Thursday, October 16, 2008

Holla to the addiction

Out of the Wrapper: “Assault on Black Reach”, the new ‘starter’ box set for Warhammer 40k. GW obviously still understand the art of peddling their tabletop addiction because they’ve created a very clever lure for the unwary gamer. It’s a box chock-full of Plastic Crack.

MSRP is $60. That’s pricier (by $10, IIRC) than the previous starter box (“Battle for Macragge) – but for the money it provides a much broader look into how the game plays. In fact, it’s interesting to compare the different approaches taken by the two sets.

The 4th Edition starter box, Battle for Macragge, contained only enough figures to build a couple of small ‘demo’ forces. 10 Space Marines and a pilot (who is more of an objective than anything else) compose one force. They contest the field against a minor swarm of Tyranids: 10 gaunts, 6 genestealers and 8 spore mines. The plastic in the box was rounded out by a nice ‘crashed shuttle’ piece of terrain and a few flimsy doodads the Marines use as an electronic fence of sorts. The set also includes a small-format rulebook (with just rules, no fluff), a Getting Started booklet, dice and templates.

The new 5th Edition starter includes enough figures to build a couple of forces that are more along the lines of real ‘starter’ armies. There’s the ubiquitous 10-man Space Marine tactical squad, but it includes a Veteran Sergeant figure. The Marines also get a Captain (independent character), a 5-man squad of Terminators and a Dreadnought (walker-vehicle). Their opponents are a force of Orks: a Warboss (independent character), 20 boyz, 5 nobz and a squadron of three Deffkopters (vehicles). Plus the same furniture as the Macragge set – including a stripped-down rule book (5th Edition, of course).

Black Reach packs a lot more plastic into the box, and the Getting Started booklet takes a completely different approach. The Macragge booklet presented several scenarios that form a narrative and bring in various rules complexities as they progress, almost a ‘programmed’ approach. It’s simple infantry-on-infantry fare – but it is an instructional approach. That said, once you got past those intro scenarios you didn’t have much of an army in hand to play anything else.

The Black Reach intro book is descriptive but it lacks the scenario-based ‘game’ content. It contains information about the figures and how they relate to their game statistics, how to paint them, how a typical game sets up and lots of fluff on the 40k setting in general. But the only thing that approaches a ‘scenario’ is basically a diagram (albeit a very nice diagram) of how to set up some Marines and Orks 12 inches apart with the encouragement to have a go at it. Oh, and buy the army codices to discover the special rules and buy the full rulebook to read about the different scenario setups.

I would like to have seen a couple of scenarios in the Black Reach booklet because the rest of the ‘Getting Started’ content is quite appealing. If you’re brand-new to figure gaming, however, it does leave you casting about a bit for what to do ‘next’.

Generally, though, the Black Reach box set is far superior to its predecessor as a starter kit. Not only are the forces included more robust, but the figures themselves are well done. The sculpts on the Marines and Orks are more lively (the sculpts on the Macragge Marines reminded me a lot of the clone-like figures that came in the 2nd Edition box). Even more of a surprise, the vehicles almost – almost – fit together. You don’t have to be an expert with modeling putty in order to build a credible Dreaddie.

I also give credit to GW for using ‘basic’ factions for BOTH starter box armies. Space Marines vs. Orks are one of 40k’s classic matchups. A Space Marine tac squad (with flamer and missile launcher) has appeared in each starter box from 2nd edition on out. 2nd edition’s starter also featured Orks (and Grots) – but the ‘OPFOR’ selections for 3rd and 4th editions were both marketing misfires, IMHO. 3rd edition’s boxed starter included the newly-introduced Dark Eldar. Unfortunately, the Dark Eldar were (and remain) a ‘finesse’ faction that’s difficult for beginners to handle. The Tyranids in 4th edition’s Macragge box are also a specialty faction which, in addition to everything else, require some skill to paint up properly.

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