Monday, 8 December 2014

Westwind's Empire Of the Dead - Game Review

High level overview:
Empire of the dead (EotD) is a skirmish game, set in a steampunk universe, expanded to include horror elements such as werewolves and vampires. EotD uses a modified version of the necromunda ruleset published by Games Workshop with some additional mechanics.

Setting is one of EotD's strong points. This is exposed mainly through an enjoyable introductory piece within the core rulebook.
EotD depicts a world set in the late Victorian era, where the discovery of a material known as Infernium has allowed for the development of wondrous inventions - such as mechanical servants known as clickers. This discovery, compounded by general human expansion, has brought formerly fringe groups such as Vampires and Werewolves into action. Action EotD hopes to bring to your tabletop!
Fluff is  EotD's main strong point!
Official Miniatures:
West Wind produce a range of 28mm heroic scale miniatures intended for use with EotD.
These can be grouped into three categories:
  • Starter factions: Vampires, Werewolves, Gentlemen and Brotherhood, who have rules printed in the core rulebook.
  • Secondary factions, who currently have no rules published.
  • Individual characters, most of whom have no published rules.
My vampire gang out in force!
Each faction within the game has a starter box containing 7 or 8 miniatures, consisting of a faction leader, 2 heroes and some henchmen. The Gentlemen, Vampire and Brotherhood factions can be expanded beyond their starter boxes through the purchasing of blisters of henchmen.

Core Game Mechanics:
EotD uses a reskin of the Necromunda ruleset.

  • EotD uses ten sided dice (D10) primarily.
  • Each model within the game has a statline, reflecting their skill at movement, shooting, fighting etc, newly added is a magic stat. Higher stats are better.
  • Each player activates each of their models in turn, choosing to walk, run, charge into Close Combat (CC) or remain stationary. Models that did not run or charge may then shoot or cast spells - models that remained stationary receive a bonus to shooting.
  • After both players have activated all CC is resolved simultaneously. Each combatant rolls a D10 for each attack they have and selects the highest. The player with the higher result rolls each of their attack dice again to attempt to wound the target model. Ties are resolved by comparison of weapon skill (WS)
  • Models that are injured lose wounds until they have none left, at which point they roll on the injury table with varying results.
  • Players may elect to play a series of games forming a campaign; in between games players may spend gold generated by the game on leveling their characters (resolved by rolling on a table) or purchasing additional equipment
  • Players may also spend campaign gold on purchasing influence tokens which can be used in game to generate certain events such as changing day to night or summoning reinforcements such as zombies or angry mobs.
EotD's rules are serviceable, the move to D10 is a good step, as is clearing up the issues regarding what a model can be equipped with and the removal of experience points saves a large amount of post game paperwork. There are some minor negative points such as double handed weapons remaining demonstrably inferior to taking a pair of melee weapons.
Mostly there feels to be something of a missed opportunity to progress the ruleset forward to a greater extent. Melee between characters for example could be much more than just rolling more dice than normal.
The vampire starter box

Support from Creator:
Release Schedule
EotD's release schedule is not publicly listed and does not seem to correspond to any particular time scale. Customers would do well to assume only what is available will be available and not make purchases based on expected releases.

Community interaction
An official forum exists and is linked to from the West Wind site, (free) membership is required to view posts.
West Wind staff post a few times a year on said forum however these posts fall short of keeping the community usefully informed and fail to address key questions raised.
West Wind have neglected to respond to (polite) requests for information that I have emailed directly to them, they did respond promptly to an email relating to the ability to purchase their products.

West Wind do not seem to manage releases in a manner designed to promote EotD.
The game was initially released with the rulebook and starter boxes for the first four factions. The subsequent EotD Requiem kickstarter funded a large expansion of the available models. Only the gentlemen, Police and brotherhood factions, however, received blisters to allow expansion beyond their starter box. A second vampire faction was released allowing vampire players to expand somewhat. Given that campaign play is clearly an intention of the rules having a situation where players cannot expand their gang as it grows over the course of a campaign neatly curtails that element of play.
The back of the box shows some of the models included, the models are shown on scenic bases which are not supplied, less than honest!

EotD is a fun game to play; as a skirmish game most of the fun comes from the scenarios - which the rulebook helpfully provides several of. Creating additional ones and testing them out is a great way to play the game!

Not depicted on the vampire box are the bat swarms, here is one of mine.
Prolonged play:
EotD's simple rules allow for it to scale well with larger numbers of models. This plays into the attached campaign system. The problematic availability of models to expand your collection with, punches several holes into this element however.

EotD is fun to play and has attractive models. My lack of faith in its creator, stemming from a consistent absence of transparency and support, makes me wary of recommending it.
This is especially so, as there is no word, as to if the next book released will supplement or replace the one currently in publication.  I have spoken directly to westwind who confirmed the next book will supplement the current one.

The fact that only the first four factions released have any rules published should be taken into heavy consideration, as if you want to play any of the other factions, you can't!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

West Wind - Empire of the Dead - Raphael - Unboxing and Review

 Raphael arrives in a standard single miniature pack
1 28mm Raphael
1 30mm base
Raphael is cleanly cast. The outer mould lines run along his sides and over his head; the choice to use the 'exaggerated strand style' of hair makes cleaning these away simple. The secondary lines within the empty space between arm and body will be tricky due to the small area. I plan to attempt to clear out this area with a length of course wire.

Raphael has a strange shape, he seems to be modeled after a man with a pot belly holding two of a weapon I have never encountered before, likely because they would be awful.
Tabletop useage:
I believe people who backed the Empire of the dead Kickstarter have rules for using Raphael as a character. These rules have yet to be released to the general public so at time of writing he has no defined rules. If you have suggestions please do include them in the comments.
I intend to use him as a thrall in my vampire force, Westwind have yet to release a blister of thralls, presumably out of fear of their game becoming successful.

Raphael neatly fits into the 28mm heroic scale - as used by games workshop.
Cost per Model:
Raphael has a RRP of £4, this can be reduced to £3.60 by buying from firestorm games. For a single metal miniature this is very competitive.

Raphael is neat miniature at a reasonable price. For a roleplaying character or some other use not directly related to Empire of the Dead he is a great buy. Personally I feel he fits in with the aesthetic that the vampire faction uses well making him a viable thrall. Overall 10 out of 10

Monday, 13 October 2014

Spartan Games Dystopian Legions Codename Iron Scorpion Review + Unboxing

Spartan Games Dystopian Legions Codename Iron Scorpion Review + Unboxing

Iron Scorpion arrives in a large box depicting French and covenant forces. The sticker in the top right indicates the box contains the early order only items listed below.
The back helpfully lists the full content with renders of the included models. The box claims to contain 41 figures.
However this is counting the man operating the heavy machine gun (HMG) and the HMG it's self, as separate models - this is known as lying.

Contents as list:
Softback rulebook, slightly smaller than A4
Codename Iron Scorpion booklet, A5
3 sheets of tokens, A5
2 decks of Tac Cards, 26 cards each, 2 5/8" by 3 5/8"
15 red 6 sided dice
2 Battlefield objectives
Ruined building terrain, 4 laser cut sheets of wood, A?

40, 32mm heroic scale metal figures, in the following configuration:
  1. Republic of France:
    • 8 Legionnaires
    • 1 Legionnaire with HMG
    • 1 Legionnaire with HMG ammo box
    • 6 Armoured Marines
    • 1 Officer
    • 1 Veronique Dubois
  2. Covenant of Antartica
    • 10 Automata robots
    • 1 officer
    • 6 commandos
    • 1 drone controller
    • 3 drone skimmers
    • 1 Monique Dubios
Early order bonus only items:
2 prints, A5
1 War Master Maximillian Schneider

Photos of content:
Tac Cards and dice
 Token sheets 1 and 2
 Token sheet 3
 Iron Scorpion booklet
 Resin battlefield objective markers
 Covenant officer, drone controller, character and commandos,
missing one set of commando arms
 All 5 automata bags
 Automata, missing heads
 Automata, missing legs
French character, officer and marines
French HMG team with bases
French Legionnaires 

Item overview and general comments:
Contained within this set is everything required for two people to start playing Dystopian Legions. The rulebook, as might be expected, contains all of the core game rules and will need to be read by at least one of the players. Intelligently, Spartan do not include the statistics for units within the rulebook; these are provided as free downloads on their website. Conveniently the stats for all the models contained within Codename are included in the codename booklet. This booklet contains a large number of typos and points requiring clarification, at time of writing an updated version can be downloaded from Spartan's website however it still has several issues. If you post your booklets front page to spartan they will dispatch you a replacement, details are on the downloads section of the site, however until they release a fully updated version I don't see this being particularly worthwhile.
Also detailed within the booklet is a series of scenarios intended to allow players to slowly learn the Dystopian legions ruleset.
Update: Spartan have released a second edition of the booklet online that addresses nearly all of the issues located by the fans.

For some reason all of the dice included are red. Dystopian legions uses what it calls a coloured dice mechanic where all dice rolled within the game are indicated to be black blue or red - all of which are six sided. Black dice score a success on a 4+, blue dice score a success on a 4+ with a  6 counting as two successes, red dice are the same as blue but every 6 rolled also allows you to roll an additional dice. Fans of full thrust will recognise this system I'm sure.
With this explained I believe it becomes obvious why only including red dice in the starter box is strange, the previous Dystopian legions starter boxes contained black blue and red dice which was excellent. A clear step backwards.

Codename contains a small force for both the Covenant and French factions. If you plan on playing Dystopian legions beyond the scenarios included in the booklet (If you aren't I don't recommend buying this set at all - buy a board game, Pandemic is good.) you will need to expand outward by buying additional sections from spartan games (32mm scale and the steampunk aesthetic limits the viability of using other companies miniatures). I would expect this additional cost to be at least £100 per army, so if you want to be able to play with both expect to spend another £200, with the cost increasing if you plan to play a large number of games and include things such as tanks.

Component Quality:
My copy of Iron Scorpion was missing 7 components on arrival, I emailed spartan and they are sending me replacements, at time of writing an entire week has passed without delivery.
The provided softback rulebooks is of excellent production quality, the booklet is also produced to a high standard however care will need to be taken with it if it is to survive extended use. I recommend photo copying the statistics pages. The resin battlefield objectives are another high point, spartan are very good at resin and this shows here.
The metal miniatures are nicely detailed however there is a lot of flash to be cleaned off which as they are all multipart results in some fiddly cleaning work. I feel the kit would have benefited from most of the models being single piece as the majority (all of the French models, most of the COA commandos, the drone controller and both characters) gain no poseabilty from being multipart but do have the corresponding increase in difficultly and time to construct. Contrastingly the Covenant commander has separately poseable arms and head attached to a static torso and legs which works nicely, I'm not convinced that isn't accidental.

Instructions Quality:
Codename contains no instructions of any kind, matching up the components provided is made relatively easy by the render of the rear of the box. The French HMG could have done with instructions as it struggles to fit onto the 40mm base provided. I emailed Spartan to ask if this was the correct base and they confirmed that it was, this is odd because all of the previous HMGs came with a 50mm base. I have emailed Spartan to ask for a photo of an assembled version of the model as I am failing to see how to do this neatly. Personally I think there was a packaging mistake and the box should have contained a 50mm base.
Update: Spartan have sent me and others a 50mm base for the French HMG. If you copy is missing a 50mm base send spartan an email.

Comments on Construction:
Being 32mm scale makes the Dystopian models somewhat less fiddly to construct than 28mm models from other ranges. However being made of small metal parts does mean there is a lot of cleanup required. You will need a needle file (a set is better when getting your first I recommend not getting diamond coated as while faster they are harder to use) along with a pair of clippers, at minimum, to achieve a good finish. Always wear a glove on the hand you are holding the model with while working to avoid injury and eye protection is never a bad idea!
Are people interested in a tutorial on building metal miniatures? If so leave a comment and I'll put something together.
This box is not friendly to people inexperienced at model construction, such people should seek help from their local gaming groups.

Codename has an RRP of £90 which is huge for a starter box. 'The outpost' sells it for £72 here. Cost per model is somewhat difficult to calculate as the box contains terrain, TAC cards and a copy of the rulebook. The rulebook retails for £15 while the TAC cards will be £4 per deck taking that out of the cost brings it down to £67. The terrain is more difficult, I feel that what is provided would also probably retail for around £15 which brings the cost down to £52 or  £41.6 with discount. As such the cost per model (assuming 40 models) arrives at £1.30 per model (or near enough £1 with discount) which is excellent for 32mm models.

Reviewing a starter box is difficult as to an extent you're reviewing starting the game at all.  Taken on its own merits Codename has :
Some strong points: extent of content, cost per item
Some weaker points: construction time, proof reading, only red dice, initial cost, rulebook stating the wrong model scale
And some terrible points: lying about the number of models within the box, nefarious preorder campaign, quality control.

To a pair of players who have tried DL and want to start collecting Covenant and French this is a great way to begin their collections.

To a war games veteran the high cost makes me think that the rulebook and playing some games using proxy miniatures would be a better way of beginning your adventure with Dystopian Legions.

To people completely new to war games the high cost, high long term cost of collecting an army and significant lack of new person friendliness that the metal miniatures and quality control issues generate this box would be far down my list of recommendations.

Early order Bonus Items
Because I ordered the box before it was released I received an additional model and two A5 prints. I have included some photos of them below. Personally I despise limited edition models in a general sense. However the usage of this one here was particularly dubious as it was coupled with an extreme lack of information. The box was announced with a text list of contents, picture of the cover art, render of the limited edition model and a very vague statement that the 'first orders' would receive the limited edition model. Essentially this required people to purchase the box without having any real idea as to the content or not receive the limited edition model. I found the entire practice distasteful particularly as when I emailed suppliers, they were able to tell me that I would receive the limited edition model if I ordered from them. Hence spartan had told the suppliers something they weren't telling their customers.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Dystopian Legions Empire of the Blazing Sun - Rocket Corps Section - Review and Unboxing

Dystopian Legions Empire of the Blazing Sun - Rocket Corps Section

The Rocket Corps Section swoop into battle in a medium spartan box!

As normal the back has a detailed render of the included models; very handy for matching the dazzling number of small components contained within.
Each member of the section consists of 5 or 6 individual metal components.
Contents as list:
1 Activation Card
1 Game card
4 rocket corps members

The models are cast in white metal, mold lines are well placed - not the face! Each sculpt is of comparable quality to a single character model in other ranges.
I have to wonder if the wings couldn't have been made from resin however. This would have reduced the weight of the model making them less top heavy and thus less liable to fall over. Despite the large number of parts the models are of a static pose and no optional components are included.

Flying samurai was always going to be an easy sell - the models look great!

Tabletop Usage:
Note: a new rulebook is soon to be released so this is liable to become obsolete.
The rocket corps section are the masters of melee! A full section will tear apart just about anything they can charge, likely only receiving a single casuality in return.
However, with only 4 models the section can easily be reduced in effectiveness by a small amount of shooting and in order to charge it must have line of sight to the target, exposing it to return fire.
One simple tactic is to move the section last in one turn then charge with it as your first action the following turn. Whilst obvious, this tactic is not easy to counter and should limit the amount of fire the section is exposed to - a single activation at most. This is a good tactic in smaller games where the section will be a large percentage of your total force and deploying it to maximum effect is essential.

Cost per model:
The rocket corps section retails with an RRP of £24 this makes each model £6, buying the box from reduces the price to £19.20 and the cost per model to £4.80. For a 32mm scale models of this quality I consider this to be reasonable when compared to other manufactures.

Cost per section:
The rocket corps box contains a complete section.

The rocket corps are impressive models at a reasonable price. Conversely, the lack of any options to customise is off putting in a section that is likely to be the highlight of your army. A total score of 8 out of 10!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Metcalfe Parish Church Review

Metcalfe Parish Church H0/OO scale

 The Metcalfe Church arrives in a slim A4 box

The back of the box shows a close up of the window detail and the extraneous gate.

Comments on Construction
Constructing the church required around 15 hours of effort spaced over several days; a large amount of this time was spent holding components together while they set. I loaded the dishwasher while waiting on one piece - multitasking! If you started this project on Friday evening then I feel you could reasonably expect to finish Sunday evening.
The instructions reference a component that does not appear to exist when detailing how to affix the pointed roof to the tower so be ready for this.
The instructions don't seem to mention the painted strips that go on the inside of the tops of the walls to cover the bare cardboard there, make sure you have attached these before attaching the capping stones.
I do not recommend following their advice and cutting out all the components before starting, this makes them more difficult to keep track of while not saving you any time.

Contents as list:

1 Parish church
1 Gateway 

Component Quality:
The church is made of high quality cardboard sheets combined with a single sheet of plastic. For a cardboard item the quality is very high with clear detail. However this material is not forgiving and while a small number of spares are provided any significant mistake will likely ruin the entire model.

Instructions Quality:
The instructions are provided in english printed onto two small A4 booklets. These start out satisfactorily however as the item progresses they somewhat decrease in quality. As an experienced modeller I didn't have a great deal of trouble following them - apart from when they mentioned a component that didn't exist! They could however have been much clearer and would have benefited greatly from being spread over more pages with a larger number of diagrams showing more detail.
I highly doubt these instructions were tested to any great extent!

From a distance the church looks very nice; on closer inspection there are some points that stand out as being rather poor. The turrets are perhaps the worst of this. The church also lacks much in the way of detailing (one cross on an entire church?) making it look somewhat factory like.

Tabletop Usage:
As terrain, the church's main table top usage is to block line of sight. The model is strong enough to support models standing on it however there is not a great deal of space to do so.

I paid £14 for the church from my local model railway store, online it seems to retail for around £15 delivered - for an item of this size and complexity this is cheaper than most terrain produced by other companies. On the other hand, most other terrain requires far less of an investment of time to construct. For those with the time or who enjoy construction for its own sake the kit represents a bargain. For those attempting to get their collection up and running I feel it would be worth investing more in a quicker to set up alternative.

The church offers the experienced modeller, with time on their hands, the ability to add a large item of terrain to their table top without much in the way of financial investment. It also offers the modeller a project into which hours could be poured adding small adjustments. For an inexperienced modeller or one more interested in having a set of terrain than making one the church offers hours of misery followed by likely disaster resulting in an unappealing mess arriving on the table top - assuming anything arrives at all!  All in all 7 out of 10

Friday, 1 August 2014

Dystopian Legions Kingdom of Britannia Terrier Ironclad - Unboxing, review and assembly instructions

Kingdom of Britannia Terrier Ironclad
The Terrier drives into battle in a large Spartan Box
The back has an accurate render of the model along with some fluff and a detailed listing of the box's content:
The three game cards contained afford the terrier increased durability and a potential to destroy terrain.
Here are the steps I took to assemble the Ironclad; this took me about one and a half hours including time to take photographs and allowing the glue to dry. To follow these instructions you will need: A sharp craft knife, super glue (brush applicator or gel type is best), pin drill and material for pinning. You could replace the pin drill with modeling clay (green stuff) if that is what you have. Thick protective gloves are highly recommended!
Step 1
Remove all of the flash and excess resin with the craft knife; if you aren't sure of something leave it for now. I wear a glove on the hand I am holding the part with while I do this and recommend that you do too! There was some pink mould related material on mine that was a pain to remove; if you encounter this you must remove it. The mould lines on the metal track bits are easier to remove if you use a needle file.
Step 2
I chose to assemble the tracks first. Starting with the metal track bit:

These attach to the end of the track to cover the bald area, if you clean the parts up and press them together there is a good chance they will look like this:
See the gap at the bottom :(
I was expecting this as the same thing happened with the Prussian tank. To fix it, put on thick gloves (I use a pair of gardening gloves, they cost ~£1 from a super market and should be part of everyone's toolbox), now hold the metal track bit between finger and thumb of one hand and gently crush it into a slightly tighter curve; I find it helps to push into the part with the thumb on my other hand at the same time. Pretty much straight away the metal should give a little with a small creak, let go and try it against the resin track - it should fit slightly better.
Repeat this several times and you should achieve:
Now do it all over again for the other side.
Step 3
Before attaching the tracks to the sides, paint the inside areas of the track sections first. 
 Next, I attached the tracks to the body of the tank. This seems simple, just fix the tracks to the sides and done, right?

Except that is about as square as your average orange!
I can think of three ways to adjust this: pinning, modelling clay or basing the tank. If you go with the base option you are going to want to attach the body of the tank to the base as well otherwise your tank is going to break in transport. I chose to pin the model as it is what I am used to and modelling clay takes around 24 hours to set. To use modelling clay: apply liberally to the side of the track and push the parts together, then find some way to hold the tank in the correct position for the next day.
When pinning this model I used one pin for each side, the reasoning is that this allows some freedom of placement if the holes don't align perfectly (Contingency!). As this will be the primary join for the entire model an inch long pin is not excessive.
I first drilled a hole into the side of the body of the tank, I then placed a smaller pin into the hole and applied some paint liberally to the end:
I then fitted the tank track to the tank body, this forced the pin into contact with the track leaving a small spot of paint where I needed to drill the hole in the track!
four carefully positioned holes later and the result was this:
A vast improvement!
Step 4
The hard parts are over now. Next I assembled the sponson guns:
 I held these in place with blue tack while the glue dried. Immediately after are the tack guards; take some time to align them correctly
 Resulting in:
Step 5
Next up was the doors on the top of the bridge. These I found were too small. Too address this I placed a blob of blue tack under them to hold them in place while the glue dried.

 Step 6
Now I glued the bridge to the tank body:
Step 7
 Finally the smoke stacks, barrel and headlights can be glued into place:
 Complete tank:

Contents as list:
1 Ironclad
1 activation card
3 game cards

The terrier is an intricate resin model with detail equalling or beating that of anything else on the market.

I like the terrier and its self propelled gun design, I look forward to both painting it and killing things with it.

Table Top Usage:
Like all Ironclads the Terrier is a complex tactical choice. Armour 4 and a shield generator give the Terrier the ability to shrug off most attacks and a reasonable chance in an ironclad duel, whilst its main gun obliterates infantry. Counter balancing this is the fact that the Terrier is a whopping 60 points, putting it at more than a fully tooled out mainstay section or unit of sky hussars.
To get the best from the Terrier, I think it is important to look at the 'Lethal' Weapon Assigned Rule (WAR) that its main gun has. This means that any attack from the main gun only has to reach the Injury Rating (IR) of a model to kill it rather than the Kill Rating (KR). Against regular infantry who already only have an IR this does nothing, against an expensive veteran unit this doubles the number of models you kill!
A final consideration that applies to all ironclads is that many infantry sections pack both anti ironclad and anti infantry attacks; try to position the terrier such that they can only optimise one of those each turn.

Price per model:
At £45 or £40.50 from FireStormGames or TheTrollTrader The terrier is a large amount of cash to put down at once. It is, however, an impressive centre piece for your army and a finely detailed model. Personally I think the price is fair for what you get.

In conclusion, the terrier is a nice kit. My only suggested improvement would be some optional upgrades. A solid 9 out of 10!