Friday 13 October 2017

Diary of an Average Painter: Weird West

This is another one of my "large" collections - I've mixed up Black Scorpion, Confrontation, clix, West Wind, Heresy and Malifaux for a substantial bunch of cowboys and monsters.

Here are some relatively mundane models I painted up quickly while "watching" my kids in the sandpit.

First, some rather mundane cowboys. They'll have nonetheless stocked up on garlic and holy water...

Then, what my wife calls the "Pussy Galore" gang. It is rumoured some possess minor magecraft...

Some Apache/Commanche(?)s - they use silver bullets for taking down skinwalkers...

The local reverand confronts an undead cowboy - and his skeletal dog, so faithful that death cannot part them...

Townfolk gather to confront the undead...

While the majority are Black Scorpion, I have no idea where the skellie cowboy came from. Great Rail Wars maybe? The dog I think is off a Mantic skeleton sprue.

At the moment, I'm working on some pulp models, for a game featuring either aether-manipulating mages or occult Nazi shenanigans. Though I see I've got heaps of unpainted 15mm - and a 15mm army would be both quick and satisfying to paint.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Train of Thought #3: The Silmarillion - World's Most Boring Book? + Air Wargames (Blood Red Skies)

I dug out the Silmarillion the other day. Am I the only person who thinks it is utter crap?

The local LoTR fans don't like my suggestion that the LoTR movies improve a LOT on the books, removing useless waffle (Tom Bombadil fans, avert your eyes) the only mis-steps being the casting of the Elijah Wood (everything he did, but his weird staring and whiney-ness in paricular) and changing things so the magic ghost army of the dead kinda automatically win for good (in a Deus Ex Machina which renders the heroism of Gondor/Rohan meaningless and makes Aragorn's lucky shortcut the pivotal point of the movie).

I'm sure they would not enjoy the suggestion that the Silmarillion is basically a RPG sourcebook: albeit an incredibly dull one, with probably less literacy merit (and that's a low bar to jump step over). If I was to compare it to any RPG book I own, for reading interest, the Silmarillion would be to the bottom every time.  I know Tolkien's books are innovative, and inspired much fantasy work etc etc: but you could make similar "innovative" claims about a Model T Ford. And I have no desire to own one of those over a modern car.

The Silmarillion is basically an extra-boring RPG manual.  Sometimes I hide from my family, perched on the porcelain throne, and secretly read.  After a chapter of the Silmarillion, I was inspired to actually get out and help my kids with their baths and do some mowing: the book made the tasks seem exciting in comparison.

As a pretentious uni student, I remember "liking" Silmarillion but that must have been to impress nerdy friends, surely.  It's just a bunch of notes about a fantasy world edited together in a respectful homage cash grab by his estate. Unlike Hobbit which attempts to be a narrative, and the LoTR which has vestiges of a coherent story, Silmarillion is just Tolkien rambling on about his personal fairyland at tedious length. It should have remained unpublished notes.  Oh well, at least it isn't as pretentiously crap as The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

Agh, mentioning that book has triggered me even worse. *takes a deep breath* time to change topic methinks

Air Wargames

A while back, I did an article where I basically said all air wargames are rubbish and tend to have advanced little in mechanics and style since the 1970s.  I've played a lot of War Thunder lately, and a few things stand out to me: energy management (trading height for speed and vice versa) and positioning vis-a-vis your opponent (such as horizontal turns bleeding off speed/energy in return for a firing solution) as well as general positioning - the ability to spot/ambush enemies and to have the awareness (and ability) ability to break away from disadvantagous fights.  

Anyway, I was looking at the free rules for Warlord's upcoming "Blood Red Skies" (which sounds more nautical to me for some reason: perhaps a homage to Crimson Skies?) by Andy Chambers (who I am convinced is the only ex-GW designer with any creativity at all.)  And the rules focus a lot on "advantage" which resonates with my PC gaming experiences.

Gaining the Advantage
There's a few things in Blood Red Skies that interests me: the core mechanic revolves around "advantage" which is a kinda aggregate abstract of a planes altitude AND energy state.  Planes are either "advantaged"  "neutral" or "disadvantaged."  Having an advantage means you go first, and only planes less advantaged than yourself can be shot down.  Advantage can be traded down or "burned" to increase speed or execute sharp turns.  You may even take an action to try to outmaneuver a nearby opponent (reduce their advantage level).  "Advantage" not only determines IF you can be hit, but also the effect: if a plane is hit, it loses an advantage level, and if it is already disadvantaged, is is destroyed.

Oh, and once a side suffers enough hits ("boom tokens") + kills equal to their aircraft  they lose the game as they break off  and run for home (again, an interesting abstraction, this time of damage/morale).

I'm not claiming that Blood Red Skies is the "next big thing" but I do feel more innovation than most aerial wargames sets which are usually rehashes of old rules from Avalon Hill boardgames - probably the most innovative rules I've seen since the incoherent but interesting Bag the Hun

Anyway, bed time.  My body is reminding me I don't recover from sport like I did in the olden days. 

Friday 6 October 2017

Game Design #74: Possession, AI and the "Resource Pool"

Someone has probably already used this in a boardgame - it was inspired by looking at some Magic the Gathering.

A game concept that interests me (which I don't see often in a wargame) is what I call the "resource pool" - where the player himself is represented by a resource.

Yes, we have "command point" pools or "pips" in many wargames, perhaps Infinity orders - but what I mean is more like the focus of a Warmachine warcaster - a resource to buff units, not so much command and control or activation.  In this case the resource not represented on-table by a wizard etc, but it represents the commander - a bit like the mana or hitpoints in MtG.

There's two scenarios that interest me:

Demon vs Demon combat
Basically duelling cults, powered by a supernatural entity of some sort.  The resource pool represents the entity; perhaps a pile of a dozen or so tokens which represent its supernatural strength.

The entity/demon/Old One grants its powers to its devotees - buffing their powers and abilities depending on how much power is assigned to them (represented by tokens next to the mini.)

The tokens can grant stat increases (speed, strength, durability, bravery etc) or special rules (powers or traits attributed with the particular entity).  The more power that is assigned, the greater the powers the minion would possess.

Units could be graded not only by their combat stats, but by their suitability as "vessels" - i.e. a relatively weak grunt unit with strong - faith? - might be able to be upgraded to extreme levels.  having special rules that link to a particular entity could add a strong flavour to each faction.  In fact, the demon "suite" of powers could be assigned to any array of minis; you could mix-and-match: put in 40K terms, it might be like having Nurgle Space Marines, or Nurgle Dark Eldar, or Nurgle Tau.   The entity is what would define the faction, allowing pretty free choice of minis.

So there is a strong aspect of resource management - where does the entity assign its powers? A relatively non-threatening unit could be pumped full of malign powers and walk through a numerically/technically superior force, say shrugging off bullets and throwing telekinetic blasts or whatever is flavour is.  Perhaps loading a unit with too much supernatural power might crack its mind; so you could "overload" a unit with power but risk having it become a gibbering mess for the rest of the game. 

But there's to be another element of risk vs reward - any time a unit "buffed" unit is killed, those tokens assigned it are lost for the duration of the game.  Basically if the entity grants its powers to a minion, and the minion is lost, so are those powers.  So it's possible you might lose only 1-2 minis, but all your supernatural powers, thus "losing" the game.

In addition, in campaign games, the power of the entity would be another factor; for example you might have only 6 cultists, and the other warband has 18 cultists, perhaps with superior gear to boot.  However the power of the demon or whatever could be the other way; the smaller faction might have triple the supernatural points so the contest is actually quite balanced...

This represents the "focus" of a hivemind-style AI.  The AI can buff the powers of the relatively less powerful inbuilt CPUs of the drones/robot minions in similar manner to the example above; placing tokens next to the boosted unit.  Unlike the example above, the processing power is not lost when the buffed unit dies.  However the AI power (or buffs) can be blocked or jammed by EMP weapons or countered by other AI.

So it is less risk vs reward than negation of opponents. It also makes conventional infantry valuable; they cannot be degraded by enemy AI powers or EMPs.  I like the idea of a kind of mech+human "combined arms" - remote drones which can be jammed, autonomous robots with poorer reactions/decisions that can be hacked/overriden by enemy AIs, and weaker humans immune to EW.

I explore the topic in more depth here - but the concept of a supercomputer AI as the overall battle mastermind is another layer over the top.

Where to from here
I could probably graft these ideas onto an existing system (such as LoTR) but I'm more likely to test them using my homebrew Middleheim and Modern Pulp rules. 

I kinda rabbited on about two possible applications that interest me (aka pet projects) but I think the point I'm interested in is:

Representing the "player" as a resource pool (call it mana or whatever) which buffs units; the game can end when the resource is depleted, not just when there are actual casualties. 

Kinda like MtG, only instead of creature/unit cards you have minis, and the mana/hitpoints are rolled into one. 

The Train of Thought #2: Early Access Review Rant

How long should you play something before you review it? Aka the overexperienced reviewer

Well, for wargames, I always thought "a couple of hours" or "a few games" and for PC games, usually more - maybe a couple of dozen hours.  But browsing Steam, I've come across a phenomenon - the negative reviewer with huge gameplay time.

Obviously games can change; if a core game mechanic changed to make a game unenjoyable, I understand why a longtime committed player might "go off" the game or cease to recommend it. Or if a game became pay to win or introduced some dodgy or unbalanced content.  But these are guys who have played for thousands of hours.  2000+ hours.  That's 250 8-hour working days.  They're still playing. Sometimes they've had 100+hours in the last two weeks. And yet they say in their review "Don't buy this game, it's too bad/grindy/RNG/insert reason."


If you have played the game for 2000 hours, I think you've got your money's worth. If it took you 2000 hours to realise the game was "bad" either the game was really good at disguising how "bad" it was (i.e. it's fun) - or you're an idiot for taking that long to realise it was "grindy" or whatever.  If you're still playing the game for 50 hours a week, is it "bad?"  If it's always bad/boring/unfun and you've played it all this time/are still playing it, you're an idiot.

Play anything for long enough and I think you will see the flaws/get bored/get tired of it.  I've played the World of Tanks/Warships for 1000s of games and I regard them as deeply flawed.  They are very repetitive - but I'd probably play them one session a fortnight. However I do think the average gamer would get fun out of them, so I wouldn't recommend against it - after all, I'm still continuing to play them.

Early Access Reviews

I see a lot of reviews in PC games with the caveat "it's good for early access" or "it has potential, so I recommend supporting it."  For those unfamiliar with the term early access, it is a genius move that allows game companys to charge money for an alpha/beta copy of their game. Under the guise of "getting player feedback" or "working together to make the game the community wants" it's an excuse to use idiot consumers as beta testers/bug testers who pay for the privilege to play an incomplete game.  It's insane.

If, 20 years ago, someone said, "I"m going to charge $30 for a glorified tech demo, full of bugs, with almost no content, develop it slowly, and perhaps complete it in several years time" - I think they would have been laughed at. Now we call them millionaires.

Now, "early access" not only a way to cash in early in the development, and free bug testing: but I have an issue with the other benefit: EA games seem to get a free pass for any faults as it is "early access" and not expected to be polished or complete.  But the thing is - you paid for it.

If I sold you a burger at full price, but did not include the sauce or the beef patty, would you recommend my restaurant? "It's an OK burger for early access - his salad shows promise, so buy a burger and support him."

I don't blame the game companies. Heck, if idiots want to throw money at you for an incomplete product and pay to test bugs for you...   ...but reviewers need to not use the early access crutch.

It's a product you pay for - so it can be judged alongside other products you pay for (complete or not).
Is the game fun now? Is it playable now? Are the bugs gamebreaking now? Will you get enough fun/gameplay for the cash?

For example Ark:Survival Evolved was in early access for years. It has terrible optimisation, it's sometimes buggy - but the game is very playable, it huge amounts of content, and it can be judged against a complete game. At $15, I could recommend it without using early access as a  factor.

I think my approach is: Is the game worth the money now? If the devs never did another line of code for this game, would it be worth buying?  Yes/No? 

I guess the takeaways are:
+ Is it possible to be too experienced to review the game objectively?
+ Is it fair to "downvote" a game you have spent 1000s of hours on and continue to play? (and has not changed its core mechanics)
+ How should "early access" or "beta release" games be reviewed?

Obviously I am talking with PC games in mind, but I've seen a few "early access" wargames rules starting to seep in....

Thursday 5 October 2017

Diary of an Average Painter: Confrontation - Dirz

I tend to have an eclectic mix of minis.  I tend to be rather gadfly in my interests: hopping from system to game system and collecting a smattering of everything.  As I never do "big battle" games and tend towards skirmish, my collections tend towards dozens at most, rather than hundreds of models.

But I do have an improbable amount of minis for three game systems: Lord of the Rings (due to a few large eBay purchase when the market was slumped before the latest Hobbit movies I can probably refight Helms Deep at 1:1). Another is Infinity (I love the minis: before the rules got to complicated I actually played it as well - I have hundreds of minis - probably have ~20 from every faction at worst, and 50 or so at best - though how you define worst depends on if you are me or my wife)  The other big collection of minis is Confrontation: I didn't get the huge bargains some did, but most cost 1/2 to 1/3rd of the RRP as the game faded out - the beautiful metals being replaced by pre-painted-puke plastic.  I've never played Confrontation though I have the rules - no one wanted to put effort into a "dead"game (this always annoys me - a wargame is only "dead" when you decide it is - it's not like pewter minis suddenly become incompatible with Windows 10). 

Anyway, whilst cleaning my shed I found some minis I haven't touched for 5 years - broken in a box, I rebased them and touched up any missing bit of paint. I resisted the urge to "improve" the paintjob as they were functional and tableworthy:

The red flesh paint scheme predates my Orcs by 5 years or so; but it looks similar, though "wetter" and more fleshy. I don't mind the effect but have no idea how I painted it.

These Alchemists of Dirz could really do with better highlighting and perhaps a bright colour to make them "pop" - red glowy eyes perhaps.  Ah well, they work on the table OK as it is.

The sinister mantis claws make these my favourite models.

Hmm perhaps I will add some highlighting. Glowy eyes and brighter bone contrasts might be worth the effort.

Hmm I probably WILL end up touching these up. A splash of colour will bring them to life a bit more with little effort.

I notice I tend to methodical when I buy random minis: I always have ~10 line infantry, ~10 archers, and then a handful of heroes and monsters - it always looks like a plausible platoon/warband.

 Some "elites" - man I really need to touch up their cloaks at the very least. Hmm I thought I was cool with my old paintjob but even my "get em on the table" approach has limits. Apparently my dull painting style from 5 years ago has cracked even my laid back approach.

More elites. They are subtley different from the others. Probably should emphasize that with the paint scheme.

As usual, a decent warband. It doesn't seem that much until you realise I have equal or larger amounts of Alahan, Orcs, Daikinee Elves, Wulfen, Sessairs, and Griffins, plus a whole bunch of miscellaneous character models.  Man, it makes me remember back to what it was like with lots of disposable income (i.e. no children!)

Speaking of other factions, I found these in a box as well. I think they are both Alahan? Anyway, it was a quick half hour to paint the up. The feeling of progress is addictive! Only the Wulven and Sessairs and Daikinee to go...

Diary of an Average Painter: My Guilty Secret

...I like Warmachine. Yeah, I like the models, and like painting them.  My brain says they are not always the best sculpts (and the Lucky 13th Gun Mages are tragically out of scale) and they are overpriced...

...but every time I see some on sale I buy some. And paint them....

...and never actually play Warmachine. (It's more like a CCG than a wargame; while I respect the honesty of its cheesy overpoweredness and it's so-unbalanced-it's-actually-balanced nature, I have no desire to play it. Also, sniper rifles that go only 15" trigger me somehow)

 Whilst I don't know much about the lore (most wargaming lore makes marking Year 10 essays look like fine literature) the absurdity of the factions is just fun! Undead dragons leading zombie pirates and possessed steam powered mech suits? Tick.  Magic-hating techno-elves in anime power armour? Yup, there's that too.   They have  bit of the sense of fun of my Confrontation minis (albeit not quite up to the same sculpting standards)

I think I could probably field proper lists of Cygar, Cryx, Mercenaries and those guys who ripped off Confrontation werewolves - Orboros? 

Anyway, a online retailer had these Legion on discount. And who can resist a bunch of mutated elf dragon-cultists who have katanas AND landsharks?  It gives me joy just to type the words.

This is the model that made me covet the faction. It was about a third the RRP as the new models were now plastic and it was "obsolete". Insanity.  There's nothing like the heft of half a kilo of pewter. Who'd trade that in for some "finecast" petroleum byproduct.

I think I merely drybrushed a few layers of grey, added some red and bone, and called it a day. Who says you need to spend hours on a model?  Honestly, there's no excuse for unpainted minis, besides "I was too lazy/wanted to do something else and couldn't be bothered."  I reckon they took 5 minutes each to do.

Unconstrained by a need to build a "competitive list" I merely buy the models I like/and or/are on sale. I do usually buy some line troops and some archers, so it seems like a "warband" before I go nuts on heroes or monsters.

As usual, I spend muuuuch care on the skin. I.e. I paint it, wash it and call it a day.  Painting eyebrows is for mugs!

One of the wizards is a Mage Knight clix I bought in a job lot of 100+ for $20....

Not a bad little warband. And it painted up in a couple of hours, thanks to my limited colour palette and disdain for "layering" (i.e. painting the same thing 100 times). I reckon effort in painting is diminishing returns after a certain point. 

When I said mutated elf dragon cultists, I meant it. Gives "mother of dragons" a new meaning...

She should have taken the red pill....

I like posting up my "painted only to bare tabletop standard minis" as I always found (for me) the most inspiring minis were from those old (d'Agnostini?) LoTR magazines. Their rather dodgy paintjobs made me think "I could do that!" in fact every time I reread them (I got about 60 issues with binder for $10 from a 2ndhand bookstore) I think "I could do that!" and haul out some minis to paint.  While I admire painters like the Infinity dude (Angel Giraldez?) it just makes me go "wow, that's impossible it makes my efforts look so lame, I couldn't be bothered."  In fact the talented Mr Giraldez is the main reason I have 5 unpainted Infinity factions (est ~$1500 of minis? hope my wife never sees this; sheesh this was obviously BEFORE I had kids) because every time I attempt them I get frustrated and end up giving them the old dip in nailpolish remover...

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Diary of an Average Painter: Red Orcs (Rackham)

I've always hated green orcs.  Anyone who truly knows orcs realises they are red or brown or earthy tones. They also do not call their weapons "choppaz."  Their weapons do no end with the letter "z" as they can spell properly, as they do not Americani(z)e things.

My orcs are inspired by oni - the Japanese demons which often feature as the mask bit of the samurai helmet.

These are the baseline grunts.  No, they are not "gruntz" or "boyz"

These guys are using crossbows. They are not "shootaz" or suchalike. Merely crossbows.

Red is the colour of rage. Red is the colour of the true orc.

A chieftain and a shaman.

A warlike race, orcs understand the value of well maintained armour.

The armour is not always random pots and pans superglued to an animal pelt.

Sometimes the orcs do go beserk with huge axe, though. 

This will be a handy warband for my homebrew Middleheim rules...

 ...where they will be more than just "+1STR" against puny human opponents...

As usual, this isn't attempting to be a painting masterclass, just a reminder to get those models painted to an acceptable standard and get 'em ready for the table...

Sunday 24 September 2017

The Train of Thought #1: Morale, Reactions, and Wrath of Kings

A few random topics that have been percolating in my head. I tend to have a bad habit of not posting until I have a complete article where I explore the topic from a few angles: which means many many posts don't get finished and sit eternally in drafts. I'm going to experiment with releasing "trains of thought" or doing a post covering several topics that are currently running through my head that I haven't fully investigated myself.

Reaction Mechanics: What makes a good activation system - or "reactions in fantasy?"
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced reaction mechanics only belong in modern combat wargames involving large capacity weapons.  I've explored reactions before - here and in a more negative manner here - and have tried to shoehorn reactions into my homebrew Middlehiem rules (which shared SoBH and Infinity mechanics with my homebrew Pulp rules). The problem is balancing missile weapons; a bow that fires once every 3-4 seconds is quite a different beast to an assault rifle that can engage over a dozen targets with 30 rounds or more; basically at any given time it's highly likely that there is a shot up the spout to "react" with. Unlimited (or at least, strong) reactive fire in particular makes sense in the context of a suppress-cover style modern gunplay; quick play Infinity demonstrates this well; players leapfrog models from cover to cover, positioning models to cover; it feels right.  Obviously in a medieval/fantasy setting, crossbows and bows need to be very limited; otherwise they will become inordinately strong, pumping out "extra" shots due to reactions- I discussed how they could be limited for fantasy here and discussed "free" (easy, or involuntary reactions such as ducking back or warding off a blow) vs more costly deliberate reactions (careful aim at distant mini, or counter charging a foe) here.

There's plenty of reading to explore in the links; but basically, reactions slow down and complicate a game (an allegedly simple game like Tomorrow's War can really slow due to reactions) and tend to emphasize firepower and restrict maneuver.  The "new defacto activation" - which I call "Chess activation" or "alternate activation" players take turns moving units or models (as opposed to moving their entire force a la IGOUGO) allows a modicum of "interruption" but has a few flaws; individual units can still do a significant amount unopposed (usually the active player gets at least 2 actions, sometimes three); also having the players have such a predictable and gameable Chess sequence (I move one, you move one, I move one... und so weiter).   One solution is to restrict models to a single action (move or shoot or melee) not "typical" double or triple actions like charge (move+move+melee) or the usual move+shoot.  By breaking the game into smaller increments, it makes the game more "fluid."  This is good. The recently reviewed Broken Legions does this; models either move or shoot; with melee occurring simultaneously after all have "activated."  Activation can be randomised a bit; perhaps with card activations (like TFL)  or my favourite, a Epic/Warmaster style dice roll to "follow on" and retain the initiative; or leaders may allow more than one model to activate simultaneously.  Reactions can be limited by merely old fashioned "overwatch" or a "hold" action; models reserve their turn to interrupt an opponent later (perhaps needing to pass a roll of some sort to see if it interrupts in a timely manner).

TL:DR - limit the actions in a "turn" to a single action; keep activation from being a perfectly predictable ABABA by some sort of dice/card/leader based mechanic, and keep good old fashioned overwatch and you can mimic the effects of most reaction systems with far less complication; though a strong reaction system may be best for modern combat with high rate of fire/potent shooting.

I got interested in Wrath of Kings thanks to hunting down the makers of these awesome crab warriors; the rules seem decent with some interesting twists whilst not going too outside the box. 

Morale and Wrath of Kings
While trying to find out who made some awesome hermit crab warriors, I stumbled across this skirmish game. (< free rules).  Two things stood out (well, three - their werewolves are a complete ripoff of Confrontation 3 Wulfen; Warmachine warpwolves tip their hat to the old C3 stuff but these are pretty much exactly the same)  - the combat resolution and the morale focus. Actually there is four - the model count is aimed ~20-24 which is kinda weird ground I feel only LoTR did well; most skirmish games are aimed at smaller model counts a la Mordhiem ~10-12 or at the platoon+ level (30+ with extra specialists etc).

Morale & Victory Conditions
Given morale is a recent topic it's interesting that the core aim of the game is to win by destroying enemy morale; morale = models/3 + leader rank.  So a 15 strong warband with 2 ranks of leaders is 15/3 + 2 = 7.  Obviously killing troops (and especially leaders) is a good way to reduce enemy morale, but wait, there's more.  The other way to win via morale is to impact their motivation.  What's that? Glad you asked.  At the start of the game, players choose warband size, build their army, and choose a motivation. The faction's "motivation" is basically a set of missions to choose from. Each faction can choose from two motivations.  For example the Duty motivation might include missions like "escort civilians" or "stand your ground" but the Vengenace motivation might have missons like assassinate a leader or burn down a terrain piece as the mission.  This is a really clever idea and gives factions flavour. Completing your missions can boost your morale score and remove a chunk of your opponents' morale.  I'm not sure if you can complete two missions at once i.e. assassinate an enemy leader AND burn down a terrain piece - but if so, that'd be even more cool.  There's been effort put into deployment zones and game size. For once, a game that does not add scenarios and missions as an afterthought!

Combat Resolution
Also a bit different; models roll a # of d10 to attack (usually one d10 for a grunt, and several for a hero) and the dice is compared to a "Defence Chart" on defender's Warmachine-esque unit card.

The d10 result is compared to the chart, and might come up as "overpower" - two hits/wounds, "strike"  one hit/wound, "magic" - deflected by magic, "parry" defender parries attack, and "block." So with a single roll of a few dice, the to hit+wound+saves etc are all rolled into one.  Each unit has a unique special rule or two (it could be simple such as a "Sundering" attack that trats all "block" results as a "strike.") or a more unique AoE or magical attack.

Anyway the rules are a free dl so check them out; they seem pretty sensible and solid - though I'll probably persist with my homebrew Middleheim rules.  The starter kits seem affordable ($75USD/$90AUD for a complete ~24 man warband; pretty good as far as skirmish games go) so I'll probably pick some up... ...after I finish my current 28mm fantasy (Sessairs, Wulfen, Orcs from C3, Legion from Warmachine) under my rule of "no new minis til the old ones from the same genre are painted."

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Broken Legions - Skirmish Wargame Review

I found a few rulebooks when cleaning my shed; generally I don't review anything I haven't playtested thoroughly but there's nothing about these two sets that I haven't seen before. (Plus: they've been out for a while, so other reviews are available). 

Accordingly, I'll start with Broken Legions by Mark Latham. I was super excited about this when I heard of it: small skirmish campaigns where warbands of Roman special forces and barbarians battle over occult artifacts? Written by one of the LoTR/Legends Of authors?  Sign me up!

...So why does this rulebook lie abandoned?

Roman secret agents vs the occult... my imagination ran riot...

The Shiny
Broken Legions is attractively packaged softcover from Osprey. At about $15 posted it is priced very well.  It has a good mix of colour pictures and photos of miniatures in action. It's easy to read and clearly enough laid out. But... why did they chose such ugly minis? I don't know who the manufacturer is, but I looked to find out...   so I never purchase any of the stunted little dwarfen things.   Honestly, they killed my urge to collect a warband...  I think the big problem is the rulebook, nice as it is, failed to "set the scene" very well. The occult-Roman setting (in theory) is amazing and full of potential - but the rulebook never "pulled me in" to its universe, nor did it even attempt to. I was left with less interest in the setting then before I read the book.

Stats & Dice
Minis have usual stats - Melee, Accuracy, Physique (a mix of Strength+Toughness, I use this in my own rules a lot), Agility, Presence (basically Will); Wounds aka Hitpoints (urk - hope this isn't common) and Fate (basically a saving roll for heroes a la LoTR). Oh, and everyone moves 6".
RANT: Why the heck does every game nowdays make everyone move 6"?! Not only do you lose differentiation/tactics for a minuscule increase in complexity, but it makes no sense.  I'm a PE/outdoor ed teacher, and the most obvious physical trait a person has is speed.  If mobility/defence/offence are three key elements of combat; why ignore/abstract mobility so?

The dice resolution method is one I used myself (but later abandoned for reasons) in my homebrew rules; d10+stat to beat 10. A natural 1 is an autofail. However I am not a fan of the "critical dice" - this is an extra dice rolled alongside any attacks to check for crits; a roll of 10 on this extra dice means an auto-wound; and a 1 is a fumble (enemy gets extra attack in melee, or cannot shoot next turn if shooting). Whilst this sounds cinematic, it's just clunky, and probably could be built into the dice roll without extra dice if it's so "necessary" (see Song of Blades and Heroes, which can push back/knock down/kill/gruesomely kill without recourse to extra dice).

The illustrations were good, but the rulebook seemed bland; somehow it never "sucked me in" to the arcane world of Broken Legions despite the fact I wanted to "buy in"....

I quite liked this. Players take turns activating a mini each; players may shoot or move or charge or hide.  Once all troops have acted; everyone melees, with the player with initiative deciding the order/arrangement of combat (rather like LoTR) which is something of a skill in itself.   In fact, by making melee a separate phase, it sets itself apart from the usual alternate full activation of minis which is the "new standard" in wargames (instead of IGOUGO which has mercifully died out).

Movement, Missiles, Melee
Yeah everyone moves 6"; they can test agility or move half speed (difficult going) or take a wound (dangerous going) and there's good, sensible rules for jumping gaps and vaulting obstacles.

Shooting is resolved by beating 10 with shooting stat+d10; with a reasonable amount of modifiers.

Melee is different: models take turns striking, in order of highest to lowest agility, it's a contested roll; melee skill+d10 with the attacker doing damage if he wins or having no effect if he loses. I'm not sure why each combatant needs separate rolls and why melee couldn't be made a single contested roll like LoTR or early 40k 2nd ed etc. The current method seems to double the amount of dice rolling, to gain little in return.

Oh, there's always the critical dice to roll alongside your normal dice when shooting/meleeing, to make things interesting (or waste time, depending on how you view it).

Doing damage is a contested roll: the shooting weapons have a "damage" rating + d10 to beat the target's Armour + d10, scoring one wound.  Physical strength is not considered.  In melee, the attacker's strength is a factor, but you have to consult a separate table for the modifier.

However my big gripe is hitpoints. Multi-wound heroes aren't a big deal; but having the rank and file legionaries have two wounds is... poor design.  It's unarguable that wound markers clutter the table. And wounds in Broken Legions don't do anything (i.e. halve movement, or -1 to rolls, etc) besides make soldiers die slower. And if you merely want soldiers to die slower, simply modify the bloody damage rolls with a -1 or increase Armour to make soldiers tougher - or add a saving throw (after all, a rather meaningless "critical throw" was added; hmm, hang on - perhaps the critical throw was to mitigate all the multi-wound models... )

The extra dice rolls to resolve melee; the critical dice, and the proliferation of multi-wound models; all this seems like a step back compared to the swift resolution of LoTR and its historical clones.

The usual. Well, your guys can take 75% casualties before they even need to check to see if they run. Which seems frankly ridiculous and shows common sense/self preservation on the level of cheerleaders in a horror movie.  I've recently discussed it here, but honestly if you need 7 or 8 of 10 guys to die  before the others think it maaaay be time to bail....  the last couple of guys have the self preservation of jihadi lemmings.  The rules - which given the casualty tolerances may as well  not exist - are otherwise standard, with units passing their Will (sorry, "Presence") rolls or they break/flee etc pretty much as usual.

Fate & Heroic Actions
Fate (a saving throw for heroes) is cribbed straight from LoTR, and heroic actions seem pretty similar as well, albeit with much more variety and no "cost"   beside missing an action.  Actually I quite like Heroic Actions (not explored fully in LoTR, imo) and here you can direct massed archery to "bring down" a monster, challenge enemy heroes to duels, entreat the gods for extra Fate, boost allied morale, and have troops "follow on" or move/act with the leader (i.e. LoTR's heroic move).

The minis pictured in the rules were not appealing; some might label them "old school" or "characterful" - for me they were merely squat, malformed and ugly.

Magic (or "Miracles") & Special Abilities
These are pretty standard, but along with the stat "Presence" has triggered the following rant...
RANT: What the heck is with game authors renaming common stats just to confuse people? If your stat is and acts just like "Willpower" as used in a zillion other games don't rename it "Presence."  If your magic spell causes enemies within range -1 to their Will Presence, and makes the caster Terrifying, why do you need to call it something verbose like "Nightmare of Alu" instead of "Fear" or "Terror" or something short and intuitive.  Names should be simple, self explanatory and generic.  If I have a spell that adds +1 to melee damage, does it make more sense to call it "Smite" or "Enscorcelled Ankh of Glowy Righteousness."  I mean, what does "Dirge of Kotys" mean to you? If you want an example of how to do magic and special rules right, see Savage Worlds.

Anyway magic/miracles are cast by passing a Will Presence roll,  with a natural 1 losing a hitpoint of the caster and a 10 restoring a hitpoint previously lost.  There are 20 spells (with annoying names) and 29 special rules (more mundanely named, which did not draw my ire) and about 30 rules specific to weapons and wargear.

Warbands and Campaign Rules
Broken Legions has, like every recent skirmish campaign game (bar perhaps Frostgrave), completely missed the mark here.  Remember how everyone is so nostalgic about Mordhiem and Necromunda? That's because of the gloriously complex campaigns, full of detail and drama. Like everyone else, Broken Legions attempts to simplify the campaign bits; to the extent it is bland and boring.  "Wound resolution" campaign rules are basically 5+ you live, 4 or less you die; herowounds are hardly more complex; "miss a game"  "-1 physique next game"  "perfectly fine."

Guys - it's OK for campaigns to be complicated! We've got time to record and do stuff between games - it's during games that recording and tracking stuff (like wound markers, ahem!) is bad.  If the main point of your game is to be a campaign wargame that's about advancement, gaining XP, controlling territory, upgrading skills and weapons; make it meaty! make it interesting! Don't just chuck in a few pages of half-assed stuff in the back of your book and call it a day.  Likewise, 5 scenarios are fine for a wargame (actually, I'd argue it isn't enough) but it's not enough for an engaging narrative campaign wargame.  Have a look at Malifaux if you want a good example; there are truckloads of missions, plus "side quests" (which can be revealed or hidden from your opponent) making dozens of permutations: mission variety is good, especially if a particular warband excels at a particular mission (oh no, it's a "get the treasure off the board again" mission and my opponent has elves - might as well give up now). 

Anyway, the campaign system is more in line with the simplicity of "LoTR: Battle Companies" and has little in common with Mordheim/Necromunda etc.  The warbands are Romans, gladiators, barnarians, Dacians, Greeks, Parthians and Egyptians.  They are accompanied by their various mythological/magic totems. Hydras, harpys, minotaurs, Amazons, skinchangers, druids etc; you can hire wandering heroes/monsters, and each warband has a "army list" showing how many of each unit and what extras they can carry. Very much Legends of Roman Times as you were.

It's not an upgrade from LoTR/Legends of the High Seas/Old West so much as a more (needlessly?) complicated "side grade."  The barebones campaign and advancement system means it is not a Mordheim/Necromunda replacement. It's on a par with, say, Empire of the Dead though at $15 it's hard not to recommend it. I just am left with a feeling of... disappointment?  Andy Chambers must have been the inventive one back in the old days in GW, cos this has all the inventiveness of Rick Priestley's latest offerings. The rulebook was nicely presented (great for its cost) but fails to inspire; after I read it I was less interested in the setting and decided not to buy any warbands.  Perhaps I'm overly harsh, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of sycophantic gushing reviews by bigger blogs who want more free review copies whose writers have had more coffee before sitting down to review.

Recommended? Yes. It's an OK rulebook, very attractively priced, and allows you to fight Romans legionaries against werewolves, druids and chimeras in a secret occult war.  Besides a few annoyances (hitpoints boo hiss) it's an otherwise solid rules set which does what it says on the tin.

Sunday 10 September 2017

Diary of an Average Painter: Robots, Zombies and Superheroes

As part of my "don't buy new minis until the old ones are painted" campaign, I've been aiming for the low-hanging fruit; 50 zombies looks impressive for little time invested; undercoat, bit of a tidy up; the blood spatters and a dirty brown wash to cover a multitude of sins.

The models are Wargames Factory; I have been critical of their other plastic box sets, but with zombies the awkward sculpts/arm joins aren't an issue, and the plentiful extra bits are great. These are from their male and female zombie boxes.

50 zombies looks impressive; it cheered me up and inspired me to make more inroads into the lead mountain...

The crawling zombies were my favourites.... 

A bit of red paint hides much dodgy worksmanship...
Some Renedra gravestone sprues added a bit of variety to the bases...

In a nearby box I spotted some (EM4?) Terminators; they were also an easy painting job...

Plot twist: the Terminators are part of a US Army search-and-destroy team (this is before Skynet went rogue)

Old blog regulars may recognize this as an Infinity terrain project from way back in '12 or so...

Sometimes you need to call the professionals: the Sisters of the Blood Rose were founded by nuns in 1943 to take on Hitler's occult creations...

The Sisters wield not only swords but blessed relics from the war such as the sacred Sten of St. Josephs and the PPsh of Our Lady of Crimea.

..but sometimes you need superheroes.  I'm starting a new round of playtesting of my homebrew "modern pulp" rules and the zombies, Terminators and superheroes are to test melee horde, robot and magic/power rules respectively.

At the moment I'm eyeing off a few projects:
-Finishing my cowboys/Indians for my weird west setting
-Doing some pike+shot troops for a Inquisitors/Helldorado game
-Starting some LoTR Rohan
-rebasing some Necrons
-painting some Confrontation orcs in a red-skinned homage to Oni
-starting some French & Indian war models
-doing some cool undead pirates
-more undead (this time, from the 1900s)

...but I'll probably end up doing something totally random as I rummage through my shed...

Saturday 9 September 2017

Cold Navy (Part 2) - All Your Spaceships Belong Me

I think this means I have no unpainted spaceships, and therefore I can buy more! (hmm, I think I have a box of GZG Kra'vak pieces someone gave me, but I don't know if I'll paint them - might just give them away/use them as a painting project for my daughter who at 4 is looking with avid interest at my painting table...)

Anywhoo, these are more old Cold Navy sculpts (due to excessive mold/casting issues they sat unused for 5 years in a drawer).  Designs are great though.  I think they are the "Mauridians" or something. 

As usual I go for bright colours on smaller models to make them "pop" better; as usual I overemphasize detail which makes it look good at range but a bit slapdash up close (click on photos to see what I mean).  I found some light blue I never use, and I likewise avoid white, so it seemed a good time to experiment.

The colours were determined merely by looking through my paint pots and saying "what haven't I used lately"...

Besides reading The Lost Fleet series, Netflix has S2 of The Expanse which is perhaps the best sci fi show in recent memory.

Again I use "reverse drybrushing" where I paint everything except the edges near the cracks.  You can see the dark blue where I have deliberately left a gap.  

The Expanse's space battles has only a few ships per side, but they are very gripping; railguns punch straight though ships. They seem like space battles, not just rebadged WW2 naval/dogfights/age of sail.

The larger ship is a carrier.  I considered another colour (perhaps a bronze/metallic colour) to make things "pop" even more but I decided it might look too "busy" - the ships are pretty bright and garish as it is!