The Old World Invades Mantica – Uncharted Empires Review, Part 2

Ahoy, reader! Welcome again to the House, as Thuloid winds up his review of Mantic’s Uncharted Empires supplement for Kings of War. As before, there’s been a certain amount of Total War: Warhammer going on in my life–it turns out that pinballing a frenzied Gorebull through terrified Bretonnians is even more fun than I expected. Kudos to the developers for making Beastmen great again. Now, where was I? Ah, yes, the totally-not-Warhams lists. Part 1, incidentally, is to be found here.

Beastmen

They made the Cygor useful. Yeah, wasn’t expecting that.

The Empire of Dust

While the Tomb Kings never seemed to get much love from their creators (that goes back to the tragic separation of Undead into dry and wet varieties at the end of WHFB 5th edition), Uncharted Empires has made an eminently playable list from the long-dead desert dwellers. Fallen to squabbling from within and consumed by overuse of necromantic magic, the last survivors of the Ahmunite Kingdom were condemned to undeath by the God-kings of the offshoot Ophidians (by all accounts, an anticipated KoW list–see end note for details).

Despite some unit entries in common with the Undead, the Empire of Dust have a distinct feel. They are not innately fast, nor heavily armored, but can fill the skies with arrows and crossbow bolts. Bane Chant, a staple spell for boosting effectiveness against armor, is wholly unavailable. Instead, the Empire of Dust uses Surge magic aggressively, drawing opponents in with shooting only to pull off seemingly impossible flank charges. Most rank and file are mere skeletons–infantry, cavalry and chariots. Revenants and Mummies are heavy infantry, and the Enslaved Guardians, bound djinn, serve in both melee and shooting roles. Bone Giants, undead Scorpion Husks and various reanimated monsters complement the line troops.EOD2

Since the squatting of the Tomb Kings, GW model availability may be uneven. Mantic is starting to give some attention to this list, and now have models for sale to cover most troops.

Night-stalker Armies

The Night-stalkers are Uncharted Empires’ second original creation, a faction somewhat unlike any I have yet encountered in a game. The shadows of mortals torn from this world into utter darkness in the days of Mantica’s greatest cataclysm, the Night-stalkers are literally the stuff of nightmares. Neither demons nor men festooned with skulls, they are fear incarnate, ambiguous in shape and highly unusual in capabilities. Even the art reflects this– simple black and red watercolors suggest the outlines of these horrors, but all detail is left to the imagination.

Uncharted Empires Night-stalkersNight-stalkers lack any source of the Inspiring trait (forces opponents to re-roll Rout results on Nerve tests–your basic Kings of War leadership insurance). Instead they borrow this trait from nearby enemies, drawing strength from their foes. The list itself is unusual–while some units fall easily into standard molds (Butchers are a fairly standard Large Infantry unit, and Scarecrows are roughly the same as Zombies), others are unparalleled–Doppelgangers assume the attack profile of the units they hit, and a Planar Apparition is a monster that exists mainly for healing purposes. Most are off-kilter enough to make the entire army something of an enigma.

This may not be an ideal force for beginners, but it could reward the mature hobbyist. Proper models are not even suggested– perhaps Mantic will create some, but far better, I think, to dig through the catalogues of various manufacturers for the most twisted and obscure. I’ve heard of partially-melted figures employed as doppelgangers, actual insect carapaces affixed to bases, and more (one fellow inquired about the best method to preserve and then paint earthworms…)

Ratkin Armies

As a veteran Skaven player, I have a serious investment in this army done right. The Ratkin presented in Uncharted Empires are wholly satisfying to my sense of how the rats should play–and if my 2nd place finish at a medium-sized (26 player) tournament earlier this summer is to be believed, capable of answering any challenge . Incorporated into Mantic fluff as an experiment of the Abyssal Dwarfs gone terribly wrong, the Ratkin are now no longer slaves, but a fiendish, intelligent and fast-breeding race on the rise.

This is a swarm army. A touch faster than orcs or humans and on par with elves, Ratkin nevertheless are almost entirely a foot list, so they must play aggressively against infantry but defensively against cavalry and fliers. Their forces range from the totally inept and dirt cheap (Tunnel Slaves) to solidly below-average but still cheap (Warriors), to the modestly expensive and nasty (Blight and Shock Troops). Ratkin bring effective shooting at all range bands (an embarrassment of options) and some heavier melee hitters (Brutes, the Mutant Rat-Fiend and the melee version of the Death Engine). True speed is hard to come by – a flying hero, a Winged Demonspawn (you can only take one, and very expensive), as well as Hackpaws, a nice light cavalry unit, are the best the Ratkin can put forward for getting across the table quickly. Nothing in this list is well armored.ShadowHulk

Aside from Skaven models (huge volumes of those still in circulation), there are a few third-party Ratkin options, though none I favor overmuch for line infantry. Mantic has recently expanded its Veer-Myn line for the Warpath universe (Warpath, Deadzone, Dreadball), and I can imagine some lovely conversions of some of those figures.

The Varangur

Affectionately known as Varangrrr, these brutal tribesmen from the far North were long ago isolated and corrupted by an ancient (and somewhat mysterious) evil. If you have an army that shouts, “Blood for the blood god! Skulls with which to decorate the other skulls on his over-sized skull-chair!” the Varangur might be up your alley.

Varangur are built to take a beating, with above average Nerve across the board. Superior troops can also choose from a range of gifts of Korgaan (their dark god) as additional upgrades. The list is heavy on infantry, ranging in quality from atrocious (Thralls) to super-elite (Sons of Korgaan). Despite quite a lot of plodding strength (Cave Trolls, most of the infantry, and Direfang Riders, the game’s slowest cavalry unit), Varangur also have some real speed at their disposal–Tundra Wolves, Horse Raiders, Mounted Sons of Korgaan and The Fallen, a strange, corrupted heavy infantry unit that moves as fast as most cavalry. Several large monsters are on offer, including the Jabberwock, which gains attacks as its opponents incur damage. The Varangur are not a shooting-heavy army, but do have some options–Magus Conclaves are an unusual, flexible twist on standard artillery, and Night Raiders give players who may own a few old-school Chaos bowmen a chance to put them on the table again.

chaos archers

Remember us?

While Mantic has no Varangur-specific figures, GW Chaos Warriors and 3rd party Chaos Warrior lookalikes abound on the market. Frostgrave figures could also fit well. More Norse-appearing offerings (better for the less elite units) include historical minis from Gripping Beast and other manufacturers (think figures tuned for SAGA).

What Next?

While Uncharted Empires means that Kings of War tallies a hefty twenty official army lists, that is not the full extent of the game. The Mantic website still includes official (and tested) but temporary free rules for the Twilight Kin, an evil Elf faction. Players are advised that building a new army to fit the list as currently published is a dangerous proposition–Mantic has stopped selling Twilight Kin figures and is reworking the faction so as to diminish generic Dark Elf sensibility. The rumor (a bit more than a rumor, as certain Mantic high-ups were blabbing about it at Adepticon) is that the new Twilight Kin will be tied in their origin to the Night Stalkers.

At some point, the revised Twilight Kin are likely to be released in a supplement alongside two other lists that have already been suggested by Mantica fluff: the undead-using (but not evil!) Ophidians, and the frost-themed Northern Alliance of Ice Kin Elves, Northmen, Ogres and Snow Trolls. Target date for said supplement would be 2017 at earliest, because there’s yet another major Kings of War product primed for release before then.

Ophidian

A great Ophidian hero?

That’s right, Kings of War has a historical supplement in the works. Thirty or so lists from around the globe, spanning the periods from Bronze Age to the 16th century, all thoroughly playtested and hopefully ready for release later this year. While technically these lists should be considered in a different category from the fantasy lists (standard rule book, Uncharted Empires or whatever the Twilight Kin/Northern Alliance/Ophidian supplement gets called), assurances have been given that they play reasonably well together. The Kingdoms of Men list in the basic rulebook served as the general template around which the historical lists were based.

Personally, I’m still exploring Uncharted Empires. I now have ways to play my rats that have never been viable before, and the Night-stalkers are calling to me. There are games to get in (I’m going to miss a large, nearby tournament next weekend) and so many figures to paint. Until next time…

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  • Cedric Ballbusch

    I find that I prefer the Mantic background to its WHFB inspiration. Part of what made Warhammer (and 40K) work as a setting was how vague they left many details. Years of supplements and novels did away with a mystery necessary for a dark fantasy milieu to work. To see something so new and so open sparks a lot of creativity.

    Tangentially, GW’s first great sin, for me, was splitting the Undead into two armies. Both were left the worse for it. That the Tomb Kings were subsequently left to languish only underlined how bad the idea was in the first place. Though as a general matter the undead are mishandled by most fantasy settings. Being given rather banal motives that don’t fit basically immortal beings with limited physical manifestation.

    Something without needs and possibly without instinct is going to be driven by a very different set of exigencies than a living being. It would be very interesting to explore what a lich or a mummy king might actually want, particularly from a political-military standpoint. But, this tends to be reduced to ‘conquer the world’, which makes no sense since the living dead would have no use for any of the fruits of conquest.

    • Thuloid

      Oh, I’m a big fan of Mantic’s hand-wavey “There are all these human kingdoms of various sizes, and some different Elf kindreds hanging out in this broad area” approach. Pretty much anything you want to plug in fits.

      I agree on old-style Undead. Mantic’s baseline Undead are that broad–the Ahmunites (Empire of Dust) are more specific, but they’re really only given an origin story. What they’re about NOW is left unsaid. And the Ophidians, once they’re developed, will be interesting–necromancers who aren’t evil. Apparently it’s partly a way of keeping the ancestors in the loop…

      The Night-stalkers are fascinating. Their only real goal is to re-root themselves in Mantica again, to re-capture physical form, and to do this they need to terrorize and possess. Political goals (such as they are) are as varied as the kinds of beings attempting to manifest. Some were elves or dwarves long ago, some human, some never were mortal at all. And what would they want if they really took shape in force?

      I find myself thinking often about how I’d paint Night-stalkers. Have to get some suitably horrifying test models and see what pops out.