Nov 11, 2019

LotR LCG: Where the shadows are

"Yes, Barliman, Mordor, you fatso."
- The Fellowship of the Ring, more or less


We were pleasantly surprised when A Shadow in the East was announced in April, and absolutely shocked to find it at our friendly local gaming store in August. However, there it was, and with good memories of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor still in mind, of course we had to get it.

**

The River Running - DL 6

In the first quest of the deluxe, our heroes are supposedly traveling down the epynomous river, but what you're really doing is fighting a massive horde of enemies while a timer ticks down and unleashes even more enemies. Yes, it's Fords of Isen all over again, but where the Dunlendings had the slightly interesting mechanic of being affected by the number of cards in your hand, the Easterlings have attachments. So if you're using some of the new cards that work off attachments on enemies, like new ally Faramir, there's that.


Also like the Fords of the Isen, this unfortunately isn't a very interesting quest, since being swamped in enemies and Archery already got kind of old in Heirs of Númenor. So frankly, a disappointing start to the deluxe.

Danger in Dorwinion - DL 5

If the River Running was Fords of Isen 2.0, Danger in Dorwinion delightfully continues the series of alliterating urban quests, both in name and in being really good. In terms of mechanics, this is The Steward's Fear, with randomized plots and enemies and advancing by clearing urban locations, but set in Dorwinion and even better. The key mechanic here is that various enemies and treacheries keep raising your threat, which gets especially nasty when you draw the plot that lowers your threat elimination level.


This is actually one of my favorite quests in the entire game. Like so many quests lately, it's a bit fiddly, but not too much, and most importantly it's just fun to play. You don't get buried in enemies or locations straight away or find yourself having to defend eight attacks per round; the threat builds up, but you feel like you have a fighting chance. I really think this is an excellent quest. The only improvement I'd make is that the encounter deck is a bit small. Also the art is beautiful, and finally I have to mention what I think may be the best treachery ever: Secret Cultist.


Hilariously, we repeatedly had it hit us when all of our allies in play had an attack of 0, which led to Cultist Handmaidens.

For anyone keeping score, the best alliterating urban quests are, in order:

1. Danger in Dorwinion
(2. Escape from Umbar)
3. Trouble in Tharbad
4. Peril in Pelargir

Honorary mention: Conflict at the Carrock. It isn't urban, but sounds enough like an epic boxing event that it fits the bill. Why did the Ered Mithrin cycle not have Duel in Dale or something?! Encounter at Esgaroth!

The Temple of Doom - DL 7

The last quest is another retread of a familiar mechanic: there's an end boss in the staging area, but you can't attack him until you've done enough questing, although every now and then he attacks you. I mean it's decently executed, but maybe the game is showing its age a bit when every quest in the new deluxe is pretty much an old quest with new art.


We gave this a shot, and managed to draw such a sequence of direct damage that our heroes got murdered by Easterlings in short order. One mechanic I like is that as the quest progresses, you reveal more cards from the Power of Mordor deck, which make everything a little harder. It works very well to evoke the sense that the dark realm is, well, right there and casting its shadow over you.

All in all, though, this didn't feel like a particularly impressive or interesting quest, because we really kind of felt we've seen the same thing so many times before.

**

The player cards of A Shadow in the East are very appropriately centered around, well, this one:


In addition to the One Ring, there are several Master cards that go with it and, of course, our first ever double-sided hero card: Gollum. As Sméagol, he's a Lore hero with a threat of 3, making for some intriguing secrecy possibilities. However, if you have him as one of your heroes, you have to shuffle two copies of the Stinker treachery into the encounter deck; they flip Sméagol over into Gollum, who fights you as an enemy. It's a pretty good way of modeling Sméagol as an untrustworthy ally who can turn on you when you least expect it.


We also get ally versions of Merry, Pippin and Faramir, all pretty solid. Pippin should find a home in several Tactics decks purely on the strength of 2 willpower for 2 resources. The really interesting player card here, though, is none of these, or even the One Ring. It's this one:


This is the first Contract card, an entirely new card type that doesn't go into your deck, but is set up at the start of the game and goes into effect right away. You know them as agenda cards in Game of Thrones. This one stops you from playing non-unique allies, but when you have exactly nine unique characters in play, you flip it over:


This is very thematic, pretty powerful, and I'm actually half-seriously thinking about a Fellowship version of my Hobbit deck. But I love that we're getting a whole new card type - the first since Lost Realm - and I hope we see more contracts in the future!

**

I kind of feel the same way about this as I did about Lost Realm: I want to like it for the theme, but whereas Lost Realm was too frustrating, this was kind of bland. The exception is Danger in Dorwinion, which is an absolutely excellent quest. But when the player cards are also quite niche, I'm on the fence about whether I'd recommend buying this or not. I guess if you really want a Sméagol hero? We'll have to wait and see what the adventure packs are like.

We now have some reason to believe that this is, in fact, the last deluxe expansion - at least as we now know them. If that turns out to be the case, then at least it was a good one. However, this is apparently not to say that the game is finished; but we don't know what the new stuff coming after 2020 will be. I had been thinking that it would be weird if Fantasy Flight didn't try to cash in on the supposedly upcoming Amazon Tolkien series in 2021, so maybe we'll see some kind of semi-reboot to coincide with it? Luckily, we have been told there are no plans for a second edition, but a new core set, for instance? Whatever it is, we hope the game still has a future, because we are still rather fond of it.

**

On the occasion of the new deluxe, I rebuilt my deck from first principles, with a couple of new things that I want to test.

Since my partner is still committed to a mono-Tactics deck that basically fights a lot, that leaves me responsible for questing and location control. I've kept this emphasis, and started by going through the Spirit allies best suited to it. So that means keeping my Northern Trackers, Galadriel's Handmaidens, West Road Travellers and, of course, Bilbo Baggins. I've also found Rhovanion Outrider to be quite good, especially when setting up combos with Northern Tracker and Idraen. I will also be bringing back Greyflood Wanderer; a solid enough ally on their own, with a special ability that just might save us from location lock.


I mentioned Idraen; I'm also keeping Rossiel, but I think it's now finally time to bring in Lanwyn. I like her surge response, and with a ranged attack she can potentially help out my partner. I've definitely liked hero Arwen, especially since the card is so beautiful, but I feel like I want to try something different. This also unlocks one of the best Spirit allies in the entire game, ally Arwen, who I'm definitely including, along with her brothers Elladan and Elrohir.


So far, so good: that's seventeen questing allies, with a little bit of combat upside against orcs in the case of the twins. I trawled through all the available Spirit allies to see if there was anyone I should try, and I decided on one stalwart from way back in my first deck ever, and a couple of new cards to try. First, good old Elfhelm, for a little combat power and threat reduction. I found him useful back in the day, and frankly, the proliferation of Doomed effects and other threat-raising malarkey in Shadow in the East made me miss him! I'm also trying Bofur; I try to keep a Spirit resource handy for A Test of Will, so I guess I could use it on Bofur as well. Finally, I'm going to figure out if Curious Brandybuck is any good or not.


With only one Lore hero, I don't want to bring too many Lore allies, but after all this time, there's still no getting around Warden of Healing as simply the best healing ally in the game. Apart from them and Elladan, I'm only bringing Mablung, and in another blast from the past, Henamarth Riversong.

The main reason I don't want to take too many Lore cards is that I need to be able to keep a resource handy for Leave No Trace and None Return to power Rossiel's ability and Keen as Lances, which is a truly excellent card, especially when several people are running it. The only other events I'm bringing are the compulsory Daeron's Runes, A Test of Will and the delightful Flight to the Sea, because I love messing with the encounter deck. I'm not really sold on any of the location control events; I quite liked The Evening Star in my mono-Lore deck, but it'd be competing for scarce Lore resources here, and none of the Spirit events quite made the cut. With a cardpool this big, it's not so much about what cards are useful, but what there's space for in the deck...

Attachments start with the obvious; as the wags have it, Expected Courage. Similarly obviously, A Burning Brand, especially since we refuse to acknowledge the errata - mostly because we can't remember it! Light of Valinor is brilliant on Rossiel, and Cloak of Lórien is so thematically excellent on her that I'm bringing a copy. I've also come to think of Magic Ring as a kind of must-have; it's neutral and limited to one per deck, so really, why not? Most of the attachments I've got are more on the lines of things that are nice to see when they pop up, rather than staples I need to see in my hand. On that note, I'm bringing back Song of Eärendil, both to help out my partner in their Boromir shenanigans, and because of the art. The three people who read this blog know that I'm a sucker for pretty nautical cards.


Although I'm pretty sure Eärendil's ship was more like a longship than that galleon, and also is that a fourth mast that the aftmost lateen is on? Anyway, a couple of new attachments I'm bringing are Warden of Arnor and Map of Rhovanion, for location control purposes. Finally, in keeping with my principle that I want to be able to search for something when we come across the Lost Armories of the world, I'm bringing a Mithril Shirt, and also a Dúnedain Pipe for Bilbo to find. This last attachment was originally a bit of a joke, but it's actually been kind of useful!

That's everything except side quests, of which I'm having three: the same Double Back and Scout Ahead (a pleasant symmetry) as before, and also Rally the West, to see if it's worth playing. That takes me up to 57 cards, so I'd better be done!

A couple of words about what I didn't include, the most major point being threat reducers. Partly this is because the economics of The Galadhrim's Greeting are the worst for two players, and there's almost always two of us, but I find in general that I've become a threat reduction skeptic. Unless you're doing something very specific like a Secrecy and/or hobbit deck, threat reduction doesn't usually advance the quest; it just buys more time. And in multiplayer, it buys more time for one of us. So I'm just leaving it out in favor of stuff that will hopefully actually contribute to us getting things done.

Anyway here's the deck, we'll see how it goes!

57 cards; 33 Spirit, 20 Lore, 4 neutral; 25 allies, 13 attachments, 16 events, 3 side quests. Starting threat 27.

Lanwyn (TTitD)
Idraen (TTT)
Rossiel (EfMG)

Allies: 25 (19/6)
Elfhelm (TDM)
Northern Tracker ×2
Bofur (TRG)
Elrohir (TMoF)
Greyflood Wanderer (TTT) ×2
Rhovanion Outrider (TotD) ×2
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) ×2
Bilbo Baggins (TRD)
Curious Brandybuck (TWoE)
Galadriel's Handmaiden (CS) ×3
West Road Traveler (RtM) ×3
Elladan (TMoF)
Mablung (TLoS)
Warden of Healing (TLD) ×3
Henamarth Riversong

Attachments: 13 (7/5/1)
Unexpected Courage ×2
Light of Valinor (FoS) ×2
Mithril Shirt (TFoW)
Song of Eärendil (RtR)
Warden of Arnor (TTT)
A Burning Brand (CatC) ×2
Cloak of Lórien (CS)
Dúnedain Pipe (TBS)
Map of Rhovanion (TWoR)
Magic Ring (TCoP)

Events: 16 (5/8/3)
Flight to the Sea (TCoP) ×2
A Test of Will ×3
Leave No Trace (EfMG) ×2
None Return (AtE) ×3
Daeron's Runes (FoS) ×3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) ×3

Side quests: 3 (2/1)
Rally the West (TBS)
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)

Sideboard:
Dwarven Tomb ×2
Power of Orthanc (VoI) ×3
Deep Knowledge (VoI) ×3

Lord of the Rings saga expansions with Fellowship Frodo when the hobbit deck isn't around sideboard:
Sam Gamgee (TTitD) x1

Nov 4, 2019

Let's Read Tolkien 62: The Choices of Master Samwise

Frodo was lying face upward on the ground and the monster was bending over him, so intent upon her victim that she took no heed of Sam and his cries, until he was close at hand.

Sam finds a monstrous giant spider wrapping Frodo in strands of spider-web, so obviously he grabs Sting and charges the spider monster, dual-wielding swords. Sam stabs her in the eye and Shelob tries to crush him, so Sam holds up Sting against her and Shelob impales herself on the sword. Eventually Sam drives off the wounded spider with the light of the Phial of Galadriel.

Frodo, however, lies motionless on the ground and will not stir. Sam eventually and very reluctantly decides that he must be dead, and realizes he has to carry on the quest himself. Frodo doesn't react when Sam takes the Ring off him, confirming Sam's belief that he must be dead. The Ring weighs Sam down terribly. Just as he leaves to follow the path down to Mordor, Sam hears a company of orcs marching uphill, and then another behind him. Trapped, he has no choice but to put on the Ring and hide.

The orcs pass Sam by, and find Frodo. They grab him, and Sam charges after them, but can't keep up with the running orcs. He follows them back into the tunnels, and manages to eavesdrop on the two orc leaders bringing up the rear of the columm. He learns that the orcs know all about Gollum and Shelob, that they have been ordered to be especially vigilant and send all prisoners unharmed to Lugbúrz - the orcish for the Dark Tower - and, stunningly for Sam, that Frodo is alive. Shelob, the orcs know, eats her prey alive, and her poison only paralyzes them.

The orcs rush back to their tower, with Sam in hot pursuit. He can't catch them before they make it back to the tower, and close and bar the door. Sam is stuck outside, alone in Mordor, with his master a prisoner.

**

When the hobbits discovered three petrified trolls on their journey to Rivendell, Aragorn chided them for forgetting their family history. He might well have said the same to Sam here; when the spiders of Mirkwood attacked the dwarves of Bilbo's company, they too captured the dwarves rather than killing them.

However, I doubt Strider or anyone else would pass any remarks on Sam's martial prowess. Ancient evil of ages past versus hobbit gardener, 0-1.

I talked about orcs earlier in the context of the Uruk-hai, and mentioned a letter in which Tolkien compares the British military to orcs. It's actually a continuation of an earlier conversation, where Tolkien's son Christopher, serving in the Royal Air Force during the war, has been "grousing" about the misery of barracks life. His father, a war veteran, sympathizes and offers some thoughts on the Second World War.

For we are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. And we shall (it seems) succeed. But the penalty is, as you will know, to breed new Saurons, and slowly turn Men and Elves into Orcs. Not that in real life things are as clear cut as in a story, and we started out with a great many Orcs on our side..... Well, there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai.
(Letters, 66)

Tolkien's politics can be fairly summed up as a somewhat confused, very privileged, upper-middle-class conservative anarchism, and in many ways, orcs are the antithesis of that: loud, boorish, regimented and rough-spoken. While I can hardly disagree with the fact that many characterizations of orcs are racialized, the way Tolkien talks about orcishness in his letters makes me inclined to think that it's fundamentally a class attribute, rather than a racial one. I don't think I'm going too far if I suggest that in this chapter, the uncouth, military orcs are a fair representation of the bad working class, whereas Sam is the good working class. The barracks toughs versus the officer's virtuous batman, as it were.

**

That was Book Four! This always used to be my least favorite book in the whole novel. Book Three does such a good job of building up from three vagrants by a river to war and treason, and then suddenly you're yanked away from the ents, sorcerers and cavalry charges to two hobbits talking about potatoes.

I'm coming around to thinking that this may have been Tolkien's intention: the war narrative is exciting, but it's the journey of Frodo and Sam, the spiritual narrative, that's ultimately significant. I may be reading too much into it, but then again this is also why I suspect there's some theological pattern or logic to Book Four that eludes me.

Next time: meanwhile, back at the ranch.

Oct 28, 2019

List of circuits for a fictional racing game

If anyone ever let me design a racing game, this would be my starting list of circuits to include. "Circuit" is technically a misnomer for a couple of them, but I think it's wrong that classic road racing has been forgotten by racing games. If I had to limit myself to circuits proper, the obvious replacements would be Monza and Hermanos Rodríguez.

This list is inspired by the world map in Forza Motorsport 4's career mode. They've included a map of the entire surface of the planet Earth, which you use to travel to eight countries, six of which are in Europe. Just for fun, I put together an alternative list of racing venues that demonstrates that motorsport is a global phenomenon, and would be a lot more interesting to project onto a world map, while still staying in touch with the history of motorsport. I limited myself to twenty tracks, which meant that no country gets more than one. I like to think that only one of my choices is completely indefensible.

The most glaring blank on this map is, unfortunately, Africa between the deserts; the venues just don't seem to exist. If you were willing to take the plunge and include gravel and mud as well as tarmac, you could add the Rallye Côte d'Ivoire and the Safari Rally in Kenya. Confusingly, the Dakar Rally is now held in South America!

Here's the list:

Ain-Diab Circuit, Ain-Diab, Morocco
Autódromo José Carlos Pace, São Paulo, Brazil
Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain
Brands Hatch Circuit, Kent, UK
Buddh International Circuit, Uttar Pradesh, India
Carrera Panamericana, Mexico
Circuit de la Sarthe, Sarthe, France
Circuit de Monaco, Monaco
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Quebec, Canada
Keimola Motor Stadium, Vantaa, Finland
Kyalami Racing Circuit, Gauteng, South Africa
Laguna Seca Raceway, California, USA
Moscow Raceway, Russia
Mount Panorama Circuit, New South Wales, Australia
Nürburgring, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Malaysia
Shanghai International Circuit, Shangai, China
Suzuka Circuit, Mie Prefecture, Japan
Targa Florio, Sicily, Italy

Oct 21, 2019

MtG: Vintage Izzet

"So you can cast a few spells? Am I supposed to be impressed?"
- Skyrim, guard dialogue


I got back into Magic: the Gathering a while ago with the Mind vs Might duel decks, which I thought were fun. So I figured that if I'm going to make some kind of deck for myself, I might as well base it on that. Therefore:

Izzet Mind 2.0

Creature (14)

Enigma Drake
Glorybringer
2 Goblin Electromancer
Jeskai Windscout
Jhessian Thief
Jori En, Ruin Diver
Monastery Swiftspear
Nivix Cyclops
Reef Pirates
Sanguinary Mage
Talrand, Sky Summoner
2 Young Pyromancer

Sorceries (12)

Beacon of Tomorrows
2 Empty the Warrens
Grapeshot
Pieces of the Puzzle
2 Pore Over the Pages
Pyroclasm
2 Rift Bolt
Rise from the Tides
Temporal Fissure

Instants (7)

Electrolyze
Magma Spray
Mystical Tutor
2 Savage Alliance
Snap
Thunderous Wrath

Artifacts (2)

Library of Leng
Primal Amulet

Enchantments (1)

Firemind's Research

Lands (24)

Desolate Lighthouse
2 Highland Lake
6 Island
6 Mountain
Mystic Monastery
Rogue's Passage
Sand Silos
Smoldering Spires
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Soaring Seacliff
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of the False God

Sideboard

Electrostatic Field
Hypothesizzle
Ionize
Mission Briefing
Psychic Transfer

**

Somewhat to my surprise, this deck is only legal in Vintage, because it includes Mystical Tutor.


In general, I've tried to go for creatures with Prowess or some other ability linked to instants and sorceries; spells that are either cheap or come with untapping lands or card draw; and just generally what I consider beautiful cards that at least somewhat fit the theme. I also have a Snow-Covered Mountain, because, well, I have one from back in the day. Rogue's Passage and Glorybringer won me more games than I can easily count in Magic Duels, so how was I supposed to not bring them? So you see that this isn't exactly a ruthlessly efficient deck-building philosophy.

**



The first time, I couldn't find any lands, and ended up being seriously outnumbered. I did get to use Pyroclasm to wipe everyone out, but I lost in fairly short order. It's hard to claw back an early disadvantage!

Next time, I did better. I managed to get off enough spells for a horde of zombies with Rise from the Tides and to transform Primal Amulet, for an even bigger horde of goblins from Empty the Warrens, which did the trick in the end.


**

So, what have I learned? First, that I feel my deckbuilding kind of succeeded, because I managed to keep the key property of the Mind deck: it mostly just straight up loses, except when you can tee up a proper combo with your instants and sorceries. I'm unreasonably delighted by this. More importantly, it reminded me that playing Magic can be very good fun.

Oct 14, 2019

Warhammer 40,000: Tankhammer

Our first forays into Warhammer 40,000 last year were infantry affairs, mostly because that's what I had on hand or easily available, but also because our Rogue Trader tabletop campaign characters who were involved in the Ignatian rebellion mostly fought on foot. I decided we should try something different.

**

Our Marines already had a Whirlwind and a Vindicator, so building them up into a vehicular spearhead detachment was easy with a Predator. It turns out that while I've painted my Marines in Basalt Grey, which is the closest match to Citadel's old Codex Grey, the vehicles are considerably lighter. It's either some Miniature Paints light grey - there's a brand name from a time before search engine optimization! - or Vallejo Neutral Grey, which is the closest match I could find.


With the addition of the Predator, the Marines make a spearhead detachment consisting of a Tech-Marine, Predator, Vindicator and Whirlwind, which clocks in at 469 points. As it happens, adding the three Armiger Helverins I made earlier adds up to just shy of a thousand points, so that's an army as far as we're concerned!


**

I had earlier bought a Start Collecting Blood Angels box because it was a cheap way to get the Terminator Captain I used to make my 28mm Captain Phasma. It also came with a Baal Predator, and combining that kit with a Chaos Predator created the loyalist Predator above, as well as this lovely Hellforged Predator:


I wanted a Predator with a twin lascannon because I was a little nervous about all the Imperial armor, and the Baal kit's heavy flamers seemed like an obvious complement to the Hellforged Predator's close combat ability - although that's not likely to see much use against an army with exactly one model on foot! Also, for some reason the Hellforged Predator is an Elite choice, which means a vanguard detachment is indicated. The rules for Dark Apostles changed with the Vigilus supplement, so I'm going to bring mine as a HQ choice so I can try out the new prayers.

I also bought an ancient Space Crusade Chaos Dreadnought online on a whim, and it's an elite choice as well!


To round out the vanguard detachment, I'm bringing my Berzerkers; I'm interested in seeing what they can get done against armor. That makes a vanguard detachment worth 510 points.

Since the other side has tanks and Armigers, what can the Ruinous Powers pit against them? I'm thinking Chaos Knights; specifically, these two War Dogs.


I've named them Meridia and Namira, and I can't wait to see how they do on the battlefield. At 174 points each, they're a 348-point auxiliary super-heavy detachment, meaning we're left with about 150 points to use. As it happens, I bought a copy of the Wrath and Rapture set when it came out, and last summer, when it was way too hot to sleep, I started assembling the Bloodcrushers, and I absolutely love the Juggernauts. So seeing as how I'm playing Word Bearers, why not try some demon summoning? I'm leaving the last 150 or so points as reinforcement points, which just so happens to be enough to summon these guys.

So in total, what we've got is two approximately 1 000 -point armies made up of models we want to try on the battlefield. I have no idea what's going to happen.


**

We set up my old Necromunda terrain at the summer cottage, and decided to play the Only War scenario again; we rolled Domination for the primary objective, meaning we'd be scoring victory points for holding objectives.


The objectives were set up in the graveyard in the center of the board, on the bridge next to it and in some of the ruins next to the end of the river. My opponent chose that side to deploy on, leaving me to charge up the direction of the river. Our starting deployments are below:


The Imperial side went first and shot the shit out of my guys. General Hopps selected Renegade Armiger Namira as her Duty of the Forsworn target and promptly led her Helverins to shoot it to pieces; I had to use a command point to stop it from exploding and taking half my army with it! Under this withering fire, there was obviously no way out except forward. With Whirlwind rockets bursting among them, the Berzerkers and Dreadnought charged into the cemetery to secure the objective there. Renegade Armiger Meridia strode ahead to avenge her fallen sister, and on my left, Hellforged Predator Boethiath barreled toward General Hopps' Armiger Helverin.


Our shooting put a bit of a dent into the enemy, but failed to knock anyone out. My Predator failed its charge at General Hopps, and was very lucky to not take any damage from the overwatch; Meridia, however, managed to damage the Predator and succesfully charged the Vindicator, very nearly destroying the Space Marine tank with its chain-cleaver. Victory points at the end of Turn 1 stood at Imperium 2, Chaos 1.

The Imperial side's second turn shooting wasn't as destructive, damaging my Predator and remaining Armiger while the Vindicator fell back, and the Whirlwind knocked out two of my Berzerkers. On my turn, my Predator made full speed for General Hopps, this time doing some shooting damage and succeeding in the charge; Renegade Armiger Meridia likewise charged the damaged Predator and destroyed it. My Berzerkers reached the Armiger holding the objective and made it into close combat with it, with my Dreadnought holding the objective in the cemetery. I now had more models in range of the central objective, bringing victory points to a 3-3 tie.

The third Imperial turn opened with General Hopps falling back into the ruins at the edge of the battlefield, and the unengaged Helverin destroying Renegade Armiger Meridia. Meanwhile, my Berzerker Champion brought down the Helverin with his power fist after it stomped one of his comrades, and the Berzerkers consolidated into combat with the Vindicator.


With only a couple of turns to go, I decided it was high time to drop a command point on Dark Pact and summon the Bloodcrushers! The Dark Apostle's daemonic ritual was succesful, and three Juggernauts ripped their way into reality and grabbed the objective on the bridge. My Dreadnought turned its guns on General Hopps' Helverin, but failed to damage it, while the Predator barely damaged the loyalist Whirlwind with its lascannon, and failed to roast General Hopps with its heavy flamers. Our shooting was miserable, but at least the Berzerkers wrecked the Vindicator, losing one of their number beneath its crushing tracks and consolidating into the loyalist Tech-Marine who had been trying to repair it.


By turn four, the battle was concentrating on the ruined water still at the head of the river. The Whirlwind fired a barrage at the Juggernauts, knocking one of them out, and General Hopps blasted my Predator to within an inch of its life. In a desperate bid for victory points, the Tech-Marine disengaged from the two remaining Berzerkers and sprinted for the objective in the central ruins.


On my second-to-last turn, it was becoming clear that we were heading for a Khornate finale, so after my shooting was, once again, indecisive, I started charging: the Bloodcrushers stampeded into General Hopps, the Berzerkers charged the other Helverin, and my Dark Apostle took matters into her own hands and charged the Tech-Marine. She quickly overpowered the loyalist scum, grabbing the objective and sealing the win on victory points for Chaos. However, on the next turn, a point-blank salvo from the Whirlwind destroyed my Hellforged Predator!


While General Hopps defeated one of the Bloodcrushers in close combat, the Berzerkers toppled the other remaining Helverin, losing their icon bearer in the process. My Dark Apostle charged General Hopps, bringing down the Armiger with her Cursed Crozius and ending the ferocious battle for the water still in a Chaos victory - barely!


With the Whirlwind still in play, the Imperial forces weren't eliminated, but I won on victory points.

**

It was a fun game with plenty of drama! So, what did we learn?

First of all, the Helverins are terrifying against vehicles. 4D3 shots and Damage 3 is a hell of a combination against anything with lots of wounds; they knocked out one Renegade Armiger in their first shooting phase, and I was actually shocked my Predator survived as long as it did. I'm considering getting some for myself! Or renegades and heretics lascannon teams. Or both. The Hawkshroud doctrine meant that the damned things only stopped firing effectively once we literally took them apart in close combat.

Because of the murderous Helverins, I barely got to try my own Armigers at all, but what little they managed was encouraging: Renegade Armiger Meridia nearly destroyed a Vindicator and blew up a Predator before being gunned down. They also tanked a lot of fire before going down, which let my Berzerkers get into close quarters, where they were, once again, absolutely excellent. This game was a pretty good reminder that eighth edition is really all about volume, in both shooting and close combat, and Berzerkers with chainswords definitely bring volume! Last time, they chewed through a blob of conscripts; this time, they smashed a tank and two Armigers, with the champion and his power fist in the lead role. I am never fielding a Chaos Marine army without them. In fact, I should maybe make a couple more - and definitely finish painting them...

This was also the first post-Vigilus outing for my Dark Apostle. In retrospect, it's obvious I should've picked Benediction of Darkness as my prayer, which might have stopped at least some of the horrible mauling we took on the first turn - although of course it wouldn't have helped my Armigers. I was very pleasantly surprised with how killy my Apostle was at close quarters, but she again struggled to keep up with the Berzerkers. Summoning daemons only makes the problem worse! But I still like the Apostle, and they, of course, remain the only impeccably fluffy warlord choice for Word Bearers. I'm going to model some Dark Disciples to boost her prayers.

The Bloodcrushers didn't really do much; then again, fighting Armigers is hardly their forte, and they did tie up General Hopps until my Dark Apostle delivered the killing blow. My Dreadnought seemed cursed, as I don't think it actually damaged anything, but at least it managed to sit on an objective and net me some victory points. The Hellforged Predator was also slightly out of its element; it would have been nice to see how it does with some infantry to broil and eat. The twin lascannon felt finicky and unreliable compared to the terrifying damage output of the Helverins.

On the Imperial side, the Vindicator didn't really get anything done, probably mostly due to bad luck, but my venerable Whirlwind was surprisingly effective, bagging several Berzerkers, a Juggernaut and even a Predator! I'm tempted to paint a kill marking on it for that last one. The Helverins' surprisingly murderous effectiveness was already noted, and unfortunately I'm told that I'll be seeing more of them in the future...

**

To sum up, Warhammer is genuinely fun. I was very happy to try out some of the new units, and for next summer, I'm planning to expand our table so that we can field 2 000 point armies. So we'll be back!

Oct 7, 2019

Let's Read Tolkien 61: Shelob's Lair

It may indeed have been daytime now, as Gollum said, but the hobbits could see little difference, unless, perhaps, the heavy sky above was less utterly black, more like a great roof of smoke; while instead of the darkness of deep night, which lingered still in cracks and holes, a grey blurring shadow shrouded the stony world about them.

**

Gollum leads Frodo and Sam deeper into the Ephel Dúath, and into a horrible-smelling cave, where he vanishes. It quickly becomes obvious that this is a trap, but Sam remembers the phial of Galadriel. Its light reveals two monstrous eyes, and Frodo has a Bilbo moment when he draws his sword and actually advances on the eyes. They withdraw, and the hobbits manage to escape the tunnels. To no avail: the giant spider Shelob, whose lair Gollum had led the hobbits to, ambushes Frodo outside. As Sam tries to help his master, Gollum attacks him. Sam drives Gollum off, but is too late to help Frodo; the chapter closes with Sam running desperately toward where he saw Shelob attack him.

**

It's spiders again; Bilbo met them in Mirkwood, although that was a lot less terrifying, and now his heir also has a spider experience.

This is a fairly straightforward action chapter, and I think it's worth pointing out that it's quite well written. The foulness of the spider's lair is palpable, and Tolkien doesn't just get away with dropping a fairly hefty block of exposition in the middle of the hobbits' flight from Shelob, but it enhances the sense of horror: this isn't just some random monster, but an evil from ancient times who's been here longer than Sauron.

Thinking back to the Watcher in the Water outside Moria, and indeed even Gollum in the goblins' caves in the Misty Mountains, maybe it's a common habit of bad guys in Middle-earth to have monsters hang around the vicinity of their lair. This would support the idea that the Sirrion was dammed and the Watcher somehow coerced up from whatever depths of Moria it was from by the Balrog, or maybe even the orcs themselves. Saruman didn't have a monster at Isengard, which just shows what a newbie he was at this evil overlord thing.

Bizarrely, Middle-earth: Shadow of War saw fit to depict Shelob as a beautiful woman, which is moderately difficult to understand after re-reading this chapter.

Next time: Sam meets some orcs.

Sep 30, 2019

CKII: Eadfrith the Cathar

Last time, the Mercian empire went through a sequence of short-lived queens until Emperor Eadfrith the Great (1173- took the throne, nominally on the death of his mother in childbirth, and for real when he came of age. He got things started with moving the capital to Damietta.


Once the court was established there, my court chaplain discovered he was really into a heresy called Catharism. Finally, a chance to try running a secret cult! Sadly, as I've understood it, you can only ever belong to one secret society at a time, but then again, the Mercian hermetic tradition was broken during the Interregnum, so what the hell. Besides, Mercia is the largest Catholic realm in the world, so if I could flip at least a large part of it, we might be on our way to supplanting Catholicism altogether. It's a long shot, but hey, we'll see.


Meanwhile, Eadfrith became King of Norway.


Unfortunately, he also became insane and appointed his horse chancellor. It's the syphilis ("Great Pox"), I'm afraid.


**

At this point, I took a longish break from the game, for life reasons, but also because if I'm honest, running a secret cult turned out to be kind of boring. The first problem is that you can only belong to one secret organization at a time, which is a real shame, because it means I had to give up Hermeticism to become a Cathar. The bigger problem is that there's not a whole lot of interesting things to do as a Cathar. Now, I'd love to be able to convert my entire realm to Catharism and achieve full gender equality, but the way you go about it is occasionally sponsoring a secret community in a province, or trying to recruit a character. Neither of these is very interesting in itself, and being a secret cultist gives your character stress. When you combine the stat loss from giving up the hermetic grimoires, it's just a bad deal in pursuit of an outcome that may never happen, and like I said, is boring.

I'm bummed about this because it would have been really awesome to kick out the pope and replace him with a Cathar woman, but unfortunately I'll have to try that some other time. The paradox of a secret cult seems to be that converting a smaller realm is easier, but then that leaves you a potential victim of your more orthodox neighbors; converting a larger realm is just dull and time-consuming.

On a broader note, since I graduated I simply haven't had the time to immerse myself in Crusader Kings any more, and with several new DLCs and lots of minor updates out since I last played, I'm afraid I don't think returning to this game feels like a good idea. I think I need a completely new campaign to figure out how everything works again! I'm fondly dreaming of getting the kind of 9-to-5 job that would let me do some proper gaming, but I'm really not sure if those actually exist any more.

Still, building Mercia on the Nile was great fun, and I'm happy I did it. I'm also vaguely interested in the board game, although the reviews have been kind of mediocre. Anyway, Crusader Kings 2 is an amazing game, and I wish I had more time to play it.