The woods were waking up. Slow, sluggish, breathing deep and laboured in the perpetual cold, but clawing their way to life and fury, answering the Maven’s call.
Her allies had answered, better late than never; the kinbands of the Black-Briar crept at her side, arrows nocked. Her sisters strode at her back, and in the whisper of leaves she heard that others were on their way, drifting down from the high vale beyond the river.
And the dead were coming. Score by score, bony feet shuffling through the snow. One clutched an old bronze blade to its chest; one had its head thrown back, its hollow throat raised in a dreadful monotone chant.
There was no time to wake her brothers, no time to wait for the Court. The Heart was in peril and the time to act was now.
I have, in the past, had some things to say about pick-up gaming, tournament practice, Pitched Battle and the unsatisfactory takeaway of the soul that this kind of setup tends to result in. Of course, it’s very easy to thump one’s tub on the dot-coms and tell people they’re doing Warhammer wrong, which is why I’ve decided to “share best practice” like what my teacher training taught me to do.
What follows is an attempt to lead by example: a wargaming day myself and Mr. Ben staged in the summer of 2019 before the borders were closed and Trafnidiaeth Cymru nerfed into the ground. As hosting player, I had a look through the available resources and picked some scenarios appropriate to the participants, the terrain, and the timeframe we had available.
The forces in these little engagements are my Tomb Kings, in their embryonic “first attempt at a paint job” state, and Ben’s Skaven, in their “what do you mean you’re doing another new army” launch condition. The terrain selection is the Age of Sigmar stuff I acquired in a good-faith attempt to give Soul Wars a go during my year off blogging. The timeframe was a long afternoon, kicking off about noon and ending about six with late lunch at the local hostelry. (We’d reserved the evening for a round of Drunkhammer featuring our “main” armies, and that may see the light of day at some point too.)
I – The Border Patrol
(Rules for which can be found in Warhammer Chronicles 2004, if you’re interested. A Border Patrol usually takes sixty minutes or less to play, if you’re on form and keep your bustle hustled.)
This little encounter represented a Skaven incursion into the outer reaches of the necropolis of Rasetra. The scenery was set up to suggest the outer edge of a poorly fortified settlement; we had a house rule that attacking Skaven units could charge the fences and spend a combat phase knocking them down, as they weren’t terribly robust. The forces were deployed in opposite corners because that made most sense with the orientation of the buildings (and corner deployment always makes a nice change).
Ben lost this one. This is mostly because the Screaming Skull Catapult is very, very good at panicking Skaven units and the compulsory Liche Priest did nothing but ensure it could shoot twice every turn. Some Clanrats did make it some way into the Necropolis and regained a little glory by beating up my Skeleton Archers, but it wasn’t to last. All of this meant I would be setting up second and going first in the final game, as the Tomb Kings seized the initiative above ground.
II – The Skirmish
For our second game we played the Lost Tomb of Hamon Ra scenario from Warhammer Skirmish (the book of scenarios which expands on the Skirmish rules in the core manual; I believe most of it’s available in other forms online).
Some jimmying of the forces to suit available models was required – I had an Ushabti instead of the two Tomb Swarm bases – and we house ruled a little regarding the “crumble” moment, allowing my Tomb Prince a small radius of Leadership to keep some of his associates on their feet after my Liche Priest was destroyed.
Victory for the Skaven would deny the Tomb Kings 10% of their forces in the final battle (and if we’d been playing 2000 points as we originally hoped to, would also deny me the Crown of Kings).
The scenery here is set up to denote the outer walls of the Tomb and provide some internal decoration. There’s not a great deal of cover, although we were generous regarding figures stood immediately behind a sarcophagus or gravestone.
We were at this one for something like two hours as models fluffed hit rolls, wound rolls, injury rolls, and the endless loop of “can’t disengage from melee, can’t roll fives or sixes” set in. In retrospect I now know that Mordheim has a workaround for this (knocked down or stunned models are automatically taken out if wounded) and if Skirmish doesn’t have that I advise bringing it in. The other option is playing Warbands instead: Warbands has the traditional “fail save, lose last wound, you’re dead” resolution and tends to result in faster, more decisive games.
On the flipside, Skirmish also generates moments of real excitement, as even the disposable single-wound trooper can roll over, dust themself down and stage a comeback.
In our game the Skaven Assassin gave his all to destroy the Liche Priest, only to be cut down by a Tomb Prince moments later, and it was a mere Clanrat who retrieved the prize and dodged past an enraged Ushabti to make his final break for the surface, a lone survivor carrying the treasure of the Tomb.
(Ben won, that’s what I’m trying to say here.)
III – The Battle
With the Crown in the hands of the Skaven, we opted for a Breakthrough scenario, in which the Rodents of Unusual Size attempted to make their escape with their ill-gotten gains. I only had 1500 points of Tomb Kings so 1500 points is what we played, or rather 1500 vs 1350 as I’d lost the second game. I think I left out two Ushabti and my Icon Bearer’s magic flag. The terrain was essentially a flip of the first encounter; this time the Skaven would have the open space and the Tomb Kings holding the line on the fenced side of the battlefield.
I don’t really remember much about this game other than struggling to get anything done magically (turns out one Liche Priest isn’t enough at 1500 points, especially against two Warlock Engineers) and my Catapult not putting in the same sterling performance (only one shot per turn and an early misfire). It only went to about four turns – once my Ushabti had folded I didn’t have the speed to close off every avenue of assault and most of Ben’s army had free reign to move off the board.
What I do remember is the context of it. Because we’d set it up with the distraction raid and the temple pillaging, there were mechanical twists to an otherwise routine engagement, rewards for having done well in the early stages. Continuity was furthered by the terrain we used for the first and third battles.
Beyond that, because Ben won (again), my Tomb Kings now have something to do with themselves in future encounters, to whit going out to recover the Crown or maybe fighting their way home after having done so. All my future games with Ben, and maybe the entire backstory of my new army, can be shaped by the outcome of this only-slightly-curated day of play.
All of this was done with by-the-book armies, published scenarios, and terrain I already owned. I don’t think I’d even named my characters at the time! No extraordinary or even especial effort on our part was called for – we were just curious and selective about the wealth of additional material on offer in sixth edition WFB.
We could have simply played a Breakthrough scenario at 1500 points, and when we might have three people wanting a game each on neutral ground with strict departure times hanging over our head, that’s the sort of thing we settle for. But if you have the opportunity to do even a little prelude or aftermath for a game, to make a day of it and weave a little context and set the scenario up as something more than yet another points matched game of Borehammer, I heartily recommend you do so.
What with one thing and another, these models took their sweet time arriving. As a late backer I expected to be at the end of the queue anyway, but there’s an unhappy middle ground between “GIEF THINGS NOW” and “dang, forgot I backed that” in which the ole buyer’s remorse sets in and I start looking up how to chargeback. Big love to Troll Trader as a company though, they’ve been swift and honest in their communications and while my expectations were not perfectly managed, I am perhaps more neurotic than the average customer and this must be borne in mind.
After two half days on the assembly line the bulk of my stuff is ready to show off and talk about. The Chariots aren’t done yet as I shall need to paint them before full assembly, lots of reaching past painted bits will ensue if I don’t.
Usual rigmarole: product starts off with a 5/5 and I knock off a point for everything that disgruntles me. I’ll say up front that I don’t like resin kits as a rule, and some of these make me see what all the fuss was about over Finecast. Nothing is getting points docked just for being made of this stuff but when the material has let down the sculpt you will be hearing about it.
Character models: two Kings, two Liches (one off the limited edition Chariot, which I promptly split up into more game-ready dispositions). These are more than adequate; the staves are a little bendy and the pieces dance in my clumsy fingers, and a few feet and fingers snapped during the shipping and prep. I’m not sure if that’s the brittleness of the material or flaws in the casts; nothing insurmountable, in any case. 4/5.
Carrion: these were clearly designed for form over function. The poses are nice, the detail pretty crisp, but they are attached to their bases by tiny and often singular ankle joints. Two of them have wings that will come off the moment they’re put in a case. 3/5 for being a ballache. They look good though.
Scorpions: I rate these, they’re cute as buttons and easy to assemble. I could whinge about the overhang on the bases (how is this supposed to stand in base to base contact, mm?) but GW did worse so it really would be petty of me. 5/5, they’re neat.
Catapult: Head on it looks fine, but turn it sideways and… oof. The framework and arm are cast in some sort of rubber that can’t support its own weight and sags distressingly even when it’s sat in my display case. Unfit for purpose. Such a shame as it’s otherwise a really nice sculpt; the base block and crew are lovely. I’ve emailed TrollTrader about this as I’m not convinced it isn’t a dud cast that got rushed out in the hurry to finish shipping. Nothing else in the pack was floppy! 0/5, pending a response.
UPDATE: well, TrollTrader got their asses in gear and sent out replacement parts, so that’s brownie points for them! 5/5 for the Catapult, you don’t have to base it so I’m not taking points off for it being too big for the chariot base.
Casket: a nice conceit but honestly a bit silly, with the Keeper perched in top like that, and did not warrant the huge base it came with. I’ve rebased mine and will be parking a Priest in front of it on the table. Goes together very well though and I like what they’re trying to do with a difficult concept, it just looks a bit weedy for a 0-1 army-wrecking Rare choice. 3/5.
Giant: 5/5. Good sculpt, sensibly cut, fits together very tidily and has some great presence on the table. I’m looking forward to painting this, and I don’t say that very often.
All of this, plus other deliveries and a crisis at work, has meant the next instalment of The Maven & The Witch is postponed for another week – but it is coming! In the last month I have done 600 points of Wood Elves, plenty for a Woodland Attack; the Maven will thus be bringing some archers along to see how they perform on a deeper table. Her adversaries will be drawn from the Vampire Counts list, as I don’t think these Tomb Kings will be traded out. I like them too much.
That’s the lede, lest it not be buried. Now, the explanation.
I love the idea of the Tomb Kings: the ancient and eternal watchers over dead kingdoms, enacting timeless rituals over resting bones, rising and slaying when the living transgress on their domains.
I quite like the gameplay of the Tomb Kings: the distinction between Hierophant and General allows me to take risks with the army’s best fighter while keeping the army’s best wizard safe, and the magic, although subtle, is satisfying in its sheer reliability. As with my Vampires I find them a bit lacking in mid-sized games when I have to bring a narratively superfluous caster along just to keep my magical heft up, but that’s not their fault.
What I don’t like is the Tomb Kings models that I own. Most of my line troops are brittle mixed-medium Mantic kits that fall apart as soon as I look at them (yes I have heard of pinning; no I am not doing it for forty sodding Skeleton Archers); the “prime Zandri Dust and paint the details” approach hasn’t worked out as well as I’d like either, and they’re so samey, the worst thing for a reluctant painted like me.
What I also don’t like is that I have a huge bag of Gripping Beast Revenants (technically they are Mindless now, but I bought them as Revenants and Revenants they shall always be) which I don’t use because I live many miles away from any kind of SAGA scene.
But if you squint, those are solid single piece undead miniatures, off of which bits do not fall. And if you happen to go peeking online, you’ll know that Gripping Beast now do a wider range of undead infantry. And if you happen to be me, permanently frustrated in the search for third party cavalry and chariot figures that look remotely modern, the whole issue can be sidestepped if you go old-school and load up on whatever chunky single piece cavalry take your fancy.
The Twin Princes resolve all of this. Selling off my Mantic and TTCombat Tomb Kings should generate enough currency for additional Gripping Beast figures: an armoured warlord, a crowned and spectral sorcerer, a goodly number of armoured sword and board skeletons and some skeletons with bows. Put these alongside my existing big wizard and zombie horde, and that might be a credible (if slow) undead army. I can play that lot as about 1000-1500 points of…
Tomb Kings, with the new characters playing the part of Tomb Prince and Liche Priest respectively, and the Mindless Revenants serving as Skeleton infantry.
Army of Sylvania, since the Revenants also came with two big plague pits that make ideal Grave Markers and a suitably nefarious looking not-Vampire (probably going to brandish the Rod of Flaming Death so I get a third Bound Spell in there somewhere).
Undead, going all the way back to fourth edition: plenty of Wight Champions among the Gripping Beast Hearthguard figures, a unit of archers to provide covering fire, and a suitably vast blobule of Zombies for raising and disposing. And a Liche as my general!
The Revenants are already primed and inked, and they will set the tone for the proceedings nicely; all they’ll need is a coat of paint on their dead skin and some suitably incoherent, desaturated colours on their clothes.
Of course, the whole thing needs background, and this is where we turn to the narrative I worked up for The Maven & The Witch. We know that there are cairns of ancient civilisations dotted all over Bretonnia and Athel Loren, from the dark times between the fall of Nagash and the rise of Giles le Breton. We know also that such a collection of tombs lies within the region of High Tessonfroid, the chill high place overlooking La Vallee des Manchots Frenetique and the domain of Hiver le Sable, because my Wood Elves have been hard at work on ensuring that said tombs’ occupants remain firmly indoors.
And so we have it. Twin princes, from the ancient kingdom of Tiernmas that was before Tessonfroid. A warrior and a warlock, unalike in dignity, united in their goal: to take back what was theirs, to see the cursed winter never end, to drive out the living and reign as two kings!
Being no fool, and having struggled with Tomb Kings in my handful of games so far, I intend to try before I buy, taking “the build” in sixth edition, sneaking them in as the third-round opponents for The Maven & The Witch and nudging the points value of that engagement up to compensate. I am so in love with the concept and the painting possibilities here that I’ll probably do it anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to try. “The build”, incidentally, looks a bit like this:
Tomb Prince 154
Blade of Mourning, light armour, shield
Liche Priest 165
Cloak of the Dunes, Neferra's Plaque of Mighty Incantations
24 Skeletons (shields) 192
24 Skeletons (shields) 192
16 Skeletons (bows) 128
24 Tomb Guard 368
Champion, musician, standard (Icon of Rakaph)
1200 points: eggs, meet basket. I wouldn’t take an army like this to a pick-up game, but it’ll do to test the basic principle. They’ll be up against the Maven and her forest friends, not a force with a great deal of spell denial under their belt, so I’m hoping two Incantations will do the job, especially with a reroll to any embarrassing snake eyes from the Hierophant. The Blade of Mourning is in purely because I like its name, and it will help with shooing away the Dryads in the absence of auto-breaking.
The figures will be proxied by elements of my Sylvanian family: Skeletons will be acting as Skeletons, albeit with some spears and crossbows that aren’t really there. A Wraith and a Necromancer will do for the Prince and the Priest. My Drakenhof Guard have consented to lower themselves to pretending they’re ordinary sword and board boys for the outing. You are welcome to imagine members of this range hanging about the battlefield instead, or to picture my “they’re playing pieces so let’s ‘paint’ them as such” Revenants, from the featured image.
I shall be in touch. But right now, it’s back to painting trees.
Well, I made it. Slightly later than ideal, still just in time. 1500 points of painted Empire of Dust Tomb Kings, ready to be flung at the invading High Elves of Prince Panting this weekend and stage an incursion upon Dr. Shiny and his Bretonnians in September.
What fate awaits them after that I cannot say: I profoundly disliked painting them, probably because I had no vision for the army going in and only figured out what I shall laughingly call “the technique” on the last models, the Mummies, whom I genuinely abhor as being almost fucking impossible to rank up even with the traditional spacers. But if they’re fun to play with, they may be spared.
Do not look too closely at these Ushabti. You will see all the details I couldnae be arsed to paint proper like or mould lines I couldnae be arsed to clean up. I really didn’t care about this army. Nothing is prepped. It’s all been banged out in six months for the sake of a little variety.
These close-ups of the abominable Mummies may show the faded turquoise of their garments, which I FINALLY figured out how to do. They also show the three characters: Prince Thotmanho the Frequently Abbreviated (who actually looks quite nice, the swine), Bhakgamun the Liche Priest (whose staff is frankly not to be trusted) and an Icon Bearer who will get a name if I decide it’s worth taking an Icon Bearer again. They may also also show the Magic life counter I’m using to mark wounds, since this unit occupies a 4×5 formation even though only 2×6 of actual models are involved. They are REALLY hard to rank up. Quite characterful though.
Meat and potatoes, neither of which are involved in the daily habits of these units. Neither are bread and butter. But anyway; horrible mixed media Skeletons I haven’t filled because arseholes to that, but they look OK from four feet away when it’s cloudy out. And a Skull Chucker, cheerfully sized for fifth edition, dramatically undersized for anything else. I do quite like the rat as the extra crewman, as well as the flaming skull token I made to mark the shot.
You might be thinking I hate this army already. I don’t. It is very much built to be played, though, and the assembly and painting have been phoned in on a very big phone to that end.
The painting queue currently contains this Mausoleum terrain set, but once that’s done, I’d like to set up something a bit smaller scale and take my time on it, just to confirm that I can still paint. The Blood Bowl teams have been here the longest, but my Bad Squiddo stuff needs priming as it’s starting to discolour now some of it’s been unpainted for a year or two, and half a dozen Orc adventurers plus some Gothic horror vignettes may be just the palate cleanser I need after these big monotonous drybrush-and-ink fests. But first: GAME TIME.
My previous contact with Mantic miniatures has been limited and sweary. After putting together a bunch of their early Ghouls (which, honestly, I wasn’t really enthusiastic about to begin with) and having a miserable time of it, I wrote them off as pound shop Citadel and sacked off a whole edition of WFB rather than have to deal with them again.
I’ll work my way through the contents in order of assembly and have a good gripe about the bits that weren’t good. I’m a French-dictation kind of reviewer: everything starts off a 5/5 and for everything that pisses me off I deduct a point.
Skeleton Archers: These were quite fun to do once I’d worked out that specific plastic legs off the sprue needed to go with specific metal bodies (some have a locating lug for the upper body and a slightly chunker back than the skinny ones that slot right into the upper body, no lug required). While I was slightly worried about some of the lunging sideways shooting legs they look neat now they’re done. 4/5.
Skeleton Warriors: Oh no, metal accessories on plastic bodies! These always used to annoy me back in the day and I had to take a little salt break after putting the standard bearer together (still not sure he’s gonna stand up on his own, and I’m starting to think I should have used a metal body).
It took me a while to realise I was slightly short of heads (only eighteen, which means picking some fun options from the plastic sprue) and, as with the Archers, some of the bodies are fussy about which legs they fit onto. These felt like rougher casts too, as I had to shave off some metal and plastic to get them to go together; perhaps putting all the Skeleton legs on bases and then testing all the bodies for fit in turn might have been a better way to go about this, or perhaps Mantic could have stretched a point and put in some instructions?
I do like that their hands are open, and allow for the choice of spear or sword, and I also like the plethora of spears and swords on the sprue, which suits me a lot more than the grab-bag of assorted ‘hand weapons’ GW’s original Skeleton Warriors ended up with. I like my Grave Monarchs to look a bit more orderly and have matching weapons, that’s all. I’m slightly less keen on the historical-style open hands into which the swords have to slot. The plastic ones were OK, but some of the metal ones were a bit tight or crooked, and the arms are so spindly that trying to bend the fingers open exerts too much pressure on the lower arm. I cheated on a few of them and chopped the hilts off the swords, aligning them with the top of the hands. I’ll go back and fill those gaps later on, or eventually. 3/5.
Balefire Catapult: This is where the lack of instructions made me gnash my teeth a couple of times. It wasn’t hard to work out how it should fit together, based on the box image, but the angle of photography on the box images isn’t very clear as an assembly guide. Also, some of the parts on the plastic sprue are a bit… nondescript, and I was very glad that one of my crew could just have a metal body stuck on his legs and call it a day. Also, for a small model it doesn’t half have a lot of bits that overhang bases; I’ve bunged it on a Mantic unit filler that’s about 40mm by 60mm and it’s still poking off in a couple of places. At least they did ship it with a base though, and it was infinitely easier to assemble than the original metal Skull Chucker (at least all the pieces had lugs and sockets), so it’s not too bad. 4/5.
Pharoah: He was fine. Took me a minute to sit his arms naturally but I’m used to that. My only complaint was not having a proper solid base for him – I fixed it by gluing a flat one from my stash over the socket, but I could easily have filled it with some jank off the Skeleton sprue instead. 4/5.
Cursed High Priest: Take a good look at that whisper-thin white metal staff which has no points of contact with the rest of the miniature and ask yourself how long that’ll last in a figure case. Also, the head doesn’t fit at all snugly on the body; I’m still not sure if it’s cast properly or if I should have cut something off or what. 3/5.
Revenant Champion: It’s 2018. I thought we, as a hobby, were past bullshit like this spindly little shite with his separate arms, hands on flagpole and body. That’s four points of contact, on a metal model so requiring superglue, and all of them have to be aligned perfectly for the pose to look right. One of the worst cases of Privateer Elbow I’ve ever seen, managing to come off with it in both arms. Some liquid green stuff in the one joint I couldn’t quite be arsed with and he’ll look fine, but I’m not happy about this one. I get that they wanted to make a multi part kit but I’d have thrown that idea out and gone for a nice solid two piece job – body and banner. 2/5.
Enslaved Soldiers: Small gripe: I know Mantic probably uses generic packaging for all its regiments, and the boxes have to be big enough to fit plastic sprues, but every time someone ships me a huge cardboard box full of inflatable fillers and a tiny bag of metal bits at the bottom, I roll my eyes.
Wooden bases? OK, I can live with that, although it does low-key annoy me that not everyone’s at the same basic height. They have tiny feet which don’t sit flush with the sheer, toothless surface of the base, so I had to assemble them upside down and let gravity do a lot of the work for me.
They also have a mild case of Privateer Elbow, but at least it’s only one arm that has to line up with a hand and a shoulder, and at least the shoulders are nice chunky ball and socket jobs with some flexibility to them. Once again, I think I’ve been spoiled by GW plastic sprues where there’d be clearly labelled pairs of limbs that went together; I had to do a bit too much guessing and squinting at lugs, and coupled with their unstable relationship with bases, Teddy ended up leaving the pram a couple of times.
They look weirdly small on their bases – I think because they’re compact and sit fully within the 40mm rather than being all lanky and overhangy like the GW Ushabti. It’s a better design, but it looks slightly off and I’ll have to busy up those bases with something later on. 2/5 for assembly but 4/5 when they’re done, because they do look boss.
Overall: A resoundingly average hobby experience. I want to mess around with these kits some more and see if I can’t kitbash some Skeleton Horsemen, but it’ll depend on what the joints are like on Mantic cavalry kits (whether they have the same peg and lug arrangement as the infantry, and whether or not the heads are separate). I’d really like it if I could order more Guardian bodies and put the spare arms to use.
I’m not sure how well they’ll fare when they’re put in a case – there’s a lot of brittle joins in here – but at least an effort’s been made to keep poses within their base area for the most part, and they annoyed me much less than the Ghouls did, so either Mantic have improved their casting/cutting or I’ve mellowed over the last six years. Either way. 3/5.