Friday, 14 September 2012

Review: Pefect Storm NuCoal Field Guide

Yeah it totally deserves its Approved by Cats badge.

You possibly won't hear me saying this phrase very often, but in terms of individual army books I think 'Games Workshop do it right'. Sure I like having a main rulebook with faction rules in it as well, and I also like the idea that as a game grows every faction grows too, a la HoMachine, Infinity or MoFaux... but I do like those individual army books. They give game designers and authors the chance to really go to town and develop their universe and enrich our gaming experience. They also help us as gamers to compartmentalize our game systems and actually can greatly reduce the amount of stuff we need to transport with us when gaming, not to mention the weight. When I first started getting into Heavy Gear Blitz I don't mind telling you I found the shear array of books and options a little bit bewildering. Indeed part of the reason I chose the NuCoal faction was that it had this book, its own army book if you will. The other reason was the Hussar, which I'll be reviewing shortly.

Product description

This is a 136 page, full-colour, softback rulebook. It is a faction guide / rulebook for the NuCoal faction, and as such it contains absolutely everything you could possibly want to know about the NuCoal faction in Heavy Gear Blitz... and I do mean EVERYTHING! It also contains the force lists for fielding a PAK force too... which is tempting! From the history behind the faction, to unit breakdowns, where the gears were developed from, and of course, the rules. The internal pages are matte finish and the cover is a soft glossy cover. The book is glue bound, and that's about it for a product description.

Content 9 out of 10

This is the first time I've used "Content" as a category to score something in my reviews. Normally when I'm reviewing rulebooks they are core rulebooks, and as such I will give a score on the gameplay of the game itself, but that's not what this book is about. If you wish to know more about how Heavy Gear Blitz plays and what I think of it I gave it 8.5 out of 10 for gameplay, but if you want to know more detail of what I think about the game as a whole then you can read my full review here. As to this book it is jammed to bursting with stuff that gets wargames nerds like me all excited. The book is split between 5 Chapters and also contains a decent painting guide as well as those obligatory datacards. I actually know most of this book inside out after reading it so many times.  Now I know I have a pretty darn good memory but I was surprised to figure out that I not only knew the page numbers these chapters started on by memory, but that could even remember the page numbers that my favourite stories or pictures were on. Now this is either an indication of just how fabulous some of the content in this book is... or just how much of a sad nerd I really am... I'll let you decide which, one it is.

Chapter 1 is entitled the New Coalition, hence the Nu Metal inspired name of the faction, NuCoal. At 35 pages it is the second largest Chapter in the book. It contains the full history behind the NuCoal faction, who they are, where they've come from and their motives. It discusses the geo-politics of the region covered by the NuCoal including major settlement like Port Arthur, Prince Gable so forth and so on. It also explains the military organisation of the NuCoal forces including force insignias and uniforms, it's all incredibly detailed, and clearly lovingly crafted by it's creators. For me it was a pretty darn strong start to the book, because it set the tone so well as a chapter. I'm sure many of you are sitting there at home thinking "fluff bunny"... you know what, if enjoying the back story to games and understanding the history of my faction makes me a fluff bunny, then yeah I'm guilty as charged! Especially when it is all this well constructed and can be shown to have an impact on force lists. Besides I'll still kick your ass!

Typical page layout for the city-state pages.

For instance all those city-states that were described in loving detail in Chapter 1 make an appearance again right at the start of Chapter 3, in the building your army section. They re-emerge as themed army lists, which add a city-state specific flavour to the NuCoal forces. I haven't played with them all, but they have convinced me to look at buying small Northern and Southern forces to run certain lists... because it's all part of Dream Pod 9's evil plan to bankrupt me! I couldn't tell you precisely if any one list or city-state is more bent or broken than the others with any degree of certainty, I really couldn't, mainly as I still consider myself a n00b at Heavy Gear Blitz. However, what I will say is that I personally think they feel about right, and I think they just exist to offer the gamer some variety to keep your faction fresh for you. The layout of the third chapter also made my life a lot easier, yeah sure Gear Garage is cool and useful when building lists, but sometimes you want to use a pen and paper and see what things look like in the book. The way the combat groups were laid out and displayed made it very easy for a n00b like me to engage with the rules and list building. So Kudos for that.

Those sexy mech schematics I was telling you about.

Chapter 2 though has to have been my favourite chapter by far. I make absolutely no apology for being a shameless and hopeless geek. From a very early age I've grown up with Japanese mecha anime. I'm a fan of Macross (all of them!!!), I love the Patalabor films and Appleseed. Hell I even spent a considerable amount of my time seeking out Votoms... trust me, at the time in the UK that wasn't an easy task. Why did I do it then? Because I love giant big robots and mecha. They're the sci-fi equivalent of dragons, and dragons are cool too! But the reason mecha are cool is because they come with engineering schematics and designs... of course they'd never work in real life, but that doesn't stop a geek like me pouring over them. Chapter 2 totally indulges this nerdy pursuit. It is 31 pages of wireframe schematics, development history and mecha pr0n. You know what though? When I've handed my book to my fellow geeks, the section they all instantly pause on and take their time with is Chapter 2. We're suckers for this sort of information, and its a good thing Dream Pod 9 gave it to us and indulged our unnatural urges.

It's not just mechs, they have them for tanks as well.

As to the rest of the book? The painting guide section is useful to a point. It's not too long or over blown, and if you want to know how they achieve the studio paint jobs it's a nice inclusion. But, you wouldn't buy the book for it in my humble opinion. The real meat in this book is contained within Chapters 1, 2 and 3, plus the golden thread that links these chapters together and turns fluff so neatly into rules. I think that's the litmus test for me for an faction army book, do the stories, background and history have any relevance to how the faction plays on the table.  If the answer is yes then you can say it has done its job, and in the case of Perfect Storm it has happily done its job. Perfect Storm: NuCoal Field Guide is the first of a series of Field Guides that will be designed to be faction specific. Some have grumbled about this move from Dream Pod 9, and have said it's just a way of selling more books. Maybe there is some commercial truth to that, but if there is it is because if they follow the example set by Perfect Storm they'll all be worth owning. For me though, reading through Perfect Storm, it struck me that the Heavy Gear Universe has been around a long time, and if Dream Pod 9 are going to do each faction justice they are at the stage where they can fill a Field Guide to bursting now for every faction. I for one welcome the switch.

Detail 9.5 out of 10

We all like a good rulebook don't we? I don't just mean in terms of the rules themselves, but in how well presented it is. How much artwork is crammed onto the pages, hell even the page layout itself is important. These rulebooks and faction books are designed to give us a glimpse at the worlds we play our games in. For that reason they're highly important to the vast majority of us. They give us context and immerse us into the game universe, they give us reasons beyond our own personal pride to win those game we play. Sure, for some of us such things aren't as important, but overall this context does enrich the games we play. That is exactly what Perfect Storm NuCaol Field Guide does for Heavy Gear Blitz. It is a really fantastically detailed product in all senses of the word, and it has helped me get a better perspective on both my faction of choice and the world of Terra Nova.

How has it done this? Firstly it has done this by describing the history behind the NuCoal faction and going into great detail on this. It has also helped give me an appreciation for the geography of Terra Nova, and the settlements and how they are run, and what they are like. For many this background detail is vitally important to their enjoyment of a game. For me I view it as a necessity for me enjoying a game fully, and for immersing me in the game, but not vitally important to the mechanics of a game. For me the most important thing is for the game to play well, which Heavy Gear Blitz does, so when a background is as well realised and executed as the Heavy Gear Blitz universe clearly is, it's all gravy! That this cleverly constructed background also feeds through into rules such as city-state rules for themed army lists is brilliant, it's not just lip service either, as the two things represent each other seamlessly and make perfect sense, which is a testament to the skills of the team who are looking after Heavy Gear Blitz as a game.

The whole book has clearly had a lot of thought put into it, and a mind boggling level of detail. The writing staff, and in particular Jason Dickerson, should feel rightly proud of everything they have produced in this book. From the stories, the history and the technical specifications of the Gears, and the development history of Gears right through to how they've managed to tie it altogether without any jarring passages, or gaping holes. The Heavy Gear universe has been around a long time, and adding to such a detailed 'cannon' can't always be easy, I know I'm not the most well versed Heavy Gear aficionado, but I think they have pulled it off with some aplomb. I happen to really like individual faction army books. They are amongst some of my favourite rulebooks in the hobby, and this, in terms of background and level of detail, has to rank as one of the very best I have in my collection, whether that's Privateer Press or Games Workshop, and it makes me excited to see what they can do with the rest of the faction Field Guides.

The artwork team, which was marshaled by Greg Perkins, Dream Pod 9's Art Director, also deserve a huge pat on the back as well. The page layout and graphics set the tone for the NuCoal faction perfectly, being all dark and steely grey with the odd splash of blue. This aspect of the design work really matched and mirrored the words on the page brilliantly. But, it's the artwork that really steals the show in terms of detail. From the front cover, to the pictures right throughout the book the artwork is evocative and descriptive and gives you an idea what Terra Nova is like. In particular I really appreciated the artwork that depicts each city state within the NuCoal faction, as it gave me a good solid mental image while reading the book, and that helped immerse me in the details. The part of the book I really appreciate though as stated above is the Vehicle Compendium, and as a mech-head I particularly like the technical spec images that were done in a wireframe look. All in all the two aspects of the book, the artwork and the writing meshed together brilliantly to give me a sense of what the NuCoal faction was about, and all that encompasses it.

Quality 8 out of 10

I'll be honest, I wasn't overly convinced about the quality of Heavy Gear Blitz's books when I first saw them. I'm still not 100% convinced even now. In my review of the Heavey Gear Blitz Field Manual rulebook I spoke about my concerns with regards to the binding of that book. The spine had started to crack, and now after more time has passed some of the pages feel a little loose. There were also issues with the matte finish to the pages that meant grubby fingers left marks on the pages as you thumbed through them. Look we all know it gets really stressful commanding little toy soldiers, and in the heat of battle we sweat... or I do! I feel every death and as keenly as if it had been my own child dying on the battlefield for me... *sob*... so yeah the rulebook got a tad grubby. So how does Perfect Storm stack up against the Heavy Gear Blitz Field Manual? Well it is actually constructed in a very similar way.

The cover sleeve is a softback glossy affair, much the same as the main rulebook. It is actually quite thin compared to most rulebooks I own, but it has stood up to repeated use far better than other softback rulebooks I own, like the Hell Dorado or Malifaux rulebooks, and I haven't used them as much, so I have to concede that it is at the very least fit for purpose. The binding of the pages is glue, which I personally hate and detest with a passion. But, yet again it has stood up really well to use. The only reason for this difference between the rulebook and Perfect Storm I can honest think of is the relative thickness of the books themselves. Perfect Storm is a whopping 136 pages long, or 68 individual sheets of paper. Meanwhile the rulebook is only 60 pages long or 30 sheets of paper. Perhaps this thicker spine has had an impact, it certainly seems to have had an impact because my Perfect Storm book is in perfect (chortle, chortle) condition.

The pages are yet again matte finish, but unlike the rulebooks pages, which were white, Perfect Storms pages are full colour and normally that means they're either black or very dark grey. There are a few sandy coloured pages at the front of the book too, for a bit of variety. But, what this full colour artwork laden layout means is that those grubby finger prints do not show up anywhere near as much as I thought they would. In fact I can't see them at all. Talking of the coloured print on the pages, it is all top notch stuff. No colour bleeding or blurring, which is massively important to me, especially considering I'm dyslexic. In fact the whole layout is neat, well presented and easy to navigate. The quality of the writing is also pretty damn impressive, as is the shear amount of history, background, development specifications of all the Gears etc. etc. etc.... it is jammed full of really cool information in a very well organised manner and the presentation is top notch throughout. It's a good quality product overall.

Service 9 out of 10

This book came as part of the NuCoal Super bundle. You can read my reviews of the NuCoal Recon Squad and NuCoal GP Squad that came as part of that bundle if you so choose. Suffice to say the service was actually really good for the order as a whole. The delivery managed to make its way all the way from the land of Mounties and Maple Syrup in 5 working days. Given some European distributors struggle to give such a speedy service that's not half bad you know. As always though when ordering anything from outside of the EU you have to be aware that customs might want to charge you import duty, and that will not only mean having to pay extra cash, but will also mean having to wait a little longer than normal, while the dopes work out what to charge you. On the whole though the service I actually had from Dream Pod 9 was excellent, and everything came really well packaged, and given the fact the box had big heavy miniatures in it and the Perfect Storm book wasn't damaged at all I think that's evidence enough of how well packed everything was.

Price 8.5 out of 10

As I've pointed out before in my other reviews of Heavy Gear Blitz products, the Canadian dollar exchange rate has not been kind to Canadian manufacturers over the last few years. The last decade in particular has seen their weak dollar gain in strength against other global currencies, so while it used to be great for exports, it has somewhat hampered things of late. The previously weak Canadian dollar actually made purchasing Dream Pod 9's miniatures quite cheap here in the UK for quite some time. That is sadly not so much the case anymore. I brought the Perfect Storm NuCoal Field Guide as part of the NuCoal super bundle deal, which represents roughly a 20% saving overall, and I think is a pretty good deal at $299.95CAN, or roughly £190. Individually the book would cost $55CAN or £35, but I also got a PDF version of the book as well, which believe me is far more useful than people would think it'd be. Especially when on mobile devices. Any way the book and PDF bundle deal costs $65CAN or £41. Obviously as part of the bundle it is better value and works out to around $52CAN or £32.80 for the book and PDF, which isn't bad. All in all though considering how many times I've read the thing I think it's a very fair range of prices.

Overall 9 out of 10

I know there will be a number of my readers who will look at the score of this book, look at the Approved by Cats badge and curse my name and the day I was born. I'm a bit smitten with Heavy Gear Blitz, sure I was lured in by the idea of playing with big mech and hover tanks, I am after all a male geek. But, there is no doubt that I've stayed for the quality of the game, it's back story, the detail in the universe and the pretty darn cool miniatures. While writing this Blog I have received a fair few 'freebies' from people to review, and although I truly believe 100% it hasn't swayed my opinions on products either way, you might all like to know that during this period I've arguably spent most of my hobby funds on this game, and buying options for my NuCoal force. That alone should be a ringing endorsement for the game as a whole, the fact that this is the book that convinced me to spend that money should then speak volumes about how good a product it is. If you want to start the game and NuCoal is of interest to you then this book is absolutely a must. Indeed if you're just vaguely interested in the game and want to see what it's all about and get a glimpse of where the game is heading, this isn't a bad place to start. I'm really pleased that Dream Pod 9 have decided that every Heavy Gear faction will be getting their own Field Guides, next up is the Southern factions field guide. I for one can't wait to get my grubby mitts on it. Peace out!


  1. Thanks for the great review! Now I'm even more impatient for the Southern Field Guide to come out in the coming months :D

    Only too bad that it'll probably be a while before I'll get to play. The different scale of the miniatures seems to scare people a bit. But I'll get there eventually :)

    1. Thanks for the compliment. Obviously after this Field Guide I genuinely can not wait to get my hands on all of them truth be told. I just think they'll be nice books to own and read. As to convincing people to play, give them demo games. Honestly I've found once the game is on the table and the mini's in had people love it.

  2. We've got a pretty good gaming group going with this game right now. I've seen them play and have been intrigued and your review seems pretty on par for what they've been telling me. I may give it a go with this set.

    1. If you've got a good group already going ask for a demo. It's be a shame not to at least give it a go. It's such a fun game to play, so if there are opponents to play with give it a go!!! :)

  3. Review 10 out of 10

    I wish more reviews were this thorough and informative. Of course it says a lot to the book itself to have inspired you to do it such justice.

    This type of book is what I look for in a game book; plenty of fluff and fiction, plenty of crunch and rules. Not a HG player myself, it still looks pretty awesome. Cheers!

    1. Thanks... and ALL my reviews are this thorough and informative!!! Don't believe me, then check them out, it's what I do. I've had this book for months, but rather than rushing to review it surface level, I've lived with it for months, I've gamed with it and used it. Now I feel like I know it inside and out I feel confident in passing judgement on it as a product and letting you guys know what I think of it. Doing things any other way just wouldn't be right in my book.

  4. Well if the cats like it it's gotta be good, right?

    Not sure if you're right about individual army books (or codexes or whatever [and yes I know codexes isn't a word...and I don't care]), since once a company releases one it has to run it's course and it's hard to add new units and lists or make changes.
    I prefer semi-regular additions to the game, and new stuffs every once in a while. Waiting around for a new book forever is annoying and sorta boring.

    1. It's swings and roundabouts SinSynn. If GW did all their army books at once it'd work right. Hell the way Privateer Press do it right now seems the best approach. Individual army books and then yearly add ons that expand the game for all. Given that's how Heavy Gear used to be run, I'm assuming that'll come into it too. Heavy Gear is a highly dynamic universe where things don't stay static, so I can't see that changing anytime soon. Plus in the case of NuCoal, I'll be looking at Northern and Southern books when they come out, because some of my City States will allow me to take some of their stuff too. Bargain!!!

  5. Great review, making me want the my Northern Army book soon as well. Keep trying to build the player base here so I do. I'm hoping as well that I get a gear strider like those nasty southies did as well.

    1. Building the player base round these parts hasn't been as tough as I thought it would be originally if I'm honest. I can't wait to get my grubby mitts on all the faction field guides truth be told. Perfect Storm is such a good read, and I found it so entertaining that I want to get them all.

      PS. I'm sure the Northern Faction will be getting some pretty sweet additions to their ranks... don't you worry about that! ;)

    2. We've got a couple round here, mostly comprising myself and one other who have played for ages (since back in the day when you just bought individual gears and each one had an A4 sheet).

      I think the main problem is that people think small scale, must be cheap. And it isn't, mostly because it's a quality product. Same problem as DZC suffered from, the amount of people that wanted it, then backed out when they saw the prices and declared it was insane pricing was pretty high.

      Glad about the Northern Faction getting some stuff.

    3. You know its interesting you mention the scale thing and price. I've had this discussion a few times with friends with regard a few 15mm games and smaller. The truth is there no easy answer. For me I didn't look at Heavy Gear Blitz as a 12mm or 15mm game and think "boy that's expensive". I looked at it as a whole game and saw an ultimate price tag for playing the game and thought it looked steep. The truth is you then start getting into the game and realise there are ways of mitigating any potential cost with magnets and also by just being sensible with what you buy, like any large-scale battle game.

      I view Heavy Gear Blitz as being in a similar sort of price bracket as HoMachine. You get a fairly decent force and toolkit for that force with between £150 to £200. You don't need to spend anymore than that on the game, and considerably less if you have a mate who already knows the game and is willing to show you the ropes. Sure it's not Infinity cheap, or Freebooters Fate cheap... but then again those games are representing large scale battles with lots of giant robots are they? I've started to see some movement on opposition to the game. I think more people in the UK are starting to 'get it' now, so hopefully that'll translate in your area too.

      As to DZC... erm... having seen some of the miniatures and the price requested I think some of the things in the range are significantly overpriced compared to competitors. Sorry. On the flip-side though there are thing in the product range that are actually quite reasonably priced. My only concern is about the game itself, I'll hopefully get around to covering it at some point in the next few months, certainly hopefully before Christmas if I can.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. (Slightly re-written to better express my ideas)

      Indeed, as you say you need to look at how much you're spending for a game to get a reasonable force, but I think there seems to be an impression that for smaller scale games that it should be cheaper than a force for a 28mm game. With Heavy Gear especially, with most of your army being giant robots, it's essentially a 12mm game, using mostly 28mm sized figures.

      I think games like Heavy Gear would be better compared in price to things like 40k and Warmachine, that are large scale battle games, and how much you need for a force.

      Like you I've had this discussion a few times with people when trying to get them into Heavy Gear. Hopefully it will translate through to up here.

      As to DZC it's how you feel at the end of the day, like all games each person has to decide whether something is worth the money being asked for it. I agree the infantry are probably overcosted, but thankfully you don't need much. Beyond that I think it's generally an okay price for a good product, considering the tooling and materials being used. Again I think it would cost between £150 to £200 to get a good sized army that sits in the "regular" points slot of the game, with some options.

      I'll look forward to your review of it though.

  6. Has anyone said that your article is very good yet? I will give you a single ten for this achievement. Thanks

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