Sunday, 29 September 2019

Redeeming some not-great miniatures

Earlier this year, I replied to an ad on Facebook Marketplace offering a big job lot of Warhammer figures. I really wanted the plastic Rogue Trader Imperial Guard and some Genestealers that were in the lot, but I also wound up with a bunch of the early multi-part Chaos Warriors. These miniatures are ... not kindly remembered. They're hunched and ugly, and usually thought of as not as good as the subsequent, more upright models with the cloaks. But I had a load of them. 


As you can see, they have a stooped, hunched posture with weird, long, gangly arms, and the metal halberd arms are pretty crude. The upper and lower parts of the halberd don't even line up clearly. 

Anyway, I decided that since these models were a bit crude and since I tend to play Nurgle, I would paint them up in a beat-up and rusty paint scheme that would focus on overall effect rather than individual detail. 

I was inspired by a rust-painting workshop I did at BOYL 2019, taught by Curtis Fell of Ramshackle Games, whose rusty paint jobs have always impressed me. Here's the rust-work I did on the model from that workshop (I later went back and did the cloth and so on). 


I don't think I achieved the same effect here, but that was the inspiration. 

I put my test models together and primed them black. This will be more forgiving for the loosey-goosey paint scheme I'm going to apply. 


Next, I just took a big brush and jabbed this thing over and over with brown masonry paint to give it the necessary flat, dark brown colour. I didn't care if this clogged up the detail, because ... well, you know.


Then I applied a few more stages. Again using a big brush, I applied gunmetal grey over the exposed edges and points, bringing out the edges of the armour plates, blades and so on. Then I flicked watered-down orange-brown paint at the model with a toothbrush to add some rust.

I picked out a few details in a bright fluorescent green that I thought would stand out against the dull background.


Next, I went back and tidied up some sections with thinned-down black. If there were soft boots I did those, for instance, I painted the weapon hafts, and in some places I cleaned up the joints between armour plates. I also added some bone colour to the decorative skulls, the horns, and what have you. 


I wanted to add one feature to each of these guys that would stand out, and I resolved on giving them weird shields. I went into the bits box and pulled out various bits and pieces that would do, including some Reaper Bones shields and a Renedra tombstone. Then I did the bases. 


I've got three in so far, and I think they look pretty OK! I'm going to do a leader and a standard bearer to bring them up to a standard unit of 5, just to complete the project. But for models I can polish off in a spare hour or two, I'm really happy with them. 

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Simple terrain from scraps

As you know if you read my blog, I like making cheap gaming materials from junk. This is for several reasons: I like the stimulus to creativity, I like the affordability and I like reusing things that would otherwise wind up in landfill.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the Cambridge Community Scrapstore. This is a place you can go that's just basically a big warehouse full of crafting bits and bobs. I bought a membership and have been a few times, filling my cheek pouches with bits of fabric, card, and miscellaneous junk.

Among the things I got on my first trip were some sheets of fake grass material. I marked out some rough shapes on the back of the sheets with a silver Sharpie, then cut them out with a utility knife.


At this stage, I also brushed the fake grass material a lot because it sheds like mad, especially if the cuts go through the base of a tuft.

The base of the material is flexible, but I wanted to stiffen it a little, so I hot-glued the pieces to sheets of card, which I also got at the scrapstore.



I then cut out the shapes, leaving a little bit of a lip around each one. After cutting out about a third of my grass material, I had enough to fill a shoebox.


These pieces then got a bead of hot glue to seal the edge between the grass material and the card, then a layer of PVA and sand. I let that dry, then painted it light brown with a lighter drybrush and called it good.

As you can see, they're a bit rough and ready, but at a price of pennies I'm perfectly happy with them. They'll serve as reed beds in Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago or my Crusades games, or long grass in other settings. Here's the same patch of long grass with a model for scale.


Apparently, these scrapstores aren't uncommon, so if you like to trash bash you should see if there's one in your area. I expect more frugal gaming posts inspired by the things I find there.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

I have been painting some things!

I realise this blog has been quiet for a long time. Blame the siren song of Facebook and the less siren but much more remunerative song of blogging for the Gaming the Crusades project! However, I was inspired by my annual trip to Bring Out Your Lead to get some painting done in the week or so afterward. 

First on the table were these models from a standby of this blog, ThunderChild Miniatures. By now you know that I love Jason Fairclough's 3D-cartoon style, and these little guys are no exception to that rule. I bashed the whole squad out in a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Very simple paintjobs but I think they came out quite nicely. 


Next up is one of Mark Copplestone's lovely halflings from the old Grenadier fantasy range. I believe this little guy is still available from Mirliton, although I haven't checked. He was part of a very thoughtful gift from a friend literally years ago -- in fact, I got him around BOYL 2016, maybe? Anyway, he is great and will represent my character, Lucullus Mortsafe, in a D&D game even though the game does not include miniatures. If I had him to do over again I would redo the sleeves; the contrast between the layers is too stark. Also the primer went on quite grainy, although you can't really see it here. 


These Daleks are from Doctor Who magazine and now that I look at them I realise that they are of two slightly different designs. Curious! Anyway, I primed them and then "painted" them with silver and black Sharpie. I'm not gonna do that with the grey primer again; it was a real hassle.



Anyway: I am not dead.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Battle Ravens, wargames, and history

In my recent post about playing the upcoming game Battle Ravens, I talked about the challenges of writing historical wargames and board games. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately in conjunction with my work on the Gaming a Crusader Castle project.

Battle Ravens is an interesting game in this respect. In one way, it's essentially an abstract strategy game. You could absolutely rename the two sides Red and Blue and change the Ravens to Energy Points and you would still have a fun game. Indeed, the currency being called "ravens" doesn't make an enormous amount of sense other than thematically. Ravens, like wolves and eagles, are associated with battlefields in Old Norse poetry, but you'd think that more ravens would appear as the dead started to pile up.

These ones are getting ready for it to pop off.
People often talk about historical gaming as a "simulation," but I don't know that that's really a useful idea for a game like this one. Simulation presupposes a level of knowledge about the realities of early medieval combat that I just don't know we can claim. Historical accounts of battles are either highly poetic or very matter of fact -- "and the Danes had the victory," that kind of thing. We don't necessarily know what shieldwall combat was really like. Was it the kind of tentative skirmishing envisioned by John Keegan, with sudden bursts of fighting flaring up here and there, or was it more of your phalanx-style shoving match? 

Battle Ravens takes the view that it's all about the nebulous quantity represented by the ravens -- "momentum," perhaps, or "initiative," or maybe "cohesion" -- and about forcing a breach in the enemy's line where both numbers and elan are lacking. I think that is as reasonable an understanding of shieldwall combat as any. 

Of course, in reality there's no thousand-foot general allocating "initiative" to the different parts of the army, but other than directing reserves I don't know what a general in this kind of showdown is supposed to do in real life. It feels like most of the real tactical work is done before the fighting starts -- or at least you hope it is. 

So in general what I'm looking for in a game -- in historical terms, that is -- is not so much "does it accurately model this aspect of early medieval life?" I'm not sure I believe that's really possible. I'm more interested in "does it feel early medieval," but I recognise that that's a very subjective question. Perhaps I mean that I want to know if the game makes you think about some aspect of the early middle ages. And I think that Battle Ravens, for all its simplicity, does a bit. 

Here's the info about Battle Ravens again: Battle Ravens is going on Kickstarter on 20 November 2018; the Kickstarter will go until 6 December. Expected release date is April 2019. Retail price will probably be £35, but Kickstarter backers will be able to get the game for £30 plus a free Scottish army pack. The core game will include Anglo-Saxon and Norse armies, but they plan on making Norman, Scottish and Welsh ones for separate purchase; each will include counters and tactics cards. I reviewed a promotional pre-production copy of the game. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

Battle Ravens from PSC Games

The folks at PSC Games were kind enough to send over a pre-production copy of their new game, Battle Ravens. This is a two-player board game focusing on shieldwall combat in the Viking age; it's designed by Daniel Mersey, the creator of Dragon Rampant, Lion Rampant, and The Pikeman's Lament. A colleague recommended me as someone who knows a good deal about the early medieval period and also likes to play games, so I wound up with a copy. Let's take a look!

The box has an atmospheric illustration by Peter Dennis. 



The rulebook is brief and includes a few pieces of historical detail to put some of the rules in context.

The board; this is a mounted version of the board, which will be a Kickstarter stretch goal.
I don't know what the unmounted version looks like.




You get two sheets of card unit counters, again with illustrations by Peter Dennis.
Each sheet also includes 20 raven counters, which are really the core game mechanic.


Like the mounted board, these tactics cards are a proposed Kickstarter stretch goal.
There are also some dice, which I did not take a picture of because you know what dice look like. 

The game itself is simple: each player controls one side of the board and populates it with troops. Soldiers are either bondi (regular troops) or hirdmenn (more heavily armoured). There's also a pool of thrall, light skirmishers who function as a pool of rerolls for dice. 

A few troop counters.
At the beginning of each turn, players allocate raven counters to each sector of the battlefield. Ravens are the game's currency: you spend them to attack, defend or move. Allocating ravens to the correct areas of the battlefield is the key to victory here: you want to have enough to power your main attack against the enemy's weak sectors while not weakening your own defenses, and there's a bit of a cat-and-mouse game as players try to work out each others' intentions. The goal is to kill all the defenders in an enemy-held square; if the area is empty at the end of the turn, your troops in the opposite square move in and capture it. Capture three squares and you've won. 

It's very simple at heart, but when Allison and I sat down to play it there proved to be enough little wrinkles to make it quite interesting. 

The two armies face off!

Ravens allocated.

A new threat appears!
The question of how to allocate troops is an interesting one, and -- and here's what I'm really interested in -- it seems to produce some of the concerns that we can see from what little we actually know about shieldwall strategy. For all that's been written about warfare in the early middle ages, we don't necessarily have a very clear sense of what battle was like. The sources do suggest some concerns, though, and they turn up in Battle Ravens. For instance, when you clear a square, at the end of the turn all of your troops in the opposite square will rush into it, and they'll never come back. This is something that we know happened; faced with a breaking enemy, troops in a shield wall would sometimes just rush off in pursuit, abandoning their position within the wall.

Now -- and this is the really weird, counterintuitive aspect of the rules -- attack effectiveness is independent of how many troops you have in a square. Troops are just hit points; you use ravens to attack, and ravens are all that matters. You could have one guy in a square, and if you give him enough ravens he'll run in there and beat some heads. So in theory you could avoid the problem of losing all your troops to a follow-up by, paradoxically, evacuating the square you're going to launch your attack from. It feels a little weird, sometimes. 

Fortunately, the game doesn't really work out that way in play. While it's theoretically possible to send in your one-stand wonder team to clear out an opposing square, you have to worry about the possibility of a preemptive strike or counter-attack. If you fail to kill all the enemy stands and they hit back, your one-stand army is going to get murdered, the victorious enemy are going to flood into your square, and you're going to feel pretty foolish. So in fact, a balance of ravens for offense and troops to absorb damage is the right choice in most cases. 

Allison, who is generally not a wargames person, and I played and enjoyed this game. It took about an hour -- maybe a little longer with setup time, since it was our first time playing, and we had good fun. I won in the end, but I think we both learned a good amount about improving our raven and troop placement that could make for an interesting rematch. 

In my next post (well, no promises. A future post!), I'm going to talk about the thoughts Battle Ravens provokes in terms of historical conflict and games, because I think they're quite interesting.

Here's the rundown on the game: Battle Ravens is going on Kickstarter on 20 November 2018; the Kickstarter will go until 6 December. Expected release date is April 2019. Retail price will probably be £35, but Kickstarter backers will be able to get the game for £30 plus a free Scottish army pack. The core game will include Anglo-Saxon and Norse armies, but they plan on making Norman, Scottish and Welsh ones for separate purchase; each will include counters and tactics cards. 


Monday, 8 October 2018

Speed painting Martians!

I bought some Mars Attacks models at Salute either this year or last, thinking I'd use them for ... oh, I dunno, something. I am now painting them up just for fun and they seem to be getting a better response than a lot of other things I post. I think they may be well-suited to my speed-painting style.

ACK! Ack-ack!

Anyway, I thought I would do a step-by-step of how I painted them, just to illuminate the technique.



First I texture the base, prime the model with grey car primer and drybrush it all over in two stages, first with a mid-grey and then with white. Normally I would also remove the mould lines, but the material of these Mars Attacks minis makes that a giant pain in the butt and I think if you look at the photos they're not too visible in the finished product.


 Next I apply the base colours in a thin layer. The main areas of the suit are VMC emerald thinned with blue Army Painter quickshade. The thinned paint lets the highlights created by the drybrush show through. The head is just washes; the very textured surface doesn't really need much else. The photo showed some blank spots, which I went back and touched up.


 Next I Just give the whole thing a black wash. Again, the highly textured surface of the model really makes this effective. There were also a few areas I wanted to be brighter, so I spotted them in after the wash -- the glowy coil on the gun (which I have kind of failed to cover) and the goggles are examples of this.

I also drybrushed the base.


In the final stage, I went back and did some spot highlighting, picking out the goggles again with a lighter shade of blue-green and lining the edges of some of the suit plates with the original colour. I neatened up the base and applied the helmet, which is a bit of a tricky process.


Anyway, here is the expanded squad. I've still got a few more to do but I think they're coming along nicely.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Monster Man Contest II: Winners!

The second Monster Man contest called on listeners to create monsters based on neural-network-generated names. You can see all the entries here. The votes are in -- I've received votes by email, on G+, and here on the blog, and it was tight, but we have winners!

Tied for second place: 

The Owlborn by Luke Slater!

A fairy-tale horror monster with some classic weaknesses and a cult of brainwashed woodland folk surrounding it.

The Unicorn, Black Willow by Daniel Lofton!

A fun environmental and aesthetic twist on a classic D&D / fairy-tale monster.

And finally, our grand prize winner:

The Wendless Wolls by James Baillie!

A second win for the winner of the first contest! The Wendless Wolls combine a fun background, an adorable image, and an unusual twist relative to other humanoid tribes.

I'm going to be on holiday throughout the end of August, so those prize packs should be heading out in September. I'll be in touch to get addresses and so on. Congratulations to our winners and thank you very much to everyone who entered, voted, or supported the contest. A very special thanks to our sponsors: the Hyqueous Vaults, Spes Magna Games, and Diplomatist Books!