Betrayal at Calth or: How to engineer the perfect gateway drug
It was only a question of time.
Seriously, it’s always easier to say such things in hindsight, but ever since the Horus Heresy has become a massively successful commercial juggernaut, it was pretty obvious that GW proper would get in on the business eventually. And now they have. With a starter box that basically seems like a license to print money. Well played, GW!
So let’s take a closer look at Betrayal at Calth today and discuss the models contained in the box, first and foremost. And I’ll also be sharing my first hands on experiences with one of the models — but I am getting ahead of myself 😉
It’s clear that the box is, above all else, a gateway into Forgeworld’s Horus Heresy setting: The timeframe and design of the models make this plain enough, but there’s also a number of smaller telltale signs: The layout of the rulebook accompanying the game mirrors that of FW’s publications. The box artwork is closer in design and colour choice to Black Library’s HH novel covers. The box itself is noticeably sturdier and more luxurious than even GW’s other boxed games — all of this seems to be saying: “We are entering big boy territory now.” 😉
The set provides us with two small Space Marine forces to play the actual game with or, possibly the more interesting and also more realistic option, one combined, decently-sized (if less than ideal) Horus Heresy starter force. By the same token, the one thing that goes for all models contained in the box is the complete absence of legion insignia or more individual design cues: All of these guys are generic to the point of blandness. But, of course, that is their greatest strength as well as their greatest failure. While the lack of legion specific details and multipart nature of the models make the box contents seem a little bland, this choice is also what makes the models so very tempting for each and every Space Marine player out there: These are not exciting display pieces, but rather an amazing toolkit to start a new army or add to your existing collection, even if it comes at the price of a thoroughly vanilla look 😉 In fact, one could say that this box follows the exact opposite approach when compared with Age of Sigmar: Where the latter provides very individual and rather exciting (yet also rather limited) snapfit models, Betrayal at Calth’s models may be less exciting in and of themselves, yet are far more versatile.
Two things before we begin: One, in the interest of full disclosure: I picked up one of the boxes at launch. It seemed a bit frivolous, given my current situation, but I’ve been disciplined enough in my spending recently that I felt I deserved a treat 😉 This is even more significant, however, in how GW makes me eat my earlier words: I’ve gone on record stating that I wasn’t interested in starting a 30k project, and here I am getting Betrayal at Calth on day one — mission accomplished, GW 😉
Two, in addition to my following review, let me also recommend Wudugast’s very interesting look at Betrayal at Calth, which raises some excellent points and makes for a very good companion piece to my post, I think. Anyway, here goes:
Legion Veteran Squad
One of the multipart kits to come out of this box provides us with a whopping thirty (!) tactical Marines wearing Mk 4 armour, which is quite something! Now while I would have loved some variety when it comes to armour marks, it’s pretty clear that GW wanted to test the waters with these, so the fact that all the tactical Marines share the same basic design doesn’t come as a surprise and seems like a sound business decision. Mk 4 seems like a pretty good call, too, because it’s probably the most popular (and, arguably, one of the most iconic) Heresy era armour types. It’s a cool design overall, although one that has been somewhat hampered by dodgy proportions: Forgeworld’s Mk 4 models were pretty cool alright, but the models seemed a little off sometimes, with a lankiness and unevenness that was clearly noticeable. The plastic Mk 4 Marines share none of this dodginess: These models are perfectly and evenly proportioned and perfectly scaled against the already available 40k Marines — in fact, the Legion Veteran squad could (and, in many cases, probably will) serve as a perfect alternate tactical squad for 40k.
The level of detail on the sprues is absolutely excellent — as was to be expected, given GW’s recent level of quality when it comes to sharpness and detail. The amount of bitz and weapon options is also rather stunning, as the kit not only provides us with all the weapon options for a tactical squad, but also adds swords, pouches and holsters for each of the Marines, as well as bitz for the sergeant, vexillarius and what have you. So far, so good!
I also really like that GW’s designers have gone for the FW approach to Mk 4 armour, with a helmet design that is cooler than the “doglike” plastic Mk 4 helmets seen so far. In fact, my favourite part is that we even get Mk 4 helmets with vertical slits on the facemask, probably my favourite variant. And yes, we are firmly in Space Marine nerd territory here, thank you very much 😉
Unfortunately, while we lose the somewhat dodgy proportions, we also gain the classic, slightly crouched 40k Marine pose so emblematic of GW’s plastic Astartes: While FW’s Mk 4 Astartes sometimes seemed a little strangely proportioned, their poses were a bit more varied and they didn’t look like they urgently needed to go to the bathroom.
My other gripe with the sprues is that, while these will work for every legion, the fact that only standard bolter arms are included makes it a bit complicated to turn them into members of the less uniform legions like the World Eaters or Space Wolves: If you want your tac Marines to have a very regimented, orderly look, you’ll be in heaven. If you favour a more feral, individualistic approach, you’ll need to engage in some serious kitbashing.
All in all, these sprues are pretty great, although yet another Space Marine tactical kit might not feel like something to get super-excited about. Then again, these form a very decent backbone for any plastic-based HH army, or they give you the bitz to sprinkle some Heresy era goodness across your entire 40k army, and as such these should become very popular with 30k and 40k players alike.
Okay, these guys were a bit of a surprise: A tactical kit seemed like a bit of a no-brainer for plastic 30k, but I certainly wouldn’t have expected Cataphractii Terminators right out the gate. But here we are: An entire squad of heresy era Terminators. And what’s more, they even get the complete multipart treatment — that was unexpected!
The Cataphractii are probably more interesting from a visual standpoint in how much they differ from the 40k Terminators: They sport a very distinct Heresy era look that isn’t all that easy to emulate with plastic bitz either (not that I didn’t try, of course). So again, these are very interesting as an alternative for both the resin Cataphractii as well as the standard 40k Terminators.
Once again, the amount of detail and weapon options is quite excellent: We even get enough lightning claws for the entire squad, for instance, or to squirrel away for later use. In fact, it’s particularly cool to have the iconic Heresy era LC design available in plastic.
One thing I think I’ll need to get used to is that the torso pieces are designed in such a way that only “half-heads” are used, although it might be possible to change this with some minor conversion work. – excellent: amount of weapon options, extra weapons.
My one legitimate concern about the kit is that, for all the weapon options, we don’t get any options for CC weapons like power swords, chainaxes or power mauls. While GW’s designers probably had to stop somewhere, I guess I would have preferred those instead of both power fists and chainfists, if only because World Eaters Cataphractii look so sexy with their chainaxes 😉 As it stands, however, we only get one measly power sword for the sergeant. Boo hiss! 😉
But again, having access to plastic Cataphractii is a rather unexpected turn of events, and the fact that these are a multipart kit with lots and lots of options is a rather nice surprise. While the tac Marines might be more universally useful, these guys are one of my favourite parts of the box!
Legion Contemptor Dreadnought
Okay, I am not going to lie to you: The prospect of actually having access to a plastic Contemptor was basically one of the main reasons I purchased a copy of Betrayal at Calth. Yet in an interesting turn of events, the plastic Contemptor is the best part and the worst part of the release at the same time. Confused yet? Allow me to elaborate:
The amount of detail is very nice, and it’s great that we actually get the relict variant. All of this is even nicer given the fact that this is almost a snapfit model, at least when it comes to the simplicity of construction: The Contemptor is very easy to put together (only slightly more complicated than the AOBR Dread, actually). And it seems to be just as tall as an actual FW Contemptor. And we even get a choice of ranged weapons — all of this is quite excellent!
On the other hand, the model is generic to the point of blandness (which, I’ll admit, was probably the point: You are supposed to be able to use this for every legion, after all). This is easily remedied by adding some bitz. But they did choose the least interesting pose on the planet for some reason — I especially dislike the slightly inwards turned legs that make the Contemptor look like Paris Hilton posing on a red carpet. Seriously, I get why they went for a neutral pose, but it surely could have been slightly more interesting…?
So what to make of the model? It’s one of the most exciting parts of the boxed game in that it’s fantastic to have access to a plastic Contemptor. Yet it will take a bit of work to truly make it shine and to get rid of some of the blandness — but we’ll be getting there in a minute 😉
Captain Streloc Aetheon / Legion Praetor wearing Cataphractii armour
The actual army commanders are often my favourite part of every starter box, and Captain Aetheon (who, of course can also be used as a generic Astartes Praetor wearing Cataphractii armour) is certainly a rather imposing model: Both the bulk and the ostentatiousness of his armour make him a rather nice centre piece. I also like the inclusion of a cape!
The model is not entirely without its problems, however: First of all, while the pose is alright, the Captain seems to be giving it his all in order to look along the barrel of his combi-bolter. He seems to be mirroring one of Forgeworld’s Legion Praetors to some degree, but the pose does seem a bit forced to me, and less natural than that of the resin model. I also prefer the cc weapon on the Forgeworld Praetor, as a chainfist seems like a rather unheroic weapon for such a centre piece character — in a box geared towards universal usefulness, this seems like the strangest possible place to go for individual characteristics… It seems like a relic blade of some sort would have been a cooler option. Maybe it’s the fact that the confined nature of the Underground Wars at Calth would make a chainfist the more sound option…?
All in all, however, I rather like the captain. He’s quite a beast, and more interesting to look at than GW’s plastic Terminator Captain for 40k. I think the model will not only make for an excellent Praetor, but also for a great Chaptermaster in 40k. Nice job!
Kurtha Sedd / Legion Chaplain
We also get a praetor variant in regular power armour — a chaplain to be exact (although it would certainly be easy enough to turn him into something else). First things first, this model doesn’t really look like a Word Bearers chaplain to me: This is probably the one model hurt most by the decision to have the contents of the box look as generic as they do, because while this guy may make for a decent Chaplain for just about every legion, he just seems too clean and uncluttered for a Word Bearer
I also really hate the top of that crozius, because it’s too clunky by far and looks like the designer ran out of ideas at the last possible moment.
Apart from that, the model also has some elements that I really like: The decoration of the armour is very nice, especially given the fact that all the other suits of Mk 4 armour in the set remain woefully unadorned. I also like the advancing pose and the cape. And it’s nice that the model should be flexible enough to allow for head and weapon swaps without a hitch, in spite of being a snapfit assembly.
All in all, it’s a pretty nice character model, although I think Captain Aetheon comes out slightly on top. But that’s just a matter of personal taste.
So, those are the models we get in the box — quite a boatload, I must say! And judging by these pictures from the Games Workshop website, they make for a rather impressive combined starter army:
Interestingly enough, the pictures also show that Kurtha Sedd works far better as an Ultramarine, while Aetheon looks great in Word Bearers colours, as pointed out in Wudugast’s aforementioned review of the models.
Another very interesting factor is how buying Forgeworld’s resin versions of the box contents would be much, much more expensive, making Betrayal at Calth terrific value for the money, in any case. And that’s before you consider that there’s also an actual game to be had here (although you will forgive me for not dwelling on this fact — other people do rules far better than me 😉 ).
One last thing I’d like to mention is that I really like the dedicated decal sheet that comes in the box. Sure, it’s pretty tiny, but I like how it seems to have been made with the actual contents of the box in mind, instead of just providing a very stripped down version of a bigger decal sheet. And all those “XIIIs” will be really easy to turn into “XIIs” with a sharp knife 😉
Well, to address the elephant in the room, first and foremost: This is, of course, a box for those hobbyists who already enjoy Space Marines. If you don’t find Astartes all that compelling to begin with, chances are this box is not going to change your mind. For those who do have a modicum of love for GW’s posterboy transhuman killing machines, though, it’s clear that the box provides an enormously versatile toolkit: While the models themselves may not be as exciting and individual as, say, some of the stuff in the Age of Sigmar starter box, the fact that most of the kits are multipart makes this a very interesting purchase, both for 30k and 40k Space Marine aficionados. In fact, the true beauty of this box is that it’ll make both 30k and 40k players happy, allowing you to either start a Horus Heresy force or add some Heresy bling to your 40k Astartes. The lack of unique decoration on the models also makes them equally attractive for all legions and/or successor chapters (with a few possible exceptions, as I’ve said before).
While my own burgeoining Heresy project will be featured in more detail at a later date, let’s focus on one particular model for today. Because I really couldn’t help myself and had to start working on the Contemptor right away:
Like I said, there are a number of problems with the stock model that I felt I needed to address: I wanted to make the pose a bit more interesting, for one. And I really didn’t like the very bland stock head. Oh, and I wanted the model to be recognisable as a World Eater, of course — I hope his doesn’t come as a huge shock to you guys 😉
So here’s my own Contemptor after a few initial changes:
My initial idea was to tweak the pose with some careful cuts. So I cut the model apart at the waist, in order to allow for more articulation. I also added two elements for a suitably World Eater-ly look: an ogre gut plate doubling as the legion badge as well as a skull and chain ensemble from the Age of Sigmar Bloodsecrator model. And I used a shaved-down Defiler facemask as an alternate head.
But I wasn’t quite happy yet, so I also worked a bit on the Kheres arm: Cut between the pauldron and the elbow, and not only can you repose the arm, but this would also be the perfect position for inserting a magnet, I guess. And I wasn’t quite done with the legs, either: I wanted to get rid of the pidgeon-toed look, so I cut the right leg from the pelvis area and glued it back on at a slightly different angle:
It’s a fairly subtle tweak, to be sure, but I think it makes for a far less awkward pose. As for the general idea of reposing the legs, it’s easy enough to separate the legs from the pelvis, and this allows for some essential conversion options, allowing you to get rid of that pidgeon-toed stance. Everything that involves making the legs bend at the knee, however, seems very complicated and hardly worth the trouble: I suppose it might be possible, but you’ll lose either the upper legs or the kneedpads (or both). One possible way would be to carefully cut out the lower legs and use (40k) Dreadnought legs to rebuild the upper legs — they are virtually indistinguishable.
I did go back to change the head at this point, though: I had originally chosen the Defiler mask for its slightly more brutal and original look. But while I was fairly happy with the cleverness of my conversion, the size of the head also made the model look a bit clunkier than it should, as was pointed out to me by several fellow hobbyists. So I did try a different head in the end, going for one of the Cataphractii helmets that came in the same box:
And I have to admit that I do prefer this version, after all: Granted, it’s a bit smaller than a Contemptor head, but it does make for a sleaker, more agile look, don’t you think? Plus it makes the model resemble the “official” FW World Eaters Contemptor.
I’ll still be adding some touches to the model before painting, although I’ll try not to go overboard with the detailing, as some of those smooth surfaces will provide a great occasion to use the more interesting, larger decals from the FW decal sheet. Because I really want to paint this guy in the Heresy-era World Eaters colours after all. I was torn between 30k and 40k for a while there, but decided to make the Contemptor a 30k model because I basically already own a counts-as Contemptor for 40k:
Remember the guy on the right? In case anyone was wondering, the above picture shows that converted Kastelan robots will actually work rather nicely as stand-in Contemptors, at least from a scale perspective! So I guess I’ll be using the conversion made earlier this year as a Contemptor in games of 40k, while the actual Contemptor joins my eventual 30k project — of which more later, like I said 😉
So, what’s the final verdict? I think we have to hand it to GW: Betrayal at Calth will be flying off the shelves. The models in the box are extremely interesting to Space Marine players in 30 and 40k, for one. But there’s also the fact that the box seems to have been designed to whittle down the defenses of those who had yet managed to resist getting in on the Heresy business.
Case in point, I really didn’t want to start a Heresy era army (or warband), save for my Custodes (and those were born from a somewhat different desire). The cost of Forgeworld’s models seemed prohibitive, and the prospect of having to work with that much resin wasn’t very appealing to me. Betrayal at Calth entirely bypasses both concerns, and here I am, joining the fray. I’m feeling a bit like Pavlov’s dog, to be honest… 😉
It is an excellent starter box, though, in spite of its blandness (arguably because of it). It capitalises on GW’s most successful properties, which seems sensible from a business standpoint. It also contains nothing but Space Marines, which may rightfully be a bit of a turnoff for many of you. I am pretty sure the people at GW did the maths beforehand, though…
In any case, it’ll be interesting to see where we go from here: Will Betrayal at Calth merely function as some kind of gateway drug to get people into the 30k setting, while the main bulk of the models will still be sold by FW? Or will GW add to their Horus Heresy plastic kits over time? Will we be getting additional armour marks in plastic? Has that decision even been taken yet? And how does it all work together with the recent announcement of a new Specialist Games devision? Interesting times, indeed!
What is already obvious is how they have set themselves up in a very clever position: Both the Legion Veterans as well as the Cataphractii can (and probably will) be released as their own multipart kits without any further need for additional design or production capacities. And the characters would be easy to release as clamshell characters. So whatever happens, I am pretty sure that Betrayal at Calth will earn back its development cost, even if it remains a standalone piece. Speaking of which, I think the approach of making one-off games to include along with the models seems like a cool idea, and I would actually love GW/FW to do more along those lines and really bring back Adeptus Titanicus, Epic, Necromunda or even Inquisitor. But that will be a story for another day.
Let me wind up this review by mentioning one tiny thing I really liked about the box: The sides of the lower part actually feature the different painted models:
I got such a huge HeroQuest vibe from that, and maybe it’s the kind of detail that shows what we can expect from the new FW Specialist Games division? Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking…
So, what do you make of it all? Are you happy with Betrayal at Calth, or do you merely see this as another money grab? Or both? What do you think about the models? And will you be getting into there Heresy after all? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section!
As always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!