Monday, 18 May 2020

Inquisitor on the cheap: fun with 54mm models

A few months ago, I was chatting with Curtis of Ramshackle Games. I had just been notified that a lot of my classes had been cancelled (I am fine; please don't worry) and I was feeling a bit down. We got chatting about playing games with larger-scale figures for that proper "toy soldier" feel; we also discussed the old GW game Inquisitor, which used 54mm scale models and consequently always felt a bit inaccessible because of the high price point. He mentioned the cheap toy soldiers produced by Russian firm Tehnolog. Browsing eBay, I discovered that I could get a random assortment of 50 models for under £30. 

I have always had a bargain problem. The mental conversation goes something like this: 
Me: Wow, James, 50 models for £30. That's 60p a model. What a bargain!
Also me: It's not a bargain if I don't want 50 models in the first place. 
Me again: But think of the savings!
So that's how I wound up ordering 50 random 54mm models off eBay. It was a nice little treat to get myself in an uncertain time, and as I made the transition to working from home I had the fun of anticipating when my armyman playtoys would arrive. And arrive they did!

As you can see, I got a pretty good mix. There are elves, dwarves, knights, Vikings, samurai, orcs, undead, futuristic soldier types, historical soldier types ... all sorts. A pretty promising start for some future-fantasy conversions. I decided my party would be the crew of a Rogue Trader. These are the flamboyant space pirate crews who act as deniable agents of Imperial interest but often include lots of shady characters. Unlike most groups in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, Rogue Trader crews are highly diverse, and could include robots, aliens, mutants ... whatever! It seemed like a good start for an adventuring party. 

I began with my Rogue Trader himself. I loved the authoritative pose of the Cossack officer figure, but I wasn't wild about the hat. I decided to cut the fancy tricorn-hatted head off one of the figures representing soldiers of the Preobrazhensky regiment. 

I added a few flourishes and we were off. One of the things I learned here was that scale is very much an illusion. The plume and ornament here are from GW models -- nominally 28mm -- but they look fine on the 54mm character. In the heroic sculpting style of GW minis, items that the viewer should focus on, such as weapons, can be very exaggerated in size, meaning that they look much larger when you put them on more realistically scaled models. 

I also gave him some Imperial bling for the back of his cloak. 

As soon as I saw this Joan of Arc type model, I knew she would be a great Sister of Battle. She even has the distinctive bob haircut that you see on a lot of those models. I didn't like the weapon she was carrying, so I cut it off, together with the whole forearm. The replacement right arm is from an old Chaos Warrior, and the sword is a Reaper accessory. I thought the hooded, winged figure looked suitably spiritual.  

And here they are, my Rogue Trader crew! From left to right: 
  • Ron Jambo is an Imperial guard veteran who became a mercenary after his unit was betrayed and left to die on a remote death world. The only conversion I did to this model was to cut off the feathers tucked into his headband, which I felt were a bit much. You can't see it, but he has an Imperial Aquila tattoo on his left shoulder. 
  • Sister Eleutheria is a Battle Sister of the Order of the Sacred Rose (I picked them because I liked their colour scheme: white armour and black robes with scarlet linings). But she's also Captain Mortsafe's cousin, and the family pulled some strings to get her assigned to this mission. Her power sword provides some close-up punch. 
  • Lord-Captain Anaximander Mortsafe is a dandy space pirate with a fancy hat. He is more of an investigator than a fighter, but he can handle himself if he has to, fighting with exotic alien sword and dagger. The reliquary at his neck also houses a force field generator. He is accompanied by his loyal servo-skull, Skully
  • Combat Automaton 80-N35 is an experimental device created by Mortsafe's chief engineer Volund (whose model I plan to get started on any day now). 80-N35 lays down heavy firepower with his shoulder-mounted plasma gun. 
  • Major Kuznetsov commands the detachment of Mortsafe household troops stationed aboard the Lord-Captain's vessel. He's a disciplined and determined officer, often driven to frustration by his employer's reckless curiosity. He bears a hot-shot laspistol as his sidearm. I decided this was a lasweapon despite its bolty barrel because the question of what the magazine was doing right behind the muzzle was driving me nuts. I decided that it was clearly just a battery pack and could therefore attach to the weapon anywhere. 
And that's the crew! Next I need to work on some opposition for them. I'm thinking a Chaos cult -- and, unusually for me, I'm thinking Khorne rather than Nurgle! Time for a little change-up. I'm going to make them as filthy and gore-splattered as these guys are clean and colourful. 

I also sent off selections of models to a couple of other people who created their own warbands. One of those was game designer and publisher Grant Howitt, who has just posted photos of his cool Inquisition party. Check them out here!

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Warband in a week!

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that he'd booked a space in a Frostgrave tournament in London but wasn't going to be able to make it. He asked me if I'd like to take his place, and I said I would. 

Later that night, as I was cycling somewhere, I thought to myself "you know, I'm not completely happy with how my current warband looks; I could maybe put together a new one ... 

Oh, did I mention the tournament was a week away? 

Anyway, I took a quick trip to the lead mountain and the two big file drawers known only as Sprue Hell, and then I did some clipping and sticking while watching TV with my wife. The result was this 650gc warband (not pictured: warhound). Their base textures are circles of textured wallpaper. 

Before I started, I decided that I would run a Necromancer, the wizard type I know best. I decided that I would have a very simple colour scheme, partly based on what I'd done with my last warband: I would use black and neutral colours, with just one accent colour. Lower-ranking characters would be mostly or half black, while the higher-ranking ones would have more red.

I primed the models in black except for the zombie: I was unfamiliar with the kind of plastic it was made of and haven't always had success using Citadel black primer on new materials. I knew that the base red colour I was using, Citadel's Mephiston Red, would cover reasonably well over the black primer. If you're going to prime black, you have to know this in advance, because bright colours over black can be a real challenge.

These work-in-progress shots show how I handled the basic painting. I used the Mephiston Red on some parts of the clothing and then lightly drybrushed black areas with a mixture of brown and grey to bring out the texture. I picked a small number of neutral colours: Citadel Xandri Dust, Rhinox Hide, Mechanicum Standard Grey, Leadbelcher, and Retributor Armour. I also decided to paint the faces in slightly varied tones, including Vallejo Base Flesh and Citadel Bugman's Glow, Cadian Fleshtone, and Rhinox Hide. Once I had the base colours on, I gave the whole thing a wash of Agrax Earthshade (except here and there where I washed the faces with Reikland Fleshshade). 

The zombie had a slightly different skin tone -- Citadel Death Guard Green. I also added some rust with Vallejo Leather Brown, my go-to rust colour.

Once the base colours were on, I re-highlighted the red and the faces with the original colour, then went up one shade on the red, adding a very faint highlight of Evil Sunz Scarlet. Lastly, I painted the bases and added some Army Painter snow flock to give them that Frostgrave look.

The wizard!

His apprentice!


Treasure Hunters


Thug and Archer

Zombie and Warhound (a reused model I'd already painted).
In addition to my warband, I had to create some slimes, both small and large.  These were made from hot glue and given a quick paintjob that began with Coat d'Arms Goblin Green and worked up to Vallejo Yellow-green. I think they look pretty nice for being basically free.

This Slime Lord is a Melty Man from ThunderChild Miniatures.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how my warband came out. I managed to get the entire thing done in a week. I think it demonstrates that the tricks to speed painting like this include: 
  • Choosing a very simple but bold colour scheme that creates an appropriately thematic effect en masse. 
  • Painting over black. Your mileage may vary, but while light undercoats give you better bright colours, I find the black undercoat more forgiving for speed painting (unless I'm pre-shading over a grey undercoat which is a whole different story). 
  • Concentrating on the bits people look at: faces and bases. 
  • Working in manageable batches. I did these in sub-groups of 5 or 6, large enough to be efficient but small enough that I could see measurable progress quickly. 
  • Having a regular painting night. Every other Wednesday, I get together with a friend to paint (or sometimes play games) and it really helped my productivity. 
It was a rush, but I pulled it off and I'm pleased with the results: 13 models from bare plastic or metal (and three of them I "sculpted" in the first place) to ready for play within a week. 

Overall, then, I think the warband went well. However, I got walloped in the tournament. C'est la vie! Anyway, here are some photos: 

That's my Wizard Eye marker.

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.