May 10th, 2010
In Focus Review - Avatars of War & Arena DeathMatch Rulebook
From far across the ocean come Avatars of War: Heroes for your Armies. Initially created to fill the role of being different, and unique hero characters to be used in Warhammer Fantasty Battles (WFB), Avatars of War has evolved now into an entire optional game called Arena DeathMatch as well.
The miniatures themselves are for the most part, quite nice. As stated above, the idea behind the miniatures were to be alternate Hero characters to be used in WFB. Therefore each of the figures are 28mm in scale, and come with square bases to fit in with WFB armies seamlessly. At a glance, they all look really nice, and some even better than GamesWorkshop's best efforts. Here's a rundown of the figures I've had the chance to look at first-hand, and review for this article...
This is one of the first figures that they released in the series, and it was the first figure to grab my attention a few years ago when they released him. Sculpted by Felix Paniagua, this guy really looks a lot like Conan the Barbarian. The sculpt itself, makes this one of my favorite barbarian pieces of all time.
The model comes in a small package, and is 4 pieces, along with a square slotted, what appears to be a 30mm base. The body is pretty much a single molded piece. The other three pieces are the head of the axe, the handle end of the axe, and the handle end of the sword to stick out of the scabbard that's molded to the characters back.
He's standing holding a nice double-bladed battle axe, and what I really like is just how they offer the axe head, and handle bits separate. My biggest gripe with some miniatures, like for instance Privateer Press's Sorcha the Khador WarCaster, is that she comes with an even longer hammer weapon, which resembles a scythe its so big. The problem is that right out of the package, the super thin pole can end up broken, or bent so bad, that when you try to bend it back into the right position, you end up breaking it anyway.
The handle or pole of most 25mm-30mm miniatures weapons are so thin, that usually there's no easy way to pin or repair them either, unless totally replacing them with brass rod. So I really have to give Avatars of War a big thumbs up for having the common sense to cast the Barbarian's weapon in separate pieces like this. I wish others were this thoughtful, and could look that far ahead when creating miniatures.
Clean up and assembly was easy. There was only one minor mold line to clean up, and there's really only 3 pieces to glue onto the figure, all of which are fairly small. This is one of the easiest models around to build. He's also one of the most affordable figures in the series at about $12.
As the name implies, this is their Beastman hero sculpted by Raul Valiente. Clean up wasn't terribly complicated, but the one mold line reaches around into the fur behind the head a little, which was a little problematic. There's also some small mold lines to tend with in the area of the horns hanging off the head. For the most part the pieces fit together snug, but the one back-piece could have been made to fit better. It will require a little bit of green stuff to create a more seamless look.
The body is for the most part one piece, with the head and arm being separate, along with the shield, back piece, and horned loin cloth with head hanging from it, making this a 6 piece model overall. He also comes with a square slotted 30mm base. There's an optional shield that you can glue onto the left hand/arm region, but there's no clear way visible detailing how it goes on, other than the picture on the package. It's not made so that it's supposed to be glued on (no groove on the inner shield to accept to the hand, etc), so a little greenstuff would probably help make the most of it.
Detail-wise it's a really nice looking piece. I can't say it's that much better than the Beastmen pieces from GamesWorkshop (because they are really nice), but it's definitely on par with, or slightly better than those. It's purely a matter of opinion though. I do like the details like the severed hand and a crown, in addition to the various skulls found all over the piece too. The runes and detailing on the double-headed axe is also very well done. This piece runs about $15.
This is also one of my favorite pieces from the entire line, and is one of the newest releases. Sculpted by Marc Iglesias this piece looks really menacing, while still managing to be hilariously Orc-ish. The cleaver-looking monster-sized knife is a hoot. It's so Orky, and totally looks the part. This might just be the one model from this line, that unquestionably looks nicer than most of the GW Orc pieces altogether. Most weapons that are meant to have a wooden handle, almost never depict this in the sculpting on most miniature weapons. This one is different, the cleaver handle is sculpted to look like a large raw wooden handle, which is a very nice touch.
Clean up and assembly wasn't a big deal. The mold lines weren't no more than what would be expected. A once-over with my hobby knife, and I was done with clean up. This is also another mostly one piece sculpt, but the head, right-hand w/mace in it, and back piece with poles make it a 4 piece model altogether. He's also in the same price range of the Beastman Hero, being priced at about $15, and comes complete with a 30mm square slotted base.
Minotaur Lord Hero with Great Axe
This piece comes in two different varieties, with Great Axe as I reviewed, or with 2 Weapons, which includes a one-handed axe in the right hand, and a ball and chain in the left. I preferred the two-handed great axe version. This is by far the largest model I've seen first-hand from the Avatars of War product line. This guy is huge, easily as big as a Warmachine Warjack, and is all pure white metal. This is a 5-piece kit, as the head, right wrist, partial left leg (from knee down), and great axe with hands are all separate pieces, along side the body. He also comes with what appears to be a square slotted 50mm base. Sculpted by Felix Paniagua, he's one big, mean-looking Minotaur dude.
Clean up wasn't too bad, although I feel the head could have lined up a little nicer. Mold lines were at a minimum, which was nice. Most of the other parts are pre-nubed, with pre bored small indentations for the pieces to fit together, so you don't have to pin them. Most of the time I would take the extra time to pin a model like this, but the way they had it setup worked very well. If I drop it I may wish I'd have pinned it for extra durability, but otherwise it should be fine like this. The rest of the pieces fit together nicely, and fit snug. So a little bit of greenstuff is all I need to blend the head to the fur better, and a tiny bit for blending the left leg piece to the upper leg, and all will be near perfect.
My only major gripe is with the square thin slotted base. The slot really kills the structure of this already thin base, and this piece isn't by design meant to be on a base this thin and flimsy. I managed to get him glued to the base, but as thin as the base is, there's really no good way to pin him to it either. The best bet would be to use an alternate scenic, and more solid base, or to create a scenic base to place on top of this existing base to reinforce it. I know if I nudge him too hard, or bump him into something he's probably going to crack free from the base that they included. A solid square base might have been a better alternative overall.
This is one of the more expensive pieces in the entire line, but he's also about 4x or 5x as much pure white metal as all of the other pieces too. Taking that into account, I've seen this piece retailing for about $25-$27, depending on where you look. I have a notion if this were a GW model it would probably be priced at the $35-$40 price range, and after discounts online, that puts it right in line with what this model costs. This is a comparable model without question, in almost every way.
Dark Elf Hero
This is another one of the earlier release models from Avatars of War. Sculpted by Felix Paniagua, this kit was 4-pieces in all, and comes with a square slotted 20mm base. This is another mostly one-piece molded model, aside from the left hand with sword outstretched, ponytail and the thin armor plate extending from the groin downwards. Mold lines were next to non existent, although I did encounter a little flash to cut away around the edges of the cape. Even their earlier releases are still quite nice sculpts, and while I've never been a huge fan of elves, I like this piece. Cost-wise he's about $12 as well, which for as small and thin as he is, I think this is one of the few that's a little more than he should be. Then again, looking at any heroes from GW, you're looking at $15-$20 minimum, so he's in direct competition price-wise without question.
I've always been a fan of crazy Viking-looking dwarves with Mohawks. This guy is totally one of my top 5 favorites, from the entire product line. He may even be the #1 the model, if I had to rate them. Bor is a 4-piece model, which comes with a 20mm slotted square base. The figure is a one-piece mold, and he comes with a crazy Mohawk, a back banner and a dragon skull trophy. The Mohawk is optional, but who in the right mind wouldn't put that on him? The back banner, and dragon skull trophy are also optional. You can choose from those two which one to put on his back, or none at all.
Well my only gripe with this model is that if you put the Mohawk on, as I did, then the dragon skull trophy doesn't fit, so I had to opt for the back banner instead. The banner looks sweet, with a barrel of booze hanging off it, some chains and other Dwarvy-like stuff. I really wanted to use the Dragon Skull trophy instead, but didn't want to do without the Mohawk, so I kept the crazy hair-doo. You can find him for roughly $12, which is reasonable considering the little extras, and how nice this piece really is. Even $15 would be a good price for this little fella.
Dark Elf Sorceress
Last but not least is the Dark Elf Sorceress. This is another one of the earlier releases, and is another Felix Paniagua sculpted model. Visually she's topless, so this isn't an ideal piece for little Timmy. This is a 5-piece model, with the body, a regular right arm, an optional right arm with a spell being cast from it with dragons flying from her hand, a teeny tiny dragon head, her head and a 20mm slotted square base to be found in the package.
There wasn't a lot to clean up here, some tiny mold lines, but nothing serious. In terms of assembly, this is the only model that I needed to drill and pin. I opted to use the arm with the multiple dragon heads spell flying out from it, and it's quite heavy, too heavy to just glue and walk away from. There's a tiny little dragon head, that is part of the mini dragon, which she's holding in her left arm. I swear I'd rather be forced to watch an entire season of Oprah back to back, rather than have to try and ever glue that stupid little dragon head on again! It's just one of those pieces that makes you want to scream, because it's too small to hold onto, and too small to even try and set in place properly without lots of trial and error. It's so small that you have to wonder why it wasn't just molded onto the main piece to begin with.
My other gripe with this piece is that her head was attached to the metal sprue, by the top of her head, right in the sculpted hair region. Why? It would have made more sense for her neck to be attached the to sprue, not the top of her head. What were they smoking when they created that mold? lol
Cutting her head away from the sprue, even carefully leaves a really messed up spot. Now you have to re-sculpt this spot into hair matching the rest, since it's directly smack dab in the middle of the top of her head, where everyone will see.
All ranting aside, she does look nice, and it's a unique and interesting model for most any Dark Elf army, but it is rated-R since she's topless, so that somewhat limits its audience. On the flip-side that makes her a very alternative, alternative to a GW dark elf sorceress, because they don't make too many that are bare-breasted. lol Price-wise she's another $12 piece, which again as tiny as she is, might sound like a bit much, but dollar for dollar, you'll be paying that or more for an all metal GW hero Dark Elf piece of any kind.
Arena DeathMatch Rulebook
Right off the bat I'll make it clear... This is one of those games that you'll really like, or really dislike. There's really no in-between with this one. I have to give them credit for taking the time, and resources to make such an in-depth game depicting arena-style combat with their miniatures. It really does sound like a fun game, and it's why I asked to review it in the first place. I also didn't see any other reviews out there of it, and wanted to fill that gap.
The problem is that at first glance it's too complex, and too in-depth, that just getting through the rules enough to begin playing is a daunting task. There are eight phases in each turn of the game. I had hoped that I read that in error. That's just too much to try and remember off the bat, and most people will read the rules up to that point, and say "nahhhh this game isn't for me". I however stayed optimistic, and I forged ahead beyond what my initial impressions alone had to tell me.
Lets talk about the book itself for a minute. There's 140 pages in all. The binding is sewn, so it's made to withstand lots of gaming time, and is made of 150 gram paper, in a nice matte finish. In layman's terms, it's a really nice, professionally designed and bound together rulebook. At a glance, it looks as nice as say the Privateer Press soft-cover rulebooks and supplements, and/or GW codices. It's full color, and there's a lot of fluff detailing the Avatars or War universe called Darklands, plus in the back there's a load of pages dedicated to the hobby.
Actually the painting guides are done by none other than Mike & Ali McVey of Studio McVey. All of the figures stats and details that were released up until the time of printing the book, are also included in the back. All other newer released miniature stats can be downloaded from the Arena-Deathmatch.com website direct. Lastly the terrain section shows you how to build an arena for your battles to take place in, complete with some templates that you can photocopy and use.
As for the game itself, it's really deep, with a fairly steep learning curve. While most games utilize D6 or D20s, this one requires loads of D10 dice. Almost everything in the game is determined thro an Action Die roll of a D10 die. Magic, Compulsory, and Tactical actions, just to name a few, are all determined by a D10, or many, depending how many Action Die you want to risk/spend. Even determining deviation is handled by which direction the D10 is pointing after having been rolled. Now that I thought was neat, and it eliminates the need of a deviation template.
The arena Crowd is also part of the design. How the Crowd reacts and feels, can modify stats, helping to change the outcome. Want to be cocky, and pull a flamboyant move, like bonking a foe in the forehead with the handle of your axe? You can, and the crowd can react to that, which is really innovative, and is called a "Show off action". The crowd can even freak out and raid the field, incurring wounds to the combatants. Make them mad, and the crowd can even toss a rock at you, and deal damage equal to a rolled attack. Not only are you dealing with your foes in mortal combat, but the crowd is like another foe altogether at times. You'll love them when they are enjoying your performance though.
There's even the element of Beasts. In ancient Roman times if they would grow bored with the arena action at hand, they'd throw the lions in to spice things up. Only these beasts are far worse than the lions and tigers used in ancient Rome. The Supporters and Beasts phase also allows you to active any Feats for that round. Cool stuff.
Teams are created based gold coin increments, instead of points. So 600-700 gold is the smallest game, with about 4-5 pieces per side. You can also spend gold to train your would be gladiators with various abilities, or to boost existing ones, in a wargear-like way. Thankfully they offer a downloadable piece of software called the Computer Band Maker that handles most of this for you, which is one layer of complexity you don't really have to worry about, unless you want to.
How damage is applied is unique too, each time damage is allocated, it effects a stat on the card of each figure by one point at a time + or -. Fatigue damage is also incurred when you roll doubles, or multiple doubles, so the more dice you roll the more you stand to fatigue yourself, also modifying your stats. Like Warmachine you can also boost certain actions, counteractions or attacks, by burning Soul Shards in this game. There are also psychological powers and effects to be utilized.
As you can see there are a lot of very familiar mechanics and principals found in many other skirmish/wargames out there, to be found within this game as well. The problem is that in presentation, the rulebook doesn't give a good enough example of an entire turn in action, so that players can figure out how to pull it all together and use the rules. Sure there are lots of smaller examples, or half examples scattered about the book of some of the mechanics in play, but not enough to truly sit a new player down and show them the ropes step by step.
I think IF I were to spend a few more weeks with this game, I might grasp it better, and would possibly enjoy it more. As it stands, there's just too much to keep track of for me to enjoy it. I am however impressed by the scope and depth, and the lengths they've taken to create an arena combat system like this... I just wish it was easier to pickup, and that it played out faster.
I get bored and can't stay focused for very long, when I have to manage to remember how to play out eight phases of each round, plus everything else. A game with 6 figures per side also lasted over 2 hours, which I think is a bit long. Maybe once I've played it 20 times or more, I could get it down to 1.5 hours for 6 on 6 battle, but even then... I had hoped for a more fast paced action system than this. Going back to my opening statement of you'll either totally like, or dislike it... this might not be my cup of tea, but others will no doubt love it for the same reasons that I don't feel it's for me. I certainly admire it for what it is, but this isn't one I'll continue to pursue. Others mileage will definitely vary.
If they released a Quick Start-type rules suppliment, without some of the extra complexity, it would solve a lot of the issues I personally have with Arena DeathMatch. This would allow players to learn the core mechanics a lot faster, instead of overloading the player with tons of things to remember all at once.
There's definitely a lot to like about Arena DeathMatch. It's just getting to that point of being able to play, and fully understand it, without the need of cross-referencing the rulebook every turn, that can take a very long time. The rulebook on average costs about $30$32 online, depending on where you look, which is reasonable for a high-quality book like this.
The good news is that the game rules themselves are free in a 60-page .pdf format direct download from their website, along with the other game aids needed to play Arena DeathMatch. They even offer a printer-friendly version as well. So you can check it out for yourself, to see if it's for you. If you do find that it's a game you'd enjoy, then the rulebook is definitely worth getting. Give it a try yourself, you have absolutely nothing to loose. It might also be the most in-depth arena skirmish game, that you can get for free too.
Avatars of War is one of the better alternative miniature companies out there, which are reasonably accessible here in the US from most retailers. They're one of the first newer companies from overseas to end up with broad distribution, because I've seen their products in almost as many places as I can find Privateer Press, or GW products locally and online even. Many of the other alternative companies that make stuff as nice, or nicer than Avatars of War, aren't as easily accessible for US customers. That's one thing they have over most of the competition.
Price-wise they're about equal in cost to GW miniatures, and for the most part, the sculpts are as good, some even better. I did however see one person online somewhere say, that if he was opting for an alternative to a GW piece, that it should look better and cost less. I can't totally agree with that. It would be the best case scenario for sure, but what we want, and what we can have is almost never the same thing in real life. I think Avatars of War is a great alternative no matter how you look at it.
They also offer so many different options, and I only covered a small fraction of the pieces available in the entire range. I also don't believe Avatars of War is meant to replace GW models, but to accent an existing GW WFB army. They only make heroes, they're not making entire armies. They're not trying to replace GW models, they're just offering another alternative option, and variety is the spice of life no matter how you look at it. Having choices is healthy, and competition is good for everyone. Some players might see an Avatars of War piece, and decide to build an entire WFB army around it, which is good for Avatars of War and GW both. Some of the pieces are that nice.
Aside from all of those models that I covered, there are still close to two dozen more models to choose from. They even offer a Chaos Dwarf Warlord, an Orc Warlord Mounted on a Warboar, Light Elf Male and Female Heroes, Marauder Champion, Vampire Countess, Warpriest, NetherHound, Necromancer, and DireWolf just to name a few. Their plan always has been to try and release a new model every month, and the Orc Brute we covered was the new model for April, Bor Dragonbane was the March release, and already the May model is out, and is a Dwarf Lord also sculpted by Felix Paniagua.
They just keep cranking them out. So once a month you can expect to see a new Avatars of War piece. All in all, I'm pretty pleased with what I've seen. As we've discovered, they could do a few things a little better, but no company out there isn't without some minor faults when it comes to casting miniatures anymore. There was also far more good than there was bad to report too. Check them out for yourself, they might just have a miniature that you will fancy.
Manufacturer: Avatars of War
If you want to check it out for yourself...
Arena DeathMatch Rules .pdf