That is probably a strange place to start my review of Games Workshop's newest offering, Kill Team! A re-release of a variant of Warhammer 40,000, the game's big selling point is its size. Unlike the sell-your-car-budget armies of its larger cousin, in Kill Team each player uses a small band of 5-20 miniatures to do battle in a space designed to fit on a kitchen table. As I've played around with it, though, I find myself at a loss as to what to say.
Kill Team is, at the same time, an exhausting incremental iteration on a tired system... and the best thing Games Workshop has released in years.
I first felt the tingle of that power when I was seven years old. It was an open house at a local technical school. Back in a corner, away from the admittedly-modest crowds, was a little display for a “flat screen” television, cutting edge technology of that long, long time ago. The exhibit had just started, and as I walked up, two droids were surveying the blasted landscape of Tatooine. Perched on a ledge, I sat for the next six hours and watched the entire trilogy, lost in a galaxy far, far away.
That makes Star Wars: Legion, the new miniatures game from Fantasy Flight, hard to review. It tempts me to be too generous – just putting a lightsaber in someone's hand provokes the ghost of a chill. At the same time, it makes me worry I will set the bar too high. To have expectations no collection of cardboard and plastic could ever meet. I say this to acknowledge that I come to this game as the farthest thing from a blank slate. I am a fanboy, with all the enthusiasm and critical nitpicking that entails.
Eric: A few years ago I had the chance to revisit the grade school I attended as a child. It was a jarring afternoon. The huge hallways were suddenly kind of small. I could see over the bookshelves in the library where I used to get lost. The teachers... several of them were younger than me. I walked in the door feeling nostalgic; I left a bit unsettled.
I found myself remembering that visit as I got ready to open Games Workshop's new remake of Necromunda. A skirmish game set in the collapsing underbellies of hive cities in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the original Necromunda one-upped the grim darkness of the 41st millenia by adding gangs, drugs, slavery, abject poverty and child soldiers. To a 15-year-old me, it was a thing of glorious joy. Yet I wondered, would this turn out to be just another narrow-halled school with five-foot bookshelves?
That was my desk.
It isn't much to look at – an austere, industrial thing. The kind of desk I now imagine factory workers flipping over in some proletarian revolution. But I spent huge amounts of my late childhood and early teenage years here. Pouring through those roleplaying manuals stacked in one corner, drawing elaborate maps on that graph paper, and – as the spackling of color attests – painting the little figurines that line the shelf above.
Those were my first space marines.
About a month ago, Games Workshop released their 8th edition of the Warhammer 40,000 rules. Back when I was painting at that desk, it was 3rd edition I played. As much as those iterations between then and now can be seen as cynical cash grabs – partly because some of them were – there is something noteworthy about this new one. But more on that in a minute.
That was the end of my second play of Bushido by GCT Games - the actual impaling being only metaphorical, if you're the queasy sort, but the defeat and delight being real. From my first encounter, what intrigued me about Bushido was that I found it immensely pleasurable even when I lost horribly. Let me try to explain why.
If the name and picture don't make it apparent, Bushido is a tabletop skirmish game set in a world inspired by Japanese folklore, or at least a western, Tolkein-filtered riff on Japanese folklore. Elves and Dwarves are replaced by Tengu and Oni, the heroes include snake-people and warrior pandas, and the outfits look like the result of a raid on a Kurosawa film's prop closet. All in the best possible way.
Eric: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we're here to talk about sports! Sports are perhaps the ur-games. Probably organizing alongside early militaries as tools for training and proving of skill, they have grown to eclipse armed conflict for many, serving as a sort of proxy for violent aggression. But what happens when sport seems unnecessarily violent, and we need a proxy for that?
Today we're looking at two possible solutions. Blood Bowl is the grandparent of sports miniatures games. It's a rollicking high fantasy version of North American football in which you can violently maim opposing players. Guild Ball, meanwhile, is a newcomer to the scene which has quickly gained a following. It is a gritty low fantasy version of soccer (or "actual football") in which you can violently maim opposing players. While there are nuances to the themes, both games are clearly competing for similar space. So, in true sports fashion, let's put them in a ring and see which one scores the most points. Or violently maims the other player.
Eric: I've spent the last few months working those pectorals and drenching myself in olive oil. Why? So that I can now sit shirtless at my computer for a proper review of Arena Rex.
Eric: Batman, Batman, Batman.
Do I have your interest? Eric here, and today we are finishing up our survey of some major miniatures games on the market. It's been a fun trip, and I'll still stick my head in occasionally, but I wanted to finish things off with a personal pick that, while perhaps not as popular as some of the big boys, is a newer offering that has something unique to present those interested in miniatures games.
That being, of course, Batman.
The Batman Miniatures Game by Knight Models (the only site it has is an official forum, astonishingly) is a small skirmish game which seeks to lovingly translate the universe of street level DC comics heroes and villains to the tabletop. You will form a gang of 4-10 miniatures and fight to both take out enemy models and score objectives. And you get to do this with Batman, the Joker, and dozens of other iconic characters.
Eric: I'll start with a confession. Every month, as I sit down to write this column, I feel a dilemma. Miniatures games are, of course, games. Part of the goal of these columns is to expose you to clever or innovative gaming ideas being developed in the miniatures world. Thanks to limits on space and the amount of time I'm comfortable demanding, I end up exploring the gamishness of the game and have little space for anything else.
Yet miniatures games are also more than simple games, and none exemplify this better than Malifaux, our pick for this month. They are, in a real sense, about style. You don't spend outrageous amounts of time and money on little models just for the act of gaming – you could use cardboard tokens and cereal boxes with their rules. You buy and assemble and paint the models and build the terrain and read the lore for the same reason I own aviators and a (fake) leather jacket – because you want to feel cool. You want some panache and style with your dice rolls and movement decisions.
If that is true, then Malifaux by Wyrd miniatures is the coolest of the cool kids. It drips theme – a theme that is something like Western-Gothic-Industrial-Steampunk-Horror.
Some days, though, you just want to flatten a building with your opponent's soldiers still inside it.
Today I'm talking about the sweeping Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames. DzC (as we'll abbreviate it for time and acronyminal sexiness) is a large-scale science fiction game set in the 27th century. As you all know, in the 25th century humanity was driven from its core worlds, including Earth, by the invasion of the parasitic Scourge. Now, 160 years later, it is time to TAKE THEM BACK!
DzC is a game about combined arms – the necessity of diverse units fulfilling specialized roles. On a given turn, you will have squads of infantry searching high rises for precious objectives and engaging in running close combats through their halls. You will field tanks and walkers unleashing massive firepower into each other and those high rises, causing them to collapse. Your aircraft will zip across the whole table at supersonic speeds while blowing up said tanks and bombing high rises as well (in the 27th century you really don't want to be a footsoldier) and your anti-air firepower will hunt down these aircraft.
And you will have dropships – lots of dropships. We'll come back to them in a minute.