BoK Reviews: Shield of Baal – Leviathan
It has been eight months since Games Workshop unleashed the second in a series of narrative campaigns for Warhammer 40k 7th edition. Building on the success of the Sanctus Reach campaign the Shield of Baal campaign took it to another level. The first supplement in the Shield of Baal campaign is titled Leviathan after the classic Tyranid Hive Fleet of the same name. At the time, rumors were flying on exactly how this campaign would take shape, but luckily Sanctus Reach and other releases gave us ample hints. Leviathan campaign is divided into two books, one for the story and the other special rules. This review will go over both components.
The overarching goal GW tried to accomplish with these books is forming a Narrative campaign where players reenact the battles presented, telling their own story in the process. Does it succeed in this endeavor? You will just have to read the review to find out!
Book One: The Opening of the Shield of Baal Series
The Vitria Strike: Is the intro story to the Shield of Baal. It follows Uther Abraxes of the Militarum Tempestus as they are called in to eradicate a specific infestation on the planet Vitria. This short story is a great opening, taking place off world from the main action of the rest of the campaign. It does the job foreshadowing what is to come providing ominousness and detailed account of the universe you are about to play in. If you followed the Tyranid Dataslates from earlier in 2014 you would notice a host of references.
The Shield Worlds of Cryptus/Red Scar/The Eyes of Cryptus/The Cryptus System: These sections give you an overview of the Cryptus system where the campaign is taking place and its importance to the Imperium.
The Story Really Begins:
At this point the narrative switches from historical background to 1st person battle reports. This is by far the best part of both books, as Imperial hubris grows with each chapter, so does their inevitable destruction, all along the way you get exhaustive descriptions of each planet and the corresponding hopeless battle. The planet descriptions are really impressive and very sci-fi. You get ocean planets like Lysios with continent wide tidal waves, defended by the Sisters of Battle. To classic radiated choked hive worlds ruled by a planetary governor with his own personal underground pleasure city. You get detailed maps and some original art; too much rehashed art though, used with abandon.
It goes without saying the Tyranids are a menace beyond comprehension and in this particular narrative they don’t have much of voice, what we do get is a focus on two characters: Cadian General Dhrost and Canoness Magda Grace who both lead their respective planetary forces. Canoness is more compelling than Dhrost as she is constantly haunted by visions of her own demise and leads the nomadic people of Lysios across an increasingly epic story. As for Dhrost he is a classic one dimensional Imperial leader, the kind you find in almost every 40k fluff where the Imperial Guard become ancillary, he does his duty, but in the end some Space Marine is going to end up saving him or his mission.
You then get a few minor story lines, as conflicts take place on a few other planets. We get aerial battles above the gas giant Aeros to Vostroyans mechanized groups defending the toxic planet of Ixoi. These separate story lines really bring diversity to story taking place in the Cryptus system, and of course provide ample mission background.
The narrative is very engaging, but is broken up by GW trying get us invested in modeling units after the forces engaged in the campaign. This is presented as character drawings, army shots accompanied by short descriptions. You see what GW is trying to do; tie your toys to the story being told. The problem is you don’t care enough about the minor characters created, nor do you want to invest any time representing them with your models. Especially, when their is no special rules to accompany them, and they end up dead one page later. It is a waste of the lacking original art assets and army shots.
Speaking of army shots, GW does a good job with their cinematography, lots of model images of Imperial Guard vs. Tyranids really add to the story. By the end the story goes as you expect, with the Imperial forces finally being overrun and all hope seemingly destroyed. It is the utter lack of hope, makes you wonder how will you get an imperial player to play out this campaign if the Tyranids are suppose to win? Well I guess this where you’re suppose to Forge that Narrative. If you can separate your Imperial allegiance from the reading you will find the whole narrative fascinating and thrilling, with exception of some unwanted detours mentioned above.
What does GW have to say?
Released Nov. 29th 2014
A two-book soft cover set containing:
Book one is a 152 pages
– A wealth of background describing how the Cryptus System became embroiled in conflict.
– Descriptions of famous regiments that took part in the conflict including their background.
– Brand new artwork showing the planets, space stations and environments found within the Cryptus System
Book two is a 64 pages
– 6 Narrative Echoes of War missions.
– Cities of Death rules.
– 6 Cities of Death missions and 36 tactical objectives.
– Death From The Skies Rules.
– Tyranids detachment rules and Warlord Traits to represent the composition of the forces of Hive Fleet Leviathan.
– Datasheets for the Tyranids not found in the codex.
– 6 new Tyranids formations.
Book Two: The Rules
The Rules are divided into four parts and the review will cover them as presented.
Part 1: Echoes of War Missions
These missions are design to recreate the major theaters of war represented in book one. One side is the Tyranids against either the Imperial Guard or Sisters of Battle.
Mission One: The Vitria Strike
This missions recreates the opening story, where the Militarum Tempestus are trying to discover where the Tyranids plan on striking next. The Tyranid player is encouraged to use Genestealers and Lictors as the main bulk of their forces. This is a pretty straight forward mission with the twist of using the Cities of Death Objectives and very fragile buildings. While the Tyranids get a bonus for using certain models there really is nothing here for Imperial player to get excited about.
Mission Two: The Great Corral
This mission is the first mission set on Lysios– the mostly water world. We have Tyranids vs. Sisters of Battle. This is a creative mission giving both players different tactical options. The Tyranids must arrive in waves, so knowing how to break up your force is important. The Sisters player gets some extra fire power, but at the cost of running out ammo for the rest of the game at some point in the mission. The Great Corral is a Kill Point mission, but one easily modified for future play with different armies.
Mission Three: The Shield Test
This mission takes place in the biggest theater war, the hive planet Asphodex, with Tyranids vs. Imperial Guard. This missions once again uses the Cities of Death Objectives, but the mission design is much better than mission one. You get random deployment for the Imperial player, while the Tyranids do the same, but they enter from the table edges. The Imperial side gets the bonus of being able to shoot down flyers easier. I am typically not a fan of random things, but in this mission it works, making for good fun adjusting to the unexpected circumstances.
Mission Four: The Skywar of Aeros
This is one fun mission! Taking place on the Gas Giant Aeros this mission is specifically designed to be played with as many Flyers or Jump units as possible. Objective markers are place on the solid pieces of ground, while gas fogs the areas in between. You use the Flying Ace rules and each side gets different advantages by taking them. The only drawback is the mission requires lots of buildings with half of them being Skyshield Landing pads.
Mission Five: The Beasts of Tartoros
Just like the Tartoros storyline this mission is the weakest of the bunch. Using a random effect (Deadly Radiation) with certain conditions could have been entertaining, but in this instance it does more to constrain the Imperial Guard player than the Tyranid side. Making things worse is we have another Kill Point mission where the Deadly Radiation can change the game with a few bad rolls. If the Deadly Radiation had been used in conjunction with an objective based mission it might create better results.
Mission Six: Wrath of Shelse
The last mission takes us back to the water world of Lysios and is the hands down the best mission in the book. Not only do the Sisters of Battle players have to attempt to save the “Native Population” from the Tyranids, but both sides have to deal with the impending global tidal wave (Wrath of Shelse) about to destroy everything. The “Native Population” mechanic is good, but the Wrath of Shelse is genius. The Tyranid board edge is destroyed D6+6 inches every turn and anything caught behind the line is just gone replaced by impassable terrain. Not only does it force the Tyranid player forward, but puts barriers on how the Sister player deals with herding the “Native Population” to there side. This mission can easily be used by any two forces, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a awesome game!
Part 2: Cities of Death Rules
The Cities of Death rules are used with specialized tactical objectives in conjunction with six specifically design Cities of Death missions. The Cities of Death Objective table is a modified version of the basic tactical missions table. The focus is on controlling, taking, and destroying units inside buildings or ruins. On their own this doesn’t do much for the making a unique game experience, but when you play with the Cities of Death missions everything comes together.
For instance, all the missions require you to play in urban environments where you should be using at least six buildings/ruins, you are even encouraged to fill the entire board with terrain. Each mission changes up one element of the experience to make thinks unique. Overall, their isn’t much complexity to these rules and once you play through the missions, you end up with an experience not much different than any other. If these missions had a few more twists Cities of Death would be more dynamic, but as it is GW leaves it to the players to make things more complex if they want.
Part 3: Death from the Skies
Death from the Skies is a rehash from previous Campaign: Crusade of Fire and the Death from the Skies Compendium. Luckily, the third time is the charm? In this version, the rules are much clearer and each faction gets something, but still isn’t anything write home about, because you still pay 35 points for a random bonus. As well this is a missed opportunity to update the dog fighting rules, and create specific missions to utilize them.
Part 4: Forces of the Leviathan
Here we get the rules for running the Leviathan Hive Fleet. You will find all the rules for the newest units not found in the current Tyranid codex. You get a special Detachment and some new Formations, along with some old ones? The biggest problem with this section is the lack of new. People already had the rules for the newest beasties and the same goes for some of the Formations. The new ends up being a Detachment, a few Formations, and Warlord Traits. Missing is unique wargear or anything to really make the Leviathan Tyranids truly special. Something like a new Swarmlord type of character would have been awesome addition.
Shield of Baal: Leviathan is only as good as the narrative being forged and on that score it succeeds, but where it fails is in the second book of rules. If GW hadn’t already released these rules before you would have an amazing product, instead you can make a claim that three out of the four sections in the rule book you can find elsewhere. I guess having it updated all in one place is a good thing, but how about just providing new material and not filler. Shield of Baal: Leviathan also missed a chance to provide new Formations for the Imperial Guard and Sisters of Battle. You can see why GW focused on the Tyranids, showcasing the newer models, but why not throw the other armies a bone and spread those sales around. Shield of Baal: Leviathan is somewhat helped by being months from its release because the value lies completely in the narrative and that is the best part, but just not $66 worth.
Slightly Above Average
Shield of Baal: Leviathan is an excellent opening narrative to the Shield of Baal story, but falls short of greatness, lacking enough unique content, along with a few missed opportunities.
- Forging the Narrative 80% 80%
- Tentacle Porn Inspiration 50% 50%
- Reused Art Assets 35% 35%