Wednesday, 20 June 2018

New year, new campaign: the Great Mutant Caper

My ongoing campaign of the post-apocalyptic RPG Other Dust is ... well ... ongoing! In the last few sessions, the players have been solving a murder mystery and looking for a treasure map. This culminated in a heist at the closest thing a junkyard bartertown has to a luxury hotel. I decided to set the whole thing up with miniatures, because representing multiple different things going on simultaneously is an important part of the heist genre. 

The hotel and its compound.
The caper-comedy genre is one of my comfort zones, I think, and part of that is because it's possible to introduce consistent genre elements in a way that's still surprising. I decided to just make a quick random complications table that would let me keep things moving without having to plan everything out in advance. I rolled once every so often to get things like "a vehicle arrives" or "unwanted social interaction" or "room service!" just to keep the NPCs moving around the space.

A consortium of investors try to get Jeb interested in their new product. 

The law! The red-robed junkborgs, merciless enforcers of The Perfesser's law, turn up when Jeb sets off the alarm.

Twiggs spots lizardy medical genius Patches tampering with the ingredients outside the kitchen.

Twiggs fails to talk his way past the housekeeping staff.

Our heroes(?): L to R: Jaime, Twiggs, Jeb, Reesix

The night manager is having a pretty bad day. 

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Another thing I'm working on

Last year when I went to Salute, I mentioned playing in a game refighting the battle of Lodi Vecchio. This was a lot of fun, but it also wasn't just any Lion Rampant game, it was part of an ongoing project exploring the relationship between medieval history and wargaming. I'm happy to say that the project is now in its second phase and I'm helping out with the web aspect.

So check out Gaming a Crusader Castle, won't you? There'll be more stuff going up on there in the coming weeks as we create scenarios, write articles and more. We'll be going to games shows throughout 2018 and 2019 to show off the Byblos Castle keep model by Supreme Littleness Designs and also to run some games using a range of different historical systems, starting with Claymore 2018 in Edinburgh.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

In the meantime

A lot of my time lately has been taken up with various projects that I have either talked about here or will hopefully talk about soon. But I haven't stopped playing games! Despite my enthusiasm for Ghost Archipelago, many of my local gamers remain devoted to Frostgrave, and that's fun too. We've been playing a lot lately at the games night hosted by a local book store. In fact, their games selection is pretty good -- and as a Cambridge University alum, I'll get a discount, at least as soon as my alumni card arrives. So that's pretty good!

Anyway, I've created (or more accurately recreated) a Frostgrave warband and returned to my age-old practice of just getting my butt kicked. We usually manage to get two tables playing at once, so here are some photos from the most recent event -- they're mostly the other board, since the lighting was better over there.

A cultist sniper takes aim high above the battlefield.

There's something sinister about these nuns. 

This player's warband is made mostly of classic Citadel models.

Most of the shots of my table came out a little blurry, but it looked OK on the night. 

Although we did eventually take out this warhound, he earned his kibbles, holding us off for several turns.

My apprentice and his team spread out among the ruins to look for ... "clues."

I love the variety of colours on these cultists; mine are very drab. 
Anyway, I'm having fun and really pleased with the effort a big book store is making to cultivate its gaming community. It's mostly board games there and a little D&D, but we do make a fun spectacle. People often come by and ask what sort of game we're playing; I should put together some starter warbands for kids or whatever.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Diceni 2018

Diceni is a gaming show in Norwich that I keep meaning to go to and never do, but this year I found myself at a loose end and decided to pop over and visit it. 

I really like the format of the show: it's a ring of traders surrounding a core of demo and participation games in a big open area in the centre of a building called the Forum. This is a big sort of community centre that also houses a cafe, a theatre, the public library and so on. What this means is that people are always moving in and around the show. I saw a lot of parents there with their kids, and lots of those kids happily playing games. Entry is free, which I imagine helps there. 

Here are some bad photos I took of the show floor: 

As you can see, it's pretty big, but not huge; it's very much set up for people to rock up, do some shopping, maybe play a quick game and then head out. Here are some of the things I saw: 

Have I ever been to a British gaming event where Bez wasn't doing his thing?
He was at the first ExiliCon, that's how dedicated the guy is. 

This game was being run by people from the Random Platypus forum.
It's a sci-fi variant of the Walking Dead: All Out War rule.

I played a game of the Osprey samurai game, Ronin
I got thumped quickly, but it was a good-looking table.

This big Marvel participation game seemed to be very popular. 

People playing Warmaster. Seems like a thriving community!
 There was a pretty good mix of traders there, including Ainsty and The Assault Group on the miniatures side, as well as another historical manufacturer -- Hellion? I don't recall. There were a couple of other minis game companies around, including the guys who make Mythos and Purgatory. There were also board game companies, people selling dice and other accessories, and the thing I like most: second-hand games!

Guess who bought Kryyyyooomeeeeek?

A friend of mine is very into this game, so I thought I would pick it up when I found it for £4. I flipped through it at lunch, and while I don't have much to say about the rules, the way the setting material is written is bananas.

Anyway, I also took the chance to visit a friend who works nearby, and had a walk around Norwich, looking at some sights and doing some shopping. 

I liked the concept of Diceni as a very accessible show in a public space. The location makes it good for drop-in visitors, and most of the display games were fun and colourful. I feel like if you're going for a drop-in event, Saturday might be better, but I expect there are more potential clashes on the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend, so it's a trade-off. If, like me, you have other stuff to do in Norwich, it's a fun way to spend a few hours. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Salute 2018 recap

I went to Salute in London, as I do. I was trying to be responsible in my spending, but I still saw and did some cool stuff. I didn't take as many photos as I normally do.

Anyway, here's what I did: 

I participated in a speed painting contest, and I won! My job was pretty rough; lighting wasn't great, tools weren't perfect, etc. I think I won because I did a little rudimentary wash on the armour plates and the hair. 

I won a bunch of swag as a result of this contest, including Salute exclusive models from previous years and a set of brushes. I'm pretty excited about these brushes, actually: brushes were on my shopping list. I'm probably going to sell off the surplus models, since I already have one of each of these. 

Speaking of free models, the theme for this year was WWI. Last year's theme was a centennial one as well -- the Russian Revolution -- and this year's model was not just one model but three, a little diorama showing British, French and German soldiers at the end of the war. 

I'm going to mount them on a plinth and paint them up as a war memorial sort of a scene, I think. 

Speaking of WWI, there were some living-history types around, and they had brought a very imposing looking mockup of a WWI tank.

What else did I do? I painted some models at the Mantic paint-and-take, including a couple of the new models from Star Saga. I don't know that I'm going to play the game, but a character in an armoured spacesuit armed with a length of pipe will certainly come in handy in my post-apocalyptic game. 

Here are some things I saw: 

I really liked the colour scheme in this dungeon created by Mierce Miniatures.

I think this cool-looking science fiction board was at the Wild West Exodus stand,
which may mean I have misunderstood that game. 

I always enjoy a VBCW game.

This Seven Years' War game was all done with paper miniatures.
There are a bunch of these books, including one for Hastings. I'm kind of tempted to check them out, although I think the ones with brightly-coloured armies in serried ranks are probably the best candidates.

This board was for a game called The Drowned Earth. If it's got apes hunting dinosaurs, it has my interest. 

Some friends of mine were playing a game called Moonstone, which features a goblin riding a pug.

Wargames Illustrated were hosting this cool board for a druid-themed game.

Here's a close-up of the Wicker Man. 

This amazing sci-fi vehicle is a Poundland Toy with some added bits and a hell of a paint job. 
I was pretty restrained in my purchases. I collected some Kickstarter models from Bad Squiddo Games -- photos coming soon, hopefully -- and I bought some models from Bear's Head Miniatures as well. I also picked up some scenery for Frostgrave and Frostgrave Ghost Archipelago, as well as the new FGA book, The Lost Colossus. I'm gonna have to make some colossal scenery. Speaking of scenery, I picked up a prototype Wasteman piece that I hope to be able to show you soon.

It was also good to see friends, including people I don't often get to see other than at wargames shows. You never get enough time to talk to people at the show, but it's still good to catch up and say hi. I do like the post-show social atmosphere of BOYL; honestly, it's the main reason to go on Friday. I had a few conversations that reminded me that BOYL is actually pretty soon and that if I'm meant to be participating in some of the things I hope to participate in I had better get a move on.

The downside is that I have a big project deadline coming up and a lot of words I need to write over the next two weeks, so painting time is going to be pretty limited. In fact, I'm forcing myself to schedule some as a form of stress relief. 

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Another Monster Man contest!

Hey, do you folks remember the cavalcade of awesome creativity that was the Monster Man contest? I sure do! I enjoyed it so much I'm gonna do it again .. but this time it's going to be a little different!

Last time I asked people to design a monster based on a cheap toy, like this one:

That was fun, but I'm not gonna do the exact same thing again, at least not just yet. Instead we're going to do a quicker contest based around a different source. I explain in today's bonus episode of Monster Man.

But if you don't have time to listen to that right now, here's the rules:

1. Go to this article about D&D monster names created by neural networks.

2. Pick a monster such as the Slug, Spectral or the Mommy, Greater

3. Create a Monster Manual-style entry for your chosen name, with a description and stats for your favourite edition of D&D. Or your favourite RPG, whatever it might be. I'm not the boss of you! If you want to add a picture, that'd be double cool.

4. Send it to me by April 14th.

5. I will pick, by methods as yet undecided, a handful of winners.

6. I will create an episode of Monster Man for the winning monsters. Winners will also receive a Monster Man goody bag full of prizes. I've already had some offers of prize support, but if you have an RPG product you'd like to give away to our winners, give me a shout! Otherwise I'll think of something. It'll be a surprise!

7. You can enter more than once if you like, but you can't win more than once.

And that's it! Go make some monsters. Share this contest with your friends; the more the merrier.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Shadow War Armageddon retrospective: or, in defense of bad games

Back in the autumn, I joined in the Shadow War Armageddon campaign put on by the fine young people of (deep breath) the Cambridge University Roleplaying and Tabletop games Society, hereinafter CURTS. This was just after Shadow War Armageddon had come out, and I was keen to put my Orks to good use. The campaign has now wrapped up with a big final bash, and although I missed a few sessions I feel like I played enough to prompt some thoughts.

Splatgut takes aim with his Big Shoota
So, first off: it seems like I spend a lot of time talking to people who care a lot about game design, and I sort of care about it myself. This leads me to think about games in design-y terms sometimes. In those terms, Shadow War Armageddon is ... well, I don't know if it's a bad game, but it ain't great. It has the following flaws:

  • Although its core mechanic is the simple Warhammer 40K second edition ruleset (which is simple to me, at least, because I grew up with it), it piles on layer after layer of exceptions and special conditions, virtually guaranteeing that you will forget at least one of them during a match and feel like a dummy. Special rules for the weapons, special rules for the scenario, special rules for the factions. I admit that I am not a rules guy at the best of times, so maybe this is just me. 
  • It is, hands down no foolin', the worst-organised rulebook I have read, or at least it has the highest ratio of budget to quality. Not all the kill teams are in the same section! Kill teams and their special ops are in two different parts of the book, except only for some teams. Some teams have their weapons in different sections, but others don't. I realise that this is because some teams are "core" and others aren't, but how is that relevant? That's not how people actually play the game, a fact that ten seconds' reflection would have revealed.
  • Despite its complexity, its advancement system is so limited that it's not really all that much fun. 
  • It is not balanced for toffee. In particular, the rules were designed for a game where everybody starts out with a Move of 4 and a BS of 3 (and an I of 3 as well) and gunsights are limited. I'm not just bitter because I spent a lot of time pinned, but when a significant chunk of your opponent's team starts the game hitting on 2s, there's only so much cover you can take. Similarly, the introduction of kill teams with a move of 6 should have made the designers rethink the scenario rules. There are loads of scenarios which try to prevent turn-one charges with 8" distance restrictions, which is not a big deal for kill teams where some or all of the models have move 6. 
  • It does, to some degree, compensate for its lack of balance by being random as anything. I think my win-loss was about 50-50, or slightly less, but I cannot attribute this to any tactical merit on my part. I just slugged forward and sometimes I got into optimum Ork range and shredded my opponents with sustained fire and face-punches, and sometimes I didn't. I did sometimes win by remembering to focus on mission objectives, but that's partly because I just find missions with objectives fun.

The Grotmob advances, ready for action!
Now, all of this sounds like I didn't like the game, but actually ... my view on it is much more equivocal. I had a good old time playing in this campaign, although getting all the terrain to a place far from my house was a bit of a nuisance. Still, I was getting the hang of it by the end. I'm gonna buy one of those crates with the little rolly wheels.

Sorry, yes -- I enjoyed it! I mean, it's not going to win any awards, and if it does there's something fishy, but its very goofiness works in favour of it. Its high level of randomness and its goofy exceptions wind up provoking more laughs at the table than frustration, and it produces the kind of wargaming moments everyone likes -- moments that illuminate the personalities of the players and get retold at subsequent sessions. The thought of one of my Orks running around carrying a lectern, proudly proclaiming that he was the Boss now because he had a table, or Badlug squishing people like grapes with his power klaw and then, surrounded by the corpses of his foes, deciding it was time to bottle out, is good for a laugh.

I've mentioned that randomness cancels out the balance issues to some degree, but another thing that can compensate for balance issues is a general attitude of insouciance and/or inexperience. In a group that was half veteran killers and half total rookies, the weird disparities between some of the kill teams would have been frustrating, but in a group mostly composed of beginners no one really tried to build some ultimate murder squad. I encourage this attitude.

GW games are expensive, but they have this weird effect where their shared vocabulary works in favour of them. If Shadow War Armageddon were released as a spin-off for, I dunno, Beyond the Gates of Antares, no one at CURTS would play it, partly because they wouldn't already have models knocking about to play it with and partly because it would be unfamiliar to them. It was really interesting to see how the one guy in the group who didn't have a lot of familiarity with 40K struggled -- you sometimes forget that not everyone grew up with this game and take for granted the ability to, I don't know, tell a flamer and a meltagun apart at a glance and assess their relative capabilities.

(I feel bad because I think I was a little hard on that guy, actually; I am 90% more chilled out than I was when I was younger, but sometimes I still get impatient and I ought to learn to relax about stuff more.)

My main point is that the familiarity does have genuine benefits. On paper, Shadow War Armageddon is a hard game to learn. In practice, a huge segment of the gaming population already owns the miniatures and already understands what the statline means.

This may be for historical reasons that are more to do with savvy marketing and fun IP than how good the game is, but here's a question for you: who cares? Game designers, I have no doubt. Other than them?

So take a look at that photo. That's the final game, with seven players playing on an 8 x 4 (ish) table. You can see that there's painted terrain, stuff scratch-built out of foamboard, fantasy terrain, terrain made from junk, army man toys, I mean the whole bit. The whole thing's a mess. But it was a ton of fun.

And that's really important for me to remember. Like a lot of people who are into miniatures gaming, I spend a lot of time paying attention to the writings and works of people who are much better painters and terrain makers than I am. When you do that, it can be easy to feel frustrated about what you perceive as your own lack of progress. But this game was set up pretty quickly and there were all kinds of interesting sightlines and tricky angles and people cursing the terrain and people forgetting where models were hiding, and much laughter. And it has stuff people made themselves, and creative use of found objects -- the things I love!

The buzzchoppa isn't the most supremely pointless weapon in the game, but it's close.

Boss Badlug is your basic Evil Sunz boss: a status-obsessed meathead consumed with the need for the latest gadgets.
I have often lamented that there doesn't seem to be a sci-fi Frostgrave. I have to confess that I haven't tried Mini Gangs yet, even though I have the rulebook, and I have backed the Factious Waste Kickstarter, so I guess there's that, but I haven't found a game that gives me the simplicity and the ... interesting swinginess? ... that Frostgrave does. I absolutely accept that it isn't perfect, but right now I think it's very close to my preferences in a skirmish game. I just want the same thing but with aliens and zap guns, which may be the root of my problem.

These Ramshackle Games terrain pieces make great cover and great objectives.
High above the deck of the Space Hulk, Badlug battles the dreaded Nunboss!
In short, then, I have had a good old time over the last two terms playing a game that is ... let's call it flawed. My enjoyment of this may be more revealing in terms of my priorities than the actual game, but as I've got older I've found that I care about games in the abstract less and much more about my own priorities -- this is because I'm no longer really interested in universalising from the stuff I care about. I'm just interested in meeting my own specific goals.

And that's why a game that isn't all that great can still be a lot of fun.