Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chop'n'swap droolage

A scant three months after officially announcing the release date, and following the subsequent obligatory official teasers and fevered internet rumours and speculation, GW a fortnight ago finally released the first tranche of its new Blood Angels range. Readers who also follow RD/KA!@fB will know already that I have since bought myself the crucial two new Blood Angels boxed sets: the Death Company and the Sanguinary Guard. The BA are one of the 4 classic iconic space marine chapters; the Death Company have long been their signature unit; the Sanguinary Guard have joined the Death Company as another signature unit as part of a shiny new BA codex.

The new Codex: Blood Angels is the fullest treatment of the BA since the 2nd edition Angels of Death codex, which they shared with the Dark Angels. Since then the BA have had one of the infamous 3rd edition 'minidexes' intended to supplement the standard codex and their 4th edition list was a 2-part White Dwarf article. The new C:BA is therefore the first full-sized, stand-alone codex GW has ever devoted to this always popular army: an event of some note for 40K fans in other words.

In the boxes
The first thing that strikes you on a casual scan of the 2 sprues in each box is the sheer quality of the parts. I noted back in 2005- in respect of the redone assault marines and the long awaited plastic terminators, that GW was having problems with the quality of their injection moulded sprues, problems which might've had something to do with the softer plastic they were then using. There are none of these problems with the Death Company and Sanguinary Guard sprues: all of which are clean and crisp with minimum mould lines and no flash.

Sanguinary Guard
Standing out among the 68 Sanguinary Guard pieces are the winged jump packs and the elaborate armour, which combine to make the Sanguinary Guard the most striking power armoured space marines in the entire range. A mere 68 pieces might not seem that many but some are multipart assemblies- eg. the winged jump packs have 5 parts, so that 68 pieces actually equals 93 parts:
  • 15 heads:
  1. 5 death masks.
  2. 5 Mk 7 helmets.
  3. 5 bare heads.
  • 5 torsos.
  • 5 legs.
  • 5 jump packs.
  • 8 pistols.
  1. 6 bolt pistols (a special new BA variant).
  2. 1 plasma pistol.
  3. 1 melta pistol (AKA 'inferno gun' AFAIK: another new BA variant).
  • 6 close combat weapons:
  1. 3 2-handed power swords.
  2. 2 2-handed power axes.
  3. A power fist.
  • 5 left hands (the pistol weapons are wrist-mounted with the hands moulded separately).
  • 15 shoulder pads.
  • 4 assorted accessories (including a banner and the banner top).
The detail on these parts is exquisite. It is hard to single out any one feature or type of part which is more striking than any other because the quality is so high. In general it is the finely rendered BA iconography and the feathered wings adorning so many parts which make the Sanguinary Guard sprues such a stunning addition to the range of parts available to the space marine modeller.

Death Company
The Death Company sprues are primarily marked out by the fact that they provide the full range of parts to assemble either 5 bolter-armed foot marines, or 5 jump packing assault marines: that's 12 spare pieces straight away. As too with the Sanguinary Guard, the list of Death Company pieces is deceptively short (though a tad less so) because of the multipart assemblies, so that 82 pieces is actually 92 parts:
  • 8 heads.
  • 5 torsos.
  • 5 legs.
  • 5 jump packs.
  • 5 backpacks.
  • 5 boltguns.
  • 11 pistols:
  1. 5 bolt pistols.
  2. 2 plasma pistols.
  3. 2 hand flamers (more new BA gear).
  4. 2 melta pistols.
  • 8 close combat weapons:
  1. 5 chainswords.
  2. A powersword.
  3. A power fist.
  4. A 2-handed thunder hammer.
  • 5 left arms.
  • 20 shoulder pads.
  • 5 accessories.
In some ways the detail on the Death Company parts is better even than that on the Sanguinary Guard sprues. This is not to suggest that the BA and DC iconography is more finely rendered as such. Rather- as a quick comparison of the pictures above will reveal, it is because the DC parts have more of the delicate loose-hanging icons which show exactly how far GW's plastic figure sculpting and moulding has advanced since the days of the legendary RTB01 Beakies (image via The Stuff of Legends) which- it must be remembered, were absolutely revolutionary in their day in the realm of toy soldiers for tabletop gaming.

To reiterate here my preceding enthusiasm for these 2 boxed sets is pointless. Sufficeth to say that they underline my remark of May last year: "truly [there] never has been a better time to be a Space Marine fan".

To see what I mean, look at the chapter-specific expansion parts/models already available (for unknown reasons there is no full colour picture of the Space Wolves parts up on the GW site: the parts available in the boxed set are at least as many and varied as those you can see in the other pics):
Add in these new parts and there is now no character or unit type in the current Codex: Space Marines which can't be modelled entirely in plastic with a judicious selection of parts and some minor conversion work. This is toy soldier heaven and no mistake.

After all this high praise, do I have any complaints? I do yes, one small one: 3 of the Sanguinary Guard legs are moulded so that the shins/feet are joined. This limits the use of these parts for conversion purposes because it'll be difficult to get more than 3 legs out of the 6 on the parts should you choose to get to work with the craft knife or modelling saw. This is a shame and I have to wonder why this was allowed to pass at the design stage.

A trip down memory lane
Regular readers will probably already have some notion that my loyalty to Penumbra's Talons is absolute. That is to say: unlike many players who like to chop and change between chapters in their army building, I am a one-Chapter kind of guy. That said Penumbra's Talons has more than one 'aspect', which are my excuses to run armies featuring more of my particular favourite models than is possible using the vanilla codex.

These aspects are:
  • Blood Angels: for the sake of lots of jump packers. I first wrote about this here @RD/KA! nearly 3 years ago, although the idea dates back to one of my GD UK 2001 also rans: a squad of jump packers too numerous to be strictly codex. These could thus only be rationalised as a Death Company which therefore had to be given appropriate fluff, the result being 'The Verifiers'- of whom more anon no doubt. Meanwhile some of the original Verifiers can be seen below, alongside other jump packers who were part of a C:BA command squad I entered in GD UK 1999: all have now been pressed into service as my everyday jump pack squad.
  • Ravenwing: for landspeeders and bikes- plus jump packers, naturally enough.
In my mind these formations are appropriate to the image- of death swooping out from under the jungle canopy, which which inspired Penumbra's Talons as the choice for my new DIY chapter's name back in 1992/93. The Ravenwing is apt because the Talons are Dark Angels successors. And the Blood Angels connection? Well that makes sense for a vanilla chapter which I've always tried to style as having a strong close combat leaning, eg. I always used to take frag grenades even when they were optional and when points shaving might've deemed that they were less than 100% optimal. But the BA are also part of the still secret history of the Talons' origins.

Shake a stick at this shedload!
To show exactly how much the new pieces offer to the conversion-crazy space marine fans building vanilla armies (there are a lot of us out there) I'm going to run through the special and/or elite characters and units in C:SM and suggest the parts I might use to make some of them myself.

First off: any HQ special character being used for 'counts as'. This rule- the ability to use a special character under a different name for your own army, is controversial. I like it, but my thinking is to limit its use to stuff that's suitably fluffy, the core of which for me are:
  • Chief Librarian: every chapter should have one of these; the Talons certainly do.
  • Master of Sanctity (senior chaplain): as above.
  • Kayvaan Shrike, Shadow Captain of the 3rd company: Rending lighting claws, a squad of Infiltrating jump packers, plus a Fleet space marine army?- well, how could I resist?. It is fluffy though: Penumbra's Talons' founding Chapter Master Franken Lar was a Scout company captain when he took his momentous decision back in the time of the Belonian Heresy Wars.
Then there are Chapter Masters. Leaving aside Franken Lar and Zeke- both of which I'd like to redo sometime, there are 4 other characters who could- in a pinch, be used as a Chapter Master HQ character: the Space Marine Masters of the Chapter. These senior figures in the Chapter high command include:
  • Master of the Recruits.
  • Master of the Arsenal.
  • Master of the Fleet.
  • Master of the Watch.
The lavish detail on GW's own miniatures shows the look for which modellers might be aiming if they chose to use the full range of plastic space marine parts to create their own versions of these characters. The range is so extensive that there are no limits to creativity here.

Other HQ characters who could be individualised with the new parts are:
  • Space Marine Captains. There are 2 I'd like to do to give my range of army choices a bit more flexibility than I currently enjoy:
  1. 2nd company captain: your basic shooty captain: I can already see some Black Templars parts being called on for this guy.
  2. Brother Captain Conlan, naturally enough.
  • Librarians. Hmm.
  • Chaplains: the Sanguinary Guard death masks struck me as possible chaplain helmets as soon as I saw them; meanwhile both the Black Templars and the Dark Angels sprues contain parts which'd make ideal adornments for a chaplain.
On top of all those, any sergeant is a suitable candidate. The parts could easily be used to mark out more experienced sergeants, which- in space marine terms, I take to be those with the better wargear: your basic sergeants are more plain; the better the wargear, the more they are accessorised with other parts.

Squads which are just crying out to use the full range of parts to be blinged up are:
  • Honour Guard: a Chapter Master's personal retinue; with artificier armour and power weapons all round- not to mention possible relic blades, the possibilities are as obvious as they are endless.
  • Command Squads: in the case of vanilla Talons these could be individualised according to whom they accompany:
  1. The 2nd company captain: more of those Black Templar parts I expect.
  2. A librarian: I have long hankered after a command squad in DA style robes, a librarian's command squad might fit the bill.
  3. A chaplain: maybe a chaplain's command squad is suitable for the robed look? Time will tell I guess.
  • Sternguard Veterans.
  • Vanguard Veterans.
The accompanying pictures show how lavishly detailed are GW's metal models for these troop types; as with the Masters of the Chapter you can easily see the sort of look to which space marine army builders might aspire.

Where to start, where to start?
This summary of the modelling opportunities opened up by the new BA plastics has been something of a whistle stop tour because the opportunities are- to all intents and purposes, limitless. To bring into focus these frankly somewhat boggling horizons, here are the parts- all from the new BA sprues, which caught my eye when I was pondering what I might use to make Brother Captain Conlan. The sword was earmarked on sight- I can already see in my mind's eye the pose I'm aiming for; the torso and leg parts- for his artificer armour, are looking good for what I'm thinking about. The rest? I'll see when I actually get back to the workbench. And whenever that is, the Brother Captain won't be at the top of my 'to do' list. ;)

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