There Need Not Be Gods; The First Heretic

It's not easy to make a three-metre tall demigod with gold skin and psychic powers pitiful. Too little, and it would just come off as self-pitying; too much, and it's less pitiful and more stupid and pathetic. In The First Heretic Aaron Dembski-Bowden was given this daunting challenge with Lorgar of the Word Bearers, a very different kind of primarch from those we've seen to date, on either side of the Heresy. It would have been all too easy for him to fall short of the mark, by skewing too far to either extreme. Pleasantly, however, Mr. Dembski-Bowden appears to have been up to the task.

Like Prospero Burns, I went into The First Heretic with a certain hesitation, and for the same reason in both cases; I just didn't like the legions in question. And like Prospero Burns, I ultimately came away from The First Heretic with, if not affection, at least an appreciation for the legion in question.

The First Heretic is the story of two men, though I use the term loosely in applying it to such beings, Lorgar and a Word Bearers captain named Argel Tal. As the primarch of the chapter that seemed from the hints provided in other books to have set the whole Heresy in motion, it's no surprise that Lorgar is central to this story. The book is ultimately about him, about building a believable situation in which the Emperor's most fervent acolyte could turn into his most implacable detractor. To that end, Dembski-Bowden introduces what may well be the perfect flaw in the character of Lorgar, given what little was known about him. It isn't that Lorgar believes the Emperor is a god specifically, but rather he believes that there are, that there must be, gods in existence, and as the wisest, strongest, most powerful being in the physical plane, the Emperor must be a god by default. It's a very subtle distinction operating in a vacuum, but in practice, and the two hundred or so years of the Great Crusade leaves a lot of time for practice, it can make itself very well known, indeed.

This is the crux of Lorgar's pitiable nature. One could respect him if he were the 31st millennium equivalent of a Christian crusader, filled with holy fire, or a Muslim willing to bring the certainty of the law of Allah by the sword; there's an internal consistency to such people that, even if you despise everything they stand for, you can respect them for standing for it so completely. Conviction is admirable in fiction, even the wrong convictions, so long as it's held honestly. But there's nothing so admirable about poor Lorgar. The Word Bearers' primarch doesn't worship the Emperor because he is moved by the rightness of his cause, the perfection of his ideals or the wisdom of his laws, but simply because he is a god; in Lorgar's mind, anything that is divine is a priori worthy of worship, no matter the content of its character. There appears to be no real difference in his eyes between the Emperor and the Ruinous Powers; they may be utterly antithetical and anathema to each other in every respect, but their both gods, so one's as good as another, and the one that will pay attention is better. Rather than burning with a righteous fire, Lorgar's willingness to worship a god, any god, just so long as it reassures him it is a god makes him look desperate, and more than a little sad. It's a blatant cry for attention and acclamation, but despite the power and wisdom of Lorgar, gifted orator, keen philosopher, 'father' of a hundred-thousand of the greatest warriors the galaxy has ever seen, it rings true. The primarchs are absolutely riddled with daddy issues, after all, and the Emperor is quite frankly the worst father in history. The fact that none of the other primarchs seem to have the slightest respect for Lorgar, save perhaps Magnus who seems to view him as a well-meaning but slow-witted tagalong little brother, probably doesn't help, either.

But the daddy issues between the Emperor and Lorgar aren't the only ones at play; there's also Argel Tal, and his issues with his own 'father', his primarch. Argel Tal is the latest in the long line of 'Space Marine everyman' we've seen in the Horus Heresy, a solid character who we can respect and admire thrust into difficult situations, and ultimately forced to choose between loyalty to his legion and loyalty to the Imperium. But the Word Bearers' geneseed seems to carry a stronger element of respect for, even obedience to, authority than the other legions', leaving Argel Tal to wonder if he is truly making his decisions, or if they're the inevitable result of his compromised genetics. It adds an interesting undercurrent to the relationship between captain and primarch, one we haven't really seen replicated in any of the other Heresy-eras legions. Argel Tal has to struggle with the idea that he may well be following Lorgar, not because Lorgar is right, but because Argel Tal is incapable of thinking Lorgar could be wrong.

Which doesn't mean Argel Tal doesn't realize what's happening to him. Even if the Emperor is unworthy and the Ruinous Powers deserve the worship of the Word Bearers, Argel Tal is one of the few characters in the Heresy series to really think about the cost of their actions. And not just in the tally of dead brothers, either. As one of the first to witness the corrupting power of Chaos worship up close, he gets to see just how much the Ruinous Powers will inflict upon their worshippers. Even if the price is ultimately one worth paying in his eyes, Argel Tal isn't blind to the fact that it's there, and that in the short term, at least, it seems terrible indeed.

Thanks to all this, Argel Tal is actually one of the better Space Marine characters we've seen in the Horus Heresy novels. It's easy to be an Ultramarine or a Raven Guard, bravely standing up to aliens, traitors and daemons, and not that much harder to be a loyalist in the Traitor Legions, standing by sworn oaths of loyalty even in the face of fraternal treachery. But in Argel Tal, Aaron Dembski-Bowden gives us a traitorous patriot, a man who honestly believes he's doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons. It gives him a certain classically tragic weight to his character, though that's probably not a description the Word Bearers' captain would be all that happy with.


Yeah, Well, My HQ Can Beat Up Your HQ!

Black Knight Games is hosting a rather unique event this coming Sunday.  Billed as a Collosseum Eternal Mega Battle, the game will be a one-board free-for-all fight between as many players as show up.  The forces?  Each player is allowed to bring one single HQ model, worth an unlimited number of points, even going so far as to allow you to field a single model from within an HQ unit.  The only restriction is that you can't put down more than one model on the board, and once it's gone, so are you.

Normally, I don't go all-out on equipping my command suit; neither version has the punch to play 'Herohammer', and many of the points that would be spent on making a slightly sub-par hero who's still extremely vulnerable to the omnipresent S8 fire could be better spent elsewhere.  This time, however, there's nowhere else to spend those points, and very little danger of S8 fire; there aren't a lot of krak missile launchers floating around the HQ slot, after all.  So this is what I've been thinking of taking, though it's still preliminary; I haven't quite nailed down exactly what I'll most need to be prepared for, yet.

Shas'o - 70
+ Plasma Rifle - 20
+ Missile Pod - 12
+ Shield Generator - 20
+ Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker - 5
+ Stimulant Injector - 10
Total: 137

Far more than I'd ever spend on a command suit, otherwise.  But for all that, I get a fairly decent solo combatant; a 4+ invulnerable save and Feel No Pain, along with the usual S7 AP4 and S6 AP2 guns, both of which can fire at the same time.  I can hurt dreadnoughts, I can go through Terminator armour, I'm not tied down to cover and with a 3+/4++ and FNP, I'll be largely immune to most of the shooting HQ units can bring.  Close combat will be a horse of a different colour, of course, but no Tau commander expects to last long, there.

The one thing I can't quite decide on is Iridium Armour.  It would increase my commander's regular save to 2+, making him that much harder to shoot off the board.  On the other hand, it would drop my guaranteed-6" assault move down to just D6", and that 2+ is just as useless as a 3+ in the face of power weapons and orbital strikes.  Decisions, decisions...


The Fate of Bavgad Prime IV – Week 3

Opponent: Blake Nelson (Imperial Guard)
Deployment: Spearhead
Objective: Annihilation

Primaris Psyker
Techpriest w/2 x Servitors
Platoon Command Squad w/4 x Plasma Gun, Chimera
Infantry Squad w/Sniper Rifle, Missile Launcher
Infantry Squad w/Sniper Rifle, Missile Launcher
Veteran Squad w/2 x Meltaguns, Valkyrie w/Lascannon, Rocket Pods
Armoured Sentinel w/Plasma Cannon
Armoured Sentinel w/Plasma Cannon
Leman Russ Battle Tank w/Passk, Lascannon, Heavy Bolters
Leman Russ Battle Tank w/Lascannon, Heavy Bolters
Leman Russ Battle Tank w/Lascannon, Plasma Cannons

Bloody annihilation! The mission my cadre does worst at, and it just keeps coming! As does Blake; this game was a rematch from week one, where my abandonment by the dice gods allowed his Imperial Guard army to put the fear of the God-Emperor into my poor Tau. With no other options (everyone else around his holdings was already engaged in a fight), Blake decided to come at me. And I, having learned a lesson or two from the last game, was happy to obliged.

He won the roll-off to pick sides, and as is customary at BKG, opted to just use the side he was standing on. Yeah, we're lazy that way. He deployed a row of armour along the front of his army, his Leman Russes in the middle, with the Armoured Sentinels between them, and the Chimera with the Psyker and Platoon Command Squad on my left. The two blob-squads were hanging out in the back, one in a forest and the other between the forest and the tanks. His Veterans and the Valkyrie were in reserve, waiting to drop onto the board and unleash their melta-y destruction at unstoppably close range. I responded with my standard double-base deployment, a 2-suit XV88 team on the left with the Hammerhed, the Pathfinders and their Devilfish, one Firewarrior squad, and the Deathrains, and the other 2-man XV88 team on the right with a Devilfish and the second Firewarrior squad. My commander and the two Fireknife squads stayed in reserve, in order to deep strike; in the last matchup with Blake his AV14 tanks had been impervious to my missile pods, but Leman Russes are as vulnerable as Rhinos if you get them in the back. And since hopping around the board would take forever and leave me dangerously exposed, I decided to try reserving and deep striking, instead.

I managed to seize, which worked out even better than I could have hoped; in my first turn, the combined fire of my XV88s, Deathrains and the Hammerhead, aided by the Pathfinders, managed to wreck his Chimera and the Leman Russ beside it, forcing the Primaris Psyker and his squad out onto the board and removing one battle cannon from the equation. I also shot the plasma cannon off one of the Armoured Sentinels, a somewhat less impressive feat but a cadre commander can't be picky; all damage is good damage. In return, Blake blasted my right-side XV88 team, both of them failing their cover throws against the battle cannon and suffering Instant Death, but that was all he managed; everything else either failed to hit, scattered way off target, or was blocked by cover saves. As nice as it was to be leading, it was even nicer to be down to just two Leman Russes, and not three, even if I was short half my XV88s. I continued to push along the flanks, sending my Hammerhead up towards Blake's table edge to angle for side shots on his tanks and bouncing the Deathrains in and out of cover to keep poking away at the Armoured Sentinels, but nothing really happened until turn three, when one of my Fireknife squads dropped neatly in behind the right-most Leman Russ. Despite managing a solid slew of hits and penetrates, however, they couldn't bring it down; stripped of its battle cannon, its lascannon and immobilised, it nevertheless remained on the board, stubbornly refusing to give up a kill point. Worse, in Blake's turn my Fireknife squad practically evaporated under the torrent of lasgun, missile launcher and sniper rifle fire, while the Valkyrie dropped in and discharged the Veterans, along with its lascannon and both missile pods on the XV88s. The XV88s themselves were unharmed, but the missile pods scattered, catching my Deathrains and Pathfinders, and costing me two of the five Pathfinders. The squad promptly broke, but thankfully rallied next turn, and I decided to just stick them behind a terrain feature and keep them out of trouble. The Veterans, meanwhile, failed to hit the Hammerhead with their meltaguns, and in return both they and their ride were promptly slaughtered. No invincible Valkyries this game; that thing went down with one volley of railgun fire, while the Veterans lost their meltaguns to a combination of the Hammerhead's submunition and the weapons on a nearby Devilfish, leaving them easy pickings for my commander when, after being bounced back into reserves, he dropped down and landed the AFP blast on their heads next turn. It's been my experience that Guard don't often like AP5 large blast weapons that ignore cover.

Still, the game pretty much went down to the wire in the end. While my second squad of Fireknives and the Deathrains managed to blow up both Armoured Sentinels, and my Commander killed the accompanying Platoon Command Squad out from under the Primaris Psyker, those Leman Russes continued to fire, repeatedly put back into action by the Techpriest and his Servitors. In the end, I won by a single kill point, one I might well not have got if the game had gone another turn; I was out of easy things to kill, and his Leman Russes had already taken an impressive pounding without flinching, so who's to say they couldn't have gone right on doing it? Fortunately for me, though, I didn't have to put that to the test.

It's just a pity I was on the defensive, that battle; it would've been nice to have more than two regions on the league map...


The Fate of Bavgad Prime IV – Week 2

Opponent: Dalton Nash (Eldar)
Deployment: Pitched Battle
Objective: Annihilation

5 x Pathfinders
10 x Howling Banshees w/Exarch, Wave Serpent
5 x Fire Dragons w/Exarch, Wave Serpent
3 x Dark Reapers w/Exarch, Wave Serpent

I've put off writing up this battle report about as long as I really can, for one very simple reason; thinking back on it aggravates me. I'm not going to accuse Dalton of cheating, but I will say that he was ignorant of certain rules to his own advantage, and sadly I didn't think to actually ask why he was doing what he was doing. Let this stand as a lesson, then; you can never re-read the rules too often, and you can never ask too many questions about your opponents' army and its capabilities.

Dalton won the roll-off, and elected to go first, deploying his Wave Serpents centrally, the Wraithlord on my left flank and the Pathfinders and the Dark Reapers on my right, the former in a bit of area terrain and the latter on a ruin with a commanding view. In return I deployed dual firebases, my XV88 monats anchoring my wings along with a Devilfish, Firewarrior team and Fireknife team, while my 'El, the Hammerhead and the Deathrains hung around the middle, along with my own Pathfinders. I failed to seize, and Dalton took his first turn, his Wave Serpents racing flat out towards my lines and unloading with their bright lances. I lost my Hammerhead straight off, along with one of my Fireknives, the rest thankfully resisting the urge to break. Of course, the keener-eyed amongst you will notice that he shouldn't have been shooting at all, given the flat out movement of his vehicles; unfortunately, I didn't catch this at the time. And along with shooting after going flat-out, I didn't catch on that he was applying the 4+ cover save all the time, even when he wasn't moving far enough to earn it. And (dis)embarking from transports moving flat out, as well.

You can see why this battle report rankles at me.

Well, unsurprisingly, I struggled to deal with Wave Serpents armed with bright lances going flat out and shooting, while being protected from return fire by a 4+ save they often weren't entitled to. I did eventually put down two of them, but that was only in the last turn of the game, long after it had stopped mattering. Dalton's tanks made short work of just about everything in my army, with me ultimately managing to kill just two of them, his Howling Banshees and his Fire Dragons in exchange for all my tanks, two of my three XV8 squads, one of my Firewarrior squads and my 'El, who managed one shot with the AFP at Dalton's Pathfinders and scattered a full 12" off the target. So, yes, I lost that game, and not by a particularly small margin, either. But plenty of the units I lost shouldn't have been taking the fire they did, and his tanks made saves against my railguns all game long, where that AP1 damage result boost could easily have taken them out of the equation. So, while I'm not willing to say Dalton cheated, the pair of us were ignorant of the rules in a way that heavily favoured him, and crippled me.

Well. Live and learn.


Skipping Over the Good Parts

The first season of the DC cartoon Young Justice offered viewers some of the sharpest writing superhero cartoons have had in quite some time. While the stories were often 'adventure of the week', they fed into a larger narrative, and served to illustrate and expand on the characters of Robin, Superboy, Miss Martian, Artemis, Kid Flash and Aqualad. The show also introduced Red Arrow and Zatanna to the team smoothly, building them up as characters both in their own right and in relation to the others. It did, however, stumble with Rocket towards the end of the first season; unlike Zatanna, Rocket was simply with the team at the start of an episode, with no real introductory story for her. It was a pretty clumsy misstep for a show that had previously demonstrated such admirable patience in their character work.

And unfortunately, it was just a taste of the disaster to come.

The second season, Young Justice: Invasion, starts five years after the season finale. So, right there I have a problem; I don't like time-skips. It's not that they can't be used well. Indeed, my favourite anime, Gurren Lagann, has a seven year time skip that works very well indeed. But the reason it works in Gurren Lagann, and doesn't in so many other works, is that there the time skipped over is a period of peace and relative stasis. Characters grow, but not in shocking new directions; relationships develop, but nothing drastic happens off-screen; and because it was a period of relative peace and tranquillity, there's very little worth mentioning once the show picks up speed once again. Young Justice, however, has done the exact opposite, and so far it's just been three episodes of steadily worsening creative decision making. The original characters and their interpersonal dynamics are either gone (Kid Flash, Artemis, Zatanna, Red Arrow) or radically changed (Superboy and Miss Martian breaking up, ex-Robin Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing, Aqualad being evil). The show has actually added more new characters to the team (Beast Boy, Lagoon Boy, Wondergirl, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, Bumblebee, new Robin Tim Drake, some guy named Mal who runs operations from Mount Justice) than were originally present, and taken the time to introduce precisely none of them. This isn't so bad with characters like Beast Boy and Blue Beatle, who got exposure on Teen Titans and Batman: Brave and the Bold respectively, or legacy characters like Wondergirl and Batgirl, but Lagoon Boy was a background character in a single first-season episode, and as big a superhero fan as I am, I've never even heard of Bumblebee or Max. And time and again, the characters will obliquely reference events that took place during the missing period, events that clearly affected them but for which the audience has absolutely no context. Watching Superboy and Miss Martian slowly grow into a believable couple felt realistic, like you were actually watching two real people grow closer together; having Miss Martian gratuitously make out with Lagoon Boy while he calls her 'angelfish' every chance he gets just feels like the epitome of a clumsy author's fiat. And Aqualad's reason for joining up with Black Manta is just awful. He's apparently enraged that Tula/Aquagirl was killed on a mission, which is bad enough, but then he declares that because Black Manta is his father and 'blood is thicker than sea water', now he has to be evil to. Because, of course, it's not like a giant part of the previous season finale was all about demonstrating that no, just because your parents are villains doesn't mean you have to be one, too. Do you even watch your own show, Young Justice writers?

At the core of it, that's why I don't like, or respect, the vast majority of time skips; it's nothing but an endless series of 'tell, don't show' moments. Superboy and Superman have developed a good, friendly relationship; good thing we didn't see that character growth! Aqualad has betrayed the team because a love interest we saw once became a superheroine we never saw and died on a mission we didn't know about, and also he found out at some point that his father is Black Manta; thank goodness we didn't see his actual, immediate reactions to any of those momentous events! Superboy dumped Miss Martian, who is now dating Lagoon Boy and acting as a surrogate sister for Garfield, who's developed powers and lost his mother because of Queen B since we last saw him; I can't tell you how glad I am not to have any idea how or why any of that's happened! And each new episode just adds more and more questions, while offering up no meaningful answers. Why did Zatanna and Rocket join the Justice League but not anyone else? Where's Red Arrow? What happened with Kid Flash and Artemis? Did anyone ever rescue Speedy? Who is this Icon, and why does he conveniently have 'experience with interplanetary law'? Why did it take five years for anyone to mention to John Stewart, a Green Lantern space-cop who did nothing to disguise his identity and actually announced himself as having been from Earth, that he and his five closest Earth allies were wanted space-criminals? And why wasn't it one of John Stewart's various Green Lantern space-cop buddies, rather than just some random human who just happened to accidentally get transported to a planet conveniently close to where the space-crime was committed? What happened to 'poor, disgraced Ocean Master'? Did anyone ever do anything about Hugo Strange working with criminals while being warden of Bell Reve? Who the holy frak is this Bumblebee, and honestly, why should I care about her?

The biggest problem with a time skip like the one in Young Justice, however, is how it completely distorts narrative flow. There are basically two potential outcomes for this season. The worst case scenario is that the alien invasion/JL-as-criminals plotline and the development of seven new characters squeezes out all but the vaguest of explanations of what happened, and closes off various dangling plotlines. The best case scenario, which still isn't very good, is that the original cast members will routinely find themselves asked leading questions by strangers to prompt them to deliver some exposition about their recent past, leading to either dryly recited facts or flashback clips that won't carry any of the emotional weight of actually watching the event in question unfold. And of course, the more time spent catching up with the characters the viewer actually grew to care about over the first season, the less time there is to develop the new, larger cast introduced for the second season.

Really, it's lose-lose.


Once More, Unto the Breach

A good science fiction writer can make a space battle exciting. A great science fiction writer can make conversation just as exciting. Jack Campbell is a great science fiction writer.

Jack Campbell, in fact the pen name of John G. Hemry, arrived on the scene some time ago, with his now-completed six book Lost Fleet series. The series chronicled the efforts of a massive Alliance space fleet to escape from deep inside the territory of the Syndicate Worlds, an enemy state with whom the Alliance has been at war for a century and who has managed to lure the Alliance fleet into a potentially catastrophic ambush. The fleet's only hope is Captain John 'Black Jack' Geary, a fabled Alliance hero found drifting in a survival pod, a man a hundred years out of his time and a captain several ranks out of his depth. But the war has been a slaughter on both sides, with the institutional wisdom of both state's star fleets completely wiped out, and Geary, a well-educated product of a less rushed era, may well be the greatest fleet commander of this time.

In the follow-up series, Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Geary is tasked by the Alliance leadership to once more lead the Alliance fleet into danger. This time, however, his orders are to go beyond Syndicate Worlds space, to explore what seems to be the realm of the first non-human sentient species humanity has ever encountered, and one that seems as paranoid as it is hostile.

Oh, did you assume the Alliance was humanity, and the Syndicate Worlds were the aliens?

That's one of the more notable aspects of Campbell's work; the man is absolutely miserly with description. I originally picked up the Lost Fleet somewhere around the middle, and there seemed no reason not to assume the Syndics, as those in the Syndicate Worlds were referred to as, were non-human. More than that, even, Campbell at no point provides any real description of Geary himself, or the other key characters in the series, leaving it pretty much entirely to the reader's imagination to visualise who these people are and what they look like. In the hands of a lesser writer this would seriously hamper the reader's ability to immerse themselves in the story, but to Campbell's credit he writes with a spare but powerful style, emphasizing dialogue and conflict, both military and interpersonal, over adjectives. The result is a pulp-style novel in the best sense of the word, a fast-pace story that whisks the reader along so fast they don't stop to wonder about little things like what people look like.

With the first book in the Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier series, Campbell really pushes his talents to the limit. For a book about a powerful military fleet venturing out to confront hostile aliens, most of the book revolves around Geary struggling to balance the demands of the much-maligned government, the orders of a frankly moronic headquarters, and factions within the fleet who would be more than happy for Geary to overthrow the lot of them and crown himself king, or at least president-for-life. But rather than be dragged down by what could otherwise have been a dull series of the brilliant Geary running rings around these future-rubes, Campbell gives us a man who still believes in the ideals of the century-old, peace-time Alliance, not the admittedly squallid realities of an Alliance that's been feeding men and women into a meat grinder for a hundred years, with all the social damage such actions would bring. So while he could easily disregard the politicians and the bureaucrats, trading on his status as a living legend and folk hero, Geary finds himself constrained by his sense of honour to abide by the laws of the Alliance, no matter how unworthy those who make and implement the law may seem. Campbell never tires of giving Geary a problem and then forcing him to think his way through to a solution, one that balances four different factions' demands, the best interests of the fleet and of the Alliance, and his own personal honour all at the same time, and as a result even Geary's more mundane struggles make for compelling drama.

You don't have to have read the original Lost Fleet series to pick up Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, but I would definitely recommend it. While Campbell does a serviceable job of catching new readers up on the broad strokes, there are a whole host of events, characters and details he glosses over, and while none of them are vital, knowing about them would greatly increase the appreciation of the story Campbell is telling with this latest installment in the life of 'Black Jack' Geary.


Movin' On Up, a-To the East Side!

I actually attended this tournament a couple of weekends ago, but between one thing and another it's taken me this long to actually get everything down in text. It was a really fun weekend, and marks my new personal best in terms of overall placement. Which, of course, only means I need to try even harder next time, in order to surpass myself. That bar's not going to get any lower, at least if I have anything to say about it!

Round 1: Mitch Breton (Black Templars)
Deployment: Dawn of War
Primary Objective: Capture and Control
Secondary Objective: Marked Man (nominate one model in your army; the enemy gets the Secondary if they kill that model)

Castellan w/Lightning Claw, Storm Shield, Artificier Armour
Emperor's Champion w/Accept Any Challenge, No Matter the Odds
5 x Assault Terminators
5 x Assault Terminators
6 x Sword Brethren w/Terminator Honours, Lightning Claws, Power Weapon, Frag Grenades
9 x Crusaders w/Power Weapon, Meltagun, Drop Pod
10 x Crusaders w/Power Weapon, Meltagun, Drop Pod
Land Raider Crusader
Land Raider Crusader

So, on the one hand, it's a list full of Land Raiders and drop-pod melta; on the other hand, it's a predominantly close-range list with very little ranged firepower. Pros and cons.

Mitch won the roll-off, and elected to go first, which was fine by me; no Tau player worth his salts wants to go first in Dawn of War. He reserved his two Crusader squads, loaded the Assault Terminators into the Land Raiders and drove them onto the board on my right flank, and had the Emperor's Champion, Castellan and Grimaldus join up with the Sword Brethren, hanging out behind the two tanks on the right. In response, I went for a moderately refused flank. I sent my AFP commander, a squad of Fireknives, two XV88s and a Devilfish up on the right, while everything else walked or cruised onto the left hand side of the board. I hoped to use the longer range of my guns to soften him up, while forcing him to deal with a bit of serious firepower close in, so he couldn't just charge off blindly across the board.

And brother, did it work.

For once, the Land Raiders did not prove the invulnerable railgun-magnets they so usually are; the first one went down first turn, thanks to the low Night Fight rolls needed by the XV88 squad on the right flank (another reason they were there), and the second one followed after the very next turn. Both Land Raiders gone, and both Terminator squads stuck slogging across the board. In response, Mitch's drop pods deployed the nine-strong Crusader squad right smack-dab into my lines, but thankfully his melta gunner was having an off day, as he failed to draw a bead on the Hammerhead sitting right in front of him. He held the second Crusader drop pod bad, landing it on his own objective, while the first squad rampaged through my lines; by the time they were finally brought down, they'd slaughtered the Firewarriors on the objective, the Pathfinders, and torn the railgun from my Hammerhead. Their rampage almost ended up costing me dearly, as my other Firewarriors were so thoroughly out of position that it took me clear until Turn 4, and a bit of fancy manoeuvring with a couple of Devilfish, to put a squad back on the objective. Close, but not close enough!

But since both of us had thoroughly protected our 'Marked Men' (he by nominating Grimaldus and hiding him in that squad, me by nominating one of the three Deathrains and just having them hang well back of anything that could threaten them), if I wanted a win, I'd have to do something about his own objective. Sadly, attempts to charge up on it met with failure, as some very favourable rolls let him shoot down my Piranha and, contrary to what I'd thought, it turned out the Terminators were close enough to charge a Devilfish I'd sent in there to try and tank shock onto the objective. With no way to get close enough to contest, it all came down to shooting, and the shooting all came down to the wire. Man by man I whittled away at his Crusaders until, with literally the last gunshot in the last turn we'd have time for, the very last Marine died. Victory for the Tau Empire!

Result: Major Victory

Round 2: Kyle Beveridge (Dark Eldar)
Deployment: Pitched Battle
Primary Objective: Annihilation
Secondary Objective: Forward March (+1 point for each of your Troops in the enemy's deployment zone, -1 point for each of your Troops in your deployment zone)

Asdrubael Vect
3 x Ravagers w/3 x Dark Lances, Night Field, Flickerfield
Venom w/2 x Splinter Cannon, Night Field, Flickerfield
2 x Raiders w/Dark Lance, Night Field, Flickerfield
2 x Haemonculus w/Hexrifle
4 x Trueborn w/4 x Blaster
20 x Warriors w/2 x Splinter Cannon
20 x Warriors w/2 x Splinter Cannon
10 x Warriors w/Sergeant, Splinter Cannon
9 x Wytches w/Hekatrix, Shard Net & Impaler, Haywire Grenades, Phantasm Grenades, Agonizer
9 x Jetbikes w/3 x Blasters

This was my first fight with Dark Eldar, and man was it fun! Unlike entirely too many brick-like Marine builds, the Dark Eldar were so shooty, and so fragile, that the fight was always completely up for grabs. That's the kind of uncertainty that makes for a great game!

I knew Dark Eldar were fast, but I admit, I wasn't prepared for how good their shooting can be! On the first turn I lost a Devilfish and my Hammerhead to all those Lances, the latter a serious blow indeed given how tailor-made the S6 AP4 large blast submunition is for dealing with the T3 Dark Eldar's FNP-boasting troops. Ah well; nothing for it but to soldier on. And despite the viciousness of that particular loss, I was far from out of the game. At the start of his turn one, Kyle had 3 Ravagers, 2 Raiders, a Venom, 9 jetbikes and 9 Wytches; by the end of my turn one, he had no Ravagers, a Raider, a Venom, no jetbikes, and 4 Wytches, thanks to a hilariously bloody-minded scatter roll on my AFP (though, I have since been informed that blast weapons can't scatter past their maximum range, which this did; it wouldn't have changed much, but it would've been less hilarious). Glass cannons, those Dark Eldar.

Unfortunately, I pretty much suicided my entire right flank, with some terrible movement. Forgetting the Dark Eldar are Fleet I left my AFP commander close to the Wytches and Vect, with the intention of catching them once more with the Dark Eldar-killing large blast; unfortunately, he was too close, and never got the chance. With him dead, I then let a Fireknife squad fall back too close to an XV88 pair, allowing Kyle to multi-assault the pair of them into the ground. Three kill points off those Wytches and Vect, alone! Things went better on the left, with my other XV88s dealing with the last Raider and then using their SMS on the survivors, while my Piranha got clear up into the Venom's personal space to use its fusion blaster through that most annoying '+6" to shoot at them' field. Of course, the Piranha then went down in a hail of blaster fire from the surviving Trueborns, so possibly it wasn't the best tradeoff. Still, I'd managed to shoot down every vehicle Kyle had, while retaining two of my own Devilfish full of troops, which made me pretty confident.

Which is probably why I lost my dang mind. On Turn 4, with both Devilfish safely on Kyle's side of the line, I opted to disembark one of my squads and fire into the Warriors advancing onto my side. The Firewarriors were within rapid fire range, I rationalized, with nice clear cover-free sightlines and their AP5 guns meant no armour saves. And if I could break the Warriors, Kyle would only have one squad on my side and one on his, giving me the minor. Of course, those of you more experienced at fighting these particular xenos than I will notice I forgot two key things; pain tokens give FNP, and pain tokens give Fearless. I actually managed to kill a good six Warriors with my Firewarriors, but their return fire cost me the squad when it broke, and was too close to the surviving Warriors to rally in Turn 5. What's worse, it turned out the other Warrior squad wasn't even halfway over the line, meaning it counted as being on Kyle's side; I could've had the minor with no effort on my part. All my actions had served to do was cost me those easy points, which I needed since despite slaughtering much of Kyle's army he was still two kill points up on me when it ended. Well, live and learn.

Result: Major Loss

Round 3: Dalton Nash (Eldar)
Deployment: Spearhead
Primary Objective: Seize Ground
Secondary Objective: Kill Points

20 x Dire Avengers
17 Guardians w/Warlock
10 x Howling Banshees w/Wave Serpent
6 x Fire Dragons w/Wave Serpent
4 x Dark Reapers

The terrain on this last table was a little unbalanced, which Dalton took full advantage of when he won the roll-off. While I got a bit of ruin, he got a lot of ruin, spread out on either side of a forest section. There was so much cover there that he had room for the Guardians, the Dire Avengers, the Farseer, the Wraithlord, the Dark Reapers and the Wraithlord, all of them nicely protected by cover from my return fire. I, meanwhile, used the tried and true Tau tactic of hiding my suits behind my Devilfish, and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, the best was not what the dice had in mind. Hampered by the Eldar's ability to reduce my railguns to S8, while at the same time reducing my Hammerhead's front armour to AV12 for their own shooting, I struggled to put down those three tanks, while they blasted my Hammerhead to smithereens first turn and claimed one of my Devilfish. When I eventually did remove the transports all that happened was that the Fire Dragons and Howling Banshees inside started charging and shooting through my lines, costing my a Fireknife squad, an XV88 squad and my Pathfinders. In response I opened up on those units with most of my short-range firepower, but the Banshees had cover from their exploded Wave Serpent's crater the first round of shooting, while the Fire Dragons were on the other side of my own cover, instant death-ing my battlesuits and passing their own cover saves with relative impunity. Things only got worse when his Avatar came on from reserves and crashed into my rear lines, though in my defence Dalton had been remarkably unclear about leaving that thing in reserves; he hadn't even had an army list, so I could know it was coming! He'd made some sort of weird joke, but he was constantly making weird jokes about things that weren't true. Well, just goes to show how important it is to ask for a rundown of the opponents army!

Anyway. The Avatar actually caused relatively little damage, taking out my plasma-armed 'el and his bodyguard, and nearly dying to mass pulse rifle fire. The real problem, though, was that he was able to walk up and onto my objective, contesting it from the Firewarriors hanging on for dear life against the stubbornly-surviving Fire Dragons, while I had nothing that could do the same to Dalton's objective. And of course, the Minor Objective was always going to be a disaster, since Tau really couldn't be worse suited for Kill Points missions if they'd been specifically designed for them. Ultimately, Dalton had most of his army sitting in cover around his objective, while just a few of his units had torn through my own lines, costing me vehicles, battlesuits, and worst of all, the objective. The game was a consummate disaster, from start to finish.

Result: Major Loss

Overall Result: 13th of 18


But Will Grimlock Still Be An Action-Master?

It's a hazy memory, but a fond one; walking down to the corner store, clutching a dollar in my little hand, to buy the latest issue of Marvel's Transformers comic.  From 1984 to 1991, the Transformers comic told the best, most creative, most far-reaching stories on the comic racks, as far as I was concerned.  And they had giant robots, too!

So, why am I less than excited by Transformers: Regeneration One?

Released for Free Comic Book Day, Transformers: Regeneration One #80.5 marks the relaunch of the two-decades-dead Marvel Transformers line (no, I don't count G2 as a continuation, too much was radically different without explanation).  The comic is mostly background on the Marvel run, hitting a truly tremendous number of nostalgic highlights unique to the comics; King Grimlock, alternate future Galvatron fighting Megatron, 'The Car Wash of Doom', fused Ratchet and Megatron, Primus and Unicron as gods, Shockwave's infamous victory over the Ark Autobots, Underbase Starscream, the Matrix Quest, Prime's melty, melty death (here slightly less melty), the rising of the the Last Autobot, and finally, Prime dropkicking Bludgeon in the face.  Ahh, it takes me back, it does.

Which, to me, is the problem.  I mean, look, I love nostalgia as much as the next twenty-something; the fact that I still hold considerable affection for the Transformers franchise (despite the best efforts of Michael Bay) should attest to that.  But the Marvel comics run ended over two decades ago.  And it's not as though it's being relaunched to fill a hole in the landscape of the Transformers; IDW already has its own, fully-realized Transformers universe, begun in 2005, which is currently supporting not one but two ongoing monthly series.  I've yet to start collecting them myself, being an inveterate trade-waiter, but from all reports the quality remains high and the stories solid.  It's entirely possible Regeneration One would offer the same quality, but... what's the point?  It's picking up after a two-decades long hiatus, from a comic that, quite frankly, ended.  The Marvel Transformers line wasn't cancelled mid-storyline, unlike the later G2 line.  To borrow a hoary old Transformers cliche, it was over, finished.

It's not that I won't read these comics.  I'm an unrepentant, unreconstructed Transfan, after all.  Heck, not only did I recognize all those nostalgic moments in Regeneration One #80.5, I actually remember that the shot of Optimus dying after Unicron's explosion is wrong, because originally his faceplate was melted away revealing a speaker-grille underneath; don't try to tell me I don't love me some Transformers.  I'm just wondering, with both Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye running now, well... why do need to go back?


The Fate of Bavgad Prime IV – Week 1

Bavgad Prime IV is a small mining colony in the Segmentus Pacificus, a mere 2800 light-years from Macharia. Being slightly isolated, the population is in total autonomy, producing his own food and energy, and contributing to the Imperial Expansion by regularly sending their quota to the closest forge worlds.

Being an easy prey, the planet fell into the Chaos hands at the end of the 36th millennium; but five millennia of enslavement later, the population was free again during the Macharian Crusade. The reconstruction has been fast, the planet is back to a high mining rate, fulfilling its duty for the Imperium of Man and peace has reigned ever since.

But in the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there is only War.

That's the backstory for a month-long league Black Knight is running, the post-titular 'Fate of Bavgad Prime IV', whose first round was last night. I have to say, I was quite impressed by the professionalism on display here. There's an actual map of the planet, with hex tiles from Planetstrike laid out into six continents of between six and ten tiles each, connected to each other not unlike the continents on a Risk board. That is, there are certain points at which two continents are close to each other, points denoted by a red line on the black 'sea' base of the board, and only there can you hop between places. There are special buildings that confer advantages, stackable advantages at that, in a battle, such as the Holy Site (allows 1 unit to re-roll LD once per game), Ammo Depot (allows 1 unit to re-roll failed shooting) and Power Generator (allows 1 unit to re-roll failed to wound) and the Spaceport (allows you to attack non-adjacent enemy tiles). And every player was given a little pile of Warhammer Fantasy Battle bases to mark up at the store's painting station with their army's icon, to show the spread of their influence on the map and give people at least some idea of who they're challenging. It's pretty dang impressive, is what I'm trying to say.

Though I really can't imagine how my Tau Empire cadre managed to blunder into a planetary free-for-all out in the old Macharian conquests. That's the exact opposite end of the galaxy!

Well, one learns to live with such minor details in 40K. For myself, I'm on a relatively small continent with Graham the Grey Knight and the only other Tau player in the campaign. Although I have been getting steadily better at handling Graham's Grey Knights, I figured I'd try not to fight someone I go up against regularly. And of course, us Tau players have to stick together, so I didn't want to charge straight at him, though that did mean he got two special buildings in his territories since Graham struck out away from him, as well. Lucky bugger. Anyway, hopping off the edge of my continent, my Mantas deposited my cadres strike force on a mountainous tile defended by the Imperial Guard, for the first of many battles to come on Bavgad Prime IV

My Cadre:
Shas'el w/AFP, MP, PR, HW-MT
3 x XV8 w/PR, MP, MT
3 x XV8 w/PR, MP, MT
3 x XV8 w/TL-MP, Fl
9 x FW w/Devilfish w/D-Pod
9 x FW w/Devilfish w/D-Pod
6 x FW
5 x Pathfinders w/Devilfish w/D-Pod
XV88 w/ASS
XV88 w/ASS
Hammerhead w/Railgun, 2 x BC, MT, D-Pod

Opponent: Blake Chrystian (Imperial Guard)
Deployment: Dawn of War
Objective: Annihilation

Primaris Psyker
Techpriest w/2 x Servitors
Platoon Command Squad w/Chimera
20 x Guardsmen w/Heavy Bolter
10 x Veterans w/Meltabombs, 2 x Meltaguns, Valkyrie w/Lascannon, 2 x Heavy Bolter, 2 x Missile Pod
3 x Leman Russ

So, my least-favourite deployment (at 1500 I can't scatter Blacksun Filters all over the place, while Imperials have free spotlights) and my least-favourite objective, against one of my least-favourite enemy armies (Wall O' AV14, plus melta). Off to a bad start, and it only went down hill from there.

Blake put down a Chimera with the Psyker and the Command Squad inside on the table, while I put my commander down, close to the midline but sheltered behind a nice big piece of terrain. I was hoping to have him pop out and suppress the Chimera, then pop back into cover. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. The Guard army walked on the edge, save for the Valkyrie and its squad in reserve, with the tanks clustered together behind the Chimera, on the left side of the table (my perspective). The Chimera lit up my commander with its spotlight, and the entire Guard army opened fire on him. To his credit, that guy weathered a truly monumental hail of firepower; he shrugged off the Heavy Bolters on the Chimera, one of the Battle Cannons and two Lascannon shots. In the end, though, he fell to the very last Lascannon round Blake had to send his way, depriving me of my forward fire point, and more critically my AFP in a battle against Guard.

My own army rolled on my side, save for the six Firewarriors I left in reserve, and proceeded to do very little, indeed. I dropped the Pathfinders off in a forest on the left side of the board, but since they'd moved they couldn't shoot, so I ran them to get them more spread out. And then, with a combination of poor Night Fight rolls and weak results on the vehicle damage table, I proceeded to immobilise the lead Chimera, and take off its turret. Hardly a strong opening, and it largely set the stage for the battle to come.

Blake's Guard army ground away at my left flank, with his Valkyrie deep striking to deliver its meltagunners straight into the path of my Hammerhead and his Leman Russes blasting away at the Devilfish, Deathrains and XV88 on that side of the board. I lost the Railgun off the Hammerhead, then one of the Burst Cannons, lost the Devilfish, the Deathrains, the XV88 and the Pathfinders, leaving me with a one-Burst Cannon tank cruising up the left flank to go plink away at the 20-man Guard squad and the de-meched Fire Warriors sheltering in the woods, on the corpses of the Pathfinders. In return, I... killed the Veteran squad. Oh, I also immobilised the Valkyrie and took off its Lascannon and both missile pods, but despite repeated volleys of Missile Pods and twin-linked Railguns, I could not destroy that thing. And the Techpriest managed to fix the Chimera's engine, and then its turret, negating even that flimsy accomplishment. The final score was 7-1 against, giving me 2.5 (showed up, lost, painted but not based) out of a possible 5 points for the evening. Not an auspicious start.

And, honestly, not the most fun evening I've ever had. Don't mistake me, Blake was an excellent opponent, and he did his best to offer up a good, clean fight. But it was just one of those nights where the dice just will not roll your way, no matter what, and that does grind away at the fun after a while. By turn three it was obvious the game was over, and despite managing to preserve half my army my total inability to kill anything that wasn't a de-meched Guardmsan with no cover saves meant it was just a long series of failing to hit, or failing to do damage, or rolling abysmally on the vehicle damage chart. Hopefully next week the dice are a little more willing to meet me halfway.


The "Mint Chip"? Really, guys?

I'm not sure how I let this one slip past me; as both a political scientist and a wannabe-futurist, it's in the perfect little sweet spot between the pair of them. Recently, the Royal Canadian Mint announced its intention to purse the "Mint Chip," which in addition to being a name that ensures This Hour has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer never run out of jokes, is a plan to put forwards a digital currency and matching delivery system.

This isn't groundbreaking work, of course. The M-Pesa in Kenya largely pioneered widescale digital currency distribution, and Google has recently thrown its hat in the ring with Google Wallet. To the best of my knowledge, however, the Mint Chip is the first domestic government-backed program of this sort, and that makes it noteworthy. Google Wallet may be a perfectly serviceable product, but it's unlikely to spark the kind of mass transition that a concept like this will really need to get off the ground, for the very good reason that Google is a private corporation. There are only two ways to make money off of a service like Google Wallet; charging a fee for use, or selling personal transaction information to advertisers. They're both largely reasonable, but they're also both kind of annoying, and I wouldn't be surprised if most people opted to give Google Wallet a pass. Google can pass around private information online because it was basically the only player in the market for a long enough period that people genericized it in their heads; when it comes to money, however, there are all sorts of credit and debit cards on offer, basically for free from the consumer's perspective, that don't sell off the fact that you bought something from the adult novelty store.

But the Mint Chip is a different breed of animal. Being a product of the same state that distributes and guarantees money in the first place, it has a cachet of security that a private organization would be hard-pressed to duplicate. And of course, being in the business of literally making money for the government, the Royal Canadian Mint doesn't need to either charge or sell information in order to finance the system. The Mint is essentially selling the Mint Chip to its single customer, the government of Canada, which then distributes that product to the citizens of Canada. And given that Canadians generally have faith in the institutions of the state, even if they don't like the particular government of the day, there is reason to believe the Mint Chip will have a much easier time getting off then ground than Google Wallet, or any other private offering in this market. 

The Mint has released a video on the project.