The Old World Invades Mantica – Uncharted Empires Review, Part 1
Hello again, O House wherein the Cakes bring Pain. I, Thuloid have been enjoying an old friend– Total War: Warhammer has sent me down a rabbit hole, as I overrun the Empire, chase Dwarfs from their holds, and otherwise enjoy the hell out of a milieu that Some Morons in Nottingham(tm) decided to vaporize a while back (as I write, the trailer for the Call of the Beastmen DLC has just leaked, and I am tingly). This has me thinking about the insane, if cliched, magic of GW’s Old World. Never high art, it was fun and had more character than could be expected from any generic fantasy setting. Mantic’s Mantica is off to a decent start, but let’s allow another decade before comparisons. Previously I covered the Kings of War 2nd Edition rulebook and lists. Many of those work for Warhammer armies, but what to do about popular forces that don’t fit so neatly? This is precisely what the supplement Uncharted Empires was designed to fix. I’ll review the book in two parts.
Released last November after extensive public beta testing (and it shows!), Uncharted Empires provides Mantica-friendly fluff and rules for nine new army lists. That is in addition to the eleven in the basic rulebook, and the Twilight Kin list which is free on the website (more on that oddity in part 2). Of these nine, seven look like fairly close analogues to WHFB armies, but two– the Night Stalkers and the Trident Realm of Neritica — are Mantic originals. The book itself is softcover, and just 72 pages long, retailing for ~$25. It’s attractive and generally up to Mantic’s aesthetic standards (which seem to have risen considerably), and contains quite a lot of fluff–at least half the text, possibly more than that.
The fluff makes Uncharted Empires work. Shoehorning Skaven, Chaos Warriors and Bretonnians into a setting already sketched out (albeit roughly) could have spelled narrative disaster, though good business. The major realms of Mantica are firmly established; these new lists only work to the extent that they enhance those stories. In my opinion, the nuggets of history in Uncharted Empires are very good indeed, a cut above the main rulebook. Each list in Uncharted Empires is treated as a minor race or kingdom, not insignificant but perhaps forgotten for a time, and bound into the history of Mantica through its formative cataclysms, especially the long struggle and subsequent (un)natural disaster known as the Winter War. Rather than feeling tacked on for disgruntled ex-WHFB players (largely the truth), the whole comes out more elegant and more suggestive of Mantica’s potential than I expected. But you probably want to know about the lists:
The Brotherhood are obviously Bretonnia, but just as obviously not Bretonnia. Imagined as the successors to a kingdom that sunk beneath the waves at the end of the Winter War, the Brotherhood exist now only as a kind of military-religious order. Their fortress overlooks the great scar known as the Abyss, and all the Brotherhood, from commoners to knights and the mysterious water creatures bound to them by ancient magic, see themselves as crusaders in an eternal quest to annihilate the demonic evils that once shattered their world. This is a subtle shift in historical inspiration, from the stuff of Mallory, chansons de geste and French-inflected high chivalry to a good-guy version of the Teutonic Knights.
On foot, on horse or mounted on flying beasts, in great hordes or as individual heroes, the Brotherhood bring knights, knights and more knights to the table. There are more options, however–commoners serve as light cavalry, archers (Brotherhood archers are particularly strong against armor), scouts, spear or polearm infantry, and bands of crazed cultists, and man two kinds of field artillery. Water Elementals also serve the Brotherhood, as do the highly customizable monsters known as Forsaken Beasts.
There are no Mantic-specific models for the Brotherhood (nor are any planned in the near term), but quality high Middle Ages or Crusader ranges aren’t hard to find.
Uncharted Empires has repackaged Lizardmen, minus Slaan and the Mesoamerican theme, as the seafaring, volcano-dwelling Salamanders. The Salamanders’ island trading empire is shared among several cooperating races: the Salamanders proper (Saurus-like), Ghekkotah (smaller, more nimble, occupying the Skink role), Tyrants (Kroxigors) and the more rarely seen Arkosaurs. Fire magic was instrumental in preserving the Salamanders in the days of Winter, and flame attacks, breath weapons and even Fire Elementals abound among the Salamanders.
The Salamanders are very strong combatants, providing strong line infantry, pistol-wielding Corsairs, and both medium and super-heavy cavalry. Ghekkotah offer mobility, numbers and short range shooting, including flying cavalry with blowpipes. The Salamanders lack traditional artillery, but have a wealth of monsters, some of which have artillery-like shooting attacks, and several varieties of Fire Elementals. A wide variety of Heroes are on offer–combat, missile, support, mounted and flying.
Salamander lists tend to thrive on blocks of heavy infantry, and Mantic now has a rather lovely set of hard plastic sprues for those basic troops.
One of the more welcome re-imaginings of a GW army in Uncharted Empires, The Herd are ostensibly a translation of Beastmen, though thematically distinct. Wild, dangerous and bestial, to be sure, but also free, The Herd share an affinity with the Forces of Nature list in the main rulebook, though less elemental and more purely animal than that list. Satyrs, Centaurs, Minotaurs and other man-beast combinations are here fused into a diverse, aggressive and mobile force, mysteriously tied to the origin of the Orcs and other dark creatures, but opposed to their corruption
The Herd bring the advantages one would expect from such a wild force–lightly armored, but quick and able in rough terrain, and devastating when they can put their horns into an opponent. A variety of light and medium infantry are supplemented by Harpies, the ultra-fast Lycans (think well-adjusted werewolves) and massive Guardian Brutes (an assemblage of Minotaurs, Owlbears and other such hulks). Centaurs come in both melee and archer varieties, and the speed only piles on after that–packs of wild animals, Giant Eagles and chariot-mounted Herd warriors. Stampedes of very large mammals (cattle, steppe rhinos, etc.) are particularly dangerous. The Herd lack artillery, though they can deploy a Great Totem on the battlefield to boost nearby troops. A couple of large monsters (Chimera and Brutox, a kind of bestial cyclops) fill out the list.
Mantic models are starting to come out for this list–some new centaurs in metal, as well as plastic Lycans (the Undead Werewolves kit) and an impressive metal Lycan Alpha hero. The rest of the Herd might take some creative sourcing (a herd of rhinos?), but that’s half the fun.
The League of Rhordia
Empire armies already worked alright (not great, but alright) as Kingdoms of Men. Uncharted Empires offers us the League of Rhordia, a black powder-using alliance of human city-states and halfling shires. Like Basileia, the League of Rhordia is a successor state to ancient Primovantor, and mirrors Basileian fanaticism with classically-inspired humanism (halflingism?). Since recent editions of WHFB tended to sideline halfling troops, this list may be especially welcome to players with older Empire forces. Don’t think the humans do all the fighting for Rhordia–nearly half the unit entries are halfling troops.
The list should really be considered in two halves. Humans field lightly armored militia with polearms, spears, crossbows and muskets. Dogs of War (yes, that’s the unit name) are heavily armored pikemen, difficult to take down by frontal assault. Human elites include armored footmen, mounted knights, and the mighty Honour Guard, knights on enormous, doglike beasts called Aralez. Human heroes come on a variety of fanciful and deadly mounts, as well as on foot, and include the more versatile of the two types of Rhordian spellcasters.
Halfling infantry, compared to human, is cheaper, slower, lacking a bit in offensive punch, but reasonably resilient. Halfling scouts, archers and Ranger Cavalry offer traditional shooting. Goat or pony-mounted Halfling Knights do not seem imposing, but a possible flank charge from these cannot be ignored. Halflings are also the superior engineers of the alliance–theirs are the Volley Gun, the Howitzer, and the Iron Beast (a primitive tank, slightly inferior to the Dwarf version but less expensive). Halfling Master Engineers boost their war machines and Halfling Sorcerers are effective at moving enemy units around the field via Wind Blast. Effective Rhordian armies will balance these two halves out into a complementary whole.
The Trident Realm of Neritica
For seemingly decades, fishmen was always the rumored “next race” in Warhammer. The gag was carried so far as to include the special rule “Sea Creature” in the WHFB 8th edition book, though no figure ever employed it. The long wait is over; Uncharted Empires has unleashed the Neriticans. Another “natural” race, most frequently allied with The Herd and sharing an origin with them, the Neriticans are a diverse army drawn from the varied inhabitants of the Trident Realm.
Neritican units are frequently hard to hit in combat, though their armor is often poor. They are not fast, with a few exceptions. Front line troops are remarkably diverse: slippery, regenerating Naiad Ensnarers, harpoon-gun wielding Naiad Heartpiercers, the aggressive Thuul (“a bizarre blend of halfling and octopus”), Placoderms with their near-impenetrable armor, amphibious, leaping Riverguard, and Nokken surf demons, ineffective in hand to hand but still nasty. Among the larger Neriticans, Water Elementals, enormous crustaceans and other, darker creatures of the deep make appearances. Naiads can ride great sea serpents as the list’s only cavalry (and one of its few truly fast units). Coral Giants, Kraken, and the lightning-fast Knuckers fill out various large monster roles. The Neriticans do have artillery, in the form of a large harpoon gun called the Leviathan’s Bane.
Models are in the works–Naiad sprues have been released, and are impressive. Antimatter Games’ Deep Wars figures would provide a nice, though expensive, source of figures, as would (at a somewhat better price point) Hadross from CMON’s Wrath of Kings.
I’ll leave off for now. Part 2 will detail the rest of the armies in the book, and look forward just a bit. Until then…