Thursday, 25 February 2016

Balance of Power Review

Balance of Power

The newest installment in the Realmgate Wars series, and the focal point for the next few months of releases. Like Ghal Maraz before it, Balance of Power is less narrative book, campaign book or army book so much as an amalgation of all these. There's a lot of story, tons of incredible artwork, 10 battle plans and warscrolls up the wazoo. All in all an excellent resource on the ongoing Realmgate Wars story line.

The book is divided into 4 plots, each with accompanying battleplans, characters, twists warscroll batallions. In order to best review each part, I've divided this into those four parts. The book starts out partly where the last one left off, with the Hallowed Knights and Sylvaneth in full retreat from the forces of Nurgle. Note that I'll be talking major spoilers and adding some speculation of my own. This isn't a "this and this and this happens" review, so be warned.

War of Life

The Battle for Athelwyrd is lost. Alarielle's last haven is taken, and the forces of Order are in full retreat. Fleeing Torglug, a Lord of Plagues, they reach the Sea of Serpents. Several battles are held here, each of them cool in their own right. The Sea is frozen solid so they can flee across it, and battles happen as you would expect when armies run across Ice they can break. They eventually reach the other side, climb a giant tree, and have the climactic battle. This section had two major problems for me. It was covered in more detail in the "Guardians of the Everqueen" book, which means that reading it again is pretty uninspiring. The second is the rank repetetivity. Flee, fight, disaster, relief, flee, fight disaster relief. This happens three or four times during a single story arch. It's better here than in the Fluff book, but it's not great. A shame.

The battleplans are excellent. Battle on Thin Ice and The Hidden Artifact are two solid plans, largely well designed, and very fun. On Thin Ice lets you potentially sink entire squares of the battlefield. It's a great game for casual encounters, and probably fits the best with large battles. The Hidden Artifact is a capture scenario with a simple twist. You don't have to declare which unit is holding the secret objective. The carrier can't run or fly though, so some clever trickery needs to be used. I think this is an excellent scenario which may not work if you pile the carrier on a unit of fast-moving, hard hitting cav. The enemy gets to outflank you, but that may not be enough. I have played it though, and it was great fun as my Sylvaneth opponent used Wyldwoods to teleport in front of me.

Character-wise, I think this story did little for Grymn and the Lady of Vines. As the two main Order characters, I had expected a little more life out of them. Especially Grymn. They put him in a good place after Ghal Maraz (or a bad place, so to speak). A Lord-Castellent taking charge of a running retreat after his Lord-Celestant is slain. The fluff book touches a lot more on this, but Balance barely graces it. Mostly due the break-neck tempo of the story. Torglug, a Lord of Plagues from Ghal Maraz is back as the main villain. I feel that he works well, even if he falls a little flat without the other Nurgle named characters around him. He's clever, but comes across as another monologuing villain without someone to bounce dialogue off. He was a bit of a joke in Ghal Maraz, going up against the Glottkin and the Maggoth Riders, but he comes more into his own. I like him, but the fluff book really fleshes him out.

Going into the climax of the War of Life, and things start to happen. First off, Seraphon VS Skarbrand. In an excellent little scenario, a Slann and his cronies vs Skarbrand alone. They do a solid job of showing both the implacable and mystical nature of the Seraphon, as well as the terror of Skarbrand. These are both the first arrivals of Skarbrand and the Seraphon in the mainline campaign books, and it works. It ends with the Slann unable to kill Scarbrand, instead banishing him. Solid ending, as Skarbrand is supposed to be dangerous enough to have challenged Khorne himself.
Next up is the main event. The Celestant Prime makes his arrival. Another "first" for the Realmgate Wars, even though he has had several stories already. It's well described. The Prime is rightfully revered as a sort of avatar or messiah of Sigmar. It's nice to see that. Unfortunately, the impact is lessened a bit by some dodgy/hilarious combat scenes, like him being smacked cartoon style so high into the air that he can't be seen. Thee Great Unclean Ones later, he pulps Torglug's skull like an orc in blackfire pass. This is by far the most interesting point. The hammer of Sigmar [I]purifies[/I] Torglug's soul. He was about three seconds away from becoming a demon prince when the Prime blew his mind, and that last remnant of a human soul was cleansed! Sigmar takes that soul to the forge, and he is later reborn as a Stormcast Eternal! This has some pretty massive implications. As long as you aren't a demon [I]you can be saved[/I]. The dark gods no longer function as they do in 40k (if you needed further confirmation of that). The battle for the souls of the 8 realms is also literal. Just as the chaos gods corrupt, Sigmar can cleanse. It's an exciting theme that will no doubt turn up again and again. I'm actually refreshed that GW are being so outright about it. There's no ambiguity here. In an age of greyscale and grimdark, it's interesting to see a conflict that is about Light vs Dark, no ifs and buts.

Oh, and Alarielle is being planted in a war monument. Expect her to grow back as a warrior goddess of life. Probably with a new model, new Sylvaneth and taking the fight to Nurgle.

Overall, I liked this story. Not an amazing read, but the finish with Torglug made it worth it.

War in Shyish


This one is shorter, and much less involving. And possibly contradicting established fluff. Long story short, Neferata is under siege. She's losing by a mile, and none of the other Mortarchs seem willing or able to help her. Sigmar, being the chummy guy he is, sends a stormhost to rescue her. He's been trying to find Nagash, and maybe restart an alliance. Helping Neferata might help with that. The forces of Slaanesh (yes, she's still around) are beaten. Nagash speaks through Neferata saying "maybe we could make a deal", end story. It's a whole lot of nothing, with a little bit of character work on Neferata, and setting up the next plotline in the Death arc. As talking about this requires me to spoil the excellent Audio Drama series, allow me to use another spoiler tag.

At the end of Bridge of Seven Sorrows, the Lord-Celestant of the Bullhearts was captured by Nagash. It was also made abundantly clear that Nagash [I]hates[/I] Sigmar. This clashes with the story in this book. Either that is a mistake, or Nagash is up to something. The Great Undead One wanted the Lord-Celestant so he could unravel the mysteries of how Sigmar keeps the Stormcast souls from him. If he's figured that out, he may be up to something even more sinister. It's also important to note that most of the Bullhearts escaped their confrontation with Nagash, so Sigmar knows that the Supreme Necromancer hates him. Possible double/triple-crossing in the future of this arc. Add Mannfred, who is clearly disloyal, and Neferata, who serves out of need, and you have a betrayal-a-ganza in the brewing.

Not hugely fond of the scenario here, but I think it has potential. Need to try it. Can't really say more :P

All in all, a rather lackluster introduction to the realm of Death. It's clearly meant to set things in motion. It feels rather like the part of a Bond movie before the theme song.

War in Aqshy

Fyreslayers! A new Stormhost! Skarbrand! Some skaven break into a clan lodge, steal most of their Ur-Gold and one of the Runesons. The Fyreslayers are notably annoyed and counter attack. At the end of that battle, the Stormcast show up. They've got so much ur-gold that the Fyreslayers og "into the mouth of hell and back, that'll cost ya". Which they do. They intend to break into a mighty fortress of Khorne and steal Skarbrand's collar. With that, they can neutralize him, taking the dude out of the war. We've already seen how powerful he is, so this is clearly important.

Marching along, they get ambushed by skaven and khornflakes. This goes terribly for the bad guys. Then they break into the fort (using Fyreslayer cheating tunnels), and smash open the inner gate. Turns out that was a bad idea, and will have bad consequences later. Even worse, Skarbrand returns out of nowhere (remember how he fell through a portal? Oops.). He kicks so much ass that the Stormcast and Fyreslayers evacuate.
This story introduces us to the Fyreslayers. It’s a solid introduction if you haven’t read the BL book or the Battletome. Most of the core elements of the Fyreslayers are here.  Honestly, I wasn’t super fussed about this section. It introduces a new Stormhost and a new Lodge, but otherwise feels a little brief.  It’s tried well enough into the narrative, being affected by a previous section and affecting the next. Ultimately this part feels like setting the wheels in motion for the next part.
I like Lord Sargassus, the new Lord-Celestant. His warrior chamber is a part of the Hammers of Sigmar, and he sits in Vandus’ shadow. He’s also more cautious and diplomatic than the Lord-Celestants we’ve seen so far. I enjoyed the sense of “had this been another Lord-Celestant, they would have acted differently”. It really separates them into characters when you feel like the person they are affects the story. Neither Vandus nor Gardus (do all Celestants end with a –us?) would have called it quits. There’s great potential in a guy who failed his mission because he cared too much. The Fyreslayers were a bit flat though. Ur-gold is better than Runesons is the extant of their characterization. That and getting Stormcasts to drink their magma-beer.

Love the scenarios. One is a twist on The Ritual, and the other is a four-player ambush scenario. Look like a ton of fun to play. This section even includes a Time of War sheet for the Burning Catacombs. Good stuff on the gameplay-front here then.

Vandus and bros' big adventure

In a book that introduces a lot of new stuff, this is the motherload. This is the where the balance shifts. Archaon makes his entry into the Realmgate wars. Vandus Hammerhand and his Warrior chamber has arrived in some mystical land to prevent the Watcher King, a Gaunt Summoner, from achieving some mysterious goal. The Lord of Change Kianthus, Tzeench’s general during the Battle of Burning Skies, is imprisoned here. The gate that Sargassus broke earlier holds the last key to unleashing him. The demon must speak the truth as long as it doesn’t have that key, and due to the nature of its punishment, knows far more about the Mortal Realms and the Void than any being should. Ergo, the Gaunt Summoner wants that, and Vandus needs to stop them.
Long story short, the Watcher King plans to betray Archaon. Talking with the demon, he learns shocking things about Archaon. I’ll tackle them in their own section.
To cut to the chase, Archaon shows up. Isn’t particularly pleased about his demon trying to betray him. Cue awesome chase sequence. Archaon and the Varanguard slaughter the demons. Wheat and scythe comes to mind. There’s a brilliant little picture attached to the scenario here as well. It’s pretty hilarious. Reading this section makes me think Benny Hill.
Archaon kills the Stormcasts. All of them. The entire host is slaughtered by him and the Varanguard. Vandus was literally torn apart in slow motion, guts and blood spraying for all to see. The Everchosen then thrust his hand into the magical energy that is Vandus, toying with the very fabrics of him. He then beheads Calanax. Even Ionus is slain. It is a catastrophic defeat for the Stormcast, and a complete victory for Archaon.

This section is the absolute highlight of the book. It’s tense, twists, and is a joy to read. It even has some Chaos-on-Chaos action. Archaon does not disspoint either. The Watcher King does a solid job of providing twists and giving Archaon a worthy entry. And unlike a lot of the other sections, this story feels both satisfyingly finished and sets up the next book. If you have the impression that the Stormcast will go from victory to victory, this section proves that the Realmgate Wars won’t be so easy.


I’ll just quote the book here.
“What secrets does he most seek to hide?

The secrets of his past,’ answered Kianthus. The name he used when he was a champion of light, a name that still burns wit injustice and injured pride – burns so fiercely that he could be turned against the gods once more”

Let that sink in. Archaon, the Everchosen, could do a Horus [i]against[/i] the Chaos Gods. Archaon, destroyer of worlds, could become a champion of light. Combine that with the effect that Ghal Maraz had on Torglug (cleansing him), with the constant notes of Archaon’s ambition being as high, or higher, than godhood, with his refusal so serve any one Chaos god. We might be looking at a reversed Horus Heresy here. Archaon and the Varanguard turning, perhaps even turning into a third faction set against both Chaos and Order. Or we might not. Archaon won, and the Gaunt summoner was eaten/destroyed. Archaon now hold the true name of Kianthus, and thus secrets of the Mortal Realms, the realm of Chaos, and the Void, which he should not have. That may just be generic “secrets”, but given that Archaon is the single most powerful individual outside the Gods themselves, this is potential for something massive.

Also to note is the wording of Archaons thrust into Vandus’ spirit.
“Pink sparks leapt wherever Archaon’s touch threaded the stuff of the Lord-Celestant’s soul”.
Archaon may just have corrupted Vandus. Vandus might also go Horus on us. Vandus “exemplified” the God-Kings warriors according to Archaon. This is also pretty massive. We could see a Horus, or something else. Maybe Archaon and Vandus go together and spite ALL the gods. Who knows? I don’t, but the possibilities are endless and fascinating.

This is getting absurdly long. Sorry about that. Is this book necessary in your life? Maybe. The scenarios overall look like a lot of fun. That’s 10 solid scenarios for you to play, each with a lot of replayability.
 If you enjoy the fluff, I’d get it. With the reservation that the first story is infinitely better covered by the Wardens of the Everqueen, and the two middle stories have a filler/setup feel to them. Still, this is the introduction to a lot of elements that will be showing up going forward, and may be worth it for that.
I enjoyed the book. It was a solid read, and I’ll be playing the scenarios a lot going forward. It’s not quite the must-have, but there’s a lot of value here. I certainly don’t regret reading it for myself.

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