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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Aerial Helix Unboxings - Zenian League Core Races

The Aerial Helixes have been out for a couple of weeks now, and my usual unboxings have been delayed by a whole bunch of real life "stuff", but here is the first, addressing the Zenian League races.


We'll start off with the main proponents of war, the Dindrenzi.


They get a Heavy Interceptor and three standard interceptors, the latter modelled on the SRS tokens in Firestorm, which is a nice touch, and repeated with the Terran Helix. The others depart from this theme, but I'll get to that when we deal with those Helixes. The Dindrenzi Helix has one of the highest part numbers of the sets, as you can see.


The Dindrenzi heavy is a very nice ship, with a somewhat predatory silhouette, and moulded in a single piece with four engine add-ons.




All the parts are sharply moulded as you'd expect from Spartan, requiring a minimum of clean-up. Some of the engine parts have a little more thickness on the bottom, leading to them being slightly different heights. Rather than try to sand them all down to the same height, I just lined them up in height order and used similar sized units on each flyer, which worked just fine - the differences are only going to be noticeable if you use them side-by-side.


The standard interceptors require the most assembling of any aerial Helix bar the Relthoza Heavy. As there are three of them this amounts to the most modelling you will do in the aerial boxes. As well as the engine pieces, they require the wings to be added...which is the first snag. Looking at the models, the attachment area has a distinctive downward sweep angle of about 15 degrees, but on  the box they look like they've been assembled with wings straight out. If you do this, however, you're relying on the <1mm tab contact surface to hold the wing on.

In the end I decided to go ahead and angle the wing, both to provide a better joint, and because they look cooler that way. As the Heavy Interceptor also has downward turned winglets, they tie in well as a whole...plus who knows - they may be like X-Wings and have variable wing geometry!

Next up are the Directorate, who get a Heavy and no less than five drones



The heavy features some of the limited amount of metal in these releases - the missile pods Directorate players will already be familiar with from their Combat carrier. Once again it is beautifully cast with very little in the way of clean-up required.



Other than this, it has a flight stand holder and two dual-engine blocks to add to the underside/rear of the model.



The Drones, on the other hand, require very little assembly at all, being one-piece sculpts with just a flight stand needing to be added. They are very reminiscent of the designator drone in the tank destroyer set.



Both sets fit nicely with the established themes of the factions, the Dindrenzi being flying bricks that will probably scream overhead after their ordnance has pounded your position, as subtle as a display team at an airshow. The Directorate you'll probably only be aware of as your equipment malfunctions seconds before missiles slam into your forces from some unidentified location...based on the models alone (I haven't looked at stats yet), I'd recommend either to Dindrenzi or Directorate players.

Finally on the Zenian side are the Relthoza.


This set has probably caused the most controversy amongst Firestorm / Planetfall players (even more so than the Sorylian set which we'll discuss in the AoK Aerial unboxings), even before you open the box. Why? Flying Bugs, thats why.

Now, for me (and many other Relthoza players out there) the Relthoza were a really novel and unique race in the pantheon of miniatures games, because here were giant spider-monsters who were NOT a big hive-mind tyranid-esque plague swarming out across the galaxy eating their way through everyone etc. They stood out because they were subtle and stealthy, masters of cloaking and nanotechnology - these were not dumb bugs, but highly evolved, intelligent and creative individuals.

Some of the Planetfall releases seem to have directly gone against this background, and the aerial set literally seems to fly in the face of it. Here we have flying bugs - probably the oldest cliche to fall into with an insectoid race (which has been hinted at rather than an arachnoid race as they've always been). This bugs me in a number of ways (see what I did there? ;-) ).
  1. It seems to be subtly ret-conning the Relthoza background - and I LOATHE ret-conning
  2. Why would ANY advanced race which extensively uses drone technology for its SRS (as per the existing background) use a "flying combat suit" on the ground? You don't see the US military using men in flying suits as heavy interceptors or as flying controllers for their Reaper drones, do you? Why not? Because it makes no sense whatsoever
  3. Even IF a flying suit made sense, WHY OH WHY would you power it with ACTUAL WINGS? The Relthoza are one of the most advanced races in the Firestorm universe, but they're going to make a suit with flappy wings? Take a look out the window next time you're near an airport or airbase...how many flappy wing aircraft do you see? None...now ask yourself why that is...because we have found different technological ways of flying...I rest my case.
  4. It seems to be almost comic...which isn't what I'm looking for in my games
In short, this set messes with my suspension of disbelief. Now I get why some people who have just come into Planetfall think its cool - "Hey, flying bugs, these guys are like the arachnids form Starship Troopers", but the Relthoza were already cool, and DIFFERENT. It's just disappointing when Spartan have done so many cool things to see this sort of direction for the Relthoza, and it's the third time we've seen this kind of blip too...the Sorylian leviathan and the Aquan fish-riders being the other two (which I actually like, for the record).

Now I get that this is Spartan's universe and it will take it in directions that it wants, but for me it's just odd that it would pull in different directions to those already established over 6 years with Firestorm Armada...which should be the natural expansion base for Planetfall. The thing is that gamers are sensitive people - often highly attuned to difference...it's no surprise that they tend to be detail oriented..the sorts of personalities that notice editing and continuity errors in films. Why limit your expansion into an existing player base with differences in feel and background? I know many Firestorm players who feel this way, or nervous about both Planetfall AND Firestorm, wondering if these sorts of changes will wash back across the FA universe they love too. I really hope it doesn't, because I know from personal experience that these sorts of shifts can end up costing player-base, and for a game like Firestorm that is not firmly established everywhere, that could be costly...if you can't find a game locally, what do you do? 

Anyway, back to the Relthoza models. You get one heavy and three standard interceptors in the set, just like the Dindrenzi.


The heavy os a 10-part model, and not the easiest to put together from what I've heard (I've not assembled mine yet - still deciding exactly what to do!). Not surprising given the nature of the ball-and-socket joints, which provide a great deal of flexibility in posing (which is nice). The parts themselves are fantastic, and flash etc is minimal and restricted on the most part to the metal parts as casting spurs.



The drones are all single-piece castings, only requiring the adjoining pieces removing from between the wings and the pouring points cleaning up.



Once again, there are points on this model I like and points I don't. I like how it resembles the light walker, I think that's neat. I like how the "wings" seem to be platforms for some form of anti-gravity unit rather than physical wings...BUT...why have the "wings" at all? Why not positional A-G pads like on the hovercraft in The Matrix? Why not a dozen other possibilities?

At the end of the day, the Relthoza Helix just does nothing for me. There's always going to be this sort of thing in any game, and making flying bugs was always going to be divisive, which is why I don't really get why Spartan did it. Don't get me wrong - if you like that sort of thing then the models are beautifully executed as we've come to expect from Spartan games, and I'd highly recommend them to anyone on that basis. If they're not your thing, then they'll "bug" you in the same way they do for me!

Overall the Aerial helixes are exactly what you'd expect from Spartan - excellent models, great casts and sometimes quirky decisions!