Friday, May 22, 2015

Waterfront Sections with Hirst Arts Blocks

After making my previous batch of walls, I found that while I had used up all the basic block pieces, there were still quite a lot of pieces left in the Hirst Arts batch that Tim had given me. Sorting them out, I found a big pile of arches and some cobblestone floor pieces.

I already have a few bridges, but I've been thinking about adding some more waterfront or canal details to my medieval town terrain, so I got to work.

First, a few simple canal sides.

Here are a few more, this time with arched edges.

This last one I'm pretty proud of. There was quite a pile of these long arched pieces, so I flipped them over and made a sewer culvert. Just the thing for a party to escape into! And who knows what kind of monsters could crawl out of such a portal?

It should nicely break up the monotony of the water's edge and also block line of site a bit. It could also be used to create a patch of difficult terrain, which isn't always readily available in traditional town layouts. Culverts can be awfully slippery after all...

I'm considering adding a bit of water with some epoxy, but that will have to wait until later. Here's a couple of more possible waterside layouts.

The painting process was the same as before. Some dark tan housepaint (added a bit of black and brown craft paint to the mix) drybrushed with Delta Ceramcoat "Bamboo" and then sealed with Galeria Matt Varnish before adding a bit of flocking.

This pretty much exhausts what I can think of doing with this particular batch of blocks. Unless we do some casting, I probably won't be making any more Hirst Arts constructions anytime soon. That's probably a good thing, since I've got so many other projects in the queue (note the Reaper "Dragons Don't Share" ruins in the background), but this has definitely been a nice diversion from my usual figure and terrain projects.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fieldstone Walls with Hirst Arts Blocks

Last week Tim gave me a few bags of fieldstone bricks cast from his Hirst Arts molds. I had mentioned wanting to add a bunch of low walls to my fantasy village terrain, and he suggested this as a way to make them. Previously I'd only used random sci-fi Hirst arts pieces to decorate buildings, so I was curious to try making some small constructions. To the best of my knowledge, these fences use pieces from Fieldstone Molds # 70, 71, and 74.

I used almost every standard, half, and quarter-inch-high brick, along with a few embellishments, to make 20 walls. As usual, I adopted a fast painting process. This time it was a dark tan base coat with Delta Ceramcoat "Bamboo" as the heavy drybrushed highlight. A coat of Winsor Newton Galleria Acrylic Matte Varnish came next, followed with a bit of mossy foliage using cheap old-style sawdust flock. I painted and sealed the bottoms to help prevent chipping.

I experimented with several styles of fence in one-inch and three-quarter inch heights. Here's the head-on difference between the two heights with a 28mm figure mounted on a 3mm base.

The molds are nicely done, but sometimes the joins may result in funny areas where the fact that they are "blocks" are noticeable. A bit of flock can help to hide this.

I wanted to add a bit of variety, so here's an instance where I broke a half-inch slanted piece down to one-quarter inch. The plaster was just soft enough that I could scrape it to shape with my thumbnail. Then I glued it in the wall in a strip of other quarter-inch pieces to add a bit of irregularity. Hirst Arts also makes a "ruined" fieldstone mold for those who want lots of ruined sections.

Since fieldstone is irregular and the plaster is easily chip-able with a fingernail, it's a simple matter to break away the edge of any air bubble pockets in the bricks so they look like natural stone irregularities rather than casting errors. The three-quarter-inch wall below and its one-inch brother are notable in that they can be built entirely from the Hirst Arts Mold #70. You'll have to cast the mold fewer times if you make one-inch molds, since the mold only has a couple of half height (quarter-inch) pieces.

This wall piece is my favorite style, but the half-hexagon sides require an additional mold, the #74 Fieldstone Bridge.

My second favorite, but similar to the previous, the long slanted brick on the right requires another mold, #71 Fieldstone Accessories.

There you have it, a quick and easy way to make a variety of walls for providing cover and obstruction for the battlefields. I'm especially glad to have these, since it became apparent in our recent Lord of The Rings Strategy Battle Game how vital obstacles are to the game.

Look for these walls also in our upcoming summer Song of Blades and Heroes campaign. Special thanks to Tim for his generous donation of bricks!  One final note -- for those who lack a friend with with Hirst Arts molds or the desire to cast the bricks themselves, try asking around your internet forum or wargame conventions to find someone selling bags or boxes of Hirst arts bricks. This can be a very quick way of acquiring the bricks necessary to make your own fences and the like.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Monday, May 11, 2015

Game Report: LOTR Strategy Battle Game

Last week the club gave Games Workshop's "Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game" (LoTR SBG) a try. It's a game I've been obsessing over for some time, so it was nice to finally give it a go. Of course, being CSW, we weren't about to go out and buy a bunch of $80 rulebooks. Luckily, the "Return of the King" (ROTK) rulebook is commonly available online for $4-$9 shipped! To entice participation, I purchased a copy of the rulebook for every member of the club. (Editor's note: Wow!)

The ROTK rules are the third update to the game. Starting in 2001 there was a rulebook released for each film, followed by a fourth large hardcover version -- sometimes known as the "One Rulebook" -- and finally the current fifth edition, which was released for Hobbit films.

From what I've been able to deduce, the ROTK core rules are nearly identical to the 4th edition, which were themselves mostly unchanged in 5th edition. The book has a wide range of unit profiles and over a dozen scenarios, as well as rules for all manner of infantry, cavalry, weapons, heroes and more. It seems to be lacking rules for war engines and other specialized units that were released in various supplements before being collected in the fourth edition "One Rulebook."

I think ROTK is an excellent way to try the basic game rules at minimal cost. You can always decide later whether to buy a more current rulebook. Alternatively, a group could just stick with the ROTK rules, since the game doesn't have a massive player base anymore since Games Workshop doubled the cost of most miniatures, allowed many essential army books to go out of print, and generally neglected development of the game. Lastly, anyone interested in fantasy wargaming should consider ROTK as an affordable chance to read over a lovely (like all GW publications) rulebook containing a nicely developed ruleset by two of wargaming's best known authors, Rick Priestley and Alessio Cavatore.

The Scenario
We played the "Long Night" scenario from the ROTK book. It's basically a holdout scenario where a group of good guys attempts to fend off repeated attacks from an enemy who begins the game with less forces, but whose dead soldiers will automatically re-enter the game edge on the next turn.

You can see the layout above. For the purposes of the report, the fence with the gateway will be referred to as the "north", with the other fence sections being "east", "south" and "west" respectively. Since our table is narrower than the recommended 4 feet, two of the four enemy deployment zones were at the corners rather than the edges. As this was our first try of the rules, to simplify play, each of four players were given between 150 and 200 points to spend, but not allowed any heroes or mounted units. Mike and Terrence players played the Uruk Hai, represented by Celtos orc miniatures based in grey.

Tim and I played the Men of Rohan defenders, represented by Celt miniatures with tan basing. The minis were played WYSIWYG except that Celts with slings were counted as having bows.

Special thanks to Tim for providing both forces, giving us far more representative Middle-Earth-style figures than would have been the case if I'd provided proxies.

The Battle
The first turn was uneventful, with the Uruk Hai advancing on the village. On the west and south sides they split into two groups.

And on the other end of the village they advanced en-masse towards the east wall.

Meanwhile the Men of Rohan scarcely moved and only managed to send off a few ineffective arrows in the Uruks' direction.

In the second turn, the forces came to blows.

A couple of Uruks were slain and the Rohan line held with no casualties.

In the third turn, the first Rohan fighter fell, and a couple of Uruks managed to make it over the walls before being cut down.

Through all this, the Uruks had still not attempted to take the north wall, which was the only section with an open portal and the longest and likely hardest to defend portion of the defenses.

In the fifth turn, the Uruks began to realize that the defenders would not be defeated so easily, and they began to employ a bit more strategy.

Despite the chance of hitting their own men, their archers began firing into the melee, creating openings to be exploited by the following troops.

Though not crippled, the Rohan force was beginning to show some signs of weariness as the defenders began to dwindle and more and more Uruks assaulted the wall.

As reinforcements arrived, the Uruks began to send troops towards the north wall, though most of the battle remained at the other three corners until the sixth turn.

In the sixth turn, the Uruks made a strong push for the north wall and finally managed to establish a strong foothold inside the Rohan defenses.

We played one additional turn, but at this point it became fairly obvious that the Men of Rohan would not be able to hold out for what the scenario rules suggest would be 20 turns. Time was growing late, so we called the game.

Thoughts on the Rules 
The players' responses to the game were mixed. I really enjoyed it, Tim was not impressed at all and Terrence and Mike were not convinced either way, but said they'd be willing to try the game with the inclusion of Heroes (the game's designation for all units that can make use of the additional characteristics of "Might, Will and Fate").

LOTR is an interesting approach for a fantasy game. I'm not sure I know of any other game that attempts to put a platoon or more (20 to 50 figures) in the hands of each player and ask them to control each one miniature individually.

To make such a game function, the combat is extremely streamlined. There is an opposed roll to see who wins and a roll to see if one is wounded. Neither of these rolls seems to ever be modified, and there are no saving throws. This is a stark contrast to nearly every other GW game I've played, but it definitely fits the aim of the rules. The rules emphasize clever use of maneuver and terrain to allow your soldiers to most advantageously engage the enemy.

Though we didn't get too deep into them, the rules for weapons also add to the gameplay without adding complexity. Shields, spears and bows (among others) all have unique effects on combat, which is something lacking in games such as Song of Blades & Heroes.

Without Heroes, however, the game does feel a bit samey and dry. I suspect that they are the necessary flavor to make this a game worth revisiting. A couple heroes with relatively high point values would also help keep the game board from being completely crowded with low-point-value line troops. The recommended points values for this game were 200-250 per player, but line troops range from 6-10 points each. Without Heroes, that's a lot of individual minis for each player to command.

To sum up, I'm looking forward to playing this game again. Reading through the rulebook, it's packed with interesting scenarios that beg to be played. But because it's fairly rooted in the Middle-Earth world, this rulebook might not have what it takes to become a mainstay of the club. It has potential, and this first game has made me want to see more of it. So much so that between the game and the writing of this report I've built and painted 20 sections of fieldstone walls (post coming soon...) since the game seems to require a decent amount of barrier-type terrain.

If you have any advice regarding getting started with LOTR rules, notable experiences with them, or opinions on the current status of the game, I'd love to hear them.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"This Is Not A Test" Now Available!

Back in 2013 our club had the opportunity to playtest a new post-apocalyptic ruleset under development. We had a lot of fun offering feedback on "This Is Not A Test" from World's End Publishing, and now we're pleased to see that the game is available for purchase.

The PDF is available right now, and plans are afoot to produce a printed version. There's plenty of discussion about TNT (great acryonym!) over on the official Facebook group.

Perhaps most exciting are the miniatures that World's End Publishing has produced for this game. Some, like the Peacekeepers, represent official units in the game, but so far the line is generic enough that they'll work well on a variety of sci-fi, post-apoc, modern and pulp battlegrounds.

Doubtless we'll build some warbands this summer and try our luck in the irradiated Tri-State Wasteland!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, May 1, 2015

Little Wars 2015 Mech Attack Battle Report

Last Saturday, Tim and I met up at Little Wars to run our 28mm Mech Attack game. This was our third year running the game at Little Wars, and Mike C. also stopped by to lend us some dice and hang out.

This was the same scenario that we ran at Adepticon last month, and to be honest I didn't record the event quite as well, so this report will be a bit shorter. Suffice to say the attackers' (green) goal was to earn 15 points by destroying defenders' (grey) pillboxes of varying point values. The defenders' goal was to hold them back until the end of the game or destroy them all.

Even before the convention began, I knew we were off to a great start. Five of the eight spots were taken during preregistration a month before the convention. Even better, on the day of the game we had almost as many people waiting for a potential last-minute spot as we had players!

The game layout was similar to the previous convention, but we added a bunch of scatter terrain. It had no effect on gameplay but sure looked nice. The only additions were a bit of train track for the elevated train station, a batch of sci-fi shipping containers made from vintage Micro Machine playsets, and a transport truck.

Since we had twice as many players as at Adepticon, I gave every player only two units rather than three. This still resulted in 50 percent more units on the table, but didn't seem to affect the flow of the game.

The battle ended up being fairly straightforward. However, the younger players were quickly drawn to the idea that mechs could climb on top of buildings, and some dramatic scenes ensued. The actual result of the game was a bit of a surprise to me. I assumed that with more mechs on the table to block the attackers' slow advance, the game would certainly go to the defenders.

However, with only two units per player and each side activating one unit per player, the gameplay went quickly.

It took the attackers less than two hours (the game had three hours allotted) to destroy the three pillboxes and win the day.

With so much time left, I gave the players the choice of leaving, but those who stay could either continue the game or have a death match. They chose deathmatch! We reduced the playing area a bit, gave each player one mech and divided them into three teams. It took just an hour for one team to make enough kills that the others conceded.

Being able to play the same scenario with different numbers of players and units was very instructive. After two years, three conventions and at least five play-throughs, the scenario itself is very tight and players seem to enjoy it, but it's probably time to do something different. Two of the gamers from Little Wars 2014 came back this year, and we should probably give them a new experience next year. Also, it's clear that the players can handle more units than I am giving them. Maybe it's time to put infantry and vehicles back into the game, as we did in the first year we put on Mech Attack at Little Wars in 2013

Little Wars as a whole was a positive, if slightly mixed experience. As in the past, I was only able to be there for Saturday during the daytime, so I can't speak to the entire convention. Having a double helping of excited and interested gamers was really encouraging though. It's almost enough to make me run the game twice next year.

On the other hand, the Saturday morning flea market was two hours earlier than last year and half as interesting. Further, I just didn't find as much to love in the dealer section, which seemed even lighter than last year (which was down from the year before). I made a few nice finds (including a box of Oldhammer chaos warriors and two Rogue Trader commissars), but in total I dropped half as much cash as I have in the past. Buying and bargain hunting is one of my favorite parts of a convention, so that was a bit of a let-down. As for the general vibe of the convention, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and while the early morning had at first seemed a bit low in numbers, by midday it was plenty full of happy gamers.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Necromunda Campaign: Lower Wacker Hive, Session #1

Last Thursday marked the kickoff of Chicago Skirmish Wargames' first Necromunda campaign, tentatively titled "Lower Wacker Hive." (Chicago residents and regular visitors will recognize the inspiration for the name, which comes from Lower Wacker Drive, a mostly underground stretch of roadway that runs right through the guts of downtown Chicago.)

The campaign will be sporadic, with games every month or so, but we'll add updates as it progresses. We've happened to starting our campaign in the auspicious 20th anniversary year of Necromunda, which hit the stores in 1995. Yes, those of you having nostalgic feelings right now are indeed older than you thought

Anyhow, my battle was against Mike C., who brought his Goliath gang "The Juggernauts." I brought "Fjord's Folly," a Van Saar gang. We met near a nearly abandoned transit center for a classic Gang Fight scenario.

The Van Saar entered the field from the south and cautiously advanced.

While the Goliaths quickly rushed in from the north to take strong positions.

Some sporadic fire was exchanged, but no casualties were reported for the first couple turns. First blood was drawn when the Van Saar Ganger Gunborg hit Lago with a hunting rifle. The Goliath fighter went out of action a few turns later.

What had mostly been a two-dimensional game began to grow a bit in the third turn, when a couple combatants moved up onto the train tracks.

On the eastern flank, Bjorn unleashed a torrent of fire at the Goliath line, but suffered a failed ammo roll. Without a backup firearm, he decided to save himself and his beloved heavy stubber and opted to head for home. The second casualty of the evening came for Fjord's Folly when a Jaarl took down Spike with a blast from his plasma gun. One good turn deserves another, and Juggernaut Ganger Lefty shot down Hjalmar, a Van Saar juve.

On the east end of the battle, Iver and Kjeld took up flank positions, which discouraged Goliath movement, but they failed to do any damage for the entire game.

Shortly afterwards Stark, the Juggernaut leader, fired his grenade launcher. His aim was brutally accurate and took down the bolter-toting Erikki.

Fjord eventually climbed up onto the tracks, where he unloaded his plasma pistol at Shore on the stairs but completely missed the swift Goliath juve.

To make matters worse, Gunborg's hunting rifle also failed an ammo roll, and he began his retreat as well, stripping Fjord's Folly of the last of their long-range firepower.

Sensing an opportunity, the Goliaths regrouped and began a determined advance on the Van Saar positions.

Unfortunately a pair of failed ammo rolls for Stark and Mad Dog blunted the Juggernaut momentum significantly.

Frustrated with his inability to hit his target...

...Fjord rushed into contact with Shore, but the plucky Juve proved very resilient. Fjord failed to wound and they remained locked in combat. Lefty tried to flank the Van Saar positions on the west end, but was cut down.

A turn later, he went out-of-action and the Juggernauts bottled out. The game was over, but the after-game sequence had some surprises left. Necromunda requires that all gangers who are presently "down" on the table roll at the end of the game to see if they are just fine or if they go "out of action," which will then require a roll on the injury table. None of my gang had gone out and the members who were down all recovered successfully.

Unfortunately, Mike already had two members of his gang out of action, and his downed ganger rolled poorly and went out-of action as well. This put him at three out-of-action members compared to none for me, which meant I was able to seize one of his territories. Luckily all of Mike's guys all recovered, though Spike has suffered a head wound which leaves him susceptible to bouts of Frenzy or Stupidity.

Necromunda proved to be a very enjoyable game. The IGOUGO structure and use of to-hit and to-wound charts is a bit dated, but the game has a natural flow and nicely written scenarios that have held up very well for a two-decade-old ruleset.

I already feel that I've learned some important lessons. For starters, I definitely need to start giving some backup weapons to my gangers. We are using the Necromunda Community Edition (NCE) which is from the Yaktribe online community. It is a clarification the Living Rulebook (LRB), which was itself an online update to the Underhive edition of the Necromunda rules.

The Living Rulebook was the last version of Necromunda released by Games Workshop before they dropped the game, and the NCE seems to be a nice improvement. It's not a major overhaul, but does seem to clarify a number of vague rules situations, balance the factions, gear and scenarios a bit better and also add a few pieces of equipment.

It's only been one game, but the rules do seem to be well written and I think anyone considering trying Necromunda owes it to themselves to give NCE real consideration. Additionally, we're also using Yaktribe's online gang and campaign management tools. There are a few non-intuitive things about the programs, but overall I find them easy to use and especially useful for keeping track of how other gangs are progressing and keeping the names of gang members close-at-hand for writing battle reports.

Hope you enjoyed this, but it is just the beginning. Keep an eye on the blog for a writeup of Tim and Mattias' game, some Necromunda terrain I'm working on, and further campaign events.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member