Battlefleet Gothic : Leviathan – Brace for Impact !
So, not too long ago, I found myself on a train. Direction? Lyon, the city of games as it’s known to the community in France. I had received a very generous invitation that was also quite out of the ordinary for me. My gracious hosts, the studio Grand Cauldron, make video games and, as you may know, I’m not really a video game journalist and Tric Trac doesn’t really lean towards that medium either. So why invite me? Well, because this was quite a special project, one based on a very particular game that I hold very dear to my heart. It’s an old school wargame, one that will no doubt incite a few memories in more than one player’s mind.
Board games converted into video games are nothing new; we’ve been living with them for a while now. Many of us enjoy a game of Ticket to Ride, Star Realms, Chainsaw Warrior, Xenoshyft and many more on the bus, in bed, on the toilet, and wherever else we damn well please. As pleasant as it is to have this possibility with modern games, it becomes even better when it concerns older ones, those whose presence has long since faded from store shelves. The game in question is part of the latter, an adaptation of a miniature wargame even, something that is quite rare indeed. And not just any miniature wargame either, but one based in one of the most evocative universes around today: Warhammer 40,000 - Battlefleet Gothic.
Battlefleet Gothic is a miniatures game released in 1999 by Games Workshop. It allows you to live out the space opera-esque battles of the Warhammer 40k universe on your tabletop with some great models and a rules set that was slightly complex but allowed some very thematic inclusions such as the inertia of vessels, devastating broadsides and torpedo salvos! The game was part of GW’s Specialist Games collection until 2013 when is suffered the same fate as the other games in the range and was discontinued.
Despite the disappearance of their physical manifestations, Games Workshop hasn’t hesitated in spreading these IPs around different digital platforms and it was only logic that, eventually, Battlefleet Gothic would return to the fray!
Many of you will have already seen Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, a “big budget”, real time strategy game (RTS) from Focus Entertainment. As good as that game may be it is not the subject of this article. We’re going to be looking at a slightly more humble project from our friends at Grand Cauldron. Their game is also set in the world of Battlefleet gothic although whereas Focus’ project is more of a “spin-off”, GC’s is a pure and undiluted adaptation of the original that aims to bring the tabletop experience to tablets and mobiles.
I arrived at the studio with certain…expectations, being quite the fan of the miniatures game and, frankly, I wasn’t disappointed. First of all it was clear that the chaps that make up the Grand Cauldron team are big fans of the source material, so of course we got along like a heretic’s house on fire but, more pertinently, they possess the passion and the drive to go all the way with this project and it shows. They’ve put a lot of effort into accurately modeling the ships and getting the ambiance just right, especially the orchestral soundtrack, created specifically for the game. Even the static illustrations are fantastic and I’m pretty sure their artist has received some sort of occult training as he was definitely channeling the famous John Blanche(One of the artists who made the Warhammer universe what it is today) when he was creating these pieces! What you end up with is an authentic “Grim, dark future” feeling and not just a digital scaffold with some skulls and sinister music stapled on.
So, the stage is set, but what is the main act like? Well, what more can I say then: “exactly like the original”? The entire rules system has been faithfully converted to a digital format that is quick and intuitive. Knowing that I can play this classic game again with such ease is great but there is also another aspect to consider. You see, BFG was a great game but…let’s just say it was slightly lacking in…finesse. Some of the rules were a bit tricky to execute properly such as firing arcs, straight movement, etc. This isn’t exactly the games fault; it comes down to the human element (try moving a small model in a perfectly straight line for example). Under the cold, calculating direction of a computer however all these tricky manipulations become easy, precise and instantaneous. This leaves you with more time to appreciate what’s at the heart of the game; big, feck-off space battles.
I won’t go over all the rules but for those of you unfamiliar with the tabletop game here’s the gist of it: It’s a turn by turn game where each side controls a host of warships, some totaling multiple kilometers in length. The inertia of these titans is represented by enforced moves and ponderous turns, all depending on the class of ship of course. Movement is therefore strategically important and engaging. Each ship possesses multiple weapon systems that can fire from the front or side arcs of the ship and their strength can vary depending on the range to your target and it’s orientation. What’s more, ships can be combined into squadrons which mean that they activate and fire together which, in turn, can result in some devastating barrages. You can also issue special orders to your ships, allowing them to activate special abilities or execute difficult maneuvers. All this takes place in a scenario that can offer you a multitude of different objectives: Zone control, point defense, breakthrough, escape…there’s enough to keep you occupied for many a gaming session.
That’s a very quick explanation of the system but hopefully it’ll allow you to grasp the level of complexity that accompanies a wargame like this. As mentioned however, with the aid of the computer all this becomes very easy to manage.
The game will include a campaign mode based around the events of “Shield of Baal” where a flotilla of imperial and Space Marine ships will attempt to stave off a Tyranid invasion that threatens the Blood Angel’s home world, Baal. The campaign will offer up over 40 solo missions however there will also be a multiplayer mode so that you can fight it out with your friends! There will be 3 factions available on release and Grand Cauldron have plans to release many more in the future.
In short, what we have here is a great game that gets to see the light of day once more. Its new digital format is easy to grasp and represents an authentic “Warhammer 40k” experience despite its humble status as a Smartphone/Tablet app. We can trust this team to deliver a game that will do its predecessor proud and after having played the game I can answer the question that is on the lips of every fan of Battlefleet Gothic: Yes, it’s every bit as good as you hope it’ll be.