of their elements. The Index Astartes gave massively fleshed out background details, tactical information and mythical elements to multiple chapters and the ball kept rolling from there. The same goes for Chaos. The thing is though, the eldar retain those exact same strengths, more if you count the fact their equivalent of the primarchs (the phoenix lords) are still alive. This could be a serious point to help boost the chapter's popularity among those starting out, or those more interested in the lore than they are rules.

There's certainly more to say on this, perhaps even a few clarifications, yet it would be better to save that until we know more about the upcoming release.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Khorne Daemonkin: Part 2 - The Rules (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)

Welcome to part two and the lore, part one can be found here. We're starting out with addressing some undeserved hatred for once.

The thing about Codex: Khorne Daemonkin is that a surprising number have treated it with scorn when they have every reason not to. When the new codex was announced, the problem was that it was brought out without any big shiny models to accompany it or big new releases, and looking through the book's interior only shows re-listed models from the previous Codex: Chaos Space Marines. The big complaint seems to be that this is some new book which just doesn't stand out on its own, lacking the support of Codex: Harelquins or the like, but the thing is it's actually quite the opposite in some respects. Many of the recent codices have been mini-books, listing very small armies intended to be used primarily as allies, and often lacking the scale or content to truly stand out on their own. While it's true that they are in many respects more unique in this regard, Khorne Daemonkin is quite the opposite. As it carries over so much, it can afford to be fielded as a single army without risking relying upon a very small unit variety or having to buy a second army to fully bolster it. In fact, the way it's being presented is far more in line with an older Games Workshop approach.

One of the reasons the astartes have stood out for so long is because of their variety, with five or six codices covering the major chapters. At the same time though, when they were first fielded, while they were stand-alone forces, they shared many units. Save for their rules and special characters, the only thing which really differentiated them was their colour scheme. As such, while it is a shame that they do lack a few more unique choices, this should probably be viewed as a the first step towards doing the same with Chaos. Giving the major factions some unique lore, rules and points to better establish a single army as a greater power in the universe, and allow them more focus than before. With this we might see the choke-hold and spotlight-stealing nature of Codex: Space Marines start to break.

And yes, i'm aware i'm bringing this up about a book with daemonic astartes, but at least it's a step in the right direction. That and it ought to be pointed out that the supplements have been doing the exact same thing for years, with far poorer quality or scale as what's found in this rulebook.

The big defining point of Codex: Khorne Daemonkin is actually its internal points system, influencing the outcome of the battle and altering how the army works. This depends upon kills by both sides, and it ties heavily into how the army works. The more blood that flows, the more daemons pop into existence to crash the party. That your your units suddenly zoom about the battle on steroids. That said, those already running screaming for the hills thinking this will be a repeat of the broken Faith system in Codex: Sisters of Battle should be reassured that it's not nearly as bad as all that. The Blood Tithe system as it's called works as follows:

Every unit which you, or your enemy kills, or kills a warrior in a Challenge, is converted into a point on the Blood Tithe system. You can only store up to eight at a time, for obvious reasons, and spend them as you will. These effects range from brief boosts in power to summoning new daemons, the former usually lasting only a turn, but as a table it's surprisingly balanced. 

The lowest end Tithe gives the army Adamantium Will for a single turn, the second offers Furious Charge and Rage, and the third Feel No Pain. Yeah, an entire army with Feel No Pain for a turn. That's going to hurt, but it's just on the fringe of being broken as it's a brief power boost rather than a permanent one, and the player needs to time it as much as he can. There's nothing here about it which really comes across as an "I Win" button, as you need to snowball the momentum of your attack and choose exactly what you're going to use and when. Even the top tier option, summoning a Bloodthirster of Unfettered Fury, is a risk thanks to it requiring a passed Leadership test and getting all those points to start with. Well, that and having a winged unit arrive via Deep Striking, so they're swooping onto the board. Something many will know has been the bane of certain armies for years now.

Also, yes, there's more than one Bloodthirster variant now. We'll get to that in a short while. What is related is one key detail which makes all Warp entities far more effective in this army: Daemons here lack their key weakness. As they're being sustained by the army they're with, these creatures lack the Daemonic instability effects they've normally been plagued with and instead have Fearless now. So, yeah, while you do need plenty of astartes to help with the army and keep it going, the daemons themselves are a far greater threat than previously seen in Chaos codices. 

With all this said however, you can't hang back with your army or keep the mortal units to one side as everything (yes, everything) in this book has Mark of Khorne. While it certainly makes sense from a lore perspective, the chief problem here is that is weighs down each unit choice with a heavy points cost and on some it doesn't really benefit them all that much. It would make sense if it were discounted or limited in some way, but no it's here at full price and mandatory. The more cynical part of me personally wonders if this was added with knowledge of its flawed nature, purely to help balance out how daemons operate in this book.

The heavy points cost carries over to many units, with Berserkers still burdened by this and even Cultists seeming overpriced by comparison. You'll often find yourself sticking to the smaller elite heavy armies so often seen on the tabletop, as they can hit far harder for their price. In addition, many of the cheaper units seem to be purely there to help be sacrificed for Blood Tithe points, especially when it comes to the Cultists themselves. This can be admittedly thematic, especially when fleeing from battle, but it does leave the army alarmingly top heavy at times, all the more so when you start summoning Bloodletters.

This elitist nature of the army, despite the criminal lack of any special characters beyond Skulltaker, is only made all the more obvious when its only truly new units are Bloodthirster variants. Rather than just keeping the common or garden monster of Khorne, the codex instead offers a few meatier options and more killy variants to be brought into a battle. Truth be told though, there's not much of a major stats difference between them, Insensate Rage is primarily defined by having the hefty power fist of an axe in one hand, hitting at AP2 and Strength D despite being initiative one. Wrath of Khorne meanwhile is the one you'd want to kill everything on the tabletop, as it offers a Bloodflail (Strength 7 AP2 D3 attacks) or an AP2 specialist weapon, Heavy Flamer with Soulblaze, and the standard axe. Oh, also Hatred (characters) and Adamantium Will. Yeah, they might be highly priced, but the codex really has been written with the intent of players taking one of these to make the full use of it.

This really is the codex in a nutshell. If you want an army with very effective small numbers of elite units (especially the Terminators and Raptors) and see troops only as meat shields, this is the army for you. It's got some fun elements to it certainly but for the most part, and it's genuinely fun to use, yet it honestly seems that if it had been given a little longer to develop it could have been a vastly better idea than what we got here. It's a shame as there's honestly an effort to scale back on the padded elements here, with Formations scaled down to only a handful of examples and the actual scenarios are better written than previous examples. There's only a few here and they're mostly present to help showcase certain idea or fun points rather than focus on a single character or cram a story down the player's throat.

If there is one thing to complain about, seriously complain about, it's that the army only skirts the edge of being truly thematic. The bigger rules certainly reflect its nature in shedding blood for the blood god, but the closest the book gets in terms of individual rules is simply adding the Mark of Khorne onto things. Rather than really messing with the formula a little more and producing a few unique spins on units, most are just copied and pasted from previous books. Yet despite that, i'm personally more willing to accept it. Why? Two reasons. Unlike the supplements, this means that no one is requiring you to spend a massive chunk of cash on multiple rulebooks to cover a single army. You can just buy this one and not bother with Codex: Chaos Space Marines at all. In addition to this, the actual lore in the book is good enough to make up for these shortcomings on the tabletop. Even if the army doesn't utterly reflect its themes in terms of every rule, so long as there's enough well written backgrounds and details, some players will happily stomach that. Not every player, but certainly those there more for the atmosphere and story, and less the Plasma Syphons.

Monday, 13 April 2015

StarDrive 2 (Video Game Review)

StarDrive 2 proves that the right indie developer with the right genre can accomplish astounding things. In this case, we have a 4X release which manages to balance micromanagement with speed while still offering even experienced players a true challenge.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Still Think This Is A Good Idea, Games Workshop?

A while back, Games Workshop, in answer to its sudden massive loss in profit, took a few drastic actions. Many of these were quite questionable, chief among them being downsizing all stores so that they were run by only a single staff member. Given just how active such places can be, this is not exactly the smartest move in many locations. Here's another example why.

This is the outside of my local Games Workshop. You might notice it is currently closed despite it being midday, Friday, with quite a bit of activity about the town.

Curious indeed even given their often irregular schedules and rather strange opening hours. There was a note attached onto the window with the following information.


Now, let's address one issue here first: This shows one incredibly obvious flaw which should have been evident to anyone running the company. Should the single staff member they have running the store decide to take any holiday or time away from work, that store is inactive. It is making no money at all, it is earning nothing and selling no products. For all the money they might save from not hiring another two or so people, it's making less in this time, closed for weeks at a time, just so staff can actually go on holiday.

Then there's the next problem. You might notice that this holiday is covering the entire weekend in which Codex: Skitarii is being released, preventing anyone who might actually be after a copy from buying one. This is not some obscure secondary force, some side-addition or supplement which will have little impact, this is an army fans have been begging you to produce for years. They want to give you this money, but because of your cost cutting measures they can't do so. This is a great deal of cash you are letting go down the drain, in a rather large and heavily populated area, with fans likely willing to go to any other source to get it, perhaps even piracy because you have made it impossible.

As a final note, this is the same shop which I have been personally going to for a good decade and a half now. In that time, this is the only release they have missed at all, and all thanks to the company's decision to lay off a rather large number of active workers helping them sell their stock.

Games Workshop, why exactly do you think that this is somehow still a good idea?

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Khorne Daemonkin: Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)

When Supplements for the big Warhammer 40,000 armies were first announced, they were advertised as really being a chance for lesser explored armies to be highlighted. They were really presented as something similar to what Codex: Blood Angels or Codex: Dark Angels were for the longest time, books which re-used many units from a current army, yet held plenty of unique lore, characters and rules to make them truly worthwhile. While you've heard me rant many a time about how those books turned out, Codex: Khorne Daemonkin really is what we should have gotten. It's the standard to what any future release should be held to and a push for real diversity among Chaos, trying to do things right rather than quickly cashing in on things. Ultimately this is why it's so incredibly frustrating that the book can be so well written, yet have so many obvious blind spots or shortcomings.

Following the Berserker cults of astartes worshiping Khorne, the codex really fleshes out the relationship between the mortals devoted to the blood god and his servants. Combining daemons with cultists and many of the war machines seen in recent years, it truly goes the extra mile in showing how the many warbands operate when summoning his servants. Many of the unit descriptions carry some story about a battle or conflict against another major faction, the iconography and many shared elements are detailed have sections to flesh out their relevance. The daemons themselves equally benefit from a hierarchical structure which revolves around continual conflict and the Bloodthirsters themselves are redefined into a more organised force.

Unlike the lore of many past attempts to really extend an army, this one doesn't come up short or read as if the authors hated the previous incarnation. In fact, it's quite the opposite as there has been a major push to really expand the focus and take into account aspects which were previously overlooked. For example, one of the criticisms often brought up was that this should have been Codex: World Eaters, but that would have been a serious mistake. Even ignoring that the legion fragmented almost nine thousand years ago and was only successfully re-united once, that would overlook the cults themselves and the many defectors from the Imperium who have pledged themselves to Khorne. After all, each warband has its own beliefs, values and code of worship despite ultimately sharing the same overall goals. As such, this instead allows the book to cover both the World Eaters and other Khornate factions at once, with the book devoting a section to how the Butcher's Nails have been reverse engineered and become the practice of many cults.

The codex offers a varied number of cults to start out with, each noting very different methodology. Each is given only a couple of paragraphs, but it's enough to give them some character and serve as a starting point without having them dominate the book or remove any player creativity. A personal favourite is The Harvest, who go out of their way to engage in siege wars against massive enemy forces. How do they accomplish this? They predict the course and speed of an Ork WAAAGH! or Tyranid Splinter Fleet, find a fortified world and use Warp Talons to emerge within the battlements. After killing everyone there, they promptly take up defensive positions and ready themselves for their foes' arrival, and for the tide of blood to flow. Others such as the Eightscarred and Brazen beasts are sadly a lot more generic, focusing largely upon a single aspect, but there's nothing wrong with them really. Even the latter warband, focusing heavily upon daemon engines, is written more as a theme and less to try and shill big new models of some kind. They're more focused, but they're not quite stepping into that territory of being gimmick armies.

What proves to be especially interesting however, is just how the codex uses the previous weaknesses of the Khorne Berserkers. As a whole, followers of Khorne are sadly presented as all too one-dimensional and easily defeated by anyone with a vague grasp of tactics. Relying purely upon swarm rushes and retaining a highly self destructive nature, they often seemed like something which could only become a threat via plot armour. Unlike what was done with the Imperial Fists however, this aspect is not vaguely handwaved away or embraced, but actually turned into a strength. 

In a spin on past depictions worthy of Geoff Johns, the codex presents a way in which this can ultimately serve to further their goals and Khorne's objectives. How? Because he cares not from where the blood flows. The book focuses upon this aspect, and builds an entire sub-culture within Khornate worship from it, examining just how it can actually serve as a way of furthering Khorne's influence within the material world. The book states the following: 

"When a Daemonkin warband first forms, it will be predominantly a mortal army. (...) Any powerful emotion causes a flare of energy in the Warp, so the inferno of rage and devotion generated by the Daemonkin draws the attention of Khorne's Daemons like razorfish to a fresh kill. (...) Eventually, empowered by the Daemonkin's violence or by their deaths, the murderous warriors of Khorne's legions will cross over, coursing from the Immaterium like blood from a wound to fight alongside the mortal host. Called forth by the sacrifice of the Daemonkin, and sustained by their adulation, they do not require the succor of the Warp to maintain their corporeal forms."

Basically the entire army is a way for Khorne's legions to move over into the materium en mass, for them to gradually snowball in numbers over time and strengthen their presence in the world of mortals. It offers a way for Khorne's daemons to sidestep the use of Sorcerers, something Khorne has often been depicted hating, and for their numbers to gradually snowball over time. In addition to this, it also manages to oddly present the same idealised form of Chaos without showing them as overly heroic. Lord knows Aaron Dembski-Bowden is a very talented writer, but all too often he seems to be almost ashamed of presenting them as villains, whereas here they're gleefully bloodthirsty. Yet despite that there is obvious symbiosis, with one relying upon the other for survival and whittling down their numbers until a chosen few are found worthy of ascending to daemonhood.

The actual army itself is one of religious worship and a trial among Khorne's believers, with some noted battles ending with hundreds dead but a scant few ascending to daemonhood. What's more is that their ability to strengthen a daemon's hold on the material realm through sheer rage and emotion is frequently brought up as something which has violently backfired on foes who underestimated them. Tales involving the Craftworld and Dark Eldar in particular highlight this, when they underestimate Khorne's followers. In the former case a strike force combined with Harlequins leads a massive Khornate host into an ambush, successfully cutting them down en mass. However, on the verge of defeating them, the sheer carnage and death of so many Khornate warriors draws an especially powerful Bloodthirster into existence, immediately turning the tide. The latter example is actually somewhat similar, but with a Khornate champion captured for gladiatorial duels sacrificing himself to bring a powerful daemon into Commorragh. In the rampage that follows, the Kabals are forced to detach an entire sub-section of the city so they can be rid of it. Something we've seen done more and more often these days. Really, how many more sections need to be ruined, detached or thrown off in these stories? It's not like they can build more.

Now, as the introduction suggested the codex has a few definite failings here. It's not down to the quality to be sure, that remains surprisingly high throughout, and aside of one or two dubious moments there's nothing here which is truly lore-breaking. No, instead the most pressing problem comes in the book's focus. This is supposed to represent Khornate forces on the battlefield, but the problem is it's only following a single type of Khornate worship. Oh, not the use of daemons, that at least is understandable, but the use of blood hungry berserkers who devolve into screaming fury and revel in slaughter. It's a strong depiction to be sure, but there's little real variation on this as a whole. With the likes of First Heretic, the Horus Heresy and Black Crusade, this is an era where the setting has gone back to a more varied depiction of Chaos as a whole. There are supposed to be shades to it, variation, yet none of that is here.

Where is the Khornate army who hunts only for the skulls of worthy champions and doesn't care about the chaff or cutting down innocents caught in battle? Where is the version of Khorne who seeks strong warriors who test themselves in war against stronger foes, egged on to ascend by proving their worth against powerful Champions? Where's the version of Khorne who looses his Flesh Hounds to hunt those who displease him, breaking his creed and showing cowardice? Where is the god who represents a twisted form of martial honour as much as mindless bloodshed? He's not here. He's not reflected in the slightest here and the codex goes out of its way to only depict one side.

To quote one bit which really sets the tone for the book: "Khorne's command is simple: kill, and kill, and kill again. Every single life taken in anger increases the Blood God's power. He looks favourably upon those warriors who slay their comrades, for they prove their understanding of a greater truth - Khorne cares not from where the blood flows, only that it flows. Friends or enemies, all the dead are equal in the eyes of the Lord of Battle. Those devotees who let a day pass without committing an act of blood-handed slaughter inevitably incur the Blood God's wrath."

It's a damn shame it sticks with such a narrow view on him as this was the perfect chance to really go back and re-introduce some of the older elements. Ones which, while still twisted and evil, ultimately showed that there are different faces to these gods and some degree of depth to their depictions. Instead we just have one particular side to him, and one which is highly flawed. The book continually praises zeal, fanaticism,and worship, presenting them as effectively monks worshiping Khorne's might. Okay, fine, but so much of what is here really just makes them sound too much like Word Bearers. There's little here to really distinguish them from that particular legion or the followers of Chaos Undivided in many sections when it comes to their behaviour, and the language used really doesn't do enough to present them as wandering warriors searching for new battles. Really, so much here seems like the writers should have examined just what the term "berserker" originally meant and its connotations.

The other issue is that the book actually ends up contradicting itself rather nastily at one particular point. Everything here is done to depict the Daemonkin and Khorne worshipers as a whole as roving bands who never set root, build empires and seek only the relentless slaughter of their foes. This is mostly consistent, save for one particular bit of the book which tries to explain where all their weapons of war come from, the Ironghast Foundry. While every other part of the book seems to depict their machines of war are looted, taken and stolen, this one has a Khorne devoted forge world which produces all manner of machines for them, and Khorne is just fine with this. This might have helped to give a bit of dimension to them, but there's no excuse or justification, it's just there. There's also a few more minor points like this which really just stick out like a sore thumb among the vastly better writing.

Speaking of the writing, this is another codex where it honestly seems that some vital components have been lost. These were aspects criticised in some previous books as they were handled so poorly, but the problem is that Games Workshop seems to have gone to the other extreme of removing them entirely. For starters, there's no list of actual conflicts or battles. There's no moment which is devoted entirely to campaigns, and instead these are rolled into unit descriptions. These are actually well written, but the problem is there's not much in the way of variation. They're incredibly short, and they basically boil down to "here's why this unit is awesome and you should use it!"

Even rolling such tales into the unit descriptions doesn't help save on space, as the codex still suffers from an amazing amount of padding. In fairness, not nearly as much as previous books, but it's hard not to notice how the codex repeats itself twice over. First listing the units with some artwork and a few details, stories and the like, and then again later on with pictures of the models, lore and stats. This could easily have been removed entirely leaving room for some more lore related details or even additional rules to give a more varied depiction of Khorne. Or special characters, something this book is seriously lacking. You could reasonably argue that Khârn couldn't be associated with the book due to his nature, but there should have been a couple here to help represent the force. There are new Bloodthirster variations, sure and those are nice, but it's hard not to notice that Skulltaker is the only named character in the entire book. Surely it wouldn't have hurt to add one or two more at least.

Finally, the biggest issue with the book overall is how it completely avoids showing any Khornate defeats. It doesn't pull a Codex: Grey Knights or have them pulling off utterly insane feats to be sure, but at the same time there's not a single loss in here. The closest they actually come to it are a few very costly victories which leave some warbands almost exterminated (which is cancelled out by how the book plays up their self-destructive nature being an asset) and unintentionally saving an Imperial world. Both Codex: Harlequins and Codex: Tempestus Scions were good on this front, offering up a few legitimate losses and defeats amid a large number of victories. It helped show they didn't always emerge on top in every battle.

With all this considered though, personally i'd still call Codex: Khorne Daemonkin a definite win. It feels like a legitimate extension of another force, fully planned out and intended to help give them better presence in the game, and some serious effort had been put into giving them a solid depiction which didn't break the lore. Is there room for improvement? Definitely and some aspects certainly needed to be altered, the layout changed and a few areas modified to raise its quality. Despite that though, it's enough to satisfy anyone after a real "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!" style Khornate army.

To end this on a high note though, just to symbolise that this was a win for all its flaws, it's worth noting this was the first book in a while to really embrace the idea of unreliable narrators. The language of the book pushed for an almost invincible, unstoppable propagandized form of codex without trying to slam it down as fact, and countless points used viewpoint characters, stories and tales to try and flesh things out. On the whole, it's definitely a welcome return to these sorts of books given how much their presence has been lessening over past Editions.

Click here to go to the next part examining the rules and how they fare in comparison to the fluff.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Top Six Amazing Thunderbirds Rescues

After fifty years (and ignoring one production which must not be named) Thunderbirds is returning to screens with new stories. It's a chance for entirely new audiences to discover the show and for the franchise to live on. Still, with a few hours to go, that doesn't mean we can't look back at the classics one last time to pick out a few favourite moments.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Thunderbirds was a children's television show during the 1960s focusing upon International Rescue, a privately funded search and rescue organisation. Run and operated by the Tracy family, and backed by their considerable wealth, it operated anonymously, answering calls for help which the local authorities could not deal with. When not rescuing others, they were occasionally called to assist in matters of espionage or deal with threats to their own secrecy.

While many viewers today are more familiar with the parody Team America, the show itself was a huge hit at the time and held a cult following for several decades to come. Given this was long before the coming of Lord Bruce of Timm, it's cartoon competition was often lacking in terms of serious storytelling or animation, so it's not hard to see why. This is ultimately being written for those familiar with the show however, so be warned that spoilers are likely to arise.

Still, without further ado, here's a few of the best rescue operations to ever show up in its original run.

6. Day of Disaster - Rogue Rocket

One of the few moments where Thunderbird 4 was given the chance to be at the forefront of any rescue efforts, and ultimately a situation which really symbolises what the series was about. You had a disaster too great for the authorities to handle, trapped innocents, a ticking clock and International Rescue having to find some way to emerge victorious.

Despite through testing and preparations, as the rocket for NASA's Martian Space Probe operation is being brought across the Allington Bridge, the structure buckles under its weight. Tilting and then collapsing, the rocket is dragged into the river along with both astronauts, burying them under hundreds of tons of debris. Worse still, the impact has initiated the rocket's internal countdown timer, which is slowly ticking away until liftoff and certain death for those inside.

What makes this one interesting is the front-line roles of characters. Unlike almost every other episode in the series, International Rescue itself isn't called to assist in the rescue. In fact, it's quite the opposite, with the bridge controller refusing to call for help in order to deal with the matter himself. What's more is that this was a chance for Brains, the creator of so many of the show's wonderful toys, to get a front-line seat in assisting the others. First sneaking inside the control centre to gain information on the disaster itself and then quietly guiding the operation from one side.

With an ending involving them escaping with the skin of their teeth, a rather unique use of explosives and a few unexpected twists; it follows a traditional formula but messes with it enough to keep it truly engaging.

5. Ricochet - Brace For Collision

Thunderbird 2 is one of the vehicles which tends to get the most screen time, but hardly the most glory. It was the utility belt of the group, used to bring some shiny new piece of equipment or rescue vehicle onto the scene more than save the day itself. This said, Ricochet is one of the episodes where the vehicle was given a chance to be at the front and centre of the action rather than a taxi.

After a rocket goes off course and critically damages a pirate radio satellite, causing it to begin tumbling out of orbit. With a Middle-Eastern oil refinery as its destination, Thunderbird 3 attempts to rescue the remaining crew as 2 moves to intercept the rogue spacecraft before it hits its target. However, before they can fire upon the vehicle, voices are heard still being broadcast from within. With the satellite now low in the atmosphere, Virgil and Brains find themselves unable to risk killing a man in cold blood, even to save hundreds of others. Their only answer lies in a far more dangerous plan instead.

This is only half of the story to be sure, but it's this latter half which proves to be the most memorable. While Alan's docking and rescue with the satellite is a crucial moment to be sure, the visual impact of Thunderbird 2 being effectively used as a bumper car to knock it off course is the far stronger of the two. Not to mention the far more dramatic when the two become entangled before they can break free.

It's one of the more infamous moments where the show truly went "damn physics, full drama ahead!"
If anything though, that only made watching it all the more awesome.

4. Vault of Death - "May I borrow one of your hair-clips, milady?"

As important as the brothers and their magnificent flying machines are, International Rescue's agents hold a special place in the fandom's hearts. It's moments like this which really remind you why.

The situation is dire. Accidentally trapped within a air tight vault inside the Bank of England, a man is slowly suffocating to death. After realising that their equipment cannot hope to breach the main door in time, and the only key too far away to reach, Alan and Virgil take to the underground in the hopes of cutting in via a far weaker wall. As this is taking place, Lady Penelope and her butler Parker arrive, only to have their own plan to solve it fail. Parker at this point, former criminal and safe-cracker, takes one look at the inches thick door and asks for a hair-clip. Just seconds after the other two forcibly blast their way inside with explosives, Parker manages to force the door open with a bent piece of wire.

Yeah, where million dollar equipment and high tech gadgets failed, one talented butler pulled it off with a hair-clip. Even if he arrived just after the others achieved their own goal, that alone earns it a place on this list.

The other reason that this stands out is that it's one of the more obvious moments where International Rescue is forced to find a way around the shortcomings of their equipment. Usually the initial solution comes from deploying something new or taking a new approach with their technology rather than abandoning it entirely to achieve their objective.

3. Attack of the Alligators! - Reptile War

Of all the episodes on this list, this is easily the most unique of the entire series. While hardly averse to science fiction of any form, it was the first time Thunderbirds really went into full bore mad science on a genetic level.

The threat here came not from natural disasters, sabotage or a prototype gone haywire, but a lab experiment gone wrong. In their efforts to solve world hunger, a group of scientists are developing a food additive. Labelled Theramine, it is soon proven to encourage gigantism in flora and fauna of all sorts. As it turns out, experimenting on this next to a river with a booming population full of alligators was a disaster waiting to happen. One act of attempted industrial sabotage later, and suddenly the isolated house the scientists are working in is surrounded by kaiju.

The episodes itself focuses primarily upon the scientists being besieged inside the building, slowly being driven deeper into the basement by the monsters. Even once Thunderbird 1 arrives to try and buy more time, things do not improve, leaving Scott trapped within the building himself. The actual solution finally arrives with the deployment of Thunderbird 2 and 4, picking them apart with tranquiliser guns and heavier duty weaponry.

Yeah, it's mostly here for the reptiles, but it's also where more or less the entire unit gets a chance to shine. Scott single-handedly braving the house, Virgil bringing down the biggest ones with a missile, and Gordon and Alan taking them out with the aforementioned tranquilisers, then trying to lead the remaining ones away on a hover sled. Well, all of them except John, as ever.

2. 30 Minutes After Noon - The Ticking Bracelets

While usually advertised as a show about a privatised rescue operation, the truth is that many Thunderbirds episodes were often more closely aligned with 1960s spy stories. Few really show that better than 30 Minutes After Noon which focuses upon betrayal, sabotage, organised crime and infiltrating a hostile group launching terrorist attacks. How do they start this? By forcing unwilling innocents to bomb targets and steal documents by rigging them with explosive bracelets.

The actual moment worthy of mention in this episode isn't the initial rescue itself, where one of the aforementioned innocents is trapped in a burning building when his device goes off. Instead it's where International Rescue actually races to take down the much bigger threat involving a plutonium storage facility being sabotaged. If it goes up, apparently it'll take at least half of England with it.

With the MI5 spy who infiltrated the group trapped within and the criminals escaping, the heroes break up into two groups. Virgil and Scott force their way through the multiple blast doors to the center of the plant being held using the sort of vehicle which would usually be classed as a siege weapon anywhere else. At the same time, Lady Penelope races to stop their enemies as they attempt to flee in a helicopter. It's definitely among the best of the series, as there is something perpetually going on. Even in the build up to the disaster you have a spy trying to convince his way inside a hostile group, and once things get going you have a simultaneous chase sequence and rescue operation. It blends suspense with action, outstanding effects and some surprising twists such as when the heroes find they cannot possibly disarm the bombs. 

A definite high point for the series, and one beaten only by a single, far more famous moment.

1. Trapped in the Sky - Flight of the Fireflash

Or at least the landing, and really what else was going to be here? 

After being sabotaged, the new atomic powered hypersonic jet Fireflash is unable to land. With its main wheels rigged to explode should they deploy, and multiple efforts to reach the explosives failing again and again, a desperate plan is soon put into motion. With the arrival of International Rescue, and the atomic shielding rapidly failing, the jet is set to land atop several fast moving Elevator Cars. Tasked with keeping speed with the descending aircraft and bearing its immense weight, it takes two efforts to land the vehicle, each time almost ending in disaster.

This was the moment which defined Thunderbirds for many, including backer Lew Grade, and understandably so. It's the first real time we see International Rescue using their machines in action and, for its time, it was something which seemed big budget for the small screen. For both the fictional world of the setting and the audiences, this was the first chance people had to see just what the group could pull off. Outdoing anything seen in Stingray, and even following series, it showed something which should have otherwise required a film budget pulling off an action packed finale with surprising realism for its time. Despite it being five decades old now, it's safe to say it's aged fairly well.

The success of this rescue really cemented what was to follow and left the pilot on a bright note, with Jeff Tracy proudly announcing "Boys, I think we're in business." 

So, those are the best rescues of the classic series from this writer's point of view. If you've got your own ones you'd like to throw out there or disagree with any please leave them in the comments, i'd like to hear what fond memories others have.