Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In which our hero thinks aloud regarding the shrubbery

Miniatures? Check.
Rules? Check.
Terrain? Oh bugger.
I've been ignoring a pretty important part of the gaming equation so far, the tabletop and its scenics. Not to say that it hasn't been rattling around my brain, but I certainly have not been oblivious to it. Rather, I spend a lot of time thinking about the game board and the lack of action on the point is due more to paralyzation in the face of too many options than short-sightedness.
Here are a few of the conflicts I am up against...
My dining room table is 54" x 54" and it is remarkably unlikely that I will play any game anywhere else anytime soon. This puts an easy ceiling on the size of my gaming space right away, and this is certainly plenty of space for the kinds of games I want to play - in fact, for what I am working on right now I can squeeze down quite a bit.
But do I want to commit to a size at all? Deciding to use a 3x3 or 4x4 surface means losing or at least marginalizing other options. What is more, I am at cross purposes with myself - I would like to play both skirmishes and battles, and they are best served at different sizes. It is likely that if I commit to a base surface, then, that I will need to either get something that is modular, get two mats, or just play in a corner of a larger mat much as I would play in subsections of an undressed table if I skipped the base surface all together.
The options when it comes to the composition of the gaming surface are legion. Giving just the most likely choices produces the list: nothing, cloth mat, rubber mat, large tiles, and meaningful hexes. Not one of these is sufficiently superior to the others to trivialize the choice, though there is a huge difference in effort in getting the surface ready to play, more or less in the order listed. Four-inch hexes are something I am very interested in, given that they combine both a high degree of customization, but also the ability to do hex-based gaming, which with the decades of Battletech and Ogre behind me feels so right. Meanwhile, the Zuzzy rubber mats look very cool, but require painting, the Hotz felt mats are pre-finished but don't come in sizes that appeal to me, and the table is, well, just the table.
Some of the very first miniatures gaming I ever did at assorted conventions as an adolescent was on tables loaded down with Geo-Hex. First impressions being what they are, the notion of piecing together a board with smaller segments has been a constant desire in my gaming life. I have used wooden and foam squares of various sizes, I've got a decent GHQ Terrainmaker project for modern microarmor up in the attic. I even tried a scheme with self-adhesive floor tiles that almost worked. Despite, or perhaps due to this fondness for modular terrain I am increasingly unlikely to dive into it again. I just know from experience what kind of cost and time investments are involved, and how hard it is to be on the right side of the crap:quality outcome. I think that at this stage in life, I am willing to trade the ability to sculpt the layout of a battlefield for the ability to get it on the table quickly and easily.
Universality goes with modularity and must be considered. While I am only doing 15mm sci-fi right now, that doesn't mean I will never play another period. The ability to reuse the majority of the terrain in various guises is highly desirable. While the to-scale and to-period pieces on the table will be specific, I do expect that a base terrain which works well for sci-fi rockballs should serve well enough for other projects ranging from Back of Beyond to WWII Africa to Hellenistic ancients. It will certainly be less jarring than all those 40k games we used to play with my fantasy battle scenics.
While my threshold of pain as far as the price tag of a scenery solution goes is not as low as it once was, I still have no desire to sacrifice too much of what could be spent on figures on scenery instead. At the same time, I want scenery which is at least as attractive as the miniatures I am putting on it. Given that my painting is just above average, that becomes my target. Getting there will cost a few bucks, but less than I have spent on miniatures for the 15mm project to date. For once, it seems, expense is the least weighty variable in a new project, which must say something about how old I am getting.
The wet blanket factors are many. It must store well, it must set up and tear down fast, and it can't be messy. It's hard to ever be driven by reasonable and rational choices when you are a grown man playing with toys, but it's got to be in there somewhere - how well I do so remains to be seen.
It must be said, one reason Bloodbowl is so easy to love is that you don't have to fiddle with terrain. Yet some do. Go figure.
Every clear-thinking neuron (that would be seven, for the record) says to just build some scenics and play on the bare table, but when do I ever live up to the logic and reason I aspire to?
The conflict-avoiding compromiser in me will negotiate up to a game mat, but only if it rolls up and doesn't shed, but he's a pushover after all, so we can probably get more.
The engineer that lives in my head wants something modular and comprehensive, and really likes to huff styrofoam hexes if rumors are true.
The pushy aesthete wants to go way overboard on the whole project. That guy always bites off more than he can chew and leaves a wasteland of unfinished projects in his wake.
So, where am I at right now? I really don't want to use a bare table, but I also don't want to do hexes (not as the base surface anyway). I don't want to have to cut or paint to excess either.
What I like the idea of right now is getting a 4x6 Hotz mat with hexes, but without craters which I will cut down to a square (more or less as the hexes fall), using the remainder to make hills by gluing hex cutouts to the top of Terrainmaker hexes, and perhaps even having enough for a 2x2 skirmish board as well.
I am not going to worry about comprehensive scenic details off the mark - I can get by with just some buildings, some rocky outcrops, and some roads. Trees, rivers, shrubs, and the lit can come later, if at all.
To that end, I do have a mess of Plastruct sheets, rods, and tubes and have gotten a bit of a go on some small colonial shanty buildings and ruins, all of which will be useful no matter what decisions I make about the overall terrain project.
TL:DR version - Phil spends a lot of time and money on pretendy planet but not as much as he probably could have.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In which our heros shows off some Astagar

Today's transparent cry for attention is a few of the Critical Mass Games Astagar Mercs that I am presently plugging away at.

The blue is a bit vivid under the flash. Truth be told, it's a bit vivid all the time, but I wanted them to stand out a bit. They're fearless space pirates, raiding frontier systems and stripping them of anything useful, so subtlety is not really the point. Still, they could probably use another dark wash just to dim the lights a bit.

To follow up on my previous ramble about how to base them, I wound up forcing them onto a 5/8" washer. You can see a step-by-step for how to do this easy and with a fairly low breakage rate - the steps being to first cut away the area under the raised coil in the middle of the base. Next, bend the tail carefully about 90 degrees, then glue the critter to the base. Trying to cut the tail from the base where it touches the ground nearest the end didn't work out too well when I tried that approach.

I suspect I am going to wind up greenstuffing a few extra uniform details onto the remainder of these guys - at least some shoulderpads and helmets on most, mainly just because I like the way the armor details look on the pieces that have them.

All in all, I like these guys. They're definitively alien, but still fit in well with the other stuff I have going on around the table.

Monday, December 20, 2010

In which our hero judges books by their covers

So, now that I have minis, I need a game to play, or three.

While the generic nature of the 15mm SciFi miniatures scene has the advantage of being liberated from specific systems and restrictions, an embarrassment of freedom is the difficulty in settling on a set of rules.

But after much intertubes and skimming books, I seem to have narrowed the field down to three games that I will probably actually bother playing.

The first set of rules I splashed for was the .pdf pre-release of Tomorrow's War from Ambush Alley Games. This game gets great press and enthusiastic reviews everywhere, thanks mainly to the near-universal fondness for AAG's previous titles, Ambush Alley (rules for contemporary asymmetrical fights), and Force on Force (small, symmetrical fights anywhere in the last century or so). I had also heard the creators interviewed on the Meeples and Miniatures podcast (I am addicted to podcasts, listening to Stuff You Should Know as I type this), and I liked their vibe.

All of which is to justify spending 20 bucks on a .pdf file. Or two actually since I got the bundle with TW and FoF, as the pre-release version on TW is a bolt-on rather than a full game.

Still, I expected a great game, and a great game is worth it, and to be honest, with an iPad, a .pdf rulebook isn't bad.

So, is it a great game? Yeah, it is, but I won't play it a lot.

To explain, I typically prefer games with high levels of abstraction, very simple mechanics, and a firm tilt toward the game side of the game:simulation continuum. Not that I don't enjoy a good realistic game too, but I am for better or worse a member of the beer & pretzels crowd when I am playing with other people and looking for something without a deep tactical detail when playing solo.

TW is a fairly detailed, reality-grounded game. The mechanic are excellent and interesting, but nine times out of ten, it just isn't the game I want to play, which is entirely my fault, because it is a very good game and I look forward to enjoying it when it is the game I want to play. FoF has definitely made a return to WWII gaming more possible in the future, given how much I disliked Flames of War and how much better FoF would be for the period, and will definitely be in the mix for any game I play set in the 20th century.

As a fistfull of dice aficionado, I really like the core mechanic of TW/FoF, which boils down to the attacker and defender rolling a dice for each model in the fight and matching up results. Combined with the use of multiple types of die for different quality troops (d6, d8, etc) this basic system is both surprisingly effective and just plain fun. The tendency of firefights to degenerate into confusing webs of reaction fire is probably my one real complaint with the game - while this system is at the heart of the realistic outcome of the game, it can be a bit much on a crowded table and is not fun to negotiate in solo play in particular, where some of the 'F you' charm of reaction fire is lost.

The next candidate was's Alien Squad Leader. A game with massed basing, claiming to mix the best of DBA and Warmaster and espousing a pulp ethic - pretty much catnip to Our Hero. And stylized abstraction is something ASL delivers on, along with a set of excellent army lists, and a good bit of unapologetic fun.

As mechanics go, the movement, spotting, and shooting systems are all pretty standard fare. The mechanical highlight for me is a command system reminiscent of Warmaster, which is still one of my favorite game mechanics ever. Driving the game with the command roll mechanic is a good way to inject random chance and tactical foresight simultaneously, and the sudden shortened turn or impossible but critical success enliven the table every time.

While the game mechanics are understated but effective, the heavy lifting of the game's design seems to be in the 14 army lists included in the book. The flavor which isn't overly-developed in the rules to differentiate forces is instead lavished on the force selection guidelines, in their variety of units available as well as their few special rules which are nowhere near as heavy-handed as the force-specific rules in, for instance, Flames of War.

An interesting aspect of these lists which makes ASL look different on the gaming table are the large number of archaic, primitive, and feral units used as auxiliaries and cannon fodder by many of the armies profiled. These options are a welcome change of pace over the ubiquitous Halo-esque troopers that make up the force lists of most games.

As much as this bit of color excites me, there really is a paucity of SciFi-specific primitives and beasts on the market. Historical ranges can yield up lots of colorful troops, as with fantasy ranges obviously, but they will always look like a stand of fantasy elves or zouaves even if you paint their skin blue. Khurassan notably does make a number of pulp and SciFi creatures to fill these roles, and kudos to them for doing so.

The third system I picked up, almost as an impulse buy when ordering ASL, was USEME from While the handful of reviews of this system (whose name is an acronym for Ultra Simple Engine for Miniatures Engagements) were positive, I was skeptical that a game which was designed to be completely generic and very brief simply wouldn't convey much army character or mechanical novelty. Ultra-basic generic systems are an old standard in gaming, and few are wildly popular, though a handful, like DBA are. Given that the game was about six bucks, I figured it was worth a try anyway.

USEME is pretty much what I expected it to be, and for that reason, or perhaps despite that, it is the game I more likely to use for skirmish games over TW. The mechanics are thin but effective, stylized but not unbalanced, and yield a well-worthwhile game. There is very little to differentiate forces but what is available, chiefly the elan score and varied move rates chosen in initial force construction can yield two forces with core troops that play very differently and can model a number of concepts very well. While a player could simply construct a force that will min-max these option for tactical effect, players with a more purposeful objective can produce a surprisingly specific theme for their force through subtle profile sculpting.

As a long-time evangelist for simple games, USEME is a game I would point to as a success. It produces a fun and fair fight and rewards purposeful force design. Certainly it is not going to be a detailed, gritty, game which integrates many minutia taken as a requisite by many games, but if you want to play a quick, casual game with small-to-medium forces, it is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In which our hero finally paints that Tomb Guardian

They say better late than never.

That said, they never really seem happy with waiting.

Fickle, they are.

Anyway, at long last I present my completed Khemri team.

Yeah, this was no small project. You find the one mini in the bunch without a lick of greenstuff and you win a prize.

I was going to use this post to tell the whole story of the Khemri team once and for all, but after typing out page after page of backstory and excuses I finally realized that not only was that story too long, and probably going to get me a call from a lawyer, but no one really could care less about how the team wound up so screwed up.

Besides, in the end, no matter what happened to the project outside of my control, the stuff I made was not good enough, period. Garbage in, garbage out.

Whatever, I really can't talk about these figures without getting depressed and defensive and making excuses. It will never matter how incredible these figures are and I will never have any pride in this, far and away the best work I ever did because it was all built on a foundation of failure and regret.

This team started out as a vindication, worked it's way through validation, catharsis, and disappointment, and in the end, I can't feel anything for it. It was never enough to validate the original, if flawed concept, never enough to show the world that I had the chops to do a team of figures that deserved to be an official release. Ultimately, not only could they not overcome my frustration with the Khemri team, they couldn't even pull out the painting prize at a tourney.

Emo much?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In which our hero shows off some Titan Marines

And after much fiddling with colors, I seem to have settled on this...

They look pretty good, definitely look like bad guys, but I will admit that it can be a bit hard to pick details out on from table height. In the end, though, I just wasn't happy with anything lighter or higher in contrast, especially the face masks, which seem to have to be black despite my wishes to the contrary.

(And yes, the bases still need to be landscaped, I just didn't feel like doing it. You get what you pay for around here.)

I generally want to do figures this small in lighter shades and lots of contrast, but going too light with bad guys is a tricky venture - you can go with an all-white Imperial Stormtrooper look, I considered doing them in red, but the one was too derivative and the other too impractical, which of course are criticisms that are completely interchangeable.

Given that the underlying theme for this faction's aesthetic, what with the halftracks and coalscuttle helmets is to conjure up images of jackbooted thugs I really didn't want to wander too far from grey and brown, and in the end, I pretty much stuck to grey and brown.

The miniatures are good enough to do whatever your skill can do with them, though The surface detail doesn't get lost, takes washes well, and has innate separations to guide you around the project. It's a lot of work for 15mm miniatures, given that an internalized reason for doing this scale in the first place is supposed to be speed, but that said, all five took about what I would have spent on the same figure in 28mm scale getting to the same effective level of detail. Good thing I'm not in a hurry.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In which our hero asks a simple question

That question being, where are the jump infantry?

I am nearly certain that I have, by now, found pretty much every 15mm SciFi line of note on the interwebs, and what I have come to realize is that in all of these lines there is nary a hint of a jetpack-equipped infantry. Sure, some of the power armor types have big honking things on their backs that might be jetpacks, but they aren't presented specifically as such, and no where have I found, to my memory anyway, a regular infantry so equipped.

Yes, this is somewhat surprising to me. Twenty years ago jump infantry was very much the norm. There was jumping in games from Ogre (Battlesuit, to be precise) to Battletech and even early 40K had on on the back of every Space Marine. At that time, it was a genre staple. Yet, here we are without a line of jumpers in any range at this scale created in the last few years?

Why is this so?

Could it be that the inability of engineers in our real lives to deliver a viable jetpack has rendered the notion too farsical even for speculative fiction games? Not likely since they stick to the notion of flying cars and tanks.

Could it be that the tactical utility and viability of such troops has come to be seen as lacking? Doubtful, as infantry able to move quickly over rough terrain and uneven elevation is a general's dream.

Could it be that the current crop of in-fashion rules sets simply overlooked these types and the figure lines being sculpted, mainly to be useful in the current systems have similarly ignored them? Entirely possible.

Whatever the reason, I want my jumpers. I suppose that I will just find some relatively good models to use as a base and break out the greenstuff and convert up my own, but it sure would be nice for all of us if the bouncers would just come back from obscurity and play a part in the genre's battles again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In which our hero travels back in time

So, over the last few days I've gone through the effort of replacing the images I've used in the blog posts prior to this one. Turns out, the iPhone really isn't up to the task of doing miniature photography with any real gusto. I'd hoped that the ease of using my ever-present phone would encourage more frequent, or at least more hassle-free posting, but the sacrifice in detail wasn't worth it.

In the end, I just pulled out my camera and reshot the old pictures, and went through all of the accompanying file transfer, cropping, resizing, and uploading shenanigans.

I do it for you.

What have you ever done for me?


In which our hero receives a package from Critical Mass Games

Arriving today we finally get some Critical Mass Games Astagar mercenaries to play with. 

First of all, they're big. These are guys I would not want to have to fight in some crumbling future city. They aren't out-of-scale big, but just imposing figure big. 

While that extra size makes them perfect for my planned fearsome alien raider force, and promises some nice minis to paint and admire, what is also does is make basing a fiddly thing.

The commander and the close-combat brawler are going to mount on my 5/8" washers just fine, the latter will need some slight base trimming to do so, but the three long-based figures have bases that measure pretty much right at 5/8". 

They will mount on the bases, but will look a bit awkward.

So, do I get bigger bases or do I adjust the figures?

If I was doing strictly single-figure-per-base gaming, a 20mm or 25mm base would be no big deal. However, I want to be able to have some multi-figure options available for different rules sets or just to speed up unit moving in others. The two base types I am trying are bases with a magnet and drilled templates.

The magnetic bases are just a wooden base with a magnetic sheet on top, painted similar to the miniatures' basing color. This approach is easy and flexible and would accomodate the 25mm bases well enough.

The drilled template bases look better though, as they can be given the full scenic treatment and look more purposeful. 

My head says magnets, my heart says holes. 

While that nonsense sorts itself out, though, one thing is certain, if I put the Astagar on a 5/8" base somehow, they will be fine either way. I think I will give one squad a try and see what kind of repositioning the tails are capable of. Watch this space for results.

After all of that, I still havn't said much about the minis, and they should be given a chance to be complimented for certain. 

These are nice, well-executed sculpts and are faithfully and cleanly cast in good metal. There is almost no clean-up needed on these at all. The figure mix, with the gauntletted close combat mini and the carbine-armed troops definitely points to these being well-suited to an assault role, and the heavy weapon could be classified as anything from a rocket launcher to a light machinegun or pulse laser. They seem a pretty usable mux, which is good as I am trying to build an army force around a pack of five miniatures.

Given the paucity of variants I am tempted to get out the greenstuff and enhance them a bit, but truth be told, I doubt I need to. While the odd specialist or high commander might be called for, the rank and file should have sufficient variety in poses and utility in represented gear to do the job. 

Another highly-admired delivery I am going to enjoy painting soon. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In which our hero shows some skin

I thought it would be nice to take a little break from obsessively reporting on my 15mm mobilizations, so here's another fantasy football team - my Valkyries.

When I say "my Valkyries" I really do mean mine - as in minis I sculpted in addition to having done the brushwork.

What ever must you think of me now?

Yes, they're immature and basal and pantsless, but they are also cynical.

I kept Phigs going for the better part of four years, and in that time, these ladies were far and away the only release that ever caught on. I'd like to think they were cleverly designed, expertly sculpted, and delivered a much needed new team concept to the fantasy football community.

But no, they're just half-naked chicks in metal thongs.

But then, I knew that at the time. I wanted to try to sculpt something that would actually stand a chance of paying for itself after losing so much on my first few releases. And it worked. I broke even. Huzzah.

I never claimed to have high expectations.

The point of Phigs was never really much more than crowd-sourcing the expense of getting minis I wanted to play with cast. When I lost sight of that and tried for things that might be commercially poignant, the Black Widows and the Multi-part Humans, the whole house of cards fell down as I lost interest and money in large portions. Turns out I really didn't know what people were willing to buy, and I really didn't want to sculpt things I wasn't interested in. I guess I just got lucky with the bare-assed nordic chicks.

So to speak.

Yes, despite their pandering to the lowest common denominator, I do like the minis myself, so you can toss my name into the childish bucket, but they really are good fantasy football minis.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In which our hero receives a package from Rebel Minis and is very impressed

Another delivery today, this time a few packs of Rebel Minis' Titan Marines and Titan Marines Heavy Weapons.


I loved these figures at the Rebel Minis website. They looked great, but I honestly expected those remarkable pics to have been the result of deceptively good paintwork or pre-production casts. Not a cynical expectation, simply a realistic one given how these things work - manufacturers want the best painting they can get and the first figures we have to get painted before going live with a release are the master proofs. 

But no, these minis are just that good.

They're a good deal, the regular grunts are 21 figures in five poses for $10.95 and the heavy weapon teams are $3.49 for 6 figures, which is two rocket launchers, two snipers, and two heat weapon troops. My only gripe with this allotment, and probably my only gripe with the figures at all, which goes to show you a) how little is wrong with these guys and b) how I can find the down-side of anything is that there isn't an obvious command figure and the mix doesn't part out to squads or fireteams logically without extras or deficits. 

The quality of these figures rivals some of the larger mini-makers out there in crispness and character. Excellent sculpts well-cast. These instantly became my favorite figures in this scale. Now, if only I could figure out how I am going to paint them.

The plan is to use these, as I am sure most people do, as "bad guys" in my space colony conflicts. Together with some Old Crow near-future halftracks they'll make some good stormtrooper types in the pulp neo-fascist vein. That rather unimaginative approach to using them definitely calls out for some grey armor, but grey armor is going to be featureless at a distance. I could go with an Afrika Korps tan, imitating the samples on the Rebel Minis website which I admire so much. I can also try to combine these two, with a brown jumpsuit under grey plates. I think I might try this and see what I think. It's not so terribly derivative of the stereotypical bag guy look that I won't feel like I've differentiated my efforts, but hat-tips the underlying reference well enough to make my gesture clear.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In which our hero shows off some painted Khurasan Federals

A little more eye candy by way of a squad of infantry for my Commonwealth faction, determined, professional forces drawn from throughout from the human colonies.

The Khurasan Federals definitely painted up well. The slight casting irregularities blended out with purposeful brushwork and the great poses, excellent proportions, and overall design really pops once the paint gets on. 

They were a reasonably quick unit to finish. I basecoated the figures with a light green, then added tan to the armor plates and a medium brown on the boots, backpacks, and ammo pouches. Next I did a thin sepia brown wash over everything. Once it dried I touched up the raised areas of the green jumpsuits with the original base color. The armor plates were blended up from the base to almost white highlights, and the bags and pouches were fine as they were. 

The weapons wound up being shaded up to silver, which is pretty unrealistic, but when they were flat charcoal or dark metallic they just didn't have any detail or definition at range, they really only took on any detail when picked out in bright silver. This is a pretty normal concession to make at 15mm, though, trading a bit of gritty realism for high contrast aestheticism.

Basing was about as simple as possible, I puttied them early on, then painted them brown and glued some brown sand to the base. I'm not even going to bother painting the ground cover on these, the lightly mottled sand works just fine as is. I may add a few small tufts of green flock here and there, but the results are fine and you can't argue with the effort required.

I am pretty pleased with the outcome. They're nice minis with pretty effective table-view paint schemes. Now I just need to paint another couple of dozen and I'll be ready to go. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In which our hero shows off a Grav APC

And this time we get a look at what I made of the Topgun grav APC.

I followed my plan for a geometric pattern, and I like the results. While the intention was to offer contrast for the organic, reptilian curves of the model, the zig-zag pattern wound up having a crocodilian quality all it's own, which unifies the model and paint pretty nicely. I find that the combination of a vivid green and a straightforward desert tan, along with the garish lines underscores the role of these as mercenary/raider transports in my game world nicely.

The technique is pretty much all blending at this point, with some wash shading around the edges of the scale armor, doors, and such. Sometimes I wonder if I should spring for an airbrush, especially if I am going to get into 15mm vehicle periods more aggressively, but in the end, I'm just not unhappy with the effects I can get with brushes and patience.

The underside is fairly nondescript, a flat charcoal grey which passes well as heat shielding for orbital drops, and is never really seen in play anyway. I glued a magnetic figure base to the center of the bottom as well to give it some elevation. The base is small enough that it is rarely seen, and offers an excellent levitation illusion. The magnet keeps it more or less safe in my figure boxes to boot.

I still might add some communications arials somewhere, it just seems like a little something is missing. Might need a little more weathering, perhaps some carbon scoring. I like it as it is, but I think I can get a little more out of them. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

In which our hero shows off a Grav Sled IFV

So, this is what I made of that GZG grav sled ICV.

I figure most planets in my setting are either hot rockballs or cold rockballs, so a desert scheme should serve well. Besides, I am saving green for my Neo-Sovs. 

Technique-wise, it's pretty basic stuff. Over a light tan basecoat I ran a thinned line of several different complimentary darker shades along the edges of detail pieces, randomly Using each different color on different Seams, joints, and crevasses so that the shading was irregular. Then I reapplied the base color to large surfaces, and after that blended lighter highlights on the more prominent parts. 

The irregular deep shading gives a nice wear pattern, a little rust, a little mud, a little shadow. Very simple and uncomplicated. I don't want every faction in my collection to have a patterned camouflage on their vehicles, so even though it might look pretty good with a light green secondary color, and I can even see doing some vehicles in this faction that way, I am happy with this simple beginning.

I ultimately decided against a peg-type basing arrangement, but I still wanted to imply some elevation. What I settled on was gluing a wooden figure base (a nice Litko piece, I believe it is FoW small sized) which just barely fits under the skids. This base adds height without needing to be scenic or revealing that the grav pads are not actually suspended above the play surface. Adding a magnetic sheet to the bottom also keeps it from rolling around my storage box as well. All in all, a nice compromise solution.

I am definitely a big fan of this model and the whole GSG grav sled line. It's a look I like and the weighty all-metal models really stand out when playing games with them. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In which our hero receives a package from Topgun Marketing

Today's unpacking courtesy of Topgun Marketing's Grav APC's.

I ordered four of these sleek little buggers to cart around some sort of aliens, I've not really settled on which ones, but am thinking they might be a good fit for the Critical Mass Games Astagar which I have a thing for. Seems a good fit for some nasty mercenary snakes.

Here's a look at one of the resin hulls plus most of the little metal bits that make up a single kit.

I'm thinking that I will do something geometric with the paint job. The vehicle is all rounded shapes, so something amorphous or similarly rounded will make surface details less distinct. Plus, I already know that angles look good on these grav tanks as it was a hexagon-camo tank squad that really sold me on the models in the first place. 

You can get these vehicles with or without the clusters of circular plating on the hulls. In the designer's description these serve an anti-personnel role, but could just as easily be reactive armor or just passive surface detailing. I decided to go with them because they would give a scale-like look to the tank, which would further boost their usefulness as reptile runabouts. 

I didn't build mine out exactly as intended by the designers. I didn't take to the look of the rocket tubes on the vertical boom after putting it all together. They rode pretty high, and even shortening the boom still left them perched too awkwardly for my taste (which is what it is, admittedly). I think it broke the extreme streamlining of the vehicle too much for my liking. Instead I dropped the boom and mounted the tubes directly on the turret at a jaunty angle that seemed to fit the curvy vibe. 

I like these tanks for two reasons. First, I like them because they look great. They look fast, they look tough, how could you not want some? Mainly though, I like them because they are clearly a labor of love, they're something special to the guys that made them and as a guy who once had a mini line just to get stuff I wanted to play with into the world, I support anyone who managed to pull off that feat as well.

Corresponding with Robert at Topgun it's clear that he's really excited about these. He'll tell you all about the little gizmos on the outside of the textured hull version, send you game stats, pictures of renders and painted tanks. It's not just an impersonal online purchase and a package that pops up a couple of weeks later, it's sharing a hobby and caring a lot about the stuff you make, and that's pretty cool.

And, now that I have a few of these tanks, I'm pretty excited about them too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In which our hero receives a package from GZG

I came home to find a remarkably heavy little box sitting on the kitchen counter.

Much about this is surprising.

First, that it is here at all. I placed this order with Ground Zero Games only a few days ago, I would have to look back at my emails, but it wad certainly only a week ago at most. They turned this thing around and tossed it over from England fast. I am impressed sirs.

Second, that it is so heavy. I didn't realize that the 15mm Stargrunt vehicles were all-metal. The website displays them in flat colors, which had led me to expect resin casts, but now I see that they were just base coated to show detail better rather than would brightly shining metal bits.

So, having ordered 8 tanks and three dozen infantry, it was a pretty dense block of tin that hit my doorstep. No wonder shipping cost was what it was. I think my lesson here is to only place smaller orders from GZG in the future to save my mailman's back.

And there will be a next time.

let's take a look at the first item I plan to put brush to, one of the Grav IFVs. Here is a look at what constitutes a single kit.

I ordered four of these in a platoon bundle, which with the vehicle kits, four all-metal flight bases, and some extra communications gubbins to stick on the tanks.

The casts are generally very good. The upper hull has some fixable mold lines and some shallow pitting, but the other parts are very crisp. Being a metal kit, and knowing what to expect from spincasting something this big, I was ready for some extra effort in getting everything to fit together, and there was some effort required to get the pegs that position the hull halves to work right, but nothing heroic and I did't feel like there were any gaps or pits that needed to be filled once it was all together, so the production quality is very good (the infantry figures I got, which I will profile later, were very good casts as well).

After assembly, here's an IFV sled (left) and MBT sled (right) as an added bonus.

I really like the assembled tank. It's a shade small to be hauling around six or seven scale-creeped 18mm troops, but not by enough to be incongruous at table height (and no more so than it looks to be the case with most troop carriers, judging from photos I have seen). Still, the design is very cool. I like the grav wings a lot, they seem to be a very well-played interpretation of what early efforts at such a tech would look like, and make the vehicles in this family from GZG very distinctive. It's a nice tech level bridge piece between something like a skirted hovercraft and a far future/alien smooth hull design, giving it a nice niche in a game world. Above the wings, it's a perfectly reasonable fighting vehicle design. Put wheels or treads on it and I would believe there were hundreds of these rolling around some failed state or another today. All in all, an excellent near-future design.

My only worry with this model is what to do with the basing. If I use the included base plate and post, I will definitely cut the post down a lot. Sticking it at full height as GZG does in their catalog would be trouble. The heavy tank would have an impractical center of gravity up there and would fall over constantly. Even mounted on a shortened post to appear to fly just a couple of scale feet off the ground, I fear there may not be a glue strong enough to hold the post in its mountings under the stresses of table use with the substantial weight of the tank itself. I may skip basing altogether and just let it sit on the grav fins. Experiments are in order.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In which our hero receives a package from Khurasan

The first of my 15mm purchases arrived today - including three of the the Federal Army squads from Khurasan Miniatures

These guys are a brand new release, and I like them a lot. For $5.99 you get a dozen unique minis, thoughtfully composed to form a typical squad - one fire team with a leader, SAW gunner, grenadier, and two riflemen, a second fire team with a leader, an ATG launcher, loader/spotter, grenadier, and a rifleman plus a squad leader and a medic. This assortment can be used to concoct all sorts of organization combinations, though I'd like to have a second SAW gunner in there (that said, there will be a pretty cheap add-on release soon with normally-armored, as opposed to bikini-clad female troopers which will include an extra gunner which I can use for that purpose).

Here's a photo of one squad set.

The poses are excellent and the sculpting probably was better than it looks in metal, but the castings are a bit rough. There are some slight mold misalignment signs and some surface details, the legs for the most part, have a bit of irregular texturing. It's nothing that painting can't obscure, and is hardly worth the effort of smoothing with a scalpel in cleanup, but I'd have been a bit frustrated with the casts had they been my minis, so I feel for the Khurasan guys on that point. Happened to me too, but hey, those were the best selling minis I ever had, so maybe it's a moot point.

Anyway, and all in all I like these figures a lot. Poses are great, assortment is really practical, price is excellent, shipping time was not unreasonable, and only some mold/casting issues keep them from being perfect. Can't wait to get some paint on them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In which our hero fatefully embarks upon a new project

Don't get me wrong, I certainly love my Blood Bowl miniatures, but even as they are ever present, they are rarely the only thing I am painting.

And so it is that I am presently beginning to begin a new miniatures project.


Truth be told, I am rarely not actively attempting to begin or carry on some secondary or tertiary period or setting, yet I admittedly rarely get any sufficiently progressed even to play a game. I would never say that these false starts are wasted efforts, as every miniature painted and enjoyed is time well spent, but there is certainly some lost opportunity time and some funds unwisely spent in each of them.

In the last couple of years, for example, I have invested time, and in most cases money in at least five different projects which are presently out of favor - abandoned is such a harsh term, after all.

The first period I seriously explored in recent history (which I here mean to be since I moved into my present house, roughly three years ago, which serves well as a milestone given that the move sent most of my previous missteps into the attic and thus separated these notions in time and space) was Back of Beyond.

I've always liked Mark Copplestone's work. His figures are wonderful and so many of his lines resonate with my love of pulp adventure. The Darkest Africa range was irresistible and when the Back of Beyond line came out it immediately lept to the top of my project list. I read Peter Hopkirk's books and plotted time and again to just pull the trigger on those Bolsheviks and Chinese.

But I just never did.

Probably something about 28mm. The extra time and extra expense of 28's has been scaring me off for years. A Blood Bowl team is only a handful of figures, and yet is a tremendous investment in time. Buying and painting two armies, even at the skirmish level in this scale just feels so daunting. Rationally I know that projects I do in smaller scales will ultimately wind up costing as much and taking as long through the inevitable lure of creep (a period I would game with 30 minis in 28mm will be one I will game with 300 minis in 15mm and 3000 miniatures in 6mm) but I have cognitive dissonance on this point, and most points in general.

Still, BoB was the first project in the time frame being discussed, by way of Darkest Africa. I happened to have a few packs of Baluchis laying around from my earlier DA misadventures and as these tribesmen hailed from the fringes of the region BoB happens to be set in, this would not be an altogether improbable force to use in this setting as well, and at any rate, I'd already bought the minis.

It didn't take. Within a few days my enthusiasm waned, my brushes were stilled, and I was off playing some video game or whatever.

It was not long after that, though, that I decided to give Flames of War a turn at bat.

I've always loved the aesthetics of WWII armor. Something is just striking about those tanks. It's a period I inevitably want to paint, but one I have typically avoided completely. There's a lot of baggage there. Personally, it's too close to home, and generally, anytime you hang around a WWII game at a con you meet some really creepy people - eventually you learn, especially here in the south, to stay away from people who are into WWII and the Civil War, that's where the freaks are.

And yet, I love the tanks.

Flames of War seemed a point of divergence though. The game has do much popularity that it seemed as though it would certainly be first an excellent game, and second a game whose broad appeal would dilute the crazy in the period's participants. Still it was an unsavory thing, despite the tanks, and taking on the project was difficult.

Ultimately, the tanks won, at least briefly. I decided to give it a go, but on my own terms. I was going to play solo, and I was going to do 1/285.

Solo meant no freaks, 1/285 meant cheaper armies, painted faster, and smaller tables.

I got pretty far, all things considered. Concentrating on the Africa campaign I got an Italian army painted and made a fair run at a British force before stalling. In the end, it was a combination of two factors that killed the project, first, I hated the FoW rules, and second, I just didn't like the scale. 1/285 is just too small. There's not much joy in the painting process, not enough to admire when you're done, and not much to appreciate on the table. I might have been more interested in the game if I'd stuck to the 15mm original scale or even gone at 6mm instead. That said, the price of playing at 15mm was just too scary and the 6mm lines just didn't seem complete enough, nor the prices so amazing.

In time, I just gave up, disappointed.

The next venture was 6mm Napoleonics.

I have tried Napoleonics again and again, there's a certain feeling of venerability to Napoleonics, it is like the most pure form of miniatures gaming, the foundation and fountainhead of the hobby, noble in a way. There is pageantry, there is prestige, there is no shortage of reading material, research, and mini lines.

My first forays into Napoleonics were in 15mm, but the task was always overwhelming. I had hoped that going to a smaller scale would help, but as usual, I was just cramming more figures on the same bases, so it was a wash. The units look great, the reading was interesting, but I just never found the groove and my enthusiasm petered out.

Daunted, but not defeated, I moved on.

Showing that I meet the classic definition of insanity, I tried to paint the Baluchis for BoB again, this time with an eye toward a broader pulp setting. See above.

Most recently I was feeling a bit nostalgic and thoughts wandered to my long-lost first wargaming love, Battletech.

I have really great memories of playing Battletech, but I don't have any actual Battletech stuff anymore. Somewhere after buying some long-admired Heavy Gear mechs and finding a reasonable map set on eBay, something shiny in the corner caught my eye.

So, here I am today. I want to paint something different, but what? Some ideas immediately come to mind, the ever present Back of Beyond, which I delay for the usual reasons, but what about 15mm BoB? Can that be done yet? A search of the intertubes shows that there is still enough Russian Civil War stuff in that scale to cover that corner of the theme, and still plenty in the way of British colonial troops, but the Chinese warlords and general 30's pulp is still a no show outside of 28's. As much as I would like to do 28mm pulp, I am still scared off of it for no rational reason. Looking at either side of the pulp time frame, Victorian SciFi and Weird WWII are intriguing, but the best of both periods are in 28mm as well.

What about more mainstream historicals? DBA has the advantages of small armies, contained playspace, and quick games. There's a huge sweep of time and so many hundreds of armies to collect. Yet, I never seem enjoy DBA as a game, too arcane, too fiddly. Plus, I am just not in the mood for ancients.

One theme that I have repeatedly checked on as a potential next project over the years has been 15mm SciFi. I like the idea of this period in that scale. Forces can be played from squad to company level, systems can range from silly to simulationist, and there's tanks, which I am always looking for a reason to collect. Inevitably, though, when I have checked on the available figures, 15mm has been a scale with few SciFi options, uninteresting figures, and my enthusiasm has waned quickly.

But something is different now. There are half a dozen or more relative newcomers to 15mm SciFi, and they are making infantry and vehicles which are finally compelling. Even some of the old lines are being refreshed with new and interesting models. It seems as though there is something of a 15mm SciFi renaissance happening right now, and perhaps I am just in time to latch onto it.

Yes, it would seem that this is the time to give it a go, so here I go.

Wow, did you read that whole thing? I should give you a prize, or call the cops, but definitely one of the two.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In which our hero finally paints that thrower

In the spirit of revisiting venerable old teams, I have decided that my next Blood Bowl project will not be the Gaspez Arts Frogs after all, but rather I will go and paint the handful of figures needed to finish out the full compliment of a couple of effectively, but not literally finished teams. To that end, I needed to sit down and paint two elves and a Khemri tomb guard.

First up, the elves.

My elf team goes way back. Sure they were cast and purchased in the early nineties, but they weren't painted until around '96 or so. I had fallen out of love with elves for the most part in the misery of second edition, and when I did feel like playing them, I had a dark elf squad. (Sadly, those delfs, along with my humans were sold off, a tragedy I will never quite recover from, or not, but definitely one of the two.)

Still, I bought the 2e elfs to satisfy my hoarding impulse when the 2e stuff was becoming hard to find, and didn't  get around to painting them for a while. Luckily for the elves, I learned how to paint before I got to them.

Even then, it was fits and starts. I painted the first four or five fifteen years ago, but it would not be until five or six years later that I got the count up to a dozen, the team falling victim to the years when I set aside gaming for whatever the hell that was.

I ultimately had 13 minis done, but was still left needing to add a lineman in addition to the never-present thrower as the current roster limits in the version of the game as I play it left me with an extraneous catcher.

All that said, I did finally paint that thrower, and the lineman too, and even if I never really need them, I have them, and my wood elf team is finally fully done.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In which our hero refreshes some old friends

While mucking about in my frightening piles of Blood Bowl flotsam the other day I stumbled upon the poor, downtrodden reminders of Blood Bowls past that was my skaven team.

Sad rats were sad.

When I took the fateful plunge into Blood Bowl back in 1990 I started strong, setting a course for fiscal irresponsibility which I would stay to till this day by not only being the schmuck who funded the core game for myself and my friends to play, but getting my skaven team right then and there.

And so it's very likely that those battered old rats are responsible for everything that followed - my compulsive obsession with fantasy football minis, phigs, Elfball, that damn Khemri team, GRF, the whole shebang. Laughter, tears, terror and triumph and rats.

They certainly looked like minis who'd launched a hobby twenty years ago, played dozens upon dozens of matches, bounced from state-to-state, and wound up in a plastic bag in a box in a garage.

The paint, primitive and clumsy to begin with, was in tatters, with metal peeking through every lump and bump that'd been lumped and bumped over time. The basing material had mostly flecked off (lesson learned on using railroad scenic coal, messy and fragile), and the conversions were mostly coming apart.

Looking at them made me a little sad. Didn't they deserve better?

It wouldn't take too much to fix the old rodents up, I thought. We have the technology, we can rebuild them.

So I did.

I didn't want to repaint them. Stripping them to metal and starting from scratch wouldn't be honoring their long history, it would be eradicating it. No, I just wanted to fix them. Clean up the dings, update the poorly painted flesh and loincloths, and give them better basing - make the old team new again, and make them stand beside my vastly-improved modern paint jobs.

So I did.

And here they are.

I've done a lot here. The fur was given a touchup where the paint had flecked off and a good wash cover to get a more consistent and appealing tone. The fleshtone areas were redone entirely, replacing the original drybrushed shading. The loincloths and grey on the armor were redone from base colors in blended shades to remove the original sloppy wash shading. I updated the accent color from purple to red for a bit more pop, and used my usual basing technique for collection consistency.

That said, other than the accent colors, all of the original colors are the same. Additionally, all surface details - numbers and symbols, is original except the belt buckles. It's what I had hoped for, my trusty old skaven team, pretty much exactly the way it has always been, suddenly painted as well, and able to be shown off as proudly, as my current teams.

To give a better impression of the degree of improvement, not only over the previous paintjob, but also over what had come to be their current state, here is a comparison shot with one of the unrefreshed originals.

Definitely not a week wasted. I'm beyond pleased with this project.

Happy rats is happy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In which our hero loves to hate Blood Bowl

A picture requires a thousand words, and if it doesn't, well, you get them anyway - welcome to the blog. Anyway, here's something to look at:

What is it? Excellent question. That is a photo of the arrayed contents of one of my two big boxes of Blood Bowl (or, as we've taken to calling the rather thoroughly revised game in these parts, Goblin Rules Football) miniatures.

What is interesting about this box is that these are the miniatures I may not have much use for. See, I have another box with the minis for all of the teams I still want to paint, about 15 teams at last count, to be more or less precise, pending another too-good-not-to-steal-my-money release (I'm looking at you, Gaspez Arts) but that is neither here nor there. Meanwhile, I have this massive pile of metal and plastic which represents assorted hoarding, false starts, extra figures, and a little bit of old Phigs stock. Do I need it? Probably not, but I amass this stuff. It's what I do.

It certainly didn't get this bad overnight. I have been playing Blood Bowl in one form or another since the summer of 1990, and other than a few teams I sold off for gas money during a particularly rough spot after college the swag has just been piling up for twenty years. Even in those years when I was in denial about my geekyness, I still brought Blood Bowl with me when I moved back to Texas to become a rock star, or whatever the hell that was, and every time I come back to miniatures, I come back to these first. A skeleton lineman was the first figure Of my own to be cast in metal (or at least, Rob cast them for me with his jury-rigged spincaster), and I even had a fantasy football mini line once.

Yeah, this is my obsession. Too bad I actually hate the game itself, ain't it?

The second edition gave me fits. The game was so horribly imbalanced it was essentially unplayable and my usual opponent had innocently chosen to play dwarfs when we first started, which made him nearly unbeatable, or at least very frustrating for someone who thought playing elves and skaven for the most part was a good idea. I got some back once the dodge rules came out, but it really didn't do much to change the fact that the game had some pretty serious shortcomings. Amazing miniatures, genuinely entertaining flavor text, and a choke hold on me, yes, but a good game? Not so much.

Third edition's gameplay mechanics aren't entirely hopeless, but the league rules are just impossible. The basic on-the-field flow is actually quite good, and it really only needs a tiny tweak or so there, but the peripheral aspects - campaigns, star players, roster balance, and miscellaneous debris are all  mess even after several years of mucking about with the rules by those both authorized and unauthorized to do so. I've spent a decade and a half trying to sort out this version of the game myself, written War and Peace in house rules, split off my own hubris-laden version of the game which only I will ever even play, and still I can't quite make it just work.

Even now, with the long-expected surge in fantasy sports miniatures games appearing to come to fruition as last few years has spawned a few new faces in the genre which previously was all-but exclusive to Blood Bowl. Oddly, I just have not been compelled to even look at the new options in detail - even Elfball, a game which I am no linger involved in, but initially created for various and sundry reasons has yet to receive even a first thorough read of the rulebook. In the end, I just don't think I want to find another game that uses these beloved miniatures right, I still want Blood Bowl to work, I want it to finally earn all of the time, dedication, painting, sculpting, money, and thought I have lavished upon its undeserving pitch. I want Blood Bowl to be worth everything I have put into it.

But it just never is.