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My favorite Warhammer 40,000 strategy release of last year continues to expand in the form of a new small DLC and a fresh patch for the ...

WH40k: Gladius - Fortification Pack WH40k: Gladius - Fortification Pack

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

My favorite Warhammer 40,000 strategy release of last year continues to expand in the form of a new small DLC and a fresh patch for the full game. Gladius, the 4X title (with a heavy emphasis on the eXterminate portion) is all about building up your war machine and then engaging in non-stop war until you've conquered the map. The Fortification Pack is a new DLC for the game which adds a powerful defensive unit into the roster for each faction. At just $5, this isn't a DLC that's going to radically change the game, but if you've enjoyed it so far, it's a cheap way to bring some fresh options into the mix. Released along with the DLC is the version 1.4 update which focuses on balance changes and bug fixes. It's good to see this enjoyable game continue to receive polish and new content on a regular basis. 

So, what exactly are you getting in this new pack? Six new units, one for each faction, that will come into play in the mid and late game. The units are all defensive in nature, with some being buildings and some being mobile units that protect their allies. From the official description:

Space Marines - Aquila Macro-Cannon
Macro-cannon Aquila Strongpoints are massive fortifications, often used as bastions in Imperial defensive battle lines. Each consists of a munitions silo, topped by a large turret that houses the huge macro-cannon that gives the strongpoint its name. The munitions silo allows the Aquila Macrocannon to fire special "Quake Shells," each of which measures several Terran feet in length and has a powerful charge that causes the shells to reach hypersonic velocity when the Macrocannon is fired.

Astra Militarum - Void Shield GeneratorVoid shields are normally localised force fields reserved for protecting the monolithic Titans of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but static generators can be erected to serve as an aegis for other targets of vital import. The largest Void Shield generators can even project an invisible bubble of power across a large area of the battlefield, sheltering both troops and strategically vital battlefield locations by absorbing or deflecting the energy of incoming munitions.

Chaos Space Marines - Noctilith CrownNoctilith Crowns are brutal edifices raised up by the Chaos Space Marines to weaken the very foundations of reality. Crafted from the mysterious material known as blackstone, these vast psychic resonators thin the veil to deadly effect, shielding your own units and damaging enemy psykers. 

Necrons - Gauss Pylon The mysterious Necron defence turrets, designated as 'Pylons' by those who originally encountered them, were first recorded on the uncharged world of WDY-272. Rising suddenly from the desert sands, the Gauss Pylons opened fire without warning and with devastating effect, tanks and armoured carriers burning as the crescent-shaped weapons tore through the unsuspecting Imperial Guard column whilst resisting all return fire.

Orks - Big MekEspecially talented or popular Mekboyz will soon attract a following, lording it over a growing gang of underlings. A Mek with this much clout is referred to as a Big Mek, and can prove indispensable to the local Warboss with his knowledge of shokk attack guns, force field technology, and tellyporta rigs.

Tyranids - BiovoresA Biovore is a squat, bloated creature -- yet no less deadly for all that. Deep within its lumpen form, the Biovore nurtures a clutch of Spore Mines -- living bombs that blanket the enemy in acids, poisons and shrapnel-sized pieces of chitin. Biovores thump forward in battle, bony protrusions on their fore-limbs anchoring themselves into the ground as they release their vile payload in a single shuddering spasm.

While I haven't had time to play through multiple campaigns to try out all of these units, they clearly add some fun new options to the game. Who doesn't like building giant artillery cannons and shield generators? If you've enjoyed Gladius in the past like I did, this seems like a no-brainer. 

If you haven't had a try at Gladius yet, it's 50% off right now if you buy directly from the Matrix store. The game is definitely worth your time at $20 if you want a relatively simple, war focused 4X steeped in 40k grimdark-ness

If you already have Gladius, the Fortification Pack can picked up in the usual places - the Matrix/Slitherine store, Steam and GoG.

- Joe Beard

Among the multitude of Warhammer 40k games that have swarmed across gamers’ PC’s the last couple of years, only a few really stood...

Gladius - Relics of War: Tyranids DLC Gladius - Relics of War: Tyranids DLC

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

Among the multitude of Warhammer 40k games that have swarmed across gamers’ PC’s the last couple of years, only a few really stood out as interesting uses of the license. One of my favorites from last year was Gladius: Relics of War. This 40k take on the 4x genre was a streamlined and fast paced rendition of the classic 4X formula. Diplomacy was completely tossed out the window in favor of a massive roster of units, each with their own distinct tactical uses. If you aren’t familiar with the game at all, check out my review here for all the details. Now we have the first new faction DLC for the game, bringing an alien horde perfectly suited to the battlefields of Gladius: the Tyranids. While the DLC doesn’t change the overall structure of the game much, the Tyranids come with their own set of unique mechanics that are a masterclass in matching theme and gameplay.

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably familiar with the Tyranids already. These are the Zerg of the 40k world. Giant, nightmarish swarms of monsters that resemble a varied assortment of giant space bug dinosaur things. They’re all teeth and claws, plasma launchers and acid blood, controlled by a mind hive consciousness and numbering in the trillions. They feel no fear, no remorse, and only desire one thing: to consume all biological life everywhere they go. Sounds like some great new neighbors, right?

While the Tyranids have a number of fearsome and deadly units in their arsenal, they actually begin the game quite weak. The lower tier Tyranid units are cheap and many are fast, but they can’t venture too far by themselves. Remember that part about being controlled by a hive mind? Not all of the Tyranid units have a direct “synaptic link” to the hive. Every turn spent out of direct contact with the hive causes these units to lose health and they can even become feral if detached too long, causing the player to lose control of them. This means that you must keep a more powerful unit around that can act as a relay for the hive mind. I really liked how this forced you to make some tough tactical considerations. Use your big bads to spearhead an offensive, and you risk their destruction. Losing your link to the hive could cause an offensive push to completely disintegrate. Playing as the Tyranids involves a lot of expansion and contraction of your forces. Send some fast scouts out for reconnaissance, quickly pull them back to a synaptic linked unit, then concentrate your forces and move towards whatever goal you have in mind (i.e. consuming everything in your path). This makes playing the Tyranids tactically distinct from other factions. Each group of weaker units needs a synaptic unit as the core of their group, and they must all move together to be fully effective. Compare this with the Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard) who’s lowliest unit of guardsmen can at least be stationed alone in some remote corner of the map to watch over a flank. For the Tyranids, a grouping of units is almost always necessary for any task. The Tyranids do not hold ground very well, they must always be on the move in one direction or the other.

On the strategic level, the Tyranids have some distinct differences as well. Resources have been distilled down to just two things, biomass and influence. Biomass is the organic matter that the Tyranids melt down and turn into all of their fearsome creatures and buildings. You get this by stripping the land bare and building up certain base structures. Unsurprisingly, you always need more, more, more. You can also reclaim some biomass by bringing units back to base to be tossed back into the bubbling goo. While this sounds like a minor gimmick, it’s actually entirely necessary for smoothly switching gears between one tier of units and the next when you are running tight on resources. A situation I found myself in several times.

The other resource important for Tyranid strategy is influence. This is used to power many buildings and some key special abilities. You can burn through a lot of influence in a hurry by scooping up extra biomass anywhere on the map with the Malanthrope unit, or to keep units under control longer when they are away from the hive mind. Having just the two key resources for all of your production and abilities may sound simple, but it actually creates an interesting economic situation where you are constantly balancing one with the other, while trying not to simultaneously run out of both.

A great touch to the game is how the Tyranids actually change the appearance of the map around them as the game progresses. The expansion of your hives and the special ability of the Malanthropes literally strips the planet to the bedrock, removing all vegetation and any trace of life one hex at a time. Gladius isn't all that pretty to begin with, and the Tyranids do their best to make it look even worse.

Like the other factions, the Tyranids have a tech tree mostly focused on unlocking new units and then bigger and badder upgrades for them. You can choose to spread research around to give yourself a lot of options, or focus on upgrading one particular line of units quickly. I really liked the variety of units offered for the Tyranids. You of course have hulking monstrosities that you can load up with tons of weapons, but there are also incredibly fast units for hit-and-run tactics, a stealth unit, and a hero that can allow you to move units around underground. All of these options, with the general mix of units between cannon fodder infantry and the big stuff that could startle a Space Marine, give the Tyranids a great roster to choose your army from.

While the Tyranids may sound like an unstoppable faction ready to swarm over everyone else on Gladius, they are actually rated “Hard” (along with the Imperial Guard faction) and this was no lie. My first run at the game on normal difficulty ended with my being overwhelmed by two enemy factions and some neutral units at the same time. This was mostly my fault for trying to spread out too far, too fast. On my second run I took the difficulty down a notch to Easy. Around turn 200 I’m still alive, but it’s been a struggle most of the way. The enemy AI pulls no punches and the world itself is hostile to your presence.

Look at all that lovely biomass, ready to be consumed.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on the updates to Gladius overall since launch in July last year. A long series of small updates and tweaks has really polished what was already a solid experience. The most impressive is the enemy AI, which for me presented a serious challenge. In a big name 4X series which uses the same sort of hex-based combat and rhymes with Bivilaration, it has long been a common sight to see an AI make bone-headed moves with their units and waste them on futile attacks while marching right past much easier targets. Not so in Gladius. Here the enemy forces will swarm out of the fog of war if you venture near their territory, only to immediately pull back if you are able to heavily outnumber them. Enemy units routinely scout the edges of your territory, snapping up undefended strategic resource locations and prodding deeper where they can. The enemy will give battle when they have a large enough force, and then reinforce or retreat as the fight goes one way or the other. It was rare to get an easy kill on an enemy unit without extending your own forces into the no-man’s-land.

The Imperial Guard won't go down as easily as you might imagine.

As you can tell from my review, I really like the Tyranids expansion for Gladius. While the game has a had a couple small DLC since launch, this is the first addition of an entire faction and it has set the bar very high. The matching of theme and gameplay mechanics is top-notch and makes the Tyranids a fresh experience even for veterans of the game. I imagine we are guaranteed to see more factions added over time, and I hope they are all done this well.

-Joe Beard

Gladius: Tyranids is available directly from Slitherine and on Steam/GoG
Developer: Proxy Studios
Publisher: Slitherine

Can you just not get enough of leading Space Marines against the enemies of the Imperium? Then I have good news for you! The latest in...

Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

Can you just not get enough of leading Space Marines against the enemies of the Imperium? Then I have good news for you! The latest in the endless march of Warhammer 40k titles has recently released and I'm here to tell you all about it. Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, developed by HeroCraft, attempts to stand out from the pack by offering up a fresh mish-mash of genres that work surprisingly well together.

Basically, this is a turn based tactical game that plays out on a grid, where each unit can take two actions per turn, much like XCOM. The twist is that each character takes actions based on cards in their hand. Most of these cards are weapons that have different attack patterns and damage values, from chain swords and power fists to heavy bolters, rocket launchers, plasma guns, and every other weapon you know and love from 40k. Most weapon cards can optionally be used to move your character. Once played, the card goes back into the deck. There are also other kinds of cards, such as dedicated movement cards which let you cover much more ground, healing cards, special weapons which can be permanently equipped and reloaded, and combo cards which give you some kind of bonus simply by staying in your hand.

For the enemy, the cards in hand are usually generic, and based primarily on whether they are ranged or melee fighters. You control your primary character and two fellow Space Marines chosen from a squad of five. Your allies have unique decks based on their class. There's a scout-sniper, a heavy weapons dude, a Terminator, and others. You can tweak their decks to a certain extent, but really their options depend on their class. Your primary character, however, can be fully customized with a 30 card deck chosen from dozens of options. This process feels very much like that of Hearthstone. You can open new booster packs of cards, or spend a currency to randomly generate new cards of a particular power level. Cards come in several tiers, from common to legendary. As you play the game you will unlock more and more cards to toy around with. Gotta' collect 'em all!

Now, one might think that you would simply put all the most powerful cards in your deck, but there is a trade off. Turn order in Space Wolf is dynamic. It changes constantly depending on how much "effort" the most recently active character built up with his actions. More powerful cards add a lot of effort to your character, and whoever has the lowest total gets to go next. So if you play two really strong cards in one turn, some of your enemies may actually get to take extra actions before that character goes again. There are, of course, cards that can help lower your effort faster and offset using a big powerful card. I found this system to be one of the better ideas in Space Wolf, as it gives you a good reason to consider whether you should take an action now, or perhaps delay it until later for greater results.

The tactical decision making is where the game shines. Positioning matters a great deal, since most weapons have a limited firing arc or distinct shape. Some examples include the sniper rifles, which have a very long range, but the arc is only one square wide, so you must be facing the enemy directly. The big power axes can one-shot KO most enemies, but can hit only the single square in front of the Marine wielding them.Other weapons do less damage, but have much wider arcs. The flamethrowers fire in a cone pattern, so you ideally want to engage a group of enemies from medium range to hit several at once. The battlefields of the game are often somewhat cramped, so you need to think ahead as your Marines move to engage. You don't want to have one standing in a spot that denies another a golden opportunity to do some damage, or even keeping one of your soldiers out of the fight entirely. You will need to press every advantage you can, since your Marines are always outnumbered, and often facing a seemingly endless flow of fresh enemies. If you allow too many foes to close within striking distance of your men, you will start taking damage much faster than the limited healing cards can restore it.

Despite being a game that is also available on iPad and Android devices, Space Wolf manages to look quite respectable on PC. The textures and models are simple, but well done, the Space Marines in particular. The huge variety of weapons all have appropriate attack animations and effects, though some are better than others. For example, the flamethrower spews out a ton of fire over a large area and looks great doing it, but the poor bolters only spit out a handful of rounds before going silent. It's a bit underwhelming really, but makes sense for game balance. The melee attacks, I am happy to say, all look quite good and result in blood spraying everywhere. This is 40k after all!

The area where this game struggles the most is scenario design. While the combat itself is entertaining, and there is a surprising variety of locales to fight through, the objective is pretty much always the same: walk through the level and kill enemies as they spawn in around you. Enemies appear here and there and everywhere, which removes any sense of overall strategy from the game. You have no way of knowing whether a new group is going to appear from a direction that makes sense thematically, or just materialize from the ether right next to your Marines. One mission looked to mix this up, by having you defend a Space Marine priest as he performed some sort of ritual, but then all of the enemies simply came running down a single hallway, two or three at a time. This defied the normal expectation in the worst way, it gave you a new objective, but still took away any strategic decision making. At the end of the day, this is a game focused on tactical combat. Kill the enemy faster than they can damage your men, and you will walk away the victor.

In addition to the twenty or so missions of the campaign, there is a survival mode, which you can watch me play here and PvP multiplayer. I tried a couple of times to find an online match, but it seemed no one else was on at the time. Looking at the leader boards, there are at least a few dozen dedicated players out there who have played hundreds of matches online, so I can only assume it works well.

Space Wolf is a good value for the price, you get a lot of places and people to fight, and lots of options for customizing your team. Anyone who is addicted to building decks of cards in Hearthstone or similar will love that aspect of the game. While the combat lacks variety in terms of strategy, it makes up for it with a nice spread of maps and enemy types. There are cultists, corrupted Imperial Guardsmen, Chaos Marines and even more supernatural foes to kill as you progress through the game. The survival mode is almost a game unto itself, since you will need to build a deck focused on long-term sustainability if you want to complete all of the waves. Finally, the online mode is there if you can find an opponent, which is where you would need some real strategy to win. If you are looking for a fresh take on the turn-based tactical genre, and especially if you like purging chaos, give Space Wolf a try.

Developed by HeroCraft
Available on Steam, iOS, and Google Play.

- Joe Beard

Legacy of the Weirdboy is the first DLC available for Warhammer 40k: Sanctus Reach. If you aren't familiar with Sanctus Reach, pleas...

Sanctus Reach: Legacy of the Weirdboy DLC Review Sanctus Reach: Legacy of the Weirdboy DLC Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

Legacy of the Weirdboy is the first DLC available for Warhammer 40k: Sanctus Reach. If you aren't familiar with Sanctus Reach, please check out my review for the base game, which can be found here. In short, it is a turn based strategy game in which the Marines of the Space Wolves Chapter take on a horde of Orks while defending the Knight World of Alaric Prime. Legacy of the Weirdboy flips you over to the other side of this bloody conflict, putting you in the green skin of Big Redd da Warphead, a "Weirdboy," or mage type of character, for those who don't speak 40k. Big Redd is on a mission to build a "teleporta" that he will use to strike at the heart of the Space Marines. Standing in your way is a deadly army of said Marines, eager to turn your Orks into so many piles of body parts. 

Legacy of the Weirdboy offers you a vast array of unit types to play with, as your horde is made up of Orks of all shapes and sizes, carrying a variety of weaponry. I was eager to get my hands on some units in particular, like the massive Battle Wagon and various "Meks" which sport all sorts of nightmarish pointy appendages, rocket launchers, and flame throwers. These units gave me a lot of trouble in the base game campaigns, so it was quite the thrill to use them myself. The Orks have some new units to try out as well, including a very useful medic hero. The Space Marines have a few new toys of their own that you will discover throughout the campaign. If your Orks survive long enough to kill some Marines, they can gain experience and level up, unlocking a choice of various new special abilities. Some of these can turn decent units into really vicious killers. 

Exploring the ins and outs of your own personal Waaagh is the meat of this experience for veterans of the Space Marine campaigns. I found that the Ork units did not handle how I expected, but in a good way. While some of your units are just living shields to distract the enemy, this is not a campaign where you can simply charge forward without finesse, hoping to overwhelm the enemy with sheer numbers. The Space Marines are heavily armed and armored, and will cut your Orks to ribbons if you charge at them recklessly. Even the most basic Space Marine squad will not go down easily, and must be dealt with in a deliberate manner. This contrasts with the Orks, who have a mixture of super-heavy units and glass cannons, with a large helping of marginally useful, but ultimately expendable, cheap units to round things out. A battle of attrition will go poorly for you, which was a lesson I quickly learned before rebooting the first mission.

The DLC improves a bit on the structure of the campaign itself, but still leaves room for improvement. Like in the base game, the campaign consists of a handful of set-piece battles separated by 3-4 skirmish battles each. These skirmishes are still rather unremarkable filler, but the story missions themselves have been improved with more detailed intros and some nice artwork to set the scene. There are only four of the story missions, but each one is a hefty scenario that will take a couple of hours to complete. The overall story is still thin compared to other Warhammer 40k games, but feels much more coherent than before. I hope for the next DLC the ratio of filler to story missions is improved, since they are quite good and varied in their gameplay.

Overall, this is a solid expansion for fans of Sanctus Reach, and is exactly what I like to see in add-on content. Every facet of the game has been improved in some way, while giving you a fresh new experience to enjoy. The price is a very reasonable $10. I expect we will be seeing several more DLC for Sanctus Reach, and I look forward to watching how the game evolves. Fingers crossed that we get to see the Imperial Guard join the fray!

Legacy of the Weirdboy can be purchased directly from Matrix/Slitherine, or found on Steam.

- Joe Beard

Legacy of the Weirdboy, the first DLC for Sanctus Reach, just came out. You can expect my full review in a few days, but in the meant...

WH40k Sanctus Reach: Legacy of the Weirdboy Gameplay Video WH40k Sanctus Reach: Legacy of the Weirdboy Gameplay Video

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

Legacy of the Weirdboy, the first DLC for Sanctus Reach, just came out. You can expect my full review in a few days, but in the meantime here is a gameplay video to give you a taste of what you can expect. For once I make a video and actually win the scenario!

- Joe Beard

Here's a video I did of me playing a round of the new arena survival mode in Space Wolf! It was part of a large update that recentl...

Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf Survival Mode Video Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf Survival Mode Video

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

Here's a video I did of me playing a round of the new arena survival mode in Space Wolf! It was part of a large update that recently came out. Click here for my written preview that details how the game mechanics work.

Also, if you already have the game, you can use the promo code SURVIVALPC on the collection screen in game to get five boosters.

Official Site:
Developer: HeroCraft

- Joe Beard

Once upon a time there were only a couple of Warhammer 40k games for PC, and there was much lamenting this fact, until one day the wi...

Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf Preview Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf Preview

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

Once upon a time there were only a couple of Warhammer 40k games for PC, and there was much lamenting this fact, until one day the winds changed, and 40k games of various quality began springing up like Orks. Some of these new games were decent enough, while others were a bit of a mess. One thing is for certain, developers were forced to pair the theme of 40k with all sorts of interesting mechanics, simply to stand apart from the crowd. 

Into this crowded field of combatants steps Warhammer 40k: Space Wolf, a game which pairs the turn based tactical combat of XCOM with the deck building mechanics of Hearthstone.  Individual Space Marines travel about on a grid facing off against Chaos Marines and other heretics. Your Marines each have a deck of cards which are drawn from to form your "hand" of options. The cards can be played to attack, move, or activate some other ability. Once you play a card it's gone, so you have to balance what you need now with what you may want to do in the future. While this may seem odd to some, this card driven combat actually works quite well, and is even addicting. Completing scenarios and optional objectives will unlock more cards for you to use in your decks. There is also a light RPG system of leveling up the characters in your squad, allowing you to unlock various perks for each one. 

The cards represent all the different weapons you would expect to find on a 40k battlefield. Bolters of all types, melta guns, flamers, explosives, and various combination weapons. There are also the ever grisly melee weapons like chainswords, axes, power fists, spears, and more. For any given weapon, there are a variety of different cards which represent it, some with better stats and even extra abilities, like letting you draw another card when they are played. One important stat on every card is the "effort" value, which ties into the initiative system. Basically, using cards will increase your effort level for that character, then over time that number will decrease, and this constantly shifting value determines the dynamic turn order. Using the really cool and powerful cards will increase the number faster, which means an enemy using lighter attacks may get to go twice before you character acts again. Balancing this number is a critical part of the gameplay, as enemy units often out number yours considerably, and edging them out in turn order can be the difference between victory and annihilation. 

Some cards can also let you (and the forces of Chaos) pull off combo moves that will give some kind of bonus. These often have a requirement such as attacking an enemy from a specific range, or using a melee weapon, before they activate. Firing off these combos will help you be more efficient, which is important because the enemy squads will keep coming at you with no mercy during most missions. 

Another type of card is one that can be "equipped" on your character. These often give you an overwatch ability that can fire during the enemy's turn. Unlike most cards, these equipped cards stay around and can be "reloaded" by sacrificing certain other cards from your hand.

Each scenario gives you some sort of task, such as reaching a certain point on the map and defeating an enemy, saving a comrade, or simply holding out against waves of attackers. There are also optional objectives you can try to complete to earn bonuses. I was surprised to find myself playing the same mission several times over, trying to get the optimal outcome. The scenarios typically have your Marines facing a ton of enemies that spawn in at the most inopportune moments. This creates a challenge certainly, but can sometimes feel cheap, since you really have no idea when or where they will arrive. You may survive the fight the first time around, but will likely be unable to complete the bonus objectives until playing through again with a bit of foreknowledge about where and when attacks will come. 

To get the most out of your squad for a particular scenario, you may need to go back to the barracks and tweak your team. This includes changing up the cards in your deck, and switching out different perks for each squad member. You can invest a limited number of points in unlocking more perks for a given marine, or your primary character. You can also choose to send your main man into battle with a different armored suit. Scout, tactical (the standard), and terminator options are available. Each comes with advantages and disadvantages, and unique options in terms of cards, which will change up your strategy quite a bit. The scout armor, for example, has lighter defenses, but can move quickly and use sniper rifles.

Burning more than one enemy with the flamer is always satisfying.
Outside of missions, you can also spend resources to craft new cards and try to get better versions of each one. Much like other collectible card games, there's a drive to collect all of the "legendary" cards that will really beef up your deck. I've only tinkered with that area of things, so I'll save more details for my review in the future. Likewise, the game does have multiplayer, but I have not dipped my toe in that pool of chaos just yet.

I'll talk a bit about the graphics and sound for a moment. While the visuals are not going to blow anyone away, as this was originally a mobile game, they serve their purpose well enough. The animations are nicely done in particular, with especially meaty melee attacks that send blood flying. The sound effects are pleasing as well, better than I expected going in. I really enjoyed the music that I have heard so far. It's quite a moody and matches the grim dark tone.

You might have noticed that I mentioned this was originally a mobile game. Don't start backing away! The developers are well aware of the stigma that many such cross-platform games face, and they are deliberately setting out to make this version of the game take full advantage of being on PC. Obviously, the fact that they are taking their time developing the game for the next several months, instead of just shoving a port onto Windows and calling it good, speaks volumes on its own. They are accepting feedback from players, and want to make this the best version of the game out there.

While this game is still in very early access (I think I started at version 0.0.2 and it's now at 0.0.6), there is certainly enough solid gameplay here for anyone looking for some more WH 40k gaming. The combination of card driven actions and tactical turn based movement works better than anyone might expect. The game only costs $12 at the moment, so if you are at all interested you won't be risking much by giving it a shot. If you have your doubts, just keep an eye on the steady stream of updates coming from the developers. This week they made some big changes with weapon balancing, which I was playing with right before this review. This update alone increased my enjoyment of the gameplay quite a bit, since it made melee weapons a lot easier to engage with. 

I look forward to seeing how this game shapes up over the course of the year. The planned release date is sometime in Q4 of 2017.

Developer: HeroCraft

- Joe Beard

In the grim dark future of the 41st millennium, there is only war. That war now spreads to the Knight world of Alaric Prime as the R...

Warhammer 40K: Sanctus Reach Warhammer 40K: Sanctus Reach

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Warhammer 40k

In the grim dark future of the 41st millennium, there is only war. That war now spreads to the Knight world of Alaric Prime as the Red Waaagh! led by Grukk Face-rippa invades the planet. Only the Space Wolves, the Norse themed chapter of the Space Marines, stand ready to defeat the hordes of Orks pouring across the surface. Sanctus Reach is a turn based tactical game depicting the campaigns fought in that war, at the scale of individual squads, vehicles, and weapons teams.

Sanctus Reach is the latest strategy title from veteran wargame publisher Slitherine, however, the developer is the rookie studio Straylight Entertainment. While I'm not privy to exactly how the Slitherine development process works, it is clear that Sanctus Reach draws heavily from other recent Slitherine productions. Fans of Battle Academy 1+2, Pike and Shot, or Sengoku Jidai will immediately feel at home in this game, as the controls and interface are very similar. Notably, this is the second Warhammer 40k title from Slitherine, with the first being WH 40k: Armageddon, which drew a great deal of its design influence from Panzer Corps, as opposed to Battle Academy. Now, enough with the pedigree, let's kill some xenos scum!

Space Wolves vs Orks. There will be blood, lots of it.

One thing is immediately apparent upon playing Sanctus Reach for the first time: this is, by a mile, the best looking 3D game that Slitherine has ever published. The units are highly detailed and smoothly animated, rivaling or besting those seen in screenshots for the upcoming Dawn of War 3. While the units will spend most of their time standing around waiting for their turn to fight, they will look fantastic doing it. The combat is also far bloodier than one might expect from Slitherine. Blood gushes out of units with each hit, and Orks often explode into chunks of meat when killed, accompanied by appropriately gruesome splattering sound effects. Think chunks of wet meat being thrown against a wall.

Speaking of getting into the fight, let's jump right into the meat of the game, the combat itself.  While there have been many recent titles set in the Warhammer 40k universe, none have really come close to depicted the table top game itself. No doubt Games Workshop is leery of letting a PC game exist which mimics the exact gameplay of their flagship product. Why would anyone spend a small fortune on models, paint, and rule books when they could just fire up a PC game that gave them the same experience? Having never played the table top game myself, I won't attempt to make a direct comparison, but certainly Sanctus Reach comes closer than anything else seen before. If the game spawns a series of DLC and expansions like Armageddon has, we could be looking at the go-to game for Warhammer 40k fans seeking a digital turn-based fix.

The combat in Sanctus Reach takes place on a square-based grid which stretches across bleak and ugly (in a good way) locales dotted with ancient ruins, dead forests, human military bases, industrial centers, and Ork encampments. Terrain can play a key role in strategy, as many objects provide cover from ranged fire, while others block line of sight entirely. With each faction fielding many melee focused units, careful positioning around various objects is critical to holding the line and keeping the squishier ranged units safe. Each side in this conflict actually has 30 different units available, each with a distinct role to play on the battlefield. On your turn, every unit can be activated in whatever order you choose. Each unit can attack twice, move a certain number of squares, and in some cases utilize a special ability. Once all of your units have been exhausted, your opponent gets a chance to go. This style of gameplay is a tried and true one, and it gets a few new tricks in Sanctus Reach. The facing of every unit can be adjusted before ending your turn, and you will want to do this carefully, as each combatant gets one free reaction shot against enemy units moving into its line of fire during the opposing player's turn. On your turn, you will be warned about these reaction shots by seeing the movement grid turn red in spaces where the enemy could get a free shot. Facing is even more important for vehicles, as their armor is usually weaker on the sides and rear. Helpfully, the facing of the hull and turret can be set independently for some vehicles.

Unit morale is a factor in the combat as well. An important early tactic for keeping the swarms of weaker Ork units at bay is to hit them with the flamethrower unit, which does good damage across a wide area but more importantly causes a massive drop in morale for any units caught in the flames. This makes it easy for your other units to mop up without much fear of reprisal. Morale matters less for the Space Marines themselves, however, since they will almost always die fighting long before they panic and run. I expect if there is an Imperial Guard campaign in the future, the player will have to pay much more attention to this value.

The Orks have all sorts of nasty toys on hand.

With all of the different unit types available for you and the enemy, you must be deliberate with each decision. Rushing a unit forward to finish off a foe could leave it vulnerable to being surrounded on the enemy's turn. On the other hand, setting up an ambush, with multiple units' reaction fire targeting a likely approach, could net you a free kill. You must always consider strengths and weaknesses of unit types as well. Meltagun infantry are awesome at taking down armored units and vehicles, but are completely useless in a close up brawl. Flamethrower units can send packs of Orks running, but hardly scratch even the lighter Ork vehicles. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of Sanctus Reach, fielding a balanced mix of units and utilizing them in the most efficient way possible. You will need to be efficient, because the Orks vastly outnumber the Space Marines in every scenario. Against these mobs of greenskins, sloppy tactics will get your force wiped out in a matter of a few turns. More than once I saw the first wave of the enemy approaching and thought that there was no way my little army of Space Marines would survive.  However, by employing solid tactics I could (usually) scrape out a victory or even turn the tide and mercilessly slaughter the fleeing Orks. The larger battles are particularly engaging, as you are often forced to spread your forces out to different hot spots at the same time. Choosing where to send your best units is always a challenging decision. Scouting units even manage to play an important role at times. Getting a couple of turns warning to shift your defenses, or knowing exactly how many units you will need to take a victory point, is always useful and could make the difference between victory and defeat.

This game achieves one thing in particular, something that is important in any strategy game, and that is feeling a sense of satisfaction when your forces are pulling ahead in the fight. In almost every mission of Sanctus Reach, you will be faced with large groups of greenskin units rushing at your brave Space Marines. There is tension and a sense of imminent peril in these moments. However, make the right choices, put your men in the right places, and you will be turning green Orks into red chunks left and right. What was once a deadly horde is now scattered and fleeing before your soldiers, and it feels great.

The game's AI does a good enough job leading its forces most of the time. That's not saying much considering the lore accurate tactics for Orks is to simply have them attack, attack, attack. However, you will find that the AI can give you a good run for your money if you aren't paying attention. It will focus on an exposed unit, or ignore a unit it can't really damage to rush past towards one that it can. At other times though, the AI seemed indecisive, and would have a few units uselessly meander around at the edge of a battle.

I found that there were a few balance issues in the build I was playing, but the developer notes indicated that they were still tweaking things, so I won't knock the game for that. In particular, the Ork Battlewagons seemed grossly overpowered, able to often kill entire Space Marine squads in one turn from a long distance, while being almost indestructible. I also encountered a few bugs and minor annoyances like the camera not being able to pan far enough to see the entire field at certain zoom levels and other minor UI glitches. These all seemed like small issues which could be cleaned up in short order. At no point did the game crash or show signs of anything less than silky smooth performance.

On the whole, I think this engine fits Warhammer 40k quite nicely. The combat is at that sweet spot of squad-level maneuvering where you get a bit of that X-COM tactical feel, but on such a scale that every battle feels like an important struggle. It also is granular enough for it to make sense that your hero units are running around on their own, using special abilities and taking on entire Ork squads alone. The system definitely has the flexibility to allow for the other factions of the 40k universe to make an appearance in the future. Other factions will necessitate different tactics, which will only enrich the experience on offer here. While Space Marines can hold their ground against most any Ork unit, an Imperial Guard army would need a lot more artillery backing up their lines of numerous, yet weak troopers. An Eldar army could be especially interesting to play, using hit and run tactics to pick off exposed units, without the need for the frantic mouse clicking and micro-management of an RTS. There are a lot of possibilities to be explored here. I expect that this game already has an extensive list of DLC and expansions lined up for production, and I think it will do well in the long run, but there are some rough edges that need smoothing out in the meantime.

The Space Wolves prepare to attack.

There were many instances in this game where I felt like a feature was done well in one way, but fell short in another. For example, when your Dreadnought units move, each step causes the camera to rattle just a bit, adding some real weight to the footfalls, but, those steps don't leave any kind of footprint on the ground or kick up dust. Many objects like walls and barriers can be destroyed by manually targeting them, but not even your flamethrowers can get rid of a dead tree blocking your line of sight. Melee combat has some impressive gore effects and Ork heads rolling on the ground, but the actual attack animations don't have that much variety to them. I realize this is an effort from a smaller studio, but everyone knows the fun of Warhammer 40k is 50% about the spectacle of over the top carnage. The ranged attack animations and effects are generally better, especially for the flamethrowers and explosives. Also, did I mention how good the blood and gore is in this game? It's really good, and you will see it often. Sound is certainly a mixed bag as well. Some weapons, like the missile launchers and flamethrowers, sound great, while others, like the meltagun or bolters, sound downright puny. There were also a couple of sound effects which seemed to be completely missing. The music is adequate, dark and moody, but as far as I could tell there were only a couple of tracks, or they all sounded exactly same.

There is one major feature of the game that I feel falls into this mixed bag category as well. The campaign structure itself. On the one hand, you get two lengthy campaigns with a lot of missions, but many of those missions are just random skirmishes. These skirmishes have no flavor to them really, which isn't that bad on it's own, but you are forced to grind through three of them between each story mission. I feel like there was so much more they could have done with these missions. Perhaps have the player choose two out of three missions, with each one offering some kind of bonus for the coming set-piece battle, or adding a unique unit to the available roster. Or, throw in some kind of gameplay altering rule change or unit limitation in a skirmish to force a change in tactics. As it stands, these missions are simply filler, there to lengthen the campaign and not much else. The unique story missions are much more interesting. These have you fighting through some kind of specific scenario, such as assaulting a fortress, escorting transports, or fending off an Ork ambush. Later in each campaign you get the chance to take on the big baddies of the Waaagh!

Actual screenshot from my PC. These are some good looking Space Marines!
One cool aspect of the campaign is that your units persist from mission to mission and gain experience. When they level up they become more powerful and can gain new abilities. This of course gives you an incentive to keep them alive and get as many kills as possible. I also liked how every unit has an individual name, letting you grow more attached to them over time as they purge xenos and live to tell the tale. As units grow in abilities, you gain a lot more options in how to fight. There are all sorts of grenades and other items that put different effects on enemy units, like stunning them or dropping morale. Units can also get buffs to attacking particular enemy unit types, like vehicles. As you face larger groups of enemies, using these abilities to the max becomes critical to your survival.

Now I must come to my single greatest letdown with this game: There is not nearly enough "fluff" for my tastes. You know, that part of any Warhammer 40k game or book where the characters talk about purging and cleansing and dying for the Emperor? You get only just a whiff of it here. The story is told through mission briefings that are, at best, one paragraph long, and seem to assume that you already know who the characters are and what they are doing. For example, the description for the first campaign describes your unit commander impatiently launching his forces towards battle on the planet below, then picking up a distress signal on the way down. Great, sounds interesting! Then you launch the first scenario, which has your forces defending a crashed Thunderhawk, with the objective to capture a nearby communications tower. How did we get here? I guess the ship was shot down, the game doesn't take time to explain. Why do we need to reach that communications tower? Because the mission briefing says so. Oh, okay, I guess. Do we get an explanation of the situation once the mission is completed? Nope, nothing at all. This pattern continues through each campaign. It feels like there is a story going on, but it is told through the briefest of dialogue snippets. Don't forget the three skirmishes between each unique scenario, which have no specific context at all, and spread the 40k butter far too thin.

The level design of the "set-piece" battles is often interesting, and the scale ramps up until you are fielding massive forces and wreaking havoc on the Ork horde with all sorts of fun toys, but, rarely does it seem to have much of an overarching purpose. I have to compare this with Warhammer 40k: Armageddon. As mentioned, this was another title published by Slitherine that came out a couple of years ago. One of the most well regarded features of that game was the lengthy and well voice-acted dialogue that occurred before and during missions. The tutorial campaign alone in that game was five missions long and used that time to introduce and develop various important characters, while building up tension towards the start of the actual campaign. Events would routinely occur in the middle of missions, potentially changing your objectives, with characters popping in to comment on what was happening, and sometimes even offering you a choice in how to proceed with the story. There are characters in Sanctus Reach, there is the extensive lore of the Space Wolves, and there is some kind of ongoing story about the battle for Alaric Prime, but it is all referenced in the barest of detail. In Armageddon, you really felt like your forces were fighting in a grim war to save the planet, with the story dictating your goals from mission to mission. I did not get that feeling from Sanctus Reach. The actual gameplay within the missions was fun, but at the end of each one you simply get a screen saying you won, with no narrative follow-up at all, then it's straight back to the mission selection screen. It's a very anti-climatic way to end even the most exciting of battles. Armageddon did it so much better, and any future campaigns for Sanctus Reach or its sequels should take a note from that playbook.

Okay, with that done, I would like to hit on a couple positive notes before wrapping up.

The Imperial Knight in its natural habitat, knee deep in Ork corpses and wreckage.
Multiplayer. I wasn't able to get in a multiplayer match of Sanctus Reach, but it works exactly the same as Battle Academy, which I have played online quite a few times. The game uses Slitherine's excellent automated PBEM system, which allows players to play without needing to both be on at the same time. You can set up a game and then wait for someone else to come along and accept your challenge. Then you take your turn and wait for the other player to take theirs, without needing to keep the game running if you aren't both playing at the same time. This means you can even have multiple games going simultaneously. Just log on at your convenience, play your turn for two or three or more matches, then log off and come back later.  In multiplayer you will get the chance to try out the Orks for yourself, which should offer a sharp change of pace from how the Space Marines handle. I really look forward to seeing how future content will expand this area of the game. Hopefully we will eventually get access to a few more factions like the Imperial Guard or other Space Marine chapters at the very least. The potential is there to some day have a game using this engine where the Tau, Tyranids, Eldar, Orks, Chaos, and more can face off in online turn-based matches. This could be the "killer app" for Slitherine if that happens.

Editor and Mods. It's hard to say at this point what people will make, but if Battle Academy is any indication, you can expect to see a lot of new maps for multiplayer and single player becoming available over time. On the mod side of things, even though modding is mentioned in the manual as being supported, I can't imagine that Games Workshop would allow people to run wild here. Too much freedom would let people create rules closer to the tabletop experience, or even add in new factions. I'm not sure what will be possible, but I look forward to seeing what people create.

Ultimately, what we have here is a very good game that forms a solid foundation to build upon. The bar has been set with excellent graphics and animations, the combat engine is a proven one that is flexible enough to handle everything the 40k universe can throw at it, and the publisher Slitherine has a well-earned reputation for supporting titles long after release.  Despite the disappointing campaign narrative (or lack thereof), I found that the tactical combat itself continued to grow on me the more I played.The multiplayer combat has the potential to be a serious draw for many players, especially as more units and factions are added to the game. Sanctus Reach is right there on the edge of being a runaway hit series if they can fill in just a few gaps.

- Joe Beard
Follow me @JBB33

(Note: This review was mostly based on the final beta version available before release, this was the version sent to me for review. The night before release, the Day 1 patch went live and I played a couple of missions with it. Although it did not radically change any of my opinions, it included a lot of small updates that polished the overall presentation, and gave a bit more OOMPH to some attack effects. Always a good thing in Warhammer! The balance also felt better. Two thumbs up for the first patch.)

Tabletop Wargames: A Designers and Writers Handbook by R Priestly & J Lambshead A Review     First I need to apologise to Pen...

Tabletop Wargames A Designers and Writers Handbook Tabletop Wargames A Designers and Writers Handbook

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Warhammer 40k

Tabletop Wargames: A Designers and Writers Handbook by R Priestly & J Lambshead

A Review

First I need to apologise to Pen and Sword regarding the delay in reviewing this particular book. It's partly down to ill health but also if I'm honest with myself I've found this particular review difficult to start as the book isn't normally the sort of thing I'd read so was nervous about reviewing it. I'm out of my comfort zone:)


Now onto the book. The authors come with excellent credentials and are easily qualified to write a book like this. R Priestly created the world renowned Warhammer and Warhammer 40K system for Games Workshop. Dr J Lambshead designed the computer wargame Fredrick Foresythe's Fourth Protocol which was the first icon driven game and was also the editor of Games & Puzzles and Wargame News. He has also written a number of books for Games Workshop and Osprey. Finally he is the author of SF&F novels published by Baen Books. So with their experience you know you're in good hands and in this book they share this experience which can only help any of you out there who fancies designing a game yourself or help you with any tinkering or modifications you want to do with a current system.

The book is divided into nine chapters with a References section and finally an Index at the back of the book. The first chapter is an introduction that lasts twelve pages and eases you into the book. The next chapter talks about scale. The scale of a wargame is of vital importance in how the game will play and effects everything. Next comes a chapter on "The Language of Design". This deals with wargame and design jargon for example talks about "LOS" or line of sight. Following this is a chapter called "Alea Iacta Est", the famous line supposedly said by Ceaser, translated "The Die is Cast". So,  it doesn't need to much working out to know this chapter deals with Dice and randomness with in a wargame design. Chapter five "Presenting a Games Rules" is self explanatory. How many wargames have you played that have had rules that only an enigma code breaker could decipher? So it's an important aspect of any game design. Also talks about tables, not an actual table like the one you'll be playing on but tables in the rules. Chapter six "Skirmish Games" talks about skirmish wargames. Chapter seven "English as She is Writ" kind of goes hand in hand with chapter five. Again dealing with how to convey your system and rules to the player. Chapter eight "Expanding the Rulebook". This chapter deals with creating expansions to your core rule set. For instance adding new armies etc. The final chapter "Campaigns as Wargames" deals with creating campaigns for your rule system.

The book is full of photographs and is very well written as you'd expect from a book that talks about how to write rules. It's also full of useful information for those contemplating designing a tabletop wargame. Not sure how relevant it is for those wanting to design a hex wargame, but several of the chapters would be useful. I'd also say it's aimed at those who have little to no experience in designing a wargame, well it's certainly of more use to them. Saying this it wouldn't hurt for anyone be it novice or experienced in giving it a read. I say this because so many wargames come out and then forums are full of players totally confused by the rules. I think until you've actually tried you don't realise how difficult it is to convey to others your new game solely by the rulebook and what you've written. So maybe some of the chapters in this book would be of use to even a published wargame designer. Please don't expect a book that really goes into great detail and depth and covers every aspect under the sun. At 149 pages it should be apparent this book doesn't do that. It's more an overview with helpful advice of what the authors consider the main aspects of tabletop wargame designing. Aspects which will be relevant to pretty much all types of wargame systems. Your not going to come away with knowledge that's going to make you design some new innovative award winning game. It's just helping relative newbies dig decent foundations to their game design. If your looking for more than that then your prob best looking elsewhere.

The book is 149 pages not including the Reference and Index. Priced at £14.99 it's also not that expensive for such a niche book and wont break the bank. Certainly cheap enough to buy to see if it has any useful info for you as you start out on your game design. I would certainly appreciate it if I was about to start out on a tabletop wargame project.

Published by Pen & Sword it's available in all good book shops!