Saturday, May 16, 2015

Thank you Westfalia Miniatures!

I was fortunate enough to win a prize draw for some loveliness from Westfalia Miniatures at the end of Curt's Analogue Painting Challenge. I was well chuffed with this as I've been eyeing off Westfalia's small but beautiful 1812 Retreat from Moscow range for a while to add to the figures I'm gradually painting from Perry and Murawaski Miniatures.

The good people at Westfalia were lovely to deal with and super generous, sending me more than I asked for. The figures and field guns are stunning; beautifully moulded and will fit in perfectly with the other ranges. Thanks to Westfalia for their generosity, and I'd encourage you to check out their figures (including their new and interesting range of steampunk minis).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ooh! Shiny!

Since it is Star Wars Day, I shall confess to my first outrageous impulse buy of the year.

Last Wednesday was our fortnightly Odin's Night gaming club, held at the local Good Games shop. In my defence, I knew it was likely to just be me and one or two others turning up, and I had left all my SAGA stuff at school, so I grabbed my starter box of X-Wing and headed down to the store. I quite like X-Wing, but to make the game work you really need more than the starter set, so I was thinking I would buy a couple more ships, maybe even the Rogues and Villains set.

Anyway, after some agonising, I ended up buying Star Wars Armada instead, for which I largely blame the review on Meeples and Miniatures. Gaming buddy Lawrence and I had some fun assembling all the shiny components (many of which are fiendishly clever), then got the ships on the table and worked our way through the basic game, joined by Ben. I confess to being the first to make 'phew phew' noises while manoeuvring my Tie Fighters.

He's smiling because he didn't pay for it.

I have a theory that X-Wing appeals more to gamers with a background in things like first person shooters or skirmish games, while Armada is going to appeal more to gamers who normally get into big tactical games. It's a clever and pretty intuitive system once you get into it and play a few turns, but to my way of thinking this is a deeper game than X-Wing, and I think I will enjoy it more. As it turns out I'm pretty glad I never bought much X-Wing stuff. Armada may prove to be costly.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

More Romano-British Shieldwall

Phew! I have a lot on the go on the painting table at the moment, so I'm experiencing an extra glow of satisfaction when I get something finished. This week I managed to complete another dense shieldwall unit for Dux Bellorum. Figures are Black Tree Design, Gripping Beast plastics and Artizan. The shield design is hypothetical, representing a unit of Limitanei from Britain in the C5th.

Battle Group Blitzkrieg Hits the Doorstep

Much like one of Pavlov's dogs, I now have an entirely predictable response to new releases from the Iron Fist Publishing/Plastic Soldier Company Axis that brings us Battle Group. I just pre-order every supplement, and pretty much salivate when I see the satisfyingly heavy envelope arrive.

Battle Group Blitzkrieg, the latest supplement for the Battle Group (BG) rules, arrived this week, and I have been enjoying flicking through it. For a general overview of how the Battle Group rules work, and why I love them so, check out my earlier post here. These are just some initial impressions on the latest release.

Battle Group Blitzkrieg covers the Polish and French campaigns of 1939-40, and it is clear that this supplement is something of a labour of love for the authors, Messrs Brand and Kinrade. Although most gamers are drawn towards the later war period (Tigers! Panthers! About 10 Jagdpanthers on the table at the same time if you play FOW!), it is the authors' contention that early war battles have a great deal to offer gamers. In France in 1940 in particular, German success was not due to the technical superiority of their equipment. Quite the contrary, in fact, as German troops faced by Matilda II and Char BI bis tanks were to find out. Games representing the early war campaigns therefore need to find a way of capturing the German advantages of air support, better communications and more effective tactical coordination. As with every BG supplement, the authors have done so by adding a few special rules to the strong core mechanics of the games system. So for example, the Germans benefit from the Panzermarsch special rule, allowing them to deploy their reserves more rapidly, while Polish, French, Belgian and British air support is less likely to show up than the Stukas. In contrast to the supplements dealing with 1943-5, all sides suffer from less effective communications with off-board mortars, although this is ameliorated slightly by special rules for runners.

The Blitzkrieg rule book itself is the usual quality product we have come to expect from Iron Fist Publishing, containing a good historical overview, hobby sections, army lists and rules, supported with period photographs and model photographs. One of my minor quibbles with Battle Group Barbarossa was that photographs of German tanks in panzer gray were very dark, but they have certainly solved the problem in Blitzkrieg. Battle Group books always contain nicely explained hobby sections with guides on painting tanks, but for the first time Blitzkrieg also has detailed guides for painting British, French and German infantry, a really good inclusion that should help newcomers to the hobby in particular.

Battle Group Blitzkrieg contains detailed army lists for different types of German and Polish formations in 1939, as well as Germans, Belgians, French and the BEF for 1940. The sections on each campaign are also supported by specific scenarios drawn from actual events during the Polish and French campaigns. I really like the look of these, especially since several of the scenarios are infantry actions with nary a tank to be seen. The inclusion of some quite small infantry engagements should make gaming the early stages of the war more accessible to new players, as well as highlighting the fact that Battle Group is far more than just a system for gaming the massed tank battles of 1943.

Congratulations to Piers Brand and Warwick Kinrade on another cracking addition to the Battle Group stable. In a year's time we can probably look forward to the first supplement for the desert war, supported by shiny new releases from PSC. If I could, I'd pre-order it already.

Monday, April 20, 2015

First Game of Dux Bellorum

I've been excited about playing Dux Bellorum for ages, but it took me until last Friday to finally get in a game. So was it worth the wait?

Dux Bellorum, by Dan Mersey, follows the usual format of Osprey's series of wargames rules, providing a self-contained set of rules in 64 pages, lavishly illustrated with Osprey art and photos of miniatures. They scope of the rules is unapologetically narrow, focusing on late- and post-Roman Britain from AD 367-793, evoking the early 'dark ages' world of Nennius and Gildas. The rules are well laid out, clearly explained and really quite straightforward, making this a great little game to give to someone who has had no experience with tabletop wargaming. I will be getting a copy for the school library.

Dux Bellorum also has a lot to offer more experienced gamers. Most of the rules are basically familiar to people who have played games like Impetus. What makes them special is the system Dan came up with of Leadership Points. These are basically a finite resource of command and control that each general allocates to different units under his or her command at the start of a turn. Unlike, say, SAGA, these aren't necessary to activate a unit, but they can be used to boost a unit's combat effectiveness, help it cancel hits, allow it to interrupt an enemy unit's move or make activating a unit possible if it fails the basic Bravery Test required by any unit to allow it to move.

Army lists are straightforward, with each army generally comprising 32 points. On Friday I fielded a Sub-Roman British force of five units of Ordinary Shieldwall, a unit each of bowmen and foot skirmishers, a unit of Ordinary Riders and a mounted general with his retinue. This left me 5 points, with which I purchased an additional Leadership Point (giving me 7 in total) and a 'Strategy' bonus that equipped my Shieldwall with hurled weapons, making them stronger in defenece. My opponent Lawrence fielded a Saxon force of foot warriors, come Ordinary and some Noble (although I can't remember the exact mix).

The British shield wall

Lawrence trying to look like a fierce Saxon

The game played really well, despite my tired Friday night inability to comprehend some simple rules and despite us getting a couple of things completely wrong. I rapidly realised what an interesting and subtle mechanic the Leadership Points are. Deciding when and how to use them is the core of this game, and I think Dan has done a great job of using them to evoke the role of strong leadership in these dark ages battles of limited manouevre and much shoving.

Vikings pretending to be Saxons

I also learned from defeat that lines of Ordinary Shieldwall are quite vulnerable, and need the leavening of some superior troops if they are going to pull their weight!

British cavalry and Saxon warriors locked in combat. The counters represent Leadership Points

All in all, I loved this game, and so did my opponent. I'm really looking forward to giving it another go, especially now that we've cleared up a couple of misunderstandings. Congratulations Mr Mersey!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dux Bellorum with Dux Homunculorum

I can't believe it's taken me this long, but I FINALLY got to play a game of Dux Bellorum on Friday night. I'll write up my thoughts on the game properly, but for the moment suffice it to say that the game gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

With the game coming up I had good reason to make a major push on finishing some more units for my Romano-British army. I've been trying as much as possible to make densely packed units with 14 figures in two rows on a 120mm frontage base. However, I also have a bunch of figures individually based on 20mm round bases for Dux Britanniarum and other skirmish games. A while back the good people at Warbases made me some custom movement trays, allowing me to get 10 individually based figures into a 120mm unit, with the slots for the figures being as irregularly spaced as possible. The problem is that on 20mm bases the figures are pretty top heavy, and kept falling out. So last night I set about mounting a rare earth magnet in each of the slots on the movement trays.

Don't forget the dust mask when drilling MDF. And note the awesome pink power drill I won in a raffle raising money for breast cancer

Each of the individual figures has magnetic strip stuck on the base, so this does help the figures resist some amount of wobbling, although certainly doesn't solve the problem entirely. With all the figures based, I now have a pretty reasonably sized force; more than enough for Dux Bellorum, especially when adding in the cavalry and skirmishers that aren't pictured here, and looking pretty good for Impetus and Sword and Spear as well.

One of the nice things about making a sub-Roman army is how well the figures from different ranges match, allowing units with loads of variety. Mine include Westwind, Black Tree Design, Artizan, Gripping Beast metal and plastic and Crusader miniatures.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What's next for 2015?

As my RSI from the Painting Challenge recedes, it's time to take a moment, drink a mug of tea, and think about what's next. Like most of us, there are about 50 projects I'd like to be working on, and I don't feel bad about flitting around between them, but it is a good thing to have some general aspirational hobby goals. In no particular order, here are my top ten projects for the rest of the year.

1. Victorian Zombie Apocalypse

This is one of those projects entirely driven by a desire to paint some shiny miniatures. I really like the look of the fictional c.1900 female Hussars made by Hinterland Miniatures. Most miniatures of female characters in our hobby have traditionally reflected a rather sad adolescent male fantasy. You know, 'I'm a lusty barbarian wench with a massive sword, so big in fact that I don't need any armour apart from this chain mail G-String.' That kind of thing. The thing I like about Hinterland is that they have made a range of plausible female warriors that actually look like real women. I'd be happy to give them to my daughter to play with.

And they do make a pack of zombiefied Hussars.... Which got me thinking. 'Cos Westwind also have a pack of Victorian zombies.... And Northstar's 'Society of Thule' box contains some zombiefied Prussian Jaegers..... So I wrote to Nick Eyre at Northstar, and he was more than happy to just sell me 15 or so of the zombies.

People seem to like 'In Her Majesty's Name'. And there are rules for zombies on the IHMN website. But terrain.... hmmm. Well, I visited Wargames Vault, and checked out the 'Historic Olde Towne' from Stoezel's Structures. It's cheap, it'll be fun to make, and basically will give me a nice big Victorian city layout, with interior detail.

It seems the planets have aligned. I've got some cool minis on the way to paint, a nice terrain layout to build, and some rules to drive it. I reckon this will be fun.

2. Finish my Romano-British Army/b>

I'm looking forward to seeing this army finished. They are mainly destined for Dux Bellorum, but will also work for Impetus and Sword and Spear.

3. 6mm ECW Armies

Paul of the Man Cave will be back around the end of the year, and by the time he returns I must have two large ECW armies painted.... Large in numbers, that is.

4. Late War Germans, Soviets and Brits

I already have some armies painted for Battle Group Fall of the Reich, but I aim to add to them every now and then during the year. I particularly enjoyed making some urban warfare bases for some Germans during the Painting Challenge, and plan to do more of these.

5. Urban Terrain

For my Fall of the Reich games, I really want some urban terrain. It will be expensive to try to do something sizeable in MDF, so I'm thinking about making a board with lots of rubble and partial buildings, with occasional more intact structures, and maybe even adapting paper models to bulk out the cityscape.

6. Retreat from Moscow 1812

Another project driven by stunning figures, I plan to keep chipping away at painting the stunning range made by the Perrys for Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. No idea what rules they might be suitable for, but even if I never game with them, they are a privilege to paint.

7. Curse Agema Miniatures and their lovely Republican Romans! Curse War and Peace Games for that time they sold them for less than half price!! Curse my Lack of will power!!!

Nothing to add to that really....

8. Early War Germans

Add a few bits and bobs to my Battle Group Barbarossa army.

9. Western Desert

I reckon this will mainly be a 2016 project, but I'll be waiting eagerly for the new Battle Group supplements for the desert. I'm now pretty much like one of Pavlov's dogs, conditioned to buy whatever Plastic Soldier Company put out, so I'll pick up whatever desert armour they put out that I can afford. If they put out a box of Crusaders and I can't afford them, I'll rob a bank.

10. Something Shiny that I Haven't Anticipated But will end up dominating several months of my life

So there we have it: Some aspirations for the year. Should keep me out of mischief.