Wednesday, 1 October 2014

I'm Super! Thanks for asking. All things considered I couldn't be better I must say!

I've been nagged again, not without justification, to update this blog again.  I'd been intending to do so ever since the Big Birthday Bash some... (ack!)  two months ago.  But whenever I sat down to do so, I found myself choosing between spending a couple of hours writing about wargaming, or instead actually doing something wargame related.  For better or worse, "Do" won out over "Write" every time.

So last time we were here, preperations had just been completed for the Big Birthday Bash Hillbilly weekend.  The whole affair went off splendidly.  Crazy Eddy brought round a fresh batch of raspberry moonshine that was suitably... stimulating.  The cuisine was a mixed success - everyone said they enjoyed their barbecued squirrel and rabbit, however I found myself so busy in the kitchen doing grits and fries that by the time I came to collect my portions, there were only the toughest leathery pieces left that were barely edible. (It didn't help that I'd neglected to marinade the meat properly due to uncertainty over what day the weather would allow us to barbecue - remember kids, always marinade your squirrel and rabbit for at least a day for the best results)

As to the game - well it was chaos and mayhem, mostly in a good way.


The buildings, in answer to ImpCommander's query to the last post (sorry for the delay!) were all part of the Plasticville collections I'd acquired from eBay - although the particular farmhouse and barn buildings we used in this game may actually be K-Line.  They're O gauge/S gauge model railroad buildings and are perfect for wargaming - more on them later.

The rules we used were Flying Lead from Ganesha Games.  They generally worked well, except for some complaints that the nature of the initiative/activation system (each player attempts to activate all their figures in turn) meant that sometimes players felt they were stuck waiting for a long period for their turn to come around.

The setup for the game was simple.  Each player had one "Patriarch" figure, representing the head of their clan.  They then randomly drew cards for the rest of their figures (You can't choose your family!).  By a hilarious coincidence, Kat our one female gamer on the day picked the one Matriarch figure, then randomly drew an almost all female clan (except for Lil' Billy, the kid).  Each clan started on the table edge and had the mission to lay claim to the farm and farmland of the late lamented Widow McDonald.

Highlights of the game?  Kat deciding that since her womenfolk weren't likely to capture the farm or any stills, she may as well kidnap fallen opponents ("Lookee here, Mi Maw, I dun found me a husban'!"): Bruce, on discovering that the motorhome wasn't a Breaking Bad meth lab but a red herring, decided to steal it anyway, after capturing another player's jalopy he wound up with a three-vehicle convoy. Marvin the ARVN, whose patriarch was the first into the McDonald farmyard, coming face to face with the Devil-Goat who was the true ruler of the farm.

And then there was Crazy Eddy's bombing run with the Hillbilly Air Force.

This was the Sekrit Weppun XXXX I've been talking about on the blog for some time, a Boeing Stearman Kaydet trainer, converted for crop-spraying duties.  They were the standard US training aircraft around the end of WWI, hundreds of them were sold on to civilian owners where they helped drive civil aviation in the 20s and 30s.

The model is 1/72 scale.  Popular opinion seems to be to match 1/48 models with 28mm figures, a practice I've followed with ground vehicles and terrain (even using vehicles as large as 1/43 scale).  However, for aircraft, there are numerous advantages to using the underscaled 1/72 models.  Price is one of them - the Kaydet in 1/72 cost half what it would in 1/48.

In terms of appearance, on the ground with figures stood next to it, the 1/72 looks slightly too small, but not ridiculously so.  A 1/48 aircraft would use up a lot more space on the ground too, requiring wider and longer taxiways & runways if you want to represent them.  And personally I feel 1/48 and larger look a little too big (which mathematically they are)  On flight stands, 25cm or 50cm above the tabletop, the 1/72 looks absolutely fine, and it's easier to make the smaller aircraft stable.

For a "jokey" and somewhat cartoony game like the Hillbilly Rampage,  differences in scale are less important.  The figures mixed true 25mms from Ground Zero Games, with 28mm from Black Hat and some "Heroic" 28mms from Mega Minis.  The Plasticville buildings are notorious for being "flexibly scaled", having some doors that are too large and some too small, sometimes on the same building.  The "Jalopies" used in the game were converted from Atlantis toys, designed for 40mm high action figures (but compared to the real-world vehicles they were based on look closer to 1/35) and buried underneath a tarpaulin in the barn, the hill folk found a 1/43 Dodge Challenger.  So the whole game was a smorgasbord of scales from 1/72 to 1/35, yet because of the subject matter, everything hung together rather well.




Everyone proclaimed to have enjoyed the game, even if Marvin bitched about the Devil Goat and there was some dispute over who had won by the scenario's victory conditions (as if I was even counting!).

About a week or so later, we had the opportunity to re-run the game with some different players, for the weekly "Old Farts" group.  We had Jonesy, Bruce and Crazy Eddy back again, and were joined by Dave and Paul.  This time we changed the activation sequence to only have players activate one figure in turn before passing to the next player.  On the surface this worked OK, however the game quickly split into two subgames, one of three players, one of two, with each group of players working out their initiative amongst themselves and out of sequence to the other group.  While some might argue that this tends to happen in large multi-player games anyway, once it started I feel it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. it discouraged any players who might otherwise want to from "crossing over" and affecting the other sub-game.

This prompted a lot of deep thinking about turn sequences and activation for future games.  I've come to the conclusion that for larger multi-player games, it's hard to beat the randomised card draw from GASLIGHT (or similar mechanisms).  Ironically, it's that self-same activation sequence that I've been keen to move away from for the purposes of more "routine" games.

Anyway, to draw a line under the Big Birthday Bash, I now have an extended clan of 42+ hillbillies painted up and ready to play, along with suitable scenery and vehickles.  That's part of what running events like the BBB are about for me - in addition to spending time with friends and near-family.  It's a motivator to dig into the lead mountain and get things ready to play.  If I ever need a pickup game at short notice, the Hillbilly gear is there ready and usable for the sort of regular small-skirmish game Flying Lead was designed for.

So as mentioned previously, as part of the prep for the Hillbilly game I kinda went a bit mental on eBay and bought rather a lot of Plasticville buildings.  A couple of weeks after the BBB, Marvin and Jonesy came around one Sunday and we decided to layout everything I had to see what was what.


This was.... most of the buildings, not including those still in kit form awaiting assembly (and about five more buildings still winging their way across the Atlantic.  As you can see there's enough here to easily fill a 7ft by 6ft table, without much room for roads or open spaces.

These buildings are great for wargaming.  The scales, as mentioned before, are way off.  features on the buildings range from 1/72 to 1/48, and the ground area covered by most is much smaller than they would be in real life.  They do, however, look the part perfectly and while many of these 2nd hand buildings are glued together, I've generally been able to remove the roofs on most of them so far, allowing figures to be placed inside them.

Looking at this table full of plastic, the three of us discussed what we were going to do with them.  If you're not fussy, the buildings are usable as-is, but having painted and enhanced the buildings used in the BBB, I wanted to bring these buildings up to the same standard at least.   While the Plasticville buildings are pretty much pure 1950s Americana, I'd singled out some of the buildings as being an ideal basis for my Caribbean Imagi-Nation of Paradiso - the subject of the second ever post on this blog several years ago.  I explained the idea to the guys, and in order to get things started we decided to replicate what we'd done for the BBB - i.e. come up with a modest scenario, pick a modest subset of figures and a half a dozen or so buildings and aim to have them ready to play for a certain date.  Then lather, rinse repeat with a new set of figures/buildings.

So that's basically what we've been working on every Sunday for the past few weeks.  Hopefully in a few weeks time we'll have a three or four-way skirmish with 4-8 figures a side playable on a 3ft square table that gives a fair impression of being part of a modern city in the tropics.  While we've been making progress towards the planned scenario, I've also been doing a number of terrain mini-side-projects that will serve the setting overall, like tropical vegetation bases with palm trees and the ubiquitous aquarium plants (more of them in a future post)

In researching terrain and modelling inspiration, I have come to realise that Paradiso is an absolute fantasy.  It will bear very little similarity to any real-world Caribbean nation.  It's far too westernised, its military far too developed.  I realised that I was taking a lot of inspiration from cold-war era Latin America with its stereotypical endless coups and juntas.

And I'm OK with that.

At the end of the day Paradiso is going to serve as a setting to support the sort of games I want to play, and for that the fictionalisation is a bonus, not a disadvantage.  I'd like to play stand up battles between hard-pressed police and well armed criminal cartels.  But the savagery and atrocities of the real-world Mexican and Latin American cartels makes trying to reproduce them on the tabletop seem extremely tasteless.  Tired of counter-insurgency games pitting the USA against goat farmers in Iraq & Afghanistan?  How about pitting the slightly less well-equipped Paradiso Army against its own goat-farming rebels in the mountains?  Or a more conventional fight against Paradiso's Russian trained & equipped neighbours.

While remaining firmly grounded in the real world (at least until the Zombie Apocalypse breaks out) Paradiso is a fantasy island where I can play any real-world modern/near future type game I might want to play, from gang warfare and cops & robbers, up to platoon-level skirmishes in 28mm, and beyond into 15mm AK47 or micro-armour games, or 1/300 air-to-air battles against hostile neighbours.  The game setting bends to what I want it to be, rather than dictating what games I can play.  Which to me is how gaming should be.

***

There's more.

Between 2003 and 2007 I ran an epic superhero roleplaying campaign using the Mutants and Masterminds rules.  Not only was it possibly the highlight of my gaming "career", I found it also helped give my life in general an anchor point - playing host every couple of weeks meant I couldn't let the flat I was living in at the time get too messy or disorganised, it would require a certain amount of preparation and planning to exercise the mind, and it was of course simply something to look forward to.  While sat chilling out on the Sunday of the BBB, the other players were all highly nostalgic for the old game and I'd recently found myself inspired by the current glut of superhero movies and the "Arrow" TV series.  Despite the fact that two of the four potential players live several hours drive away enthusiasm for a revival was high and I decided for my own part it would be a good therapy to help keep that damn black dog at bay.

Thus it was that this weekend just past I played host to that same group and we kicked off the new campaign.  It's going to be monthly, not fortnightly, due to the travel requirements of some of the players.   We're using the Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition rules this time - which are in some ways streamlined and in other ways far more complex than the original.  For the setting, I gave the players the choice of three cities.  Redwood, CA in the Pacific Northwest,  Millar, PA (a Gothamesque industrial city) or Paradise City, FL (a gulf coast metropolis resembling TV Miami, where the real world Panama City, FL is located)  They picked Paradise City.... (can you guess where this is going to end up?)



Now for the last campaign I had become the master of the paper fold-up figure.  I still maintain they are in many ways better for roleplaying games than metal or plastic figures.  You can carry hundreds in a very small space, plus you can inexpensively print EXACTLY the figures you need for any given scenario, no proxying required.  However, on the Friday before we were due to play my friend and many-time benefactor Dave called round offering the loan of his collection of rebased Heroclix figures.

Now if you're not familiar with it, Heroclix is a collectible miniature game that uses an innovative dial based to keep track of figure abilities and damage.  Stripped from those clunky dials, they basically become a very inexpensive source of 28mm plastic superhero figures.  Marvel, DC and many independent superhero characters are represented and they take conversion and repainting rather well.

So on the night before the game was due to start, I couldn't sleep for all the elements swirling together in my brain.  The internal dialogue went something like this.

"Hey you know how you're working on all that wargaming terrain with Jonesy?"
"Err yes. What about it?"
"It's tropical urban stuff, isn't it?"
"Yup.  Say now you mention it, this game we're running tomorrow is going to be a tropical urban setting."
"Yeah.  I mean look at all the work you're putting into it.  Wouldn't it be good if you could use it for other things."
"Like the RPG?"
"Maaaaaaaybe."
"But it's a bit overkill if we're just going to be using paper stand-up figures for it."
"Mind you, those Heroclix figures were rather nice, weren't they?"
"They were.  And I bet if we looked on Ebay or at an upcoming wargames show we could find someone selling off the cheap common figures in bulk at low prices."
"Say, didn't we use a Marvel Kingpin Heroclix figure as the basis for your Dr Vesuvius mini-me?"
"We did that.  I suppose now we're better with greenstuff and paint we could convert figures to look exactly like the PCs and NPCs, just like with the paperfigures."
"I bet we could.  Subconscious high-five!"
<slap>

Which is why I woke up the morning of the game, went on eBay and found someone selling batches of Heroclix figures 50 for £18.99.  I ordered a few to get us started, then when the players had gathered, told them that I'd decided we'd be using figures for this campaign, about the £18.99 batches on eBay and suggested that their next paydays, should they have the odd £20 to spare, they might like to buy a batch of figures to contribute to the game.

Instead they literally threw money at me.

Did I mention I have awesome friends :-)

So I now have two (semi-) regular gaming threads - the monthly M&M supers game, and the now slighly fuzzier scheduled miniatures games, both of which will be able to use a lot of  the same figures, vehicles and terrain.  So any work put into one will probably be useful to the other, which is an efficiency that appeals to me greatly.

As a final coda to this... increasingly epic blog post... I read up on the history of Panama City, Florida where my fictional Paradise City lies.  Panama City got its name because it was a popular port for sea traffic to the other Panama City, around the time that the eponymous canal was being built.  One can only assume then that Paradise City got its name similarly from its transport links with a certain Caribbean island nation.

Coming soon - more frequent (I promise) posts about the progress of the Paradiso project, the terrain the figures etc. and some more thoughts on the background of the setting and its inspirations.




Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Some folk'll nevah eat a skunk, but then agin some folk'll...

With the work on the game more or less complete, I can now reveal that the full title of the Big Birthday Bash is....


THE 2014 HILLBILLY BIG BIRTHDAY BASH

Yes, once more the Axis of Naughtiness explores serious, completely historical wargaming, treating it with all the scholarly respect it deserves.  

The origin of this game was the purchase a few years ago of the two Hillbilly boxed sets by Blue Moon Manufacturing, the Hardfelts and the McCluckeys.  I'd bought their Victorian/Gothic Horror sets for GASLIGHT, and picking up the hillbillies was purely an impulsive whim. Over the following year or so, I tried to pick up any other hillbilly or redneck sets I could find from various manufacturers.  I know there are some Ground Zero Games 25mm figures in there (shimmed up with extra thick bases to compensate), and some from Mega Minis (that look somewhat orky)

The next piece of the puzzle came when my friend Dave gave me some old Atlantis toy vehicles over the course of a couple of years.  Now I'd already used a couple of trucks from that toy range for the GASLIGHT "Royal Horseless Artillery" self-propelled guns, and I was never quite happy with them.  They just looked too "modern" for my vision of Victorian Science Fiction gaming, and were a bit large for 28mm figures (although they're not scale models, I suspect they're close to 1/35 - 1/32 compared to the real world vehicles they're based on.  They would never be compatible with any other vehicles scaled for use with 28mm figures (which tend to range from 1/43 to 1/64 depending on taste)  It did, however, occur to me that if you weren't too fussy, with a little conversion they might be usable as obsolete larger lorries/trucks, provided there weren't any similar styled vehicles to compare them with.

And so it came to pass that I decided I wanted to gather my friends for a big game for my birthday this year, and when I sent out the invite, pitching the usual GASLIGHT VSF game, I got at least one response back suggesting other games we could play.  It was a ... senu-reasonable response.  It's true that the big gatherings have all tended to be GASLIGHT games in the past.  Of course we hadn't actually done so in over two years so I'm not convinced there was a desperate need to try something different, but since the point of the weekend was for everyone to have as much fun as possible, I figured we could look at some alternatives.

So I went back to the lead mountain and looked at what games I could put together, with two months of not to strenuous work.  Compatibility with all the terrain I had for GASLIGHT meant it would be 28mm, so in the end I pitched the ideas of (1) a GASLIGHT game (never say die!) (2) Modern gang combat (using Foundry Street Violence & similar figures) (3) a Zombie Apocalypse game (I was planning to make this a Victorian period game, so all that would be needed would be to paint up the zeds)  Almost as a whim, I added on "Feudin' Hillbilly Game" as option (4)

The revised responses came back.  Most were "Whatever you want to play, we're happy".  One was in favour of the Zombie Apocalypse, but I knew that one of the other players doesn't like the zombie genre.  Finally a vote came in for the Hillbilly Game.  As the discussion continued, another potential player said "that would have been my second choice."  Followed shortly after by a "Me too" from a third player.  It became clear that option (4) was the best overall compromise.

The idea took on a life of its own.  Naturally fancy dress would be de rigeur for the day.  One of our group who dabbles with his own still (purely for personal use) offered to make us a batch of moonshine.  The birthday meal was always going to be a barbecue, but instead of the usual burgers, someone suggested more hillbilly meats, which is why I have a freezer full of squirrels and an order of wild rabbits on the way and I've been practising preparing some other staples of southern US quisine (grits, cornmeal muffins, biscuits and sausage gravy)  Finally I'm told "Tucker & Dale vs Evil" is a must-watch for the evening movie entertainment.

I'll post more pics of the finished game components as the week goes on. and discuss some of the issues this game has brought up.  While it's definitely not a serious game, it's generated a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas that I think can be applied to the wider wargaming world.  I'll leave you with a few close-up pics of the hillfolk.  While you know I make no claims as a figure painter and rely on a "daub & dip" technique using Army Painter Quickshade to get figures to an acceptable tabletop standard, I'm really happy with how this technique has brought out a lot of the character in these sculpts.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a squirrel marinading in Budweiser & Old Bay that ain't gonna barbecue hi'self.  Y'all come right back now, d'ye hear?






Monday, 14 July 2014

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky

As the results of my recent eBaying storm dies down, I find myself the proud owner of around sixty O gauge plastic buildings, a mix of Plasticville, K-Line and others, in varying states of disrepair.  Four of these are on the worktable being prepared specifically for the BBB, restoring and refurbishing the rest will probably keep me busy well into 2016 :-)

Work on the BBB game is nearing completion, those four buildings are in fact the only things left to be done.  I'm going to keep the nature of the game a secret until everything is complete and I can take some decent photos of all the terrain, vehicles and figures.  However to tease you further with what it could possibly be, for the accompanying barbecue dinner my freezer is now full with an order from http://www.exoticmeats.co.uk/, and I've been experimenting with a certain sort of American cuisine, including biscuits, sausage gravy and grits.

In the comments to the last post, R1ckatkinson (who I should point out is a non-wargamer) posed an interesting question..
I'm curious, how much does detail play in your enjoyment of the hobby? If you had generic building shapes where you could print out slip-in wall decals as required, would you still feel like they were good enough to play with?
The answer is, it depends on the game, who and where I'm playing, and indeed why.  Back in the day, my preferred terrain for sci-fi games was mid-to-large polystyrene packaging, simply painted grey or black, and assembled into a sci-fi cityscape.  These "buildings" had no detailing whatsoever, yet the overall effect was good enough.

Nowadays I think I prefer something that's a little more pleasing to the eye, yet I always balance that with major concessions to practicality.  For example, I've often assembled buildings without chimneys, since they're an extrusion that can easily be knocked and broken in use and transport, and make it harder to stack buildings together for storage.  I don't add the fine detail that some talented modellers do, like guttering and drainpipes, though little touches like those really bring a scene to life.

There are a couple of absolute baselines for me - figures must be painted.  I used to happily game with unpainted miniatures, but now I find it spoils my immersion in the game.  (they don't have to be painted particularly well, see my constant references to "daub and dip")  Everything must at least roughly resemble the thing they're representing.  While I've no problem using various wheeled and tracked sci-fi vehicles from Old Crow, ex GZG or Marbeth as proxies for real-world generic vehicles in Paradiso, I couldn't bring myself to use a model bus to represent a tank, for example, as it would just break the illusion of the game for me.

A lot of wargamers favour fully sculpted terrain boards, by that I mean a thick polystyrene base that can be modelled into ditches, trenches, river and streambeds.  They look superb, but I'm sticking with my traditional "green sheet" base tabletop with all terrain being placed on top of that flat plane.  It means that things like river banks are actually raised above the surrounding land rather than being sunk down, but that can be worked around and for me the advantages in flexibiity and practicality far outweigh the aesthetic cost.

That's for 28mm games, where generally 1 figure is representing 1 man or woman on the battlefield. Games with smaller scale figures that portray larger battles tend to be more abstracted, and for those I'm happier with a more abstracted terrain.  When I was playing Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, in which I had one stand of 3-4 figures representing a company of men, for built up areas I was using a little wooden toy village like this, which if anything was much smaller in scale.  The abstraction works somehow, giving a different aesthetic to the 28mm games, but that's still pleasing to the eye.

For 1/300 micro-armour I have used (and would again) houses and hotels from a Monopoly set scattered on a piece of grey card to represent a built-up area, rather than trying to model actual streets  and terrain.  Putting myself in the role of the battle group commander, I don't really care about the exact layout of the streets and buildings, I just know that if I order my troops to take up positions in a built up area, they should gain a defensive advantage.  How to exactly position the troops and vehicles to maximise that advantage is for the platoon commanders on the ground to sort out.  The wargame terrain just has to support that, any extra detail that gets in the way of that starts to become a negative.

Finally, there's the when and why.  Let's come back full circle to those boxes of slightly grubby and tatty Plasticville buildings sitting in my front room.  If I wanted to play a solitaire game, or if one of my wargaming friends dropped by and we wanted to have a quick-fun game, I'd be quite happy throwing down the green cloth and laying out a selection of those buildings as-is for a fun few hours of bantering and rolling dice.  They would be perfectly good enough.

On the other hand, for things like the Big Birthday Bash, where I'm inviting people who are having to re-arrange their schedules and then travel, in some cases hundreds of miles to participate, I really feel I owe them a slightly higher level of aesthetic quality, so I'd plan to put in a couple of hours on each building restoring, repainting and weathering them.  I'm not a world-class modeller, painter or crafter and I know I'm never going to approach the diorama-like level of detail that some can manage.  I want people to look at the game in progress and find it visually appealing as a whole, even if a closer inspection would reveal that those little boxes are indeed just hollow shells made out of ticky-tacky.

Does that answer the question?  And to any other wargamers, what levels of visual detail do you want/need in your games, and where do you sit on the spectrum between practicality and aesthetics?

Monday, 23 June 2014

It's alright, we're coming on. We're gonna get right back to where we started from.

Blimey!  It seems like I've spent so much time and effort working on the Big Birthday Bash these last three weeks, I've neglected to post anything about it.  Unfortunately I'm not going to correct that in this post, not until I can find the time to do a proper photoshoot of the figures, terrain and vehicles in progress. so for now the game will have to remain Top Sekrit.

Work on the game has been going well.  Mi Hermano Pintor Jonesy has been coming round on a Sunday afternoon and over the last three weeks we've managed to get 90% of the figures painted and ready for the Army Painter Quickshade.  Almost all the terrain I think we'll need is either already made, on the workbench or on order from eBay.  But it has led to some interesting behaviour I think a lot of wargamers might relate to.  Even as I'm working on elements of the BBB, my mind keeps drifting onto other gaming possibilities, and I find myself spending valuable time researching these "future games" on the net.

For example, the BBB game is.... generally and vaguely set in 20th century America.  Ish.  So for a couple of iconic terrain buildings, I went to eBay in search of some of the legendary Plasticville O' gauge building sets.  Now these are hard to get hold of here in the UK, where OO gauge is by far the dominant model railway scale, and postage rates from the US can be quite harsh, but with a bit of careful shopping, you can get buildings for anything in the £10-20 range, which compares favourably with similar sized MDF wargame buildings.

(I've since found a couple of UK dealers who sell Plasticville kits.  On Tracks and Dark House Games, both are roughly comparable in price, but you can sometimes get a better deal from one than the other depending on what you're buying and how many you want.)

Anyway, after securing the two buildings I needed for the BBB scenario (the Gas Station and the Diner....is that another clue?) it occurred to me that these would make a great start in the process of modernising the Victorian city terrain.  That got me looking at some of the other buildings that were available, especially the rival K-Line buildings - similar in style, but out-of-production and even harder to get hold of.  While these buildings are generally styled after 1950s small town Americana (in fact many of the kits have been unchanged since they were first designed in the 50s), I thought many of them would work incredibly well for a Caribbean island city, especially one that's a tourist destination.

Cast your mind back to the second-ever post on this blog, outlining the island Imagi-Nation of Paradiso.  Back then I'd been planning on doing this in 15mm, But the concept of Paradiso way predates that post, going back to an idea I'd had back around 2003 for a 28mm demo game using Copplestone/Grenadier Future Wars figures in a tropical holiday resort setting. Ever since then the idea had been fermenting slowly in the back of my mind, and I'd picked up the odd poundstore bit here and there for the concept.  The suitability of the Plasticville buildings for the concept may just be the straw that's broken the camel's back, as I currently have nearly 20 buildings purchased, open auctions for about 30 more and a further 10 on my watch list waiting to see how the auctions do.  There's also an order for about a hundred 28mm scale palm trees that seems to have just happened.

Although Jonesy and I have agreed that the next project for our Sunday painting school is going to be 15mm sci fi (he has some starship crew and some not-Klingons) for some coffee-table sized skirmishing, it looks like 28mm Paradiso is going to happen sometime in the not too distant future.  Again I now have most of the terrain I'll need either ready or on order, and all the figures for various factions awaiting paint jobs, Perhaps most significantly, there'll be some nice synergy between the Paradiso figures and terrain and those for the BBB, opening up some more fun scenario possibilities.

Then again... no sooner had I resigned myself to that idea, I then noticed how with a little conversion work some of the more rural Plasticville buildings would work well in a rural English Village setting, more suitable for VSF or that VBCW malarkey.  And off I go again....

Sunday, 8 June 2014

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.

Old age has finally caught up with me.

In truth, it was the cooking instructions on frozen ready meals that was the final straw.  When I found myself really struggling to read them in any light, I knew it was finally time to go and get my eyes tested.  And lo and behold the test revealed that I needed reading glasses.  

Unfortunately, Specsavers managed to screw up the prescription for the main 2-fer-1 designer pair with anti-glare coating, making them up as distance glasses in error.  But luckily I'd also ordered a third cheapo pair for hobby work, on the basis that it wouldn't matter so much if they were accidentally spattered in paint, scratched or set on fire. They managed to have this third pair ready, so I picked them up today.

The difference in reading any small text is astounding.  The ready meals are no longer a problem, and the many sets of PDF wargame rules that Mi Hermano Impresor Jonesy has printed out for me, often scaled down from A4 to A5, are now finally legible.  The smaller booklet size is incredibly handy in use, and the only disadvantage was that some small print became incredibly challenging.

But perhaps more significantly, I can see the detail on miniatures much more clearly.  The small indistinct blobs of lead that Jonesy bought me for Xmas a couple of years back, have now been revealed as a very nice 15mm representation of the crew of the Firefly class transport Serenity.  Now I know what they are, I must find a way to thank him properly.

Going forward, this does seriously open up 15mm as a viable gaming scale for me once more - both Jonesy and I have modest lead mountains in this scale, and the smaller scale would lend itself to some casual "coffee table" games, on play areas as small as 2ftx2ft.

There is also a slight chance that I might also be able to improve a little on my 28mm "daub and dip" painting style, though I wouldn't hold your breath on that count.

Speaking of 28mm, I have had a modest buying spree, treating myself to several items I'd been putting off for a while.  Firstly I ordered a few buildings from Sarissa Precision's "Gaslamp Alley" range, to add to the city layout.  I haven't assembled them yet, but so far have mixed feelings about them.  The switch to using laser cut card for some detailing parts means they can add some finer details, however I'm a little wary about how well the different materials will blend together when painted.  The Sarissa terraced house model is similar in size and costs the same price as the Warbases terraced kit, however it only represents one dwelling compared to Warbase's two, and the Sarissa model does not include the walled back yard as standard.  It can be bought as a separate add-on, but at what I feel is an awfully inflated price (nearly double what Warbases charge for their back yard seperately).

Last year, West Wind ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for expansions to their "Empire of the Dead" gothic horror skirmish game.  Part of that included a new set of horse drawn vehicles, and though I'd long wanted a properly scaled 28mm horse-drawn omnibus, when I backed the campaign I somehow managed to forget to add one at the backers' discounted rate to my reward choices.  Being stingy, I resented then having to pay full price, and it was only the other day when I discovered West Wind had released a bundled set of the hansom cab, gentleman's carriage and the omnibus at a decent enough discount, that I felt I could buy them.

Like the Sarissa buildings, I've not yet assembled them, but first impressions are quite positive.  They're all solid resin bodies, as such the hansom cab is more than just a remaster of the old Vampire Wars model in white metal (of which I have two already)  The omnibus looks ever so slightly downscaled, with what looks like a 25mm driver, but is still fairly chunky and looks the part next to 28mm figures (much more so than the Lledo diecast omnibus that you can still find floating around on ebay)

At the same time however I also spotted that Warbases had a laser cut MDF hansom cab kit, at a ridiculously low price - £10, though you can get just the basic cab for £5 and all the cast accessories (horse, driver, passenger, lamps) separately.  With it roughly half the price of the West Wind offering, I had to give it a go.  The kit is tiny and fiddly and has no instructions, but I managed to figure it out and though with some fumbling I managed to snap the whole thing in half, it was fairly easy to repair and patch together invisibly.  The finished model sits well alongside the West Wind cab - slightly smaller but definitely not out of scale.  If I wanted to bulk up my Victorian traffic with cabs and didn't already have four of various models, I'd order more of these from Warbases like a shot - at half the price of the alternatives it's a no brainer.

I'll post photos of all these when I get to assembling and painting them properly, however all work on things Victorian has for now been put onto the backburner.  I announced to my gaming friends the intention to revive the Big Birthday Bash this year, and while the response was overall positive, the proposed standard GASLIGHT battle met with a lukewarm reception.  We bandied around a couple of alternative game ideas, trying to find something that appealed to everyone.  Though most people were annoyingly polite and accomodating "No really, they all sound good, we don't mind what we play", we eventually settled on something that seemed to spark peoples' imaginations a little.

But it's late, and this post has become far too long, so the big reveal will have to be put off to the next post.  As a teaser, I'll just say this - as the discussion went back and forth the theme outgrew the game and began to shape the whole weekend's entertainment.  I was soon googling UK suppliers of exotic meats in search of...... TO BE CONTINUED.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

One of the low points of being absent from any particular scene for a period of time is finding out all the significant things that you've missed.

I've just learned that wargaming pioneer and titan Donald Featherstone passed away last September.  Arguably the primus inter pares of the UK wargaming boom of the 60s and 70s, Don was a prolific author, covering all aspects of the hobby, and in later years focussing more on general military history.  In the days before the commercialisation of the hobby, his books were an absolute treasure trove of rules and ideas that wargamers could dive into and harvest for things to improve their own wargames.

I can't credit Don with introducing me to the hobby.  That honour goes to Charles Grant with his book "Battle: Practical Wargaming" which I found in the local children's library when I was about ten.  But the quest for more of this strange new hobby led me to the "grown ups" libray where a selection of Don's books lay waiting to be discovered.  Over the following fifteen years many of those books spent more time on my bookshelf than the library's, and when the 21st century world of internet trading, coincided with me having a healthy disposable income, tracking down my own copy of Solo Wargaming became the first "money is no object" quest I'd ever undertaken.

(Ironically, after securing a copy for a sum that would make my frugal father weep, the book was republished in inexpensive paperback as part of John Curry's History of Wargaming project.  I regret nothing however - the original hardback is a thing of beauty, and occasionally browsing it brings me great joy, whereas for day to day practical reading I can hammer the paperback guilt-free)

I think it was the fact that Don Featherstone and his contemporaries brought me into wargaming that has kept me from fully embracing the modern commercialised hobby.  The idea of buying big glossy rules tied tightly to a particular range of figures, where everything is strictly regulated and spoon-fed to you by the creator, is entirely anathema to me.  In the world of the wargame as commodity, who actually owns your game?  When a new army codex or rules edition automatically triggers a buying spree so you can "stay current", who's playing who?  How much real creativity are you able to bring to the wargaming table?

Featherstone's books come from an era before you could simply go out and buy a set of wargames rules, much less a matching range of figures.  The reader was expected to take the frameworks the books offered and build on them finding their own inspirations.  There are still a number of gamers keeping this spirit alive, such as the 18th century "imagi-Nations" crowd.  In fact, I'd consider many of you who read and comment on this blog to be part of this independent-minded tradition.

So while belatedly saluting the passing of a wargaming great, let me also raise a glass to you, the inheritors of Don Featherstone and his ilk.  Throw down the green cloth over some books on the dining table, grab a selection of figures.  Remember infantry move 6", cavalry 12", muskets hit on a 5 or 6 at up to 6", or a 6 at up to 12".  Fill in the rest of the rules as needed in the spirit of fair play and common sense.  Then come back and tell me that somehow wasn't as much fun as playing from a big glossy £40 hardback rulebook with full colour pictures?

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Lend me your ear and I'll sing you a song, and I'll try not to sing out of key.

Thanks to everyone for the kind words of support.  I see I'm not the only wargamer in this particular circle to be visited by the "Black Dog", which by the way is an absolutely perfect description for the benefit of those of you lucky enough not to be familiar with that particular bitch.

To answer a couple of your queries and comments - I am still "under the doctor" for the after effects of the January flu, so the physical health side is slowly being taken care of.  Seeking professional help for the depression is more problematic - we don't have the same "therapy culture" in the UK as the US, and I know that the local NHS Mental Health services are overloaded with people with far worse problems than mine.  I'm confident and determined that I can sort myself out "with a little help from my friends" as the song says, so that's the path I'm choosing to try first.  That said, I'd be the first to tell anyone else in my situation "talk to your doctor."  Just like any other faintly embarrassing symptom.  Blood in your stool?  Talk to your doctor.  Coughing for three weeks or more?  Talk to your doctor.  Feeling like you want to just lie down and wait for the end?  Talk to your doctor.  Nine times out of ten it's overwhelmingly the right thing to do.  For me, right here right now, it's definitely Plan B

I'm lucky enough to have a great network of friends who I know will give me a ton of support.  For example in his comment r1ckatkinson made reference to one of the reasons the Big Birthday Bash didn't happen last year - a group of friends clubbed together to buy me an hour's "discovery flight"with the local flying school, which became the focus of the birthday weekend.  Or how about earlier in the year when a different subset of friends turned up unannounced on my doorstep bearing meat and charcoal for a surprise barbecue.

But with that all said, I want to reassure everyone that this isn't going to turn into a mental health blog or a general "dear diary".  The focus at the Axis of Naughtiness is going to stay firmly on wargaming, more specifically the highs and lows of being a grown-up, non-commercial wargamer.  Part of that is that sometimes other real-world things get in the way of rolling dice, and that's something we have to contend with.

So on with the gaming news, and this evening when Mi Hermano Cartero Jonesy arrived for our weekly "Boys' video night"* bearing a huge and suspiciously heavy box.  Dave, our mutual friend (and reader of this blog) had been downsizing his wargame collection in preparation for a house move, and was forced to find a new home for his old England Invaded collection, which he very kindly gifted to me.  If you haven't heard of it, England Invaded was a wargame and figure line from Wessex Games that was essentially a steampunk World War I .  I'd used some of their early war Germans as Zeptruppen for GASLIGHT, and on the whole they're rather nice and very inexpensive figures.

Dave had already passed on some odds and sods to me, some half painted sky pirates and some plastic toy vehicles, but the box tonight held the motherlode.  Over a hundred assorted figures, British and German, fully based and painted. About the same number of unpainted Turks, Arabs and Boers intended for an ANZACS type game.  Three plastic vehicles, resembling GW Rhino APCS though I suspect they're copies from the ill-fated Havok wargame from Bluebird Toys.  And finally ten... count them TEN of the Havok "dreadnought" style mecha - the same type that I've used in GASLIGHT as Professor Pondsmith's Perpendicular Perambulating Powersuits (or P5s for short).

Although Stahlhelms and Brodie helmets don't mesh well aesthetically with the Pickelhaube and Home Service helmets of my existing VSF armies, my mind's still buzzing at possible ways I can use these figures.  The khaki-clad British could easily be matched against my regular VSF Germans in Prussian Blue.  Either side could work well against the Fenians or the Evil League of Evil and many of my Victorian civilian figures will be quite usable as Edwardians.   On their own, the England Invaded figures would give a different feel of game to the "Victorian techno-fantasy" I normally aim for, with man-portable heavy weapons and machine guns.  I've also somewhere got a bag of plastic "Mutant Chronicle" figures, whose uniforms were inspired by WWI British and Germans, which should make for decent "shocktrooper" types.  Beyond all that, the Havok  mecha are worth their weight in gold by themselves.

Needless to say Dave, if you're reading this, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.  Rest assured these figures are going to be put to good use, possibly sooner rather than later.

As if that wasn't enough, as he was leaving Mark also handed over another box, this one containing what looks like a Lego ghost pirate ship, possibly modelled after Davy Jones' ship from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Another princely gift, which will join the half dozen other ships I have stockpiled for a future conversion project "one day".

Finally, the wargaming gang are going to Sheffield Triples on Sunday, and I'm tagging along with them.  There's nothing I particularly want to see or buy there, having more than enough of every kind of hobby-related "stuff" to keep me busy.  But who knows what might turn up there, or where inspiration may strike?


(*I still call it that, though both of us are well on the leeward side of forty summers!)

Thursday, 1 May 2014

I ain't got nothing but the blues.

Has it been so long?

I've been on the receiving end of some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) prompting in the last ten months to blog again. The truth is that I just didn't have anything to say. The man-cave lies empty and unused, primed figures lined up on the painting table awaiting detailing that never came. Resin vehicles lie in pieces. Last year's Big Birthday Bash failed to happen, and I think in all this time I've rolled dice in exactly one wargame (which was a rather entertaining skirmish in which my Redcoats came within a hair's breadth of capturing Bonnie Prince Charlie as he fled for France).

It's an uncomfortable truth that for many of us, our passion for our hobby runs in cycles. I think that as gamers it's important that we not only understand why we play (war)games, but also why we don't. As a matter of fact, the blogosphere is the perfect place to observe this phenomenon, Prolific posters go silent like I did all the time. Sometimes it's down to other "real life" matters taking up too much time (also known as "MyWifeOrderedMeToStopPlayingWithToySoldiers Syndrome") Sometimes one hobby is supplanted by another, pursued with an equal depth of passion.

Sometimes you just stop.

For me, it's been a mix of all these things (apart from the wife bit). In the 16 months since I lost my father and, at the time, my reason for living, I've been battling an ever increasing sense of... apathy, I suppose that's the closest word to describe it. In some ways I've been making progress to return to the "real world", such as taking a temporary contract at my former employer covering for someone's paternity leave. I became involved with a local cancer charity, and made moves to become a volunteer. I've also dabbled in another media - that of making YouTube videos, but that too has fallen by the wayside.

I've also had a significant health issue - a bout of flu early in the year. And not the "really bad cold" that most of us call flu, but the "kills 20-50k people per year" influenza that had me bedridden for a week, unable to work for a month and still dealing with follow-on issues three months later.

Through all that time, wargaming just never quite made it onto the list of priorities, at least not enough to do anything about it. The sheer hassle of digging out figures and terrain and setting up a tabletop seems daunting at the moment. The Bonnie Prince Charlie game came about as a long-term project of Bruce the Scot's, all I had to do was turn up, move miniatures and roll dice. No effort required, and still it took the effort of a few friends to literally drag me out of the house to go and play.

And yet curiously, at the same time, I've still considered myself a wargamer throughout. I took part in the Empire Of The Dead kickstarter which netted a really nice batch of VSF/Steampunk miniatures. I've bought several kits of airship frameworks in laser-cut MDF, with a view to extending the GASLIGHT games into the third dimension. All with exactly ZERO motivation to actually use any of these things.

By now some of you are no doubt putting two and two together. And yes, I think you're right. Were I to seek diagnosis, I'm almost certain it would come back that I'm suffering from some form of clinical depression, something that's no stranger to many of us. I don't want to do anything. Anything. At All. Worse than that, I feel bad about not wanting to do anything, which plunges right into a vicious circle of apathy. And in turn that's leading on to a form of borderline agoraphobia.

Luckily, even without the benefit of professional diagnosis or therapy, I can see this pattern of behaviour and recognise it as being Double-Plus-Ungood. So while I feel like I want to do nothing at all, just sit alone at home curled up in a corner waiting for the end, yet I know that's the worst thing I could possibly do. Of all the activities I've participated in in the last few years, wargaming is by far the most social, and has the potential to be the perfect tonic for what's ailing me. What's more, I know from past experience that having a semi-regular gaming session is great motivator for doing housework, something else that's fallen foul of the growing apathy in recent months.

So I'm determined to set myself back on track towards where I was 2-3 years ago. The time and effort required to setup a game feels like a great barrier wall, but it's one I'm determined to climb over, demolish or otherwise get past.

I *will* get some figure painting done.
I *will* setup the big table and have a 6'x4' scale wargame somehow.
There *will* be a Big Birthday Bash this year.

We *will* rise again.

Monday, 8 July 2013

I'm doing Science, and I'm Still Alive.

I'm afraid this is a bit of a non-post, just to reassure everybody that in the words of a favourite Discworld character... "I ATEN'T DEAD"

For one reason or another I've been doing next to no wargaming activity whatsoever in the last month.  There have been no great dramas, no major life changes, just haven't been rolling dice or putting brush to miniature and therefore not had much to discuss here.  I certainly haven't given up the hobby or anything I'm just.. not doing it at the moment.

I didn't get to Phalanx this year, for the first time in many years :-(

I did recently discover that the Asylum Steampunk convention that I'll be attending in September is planning to run a Gaming stream, with demo games and possibly panels.  I've dropped the organiser a line asking about becoming involved, but haven't yet had a response.

And I guess I ought to start organising this year's Big Birthday Bash game.  At least with all the figures, vehicles and terrain I have ready to go there won't be much in the way of preparation required.

Aaaaaand.... that's about all I have to say about that.  See, I told you it was a bit of a non-post!

 EDIT - now I think of it.. I still haven't received the steam tanks from Ironclad Miniatures that I bought and paid for at Sheffield Triples! Right - off to write a snotty email! 

Monday, 20 May 2013

Three, it's the magic number.

So Sheffield Triples was a fun and productive day out.  I'd gone with three main objectives, of which I managed to complete two.

First stop was Irregular Miniatures, where I procured two 54mm figures, one a 7 Years War officer, the other a Greek hoplite, for use as Victorian-era statuary.  The officer looks quite splendid atop the column I have, while I think the hoplite deserves a slightly lower plinth.

The second, secret objective was to call at Empress Miniatures and procure the Mutton Chop "Sidney 'Dirty Laugh' Cohen & Sidekick"
 Regular readers may remember that I run a  house rule that GASLIGHT characters for whom a custom figure has been explicitly painted or converted, do NOT die permanently on failing their last Save roll.  I did this mainly to preserve my mini alter-ego that I'd painstakingly converted, but left this retroactively open.  At the Battle of Aldershot, Mi Hermano Morituri Jonesy had lost his favourite GASLIGHT Main Character, Sir Roger d'Ars, modelled after Sid James. The above pack made a nice thank-you gift for driving us to the show, and hopefully we may see Sir Roger return to our games.

The third objective, visit the Black Pyramid stand and wobble my lower lip at the lack of Home Service Helmets, was thwarted by the big empty space where their stand ought to be.  Clearly I shouldn't have warned them I was coming.

Other things to see at the show - a fairly spectacular remote-controlled tank battle arena, with an adjacent trade stand selling the very reasonably priced tanks like hotcakes.  £60 for what looked like about 1/12 scale tanks, up to double that if you wanted a metal shell instead of plastic.  There were also a few old-school demonstration games, tying into the Little Wars anniversary. An 18th century game recreating the Battle of Plattsville using Don Featherstone's rules caught my eye, and we had a very pleasant chat with one of the fellows running it, discussing the merits of simple rules, toy soldier aesthetics and home cast figures. Jonesy obviously preached to him the merits of gaming with Lego, but meh, you can't take him anywhere!

I did call by Ironclad Miniatures stand, and lo and behold they didn't have the steam tanks I wanted with them but offered to post them on 'later in the week'.  Long term readers might recall a similar promise back in 2011, which turned into a month's wait with pretty poor communication from Ironclad.  Let's see if things have improved a little since then.

One other thing that struck me was how ubiquitous Zvezda kits are becoming.  They seem aimed at gamers, since unlike many other plastic kit manufacturers, they produce simple models in wargame scales (e.g. 1/100 for 15mm).  Every other stand seemed to have a dump basket full of the 15mm vehicle kits at £2.75-2.99 and either 4 for £10 or 5 for £12.75 offers.  They have me once again seriously considering 1938: A Very British Civil War in 15mm using the Portable Wargame rules.

I'm told that the show was quite busy Saturday, but on Sunday when we went, while there was a good crowd, it wasn't painfully packed out.  For the first time in a long while, I didn't have to fight my way through crowds to get to the Bring & Buy table, which made for a refreshing change.  Sadly there weren't any bargains there to tickle my fancy.

Anyway, 'twas a good day out indeed.

Today Jonesy and I played our first game of In Her Majesty's Name.  But that, as they say, is another story....

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

I'm on my way I'm making it...

It has been decided.  I am being dragged, kicking and screaming, to Sheffield Triples this weekend (probably Sunday).

It's been a while since I've been to any wargaming shows other than Phalanx.   Though I'm not exactly swimming in disposable income right now, I have fallen back on the reserves of the Coin Jar to finance the outing (My rationale is that coins that have languished in a jar for twelve months or more can be counted as "lost and found" falling outside the household accounting system and thus are freed up to be squandered on extra-budgetary treats!)  A lengthy counting-and-bagging session yielded a quite decent budget for the weekend expedition.

I don't want, need, or intend to buy much at the show (famous last words).   While tinkering in the Man Cave the other day I came across some large scenic columns I'd picked up at last year's Phalanx for a steal from the Bring And Buy.  I'm thinking one of them might make a fine pseudo-Nelson's Column with a suitable 54mm figure mounted at the top (to go with the Ainsty lions I bought last year).  Sadly 54mm Lord Nelson figures are thin on the ground, so unless I'm willing to pay Collector's prices (which I'm certainly not!) I'm thinking a generic, 18th century officer figure from Irregular will make a suitable proxy.

I'll also be calling at the Empress Miniatures stand, but I'm afraid what I'm looking for must remain a secret for now.  Loose lips sink ships, and all that.

The Triples web page lists traders but doesn't list demo and participation games, but I'm hoping that the world of 1938 A Very British Civil War will have a presence there so I can say hello.  Regular readers will know that while I don't game the period per se, I do feel a great affinity with it as a spiritual sibling of VSF (and I'm still pondering the viability of doing it in 15mm)

Finally there is one somewhat onerous duty I must perform, and I mention it here to give those concerned fair warning.  I will be going to the Black Pyramid Gaming stand to say hello and to ask what they have in the pipeline for their Tea Wars line.  After listening politely, studying any samples and making any appreciative noises required, I will ask my usual question regarding their possible production of heads with British Home Service Helmets.  When they... inevitably... reply in the negative, citing some technical difficulty or test sculpts with wrongly shaped heads, I will then be a sad panda.  There may even be some lower lip wobbling involved.

Black Pyramid - consider yourselves duly warned.



Tuesday, 14 May 2013

In the name of...

I've had a chance to sit down and read "In Her Majesty's Name", the new steampunk skirmish wargame published by Osprey.

It's firmly in the "warband of a dozen or so individual figures" definition of skirmish, rather than the "very small battle with a hundred or so" school that games like GASLIGHT belong to.

Mechanically it's fairly straightforward - roll D10, add modifiers, beat target number.  Figures are statted for Pluck (i.e. morale), Shooting Value, Fighting Value and Speed (which is a rare bonus value, most figures are at Speed 0)

Remember my complaint about Empire Of The Dead, how it restricted you to a narrow set of army lists limited by the boxed sets that Westwind wanted to sell you?  Not only does IHMN give you a broader selection of army lists with pre-generated characters, but you get the points values and formulae to assemble a completely original force from scratch.

The campaign missions in the game are split up into two aspects - Scenarios, which give objectives and deployment instructions, and Landscapes, which are basically suggested terrain types.  Pairing different Scenarios with different Landscapes gives a wide variety of possible games, such as King Of The Hill in the Dockyard, or Catch The Pigeon across the rooftops.  If nothing else the Landscapes descriptions provides some good ideas for terrain-building projects.

I was a little disappointed to see no activation mechanic - players alternate moving figures one at a time until all figures are moved, then repeat the process for firing and melee.

One thing that did irritate me a little - the target number to cause a hit by ranged and melee combat is based on the figure's armour, with most figures in the army lists being equipped  with various breastplates and brigandines.  Sorry chaps, but that really doesn't sit too well with the psuedo-19th century thing for me.  Although steampunk armour isn't unknown, it's far from the norm in the way that it would be in a dark ages or medieval setting.  Basing the core combat resolution around such an exception - not a great move.

All in all though not a bad set of rules, very reasonably priced and fairly open ended.  I hope we get to give them a try soonish.