It all started back in 1990. A series of articles appeared in White Dwarf about gang warfare in the Warhammer 40,000 universe the system (Confrontation) was a radical departure from anything GW had previously offered. The articles featured the Hive World of Necromunda, its cities towering lawless labyrinthine monstrosities that dominated the polluted wastes around them infested by rival gangs locked in violent turf wars. It rapidly captured my imagination.
Unfortunately, Confrontation withered and died before ever being completed. Of what was published there were hints of a basic set of rules, but no indication of how to set up a game or what half of the gangs actually did. A few enterprising souls tried to make something of it (my friends and I included), but it quickly became nothing more than a curio.Skip forward to 1995 and Necromunda was launched with much fanfare. The enticing background of Confrontation was retained junking that half-finished rule set in favour of adopting the 2nd edition Warhammer 40,000 rules to create something more familiar to players with an added level of detail. We were given more background on the hives and a reason for the gang’s conflicts – boiled down to infighting between six great Houses for control of the industrial infrastructure. This allowed each House to develop its own character – the Goliaths now roid head punks; Escher lean mean Amazonian warrior woman and Cawdor religious fanatics. The game is fondly remembered for its cardboard 3d terrain creating an industrial close quarters battleground of bulkheads, towers and gangways. Moreover, it came with a campaign allowing gang members to gain experience, get injured, recruit new members and hire mercenaries – as well as a push-pull for control over vital territory with one another.
By the 2000s the dark age of GW (at least according to certain people) began. With a brutal efficiency that the Imperium would be proud of virtually overnight the skirmish and specialist games on the margins were extinguished in favour of the behemoth that was the core games of Warhammer and 40k. And so it would be for a decade that would see the company pushed to the brink of bankruptcy before its phoenix like rebirth of the last few years.
With the changing of the guard at the top of GW, there has been a return to its heyday with a new version of Blood Bowl last year, it was only a matter of time before we saw Necromunda rise from the rubble.
Out with the Old
And rise it has. The game comes with two gangs – the aforementioned Goliaths and Eschers. And of course, these are GW sculpts so I will forego the usual praise for the quality of their miniatures you’ve heard this all before. Yes – they are great. Moving on …I am afraid to say that the rest of the box’s contents left me ultimately deflated. Instead of the terrain of old, we have a series of boards to represent the tunnels of Underhive. The design is good. But it demonstrates none of the visual excitement garnered by seeing your part of the spire come together. A few plastic barricades providing cover does little to give me a dynamic battlefield to get excited over.
This unfortunately also passes over to the dice – this is a GW game, so expect many six-sided dice. But wait – some of these dice have odd symbols on them. You now have special dice to determine how many shots you get from rapid-fire weapons or what damage you do to an opponent when you hit them. And my initial reaction was, are these genuinely necessary? The previous Necromunda was perfectly served by a table for injury – roll a six-sided dice to see what happens. You have just replaced the table with a dice. For what purpose? I am still yet to find a reasonable answer to that question.
My trepidation over the components aside, we can dive into the rules which are a combination of 1st, 2nd and 8th edition of 40k. Yes – we hark back to old days of Rogue Trader at those long forgotten statistics of Cool, Willpower and Intelligence make a comeback, since being discarded as utterly superfluous over 20 years ago. But more on them later …
Fighting The Good Fight
The game has done away with the usual ‘you go, I go’ system of all other GW games. Instead, individual gang members activate alternatively, the first player determined by a roll off at the start of the turn. This immediately creates a new tactical challenge – what actions are most important to you this turn?
Each model gets two actions per activation. Moving up to your movement value is a single action. Shooting at a target is another. Other actions involve reloading a weapon; aiming at a target or interacting with a piece of terrain. Some actions can be repeated, whilst others such as shooting, are only once per activation. Characters can be pinned by being shot at, which means that that have to spend an action recovering limiting their options for the remainder of the turn – which creates an extra level of consideration when deciding upon your actions for the turn.
Combat is a combination of 2nd and 8th edition Warhammer 40k – both shooting and assaults have a Ballistic Skill or Weapon Skill target number. Unlike the current edition, cover makes characters more difficult to hit rather than adding to armour saves. Hit a model and you get a ‘To Wound’ roll whereby you compare Strength of the attack to the Toughness of the defender which generates a target number again. Succeed here and the opponent gets an armour save which may be modified or negated entirely by the weapon’s profile. The big difference comes with what happens if a hit gets through.
Here the previously mentioned injury dice come into play. If a character loses their last wound, they need to roll the dice. The symbols correspond to what happens to the model. One result sees them ‘Out of Action’ – the unfortunate model is removed from the table and may be dead or have a permanent injury inflicted upon them. A ‘Flesh Wound’ result means they stay on the table but at a reduced Toughness (and pinned if shot at). The other result sees them ‘Seriously Injured’ – the model can do little but crawl around on the floor. If they are in close combat, the character that put them there can deliver a Coup De Grace – treating them as Out of Action instead.
The introduction of the old 1st edition characteristics helps to define the game as also being a more detailed version of 40k – gang members seeing their comrades drop close to them may run the risk of panicking, unless they can pass their Cool check. There are crates that need opening by the use of Intelligence rolls.
In addition, many of the rules of the original game are still in there. Weapons can jam and run out of ammo, stray shots may clip other fighters stumbling in the way. Gang members may even refuse to fire at the target you want, more concerned with rival bearing down upon them than the person providing fire support at the back.
More Buck Less Bang!
Having played through the initial ‘tutorial’ scenario, I found that one of the gangs, the Goliaths, was clearly superior. In close quarters their increased toughness versus the softer Escher and their weaker weapons, resulted in them steamrolling through them. A new player, after meticulously assembling their miniatures then discovering not the tight skirmish battle they expected but rather a game of violent kiss chase may find that initial enthusiasm dampened.
By translating the game into a tunnel fighting skirmish, you have to argue theres a design flaw when one of the introductory gangs is so overpowered than the others. Now I understand that some may argue that there are rules for 3-dimensional play available – more akin to the original 1995 rule set and I would agree, with one big caveat …
In order to address this, you need to purchase the first Gang War book. Having invested £75 on the base game, GW wants you to spend another £17.50 to add the rules for not just playing it like a regular skirmish game, but also for the campaign system. Want to hire bounty hunters? Well, that’s Gang War 2 Ka-ching! Van Saar gang? – sorry, you’ll need Gang War 3 Ka-ching! In fact, to have the game resemble the original boxed set (6 gangs plus Hired Guns), you will have to wait until the end of 2018 and own all five books.
This feels an awful lot like the mean old GW we thought we’d left behind with its relentless price gouging that alienated so many of its fan base 5 or 6 years ago.
GW has offered up some extras – the Genestealer Cult gang rules that appeared in a recent White Dwarf for example. Collectors who still own those original gang boxes have been shown some love, a pdf patch has been published to let them be played until their respective books come out (although this pdf still makes several miniatures illegal for starting gangs). And the old Outlaw gangs have been left without any support at all.
A Glimmer of Hope
I was really enthused about Necromunda’s resurrection. Not Blood Bowl levels of excitement, but still sufficient to dig through my cupboards and pull out my old boxes (complete with 1990s paint jobs – don’t judge me!). And when I sat down to play, I just felt let down. An update of the rules just did not match my initial rush of anticipation. I put away my dice and models and stepped away without feeling anything. And yet …
A few days later there is this little voice in the back of head telling me that I actually do want to go back to Necromunda. Although it is a disappointment, it’s still a part of my gaming history – probably a formative part. And because I want to see where this journey back into the spire takes me. It may just be hopeless nostalgia, but I already know that my House Orlock gang are grabbing their shotguns, donning their leather jackets and venturing out for one last chance of glory.