+ inload: Algoryn AI review +

+ Algoryn Armoured Infantry + 

+ Incident Team Gorun +

Strike on Kara Nine – the starter set for Beyond the Gates of Antares, which I found on eBay going for a song. I'll do a proper write-up/review of this at some point, but having broken into the box last night, I couldn't resist getting stuck in on some modelling. +

+ Model-wise, the set contains two sprues of Concord Combined Command Strike Troopers – you can see my thoughts on those in this inload [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] – and fifteen Algoryn Armoured Infantry, or 'AI'. Let's have a look at the latter.+


+ About the Algoryn +

+ The Spill is an in-universe term used to refer to regions that aren't controlled by one of the three major powers (viz. the Panhuman Concord, the Isorian Senatex and the Vorl Domination) – essentially, all the other minor groups that occupy the systems accessible through the Gates of Antares. +

+ Some of these forces are tiny; single system or even planets with pre-spaceflight civilisations. Others, while small relative to the big players, are powerful and vigorous. The Algoryn Prosperate are a good example of the latter: they are the largest and amongst the most advanced minor civilisations. +

Ruling over a cooperative league of planets that includes other non-Algoryn panhumans and a few non-human species, the Algoryn are burly and powerful panhuman morphs (that is, they evolved from human stock in the earlier ages of Antares, rather than being aliens). As with almost all advanced groups in the Beyond the Gates of Antares setting, the Algoryn use advanced 'nanospore' technology that permeates their worlds and society, allowing for what amounts to a hyper-advanced communications system being accessible everywhere – a sort of 'space internet'. +

+ Alas, the reason the Concord and Isorian Senatex are so successful is that they have perfected dominant nanospore technology that inherently overruns and overrides  local versions. For this reason, the Algoryn are paranoid about their society being overtaken by either of the big human factions, and are willing to got to war – even destroy their own worlds – to avoid contamination and subsumation within either faction. +

+ The Algoryn have a regimented and militarised society in which all Algoryn serve, partially as a result of their history and partially as a result of their siege mentality. This is useful: not only does it allow them to compete militarily with the enormous C3 and Senatex (who only deploy a tiny proportion of their society), but it also means that they are well set to  but many of their systems are unfortunately accessible to the violent, aggressive and backwards Ghar. +

+ Caught between these two dire threats – one low-tech and the other hyper-advanced – the Algoryn have settled into a limited middle ground. Where the C3 or Senatex deploy sentient machine intelligences [+Appendnote edit: I use this rather clunky term rather than 'Artificial Intelligence' to avoid confusion with the Armoured Infantry.+] to pilot their drone-tanks – the Algoryn are all too aware that their less advanced technology can be overwhelmed by the C3 or Senatex's nanospore. As a result, the Algoryn use machine intelligences to assist and support Algoryn pilots and crew, rather than autonomously. +


+ Algoryn Armoured Infantry mini-review +

+ Two (mostly) unconverted Algoryn AI +

+ Theoretical: Overview +

+ First impressions of the sprue were positive. As with the C3 sprue, the Algoryn Armoured Infantry sprue is hard plastic and contains five Algoryn soldiers plus a little drone. The troopers are substantially bulkier than the very slight C3 troops, which gives them a bit more presence. Their aggressive culture comes across in the hard angles and deep recesses of the armour – they still look advanced, but also threatening. I particularly like the crested helm, which evoked elements of Predator and Halo while still looking quite distinctive. +


+ The good, the bad and the ugly +

+ Lacking the big fire support drone on the C3 sprue, the Algoryn sprue has more options. As well as the mag guns (solid-shot, reliable rifles) shown on the models here, there are a couple of mag repeaters (shorter-ranged mag guns that kick out more shots), and two micro x-launchers – a special weapon like a grenade launcher. It's nice to have the variety and options here. Apart from anything else, it allows the sprue to pull double duty for the Armoured Infantry squads, which are primarily armed with mag guns, and – if you have spares from another set – Assault squads, which are armed with mag repeaters. +

You get enough helms to equip everyone uniformly, along with two optional bare heads for a bit of variety: an improvement on the Concord sprue's lone unhelmed variants. There's a paired gesturing arm and pistol-wielding set. As with the C3, that's about it for options – and as there, I think it would have been nice to have had a couple of pouches or pieces of technology for some variety and interest. Comparing the Gates of Antares sprues with Warlord's own Bolt Action sprues shows that the latter have loads of pouches and bags and water bottles – even characterful little things like swords. Perhaps this is low-hanging fruit for a future upgrade set? +

+ Anyway, that's a minor complaint. The big problem I have with this sprue is the poses. I'm not sure what the sculptor was going for, and whether the limitations of plastic moulding caused compromises, but the legs are in very peculiar postures. This stock shot from the Warlord Games website shows what I mean:
+ The running legs (bottom half, right of centre line) are fine, but the others are very odd. They're not completely awful – they'd work perfectly fine for a dynamic individual pose – but the two odd half-lunges poses on the left really jump out. In a force where these poses are likely to be repeated three or four times, it'll end up looking like a gymnastics contest. Perhaps if there had been some arms that complemented the poses they might work better, but the arms are in fairly simple cradling/aiming postures. A final fault with these legs is that they're leaning to the right. Had they been leaning the other way, it might have made for a more convincing braced aiming pose or similar. Just a shame that these weren't replaced with kneeling legs or something similar:  a real missed opportunity +

+ The walking set on the bottom left is – again – perfectly serviceable, but a bit pigeon-toed, with the trailing leg pressed hard against the waist. It's not an unnatural position, but would be uncomfortable – and I suspect it's a compromise of keeping the legs as single pieces . +

+ It's my biggest complaint of what is otherwise a rather nice set of clean, simple and characterful figures with just enough detail to be rewarding for painting. Fortunately, the material means that the postures are relatively easily solved, as you can see in the 'Practical' section that follows below. + 


+ It's a pity about the questionable poses, as it's my only real complaint about the kit. The detail is crisp and clear, and all the parts fit together nicely. While I'd have liked some more options, that's an unfillable bucket – it's always nice to have more otions! There are improvements over the C3 sprue, too: the arm/shoulder joins are flat and, as a result, there's much less 'swim'. Secondly, the heads are aligned facing forwards, so there's no mouldline running down this focal point. +

+ Indeed, in terms of mouldlines, these are beautifully clean. Perhaps I was lucky to get an early batch, but there's little blurring or flash on the sprues I have. The kit has some nice deep detail, so I think these should be both fun and relatively easy to paint – great for beginners. They are definitely a good choice for this starter set. +

+ If you're building them stock, the poses might not be a problem, but if you're planning on building multiple kits, then I suggest either sharpening your conversion skills to avoid repetition, or kitbashing them with the Algoryn Command Squad sprue shown below. This looks to have some more conventional poses (though the uppermost ones on the right look to be a mirror of the pigeon-toed pose on the Armoured Infantry sprue) – and I think in combination, they'll combine to make some really interesting variety. +

I've ordered a set to double-check the mix-and-match potential, but I'm anticipating the joins being seamless. I'll come back to this review when I have the Command sprue in hand to put them into context, but I certainly think that the legs are the weak point of the standard Armoured Infantry sprue, and letting down what's otherwise a nice little kit. +


+ Practical +

+ When assembling, I couldn't resist making a few subtle tweaks. I've banged on about the legs above, but the other change I did was to add a neckpiece. The heads seemed to sit quite low in the chest, and I wanted to make them look slightly more upright and noble than the stock pose. Fortunately, the sprue includes little circular bits that I assume are something to do with getting the die in place. +

+ I carefully trimmed one of these off for each assembled body (the torsos are two-part), aiming to get a circular disc of plastic. By the nature of the material, a straight cut across will cause the disc to curve slightly, giving a slight 'dishing'. You can just about see what I mean in the picture above. The torso at the back has the neckpiece in place, while the foremost one has the neckpiece just to the right of it, ready to be glued in. +

+ A neutral posture on this one, to show how they look. This is using the bottom left set of legs – the ones I suggested looked a bit pigeon-toed. Perhaps surprisingly, they required the most conversion work. I trimmed both legs off at the hips, being careful to cut through the soft armour and leaving the plates intact as possible. I then cut more discs (like the neck pieces above) from the sprue and cut these in half to give 'D'-shaped pieces. I used these to pack out both hips, creating a wedge that turns the legs outwards from the groin. The curve of the 'D'-shape simulates the undersuit detailing elsewhere, so I don't think there's really much need to do any greenstuff work here. +

+ Another repose, this time using the less extended lunge pose (middle one on the left of the sprue). I think this one's my favourite, giving a nice 'combat prowl' impression. It's also the simplest conversion; little more than cutting the model's left leg (right of picture) off and removing the foot. These were then replaced at a different angle. +

+ And finally, the one that I most dreaded, the extended lunge. Again, I trimmed away the model's extended leg and carefully cut away the foot before replacing both at a new angle. This required a little stand of rubble to be built up – I used sprue (pictured) while the glue set, but will take them all off these temporary bases for painting. +


+ inload: Project completion +

+ Showcase: Isorian 8854th KleisouraKarba's Huntsmen +

+ Karba's Huntsmen +

+ 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?' 'What should you do if you meet the Buddha on the road?' To these immortal koans, we might* safely add 'Is the army complete?' +

* On consideration, let's not.


+ The shelf of shame and the cupboard of opportunity +

+ Finished or not, I've painted all the models of my Isorian force, so thought I'd pop 'em up for a little showcase. + This army came about through little more than giving the garage a tidy-up and stumbling over some C3 sprues, bought long ago and sat in a box since. On a whim, I pulled them out, built them and got them painted. Something as simple as 'finishing' an old kit that had sat there for years made me really pleased. As a Christmas treat to myself, I bought a few Isorian kits in a Warlord sale, and set myself the challenge of painting them all over the Christmas break. As you can see from the date, I rather missed that deadline – but that's part of the pleasure of a hobby: you set your own expectations. My advice? Set them so that it's a continual reward, not another pressing duty. +


+ Part of the pleasure of collecting is knowing that your collection can expand – but that can become malignant and counter-productive, and leave you feeling like you've got a mountain to climb – the proverbial 'shelf of shame'. +

+ Regular inloaders will have seen previous finished forces pop up every so  often. These range from little groups, like my Astral Claws Kill Team or my Blood Bowl team, Chaunterwick Unathletic, all the way up to entire armies of Iron Warriors or more 'high concept' stuff like my retrohammer Blood Angels.  However, it's only in the past few years that I've jumped over to considering things complete. Previous forces, like my Ultramarines or Imperial Guard, for example, I've never seen them as 'done' in the same way. I think that's comes down to little more than a bit of a shift in priorities; and a realisation that I quite like having a stage where something is finished (even if temporarily). +

+ How you pursue and exercise your hobby is down to you. I know a lot of people get a great deal of pleasure in cataloguing and drafting spreadsheets to plan their work, while others are far more instinctive in what they do. For myself, I find painting most relaxing when I vary things. Sometimes building for a deadline is exhilarating; other times I find the idea paralysing. Sometimes recording everything and sharing it is fun; other projects I keep to myself. The important lesson, I guess, is to try to keep things interesting for yourself, and ensure that you see your leisure time as enjoyable rather than another pressure or duty. Having an ambition – even something as simple as 'I want to have these models painted and take a picture of them all' – might help you change your attitude to those kits and materials hanging around: they shouldn't be a burden on you. If you feel they are, why not start chipping away at them with a small and achievable project like the C3 squad? If you enjoy that, chip away further – or if it sparks your imagination, like mine did, then why not enjoy that collecting. Just make sure you get it painted! :) +


+ Last touches +

+ The past few inloads have concentrated on this Isorian force, but if you've missed them, I'd just finished the X-howitzer (that's the big organic-looking gun at the back left of the shot above) and the spotter drones (the floating eyeballs). New in this shot are the  Tsan Ra command squad troopers. + 

+ These are amongst my favourite sculpts in the entire Beyond the Gates of Antares range – you can read the inload on building the kit here [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] – and they were an equal pleasure to paint.  With hindsight, I'm glad I left them 'til last, as it meant that I'd had the experience of experimenting a little more on the Tsan Ra Phase Troopers (the basic troops). These warriors have already given me some idea for expansion. I'm going to see if I can order some of the Tsan Ra Phase Trooper heads to replace the more ornate Command Squad ones. That will allow me to get some more variety in poses, by using these Command Squad troopers in standard squads (and vice versa). +

+ As a point of comparison, here's one of the normal Tsan Ra Troopers (normal being a relative term for these eight-limbed aliens!) Besides the helm, there's very little difference, allowing for some greater variety through simple kitbashing rather than conversion work. That's been important for this project. It's easy to go down rabbit holes with this hobby, and I've certainly been guilty of converting for the sake of converting in the past. Sometimes it's good to build as intended and get to painting. As always, follow your own muse and inclinations!+

+ I do hope that the previewed new Isorian sculpts – and the second edition of Beyond the Gates of Antares – comes out at some point soon. I'm really hoping to get to a couple of gaming events this year, and I'd love to get Karba's Huntsmen on the field. +

+ That's not to knock the existing sculpts, of course. The Phase Troopers above were a really peculiar experience to paint – modern and unfamiliar, but nostalgic. I'm surprised that the running squad (pictured above) seems to have been withdrawn from sale – perhaps a victim of too many stock-keeping units for shops? – but at least they are still available from Warlord directly. +

+  One thing that I never used to do was varnish figures – but I think these will get a protective coat as soon as the weather warms up a bit to help them stand up to the rigours of gaming. +

+ All the above having been said, I hope that finishing a project comes with a sense of achievement rather than relief. This force certainly has; it's spurred me on to my next projects, and I've already got plans for how this force could expand. Apart from anything else, it seems odd not to have Karba – apparently famous enough to have lent their moniker as a regimental nickname – represented. I'll have to have a think of how I can create him or her. +

+ In the immediate future, however, I have a copy of Strike on Kara Nine, the beginner-friendly starter set, to unpack... Keep your dials attuned to this signal if you'd like to follow along with opening it up. +


+ inload: Initial thoughts on Beyond the Gates of Antares +

+ Scout probe reports +

+ Thoughts on Beyond the Gates of Antares +

As an increasingly confident C3 brigade continued its relentless advance on Ordun, the Isorians in the north were at risk of being surrounded.
Attempting to escort the Saharduin emissaries to something approaching safety, the Isorians struck out along a long-disused phys-transport route towards Tertiary, harried by C3 Interceptors all the way.
<Omu, day 201>


+ '40k with blast markers – it's like they designed it for me!' That's selling Beyond the Gates of Antares a bit short, but it's a decent enough elevator pitch for what's proving to tick all the right boxes for me:
  • Infantry-based
  • Involving gameplay
  • Intuitive mechanics
  • Complexity rather than complication
  • Fun models to paint!
+ The picture at the top is one I took at the end of a test I ran through. I say test, rather than game, as it was very much a case of trying out the mechanics. With any new game, it's easy to make assumptions based on other games you've played, and when the core concept – skirmish warfare – is so similar to other games that I've played (various editions of 40k of course, but also Infinity, AT-43, Kill Team, Warmachine – even Epic), I wanted to make sure I was getting things right. +

To help highlight a couple of points, I have added some comparisons to various other games below. Let me be clear that this sort-of-review is not a 'which game is better' bash between BtGoA and 40k. Largely that's because I think that's a bit of a pointless exercise – after all, you can like both tea and coffee for different reasons – but also because I think games need to stand on their own feet. +

+ For me, a big part of the appeal of the game is the fantastic lore, but we're concentrating on the ruleset here. +


+ Initial impression +

+ I ran a game of three Isorian units – a human Phase Squad, a Tsan Ra phase squad and a plasma cannon – against two Concord Combined Command (C3) squads. Basically everything I had painted for the C3, and just large enough to see how moving, shooting and so forth worked with the order dice system. +

+ I ran through the test in about an hour, with a bit of flicking back and forth in the rulebook. I've been getting quietly enthused about the game for a few weeks, and immersing myself – even found myself listening to podcasts about the subject, which I very rarely do – so I was half-expecting to have built it up a bit too much and feeling a bit deflated afterwards. Happily, this wasn't the case. +


+ Postives +

+ Consideration for players +

+ All wargames rely on players collaborating to make a good game, and I sometimes think designers get a bit lost in the bushes and lose sight of that. Rather than trying to tighten the bolts on everything in a sisyphean attempt to account for every single possible interaction, Beyond the Gates of Antares leans into this, and makes a lot of small but sensible decisions to help collaboration and minimise unnecessary reference during the game. viz.:
  • Weapon ranges are taken from the closest figures, then abstracted for the squad. It's a neat way of ensuring you don't have to measure each figure in turn.
    • The small squad sizes and coherency distances prevent this from causing too many oddities.
  • The Order Dice and reaction mechanics ensure that both players are engaged and entertained, with meaningful decisions to make throughout.
  • Traditionally vague elements – such as how area terrain and buildings work – are provided for. 
    • The simple note that 'these rules are assuming an area of roughly 8 x 8in' goes a long way to help players decided where and how their figures interact with large forests, or whether you can fairly count a couple of intervening thin hedges as a single thick one within the spirit of the rules.
    • Buildings are likewise simply 'occupied' by units, rather than having to work out the precise placement of figures inside an enclosed building. Like area terrain, you're given a guideline size for a standard building, and larger buildings are subdivided.
+ These are, in the main, fairly subtle things, but they're illustrations of how refined the core engine is, and how it's geared towards how playing a game in the real world works. There's a real understanding of what actually happens when two or more people play a game. The 'crunch' of the rules works like a good butler: unobtrusive, but helping the enjoyment to run smoothly without getting in the way. +


+ Intuitive +

+ Once you've got the key actions – movement, shooting etc. – under your belt, the rest flows smoothly. Close combat, for example, is not really a separate set of mechanics, but a variation on shooting. Weaponry likewise all shares a common set of mechanics, and are distinguished largely by subtleties within the stat lines rather than special rules and exceptions. +

+ There's not a huge amount to remember: rather than unique for each faction, a lot of the weaponry is shared across the game – there are just three or four small arms, for example. Likewise, with the minor proviso of multi-order dice (MOD) units, everything from infantry to vehicles to drones works with the same core mechanics. Even how MOD units work is summed up in a few paragraphs that are aimed more towards clarifying how existing rules interact than introducing new ones. +

+ There are special rules, of course. The differentiation possible within the staline – even given the greater freedom of a D10-based system over a D6-based system – is minimal, but the special rules and exceptions are largely intuitive. By that I mean that, even taking into context the slightly fantastical nature of far future spacemen, things work roughly as you'd imagine. There aren't many mental jumps and rules exceptions in (say) moving across a marsh; and you can hide on one side of a hedge – but not the side nearer the enemy! It's a very common sense ruleset. +


+ Turn structure +

+ The Order Dice mechanic is a definite plus point for me. It's so elegant! You put a die in the bag for every unit, then draw them out (blind) one at a time. If it's your colour, you place the die next to the unit with the order you want uppermost, then activate your unit. Rather than the other player then taking an activation, you draw another. This can result in a string of activations for one side or the other, which I feel would add a lot to the tension and fun of the game – adding a bit of random chance without feeling unfair. After all, if your opponent has a string of lucky draws, you'll be in a better position to make a more daring counterattack, knowing that he or she has a lesser likelihood of drawing dice later. +

+ Besides this clever variation on alternating activation, the game also flows beautifully from turn to turn as a result. There's no end phase or interruption to remember, nor anything to track, because you'll either have dice in the bag or not. Again, it's a subtle thing, but it's another example of reducing the mental load: rather than having to bear in mind how the mechanics work, you're free to concentrate on the interactions of models on the table. + 


+ D10s +

+ This isn't a paean to funny-shaped dice. The poor old D6 gets a lot of criticism for not being granular enough, or not allowing enough variation, but by and large I've found systems that use different dice (or worse, proprietary dice – I'm looking at you, ill-fated Warcaster) don't really do much with the change to more sides besides using it to spread the probabilities more finely, or simply use it as a novelty. (As an aside, Infinity deserves a thumbs-up for a genuinely innovative use of the D20; though personally I found it a bit cumbersome to implement in-game.) +

+ I was therefore a bit leery of a D10-based system, but I was pleased to see BtGoA actually does something fun with it – and that's include a critical success and critical fail mechanic. These vary from place to place, but generally if you roll a 1 there's an advantage, and if you roll a 10 something bad has happened. +

+ In tune with the intuitive and considerate comments above, these tend not to be completely new mechanics, but rather to do things that already exist in the rules: taking an additional pin marker, for example; or allowing you, rather your opponent, to pick where the shot hits. Where your heavy weapons miss critically, they temporarily run out of ammo/overheat – but rather than giving that a new rule, you simply turn their order dice to the Down order. That last one is a good example of the interconnectedness of the mechanics; and how the clean rules can give such complexity. +

+ Some results are unique: a critical success on moving through terrain will create a path for others to follow for the rest of the game, for example. Hitting a Ghar battlesuit with a critical success will strike its plasma reactor(!); while missing critically with a plasma cannon represents the weapon overheating (well, 'fading') temporarily. These minor advantages (and setbacks) are all flavourful and interesting, and make fishing for 1s fun. +

+ A secondary point is that a D10 system has a greater ability to meaningfully balance modifiers than a D6-based system. That allows range, cover and conditions to add complexity to those few weapons we mentioned earlier, preventing them feeling samey. +


+ Psychology +

+ One of my favourite bits of Epic: Armageddon is the blast marker mechanic. When you're shot at, your formation sustains a blast marker that reduces your ability to reply. More are added for casualties or other traumatic events, and eventually even a massive formation can be rendered combat-ineffective by sufficient markers. +

+ Besides offering a great visual – the formations under fire make it obvious to an onlooker where the action is heating up – the mechanic neatly and smoothly encapsulates the psychology of warfare. Your forces might not necessarily be dead or injured, but your soldiers are too preoccupied with staying alive to return fire. +

+ BtGoA has a similar mechanic, with pin markers being placed when unit come under effective fire – that is, they hit. Even if the weapon fails to hurt them, your forces will be slightly more edgy than if they're fired at but the shots go wide. Pin markers are deleterious to your ability to issue orders, to your soldiers accuracy, and if they build up to equal your units' command ability, the unit is broken and removed. +

+ It's a neat and (dare I say?) realistic way of representing how people react under fire. A unit might not sustain any casualties, but if they're put in a stressful enough situation, they'll break and run. Equally, if well led and reassured, a unit can be whittled down and still be returning fire effectively. +

+ It works beautifully here; subtly different from Epic: Armageddon's mechanic, but retaining all the visual appeal and ensuring psychology and leadership – historically amongst the most important values in a military – plays a prominent role in the game. +


+ Short musical interlude

+ Phew! Lots of words. Let's take a short intermission to look at some models, shall we? I gave myself the challenge to paint my Isorians over the Christmas break... and predictably failed to do so. Nevertheless, it's worth persevering – after all, failing a self-imposed challenge should simply spur you on, not make you feel bad. The perfect's the enemy of the good, after all (Just ask Ferrus Manus). +

+ To that end, I've been plunging on with the Isorians, and polished off the X-Howitzer (a giant mortar) and spotter drones. You can see them all below. +

+ I just can't get all that excited to paint tanks and machineries of war, so I'm always quietly relieved with crew-served weaponry – more interesting figures to develop, and they're often in cool poses. +

+ Here, the three crew members are carrying a variety of spotting, loading and firing equipment. I added a small circle of plastic (cut from a blister pack) to the spotter's equipment, giving the impression of a transparent screen. A couple of dabs of green ink and superglue created some holographic blips on the screen. +

+ The unit as it would typically appear in-game, with just one spotter drone. +


+ Negatives +

+ Ease of use +

+ It's not all rosy. The discursive nature of the writing means that the rulebook is hiding a rather elegant game within it. That's not to say it's obtuse – simply that the rulebook is written in quite a conversational tone. Anyone familiar with older rulesets like Rogue Trader or 2nd edition Warhammer 40,000 will be familiar with the style, where slight asides or background touches creep into the 'crunch' of the game, making the text longer and more discursive. +

+ As a point of comparison, modern 40k has handy bullet points and, crucially, an index – much better for quickly finding references during a game. Familiarity with a system will probably go a long way to resolve this, but even in the little test game I played I found myself thinking 'now, I'm fairly sure I read that somewhere...' and flicking back and forth in the rulebook 'til I found things. +


+ Uniformity +

+ I've noted the stripped-back nature of the units and weapons as an positive feature above, but the flip side of that is just how similar things are. I ummed and ahhed about whether to list this in the negatives, but decide that lack of options is probably a bad thing, on balance. However, this is likely a matter of taste – if (like me) you like your sci-fi wargames being what amounts to WWII in costume, rather than giant over-the-top stuff – you'll appreciate the fact that your soldiers are basically identical to the opponents. Consider:
  • An Algoryn Armoured Infantry warrior is naturally tough, so has a Resistance (Res) value of 6, boosted to 7 by his armour. +
  • An Isorian Phase Trooper has base Resistance of 5, boosted by his Phase Armour to 7 (at mid-range)
  • A Concord soldier has base resistance of 5, and his Hyperlight armour boosts that at mid-range to *drum roll* a value of... 7.
+ In fairness, there are differences, but they're fairly subtle, and the test I played didn't really highlight them. Perhaps the difference between the underlying body and armour type does become clearer in larger games, or with more experience. +

+ Secondly, everyone moves the same basic distance. Like Epic: Armageddon, you can pick orders that trade off the option to shoot to move twice, or even three times. This would be fine – except for the fact that then there are special rules for Fast and Slow units that are an exception to this. Why not just include a movement stat that would account for this? Despite what I've said above about clarity and consideration, there are still odd bits like this here and there. +

+ Finally, table size. 6 x 4ft is assumed as the basic table size, and you're encouraged to have a bigger space. One of the things I like best about 9th ed. 40k and modern games like Kill Team is the realisation that most people play on their dining tables or equivalents – considerably smaller than 6 x 4ft. As far as I can see, there's no scaling for table size based on game size in Beyond the Gates of Antares, so whether you're playing a 500pt game or a 3,000pt game, you'll be using the same real estate. That's a shame from a visual point of view: the car parks that modern 40k can be are ameliorated when you're encouraged to play on bigger boards for bigger games, and on the other end of the scale, the twenty-five or so figures I had in my test looked positively lost on the board. +

+ In fairness, I'm not really sure what could be done to fix this, beyond a drop in scale. The weapon ranges are much longer than 40k, and while not infinite, as in Kill Team, most of them may as well be. That in itself is quite nice – even a pistol can reach out to 30in with a lucky shot – so perhaps table size is a necessary evil. Still, I'd like to see some consideration placed on it for second edition, to scale better. +

+ Gaps +

+ The conversational structure of the rulebook has its downsides as well as its upsides – and one of them is that the summaries in the rulebook don't include into on which units are heavy weapons. Since that's not a statistic or special rule, you're left to simply know that (for example) a plasma cannon is a light support weapon (and thus eligible to move and fire), while a mag cannon is a heavy weapon (and thus not). I understand that there's been a PDF released since to clarify this, which adds headings, so it's good that Warlord's on top of stuff like that. +


+ Summary +

+ I guess that my initial conclusion is that Beyond the Gates of Anatares isn't revolutionary so much as a very satisfying refinement of existing concepts. It incorporates some unique and innovative ideas that build well on what works, rather than being changes for the sake of change. +

+ Most recent games I've played – with the notable exception of the explicitly  veteran-gamer-courting Adeptus Titanicus (AT) – seem to have leaned into making a game that aims to competes with computer gaming: very abstract systems that get you going in just a few pages, but that are then layered with additions, exceptions and mechanics to create a satisfying complexity. In contrast, both BtGoA and AT give the reader a heavy read to get through, with interlinked  and interreliant concepts. It either all hangs together, or it doesn't. +

+ As an illustration, there are layers to 40k. You can play with the addition of the Crusade rules; of strategems; of secondary objectives... there are lots of modules that attach to the core game to let you customise it. BtGoA is, in contrast, a clean and complete system. Whether that means that it's ultimately less satisfying is obviously beyond the scope of the little test game I played, but I think it's worth highlighting that I enjoyed the process, and could feel my brain whirring on how the game would scale up in interesting ways; and how that in turn would add complexity on the tabletop, rather than in mental load (see below). +

+ On the rulebook's text style, I think it's likely a taste thing. The downside of bullets and clarity (and yes, I do think there's a downside) is that it can give a false impression of how 'clear' tabletop wargaming can be. Any wargamer will be familiar with situations in which it's not quite clear how far something is, or how certain outlier rules interact. The more roundabout style of Beyond the Gates of Antares carries explicit notes that it's not one of millimetres and exactitude. +

+ The label narrative gaming often comes with a slight sense that the rule engine can be 'let off', and be a bit rough around the edges or vague. Let me make it clear that, from my initial impressions at least, I don't think that's the case with Beyond the Gates of Antares. +

+ Where present, the additional text seems to be aimed at clarifying the intent behind the rules. It sometimes goes beyond what's necessary, but from my point of view at least, it's quite nice to have the writer explain that 'this doesn't do that, because I wanted to give this impression/avoid unnecessary rolling'. +

+ It is, at root, unabashedly aimed at what we can euphemistically call 'more mature' gamers – a ruleset to chew and mull over. I'm happy to report that it remains very intuitive: the complexity plays out on the table, with the rules, once absorbed, not getting in the way of the game. +


+ Mental load +

+ This isn't directly related to It's not something that had really struck me until recently, but a lot of games I play have quite a lot of what I term 'mental load': abstract stuff to remember. 40k's a good example of a game with increasing amount of mental load: there are multiple levels of non-visual, non-tactile elements to remember, from army special rules to stratagems to objectives and exceptions to exceptions. It's claggy, even slightly stressful, and it take focus away from actually concentrating on what's happening on the board – the fun bit of being an armchair general. +

+ Even Kill Team, which I think is a brilliant game with lots of innovative ideas that work well, has quite a few ongoing 'blind' effects and rules to bear in mind. BtGoA has very little of this; there seems to be an absolute minimum of book-keeping. +

+ Part of this, of course, is down to this being a very small game.

+ All adds up to make a satisfying game, with few heads-scratching moments – though I reserve judgement on that, given that this was a very small test game. I have heard that some armies (like the Ghar) have a lot of exceptions to the basic rules, so perhaps the BtGoA ruleset was flattered by my use of two fundamantally similar forces, the Concord Combined Command (C3) and Isorian Senatex. +


+ Bonus tracks +

+ Like the end of a 90s hard rock CD, you've read through the whole article... and at the end you've found the bonus tracks. Hopefully better than the 'hilarious' outtakes of the singer burping or the drummer's poorly-indulged twenty-minute solo, here are some models:

+ The Concord Combined Commend doesn't care what colour (or shape) you are; all panhumanity – and a few aliens – can sit in its ranks. I rather like the big-brained Vyess panhuman morphs, so will be integrating some of them into my C3 force. An example is above. +

+ ...and speaking of C3, I have a copy of the starter set, Strike on Kara Nine streaking its way across Antares to me. I won't be touching it until the Isorians are done, but I'd like to use it to do a buildalong. If you're interested in joining in, please let me know! +

+ inload: Antares army lists +

+ Isorian army – writing a list +

‘Some sort of event, or angle? I don’t think the Izzies have festivals like some crank feral worlders, but who knows what those creepsack-wearing crazies are capable of? All I know is that the night lit up with star-flares from the sentries on the night of the moon-conjunction, and we woke up to see waves of them pouring across the field like so many beads of quicksilver. IMTel alone knows how, but they’d bypassed the nano-probe net…’
<Records of Omu, day 88>

+ Polished off the remaining Phase Squad infantry – that is, the panhuman soldiers. Being really quite pleased with how they've come out, I pulled out a gaming mat and got a few pictures before packing up. +

+ Nar Vesh +

+ Relatively quick but effective, I think this force has enough pop and contrast to stand out well on the table. It's been really nice to work on metal models again. Not something that I always enjoy, but the medium just seems to make painting fun somehow. Maybe it's simply nostalgia. +

+ But enough of nostalgia – let's take a look into the murky future of the game... Tim Bancroft from Warlord shared a few snippets on the IMTel Facebook group recently; the first being this extract from the 2nd edition army structure:

+ The Phase Squad name is seemingly being updated to 'Nar Vesh' for the new edition; an in-universe term for the squad. I'm a bit on the fence about changes like this – while it's great for immersion once you're familiar with the names, jargon can be a bit off-putting for new players. It's a difficult balancing act, because without such character, the game would have less depth – and perhaps lose appeal to a different group. +

+ By the looks of things (from the small previews we've seen thus far) there seems to be a good balance of restricting the jargon to the unit names, and weapons and individuals are still referred to by common and easily-understandable names (troopers, plasma carbine, etc.) + 

+ Pleasingly, there also seems to be a glossary – again a preview on the IMTel Facebook group, which is a nice (and welcome!) touch. +

+ There's a few things you can extrapolate from this – that the Pulse Bike Squad are likely going to be renamed Takhanra; and that the Isorian term for the IMTel-native evolved posthumans previously called 'Nuhu' will be called 'Vanra'... but stuff like that's guesswork. Interesting to see, and since I really enjoy linguistics, a lot of fun to see how the different elements link up. +

‘Tsan Vesh. The most common Drummers we encountered on Omu. Like all of the alien ganks, they were big; twice the height of us at the shoulder, and with what amounted to an entire extra body at the back. What evolution had intended with all those limbs wasn’t clear – I’d had a temp graft myself for a couple turnyan (who hadn’t, as a childer?) – but as we found out, even with two arms occupied holding a rifle, and four bracing the body, turns out they still had two left to club anyone unwise enough to get near.’

+ My first squad of Tsan Ra Phase Squad – soon to be called the 'Tsan Vesh' – are also finished. I haven't polished off the rest of the Tsan command squad (perhaps soon to be the Tsan Va?), so thought I'd post him/her/it with their underlings. + 

+ A group shot of everything finished thus far. It's all looking nice and uniform, and also quite alien to me. Importantly for playability, things like the squad leaders can be picked out easily at tabletop distance – they're the ones with more white and yellow masks. +

‘Instance Ck’htr knew best. Her commands were consistent and incisive. We obeyed through discipline and proclivity.’
<Omu Defence Logs T-3>

+ Still to come on here are some grass tufts to add a bit of interest to the bases. I've picked up a range, and will have a little play around – but likely when the opportunity comes round to do the whole army. +


+ Taking stock: writing an Isorian army list +

+ Anyway, let's talk building an army list. The Beyond the Gates of Antares army lists are available for free from The Antares Nexus [+noophericexloadlink embedded+] website. I didn't deliberately avoid writing an army list, but whenever I thought 'right, let's work out what I've got', I just kept getting distracted by the articles on background and painting that are also up on the Nexus – watch out; it's very easy to get absorbed! +

+ The army-building system in Antares is clear, simple and fairly traditional. You establish a points limit for your army based on the size of game (referred to as 'Combat Level'), then buy units until you run out of points. It'll be immediately familiar to anyone who's played tabletop wargaming before. +

+ Additional options are available for your squads, such as adding extra soldiers, or buying specialist equipment. There is also a small menu of army upgrades, which are generally one-off bonuses to allow you to re-roll a unit's shooting, or play around with the order dice mechanic. +

+ In terms of restrictions, units are split between four categories. Tactical choices are your regular troops; Support things like mobile light support weapons (machine guns and the like) and elite troops; Strategic is your big guns and weird things: tanks, howitzers etc.; and Auxiliary choices are mostly drones. The latter are mostly things to enhance the rest of your army, rather than fight in their own right. +

+ Depending on the Combat Level (i.e. the size of the game) and the army itself (some factions require more basic troops than others, for example), the forces have different restrictions. For a 1,000pt list, Isorians have the following requirements and limits:
  • Tactical: 4–6
  • Support: 1–4
  • Strategic: 0–1
  • Auxiliary: 0–2

+ There are some subtleties – certain choices might preclude others, or units might be noted as 'limited', requiring other units to be taken in greater numbers. The limits for the Isorians are:
  • No more than 1 in 4 (25%) of units can be Limited Choices
  • You can spend up to 10% of your points on Army Options
  • Your force cannot include any more Tsan Ra units in any combat level than it includes non-Tsan Ra units in that level.

+ Starting with what I have painted seems like the best approach to planning. It gives me three panhuman Phase Squads as the core of my force. Aside from one being six strong, they're identical:

  • [135] Senatex Phase Squad (115) with a spotter drone (10), plasma grenades (5 x 2) and with one of the trooper's carbine swapped out for a plasma lance (3). 

  • [157] Senatex Phase Squad (115) with a spotter drone (10), plasma grenades (6 x 2), plasma lance (3) and additional trooper. 

  • [135] Senatex Phase Squad (115) with a spotter drone (10), plasma grenades (5 x 2) and plasma lance (3). 

I still need one more Tactical choice to be legal, so let's include a Tsan Ra Phase Squad:
  • [138] Tsan Ra Phase Squad (93) with a spotter drone (10), plasma grenades (4 x 2) and and additional trooper (27). 

+ This gives me a nice core group of Tactical choices costing 565pts, leaving me plenty of space for some harder-hitting material. I need to paint up three more drones and one more Tsan Ra trooper to get these done. With a bit of juditious trimming (losing the extra troopers and grenades from one squad), it fits into a 500pt list, too. +


+ To expand, I'll paint up what I have remaining, which is:

  • [198] Tsan Ra Command Squad (131) with a spotter drone (10), medi-drone (20), plasma grenades (4 x 2) and and additional trooper (29)
    • This is a limited Tactical choice.
  • [100] Senatex Support Team (40) with plasma cannon (35), spotter drone (10) and additional crew member (15)
    • This is a Support choice.
  • [110] Heavy Support Team (110) with X-howitzer (free)
    • This is a Strategic choice.
+ That's an additional 408pts, taking me to 973pts in total. That leaves me with just enough to get some Army Options like 'Superior Shard' or 'Block', or perhaps to add a couple of extra models here and there. I'll leave the final decisions 'til a little later. +

+ It's not a hyper-competitive force, but it does have the right sort of 'feel' to me. By dropping a few upgrades, I might be able to pick up an x-howitzer or something, to get the proportion of Support choices up a bit. I think of 'soft' choices – those that don't necessarily require representation on the models, like grenades, ammunition upgrades or army options – are much easier to cut in favour of more cool models. I'm sure time and experience will teach me! +

+ If you've any thoughts or questions, let me know. +

+ inload: Karba's Huntsmen +

+ Painting Karba's Huntsmen +

+ The colours of Isorian 8854th Kleisoura +

+ Still firmly WIP, but coming along nicely. Can you tell I'm enthused yet? The Isorian Senatex – indeed, the broader setting of Beyond the Gates of Antares – has really caught my imagination, as it combines lots of aspects of slightly harder sci-fi than my usual gaming, and also brings in Pulp and historical appeal. +

+ The work-in-progress force as it currently stands. +

+ Not pictured are the painted Phase Squad and Tsan Ra Commander (you can see him in the pic below), and also missing are half a dozen spotter drones (like the little eyeball in the front here), and the X-Howitzer and crew, which are simply undercoated. Seemed a bit pointless to photograph, so they'll be up in a future inload. +


+ Painting the Isorian 8854th +

+ Slightly earlier stage, to show what a difference an evening's painting makes. +

+ In general, I'm pleased with how they're coming along. I did slightly regret painting them so like the official scheme, but as the force builds, they're starting to look a bit more distinct – so I think the overall balance is working. I particularly like how the white faceplates are working, so I'm glad I reserved the yellow ones for squad leaders. +

+ I haven't made any notes on how I'm painting these, but as I've got into the swing of things it's starting to fall into place. Unless noted, the paints are all from the Citadel colour range:
  • Prime brown (Halford's camo brown).
  • Paint the whole model with a flat coat of Incubi Darkness.
  • Drybrush the whole model with a 50:50 mix of Incubi Darkness and Cabalite Green.
  • Paint the base – a base coat of Scorched Brown followed by successively lighter drybrushes of Skrag Brown, Desert Yellow (Tallarn Sand is the modern equivalent, I think), and Desert Yellow with Vallejo Off-White.
  • Paint the 'carapace' around the shoulders and the gun with Charadon Granite.
  • Add the first washes: Nuln Oil over the carapace and Coelia Greenshade over the rest.
  • At this point, I paint the face. Here's a link to a tutorial for human faces [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+], as it's a fairly small stage for these models.
  • Paint the mask – I paint this with Vallejo Off-White, then paint Apothecary White over it. Once dry, I emphasise the highlights with more Vallejo Off-White before picking out the eyes/lenses with Abaddon Black followed by Fire Dragon Bright (or a similar saturated orange paint).

+ Halfway through and game-ready +

+ They'll look like the picture above at this point. Why do I do the face at this point? Well, the simple answer is that it gives me a bit of punctuation. I find bashing through a big batch very wearing, so having the opportunity to get the figures 'done' to a certain standard is a relief. While I would prefer to get them more developed than this, I think that they're certainly table-ready. If you're aiming to get things done for an event, focussing on the faces and bases, and leaving the rest as neat and clean base layers is a good way to go. +

+ Moving on, it's time for detailing.
  • Highlight the grey hard armour and gun with a mix of Charadon Granite and Warpaints Mummy Robes, followed by a second smaller highlight with the addition of Vallejo Off-White. I don't go pure white for this, as I think it looks too stark.
  • Highlight the green soft armour with Kabalite Green, and a second smaller highlight of a mix of Kabalite Green and Vallejo Off-White.
+ Pictured prior to the wash – the highlights are too bright and clear. +
  • Now we wash both areas: the grey carapace with Agrax Earthshade, and the green areas with Coelia Greenshade. You can do both of these simultaneously for speed. Try to keep the washes separate, but don't worry too much if they merge a bit.
  • Once dry, re-establish the highlights with the lighter-tinted mixes. Keep these fine and sharp at this stage to avoid the effect being chalky and washed-out.
  • Use Off-White to paint the plasma coils and any details you want orange, then paint with Gryph-Hound Orange contrast paint. You can use pretty much any orange here – in fact, a brighter orange ink would probably work better: GHO is simply what I had to hand.
  • For the organic coils in the suits, I've used a variety of approaches, and haven't quite decided which I like best. At the moment I'm using Emperor's Children pink, washing with Druchii Violet, then using Vallejo Off-White to highlight before washing it again. However, this is a bit of a faff, and I think I'd like it to pop a bit more, so I may experiment further.
  • Tidy up any other bits. The Tsan Ra have bits on their forearms that I've interpreted as fabric, which I've painted as leather in a similar way to my Rogue Trader model here [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] – basically lots of layers of increasingly light browns with washes of Agrax Earthshade then Seraphim Sepia. The 'teeth' that pop up on lots of the models I've layered up from Skrag brown to Vallejo Off-White.

+ Not quite finished, but nearly there. This picture's a good example of how I often hop from one area to another – as might happen if I have lots of a particular mix and don't want to waste it. This figure hasn't had his skin highlighted yet – though a bit of skin coloration variety might not hurt anyway. +


+ The future's bright + 

+ Since getting into the game, I've been listening to The Freeborn Shard podcast (available wherever good podcasts are found) while painting, which has been very enjoyable. There's only a certain level of understanding you can pick up from reading the rulebook, and hearing other gamers discuss the practicalities of the game has clarified a few things for me – even if a lot remains slightly baffling! +

+  For obvious reasons, the Podcast has been largely on hiatus for the past couple of years, but the material there is still fun to listen to – particularly if you're new to the setting, as I am. +

+ Why do I mention it? Well, the Freeborn Shard mentions the second edition of Beyond the Gates of Antares a number of times. It was, apparently, planned for 2019, and is still bubbling under. The game as a whole seems to have lain fallow for a number of years, with no new releases, so the more cynical part of me would suspect that means it's largely 'vapourware'. A lot of that can be chalked up to the pandemic, of course, but I do get the impression that something is happening – perhaps not in the immediate future, but at some point this year. +

+ First and foremost, the models below were previewed and are currently unreleased. As I understand things, these will be the first new releases for a good couple of years. +

The new sculpts, reportedly resin, have a similar but distinct aesthetic, and I'm already thinking of how I'd integrate them into the army. A couple of thoughts:
  • An elite unit (in background terms), picked out by a largely red paint scheme.
  • A shard from a different Isorian world – while there are common aesthetics across the Isorian Senatex, there's still room for a little variation: isolated shards might well develop functionally identical equipment in a visually different way.
  • The giant machine that is Antares goes through periodic collapses, and gates occasionally descend beneath the photosphere and become unreachable, stranding the system. With the pandemic having spoiled everyone's wargaming fun for the past couple of years, it'd be neat to nod to that in-universe through a blurb like that.

+ Other second edition Gates of Antares rumours +

+ For anyone interested in the game, but hesitating to get involved with a dormant ruleset, I thought I'd gather the extant info on second edition:
  • As mentioned on the Freeborn Shard (tFS), the Vorl were in development in 2019, with Rick Priestley talking about the biology and – I believe – some test sculpts or prototypes being produced.
  • The second edition has been stated to be a tidy-up rather than a complete ground-up rebuild.
  • The rules in the update and FAQ [+noosphericexloadlink embedded+] are explicitly the current playtest rules; and likely the template for second edition.
  • Both Isorians and Boromites were mentioned in passing as difficult to produce in plastic, so perhaps resin is Warlord's answer for these factions?
+ Tim Bancroft of The Freeborn Shard, and Warlord's Anatares co-ordinator shared this preview on the IMTel Facebook group [+noopshericexloadlink embedded+]:

+ What can we take from this? +
  • Simplified points costs system – many of the options like grenades seem to 'baked into' the entry, and costs are reduced across the board by a factor of 10 – a unit that cost 115pts is now 11, for example.
  • The addition of a movement stat is new – and perhaps heralds changes to the rules for Slow and Fast.
  • The naming has altered – things are now presented with more in-universe terminology. The 'Nar Vesh Phase Monitor' was previously a 'Isorian Phase Squad Leader', for example.
  • New weapons – you'll see the new sharpshooter has a previously unknown plasma rifle.
  • A few tweaks to the Unit/Force restrictions; though I'm not familiar enough to really understand the implications here.
  • The terminology around drones seems to have been tidied up, with the 'spotter buddy' hopefully clearing up potential confusion around Buddy drones being treated differently to Probes (currently they're the same models and stats, but fielded in different ways).
+ One final thing to note is that a sort of Antares-style Kill Team supplement called Incision Shard quietly emerged on 10th December last year. The full rules are free to download from the IMTel site on Warlord Games here [+noosphericexloadlink embedded+]. They looked fun, but you can also put 2 and 2 together when you spot the following detail in the weapons entry (page 37 of the document):

Phase Rifle Direct Fire 20 30 80 1×SV2 – Exploit SV4
Phased 10 20 60 3×SV1 – Phased Fire, Exploit SV3

+ Those are some neat new rules; perhaps heralding how the plasma rifle above works? The names are different, but perhaps that's simply a playtesting thing? Anyway, perhaps it's all a bit tinfoil hat, but in case it's of interest, here's the relevant rules text. Perhaps you can test it out in your own 1st edition games?

Phased Fire
[...]The weapon temporarily phases out the trooper and itself from normal space so the trooper experiences time slower than others on the battlefield. Some firepower and range is lost due to the phasing. 
Phased Fire can only be used on a Fire order and allows the trooper to fire multiple shots without being classed as shooting in RF mode – so suffers no RF penalty and allows the use of Sniper and Marksman skills on the shots. The shots can be spread across one, two or three targets, but all must be within 1” of each other. Phased Fire cannot be used in any other situation, even on a Reaction.

Exploit SVx 

Exploit is given to Isorian plasma rifles that fire a carrier wave alongside the plasma beams. The wave attempts to infiltrate whatever hardware it comes up against: though typically ineffective against hardened machines, armour and the like, other equipment can be vulnerable. 

Any hit by an Exploit weapon against enemy equipment, buddy drones or probes is counted as having the SV ‘n’ specified.