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.TW WH

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.Uncharted Empires

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

The Brotherhood - textThe 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.

Salamander Armies

James Wappel‘s incredible Mantic Salamanders

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.Salamander

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.

The Herd

Lykanis

Mantic Lykanis/Lycan Alpha

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

WizardEmpire 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.

As for the Brotherhood, Mantic kits for this army are unlikely any time soon, but appropriate human and halfling miniatures are not difficult to come by.

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.

hadross_orsund_cavalier_box_wok02008

Hadross Orsund Cavalier from Wrath of Kings

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.

Mantic Naiads

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…

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  • The Warlock

    Excellent post. Have the gamer’s book and Uncharted realms sitting around on a shelf somewhere. Having Mantic provide Empire of Dust minis and possibly Brotherhood sprues in the future, Bret and Tomb King players can build an army without fear of being space-dwarfed, er, squatted.

    The nightstalkers have a very Moorcock-inspired feel with a touch of MTG’s Eldrazi thrown in (along the same lines as otherworldy beings only more geometrical)

    It’ll be interesting to see how the game progresses, I’d like to see a bit more granularity and unit size flexibility but hey, to each their own.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one stalking the HoP offices 😛

    • Thuloid

      Yes, I LOVE the night stalkers. I’ve seen some other people’s finished products, but none of them feel quite right to me yet.

      As to granularity, I wouldn’t want much more. I realized something as I started playing more–I missed the list-building and poring over the army books in Warhammer, but didn’t miss all those details during the game at all. I prefer KoW for gameplay. I just happened to enjoy the fine-tuning, list-building side of Warhammer as a weird little game in its own right. Maybe I’ll build 9th Age lists in my spare time, and never play with them. 😉

      • The Warlock

        Honestly feel like they should go down the Eldrazi route- geometrical shapes backed by tendrils. Tentacles and Cthulhu, while classic, are a tad over done. The granularity of it is reductions in attacks equal to wounds- I want to see the units get weaker once casualties start happening (not sure if that’s in already I haven’t read the books for nigh on 9months)

        Total Warhammer is boss though. Love being Thorgrim Grudgebearer and yelling “THAT’S GOIN’ IN THE BOOK, LADDIE” at the screen each time an army or settlement is lost. Got to lay some serious smackdown on Archaon with Thorgrim and a huge veteran force -the basic troop was the longbeard.

        Serves him right for attacking a force meant to get a settlement.

        • Thuloid

          No, units are either just fine, wavered or routed. Still the same on that. The lone exception is the hydra, which gets more attacks the more damage it has on it.

          But I’m ok with this, as it’s a regiment game. Skirmish and small unit games should track individual models. But once you’re talking about large formations, they’re either in fighting order or they aren’t, more or less. The pile of dead bodies at the end of a WHFB game was fun, but actually sort of silly. Six dudes out of an original 40 aren’t going to hang around to fight.

          I may do a post on Total Warhammer, unless you beat me to it. The game probably warrants at least one post here.

          • The Warlock

            Could always do a collaborative post as there’s an online multiplayer campaign option, should timezones allow?

          • Thuloid

            Interesting. Would take some time commitment, but maybe worth going a few rounds like that.

            And with Beastmen coming out, we have that campaign to look at, lots of new stuff coming after… This might have legs.

          • The Warlock

            How many legs are we talking? Two, four or maybe more? Just hit me up on FB if and when you want to give it a go- it may be a weekend thing but it’d be nice to do a series chronicling a campaign here.

          • Thuloid

            At least six. I’ll hit you up this week, though this coming weekend might be bad for me.

  • MerryVulture

    I think The Warlock said it best, “Excellent post”. Nice to see you in the House. Some how, I have been tricked into getting back into the remains of the vaporized world. I would blame the beer, but I never, ever hobby shop not sober, so I will blame excited yunguns at the FLGS. 😉

    Some of the older hobbyists there, when they can drag their butts away from GoT and Metamucil have been trying Kings of War. It is getting good marks from them. At least when I see them…

    • Thuloid

      It’s an easy game to pick up, though the tactics are deceptively different from WH. The fact that you can move through your own guys and charges are simultaneous with other moves means units can stack vertically in a way that was highly inadvisable in Warhammer. I notice this now because Warhammer players will either castle up to shoot, or deploy in a very linear fashion if they mean to go forward. It hadn’t occurred to them, due to old habits, that this game allows deploying in depth and still playing somewhat aggressively. Which, by the way, is half the answer to countering fliers.

  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    I wish people were playing this near me but 9th Age seems to have won the war of succession after the murder of WHFB around here.

    • Thuloid

      It’s very regionally divided. Large pockets of the Midwest, SE and NE US all went 9th age. So did a lot of continental Europe. Kings of War took the rest of the US (and is starting to take over in NY/PA/NJ after a slow start), and I think Britain.

      I wonder what 9th Age’s staying power is. I have nothing against the game, looks like a decent edition of WHFB. That said, it’s an edition of WHFB with disguised fluff and a slight problem with sourcing models for some things.

      I don’t see a problem with playing both. Anyone who can field a reasonably large Warhammer/9th Age army can do the same for Kings of War. Rules for KoW will take 20 minutes to learn for a Warhammer player.