Friday, 7 December 2012

Dah-nah da-dahh daaah daaaah. Dah-nah da-dahh daaaaah.

(A big gold star for anyone who recognizes which "song" the "lyric" in the title post comes from.  There might be a clue in the next two paragraphs...)

So thanks and congratulations to Amera Plastic Mouldings for becoming the 50th follower of this blog.  Long term followers might remember I built their church and "Ministry Building" kits earlier in the year.  Vacuum formed plastic terrain doesn't seem to get as much consideration in wargames circles as it ought to, perhaps because people think of vac-formed packaging and expect it to be equally flimsy.  But the Amera buildings are extremely rugged and sturdy, yet lightweight and give incredible value for money.  They really deserve a whole lot more love than they're getting.  When I was working on them, I was looking online for pictures of them completed and painted, but every Google search I tried kept bringing up either their store page or the Axis Of Naughtiness!  I highly recommend their stuff.

So strange as it may seem, after being stuck on 49 followers for such a long time, hitting 5-0 has rekindled a little bit of interest in wargaming for me.  Maybe it's just a bit of guilt, as mi hermano concienzuda Jonesy said to me the other day, that I really ought to get back to doing regular updates of this blog.  Whatever it is, I'm feeling... if not inspired as such, let's just say mildly interested in getting back to rolling dice and pushing toy soldiers around a table.

Here's the situation.  The man-cave is currently piled up to the door with assorted junk from my flat, bundled into crates to be sorted out when I've had more time to settle back in to living with my father.  This makes getting to most of the terrain and figures I have there a somewhat difficult, if not outright dangerous task.  I currently have nowhere to setup a full-size wargame, or even a mid-size one (4'x4') and so I'm back, ironically right to where I was when this blog started, limited to a game that could fit on a modestly sized coffee table.  I have a limited selection of figures painted and "table ready", namely the 28mm VSF collection, assorted 15mm 19th Century Colonialm the old 25mm fantasy/medieval stuff and a few other bits and bobs. I also right now don't want to commit to a big programme of painting and preparation, so all that unpainted lead, plastic and resin will, for now, remain unpainted.  And yet, in recent years, I've developed an aversion to using unpainted figures, since I've found I feel the visual aesthetics of the game has become important to me (which is ironic considering my favoured "daub 'n' dip" painting technique).

Oh and I'm broke, so no hitting eBay for new ready-painted armies as a quick fix!

I think I'm going to have to launch an expedition into the man-cave to extract a small selection of figures and terrain that can be stored somewhere more accessible.  Maybe just enough to do some small skirmishes.

If you don't hear from me after this weekend, send in a search party.  I'll probably be trapped under a pile of collapsed crates full of polystyrene hills.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years...

<tap> <tap> <tap> Hello, is this thing on?

Urm... Hi there.  I'm back, sorta.

I've had a couple of people asking about updates to the blog.  The other day Mi Hermano Recordatorio Jonesy pointed out that it was a full month since I'd posted anything.  Then a few minutes ago I realised that he'd said that to me a month ago.

So what's happened since then?

Well I can't really explain it.  We had a great game at the Big Birthday Bash, with Jonesy, CrazyEddy, OtherChris (Not to be confused with OtherOtherChris) and the chaps from MAWS who joined us.  I have a small selection of photos on my tablet which I must get around to posting sometime.  Really it was a cracking day, and thanks to everyone involved for playing.

But then, after that... for some reason something snapped and I lost all enthusiasm for gaming.  I honestly can't say what happened exactly or why - just the figures on the painting desk and the wargames rules on the shelf.. none of them seemed to hold any appeal.  It could have been related to personal circumstances at the time - I've mentioned before about my father's ill health and how I've moved in to take care of him.  That process has escalated over the last couple of months, to the point where I'm now settled in his... now our house.. with no room presently to put up the full-size folding tables anywhere.  Dad's health has also, just this last week, taken a turn for the worse to the point where for the forseeable future I can't really leave him on his own for any significant period of time, which precludes Sunday visits to MAWS even if I wanted to.

I've just checked my Google Reader blog list, which is dominated by wargames & RPG blogs.  Only 350 unread posts.  Oops.  This may take some time to catch up on what's been happening in the wargaming blogosphere!  I haven't even visited The Miniatures Page, the Lead Adventure Forums or checked up on the state of the Very British Civil War.  I just... really can't explain why not.

So what have I been doing instead of gaming?  Well a few weeks ago I was able to get away to the Asylum Steampunk Weekend at Lincoln, which was of course quite splendid.  Lots of parading around in pseudo-Victorian gear, doing not much in particular and having far too much tea and cake.

On top of that, I have recently discovered a new passion in Flight Simulation.  It's a fascinating meta-hobby, which just like wargaming can cover a multitude of different aspects, disciplines and sub-genres.  Both are, at the end of the day, forms of Advanced Let's Pretend.  In wargaming we research our armies, model, paint, convert them, make terrain and even once in a blue moon actually play a game.  In flight-simming, we can research, aircraft, airline schedules, destinations, tinker excessively with PC software and hardware configurations, build physical simulated cockpits if budget and space allow, and even occasionally actually sim a flight.  In wargaming we can play ancients, horse and musket, modern, sci-fi, fantasy (and all the refined sub-periods and genres of these).  In flight-simming we can fly low-and-slow general aviation hopping from one grass strip to another, fly the big tubeliners to sunnier climes following checklists and procedures, fly reckless aerobatics violating as many FAA/ICAO regulations as we possibly can, or wax nostalgic in a historic bird like the DC3 or Spitfire.  You can also choose between flying in exotic, faraway places, or get a different thrill flying in your local area (with the inevitable "I can see our house from here!" moments).

I've been approaching the flight-simming with much the same spirit as I do wargaming - not deathly serious but with the aim of getting the most positive experience out of it.  As I say, the two hobbies have a lot in common - they're both dominated by the same demographic - middle aged to older males, with a few young whippersnappers.  They're both plagued by periodic discussions about whether the hobby is "dying" or not.  But I have to say after frequenting the major flight sim online forums as a newbie for the past couple of months, they are nowhere near as friendly and welcoming as wargamers.  Jonesy pointed out that it may be down to the fact that flight-simming is fundamentally a solitaire activity (though not exclusively so, in this internet enabled age), whereas wargaming is, by it's nature, fundamentally a social activity.

Anyway, after gabbing incessantly for two long paragraphs on the subject, I won't be talking about flight-simming on this blog any more (unless there is some sort of significant flightsim/wargame crossover) but if you're interested you can follow my flight-simming activities on my new blog The Couch Aviator, which I've been writing mainly as a way of sorting through my own thoughts on the subject.  I highly recommend it as another string to the "Advanced Let's Pretend" bow.  Although I have spent a lot more than I could afford a little more than perhaps I should have a certain undisclosed sum on getting my flight-sim setup up to par, I've since learned that I could quite possibly have put together a very respectable setup using my old computer and a combination of older software (MS Flight Sim 2004) and freeware add-ons for less than £40 (and that includes a £30 joystick!)

So back on the wargaming side... what's next?

Honestly I'm not sure.

I need some sort of kick up the behind to inspire me to get things moving again.  Circumstances dictate that any wargames I can manage will once again be limited to the coffee table (possibly augmented with the old 4ft square board on top)  I've got piles of unpainted lead and plastic, plus a modest selection of painted stuff (VSF/Steampunk, Street Violence and the old 25mm fantasy stuff, mainly) and I'm committed to not spending any more money in the short term.  After the Asylum weekend I resurrected the idea of organising a Little Wars-esque game for next year, using 54mm plastic figures and a set of fast-play rules like Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, scaled up.  But I can't afford to bankroll the whole thing and would need to get other people on-board and enthused enough to put the required time and money into the project.

One idea that is kinda giving me a slight flicker of interest.  My good friend MarvinTheARVN (not his real name) is currently serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure.... no let me rephrase that... he's currently posted to foreign climes In The Service of Her Majesty.  Before he left we had a conversation about the sort of wargame he'd like to play - an ultra-modern army/operation level game using hexed terrain to avoid the need for fussy measuring.   We'd been playing a lot of Wargame: European Escalation online - the closest I've seen a computer game get to ultra-modern micro-armour wargaming - and although it went some way to scratching that itch it was still far more a game than recreation with any degree of accuracy.

I must admit I find the idea rather appealing, and with a modest collection of 1/300 micro-armour combined with the Heroscape hexed terrain tiles, I feel I should be 2/3 of the way there.  But although I'm quite familiar with the methods and equipment of modern warfighting at the small-unit level, I don't have a clue how to scale things up to the operational level in way that would be satisfactory for someone who does it in real life.  Any recommendations, thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated - it would be nice to welcome a friend home from "forn parts" with a prototype of his ideal game waiting on the tabletop.

Till next time, which I hope will be a lot sooner than the last update...

Yr Humble Correspondant

Dr Vesuvius
(Though there are some who call me.... "Chris")

(PS one of the side effects of my little "post titles from song lyrics" gag is that I often find myself hitting YouTube to refresh my memory of the song a post title came from.  Now I most recently heard this post's lyric as part of "Chap Hop History" from Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, when he totally rocked the Empire Ball at the Asylum (bizarrely he wasn't headlining, I kinda felt sorry for the band who followed him when three quarters of the audience left after his set).  But of course the lyric originally came from "Mama said knock you out" by LL Cool J.  Watching the original music video to that song, my tiny brain broke trying to connect 1991's skinny, gold chained rap-puppy with the walking brick wall playing a Navy SEAL in NCIS Los Angeles in 2012.  Funny what the years can do.)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The sun'll come out, tomorrow.

Well tomorrow is the day of the Big Birthday Bash 2012.  Though technically it's not my birthday for a few days.  And I don't think it's going to be particularly big this time as several of our regular players are going to be no-shows (selfish people who think "I'm being deployed with my unit in Kenya for six months." is a good enough excuse to miss a game of toy soldiers.  Pah!)

But "Medium sized Closest Sunday Before Convivial" doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

Since I am stressed up to the eyeballs with "real life" stuff at the moment, and the man cave is currently in a state of utter chaos, I've decided not to run the fairly complex "Battle of Weston super-Mare" scenario that I put together in this blog for the last time we tried to put on a big GASLIGHT game, or use the city terrain.  Instead I've grabbed a basic selection of KRMulticases with a variety of figures and vehicles, six crates of generic terrain and a big green sheet.  Fingers crossed it's going to be an easy-going, fun day for everyone involved.

Monday, 16 July 2012

It's oh so quiet, shh shh, it's oh so still.

I'm not dead, I'm just resting after a particularly long squark.  Beautiful plumage!

Rampant Monty Python quotes aside, there's been little or no miniatures gaming activity in the past couple of weeks, primarily down to Real World (tm) taking priority.  Nothing drastic, just a combination of my father starting a new series of treatments and me being right in the middle of moving back in with him.

And no, this isn't going to turn into a computer gaming blog.  Though I did spend a couple of days lost in the world of Oolite (and if like me you're in the age group that was playing home computer games on the Beeb, Spectrum or C-64 back in the day, then you'll understand why it left me grinning like a loon). And I have started looking at the "proper" flight simulation crowd and pondering the fun to be had there (did you know there's a worldwide network of simulated air traffic controllers... real people who flight simmers can connect to and get simulated ATC directions?  And every year they run a "Cross the Pond" event where they simulate flights from one side of the Atlantic to the other with 100% ?  IN REAL TIME?  That's eight or nine hours in the simulated cockpit.  Think of that next time you think your tabletop game is dragging on!)

But no, normal service will be resumed shortly.  We have a big GASLIGHT game scheduled in a couple of weeks, and I've managed to accumulate quite a backlog of resin and lead that really does need sorting out as soon as possible.

Friday, 6 July 2012

I lost my heart to a starship trooper

As I've said before, I try to keep the focus of this blog squarely on miniatures gaming of some sort and don't really talk about the other activities that come under the gaming banner, like roleplaying, boardgames or computer games.  You won't, for example, be hearing my opinions of the Mass Effect 3 Red/Green/Blue endings here.

However for the last week or so I've been wrapped up in a game that's a worthy exception to that rule.  The Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator is... well basically it's the best game of pretend-spaceman you're ever likely to come across.  Players each take the role of a bridge officer on a spaceship, one runs the Helm station, another the Weapons station, others control Engineering, Science and Communications.  Each player has their own PC configured to run their own bridge station, and all are networked together to form a whole bridge.  The Captain doesn't directly control a station, he just sits back and co-ordinates the action, giving orders, requesting information etc.

The game itself is very simple - veterans might recognise it as fundamentally an implementation of the very old Star Trek games from the early days of mainframe and microcomputers, just in real time and infinitely better graphics.  There are starbases to defend, aliens of various races to encounter and fight, space monsters, black holes and asteroid belts.  But what really brings the game alive is the human interplay and co-operation between the bridge officers that's required.  The crew needs to co-operate as a team to maximise effectiveness or carry out some of the more elaborate tactics.  How the players interact is where the magic happens.

This is not us.  We're not quite so pretty.

So yesterday we had our first almost-full bridge crew get together.  By a stroke of luck we'd just had our front room freshly redecorated and therefore completely empty of furniture, so for the day it was temporarily transformed into the bridge of the Artemis, with a 40" wall-mounted TV acting as the Main Screen, two tables placed in front of it in a V shape for the bridge stations and a Captain's Chair at the point of the V.  We were, perhaps, the first ship in starfleet equipped with chintz curtains, but otherwise the layout was suitably bridge-like.

The chaps arrived around 11ish and after a short briefing on the various bridge station controls, the four cadets (including Mi Hermano Midshipman Jonesy) we launched into the first simulated mission.  Throughout the afternoon, we each rotated through the four bridge stations (there were five of us, so we doubled up Science and Comms) trying each of them, plus a turn in the Big Chair.

Comms has to handle all the signal traffic between Artemis and all the other ships & stations in the game.  Although at first glance it seems like a fairly dull and unexciting job, at times there can be a vast amount of signals and the Comms officer needs to filter out what to report to the Captain and when.  More importantly they need to speak up at the right time.  On a couple of occasions (as captain) I had an inexperienced Comms officer report a mundane request for supplies, right while we were in the middle of a battle with an enemy ship.  It's a very subtle station.

Science, which we doubled up Comms with, has the best sensor display available.  They can identify enemy ships at long range, pick out weaknesses in their defences, and can both zoom in to see great detail or zoom out to see the big picture.  The Science officer would often be the only player who could see certain enemies and had to verbally give us intercept directions.

Helm is fairly straighforward - you steer the ship.  Obviously in combat you're trying to keep the best position in terms of range and weapons arc,  Occasionally the ship needs to take the fastest route from A to B, even if that's through the middle of an asteroid field.  The helmsman is always busy, especially during complex tactics like bombing runs or counter-missile defence.

Weapons too is a fairly busy station.  Although the standard firing system is fairly automatic - lock your weapons on a target and they'll always hit - there's still plenty of subtlety possible.  Defence against missile or fighter attacks requires some quick and accurate mouse-clicking to select the best targets, and there's the advanced option of targeting specific ship systems like weapons or drives in order to cripple rather than destroy.

Engineering is perhaps the subtlest and most fascinating of the stations.  Half of the job is directing damage control parties to repair damaged ship systems, although these can often be left to work autonomously.  The real work is in juggling the power distribution to various ship systems in order to improve effectiveness.  Shunt extra power to the weapons and they'll cycle faster, giving you more shots on target.  Extra power to shields and they'll recover from damage faster.  More power to the manoeuvre system and your thousand-ton starship is out-turning fighters.  But in the words of a certain faux-Scotsman "the engines cannae take it", and overcharging your systems like this causes them to overheat - this can be mitigated slightly by shunting coolant to overheating systems but the ship has only a limited supply.   A good Engineering officer should almost be invisible to the rest of the crew, but be keeping an eye on what's happening in the game and shunting power to and from needed systems as the situation changes.

Let's go through an example of a complex tactic - the bombing run, and how the stations have to work together.  Your ship carries a number of very destructive mines which can affect ships in an area effect, but these are deployed out the back of the ship and remain stationary once armed.  Artemis encounters a large fleet of enemy ships, say a dozen or so vessels including Dreadnoughts and Battleships in close formation, far too tough to attack and destroy individually, so the Captain calls for a Bombing Run.  The Weapons officer immediately starts loading mines loaded into the ship's torpedo tubes, and the Engineering officer temporarily boosts power to the Torpedo system to make them load faster.  Meanwhile the Science officer is scanning the enemy ships and picks out the largest and most dangerous enemy, or alternatively works out the densest part of the enemy formation, while the Helmsman brings the ship about and lines up for the run.  Once Weapons calls that the mines are loaded, Engineering pulls power from the Torpedoes and instead boosts power to the Forward Shields (as we're going to be charging head first into a mass of enemy ships, we'll certainly be taking some fire on the way in).  The bombing run commences - Helm heads straight into the enemy formation at Warp speed, while Science watches the range indicator on his detailed sensor view.  When he calls that we're in the right position, usually just past the centre of the enemy formation, he calls the shot.  Helm drops out of warp in response, and at the same instant, Weapons drops the mines.  The next instant, Helm re-engages the warp drive to get us out of the mines' blast radius before they're triggered, while Science officer watches his sensor view to report how many ships are destroyed and which survivors are most vulnerable for a follow-up attack.

So after five hours of learning the ropes at a moderate difficulty level we took a break for a barbecue, then came back an hour or so later and started to push the difficulty level up to see how well we could handle things.  We ran one mission at Level 10, but that created so many ships that it overloaded the poor Science station's PC with its "eagle-eye" view of the whole sector. so we dialled it back to 9 for the rest of the night.  For the finale we ran through a series of scripted missions including the three-part "Trials of Deneb", which were progressively harder "gauntlets" to be run.  In the final mission, we'd managed to take out four major battlefleets and all the "elite" enemy ships (who had special abilities like cloaking devices or super-manoeuverability) except one.  We'd lost three of the four starbases in the sector and were limping back the lone survivor, low on energy and out of torpedoes.  We ran out of energy just as the starbase came into sight on the main screen, along with the remaining elite enemy, which turned to attack us.  We were almost dead in space, forward shields failing, no warp drive to escape and just two mines left.  The engineer shunted the last micro-ergs of power from every other system to our impulse engines getting us moving forward at a near crawl, unable even to turn right or left.  We passed the enemy and dropped the mines in the slowest bombing run in the history of space warfare.  The resulting blast flattened our rear shields and caused major systems damage, but it sent that alien bastard straight to the Black Fleet and we survived... just.  It was a highly satisfying end to a fantastic games day.

(More accurately, it was one AM the following morning.  Which should tell you just how into the game we were.)

Playing Artemis was different from any other game experience I've tried.  Most other co-operative games, whether boardgame or computer game, see the players operating as individuals contributing towards a common goal.  They may have differing abilities, but player A can go-off and do one thing while player B is free to head in a different direction and do something else.  In Artemis, the players are each contributing to the function of a single individual, the ship.  Weapons can only fire at an enemy that the Helmsman moves into range with.  We only learn that we need to go to rescue DS4 if Comms relays the distress message (or Science spots it on their long range sensors).  It drives the players towards teamwork like no other game.

And if you're liking the sound of all this, there's two other things that'll really bake your noodle.  Firstly,  up to six people make up a bridge crew for a single ship, but the software can support up to SIX ships running from the same server, operating in a shared simulation.  And secondly, the game is capable of operating over the internet.  While this means you could have a bridge crew in Marshall, Missouri co-operating with an engineer sitting in the UK (a real example) you would lose a little of the social element of being in the same room together (and being able to throw things at the Weapons Officer when they forget to raise shields in combat, for example).  But how about two or more ships with bridge crews gathered in different locations, with perhaps the Comms officers in contact using a VOIP program like Skype?  That's certainly possible.

This is not us either.  We're much prettier.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

In my Imagi-nation, there is no complication

Yesterday I christened the new man cave by settling down to paint the first squad of the Paradiso National Army.

I went for a super-simple paint scheme - spray primed with Army Painter Desert Yellow, faces and hands picked out in various shades of brown, guns black with just enough grey drybrush to pick out some detail, and any packs, holsters or slings etc painted a golden yellow that was just enough different from the primer to be noticeable with a second look.  Everything else was left as primed and I relied entirely on the Quickshade to pick out all the detailing and distinguish belts, boots & buttons.  The whole squad (plus two command figures) only took a couple of hours from primed to Quickshade.

Given the speed of the painting (and my notorious fumble-fingeredness) I'm happy with the way these have come out.  Unlike my Victorian figures I probably will give them a blast of matt varnish/anti-shine spray as the glossy "toy soldier" look doesn't work as well with modern figures, to my eye at least.

You'll notice that I said I painted the faces and hands various shades of brown.  I honestly hemmed and hawed over that choice for some time.  On a Carribean island like Paradiso, the vast majority of the population should be black or hispanic, with a minority descended from indigenous tribes.  But honestly I was a little reluctant to reflect that in the figure painting.

For one thing, I've got a good selection of caucasian fleshes that work well with the Army Painter Quickshade system and was worried that the browns I had wouldn't work convincingly as skin.  That concern was misplaced - I used a light brown labelled "Taupe" for the lightest skin and Burnt Umber for the darkest and mixed a range in-between.  The Quickshade was still able to work its magic.

The other issue was that I didn't want to lock down these figures to this single project.  I want to be able to use these figures for as many modern-day/near future settings as possible.  For these soldiers though, they're most likely to pull double duty as soldiers from one of the other Imagi-Nations I have rattling around the backburner - one African (in true AK47/Bongolesian style) and one pseudo middle-eastern. The other role they might be called on to play would be as The Army in a Zombie Apocalypse game  Assuming like most such games, our Zed game will take place in America, an all-ethnic minority platoon is probably more accurate than an all-white one would be.  So I decided to take the plunge, and I'm glad I did.

The civilians are going to be a slightly different matter.  The figures I have put aside as "Rebel Forces" will probably get the same treatment as the army.  The rest of the civilian "Street Violence" figures will probably get a more "conventional" wargame ethnic mix i.e. predominently caucasian, though I'll make a conscious effort to include a little more variation than I might otherwise do.

Yes I know, for some of us this might seem a silly thing to worry about, smacking a little of the old "Political correctness gone mad!" chiche.  But for other people I know this is a real hot-button topic, how seemingly inconsequential examples like this all add up to both reflect and indeed shape racial prejudices.  Personally I have no such stake in that particular issue - for me it's simply a matter of balancing aesthetics, verisimilitude and practicality, no different from the question of what colour to paint my zombie skin (I'm leaning towards green right now)

Anyhoo, I now have a painted squad, enough for one side of an interesting Flying Lead game.  Moving away from the hardware of the game, I've been thinking a little more about how Paradiso is organised and the factions available.  These soldiers, as I mentioned, will be representing the Paradiso National Army.  They will make up the bulk of Paradiso's armed forces.  Later, there will also be a smaller, lighter armed Internal Security force, under the control of the Interior Minister.  This would give plenty of scope for some "Junta" style factional infighting.

The forces of opposition will include (1) a communist-backed rebel group, based up in the mountains (2) the forces of a criminal cartel, which can fortunately use the same figures as the rebels and (3) a belligerent neighboring country - details to be determined.

Add in a civilian police force, assorted petty criminal gangs, Private Military Contractors protecting the interests of a huge western corporation and.. hey just for fun let's throw a cult in there as well.

Anyway, we have our first army squad, next up will be a similar sized group of rebels for them to face off against.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Game On! Invite Sent!

I'm pleased to report that yesterday's burn has now stopped hurting, and I'm left with two modest looking blisters on thumb and forefinger.

Anyway after the excitement of Saturday, on Sunday Mi hermano Alba├▒il Jonesy came round with a selection of Lego Minifigs and we set about trying a couple of sets of rules.  The figures were largely from the recent egyptian-style pulp range, with an impressive looking Lego pyramid serving as a terrain objective fought over by my mummies and Jonesy's adventurers.  For the first game, we played Flying Lead - well nominally at least.  In actual fact Jonesy kept using the combat result table for melee combat instead of the different one for guns, which meant the game was actually closer to the original Song Of Blades And Heroes.

The scenario Jonesy had devised was a simple treasure hunt for a mystical jewel which could have been in one of three locations, followed by a race to the pyramid to unlock "the prize" (whatever that was).  I had a couple of fast moving Anubis Guards (Long movement), but the bulk of my warband were Slow moving mummies.  Ranged against them were a band of five adventurers, who Jonesy had all rated as Heroes in order to balance the points.  Now the core of Flying Lead is the activation roll - choose whether you want to attempt one, two or three actions, roll that many dice and for each dice that succeeds you get an action, but if you ever get two failed dice your turn ends and play passes to the opposition.  Well the Hero trait automatically gives a figure one successful dice, meaning that they can go for three actions every turn with a greatly reduced chance of losing initiative, or just go for two and be guaranteed not to lose initiative.  With every figure in the enemy warband having that trait it was... painful.

That said, I had twice as many figures, and the Anubis Guards were much better fighters than the adventurers so overall I think things were balanced.  I decided the slow moving mummies were never going to make it to the pyramid on the other side of the table, so I sent them on a shambling "zerg rush" against the Heroes at the nearest terrain objective, while sending the faster Anubis Guards up the table.  The strategy looked to be paying off initially, as I managed to swarm and kill the Heroes' leader and came close to taking out a second, while the Anubis guards found the mystic jewel halfway up the table.  There then followed a horrendous run of bad activation luck on my part, which effectively allowed Jonesy a couple of free turns to pull back his best fighters to block my race to the pyramid.  At the end of the game, he'd managed to pull all four of his remaining figures back to hold off my two Anubis Guards, with my Pharaoh and his shambling mummy minions stranded at the opposite end of the table, too far to help.  We didn't bother to roll to the grim conclusion, as it was just a matter of time before weight of numbers took their toll.

For the second game, time was a little short, so we just did a very basic face-off using the Chaos In Cairo rules (part of the "GoalSystem" family of games which includes Chaos In Carpathia and Blasters & Bulkheads).  This game used a basic "I activate a figure, you activate a figure" turn sequence and a dice pool mechanic, typically rolling 2-6 D6 and counting "goals" (4,5 = 1 goal, 6 = 2 goals).  To-Hit and damage rolls were opposed, both attacker and defender rolling dice based on their figure's attributes and traits, with the greatest number of goals winning.

The rules were... OK I suppose.  Totalling up the dice for any roll was a bit fiddly as bonus dice could come from several places and it was easy to miss an extra defence dice here or there.  There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the game, but I think I was missing the excitement and the tough decision making of the Flying Lead activation sequence.  Where I think the GoalSystem games might win out is in their campaign and scenario rules, so we've decided to give them another try with a more complex scenario.

The Lego figures worked well for this game, and once we got into the swing of the game, it really didn't register with me that we were playing with these smiley-faced toony little plastic people rather than painted metal castings.

Finally, I've decided to hammer another stake into the ground and scheduled the "Big Birthday Bash II: Aetheric Boogaloo" for Sunday 29th July.  This will be a big GASLIGHT game, using the same "Battle of Weston-super-Mare" scenario developed for the game that was cancelled earlier in the year.  This year I'm throwing the doors open and we already have a few new players who'll be having a go with us (Hi Adam from Lancashire).  The best part is that since I'd already prepped everything for the game back in May, there's not an awful lot of work required to have the game ready in July.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Burn baby burn.

I'm typing this entry one-handed, courtesy of a run-in with a rogue barbecue an hour or so ago.  Remember in the cartoons when someone hurts their hand and it glows red and throbbingly balloons up to triple size?  It feels kinda like that.  I've suddenly a lot of sympathy for Brother Kinch's "Sausage Finger Syndrome" appeal.  Anyway, excuse if this entry's a little terse as a result.

This weekend was Phalanx in St Helens, which is the closest thing to a local wargames show (not counting Britcon, which is more focussed on competitive gaming) so Mi Hermano Algo Jonesy toddled along to take a look.  Sadly I forgot to take a camera so no pictures.

Got a chance to chat with our old friends at Black Pyramid, who were showing off their first production cast of the new steampunk artillery.  We also chatted about the possibility of some custom figures, using bits from their multipart range (which is expanding BTW to include sailor suits and pork-pie hats.)

Next, our comiserations go out to Andy from Ainsty Castings, who had a greatly reduced stall courtesy of the thieves who broke into his loaded van the night before.  He was however taking orders and offering free postage.  Ainsty's definitely good people to buy from - a few months back when I queried a long delayed order from them, the answer came back minutes later with an apology and offer of Free Stuff(TM) to compensate.  Good People.

Warbases, another favourite supplier of mine were also at the show, and we discussed the possibility of a custom mod to one of their building kits.  Hopefully more on that later.

On the demo game front, one of the first tables I saw when I walked in the hall was a lovely Empire Of The Dead demo, which seemed to have a lot of the same buildings that I have, only looking ten times better.  It included Warbases and Sarissa Precision buildings and the same mix of horse-drawn vehicles that I have (Westwind, Lledo and even the Golden Compass coach)

I don't remember seeing much else on the VSF front, although there were two VBCW demo games, one by GWP regular Wingate featuring a spectacular city layout in 20mm, the other in 28mm run by Axis Of Naughtiness reader "Adam from Lancashire", who I completely failed to recognize until he commented on my last post here.

As for spending money at the show, I didn't add too much to the lead & resin mountain.  A few ex-Marbeth Designs 28mm vehicles (Sci-Fi, but all usable for the Paradiso project), a can of out-of-production Navy Blue Army Painter primer, and the latest VBCW book (the Albertine sourcebook).  Prize of the show however was a box of resin & plaster pillars on the bring & buy, for the grand total of £5.

One thing about the Victorians is they did so love their statuary.  The huge columns need to be topped with 54mm miniatures to make for really impressive, Nelson's Column scale monuments, while the smaller intact columns and pedastals will work with 28mm-40mm figures for slightly more modest tableaux.

We left the show not long after lunch and headed off for some more shopping in nearby Warrington.  After a brief stop at Ikea (more on that later) we hit the Toys R Us superstore looking for, well... toys.  Jonesy added a couple more kits to his Lego-for-wargaming collection, but I scored what I think was the Bargain Of The Month.  They had about half a dozen GI-Joe Mole Pod toys for only £4.99 each.

These look pretty much spot on for each holding a 10 man GASLIGHT unit, and with them I'll be able to deploy all of my Evil Genius Masked Minions by molemachine.  The similarly sized drilling machine from Ironclad costs £15 each, and here I have a fleet of four for £20.  Can''t wait to see what they look like in the Evil Genius colours of burgundy and gold.

Oh, and the trip to Ikea?  Well you've already seen the result of that..sorta..   Hang on while I take another photo...

My storeroom has finally been upgraded to the status of proper Man Cave with this little Expedit unit which will double as a worktop/painting station.  That's an original EeePC with a 7" screen on there (which I'm actually typing this on) which will generally be shoved off to one side to provide audio entertainment while I work.  The Expedit shelves give space for my paints, tools and any works in progress, and this little workstation means I won't have to mess up either the bedroom or the living room with wargaming clutter.

Coming next - a report on Sunday's gaming extravaganza and the announcement of Birthday Bash II: Aetheric Boogaloo!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Now We Are One.

I've just had to use a Westlife song in my lyric/post title scheme.  I feel.... dirty.

It is exactly a year today since I started the Axis of Naughtiness.  Personally speaking, the past year certainly comes under the "Best of times/worst of times" category.  My mother passed away, my father has had several health scares which have led to me giving up my career to take care of him, while my own health has hit rock bottom with a serious scare that I only got the all clear from a couple of months ago.

But I think I'm starting to find a better life balance now.  The health is improving, Dad's stable and we're getting to spend some quality time together.  And, pursuant to the subject matter of this blog, I'm finally getting a lot more wargaming in.

Looking back, it's clear nothing has quite gone to plan.  The original idea of 15mm modern/zombie gaming quickly fell by the wayside, and 28mm VSF leapt to the fore.  It's ironic that I made the decision to abandon 15mm for VSF as since then several manufacturers have starting bringing out some absolutely fantastic Victorian/Steapunk figures in that scale.  But despite the much greater expense I have to admit that the 28mm scale offers a much better selection and is visually much more appealing.

I've also reached a point with my wargames terrain where I'm incredibly happy with the aesthetics, possibly for the first time in my life.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a long, long way from some of the modelling masterworks that you see in the glossy magazines, but what I've got is both functional and looks the part for the sorts of games we've been playing.

It's a further irony that the 28mm terrain I have is partially driving the decision to shift the modern/near future Imagi-Nation gaming concept towards that scale.  But the 28mm city terrain, which currently tends towards the Victorian in appearance, will I hope make a good starting point for a more modern layout.

So for now, all the 15mm figures I have are in limbo, consigned to the "to be continued" shelf of the storeroom at least for the forseeable future.  If/when they do see the light of day again, it's certain they'll be for games designed to be very different in style to what I'm doing at the moment.

Speaking of which, there was the brief foray into Bob Cordery's "Portable Wargame" using all that Heroscape terrain that I purchased.  That little sub-project seems to have run out of steam, perhaps as a result of Bob's move to Portable Wargame II and thence on to his latest rules using those funny Richard Borg dice, along with a switch back from hexes to squares.  I'm no longer sure whether I should proceed with my plan for 3-4 figure elements on the Heroscape hexes, or follow Bob's lead into larger units on a larger square grid.  For now the 1/72 plastic Napoleonics will be joining the 15mm VSF/Colonials on the storeroom shelf... though that Heroscape terrain is still just too handy not to use.

Anyway, more importantly than all this acquisition of stuff, I'm actually getting to play some games (which after all is kind of the point, though many gamers might lose sight of that fact).  While the big club games are few and far between, we've been getting in quite a few small, private home games with 2-4 players.  Surprisingly I find I'm not doing as much solitaire gaming as I'd expect, though that may change when I finally move back in with my father and all the dust has settled.


So what's the plan for the year ahead?  Well I wouldn't like to try to predict that far ahead.  Let's face it, the plan this time last year lasted... what, two weeks before it was dropped in favour of VSF?

But short term, let's say for the next quarter, I'd like to get the modern/near future Imagi-Nation gaming rolling on a solid basis.  That means getting at least the Army and a few guerilla figures painted, plus maybe the police and some assorted criminal types.

On the VSF front, I have a unit of Fenian cavalry and a company of British volunteers all primed and prepped but temporarily packed away (as the room that I work in at my Father's is being cleared to be redecorated and refurnished) that I'd like to get completed.  I'd also like to put on/play another GASLIGHT Big Birthday Bash in the first week of August like last year.

Slightly longer term, I'd like to set a target of having a horde of about 50 zombies painted up and an All Things Zombie game playable by Christmas.  Also the plastic dollhouse/quaint English village buildings inspired by the VBCW Shamlingham setup was annoyingly close to completion before it was put away, so I'd like to make sure they get finished before Xmas too.

That's the plan, anyway.
I give it about a week!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

One man caught on a barbed wire fence

After I spent Saturday basing and priming the modern US infantry that had finally arrived from The Assault Group, I still wasn't quite ready for Mi Hermano Probador Jonesy who came round to test out a couple of small unit/warband skirmish rulesets.  So I dug out my old Alternative Armies Shia-Khan figures (one of few sets of non VSF figures I've actually got satisfactorily painted already) to face off against his Tau.  There won't be full battle reports of these because, well they were kinda just mini-games  with whatever terrain was closest to hand and weren't too pretty to look at, plus neither battle was that exciting, tactically speaking.

The first game was In The Emperor's Name, the skirmish set from Forge of War, the same people who produced FUBAR.  My Shia-Khan posed as a Rogue Trader's retinue, trying to get to a McGuffin before the TAU.  For the first half of the game, it felt like banging your head against thin air, as the sneaky Tau were almost impossible to hit under the ITEN rules.  Even by combining the fire of two or three soldiers for a bonus, I was needing 6s to hit.  Towards the endgame, Jonesy graciously left his three combat drones in the line of fire of my troops and with a lucky run of dice (like 6,5 and 6) I was able to take them out.  But it only served as a distraction while his sneaky Tau snatch team left the other side of target building with the MacGuffin.

It was at this point that I had a profound realisation regarding the Tau as presented by Games Workshop.  For those not familiar with the Warhammer 40K universe, it's actually more of a space fantasy setting than a science-fiction setting per se.  Close assault melee combat is a much more common option than in any sensible reality, and is even often the best way of taking out vehicles.  Most factions will have troop types designed to be "fighty" rather than "shooty".

The Tau were a late addition to the setting and were designed to operate much more like a "real-world" modern/hard-sci-fi army.  They favour ranged combat almost exclusively, use remote drones for recon, fire support as well as mobile defence (mounting forcefield generators that protect accompanying troops).  But they completely lack the close-combat capabilities of the other factions in the game.  Which is where the problem comes in.

Tau are designed so that somebody at the table won't have fun.

You see, if they're played correctly by the Tau player, sniping at range, doing hit and run tactics and never solidly engaging with the enemy, a traditional WH40K army can't do anything to them, and it becomes incredibly frustrating to the other player.  I don't get to Waaaaaaaugh! my Choppa Boyz or use any of my Assault Space Marines' cool abilities, because I never get anywhere near the smoke-and-mirrors Tau.  Effectively, I'm no longer able to play the game, except to move around the table ineffectually while removing the casualties from the Tau sniping.  Conversely, if the situation arises that the Tau aren't able to remain disengaged, if they have to take an objective or some other requirement that isn't compatible with their preferred tactic, they're screwed.  

Take the FUBAR game we played a few weeks ago?  Our Marines were completely unable to touch the dug-in and shielded Tau and had to endure the sniping as we trudged forwards.  But as soon as our survivors got to positions where they were able to engage the Tau directly, they melted and pulled back out of sight.  That was how, despite not causing a single Tau casualty all game (apart, I think from a couple of Shield Drones) and losing a good third of our forces, the final result saw us in control of all three objectives.

Although everyone was polite and friendly about it, I got the distinct impression that the Tau players, Jonesy and Marvin the ARVN, felt slightly aggrieved and that there was nothing they could have done to stop us.  I can't speak for Jonesy's daughter Ethel (who was my co-commander on the Imperial side) but I certainly felt that the victory was hollow - we hadn't won on account of anything we'd actively done, apart from having some survivors left after moving forward under fire for six turns.

I got exactly the same feeling during the ITEN game today.  ITEN uses a D6+ combat modifiers vs target defence number mechanism.  With the standard Tau defence value seemingly around 8-9 and my troops having a shooting value of 1, +1 for their lasguns, I could barely hit a Tau if he was doing the macarena in the middle of an open field, never mind if he was lurking behind cover.  And they lurk behind cover.  A lot.

I have to admit I've never played with Tau using the modern iteration of WH40K, and the effect may or may not be so pronounced, but having played two different rulesets that seek to emulate the universe, I wouldn't hold my breath.  Ridiculous though the basic WH40K paradigm may be, the Tau break it by being "sensible", but sadly to the point where they can't meaningfully take part in a game with tradtional 40K factions on equal terms.

(In fact Jonesy tells me that in the latest iteration of the rules, Tau are completely nerfed and unable to do the untouchable pop-out attacks that were their specialty in earlier editions, but with nothing to replace it have become completely ineffectual compared to the other factions.)

Anyway we discussed the game just played and agreed.  In The Emperor's Name is OK.  But no more.  Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely piece of work, very polished and well presented.  If I'd been a long term 40K player who'd been looking for a good ruleset to play 40K small-unit/skirmishes for years (and I know a lot of 40K players who did) then it would be fantastic.  But looking at it in terms of the rules alone, as a generic ruleset it was.... OK.  But nothing special.  It just didn't light any fires.  It didn't capture any particular feel of modern fire combat, in the way that Chain Reaction does for example.

So, underwhelmed, we jiggled the scenery about and gave Flying Lead by Ganesha Games a try.  Jonesy's Tau proxied WWII US troops, while my Shia-Khan pretended to be Panzergrenadiers.  This time Jonesy setup in position defending a churchyard, which I had to assault and capture.

Almost right from the word go, things went right for me and oh-so-wrong for Jonesy.  I pushed my MG42 to a flanking position while I moved the Grenadiers up to the edge of cover to assault a particular section of wall.  As soon as I got my MG42 setup I sprayed that section of wall and a lucky shot hit and killed the American's leader.  The resulting morale test broke up his defenses enough that he'd effectively lost the initiative (in general terms, not game mechanic) for the rest of the battle, and some ill advised (or desperate) gambles failed to pay off for him.  In FL each figure or group can roll to attempt to get one, two or three actions for their turn.  The downside is that if you roll two failures, your turn ends and play passes immediately to the other player.  I generally played it fairly safe going for two actions in most cases, whereas Jonesy often felt forced to push for three which more often than not resulted in failures.

The only lucky break that Jonesy caught was that after my third or fourth effective burst from the MG42, the dice came up indicating a jam or break.  I had the opportunity to try to fix it, but the dice betrayed me and the gun was broken for the rest of the game.  Since the MG42 & crew had taken up about a third of my force's points, that was a heavy blow.

But in the end it wasn't enough.  The final straw was when I killed the American NCO, which triggered a second Leader Lost morale test.  I'd made it to the wall surrounding the churchyard, and with the US defence well and truly disrupted for the following turn, there was absolutely nothing to stop my dastardly Ratzis, who had suffered no casualties apart from the broken LMG, from trotting up to the doors and windows and thoroughly clearing the church with grenades.

In the post-game palaver, we agreed that it had been a much more enjoyable game.  Even though he'd been thoroughly pinned down in the church and hadn't been able to do much in the way of manoeuvring,  it had still been an interesting game for Jonesy, with the tactical choices being a question of who to activate first, how many actions to attempt etc in order to rally the disrupted defences.  I would warn you though that if you don't like games with activation mechanics that can disrupt your carefully laid plans by limiting what troops you can control, then Flying Lead is not for you.  If you can embrace that as part and parcel of the friction of war, then have at it!

So we've decided to have another try at Flying Lead next week, and possibly another game to compare it to.  I'm going to try to get my Assault Group figures painted sometime this week so as to give us another option to play.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Ain't nothin' goin' on but the rent

It's been a bit quiet on the gaming front here at Dr Vesuvius's secret volcano lair.  There's no particular reason, it's just the way things go sometimes.

The day after my last post, mi hermano impresora Jonesy brought round a shiny new copy of 7TV, the cult TV skirmish wargame from Crooked Dice.  It's an absolutely beautiful book that really captures the tone of he classic 1960s and 70s era genre TV.  Although Crooked Dice do a range of look-alike miniatures to accompany the game (their "Time-Lift Security" being dead ringers for Captain Scarlet Spectrum agents, for example) the rules are designed to let you recreate any show, real or imagined. As such 7TV is basically a generic cinematic skirmish game, suitable for pulp, anime or any other non-gritty setting.

Jonesy is also quite keen to try out "In The Emperors Name", the more detailed skirmish rules from the people who brought us FUBAR. Again, although it is written for the Warhammer 40K setting, it looks like it should be perfectly possible to adapt it to more generic purposes.  So now we have three games lined up for playtesting, 7TV, ITEN and Flying Lead from Ganesha Games.

Finally, getting back to the imagi-nation of Paradiso, recruiting has begun for the Paradiso Armed Forces.  Although I have a ton of armed civilian types, cops and obviously sci-fi troopers, I found I had nothing suitable for modern/near future regular military. So I've splashed out on some US marines from The Assault Group, which with a little squinting will do for the Paradisan Army. At the same time I spotted an auction on Ebay for about a dozen vehicles from Old Crow, which has given me a decent selection of APCs most of which, while imaginary in design, would look totally at home rolling through Helmand.  When the figures finally arrive from TAG, that will take care of the government forces.  I've picked out a selection of minis that will make good anti-government rebels, I just need some softskin trucks for their transport.  I refuse to pay resin or metal prices for something so unexciting though, so I'll be trawling the pound shops in the coming weeks for toys suitable for conversion.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

We're gonna get right back to where we started from.

This Sunday I was lucky enough to have a visit from my good friend Marvin-the-ARVN (not his real name) and along with mi hermano paternico Jonesy and his daughter Myrtle (also not her real name, in fact in real life I make it a point to call her by a different name every week) we had a game of FUBAR.  As a break from VSF we decided to do a regular Science Fiction game, so Jonesy brought out his WH40K Tau army and I dug out my EM4 plastic Space Rangers, which proxied as 40K Space Marines, with a squad of Combat Zone Power Armour proxying as Terminators.

Since we were all new to this version of the rules, we had a couple of rules queries that soon got smoothed out, and the game went fairly swimmingly.  The Space Marine tactical squads significantly outgunned the larger Tau squads, but the Tau had some special troops that could deliver a nasty surprise, like a tank gun with unlimited range that automatically killed rather than suppressed, mounted on a grav tank that could lurk out of sight on the extreme edge of the board, then pop-up to launch an attack and dropping back out of sight before anyone could return fire.  Or the Tau battlesuits with plasma cannon that reduced armour saves.  Or those blasted Shield Drones which seemed to effortlessly absorb every single hit we scored on anyone.  In fact the only casualties we caused through the entire game were 3-4 shield drones, while we lost two tactical squads and the Terminators.  In spite of this the game was a  Space Marine victory, as the Tau players kept withdrawing wherever the surviving Marines advanced and so ceded all three objectives on the tabletop.  Most importantly it was a good fun game in great company and something I hope to repeat soon.

Anyway, the game did get me thinking about doing something new as a break from VSF gaming. I've a mixed bag of 25-28mm Sci-fi stuff in various states of readiness, including a whole load of "street violence" types.  Inspired by some of the great battle reports coming out of the Winter of '79 blog I'm thinking it would be a fun change to do some skirmish gaming, with individuals or small fireteams as the base unit.  I'm thinking of going back to this blog's original concept, the "Axis of Naughtiness" modern day Imagi-Nations.  Let's take the island of Paradiso and thrust it "five minutes into the future", so that we can get away with using some near-future SF vehicles, and I've probably got most of what I need to play a good range of civil unrest, rebel insurgency or gangs vs authorities games.

For the more far-out SciFi figures, I've been thinking of a slightly more post-apocalyptic setting, with a totalitarian regime keeping its people sheltered in a closed community, while occasionally venturing out to the badlands to deal with rebels and gangs and petty kingdoms.  Pretty standard dystopian sci-fi fare, and most of the modern day figures would still be usable.

Then of course, there's that big box 'o zombies.  Everything goes better with zombies :-)

So that's vaguely the plan for the next few months, to start delving into my Sci-Fi/Street Violence lead mountain and get them painted and readied to the point where I could easily throw together a game with them at short notice.  This time last year I had ten Victorian British soldiers and ten Prussians painted, plus a handful of civilians.   The aim is to now do the same for the Sci-Fi/Street Violence stuff.

Which doesn't mean I won't be playing, talking or thinking about VSF.  The whole point is that I've got enough stuff finished now I don't need to push to get something new ready for a game, though I  might sneak a couple of half finished units onto the crafting table now and again.  And I'm still going to try out a few more rulesets and continue my personal GASLIGHT rewrite, plus see if we can't reschedule the aborted May game.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Don't hear the bell, but you answer the call

I've just heard some rather sad news. Paul Reid, organiser of the Warboot wargames trading events, founder member of the Manchester Area Wargames Society "Black Panthers" group of hardcore non-competitive gamers, has died.

Paul was one of the gamers invited to the last scheduled GASLIGHT game.  But at around the same time that my father was having his recent bad reaction that resulted in us cancelling the game, I was unaware that Paul had been hospitalised as a result of his own battle with the Big-C.  From what I hear, the deterioration was swift.

I can't pretend to have been bosom-buddies with Paul, but he was one of the MAWS gamers I'd connected with when I returned last year.  He was a good bloke, a VSF fan and reader of this blog from the early days. I last saw him at the last MAWS Warboot event, where we had a spirited conversation about the evils of competitive wargaming, along with some gossip about the organisation of this year's Britcon (or the lack thereof).

Sorry we never got to roll dice together again, dude. Yer going to be missed.


And on a brighter note, let's hear it for Bluebear Jeff of Saxe-Bearstein, who's kicked the Big-C in the daddy-bags and is now back home recuperating from his own surgery.  I know Jeff's facing a long and possibly un-fun recovery period, so let's keep those good wishes and positive healing energy flowing his way.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

This was a Triumph....

... or rather "Triumph & Tragedy", on sale from Northstar Miniatures at the low, low price of £7.50 (RRP £12).  I'd heard some positive buzz about these rules, and seen the forum at the Lead Adventure Forums, so I thought this was a good opportunity to check them out.

It's a 40 page B&W staple bound booklet with middling-to-good production values. The introduction says that the focus of the rules is on the Inter-war period, but in truth they are so generic you could easily use them for gaming anything from late Victorian to WW2.  The scale of the game is about the same as GASLIGHT, Valor Steel and Flesh or Through the Mud and Blood.  Units of up to around ten figures and some individuals, with maybe 50-100 figures per side.  Some people call these "Skirmish" games, and while the scale of battle they're designed to fight would indeed be called skirmishes in real life, I prefer the term "Small unit"  games, as "Skirmish games" to me are those where the main unit of play is the individual soldier.

Troops are rated Raw/Trained/Veteran/Elite, each with a base score (which is the target on D10 to cause a casualty in firing or melee), a morale modifier and an initiative score.  There's nothing revolutionary about the rules, players of the other games I mentioned will be on familiar ground here.  The rules cover suppression, vehicles, artillery and even light aircraft, though the focus of the game is definitely on man-to-man combat.

One nice feature is the initiative system, which I think would make a nice alternative rule for GASLIGHT (see below).  Each unit or vehicle has an initiative card, but instead of shuffling them all together, each side keeps their own deck.  At the start of each turn, the players assemble their decks into the order in which they'd like to move their units.  The top card on each deck is turned over, and the units revealed take their actions in order of their initiative score (or if tied, simultaneously).  It's a nicely intermeshed initiative which avoids the risk of one side having a long spell of inactivity through a bad run of cards, as in each round of cards both sides will get to activate something.

The vehicle rules look serviceable if a little lightweight and definitely geared towards vehicles only playing a supporting roll to infantry and characters.  For example, any mounted weapon heavier than an LMG or HMG is simply classed as a "cannon".  That's fine in games where you want a 20-pdr on an improvised mount in a lorry's flatbed to be as significant a threat to enemy infantry as a proper tank, but no good if you want to field a selection of tanks and distinguish between their performances.

Overall it looks like a fairly straightforward and solid set of rules.  I'd definitely consider them a contender if I was playing VBCW or one of the other inter-war conflicts.  The vehicle rules would need a revamp to properly reflect the diversity of vehicles I like to field in my VSF games, but it would do fiine for games focussing more on infantry and characters.  Two thumbs up, and definitely worth checking out at the sale price from Northstar.

(Based on Triumph and Tragedy)

These rules are most suited to head-to-head games with only one or two players per side.  For larger, multiplayer games, the traditional GASLIGHT initiative is a better option.

Each side assembles an initiative deck, with one card for each vehicle, unit or unattached Main Character.  At the start of each turn, the players sort their initiative decks into the order they would like to activate their forces.  The sorted decks are placed face down with the first unit they wish to move at the top.
Play then proceeds in rounds, with each player turning over the top card of their initiative decks.  The units thus revealed may then take their action for the turn in the following order.
Unattached Main Characters (in rank order, so Heroes first, then Adventurers etc)
Vehicles and Conveyances (in order Speed, fastest first)
Cavalry (in order of Scuffle, highest first)
Infantry (in order of Scuffle, highest first)
Others (e.g. Artillery)

In cases where both units would act sumultaneously either act like Gentlemen, or roll dice to break the tie.
When one side has exhausted their initiative deck, their turn ends.  The other player(s) may complete activations for the rest of their units, but must continue to follow the order set in their initiative deck.  

Shuffle each side's initiative deck so that the card presented for each round is random.  Or do this for one side and manually sort the cards for the other.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sixty-eight guns will never die, sixty-eight guns our battle cry.

The ongoing work at my father's house to prepare for me moving in with him has taken up most of my time in the last week or so.  We're now preparing the front room for redecoration, which has been my temporary bedroom/mancave for the past eight months, so the painting table and all the half-completed projects on it have had to be packed up and put into storage, along with the 4' wargaming board. At the very least this is triggering a shift in gaming gears, as well as enforcing a bit of a break in the crafting side of things.

So I find myself turning again to the "software" side of wargaming, rules and mechanics.  One of the common complaints I've heard about GASLIGHT is that it leaves a great deal up to the gamer, such as coming up with appropriate vehicle attributes.  "What stats should I give my steam contraption?" asks the newbie GASLIGHTER, perhaps more used to having "Chapter Approved" vehicle profiles spoon-fed to them by Other Games.  People kept asking for benchmarks against which to evaluate their vehicles.

Of  course, having been designed to be as open and generic as possible within the Victorian Science Fiction field (and knowing Buck, with one eye on Pulp-era gaming as well) GASLIGHT couldn't give hard and fast benchmarks.  As soon as it did that, it would be imposing a specific vision on the gamer.  As an example of this, the Valor, Steel and Flesh rules from Paroom station have all land vehicles moving at exactly the same speed.  Now if your concept of VSF vehicles is that they'd all tend to be slow, hulking brutes of broadly comparable size and power, then that's fair enough, and probably a reasonably realistic assessment of the very first real-world landships.  But it then rules out a whole world of interesting vehicle concepts - swift monowheels, light tankettes, or Professor Nutjob's Atomic Rocket-powered Racecar.

So GASLIGHT declines to give "official" benchmarks, leaving it up to each individual gamer to rate his toys. But actually, GASLIGHT does give you a hidden benchmark of sorts, masquerading as the Vehicle and Conveyance Capabilities Chart.
(c) Christopher Palmer and John R. “Buck” Surdu and used without permission.

I've redacted parts of the table in an unsubtle ploy to force you to go buy the GASLIGHT Compendium. Hey don't blame me, if they were my rules I'd have Open Sourced them by now.  Anyway, we're only interested in the extremes and the median values for our purposes.  This table masquerades as a means for randomly generating vehicle stats, but who on earth would ever want to trust the performance of their shiny new steamtank to the roll of some dice?  This is actually our secret benchmarking key. Look at the two highlighted median rows.  Imagine your hypothetical "average vehicle" as having stats rolled on these two rows.  I used my standard British Landships (Atlantis "Spanner" tanks) as the average vehicle.  For a WWI game, you might choose the British Mk IV tank as your average, for  WWII you might choose a Panzer IV. For a modern-day "street violence" game, it might be a mid-sized family saloon car.  You might not want to actually field a vehicle with all-average stats, but merely keep it in mind as a "hypothetical".  Since we have two median values, pick one or the other, or alternate low value/high value, but don't worry too much about the exact values.

So for every other vehicle you need to evaluate, compare it with your average and within the bounds of the maximum and minimum values on this table.  We're not trying to rate things in absolute terms, so that so many inches of armour equals such-and-such a Save score, or so many MPH of speed equates to X inches of movement.  We're just looking for capabilities relative to our average.

Let's look at armour Save for example.  The values on the table above are for a vehicle classed as Armoured.  Unarmoured vehicles halve this value, giving unarmoured vehicles with Saves of 5-8, Armoured Saves of 9-16 with 12-13 being our Average.  You can quickly run through the options for rating a new vehicle in your mind.

Is this the lightest-armoured vehicle I'm ever likely to field?  If yes then Save=9
If the answer is "nearly the lightest" then Save=10
If the answer is "no, but it's still lighter than our Average" then Save =11

Is this the heaviest-armoured vehicle I'm ever likely to field?  If yes then Save=16
If the answer is "nearly the heaviest" then Save=15

If the answer is "no, but it's still significantly heavier than our Average" then Save =14

If you get to this point, then your vehicle has roughly similar levels of armour protection as your average vehicle, so give it a Save of 12 or 13.  (Depending on which of the two numbers you picked, you have one last option to make the vehicle ever so slightly better or worse than the Average)

For land vehicle Speed, we have another guideline to bear in mind, normal human movement speed.  Anything with a speed of less than 6" is going to be unable to keep up with even infantry.  Fortunately for us, powered vehicles roll twice on the Steam column and add the values together, giving us a range of from 6" to  20", with an Average of 13" (or just a shade faster than Cavalry)  Follow the same process, evaluating your vehicle's movement compared to the average.  For Speed, again it's larger, but on the other hand is wheeled which suggests faster speed.  Overall I'd rate it as equal to the average - Speed 13". 

Spin is a bit of a special case, in that the die rolls don't really give you a minimum-median-maximum.  Instead I assume that most vehicles will have a 45 degree Spin, unless there's a good reason based on the design or purpose for them to have better.  For example, a very small tankette with closely spaced treads looks like it ought to be very nippy and manoeuvrable and so might get a Spin of 90.  The Royal Horseless Artillery Gun Trucks mount a heavy revolving cannon on the front and a lighter defensive Gatling gun on the rear.  They look like they're built to dash forward into position, fire their main gun, then quickly turn around and retire from enemy attacks using the rear Gatling for covering fire.  For that tactic to work in a GASLIGHT game, it needs to have a 180 degree Spin, which is what we gave it.  I also tend to give walking vehicles a 90 degree Spin by default as well.

Let's do a worked example, for the Brass Coffin from Ramshackle Games.  It's bigger and chunkier than the standard Landship, but it does have a lot more exposed cogs and machinery and looks a less efficient shape - Save of 11.  For Start and Sustain, the Brass Coffin is the product of a Mad Inventor and so you might expect it to be a little less reliable than a mature piece of engineering like the Landship.  On the other hand, with more of the Coffin's mechanics exposed, it might be easier to carry out field repairs and kick start it when it stalls.  So we'll go with a Sustain of 16 (slightly inferior) and Start of 13 (top end of average).  Finally for the Spin score, I see no reason why it shouldn't have the default 45 degrees.

So much for the vehicles, how about the bits that go BOOM. Although GASLIGHT has a weapon generation table and you could follow the same process as above using that, I found the simplest method for rating conventional vehicle weaponry at least was to stick to the three "basic" artillery sizes, Light, Medium and Heavy.  This requires a fairly straightforward assessment of the weapon based on size and simplifies play a great deal.  You may want to customise the stats slightly to better reflect the model - a Medium gun with a short barrel might only have a 36" long range instead of 48".

One thing to bear in mind - a lot of VSF or SF vehicle models mount outsized weapon barrels, much larger in diameter than a 28mm field gun model.  Rather than have almost every vehicle carrying a Heavy Gun, I've generally rated most guns as Medium, except where it's obviously intended to be a light or particularly heavy weapon.

For a more detailed approach, I'd always been impressed with the Space 1889 Soldier's Companion with its chapter on Artillery of the World.  In it were stats for pretty much every type of field artillery or naval gun you're likely to come across in the 19th century, on Earth or Mars.  I always wondered whether it would be possible to convert those tables into GASLIGHT terms.  I spent an hour or so and worked up stats for a selection enough to cover most GASLIGHT needs.
(c) Chris Johnston 2012... nah who am I kidding, if you want to copy this
then fill yer boots.

The first three entries are the "standard" artillery types.  Again I wanted to establish a median, and so compared the Medium Gun to the Space 1889 stats for the 12pdr, which was the standard British field artillery piece around the time I play in (1880s-1890s)  One hex/foot of range in Space 1889 equated to 8" in GASLIGHT, and applying that scale to other weapons gave reasonably close values.  "Heavy" guns gain a few inches of range, but nothing too startling.  I adjusted SRMs by eye, taking guidance from the Space 1889 tables Penetration and Damage values.  I've highlighted the three gun types that equate best to the "standard" artillery types. To be honest, this scale starts to break down once you start to get into the heavy naval artillery.  Personally I would never use more than a 6" gun, and that only on the very heaviest of vehicles, but I've included speculative stats for 8" to 12" guns for anyone who wants to play out a battleship bombardment.
For the heavier guns I've also adopted the Space 1889 notation for Rate of Fire.  A number in brackets indicates the number of turns taken reloading between shots.  So a gun with a ROF of (2) may fire, spend two turns reloading, then fire again on the fourth turn.
All these stats are for modern rifled artillery.  For Smoothbores, GASLIGHT suggests deducting 2 from the SRM.  If you want to be realistic, you could also reduce the range of smoothbores to about 75%.  So if you were playing an ACW by GASLIGHT game, a 12pdr Napoleon smoothbore would have a long range of 36" and an SRM of 0, compared to the similarly sized 3" Ordinance Rifle's range of 48" and SRM of +2.

Of course, all these weapons ratings are scaled to match my vision of VSF and the sorts of games I want to play.  You might decide to see things on a slightly grander scale, rating all field artillery as Light guns, 4" to 8" guns as Medium Guns and leaving Heavy Guns to represent battleship main armaments. You may or may not decide that those outsized gun barrels are actually naval calibre guns.

Both our approaches are equally correct according to our own visions of VSF.  And that just goes to illustrate how flexible GASLIGHT can be.  As long as you rate all troops and vehicles in a battle relative to eachother, the rules can handle a wide range of different styles and periods.

Monday, 7 May 2012

So glad we met, the second time around.

Following everyone's advice about just playing some games and having fun, yesterday mi hermano opositor Jonesy came round and we had a friendly gaming afternoon (albeit one peppered with plenty of good-natured verbal fencing along the lines of our last Sunday game).  With the recently repainted bedroom awaiting the delivery of a new carpet, we had a huge empty room that was just begging to be better utilised.  So the day before I invested in some commercial folding tables, two of which give a very respectable six foot by five foot playing area.  I also wanted to try out the PMC resin cottages & farms that I'd bought a while back, which will be the core of my rural village terrain.  (You might also notice the two rocky hills/mountains making their debut, alongside a new pond that I threw together last week as a side-project)

I had a selection of rules that I wanted us to try out - as mentioned in the previous post, Valor Steel and Flesh had recently arrived along with the new 5th edition FUBAR & VSF supplement.  Jonesy had also printed out copies of "Through the Mud and Blood", a WWI ruleset from Two Fat Lardies, and Wolsung Steampunk Skirmish Game for me.  After a little hemming and hawing and some dice rolling, we settled on giving the new FUBAR a run out.

We actually got in two games in the afternoon.  The first was a combined arms affair, with mini-Me Dr Vesuvius leading two platoons of Masked Minions and a troop of Iron Men supported by the Brass Coffin, against three platoons of British infantry and HMLS Pinafore.  We found a couple of major mistakes in the rules-as-written plus a few other things that needed a bit of interpretation, but nothing we couldn't work around fairly easily.  My Iron men marched up the main street and charged a unit of waiting Brits, but after being victorious they found themselves caught by enfilading fire from the buildings occupyed by a second platoon.  Meanwhile on the far right, a unit of Masked Minions in the hedgerow found themselves pinned down by weight of fire from an advancing platoon of Grenadier Guards.  Although the Brits were in the open, their superior discipline and training, combined with some very unlucky activation rolls from me, meant that the Minions were never able to bring any significant fire to bear on the Guards, who gradually whittled down the Minions' numbers until their morale broke.  With two of my three units rendered ineffective versus the one Brit, I yielded the field gracefully.  You know, like wot a proper gentleman gamer does.

Since in the first game our vehicles hadn't quite made it into engagement before the game was resolved (both of us had lousy activation luck) we decided to try an all-vehicle game.  We cleared off the village buildings and rocky hills, kept the overall layout of the roads and added some more rolling hills to break up the terrain.  We each picked 7-8 vehicles that felt roughly balanced and statted them accordingly.  We then split up our forces into three groups, one to enter the board at the start and two groups of possible reinforcements which we diced for every turn.  Jonesy stuck with the British while I led the forces of Imperial Germany.

The second game went fairly well, though not as well as the infantry game.  We ruled, mistakenly in my opinion, that vehicles up against hillsides were "hull down" and got the benefit of heavy cover.  This kicked the to-hit target number up to about 8 on a d6, which meant that to hit an attacker needed to score a 6 followed by their normal expertise (5+ for seasoned troops)  Combined with the fact that FUBAR doesn't differentiate between close and long range, once both sides got their vehicles into cover within range, there wasn't much motivation to keep moving forward and the battle largely settled down to be a slogging match of attrition.  In the end we called the game before reaching a definite resolution, but personally I think Jonesy had the edge in weight of remaining firepower and tactical position.

We both enjoyed the games though and Jonesy felt that the game played a lot quicker than GASLIGHT. I've fed back our thoughts and experience to the author and we're looking forward to seeing the game develop further.  I'm definitely more impressed with FUBAR after this second playtest.  I'd quite like to give the standard sci-fi/modern version a go sometime.


If you want try VSF FUBAR out for yourself, I have the following recommendations (if Lanse doesn't make them part of the rules)

1) Instead of giving units that aren't in formation a -1 Activation penalty, flip it to give units that are in formation a +1 Activation bonus.  It's so easy to fail activation already, this felt a lot more balanced, and I think was one of the reasons the infantry game felt so much better.  Figures in Formation should not be able to use the "Duck and Weave" action.  Figures with the Skirmisher advantage should get the +1 in open order as well, and maybe be allowed to Run and fire (not sure about that last one)

2) The Morale rules as currently written (2d6 - Activation, if over remaining number of figures) is plumb broken, as it means better units are actually more likely to fail.  We simply changed the roll to 1d6+Activation, and it worked better and made sense.

3) We couldn't find it written anywhere, but we ruled that vehicles could not move and fire.  It gives a bit of an advantage back to the PBI.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Just one look, that's all it took, yeah.

So a big box from America arrived today from that nice Mr Weiss at Brigade Games.  Inside were some Paroom Station miniatures I'd ordered a while back, and a copy of "Valor, Steel and Flesh", Paroom's own Victorian Science Fiction ruleset.  Now while I still think of myself as a GASLIGHT loyalist, it's no secret that there are a couple of aspects of the game as written that aren't playing well for me right now, so I'm looking around at alternatives.  Earlier in the year I playtested three possible "replacements", Colonial Adventures from 2 Hour Wargames, FUBAR VSF and Ross Mac's "With MacDuff to the Frontier".  But Valor, Steel and Flesh  is very popular on the Lead Adventure Forums, so it's something I'd wanted to take a look at for a while.

Now while I generally agree that game reviewers should always play a game before trying to review it, in this case it only took a quick read through of "Valor" to realise that this wasn't the GASLIGHT beater that it promised to be.  To be honest it felt more like the result of someone's extensive set of GASLIGHT houserules combined into a new ruleset, as the two games share an awful lot of common ground.  Both are roll-under-target systems, although GASLIGHT uses D20s and Valor uses D10s.  Both have 10 man units and both base morale checks on rolling under the number of surviving men.  The ranged weapons tables look very similar with close/long range, ROF and armour penetration stats.  Both games use card initiative, although Valor only uses it to determine which side may activate a unit, not the specific unit as in GASLIGHT.  But I wouldn't suggest for one moment that either game copied off the other - Valor is apparently based on "Brother Against Brother", an ACW skirmish ruleset that predates GASLIGHT, so it looks to me more like a case of parallel evolution.

Where GASLIGHT is kept as open and loosey-goosey as possible in order to cater to as many different visions of VSF as possible, Valor is written primarily to support the Parroom Station "Redcoats on Mars" setting, which despite claims to the contrary is basically a mashup of Space 1889, Barsoom and War Of The Worlds.  Like original GASLIGHT, Valor shies away from giving points values, instead recommending a more "story based" approach to scenario design.  This is admirable, but to be brutally honest, sometimes it's nice to have some sort of point system to help the scenario designer get a rough idea of relative strengths.  Valor takes the story approach one step further, advocating the use of "event cards" (but sadly only giving a half dozen as examples) and a "plot point" system which allows players to spend points to avoid bad dice results in-game.  The latter is fairly common in roleplaying games, but this is the first time I think I've seen it in a tabletop wargame.

While Valor does tighten up a few things in a positive way ( troop formations, vehicle mounted weapon fire arcs) it also makes a couple of fairly hefty assumptions about the setting.  It uses randomised movement distances, which isn't a problem in itself, but then goes on to give all land vehicles 2D10 movement.  That means there's no way to represent ligh fast vehicles and slow, lumbering vehicles, as everything will be moving between 2" and 20" per turn.  The completely random movement based on a D10 gives too big a random swing for my taste and having all vehicles effectively the same speed is just the nail in the coffin.

Honestly, if I was coming into Victorian Science Fiction gaming from scratch and had a choice between GASLIGHT and Valor, Steel and Flesh, it would be an absolute toss-up between them.  What might tip the balance is that GASLIGHT still has a fairly active Yahoo Group and online community, albeit much quieter than when the game was at its peak.  You can post a GASLIGHT question on  the Yahoo group, on The Miniatures Page or the Lead Adventures forum and expect to get a reply from Chris or Buck within a few days.  Whereas all I've seen for Valor is a single Yahoo Group which hasn't seen any traffic since January of this year. just goes to what looks like a strange blog page in Japanese.

I'll pinch a couple of bits and pieces from Valor, Steel and Flesh for my GASLIGHT Vesuvian reforms, but I doubt I'll ever play it.  It's not that it's a bad game, far from it.  It's just my own tweaks to GASLIGHT have already brought me closer to the game I want, while Valor seems to offer a very similar feeling game with no outstanding differences yet also introduces a couple of additional problems that would need addressing.

In other rules news, the old FUBAR playtest post here at the Axis recently drew a comment from Lanse Tryon, the author of the FUBAR VSF supplement.  Perhaps not coincidentally, on various online fora like Lead Adventure, Froggy the Great (who may or may not be Lanse in disguise) has released the latest version of a 2 page combined FUBAR 5th Edition + VSF supplement.  Integrating the rules has allowed Lanse to eliminate some redundancy between the core rules and the VSF supplement (like weapon tables and different vehicle rules) freeing up some space to add some more features.  He's already addressed some of my original complaints with the rules - Mounted is now an advantage that a figure or unit may have, adding 2D6 to movement, plus there are rules for keeping troops in close-order formation.  I had hoped to squeeze a playtest of it in today, but looking at the clock that's probably not going to happen now.  I do want to give this a fair trial thoough - the previous playtest was a touch unfair seeing as how the scenario I played didn't include characters or vehicles, which were the real focus of the VSF supplement.

I've also been looking at the beta version of the Wolsung Steampunk Skirmish Game.  It's pitched more at the "warband" style of skirmish game, like Necromunda or Song of Blades & Heroes, but that sort of game can be an entertaining and fun diversion.

Thanks to everyone for their comments on the last post.  With the exception of items that are currently on my painting/modelling table, I'm declaring a moratorium on new figure/model/terrain projects, and shifting to make playing games a priority.  I currently have the following sub-projects that I'd like to bring to completion before putting them away.

  • One unit of ten Fenian Brotherhood cavalry - primed and with the riders magnetized to the saddle (that's another story) these just need painting to bring to completion.
  • Sixteen VSF character figures awaiting painting - I'd put them away but I have a KR Multicase and a converted GW case for unpainted character figures, both of which are full (272 figs... argghh)
  • Project Traffic - half a dozen assorted horse drawn vehicles to liven up the Victorian city terrain.  All based and primed with some partly painted.
  • Project Dollhouse - the four "pink" village buildings, three of which have had all remodelling completed and are primed, just awaiting painting.  The fourth needs an hour or so's remodelling work before painting.
  • The converted OO signalbox - completed to about 95% with just an hour or so's final paint touch-up required.

 And that's not counting the stuff I've happily put away half-finished, like the Victorian slum scratchbuilds.

And finally the best news of the week isn't wargame related at all.  At yesterday's scheduled hospital visit they diagnosed my father's bad reaction last week as down to an infection, not the treatment.  They even suspect the infection may have caused the symptoms that led them to start the chemo course in the first place.  In light of the fact that his blood counts were now perfectly satisfactory and that he may still be weakened by the infection, they decided that continuing the chemo was neither advisable nor necessary and instead sent him home with a course of antibiotics and an appointment in four weeks time.  Needless to say, Vesuvius Snr is over the moon with this news as am I.