REVIEW: Dark Age: Devastation

Today we crack open Dark Age: Devastation to see what this expansion adds to the grim world of Samaria.

The most exciting thing in this book has to be the new faction: The C.O.R.E. This robotic army had been mostly dormant in the centuries since the United Worlds collapsed and left Samaria in ruins. Then some Dragyri from the Shadow Caste had to go stir them up and set them on the warpath. The C.O.R.E., you see, are the prototype for an autonomous vanguard force.

The idea was that they’d be dropped on a planet to begin laying the foundations for a human settlement. While building stuff for the future inhabitants was an important part of their directive, their primary goal was to harvest energy. In fact The C.O.R.E.’s creation was predicated by the discovery of an alien technology that allowed undreamed of energy yields from living organic material. Plant or animal – it doesn’t really matter. It’s all rendered down into a putrescent liquid that they tote back to the facility that birthed them. The vat that they’re programmed to fill with this stuff is pretty big you see. And most of what was already there was either destroyed when the Dragyri attacked or spent during repairs. And now they need more. It’s in their programming you see. They don’t really have any choice. Given how Barren Samaria is, the most concentrated source of organic material is going to be found in its hapless human population. Until the C.O.R.E. can replenish its energy reserves, the inhabitants of this world are going to be in constant peril of being harvested for the sake of filling a big fuel tank.

While that’s ultimately the purpose that drives the C.O.R.E., there’s still a bit more to its story. As its central AI has aged over the centuries it’s begun to take on a personality of sorts. Its mainframe was badly damaged in the Dragyri attack, and some wires that crossed during that attack left it with a trait its programmers never intended: rage. Yes the C.O.R.E. is pissed. And there’s something even more unfortunate for anyone wanting to stand against it: it’s been recruiting. Samaria is riddled with old complexes and facilities left untouched since the collapse. Any one of these could hide abandoned robots waiting to have their switches flipped back to “on.” The C.O.R.E. has made a point of finding these derelicts and adding them to its ranks. While there are a few rare combat ready constructs to be found, laborers, scouts, and even pleasure droids can be re-purposed to incapacitate the C.O.R.E.’s enemies and yield their energy packed aminos.

So how does the C.O.R.E. feel as a faction? Like some of the other factions in Dark Age, the C.O.R.E. has some restrictions you’ll have to follow in order to play ball. You have to have more models with Gamma Programming than without it, and you have to spend at least 25% of your points on models with the menial ability. This represents the hive- like nature of the C.O.R.E. There should always be menials around for, y’know, menial stuff. Meanwhile only certain robots can waste precious processor speed clocking important strategy-type calculations. Those would be the ones without Gamma Programming. If that leaves you wondering whether the ones with Gamma Programming are… a little slow, then you’re on the right track. They still fight ok, but they can’t go On Hold or Aim and if they find themselves within 10” of an enemy they can see they’ll go nuts and have to go charge them. Fortunately if there’s a nearby unit with Alpha Programming they can help their little friends behave normally. Oh and would you believe all C.O.R.E. models are non-living? I know – crazy right? They’re also immune to poison and fear.

As an army the C.O.R.E. have a ton of choices despite being a brand new faction. Devastation has a full 21 model entries for this new force. That’s actually more than most of the existing armies can access, although that’s largely because the original four Dark Age factions are divided into subfactions with limited selections.  The fact that the C.O.R.E. aren’t is as important a distinction about them as any. There are no saints or cults or castes with their own idiosyncrasies to dictate what troops they’ll take.  In fact at this time, the C.O.R.E. only have access to a single Unique Individual (named character). Also interesting is that some models can be given upgrades n the form of new weapons, special abilities, or changes to their stats.  Not all models of the same name will be identical. Prior to Devastation, Dark Age was like War Machine or Malifaux: models didn’t get upgrades.

Overall the C.O.R.E. seem to favor AR over DF. While no one has a ludicrously high AR stat, there are a lot of models 16 or over. And the C.O.R.E. also  have the Tseudo, a unit that projects a force field that gives +2 AR to all models completely within 6 inches of it. And remember those model upgrades I just mentioned? One of them, Ablative Armor, will give a model +3 AR, although they’ll lose a point whenever they’re hit until they go through all three. That can put some models up to a mighty AR 23 – unparalleled in Dark Age if I’m not mistaken. And the C.O.R.E. still have a couple of dodgy high DF models in their ranks. Other than those distinctions, the C.O.R.E. seem to be a fairly well rounded army by Dark Age standards. Like most factions they have a lot of melee with ranged attacks playing more of a supporting role. While they definitely have some good ranged attacks, a lot of their rank and file ranged units suffer from that whole Gamma Programming thing, and won’t get to go on hold unless a supporting Alpha Programming model or a model with Beta Override is nearby. And only a model with Alpha Programming can keep them from charging into combat. C.O.R.E. need those ranged attacks since they have nothing like the Foci of the Dragyri or the Psychogenics of the Skarrd.

And speaking of the Skarrd, they’re the other stars of Devastation. Obviously these guys have been around for awhile, so what does Devastation do for them? It gives them a new sub-faction: The Cult of Metamorphosis. These guys represent an evolution of the Followers of the Heretic subfaction from Dark Age Apocalypse: Forcelists. This means one of my favorite dramatis personae of Samaria, Saint Johann, is making another appearance. All that exposure to those Skarrd toxins has affected him. His obsession with grafting has taken on a spiritual meaning for him now.

His previous incarnation was an insane beast in close combat; so much so that he was the most expensive model in the game. While the new version of him presented in Devastation is still a killing machine, he’s lost a bit of his combat prowess to become a master of the new Cult of Metamorphosis Psychogenics: The Spirit of the Machine. This will let him do cool stuff like turn a friendly model’s MAL roll into a critical hit, or make an enemy model’s MAL roll even more destructive. Combine this with the “Ghost in the Machine” passive ability that ups the odds that enemy models will suffer a malfunction, and you can expect to see your opponents blowing themselves up right and left. Johann’s changes affect more than just his own stats. He can no longer mix Forsaken and Skarrd troops in the same army. His new cult functions just like the other Skarrd cults: you can pick any of the generic Skarrd troops, and add whatever else you like from this specific cult’s subfaction. And the Cult of Metamorphosis is definitely my new favorite Skarrd subfaction. Not only can you field that sweet Nightmare Juggernaut above, Johann’s companions, Dexus, Dominique, and Quietus, have also returned with slightly new rules. This whole multiple incarnations of the same character thing is also new for Dark Age.

Last but not least, Devastation offers new scenarios to replace those found in Dark Age Apocalypse: Core Rules. Now they are divided by faction to help improve thematic flavor. They’ve also been rewritten so as  not to set two players against each other with wildly different goals that might not make for the most engaging encounter.

So now let’s go ahead and make this personal. How did I feel about the book? Well I definitely enjoyed the read. And like most of the books your liable to buy for a miniatures game, one of the most important parts of an expansion like this is the read. The C.O.R.E. are served up with some nice juicy bits of background about the setting. We learn that centuries ago humanity waged a war against machines of its own making, and there are also a few more new things to find out about the Corporations that ultimately set the stage for today’s Samaria. For what it’s worth, I feel like the overall quality of the writing has definitely improved since Forcelists. I also really like the art. A lot of the pieces have me looking forward to see what the models they represent are going to end up looking like. My only real gripe is that there are still a good amount of typos. Some of them are just technical things – minor “there, their, they’re” kind of issues that a lot of people might never notice. But there are a few that are hard to miss. But regardless of typos, between this book and the Kukulkani I unboxed a couple of weeks ago, I’m really getting excited about playing this game.

Oh and one more thing. If you’re thinking about starting Dark Age, or are even just a bit curious about it there’s a really amazing app you need to check out for iOS. Dark Prevailer is more than just an army builder. It also has the profiles for every model in the game – including the newly released Kukulkani. While it doesn’t have the core rules for the game (you can find those here FYI), it does have all the model-specific rules. Bring up a card, tap the rules, and find out what they do. This is a tremendously helpful play-aid that I think will really open up Dark Age for curious new fans. It was even created by Wendell Hicken (Whicken) who made the much beloved iBodger app. Yes, a version for Android is being worked on.

~So what do you think? Is all this new stuff happening for Dark Age enough to make you want to give it a try?

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