Wednesday 30 October 2013

Introducing Napvember!

In my latest Zomtober posts, I mentioned that I'm intending to get started on Napvember. It seems only reasonable to explain what on Earth I'm blithering on about.

This looks a lot better than anything I'm likely to paint.

Like any self-respecting historical wargamer, I have a reasonable collection of Napoleonic models (28mm British, in my case). Unfortunately, and also like any self-respecting historical wargamer, I'm easily distracted. Normally this occurs just after buying a load of models and just before actually painting them, so I have a British Napoleonic army that is unpainted except for a single piper that I did for a painting competition a few years back.

This has always niggled at me, but the sheer number of models and a worry that painting Napoleonics is going to be fiddly has always stopped me from cracking on with them. However, with the advent of Zomtober, I've decided that the key is nice simple goals, so I can at least make some progress without worrying about painting the whole force.

So, with that in mind, my plan is very simple! There are 5 Saturdays in November this year. For each of them, I intend to paint a single Napoleonic figure from my collection. I'm not planning to produce spectacular paint jobs, but just getting moving with this project will be nice, and hopefully will spur me on to paint more than the planned 5 figures.

Of course, I'll be posting the results here as I paint them, so you can all keep me honest. If anyone wants to join in and paint their own Napoleonic figures, that can only be a good thing!

Saturday 26 October 2013

Zomtober! Post Four - The Big Finish

For the final week of Zomtober, I decided to round things off with something a little different - a giant mutated zombie in the style of the "tanks" from Left 4 Dead, amongst others.

I can remember buying this model from Triples, but I can't remember which year, or who the manufacturer was! I do remember that he's intended to me Mr Hyde from a VSF range of some sort.
Good job he bought those extra large trousers before he got bitten

I decided that I didn't want this model to look like another zombie only bigger, so I gave him a more normal skin tone (it is a little lighter than normal but without the green or brown tinge I've given the others) and red eyes with yellow pupils - you might just be able to make that out in the picture.

I also finally managed to settle on a basing system, so all the zombies I've painted so far are now based!


As I said last time, I've got a lot out of this project, it's been set at just the right level to keep me motivated and I've been able to exceed the goals even with limited painting time. I'd like to thank Pulp Citizen, Brummie Thug and Rob of Four Colour Super Minis for instigating Zomtober, Kieron for drawing my attention to it, and all the other Zomtoberists for posting their models and keeping me interested. 

Since this has worked out well for me I'm going to move on to Napvember next, so watch this space for details of that!

Saturday 19 October 2013

Zomtober! Post Three - To Infect and Sever

It's that time again, so here are the results of my painting efforts in week 3 of Zomtober...

First up, a zombified police officer:
Missing part of one sleeve as it's been torn off, definitely not because it's hard to get matching sleeves from the WF zombie sprues.
Notice he's still got his gun, so might attract some attention from zombie hunters keen to build up their arsenals! 

Then another sports fan to go with last week's Lakers supporter:

Don't know what team that's actually supposed to be though.
A couple of unfortunate office workers:

Where are they all finding these feet?

More casual dress code in this guy's office - no tie!
A very casually dressed zombie:
Nasty tear in that vest there.

And finally, someone who really didn't choose the right place to go on holiday.

I actually own a shirt not too dissimilar to this.
And here's a group shot of the horde so far:

Everybody say "brains"!
As you can see, I've finally started to base these models properly - the big bevelled bases don't work with the crowded urban boards I want to use these on, so they're going to go on much smaller bases now which I will be trying to get finished for the end of Zomtober.

I have to say that Zomtober is really working out for me - having some deadlines and specific models to post about has spurred me along in my painting quite nicely, and each time I post I've had more models to talk about. I'm already pondering what to do in November! Not only that, I've also started following some new blogs that I wasn't aware of until the month started, so that's a bonus, and I've introduced Kieron to We're Alive. It's all good!

Sunday 13 October 2013

Zomtober! Post Two - They're Not Alive

My PC is misbehaving tonight for some reason, so this post comes via my phone until I convince things to work properly... This puts me at severe risk of autocorrect problems, so please excuse any incorrect wurlitzers that sneak past my careful proof radish. 

Anyway, the show must go on! I've just started listening to the final season of We're Alive, a zombie audio drama which has been livening up my drive into work for the past few days. 

Since I've had We're Alive on my mind, my zombies for week two of Zomtober have taken on some faint influences from the series. It's set in Los Angeles, so first off, we get a zombified LA Lakers fan:

Insert bitter nerd's joke about sports fans being zombies already here.

Next, what could be more Californian than a zombified mailman wearing flip flops?

He's got a special delivery for you, but you really don't want it.
Admittedly, the flip flops aren't in focus there, but he's wearing them, I assure you.

Finally, if you listen to We're Alive, you'll know that the mysterious zombie in a grey suit causes the heroes all sorts of problems. Here he is, realised in awkwardly posed Wargames Factory zombie form! 

All sorts of trouble. Trust me.
I have to say, I'm starting to have a bit more fun on the paint jobs with these. The detail is so vague, and also so repetitive, on the WF models, that coming up with ways to differentiate each figure is almost a game in itself. I especially enjoyed the Lakers shorts.

I've also now decided how my models need to be based... and it isn't on these large bevelled bases. I'm going to need to change them, but messing around with basing rather than getting on and painting more zombies seems against the spirit of zomtober somehow - so for me it may well be followed by basevember. Which will be less than thrilling, but such is life I suppose.

I've also been putting together a few more survivor models, but I'm not sure if I'll start in on painting those yet. I do have something a bit more special to do, but I might save that for the last week of zomtober. So for now, I don't know what's coming next. You'll just have to watch this space to find out!

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Stealing the Device!

Here it is then, as promised, a battle report from our game on Sunday night.

A little background to start with. I've droned on at some length in this blog already about Flashbang, a set of rules I've written for modern close quarters combat. As the rules have come closer and closer to feeling finished, I've been thinking more and more about ways to get them to a wider audience. So when I saw a note in Wargames Illustrated from Osprey Publishing asking for new rulesets for them to publish, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some feedback if nothing else.

So, I emailed Phil Smith at Osprey and showed in the Flashbang rules. He said that he liked the idea and the basic mechanics (hooray!), but that as the rules are only about 7000 words at the moment, they're not in a format that Osprey could publish (boo!). He did also give me a few pointers in terms of areas of the game that still needed a little polish, in particular balancing out points costs for the factions, and it was definitely useful to get the opinions of someone who's only read what I've written, rather than having me on hand to explain what I meant. 

Phil also said something in passing that I found really interesting:

Generic scenarios are one of those issues which keeps me on the fence... Sometimes they’re great, but that’s generally when you have a very flavour-heavy game (e.g. Necromunda, In Her Majesty’s Name), where you’ve got a band of personalities whose adventures are entertaining, no matter what they’re doing. However, for less character-driven games, the more specific scenarios add a lot of the flavour to a game, through special rules, unique occurrences etc. That’s my two pence, anyway.

This made me rethink the issue of scenarios for Flashbang. What I already had was a series of six deliberately very generic scenarios - the idea being that they could work for any mix of factions that I decided to include. But Phil's comment made me realise that better scenarios, where the players' actions in a game might affect other things down the line, would make things more interesting. I certainly prefer that effect in the other games I play - our Firestorm campaign for Flames of War, for example. Also, Flashbang very deliberately keeps individual models generic (they only have one stat, a "professionalism" score), so what was saying about "less character-driven games" certainly applies there.

So I tried to write a short set of scenarios that would be specific to the two most fleshed-out factions I already had for Flashbang - SWAT and professional criminals. What I came up with was a three stage mini-tree campaign. Two games would set the scene, and then the scenario for the third game would be different depending on the outcome of the first two.

On Sunday, we managed to play the first two of these games, with Pete taking command of the SWAT team and Kieron running the criminal gang.

In the first scenario, the criminals have taken control of the offices of a high-tech lab (represented by the Grand Stone Hotel), and have taken hostages while they try to break into a safe and steal control codes for a mysterious device. The SWAT team is ordered to go in and rescue the hostages.

The offices before the arrival of SWAT

The criminals deployed first, within the office building, and Kieron also deployed the hostages. The SWAT team was then able to deploy anywhere at least 12" from criminals that could see them, or 4" from criminals they were hidden from. I also gave Pete a SWAT van that he could place to provide some extra cover for the SWAT team moving up.

The SWAT team prepares to go in, as criminals guard the entrances
The criminals took the first turn, so were able to prepare themselves for an imminent breach by the SWAT team. Pete chose to have two officers tackle the back of the building, while the rest emerged from behind the SWAT van to assault the front doors. This proved dangerous, as a SWAT officer was picked off by reactive fire as he moved up to the door.

I'm not sure if Pete is happy here because he's just taken down a criminal, or because I gave him a biscuit.
One of the officers at the back had more luck. By throwing a flashbang into the room before he went in, he was able to take out one of the criminals and gain entry to the building. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse at the front as one of the officers threw a flashbang which rolled back down the stairs to detonate at his feet, blinding him and his teammate and leaving them both open to fire from the criminals.

Things didn't really pick up for Pete, and the SWAT team was wiped out before any of the hostages could be rescued, allowing the criminals to crack the safe and make off with the codes relatively unmolested.

The table set up for the second game

This led into the second game of the night. With the codes in their possession, the criminals now turned their attention to the Device itself, stored in a warehouse.

The Device is in a large crate and needs to be moved carefully, so moving it required two models to work together. They were able to move it at full speed as they had the codes (otherwise it would only have been possible to move the Device at half speed).

A SWAT officer advances on the warehouse
The criminals had the aim of moving the Device off the board while out of sight of the SWAT team, while SWAT just had to stop them!

Things in the warehouse are a bit crowded
Here again, the SWAT team attempted an assault on the main building, although this time Pete had held some officers back to cover his advance, so the criminals were largely hemmed into the building.

This meant that some of the special abilities I've given to the criminals in the rules became useful - they're able to move some models to other locations on the board, to represent their having fooled the police about their real location and set ambushes.

Some sleight of hand by Kieron allows a criminal to come out to play!

This meant that Kieron was able to move some of his men out of the building to attack the SWAT team, and as they were spread thinly to surround the building, this eventually lead to the loss of the whole team once again.

This means that the third game will be an arms deal, as the Device is sold to another set of criminals and the SWAT team will attempt to stop them from making off with it.

All in all, this was a partial success for my rules changes I think. The different weapons seem to have an appropriate relative level of lethality, and things like moving and shooting work simply.

Where I definitely need to make changes is in the area of balance. To come up with the current points costs, I had created a vast spreadsheet of different levels of troops armed with different weapons and worked out their relative chances of hurting each other. That's obviously an oversimplification based on what happened in these games though, as it led to a hugely outnumbered SWAT team trying to make progress against large numbers of disposable criminals. For the third game, I'll tone that down by making the criminals more expensive, and go from there.

I also found that some of the abilities of the SWAT team weren't getting used, so I'm going to make some pretty big changes there to try to encourage more "SWAT-like" behaviour - like stacking up to enter rooms, for example.

I also think I need to slightly tweak how the scenarios work to provide victory points rather than yes/no objectives as I have now. That might be a way to also encourage more engagement with the objectives (as both games were eventually decided just as gunfights more than anything else).

Finally, and unfortunately, I'm going to have to rebase - the big bases the models are on now might look nice, but they make it a real pain to fight real close quarters stuff, which is what I've designed Flashbang for.

All that said though, I think it's definitely moving in the right direction, so I just need to keep up the momentum and try to keep Pete and Kieron interested so I have a ready supply of playtesters!

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Adventures in Architecture - 4Ground Grand Stone Hotel 28mm review

Warning: I don't know how to capitalise 4Ground properly. Their website lists it as 4GROUND, but that seems like I'm shouting. So during the course of this post, I'll be capitalising it somewhat randomly. Enjoy.

A couple of days ago I posted a little teaser of a table set up for Sunday night's game. The battle report from that will be coming soon, but in the meantime, here's a look at my experience with the table's centrepiece - the 28mm Grand Stone Hotel from 4ground.

If my wife can bring home expensive shoeboxes, then so can I!
I picked this up from the Derby World Wargames show (which is in fact no longer in Derby, and didn't seem to be showing much in the way of wargames). I'd been pretty sure I was going to get one before I went, but the opportunity to play with one on the day made the sale for me in the end.

I've shown some of my Sarissa Precision buildings before, and I'm still a fan of those. However, I keep saying these days that I don't have a huge amount of time to spend on hobby stuff, so the fact that the 4groUnd buildings are pre-painted was attractive - just knock 'em together and they're table ready, with the option to add more detail later if I want.

Opening the box did dispel that illusion pretty quickly. The kit comes as thirty-odd wooden sprues, with 4 A3 pages worth of instructions, a bag of elastic bands, and a dozen clothes pegs. These turned out to be crucial later. Clearly, assembling this beast was going to take some time.

This heap of sprues is about three deep. It's a big old kit.
So much for the "it'll save time" theory. Fortunately, Mrs Matt suggested that I took a day off work to put it together, as our 1 year old was going to be with my mother in law that Thursday and I could have a quiet day at it. Not a bad plan, and it meant I got two "hobby days" in a week, which is not to be sniffed at.

Rubber bands become useful during ground floor construction

So, at 10:30 on Thursday morning, I made a cup of tea and got to work. The first job was to check that all the sprues listed in the instructions were actually there. After that I started popping things out and gluing them together. The instructions suggested that I might need so sand off some edges, but I actually found that everything fit almost perfectly as it came off the sprue - on a couple of occasions I had to make some slight adjustments with a knife but that was definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Even at this early stage, we have working doors and nice big rooms!
All the sprues are painted pretty evenly with a base coat. This does mean that any where there is a different colour on the final model, it has to come from a different sprue, which I think increases the build time a fair bit but does lead to a more interesting final product.

The combination of very well fitting parts and painting did mean that some pieces fit together extremely tightly. This actually caused me a bit of trouble as I was dry fitting everything first before I glued it and struggled to get some bits back out to apply the glue!

My mistake with the instructions creates a need for loads of pegs
One area where I have to say 4grouNd have fallen down though is the instructions. They are presented as a series of photos, with labels showing the part number of the bits you need to add at each step. So far so good, but I'm ham-fisted enough at the best of times, so when presented with:

  • Photos with incorrect labels
  • Photos with no labels at all
  • Photos where a specific part is never mentioned so you're not sure when it should have been added
  • The worst offender - complete mirror images of the real kit
...I tend to make the occasional mistake! It was the mirror images that really got me - I put two pieces in the wrong way round, and only realised that had happened when I couldn't fit an internal wall in later. I had to pull a couple of sections off and swap them over, getting glue in places it shouldn't be in the process.

The loft needs a bit of holding to keep it together
It's slow to start building this kit - after about 4 hours, I'd only just finished the ground floor. As things go on it gets a bit quicker, but there are lots of fiddly bits (stairs for example) so it does take a long time - in fact by 9:30pm I had only just finished.

The first two floors sit together, lots of rooms there
Except! I hadn't actually finished, because at this point Problem Two decided to strike.

Remember I said that I checked off all the sprues against the list in the instructions earlier? Well, each one also has a picture of the sprue. I didn't pay too much attention to these as I was mainly using the part numbers, but...

Spot the difference!

... my windows sprue has one less skylight than the one in the picture!

This actually prevented me from finishing the model, so I decided to take a break for the day before my aching back (from stooping over a table all day) gave out completely.

As far as I got at the end of the day
Since this was going to stop me from finishing the model I emailed 4grounD the next day, told them about the missing part, and also about my issues with the instructions (since I was emailing them anyway).

I'm pretty impressed with the response! Cad from 4gRoUnD emailed me back within half an hour, apologised for the missing part, and promised to put that and some paint (to cover up the glue that got everywhere when I had to reposition things) in the post to me. He also gave me a 10% off code to use on their website, so I'm happy with that!

Cad also mentioned that 4GrouNd are aware of the problems with their instructions and are looking into improving them. I think that would really help, as the models do look great so the instructions are a bit of a weak link for them at the moment.

The front of the hotel
I've since run a game over this model (as I mentioned earlier, battle report to follow!), and found that there are some nice gaming touches as well - not only do the doors all open and close, but the steps are designed so that models on thin bases (think pennies) can stand on individual steps without them appearing out of scale, and there are lots of entrances to the building as well.

And the back, including the missing skylights
Overall then, what do I think of it?

Having run a game over it, and spent some time stroking it possessively, I can say that the quality is pretty high, and the two sided walls (internal and external sides are separate pieces) mean that the finished model is nice and sturdy - useful when you keep taking levels off to get inside. It looks really nice, and it's a big piece when done, so makes a nice centrepiece for a table by itself.

On the other hand, at £85 it ain't cheap, and it took a long time to build. The instructions weren't great either (although 4GROUND say they are working on that). I was missing a piece, but I got a good response when I contacted them.

I have to say that I'm very happy with it altogether. It's probably the most expensive single hobby item I've ever bought, so not having any buyer's remorse afterwards is a very good sign for me!

Watch this space for a battle report featuring this very building...

Zomtober! Post One - Dave the Zombie

As I've mentioned on many a previous post, my time is limited these days, and getting myself in front of a PC or similar long enough to write a blog post is tricky. So feel free to imagine as you read this that it's a story being told to you very quickly by someone who is out of breath, and will need to run off for a bus or something as soon as they're done talking.

Anyway. I've signed up to be part of Zomtober 2013, which means I need to paint at least one zombie or survivor each week during October.

Here's the first one! He's called Dave. He's not properly based yet because I'm currently in the middle of a basing dilemma and may well choose to remount him on something else!

As you may be able to tell, he's one of the much-maligned Wargames Factory male zombies. I was actually very keen on these when they were first released, as they did seem to be filling a gap in the market at the time for cheap modern zombie models. Not that this keenness translated into me actually painting the things.

The problems are that 1) the poses are a bit unnatural, and repetitive even thought these are multi-part models, and 2) the details aren't well defined, so it's hard to pick much out in the painting (although some of my fellow Zomtober bloggers are disproving that and making me look bad. I'd like to ask them to not paint quite so well in future, please).

But not to fret, he's a zombie, and he's done. I have more zombies to paint (and I'd like to do more than one a week, but like I said, time is a scarce resource for me) but I also have both the male and female Wargames Factory Apocalypse Survivors which are luring me into some survivor painting too - so we'll see what I actually tackle for next time.

Sunday 6 October 2013

The lab complex

I've struggled to get much time for blogging recently, but I wanted to assure my hordes of loyal readers (anyone?) that I've still been hard at work with hobby stuff.

With that in mind, although I've got a couple of longer posts planned for "whenever I can get enough time to sit at the computer", here's a little teaser - the table set up ready for tonight's planned Flashbang game between Pete and Kieron. 

Kieron's criminal gang has taken hostages in a high tech lab's office building (a converted 18th century hotel). A SWAT team under Pete's command is on the way to attempt a breach...

Expect a full report on this game when I eventually get the chance to write it!