Monday, 20 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Aircraft are still pretty big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Run for the sun, little one...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The campaign status is as follows...

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

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

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

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

So how about this....


Campaign Rule - Raids

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

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

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


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

Thursday, 16 July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six months later...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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