Monday, December 15, 2014

It's My Birthday And I'll Play Warpath If I Want To

Taking a page from hardball Chicago politics, I used my influence as club organizer earlier this month (and my birthday!) to push for a big game of Warpath in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. We typically play skirmish games here at CSW, but plenty of members have entire legions of 40k figures carefully packed away in foam trays, and this was the perfect excuse to get them all onto the table! Here's how it all went down. (Skip to Parts II and III if you just want the battle.)

Part I. 40k Apocalypse via Warpath 1.0
For those unfamiliar with Warpath 1.0, it is the predecessor to the current Warpath rules, and is essentially the fantasy version of Kings of War with a few sci-fi bits bolted on. Even though they have been supplanted by the current iteration of Warpath, you can download the 1.0 rules for free on Warseer.

The current Warpath 2.0 rules have moved the game beyond simple "Kings of War in Spaaaace!" I still prefer the more streamlined and abstract 1.0 rules, though.

I like giant battles in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but I don't like the 40k rules. Games Workshop's well-known sci-fi battle game is, in my opinion, a serviceable platoon-level game, good for 25 to 35 figures and a vehicle per player, but over the years it has been unfortunately been scaled up to the company level, resulting in battles featuring 80+ figures and multiple vehicles and without the necessary streamlining of mechanics.

If that weren't enough, over the last three editions 40k has become bogged down with almost RPG-like levels of granularity and complexity, with the addition of layer upon layer of special rules. Even the 40k "Apocalypse" rules for battles at the battalion level don't actually reduce the complexity of the system -- they just pile on more special rules. The result is that a game of "Apocalypse" 40k can take -- no exaggeration here -- a day or more to play out.

Enter Warpath, which -- despite what it's creators will say -- is essentially just a skillfully executed and heavily streamlined version of Warhammer 40k. Most of the army lists for Warpath have direct unit-for-unit analogues in 40k, and even the points values and abilities of the comparable units are similar.

Warpath 1.0 is not supported any more, but the four army lists provide enough stat-lines to represent most 40k units with a little tweaking. Of course, that wasn't going to be quite enough, as we also decided we wanted to have titans and superheavy tanks in our battle.

Jon was brave enough to take this on! Check out his custom rules supplement below.

Part II. Game Setup
Each player was assigned a certain number of points and allowed one superheavy unit beyond that, resulting in about 6,000 points per side. Here is the order of battle (Warpath army list used in parentheses).

Forces of Evil
  • Karl - 2,500 points of Rebel Imperial Guard (Corporation) and a Wolfhound Titan
  • Jon - 2,500 points of Orks (Marauders) and a Stompa

Forces of the Imperium
  • Mike - 1,750 Points of Imperial Guard (Corporation) and a Baneblade Superheavy Tank
  • Tim - 1,750 Points of Imperial Guard (Corporation) and a Baneblade 
  • Josh - 2,000 points of Dark Angel Space Marines (Forgefathers) 

We scored the battle based on a combination of enemies killed and objectives seized. Mike's beleaguered Imperial Guard defenders set up in the central complex (fortress, chapel and mining building) in the middle.

The attackers -- me and Jon -- set up on one side and the rescuers -- Josh and Tim -- setup on the other side. This pic shows Mike's Guardsmen in the middle with Tim's rescuing tank company on the way and Jon's rampaging Orks on the other side.

And here we see my traitor Guardsmen invading the city. Pay no attention to the lack of shading on nearest two tanks. I built and painted them for this game and hadn't quite finished them yet…

Josh brought a jaw-dropping 35 Dark Angels Terminators!

Part III. The Game

The first turns were largely uneventful, consisting mostly of movement with some long range firing to and from the Imperial Guard defenders in the center of the field. Like many games, Warpath is designed for a 4x8 foot table, and the ranges reflect this. Our table measured 6x10 feet, so it was some time before the majority of the forces came in range.

The game quickly seemed to separate into the Orks vs Imperial Guard and Traitor Guard vs Dark Angels.

The trio of Rebel Basilisks, however, used their long range and indirect fire to pour devastation into the troops on the tower and would continue to do so for most of the game. With three shots coming down per turn, it was reliably deadly.

By the second turn, Valkyrie gunships swept onto the field, doing some serious damage to the Ork rear guard.

 The Dark Angel Nephilim wreaked similar havoc on the Rebel Guardsmen.

By this time, the Imperial Guard armor had presented itself in force and was savaging the Ork line. Mike had wisely included a lot of armor in his Imperial Guard army.

In addition, he skipped most of his infantry options in order to include a Knight Titan. His prudent choices paid off as the combatants drew near.

In the city, the Knight Titan moved close enough to fire on the Dark Angels. Return fire immobilized its legs, but the weapons remained deadly and functional.

In the third turn, two Rebel tanks emerged from reserves. Per the rules in Warpath 1.0, I brought them in on the flank, 36 inches forward (one foot per turn).

By this time, Rebel armor, heavy weapons and walkers were close enough to deal some serious damage to the Dark Angels, destroying several units in a single turn.

On the opposite flank however, the Orks were suffering under the Imperial advance.

The Stompa's head was blown off, and though that didn't destroy the giant war machine, it drastically reduced its effectiveness as the crew struggled to control it.

Concentrated fire from the Imperial Guard armor caused further casualties across the Ork line and to the Traitor Guardsmen holding the center.

At this point we called the game. It was only turn 3, but we had started about an hour late and had run out of time. (Editor's note: It appears Warpath 1.0 gives a complete 40k experience, right down to being unable to finish the game!)

In the end, despite doing serious damage and holding three of the five objectives, the Orks and Traitor Guardsmen came up short to the forces of the Imperium.

Part IV. Observations

Reaction to this game was mixed. Two of us absolutely loved it, two of the players liked it with some reservations, and one player reported that we have other games in our stable capable of giving a better game experience.

Though we only made it to turn three, each player turn took less than 30 minutes, which is not bad for a game featuring three players who had never played before, and two players who had only played a couple of times over the last year.

With more games under our belt, I think we could eliminate most rulebook flipping and cut the playing time nearly in half. One major lesson we learned is the importance of making sure that all players have some anti-armor weapons in their force. Josh's force lacked a way to handle tanks and titans, and it proved to be a major disadvantage. I think this will be solved in the future by changing the heavy weapons selections for some of the vehicles and troops and making use of some of the anti-armor close combat and short-ranged weapons available to many units.

For my part, I really enjoyed the whole experience. It is not a complicated game, but for those times when you just want a massive, somewhat ridiculous battle, it fits the bill. Warpath certainly captures the spirit of 40k: cramming an insane number of troops and vehicles onto a comparatively small battlefield. I have no patience for the 40k rules anymore, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for the minis and the background, and this definitely scratches that itch.

Also, I've still got quite a number of 40k kits in storage, and a game like this is just the excuse I need to get them painted up. All of this is to say: I definitely hope we'll be playing this again. It fits my personal preferences for fun and streamlined rules that don't get in the way of my favorite part of wargaming: the spectacle of painted armies clashing on the tabletop, which drew me and so many others into the hobby years ago. That is something we certainly delivered in this game.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member
-- Photos by Josh, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Thanks to Josh for providing the massive central fortress, Jon for providing the Stompa and Warhound, and Mike for bringing a metric ton of tanks to the game.

Friday, December 12, 2014

More Reinforcements: Trebuchets for Kings of War

The Kings of War arms race continues! After our game in November, several club members have been busily bulking up their Kings of War armies with new acquisitions. My latest find came via eBay: the "Lords of Madness Trebuchet" from the prepainted D&D Miniatures product line.

I was very impressed by the prepainted Mage Knight artillery that Pat has been fielding in his undead army, so when this item was mentioned on Dakka Dakka, I hunted it down so that my Kings of War chaos army wouldn't lack artillery on the battlefield.

The stock model looks like this.

At $6-10 each on ebay, it's currently the least expensive trebuchet available to the 25/28mm wargamer. It's not for everyone and it has some styling that is not historical, but it would work well for virtually any fantasy army. The only change you might want to consider is to cover up the screaming face motifs for non-evil forces.

As seen in the picture below, it's got some rough edges and flash. I could have cleaned those up and repainted the model, but I wanted to go for a a fast-finish, tabletop-quality operation. Here's what I came up with.

It's a little small, to be honest, but a full-size trebuchet is an enormous war engine, and not something well suited to a game requiring maneuvering. The figure in the picture is a Warhammer Battlemasters Chaos Warrior. He's 28mm to the eye and very heroic in proportion.

Kings of War allows for unbased war machines, but you can also base them on 50x50mm or 50x100mm bases. These are based on 70x50mm bases and they look perfectly useable on the tabletop battlerfield.

To avoid covering up the tiny wheels, I skipped my usual basing material of concrete patch and instead based with sand, rocks and bark glued down with water-thin superglue. I wanted it to be obvious that the rocks were placed around the wheels for stabilization.

I've begun to use thin superglue a lot recently. It's not as cheap as PVA and can get messy fast if it flows the wrong way, but you can glue down your basing material almost instantly and start painting with almost no dry time in between.

Did I mention that I bought three of these trebuchets?

Bottom line, this is a great, affordable war engine option for fantasy wargaming. You can buy a whole unit of these for less than the price of one metal model. It might even work for smaller scales, though the timbers would be quite stout. Being made of vinyl, it will never be quite as crisply detailed as metal, plastic or resin, but if you're looking for a sturdy tabletop-quality model, this is highly recommended.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Unusual Source for Metal Figure Bases

I like metal bases. I don't like paying for them, however, and I don't like washers as bases. It's probably a result of being raised on Games Workshop, but I want my bases to have nice crisp sides. It's also nice for a base to have a depression, especially for miniatures that have cast-on bases.

I don't know of any round metal bases with a depression, which is why a bag of these arrived at my house earlier this month.

They are readily available on eBay. If you are searching for them, they are called Pendant Tray Bases, 25mm. I did some searching and scored a pack of 30 for $6 shipped! They have a "lace" pattern inside and on the back.

Apparently they are made to have a jewel or some sort of decorative glass bit put into them. They are about 27mm across, with an interior exactly 25mm.

With a good pair of snips, a rough file and a finishing file, it's not much work at all to remove the tabs. What you're left with is a 27mm base that is 2mm high, one mm shorter than a standard slotta-base (which coincidentally will fit right into the middle depression).

You could also glue a figure to the flat "bottom" side. I might do this and use the lace pattern as the basing for some figures. However, where these will really shine is for minis with cast-on bases.

It hides most of the figure on the left, a Shadowrun Native American. It is exactly flush with the base of the figure on the right. On a whim, I tossed one into paint stripper and it came out two days later looking almost exactly the same. Apparently the bronze coat over the silver colored metal is bonded very well.

To sum up, this is a base with some real advantages. We're always on the hunt for fun, cheap and/or nifty bases for 28mm models. It's got more basing room (25mm) in the interior than both the top of a 25mm slotted base or the inside of a 30mm Privateer Press style base (both have 23mm of basing areas). It can also be used flat side up for a full 27mm of basing area which is almost the same space as the top of Games Workshop 30mm bevel-sided base.

The only disadvantage is that so much of my foam storage is setup for 25mm bases, but I can make accommodation for bases this size as well!

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Dogs & the Dust Homebrew Sci-Fi

Last week Mattias and I huddled up in his apartment to try out The Dogs & the Dust, the homebrew sci-fi game that he is writing. Though it's still a work-in-progress, Mattias (pictured above) plans to publish the completed game one day in the not-too-distant future. The "alpha" version that we playtested gave a good overview of the main rules engine, combat and crew creation.

The game itself is inspired by any number of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic milieus where desperate fighters clash over priceless relics, ancient technology, territory, bragging rights, much-needed supplies or whatever else you could imagine. Here is Mattias's introduction from the rulebook:

The Dogs and the Dust is a fast-playing science fiction/science fantasy miniatures skirmish game. It is easy to learn, but satisfyingly crunchy (or it’s intended to be, at least). It is a narrative game, and the narrative can take place in pretty much any setting. The model count is low (but flexible). And -- this should go without saying, but whatever -- you can use any models you like.

In TD&TD you play as the leader of a ruthless Crew of scavengers, scrappers, enforcers, marines, assassins, aliens, robots, soldiers of fortune, vigilantes, space pirates, regular pirates, or anything else you can imagine - so long as what you imagine involves a small group of heavily armed and desperate men, women, creatures, and/or things fighting for survival in the distant or the not so distant future (or the recent or not so recent retro-future).

Before the game, he told me to bring over an assortment of sci-fi figures, which is exactly what I did ... a bunch of assorted Pig Iron, Shockforce and Necromunda dudes led by a Reaper Chronoscope commando. Mattias fielded his sci-fi punks, and we faced off on a dusty, windswept battlefield dominated by a big ol' shanty compound surrounded by wreckage, rubble and weird trees.

In TD&TD, you roll 1d6 for each figure in your warband at the start of the turn. You'll keep these dice together to form your activation pool, which is used to activate your figures throughout your turn. Each time you nominate a figure to activate, you must use one or more activation dice from your pool ... the higher the number, the more activations you get.

Since your activation pool is public information available to both you and your opponent at the start of each turn, there's a complex interplay between these two mechanics. Do you spend that six to get extra actions for your henchman? Or do you save the six and spend a lower dice so you can have a chance to react with your leader later in the turn?

The game has a reaction system not unlike those featured in Tomorrow's War or Chain Reaction (though not nearly as complex). The reaction system in TD&TD is robust enough to keep the inactive player on his toes when it's not his turn, lest he miss an important chance to react and swing the tide of the battle.

We played a typical "seize the table quarters" scenario, which turned out to be a great way to experience the game. Weapons in TD&TD have infinite range, but each different type of ranged weapon gets a bonus if it is within its "effective range," which encouraged players to get in close for maximum damage. In the pic below, my sniper was perched atop the shanty compound trying to pick off Mattias's armadillo-man.

He succeeded, but in doing so he neglected the flank, where Mattias was able to move up a pair of goons, one of whom killed this nice chap who was just sitting in the back of this wrecked truck, minding his own business with an assault rifle in his hands.

We improved and clarified various rules on the fly as we went along. One bit that we enjoyed was the rule for evades. These are special short moves that are imposed upon figures based on the outcomes of various dice rolls, mainly ties in ranged and close combat. Basically, the evading figure dives for cover, which can really impact your strategy if it happens at the wrong time. But it's a fun, realistic mechanic in a game that doesn't have a true morale system.

When a figure dies, the player is faced with a choice: he can "burn" an activation dice by permanently removing it from the pool he rolls at the start of each turn to revive a dead character. But of course this reduces the effectiveness of his crew for the rest of the game, and it begins to offer diminishing returns ... do you burn dice to keep your guys around, or do you soldier on with the remaining few and attempt to complete the mission? Both are viable strategies, as we found in our game.

By the end of the game, we agreed that I had squeaked out a victory by claiming one table quarter, while Mattias and I contested the other three.

The rules themselves seemed ripe for expansion. We imagined all sorts of special rules and abilities that could expand on the core of TD&TD, including rule for psychics or magic users! Mattias was taking notes as fast as he could for the inevitable update to the alpha rules.

We expect to play more games of The Dogs & the Dust in the future. It's a solid game that definitely fills a niche for quick-play sci-fi skirmish gaming. We hope to share more about these work-in-progress rules in the future.

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chicago Painter Retrospective: John Stachura

Occasionally we cross paths with old-school painters and gamers from the early days of the hobby. Last year I bought some unpainted miniatures from John Stachura, and as part of the deal he included a small batch of painted medieval figures that I eventually put to good use in our skirmish games. You can see them in the photo above. The classic styling and detail prompted me to get back in touch with John to learn a little bit more about his involvement in the hobby, both historically and today. Hope you enjoy this interview retrospective!

CSW Karl: When did you get started gaming? Were you a painter from day one?

John Stachura: I started gaming back in the early 1970s and originally used Humbrol enamels as my choice of paints. To put it in perspective a little better, I think my 5-year-old grandson could have done better. At this stage of painting, I still didn’t have a clue on even how to get paint to flow smoothly from my brush to the figure. I eventually figured it all out and started to experiment with the enamels.

Karl: I hear you won some awards as you were just getting started...

John: Yes, these are part of my 25mm Napoleonics that earned me “Best of Show” at a convention back in 1979, as I finally started to figure it all out on how to paint.

I also won the Wargame Award from Military Miniature Society of Illinois show the same year.

I pretty much cleaned up for the next few years in all the painting competitions, so I retired from entering any figures at the local conventions and ended up judging most of the painting competitions during this time. The only other competition I did enter was the Armory National painting competition, which was judged at the 1985 Gen Con convention.

The rules were simple. First, the figures had to be painted utilizing Armory acrylic paints, and second, you had to paint a knight from the assortment of knights currently available from Grenadier Miniatures. You could do some conversions to the figures, which I did by adding in different crests to their helms, wine bottle lead to the back of their helms, and some reanimation of the arms. I thought this shouldn’t be too hard, right?!

Karl: But up until now, you had only used enamels, right?

John: Yes. This was to be my first foray into using acrylics. There was enough of a learning curve to make me rethink why am I doing this. I didn’t attend Gen Con that year because of some family commitments, and Jeff and Rich from Games Plus took my entry up with them to Gen Con for the competition. I saw Jeff the next weekend after Gen Con, and I think he was more excited than I was. I ended up winning the Masters Vignette category in the competition and with it came a gold medal and a $500 gift certificate to Games Plus! Below are the images of my winning entry.

Karl: That's amazing, considering that this was all converted from stock metal Grenadier sculpts. What came next?

John: Over the years I’ve painted up plenty of stuff:
  • Medieval armies in 15mm and 25mm
  • 15mm Starship trooper company (yes, we did this back in the 80s)
  • 25mm French Revolutionary Army (currently part of the collection of one of my friends from the West Coast)
  • 15mm Napoleonic Naval (no pics, but still part of my collection) 
  • Warhammer 40,000 figures for Space Crusade and Space Hulk (currently in the collection of one of my best friends) 
  • 25 mm Minifig French Napoleonic Army (mostly in the collection of a dear friend from Canada)
  • 18mm Napoleonic French and Prussian armies for 1806 (images below ... this is what I’m currently working on) 
  • And assorted minis from Thunderbolt Mountain's Arthurian range

If you been a reader of Wargames Illustrated, I think images of some of my Thunderbolt Mountain figures are in issue #123. My daughters have already threatened me with bodily harm if I sell any of them off, and they've already divided them up on who gets what. I also have a good size group of Dragon 1/6 scale figures that I play skirmish games in the backyard with my grandson, Will.

Here are the 18mm Napoleonics.

Here's my stuff from Thunderbolt Mountain.



Karl: Very impressive! You know, you've got the makings of a nice warband for Song of Blades & Heroes! They would be welcome on our game table anytime.

John: Thanks! I don’t really consider myself an artist, though my two daughters are. One majored in arts and the other studied illustration as a minor alongside her nursing degree. They are both very talented artists. My claim to fame is I’ve formulated a technique that I’ve refined over the years I’ve been painting, so I pretty much experiment while getting the figures to look a certain way. My daughters have told me that I have a great eye for colors, which has probably helped me the most.

Karl: It definitely shows in these photos. Thanks a lot for sharing them with us. Any parting advice for long-suffering painters?

John: Just soldier on, gents, and keep experimenting with your painting techniques! Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with your own accomplishments!

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member
-- Photos by John Stachura