Book Four of the Realmgate Wars is here with us now, and it promises to be a big ‘un, a major event in the ongoing war between Sigmar and Chaos. So, is it any good?
Oh, and needless to say, major spoiler alerts all the way through this review, as I will be revealing how the war goes.
The first thing to notice is that this is a big book – at more than 300 pages, I have a feeling it is the biggest Age of Sigmar hardback yet. Open the first few pages, and it is clear that GW is not messing about – check out this photo of many, many Stormcasts breaching a Chaos Dreadhold…
If you are new to the Realmgate Wars, pretty much everything from the dawn of the Age of Chaos to current events is nicely summarised in eight pages.
Then, we are on to a stalwart of the Age of Sigmar line, a brief look at events and locations across the Mortal Realms that are on the periphery of the war (though some are pretty major in themselves!). And it is worth taking a closer gander at some of these…
I always try to keep a close eye on these, as they not only provide links to other books in the Age of Sigmar series, but would also be a very, very good way for GW to foreshadow future releases. And the fifth entry is an interesting one – The Vermintide Approaches. The very last line says ‘a sure sign that the Vermintide is near.’
Turn the page, and we see End of a Feud. Verminlord Sepskrik (the same Verminlord that showed up in the Search’s End battle report last week) has got together with the most powerful Grey Seers and struck a ‘hellish bargain’.
Might we glean from this that the Skaven are going to be revisited in a big way soon?
Another entry talks about how the Ironjawz have been massing alongside (and bashing) Bonesplitterz Orruks – this, added to the recent rumours that the Bonesplitterz are due for a (re)release very soon could be another strong hint…
The artwork, as in all Age of Sigmar books, is quite stunning. And just what is that big two-weapon thing at the bottom of the right hand page? An artist’s fancy or the shape of a new miniature to come?
From here, we leap into the Allpoints War. The Allpoints is the nexus of Realmgates, currently held by Archaon, that allows access to all the Realms. If Sigmar can seize that, he will effectively plug every Chaos advance. To get there, he must take the All-Gates, a series of Realmgates (one per Realm) that leads to the Allpoints but is defended by a massive fortress. First up, the Genesis Gate in the Realm of Life.
As it turns out, the Genesis Gate is a big (now corrupted) waterfall on one of the Landshoals, big floating jellyfish-like islands. However, the plus point for the forces of Order is that Alarielle is alive, kicking, and very, very angry.
The first job is to locate which of the Landshoals the Genesis Gate is upon, and this is handled by a Battleplan with a difference – both players take command of a Stormcast Hunting party each (there is a Battalion for this – one Knight-Azyros/Venator and 2-3 units of Prosecutors), and they have to locate and kill a Great Unclean One in A Deadly Hunt. Major victory goes to the player delivering the killing blow, with the other player getting a minor victory. A nice, small, self-contained battle, and a good start to this portion of the campaign.
As a side note, just before this is a Time of War sheet introducing rules for Realmgate Wars Campaigns. And… I am not sure of its utility. Basically, your general will get a trait, from re-rolls to magic armour, and you tot up the number of victories in the campaign, with the winner being he with the most.
Perfectly serviceable as a simple system but… this books portrays a narrative campaign where not only does it not really matter who wins and loses, but the armies you use will change throughout. So, interesting idea, but not one we would use as we play through this book (though might make for a good addition to some of the Narrative Play systems in the General’s Handbook, and might have been better placed there).
Anyway, once the Great Unclean One has been killed, the Genesis Gate is found and, as it turns out, it is within a ring of seven fortresses (the seventh hangs above them all, from where the waterfall falls). In charge of all this is the Glottkin, and they are not the only familiar faces to return. Verminlord Sepskrik, the aforementioned returning character from other Battleplans, is plying his subterfuge here, along with Clan Feesik, another reference to previous titles – it is good to see the background being tied together in this way.
Frontal Assault is a Battleplan covering one of the attacks on these fortresses, a mixture of Sylvaneth and Stormcasts hammering away at the Rotbringers and Nurgle Daemons – though due to Speskrik’s machinations, the Clans Pestilens are curiously absent and, a little later, take advantage of the Order attack to launch their own assault on one of the fortresses so they can capture a powerful Blightmage and steal his secrets. Perhaps something that will be revisited in the near future.
One note on this Battleplan – I have managed to accrue quite a sizeable Dreadhold over the past few months and, the new Crucible aside, thought I was done with it. But having only two Skull Keeps and this Battleplan strongly advising three… well, nuts. You can, of course, jiggle things around to use less or even no Skull Keeps, but I can see another fortification on my painting table in the near future…
A quick painting guide appears next, showing a variation of the Citadel Woods and, I have to say, they are quite attractive and Sylvaneth-like with their pale spirit-type trunks and purple foliage. Again, I thought I was done with painting up woods, but I quite like these… Another painting guide is given for Tree-Revenants, but it is nothing you won’t glean from either White Dwarf or the Sylvaneth Painting Guide.
The final battle in this section is The Key to Victory, and it is surprisingly low key. Each force has just five minimum size Warscrolls (maximum of one Monster each) reflecting a small force penetrating a fortress, facing off against the only defenders in the immediate area. The attacker’s general just has to travel the length of the battlefield to get to a Realmgate to win. Simple enough, though there is a bit of stealth going on as the defenders have to be alerted to the presence of the attackers before they can act normally, and it is strongly suggested that the Monsters are Alarielle on one side and the Glottkin on the other.
So, maybe not so low key after all!
This part of the war ends with Alarielle successful, giving the Glottkin a right smacking and sealing the Genesis Gate from the Allpoints. This is a Big Deal for Alarielle and the Sylvaneth as it means the tide is turning in the Realm of Life (though perhaps reversed by the current ongoing summer campaign?), and it means Sigmar has achieved his first objective.
But there are still more All-Gates to go…
With the Realm of Life tied up (for now), the book then turns to the Realm of Metal and the Mercurial Gate. This is located within the Ironholds, a massive collection of fortresses that, by great gears and cogs, actually move, making a planned attack very difficult. The Molten Sea within it (made of molten metal) would be an additional obstacle.
The main protagonists for this part of the war will be Tzeentchian forces facing down combined Stormcasts and Fyreslayers.
Sigmar’s plan is to assault the walls of the Ironholds with huge numbers of Stormcasts and Fyreslayers – but he knows they will fail. A smaller force is tunnelling underneath, deep enough to avoid the Molten Sea. They pop up in Subterranean Attack, a Battleplan that sees combined Stormcasts and Fyreslayers bursting up between four towers, using demolition charges and hopefully moving quick enough to take their targets before Tzeentchian reinforcements arrive.
This done, Argentine, the great Godbeast dragon seen much earlier in Chamon (he kept the metal lakes molten around the Eldritch Fortress in the Quest for Ghal Maraz) makes an appearance. He is engaged by Dracothion in their second bout and, this time, it is Argentine that is forced to retreat.
Across the Deadly Span sees the infiltrating force try to cross the last bridge that will take them to the Mercurial Gate – however, Archaon then shows up with, quote, ‘a sea of Varanguard’. The forces of Order must try to force their way through that little lot and destroy a gate, a tall order by any measure. To make things worse, a Time of War sheet allows fortifications to move on their gears (crushing any models that lie in their path as they rotate, portrays the effec ts of the two battling dragon Godbeasts on the battlefield, and gives Tzeentch wizards a new spell that demoralises its target.
The upshot of all this is that the Mercurial Gate stands firm and in Archaon’s possession….
A quick two page spread lets you know that the All-Gates in the Realms of Light and Shadow are also being contested, but that is beyond the scope of this book.
However, we do get artwork that, I think, is our first glimpse into these Realms (though they have popped up occasionally in Black Library’s fiction).
The next stage in these battles is within the Realm of Beasts – and that has to mean Orruks!
The Mawgate is within the belly of a massive creature known as Fangathrak, chained down by six Crawlerforts of Chaos. However, before the Stormcasts can get there, a massive horde of Ironjawz decide they are going to have a pop at the various Chaos armies there, a mixture of Khorne, Nurgle and Slaanesh.
The Chaos armies are taken by surprise but rally quickly and start pouring out of the Crawlerforts. One of the Megabosses decides that his boys are somewhat outnumbered, and so he uses a bit of cunnin’, and leads a large force of Bloodbound into the Deffgorge. Now, this is a place where the Orruks test themselves, running from one end to the other while trying to avoid all the Gargants who live there. The Bloodbound… well, they are somewhat taken by surprise and this is covered in The Beast Run.
This is another one of those Battleplans that does not require a huge amount of models (though, granted, not everyone will have immediate access to the handful of Gargants required – though with a bunch of drunken giants stumbling across the battlefield being its own army these days, I might suggest they grab some), with the Orruks outnumbered but both armies needing to get from one end of the table to the other.
Incidentally, there is another Time of War sheet inserted here that links into the campaign one earlier (though I might be tempted to use this one on its own). It brings the idea of Regiments of Renown back, granting an experienced unit a special rule or two, either drawn from a general table, or one designed for more specialised Units (like Outriders, Scots, Marksmen, etc). I like this idea quite a lot, and I think it may see some use in our narrative battles where consecutive Battleplans focus on the progress of the same armies.
A quick painting guide for Ironjawz and Realm of Battle boards depicting the Realm of Beasts provide a quick diversion before the Ironjawz break through the Chaos forces and attack one of the Crawlerforts directly. This is handled by The Dreadhold Battleplan.
Now, this is an interesting one, as it is designed to reflect any attack on a fortress and includes some simple siege rules (a quick matrix outlining the general strategy of attacker and defender, but it serves well to add an extra layer to the assault without bogging things down). However… I am not so sure it fits in so well with the narrative behind this battle, as the Orruks are in the middle of an ongoing fight and, well, they are Orruks – there is not going to be much strategy here, they are just going to pile into the walls until they break (which is exactly what happens in the story).
However, as a general fortress assault Battleplan, it is probably the best so far.
The climax of this expedition into the Realm of Beasts sees the arrival of the Stormcasts – great, noble heroes, eager to free the Mortal Realms, looking to drive Chaos back and renew old alliances with the Orruks.
Yeah, the Orruks didn’t get that memo. This leads to a truly massive ruck around a fortress, with a three-player Battleplan called Right of Conquest and, just to top things off for Sigmar’s boys, Gordrakk himself turns up!
The upshot of this is that the Orruks kick the snot out of both Chaos and Stormcast until only the greenskinz remain. The Mawgate, still inside the great beast, departs as the monster tunnels underground. Not that Gordrakk cares – there is always another fight in the offing…
A quick two-page spread delves into the Realm of Death, where the Stormcasts are planning to take the All-Gate there alongside the forces of Nagash – who decides not to turn up. With little other choice, the Stormcasts assault the All-Gate and get wiped out to a man. So, Nagash is still a bit sore about Sigmar stealing his souls, it turns out…
With all the other realms sorted out, one way or the other, we at last come to the Realm of Fire, where the Realmgate Wars started last year. Here, the Stormcasts are after the Brimfire Gate, buried deep within the Brass Mountains. A single bridge spans the Black Abyss that cuts off the Brimfire Gate from the rest of the realm, and this is guarded by a massive fortress known as the Pyrevault Redoubt.
So, not the easiest of targets.
To make things more difficult, you can probably guess who Khorne picked to guard this place…
However, Skarbrand is apt to wander off in his anger, so he has been tied down by the Brass Chain and has limited mobility – this is covered in the Battleplan Unleash the Beast where the Stormcasts have to go round or through Skarbrand, who has something of a maximum radius.
This is followed by Ultimate Siege Weapon, which sets the scene for the final battle, and a painting guide for the Realm of Fire which brings toxic lakes to your battlefield using upturned bases (though given how much the larger bases used cost at the moment, I think anyone attempting this will be using some other material…).
Through the Breach is the final Battleplan, depicting the last clash between the forces of Sigmar and Khorne (I won’t spoil everything but Ignax, the Godbeast that Archaon freed in the last book is a thing here, and the Fyreslayers who are also present are able to neutralise her via the rune they left in her flank when we last saw them…).
And that is the end of the fighting (for now). So, who won? Well, this is nicely summarised:
Realm of Fire: The Brimfire Gate is closed and Skarbrand is, well, somewhat disgraced. Or more disgraced.
Realm of Life: The Genesis Gate has been closed and Alarielle has started to cleanse the realm of Nurgle’s pestilence.
Realm of Death: The Endgate is still in Archaon’s hands after Nagash raised two fingers up at Sigmar.
Realms of Light and Shadow: Yeah, no one has a clue what happened here. Forces went in, and no one has heard from them.
Realm of Beasts: The Mawgate has, umm, disappeared for now but with Gordrakk reaching the pinnacle of his power, anyone coming here is going to have bigger issues. The Realm of Beasts is turning Orky.
Realm of Metal: Thanks to his intervention, the Mercurial Gate stays in Archaon’s hands.
So, big fight, a few wins for Sigmar (and a big win for Alarielle – and for Gordrakk, for that matter), but both the God-King and the Everchosen are going to have to come up with a new plan if they want final victory.
One last thing before we leave the story-based chapters of this book. There is a nice two-page spread that gives a rather nice link to Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower…
The final section of this book is given to Warscrolls. The first set cover the movers and shakers of the campaign (such as Archaon and the Celestant-Prime, as well as selected units from the Nurgle Daemon and Sylvaneth factions (as with Battletome: Sylvaneth, the Wyldwoods are now 1-3 Citadel Woods rather than two and do not need to be in contact with one another). If you have been keeping up to date with the app, White Dwarf or the other books, you have already seen all of these.
As always, the Battalions are more interesting.
Azyrite Hunt-Team: A group of Prosecutors led by a Knight-Azyros or Venator, these are used to hunt down a Great Unclean One in the Realm of Life, and everyone gets a boost to movement.
Pustrol’s Plague Cohort: To be used in the same battle, these Nurgle Daemons feature a boosted Great Unclean One (Save 2+!) and spill out a Foetid Fog.
Castle Rot Wreckers: An interesting battalion as, while it is mentioned in the Realm of Life section, no Battleplan focusses on it. However, as it is a Pestilens formation that includes three (!) Plague Furnaces, I am not sure it will see a lot of use (who has three Plague Furnaces, eh?).
Cleansers of the Woods: A combined Sylvaneth/Stormcast formation, led by the Celestant-Prime and with up to three Knight-Venators – this one will ruin an opponent’s day…
Underborers: From the battles in the Realm of Metal, these Fyreslayers tunnel under the battlefield and then pop up in a burst of magma that covers nearby enemies. It needs (among other things) three Runesmiters (on or off a Magmadroth) so, again, not sure it will see a great deal of use.
Hammer and Anvil: Liberators are the Anvil, Retributors or Decimators are the Hammer, led by a Lord-Celestant and supported by Judicators. It is mild enough, with the Judicators getting free shots.
Magmadroth Steelburner Pack: Got three Magmadroths? Then step this way, Sir. The Magmadroths get to use their Roaring Fyrestream ability in the hero phase, which means this Battalion can seriously dish out mortal wounds…
Ironguard: A mix of Tzeentchian Chaos Warriors and Knights, led by a Sorcerer, these guys get a serious boost to their movement.
Gordrakk’s Megafist: Yeah, this is quite a funny one – 5 Megabosses (on or off Maw-Krushas) who boost the attacks of all close by Ironjawz. Again, not sure who will have five Megabosses, but I appreciate the humour.
Storm-Strike Team: This is a mixture of Stormcasts who can teleport their Liberators and Retributors (as we have seen in other Battalions), but also gives a +1 bonus to wound rolls for all Heroes and Primes in the force. Good stuff, but not so much that it will leave your opponent weeping.
Subterranean Fyrestorm: Formed around Hearthguard Berzerkers, these Fyreslayers can set up underground and, when they emerge, can re-roll charge and hit rolls (the latter being very, very good for any Fyreslayer force.
Some of these are a trifle unrealistic in their model requirements (and will likely require players to team together – which may be the point of them), but others will certainly be seeing use in our forthcoming battles.
Well, this is quite a book! If you have been enjoying the story of the Realmgate Wars up to this point, this is going to be 300 pages of Sigmarite goodness for you. If you haven’t been following things… well, you might well have not reached the end of this review anyway! However, if you have looked at this book and thought you might like the idea of it, I urge you to start at the beginning with the first Age of Sigmar hardback (or the starter set, for that matter), as this really is growing into quite an epic tale, and it is one that you can fight every stage of the way on the tabletop. This has not really been done in any Warhammer universe until now, and I think it is going to be quite an interesting ride.
One thing I have spotted in the Realmgate Wars are what I think are intentional parallels to World War II, and they are continued in this book. If you think of Sigmar’s initial attacks (starting with the Brimstone Peninsula) as the D-Day Landings, then All-Gates might be akin to Operation Market Garden (there is certainly the odd Realmgate too far in this book). Has anyone spotted any other parallels?
As a last point, it is my understanding that GW books these days are a collaborative effort on the part of the Design Studio, but there is likely a head or principal writer – and I wonder if that writer has changed for this book. It is nothing I can really put my finger on, but I have noticed a more delicate touch on segues between events, and parallels being drawn between characters and realm/events around them (one of these is quite heavily laboured in this book, granted).
I am not saying it is great literature or anything, but it does seem to me to present a level of sophistication in the writing that we do not often see in any tabletop games.
Might be something to watch out for in the next set of campaign books.