Thursday, 28 April 2016

Battlefleet Gothic Part 2 - The Rules (Games Workshop Specialist Games Review)

So, after a long delay, here we are at last with the rules. Of all the Specialist Games produced by Games Workshop. Battlefleet Gothic had to be one of the most tactically diverse options. True, you had Blood Bowl to an extent despite its relentless RNG fun, and the ever underrated combo of Warmaster and Epic 40,000, but Gothic had a few benefits working towards it. Whereas Epic relied heavily upon formations and army positioning, Gothic was more generally dynamic, and tended to more frequently shift with the flow of battle. True, you still had to worry about which ship you placed where, but the setting and special rules worked far more in its favour, especially when it came to movements and ordinance.

You see, for those who have not played it, Gothic was basically the best elements of the Age of Sail and Second World War dressed up in skull-decorated space combat. So, each and every one of your major ships had to be managed as if it were either working against the wind (mostly in the case of the eldar) or operating as if it were run via ye olde boiler engine rooms. This meant angling your vessel degree by degree was a key part of the rules, as were a number of special orders. Going All Ahead Full would run the risk of doing far less damage to the enemy in the long run and also putting enemy vessels outside the firing arcs of your main guns. Equally, your could slow your vessel for faster turning or even pull a few more insane stunts, often with the added limitation of one order per turn or even a couple of turns after that.

Many orders came down to just the bigger ships, the light cruisers to battleships, but that didn't mean the player had other concerns. As many of these vessels were built for broadsides over forwards mounted guns or massive turrets (albeit with a few astartes grade exceptions) the vast majority of these ships were outfitted with long range high-damage outlets in the form of bomber squadrons and torpedo spreads. Of all the elements Gothic played with, this had one be one of the most distinct, fun and sometimes infuriating. You see, you didn't just launch squadrons or fire the torpedoes. No, instead you fired them and they raced across the map. Entire waves of these damn things could be racing back and forth between vessels at a time, forcing fleets to desperately veer about to avoid them. 

On the one hand, this entire mechanic was fantastic in terms of long term tactical gameplay; with both players needing to adapt movements, re-plan strategies in the face of risking a few heavy hits breaching their hulls. It forced armies to alter their formations, movements and positioning at every turn, and it remains a personal favourite when it comes to player intelligence in predicting ranges, movement and positioning. Even if you're stuck with just a few cruisers facing down one another, it always added an edge to the game which required you to pay full attention to the board. On the other though, this could be an absolute nightmare to keep track of. Corsair and Craftworld Eldar fleets in particular suffered badly from this given many of their key advantages stemmed from bombers, torpedoes and heavy hitting long-ish range weapons, and the Imperium was often no better. So, in the right game it could be fantastic, but in the wrong one it could drag a match to a near standstill as your ships veered about a forest of missiles.

Heavy artillery issues aside, the actual turn system itself had an odd elegance to it. While certainly a little clunky in places, and had the old GW problem of leaving the opposing player waiting an eternity for someone to finish moving, shooting and whatnot, its structure was clearly defined. You basically had three major phases here (movement, shooting, ordinance and the end turn) meaning you decided the general flightpath of your ships, fired their guns and saw who would be unfortunate enough to plough headlong into a torpedo. The end turn basically dealt with recovery efforts to repair damage, removing blast markets and resetting a few things until the next player could start. While boarding actions and a few faction unique ideas were also present, each fitted neatly into these turns or was mechanically built so they could directly run alongside standard movements. 

The fact you weren't left skimming back and forth between books for details as is so often the case in many modern Games Workshop releases, and there was little bleed over between various turns. Infinity, Firestorm and a few others had this old problem of trying to reinvent the wheel when it came to turn based systems, and while it certainly had its fans, it could often prove infuriating at how malleable each structure was. After all, Infinity in particular could be equal parts infuriating and hilarious when a player dumped every action into one guy and proceeded to have him decimate the other side; yet at the same time it ran into the failing that it all too often made the majority of certain forces seem superfluous or ended games before they began. Plus, while Gothic's rigid structure could be seen by some as archaic, it made it much easier to get to grips with the rules as a whole and for new factions or ships to play with expectations and new ideas.

Speaking of the factions, Gothic featured some of the diverse and surprising mixture of factions in any 40,000 setting when you judged it by mechanics. While Warhammer 40,000 itself isn't unwilling to play with expectations or certain rules, they've never quite broken or altered things so dramatically as some examples found on here, to the point where entire fleets could have completely different movement rules. Oh, they still followed the same basic pattern, still followed the same basic turn layout, but you had things like ork roks behaving like drunkenly driven asteroids, while eldar vessels needed to position themselves against the sun to remain fully operational.

To go through the general factions one by one (including a few of the more prominent ones added in later books, just for a little extra content):

Imperials are the most generally diverse. Even removing the Adeptus Mechanicus (who were basically Imperial ships on steroids) and the astartes fleets (who were the glacial, insanely well armoured fleet) they featured the broadest variety of hulls. These guys were built upon Age of Sail combat, with big broadsides being the core of their factions. While some ships were fitted with turrets, fighter bays or even massive ramming spikes, these are the kind of ships which were always hitting their hardest whilst orbit strafing enemy targets. In the overall metagame, they were the Mario, with no glaring weaknesses or massive strengths short of a somewhat slow speed and heavier armour approach to things.

Chaos was the opposite of the Imperium, which might surprise many. Rather than big battleships, much of their way of war focused upon massed fighter bays and longer range combat, staying out of their foe's range as their vessels tended to be somewhat fragile. Oh, they could still take a few good hits, but nine times out of ten an outright slugging match against Imperial or ork vessels was going to end very badly indeed. This said, their more advanced tech and bigger lance batteries meant skilled players could usually demolish their foes.

The other races tended to fall into extremes of these. Orks were close range, hardy fighters with access to all sorts of odd craft (like the ever awesome brute ram ships and space hulks) and proved to be excellent at boarding actions. Their main shortcoming often stemmed from the fact their firepower was often randomly decided thanks to custom builds. Combined with a slower speed, lack of good fighter support and some serious problems when it came to a variety of big capital ships, and they tended to fall towards the low end of the competitive streak.

Eldar, by comparison with the others, defined hard to play and hard to master. With fragile ships, odd movement rules and a very limited array of vessels to choose from, they were not the most popular faction. Their strength often lay in their frigates more than anything else, with their capital ships best serving as ranged combatants, spitting out barrages of torpedoes and bomber wings - both of which were among the best in the entire game. The few times you did run into an experienced or talented eldar player, chances are you were going to get your backside handed to you.

Dark Eldar were odd in that they retained so many core elements of their counterparts, but they also abandoned many of their usual tactics. Lacking battleships and limited purely to a single cruiser and escort class, they lacked the fighter wing and torpedo capabilities of their cousins. Instead, they made up for this via insanely powerful main guns and an incredible speed, largely bereft of the main solar weaknesses of the craftworld eldar. This said, they're even bigger glass cannons as a result, so you can expect to quickly die the second more than a few ships focus their fire upon a single vessel and land a few lucky hits.

The Tau Empire were a late addition to the game and proved to be a very odd one, least of all thanks to the fact they had two completely alien versions of one another. The first were those met during the initial Damocles crusade, while the latter was considered the "modern" fleet, streamlined and sleek. The big advantage tau ships retained was their ranged torpedoes, which could be redirected to alter course and speeds in order to nail their targets. That and the fact they proved to be surprisingly effective close range brawlers when push came to shove, even if they fell short when it came to boarding actions.

The Tyranid Hive Fleets - added at a much later date - were probably the weakest of the bunch sadly, despite some entertaining ideas. Unable to fully express the concept of a seemingly unstoppable horde of voidspawned creatures, their numbers were largely limited down to what was expected for a somewhat large assault fleet. Much like the orks, their forte lay largely in close range assaults and boarding actions, but they had the additional bonus of being able to chew their way through enemy vessels and a few fun mechanics like spore clouds and bio-plasma weapons. The key problem was that each tended to act on their own instinct and formation was key to retaining control of each vessel, causing no end of problems if you wanted to catch up for faster vessels.

Finally, we have the necrons. These guys are the single most infamous faction of the entire game, thanks largely to the fact they were damn near unstoppable. Being eldritch horrors with some of the most advanced tech ever conceived, their fleets could steamroll practically anything they faced down and in one-on-one fights they could almost always emerge on top. Along with having excellent armour, guns and boarding actions, they could outrun most vessels and had an unparalleled turning speed. So, what was the big catch? Simple - They had a points cost to match their sheer broken power, both in deployment and value. If a necron player got careless, and the enemy fleet nailed just one cruiser, chances were that they would win there and then. 'Twas a very silly balancing act to be sure.

What often proved to be one of the most interesting aspects of the franchise wasn't the factions themselves but the individual ships. You see, much like Necromunda and Mordheim, vessels could build up experience. While they wouldn't change weapons or gain greater armour, you could attain benefits throughout a campaign, with improved crew skills or whatnot, allowing you to actually develop your fleet over time. It was a solid idea to be sure, but unlike the aforementioned games, its flaw lay in how it tried to achieve this. The whole progression system basically came down to a few lines and little else, and there wasn't much in the way of detailed or established support for it in the long run.

What was truly interesting, however, was how certain vessels were pushed to serve as "heroes" for certain factions, unique variants of vessels or admirals which could alter a fleet. Yriel, Typhus and Abaddon were three of the most infamous of these, capable of flying the Flame of Asyryan, Terminus Est and Planet Killer respectively. However, they were not bound to these craft, and Abaddon in particular was famous for being pushed about various battleships for just a few extra points, thanks largely to a few benefits he offered. Along with a massively increased Leadership bonus of 10 to any ship he's on, he comes with the Calgar brand re-roll one failed Leadership test per turn and a variety of special rules, some good some hilarious. For example, it's damn near impossible to cripple a ship he's on via hit and run attacks and thanks to his personal vanguard of Justaerin any boarding action hits like a sledgehammer. This said, he goes nuts if a vessel fails a Leadership test under his fleet, prompting a reaction worthy of a Commissar.

The actual Planet Killer itself is what you'd get if Diablo was chief designer of the Death Star. It's a giant floating space cannon, outfitted with the Armageddon Gun, which can put most exterminatus strikes to shame. When it's not blowing up whole planets in seconds, it could be fired through entire fleets. Really, with a massive range of 90cm, you basically pointed it towards where a few enemy vessels were lined up, fired, and it would hit all of them in a straight line. While the others - which we'll save for later releases - never reached quite the heights of that insanity, they certainly had their own innate quirks and fun concepts. Unlike current 40,000, when a hero ship showed up in the game it didn't become the single most important thing on the battlefield, but it instead often served as a major wildcard or something to liven things up for both sides.

So, what about weapons and damaging the vessels themselves though? Well, in all honesty, most of those were actually relatively tame and straight forwards. Rather than the complex systems of engineering explosions, malfunctions or damages one would expect, much of it often came down to simple numbers. While damage could certainly affect the performance of a ship, you just had a shield and armour value to work with alongside a number of hits. bigger ships like the Desolator Class vessels could take twelve hits in total, while raiders and frigates were often only limited to a single one. You couldn't really save against these directly via luck, so a lot of the game tended to come down to tactical positioning; after which you were given the choice between hitting the enemy with everything you had at once (the ork way) or picking them off one by one in a series of skirmishes or duels. Actually inflicting the bonus system affecting damage often just came down to piling on enough firepower until you got a critical hit, and then hoping you rolled something dangerous like a bulkhead collapsing.

More than anything else, Gothic seems to have been a product of its era. It stood out among the others for its setting, and with very little real competition in the way of tabletop fleet combat games, a lot of its ideas were quite experimental. It tried to push towards new thoughts and concepts in terms of scale, movement and positioning ships, but to stay simple enough to remain accessible. That surprising simplicity is evident in the pages of the core rulebook and did help it early on - in spite of some obvious Imperial bias - but it's hard to say that it would have been a true long term success even with Games Workshop's support. The addition of the necrons was one indication that the designers weren't entirely sure where to go with this, and many future expansions would often either play it safe or go so out there that they would leave players scratching their heads. This isn't to say that the game was completely bereft of new ideas though, as it did see several major updates over the years. Along with the Armada supplement - which I hope to gt to at a later date - both Fanatic and the Battlefleet Gothic magazine introduced new ideas. Scenarios, missions and campaigns were produced along with more than a few tasty Forgeworld builds, but after just a few scant years this dwindled to near nothing. It never quite saw the heights of Epic Armageddon or the full revitalizations other Specialist Games benefited from.

Looking at it again with the benefit of hindsight, Battlefleet Gothic is archaic but definitely charming to be sure. Even with its innate flaws, it's obvious why this would become a cult classic among fans and why new players would continue to pick up on it long after it had been left to die. It's hard to say it's worth a look today as a full on game, but given how cheap the core rules usually go for second hand, it's worth examining as a part of Games Workshop's history and perhaps even for a few friendly games. So, yeah, it's good but not great is the final verdict. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Angels of Death Part 3 - Warlord Traits, Chapter Tactics, Formations & Special Rules, Psychic Powers (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review, 7th Edition)

So, you might recall that last time ended on a very abrupt note. Rather than being an expected new listing of rules, only the Salamanders ended up with something wholly original, while the others were a compressed and rehashed version of rules from older books. Well, it might not surprise you to know that this continued again here, and many core chapters end up with more of the same. 

Warlord Traits, Chapter Tactics, Special Rules (Iron Hands, Imperial Fists, White Scars, Raven Guard)

The Warlord Tables, Chapter Traits, Relics/Wargear, pretty much all of it had been taken from previous releases, namely the astartes codex supplements and War Zone: Kauyon. Most of these remain relatively unchanged save for a couple of very minor edits here and there, none of which really alters the outcome of the rules. So, we end up with the same strengths and failings of past reviews, with the Imperial Fists being stuck as the Centurion spam army while the Iron Hands are defined by a vast legion of Dreadnoughts and Techmarines. You can find my personal thoughts on those rules here and here respectively, and opinions on the White Scars and Raven Guard rules here. Oh, and certain Salamanders bits are also found here.

There's really not much which can be added to this, as it's more of what we've seen before. Still, repeating these ideas isn't an inherently bad thing for those after a solid and somewhat cheaper compilation of the special rules for certain chapters. Some people really do just want the rules without the lore, and it's not uncommon for a player to field two very diverse astartes armies these days, even if they're using conflicting ideologies. So, if someone had an Imperial Fists force and a White Scars detachment but didn't want to pay the full £70.00 for both Kauyon and Sentinels of Terra, it's understandable that they might want a cheaper £20.00 alternative. As such, this is one of those rare occasions where recycling a lot of older stuff really was a good move on Games Workshop's part.

So, with that done, onto the "new" stuff.

Warlord Tables (Black Templars, Crimson Fists, Salamanders)

Sadly, despite having a few rules on here, the Black Templars and Crimson Fists don't get much love. While they do retain the Warlord Tables previously released in White Dwarf, there's nothing in the way of special rules, unique equipment or something to really help give them a little more personality. True, they are both secondary armies compared with the First Founding club which makes up most of this book, but at the same time compared with them, this lack of attention or care is keenly felt. Still, it is something we've yet to fully cover in a review, so let's start there with the zealous mob of black clad psychopaths.

1. Master Swordsman - This is your basic steroids option, but my word if it's not a very tempting one to have with the right unit. Offering +1 to the Warlords' Weapons Skill and an additional attack to their basic stat, this is a brilliant option for any Emperor's Champion or duel focused HQ choice. While it's hardly thinking outside the box, given how often Templars armies tend to use their HQ units as bipedal battering rams to break squads and enemy leaders, it's a nice option to have any day.

2. Furious Indignation - This is actually an old special rule which has been transformed into a Warlord trait. Remember how Black Templars armies used to zoom across the board if they failed their Leadership tests? Yeah, it's still here, but you need to hope you A) Get this rule and B) That you don't mind having it limited to your Warlord and his personal squad. 

Should you fail a Morale Test in the Psychic or Shooting Phase, roll 2d6 and have the squad leg it towards the nearest enemy unit. They do need to stop one inch away, so you can't have them enter combat out of turn sadly, and there is also the added problem that you're unlikely to ever make use of this thanks to the high Leadership of HQ choices. It's one of those things which was a good rule when applied to an whole army, but limited to an HQ choice it really seems stunted and unnecessary. Definitely not the best one on this list.

3. Abhor the Witch - This is another previously universal Templars special rule which has been adapted to the Warlord Table. Once a Vow, this instead now gives the Warlord alone gets Hatred and Preferred Enemy against all psykers. Nice to be sure, but useless if you're facing down necrons, tau or a few others, and it would have been better implemented on a wider scale.

4. Honour Demands Combat - Warlord and any unit he is attached to can re-roll failed charges. Extraordinarily useful if you have a tooled out Warlord with a bunch of power sword wielding marines backing him up. Uncomplicated, but useful for an army so close combat orientated as this one.

5. OathKeeper - This is probably the single most useful one for someone wanting to turn their Warlord into either a massive roadblock or a murderer of HQ choices. So, you get Fearless but also re-rolls to hit during challenges, meaning anyone armed with a power weapon and the right tools can become a real headache for certain foes. Nice indeed and a solid bonus to help certain leaders.

6. Unyielding Determination - The Warlord and any Templar within "12 gets to re-roll Pinning, Fear and Morale tests of all kinds. It's good for turning the Warlord into a spearhead, and driving the army forwards with a few key allied units if you're facing down a gun-line and remaining mobile in the face of massed firepower. It does relate more to a couple of very singular, obvious, tactics over some of the more complex ideas, but even if you do opt to Deep Strike in your Warlord and a few others it will still be of use.

On the whole, this is a good and bad one. On the one hand, it does fall back on the old problem of making HQ choices overly important to an army, and focusing far too much exclusively upon them over anything else. As mentioned, what were previously spread about the whole army via special rules or vows are now singularly limited to the Warlord, and the fact they're put down to a random roll on a table hardly helps. On the other hand however, it does avoid the innate failings of other Warlord traits. There's no push to try and cover a wide variety of different roles, no push to make players rely upon them and then be screwed over once they roll the wrong choice. Instead, they're a nice series of bonuses for the typical combat focused Marshall leading  Black Templars force.

The Crimson Fists on the other hand are certainly a little different. You can see where certain ideas cross over with one another, and where traits are kept thanks to their innate link via their primarch, but they do a good job of reflecting their differing status and ideologies. Admittedly though, in the Crimson Fists' case a lot of these are focusing far more upon their hatred in the face of the orks more than anything else.

1. Pain is for the Weak - Your Warlord gains Feel No Pain, and that's about it. Nice to have, but hardly essential and it's not useful to the army as a whole or all that useful in winning challenges. Still, any bonus suitability for an HQ choice is hardly all that bad.

2. Die-Hard Defenders - This gives your Warlord and anyone he's with Counter-Attack and Stubborn, which makes them exceptionally useful for objective focused missions. Give the Warlord Terminator armour and pair him up with some bullet spongy troops and they're going to be extremely tough to shift. Definitely a useful option in most games and nice even if you're working with more of a general army list.

3. Veteran of Rynn's World - This is one of the big ork focused ones here, and the main one which directly relates to them. As you might expect, it  gives the Warlord (and by extension any squad he's attached to) Hatred and Preferred Enemy when facing down orks. Definitely a nice choice for carving your way through some of their more numerous squads and generally giving them hell. Of course, this is only useful if you happen to run into orks, so it's one of those ones which would have better served as an upgrade or bonus over a random chart roll.

4. Experienced Instructor - Your Warlord effectively turns into Telion, gaining his innate bonus special rule. If you don't shoot or don't run during the Shooting Phase, you can nominate a friendly unit within "12 to work with his BS. Much like the previous one this is okay, but it's oddly situational. It only really works if you're fielding a Warlord who isn't made to be a front-line warrior or actually has someone in range to really make use of their guns. While it might serve as a nice bonus if you have a nearby marine with a melta gun or plasma weapon, that's kind of a one trick pony and you're probably never going to use it after that.

5. Unwilling to Die - Your Warlord gains Eternal Warrior. Like Pain is for the Weak, this is really just a singular upgrade, but this one is admittedly a lot more useful in most games. It's almost expected for damn near any HQ choice or named character to have Eternal Warrior, so the added durability is welcome, but it's a damn shame something more inventive or widely useful wasn't thrown into the mix.

6. Heir of Dorn - Like the last option on the Black Templars list, this is one which serves as a major bonus to anyone within "12 of the Warlord. However, instead or resisting certain tests or altering their outcome, instead he and those nearby gain Fearless as a nice bonus. It's okay, but that's about it.

While it doesn't commit any major sins, this one is a lot less focused than the Black Templars list and it falls into the trap of trying to do too much. Options three and four are useful for a Warlord paired up with units of Devastators or raged units, but two, one and five all seem to be more focused upon combat, while three can be a throw-away one if you're facing the wrong guy. It seems oddly directionless, and much of that probably comes down to two facts: The first list re-used a lot of key points from the prior codex and had a lot of key groundwork laid out for it to help with a single, solid depiction of the chapter. That said, the Crimson Fists sadly lack a big bold defining feature which doesn't relate to their near annihilation, and a lot of what writers focus more upon Rynn's World than any old history. Sure, you need to include Rynn's World somehow, but focusing on their relationship with the Inquisiton or commenting upon their own spin of the Codex Astartes would have been nice. After all, Steve Parker's book did make it clear that they had a few key deviations from the traditional structure of their chapter.

Overall, nothing great but nothing too much to complain about either. It just could have done with a bit more personality or focus in covering one type of leader.

So, that leaves us only with the Salamanders now, and they do have the strongest selection of the bunch even if they do re-use certain concepts once again.

1. Anvil of Strength - Your Warlord gains +1 Strength to his basic stats, meaning he's going to be hitting like a truck in close combat. Even without the Strength D hammer of annihilation mentioned in the last part, this means that most armoured or heavy infantry are going to crumple when facing this guy.

2. Lord of Fire - An odd one to be sure, it gives your Warlord a 2+ Feel No Pain save against any flame based weapons of any kind. It's unclear if this refers only to flamers or also meltas and whatnot, but even then it might have still even have been useful when facing certain armies were it not for one fact: This doesn't carry over to the squad he's with. On the one hand, yeah, you can see the reasoning why given this is supposed to be relatively unique. On the other though, this means a couple of heavy flamers will rob your Warlord of any nearby meat shields and then can merrily slaughter him without issue. It's really difficult to say just how useful this might be overall, if at all.

3. Patient and Determined - This is very useful for extending the game a little further to help ensure you get the final kill, or if you need to push things back in your favour at the last minute. Basically, when rolling for Game Duration you add +3 to your end result. This is definitely one of the best options on here, as it does fit with the sheer, stubborn tenacity of the Salamanders without pushing it to Imperial Fists levels or being too overt. Plus, it's rare to run into a game where this wouldn't be nice to have when facing down someone difficult. Really, this is a solid addition.

4. Miraculous Constitution - Your Warlord gains I Will Not Die. Yep, speaks for itself really.

5. Forge Master - So, if you gave your Warlord any kind of master-crafted weapon (which most players will be doing given that this is a Salamanders list) will gain the option to re-roll any missed hits. This includes Salamanders specific relics and the generic versions as well, so you've got a hell of a lot of versatility backing up this one.

6. Never Give Up - Those within 12" of your Warlord are Stubborn and re-roll Morale tests, with the Warlord himself gaining this as well. This is probably the best of both worlds really, as it blends the best elements of the Black Templars and Crimson Fists options without their flaws. You gain their sheer refusal to fall but alongside a nice special rule, so no complaints there at all.

Besides the questionable Lord of Fire listing and the fact it tends to stick to a lot of previous archetypes, it's good. Like the Black Templars choice, it is focused enough to really be of use for most general Salamanders HQ choices, and it doesn't make the mistake of trying to tailor it to every type of leader. Okay, you're a little more close-combat focused, but with so many master crafted weapons and solid relics it's unlikely people will be doing much less at the moment.

Generic Formations

The vast majority of the formations found within this book are fairly general builds, with no specific inclination towards one chapter or another. While certain ones do fit with certain chapter traits or tactics, they're written to be combined and used as just a general overall force. Like the one from the standard Codex: Space Marines, they're structured and built up to reflect the way most codex forces are constructed out of elements from various companies.

The thing is though, most of these are once again taken and re-used from prior books. War Zone: Kauyon's own formations arise again and again here, and the bulk of those on offer are taken directly form that tome. The specific ones are as follows: 

The Stormlance Demi-Company, Hunting Force, Stormbringer Squadron, Speartip Strike, Pinion Battle Demi-Company, Shadowstrike Kill Team, Bladewing Assault Brotherhood, Skyhammer Orbital Strike Force, and Shadow Force. 

Now, you might recall that previously these were all made with the White Scars and Raven Guard specifically in mind, and that most of these are stealth or fast attack focused. That remains the same here, it's they're supposed to reflect the Codex as a whole and the whole relationship with those original chapters has been forgotten. Instead they're just listed as being the ones most famous for using them, which is more than a little infuriating given it's another situation where something unique has been given to everyone. Then again, it makes a change from it happening to the Dark Angels. There's only one relatively new one here, and that's only thanks to the fact it was originally on a dataslate rather than presented in a prior codex; though the copious amounts of cheese that went into its creation might make you wish it had stayed that way:

Skyhammer Annihilation Force - Welcome to the alpha strike formation from hell. You remember those arseholes back in late Fifth Edition who loved using Storm Ravens? You know the ones, the guys who would drop pretty much their entire army directly atop of yours and murder everything before you could respond? This is their wet dream.

What you have here is a combination of two Assault Squads and two Devastator Squads all outfitted with Drop Pods, but the Assault units retain their jump packs. There are four special rules helping back them up here, each one nastier than the last. 
Shock Deployment means you keep all of these units in Deep Strike Reserve, and then throw them down on your first or second turn. There's no rolling for this, you just decide when they arrive and they do just that, and you even ignore the drop pods themselves for the purposes of the Drop Pod Assault special rule. 
First the Fire, then the bitches Blade twists the knife, as the Devastators attached to this formation gain Relentless for the entire game, while the Assault Marines can charge the second the arrive. 
Suppressing Fusillade then means that anything the Devastators open fire on takes a Morale test, but at 3D6, and rather than falling back as usual they immediately go to ground, leaving them open to the Assault Marines. Even if the targeted units pass though, they can't use Overwatch for the rest of the turn.
Finally, Leave No Survivors just helps ensure that anything on the wrong end of this formation dies a horrible and very painful death by ensuring two details: Assault Marines can use their jump backs in both movement and assault. Also, if any targeted unit did Go To Ground, the marines can re-roll hits and wounds while attacking that squad.

There's a special place on the lowest level of Satan's realm for whoever thought up this one, right there with the bloke who did Codex: Eldar Craftworlds. Really though, did someone think we needed to go back to the days of Fifth Edition Codex: Blood Angels? There's something almost admirable about the sheer brazen nature of how outright broken this thing is. Even if it doesn't kill the entire enemy force at once, that's a sizable chunk of likely very important units obliterated on the first turn. Really, there's no words. We should have sent a poet to analyze this damn thing.

Strike Forces

This is the big new thing here, and after so much of the lore had been spent hyping and examining their importance to chapters you better believe they left the good stuff for last. Each one mostly serves as a varied combination angled to reflect the chapter they represent in some way - I.E. Faster more drop centric Raven Guard contrast heavily with the slower but harder hitting Salamanders etc. We've certainly seen this before plenty of times, often in the War Zone books but as always there are a few special rules to consider which makes each of them stand out -

Fist of Medusa Strike Force

This is the Iron Hands option, and for the most part it's largely a copy/paste job of a standard Gladius. This is unfortunately true of a lot of the ones here, as you just have the 1-2 Core choices, 0-3 Command choices, and 1+ Auxiliary choices with the only difference being the certain units on offer. Oh, certain ones do have benefits and you are encouraged to present them in a certain way, but for better or worse it doesn't try to reinvent things.

The key special rules here (Command Benefits) focus upon the presence of commanders influencing outcome of battles or improving the situation. Now, this is mixed for obvious reasons. Firstly, this is once again a push to make HQ choices all the more important, but secondly one at least actuallly fits the Iron Hands and works with their core ideals of being highly hierarchical even by marine standards.

The first special rule is Logical Commander. In essence, if this is your primary detachment then you get to combine two Warlord traits together. One is taken from the standard Iron Hands list while the second is taken from either the Tactical or Strategic tables. Makes sense really, given how they operate and it's a minor but useful addition. 

Reject the Flesh, Embrace the Marine on the other hand is quite infuriating. Any model within "12 of an Independent Character of the same detachment instantly gains +1 to Feel No Pain results. You can guess the main criticism here, but the second one is that this would have been perfect as a special rule for an Iron Father. Really, think about it, it would be the sort of thing which would be perfect for a Chaplain/Techmarine combo, serving to both reflect their knowledge of bionics as much as their inspirational role. It's just frustrating that it's been added to this while they technically no longer exist. "Iron Chaplains" indeed.

Finally, there's Roused Machine Spirits which helps to work with their vehicle angle. Basically it allows any vehicle within 12" of an Independent Character from this same detachment to have the Power of the Machine Spirit Special Rule. See criticisms/moaning about old lore above for the same opinion on this as that choice.

Flameblade Strike Force

As the Salamanders choice, you just know there's going to be some fun stuff in here. Really, of all the chapters present, they've easily come off the best in this book and it seems like a lot of effort and attention went into planning out their style and rules. 

First up we have Vulkan's Teaching, which is the same as Logical Commander, but it it's taken instead from the Personal Traits table. Fair enough, not much to really add to that on the whole.

Second here's then the Scorched Earth rule which adds +1 Strength to any and all flamer weapons used by the Salamanders in this detachment. That roar you likely just heard was a lot of this chapter's fans screaming in celebration at this news, and the very idea of just how monstrous their Land Raider Redeemers will be. Yeah, it's basic to be sure, but given that the Salamanders only have so much they can really work with when it comes to flamer weapons, this is probably one we can easily give a pass to. After all, these rules are intended for basic, relatively widespread upgrades like that.

Then there's Not One Step Back. If a unit doesn't move, it counts as Fearless. There's a lot of big questions which surround this one as to whether it's truly broken when implemented during objective based missions. Okay, making an entire objective holding army fearless is bad enough, but some have pointed out that this only refers to the movement phase itself. This means we're probably going to end up with more than a few people opting to abuse this by having tactical squads run or assault while standing still during the basic movement phase.

Scarblade Strike Force/Talon Strike Force

Both the White Scars and Raven Guard once again have stuff recycled from Kauyon. Moving on.

Sternhammer Strike Force

Well, here we have the Imperial Fists Decurion without a Black Templar or Crimson Fist alternative in sight. Sadly, those hoping to adapt this one into something for those chapters are going to be disappointed, as it's very characteristic to the Imps themselves. The good news is, at least for Dorn fans, it does a damn good job of reflecting their tactics on a very basic level. 

The first rule listed under them is Dorn's Legacy. This doesn't follow the same format as the opening and is instead closer to the last option on the Salamanders list. To put it simply, everything in this detachment is Stubborn so long as your Warlord is alive. Now, this is obviously quite the substantial bonus, but the fact it so heavily hinges upon one figure (often used as a frontline fighter in nearly all lists) to remain alive is a big Achilles' Heel. With high power weapons being so commonplace these days, it's easy to see this ending at the wrong end of a Strength D weapon.

Superior Bolter Drill is one we've seen plenty of times before, and it remains the same again here. Basically, re-roll all failed to hit rolls at range with bolt weapons. It's the same as what we had in Sentinels of Terra, and while it doesn't relate directly to demolishing/fortifying buildings there's nothing too wrong with it.

Demolition Expertise then allows any model from this detachment to add +1 to all armour penetration rolls on buildings or vehicles. Personally, I would have thought that the complete reverse of this would have been more apt given their famed stubbornness and durability, but it still somewhat works with them.

Anvil Strike Force

As the only non-aligned formation on here, this was pretty much made to tailor to an aspect astartes forces tend to be lacking in - Tank companies. Oh, not that they've ever lacked individual tanks themselves, only that they've never gone full Imperial Guard by having almost nothing but the damn things, and few lists exist to support that approach. So, here we have the formation every Aurora Chapter fan has been waiting on.

The formation here is a bit different from usual, and it follows this formation:
1-2 Core choices, either the Armoured Task Force or Land Raider Spearhead.
0-2 Command choices, which are either Masters of the Armoury or Keeper of the Forge. This is effectively Sergeant Chronus or aCommand Tank, and a Techmarine in a Rhino respectively.
Then you have the following 1+ Auxiliary choices for this list, consisting of the Suppression Force, Anti-Air Defense Force, Raptor Wing and Storm Wing. The few remaining others are basically variations on standard choices, with Mechanized Infantry being more or less your standard troops/termies/centurions/scouts/veterans and Recon Outriders being a land speeder mob.

So, what's the special rules for this one? 

We have Master of Mechanized Warfare, which allows any common or garden tank to count as your Warlord. Not a bad option if you want to avoid Chronus or have some specific tactic in mind, and it does open up the army list to a few fun rules listed below it:

Big Guns Never Tire means your Warlord able to nominate himself or another unit within 24" to immediately fire its guns again. It doesn't list an exact turn counter, or timing, only "again" interestingly. This is something which probably needs to be errataed rather quickly before it gets into some seriously big problems.

Then, finally, we have the Armour of Contempt which allows all vehicles to ignore Crew Shaken and Crew Stunned.

Psychic Powers

This was the surprising one. A lot of the effort here went into bolstering this aspect of the army over everything else, and in all honesty it really is something of a surprise. There's certainly nothing wrong with the existing lists, and more work could have been put towards shaping up and changing other areas. That said, some of what we get is still pretty fun.


Primaris: Electrosurge - WC1 S5 AP4 Assault 6 witchfire. A useful horde culler to be sure, especially for a single unit, and the fact it can be used in assault makes it very viable for just about every list.

Electroshield - WC1. The Psyker gains a 3++. A poor man's Storm Shield which only lasts a turn, pretty useless given how cheap said shields tend to be.

Electropulse - WC2. This is a witchfire Nova with a 9" radius, but with the added bonus of S1 AP- Haywire hits. Solid if you want to cause a few light vehicles hell, but otherwise something you'd want to skip again.

Lightning Arc - WC2. Witchfire, S5AP4 Assault D6. This jumps between units within 6" on the roll of a 4+, meaning it's great for clustered forces or mob formations again. So, orks, Imperial Guard or tyranids are all going to be in for a hell of a time.

Fists of Lightning - WC1 blessing. This works on the psyker only, with an additional point of Strength and an additional attack. Fairly standard, until you realise that every hit this guy lands in close combat causes his opponent to suffer an additional two S5 AP- hits. The rules are a little oddly written but it looks like it's another solid mob killer, as is the case with most of this.

Magnetokinesis - WC2 blessing, with an 18" range. Target a guy and cause him to jump forwards 18" at will. Aside from the image of the Librarian playing lightning powered snooker with his allied units, it's good for getting the Warlord and his squad quickly into combat, or pushing a ranged squad away from the enemy. Probably the most useful one on this entire list really.

Electrodisplacement - WC2 blessing or malediction, with a 24" inch range. Basically it's a body swap option. Target an allied unit within 24" and switch places with them and the Librarian. It's not nearly as useful as the above ability, but with a slightly longer range and a little more tactical variety, it could be used to pull some seriously nasty traps with the right list.


A lot of this is really just stuff pinched from the Craftworld Eldar and Grey Knights spells, mashed together as one. You'll find a lot of crossover between the two here and it honestly does seem to just be there to try and give the astartes a slight "one up" over them. It's not like the writers are trying to hide it either, as the primaris ability is just The Emperor's Wrath.

Primaris: The Aforementioned Emperor's Wrath - S5AP3, 18". Assault 1 Blast Witchfire. Nice but nothing overly special, as with a lot of this book.

Veil of Time - WC2. While limited to the psyker casting it, this allows you to re-roll all failed saving rolls, atop of any other bonuses as well. This is probably one of the single most broken options on here, taking some of the usual Farseer traits and turning them up to eleven. Really, if you just have the Librarian paired up with a solid alpha damage dealing force, then they're going to plough right through anything in sight.

Fury of the Ancients - WC1. This is a S6AP4 beam weapon with a range of 24" and causes Pinning. Good for slowing down charging heavy infantry forces and making life hell for anyone with relatively light armour for sure.

Psychic Fortress - WC1. Lives up to its name, as it gives the psyker Fearless and Adamantium will, but turns the surrounding area into a barrier against Witchfire based powers. It's 12" with a 4++ save on offer.

Might of Heroes - WC1. This mashes together a few spells into one, mostly the speedy and strength based ones. Upon successfully casting this, the psyker gains +2 Strength, Toughness, Initiative and also two attacks. Easy to cast and cheap to boot, it's an exceptionally nasty one for anyone to face down at close range.

Psychic Scourge - WC1. This is an odd one, as it's a Witchfire spell which targets other psykers. You focus upon the enemy spellcaster, and roll off against him. Your guy has 2D6 plus his level, the opponent has 1D6 plus his level. If you draw or roll more, he loses a wound and (if you did get higher) also a power. This could very easily be abused and against Tzeentch or Craftworld Eldar armies this is likely to become the bane of many players. Alongside Veil of Time, this is probably going to be one of the most infamous abilities of the entire damn book.

Null Zone - WC2. Now, this is an interesting one as it seriously screws with the invulnerable saves of anything you're targeting. Dropping it by two points (but no further than 6+) it can work on damn near anything, from storm shields to iron halos to even other psychic powers. the rage from others will be most palpable at the sight of this damn thing.


Whoever made this seriously loved the Pit of Shades from the old Warhammer Fantasy rules.

Primaris: Chasm - WC2. This forces a dangerous terrain test without armor save upon a single enemy unit, allowing you to get rid of those pesky Immortals with a wave of this guy's wand. Yeah, against the right target this is going to do some serious damage, and the lack of any range limitation means you're likely to screw with anything from the right vantage point.

Earth Blood - WC1, 18". An odd one to be sure, as it's a rare example of a genuine healing ability here. It's not like a medicae or apothecary where it reduces one wound, this thing outright heals other units. So, target someone nearby, and they instantly regain three whole wounds, also giving the unit he's with I Will Not Die as well. Keep in mind, this can be cast on the Librarian himself, meaning he can overcome wounds lost in Perils failures. So, yeah, damn this thing is nasty. The limited range is the only thing which keeps it from being fully broken, as it means the Librarian is largely close enough to shoot or assault anything he's spamming healing on.

Scorched Earth - WC1 malediction, 24". This is the primaris ability turned into a doomsday weapon, as it deals one S5AP4 hit to any unit within 6" of its intended target, and then this 6" area is turned into dangerous terrain. You do admittedly get a save, true, but it's on a bigger scale and it apparently doesn't disappear either. That's going to be a real headache no matter what luck the guy has on his side.

Land Quake - WC1 malediction, effecting any enemy unit within 18" of the psyker. All effected units are seen to be in dangerous terrain, which they cannot run, move flat-out or even turbo boost out of. This can be more or less effective than Scorched Earth, but it's very situational and depends heavily upon the map itself. If it's formed or shaped in the wrong way, it could easily be useless or push the Librarian into dangerous territory.

Phase Form - WC1 blessing, 24". This effects a single unit, but given what it can do that really doesn't matter. Those given can move through cover, ignore cover of those they're fighting and shoot even units out of their line of sight. Range is the only serious limitation here, so that Devastator squad you had over there? Yeah, they're going to become your best friend if paired up with a Librarian with this spell.

Warp Quake - WC1, 24". This is the Librarian's bunker buster, as the targeted building or ruin immediately gains a glancing or penetrating hit from their attack, and units within gain D6 S6AP- hits, turning them into fine pink goo. Very nasty for Imperial Guard forces to be sure.

Shifting Worldscape - WC3, 24". This is the geoscaping one, as it allows you to target a piece of terrain within range up to 24" in any direction you want. This carried the units within it along with it, but it does force dangerous terrain tests upon them. This could be gimmicky, but it there are multiple very useful ways it could be implemented. For starters, it could be used as a risky maneuver to move your own units around the board at high speed, it could push back enemy assaulting forces or even deny them cover from your guns.


Primaris: Subvert Machine - Malediction, 18". You can hijack the gun on an enemy tank. No really, you target an enemy vehicle within range, you and your opponent roll off for it, and if you win you can fire it as per normal. Even if he wins, he can only fire snap shots with it. Now, this doesn't sound too useful at first save for a well placed autocannon or lascannon. However, consider for a moment that this isn't limited to standard tanks. Imagine what could happen if you got close enough to a Baneblade for just one turn. Yeah, with the right set up, this thing is going to be very nasty indeed.

Blessing of the Machine - WC1 blessing, 24". This is focused purely upon allied vehicles, but is limited to a single tank. That vehicle then ignores Crew Shaken or Crew Stunned results for the following turn, with the added bonus or Power of the Machine Spirit or +1 BS if it already has that bonus. Useful given how many astartes vehicles tend to have that particular rule.

Machine Curse - WC1 Witchfire. Slap about a vehicle with three S1AP- hits with the Haywire effect. There's no range limitation on this one, and the fact it's basically semi-automatic means it's very helpful for pestering and causing problems for certain forces at range.

Reforge - WC1. It does what it sounds like, repairing a single hull point or repairing immobilised or weapon destroyed results on an allied vehicle. It's basically a second Techmarine ability, just with ranged psychic properties, and the added bonus of It Will Not Die once you're done.

Warpmetal Armour - WC1. This is going to be very popular around Land Raiders, Leman Russes and the like. Why? Because on a successful roll you gain an additional point of armour value to all sides. So, yeah, expect to see certain space marine tanks with a value of 15 on all sides. Honestly, i'm not even sure what in the hell to make of this, as the creators are either intentionally making certain vehicles damn near invulnerable, or it has been badly worded.

Fury of Mars - WC1. This is simply a Strength 1 AP1 Haywire Beam. Not very useful in all honesty, especially given how widespread Haywire weapons are these days.

Machine Flense - WC2 witchfire, 18". Short ranged again,but it has some very nasty effects to work with it. Target an enemy unit, get it off, and you rob the enemy vehicle of D3 hull points. Oh, and for every last one lost, you cause D6 S4AP6 Rending hits on nearby enemy units.

Final Verdict

Honestly this one definitely has its place in the game. For tabletop fanatics and those invested more in the tournament scene over lore, or those who missed the prior books, this is definitely one which will interest you. As said before, it has recycled a lot of parts, but it should really be seen as a compilation more than anything else. The bonus bits are largely there to help round things out or even add a bit more general incentive to purchase the codex over past books. Three of the psychic powers are fun on the whole as a nice option, and Salamanders fans will have a field day with this one.

So long as you don't mind some serious limitations in the lore department or even a few general shortcomings when it comes to trying to expand upon army specialties, it's worth a look.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Eisenhorn: Xenos (Video Game Preview)

One of the big advantages of gaining early access to a video game is to witness how it builds over time. Seeing the fat slowly trimmed away and the flaws of the final product ironed out is always a joy to behold, and gives real insight into the development cycle behind these projects. As such, with little over a month to go until its full release, any opportunity to follow-up on our prior preview and see a near finished version of this game was welcomed wholeheartedly.  Unfortunately though, in stark contrast to that glowing first look, this one left more than a few niggling concerns once the demo drew to a close.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Banner Saga 2 (Video Game Review)

When it hit the Steam store back in 2014, The Banner Saga was a godsend to so many RPG fanatics. Breaking away from many modern trends and refusing to pull its punches, it offered a mature and dynamic Game of Thrones level Nordic saga and paired it up with punishing, story driven choices on the player’s part. Bleak, beautiful and with an animated aesthetic rarely seen today, it was torturous to watch its developer Stoic caught up in two major lawsuits, the first being the infamous King lawsuit, and the second surrounding the much reviled AFM Agreement. It’s no small wonder that the second part of this trilogy has taken two years to finally see the light of day, but the wait has been well worth it.

Catching up with the heroes merely hours after the harrowing finale to the first game, the few surviving humans and varl march onward to escape the varl onslaught. Taking to the rivers, they begin the long journey towards the human capital, hoping to find respite from the continued onslaught and perhaps even the answer to why the dredge have launched this massive invasion.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (Video Game Review)

Tabletop games and their digital counterparts have always had an odd relationship. The two are often paired up side by side these days, and it's hardly rare to find one license being adapted to another, but oh so often something is lost during that shift. This could be anything from the atmosphere to the key quirks, to even being too loyal to the original idea and failing to embrace the strengths of its format as a result. For all its many successes, Warhammer 40,000 has been a frequent victim of this particular problem. 

Dawn of War might be a classic, but it never managed to capture the nature of the tabletop game and Dawn of War 2 was closer to Necromunda than it ever was any incarnation of Games Workshop's core series. Space Hulk was the same -  at least until Ascension came along - and Talisman, DeathwatchRegicideStorm of Vengeance and others have all had faults of their own, no matter their quality. With Battlefleet Gothic: Armada however, we finally have a game which strikes a near pitch perfect balance between loyalty to its source material and ingenuity on the developer's part.

The story here follows a somewhat altered version of the Twelfth Black Crusade, and the desperate conflict to keep the Gothic Sector under Imperial control. With Abaddon the Despoiler himself at the head of a massive Chaotic armada, loyalist forces are hard pressed as they find themselves massively outnumbered and outgunned by their foes. However, none truly comprehend the sheer scale of the Warmaster's ambitions, or the true prize he seeks within the Gothic sector...

Despite the addition of a previously non-existent protagonist in the form of Admiral Spire, much of the story follows the events of the Gothic War moment for moment. You face down a massed Chaotic fleet with relatively few ships, try to hold back the rising corruption among your own worlds, and face no end of threats from within. A safe harbour can quickly become a hive of scum and villainy if a rebellion is not put down fast enough, and if you fail to halt certain attacks, you can lose access to vital resources. It's admittedly a largely secondary element largely exclusive to the campaign but it has that XCOM style sense of risk and loss attached to it. You aren't simply fighting because the story demands you win to move onto the next plot point, you're fighting because that world over there will fall unless you get your squadron of transports through enemy lines to their intended destination.

While the campaign is admittedly fun, much of its early stages serve as a massive tutorial more than anything else, allowing new players to get to grips with the core mechanics. The real meat of the experience lies in its multiplayer mode, where you're tasked with building up a fleet from scratch and fighting against similar opposing forces. This begins with a smattering of light cruisers and frigates before you start working your way up to the famous battleships behind each faction. While certainly simple, it embraces the defining appeal behind the tabletop game, where campaigns where loosely structured campaigns allowed players to combat anyone they wished while slowly building up their fleet one vessel at a time.

As you fight your way towards vaster battlefields, more upgrades become available to spend on gaining those tasty new vessels with bigger guns, or improving your existing armada. Each ship has a number of slots which can be used for faster turning, more powerful engines, broader troop compartments, or even unique commands to use in battle. Plus, atop of this, the crews themselves can gain further benefits via leveling up, with everything from higher tiered gunnery crews improving ranged accuracy to experienced navigators allowing for a faster retreat. Believe it or not, elements akin to this were actually in the tabletop game as well; plus much like there you even have the option to go full iron man on this game, having destroyed warships remain dead rather than being brought back into service within a few battles.

So what about the actual core system itself? Focused primarily upon micro-managing a small fleet over the massive co-ordination usually required in these sorts of games, you play one of several fleets, each with their own strengths and failings. Eldar are hard hitting, have excellent torpedoes, ranged weapons, fighters and speed, but are weak to solid hits, boarding actions, and sustained combat. Orks are tough vessels, excellent close range brawlers and retain fantastic ramming capabilities, but save for short charges they're slow, cumbersome and lack decent accuracy at long range. The Imperium and Chaos fall somewhere in the middle, and while this might sound fairly generic, certain unique choices helps each faction stand out. Take the movement mechanics for example, as the Imperium has thrusters which allow for tight turns at the cost of fuel and long range burns. By comparison, the Orks just have a single giant red button to hurl themselves forwards in near unstoppable charges.

Another factor which helps vary certain elements are the orders and positioning of craft. You see, you don't simply click on the enemy ships and hurl your own fleet at them. Instead, you have specific commands and abilities to help turn the tide, from a few basic (very brief) bonuses which improve shields, guns or engines to far more dynamic orders. For example, two very useful and fairly high grade Eldar orders allow their ships to pull full 180 degree turns and gives them an energy shield to protect them against enemy fire/ram enemy vehicles without splintering to bits. Others, more general ones across the board, include tactical Warp/Webway jumps across the map, taunting enemy ships to prevent them from disengaging and even stasis weapons to freeze ships caught within a detonation. There's enough of a variety on hand to always ensure you can smash any foe's meticulous plans with a sledgehammer if you time your attacks well and do enough to truly predict their moves.

The core combat itself sticks true to Battlefleet Gothic's original themes, embracing a space age mixture of Galleon style combat and early World War Two tactics. The bulk of the ships here have their best weapons mounted on broadsides, and even those with forwards facing firing arcs will typically have to circle strafe around enemy ships to maintain sustained broadsides. It's another factor preventing you rushing into battle, but even here there's a few factors which can be altered or switched in your favour. You can change the basic orders for certain vessels at a moment's notice, with a surprisingly simple interface allowing you to command which direction each ship should attack from, the distance they should engage at, which enemy sub-systems to target (engines or whatnot) and which vessels should take priority. It certainly helps reduce the strain of managing such a number of ships at once, and it helps that the AI is surprisingly capable of presenting a real challenge for once.

The big break away from its source material here is that it's not turn based. In a surprising move, there's no effort to reflect the slow, extremely methodical pacing and gradual engagements, and instead the RTS combat is surprisingly fast paced. Save for brief moments where you're allowed to slow the battlefield to make calculated decisions, everything is in real time, meaning you have to plan movements, angle torpedo spreads and activate orders while managing your entire fleet. The surprising thing though? This actually works. Trying to turn Battlefleet Gothic into a turn based strategy game might have worked, but it would have been facing heavy competition and would have lacked a lot of the punch players wanted when seeing vast kilometer long warships beating the hell out of one another. Instead, by speeding things up but retaining that same tactical complexity, Armada is allowed to remain loyal to the game which inspired it while still taking advantage of the best qualities a video game can offer. As such, it's allowed to stand out on its own.

As you might guess though, there are a few very distinct flaws here unfortunately. While many of the initial problems surrounding the game's beta have been thankfully sorted out - notably some infamously sadistic matchmaking choices - certain missions are almost impossible for some factions. Scenarios which require a player to take out an enemy battleship or steal data from a capital vessel are nearly impossible for any Ork player to win when facing down Eldar or Chaos forces. Equally, those same factions have a massive advantage when it comes down to escort missions, as their superior speed and range allows them to pick off transports with ease.

Some options among the fleets are also fairly limited at times, especially when it comes to the xenos factions. The Orks are left with only a single cruiser and light cruiser class to work with in contrast to the multitude on offer for the Imperium, and the Eldar only have a single battleship. True, this was the same for the tabletop game as well, but the disparity between the two and the lack of tactical flexibility quickly becomes evident at high tier games. What's more, certain frigates seem to be all but useless in most engagements. Ork Brute Ram Ships are sadly something of a joke here, as their suicidal role as equally well served by most other escorts, but with the bonus of a hell of a lot more ranged firepower. This is equally true of the other factions, and there simply are a surprising number of escorts you'll never want to use.

Then we have the thematic nature of the setting, both in the gameplay and the story itself. Now, it's clear that Tindalos Interactive are massive fans of the setting in every respect, to the point where it's been rumoured that Stellar Impact was built almost purely to test out an engine for a Gothic game. It would certainly explain why that one was abandoned, but the point is that they do care. However, the speed and close range of the battles lacked any of the scale, weight and sheer immensity that the tabletop game thrived upon. Without the emphasis placed upon massive distances and engagements at hundreds upon thousands of kilometers apart, certain thematic qualities never hit home. Call it a minor thing if you want, but it's one of these core details which makes 40K stand out so well, and why it retains such a strong atmosphere even three decades after it hit shelves.

The story meanwhile is, sadly, mixed at best. Now, on the one hand it does stick as close to the history of the Twelfth Black Crusade as it can, and many key figures and events re-emerge here. Horst, Ravensberg and even a few minor characters from the lore all show up here and there. What's more, some remarkably lavish cutscenes retain the right mix of pathos and cheesiness to hammer home that this truly is a Warhammer game. Even if they stray a bit too close to Alfabusa's videos, these are very welcome indeed. That said, the story fails to convey the sheer desperation of this war and there's none of the gradual build-up which so massively benefited the original tabletop game. A Chaos fleet shows up, Horst spouts some dialogue and away you go;  even once the Planet Killer shows up there's something just sadly underwhelming about the execution thanks to it merely arriving. More time could have been spent foreshadowing this impending threat and seriously beefing up the storyline's dread, turning it into something on par with Dawn of War 2's reveal of an oncoming Tyranid Hive Fleet.

Matters in the campaign department are also hindered thanks to a rather arduous and lengthy tutorial throughout the prologue. Time and time again you'll be stuck, clicking your way through some basic commands, and while they're welcome the first time around, every other time just turns it into one massive chore to get through.

At the end of the day, the worst problems here really are minor imperfections rather than full blown failings. Even while fully aware of all of them, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada drained hours upon hours from my life over a mere weekend, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon. To make another XCOM comparison, even with a laundry list of problems and minor errors, Tindalos's strengths far outweighed its weaknesses, until I personally just stopped caring about those problems. This really is one of those few key games which nails everything well enough for me to heartily recommend it to just about anyone with a PC capable of supporting this game. Honestly, even if you're an adamant RTS opponent, who has hated the genre since its creation, this one might well change your mind with its wildly different setting and dynamic. Plus, if all else fails, just remember you're in a galactic Age of Sail style game with Napoleonic Commienazis, Satanists, alien psychic ninja pirates and humanoid green fungi fighting for supremacy of the stars. If that's not going to cause you to crack a smile, damn near nothing in the 41st millennium will.

Verdict: 9 out of 10