Friday, 27 December 2013

On price and quantity


The new Hobbit film is out and with it Games Workshop's latest batch of Hobbit miniatures. Though this feels less like a release and more a kind of grim obligation, like an annual visit to an increasingly racist elderly relative. The comments have been largely predictable, ranging from shock bordering on disbelief at the prices GW think they can charge for this stuff, to the increasingly shoddy finish of even the display models.

I'm not planning on wasting any time defending £15 price tags for finecast miniatures, especially when they're of Legolas apparently falling off a log, but the plastic boxes gave me pause. I can't say I'm much of a fan of the Palace Guard, who may or may not have beards, depending on the angle from which you look, but the Mirkwood rangers are actually quite a nice collection. It helps that they have plenty of detail and there are ten different sculpts.

As easy as...


At £25 for ten models they're comparable to most of Games Workshop plastic infantry boxes, which most people, including myself, tend to think of as over priced. But this price is pretty close to that of the new Malifaux starter boxes which are also hard plastic and which give you fewer, if slightly larger models. For a similar price you can get a Warmachine or Hordes starter box or a unit box, which, again will give you fewer models. A Bushido starter box will set you back £5 more and give you only five models, though these also come with cards. Turning to sci-fi, Infinity will give you six models for about the same price.

I pinched this image from the GW website. I don't think the set comes with a present


Of course, other than Malifaux, these are not hard plastic models, but I think we have moved on from the days when plastic is automatically considered a cheaper alternative to metal, at least for sci-fi and fantasy models. There are things you can't do in plastic, but then there are things you can't do in metal or resin, its about choosing the right medium.

I have long maintained that the problem with Games Workshop's pricing isn't the cost of the individual models but the number you need to play the game. If this was a Warhammer boxed set you would need two to four to make a decent regiment or which you would probably need four or five to build an army, plus a couple of characters. For the Hobbit/LOTR this box plus a couple of characters (preferably some left over metal ones) is enough for a decent game. Maybe add a couple more blisters and another box, but that's about it. But we're still only looking at prices comparable to most other Fantasy or Sci-Fi skirmish games.

Games Workshop's other big release if Warhammer 40,000 Escalation a supplement that allows you to bring the super-super-heavy vehicles previously restricted to Apocalypse battles to a smaller scale.

On the face of it, this is simply smart marketing. There's little point releasing a range of miniatures that cost between £70 and £100 plus and then requiring players to already have several hundred pounds of models plus a games room the size of a barn before they can even think about using them, especially in the run up to Christmas. Plus there's the fact that where once every army need a £30 - £50 model, now you need to double that figure.

However, there may be something more significant about Escalation, in that it represents the relaxation of a trend that has been going on since at least the release of Warhammer 8th edition. Since 8th edition's serious accident waiting to happen of a rulebook was released, GW marketing has focused on bigger and bigger games. A kind of battle-level scale creep if you like. White Dwarf battle reports have shifted from being 2000-3000 points to 3000 minimum and larger for preference, while featured armies and promotional materials have shown larger and large collections of models. Every time a new giant monster or vehicle is released a battle report shows at least two of them in action and this is accompanied by a one click bundle on the Games Workshop website. Seriously, is there anyone who really needs three Lords of Skulls?

I'm not sure if these two threads are really related, but it's worth considering that Games Workshop prices may only be considered unreasonably high because of the quantity you need to buy and that, for the first time in a long time, Games Workshop may be suggesting it might be okay to play with a smaller number of models. Food for thought.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Free Space

So games Workshop has started charging for the use of its gaming tables and painting space in some parts of the UK, which has sparked some debate. Not that they're charging out right. What they're actually doing is handing out tokens with purchases that entitle the bearer to a certain amount of table-time.

It's not really a new argument and has, in fact, been floating around for years, particularly in the US which has more independent game shops and, therefore, less central management dictating policy. One of the main arguments is, basically, that in the age of the Internet offering customers free table space is all well and good if they're actually customers. Everyone's heard stories of gamers who spend hours in game shops taking up space, before going home and buying everything online at a discount. On this basis the Games Workshop approach is actually quite smart, given that it rewards customers for being customers and, arguably, adds additional value to GW's products.

Still, I find myself looking at things from another angle.

For a start, suddenly charging for something, however covertly, for something that used to be free never goes down well. The longer something is available for nothing the more it feels like an entitlement and the more likely your former patrons are too storm off in a huff when it's withdrawn, whether or not this is reasonable. So you'd better be sure that what you're doing is going to do more good than harm.

But I think there's something more important here. Free gaming tables and painting spaces have, effectively, been Games Workshop's answer to a fundamental industry problem.

Thinking about miniature gaming, can there be another hobby with a greater disconnect between the way it is sold and the product you actually buy. What I mean is that miniature games (not just Games Workshops) are sold with pictures of huge armies of beautifully-painted models facing each other over elaborate battlefields festooned with lavishly constructed scenery. What you actually get when you open a box is several sprues of dull grey plastic or metal lumps. You then have to find the glue, paint, scenery, space and time to actually put all of this together. "Contents may vary from shown" doesn't really cut it.

Put another way, if when I was about to buy my first box of miniatures, my future self had emerged through the orb of time and told me, "It'll be two years before you're on top of the rules, five years before you paint a model you're happy with, ten years before you've painted a whole army, and twenty before you have a permanent gaming table and scenery that's in colour and not made from polystyrene packing and piles of books," I might have been slightly put off. Miniature gaming requires an absolutely huge amount of work before you can actually game as the promotional material suggests. Hell, it takes a fair bit of effort just to play badly assembled, unpainted models on the kitchen table.

Games Workshop's offer of free table and painting space was a small concession thrown at new hobbyists. "Don't worry about the scenery, or the space or the paint," it said, "come use ours. Worry about all that later. Just buy some models. Sit down here and I'll help you assemble them."

Of course, you could retort that the new regime still serves this purpose, a copy of Dark Vengeance, or Isle of Blood will let you plenty of table time. But it doesn't last forever and, given that most of Games Workshops target audience are at the younger end, there will come a time, or even times, when they may want to use some space and not actually have scraped together the minimum necessary to allow a token purchase. Is it really a good idea to send the message "sorry lads, fun's over, we got your money, no piss off and come back when you've got a disposable income."

There's a sense in which all of this fits in with a lot of Games Workshop's recent behaviour. Things like shutting down bloggers who leak bits of White Dwarf or running a Games Day with no actual games. The advantage of the GW strategy of doing everything themselves, is that the different parts of the company didn't have to justify themselves on their own terms. White Dwarf doesn't have to make money, it's a promotional tool. Games Day is for getting people excited about games, even if they don't necessarily buy them on the day. And free hobby space is about creating a welcoming atmosphere and letting people know there's somewhere they can do all of the activities that make up the hobby.

By charging for it, even obliquely, Games Workshop have made it that little bit harder to be a hobbyist and, given the business they're in, I'm not sure that's a good idea.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Unlikely combinations

Since I started my latest project, getting my Temple of Ro-Kan models painted for Bushido, I have been looking at some of Oshiro Model Terrain's rather lovely er... model terrain (the clue is in the name). If I'm going to be playing more of a game set in a kind of fantasy medieval Japan, I want my table top to look the part.

SO far, my Japanese-ish scenery collection consists of a handful of cardboard buildings printed from a PDF (I would credit the designer, but I got them from a link in a forum post ages ago and I honestly can't remember). They actually look very nice, cost very little and took, probably, no more than an hour to assemble.

I am generally very much in favour of cardboard scenery. I have a small town's worth of medieval fantasy buildings made from Fat Dragon and World Works PDFs. There is no way I could have afforded that many buildings made from any other material and building from scratch would have taken ten times as long and probably not looked as good. And, frankly, given the choice I would rather be painting models than scenery. Plus, cardboard is more sympathetic to buildings than more organic structures like rocks and trees.

But the problem is, once you've started with cardboard you can't really stop. Your cardboard town, with its cardboard streets, cardboard buildings, cardboard carts, market stalls and goods all look nice together, but once a plastic or resin building sneaks in it looks weirdly out of place. All bumps and grunge next to the nice smooth surfaces. It's like photo shopping an illustration into a photograph, both might look good but they don't look right together (unless the incongruity is the point).

So far, I have been looking at Oshiro's smaller items, grave stones, barrels and assorted brick-a-brack. But they also have a nice range of full sized houses, as well as some smaller, but still sizable items, like drums, arches and even an outdoor toilet. But the bigger I get, the harder it gets to mix them with my existing buildings. And I've seen the price of those Oshiro buildings. They look gorgeous, but my wallet can only take so much abuse.

So I face a dilemma. Stick with what I've got, replace it piecemeal as I can raise the cash or live with a mismatched 2D/3D world.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Kings of War Kickstarter - the end and a review

My final Mantic Games Kings of War Kickstarter box has arrived, leaving me in a position to evaluate the campaign as a whole. I haven't opened everything or assembled anything yet so I am in a better position to judge some things rather than better than others, but my current position is summarised below.

Very Good
Gargoyles
Trolls (I know some people don't like the stumpy legs, but I like my Trolls to look odd an misshapen)
Ogres
Obsidian Golems
Goblin Mincer
The heroes, with one notable exception
Goblin Fleabag Riders



Good
Elf Palace Guard
Mummies
Cat Cavalry
Abyssal Dwarf Infernal Guard
Orc Chariot/Fight Wagon
Werewolves (Unfairly maligned, in my opinion. Probably because of the sample paint job in which the furry areas and fleshy areas are painted in different colours. Painted in one unified colour they look much better)

Okay
Mounted Paladins
Foot Paladins

Flawed
Battle Sisters
Mikayel (Twighlight Kin Hero)

Is that supposed to be a rocking horse?

Um...
Men at Arms

Reserving Judgement (Mantic haven't put out any pictures of these yet and they come in too many pieces to easily evaluate)
Dwarf Badger Riders
Elf Cavalry
Twilight Kin Cavalry

The Basilean Men-At-Arms are not good, to put it mildly. There's been a lot of criticism of the faces, which look a bit wrong, but to my eye they just look ugly. That's not necessarily a problem, in an army full of shining paladins, warrior nuns and angels, making the rank and file look a bit lumpen seems fair enough.

But there's a lot more wrong, both in sculpting and production. The arms and legs look too long for the bodies. On the face of it this is a sculpting problem, but it could be that they were sculpted for resin plastic, which shrinks a lot more in production than hard plastic. If that's the case, the conversion process for hard plastic hasn't been done very well. Then there's the plastic itself, which looks cheap and shiny and tends to obscure detail, particularly on the chainmail. And then there's hands and weapons are separate components, which means they don't look like they have a proper grip on their weapons. On the positive side, the weapons are very nice pieces that will be useful as spare parts.

Beyond sculpting and production, there seem have been problems at the concept stage. We get five bodies, one running, two advancing, one standing and fighting and one stock still. This makes it impossible to assemble a single box into a regiment that looks coherent. Mantic haven't bothered, their sample units use either the standing and advancing or the fighting and running bodies. Also, other than the weapons, we get no spare parts. There's enough for five models with nothing left over, which, frankly, feels a bit stingy.

The final, and most egregious, problem is that they're just too big. They stand taller than Games Workshop's Empire soldiers, while most of Mantic's models are smaller and less 'heroically' scaled.

Compared to Mantic's early plastics these are very poor. There earliest, the Elves and Skeltons combined good detail, casting and a wealth of extra pieces. They weren't quite at Games Workshop's standards but more than justified the price. Later sets, the Dwarfs and Orcs reduced the number of figures and parts, but were still well cast. The casting quality of the goblins is, to be generous, variable (and to be less generous, crap), but at least the sculpting was good.

Until the goblins, Mantic always used Renedra. I'm not sure why they stopped, if it was an issue of cost, time, Renedra are, apparently, snowed under with work from Warlord, Perry and Gripping Beast among others and responsible for much of the wargaming industries non-Games Workshop plastic, or something else. But Mantic's post-Renedra efforts haven't been promising, and leave me slightly worried about Deadzone and its plastic buildings. I don't blame Mantic for sending a team out to China.

Mantic do seem to have noticed the problems, even if they're are not quite acknowledging them openly. The final overview update to the Kickstarter from Ronnie Renton includes this rather telling paragraph:
We used a new process from the one with which we made Goblin plastic sprue, and I think the Men at arms are a big step up in quality from those. While I think they meet the reasonable price for a good number of army figures, I am still not happy that these are at the level I want to see our hard plastic figures. We are still working on this. Until we can find a method that takes the details back to those we have had in the past we will not stop. Every time we learn more and we get better, but we are not there yet, and I thank you for your patience.
Translated from marketing speak, I think that reads "our Men-at-Arms were crap, we don't want to make that mistake again."

Given that Mantic started off trying to compete with Games Workshop producing hard plastic, fantasy miniatures, it's troubling that this is the area where they appear to be struggling. On the plus side, the resin-plastic models have generally improved over time and their prices still give Games Workshop a run for their money, particularly when you take advantage of the larger horde and army boxes.

Moving rapidly to a tangent, this is the first Kickstarter I have seen through to the end, so what can we learn about Kickstarter (and crowd-funding in general) from it?

I have written before about how the relationship between wargames companies and their customers can be weirdly personal and how this can be both a blessing and a curse for both parties. Kickstarter intensifies this relationship.

Backers or Pledgers (not customers note) have to offer money for a product largely sight unseen, which may never be delivered based, substantially, on the company's prior reputation. In return they get a bundle of freebies, exclusives, the promise of getting things before anyone else and a sense of personal involvement with the company thanks to some direct communication. Mantic, in particular, have been very good at communication, responding to comments and incorporating requests into their plan.

The drawback is the sense of entitlement this breeds. Pledgers feel special and that means they expect special treatment and woe betide the company that does something to upset that. Delays rapidly lead to grumbling and Mantic found themselves the subject of serious hostility with their Dreadball Kickstarter when a few copies of the game found their way into the shops before all pledgers had gotten their copies.

Speaking of delays, the other problem with Kickstarter seems to be an obsession with delivery dates. Much of the complaints surrounding Kickstarter in general relate to delays and slipped delivery dates. It's not surprising, Kickstarter already feels less real and concrete than a proper purchase and it feels like a short step from delayed shipment to no shipment to company skipped town with all your money. The consequence is that many companies are obsessed with not missing their deadlines.

Ronnie Renton referred to CNN's article listing Mantic as a successful Kickstarter as a proud moment. But it's significant that this article is all about delivering on time. Part of Mantic's delivery slipped back to August and they felt the need to add extra models to the earlier shipment by way of compensation.

If you look at my list above, its worth noting that its the Bassileans who are slipping into the Okay and Flawed categories and the worst of the bunch is also Bassilean. I wonder if this was because they were rushed out to meet a deadline and suffered as a consequence. The men-at-arms really aren't good enough and, given more time, might Mantic have gone back to the drawing board? I don't know, but I can't imagine rushing is good for the models or for customer satisfaction.

As crowd funding matures, and feels a bit less ephemeral, maybe the focus will shift. Backers may stop worrying about whether their rewards will show up at all, and more about what  state their in when they arrive.

On the other hand, given how strongly gamers can feel about games companies, and given how a Kickstarter tends to intensify those feelings, if gamers find more to complain about than just delivery dates, we could end up with a very bitter and angry community.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Great Battle or Great Game?

At the Battle of Cannae, the Carthaginian general Hannibal (the guy with the Elephants) successfully defeated a numerically superior Roman army, by spreading out his line and attacking both flanks of the Roman army, enveloping it and restricting its ability to bring its number to bear.

It is regarded as one of the greatest tactical feats of antiquity and one of the greatest defeats of Rome. In fact, the defeat was so total that the Romans refused to engage him in open battle again. Forcing Hannibal into siege warfare for which he was ill-equipped.

So, if you wanted to wargame this battle how would you go about it?

The problem is that, at the time, Hannibal's tactics were unexpected. The Roman commander Varro, was impatient and arrogant, engaged too quickly and fell into Hannibal's trap. But a modern wargamer knows exactly what to expect from the Carthaginians, and wouldn't be stupid enough to let history repeat itself.

You could introduce rules requiring the Romans to deploy and engage as they did historically. Or at least to limit the tactical options. But then why re-fight the battle if both sides are forced into repeating the same behaviour.

Alternatively, both sides could be allowed to deploy and engage freely. But this puts the Carthaginian player at a significant disadvantage. One of the reasons Hannibal's triumph is so famous is that it was an against-the-odds victory against a numerically superior foe. Unfortunately, most wargamers are not Hannibal.

The above illustrates the difficulty of reworking historical battles into wargame scenarios. Many a great battle was won because of incompetence of one side, the extreme skill of another or just plain luck. All elements that are hard to rework into an interesting game for both sides (I don't think anyone's in favour of pitching incompetent players against skilled ones just for a laugh).

One interesting approach, might be to let a games master run the scenario, without the players knowing which battle they are re-fighting. Hand both players the resources of the generals and see how it develops. Of course, this doesn't help to resolve imbalances, like the Romans greater numbers at Cannae.

In the end, not all great battles make for great games.

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Next Generation

Readers of this blog based in the UK may have been aware of a publication called CLiNT, if only because it could be found within glancing distance of the wargames magazines in most branches of WH Smith. It was an anthology comic, edited by Mark Millar creator of Kick-Ass, among other things, which attempted to see if there was space in the UK comic market for something other than kid's fair that relied on free gifts to generate sales and 2000AD. Apparently, the experiment was a failure, as CLiNT has published its last issue.

Judging by the mix of extreme violence, moodiness and a slightly odd focus on celebrities (not to mention the 'hilarious' joke title which looks a bit rude if you read it from a long way away), I suspect CLiNT's target audience may have been teenagers whose parents didn't know what they were reading. Not that there's anything much wrong with that. Rebelling against parental authority is an important part of being a teenager and better they do through reading a slightly unsuitable comic than through petty crime. But, it seems the target audience weren't all that interested.

Since at least the 1990s  the audience for comics has been ageing, as dedicated fans largely stick with the industry but are not supplemented by younger readers. It's a phenomenon not unique to the comics industry. Some time back I speculated that traditional wargaming might suffer in the face of a generation who had a less tactile and more virtual connection with their hobbies and interests. The wargaming industry could find itself in the same boat as the comic industry.

Oddly, this is one area where Games Workshop seem to have the right attitude. Whatever you might say against them (and I have said plenty), their focus on younger players, and refusal to rely on the loyalty of existing customers, has got to be the right approach. Whether this strategy can be maintained in the face of regular above inflation price rises, when the cost of living is rising and wages stagnating, is more questionable. So, points for intent, if not for execution

But what of the rest of the Industry. I have to admit, that the approach sometimes looks like naval gazing. Much of the marketing for wargame products is focused on wargame websites and magazines, while a significant portion of the industry is focused on producing material of interest to existing wargamers. There are times when it appears to be doing what the smoking industry claimed to be doing for years, trying to persuade existing customers to "switch brands."

On the other hand, I'm not sure what else they should be doing. My own introduction to wargaming came via the brother of a friend and, having discovered that Games Workshop existed and what it was, I tracked down White Dwarf. Today, I would probably have googled it, but the scenario would have been much the same. The industry has no trouble providing information for interested newbies, in fact its far better than when I started out, the problem is generating the interest in the first place. I wonder how many wargamers started out in much the same way I did, through friends or elder brothers (or sisters) and how dependent the industry is on word of mouth.

I'm afraid this isn't a post that provides a lot of answers, only asks a lot of questions. But if the wargaming industry is to survive long term it needs to continuously engage with a new generation of customers, and I worry that the company most keen to do so may be the least capable of doing so.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Status Report

Hello out there. I'm sorry this blog has been somewhat neglected of late. I would like to offer some interesting and impressive excuse, but the honest truth is that I've been struggling for things to write about.

Part of the problem has been my 'one project at a time' philosophy. It served me pretty well in getting my Chaos Dwarfs up and running, but my latest project isn't actually wargame related, so the net result is that I haven't been doing a lot of painting, modelling or gaming. Following on from that, I haven't been thinking about it as much either. Usually, painting and gaming gets me thinking about things, which leads to blog post ideas. Or at very least some things I can photograph and show off.

But we may have turned the corner. My latest, non-wargaming project, is nearly at an end, which means back to painting and, hopefully, that will get the creative juices flowing again.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Do we need games magazines anymore?

Jake Thornton has posted the Beta rules for the latest three Dreadball teams on the Quirkworthy blog. Once, long ago, these would have been published in a printed magazine. That they now appear on the games designers blog highlights one more area once occupied by dead tree publications that has been annexed by the web.

With the Internet all but ubiquitous, there is really very little left for gaming magazines. Experimental rules work better on the Internet because the designer can get immediate feedback and make quick updates. News is also better managed by websites and blogs which can update more frequently and post corrections.

Other traditional areas covered by magazines, from painting advice, modelling guides, reviews, battle reports may not be any better online, but they certainly aren't any worse and have the advantage of costing far less to publish. It feels like the only advantage print has is that it can be carried to the gaming table, but in the era of Ipads, Tablets and smart phones even that advantage is falling away.

Looking back ten years or more, most miniature companies looking to make a name for themselves, or just compete with Games Workshop, felt the need for some kind of house journal or periodical, from Cry Havoc (Rackham) to No Quarter (Privateer Press). Mantic Games tried it for a little while, but dropped the idea quite quickly. Wyrd Games produce a digital magazine, before focusing their attention on the website. And Cipher Studios have run their blog as a kind of rolling online magazine.

So it feels like the era of the printed games magazine is ending. Does it really matter? Have we not replaced one way of distributing content with another, better, system? Well there is one respect in which a magazine can be better than the web. The web offers an article, blog or video for everyone on almost any subject imaginable. But it is so vast, that you have to go and look for it. A good magazine can offer a selection of articles on a variety of subjects, some of which you might not have thought to read. I have started more than one army and more than one game simply because of a sideways glance at an article in a magazine I had bought for a completely different reason. Yes it is possible to stumble across interesting and unexpected content on the Internet, but are you as likely to?

So if the printed magazine is becoming a thing of the past, there is at least one area where we may be worse off.

Friday, 5 July 2013

A big ol' box of fun

Look what I found waiting for me when I got home from work yesterday.


It's my second reward bundle from Mantic's Kings of War Kickstarter, including a good sample selection of all the KOW models Mantic have up for pre-order at the moment. I knew that they had posted these out at the weekend, but it always feels good to come home to a parcel of goodies.



As my original pledge was worth $175 I knew I would be getting a good selection of free samples. I had also ordered some Ogres, to add to my historical Normans to make them a bit more fantasy for KOW, some Mummies for my Undead and some Elf Palace Guard for MLB (for which he will be compensating me). What I hadn't expected was for Mantic to add this on to my original pledge total meaning that I beat the $225 limit for the next batch of freebies. So I ended up with 3 extra Ogres, 3 werewolves and a goblin mincer I wasn't expecting. Plus there's more to come.

 Basic freebie bundle

There have been some delays, so the Elf cavalry, Abyssal Dwarf Immortal Guard, Gargoyles and most of the Basilean humans (Battle Nuns, Cat-riders and Angels mostly) aren't going to be here for another month or two. But, by way of compensation, Mantic have doubled up my goblin fleabag-riders and Dwarf Brock-riders, so I ended up with ten of each. The dwarves are certainly welcome.

 Extra stuff I paid for

I have only glanced over the models so far and haven't opened or glue anything together yet, but everything seems to be pretty well cast, though there are some frighteningly tiny components.

 Bonus freebies

Now that I have the rather lovely new trolls, the Fight Wagon and the Orc Wizard from the previous bundle of goodies I am seriously thinking about a KOW Orc army. I am sure this is all part of the plan. Nothing like a big bundle of freebies to get you to spend lots more money.

 Lady Ilona the Vampire

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Double Duty

Do you use the same miniatures for more than one game?

Obviously there are some companies who have actively used a range of miniatures as for more than one game. Rackham did it with Confrontation and Ragnarok, Games Workshop with Mordheim and Warhammer and soon Mantic with Deadzone and Warpath, to name but three. Not to mention the venerable history of borrowing models from a tabletop army to use in a Dungeon Crawl board game (Advanced HeroQuest, Warhammer Quest, Dwarf King's hold and so on).

But what about using the same, or almost the same, army for two different table top games. Mantic started out making models that were blatantly usable in Warhammer and Avatars of War have done the same, but now they have their own games would you still use the models for Warhammer?

I have to admit I have always felt a bit funny about this. I can't pretend its rational, but somehow I feel as though each army should be tailored for a particular fantasy world. I don't like the idea that my Mantic Undead should have a kind of cross dimensional existence in both the Warhammer and Mantic worlds. Weirdly, the rule even applies to games that aren't associated with a particular range of miniatures. I have been looking at Song of Blades and Heroes lately, but even there I think I would have to use a specific set of models for the game. It makes no sense, and its costing me money and shelf space.

Strangely, this self-imposed rule doesn't apply, or at least doesn't apply as strongly, to historical games. I have now issue with the idea of using my Normans and Saxons for Clash of Empires or Hail Caesar, or my (very slowly) developing Samurai army for Taiko or Osprey's forthcoming Ronin. Maybe, because historical miniatures represent actual people, they cannot be coupled to a rules set in the way that an invented fantasy or sci-fi range can?

Maybe there's hope for me in this direction. Just recently, I tried playing Kings of War using my Normans as a human kingdom, and now I have ordered a bunch of Mantic's Ogres to bulk them out in fantasy gaming only. The big test will be if I ever use them for Warhammer.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Too much rules makes my brain hurt!

When getting used to a new set of rules, the first few games tend to be a pretty uneven affair, characterised by a lot of flicking back and forth through rulebooks and checking stats. I'll admit that these early games are not always a lot of fun to play; I'm far too busy trying to keep track of the rules to think about tactics and victory or defeat all to often depends on whether you got the rules right.

It's for this reason I find myself gravitating back to Warhammer so often. It's not that I think it's the best set of rules, it isn't, but for most of the 1990s it was, for me, literally the only game in  town. I have played it so much over the years that the fundamentals are second nature and when new editions come along, I just have to be on the look out for the changes.

This is why I think Mantic have been very smart with Warpath and Kings of War. Here we have two examples of a set of rules that are designed to be easy to learn and play at the exclusion of all else. This can lead to some odd quirks. Nevertheless, I am more willing to play these two than a number of games I have previously played more, simply because I know I am not going to have to look very much up and I can concentrate on the business of actually playing.

The trend in Fantasy and Sci-Fi gaming in recent years has been towards smaller scale skirmish games. This has the advantage that I can build a usable force more quickly and cheaply, even when individual models cost more than Games Workshop (at least until the advent of  Finecast). If you I need five to ten models a side, you're much less likely to baulk at paying £10 a model. And you can focus more time and effort painting individual models and still get them painted more quickly. I have a larger proportion of my Anima Tactics models painted than I ever have with Games Workshop.

The drawback is it does tend to split my collection across lots of different games. Money and time I would have spent building up one army, ends up diffused across multiple gangs, crews or factions. And this means more rules to learn. Unsurprisingly, I find myself gravitating towards the systems where the rules are easiest to learn.

I have all but abandoned Malifaux, largely because it combines an unusual random mechanism, based around playing cards, with a large number of special rules for most models and a complicated abbreviation system for keeping track of them. Then there's Bushido, a game I like and really want to play more, but which, unfortunately, has one mechanism for activation (two short or one long action per turn), one for special abilities (points that are accumulated turn by turn, but which can be stored across multiple turns) and another for combat (a pool of combat dice that have to be divided between attack and defence and which can be sacrificed to produce additional effects).

One of the things I have always liked about Anima Tactics is that it has very few mechanisms to control things. Activation is based on action points that are renewed at the start of the turn, special abilities are mostly special actions that work in the same way and most effects are resolved by rolling a d10 adding a stat and modifiers and comparing it to a target number or the opposing players roll. Dreadball, and soon Deadzone, use a similar mechanism of rolling multiple dice, trying to equal or exceed a target number and counting the number of successful rolls. Even the badly presented Infinity rules, have the advantage of a single dice mechanism which covers most situations.

I wonder how often 'ease of learning' is factored into rules design? I know Jake Thornton has said he favours rules that are quick to learn but with plenty of tactical depth. But with some designers it feels like depth is being confused with complexity. I also wonder if my experience with Warhammer tells us anything. When your playing the same game day after day it becomes second nature and it's all to easy to forget how baffling it can appear to outsiders.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Something of a status update

The problem with my 'don't start a new project until you finish the current one' policy is that if I start a project I'm not really enjoying, I find myself making excuses not to do it and so nothing gets done. It probably doesn't help that I extended my policy to things other than wargaming and painting and the thing I am supposed to be doing takes a lot of focus. Painting is a great 'after work' activity, because I can move my laptop to my hobby room, fire up a DVD or BBC IPlayer and get on with an activity that doesn't demand a lot of deep thinking.

My current project (of which more if I ever manage to get anything done), requires a lot more focus, a fair bit of reading and background noise is a distraction. It feels like more work after work. And so I keep finding other things to do instead,

Not that I don't have other things to do. My hobby room has acquired a new book case, thanks to the generosity of a friend of my Mother, who recently moved to a smaller home. I managed to get it shifted into my hobby room at the weekend, but to do it, had to clear everything from one side of the room and I'm still in the process of putting it back. It didn't help that a lot of the stuff I moved was still in its packaging, which prompted a mass opening session on Saturday evening. But, until I get finished, my Hobby room table is inaccessible and that isn't conducive to getting anything done.

I'm pretty happy with the bookcase though. My hobby room has essentially been a work in progress since I managed to annex the space. It started out as, essentially, a large cupboard before evolving into somewhere were I could occasionally squeeze in a game if I shoved everything to the side of the room. The breakthrough came when I moved my gaming tables into the middle of the room, which gave me a playing space while allowing me to store a bunch of stuff underneath them.

Unfortunately, stuff tends to expend to the limit of its environment and now my gaming tables have stuff on top as well as underneath. Which means I have to do some serious clearing and sorting, which further means my project gets put off.

The biggest problem with wargaming as a hobby is the amount of work you have to put in before you get to the part that's actually fun.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Follow the Leader

Despite Army Painter Quickshade having served me well for most of the army, I decided to dispense with it for a handful of models.

The K'daai Fireborn were the second of the two additions courtesy of Salute 2012. They were much better cast than the Iron Daemon and went together very well. Unfortunately, they were afflicted with some truly atrocious flash and, between the elaborate armour and the flames, I'm not sure I managed to get rid of all of it.



I didn't use Quickshade on these because I didn't think it would work well for the flames. I ended up undercoating it white before adding a coat of old Games Workshop bad moon yellow and adding successive washes and highlights getting progressively darker towards the tip, before giving a final highlight of almost pure white.

I am indebted to this website for the technique. I didn't follow the step-by-step exactly, but it did give me some very good guidance.



After all that work on the flames, the armour was relatively straight-forward, just a base coat of boltgun metal, a black ink wash some highlighting and some brass details around the edges.

The last two models I decided to paint the old fashioned way were the two Sorcerer Prophets on Great Taurus and Lammasu. As the focal point of the army, I thought they deserved extra care and attention.

The Great Taurus rider was originally a Chaos Dwarf Lord, but with that option excised from the army list he now counts as a Sorcerer Prophets. I'll admit that his massive hat is faintly ridiculous, but fashion for the great and good in society has often tended toward the ridiculous. One way of demonstrating wealth and status was to wear stupidly impractical clothing that proved you couldn't possibly be doing any manual work. Plus he probably executes anyone that laughs at his head gear.



I wanted to keep to the general colour scheme of the army, but to make it more elaborate. Consequently, I spent more time shading and highlighting the decoration and tried to make the skull on the top of the hat look like it was made of stone. As Chaos Dwarf Sorcerers are supposed to slowly petrify over time, I used the same trick on his feet. I painted both areas in Vallejo Neutral grey, with some simple highlights, but mixed in some silver grey and painted on lines to simulate cracks.



The Great Taurus is one of my favourite Warhammer monsters, and a rare example of a Warhammer monster sculpted by Alan Perry (check?). The bulging muscle tone and wide eyes suggest tension and give an aggressive look. I also like the spread wings that are joined all the way along the body.



I stuck to the classic red colour scheme for the skin, but decided to use brass for the hooves and horns. Brass horns, claws and talons are a common trope in Greek mythology and in some versions of the story, the Minotaur is described as having brass horns, so it seemed appropriate here. I was very pleased with the look, which contrasts nicely with the red skin. Finally, I painted yellow inside the mouth to imply heat.



The Lammasu rider, in contrast to the Great Taurus, was always supposed to be a Sorcerer and has a much more traditional look. I decided to use the army colour of Privateer Press Sanguine base for his robes, but I took a bit of licence to paint the area around his chest in boltgun metal. I don't think he was supposed to be wearing a breast plate, but as the modern Sorcerer Prophets are supposed to wear Blackshard armour I thought it was appropriate.



The Lammasu's colour scheme presented me with a dilemma. I am not fond of the blue used on Games Workshop's recent re-release, which would, in any case, clash with the rest of the army. I considered using Sanguine base, but thought that would be too similar to the Great Taurus and would not provide a good contrast with the Sorcerer Prophet. In the end I decided to go with black, but I didn't to go too dark so I started with a base of Vallejo German grey (which is their darkest grey, only slightly off black) and highlighted by mixing in basalt grey which has a slight touch of blue, To keep with the army theme, I painted the beard and hair in Sanguine base.



So that's the army done, after only 17 years. Forcing myself to stick to one project and making use of Quickshade really paid off here and, once I finally got started, I finished this army far more quickly than any of its predecessors. I am thinking of adding one or two elements, a few more K'Dai would be nice, a Magma cannon as its the only war machine I don't have and, with its short range, would benefit from being towed by the Iron Daemon. I also have 16 hobgoblin bowmen sitting around unused. There aren't enough of them to form a unit under the new rules, but if I can find four more, it would be nice to bring back the last of the original army line up.



Coming Soon: the army in action.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The War Machines

Although I said my Chaos Dwarf army dated back to the great Games Workshop lead sale, one of the Death Rockets is slightly older. I was persuaded to buy it by a pushy Games Workshop sales assistant who insisted that it was perfectly acceptable to use it in my Chaos army. My friend readily agreed, though I quickly regretted my decision when he decided to use it as a justification for including a Level 4 Empire Wizard with a bodyguard of Knights of the White Wolf in his Dwarf army.


The second Death Rocket was part of my original army bundle from Games Workshop.


I kept the same colour scheme as the rest of the Chaos Dwarfs, spray painting them metal and using Army Painter Quickshade Strong Tone. Under the new rules they count as Shrieker rockets. Can't decide whether I prefer the old or new names. Death Rocket sounds more aggressive, but shrieker is more original. At least their not called Hell rockets. Games Workshop feels the need to stick the word Hell in front of everything these days. Give it time and you'll be painting your models with hell-paint using a hell-brush.

 But I digress.

For the Earthshaker, or Dreadquake (take your pick) I mostly kept to the same colour scheme, but painted the barrel in Vallejo Bronze. I also had a new pot of Vallejo verdigris glaze (its the green stuff that forms on Bronze when exposed to the air). This was the one time Quickshade let me down. The glaze produced a really nice effects, with little bits of green running through all the ridges and cracks, but the dip almost entirely obscured it. Pity, but the dip has been good to me other than that.


Under the current rules, the Dreadquake is at a severe disadvantage without an Ogre slave loader, so I will have to get hold of one at some point. My Little Brother collects Ogres and I am encouraging him to get a scrap launcher so I can steal the spare Ogre from the Iron Belcher.



Next Time: Doing without Quickshade

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

It's the Cavalry!

This is a bit of a cheat, because I actually finished one of the Death/Shrieker rockets next, but I wanted to save it and show all the war machines together. So this time we'll take a look at the more mobile element of the army.

Half of the hobgoblin wolf-riders came from my original army box, but I quickly grabbed five more to bulk them up. They have served me faithfully, if unreliably ever since.



I didn't think they should follow the same colour scheme as the Chaos Dwarfs as I didn't think their masters would bother to issue uniforms. Overall I wanted a more raggedy and less uniform look to the unit, but I still wanted them to look like a coherent whole so I employed a common tactic of painting them using a restricted pallet of colours but using the colours in different places. So one hobgoblin would have a brown hat and a red tunic and another a red tunic, but crucially, it would be the same shade of brown, red, yellow, etc. I also gave the standard bearer and champion a shield painted in the official army colour of Privateer Press Sanguine base to tie them into the army as a whole. I used a mix of different colours, including some Games Workshop terracotta that I squirreled away, but I can't honestly remember the full list.


For the wolves I copied pictures of actual wolves who have darker fur on top with light grey or white fur on their lower bodies and legs. The light fur gave me a good opportunity to inject a bit of brightness into the unit. The dark fur was Vallejo German camo black-brown and the light fur Vallejo silver grey.

The bull centaurs were the first major addition to my army after the great lead sale. I grabbed five initially, adding the final three some years later. For these guys I went back to the official army colour scheme. The big dilemma was skin colour. I certainly didn't want to follow the old GW route of painting the bull bodies red, but I was divided over how to paint the skin on the top half of the body. With centaurs it is always difficult to paint the animal skin in one colour and the humanoid skin in another unless you're very good at blending. With the bull centaurs, the join between animal and dwarf is covered by their armour, but that can leave the two parts looking very disjointed. On the other hand, I didn't want the dwarf bodies to look too dissimilar from the Chaos Dwarfs. That was one of the things that put me off the new bull centaurs, they don't look Chaos Dwarf-ie enough for me. In the end I decided to risk the disjointed look, painting the bull bodies in Vallejo german camo black-brown and the dwarf bodies bugman's glow.


One thing I am still divided over is the basing. I stuck with original cavalry 25mm x 50mm bases, but that was before the new models were released. Given that they are considered monstrous cavalry, their bases do seem a bit small, especially as three of them is considered enough for a full rank. I don't want it to look like I am using smaller bases to give a competitive advantage, but the chariot bases of the new ones seem far too big for these models. I am thinking about going with 40mm x 40mm, which is a pretty decent compromise, but I may try making a custom movement tray that spaces them out a bit more and see how it looks.


Next up: War Machines

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Musing about Deadzone and Kickstarter

The Deadzone kickstarter has come to an end and Mantic have managed to raise over a million quid. As I got in pretty early I have spent a good chunk of the last month sitting back and watching my rewards steadily increase. I did very well out of the last weekend.

With Dreadball I arrived late to the part and put in for the $100 Jack pledge, rather than the $150 Striker. At the time I was trying not to spend out too much at once, and thought that the $100 level gave me more than enough. In retrospect I didn't look carefully enough at the difference between the two reward levels and have felt slightly left out. This time round I forked out the full $150 (actually $146, I got one of the early birds and saved a whopping $4!) for the best deal and all the additional freebies.

Not that its easy to gage how good a deal I have got. I certainly seem to have a lot of stuff for my $150. Other skirmish games like Malifaux or Infinity would never have been able to match that. The only thing that comes close is Games Workshop's Dark Vengeance and Isle of Blood starters and they don't feel like good value because they represent such a tiny proportion of a proper army. If we were still using second edition Warhammer 40,000 rules you could get two full armies out of Dark Vengeance and it would be the best value boxed set ever. In the end I've come away with some fifty miniatures, 12 sprues of scenery, a battle mat and various accessories including the rule book, and that's just the basic pledge.

And that brings me to the subject of add-ons. There a good trick. You can get lots of stuff, but they aren't anything like as good value as the basic pledges, even with buy one get one free offers. The point is to get you to pledge more money, but that leads to some pretty ambivalent marketing. You pledge in the first place because of the incredible amount of stuff you get for the price, but persuading you to buy add-ins requires to believe that it still wasn't enough and you need more.

You certainly can't knock Mantic's marketing. This has been a hugely successful campaign that has built on two previously successful campaigns. Mantic have learnt how to run a Kickstarter. Set a low opening target so that you can achieve it fast and report success then have lots of stretch goals to build momentum. They were very smart in having models and scenery already painted, and even available to handle for those of us who were at Salute or the Mantic open day. Add in plenty of concept art and be ready if things go really crazy and they're away. One lesson learned from failed Kickstarters, like Beyond the Gates of Antares, is that you have to have plenty to show off.


In an odd way, its the inverse of the Games Workshop approach. Instead of holding everything back until it's ready for release, push out as much information as possible. Of course we have a long wait before we get anything, nothing's due until December, with the second batch of stuff coming in the first quarter of 2014. When added to the Kings of War and Dreadball Kickstarters this leaves us in the odd position of knowing most of Mantics release schedule for the next year already. Thinking about it, this is how a successful Kickstarter works, by allowing us access to a years worth of releases over a period of two months. We just won't be getting any of them any time soon.

I say successful, but we don't really know what a truly successful Kickstarter looks like yet. So far, it has been gauged in terms of the amount of money raised, but that doesn't tell us where the game will be in a year, two years, five years time. The advantage of Kickstarter is that it allows you to gauge interest in your product, but what you can't tell is how it will do afterwards. What if everyone with an interest has already pledged? $1 million is a lot of money, but is it enough to sustain Mantic for the next year? Dreadball has, apparently, sold very well beyond the Kickstarter, which is encouraging, but can we be sure that Deadzone will do the same? Given the amount of stuff I'm getting, I can't see myself buying anything more for it any time soon.

But this is the third Mantic Kickstarter, and they still haven't done one for Warpath. I'm firmly expecting another in six months time. I've written before about how Games Workshop has become trapped in a cycle of new editions in order to maintain its momentum. Could Mantic find itself in a similar cycle of Kickstarters?

If some of the above sounds cynical, it's not really intended to be. I am hopeful that Deadzone will do well and am pretty optimistic, the rules look strong, the models are great and there's plenty you can do with it. The wait will be long, but if I can manage to sit back and forget about it, there will be a nice bonanza come Christmas. But after two months of excitement it's hard not to feel deflated. Kickstarters work by channelling enthusiasm into a brief period of time, its hardly surprising that when they come to end they leave us all a little worn out.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The UK Games Expo

I'm sorry I haven't updated in ages. I hadn't realised it had been that long, I have a whole other post just ready to go that just needs pictures uploading and it will be ready. I'd forgotten I hadn't already posted it.

Part of the problem is that I write most of these at work, during my lunch break, and having taken a few days off I haven't had any lunch breaks. But I promise to get things up to speed and will have new Chaos Dwarf pictures very soon.

Now that I'm back at my desk it feels like a good opportunity to talk about the UK Games Expo in Birmingham, which took place a little over a week ago. The Expo was an event I had been meaning to go to for years but, somehow, always failed to get myself organised. I was always labouring under the misconception that it took place later in the year than it actually did. By the time I got round to looking it up, it would be the following weekend and far too late to sort anything out.

Well not this year, I had tickets, train tickets and a hotel room for me and my little brother booked months in advance. We set off early Saturday morning, got there for about ten and stayed the whole weekend, leaving on the morning of the bank holiday Monday. It was my first true multi-day convention. I have been to conventions that last more than one day, but not stayed for more than one day. More significantly, this was the first convention where I was staying at the venue, in this case the Birmingham NEC Metropole Hotel, which did have an effect on the atmosphere.

Having a proper base at the venue meant we could pick things up and drop them off easily, no need to carry out cumbersome bags of stuff. The fact that we had two days gave a relaxed air to proceedings. Both the bar and the buffet restaurant (when it wasn't serving breakfast) were quickly colonised by gamers trying out newly acquired games. It was nice to be able to withdraw from the rush and find a quiet spot to game.

Most of my convention experience has been at shows that emphasised wargaming, with a handful of RPGs and board games on the side. I have also attended board game and RPG focused shows. The Expo was unusual in striking a pretty good balance between all three. The dealer room was, perhaps, slightly biased towards board games, but Mantic, GCT and Exodus Wars flew the flag for wargaming and there were plenty of stands selling Games Workshop stuff and RPGs. Board games and wargames were pretty evenly represented in tournaments and RPGs were run all weekend in a room of their own.

There were also plenty of demo and pickup games. Most of these were board games, unsurprising as these were the easiest to set up. As well as trying out a few new games, such as Red Dragon Inn and Smash Up, both of which made there way home with us, MLB and I also got to try out giant-sized versions of Ticket to Ride and Castle Panic which added a bit of novelty to already enjoyable games.

The Expo was also one of the most child-friendly conventions I've been to. The giant games attracted attention, but there were also family areas set aside and plenty of child friendly games to try out. I'm quite sorry I left it so late to start coming, MLB would certainly have appreciated it when he was younger. Another nice addition was the inclusion of the cinema room, showing Avengers Assemble, the Judge Dredd fan film Judge Minty and the documentary the People versus George Lucas, which gave us something to do in the evening.

If there was any kind of problem it was that it was very difficult to sample a bit of everything. MLB and I hadn't booked any RPG sessions, partly because of the amount of time they would have taken up, nor did we look at the tournaments. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake, but it would have been hard to squeeze any more in. Next year, I think I will make a point of signing up for at least one RPG session.

Overall, it was an enjoyably different experience and one I intend to repeat next year.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Devil Train

The Iron Daemon presented me with a few issues.

I picked it up from the Forge World stand at Salute 2012. As with most things Forge World, its essentially a very  nice piece of design that still doesn't justify its price and was nowhere near as well cast as the pictures would imply. It took a considerable amount of filing, scraping and bending to get it into a half way decent state. One of the Chaos Dwarf crew had an absolutely terrible lump of resin cast into his arm pit that was all but impossible to remove and had to be almost entirely filed down.


Getting the components together was hardly a joy given how many of them there were and the not well poorly printed instructions. It didn't help that many of the pieces were essentially just cylinders so spotting where the piece ended and the flash/sprue began was quite tricky. One or two of the smaller bits almost got swept away with the rubbish.



Once the assembly was done I faced another dilemma, whether or not to use Quick shade. Given the size and significance of the model, I thought I should try painting it the old fashioned way. What put me off was the sheer number of smooth metal surfaces. I've never had an easy time painting metal or smooth surfaces. For a long time, I stuck to dry brushing armour, but that approach wasn't going to work here. I got on okay with my Chaos Warriors, but the metal plates on these were relatively small.



In the end I wimped out and used Quickshade. After all, if it didn't work I could always pay another fifty quid and go through the whole laborious process again.


In the end I was quite pleased with the results. I stuck to the standard army colour scheme, undercoating with Plate Mail Metal before covering the decorative areas with copper and Sanguine base. I painted separately before gluing them to the finished war machine.


I still haven't decided whether to base it. It would make it easier to use in game as it would be easier to tell with what it's in base to base contact. The only thing putting me off is that might get in the way of coupling it to another war machine; I still have my eyes on a Magma cannon. I may try flocking and painting a base, but not actually gluing the Iron Daemon to it. If it has been appropriately flocked, friction should keep it attached.


Next up: Hobgoblins and Bull Centaurs

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The Chaos Dwarfs march

I promised pictures of my recently painted Chaos Dwarfs some time back, time to deliver on the promise.

The army as it stands was the result of a concerted effort, since Christmas, to fully complete a painting project before moving on to the next. It has paid off pretty well for these guys who have been my fastest painted Warhammer army, which is bizarre given the age of most of the models.

The army started out in 1996 at the very end of what was known as the 'great lead sale' when Games Workshop switched to lead-free white metal. The process of switching over was quite drawn out, but for the last weekend prior to the removal of all lead from the shelves, there was a sale the like of which we haven't seen before or since as all lead models were half price.

Guildford Games Workshop tried to clear some more stock by bundling up related packs into 'army deals'. After much arm twisting my Dad forked out the £65 necessary to get me the beginning of my army. It was a bit of an odd selection, with both a Great Taurus and Llamasu, as well as plenty of war machines, but only a handful of Chaos Dwarf infantry supported, unreliably, by hobgoblins, but it was a good base on which to build.

Over the next couple of years I bulked up the army with more warriors and bull centaurs. After Warhammer 6th edition came in, the Chaos Dwarfs were neglected and eventually taken off the main page of the Games Workshop web store. For a while, a number of them were still available if you entered "chaos+dwarf" into the search engine. Seeing the writing on the wall I scooped up the blunderbusses I needed, thinking more that it would probably be my last chance to do so rather than with any specific plan in mind.

The army lay essentially retired until the very end of 2011, when the release of the Tamurkhan book prompted me to dig them out. I had no intention of building a whole army from scratch at Forge World prices, but was more than happy to add some new elements and, at Salute 2012, I acquired an Iron Daemon and three K'Daai Fire born.

Despite having had many of them for 16 years or more, I had never painted a single one of them. When I first started wargaming I hardly painted anything, not being at all happy with the results. As I got older my painting rate increased, but less than the rate at which I accumulated models. Thanks to their years of retirement, the Chaos Dwarfs never made it to the top of the pile until now.

First up I needed to decide on a colour scheme. I like my armies to have a uniform look, using the same basic palette of colours. I also planned to use Army Painter quick shade dip to speed things a long. I wanted to steer well clear of the bright red look of the official Games Workshop army from the mid 1990s, but I did want to stick with sombre reds as well as metal colours and black hair and beards.

Fortunately, I had a box of old plastic Chaos Dwarfs that I didn't plan to include in the army. They are too big to rank up properly and are somewhat lacking in detail. But they were ideal for trying out colour schemes.



In the end I didn't exactly follow any of these, but used a mix of the most promising elements.

I started with the Chaos Dwarf Warriors, who count as Infernal Guard under the Tamurkhan rules. The first fifteen, including the command group, came from my original army bundle, but they were quickly bulked up to 21 (they were sold in blisters of three). Careful hunting at different games shows got them up to 28, which meant a unit of 30 with the Castellan and Daemon-smith. I added one of the old plastic Chaos Dwarfs, because I wanted to be able to field a unit of 30 without the Daemon-smith. He ranks up okay on his own and doesn't stand out too much from the crowd.



They Infernal Guard are very much the exemplars of my army colour scheme. They were given a spray undercoat of Army Painter Plate Male Metal spray. I used Vallejo copper for the metal details, their leather brown for the boots and axe handles and black grey for the hair and beards. Privateer Press Sanguine base was used for the shields, gloves and other dark red areas, with their Menoth base handling bone and teeth. Games Workshop new range was represented on the skin, which was painted in Bugman's glow.



I painted them in flat colours with no shading and highlighting. I used army painter quick shade dip, though I didn't literally dip, instead using a cheap brush I got from Model Zone. I had tried dipping before and hadn't been entirely happy with the results. Finally I gave them a coat of anti-shine varnish.

The Daemon-smith and Castellan were given a bit more attention. I added a couple of layers of highlighting, as well as painting in some detail around the eyes. The models both came with back banners, but I haven't decided whether to use them or not yet, so for the moment they stay detached. I also have to decide what to do about the standard bearers empty banner pole.



The Blunderbusses were painted in much the same way as the Warriors. In both cases, I painted them in batches of six at a time. This sort of 'industrial' approach helps to keep things moving, but stops me getting too bored painting the same colours over and over.



That's enough for today, coming soon, the Iron Daemon.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Mantic as the new, old Games Workshop

I'm feeling quite excited by the Mars Attacks game. It's not so much the game itself, though the idea of 80 foot robots and giant insects is quite appealing, but more what it says about Mantic as a company.

It feels significant that at the moment Games Workshop is killing off Specialist games, Mantic are expanding. GW have reached a point where if they ever release another game it will be a short-run limited edition thing like Dread Fleet. Their core business is servicing Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000 and LOTR/the Hobbit. And by servicing I mostly mean new versions of the same thing.

When Games Workshop first started out it was a decidedly chaotic company. Initially a games shop, it rapidly became a distributor (kind of by default as no-one else in the UK was selling Dungeons & Dragons), then a publisher first, then a miniature manufacturer. It dabbled in roleplaying games, wargames even computer games (back in the days when they were released on cassettes) it even went through a mad phase of being a music publisher. There didn't seem to be any limit to what they company would try.

When I first encountered Games Workshop in 1990, there was still evidence of that approach. It didn't sell any other companies products and its RPG coverage had shrunk to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but it still had a wide and eclectic range of products. As well as Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, which were then sold as rulebooks, it produced miniature-based board games, like Space Hulk and Advanced Hero Quest, more traditional stand-alone wargames like Talisman and Dungeon Quest and odd eccentricities like the Troll Games marketed to children and Top trumps copy Combat Cards. Then there were left overs from previous licensed products, they still sold a handful of Lord of the Rings models as well as the plastic Daleks and Cybermen box left over from the days when the company held the Doctor Who licence.

Over time, this range has reduced. New games, and even whole divisions, have come and gone, but ultimately the trend has been downwards until only the current big three remain.

Of course you could argue that they simply outsourced this stuff top Fantasy Flight games who have produced a pretty good range of RPGs, board games and card games based on GW IP (though I still have their version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay).

Mantic aren't Games Workshop at their height, but they do show a likable willingness to try out different things. Their core business is Kings of War and Warpath, but they have also dabbled in board games, Project Pandora and Dwarf Kings Hold, and board game/wargame hybrids like Dreadball and Dead Zone. Now we have a licensed game with a very different aesthetic and, possibly, a different scale. It's still very early days, but I'm encouraged that if Specialist Games has been killed off, that another company is willing to experiment with different types of game.

Friday, 17 May 2013

That didn't take long

Just a quick one today.

So who's noticed this? They're reminiscent of the very early GW Epic sprues, all infantry are the same, but vehicles are also included. Not sure about having both sides in one box and the price is quite high, though that gets addressed if they hit their stretch goals.

What interests me is that Games Workshop's departure from this market has left a gap and while they can be accused if treading on GW's IP somewhat, it's in an area that GW have actively chosen to abandon (on a related note, how do the people who accused Mantic of ripping off Blood Bowl with Dreadball feel now?).

I suspect this won't be the last we see of this sort of thing.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Events conspire against us

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," if you believe Von Moltke, and there's certainly nothing like the real world to get in the way of your plans. At the start of the year I decided that from now on I wanted start a new painting project until I had finished the last. That discipline was enough to get my Chaos Dwarf army painted, but it seems to be collapsing or at least compromised in the face of events.

By now I should have finished Aiko and Gorilla for Bushido. Getting my temple models up to date was my next goal, after some time spent focusing on individual models I was going to go back to units, possibly with Kings of War or Clash of Empires (I still have a lot of plastic Normans and Saxons to paint).

It's not my fault that Games Workshop chose now to wind up Specialist games, prompting a last desperate rush of orders so that I got as many models as I could while they were still gettable. It's hardly surprising in the face of all this Epic stuff that my mind has been wandering and I have been using up valuable painting time in a frantic sessions of gluing and sorting. My armies were in disarray, I needed to know what I had so that I knew what to glue. It's not entirely my fault.

I am justifying this on the grounds that gluing isn't painting and so I haven't, technically, broken my rule. I can will get back to Aiko soon and my project will not have been interrupted. Unfortunately, soon is proving to be an increasingly elastic concept. Just Ork fighter-bombers and a Warlock Titan to go, I promise. All rogue thoughts of scratch building a Lord of Battle for a Daemon World army will be put aside, at least until Bushido is done. Definitely. I'm almost certain of it.

Events conspire in other ways to mess with our plans. Okay, I knew that having Salute at the end of one month and the UK Games Expo at the end of the next was going to be financially punishing, but I didn't know Mantic would launch its most interesting Kickstarter and that Games Workshop would try to do away with Specialist games in the same month. I can't put these expenses off, its now or never on all of them.


It helps to remind myself that these things are transitory. After a couple of years of barely thinking about Epic, I have suddenly gone obsessive, a bit like Inquisitor a few months back. Before long something else will distract me. This is why I set goals for myself in the first place, so that I might actually get something finished in the face of increasing lethargy. I will get back to Bushido soon, almost definitely.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

License to Game

Since Mantic's open day news has got out that their first line of licensed miniatures is going to be Mars Attacks. Certainly an unexpected development. My initial reaction was to wonder 'why?' It doesn't strike you as the most obvious license to pursue. Apologies to devoted fans, but it isn't exactly the biggest name franchise around. But it does have a very distinctive look and it's retro sci-fi looks seems reasonably popular at the moment.

Thinking about it some more, it occurred to me that the most obvious licenses don't necessarily make the best wargames. Take Lord of the Rings for example, thanks to Tolkein's obsessive attention to detail we know about pretty much all the major battles in Middle Earth's history as well as the personal history of most of its heroes. We also know that a lot of major characters we're only involved in very specific conflicts. The Army of the Dead and the Mumakils were only seen at one battle. The Fellowship was only together a group for a brief period and fought as a group on only one or two occasions. This limits the value of your shiny new 'Fellowship of the Ring' boxed set if you think about it.

Lord of the Rings players are essentially stuck either replaying the same scenarios, trying to find plausible encounters that fit into Tolkein sanctioned history, playing 'what if' or alternate universe scenarios (what if Gandalf had been evil instead of Saruman, what if Boromir had survived the Orc ambush, what if Sauron had attacked Helms Deep etc) or just ignoring the background entirely and just playing it as a game. I know plenty of people are happy with the last option, but I always felt that if you were going to ignore the background, why bother playing a Lord of the Rings game at all?

So the popularity of a particular license doesn't mean that it makes a suitable game. Which brings me to a license that has been on my 'most wanted' list of games for a while: Avatar - The Last Airbender. To clarify, I am not talking about James Cameron's smurfs in space mega-epic or the dismal M Night Shyamalan travesty of a film. I am talking about the original Nickolodeon, strongly anime influenced cartoon series.

Picture by Allagea on Deviantart.com


For the unfamiliar, Avatar (as I insist on calling it, it got here before James Cameron) is set in a world somewhat influenced by medieval China in which  individuals are able to manipulate or 'bend' the four elements, Water, Earth, Fire and Air, by performing sequences of martial arts inspired manoeuvres. The titular Avatar is the one individual capable of bending all four elements and who is reincarnated throughout history. When the series begins the Fire nation has been engaged in a 100 year war against the other nations (Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes and Air Nomads) Avatar is a 12 year old Air-bender, the last of his people whom the Fire Nation wiped out in a failed bid to get rid of him. The story focuses on the Avatar and his friends attempts to end the war.

So we have four distinctive factions each with their own signature powers and looks. The world is on the cusp of an industrial revolution, so the series introduces us to steam-powered ships, tanks and airships, as well as stone vehicles controlled by earth-benders. The series also has a nice line in animals that are a combination of two real world animals, but usually a different size. So we have a cross between a komodo dragon and a stag beetle that is the size of an elephant and ridden into battle by soldiers who can throw fire balls. The Avatar gets about on a six legged flying buffalo.

The series is open ended enough that there's plenty of scope for 'further adventures' involving the main characters or, alternatively, there's one hundred years of war to play with. As well as opportunities for some very distinctive and colourful armies, I can also envisage some interesting game mechanics based on the way element-bending works.

Then there's the spin-off series Legend of Korra that ups the technology level bringing in planes and robot suits.

Of course the fact that its owned by a Children's TV channel means a wargame is very unlikely to happen Games companies would likely ignore it as being too far removed from the major demographic and Nickelodeon would probably not be interested in a game based on full-scale warfare. That said, there was a CCG a while back and if the Kickstarter ever happens, I'll be first in the door with a pledge.

But it does make you question whether the licenses that end up as games are necessarily the ones that should.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Printing the Future

So someone has successfully 3D printed a gun and it's only a matter of time before we're all shooting each other over the last seat on the bus. In the world were guns are tiny and less likely to fire successfully, 3D printing looks set to make a significant, if hopefully much less traumatic, impact (the day of printing a 3D Space Marine Legion and taking over the planet are probably a good couple of decades away yet).

At the moment 3D printing is still too expensive to be a viable alternative to most companies miniatures, but prices are falling and Games Workshop are trying there very best to overtake them in the opposite direction. This has, understandably, panicked a number of people. If recasting is a problem now, imagine what it will be like if you can simply 3D scan a miniature and produce as many copies as you like.

If 3D printing really does become common place, then I foresee it completely changing the way we go about buying models. If we can make endless copies, then the value in a model lies in the pattern, not the physical object. We are almost there already, very little of the cost of a plastic model is in the material used to make it, most of it is in the design, sculpting and tooling. Eliminate the tooling and that's a major cost saving. Imagine a future where miniature companies sell 3D designs which can be downloaded and printed freely.

Of course such a step would not be wholly without precedent. Some of us having been buying scenery from companies like Fat Dragon Games and World Works for years now. These companies provide PDF files that you print and assemble at home. Once you have the PDF you can print as many copies as you like. The fact that these companies have been around as long as they have shows that this can be a viable business model.

Market Square photo Market01.jpg
3D Printed, sort of

Of course, anyone who has bought PDF scenery knows that the major cost isn't the PDF, which is usually very cheap, but in the card, glue and printer ink. The cost of a 3D printed future will depend on the cost of plastic suitable for 3D printers. And lets face it, if they ever embrace the technology you can guarantee that Games Workshop will start producing its own range of 'high quality' 3D printer plastic that is 'highly suitable for printing miniature' for some reason or another. But until someone invents matter replication, the cost of an army is still likely to increase with its size.

One major advantage of 3D printing is the opportunity for customisation. If a company supplies you with a basic printer pattern, there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to modify it, changing pose or iconography. One pattern could be good for dozens of different variants.

There are already companies like MaxMini and Kromlech whose business if largely in creating custom parts for existing miniatures. Imagine if you could build your own parts or buy custom parts you could print yourself, say a collection of Space Marine shoulder pads. This might be the first step for the wargaming industry. I can't see the big name companies being early adopters, but a small, lean operation might start out by producing custom parts for use with other models downloadable through their own website. And based on past experience, this company would pretty much have to have a Kickstarter campaign.

We could on the brink of a major change in how this hobby is marketed and sold.