Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Product Review: Death from the Skies

Death from the Skies is Games Workshop's newest supplement. It's received a bunch of bad press, both due to the manner in which GW is selling it and the perception that it is a collection of previous rules lacking anything new. I needed a copy to run my Stormtalon, so I figured I'd pick it up and write up a review.

First off, the fact that this is a compendium of rules from out of print sources doesn't bother me much. It's difficult to get the primary sources any more, and it's way more convenient to carry around this book than a bunch of White Dwarfs.

The book is divided into quite a few sections, which I will summarize individually.

The Battle of Cardrim
This is a story about a planetary campaign between Orks, White Scars, and Necrons. It's about standard for such a story and not worth buying the book for. On an amusing note, the base forces for the White Scars and Orks are both built from Assault on Black Reach. In the army pictures, only those models and the flyers are in focus. Doesn't really make sense that they're promoting a set that's no longer in production.

Air War Missions
This section contains four new missions, designed for games where both sides have flyers.  For the most part, the missions seem different enough from the standard missions to be interesting to play. I can't say how balanced they are since I haven't played them. They look fairly balanced except for Scramble!, which seems hard for the defender to win. However, they get up to 3 free flyers, so that may make up for the ease with which the attacker earns victory points.

Burning Skies
This section provides a new dogfight phase for the game. Basically, it allows your flier to try and specifically engage a single enemy flyer. The attacker and defender make a series of blind choices for the Pursuit, Lock-On, and Destroy sub-phase. The choices are matched up in essentially serial games of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The outcomes are diverse and amusing, and the sub-game provides another chance to match wits with your opponent. While just trying to shoot down your opponent's flyers may be the more efficient choice, you earn an extra victory point for every flyer shot down in a dogfight. I believe the rules were previously printed in the Crusade of Fire campaign book.

Special Maneuvers
This section grants special rules to the flyers of each race, mostly triggered by characteristic tests. This is really something I would have liked to see applied in each codex. For the most part, they allow flyers to act in ways that better fit their background. Space Marines can clip enemy flyers with their wings, Orks can ram flyers or ground targets, Eldar can dance around the table, and Grey Knights can fire psychic blasts from their cockpit.

Fighter Aces
This section provides rules for upgrading your flyers to be piloted by aces. At the beginning of the game, you roll on a race-specific table for each ace, and they get a special rule for the rest of the game. Like special maneuvers, these all fit the background of their race. However, you pay a fair chunk of points for these, so they're much more powerful. For the most part, two of the results make the flyer better while one is an aura that buffs surrounding units. For example, a Space Marine pilot can re-roll To Hit rolls of 1, get +1 AV in the front, or make every Space Marine unit within 12" Relentless.

The standard assortment of pretty pictures of flyers.

Bestiary and Army List
This includes the rules for all the flyers released before 6th, updated to be in line with the flyer rules. For most codices, this is pointless. You already have the rules in your codex and the updates are in the FAQs. If you're an Ork player that missed the White Dwarf with their flyer rules, this is worth picking up. If you're a Space Marine or Black Templar player, it's definitely good to have this section as it contains rules for the Stormraven (which these codices now have access to) and updated rules for the Stormtalon, which got a significant points reduction compared to the White Dwarf rules.

Overall, I really like this book for what it adds to the game. Everyone's using flyers anyway, and the rules make them a lot more fun than just a fast gunship. In particular, I like the Special Maneuvers and Fighter Ace rules. The dogfight rules add some extra fun, but also allow for some interesting uses of the Special Maneuvers. As far as the rules for individual flyers, they're only really useful for Space Marines, Black Templar, and Orks.

I'm looking forward to playing some games with these rules, and I'm feeling inspired to add a Stormraven to the Executioners if I can get over the cost of the model.

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