Thursday 30 March 2023

Tankhiem: Dieselpunk Post-Apocalypse

The background

WW1 rages 1914-1918. Widespread use of poison gas and chemical warfare cause radical changes to weather patterns - frequent storms, and toxic rain. Vast tracts of Europe are left uninhabited. Birth defects and mutations skyrocket. Viral and biological weapons become commonplace.

1918 - the Plague appears. Both sides blame each other for deploying the weapon. The war grinds to a halt in 1919 as whole armies are destroyed. The Plague has a 90% mortality rate and rapidly spreads to other continents.  Governments soon collapse. Europe quickly becomes quasi-fuedal, with private armies, roaming gangs imposing a harsh law of might. 

Most of the world is depopulated and nature starts to reclaim many towns and cities. Mutants, cannibals and wild beasts roam the countryside. Humanity for the most part lives in fortified enclaves, guarded by walls or barbed wire. Half-track caravans, escorted by tanks, form trade convoys between inland cities as rail links can be too predictably raided. 

The war machines

Tanks, developed to break the stalemate in trench warfare, have proven ideal to traverse the hostile wastelands, ruined cities and decaying road systems. Even the lightest armour is proof against savage creatures and mutants. Tanks can be rigged against the toxic rains that limit aerocraft, which promised so much in the War. The great fortified factory-cities of Detroit, Leeds, Tankograd and Nibelungenverke continue to churn out hundreds of machines to meet the demand.

Light tanks are cheap and popular for patrolling, escort, raiding and reconnaisance. Tank destroyers are usually cheap vehicles equipped with high power guns. Heavy tanks and assault guns are used to assault enemy strongpoints. Medium tanks are a jack-of-all-trades and perform a variety of roles.

The now

It is Europe, 1945. It is 25 years since the Great War that ruined the world. The largest political bodies are small nation-states of allied cities. Most cities retain militias and are well fortified with barbed wire, automatic weapons, pillboxes, spotlights and anti-tank guns. Many hire mercenary tank forces to supplement their forces, especially when on war footing with their neighbours. 

Mercenary Tank Troop

You are the commander of a mercenary tank troop - up to 12-15 tanks. Depending on the role, this typically includes two platoons of 3-5 medium tanks and various supporting vehicles - heavy tanks, light recon tanks etc which often are deployed in pairs.  For ease of supply and maintenance, vehicles are usually sourced from a single factory, although supplies for some common tanks like the Sherman or T-34 are readily available almost anywhere.

Your missions are diverse; and can include patrolling, protecting or raiding convoys, assaulting or defending fixed positions, supporting infantry, or establishing local superiority over enemy tanks. Sometimes tanks can spearhead exploration missions into ruined cities looking for useful salvage.


As you can guess from its name, Tankhiem is meant to be a narrative skirmish game. This means I'll track crew's "XP" like a RPG - tank crew can 'level up' and gain skills and traits. (XP!)

Tanks can also be customized; with more powerful engines, special ammo, add-on armour - sometimes even upgunned which along with 'supplies' (ammo, fuel) can be either bought or salvaged. (Loot!)

A mercenary force can gain a 'mobile workshop' that makes repairs and customisations cheaper (Crafting!)

Basically, I want an excuse to use my 15mm tanks, I'm disinterested in FoW/Bolt Action, and if I wanted a mass battle game I'd use 1:300 microarmour or play Steel Division on PC.

I'll probably post more on this topic as I fiddle with the design of the game; this post is to 'orientate' readers as to the intent and atmosphere of the game (which plays a role in game design choices).

A few design notes I'd made for myself:

(+) Crew matter. Crew are the heroes of the story. Ace tankers win. Make most actions hinge on crew skill. Better crew do more stuff and react faster/better (spot earlier, shoot first or more often).

(+) Gameplay over simulation. E.g. buff and nerf tanks to make light tanks/early war tanks viable while retaining the respective role/feel of the tank. Tanks should feel different, without having to argue over 23mm vs 25mm of armour. Lean into the idea of tank 'classes.'

(+) Campaign rules. Crew skills/traits. Tank repairs/upgrades. 

(+) Fast play. ~6 tanks per side = 1hr game. Complexity is allowed in crew and activation, but dice rolling for shooting/damage etc should be simple.

(+) Not too much recording or tokens. Maybe can damage mobility, crew or gun, or 'killed.' Maybe crew shock/suppression. No more recording than a typical GW skirmish game.

(?) Spotting. This is a big deal IRL but 15mm on a 4-6' table seems silly not to see a tank 12"away. Use commonsense. Scale is 12"= ~500m but that's not to be 'real' ground scale - just differentiate weapons. Autospot range bands? Or dice roll? Or just cover/not cover. Definitely have narrow view arc though.

(?) Supplies. Each tank costs supplies, so you choose what/how many tanks to bring and don't just automatically field everyone. A better warband = better choice, not a bigger army on the table.

(?) Infantry. It's about tanks. Keep simple. Maybe just base on FoW style bases and move as 'crew' or rifle team, not individually.

Friday 24 March 2023

Tank Mordhiem: Activation Musings

The Background

My 'Tank-Mordhiem' is a skirmish game where tank crews are kinda the 'ships' of a post-apoc style wasteland. Stalker-Mad Max-Pirates-Mortal Engines meets Fury. 

Basically there are colonies (vaguely themed after/using tanks of WW2 nations e.g. Teutonica, Britannia, Slavia, Federation) who trade across the wastelands. WW1 has gone wrong, with poison gas and deadly weapons creating a WW2 era of mutants, wastelands and weather that conveniently makes flying a no-no so planes never really got developed. Also the WW2 theme means if I need to reuse the tanks for an actual WW2 game, the paint jobs will be OK....

I'm making my own rules: basically we have 4-12 units per side, with tanks usually operating in troops of 2-4. They kinda act like sailships of the wastes, escorting merchant half-track convoys, exploring and raiding bases and villages. Yes of course, there are tank pirates.

I'm kinda using the real stats, but balancing them more to the middle - nerfing late war tanks and buffing early war models. So a Pz38 would actually have a small chance to defeat an IS-2. 

In the playtest stage, my trusty wooden blocks usually serve as terrain.

The Activation Problem

Anyway, here is my problem. I'm pretty chill with combat mechanics, but activation is bugging me. I have 3 ideas currently. Since mechanics are simple and we've only got 4-8 tanks per time, I can use some complexity, but still want it to play fast. The crews are kinda 'heroes' who have their own crew stat, and often a special skill or trait. (Think Battletech pilots)

Option A - He who moves slowest, shoots first (been playing LOTR lately, simple is good)

Basically kinda a modified LoTR. Movement goes:

Tanks moving fast 

Tanks moving normally

Tanks moving slowly

This means, slowest tanks see who goes first. Better crews go last if a tie. Shooting works in reverse:

Tanks who don't move fire first

Tanks moving slowly fire next

Tanks moving normally fire next

Tanks moving fast...   ...don't fire at all

This has the advantage of being fast and very easy. It's also pretty logical. If you're parked you'll probably get your shot off first. But it's also rather rote and predictable. I could sexy it up by allowing tanks a special order a la BFG order/LoTR might where they can snap shot first; or even allowing a dice roll where one side can drop a step in the sequence. This is quick and clean but may be better suited to a mass battle tank game. There isn't any uncertainty, friction or randomness. You can kinda plan ahead too much for a skirmish game. All crews get the same amount of actions, just better crews act at a better time; so better crews DO have an advantage...

Option B: Song of Tracks and Cannon (original method)

As seen in Chain of Command or SoBH. After you choose a tank, you roll a bunch of "Crew Die" or "Skill Dice" to see what you can do. E.g. a crew might roll 3d6, and get a bunch of orders/actions for each success (say a 3+ for elite., 4+ for regular, 5+ for rookie).  So you will score a random amount of actions, with better units usually getting more. Failing rolls could mean initiative swaps.

Orders could include: pivot tank, adjust tank 2"/reverse, move half, move full, acquire target/slew turret, shoot, aim, load special ammo, overwatch, repair tank etc.

This gives a nice RPG feel, with some randomness, but you have a tank that could move AND shoot before an opponent could respond. Method A has only 1 action each side. This method could have a tank taking 2-3 actions before opponents respond e.g. fire twice and take out two tanks. I'm not sure if I like this... but it might be good. It's certainly no worse than other skirmish wargames and their aternate move. It's also quite consistent, rules-wise. Better crews do act more often, which I like as it shows their coolness under combat; they process and co ordinate better.

Option C: A bit of both (latest idea)

Each tank gets a single action and can roll a single "Crew Dice" for a second action, similar to Method B above. Failing the crew roll means initiative swaps (or your opponent chooses who acts next).

Movement goes: Roll crew dice

-if pass, may pivot AND move

-if fail, may pivot OR move you can do more stuff, but not much... 

Shooting goes: Roll crew dice

-if pass, may acquire/traverse+shoot, aim+shoot, or shootx2 (RoF/movement permitting)

-if fail, may merely shoot

Horde rule: if one player has activated all his models in a phase, his opponent is -1 to crew rolls

The downside of this is... have I made it more complex with more 'exceptions' to the gameplay? Also, moving second is usually better. So maybe if you pass your movement crew roll you choose if you OR your opponent moves next...

Upside: No one can really shoot before opponents have had a chance to move out of the way... and there is a touch of unpredictability. You can do 1 or 2 things each time it's your go. It's kinda halfway between A and B. Better crews do get to act more often.


As for mechanics, you can presume a d10 roll to hit, d6 or d10 roll to damage/kill, and a d6 roll to see what damage does (mobility, crew, weapons) with only the later step exceeding the complexity of Bolt Action/FoW.

So... which is better for a small-scale skirmish game?

Sunday 19 March 2023

$23 Castle Board (Alternate Title: How I learned to love secondhand shops)

While one is a more current Hogwarts, the rest are Fisher Price little kid toy kits (from 20 years or so back) plus a random girlie princess palace (see previous post for it in all its pink glory). I think the castles were $20AUD for the pair, and the palace was $3. Admittedly Hogwarts was $30, but it is on loan from my daughter so it doesn't count. 

We have been hunting more dollhouses; we want a larger wooden one for a multi-level cyberpunk skyscraper with many floors, (I may even use a secondhand book cupboard), and some more rustic Sylvanian-esque ones for Mordhiem-y Euro village buildings.

Yep, I've also found more LoTR models in storage. The 28 orcs and 6 Knights of Dol Amroth bring my 2023 total to 196 painted. Apart from a few random spares I'm 100% up to date. I'll try to get a few more so I get a nice neat 200. However I found some glorious old metal Confrontation sculpts when digging; so the painting crusade is not yet done....

The latest addition to the collection. While not 100% to scale it's certainly acceptable. Basically I just spray black undercoat and use cheap craft paint to drybrush messily. It only takes 45 minutes or so.

I've got some LoTR siege ladders that should work to bridge the levels.

A closer shot of my Dol Amroth metal knights. I'm glad I picked them up years back (~$30) as now I wouldn't be able to afford them. They probably cost that each! I've now painted ~100 standard orcs and I'm a bit bored with both their sculpts and their drab paint scheme. It kinda puts a damper on my plan to get started on my horde of 15mm WW2 tanks next.  Camo = dull. 

.....Although my daughter is agitating for Girls Und Panzer paint schemes...

I've mostly been buying Plastic Soldier Company and Zvezda models. Zvezda is lots cheaper and except for the Lee and Su-76 (major pain in the butt) they were simple and neat to assemble and look crisp. They came with gun/turret options but lack the extra customization bits PSC has. Zvezda's model-kit approach feels a bit flimsy though - might be nice to add a bit of weight underneath to get more 'heft.' The gun barrels are also flimsier than the PSC ones, but due to the pricing I'm going to keep with Zvezda while stocks last (Russian company etc). 

Although my to-do list should be the same as my last post, I DID discover some metal Vostroyans which look kinda neat....

Thursday 16 March 2023

LoTR - New Purchases

The LoTR painting campaign continues with another 38. This includes some of the first new models I've bought for a while. $150AUD for 14 models - yikes - there's a reason I merely rely on my 10-year-old eBay purchases. Prices are crazy, and while I like the LoTR sculpting style they are far from cutting edge - and haven't changed from the early 2000s from what I can see.

My 2023 LoTR painted total now stands at 162. All the 10-year-old eBay stuff is done, save a dozen or so excess orcs and Rohirrim, and a set of 6 Dol Amroth Knights. I think I did 336 in 2022. I only play skirmish games with low model counts so 500+ models in two years, for just one game genre, is a pretty big deal to me - output probably even exceeding my childless years of yore.

Arwen was outrageously expensive - $35AUD for 2 models - but my daughter is pleased at more female LoTR representatives.

I'm not a big fan of basing but emboldened by my success with the Balrog, I essayed a simple 'creek' base on Arwen and the Galadhrim Knights.

The Haradrim were another purchase. I kinda wanted an Mumak, but the raiders were a more sensible option both financially and gameplay-wise.

Finally I 'bulked out' my painting with a quick two dozen orcs; with green and red themes.


The pink $3 dollhouse ruined palace of Arnor is yet to be properly completed, but even with a quick spray+drybrush it forms a useful addition to our 'secondhand store castles.'  We are getting quite a tableful of these, and since my son isn't using the ones I donated to his sandpit I'll probably reclaim them as well and give them a quick coat...

In other news....

I'm also prepping 1:100/15mm tanks (PSC and Zvezda), for which I'll probably continue to develop my own homebrew "Tank Mordhiem." The Zvezda ones snap together (which my son does for me before I glue them for strength).

Burrows and Badgers is due to be playtested and reviewed (my daughter is keen to get some cute mousemaid warriors) and initial read through seems like a sensible set of rules, though I am less keen since I discovered it has hitpoints. 

I and my son have assembled some vikings for Ragnarok but the more I think about it, the less I actually want to play the rules (the setting and campaign is cool, the rules are merely average to meh). 

My 7 year old loves minis and is by no means a rough kid, but he is hard on them as he swooshes them around like the toys they are supposed to be. I reckon I'll get him some 15mm historicals as metal 15mm seem the most resilient models I have and allow the possibility to mix with Hot Wheels etc as he is not hung up on scale. Suggestions as to the best brands welcomed.

I also really need to paint and assemble my Imperialis Aeronautica and Dropfleet Commander minis and they sit near my workbench along with French Indian Wars regulars and undead pirates... ....but I just found some Mantic space dwarves so my kids want to make a wargame of the PC game Deep Rock Galactic. And they found my Quar pretty quirky and fun. Oh well - it's a hobby not a job - I guess I can do whatever...

Friday 10 March 2023

The 60-Minute Balrog (and other LoTR minis)

As a model I've procrastinated over for a while, I was amazed how easy this model was to paint. 

 The Balrog hides in the toy castle my daughter and I repainted a few weeks ago...

Black undercoat->Grey drybrush->Brown drybrush (wings)->red flames->orange flames->yellow flames->orange then red flames towards tips->re-do black then gray drybrush to get the shoulder plates/scales the flames are coming through.

Simultaneously did black-grey base, then red-orange-yellow lava river in between. He has no whip, but I'll make him one from wire sometime. Considering he was $10 on EBay, I'm OK with its absence.

Encouraged by this, I started my other procrastination model - Treebeard. The videos on Youtube show methods/paints/undercoats I don't have, so I went with a light brown-wash-Kharak stone overall, and used various green/brown washes to get the moss look on legs/beard. Then I did Merry and Pippin to look like my other on-foot models, and picked out any lichen and leaves. It took more than double the time of the Balrog, and I like it less...

Not keen on paying $22 for 3, I converted some spare/broken Gondor troops to Osgiliath veterans. I used the purse off a zombie nurse for a satchel for one...

I then found some metal Uruk crossbowmen. Given they are not cheap on EBay ($10ea), I bless Perry's Men at Arms kit, who donated arms/bows. 

Given Rohan Outriders are merely standard warriors in trenchcoats, I just matched Rohan troops to riders from my leftover box; and gave them bronze armour and extra swords and gear, so I can tell them apart on the battlefield from regulars. Again, I saved $60AUD by converting the spares. These conversions have saved me about $122 from buying them new...

I then speedpainted some Rangers (12), Men of the Last Alliance (6) and stock Orcs (16) to get some 'runs on the board'

That's 51 painted in the last few weeks. Added to the 73 already this year, 2023's "LoTR painted" count is 124! I've decided to reward myself by buying some new models as I've painted everything save some of my (excessive) horde of orcs, and some Knights of Dol Amroth (I wish I could afford the foot version). Oh, and we bought a new fairy castle for $3.

We hunt for toy buildings that fit when we are in secondhand shops. My daughter is nominated to carry them in the shop (she complains it is embarrassing) as the old ladies at the counter say "Oh, a nice dolls house for you"... I don't want to explain to them it will be converted to serve as a summer palace in Arnor, that is attacked and sacked by orcs....  However I just bought an Arwen model (one of her favourite characters in LoTR) so that has muted her complaints.

Friday 3 March 2023

MESBG with Kids

It's weird that for all my dislike of GW and general espousal of indie games, its LoTR product is my most-played, most-collected and most-painted game.

I do like LoTR in general; currently my 7-year-old has asked to be read LoTR like his sister (having enjoyed The Hobbit) and the rules are pretty kid-friendly. In addition, I have the OOP Wild West, Pirate, Gladiator and Viking spin-off rules which means once they get the basics down pat, we can enjoy a fair bit of variety.

While my son and daughter painted vikings today, I found more LotR minis hidden away; 24 Elves of the Last Alliance (we watched the opening scene together today)... 6 Men of the Last Alliance, as well as a few loose Uruks. 

This brings the LoTR painted total to 73 for 2023. I'm even considering new purchases: Victrix Vikings I reckon would make good Dunlendings, the one faction (along with Khand) I do not own from the original movies. My son is pushing for an Oliphaunt but at $150AUD I think he's optimistic...

Today my kids played a scenario; a bunch of Uruk scouts had raided a village. The kids each controlled a force of a dozen Wood Elves; their mission was to chase off an equivalent force of Uruks to rescue any villagers hiding in their huts.

Entering from opposite sides of the board, my daughter was unlucky in exchanging bow fire losing several elves for a single orc, retreating into a forest. My son pushed forward impetuously using the superior Fight score to quickly slice up the orcs in the huts on his side of the board. I also had to police my kids rather liberal movement distances (they viewed the movement tape measure more a 'guideline' that should be ignored if it stopped them from doing cool stuff...)

Eventually the orcs broke and my kids gleefully chased them off the board. My son discovered an elf he forgot behind a tree and we/they decided the elf had peed his pants and had hidden in embarrassment.

I've always thought the LoTR rules were the way forward for GW, as they do a lot of things right, while being fairly old-school and familiar. 

*The turn being broken into A Move, B Move, A Shoot, B Shoot makes the action more fluid than IGOUGO.

*It allows formations to kinda happen organically while each model is free to move individually

*The who-fights-who/pushback minigame make melee actually kinda interesting

*Might-Will-Fate allows you to change the activation order as well as giving a layer of resource management, allowing heroes to be actual leaders

*Relatively simple stats and easy to remember rules and mechanics (though MESBG does add in a bit more stuff than the original, usually cinematic but also unnecessary)

*Works well with scenarios, and can be used with points system as well

A switch to d10, and changing the priority roll-off each turn to a more nuanced way to determine initiative would probably be my first changes, along with abolishing the wound table for some method where you don't need to look it up (I kinda remember the rolls required anyway, but when showing the game to the kids I realized how old-school looking up tables are...).

I can certainly recommend LoTR as an intro wargame; my kids quickly grasped the rules (I avoided using heroes/monsters to keep things simple) and my daughter now wants to play Legends of the Old West (as she sees I own a all-cowgirl warband...)