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.