Review: First Strike: A Warhammer 40,000 Starter Set
The faint hum of an Allman Brothers Band song is heard in the background, but because this is New Top Bryss we skip the 'tonight' bit and go right to...
Hello and welcome... to Top Bryss. Yes, we're back. Rumours of my suspension for assaulting someone outside of the Fight Phase were mistaken. But we're back now, and just in time, too. The luxury miniature machine that is GMW has done the unthinkable. They have released significant game content... for free. And now, we have an entry-level starter set. But is it any good?
Let's start with the basics. First Strike costs 2500 pence. This is still a reasonably large investment, even if it is not the 5000 pence expected for the mid-level set and 9500 pence for the top-of-the-line set. In exchange for your 2500 pence, you get 15 push-fit miniatures, which in their individual kits would cost 4000 pence combined (none of them are set-exclusive). Even at the previous going rate of 600 pence per kit, this is still basically value when you consider that the extra pound goes towards a printed copy of the game's basic rules, a small number of dice and other assorted materials.
The first thing you notice about the box is that, like a well-built flyweight boxer, it's a bit heavier than you expect it to be from the size. Once you pop open one of the silly tab things to let you actually open the box, that impression continues.
The inside is bursting with sprues and cardboard, that is to say nothing about the throwback that is the cardboard scenery piece that the box insert doubles as. Let's unpack this a bit, shall we?
Each of the four sprues builds a single unit; two units of Primaris Space Marines, the latest advance in grimdark lore, and two units of Death Guard, Nurgle's pox-ridden champions. We also have 6D6 that are small enough for a child to throw at once, a copy of the core rules, a 'get started' manual containing some tutorial missions and a basic primer on the setting and, most intriguing of all, a fairly thick 2' by 2' double-sided paper game mat and the aforementioned cardboard scenery.
You also get this 6" range ruler. This is by far the weakest component of the box, as you need to measure pretty much everything in instalments, but is understandable given the old 18" sticks simply would not fit in this one. My one also came a bit scratched, but I can't tell you if this is a general production error or not. Best guess is that it had a fight with a sprue in transit and due to the box's density it left a mark.
Each of the four units comes with a reference card outlining all its vital statistics. On the other side of this is a handy picture should you fancy taking silly-looking 'artistic' photographs for your Facestagram account. This is a Primaris Space Marine Intercessor Squad, armed with rapid-fire bolt rifles. I have to give props to the material here. This blue plastic creates some of the smoothest Citadel miniatures I have ever handled, and the increased size of the Primaris Marine makes it immensely tactile and satisfying to move around.
Not be left out, the Death Guard fattened up a bit too. Here is a Plague Marine situated next to one of my old Chaos Space Marines. I blame Nurgle for this. I have in the past expressed a dislike of the Plaguefather's disease-ridden aesthetic but in a post-Dark Souls world I have come to appreciate these traitors more. The other Death Guard unit comprises six Poxwalkers, essentially plague zombies, which toe an interesting line between human and monster with their improvised weaponry and standard work trousers.
Here they are engaging some Intercessors in the game's first mission, a mostly luck-based affair that introduces you to the Movement and Shooting phases by having one player trying to escape with the Poxwalkers whilst the Intercessors hunt them down. It's not very exciting, especially for the Poxwalker player, but it does a job.
The second mission introduces combat by having a single Primaris Reiver, a new close combat unit who basically work like more terrifying Space Marine Scouts, fight six Poxwalkers at once. This is actually more even-handed than it seems and really gets you into the tension that the Fight phase can involve.
The third mission gets the Plague Marines and their deadly plasma gun and blight launcher involved, as well as using the scenery piece to introduce line of sight to the Shooting phase. Faced with weapons that actually threaten power armour, you really begin to understand the tactical element of the game. The fourth mission is a straight-up scrap between all the models in the box, allowing you to put all you have learned to work.
Alas, this is also where the usual 40k starter box issues truly rears up. With all the cards on the table, the Space Marines have a power advantage over the Death Guard. Indeed, the reference cards reinforce this by assigning power ratings to each unit, with the Death Guard adding up to 6 and the Space Marines 8. The Traitors' main advantage is their more powerful guns, but with only one wound each as opposed to the Primaris Marines' two each, if they go down it's all over without some good luck from the Poxwalkers.
Once you are done playing missions, everything still fits back into the insert tray, making this a true boxed game. I'm genuinely impressed by this. Unlike other 40k starter boxes, you could actually take this to a friend's house to teach them the game without taking up both your human hands in the process.
I really enjoyed my time with First Strike. Despite its small size, it did an excellent job of acclimatising me and my partner to the state of 8th Edition 40k. And, with a printed copy of the rules, this can easily be applied to one of your other forces once you've gotten one of the five Index books. Unfortunately, this is where another minor flaw comes up. You can't simply get this and an Index and be good to go, as neither actually includes how to build an army for matched play (read: with points and a force org. chart). This is something you need the big rulebook for (or a non-official internet source). However, that doesn't affect the First Strike set as a standalone. Aside from this, I have no hesitation in recommending this as an entry point into the 40k world.
My actual thoughts on 8th Edition as a returning player will be included in a future post. See you next time!