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.