Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve thoughts on my tabletop gaming.. I'm still an old man GM RPGer at heart

I've been heavily into boardgames and miniature games these last 10 years. I'm having some good times but I find myself losing interest in boardgames though.. While RPGs are so ephemeral - you got nothing to show for it at the end- boardgames are both ephemeral and so transient.

Though I'm too old to enjoy RPGs anymore, I am still an RPGer at heart. When I do play boardgames, I can tell my buddies are gunning to win with that look in their eye while I instead am trying to get into the role of whatever boardgame I'm in and "ham" it up in the couple of hours we're playing it.. They even tease me about not winning as if that is my main goal, which it's not. What I did get was a couple of hours of RPG-esque "acting", and that to me is a gaming win. Still, it's only a couple of hours and it's over though..

RPGing and especially GMing on the other hand, can build up to greater and greater pleasure.  My greatest enjoyment in gaming was about 30 years ago, when I GMed Star Trek and Gurps. There is so much gaming adventure to explore when you have an entire sci-fi tapestry to set your players on when you GM.. and I did it all with my friends Craig and Jim's Star Trek and Star Wars characters.. lost civilizations, inter-dimensional travel, powerful ancient alien artifacts, derelict spaceships to explore, colourful NPC villains..  you name it. Weeks and weeks and years of playing and thinking about it when not playing, built a crescendo of a gaming "high" for me back in those days.

I believe that these last 10 years miniatures and boardgames are my attempt- a second place consolation attempt- for me to get back a touch of that old RPG high. I have found in my experience that both board and miniature gaming though are ghostly echoes of a long lost gaming high for me at the best of times.

At least I'm not one of those punch drunk old boxers who still believes they have that one last fight in them. I can't go back to those RPG days.. I'm 30 years older, and too much real world water under the bridge has passed for me to happily dive into the RPG rabbit-hole like I was a happy-go-lucky 14 year old kid again. Even when I'm playing, I'm partially thinking of my career, what meetings are coming up, assignments, what I need to do, etc..  Also, the sci-fi worlds that I use to love- Star Trek and Star Wars- have changed quite a bit from the 1980s, becoming slowly unrecognizable to me. Water under the bridge for those universes as well.

No, you can't go back. I don't even want to go back at this point to be honest.  

Still, though I can never get that GM gaming high back, what I do have, especially when all the eye candy terrain and troops are laid before you, is good enough. More importantly, I enjoy the modelling aspect especially, as I get to "create" an RPG character when I paint a mini, imagining all sorts of never-going-to-happen RPG scenarios with them. It is as close to GMing character, world and adventure building as I can get now. I may only have 5 years left to paint though, as my eyes are not what they used to be.. but we'll see.

I have learned by their reactions of my friends' tastes in genres though this last year. When it comes to miniature gaming, one friend I will try to do exclusively sci-fi miniature battles, while the other fantasy with a bit of sci-fi mixed in.

I'm still the GM looking after the players it seems. :-)

Varnishing disaster due to "frosting"

On Christmas eve, I finished painting up a Mordheim warband..

Six cultists and one possessed mutant

I ran out of varnish, and I lazily picked up a can of GW's purity seal and varnished them two days ago, with a horrible "frosting" result on the mutant and four of the six cultists...

I thus had hardened white residue on my minis that could not easily be removed.  All that work down the toilet unless I could somehow strip it without damaging the paint..


This happened to me when I first got into painting and modeling 10 years ago, when I similarly used a GW varnish, but I forgot about it. 

Frosting apparently happens when there is too much humidity in the air. Looking it up on the internet, there seems to be a lot of complaints about the "Purity Seal" can frosting up. Not only is this varnish expensive, but it is susceptible to frosting. 

One solution that was offered was to use gloss varnish.. I never ever use gloss varnish as I hate the shiny look, but I had a small bottle and used it. It worked a little bit, but tons of white gunk remained. 

I then thought to buy varnish remover, but all of them in my nearby hardware stores are advertised as "varnish and paint remover" which means that if I do apply it, I would likely be stripping off the underlying paint job as well. 

I could either strip all of them and start from scratch, or repaint over the white gunk. I chose to repaint over the white parts.

The white frosted varnish however, is now acting like white primer and I remembered I primed these guys black. This means that if I just painted over the white gunk, those repainted sections will "pop" up more in colour than over the original non-affected parts and it will show. I therefore painfully primed black over the whitened varnish parts carefully first and repainted these five.

For the cultists, it was pretty straight forward as I originally used unblended colours from the paint pots..

For the mutant however, I had to remember how I blended it to get that purple "bruised" skin look to match the skin that was unaffected by the frosting.

I think I came close...

I think overall, my new New Year's Eve paint job fix results in not as good a paint job as before, but good enough I suppose after this near disaster.

Never again will I buy GW's Purity Seal and I threw the can in the garbage.  Lesson learned!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ten years late, but I finally got to try Warmachine

I've looked on Warmachine and Hordes primarily from a distance since I've gotten into wargaming these last 10 years. It was not exactly the classic fantasy or sword & sorcery I was used to. I did not play too much D&D as a kid in the 1980s, focusing on sci-fi RPGing instead, but I was an avid reader of the Conan comic books and mags, so I knew classic fantasy and sword and sorcery..

Fantasy mechs, I thought.. weird.. So, I looked on at a distance and did not play.. though I liked some of the Warmachine sculpts. Instead, what ever fantasy I painted was the more traditional stuff, mainly Reaper sculpts and a little bit of GW.  What also turned me off a bit was the large unwieldy metal parts that you need to put together, which meant pinning and storage problems. I was getting spoiled by light plastics that GW was putting out.

However, I broke the ice as it were when I painted GW Age of Sigmar and found myself painting bizarre golden boys in powered armour and angel wings.

Fantasy gaming has moved on and the new sculpts all of a sudden looked normal and acceptable. Plus, I was amazed at how much variety of Warmachine and Hordes sculpts there are, now that they look normal to me. Our FLGS had 3 shelves of them...

So, I bought into it when I heard there are brand new editions for Warmachine and Hordes.. Nice textbook-like hardcovers with beautiful art and a fully-fleshed out fantasy world that I was not familiar with.

.. and painted up a Cryx force recently from the 2 Player Battle box (as discussed here).

A long standing misconception I had was cleared up.. The giant hulking two-legged warmachines are not mechs as I thought, but robots partially controlled by a warcaster, which is a wizard of sorts. In this universe, the Warmachines are the fantasy tanks that all factions employ in one capacity or another.  It seems to be the defining feature of this fantasy world that sets it apart from other systems.

I'm told the game rules are very well balanced by Privateer Press and there are tons of tournament players playing it, precisely because it is well balanced. Any faction can win. This is in stark contrast to GW, which apparently unbalance one faction every couple of years to make the tournament crowd buy the latest sculpts to get an edge.

My friend Jeff is an avid fantasy guy, and long liked Warmachine. When he came over to try Warmachine MkIII yesterday, he brought some mercenary sculpts, the "Devil Dogs" that he bought painted from some kid off of ebay.

We thus set up a scenario.. my necromantic Cryx invading a peaceful little village protected by sellswords paid to do it. It was going to be a 6 round scenario.

We decided on a 6 turn skirmish battle just so we can familiarize ourselves with the rules, which are over 100 pages. Jeff spent the night before making 5 pages of notes on them and we spent an hour discussing them before playing.

Clearly, Warmachine is no beer-and-pretzel game.. The rules are fulsome, and logical.. there are even rules in there for one Warjack to pick up another and throw it across the battlefield.  Nice!

My plan of attack was that I was going to cross the river, and try to catch Jeff's forces in a pincer movement.. all the while trying to figure out this warcaster focus mechanic. The warcaster can partially control the Jacks using focus points.. The Jacks on their own are like fantasy robots that have some capability to shoot or smash, but the warcaster gives them extra abilities and boosts using magic. There are therefore some timing of magic focus decisions that has to be made just right on the chaotic battlefield with lots of variables. I can see why this game is popular with the wargaming crowd, just for that. The game requires some thinking and not just rolling dice to see what happens.

A Warmachine game ends if a warcaster dies, so you have to keep them in the rear but also nearby. I had to therefore keep my Jacks close to my warcaster named Agathia (within 14 inches), and my infantry close to my squad leader, or else I lose focus and unit cohesion for my infantry.. the game thus has command and control, which is realistic.

On the left flank, I skirted the forest and hid behind the giant tree house, hoping Jeff would cross the river so I can pound him.. His infantry had some ranged weapons, so I wanted to stay hidden until I could engage in hand-to-hand if I could.

Surprisingly, Jeff inexplicably held back his infantry on the left flank .....

while on the right flank, he was crossing in force with his Jack..

I was not sure why his infantry was not crossing the river. since this is a scenario based on attrition, not for him to win by holding his ground. I thought maybe there are rules about being caught in rough terrain like the river, but Jeff said there are movement impacts to crossing the river, but not for fighting on rough ground.

On the right flank, his large Jack, named Rociante (in Warmachine it seems, every Jack and character has their own name and stats), was crossing the river and going full on attack on me.

My Jacks were going to hide behind a hamlet and then try to attack the enemy Jack if it got any closer.

I think Jeff though, had the range on me and took shots on my light Jack first..

It was here where I tried out the damage system in Warmachine.. We sleeved our cards and used a dry erase marker to mark damage in boxes. This is very old school, as I remember doing this for Star Fleet Battles back in the 1980s..

If a Jack takes enough damage in its robot brain or arm, abilities fall off like using focus.. Every weapon is linked to either the left or right Jack arm, or in the case of tusks, on the head (the C being the Core brain).. So you can find yourself with a Jack with only one good arm to attack with if the other arm takes too much damage.  A nice mechanic as I generally dislike abstractions. This seems more real.

Jeff then dropped a bombshell on me.. literally.. when he had some super-duper explosive dropped on my Jacks on my right flank, causing some damage. He said this was his only shot on it, which I took to mean, for his entire faction, but he just meant for his Jack.

Later on this would have disastrous consequences for me..

I counter-attacked, using my small Jack as a node for my warcaster to inflict a hellfire spell on it, while my other larger Jack would use its harpoon gun on Jeff's Jack.  However, Rociante is a tough old giant robot it seems, and I just scratched the paint.

I then decided my right flank was in trouble and decided to move my left flank guys to the right, especially as Jeff was not doing anything with his infantry..

The right flank then became a giant Jack slugfest as I closed in, both sides pounding each other..when Jeff's warcaster suddenly dropped another bomb spell on me. I was furious as he said the previous one was his only one, but he meant for his Jack, not his warcaster..

My bunched up infantry took a beating from that magic bomb spell..

Reeling from my losses, Jeff finally decided to commit his infantry and started to cross the river... Some of them had slug weapons, additionally picking off my guys..

Meanwhile, the mighty Jacks were pounding on each other, and Rociante and Jeff's light Jack- which also then crossed the river -  finally went down with my hammer-like blows from both my Jacks and my infantry.

It was here I learned why Jeff was holding back his infantry.. he was scared of my Crx Bane warrior infantry, as their magic axes are powerful.. indeed, my infantry helped critically destroy the enemy light Warjack..

I was so clueless about the game and what's on my card that I didn't even know how effective my bane infantry could be...

Anyways, wounded and reeling from a third bomb, yes third!... Jeff committed his infantry and turned the tide against me, in hand to hand fighting despite taking down both his Jacks.

The scenario was over on turn six, and it was deemed my remaining Jack and warcaster Witch Agathia retreated.  Jeff won despite losing both Jacks as my entire infantry was wiped out..I was a bit peeved at the misconception about the bombs, but it was a good scenario overall.

I like Warmachine.. I like the fluff and the giant Jacks and the rules seem good, really good, from what I could tell. I definitely want to continue playing Warmachine and Hordes for sure.

We also played Gaslands, which I just played with my friend Jim the other day (as discussed here). Gaslands is post-apocalyptic vehicle combat in the Mad Max tradition.

Jeff liked it and was getting into it with that one scenario we played to show him the rules.

He even got a Dice Hall of Fame moment, rolling double sixes twice in a row, winning the game. We usually get a Dice Hall of Fame moment every six months, but this time, it was twice in the same week.

Anyways, Warmachine was a nice way to end the gaming year.

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Osprey's miniature game Gaslands pays homage to the post-apoc B-movies of the 1980s..

Mad Max: The Road Warrior made a great impression on me as a kid, and I spent many hours in the early 1980s watching a lot of copycat  B-movies in the post-apoc genre.

Indeed, the very very first VHS tape my Dad rented when we got our first VHS machine was this schlock called Stryker. I don't know why I remember this fact still...

..but.I used the name Stryker when crafting a beloved FASA Star Trek RPG character from that name in 1984, but I digress.

All those B-movies had the same introduction. Just lower your voice as if you're gargling pebbles and say something about the lack of gas or water. Something like...  When there is no hope as the last of humanity battles over gasoline.. one man came forth... to rebuild the world.. (cue cheesy over-the-top music).

I own several of Osprey Games wargames and so I perked up when I heard of their newest release, Gaslands, on a British podcast.

Post-apoc vehicle combat? Intriguing.. it sounded like the old Steve Jackson Games' Car Wars but with Hot Wheels cars.

I thus bought and post-apoc'd 7 Hot Wheels cars (as discussed here) a day before my friend Jim came over to try it out.

We did a simple scenario to destroy each other, though the rule book has scenarios that reminded me of old movies like Death Race and such. There's even a Zombie bash for the younger crowd into the latest Zed craze.

The premise of Gaslands by the way, is televised blood sports with vehicles with something about Mars.. I glossed over the fluff to be honest, though the campaign looks interesting..

Forget Mars



Mad Max!

Jim got 3 cars ( a performance car, a rocket car and a pickup with a ram)

and I got as well,  a performance car, a flamethrower car and a pickup with a ram.

Both sides were about 60 points each. We started off on each end of the wastelands and went at each other.

Nearly 100% of my terrain is for the 25-28mm scale, so I had to scramble to find something that could be used for 15mm scale. There wasn't much, but it was enough for this fight.

And so, we slowly approached each other, in the ravaged wastelands of America..

The game has similar template mechanics of the Flight Path system that you see with X-Wing and A-Wing, which Jim and I are familiar with.  There are some small tweaks, like having your vehicle slide, and more rules around collisions, which X-Wing and A-Wing gloss over.

You can slide over into terrain, which can damage and possible destroy you, if you have bad luck with the custom skid dice.

This game seems to emulate the old B-movie fetish for spectacular collisions as one of the mainstays of combat is T-Boning and tailgating the other guy.

Jim got the first shot of the game, firing his rockets at me. When he did so and just scratched me, I called up Elton John's Rocket Man song on my phone to tease him, followed by the classic line in Star Trek episode Bread and Circuses:  "You bring our network ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you."

There was lots of prancing round with our high speed cars, machine gunning each other, but at high speeds, it's hard to hit the other guy.

What is amusing are the dropping of glue, smoke and mines on your enemy, which you have to time just right.. You move first, then drop it, so if the enemy is too far back, he'll dodge it if you're going too fast. At high speeds, there are only select templates you can use, and such templates are longer in length usually.

I did manage to time just right dropping glue on Jim's performance car who was right behind me, resulting in him dropping speed..

Jim on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying firing his rockets at me while simultaneously managing his 3 ammo limit doing so. He eventually destroyed my flamethrowing car.. In the game, your destroyed vehicle becomes a wreck and a navigation hazard for other vehicles to collide with potentially. However, there are rules for wrecks to explode as well, in the great B-movie fashion. My flamethrower car, loaded with the precious gasoline, got hit with Jim's rockets, got destroyed, but in so doing, cooked off and exploded.

We discovered some tactics that one needs to plan ahead.. A game turn starts at speed level 1 - called a Gear level- and progresses to 6. If the current gear level is higher than the speed you're going at, you can't move and have to wait for the next turn. You often can't offset a favourable skid roll (the special dice that determine if you get a hazard, slide, spin or shift) as you need a wanted shift roll to keep your speed up. If you roll such a coveted "shift" roll, you ordinarily use it to remove hazard tokens which can trigger a wipeout potentially, but many times you have to keep the hazard roll and use the shifting roll to gear up speed just so you can keep pace with that of the current gear level. For example, if it's Gear 3 and you're going at 3 speed already, if you don't gear up to 4, when it becomes Gear 4, your car will be frozen there for Gear 4, 5, and 6.

The pickup trucks are slow moving behemoths but they max out at Gear speed 4, which cars can go faster.. As the game turn advances at certain speed levels, it gets very hard for big vehicles to close in and smash, as they get frozen out at Gear 5 and 6.

I never could smash with my ram on my pickup while the enemy cars were running circles around me and had to just use my pop-gun machine gun on them as they buzz about, to little effect.

Jim later on came close to smashing me while I was moving by tailgating my performance car. He couldn't do any damage as I was going faster, but his tailgating triggered a wipeout roll as I was close to the limit of hazard tokens. Six hazard tokens will trigger a potential wipeout.. If you fail a wipeout roll, you can potentially flip over and move immediately some distance forward, possibly colliding with something in the process... Again, this is in the best B-movie tradition.

After Jim tailgaited me, I failed my wipeout roll and careened into the boulders, took damage, and went into Gear 1.. thus stuck there for a while as we were in Gear 3 or so, while Jim turned and rammed his pickup into me at his leisure on Gear 3 and then 4, destroying my performance car.

I lost the game, but it was enjoyable. I like the Flightpath system in general, and this game is a great FlightPath-ish alternative for those who don't want to pay an arm-and-a-leg to fight Star Wars and Star Trek. In some ways, its a bit better as there are no deck building mechanics that Attack Wing has, where you min-max the Captain cards on the right ship, with the right weapon cards, and similar card mechanics stuff I don't enjoy especially.  There is none of that here.  So, if you like the post-apoc genre and a light alternative to the FlightPath system, this is an fun and cheap alternative given how cheap Hot Wheels are.

Even if you have 25-28mm vehicles and terrain, you can scale up the templates in the back of the book by photocopying them 66% bigger (25/15 = 1.66), or select I believe A4 paper.

There are rules and stats for war rigs, gyrocopters (of course) and such, and all kinds of weapons to add to them. The only tweak to the rules I would suggest is to increase the limited number of slots on cars, as one can only put on the most powerful weapon, and maybe one of the droppers (glue, smoke or mines). I'm sure the munchkins will chaffe at that and want to pimp out their rides more. 

The more creative types as the author suggests can port the rules over for sci-fi and fantasy settings, etc.. Lasers or magical bolts= Machine gun   or magic fireballs= rockets, etc.

All in all, an enjoyable game.

We finished the night playing Star Wars: Rebellion, where I got a spectacular Dice Hall of Fame moment.