Thursday, March 21, 2013

This will be my last blog post!

... but certainly not my last post ;)

I have decided that I will switch to using public posts on Google+ instead of maintaining a separate blog. Since I am doing more and more writing there, it makes sense for me to keep it all in one place.

I will post links to new content posted there on this blog, at least for a while so you don't miss anything.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

"It is Warm Work" Review

Recently, the Sails of Glory Kickstarter kicked off which got us thinking about naval gaming again. This is one of those things that creeps up from time-to-time but we've never really got around to playing. The Kickstarter got us talking again, and the consensus was that the game doesn't really do it for us, but we'd love to play age of sail naval games. The great rules hunt began. Again.

In the past most of us seemed rather keen to try Trafalgar by the now defunct Warhammer Historical. We never tried it, but after sifting through various posts on some blue website with giant text it wasn't getting the best reception. The two that lept out at me were Kiss Me Hardy by Too Fat Lardies and It is Warm Work by Frank Capotorto, mainly because they were cheap and available as PDFs. So last night, we spontaneously decided to try It is Warm Work with Mark's sadly never used 1:2400 scale fleets lying dormant in his miniatures case.

It is Warm Work is described as a set of unapologetically simple, fast-play rules meant for fleet actions, although they can be slightly modified for one-on-one engagements  The idea is to have a nicely paced game without tons of record keeping, but deliver all the flavour of age of sail naval engagements. The 28 page PDF is mostly black and white, with a few colour diagrams, templates, and counters and costs $5.

Mark's 1/2400 scale ships by Tumbling Dice.

The ship stats (known as the Strength Track) seems too simple at first glance, but is very elegant. Each ship has a number of circles with a number inside each one. The circles represent the amount of damage the ship can sustain before being put out of action, and the number inside it is the amount of  firepower the ship can dish out. For example, HMS Victory (a "Class A 100 Gunner") has a track that looks like this:

(6) (6) (5) (4) (3) (2) (1)

When at full strength  the Victory throws 6 dice when firing a broadside. If it took two points of damage, it would then throw 5 dice, and so on. When all the circles are crossed out, the ship is out of action and rolls on a fate table that can force it to flee, strike colours, become a burning wreck, or sink.

The game is played in phases. The first two phases deal with things like automatic movement for drifting ships, etc. Next is the Movement Phase where each player rolls a d6 for initiative. The lowest roll moves all their ships first. The next phase is Shooting and also requires an initiative roll, the higher number firing first. Shooting is not simultaneous. Lastly there is a Boarding Phase if required.

Look at all the ships so nicely lined up in formation.

Movement is very simple but really feels like sailing. A lot of careful planing is required to make sure you don't collide with your own ships, or get stuck "in irons" (i.e. dead in the water, facing into the wind). Ships of each class have a standard movement rate based on where the wind is blowing and is determined at the start of the game. The distance and number of turns you may make all depends on which direction the wind is coming from, and a lot of forethought is required to make sure you will be in a good position to engage the enemy. The game comes with a template that is used to determine the modifiers for movement.

Aaaaaargh what happened to our nice formations?!

Shooting is, you guessed it, very simple without tons of modifiers to remember. Ships have a basic 10" range with an arc perpendicular to the model's base. A shot over 5" needs 6's to hit, up to 5" needs 5s or 6s. If you are in a position to try a raking shot (shooting a broadside down the target's beam) and under 5", you need 4s, 5s, or 6s. Easy. Each hit can be saved on a 6, and the ones that go through cause a point of damage which is crossed off on your Strength Track. If you cause three unsaved hits there is a chance of causing a critical hit, which include things like exploding into toothpicks.

Lastly there is Boarding. Boarding can happend when ships end up parallel to each other and successfully grapple the target ship. It's a bit more of an involved process than moving and shooting, but still uses the Strength Track to determine relative the fighting strength of the crews. Ships involved in boarding actions always take at least one point of damage even if they win so must be planned carefully! We had one scuffle last night which resulted in the attacker being counter-boarded and their ship being taken as a prize.

That's about it! I was very happy with the rules even though at first glance I thought they'd be too simple. They offer enough tactical challenges to make the game interesting even with such simple rules. I would say if you are looking for a fleet game that can be played to conclusion in a couple of hours then you should definitely give It is Warm Work a try - for $5 you can't go wrong. If you are looking for something crunchier with more stats and less generic classes of ships, then it might not be for you. But, I will happily play this again. I'll also mention it works really well as a multiplayer game with each person commanding a squadron and throwing their own initiative dice. I can see us playing some bigger engagements with two or 3 players per side. Perhaps the Battle of Trafalgar is on the horizon...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Everything You Wanted to Know About Strippers

Magpie alert!

I've held a long time secret desire to play some sort of super hero skirmish game. Heroclix never really did it for me (not really a fan of collectible miniatures games) and I never really bothered to look any further. But at some point in the last few years I discovered a rule set called SuperSystem by Four-Color Studios. Their web site describes SuperSystem as:
...the latest version of the popular superhero skirmish miniature game. SuperSystem 3rd Edition includes one of the most versatile build systems in miniature gaming. Make a superhero any way you want, with the powers you want them to have! SuperSystem 3rd Edition also includes story-driven campaign rules allowing your characters to grow and change.

There are a few companies out there that make super hero models in 28mm, but I couldn't help thinking the Heroclix miniatures would be a great way to get lots of models for not a lot of money, if only they could be repurposed as home-grown characters. Their paint jobs don't really live up to my standards... but I figure they could be repainted. After a bit of Googling I discovered that they are pretty easy to strip and repaint!

Pretty much everything you need to know is in this excellent video:

I did a test over the weekend and everything worked really well. Here's how it went down.

Iron Man Drone goes under the knife.

Heroclix models are actually quite nice sculpts for the most part, the trouble is that they are caked in paint with fairly noticeable mold lines. Luckily they are very easy to clean up. I simply filed and scraped away the nasty bits as I would with any plastic model. I'm not exactly sure what the material is, but it's somewhere between hard plastic like your average Space Marine, and the soft plastic you get with models like the HaT range. They have some give, but otherwise they are fairly sturdy.

You put your right hand in, you put your right hand out...

The trickiest part when doing these models is keeping your tool clean*. The paint is so think on these things that I kept having to rinse all the gunk off my files. But it wouldn't be a problem for much longer...

Invisible Iron Man

After the cleanup was complete I dunked him into the acetone bath. The paint disolved with frightening speed while I prayed I wouldn't get brain cancer from this nasty stuff. Do not fuck around if you do this - get a mask and do in a well ventilated area and all that.

The acetone removed almost all of the paint with no more than a stir. There was some left in the cracks, but not much. I did try and rub a little Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer on with with a Q-Tip, but it started to feel a bit tacky after a while so I stopped. There was no damage and the plastic was back to normal after about 30 minutes. Next time I will either give it a better scrub in the acetone or just work it out with a toothpick later. The red paint you see in the photo above is mostly in the joints - these are multipart models, obviously assembled after base-coating.

Afterwards I primed the model with Vallejo Surface Primer using my airbrush and it adhered beautifully. In the next update I will show some painting progress!

*You're welcome, Chris.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Flames of War - Once Again with Feeling

Shermans in flames on the ridge

This week I did something I haven't done in a long time... play Flames of War.

Flames of War gets a bad rap from the legions of beards who hang out in places like TMP, where only serious wargamers play serious games. But having looked around at several rule sets for the last year or so, I still think FoW is a great game which does what it's meant to do well. That is, provide an enjoyable evening of toy soldiers with friends!

I think part of why I stopped playing FoW is because of competition, which is my own fault. Not that I am competitive, but because I was entering tournaments such as the Nationals where people are there to win. Not that I blame them or even have a problem with that - that's the point of a tournament. But I think I just finally realized that's not where I derive satisfaction from wargaming.

My best wargaming memories all come from games with strong narratives attached or were unravelled through the game itself. This week, my good friend Ian and I decided to play a scenario he came up with, loosely based on a historical battle, and with no points or lists. We just showed up with what we had and went at it. The result was one of the best games of Flames of War I've played in a long time.

I am going to steal Ian's write-up since he is a far better writer than I am... here is how the game went down:
I played some Flames of War against Anthony last night. As is my penchant for the last couple of years, I lost, but it was the most relaxed and enjoyable game for a long time. 
We decided on a situation the troops faced and we brought some stuff. I do know exactly how many points mine were, but Anthony just brought what he had available and we set to. The situation was portraying a just barely What If situation. What If Pip Roberts and 26th Armoured Brigade had gotten through the Fondouk Gap in time to get an advance party east of the mountains to cut off the retreat of 10. Panzerdivision as they fell back from 8th Army advancing in the south? 
So we put a crossroads in one table quarter with one road running along the length of one side of the table and another road running across the top of the short table edge. Each army drove on at a rate of 1+ platoons per turn. Anthony had the length of the table to traverse, and I had the short edge, but we'd declared anything not Road to be Slow Going, and any hills or rough ground to be Difficult Going. So if we stayed on the roads, we went fast, but leaving them slowed things down badly 
I had the advantage of having a line of hills to deploy behind if I could manage to use them well, but I discovered that also had the disadvantage of limiting my ability to push forces forward to the crossroad and village. When my first platoon of Shermans left the road to try and take up hull down positions on the ridge line, two of them Bogged Down, diluting my first round of fire to a single shot. Anthony returned fire with three Panzer IV F2s and destroyed two of my hull-down Shermans at long range and the third decided to take the survivors to the rear on the back of their tank. 
My scout carriers and my motor platoon advanced across the pass and towards the town at the crossroads while Anthony's armoured cars and armoured panzergrenadiers did the same from another direction. My Priests arrived and went into action, inconveniencing the PzGs, and Pip Roberts arrived and used the cover of the burning Shermans to shoot down into the town. By now, though, Anthony's Panzers were getting into action. The Mark IVs advanced towards the town while the Tiger trundled up the road and the Mark IIIs broke off to try and move cross country to cross the ridge further south of me. 
My Priests annoyed the Mark IVs while my scouts and infantry reached the village under the covering fire of Pip Roberts. More Shermans arrived and headed up to support Pip. But they soon came under fire from the Mark IVs as well, and while they fared better than their predecessors, they were still outclassed (semi-indirect fire from Trained tanks against Veterans is a losing proposition without overwhelming numbers). Before long, the Mark IIIs were pushing up to shoot at the Priests (although the RHA from 8th Army were undismayed and saw the first attempt off handily), but the Tiger finally got into action, lumbering forward with its 88 firing shots on the move to keep me nervous. 
Somewhere around here, I realized that more than a third of my gun tanks were down, I was outnumbered and out-skilled in the town (three Mark IVs, three armoured cars, and nine PzGs against two scout carriers and nine motor platoon stands), and while the RHA Priests were good, they weren't going to both stop the advancing Panzers AND support the assault on the town. So I decided to withdraw to the ridge. 
Unfortunately, withdrawing to the ridge turned out to be only the first stage of my withdrawal. I extracted the motor platoon intact, thanks to delaying actions by the carriers and long range shelling from the last of my Combat Platoon Shermans. My HQ Shermans (CO, 2i/c, and Pip) and the RHA were trying to slow down the advancing Tiger and Mark IIIs, but they were singularly unsuccessful. So once the last of the rank and file Shermans was gone, plus the 2i/c destroyed, I decided to completely withdraw my force by driving them off the table. The RHA were able to drive right off, but one Priest was left Bailed Out AND I failed my withdrawal skill test, so the platoon counted as Destroyed. The Recce, trying to withdraw under fire and still keep the infantry safe, got pinned down and decided to abandon their carriers and flee on foot (one dead early one, the survivors both Bailed Out, failed Platoon Morale). The Motor Platoon managed to fall back all the way to the table edge without casualties, but like the RHA before them, they failed their Withdrawal skill test and also counted as Destroyed. Pip's tank was hit by an 88, killing the driver and wounding the co-driver who was then unable to get out as the tank burned. The turret crew all got out, including Pip, but all had various wounds and they were evacuated by the infantry and got caught up in the retreat.  
At the end, the only British teams left on the table were the squadron CO (who could have driven off the preceding turn, but who stayed in action to cover the withdrawal of the infantry and Brigadier Roberts) and the RHA observer who had been slow to withdraw when everyone else did (I forgot about him for a couple of turns!). The CO's heroic covering fire brewed up a Mark III, but it cost him his life, as a moment later the Tiger laid a very carefully aimed round past the pillar of smoke from the burning 2i/c tank that detonated the ready ammunition in the CO's tank and killed the entire crew. 
As a result, at the start of the next turn, the RHA Observer was the only team left and so the company automatically failed Company Morale (ironically, they still had a reroll due to Roberts special rule, but a reroll can't save an automatic failure), and the victory went to zee Germans. 
Casualty lists were: 
  • 8 Sherman tanks destroyed by fire from Mark IVs and the Mark VI and 1 more withdrawn carrying wounded
  • 1 scout carrier destroyed by 2cm cannon fire from the armoured cars and the other 2 were later abandoned by their crews and captured by the Germans
  • 1 Priest abandoned by its crew and captured by the Germans, the rest fled in the rout
  • 1 Mark IV and 2 Mark IIIs destroyed by fire from Shermans and by 105mm artillery bombardments
  • 1 armoured car damaged by repeated fire, but later repaired
  • 1 halftrack destroyed by artillery, killing our wounding half the occupants and reducing the PzGs by 1 team 
Strategically, the end result was much the same as it was in history, but with a different chain of events leading up to it. Historically, the British were delayed getting through the Fondouk Gap and weren't able to cut off the German retreat. In our version, they broke the Fondouk Gap in time for their lead elements to reach the objective crossroads, but the Germans, retreating in good order, brushed them aside and completed their withdrawal intact.
I am now pretty jazzed to get some more WWII painting done. I think I will finally get around to doing an early war desert force of some kind. This is my favourite period from the war and sadly the closest thing I have is the 10th Panzerdivision stuff I used in this game. I am really looking forward to games where the Panzer IV strikes fear into the enemy! :)

Also, that was the easiest blog post ever. Thanks, Ian!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cars! With Guns!

Last week I finished off a long term project that has been nagging me for a few years now - except this time it wasn't painting that needed to be done...

Back in 2008 one of mankind's greatest achievements in cinema was unleashed on the public. Yes, of course I am talking about Death Race.

It's like Citizen Kane, with machine guns mounted on cars.

Immediately after the movie, my friends and I began reminiscing about playing Car Wars back in the olden days. I managed to get hold of the rules, and I think we even tried a game, but honestly it's a bit clunky and wasn't really all that awesome. So, we had to write our own rules.

We didn't get very far, but the project has been in the back of my head since then. Then just last week Death Race 3: Inferno was released (huzzah!) and the project was thrust into my thoughts again. So I got writing, and I actually got the first draft done! The working title is Formula 666.

There is still lots of work to do, and I have some components to build before I can playtest it. So tonight I bodged together a car out of some stuff I had around so I can get to playing in the near future.

I completly forget who make these toy cars, but they are small and pretty cheap. I bought a huge playset from Toys R Us for almost nothing a few years ago that had tons of little cars and trucks in it. I stuck on some weapons from leftover Flames of War bits, and made some armour plates etc. from thin plastic card and strips. Voila!

The car, pre-awesome.

That's more like it...

This car is sitting on a 1.5" hex which I use for my Check Your 6! games. My game uses hexes for movement and luckily the cars fit the hexes I already have. I am hoping in the next few weeks I'll be able to run a game down at the club and get the rules to a point where I can offer them for download in order to get more feedback.

UPDATE: The painted model!