Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Wargaming Mechanics

As an experiment, I started another blog that has longer analysis pieces about specific wargaming mechanisms.

I posted a first entry, on opposed die rolling.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Wet paint: some Cossacks

These were painted many months ago but were not featured on here yet (they did get varnished recently, so it still qualifies as 'wet paint' :)):


They are good old Foundry Cossacks (Seven Years War types nominally, but a Cossack is a Cossack regardless of period) and will be used in my Great Northern Wars games.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

"The figure is only a token!"

"The figure is only a token!" is a statement one hears now and then when discussing the use of figures in miniature wargaming. The context often is when the rules of a game are discussed, and  what scale is best used for the figures to represent the troops on the table. The size of the figures is proclaimed to be irrelevant, since what really counts is the footprint of a unit on the table. And whether you "fill up" that footprint with figures that are 6mm or 15mm or 25mm doesn't matter that much. Actually, you could as well use a counter or a simple piece of cardboard to represent the unit, and move that thing around. In that sense, the figure is indeed is only a token.

This view is reinforced by many current rulesets that define units as occupying a certain area on the table - whether expressed in base widths or a similar measure. A unit might be defined as defined as having a frontage of 10cm, and you can fill that up with whatever figures you please. Back in the days of Featherstone and Grant, the footprint of units was often a secondary result. Units were defined as consisting of a specific number of figures, often derived from a chosen men-to-figure ratio (e.g. 33 men to 1 figure). The frontage of the unit on the gaming table was then the result of physically placing these figures next to each other, which in turn led to other measurements such as the ground scale. Depending on whether you take the men-to-figure ratio as your primary starting point, as opposed to the frontage of a unit, indeed leads to a different view on the role of the wargaming figure. If the role of toy soldiers is limited to filling up a pre-defined footprint, one might indeed come to the conclusion that the figure is only a token. (I guess since that early hobby wargaming after WW2 was entrenched in toy soldier modeling and collecting, it's no surprise the actual toy soldier was used as the focal point for developing rules.)

However, I think this is a very distorted - even simplistic - view on the role of wargaming figures in miniature wargaming.

I fully agree that if you isolate the rules, it does not matter how you represent your troops. A piece of cardboard matching the footprint of a unit does the job as well if not better. Taken to its logical conclusion, you don't even need figures to play miniature wargaming. Actually, you don't even need terrain pieces, since these can also be represented by pieces of cardboard. The game might look dull, but from a strict rules point-of-view, it's the same game. But this argument is only valid if you consider the game to be nothing more than the rules. And I want to argue it is not. Miniature wargaming *needs* miniatures to function properly. The rules by themselves are not enough.

Most miniature wargaming rulesets result in games that are not very "deep". The decisions one has to make as a player are in many cases very straightforward. After the troops are set up, the gaming engine propels the troop forwards, they clash in battle, and that's it. Granted, the player can make some decisions to steer the game in one direction or the other, but often, the decisions are pretty much obvious. Most miniature wargames do not have game trees as deep as Chess or GO, that allow you to explore various equivalent alternatives, and also allow you to plan a significant number of moves ahead. This does not mean a miniature wargame cannot be complex - but the complexity is often present in the game mechanics. Combat resolution is often a complex procedure, involving various dice rolls, looking up modifiers, etc. This gives the impression the game is complex, but the complexity is often the result of elaborate procedures that mask the inconvenient truth that once you take away those convoluted mechanics, nothing much is left decision-making-wise.

But that does not imply the game cannot be fun. The fun part in miniature wargaming is often watching the battle unfold. The role of the players (besides making a few simple decisions), is to execute the gaming engine: move the figures, determine combat, remove casualties, etc. Through the use of randomizers, the outcome is often uncertain and unexpected. In other words, we see the drama and the story of the battle develop before our eyes. We give a little input, but we don't control it.

Every story needs characters. And the characters in our story are our miniatures, whether they are units or single commanders. And this is exactly the reason why a miniature wargame cannot function without splendid-looking figures. We need the figures as emotional anchorpoints to construct the story of the battle. It's very hard to draw up a story about two pieces of cardboard shooting at each other. But when the units are represented by figures, it does add a whole different dimension to the gaming experience. We do need the figures, such that through position identification the player can relate to them and relive the story. Otherwise it's only a dull semi-automatic game propelled forward by rolling dice.

So, are the figures only tokens? No, of course not. Saying otherwise is denying the core of what miniature wargaming is all about: telling stories inspired by military history, with the figures taking up the role of our dramatis personae. A play needs actors. Our games need figures.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Wet Paint: some more Wurttembergers

These were actually painted a week ago, but only posted now - some more Wurttemberg Napoleonic chaps:


These are Wurttemberg grenadiers (one out of the two battalions per regiment had a company of grenadiers in the 1809 Wurttemberg OOB). They are painted up as belonging to the 1st Regiment (Von Phull). I have a source (well, uniform plates found on the net) which has only their cuffs and turnbacks in the regimental colors (yellow in this case), with the facings in the standard Wurttemberg dark blue. So that's how I painted them up.

The figures are Front Rank Miniatures.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Vintage Fantasy Figures (3)

I managed to identify some more figures from the batch I acquired some time ago (see also previous blogposts).

Some more Citadel, but rather from the historical ranges than the fantasy ranges:

  • 2 figures from the Medievals range: M& Infantry in Aketon with Hand Weapons
  • Dar Ages range: DA21 Crossbowmen
  • Dark Ages range: DA23 Staff Slinger
  • Might be a DA78 figure, but not sure
Some more Ral Partha:

  •  E311, Dwarf of the Anvil
  • 3 copies of E111 Halfling Esquirw
  • ... both from the Wizards, Warriors and Warlocks range
And finally  3 Ninja Warriors from Dixon Miniatures:

  • SN1 Ninja throwing Shuriken Star
  • SN1 Ninja shooting short bow
  • SN3 Ninja charging with sword

Monday, 2 January 2017

Vintage Fantasy Figures (2)

Earlier I reported on a large amount of vintage scifi and fantasy figures I acquired (read here and here and here). I managed to identify some more miniatures. I apologize for the quality of the photographs (bad shadows and some perspective correction ...).

A first group are Chronicle figures, according to LostMinisWiki: "Chronicle Miniatures was owned by Nick Lund. In the mid-1980s it was bought by Citadel Miniatures. Nick Lund went to work at the Citadel Design Studio and Citadel continued to distribute the original Chronicle Miniatures under the Chronicle brand name but these were gradually replaced with new designs. When Nick Lund joined Grenadier Miniatures to form Grenadier Miniatures UK, the Chronicle brand ceased to exist."

It took me a while browsing through the collector sites (LostMinisWiki and CitadelCollectors) before I could find them, since the Chronicle range was not well known to me. Curiously, some figures came in multiples of 2,3 or 4 castings. Since I assume they all came from the same collector, it might be he/she bought mutiples, or perhaps they were sold as mutiples in blisters or bags?

From left to right, top to bottom:

  • CF3 Wizard
  • CF4.v2 Illusionist with wand
  • CF8 Ranger with sword, shield and bow
  • CF9v1 Elf-Fighter Wizard
  • CF10 Thief Backstabbing
  • CF12 Assassin
  • CF14 Hireling carrying pack and lantern
  • CF15 Female Cleric
  • CF17 Ninja
  • CF19 Half Orc Adventurer with long axe and shield
  • CF26 Gnome Fighter/Illusionist
  • CF27 Halfling Adventurer
  • CF29 Female Barbarian
  • CF30 - Female Ranger
  • CF32 Left-Handed Fighter
  • CM14 Ghoul
  • CT10 Evil Cleric

Another group I managed to identify are individual figures from old Citadel and Ral Partha ranges, and a Minifig and Custom Cast miniature that escaped my attention before.


 From left to right, top to bottom:

  • Citadel Dwarf Adventurers - Fighters (miniature 29 here)
  • Citadel Fantasy Adventurers FA 30-1 Female Ranger (here)
  • Citadel FTH Fantasy Tribe Hobgoblin (here)
  • Citadel SAM12 Warrior Monk with Naginata (here), weapon missing.
  • Ral Partha Personalities and Things that go Bump in the Night 01-16 Beowulf Nordic Hero (here)
  • Ral Partha 1200 AD - Spanish Catalan Archer 42-165 (http://www.miniatures-workshop.com/lostminiswiki/index.php?title=1200_A.D.#Spanish)
  • Ral Partha Personalities and Things that go Bump in the Night 01-13 Assassin (here)
  • Minifigs ORC6 Orc Hurling Spear (here
  • Custom Cast - Fighter from 1057 The Companions (here) - obviously Boromir.

What makes a good magazine article?

I like reading wargaming magazines. Besides the forums and blogs, I still feel they provide a useful stream of information about new products, new trends, how others approach the hobby etc. I have been subscribed to at least one wargaming magazine (in different configurations ... White Dwarf, Wargames Illustrated, Battlegames, Miniature Wargames, WSS, ... ) for almost 25 years. Sometimes I stopped a subscription because I felt the quality of content was not to my tastes, only to pick it up again a few years later. Sometimes I was really saddened by the change in tone or content in magazines over the years. Other times I felt quite happy with the course the magazine was following. But I never stopped subscribing completely. As I said, there was usually at least one issue from some title dropping in my mailbox every other month.

So, what makes, in my view a good or bad magazine article?

Good:
  • Self-written rules. It's always nice to see how other wargamers approach a given period. Chances are low I will the use rules as is, but it's always nice to pick up ideas and mechanisms. But I do prefer some designer's notes with the rules as well. What was the design process? What was the line of thinking used? Why are some rules included and others not?
  • Generic scenarios. Scenarios for a specific period are entirely fine, but they should be written in such a way that they can be used with any ruleset of your choice that fits the period and/or assumptions of the scenario.
  • Interviews with games designers or authors. This is where magazines can make a difference. However, some variation would be nice. Having to read interviews with the same usual suspects and darlings of the wargaming scene becomes a bit boring.
  • History, when coupled with strong wargaming content. Also good, and especially for little-known periods or battles., the history section can be longer. Especially illumination when the writer explains how and why the history is translated into a specific wargaming context.
Not-so-good:
  • An assumed pre-knowledge of a specific ruleset. Some articles give army lists for a specific ruleset, using the in-house jargon and abbreviations. Some articles have a very specific scenario tailored so much to rules it becomes unusable if you're not a follower. Great if you happen to play those rules. Not so great if you don;t have a clue what the article is all about.
  • Not as bad as the above, but scenarios that assume some particulars of the rules used without mentioning them. E.g. "Hold the bridge for 10 turns". Useless if it is not mentioned what the average movement rate is of the troops. "The woods incur a movement penalty" is good. "Subtract 2" for movement in woods" is bad.
  • Lately I have seen quite a few reports on club activities. Nice if you're a member, but really worthwhile for anyone else? How useful is it for me reading that the Wargaming Bunch is meeting twice a month in the local Pub&Bar and having a good time?
  • Modeling articles with too much text. Modeling articles should be photographs only, and as few text as possible. Back in the old days, it was impossible or very expensive to print many photographs, but those days are gone. Anyway, I find myself NEVER to read the text of a modeling article. But I do look at all the pictures.

Friday, 30 December 2016

What is a "collectible" anyway?

The other day we had a small discussion about "collectibles" in the gaming hobby. "Collectible" can have many different meanings:
  • Something that has widely accepted iconic value in the gaming hobby. E.g. an original D&D 1st print from 1974. Or an original copy of Little Wars. Or an Alpha Black Lotus. Such items often have real value associated to them, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of Euro/Dollars. If you buy them, you can be pretty sure you can resell them at a similar or higher price in the future.
  • Too often a collectible is only collectible in the eye of the beholder. A game we played in our youth, have fond memories about, and we absolutely want to keep that specific copy (or a re-acquired copy) in our collection. Mostly emotional value, not so much monetary. I have a few games and books like that, but in most cases, I am happy to look at images on boardgamegeek.com to satisfy a bout of nostalgia coming up.
  • Perceived collectibles are things that are rare, but are not widely searched for, except by a very small niche within a niche of the gaming community. Owners often wrongly think these are worth huge amounts of money, but unless you find the right person at the right time and is willing to spend the cash, they are mostly worth nothing. As an owner, it is good practice to ask yourself: "What would *I* pay for this particular item?" The answer is a much better estimate of what you might get for your prized possession, rather than the amount of money you might get from an hypothetical collector and who is willing to take an additional mortgage on his house just to acquire the last missing piece in his collection.
Some of my own "collectibles".
One might wonder why people collect gaming stuff, or cling to perceived collectibles? Why would you keep a copy of an old 70s boardgame, knowing 100% sure  you will never ever play that game again, and also knowing it's not really worth anything? Games are mostly paper, cardboard, and plastic, so there's not even inherent value. And unlike books or paintings, the objects are often not beautiful or craftly made. A game will simply sit on your shelf for many years, gathering dust. To what purpose?

Collecting can be a goal in itself, and then the hunt is where the joy is. I can see the idea of someone wanting to collect all items ever published for a specific game system, or miniatures by a certain maker. For others, some of the joy is in simply possessing the object in question. Knowing that you are the owner of an original copy of a specific game might give people some satisfaction, although others might simply shrug when they see that particular item.

Anyway, some of these thoughts crossed my mind when I was re-assaembling some old (Dutch language) Heroquest expansions I had lying around. Last year I gave one of my nephews an original copy of Heroquest I bought for 5 Euro in a 2nd hand shop, in an attempt to lure them to gaming. And it worked! Last week, he and his brother complained they didn't have enough miniatures and quests, and wanted more.

I still have all the original expansions I bought (and played) back in the early nineties. So I decided to repackage them. I don't have the original boxes anymore, but still all the miniatures, cardboard counters, etc. So they will be getting those, and hopefully, they will use them! After all, they were collecting dust in my gaming closets, untouched for over 20 years. And aren't games meant to be played with after all?

The Dungeon Design Kit, Keller's Keep, Return of the Witch Lord, and Wizards of Morcar, all original Dutch versions.
Re-assembled and repackaged in transparant sleeves ...
A huge quest from the "Heroquest New Edition box", early nineties.
"But, you can get easily 100 Euro per expansion!" I hear some shout. Perhaps. A quick check on boardgamegeek indeed indicates that some people are asking that price. Which is still different from actually receiving that amount of money. And my copies weren't mint to begin with ...

I feel pretty ok about this. I freed up some space, hopefully my nephews will use these expansions, and so what about the perceived collectibility? It is only a game after all ...

Update: I got a few replies from people who said I was crazy giving away 500 Euro worth of stuff to a bunch of 10-12 year olds. And perhaps they are right. So maybe I should reconsider and try to sell them after all ...  And I'll give my nephews some miniatures from my Reaper Bones Kickstarters. Those things have been so mass-produced they'll never be worth much ... :-)

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Playtest of The Men Who Would Be Kings

Yesterday we gathered at JP's house and played a short Indian Mutiny game, using The Men Who Would Be Kings colonial rules. It was the first time we used these rules, and a few glitches came up. These have not so much to do with the rules themselves, but more with the scenario we used and the specific setup of terrain. After all, any ruleset implicitly assumes (often unwritten) some aspects about the scenarios: troop and terrain density, quality of opposing forces, etc. We felt that we still have to tune our scenario setups a bit to accommodate for these rules. Or to put it differently: troops that shoot the farthest prefer more open terrain, troops that rely on close combat prefer dense terrain ...
Phil (left) commanding the mutineers (Indians and Pathans) vs David (right) commanding the British regulars.
The battle in full swing. The ruined building in the middle left had to be held by the mutineers as long as possible.
More action! A bunch of Pathans suddenly popped out from behind the rocks at the bottom middle.

The mutineers held the village for 9 turns, but then got swiped away by the advancing British forces. Let's call it a draw! :-)

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Xmas table setup

During the Christmas season, it's almost a certainty relatives are coming over for the traditional turkey Christmas dinner. Invariably, after a few glasses of wine, there's always a request to see my man cave.

Instead of having to explain that "normally, we play with toy soldiers here, but now, it's full of junk as you can see ... ", I always try to clean up and set out a visual attractive battlefield. It doesn't have to conform to any plausible plausible game setup. After all, they don't have a notion of rules, so better go for visual appeal rather than game appeal.

So, this year, I decided on an ACW setup. And yes, it got the "oohs" and "aahs" going, especially amongst the younger male crowd.