Saturday, 31 January 2015

Antares 2401: Zeta squad, Combat Engineers

In our ongoing Antares 2401 campaign, our latest game witnessed a new squad in action. Zeta squad has been trained as combat engineers, with the specific task of assaulting enemy-held bunkers, clearing paths trough barbed wire and minefields, and assist the combat squads in action.

I thought it was a good idea to use a black/yellow stripe pattern as a distinctive sign for Zeta squad.

The figures below are:
  • 1 original Terminator figure from the original, 1st edition Spacehulk.
  • 2 converted Terminators from the same Spacehulk game, replacing their bolter with a claw. The claw is a weapon from a Battlemech figure from the Wizkids Mechwarrior game.
  • 2 Mechs from the Wizkids Mechwarrior game. Although the Mechs are at a total different scale originally, I think they blend well as (large) human-sized bots with the normal 28mm figures we normally use for our sci f skirmish games.

Sci Fi Greenhouses

A quick (15 minutes) and easy scenery project for a science fiction setting: greenhouses.

I used the lid from a pack of cherry tomatoes, put an enclosure on top to cover the hole in the lid, and added a circular ring-shaped base with an opening in the middle. Thus, the greenhouses can be placed over some model plants.

Two Citadel miniatures (Eldar Trader and Halfling Cook, Space Pirates range from the 80s) are shown for scale comparisons. The cook wants to buy some spices for his meal tonight, but the trader refuses to sell at below market value!

The greenhouses were used as a mission objective in our latest Antares 2401 game.

Antares 2401 Campaign: Mission VIII

Yesterday we played mission VIII in our Antares 2401 campaign. The mission: an amphibious assault on island Cardamon (located in the Spice System), homebase of the criminal Krypton Venk. Gamma squad (Bart) and Epsilon squad (Eddy) were selected for this highly dangerous mission, supported by Combat Engineers from Zeta squad and the Rookies from Theta Squad (note: normally, each player only commands his own assigned squad, but since only two players were available, each got an additional support squad).

The mission went not as expected. For the first time in the campaign, the StarMarines had to withdraw and abort the mission. Several StarMarines were left behind. The players blamed the GM for setting up an unwinnable scenario, the GM agreed :-)

Bart and Eddy making a tactical plan before the start of the game.

More planning ...

Theta Squad is stroming the beach.

Epsilon Squad has disembarked.

Theta and Epslion squad trying to take out the first enemy positions.

Combat Engineers from Zeta Squad are wading ashore.

Artillery is hitting the beach (right). First enemies taken out (left).

Right: The indestructible bunker!

Theta Squad ripping a mercenary to pieces.

Overview of the game: massacre on the beach?

Gamma squad flaming a machine gun.

How much damage can that bunker take?

Theta and Gamma squad moving towards the hinterland.
The game ended close after the last photograph. The defenders were too numerous, and crossing an open field using our current rules is a deadly exercise!

In hindsight, the scenario was a bit unbalanced. But what can we do about that after the facts?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Oldhammer: Ziggurat of Doom

Ever since I read Warhammer Fantasy Battle 1st edition as a teenager - and which was my first exploration in the world of miniature wargaming - the scenario "The Ziggurat of Doom" included in the 1st booklet captured my imagination. The scenario features a heroic last stand of 6 dwarves against an horde of goblins.

I still remember thinking I would never be able to stage such a scenario, but I tried nevertheless. The Ziggurat itself was modeled using wooden toy blocks, but figures were a problem (plastic 1/72 Atlantic Romans served as Dwarves and Orcs), and I only had a handful of trees to model the surrounding forest.

30 years later, things have changed. I now have enough trees to fill my gaming table twice, several 1000s of miniatures for all sorts of periods, and I even have a nice model for the Ziggurat. The model was built on commission during the 90s by a talented guy who also frequented the local gaming shop. When he announeced he would take commissions for buildings and scenery, I knew exactly what I wanted! The Ziggurat of Doom!

Here some photos I took yesterday:

I have used the Ziggurat for several games over the years, most notably our pulp King Kong game, but also for some generic fantasy games.

King Kong game, 2007

Te Wapen game, probably 1995

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

It's the figures, not the rules!

This past weekend I spent some time cleaning up and repairing an old army of mine. The army in question are Oldhammer Orcs & Goblins (I will post some pictures later), but this particular detail is irrelevant for this post.

I almost never repaint miniatures - except visible damage - but I do rework the bases. More than the paint-job of the figure itself, it is often the base that provides a common look-and-feel of all the figures in an army. If all the bases are visually similar, it provides a much larger visual cohesion on the battlefield.

The bases for the models in this particular army were in a dire state. Initially, figures were based individually (most are Citadel slottabase figures, but not all), and the bases were painted black. Then, grey flock was added. Later on, figures were based in groups of 4 on 6cm by 6cm bases to adjust to a particular ruleset that we were using at the time. Since I thought this was the best ruleset ever, the bases were superglued to cardboard and given another layer of paint. When that ruleset fell out of favour (duh!), I removed the figures again, but now leaving glue marks on the slottabases, and some of the flock came loose in the process.

So, I redid the bases this weekend, all figures were left individually based. The bases were again covered in grey flock (not what I would today, but no choice given the history of these figures), and adorned by rocks, tufts of grass, etc. At last these figures are "showable" again on the tabletop.

What I realized (once again) is that if you are a long-time wargamer, rules do not really matter, but figures do.

As a starting wargamer, it is quite natural that you acquire figure that go with your ruleset of choice. Your budget might be limited, and you don't always know where to start. Hence, following the recommendations made by the ruleset, or buying the figures that are sold specifically for the ruleset, is the best course of action.
But of course, rulesets lose their popularity due to a myriad of reasons. Some of these are external: the ruleset is no longer "supported". As a wargamer, one develops different preferences over the years. Rules that seemed so clever and fun, might feel like a pure random engine several years later. Social reasons might also play a part. There's no use in clinging to a ruleset if all your friends hate it. And lastly, there is also innovation in the design of wargames themselves. Rulesets do become better over the years (but not always! :).

The turnover frequency of rulesets is often not matched by the turnover frequency of figures. It is quite easy to change rulesets; it is much harder to buy and paint a completely new set of figures. Hence, the figures in a collection often outlive the use of any particular ruleset, and it makes no sense to adapt the basing of figures to a particular ruleset.

I have been wargaming for over 30 years, and I have come to realize that the constant factor during all these gaming years is a good and solid collection of figures, not any particular ruleset. 10 years from now, I might use rules that don't even exist yet. But very likely, I will use figures of which a large fraction are already in my collection today.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The General - Avalon Hill

As I recounted almost 10 years ago on this blog, I once was a heavy fan of Avalon Hill boardgames. This was when I was in high school (1978-1984), so budget was limited, but gaming time was not. I owned various AH games, most notably Tactics II, Afrika Korps, and Rise & Decline of the 3rd Reich. We played these to death.

More treasured even were a few issues of The General, Avalon Hill's magazine. I mostly picked these up when I visited the one wargaming shop in Belgium I was aware of, The Tin Soldier in Sint-Niklaas. I only had a few issues of the General, but they gave me a glimpse of the wider wargaming community that existed "out there".

I do not have these issues anymore - I probably tossed them all in the local "free for grabs" bin in the local gameshop when I moved to the US for a few years in 1998. But today I discovered that you can actually download all of them from the site View From The Trenches.

I already browsed through a few issues I remembered I once read as a teenager, and boy, does that bring back memories!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Star Patrol Man with Laserpistol (Citadel S1 Spacefarers range)

A few weeks ago I reported that I came into the possession of an old Citadel miniature: "S1 Star Patrolman with Laser Pistol" from the Spacefarers range.

Yesterday I painted him up, together with a plastic toy (slightly converted) hovercraft. The hovercraft will be a nice addition to the fleet of SpecOps, as part of our science fiction skirmish Antares campaign.

I painted the Star Patrolman in yellow, with glossy highlights, which I think fits better with his retreo-scifi-look.

Oldhammer: The Nightmare Legion, Addendum

In my post about the Nightmare Legion, I had doubts whether the standard bearer was part of the boxed set sold as The Nightmare Legion during the late eighties.

Looking through the 1988/1989 catalogues on, gave the answer. I went to the cabinet in which I keep my old undead miniatures, and indeed, I did find the standard bearer that is part of the legion. I must have painted him many years ago, and for some reason, another standard bearer ended up in the small box in which I keep my unpainted undead miniatures.

On the right you see the standard bearer I painted up a few days ago, and which I tought was part of the set. However, on the relevant catalogue pages, he is listed a a general figure under the "Skeleton Command" range. The figure on the left is part of the Nightmare Legion. Apparantly the banners are cardboard, so I assume I cut them out from the box in which the miniatures were originally sold.

For reference, here's the original boxcover in which the Nightmare Legion was originally sold:

And as another addition, I also painted up 3 Games Workshop Spirit Host miniatures (available around 2004 and later?) I had still lying around:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Some links restored

Apparantly, the blogpost about our 2010 Poltava game proves to be rather popular lately. I noticed the two links pointing to the game documents were broken - a leftover from the move to Blogger some years ago.

I restored the links, so the design documents for the Poltava game should be accessible once again.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Oldhammer: The Nightmare Legion

I'm still in "the painting zone". Painting goes rather quickly these days, and my morale tests for actually starting to paint keep succeeding.

The next finished unit from my stack of unpainted lead is the Warhammer Nightmare Legion. I probably bought this somewhere around 89-90-91, when I was still in my Warhammer crazy days.

The Nightmare Legion was a set once sold under the banner of "Regiments of the Renown". These were a number of units specifically sold for Warhammer, and which included a number of rank-and-file troopers, but also the the command figures (a banner, musician, leader and champion).See some excellent posts (part 1 and part2) on the Realm of Chaos blog about the history of this range.

This unit will prove to be a good addition to my Undead Oldhammer army.

Note:The drummer was painted a couple of years ago, so he looks a little bit different compared to rest of the unit. I am also in doubt whether this particular standard bearer was part of the legion - at least not based on the numerous photographs to be found on the net. Throughout the years, my collection of unpainted lead has been mixed up quite a few times, hence the confusion.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Lowenheim: Blast from the Past

When rummaging through my old gaming directories, I bumped in the game that served as the inaugural game at my previous house. The Siege of Lowenheim was organized in January 2006, and was a multiplayer game loosely based on a scenario that once appeared in Wargames Illustrated. The original was based on the Siege of the Peking legations during the Boxer rebellion, but I transformed it into a fantasy setting. The result was - judging by the comments made back then - an enjoyable game

Overview of the gaming table
We had 2 previous blogposts about this game, so please read them (or look at the pictures!) to get an idea of what the game was about.
I also found in my directories the following pictures, which I made as a sort of prequel to the game. They were send to the various players to set the tone for the scenario. I do remember using an online tool to produce these tapestry of Bayeux posters.

The idea of these little pre-story was to set the mood: a city was under siege, all sorts of people came to help, but the real enemy would come from within the city. This was supposed to make the players wary about betrayal, but it was about ratmen trying to invade the city through the sewer system.

I also wrote a little article about this game for the magazine of Tin Soldiers Antwerp. The text is below,  written in Dutch.

Sinds enige jaren ben ik steeds op zoek naar originele invalshoeken om interessante games op tafel te brengen. De klassieke benadering waarbij twee legers van gelijke puntenaantallen het tegen elkaar opnemen is immers niet meer aan mij besteed, alhoewel er periodes geweest zijn waarbij ik stevig aan dit concept vasthield. De Belegering van Lowenheim, een spel voor 6 spelers dat ik afgelopen januari op mijn wargaming zolder organizeerde, kadert in een reeks spelen die ik regelmatig op touw zet, en waarbij spelers ongewone situaties voorgeschoteld krijgen. Dit artikel geeft een beetje inzicht in hoe dit spel tot stand kwam.
De inspiratie voor Lowenheim kwam uit een oud nummer van Wargames Illustrated, waarin een artikel stond met als titel ‘55 minutes in Peking’. Het is een spel dat de belegering van de legaties in Peking tijdens de Boxer-oorlog weergeeft. Wegens de originele ideeën die erin vervat zijn, is het heel wat keren herhaald in allerlei hobbyclubs en op conventies, zoals een zoekopdracht via Google je snel leert.

De 8 spelers, die elk één van de vreemde mogendheden (Groot-Britannië, USA, Italië, Frankrijk, Japan, Rusland, Duitsland, Oostenrijk) in Peking controleren moeten hun legaties verdedigen tegen de Boxers die overal in de stad opduiken. De spelers moeten hierbij gebruik maken van resource cards, die hen elke beurt uitgedeeld worden. Met deze kaarten kunnen ze aanvallen, branden blussen, gewonden genezen of barricades opwerpen. Het is toegelaten om deze kaarten onderling te ruilen, maar zoals je wel kan verwachten zijn deze resource cards eerder schaars, wat tot gespannen situaties leidt. De activiteit van de Boxers wordt uiteraard voorgesteld door figuren op de tafel, maar tevens door random kaarten die bombardementen, tunnels of voedseltekorten simuleren. Ik zal niet in detail ingaan op het specifieke spelsysteem, de geïnteresseerden kunnen steeds Wargames Illustrated 27 er op na slaan.
Ik liep al geruime tijd met het idee rond om ‘55 minutes in Peking’ zelf eens te organiseren, maar wegens gebrek aan juiste figuren en scenery werd dit steeds op de lange baan geschoven, totdat ik realiseerde dat een gelijkaardig idee ook zou kunnen in een andere setting. Vermits ik over een vrij uitgebreide collectie fantasy-figuren beschik, besloot ik om een fantasy-stad, Lowenheim, als decor voor het spel te gebruiken. De verschillende spelers zouden hierbij verschillende aanwezige troepenmachten in de stad controleren, die weliswaar allen samen de stad moeten beschermen tegen indringers, maar tevens elk hun agenda hebben om hun eigen belangen veilig te stellen.
Vermits het aantal figuren per speler eerder klein zou zijn, had ik redelijk wat vrijheid om te kiezen welk soort manschappen de stad zouden bemannen. Ook wou ik een beetje afstappen van het typische fantasy-beeld dat Games Workshop ons voorschotelt, en wat meer frivole en exotische types in het spel brengen. Tevens zouden elk van deze groepen eigen objectieven in het spel hebben, die met elkaar conflicteren. Na wat nadenken en experimenteren, kwam ik tot de volgende groepen:
  • De stadswacht onder leiding van kapitein Johann Mannheim, wiens voornaamste taak erin bestond om de defensie van de stad te coördineren. 
  • De Paleiswacht, aangevoerd door Ridder Sigisbiduwald von Trappstein-Hohenschlieffen, die weliswaar over competente elite-ridders beschikte, maar zelf zich meer zorgen maakte of hij wel op tijd zou wegraken uit de ruïnes van de stad.
  • De Elvenwacht van de Koningin, onder leiding van Alavandrel Vanmaris, die gezworen had om de koningin van de stad te beschermen.
  • De ambassadeur van Bretonnia, kardinaal Jean-Jacques Descartes des Bois du Loups-Garou, met zijn persoonlijke lijfwacht Les Cinq Mousquetaires. De kardinaal heeft wel een probleem; hij is een weerwolf, en moet dit ten allen prijze geheimhouden. 
  • Severus Arrhenius, Aartsmagiër van Lowenheim, Bewaker van het Boek van Malachias, Houder van het Zegel van de Zeven Serpenten, en Beschermer van de Mystieke Vuurvliegen is de oudste magiër van de Raad der Tovenaars. In in hun toren hebben ze allerlei vreemde magische objecten ter beschikking, maar willen hun kennis uiteraard niet zomaar delen met iedereen. 
  • Ambassadeur Wen Jiao-Bao van Cathay, die met zijn Tijgergarde van de Blauwe Lotus vooral interesse heeft in het bewaken van het Zilver Haar der Heilige Wind, waarmee hij een krachtige windgeest zou kunnen oproepen.
Zoals je ziet komt er redelijk wat inspiratie uit de meer klassieke fantasy-games, maar met genoeg originele elementen om het geheel fris en origineel te maken. Eén van de reden waarom ik dergelijke niet-alledaagse combinaties van troepen op de tafel zet is niet alleen omdat ik de figuren heb, maar ook omdat het de spelers visueel iets nieuws geeft. Dat geldt trouwens in het algemeen voor een visuele hobby als wargaming. Het kan volstaan om een aantal visuele aspecten van een spel te wijzigen om het er nieuw en origineel te laten uitzien. Het gebruik van grappige namen en hier en daar een onnozel cliché of inside-joke geeft uiteraard ook wat extra sfeer.

De Boxers werden vervangen door Skaven die, geheel passend met het beeld dat velen van de Skaven hebben, tijdens het verloop van het spel de stad infiltreren via een onderaards stelsel van gangen en riolen. Dit element zorgt ervoor dat de spelers steeds op hun hoede moeten zijn, en dat de spelmeester troepen kom laten opduiken waar er weinig actie op de tafel was. Bij dit type spel is de verhaallijn die ontwikkeld wordt tijdens het spel immers van groter belang dan een ‘eerlijk’ verloop waarbij elke speler evenveel kans heeft om te ‘winnen’.
De speltafel zelf geeft een deel van de stad weer, en is voornamelijk opgebouwd uit kartonnen huisjes van verschillende fabrikanten (voornamelijk Games Workshop en het niet meer bestaande TSR). Het grote kasteel is een speelgoedmodel, en de toren van de tovenaars is vele jaren geleden door mezelf gebouwd (naar een model dat in de allereerste versie van Warhammer uit 1983 getekend stond). De ambassade van Cathay is een resin gebouw uit de Old Glory Boxer Rebellion reeks. De figuren zelf zijn hoofdzakelijk Citadel, Ral Pharta en Harlequin, met uitzondering van de Tijgergarde (opnieuw Old Glory) en de Musketiers (Redoubt). Om een aantal niet-traditionele elementen in te bouwen in de scenery was er o.a. een Zoo met Magische Beesten (enkel open op zondag!) en het Betoverde Bos met niet zo vriendelijk uitziende paddestoelen.
De spelregels zelf werden bewust zeer eenvoudig gehouden. Uiteraard draaide alles nog steeds om de resource cards, zoals in het originele spel. Verder ben ik een sterk aanhanger van het hoe-eenvoudiger-hoe-beter principe. Het laat de spelers toe om zich veel meer op de actie te concentreren, dan wel bezorgd te zijn over het opzoeken van allerlei obscure bonussen of modificaties. Zoals met vele van mijn miniature games schrijf ik de regels zelf, specifiek voor een bepaald scenario. Dat zorgt vanzelf voor simpliciteit, en laat toe om de regels echt te ontwerpen rond de effecten die je in het spel wil creëeren.
De spelavond zelf verliep vrij vlot. De spelers hadden voordien via e-mail een briefing gekregen, zodat men niet onvoorbereid kwam opdagen. Nadat iedereen toegekomen was en voorzien was een drankje, stelde elke speler in-game zichzelf voor (dit is het moment waarop je vermommingen en grappige accenten kan bovenhalen), en was er een halfuurtje tijd voor onderhandelingen en plannen maken. Dit hielp vooral om de juiste ‘mood’ voor het spel te creëeren. Het spel nadien op de tafel was uiteraard het hoogtepunt, en verliep bij momenten zeer spannend. Een groot voordeel van een vijand die volledig door de spelmeester gecontroleerd wordt, is dat de tegenstand qua sterkte aangepast kan worden aan het moment, en op die manier de verhaallijn sterk gestuurd kan worden. In die zin is het uiteraard sterk gelijkaardig aan een klassiek rollenspel.
Na afloop waren alle spelers vrij enthousiast, en werd het spel unaniem als geslaagd beschouwd.
 And finally a few additional pictures:

Monday, 5 January 2015

What will we do in 2015?

Let's make some (realistic?) wargaming plans for 2015....
  1. More games. 2014 has not been a game-rich year. This was partly due to the construction of my own wargaming room (although I see it was finished last february ...), but mostly because my real job was a bit tough at times. Let's hope 2015 is different.
    What type of games then? That is very hard to predict, but almost a certainty is that I would like to continue our Antares campaign, and do an ACW campaign of some sorts (using hour own houserules, and one of the CS Grant scenario books).
  2. Crisis in Antwerp  is always the annual high-point of the wargaming year in these parts of the world. We have been running games there since 1997. Every year we have a chat about whether we are going to do another game the next year, and we always have a game in the end, although sometimes enthusiasm is lacking. Sometime, I would like to attend Crisis as a convention visitor, rather than a game organizer. Co-blogger Bart already mentioned he has some clever ideas for Crisis 2015, so my visiting and shopping spree will probably not happen in 2015 ;-)
  3. More painting. As I have stated several times before on this blog, I am significantly reducing my mountain of unpainted lead and plastic. I have converged to a point at which I found the compromise between speed and painting quality. I know I will never be an award-winning painter, but I can be a good-enough painter producing figures to be played with.
  4. Rules Design. I love writing and developing my own rules. Perhaps 2015 will be the year in which we finally start developing our ultimate fantasy ruleset? This has become a running joke in our little gaming group, since we have been talking about this for years.
    The core problem is to find a good angle at which to approach this. I do like writing rules, but I also believe one should not just make a clone of an existing ruleset. A housewritten ruleset should have some original core components. E.g. our Antares rules are focused around the die vs distance mechanic, and action points per figure mechanic.
  5. Write 1 or 2 articles for one of the glossies. We have been writing quite a lot over the past 3 years or so. Let's proselytize some more!
And since every blogpost should have a picture, here's an old one from 1994. A game called the "Siege of Kierkegaarde", played in The Lonely Mountain gameshop in my hometown of Leuven.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Old Undead (2)

In an earlier post, I reported on the old undead figures from Grenadier that I acquired. Now they are painted. I had to replace one arm from a figure, for which I used an old skeleton arm holding a spear from the old Skeleton Army boxed set from Citadel. I toyed with the idea of constructing a dart thrower from balsa wood, since two figures apparently were crew members, but decided against it in the end.

Anyway, below you see the result. Picture taken with iPad.