09 September 2008

Assault on Black Reach review

Yesterday, I received that lovely new starter box set released by GW known as Assault on Black Reach. I've had enough time to look it over, so I think it's time to go over the contents in my first official review.

Assault on Black Reach is the newest starter set, released by GW recently in order to get new players started playing in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Inside the box are a boatload of push-together models, templates, dice, red measuring rods (whippy sticks,) an introductory booklet, a pocket sized rulebook, and a tiny little "What to buy next" pamphlet. All of this can be yours for ~$60, available at fine retailers everywhere.

Firstly, I would just like to say that the box art is absolutely beautiful. (In that grim, dark "I'm going to rip the head off of my enemy" kind of way.) The artwork of the battle between the Space Marines and the Orks is brilliant. As per standard fare, there are examples of different ways to paint your armies on the sides of the box top, other armies not included in the set on the sides of the box bottom, and on the back it labels the contents and tries to sell you the game. There's really not much to say about it, other than the box feels kind of flimsy. Not only does it feel kind of flimsy, but it is flimsy: mine was partially crushed during shipment. That makes me an angry gamer. Though you don't need the box after getting all of the components out of it by any stretch of the imagination, I'm one of those rare gamers that likes to keep the boxes that his models came in sort of as a badge of honor or a timeline. Ergo, it makes me a little miffed when one of those badges or pieces of the timeline looks like it's been through some serious crap, especially because I take care extra special care of all my possessions if at all possible. Again, box strength is not a very important part to the set as a whole, but if you like pristine aesthetics, either buy the set from your FLGS, or from GW directly. I got mine from an independent retailer who shall remain nameless, and I don't think they packaged it as well as GW packages their stuff.

Now, for the real meat and potatoes of this set. This set is HUGE, and each of the components will be dealt with independently.


The models themselves are excellently sculpted and detailed. They push together easily (for the most part,) and I have yet to run into any horrible sculpts where something just wouldn't fit. (That was my biggest beef with the Battle for Macragge set: some of the Tyranid Termagaunt arms just didn't fit!) Not only are these models well sculpted, but there's a lot of them. Here's what you get:

Space Marines: Captain, 1 Tactical Squad (10 troopers,) 5 Terminators, and a Dreadnought. (Not just any Dreadnought, but a Melta dreadnought!)
Orks: Warboss, 5 Nobz, 20 Boyz, 3 Deffcoptas.

For those of you counting at home, that's 46 models. Not a bad haul by any stretch of the imagination! The Space Marines land in at about 585 points, and the Orks at a nice, round 450. Any way you cut that, that's a great start to a new army, or an expansion of an old one. So, all in all, the models get the thumbs up from me.

It's not all perfect, however. Unlike in the Battle of Macragge box set, there is no terrain available out of the box. That's not a total deal breaker, per se, but it was nice to get at least a few pieces of cover to play with from the start with BoM. It helped me to get drawn into the experience more, so that is one detraction from me.

Templates and other accessories
The new templates are cool. Not only are they a cool new green color, but they are much thicker than the templates that came with the Battle for Macragge set. This was an excellent move, in my opinion. There's really not much else to say though, the whippy sticks and dice have remained the same.

Here is my single biggest hang-up. The Assault on Black Reach starter book is very skimpy. While they do have a good system for quickly assembling and painting the models, and they have enough background information to pull new players in, the biggest failing of the book was in the exclusion of scenarios. They have a quick, 2 page section of "Setting up Your First Battle" and another 2 page section that goes over the basic turn system, but that's really not enough. It seems like new players are really forced to read the rulebook immediately in order to play, and that may frighten some people away from it. When compared with Battle of Macragge, I believe that there should have been at least a few scenarios so that the players even know why they're fighting at Black Reach, and what the significance of Black Reach is. As it is, there's really no context to the fighting. One of Battle of Macragge's biggest boons, to my mind, was that the rules were introduced scenario by scenario, teaching players new stuff and building upon what they had already learned. Admittedly, sometimes the BoM intro book babied players a little too much for my taste, but the fact of the matter is that some players are going to have to be babied a little bit if they've never played a miniatures game before in their lives. Now, you might be wondering why I'm going on and on about that little book. The reason is because I'm going to be teaching one of my friends how to play with this set, and he'll be getting the Orks. However, I'm not always a very clear teacher when it comes to games, and I was hoping on having a set of scenarios to help me get him into the game. Since they hamstrung me in that department, this book gets a big thumbs down from me.

As to the rulebook: it's just a thin version of the excellence that is the new 5th edition hardcover book. Not nearly as cool, but it still has some good artwork, and it has the rules, which is the most important section of the game anyway. Don't get me wrong, I definitely want and love the fluff and modeling stuff, but when push comes to shove, what people really need at the table is the rules.

Closing thoughts
So, all in all, what do we have here? There's a ton of great minis, there's a thin rulebook, and there's a new set of sexy green templates. And all of that is well and good! However, Assault on Black Reach seems to have missed the biggest point: be a set for pure beginners and ease them into the rules. Throwing everyone into the deep end first off was not the best move, I believe. Definitely get this new set if you want to start either a Space Marine or Ork army, or if you want to build on those forces. It's also good for the slim rulebook and templates, and even if you don't have or aren't interested in either of the listed armies, it's a great way to get a friend started with a small 40k army. If you want to learn the rules, you can do it with this set, but not as easily as I would have liked.
Final rating: 7 out of 10.

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