Thursday, 23 January 2014

Hell Dorado: A Semi Informed Position

Greetings reader!

It has been a long time coming, but I am pleased to announce that I now am able to provide a Semi Informed Review of the table top skirmish game:

What is Hell Dorado?
Ok, well first things first there are two versions of Hell Dorado, the first by French company Asmodee but this was sold off and bought up by current owners Cipher Studios.

Just so we are clear, I am not touching the original version at all, my models are all from Cipher's version, my rule book is Cipher's version, so whatever the history of this game, it is only Cipher's Hell Dorado that I am tackling.

So, I believed I asked what the game is? To quote Cipher themselves:
Hell Dorado is a tabletop skirmish game played with 30mm miniatures. Set in the 17th century, the game centres on the battles taking place between those who have ventured into the portals of hell... and those who await them there..

In hell, time freezes. Some 'men' have been there for centuries, others are seeking out opportunites in this 'New World. Settlers,. soldiers and the church - all have their own reasons for entering this godfaesaken land - but the demons who exist here are not prepared to let these incursions go unpunished!

So we're looking at an alternative Earth with monsters, demons and all manner of faiths and faithless battling it out for control of what could be the most useful resource known to man.

What are the miniatures like?
Now we're talking about what drew me into this game.

To start off I still remember the first model I ever saw for Hell Dorado:

This is the Greater Damned of Wrath, a beast of a model cast in solid metal with more detail than I have ever seen in a single model.

When I first saw this dude online I was sure most of that texture was painted on, and so you can imagine my surprise when I found out it was part of the sculpt.

Obviously this model had to be a part of my collection.

Now I need to make it clear, the Demon faction is what caught my eye, that is what I have purchased and what I will be discussing most.

Other models I loved were the Infernal Horde. These are eye less demons which is actually part of their new wave of models from their expansion Inferno (more on that later), and the moment I saw them I knew I had to have them as they just screamed character. They are clearly of demonic origin but are not the traditional 'Imp' look that we've come to expect from such other demonic models such as Blood Letters from Games Workshop's Chaos range.

As with the Greater Damned of Wrath, these models are of outstanding detail that I honestly don't see very often.

Next up we have one of the demonic Character models, or as they are called in game, Independents. They are not Generals or Leaders, but are very special in their abilities and therefore heavily limited in the number you can take.

This guy is called Zaxaan and I have always hated the picture above.

When you consider that the other models I have linked have always had their detail sculpted on, seeing that horrible striped pattern got me worried.

Despite this I looked into it, checked out other paint jobs and saw that this was just an example of a poor paint choice, and when you see the sculpt you see that it is just as lovely as the others, complete with a great 'weight' behind the model that you only get with solid metal models.

But these are only the 'extras' that I have purchased to round out my force which was heavily established via the Demon Starter Box:

Photos stolen from my own photos of current works in progress to follow.

This consists of a leader model (in this case a fallen Angel, a Damned if Wrath (mini version of the behemoth earlier), two Damned of Sloth (dudes who are so slow and lazy their whole bodies are covered in sores) and one Lemure (sort of the game's equivalent of a Witch's Familiar).

The Leader model Asaliah, she is in stark contrast to all of the others, while they are gritty with detail and texture, she is smooth with wide expanses void of texture.

This is something I can imagine some people dreaming of filling with patterns and free hand, personally I'm quite fond of the contrast this sets against the rest of the demon horde.

The Damned of Wrath is a great little model, with weapons grafted onto his limbs and flesh being torn from his body, it goes to show that even on a small model like him you can still cram the detail in and keep it defined.

The Damned of Sloth I particularly like, as their models are (intentionally) horrendous. Their extended bellies and buttocks covered with sculpted sores and pustules, with faces resembling a shrivelled mass of misshapen flesh. To me they scream of a creature who's very existence is an agony to endure, but their sheer laziness prevents them from doing anything about it.

These are the models I have purchased and in a later section I hope to show you where I am with my works in progress, what I hope to achieve with them moving forward, but more importantly how it felt to assemble, model and paint.

But that is not all, there are plenty of other models that have caught my eye which I fully intend on purchasing for my demonic horde:

First you have the Succubus. A model which for me is love/hate. I love the model herself, I think that taking her is a slightly more 'gore-iffic' direction from the traditional Succubus is great for the game's theme. I also love the flayed flesh, however I really dislike the whips. I'm left wondering however if they could be replaced with multiple strips of this stuff:

Of course I can not talk about Demons without talking about these awesome models:

These are Damned Ones of Greed, and actually represent a single unit ingame who transforms from one to the other when he consumes an enemy model.

If Demons aren't your thing, then maybe you would be more interested in the traditional Westerners faction who come equipped with such meaty and imposing models as these armoured brutes:

And these are just some of the models available for a couple of the factions, this isn't even touching on the Middle Eastern Saracens, the Asian Immortals and the Nomadic Outcast Lost.

Ok now it's time to deal with the fluff, stories that those who have listened to my chat-radio podcast Hobby Sofa will know is not for everyone.

So let me try and summarise for you:

We're set in the 17th Century where at a site of great blood shed and atrocity a gateway to the Underworld has opened. Dubbed by the Christians as Hell initial explorations are sent to investigate this new land.

What they meet in Hell is not what they expect, on the banks of the river stix they find land that is not hospitable, but it not quite how the stories of old depicted Hell.

As word goes out they soon des over other openings to Hell across Europe, all of which lead to a single area on the outskirts of Hell, using these tunnels and entrances allows people to travel from one country to another in a matter of days compared to months and years and nations who previously would have never mixed are now thrown together with this new trade route.

New Jerusalem is established at this site as a way of controlling the trade and also provide protection against the creatures that live in Hell, which in turn are dubbed Demons by the Christian populous.

Construction goes well, especially when the Human leaders begin making use of the dead humans who reside in the Underworld, nicknamed Damned. They are almost mindless, and easily instructed to do basic tasks such as heavy lifting and very basic construction. Better still there is a near limitless supply of these ever eager workers.

As time goes by, the European presence attracts the attention of the Saracens of the Middle East, who as a result of the time warping effects of the Underworld have been present in Hell for nearly 400 years, and bring with them tales of The Prime Materia, a substance of unlimited power and value, and with these stories the population of New Jerusalem swells as more and more rush to join up and seek fame and fortune.

This is where the game takes place. With Humans spreading across the 9 Circles of Hell in search of power and wealth, some hoping to find a renewal of lost faith and others simply to hold off their own inevitable death permanently.

As mankind expands it inevitably puts pressure on Demonkind who already insulted by Man's incursion into their land and the abuse of the Damned are being united by Fallen Angels to fight back against the Human invasion.

In between all of this, you have the Immortals, Eastern Cultures who utilise the power of the Underworld to grant them untold abilities but at a great cost to themselves. You also have The Lost, a group of Damned who have rebelled against Demon control and seek to cause havoc and anarchy where ever they go.

Offensive Material
Right, so I decided that this should get it's own section, and if you heard my recording with Andrey & Bill back in October you will have heard that not everyone looks on the fluff and lore of this game favourably.

Now a quick disclaimer, in no way am I trying to re-enforce or discredit what others may have said before, instead I am just trying to understand from the way I see it.

So the way I see it, there are some over arching issues that may offend people.

For starters the writers have taken real people who did exist, and in some cultures are seen as heroes and saints, and made them into people who are far from saintly, and actually quite horrid, this is most prevalent in the portrayal of Christian and Muslim characters of note.

I can see why this might offend someone, but then I think of one of the UK's patron saints; St George.

Now St George is a dude often connected with pride and is a symbol of English strength. If you attack St George then you attack the English spirit.

But who was he really? I'm sure there are people here who can correct me, but in my time I have read many theories, one of which being a German guy who was given his Saint-hood for killing a group of Pagans and burning their place of worship to the ground.

Let's just assume this is right, if so he was a brutal man who killed in the name of his faith people only for the reason that they believed something differently, and yet he is revered as a Saint! Is it so hard to believe that these other historical figures were a). any different, and b). after living in the Underworld for X number of years had changed into someone acclimatised to that environment.

What else? There is the statement that all religions are wrong. Ok again I can see how that might miff off someone, but first we need to look at how it is told:

The fluff states that Hell and by implication Heaven have been visiting Earth for ages, forever even. It is from man's primitive understanding of creatures and entities more incredible than we can possibly understand that from which we created our religions and texts.

First, is this so hard to believe? Assuming any of these beings exist and we were visited by them, are we really so arrogant to believe that we would understand the total and complete ins and outs of their entire existence? I think to assume so would be very narrow minded.

So it says that Demons as we know them do not exist, instead they are creatures that live in this other world, which Man has named Hell and that they are born from a cycle of rebirth between Humans, the Damned and Demons (possibly Angels as well? I have seen implication but no statement).

Of course in doing so we reach the next point, that humans and demons are related.

Ok, so that's something someone who is quite stoic in their belief might take offence to. But again, we're not talking about real biblical demons, we're talking about the natural inhabitants of the land in question that Humans have interpreted as Demons.

And then we have the abuse of the Damned. The 'souls' of the dead used as slave labour and prostitution. So this is unsightly, but we're not talking about rotting corpses or spirits, a normal rank and file Damned looks just like they did in life, only they are essentially brain dead.
- and besides, let's look at the history of man, the atrocities committed in the name of progress. Do you really think people wouldn't use obedient slaves like this in the 1600s? After all, what would the slaves care, they're already dead!

Now in no way am I discussing about taste and opinion here. When I talk offence I am not referring to how certain TV shows offend my eyes, when what I really mean is "I don't like that show". If you don't like the works be them written, sculpted etc then that's cool, as not everyone likes everything so this is probably just not for you. It's those who are genuinely offended by this game, and I ask you, please tell me what offended you and why, because as I have already shown; I see no reason for any of it to be offensive to someone who is willing to accept that the writers are creating a work of fiction, and not historical documents.

Next up we have how the game plays. Now I must remind you we are talking theory craft here, so please correct me if I'm wrong.

So first up you pick a game size, the recommended size being 200 points.

Next you pick a faction.

After picking a faction you pick your models:
Now this is comprised of 1 leader, names characters called Independents and the rank and file called Troopers.

Together their combines point cost must not be higher than the game size, however there is another requirement: Command.

Command is a resource used in game but also in your model selection. Some models have a Command (CMD) score, and you can total these up across your leader and independents. That total is the max number of troopers you can hire. In my demon horde I have a CMD of 7, so that's 7 troopers I can hire. I only have 5 so that makes my horde legal.

After picking your company you then place terrain, this is done using the 'terraformation' rules where each player using a series of counters tried to vote for initial placement of terrain in each sector of the board. The winner gets the pleasure of picking what goes where depending on what they pledged.

Sometimes terrain is simple, like rocks that block line of sight, other times it's a bit more unusual like a frozen tomb containing a powerful champion who will fight for whichever side can free him.

Of course Terraformation is in itself part of the game, and there are models with special abilities that grant you bonuses during this phase, so even though the game itself hasn't started, your role as a General already has.

Then we have the game itself.

Hell Dorado is played out using alternating activations, something that is very much the 'in thing' at the moment, but I can understand why. It eliminates the classic GW issue of waiting an hour for the opponent to do all their actions.

An activation is played out in a very interesting way. Rather than using action points like many other games you instead make 1 Action, this can be a movement, a spell cast, a charge (move and attack) or just an attack. This is done by applying negative modifiers to actions that attempt to do more than 1 thing.

What is done is often effected by special abilities, for example if you choose to move and attack then you receive a negative modifier to your attack, unless of course your model has a certain ability (Fury I think it might be?) which allows you to negate this.

Then you have Orders. Orders are special abilities but rather than requiring dice rolls or Actions are cast using CMD. You might remember I mentioned before about a CMD pool? This is made up from all your model's combined CMD stats and that is how many CMD points you have to spend each turn.

So let's say you have a model that can heal a friendly model but it requires 3 CMD to do it, if you use that order then for the rest of the turn you are 3 CMD down.

There are other models however that require Permanent CMD to be spent. If you use these orders then it means you permanently loose these CMD points. Keep using these Orders and you will quickly knock out all your CMD pints.

Then we have combat. This is an interesting mechanic. Every model has an attack stat, this represents how many d6 you roll when you attack. Your target has a defence stat, this represents your target number to equal or beat. So if you have an attack of 5 and the enemy has a defence of 6, you roll 5d6 and will only hit depending on how many d6 are 6+.

But it doesn't end there, depending on the number if successful hits depends on your damage and possible extra effects. So only a single hit will be the equivalent of just a glancing but if you roll lots of hits then you might just chop the enemies' head off in one go!

But combat doesn't end there! Almost all combat is simultaneously dealt, so when you get an attack on them, they get to attack you! But it is not always the case, sometimes combat is one sided and these are the situations where some units really shine.

You see in Hell Dorado, melee attacks don't have a range, instead you need to be in base to base contact to attack, but you do have a control circle of 1". Anything within this circle must attack you, or try to move out of the circle. If it tried to move out, then you get a free 1 sides attack against them!

In short that is basically it for the essential rules, everything else and the certain combos you can generate are formed from the abilities of the models. This however is where the game begins to lean over (I wouldn't say "fall over" but I can see it being an obstacle for a lot of players.

You see, there are a LOT of abilities, as in easily over 100, a good number I would not be surprised if they were unique to certain models. Rather than have them explained on the card they instead have them explained in the rule book.

This is a no win situation for Hell Dorado. Some of the abilities can be quite complicated, and if they were to explain these abilities on the cards it would take up so much space, especially when some models have upwards of 6+ abilities, so by keeping them all in the book and instead just listing the abilities on the cards it means to to learn what everything does you require a lot of too and fro referencing until you have the hang of it.

But I see this as a long term investment. You see a lot of abilities are quite straight forward; Combined Attack for example which reads roughly: "when this model attacks an enemy in melee, for every other friendly model in melee with the target, this model gets +2 combat dice instead of the usual +1". This rule takes up a lot of space, but once you remember it's quite basic requirements it's really simple to apply it. So once you have that straight in your head you don't need lines of text filling up your card, you only need the ability name to remind you that the model has the ability.

What this essentially means is that Hell Dorado will undoubtably have a very steep learning curve, but once you know the abilities of your models that should platter out.

Working with the models
So earlier we saw studio photos of the models that I picked up myself, or just like the look of. Well now it's time for me to talk about my own Works in Progress:

So we start off with the Greater Damned of Wrath. As you can see he still has a lot of work to go on him, but he has been a real pleasure to work with.

I don't really know what I expected, but I was super surprised to see him arrive in 4 parts. Arms, torso and legs.

As mentioned before, the detail is super crisp and just makes painting him a real pleasure. In addition the model is designed with large slots in it's assembly points, meaning pinning as pretty much a non-issue.

Next on the list is Zaxaan, again a long way to go, but worth every penny in terms of model quality.

You can't see it in any of the pictures, but his armour isn't worn, it is strapped quite literally into his skin! It is the little details like this which makes these models so enjoyable to paint.

On top of that who doesn't love a big demon in chunky armour?

The list continues with the Infernal Horde, models that I am pleased to see retain their character when you are looking at the real model compared to the studio shots.

As you can see the skin is nearly there, the horns and claws basecoated and the armour having been undercoated, but already they are taking form.

These models are part of Cipher's Inferno Expansion release and honestly I believe you can feel the difference. While the others were originally created by the old company, these are exclusively Cipher, and in comparison I can't help but feel that they seem more 'traditional' in terms of model technique but also inspiration.

That is not necessarily a complaint, as I bought these models because I love their look and no other reason. If they do bring a slightly more 'traditional demonic' look to the Demon armies, I don't that that is a bad thing and adds some variety.

Let me introduce you to my Damned of Wrath. Still quite a bit of work required, but he is getting there. I bought this dude back in October before I picked up some liquid green stuff, and as you can see from his axe arm, he suffers from a need for filling which will be done before sealing.

Personally I found this model to be the least inspired out of my collection and the hardest to assemble.

And here we have the Damned of Sloth. For these lovely, characterful models I wanted to try something I had never attempted before; sore damaged flesh, and I think it came out quite well and as you can see they are nearly done.

As with almost all of these models, these Slothies were a pleasure to paint! With terrific detail just waiting to pop out if the model.

Next is the fallen angel. She still needs work mainly on her gown, but is coming along. She for me is a classic example of how clothing should be, with lots of heavily defined waves and movement.

Last but by no means least, my Lemure, a stitched and chained bag of flesh and bone. What's not to love about this little creature? He may be small but makes up for it with well defined detail and lots of character.

So here we are, after long discussion my final thoughts on the game.

As you can probably guess, I like it. But that is not to say it does not have it's problems.

I can see that to a lot of players the rules set may seem awkward and cumbersome. A rules requirement to have certain pieces of terrain available could also put people off, especially as neither Cipher nor Asmodee made those pieces available commercially.

It would be naive of me to overlook the theme and that to some people would also be off putting.

But if you are someone who is interested in the game, either from a mechanics point of view or for models alone, then I ask you to give it a go. With a low buy in cost (the £20 starters come with QuickStart rules, so you don't even need the Rulebooks to get going) to a lot of gamers this would be seen as throw away money to give something a try.

You see as I scour the internet, search high and lie for Wiki pages, blogs and podcasts, I realise the one big problem the game has is it's lack of online presence, and only increased awareness by the gaming community can correct that.

So what do you think?

I would welcome any and all comments/critiques/corrections in particular if this has leaned you towards trying the game.

At the very least I hope that my own enthusiasm for the game has come across and I hope to get playing in due course.

It is on that note I leave you. Stay safe and I'll see you Hellside!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

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