Necromunda: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hi folks,

Neil here again. No maths today, but a review of my favourite game of all time, Necromunda!

I started in 1996, or maybe 97, with my Escher gang. During the last 15 years since the last official update, I’ve just kept on playing. I’ve played dozens of campaigns, I’ve owned almost every gang at some point (although I’m currently down to just Escher, Van Saar and Ratskins). Like many groups, we play with a kludged together amalgamation of house rules and the best bits from every rulebook from over the years. We’ve played with all sorts of variant rules, custom gangs, custom scenarios, arbitrator & map campaigns. I’ve read the fiction, I’ve played every scenario I can get my hands on (I think my favourite was the one where your dudes go out on little boats to harvest gemstone eyes from giant spiders). I even have all the magazines! I was super excited about Shadow War: Armageddon, and I’ve played it extensively – in fact, I haven’t played 40k in months, only SWA. (And we’ve started mashing SWA up with old Necromunda gangs, too).

So to say I’m excited about a new edition of Necromunda is somewhat of an understatement.

I’ve read the rulebooks and played the starter scenario, and these are my first impressions.

The Good

The new Goliaths are huge. Those are 32mm bases.

First of course are the new multipart plastic models, which are excellent. Everything is modular, there’s lots of weapon options, and they will be easy to convert. It’s not as quick to get things assembled as in the old 2 part snap-together plastics, and the mix of gear leaves something to be desired in some cases, but those are minor quibbles. If nothing else, veteran Necromunda players will want these new models to use with the old rules. But there’s a lot to like about the new Necromunda rules.

The biggest change is the turn order – gone is the IGO-UGO system of yesteryear, replaced by Alternating Activations. Basically, you place a “Ready” token on every one of your models at the start of the round. Players then alternate activating one model at a time, each of which can take two actions. Most actions can only be performed once per turn (eg, Shooting) whilst a few can be performed twice in a row if you want to (for example, Move). Pinned fighters need to spend one action to stand, rather than skipping a whole turn as they did previously. This system works really well, and is probably worth adopting even if you don’t want to use the whole new ruleset. My group is going to test this method in Shadow War: Armageddon.

Gangs are more differentiated out of the gate. Goliaths are all Strength and Toughness 4, representing their excessive use of growth hormones. There’s a slew of house-specific weapons, such as the Spud Jacker, the Stub Cannon, and the brutal Renderizer for Goliaths. Escher have the Shock Whip, poisoned Stiletto Knives, and the Nightshade Chem-Thrower.

The cards have also taken growth hormones.

Another new addition is the Zone Mortalis tiles, to play out tunnel fights. This is great when you want a quick game, but don’t have time or space to set up a full 4×4 of 3D terrain. It would have been a godsend 20 years ago, when much of my gaming happened in the school library during lunch time. (We played the odd Shootout scenario, but mostly stuck to D&D). The bottom half of the box also has Zone Mortalis layout printed in it, which is a nice touch. I have played on a Space Hulk layout before, but this works much better – all the halways are at least 2” wide, and many are 4”.

We also see new “Tactics Cards”. These are used sort of like Stratagems in 40k. Typically each gang chooses two Tactics cards, and the smaller gang gets one extra card for every full 100 points difference. This is an interesting balancing mechanism.

Fighters are each given their own card as well, and these are used in some innovative ways – for example, random fighters are chosen simply by shuffling a deck and drawing them off the top. I’m not sure how well this will scale once we get up to playing games with 10+ models a side, as they take up a fair bit of space.

There’s lots of custom dice, with Scatter and Firepower (Sustained Fire) as before, plus a new Serious Injury dice. (It’s the equivalent of 1-2 Flesh Wound, 3-5 Serious Injury, and 6 Out of Action). Flesh Wounds are just -1 Toughness. Lasting injuries are rolled immediately instead of post battle, which I think is a nice touch.  Some colour coding would have been welcome; I kept rolling the serious injury dice as a to-hit dice!

The new scenarios in Underhive look good and innovative! As an example, in old Necromunda, the Raid scenario kinda sucked. Way too often it would be “Attacker goes first, immediately destroys objective with a grenade launcher and wins. The Defender is then left trying to kill a couple of the attackers before they flee the board to maintain their pride.

Oh, and I love the new logo!

In Underhive, the similar scenario works like this:

– You destroy the “Gang Relic” (equivalent to the water still/entrance) by having a fighter in base contact spend a double action.

– Attacker gets 1VP per Sentry killed before alarm sounded, and 4VP for destroying the Gang Relic

– Defender gets 1VP per Attacker killed

There’s no way to win the game first turn – the attacker actually has to try to sneak past sentries and stuff. And even then, there’s still a chance for the Defender to claw back a win.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there have been plenty of missteps, which is making my group hesitant to jump straight in. Many rules haven’t been thought through.

For example, the Stray Shot rule. Previously this triggered only if you missed on a roll of 1, then hit fighters within 1/2” of the shot’s path on a roll 1. Now the rule triggers on any miss, and hits fighters within 1” of the path, on a roll of 1, 2 or 3. This takes about 0 seconds figure out the best “strategy” is to always try to pass a Cool check to shoot past your intended target at the furthest away target, so you get (effectively) 4+ odds to hit a fighter along the huge 2” wide corridor. Oh, and, ignoring Line of Sight, because “this represents Ricochets”. I have absolutely no idea what they were thinking. The same rule is used for firing into combat, where it makes sense to have a high chance to accidentally hit your own dude, and I guess they just… no. I cannot make any excuses for this. Everyone is going to immediately house rule it back to the old rule, of course.

The Sustained Fire dice is back, but now it’s called the Firepower dice. The “Jam” side now has one hit and an Ammo check on it. You always roll this dice alone side every shooting attack, just to see if it forces an ammo check. (I prefer the old rule where ammo checks happened on a 6 to hit, since it meant you always got in one good hit before running out of ammo! And also, I don’t have to remember to roll an extra dice each time). But also, they’ve gone back to the bad old method for Sustained Fire (now called Rapid Fire) – roll to hit once, and either hit a bunch of guys, or none. Very disappointing, especially after Shadow War: Armageddon adopted the more sane method of rolling number of shots first, then rolling to hit with each.

For what can only be assumed to be misplaced nostalgia, the authors saw fit to bring back the extended mental stats from Rogue Trader (Cool, Int and Will). But then, they made almost everything a Cool check.

Cool is used for: Target priority, Nerve checks, Rally tests, Flee checks, activating a Chem-Synth, and 1 Ferocity skill

Leadership is used for: 3 good Leadership skills

Int is used for: Opening locked doors and chests, and 1 bad Savant skill

Will is used for: Charging a fighter that has taking the “Fearsome (Ferocity)” skill. That is all. That is the only thing.

Cool is substantially overused. There’s even a rule called “Leading by Example”, where a Leader can pass their Cool check to stop other fighters fleeing. Not their Leadership. Leadership isn’t even used for the Bottle roll!

If looks could kill, Escher would be a lot better off.

Making matters worse, gangs seem to have been balanced assuming these stats are roughly equivalent. Goliaths dump Ld, Will and Int for excellent Cool, whilst Escher have Cool as their dump stat. That’s a big problem for Escher, considering they need to pass a Cool check to Synthesize Poison from their Chem-Synth.

In some ways, the worst offender is the new Toxin rule. In previous editions, Toxin weapons automatically wounded, but had a different serious injury chart (more likely to cause an Out of Action result, but if you rolled a 1, the toxin had no effect). This was extremely powerful, but such weapons were rare. The new Toxin rule is awful. First, you need to roll to wound – which removes most of the point. Then instead of rolling a serious injury dice, you rolloff 2D6 vs the opponent’s Toughness + D6, and if you roll lower than the opponent, it does NOTHING! This typically adds up to Toxin being a drawback, but it’s priced like it’s a 10 point benefit.

That leaves Escher in extremely bad shape versus Goliath. They just lack a good way to hurt them. I was looking forward to playing Underhive as a boardgame, but as written, Goliath simply curbstomp Escher every time with their superior strength, toughness, armour, weapons, and Cool.

The Ugly

The next two pages are half blank, too.

The rulebooks are downright ugly.

The backgrounds are too busy and too dark. It’s hard to read the text sometimes.

Many pages are left half blank. Where’s the full colour artwork? Or even black and white filler artwork? Or some photos of the models? SOMETHING?

They’re full of typos, to the point it’s obvious an automated spell check was used instead of a human proof-reader.

The layout is terrible. For example, Skills are presented as an alphabetical(ish) list, rather than being sorted into their different categories.

Here we see a LoS template aligned with the model’s head.

Diagrams fail to match descriptions. Tables are inconsistent. Some rules are flat out missing. Of course, there is no index – the inside of the back cover is the second page of a scenario!  Even the Quick Reference has errors (corrected in the PDF version, apparently).

I don’t want to delve into Gang War and the campaign system too much, as I haven’t tested it. Rules are scattered everywhere across the two books. But some rules are duplicated in Gang War, sometimes with changes, so you always have to check Gang War first, then Underhive. The Gang War scenarios lack the polish of the ones in Underhive; every game ends only when one player has no models left on the board, and the clever scoring systems are gone.

Point costs are inconsistent between the two books, and even within the same book. “Gang War is definitive” can’t be the solution – Grenade Launchers cannot possibly be only 55 points! 5 point Lasguns for Escher is fishy, too.

This all adds up to make Gang War feel like a cash grab. It’s 65 pages, on cheap Print-On-Demand binding. It’s like reading a double-spaced essay written during an all-nighter stretching to hit a page count. It could easily have all fit into one book.

In Conclusion

There’s a lot of great ideas, but they failed to stick the landing.

If you’re already a fan of Necromunda, I suggest scavenging the new system for ideas to incorporate into whatever rulebook and houserules mix you’re currently using, for Necromunda or Shadow War Armageddon. Most notably, the new alternating activation system, the Zone Mortalis rules and the VP system in Underhive missions.

If you’re new to Necromunda, I suggest everyone diving in right now so that it makes a ton of money and heaps of new content is produced for my favourite game forever.

More seriously, I suggest holding off until the game is a bit more complete. Necromunda is a great game, but if this is your first exposure to it, you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. It feels like a rough draft went to the printers. I’m sure if we wait a year or two, we’ll see a consolidated single volume rulebook with the glaring errors fixed. If GW don’t do it, Yakromunda will. If they don’t do it, I will.

– Neil

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34 responses to Necromunda: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I'm already working on patching it. (If they insist on doing computer game style microtransactions, we may as well use the same terminology). I suspect a lot of people are, the Necromunda community has never been shy about messing with things.

I am VERY disappointed in Gang War. It feels very much like they had a complete game, then cut it into pieces.

I’m getting started with the new game this weekend, I’m very excited for the upcoming expansions, particularly the civilian hangers on, room for some awesome conversions. The Orlocks are gonna be great conversion fodder too.

Waiting a bit on this. Necromunda was my all time favorite. But I don't trust this thing so far and thanks for the review. That makes it sound interesting enough to keep watching.

So far these releases have felt like a nostalgia grab, at least for someone who never played the original games. I'd love to see a review where someone did a comparison between this and the other skirmish games on the market.

It's hard to compare in it's current state. In one way it feels unfair to compare the launch version against other more established games, but in another way, it's been around longer than anything else. It's unheard of to release a third edition of a game, but scrap all but two factions at launch.

Easier to pick up an play than Infinity (that game takes bad rulebook to the next level, partly because of translation issues)

Better than Deadzone 1st edition, I haven't tried 2nd ed yet. Although in fairness, there's a big Deadzone influence – they've cribbed the activation system. (Deadzone was written by one of the original Necro devs, so it's entirely possible the activation system started in the GW design studio)

Shadow War: Armageddon is a more complete game, although the two are obviously quite similar, sharing a common heritage.

I haven't played any other non-homebrew skirmish games recently (unless you count Incursion as a skirmish game).

Where it really shines is the miniatures, they are the best on the market. Deadzone has multipart plastics, but they don't look anywhere near as nice. Infinity has very nice looking models, but metal multipart is so fiddly to assemble and fragile.

the activation system is close to Terminator Genisys (a Cavatore game), except you get your marker AFTER your activation in that, and all models lose one at the end of the turn, which allows the use of extra markers to represent suppressed/downed models who won't be able to act next turn. Necromunda players might like to look at that mechanic.

Thanks for the response. Infinity is my main game atm (they've gotten most of the writing issues sorted). I'm fairly comfortable with metal figs now as well. SW:A does intrigue me, but has been smothered by the release of 8th and now Necromunda.

I picked it up, if only because I want to use the Models as Chaos Cultists and such, and the Game itself does have some cool features, but yeah, there are a lot of issues there. Hell, the last scenario in the Main Rulebook doesn't tell you who gets which Deployment Zone. And they're asymmetrical, so it does matter.

And the return to old-school Sustained Fire really bugs me. It's worse in terms of both fluff and crunch.

The skills not being in the index but also in alphabetical order outside of the actual skills lists did my head in, who the heck wants to look across 4 pages of skills for stuff that could have been ordered in a fashion that has worked for gamesworkshop for decades in multiple systems? So frustrating.

Gangwar pisses me off. It was marketted in such a way that I understood it to have the rules for the remaining 4 core factions in it but instead all we got was goliath and escher again in this piddly skinny book for way more money then we should have to pay for it (there's more content in a white dwarf and more pages for a fraction of the cost, it's not like the cover of the books are very strong after all), and what's more we're looking at 2 or 3 more books exactly like this with bugger all content over the next year to gain access to the last of the 4 core factions…

The models and the transition to introduce the zone mortallis rules for tunnel fighting are reallya wesome,a longside the alternating activations to bring more tactical and strategic depth to the game, with these, alongside all the bad, it hurts the brain. The game is presented beautifully in its' box and it isn't over priced for the contents, but…

I also saw the weaknesses in Escher, I have all the original models so was psyched when the new ones beingr eleased were also in the same awesome vein as those originals, but Goliaths appealed more and then when the rules were seen, it seems a no brainer (I may also REALLY like Grenades and Grenade Launchers as a rule in whatever games I play so yeah…).

Here's hoping grenade launchers with frag and krak grenades are confirmed at 55 creds each! 😀

Not having my old Grenade Launcher, Plasma Gunner, and Heavy Stubber Escher Models usable right now is definitely annoying me. This really doesn't seem like it was a good product for the wave release method. Or at least not with such long waits between waves.

Esher can buy grenade launchers from the trading-post in Gang Wars.
Plasma guns and Heavy Stubbers have rules and cost in Legacy Gangs PDF, you just need to assign a trading post rarity level to them.

OK, so the Grenade Launcher just gets refiled under "poor organization/layout". I don't know how many times I looked over that page and just saw that as an entry for Grenades.

The Legacy Gangs .pdf does provide some of the Rules, but it seems like the sort of thing that should have been taken care of at launch. Like with the Indexes for 40K.

I can only agree, reading the rules keeps annoying me.

Spudjacker rules are only in Underhive, mauls/clubs/hammers are in the PDF.

Sawn-off shotgun sounds cool, oh wait, there are no rules for it.

Sawn-off Shotgun does have a profile in Gang War, on Pg 32. It's just really easy to miss since it's right above the 4 profiles for regular Shotguns, and below the 3 for Combat Shotguns.

It is there, but there is no cost or rarity. (Bolt pistols have no cost either.)

Mesh armour can't be bought either.

I can't actually find a place to buy any Armour whatsoever, other than the Armoured Undersuit. Seems kind of frustrating for when Juves get promoted to Champs.

How the game handles Juves is just wierd. If someone starts out as a Juve, they can NEVER get the same statline as a Ganger, as well as you mention, the equipment issues.

Who..presumably was a Juve at some point, given a Juve is a 'juvenile'. There's some bizarre assumption going on about what exactly a Juve is.

The wild equipment price swings are odd to say the least.

Didn't even consider the stray shot thing. It could have been intentional to stop people ganging up I guess?

I will probably end up making word/excel sheets for skills (in an actual skill tree) and trading post wargear, already did it for my AdMech in 40k.

The Toxin fuck-up was enough to make me question whether I even wanted to buy the game. I watched a YouTube battle report where four Eschers gathered around a single Goliath and stabbed him over and over, doing absolutely nothing before he killed them all. I was thinking they must have played the rule wrong, but sure enough that's exactly what it does. Finding such a glaring, obvious flaw in the final release destroyed any confidence I had in the new edition – that's the kind of shit that should get picked up in early alpha testing.

The nail in the coffin was the announced release schedule. The drip-feed of new gangs and hirelings across a whole series of Gang War supplements and White Dwarf articles just sounds like way too much frustration and hassle.

So currently I'm not buying Necromunda, though that saddens me. I'm hoping that in a couple of years they release some kind of 'definitive edition' that incorporates fixes from playtesting and all the gang rules (y'know, like, an actual proper game launch), and I will happily throw money at that. Or I'll wait for Yaktribe to do the same thing, which will probably happen sooner, and will be free.

They don't do that sort of thing. They'll just release a new, half-baked and untested edition in drip-feed sized packages. That way they also get to claim it is basically a new game and you're silly for expecting them to have learned anything from the old one.

I doubt they'll do a new edition any time in the forseeable. Specialist games don't get iterative editions, they're just left to die and then reanimated after a few decades.

If they don't release a collected edition, I'm not really bothered. GW's always been strong on ideas but weak on execution, and outside of their flagship games, that leaves plenty of room for Community Editions to step up with more polished versions of the ruleset. The Necromunda community has been particularly good in that regard, and I doubt it will take long for community fixes to become the standard.

On the other hand, GW is now pushing out erratas at an unprecedented pace, so who knows, maybe they'll fix the game's glaring issues themselves? Then all I'll need is for some community-minded person to compile all the scattered bits and pieces into a single repository, which will inevitably happen.

I'm looking forward to the new Necromunda, it just hasn't actually come out yet. This is essentially a beta-testing phase, GW have just worked out how to make people pay to take part in it.

That's a good point there. These games have been community run for a long time and once GW finds a new shiny thing to distract them they might take the best of this new edition and make it work. I can live with that.

Yeah, it's pretty disappointing. I'll still buy the box because I want the minis and the scatter terrain, but it seems like I might as well pass on Gang War and keep using NCE.

I was really looking forward to both alternating activations and differentiated gangs.

Well I was on the fence about getting this, but I guess I'll wait. Thanks for the excellent review, Neil!

To be honest, I had my doubts about thus from the start
With gws increasing wiping their butts on the keyboard and calling the results ‘new editions’ for everything, it’s hard not to worry

The only reason I’m buying the new necromunda is for a sprinkle of new ideas while I retcon the whole game

I am trying to create a PdF of the whole rules here:

It's not yet done, and would still need a lot of improvement, but Basic and Advanced rules are already merged, and I am working at merging Gang War's one. I have also added the other Houses from the free PdF.
Hope it will be useful.

The release schedule for this game feels like a disaster. Core gangs not out for months and months. Rules not out for months and months. Rules split accross books in a clunky and counter intuitive way.

Guys, my group got really excited about Necromunda being re-released after not playing it for years and years, then we realized that the new release was going to be at best a half-arsed cash boost for the coffers and just played the old version that frankly is brilliant.

So, answer to wanting to play Necromunda but not this re-hashed crap? Play the original!

Annoyingly, the basic assumptions of the game are probably better this time around. The 'game flow' is so much smoother.

The campaign mode is drek, and there's obviously rules that have been miswritten. The two gangs are fundamentally mismatched. (Goliath get better S, Better T, Better Relevant Mental Stat, better Door Opening, Better ranged weapons, Better melee weapons. Escher get Better M. )

This creates the problem of whether it's easy to rewrite the campaign system for Newmunda so it actually exists, or rewrite the problematic parts of RealMunda so the game works better.