Helmetless Sergeants and Captains - Take Note!

Ever since their last codex over-hyped them to the point of insanity, the Ultramarines have taken a bit of a kicking from the fanbase. They're no Grey Knights, thankfully, but talk of how non-Ultramarines-descended chapters are sad because they 'can never be Ultarmarines' despite their best efforts and of how the Blood Angels 'strive to be worthy of Guilliman's legacy' doesn't exactly endear them to folks. Nobody likes a Mary Sue, which is what the last Codex: Space Marines turned the Ultramarines into. Which is shame, because in my opinion that rather goes against the most interesting aspect of that legion.

Know No Fear, by Dan Abnett, thankfully reverses course about as swiftly as possible. Yes, the Ultarmarines have a certain standing amongst the Astartes; they're the biggest legion, with the greatest number of triumphs, spread over the widest area. They conquer as swiftly as World Eaters or Space Wolves, with all the skill of the Imperial Fists and the Luna Wolves, and create compliant worlds as stable and productive as Word Bearers and Thousand Sons, but without the brutality of the former or the lengthy deployments of the latter. So, yes, the Ultarmarines are probably one of the top legions at the time, and they know it just as much as everyone else. But that certainly doesn't endear them to those legions who are considered to be inferior in some way. And it doesn't mean they can't get hurt, badly.

The Ultramarines famously played no real role in the Horus Heresy. Dispatched by the Warmaster to the Eastern Fringes, far from the fighting, and ambushed by the Word Bearers, they were basically written out of the main action. But you can't just sideline a legion the size of the pre-Heresy Ultramarines without a pretty serious fight, and Know No Fear shows us the start of that fight. The Ultramarines, assembled in all their vast strength, are set to assault a powerful ork stronghold alongside the Word Bearers. It turns out to be a trick, however, a way to assemble the majority of the Ultramarines' force in one place so the Word Bearers can cause maximum damage with their alpha strike. And it works. Good heavens, does it work!

The best thing about the Ultramarines, and the thing Ward's fawning Mary Sue-isms foolishly undermines, is that they were the everymen of the Space Marines. They weren't crazy berzerkers, or blood-drinking mutations, or flesh-hating cyborgs, or crusading knights errant. Their role in the fiction was to be the baseline for Space Marines, not as strong, not as wild, not as calculating, not as impregnably armoured or fantastically armed. They fought Behemoth and won, but lost their entire First Company. It was a monumental achievement, at a staggering cost. It's what made the Ultramarines likeable; they took their licks, fair and square, and then powered through and triumphed despite the odds. And that is what Know No Fear seems intent on reinforcing. Attacked without warning, by a force meant to be friendly, at a time when violence between Space Marines was simply unthinkable, the Ultramarines take absolutely catastrophic losses. Starships, space docks, Ultramarines, Imperial Army, Mechanicus, civilians, the Word Bearers visit indiscriminate slaughter on any and every target they can find. Abnett really sells the sheer scale of the horror, taking a bit of time here and there to rattle off the names of helpless ships being killed, one by one, in orbit, or showing small groups of disoriented Imperial Army and Ultramarines being run down and murdered. And while the Ultramarines react with the sort of stoic determination that so makes a Space Marine, even Guilliman can't just shake off the profound emotional impact of such a monumental betrayal. He and Lorgar might not have seen eye to eye on a great many things, but they're brothers, sons of the Emperor, gods amongst men creating a golden future for all humanity; for one to try and kill the other is, rightly, shocking. And it comes off that way.

Know No Fear has some really excellent action scenes. It helps that 40K's best scenes are usually of the 'desperately outnumbered', 'heroic last stand' or 'doomed but glorious' variety, which this book has no shortage of. The Ultramarines die by the truckload, but they die well, which is just what you want out of them. They should be noble, so their deaths mean something, but they should also be vulnerable so their deaths can be relatively realistic. It's a fine line, and Abnett handles it nicely.

That's not to say this book is perfect, though. Much as I like a bit of worldbuilding, it does rather take its own sweet time getting started. And while Abnett's practice of introducing a wide variety of figures in small roles, and giving them a look-in every now and then, can make for a wider world for the reader, he does go overboard in this one. There are several characters, notably a dreadnought and a high-ranking Ultramarine lord, who get several rather lengthy establishing scenes that never really result in anything. There's no real payoff for it, which is frustrating when those interludes kept interrupting the meaningful action.

Still, despite a few rough patches, Know No Fear is an excellent entry into the Horus Heresy series, and a solid return to form for the Ultramarines. Let's hope Matt Ward was watching...


It's Some Driftwood! It's a Fish! It's Superman!

With the Batman series having wrapped up, it seems it's just about time for Superman to hit the silver screen again.  Because nothing says 'we definitely have a Justice League film in the offing' like starting one key tie-in franchise while the other winds down.

I have to admit, I'm actually excited.  The first trailer, the one that was primarily bearded Clark hanging out on what appeared to be a fishing boat in the north Atlantic, bored me to tears.  The last thing I wanted out of a Superman movie was a brooding Batman Begins-style aesthetic.  Well, okay, actually the last thing I want out of a Superman movie is a toss-up between 'Lex Luthor, real estate schemer!' and all of Superman Returns.  Seriously, that movie was a trainwreck from start to finish.  Don't even get me started on how easily Lois accepted the fact that she had a kid from Superman but had no memory of ever having sex with him.

Anyway, this trailer?  This trailer looks good.  The first half is still worryingly Nolan-esque; Superman movies should be big, and bold, and for the love of everything and everyone, brightly lit and coloured!  But when the action finally gets going in the second half, it looks promising.  With the advances in special effects, there's no reason not to give Superman something he can really bruise his knuckles on, and while Superman Returns completely failed to even try, it looks like Man of Steel is willing to give us some meaningful action in a Superman story.  It may not be Darkseid or Mongul or any of the big blue boy scout's unused super-powered enemies, but at least it looks like Zod (and possibly Brainiac?) will put up a good fight.

Alright, Zack Snyder.  You've got me interested.  Now, don't blow it...


Finally Got This Written Up!

The last tournament I attended was a mandatory-Allies event, which hardly presents a problem at the specified 2000 point level. Who isn't bringing at least some sort of Allied unit along at that level? Certainly my Tau no longer venture out to seize Imperial planets or cleanse Ork and Tyranid infestations without the support of their experimental battlesuits, which just so happen to have the same statlines, points costs and weapons options as Blood Angels. Funny thing, that. And added to them this round were some Fire Warriors toting a bit of experimental gear around, Fire Warriors who just so happened to synch up perfectly well with a squad of Space Marine Scouts with a missile launcher and sniper rifles. Because unlike the shas'ar'tol, my Tau understand the worth of integrated weapon loadouts in their infantry squads.

Anyway, enough of my fluffy justifications. I took the following list:

Shas'El w/AFP, Twin-Linked Missile Pod, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker, Hard-Wired Blacksun Filter
3 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker, Team Leader, Twin-Linked Fusion Blaster, Missile Pod, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker
3 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker, Team Leader, Twin-Linked Fusion Blaster, Missile Pod, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker
3 x XV8 w/3 x Twin-Linked Missile Pods, 3 x Flamer
9 x Fire Warriors
9 x Fire Warriors
9 x Fire Warriors
5 x Pathfinders w/Devilfish, Disruption Pod
2 x XV88 Battlesuit w/2 x Advanced Stabilization System, Team Leader, Hard-Wired Blacksun Filter, Hard-Wired Target Lock
2 x XV88 Battlesuit w/2 x Advanced Stabilization System, Team Leader, Hard-Wired Blacksun Filter, Hard-Wired Target Lock
Hammerhead Gunship w/Railgun, 2 x Burst Cannons, Multi-Tracker, Blacksun Filter, Disruption Pod
Blood Angels Captain w/Jump Pack, Power Sword, Plasma Pistol
6 x Assault Marines w/2 x Plasma Pistol
5 x Scouts w/Missile Launcher, 4 x Sniper Rifles, Camo Cloaks
Aegis Defence Line

It's not actually what I'd originally intended, but unfortunately I managed to forget my scratch-built Tau quad gun on the shelf at home, and had to scramble to fill in those fifty points with other little odds and ends I had on hand. And I was pleased enough with the results, though I admit I was more than a little nervous about flyers without that quad gun along. Yes, four twin-linked S7 shots aren't that impressive, but when it's the only Skyfire you're going to get in a 2000 point game, its absence leads to a certain trepidation. Still, I could hardly pop home and pick it up, what with my ride having already left and the store being a good half-hour bus ride distant from the house, one-way. So there was nothing for it, then, but to bite the bullet and get down to it.

Round 1: Andrew Swanson (Necrons/Dark Angels)
Deployment: Hammer and Anvil
Mission: The Relic
Secondaries: Slay the Warlord (got), First Blood, Divide and Conquer
Warlord Trait: Legendary Fighter

Destroyer Lord
3 x Wraiths w/Particle Whips
20 x Warriors
5 x Immortals w/Night Scythe
6 x Immortals w/Night Scythe
2 x Annihilation Barge
5 x Terminators w/3 x TH/SS, Assault Cannon
5 x Terminators w/Lightning Claws, 2 x TH/SS, Apothecary, Banner
Land Raider Crusader

Oh, Land Raiders. My ancient enemy. The store-made secondary in this game, Divide and Conquer, was good for a VP if you could destroy either the entire primary or Allied detachments. And the presence of that Land Raider, even more than Belial and the Terminators it was full of, made me more than a little certain I wasn't going to be pulling that particularly objective off.

Andrew won the roll-off, and opted to take the side of the table with a single large ruin, rather than the one with several smaller pieces. This wasn't a bad strategy for him, as it allowed him to deploy his Annihilation Barges out of LOS, protecting them from my railguns in the event that I managed to seize. He also stuck his Destroyer Lord, with Wraiths, in the ruin for cover, with his huge Warrior squad pushing up towards the edge of his deployment zone in the centre and the Land Raider, with Belial and the special Terminator squad, on the right. The Night Scythes and their units remained in reserve, of course, as did the Assault Cannon-wielding Terminators. Satisfied, he passed it over to me, and I established my beachhead. The scouts dug in to a forest a few inches in front of my Aegis line, which stretched through the middle of the board. It's a pity; Hammer and Anvil is a great 'sit at the back and shoot' mission for Tau, but to really pull this out I'd have to deploy aggressively to keep my scoring units close to the Relic. With my captain and assault squad in reserve, I spread everything else out across the board, with one of my XV88 squads hiding on top of a bastion being used as terrain. For once I managed to seize, which would turn out to do me exactly zero good.

There was really only one thing to shoot at turn one; the Land Raider. My scout's missile launcher, all four XV88s and my Hammerhead opened up on that thing, and not one of them managed to so much as glance it. I loaded one of my squads into the Devilfish and had it scoot forwards, just about on the Relic already, but dangerously close to the Warrior blob. Despite the best efforts of my non-AV14-affecting weapons, I only managed to keep a handful of Warriors down, nowhere near enough to really impede their efficiency. In his turn Andrew sent the Land Raider cruising forwards, close enough that Belial and company could pile out the front and, with some good luck on their charge range, make it clear into contact with my scouts. Unsurprisingly, my scouts proved unequal to the task of taking on a superior number of better-armed and -armoured models led by a special character, and were promptly killed to the last man. That gave Andrew First Blood, and put those Terminators worryingly close to my lines.

Turn 2, my captain and assault squad arrived promptly from reserves. While the Fire Warriors reluctantly disembarked from the Devilfish, which had shifted forwards to let them grab the Relic by coming out the back, the rest of my army lined up their shots. Again, all available weaponry railed to so much as scratch the Land Raider, and this time I couldn't even content myself by shooting at the Warriors, as most were blocked from view by my Devilfish's rather ample backside. I turned my firepower on Belial instead, but while he did fail a Look Out, Sir! and the subsequent armour save, nothing else got through. My Tau shooting was downright fantastic, however, compared to my Marines; the sergeant and captain both managed to have their plasma pistols overheat, killing the former and wounding the latter, and leaving the one functioning weapon to accomplish precisely nothing against the rear armour of an Annihilation Barge. I hadn't realized how much I took safe Tau plasma weapons for granted until I tried to use someone else's! In response, Andrew gaussed my Devilfish to death with his Warriors, killed half the Marines with the Annihilation Barges, and deep struck his second Terminator squad in behind my lines, the assault cannon ripping clean through both XV88s. Belial and his squad got hung up on terrain in the forest, leaving them well out of position to actually accomplish anything, but they were still pushing forwards to catch me in a pincer.

The rest of the game unfolded as my poor luck and terrible tactics ensured it would. Amazingly, I actually did manage to destroy the Land Raider, thanks to the XV88s in the bastion, while the rest of my army dealt with the assault cannon-bearing Terminators with relatively few losses. Belial went down in a hilariously unlucky manner; he failed exactly enough Look Out, Sir! rolls, and their subsequent armour saves, to die from the fire. Amazingly, Belial's tactical dreadnought armour provided exactly no protection. And my remaining Marines even managed to assault one of the Annihilation Barges to death (thank you, lucky Red Thirst rolls!) before sole survivor had to withdraw to protect himself. I'd rather not give up the Divide and Conquer secondary, thank you!

Unfortunately, while I was pretty handily winning the shooting war across the board, Andrew had picked his targets better. His Overlord remained out of sight pretty much the entire game, denying me the Slay the Warlord point for myself, and between his possession of that and First Blood he finally beat me out. I just couldn't get another scoring squad up to the Relic in time, though admittedly I didn't prioritize advancing after the first team to put their hands on that thing were brutally disintegrated by Warrior-toted gauss rifles. I fell an inch short of an attempt to move through difficult terrain to claim it last turn, which was annoying, but I shouldn't have let it come down to a single dice roll anyway. And my target priority was off last turn, too; I focused on killing the Warriors, who were unlikely to make it to the Relic, rather than dealing with the handful of surviving Terminators. If I'd poured everything into them, Andrew's luck that game dictated they'd likely have died, giving me the Divide and Conquer point and a draw. Oh well; this is how one learns, I suppose.

Result: 2-1 loss on secondaries, no primary points

Round 2: Tim Little (Necrons/Blood Angels
Deployment: Vanguard Strike
Mission: The Scouring
Secondaries: First Blood, Linebreaker, Battlefield Superiority
Warlord Trait: Immovable Object

Overlord w/Resurrection Orb, Staff of Light
Royal Court w/2 x Harbinger of Destruction, Eldritch Staff, Harbinger of Storm, Voltaic Staff, Lightning Field
10 x Warriors
10 x Warriors
10 x Warriors
10 x Warriors
6 x Scarabs
8 x Death Company w/Drop Pod
Death Company Dreadnought w/Drop Pod, Blood Talons, Melta, Heavy Flamer
Furioso Dreadnought w/Drop Pod, Blood Fists, Melta, Heavy Flamer

This one was going to be nasty, I knew that much just from looking at Tim's list. Two Dreads with melta and a Reclusiarch and unit of Death Company, all in Drop Pods? I was actually less worried about the Necrons; yes, there was a Monolith, but no aircraft, no Annihiliation Barges and no Doomsday Arks, not even any of those so-troublesome Wraiths to deal with. Gun to gun, I felt pretty confident in my chances going up against a Necron shooting list. But those Blood Angels...

I won the roll-off for sides, and opted for the one with the greater amount of stuffed cluttered around it. The less room there was for those drop pods, the better. Unfortunately, there was a high-sided bridge running diagonally through the centre of the table which badly hampered my starting sightlines, and sort of made my Aegis redundant. I placed it as best I could, along with my army; the scouts hugging the edge of the bridge on the left, with one of the XV88 units beside them, then the Fire Warriors spread out through the middle to try and block deployment options, the Hammerhead and the Devilfish trying to cover each other's backsides, and the other XV88 unit on the right flank. My commander and the Deathrains hung around the middle-rear, while the Marine-suits once again went into reserve, this time along side my two Fireknife teams. I was trying to maximise early striking power and minimize early vulnerabilities, a difficult task. In response, Tim spread his Warrior squads out across the board, with his Monolith on the right and his Overlord in one of the units towards the back, and the Scarabs hanging out as far forward as they could get. Someone wanted a turn one charge opportunity. From the start I had good proximity to most of the objectives, though unfortunately it turned out the 4-point one was hanging out towards the back of Tim's deployment zone, meaning I'd have to push in there anyway. Good thing those Marines were in reserve. Now, to survive Tim's long enough for it to matter.

Unfortunately for me, Tim won the roll-off for first turn. Before I'd had a chance to fire, or generate any cover saves for my skimmers beyond their disruption pods, the two Dreadnoughts crashed into my rear area. The Death Company Dread landed with a depressingly good angle on my Hammerhead's rear armour, while the Furioso planted itself on a small ridge near my right flank. Amazingly enough, while the heavy flamers did make something of a mess out of my poor Fire Warriors, those so-scary meltas managed to fail to hit the Hammerhead, and to wound the XV88s. That could definitely have gone worse. The rest of Tim's firing amounted to little, with his movement seeing his Warriors spread out towards the objectives in mid-field and his backfield, and the Monolith rumbling towards my lines. In response, one of my XV88s exploded the Death Company dread, while the others immobilized the Furioso; given that everything had already backed out of melta/flamer range, this meant it was basically a non-issue. The rest of my army peppered the Necrons with long-range fire, but while a few went down, most of them got back up again. Most annoying.

Turn two started off poorly for me, with the Scarabs making an absurdly long charge to get into combat with my left flank XV88s. And because they were coming from around the edge of the bridge, there was even a limit to the amount of Overwatch damage I could have done. You know, assuming I hadn't whiffed every roll. While the Scarabs and the XV88s clashed, I manoeuvred my Hammerhead for a good shot on one of the Warrior squads, angled my commander and the Deathrains to set up some decent Focus Fire lines to really make the most of their AP4 weapons, and generally did my best to get nice lines of fire on everything. Unfortunately, while the commander and his accompanying squad did do some serious damage to the closest Warrior squad, my unengaged XV88s failed to put a round through the Monolith, while the Hammerhead's submunition scattered well off the mark.

Turn three saw the Death Company squad, with attached Reclusiarch, land pretty much smack-dab in the middle of my surviving Fire Warrior lines. Tim could not have gotten luckier with the scatter dice. Knowing the resilience of FNP Marines to standard arms, and having none of my plasma weapons available, I knew that was going to be a problem. The rest of Tim's turn was actually rather low-key, save for the enraging one-shot one of his Crypteks managed on my Hammerhead. I really needed that AP4 large blast weapon! In the combat phase, the XV88s, who had managed not to fail any of their saves last turn, continued to stand strong, managing to inflict a wound on the Scarabs, who of course hung into the fight. This combat would eventually conclude with the death of the Scarabs, after they'd eaten my XV88s' armour off, with the assistance of the Scout squad. By that time, however, it wouldn't matter, as they'd be locked until the last turn.

The rest of the game continued to slide sideways out of my grasp, despite a few promising demi-rallies. One of my reserve suit squads dropped within melta range of the Monolith and took care of it with a single shot, while another squad moved to deal with a particularly tenacious Warrior squad. My captain and assault squad dropped towards the back objective, but after some particularly effective Overwatch and some really lousy rolling by the captain and his power sword, they just could not take out the Warriors guarding it. The Death Company, meanwhile, wiped out pretty much every infantry unit near their initial drop point, with the assistance of their pod's weapons. I just could not deal with those guys without plasma, and all my plasma was busy trying to deal with other, objective-holding problems.

We actually ran out of time, but since I had the bottom turn Tim offered to let me do any quick last-minute contestations. A pair of gun drones flitted over to crowd up one of the objectives, but it didn't make any difference, sadly. I had the 1 and 3 objectives, but Tim had the 2 and 4 objectives sewn up neatly, his superior number of more resilient Troops units serving to tip the balance. It wasn't all one-sided, though, as I did get First Blood and Linebreaker, serving to save me from the pity-points of 'lost' and 'played the game'. You take your victories where you can, sometimes.

Result: 6-4 loss on primaries, 2-1 secondaries in my favour

Round 3: Micheal Plowman (Dark Angels/Blood Angels)
Deployment: Dawn of War
Mission: Purge the Alien
Secondaries: First Blood, Linebreaker, Cut off the Head
Warlord Trait: Legendary Fighter

10 x Tacticals w/Plasma Gun, Plasma Cannon, Power Sword
10 x Tacticals w/Plasma Gun, Plasma Cannon, Power Sword
10 x Scouts w/Missile Launcher, 9 x Sniper Rifles
Predator w/Autocannon, 2 x Lascannons, Dozer Blade
Aegis w/Quad Gun
8 x Death Company w/Land Raider, Twin-Linked Lascannon sponsons
Stormraven w/4 x Bloodstrike Missiles, Twin-Linked Lascannon, Twin-Linked Multimelta

The amount of plasma and missile launchers, not to mention yet another Land Raider, really had me worried going into this game. Thankfully, Dawn of War ameliorates those worries somewhat; there's not a lot you can do when you just deploy in a line across from each other, with plenty of room to spread out for best angles. I deployed first, holding my captain and assault squad in reserve as usual, with everything else going down behind terrain, or at least another squad or unit behind terrain. Michael followed suit, spreading out in a gun line opposite mine, a particularly welcome sight; gunline to gunline, Tau usually have an edge over Marines. They just don't have the specialized long-range firepower that Tau armies fear. I won the roll-off for first turn, and proceeded to set the tone.

This game was pretty much a slaughter, start to finish. Michael had deployed with too much of his army within range of my force, which admittedly is hard not to do when you're talking about Tau, and turn one my shooting just ripped through him. He never really recovered from that rather withering fusillade of firepower, particularly when I managed to wreck his Land Raider halfway across the table, stranding his Death Company in no man's land. Caught between a flanking squad of Fireknives and a Fire Warrior team on that side of my lines, they were simply slaughtered without causing a single casualty. The main force of my army, meanwhile, continued to hammer away at Micheal's army, cutting Marine after Marine down in a hail of pulse fire. When my assault squad and captain dropped near to his lines, but safely out of line of sight of anything first turn, they just added to my advantage, cutting down a squad of tactical marines hiding in a building which meant the entire right half of the table was now under my control. The only real threat emerged on turn four, when Mephiston arrived in the Storm Raven. Shot out of the air, he landed right in front of my lines, and proceeded to make a mess out of a unit of Fire Warriors and one of my XV88s. Honestly, he was a beast, and if he'd made it into the fight even a turn or two earlier, he might have presented a serious challenge. As it was, though, time was called after just a single turn with him on the board, while the Marine gunline was down to a handful of Marines and Ezekiel.

In addition to the primary, I picked up First Blood and Linebreaker, though Mephiston's toughness meant I couldn't claim Cut Off the Head. Still, a pretty nice way to end a day that, otherwise, had been maddeningly full of 'close but no cigar' moments. Sometimes it's nice just to mop the floor with someone, y'know?

Results: 7-2 win on primaries, 2-0 on secondaries

Overall Results: 6th of 12


The Real Alternative to Yellow Spandex

I want to talk about Chronicle, because I finally got around to watching it, and I really enjoyed it, and contrary to my last couple of reviews I do actually like talking about things I enjoy. But first, I want to talk about whether I should be talking about Chronicle, here.

For those who don't know, Chronicle is about three teenagers who find a thing in a cave that grants them telekinetic powers. My first instinct was to classify it as action sci-fi. And I'm not alone in that; the Lovely Madam Meagan did the same after we watched it, and the first seven words in its Wikipedia entry are "Chronicle is a 2012 science fiction film'. But then I stopped and tried to think about why Chronicle is a science fiction film, and I realized I couldn't come up with a single thing. The thing the boys encounter isn't obviously technological. Their abilities are as likely the result of some bizarre natural radiation producing a mutation. Or, heck, magic. The thing is never studied, at least not by the boys, and their abilities are never explained as being some previously-untapped ability all humans possess. There are no aliens, no lasers or force-fields, no super soldiers, no robots or battle armour. Nothing in this film is particularly science fiction-y. Frankly, it's more fantasy than anything else, albeit a rather dark sort. But because it doesn't involve wizards or vampires or werewolves, nobody seems to think of it that way.

Science fiction, it seems, now constitutes anything fantastical that isn't explicitly magical or supernatural. Which is weird, because it means the genre picks up things like Chronicle and Hancock, good films that don't actually have anything to do with where they wind up. Are superhero movies just science fiction by default, now?

Still, if we're going to wind up with movies arbitrarily crammed into the science fiction genre, it's nice when they're as good as Chronicle. The movie follows three high school boys, Andrew, Matt and Steve. Andrew is the son of an abusive father and a dying mother, and his purchase of a hilariously oversized portable camera starts the film. Dragged out to a party by his cousin Matt, Andrew is spotted by Steve, the school's resident cool kid who, surprisingly, is just a really nice guy. Rather than bullying or insulting Andrew, Steve actually wants a favour; can Andrew come record this amazing thing he and Matt have found with his omnipresent camera? The thing, frankly, defies description, and not just because whatever energy it's putting out is interfering with the camera. It looks star-shaped, some form of glowing crystal half-obscured by rock, and demonstrates some rather impressively strange properties. From their exposure to it the boys discover they've gained telekinesis, a power that's roughly equal for all of them but finds expression in ways particular to each of the three's temperaments. And unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, the temperament of a bullied outcast with an alcoholic and abusive father and a slowly and painfully dying mother is perhaps not the best one to entrust with powerful telekinetic abilities.

Chronicle is, first and foremost, a character piece. For all its mysterious power sources and superhero-style antics, the movie is really about Andrew and Matt. Steve is a decidedly minor character, though he gets some good moments, and the movie certainly wouldn't play out the same without him. The movie's driving conflict, in the absence of supervillains or monsters, is the struggle between Andrew and Matt, between an abused and bullied kid who suddenly finds himself with more power than anyone else, and a smug and pretentious but ultimately level-headed kid who understands that they need rules and boundaries. Matt is afraid of them doing something terrible, by accident or on purpose; Andrew is tired of having the terrible things in life happen only to him. Competing outlooks based on radically different upbringings set the cousins on a collision course that is as obvious and inevitable as it is believable and tragic.

The acting is solid, probably made easier by the fact that there are only really a handful of characters in the film. The handheld style of the movie helps with viewer perception of the actors' presentations, as well; the semi-intimate feel of the well-executed affectation draws the viewer in. It's a nice touch, and it more than the lack of costumes and wise old uncles really sets this film apart from the superhero genre. Not enough to escape being reflexively labelled science fiction, of course, but still. There are some weak elements, particularly a romance subplot for Matt that just sort of peters out, but on the whole the focus is kept tight, on the increasing friction between responsible Matt and predatory Andrew.

Whether you like superhero movies or not, Chronicle is definitely worth a look. And it's done well enough that it's got a sequel in the works, something I'm looking forward to. Perhaps this time I'll even manage to make it to the theatres before it closes up its run!


Fallin' Down On the Job

Star Trek: Titan: Fallen Gods (Star Trek books do love their colons), by Micheal A. Martin, is full of interesting ideas and setup. Unfortunately, for the most part, these elements aren't fully realized and resolved. This book picks some serious topics and elides around them as hard as possible.

The story picks up not long after the previous Titan adventure, as chronicled in Star Trek: The Typhon Pact Book 2: Seize the Fire (see what I mean about colons?), and carries through several threads from the larger TNG/DS9 era expanded universe. The Federation is still trying to deal with the massive devastation and dislocation caused by the Last Borg Invasion. At the same time, it is trying to come to terms with the secession of Andor. The Andorians are desperate, in the face of a reproductive crisis that could well reach extinction levels. And the Typhon Pact, particularly the Tholians, are involved deeply with Andor. It's a solid bit of fractured setting to build a compelling narrative of conflicting aims and ends, and in that Martin does a decent job.

Captain Riker and the USS Titan have discovered a planet orbiting an immensely deadly pulsar. Shockingly, the planet appears to be inhabited, a fact made possible only by a hugely enhanced geomagnetic field to absorb and deflect the pulsar's considerable broad-band radiation output. When it appears the artificial field may have some connection to the terraforming device found, and destroyed, in Seize the Fire, Riker decides it might be worth investigating. That investigation becomes even more imperative when a maintenance AI on the planet forcibly mind-melds with Tuvok and an AI Titan picked up in Synthesis, Sentry SecondGen White-Blue; the two Titan crewmembers had attempted a similar link with the terraforming device, and the maintenance AI recognised elements of its makers' code in their minds. But with the mind-meld risky, and potentially irreversible if left to continue too long, the pulsar getting steadily more violent and the geomagnetic field on the edge of collapse, such an investigation could be dangerous. Add to that a civil war being fought by the descendants of the Ais builders on the planet, between Preservationists/Keepers and Deconstructonists/Trashers, Starfleet Command's orders that all Andorian officers be reassigned to 'less sensitive' positions, and Andor's demands that all reproductive-age Andorians be sent back to Andor and the newly-reconstituted Imperial Guard's willingness to enforce that order, and you have a pretty wild set of circumstances that would allow for an exploration of any number of issues.

Unfortunately, as I said, Fallen Gods does not fully embrace its difficult subject matter. Much time is given to establishing the alien civil war, including several chapters from the viewpoint of the Preservationist leader, but ultimately it's never really an issue for the Starfleet characters in the book. It's a thing that's happening when they reach the planet, something that inconveniences them slightly, but no more than bad weather or predatory wildlife would've. The same is true of the efforts to get the maintenance AI back to the planet and the magnetic field generators repaired. The book spends ages having characters discuss the pros and cons of going, of how to go, of when to go, and then covers them actually going. But then they just drop the maintenance AI off in a convenient console and leave, playing no role in actually resolving any of the issues. The worst-handled storyline, however, certainly belongs to the Andorian Imperial Guard's efforts to 'liberate' reproductive-age Andorians from Titan.

The book skirts around the AIG commander's plan for an unnecessarily long time, since anyone familiar with The Next Generation should quickly figure out what it consists of. Unfortunately, with all that evasion and forced mystery, there's no time left to delve into the ramifications of it, which are absolutely massive. The moral stain on the Andorians who are participating in it, the mental anguish and existential collapse of the Starfleet Andorians subjected to it, neither are given any particular weight. Indeed, the actual issue isn't directly addressed by any characters until literally the last page of the story. One can only hope, rather desperately, that the next book will actually put some work into exploring this issue on a personal and societal level, rather than faffing about with artificial mysteries that dedicated Star Trek fans (and who else would be reading a Star Trek: Titan book?) will see through in a few pages.

Fallen Gods has all the pieces necessary to be a really compelling novel. Frankly, it has all the pieces necessary to be several really compelling novels. But its refusal to actually engage with any of its topics in detail, to build up meaningful drama and suspense, to present serious threats and stakes, hampers it. The book is enjoyable enough while you're reading it, but upon putting it down don't be surprised if your first thought is a rather plaintive, 'Is that it?'


This Is Why I So Rarely Bother

I wouldn't consider myself a major comics fan, but I've been known to pick up a book or two. Empowered, Transformers, Morning Glories, Power Girl. A few others, here and there. Mostly, though, I don't get drawn into that world too deeply, because the big two so rarely put out the sorts of stories I want to read. Things look good at first, but once you actually get into it everything sort of falls apart spectacularly.

Big Hero 6 is a pretty good example of that.

Shocking, I know, but bare with me.

On the surface, it all looks solid. A kid. A robot. A girl in high-tech armour. A giant monster.  A dude with swords. What more could you ask for out of a Japanese superhero team? And the action starts off pretty well, too. The kid, Hiro, is attacked at school by a trio of supervillains. When the rest of the team arrives to rescue him and defeat the villains, it turns out they were unwitting human pawns, possessed by some mysterious force. Worse, they were just a diversion, a cover for the real criminals, men in suits and ties who slipped into a nearby bank while everyone was distracted and walked out with a mysterious and powerful artifact, one piece from a set of six. With several other pieces already missing, and a past connection between the artifacts and BH6's mysterious commander Furi, the team is dispatched to America to guard the the lab where the last of the artifacts is being studied. What is the danger these artifacts represent? Who sent those three supervillains? Why is the team called Big Hero 6 when it's only made up of five people? All these questions, and more... are never really answer.

BH6 starts off strong, with a good fight scene, some nice teamwork, establishing moments for each of the characters and their abilities, and a solid mystery hook. And then it just absolutely collapses under the weight of its own terrible plotting and a frankly baffling refusal to resolve anything. The miniseries is kind of a perfect snapshot of why I'm so frustrated by mainstream superhero comic books these days. The one thing I will say for it is that it's not hair-pullingly decompressed. In fact, this five-issue miniseries actually finishes (though not resolves, mark) its main plot early enough that it needs to bring in a secondary plot in order to fill out the space. Not that it actually has any connection to the miniseries' overall plot, other than a tenuous geographical one. But that's about it. The supervillains' origin is revealed, but that only raises more questions, on the part of both the characters and the reader. It's flat-out stated that the person orchestrating them (who never even gets a name, nevermind a real motivation or character) must be working for someone else, but who, or to what ends, is never even suggested. The artifacts are maguffins from start to finish. With absolutely no establishment Furi's false eye suddenly gains a villain-defeating ability. And the racial stereotypes, and the sexism...

Honestly, superhero comics are sort of uncomfortable to read these days if you're even the tiniest bit sensitive to things like realistic depictions of non-Americans or fair-minded depictions of women. And BH6 manages to hit just about everything. One of the team's members is Wasabi no Ginger, a sushi chef who can use Qi energy and knows martial arts and constantly wears a headband and a chef's overshirt. He also looks like he's about thirty-five, which isn't a stereotype, but makes his going undercover as a high school student particularly idiotic. And the two young women, GoGo Tomago and Honey Lemon, are just... just...

Look. They're attractive young women with power and confidence, so it's not unthinkable that they would dress in a daring manner. But there's daring, and then there's just having clothes defy physics in order to more completely and totally hyper-sexualize a teenage girl. At one point GoGo is wearing a North American school gym uniform whose shirt, in defiance of all the memories frustrated teenage boys have of those years, the behaviour of fabric under tension and the possibilities of cutting-edge bra technology, manages to cling to both of her breasts. Simultaneously. Separately. That is, up the outside of one breast, down to her ribcage in between, and then back up the inside of the other. Linkara coined the term 'boob-sock' for this sort of thing while reviewing a Catwoman elseworlds, and there's really no better way to put it. These are boob-socks with a neckline and sleeves; actual shirts do not work this way!

One of these women can only be seen by people 18 and older with a valid credit card, and the 
other by any schoolkid with some pocket change.  Care to guess which is which?

And as for Honey Lemon?  Her tendency to go into battle wearing street clothes could almost, almost make sense, given her lack of powered armour and reliance on her deus ex machina-generating magic purse (yes, a woman with a magic purse). Except that towards the end Hiro, a total noncombatant, is given a lightly-armoured combat suit, that in no way restricts his movement and provides at least some small protection, right out of the blue. Making it clearly wasn't laborious, since a second, minor character gets a similar outfit (but she's a girl, so of course hers is pink) at the same time. So why hasn't Honey been wearing any kind of protection at all, why has she been fighting in a pair of incredibly low-cut skintight pants and a bra masquerading as a shirt, given that she's no more invulnerable than any other human on the planet?

Big Hero 6 was a pretty thorough disappointment. Despite a strong start, it just collapses into all of the worst excesses of modern comic books; non-Americans reduced to national stereotypes, attractive young women drawn in the skimpiest, most skin-tight, physics-defying clothing imaginable, a refusal to tie up loose ends and adequately resolve plot threads within a storyline, heroes who will fight each other at the drop of a hat, and superpowered individuals nonsensically sticking it to The Man by breaking the law and interfering with the police when it's completely unnecessary. I'm glad this was just a miniseries, because at least with a finite run there's a hard limit to the amount of fail you can work into it.


It Must Stand for "For The Luv'a...!"

I had that review of Looper done for like a week before I finally managed to put it up. So what stopped me, huh? Well, there was some house painting, and Thanksgiving, but those are pretty temporary affairs when you get right down to it. No, if you really want to derail someone, and I mean just strip hours and hours and hours out of their day, you have to do more than just throw a holiday and some home renovations at them.

You have to show them FTL.

Ironically, none of your ships look anything like that.  Cover art, amirite?

FTL is a ten dollar game (actually $9.99) from Steam, a simple little resource management sim wrapped around a pretty basic space adventure. A Federation ship, carrying vital intelligence, has to traverse seven sectors of space to bring that information home, staying ahead of the advancing Rebel fleet. Each sector is made up of a random number of star systems, laid in out a random pattern, with your entry point on one side and the exit jump on the other. All you have to do is travel, from star to star, from entry to exit, and then jump away to do it all over again six more times.

But of course, it can't possibly be that easy.

Despite its apparently simplicity FTL is actually fiendishly difficult, primarily because there are just so many resources to manage. First you have your crew; you start with three, and can have up to eight. Do you want them to be excellent specialists, or decent generalists? Because your crew can be killed, by boarders, oxygen deprivation, fire of even just being in a room one too many missiles have hit. Then you have those systems your crew are working on; there are five (engines, shields, oxygen, weapons, piloting), all of which draw from your reactor, and three more (doors, sensors, autopilot) that work on their own. You can upgrade all of these systems, to varying degrees, and for every boost to the first five you also need to upgrade your reactor to produce more power. Then there are two more optional systems (drones, teleporter) you can pick up along the way. And you can have two different drones installed at a time (three on some ships). And there are three slots for ship augmentations, like faster-charging weapons or shields or jump engines. And you have three finite resources you have to keep an eye on, as well; fuel, which you consume one point of every time you jump, missiles, which can go clean through the shields that energy weapons have to batter down every time, and drones, which can provide a wealth of options. And then there's your scrap. Oh, the scrap.

If you want to upgrade a system, or your reactor, or purchase a new weapon, or hire more crew, or get more missiles or drones or fuel, you have to spend scrap. Everything you do, basically, costs you scrap. You will never have enough, unless you're doing especially well, at which point half the time the randomly generated stores won't give you anything worthwhile to spend it all on. FTL can be cruel, that way.

Ship on fire, key systems shot up, no missiles, section exposed to vacuum... Yup, that's FTL alright!

So, sounds a little overwhelming, right? Well, that doesn't even get into the events you'll roll up on your travels! Each time you jump to a new star, you'll encounter something new. A rebel ship? Pirates? Slavers? A drifting wreck? An asteroid storm? Solar flares? Distress calls? The game has an impressive library of random elements it can combine into an event, and many of them offer the player a choice. Interestingly, there's a sort of personal morality system at play. Do you accept surrender from your enemies, letting them live in exchange for sometimes-token offers, or do you slaughter them for their scrap and supplies? Are you a fearless pirate hunter, challenging them anytime you cross paths, or do you resort to piracy yourself when the opportunity arises? The game doesn't make any particular note of your choices, in terms of the reputation of your ship or the like, but it can be easy indeed to fall into the habit of constructing a persona for your ship's crew, and sticking to it as you advance. Will you uphold the ideals of the Federation, come what may? Or does survival trump all other concerns? It's completely up to you.

FTL is cheap, and simple to get started. It's a casual game, but definitely a solid one, if you like resource sim-style games. Be warned, though! Individual events are pretty short, a few seconds a moral choice, perhaps a couple of minutes for a particularly gruelling battle. As such, it's very easy to tell yourself you're going to play just one more, time and again, until you realize you meant to play 'just one more' ninety minutes ago. If you're the sort who's susceptible to its wiles, this game will most certainly eat your free time, one brief random encounter at a time.

And you'll love every minute of it!

Well.  Maybe not every minute.


And He'll Keep Looping Until He Gets It Right!

There's this scene in Looper, about halfway through the film. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing the same character, Joe the Looper, separated by thirty years of life experience, sit down in a diner. Gordon-Levitt starts to ask about Willis' memories, his understanding of their shared existence, particularly as it diverges further from the past Willis remembers when he was Gordon-Levitt. Angrily, Willis cuts off the questions, declaring he's not there to talk about that; if they try, then it's only a matter of time before they're trying to make diagrams out of straws on the tabletop.

It's an amusing line, and somewhat self-aware, but it's important because it represents the views of the creator. Rian Johnson, the writer-director and therefore basically the authority on the film, has made it quite clear that he had always intended to make a movie that involved time travel, but not a time travel movie. There would be no neat 1985/1985A drawings on chalkboards, no predestination paradoxes trying to rescue doomed loves, no men in terrifying rabbit costumes and none of whatever the heck Primer is. At the end of the day, Looper is about a guy, a functional junkie who's happy being a trigger man for the mob, whose life suddenly gets turned completely upside-down and who has to finally take a good, hard look at himself and justify his choices.

It just, y'know, happens to involve time travel, and telekinetic mutants, and a plot to kill a future criminal overlord while they're still a child.

I wonder if Willis insisted on getting the cooler gun...

Set in 2044, clearly in the midst of the collapse of western civilization, Looper is seriously bleak. Everyone seems to have weapons, and no hesitation about using them, with petty thieves getting gunned down in the street and not a single eyelash batted. Nobody, however, has much of anything else; food, clothes, housing, it all seems to be in decidedly short supply. For Joe, his best friend Seth and the other Loopers, however, things couldn't be better. Young men of limited horizons and simple appetites, the Loopers are paid well to execute prisoners sent back by the mob thirty years in the future, on the understanding that they too will eventually be sent back to keep the precise information regarding time travel a secret. When that happens, one 'closes their loop'. The payday is bigger, much bigger, the Looper is let out of their contract, and are set loose with the knowledge that they have about thirty years of guaranteed survival to enjoy before someone comes to send them back, bag on head and gold bars strapped to their backs.

Of course, if it were really that simple, there wouldn't be much movie. Instead of simply being sent back and dealt with quickly and cleanly, the older version of Joe manages to arrive unhooded and unrestrained, and with the help of just a moment of hesitation turns the tables on his younger self. This sets off the plot of the film; old Joe is looking for the identity of the Rainmaker, a brutal criminal crime lord in the future who's been closing all the loops, so he can stop them before they're too powerful. Young Joe is looking for old Joe, since if he fails to close his loop he'll have to answer to the present-day representative of the Rainmaker, Abe. And Abe and his lieutenants are looking for both of them, to kill old Joe or to use young Joe to find him, in a none-too-gentle fashion. This three-way chase sequence drives the overall plot, but it's young Joe's slowly-unfolding realizations about himself that propel the story.

Despite being slathered in makeup to try and look like a young Bruce Willis and called on to occasionally imitate the venerable action movie superstar, Gordon-Levitt turns in a truly impressive performance. Joe isn't stupid, just short-sighted; a child of the streets, at a time when the streets are as dangerous as they've ever been, he's never had any use for a long-term view. But as he confronts his older self, the choices he's made and the choices he's going to make, and interacts with a few other, key characters, including a slightly precocious child and a few of Abe's lieutenant's, he starts to develop a sense of himself and where he fits into the wider world. Gordon-Levitt plays young Joe with a fine mixture of swaggering street-tough, recovering junkie and frightened victim-to-be, trading time among these aspects but never letting any one of them overwhelm the others. It's a good, nuanced performance, in a role that could easily have just settled for someone doing a decent Bruce Willis voice and playing the cliched Gruff and Stoic Killer With a Good Heart. Joe's not a monster, but he's not a hero either, and Gordon-Levitt plays both sides of it quite nicely. He does it so well, in fact, that the ending seems comes at you straight out of left field, but after even just a second's reflection it's entirely obvious. The more I see of Gordon-Levitt, the more impressed I am.

For instance, I'm impressed by his ability to act wearing an entire second face.

Willis turns in a less nuanced performance. With thirty years of experience as a killer for the Chinese mob, a revenge plan in his head and no ties to anyone in 2044, he's mostly just a killing machine. Think Clint Eastwood, at the end of Unforgiven. But even then, he manages to put in a couple of nice, emotional beats. Old Joe had a wife in the future, the loss of whom he feels very deeply, and despite his singular focus on ending the threat of the Rainmaker before it begins, after he guns down his first lead he really sells the depth of his horror and disgust at murdering a child, in cold blood, for nothing.

Looper is a rock solid action movie, with some really good ideas and an actual heart, a rare thing these days. There are some beats that are obvious, such as young Joe picking one of the three target houses to lie in wait for his older self and, of course, forming a relationship with the child there. Some cliches, you just can't get away from. But overall the movie is sharp, willing to tread strange new ground both as an action movie with science-fiction elements and a science-fiction movie with action elements. It has a certain timelessness to it, simultaneously racing along and feeling like it could have already run for hours. The sets are well designed, futuristic but not so much that they seem fake, a space designed rather than lived in, and there some nice, subtle touches that make it clear that while this isn't our world, it could be, down the line.

I must offer a warning, though. Despite the writers' disdain for straw diagrams as expressed by Willis, it's hard not to try and make sense of the conflicting timelines. Go ahead, but realize that things are not going to line up neatly. This is the sort of time travel where effect can precede cause, even incite cause in the first place, and there are elements of the final timeline that are blatantly paradoxical. Since none of the characters in the film are scientists this isn't really addressed, becoming neither a problem nor a source of technobabble, which is ultimately the best way to handle it. It just is; the universe is, as the saying goes, not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. But yes, the timelines of certain characters, and particularly the entanglement of Joe and the Rainmaker, do create something of a puzzle to chew over after you leave the theatre.

But, only well after you leave. Because when you first walk out of the theatre, I can pretty much guarantee you'll be focused on one of two things. Either you'll be thinking about Joe's character arc, or about what happened to poor, dumb Seth...


Escalation in Alpha Prime - Week 5

Opponent: Owen (Space Marines)
Deploymenet: Vanguard Strike
Mission: Crusade
Point Level: 1500

Chapter Master w/Jump Pack, Digital Lasers, Hellfire Rounds, Combi-Melta, Relic Blade
Captain w/Artificier Armour, Digital Lasers, Hellfire Rounds, Combi-Melta
10 x Tacticals w/Flamer, Missile Launcher
10 x Tacticals w/2 x Flamer
Venerable Dreadnought w/Multi-Melta, Powerfist, Drop Pod
Venerable Dreadnought w/Twin-Linked Lascannon, Missile Launcher
Venerable Dreadnought w/Twin-Linked Lascannon, Missile Launcher
Vanquisher w/Hunter-Killer

Oh, come on, Vanguard Strike again? Why is a one-in-three chance turning up so regularly!

Owen was a bit of a kid, which a strange little hodge-podge of an army, much of it clearly still in the process of being built and painted. Which I think goes some way towards explaining what happened this game. I don't condone clubbing seals, but nobody learns except through trial and error in the game. Trial and disastrous, disastrous error.

I won the roll-off, and deployed the following:
Shas'El w/Twin-Linked Missile Pods, Airbursting Fragmentation Projector, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker, Hard-Wired Blacksun Filter
3 x XV8 w/3 x Plasma Rifle, 3 x Missile Pod, 3 x Multi-Tracker
2 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker
3 x XV8 w/3 x Twin-Linked Missile Pods, 3 x Flamer
8 x Fire Warriors
8 x Fire Warriors
8 x Fire Warriors
5 x Pathfinders w/Devilfish, Disruption Pod
2 x XV88 w/2 x Advanced Stabilization System, Team Leader, Target Lock
2 x XV88 w/2 x Advanced Stabilization System, Team Leader, Target Lock
Hammerhead w/Railgun, 2 x Burst Cannons, Multi-Tracker, Blacksun Filter, Disruption Pod
Aegis Defence Line

The disruption pods were the post-FAQ ones, a change Coulton, who happened to be passing by, was unspeakably grateful he hadn't had to face the previous week. On the other hand, the new rulebook FAQ had nixed the idea of spreading the Aegis out, which meant I didn't have quite the scope for my defences, anymore. That wasn't too much of a problem, though. I put it in the centre-right, stretched out to cover most of my army in its traditional three-point configuration, with the third group, consisting of a squad of XV88s, the stronger Fireknives and a Fire Warrior team, sheltering behind a bit of natural terrain and the Devilfish. I placed my objective there, and handed off to Owen for his deployment. He put one of his dreadnoughts in a tower-top, with the other on the ground behind the double-flamer squad and the artificier captain off to one side, while the third waited for its drop pod to touch down. The jump pack captain and the other tactical squad took up a central position, and the Vanquisher deployed on the left corner of his zone. Again, night fight and seize rolls failed to kick in, and the game was afoot!

Amusingly, despite directing four twin-linked railguns at it, the Vanquisher ultimately succumbed to nothing more than the missile pods stripping off its hull points with glances. Well, the important thing was that it died; who killed it was a decidedly secondary concern. With the only really heavy artillery gone, I hunkered down to weather the fusillade of dreadnought return fire, my forces spread out as widely as possible to limit the drop pod's landing options. Happily, said drop pod managed to scatter clear off the table, which isn't something its inertial guidance systems protect against. Like Typhus the week before, the dreadnought with the multi-melta found himself landing smack in the back corner of the board, as far from the fighting as it was possible to get.

Owen didn't have much better luck with the rest of his turn. The save-enhancing disruption pods proved far too much to get through with just a handful of shots, and both the dual-flamer squad and the missile launcher squad were too far out of range to contribute, save for the missile launcher, which missed. Without scoring a single kill, Owen ended his turn.

The game was brutally lopsided, far more so than even the previous weeks, not least because of Owen's poor strategy. Rather than combat squad the tacticals, which would've given him two squads to hold the objective, he kept them together, meaning they were easy picking for a concentrated torrent of fire. My XV88s trained their railguns on the dreadnoughts, though a combination of poor shooting and good cover saves meant only the multi-melta dreadnought ever went down, while everything else that could simply obliterated the squad on the objective. Hesitating, Owen started his second squad back, which was probably the worst thing he could've done; if they'd pushed on they might've survived long enough to hit my lines, at which point even just a handful of Marines are a serious problem, but by pulling back they just gave me that much longer to shoot at them outside their own optimal engagement area. By turn 4, both Tactical squads were gone, leaving Owen incapable of holding the objective and in possession of just two dreadnoughts, against which the vast majority of my cadre's striking power remained available. With no way to win and several consecutive miracles needed even just to tie, Owen offered to surrender. And of course, being the enlightened Tau commander I am, I was perfectly content to accept my opponent's withdrawal from the field, even with such precious items as a pair of Space Marine dreadnoughts, to preserve Tau lives.

Running Total: 3-1-1

Escalation in Alpha Prime - Week 4

Opponent: Coulton (Chaos Space Marines)
Deployment: Vanguard Strike
Mission: The Emperor's Will
Point Level: 1300

Daemon Prince w/Mark of Tzeentch
7 x Chaos Space Marines w/Plasmagun, Mark of Nurgle, Rhino
7 x Chaos Space Marines w/Plasmagun, Mark of Nurgle, Rhino
7 x Chaos Space Marines w/Meltagun, Mark of Nurgle, Rhino
5 x Terminators w/5 x Combi-Melta
5 x Havocs w/2 x Lascannon, 2 x Missile Launcher
5 x Havocs w/2 x Lascannon, 2 x Missile Launcher

You would not believe how grateful I was not to see a Land Raider anywhere in that list. I don't know what it is about Land Raiders; Imperial or Chaos, I just cannot shoot those darn things down. And I've run into no small number of Chaos players who bring one of those mobile bunkers along as a terminator delivery system, which pretty reliably ruins my day.

We rolled off and I got to go first, which pleased me to no end. I deployed along the lower-left corner, rich in hills and forests, an ideal defensive area even before I spread my Aegis line out through it. I went with my standard arrangement, XV88s in the wings with a squad of Fire Warriors and a Fireknife team, my Hammerhead, the third Fire Warrior squad, my commander and Deathrains in the middle, and my Pathfinders deployed as the opportunities of the table present themselves. In this case, they ended up midway between the middle and lower-right wings, with their Devilfish sheltering that XV88. In return, Coulton laid out a line of Rhinos, Marines huddled inside, around the centre of his diagonal, the two Havocs on a ridge along the right table edge, the Daemon Prince sheltering behind the tanks and Typhus and the Terminators in reserve. Each of us laid down our objective, my just behind my Aegis on the upper-left diagonal, Coulton in a forest along his board edge, and with no help from Night Fight and no success on seizing, we were off.

I got off to a respectable enough start, wrecking the Rhinos with the combined fire of pretty much everything I had that could draw line of sight. One of them exploded, but failed to wound anything inside. The only real exception was my Hammerhead, which managed to drop a submunition dead-centre on the heads of one of the Havoc units, costing them their sergeant and one of their missile launchers. Somewhat staggered by the savagery of a proper Tau alpha strike, Coulton's own first turn was rather lacklustre. His Havocs fired on my Devilfish, which had a 4+ Flat Out cover save, and achieved precisely nothing. His Daemon Prince rumbled forwards, along with two of the Marine squads, while the third headed up towards the objective. With no small amount of reluctance, he handed the game back off to me.

Turn 2 was significanatly less impressive, for the simple fact that I'd run out of big, fragile targets, and was stuck dealing with small, fragile targets instead. The Rhinos had been fire magnets, targets as obvious as they were incapable of surviving such a beating. The dismounted Marines, on the other hand, were a lot better at obscuring lines of sight, leaving parts of my army unable to draw a decent bead on anything. Still, I gunned down the upper-left Marine squad, and took down the Daemon Prince, while taking a model or two out of the squad moving for the objective. Coulton's admittedly rotten luck continued, as Typhus and the terminators, attempting to deep strike close enough to pose a very serious threat to my army, managed to land on the heads of a few of my guys. They weren't lost in transit, a result for which I would not have blamed Coulton for flipping the table in frustration, but all that meant was that they landed nice and safe in the far back corner, no threat to anyone for several slow, foot-slogging turns.

As the game continued, the losses grew steadily more one-sided. Coulton's Havocs just could not perform, failing to hit the Devilfish, or to penetrate, or just being frustrated by the Flat Out cover save. In fact, he invested considerably more effort into destroying it than it really warranted, particularly since the Hammerhead was still flying around, dropping submunitions on the Marines in the trees. His second Marine squad was gunned down, leaving me basically in control of two-thirds of the table. Unfortunately, this wasn't a kill points mission, it was an objective game, and I'd forgotten one very important detail; Chaos Space Marines are Fearless. No matter how often I plinked away a model or two, the survivors would not break. I would absolutely have to shoot them clear off the objective, and I realized I didn't have the firepower to do it. But that was okay, since I had First Blood, and Linebreaker is notoriously difficult to achieve in Vanguard Strike. All I had to do was hunker down and wait.

But apparently Typhus was more than a little upset by being left out of the game for so long. Finally charging into the fight, he and his terminators managed to catch my commander and a squad of Fireknives, who I'd been moving up to try and put more pressure on the Marines in the woods; a telling miscalculation on my part. Typhus of course easily dealt with a couple of battlesuits, wiping them off the board before they even got a chance to strike, and earning Coulton Slay the Warlord. Seeing victory slip through my fingers, I tried to bull my Hammerhead across the open space for Linebreaker, but it had been hanging around the rear area, and covering that space was just too much for it, especially since I still needed it firing on the off chance it could deal with the objective-holders. No such luck, however, and when the game ended it turned out that, despite having lost nearly everything he'd put on the table, Coulton's tenacity had managed to earn him a solid draw. Both of us had a single objective, and both of us had a secondary, with the tiebreaker unclaimed by either player.

Let this be a lesson, then. No matter how well things are going, no matter how clearly the dice are favouring you, you can never be too prepared by an appearance from good old Murphy and his law.

Running Total: 2-1-1


Escalation in Alpha Prime - Week 3

Opponent: Scott (Imperial Guard)
Deployment: Dawn of War
Mission: Big Guns Never Tire
Point Level: 1250

Company Command Squad w/Powerfist, Astropath, Master of Ordinance
10 x Storm Troopers w/Power Weapon, 2 x Plasmaguns
Platoon Command Squad w/Powerfist
Infantry Squad w/Lascannon
Infantry Squad w/Heavy Bolter
Heavy Weapon Squad w/3 x Lascannon
Heavy Weapon Squad w/3 x Missiles
10 x Penal Legion
Leman Russ w/Lascannon
Leman Russ w/Lascannon

Well, the good times couldn't last forever; eventually I'd have to run into that great anvil of the Imperium, the Guard. And I suppose, if I had to do it, doing so at 1250 wasn't a terrible point range to have it happen in. Even the notoriously points-efficient Guard can't bring too many toys along at that low a points value.

As for myself, my list was just an expanded version of last time's.

Shas'El w/Twin-Linked Missile Pods, Airbursting Fragmentation Projector, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker, Hard-Wired Blacksun Filter
2 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker
2 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker
3 x XV8 w/3 x Twin-Linked Missile Pods, 3 x Flamer
8 x Fire Warriors
8 x Fire Warriors
8 x Fire Warriors
5 x Pathfinders w/Devilfish, Flechette Discharger
XV88 w/Advanced Stabilization System
XV88 w/Advanced Stabilization System
Hammerhead w/Railgun, 2 x Burst Cannons, Multi-Tracker, Blacksun Filter
Aegis Defence Line

A little light on railguns to face the armoured might of the Imperial Guard, but there were only three tanks across from me, one of them a comparatively fragile Hydra. Not an insurmountable problem.

Scott won the roll off, and spread his army out nice and wide. The company command squad were on my left, behind a ruined church; inside those ruins were the infantry squad with the lascannon and the three-las heavy weapon squad, the platoon command squad near the doors. In the centre were the Hydra and one of the Leman Russ, screened by the second infantry squad. And on the right was the second Leman Russ and the heavy bolter team, the latter hidden inside a small ruin and the former behind it. Marbo, the Storm Troopers and the Penal Legion all started in reserve, the former to pull his traditional appearance trick, the other two outflanking. In response, I put one of my Fireknife teams in reserve, since the Pathfinder's Devilfish makes their deep strike slightly more reliable, and spread my own force out. My commander joined an XV88 on the far left, beside a team of Firewarriors behind a section of Aegis. In the centre, a second squad of Fire Warriors, the Deathrains and a Pathfinder team were sheltered behind a Devilfish, which was just waiting to start sea turtling for them. And on the right, my Hammerhead, the third Fire Warrior team, the second Fireknife team and my other XV88 were hidden behind the last section of Aegis line. There were three objectives on the field, one on my left, one on Scott's left, and a third around the middle of the board. Night Fight failed, my seize failed, and we were off.

Scott turned the full power of his army on pretty much the only three real threats; my two XV88s, and the Hammerhead. Thankfully, the protection of the Aegis line sufficed to let me weather the storm, mostly. Unfortunately, I lost the right-most XV88, and First Blood, though nothing else of note. In return, I managed to pick a few Guardsmen off with my pulse rifles, their long range and the relatively short rear area allowing them to reach most of the infantry. My commander split from the XV88, heading up the left flank towards the infantry in the ruins; against Sv5+ models in area terrain ruins, his AP5 cover ignoring AFP would be a godsend. Pity about the short range, though. Thankfully, the walls of the building mostly blocked Scott's line of sight on that angle.

The two of us traded fire for a while, but I'm sorry to say that he got the better end of it. Over the second and third turn, he managed to take down my other XV88 and Hammerhead, removing the threat to his Leman Russ, only one of which I managed to destroy before losing my railguns. I also lost one of the Deathrains and a few Fire Warriors, trading them for assorted dead Guardsmen and the aforementioned central Leman Russ. Despite that, though, there were some bright spots. My commander had managed to close the distance, thanks to a good run roll first turn, and dropped his AFP with unerring accuracy into the middle of the densely packed Guardsmen; the company command squad, which sallied forth to deal with him, found themselves suddenly outgunned and outfought, as he proceeded to take them apart over the course of two assault phases, thankfully avoiding the very real danger the powerfist represented. And of course, once he was unengaged, his large blast, S4, AP5, cover ignoring barrage weapon started to do exactly the damage I'd expected it to.

Unfortunately, while I was blasting his infantry to pieces, he'd pulled a very real threat to mine out of reserve. Turn 3 Marbo appeared, tossing his demo charge and killing the XV88 on my left and about half the Fire Warrior squad, the survivors promptly breaking and running off the objective. And at the same time, the Storm Troopers deep struck in front of my central Fire Warriors and the Penal Legion, gunslingers the lot of them, emerged from outflank just behind the Aegis line. Scott had initially scoffed at gunslinger, having hoped for the more impressive rending ability, but it turned out this served him quite well. When a second turn of shooting from the Storm Troopers and Penal Legion wasn't quite enough to do in my Fire Warriors, the latter could use their assault-classed weapons to follow up with a charge, and weak as Imperial prisoner-conscripts might be, the few lingering remnants of an 8-man Fire Warrior team were no match for them.

Of course, they were no match for what came after them in return. The Storm Troopers took a couple of flamer blasts to the face from my surviving Deathrains, whittling them down but sadly not doing them in (I forgot they had carapace armour), while the Penal Legion squad went down to a hail of pulse fire from the central Fire Warrior squad. And those convicts certainly weren't wearing carapace. At the same time my commander continued to rampage through the infantry in the far left ruin, AFP'ing the command squad to death, including the warlord, while a Fireknife squad dropped in to finish off the heavy weapons team with the three lascannons in the ruin, killing everything off of Scott's objective. Of course, he responded by turning around and blasting my Fireknives to pieces, but they'd done their job, and as far as last-turn assaults go, it didn't add up to much.

When the game ended, it looked for a moment like I'd pulled out a win. There were no Troop units on any objectives (and fair few Troop units left alive, period), and no Heavy Support units on them, either. Scott had earned First Blood by taking out my XV88, but my commander had singlehandedly secured me both Linebreaker and Slay the Warlord. One secondary to two, it looked like I had it. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that in Big Guns Never not only do Heavy Support choices score, they also count for victory points. Which meant that, with my three dead units and only one of Scott's, things suddenly went from 2-1 my favour to 4-3 his. Accursed fragile Tau units!

Running Score: 2-1-0


Escalation in Alpha Prime - Week 2

Opponent: Austin (Tau Empire)
Deployment: Vanguard Strike
Mission: Crusade

Shas'O w/Missile Pod, Shield Generator, Blacksun Filter, Vectored Retro-Thrusters, Stimulant Injectors, Failsafe Detonator
6 x XV15 w/Shas'ui, Fusion Blaster, Bonding Knife, Blacksun Filter
12 x Fire Warriors w/Shas'Ui, Blacksun Filter, Rail Rifle, Bonding Knife, Markerlight
12 x Fire Warriors w/Shas'Ui, Blacksun Filter, Rail Rifle, Bonding Knife, Markerlight, EMP Grenades, Photon Grenades, Devilfish w/Smart Missile System, Sensor Spines, Decoy Launcher, Disruption Pod, Flechette Dischargers, Blacksun Filter
Hammerhead w/Railgun, Smart Missile Systems, Multi-Tracker, Target Lock, Disruption Pod, Blacksun Filter

One of the surest signs of an inexperienced Tau player is a proliferation of stuff. While many Tau units can't really take anything at all (Fire Warriors, Kroot, Vespid, Pathfinders), the ones who can have options out the wazoo. And many of them look like perfectly reasonable things to take. They all do interesting, even valuable things, and some of them stack together nicely enough. But they also eat into your points, and being a fourth edition codex Tau don't have a lot of points to spare for bells and whistles. Which is why, as soon as I looked at Austin's list, it was pretty obvious this would be less of a game, and more a teaching experience.

My list, for comparison.

Shas'El w/Airbursting Fragmentation Projector, Twin-Linked Missile Pods, Hard-Wired Blacksun Filter, Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker
2 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker
2 x XV8 w/2 x Plasma Rifle, 2 x Missile Pod, 2 x Multi-Tracker
2 x XV8 w/2 x Twin-Linked Missile Pods, 2 x Flamer
8 x Fire Warriors
8 x Fire Warriors
XV88 w/Advanced Stabilization System
XV88 w/Advanced Stabilization System
Hammerhead w/Railgun, 2 x Burst Cannons, Multi-Tracker, Blacksun Filter, Disruption Pod
Aegis Defence Line

Lots of units, with lots of guns, and nobody drunk on wargear options. In my experience, barring tactical wizardry, this is the only way to run a successful cadre.

We rolled up Vanguard Strike and Crusade, and I won the roll-off, selecting my corner and dropping my objective neatly behind one of my Aegis sections. I spread out in the usual three-point formation, the corners anchored by XV88s supporting a team of Firewarriors, with the Fireknives there to provide close support. My commander, attached to the Deathrains, and the Hammerhead made up the central spur, the tank hidden as best it could behind a large hill. Austin opted for a more aggressive approach, though also a less optimal one; one Fire Warrior squad, joined by his commander, held the objective on top of a hill opposite the one my tank was hiding behind, with his Hammerhead hiding it behind it in a mirror of my own strategy. The Fire Warriors with attached Devilfish, meanwhile, started out on the left edge of his zone, along with his XV15s, the lot of them just raring to go. He failed to seize, Night Fight kicked in, and we were off.

Unfortunately, the first turn was less than impressive. I'd put my Fire Warriors too far back to open up on his lines, and my suits found their shots either going awry or being blunted by Night Fight or Disruption Pod saves. I made no major advances, just shuffled around a little, and let Austin go. He sent his XV15s and Devilfish off as fast as he could, just as expected, while his commander took the odd potshot at my Fire Warriors behind the Aegis line, while his Hammerhead proved just as ineffectual as my own. Unfortunately, while the Devilfish is good, it isn't that good; putting it so far out in front earned it a railgun slug through the nose, wrecking it and spilling its contents out into open midfield. Where they perished mightily, caught under the guns of my own two Fire Warrior squads and the significantly more deadly firepower of my left-side Fireknives. Poor guys never knew what hit them. In return, however, Austin managed to do what I had failed at, using his Hammerhead to take out my own with a solid explosion that, thankfully, failed to do any collateral damage. His XV15s popped out from around the side of a building and took a few pot-shots at my Fireknives, who thankfully were behind the curve of the Aegis from that angle, since the fusion blasters were in range. Stymied, they jumped back into cover, though a bad roll left them slightly exposed.

Amazingly, that squad of XV15s would go on to completely destroy my left flank. They took casualties from my Fireknives, but not as much as they might've without their stealth fields, but over the next several turns they managed to shoot one of those Fireknives, break my Fire Warrior squad, and then charge and defeat both my remaining Fireknife and my XV88. There might only have been one of them left by the end, but that little guy earned his keep!

Unfortunately, his success was mostly a sideshow. On the main stage, I managed to shoot down Austin's Hammerhead after a few more turns, its submunition blast singularly failing to do the job when it came to clearing my Fire Warriors off the objective; a 4+ cover save, jumping to 2+ when he really got a solid roll to wound and I opted to go to ground, proved too tough to overcome with just a single vehicle's weaponry. Meantime, his single battlesuit, anchored to a unit of Fire Warriors, was steadily chewed up by a pincer strike of my own commander and the Deathrains coming left and high, and a Fireknife team, supported by the surviving XV88, coming in low and right. At the end of Turn 5, when the game ended, he'd completely lost the squad and commander, leaving him shot entirely off the table save for that single, valiant XV15 hiding down on my far left flank.

Running Score: 2-0-0