Monday 23 October 2023

You say po-tay-toe and I say po-tah-toe...

 Wargaming isn't a single hobby.

You could launch many different articles from that one sentence.  It would be easy to show the many disparate elements - figure painting, research, rules design etc etc.  You could easily differentiate between recreational wargaming and professional wargaming for study of real-world conflicts and strategic planning... but let's assume since I mentioned it as a hobby, we're purely focussed on the recreational side.

One point of differentiation that people often fall back on is the difference between Historical and... let's call it Fantastical wargaming, so as to allow for both sword & sorcery and science fiction.  That's... almost what I'm talking about, but not quite.  If you talk about Modern and Old School wargaming, you're equally close, but coming around from another direction.

I tend to think of it as the Commercial hobby and the Independent hobby.

I'm of an age where my introduction to the concept of playing with toy soldiers using rules and dice came from the golden age old guard of post WW2 gamers whose books crept their way onto the local library shelves.  My "first" was "Battle: Practical Wargaming" by Charles Grant (no initial) found on the children's library shelf, but having devoured that starter and hungering for more I'd soon gotten permission from a sympathetic librarian to venture into the big, scary Grown Ups (tm) library where I found and quickly devoured a treasure trove of Featherstone, Wise, and Lawford & Young.   This was a hobby of folks who put together their own games by repurposing toy or model soldiers (and vehicles) and wrote their own rules. For years this was the hobby for me, albeit one viewed from afar in isolation.

When as a teenager I finally discovered the existence of my local wargames club and connected with the wargaming world as it was (rather than my rose-tinted vision of it from books written in the 60s and 70s), wargaming was on the cusp of a change.  The biggest companies producing wargame material were at the cottage industry level at most, with most still being 1 or 2 person operations.  The closest thing to an 800lb gorilla in the UK marketplace was Wargames Research Group, whose 6th Edition ancients rules along with their contemporary Horse & Musket and Modern rulesets were the de-facto standards at the club.

To be honest, I didn't adapt well to this new paradigm.  Mr Barkers rules with their endless tables and calculations seemed a world away from the older rules in those hardback library books.  My heart still belonged to those old Independent wargamers.

But every couple of meetings, these two guys would show up with a bunch of elves and orcs and play Warhammer. 2nd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Battles as it was then.  While I felt more at home with the way that game seemed to play compared to WRG 6th, ironically it would bring about the birth of the Commercial wargame hobby, that would leave me feeling more estranged than ever.

So we all know what happened, Games Workshop exploded in popularity, largely on the back of the science-fantasy game Warhammer 40k.  Production quality shot through the roof, with full colour hardback rulebooks replacing typeset foldover A5 bookets with the ubiquitous coloured card reference sheet.  They also introduced the commercial concept of producing a range of figures hand in hand with a ruleset.  For a while you could reasonably consider the "Games Workshop Hobby" as constituting 99.99% of the Fantastical wargaming hobby, as compared to the Historical wargaming hobby, but that would soon blur.  Games like Flames of War, the Warhammer Historicals and Bolt Action would start applying the GW commercial model to historical periods, with high production glossy rulebooks and multiple supplemts for different armies and theatres of war.  To anyone coming to the hobby this century, *this* is what wargaming was, invented by Games Workshop with the advent of Warhammer 40k 4th edition.  Before there was nothing but a fuzzy prehistory... something about H.G. Wells wasn't it?

Today we have the Commercial wargame hobby as the default. A wargame is produced, usually with an accompanying range of figures which if the company is particularly grabby will be a slightly different scale to the last game covering the same subject so you have to buy new figures for it.  It will have a lifecycle, being heavily promoted initially, having a series of supplemental releases over a fixed period of time until either sales start to waver or the game runs out of subject matter to cover, at which point it will be quietly dropped and become a "dead game" that for some reason nobody wants to play.  If you're lucky it might get a 2nd edition but otherwise it'll be onto the new hot game and either way the whole  cycle starts again.

Luckily we still have a streak of independence keeping the other hobby alive.  From those wacky boffins at Wargames Developments with their cardboard box tanks and their "What if we modelled the Fall of the Roman Empire using tiddleywinks as the primary mechanic?" games... to the growing trend for miniatures agnostic small-press games. Look at the meteoric success of One Page Rules, who started off on the very shaky legal ground of One Page 40k, a homebrew streamlined reimagining of that game.  Now they have better legal advice, a range of miniatures agnostic games with their own original settings and figures (even if most will want to use them with existing 40k figure collections)

My heart still belongs unapologetically to the Independent wargaming hobby. And with the advent of 3d printing, we can become our own figure manufacturers, just like those old veterans in the 60s and 70s casting their own lead figures in rubber molds. 

At the very least we're in a new Guilded-age of the Indie wargaming hobby.  And I'm here for it.

(Note: I had been planning to discuss the rules I've been looking at and the games I'm interested in playing, but what started out as a necessary introduction turned into a longer philosophical piece I had to get off my chest. Maybe next time.)

Monday 28 August 2023

Short People Got... No Reason

The Great Work continues apace, though it's still firmly in the "gets worse before it gets better" phase.  The wargames table is still piled high with junk, but now it's junk that's neatly sorted and categorised into Really Useful Boxes of various sizes. While I'm still a way off being able to lay down a battlefield of any size and throw dice it still feels like progress is being made.  I find myself at the mercy of our local council's bin collections

One lesson I would pass on to anyone facing a similar situation is the importance of transparent or open storage boxes.  I'd stored a lot of my figures and terrain in repurposed cardboard boxes which, while economical, meant the only way to see the contents was to open the box.  Out of sight quickly becomes out of mind.  Part of my reorganising process has included finding all such boxes and transferring the contents to either 32l folding crates for large terrain items, or various smaller sizes of Really Useful Boxes for smaller items.  Being able to see all the things you have at your disposal is very inspirational and motivational.

In that vein I've been looking at the various piles of miniatures I have in various states of gameworthiness.  The genesis of my current gaming revival has been the advent of 3d printing and initially I had a strong temptation to just put all my old, mostly white metal miniatures aside and focus on what I can print anew. But over the last few weeks I've come to realize that's wasting a lot of gaming resources and there are a lot of new games that I'm interested in that could be served by my existing minis collection.

And so, the audit...

Complete Project
    28mm Hillbillies

Ah this was a labour of love, and something I can draw a line under as done and dusted.  The Hillbilly collection was made up of suitable redneck minis from a variety of manufacturers brought together originally for a Big Birthday Bash multiplayer game, but have seen light a couple of times since including a couple of crossover Zombie games.  The full setup has laminated character cards for every figure using the Flying Lead rules and if I ever need a quick, lighthearted game to entertain a non-wargamer, everything I need for it sits in just a couple of crates.


If you've never heard of them, they're licensed superhero minis from DC, Marvel and others that were sold as "collectibles" in blind lucky-dip boxes.  I've hoovered up a few job lots over the years for use with the Mutants and Masterminds RPG I used to run.  I've got a couple of big boxes full of unmodified figures, and a couple of dozen that were actually modified to represent characters in the game campaign.  For now I'm happy to stick them in a corner for storage, in case superhero gaming ever raises its head again.

    Grimdark Future/40K

Now these are entirely a child of the new Revival, brought about entirely by the advent of 3d printing.  I'd grown interested in the lore of 40k rather than the actual game itself and got caught up in the current movement of gamers who rather than pay GW's exorbitant prices have started printing their own miniatures at a fraction of the price.  Since I was finding 3d printing a useful form of therapy I quickly amassed about a dozen RUBs of figures and some great plans.  This is definitely a topic that deserves a future post, but suffice it to say this project is ongoing and will have a very different focus and overall character to the game that GW produces.

    Blake's Seven

   This was a very small project from the very start of the Pandemic that went no-where.  Crooked Dice's range of minis representing the crew of the 80s cult TV show sparked an idea for a game mixing a small skirmish on a planet combined with the Liberator fighting off Federation patrol craft in orbit. A cunning idea which promptly got packed into a storage box and forgotten.  A candidate for selling on to make space except... it's only a small box and a really cool game idea.

    Post-Apocalypse / Sci Fi

    At least a KR Multicase full, mostly passably painted.  I'm definitely interested in doing some generic sci-fi and post-apoc skirmishing - 5 Parsecs from Home, 5 Klicks from the Zone, Fallout Wasteland Warfare etc.  Definitely going to see some use in the future, no pun intended.


Everything is better with zombies.  Everything.  The figures I have could be combined with any other 28mm collection for a little bit of survival horror.  I've maybe got 10-15% painted , enough for a typical skirmish game.  If I hit the paint table and brought the rest up to code there'd be enough for some respectable World War Z level games.

    Modern/Imagi-Nation/Gang War etc

A bit of a catch-all for "modern" figures from a wide selection of ranges such as Vietnam, Ultramodern, Spy-fi, gang warfare etc all bought and some painted for my old modern Imagi-Nation of San Paradiso, which veterans of the Axis may remember was my to explore modern insurgency conflicts without risking upsetting anyone sensitive about real world events.  While once again there's a healthy volume of unpainted metal in these  boxes, there's enough core figures painted and table ready 


I have a small number of figures, mostly unpainted, bought mainly as cousins to the VSF collection, plus a few die-cast Matchbox & Lledo "Days Gone" vehicles that didn't quite mesh with the more primitive VSF horseless carriages.  But one of the games I'm increasingly interested in is Pulp Alley and while I could play the rules just with Modern or pre-pulp Victorian figures, I've got just enough stuff that I could probably put together a decent pulp-era (1920s-40s) game, so I'm not ruling it out.

    England Invaded / Edwardian SF / WW1

These were gifted to me entirely by another gamer doing his own clearout  They're mostly painted and VSF-adjacent, but they're different enough to deserve their own category.  Definitely room for expansion

    19th Century (including VSF/Wild West/Colonial)

This is probably the "period" I have the most table ready for, with loads more sitting at the primer stage or unpainted.  I could do a wide variety of games in this era, from western gunfights to full pitched battles featuring landships and strange contraptions.  Definitely leaning towards the fanciful rather than historical 19th C.

    Elizabethan / Border Reiver

Now this is a classic example of a failed  project, bought into big time, that went nowhere.  Two full foam cases of figures from the Elizabethan swashbuckling and border reivers era.  None of it painted, none of it seen the light of day in over 15 years.

    Various D&D / Fantasy

These are really two different collection - old metal figs collected over 40 years including a sizeable dump from a friend who was making room for a baby, and the new collection of resin printed and plastics that I started putting together for the Ultimate D&D setup right at the start of the Pandemic.  I have several rulesets that I want to play with these - Age of Fantasy, Dragon Rampant, Song of Blades and Heroes.

Which neatly leads us on to the land of the Little People...

    Laserburn Scifi
    Modern / Zombies
    19th Century/Colonial

I am going to group these together because I'm coming round to a fundamental change in how I view this scale.  I used to be a big fan of 15mm figures as a straight alternative to 28mms.  Singly based for skirmish gaming, if there was a game designed for 28mm figures that measured in inches, I'd use 15mm figures and measure in cm.  My first wargame, Laserburn, was 15mm, and I have a sizeable collection of minis in various states of paint and disrepair.  When I started doing colonial wargaming, then strictly historical with no VSF elements albeit in the fictional continent of Olistan, while The Sword and The Flame were written for 28mm, I did it all in 15mm.  When 9/11 happened and I started feeling a little uncomfortable playing jokey games about westerners vs Islamic middle-easterners, my first forays into VSF with GASLIGHT were done in 15mm.  

But when I was starting to look at working on the San Paradiso project, I took a long time deciding on the scale. 15mm would be relatively cheap, have a good selection of vehicles and frontline troops available, and play in a more compact area.  But it would be lacking in characterful figures for skirmish games, which was part of what I wanted to do. 20mm/1:72 is another natural scale for modern games as you have a great availability of figures and vehicles, plus OO model rail scenery.  But 28mm had a major advantage in that I already had crates full of terrain in that scale, many of which could pull double or triple duty in different periods or theatres.  I had a full city layout for GASLIGHT.  Some of those buildings combined with newer style buildings could represent a more modern city.  Mix in some more buildings in a particular style and some distinctive vegetation and you've got a city on a tropical island.

I figured rationalising on a single scale for all battle and skirmish games would let me synergise and mx & match in that way.  I seriously considered the other scales, but the fact that I already had a head start in 28mm tipped the balance.  But not before I'd pre-emptively acquired a kilo or so of zombies and various modern troops and gangsters in 15mm, which were duly bagged, boxed and forgotten.

Now, these would make prime candidates for disposal except... I've long been a massive fan of the ultra-compact, fast-play wargame, such as DBA, HOTT or the Portable Wargame.  Something that can play in a tiny area but feels like a big battle.  I'd dabbled with the Portable Wargame in the past on this blog and while it didn't satisfy every gaming itch, it definitely had potential for scratching some that were beyond 28mm.  

Sooooo as a side project I'm going to earmark the 15mm Victorians and WW1 figs for stripping repainting and rebasing as multi-figure elements, something I've shield away from doing in the past. I've a mind to completely re-envision these as turn-of-the-century Imagi-Nations on a casual basis for whenever I have a two-foot square of empty table space and a desire to roll dice.  The scifi, modern and zombies will be similarly earmarked for group basing, all sized compatibly, to potentially scratch that same itch. There's no point in maintaining two different parallel collections in different scales to play games with the  same feel, but I think this would work.

Now we're getting to the teeny-tiny folk.


The sci-fi and modern were collected largely as odds and sods over the years , including bits and lots from Bring n Buys.  They were never cohesive armies and are honestly candidates for disposal (including a selection of vintage Battlemechs)  The exception is that as part of the San Paradiso project I did discover a game called 5-Core Brigade Commander by Nordic Weasel, which used 1 stand = 1 company to play out larger operational level battles.  I'd got as far as permanently basing two brigades for San Paradiso and their fun-loving communist neighbours Culo Raton.  I can definitely see a future where I do more armies in this format, even with new 3d printed vehicles.

(I've also got a decent collection of 1:300 aircraft I'll want to hang on to and use, for the skies over San Paradiso and beyond)

The ECW and Samurai armies were one time projects that just went no-where.  Honestly I don't know if they're even worth anything to anyone in their current state, but honestly I don't have the eyesight or the patience to do anything more than the simplest impressionistic paint job on 6mm, so one way or another out they go.

    ACW Ironclads

A bring and buy bargain I've never done anything with, but want to.  Maybe a dozen ships in total, and I happen to know there are loads of ships available to print as STLs making a cheap path for expansion if I felt like it.  I've played ironclad era wargames before and it was always good fun, so this is definitely something I want to revisit.


Not ACW these, but based mainly around the battle of Lissa.  I think I might want to get rid of these to a new owner willing to give them the loving restoration they deserve and instead focus on...


Bought originally to synergize with the colonial games in Olistan and mainly played using GDW's Ironclads & Ether Flyers originally published as a supplement to the Space 1889 RPG along with the Soldier's Companion for ground battles.  With the VSF elements stripped out, both served as quite robust historical wargames.  I had a small fraction of the ships that I'd bought painted and table ready, but this is one I'd love to revisit and maybe with different rules expand into WW1 proper and maybe even WWII.  1/3000 seems to be the one-true-scale of post-sail era naval gaming and the one to rationalise on.

There are a couple of other outliers in my toy cupboards.  Many boxes of diecast cars in the Hotwheels/Matchbox scale, to be fitted with tiny guns and rockets and armour plates to become death machines for games like Gaslands and Car Wars.  Honestly I see them as more as crafting projects than gaming material so there's no thought of getting rid of them

Then there's an eclectic mix of metal spaceships, some dating back to the earliest of vintages, plus a small box of Star Trek micromachines.  Despite the great sentimental value I think I want to dispose of the metal ships and if I ever need spaceships for a future game, print them in much lighter, flying base friendly resin.  The ST ships can stay and if I ever wand to expand on them, again there are loads of freely available STLs to print

Looking back on those, the common theme is that for much of my gaming life I never knuckled down to collecting and painting complete armies.  It was always odds & sods, here and there, totally without focus.  It wasn't until the 2000s that I made a decent effort to have whole armies table ready, with minor success in the early 00s with Olistan and much greater success in the later 00s with the G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. VSF collection.

I'm finding this sort of auditing helpful for me, as it helps my to prioritise and make decisions about what needs to be done next.  I've done a similar audit for the various terrain items and sets I've got.  I think the next post I make to this blog will be to look at the various wargame rules that I want to try and  combined with these audits, try to get an idea of what my new wargaming hobby will look like.


Wednesday 16 August 2023

I just keep moving, can't stop, won't stop grooving...

 This is going to be a bunch of introspective naval-gazing and philosophy.  Brace yourself or avoid as needed....

Coming back to a hobby can almost be harder than starting entirely from scratch.  Do you wipe the slate clean as if  starting anew, or do you try to leverage what you'd done before to get a head start, but at the risk of finding yourself stuck in a stale loop going nowhere.  And what if the context of the hobby has changed since you were last doing it.  Heaven forbid, what if *you*'ve changed.

So picture the scene: I have a man-cave of gaming stuff - terrain, figures, mismatched junk that I'll find a use for "one day".  That's fallen into chaos and looking like a disaster site, through virtue of being the room that stuff gets piled into "Just for now, till I can find a proper place".  Add a spare room to that which is only marginally better.  Marinade this in a sauce of five+ years of clinical depression and.... look I'm not a horder, OK?  The house may look like one of those you see on the TV in those documentaries, but it's not like I'm keeping 50 years of the TV guide and jars full of empty crisp packets or anything like that.

I'm reasonably sure there are no dead and mummified cats buried under piles of unwashed laun...... just a moment....

(sound of footsteps departing)


(sound of footsteps returning)

Yes, definitely no dead cats. Where was I?

But the truth is I'm not at a place where I can just grab a couple of armies, throw a green cloth and terrain down over a table and have a wargame.  I've got a lovely 8x5' table still setup, but it's gradually been repurposed as a painting station, workbench and general place-to-dump-piles-of-stuff-onto.  Boxes  of figures, painted and unpainted, aren't easily accessible and the same goes for terrain.  Long story short, there's a whole load of tidying, reorganizing and general Marie Kondo-ing that needs to be done.

Added to that, I've changed both physically and in terms of tastes.  Having a wargame table downstairs and all my figure, scenery storage etc upstairs wasn't an issue when climbing up and down stairs was a trivial factor.  And packing dozens of crates of terrain into the car to take to a club to run a big multi-player game is... so, so not a thing likely to ever happen again.  Suffice it to say since before the pandemic my mobility has been significantly reduced to the point where a journey to the end of the driveway to put the bins out is an achievement to celebrate.

That pandemic though has definitely been a double-edged sword.  Solo gaming has enjoyed a renaissance with a whole slew of games published specifically designed for solo play.  I've been gradually collecting a slew of them that I want to try - Five Parsecs From Home, Rangers of Shadowdeep, Space Station Zero.  They do trend towards the science fiction or fantasy skirmish genres playable on small tables, and that seems like a good modest goal to start with.

So that's sorted then.  Tidy everything up and organise it. Start playing small solo games.  End post....

Heh!  As if!

Things are complicated a bit by the fact that I've developed a liking for creating and crafting things, like terrain.  And worse, I have embraced the 3d printing revolution wholeheartedly.  The thing is, I've found the act of creativity and the tactile processes involved have been great for my mental health.  It started with building and preparing for a hypothetical return to face-to-face RPGs and a desire to put together the ultimate Dungeons and Dragons setup, with monsters and dungeon tiles and everything you could ever want.  That kinda segued into a growing fascination with the background lore to a certain megalithic space-fantasy wargame (Don't judge me!  There's a whole epic post needed to explain that one) and that resulted in about a dozen Really Useful Boxes full of mostly unpainted resin that has only served to exacerbate the existing storage/organizing/space problem.

The problem is that when you have a new technology like 3D printing that opens up the possibility to do... well pretty much anything, you quickly find yourself wanting to do pretty much everything.  I'm finding it a challenge not to get carried away with enthusiasm for the endless possibilities. And yet... it's exactly that enthusiasm that we need more than anything in our hobby.  To make us happy and to keep us sane.  Clearly a balance needs to be struck.  

I'm still wrestling with exactly where that balance point will be, but I'm continuing to work slowly but steadily on the sensible practical stuff that NEEDs to be  done, which is the tidying and organising, while still allowing myself a restricted field of things I might WANT to do.  For the moment that's restricted to making terrain and minis for a potential run of Space Station Zero games.  I could be sensible and insist I should be able to play the game with figures and terrain I already have painted and ready.  That would be absolutely true, but missing the point rather.  It's purely an excuse to allow some outlet for the crafting/creative urges, satisfying the WANT without impacting the NEED stuff too badly.  SSZ is a game on a sub 3ft board with a handful of minis per side, so it's not going to add more than a couple of Really Useful Boxes to the storage issue.

I guess the point I'm fumbling around here is this: Find out what things in your hobby make you happy, then allow yourself to do that thing.  Even if that thing isn't the core act of the hobby (i.e. moving little toy soldiers around a table rolling dice).  Maybe it's hoarding collecting figures, or worse the digital STL files that might bet turned into figures by a 3D printer.  Maybe it's painting, or modelling terrain, or writing erotic fanfic about your space marines. 

And just keep moving.  Even if it's a bit slower these days.

Monday 17 July 2023

In a Brave New World... With just a handful of men... We'll start all over again.

 This is a story of Redemption.

At least I hope it is... will be.


Where to start?  The beginning is a dull, safe option but I can't bring myself to go that far back in time, so read the About This Blog box for the summary.

Oh and as the kids today say, Content Warning: Mental health, suicidal ideation, general bad stuff.


Here we go then...

So in my last post seven years ago I may have hinted that not all was well in my gaming circle.  A combination of people moving on with their lives, moving away, having their own problems that might have made them less fun to be around.  Combined with a new job that turned out not to be as promised that was wearing me down and wearing me out. I had less and less time for gaming, except for a little bit of D&D played remotely over a Virtual Table Top.  I was wilfully ignoring the trauma built up from my parents' passing and pushing myself more and more towards trying to make something positive out of the work situation. 

Meanwhile the Black Dog stalked in the background biding its time.

Things fell apart in February 2020, a combination of physical health and what felt like betrayal at work.  The Black Dog pounced.

I was 49 years old with what felt like no hope.  Plans were made.  I did not intend to ever be 50 years old.

Luckily, that was when the world decided to end.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Guess who's back, back again? Doc V's back, tell a friend!

Well that didn't quite go according to plan now, did it?

Where oh where to begin?

2016 saw an almost catastrophic collapse of my gaming hobby due to a variety of factors.  My primary gaming oppo and hermano de otra madre Jonesy has had a lot less free time due to family commitments (which I can't fault in the slightest) resulting in the end of the old Sunday game crafting day and more planned game nights being cancelled than played.  He's also sadly turned into a crotchety old git on the subject of game rules (or rather even more of a crotchety old git than he normally is) and is unwilling to tolerate rule sets that don't meet his ideals.  At the end of an unpleasant game of Bolt Action Modern a couple of months back he announced that the very worst of the rules' many sins was that it used different ranges for different weapons.  Unfortunately that criteria rules out about 75% of the wargames rules I play or own, including my beloved G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T.

I think I mentioned that I was starting a new job in January and that not only cut down on the free time for hobby matters but also brought to light an ongoing medical problem I'd been bumbling along with.  After being told I was falling asleep at work, I was diagnosed with Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  Go Google it!  But if you don't have time, basically while asleep I stop breathing about 87 times a minute meaning I'd not had a refreshing night's sleep since 2012.  This results in a massive lack of energy and motivation, daytime sleepiness and can contribute to depression and other fun symptoms.  This meant that a lot of potential hobby time on evenings and weekends was lost either due to not having the energy to do anything or just simply falling asleep after meals and waking, five hours later, still feeling exhausted.  Skipping ahead in the narrative, I've just started treatment for this, which promises to cure the symptoms and restore energy levels to normal, which is actually one of the reasons I'm posting this today.

Anyway the overall result of this is that gaming activity dwindled to almost zero during the first half of 2016.  On the rare occasion I could whip up the enthusiasm I kept doing little bits of work on terrain and figures for the San Paradiso project, but much less than last year. And that's why I stopped posting updates to this blog.. Honestly I had nothing to talk about. (I also stopped most of my PC gaming activities, including my YouTube channel, which is similarly on hiatus)

So over the last couple of months I've tried a couple of strategies to get some wargames happening.  Over the last year a small group of friends had started coming by on a Monday night, ostensibly to play Imperial Assault but in practice between cancellations and people turning up but not feeling like playing anything most nights turned into "YouTube and chill" sessions.  So a couple of months back I cleared off the Big Table and basically bullied them into doing some actual miniature wargaming.  We had a couple of really enjoyable games of Bolt Action Modern (this was prior to the revelation detailed above), after which it was decided we'd do a couple of sessions of RPGs, alternating between the two game types for variety.  (Incidently that was 2 months ago and we're still waiting for the second RPG session to happen.  See above re: cancellations, not feeling like playing etc)

Culo Raton MI-2s carrying airborne commandos attempt to flank the
airfield's defensive positions.  Moments later one helo touched down but
the other was hit by San Paradiso gunfire and crashed.. right on top of
the landed helo!
 In spite of this, in my own mind at least, the San Paradiso "campaign" continued to develop, with the this year's Big Birthday Bash (actually a modest 4 player affair) being the attempt by a joint rebel/Culo Raton force to capture the airfield Los Anilcamino.  Had they succeeded, I'd decided that would have ended the current phase of the campaign including the Culo Raton intervention, with a UN mediated cease-fire granting unspecified concessions to Culo Raton and the rebel farmers getting financial aid packages and limited autonomy in the region.

Unfortunately it was not to be, as the dug-in San Paradisan defenders managed to blunt the insurgents' assault and after some fierce close-quarter fighting around the terminal building still held the ground.

In terms of campaign continuity (remember DrV's Slightly Derivative Universal Mapless Campaign Rules?" The rebel farmers/Culo Raton had won the previous two battles and taken the initiative making this game a Raid and giving them a greater chance of capturing this particular resource if they won the battle.  Since San Paradiso won, they get to attempt to shift a resource as normal.  I decided they were going to use this airfield to launch a series of interdiction strikes to try to cut off support from Culo Raton, or in rules terms make their "Secure supply of food and materiel" Resouce Uncontrolled.  Unfortunately I rolled a 1 for them (needing 3+) meaning the resources remain unchanged as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko. The Bridge at El Humber. The Goodwill Of The People, Secure supply of food and materiel.
Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. The Airfield at Los Anillcamino. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant
Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.

It doesn't end there...

In my quixotic quest to model all aspects of modern warfare and include it in the San Paradiso campaign results, I've been looking for an ultra-simple, Beer & Pretzels level air-combat game to be played as a possible adjunct to land wargames.  It was in this search that I came across "Bommaz over da Sulphur River", an old Games Workshop game in their Warhammer 40K setting, which portrayed an airstrike by Orkish "fighta-bommaz" against an Imperial position.  It used to be available as a free download on GW's Specialist Games website (alas no more) and I'd read somewhere about someone re-skinning the game to a Cold War setting, with Harriers attacking vs Mig-21 defenders.  So last Monday when the planned RPG session didn't happen (again!), I decided to whip this out and try re-skinning it on the fly to the San Paradiso setting.

The Orks became Culo Ratonese Shenyang F-6s and the defending Imperial Interceptors became San Paradisan F5e Tigers.  The gameboard represented a pass through the Monto Blonko mountain ranges with Flak and Rock Spire hazards remaining unchanged and the Laser Cannon morphed into a SAM battery.  The two other players present, CrazyEddy and Amy took the attackers and I ran the defences.

"Bommaz" is a ridiculously simple ruleset verging on a single page, with movement from space to space on the board and combats generally being opposed D6 rolls.  But there's enough subtlety built in to make it worth further investigation and although we were actually getting a couple of fundamental rules wrong for much of the game, and everyone enjoyed it.  In the end a lone bomma... ahem sorry a lone F6 from the first attack wave managed to take out both targets successfully, for a Culo Raton major victory.  I'm going to develop this game a little further, with rules for different aircraft from the San Paradisan theatre of war and maybe some different but still simple combat mechanics.

So what does that do to the campaign.  Yes, I'm going to include the results of a semi-improvised pickup beer & pretzels game into the campaign narrative.  Sue me already!.

Well the Culo Raton Ariale Patrole's sorties up the Monto Blanko valley against San Paradisan positions were designed to undermine the "Secure base of operations at Verdaville".  But the dice gods laughed as I rolled yet another 1 (again needing a 3+) so the campaign situation remains unchanged..

That's it for this update.  I'm going to try to get back to regular posting here, with both the ongoing efforts to administer CPR to my wargaming hobby and catch-ups on the little bits and pieces I've been managing over the past 9 months.

Tell a friend!

Sunday 27 December 2015

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over...

First off, let me say I hope everyone has had a happy and safe Xmas holiday with their loved ones.

It's only natural at this time of year to look back at the past year and look forward to the next.  On the personal front this has been a very difficult year for me, dominated by an inability to get back into full time employment and the associated financial difficulties that entails.  I know there are many folks who are far, far worse off than me: I have a roof over my head and food on the table, and with a little help from my friends we've managed to keep the wolves from the door.

But this is almost certainly going to change for the better.  At the time of writing I have a provisional job offer starting in January, pending completion of the usual pre-employment checks (references, criminal records etc) which seem to have fallen foul of the Xmas slowdown.  But barring some unforseen problems, this time next month I should be looking forward to my first paycheque in a while.

On the gaming front, 2015 has been a mixed bag.  I've managed to pull off a couple of decent "event" games (The Big Birthday Bash and the Hillbilly Halloween Special) and done quite a few small games - 5Core Brigade Commander, Air War C21, Pulp Alley and 7TV, but it's been a long way from the glory days of my youth when every second Sunday I'd be off to Manchester Area Wargames Society for a game of something.  And my blogging here has been pitiful, compared to the first couple of years.

On the plus side, we've finally turned the Imagi-Nation of Paradiso, first mentioned in the very early days of this blog, into some sort of gaming reality, with a collection of suitable figures and vehicles painted and the first few games in that setting completed.

In terms of wargames terrain, I think I've reached the stage where I've got everything I need.  Between the Victorian city project from a few years back, and the more modern Plasticville & TTCombat buildings bought for Paradiso, I think I can fill an 8'x5' table with a built up area suitable for the 19th to 21st centuries, from the grim streets of Northern England to the sunny Caribbean shores of Paradiso, adding flavour with assorted scatter terrain.  And I have a couple of boxes of Plasticville buildings left to restore, so although there are several MDF building manufacturers who have really taken off in the last year, I'm going to be good and not buy any more large items until all the buildings I have are table-ready.    The same goes for rural terrain, I have trees and hills and rivers and roads aplenty.  There are a couple of projects currently in a half completed limbo (like the suspension bridge and rural village buildings for Paradiso) but once they're done I'll have everything need.

In fact if there's a theme to my musings, it's that I have everything I need in my lead/resin/plastic/MDF mountain to keep my hobby going for the forseeable future.  I've got figures for at least three full VSF/Steampunk armies stashed away, plus several units to expand existing forces.  So that leads to the first New Year Resolution for 2016


There are two important exceptions to this rule: firstly I've long promised myself that I'd treat myself to a 28mm monorail set from the MadMechaGuy as soon as I started work again, and that still stands.  The other exception is in the case where I need to fill in a gap to make figures that I've already got usable.  For example, I know that I've got a load of 15mm modern figures from the likes of Rebel Minis, QRF and Peter Pig, and have been thinking about basing them up for 5Core Company Commander or War In The Age Of Madness.  But if for example I find I need to buy some extra heavy weapon team packs to make a balanced force, then that would be an acceptable purchase.

Another thing I've noticed about this last year: I've been spending too much time doing preparation for games and not enough simply playing.  Part of this has been a natural side effect of tackling the lead/resin/plastic/MDF mountain.  But I think I have a need for Resolution #2


Put another way, I just need to play a lot more games in order to get a return on the investment of time and money I've put into the figures and terrain.

All this navel-gazing has led to another revelation about myself and my gaming habits  While I've long accepted that my tastes lie way outside the mainstream of the wargaming hobby - I can't stand tournament style competitive play and I shy away from glossy, commercial and popular games in favour of more obscure rules and periods - I've realised that his has led me to become incredibly insular in my hobby.  I have a pool of maybe a dozen gaming friends who I've played with in the last few years, and only irregularly at that.  However many of them are scattered across the country and we can only get together on limited occasions.  Plus there's no channel for bringing new blood into the gaming circle.  It's like I've been so afraid of the sort of bad gaming experiences that were so common back in the old days, I've withdrawn like a turtle into a "safe" shell.  On reflection, I don't think that's entirely healthy, which leads to the slightly fuzzy Resolution #3


I'm thinking primarily this means I should start going back to MAWS again and see if there's anyone there open to non-tournament play these days.  And of course there are the various wargame shows that I once again failed to go to in 2015.  But this resolution could also include more blogging, networking with other bloggers and I've even been considering doing some YouTube videos on my particular style of wargaming, in contrast to the ALL WARHAMMER! ALL THE TIME! videos that seem to dominate the medium.

There's also the culture of gaming in your Friendly Local Gaming Store, something which has always been alien to me since my only personal experience of it was a Games Workshop store full of screaming pre-teens.  But I know of at least one recently opened, dedicated Wargames shop within reasonable driving distance, so I wonder whether a visit is in order.

I think those three resolutions pretty neatly sum up my hobby goals for the year ahead.  I could maybe add a fourth one..


...for example the industrial terrain layout was at the point where it was quite usable, however a lot of it was still incomplete, undetailed, the pipework was unpainted and just loosely wedged into the platforms.  Or the Plasticville suburban houses and motel buildings, which were unbased and unweathered.

Anyway, expect to see much more frequent updates on this blog in the new year.

Friday 11 December 2015

Run for the shadows in these golden years

Not much to report, truth be told, no newly completed figures or terrain project so no eye-candy pics in this post I'm afraid.  But I had a thought the other day that I'd like to pose to you as a question...

Are we in a new "Golden Age" of wargaming?

Now I consider myself well outside the mainstream of wargaming, dominated by the glossy hardback rulebooks and "big box" games that Games Workshop pioneered back when they set themselves apart from wargaming as "The Games Workshop Hobby".  (Yes I'm still bitter!)  I mainly play oddball periods and subgenres with cheap indie (or free) rules that work for me.

But if I was the sort of gamer who liked glossy, commercial games, look at the choices I've got available.  Historical gamers now have quite a selection of high production value games to cover most periods.  I'm thinking about games like Hail Caesar, Black Powder and Bolt Action, three glossy games that cover the iconic three periods always covered by the early Featherstone-era books that got me into the hobby.  Osprey, an established historical publisher, are now producing more and more wargame rules after their success with Force On Force.  After leading the way bringing GW-style production values to historical games with WW2's Flames Of War, Battlefront are now doing the same for "Cold War Gone Hot" with Team Yankee.

And while SF & Fantasy has always been well served by the commercial hobby industry, we're starting to see a number of non-GW game emerging with some actual longevity, rather than games that are fashionably popular for a year or two before being dropped like a stone in favour of the new hotness.  For example, Infinity is well into its third edition and shows no signs of losing steam.  Spy-Fi/Pulp TV emulator 7TV is just getting a second edition as well.

And not only do we once again have access to classic wargaming books from the likes of Featherstone, Morchauser and Grant thanks to John Curry's History Of Wargaming project, we also have new authors like Neil Thomas producing a new generation of introductory texts, available as hardback or softback from mainstream marketplaces like Amazon.

The days when most wargames rules were poorly printed A5 stapled booklets are a thing of the past.

Yet while the mainstream gamer has all these great options available to him, the flipside "independent" side of the hobby is still thriving too.  We're seeing great and innovative rulesets from outfits like Nordic Weasel thanks to electronic distribution via services like Wargames Vault.

And on the shiny toys front, we have the wonders of 3D printing, MDF laser cutting and a healthy cottage industry of miniature micro-manufacturers.  It's now entirely possible for a hobbyist with a modest disposable income to commission his own, original figures and have them cast by a third party and sold via the internet to recover the costs.

So much choice.

Are we not living in a new Golden Age of our hobby?

Sunday 15 November 2015

I don't want to set the world on fire...

If you have any awareness of current computer games, and haven't been frozen in cryosleep for the last couple of weeks, you'll be aware that this week saw the release of Fallout 4, the latest installment in the massively successful post-apocalyptic adventure series.  Now to say Mi Hermano Apocalyptico Jonesy is a Fallout fan would be something of an understatement.  Let's just say that with the game due for release on Monday, he'd booked the entire week off to play it.

Me on the other hand, well I like the game well enough, but being poor I had to content myself with loading up the last game, Fallout-New Vegas and installing a ton of player-created mods to vastly improve the old game.

Anyway, all through our recent work on Paradiso and the Hillbilly/Vampire game, whenever Jonesy has looked at certain Plasticville or MDF kit buildings, a feverish look has crossed his brow, and he's been saying things like "You know this would make a great piece for a Fallout game."  For the uninitated, the Fallout setting has a very distinct visual style with elements of Art Deco and 1950s Americana.  But although a lot of the buildings and terrain I've sourced for the Paradiso project is in a similar style, that setting requires them to be relatively well maintained, whereas for a post-apocalyptic setting, you really need to dial the weathering effects up to 11.  Because of this and not wanting to lose focus on the Paradiso project, Jonesy's always resisted my suggestions that we do a Fallout/Post Apocalyptic side project.

So a few weeks back Jonesy did me a massive solid when my car battery packed up and I couldn't afford to get it replaced.  I couldn't afford to buy him anything to properly say thank-you, but one resource I did have a lot of was Time.  Time, a bitz-box full of junk and a room full of crafting supplies.  Thus was born Super Sekrit Mystery Crafting Projekt X, to create a basic wasteland terrain set mostly from scrap and spare materials at hand, which started immediately after the Halloween game.

This Friday, while watching Jonesy play Fallout 4 via Steam's game livestreaming feature, I was putting the finishing touches to this....

For a base cloth, I had a sheet of "Teddy-bear Brown" felt that I'd bought years ago when I was living in the flat.  It was when I was looking at gaming exclusively on my large coffee table and measures about 3 foot by 4 foot.  Unfortunately it was a little to dark to work as a desert basecloth and had never really been used, so I could happily donate it to this project.  The colour was still wrong though, so I pegged it up outside and went at it with assorted cans of spray paint, lightly dusting it to break up the solid colour and make it a little "dirtier".  It's still not perfect, and we may revisit it later to dirty it up some more, but for now it's perfectly adequate.

For a basic set of hills, it seemed poetic to mainly use the polystyrene packaging that came with the new car battery, which came in the form of several inch-thick sheets.  Where these had been broken in the process of removing the battery for installation,  these breaks became impassable rocky "cliff" faces, while the other sides were sculpted with a hot-wire cutter into climbable slopes.  This gave us seven relatively narrow "ridge" type hills and to round off the set I used some other spare polystyrene sheets to make three larger hills that the smaller ones could sit on top of to make double elevations.

Pretty much every terrain builder you see in forums, blogs or YouTube videos these days decries the use of white expanded polystyrene (the one with the bubbly texture that's everywhere) in favour of the denser, pink or blue extruded polystyrene which is easier to sculpt and less messy.  But the truth is that expanded polystyrene is still a very usable terrain material, which happens to have the side benefit of being so commonplace it's almost free.

Since this is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, I made these hills a little differently to my usual greenfield hills.  The first layer was a coat of PVA onto which sand was scattered.  I used two different grades of sand to give some variations in texture, the "budgie grit" I use for regular figure basing, which is very fine but has bits and pieces of shell and tiny gravel mixed in with it, was used to create small patches on the top of the hills, while 90% of the surface was made up of the much larger grained "reptile" sand.  I didn't put any sand on the "cliff faces" at all, instead caking them in a filler/PVA mix to enhance the rocky texure.  Once the sand and the filler were dry, I gave everything a coating of black textured exterior masonry paint, which sealed in the loose sand and gave the hills a good solid protective shell.  Then I gave the sand covered parts a heavy drybrushed coat of light brown (almost a solid coat, but still with enough black showing through to break things up).  The final coat was a lighter drybrushing of mid-to-light grey to pick out the sand texture.

The cliff faces still felt a little vulnerable to damage, so I gave each an extra coat of PVA to reinforce it, followed by progressively lighter drybrush coats of progressively lighter shades of grey (so the darkest grey covered almost all the rocks, leaving spots of black showing, the mid grey covered about half the rocks and the lightest grey just picked out the highlights).

Many years ago, I'd bought one of those Woodland Scenics tree kits, which included dozens of premade wireframe skeletons and a couple of bags of clump foliage.  The trees I'd originally made with them were horribly prone to foliage falling off, so I recently revisited them using up most of the deciduous clump foliage on only half the deciduous wireframes.  This left 20 or so wireframes unused so instead of buying more clump foliage to finish these off, I decided they'd make perfect defoliated dead trees.  The wireframes were assembled as normal and attached to 2p bases that were textured exactly the same as the hills.  Instead of adding foliage though, the trees were spray painted black then dry brushed with light grey.  Quick, easy and very effective.

This turret is actually from a 1/32 scale kit.  While overscale
for 28mm it works fine as random wreckage.  Another piece has
the burned out remains of a 1/72 WWII Panzer, totally underscale
but since it's unrecognizable except as the remains of some sort
of tracked vehicle, that works fine too.  Yet another piece has a part
of a 1/24 car...
Next was the really fun part of the project: The rubble scatter terrain.  I had a number of pre-cut MDF bases from Wargames Tournaments left over from the Paradiso Jungle terrain project, a raid of the bits box for assorted bits and pieces easily produced ten bases of assorted wreckage, junk and rubble.  A little bit of filler and sand added the base wasteland ground texture, which was then painted the same way as the hills, and the assorted bits were roughly drybrushed., usually with touches of a base colour to show remnants of original paint, then silver to pick out metallic parts and a little brown and grey to dirty things up.  Depending on how long ago your apocalypse was, you could paint things as anything from "almost new, but abandoned" to "solid rust and dirt".  I wanted a middle ground, not only so I could have some spots of colour to "pop" from the grey-brown waste background, but also so at a pinch we can occasionally use non-apocalypsed buildings without them looking too out of place.

This was originally the cockpit of a toy Mad Cat battlemech,
but the curved styling fits perfectly with Fallout's Neo-Fifties
design aesthetic
The final part of the terrain set was the one thing I had to actually buy.  For the price of a couple of posh coffees, I got six bags of Javis brown lichen (not pictured).  If you want to do a post-apocalyptic game but don't want to do any genre-specific modelling, you can get a lot of mileage simply by dressing up a regular urban or city wargame terrain with a ton of lichen, trees and plants.  The idea that the trappings of civilisation have been abandoned and nature has reclaimed the land is a powerful post-apocalyptic vision, and for an eye-opening view of how quickly this can happen, try and track down a TV series called Life After People, which used CGI show how this process might happen at various cities around the world.

I'm particularly pleased with this one.  The wet mud effect wasn't
an expensive water effect product, it was just a coat of Army
Painter Quickshade, with the glossy finish left intact.
But for a Fallout themed terrain, Nature hasn't quite recovered enough for the lush green vegetation of regular green lichen and wargame trees to be appropriate - plants in the video game tend to be brown or blackened and generally stunted, so brown lichen is perfect to represent the sort of rough, hardy scrub plants that would be the first to recover in a post-nuclear wasteland.

And that's it.  The whole set fits into one big plastic storage box and makes a good starter post-apoc terrain set.  There's plenty that can be added to it - buildings obviously or at least some ruined wall sections, more small pieces of scatter terrain like telegraph poles or lampposts, maybe some road signs or billboards.  Roads in Fallout New Vegas tend to be the broken and blackened remains of pre-war highways and would make a fun modellng project.  But there's enough here to lay out a 3x3 table with enough terrain items for an interesting game, and that's what a starter set is for.

It remains to be seen whether this set is going to be enough to tip Jonesy over the edge into doing some actual Fallout-inspired gaming, or if it's even going to hit the mark as the thank-you present it was intended to be.  But it was a fun project to work on over the last couple of weeks, even if I did have to keep it Super Sekrit.

Meanwhile, another friend CrazyEddy saw me playing Fallout New Vegas on Steam this week and took pity on this poor boy.  I now have a shiny-new copy of Fallout 4 that he's sent me as an early Xmas present.  It's good to have friends.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Go ahead you can laugh all you want, but I got My Philosophy.

The Halloween game had been a great success.  It's fair to say that it was, by its nature, towards the less serious end of the wargaming spectrum.

Let's think about that for a moment.

Some gamers, many in fact, might call it "silly" and argue that it wasn't *real* wargaming at all.  To an extent, I'd have to agree with them.  We're not reproducing any real historical or hypothetical future conflict.  We weren't trying to gain a greater understanding of the dynamics of vampire on Hillbilly violence by running a detailed simulation.  Many of the rules were written to be played for laughs, like the ability of some Elder hill-folk to make a pinning attack against younger enemies by verbally berating them at length and in detail for their shoddy, dissolute ways.  Or the fact that the deadliest sniper in the game was a teenage girl whose teddy bear acted as her spotter.

Put in terms used for other forms of entertainment like books & TV, it was clearly a Comedy.  Or at least a comedy-drama (never a Dramedy - that word is an abomination and must never be allowed to make it into the dictionary!).  But a comedic novel is still a novel.  A comedy TV show is still a TV show.

We can be all worthy and intellectual and spend our TV viewing on nothing but Serious Dramas where everyone looks constipated, with maybe a few documentaries on obscure European monarchs or 17th century pottery.  But every now and then, everybody wants and needs an entertainment that doesn't tax the brain too much and makes you laugh, or at least smile wrily.

Thus I would argue that the Comedy Wargame has its place in the hobby.  While my general wargaming tastes to tend towards the lighter end of the spectrum, I wouldn't want ALL my gaming to be as off-the-wall as the Hillbilly games.  Other games I do, like the Paradiso modern day stuff, may have light-hearted details like a rebel leader nicknamed "The Green Pig", or a neighbouring nation named, appoximately "Rat's Ass".  But on the whole the core of the games are played straight, and are my small way of exploring modern combat, whether between semi-modern militaries, against insurent rebels, or street level violence between criminals and law enforcement.

(The VSF gaming is also spread out along this comedy-drama spectrum.  The more outrageous elements are obviously quite silly, like the SpringenPanzer, bouncing across the battlefield on its four pogo-stick legs.  But on the whole I'm a lot less whimsical than most other VSF players, and the games I play seem to be comparable to those of the Very British Civil War crowd, fundamentally grounded in real-world technology and tactics, with a little light-hearted nonsense as seasoning.)

The reason I'm discussing this is that the wargaming media channel The Beasts Of War are running a series of articles on gaming the current conflict in Ukraine.  Needless to say there's a certain amount of backlash, with some commenters arguing that the author shouldn't be gaming a war that's only just (hopefully) coming to a close.  Personally I think it's a valid and interesting subject, which can be approached in different ways.

The author of the articles advocates a serious, respectful and scholarly approach, using the game and associated research as a way of increasing general awareness of the real-life conflict.  I'd agree and support this approach wholeheartedly.  But does that mean that the wargamer isn't allowed to have "fun" gaming such a conflict.

The other, slightly more dangerous approach, would be to go down the "black comedy" route.  One of the way we as human beings process and deal with the most horrible aspects of life is through comedy.  Done right, it's not so much about making light of the horrible situation, but instead picking out the ridiculous and absurd elements so that we can use them to help rationalise what's happening and understand it.  While I would never run a Ukraine game with the same outright comedic tone as the Hillbilly games, the situation there has some obviously black comedic elements that could be picked out - the myriad of small paramilitary groups, some of whom may be at odds with others on their "side", the non-existent Russian troops in the conflict (The BOW articles' author mentioned that Vladimir Putin recently awarded a battle honour to a Russian Army unit for a Ukrainian battle that Russia officially denies any involvement in!)

Of course, you can have your cake and eat it if you shift the setting of the conflict to an Imagination.  Simply changing the names and filing off the serial numbers seems to take a lot of controversy out of modern gaming.  Or you can take situations and elements from the real-world headlines and transplant them to a totally different setting to disguise the source.  Paradiso might have a province that is largely culturally Spanish (where many of the people feel closer to Culo Raton, for some reason).  Some planned move toward Anglicizing the country further might prompt local separatist paramilitaries to declare independence.  Culo Raton might respond by NOT sending a couple of brigades of non-existent troops who totally don't wear any insignia, while numerous paramilitary units formup on both sides of the brewing conflict, using a mixture of modern and obsolete equipment.

Would such a game still be morally questionable to those who object to a "straight" gaming of the Ukraine?  If not why not?


All this is actually a major digression from what I did want to post about - on Monday night Jonesy and our friend Andy came round for what's turned into a regular monday night gathering and we gave Neil Thomas's "One Hour Wargames" a try out. I'd picked up a copy a couple of months ago thinking it might be useful as a source of scenarios, and when I showed it to Jonesy the other day, it piqued his interest and he promptly bought the eBook version.  To try out the rules, he produced a number of card cut-out counters to represent the units, which helpfully had the relevent game stats printed on them (dice to roll in combat, movement distance etc)

We did a couple of battles with the Horse and Musket rules.  The first pitted myself against Andy in a hill defence scenario.  I was able to concentrate my massed infantry fire on his troops defending the hill, wiping them away in the first few turns, then managed to hold the position when his re-inforcements arrived.  The second battle, between Andy and Jonesy, saw identical forces on each side battling over a hill and a crossroads, both of which had to be captured and/or defended.  That turned into a real grindfest, a battle of attrition where Andy won by effectively shielding a couple of units for the first few turns so that they came to the attrition phase of the game undamaged, where their opponents had already taken 4-5 points each from other units.

I have fairly mixed feelings about One-Hour Wargames as a whole.  I'm generally a big fan of short simple rulesets (in the book each period's rules is spread over three pages, but printing out from the eBook version managed to reduce that down to two sides) and fast-play games.  Play felt at times very much like early DBA/Hordes Of The Things, where tactics consisted of putting your units into positions to spoil enemy units manoeuvring and concentrating your attacking power.  There's lots of stuff that's a little vague and while one gaming group might assume it clearly means one thing, I can imagine a different group interpreting it a different way.  For example, units turn by rotating about the centre at the start and end of movement.  But since you can't pass through other units (unless you're a skirmisher), does that mean that if you have two units directly next to eachother in side to side contact, does that mean that neither can turn, because doing so would "clip" a corner through another unit.  Jonesy ruled that yes that was exactly what it meant, and we went with it, but I can easily see another group interpreting the rule as only prohibiting major interpenetrations and handwaving away any minor clipping.  The strict interpretation could lead to the risk of micro-measuring, with one side arguing unit X can't move because it was pass through unit Y by half a millimeter or so (yes I heard such arguments in the early days of DBA).  Like most one-page rulesets, I think both sides need to have an easy-going, loosey-goosey approach to the rules in order for it to be a fun game.

I love that you can produce two armies for the game at a relatively low price that would then allow you to fight every scenario in the book.  It's something that I long wanted to do for the Charles Grant scenario books, going as far as buying several boxes of plastic napoleonic figures (which are currently lost somewhere in storage).  The rules themselves are obviously simple and generally did a good job, though I felt there were a couple of instances where one side ought to have been given some advantage but weren't, such as an infantry unit firing into the flank or rear of another.  I greatly admire the way Neil Thomas took on the rules design challenge of limiting himself to four troop types per era, but I don't think that does a terribly good job of representing some of the periods covered.

On the whole, I think if I was looking for a compact, short-rules wargame I'd rather play Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame or a DBx variant, though I do want to try out a couple of other periods and maybe play with some actual toy soldiers on the table rather than card counters.


The most interesting thing that came out of the One Hour Wargames playtest was that Andy didn't enjoy the evening's gamng.  He started out by saying "I'm just not a wargamer" which didn't make much sense given that over the years I've seen him play many, many wargames.

This led to a very useful discussion on what it was that he enjoys in games, what exactly he gets out of the experience.  I've said it before on this blog, as I've grown older I've become a great believer in finding out what it is that you enjoy doing, and then doing that thing a lot.  It seems like stating the bleeding obvious, but I look back over a lifetime of gaming and a lot of that was spent in unsatisfactory games because I was just going with the flow of what I thought the games had to be like.  The 1HW test was so minimalist it became a matter of pure tactics and game mechanics, which are both very jonesy, while neither are things that Andy enjoys.  There was no context to the battle, no natty uniforms on either side, no characterisation... and then Andy said the magic word when he said he couldn't get the story of the game. It turns out Andy is looking for the same thing I am from a gaming experience, to tell an interesting and exiting story of the battle.

We talked a bit more about other wargames he'd enjoyed and those he hadn't, and eventually decided that next week we'd have a game with the Hillbilly figures, slightly smaller than the Big Game but with a more light-hearted, story-driven tone that I think Andy will appreciate.

I can't repeat this often enough: Find the things you enjoy doing the most.  Then go do those things.  Your gaming will be all the better for it.

Sunday 1 November 2015

We Did The Monster Mash! It Was a Graveyard Smash!

It was a dark and stormy night at Chez Vesuvius.  Well actually it was an overcast and slightly soggy morning, but somehow that doesn't sound right for a Halloween Big Game.

Our regular monthly RPG group had agreed to forgo our usual Mutants And Masterminds game in favour of doing something more seasonal on the big wargame table.  As I mentioned in the last post here, the game was going to be Hillbillies vs Dracula, and that prompted a whole week of frantic last minute crafting to get some of the necessary terrain pieces ready. 

Having bought an absolute ton of second hand Plasticville buildings from the US last year (and a handful of new kits) for the Paradiso project, I had many that work equally well for a mainland US setting as for the Carribean holiday resort/warzone.  But a few are just too 1950s Americana to work anywhere else and get put aside for games like this.  That was the box I delved into the find the Plasticville church that formed the centrepiece of the table.

Surrounding the church was an extensive graveyard mainly made up of a mix of Ainsty Castings and Renedra gravestones.  Again I'd acquired a surprisingly large collection over the past few years, of which I'd only painted and assembled a small handful.  Since the graveyard was going to be a much more important location for this game, it seemed a good opportunity to get the rest put together.

I dug out the farm buildings, the diner and the old gas station from the previous Hillbilly game.  The farm had a few chickens painted and based, plus of course the Demon Goat (that had actually killed one of the players' leader in the last game), but I wanted to add to the livestock on the farm.  I'd been buying these Teamsterz farm trucks (around £4 each) for Paradiso to serve as transport for the Rebel forces (and a couple of which were turned into heavy Technicals/Gun Trucks) but each truck had come with a cow, a ram and a pig.  The cows are a bit small for 28mm, and I wasn't sure a flock of rams looked right, but the pigs were just about right, and got added to the speedpainting table, along with a couple of Heroclix figures that would serve as objective markers during the game.
The Plasticville trailer park kit was already on the workbench for use in Paradiso, but despite only being partly primed, we temporarily threw it together for the game.  Even in this simple state they looked pretty effective and I think all they need to finish them off will be a little weathering to bring them into line with the motorhome.

The main part of town was going to be a mix of Plasticville, K-Line and the TTCombat apartment building.  This latter I repainted from its original planned grey (in line with my Sarissa GASLIGHT buildings) to a much more American looking red.  The result was pretty effective, I think.

I also wanted to use the Mad Mecha Guy's monorail cargo depot crane, along with some of the many, many cargo containers we've assembled recently.  And right in the centre of the above pic, you can see one of the custom "temporary office" containers that Joseph produced for Jonesy and me.  Simple boxes with just enough detail, but very effective.  If he ever decides to sell these to the public I highly recommend them as useful utility clutter for urban/industrial terrain.

Looking for still more excuses to dig into the lead/plastic/MDF/Resin mountain, I decided that the town park ought to have a bandstand, and the Sarissa Precision Gaslamp Alley bandstand would do just fine for that.  It's a really nice kit, and while a little fiddley to assemble with lots of tiny curlicue pieces that need poking out, it's not too hard to assemble.  This is one of those kits that benefits from forward planning and spray painting the separate parts before assembly.

The Blotz gas station, a much more modern looking building than the Plasticville offerings, still had a bit of work needed to finish painting the pillars and pumps, but since this detail was hidden in shadow under the impressive canopy I figured I could get away with leaving it.  One thing which did become apparent was the need for a number of "baseplates" to represent areas of concrete for urban areas.  Luckily I had a few pieces of 3mm MDF that had originally been cut and primed grey for use as bases for other Plasticville buildings, which worked well as the garage forecourt.

There were a few other new bits of clutter terrain, bus stops and vending machines from TTCombat which also got assembled and painted in the week running up to the game.  This game also saw the debut of the separate pavement/sidewalk pieces from TTCombat and Sarissa Precision, which I felt worked really well.

On the figure front, while I had the Hillbillys covered I was sadly lacking for supernatural opposition, and so my good friend MarvinTheARVN agreed to lend me his Gothic Horror and Zombie figures for the game.  On the Friday he arrived with the figures, and although the zombies were well painted and his Werewolves (which we'd used before) were fine, all his vampires were unpainted and still primed black.  I needed at least one master vampire figure to be the main villain and I needed it ready for the following day.  This led to the fastest speed-painting job I think I've ever pulled off.

A few months ago, Carl from the "Solo Wargaming in the UK" blog sent me a selection of Victorian/Gothic Horror figures that he no longer needed. (and I'm painfully aware that until now I haven't credited or thanked him properly for this kind gift.)  Most of the figures were from the Blue Moon "Chaos in Carpathia" boxed set, which included a master vampire and three "Brides of Dracula" types.  In anticipation of needing them as a possible backup plan for this game, I'd put them in a jar of Dettol to strip the existing partial paintwork at the start of the week.  Minutes after Marvin had left, I was fishing them out to find that the magic liquid hadn't quite had enough time to do the job, and while one of the ladies was down to bare metal and Dracula was about 80% there, the other two were still mostly covered in paint.

Emergency measures were required, so I dug out some acetone-free nail varnish remover that I'd bought previously to remove tampo decals from die-cast cars.  Having previously only used the tiniest amounts on the end of a cotton wool swab, I knew a relatively small dribble over each figure would be enough to strip the remaining paint off the figures.  But my god!  That stuff was pungent!  Ladies, I don't know how you stand to put that stuff on your fingertips, but even the tiny amount I was using stank to high heaven, and I use the term "high" advisedly!

Once down to bare metal, I was able to skip a step from my usual figure preparation process.  The Blue Moon figures all have large round bases with appropriately sculpted detail.  They about match the size of the penny bases I use for GASLIGHT figures, and while I could have mounted them on slottabases to match the Hillbillies and modern figures, I thought I could get away without it.

From there, the figures went back outside for spray priming with Army Painter, black for him, white for the Brides.  Then straight back in to the painting table, where the girls simply got a skin tone (Porcelein Flesh) and a hair colour (red, black or Blonde).  Dracula got a little more attention, grey skin, waistcoat painted white then red (to brighten the colour) and a little drybrushing in progressively lighter shades of grey to bring out the details of his suit and cape/wings.  Then finally a coat of Army Painter Dark Tone Quickshade dip was painted on to work its magic.

Estimated time from coming out of the Dettol jar to closing up the Quickshade tin was about 90 minutes.  While I'm the first to admit that the results are at best a low "tabletop" standard paintjob, I'm more than happy with them given the time taken.

So onto the day of the game, and there was a gap on the table by the railway track that looked like it was just crying out for a railway station.  Although I hadn't planned to use it, and had done exactly zero restoration work on it, I dug out a Plasticville railway station from the "not Paradiso" box again and plonked it down.  The fact that it looked so good on the tabletop makes me question somewhat why I'm spending so much time and effort basing, repainting and restoring the Plasticville buildings and why don't I just throw them on the tabletop and play with them as-is?

So onto the game itself.  The scenario was simple - Dracula had taken over the tiny Appalachian town, killing or turning all its inhabitants.  Members of four nearby mountain-folk families had been caught up in the slaughter, and after a couple of weeks, the four families had come to town in search of their missing kinfolk.  The churchyard formed the centre of the table, surrounded by six seperate zones: The Farm, The Highway Rest Stop, The Trailer Park, The Cargo Depot, The Town Park and the Town.  In each zone was a clue, a figure or terrain piece that the Hillbillies could discover that would weaken Dracula's powers when they finally faced him down in the Churchyard.  Meanwhile Dracula would be sending his legions of zombies, wolves and werewolves out to slow them down.

The rules were Flying Lead from Ganesha Games, with a slight tweak to the turn sequence.  In the original rules, each players attempts to activate all of his or her figures before handing over to the next player.  While fine for simple 2 player games, in the previous Hillbilly game we found that this left people twiddling their thumbs for too long.  This time, each player attempted one figure activation at a time before handing over to the next player.  If they failed two activations then any figures they hadn't activated in that "grand cycle" would forfeit their move until the next cycle.  I also had each Wolf and Werewolf pack activating as a single entity rather than individuals, and instead of being controlled normally, the zombies all acted in a seperate phase at the end of each grand cycle, getting one medium move stick towards the nearest human and if that brought them into contact with, one attack.  It worked very well, the wolves working as packs and the zombies being relatively slow and more of a hazard than a threat (though they did manage to take out a couple of stragglers during the game).

Oh and finally, the players (CrazyEddy, KayDee, MarvinTheARVN and T'uther Chris) were told that they were still feuding with the other families, and any "victory points" would be modified by the number of kinfolk each family had left, so it was in their interest to "thin the rival herds" a little bit.

The game itself was pretty memorable.  Here are some highlights

The "CrazyEddy" family (yellow) had gotten stalled in the Cargo Depot thanks to Crapping Out on several early game turns.  Meanwhile, the Dee Clan (red) had stormed through the Farm and the Trailer park picking up their clues and only having to deal with a handful of zombies.  Seeing a werewolf about to pounce onto the Eddys' truck, the Dees decided to "help" their neighbours by ramming the beast.  Unfortunately the agile lycan dodged out of the way and... well the brakes on those old jalopies ain't all they ought to be.

This lead to a... .ahem... misunderstanding between the two families and harsh words and buckshot were exchanged between the two.  But any misundersanding was soon ironed out when the Dees backed their jalopy away from the Eddys... then shifted back into forward and rammed them a second time, this time clearly aiming for one of the Eddys' kinfolk.

The situation..... escalated.

Meanwhile, the Tuther clan (run by T'uther Chris) went into town and rescued young Lucy Westonra from the town's radio station.  Showing remarkable forsight, for his next activation after finding her, T'uther Chris had Granny clamber to the back of the Jalopy to check their new friend for injuries, only to find those two telltale puncture wounds at the neck and assorted other arterial points.

A scuffle ensued, ending when Lofty shoved the muzzle of his hunting rifle under Lucy's chin and scored a Gory Kill result, blowing her head clean off.  The scene was so entertaining and to reward the player's foresight, I gave him a second, bonus clue.

From that point on , the Tuthers were reluctant to leave their jalopy, using it as a rather effective sniping platform for Lofty and Minnie-Jo. (Minnie-Jo is the little girl with the teddy bear and huge rifle.  Mr Fluffles is her spotter and gives her the equivalent of the Marksman and Hit-Man abilities, making her an absolutely deadly sniper.

The Arvn clan had found a clue at the rest stop but disturbed a large nest of zombies.  With the zeds and a pack of wolves bearing down on them, they were forced to leave Old Abe to his fate.  Moving into the park, Li'l Billy-Bob ran ahead to the bandstand to talk to the strange wheelchair-bound professor who told him scary tales about vampires and werewolves.

With the clue secured, Li'l Billy Bob just had to evade the zombies staggering towards the bandstand and get back to the truck.

"I push his wheelchair down the steps towards the zombies as a distraction."

Sometimes I fear my players.

At the end, The Dee's had been completely wiped out, taking all but three of the Eddys with them.  Two of them were fast enough to leg it down the road in search of transport.  But a huge swarm of zombies had been raised in the churchyard and by mutual agreement of three of the players, all headed towards the loudest noise, namely the exploding and burning trucks.

Poor Bubba.  Poor old drunk Bubba.

Of all the Hillbilly figures, he's the least violent.  Unarmed, except for his jug of moonshine, which he'll happily offer to share with fallen kinfolk to help revive their spirits.  His pitiful drunken state had been known to drive other womenfolk to berate him mercilessly,  (basically his only "attack" forced hostile womenfolk to skip actions berating his drunkenness.)

Poor Bubba didn't make it.

On the other side of the churchyard, a conference had taken place between Clan Arvn and Clan Tuther, who agreed to unite their clans to deal with the threat from "that thar fancy-pants furriner"/  With most of the zombies drawn off to the explosions, that left Dracula, his three Brides and a couple of zombie/ghouls left.

Because they agreed to share the clues they'd found, the Tuthers and Arvns had four clues between them.  Each clue negated one of Dracula's abilities, which brought him down from being an unstoppable killing machine to about the level of one of the tougher Hillbilly fighters.

Sniper fire from Minni-Jo accounted for two of the Brides, though not after they'd fanged poor Cousin George.  Granny Tuther tried to chastise one of the brides for being such a shameless hussy, walking around in her slip like that, showing her ankles and she'll catch her death of cold one night and.... sadly the Brides, being a couple of centuries older than Granny herself, were immune to her Berate power.

(As an aside, Berate was an ability I'd given some of the Elder figures, especially the unarmed ones, which allowed them to pin enemy non-elders with a stern tongue-lashing, similar to using magic to pin figures in Song Of Blades And Heroes.  That power had worked wonders against the Werewolves, several of which had fallen foul of elders' stern words and disapproving tone of voice)

When the third Bride fell to fire from the Arvn clan, Dracula made his move, pouncing out and wafting his cape magnificently.  Uncle-Daddy Tuther, patriarch of the clan, charged him with his pitchfork but found himself ganged up on by Drac and a couple of his ghouls.  The fight went back and forth, until Uncle-Daddy finally succumbed to a ghoul bite.

Minnie-Jo listened to Mr Fluffles' voice in her head one last time, took careful aim and put a .50 cal round right between Dracula's eyes, ending the terror for good.

A heck of a good fun game.

MarvintheARVN has already suggested the subject of the next big game, when he noticed my "not quite Nelson's Column" terrain piece, complete with lions.

Hillbillies 3; Hillbillies in Old London Town

Should I be worried that I think I've already got most of the figures and terrain I need to make that happen?