Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In which our hero has an army

I have enough Commonwealth troops finished to fill out a hundred-point ASQL army now.

Probably a bit late, but I have been tweaking them a lot. I added stowage to the armor, changed the aerials to a thinner wire, and played around with some shading. Once the armor was done, I added a bit of wash to the infantry to better match the final shade of the tanks as well.

The infantry bases are Litko wooden jobs, FoW medium-size, with magnets. I painted the magnet brown and the infantry, based on steel washers, stick to them well enough. Makes it easy to mount figures for lots of games and basing alternatives, or not base them, as the case may be. Normally, ASQL has figures mounted five to a 2x2 base, but I'm doing fewer on a shallower base just to get to the table faster. I have the bases and magnets (and unpainted miniatures) to do the recommended format eventually, but I suspect I will stick to this. One nice side-effect of this mounting scheme is that I can track hits on the units by removing figures from the base. Once they run out of figures, they're done.

Here is the ASQL force breakdown:

1 x Command Regular Infantry (13 pts)
3 x Regular Infantry (24 pts)
2 x Heavy Weapon Squad (20 pts)
1 x MBT w/ Scatter Missiles (17 pts)
2 x Armored Transport w/ Heavy Turret-Mounted Weapons (26 pts)

For the trip to 150 points, I have some light grav tanks on the way. I can mix in some more infantry too if need be, we'll see what makes sense as I get a feel for the flow of the game. They'll already outnumber the Worms they'll be squaring off against, so it may be that they benefit more from speed from the light vehicles, the firepower being a wash.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In which our hero enjoys a palate cleanser

I've been spending almost all of my painting time doing the 15mm Sci Fi stuff lately, so I needed a quick change of pace to keep it interesting. As is usually the case, this meant a return to Bloodbowl figures, and with my last efforts in this realm having wrapped up a couple of teams, it was time to start a new one from scratch.

It took a bit of perseverating to decide which squad to hop to next. I have metal for every team in the GRF's long list of rosters, and a whole lot of it is unpainted. I recently picked up the Gaspez Arts frogman and chaos human squads, as well as Impact's Sarcos team, all of which I am looking forward to painting, but in the end, what I chose to paint was a squad that I have had lingering around the top of my to-do list for ages, the vampires.

Here then is the first go at Ashen Villa, the most melodramatic vampire squad that ever vamped.

I do think I need to put a moratorium on red/grey team strips after this one before it gets out of hand.

Vampires in Bloodbowl have long been a bit of a mess. The earliest incarnations were just star players, so they were easily overlooked, but with 4e, Jervis tossed us a real howler of a roster with some fun ideas but  terrible balance. While the roster wasn't much to write home about, its presence prompted Fanatic to commission a set of figures for it, and the world is better for them.

From the first time I saw them, Steve Buddle's thrall sculpts had a place in my heart. They are excellent fantasy footballers and really clever designs that hit the mark dead-on. While his vampires were also sharp, they always felt a little bit too small for my tastes, and I actually sort of like the Count Drakenborg 3e Star Player mini. He looks nothing like a footballer and is in a standyaroundy pose, but the guy has some personality anyway, maybe I just dig the cape. Anyway, I pretty much decided from the start to use the old vampires with the new thralls, the combination goes together well and really has a pulp vampire vibe. These guys don't sparkle, but they may be acted by Ed Wood's chiropractor, though.

Three players hardly scratches the surface, but immortal beings can be patient.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In which our hero kills a tree

I recently finished a project that I'd been fiddling around with for the better part of ten years.

That's the nice thing about hobbies, you can be way over deadline.

Anyway, the project in question was, in retrospect, one which I may have been a bit of an ironic choice to undertake - since it does seem a bit odd that the same guy who sculpts miniatures, lavishes such fiddly paint jobs onto them, and rails against both unpainted and proxy figures would also be the same gamer who has now produced an entire set of paper miniatures for fantasy football.

True, I am almost at cross purposes, but paper miniatures aren't so bad. Especially good ones.

I happen to think these are good ones.

The process was  pretty straightforward. I drew front-and-back outlines for every player on every roster (and given the rosters that have floated in and out of GRF over the years, I actually have quite a lot of unused art on top of the stuff in use).

After inking the drawings and cleaning up the pencil marks, I scanned the team and used painting programs to color the players using layers set to multiply so that the lines would be visible beneath the coloring.

In the early years of the project, coloring was done in photoshop with a mouse, and was tedious. I only finished a half dozen or so teams because it was a real chore to do these.

Enter my iPad.

The combination of the iPad, Sketchbook Pro, and a Boxwave stylus made this project not only remarkably fast and easy, but also thoroughly enjoyable. The coloring stage went from being a hand-cramping chore to an activity that provided zen-like relaxation. The nights I was going through these panels were a joy.

Once colored, I would bring the image back into photoshop and copy players onto a team sheet in the appropriate assortment.

Once layout is complete, they are printed on a good laser printer (inkjet has no longevity with sweaty gamer paws) and cut into strips which are folded over and then slipped into a color-coded base. I have a good assortment of the old Cardboard Heroes bases, but these have been out of print for a while. EM-4 seems to be a good source of similar stands at the moment should you decide to do something similar in this day and age.

The final result is something that I am not at all ashamed to put on a gaming table. They work well, they look like professional game components, and they let you play teams you have no miniatures for in a respectable way. I see these as a valuable way to improve the look and feel of my solo gaming.

But why do it at all? It's precisely because I am so disturbed by proxies and unpainted miniatures. I would rather see a full-color, accurate standup card on the pitch than a silver orc standing in for a wood elf catcher. It is precisely because I am a snobbish aesthete that I was compelled to draw and color these figures in the first place. I have made my peace with paper.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In which our hero remembers what fiction is

So, we like to joke that I am essentially illiterate. Not that I can't read, or that I don't, because I actually do read quite a lot. Rather it is The case that I partake of nothing resembling literature. For what it's worth, I simply am more compelled by non-fiction - and as a science fanboy you can be sure to find me daily with something along the lines of Pinker, Dawkins, or Diamond queued up on my Kindle.

This, however, was not always my sorry state of affairs. Long ago, when I was far less obsessed with reality, I was an equally-voracious sci-fi reader. The point of all of this biographical grandstanding being that one of the books I read as a teenager was a collection of David Drake's Hammer's Slammers short stories.

Turns out that all these years later, the Slammers are a pretty well-served gaming property, with the glossy new edition of Hammer's Slammers: The Crucible at it's heart.

To be honest, it took me a long time to finally pull the trigger on picking these rules up. Despite a very favorable review on Meeples and Miniatures, lots of positive chatter on TMP, and a website with some of the best eyecandy around, the final decision to buy was not easy.

First off, I just wasn't sure what kind of game was hiding in that book. Reviews typically lingered on how beautiful the book is, how much Slammers world background they included, but other than some vague positives, actual discussion of the game mechanics was nearly impossible to find.

This uncertainty, combined with the high price, in the neighborhood of fifty dollars, left me pretty hesitant to buy.

Eventually, though, I could resist no longer.

And so, book in hand, I can say that it's a pretty good armor-on-armor game, and the book itself is straight up tank porn.

I can see why few reviewers can get too far past the book's aesthetics. The full color pages are jammed with photos and illustrations. Pretty much every page has something to stare lustfully at. The models photographed for the book are all big 28mm pieces, most painted by Kevin Dallimore, who is far too talented, and are shot among some wonderful scenics. The eye candy in this thing stands up with any of the biggest names in the mini biz, and surpasses many. The thing can almost pass for a coffee table book.

And lest I be guilty of penning another drooling review with no mention of mechanics, it has a pretty fun game mixed in with the pretty pictures.

First off, know what you getting. Crucible is a light, tank-on-tank game, and unapologetically so. It is not a deeply technical armor sim with lots of penetration charts nor is it a game that is rooted in the lessons of contemporary conflicts. The Drake stories are rooted in cold war-era conflicts recast in iridium hovertanks, and this game has that feel. This is a game about blowers, and the MBT's are the kings of the table, swift, deadly, and stout. All of which make for a game that is flat-out fun, uncomplicated, and purposeful.

The mechanics are slim and (usually) efficient. Units are activated in detachments, of which a player will control one or more of, depending on the game size, and the order is determined each turn by a combination of base leadership added to a die roll.

Once order is sorted, players roll again to see how many command points the active detachment has for the turn. These are mainly used for movement and are modified by leader quality and casualties. I like this mechanic, as it adds some random chaos to the way battles unfold as a point-starved or poor leader, or a hot streak can have a real effect on how units scurry about the table. A good commander with a small detachment, though, will usually have little pressure to deal with, though, which is probably accurate, but can be less fun (all the more reason to avoid the superhuman fluff character optional rules).

After the tanks have rolled around a bit, it's time to blow something up. For a game that is otherwise very light and abstract, the four-step shooting process does feel a bit drawn out. Still, compared to the calculus exams buried in many armor games, it's easy fare that builds dramatically to completion rather than getting mired in figures and cross-referencing.

After everyone has wrapped-up direct fire and the blowers have left smoking piles of molten goo all around them, missiles and indirect fire are resolved, troops roll to remove suppression and so forth and then the whole process starts back up from the top, to under-describe the whole thing, but still say more than I usually find, which makes this a public service of sorts.

Generally, there's just enough flavor and detail to just barely miss the beer & pretzels label, but not so much detail to cast the game in the simulationist mold either. It's fun, flows reasonably well, and gives treadheads the kind of outcomes they probably wanted even if they didn't get to argue about points of fiddly minutia while doing so.

Ultimately, though, the game does need to thoughtfully brought to the table. While there are points, this is not an army-list, balanced force game. Not all tanks are created equally - the front three-quarters of the blowers are almost impervious to anything below their lofty station, and combat cars can spend all night rattling small arms fire off one another. Players need to be sure the scenario design and force composition are in place to produce an enjoyable game - a bring'n'battle could be ugly.

I doubt I will suddenly redirect my mini buying to include forces specifically from the Drake universe, but there is little other than the effort of hacking some unit cards between my current collection and these rules. The sample units are fairly comprehensive and a fair template can be found for most. I do wish there was a true pointing system available, both to aid in integrating non-Slammers miniatures and for balancing pickup games, but I wouldn't be shocked to see something of the sort appear in the community at some point either.

In the end, waiting seems to have been pointless. I like gaming tanks, I like light game mechanics, and I like drool-worthy pictures. When you get all three, seems to have been worth the money afterall. This is a game I will play a lot.