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