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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.