Sunday, 25 September 2016

Guess who's back, back again? Doc V's back, tell a friend!

Well that didn't quite go according to plan now, did it?

Where oh where to begin?

2016 saw an almost catastrophic collapse of my gaming hobby due to a variety of factors.  My primary gaming oppo and hermano de otra madre Jonesy has had a lot less free time due to family commitments (which I can't fault in the slightest) resulting in the end of the old Sunday game crafting day and more planned game nights being cancelled than played.  He's also sadly turned into a crotchety old git on the subject of game rules (or rather even more of a crotchety old git than he normally is) and is unwilling to tolerate rule sets that don't meet his ideals.  At the end of an unpleasant game of Bolt Action Modern a couple of months back he announced that the very worst of the rules' many sins was that it used different ranges for different weapons.  Unfortunately that criteria rules out about 75% of the wargames rules I play or own, including my beloved G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T.

I think I mentioned that I was starting a new job in January and that not only cut down on the free time for hobby matters but also brought to light an ongoing medical problem I'd been bumbling along with.  After being told I was falling asleep at work, I was diagnosed with Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  Go Google it!  But if you don't have time, basically while asleep I stop breathing about 87 times a minute meaning I'd not had a refreshing night's sleep since 2012.  This results in a massive lack of energy and motivation, daytime sleepiness and can contribute to depression and other fun symptoms.  This meant that a lot of potential hobby time on evenings and weekends was lost either due to not having the energy to do anything or just simply falling asleep after meals and waking, five hours later, still feeling exhausted.  Skipping ahead in the narrative, I've just started treatment for this, which promises to cure the symptoms and restore energy levels to normal, which is actually one of the reasons I'm posting this today.

Anyway the overall result of this is that gaming activity dwindled to almost zero during the first half of 2016.  On the rare occasion I could whip up the enthusiasm I kept doing little bits of work on terrain and figures for the San Paradiso project, but much less than last year. And that's why I stopped posting updates to this blog.. Honestly I had nothing to talk about. (I also stopped most of my PC gaming activities, including my YouTube channel, which is similarly on hiatus)

So over the last couple of months I've tried a couple of strategies to get some wargames happening.  Over the last year a small group of friends had started coming by on a Monday night, ostensibly to play Imperial Assault but in practice between cancellations and people turning up but not feeling like playing anything most nights turned into "YouTube and chill" sessions.  So a couple of months back I cleared off the Big Table and basically bullied them into doing some actual miniature wargaming.  We had a couple of really enjoyable games of Bolt Action Modern (this was prior to the revelation detailed above), after which it was decided we'd do a couple of sessions of RPGs, alternating between the two game types for variety.  (Incidently that was 2 months ago and we're still waiting for the second RPG session to happen.  See above re: cancellations, not feeling like playing etc)

Culo Raton MI-2s carrying airborne commandos attempt to flank the
airfield's defensive positions.  Moments later one helo touched down but
the other was hit by San Paradiso gunfire and crashed.. right on top of
the landed helo!
 In spite of this, in my own mind at least, the San Paradiso "campaign" continued to develop, with the this year's Big Birthday Bash (actually a modest 4 player affair) being the attempt by a joint rebel/Culo Raton force to capture the airfield Los Anilcamino.  Had they succeeded, I'd decided that would have ended the current phase of the campaign including the Culo Raton intervention, with a UN mediated cease-fire granting unspecified concessions to Culo Raton and the rebel farmers getting financial aid packages and limited autonomy in the region.

Unfortunately it was not to be, as the dug-in San Paradisan defenders managed to blunt the insurgents' assault and after some fierce close-quarter fighting around the terminal building still held the ground.

In terms of campaign continuity (remember DrV's Slightly Derivative Universal Mapless Campaign Rules?" The rebel farmers/Culo Raton had won the previous two battles and taken the initiative making this game a Raid and giving them a greater chance of capturing this particular resource if they won the battle.  Since San Paradiso won, they get to attempt to shift a resource as normal.  I decided they were going to use this airfield to launch a series of interdiction strikes to try to cut off support from Culo Raton, or in rules terms make their "Secure supply of food and materiel" Resouce Uncontrolled.  Unfortunately I rolled a 1 for them (needing 3+) meaning the resources remain unchanged as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko. The Bridge at El Humber. The Goodwill Of The People, Secure supply of food and materiel.
Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. The Airfield at Los Anillcamino. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant
Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.

It doesn't end there...

In my quixotic quest to model all aspects of modern warfare and include it in the San Paradiso campaign results, I've been looking for an ultra-simple, Beer & Pretzels level air-combat game to be played as a possible adjunct to land wargames.  It was in this search that I came across "Bommaz over da Sulphur River", an old Games Workshop game in their Warhammer 40K setting, which portrayed an airstrike by Orkish "fighta-bommaz" against an Imperial position.  It used to be available as a free download on GW's Specialist Games website (alas no more) and I'd read somewhere about someone re-skinning the game to a Cold War setting, with Harriers attacking vs Mig-21 defenders.  So last Monday when the planned RPG session didn't happen (again!), I decided to whip this out and try re-skinning it on the fly to the San Paradiso setting.

The Orks became Culo Ratonese Shenyang F-6s and the defending Imperial Interceptors became San Paradisan F5e Tigers.  The gameboard represented a pass through the Monto Blonko mountain ranges with Flak and Rock Spire hazards remaining unchanged and the Laser Cannon morphed into a SAM battery.  The two other players present, CrazyEddy and Amy took the attackers and I ran the defences.

"Bommaz" is a ridiculously simple ruleset verging on a single page, with movement from space to space on the board and combats generally being opposed D6 rolls.  But there's enough subtlety built in to make it worth further investigation and although we were actually getting a couple of fundamental rules wrong for much of the game, and everyone enjoyed it.  In the end a lone bomma... ahem sorry a lone F6 from the first attack wave managed to take out both targets successfully, for a Culo Raton major victory.  I'm going to develop this game a little further, with rules for different aircraft from the San Paradisan theatre of war and maybe some different but still simple combat mechanics.

So what does that do to the campaign.  Yes, I'm going to include the results of a semi-improvised pickup beer & pretzels game into the campaign narrative.  Sue me already!.

Well the Culo Raton Ariale Patrole's sorties up the Monto Blanko valley against San Paradisan positions were designed to undermine the "Secure base of operations at Verdaville".  But the dice gods laughed as I rolled yet another 1 (again needing a 3+) so the campaign situation remains unchanged..

That's it for this update.  I'm going to try to get back to regular posting here, with both the ongoing efforts to administer CPR to my wargaming hobby and catch-ups on the little bits and pieces I've been managing over the past 9 months.

Tell a friend!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over...

First off, let me say I hope everyone has had a happy and safe Xmas holiday with their loved ones.

It's only natural at this time of year to look back at the past year and look forward to the next.  On the personal front this has been a very difficult year for me, dominated by an inability to get back into full time employment and the associated financial difficulties that entails.  I know there are many folks who are far, far worse off than me: I have a roof over my head and food on the table, and with a little help from my friends we've managed to keep the wolves from the door.

But this is almost certainly going to change for the better.  At the time of writing I have a provisional job offer starting in January, pending completion of the usual pre-employment checks (references, criminal records etc) which seem to have fallen foul of the Xmas slowdown.  But barring some unforseen problems, this time next month I should be looking forward to my first paycheque in a while.

On the gaming front, 2015 has been a mixed bag.  I've managed to pull off a couple of decent "event" games (The Big Birthday Bash and the Hillbilly Halloween Special) and done quite a few small games - 5Core Brigade Commander, Air War C21, Pulp Alley and 7TV, but it's been a long way from the glory days of my youth when every second Sunday I'd be off to Manchester Area Wargames Society for a game of something.  And my blogging here has been pitiful, compared to the first couple of years.

On the plus side, we've finally turned the Imagi-Nation of Paradiso, first mentioned in the very early days of this blog, into some sort of gaming reality, with a collection of suitable figures and vehicles painted and the first few games in that setting completed.

In terms of wargames terrain, I think I've reached the stage where I've got everything I need.  Between the Victorian city project from a few years back, and the more modern Plasticville & TTCombat buildings bought for Paradiso, I think I can fill an 8'x5' table with a built up area suitable for the 19th to 21st centuries, from the grim streets of Northern England to the sunny Caribbean shores of Paradiso, adding flavour with assorted scatter terrain.  And I have a couple of boxes of Plasticville buildings left to restore, so although there are several MDF building manufacturers who have really taken off in the last year, I'm going to be good and not buy any more large items until all the buildings I have are table-ready.    The same goes for rural terrain, I have trees and hills and rivers and roads aplenty.  There are a couple of projects currently in a half completed limbo (like the suspension bridge and rural village buildings for Paradiso) but once they're done I'll have everything need.

In fact if there's a theme to my musings, it's that I have everything I need in my lead/resin/plastic/MDF mountain to keep my hobby going for the forseeable future.  I've got figures for at least three full VSF/Steampunk armies stashed away, plus several units to expand existing forces.  So that leads to the first New Year Resolution for 2016


There are two important exceptions to this rule: firstly I've long promised myself that I'd treat myself to a 28mm monorail set from the MadMechaGuy as soon as I started work again, and that still stands.  The other exception is in the case where I need to fill in a gap to make figures that I've already got usable.  For example, I know that I've got a load of 15mm modern figures from the likes of Rebel Minis, QRF and Peter Pig, and have been thinking about basing them up for 5Core Company Commander or War In The Age Of Madness.  But if for example I find I need to buy some extra heavy weapon team packs to make a balanced force, then that would be an acceptable purchase.

Another thing I've noticed about this last year: I've been spending too much time doing preparation for games and not enough simply playing.  Part of this has been a natural side effect of tackling the lead/resin/plastic/MDF mountain.  But I think I have a need for Resolution #2


Put another way, I just need to play a lot more games in order to get a return on the investment of time and money I've put into the figures and terrain.

All this navel-gazing has led to another revelation about myself and my gaming habits  While I've long accepted that my tastes lie way outside the mainstream of the wargaming hobby - I can't stand tournament style competitive play and I shy away from glossy, commercial and popular games in favour of more obscure rules and periods - I've realised that his has led me to become incredibly insular in my hobby.  I have a pool of maybe a dozen gaming friends who I've played with in the last few years, and only irregularly at that.  However many of them are scattered across the country and we can only get together on limited occasions.  Plus there's no channel for bringing new blood into the gaming circle.  It's like I've been so afraid of the sort of bad gaming experiences that were so common back in the old days, I've withdrawn like a turtle into a "safe" shell.  On reflection, I don't think that's entirely healthy, which leads to the slightly fuzzy Resolution #3


I'm thinking primarily this means I should start going back to MAWS again and see if there's anyone there open to non-tournament play these days.  And of course there are the various wargame shows that I once again failed to go to in 2015.  But this resolution could also include more blogging, networking with other bloggers and I've even been considering doing some YouTube videos on my particular style of wargaming, in contrast to the ALL WARHAMMER! ALL THE TIME! videos that seem to dominate the medium.

There's also the culture of gaming in your Friendly Local Gaming Store, something which has always been alien to me since my only personal experience of it was a Games Workshop store full of screaming pre-teens.  But I know of at least one recently opened, dedicated Wargames shop within reasonable driving distance, so I wonder whether a visit is in order.

I think those three resolutions pretty neatly sum up my hobby goals for the year ahead.  I could maybe add a fourth one..


...for example the industrial terrain layout was at the point where it was quite usable, however a lot of it was still incomplete, undetailed, the pipework was unpainted and just loosely wedged into the platforms.  Or the Plasticville suburban houses and motel buildings, which were unbased and unweathered.

Anyway, expect to see much more frequent updates on this blog in the new year.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Run for the shadows in these golden years

Not much to report, truth be told, no newly completed figures or terrain project so no eye-candy pics in this post I'm afraid.  But I had a thought the other day that I'd like to pose to you as a question...

Are we in a new "Golden Age" of wargaming?

Now I consider myself well outside the mainstream of wargaming, dominated by the glossy hardback rulebooks and "big box" games that Games Workshop pioneered back when they set themselves apart from wargaming as "The Games Workshop Hobby".  (Yes I'm still bitter!)  I mainly play oddball periods and subgenres with cheap indie (or free) rules that work for me.

But if I was the sort of gamer who liked glossy, commercial games, look at the choices I've got available.  Historical gamers now have quite a selection of high production value games to cover most periods.  I'm thinking about games like Hail Caesar, Black Powder and Bolt Action, three glossy games that cover the iconic three periods always covered by the early Featherstone-era books that got me into the hobby.  Osprey, an established historical publisher, are now producing more and more wargame rules after their success with Force On Force.  After leading the way bringing GW-style production values to historical games with WW2's Flames Of War, Battlefront are now doing the same for "Cold War Gone Hot" with Team Yankee.

And while SF & Fantasy has always been well served by the commercial hobby industry, we're starting to see a number of non-GW game emerging with some actual longevity, rather than games that are fashionably popular for a year or two before being dropped like a stone in favour of the new hotness.  For example, Infinity is well into its third edition and shows no signs of losing steam.  Spy-Fi/Pulp TV emulator 7TV is just getting a second edition as well.

And not only do we once again have access to classic wargaming books from the likes of Featherstone, Morchauser and Grant thanks to John Curry's History Of Wargaming project, we also have new authors like Neil Thomas producing a new generation of introductory texts, available as hardback or softback from mainstream marketplaces like Amazon.

The days when most wargames rules were poorly printed A5 stapled booklets are a thing of the past.

Yet while the mainstream gamer has all these great options available to him, the flipside "independent" side of the hobby is still thriving too.  We're seeing great and innovative rulesets from outfits like Nordic Weasel thanks to electronic distribution via services like Wargames Vault.

And on the shiny toys front, we have the wonders of 3D printing, MDF laser cutting and a healthy cottage industry of miniature micro-manufacturers.  It's now entirely possible for a hobbyist with a modest disposable income to commission his own, original figures and have them cast by a third party and sold via the internet to recover the costs.

So much choice.

Are we not living in a new Golden Age of our hobby?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

I don't want to set the world on fire...

If you have any awareness of current computer games, and haven't been frozen in cryosleep for the last couple of weeks, you'll be aware that this week saw the release of Fallout 4, the latest installment in the massively successful post-apocalyptic adventure series.  Now to say Mi Hermano Apocalyptico Jonesy is a Fallout fan would be something of an understatement.  Let's just say that with the game due for release on Monday, he'd booked the entire week off to play it.

Me on the other hand, well I like the game well enough, but being poor I had to content myself with loading up the last game, Fallout-New Vegas and installing a ton of player-created mods to vastly improve the old game.

Anyway, all through our recent work on Paradiso and the Hillbilly/Vampire game, whenever Jonesy has looked at certain Plasticville or MDF kit buildings, a feverish look has crossed his brow, and he's been saying things like "You know this would make a great piece for a Fallout game."  For the uninitated, the Fallout setting has a very distinct visual style with elements of Art Deco and 1950s Americana.  But although a lot of the buildings and terrain I've sourced for the Paradiso project is in a similar style, that setting requires them to be relatively well maintained, whereas for a post-apocalyptic setting, you really need to dial the weathering effects up to 11.  Because of this and not wanting to lose focus on the Paradiso project, Jonesy's always resisted my suggestions that we do a Fallout/Post Apocalyptic side project.

So a few weeks back Jonesy did me a massive solid when my car battery packed up and I couldn't afford to get it replaced.  I couldn't afford to buy him anything to properly say thank-you, but one resource I did have a lot of was Time.  Time, a bitz-box full of junk and a room full of crafting supplies.  Thus was born Super Sekrit Mystery Crafting Projekt X, to create a basic wasteland terrain set mostly from scrap and spare materials at hand, which started immediately after the Halloween game.

This Friday, while watching Jonesy play Fallout 4 via Steam's game livestreaming feature, I was putting the finishing touches to this....

For a base cloth, I had a sheet of "Teddy-bear Brown" felt that I'd bought years ago when I was living in the flat.  It was when I was looking at gaming exclusively on my large coffee table and measures about 3 foot by 4 foot.  Unfortunately it was a little to dark to work as a desert basecloth and had never really been used, so I could happily donate it to this project.  The colour was still wrong though, so I pegged it up outside and went at it with assorted cans of spray paint, lightly dusting it to break up the solid colour and make it a little "dirtier".  It's still not perfect, and we may revisit it later to dirty it up some more, but for now it's perfectly adequate.

For a basic set of hills, it seemed poetic to mainly use the polystyrene packaging that came with the new car battery, which came in the form of several inch-thick sheets.  Where these had been broken in the process of removing the battery for installation,  these breaks became impassable rocky "cliff" faces, while the other sides were sculpted with a hot-wire cutter into climbable slopes.  This gave us seven relatively narrow "ridge" type hills and to round off the set I used some other spare polystyrene sheets to make three larger hills that the smaller ones could sit on top of to make double elevations.

Pretty much every terrain builder you see in forums, blogs or YouTube videos these days decries the use of white expanded polystyrene (the one with the bubbly texture that's everywhere) in favour of the denser, pink or blue extruded polystyrene which is easier to sculpt and less messy.  But the truth is that expanded polystyrene is still a very usable terrain material, which happens to have the side benefit of being so commonplace it's almost free.

Since this is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, I made these hills a little differently to my usual greenfield hills.  The first layer was a coat of PVA onto which sand was scattered.  I used two different grades of sand to give some variations in texture, the "budgie grit" I use for regular figure basing, which is very fine but has bits and pieces of shell and tiny gravel mixed in with it, was used to create small patches on the top of the hills, while 90% of the surface was made up of the much larger grained "reptile" sand.  I didn't put any sand on the "cliff faces" at all, instead caking them in a filler/PVA mix to enhance the rocky texure.  Once the sand and the filler were dry, I gave everything a coating of black textured exterior masonry paint, which sealed in the loose sand and gave the hills a good solid protective shell.  Then I gave the sand covered parts a heavy drybrushed coat of light brown (almost a solid coat, but still with enough black showing through to break things up).  The final coat was a lighter drybrushing of mid-to-light grey to pick out the sand texture.

The cliff faces still felt a little vulnerable to damage, so I gave each an extra coat of PVA to reinforce it, followed by progressively lighter drybrush coats of progressively lighter shades of grey (so the darkest grey covered almost all the rocks, leaving spots of black showing, the mid grey covered about half the rocks and the lightest grey just picked out the highlights).

Many years ago, I'd bought one of those Woodland Scenics tree kits, which included dozens of premade wireframe skeletons and a couple of bags of clump foliage.  The trees I'd originally made with them were horribly prone to foliage falling off, so I recently revisited them using up most of the deciduous clump foliage on only half the deciduous wireframes.  This left 20 or so wireframes unused so instead of buying more clump foliage to finish these off, I decided they'd make perfect defoliated dead trees.  The wireframes were assembled as normal and attached to 2p bases that were textured exactly the same as the hills.  Instead of adding foliage though, the trees were spray painted black then dry brushed with light grey.  Quick, easy and very effective.

This turret is actually from a 1/32 scale kit.  While overscale
for 28mm it works fine as random wreckage.  Another piece has
the burned out remains of a 1/72 WWII Panzer, totally underscale
but since it's unrecognizable except as the remains of some sort
of tracked vehicle, that works fine too.  Yet another piece has a part
of a 1/24 car...
Next was the really fun part of the project: The rubble scatter terrain.  I had a number of pre-cut MDF bases from Wargames Tournaments left over from the Paradiso Jungle terrain project, a raid of the bits box for assorted bits and pieces easily produced ten bases of assorted wreckage, junk and rubble.  A little bit of filler and sand added the base wasteland ground texture, which was then painted the same way as the hills, and the assorted bits were roughly drybrushed., usually with touches of a base colour to show remnants of original paint, then silver to pick out metallic parts and a little brown and grey to dirty things up.  Depending on how long ago your apocalypse was, you could paint things as anything from "almost new, but abandoned" to "solid rust and dirt".  I wanted a middle ground, not only so I could have some spots of colour to "pop" from the grey-brown waste background, but also so at a pinch we can occasionally use non-apocalypsed buildings without them looking too out of place.

This was originally the cockpit of a toy Mad Cat battlemech,
but the curved styling fits perfectly with Fallout's Neo-Fifties
design aesthetic
The final part of the terrain set was the one thing I had to actually buy.  For the price of a couple of posh coffees, I got six bags of Javis brown lichen (not pictured).  If you want to do a post-apocalyptic game but don't want to do any genre-specific modelling, you can get a lot of mileage simply by dressing up a regular urban or city wargame terrain with a ton of lichen, trees and plants.  The idea that the trappings of civilisation have been abandoned and nature has reclaimed the land is a powerful post-apocalyptic vision, and for an eye-opening view of how quickly this can happen, try and track down a TV series called Life After People, which used CGI show how this process might happen at various cities around the world.

I'm particularly pleased with this one.  The wet mud effect wasn't
an expensive water effect product, it was just a coat of Army
Painter Quickshade, with the glossy finish left intact.
But for a Fallout themed terrain, Nature hasn't quite recovered enough for the lush green vegetation of regular green lichen and wargame trees to be appropriate - plants in the video game tend to be brown or blackened and generally stunted, so brown lichen is perfect to represent the sort of rough, hardy scrub plants that would be the first to recover in a post-nuclear wasteland.

And that's it.  The whole set fits into one big plastic storage box and makes a good starter post-apoc terrain set.  There's plenty that can be added to it - buildings obviously or at least some ruined wall sections, more small pieces of scatter terrain like telegraph poles or lampposts, maybe some road signs or billboards.  Roads in Fallout New Vegas tend to be the broken and blackened remains of pre-war highways and would make a fun modellng project.  But there's enough here to lay out a 3x3 table with enough terrain items for an interesting game, and that's what a starter set is for.

It remains to be seen whether this set is going to be enough to tip Jonesy over the edge into doing some actual Fallout-inspired gaming, or if it's even going to hit the mark as the thank-you present it was intended to be.  But it was a fun project to work on over the last couple of weeks, even if I did have to keep it Super Sekrit.

Meanwhile, another friend CrazyEddy saw me playing Fallout New Vegas on Steam this week and took pity on this poor boy.  I now have a shiny-new copy of Fallout 4 that he's sent me as an early Xmas present.  It's good to have friends.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Go ahead you can laugh all you want, but I got My Philosophy.

The Halloween game had been a great success.  It's fair to say that it was, by its nature, towards the less serious end of the wargaming spectrum.

Let's think about that for a moment.

Some gamers, many in fact, might call it "silly" and argue that it wasn't *real* wargaming at all.  To an extent, I'd have to agree with them.  We're not reproducing any real historical or hypothetical future conflict.  We weren't trying to gain a greater understanding of the dynamics of vampire on Hillbilly violence by running a detailed simulation.  Many of the rules were written to be played for laughs, like the ability of some Elder hill-folk to make a pinning attack against younger enemies by verbally berating them at length and in detail for their shoddy, dissolute ways.  Or the fact that the deadliest sniper in the game was a teenage girl whose teddy bear acted as her spotter.

Put in terms used for other forms of entertainment like books & TV, it was clearly a Comedy.  Or at least a comedy-drama (never a Dramedy - that word is an abomination and must never be allowed to make it into the dictionary!).  But a comedic novel is still a novel.  A comedy TV show is still a TV show.

We can be all worthy and intellectual and spend our TV viewing on nothing but Serious Dramas where everyone looks constipated, with maybe a few documentaries on obscure European monarchs or 17th century pottery.  But every now and then, everybody wants and needs an entertainment that doesn't tax the brain too much and makes you laugh, or at least smile wrily.

Thus I would argue that the Comedy Wargame has its place in the hobby.  While my general wargaming tastes to tend towards the lighter end of the spectrum, I wouldn't want ALL my gaming to be as off-the-wall as the Hillbilly games.  Other games I do, like the Paradiso modern day stuff, may have light-hearted details like a rebel leader nicknamed "The Green Pig", or a neighbouring nation named, appoximately "Rat's Ass".  But on the whole the core of the games are played straight, and are my small way of exploring modern combat, whether between semi-modern militaries, against insurent rebels, or street level violence between criminals and law enforcement.

(The VSF gaming is also spread out along this comedy-drama spectrum.  The more outrageous elements are obviously quite silly, like the SpringenPanzer, bouncing across the battlefield on its four pogo-stick legs.  But on the whole I'm a lot less whimsical than most other VSF players, and the games I play seem to be comparable to those of the Very British Civil War crowd, fundamentally grounded in real-world technology and tactics, with a little light-hearted nonsense as seasoning.)

The reason I'm discussing this is that the wargaming media channel The Beasts Of War are running a series of articles on gaming the current conflict in Ukraine.  Needless to say there's a certain amount of backlash, with some commenters arguing that the author shouldn't be gaming a war that's only just (hopefully) coming to a close.  Personally I think it's a valid and interesting subject, which can be approached in different ways.

The author of the articles advocates a serious, respectful and scholarly approach, using the game and associated research as a way of increasing general awareness of the real-life conflict.  I'd agree and support this approach wholeheartedly.  But does that mean that the wargamer isn't allowed to have "fun" gaming such a conflict.

The other, slightly more dangerous approach, would be to go down the "black comedy" route.  One of the way we as human beings process and deal with the most horrible aspects of life is through comedy.  Done right, it's not so much about making light of the horrible situation, but instead picking out the ridiculous and absurd elements so that we can use them to help rationalise what's happening and understand it.  While I would never run a Ukraine game with the same outright comedic tone as the Hillbilly games, the situation there has some obviously black comedic elements that could be picked out - the myriad of small paramilitary groups, some of whom may be at odds with others on their "side", the non-existent Russian troops in the conflict (The BOW articles' author mentioned that Vladimir Putin recently awarded a battle honour to a Russian Army unit for a Ukrainian battle that Russia officially denies any involvement in!)

Of course, you can have your cake and eat it if you shift the setting of the conflict to an Imagination.  Simply changing the names and filing off the serial numbers seems to take a lot of controversy out of modern gaming.  Or you can take situations and elements from the real-world headlines and transplant them to a totally different setting to disguise the source.  Paradiso might have a province that is largely culturally Spanish (where many of the people feel closer to Culo Raton, for some reason).  Some planned move toward Anglicizing the country further might prompt local separatist paramilitaries to declare independence.  Culo Raton might respond by NOT sending a couple of brigades of non-existent troops who totally don't wear any insignia, while numerous paramilitary units formup on both sides of the brewing conflict, using a mixture of modern and obsolete equipment.

Would such a game still be morally questionable to those who object to a "straight" gaming of the Ukraine?  If not why not?


All this is actually a major digression from what I did want to post about - on Monday night Jonesy and our friend Andy came round for what's turned into a regular monday night gathering and we gave Neil Thomas's "One Hour Wargames" a try out. I'd picked up a copy a couple of months ago thinking it might be useful as a source of scenarios, and when I showed it to Jonesy the other day, it piqued his interest and he promptly bought the eBook version.  To try out the rules, he produced a number of card cut-out counters to represent the units, which helpfully had the relevent game stats printed on them (dice to roll in combat, movement distance etc)

We did a couple of battles with the Horse and Musket rules.  The first pitted myself against Andy in a hill defence scenario.  I was able to concentrate my massed infantry fire on his troops defending the hill, wiping them away in the first few turns, then managed to hold the position when his re-inforcements arrived.  The second battle, between Andy and Jonesy, saw identical forces on each side battling over a hill and a crossroads, both of which had to be captured and/or defended.  That turned into a real grindfest, a battle of attrition where Andy won by effectively shielding a couple of units for the first few turns so that they came to the attrition phase of the game undamaged, where their opponents had already taken 4-5 points each from other units.

I have fairly mixed feelings about One-Hour Wargames as a whole.  I'm generally a big fan of short simple rulesets (in the book each period's rules is spread over three pages, but printing out from the eBook version managed to reduce that down to two sides) and fast-play games.  Play felt at times very much like early DBA/Hordes Of The Things, where tactics consisted of putting your units into positions to spoil enemy units manoeuvring and concentrating your attacking power.  There's lots of stuff that's a little vague and while one gaming group might assume it clearly means one thing, I can imagine a different group interpreting it a different way.  For example, units turn by rotating about the centre at the start and end of movement.  But since you can't pass through other units (unless you're a skirmisher), does that mean that if you have two units directly next to eachother in side to side contact, does that mean that neither can turn, because doing so would "clip" a corner through another unit.  Jonesy ruled that yes that was exactly what it meant, and we went with it, but I can easily see another group interpreting the rule as only prohibiting major interpenetrations and handwaving away any minor clipping.  The strict interpretation could lead to the risk of micro-measuring, with one side arguing unit X can't move because it was pass through unit Y by half a millimeter or so (yes I heard such arguments in the early days of DBA).  Like most one-page rulesets, I think both sides need to have an easy-going, loosey-goosey approach to the rules in order for it to be a fun game.

I love that you can produce two armies for the game at a relatively low price that would then allow you to fight every scenario in the book.  It's something that I long wanted to do for the Charles Grant scenario books, going as far as buying several boxes of plastic napoleonic figures (which are currently lost somewhere in storage).  The rules themselves are obviously simple and generally did a good job, though I felt there were a couple of instances where one side ought to have been given some advantage but weren't, such as an infantry unit firing into the flank or rear of another.  I greatly admire the way Neil Thomas took on the rules design challenge of limiting himself to four troop types per era, but I don't think that does a terribly good job of representing some of the periods covered.

On the whole, I think if I was looking for a compact, short-rules wargame I'd rather play Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame or a DBx variant, though I do want to try out a couple of other periods and maybe play with some actual toy soldiers on the table rather than card counters.


The most interesting thing that came out of the One Hour Wargames playtest was that Andy didn't enjoy the evening's gamng.  He started out by saying "I'm just not a wargamer" which didn't make much sense given that over the years I've seen him play many, many wargames.

This led to a very useful discussion on what it was that he enjoys in games, what exactly he gets out of the experience.  I've said it before on this blog, as I've grown older I've become a great believer in finding out what it is that you enjoy doing, and then doing that thing a lot.  It seems like stating the bleeding obvious, but I look back over a lifetime of gaming and a lot of that was spent in unsatisfactory games because I was just going with the flow of what I thought the games had to be like.  The 1HW test was so minimalist it became a matter of pure tactics and game mechanics, which are both very jonesy, while neither are things that Andy enjoys.  There was no context to the battle, no natty uniforms on either side, no characterisation... and then Andy said the magic word when he said he couldn't get the story of the game. It turns out Andy is looking for the same thing I am from a gaming experience, to tell an interesting and exiting story of the battle.

We talked a bit more about other wargames he'd enjoyed and those he hadn't, and eventually decided that next week we'd have a game with the Hillbilly figures, slightly smaller than the Big Game but with a more light-hearted, story-driven tone that I think Andy will appreciate.

I can't repeat this often enough: Find the things you enjoy doing the most.  Then go do those things.  Your gaming will be all the better for it.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

We Did The Monster Mash! It Was a Graveyard Smash!

It was a dark and stormy night at Chez Vesuvius.  Well actually it was an overcast and slightly soggy morning, but somehow that doesn't sound right for a Halloween Big Game.

Our regular monthly RPG group had agreed to forgo our usual Mutants And Masterminds game in favour of doing something more seasonal on the big wargame table.  As I mentioned in the last post here, the game was going to be Hillbillies vs Dracula, and that prompted a whole week of frantic last minute crafting to get some of the necessary terrain pieces ready. 

Having bought an absolute ton of second hand Plasticville buildings from the US last year (and a handful of new kits) for the Paradiso project, I had many that work equally well for a mainland US setting as for the Carribean holiday resort/warzone.  But a few are just too 1950s Americana to work anywhere else and get put aside for games like this.  That was the box I delved into the find the Plasticville church that formed the centrepiece of the table.

Surrounding the church was an extensive graveyard mainly made up of a mix of Ainsty Castings and Renedra gravestones.  Again I'd acquired a surprisingly large collection over the past few years, of which I'd only painted and assembled a small handful.  Since the graveyard was going to be a much more important location for this game, it seemed a good opportunity to get the rest put together.

I dug out the farm buildings, the diner and the old gas station from the previous Hillbilly game.  The farm had a few chickens painted and based, plus of course the Demon Goat (that had actually killed one of the players' leader in the last game), but I wanted to add to the livestock on the farm.  I'd been buying these Teamsterz farm trucks (around £4 each) for Paradiso to serve as transport for the Rebel forces (and a couple of which were turned into heavy Technicals/Gun Trucks) but each truck had come with a cow, a ram and a pig.  The cows are a bit small for 28mm, and I wasn't sure a flock of rams looked right, but the pigs were just about right, and got added to the speedpainting table, along with a couple of Heroclix figures that would serve as objective markers during the game.
The Plasticville trailer park kit was already on the workbench for use in Paradiso, but despite only being partly primed, we temporarily threw it together for the game.  Even in this simple state they looked pretty effective and I think all they need to finish them off will be a little weathering to bring them into line with the motorhome.

The main part of town was going to be a mix of Plasticville, K-Line and the TTCombat apartment building.  This latter I repainted from its original planned grey (in line with my Sarissa GASLIGHT buildings) to a much more American looking red.  The result was pretty effective, I think.

I also wanted to use the Mad Mecha Guy's monorail cargo depot crane, along with some of the many, many cargo containers we've assembled recently.  And right in the centre of the above pic, you can see one of the custom "temporary office" containers that Joseph produced for Jonesy and me.  Simple boxes with just enough detail, but very effective.  If he ever decides to sell these to the public I highly recommend them as useful utility clutter for urban/industrial terrain.

Looking for still more excuses to dig into the lead/plastic/MDF/Resin mountain, I decided that the town park ought to have a bandstand, and the Sarissa Precision Gaslamp Alley bandstand would do just fine for that.  It's a really nice kit, and while a little fiddley to assemble with lots of tiny curlicue pieces that need poking out, it's not too hard to assemble.  This is one of those kits that benefits from forward planning and spray painting the separate parts before assembly.

The Blotz gas station, a much more modern looking building than the Plasticville offerings, still had a bit of work needed to finish painting the pillars and pumps, but since this detail was hidden in shadow under the impressive canopy I figured I could get away with leaving it.  One thing which did become apparent was the need for a number of "baseplates" to represent areas of concrete for urban areas.  Luckily I had a few pieces of 3mm MDF that had originally been cut and primed grey for use as bases for other Plasticville buildings, which worked well as the garage forecourt.

There were a few other new bits of clutter terrain, bus stops and vending machines from TTCombat which also got assembled and painted in the week running up to the game.  This game also saw the debut of the separate pavement/sidewalk pieces from TTCombat and Sarissa Precision, which I felt worked really well.

On the figure front, while I had the Hillbillys covered I was sadly lacking for supernatural opposition, and so my good friend MarvinTheARVN agreed to lend me his Gothic Horror and Zombie figures for the game.  On the Friday he arrived with the figures, and although the zombies were well painted and his Werewolves (which we'd used before) were fine, all his vampires were unpainted and still primed black.  I needed at least one master vampire figure to be the main villain and I needed it ready for the following day.  This led to the fastest speed-painting job I think I've ever pulled off.

A few months ago, Carl from the "Solo Wargaming in the UK" blog sent me a selection of Victorian/Gothic Horror figures that he no longer needed. (and I'm painfully aware that until now I haven't credited or thanked him properly for this kind gift.)  Most of the figures were from the Blue Moon "Chaos in Carpathia" boxed set, which included a master vampire and three "Brides of Dracula" types.  In anticipation of needing them as a possible backup plan for this game, I'd put them in a jar of Dettol to strip the existing partial paintwork at the start of the week.  Minutes after Marvin had left, I was fishing them out to find that the magic liquid hadn't quite had enough time to do the job, and while one of the ladies was down to bare metal and Dracula was about 80% there, the other two were still mostly covered in paint.

Emergency measures were required, so I dug out some acetone-free nail varnish remover that I'd bought previously to remove tampo decals from die-cast cars.  Having previously only used the tiniest amounts on the end of a cotton wool swab, I knew a relatively small dribble over each figure would be enough to strip the remaining paint off the figures.  But my god!  That stuff was pungent!  Ladies, I don't know how you stand to put that stuff on your fingertips, but even the tiny amount I was using stank to high heaven, and I use the term "high" advisedly!

Once down to bare metal, I was able to skip a step from my usual figure preparation process.  The Blue Moon figures all have large round bases with appropriately sculpted detail.  They about match the size of the penny bases I use for GASLIGHT figures, and while I could have mounted them on slottabases to match the Hillbillies and modern figures, I thought I could get away without it.

From there, the figures went back outside for spray priming with Army Painter, black for him, white for the Brides.  Then straight back in to the painting table, where the girls simply got a skin tone (Porcelein Flesh) and a hair colour (red, black or Blonde).  Dracula got a little more attention, grey skin, waistcoat painted white then red (to brighten the colour) and a little drybrushing in progressively lighter shades of grey to bring out the details of his suit and cape/wings.  Then finally a coat of Army Painter Dark Tone Quickshade dip was painted on to work its magic.

Estimated time from coming out of the Dettol jar to closing up the Quickshade tin was about 90 minutes.  While I'm the first to admit that the results are at best a low "tabletop" standard paintjob, I'm more than happy with them given the time taken.

So onto the day of the game, and there was a gap on the table by the railway track that looked like it was just crying out for a railway station.  Although I hadn't planned to use it, and had done exactly zero restoration work on it, I dug out a Plasticville railway station from the "not Paradiso" box again and plonked it down.  The fact that it looked so good on the tabletop makes me question somewhat why I'm spending so much time and effort basing, repainting and restoring the Plasticville buildings and why don't I just throw them on the tabletop and play with them as-is?

So onto the game itself.  The scenario was simple - Dracula had taken over the tiny Appalachian town, killing or turning all its inhabitants.  Members of four nearby mountain-folk families had been caught up in the slaughter, and after a couple of weeks, the four families had come to town in search of their missing kinfolk.  The churchyard formed the centre of the table, surrounded by six seperate zones: The Farm, The Highway Rest Stop, The Trailer Park, The Cargo Depot, The Town Park and the Town.  In each zone was a clue, a figure or terrain piece that the Hillbillies could discover that would weaken Dracula's powers when they finally faced him down in the Churchyard.  Meanwhile Dracula would be sending his legions of zombies, wolves and werewolves out to slow them down.

The rules were Flying Lead from Ganesha Games, with a slight tweak to the turn sequence.  In the original rules, each players attempts to activate all of his or her figures before handing over to the next player.  While fine for simple 2 player games, in the previous Hillbilly game we found that this left people twiddling their thumbs for too long.  This time, each player attempted one figure activation at a time before handing over to the next player.  If they failed two activations then any figures they hadn't activated in that "grand cycle" would forfeit their move until the next cycle.  I also had each Wolf and Werewolf pack activating as a single entity rather than individuals, and instead of being controlled normally, the zombies all acted in a seperate phase at the end of each grand cycle, getting one medium move stick towards the nearest human and if that brought them into contact with, one attack.  It worked very well, the wolves working as packs and the zombies being relatively slow and more of a hazard than a threat (though they did manage to take out a couple of stragglers during the game).

Oh and finally, the players (CrazyEddy, KayDee, MarvinTheARVN and T'uther Chris) were told that they were still feuding with the other families, and any "victory points" would be modified by the number of kinfolk each family had left, so it was in their interest to "thin the rival herds" a little bit.

The game itself was pretty memorable.  Here are some highlights

The "CrazyEddy" family (yellow) had gotten stalled in the Cargo Depot thanks to Crapping Out on several early game turns.  Meanwhile, the Dee Clan (red) had stormed through the Farm and the Trailer park picking up their clues and only having to deal with a handful of zombies.  Seeing a werewolf about to pounce onto the Eddys' truck, the Dees decided to "help" their neighbours by ramming the beast.  Unfortunately the agile lycan dodged out of the way and... well the brakes on those old jalopies ain't all they ought to be.

This lead to a... .ahem... misunderstanding between the two families and harsh words and buckshot were exchanged between the two.  But any misundersanding was soon ironed out when the Dees backed their jalopy away from the Eddys... then shifted back into forward and rammed them a second time, this time clearly aiming for one of the Eddys' kinfolk.

The situation..... escalated.

Meanwhile, the Tuther clan (run by T'uther Chris) went into town and rescued young Lucy Westonra from the town's radio station.  Showing remarkable forsight, for his next activation after finding her, T'uther Chris had Granny clamber to the back of the Jalopy to check their new friend for injuries, only to find those two telltale puncture wounds at the neck and assorted other arterial points.

A scuffle ensued, ending when Lofty shoved the muzzle of his hunting rifle under Lucy's chin and scored a Gory Kill result, blowing her head clean off.  The scene was so entertaining and to reward the player's foresight, I gave him a second, bonus clue.

From that point on , the Tuthers were reluctant to leave their jalopy, using it as a rather effective sniping platform for Lofty and Minnie-Jo. (Minnie-Jo is the little girl with the teddy bear and huge rifle.  Mr Fluffles is her spotter and gives her the equivalent of the Marksman and Hit-Man abilities, making her an absolutely deadly sniper.

The Arvn clan had found a clue at the rest stop but disturbed a large nest of zombies.  With the zeds and a pack of wolves bearing down on them, they were forced to leave Old Abe to his fate.  Moving into the park, Li'l Billy-Bob ran ahead to the bandstand to talk to the strange wheelchair-bound professor who told him scary tales about vampires and werewolves.

With the clue secured, Li'l Billy Bob just had to evade the zombies staggering towards the bandstand and get back to the truck.

"I push his wheelchair down the steps towards the zombies as a distraction."

Sometimes I fear my players.

At the end, The Dee's had been completely wiped out, taking all but three of the Eddys with them.  Two of them were fast enough to leg it down the road in search of transport.  But a huge swarm of zombies had been raised in the churchyard and by mutual agreement of three of the players, all headed towards the loudest noise, namely the exploding and burning trucks.

Poor Bubba.  Poor old drunk Bubba.

Of all the Hillbilly figures, he's the least violent.  Unarmed, except for his jug of moonshine, which he'll happily offer to share with fallen kinfolk to help revive their spirits.  His pitiful drunken state had been known to drive other womenfolk to berate him mercilessly,  (basically his only "attack" forced hostile womenfolk to skip actions berating his drunkenness.)

Poor Bubba didn't make it.

On the other side of the churchyard, a conference had taken place between Clan Arvn and Clan Tuther, who agreed to unite their clans to deal with the threat from "that thar fancy-pants furriner"/  With most of the zombies drawn off to the explosions, that left Dracula, his three Brides and a couple of zombie/ghouls left.

Because they agreed to share the clues they'd found, the Tuthers and Arvns had four clues between them.  Each clue negated one of Dracula's abilities, which brought him down from being an unstoppable killing machine to about the level of one of the tougher Hillbilly fighters.

Sniper fire from Minni-Jo accounted for two of the Brides, though not after they'd fanged poor Cousin George.  Granny Tuther tried to chastise one of the brides for being such a shameless hussy, walking around in her slip like that, showing her ankles and she'll catch her death of cold one night and.... sadly the Brides, being a couple of centuries older than Granny herself, were immune to her Berate power.

(As an aside, Berate was an ability I'd given some of the Elder figures, especially the unarmed ones, which allowed them to pin enemy non-elders with a stern tongue-lashing, similar to using magic to pin figures in Song Of Blades And Heroes.  That power had worked wonders against the Werewolves, several of which had fallen foul of elders' stern words and disapproving tone of voice)

When the third Bride fell to fire from the Arvn clan, Dracula made his move, pouncing out and wafting his cape magnificently.  Uncle-Daddy Tuther, patriarch of the clan, charged him with his pitchfork but found himself ganged up on by Drac and a couple of his ghouls.  The fight went back and forth, until Uncle-Daddy finally succumbed to a ghoul bite.

Minnie-Jo listened to Mr Fluffles' voice in her head one last time, took careful aim and put a .50 cal round right between Dracula's eyes, ending the terror for good.

A heck of a good fun game.

MarvintheARVN has already suggested the subject of the next big game, when he noticed my "not quite Nelson's Column" terrain piece, complete with lions.

Hillbillies 3; Hillbillies in Old London Town

Should I be worried that I think I've already got most of the figures and terrain I need to make that happen?

Monday, 26 October 2015

We're busy doing nothing, working the whole day through..

Two months since the last post!  Geez how did that happen?

There's been lots of little bits of work done over the last two months, though nothing major completed.  Most of the focus has been on terrain for Paradiso, though with the usual goldfish attention spa... oh look here's another cool widget to work on.

We have some bits to finish off the Industrial terrain, including some custom made MDF blockhouses produced for us by the wonderful Mad Mecha Guy.  Though rightly best known for his fantastic 15mm Sci Fi terrain, these days Joseph seems to be producing just as much for 28mm, including several bits that will work for the modern era.  We had a load of his shipping containers, and when we asked him if he could modify the design to turn them into the sort of temporary office or blockhouse buildings you see on industrial or building sites, he was happy to oblige.  While not-quite table ready, they are coming together splendidly and are exactly what we wanted.

Another Mad Mecha Guy production I have actually completed is the Monorail Cargo Depot, a birthday present from Mi Hermano di Regalo, Jonesy.  Leaving out the monorail part itself for now, it works just fine with the infamous Poundland train track.  It's certainly a lot more complex to build than the container boxes, quite the engineering marvel in fact, the way the crane can slide around.  I'm sure some enterprising soul would be able to make the crane actually raise up and down with a little effort, but I'm happy with it as-is.  I'm planning on using this in the Halloween game, so expect pictures soon.

Much as I admire the Mad Mecha Guy's stuff, I've fallen in love with the mdf buildings and accessories sold on eBay by TheTrollTrader under the TTCombat brand.  They use 3mm MDF almost exclusively, which means their designs are a bit chunkier than other MDF manufacturers, but their prices are absolute bargains.  I picked up the basic Apartment Building kit, which is currently selling for £13.95.  Although it lacks any interior, it's half the price of the equivalently sized City Block Residential building from Sarissa Precision.  They definitely seem pitched towards giving you the most bang for your buck, producing large, externallly impressive buildings at low prices by sacrificing the interior detail.  They also produce several large "skyscraper" type buildings, aimed primarily at players of the Batman miniatures game (and any other Superhero games, I imagine).  But they also produce a number of small accessory packs as cheap as £3.95 that are excellent for building up the amount of clutter terrain on your tabletop.  Again, photos will be coming when I've got something table-ready.

After the Industrial terrain is finished off, the next phase of the Paradiso project is to produce some more run-down looking buildings for the more rural settlements.  One of the sources of inspiration I'm using for Paradiso is the original Just Cause computer game, which has rural villages looking something like this...

You can see, they cover quite a range, from one room wooden huts to maybe two or three roomed plastered bungalows.  I rather like the overall eclectic effect and I'm looking to copy it for villages for Paradiso.  I've knocked up a few scratchbuilt huts from Balsa to get a feel for the lower end of the spectrum, the slighly better quality houses will probably be similar simple box builds with foamcore.  For the town market I've got some excellent market stalls from TTCombat (again at £3.95 for two stalls, it's hard to say no) and the larger public buildings like the police station will probably be Plasticville conversions.  A spare gas station is well on the way to being converted to a run-down village general store and I have a couple of other kits earmarked for this stage of the project.  Meanwhile Jonesy has been working on the Trailer park kit (ironically, the trailers are actually several times bigger than the smallest hovel huts, pushing them towards the "luxury home" end of the rural spectrum)

Way back last year when we first started mooting the Paradiso project, Jonesy bought me the Sarissa Precision Mission Church kit, which will be the centerpiece of many rural village layouts.  I've assembled this, and like everything else in this project it's currently about 90% done.

Let's not even talk about the old built up and broken Frosty Bar that I've restored on a whim.  Again... yes you've guessed it, it's about 90% done, just needs some finishing touches.... Hmmm maybe there's a pattern forming here?

Anyway, since our regular monthly RPG session happens to fall Halloween night, I've persuaded my regular players to forgo the regular superhero RPG in favour of a tabletop game on the big wargame table.  This serves as an excellent encouragement for me to have to clear it up from the junk-cluttered workbench it always seems to turn into between games, and make the gaming room fit for gaming in.
I'm going to try and use a few of the new terrain pieces in this game, maybe use the game as motivation to finish off some of those last 10%s.

Of course, since the game's going to be Hillbillys Vs (xxxx), neither my old European style church nor the new Mission church will be entirely appropriate for the "classic Americana" scenery.  I'm sure there was a church or two in the box of Plasticville buildings awaiting restoration..... Hmmm I think I feel another new (and urgent) project coming on!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Metal under tension

A quickie update.

This past weekend Mi Hermano Chofer Jonesy and I popped over the Pennines into the Land of Mordor for a day of gaming with an assorted band of reprobates, including T'uther Chris, Marvin the Arvn and No-Nickname Tony.  In addition to assorted card/board games, I persuaded the guys to have a go at AirWar C21.

The scenario was an obvious continuation of the last Paradiso game - with both sides stalemated on the ground, both sides sent ground attack aircraft with fighter escorts to try to break the deadlock.  A beermat-sized target area was placed in the centre of the table, and any damage points caused by ground attacks made in that zone counted as victory points.  Culo Raton sent four Shenyang F6s loaded for ground strikes with rocket pods, with an escort of four Mig-21s, while the Paradisan Air Force rolled up with their four Super Tucanos escorted by a flight of four F5E Tiger IIs.

To reflect the relatively small numbers of aircraft available to third-world/developing airforces, I ruled that the loss of any jet aircraft would equate to -5 victory points - in a situation where a single aircraft might represent 10% or more of a nation's air force, it makes sense to encourage players to conserve their forces and avoid "banzai attacks".  Because they are much cheaper and easily replaced, I ruled that the Super Tucano turboprops only cost -1 victory point if lost (which I thought slightly compensated for their slower speed and inferior air-to-air combat capability.

It's always interesting to watch other people play a game for the first time and form their own opinions about how to do things.  The Paradiso players both decided to try out Special Manoeuvres in the second turn of the game before the opposing sides had made contact.  Unfortunately a bad run of dice rolls meant that all the F5Es failed.  Two immediately went into stalls which took several turns to recover from, and one of the other two presented its tailpipe to an oncoming Culo Raton Mig-21, who took advantage of the situation and scored the first kill of the game.

As expected a large cluster of airplanes converged on the target area, but it was at this point that the Culo Raton players revealed their fiendish strategy.  They chose to forgo ground attacks with their Shenyang F6s which instead used their guns to join in the air-to-air combat.  The Tucanos all managed to reach the target area and unload their rockets, but two of them fell to the combined gunfire of the Culo Raton planes.  Ironically, the remaining two Tucanos had a Mig-21 fly right in front of them and even with their puny .30 cal machine guns were able to cripple the jet, which limped home.

The battle devolved into a big hairy furball, but the Paradisans never quite got back into the game and withdrew once the Tiger IIEs had expended their Sidewinders.  This left the Culo Raton aircraft free to bombard the target area unopposed.  Having splashed one Tiger and two Tucanos at the cost of only one Mig21 damaged, they were easily the clear victors.

Everyone had a good time, except possibly No-Nickname Tony, whose lower lip may have been wobbling a bit on losing his F5E so early on.  Being only the first proper game we'd played with the rules, we got a few key points wrong - we had planes doing Special Manoeuvres at Low Altitude and making attacks while doing "Break Turn" manoeuvres, both of which are no-nos.  The consensus of the other players was that Special Manoeuvres were on the whole a waste of time, a conclusion they reached after the disasterous Paradisan second turn.  Personally I'm inclined to disagree: I think a successful manoeuvre can win you a killing shot, just as a failed manoeuvre at the wrong time can leave you stranded in someone's sights.  Jonesy favoured doing nothing but Break Turns (a relatively easy move which let you make 75 degree turns instead of 45 degree ones, without too excessive a penalty for failure) but that was before we realised that you couldn't use weapons in the phase you did a Break Turn.

Everyone agreed that the Paradisan's had brought a knife to a gun fight with their Super Tucanos.  While they may be great counter-insurgency ground attack craft, they were a positive liability in an air-combat environment.  The sooner that Paradiso takes delivery of those ex-Israeli A4 Skyhawks, the better!

We also agreed that the ex-Soviet gear seemed to have all the advantages - The Mig-21bis carries four missiles compared to the F5E's two (according to the standard load), just as the F6s carried twice as many rockets as the Tucano.  I'd tried to equip all sides with weapons dating from around the mid-80s, and in the case of the Paradisan Sidewinders I'd made them the export-model Sidewinder-Ps rather than the much more powerful domestic Sidewinder-Ms available in that era.  I'd done so deliberately because I wanted both sides to be using rear-180 aspect missiles.  I'm going to have to go back to the airplane stats and do a bit more balancing work in setting up furture scenarios.

One last thing that I found strange - during my solo games I'd used a pair of set-squares (visible in the photos in the last post) for measuring angles - the angles you most need to use are 30, 45 and 60 degrees, all represented by corners on the set-squares, while a high-mobility Break Turn can be measured by putting a 45 degree and 30 degree corner next to eachother.  For the game this Sunday I went to the trouble of printing off copies of the turning circle from the rules.
For some reason though, the players did not get along with these at all.  And we're talking a relatively clever bunch of people here.  But despite it being as simple as "High mobility planes normally turn H, if doing a Break Turn they turn HBT", the turn circles fell by the wayside to be replaced by some truly dubious "eyeballing" of turns.  Then someone hit upon the idea of using a square D6 as a sort of 45 degree turn indicator (if you line it up with the flat front of the flying base, then the corners are pointing 45 degrees)  I'm beginning to think that I might be better off picking up half a dozen cheap "back to school" geometry sets for use with this game.

Applying the Culo Raton victory (on behalf of the Farmers' Revolt) to our ongoing campaign rules, I think the capture of the fuel depot from the previous land battle will give them control of a Secure Supply of Food and Materiel.  That leaves the campaign status as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko. The Bridge at El Humber. The Goodwill Of The People, Secure supply of food and materiel.
Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. The Airfield at Los Anillcamino. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant
Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.  

I think I'm going to fight this particular campaign thread until one side has just twice as many resources as their opponent, before having a UN enforced ceasefire reset the situation.  Now that Culo Raton has become involved I don't want things to escalate into all-out war too quickly!

Anyhoo, this post has taken far longer than I'd planned, and I've not even managed to mention the care package I received from Carl of SoloWargamingInTheUK.  More of that in a future post.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Gonna take a ride into the danger zone.

With the escalation of tensions between the Caribbean island nations of San Paradiso and Culo Raton, both nations have placed their respective Air Forces on high states of alert.

The Fuerza Ariale de Republico Paradiso is small and poorly equipped by western military standards, however compared to other Caribbean nations it represents a significant force to be reckoned with.  For its primary air-superiority fighter, Paradiso operates a dozen or so of the venerable Northrop F5E Tiger II, a 50 year old design which thanks to a series of avionics upgrades and modernisation refits remains a capable and credible threat well into the 21st century.  Although normally utilised as an interceptor/air superiority fighter, the Tiger II can be equipped with Paveway II and Mk82 bombs for a ground attack role.

Regular ground attack, counter insurgency and border patrol duties normally fall upon the Embraer EMB314 Super Tucanos.  The Brazilian turboprop trainer/light attack aircraft excels at close ground support, with it's acrobatic agility and long loiter times compared to jet fighters.  They may be no match for jet fighters in air-to-air combat, but since they are mostly employed against local insurgents and narco-traffickers.

Bringing up the rear of the formation are four A4 Skyhawks, recently purchased from Israel and not yeat operational.  Another veteran airframe that's still effective on today's battlefield, the A4s will represent a significant improvement in Paradiso's surface attack capabilities (including anti-shipping strikes) in an aircraft that can actually hold its own in a dogfight.

As a whole, the Paradiso air forces are in dire need of modernisation.  Countermeasures like chaff and flares are not universally fitted, and the standard air-to-air missile is the older, less capable AIM-9P model. Ground attack weapons are mostly unguideded bombs and rockets, with a handful of laser-guided Paveway bombs available for the F5Es.  And of course, the small size of the air force means that any aircraft losses are felt keenly.  The loss of two airframes might represent 10% or more of the available fleet.

Meanwhile the forces of the Culo Raton Ariale Patrole are equally ready to repel their Imperialist neighbours.

Like any good Communist dictatorship, Culo Raton operates mostly ex-Warsaw Pact or Chinese built equipment, often buying third or fourth-hand hand-me-downs from former Soviet client states.  Their fleet of MiG-21s have been extensively modernised and brought up to the MiG-21bis standard.  Primarily used as interceptors and air-superiority fighters, they can be equipped with an austere ground-attack capability.

The air force also has a handful of ancient Sukhoi SU-7 Fitter fighter/bombers.  Considered hopelessly obsolete everywhere else in the world, they still offer Culo Raton a significant ground-strike capability.

The Chinese built Shenyang F6, extensively modernised copies of the MiG-19, make up Culo Raton's primary ground attack capabilities.  Munitions are limited to unguided rockets and bombs, but a nation under as many arms embargos as Culu Raton has to make do with what it can acquire.  In a pinch, the F6 can be equipped for air-to-air combat, but would most likely be outclassed in that role.

So those are the aerial forces I've assembled for the modern Imagi-Nation action between San Paradiso and Culo Raton.  I've deliberately gone in most cases for out of date kit nearing the end of its operational lifetime (apart from the Super Tucanos, which are modern but inexpensive) but apart from the SU-7s I believe all these aircraft are still in active service with at least one nation in the real world.  Mig21 workhorses are still everywhere, Argentina is getting its fleet of A4s a brand new refit from Lockheed with avionics lifted from the F16, while the F5E remains the primary aircraft of the Swiss air force.

After looking at some of the options available, the rules I'm leaning towards are Air War C21 by Wessex Games (available as PDF from Wargame Vault).  I've had a couple of solitaire games and the rules look very good, doing a good job of abstracting the third dimension.  In a dogfight, you have the choice between moving normally, which is a simple half-move/turn/half move/turn based on your aircraft's manoeuvrability rating.  Alternatively you can attempt a Special Manoeuvre, pushing the flight envelope and theoretically involving the third dimension and either a loss or gain in speed.  For example an Immelman manoeuvre, which in real life resolves a half loop upwards followed by a roll to bring the aircraft upright again, in AW:C21 this allows you to make a half move then turn to face any direction, with a drop in speed.  The downside is that these manoeuvres require a roll to complete successfully and a failure can result in unexpected movement, greater than normal speed gains/losses and place you at a disadvantage against incoming fire.  If the results of a manoeuvre, success or fail, takes you over your airframe's maximum speed you take damage as the plane tears itself apart.  If  you drop below the minimum speed, you go into a stall and are no longer flying, but fighting to recover control of your aircraft as you plummet towards the ground.  At best this makes you easy prey to enemy aircraft, at worst you run the risk of fireballing into the ground.

The Special Manoeuvres are definitely the game winners/losers.  You can fly around doing normal moves in perfect safety and will probably find it quite difficult to get into firing position against your enemy.  Or you can take a chance on a Special Manoeuvre which might put you on your enemy's six, or if you fail leave you hanging in his gunsights.  Energy Management, a key feature of Air Combat Manoeuvering (or "dogfighting" to you and me) is also represented as you need to carefully manage the speed gains and losses from manoeuvring in order to keep within the flight envelope.  Too many fancy manoeuvres might leave you slow and energy-deficient just at the time you need to manoeuvre to avoid incoming fire.

In summary of all the air combat games I've played over the years, this one comes the closest to feeling like real flight, without tracking the third dimension.  I'm looking forward to trying out the rules on a live human opponent .

Meanwhile work on the air forces' 1/72 counterparts continues apace.  While I just about managed to hand-paint roundels and flags on the 1/300th aircraft, I think I'm going to try making some decals for the 1/72 aircraft.  I've also settled on a flight stand design that I'm very happy with, and as I'd expected, the 1/72 aircraft look absolutely fine flying over 28mm troops on the ground.  Pictures and more reports to follow.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Welcome to my secret lair on Skullcrusher Mountain

So three years back, I was experimenting with making high, rocky hills with limited paths across them.  I only completed a couple, but I've found them useful for representing significant, impassable hill terrain.

Around the same time, I came into possession of a number of Mega-Bloks pirate playsets, cheap £5 things containing maybe a rowboat and a small island, each of which came in its own clamshell case with the front shaped like a pirate skull.

I had to find a way to use one of those skulls, they were just too good to pass up.

Starting with one skull, I sawed the top off flat.  Fixing it to some scrap MDF, I then built up a hill shape around it using scrap polystyrene.  The hill was made partially hollow, with a cave behind the skull face and a raised floor to allow figures to take up firing positions at the eysockets.  To allow troops to climb onto the top of the piece, I added a winding path around the back of the hill, similar to that on the earlier rocky hills.

The hill was glued, pinned with cocktail sticks, and shoved in a cupboard to dry.

Three years later...

Yes, I said three years later.  I got distracted by Real Life (tm) and forgot about this until about a month ago when I ventured into the outside cupboard and found it again.  This week I decided to finally finish it off.

To start with, there was a major gap between the left top of the skull and the polystyrene "cap" above it, due to my rough cutting job being uneven.  I built this up with greenstuff to the skull had a flat, relatively even rim.  I then coated all the polystyrene in filler to give it a rocky texture.  Then I gave the filler a coat of diluted PVA to reinforce it, before giving the whole lot a coating of black textured masonry paint.  I use this as a basecoat on all my polystyrene hills, as it toughens them and adds a little texture.  After that it was just a matter of drybrushing various shades of grey, adding sand for the paths and flocking for grass and moss.

I'm really pleased with how this has come out.  Obviously it's more suited for fantasy, pirate or pulp games, acting as a scenario objective point rather than generic terrain, so it's only ever going to see limited use.  But I'm sure somewhere on Paradiso here's a "Skull Cave" tourist attraction just waiting to be fought over.  After making so much basic and "practical" terrain, it was nice to work on a totally whimsical piece like this.  Every wargamer shold treat themselves to a "Skull Cave" once in a while.