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.