Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £29.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Official Store

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (or Armada, as it’s going to be referred to for the rest of the review) is an adaptation of Games Workshop’s spaceship battle tabletop game where, in the grim darkness of the future, there are only chiselled jawlines. It preloads, and this can, in some cases, take a while (2 minutes at best, 10 at the worst I’ve seen it), but once you’re in the game? It’s fairly entertaining!

Well, *one* of us isn't relying on just his faith to win the battle... Idiot...

Well, *one* of us isn’t relying on just his faith to win the battle… Idiot…

As such, however, I want to get the bad out of the way first. The game does not tutorialise terribly well, as the campaign focuses on the Imperium of Man (As 90% of GW licensed properties in 40K have done), and so getting a handle on the other three factions currently in the game (Eldar, Ork, and Chaos) is a matter of experimentation rather than being shown. Occasionally, the camera will refuse to co-operate until you reselect a ship, for reasons I have yet to discover. And the multiplayer needs work, with some factions requiring more micromanagement using limited Tactical Cogitator time (Slowdown, basically), and matchmaking needing improvements. Thankfully, these are at least on the development roadmap.

Now to the good: The campaign is well presented, and teaches some skills as it goes along, such as boarding actions, auto engagement, and the fact that losing a mission is not, as in many strategy games, a game over, but more of a setback than anything else, so, while savescumming is do-able, and a valid way to play, it’s by no means necessary. Of course, being 40K, it’s both dark and silly at the same time, so the second campaign mission, involving Ork Freebootaz (Orc space pirates, basically) is introduced by a cutscene that begins with… Gretchin (Space goblins) being fired out of a large gun, and being surprisingly pumped about either impacting another ship at high speed, or missing and asphyxiating in the cold bleakness of space. That image alone… Is actually a pretty good summary of 40K. It also provides an excellent example of how defeat will make your job harder, as losing the convoy in this second mission adds more rebellious worlds in the area, as, unsurprisingly, people get unhappy when they’re starving.

Warhammer40K.JPG

Warhammer40K.JPG

Aurally, it’s a treat, with a lot of good voice acting, some suitably dramatic music, and some impactful sound effects that really make space fighting fun, and visually, it can be quite cool, although often, you’ll be too zoomed out to truly appreciate the majestic ships and barrelfuls of dakka, and the Tactical Cogitator filter… Slightly detracts. But as far as adaptations of Battlefleet Gothic go? It’s priced fairly for even the campaign, and, so long as you don’t mind using Skirmish to get a handle on the ships of non-Imperial factions, the multiplayer’s quite fun too.

Unsurprisingly, things go horribly wrong sometimes. This will soon be one of those times.

Unsurprisingly, things go horribly wrong sometimes. This will soon be one of those times.

The Mad Welshman checked the Holy Manual of Shooting Things Very Dead. The instructions were simple, and, once his visex had… What do you mean, the terminology’s all wrong?

Mordheim (Release Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £29.99
Where To Get It: Steam

There’s just something about sending your friends into a magically radioactive, monster infested city that tickles me. Now, before you go calling me a monster, consider that this is a game called Mordheim, about sending fantasy gangs into a desolate, doomed city to get glowy green rocks that everyone wants, but nobody should really have. Because, while they power magic and machinery alike, they are artefacts of Ancient Evil, and have a nasty tendency of mutating or corrupting pretty much everything they touch.

Today's Anti-Heretical PSA brought to you by the letter S, for Sigmar our Saviour!

Today’s Anti-Heretical PSA brought to you by the letter S, for Sigmar our Saviour!

Also consider that, most of the time, my buddies are doing well, because I’ve been playing this since early in its Early Access run. The fact that I’ve been playing it almost the entire way through its EA run and still not gotten bored should really be a testament in and of itself, but just in case, here’s the rest of the review.

Mordheim, by Rogue Factor Games, is based on GW’s Warhammer universe, and is a turn based strategy game that isn’t strictly turn based. You see, everything you do on your turn, you do with third person shooter style controls (WASD to move, left click to do a thing, Q and E to switch what you’re doing.) It’s a nice touch, and goes a long way toward making something that’s somewhat dull to many (I move X piece to Y location, and roll some dice) actually somewhat exciting. TBS fans, understand that, while I know the joys of TBS play, this is nonetheless true, and Rogue Factor are doing something interesting which may attract folks not normally attracted to turn based play.

Everyone's very fond of posturing and screaming in the Warhammer universe. Everyone.

Everyone’s very fond of posturing and screaming in the Warhammer universe. Everyone.

Make no mistake, it’s a meaty game with layers of strategy that only get deeper the further in you get. It starts relatively simple: A Leader, a Hero, three Henchmen of two types, picked from one of four groups fighting over Mordheim’s shattered and Wyrdstone warped ruins. The Sisters of Sigmar hit things very hard, but are somewhat slow. The Cults of Chaos have dark magic on their side, not to mention mutants. The Skaven of Clan Eshin move quickly, and have poisonous weaponry (With a side dose of rat-ogre later), but are squishy and crack at the first sign of danger. Finally, the Reikland Mercenaries have guns and the usual human “I can do lots, all of it only at an okay level! Wheeee!” mentality. As befits a Warhammer game, none of these people are nice people. As you get more powerful, more types of units and skills become available, as do more dangers within the city, such as traps and Demons that wander the streets… Looking for what they consider their rightful prey.

How does it feel to play? Bloody tense, actually. From around day two, you’re by no means guaranteed a mission where you will stomp face, and very often, you’ll get the short end of the stick deployment wise (Spread out too far, or your leader and hero are in a group, leaving some of your henchmen alone without support.) It’s also not very newbie friendly tactically, as, while it eases you in, it doesn’t tutorialise much, leaving you to work out what things do from the tooltips. The fact that a single mission can take up to an hour or more means that this is definitely a time investment.

The Sisters of Sigmar: Hardcore Battle Nuns. What's not to like?

The Sisters of Sigmar: Hardcore Battle Nuns. What’s not to like?

Let’s take an example from the Sisters of Sigmar playthrough I’ve been doing. The Sisters had gotten separated in the middle of Skaven territory. Considering how the Skaven like to do things (Ambush swarms taking out individual stragglers), this was incredibly bad news, and Maria ApfelUndOrangen, lay sister, proved this point in the first round, as three rats (including their leader) leapt at her from surrounding buildings. She managed to hold them off for all of a couple of seconds, injuring one, before she was swarmed. D.V. S. Von Vacuum, Matriarch of this particular battle group, managed to regroup with one of her lay sisters by virtue of said lay sister hearing the sounds of battle after another Skaven ambush (Luckily, only an ambush of one) across the district from where Maria had fallen. In yet another portion of the city, Ethel Von Munster also managed to group up with the last lay sister, casually dispatching a skaven with a halberd along the way, taking no injuries. So far, at least, the battle had mostly gone the Sisters’ way. It was not to last.

While Von Vacuum and her cohort battled the surprisingly tenacious rat (Who had managed to dodge nearly all blows to this point), Ethel Von Munster and company went rat-hunting. And they found them. In spades. The previous ambush group simply charged in, and Ethel Von Munster went to work with her Greathammer, blessed by the Matriarch in the name of Sigmar Heldenhammer, Hero and God of the Empire. She managed to take down the rats’ leader, an assassin of Clan Eshin, before she was crushed under a tide of furry, bitey bundles of hate. Her companion took a similar accounting of herself, falling only to the final ratman’s mace.

A starting band of Skaven. So... I heard you like rats?

A starting band of Skaven. So… I heard you like rats?

Things seemed bad, with the majority of the Sisters’ small battle group out for the count, possibly dead. But for some reason, enemy morale broke, not with the death of their leader, but after the murder of a minor clan-rat, and the sisters (With the exception of Ethel Von Munster) lived to fight another day. They were battered, and bruised (The lay sister who’d accompanied Ethel Von Munster had a crushed arm, and the Sisters were forced to amputate), but ultimately, triumphant.

Now, this particular group of the Sisters of Sigmar are strong, and the younger sister of Ethel Von Munster (Coincidentally, also called Ethel) has crushed many a rat head since. They have yet to lose another Sister, and they intend it to stay that way.

Obviously, the story did not go exactly that way, but that’s half the fun of a game like Mordheim: The stories it generates. Be aware that customisation is limited to costume colour and a few options for your characters, be aware that it’s not the most newbie friendly game out there, and you will very likely have some fun with this pretty well crafted and atmospheric game of urban strategy.

The Mad Welshman grimaced as he placed a chunk of Wyrdstone in his pack. His moustache had been… Talking to him, and whispering horrible things. Then again, it was also telling him Wyrdstone was bad for him, and… How could something that got him so much money be bad? Best assume the Stasche lies, he thought.

Mordheim (Early Access Review: Content Update 8)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £23.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Way back when, when I was a snotty teenager (As much due to being an ass as having broken my own nose in gym class), I was a fan of the more obscure Games Workshop stuff. Y’know, Warhammer Quest, Necromunda, Battlefleet Gothic. Mordheim, however (Warhammer Fantasy’s answer to Necromunda), somewhat slipped under my radar.

However, when Rogue Factor and Focus Home Interactive, last year, put Mordheim on Early Access, my strategy game senses tingled a little. Here, perhaps, was something I could sink my teeth into.

You will see this loading screen a lot. Less so as time goes by... But a lot right now. So you know.

You will see this loading screen a lot. Less so as time goes by… But a lot right now. So you know.

For those who don’t know what Mordheim is, it’s basically “Gang Battles in Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy world.” The city of Mordheim has had a rather bad Wyrdstone problem of late, and, since Wyrdstone is as useful and powerful as it is dangerous, the majority of citizens have left, and treasure seekers have moved in. Specifically, the Sisters of Sigmar (A somewhat heretical cult that nonetheless wants to confine the threat of Wyrdstone), the Skaven (Mutant ratmen who use Wyrdstone for various purposes, nearly all of them violent and/or immoral), the Cults of Chaos (Wyrdstone is valuable to the Chaos Gods and their worshippers, due to its mutagenic and magic enhancing properties), and the Empire (Who basically are in it for the money, don’t particularly care about Wyrdstone, and would happily slaughter any of the other factions if there was a cut in it for them)

Of course, you can guess by the fact you’re reading this now, rather than 2014, implies that I didn’t think it had come far enough in development to really get a whole lot said, and that… Has now changed. Because progression and persistence have now hit Mordheim, and my gang can finally live or die on their successes… Or failures. So, to test this update out, I went for the Moustache Twirler Option: Skaven. The grandiose cravens, with their backstabbing, ambush tactics, and dirty tricks like poisoned weaponry were, obviously, right up my alley. It helped that if I failed, I could blame my underlings, much like Skaven do in the setting.

Some of the models are lovely, even if this one made me think "Did Bavmorda nick Sorsha's kit for some reason?"

Some of the models are lovely, even if this one made me think “Did Bavmorda nick Sorsha’s kit for some reason?” Note the relatively sensible armour choices.

Some things, sadly, haven’t changed overmuch. I made a cup of tea between picking my warband and the interface loading up (They joke that “Chaos Is At Work”, and the loading times have improved since the start of the Early Access… But it’s still not a game for the impatient), and almost immediately had troubles working out how to hire folks (Double click the icons for that kind of warrior is how you do it.) But once I’d gotten that UI niggle out of the way, I got stuck in.

My first mission was a success, of sorts, although not an overwhelming victory. None of my rats died, but I routed the Sisters of Sigmar before I could collect enough Wyrdstone to fulfill my optional objective. Still, considering that the Sisters tend to wield large hammers, and none of my somewhat brittle rats died, it was a plus. Still a plus was the decision by Rogue Factor to turn each unit’s actions into… Well, running through the world. It’s slightly abusable, in that you can retrace your steps to regain movement points, which lets you explore slightly more than is perhaps sensible… But a counter to this is the fact that, if you move unwisely, you’re going to get ambushed and lose all that movement. Indeed, as Skaven, I’m somewhat counting on getting my hits in first. The primary objective is nearly always to rout or try to murder the opposing team, but there’s a couple of side objectives, including bounty hunting (Put a specific unit Out of Action) and Wyrdstone collection (Usually 50% of the stuff that’s on the map)

The map will give you *some* idea of what's around. But only some. Don't *rely* on it.

The map will give you *some* idea of what’s around. But only some. Don’t *rely* on it.

Of course, if movement were the only thing you had to watch out for, I’d be a bit worried. But fighting also has limits, based on the skill of the units in question. For example, most skaven have three Strategic Points (for Ambushing and Fighting), but the Hero and the Leader both have 5, allowing them, in a straight up fight, to attack twice a turn. Turns are initiative based, and… How does it feel?

Tense. Very tense, since the maps are procedurally generated, as are resource locations and the start points of your units. Your worst nightmare is to become scattered, while your enemy is cohesive. It generally means, for most groups, that you’re being ambushed and piled on instead of the other way around. And that’s a bad thing, since getting a key unit injured early on can lead to big problems. Good example, the mission after I’d been told by my Clan Lords to send them a hundredweight of Wyrdstone, and I had ten days to do it… My leader got taken out by the last attack from the leader of the Sisters battlegroup I’d been facing. Because units cost upkeep, and injuries cost for treatment, this meant I had 4 tense days, hitting the Next Day button. I knew he wouldn’t die (He had, in fact, gotten a Near Death Experience, which was one of the few relatively beneficial options), but that was time I wasn’t gathering Warpstone… Fail to do that 4 times in a row, and your warband is disbanded. Permanently.

This... Is a bad situation to be in, especially if you're wounded.

This… Is a bad situation to be in, especially if you’re wounded.

On the upside for me, but perhaps not so much for the developers, the AI, while still improved, can still be outthought, usually with picking good ambush spots. In the AI’s (or another player’s) favour, however, is the fact that while you can sometimes hear units close by, you won’t know where they are for sure until they come into view. If they go out of view, their last known position on the map is an icon with a question mark… But that can only help so much, since you don’t know how far they’ve already moved before you saw them. Thankfully, sooner or later, they’ll run into ambushes, and then you can swarm them. Fair fights are not the name of this game, especially if you’re the Skaven. In fact, fair fights in general are somewhat of a bad idea, due to the AI having a health boost that… I’m not entirely sure they need anymore.

Multiplayer, when I can find someone, is a more challenging experience. On the one hand, I’m matched by point value. On the other, that doesn’t mean I’m matched by skill (Sadly, a common flaw in games like this, and one I haven’t really thought of a good solution to). Many a skilled player doesn’t mind going back to the beginning, but, as much as I can’t predict the opponent’s skill level, I can, within certain limits, guess what they have. And, in the early game at least, it’s going to be somewhat similar to me. Levelling up is a somewhat slow process, costing experience earned from battles, time, and money (100 gold per level 1 skill, and a day or two training), so if I see a Leader with a Great Hammer, I can somewhat bet that they’ve taken something to hit me harder with.

When you do well, you do *very* well. When you do badly, people die.

When you do well, you do *very* well. When you do badly, people die.

It’s not a flawless system, as there’s quite a range of possibilities for builds (I’m currently going with “Skaven wot hit hard when they ambush”, although I expect to branch into “Also we poison the hell out of you” as soon as my balance allows it), and y’know what? I’m liking it so far. I should also mention the aesthetic: Grimdark. Dissonant choruses, blaring horns, and the occasional scream assaults my ears (Pleasantly), while pungent gases afflict me and the streets are ruined, covered in grime, slime, and… Was that a screaming face with an eyeball in it, melted between the wall and floor? It was! It fits the game perfectly, but will look over the top to people who haven’t encountered how over the top Warhammer can get sometimes.

If you want to have a go at a turn based strategy game with some interesting ideas about making it not feel quite so turn based, don’t mind those loading times (1 cup of tea per transition, I’ve found, although your mileage may vary), and don’t feel barraged by numbers (The tooltips help there somewhat), then this might be for you. If you’re not a fan of grimdark, not a big fan of timesinks, and don’t like the idea of turn based strategy, even dressed up, then it’s a probable “No, thanks.” Just be aware that yes, it is still Early Access, so glitches, bad collisions, and odd camera angles still abound… But it’s showing a lot of the promise in the game already.

The Mad Welshman stab-kills many electronic man-things in the course of his work. The tail is artificial, and he does not work for the Great Devourer. No. That would be dumb-silly.

Blood Bowl 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Blood Bowl, the turn based strategy game set in Warhammer’s equivalent of American Football, has returned. Except it never really left, and I’m feeling very conflicted about this release. For context, this review comes from somebody who has been playing the game since Dark Elves Edition of Blood Bowl “1”. Which was the second of four editions of the same game. This, in essence, is an elephant in the room. And I can’t really avoid talking about it.

He has this expression. Forever.

No, no, that’s the *Ogre* in the room, not the elephant! Geez!

At its core, Blood Bowl is about positioning, use of skills, and dice. Lots of dice. Dodging is a dice roll. Passing, blocking, throwing, catching… All dice. Rerolls are a thing you can buy for your team, and they’re important. Beyond that, there’s play styles that each team are suited to. Skaven, for example, play a running game: They’re only okay at passing, but they’re good at dodging away from players marking them, and they can run a long way. Orcs, by contrast, are bashy: They excel at punching things, relatively bad at passing and dodging, and are about average in terms of mobility. It’s relatively easy to learn, but mastering it takes a bit of thought and practice. Your average game takes between 1 and 2 hours, so it is somewhat time consuming.

I would like to begin by mentioning that Blood Bowl has a variety of teams, but this is only really true for Blood Bowl: Legendary Edition, and Chaos Edition. 2 is a complete reset, with a new engine, and new design decisions… And funnily enough, this is part of the problem, the elephant in the room. Blood Bowl 2 is undeniably prettier than the previous 4 editions, with meaty animations, a UI where players’ stats and skills are represented by collector’s cards, and some quality sound work. But it’s also a more limited experience than previous editions, in more areas than just the 8 teams (plus one team if you pre-ordered) compared to Chaos Edition’s 23 (More teams are coming, but as DLC.) Not helping is the fact that many of these new or changed features are implemented in odd ways.

I didn't want to be unkind and also show that they have clipping issues.

The animations are undeniably cool… But they pad playtime.

For example, the “Campaign” is somewhat similar to Legendary Edition’s, in that it’s a combination tutorial/challenge mode, with surprise events. But it’s more limited in the sense that you are playing one team (Humans, the generalists) instead of learning core mechanics from multiple teams, and oddly implemented in that the tutorial section (Comprising at least the first two hours of play if you go there first)… Is teaching in ways that experienced Blood Bowl players would scratch their heads at. Part of a match is played before teaching about buying players (With less options than you’d have in a real game, and much worse AI), and then another match goes by (Finally showing you blocking and other important skills) before you can buy “Staff” (Apothecaries, “Fan Factor”, Cheerleaders, and, rivalling in importance to Apothecaries… Rerolls).

Meanwhile, if a new player chooses to hotseat play both sides of a Friendly match, with an experienced Blood Bowl player’s YouTube video open, they’ll get a feel for movement, passing, skills, and the like in… Probably less time than the Campaign does, and for the team they want to play.

Animations, meanwhile, are a feature that experienced players would like to selectively ignore. But the selections are… Touchdowns only, “No animations”, or All animations. So that’s a choice between “Watch running and touchdowns”, “Watch running”, and “Watch running, touchdowns, and every single block that isn’t a push, with a side order of every time you fail a dodge or attempt a pass.” The animation system also appears to have led to less customisation than previous editions of Blood Bowl, with only set colours, no armour changes beyond those gained by levelling up (and some skills/mutations), and a set of heads to choose from as your main customisation option.

It's psychology puns. Yay!

It is an unofficial “rule” that you must make bad puns when naming your team and its members.

Controls and camera, similarly, will make returning players scratch their head. Previous editions had a fully movable camera with the ability to show player names, player positions, and tackle zones/movement ranges, but Blood Bowl 2… Plays it slightly differently. There are two cameras at a fixed angle, with a fixed zoom arc (Movable, though) marked “Blood Bowl 2 Camera” (Faces toward the opposite left corner of the pitch) and “Blood Bowl 1 Camera” (Faces the opposing endzone). Controls are also in “Blood Bowl 2” and “Blood Bowl 1” flavours, but the latter isn’t quite accurate, as Blood Bowl 1 allowed a player to queue movement, then passing in one go, while Blood Bowl 2… Doesn’t. The difference appears to be “Right click for movement in Blood Bowl 1 Controls”… And that’s it. Passing, as opposed to BB1, is a case of moving, waiting until the move animation is done, then passing.

Some features, also, appear to be missing or imperfectly implemented. Jim Johnson and Bob Bifford, the two commentators, have been placed firmly in both the menu and the Campaign, but their expressions in Campaign mode… Don’t follow nearly the same range as their voice does, and their subtitles have this tendency not to match what they’re actually saying (Sometimes drastically, as in the case of the Halfling Joke. Two bad jokes for the price of one if you have subtitles on, I guess?) You can buy cheerleaders for your team, but will be faced with human cheerleaders every time. Buying rerolls before a team basically involves specifically turning down buying players, then going through the tabs and buying what you want, in the order that you want. And there is an achievement that involves deliberately inflating your Team Value (A dangerous proposition in a League) by having 500K in your bank (A new rule was introduced that means all earnings in your account over 150K count toward your Team Value, you see.)

Just to show how the game looks *most* of the time.

Generally your first action in a Blood Bowl match is to hit someone.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some new and interesting features. Upgrading your stadium. Coach levels. Sponsors. Aging. And, of course, the newly implemented team, the Bretonnians, whose Blitzers do most of the work, whose Linemen are, as with most Linemen, fodder that you might care about if they levelled up, and whose Blockers are interesting in that their starting skill (Wrestle) means you have to make a deliberate choice of ignoring Wrestle, and thus having a slightly weaker “Blocker” than similarly levelled Blockers of other teams, or making a nonstandard build and ignoring the majority of the Strength skill tree (Which is normally a good thing for Blockers, but the majority of Strength skills don’t synergise well with Wrestle). The preview of what your action will likely do is also nice.

Normally, I’d say this was an interesting game with some odd design decisions and implementations. But the elephant in the room, that all important context that there are four previous games, at least two of which have more teams (Legendary/Chaos Edition), at least one of which has a better tutorial/challenge campaign for its Single Player in terms of teaching and team variety (Legendary Edition), and at least one edition has both a devoted playerbase and a cheaper price tag (Chaos Edition, at £20) means that… I’m not entirely sure I can recommend Blood Bowl 2 at the present time. Which is incredibly awkward for me, as, while I want Blood Bowl to continue selling, the increased shininess… Really doesn’t disguise some awkward design decisions that make it, in its own way, just as clunky as the previous 4 games in the series.

The Mad Welshman coaches many teams, in many universes. He’s going back to the one where he can play the Legendary Khemri Passing Game now. He feels oddly sad that this is so.