Although I’m sure everyone is more interested in discussing the units, I’m going to start my review of the Tomb Kings book by going through the background material. I’ve heard it said that the fluff is that stuff you have to flip through to get to the rules. I’ve also heard it said that the fluff is the reason the army books cost 42 dollars instead of 30. However, I actually find a lot of value in the background material. Indeed, I think the books with well written background help painters and modelers find unique approaches for their armies.
For example, there is a bit on page 17 of the new book discussing “Legions of Legends.” This little paragraph of fluff introduces several painting/modeling ideas that could really make a TK army pop. For example, I could see picking up some Lizardmen bits to adorn the warriors of Raestra’s Crocodile Squadron and ending up with a really well themed army (which is helpful in racking up painting points at tournaments if you aren't a great painter).
The one that most interested me, however, was the Golden Host of Mahrak. Essentially, these guys walk through molten gold in order to decorate their bones. A golden host of skeletons sounded pretty cool, so I decided to paint one up to see if it would be a viable scheme for my skeletons (I have quite a bit of my army painted, but I don’t have a single skeleton). What do you think (I'll apologize in advance for the picture quality. I lost the charger to my good camera and had to use a backup for this one):
I kind of like it, but I’m not sure I’d want to have to keep explaining why my skeletons are painted gold. I might just keep it as a unit champion or something. Still, this shows the importance of a good background section. The old Tomb King book was excellent, definitely one of the best background books of last edition. One of the best parts of the old book was the border of the fluff section that detailed all of the kings of the seven dynasties with little blurbs about each written in a pop-ancient Egyptian style. The book also had some great fiction pieces, many of which were written by Graham McNeill (one of my favorite Black Library authors). For example, “Tales from the Oasis” details a Arabian desert guide telling some Northern treasure hunters about the area. He details several kings including Tutankhanut, the prince who has gathered some living followers into his armies. I noticed that a lot of wishlists for the new book included some desert riders so that people could build Tuts army (come to think of it, Ol’ Tut had a gold body too – he was from Numas though. I wonder why they didn’t make that connection with the Golden Host of Mahrak). Finally, I always liked the first person journal of the faux-Indiana Jones and the faux-Lara Crofts ill-fated attempt to loot a Tomb King pyramid. All in all, the old book had some interesting details and a good sense of humor. Indeed, I’ll hang on to the old book just because of its great background.
So, how does the new book compare to its forerunner in terms of fluff? Overall, I’d have to say fairly well. I miss the longer narrative pieces. The new book relegates all fiction pieces to sidebars, and even then, I don’t know that I’d really call any of the sidebars fiction. The lack of fiction is no surprise; the newer books don’t have near as much of this as the older ones. Like I said above, the fiction pieces were often gold mines of details for modeling, so I miss them if no one else does. However, the book makes up for the lack of fiction with abundant sidebars (containing things such as the legions of legends), a good overview of some of the different areas of Nehekhara (the first person didn’t really individualize any of the cities), and a description of some famous battles (which give a glimpse at some alternate kings). Scattered about these sections are some great stories. My favorite is about a group of Brettonians who plunder a pyramid and think they have found the body of a lost Brettonian hero. They take the body back, set it up in a reliquary, and start parading it around battlefields. Unfortunately, it is actually a sleeping Tomb King; mayhem ensues when he wakes up. Going through these sections has yielded several ideas for theming the army which is what I think is the most important function of the fluff material (compare to the current High Elf book which really doesn't give any concrete ideas except for theming by province).
The actual history section was much more detailed than the last book, and they really fleshed out the background, especially about the Mortuary Cult. One of the things I was most curious to see was what they would do with the Black Library’s Nagash trilogy, especially the first one which is set in ancient Nehekhara. I know a lot of people hate the book; I actually thought it was a decent read. However, some of the details were a bit out of place with the old TK fluff (Ushabti as humans?). It looks to me like they kept some of the ideas from the novel (the sphinxes, details about the Black pyramid), but largely wrote the story to adhere more closely to the original background material (I won’t spoil the novel, but this is a different Arkhan than novel one; Ushabti are statues). Overall, I thought the history section was a bit dry and encyclopedic, but it’s history. What are you going to do?
All in all, I was pleased with the background sections. They gave me an idea for making my army unique, even if I don’t follow through with it, and that’s exactly what a hobby book should be aiming to do. I do feel that the new book lacks the dark humor that permeates the old book. However, I’d argue that the dark humor is being excised from pretty much all the new stuff, which I think is a shame.
Wow, that was a long post again. Be on the lookout for my next post in which I’ll review some of the new units.