Thoughts on Sanctus Reach

Thoughts on Sanctus Reach

Sanctus Reach is the latest W40k game in what is now a rather large stable of games depicting the grim future of endless war. The game depicts an existing event from the W40k universe that even has its own novel (available here), pitting the Space Wolves against an ongoing ork invasion. The premise is pretty classical for a W40k game, but what is nice is that the Space Wolves are properly depicted for the first time (unless you count the mobile Space Wolf game).

The publisher, Slitherine, is well-known for publishing a host of classic turn-based war games, including Armageddon a couple of years ago; a pretty solid W40k game. The developer, Straylight Entertainment, is a newcomer but they should be proud of what they’ve produced in this game.

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Playing for the First Time

As soon as I downloaded the game I fired it up and was treated to a short and fairly basic introduction video that utilised gameplay footage. That didn’t bother me really as sometimes proper video sequences, especially for W40k, can appear rather ham-fisted! What I did enjoy though was the rather stirring music that is a feature throughout the whole game and maintains the right kind of atmosphere.

Although I’m a fairly experienced player of strategy games, I thought I should start with the tutorial to be on the safe side. The tutorial is fairly basic but it was useful, particularly around the use of cover (very important throughout the game) and the amount of actions your units can take. If you are a veteran of similar games this isn’t going to be difficult for you to learn, but I also think novices should be able to pick up the basics pretty quickly. This is an overall theme I’ve picked up playing the game; it is easy to learn but quite difficult to master.

After completing the Tutorial I had a quick look at the non-campaign options:

  • Skirmish mode – where you can play as the Space Wolves or the Orks. There are tons of options available to set-up your perfect battle and also to try out some different units and tactics

  • Editor – where you can create battles or even link them together in a campaign. I haven’t tried it yet but will probably do so when/if I complete the main campaigns. It will be interesting to see how the community use this feature

Campaigning

There are two main campaigns available:

  • Stormclaw – an intermediate difficulty campaign with a relatively small campaign map but a good place to get your teeth in to the game

  • Hour of the Wolf – depicting the main campaign for Sanctus Reach over a huge campaign map and featuring many of the Space Wolves main characters

As a first run through I unsurprisingly opted for Stormclaw.

Upon loading it up I was presented with a small campaign map that was pretty obvious would open up different options for battles as I went along. At first you only have one choice; essentially to form a beachhead for the Space Wolves. There were some helpful tips along the way, making it more like an extension of the Tutorial.

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After getting through the opening battle there were then 3 options for varying types of skirmishes. I particularly enjoyed this as each of the skirmishes were a little bit different; one was attack, another defend and the other a mixture of the two. This allowed me to play about with different troop types and tactics to see what worked.

After these skirmishes I faced my most interesting and challenging battle yet. The objective was to get a Rhino Transport across the map for evacuation. On the face of it, it looked easy, particularly as I had 3 transports and the objective only required one for evacuation. The reality was very different though as I faced almost overwhelming force from the Orks and only got through by the skin of my teeth, having lost most of the rest of my forces. This was a welcome challenge and I’m looking forward to other more dynamic missions throughout the campaigns.

There were a couple of features in the campaign I really liked, the first being the mission briefing that is shown before you choose your forces. It is fairly simple but it added a real element of character to the mission and gave me a clear picture of the battlefield to be able to choose my forces. I also enjoyed the force selection screen; particularly as you are often given a lot of choice for the forces you can pick. It does need a bit of tidying up for ease of use but the developers have said they will be working on this.

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It is also nice that your units level up as you go along; meaning you have some units that you really get invested in. As the units level up their abilities improve and they also get special abilities. These special abilities are currently assigned (seemingly) at random but again the developers have said they are working on this and hopefully you will get an element of choice in the future.

Fighting a Battle

As already alluded to, fighting a battle is fairly easy to understand but can be difficult to master. One of the reasons for the difficulty is the variety of yours and the enemies units and understanding their strengths and weaknesses. On more than one occasion I got too focussed on killing on fairly unthreatening enemies whilst a more dangerous one started rampaging and taking out my units. I’ve also made the mistake of not protecting my ranged units with close combat ones, with pretty disastrous consequences. Once it happens to you once though, you can rectify it for next time.

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The variety of units does open up a whole world of tactical possibilities that keeps the game fresh with every battle. In one battle I decided to load one flank with bikes and close combat units and completely broke the orks flank and then cut their main force down from behind. In another I decided to stand behind a wall and shoot them from distance due to the terrain and the objective. This variety is a real strong point to the game and will ensure that I keep coming back to it.

A few other quirks in battle are interesting; including the orks capacity for friendly fire. For those that don’t know the W40k universe, this might seem like a bug, but in reality it is exactly what you would expect orks to do; trying to shoot the enemy, even if their own troops are in the way! I think this is a really nice touch and shows the developers really understand the subject matter in question.

Overall Impressions

Overall I am pleasantly surprised how good Sanctus Reach is. One of the best compliments I can give it, is that once I started playing I really struggled to stop! I will keep coming back to it and try and complete the Storm Claw campaign, and I’m really looking forward to playing the Hour of the Wolf. For all W40k and turn-based strategy fans I can recommend this to buy.

Thoughts on…Total War: Warhammer

Thoughts on Total War: Warhammer

Admittedly I’m a bit late writing this but I have been playing the game since the day it was released and having a tremendous amount of fun with it. With the latest DLC (Wood Elves) released late last year, I thought it was time to give my thoughts on what is one of the best strategy games out there at the moment.

Total War Legacy

I’m a huge fan of the Total War series and I think I’ve owned or played pretty much all of them. Despite some of the obvious thoughts with some of the series, nothing beats controlling huge armies and having a massive battle; be it as Caesar, Napoleon or Attila. My personal favourites were the two Rome games and also Napoleon; all of which I still go back to, albeit with a lot of mods installed.

Others have said it, but an obvious issue with some of the previous Total War games was sticking to being historically accurate. This could sometimes hamper the game if taken too far, or if game balance was implemented instead, this took away from the realism. Delving in to the world of Warhammer has given the developers a new lease of life and freedom to have a lot of fun.

Warhammer Legacy

I think it has been quite a brave move for the Total War devs to go in to the World of Warhammer for two different reasons:

  1. Not every one is a fan of Warhammer and for some it can be a bit of a turn off, particularly for strategy gamers more interested in history

  2. Warhammer fans can be quite demanding and if lore isn’t adhered to…then woe betide you!

I think though that the devs have dealt with both issues, creating a game that is steeped in lore but also where strategy matters and battles are genuinely challenging affairs. The Warhammer Legacy has also given the devs huge freedom to create interesting units, characters and a complete world.

Playing a Campaign

It is hard to do justice to an overview of a campaign as every race plays quite differently, as they do in battles as well. For non-horde armies you control cities and provinces that you need to manage carefully to ensure that you can develop a balanced economy and balanced armies. In my first few games I found myself trying to build everything without planning properly, leaving me with unbalanced armies that proved a big handicap in battles. Horde armies face a similar issue but they can build on the move, the same as horde armies in Attila: Total War.

There is also an element of diplomacy but this will vary wildly from faction to faction. For some of the main factions, such as the Empire, Dwarfs and Greenskins, where possible the aim is to get other factions of your race to confederate with you, thereby peacefully expanding your realm. This is particularly satisfying as the Empire, re-creating the unification of the entire nation.

Of course the most important part is building and managing your armies; no easy feat in this game! Your resources are often so limited that building multiple huge armies is not really an option. This means that you have to be very careful how you pick your enemies and your battles, otherwise one defeat could spell complete disaster. I’m undecided whether this takes from the fun of the game or not but it does make for a more satisfying time when you win a battle or achieve an objective.

The other two main elements worth mentioning are quest battles and chaos invasions. Quest battles will appear throughout the game when your legendary lord(s) reach a certain level. They depict similar events to those in the lore and will give you some pretty good bonuses and items if you win. You can either travel to the location of the battle manually or pay a small price to teleport to them. I’d recommend teleporting to not take one of your precious few armies potentially far away from where you need it. The chaos invasions represent a kind of end game scenario and will start turning up from around turn 80 onwards, though there is no absolute to this. They can be a challenge but it really depends on how your faction is doing in the game and how far away you are from the Chaos wastes. If you are the Empire then you could face four or five strong stacks with legendary lords coming at you; a not so easy challenge!

All in all the campaign plays well with all races and provides a good challenge for even an experienced player.

Battles

Whether a normal battle or a quest battle, this is the best part of the game. With such a varied roster of units within and across factions, the possibilities in a battle are endless. Nothing quite beats watching a unit of reiksguard knights crashing in to a unit of zombies, or a horde of dragon ogres laying waste to dwarfs. With artillery, magic, huge monsters and flying units, every battle is a lot of fun, even if you know you are going to easily win or lose.

A quick word on lords and heroes as well – they are epic! Karl Franz can lay waste to entire units on his own, as can even a generic lord or hero. This doesn’t detract from gameplay though as you have to ensure you use them wisely. Do you go toe-to-toe with the enemy lord to take them out of the game, or do you go for easy targets and risk your units getting battered by the enemy lord?

Playable Factions

Core Factions – these come with the base game and are available to all players

The Empire – the most balanced roster with infantry, cavalry, artillery, wizards and a few flying units. They also have a pretty decent starting position that they can easily expand from and/or confederate with nearby provinces. The negatives from my point of view is that their roster is almost too varied and I’ve always struggles to put together the ‘perfect’ army. There are worse problems to have though and uniting the Empire and throwing back the Chaos hordes makes for a fun and satisfying game.

Dwarfs – my favourite faction but I’ve always had a thing about dwarfs! Dwarfs are probably the easiest to play as tactically – you have no cavalry but solid infantry and the best missile and artillery units in the game. Where possible find a hill or an easily defensible position, sit on it and let the enemy break against you. The starting position can be slightly challenging with greenskins to the north and south but if you deal with the ones in the north quickly enough, then domination of the south should follow, although it can still take a long time.

Greenskins – the most challenging faction for me to play as but one of the most fun. Having hordes of orcs and goblins charge at the enemy, regardless of the odds, has an almost addictive quality about it. They do have a varied roster of units and once you start getting black orcs, you could be almost unstoppable. There is also the Waaagh! mechanic that gives you an extra army you can direct if you keep being successful in battle. The starting position is pretty good and you can concentrate on dominating the southern tribes, before an all-out assault on civilized lands.

Vampire Counts – They most challenging starting position, being hemmed in by dwarfs and Empire provinces but their advantage is the huge armies they can raise in a short space of time. As well as normal recruitment, the Vampires can raise the dead, giving the possibility of recruiting almost half an army in one turn. Balanced against this is also that the armies will suffer attrition if there isn’t enough Vampiric Corruption that has  been spread in to a province. This spreads automatically in to neighbouring provinces but it can take a while before it reaches a level that benefits your army.

DLCs and other Factions (as of January 2017)

Chaos Warriors Race Pack (paid) – this came as a free pre-order bonus and is also available to pay for now. It gives the option of playing as the Warriors of Chaos and heralding the end times yourself. The campaign mechanics are horde based and the goal is essentially to wipe out all life in the old world. You get the choice of 3 legendary lords including Archaon the Everchosen, but my personal favourite is the immense Dragon Ogre Kholek Suneater. Worth the investment if you like horde gameplay and/or want to play as the true side of evil.

Blood for the Blood God (paid) – simply a DLC to add blood and gore to battles. Especially if you play as chaos, it feels a bit more realistic (!). Only worth paying for if you really want it though, otherwise wait for a sale.

Blood Knights (free) – simply adds the powerful Blood Knights to the Vampire Counts faction, giving them some deadly shock cavalry.

Call of the Beastman (paid) – adds the beastmen faction to the game with a couple of legendary lords, each with their own starting position. Playing as the beastmen is a challenge but creating havoc in the old world from turn one can be quite satisfying. A mini-campaign for the beastman is also added, with a good story of Khazrak the One-Eye fighting against his old nemesis, Boris Todbringer of Middenehim.

Amber Wizard (free) – adds the wild and rustic Amber Wizard, as well as the lore of beasts that is also available to Beastman.

The Grim and the Grave (paid) – this DLC added a range of new units, as well as a legendary lord each for the Empire and the Vampire Counts. The additions for both factions are worthwhile, particularly the Flagellants for the Empire and the Corpse Cart for the Vampire Counts. It also added Regiments of Renown for both factions, special one-off mercenary units that you can pay for if your lord has reached a certain level.

Vlad von Carstein (Free) – Simply adds Vlad to the Vampire Counts factions. Hands down I think he is the best legendary lord they have, particularly as all units in his army can vanguard.

The King and the Warlord (Paid) – this adds two new factions to the game: Clan Angrund for the Dwarfs and the Crooked Moon for the Greenskins. Both factions start in the west of the Old World and the ultimate goals is to take back Karak Eight Peaks in the South-East. Doing this opens up a whole set of bonuses for each faction that could help lead to ultimate victory. It makes for a slightly different play style, particularly as both factions are handicapped until Karak Eight Peaks is taken. The DLC also adds a load of new Regiments of Renown and some standard units for all Dwarf and Greenskin factions.

Wurzag (Free) – this DLC gives a new faction, the Bloody Hand, as playable. They are another Greenskin faction but this time you have huge bonuses to recruit and use savage orcs. This makes for an even more aggressive greenskin campaign.

Grey and Jade Wizards (Free) – simply adds both types of wizards as available heroes for the Empire.

Realm of the Wood Elves (Paid) – this fantastic DLC adds the Wood Elves as a playable race to the main campaign, as well as a really good mini-campaign for them. The play style with the wood elves is so different to any other, it being all about mobility and hit-and-run attacks. It makes for a real challenge and you will have quite a few failures before you get the hang of it! The campaign mechanics are also slightly different, with the addition of the Great Oak; if you upgrade it over time, it gives signficant bonuses across your faction.

Mods

There are tons of mods out there, be it through the steam workshop or otherwise. They do everything from adding new units, factions and game mechanics. My personal favourites are:

  • Radious Total War – this adds new units and modifies a fair few mechanics, but most importantly allows you to field a lot more armies at less expense

  • No aggressive AI agents – to stop what can be annoyingly debilitating effects every turn. I realise for some this is effectively a cheat but if makes the game more fun, what does it matter?

  • Tier 4 Minor Settlements – now all settlements can build tier 4 buildings, giving you a lot more flexibility in how you manage a campaign.

The Future

The base games is only one of a planned trilogy of games; the next two will be standalone games but will also bolt-on to the main game. This ensures a bright future for the game and I’m sure there will be plenty more DLCs coming up as well. The next will be a free one with Bretonnia in February.

Conclusion

If you love strategy game and/or Warhammer then this game is a must have. You will spend hours on this game and even if you find a particular element of it annoying then remember, there is probably a mode out there that will make it more enjoyable for you.

Meta Gaming – 40k Style

With the ever expanding number of games set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, an idea popped in to my head recently to run a meta-campaign using some of them. This could be done in a few ways:

  • Single-player with rule guidelines and an active imagination
  • Co-operative multiplayer with rule guidelines and an active imagination
  • Competitive multiplayer with rule guidelines and an active imagination
  • Narrative co-operative multiplayer with rule guidelines and a Games-Master running it

The last is my favourite idea and could result in some very rewarding sessions. The major drawback of all of the above is for people to have all of the relevant games!

The games I own and have been thinking about for this are:

  • Battlefleet Gothic
  • Armageddon
  • Dawn of War II: Retribution
  • Space Hulk: Ascension

You could also incorporate the original Dawn of War in to this if you wanted and/or preferred it to DoW: II. The important part with all of the above is that single battles can be created to build your own story around, instead of the story that comes with the game.

Realistically players have to be Space Marines or Orks to get the most playability out of this – otherwise the choice of games is very limited!

I’ll detail rules and example settings in future articles but below are some thoughts on how the options could work at a very basic level.

Single Player and Co-Operative Multiplayer – Rules and Imagination

The player(s) uses the rules and a setting to create a world to play within. As a single-player it is probably best to play as a Space Marine Chapter and one that they can easily play as in all of the above games (e.g. Blood Angels, Ultramarines, Dark Angels, Imperial Fists). Then give your commander and strike force names and purposes to provide some background and context to the game. If it is two player then the second player could be an allied force depending on the game.

To kick things off it would then be a dice roll to determine what happens first – in likelihood it will probably be a space encounter such as Battlefleet Gothic or Space Hulk. From there the story will evolve and dice rolls will determine each subsequent event. To add a bit more than simply playing different video games, textual encounters could also be added in depending on the dice roll.

Another option is to create what is essentially a ‘game board’, similar in the Talisman game. This would mean each square would have different variability for encounter, whilst also providing a linear element and maybe even an ultimate goal.

Example Game – Single Player

This follows the form of a fairly linear campaign and wouldn’t necessarily even require dice rolls except for flavour events or if you lost a battle. All of the below assumes the players wins every battle!

  • Chapter – Ultramarines
  • Short background – Response to a distress signal from the capital of the Sares Sector. The message is patchy and suggests an invasion by xenos.
  • First Encounter – Battlefleet Gothic – Standard Skirmish – The outer reaches of the capital system, a surprise assault by a small Ork fleet
  • Second Encounter – Text – ruined hulk of an Imperial Navy Battleship suggests reinforcements have already been repulsed
  • Third Encounter – Battlefleet Gothic – Blockade Run – You have decided to launch a counter-invasion but have to get past the Ork Defences first
  • Fourth Encounter – Dawn of War II – have to establish a bridgehead for the counter-invasion – use a small 2-player skirmish map
  • Fifth Encounter – Battlefleet Gothic – Planetary Assault – to support the main invasion from Orbit
  • Sixth Encounter – Armageddon – big map vs orks for a major battle to win or lose the invasion
  • Seventh Encounter – Dawn of War II – another small skirmish map to simulate a mopping up operation
  • Eighth Encounter – Text – Victory parade and gratitude from the governor

Where from here? Have the other planets in the sector suffered invasion? And what’s that suspiciously large space hulk doing on the edge of the system?!

If the game was co-operative multiplayer then player 2 could have played as an additional Ultramarine Fleet/Army, an allied Imperial Navy/Guard force or the players could take it in turns for each battle.

Competitive Multiplayer – Rules and Imagination

If players wanted to do try this competitively multiplayer then the best option would be for one player to be Space Marines and the other to be Orks. This gives 3 games to play across and maximum variability of scenarios. The best options for this would be a linear campaign or another ‘game board’.

Example game – co-operative Multiplayer

  • Player 1 – Blood Angels
  • Player 2 – Orks
  • Scenario – fighting over a planet. Orks control half of the planet after invading and overwhelming most of the local garrison. Blood Angels have landed in time to defend the other half of the planet and take back the rest.
  • Game board – Planet has 10 squares with each player holding 4 and there being 2 that have no control. Space has 9 squares with each player having 3 and there being 3 with no one in control

Planet Squares

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Space Squares

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  • Victory conditions – Every square is worth 1 victory point except for 3 major objectives on the planet and 2 in space are 3 victory points each. The winning player is the one with the most victory points.
  • Other rules – Attacker on planet gets to choose the game played
  • Turn limit – 5
  • P1 Turn 1 – Advances to uncontested victory point on the planet
  • P2 Turn 1 – Advances to one of the uncontested victory points in space
  • P1 Turn 2 – Attacks P2 in space at their recently taken victory point square – P1 wins and takes control of the square
  • P2 Turn 2 – Takes the other uncontested space victory point
  • P1 Turn 3 – Takes the other uncontested planet point
  • P2 Turn 3 – Attacks planet victory point square in middle of the board. Chooses Armageddon and Wins
  • P1 Turn 4 – Attacks P2 in other victory point square in space and wins
  • P2 Turn 4 – Attacks normal planet square. Chooses DoW II and wins
  • P1 Turn 5 – Counter-attacks middle planet victory point square. Chooses DoW II but loses
  • P2 Turn 5 – Attacks one of P1s on the planet. Chooses Armageddon but loses

Final Standings

Planet Squares

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Space Squares

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Player 1 (Blood Angels) VPs – 15

Player 2 (Orks) VPs – 14

Next time…

I’ll show how you could use a games-master and detail some experimental rules that me and a few friends have been play-testing.