Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 July 2014

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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