Wednesday 25 May 2016

Review - Imperial Knights: Renegade

Published by Games Workshop
Designed by secretive grots in a dungeon somewhere
For 2 players, aged 14 to adult

How do you review Imperial Knights: Renegade?

It's not a rhetorical question. I genuinely don't know.

I don't even know where to start.

I mean, I'm not even sure how to describe the game.

The whole thing is a conundrum wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a contradiction wrapped in... er... shrink wrap, I guess.

The game is at once too expensive and excellent value; massive in scale yet ridiculously small in scope.

It is arguably one of Games Workshop's most exciting board game releases in the last few years, and unquestionably the dullest.

And what you think of it... what I think of it... is entirely down to perception.

It certainly makes a good first impression: The box is huge, and it is absolutely packed with plastic. For the recommended retail price of £120, it really does look like you get a lot for your money. I have seen unboxing videos, and the sprues of plastic components are almost spilling out of the box.

And everything looks beautiful, of course.

But here's the thing: All those sprues, all that plastic, makes just two knights and two ruined buildings. All of those glorious components combine into just four individual pieces with which to actually play the game. And besides those sprues, you only get two dice, and two flimsy bits of card for tracking damage. No range rulers, no tokens, and no cards.

But here's the thing: The knights are big, and beautiful, and under normal circumstances they cost a fortune. A knight on its own costs £85, and you get two of them in the box. The scenic ruins are another £20. So, you are getting £190 worth of stuff for £120 (obviously less with online discounts).

And you get a game too.

But here's the thing: The "game" is so light it might float away if you breathe too hard, and it is actually a slightly tweaked version of a rule set that Games Workshop gave away free a while back, and which you can still download from the Internet for nowt.

The rules are just two pages long, with no diagrams or anything, and the three included scenarios are so similar they make it immediately obvious that this is a small, inconsequential game that has been blown up to epic proportions.

And it is epic, in some ways. The miniatures... the bigatures... are awesome. Their sheer scale makes them a dramatic focal point for an army, and they would look incredibly intimidating, towering over the other units in a war game.

But here's the thing: Imperial Knights: Renegade, or Renegade for short, isn't a war game. It isn't about the clash of gigantic armies on a body-choked battlefield.

This is a game of knightly duels.

A game of one-on-one combat.

You never have more than two knights in play: one for each player. And when there are only two models on the table, the scale of those models becomes completely irrelevant. You could get exactly the same gaming experience with miniatures of any size.

So here's the thing...

When Games Workshop announced Renegade, I was instantly interested, and then almost as quickly utterly disinterested. I could tell from a cursory glance that it was more of a model kit than a game: Something intended to appeal to the 40K players more than those of us seeking a solid, out-of-the-box gaming experience.

And I could see the contradictions inherent in the design. I could see it was excellent value for anyone who wanted to add knights to a tabletop army, but I could also see it was far too expensive for what the game offered.

I could see that despite the massive box, and the epic size of the miniatures... the bigatures... the game was very small. Almost inconsequential.

I could see it just wasn't for me.

And yet here I am, trying to find a way to review the damned thing.

Because I realised there was only one way to cut through the noise.

There was only one way to really see what this game was all about: to see past the scale of the bigatures and the price tag.

I went on eBay, and found someone selling off the rules and data sheets for less than £3 delivered. Then I grabbed some dice, some war game terrain, and a couple of large Fell Beasts from my Lord of the Rings Combat Hex collection; and I was good to go.

And here's the verdict...

This isn't much of a game; and it doesn't really try that hard to be much of a game.

The whole thing feels very slight compared to recent Games Workshop efforts. The rules are two pages long, with only a single paragraph of fluff to set the scene (good knight goes bad, gooder knight goes to fight bad knight in a duel to prove who is the goodest (or baddest)).

The intention is that players can dive right in. All they need to do is plonk down two massive models on a table, place two ruined buildings, and then start rolling dice.

And the concept is actually okay.

At the start of the round, each player has three action points, and they secretly spend those action points on... well, you can probably figure that out. There are seven available actions, which cost a variable amount of points.

After selecting actions, players reveal their choices, and then carry out the actions in a specific priority order: Snap Attack, Advance, Rotate Ion Shields, Standard Attack, Run, Aimed Attack, Charge.

So, a player who picked a Snap Attack would attack before a player who picked a Standard Attack.

If two players pick the same action, they have a dice off.

This is actually a pretty neat system, as the most powerful actions have a higher associated points cost (so you can do less of them in a turn) and they also activate later in the round (so there is more chance of your opponent moving out of range or attacking you first). It creates a nice balance, as you decide whether to risk an inaccurate Snap Attack to activate early in the round while also leaving you with enough action points to do something else, or whether to line up an Aimed Attack while running the risk of being destroyed before you get a chance to fire.

When it is time to attack, you choose one of your opponent's body locations on the cool illustrated data sheet, and then you roll one red dice and one blue dice, cross-referencing the results on an Aim Table. The result of the red dice determines if your shot goes to the left or right, and the blue dice determines if your shot goes too high or too low. You then reference the data sheet to see which location you have actually hit.

For example, if you make an Aimed attack, a 1 on the red dice indicates the shot goes one space to the left, and a 6 indicates the shot goes one space to the right, while all other results are a direct hit on the horizontal plane. However, if you make a Snap Attack, it is impossible to get a direct hit, and your shot could go well off target.

Again, this is actually a pretty neat system.

Actually, I'll correct myself there.

In theory, it is a pretty neat system.

In reality, it just isn't.

Because you are rolling on the horizontal and vertical axis, there is just too much variability. A snap shot could go up to three spaces up or down, and three spaces left or right. Even with an Aimed Attack you have a 2 in 6 chance of going off target on both axes.

There is just too much margin for error: too much left to chance.

You always seem to end up targeting the centre of a cluster of areas to maximise your chances of hitting something useful, or else taking a punt by aiming for a very specific location and praying to the dice gods that it pays off.

Unless you have close combat weapons, that is. Because if you do, you can wander up to your opponent and automatically hit any damned location you want. There are no targeting rolls involved, and the damage inflicted is usually crippling, ending the game almost instantly.

And that's pretty much all there is to it: a secret action selection system, and a dice-rolling target system.

Every turn, players select actions, they move their bigatures, and they roll their targeting dice to see what they hit. Eventually, one of the knights accrues critical damage on six body locations, and explodes.

Game over.

Sure, there are a few rules for hiding behind scenery, and you can position your ion shield for additional defence; and there are three pretty similar scenarios to play through. But this game doesn't bring much to the table.

And yes, it has all the elements of a nice, light, five-minute game.

It just isn't packaged as a nice, light, five-minute game.

It's packaged as a £120 behemoth, and that just doesn't tally with the out-of-the-box experience you get.

But that's just the start of my complaints.

For a start, let's talk about game components; more accurately, let's talk about the lack of game components.

The whole game revolves around a system of secret action selection.

How is that handled?

By players writing down their choices on scraps of paper.

This, for me at least, is unacceptable.

There are only seven actions, and each player can only use each action once per turn. Would it really have been that hard to include 14 tokens or cards in two different colours that had the actions printed on them?

The cards could even have had the points cost printed on them, and a description of the action; and when players had made their selections, they could have arranged the cards on the table in order of priority to make it easier to see who had the next action in the turn sequence.

It would have been elegant, and more user-friendly. And it would have felt complete.

And don't get me started on the fact this is a tabletop game that involves moving in inches, and yet there is no measuring device included.

That's just a poor show.

But if you can get past these omissions; if you can overlook what Games Workshop overlooked... Well...

Well unfortunately it doesn't get any better.

Take close combat, for example.

The scenario presented in the game is one knight specialising in ranged combat going up against one knight specialising in close combat.

It's the kind of asymmetric two-player arrangement we have seen from Games Workshop countless times.

But there's a problem.

The rules specifically state that after making a Charge action, you are allowed to attack with any close combat weapons you have. The rules also specify that if you do any of the other attack options, you can use all of your weapons that are in range. That means every attack option allows you to make close combat attacks.

And that just makes close combat really strong.

Now, I know the theory: Close combat is deadlier, but you have to run a hail of bullets and laser fire to get into range, creating an inherent balance in each fight. But I've already talked about how stupidly erratic your shooting is; and then there are ion shields and obscured shots to worry about. If you take the time to make Aimed Attacks (realistically your best and only chance to cause any kind of meaningful damage), you are going to find you only get two shots off before your opponent is force-feeding you a chainsword.

Not surprisingly, once that happens, you are in a world of hurt; because close combat is heavily weighted to destroy you in short order. Each attack with a close combat weapon automatically hits the location you target, it ignores ion shields, and it ignores bonuses from obscured shots. And of course, because you get to use all of your weapons, you can unload your guns as well.

But what really causes problems is the "double punch."

Charge is the last action in a turn.

Snap Attack is the first action in a turn.

When you are attacking in close quarters, there is no disadvantage to using a Snap Attack. Because you aren't aiming, making a Snap Attack for one action point is just as likely to cause damage as an Aimed Attack for three action points.

So, if you pull off a successful charge, you get to inflict massive amounts of damage, and you finish the turn locked in close combat with your opponent.

In the next turn, you just pick Snap Attack, and you get to immediately whack your opponent a second time.

Your opponent has two options: select Snap Attack and try to whack you first (which relies on a dice off), or take the beating.

But okay, whatever. Not every duel is about destroying your opponent. There are three scenarios in the rules, and they attempt to spice things up a bit with some objectives. In the first scenario, the good knight has to move within one inch of two ruined buildings, while the bad knight tries to destroy him. In the second scenario, the bad knight has to run off the edge of the board while the good knight tries to... uh... destroy him. In the third scenario the knights are trying to... You know what, every duel really is just about destroying your opponent.

It's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

That's it.

And I mean really, that's it.

The rules don't even allow you to introduce additional knights or other unit types. Every game is going to be the same damned thing.

And that's the biggest complaint of all.

This is a silly little game that got made on a grand scale.

Which is something of a missed opportunity really.

Imagine this... Two regular size Games Workshop miniatures, two decks of seven action cards, and two small data sheets; all tucked inside a deck box-sized package and sold for £19.99.

It could have been the most epic game you ever slipped into your coat pocket. The most portable war game ever devised.

The first ever opportunity to have a Games Workshop miniatures skirmish game you could take with you wherever you went.

Maybe I'll do that.

I could go on eBay and purchase two of the old epic-scale knights. I could scale down the data sheets and laminate them for use with a dry-wipe pen. I could condense the rules onto a few reference cards and convert the scale from inches to centimetres.

I could call it Desktop Knights.

But that's for another day. And that's not what I'm reviewing here.

I'm reviewing Renegade.

So what are my final thoughts?

Well, here's the thing:

In the past, Games Workshop has faced accusations that their board games are cash-grab one-and-done products, with half-baked rule sets, primarily intended to sell a bunch of plastic miniatures.

I have always contested that viewpoint.

Space Hulk is still one of the best, most intense two-player experiences on the market. Dreadfleet was a bit of a missfire, but still managed to be big, dumb fun. Assassinorum has become my most-played solo game, and is a quick, deeply thematic game that is unlike anything else in my collection. Betrayal at Calth is an elegant, clever rule set for creating visceral battles in cramped underground caverns.

All of them, with the exception of Dreadfleet, are excellent games.

And then there is Renegade.

And I have to be honest, it is very hard to defend the position that this is not a game primarily intended to sell a bunch of plastic miniatures.

Beyond the plastic components, there really isn't anything here to hold your interest, and I just can't see anyone buying this product for the actual game.

But if you run a 40K army, and you need a couple of knights, this box represents a really good way to get them at a much lower price point than you would normally expect to pay, and you get some really cool scenery too.

Who knows? You might even play the game.


If you want to play a game of giant robot battles, pick up a copy of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots from Amazon.


  1. Yeah, I saw this and I thought it looked like a poor value version of Adeptus Titanicus, and so it seems to be.

    But! We're getting a new version of Adeptus Titanicus in the next couple of years!

    But! It's going to be larger scale, so the Titans are going to be the size of the Knights in this game, so it's probably going to have similar issues.


  2. I think the larger scale is just going to be expensive and unwieldy. It's a shame, because I liked the old epic scale stuff.

    1. Yes, I was excited when they announced it, then considerably less excited when they said how big everything was going to be. It's almost as if they missed the point of Epic.

    2. ....but now it's here, and it's so pretty....

  3. Actually, the new Knight kits from Adeptus Mechanicus would work really well for the Desktop Knights concept.

    1. I never did pick up any small miniatures to try the concept. Who knows? Maybe one day.

      Thanks for reading!


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