Fartok finished

Another mini-update – and really it’s just catching up with where I was. I’ve finished the eye lenses and plasma outlets on all my Ghar, though I’ve only taken a photo of Fartok…

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Sorry, it’s not the best photo – I really should have used another lamp and a diffuser, but I couldn’t be bothered to set up the whole lighting rig. Mainly, of course, because I still intend to take photos of the whole army – both on a white background as above, and on terrain – when I get a spare hour or so.

I initially planned for the eye lenses to be blue, just like the plasma, but that really wouldn’t have worked (“have they got plasma in their heads?”). I also planned to do a full gem effect on the eye lenses. But I started, and realised the lenses are all tiny, even smaller than a normal miniature gem. I could still have done it, but you’d never have noticed it and these are tabletop quality models, not for display, so why bother? So they’re just a very simple purple ink glaze over silver.

The plasma is a bit more involved, because the outlets are so much larger: four shades of blue, plus gloss varnish. It hasn’t turned out quite how I expected it would, but still does the trick quite nicely I think – the layers of blue stand out very obviously in the photo but on the model itself, you only notice it if you look really closely. Again, thoughts of OSL (which I’ve never actually tried) were rejected when I reminded myself that the army is plenty tabletop ready now, and they look plenty good enough without it.

So there it is, finally: a finished Ghar (not just “finished-enough-for-the-campaign-day”). I think they look really cool, and I’m already planning what to work on next.

Ghar wreck

One more Ghar update – just a quickie:

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When I magnetised Fartok’s arms, I took them from a standard Battle Suit kit. This meant that I then had a Battle Suit with no arms lying around doing nothing. Well, I mused to myself: Fartok’s rebellion must scrounge armour, weapons and equipment from wherever they can find them. That being the case, an armless suit would make a really good objective – something worth fighting a battle over. So that’s what I decide to use it for.

I need to make two more of these, actually. The Hold the Line scenario needs three objective markers. I’ll make them later.

More Ghar

So I had a bit of a hobby comedown after the Xilos Campaign Day, but in the last week or two I’ve finished off a few more Ghar.

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Fartok, leader of the Outcast Rebellion, here equipped with standard battle-suit weaponry (he’s been magnetised to optionally instead be able to take his own custom weapons, as I showed in a previous post). As well as being the coolest Ghar in Antarean space, as a High Commander, Fartok unlocks Support and Strategic slots in the army list – so if I take him, I don’t need a Command Crawler. Sounds good to me.

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Fartok again, this time representing the temporary embarrassment of having had his battle-suit destroyed. I need to find an Algoryn player with whom to play the Run, Fartok, Run! scenario.

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And finally, a second Bomber squad – Fartok unlocks access to them, so why not?

So I now have a couple of different 1000 point Ghar lists I can use (one with Fartok, the other with a Command Crawler). Although they’re all painted to an acceptable tabletop standard, my next step will be to add final details to them – specifically, helmet lenses and glowy bits. Once I’ve done that I’ll take some better photos of the army in situ, with scenic backdrops.

After that… I’m not yet sure. I could either stay with Antares and Ghar for a while, and assemble and paint more Outcasts and Black Guard to be able to field a genuine Rebel force (especially with some new weapons teams released in December); or, I could go for something completely different. I’ve had a squad of Horus Heresy-era World Eaters sitting on my painting desk for months now, I’d like to get those finished. I have a whole bunch of 40K Orks that need painting too, so they’d be another option. Or maybe something else – lately I’ve been glancing at Napoleonic British, Napoleonic French, Alexandrians, several Horus Heresy Primarchs, Zombicide, and even Fury of Dracula. I’ll go with whatever takes my fancy, basically!

Xilos Campaign Day part 3 – summary

So I’ve written all about my gaming experience of the day. How was everything else? (Again, photos from the day have been taken from the Facebook group).

Location and people

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Above all else the campaign day was a chance to chat with a bunch of like-minded people. The games and the discussion between them fully justified the price of the ticket. It was interesting to talk with people for their take on Antares, and some of them had come up with some really nice colour schemes for their armies – the swamp-camo’d Ghar being a personal favourite.

I didn’t see any models of a Golden Demon standard, which surprised me a little – even though this was a gaming day not a painting competition, there’s usually at least one or two people whose painting is a cut above the rest. As it was, the best painted stuff on view was in the display cabinet.

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The venue was spacious and well-stocked with food. Most of the gaming tables looked fantastic, though not all of them were the full 6’x4′ and some of them were significantly smaller, which was a bit of a shame. It would have been better if they’d all been in one room, and it sounds like that will be the case for future events. The atmosphere was fairly informal and laid back, which was largely positive (as one chap commented, it’s not like a GW event where you’re told what to do and where to go and asked to shout “Waaagh!” at irregular intervals) but a little confusing at times too (when I arrived, I surmised from the gaming tables that I was in the right place, but there was no real formal welcome and we stood around making uncomfortable small talk for an hour or so before things really got started; like many wargamers, I’m somewhat introverted and things did feel a little awkward).

Rick Priestley

A subset (or possibly superset!?) of the “people” category, a real highlight of the day for me was a chance to get to chat to the ever-genial and gentlemanly Rick Priestley.

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It was a genuine pleasure to talk to Rick about the Antares setting and game, his outline plans for a fantasy battle version of Beyond the Gates of Antares (“Fantares”!?), transport vehicles (still a bugbear for me – the game’s set a million years in the future and everyone’s still walking into battle!?), his column in WSS magazine, his legacy in Warhammer 40,000, and a whole bunch of other stuff. As if that wasn’t enough – the man himself, the legend, was kind enough to not only sign my BtGoA and Xilos rulebooks, and also his new book about wargame design, but even my beloved and well-thumbed copy of Rogue Trader too!

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I cannot describe to you how happy that made me. (Later, someone else asked him to sign their copy of Rogue Trader too, and I heard someone laugh as though they had made a terrible faux pas. Of course, Rick’s current focus is on Antares; of course, he’s not been involved with 40K for some time now, the rules aren’t a patch on BtGoA, and GW seem determined to make a mess of even the fluff as well. But 40K remains probably the most widely-played tabletop wargame in the world, as well as one of the most influential; its roots can be seen in Bolt Action and even in BtGoA itself. I believe Rick should be, and I got the impression from speaking to him that he is, hugely proud of 40K and what it became; and I for one am honoured and grateful that he was kind enough to sign the book that 25+ years ago, in no small way, changed my life).

Free stuff!

For a £30 ticket, Warlord surely went out of their way to make sure it offered value for money.

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Included in the price (in addition to the event itself, i.e. the chance to play some games) were:

  • PDF and dead tree versions of the Xilos rulebook (physical version signed by Rick Priestley),
  • Xilos Gulper, Drummer, and Snapper models,
  • A unique and rather stylish polo shirt commemorating the event (the black ones you can see in most of the photos),
  • A personalised laser-cut blast template,
  • A limited edition set of army options cards (I gather these went on sale on the website too, while stocks lasted. They’re useful, but not perfectly cut and easy enough to knock together your own if you have a laminator, so I wouldn’t worry too much if you missed out),
  • Warlord’s limited edition event-only model (a C3 trooper using a scanner – or possibly taking a selfie),
  • And some miscast resin bitz, for use as objectives or terrain.

Pretty fantastic value in my view; I think it’d be somewhere around £60-90 at RRP. I did raise an eyebrow at a couple of them (as the kind of dedicated BtGoA players who’d snap up an event ticket within 24 hours of them going on sale, wouldn’t most of us own the Xilos rulebook already?) but it’s all good stuff and anyway, it’s free! In my case it simply means I can give away the Xilos book and models to someone else who’s thinking of playing the game. It all helps build the community.

Conclusion

I had a really good day. The build-up was the impetus I needed to get a complete army assembled and painted, and the event itself was highly enjoyable. While some of the scenarios were a little too complex for this kind of event (it must have been a good hour before the first game got going, as we were reading the scenario rules and playing the prequel mini-game) and the finale was a bit too much of a mess, I had fun in every game and met some very cool people.

Will I go again? There’s every possibility. Xilos is a setting of particular interest to me (the discovery of the second gate was the moment the BtGoA background finally grabbed me) so depending on how the story pans out, I may or may not be a regular attendee at every similar event they put on, but I’ll be keeping my eyes open – and I am extremely impressed by what I got for the price of my ticket.

I would like to see a bit more structure in how the day’s results are presented. We played four games, and I know my principal opponent in the final game got the most VPs in that scenario; but the battles were supposed to be part of a campaign, and I don’t think it was ever announced which faction had won, or how the story was panning out. I’d have liked for there to be a between-battle briefing about that, to get us invested. Apparently in the global campaign, Karg and the Ghar Empire did magnificently well (and that result will affect the future direction of the Antares setting). How did I and the other Ghar players on the day compare? It would have been nice to know.

Overall though, I had a great time. I highly recommend trying one of these events for yourself.

Xilos Campaign Day part 2 – debrief

Having spent a good chunk of my spare time for three weeks getting my Ghar army together, I think it’s worth taking a look at how it performed. As described in part 1, I won one game and lost three – why was that, what could I have done differently? Let’s look at each unit in turn. (I’ll be taking better photos at some point in the next week or so too).

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Ghar Battle Squad (3 suits) – 214 points

Much as expected, really. Fairly hard to kill (notwithstanding the plasma reactor overload the very first time they were fired at!), the choice of fire modes for their guns mean that whatever they come up against, they have a chance of doing something.

The main thing I found (and this applies to the other suit units too) was that as soon as they started taking any pins at all – especially if targeted by net ammo – they take break tests so quickly that they’re forced down in no time, even if they haven’t taken any casualties. In game two in particular, my opponent was playing whack-a-mole with battle suits – force one down, move onto another, when the first one rallies go back to them, and so on. Game balance dictates that there have to be downsides for heavily-armoured units, but mechanically they feel fragile despite being hard to kill. Why should a meagre three pins have a 50% chance of taking battle suits out of the game? I know they don’t suffer pins just from being hit by low-SV shots, but it’s not like Plasma Lances are hard to come by (just three points to upgrade a Concord Strike Trooper, for example) even if the opponent doesn’t bring net ammo.

I did find that Plasma Amplifiers are worth their weight in gold, though. Unit not in a good position? That’s OK, just run into a better position and do what you need to do with your second order. You may only be able to do it once or twice in a game per unit so upgraded, but it’s well worth the investment. Again, this applies to all the suit units, and the Command Crawler, too.

Ghar Assault Squad (3 suits) – 214 points

Unlike the Battle Squad, my Assault Squad seemed to find itself with nothing to do a lot of the time. The ability to force units down by shooting them with Gougers was nearly crucial a couple of times, but in four games I didn’t see a single round of melee, with my Assault suits or anything else. (Indeed, the one time they tried to charge, the target unit simply sprinted away at 3M as a reaction, while my Assault troopers lumbered around doing nothing, wondering why they’d just given my opponent a free order dice).

Unlike the pin problem I mentioned above, though, which seems to be inherent to the game system; I feel like I could get better use out of my Assault Squad if I were a better or more experienced player. Units can’t run away from a charge if they’ve already got an order dice, for example, and if other units can pin the charge target (or even force them down) the Assault Squad can make a real mess of them.

I do wonder how viable that really makes the squad, though. I’m very much in favour of units having to work together in combination or exhibit synergy; that encourages manoeuvre, good tactics, and good game-play, as opposed to a unit being an OP win-button. On the other hand – at nearly a quarter of the points cost of the entire army, I’d hope an Assault Squad could present some kind of threat on its own, and I never really felt at any point during the day that they did very much. I need to play some more games, find the synergies, and re-assess them.

Outcast Squad with Disruptor Cannon (12 infantry) – 87 points

It’s possible that this squad were my best-performing unit on the day. (Not as high-performing as a similar unit fighting for the Rebels in the final game, when fire from a bunch of Lugger Guns blew up my Command Crawler*). In the very first game, a fortuitous deployment let them form a firing line and gun down most of a Vardanari squad with rapid fire; in the third game, they were my only unit to retrieve a relic, using their numbers to form a conga line while my slow-moving battle suits lumbered around ineffectively.

Unfortunately, they’re my least-favourite models in the army! Convenient for filling up points, numerous enough to do things suits can’t do, more effective in battle than you might expect due to rapid fire… they might to all intents and purposes be an essential pick in any Ghar army, but I still can’t bring myself to like them very much.

Disruptor Cannon (2 infantry) – 24 points

A cheap option that was convenient to use as a distort dice dump a couple of times. I don’t remember if this unit succeeded in killing anything all game; if it did, I suppose it was a bonus. Not much more to say, more games are needed to decide how useful this unit really is.

Command Crawler (vehicle) – 253 points

By far the most disappointing unit in the list. Almost the opposite of the Outcasts, in fact – I adore the model, but it seems terrible on the tabletop.

It’s true that it’s almost indestructible; it took until game four before I even had to check the rules for what happens when it takes damage. (It then promptly exploded to small-arms fire*, after rolling an obscene number of 10s). Trouble is, a unit that takes up a quarter of my army and the only thing it succeeds in doing is (mostly) not dying, clearly isn’t worth the investment.

The confusing thing is that all the research I’d done on Ghar beforehand suggested that people think a Crawler was a must-have – not just due to unlocking options like Bomber Squads, but in its own right. I just don’t see it. True, nearby units get a slight bonus to their Command checks (10% chance of making a difference); true, nearby units can be ordered to Follow, and I can imagine circumstances under which that would be useful (most likely when everything is somehow already in position and you just need your whole line to open fire at once). None of that is worth over 250 points.

Granted, it’s MOD2 (or MOD3 when you need it, with plasma amps) but what are you going to use those multiple order dice for? Running 30″ in a turn seems like it might be useful, but what are you going to do when you get there? With just two Scourer Cannons it’s got the firepower of an under-strength Battle Squad, for double the price. I don’t get why anyone thinks that’s good.

In future games, I will be using Fartok (not an option on this campaign day) to unlock Bomber Squads and be an awesome unit in his own right. The Command Crawler will remain in the box, until someone explains to me why it’s useful.

Bomber Squad (2 suits) – 147 points

Bombers are pitched as being essential for Ghar as they have the range that’s lacking in other units. I’m not sure how true that is – most other units have a 30″ range at least, and on a typical 6’x4′ tabletop that’s usually plenty. Only once in four games, I think, was one of my units out of range of what it needed to shoot at; most of the time shooting took place within a 20″ effective range.

Nevertheless, the Bomber Squad was pretty handy. OH fire opens up options for getting past things like batter drones, and the blast allows a good number of hits to be inflicted. Disruptor for double pins was useful too. I’m not sure that this unit blew my socks off, and it would clearly be much more effective if you could have the Leader and/or any additional models armed with Bombers too, but it did OK.

Tectorist Scouts (4 models) – 20 points

It’s actually quite hard for me to judge this unit, as it turns out I was getting their rules wrong for most of the day! (It came up in Rick’s Q&A that as a sharded infantry unit, Tectorists don’t quite work how he intended. In some ways, like an inability to carry objectives, I was playing the letter of the rules “wrong” but still the way Rick intended them to be. In other ways, such as thinking they granted +1 to hit instead of a single re-roll, I just completely screwed up. Ce la vie!)

Nevertheless, a dirt-cheap unit, where models move as individuals, that grants bonuses to the rest of the army, and can be used as a distort dump if required? Yeah, hard to see how that’s going to be anything other than a good thing.

Army Options – 40 points

Get Up! – Given the comments I made above about pins and battle suits being forced down, it will come as no surprise to learn that this came in really handy. Of course, even if the unit gets recovers from going down, it’s likely still to have lots of pins on it and thus struggle to be effective – but this at least opens up the possibility.

Superior Shard – I found this to be basically meaningless in standard games, where both armies start fully deployed; opponents will almost always have more order dice than Ghar, and losing one dice just means one of their cheap throwaway units doesn’t do anything. But, in scenarios where not everything starts on the table – or, in the end game where there’s only a few units left – this could be brutal. That’s what I found in the very first game: my opponent’s Vardanari were the only squad that landed, and use of the Superior Shard meant they didn’t even get to do anything on the first turn. It gave me a real advantage.

Marksman – Forcing all dice to be re-rolled, not just the misses, means this isn’t as useful as I hoped. I took it with the intent of getting the most out of the Bomber’s single shot, but in fact, when you need a 2 or 3 to hit anyway (and might still hit something even if it scatters), a re-roll is hardly worth the bother. So I used it a couple of times in a desperate attempt to get some use out of the Command Crawler: dispersed shots from its Scourer Cannon on a fire order managed only one hit, so I re-rolled and scored… one hit. Ho hum.

Conclusion

I’m still getting to grips with the Ghar, and it’s going to take some time. That’s OK – I like armies that need some thought to use. Perhaps the biggest thing to come to terms with is that there doesn’t seem to be much in the list that’s outright destructive. Even a full unit of battle suits letting rip with Scourer Cannons only fire nine shots, expecting roughly 4.5 hits and maybe 2-3 casualties, depending what they’re shooting at. (The Outcasts and their Lugger Guns do better statistically by sheer weight of fire, albeit it that they’re so fragile and cowardly they might not often get a chance to put that into effect).

I know for sure I’ll be bringing Fartok into the list and taking the Command Crawler out. I’d intended to use the spare points for more Bombers, but I’m actually now wondering whether just more Battle Suits is the way forward. I can’t wait to play some more games and work all this out.

 

Note added in edit: having re-checked the rules, I think the Command Crawler should not actually have been destroyed by Lugger Gun fire after all. Heavily armoured targets only roll D5 on the damage chart, not D10 – so it should have been +1 pin and down, instead of outright destroyed. Ce la vie, I got plenty of rules wrong myself, it was an honest mistake made in the heat of tabletop action – and it doesn’t really change my thoughts on the unit. Even if it had stayed alive, it wouldn’t have done anything other than sit there soaking up fire. That’s situationally useful, but not worth over 250 points.

Xilos Campaign Day part 1 – gaming

So that was the Xilos Campaign Day. I had a lot of fun, my Ghar didn’t entirely disgrace themselves, I met some cool people, and picked up a few odds and ends here and there as well.

There’s a bit to talk about so I’ll break my report up into three: first, the gaming; second, the performance of my army; third, conclusion and sundries. I didn’t take any photos on the day, so all photos of the event in action are from the Gates of Antares Facebook group.

Game 1 – Xilos Landing – vs. James’s Freeborn

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I really enjoyed this game, but it was very complicated! It started with a “prequel” mini-game, where James had to bring his army down to the planet surface by orbital lander. My anti-spacecraft defence crews were obviously well-trained, because barely any of his units reached the surface alive! One Vardanari squad landed on-target; one X-launcher and two support landers landed off-target. Everything else was destroyed in the drop.

That wouldn’t have made much of a game, so we discussed among ourselves and agreed that James could bring on other units from turn two, at the cost of giving up victory points. My Command Crawler, Battle suits, and Assault suits guarded the objective in the centre of the table; James mostly kept his units away from them, hoping (I think) to pick off my units piecemeal and take the objective later.

We actually ran out of time to see if his plan would work, and when the end of the game was called, he didn’t have any models anywhere near the objective, and the only victory points scored were for the units he’d paid to bring on from reserve. A victory for me – albeit one earned largely by default!

The complexity of the scenario made this a steep learning curve to start the day, but once we got cracking on the tabletop game proper, I started to get into the swing of things; reminding myself of the BtGoA rules and starting to learn how to use Ghar, which I’d never actually fielded in battle before. Besides all that, James was a top bloke. Lots of fun.

Game 2 – Counterattack – vs. Adrian’s Concord

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Sun Tzu once wrote: “know your enemy, and know yourself, and you need not fear the result of a thousand battles.”

I didn’t really know much about the army I was facing (my previous games using Concord have been introductory ones with Strike Squads and not much else), and was still trying to understand how to get the most out of my own Ghar. Adrian, meanwhile, seemed to know exactly what to do with his troops, and exactly how to shut down the effectiveness of mine (net ammo and pins were the bane of my existence).

The result was exactly what that ancient Chinese sage would have predicted: an absolute drubbing. I made some fairly basic mistakes in this game, while Adrian had a battle plan and executed it perfectly. It seemed like a difficult scenario for the attacker to win, but I never came close – the better player won, fair and square!

Game 3 – Exploration – vs. Vardos Cadix’s Freeborn

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This scenario was modified from the one in the book, to be more suited to a head-to-head fight. The objective remained to seize and escape with relic tokens scattered around the battlefield; this would be difficult for the slow-moving Ghar. However, I was at least assured of the support of my opponent’s daughter, on the basis that she also apparently has red Ghar!

With five objectives, my game-plan was to seize three of them. I managed one, and put up a spirited fight over another; but I was relying on my Distorter Cannon to retrieve the third, and they were killed by a fast-moving Freeborn skimmer. I therefore ended up losing the game by four relics to just one.

I know the scenario rules had been adapted, but even so I didn’t think the way relics were moved (“like buddy drones”) worked particularly well. It encourages players to form conga lines, issuing a Run order on turn one to get to the relic, moving it instantly next to the guy at the back of the conga line, and simply exiting the table on turn two. If relics were moved like a normal model, and a unit carrying one could only leave the table if the relic itself were able to reach, there would have been a lot more need to fight to keep possession of the relics, and a lot more opportunity to get them back from the opponent.

Still, my opponent made the best use of his superior manoeuvrability to win the game, and you can’t say fairer than that. He had a nice-looking army, too.

Game 4 – The Builders Awake – vs. everybody! (Especially Ben’s Rebel Ghar)

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The big mega-game to end the day, and… I’m not sure it really worked too well. It was chaotic and frenetic, both positives and fully intentional by design – but there were just too many people around the table and too much going on.

With everyone who’d lasted the day piling their figures onto the table – the scenario deployment rules having been modified for simplicity – I figured it would simply be a case of rushing across the table and opening rip, leaving little in the way of tactical nuance in the name of anarchy and bedlam. This had the unfortunate effect that my army ran straight into the killing zone of a carefully-constructed firing line, and basically everything died. Oops.

It was hilarious and terrifying to watch the rift rush across the board, swallowing up entire armies in its wake; I was hugely impressed to see David’s Command Crawler run the full length of the table to escape it. As a rebel at heart (despite fielding a Ghar Empire army for the day) it actually wasn’t too painful to see all my battle suits destroyed by Ben’s Rebels, leaving just my Outcasts waving a white flag and asking “can we join you please?” It was just all a bit unfocused for my gaming tastes.

Overall though, a great day’s gaming. I’d won one game and lost three, but the results weren’t really what was important – I’d got an army painted for this fantastic game, and met some really awesome people. Still, it’s worth considering the performance of my troops – let’s do that in the next post.