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 AlbaƱil 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.