Finally managed to get my paws on Battletome: Beastclaw Raiders and so we must ask the question – is it any good?
Beastclaw Raiders are a subset/sub-faction of the old Ogre Kingdoms army, leaning heavily on the prehistoric-style beasts they employ – and this prehistoric (think mammals rather than dinosaurs) theme is something the book returns to again and again.
No bad thing. What is not to like about big sabre-toothed cats?
So, just who are the Beastclaw Raiders now?
The first section of the book sets out to answer exactly this.
Beastclaw Raiders are organised into tribes known as Alfrostuns, headed by a Frostlord. The tribe is nomadic, driven across the Mortal Realms by a) their hunger and b) the Everwinter, a deathly cold storm that follows the tribe wherever they go.
They are very much creatures of the Destruction faction, and see Gorkamorka as a great predator-god, offering up the bones of their kills or raising a great Heng Stone (a monolithic shard of ice) in his name. They also ally with other forces of Destruction (though they are wary of the Everwinter that comes with the Beastclaw Raiders), and there are mentions of Gutbusters, Grots, and Bonesplitterz marching alongside them. And they really like Gordrakk, and think the Ironjaw has a point…
The Everwinter that follows every Alfrostun takes many forms, but it is always a very harsh form of winter that freezes the land (for centuries, sometimes) and drives the Beastclaw Raiders onwards – they are not killed by it but enter a kind of frozen, dormant state if it overtakes them. As for what creates it… well, that is lost in myth, but there are speculations that it might be the hand of Gorkamorka, a curse by Sigmar, or the qworkings of Nagash…
There are just two ‘timeline’ pages in this Battletome, and these are always worth a look to see what (might) be coming next in Age of Sigmar. The Tzeentch Arcanites get a mention (again, they have been popping up in other Battletomes), but I did not spot anything else. However, there are mentions of past events and characters, linking the Battletome to others, and there is a piece about Beastclaw Raiders acting as mercenaries for Archaon.
The organisation of Alfrostuns comes next. In a nutshell, the Frostlord sits at the top, with his lieutenants (the Huskards) commanding the Ogors below. These are organised into three main areas of the tribe.
The Jorlbad (the Fighting Hand) is the main group of hard-hitters, while the Eurlbad (Eating Hand) mop up any survivors, though both are very similar in composition, a group of Mournfang and Stonehorn riders led by a Huskard, also on a Stonehorn.
The Torrbad (Hand of Thunder) comprises all the tribe’s Thundertusks, along with the Yhetees their extreme cold encourages to follow.
Outside of all of this is the Skal, the Icebrow Hunters who travel on foot and guide the tribe to the richest hunting grounds.
Not all tribes have these divisions (some may lack Thundertusks and have no Torrbad, for instance), but this seems to be a pattern started by the Ironjawz Battletome, where armies are now presented as (for want of a better word) formations rather than individual units.
The plus side of this is that everything now feels far more integrated into the larger picture of each force. The down side? Well, you are probably going to end up buying more models to create each section of an army!
As with the Bonesplitterz, pages have been dedicated to the written ‘language’ (more a collection of symbols) of the Beastclaw Raiders, presented as a form of cave painting and reinforcing the prehistoric feel of the force. The old ‘maw’ symbol of the Ogre Kingdoms is still present, but it has now come to mean ferocity, the idea of jaws that devour all – a subtle twist and nice shout back to the old army.
This is followed by some ‘famous’ Alfrostuns that, I am guessing, will pop up in the fiction and background of Age of Sigmar from this point forward.
Four pages of colour guides follow and… it works. There is not going to be a great deal of variation with creatures that have a strong winter theme and not much clothing, but it may give some ideas for the colouring of the various beasties.
This is followed by a deeper look at the units of the Beastclaw Raiders but, as with the Bonesplitterz, this is done in terms of the wider organisation of the tribe rather than individual units, as was the format in the first Battletomes.
Then comes the usual ‘hobby’ section, showcasing lots of lovely painted Beastclaw Raiders models fighting their way against various enemies of the Mortal Realms. However, a new addition has poked its head up here…
A genuine painting guide, and what might be the first to appear in a Battletome. This concentrates on the various glyphs the Beastclaw Raiders use, but there is a small section covering icy weapons too – very much appreciated by those of us who are Talent-Limited when it comes to painting. I would like to see another double page spread or two in future Battletomes dedicated to this.
There are three Battleplans in this book (as per usual for a Battletome), depicting the Beastclaw Raiders, how they typically fight, and the start of linking them into the lore of the Mortal Realms.
The first, A Feast of Plenty, takes place in the Realm of Life and pits the Beastclaw Raiders against the Sylvaneth (they like the taste of Heartwood, apparently…). This one is all about the eating – the Beastclaw Raiders are after precious morsels hidden within Wyldwoods (never a good place to be when the Sylvaneth are around) and victory relies on how much they can eat!
This battle looks like it will work with a fairly low model count, though I would still recommend that the Sylvaneth come loaded for bear (loaded for Stonehorn?) as the Beastclaw Raiders are hard in small battles.
Ensnared comes next, in the Realm of Death and, naturally, this sets the Beastclaw Raiders against a force of Deathrattlers (with Nighthaunt and Morghast support), led by the Cold-Iron King. Ironbrow Hunters and their Frost Sabres can pop up and launch surprise attacks in this Battleplan and it seems you are strongly encouraged by the set up to have both Jorlbad and Eurlbad battalions. So, maybe twice the size of force than you might be expecting!
The Deathrattlers can heal their units every hero phase, but the Beastclaw Raiders are bringing the Everwinter with them, gradually slowing down the undead throughout the battle. There is also a side note explaining how this can be done as a three-way battle, with two players taking a flank of Beastclaw Raiders each.
The final Battleplan is Imprisoned in Ice. It takes some reading to figure out where this fight takes place, but a box text near the bottom of the page tells you it is in the Realm of Beasts – an old, old Frostlord has returned from the Age of Myth, and Khorne wants a bit of payback for all the defeats the Beastclaw Raiders inflicted upon him back then.
Despite the Khorne Daemons having a Bloodthirster on their side (and ignoring Battleshock), this looks like another tough one. For a start, all the daemons start trapped in ice, and have to break free – if they fail, they are held fast and may take mortal wounds. However, looks like it will be a hell of a fight!
The rulesmongers among you will been keen to know about the allegiance abilities of the Beastclaw Raiders, and whether they are worth replacing the general Destruction ones.
The Battle Traits are twofold – first, the Beastclaw Raiders can re-roll wound rolls of 1 when they charge (considering most of their attacks are multi-damage, this is a big plus). Second, you have rules for the Everwinter, which are rolled for at the start of every one of their hero phases. The effects range from re-rolling saves to inflicting mortal wounds from the extreme cold. Don’t go into battle without it.
The Command Traits follow a similar pattern to those from general Destruction, though I have a feeling the ability to re-roll on the Everwinter table will be popular, whereas the magical artefacts bring along such fun as an elixir that causes the drinker to vomit ice (mortal wounds) or re-roll all saves that have no Rend (with a base save of 4+, this is a fair enough choice).
The ‘collecting’ section reinforces the idea of building up a force by Battalion, which leads right into the Battalion Warscrolls.
The first is the Alfrostun, which is the normal ‘mega’ Battalion, combining all the others and adding a Frostlord.
The Jorlbad, Eurlbad, Torrbad and Skal Battalions are the components of the tribe discussed earlier. The crucial question for newcomers though will be ‘how many Beastclaw Raiders will I need?’
The Jorlbad and Eurlbad have the same model requirements (just a different emphasis on the rules – the Jorlbad is about speed of Mournfang while the Eurlbad concentrates on kicking out the damage). As a minimum you would probably be looking at two Stonehorns and four Mournfangs each. You can, of course, go much larger than this (and you will be wanting to add another Stonehorn with a Frostlord on it), but you will probably be better off filling out both Battalions rather than stacking up with just one.
The Skal is an ‘easy’ Battalion to get into – a single Icebrow Hunter and four Frost Sabres will do it. However, that is really just to prepare you for the shock of the Torrbad – a minimum of four (!) Thundertusks (and you will want to add three Yhetees). Get these guys together and you will be kicking out mortal wounds everywhere, but cost and painting time may cause eyes to water, especially as this is a supporting element of the tribe rather than a core force.
There are two ‘tribal’ Battalions, much like the Wargroves in the Sylvaneth book. These are nicely characteristic of their tribes (one tough, one smart – Beastclaw Raiders are not dummies by any measure), but you will be needing the previous Battalions to build them. These can potentially be very large forces.
There is also a historical Battalion, and it is actually one I was musing about when I first heard about this book – it takes a Frostlord and some Mournfangs, and adds Ironjawz Gore-gruntas (just in case you thought either did not hit hard enough on their own!). This Battalion hits hard and fast and, with its Varanguard-like Overrunning Stampede ability, a lot of armies will simply disappear under its hooves/claws/trotters.
As a Beast Hammer, it is well named.
And that about wraps up the book! The regular Warscrolls follow, along with the four page rules, keeping everything in one place.
I think GW have really begun to find their stride with the Battletomes, getting that balance between the fluff-fanatics and the rules-warriors (though the latter may still be left wanting more, but rules-lite is the nature of Age of Sigmar). That may come to mean that Battletomes will not be judged by their content and quality per se, but by the force they portray and represent (above and beyond the actual models).
What does that mean for the Beastclaw Raiders? Well, you have a low model count army, that is as tough as nails, and features massive prehistoric beasts ridden by giant cavemen.
Yeah, that will probably do it for me and, I suspect, many others. I would not be surprised to see this force become very popular, particularly among players who like breaking things!