Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Warband Project, Part One

Since becoming involved in Chicago Skirmish Wargames, I’ve made it my mission to collect a diverse array of fantasy miniatures from a variety of manufacturers and game lines. Because the games we play don’t require any particular set of figures, I've been able to pick up pretty much any old miniature, kit or blister pack that caught my interest over the years – safe in the knowledge that eventually it would hit the table in some sort of skirmish battle.

Now I’ve come to a sort of retrospective point. The last five years of collecting, painting and gaming has left me with a huge collection of battlefield-ready fantasy figures. Some are veterans of many campaigns, with unique characters and legendary battlefield exploits. Others haven’t yet tasted the fury of battle and await their first chance at glory.

Here, then is the Warband Project – Part One: my attempt at categorizing and showcasing the many warbands I’ve put onto the battlefield over the last five years of gaming with Chicago Skirmish Wargames.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Many figures remain carefully packed away in figure cases, awaiting their moment on the battlefield. This particular post also doesn’t include my dwarves and undead collections – both of which have grown to the point where they are armies in their own right, suitable for skirmish gaming or Kings of War-scale mass battles.

Defenders of the Battle-Forge

This warband was inspired by the adventuring crew featured in an old-school AD&D/OSRIC campaign I played years ago. My character, Kjeld the Battle-Priest, explored the wilderlands with a motley band of fighters, treasure-seekers and ne’er-do-wells. Eventually Kjeld attracted a small group of followers, based around his Battle-Forge in a frontier village. He is the bearded guy with the big hammer in this photo, and he’s surrounded by his porters, hirelings and stalwart allies.

Vaxion’s Black-Hearted Brigands

Where there are heroes, there must also be villains. Vaxion is a highwayman by trade and has attracted the dregs of society to his grim cause. These guys are ideal for any scenario where you need some basic bad guys to harass and interdict another player.

Raiders of the Edelmark Sewers

There are … things … lurking in the tunnels and drainpipes beneath the city of Edelmark. This warband is just a snapshot of one such group that took part in an incursion onto the streets of the unsuspecting city. A foul troll leads the way, followed by stinking, chittering ratmen, along with a putrid swamp monster. Who knows what else lurks in the ichor-spattered corridors of the Edelmark catacombs?

Duke Baldric’s Overland Escort

When Duke Baldric makes his months-long circuit to inspect his frontier holdings, he is accompanied by a trusted escort of hard-bitten warriors. Led by Duke Baldric (ahorse, with the winged helm), Sir Hershel and Terfidor the Azure Mage, this warband was originally created for a scenario where they had to escort Duke Baldric across the battlefield. Since then their numbers have grown (or shrank) based on the number of fighters that Duke Baldric was able to muster over the years.

The Cursed Horsemen of Frostvale 

In the wind-scoured wastelands of the far north, where snow-frosted trees cling to craggy mountains and men wrap themselves in furs the year round, a band of horsemen sallies forth to raid the barely civilized lands to the south. In their wake, men whisper of a terrible curse that lies heavy upon the warband -- and of unspeakable barbarity that grips the fighters in the heat of battle. Woe to those who spy the Cursed Horsemen of Frostvale at the gates of their village of an autumn evening!

These are horsemen of chaos, definitely evil, probably cannibals, who occasionally ally with the Scourge of Longrieve (see below).

Findrel the Navigator and the Moonbeam Company 

Findrel (the armored elf in the center with the upraised hand) has been part of my collection for years, but I never had a decent group of elven warriors to send into battle alongside him – until now. The cavalry and infantry figures were commissions from a speedy contract painter and arrived just a few weeks ago. As such, the Moonbeam Company has not taken part in significant battles to date.

The story behind the warband is that they are the crew of a majestic elven sailing ship called the Moonbeam that was abandoned off the coast of Qaarra after a storm many years ago. Since then, they have been investigating reports of a spectral ghost ship glowing in the moonlight, which appears on an ill wind all along the troubled shores of the continent. Will they ever find their way back to their vessel?

Grubb’s Bonecrushers

Sometimes you just need some orcs or goblins to stand between the adventurers and their goal. Grubb's Bonecrushers fulfills this role admirably. In my mind, they're hobgoblins, sort of halfway between orcs and goblins. These are some of the oldest minis in my current collection, having been painted back in 2009 or so. (Hardly ancient, I know, but still....)

The Scourge of Longrieve

After the doom-cloud had swept across Qaarra and the fearful population had been left to quake and mourn, the mysterious Leathern Gate in the northern mountains opened once again, briefly creating a portal between Qaarra and the Wyrdwold. From the grimacing doorway came the Scourge of Longrieve, a band of raiders, cutthroats and foul creatures bent on looting the jewels of Qaarra. They broke like a wave upon the idyllic village of Longrieve, earning their name through senseless butchery and slaughter.

In game terms, this was my attempt to make a true chaos warband for last summer’s SBH campaign. I tossed together a whole bunch of disparate models: a mindflayer, a sorceror, two gnolls, an orc, an anti-paladin, maybe a few others. It was a lot of fun to get them all on the battlefield together.

The Hour of the Rat

When the Clock of Omens strikes thirteen, families know to bar the door and place their heaviest cook-pots atop open drains and sewer pipes. For it is the Hour of the Rat, when the chittering hordes surge from the under-depths, led by fearsome chaos ratmen armored in scavenged mail and plate, and wielding blades of corrupted steel. They visit the surface world to raid for treasure and slaves -- but the day may yet come when these ratmen do not slink back into the catacombs at dawn, but instead stay to rule the realm that they have conquered.

This is an old-school Skaven warband composed of some vintage Citadel miniatures. They can easily ally with the Raiders of the Edelmark Sewers or the Scourge of Longrieve for larger scenarios featuring chaos foes.

That's all for now! I'll be back soon with the next installment, featuring an assortment of warbands drawn from my undead and dwarf armies, plus some leftover figures that don't currently have a home.

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, February 20, 2015

Six Dollar Sci-Fi Tanks from Russia

I've got a bargain on the desk today -- it's a 28mm "Bronekorpus" tank kit from Russia, made by Tehnnolog, the company best known for its Robogear line of mech kits.

Tim and I bought a pack of 10 of these kits on eBay. Shipping ranges from $1-$2 for each tank. As you'll see below, it's not a perfect product, but it's a solid model with a lot of options and a great bargain.

Here are the 19 parts that makeup the kit.

I don't know how they come from the factory, but mine arrived already off the sprue in a plastic bag. The casting is well done and the plastic is a polystyrene that feels very similar to that used by Games Workshop and other wargames companies. It's easy to clip, cut, scrape, file and glue.

Here's the hull and treads:

The front and back pieces and hatches:

The turret and turret weapons options:

The first of the three weapons can either be left as is or given one of two muzzles. The third weapon is a plasma-type gun that will be familiar to those who have built Robogear kits.

Here is a selection of secondary weapons:

The dual missile launcher is a single cast piece of a Robogear weapon that was formerly 3 pieces (rack and two missiles).

The last item can be assembled as a small anti-personnel laser or as a radar array.

Construction Notes and the Flaws
Everything in this kit be pushed or snapped together. There's no reason to use glue if you don't want to, and some gamers might wish to leave the kit with as many options as possible. The turret weapons slide right on from the bottom when you take the turret off.

Rather clever, eh?

However there are a few design flaws, First, if you put the mini-turret on the lower hull surface, the main gun will hit it.

This can be remedied by shaving away the round rim on the lower hull and/or the rim on the mini-turret.

Secondly, and most annoyingly, no matter how you assemble the treads (they can slope forwards or backwards) you end up with a gap between the treads and the lower section of the hull.

This can be remedied by filling the gap with putty or plastic card, or by raising the hull up. It's a small matter to clip away the mounting pegs on the side of the hull and just glue the treads a bit further down the body. Here's what the difference looks like between the raised hull and assembling the model as intended. The figure in the picture is exactly 29mm from sole to eyeline.

I think the raised hull looks better, though the top edge of the hull side has no detailing whatsoever as the model designers intended for it to be mostly obscured by the treads. Not a major problem, but worth noting.

Lastly, when assembled with the bottom of the front treads overhanging (like most modern tanks) the treads will face the wrong way.

Warhammer 40,000 Comparison
Here's how it compares to an Imperial Guard Leman Russ Battle Tank by Games Workshop. It's quite a bit shorter.

Even my raised version is stunty by comparison.

However, the footprint is actually quite close.

The BroneKorpus is about 1/8th inch shorter in length and 1/4 inch smaller in width, not counting the Leman Russ side sponsons.

Options, Options, Options
One of the best things about this kit is the many ways in which it can be assembled. Here are a few of them.

First up, a sleek, no-frills main battle tank.

And here's a similar version, but this time with a rack of missiles, some comms gear and the bulldozer front.

Reversing the hull to put the lower section in the rear and the dozer front gives it a bit more of a 40k look.

And don't think that main battle tanks are the only thing this kit does. Lose the main turret and you've got a nice little armored personnel carrier.

Though this isn't bad either.

Add the big missiles and you've got a missile carrier. 

Stacking two of these missile pairs on top of each other could cool too.

For use with my 28mm Mech Attack games, I'll probably go with this simple configuration: raised hull, single main gun.

Though not intended for 40k, I'll probably put a Space Marine tank hatch on top of the turret, as it has nice detailing (and I've got a bunch in the bits bin).

No matter how you assemble yours, you'll end up with a batch of great parts for converting other vehicles. Here's a use for the second set of muzzles. They look like rocket pods rather than gun muzzles so that's what I used them for.

This "Destroid Monster" kit had four ridiculously long cannons, but I removed them and glued the rocket pods in their place. Macross fans will likely disagree, but I think it's an improvement.

Final Assessment
There is no other sci-fi tank kit in this price range with this kind of quality and usefulness. It's not a perfect kit, but the few flaws are easy to remedy or ignore. The sheer number of options in the kit means that gamers of many stripes should be able to find a use for it on their battlefield.

The size of the model suggests a light or medium tank, but who can say how big a tank will have to be in the future? I heartily recommend this kit to anyone who wants some armor and doesn't want to spend a lot of money.

 Lastly, I also encourage you to check out this review on Dakka Dakka, which inspired me to write this post. Most notably, it also has comparisons with Space Marine tanks.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chaos Ratmen, or the Origins of Skaven

Everyone has them: miniatures that for whatever reason, you associate strongly with your hobby origin story.

For me, these old-school Chaos Ratmen are some of those miniatures. Produced in 1986, these guys were a decade old when I arrived in wargaming in 1996. And although I never played Warhammer Fantasy, seeing these awesome figures in the pages of White Dwarf magazine really helped kindle my imagination in those early years. After an adolescence surrounded by the elves and dwarves of Tolkien lore, seeing a completely reimagined fantasy race -- imbued as they were with magic, mystery and lore -- was absolutely exhilarating.

Fast forward 15 years, and I managed to get my hands on a bag of loose, poorly painted Skaven models at the Games Plus gaming auction. At about $1 per figure, I knew it was a good price, but it wasn't until I pawed through the bag that I knew I'd found a real treasure trove.

The bag contained five "Chaos Ratmen" sculpted by Jes Goodwin, from the "C47" release back in 1986. This was the Skaven were a proper army ... these guys were just another type of Chaos mutant in the Warhammer World. These figures are just completely unique in a way that only old-school Citadel minis can capture. Here's the original sell-sheet.

Anyway, the bag included plenty of mid-1990s Skaven figures too, which are plenty awesome, as well as some Marauder and Harlequin rat-guys...maybe 12 figures in all. Everything went into paint stripper and I forgot about them until last weekend when, in a burst of inspiration, I dredged the Chaos Ratmen out of the depths of my lead mountain and gave them the brushwork they do dearly deserved.

I'm not sure if it's visible in these pics, but I deliberately tried to stick to a simple paint scheme in keeping with the old-school nature of these figures.

Doubtless they'll take to the battlefield soon enough, either in Song of Blades & Heroes or Open Combat!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

40k Gothic Terrain Sprue ... for Fantasy?!

Just last week I completed another brief terrain project. It's a small ruin created from the ubiquitous terrain sprue from the old Warhammer 40,000 3rd edition boxed set.

We've all seen these nifty pieces on tabletop battlefields for the better part of 18 years (has it really been that long?). Ideally they're painted and based, but I've seen plenty of unpainted wall sections rattling around the shelves of many a game store over the years.

Although designed for the far future battlefield, the shattered and pitted gothic walls and windows work just fine in a fantasy setting, too. There are explosions and shrapnel on fantasy battlefields, right?!

When I acquired these two corner sections from Mattias, one of them was missing the second-story ledge. So I fashioned a makeshift floor out of balsa wood, which gave me a great excuse to use a color other than gray on this piece of terrain!

I splashed some brown and green washes on the gray walls to add a little more color, then liberally applied flock and static grass to represent just how long this little ruin has been sitting in the wilderness, untouched and unexplored.

The rubble in the center is composed of broken Hirst Arts pieces, small stones and gravel. I used Gorilla Glue on this area, which expands as it dries to fill gaps between the rubble bits. Pro tip: After you've laid down your Gorilla Glue and arranged your large stone pieces, let it stand for 20 or 30 minutes, then come back. The glue should have expanded and foamed up quite a bit -- now, sprinkle some sand or gravel onto the expanding glue to add more texture. This is a great way of building up volume quickly and easily without having to wait for subsequent glue layers to dry.

The tall pieces of foliage are just plastic aquarium plants I pulled apart and attached with super glue.

I've got quite a collection of fantasy ruins at this point! Time to do a wilderness-style Mordheim game, maybe?

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Taking the Ruined Keep to the Next Level

I finally got some photos of a few terrain pieces I completed over last summer, fall and winter. You've probably spotted them in the background of our fantasy battle reports towards the end of last year!

These pieces started when I acquired the Scotia Grendel Ruined Keep kit, a very nice resin collection of tumbledown walls and ruined turrets. I knew I didn't want to assemble the kit exactly as it appeared in the studio photo (see below), so I decided to try my hand at carving stones and brickwork into blue foam chunks, then attaching the resin pieces on top to create a set of larger, more robust ruined fortress pieces that I could use either individually or grouped together.

It was my first time trying to carve foam by hand, so I just used a ballpoint pen.

This is the biggest piece from the lot: a broken wall capped by two ruined turrets. The whole thing is slowly being overtaken by the wilds, which fits perfectly with my fantasy wilderness setting.

Here's the next piece that came out of that Scotia Grendel kit: a ruined corner turret. This is just the resin piece attached to a larger wedge of blue foam, with stonework carved by hand into the base. The small trees are from a big bag of loose foliage I picked up on ebay for super cheap...I just put a bit of tacky glue on the tree trunks and pushed them into the foam.

The stairs are from one of my Dwarven Forge kits.

And here's the last piece: a corner with two walls and a small ledge for minis. The ledge isn't all that big, and the slope is too steep for most miniatures. Oops! It's still perfectly usable though.

These pieces were not meant to be symmetrical or to fit together in any particular way. I just wanted to make the most of the foam chunks that I had laying around.

It was a good learning experience. In retrospect I don't think the mortared areas between the stones came out quite dark enough to provide good contrast between the gray slabs. Otherwise I'm pretty satisfied.

I still have one circular turret piece and a small archway left from this kit, so there's probably one more terrain piece left in my future. Stay tuned!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member