Comparison: Dark Vengeance vs Assault on Black Reach

Assault on Black Reach (ABR) has been with us for over four years.  ABR was released around the same time the 5th edition ruleset landed in July 2008.  Replacing Battle for Macragge (BM), ABR was a god-send for new players both in quality and value.  Featuring over 500 points of Space Marines and close to 500 points of Orks all for around 50 USD, ABR was Games Workshop’s (GW) gift to the gaming community.  Unfortunately, year-over-year price increases have slowly whittled away ABR’s incredible value.  Before it was retired, ABR cost 99 USD or a doubling of its original price in only four years.  Although the price increased, ABR is still a fantastic beginner set that is well worth the price.  In my opinion, the original price was ridiculously low. So low, in fact, that it made individual sets of certain Space Marines and Orks irrelevant.

Dark Vengeance brings a new level of refinement to the Warhammer 40k boxed set.

Dark Vengeance brings a new level of refinement to the Warhammer 40k boxed set.

With the release of the 6th edition rule set in July 2012, many wondered if GW would rekindle the incredible value that ABR once had.  GW never lowers prices, so instead, we were expecting a substantial increase in quantity and quality in ABR’s replacement, Dark Vengeance.  We recently obtained the Dark Vengeance (DV) set to review and, due to interest, decided to do a comparison between the outgoing ABR set and DV.  We will compare the included literature, look for changes in the provided gaming accessories, and compare the included miniatures both in quality and points value.

Box Quality and Tonal Differences

DV is a major departure from the previous boxed sets both in mood and factions.  Gone is the highly glossed mural-like rendition of war that splashed across the lid of ABR and BM.  Instead, DV is adorned by a matte black finish dripping with blood.  Warhammer 40k is embossed on the lid with Dark Vengeance written in glossy lettering.  The box has a more macabre presence.  The darker mood radiating from DV’s copy-art is fitting as the new boxed set replaces Orks with Chaos and the Smurf-blue Ultramarines with Dark Angels.

GW keeps the same length and width, but increases the height of DV's box by 30%.

GW keeps the same length and width, but increases the height of DV’s box by 30%.

The DV box is more robust and made of thicker cardboard.  The tactile feel of the matte finish is a departure from ABR’s traditional retail packaging.  The DV box looks more substantial due to the increased material quality and its larger size.  GW kept the length and width of the box the same, but increased the height by 30%.  The ABR boxed set always felt flimsy to me.  The bottom bowed a lot when picking it up.  GW must have been aware of this when they designed DV, as it feels much better than the outgoing set.

The back of the boxes keep the same layout, but DV adds more visual interest by posing the included miniatures on an ‘Eavy Metal quality table top environment instead of using a simple textured backdrop.  Traditional lore spans the back of each box.  I would like to see GW market to the exciting aspects of the hobby instead of using boilerplate lore, but that’s a small complaint.

As for the mood differences, it is quite clear by looking at the boxes that GW has moved away from the gung-ho styling of gratuitously bloody battles (almost comical war) and into a more serious and darker tone.  The bright hues of green and blue are replaced with dark grays and crimson.  Bolter bursts and rusty blades are replaced with torn flesh and pointy bits.  I’m glad to see GW try something new with this edition, however I’m apprehensive at how parents will perceive the darker image of Warhammer 40k’s starter set.  Warhammer 40k lore has always been very dark, but a lighter tone could be taken through the naivety of the Orks and the dogmatic zeal of the Ultramarines.  That light tone is completely lost with Chaos and Dark Angels.  As a long time fan, I like the change.

Gaming Accessories

ABR included all the gaming accessories that a new player would need to set up simple games.  It did not include terrain, map pads, and such, but the included range finders, templates, and dice were more than enough to get started.  DV doesn’t change the accessories at all, in fact, they are mostly the same items found in the ABR set.  The only difference that I found was that the templates are more saturated in DV than in ABR.  ABR used a yellow-green color while DV’s templates are neon-green.  Other than that, all the accessories are identical, which is not a bad thing.  I can’t think of anything else that I would like to see included except for larger dice or a measuring tape.

The accessories are largely unchanged except for a coloration difference in the templates.  The DV template (left) is more saturated than the ABR template (right.)

The accessories are largely unchanged except for a coloration difference in the templates. The DV template (left) is more saturated than the ABR template (right.)

It would be interesting to see minor terrain included in the set, especially since the literature includes missions in the quick start guide.

Literature

Abridged Rulebook

The DV rulebook brings major changes such as full color printing, much more content, and better quality paper.

The DV rulebook brings major changes such as full color printing, much more content, and better quality paper.

ABR included a great pocket-sized rulebook that included all the foundational rules to get a new player playing.  Veteran players liked the smaller rulebook so they didn’t have to bring the 5lb proper rulebook to gaming meets.  DV continues the tradition of providing an abridged rulebook with the set, however the DV rulebook is much higher quality than the ABR book.  The biggest difference is that the DV rulebook features full-color printing throughout the entire book.  The ABR rulebook is completely black and white other than 2-3 images at the very beginning.

The artwork throughout the DV rulebook is much improved and a joy to look at.  Every page is wrapped in decorative markings, and there are a generous amount of full color images either providing contextual lore or featuring beautifully painted models.  DV also increases the size of the included rulebook by almost 50 pages.  This increase is due to the addition of mission scenarios and a larger reference section toward the end of the book.  The sections are all a little longer due to the increased use of images and extra call-outs throughout the chapters.  Overall, I was very impressed by the difference in both quality and quantity.  GW did a fine job on the newest abridged rulebook.

Quick Start Guide

ABR included a nice quick start guide that introduced new players to the details of the hobby, provided inspirational ‘Eavy Metal painting examples, included reference material, and laid out a healthy bit of lore.  It was a good, yet basic primer before getting into the rulebook.

A new step by step tutorial section makes the new quick start guide extremely newbie friendly.  Lore was shaved to make room for more hands-on help.

A new step by step tutorial section makes the new quick start guide extremely newbie friendly. Lore was shaved to make room for more hands-on help.

DV goes much further by cutting out some of the lore and replacing it with a proper guide that holds a new player’s hand through their first battle.  Instead of simply laying out some ground rules, DV literally goes step-wise through a tutorial battle.  This, in my opinion, was sorely needed for new players.  I am delighted to see an in depth tutorial included in the quick start guide as I’ve had numerous friends that felt completely lost even after reading all the included literature.  I believe this simple tutorial mission will alleviate many of the issues that new players face.  Reading the weighty rulebook is not a good way to get directly into the battle, but a simply tutorial like the one included in DV gets new players right into the action and lays out foundational rules as they play along.

The quick start guide also includes several missions.  The guide does lose the reference material, but that material was redundant anyway due to the included reference sheets.  I do wish GW would include painting tutorials with the boxed set.  It seems obvious to include since many players choose to paint their army while learning the rules.

Reference Sheets and Assembly Guide

My DV set included two reference sheets.  One was made of high quality card stock, while the other was made of a glossy and thin paper.  Both included the same information.  The reference material used to be in the quick start guide, but DV removes it from the guide and makes them available as stand a lone resources instead.  I think this was a good move as new players will not want to carry the entire quick start guide to battles once they have a few battles under their belt.

An all new assembly guide

An all new assembly guide

Another change is the addition of an assembly guide, which is a nice bonus.  The assembly guide shows images detailing how to assemble each figure and what options are available.  This is a huge bonus for new players.  Instead of having to guess which arm goes to which torso, the assembly guide explicitly shows where all the bits go, which makes putting together the miniatures a breeze.  The guide is made of high quality and thick paper and is roughly 15 pages long with large and easy to see images.

Miniatures

Quality

GW has consistently increased the quality of their plastic molding process ever since they introduced plastic models over ten years ago.  The first models were very basic, but entirely serviceable for troops and vehicles.  Over the years, GW has been able to replace highly detailed HQ and Elite models with plastic versions that completely retained their complex designs during the transfer.  With the introduction of their Finecast models, GW has almost gone as far as making metal models obsolete.

Ork Boss from ABR compared to the all new Chaos Lord in DV.  The Chaos Lord has finer detail.

Ork Boss from ABR compared to the all new Chaos Lord in DV. The Chaos Lord has finer detail.

ABR was heralded for including a plastic Dreadnaught, Terminators, and Space Marine Captain, all in fine detail.  However, it is amazing how far GW has come since those models were released.  The amount of detail in the newest models is staggering, especially the Chaos Lord and Helbrute.  While the Orks in ABR were of great quality, the Chaos are a work of art.

The Dark Angels are finely detailed.

The Dark Angels are finely detailed.

The Ultramarines have been with us for what seems like an eternity.  The Space Marine (SM) models included in ABR look great and are a fantastic value, but next to the Dark Angels, the Ultramarines look tired.  The Dark Angels bring with them detailed wings and insignias that were not found on the Ultramarines.  The cloth, religious regalia, books, swords, and embossed weaponry bring a new level of detail to the DV SM army.  The Ultramarines seem generic by comparison.

The top bike is from an old Space Marine Battlelion set.  The Ravenwing bike has crisper edges and smoother surfaces.  The detail, however, isn't much different.

The top bike is from an old Space Marine Battlelion set. The Ravenwing bike has crisper edges and smoother surfaces. The detail, however, isn’t much different.

The only weak link in this package are the Ravenwing bikes.  While the molding of the bikes is clearly better than in years past, the detail doesn’t seem to be there.  They are not adorned in the same detail as the other miniatures in the set.

 

Points

The point value of the ABR set made it a very good buy at the time, but with constant upward pressure on the price the value started to dwindle.  Luckily, DV includes more points than ABR.  It is great to see the starter set being given its fantastic value back.  I’m especially happy to see an increase in both points and quality.  GW worked their magic to give us substaintially better looking models while providing us with a ~45% increase in points value.

Race Points (approx)
Dark Vengeance
Chaos 700
Dark Angels 800
Total 1500
Assault on Black Reach
Ultramarines 585
Orks 450
Total 1035
% Difference 45%

As we can see, GW was very generous with the points increase.  I’m sad to see the Dreadnaught leave us, but the addition of the Helbrute is well worth it.  I’ve never been a Bike fan, as I simply can not see a huge Space Marine cruising around on a motorcycle.

Final Words

I’ll just say it, Dark Vengeance is a fantastic boxed set.  It appeased my bit of angst regarding the year-over-year price increases.  I do not mind paying more for miniatures, but I’d like something in return.  Ignoring the points increase, the increase in quality alone is worth the entry fee.  The detail in the Chaos and Dark Angels miniatures is astounding and is truly a major step forward over ABR.  On top of the increase in miniature quality, we also have the increase in points value, a larger and full color rulebook, a much improved quick start guide, the addition of assembly instructions, stand a lone reference sheets, and an improved box.  Overall, GW managed to address most of my concerns while improving quality and quantity across the board, in every facet of the boxed set all while keeping the price the same.

I’m sure we will again slowly climb the pricing ladder, but at least right now we have something that rekindles the fantastic value that ABR used to be.  While ABR’s value was stretching thin, DV swoops in, picks up the torch, and marches on with renewed vigor.

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1 Response to Comparison: Dark Vengeance vs Assault on Black Reach

  1. Matthew says:

    Excellent review, covered all aspects that I was curious to learn about. Pictures worked especially well for comparison purposes. Well done.

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