I had a chance today to sit down with both the copies of the new Necromunda Underhive boxed game and the Gang War expansion book and wanted to give my initial thoughts on both. As such, this shouldn't be taken as a true review, nor as a simple unboxing, but more as an attempt to provide my own feedback with my own background.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, I have a long and varied history with Necromunda. Way back in 1995, when I was 16, Necromunda was the very first miniatures game I had ever bought. I played it nearly every other day that year and pulled it out often during high school. When my now-wife and I moved to Chicago in the early 2000s, there were essentially no gaming stores in business within city limits in which to play, so I formed a small group of players. By 2008, I had been introduced to the Adepticon gaming convention and volunteered to run a Necromunda tournament that became an annual tradition and was, as far as I know, the only competitive Necromunda event in the world (at least during that time). Shortly thereafter, I sat down and wrote the expanded ruleset known as Inquisimunda - an expansion still played, even after my involvement in the project waned and I had stepped away; version 2 being due to the efforts of many wonderful volunteers. With the new release and my prior experience, I've been tapped to lead the Necromunda team at Adepticon. So, you can say I'm fairly knowledgeable on the subject....
Underhive Boxed Game
With that said, these are my initial impressions done by taking about an hour to flip through the book and recall previous versions, so there may be some minor errors. Measurements are approximate since I didn't have a ruler. The boxed game itself is simply jammed pack with lots of GW goodness. The templates are of similar size as those used previously - a flamer template, 3" blast and 5" blast. Terrain includes 10 2"x2" barricades, ~5 Loot Caskets, a "Beast Lair" marker, Priority marker, 4 computer terminals, and a small Imperial shrine (which, intriguingly, has no rules....perhaps a Redemptionist objective in the future???). Terrain also includes 5 large 4"x2" doors and 2 1.5"x2" small doors that are only used in the "board" style game.
The miniatures themselves are definitely larger than the old ones but probably not "true" 32mm. The most noticeable difference would be in the Eschers; Goliaths could easily mix old and new miniatures. There is a lot of interchangeability with heads and hair, but probably not quite as much with arms. Interestingly enough, each gang has a different base size (Eschers 25mm, Goliaths 32mm), which means that Goliaths will have a wider area of effect but will also likely suffer more from templates and Broken results. The Escher models in the box tend to favor las and autogun weaponry, while the Goliaths tend to favor stub and shotgun weaponry.
There are 10 named Goliath cards, 10 named Escher cards, and ~20 blank generic fighter cards. I am unaware of any plastic sleeves on the market that would adequately fit their larger size, but it will only be a matter of time before someone releases them (or they could be laminated). The named Goliaths tend to be slower but stronger and with heavier armor; whereas the named Escher tend to be faster and more nimble but with weaker armor. Terrain tiles are about 12" square with 1.5" squares to denote tunnels and passageways.
One of the new features are the addition of "Tactics" cards which are similar to those used in 8th ed. 40K. Each gang has 4 unique Tactics cards and there are 20 generic Tactics cards. Goliath Tactics are shrug off injuries, increase charge distance, increase Strength and Toughness, and stand up Pinned models. Escher Tactics are counter a charge, force an opponent to Nerve test before battle, set a gas trap, or move their models before battle. Generic Tactics include (but are not limited to) extra armor, bobby traps, hidden passages, and multiple activations.
The main rulebook is fairly nice. If I have one criticism of it, I'd say the old rulebooks have much more artwork and more in-game pictures, which tended to add inspiration for new players to get their miniatures and terrain assembled and painted. The first ~35 pages of the book are devoted solely to fluff and immersing the player into the world of Necromunda. If you are familiar with the old rules, there really isn't much new info here.
Fighter characteristics and loadouts are fairly similar to previous editions, with some new characteristics (Cool, Willpower, and Intelligence). Each turn players roll for Priority and place their Readied markers and are then able to activate each fighter and that fighter gets ~2 actions. Actions include basic move, basic shoot, aiming (+1 to hit), charging (+D3" to Move - HUGE change from previous editions!), take cover (move up to 1/2 move then go to Pinned), Coup De Grace (basically eliminate an injured fighter not engaged in HtH combat that's within 1"; this is a free action if injured in HtH combat as with previous editions), reloading (basically roll to make a weapon usable after a failed Ammo roll), open or close a door, use a terminal, break down a door, crawl/fire through a duct, and open/lockpick/carry a Loot Casket.
Fighters in HtH combat have two basic actions - fight or retreat. Pinned fighters may stand (recover from Pinning), crawl (1/2 move), blind fire (shooting attack, -2 to hit), and reload. Injured fighters may only crawl.
Shooting and HtH mechanics are similar to previous editions, with the addition of a "prone" stance to shooting that confers a -1 to hit modifier at long range. There is a 90 degree vision arc, so models in competitive environments will absolutely need to have a tick mark on their bases to denote facing. Fighters may fire two pistol weapons at the same target with one action with a -1 to hit modifier. The Stray Shot rules do remain. And yes, Overwatch is "gone", having been changed to a skill (more on skills in the Gang War section). Multiple HtH combats are handled as each fighter either adding or subtracting 1 to the fight result.
To wound, gone are the calculation tables comparing Strength and Toughness on X and Y axis. Instead, it is a simple chart - twice the Strength to Toughness? 2+. Strength Greater than Toughness? 3+, etc. Injury results are the same, with the term "Seriously Injured" replacing Down. Nerve Tests for fighters are taken if a friendly model goes OOA or is Seriously Injured within 3" - test using the Cool characteristic, adding 1 for each other friendly fighter nearby. If failed, the fighter runs away to cover and is Broken. Broken fighters continue to run if there are enemies in LOS, are never Readied, may Rally in the End phase, and while Broken only react to HtH combat attacks.
Unto basic terrain rules - Doors block LOS and movement (when closed), have T 5 and 4 Wounds. Barricades provide -1 to hit modifier in Shooting and HtH combat. The "Beast Lair" marker is very cool - if a fighter ends their activation within 6" there is a chance they're attacked with a VERY tough attack (I won't ruin how brutal it is here! Mwahahaha...) and has T4, 3 Wounds, and is -2 to hit! Ducts act as walls and pitfalls require Initiative checks if a character is pushed into them or they go Out of Action. Toxic Sludge pools make fighters -1T if they stand within them and can cause them to go Out of Action is they are knocked down into them. Loot Caskets have the possibility to be a trap, nothing at all, or ammo.
Hmmmm....it's tough to say how I feel about this expansion. They've done a nice job of streamlining some of the more "advanced" rules here, but there are also some really glaring omissions. The main "board" game style is referred to as Zone Mortalis and seems to line up with (admittedly what little I know of) Zone Mortalis itself. The "3D" or "Classic" style is referred to here as Sector Mechanicus. I'm not sure how much traction the community at large will give these easily trademarked names but....time will tell.
As for the 3D rules themselves, there really isn't a whole lot here, with the rules only taking up about 8 pages. Terrain is either an obstacle (anything smaller than 2"x2"x2") or a Structure. True LOS is covered, terrain is catalogued as either normal (full move) or difficult (1/2 move) terrain, platforms and overhangs are covered as well (basically, if a figure can fit, they can move there). Climbing without the aid of a ladder is done at 1/2 movement; climbing with a ladder is done at full movement and the time-honored tradition of "running" up a ladder is omitted (that's definitely going to be house ruled by veterans). Jumping, leaping, and falling are treated in similar ways to previous editions. Doors are omitted here (unless of course, like me, your terrain has doors, in which case you're free to use the Door rules). And.....that's about it.
Next are the campaign rules. The biggest change here is to the Experience and advancement rules. Experience is given (for now) only by taking another fighter Out of Action, which earns +1XP. Everyone but basic Gangers are given the chance to "purchase" advancements at a set rate. Every subsequent time that advancement is purchased, it's cost increases by +2XP. Basic Gangers must "pool" their first 6XP, at which point they roll 2D6 and take a one-time advancement (unless they are promoted to Specialist by rolling a 2 or 12). I'm unsure how I feel about this - while it certainly speeds up the post-game sequence, it feels too much like Mordheim, in which your basic fighters were pretty much meat shields for the Heroes. Only lists for House Escher and House Goliath are included in this supplement (these lists replace those in the boxed game rulebook).
With that said, GW have also left out an "Underdog" Table. For those of you who don't know, this table was the difference in points between each players gang rating that would add additional experience to the "weaker" gang in the post-game sequence depending on how much of a difference there was. This helped to balance out play between older and newer gangs and gave players entering campaigns at later points a slight boost to keep them competitive. EDIT: There IS a function similar to the table in the pre-game (in which the "weaker" gang gets an extra Tactics card) sequence, but I don't feel this is as good of a balancing function, in and of itself.
The injury list is similar, including the much-hated Death result and Captured result. The territory list is similar (if not exactly the same), as are the Skill tables and much of the Trading Post. Included at the very end of the book are six Scenarios, of which I think Border Dispute is probably the only truly "new" scenario.
The biggest omission here, and I think my main issue with this book, is the lack of Hired Guns. Hired Guns were probably the best thing about previous editions, as they added a bit of flavor and the ability to balance out a gang that may be lacking in an area of expertise. Hired Guns like the Scum, Ratskin Scout, Pit Slave, and Wyrd are absolutely iconic miniatures from GW's 1990s lineup and their absence is glaring here. In their absence, I think GW should have included something extra to balance it out, perhaps something like some exclusive Tactics Cards. EDIT: Forgeworld is releasing a named Imperial Beastman Hired Gun and has plans to release more. However, I feel this is a bad idea for two reasons. First, while named characters are fun (Mad Donna Ulanti, anyone?), the big appeal of generic Hired Guns was the nearly limitless modeling potential, giving these products a broader appeal among the community. Second, with rules being included with the miniature, this lowers the visibility of these to potential customers but most importantly, to an event organizer like myself. TOs and Judges shouldn't have to buy multiple miniatures to understand how they work in-game and to decide whether or not to include them in an event. GW would be best served by releasing a compilation of Hired Guns, named characters, and creatures in a single book format, much like Outlanders.
In conclusion, this is an almost perfect re-release of a beloved miniatures game and I really hope that GW is willing to listen to feedback from the community and expand upon this initial release to bring it more in line with the vast array of gangs, miniatures, and fluff from previous editions.