Friday, 20 March 2015

Other People's Toys: Buying Painted Miniatures


Until recently, I was a hobby purist. Armed with excessive free time, I was proud that all of my miniatures, terrain and other hobby accessories were mine. I built them, I painted them, I had made them as unique or as conformed as I chose. Even when I was young and my painting was admittedly terrible (not that it is much better now), I loved the fact that what I put on the table was 100% the work of my own hand.

I didn’t understand people that bought armies, or had their buddy paint units. I viewed painting hiring services as cheating and really wondered why anyone would pay a premium on Ebay to lose out on one of the most enjoyable parts of our game. If I had to have troops ready to go with no work, I would have played a video game. I just didn’t make sense to me.

Then I started working. I went from having 16 hours of potential painting time to roughly two and a half. I get home late many nights and my wife, like a mother herding children to sleep, makes me accompany her to bed at 10:30. Within those few hours I also have to make time to hang out with her, to cook, to play with the dog and to do any social things I want to do. Quite obviously, painting becomes a secondary (or tertiary) concern very quickly. Units that would be done in a day become the result of a solid week or two of painting for twenty minutes here or there. The joy of placing a finished unit in its place on the shelf has become an all too rare event.

I bought my first painted miniatures a few months ago almost by chance. I had come into owning a stupid number of old metal Tallarn imperial guard figures through various trades and I knew I would never use them. I put them up on the trading sites and got a very intriguing offer. A guy in Nottingham had a very large DAK force, unpainted and well stocked with units I like that he wanted to trade. (Shoutout to Mark Owen – I’ve since traded with him several times and always a fantastic experience) I love the desert war and had been thinking about playing DAK at some point. However, his DAK force wasn’t quite at the level of the Tallarns in terms of value (it was like $1,700 in guard). He did, however, have random bits and pieces of other things.

One of his “bits and pieces” was a fully painted, based and in carrying case late war Russian Guards Heavy Tankovy force with 16 (16!!) KV-1e tanks (I will feature it in a post sometime soon). Talk about a cool army that I would love to own but would never ever build myself. There it was, completely done. I literally had to do nothing to field it. I thought about it, and decided maybe it was time I should start cutting myself some slack and let some other guy do the work. Although I haven’t played the army much due to the fact that it hits like a little girl, I’m glad I own it and I know that had I bought it on my own it never would have gotten done.

Since then, I have bought various units here and there. It’s easy to buy a whole army where the painting will match, but buying individual units becomes hard. They have to fit into whatever scheme you are using and not be either too much better or too much worse than what you have painted.

 


A few weeks ago I featured a unit of Hetzers in my post on overloaded vehicles. Those were one of the painted units I purchased. They fit the scheme I wanted to use, were cleanly painted and were a unit I wanted but would never reach a high enough importance to get painted. Now, I have a unit I want to run, fully painted and they fit in perfectly. Had I bought them at the store, I would have had to spend hours assembling, painting and weathering to get the same use I have now. Even worse, units that I really want to paint would have been pushed back in priority to where they maybe would never have been done.

I recently got a couple more units from the same painter. These followed the same lines as the Hetzers: units I would love to have that maybe only fit into a few lists and that I know I would never paint even if I bought them. I got a unit of 5 German T-34 tanks with one T-34/85. The Desperate Measures tank list has a ton of options and this little unit is about my favorite. I’m really excited to field the unit, but if I had not seen them for sale I never would have made them. They are usable in literally one list. Why would I paint them over say a unit of artillery or some jagdpanthers that I could use in tons of lists?

The second unit that I got was Auflauker 38-Ts. As you know from my other posts, I love small units of recon armored cars. They zip, spy and annoy all day. The 38-T is among the cutest and most interesting of these armored cars, but much like the T-34s they are not used in many lists. These models are not the actual models, but PSC 38-T hulls with the sdkz 222 turret on them. Accordingly, they have an additional machine gun. The guy I got them from was worried they wouldn’t sell and so he tossed them in with the T-34s (I disagree on them selling, but I’m happy about it). I never would have gone out and bought 3 blister of these in lieu of recon 250s or pumas, but I’m super happy I have them.

I still find it difficult to take a unit or army that I didn’t paint and slap it on the table. I have to make in mine in some way. With the Hetzers, I changed their track color to match my other units, did a customary very light drybrush of Iraqi Sand (makes any vehicle pop) and did some line inking. I haven’t had the opportunity to do the same with the new vehicles, but they will end up going under the brush for some minor additions. I feel that if I put something of mine into them, it feels less like “cheating”.

For the Russian army, I’m looking forward to having a free few hours to completely update the basing and inking of the whole army. I did ink lining of each of the KV-1Es, and I’m thinking to mud the tracks and give a light drybrush of dust and mud to make them look well used. There is no way KV-1Es that have survived until late war look anything like pristine. When I do give them the weather treatment,  I’ll make sure to do a step by step so the readers of the blog can see how I weather units (as can be seen in my earlier picture of the American tanks).

I initially had great reservations about buying painted miniatures, but more and more I become a fan. I get great looking toys that fit my armies. It saves me a ton of time and effort, while allowing me to not disrespect my opponents with “silver surfers” or the “black on black” armies of unpainted toys. Those I buy these miniatures from are able to get some return on their hard work too, and that always helps the hobby.

This change of heart has come about due to changing life circumstance, but it has made me think about what role “ownership” of one’s work plays in the hobby. Is it ok to turn up at a tournament with an army you didn’t paint? Are you less of a hobbyist if you do? How much work on someone else’s miniatures must be done until it’s yours? Should we care?

I’m not sure about the answer on any of those, but what I do know is that I’m glad I got over my pride and bought some painted units. My armies get more interesting and more painted, and I still have time for those unique, difficult units that I truly want to paint.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Wait, I can't play my army? - List Censorship in Tournaments

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a French project that I had started for the purposes of playing in a three player team tournament that I had entered with a couple of gaming buddies. The tournament asks players to bring a list for each of the Axis and Allied sides. I knew I was going to field a French combat squadron, but I wasn't sure which early war Axis list I would bring.

My early war Axis army is Afrika Korps and I know that I'll run something from the desert. I was considering schutzen, light panzer or stutzpunkt. When I looked at the tournament format webpage, my options had been limited for me. No fortification lists allowed. My perfectly legal list was made illegal all of a sudden. It is this trend of list censorship in tournaments that I am writing about today.


Regardless of which company I choose for my early war army, I know that I'm going to have to field air support, 88s, heavy artillery or some other heavy tank killer. Someone will show up with a fat unit of T-34s, Matildas or Char B-1s. They will have a number of extremely heavy (for early) tanks that I must specifically tailor some aspect of my army against. I will spend points that I would much rather spend on units I actually like to combat obnoxious units the enemies list is completely based around.

I'm fine with this, because those heavy tanks are historical, pointed well and part of the game. I know they will exist, and I take steps to counter them in my list.
This pillbox is completely allowed....

.... this one is not.

Not one of those players will have to think about how to face my Stutzpunkt, Fuciliari or any other fortified lists. They won't have to think about pioneers and their role in breaking defenses, about attacking with their limited infantry or how to strategically place objectives to take advantage of the fortified company rules.
This would have been FAR easier if they just enlisted the Milton Keynes Wargamers Society to run things.

The tournament has removed an interesting and very historical part of the game for some arbitrary reason. Maybe they think it's boring, without realizing how the pre-placement of fortified companies mean the fortified company is often counter-attacking to hold exposed objectives. Maybe they think an entire list needs to be tailored to fight fortified companies or that the lists should be for scenarios only. Whatever the reason, the fact is that I can't choose one of my companies because someone thinks they are not fun.

A lot of talk on forums is how powerful the strelkovy horde with a KV is during early war, or how T-34 tank lists are so nasty. These lists are extremely well suited to win against most lists in the game. The strelkovy defend exceptionally well, and have a KV that can barely be touched. The T-34s outclass comparable tanks and have a great deal of support. They are strong lists, especially the strelkovy. However, fortified lists are able to counter the huge immobile defending horde. They make it difficult to play a sit and win infantry army, and force the strelkovy player to take units that can attack and beat fortifications. They are required to have units that are mobile and powerful to the point that they can take advantage of exposed objectives and race against reserves.
Enver Hoxha thought bunkers were fun! 700,000 of them in 28,000 square kilometres.

I just don't understand how 41 tank T-26 companies, Matilda lists, and immobile strelkovy lists are totally fine, but a german Stutzpunkt list with a stupid expensive compulsory section and other similar lists are disallowed. The rules with objectives and exceptionally limited mobile reserves create balance and can lead to exciting, close games. Removing that senseless and means players like me can't simply play their armies as the rules of the game allow and dictate. Choose missions and victory conditions to make things difficult on fortification lists, but don't start redacting army books.
Look, it's the list selection page before my next tournament!


What do you think? Should we be picking and choosing which lists are kosher? Does it make for a better game?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A Hobby For All Seasons: How Wargaming Keeps Its Hold on Us


As I come up to 15 years of wargaming in various forms, I’ve started to think more and more about the place the hobby has in my life and how it has influenced me over the years. I thought that for today’s post, I would do something a little more autobiographical and then take a look at why the hobby has such a hold on the lives of gamers.

My life in the Hobby

Being “that kid"
 
I have been involved in the hobby since I was 14 but I was always building and playing with models when I was younger. My first encounter with miniatures came when I was maybe 9 or 10 and I needed infantry for my micro machines. I found a model shop and they have 1/72 scale troops. They weren’t painted, but they were the right size. I kept going and getting new troops and in the process noticed Warhammer.

For all their faults, GW is an amazing gateway into the hobby and I would bet that a huge number of current serious wargamers are products of the slick marketing and over the top hobby approach of Games Workshop. While the accessibility of Games Workshop products to young people has lessened given the prices, their focus on churning out new gamers still brings the next generation onto the tabletops. My first GW product was the excellent 5th edition Warhammer Fantasy starter set containing Lizardmen and Brettonians. I recall not even trying with the Brettonians, but I did get the Lizardmen painted in a garish dark green and bright red scheme that invoked images of Christmas and festivities more than the deep dark jungles of Lustria.

My first army was High Elves, and I still look forward to the day when I have the patient to recreate my old force. My Elves had bright blue hair and, as every cheesy High Elf player in 5th edition believed, loved their bolt throwers. I played in a campaign organized by the local store (the venerable Dreamers in St. Louis Park, Minnesota) where victories brought rolls for “territories”. As we could choose between what we rolled, I kept picking war machine territories and packed on the bolt thrower. I can’t imagine it was fun for my opponents at all.

My army was basically as many of these as possible plus some blue haired spearmen




Terrible Tournaments

From there I got into 40k and other games. I also, unfortunately, started playing in tournaments. You might ask why that’s unfortunate. It’s not that I don’t like tournaments. I love the idea of tournaments. You get to play three or more games in a day against diverse competition. You meet new people, have motivation to finish armies and it is generally a good time. Moreover, some of my best games have been in tournaments and the mere existence of an upcoming tournament focused my hobby, led me to many practice games and really energized me in general. Where I was playing a game where I was unskilled or new, I had a great time at tournaments. However, sometimes I was actually good at the game and then my competitive side came out.

I am quite good at 40k. The game clicks for me. I understand where to put what force at what time and how to bring about results. I win the vast majority of the games I play, and oftentimes without much muss or fuss. There’s something about it that really works with my way of thinking, and so when I would go to 40k tournaments it would be to win. Of course, these weren’t grand tournaments or anything, but little regional affairs.  I won my first 40k tournament at the old Air Traffic in Bloomington, Minnesota in high school. I remember I was playing an all infantry valhallan imperial guard army that I had been working on building blister by blister for ages. I realized I loved winning these things, and it totally ruined tournaments for me. I became a nervous wreck who overanalyzed the games and didn’t just enjoy the fact that I was doing something I loved. Making the right moves, creating success and crushing my opponents became very important. Now, I wasn’t “that guy” and wouldn’t be nasty or unpleasant to my opponents. This was more of an internal stress that weighed down on my enjoyment. I would be exhausted and even winning, not happy about how things went. I would focus on the small failures even among the greater wins.  I started to resent tournaments. During a two year period while I was living abroad in Romania, I won their national championship back to back. I should have been pleased and excited about doing well against some wonderful players, but instead I swore off tournaments.
 
Me at a competitive tourney.




Frats and Toys

When I left for college at 18, I decided to not bring my miniatures. I was going down to Arizona State and felt that it was time for a change. I was prepped for four years of parties, women and the type of lifestyle that really didn’t suit miniatures gamer. What would my roommates and other ultra-cool college guys think about little toys and my painting of them?

I lasted two and a half months before I walked the two miles to the local gaming store (the Game Depot in Tempe, Arizona) to buy some paints and some miniatures. Now, a two mile walk isn’t normally a big deal. Having since lived in New York and London, walking is a non-issue. However, this was two miles in 110 degree weather (that’s 43 degrees Celsius if you prefer) along baking sidewalks. No one walks in Arizona, but I did just to get my plastic crack.





Not painting and working on miniatures for those few months was interesting for me. I’d been non-stop planning armies, creating projects and looking forward to tournaments for years by then. It was something I did everyday, and so removing it felt strange. I know I played more video games and chatted online more, but it wasn’t like anything spectacular filled my time. I found myself making fewer goals for things, even outside of the hobby. I will discuss how the hobby interacts with my work and life in terms of goals and objectives later, but basically I was less active in planning my life when I wasn’t planning my miniatures. I felt less creative, less engaged and just less myself. It was a strange feeling and I felt I was better off with my gaming than without.

The hobby played a very strange role in college. I wasn’t the normal hobbyist at school. I was a fraternity member my entire time in college (Rah Rah Delta, ΔTΔ) and thoroughly involved in the partying, boozing and enjoying the social life of America’s premier party school. I learned during this time not to be ashamed or embarrassed that I enjoyed my hobby. Rather than being something I was worried would make me look uncool or something, the paints and models in my room at the house would become conversation pieces. Now, I didn’t go out of my way to broadcast that I was a gamer, but I sure didn’t get bothered that people knew. I realized that everyone has their hobbies and interests and that the hobby simply was mine.

 
I expanded the tabletop games I played in college big time.



After three years in Phoenix, I moved to Romania for a study abroad scholarship and left my toys at home. For the second time since I started playing, I decided to put down the hobby as I entered into a new stage in life and focus on the new country. Little did I know that the hobby would end up sticking around in its own way, and that even abandoned it would have a profound effect on my life.

I was living in Cluj-Napoca, Romania with an 84 year old woman who didn’t speak one word of English and I knew absolutely no one. It was summer and school hadn’t started, which meant Cluj was deserted. Not content to wait for classes to meet people, I took to trolling the bars and being obscenely outgoing. Most of the time this resulted in nice conversations with people I’d never see again, but one night I was a bar with a number of pool table trying to talk to people. One group of people roughly my age were playing pool and I thought I’d interject and ask them what game they were playing. We started talking and shooting some pool. Then the guy in the group called his shot. He said he was trying to hit the “Liche Purple” ball over there. I thought I’d misheard him and asked him to repeat that. It was clear, I had found another gamer.



I started to hang out with this guy and his friends as school started. We shared a common hobby and a common like for beer, games and girls. In time I met more and more of his friends. Instead of gaming, I was at the bars meeting people, clubbing and living it up. One night we decided to pre-game before the bar with a friend of his and her classmates. One of those classmates I met that night ended up becoming my wife. I think back and think, “if he had said purple or pointed instead of broadcasting his nerdiness is a most unexpected way, I never would have met her.”

On account of meeting her and having a wonderful time in Romania, I decided to stay a few more years and to bring my hobby with me. I met wonderful people, played in some tournaments and got back to my old self. Sitting here four years after I left Romania, it’s the people I met gaming that I still talk to and keep in touch with most. It felt like wherever I went I could find people in the hobby with which to connect.

Hobbying while Busy

Entering law school in New York after moving from Romania changed my hobby greatly. For the first time, I was intensely busy studying and becoming involved in the overwhelming world of U.S. legal education. I was unused the competition and commitments required, and it cut down my painting and modeling time greatly. Instead, I discovered trading. I could sit in class and buy, sell and trade miniatures. Negotiations and figuring out how to get the exact army I wanted for cheap was thrilling, and even during those time when I didn’t have time to paint I knew I could still enjoy my hobby. My wife volunteered to pack and ship things for a cut of the money, and I was in wargamer heaven. I got games in here or there at the local Games Workshop (8th Street for the win) or against my wife in those games she enjoys, but the hobby was different during school. I had grown frustrated with tournaments and how they made me feel, so it was just casual gaming and casual trading.

After graduating law school, I started working in London for an American law firm. The hours are long and the work intense, but unlike in school, when I’m off work I’m off work. There isn’t lingering pressure or study that simply is never done. I’ve been able to get back to painting and playing. We got an apartment big enough to have a dedicated hobby room (I will do a post on this at a later day) and I’ve found some wonderful people at Dark Sphere to play games with on the weekends. My hobby is quite different than it was before. I never know when the work will be done during the week so I have to plan and anticipate games as opposed to show up and play. I may have two weeks with no painting time and then two weeks with tons of time. I’ve gone from cash poor, time rich to cash rich and time poor. I always worried about what I could get and not how I would ever get the time to paint it.


Too true.





This time situation is what led me to start this blog. I have some down time at work and thought that I could do an article here and there. I love reading WWPD, Breakthrough Assault and Drunken Samauri blogs each day and thought I could connect to my hobby through sharing my thoughts, opinions, pictures and games with the gaming work. As my hobby continually adopts to my lifestyle and I have to find new ways to feel engaged, opportunities such as writing in a blog breathe fresh air into the experience. It is this continual evolution and expansion that I want to write about today. How does this hobby keep drawing me back into it and changing to suit my need?

Why do we keep playing?

The Ever Changing Hobby

Last week I wrote an article on the Battlefront State of the Union. I wrote about the Vietnam river boats and how much I liked the monitors. I then looked up the monitors on Wikipedia. This led to reading about the riverine campaign and then to other areas of operations in Vietnam. This led to me downloading the book “Easy Target” by Tom Smith (an amazing read) about airmobile scout pilots. I finished the book last night on the train home from work, and when I arrived home I unpacked the box of Loaches that I’d picked up from the store and paid for the boxes of U.S. and NVA infantry I’d found on the Facebook Flames of War Swap Shop.

My engaging of the hobby wasn’t just writing an article and buying some models. I got to learn about a war I know too little about, read about the experiences of a pilot and his struggles through the war, and then have the opportunity to recreate situations and battles that I read about. I’m starting a second memoir and have been downloading a long list of Vietnam movies. The hobby isn’t just some toys that I paint and play with but a mechanism for engaging my interest in the world around me.

It is this “extracurricular” aspect that keeps me going. The games don’t change much year in and year out. I find myself painting basically the same models for the same armies for the same systems that I was doing five, ten or fifteen years ago. Yeah, some are in plastic now or are bigger or are extra fancy, but once you boil it down it’s all the same thing. What makes it fascinating is the universe of other things that tie into the games.

Historicals obviously have a huge advantage with this. You can find history books, photographs, in depth analysis of uniforms, organization and strategy. There are countless video and computer games that cover many of the periods that these games occupy, and you can waste hours using your Sherman tanks in a game before painting some up and playing them on the tabletop. Fantasy and Sci-fi games are realizing the pull of having a broad range of non-miniatures media around their games. GW has licensed the Dawn of War series, pumps out novels with Black Library, created a godawful Ultramarines movie and has even attempted to recreate some of the historical feel with the Forgeworld campaign books. It is possible to spend all your free time reading, painting, playing games and researching without ever leaving the 40K or Fantasy universe. Privateer is close on GWs heels with their excellent line of books and their upcoming Warmachine video game. The hobby keeps growing into new forms of entertainment.

The Other Smelly Guys
Wargaming: where all your neckbeard and fedora dreams come true

I have lived in many places since I started in the hobby, from my hometown of Minneapolis to Phoenix, Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest, New York, Budapest and now to London. In each place I was able to find a wonderful, welcoming community of gamers with whom I made friends. In each place I was able to find a place for myself, and it has done a lot to help me avoid the pitfalls of moving internationally for relatively short periods of time. I find the hobby to be my anchor through rapidly changing life situations. I may be faced with a daunting new job or exceptionally strange customs, but a d6 is the same everywhere I go.

When I meet up with my friends from high school, we shoot the shit over old gaming days and current news. Where we have drifted apart, the hobby remains something we share. My friends don’t always understand the rigor of my job or how it is to be married or move so often, but we always have something we are on the same page about.

I think community is an important part of the hobby for many gamers. There are so many amazing options for someone who is fantasy or historically minded to become immersed in their interest. People can tour battlefields, do re-enactment or play the aforementioned video games. However, tabletop miniatures has an intense social side that many of those do not offer. You are forced to interact with others. The enjoyment of the game is dependent on another person, how you act and the shared excitement of what is happening on the table. This sets it apart and gives it legs. Yes, you can interact with people in video games, but is it really interaction when a twelve year old is describing how he fornicated with your mother? Wargaming generally brings together mature, dedicated and interesting people who love the same thing as a core part of the experience. It’s hard to become bored of that.


Plastic Crack

We all joke about plastic crack and obsession, but the more I think about the hobby the more I see this idea in my experience. There is a high for me when I’m planning a project, researching and dreaming about how it will look or play on the tabletop. I become excited, for days or weeks, in a euphoria that I’ve only otherwise experienced when I become exceptionally involved and busy at work on a big deal with tight deadlines and the whole team is working towards the same goal. I crave that feeling in my hobby. I start too many projects, and leave far too many unfinished. I buy, sell and trade constantly as I jump into new, exciting things and start new projects. It’s been 15 years and I still get the same excitement and feeling when planning a new army that I did with my first. I don’t know how healthy it is, but I guess if I’m going to be chasing a high, one relating to painting toy soldiers can’t be that bad.
Got any more of those projects?

 

Goals and Productivity

Law school exam time in the U.S. is an insane pressure cooker of long hours of studying, a feeling that you’ll never learn it all, and a time to take stock in the fact that you’re directly competing with some of the smartest people you’ve ever met for a tiny stock of good grades (for the >70% of my readership outside of the U.S., law school exams in America are graded on a curve such that only ~3-4% get the top grade, ~10% the next and so forth). Exam time is also when I was the most productive in painting in my entire life. I got so many miniatures done during the few weeks of exams that even I couldn’t believe my production.

When I’m productive in life, I’m productive in my hobby. However, I have often also used by hobby to jumpstart my life productivity. If I can push ahead and get that one unit done or that one project realized, I see a visible effect on my work the next day or week. When I was stalled with studying, I would put it away and paint to jump start my productivity. I realize that as I paint I make goals. One more figure, one more unit, one more vehicle. This thinking then gets translated to doing well on the new document or being especially prepared for a specific meeting.

I was somewhat lost when I was younger. I was immature in high school and really didn’t take school seriously. I didn’t set goals at all, and just kind of lived life one day at a time. However, when it came to toys I had goals, schedules of what to do and the ability to realize those goals. It was only when I got older and realized how important all of that was in my actual life that things started straightening out. However, instead of having to learn all of those skills from scratch, I had years of practice from my hobby. I never thought about how it would help me in the future, but it meant that this major life change was far easier and far more successful than it otherwise would have been.

The goal making and project based thinking of the hobby keeps me glued to it. I’ve become so used to having a steady stream of to-dos and goals set in my life that I feel empty without it. There is always something more to work for and strive for in the hobby. It’s like playing an MMO and grinding for the next level, except that there is such a diversity of games and experiences that the grind doesn’t have to be. Making it to that next level and finishing that project keeps gaming fresh and interesting for me after all this time.

Conclusions

Everyone’s hobby experience is different and we also place it to some degree of importance or another in our lives, but the truth is we do have a shared experience. In such a social game, community makes things happen. My blog would go unwritten without readers to share it with, my projects would become stale without the amazing contributions of others to give ideas and motivation while gaming alone would mean an end to my playing days. The hobby may help me set goals, find my creative side and let me chase the high of planning, but in the end it’s about meeting and connecting with people over something we love. Seeing that new player understand how amazing little toys on the table can be, or helping an old player reignite that passion keeps me coming back time and time again.

I’d like to hear what makes you, the fellow hobbyist, love the hobby. We spend so much money and time on these damned little toys and yet it seems once people become miniatures gamers they tend to stick. What’s your story?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Less is more: my thoughts on small recon platoons

I had a very busy weekend and so have been slow on writing my next post. This weekend was the 8th of March. As an American, I never celebrated, acknowledged or even knew about International Women's Day.

My wife is Romanian, however, and that means that she expects flowers, dinners, etc. Basically another Valentines (but the reservations are FAR easier to get). For the first five or so years we were married, I forgot each and every year. I mean, it's just another day in March right? Now I go all out and make the day all about her. It is wonderful couple time, but terrible for blog writing.
Russian women snipers


As I work on my next large post, I thought I would throw up some pictures of a U.S. cavalry recon platoon that I complete awhile back. These guys are wonderful recon consisting of a single armoured car and two jeeps. One of the jeeps even have a light mortar with great firepower.


I'm increasingly liking the idea of super cheap, super small recon in my armies. When I have larger platoons of recon (especially infantry), I tend to use them like another line infantry platoon as opposed to a dedicated recon platoon. For example, I'm a very big fan of the German late war grenadier scout platoon. It is either 3 bases at 70 points or 5 bases at 115 points. The command team can be upgraded to a panzerfaust SMG team for 15 points if you feel the need to upgun against tanks. However, the recon platoon has another option that proves all too tempting: for 15 points a team you can give them assault rifles. With 3 shots on the move with an 8 inch range, you can have your recon become extremely scary.
Your recon should not look like this in a grenadier company.
I keep finding myself tempted by the assault rifle upgrade and panzerfaust. They would be a fantastic assault unit. However, more and more I feel that's a trap. I should be paying 70 points for 3 bases and using them as recon. I have tons of infantry in my grenadier army. I don't have a ton of recon.

Pumas have the same issue. You pay the points for a decent gun and mobility, but you also lose your recon spots to something that won't be lifting gone to ground, benefiting from cautious movement or acting as recon generally. Why not take 2 8-rads, save the points for something else useful and rest easy knowing your recon won't tempt you into using them as glorified tanks?
Hiding in plain sight

The cavalry recon platoon is brilliant in this regard. No one is going to go all John Wayne with a single armoured car. They are small, easy to hide but come with big enough guns to protect themselves if need be.

They are similar in this way to some of my other favourite units: 8-rads, 222s, BA-64s and the aforementioned 3 base grenadier scout platoon.

Remember, use your recon as recon. They aren't tanks or assault infantry. They multiply force, not create it. Using recon for combat is a great way to lose these generally weak platoons, make life harder on your other units due to lack of eyes and ears, and risk the enemy being able to actively use their recon and recon while you lack similar light units to harass and suppress.







Friday, 6 March 2015

A most exciting union: my thoughts on Battlefront's State of the Union 2015


With Battlefront’s exceptionally exciting look forward to 2015, I thought I would give my thoughts and impressions on each of the major releases that they have revealed. Some I’m quite iffy on, while others have me wanting to step into a time machine for later dates of 2015. I think that letting everyone know what to expect is a great strategy and I know that the anticipation of new items will keep me saving my quarters all year long.


Nachtjager

            We’ve all seen what’s coming out or what has already been released. I was hoping that they would reveal the train AA cars models or other releases that they might have that we have not seen. I have the world supply of Panthers and I don’t play British so I’ve been less excited about this release than I might otherwise have been. I will be picking up a platoon of Jagdpanthers, but I’m worried that a tank that “hefty” in plastic will just feel wrong.



Brown Water Navy

            I have very mixed feelings on this. Those models look really cool and the whole riverine part of Vietnam is extremely interesting to me. I have a particular soft spot for the monitors. Anyone who has played AirLandBattle: Red Dragon will know how much fun it is to absolutely dominate a river system with monitors and I look forward to having a model of one at the very least.

            However, I’m worried how much replayability and interest this release will have. No matter how good of a system they make for it (no idea how they’ll make boats in rivers work using normal FoW rules), it’ll still be a relatively unpopular part of a war that isn’t popular in wargaming. If the models are priced right and the river system mats are beautiful I might buy into this, but if AirCav and Tank Vietnam hasn’t caught on much I’m not sure how river boat Vietnam will do.



As a Vietnam  note, here's my father at Da Nang when he was a bit younger:




Colours of War

            I’m not sure what this will add other than ensuring that the painting guides in the backs of the books don’t have the extremely useful Vallejo color schemes. All my paints right now for FoW are Vallejo and I know and trust that line. It’ll take something truly revolutionary in quality or use to make me switch over. I just don’t get why Battlefront feels like they need to be in the paint business beyond paint sets tied into Vallejo paints. I’m very much wait and see on this paint line.



Berlin

            After listening to Phil (I think it was Phil) speak on WWPD podcast about his ideas on Berlin and the many thrown together German forces, I’m quite excited about this release. I’m all about seeing wacky lists on the battlefield and I see the Berlin forces being extremely interesting. I also think the Soviets were a well run machine by the time Berlin came around and that should be reflected. However, the need for speed and quick victory (for political reasons) should also be reflected. They lost something like 100,000 soldiers defeating a pretty much beat Germany. Something should reflect this feeling for Soviet players.

            The German funny tanks look brilliant. Finally someone will take a Pak43 in Flames of War. I hope the book is full of random, interesting and maybe even effective units and tanks. I think this book will be a modeller’s heaven, and Battlefront has shown themselves to be excellent at creating rules that support situations like that (think about the Battle of Warsaw list for the Polish).

            Those IS-2s with bedspring armor look amazing. Absolute monsters made to look more visually interesting. I love the soviets, but some of their stuff can be downright boring. Sprucing things up with improvised armor and interesting options will make me like Is-2s a bit more, I think.



Great War

            I have been very cold on the World War I offerings by Battlefront. The forces didn’t interest me, the models didn’t interest me and from the battle reports I’d seen it just didn’t seem that good. The battlefields and infantry look drab (which is historical, I suppose) and I didn’t see myself enjoying the painting. This enhanced release might drag me in. I’m excited by the idea of dark blue French infantry and how they will model the reluctance of many units. U.S. Doughboys are quite exciting too, and early war Americans in the Philippines will now have models (how fitting now that Pacific is coming). If they can bring in some unique and interesting units (I thought the German stormtroopers were a good start) and formations, it may make everything a bit more interesting. I know it was mainly an infantry war with various artillery, but there were cool uniforms, cavalry and other such items that could translate into a more interesting tabletop.




Cold War Gone Hot

            I want it to be October now. Not now, last month. I’m so exceptionally excited about this. I LOVE the Cold War era stuff. I’ve looked many times into buying two or more armies of Cold War stuff and forcing people to play using my models (since there’s no way I’d convince others to play unsupported, fan created games). I know there have been some really amazing Cold War Flames of War versions, but I could never take the step of putting down money on something I might not play. An official version from Battlefront, well, I’ll be the first in line to get far too much Cold War equipment. The AirLandBattle series of computer games are among my favorites, and a big part of that is the ability to play basically a electronic tabletop game.

            I do have some very big fears about this. If they make it unbalanced like the original Israeli effort, people will hate playing. I think if Fate of a Nation (the current book) came out at the start, I’d be playing Arab-Israeli and so would others. Having a large number of balanced forces is essential. I hope this turns into a “main” game for Battlefront, like WW2. There are so many nations that would be so interesting to play (think Sweden, Yugoslavia, and other minor nations with cool equipment). I would play a S-tank company in a second.


            I’m also very worried about the Abrams tank. We play a point based system and from what I can tell there aren’t any good points based systems (read: not scenario driven) games where the Abrams tank isn’t an overpriced, unusable tank. If Battlefront comes out and has the Abrams like a King Tiger and I only get to use 1 and it gets shut down somewhat easily, I’ll be so upset. I don’t want to feel like I have to play M60 tanks to field a real army, or that I would sacrifice too much to have a couple of Abrams. In the AirLandBattle series, Abrams are exceptionally rare and if you want Abrams plus Apaches, have fun winning with no dudes.


            I want to see infantry play a large role in this era. Individuals with wire-guided anti-tank rockets did a number on the Israelis in 1973 and would have been monsters in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I don’t want Battlefront to try and make a tank war like the desert and ignore infantry as a viable part of the game. Fighting through the Fulda Gap and Germany would have had many areas where infantry would play a huge part. I love tanks, but I want to see combined arms have the importance it deserves.


Pacific

            A lot of people are going to go insane over this. I know that many gamers have waited for years for FoW Pacific and the release of the Japanese in early war in the Rising Sun book gave people hope. Now it is coming and we’ll see what they come up with.

            My biggest wonder is how they will integrate it with the Atlantic side of the conflict. I don’t think I’ll plop down for a Pacific force if I can’t use it against what most people have. I know terrain and the general situation will make it difficult to balance say a New Guinea late war Aussie force against a Soviet tank horde, but I really hope they come up with something. I don’t see the Pacific doing well unless they figure this out.

   
        


Terrain

            Affordable city terrain? Yes please. Pacific terrain? Yes please. Good job on Battlefront for releasing more terrain. I love their desert stuff, and want to expand using their terrain (the GF9 terrain, I guess) to branch out into Siciliy and Tunisia. It has always been high quality, beautiful and perfect for the game. Let’s hope this continues with the new lines that are coming out.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Don't forget the baguettes: building a French tank company (Part 1)


As a motivator in getting the project done, I have decided to blog each stage of building, painting and practicing with a new army in preparation for a tournament in May.

During my last game against on and off playing partner David, he informed me that he and his brother were playing in the 'Campaign' three-player tournament from May 9-10 in Milton Keynes (the same shameful town that stole the mighty Wimbledon F.C. Dons). This fascinating event is a three-player, three-era tournament where a team has a 1500 point Early War player, a 1650 Mid-war player and a 1750 Late War player. Here is the website for anyone interested: http://mkws.org.uk/index.php?s=campaign

The tournament is held at the mall.
                                             

David will be playing late war Finns while his brother will be playing Soviet Tankovy for mid-war. That left me with Early War, which incidentally is my favorite period. Now, I have a DAK army that is getting close to completion. However, David informed me that the tournament suggests that a team have all three players on the same side. Although it wouldn’t be bad to use my DAK, I had been thinking about increasing my Early War factions already. The question is what to bring?

I love Early War, but I don’t exactly love all of the armies. I had a few forces in mind that I would love to play: a Jock Column, a crusader force, a French force or Japanese. I wasn’t sure that I could get my hands on enough Japanese, so they went out the window quickly. I’d also read time and again that the crusader force post-nerf was neigh unplayable. That left British motor troops or French. The Jock Column seems to have such potential and would allow me to bring crusaders and murderous AT guns with crash action. However, the French had adorable tanks, fantastic helmets and affordable artillery (in the form of 105mm batteries at 160 points).

What a cute helmet.
                                           
I went on Ebay about a week ago and was digging around when I found an old French Combat Squadron box for 100 quid. Somuas are such a nice tank and I love the idea of the Hotchkiss platoons at 50 points a tank. Combined with the slight boost with version 3 “one man turret” allowing some move and shoot, I decided that box would start my army. I snapped it up and it came in the mail yesterday.



The box set came about during the blitzkrieg box set rush where you got a lot of models but not the dice/tokens/objectives of the earlier company boxes such as the Canadian 3rd or 21st Panzer that came out when the Normandy books first came out. That being said, it does come with 19 tanks: 7 Somuas, 7 Hotchkiss and 5 Panhards. To supplement this, I bought a French Fusilier platoon (to be truck mounted infantry) and a 105 battery I found on ebay from the same seller (I haven’t seen any other longcoat equipped artillery around, only light infantry with the desert uniforms).

Rockets must be a mid-war upgrade

I have two potential lists at this point. Each involves another 3 Hotchkiss tanks, since I think large 5 tank platoons have a lot of assaulting power.
List 1:
List 2:

Which list should I use? Are they crap? What would you field? I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have in the comments below.

I think the force will be extremely enjoyable to play. The artillery and strong armor of the tanks should allow me to tackle gunlines, while the infantry and large assault tank platoons should allow me to dig out difficult infantry blocks. Some armies will crush me, however. I have no answer to Strelkovy, T-34s or Matilda lists. I suppose that is the nature of the beast, and I’m just going to focus on enjoying my little tiny tanks.

In terms of color scheme, I think I’m going to use this scheme for my tanks:
Photo credit goes to Belloflostsouls.net
I think it is more distinctive than the others, but may require me to use a micro-pen or something to really make it pop.
I also think I’m going to paint the infantry as colonial. I recently read a ton about French colonial infantry in the Battle of France and if I decide to branch out to infantry at some point I’ll definitely go with the hard charging colonials.

No, not these type of colonials.
Next step for me is assembly and sourcing myself some dice and tokens. I love dice and tokens, and it’s about my favorite part of Flames of War. I’m trying to make sure each army has a set, and I finally was able to find a DAK set. Look forward to me showing it off on a future blog post.



That’s all for now, but make sure to follow and watch as my army gets tournament ready!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Marder IIs

I thought I'd show off a trio of Marder IIs that I painted some time ago.

I decided that I wasn't confident of my airbrush skills to make German three-ton camouflage and I didn't want to spend ages stippling, so I would got with a more basic scheme. Since there weren't many colours, I felt that I needed to make sure the wear and tear, dustiness and decals worked together to create an interesting unit. I also added fallshirmjager crew to spruce things up and allow me to use them in a FJ army (if I ever got one).


I really love these little guys on the tabletop. They are cheap, hit hard and are unassuming enough to escape a lot of attention that a scarier looking unit might bring about. In their first game they gunned down a large number of cromwells simply because the Stugs and Panthers on the board were soaking up fire.

X-Wing Batrep: Rebels vs. Scum and Villainy


I am a huge fan of the X-wing miniatures game. In fact, it is possibly my favorite game. Why?

·                 The rules make for a quick, easy game with tons of customization. The use of cards to provide upgrades and special rules along with a limited (albeit growing) set of abilities means that awkward interactions and confusing rules are few and far in between.

·                 It feels balanced. I’m not talking tournament lists, but rather for casual play where you just grab cool looking units. The games are usually pretty tight and it’s enjoyable even when the dice go against you.

·                 Painted models. The models come pre-painted and ready to play without being ugly, soft plastic or lacking detail. I can get a new set of ships and have them on the table in minutes. This is exactly what happened with the batrep below. I had the models and they were on the table, instead of waiting for me to assemble, paint and base like most games.

·                 Not super expensive. I buy each set as it comes out. Sometimes this is 60 pounds, sometimes more. However, that’s it. I don’t have to buy terrain, additional units (unless I’m doing something spammy), rulebooks or anything else.

·                 I’m not very good at it. This may seem like a strange one. Why would I like something I’m bad at? Well, there’s no push to win. Some games I’m quite good at (e.g. Warhammer 40k) and I feel like I’m overly competitive at them. If I know I’m terrible (such as for Flames of War or X-Wing), I can just enjoy the game for what it is.

·                 My wife plays it. I have tried very hard to get my wife into tabletop games. She plays boardgames with glee, we play some hypercompetitive dominos and she does 100% of the application of basing materials on my flames of war and other models, but tabletop games are a struggle. She’s knows how to play warmachine and we’ve played that a ton, but I feel that’s more to make me happy than her enjoying it. X-wing is the exception. She actually enjoys the game and offers to play (instead of me asking). Being able to whip out the table and play with an in-house opponent means I get more games in and in a VERY casual playing environment.
On Friday, my wife went to the miniatures store (shout out to Dark Sphere, London) to pick up some supplies for me since I generally cannot get out of the office until after it closes. I’d asked her to find out if the new scum and villainy models were out yet since I thought to get some once they were released. She ended up not just asking, but buying a copy of the large box with 2 Z-95s and 1 Y-wing, IG-88’s ship and the Starviper from Shadows of the Empire. They were out of the interceptor but I was not bothered at all.

We decided to play a quick game to try out some of the new upgrades and ships. The game was a 100 point, kill-them-all with me taking Scum and Villainy and her taking her usual rebel forces.

 (my vicious opponent plotting against my poor pilots)

Lists:
Scum:

I chose to bring a list with few ships but lots of fun toys. I normally play Imperial and bring a lot of ships, but this time I thought that I should try out the new upgrades that came with the Scum boxes.
The new upgrades are really wonderful. My personal favorite is the autothrusters. Septy (my wife) loves to take Chewbacca in the Falcon and the turret is always a nightmare for my interceptors. Autothrusters should give me a chance to escape too much damage. 
I love the new headhunter that gets an additional attack die at 17 points for PS7. I thought to run him as a lone wolf with outmaneuver to swoop in and put some hurt on isolated units. I also wanted to try out the hot-shop blaster so that if I went head-to-head with another ship I could get the last laugh as we passed.
I took the Starviper loaded to bear. The virago title allows for a huge number of additional upgrades, and with this freedom I took the accuracy corrector to ensure damage was done and inertial dampeners to take advantage of enemy ships flying by. With Guri’s ability to get focus through proximity to enemies even when stressed, I could use the inertial and still have focused shots.
The Aggressor I took was IG88a, who gains shields when enemies are destroyed. I thought by picking on weaker enemies he could stay in the game longer. I gave him autothrusters and adrenaline rush. Adrenaline rush with the turning-flip maneuver that this ship can do allows for a really nasty trick.
Rebels:

Septy does not like to take a lot of upgrades as she consistently forgets to use them when needed. Accordingly, her lists tend to have a large number of ships that are bare-bones. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it falls flat on its face.
She started by taking Chewbacca with intelligence agent. He is an absolute tank and still has the 3 shots with 360 degree arc. I would say that most games with her I end up facing the Y-1300. She then added two rookie X-wings who are always solid. Finally, a Chaardon-refit A-wing was added. More and more I find myself facing the cheaper, missileless A-wings. They are quick as can be but lack firepower. 
Battlefield: We threw out several asteroids to make things interesting. We have been adding more and more obstacles to our games as we get better at flying. Most of the time they just add challenge, but when someone’s dice are off and their flying is bad they can prove to be a real pain.
The battlemat used is actually a custom job. My friend Raul’s father owned a print shop and he made it for me from a stock photo online. When I moved from Romania to the U.S., I sold the mat to the local gaming shop in Bucharest. After about a year or so, I realized that I really liked it and wanted to start playing space games. My brother-in-law went to the gaming shop and bought it back, and it made its way back to the States and in my possession. Normally I end up selling things and then kicking myself for losing them. At least with this I was able to get it back and in decent shape.
The Battle:
The photos are taken at the beginning of each turn before any movement and shooting.
Deployment:

Septy massed around the center with her ships, while angling a single X-wing out to engage my Z-95 whose base can be seen at the extreme top left. My other two ships positioned themselves to the bottom right. We were both at 100 points, and were unsure who got the initiative. We figured that the Imperials break ties, and so scum likely did too and so we gave the bad guys the initiative.
Turn 1:
The flanking Z-95 and X-wing face off in a head-to-head, while Septys forces zoom forward. IG88 and the Starviper move to engage the flanks.
Septy had 9 total shots on IG88a (3 from Chewie, 3 from the X-wing and 3 from the A-wing). I had a focus and 3 defence dice. In a brilliant display of crap dice and excellent rebel shooting, IG88 lost all 4 of his shields and 2 hull points.
In return, the A-wing lost its shields and took critical damage from return fire.
On the flank, the X-wing lost one shield while inflicting 3 damage on the Z-95 including a critical that removed its action bar. Ouch!
Turn 2:
(no picture)
Chewie turned sharp to the right straight into an asteroid and taking one damage, as did the flanking X-wing. Septy’s piloting was weak the entire game.
IG-88 set himself up for a close range pass to kill the A-wing and whiffed, while the Starvipe flew towards Chewie and the X-wing but could not hit the broad side of a barn. Chewie took off IG88’s second to last damage.
The flanking Z-95 headhunter strips off the shields of the flanking X-wing with his tricky hot-shot blaster to the rear.
All together, a pathetic turn for all involved.

Turn 3:


Septy’s poor prototype pilot runs smack dab into and asteroid and dies a sad, pathetic death.

IG88 turns into a perfect firing position while running into Chewie and to keep the wookie’s guns off the wily droid.
The flanking Z-95 flips around and lights up the flanking X-wing. My 17 point beast of a Scum/Villain ensures that the rookie pilot never graduates to veteran status.
IG88 puts some damage on the X-wing
Turn 4:

IG-88 turn flips to chase Chewie and the X-wing while the Starviper and Z-95 (freed from killing the X-wing) rush in to put on damage.
IG88 puts several points of damage onto Chewie but then falls to the quad lasers of the Wookie’s freighter.
Turn 5:


Chewie runs into the StarViper who uses the damper to keep himself in position and safe from the Wookie. The Z-95 is out of position but avoids death by dodging Chewies long range attacks. The X-Wing takes two damage from the Starviper.
Turn 6:

The Z-95 headhunter rushes in to target the Wookie, while the Starviper flip turns to add additional punishment. In a brilliant display of gunnery, the Z-95 pumps three damage into the Wookie, who was outmaneuvered and unable to defend.
The Starviper then lined up his shot and with the help of his pilot ability giving him focus, tacked on the additional 3 damage required to send Chewie to wookie heaven.


(Septy was VERY sad at losing Chewie)

Turn 6: 


The X-wing was under the guns of both remaining scum vessels and would shoot last. In a very expected turn of events, the rookie was blown out of the sky by the Z-95 Headhunter and the Scum took the day!
Conclusions:
I really like the new faction. It seems that they have a lot of tricks with their upgrades and ships that change the playing field. I especially love the turning-flip maneuver. Being able to not just flip around but do so in a way that changes your orientation is quite powerful. I wish the Starviper allowed for a normal K-turn in addition to a turning K-turn, but you can’t have everything.
I’m unsure of the Aggressor where there aren’t multiple on the battlefield. It seems quite expensive for what you get and it does seem more fragile than most large ships. I will have to play it more (or get a 2nd/3rd/4th) to see how it goes.
I think Septy needs to look into and utilize more upgrades. Sometimes the flexibility they give you is worth its weight in gold, and I know that using special abilities (such as the Z-95 pilot ability) really helped me during the game.
 I think with some of the new abilities and pilots, a Z-95 horde could be quite powerful. It is by far my favorite X-wing ship and I’d love to fly a few around.