Monday, 20 July 2015

Come fly with me, let's fly let's fly away.

While I'm in this blogging state of mind/frenzy, I wanted to share a heretical decision I've made with you.

I'm using 1/72 aircraft with 28mm figures.

I know they're hopelessly underscale, and a better option would be 1/48 scale (which would be more consistent with my land vehicles which range from 1:55 to 1:43).  But I've reached this decision after a lot of thought and for the following reasons.

1) When "flying" over the battlefield, the discrepancy in scale is less noticeable.

In fact it works well, because mounted on a flying stand 12-18" above the tabletop it gives a sense of false perspective.  That plane's not small, it's just really far away!  Real-world movie makers have been doing this for years, passing off footage of 1/4 scale models as the real thing without anyone batting an eyelid.

2) On the ground, is it a playing piece or a piece of terrain?

Most wargamers understand that the ground scale used by most rules is usually a lot smaller than the figure scale.  So a vehicle model that's in scale with the figures, might be the size of a large house when compared to the ground scale.  As a result, a lot of wargame terrain pieces are smaller than the true figure scale would suggest.  Aircraft on the ground are more likely to be acting as terrain pieces than actually being in play the way figures and vehicles are, so it's not inappropriate for them to be scaled closer to the ground scale than the figure scale.

3) Aircraft are still pretty big

Even something tiny like the Kaydet I used in last year's Hillbilly game is the size of a small 1/43 van.  If you're going to have anything larger on the table, it's going to start taking up an awful lot of ground space.  A 1/72 Dakota, a must for any brushfire wargame, is going to have a 40cm wingspan.  It's still pretty manageable at 60cm for 1/48, but anything larger than that is going to start becoming too big to be practical.

But the key thing is that pretty much any 1/72 aircraft on the table at first glance is going to look BIG compared to 28mm figures.  It's only when you start looking closely at details like doorways and windows that you realise that the aircraft is underscale for the miniature.

4) 1/72 aircraft are cheaper and on the whole more widely available.

Because it's always been one of the most popular aircraft modelling scales, the range of 1/72 kits is much wider than their 1/48 cousins.  And while you can find some quite expensive 1/72 kits if you're looking at rare or unusual aircraft subjects, on the whole they tend to be cheaper.  You can get a 1/72 BAe Hawk for as little as £7, whereas in 1/48 you're looking at £18-20

Add it all up, and it makes a compelling argument for using under-scale 1/72 aircraft in 28mm games.

In case you hadn't figured out, I'm not only looking at this from the perspective of using models for on-table air support in large wargames, but also in the context of a future airport/airfield terrain layout.  This latter was prompted by the discovery of this toy on Amazon.co.uk

It's a "bump and go" floor toy, which is supposed to trundle along the ground, flashing lights and changing direction when it hits a wall or obstacle.  As an actual Airbus 380 model it's pretty awful, and its scale is... questionable to say the least.  But with a little work, filling and repainting, plus replacing the hideous yellow drive wheels at the back with something a little more realistic looking, I think we could wind up with something that'll pass as a "generic airliner".  The alternative would be a 1/72 "garage kit" of a Boeing 737, which will set you back about £80 on Ebay, and give you a model of a similar size.  Whereas this "bump and go" toy can be had for about a fiver.

Scale model purists may despair, but if you're looking for a practical wargaming terrain piece it's pretty hard to argue with.  You don't want a perfectly accurate but fragile scale model that's going to break every time you take it to the gaming club, you want something that was designed to stand up to the uses and abuses of your typical 5 year old!  I have two. (the toy planes, not 5 year olds)

The other toy plane I'm looking at is to recreate that classic hangar scene that crops up in pretty much every action and adventure TV show.  You know the one where the rich bad guy is about to leave the country in his private jet, and they're boarding it in THAT EXACT SAME HANGAR IN EVERY SHOW when the good guys turn up to stop them?  This is one case where 1/72 lets us down a little.  For starters... try finding models of that sort of business jet in any scale.  1/72 supports historical and military aviation subjects pretty well, but there's precious little in the way of modern civilian aircraft in that scale.  Secondly, if you'r reproducing this scene in a skirmish wargame, this is one instance where the figures will be closely interacting with the aircraft and the scale discrepancy will really stand out.  It's one instance where I think a larger scale aircraft is more appropriate.

Pixar and Disney come to our rescue with their "Cars" movie tie-in toy range.  I've heard several people recommending the Cars die-cast toys as being suitable for conversion to 28mm gaming.  I've never seen the films, but the toy range includes a couple of aircraft, including "Siddeley the Spy Jet" which basically looks like it's modelled on a Gulfstream bizjet.

Judging by this video I found on YouTube, Siddeley looks like he'd be a decent match for 28mm figures.  Sold new on Amazon it looks like he'll set you back £40 and up, but a trawl of Ebay reveals some slightly lower prices, plus several playworn veterans for much cheaper prices.  I've just found one for about a tenner that's just missing its tail ramp - easily replaced with a little plasticard.

Finally, though I can't justify the purchase myself, I've just noticed that the other big plane toy in the Cars range, "Cabbie McHale the Transporter" is on Amazon.co.uk for just £20.  He's a pretty good representation of a C119 "Flying Boxcar", and I've seen someone on Lead Adventure do a pretty good job of repainting him for use with 28mm figures.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Run for the sun, little one...

Yes two updates in one month.... try to remain calm.  I'm really trying to get back into the swing of blogging :-)

I've been having a lot of fun doing research for Paradiso.

(I keep adding and removing the San- prefix at random as the fancy takes me.  I think I might officially add it if only to differentiate between this and the official (planet) Paradiso campaign for the Infinity wargame)

How might you do research for a place that doesn't exist?

Well it's absolutely the best kind of research, as anything goes.  I can look at people and places and things that are a bit like my imaginary setting and if I like them, I can include them.  If I don't, I'm free to change them to suit my needs.

For example, as a tropical island holiday destination that shares an island with a failed state, it's not much of a secret that I'm taking a lot of inspiration for Paradiso from the Dominican Republic.  So time spent studying the real-life Dominican Republic armed forces yields a lot of useful material for Paradiso.  The DR has the second largest armed forces in the Carribbean (presumably after Cuba), with six infantry brigades, one Airmobile and two support brigades.  That's interesting and useful, but I want to use some tanks in my Paradiso games, so two of those Infantry brigades become Mechanised with Armoured support.

Looking at Wikipedia and various other sources, I can see the equipment used by the DR - a real mish-mash with a lot of it donated by the Americans.  That works too, since I'm using Vietnam-era US infantry for my Paradiso army, along with whatever toys I can scrounge up cheaply enough.  So while the DR might not have Panhard VBLs, it's the sort of vehicle they might have a few of, and so they're good for Paradiso.

Looking at one briefing page showing pictures of parading DR soldiers, I'm struck by several of the non-army paramilitary units that seem to be tied to various government ministries.  The Ministry of Public Works and Communication, the Specialised Port Security Corp, the Specialist Airport Security Corp, The Tourist Safety Corp, the National Environmental Protection Corp.... At this point I know very little about each of these units, however the fact that they exist is itself great inspiration.  We now have a Paradiso where various branches of the Government raise their own troops for whatever reason, which has the potential for much hilarity in a coup-d'etat scenario.  Imagine an army plot being foiled by the Cuerpo Especial de Postale y Telefonica Securidad?  It's like something out of the Very British Civil War, but with palm trees.

A quick note about language and the way I'm mangling it.  One of the inspirations for Paradiso, believe it or not, was the "Channel 9" sketches from the comedy series The Fast Show.  I loved the nonsensical "foreign language" they used for that, mixed up with the occasional English loan-word that leapt out at you, which did a great job of parodying how English-only speakers hear foreign media.  To approximate that, while the official government language of Paradiso is English (a hold-over from their colonial past and the recent US occupation), 99% of the population's daily speech is in Spanglaise, a creole mix of English, French, Spanish and any other language I feel like throwing into the mix, all of it improperly conjugated :-)

Back to the DR armed forces, and those parade pictures reveal an elite unit of Cazadores in green berets, and a Presidential Guard in very unusual orange berets.  Both are so splendid, they're transplanted straight into Paradiso wholesale right away.  How they'll be represented on the tabletop is another matter - I have some spare boonie-hatted chaps left over that can be pressganged into the Cazadores, but the Presidential Guard are going to require a special purchase somewhere down the line.  I already think I know how to do them - Empress Miniatures US Army troops, headswapped with some British Para beret heads that I've already got.

Then we look at the air force, and it makes us sad.  The DR has virtually nothing in the combat aircraft field apart from a few Super Tucano counter-insurgency aircraft.  That's no good!  We want to do some air-to-air gaming at some point.  OK let's look elsewhere.... and a bit more googling reveals information about the US's policy of equipping lesser allies with older but still capable aircraft.  The Paradiso Air Force therefore gains a modest number of F5E Tiger fighters, with a few aging A4 Skyhawk attack jets to supplement the Tucanos.  Further down the line, they're bound to be trying to get hold of some BAe Hawk jets to modernise their inventory, but that's another story.  As it stands, that gives us a Paradiso Air Force that can provide an entertaining game if pitched against the Mig-21s and Shenyang F6s from their unruly neighbours in Culo Raton.

Yes the joys of obsolete kit in an Imagi-Nation setting.  Cutting edge modern gaming does occasionally have a tendency to be very one-sided, depending on who's performance stats you believe.  But older, less technologically advanced equipment tends to smooth out that imbalance.

If this seems implausible to you, here's a mind bullet for you:  The real-life, real world Dominican Republic army is still operating a number of M3 half-tracks.  Yes, World War II vintage US Army equipment is still in active service there.

And so the process of building up a picture of the military of Paradiso (and of Culo Raton) continues, an unholy mixture of what I can learn from the real world (which may drive future modelling or purchasing decisions) and what toys I already have or can lay my hands on cheaply (Like the Panhards)

It's all part of the fun of building an Imagi-Nation, and while it's something that you can't do when building strictly historical forces, ironically enough  these days you can't do it with most Science Fiction or Fantasy games either.  The modern trend is for games with their own, tightly defined background and "official" miniatures ranges.  They don't leave much room for imagination or original creations any more,  Which I find a crying shame.

Moving on, here's a glimpse of my WIP map of Paradiso


You'll notice a distinct lack of detail at this stage, and that's entirely deliberate.  Once something is pinned down an written on the map, it becomes fixed and limits future options.  I want the flexibility to throw whatever things I need to into this setting in order to produce fun games, rather than being limited by what I've already fixed in place.  For example, if I want to do a battle set in a petrochemical port facility, right now I'm free to locate that facility anywhere I want on the map, then that in turn will suggest further details that we can add (like road and rail links).  If instead I'd fully mapped out the country before doing any games, I'd have to hunt around the map for a suitable battle location, and if I hadn't already added a petrochemical port or left plausible room for one I'd be SOL.

The games add to the map, rather than the map inhibiting the games.  As we do more games, so the detail on the map will grow.

As it stands I've added the locations referred to in the Farmers' insurgency proto-campaign that I've talked about previously in this blog.  I've decided to add the results of our recent game on the Industrial scenery to the campaign, in which the Guerillas were prevented from taking control of or damaging the Sunrise Corp facility.  The Army will use that defeat as an opportunity to move in and take control of it themselves - as it's a currently uncontrolled asset they succeed automatically.

The campaign status is as follows...

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko, The Bridge at El Humber, The Goodwill Of The People.

Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. Secure supply of food and supplies, The Airfield at Los Anillcamino, The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant

Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.


This has led me to consider some changes to the campaign rules discussed previously.  As it stands the rules are great for reflecting an overall result for a number of otherwise random unconnected games, but they don't allow players to exercise much strategic thought.  I think we need some option to allow one side or the other to "take the initiative" and have some say in dictating the course of the campaign.

So how about this....


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Campaign Rule - Raids

If one side wins two consecutive campaign battles they may "take the initiative" and declare one of their opponent's campaign resources as a specific target for the next battle.  All participants must then agree on a scenario and game setup to accurately reflect the attackers offensive against that campaign resource, for example through appropriate terrain setup or victory conditions.  Once everyone is happy with the setup, the battle is fought as normal.

If the defending player (not taking the initiative) wins, they may attempt to gain control of other campaign resources as per the normal rules.

If the attacking player (who did take the initiative) wins, they may either automatically render the target resource uncontrolled, or atttempt to take control of it for themselves requiring a roll of 3+ on D6 (basically one step easier than normal)  They may then keep the initiative and declare another raid target for the next battle, and so on.

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If we introduce this option to our campaign rules, I think the next battle will see the Army launching an offensive to secure the vital Bridge at El Humber.  Hmmmm I sense a modelling challenge coming on.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin'

Ok so it's a quarterly blog update.  Sue me. :-)

For months now, probably since the start of the year, Mi Hermano Collaboratore Jonesy and I have been working on a terrain concept.  Progress has been slow, almost ground to a halt at times, since we only routinely worked on it every Sunday afternoon, and even that suffered many cancellations due to ill health, other gaming events and sundry distractions.

Last year, before the money ran out, I treated myself to multiple sets of the Industrial Terrain set from Wargames Tournaments.  Well basically I bought one, liked it but decided I needed a bit more, then won an auction for a triple-sized set.

One Industrial Terrain set
Veteran gamers might find something familiar about this product, and yes indeed it was designed to emulate and be compatible with the old cardboard scenery from GW's Necromunda.

Now we decided that though the platforms themselves were quite nice, to make this look like any sort of plausible real-world industrial complex, we needed a lot more solid Stuff(tm).  Pipes, tanks, buildings - Stuff in and around the platforms to make it look like things are being stored, transported and or processed around the site.

Six months later...


I couldn't find a camera angle that took it all in.  Apologies for the crappy photography, but I'm rather out of practice!

Let's see, we have assorted drinks cans and pringles tubes, domestic 40mm PVC piping, gasometers made from biscuit tins, shipping containers from Mad Mecha Guy and Demo's Lasercut Designs and tons more.  Oh and a converted £10 kids toy construction crane.  It easily fills most of my 8'x6' table, leaving a 1' margin on two sides (used here for a road and a railway)


None of it is world-class modelling material, and it doesn't really bear too close an inspection.  But as the old Soviet saying goes, "quantity has a quality all its own."


The scene's really brought to life by some of the 1/43 die-cast vehicles I've been collecting over the years.  Most are out and out toys, like this Teamsterz "Load & Go" delivery truck.  The blacktop main road is a commercial product made by someone on eBay, the lighter grey sections are a WIP, made with sandpaper stuck to cheap vinyl tiles.



I recently discovered a vendor called www.carmodel.com, an outfit based in Italy who sell all scales of collectible die-cast cars.  What drew me to them was they had a category labelled "Cheap 1/43 cars", which includes a whole load of Russian/East European vehicles for as little as 3.99 Euros.  These are absolutely fantastic for giving a non-US or Western Europe vibe, and are exactly the sort of vehicle you might expect to see crop up in a third world country.  One thing we do still need is more actual buildings, but for now we have the Plasticville(?) gatehouse and that's about it.


In Paradiso, the biggest industrial complexes are often operated by the Sunrise Corporation, with their signature yellow-boilersuited workforce.  These armed technicians from Ainsty were painted to represent the classic 60s spy-fi minions.... any similarity to any other yellow minions is entirely coincidental.


One feature I'm quite pleased with is the "bits box factory machinery" bases.  They are, exactly as the name suggests, random bits from the bits box hotglued together to a suitable base.  Having been thrown hastily together and sprayed black last December for the "ruined factory" table, I finally got around to painting them.  I went with a very crude rough base colour drybrush for everything, with a lighter more selective silver drybrush on top.  Again literally 5 minutes work, but the overall result is quite effective at giving the impression of dirty, used machinery.


In addition to just throwing out some pipes and spraypainted tin cans onto the table, we've tried to do a couple of more complex pieces, like this wossname, doohickey type thing.  Don't ask me what exactly it's meant to represent. But it's a Nesquick plastic tub smooshed together with the WT platforms and the machinery from a toy police tow-truck bunged on top.  


To all this we added a ton of scatter.  My friend Dave had gifted us with a load of oil drums which helped massively with the industrial feel.  Streetlamps, dumpsters, gas and liquid tanks from Ainsty and Ramshackle and planters from Antenocitis.  Basically anything that could break up line of sight or provide cover.

There's tons more I could show or talk about - I've not even touched on the gasometers or the crane or the converted container lorries or... you get the drift.  Six months of work, remember?  And still we're a long way from "finished" with this terrain.  As I mentioned, we want more actual buildings for figures to be able to move into and around, the pipework needs painting and expanding somewhat (we have some narrower gauge pipe to complement the 40mm stuff), and I really want a chain link fence to surround the whole facility(or at least on two sides).

But it's 75% there and 75% is good enough to play on, especially since it's been "in development" for so long.  So far we've played two games on this setup - The first a Flying Lead battle pitching the Paradiso farmers Guerilla army against the Sunrise Corp security.  Despite early successes breaching the gate and the perimeter, the guerillas were quickly contained and pinned down by the defenders, fighting from superior positions in the walkways (and out the back of one container truck!).

The other game we've played was a test run of the new 7TV 2nd edition Beta rules.  To the uninitiated, 7TV from Crooked Dice is designed to let players recreate action and adventure shows from the 60s and 70s.  The supporting ranges of figures would be only two familiar to anyone who'd watched British TV in the last 50 years, Jonesy and I had been planning to try out the 1st edition for a while, but never gotten around to it.  Since we're not collecting their figures, and the Spy-fi figures I have aren't painted yet, instead we went for an "80s private detective show" theme, with a little warband I've put together called the Redd Foxx Detective Agency (more on them in a future blog post) infiltrating.. yes you've guessed it, a Sunrise Corp. industrial complex.

The 7TV 2nd Ed rules are greatly streamlined from 1st ed, and in my opinion do a better job of emulating a TV show's format.  There's a nifty card-based countdown mechanic to limit the length of the game, with the cards doubling up as Chance cards for random happenings (all couched in TV terms like "Casting Call" or "Continuity Error").  There's an activation mechanic, which means you can't necessarily do everything with your entire force every turn, and each side has access to a pool of one-shot "Gadgets" to help them.

Our first impression is very favourable.  We played a small band of a Star & 4 Co-stars (the Detectives) against three times as many Extras with one Co-star leader.  The game felt very balanced - stars and co-stars are more competent and get more activations, but putting any of them out of action gives the opposition both bonus activations and victory points.  Meanwhile Extras need to be clumped together under leaders in order to be activated as groups, but you have to kill a lot more of them to get their side to the morale break-point (or "Axed", in 7TV parlance) and then they don't count towards victory points.

The game felt very even throughout until the very end, but on counting up the victory points was a massive win for the Sunrise Corps at 8-1, mainly due to taking out my Co-stars.  The rules writing seemed pretty tight, as you'd expect from a 2nd edition, with very few headscratching moments if any.  As a Beta set, the rules included none of the background fluff from the "official" 7TV series casts (i.e. factions) and no campaign rules.

The one negative I have is that you're supposed to select your cast from a selection of pre-generated archetypes, stats for which are provided on attractive character cards.  But I found those archetypes very limiting in their options.  There are some quite elegant and simple rules for customising Stars and Co-stars in a limited way, but you may not find yourself able to create any imaginable character within the rules.

All in all, I'm filing 7TV as a useful set of rules suitable for light-hearted pulpy action, along with Pulp Alley.  The Beta set is so tight and fluff-free that I can see us carrying on playing from these beta booklets even after the full game is released.  Like Pulp Alley though, it's not so suitable for general military combat, or gritty urban crime.  Flying Lead from Ganesha Games remains my favourite go-to ruleset for generic modern firearm combat, with the state of 2HW's Chain Reaction currently hanging in the balance after it proved unpopular with Jonesy and a couple of others in my gaming circles.

I am however currently looking closely at FiveCore from Nordic Weasel Games, after enjoying he Brigade Commander version so much.  I rather like the idea of being able to fight a five-man skirmish, a company level action and a brigade level action using essentially the same game mechanics.  The main stumbling block is whether some of the game's key assumptions will sit well with some players.

I'm still looking for a good  modern "Toy Soldiers" game i.e. one where having a fun game takes precedence over strict realism.  I generally describe this concept as "40K Modern", where I can field several tanks and APCs along with 28mm infantry support and have a fun game on an 8'x5' table (despite "realistically" those distances being ridiculously tight and close for those forces.)  FUBAR is one possible option for this, but I'm also hoping to try out Mongoose's defunct Battlefield Evolution rules (available as PDF at Wargame Vault)

On the Company level, I also find myself intrigued by Warfare In The Age Of Madness, which looks like it's pitched at the same sort of game as 5Core Company Commander (about 12 elements, single vehicles and squad elements, smallish playing area) and also straddles the divide between real-world modern and sci-fi/post apocalyptic eras.  But although the rules have been out for a while, I've yet to find anyone on the web reporting having actually played a game of it, and although they're very reasonably priced at Wargames Vault, I've currently hit my spending limit for the month so they'll have to wait.

On the other hand, I'm waiting for the boys at WinterOf79 to get their act together and release their In Development game "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Sterlings." so I can throw my money at them.  After all, how can you not love a game that categorises its troop quality levels "Hard", "Blokes", "Lads" and "Tossers"?

Thursday, 30 April 2015

All the small things..

Someone mentioned to me the other day, rather pointedly, that it was about time for my bi-annual blog post.

Funny guy, I thought.  Then I checked the date of the last post and... well... fair cop.

So Point No. 1: Not dead yet.

The planned continuation of San Paradiso wargaming got derailed a little when during a tryout game of the latest "final" edition of Two Hour Wargaming's Chain Reaction, it emerged that some of my regular wargaming collaborators just plumb don't like Chain Reaction.  It was one of those awkward rules discussions where it became clear that the participants were operating on completely different assumptions.  I've always seen Chain Reaction and the other 2HW rules as more gritty and "realistic" in terms of limiting what figures can do and how little you can control them.  I think that comes from my experience with some of the very earliest 2HW sets like Wasteland Warriors, or the original Six Gun Sound, before Ed started introducing more "roleplaying" elements making the leading characters "Larger Than Life".

By contrast, one of the other players I think was expecting a much more "pulpy" fun game, possibly having been swayed by our recent successful introduction to Pulp Alley.  For him, Chain Reaction was a failure, because he couldn't do crazy, heroic charges without being cut down mercilessly.  Human nature being what it is, once we set our minds that something is "bad", it's very difficult for us to adjust our criteria and perceptions in order to see it as "good" instead.

The rules discussion that followed was... well let's say "robust", and leave it at that.  I've since found out that at least one other of our gaming circle doesn't like the 2HW rules, which means Chain Reaction looks like it's going to be retired as a possible ruleset for future games.

One thing I want from my hobby of wargaming is to be able to play different styles and tones of games, depending on the circumstances, how I'm feeling, who the other players are etc.  I don't believe there's a "One True Way" that all gaming has to conform to.  For example, I love Flying Lead from Ganesha Games, as a kind of default, fairly light firearms skirmish ruleset for up to a dozen figures a side.  But sometimes, I might be in the mood for something more pulpy or action-movie-ish, in which case Pulp Alley might fit the bill.  On the other hand, if I wanted a more "serious" skirmish game, which rewards more tactically minded play, previously I would have gone to Chain Reaction, which in my experience when you remove the "Larger Than Life" elements does just that.

So with CR out of the picture, I'm looking for a skirmish game that fills that gap.  There are a couple of possible candidates out there - the 5Core rules from "5 Men In Normandy" looks like a possible candidate, provided it can handle games a bit larger than the original 5 figures per side.  Another interesting possiblity is Infinity, the science-fiction skirmish rules from Corvus Belli.  Although written for a far-future setting, at the end of the day an assault rifle is an assault rifle, and the rules are at heart a firearms skirmish game.  They also share 2HW's assumption of "overwatch by default", in which the active moving player is just as likely to provoke a deadly response from the opposition by acting as it is to kill the enemy.  Although it's sold as a very expensive hardback book (£60!!!!!!), Corvus Belli have published the PDF version absolutely free on their website, along with all the army lists, weapon lists and campaign scenarios that are designed for tournament play.  I've watched many Infinity games played out on YouTube (mainly from MiniWargaming) and am playing around with a modern conversion which along with the game's "quick introduction to the rules" should be enough to get a friendly game going sometime.

I'm also looking for a ruleset for slightly larger games, maybe up to a couple of platoons a side, leaning more towards the "fun toy soldiers" end of the spectrum.  I've been adding bits and pieces to the collection over the past few months, and itch to see my full wargame table laid out with a San Paradiso game that looks more like something from the good old Tarr and Featherstone era.  Something that plays a little like a modern version of Warhammer 40K, but with perhaps a few more concessions to reality.  Rulesets I'm looking at include the defunct Battlefield Evolution from Mongoose Publishing, and FUBAR.  We've played FUBAR in the past and found it basically enjoyable, but I'm looking at some of the many variants that people have come up with to tweak the basic rules.

Should we ever want to game even larger operations, we already have a winner.  One game that I have played a little bit recently was 5Core Brigade Commander.  This uses stands representing companies, with individual vehicles representing platoon-level attachments.  This means that you can put a Soviet style motor-rifle regiment on the table using less than a couple of dozen vehicle miniatures (assuming two per stand).  The game plays really well, giving a good feel of commanding at the higher level, unlike other micro-armour games I've played.  A group of us have used Nordic Weasel's brushfire war supplement to generate a bunch of ex-Soviet-bloc Imagi-Nations and are planning a bit of a casual mini-campaign in the near future.

But the main ongoing project has been the industrial terrain, based on the MDF platform sets from Wargames Tournaments.  This has been dragging on a bit as in recent months the regular weekly crafting session has had a lot of disruption.  However following the usual mantras of "just one thing at a time" and "a little as often as possible", the terrain is starting to take shape.  We have various lengths and gauges of PVC pipeworks, including one type that was originally designed to make a set of kids football goalposts (Thanks Dave for donating that find to the project!)  We have a couple of minor conversion jobs adding tin cans and pringles tubes to the MDF platforms, we have one fairly spectacular converted toy and lots of appropriate scatter terrain.  After a lot of sessions given over to planning and brainstorming and generally unproductive preparations, the test layout currently sitting on the wargame table is starting to look like something that might one-day be playable on.

I can just about make out the light at the end of the tunnel.

The current plan is to initially use the industrial terrain to try out the 7TV rules from Crooked Dice, a set that Mi Hermano Collaboratore Jonesy as been keen to try for a long time.  On the painting table we have a bunch of armed technicians from Ainsty (I'm too stingy to afford the Crooked Dice minis) and various agents, spies and villains drawn mainly from the Copplestone and Artisan "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" ranges

...

Of course me being a typical wargamer, I'm already planning, inspired by and indeed buying toys for the next big terrain project AFTER the industrial one is done.  *DOH*

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

This must be just like livin' in Paradise.

GOTCHA!
REBEL LEADER CAPTURED IN FIERCE GUN BATTLE WITH GOVERNMENT TROOPS
RUINED FACTORY SCENE OF CONTINUAL FIGHTING

The ongoing unrest in the Western Foothills spilled over into the industrial district of Puerto Brum.  Earlier in the week, the ruined and abandoned Milk Duds factory was the scene of clashes between the Policia Municipale and assorted gang members and foreign mercenaries in a chaotic four-way gun battle.  Unfortunately the brave men of the Policia were driven off and the site left in the hands of the criminals and anarchists.

Yesterday however, the Army sent in a squad of troops to clear and secure the site.  They quickly encountered a sizeable force of the rebel farmers led by the notorious revolutionary El Porco Verde.  In a long gun battle, two soldiers were killed and several wounded, however our brave boys in green finally managed to capture the rebel leader and several of his henchmen.

A spokesman for El Presidente has stated "We believe that the rebels were at the site to pick up a supply shipment of arms, smuggled to them by one of the city's criminal gangs.  In smashing this operation, we've dealt a crippling blow to this illegal revolt against our just rule."

Thus is the tale of two wargames recently fought in my Imagi-Nation of San Paradiso.

The first was a quickly thrown together game of Pulp Alley for the Old Farts gaming evening, who graced me with their presence last week.  Since I don't have any proper pulp-era figures painted, it was a toss-up between digging out the Victoriana/Steampunk figures, or going for a modern "Action Movie" style game.  In the end we had the Police, the biker gang, the "urban" gang and "The Z-Team" all clashing over a table representing a ruined factory complex.


As a fun game, I can't praise Pulp Alley highly enough.  It's designed to reproduce the feel of dashing pulp serials, with lots of back and forth and a fairly low body count.  The rules could work without modification for pretty much any period from early gunpowder to sci-fi.  However you'll always have that highly cinematic feel, which might not suit the tone of game you're aiming for.  Personally I'm happy to add Pulp Alley to my "toolbox" of rulesets, as the go-to rules for "fun" multiplayer skirmish games, alongside Flying Lead and Chain Reaction (in increasing order of seriousness).

Anyway the multiplayer Pulp Alley game proved inconclusive, with the Police the only clear losers (the other three sides each had secured one "Plot point", and while the Bikers looked about to gain the upper hand, we basically ran out of time).  So I left the terrain set up on the table and today decided to send in an Army squad to clear the area, using Two Hour Wargames' Chain Reaction in a solo game.  It was the first time I'd used the current PEF rules (Possible Enemy Forces), and I was looking forward to seeing how they'd work for an impromptu solo game.

It was an exciting battle.  The squad entered at the front gate and after ensuring the gatehouse was empty, split into two fireteams.  Alpha team, accompanied by the squad leader, peeled to the right, towards one PEF, while Bravo team peeled to the right, toward two PEFs.

Bravo encountered the enemy first, revealing a rebel foot patrol.  It was here I ran into the first and only real headscratcher of the game.  In Chain Reaction, PEFs are resolved as either nothing, or a number of troops relative to the player's "Group".  While the rules seem to be written with the assumption of a single player group, it wasn't clear what happens in the case of a squad split into two tactical groups operating independantly, like the two fireteams.  Do you base the number of troop in the PEF on the number of troops in the fireteam encountering them, or on the number in the whole squad?  At first I assumed the latter, but seeing the overwhelming odds that produced, switched to the former (basing the numbers on the encountering groups).  I think this aspect of the game bears tinkering with, maybe using the subgroup size, but increasing the number of PEFs on table based on the number of subgroups in play.

Anyway Bravo team ran headlong into that patrol (which eventually had four members) and paid for it with the loss of the fireteam leader.  The survivors deployed into the ruined buildings for cover, revealing the second PEF which fortunately turned out to be a false alarm.  The SAW gunner managed to take out the rebel patrol's leader and a second rebel, sending the two survivors diving for cover.

Meanwhile Alpha team had similarly spread out and encountered the third PEF, which turned out to be the main rebel force of 8 men, including their leader El Porco Verde (from the jungle ambush game).  An exchange of fire between the REP 5 squad leader and the REP 5 rebel left the soldier sprawling in the dust, having rapidly burned through his "Star Power" points in an attempt to cancel his injuries.  The two sides settled down for what looked like it would be an extended firefight of attrition.

Bravo team lost a second man but managed to take out the rest of the patrol facing them.  They then quickly moved towards the sound of gunfire, hoping to catch the main rebel force in the flank.


It was at this point that I made a mistake, or perhaps got a little greedy with the Rebel actions.  The initiative dice came up Gov 6, Reb 2, which meant that though the Government troops nominally won, they could only activate units with a REP 6 or higher (of which they had none), while the rebels could activate anything with a REP 2 or higher.  I tried to send two men in a mad dash across the open towards a flanking position on Alpha team.  Although they were spotted as soon as they reached the open, I was banking on winning the resulting In Sight Test, using El Porco's REP of 5 vs the leaderless soldiers' 4.

In a statistically unlikely but not impossible result, the Soldiers rolled more successes and were able to shoot first, gaining a few easy kills.  The following turn saw Bravo team arrive at a flanking position and pour fire into the rebels.  El Porco was gunned down, surviving through Star Power, while the rest of his group were whittled away until only he remained, at which point I called an end to the scenario.


It really had felt like the rebels had the upper hand, up until the arrival of Bravo on the flank.  Had the rebels taken an extra turn to properly suppress Alpha team (with Duckbacks) before attempting the dash across open ground, things might have gone differently.. then again Bravo team might have arrived before they'd been able to capitalise on that.  But all in all it was just a really fun little solo game.

From a campaign perspective: linking the rebels to the hardcore criminal gangs served to undermine their popularity amongst the more conservative elements.  Thus the following Sunday, more than one church pulpit saw a sermon condemning the farm rebels as "traitors against society, San Paradiso and the Will of God". (i.e. Attempt to undermine "Support from the Church", requires 3+, rolled 3)

This leaves the campaign status as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko, The Bridge at El Humber, The Goodwill Of The People.

Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. Secure supply of food and supplies, The Airfield at Los Anillcamino

Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant, Support from the Church.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

In the Jungle, the Quiet Jungle...

Memo to Self: When wanting to post pictures to the blog, remember that the camera card reader will only be found immediately after you've written it off as lost and ordered its replacement from Amazon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Lesser Spotted Paradisan Turkey-Vulture has landed.

Or put another way, we have finally fought the inaugural wargame in the San Paradiso imagi-nation setting.  Talking to mi hermano disponible Jonesy during our regular Sunday terrain crafting & mini painting session, it transpired that his regular Monday D&D session would be cancelled.  So I suggested he and any other loose players might come over here for a coffee-table skirmish game to actually use some of the stuff we'd been working on these last few months.

I came up with a scenario that just happened to be the opening shots of the Paradiso farmer's revolt campaign I outlined in the last blog post, and so we settled down to a very enjoyable evening trying to get to grips with the latest iteration of Two Hour Wargames' "Chain Reaction".

I've been a fan of 2HW for years.  In fact back in the day I ran a very successful demo for Amazon Miniatures back when Chain Reaction was branded "Guns & Girls" to tie in with their range of figures inspired by the gun-fetish porn site of the same name.  (For the record, this was not the demo game that got Amazon and MAWS perma-banned from the Partizan wargames show for miniature nudity.  I meticulously greenstuffed little bikinis, crop tops and hot pants onto every figure, much to the bemusement of the AM staff, and ran a scenario with them fighting off against the faceless corporation of "the Man".  My figures may still have been slutty, but by the gods they were Empowered Sluts!)

Anyway Chain Reaction and the 2HW mechanics have gone through several iterations since I last played them so I was looking forward to seeing if they still kept the same back & forth firefight feel as the earlier editions (Spoiler alert: They do).

The terrain was my living room coffee table, which is just a shade smaller than 4ft by 3ft.  Since the urban terrain is still nearing completion on the workbench I decided to use the trees & jungle vegetation scenery that I've been working on in parallel.

The Scenario:

The Free Farmers' Collective have so far been limiting their actions to civil disobedience and peaceful protest.  They have however procured a supply of automatic weapons and other material necessary to escalate their campaign to a full armed revolt.  Word has reached the ear of El Jefe De Policidad in Verdaville that the rebels are picking up a supply drop located at a remote roadside stop up in the heavily forested foothills of Monto Blanko.  El Jefe immediately rushes out with three of his most loyal constables to go and interrupt those naughty rascals.  Despite his utter confidence in his own abilities and the ultimate authority of Law & Order which he represents, El Jefe is persuaded to pause at the local army barracks and bring along some regular army troops in support.

Government Forces
El Jefe - REP 5 Star, Shotgun
Three Constabulos Municipales - REP 3, one with shotgun, two with pistols

Four soldiers - REP 4, Squad leader and rifleman with M16s, grenadier with M203 and gunner with SAW.

Rebel Forces
Rebel Leader El Porco Verde - REP 5 Star, Assault Rifle
Seven rebels - REP 3, One with a SAW, the rest with Assault Rifles.

The terrain was mainly thick vegetation, with a road running roughly diagonally across the table.  At the centre is the roadside stop (maybe a rural bus stop or possibly a roadside food stall?) where the Rebel's truck is being loaded up.  The rebels could setup two figures up to 18 inches away from the truck as sentries, the rest would have to be within 4" in the middle of loading up.

The Government forces had a choice on how they entered - they could drive in hard and fast and pile out of their vehicles guns blazing, or park up some way up the road out of sight and proceed in on foot with a little more stealth.  (in the end, I wound up playing El Jefe, so I wound up dicing for it, resulting in the police skidding to a halt at close range, Sweeney style).


The police car had barely skidded to a halt when one of the alert rebel sentries opened fire on it from the bushes, putting one of the constables out of the fight right away.  A couple more rebels brassed up the car, leaving it rather the worse for wear and suppressing the occupants (i.e. duckback results), while the rest of the rebels scrambled for their weapons and cover.

El Jefe and the Constabulos crawled out of the riddled patrol car on the side away from the rebels and tried returning fire.  El Jefe's shotgun succeeded in taking out one rebel, but the poor constables found themselves totally outgunned by the rebels' AKs.  Meanwhile the fireteam of soldiers moved into the woods and started trying to move up the road to a flanking position.  They came under fire from across the road, and in diving to cover almost stumbled over another rebel hiding in the vegetation, who they gunned down in a vicious close-range fight.

While the army traded shots across the road, El Porco Verde led half his men in an almost mirroring manoeuvre, successfully flanking the police behind the car.  The two constables scurried round the back of the car seeking cover, while El Jefe successfully fended off El Porco Verde while he dived for the nearby bushes.

In the end however, El Porco Verde used his men's fire to pin down El Jefe (duckback) before charging in himself to finish off the Government Pig.  It was a vicious, drag-em-down-in-the-mud fight, but eventually the filfy rebel scum beat the valiant police hero to death with his rifle butt.


(It was actually at this point where we struggled with the rules.  Technically it's debateable whether El Porco would have been able to make a charge, since El Jefe had suffered a Knocked Down result and was presumably out of sight.  However common sense suggested that he ought to be able to, so I handwaved it.  Then we carried out the Charge Into Melee test.  The results were that the defender (El Jefe) could fire and the charger (El Porco) could melee, no reaction tests.  But the rules weren't clear on what that meant or the exact order of events.  We resolved El Jefe's fire and got a Knocked Down result.  Did the "No Reaction Tests" mean that El Porco shouldn't take the usual Recovery Test?  If I'd not scored a hit, would it have meant he didn't take the usual Under Fire test (I'd assume yes to the latter, not sure about the former).  And most importantly, did the fire take place before the melee, and did the Knocked Down result prevent El Porco from getting his planned melee attack?

My assumption was that the fire happened as the charger was moving up, and a result from that should stop the melee from happening.  However my esteemed opponent didn't share that assumption and so we went on to resolve the melee with the egregious results for law and order.

I should point out however that had the charger been a normal figure, El Jefe's shotgun blast would have cut him in half, since El Porco had used the Star Power rules to reduce the damage down from a double-kill to a mere knockdown.  The Star Power rules actually worked very well I felt, much better than I'd expected them to. Both El Jefe and El Porco took otherwise lethal hits prior to the melee and
were able to barter them down with Star Power points.  It struck the right balance of keeping heroic characters alive without them becoming unstoppable killing machines.

So anyway the honours went to the Rebels, and putting my campaign-managers hat back on, I'm going to say that they used their success to take control of the uncontrolled "Goodwill of the People" resource.  The ordinary people of the foothills of Monto Blanko and the Piso valley are buoyed by news of the rebels success, and are beginning to believe they have a chance of success.  In mechanics terms, with 4 resources to the Government's 3, it means any hope the government had of quickly suppressing the revolt is now gone.

The next game can now be anything that follows on logically from the first.  It could be another skirmish like this, or it could be a larger scale battle, maybe fought in 15mm using AK47 rules.  Or if you have a game with suitable air-to-ground rules, you could play out a fairly one-sided game of an airstrike on a rebel stronghold (The government would at most have light attack aircraft like the Super Tucano, the AH-6 Little Bird helicopter or an obsolete MiG, the rebels won't have any aircraft, but could conceivably have some man-portable SAMs just to keep things interesting..  hmm I'm tempted to dig out Mercenary Air Squadron and see if that couldn't handle that scenario as a neat little solitaire game.)

In narrative terms, the fall of the vainglorious El Jefe means that the local Commandante will now take full control of the situation and be prepared to commit regular army forces to the suppression of the farmers revolt which now has to be taken seriously...
====

The jungle terrain is largely made up of that old familiar standby - aquarium plants, mounted on CDs or irregularly cut MDF bases (bought from Wargames Tournaments).  The smaller, light green trees are actually from a Toys R Us dinosaur bucket.  I've had them for ages, but basing them properly really gave them a new lease of life.  The taller trees are from eBay, from one of the many Chinese importers selling plastic doodads on there (Possibly Everest Models, though I can't be sure).  So far I've used about a quarter of the plants & trees I'd collected over the years, but judging by the way what I've got covered a 3'x4' table, I think just doubling what I've got ought to be enough for most purposes.


 And lastly, a fun piece.  With all those Plasticville buldings I acquired three of the Plasticville cars.  They're very primitive, just a plastic bodyshell and clip-on wheels (like the very cheapest plastic toys) and a shade smaller than the 1/43 scale I use for cars with 28mm.  Since they would not be usable as cars, I copied something I'd seen a couple of times on the internet and turned one into an abandoned, overgrown and rusted wreck.






Sunday, 9 November 2014

Little Boxes Made Out Of Ticky Tacky

Memo to self
1 Update the blog on a more regular basis
2 Once a year is not regular

Work on the not so snappily titled "Modern Imagi-Nation Project" has been proceeding apace, albeit a lot slower than I'd hoped.  To recap, a couple of months back we looked at that table full of Plasticville buildings, picked out about a dozen of them, picked out a handful of figures for each of three factions (motorcycle gangers, "hip-hop" gangstas and police) and decided to prepare these for a smallish skirmish scenario to act as a starting point for San Paradiso.

To be fair, Mi Hermano Constructor, Jonesy has been joining me pretty much every Sunday for a few hours crafting session and while he's been doing the bulk of the work on most of the Plasticville buildings, I've found myself distractedly working on a hundred and one other minor terrain details, such as palm trees, scatter terrain and signage.  This could be why progress has been slower than anticipated, however I think we are going to wind up with a more attractive scenery when the buildings are completed.  We've even had one visit from our friend Crazy Eddy, who started painting all of the bikers and gangstas (thus making finishing them his job)

We've also discovered another source for a couple of small but interesting buildings.  In Japan, the "Tomica City" range of toys  allows you to create a very impressive cityscape of buildings, roads and railways in 1/64 scale.  While only a very limited subset of the range is available in the UK, several useful items have been on sale recently on Amazon..

The buildings are all basically "little boxes" like this pizza shop.  Being scaled for the inch-high toy figures as seen in this photo, they're visually a very good fit for 28mm figures, although the building footprints are a bit on the small side.  However compared to the Plasticville commercial buildings, these make quite acceptable "mini-units".  And let's face it, the pizza-delivery trike is worth the box price on its own!

Anyway outside of the project's assigned Sunday sessions, I've taken to painting figures while (half-)watching films and TV shows in the evenings.  I've found I can get through quite a lot of figures this way (not to mention quite a lot of video).  For highly individual figures, like the gangers, I can easily manage between six and ten figures in an evening.  For more uniform figures, like soldiers or boiler-suited minion guards, the bulk of the figures' paint job comes from the Army Painter colour primer and all I need to do is pick out necessary details (flesh, boots, weapon, belts and any other details that are appropriate).  These I've found I can rattle through at an alarming rate - one evening I think I managed over forty such figures in one, admittedly long sitting.

As a result, when the original planned project terrain and figures are completed, we'll immediately have a wide selection of other figures ready to play out a range of conflict types, from further urban gang violence on the streets of Port-au-Nice, to rebel farmers in armed revolt in San Paradiso's interior, all the way up to an outbreak of hostilities with Paradiso's belligerent neighbour (whose troops' uniform and equipment may or may not bear an uncanny resemblance to the Iraqi Army.)

At the moment though, the project is all about the journey, not the destination.  I'm hoping we'll be past that stage and in a place to roll dice and play with all these new toys before the end of the year.

***

While the overall plan is for San Paradiso to be a campaign backdrop for an ongoing narrative, I was thinking it would be nice to have some form of campaign mechanics, if only to give some structure to any sub-campaigns that might arise.  Take the farmers' revolt mentioned above.  We could simply play out a number of skirmish games, arbitrarily evaluating how individual game results affect the overall flow of the conflict.

But one night of insomnia-driven web surfing later, and I think I've found the perfect Universal Mapless Campaign system.  It's a synthesis of Rick Priestly's Warmaster Ancients campaign system, and the political system used by Kaptain Kobold in his Alto Peru campaign rules.  Having shamelessly stolen, mangled, mutilated, folded and regurgitated these ideas, I present them below for your amusement and edification.

Dr V's Slightly Derivative Universal Mapless Campaign Rules.

Each battle in the campaign is fought between full "armies" balanced according to the scenario (so for an encounter battle, the forces should be roughly even, for an attack/defence the points/numbers might go up to 2:1 or even 3:1)

Success or failure in the campaign is measured by the acquisition and loss of Resources.  A Resource can be absolutely anything, appropriate to the scale of the campaign.  It could be something substantial like control of a territorial region or access to a supply of some commodity, or it could be an entirely abstract thing, like political support from a particular group, or entirely nebulous like "The Goodwill Of The People".   The campaign mechanics can work with entirely generic, unnamed Resources, but naming them does add considerable colour and will help build the campaign's narrative.

Each force in the campaign starts with a number (suggested 3) Resources.  In addition, a pool of resources start's the campaign Uncontrolled.

After every game where there is a clear winner, they may do one of the following.

1) Take control of an Uncontrolled Resource.  This is automatically successful.
2) Attempt to steal control of a Resource controlled by the defeated enemy.  This is successful on a roll of 5+ on D6
3) Undermine the enemy's control of one of their Resources, making it Uncontrolled.  This is successful on a roll of 3+ on D6

The campaign continues until...
a) one side is left with no controlled resources
b) one side has three times the number of resources held by their opponent
c) an agreed number of games have been played
d) everyone involved is bored.

The winner is the side holding the most resources at the end of the campaign.


Using this system, you have complete freedom when it comes to the individual battles.  One game might be a 28mm skirmish using Flying Lead or Chain Reaction, another might be a larger scale operation played in 6mm using micro-armour rules.  Yet another might be an air-to-air battle using C21 or Check Your Six.  Whatever games the participants feel like playing and can be worked into the campaign narrative.

Example setup - Farmers' Revolt

A small number of landholders in the Western Foothills region of San Paradiso have been protesting against what they say are unfairly high levies against their crop production.  What began as a civil disobedience campaign has escalated into a minor insurrection, with bands of armed farmers clashing with patrols from the San Paradiso Army sent to maintain the peace.

Resources

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko, The Bridge at El Humber, Support from the Church

Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville.  Secure supply of food and supplies, The Airfield at Los Anillcamino

Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley.  The Goodwill Of The People. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant.


As you can see, that's quite a mix of traditional territories and abstract concepts, all of which can be seen as contributing to victory or defeat by either side.  For an urban street-crime mini-campaign, Resources might be control of individual streets or buildings, support from a corrupt cop or a supplier of contraband goods.  For a galaxy-spanning sci-fi campaign, Resources might be whole worlds, Support from an Alien Race, or The Force.

The rules would work exactly the same if you simply said

Farmers - 2 Resources
Army - 2 Resources
Uncontrolled - 4 Resources

... but actually giving each resource point an in-world identifier is much more colourful.

There you have it.  Not entirely original, but an amalgamation of a couple of good ideas by clever people that I think would work quite well.  |I can already think of some variations and optional rules that would add variety at the cost of the system's current extreme simplicity, but this is where the idea stands for now.

Thoughts anyone?



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?