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...