Friday 31 October 2014

Iron Scorpion figures initial impressions

I have made a start on the figures in the Dystopian Legions starter set. I love the aesthetic of the range, the merging of historical, fantasy and steampunk is perfect for me. The background looks interesting too, had a brief flick through the booklets included. So far, so good.

On the figures themselves: let me preface my comments by stating that I am not a fan of metal, my preference would be resin, plastic, pvc, then metal. The prepping is a chore that has to be got out of the way as far as I am concerned. There is no poseability as in plastic kits, it's just stick them together as shown on the back of the box. There are no instructions, so the back of the box diagrams are absolutely essential. The photo shows the French Legionnaires. They are very nicely designed and proportioned, none of the chunky nonsense that so many old metals suffer from. Cleaning is straight forward, the mould lines are very fine and, for the most part, easily accessible. Assembly is stress-free, one or two of the arms pieces were slightly twisted, but nothing too serious and the metal is pliable and bendable - note that when cleaning the barrels of the guns you have to exercise care that the thinner bits are not bent or snapped. The backpacks fit nice and snug on the models. As metals go, not too bad at all. I know that the Antarctica automatons are going to be a completely different story - a real scary story that maybe I should have posted for halloween, but more on that in a future post.

I am also making progress in deciding on the colour schemes. I have been collecting images to use as reference. The French will be blue, white and red of course, with the Marines a different blue and more metallics. I have collected a number of images from historical and steampunk/art sites, so have a good idea of the direction I want to go.

The palette for the Covenant of Antarctic troops is less easy to decide on. I want to avoid blue to easily differentiate from the French contingent. I am thinking along the lines of sea green and greys and whites. It will click into place at some point. I love this part of a project, researching background, colours and anticipating the painting. If only the prep was as enjoyable - le sigh.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Making cheap wargames trees part 2

In the first part I made the bases from pennies and paper clips, then textured them with sand and stones. While waiting for them to dry I made a start on the trees.

Some of the best wargames trees I have seen are made from seafoam, basically a dried twig! So I started to look around for something similar, but free (the seafoam trees are £20 or more on ebay). I also wanted something more conifer, less deciduous. Luckily for me, I have a huge buddleia bush in my garden, like in this photo, only mine is about twelve foot tall. The flowers have gone over now and it gets pruned back every autumn, so I snipped off a few of the dead flower heads. They are reasonably robust, twiggy things.

Flower heads trimmed from the bush

Bundled together to be dried

As you can see from these two photos, I simply bundled them together using elastic bands and clothes pegs, these are now hung up in my garage drying. After a few days they will be ready to be turned into trees. I had some pre-trimmed from a couple of weeks ago and worked on them. When they dry they lose a bit of their substance and become a little bit more ragged, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I drilled holes in the stem, which are still quite soft though woody, to slide down on to the base "pin". To add foliage, I mixed up some pva glue, water and a touch of detergent in a shallow tray. The dried flower heads were dipped into this to give them a coating of the glue mix. Then I dipped the gluey twigs into some dark green flock, followed by a lighter green flock - one tone of flock looks a bit false. I then put the new leafy tree on to the base, left them overnight to fully dry.

The next task is to fix the flock on to the trees. For this I sprayed them with a hairspray, hopefully this will hold it in place. I have also read about spraying with diluted pva, but I went for the easier option. I have no idea if this will work, I can tell you better in a few months time after some gaming time, but I am treating them as disposable to an extent - if they fall to pieces/disintegrate, I can just rustle up some more in a jiffy. The total time to make the trees - trimming, drilling a hole up the trunk, dunking in glue and flock, hairspraying - is negligible, extended by drying times. It's about an hour to make up 15 to 20, enough for a few stands. And that's what I will be writing about in the next part, making a base for the individual trees.

EDIT (six months later): There's good news and there's bad news on these trees. The good news is that the hairspray technique work. The flock has stuck to the trees, so I can recommend this as a quick and easy way to stick foliage on to your terrain. Now that bad news. The vegetation is starting to crumble. It's too soft and does not last more than a few months. If you want a quick and temporary set of trees, it's fine, but they will start to fall apart after a few months. Ah well, the bases and the hairspray were sound ideas, but the cuttings need to be harder. I suspect old heather plants would yield some spectacular trees, anything that is quite tough would do. Happy arboreal hunting!

Sunday 26 October 2014

Another game of War of the Ring

It's been a few weeks, but I finally managed to get another game of WotR. This is my third attempt, I have read through the rules a couple of times and gaming buddy Matt has played a few extra games. Between us, we just about know the basic mechanics now. The rules are pretty simple and well laid out, so it's a good mass battle system to play if you like to spend your time moving units and rolling dice rather than poring through a rules book. It could easily be adapted to historical games if you skip the magic and tone down the heroic abilities. These are the two areas I am now trying to get my head round.

Heroes are split into two types - the generic unit leaders like captains of Gondor, and the individuals such as Boromir, Lurtz, Gandalf et al. They give a unit of troops a bonus in combat and a little courage boost, ensuring they stick around in combat for longer. All heroes have might points which they can use to modify dice rolls at a crucial point. The lesser heroes typically have just one or two might points to spend in this way. Greater (or so called epic) heroes have variable numbers of might points to spend, for example Saruman has three, while Boromir has six. Epic heroes also have more special rules available to them, more actions they can perform and greater boosts they can make, often to multiple units rather than just the one they accompany. Getting the best out of them is probably one of the key parts of playing the game, but I am still at an early learning stage for this aspect of the game.

Magic is simpler, though this player seems to be taking an age to decide which spell to cast! Wizards have a mastery level, 1 to 3, which determines how many spells they can attempt to cast in a turn (at the end of the movement phase). They have access to all spells in their lore, and some know spells from two lores. The spell is cast automatically, a single dice is rolled to determine the effect, with a roll of 1 being no effect, 2-5 average, 6 better. Once the spell is resolved, the caster can then try another if his mastery level allows it. To do this he must maintain his focus by rolling greater or equal than the focus level of the spell previously cast. The spells are subtle rather than spectacular, giving courage boosts or penalties, small bonuses in combat, shooting or such like. I played as Saruman and had a couple of turns casting three spells, but killed only a handful of Gondorians, though I did manage to shatter the shields of one unit, which would have been handy if I could have followed it up with a charge into them. As with the heroes special abilities, I suspect that getting the best out of the magic is to properly synergise with the troops on the field. More practise required I think.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Making cheap wargames trees part 1

Woods and forests are one of the essential elements of any wargames terrain collection. If you buy them, ready-made or in kit form, they tend be one of two designs. There's the mini christmas tree look to emulate conifer trees, or the toffee apple look to emulate deciduous trees. There's nothing wrong with them, I have a small collection myself, but they are a bit samey and far from realistic.

The problem with having more elaborate and realistic trees, is that they can be quite expensive to buy, or very time consuming to make. I want to make some reasonably realistic trees, but I want them to be cheap and quick. Is this possible?

I started with the roots, or rather the bases. I want my trees to be reasonably stable on the tabletop. The easiest way to do this is to stick several on to a large base, a piece of mdf, hardboard or plasticard is usually used. However, this approach can cause problems when little soldiers want to get in to the trees and they don't fit. For this reason, most gamers use removable trees. When the troops march up to the forest, just pop a few trunks to one side, march in, replace the trees and job done. So the trees need to be stable but also removable.

My roots are simply paper clips, bent into mini stands with one upright "pin" on which the trunk will fit. These are fixed to a two pence piece, the more recent ones are magnetic - it's worth testing this before you go further. You could also use a washer though these are not magnetic to my knowledge. I bent the clips using my fingers, you could also use a pair of plyers. I stuck them on to the pennies using green stuff, probably not the cheapest option. An alternative would be a hot glue gun, or maybe blu tac coated with superglue. Another option that might work could be a simple tack superglued on. But I just worked with what I had at hand.

The final stage in the bases was a coat of pva glue and a sprinkle of small stones and sand. When they are stuck on they look like this. If I was making just a couple of feature trees I guess I could take more time here and sculpt on some roots - the paper clips would certainly lend themselves to this idea. But these are quick and easy trees, so no time for that. Again, you could be more elaborate at this stage and add all sorts of extra to your bases, depending on your table theme and time you want to spend. For me, these are fine and will be primed and painted in part 2.

Monday 20 October 2014

All Quiet on the Hobby Front

What a brilliant video! If it had been around at the time of the All Quiet on the Martian Front kickstarter project, maybe I would have been swayed. At the time I really liked the tank models but was not convinced by the tripods. Had they been conceived like these in this film, I would have more unpainted figures in my collection. Perhaps it was a good thing that I resisted.

There's not much of my own work to report on at the moment. I am in between projects. I have a few things I could finish off, and a few things not yet started, but little creative energy to tackle them. Maybe it's the end of summer blues?

Saturday 11 October 2014

A fistful of uruk hai

Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy?
In preparation for an upcoming large War of the Ring battle, I have been painting a few uruk hai. These five are to be added to my existing three to make a unit big enough for the game. I realise the central figure has far too many clothes to be a berserker, but he does wield a decapitated head, so it's close enough. Note the white hand markings and the war paint, just to break up the large areas of flesh.

We're all the same inside
As you can see from this photo, the skin of the original three is a little lighter than the new additions. I didn't write down my original paint recipe, they were quite bright orange to start with, so I have glazed them with with chestnut and black to make them more equal. They are not exactly the same, but I reckon Saruman is an equal opportunities employer and won't be too upset.

Of course I'm in charge, I have the biggest hat and pointiest finger
I also painted up this ballista, which I was lucky enough to pick up quite cheaply in an ebay job lot. It's missing a couple of bits and a crew member, but a little improvisation with a plastic figure did the trick. I think I overdid the rust and toned it down with some purple glazing. In truth, it's a bit rushed, but certainly serviceable for tabletop gaming.

The main "engineer" is a nice sculpt, I will probably use him as a character in games when the ballista is not in action. The same goes for the clothed berseker, so the rapid painting session has yielded two characters to add to my uruk hai collection.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Dystopian Legions Iron Scorpion Arrives!

The box in all it's glory
Christmas has come early this year. You may remember my preview post about the Iron Scorpion boxset. The delivery was a little late, due to a Spartan delay and  by me always seeming to be out when the postman arrives, but finally I have got it in my hands. Or rather, on to the table for a quick contents photo shoot.

I have to tell you that this is my official xmas present, so there's not going to be too much detail in this post. I have flicked through the booklets and will be checking the contents, and maybe even painting some of the figures, but I am trying to save it for the holiday season. With another 77 days to go, I will probably be at bursting point by the big day. Just a few photos to give you an idea of what's included, I will be looking at the contents in more detail in the coming weeks.

The contents when you open the lid

The contents laid out on the table

Starter booklet background story

Starter booklet scenario

Sunday 5 October 2014

The Tolkien Trail

No, it's not another feeble advertising campaign from the New Zealand Tourism Board, this is the real thing. On a recent trip to Birmingham I picked up this leaflet. Tolkien spent the early years of his life in and around Birmingham and it may be that some of it ended up in Middle Earth, as this selection of photos shows.

It's quite common for a trip to trigger an idea. A few years ago I took a trip to Glasgow and saw a painting that sparked an idea for a wood elf army. More recently a trip to the coast triggered a desire to revisit my high elves. The trip to the real Middle Earth, you might think, would surely inspire me to paint some Lord of the Rings figures. The truth is, I already have a sizeable collection awaiting paint, and don't really need to be inspired. I just need more hours in every day. More painting coming in the next few days I hope.

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