Sunday, 1 January 2017

Like last time, but more so

While it's pretty much agreed that 2016 was an absolutely terrible year internationally, politically and environmentally*, from a personal point of view, it has actually been pretty good. I recognise that this isn't so much small comfort as complete and total absent of comfort, and possibly offensive, but I'm reaching here.

At work my job has changed so I am now making more money for more interesting work and I got back to Japan for the first time since 2016, which is kind of a lifelong dream realised for the second time. From a wargames perspective things have gone pretty well too.



At the start of the year I said I want to game more, paint more of my existing models and buy less. Overall, I haven't done badly. I finished my Warhammer Siege Campaign, finishing a bunch of long neglected models in the process. The year's second project, Beyond the Gates of Antares, saw me focus on models I had picked up at the tail end of 2015.

Beyond the Gates of Antares was supposed to be a small project, finishing just enough models to play a game and then move on. But, once I finished my first Ghar battle suit, I got so into it, that I got slightly carried away. While it's good to get excited about a project, I did break my "no new models" rule pretty comprehensively.



So, in summary, I made progress towards my goals without quite meeting them. With that in mind, my goal for next year is to focus on my existing models and buy as little as possible. Pretty much the same as last year, but this time with more success.

The other thing I want to do is update my blog more, with more up to date posts on my progress. Even if no-one reads them except me, reviewing old blog posts and finding month long gaps can be pretty motivational.

Finally, here's a last update of the year, a C3M4 combat drone for Beyond the Gates of Antares. I picked it up a while back because it was pretty heavily discounted. I pretty much stuck with my standard Concord colour scheme.



The C3M4 is a key component of Warlord's new introductory scenario "Drone Integration." The scenario is so introductory that it doesn't even require the full BTGOA rules, all the rules you need are printed on the sheet.



So my BTGOA plan is: 1) Play Drone Integration, 2) Play a 500 point game with the full rules, 3) Finish painting all my Concord and Ghar stuff and play a 1000 point game, 4) Move onto a new project, using only models I already own.



On to 2017, I'm hoping it gets better for the planet without getting worse for me.

*Seriously, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher etc etc and yet Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Rupert Murdoch are still breathing!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A brief observation of casual Sexism and wargaming

I had been planning to write a blog post tonight, just not the one I am actually writing. I got slightly derailed by this.
It's an extract from a new book, "Tabletop Wargames – A Designers’ and Writers’ Handbook" by Rick Priestly and John Lambshead. It came to my attention thanks to the Dice Bag Lady on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheDiceBagLady) and Delaney King at http://kingsminis.blogspot.co.uk. It was then followed up by this extract.

Unsurprisingly, there was a certain amount of outrage expressed at the casual transphobia inherent in describing a transition from Male to Female as "enough to unsettle anyone" and the inclusion of "it" as a pronoun in the second section. Delaney King has already written a blog post on the subject here.

I have to admit that my immediate reaction was not as straightforwardly angry. I read both statements as crass attempts at humour rather than deliberately intending to offend. But I'm white and male and don't have to put up with this sort of thing on a daily basis. I'm certainly not going to criticise anyone for being angry about this. But there are a number of problematic statements and attitudes on display here.

Firstly, I want to take issue with the opening statement. Whilst it is true that wargaming is a male dominated hobby, I am not sure what about the use of gender neutral or female pronouns in rules renders that "painfully obvious." Where exactly is the pain here? I can't imagine any male gamer reading a rule book, coming across that the words "she" or "her" and thinking much more than "they're trying a bit hard." I suppose it's possible that someone might read such a book and hurl it across the room in disgust at the mere suggestion that women might invade their sacred space, but I think this probably represents a vanishingly small demographic. So where exactly is the pain? I can't see how any male wargamer could be seriously effected by the use of female pronouns.

This might invite the counter argument that if men can tolerate female pronouns, women can tolerate male pronouns. The problem with this is that it ignores the reality of the wargaming hobby. It is, as a matter of fact, male dominated, any visit to a wargaming show will bear that out, which can already be off putting to women gamers. While the use of exclusively male pronouns reinforces it, the use of at least some female pronouns challenges it. There is no requirement for a rulebook to perfectly echo the wargaming hobby. Why shouldn't it present a more inclusive perspective?

There actually seems to be some acknowledgement of this fact in the second paragraph that advise the writer to use the gender neutral term "the player" wherever possible. But this admitted begrudgingly, given the following statement that anything other than he/him is somehow incongruous. It may be technically correct that 'he' can be used neutrally, but it acknowledges that this isn't true in practice. Plus, it misses that the fact that 'he' was ever the default is itself a product of a male-dominant language

I'll concede the point that the use of "they" could be confusing in the context of a two player game in which you potentially have to distinguish between something both players should do or one player should do. But, I don't understand what is supposed to be so confusing or 'unsettling' about alternating between male and female in each paragraph. It might be odd in the context of an example of game play in which players were listed by name, but when the terms are being used in the abstract, I think most readers will be able to cope. If alternating by paragraph is so difficult, why not by chapter or, radical thought, just use she or her throughout. Or would that be too painful? While the statement that it is unsettling seems to only be there as a lead in to a crass joke.

Overall, the tone of the extract is unthinking male privilege. It acknowledges that rule books should avoid gendered pronouns were possible and then casually undermines it by operating on the basis that being male is simply the default and anything else is unusual. It offers no evidence for the claims that using female pronouns is 'painful' or that alternating is 'confusing' or 'unsettling' and then includes an outdated and crass joke about changing sex that adds nothing of value.

I haven't read any more of the book than this extract, so I don't anything about the quality of the rest of it but, based on this, it seems to be one to avoid.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Further Updates from Beyond the Ghar-ates of Antares

My Beyond the Gates of Antares project continues and I have no finished a squad of Outcasts. These are Ghar who have been thrown out of their battle suits as punishment for failure and are used as cannon fodder by the rest of the Ghar.



I hadn't originally planned to get any of these, wanting to focus on the rather lovely looking battle suits, but they do have their uses. They are very good at using up a few spare points. A basic squad costs only 43 points while a battle suit costs 60 and come in squads of at least three. That makes them a cheap way to give you an extra activation a turn. They also count as a Tactical unit, and as you need a minimum of two of these in even the smallest of armies, a cheap one is very useful.

Although I got them for pragmatic reasons, I have really come to love the models. They are absolutely full of character. Apart from the leader, all the troopers look terrified, clutching their weapons like security blankets or firing blindly in panic. I particularly like the one holding his gun over his head and not even looking where he is shooting. While the one riding on the disruptor cannon, has the smug expression of someone who knows he is slightly above everyone else.



The official outcast models have been painted naked, apart from their pants and a selection of metal extra bits. The metal bolts protruding from their backs were, presumably, to interface with their battle suits, while the wrist and ankle tags may have done the same, or be to keep them under control. They also wear metal collars, unsurprising, but more oddly, metal bands around their shoulders. I decided to treat these as sleeves and paint them wearing skin tight black T-shirts, this allowed me to keep them consistent with the army colour scheme.

These black "T-shirts" with the metal pieces protruding, they reminded of the black carapace that Warhammer 40K Space Marines use to interface with their power armour. This got me thinking. Hearing stunted creatures who hate everything and ride around in suits immediately made me think Daleks. But there is another comparison you can make.

The Ghar hate their enemies, live only for war and have no tolerance for failure. They are not aliens, but genetically modified humans, the result of experiments carried out by a long dead creator. They were power armoured suits and use weapons that, though effective, are archaic. Also, their main squad types divided into a basic type, and assault type and a heavy weapon type.

Am I the only one thinking that, with the Ghar, Rick Priestly may have been wriffing off one of his former employers most iconic characters?



With 500 points completed, I have, technically, reached my goal. I have enough points to play a basic game. But I have had so much fun with the Ghar that I couldn't resist one further indulgence.



The Ghar Command Crawler is a combination commander and vehicle, not something I have really used in any game before. The model is absolutely superb, as well as being a very well cast largely resin piece, I had enormous fun painting it.



I stuck mostly to the established army colours, but added some purple elements. I have been using purple stripes to identify my battle suit leaders, so it made sense to add the command colour to my Crawler. With him done, I can scrape together 750 points a side, but I don't think I'm going to stop until I hit 1,000.

Monday, 24 October 2016

They're Ghar-eat

Not a lot of words in this post. Just a quick update with a few more pictures of my Ghar.



This second squad are standard Ghar Battle suits, equipped with claws and Disruptor cannon. They have quite more range, but are not quite as overwhelming up close.

 Squad leader with his Concord trophies and purple stripe on his gun arm

Ghar puts his claw in something soft and squishy

I got four of them in the Beyond the Gates of Antares starter set and have added one more from an extra box I bought. The two others from this box are being kept back for later use.

 Concord trooper loses his head

Ghar trooper has picked up an irritating parasite

In addition to the battle suits, I have also finished this small squad of Tectorists, unarmed, and slightly crazy, Ghar who act as scouts with their tector rods. When they get close to an enemy unit, they give other Ghar a shooting bonus, compensating somewhat for the fact that Ghar don't have spotter drones like most other armies.



I actually have about 500 points done now, which is enough for a small game, but have a few more bits and bobs I want to paint before actually playing. More new soon.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Ah.. Ghar on

So, I finished my first Ghar Assault squad for Beyond the Gates of Antares.



As with the Concord, I wasn't too keen on the official colour scheme. In the case of the Ghar, it looked good enough but didn't fit my idea of Ghar technology. The Ghar are a highly aggressive race of genetically modified humans, created to fight a war long since over. Compared to the other BTGOA factions, their technology is primitive and dangerous both to the Ghar and the environment. The relatively clean light grey of the official paint jobs didn't look right to me, I wanted something darker and grungier.

Assault Ghar teaches the Concord drones not to get too close

I've seen Ghar painted well in red or in plain metallic colours, but I ended up using the same colour scheme as I used for my Chaos Warriors; the bulk of the armour in black, with exposed metallic areas with ink washes to make it look dirty and corroded. I added some red to give a splash of colour.

The black areas are Vallejo black grey, highlighted with dark grey. The metal areas are Citadel boltgun metal with washes of Nuln oil, Agrax earthshade and Fuegan orange to dirty them up. The red areas are citadel Mechrite red with a bit of Evil Sunz scarlet highlighting and a small patch of Privateer Press Menoth white highlight, to suggest light.

Assault Ghar 2 puts his foot in it


I also wanted my Ghar to fairly dynamic, not just marching forward. So, with that in mind, I grabbed myself another box of plastic Concord troopers to use as modelling fodder. This was another reason to leave the Ghar until I had finished the Concord. I wanted to make sure I had the Concord colour scheme right before painting the ones the Ghar were variously smashing, stomping or eviscerating.

Assault Ghar 3 takes a little off the top

Sometimes I can't get a good picture of a how model will look until its finished, and this was definitely the case here. But I am very pleased with the results and its gotten me excited to finish off the project. I had meant to stop once I hit 500 points a side and could play a small game, but I think I'm going to have to go on and finish the Ghar command crawler.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Progress Report - Beyond the Gates of Antares

Since I finished my Siege Campaign I haven't been entirely idle. I have been working on the models from the Beyond the Gates of Antares starter set that I got back in November of last year. It's been less than a year since I got them which, for me, is a pretty quick turn around.

My plan is to get two 500 point forces done, which is the minimum size for a game, so I can give the rules a decent go. Depending on how well that goes, I may paint some more.

The starter set comes with two small forces, the Pan Human Concord and the Ghar Empire. It was the Ghar that drew me to the game. They're weird, little, angry, mutant creatures that go around in big battle suits. In contrast, the Concord are relatively normal humans in sci-fi armour.

Despite that, I started with the Concord, partly because they seemed easier and partly because I was less invested in the outcome.

 Squad 1 running

You actually get 750 points plus of Concord in the starter box, which is really quite silly good value. So I didn't need to paint the lot to get a game worthy force. But it felt dissatisfying to paint 3/4 of the models and so I pushed on and painted all four squads.

 Squad 2 running

You get four identical sprues of Concord troopers, each of which has four troopers, 1 medium-sized drone and two small spotter drones (both of which hover on flying bases). Rather than try to turn each sprue into one squad, I tried mixing and matching the pieces so that the poses came together more naturally. This left me with two squads running, one advancing and one standing and shooting. I also ended up with 1 squad of 3 support drones and one general purpose drone with a Subverter Matrix (a kind of scrambler).

 Squad 3 advancing

I was not a fan of the white and green colour scheme of the official Concord models, and ended up taking inspiration from the rulebook cover art, which makes them look more blue. I gave them all a spray of Army Painter plate mail metal, which I washed with Games Workshop Nuln Oil ink. The blue areas were Vallejo dark Prussian blue and field blue, with Games Workshop Asurmen blue wash and then highlighted in Vallejo Prussian blue and a mix of field blue and sky blue. The black areas were actually Vallejo dark grey with Nuln oil washes. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results.

 Squad 4 stand and fire

Despite me dismissing the Concord earlier as generic humans, their background is a bit more interesting. Concord society is made up of planets covered in a cloud of microscopic nano-machines that interface with the humans. This forms an artificial intelligence network made up of the collective needs and desires of all citizens. But this network also manipulates and controls humans at a subconscious level so they don't truly think for themselves. The result is either a truly democratic or completely tyrannical society, depending on how you look at it.

 Support Drones

In fact, the only element of the society with any kind of free-will is the army, which operates outside of the nano-cloud, forcing its soldiers to think for themselves to a limited extent. Generally when the Concord encounters another society, it spreads its nano-cloud to it and takes over, integrating them into itself. This only fails with life forms that are incompatible with the machines or which actively resist. So my collection really represents the fringe of Concord society, only used when the usual approach has broken down.

General purpose Drone with Subverter Matrix


Overall, the Beyond the Gates of Antares is less overtly dystopian than Warhammer 40,000, as well as being harder sci-fi, but maintains a level of moral ambiguity. The concord reminds me, faintly, of Iain M Banks Culture novels, in that its a huge, semi-utopian society, that conquers mostly through stealth and manipulation, including of its own population, but it is not a straightforward tyrannical empire like the 40K Imperium. I think I'm going to have fun dabbling in this universe.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

If you can't beat them join them?

Things have been a bit quite on the blog since the end of my siege campaign. I have actually been working on another project, but more about that when it's a bit further along. Today, I want to write about this...



The Warhammer: Age of Sigmar General's Handbook.

I've not played any AOS since my try out game some time back. I was naturally inclined to be hostile to it because I liked the old Warhammer rules and the old Warhammer world and didn't like it when Games Workshop threw them both out. AOS is such an overhaul of Warhammer that it is really a new game and I'm not looking to start any new games. On the other hand, my principle complaint about AOS had been the absence of points values which the Compendium addresses and, at only £15, it's pretty cheap for a GW publication.

If previous AOS books had focused on background material and lots of pictures with very little rules content, this is pretty much the exact opposite. It's basically all rules. The book attempts to introduce three different ways to play AOS. What it calls "Open play", "narrative play" and "matched play" and has sections for each.

There's actually surprisingly little of this

"Open play" isn't actually a new style, however. It's just AOS as it has been up to now, no points, scenarios, use what you like. This section of the book instead concentrates on multiplayer games with some new scenarios to suit. As Warhammer never quite ironed this out, it's good to see this. How effective the rules are, I'm not sure.

The narrative play section is focused on campaigns and story driven scenarios. It introduces some new, deliberately asymmetrical scenarios, such as one in which a whole army takes on a single monster or another which is basically a last stand. It also has a section on recreating the great battles of history.



The most interesting part of this section is the rules for campaigns. There are several differnt types described, including map-based, tree-campaigns (in which the outcome of one scenario effects the next played) and matrix (in which both players make decisions that effect the scenario to be played).



The most appealing part of this section for me, however, is the "Path to Glory" campaign. This describes a campaign based on choosing a warband lead by a champion and playing scenarios to win "glory points" which can be used to recuits new troops or improve the ones you have. It reads like a simplified version of the old "Realms of Chaos". Usefully, it also specifies that you can randomly generate your warbands or choose from any of the options on the random tables, allowing you to use the campaign either with an existing army or as the basis for building a new one.

 Good, but could we have few more unit options?

It's not all good, however. Not every faction is represented in the tables. I can understand why the newer ones would have been left out, but I'm not sure why there's no tables for the Seraphon. Also, all of the factions from the Death and Chaos compendium books are included, but for some reason Order and Destruction are not. So while I can use my old Undead and Chaos armies to build a warband, I can't do anything with my Dwarfs or Greenskins as only the Fyreslayers and Ironjaws are included. Hopefully, GW will put out some more tables online.

The final section, "Match Play" is the one that most people will be buying the book for. This includes some tournament rules and scenarios as well as a battle report. This is a nice touch and reminds me of the days when GW supplements used to repurpose White Dwarf content. Though, I believe this battle report was written solely for the book.

 So that's what a battle looks like

The tournament rules include some fun random tables of artifacts and traits giving you some ability to customise your characters, which is a nice touch. But the most important bit is the points section. This is a very comprehensive list that includes all the existing war scrolls and even the formations. It also includes all the units from the early compendium PDFs that GW put out, even for models that have been discontinued like the Bretonnians. The only thing missing is Forge World. Hopefully, they will follow suit and put out there own points list.

Finally the book includes the four page basic AOS rules, so you don't have to print them out or buy any other books to play.

The book isn't all good. One of the "historical" scenarios included is a ridculously oversized batttle between the forces of Chaos and Death. All the units in it are way over the top. To give an example, it includes a unit of 24 Varanguard which would cost £480 alone at GW prices. The battle is designed to be multi-player, but would still rely on several players each with large Chaos or Death armies to put together. If you going to include a large multi-player battle, why not one with more mixed factions so there is a chance that someone out there might actually be able to play it?

Can anyone play this?

But that's my one major complaint. Overall this is pretty good stuff, that expands the AOS rules in an interesting way without undermining the simplicity which was the essential selling point. I have a few quibbles, but nothing major. I'm not sure I'm going to be playing a lot of AOS in the future, but this book does make it a lot more likely.