Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 Gaming Resolutions

OK, so with the start of a new year comes the opportunity for a fresh start. As so many people do at this time of year, I am going to make some resolutions, and do my best to stick to them throughout the year. But, rather than being about diet, finances, etc., my resolutions are related to gaming.

First, I resolve to post at least twice per month on this blog. My posts to date have been erratic, to say the least. Mostly this is due to the fact that between family commitments and work I have a hard time finding opportunities to write. So my new strategy will be more frequent, though perhaps shorter, posts.

The second resolution is based on one simple fact in my gaming life: I am spread way too thin. Too many interests and too little actual time, money and resources available for gaming. Coupled with my lack of organization and short attention span it leads to a gazillion or so unfinished projects and very little actually completed.

I'd describe myself as a "hummingbird" when it comes to gaming... I flit over to the newest shiny ruleset or figures, and hover there for a while until another grabs my attention. I don't stick around long enough to really finish anything before another, newer "hotness" leads me away. Sometimes, I flit back to an earlier game, especially if they release new figures or rules, before heading off to another. This leads to a work area covered with half-finished models that need to be cleared away in order to start another piece that will end up only partly completed.

So what's the solution? Simplify, organize and prioritize.

Simplify - take a good, hard, realistic look at the gaming systems, models, etc., that I have and decide which ones to keep and which ones to get rid of. My hobby desires are larger than my schedule and my wallet, so something needs to give. And since the chances of my wallet expanding enough to be able to accommodate my gaming desires are pretty thin, I need to cut back on the number of games I am into.

Organize - making a concerted effort to keep my workspace organized will make it easier for me to actually accomplish something during the limited time I have for hobby activities. I want to be able to jump right in as soon as I am able, r
ather than spending most of my free time moving stuff around and preparing for painting or modeling. I may only get 15 or 30 minutes here and there to work on my hobbies, rather than a block of several hours, so I need to be able to maximize that time.

Prioritize - this is related to simplifying. Once I narrow down the games I will play, I need to decide what the next project will be. When the list is made, I'll have to discipline myself to work on a particular project, and finish it! Unless there is a very compelling reason, I want to actually complete a project before moving on to the next. I think that keeping a log of what I am working on and my progress, and sharing that on this blog, will help me with that.

My third resolution is to actually play games! I spend my hobby time painting and modelling, and find that I actually do not get the models to the table nearly as often as I'd like. So I am going to play a real game of something at least twice per month. Sometimes that might be
Song of Blades and Heroes using Lego minifigures, or a Dystopian Wars battle, or a game of Legend of Drizzt. It may be just with the kids, or at the hobby shop. But it will happen more often in 2012 than it did in 2011!

I hope that 2012 brings each and every one of you peace, prosperity and blessings. Happy New Year!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Force on Force and Enduring Freedom: First Impressions

A couple of weeks ago I received Ambush Alley’s Force on Force modern wargaming rules published by Osprey. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to go through them, I thought I’d post my first impressions. First and foremost, in terms of production values, the rulebook is of the highest quality! It is a beautiful full-color hardback book. The book is filled throughout with images and drawings. The Osprey illustrations are magnificent, as always, as are the excellent pictures of real troops in action as well as of miniatures and terrain. The close-up shots of figures “in action” are clear and crisp, and make me envious of the painter's skill. (There's a post on the Ambush Alley forums here that links to WIP pictures of the Elheim USMC figures - they are gorgeous!)

My one big complaint is the copy editing. I am used to better from Osprey. The book contains several typos throughout, including two glaring ones. There is a typo on the back cover, and the Campaign Guide section is listed as "Campagin" at the top of every page from 144 to 159. I am used to better editing from the Osprey folks. I am not sure of the cause, but it feels as if the volume was rushed to print. This is admittedly a very nit-picky complaint of an otherwise beautiful book.

As far as the game rules themselves, I’ll have to play a few games to make better sense of them. I am a “learn by doing” type, so I want to play through some turns and mechanics before reaching a conclusion. However, at first glance, the rules look comprehensive, yet not to the point where you will get bogged down in detail. The abstractions make sense without over-simplifying.

As a follow-up to my FoF purchase, I got the Enduring Freedom scenario book. I have to say, this is a great book! The historical summary alone is worth the price of admission in my opinion. One issue, which is also present in FoF, is the use of too many military acronyms, not all of which are included in the glossary. I get that modern military lingo is chock full of acronyms, but I am a gamer that does not have that background, and had to turn to the Internet to decipher some of them.

But that is a minor point - overall the book is great. The scenarios are interesting, not just as exercises in tactics, but as historical records. The fact that each scenario is accompanied by a small blurb detailing the historical outcome is very helpful and educational. Not only do I want to be able to re-create the engagements detailed in the book, but I want to know “what really happened,” and this book takes care of that.

Also, the book solidified my decision to go with 20mm figures. The USMC Elhiem figures look great, and I will definitely be placing an order as soon as the finance committee approves the expenditure! In addition, I will be picking up some vehicles from S&S Models as well as looking into picking up some Dragon models of various Humvees.

And, I joined Ambush Alley’s SOG program. The list of benefits (a discount at several figure and terrain manufacturers, getting several exclusive scenario packs, etc.) was impressive, but mostly I want to continue to support this fantastic gaming company. The Ambush Alley team have done a terrific job with the development of these rules, and they deserve our support in order to keep them hard at work churning out more fabulous supplements! Based on Force on Force and Enduring Freedom, I will be picking up all the supplements including the first one, Road to Baghdad: Iraq 2003. Even if I never play those specific scenarios, the books are worthy of being a part of every wargamer or military enthusiast's collection.

There was one interesting development regarding the Enduring Freedom scenarios. I asked my 10-year-old son what he thought about playing through some of the missions. He said he did not want to play a game based on a conflict that is currently taking place. He said it would not feel right to him to play a game simulating the deaths of U.S. troops while those troops were really dying every day. To me, from a purely intellectual point of view, wargaming helps me to more deeply appreciate the job the Coalition forces are doing, the risks they are taking, and the constraints under which they are operating. It makes me more grateful for their willingness to serve and sacrifice, and helps me understand, albeit in a very small way, their current situation. Having said that, I understand and respect my son’s position, and did not press him on it. There are plenty of other wargaming opportunities with past or fictional conflicts for us to take advantage of.

My daughter, who is 13, said she'd give the game a try, as along as she can play the U.S. forces. So I may still have one partner in crime...

I have not seen FoF being played in the local game shops (and I must say that I am a bit disappointed to only have a couple to choose from - it’s the one big disadvantage to living so far from civilization!), so initially my games will be strictly home-grown affairs. Once I get at least two decent opposing forces ready and feel confident with the mechanics of the game, I may head out to see if I can find opponents...

'Til next time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Force on Force!

Yikes! It's been a while since I posted. Real life and work have conspired to keep me busy and away from gaming from far too long.

Today I received from Amazon the Force on Force modern combat rules from Ambush Alley and Osprey. I heard about the rules on Neil Shuck's excellent Meeples & Miniatures podcast. He interviewed the Ambush Alley guys in episode 73.

The best part is I got them for free!* (OK, technically not free. I took our change jar to the Coinstar machine at the supermarket, and got a voucher for Amazon, which I used to buy the rules. When you use the change to get a gift card they do not charge you the normally exorbitant fee. Since I didn't have to pay "out of pocket" it feels free. The change was just sitting around taking up space anyway!) And, it came the day before my birthday!

So now to read the book, and see how the rules go together. I'll have to get some modern combat miniatures, but maybe I can use some birthday money for that. The biggest decision I'll have to make is whether to go with 28mm, which is the scale I use for all my other wargaming (with the exception of Flames of War and Dystopian Wars), or try scaling down a bit. There are some really nice figures out there in 20mm and 15mm. And they have the advantage of being cheaper and requiring less table space to play a game. The 20mm figures are 1/72 scale, which opens up a whole world of not too expensive vehicle model kits as well. Hmmm, decisions, decisons...

'Til next time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Learning Dystopian Wars

On Saturday, we made it to Giga-Bites to meet with David Boeren, who graciously agreed to show us the Dystopian Wars ropes.

I've got the rulebook, and have read it, but it is always good to have someone who knows what they are doing around for the first few games. It is one thing to read a mechanic, but I find it easier to see it in action. I learn better by doing than by reading.

David and I had exchanged messages on the Spartan Games forum, and were able to agree on a Saturday afternoon. I brought Iya and Lucas with me, as they were both interested in finally getting a game in. Lucas has been excited about this since the first time he saw a Samurai rocket trooper in the book. Iya is a bit more reserved, but is always game to try something new.

We got there right on time, and David was finishing up a game of Warmachine. While he did that, the kids were able to get something to eat. One of the very cool things about gaming at Giga-Bites is the food! It is always great, and not having to worry about where to feed the kids when they are gaming with me is priceless.

We soon got out a flat, blue board to represent the sea, tossed some islands on it, and got down to learning the game. Since Lucas is planning on collecting an Empire of the Blazing Sun fleet, and I am going to go with the Federated States of America, we decided to use those models for our game. That's another advantage of having David show us the game - he has four fully painted fleets! As usual, my children decided to team up against me, with Iya and Lucas playing the Blazing Sun fleet and me taking the FSA. Each of the opposing fleets had a battleship, three cruisers, six frigates, five tiny flyer fighters and five tiny flyer bombers.

David started off by doing a quick rundown of the rules for the kids. He was extremely patient, and explained the turn sequence, movement and basic firing. As mentioned, I was familiar with the rules from reading them, but it makes a world of difference to actually put them into action.

The kids ponder the rules.

The Blazing Sun fleet was deployed in a very geometric, symmetrical pattern. Oh, and when my son finished his Gatorade the empty bottle was placed in the corner as additional terrain - some sort of steampunk nuclear reactor cooling tower!

Lucas places the cooling tower.

Initially the Blazing Sun frigates came up and were able to sink one of my frigates using rockets. It helps, and David can corroborate this, that my kids rolled exceptionally well all day, being able to score multiple hits over and over again. In the meantime, my fortune was running true to form, and I was unable to inflict damage even when rolling ten or so dice at a a time...

The battle developed slowly, with the frigates exchanging fire, each side suffering some casualties, but nothing major.

The kids moved their cruisers up, and turned them to face my ships with their powerful broadsides. They were able to cause a fire on the shield generator on my battleship, but the damage was not too bad, at least not yet.

The kids plan their next move.

Blazing Sun cruisers turn to fire their broadsides!

Meanwhile, Blazing Sun aircraft came in to mop up the last remaining small FSA ship. My bombers also went in, and were jumped by enemy fighters. While they disrupted my attack, it was costly, as my fighters swooped in to protect the bombers, wiping out the Imperial fighters in the ensuing dogfight. At this point, all my frigates were gone, and I had managed to destroy three opposing frigates.

Frigates engage.

The FSA frigate "screen" is reduced to one ship!

David offers advice to the kids.

With the FSA cruisers having such strong main turrets, I steamed straight into the teeth of the enemy line, managing to sink one of my Blazing Sun conterparts. Meanwhile, the battleships exchanged some shots, but were unable to do more than scratch each other's paint.

FSA cruisers steam into the attack!

How do I sink the FSA battleship?

Since it was a learning game, the game play was a bit slow, and we decided to make the third turn our last since we had to get going. Now the Blazing Sun fleet unleashed its full fury on my cruisers, managing to sink one. In return, I think I was able to send one more Imperial frigate beneath the waves. After another round of ineffectual firing from our big ships, the turn ended.

FSA cruisers take a pounding. The center ship is mortally wounded!

The battleships square off.

Final tally: I sank four Blazing Sun frigates and a cruiser, and destroyed all the enemy fighters, and a pair of bombers. The kids managed to completely wipe out both my squadrons of frigates (six ships) and a cruiser, and shot down a pair of fighters. The battleships each took some damage, although mine was burning as well. All in all, although close, we agreed that the victory went to the kids. Without screening frigates, my cruisers were very exposed, and the best option for my wounded battleship was to slink off for repairs.

Final fleet positions.

So, what did we think of the game?

I loved it! I cannot wait to get my own fleet for this game. It was a ton of fun, and although it was not simple it was very streamlined. The basic mechanic of "exploding" dice is terrific. (i.e., if you roll a six it counts as two hits and you can roll again. Theoretically, if you continue to roll sixes you can do unlimited damage.) And it is consistent - it is used for shooting attacks, torpedo attacks, rocket attacks, boarding attacks, bombing attacks, air combat, etc. Once you have it down, the rest of the game falls into place beautifully.

David used small colored cubes to indicate damage, crew losses, and fuel status for the flyers. I liked it, but it was a bit clunky to move four or five cubes, for example, each time you moved a tiny flyer base. I think there are other options out there for recording fuel consumption that I think will work better for me. Whether that will be using small dice, flight stands or dials attached to the tokens themselves, I am not sure yet.

What I am sure of, is that I am hooked on this game! I am already looking at when I can free up some time on a Saturday to get together with David again. In the meantime I will work on assembling a fleet of my own. Speaking of David, I cannot thank him enough. As I mentioned he was gracious and patient, and very encouraging with the kids. He'd seen some of Lucas' drawings on the Spartan games forum, and made sure to compliment him. Lucas was very excited to meet someone who had seen his pictures online.

As for the kids... Iya thought the rules were a little complex, but thought it was interesting that you had such a variety of offensive options from which to choose, and that you could use multiple weapons to attack on each activation. Lucas liked it quite a bit. He says the only downside is that they didn't get to sink my battleship, although the highlight of the game for him was wiping out my frigate squadrons! He thinks the game's complexity is "just right" - not too difficult too learn, but not too easy either. His favorite thing in the game are the Samurai rocket troopers. (Which is why he did not miss an opportunity to attempt to board my ships, even when his assault troops were seriously outnumbered! Both assaults proved to be suicidal, as all the attacking and defending troops were wiped out each time.)

And, Lucas was inspired to draw another scene - this one depicting a dogfight between Prussian and FSA planes:

Prussian and FSA flyers dogfighting

So the verdict is in, and this game is a winner! Apart from it being a terrific miniatures game, the richness and depth of the background that Neil and the Spartan Games crew have managed to cram into just the first rulebook is astounding! So, thanks to Spartan Games and David, my family now has a new obsession - steampunk naval combat!

'Til next time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Pirate Game at Dave's!

On Saturday, Jan. 8, my son Lucas and I headed over to Dave's for a session of pirate gaming. Dace had cooked up another interesting and flavorful scenario.

This time, the marauding band of pirates wake from their alcohol-induced slumber in a tavern deep in the British town, far from their boats, and have the unenviable task of hauling their ill-gotten gains back to their ships before being stopped by arriving British reinforcements or bribed local militia deciding to go loyal again!

The game was played on Dave's huge gaming table, filled as usual with tons of awesome terrain. The one difference is that he was in the middle of playing a Napoleonic battle on the same table! So he covered the blocks of Napoleonic troops with cotton batting, and we played that those were banks of smoke rising from buildings that the pirates had torched during their pillagin' and lootin'.

The pirates began the game in a tavern, groggy from too much rum and ale. They could choose to use wagons to carry loot overland, or canoes to go down the river.

At the other end of the river, their ships await - ready to sail off as soon as the loot is loaded.

Oh oh! The first hurdle - one of the militia officers stops the pirates, and demand that they go back to the cemetery behind the tavern to collect that treasure. They'd need all of it to bribe the militiamen, so they decide to go back.

Meanwhile, closer to shore, the arriving British troops assault some of the turncoat militia in a small fort.

After that they advance on the main fortifications, defended by the bulk of the militia.

The pirates, meanwhile, begin their journey, deciding to hedge their bets by taking both the wagons and the canoes.

The militiamen took up positions in a cornfield and tried to hold off the advancing Brits.

After taking the small fort, the main British column continues their advance on the castle. The first unit to try the advance was shattered by the defenders fire, but succeeding waves of disciplined troops were able to take the walls.

The game was quite interesting, and took place on two completely separate fronts. On the one hand, the main pirate party was making good time down the river. The wagons went in a different direction as those pirates joined some militia trying to break through the British lines.

The canoes of the pirates arrive at the last obstacle, and will have to transfer the treasure from the boats to the mules for the last leg of the journey. They are accompanied by the militia officer, who decided to throw his lot in with the pirates rather than face British justice for accepting bribes.

At that moment, a British frigate decided to go a'piratin'.

At that point we ran out of time, with the pirates on one side of the table close to reaching their objective, while the other group found themselves in a stalemate against stronger and more disciplined British troops.

All in all, it was a great game, and Lucas and I had lots of fun. This was his first effort at a game of this type and scale. I think he did great, although I could tell he was getting a bit bored towards the end. By that time, though, we'd been playing for four hours, so I can't blame him. For being nine years old he was awesome!

I have a couple of observations - the biggest one being that the board was a bit too large for a small-scale game. It took too many turns for the pirates to come to grips with the militia on the one side, and make their way down the river on the other. Also, we're caught in a sort of middle ground between a full-blown large scale game, and a skirmish game. I think we're using too many figures for a quick and dirty pirate game. But not enough to justify using large-scale horse-and-musket rules. Some things to think about before the next gaming session...

'Til next time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Malifaux Gaming Table and more pictures by Lucas

Sunday was sunny, and I was able to go outside and complete my Malifaux gaming table! So, in the first week of January I have already knocked one item off my 2011 to do list. Woohoo!

Malifaux Gaming Table

The table does stand a bit tall, as I neglected to take into account the height of the caster wheels when I built it. Having the wheels on it is key, since it allows me to just wheel it to whichever part of the basement I need it as I continue the larger project of organizing the entire basement. It works fine for adults, and since I come from a model railroading background I love the low-level point of view, where terrain actually does block your line of sight, but it is a tad high for the kids. I'll have to get a couple of barstools for them to sit on when we play.

The playing area is 3'x3', perfect for Malifaux and other skirmish games. It is set up so I can set a 3'x3' board in the top frame, or two 3'x1.5' sections (which is what is in there now) if I want to make modular gaming boards. I put a shelf on the bottom part so I can use that area for storage of bins containing unused terrain or other stuff (you can never have too many places to stash stuff!).

Left side "wing"

Right side "wing"

Removable terrain board

Another view of removable terrain board

I put a pair of "wings" on the table, because I think it is always a good idea to have a place for rules, figures, drinks, snacks, etc., away from the gaming area. On the left is a flat tabletop for books and food and even drinks. One advantage of having it set below the level of the gameboard is that if someone accidentally spills a drink, it won't ruin the terrain and figures. I am thinking about adding dedicated drink holders to the sides to minimize the chances of that happening. On the right, that tabletop is divided into three sections. The sections have a base of foamcore covered with felt to minimize the rattle of rolling dice. Each player can get one section for playing cards, rolling dice, etc, while the center section is used for casualty figures that have been removed from play. Or each player can keep their figures and reserves in a section and roll dice in the center. It all depends on the game.

With some Malifaux and Mordheim terrain

It seems as if the table will be quite practical, and it looks pretty good. The woodworkers among you may have noticed that it is a little over-engineered, and is probably a bit sturdier than it needs to be, but that is how I like to build things. I think I could probably climb on top if it and it would hold up just fine.

Overall I am very pleased with how the table turned out. Another purpose for it was a "proof-of-concept" or test run for a larger 4'x6' or 5'x7' table that I am planning on building later this year, and I learned a lot while putting it together. For example, work from plans! For this table, I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and started sawing, drilling and assembling from a picture in my head. It turned out okay, but I could have saved some effort by planning ahead.

Also, the entire table, except for the MDF board I used on the wings, came from scrap and salvage lumber. The frame for the tabletop came from a prior attempt at a 4'x4' gaming table. The lumber for the structure of the table came from the dumpster next door. They are building a new house on the lot beside ours, and they toss all their lumber scraps away - hooray for me. Several leftover pieces of 2"x4" and 2"x6" later - voila! A gaming table.

Now to finish my Guild Outpost and painting some crews so I can play some Malifaux! (This will include painting up some Gremlins for my son to play, as he has chosen an Ophelia crew and been picking up the figures one at a time with his allowance and getting them as gifts. He has almost the complete Ophelia crew and is looking forward to completing it soon. And I've already been commissioned to build him a Gremlin bayou swamp table for them to play on! Yet more for my to-do list...)

On the Dystopian Wars front, I posted Lucas' drawing on the Spartan Games forum and it was so well received, he decided to do several more:

Blazing Sun vs FSA

Covenant of Antarctica vs FSA

Covenant of Antarctica vs Prussian Empire

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

'Til next time!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Dystopian Wars picture

First of all - Happy New Year! I hope you all have a healthy and happy 2011.

I am looking forward to doing more gaming, modeling and painting in 2011. My goal is to get some fleets completed for Dystopian Wars (more on that below), as well as get at least two crews fully painted for Malifaux. I am working on a 3'x3' Malifaux gaming table which would have been completed today except for the rain. (I do my woodworking outside since my basement is rather cluttered...) In addition, I'd like to finish a larger 4'x6' or 5'x7' table as well. Which of course will require organizing the basement in order to make room for it... I am already behind and it's only day 1 of 2011!

So, as mentioned previously, one of my goals is to have some fleets for Dystopian Wars. I've been reading and re-reading the rules while deciding on which fleets to get. While initially leaning towards the Prussians because of their amazing sky fortress dirigible, I have now decided on the Federated States of America as my main fleet, with the Empire of the Blazing Sun as my second.

Why? Well the double-decker Saratoga fleet carrier for the FSA is an incredible model, and seeing pictures of it actually painted up made me fall in love with it. My son has decided he likes the look of the Blazing Sun models. I am eagerly trying to recruit him into the game, and the thought of a Pacific island-hopping campaign between these two forces is very appealing to me, so that is the direction in which we are heading.

I just need to sort some of my unpainted lead pile and decide what I can sell/trade in order to get into DW. We're on a tight budget, so in order to get into something new I need to get rid of something else. But the plan is to get that done as soon as possible, because I can see this game becoming a family favorite very quickly.

Anyway, while he was reading the book my son asks me what faction I will be playing and why. We talked about, and that is when we determined that the FSA and Blazing Sun would be our two fleets of choice.

The next day he gave me a drawing (inspired by the illustrations in the rulebook) of rocket-powered Samurai troopers assaulting an FSA carrier - it is his way of "talking trash" before we even get into the game! I especially like the kamikaze Samurai plowing straight down. I have it up in my hobby area, and it provides my inspiration to get my stuff in order so I can get into this game as soon as possible!

'Til next time!