Tuesday 31 March 2015

Warg Riders, in a field

A quick snap of the very early stages of my next unit, eight warg riders for my Isengard/Mordor contingent. I picked up ten of the old metals on ebay as a joblot, but decided that eight was enough for a game of Saga (with six being sufficient for a Lion Rampant game). I had to strip some of them of paint and also had to greenstuff over some really bad joins. I removed them from the round plastic bases and have them mounted on mdf (from good old warbases of course). The next step is to add a bit of sand and then prime and paint them.

Hastings five-a-side squad out for a training session
I have also been quickly making some grassy fields, from a piece of teddy fur painted with green and yellow acrylic paint. I used a standard decorating brush, with really stiff bristles. This had the double benefit of simultaneously applying colour and brushing out the fluffy bits in the fur. When dried I cut it up into three large fields. Surrounded by fences and hedges it looks reasonably like a field of grass. My next terrain project will have to be some quick and easy hedges to surround these and the older "just planted" fields I made a while back.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Lion Rampant first impressions

I have played my first half dozen or so games of Lion Rampant, the medieval skirmish rules written by Daniel Mersey and published by Osprey. The first game was a slowish affair as we blundered through the rules, but ever since we have played two games a session. As you have probably already read on many a forum or blog, the rules are easy to learn, the games are fast to play. Three games in a two hour session would not be impossible.

The game is set in medieval times, roughly 1066 to 1500. The combatants of the time have been abstracted into 11 categories - five types of infantry, three types of cavalry and three types of missile troops, with some room to upgrade troop types to become expert for a small combat/shooting bonus. Cavalry units are 6 strong. Infantry are usually 12 strong, with a few being just 6 strong. A typical force would comprise 5 or 6 units, so forces are around 40 to 70 figures, depending on player choice. There are no army lists as such, though there are suggestions as to which category to use in which army, but this is left to the player to decide. For example, my Wars of the Roses force comprises a unit of 6 men at arms, two units of 12 billmen (one with an expert upgrade), one unit of 12 expert archers and one unit of 6 bidowers (skirmish archers).

Ready, Aim, er, wait, what do we do now?
In a turn a player attempts to activate a unit, carries out the action if successful, then moves on to his next unit to attempt another activation. Activation is achieved by rolling two dice and scoring equal to or above the unit's activation value. When a unit fails to activate, the player turn ends and passes to the opponent. Activation values range from 5 to 7, so low totals are bad news. In the few games we have played it has not been that uncommon for a player to fail multiple consecutive activation rolls, which can be a bit frustrating at times, especially if the opponent seems to always pass theirs! Dice rolls will average out of course, but you can expect a fairly erratic game in which you might activate all units in one turn, followed by complete failure to do anything in the next turn, and so on. Over a complete game I guess it roughly equalises to both players getting the same amount of activations. If you like random elements like this in your gaming, it's fine, but if you like to carefully plan and have complete control of your troops, then it's probably not the system for you.

Combat and shooting is a very simple and elegant affair. Units roll 12 dice if they are above half strength, otherwise 6 dice. It may seem strange, but it allows the game to roll along at a good pace, no counting out dice every time. Each unit has a value to score in attack or defence, hits are divided by the unit armour value to determine casualties. When a unit suffers casualties it takes a courage test and may pass, or it may be pushed back and become battered (which is disordered/fatigued), or rout. When a unit is battered it can attempt to rally, if it fails it might lose more members or even rout. And that's the game mechanics in a nutshell, very easy and very quick to play.

My first impressions are generally favourable. The game is quick and easy to play, the rules are simple to learn. The unit profiles are quite long, there's 8 or 9 stats to memorise, so there is a bit of flicking through the rulebook to check these on a regular basis. It would have been nice to have these reproduced in the back of the book on one page, rather than the quite pointless blank roster sheet. There are 12 different scenarios to try, some of which are a bit quirky, but give fun alternatives to the usual line-em-up-and-wipe-em-out affair. Next time I introduce wargaming to a non-wargamer, there's a good chance it would be using these rules. If you are looking for in-depth historical simulation, this is not the ruleset for you. If you are looking for a decent, easy to play large skirmish game, then this could be the one. The most interesting thing from my viewpoint is that the system is ripe for use in other ways. I think it would work well to recreate battles in Middle Earth. If nothing else, it's given me a reason to collect and paint some medieval figures, which is nice.

Friday 27 March 2015

Wargames In the Dining Room

For the past few years I have enjoyed many a game in Matt's sumptuous wargaming dungeon. He has lots of space, a large hand built gaming table, with modular boards and a terrain collection he has built up over the years. From small skirmishes in the Indian Wars, robberies on the streets of Victorian London, to mass fantasy battles and the occasional flight into space. There's even a wine cellar attached!

My own set up is a far more modest, portable affair. I have a painted fleece blanket which I throw over the dining room table, a few books as hills and a bit of scatter terrain. It's a 5 x 3 space, so ideal for many of the skirmish games we play. Once I get my terrain collection upgraded, it should be just fine for games like LotR skirmish, Saga, Lion Rampant, Of Gods and Mortals, maybe I will even get my Dystopian Legions forces finished one day.

There are two advantages I can claim over the dungeon (yes, I do have dungeon envy). My system is light and portable. A couple of weeks back I rolled up my battle mat and loaded it and my box of dark ages figures into the boot of the car and they travelled 100 miles to a family visit, where I was able to demonstrate wargaming to my brother in law. And secondly, as you can see from these glorious technicolour images, the lighting is pretty good for photography. I use the dining room as my painting area, so it's equipped with a good daylight bulb in the ceiling and in a portable floor lamp, to aid vision through the long dark of the winter months. Admittedly, that's all a poor second to the nerd heaven of a dedicated gaming room, but it's a start!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Dwarfs on the March

I am about to return to painting dwarfs. I have a small commission job which I will be starting soon, plus a selection of the bearded warriors to add to my own collection. I already have a sizeable Warhammer dwarf army which I may return to one day, but not yet. Instead, I will be expanding on my Lord of the Rings force. The first unit I painted was some Dwarf Rangers, about six months ago. I want to expand on this start with more warriors, command groups, maybe a war machine. I have also splashed out on a couple of the boxsets from The Hobbit range - funded by selling off my old Battle of Five Armies stock. I'm not really sure what games I will play with all these bearded folk, but that's not really the point for me, it's mostly about the painting. Having said that, there are plenty of dice rolling opportunities around - Lord of the Rings strategy game to start with, maybe War of the Ring as the force grows. There's also potential to mod other game systems, such as Saga, maybe even Lion Rampant.

To get myself in the mood I have been searching around for inspiring artwork and colour schemes. I came across this amazing paint job, on the Sergey Popovichenko blog. It's mostly historical figures of a larger scale, but they are absolutely incredible. Go take a look. I'm not even sure if the figure is a dwarf or maybe a viking, it's a fierce looking bearded warrior and that's good enough for me.

For a long time I preferred the more stylised Warhammer range, but these days I much prefer the more true to life figures of the Lord of the Rings series. I know dwarfs are mythical, obviously I refer to the more realistic proportions and the "historical" aesthetic. The figures are slightly smaller scale than Warhammer and the level of detail is sometimes lacking a little, but I reckon it's still possible to get a good looking force on the tabletop. And that's what I will be doing with the dwarfs in the next few weeks. I am hoping to tie in my new units with the exisiting Rangers, so there may well be more opportunities to practise my tartan painting.

I will also be revisiting another of my Warhammer armies, all part of my participation in the Lead Painters League on the Lead Adventure Forum, but more on that in future posts.

Monday 16 March 2015

Bare Trees

I have always been keen to keep wargaming costs down, last year I made a forest of very cheap trees. However, on a recent day trip to Chester I stopped in at the model shop and picked up a few supplies, including these Woodland Scenics armatures. For just over £13 there are 28 armatures, including bases. It may be possible to find natural hardwood cuttings from your garden for nothing, but the time saving here is a bonus, plus at less than 50p a trunk it's not expensive. The armatures are packed flat, you have to twist them into shape, then glue them on to the bases. Mine are also glued on to two pence pieces, to give them extra stability and so I can slot them into my terrain bases. It struck me at this stage that a quick coat of paint and a bit of drybrushing would yield some pretty decent spooky trees for a haunted forest look. I have other plans, but I might keep a few to one side for my Garden of Morr. Alternatively, they could be painted up and used as bare winter trees, imagine them lightly coated with snow flock.

Saturday 14 March 2015

Blood Rage last three days

The Blood Rage kickstarter has just three days to go, so if you are still undecided it's a good time to go and check out the progress to date. I was happy with the initial line-up of figures, especially the vikings and trolls. All of the add-ons since then have just been bonuses for me, some better than others. After a few days of decent but frankly quite ordinary sculpts, the latest stretch goals are more to my liking. Who doesn't want a decrepit old crone in their collection? Looking at the model, this could easily double up as a Necrarch vampire figure, or a chaos sorceror, or a generic witch/hag in any adventure game.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Saxon command group

There's not much to report at the moment, though I have completed the build of the Saxon command figures. I also found an old resin cross that I think I originally had earmarked for a Vampire Counts army, but thought it would make a nice little bit of terrain or objective marker.

As usual I really struggled with the metal claws (hands), it was a real struggle getting the plastic pole in there. For the rest I decided not to bother, clipped off the metal claws and replaced them with plastic bits. Time and time again I see people on forums swearing that metal is better - do not believe them!

Saturday 7 March 2015

A small haul

A windy drive up north of the border today, to the Albanich show in Dumfries. I am by no means an expert on wargames shows - my personal tally is just York, Scarborough and Phalanx in St Helens - but I think this must be one of the smaller on the circuit. I went along hoping to pick up some terrain and maybe a few bargains, but came out with something else. I suspect this is how many wargamers operate.

Along with a few basic mdf bases, I bought some Highland cattle from warbases to add to my farmyard collection - very useful for those cattle raid scenarios which seem to crop up frequently in dark ages wargaming. I also spotted a couple of bargain Rackham Confrontation orcs and added them to my growing collection of this range. I have no idea as yet what I will do with them, I just like the figures and will get to them one day.

Excitement levels peaked when I found one trader selling the new Claymore Castings crossbowmen. I have been wowed by a picture of them on the Lead Adventure forum and was keen to get hold of them. Unfortunately, there was only one of three packs available, but now that I have seen them in the flesh I will definitely be getting the others. I am a bit picky when it comes historical metals, but these are probably the finest figures in my  historical collection - we'll see how good they look when I get them painted. I seem to have picked up the medieval bug lately. The Wars of the Roses retinue I have almost finished for Lion Rampant was partly chosen from the convenience of having a box of Perry miniatures in the house. Now I am actively seeking new figures to start a new retinue, one comprised of the finest figures I can find from the era. It may be historical, more likely I will mix it up a little and just go with the most aesthetically pleasing.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Blood Rage Takes Giant Strides

The finest giant in the miniatures world?
With less than two days gone, the Blood Rage kickstarter has already passed the quarter million dollars mark. A series of stretch goals have been unlocked, most significant for me are the extra poses for the viking grunts and a couple of the added monsters. There are now 12 different viking sculpts and about the same number in monsters and enemies, a total of around 50 lovely figures to look forward to. The mountain giant is the current stretch goal, this being the resin master rather than the actual production figure that gamers will receive. I was impressed by the initial sculpts in the game, this just makes it even better. This is a kickstarter exclusive, so if you want this particular beauty you will have to pledge.

Another "lovely" troll
Another figure that has been unlocked is the mystic troll. I really liked the original troll sculpt, it was a big factor in me pledging, this extra troll (another kickstarter exclusive) takes it to another level. I am really, really pleased with these figures. From the sublime to the ridiculous, there are also a number of gaming tokens added to the game which are a bit more, um, how can I put this kindly, basic in their design. As gaming pieces they are perfectly adequate and probably better than card discs, but next to these sculpts they do look a little out of place. I am not complaining, they seem like odd stretch goals unlikely to pull in backers, but I am no expert. The number of backers would seem to suggest that they know what they are doing in attracting punters. I would expect the gains made to slow right down now that the initial rush has occurred, but I am looking forward to the unveiling of any new miniatures.

Monday 2 March 2015

Blood Rage Kickstarter

The Blood Rage kickstarter is under way. If you like vikings, trolls, Norse mythology, that kind of thing, then you should definitely take a look. Here's the link to the project on kickstarter.

I have had a mixed experience with kickstarter projects. Having backed half a dozen, I have to say that my experience of them has left me quite wary. There are a number of pitfalls that can easily tarnish the project. Lateness seems endemic, they invariably take far longer than advertised. I am hoping that this will not be the case, given that these manufacturers have had plenty of experience. Maybe I will end up being pleasantly surprised, but I expect slippage.

A bigger problem can be that the end product does not match expectations. Awesome artwork is designed to draw you in, but in some cases the end product is nothing like the designs. Likewise, photos of resin masters can look enticing, but then the delivered pvc product can be less than impressive.  In this case, looking at the copious numbers of photos of finished figures, I don't think this will be a problem.

A final problem I have experienced in the past is poor game design. It turns out that there is an art to game design and not every one can do it well. It's a minor concern for me, I am in it for the miniatures, but the designer in this case has a good pedigree.

Reservations aside, I am unable to resist this one. The photos of the product have eased my fears on the pvc front and I can endure a delay in shipping. I am hoping that stretch goals will add some variety to the figures included, but it's not a deal breaker as far as I am concerned. When the first picture of the Nordic troll was released months ago, I was hooked. And it seems I am not alone, the project funded the $50000 goal within about 3 minutes, and had 1000 backers within 10 minutes. Let the countdown to Ragnarok begin!

Sunday 1 March 2015

Lots of Waffle

verb  BRITISH  speak or write at length in a vague or trivial manner. "he waffled on about his problem"

synonyms: prattle, chatter, babble, ramble, jabber, gibber, gabble, gab, burble, flannel, run on, mutter, mumble, prate, drivel, bleat, cackle

Obviously I have lifted this definition straight from the web, to introduce the concept of waffle to non-British readers. It's the art of speaking (or in our case, writing) at length on a subject, to my mind usually a trivial subject. I have to say I would disagree with some of those synonyms - muttering, mumbling and cackling are nothing like a good old waffle. Personally I prefer the term "musing", it makes it sound more weighty, more considered, more intellectual. And what could be a more weighty issue than deciding what to do in the next month or two?

With the Lion Rampant project coming into the home straight, I have been pondering my next step. There is plenty of undiscovered territory to explore in the vast reaches of the Unpainted Hills, but recently I had mislaid my map and was unsure of the way forward. I even contemplated taking a few weeks off, my commission work is pretty busy at the moment and my brushes (and eyes) are beginning to wear out. But then I noticed that the Lead Adventure Forum Lead Painting League is starting up again at the end of the month. If you don't want to read those lengthy (waffly) rules, the basic idea is that you paint up a team of at least five figures, one per week, for ten weeks. Perfect!

So that's what I will be doing in the next couple of months. Some of the teams I will source from my own collection, some from my commission work. That should give me a good variety of entries to a high standard. With this in mind I have taken a stroll through the foothills and came across these Saxons. The chap on the left was a xmas gift from gaming buddy Matt, it's a Gripping Beast Saxon Warlord. The others are an interesting looking bunch I picked up at Vapnartak, for the princely sum of £1. I don't know which manufacturers they are, but I like the differences in heights, it should add some character to my plastic clones. I thought they would make a very nice set of command figures. 

I will also be entering some of Wars of the Roses retinue for Lion Rampant, the last unit of billmen and the men at arms. These should be finished in the next couple of weeks, but I won't be able to publish photos of them until they have appeared on the Lead Adventure Forum. Sorry Lion Rampant fans. It's not much consoaltion, but here's a photo ripped off the calendar just this morning. It's Eilean Donan castle in Scotland, a lovely landmark, but the main interest for me is the colours of the ground. If I ever get round to building myself a gaming board, these colours will feature in some way. That's enough waffle for now, but more to come throughout the month. 
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