Sunday, 30 June 2013

Wild West Exodus: Deadlands 28mm Weird West Miniature Options

I came across Wild West Exodus by accident in my search for Deadlands miniatures.  It seems very slickly presented and raised $332,000 - a tad more than the $20,000 kickstarter goal.  I'm sure I'll review the skirmish rules when they come out, but for now I'll content myself with linking some photos of the upcoming miniatures:

The Indian "Sky Spirit" and werewolf "Sitting Bull" of the Indian faction which has a heavy shapeshifter vibe....

The "Enlightened" are the mad scientist faction with plenty of clockwork gizmos; they remind me of Malifaux arcanists somewhat...

Jesse James looking "hip" with body armour
Union soldiers also have a steampunk vibe

Anyway, I'm sure you'll investigate the link to find out more, so continuing the theme of "miniatures for Deadlands" - besides the aforementioned "Malifaux"....

No weird west game would be complete without undead "ladies of the night"

These "Guild Autopsies" would make decent undead cowboys... I just resent paying $6 apiece for a plastic miniature....

There are also a wealth of new VSF/steampunk games like "Empire of the Dead" - of whom many characters could be transplanted to the Wild West....

The Victorian civilian zombies would fix OK in the Wild West - especially if you kitbashed their caps into cowboy hats or bowlers.... there is also a "Werewolf" range that looks quite suitable

Reaper do official Deadlands miniatures for the RPG, but the line is rather limited.  

The undead cowboy and "Old Pete" were my favourites

Finally, there is also the old Rail Wars miniatures which were available through Jeff Valent studios.  I have a few and did not like the chunky model design or sculpt quality so I can't recommend them.  In addition, I hear some dubious stories about orders being (or rather not being) filled, which may simply be salacious gossip, but the fact I can't get the website to work is a bit concerning.

Ignoring monsters (which can be sourced from almost anywhere) and standard cowboys/civilians - of which there are large ranges available from Black Scorpion (my favourite) and smaller models from Foundry, among others  - I'm keen to source more "Weird West" miniatures.  Zombies/undead are a particular interest, as they tend to be rather obviously either modern, sci fi, or fantasy.   

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Vikings! (& 28mm Wargames Factory Miniatures)

Initially I was unimpressed with this TV series, perhaps spoilt by the drama and production values of Game of Thrones.  But as the series has progressed I have become more and more interested.  The battle scenes are good, and the portrayal of vikings, whilst not 100% accurate, is far less Hollywood than I initially expected.

Vikings - a surprisingly good show, by..   ...the History Channel...

Inspired by the small scale skirmish potential, I have decided to finally plunge into Dark Ages warfare.  I already have the interesting SAGA ruleset, and I am impressed by the flexibility and versatility of Lord of the Rings.  Although SAGA is popular and purpose-built for Viking warfare, and I really like the layer of tactics introduced by the battle-boards...  ...I am likely leaning towards LOTR.  The system is well proven in the Legends of the High Seas/Old West series of skirmish campaign games, and allows for individual warriors to progress, something SAGA currently cannot cater for.

As a bonus, terrain requirements are relatively light - I am tossing up between grabbing a few pre-painted hovels by ACE or simply scratch-building my own.

 The 4ground mdf prepaints are dirt cheap at $15ea, but it would also be simple to make my own. A benefit to viking warfare; terrain is not a major issue.

I have recently got a Revell 1:50 viking longship. The shields in the longships perfectly line up with the shields on the miniatures I have, which was an unexpected bonus.

 The viking longship scales (to my eyes anyway) perfectly with 28mm miniatures. 

The shields on the minis and the ship itself are identical in size.

Wargames Factory Miniatures Review (Viking Huscarls, Viking Bondi)
 Wargames Factory miniatures have a bit of an indifferent reputation.  A bit of a shame, as they are priced well (32 for $20), and make their miniatures in conjunction with wargamers (the Liberty & Union League). They even tried to recycle used sprues....

Multi-part Models... every miniature unique....
Well, I have a bone to pick with the Liberty & Union League, as they wanted the models with separate arms, legs and heads. And regular followers of this blog know how much I adore multi part models. This has enabled me to build every model with its own unique look. Unrealistic, contorted, but unique, tis true.  Although easy to attach arms and heads, the joins look a little "off."

The Miniatures look unique but most possible poses would give this girl a run for her money. The archer arms in particular are rather nasty. I'd recommend using Perry WOTR archer arms instead. 

The archers were the worse culprits for weird poses. It was hard to do a "shooting" pose that didn't look like a drunk playing air guitar
Bitz Galore
You can't complain about what you get on a sprue.  Spare heads, and enough arms to make every man look like Shiva.  The sprues are very handy for spare heads, arms and weapons - though the weapons are rather finely proportioned.

 There's so many spare arms, you could kitbash this dude if you wanted.  Admittedly, he'd have viking headgear.  
Fine Scale
They are comparable to GW's LOTR 28mm with fine proportions.  Weapons in particular are quite small, and the models are indeed 1:56 "true" scale rather than the more heroic 28mm.  A quick google around shows they do mix fine with Gripping Beast metals and plastics, which surprised me somewhat. 

You get a lot of spares. As you can see, after assembling 44 vikings, I have 20 bodies, 30+ heads, about 100 pairs of arms, and enough weapons to arm them three times over. 

Detail is quite reasonable and again I would compare it to GW's LOTR range by the Perrys.
Detail is sound but unspectacular, and should be pleasant to paint. Weapons and arms are a bit fine and I bent/broke a few weapons when taking them off their sprues. 

+ separate arms & heads allow lots of unique poses
+ sound detail
+ plenty of spare parts on the sprue
+ fine scale but mixes fine with Gripping Beast 28mm plastics
+ price is good; $20 for 32 models
- multipart models as usual take ages to put together
- poses/joins look unnatural (<--this is the big concern)

Recommended*: Well, I'd buy more Wargames Factory stuff (and in fact ordered some Ashigaru for my samurai project), and the sprues are solid value for the kitbashing purposes alone. I could make two SAGA warbands for $40 which isn't bad value.  I found the unarmoured "Bondi" sprues the most versatile.  The most annoying thing was the weird poses, due to the multipart nature of the models.  Apparently the customers wanted them that way. I'd like to find those customers, and force them, on pain of death, to put mine together in natural poses.

*EDIT: I've recently unboxed my assembled Wargames Factory vikings and compared them to my Gripping Beast plastics.  I'm changing my recommendation from "on the fence"  to NO based on 
(a) GBP poses are far more natural
(b) 50%+ flimsy WGF weapons are broken from being in box - excessively more than any other plastics I have owned
(c) Multipurpose weapon hands look like crab claws on close examination
(d) flimsy weapons may be more realistic in size but just look a bit "off"

Gripping Beast plastics are simply better. Get them instead. My WGF vikings are either broken (a good half of them!) or sitting unused due to their noticeably inferior poses and weapons.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Heavy Gear: Blitz - Starter Set and Rulebook Review

Heavy Gear and GW's Imperialis Aeronautica are two games I have eyed off for a long time, but never "got into" solely because they seemed so vastly overpriced.  With the inevitable demise of the latter (GW always lets its interesting games die - cue Epic, Bloodbowl, Mordhiem, Necromunda, Man O War, Space Hulk...) I decided to try Heavy Gear, "dipping my toes in" with a starter set ($65).

 The starter contained 2 small A5 rulebooks (Heavy Gear Blitz: Reloaded and the Field Manual) and 3 mecha each for the "Northern" and "Southern" factions, some dice and a nifty little measuring tape.

Starter Set & Pricing (The Elephant in the Room)
The starter set seems quite reasonable - the two little B&W rulebooks are similar to the ones you find in FoW or 40K box sets and are have considerably more packed into them.  However getting three minis for each side isn't even enough for a normal sized 4 or 5 mecha squad.  A cynic might suspect this was done on purpose.

DP9 seems to have copied its pricing policies direct from GW.  $50 for a 5-mecha squad ($10 a mini) is quite steep considering you need multiple squads, and the sculpts themselves are nothing special.

I also pay $10 for a single 28mm sculpt in Infinity - but there are two big differences:
(a) Infinity sculpts are dynamically posed, unique works of art; DP9 mechs are static, chunky copies
(b) Infinity you need 5-10 models ($50-$100) for an army; DP9 needs 15-20 models ($160-310); a single Infinity model can radically alter your gameplay options; a new mini IS a complete new unit

In addition, the DP9 vehicles are outrageously expensive.  Here's a comparison:

GZG 15mm metal tank $13ea

Dropzone Commander 10mm Resin tank $7.50ea

DP9 10mm Resin tank $43ea
Maybe it is made out of the same stuff as GW's "Finecr@p" that makes it worth 6x more than the Dropzone Commander stuff. It's even 4x more than a metal 15mm tank... Why?  Probably because it is worth a lot of "points" in game. 

The sculpts themselves are sound but unspectacular. They often include a range of weapon fits and with a bit of talent and steady hands you could magnetize and swap weapon loadouts. I do like the design aesthetic, but if there were any viable alternatives, I'd be on them like a flash.

Sadly, there isn't many mecha alternatives in smaller scales either (GZG has a small range of not-VOTOMs in 6mm; otherwise Battletech battlesuits/battlearmour are your best bet for 6mm). Unsurprisingly, DP9's own "fleetscale" mecha (about the size of a 15mm infantrymen) are also very expensive - at $2ea they are 3x more expensive than identically sized 6mm GZG mecha.

A mech-only 1000TV game that includes 3-4 Gear squads may be cheaper (~$160+) but add a single walker and a tank you can add another $100 or so... I calculated it would cost me $310 for a decently varied force. That's Games Workshop territory.

 I bought my starter from Wayland games as postage was less onerous than from DP9 direct.

Rulebook Review
The Shiny
Well, being a small A5 B&W softcover set (colour cover) the rulebooks in the starter kit are not very shiny. In fact, they are so cramped (size 6 font?) as to be all but unreadable unless you have 20/20 vision. <---If you can't read that you will struggle with the rules, especially the vehicle data sheets at the back.  That said, the rules are very complete and include army lists and data for three of the main factions, with the CEF being the notable exception.  The table of contents is thorough and there is a quick reference section at the back. The tiny photocopyable marker templates are of limited value - you'd have to put a lot of effort into making them usable. The rules themselves are a handy 35 pages - the remaining 170 are devoted to other things - there is a modelling and painting guide, a photo gallery (which presumably would be more impressive in a fullsize colour version), a timeline and plenty of historical fluff, scenarios, and army data.   The Heavy Gear universe has been the subject of wargames, RPGs and videogames for a few decades now so its backstory and fluff is very well fleshed out. 

Plenty of good content packed into a compact, portable A5 book but very hard on the eyes.

Initiative & Activation
Opponents alternate moving units by combat group (usually 4-5 mechs or 1-2 larger vehicles, or up to 12 bases of infantry). There is no forced coherency (though sometimes it is a good idea to keep your mechs concentrated) and in fact you can split your combat groups into sub-groups of 2-3 mechs or single vehicles, which makes it almost an alternate move game.   Each unit has a series of actions (used for moving at high speeds, attacking or using special abilities) it can use when it is activated.  Simple and sensible. I also like the inclusion of "overwatch" - you can hold fire in your move in order to fire in your opponent's turn.

Heavy Gear was also a PC game back in the Mechwarrior heyday...
Units can use stationary, combat or top speeds with corresponding hit/to hit penalties, which add tactical choices at the expense of having to track speed (usually with a d6 beside the miniature -which may bother people who dislike markers and dice cluttering the tabletop.) Moving at high speed uses an action.

A typical Gear moves around 6-12" in wheeled mode and 4-7" when walking.  Standard weapons range to 48" and support weapons can go to 72"+ - this means a sensible amount of cover for your battlefield is important to avoid things becoming a long-range slugfest. 

Spotting & Target Locks
Units need to "lock" their targets before they can fire.  Units in line of sight are automatically locked, but they need to fulfil certain conditions to detect models in cover; or spend an action to attempt an "Active Lock".  This is mostly done in conjunction with indirect fire, and is often done by forward observers/scout gears. 

Actually, Heavy Gear as a PC game looks like it's making a return via Kickstarter

Ranged attacks are quite clever, albeit sporting an annoying number of modifiers.  The attacker rolls several dice and chooses the best one. Each additional "6" adds +1 to the total.
Both attacker and defender make rolls. The amount the attacker succeeds by is the "margin of success."  The weapon attack rating is multiplied by this to find the total damage.  The better the shot, the more damage is done. This is rather logical and works better than the usual "roll to hit, then roll seperately (and randomly) for any critical hits"

Ammunition is sensibly abstracted. Any time all the dice rolled are less than the "Ammo Check" number, the weapon is out of ammo after that attack.  Flanking is encouraged by the "crossfire" rule - bonuses to attack when a different attacker fires at the same target from further than 90d from the original firer. Melee combat includes handheld weapons and also ramming foes at top speed

Damage is very practical - there are still damage levels to maintain that "mecha" feel but it is abstracted sensibly into "light"  "heavy" and "critical" instead of rolling special criticals or hits to individual limbs. Mechs can also be stunned or knocked down by the effects of fire.

Units can use their actions for other things besides combat - they may reserve their fire ("reaction fire" or "overwatch") - to fire on models that activate and move later. Missile or artillery equipped units may also elect to wait for friendly locks.  Units can hide or go "hull down" to increase survivability or negate defensive penalties. Squad leaders can declare "co ordinated fire" bonuses against targets which make grouping units together advantageous at times, without any artificial forced "stay in 3" coherency" rules.

Apart from the multitude of modifiers, there is a lot to like about the combat mechanics. 

A 5-gear squad will set you back around $50

Command Points & ECM
You also get an abstract resource called "Command Points" which can be spent by army commanders and (to a more limited extent) squad leaders.  These can be used to re-roll any dice rolls, activate models out of sequence, grant an extra attack, and allow dead models to take a "parting shot."

Units with ECM may attempt to block the use of command points (and other comm events such as forward observation attempts) which can be countered by ECCM.  Like Command Points, this adds another layer of "metagame" which I find interesting.
Scenarios, Missions & Campaigns
There should never be long lines of sight, and lots of terrain is recommended. Open areas greater than 4-5"can become "kill zones" which are difficult to cross safely, and can hinder movement more than buildings and forests. Think "Infinity" rather than "40K" when it comes to terrain density.

Combat groups have a morale level which can be tested by friendlies being destroyed, crossfire, incendiary attacks and similar events.  Units who "break" have -1 to rolls and must seek cover. They can be "rallied" through the use of command points.

Missions are defensive, offensive or standard. They come with their own list of objectives, which must be achieved to gain VPs. These include escaping a table edge, recon on enemy units, scouting objectives, blockading areas, protecting specific friendly units, holding a specific terrain area, assassinating enemy leaders, and seizing enemy terrain or deployment zones.  Airstrikes and artillery can be bought and "called in" and move and attack in an abstract manner.   Simple campaign guidelines are given which include replacing, re-arming and repairing units. 

Striders (large mecha) offer serious fire support, but at $35 to $50ea, they'd want to....

Vehicle Data
This is a bit complicated looking, and to make it worse I had to read them in almost incomprehensibly small print.
For anyone who is used to the heavy use of data cards (Warmachine, etc) I'm sure they will be no great burden.  Personally, I tend to prefer rules where you can remember key data in your head after a few play throughs - like GW's underrated LOTR series.

There were also sample 1000 TV army lists.  I priced them out and a typical army of 14 mechs (with no supporting vehicles or infantry) would come in at around $185 not including P&P.

Fluff & Stuff
There are detailed army lists and fluff  which personally didn't interest me, but is well fleshed out as you would expect of a universe with decades of RPG background.  There are short histories, timelines, army doctrine, vehicle profiles, unit organisation, awards, factional special rules, etc.  There is a modelling and painting guide, and comprehensive weapon tables

Important information included the way squads or "combat groups" can be constructed.  Squads are pretty "standard" but can be customized quite drastically with specialist mechs and weapon loadouts depending on their purpose (recon, strike, fire support etc).

There are about 30 cannons and guns, 11 rockets and missiles, and 13 support weapons like mortars, flamers and grenade launchers, 10 railguns & lasers, and 11 infantry weapons.  This is a rather huge assortment, but it is mitigated by the fact most weapons are available to everyone, and most are simply heavy. medium and light variants of the same weapon type - you won't be destroyed unexpectedly by a mysterious superweapon or special ability you've never heard of.

There is also a list of perks and special abilities for mechs.  There are about 50, but again, they are shared between all factions and do not tend to be gamebreaking superpowers a la Warmachine or Malifaux, but usually minor upgrades like anti-missile systems which add a defensive bonus against missiles, or minor defects like exposed sensors (which are disabled at a lower damage level than usual.)
The Heavy gear games draw from a rich Jovian Chronicles RPG heritage
 If you have less than perfect eyesight the rules in the starter kit aren't for you; and getting less than a complete squad for each side in a starter was also a bit of a dubious deal. And $43 for a Flames-of-War size tank - that's just crazy money.  I'd definitely buy vehicles elsewhere... where they are a fraction of the price.

It's a little sad, as Heavy Gear has some very good mechanics.  Firing is quite lethal - you'll need a good amount of terrain; and the game has a pleasant level of complication and tactics (EW, indirect fire, stealth, different move modes) without bogging down. Whilst it has an annoying number of modifiers, I like the opposed roll and "margin of success" which means more precise shots do greater damage, rather than rolling to hit, then rolling later for random "criticals."

The damage levels of mechs (light damage, heavy and critical) are sensible and satisfying, as opposed to the tedium of marking off hundreds of armour and structure boxes on a myriad of body parts  *cough* Battletech *cough* and it is a combined arms game where air, armour and infantry can join in with the mechs.  I can see how a campaign where you buy and repair mechs, and "level up" pilots would be quite fun, akin to the old Mech Commander videogame.

Command points, ECM and movement modes add layers of tactics and decision-making, and I am impressed with the general mechanics and gameplay.  

Overall - a rather good game, which occupies the combined-arms mecha niche alongside Reaper's somewhat obscure CAV series.

Recommended?  I like the models, I like the rule mechanics, I like the game as a whole - but I cannot recommend it at the current prices (buy-in is around $200+).  It's might be OK if you have a thriving local Heavy Gear scene but I suspect this is unlikely for most people.  In addition, the relative obscurity of the game means picking up a cheap secondhand army on eBay would be akin to winning the lottery. You're better off getting involved in kiddie crack Warhammer 40K - and I don't say that too often!

If you like the mech action but don't want sell a kidney in order to play Heavy Gear, the gladiatorial version (Heavy Gear: Arena) might be a cheaper alternative with its smaller "skirmish" scale and lower miniature requirements. 

Other options: Reaper's CAV has free rules and models that cost a third of the price; Battletech is more popular, and needs only 4-5 mechs (and thus a much cheaper $50-60 buy-in), and has a decent secondhand market (and the potential to re-base and re-purpose cheap plastic clix mechs).

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Dropzone Commander Rulebook Review

This one created quite a bit of excitement locally but never really took off. I had the chance to look over a rulebook, but "passed" on them at the time -  my primary complaint was the models are 10mm rather than the more universal 15mm, so I could not use them alongside or against my existing models from GZG, Rebel, Khurasan, etc. 

Since then DZC (at least locally) has disappeared off the radar, and I don't see it too often in the wargaming blogs and sites I frequent.  Curious, I sent for my own copy, with the aim of testing the rules and deciding for myself.

I like the Posthuman Republic stuff... even if it looks like it was designed by Steve Jobs

The Shiny
The rulebook is very shiny - a lush glossy softcover. Whilst dubious about how it would stand up to repeated handling, I appreciate the quality finish and lavish photos of miniatures in action.  The terrain and modelling displayed is topnotch "gamer p0rn" and considering a home-style MS-Word B&W rulebook from 2HW also costs $20, the professional quality rulebook looks like exceptional value. It is pleasant to read, has photocopyable templates at the back, and sections are colour coded so you can find the general area. However, there is not a specific index so you will have to hunt around for a specific rules. This was pretty annoying. The rules aren't that long (35 ish pages) but... no index? Also, the rules seemed spread around a bit (not always logically) which exacerbated the problem. There is no quick-reference charts at the back of the book either. I'm sure they are a pdf on their website (edit: found them) but I'm not a fan of having to hunt around to download things that could just as easily have been included in the rules themselves.
Verdict: Eye candy, easy to understand - but could be better organized. 

The Fluff
Pretty generic. The backstories for how the four factions came to be. We have the manipulative-Eldar-greys Shaltari who want to use humanity for their own ends, organic living weapon "devour all life" Tyrannids Scourge, the standard humans (United Colonies of Man) and the good Cylons cyborgs of the Post Human Republic.  Nothing to get excited about here. The only thing I noted was the exceptional ugliness of the Scourge designs (their dropships look like CD-stackers with gribble stuck to it) and the weird leafy bits on the Shaltari which turned me off them completely.

The Scourge dropship looks more like a CD storage device than anything else

Likewise, the leafy lattice attachments to the Shaltari aerial vehicles make them look more like grandma's over-ornate brooch (or for that matter, a studded collar or female body part) rather than a weapon of war...
Unit Stats
The basic stats are
Armour - resilience
Movement <---this is often surprisingly short - i.e. 4" for a tank
Countermeasures class
Damage Points - hits can take before being destroyed
Pts Value
Squad Size/Coherency - the amount of units per squad, and coherency range
Special Rules

Nothing new here, except for the short move distance and the "countermeasures" (active or passive).

Units are grouped in squads which are part of an overall battlegroup. Opponents alternate activating battlegroups. So it's a mix of IGOUGO and "alternate movement" - you move a large portion of your force.  Squads can be deployed onto the table or kept "in readiness" and deployed later through any friendly board edge.  Squads "in reserve",however, must pass a dice roll to enter the board.

Players can also use and discard "command cards." They are not necessary to play, but add "flavour" to games and add another layer of tactical options.  Commanders are mounted inside specialist vehicles and they can play cards on units within their command radius. 

Troops move slowly. I mean, really slowly. Infantry move only around 2" which forces you to use dropships and transports.  It makes sense in the context of the game, but I found it a bit jarring compared to other games I am used to.

I was really taken by their "Cityscape" card terrain and I'll probably get it for other purposes... $45 for a table full of terrain is not too shabby...

Weapons had a "standard" range an a "countered" range (if their target is equipped with countermeasures systems). Countermeasures are active (only good against kinetic weapons) and passive (die roll for % chance to block all weapons types).  Basically countermeasures act as a range reduction (i.e. infinite range if no CM, 36" maximum if CM).  Not a huge fan of "guess the range" in any game but it seems silly in sci fi (laser rangefinders anyone?).

Given the long weapon ranges and short movement ranges, terrain is very important. I was impressed with their coloured card-stock terrain (which fills a complete 6x4' table for $45).  I did not like the hit allocation system which seemed a little clunky.

Buildings and structures are quite important as they can be garrisoned by troops; searching or holding buildings forms the basis of many scenarios.  Infantry tend to shine when hidden inside buildings and can storm a building to evict enemy troops.

Not all aerial craft look silly...  the Archangel interceptor (above) and the Athena class look pretty sharp...

Aircraft & Dropships
Given the proliferation of dropships and gunships, AA fire is important and can be used in "reaction" provided the unit has not already fired that turn. 

Aircraft are classes as VTOL-like "normal" craft and "fast movers" (i.e. like modern jets); the latter move to fast to be on the table and have a special move sequence. They move from a nominated table edge, to their firing position, then off another table edge.  Interceptors can attack enemy fast movers in a similar move sequence.  Aircraft can fly normally (6" altitude) or "on the deck" (2"); aircraft flying so low must make piloting tests or crash into buildings and terrain in their path.  Aircraft can land and take off from the battlefield as long as the LZ is not too "hot"

As you'd expect for a game named "Dropzone Commander" dropships are vital for moving troops (and vehicles) to objectives.  Troops can be carried Russian-doll style i.e. infantry carried in an APC that is carried in a dropship. 

These are far more complex than the usual "kill em all" 40k-style deathmatch.  Troops often have to search buildings for "objectives", collect intel, holding buildings in the enemy half of the table, seizing vital buildings and strongpoints, breaking through enemy defences, hunting for objectives behind enemy lines, demolishing key structures, assassinating commanders, seizing a bridgehead.. and so on.  I was very impressed with the variety and range of missions and they should keep you interested for a long time.The average table is only 4x4' (easy to make terrain for) though you can use bigger tables.

Having your gun on a flexible arm makes a lot of sense.... you can go "hull down" almost anywhere...

"Army Books" and Army Building
This is the "codex" for each faction. It contains a little background on the government, alliances, technology and weaponry of each faction, as well as comprehensive stats for each unit.
I noticed the only thing without countermeasures is infantry, and each faction is either "active" or
passive" which makes me wonder if there was a simpler way to do the countermeasures rules.

Army building itself gave me a mild headache, and might be a confusing for a new player. I suspect there will be an Excel spreadsheet or app along soon to simplify stuff. (Edit: also found it)  A good balance of troop types are needed given the way various unit types interact with each other.

Mixed feelings about this still; the 10mm models don't work with my usual 15mm, and some gorgeous models are offset by some other rather ugly designs. The rules themselves are nothing revolutionary but seem to work well to  force a combined-arms approach due to the short movement ranges of infantry, which dictate the use of transports and dropships to actually move from A to B in a reasonable amount of time; and the fact infantry are necessary to capture buildings and complete scenarios.

The movement ranges seem short compared to other games; and the long range of most weapons compared to relatively short move distances means you need plenty of terrain; in fact lots of terrain is dictated by most scenarios. The paper terrain sets (both free and premade) look useful - I'll probably grab the $45 preprinted set regardless of whether I get the official minis or not. 

I do really like the wide range of scenarios which range well beyond the usual "kill em all."  Heck there was even a scenario for a four-way! Army building was a bit too complicated for me, but there is a tool that will help with this. The last two sentences sounded weird when I re-read them :-/
I also like how there aren't a zillion special rules and "exceptions" (*cough* Infinity Malifaux Warmachine *cough*).

Personally I'm not sure if I'll get into it as I am already heavily invested in 28mm, 15mm and 6mm sci fi and I don't need another scale, neither do the rules mechanics excite me enough to switch me away from the platoon-level action and logical gameplay of Tomorrow's War.  The rules are a good alternative to the 6mm sets (Epic, Future War Commander) but being tied to a specific product line hurts them a bit.  Though a starter is $80, a decent army would run you $150-$250... and for $10 I can play "Supreme Commander" on PC....

Recommended: A tidy, well-presented game which emits a strong "Command and Conquer" vibe.  Gameplay is solid but unspectacular, but it comes together to make a strong "package."  It seems a quality product with good effort put into it.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Paul Kearney - the best fantasy author you've never read

That's a pretty bold claim. We have the heavily anticipated "AAA" authors like GRR Martin, Pat Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Daniel Abraham, Scott Lynch and Peter Brett - but Kearney doesn't seem to even make the "B" list, which is rather astonishing considering his work compares favourably with all those mentioned, and tends to remind me somewhat of a mix between the "new fantasy" school and the late David Gemmell.

 The Hawkwood books have been condensed into two omnibus editions - Hawkwood and the Kings and Century of the Soldier - which seem the best and cheapest way to get the whole series.

Kearney's main body of work includes the Hawkwood series, the incomplete Sea Beggars trilogy, and the more recent Macht trilogy.

I'm focusing on the Hawkwood series as it is a good starting point. The Sea Beggars are considered better by many, but is incomplete, with the third book "due" since 2007 due to a publishing hiatus.

The Hawkwood series is fantasy, but its "world" mimics one of my favourite historic periods, the 15th-17th centuries dominated by the Spanish Empire. This is a world of galleons and muskets, but also includes magic and shapeshifters, duly opposed by the Inquisition and the ambitious Church.

The first book starts strongly, with a fishing boat encountering a drifting galleon with a dead crew... the hapless fishermen are promptly ripped apart by a terrifying creature hidden aboard.  It shifts to Aekir (Jerusalem) where the Merduk (Islamic) hordes are just sacking the city.  The dual storylines of the book are Hawkwood (sailing captain) on his journey to a dark and mysterious New World; and Corfe (soldier) a veteran of the sack of Aekir and destined to lead the defence against the Merduk hordes.

I found this series good but annoyingly incomplete. Apparently the final book "Storm of the Dead" is due out in 2014.

The Hawkwood books are excellent, with Kearney providing some of the best battle scenes I've come across. Many readers prefer the Hawkwood voyage over the Corfe military storyline, but I personally prefer the latter, perhaps simply due to the good battle scenes.

There is also plenty of intrigue - Kings, Queens and the meddling Church weave a tangled web of plotting, and in the background is the apparently unambitious Fimbrians - a sort of Roman Empire that once controlled much of the known world but has now retreated to become a kind of Switzerland.   Magic is on its way "out" and gunpowder and the Church are on the rise.

In the first books the seagoing kingdoms of the West face threats from without (the Eastern Merduk sultanates) and within (perhaps a more insidious threat from a church seeking secular power). But are there darker forces at work?  Guided by the log of the abandoned ship, a voyage to the New World faces many dangers, amongst them agents of a perhaps greater, hidden menace. 

I enjoyed the middle books the most, with their focus on the military battles and desperate defence against the Merduks.  The last book (Ships of the West) was something of a letdown - it reminds me of the ending to the Lord of the Rings movies - it dragged on and on, passing many logical "ending points." I reckon it could have been hacked down and appended to the earlier book, the Second Empire, which was for me the climax of the series.

Steven Erikson said they were the best series he'd read in years.  I'm not an Erikson fan (there's a difference between treating authors like grown ups and lazily not properly explaining things/assuming everyone understands your own little D&D world) but he's on the money here.  Kearney takes some rather cliched historical and fantasy references and makes them all his own, whilst avoiding the trap of being overly drawn out and wordy.  He blends the "new fantasy" of gritty heroes, dark plots, heartbreak and complex intrigue with the readability of David Gemmell. All the more impressive in that his Hawkwood series first came out in 1995.

Kearney's latest series is practically a retelling of Xenophons's march of the Ten Thousand

If you like the Hawkwood series, the Sea Beggars (with an even more naval flavour) is acknowledged by many to be better, but it is frustratingly incomplete.  Set in a world abandoned by it's Creator, the hero Rol is of the blood of an ancient race possessing magical powers. He is driven from his remote fishing village to be trained by a mysterious mentor, in a range of deadly arts.  Rol goes forth into the world to become a privateer.  The sequel is far more naval in nature, but ends rather abruptly - annoying since many have been waiting since 2007 for the ending to the series.

A "finished" series is his more recent work on the "Macht" - the not so subtle title "Ten Thousand" - gives away its roots - basically a retelling of Xenephon's Anabasis with a force of mercenary Macht (Greeks) stranded far from home inside the Assurian (Persian) Empire. Whilst its setting is far more vanilla (a.k.a almost straight historical fiction) than the "Hawkwood" series, it plays to Kearney's strengths.

Like great action scenes, gritty heroes, and complex plotting and intrigue, without having to wade through the 800+ page tomes which seem fashionable nowdays?  Paul Kearney marries the easy-reading style of David Gemmell with the gritty complexities of the "new fantasy" - and the more streamlined books mean you don't have to sign away a year of your life to try it out.

Recommended?  Absolutely. I wouldn't say he's above GRR Martin or Abercrombie, but he certainly deserves more plaudits than Peter Brett or Brent Weekes, all of who sell truckloads more books to much greater acclaim.  He seems to be able to finish a story without padding it out to 800-900 pages, which seems to be the "minimum" page limit  of a fantasy these days.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Curse of Multi Part Miniatures (Or, the decline of Infinity Minis)

I notice I passed 100 followers and 100,000 views during my baby-enforced hobby holiday, but I'll forgo the usual posts in return for allowing myself to deviate from my usual format for a brief rant.

Yes, it is the curse on modern gaming - the proliferation of the multi-part miniature.

Begin #1 RANT:

Disclaimer: Now I'm not saying there isn't a place for multi-part miniatures.
Namely, in cheap sets like Wargames Factory, where they sell bulk sprues with 4-5 basic poses for mass armies and allow interchangable leg/torso sets to add some "variety." Or Warlord plastics where they use different heads to allow Confederate and Union troops to be built from the same box.  They are usually easily slapped together and usually have the minimum necessary to allow some variety.
The multi-part factor allows a range of models to be made with a limited number of sculpts, helping keep costs down and allow mild (and easy) tinkering by the gamer who wants more poses and features.   I nominate Perry miniatures as an example of "good practice"; separate torsos and legs make a two-part mini easy to assemble but allow a good range of sensible poses.

When plastic minis are sold cheaply in bulk, a limited level of multiple parts balances production cost with variety.
There's annoying....
Games Workshop has long annoyed me with their infamous three-point attachment (left shoulder, right shoulder, plus one hand needs to be attached to the gun). Sometimes this requires a clamp or an extra set of hands, and seldom comes out "just right."

..and there's going to far
However, Infinity has recently been enraging me with their multi-part "redundancies."   It's now a "fourpart attachment" sometimes - also they seem to be trying to ensure each arm, leg and head is individually attached.... it's like the minis were designed as a puzzle for octopi. Why, I ask?

"The poses are dynamic"
If the poses are so dynamic as to absolutely necessitate multi-part sculpts they are often over the top they are impractical for gaming purposes, or simply stupid.

Exhibit A: Leaping Wulver - so dynamic it's only fit for a diorama

"We need to cast in multiple parts to maintain a quality sculpt"
Actually, the excellent Empress/Red Star miniatures have comparable quality to Infinity.  They don't need 16 parts to make a single 28mm figure. In fact they seldom use more than two. They also cost $2.50 not $11 for a model. (Actually their Russians are a cheap way to bulk out an Ariadnan force)

Exhibit B: Red Star/Empress Miniatures  These have fine detail and excellent sculpts. They don't need a dozen parts to make a good 28mm model, either.

"People need to customize their models"
This is complete BS in a game like Infinity where there is likely only ever one of a particular model on the table at any time anyway, but even so:

(A) the average Infinity miniature has a locking socket (which seldom exactly lines up)which means minis (if attached properly) has an "exact" pose which is the same as every other similar model.  

(B) If people want variety they can simply stop slavishly copying the studio paint schemes.  I know not everyone does this, but I'd estimate 95% of armies I see are exact copies of what is on the cover of the miniatures box or rulebook.

"Kitbashers need the posability"
Anyone who buys two $11 boutique models with the intent to destroy one for parts is also more than capable of attacking them with a saw and copious greenstuff; and are not going to be too bothered if they screw up either.

Does anyone else feel this way?
I personally do not enjoy spending 30 minutes+ to assemble a single model. But obviously the miniatures manufacturers are catering to someone. Maybe there are people who deeply enjoy spending an hour on each miniature, and are proud of their results.  Perhaps mini makers think they making our hobby "deeper" by giving each figure with an Airfix-kit level of assembly.
I am in it to "wargame."  Modelling and painting are part of the hobby, obviously. But when I spend more time assembling models than painting or playing with them... meh.  
Or am I simply an embittered loner with opposable thumbs?

Ironically enough, these highly dynamic monks are 2 and 3-part models - simple and straightforward to assemble.  So dynamic does not naturally = millions of bits...

RANT #2:  The production quality of Infinity has dropped drastically.
I know why Infinity miniatures are $11+. It's because they now come with about double the actual miniature's worth of metal in flash and miscast pieces.

Every single piece of the models I assembled this week had copious flash or chunks of metal from the casting process still attached.  Removing these was very difficult at times and significantly marred the model (especially a model with such fine detail). The fine detail means mold lines (also very common) are harder to remove as well, as even with a fine file your removal attempts are usually quite noticeable.

I've had to send for missing parts three times in the past year.  Tip: keep your "error code" slips of paper handy until you've fully assembled the model. While Corvus Belli customer service is excellent, when you pay $11 to $40 for a single metal miniature I feel you have the right to expect molding quality at least equal to your usual $1-per-miniature bulk plastics. 

After having to "doctor" every piece of about a dozen models to make them usable, neat or even to simply make it fit where it belonged, I felt tempted to lump all the bits into a box and return them all, churlish as that may be.

I found it ironic (and very frustrating) that I assembled 100+ pieces worth of Viking longship - from a legitimate MODEL kit - faster than two Infinity miniatures. I also didn't have to take a file or knife to EVERY SINGLE PIECE .

I love the fact Infinity has been a success story, carving a niche outside the Warmahordes and GW kiddie-crack empires. But I think they may have outgrown their quality control......

By the way, here's a photo of the semi-finished Revell Viking Longship. It scales very well with 28mm. It was relaxing compared to assembling the Infinity stuff!