Wednesday 28 December 2011

2011 - a good year for WHFB?

As is traditional at this part of the season (and to fill in the boring bits between xmas and new year), I thought I would look back over the past twelve months at how Warhammer Fantasy has progressed. It's quite a long post, so grab a cuppa and a stale mince pie and settle down for a long ramble up and down the meandering path of 2011.

It was around eighteen months ago, in the summer of 2010, that the new edition of the game was launched. The impact was felt immediately by postmen all around the world, struggling up garden paths with their two kilo parcels. The thud of the 600 page book landing on doormats was audible, and geeks all around the world marvelled at the production values of such an epic tome, or complained at the size and usefulness of such a stupidly massive book.

An expectant hush fell on the gaming community as we waited for the first army book of this brave new world. And waited. And waited some more. It was March, 2011 when Orcs and Goblins was finally released, with the seismic revelation that this would be a hardback army book. The price tag of £18 raised a few eyebrows, given that army books had been £12 and then some had moved up to £15. But we shrugged as we always do, it's only a few quid right, nothing to be concerned about? There were further price shocks, in that the decade-old orc boys were re-packaged and re-priced at the same time. Just a month earlier they had been £15 for a box of 19 models, now they were £15 for a slimmed down box of 10 models, practically doubling in price overnight. But most of the attention was grabbed by the big new gribbly in town, the arachnarok spider. A brilliant plastic model by GW, up there with some of their best sculpts, such as the Skaven Screaming Bell and the Corpse Cart. The other big release was plastic savage orcs, again £15 for a paltry box of 10 figures, though at least these were actually new sculpts.

Looking back at my blog entries for this part of the year, I was enjoying the new game. The complex movement rules had been simplified, saving time and arguments. Magic seemed more potent but not overly damaging, though I did have concerns about how artillery would impact on the game, given it's new found accuracy. I also noted at the time that one or two units might have to grow a little to be resilient in this new world of uber-destructive combat, but I was happy with the game and the new emphasis on scenarios, variety and good old-fashioned fun. The old ways of static combat results, cavalry charges and super skirmishers was swept away on a wave of renewed enthusiasm and optimism for the game.

But then, as so often is the case in the UK, the summer brought grey clouds and the promise of storms to spoil the party atmosphere. When Storm of Magic was released, I immediately declared that I was not interested in an Apocalypse style expansion for my favourite wargame. Casualties were high enough in 8th edition without the introduction of even more powerful magic and monsters. But my biggest protest was that armies could ally with each other with little or no restrictions. Daemons could fight alongside their age old nemesis High Elves, the Empire could rely on Vampire Counts for support, even Dwarfs has access to awesome new powerful spells. The fluff and back story of the past 15 or 20 years was completely ignored in  a blatant marketing exercise and I hated the whole concept even before it hit the shelves.

My midsummer hibernation was made all the easier by the models released to support the campaign. Though GW are undoubtedly at the forefront of plastic miniature model development, the new monsters were eye-wateringly ugly. The turkey of the crop was the chimera, though the manticore and black dragon were almost as unconvincing. There was a ray of hope in the release of plastic characters, but these turned out to be single pose with no customisable options, so they might as well have been metal. Just when I thought a new low had been reached, the laughable skull infested terrain was released. I felt that I had made the right decision in avoiding this marketing ploy, though some sections of the internet community obviously enjoyed the break from the norm and declared it fun. Finally, a ray of hope appeared in the dark skies as GW announced that they were about to launch something big, something awesome, the biggest and best change the hobby has ever seen.

Never in the field of the hobby has so much been promised in such a spectacularly bad product launch. We expected a revolutionary new material that was easy to prepare, would bounce off the floor with no breakages and would be lighter and cheaper than metal. What we got was resin models, but not high quality resin figures as produced by myriads of smaller companies over the past five years. The internet was awash with horror stories of models melting in shop windows, of bad casts with masses of bubbles and missing details. My own experience was poor, I bought an Eldar homonculus and spent longer preparing it than I would a metal figure. The excess of bubbles were there, along with copious amounts of flash, though luckily the loss of detail was minimal. Apart from it being lighter then metal, I could see no benefit in this change. Somehow, the year had gone from bad to worse in just a few weeks. Surely, things could only get better?

It was the release of Avatars of War dwarf berserkers that made my summer. Twenty finely detailed plastic miniatures in a box, with just about enough options to go round, a few spare bits and even a movement tray. It was almost revolutionary, everything you needed for your regiment in one package, at a reasonable price too. A couple of years ago, twenty plastic fantasy figures for twenty pounds would have put these in the high price bracket, but such is the rise in GW pricing that these can now be considered mid-range price. In terms of quality of moulding and sculpting, I would rate them as among the highest in the market, certainly when it comes to dwarfs.

The next major GW release was the second army book of the year, the Tomb Kings. This is one of the few armies not owned by any in my gaming group, so my interest in it was purely an aesthetic one, I just wanted to see some nice new models. The price of the book was £22, a £4 increase on the previous release of just a few months ago. Also in common with the previous release, core troops were re-tooled, reboxed and doubled in price. Sadly, the badly aged skeletons and steeds remained untouched, the emphasis turned to monstrous infantry and centrepiece models. I was quite impressed by the model of the necrosphinx and admired the new tomb guard models ( though not the £25 price tag). The rest of the range was disappointing, the snake surfers rivalling the tomb giant in the awful sculpt stakes. Character models were poor too, I felt that collectors of this army had a bad deal. My main interest lay in the next release.

I had collected a small army of ogres in 7th edition and played quite a few games with them. The models were appealing in some ways, though in gameplay they were basically a melee army that lacked the visual appeal of my chaos warriors or the mass horde appeal of my orcs and goblins. Still, I expected some interesting updates and was looking forward to the new book.

The first disappointment was yet another price rise, with £25 being asked for a 96 page hardback book. This is quite ridiculous when you compare it to most books on any other subject. One of my other interests is photography, books on this subject have to be high quality and are generally hard backed. The average price for them is around £15. Fans of GW pricing argue that £25 is comparable to other rulebooks in the hobby. For me, I think back to just a few years ago when books were £8, then £10, then £12. But you don't need a long memory to look back to March when the Orc and Goblin book was relelased for the princely sum of £18. A price hike of around 40% in six months meant I was not going to pre-order the book, I would wait a little while before taking the plunge.

The rash of leaked pictures of the new big gribblies seemed to please most ogre players. For me, they were a little bit too cartoon like. It's hard to put my finger on this sentiment, after all, an army of fat ogres interested in mostly eating pies is not meant to be taken seriously, certainly not by the game designers. The sad fact was that I only needed the book and one or two boxes of the new minis to make up my collection to a 2.5k army. But the prices and overall look of the new stuff left me feeling cheated. I was probably in a minority when  I nailed my colours to the mast, declaring I did not like the models, and sold my existing collection. To date, I have not played against them either, so have no idea if the army book is good, bad or indifferent. Hopefully I will get a few games against them in the new year as my main opponent has collected a small force.

That just about covers what I believe to be the main releases in WHFB for this year. Reading back through my comments, it makes for quite a depressing read. The year started well, declined in the summer months, then plummeted even further as the price rises, finecast and the march of the massive monsters all took a toll on my interest in what was once my favourite wargame. There have been some brighter spots in among the doom and gloom, with the plastic dwarf bersekers shining like a beacon of hope. On the GW releases, the Garden of Morr kit was probably a highlight for me, though to date I have not bought one. And the Nurgle Lord plastic figure is a decent enough model, which I reckon could be easily improved with a few plastic bits. That aside, it's been an extremely disappointing year given the large number of major releases. Next year, it's likely that GW will switch attention to their other main system, so it's possible that 2011 will have been the most productive year for WHFB in a while. For me, it's been a case of quantity over quality, though to be fair there are plenty of other commentators on the web who have been very pleased with the year and declared it a fine vintage.

It's a shame really that I have felt a bit let down by GW, as I approach 20 years of playing the game. Now that I have played more games of 8th edition, I find it good in some ways, poor in others. My biggest complaint is that "everything dies", which sucks the enjoyment and the tactics from the game. It also smells like yet another marketing ploy rather then a serious attempt at games design. However, I still intend to build a celebratory army, my so-called Project XX to rebuild my vampire army coincides with the next army book release. I have many of the components already bought, and it's quite telling that the GW components are now in the minority.

Ending on a positive note, the best thing that happened to WHFB this year was the emergence of so many alternative ways to build your army. Plastic technology is no longer in the hands of just one company, and the figures being produced by mantic and Avatars of War are encouraging developments. When it comes to single metal or resin figures for characters, the choice is growing by the week. There are some excellent companies around that deserve support. I have already started to use non-GW figures in my armies and this trend will continue. I want to support these companies in my own small way and will be highlighting some of them in the new year.

If you got this far, I admire your endurance. Happy New Year!

Monday 26 December 2011

New Vampire Counts Pictures

It's that time of year, when kids all around the world wait excitedly for the arrival of the guy in the red cloak. Only this year, he has no beard, but sharp pointy teeth and a big sword instead. Some naughty elves have circumvented the GW secrecy policy, and the pictures of the new Vampire Counts are spreading over the web. A victory for freedom of speech, here's my impressions of the upcoming releases.

The book cover is a either a deliberate attempt at a slightly retro look, or a bit bland, I can't decide which. It's not bad, it's not particularly exciting either. Never mind, it's the contents that matter, we shall have to wait a few weeks before we can decide on that.

There are at least three new character models, two finecast are Krell and Isabella von Carstein, with a generic wight king in plastic. These are certainly an improvement on the last set of characters, GW have never really hit the nail on the head with their vampire characters.

The two wight models appeal to me, with the plastic model possibly having a slight edge over the Krell figure. The female vampire is an improvement on the current figure, though I reckon there are better alternatives around. All in all, I like them, I may even buy one or two after I have read the book and decided on how to develop my army.

The release of a Krell suggests that maybe there will be a Heinrich Kemmler model too. I would be very interested to see that, Heinrich was one of the first models I ever owned.

 There are also new characters included in the big dual role kit, the plastic Mortis Engine/Coven Throne. I have to say that I was quite disappointed with the Ogre Kingdoms large models, and was dreading what they would do with regard to the Vampire Counts "centrepiece" models. The terrorgheist/zombie dragon was reasonable but ridiculously overlarge, so I won't have one of those in my army. These two new models are also seemingly large, probably too big for my personal taste.

However, there are some interesting looking bits in these kits. The billowing clouds could be the basis of a number of models, a spirit host springs to mind, as could the  floating skeleton steeds. The spirits flying around the engine look superb for this kind of conversion too. The throne itself could possibly become a piece of scenery, depending on how the components are constructed. The standing cloaked figure could easily be a necromancer/wraith/vampire character model, while the three female vampires show promise, though as they are seated it might be a challenge.

As a whole then, the models are not really to my taste, but the kits have plenty of bits that could reward further scrutiny and kitbashing. I will maybe pick up one of these, depending on how the components break down.

Quite possibly the pick of the new releases for me are the Black Knights. The existing kits are 15, maybe 20 years old. An update has been needed for a long time. The black knights do not disappoint, they look very characterful without being over the top. It might even be possible to use these as mounts for the characters from the engine kits. Again, further scrutiny of the bits is needed, but I reckon at least one box of these are on my shopping list.

The hex wraith options (not shown) of the kit are not appealing to me at all, the barding looks a bit awkward and the flames unconvincing. The bits from the riders might be useable, but otherwise these are not for me.

And finally, the one kit that worried me the most. The rumours have been some kind of flesh golem for months, of which I always hated the idea. The reality has turned out to be something entirely different. I have always liked the concept of winged vampires in a non-character form, so these show great potential. The kits are decent enough and I might well include them in my army, depending on what they do. It does make me wonder how they will be different to Vampire Bats, if indeed these still exist in the new book.

When I first saw the non-winged version of the kit I thought they were plastic ghoul three-ups. They are basically ogre sized ghouls. Nothing amazing there, but I reckon these could find their way into non-VC armies. Ogre Kingdoms gorgers? Trolls? Even skaven rat ogres are a possibility?

Having seen the new models, I think I can safely say that my Vampire army is back on my to do list. It won't include all the new releases, but I am sure that some of them will be useable. I am now praying that the army list itself matches up to the "better than expected" feeling I have right now. I am awaiting the army book leaks with renewed interest.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The Odd Couple

I have not spent much time on hobby painting recently, having had a lot of commission work it makes it less enticing to paint my own figures. However, I have managed to squeeze in the figure on the left, a Rackham figure I have painted up as a necromancer. There's lots of nice little details that you can't see from the front view, including  a cat and a crow hanging from his belt, very useful when mixing up potions I would imagine. The glowing green contents of the pot is the result of the mixing and spellcasting, an elixir of unlife. I imagine him stalking the graveyards and crypts, stabbing the corpses he finds, the green fluid coursing through dessicated veins, enslaving the bodies to the necromancer's will. The figure on the right I have talked about in this post.

Another reason I have not painted any more Vampire troops is the rumoured release of the new army book. I have around 30 more zombies to paint, but my uncertainty about how the book will turn out is holding me back. If the book is good, as I hope, or even just average, then I will continue with the building and painting of the army. If the new book turns out to be poor, or does not appeal to me (as the Ogre kingdoms book was), then I will have to make some difficult decisions.

In the meantime, over the holiday period I am hoping to get some quality time with my figures. The lure of Chaos has gripped me again, inspired in no small way by the hours and hours of adventures I have had in the snowy landscapes of Skyrim! I have also been inspired by fellow hobbyists on the Warhammer Forum, in particular this thread about building chaos warbands. I have come up with a slight variation on the warband idea, a table (below) that will hopefully help me to get through some of the unpainted mounds! The dice rolled were 2 followed by 3, so marauders it is. A block of 24 marauders with hand weapon and shield will add a bit of meat to my chaos army, so that's my xmas project.

Monday 5 December 2011

Light at the end of the tunnel

Here's the little corner of the house where I do most of my painting. It's nothing fancy, nor permanent. It's simply one end of the dining table, covered with an old cloth. The grey plastic box contains most of my paints, brushes, etc. These are then stored away in a cupboard at the end of each day (so we can use the table to eat from!).

The patio window faces south east, which means it gets plenty of sunlight in the morning, less in the afternoon. In spring and autumn this is ideal, I can generally paint all day long in good, natural light. Summer can be a bit problematic, in that too much light (and heat) streams in, so I tend to use a portable desk away from the direct light, sometimes in the garden in the shade of a tree. But winter causes the biggest problem of all.

You probably cannot see it, but there's snow falling in the garden. And the light levels are very low at this time of year. Painting by natural light is often impossible during these darker months.

The solution is one I have struggled with for years. I have tried several lamps, with varying costs and various levels of success. The main problem is not so much the bulbs, but the lamps, with complicated angle poise or bendy metal arms to allow multiple positioning of the lamp. I have gone through three in as many years, and at £100 per lamp it's costing me dearly.

However, I think I might have found the solution. My latest attempt at illumination is showing great promise. It's a floor lamp that sits just above head height (when seated), so it's perfect at providing plenty of light just over the shoulder, at eye level. I don't have to hunch forward to peer into the pool of light provided by a desk lamp, I can sit back, which is comfortable and more healthy. It has "daylight" bulbs, which are supposed to roughly match the ambient light that would be produced at midday in summer, or at least that's the claim. It's not the same as natural light, it's more of a white light, which is a decent second best to the real thing (for me at any rate). So it gives a good amount of light that is similar to the real thing, a little bit brighter than I would like, but nothing is ever going to match that lovely soft light from an overcast day in the north of England!

Best of all, it's much, much cheaper than previous lamps. I got mine from Amazon in the UK. I had been looking at it for a few weeks, it was already a bargain at £40, but then amazingly it cropped up in the Black Friday promotion and I snapped it up for £30. Here's a link for the lamp in question, still a very good buy at the £40 price tag, if you are looking for a new lamp.
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