Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My First Peter Pig Miniatures

My friend Rich introduced my old club to Peter Pig Miniatures years ago and I've been curious since then to try painting them up. They're imports from Great Britain and more expensive than my go-to Old Glory's so for some time I had stuck with penny wise and as a result had amassed a good pile of 15mm Old Glory French and American troops in 15mm. Some are pretty nicely sculpted and some are just a bit off, but en masse they look acceptable.

Peter Pig on L, Battlefront on R
Now that some Granite staters are considering Disposable Heroes in 15mm scale I've "needed" to add an individually mounted company of Americans to the crew. My Old Glorys don't hold up to individual examination so I clearly Needed to order some new Peter Pigs from Hobby Bunker. They arrived in no time and I got to painting.

I've been very happy with these miniatures so far. They paint up easily, their poses are appealing, and there's a good variety of figures supplied. It's hard to do poorly when you're painting Americans as their color scheme is about as simple as it gets. Once you finish with a Citadel wash the minis look pretty decent. I may Need to get more.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Looking Ahead for the Next Boardgame

The boardgame world has changed pretty dramatically in the years since I started blogging. At one point there were maybe a half dozen well produced euro or indy games and a big pile of rubbish. You owned a Catan game, Ticket to Ride, and filled out your collection with some random Knizia game and Munchkin. Now there are new titles coming out monthly and while some rubbish continues to accumulate there are many more excellent games that get lost in the crowd. At this moment I'm looking at my gaming shelf and for each 7 Wonders that I've actually played a good number of times there's Camelot Legends, Okko, Yggdrasil, and Lord of the Rings Card Game, all sadly underplayed and deserving better. My first resolution for the year may be to actually try Fewer games, and instead get more play from the ones I own.

Having said that, there are a few things coming down the pike that I'm looking forward to trying.

Old School Fun
Moongha Invaders: Ever since I played Crush, Crumble, and Chomp in my friend Alexis' basement I've been keeping an eye out for good giant monster games. Sadly, none have really delivered the thrills the way Crush did. Lacking a computer that can load games from cassette tape I've been forced to keep searching for alternatives. I ordered Moongha through Kickstarter and we shall see how things pan out. It's designed by Martin Wallace which can mean either very good or very lame.

Sake and Samurai: I'm a sucker for theme, which has not always been the best guide for a game (cough cough Dungeon Lords...), and this one has plenty. Samurai sit around and alternate drinking with swordplay. The winner is the best drinker or the best fighter I believe. If you're defeated you return to the game as a thirsty ghost. Or a ghost of thirst. How could this Not be a great game?

Relic: There's an old game called Talisman that is entertaining, old school, and kind of silly. You go on fantasy quests, you can be turned into a toad, and you cart around vast amounts of treasure and helpful sidekicks. It's completely inelegant in design. Still: toad, treasure, sidekicks. And it requires about 90% less concentration than just about every other modern boardgame. Now Relic promises to do Talisman but in the loopy Warhammer 40K universe. Are there space toads in Relic? Assuming they retain the "like Munchkin if Munchkin was actually fun" quality of Talisman this could be a big hit.

Looking Ahead for the Next Big Wargaming Thing

A few gaming items have popped up as possibly interesting for the next year. Let's go down the list:

Buy Us!
Little Britons: I've grown to really admire the toy soldier esthetic, but not the prices. Happily, Spencer Smith Miniatures and designer Aly Morrison have released a line of cute, traditional, and relatively cheap toy soldiers with a lot of potential. I'll be curious to watch the line grown, and I'll be putting some thought into what you could do with these awesome figures.

The War of the Austrian Succession: This conflict combines obscurity, great uniforms, lots of troop types, and a line of affordable miniatures (again, thanks Spencer Smith!). Add in lots of possible rule sets, plus colorful personalities and oodles of exciting locations for battles. On the downside, I would be the only person in a thousand mile radius building these armies. So a great new setting or another addition to the mountain of unpainted lead?

Solitaire Gaming: Sad and pathetic but true- there are not always historical gamers in the area who are up for a game. I've been looking into Decision Point Games and Dan Verssen Games as sources of some fun solitaire games.On the plus side it keeps me from obsessively playing Race for the Galaxy on Board Game Arena. On the minus side it provides just another obsession unrelated to cleaning the house.

Battlegroup Kursk: This is a new set of rules by Warwick Kinrade that's been pretty well received by the Meeples and Miniatures crowd. What I've seen so far appears well written and brings a certain "this is basically a game which we are playing for fun so relax please" quality which I really look for these days. Tanks run out of ammo, rare vehicles are actually rare, and historical formations are encouraged. This may be the net rule set to look at.

Looking Ahead at Projects

As the year winds up I'm thinking about what 2013 may hold for gaming. Here are a few thoughts for upcoming projects.

I've decided to do a Funny Little Wars and Commands and Colors Napoleonics game for Huzzah this Spring. Last year's C&C game was easy to run, moved smoothly and quickly, and seemed to be a big hit with the players. This year I may try and run both Salamanca scenarios back to back. It seems as though I already own all the lead I need for the additional Portuguese troops so I won't even need to do more shopping. Pity.

Funny Little Wars is a light toy soldier themed game and the folks at Huzzah have agreed to make an entire room available for the setting. FLW is ideally played in a back yard or garden but I don't expect Maine in May to be exactly balmy so we'll settle for a big room. It seems as though I already own quite a few 54mm figures for FLW so I won't have to buy more of those either. On the other hand I still need to build lots of 54mm cute European terrain so my wife will not be disappointed by a lack of hobby gear littering the kitchen and living room.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Tale of Two Games

Last week the local club experimented with a big Flames of War game and also with some FoW alternatives. I'd given up on FoW a while ago but the aftermaths of the games were telling.

I took part in a four player scenario of Disposable Heroes. This is a miniatures game designed to allow a few squads to fight it out, maybe with some armor support. We had Germans with a morter and Panzer IV advancing to take territory from Americans with some light support weapons and bazookas. The first two turns absolutely dragged as we re-learned the rules for firing, artillery, and the like. After that the game sped along nicely. In hindsight several things were notable. The first is that there were no real arguments of squabbles at the table. There were some rules ambiguities and questions that were probably crystal clear if only we could have found them. Nevertheless we muddled on through to everyone's satisfaction. Secondly, everything in the game flowed in a relatively historically accurate manner. The tank blazed away at troops in ruins but mainly acted as a well protected machine gun. Its main gun would have been effective against armor but had no role in this setting. Finally, squads acted most effectively in groups, with one pinning the enemy in order to allow the others to move without attracting defensive fire.

Awaiting the American Charge
I did not attend the Flame of War game, although several of the other players did. The highlight for me has been a week long flurry of angry emails between the players arguing over rules, how the game was played, and whether it was balanced. These emails have included exhortations for Allied players to charge German tanks as a good tactic and suggestions that since masses of King Tigers can be defeated they are thus not unrealistic. Now I know that whenever I want the experience of my own head spinning I can go ahead and imagine actual tank commanders charging their Shermans at a line of Panthers, hoping to get close enough for flank shots.

Poking fun at Flames of War is really cheap humor at best, because it's so clearly not historically accurate and really isn't intended to be. Still, it's so very very hard to resist. At a less snarky level I was once again very happy with Disposable Heroes. Further, we used 15mm figures and that worked perfectly. I already own rather a few 15mm vehicles and a quick phone call to the Hobby Bunker got me a platoon of American Peter Pig infantry. I'm very much looking forward to our next game, assuming the FoW flame war doesn't get out of hand.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Holiday Shopping Stuff- Fleet

I had a chance to play several games last week that were fun, fast, and family friendly. One, Garden Dice, is pretty ideal for all ages. The second, Fleet, is better for older teens who can calculate and manage "economies."

In a game of Fleet you create and manage a fleet of fishing vessels in Nunavut, Canada. Players can buy boats and fish for shrimp, lobster, tuna, or other sea thingys. Players can also invest in wharfside pubs, casinos, and fish processing ships. The winner is the person who can land the most fish and generate the most victory points.

Fleet's main game mechanism is a set of auctions. Players bid for "licenses" to seek out certain kinds of fish. A license will also allow you to get some in-game bonus. One key to the game is to bid for the best licenses and not pay too much. The other key is to most efficiently create your fishing fleet and then catch lots of fish.

It's clearly personal taste that makes the theme of Fleet so appealing and the theme of Garden Dice so unappealing. I also like auction games. Fleet seems to have a number of routes to victory and that's always appealing.  Finally, the components of Fleet are really top notch (like Garden Dice's are). This is another family friendly game that's fun and inexpensive and is absolutely recommended for older teens and groups of gamers.

Holiday Shopping Stuff- Garden Dice

I did originally start this blog to talk about games for kids. Last week I got a chance to play two games that would actually be big hits for younger players or games with the family.

Garden Dice is a game about planting and harvesting vegetables. The players get a rectangular board and a chance to roll four dice. Based on the dice results you can buy seeds, plant them, water the seeds, or harvest the vegetables. You can always do one or more things in a turn, the question is just how best to use your dice.

Garden Dice has a good degree of potential strategy as players try and plant in the best locations, collect the best harvested vegetables, and occasionally unleash a bird or rabbit on their opponent's plants. In fact it has more than enough depth to entertain experienced gamers. At the same time if you're old enough use numbers and colors you can probably play the game at a basic level at least. The game components are colorful and cheery and the theme is pretty inoffensive.

The garden theme did nothing for me so I don't think I would play or buy this game for myself. I would, however, heartily recommend it to anyone shopping for kids or for a family appropriate game. It probably would also be a good filler game or something to play though later in the evening after the serious gaming is done.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Warmish Place Has Just Frozen Over

I listen to Meeples and Miniatures each month and usually I end up taking host Neil's advice pretty seriously. He was right about Saga being terrific and his recommendation of Commands and Colors was spot on. So this month the color drained from my cheeks when he and friend Rich Jones announced that they're playing Warhammer 40K again.

"Finish Painting Us Mr. Lazybones!"
Historical gamers love to hate 40K, partly for some good reasons and partly because it's an easy and appealing target. The game requires a fairly gigantic investment to start playing and the manufacturers routinely make certain components obsolete and in need of (expensive) replacement. The battles combine lasers and automatic weapons with cavalry charges and chainsaws as melee weapons which could be considered possibly rather silly, if not completely and insanely unlikely. There are a host of other elements which allows 40K to be charitably classified as a "fantasy game."

That being said, Neil from Meeples is the Anna Wintour of wargaming and so now I'm uneasily eyeing my Dark Eldar and feeling the need to get them on the playing field. At least the models are pretty nicely sculpted. And the odds of getting a game in are a bit better than with the Nemesis game I was recently reviewing.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kickstarter- Maybe it's time...

I've spent a good deal of time looking over Kickstarter offerings but I haven't bought in yet. For every great Kickstarter game (i.e The Resistance) there seem to be a dozen or so that turn out to be disappointments. Some of the miniatures offerings look promising but turn out to be either ridiculously expensive or (strange but true) paralyzingly cheap. For example, a 100$ investment in Reaper plastic minis yields you so many figures that you'll never paint all or even most of them and you're better off not littering the kitchen with them.Which my wife can attest is something that husbands should not do.

I may have to bite the bullet now, though, and not just once but twice. Since my first "4:30 Movie" as a child on local NY television I've been a fan of rampaging giant monsters. Back in the day there was a different old science fiction or monster film on at 4:30 every day and I watched as many as possible. While it would seem like rampaging monsters would be a great gaming genre I've only really seen it done well twice- Crush, Crumble and Chomp and Privateer Press' Monsterpocalapse. Now prolific designer Martin Wallace is re-releasing Moongha Invaders, which received great reviews but sparse publication.  It looks great and the price is right.

Speaking of right price, Kickstarter is also featuring Boss Monster. This is a dungeon building card game that features some of the most inspired 8 bit artwork I've seen in years. I don't even really know how the game is played or even if there are rules at all. The cards are just so too cute and the designers are like two gaming friends from high school I forgot I had. My brain tells me that Moongha Invaders is a great game, my heart tells me I must buy Boss Monster....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Fun Surprise- Magical Athlete

I like to believe that there are inexpensive and undiscovered games out there that are awesome and fun. In the past I can't say I've found this to be true. Inexpensive and unknown games all too often demonstrate after one play why they're so obscure. Still, I keep searching. Then last week I discovered Magical Athlete.

What is it about the title of this game that's so off-putting? Maybe it's just the dogged literal mindedness of it. There's exactly not one whit of inspiration in naming a game about magical athletes Magical Athlete. It feels lazy. Was there just a deadline that had to be met? "Quick, name the damn thing, the printers are waiting!" We'll have to wait for the expose on Meeples and Miniatures to learn the truth.

Snark aside, this is a very fun game. The goal of the game is to win a series of footraces held between different magical beings. You may control a druid, a medusa, a centaur or witch. There are many different racers to choose from. In each turn you roll a die and move ahead that many spaces. The first person to get to the end of the track wins. The fun of the game stems from each racer's special power. When centaurs pass someone they "kick" them back one space. After a siren moves she "lures" each other racer one space towards her. If you pass the witch she casts a spell and you stay frozen the next turn. Most of the powers happen automatically. So the siren moves ahead, then she pulls everyone towards her. That may then trigger one or more other powers. Each turn can lead to a string of unexpected events and various characters being kicked forwards and back, frozen, or somehow affected.

While there is a certain element of luck to the game we found that you can also use your powers carefully and thoughtfully. I wouldn't call this a Very strategic game but it certainly rewards some planning. There are also a series of races to be won and players form alliances in order to rack up the most points over all  the races.

I found Magical Athlete to be outrageously fun. It's a game I don't mind losing because of the luck element and it's a game that is fun to win through planning out your special power. If you can count to six you have learned the rules so this is a great game for younger players and older players can start a game without lengthy rules explanations. It's also cheap and easily available. You could even convert it to a miniatures game. Highly recommended!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Liberte- A Good Election Night Game

As the battle of the titans heats up in the presidential election it's perfect timing to talk about a political board game. A game that simulates a time where losers weren't relegated to Fox News or the Harvard University Department of Political Science, but instead swiftly executed before a crowd of garlic eating rustics. The game is Liberte, the game of the French Revolution.

I've found over time that I greatly prefer games with some narrative quality. I think I would rather take part in a good story than win or lose. For that reason Liberte at first did not grab me. In the game you support political candidates in revolutionary France. You may support conservatives, radicals or moderates. Further, you may support one faction in one region and another elsewhere. At the end of each turn the votes are tallied in each region and one faction "wins." Then the player who most successfully supported that faction gets points. Say you support the radicals in four regions. Even if the radicals win the overall election you need to have them win in those four regions to have your support count. The end result is that players may support one faction in a given region just to beat an opponent and keep them from scoring.

I confess I didn't understand the system at all until a turn had been played. It's pretty simple once you see it.

So far the game is a politics game where you allocate resources and try and win points. Liberte begins to shine when you add in factors that bring the period to life. There are rules for grabbing public acclaim as a general. There are rules for sabotaging friend's plans with bread riots, political clubs, emigrating nobles, and finally the Terror and guillotine. In the game we played the conservatives took a strong lead at the beginning. Then radical political clubs began to spring up across the land. My team lagged in last place after a terrible first turn. The other players put their generals out into the field and started gathering fame. By some luck I then unleashed Madame Guillotine on them, heads rolled left and right,  and I ended up in decent shape at the end because my minion was the only surviving general and won all the fame by default.

I was pretty happy with Liberte. It is a game that rewards some calculation but there is enough luck and narrative to make it fun rather than just an exercise in numbers. The system certainly fits the theme and the rules end up being pretty simple.

More Games With Staying Power

Many years ago I stumbled on a computer game called Space Hulk. In the game you led some space marines into a mysterious spacecraft and then tried to survive waves of attacks by hideous space monsters. The sound effects were super effective and my room echoed with shouts, gunfire, and space monster roars for months. Later on I discovered that the game was based on a successful board game. At the time, though, the experience of leading my hapless heroes through one ambush after another made a huge impression.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I picked up Space Hulk- Death Angel. This is a card game that allows you to play out the same basic experience as Space Hulk. The card game can be played solitaire or with friends and as it was pretty cheap I thought I'd give it a go. Years later it's possibly my most played game.

The essence of the Space Hulk experience for me is that you're commanding a team that only has about a 20% chance of surviving. You're not playing to achieve a wild success, you're playing to maybe eject one grizzled survivor from the spooky space hulk or more likely at least have a dramatic chase through the ship before going down with guns blazing. You know that you're going to need lots of luck and when you finish a game in complete defeat you're already gearing up for another chance to get lucky and survive.

Good Times on the 386
Death Angel captures that experience perfectly. There is a good deal of strategy and tactics involved. Further, there are lots of special units to choose from and the game has huge replay value. I certainly play better now than when I started. Still, the few times I've "won" it's been as much from some lucky breaks as from tactical skill. In other games that might be irritating, in Death Angel it's great fun. Add in several cheap expansion packs and a nice narrative quality and Death Angel has paid off its initial investment ten fold. I wish I could say the same about, say, Thunderstone. Or Dungeon Lords. Warhammer 40K. Or a few others....

Anyway, if you're looking for a great solitaire or group game that's fast paced, exciting, and unpredictable, Death Angel has a lot to recommend it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

War of the Rings Card Game- Still Fun

In the aftermath of our summer vacation I was left thinking about which games I've purchased that have actually gotten a lot of play. I'm as guilty as most gamers of accumulating vast piles of lead, rules, and boardgames that then sit sad and forlorn on the shelf waiting to be played or painted. This year the kids are off to school, however, so we are on a tight budget and I am trying to get the dusty stuff off the shelves and onto the table.

I picked up the Lord of the Rings Card Game a while back with high hopes. It's cooperative, the components are beautiful, and the theme is popular. When I played it at the game store it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately the rules seem to have been written in one language and then translated across two more before making their way into English. As a result our first attempts to play at home were just demoralizing. I put it away and only took it out again for the vacation.

When the kids text "RTFM" to each other they are being wise indeed. When I took the time to really read the instructions and understand them much of the game fell into focus. We ended up playing several times and had a lot of fun. Much of what I said in my original review still holds true now. I think what strikes me in hindsight is how fun it is to come close to winning and then get crushed. It sounds silly but a challenging coop game where you Almost win is really a good time. The game drags you back for another go.

Save us Gandalf!
Further, the factions you can play in the game allow each player to find something they enjoy doing. My wife enjoys dealing out damage and slaying monsters. There's a faction for that. I like cheating fate and disrupting the plans of evil. There's a faction for that as well. The game allows and supports varied play style.

Finally, the game has a nice narrative quality. As you struggle to complete the quests you do feel like a story is being told. There are narrow escapes, epic battles, and through it all you wait for Gandalf to appear and pull your bottoms out of the fire! Which will happen, to everyone's relief.

The Lord of the Rings Card Game has absolutely held up over time. I recommend reading the rules a few times and struggling through a game or two. At that point I suspect you'll be hooked.

Apologies and Some Great Finds

Well it's been a while and I have to say I have no great excuse for not writing. So let's get started.

I was in Maine this Summer and stopped at a small local game store called Weekend Anime. I was happily surprised to find out that they stock a very respectable supply of board games and that they also sell used miniatures. I actually dragged the family there twice (both times in pouring rain btw) and ended up walking away with five shopping bags full of old minis. That was very exciting. I also found a first edition copy of Warhammer 40K Rogue Trader. More on that to come.

A vacation in Maine with sun, family, and five shopping bags of old miniatures is a good time indeed. I ended up eBay'ing a battalion of orks, some assorted fantasy characters, and wound up with a nice army for Warmachine. Total price after eBay- zero!  The wife was very impressed with my (in the end) thriftiness and I then took the kids to a ship museum for a trade in trade for dragging her to obscure game stores. Happy endings all around.

Kudos to Weekend Anime as well for being a terrific game store and housing a lot of nice product. Now I have to decide what to do with my Warmachine Pirate army.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Descent Second Edition - Worth a Crawl

A friend of mine was recently discussing dungeon exploring boardgames. Lacking the time for role playing he asked me what the best dungeon exploring game on the market was.  I replied "Dungeons and Dragons, first edition." The game world is full of dungeon exploring games, all of which try and capture the feeling of Dungeons and Dragons on a board. Ironically the best choice is old fashioned D&D itself, which is designed to be played on a tabletop with miniatures anyway. This doesn't stop the boardgamers from searching for Another option with which to simulate D&D without actually playing it.

Last week Triple Play Games in Lebanon hosted a Descent Second Edition preview event. Descent is an older game with several expansions. It allows players to move miniature adventurers around a board and search for treasure or battle monsters. Successful adventurers grow in ability and return for further adventures fighting even more menacing creatures. I had always been intrigued by Descent. The box is gigantic and the expansions add dozens of cool toy creatures and terrain tiles. The whole package is so full of Stuff it seems almost decadent. And in a sense truly decadent since it would be a big cash outlay just to approximate D&D, which I own and enjoy already.

I jumped at the chance to play second edition Descent and I have to say I had a terrific time. Each player had a character with some strengths and weaknesses. My character was somewhat magical and fast on her feet. Another was immensely strong and another had spells. In our games we had to make our ways across a game board and complete some mission, whether it was to get to a location, fight a creature, or rescue a hostage. Each mission was challenging but not impossible and the opponents and treasure were varied and interesting.

Descent had a few other nice features. The rules were simple, short, straightforward and well written. The game has obviously been playtested extensively and runs very smoothly. The missions are nicely varied. Each character had obvious strengths and over several games you do get the feeling that your hero is evolving and developing. Further, each character type has a chance to really shine. Finally, the components were all top quality.

Given the time and players with an interest I will always choose to play D&D. Barring that, Descent Second Edition is a lot of fun and really ideal for younger or beginner players. It has a steeper price tag but I think it's well worth it for what you get.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eclipse- less filling, but the taste?

I have an abiding love for Twilight Imperium. This is an epic science fiction boardgame that takes a full day and many players to get through and comes in a box big enough for a small goat to fit in.

Hey, how do you know you live in New Hampshire? Goats and livestock are handy measuring devices.

Of course the awesomeness of Twilight is decreased slightly by the need for a full day of play and many players who can manage lots of rules and esoteric components. For that reason I'm seeing a lot of games appearing that try and capture the Twilight spirit but without the effort and time required. One example is Eclipse. In a game of Eclipse players take turns exploring the galaxy and developing their economies, their military, or their scientific infrastructure. New areas appear as hexagon shaped tiles with random assortments of planets on them. Players can take the roles of alien races and get benefits or drawbacks specific to those races. There's a strong role of alliances between players and knowing when to break an alliance and when not to. All of this has a feel very similar to Twilight.

In its favor you can learn Eclipse quickly and finish in an evening. The components are of nice quality but are far from intimidating. The economic system is challenging but not excessively complex and the technological developments are easy to learn. In our last game we had several players who were very excited by the game and felt it really scratched an itch.

Space Battle in Eclipse
I personally don't like Eclipse very much. For one, I feel like it functions primarily as a war game. There is little chance of winning without a powerful fleet and engaging in lots of battles. Obviously I'm pretty happy with war games but I like Twilight because of the multitude of victory conditions. Eclipse is about building up a fleet and then blasting your neighbors.

Now assuming you're in the mood for a space fleet game you will at least want a somewhat balanced game. This is Eclipse's other major drawback. The map of the galaxy is developed randomly. For this reason players may discover very valuable planets nearby or they may discover junk. Further, some areas may have alien artifacts which give huge ongoing bonuses. In our last game one player discovered vast tracts of empty space while another lucked into one after another system filled with resources. It's very challenging to develop resource-poor areas so your only option is to go on the offensive and at that point you're Space Greenland taking on Space Germany.

Finally, Eclipse retails for around a hundred dollars. In contrast Twilight Imperium sells for ninety. It's hard to justify spending More on a "lighter" version of a game, or to justify spending a hundred dollars on any game that isn't really amazing. But, if you're hankering for space empires and money is no object then certainly Eclipse has its share of fans.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sardinia Takes the Field

The patriotic citizens of Sardinia have risen up to support their brethren in Fiume and assembled a small expeditionary force.

The Armies in Plastic Iron Brigade figures really serve a million uses and now they look vaguely like mountain troopers. Successful businesswoman and grown adult Lynne A. started these off and I wrapped them up. A basic rifle unit, with realistic colors. I'm not absolutely delighted with them because I think they veer more towards historic and away from eccentric and colorful. There may be a madcap leader on a horse coming just to spruce them up a bit.

"I am not a geek.."
On the other hand, these plastic figures are a real breeze to paint and a million times less stressful that my usual "realistic" projects. The kids end up playing with them, there's no lead, and the paint is cheap. My non-miniatures-gaming friends would never attempt to paint a Napoleonic hussar but have jumped right in to toy soldier painting, and their kids enjoy it as well. Now it just remains to be seen how the game itself plays out. If it's a bust then my children just get an early birthday present of dozens of toy soldiers and my wife sighs as the soldiers spill across the floor and all over the house. Still, it could be worse as fireworks are legal in this state and I've not followed through on threats of beginning home winemaking. A few toy soldiers may be the best of several taxing possibilities.

St. John's need Zouaves

Army Sea Blue needs some more troops and I really couldn't resist a unit of zouaves. What a marvelous historical hiccup they are! As I'm discovering the soldiers look just dreadful until they get their facial hair and gloss coats. Then they look very smart.

We have come for your maple syrup
Next on Sea Blue's agenda are more Rotisuldat and then the Roti themselves. After that I may have to throw in some mercenary hussars for color, or a naval brigade which makes a bit more sense considering the number of horses that St. John can support.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Forces Begin to Gather

The Funny Little Wars project continues. Here Army Red's bold, bold cavalry gets a nice first coat of paint. They have already promised to run rough over Army Sea Blue's famed Naval Cavalry squadron. To accomplish this unlikely feat the Red's have now mobilized their entire nation into the cause of conquering poor Fiume and humbling the island empire of Sea Blue. And what's this on their general's tunic? Can foreign mercenaries and general sneakiness be far behind?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

First Unit Assembles for Funny Little Wars

After some false starts and lots of stripping and starting over I've finished the first section of my Maltese Naval Cavalry unit. The greatly feared Rotisuldat Squadron begins to gather together, awaiting only their wunder weapon which is due in the mail any day now.

It's all about the mustache
These dashing fellows started out as Armies in Plastic Rough Riders. They got a base coat of Krylon plastic paint which settles nicely and also is very hard to get off of your hands. Then I applied a few coats of Liquitex Basics acrylics and some Vallejo for where good color really mattered. I also tried some bargain basement brand acrylics in an effort to save money and that was a disaster. Once again you get what you pay for.

Having said that, Armies in Plastic sells boxes of soldiers online at an insane discount. You could claim that it's a waste of money Not to buy some, though probably not out loud in front of spouses or coworkers.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Art Lessons from Kids

Today I needed to do some work on some Armies in Plastic toy soldiers. As chance would have it my nurse's daughter would there and I recruited her into the painting business.

I wasn't entirely sure how much fun a pre-teen girl would have painting French Foreign Legion. To my surprise S________ picked out the colour scheme of my troops, asked great questions about their kit and uniforms, and then settled down to do a lovely job of painting them. As we sat we talked about art and it turns out that she loves to sketch, likes pastels, and wants to start working with charcoal. I suspect that painting plastic toy soldiers with acrylics was actually sort of a step down for her! Still, I think she had fun, I got some painting done, and it's always nice to share the hobby a bit. A good lesson too that even if games, role playing, and miniatures are a bit fringe-y there are lots of elements to them that any older child or teen may enjoy.

Saga First Game Impressions

The miniature gaming scene has witnessed a wave of exciting new rulesets over the last few years. We've seen some, like Hail Caesar, that are appealing but very traditional in nature. And others, like Saga, that really put a new twist into play. I've been wanting to play Saga for some time now and got my first chance last night. 

Saga is a skirmish game set in the dark ages. Translated into English this means that the game is about small bands of Vikings, Scots, English and French fighting with spears and axes. These are really less battles and more good sized brawls. Skirmish gaming makes historical sense for this time period and it lets you play with forty or so miniatures per side.

Photo courtesy Robert D.
In a game of Saga you command a warlord and a group of troops. You may have well armed nobles, fairly well armed warriors, and unreliable peasants. Troops may fire arrows, move here and there, and eventually engage in hand to hand combat. The basic premise of the game is traditional and, for players with even a little experience, intuitive. Saga throws a twist into the mix with its dice. Every turn the player rolls a number of dice. The dice are then used to activate special powers. The better the power, the harder it is to activate. A mild power might require you to set aside any die. An awesome one might require you to set aside two sixes. Players have up to eight dice to roll in each turn and the game forces you to pick and choose which powers you are going to use. If you roll one six only you won't be able to activate the awesome power and will have to choose what use to put your single die to. In a sense it's like getting a random amount of money each turn to spend on special abilities. Further, you can save certain dice for use in later turns (like saving money) but then you will be able to roll fewer new dice.

This all boils down to a very fun, fast moving, and pleasantly tense game. We had the basic rules memorized after maybe two turns. After that we just agonized about never have Quite enough dice of the right sort to unleash the powers we wanted to unleash, and agonized about how to spend the dice we did roll and should we save some for later or would we wish we had spent them now etc etc. Each faction has different powers and that was fun to see in action. The Vikings specialize in just plowing ahead and shrugging off fatigue. The Scots have great defensive abilities and then can deliver some strong counterattacks. The other factions look like they'll play very differently too.

I felt pretty good about Saga. The rules are simple. The dice mechanic is fun and engaging. You need about forty miniature soldiers per player which is more than some people may own (hard as it is to believe that) but in the scheme of miniatures games that's pretty manageable. Saga is certainly more of a game than a realistic simulation but as games go it's terrific fun. We'll be playing more in the near future I'm sure.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Coloretto - Fun Family Game

I do recall that this is ostensibly a blog about gaming for families and that there are a few families out there who are not fascinated by toy soldiers and Dungeons and Dragons. In an effort to serve that group I would like to write about Coloretto.

Coloretto is a small card game. Most of the cards feature an illustration of a chameleon in one of seven colors. There are a few wild cards and a few other special scoring cards. The rules of the game are simple. Players take turns either drawing and laying down cards or picking up a pile of cards to add to the collection. Players score points by having several cards of the same color- for example four cards with pink chameleons on them. The points increase with each new card of the same color so getting a fifth pink card is quite a score.

The twist in the game is that you only score for three colors. If you have pink, yellow, and blue chameleons then if you get cards of a different color they count as negative points. The goal is to stick to any three colors and then avoid the rest. Each player who draws a card lays it in one of five piles and part of the game involves putting a card a player might want in the same pile as a card they won't want. In the above example if you drew a pink card you would be sure to put it in a pile with two brown cards. That way the player collecting pink, yellow, and blue has a dilemma. Get more pink and take negative points for the brown? Or hold out for better cards?

Coloretto is dead simple as games go but it's surprisingly deep in terms of strategy. Younger players will just enjoy collecting cards and scoring points. Older players may spend some time agonizing about what to do with certain cards and when to grab a given pile. This is a good game for all ages and considering the replay value is a great purchase.

Book Review- The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship

Last weekend I ate in my town's finest restaurant and as usual they delivered the check protruding from the pages on an old book. I suspect this is wrong in several ways although it's also a sort of hillbilly fortune cookie since you can try and find some hidden meaning in whatever book you've been given. Anyway, my book of the day was The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, or the Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating. Bravo indeed for life's little ironies and within the week my wife had a nice new copy Amazon'ing its way to me.

Gamesmanship is copyright 1948 but reads a bit older than that. If you can make your way through some pretty archaic text it is, however, a darn funny book. The author attempts to teach "gamesmanship," the skill of using clothes, language, and circumstance to completely distract and demoralize your opponent. For example, the "second rule of gamesmanship" is:

     "If the opponent wears, or attempts to wear, clothes correct and suitable for the game, by as much as his clothes succeed in this function, by so much should the gamesman's clothes fail."

     "Or if you can't volley, wear velvet socks."

The rest of the book discusses being late for events, how to buy lunches and drinks, incorporating conversations with angry spouses (who need not actually be on the phone, or even exist at all) and gives a variety of scenarios set in popular games like chess, tennis, and golf. It's all quite funny in a dry as a bone kind of way. Ironically, after reading several chapters I got to watch ultra-competitive board gamer R________ put several of the tricks into play that night at boardgame club. I don't know if he's studied the book or is a natural.

I'd recommend The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, or the Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating as a funny book for gamers and also as an instructive book for gamers. It's written in an older style but worth the effort to translate.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Funny Little Wars - Fun!

Most modern miniatures games use very detailed figures and generally complex rules. In contrast, toy soldier gamers use simple glossy figures and relatively basic rules. Further, many of them play on the lawn. I can't say for sure whether the lovely glossy figures, the simple rules, or the thought of playing on the green New Hampshire grass was the deciding factor but I decided it was time to investigate toy soldier gaming.

To be sure most toy soldier games are played by children who make up their own rules on the fly and have a fine time. A long term gamer, however, will acquire books of rules like a squirrel collects nuts- to briefly hold them and then lose them for months to years at a time. I ordered Funny Little Wars (FLW) from the Virtual Armchair General. While I have not played the game yet I do have some initial impressions.

FLW is written with a wry and funny tone. This seems to be a recent trend in British gaming and personally I enjoy it a lot. It starts with a history of early wargaming as played by H.G. Wells and then goes into a set of rules for playing with large figures on your lawn or floor. Players assemble groups of toy soldiers and then march them around, taking shots with rifles and cannon, and occasionally charging with cavalry or springing attacks with spies. The gist of this game is "take lots of toys and stage a battle that's fast and fun to look at." The time period is set around 1900 but the author is very clear that the idea is for the forces to look good, so if some hussars or zouaves find their way fighting alongside bicycle troops then all the better.

Without going into detail the rules themselves are pretty simple. Players roll dice to score hits with gunfire and individual figures are removed as casualties. Advanced rules include aircraft, spies, vehicles, morale, written orders, and hospitals. There are army lists and suggestions for where to buy figures included as well.

I was struck by a few things with FLW. I liked reading the rules and the writer makes playing the game look absolutely great. I think this is the ideal set of rules to use if you're introducing a child to miniatures gaming or if you want a casual game between adult friends. I would absolutely recommend taking a look at these if you're thinking of starting out in the hobby or want to pass on the bug to new players. For myself,  I've ordered some troops from Hobby Bunker and hopefully the Fez relief expedition will be hitting the lawn in a month or two.

Huzzah! Followup Part 3

Now that things have wound down a bit I find myself thinking about Huzzah! critically and about conventions in general. First and foremost I recognize that we all go to wargame conventions for different reasons. We may want to play a new game, or an old game, or play any game at all if we're isolated from other players. Some game masters want to turn on new players to a cool system, some want to have fun with their friends, and some want to show off their skills in painting and terrain.

As an aside, the last probably applies to every wargamer. I've never encountered a frenzy of admiration and ego stroking to rival a wargame convention. We probably spend 40% of our time praising other people's work and 40% waiting for praise of our own. The rest is spent shopping and a little gaming.

A Good Game Master
Given the multitude of reasons for people to attend conventions I still find myself wondering what makes the perfect con game. I have a few thoughts. I think you need rules that can be explained in less than 30 minutes. You need rules where the player spends very little time sitting and waiting. You need to avoid situations where action on one part of the board holds up all the other players. And finally you need rules that are either completely unambiguous or rules that don't penalize or reward fuzzy measurements.

If the above is accurate or close to accurate it is striking to see how many game masters ignore those criteria. It's striking how they can ignore the sight of players sitting and staring off into space, wandering off during the game, or just looking glum and bored. I imagine someone thinks "Flames of War is so awesome, what a great game for a convention," and doesn't stop to consider that in the end you're trying to entertain people.

For myself that's the key criteria I'll be using in the future. Does my game entertain people? Regardless of how I feel personally is it entertaining to strangers? We play at the club for a variety of reasons but I think the convention game is first and foremost there to entertain.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Huzzah! Followup Part 2

My trip to Huzzah! was a little nerve wracking because this was the fourth convention that I would be running a game at. My previous three attempts were unqualified disasters but I was determined to not be the Charlie Brown of gaming. I decided to go to unprecedented lengths. I playtested the game, I used a popular ruleset, and I finished the terrain at least 40 hours ahead of deadline.

I ran a scenario from Commands and Colors Napoleonics using their "epic" rules. The hope was that there would be a  lot more activity on any given turn and less player down time. We used the Salamanca scenario without Portuguese mainly because I didn't have time to paint any Portuguese. In the end I'm happy to say the players were pleased and the game was a big hit.

The main factor behind the event's success was probably good natured players. The rules are good ones for convention use as well- turns are fast and usually two or three players will be active at a time. Movement and combat are fast and there are no ambiguities to cause fights. Further, most of the rules are intuitive so you rarely hear cries of surprise and complaints about not knowing some esoteric mechanism. Finally, the ten millimeter scale makes large armies look just terrific on the field. Any smaller and they become indistinct, any larger and they lose a sense of numbers.

I'll certainly run the game at more cons. Now it's just time to paint up some more troops and add the Spanish and Portuguese.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Huzzah! Followup Part 1

This last weekend was the third Huzzah! gaming convention. In short it was a fun time and its established it's status for me as the go-to game con of the year.

Most of the fun in any gaming experience is in the people you talk and play with. Huzzah! is second only to Carnage for its' super pleasant folks. I met paratroopers, store owners, medical directors and state troopers and we talked about wargaming and about our kids. Really my two favorite subjects. There are always a few rules lawyers and competitive types but they're by far the exception rather than the rule.

A few years ago the hot new game was Lasalle and I got another chance to play this weekend. The fellows running the game were a lot of fun and the figures were just gorgeous. There as an old school toy soldier game with home cast figures which almost got me sold on casting my own lead figures. Close call! Then we played Day of Battle, which is a medieval battle game with some interesting role playing mechanics. Finally, I took part in a massive Napoleonic Black Powder game.

I was a little disappointed not to find a new exciting set of rules to try for the next year. Black Powder is a very nice set of rules but not really exciting- more reliable and useful. It's a nice choice for moving around lots of soldiers in a fast game. Lasalle is decent as well and probably my system of choice for that level of Napoleonics. In contrast the first time I played Disposable Heroes or B5:A Call to Arms I was stunned by how fun they were.

I did pick up a copy of They Died for Glory and Through the Mud and the Blood. I'm pretty impressed with the former so far- the question is really whether the Franco-Prussian war is a fun one to play. In any case the rules look good and I may adapt them to an imagi-nation setting. Otherwise there's always Funny Little Wars to consider.

In the end Huzzah! was a lot of fun. Good people, fun games, inspiring layouts. I'll be there next year.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Commands and Colors Playtest

Last night we playtested the Commands and Colors game I'll be running at Huzzah! I had some hope it would be a bit of a surprise since the last time we had demo'd it the minis had been unflocked, the terrain was unpainted, and the terrain mat had been just plain wrong. At the same time I had some concern that the mainly boardgaming group would be disinterested in a miniatures game.

Suspense is a source of unhealthy stress as Douglas Adams points out so let's start by saying the game was very successful. I hadn't run the troops through a full dress rehearsal so I was as surprised as anyone to see how pretty the board turned out. Let's send a "thank you" out to Games Workshop for their credo of painting everything several shades lighter than you'd think they should be painted. The terrain mat is a crazy fluorescent green, the static grass is the same day-glo color, and somehow at three feet the whole thing looks just fine.

The game itself flowed nicely. We had a full game in a few hours and all five players were engaged and active throughout. We used the "epic" rules and they stayed balanced, simple, and fun. The action was fast but stayed historically appropriate- skirmishers lodged in towns and picked off exposed troops. Cavalry bounced off of squares unless aided by artillery, in which case the squares got demolished. The British did well when in line and got crushed by melee attacks when isolated or strung out. On the whole I was very happy and the players had fun.

Next stop- Portland.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

While the Cat is Away

Today the wife and kids were out of the house and that left me free to run wild. I changed into comfortable clothes and then set about to spray paint terrain with carefree abandon.

I had originally planned on using a Hotz Artworks mat for the Salamanca game at Huzzah! but I wasn't able to find one that was bright enough. Grass (especially New Hampshire grass) is a lovely shade of bright green with hues of yellow in it. To simulate that color radiating beneath the bright Spanish sun I felt like I had to opt for an "unrealistically" light hue. Further, the 10mm figures need lots of light to stand out and some of that has to come from reflection. In the end I chose something the hue of pistachio ice cream.

The next step was to paint hexagon borders on the mat, since Commands and Colors uses a hex map. You can buy stencils for hexagons but that doesn't give complete shapes. I opted to lay down hexagon shapes and then spray paint over them creating complete border lines. With memories of far more horrifying projects from the past fresh in her mind my wife stepped up and produced a hundred or so five inch hexagons using paper and her quilting tools. I think she felt this was a vast improvement over airbrushing in the baby's nursery or power sanding insulation foam in the living room.

I went outside, sprayed the game mat with Elmer's spray adhesive and lay down the tiles with a few millimeters gap between each. The adhesive worked like a charm and the whole job sped along nicely. Then the wind blew the hexes into the back yard and I moved the whole process into the garage. Next came a light coat of brown paint and then the whole thing was left to dry.

The end result was a very nice surprise. The hex borders look just terrific and the irregular painting process has left the mat with some nice areas of greater or lesser brown shading. It looks very "organic" and field-like and for a first try I'm just thrilled.

Now to flock hundreds of troops!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Buildings in Progress

Tonight I finished my southern Spanish houses for the Salamanca game at Huzzah! In the end the work was pretty straightforward. They were primed in gesso, stained in dark gray and red, and then received several coats of dry brushed white, red, and orange. The terrain from Total Battle Miniatures looks a little better in my opinion- the rooftop detail is crisper and the wall texture really stands out. Nevertheless the town as a whole looks good and I'm ready to start work on the rest of the terrain.

I picked up some 6mm civilians and animals from Angel Barracks and a bridge from Timecast. At the moment the bridge is looking just terrific and the civilians are looking adequate but for 6mm probably they're fine. After that is the game mat. The mat is looking to be a shade of green far lighter than "reality," but the effect should be to bring out the colors in the tiny 10mm troops who would otherwise be lost in a darker background.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Adler Hobby in New Hampshire

My home base for gaming here in western New Hampshire is Triple Play Games. Triple Play has a very strong board gaming and card gaming community, along with some Warhammer and Warmachine gaming. It doesn't host the most active historical miniatures group but you can't have everything and the gamers there are super friendly and fun.

A few weeks ago I was invited to a Black Powder game at Adler Hobby in Hollis, NH. It's roughly seventy miles from my home and thus a scant two hour drive. Thank you New Hampshire! I ended up having a lot of fun with the game but also left feeling pretty impressed with the site. Adler Hobby is located in a fellow's garage. When you walk in, however, you stumble onto a terribly well stocked miniatures store with a large and well thought out selection of miniatures and games. Adler doesn't try to carry everything but what it does carry is useful and good quality. It's really a historical miniatures store so don't expect Warhammer or Magic, The people there are friendly and fun and the owner is hospitable and pleasant. If I were closer or my state had more paved roads I would certainly be gaming there often. As it is I recommend it to anyone in the area.