Monday, 20 July 2015

Space Wolf: Mobile Game Review


There have been a few interesting game announcements lately, GW have a rather lucrative licence and the medium of video games gives an excellent opportunity to bring the worlds of the 41st millennium to life.  Rumblings of Dawn of War III abound, There are Space Hulk games in the works and a new Sandbox action adventure RPG has been announced; Inquisitor Martyr.

On top of this we have the mobile and tablet games. The Latest of these is Deathwatch, but i'll not be reviewing that game here as it is available on IOS only at this point. However, another game that I have been waiting for to be converted has finally made an appearance on Android platforms and that is Space Wolf.  In the meantime I did try Horus Heresy Drop Assault and found it horrifically cumbersome on a mobile phone and horribly biased to the micro transaction format, i may pick it up again, I may not, but I deleted it after about ten minutes so do not feel qualified to deliver an objective opinion on it.

I have however been getting stuck in properly with Russ's finest. Space Wolf is a grid based tactical combat game where you use cards to control your characters. You can buy more cards and resources to make the game easier or you can try to earn the rewards yourself. Unlike Carnage the game is free to download. This is a very good thing as I think I would find it hard to recommend otherwise. It is another of those games that require constant net connection however so time will tell the impact it has on my data usage. 

So I picked it up and started playing through the early missions which incorporate the tutorial. Straight away I was quite impressed and having a lot of fun, partly in thanks to the hidden tactical depth within, You move, and attack using one of a deck of cards, each card costs a certain amount of effort to play, with heavy and special weapons costing more than a basic shot or move card. You can use ANY card to move, so if you don't have any movement cards in your hand at that moment you aren't just stuck there. The amount of effort you have accrued in your turn then effects how long before you activate again with lower effort characters moving first. Therefore there can be a distinct advantage in ending your turn after playing just one of your two allowed cards. Once you get to the stage where you are controlling multiple characters this can be critically important. 

There are also chain cards, these are cards that play automatically when you meet certain criteria. For example an Ambush card can be used as a normal movement card but if you leave it in your hand and attack a target at least 4 cells away, it will play itself and grant a  bonus to your attack. Careful utilisation of these cards can make all the difference between victory and defeat. Facing is also critically important and you will choose your facing after each move. Get it wrong and you may well be in a world of hurt. Another really cool element is as you take damage you build rage, Get enough Rage and you fire a super shot including really cool X-ray cinematic. 

The levels are not particularly large, although they do get bigger as the campaign proceeds. This is a good thing as the game is pretty slow in pace with each battle taking quite a while to play through. Thankfully the game supports a particularly robust saving mechanism and you can exit a game and return to exactly the same point. This is particularly welcome given the large amount of bugs that you will encounter, and sadly i'm not talking Tyranids. The game crashes frequently, grinding to a halt sooner or later in a session, and although it marred my enjoyment only a little it was frustrating. Not as frustrating as if my progress to that point had not been saved though. 

As you progress through the game you will level up gaining more attack power and health, there are optional objectives to achieve in each mission of varying difficulty and some will need to be reattempted after you have leveled up a few times. Speaking of leveling up, you level automatically but have to pay for your upgrades with coins. I am now level five but only have the level two upgrade as I have not the coins to unlock more. this also applies to your squad mates who level up separately! At the rate coins are earned (very seldom) I cant see myself ever getting a fully upgraded squad as  I used quite a lot of coins just to unlock Scout armour, (Sniper Rifles are deadly!) Of course you can buy the coins to unlock stuff but i'm not playing that game and i'm a little put out that the game pushes you that way as coins are somewhat hard to come by. I am currently saving to get Terminator armour (another 5,000 coins)

Still as long as the game is fun to play I don't mind taking the long way round to get the coins needed as long as they do eventually come. Sadly the game does have other ways to punish you in an attempt to get your cash. If you die in game you can resurrect (often the only viable option unless you want to start from scratch) but this will cost you a life rune of which you only have three - don't worry you can always buy more!! The game is also pretty tough, especially in the later stages and it is impossible to get through some missions with an unscathed trio of marines. Once injured you have to wait for your squad members to heal unless you - you guessed it-  pay to get them back straight away. In fairness this only effects your two additional squad members not the main character and you can swap them out for alternatives unless they are wounded too. 

so aside from the slightly frustrating microtransaction strategy which is a common part of all free to play games these days, you can just buy packs that are offered at random seemingly after certain missions. I bought one for the review, it was 69 pence and i got some nice cards and a few coins for it. I didn't feel particularly ripped off but I can see how it could get expensive for some people with a somewhat compulsive nature. 

Elsewhere the game certainly feels right for the most part. The weapons all act more or less like they should even if it is somewhat jarring when your character suddenly turns into a devastator marine toting a lascannon. As I mentioned you can also unlock scout armour and terminator armour for an extortionate amount of coins each, and each of these has its own deck of cards and plays differently offering a different tactical approach. Mixing between these different armour types can be key to your success as well and thankfully as you are playing Space wolves it doesn't feel odd to have the same character switching between the armour types. I'd like to think the developer chose this chapter intentionally but who knows?

You can also tailor your decks in between missions, this is something i haven't got too involved with yet but is something i should do as the difficulty is ramping up significantly. (teleporting chaos sorcerers are NOT fun) There is also an in depth crafting system but again as of yet i have not explored this too much, you can basically create master crafted weapons using engineer runes (another purchasable commodity i have no doubt) to guarantee success.

At this stage i have played to the end of the first campaign. You can replay earlier levels to try to achieve the additional objectives but elsewhere there seems to be little reward for replaying though you can plunder a single crate per level for a mastercrafted weapon. there appear to be another two campaigns to play through with another currently being developed so there is at least a fair bit of play ahead as each campaign is comprised of 6-7 missions.  Whether or not i will have the drive to complete them all before the punishing difficulty leaves me with no option but to pay to win or just accept defeat is another matter. 

Enemies wise it is strictly the scions of Chaos, with Word Bearer Space marines being the main foe and cultists showing up a bit later, sadly the cultists are not markedly easier to kill than the marines which feel a little odd, their autoguns pack a surprising punch too. Them aside the only other foe I have come across thus far is the aforementioned bastard Chaos sorcerer. There is a decided lack of narrative to the story and the presentation is minimal, though it by no means looks poor graphically. 

I have had a fair amount of fun mixed with a little frustration when playing Space Wolf thus far, I've no doubt that if you throw money at the game you will have a much easier and more enjoyable time of it. However even without splashing out I have enjoyed my time with the game and its challenge. I would have liked to have seen variable difficulty levels and the ability to undo move cards or at least facings, as a move will all too often trigger an surprise ambush leaving you exposed to a brutal attack from which you have no defense. That aside the only real bugbear i can recall from the game is remembering the ranges of all the weapons before committing yourself to moves.

Another element of the game that i have not yet explored is the PVP multiplayer element, in my experience this will purely degenerate into a case of whoever paid the most will win. I'll likely have a dabble at some point but given the length of the solo games it seems like it will be undue effort. Plus I hate people. 

Overall, its free so is worth at least a download. There is a lot of tactical depth and challenge involved and if you are prepared to put the time in it can be very rewarding. If you are after a casual game you can pick up and play for five minutes for a quick action fix you may wish to look elsewhere. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

AVP: The Hunt Begins boxed game review.

It's hard to believe that nearly 2 years have passed since I backed the Prodos Games Kickstarter AVP: The Hunt Begins, an ambitious project that was to be both boardgame and tabletop wargame featuring the vast majority of the characters from  the Aliens and the Predator Films and even a few of the computer games. It was something the fans of both franchises have been waiting for for some time. I myself pledged for a full army of each faction and multiple copies of the boxed game along with a load of Battle Systems excellent Sci Fi terrain (which delivered a full half a year ago). It was a massive license and should have been one of the biggest gaming Kickstarter campaigns on record given the scope. The bug hunt to end all bug hunts.

The models we were tempted with

Unfortunately it wasn't, due partly to Prodos' bizarre reticence to interact and answer backer queries and a lack of hard and fast facts or allaying of peoples concerns, the Kickstarter underperformed.With just over 2000 backers Prodos did not even gain the numbers to satisfy the minimum production run for the Resin 'backers only' special Kickstarter edition of the boxed game. Thus the exclusive version was made available to all whereas originally the retail version was to be plastic with only backers receiving resin.

The actual game ended up being fair superior to this mock up in all honesty

This would be but the first in a series of concessions, delays and set backs in the delivery of the campaign, which included at one stage the deleting of the Kickstarter page and near total silence for many months from Prodos. Delays were blamed on Fox and the licensing process and the project floated in a frustrating limbo for an age, Nonetheless the finished product has finally been produced by Prodos which is much more than i can say for another project i backed which is looking like a Total (Extinction) loss.

Now i could easily pen an entire article (or perhaps even a series) on Prodos's failings as a company over the course of this campaign. Their customer service, attitude, transparency, integrity and dare I say competency has been called into question more than once over the last year or so. Damage control measures were implemented but it is safe to say that the vast majority of backers are FAR from happy, this one included.

One of the add ons yet to come, there are also cloaked Predators in clear resin and of course an Alien Queen

This was only compounded when the final approval from Fox was finally given and the games release was set and production began. Of course Prodos found a way to run afoul of backers here too by fulfilling retail wholesale orders before shipping all the backer copies (apparently a contractual obligation). Suddenly backers were in the position of being the LAST to play the very game that they were responsible for funding in the first place! A ridiculous and disgraceful position to be in.

This is also the only reason I am reviewing the game now, as I have bought a copy from Chaos Cards (who's excellent service i can only commend) having STILL  not received a shipping notification from Prodos a full two weeks after the games release date (i'm not expecting to receive the game before August at this point). This is not even to mention the second wave of products and the rulebook for the wargame which apparently are still awaiting final approval from Fox. Nonetheless I got fed up of waiting and at least now have the boxed game in my hands to review.

It is a mightily impressive box

And what a box it is! It weighs an impressive 6.5 kilos and is pretty big too. The cover artwork is quite nice, even if the rear presentation leaves something to be desired being surprisingly low resolution and a bit sparse on detail. It does feel like a quality product however and even the cellophane around the box is thicker than that that normally encompasses boxed games. Once the lid is removed you can see the contents and the foam in the upper lid keeping everything safe (just a sheet of foam, not any good for storing the figures)

Your first view of the inside of the box...

I could only manage a cursory look through the rulebook, so much too see!
The models are in a box as are the cards, so the first thing you see is actually the rule book. This is quite the beast too. It is very thick and jam packed full of rules. oddly there is a marked lack of shots of the actual models and those that are featured are inexplicably poorly lit, making it nearly impossible to see the paint jobs or the details. This is a real shame as in my opinion the miniatures are definitely one of the major selling points of the game.

The layout is quite nice but there is a hell of a lot to assimilate

That's not my camera, The photos of the models are THAT dark. 

The rules are fairly well laid out with lots of diagrams and the book is well presented overall although the fluff that was promised at the start of the Kickstarter is absent, having been apparently nixed by Fox. There is a great deal in the book as it talks of basic and advanced rules and it makes even the most complex Fantasy Flight manual look simple in comparison. There are one or two spelling errors that may betray its Polish authors origins but i have seen much much worse.

There are plenty of missions and lots of ways to play the game. Content is not an issue here. 

One gets the feeling that perhaps a quick start booklet separate from the main rulebook might have been a good idea as the main book seems a little overwhelming. It is impressive how much is crammed in though with the aforementioned advanced and basic rules, survival mode, full stats for all the unreleased wave 2 products and a set of 10 missions. Certainly it will take a while to read it all and assimilate the rules for the game and i suspect that the best way to learn would be to just play the game referring to the book as needed. Overall i do suspect that the ruleset is too complicated for a board game, coming across as an insanely complex and convoluted Space Hulk.

AVP tiles on the left, Space hulk on the right

The AVP Tiles are ever so slightly thinner... 

and lack the finish and embossing of the Space hulk Tiles. On the whole though they are rather good.

And like Space Hulk, AVP comes with quite a lot of card floor sections. .In fact it comes with a hell of a lot. The card stock is slightly thinner than that of GW's game and lacks the veneer and embossing but it is still of a high quality. It is also all double sided although once again the suggested additional rules for these alternate designs have not transpired. Still it can be used for a nice aesthetic change and the design work is pretty good overall with only the weapon templates looking a little second rate. All the floor sections and tokens come away from the card quite nicely as well and overall the quality is very high. The sheer volume of tiles is quite staggering and although there are many duplicates there are some nice infested or 'hived' tiles to add a little variation. There is also a bit cut out of the boards so that you can get them out easier. A nice touch by prodos

...and double sided!

Though the difference at this stage is purely aesthetic

There are tokens galore, at least some of these are being reproduced in resin a little further down the line. 

The weapons templates are the only place where the design is a touch lacking. Alien acid spit is on the other side of the flamethrower template. 

The actual cards themselves are also quite nice and thick. Though the design work on them is satisfactory it falls someway short of amazing, merely serving the purpose. Event cards, stat cards and mission cards are all presented in three small separate white boxes, in total there are a lot of cards split across many decks (some are only utilised in the advanced game) and they are pretty nice if unremarkable, though the backing design is a little odd,One of the few areas where the AVP/FOX branding hasn't been used with generic Giger-esc (RIP) bio mechanical designs being used instead.

The cards within are of decent quality. Everything is readable and you cant ask for much more than that

The environmental cards are used in the basic game. Advanced rules incorporate additional decks. 

Which leaves us with the models. Though eventually these are destined to be moulded plastic sprues, at present they are fine resin models, and i mean fine. These are without a shadow of a doubt the most finely detailed models that I have seen in a boxed game, bar none. The detail that Prodos have manged to get in to the figures is insane. what is even more impressive is that for the most part the models are comprised of few pieces. Truly Prodos are revealing themselves to be masters of their craft here.

Getting to the good stuff at last. 
The Ten Alien infants (the standard creature from the AVP films and 'Alien Resurrection) are just two pieces, a one piece body and a separate tail. In addition the models are not quite all the same, there are slight variants in poses. the only issue that i can really see with the alien infants is that the details are so fine that i can see some breakages if the models are not looked after. The tails in particular are not brittle but will likely snap under a little duress. I will be heating and rebending them to add more variation to my horde so ill let you know how that goes. The fingers are also another weak point.


It's structural perfection is matched only by it's hostility....

It is quite the feat of casting, props to Prodos

Cannot wait to get some paint on these. The quality bodes well for the extra models in wave 2

The Alien Stalkers (Alien 3 'Dog' Alien) are a little more compact and not quite as detailed so i see these being a bit more robust, they come in three pieces with an arm and leg being separate. The tail is moulded with the body and is actually a lot stronger than the infants, being stockier and less sinuous. Being on all fours also aids with stability, they still look nice but not quite as eyepopping as the infants. There are five in the box

The colonial marines are also excellent, given that they are a true 28mm scale the detail captured is exquisite and they are going to be a real pleasure to paint. With just the arms being separate they again are a triumph in design if perhaps a little fiddly due to them not being heroic scale (a welcome change). There are five marines in the box, Two grunts with Pulse Rifles, a Sergeant with Pulse Rifle and tracker, a Medic with flamer (saddled with a slightly silly running pose) and a SMART Gunner.

Absolutely BAD-ASS!! If armless (Arf Arf!)

In scale. Yautja SHOULD be much larger than humans. Well done Prodos

Finally, the Three Predators, these are almost certainly the cream of the crop each being pretty much a character model in their own right. One is armed with a Throwing Disc, one with a Spear and the other rather delightfully is keying into its wrist mounted control pad in another triumph of miniature design. They are a fair bit bigger than the marines (about 32ml ) and look fantastic, packed with detail, cleverly designed with again just the arms being separate and a surprising amount of dynamism packed into the figures. Again, these will be a joy to paint and i cant wait to get started. The blades and spear are however bits i'd be worried about snapping and the throwing disc is wafer thin and bendy, not sure how it will take paint.

So detailed, but lets see if that spear stays in one peice

Each Predator is a character in its own right

Overall its a quality package, all the components are of a very high standard and the care that Prodos have put into the product is clear for all to see. I do think the rules are too complicated to be really considered a boardgame and i don't think The Hunt Begins is really something for a casual gamer to pick up, even the resin models will require superglue to assemble and are somewhat fiddly and fragile. I'm not sure that they will stand up to the rigours of gaming and although the plastic versions will naturally lack a little detail im sure they will serve the role of board game figures much better. That said the miniatures ARE the talking point of the box and they really are of the very highest quality, rivaling and beating into the dirt many other manufacturers. Though i have yet to get a game in (i only opened it 3 hours before writing this review) it is certainly a case of so far so good. It's just a shame i had to buy the game from a shop in order to find that out.

In short, although i would not back another Prodos Kickstarter I can find little fault with the product. It is of a high standard and has been produced with obvious enthusiasm and care. It looks to have a lot of replay value and the amount of gameplay and ways to play coupled with the outstanding minatures make it worth its premium asking price.  Look for a game report on the Conclave website in due course.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Tabletop Gaming Magazine Review: Issue 1

Even in today's burgeoning digital age, there are still a great many printed publications covering a multitude of subjects, competition is rife with up to a dozen titles jostling for shelf space on nearly every imaginable subject from computer games to Men's Fitness and rather unbelievably 'colouring therapy' (and thus my respect for the general public goes down another notch). One department that has always been somewhat sparse however is wargaming. There are a few scale modelling, historical wargaming and military model mags but nothing that really focuses upon the games themselves. Until now, with Tabletop Gaming Magazine: a new quarterly publication from Warner Publishing nestled in among the above mentioned mags.

The Painting guide is a little half hearted but then so is Paint Splatter in WD 

At first glance the magazine resembles most of the other publications on the shelves. Certainly there is not much to make it stand out and it was actually quite hard to find. With a modern look and a bold (if slightly chromatically challenged) cover it doesn't even look much like Warnergroups other magazines (a portfolio that is largely dominated by other collectors mags and caravan titles as it happens) Promising '101 games you have to play' and interviews galore it makes some bold claims too. So lets see what it delivers.

This takes up the majority of the mag. 
Reading the editorial it appears that this was originally intended as a one off rather than a continued publication, therefore ill cut it a little slack for the '101 games you must play' taking up 70% of the page count. In fact they really do dominate the magazine, being broken up by the other articles. They are not ranked in anyway, each game garnering a column or two of text. I have to add that these are NOT reviews. They are overviews, generally gushing and giving you an overview of the rules mechanics and a general impression of what it is like to play. The variety of games featured is pretty wide, from card and deck building games to dungeon crawlers and skirmish games. I would have liked the content of these overviews to have been a little less passive as hardly any drawbacks or deficiency are mentioned at all, making many of these read like mini advertisements. Still, i enjoyed reading about them and old and new games that i have played and have yet to play are all featured. Just don't expect an in depth review.

The Articles on the other hand are much better. Interesting and informative 
Elsewhere, the articles are actually quite engaging and interesting. Again featuring a wide variety of games from Lords of War to Guild Ball to Rick Priestly's Gates of Antares. These are where the real value of the mag comes in and its a shame they are so few in number as they make good reading. There are real in depth reviews here too although once again they don't really commit. Elsewhere the interviews and features are the meat of the mag. There is even a battle report and a painting article although these are somewhat minimal and simple in nature. Once again i was impressed by the variety of games that were featured.

Thanks to GW id forgotten what a real Bat Rep looks like in print. This example is a little staid though 
One other thing that i really should mention is the errors in the magazine, although some typos are to be expected in the small text, to repeat them in a subheadline without spotting it is pretty poor. In addition one of the 101 games is repeated! It's a bit shoddy and amateurish from a professional publication, hopefully future issues will have more stringent quality control. It is also worth mentioning that this is not a cheap magazine, costing £5.25.

Spot the Error! 
So overall not too bad, there is certainly potential here but the magazine doesn't really have any critical identity, no opinion and therefore the personal aspect is gone. It reads like one of the Fantasy Flight catalogues. The articles on the other hand, are fairly well written and rather insightful and informative, i look forward to reading more of them. It's a little pricey and i am glad that it is to be a quarterly publication, i think this is certainly the appropriate frequency for it. Certainly i think Table Top Gaming is worthy of another chance so ill pick up the next issue in September. Hopefully it starts to live up to its potential.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Warhammer The End Times Book novel review: The Curse of Khaine by Gav Thorpe

So we get to the mid point in the End Times and it is the time of the Elves, or more accurately it is the Time of Malekith for this is ultimately his tale. The Curse of Khaine is also the end of his story, a journey that encompasses betrayal, defeat, victory and redemption. It is a story that Gav Thorpe began in his Time of Legends Sundering Trilogy so it seems apt that he should be the one to finish it in the End Times. This is the first End Times book to feel Epic. Its scope is such that the reader is left as to no illusion as to the stakes involved. This is the book that really FEELS like the End Times.

I've not read Khaine, the hardback campaign book that this novel accompanies, however i have to say that i don't really feel that i need to anymore. Gav does such a good job of squeezing events into this novel that i doubt there is a great deal that the campaign book will be able to add, except perhaps embellishing the fate of the Wood Elves somewhat as that aspect of the story is given lip service at best. The book doesn't really feel diminished in any way with its absence and although i will get round to Khaine at some point this was the first End Times novel where i felt i got a rounded feel of events.

What is contained is told entirely from the perspective of the Witch King Malekith as he tries once again to take his perceived rightful place as ruler of the Elves. In six thousand years Aenarion's heir has changed little and one of the only criticisms i would level at the book would be the lack of character development within. None of the figures featured really change much, and Gav's portrayal or Morathi is something i still have issues with. I felt it hindered Malekith (the first Sundering book) and it is probably best that she is reduced to barely a supporting character here.

The events within however far make up for any lack of character development. Gav manages to fit so much into this story and the pace rarely lets up. Realising that his brother Tyrion is lost to Khaine, Teclis has been colluding with the Witch King in order to bring Tyrion down and give Ulthuan a new ruler, and that ruler is Malekith. Unfortunately there is little time for embellishment of how all these machinations came to be. Gav is kept busy enough with frequent (and it must be said somewhat awkward at times) flashbacks to fill in any back story for those that have not read the Sundering Trilogy. That said i would recommend picking up Gav's previous Elf books as they really are rather good. Especially Shadow King, a character that through necessity takes something of a back seat this time round. 

And Alith Anar is not the only character to be given short shrift. Even the antagonist Tyrion is seen only as a distant threat (in fact i'm not sure he even has any dialogue). You get the feeling that Gav would have much rather embraced this tale with another trilogy, (certainly it feels like it warrants it) and is just constricted by time. It is therefore somewhat surprising that the book feels somewhat bloated then. Although the pace rarely lets up and remains exciting all the way through the writing is a little cumbersome in places. This sadly is just down to the author and his ability to storycraft. Rather than flowing the prose stumbles a bit. It's not a fatal flaw and i really do believe that Gav is a far better writer than many give him credit for but it is noticeable that Curse of Khaine lacks a certain elan, a certain effortless class. 

That said, overall the book just works. Between the focus on the twisted and tortured Malekith and the underlying study on the nature of the elves and the Curse of Khaine it just works. You do need to treat this as a Malekith book more than anything else, an addition and ending to the Sundering saga. But once you have done that then the book really does start to gel. With plenty of action and a fair amount of grimness (the Dark Elves are still DARK) its a rewarding read. Malekith is a fascinating individual, of noble blood but too twisted and embittered by the years to see the path. There is a moment in the book where it all catches up with him and he truly embraces his destiny in an epiphany six millennia in the making. You get the feeling that if Gav can just make a similar final leap in writing quality then he too could become regarded in the same circles as Abnett and McNeil and perhaps even take his place in the ranks of the Fantasy and Sci Fi greats. In fact with both of those authors having their input drastically reduced now (Graham has taken a full time gig with Riot Games and Abnett has been lured away by Marvel.. ) he may indeed be one of our last, best hopes.