Wednesday, 13 September 2017

MOAR Artillery!

Well, I had intended to post this a week ago, but I have become unreasonably busy with several jobs all landing at once. When you work as a freelance writer, the process of getting a specific job, and the steps it goes through can be staccato. This is especially true when working with an IP that is being licensed by the company your are writing for. Proposals go to the company, maybe back to you, back to the company, eventually to the IP holder for approval, back to you... the steps can be multiple. Added to this is the fact that any one of those might happen quickly, or might take time. Building a true sense of when a proposal or outline will be fleshed into a draft, and from draft to editor to final draft to editor and eventually layout can be difficult and sometimes impossible. The process may be quick, or it may take months. You can go from having no work to do to having a whole lot land at once.

This last week has seen the latter, with multiple jobs either clearing or soon to be clearing approvals and deadlines suddenly looming. I'm not complaining, I love writing for games, probably more than playing them, but jobs take precedence over blogs, as the old rhyme goes.

In any case! Artillery!

I wrote a scathing attack on Mantic's policy of basing Artillery on trifling bases a week or so ago, and my view on the topic has only grown more strident. Mantic can be sure that an angry 'Letter to the Editor' is being formulated as you read this. The so-called boffins at Mantic HQ will blister with shame when they read it, but it can't be helped; they brought it on themselves.

The more I think on it, the more apoplectic I become. I sit staring gloomily into the dying embers of the fire, a vintage cognac spoiling in my idle hand, swirled only occasionally by a fierce convulsion of fury that engulfs me when I think of the base sizes, and a cold disquiet settles on me... 50mm indeed! How hulking weapons of an epic fantasy setting are meant to be represented on 50mm square bases is anyone's guess. A random spasm over the '5' and '0' keys, driven by a force of madness that knows no bounds is the only reasonable conclusion. It is what it is. And what it is is a level of foolishness that could drive a grown man to the edge of his sanity, but I digress.

After piecing together the monumental bombard from Perry Miniatures, I managed to put together two smaller engines (picked to fit the minuscule bases Kings of War demands for such things). Both of these are from the War of the Roses range of Artillery, and are breach loading field guns.

As always with Perry Miniatures, the models are well cast and hold excellent detail. They went together quickly and without much trouble. I am a big fan of this company!





Yes, yes. I glued everything down before undercoating and painting, again. I blame the base sizes personally, the topic is chewing away at my sanity like a gerbil on a wafer. Nonetheless, they are excellent models. The top two images are of the single arc breach loading field piece. The final two images are of the double arc breach loading field piece. I am very pleased with how they came out!









Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Celtic Holocaust...

In a stated growl, with sentences and determinations paced dramatically for effect, Dan Carlin, of the Hardcore Histories podcast, bites off every word and phrase.

I am a fan of the Hardcore Histories podcast, the menagerie of topics covered has been a fascinating trawl through captivating stories from history. Dan Carlin does a wonderful job of executing, his points well stated, thoughtful and poised for effect.

The latest episode is an epic, over 6 hours in length it delves into the story of the Roman conquest of Gaul. The history is fascinating, the delivery striking, the discussion thought provoking.



I'd strongly recommend anyone who is a fan of history subscribe to this podcast, and this latest episode had me by the throat. Not simply because I am a fan of the period and story covered; Caesar's conquest of Gaul is one of the great tales of generalship from history. But also because it made me think of the conquest of Gaul in a different context. It drew comparisons to the conquests of other peoples. It asked if the phrase, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" had ended with death, but not just death: with dissolution. A death so complete and far reaching that whatever spirit had urged the words was broken by it.



Carlin asked, what would we sacrifice ourselves for? Then deepened the question by asking what would we sacrifice? What are the things we would die to protect? Our families? Our homes? Our goods? Our liberty? But deeper - what of those would we watch burn in the fires of conflict for another? Would we sacrifice our families for liberty? Our children? It is a question that made me think, not just about the Celts of Gaul facing an implacable and feared general, but about the refugee families and children in my classroom. These are people, here in my class, whose families have stood at the crossroads, be it Damascus or Mosul, and faced the question: what would we sacrifice? I cannot imagine.



The history itself, of the Roman capabilities, force projection and organisation, the Celtic story of defiance in the face of a foe unrelenting and well organised, is thrilling. Carlin does an excellent job of painting the scene and asking questions that have you examining the conflict from multiple sides. I thoroughly recommend it.



The Ludovisi Gaul





Sunday, 3 September 2017

Bombardment of Impracticality!

Continuing in the trend of building artillery pieces for Kings of War which, in game terms, are hugely impractical, but which, in visual terms, are absolutely sublime, this week I put together a Bombard...

The problem with Kings of War as I see it, is that despite the nice mechanics, quick play and enjoyable game experience, they have vastly underestimated the base sizes for artillery pieces. In the Kings of War rules book they declare blithely that so-called war engines and monsters should be based on 50mm squares. Bah! Obscene! The rules at this point (the second page of the rules book), are a willful desecration of all that is good in the world. Now, it does, and I say this grudgingly, improve. But that 50mm square business is like an ice-cold shard of tungsten lodged in the eye. One can't just ignore it. One can't see around it. In order to sate the insanity of this rule one needs to start looking at 6mm scale artillery. I can only think that the rules designer, one Mr Cavatore, had a moment of madness and that the thought, later, of rewriting it would force him to look that madness in the eye again and perhaps succumb, and he just couldn't do it. I can, perhaps, forgive him that.

However, I won't pretend for a moment it's ok, people have been flogged for less, but I don't intend to petition Mantic on the subject at this stage, and continuing in this vein will see us on to a blog post of unprecedented length, so... Leaving aside the madness-induced, Necronomicon-inspired, cavalier attitude toward artillery base sizes for just a moment...

Last time we touched on the subject of Artillery and Kings of War I was writing about assembling the hugely impractical but monumentally impressive Trebuchet, from Gripping Beast. This time around the artillery piece in question also required a special base, though not quite so large, and is also impractical. It is the War of the Roses era Bombard, from Perry Miniatures.

It arrived in a rather small box, and my immediate reaction was, 'What ho? The Perrys seem to have contrived to paint me a fool! I thought this bombard was impressively impractical in size!' Despite, however, the diminutive nature of the box, and the number of exclamation marks in my reaction, I turned out to have underestimated the Perrys.

Bombard, replete with crew and mantlet. No, I shouldn't have glued it all down, but my impetuosity got the better of me and once the cap was off the glue there was no turning back.

All the figures are 28mm scale, and the base is something like 60 x 210 mm. Tis a thing to be feared...

The mantlet was so agonizing to put together (it kept collapsing around me), that it very nearly suffered a Terrible Fate. I endured, and with a dozen random items to prop it in place, so did the mantlet... 

The figure at the back is simply admiring the vast worth of such an impressive instigator of impairment.

Trebuchet, bombard and single 28mm scale crossbowman for comparison.




It is a fine model, impractical yes, but a good looking piece of kit for all that. It was a clean cast and easy enough to put together, though I did scratch my head a few times to work out where all the bracing pieces went. The manlet was the only thing that caused me grief, but endurance, pure will-power and a bottle of absinthe later and it's done, the grief forgotten. Next time I'll endeavor to write about the few artillery pieces I did buy that actually fit on the insanely tiny bases demanded by the brilliant, but mad, Mr Cavatore.




Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Perry and Fireforge...

Having now written a little about assembling both some Perry and Fireforge miniatures for Kings of War I thought a little piece on comparing what I like about the two might round that stream of thought out nicely.



I should note that I am comparing the plastics kits from Perry and Fireforge, not the stand alone figures that come in metal from Perry and resin from Fireforge. In terms of options, they are both pretty solid, the Foot Sergeants from Fireforge come with options to assemble men with cross bows, spears and hand weapons, the Perry boxes I have put together also contain a good range of options, though I feel Fireforge may have the edge here. It is important to note, however, that it will strongly depend on the boxes - some are quite set in terms of what they offer, some more flexible.

So with the range of options sitting around equal, the next and most important question is one of aesthetics, how do the miniatures look? For me Perry wins out, the bodies, arms, heads and weapons all seem more appropriately scaled against one another, with Perry seeming the more realistic of the two styles. I like the Fireforge miniatures, but they are a little chunkier in terms of weapon sizes, body shape and head.

The poses of both sets are good, and multibasing them has led to units that have some dynamism to them - they are not just a set of cookie-cutter miniatures, with each man looking relatively identical to those they stand alongside.

In terms of casting, I feel like the Perry miniatures have the slight edge here, although this could come down to the finer vs the chunkier styles of both.

Assembly of the Fireforge seemed to be quicker and easier than the Perry miniatures, and again, this could come down to the style of the sculpts. Perry are finer, with smaller joints and attachment points. In both cases a set of side cutters, a scalpel and some plastic glue will see you through.

Side by side, Fireforge on the left and Perry on the right. I hope what I have written in terms of the visual style of each comes through in the photo!

Fireforge, note the weapon, body and head sizes.

Perry, here the arms, legs and weapons are all finer and for me, more realistically scaled. For what that's worth when using them in a fantasy game!

Spearmen - Perry on the left and Fireforge on the right.

So there's my 2c on the comparison between Fireforge and Perry. Both are excellent and well priced for what you get in the boxes. For me the aesthetic of the Perry miniatures is more appealing, but both are very solid choices. While boxes like these might seem most commonly used for large scale battle games, I really can't recommend enough the idea of grabbing one for a skirmish game. Be mindful of the options each box provides, but a single box (very well priced) will provide much more than you need for a game like Mordheim or similar, and the miniatures are of the highest quality.

All but the halflings in my Mordheim band are Perry miniatures, and I think they look as good or better than any metal or resin cast I've bought.






Sunday, 27 August 2017

Fireforge Miniatures...

Not too many posts ago I wrote about assembling a few boxes of Perry Miniatures to form the basis of a Kings of War force. I also bought a set of boxes from Fireforge Miniatures, the Teutonic Starter Army for their game Deus Vult specifically.



I haven't played Deus Vult, but their miniatures will fill the void in my Kingdoms of Man army for Kings of War. I haven't assembled everything yet, but I have assembled enough to gain an appreciation for the miniatures.


Overall so far I've put together several bases of foot soldiers, several of spear men, and several cavalry. The models are nice, cleanly sculpted and easy to put together. The sprues contain a good variety of options, particularly in terms of how the figures are armed. The Foot Sergeants box, for example, provides options to arm the figures with cross bows, spears or hand weapons and shields. The cavalry from the Mounted Sergeants box can be armed with lances or with hand weapons.

The overall quality to the sculpts is good, the figures are slightly chunky when compared to the stuff from Perry, but they look good together and based up.


A horde of Spear




The horses were easy to assemble and look nice.

Having run short of super glue, I was forced to base these with white glue instead. This turned out to be lucky in the end, because I put them on the wrong sized bases - prying the figures off was relatively painless due to the white glue.

Yes, in many circles it is a cardinal sin to glue the figures to the horses before painting them. But I am realistic about my chances of getting these painted, and being able to field them is the bigger priority.



I might do a comparison of the Fireforge and the Perry stuff in a later post, but my general thoughts are that these are nice quality figures that are well priced and easy to assemble. They also offer a good range of options for equipping and arming the models.

The aesthetic is slightly chunky, and this may be something that does or does not appeal to different people, I think they look good on the bases. I'm pleased that while I still have a few boxes to put together, I can finally field a force on the table. Hopefully they'll see action soon!





Saturday, 26 August 2017

Spartan Games

Well. I'm really not sure what to say. Dystopian Wars was my brother's and my gateway back into miniatures gaming, I became a fan. Was one of the hosts of the Element 270 podcast for 36 episodes over 3 years or so. Playtested for Dystopian Wars 2.0. Became friends with Neil, the owner. Wrote back stories for some of their boxed sets, as well as working on the Legions and Halo rules. Helped run the playtest groups for Legions and Dystopian Wars. Was one of the writers of the Fleet Action rules. I moved away a little from Spartan the last 6 months, I was burned out playtesting - as happens.



I read today that Spartan have closed their doors.




I'm not really sure what to say. I counted and count Neil a good friend, he was always full of energy, ideas, plans, and worked harder than most people I know. I know he has been seriously ill the last few years, and I know this has impacted. I know Spartan had other difficulties as well.



I'm not really sure what to say. I'm sad to hear the company has closed, and wish only the best for Neil and Francis, for Derek and the staff at Spartan, for all those keen supporters of Spartan who helped the company in so many important ways, and of course, for the gamers who play their games.



I was a big fan of Spartan Games, they made excellent games, wonderful models and hold a seminal place for me in my evolution as a gamer and my gradual transition into freelancing in the game industry. I will sorely miss them.







Sunday, 20 August 2017

Gaming Star Wars...

Well, one of the largest game conventions in the world, GenCon, has come and gone. In past years I would have been eagerly pouring over the list of new releases and announcements, keeping abreast of my favourite companies and looking eagerly forward to the games shown and talked about. I am not disinterested this year, but some of the flame has dimmed, I have shelves of games and some of them sit, as yet, unplayed.

Nonetheless, it is an important time for the hobby, and I was thrilled to see Modiphius walk away with a swag of Ennies. I read that, from a trade perspective, this year was an absolutely bumper one for game sales, with many publishers underestimating the stock they would require. This can only be a good thing for the hobby!

Two games announced recently (one actually at GenCon) have me most keenly interested. The first is the publication of the 30th Anniversary Edition of the Star Wars Role Playing Game. First published by West End in the 80s, this RPG has a seminal place in my own gaming history and I have very fond memories of playing it.

More recently I have enjoyed the newer FFG Edge of the Empire Star Wars game, but the West End system holds a special place in my nostalgic heart. I think I'll be picking it up for this, if for no other reason. I'm thrilled to see FFG releasing this anniversary edition - it looks good.



The other big game announced at GenCon was Star Wars: Legion. A ground based miniatures game set in the Star Wars universe - more specifically the first trilogy era (IV, V, and VI). Many moons ago I played and rather enjoyed the West End Star Wars miniatures game, and this new offering has me interested.



The box comes with a variety of goodies, specifically 33 miniatures and all the accouterments required to play. Orders look to be given through token placement, and there are special movement rulers and dice, not unlike what we have seen with X-Wing, Armada and Runewars. I'm not adverse to these elements, but one thing does hold me back: the use of special cards and powers. I like a good special rule in miniatures games - it helps add flavour without front loading complexity, but I'm not a huge fan of how it was carried through in X-Wing - with certain cards only available in certain expansions, and a tendency in the competitive arena to buy boxes of stuff for a handful of cards.



I'm also a little hesitant given FFGs history of having new models out-compete the older ones. I don't begrudge a company for making money, far from it, and I'm not the sort of person who is much interested in building a highly competitive force - enough to have fun is what I'm after. Still, these elements have me pausing. Perhaps they are concerns for naught - Fantasy Flight make some excellent games and I'm sure Legion will be one of them. The Star Wars IP is one that I enjoy, and so I may end up getting Legion, but I think I'll wait for now...

Photos from GenCon do look particularly awesome though...




Friday, 18 August 2017

Sensory Trays

Every classroom is a snapshot of society. When you read or a hear a statistic, x% of kids are y, those kids are present in every school, in every class. Any person who has cause to work with large groups of people will know the same to be true.

Every class contains students with diverse learning needs, and in my class I'm lucky enough to work with an aide who helps run and individualized program for some of my class members. Scrolling through Pinterest she found some interesting activities that make use of sensory trays. Sensory based activities are great for students with a range of learning needs, but seem to be most commonly used with students on the autism spectrum. We had a look around at educational suppliers who sold sensory trays, but like anything for a wedding, anything for a classroom magically costs a significant amount of money.



With the prospect of purchasing a collection of Sensory Trays unlikely I thought, 'What the hell, I'll just make some'. To be honest, they probably ended up costing a not insignificant amount, though I did make 8 of them.

I used 40mm x 10mm stripping for the edges, and 3mm MDF for the base. The trays are roughly 450mm x 300 mm. The stripping was glued and screwed in place, and sanded back. I also used a wood burner to label them. Lastly, they were finished with 4 coats of marine grade polyurethane varnish. In retrospect I would have done a few things differently, but I had fun putting them together and now have a collection I can use at school and a couple I can keep at home for my kids to play with.



Since I enjoyed making these I think my next project will be to make some sensory boards... should be good fun.







Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time is a stand alone science fiction novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I won't give too much away through the course of this review, rather I'll attempt to capture some of my thoughts on the book.



Children of Time is, first and foremost, a highly enjoyable read. It deals with the concept of uplift, something fans of science fiction will recognise, but it also deals with the fractious, destructive and violent tendencies of our own species.

The uplift story line (uplift being a process whereby an animal is lifted to consciousness through artificial means) follows the development of various types of invertebrates, specifically through the lens of the dominant species: the jumping spider, Portia. Each set of chapters that follows the uplift story thread leaps several generations, and through the course of the book, and over hundreds if not thousands of generations, the development of this species from humble beginnings to full civilisation is lovingly detailed, cleverly wrought and thoroughly fascinating. Explaining it here, or to a friend, feels somewhat absurd, so unlikely and alien that it sits in-congruent with the idea that it might make for a fascinating story; it is not. This evolving tale is engrossing, well detailed and believably carried through. In fact, as a reader I was far more well-disposed toward the spiders than I was toward our own species!

The development of technology, domestication, and civilisation in this arachnid species is brilliantly etched out. Over deep time we chart the rise and development of a nascent consciousness to a full blown civilisation, it is both identifiable and alien, familiar and strange, but most of all it is absolutely engaging.

Photo credit: Opo Terser/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it; this is the refrain that sings through the human portion of the story. Tchaikovsky takes on the human condition, juxtaposed against the rise of the Portia civilisation we see a broken shadow of humanity, the last remnants of our species searching for a world to assert themselves on.

This is a dual story, we have the uplift component and the human component; two threads enmeshed that parallel and commentate on one another. We see the spiders reaching toward something we, as readers, would recognise as civilisation, and we see contrasted against them, our own, and the comparisons are a stark analysis of the human condition. Fractious, violent, factional, brilliant, creative, hungry problem solvers we are, and the struggles faced by the ark ship Gilgamesh (the same hero who sought immortality) and its crew paint an, at times, bleak picture of our potentials.

The inevitable conflict between the two species, as the story threads collide back together, is chilling, and I found myself, strangely, wishing the cold vacuum of space would extinguish the guttering candle of humanity. But the ending itself is better still.

I found Children of Time to be a fascinating story, for all the depth lovingly sown into Portia and her species, for all the base struggles that beset our own, Children of Time remains a rollicking good story. Through it we chart the rise of civilisation, great battles and discoveries, a desperate fight for survival carried through by sheer will and tenacity against all odds. I thoroughly enjoyed it...











Sunday, 13 August 2017

Trebuchet!

Kings of War is a fantasy table-top war game from Mantic Games. I wrote about it in a previous blog post, and noted that I had thoroughly enjoyed my first game. Using a mix of Perry Miniatures boxes I had sitting around from older projects, a Fireforge box given to me by a good friend, and some other Fireforge boxes I ordered, I am slowly going through the process of assembling a Kingdoms of Men army (which is short hand for a generic human fantasy army).

One of the pieces I required was a siege engine of some sort. Not content with any old cannon (my troops look far too early-medieval for that sort of shenanigans), I settled on a trebuchet... for who on all this Earth doesn't love a trebuchet!

I poked around the web for a while, and found some fairly disappointing approximations - sure they would fit on the recommended base size - but they weren't really trebuchet material. Then I stumbled upon Gripping Beast... Oh dear Gripping Beast! The sight of this fair machine of war had me a-slaver, I had to have it - consequences (and there are consequences) be damned!

Yesterday's post brought me the sweet embrace of this mighty machine, and I spent some time last night assembling the beast. I have to say - it is wonderful. Indeed, had I been patient and bothered, I could have made it functional with little effort.

The resin pieces washed...

All the bits trimmed and laid out ready for assembly. It's worth noting that the reverse side of most of the pieces lacks any detail (in fact it's just the back of the cast resin), but it matters not a jot, for it is formidable and lovely once all together.
The instructions are fairly lacking, but I did my best to rig this machine to look like it could work. The brown string running off to the left is attached to the pin that holds the arm to the winch. I'm not sure how it's meant to be rigged, but this looks functional enough for me!
The set comes with three crew, and this fellow was holding a hammer. I removed said hammer and drilled his hands out to run the release thread through.
After cutting and rigging all the ropes, I painted them with PVA. This coil I made sure not to stick down - I can glue it once the basing is done properly.

Here we come to the key problem faced by such an enormous engine of eradication. The small square sitting on the larger one is the recommended base size for a trebuchet in Kings of War... There are rules for using larger base sizes (luckily), but I feel like I'm putting a terrain piece down. The base I used is some 21cm x 23 cm... 




Here the beast is, with some Perry 28mm archers and men-at-arms ranging in front of it...

A true behemoth...

Luckily it *just* fits onto the shelf. At this point I started wondering how'd I'd get to the club and around the place to game with... I could probably fire it from home. I think it has the range.