One Christmas my Dad got me a complete squadron of Squats bikes. They were hastily glued to cavalry bases (without having their slots filled) and painted in a red/blue/silver scheme before roaring around the tables of Warhammer 40,000's second edition (2E). The retro-hammer 'Bring Out Your Lead' event at Wargames Foundry provided an opportunity to relive those halcyon, cardboard-fuelled days.
My old friend Graham who stepped up with a vintage army of his own. Though all my Squats were released before 1994, Graham's were actually painted back in the day, making them even more authentically retro. His is a gorgeous force, with conversions born from a mix of passion and restrictions of the early Eldar range.
Graham'd also brought an allied contingent of Slann – meaning we were both using defunct alien races.
Both our armies were informed by the 'Black Codex' – a pamphlet in the starter box with concise versions of every list. That list was the last official list Squats had, and I've played them with counts-as or home-brew rules ever since.
2E stands out in my memory for its avalanche of cardboard. Admittedly, real games wouldn't have used EVERY reference sheet – but we did out of a combination of cardboard fetishism, and because it had been twenty years since we'd had to remember the Chainfist's armour penetration value was D20+D4+D6+10. This meant that our gaming area was festooned in datafaxes, wargear cards, psychic powers, strategy cards and polyhedral dice.
Weirdly, 40K has seen a card resurgence with the Psychic and Strategic Asset decks. Fashions come around.
yUm jaM! i liK JaM!
As squad after squad of of Eldar opened fire with shuriken, the big red sustained fire dice slowed the game down to a crawl. Every Eldar rolls a pair of sustained fire dice to determine how many shots they fired and records the ensuing jams. There's no way of batch rolling those red cubes of tedium. Luckily there were enough jam counters to cater for Graham's bad rolls.
Despite the atrocious jamming, Shuriken Catapults sliced through most of my Squats. The players on the table over were having a game of Rogue Trader, and chipped in that the weapon had been toned down from Rogue Trader - when its Following Fire rules meant it could keep firing indefinitely.
The Pain of Vehicle Squadrons
My Bikers attempted to use the Flank March strategy card to appear on the Squat right and unleash their twin-bolters. I think twin-linked weapons worked much better in 2E – instead of a reroll to hit you rolled once, and then multiplied your hits (and misses) by two. Anyway, Graham cancelled my Strategy card with the Traitor Strategy Card and then we fell in a bit of rules hole. But importantly I got to again field my vintage Bike Squadron from all those christmasses ago. Thanks Dad!
Graham also had a light vehicle squadron in the form of 5 Jetbikes with a Vyper. Resolving shots against these squadrons was a gloriously retro (read: tedious) procedure thanks to the old Datafax location tables. We powered through as the results let us use lots of cardboard counters to record which fairings were buckled, which crewmen were wounded, which engine tanks were going to explode the next turn...
We're really glad this was streamlined away in 3E. Graham whipped out his old acetate vehicle targeting matrix and reminded me that there had been even more turgid days of 40K.
This is Graham's Vyper mercilessly gunning down my Battle Standard Bearer, whose Refractor Field had saved him from death three times in that game. The Thunderer Squad in the ruins above saw he was swiftly avenged. I say swiftly – they had Heavy Bolters and resolving the sustained fire made it proloooooonged.
The Psychic Prolapse
The Psychic Phase – the card-heavy subgame. I remember several games of the 90s thwarted by both players forgetting to bring the Warp Deck. Or one person forgetting and the other one being cheap not wanting to pay the £20 for the rules but still field Psykers, banking on using his opponent's cards. Sometimes that cheapskate player was me.
Ahhh, shuffling the cards, feeling the ebb of the Warp as the cards rippled through my fingers. Graham had a Level 4 Farseer, and me a Level 2 Ancestor Lord. As Graham sourced the gorgeous 6" Eldritch Storm template to devastate my Guild Bikers, I played the Daemonic Attack card which cancelled the power and saw Daemons dragging his Farseer into the Warp. My Mission Card awarded me a massive +5 VPs for this fluke event.
Who needs tactics when Fortuna's on your side?
Lords of Battle
For the great climax of the game, Graham charged his Wraithlord into my Ancestor Lord. It would have been a LORD OFF, but back in them days Wraithlords were just called "Eldar Dreadnoughts". My tiny bearded dwarf didn't even come up to the knee of this eldritch war engine.
We refreshed ourselves on the combat rules, thinking the Dread's power glove would effortlessly squish the Squat. But the exo-armoured old bugger with his 4 attacks and weapon skill 8 won the combat and got four hits. Aha! Ancestor Lords had buff stats. And with his basic strength 5, which I then increased by +2 by expending the Force Card stored in his Force Sword, I thought I would pure muller the robot. But in 2E the lowest armour on the Dreadnought was 18, which my 7+D6 had no hope against
The game ended after Turn 4. Graham was declared winner by virtue of outnumbering the Warmaster's surviving forces several times over and us not wanting to work out VPs.
2E creaks a lot, but we found it surprisingly playable for its age and a lot of fun to run through the old procedural mechanics.
Thanks to the chaps at Foundry, our most generous hosts. If only I'd brought by White Dwarf 111 Squat army list – as its author, Bryan Ansell, was there.