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Review: Dave Taylor’s “Armies & Legions & Hordes”

Posted in Conversions, Pointless ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2019 by krautscientist

Those of you who have read my hobby recap for 2018 might remember the fact that I backed two hobby related Kickstarter projects last year, one of them Dave Taylor’s book “Armies & Legions & Hordes”. If you have been in this hobby for a bit, chances are you’ll be familiar with some of Dave ’s work. The former GW employee has been responsible for a stunning number of rather spectacular army projects over the years – off the top of my head, his completely kitbashed Legio Custodes army, back from the days when absolutely no Custodes models were available, are probably the project that has stayed with me for the longest time. But anyway, and you may consider this a disclaimer of sorts for the review that is to follow: I have been a fan of Dave’s work for years, so his name alone was enough to entice me to follow his Kickstarter campaign that would result in a book about the building and painting of wargaming armies, warbands or collections. The fact that I am also one of the backers of the book also means that I paid for my own review copy, so there’s that, too.

I was really happy when the book arrived about a fortnight ago, and I dug right in. Having spent quite some time with the book and having gone carefully through its contents for several times, I thought I would share my thoughts and observations:

Before we begin, let me mention that I bought the physical book, because having a showcase of Dave’s best work in print was basically the main draw here. A digital edition of “Armies & Legions & Hordes” is also available both in PDF and epub formats, as far as I am aware, but I won’t be able to talk about those.

The Kickstarter edition comes with a rather lovely (and very solid) cardboard protection sleeve

“Armies & Legions & Hordes” is a book about the collection and completion of tabletop wargaming armies and similar projects, and as such it serves as a fairly comprehensive collection of advice on every aspect that goes into the realisation of such projects, from the first spark of inspiration to the actual process of planning, building and painting the army and its models. Dave’s articles on those various steps of a project take us through each of the stages in turn, which makes for helpful and concise reading.

Granted, you will have seen some of this advice before, but it’s great how concisely and comprehensively Dave has collected it in one place here. One thing that I found especially noteworthy  – mostly because it never seems to appear in the articles on army building and painting I have read so far – are real-life factors everybody is familiar with, such as keeping an eye on the actual financial aspects of realising a new army project, taking the weather into account or making sure the people around you are onboard with your devoting a sizeable chunk of your time to The next big hobby project. All of this may seem obvious, but it’s great how Dave keeps stressing the fact that army building and painting doesn’t happen in a vacuum or in some kind of ivory tower of artistic endeavour, but has to be factored into everyday life – and everyday life, in turn, has to be factored into the process of army painting.

The book addresses every step of the army building process in turn.

Another great feature is that Dave actually illustrates the advice he gives with actual examples from the army projects he has worked on, warts and all. It’s all well and good to read GW’s tutorials, but seeing them illustrated with the same ‘Eavy Metal studio armies over and over tends to lessen the impact of the lessons a bit. Dave’s projects, on the other hand, are all beautiful and stunning armies, but they seem “achievable” in the sense that they very much result from his planning and his approach to painting great looking models in a timely fashion.

I would be remiss not to mention the fact that Dave has also enlisted the help of several guest authors (such as veritable army painting machine Mordian7th, for instance) who further explore specific parts of the army building and painting projects. All of this works together very well, and the clean, pleasant layout makes for a great read. Be aware, however, that this is NOT a book of step-by-step painting tutorials: While you’ll definitely be able to pick up a fair amount of neat tricks of the trade here and there, the focus is definitely on the planning, logistics and overall execution of the army building process rather than the step-by-step painting process on each and every model.

So the in-depth advice on how to build and paint armies is one big part of the book. The other, equally important, part – and the one that actually made me purchase the book in the first place – are several in-depth and richly illustrated features on Dave’s various armies and warbands. There’s a healthy chunk of GW models on display here (and if, like Dave, you are a fan of Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts series, the book is basically a must buy, simply because so many armies and characters from the books, such as the Ghosts themselves, the Blood Pact, the Volpone Bluebloods or the Genswick Rifles, make an appearance).

Dave’s Genswick Rifles are one of the armie inspired by the works of Dan Abnett

At the same time, there are also quite a few features on non-GW armies, ranging from Dark Ages to historical tabletop games such as Bolt Action or Flames of War. Of particular note is an article on assembling a warband for the postapocalyptic game system “This Is Not A Test” and scrounging around for models across several product lines and manufacturers.


The non-GW content makes for a nice bit of variety – and for a broader perspective on our hobby. Make no mistake, though, GW-related armies certainly form the biggest part of these features, so your mileage may vary as to how that influences your interest in the book.

The army features are fantastic, however, and what’s especially lovely about them is that they feature lots of juicy photos, accompanied by very insightful commentary about what went into converting and painting the respective armies. This part alone is, in my opinion, well worth the price of admission, as the army features almost serve as a collection of Dave Taylor’s best work. At the same time, it is here where my only two points of criticism come into play:

Dave’s classic Custodes army. I would have loved to see more of these guys!

The first issue is Dave’s Custodes army, the aforementioned tour de fource of kitbashing an entire army, back when no official models were available back in the early 2000s. I was really looking forward to seeing it featured in detail, and learning – during the book’s production process – that the featured Custodes army would actually be Dave’s “reprise” from last year, utilising all of the new GW and Forgeworld models, was a bit disappointing: Make no mistake, the resulting army is looking great – it just doesn’t share the same sense of wild creativity the kitbashed Custodes had. That being said, the original army still gets about one and a half pages of presence in the book, so that’s mostly alright with me – still, I actually feel the inclusion of the original army would have made the book even better, as it would also have served as a great best practice approach to building armies that are very faithful to a setting’s lore while also working around the fact that no official models exist (yet).

The second issue lies with some of the photography: Most of the pictures in the book are really excellent, but there is a bit of a problem with the two-page spreads that show off the featured armies as a whole: Now these shots are all really well staged, with great terrain and composition – however, they are a little fuzzy, making it hard to pick out single models and conversions:

This is certainly not a dealbreaker for me, but it does seem a bit unfortunate. It has to be said, however, that Dave Is very much aware of the problem and is already working on a solution – for the early adopters, this will likely mean that they receive access to Dave’s original, high res pictures in a digital format, which sounds like a sensible solution.

This also touches upon another factor that I think is important here: During the entire planning and production process of the book, Dave was always very upfront with the state of development, provided regular feedback on the state of the book, and the finished product was delivered mostly on schedule, with the exception of a small delay that it seems was basically out of Dave’s hands, though. So I would back another Dave Taylor Kickstarter anytime, because this one definitely delivered on everything that was promised.

Dave’s Blood Pact, easily one of the coolest Chaos Renegade armies in existence

Verdict:

Dave Taylor has managed to collect a rather comprehensive set of advice on army building and painting, has topped it up with lots of drop-dead gorgeous army features and has added great production values to the mix: This book will look great alongside your official GW publications as welll as hardcover army, rule or sourcebooks. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive package, and a swell addition to any hobbyist’s collection, so I am more than happy with my investment and happily consider “Armies & Legions & Hordes” totally worth it!

In short:

Pros

  • very insightful and concise articles on planning, building and painting tabletop armies make for great and helpful reading
  • excellent in-depth army features that also have quite a bit of variety
  • very nice, clean layout
  • excellent paper and printing quality, great production values
  • basically serves as a lovely “Dave Taylor – Collected works

Cons

  • slightly fuzzy army photos
  • could have used more content about Dave’s classic Custodes army

 

Buy this, if…

  • you love looking at fantastic tabletop armies
  • you are a Gaunt’s Ghosts fan
  • you are planning a bigger tabletop wargaming project and could use some help with your process
  • are a fan of Dave Taylor’s work

Don’t buy this, if…

  • You are mainly after learning new painting techniques
  • pictures of tabletop armies bore you
  • you dislike GW armies and settings

For those who have missed the Kickstarter campaign, you can get the book here, for instance.

So much for my thoughts on Dave Taylor’s “Armies & Legions & Hordes”. I hope you’ve found this review helpful! Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments! And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

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Grimdark video games?!

Posted in 40k, Inq28, Inquisitor, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2017 by krautscientist

Hey everyone, something a bit different today — I hope you’ll appreciate the variety, even if it means a lack of new painted models. So what is this about?

It’s very common for hobbyists to talk about their inspiration: Whether it comes down to creating conversions or narratives, most of us will inevitably build on influences and concepts from many different sources, such as film, art, literature or personal experiences from RPG groups. To wit, the entire 40k universe itself is based on so many different influences, and has grown into a massive, unwieldy, eclectic and brilliant mixture of a thousand references, ranging from 80s pop culture to every SciFi and gothic cliché ever.

Today’s post, therefore, will deal with yet another possible source of inspiration when it comes to get a feeling for the kind of narrative that would work in the 40k universe, and the kind of characters that would populate such a narrative. And while I draw lots of my own hobby inspiration from the aforementioned media (with sources as diverse as David Lynch’s Dune adaptation, Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan & Gormenghast and Charles Dickens as some of my favourite influences), today I would like to talk about another possible influence: the wonderful world of video games.

Now some of you may remember that I am a huge video game nerd. It’s a medium that I have been endlessly fascinated with for a very long time now, and it continues to interest aesthetically, narratively and professionally .

I could wax poetical on the many fascinating, obscure or downright grotesque features that turn digital games into such a riveting subject for me, but that’s not really the focus of this blog. So let us rather focus on a couple of games that have influenced my hobby life by inspiring characters, narratives or just a general style in my own hobby work.

Before we begin, however, a disclaimer of sorts: By no means is the following collection of titles and influences an exhaustive collection, nor is it intended to be. It’s also very possible that you know each and every one of those games, so the post could turn out to be old news to you. And finally, to be fair, this post has also been simmering away in the back of my head for quite a while now, so be warned that it may actually have moved away from actual 40k a bit, dealing – at least to some degree – more with games and game series that I find inspiring, period. That being said, if you enjoy 40k and Inquisitor and all that, and if you are interested in visually and/or narratively interesting videogames, the following titles might be worth a look. And who know: Just like me, you may even get an idea for an army, a conversion or an INQ28 retinue out of it. So let’s take a look:

 

I. Legacy of Kain series

It seems weird to me that the Legacy of Kain series seems to have become almost a bit obscure by today’s standards, when it used to be a rather common household name in video game circles – and even a veritable system seller – during the late 90s and early 2000s.

The series’ development history is rather complicated and convoluted, with different developers and teams adding their own perspective to the series, and acclaimed video game writer Amy Hennig (possibly best known for her role on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series these days) ending up with the task of somehow binding it all together into a semi-coherent overarching narrative.

Fascinating as those tribulations are, however, I don’t even want to get into the details here. Suffice it to say that the series started with Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (basically “The Legend of Zelda” with vampires), which was followed by Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (basically “Tomb Raider” with Vampires). The series deals with the vampire Kain and his rise (and fall) in the gothic world of Nosgoth, and it introduced both a pretty interesting cast of characters as well as a very distinct look and feel. Just check out Soul Reaver’s intro movie:

One of the series major narrative arcs deals with the conflict between the – seemingly completely amoral – vampire overlord Kain and his fallen former lieutenant Raziel, turned into a twisted wraith at Kain’s behest and now out for revenge — although things turn out to be much more complicated than that, as the series’ narrative is just about as convoluted as its development history. It can be a bit overdesigned and wordy in places, but it’s well worth checking out for yourself!

So why does the series appear on my list? There’s the very grimdark setting, for one: Nosgoth is a very dark and gothic place, where everything’s gone to hell in a handbasket because the man destined to be the world’s saviour refused the ultimate sacrifice – his own life – electing instead to become a depraved, immortal vampire emperor, ruling a failing empire. If that isn’t grimdark, I don’t know what is.

But there’s more: Kain’s dealings with his vampire lieutenants and their ultimate fates remind me a lot of of 40k’s Daemon Primarchs and Traitor Legions: There’s a gravitas and a sense of lost grace here that should seem very familiar to anyone who likes 30k and 40k. There’s also a fair share of purple prose (and some truly excellent voice acting) to be had, so if you want to get a feeling of what a Chaos Space Marine might feel like after millennia of corruption and simmering regret, the Legacy of Kain series provides some very good inspiration on that account!

After several unsuccessful attempts at reviving the series in recent years, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see another entry. The games available so far still tell a (fairly) complete tale of hybris, revenge and redemption, however, and are well worth your time, provided you are prepared to deal with a bit of technical clunkiness (in the earlier games in particular). The entire series, minus the first Blood Omen, is still available via GOG.com, among others. The games cost about 5,00 Euros a pop, and if the series’ premise interests you, I recommend you just snatch them all up: I played nearly all of them back to back, a couple of years ago, and it really helps to get a grip on the rather complicated storyline. You can also read up on the games on Nosgothic Realm, an incredibly expansive fansite.

II. Primal

Like Legacy of Kain, Primal used to be a fairly high profile release back when it first came out in 2003. A Playstation 2 exclusive developed by Sony’s own Cambridge studio, Primal was a fairly ambitious project with incredible production values for the time. Not all that many people seem to remember it these days, which is a shame, especially since it has some rather interesting connections to Games Workshop — but we’ll be getting there in a minute…

The game’s basic premise seems clichéd enough: Perky goth chic Jen is nearly killed by a daemon who just happened to infiltrate a gig of her boyfriend’s Nu-Metal band (I swear I am not making this up!). With Jen’s boyfriend abducted, she finds herself transported to the fantasy dimension of Oblivion, which consists of four realms. The forces of order and chaos, respectively, seek to establish control over these realms, and Abaddon, Lord of chaos, has come dangerously close to toppling the precarious balance of power.

So it falls to Jen, accompanied by adorable gargoyle helper Scree, to travel to the four realms, learn how to transform into different demon forms and re-establish the balance between chaos and order.

Mechnically speaking, Primal is one of those third person action adventure the early 2000s were so very fond of (think Tomb Raider with less climbing and more character interaction). If that doesn’t sound like much to write home about, it’s important to point out that Primal’s production values, its narrative and its pretty excellent cast take the whole affair into some rather interesting directions, so it’s far more interesting than its rather cookie-cutter premise would led you to believe.

There’s yet another reason why Primal would be interesting for every discerning fan of GW’s various IPs: Travelling the game’s world, you cannot shake a general feeling of …familiarity. Take the game’s four realms, serving as its massive levels, and their respective inhabitants: There’s Solum and the Ferai (totally not slightly more lawful-neutral Khorne-worshipping Beastmen), Aquis and the Undine (totally not victims to some kind of slightly Nurglite plague), Aetha and the Wraith (totally not Slaaneshi vampires) and, finally, Volca and the Djinn (totally not worshippers of Tzeentch). The latter, in particular, seem rather GW-ish in design — to the point where the Djinn would make for excellent Tzeentchian champions or daemon princes, as you can see in this video (starting at 11:40, in case YouTube’s timecode widget refuses to work):

Those similarities are far from coincidental, however, as Primal’s lead artist was none other than Mark Gibbons, one of GW’s most prolific artists and illustrators during the early to mid-90s. You know, the guy who did pieces like this:

Artwork by Mark Gibbons

His touch is very noticeable, and there is more than a little vintage GW in the character designs and artwork as well as the art design in the game proper:

What’s more, while the four realms and their inhabitants clearly recall GW’s chaotic factions, the whole idea of of four discreet realms in the game also somewhat recalls the realms that now appear in Age of Sigmar, even though AoS didn’t come around until fairly recently.

An emulated version of Primal is still available on the PlayStation Store (both for the Playstation 3 and 4), and it’s very much worth the price of admission: It may be trying a bit too hard to be edgy and grownup for today’s standards. and it may not be great literature, but the main characters’ banter makes them genuinely endearing, and the production values are still great, even from a modern perspective. And if nothing else, it’s a fascinating example of Mark Gibbons creating something that should feel more than a little familiar for longtime hobbyists, albeit in a different medium and for a different employer.

III. Dishonored series

This next entry is a far more recent series: If you are even slightly into video games right now, chances are you’ve heard of the Dishonored series. It is also one of my current favourites. And it feels a lot like an Inquisitor campaign every now and then, but maybe that’s just me 😉

Dishonored is set in the Empire of the Isles, a setting that invokes Great Britain (in the first game) and its colonies (in the second game) during the early 19th/early 20th century, albeit with a twist: Much of the Empire’s culture seems oddly familiar, but Dishonored’s world also presents a strange and intriguing clash of fantasy, (steampunk) technology and magic. What’s more, there’s a very particular look and feel to the whole affair, ranging from the – almost painterly -realism of its character design (call me crazy, but there’s more than a bit of New Objectivity to be found in the games’ art design) to the general bleak atmosphere of the world, with decadent nobles scheming and vying for power, as disinfranchised smallfolk suffer under their cruelty. Dishonored’s world is very dark, but also quite fascinating. It poses some interesting moral questions and goes to some rather interesting places with them. The way in which the games explore the morality of nonlethal solutions to many of its problems is just one very poignant example.

From a gameplay perspective, the Dishonored games can be visceral, combat-focused revenge fantasies or elegant stealth games — or anything in between, really, purely based on your preferred way of playing. What’s so mechanically great about the games is how they accomodate your playstyle and choices and make the world adapt accordingly in many interesting ways. Like I said, it’s one of my favourite game series at the moment 😉

As for the series’ position on this list, Dishonored can also feel very Inqusitor/INQ28 at times. It would be easy to imagine Dishonored’s Empire of the Isles as a civilised world within the Imperium of Man, and as the setting for an INQ28 campaign. For instance, whenever I read Apologist’s incredibly cool world building for his “Death of a Rubricist” setting, Dishonored is one of the things I feel acutely remembered of. Plans within schemes are very much at the heart of the series, and if you are into Inquisitor and its particular way of storytelling and world building, you’ll take lots of inspiration away from Dishonored — in fact, the world building alone is basically worth the price of admission!

Dishonored 2_20161120161254

The series consists of two main games (Dishonored and Dishonored 2) and one major spin-off campaign for each of the main games. Dishonored gets “The Knife of Dunwall” as a nearly game-sized DLC, whereas Dishonored 2’s spin-off campaign, “The Death of the Outsider” was recently released as a standalone title. All of the games are available on PC, Playstation 3/4 or Xbox 360/One, and I would very much recommend to check out the entire series, starting with the first title. If you’re even a bit like me, you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny of this truly breathtakingly realised world!

And while we are talking about Dishonored, let’s not forget about…

III.b …the Thief Series

Because I would be remiss not to mention the Thief series, which seems like Dishonored’s spiritual prequel (and a highly acclaimed stealth series in its own right). Thief only makes this particular list by association, it’s true, but the main reason for that is that its world is a fair bit more medieval (and thus less 40k) than Dishonored’s. Even so, fans of INQ28 and/or Mordheim in particular will doubtlessly find a lot to like about Thief’s dark, steampunk-ish world. Just to give you an idea, when I read the description of Queen Mab during the opening chapters of Dan Abnett’s novel Pariah (the first and, alas, to date only entry in the Eisenhorn vs. Ravenor series), I felt instantly reminded of The City from the Thief series.

IV. Resonance of Fate

A strange entry, this one, mostly because Resonance of Fate is a JRPG, with all the baggage and strangeness that entails: Now Japanese role playing games clearly aren’t for everybody, as they tend to have a particular tone and feel, one that is often informed by the peculiarities of Japanese pop culture. Personally speaking, I have a long personal history of playing JRPGs, however, going all the way back to the 8- and 16-bit days, so I can usually stomach, or even appreciate, the weirdness inherent to the genre.

Resonance of Fate is, on the face of it, very Japanese in many ways: It’s an eclectic combination of fantasy, cyberpunk, turn-based battles fought with guns (and almost ridiculous amounts of acrobatics) and classic JRPG tropes. What makes the game a definite candidate for this particular list, however, is its peculiar setting, Basel:

Basel is a multileveld city built around a massive central elevator. It was orginially constructed as a combined retreat for humanity and an atmospheric cleaning device, but it grew and became more complicated and essentially turned into a massive, sprawling city over the  centuries — a veritable Hive city by any other name.


And while Basel may look strange and far different from the hive cities of 40k, the game really does an excellent job of depicting a society that has developed around the basic challenge of living within a massive machine: Towns and villages are wedged into Basel’s open spaces, with giant cogs ticking away in the background. The strata of older cultures and settlements are clearly visible in many places, and most people have clearly forgotten the massive facility’s original use, content to eke out a living among its unknowable mechanisms. The rest of the setting confirms to this basic conceit: Instead of dragons and orcs, you get to fight modern bandits and runaway biological experiments.

Which is all a rather roundabout way of saying that, in spite of its copious amounts of JRPG tropes, Resonance of Fate can almost feel like a Japanese take on Necromunda. Which, in turn, can make it fascinating to check out for a fan of GW’s various 40k-related settings.

When all is said and done, however, Resonance of Fate is still a very Japanese game indeed, with all the tropes and quirkiness that entails. If you can stomach the occasional weirdness (the odd jokes, the dressup meta game, the weird gender stereotypes and the sometimes awkward pacing and dialogue), it’s a fascinating, quirky little game. The following video shows some of the gameplay, and I had an especially strong Necromunda moment starting at 6:26, with the heroes passing through the artifacts of prior civilisations while making their way from Basel’s highest level, the Chandelier, to the lower residential areas:

The fact remains that Resonance of Fate can be a bit of an acquired taste — even moreso, arguably, than mainstream JRPGs like Final Fantasy. You may want to take a look at the game’s prologue below to find out whether the general tone and style is for you:

V. Basically anything by Yasumi Matsuno

Yasumi Matsuno is a fascinating director and author because he stands for a very particular kind of RPG world and storytelling. Instead of fairy tale romps that end with the heroes defeating a mustache twirling demon lord to save the world, Matsuno’s games (and game worlds) are invariably steeped in realpolitik: They always deal with the politics going on in the background, the shady deals and painful sacrifices that keep kingdoms and empires going while creating tragedies for the protagonists. Unlike most roleplaying games, Matsuno’s titles usually don’t put you in the shoes of the idealistic hero saving the world due to sheer spunk and virtue: You just do your best while history – and politics – march on relentlessly in the background. And even if you should end up saving the world, don’t expect anyone’s thanks for it! Chances are, you’ll go down in history as a dangerous heretic…

There are also numerous shout outs to real world history: Tactics Ogre is basically a medieval fantasy version of the Yugoslav Wars. Final Fantasy Tactics (very much Tactics Ogre’s spiritual sequel) is basically the War of the Roses with dragons and Chocobos (it is also one of the finest strategy RPGs ever devised by man).

While all of Matsuno’s games are very much worth checking out, I want to point you towards some titles in particular, starting with Vagrant Story: a strange and darkly beautiful game that is one of my all-time favourites, and maybe Matsuno’s definitive piece of work:

Vagrant Story is a take on Western RPG and dungeon crawler conventions with a fascinating story about different factions trying to get their hands on the dark magics resting within the lost city of Leà Monde.


You’re cast in the role of one Ashley Riot, basically a medieval special ops soldier. Your goal is to infiltrate the lost city, rescue the hostages taken by a religious cult and prevent its members from claiming the city’s dark power for their own. You soon find out that things are far more complicated, however, and that there are more parties interested in Leà Monde and its legacy.

Vagrant Story is known for several things: Its incredible art design. Its dark and mature storytelling. Its punishing take on western roleplaying and dungeon crawling conventions. And, certainly not least of all, its acclaimed English translation by Alexander O. Smith, among others, adding an extra layer to an already incredibly elegant narrative.

I don’t even want to tell you too much about Vagrant Story, because it has to be experienced firsthand. It’s a punishing and darkly mysterious experience. If you enjoy deep, ambiguous tales and thought-provoking narratives, you should check it out. It’s quite a ride, indeed, and it can be had for a song on the PlaystationStore.

One of Yasumi Matsuno’s biggest mainstream games, set in the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, is Final Fantasy XII, a mainline entry in the colossally successful Final Fantasy series.

Like Matsuno’s other games, FF XII is a triumphant exercise in world building, with a setting that seems like it could actually exist somewhere and wouldn’t wink out of existence the moment you switch off your console. Once again, there’s also a lot of background politics at play here, with history’s gears very much in motion while your band of heroes is gallivanting around the world of Ivalice.

It’s a rather interesting subversion of many of Final Fantasy’s classic tropes, as well as a fascinating look at what Matsuno can get up to with a bigger budget — at least partially so, as he had to drop out of the project late into its development. The game is still quite something, though! It’s still widely available on Playstation consoles, with a remastered version (“Final Fantay XII – The Zodiac Age”) released earlier this year.

FINAL FANTASY Ⅻ THE ZODIAC AGE_20170814193800

As for its influence on my 40k hobby, among many other things, let’s just say that I am still looking for a way of creating a 40k-compatible way of incorporating Final Fantasy XII’s Judges into my INQ28 setting…

 

Matsuno’s obvious love for the classic western pen & paper RPG finally came full circle with Crimson Shroud, released in 2012 as a fairly obscure download-only title for the Nintendo 3DS (at least in the west):

In many ways, Crimson Shroud mirrors many of Vagrant Story’s story beats (and much of its general look and feel): A small group of adventurers infiltrates the ruins of a palace in search of the eponymous artifact. There they encounter not only many vicious creatures, but also a dark and tragic story going back centuries. The narrative is both concise and nuanced, especially for a smaller digital release like this.

What makes Crimson Shroud truly captivating, however, are the lenghts to which the game actually emulates classic pen & paper roleplaying — to the point where you throw virtual dice to determine the outcome of most actions in the game and all the characters and monsters are displayed as actual miniatures mounted on their own small bases and placed within diorama-like backgrounds, making the whole thing seem like an actual tabletop roleplaying session.


If that sounds weird, it certainly is, and it’s not exactly easy to pick up and play. But everything that’s fascinating about a Matsuno game – such as the nuanced storytelling and excellent world building – also make an appearance here, creating a sublime narrative experience almost on par with Vagrant Story. Plus the game is a fascinating love letter to western tabletop gaming, as seen through a distinctly Japanese lense.

 

Honorary mention: Incubation

Okay, let’s treat this last game as a bit of an out of competition entry, but I still need to mention Incubation: Released in 1997 as part of the – then pretty successful (at least in Germany) – Battle Isle series, Incubation basically worked as the first really cool squad-based Space Marine game without even being a GW-licensed title.

Incubation probably seems incredibly primitive by modern standards, but back then, it felt like a revelation: I remember loving GW and 40k even back then and hoping they would end up making a game based on their IPs that didn’t suck — but it actually never came to that, at least not back then. But a German developer made a game about vanilla SciFi-troopers (totally not Space Marines) fighting against a slightly weird alien race (totally not the Tyranids), and after playing it, I kept asking myself why GW couldn’t have come up with that kind of game — or at least given the license to these guys…

Funnily enough, Incubation is actually still available as part of the Battle Isle Platinum Pack, but I couldn’t really tell you whether or not it has aged all that gracefully. I will affirm though that it felt like an excellent Space Marine game long before GW themselves got their act together on that front, and that’s enough to be included in this list!

 

So yeah, so much for my – entirely subjective and woefully incomplete – list of video games that have fed into my hobby over the years. I would love to hear your feedback, both on the nature of this post as well as on the actual choices I have made: Was this an interesting subject, in spite of only dealing with the actual hobby in a slightly roundabout way? And did I miss any games that should be included on this list? You are very welcome to contribute your own favourites!

In any case, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

Nordiska Väsen revisited — the Vaettir

Posted in Conversions, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2015 by krautscientist

With Christmas right around the corner, what better subject for today’s post than a slightly heartwarming tale, right? So what is this about?

Nordiska Väsen (1)

I’ve already told you a while ago that hobby luminary and kick-ass illustrator Jeff Vader was awesome enought to send me a copy of his wonderful book “Nordiska Väsen” earlier this year, just one case of the amazing generosity I have witnessed since getting back into the hobby, but one that has stayed with me. To understand why I am so in love with the book, it’s important to know that Briand Froud’s and Alan Lee’s seminal “Faeries” is one of my favourite books of all time: It’s a lavishly illustrated tome describing the Fay folk and collecting various folk tales.

Just one example of the wonderfully evocative artwork appearing in "Faeries" | Illustration by Froud/Lee

Just one example of the wonderfully evocative artwork appearing in “Faeries” | Illustration by Froud/Lee

The artwork is nothing short of spectacular and has provided me with lots and lots of inspiration and edification throughout my life — as well as a nightmare or two.

That changeling sketch is still giving me goosebumps, even after all those years | Illustration by Froud/Lee

That changeling sketch is still giving me goosebumps, even after all those years… | Illustration by Froud/Lee

Jeff’s own “Nordiska Väsen” takes some cues from “Faeries” while putting a decidedly Nordic twist on things. Jeff’s style is also wonderful, mixing elements of Froud’s and Lee’s work with influences that recall, for example, Paul Kidby, another illustrator whose work I really love. Jeff brilliantly renders the various members of the fair folk into fantastic illustrations that fill me with the same amount of wonder I recall from browsing through “Faeries” for the first time.

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

 

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

 

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

 

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Illustration by Johan Egerkrans

Anyway, it’s a wonderful book, and my sole point of criticism is that I cannot understand the textes accompanying all the pretty pictures, since they are all in Swedish. But even the artwork alone is well worth the price of admission in this case!

What’s more, when the book arrived, I was delighted to discover that Jeff had also added a personal dedication for me, and underneath his very kind words was a drawing of yet another brilliant little goblin. This little guy here:

Johan's goblin

And I thought the best possible way to thank Jeff for his awesome gift would be to build a model based on this sketch and send it over to him — which I actually managed to do very shortly before Christmas, I might add. But all in good order:

When building the model, I dug through my bitzbox and tried to come up with a combination of parts that would create a suitable representation of the artwork. I did have to make some allowances here and there, of course, but this is the conversion I ended up with:

Vaettir WIP (2)
Vaettir WIP (3)
When all is said and done, the model’s basically a Skaven clan rat with a gnoblar head and arms spliced together from Empire flagellant and Dark Eldar Kabalite warrior bitz. It seems like a fairly eclectic combination to be sure, yet it went together into a fairly accurate interpretation of Jeff’s sketch. How to build the massive nose was a question that confounded me for quite a while, until I finally shaved down a Skaven spear and grafted it to the little guy’s – already pretty sizeable – schnozzle. And I used some bitz and bobs to create a backpack resembling the one in the sketch:

Vaettir WIP (1)
It’s not a perfect representation of the artwork, by all means. For instance, my little guy seems to be far less jolly than the one created by Jeff Vader. But I think it’s still reasonably close — there seems to be a certain “family resemblance”. Plus building something so different from most standard GW factions turned out to be a rather liberating experience!

When it came to painting the model, I chose predominantly earthen tones and hues that reminded me, once again, of the artwork appearing in “Faeries”. I also tried to emulate Jeff Vader’s own painting style — which turned out to be quite a difficult task, however, seeing how Jeff is a much better painter than me 😉

Anyway, here’s the finished model based on Jeff’s sketch. Take a look:

Vaettir (1)
Vaettir (4)
Vaettir (6)
Vaettir (3)
Vaettir (5)

I am rather happy with the finished piece, even though it’s merely an approximation of Jeff’s artwork. What’s even better, though, is that Jeff also told me he really likes the model! He calls it the “Vaettir”, which I dearly hope is not the Swedish word for “shitty miniature”, although I am too frightened to use Google Translate in order to find out…

Vaettir (7)
Anyway, not only was this a really fun little project, but it also felt like a good way of repaying Jeff for his generosity. At the same time, I am also aware of all the other people who have shared bitz, models or valuable advice with me over the last twelve months and whom I haven’t yet send a model — sorry guys, I know I’m a terrible person! But hang in there, I will get around to all of you, eventually! In fact, I should make it a new year’s resolution! 🙂

So yeah, so much for my little Christmas tale. Let me wish you all a very merry Christmas, and see you soon when it’s once again time for the annual Eternal Hunts Awards. Until then, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

The Vaettir next to the drawing that inspired the model

The Vaettir next to the drawing that inspired the model

From the Warp – a blog sorely missed

Posted in 40k, Conversions, DIY, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by krautscientist

Today I would like to talk about one of my favourite hobby blogs as well as one of my favourite hobby artists. So what is this about?

It has been almost exactly one year since Ron Saikowski last updated his blog, From the Warp, and told the community he was taking some time off from blogging. And even in a hobby scene as full of amazing hobby blogs as this, the absence of new content on FTW is still very keenly felt — at least by me.

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But why? And what was/is so great about FTW in the first place? Allow me to elaborate:

When I got back into the hobby in 2010 after a longer hiatus, I was amazed and cowed in equal parts by the quality of the hobby content that could be found online: While I had been away, it seemed like everyone and their cousin had become expert painters, wielding superior techniques and baffling creativity. The presence of such a treasure trove of hobby related content proved to be equally exciting and intimidating: How was I to get back into all this and hope to build an army that I could truly be proud of? In any case, it seemed like an even more daunting task than it had been during my teens.

And then I discovered FTW, and things started to fall into place.

You see, like many other hobby blogs on the internet, FTW is full of beautifully painted models and valuable hobby advice. But while I love many blogs and read them regularly, no other site has come close to FTW when it comes to actually helping hobbyists, to teach them new stuff and to encourage them to step outside their comfort zone. At the same time, if you are simply in it for the pretty pictures, FTW should be right up your alley: Ron’s style of gritty realism is one of the most effective and elegant approaches I have seen in our hobby. And I’ll just take the liberty to intersperse my ramblings in this post with pictures of some of my favourite models of his — it goes without saying that none of these were built and painted by me. I own none of this stuff. Credit must go to Ron Saikowski.

This Cataphractii Terminator showcases one of Ron's trademark conversion recipes, using cardboard-turned-into-plasticard to transform standard plastic terminators into Pre-Heresy individuals before FW ever released their own versions and before "Cataphractii" was even a word. Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski.

This Cataphractii Terminator showcases one of Ron’s trademark conversion recipes, using cardboard-turned-into-plasticard to transform standard plastic terminators into Pre-Heresy individuals before FW ever released their own versions and before “Cataphractii” was even a word.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski.

It’s hard to pick my favourite part of FTW, as a matter of fact: The stunningly effective, yet surprisingly simple, recipes for achieving certain painting effects? The clean and seamless conversion work? The useful reviews of hobby products (and the mention of possible alternatives) or the insightful commentary about the hobby at large? All of these were reasons for why FTW still seems like such a great blog.

A fantastic converted Astartes chaplain, based on the pose of GW's Gabriel Seth Model.  Model built by Ron Saikowski

A fantastic converted Astartes chaplain, based on the pose of GW’s Gabriel Seth model.
Model built by Ron Saikowski

But at the heart of it all lies Ron’s own approach to matters: When posting on his blog, he was always, in the truest sense of the word, a scholar and a gentlemen: always helpful and willing to explain every step of his work until everyone was content and carefully addressing comments and suggestions made by the readers. And while Ron’s work taught me countless neat things, his posts never seemed like he was trying to lecture people of convert them to the “right” way of doing things in our hobby.  In fact, there has probably never been a nicer, more pleasant blogger in our particular neck of the woods..uh webz 😉

Space Marine Commander on Pre-Heresy jetbike by Ron Saikowski

Ron’s stunningly effective Pre-Heresy jetbike conversion: I have used the same approach to build jetbikes for my small Custodes force.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

Another great thing is that Ron’s recipes and techniques are so great precisely because they can be used by normal people. Now we all enjoy looking at some GD level painting from time to time, but when it comes to getting our armies painted, we are happy enough to find a recipe that works and stick with it. FTW has always been a perfect resource in this respect, featuring countless wonderful painting recipes without the need for twenty extra-thin layers of paint in order to build up a certain hue. No freehanding under a microscope with a paintbrush the width of a horse hair here, but rather a way of doing things that produces awesome results with a modicum of work.

Ron's Alpha Legion recipe is an example of a fairly simple approach that still yields awesome results. Model bult and painted by Ron Saikowski

Ron’s Alpha Legion recipe is an example of a fairly simple approach that still yields awesome results.
Model bult and painted by Ron Saikowski

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Ron remains one of my favourite painters for the reason that his pieces are perfectly realised: Poe described a thing called “Unity of effect”, arguing that all parts of a literary work should work towards the intended effect in an interlocking pattern. And this is very true of Ron’s paintjobs: While there may be painters who can pull of even more amazing stunts when it comes to blending, glazing, freehands or what have you, Ron’s models always look completely realised: All of the different colours and effects work together to create a model that looks like a perfect little slice of the 40k universe. Nothing detracts from the overall effect. The models seem like they could just step down from their bases and lay waste to your desktop. I cannot, for the life of me, think of a more successful way of painting!

The Novamarines' colour scheme always seemed pretty gimmicky to me. But given Ron's "unity of effect" approach, it is transformed into something that seems quite plausible. Model built and Painted by Ron Saikowski

The Novamarines’ colour scheme always seemed pretty gimmicky to me. But given Ron’s “unity of effect” approach, it is transformed into something that seems quite plausible.
Model built and Painted by Ron Saikowski

And while the blog is mostly about Space Marines, not only will non-Astartes players find much to like about the recipes and tutorials featured on FTW, but Ron is also sometimes at his best when he isn’t actually doing Marines. Take a look:

A fantastic DKOK model built using second party bitz. Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A fantastic DKOK model built using second party bitz.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very successful attempt at kitbashing an Eversor Assassin from nothing but plastic parts: This guy inspired me to build my own "Operative Sigma". Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very successful attempt at kitbashing an Eversor Assassin from nothing but plastic parts: This guy inspired me to build my own “Operative Sigma”.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very evocative and "Blanchian" Imperial Mystic, unfortunately Ron's only foray into the wonderful world of INQ28. Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

A very evocative and “Blanchian” Imperial Mystic, unfortunately Ron’s only foray into the wonderful world of INQ28.
Model built and painted by Ron Saikowski

If all of this reads like a gushing love letter to you, that’s because it it: To date, FTW remains one of my favourite hobby resources, and I think it’s a crying shame that it isn’t updated anymore. In fact, I still regularly check whether there are any new updates — just in case…

The good news, though, is that all of the existing amazing content is still there for you to check out and discover. Ron’s tutorials are still every bit as helpful as they were when he first posted them. And the models are still inspiring and beautiful, a testament to effective painting. In fact, I would argue that From the Warp is still one of the most important hobby resources for those active in the hobby or just getting into it, and a priceless treasure trove of hobby knowledge.

Oldies but goldies: Ron's own "Lustwing", an army of Emperor's Children Terminators. Just check out that awesome lord in pre heresy armour! Models built and painted by Ron Saikowski

Oldies but goldies: Ron’s own “Lustwing”, an army of Emperor’s Children Terminators. Just check out the scratchbuilt Pre-Heresy armour!
Models built and painted by Ron Saikowski

So, Ron, if you’re reading this: Thanks for all the amazing work! We owe you big time! And here’s hoping that you’ll eventually get back to updating your blog! And to you readers: FTW should really be part of your regular hobby diet, if only to check out all of the great ideas and tips. So head on over there right now and bookmark that page! And if you’ve been a regular reader of FTW before, well, you know what I am talking about anyway, right?

In closing, while most of the content on FTW is truly amazing, here are a couple of personal favourites of mine that I think you should check out:

Ron’s Pre-Heresy Jetbike conversion

Converting a skull helmet for chaplains or Dark Apostles

Ron’s very own “Lustwing”, a counts as Deathwing force consisting of Emperor’s Children Terminators.

Truly heartwarming: Ron’s Chaos Daemon based on a sketch by his daughter

How to make your Space Marine Captain stand out

His collection of advice on basing is still essential reading for every hobbyist, if you ask me.

So what’s your opinion on FTW? And has anyone been hearing from Ron, perchance? Let me know what you think in the comments!

And, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

A Dark Vengeance Chaplain painted by Ron: One of his most recent models, and possibly my favourite! Model painted by Ron Saikowski

A Dark Vengeance Chaplain painted by Ron: One of his most recent models, and possibly my favourite!
Model painted by Ron Saikowski

Totally worth it: 40k 2nd edition Codex Imperialis and rulebooks

Posted in 40k, Fluff, old stuff, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2013 by krautscientist

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It’s time to take a look at another true classic of my personal hobby life, and today’s contender will most likely have played a role in many people’s formative hobby years. This time on Totally worth it: The Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition Codex Imperialis and rulebooks.

2nd_ed_Codex_Imperialis

My first contact with 40k didn’t happen by way of the rules or the background. It happened by getting glimpses of the miniatures. Ever since getting into the hobby through of HeroQuest and its futuristic counterpart, Space Crusade, I had been in love with GW’s two major settings — although I didn’t even realise back then that those two universes were actually part of a greater whole (and an IP of the same corporate entity): While HeroQuest seemed to me like a hodgepodge of all kinds of Tolkienesque high fantasy tropes (which, in all fairness, it was), Space Crusade looked like a simple remix of HeroQuest…IN SPACE! I already mentioned in passing how the horribly butchered background in the German version of the game did a fantastic job of making sure no one had a chance to realise that it was basically set in the 40k universe (or, indeed, that there was such a thing as a 40k universe).

So it took my good buddy Phil to actually bring me up to speed: He had gotten himself a copy of the then-new 2nd edition 40k starter box, and it was by seeing the models arrayed on the gaming table in his bedroom as well as by getting short glimpses of the rulebooks accompanying the game that I got my first basic impressions of the 40k universe.

Make no mistake, though: Back then, I saw 40k as a mostly straightforward Sci-Fi setting, only with orcs and dwarves and chaos involved. So I will never forget the Saturday morning I spent rolled up in bed, reading through the 40k sourcebooks I had borrowed from Phil to get a grip on the bigger picture behind the game. The experience blew my (much younger) mind, since the setting was actually nothing like I had imagined it:

Where I had expected the usual Sci-Fi tropes of technological progress and towers of glass and marble and the like, I learned of a galaxy in steady decline instead: All the great times had already passed, all the good things already happened, and the whole Imperium of Man was still trying to get to grips with the fallout from an event 10,000 years in the past: The Horus Heresy.

I was shocked by how dark the whole background was. And I couldn’t help but laugh at the audacity of it all at the same time: A universe 40,000 years into the future (just try to actually imagine that for a second, instead of just skimming over it and moving on!). Battleships looking like cathedrals. The Emperor of Mankind sitting on a throne that was nothing more than a glorified life support, trapping a last spark of life in what was, for all intents and purposes, a withered corpse. The brightly coloured, clean-cut Space Marines I had witnessed on the tabletop the result of half-remembered genetic experiments, likely to malfunction and create horrible results as often as not. The “Space Ogres” and “Space Dwarves” were actually mutated humans that had adapted to their new homes in space – the whole thing just couldn’t have been any more over the top and sinister and quirky — but somehow it still worked. And it rocked! Hard!

One of the reasons for that may have been the fact that all the background was accompanied by some of the most disturbing and brilliantly rendered art ever, such as these iconic John Blanche pieces:

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Even though GW’s two main universes may have been a mashup of all kinds of well-established tropes and influences to begin with, 40k succeeded at finding its very own voice: Something between classic Tolkienesque fantasy and the disturbing visuals of the David Lynch version of Dune. Looking back at it now, the Orks and dwarves and chaos warriors using machine guns weren’t even the most interesting thing about the setting in the first place. They were just a point of entry. What I found much more compelling was the Imperium’s neo-Luddite approach towards technology, the promise of technological progress (so omnipresent in the Sci-Fi genre) fractured and broken and twisted into something else. A galaxy-wide Imperium, able to perform technological miracles by today’s standards, but still seeming strangely antiquated and dystopian, like a blend of 1984’s Oceania, Brave New World’s sinister view towards genetics and Victorian design sensibilities — there was nothing quite like it, and I guess there still isn’t.

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After reading these books, I was immediately hooked. It would take years for me to get around to the actual gaming, and even longer to purchase my first own starter box for 40k, but ever since reading through the 2nd edition Codex Imperialis, I have found 40k to be by far the most original and interesting setting in GW’s catalogue.

But the Codex Imperialis wasn’t the only book in the 2nd edition starter box, so let’s take a closer look at each of them in turn:

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Codex Imperalis

I already described most of what I found fascinating about the book, so let’s just mention some interesting details here: The whole book is full of small pieces of additional background, story vignettes or simply “soundbites” from the grimdark future of the 41st millennium. Most of these were written by veteran author Bill King, supposedly, and he did a fantastic job of it: Though pieces of the background may have changed (or disappeared altogether), it’s often the single lines, the quotes out of context, that really breathe life into the scenario.

Oh, and the Codex Imperialis also contains what may be the best piece of World Eaters related art of all time:

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Vintage Mark Gibbons FTW! 😉

 

The Rulebook

Well, I’ve told you often enough that rules are usually a bit of a blind spot for me. What’s more, my actual memories of the 2nd edition rules are as hazy as they are ambiguous: I only ever played one game using them (or rather: a pared down version of the rules that our young minds were able to deal with), and my memories of that game, against Phil, once again, are a bit of a mixed bag: I remember one of his Space Marines picking out my powerful models with a rocket launcher with effortless ease, while my own special weapon spectacularly misfired, wiping out even more of my guys (I got to play Orks, by the way, and that was definitely the short end of the stick in those days). Actually, at one point, my Dreadnought exploded and we had to chart its trajectory by some arcane means as the burning carcass made a few last jumps around the battlefield …killing yet more of my own models. Actually, that’s the main memory I have of the 2nd edition rules: Stuff blowing up in my face. And using strange mathematics and rather clunky mechanisms to precisely calculate how badly I had managed to mess up.

To be fair though, not only was it all a bit too complex for my younger self, but 40k was also still very much tied to the Rogue Trader days back then: The game was basically still a skirmisher in many ways, its system becoming more and more idiosyncratic and clunky as army sizes and unit complexities grew.

But the magic wasn’t in the somewhat obfuscating rules for me (not unlike today, come to think of it): I was drawn in by the dark and quirky setting, by the artwork and by what remains, to my mind, one of the most iconic colour sections of all time:

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I cannot tell you how many of our school breaks we spent poring over those pictures, marveling at the fantastic models and their equally fantastic paintjobs — little did we know that both better sculpts and better painting would be available one day. Still: Good times!

 

Warhammer 40,000: Wargear

Having an own book for weapons and pieces of equipment may seem quite luxurious today, but 2nd edition 40k pulled it off in style: The wargear compendium features detailed descriptions of each weapon, both in relation to its background in the fluff and its actual rules on the table. Most weapons also got an accompanying piece of artwork, which is definitely a nice touch! Still, filling a whole book with this stuff was (and still is) pure madness, of course. But even so, it’s nice to be able to find out what sound a Meltagun makes (answer: pretty much none at all, except for an unimpressive hissing, it’s the target blowing up that makes the sound) or to marvel at the fact that, back then, pretty much every alien race in the galaxy was using trusty Lasguns and Bolters along with the Imperium’s finest.

Like the other books, this one also featured little vignettes of background, among them a fascinating short story about one Brother Captain Karlsen (of the Thousand Sons traitor legion), exploring what it must be like to have lived for ten millennia and the havocs such a lengthy lifetime would wreak upon even a superhuman mind. Fun fact: Brother Captain Karlsen actually appeared in the 6th edition rulebook! What a nice shout out!

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Warhammer 40,000: Army Lists:

To tell you the truth, I never actually got a look at this. The book, also known as “The Black Codex”, as far as I know, supposedly contained army lists for the different factions in 40k along with the point costs, which probably made it super important back then and highly superfluous now. Moving on…

 

War for Armageddon Scenario Book

A thin black and white book containing some beginner missions designed to get people into the game, set against the background of the Second War for Armageddon. It’s mostly the usual beginner scenario fare, so let me point out the most interesting fact about the book (to me at least): It features one of my favourite depictions of the Emperor of Mankind during the days of the Great Crusade:

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I really love this piece, clunky Space Marine design notwithstanding, since it shows the Emperor as more of a fighting man among his troops and less of a demigod in totally blinged out armour, pointing his huge sword everywhere. It also looks like the Emperor actually isn’t twice as tall as his Space Marines, which makes much more sense than some of the more recent depictions, in my opinion.

Anyway, when Phil sold me the remains of his 40k starter box some time during the early 2000s, it was missing the Codex Imperialis as well as the “Black Codex”. While the latter did not seem like too much of a loss, I had such fond memories of the former that I got a replacement for the former off ebay for a song, and I still think it was a great, maybe even an essential, purchase.

In fact, if you ever get the chance to pick these up for a good price, go for it! Some of the background may have been retconned, some of the artwork may be quirky, the rules are no longer viable, but the books are, of course, still totally worth it. And at least in my case, this is where the magic started!

 

Do you have your own memories of the 2nd edition books (or indeed of the game proper)? If so, I’d be happy to hear them in the comments section!

In any case, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

Totally worth it: Warzone

Posted in Conversions, old stuff, paintjob, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2013 by krautscientist

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In the last installment of Totally Worth It, I talked about a pretty well recognised classic: The Inquisitor Rulebook. But this series would be extraordinarily boring if it only dealt with well-known stuff, so for today I have chosen something a bit more obscure: A game that went under without ever making that much of a splash, but also a release totally worth checking out: The Warzone 2nd edition starter box.

Image appears courtesy of Prince August

Image appears courtesy of Prince August

In case you don’t know the game, don’t fret: It was released by the Swedish Company Target Games some time during the 90s in an attempt to challenge GW’s dominance over the wargaming market. In those days, however, it was usually not as widely available as GW’s systems: I remember discovering a catalogue of Target Games releases at my local FLGS in the late 90s and quite liking some of the designs, but ordering stuff in those dark days (before the internet made sure everything was always just one click away) was an arcane and hazardous business at the best of times, so I never persevered. Then, a couple of years ago, a couple of conversions started cropping up on the forums, with people using their old Warzone starter box minis to bulk out the ranks of their Imperial Guard or Lost and the Damned traitor armies. And I immediately recalled that I had rather liked those designs all those years ago. So when I had the chance to pick up a whole Warzone starter box on ebay for a song, I went for it and was pleasantly surprised.

But enough about me, let’s cut to the chase: Warzone is set in the Mutant Chronicles universe, where a number of Megacorporations originating on good old Earth are continually duking it out all over the galaxy: Hostile takeovers here are indeed a rather bloody affair, with the necessary paperwork usually only signed after the fact. The corporations also heavily draw on a number of national stereotypes, which is pretty evident by their names alone: Imperial (totally not the UK), Capitol (totally not the USA), Bauhaus (totally not Imperial Germany, with the rest of 19th century continental Europe thrown into the mix for flavour), Mishima (totally not Edo-period Japan), and Cybertronic (totally not, well, Microsoft, I guess…). Oh, and there’s also a church state (totally not Christianity) and the four Dark Apostles (totally not GW’s chaos gods) and their followers. In short, the whole background is just as much of a glorious trainwreck as the 40k lore of old, and I really think the Chaos-God-expies are a bit superfluous, but the whole Megacorporation angle and the way the associated tropes are used still seem rather interesting and original today.

The background is (rather briefly) detailed in the accompanying three books: one for the background itself, one for the rules and one for the army lists (the latter has all the army lists for all the factions, by the way). While the books are partly suffering from a pretty angular 90s layout, they are chock-full of great artwork (from artists like Paul Bonner, comic book prodigy Simon Bisley and others) and lots and lots of nicely photographed models.

Speaking of the models, there’s a decidedly WWI-ish feel to the whole thing from an aesthetic standpoint: The Imperial soldiers even come with Brodie helmets, and no Bauhaus soldier could ever be complete without his trusty “Pickelhaube”.

With the starter box, you get 40 soldiers of the Bauhaus and Imperial corporations, respectively. The plastic models were designed by Bob Naismith, one of the “fathers” of the original Space Marines, and it shows: In short, I would go so far as to say that the starter box minis may very well be the best models released for Warzone. Let’s take a look:

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This is a regular Imperial infantryman. I painted him in suitably muddy colours and added an IG decal for good measure.

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And here’s an Imperial heavy weapon’s expert after I gave him the same treatment.

And finally, an Imperial officer:

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In this case, I added red as a spot colour on the officer’s cap and left shoulderpad.

And here’s all three of them together:

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And here’s an officer from the other faction, Bauhaus:

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Warzone Minis (12)
Of course I chose a very different recipe for painting him, but I think it works rather well. And you may call me crazy, but I rather think that the flowing lines of the shoulder armour are very reminiscent of the Volkswagen Beetle. I wonder if this was a deliberate choice…

I have to tell you I really like these guys. They are pretty great starter minis, and they sport a decidedly distinct look. Granted, with only three poses per faction, there may be a pronounced lack of variety, but keep in mind that it’s the 90s we are talking about here. Let’s take a look at GW’s 2nd edition starter box minis from the same time:

2nd edition Blood Angel, painted approximately 15 years ago by my good buddy Phil

2nd edition Blood Angel, painted approximately 15 years ago by my good buddy Phil

2nd edition Ork Boy, painted approximately 15 years ago by my good buddy Phil

2nd edition Ork Boy, painted approximately 15 years ago by my good buddy Phil

While the Ork Boy is still rather charming in a corny retro-way, both models are certainly nothing to write home about. I think we can all agree that Warzone’s starter minis are spitting on the second edition 40k minis from a very tall height.

My one gripe with these guys is that not only are they rather fiddly to put together, but the plastic these were made also comes straight from hell, which makes removing moldlines and gluing them together more of an adventure than it should be. Still, the designs are really great, in my opinion, and still hold up rather nicely today.

Unfortunately, the rest of the catalogue didn’t necessarily fare as well: Target Games employed lots of different designers, resulting in a very uneven level of quality: Some of the metal Warzone minis are simply gorgeous (having been designed by people like Werner Klocke), while others are looking terribly clunky, failing to capture the pretty great artwork they are based on. It also seems like some of the models were designed at the heroic 28mm scale, while others are far more realistically proportioned. And some of this stuff is simply very goofy looking (Mishima’s dragon landspeeder or the majority of the Dark Apostle’s forces come to mind…). But still, the books and models that come with the starter box are rather nice, and definitely great value for a starter box from that time.

So what about the game itself? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you with any measure of reliability: I am not a rules guy, especially not when the game in question has been dead for close to 15 years. At a glance, it looks like the rules were reasonably similar to 2nd edition 40k, although with a more skirmish-like approach. There is a number of differences and smart ideas, but ultimately the game seems fairly similar to its direct competitor.

Unfortunately, very shortly after the release of Warzone’s 2nd edition, the 3rd edition of Wathammer 40k hit tabletops everywhere: With a radically streamlined ruleset and the spectacular multipart plastic Space Marines in the starter box, GW left the competition in the dust. Target Games also tried to challenge GW yet again with its own fantasy wargame called “Chronopia”, with quite similar results (as an interesting aside, though, some of those Chronopia models rather look like early design studies for Warmachine, in my opinion…): GW simply seemed invincible in the late 90s.

So what to make of it all?

In any case, the Warzone starter box is an artifact from an interesting era of tabletop wargaming: Target Games dared to challenge GW, and though they may have failed in this, you have to admire their ambition! What’s more, the minis from the box still holf up rather nicely, and are a great way of getting your hands on some cheap alternative IG models: I could see these being used as an alternative for the Death Korps of Krieg, and DRommel did some very nice Savlar Chem Dogs based on Imperial soldiers. Then there’s the option of using them as chaos cultists, Planetary Defense forces, alternative Arbites, Inquisition troops or simply as NPCs in games of Inquisitor 28 or Necromunda. And if all else fails, you can always use them to pull off stunts like this one:

Converted Traitor commissar using a Warzone Imperial officer's head

Converted Traitor commissar using a Warzone Imperial officer’s head

The game, huge bags of the plastic starter models and the remainder of the old metal models can still be had for a song over at Prince August, who picked up the rights to Target Games’ wargames. So I encourage you to take a look. Especially at this price, Warzone may very well be totally worth it, if only for conversion fodder or to satisfy your curiosity RE: “wargaming history…”

Do you have any experiences with the Warzone minis, or maybe even with playing the game? Let me know in the comments section!

In any case, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!

Totally worth it: The Inquisitor Rulebook

Posted in 40k, Fluff, Inq28, Inquisitor, old stuff, Pointless ramblings, Totally worth it with tags , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2012 by krautscientist

Well, I’ve been meaning to kick off this series for ages, and now it’s finally time! So welcome, dear reader, to Totally worth it, where I share my opinions on rightly remembered classics, undeservedly forgotten almost-greats or just the odd tale about my personal hobby socialisation.

Today’s subject was pretty much a no-brainer, though. This time on Totally worth it: The Inquisitor Rulebook.

image appears courtesy of Games Workshop

Let me start by saying that something like Inquisitor was, at least for me, totally unprecedented at the time of its release.

To understand what made Inquisitor so special, let’s take a look at the somewhat “lopsided” 40k narrative in the early-to-mid 90s: Fascinating as the 40k universe may have been for yound tabletop geeks like us, you couldn’t help but wonder what actually living in this world would look like: Sure, there was the endless war and the huge armies clashing all the time, each with their discreet backgrounds, but at times, it really didn’t feel like a lived-in universe, but rather like something that was only there to provide a backdrop for tabletop battles and winked out of existence as soon as the battle was done — which, in all fairness, was probably the truth of it. It would still take a couple of years for authors like Dan Abnett to flesh out everyday life in the Imperium of Man. So we didn’t have all that much to work with.

But then Inquisitor came along, and suddenly it was possible to imagine the Imperium of Man on a day to day basis. For Inquisitor is not a game of sweeping battles with thousands of soldiers: As the caption on the cover on the rulebook states, Inquisitor is about the Battle for the Emperor’s Soul, a shadow war waged in the darker corners of the Imperium, in the places in between.

And the world between the cracks is often far more interesting: Inquisitor’s narrative is populated by countless strange and fascinating archetypes, and the rulebook does a fantastic job of fleshing out some of these, while giving the hobbyist just enough information on some of the others to motivate him to get creative himself. Anyone browsing through the Inquisitor rulebook will quickly notice the wealth of narrative potential, with lots of little snippets of background and lore to pick up on.

All of this is supported by the book’s great design and production values: From the lavishly illustrated pages to the barcode on the back in the shape of an =][= symbol, the book just oozes style. And while we are on the subject of the artwork: This is where Inquisitor truly shines! All of the character archetypes are accompanied by a wealth of artwork, and even some of the more outlandish character concepts get their own illustrations courtesy of the great John Blanche, who really goes to town on some of the archetypes. I realise that his artwork can be a bit of an acquired taste for some, while others are prepared to state flat out that they don’t like it, period. Make no mistake, however: The man has shaped the 40k universe into what it is today and provided the most compelling and truly original parts of its aesthetics: The gothic madness, the fusion of man, machine and strangely religious iconography.

The Inquisitor rulebook brings us a game firmly set in a world that (RT days aside) had previously only ever been hinted at in the background of 40k artwork. So in case you ever wondered what the story behind those strange cherubim, robed figures and demented creatures lingering in the background was, Inquisitor provides the answers you seek – or at least gives you some rather unsettling ideas. Always remember, though, that everything you have been told is a lie!

Towards this end, Inquisitor is not just a game system, but a veritable treasure trove of concepts and ideas. There is much talk of the “old” versus the “new” GW, and I usually tend to find such arguments rather tedious – there’s always more than one side to things, for one, and the same, evil capitalist structures transforming GW into the devil incarnate for some hobbyists have also brought us a slew of fantastic and versatile hobby materials that the “old” GW could never have put out on this scale. Plus there have been some marked changes in GW’s policies of late (the new WD, 40k’s return to a much more narrative-driven game) that fill me with a certain optimism.

But if there was something the “old” GW was great at, it was putting out whimsical projects like Inquisitor, games that seem to be saying “This rocks! Let’s just do this” at every turn, and  where the authors’ and artists’ passion is plain to see on every page: It is very obvious that Inquisitor was a project that Gav Thorpe and John Blanche where very much in love with — and it shows! What’s more, Inquisitor is so great precisely because it does not try its damnedest to appeal to everyone and their cousin. And it is entirely possible to play the game without ever using a single Space Marine – gasp!

Of course, Inquisitor is just as fascinating from a marketing standpoint: GW introduced an entirely new scale for the game, and Inquisitor is markedly different in tone and execution from 40k proper. All of this begs the question: Did the game ever make a lick of sense from a business perspective? And would it have fared differently, in the long run, if it had been conceived to work with GW’s well-established 28mm scale in the first place? One can only wonder…

In any case, GW later tried to capture some of what was great about Inquisitor with the codex releases for Daemonhunters and Witchhunters, porting (or rather: reintroducing) the eclectic and slightly  demented aesthetics to 40k proper. The respective army books are quite fascinating, as are many of the models released alongside them. Alas, it didn’t last: The  Inquisition today seems to be defined by Codex: Grey Knights more often than not, while the Witchhunters seem to have been let slip under the carpet in the (rather slipshod) Codex: Adeptus Sororitas. In general, it seems that the gothic horror angle has been somewhat pared back in GW’s materials for a couple of years, though the new 40k rulebook shows a certain return to form: Will future releases bring back some of the spirit of Inquisitor, even in regular 40k? I, for one, certainly hope so!

In any case, Inquisitor as a game at both ranges is still going strong, being kept alive by places like the Conclave, the Ammobunker or Dakka and by people like Commissar Molotov, PDH, Jakob Nielsen,  the Spiky Rat Pack and migsula, to name just a few. And there are lots and lots of fantastic scenarios, character concepts and fanmade sourcebooks for you to discover (most of them at the places I mentioned above). The Inquisitor Rulebook, then, is really just a point of entry to a fascinating hobby world! In case you are interested, my own exploits in this strange and fascinating universe have been collected for your viewing pleasure right here.

Now whether this post has made you curious and you want to delve into this thrilling and demented world yourself, or you’re just a fan of reading everything about the 40k universe in order to give your games more context, the Inquisitor Rulebook is, of course, totally worth it. And the best thing: A digital version of it can be freely downloaded from the GW website here. Still, the original print version is also very much worth tracking down: It’s a beautiful book, and the extra colour pages detail the creation and painting process for GW’s own 54mm miniatures (as an aside, it is very interesting to see how the ideas behind the defining features of the original Eisenhorn model are completely different from the explanations that later appeared in the novels…) and feature some very interesting conversion ideas. In any case, I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

Want to share any insights or remarks about Inquisitor and the rulebook? I’d be more than happy to read from you in the comments section!

In any case, as always, thanks for looking and stay tuned for more!