Thursday, 26 April 2018

Gaslands! Assemble the Team...

Gaslands is a post-apocalyptic game of vehicular carnage, with teams of cars, monster trucks, buggies, bikes and a host of other vehicles duking it out for supremacy. I wrote about it earlier this month here, I talk about it in an upcoming episode of the On Minis Games podcast, and have otherwise been thoroughly enjoying the game.

While the games played so far have used cars raided from my son's toy collection, I thought it was high time to add some guns and whatnot to the mix. Being a responsible fellow, I decided the best and safest path was not to start smashing up my son's toys, so I bought a few sets of Hot Wheels cars from a local shop under the clever guise of buying them for my son. I need to pause here and say that for anyone interested in Gaslands, the Gaslands twitter account, and Gaslands Facebook page are both a wonderful source of inspiration, and well worth checking out if you're interested in the game...

The first games played were with simple Hot Wheels borrowed from my son...
Cars in tow I cast about for some suitable weaponry to add character to these supposedly post-apocalyptic agents of destruction. I lighted on two solutions, both left overs of various other projects. One was a set of sprues left over from Heavy Gear, a ready source of suitable weaponry. The other was a set of sprues left over from assembling a bunch of Fireforge Games medieval knights and whatnot. Good spiky bits that the average post-apocalyptic citizen would deem the height of fashion. Having found a ready supply of bits, I set to work work...






A rather visually pleasing mix of vehicles now suitably upcycled into the nouveau post-apocalyptic style, with appropriate wheel spikes, point bits and guns. I should add I also scuffed the cars with some sand-paper in order that the paint applied might adhere better. I also used a fly-wire repair kit to add mesh to the windscreens. In the the collapsing future, glass is hard to obtain. Many players go the full hog at this point, drilling the cars apart and stripping them down the metal, using a dremel to achieve all manner of goodness. I took the lazy route.

An 'Indian Red' first coat. Thick and glossy, if I had my time again I'd buy a different type of rattle can.


I decided it would be rather fun to attempt the salt chipping technique. This can be found on YouTube, but basically involves wetting patches of the car, sprinkling salt on, respraying, and then using a toothbrush to work the salt off. This leaves a rather nice patina look, but since the undercoat wasn't as rusty as I would like the effect wasn't as good as I had hoped. I should also add here that given the paint was glossy, applying water was problematic. The water pooled into little balls, curse you surface tension, and didn't work in the way I had imagined it might. What I did in the end was respray with a matt varnish, and then applied salt, pressing down on the clumps to force them to spread out. This worked better.


With some seasoning...

And sprayed again with grey.
All that remained was to brush the salt off. I should add that leaving a car for a few days with the salt attached causes the stuff to stick really well. With the cars I'm working on at the moment I had to use a blade to chisel the salty goodness off.

I masked one of the doors when undercoating this to keep the original Hot Wheels paint showing. Also, the patina effect looks more like massive corrosion, but shiny.
Following this I painted on any of the other required colours and then gave the cars a heavy black wash. I went back over again with the colours used in the base coat, and added some spots of brown wash to give a rust effect. Lastly I used a little Tamiya weathering kit I've had sitting around for years to add more rust, and some soot near the missile pod.

This stuff is great. You apply it with a little make-up thing, and it looks awesome. It does leave a powdery finish, which didn't go well under the top coat of varnish, but still, I really like this stuff.
So, all that done, my first two cars were complete and ready to take the field. I have a bunch of others to do next, but the first two are ready to roll!









Overall I am happy with the results. They didn't take too much time, and I think they look suitable. I have some more lined up to do next, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they come out!




Sunday, 22 April 2018

On Minis Games

On Minis Games is a podcast dedicated to miniature games and gaming, with the odd splash of board gaming thrown in from time to time. I have written a little about it in the past, but haven't mentioned it too much because over the last twelve episodes we've struggled with some technical difficulties, trying to work out why our feed won't validate for iTunes and a few other things.  Up until episode thirteen we weren't in iTunes. All that has changed now, and thanks to the fine work of Erik and Don of On Board Games, our feed is functional, has been validated, and you can subscribe through iTunes, yay! The iTunes link is here.



On Minis Games started thirteen episodes ago, but the latest episode sort of feels like a new beginning. In the latest episode we talk about why we play miniatures games. Some of that talk is about why we like games in general, but we tried to hone in on the couple of reasons we like miniatures games specifically.

Of course, like all games, the best part of miniatures gaming is undoubtedly the social aspect. Being able to hove off time with a friend or three, chat, throw some dice and experience a good story is brilliant. This is true of all forms of table top gaming I think, and why, while I love board games, role playing games and miniatures games, I have never really been captured by electronic gaming.

Mordheim, with some Perry miniatures.

Mordheim, with a Perry miniature and 4Ground terrain.


Aesthetic is a key component of miniature games; they are a visual delight. A table with painted miniatures and good terrain, well, there is nothing quite like it. It's like playing in a diorama, creating a window into that setting or world, and allows the story of what's happening on the table to be realised as much visually as through the game play. For historical games I enjoy researching the force I am collecting, finding out what colours are suitable, and carrying that through with the force.

Badgers and Burrows with Splintered Light minis.


Another aspect that makes miniatures games great is that they provide a sandbox. With a board game the board and pieces come out of the box and there are the parameters. With a miniatures game the rules provide the architecture for how pieces, miniatures, terrain etc, interact, and the players create the specific parameters of each game by choosing the forces they use, the terrain on the table, the scenario they play, and so on. Games are highly variable, and many of the rules sets I enjoy most are thematic and have a strong narrative component.

Dystopian Wars minis, from the old Spartan Games.

Gaslands! With Hotwheels cars and Infinity terrain.


Miniatures gaming is also a hobby, with the collecting, building, painting, basing and all the other aspects that that make it the rich experience it is. Some people will love some of these aspects, others will hate them, but they are there should you choose to indulge. I like painting well enough, but often struggle to finish projects. This is partly due to how I choose to spend my free-time, most of which is spent these days freelance writing for RPGs. More than painting, I love having finished painting. Being able to look at models I know that I painted them, being pleased with the results (for the most part), all of it makes me want to get those pieces on the table. I like having painted, more than I like the painting, but of course to get one, one must do the other!

My painting desk. A mess of unfinished projects.


There are a number of other things specific to miniatures games that draw me to this style of gaming. We talk about them on the podcast, which you should definitely check out and subscribe to!

Here is the link, and thankfully, you can also now find us on iTunes!



Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Gaslands!

Gaslands, designed by Mike Hutchinson and published by Osprey Wargames, is a game where armour-plated machine gun-equipped cars duke it out against monster trucks with mini-guns and motorbikes with rocket launchers. It's the roller-derby of a Mad Max-like universe. Collisions, explosions, ramming and gun fire punctuate every turn in a staccato rhythm of mayhem and destruction. It's inexpensive, and it's great fun.



There is some sort of visceral appeal to the sort of vehicle derby that involves bikes, cars, buggies, pick-ups, monster trucks and big-rigs armed with rams, missiles, flamethrowers, and machine guns. Perhaps it hearkens back to the childhood, perhaps it comes from post apocalyptic visual extravaganzas like Mad Max, but it is appealing nontheless.

The most recent game I played against my son. He had a motorbike armed with a minigun and a monster truck with a couple of machine guns. I had two buggies and a car.

Back in my teens I spent some time playing a game called Car Wars, by Steve Jackson Games. It was great fun. Cars and every other vehicle you could conceive fighting it out in a rolling battle for supremacy. Cars Wars was great fun, and I have many fond memories of playing it, but it was also very detailed. There were rules for almost every possible combination of vehicle and weapon, and the game was heavy on the book keeping (I may be being unfair to Car Wars here, those are just my memories of the game).

His monster truck against my buggy... It didn't even stop to leave insurance details.


Gaslands is all the energy, cinema, and delight of a weaponized roller derby, without all the overheads. The rules are simple and straightforward, easy to read and understand. The game plays quickly, yet manages to find all the moments of high octane action and spectacle one would expect of such a theme.

Like Wings of War, X-Wing and a few other games, Gaslands uses templates to move, with the player choosing the maneuver they want to make, placing the template, and moving to the other end before making any attacks. There's more to it than that, but at its core, the rules are that simple.

What he rolled when his monster truck rolled over my buggy...

Templates are used to move the vehicles.

Rolling a slide or spin result always nets a hazard token, but isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it's good to spin the wheels a little...

Skid Dice, you roll a number up to your handling when you move. A good way to get extra Shift results, but can cause you to gain Hazards, Spin and Slide.

Various tokens, none of which end up on the table. While you can buy laser cut copies like these, the game is playable by printing off the templates and tokens just as easily. There is also a conversion table so you can play using normal 6 sided dice instead of the Skid Dice pictured above.

Vehicle stat sheets - all the stats and all the tokens (and the green dice show the gear).

A game turn consists of a number of Gear Phases, starting with first gear and running through to sixth. If a car is in first gear, it will get to act in gear phase one, if it's in third gear, it will act in phases one, two and three. Every phase the car will make a move, and then make an attack. So a vehicle in high gear will have the opportunity to move and attack many more times than a vehicle in a lower gear. The balancing act of what gear to shift into, comes with the Move Templates, Hazards, and Shifts. Various moves are only available in a limited number of gears: a long move can only be performed in high gear, while a hairpin turn can only be performed in a lower gear.

After crunching my first buggy the monster truck slid and spun around to face my second... (my son re-rolled his skid dice hoping to get slides and spins, lucky bugger...)

Crunch...
His head-on collision with my buggy called for a whole lot of attack dice...

The buggy didn't stand a chance, but it's flame thrower did explode causing valuable damage to the monster truck...


Some moves will give Hazard tokens depending on the gear you are in. Attempting a sharp turn in a higher gear is more risky than in a lower gear. Conversely, some moves will provide Shifts, as long as the car is in a low enough gear to earn them. Shifts can be used to remove Hazard tokens and other negative effects, as well as to change gears up and down.

A little way away my car lines up his motorcycle...



Lastly, each after the move template has been placed, and before the vehicle is moved, a player may roll some handling dice. These can provide useful Shifts, but may also result in the vehicle Sliding, Spinning, or gaining Hazards. Too many Hazards and the vehicle wipes out.

Crunch...




After a vehicle has moved it may attack. The attack system is quite simple, a matter of lining up the target and making sure they are in range, and rolling some dice. The target gets to roll to evade, but the whole process is straightforward, and there are rarely any questions typical in wargames concerning things like line of sight, cover and so forth.

Both bike and car took damage, but the bike lost out...

Slides, Spins and Collisions are all a part of the game, and neatly and easily handled by the rules, while slides and spins can be negative things, they are also very often quite useful, allowing the vehicle to turn sharper than usual to get a bead on the enemy. Collisions are a lot of fun, and rather deadly, the type of collision is determined (Head on, T-bone, etc), dice are rolled and the results applied.
Chaos across the table... only the monster truck and car remain...

I didn't want to run too in depth with the rules, but seem to have meandered in that direction, so I will endeavor to get back to the core of this blog post...

I've played this game multiple times now with my son, and it is a blast. The rules are easy, the choices are meaningful and interesting, the movement system works, the pressure of watching the hazards mount up as you spin, slide, shift gears and complete tight turns is tense... the game is laden with narrative experience and highly enjoyable. I thoroughly recommend this rules set, it strikes me as the very epitome of beer and pretzels style of game - which to me is a game that is easy to get on the table, and where the minutia of the rules fades into the background of the game experience. It is thematic, cinematic and explosive fun. Well worth chasing down a copy and giving it a go. The best thing of all has been - we are playing the game using my son's Hot Wheels cars, so an 'army' isn't going to cost an arm and a leg.

We both come about to face off, lining up our weapons. Again he made good use of spin results to get the monster about... He was down to two hull points and I was down to one. It was the car with a mini gun against a monster truck with a heavy machine gun and machine gun...

For anyone interested, I'd highly recommend finding Gaslands groups/players on Facebook and Twitter, the game has a solid following and the modifications and paint jobs people have done on their cars is nothing short of stunning.


He got the drop on me and his machine guns did the work... A close game, and a lot of fun! He was cheering the machine gun dice roll all the way to victory. Great game...


Saturday, 10 March 2018

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a science fiction novella about a young Himba woman, the eponymous Binti, seeking to travel off-world to study at a prestigious university. First and foremost, this is a cracking story; imaginative and fascinating. The cultures presented, the Himba, Khoush and the alien Meduse, are wonderfully outlined and believably constructed (in the case of the fictional), or artfully related (in the case of the futuristic version of the Himba). I found myself drawn into this story, fascinated by the deep cultures presented throughout, the rich setting, and especially by the character of Binti.
Photo 10-3-18, 11 01 33 pm
Being a novella, the story itself is short and easy to read, it is also wonderfully written with every word pushing the story and relating the characters and emotion. Much time is well spent on expanding the cultures represented, often by juxtaposing expectations of those cultures against the consequences of their choices; the action/inaction of the characters. It is an engrossing read, well constructed and executed, full of feeling and emotion.
The theme I loved the most, I think (‘I think’ because I am still digesting), is the role of communication in the breakdown and formation of connections between peoples. I won’t say too much more, because I don’t like revealing too much of the story, but the capacity to communicate with reason seems a fundamental theme in the story, that coupled with a willingness to listen.
Binti is strong and vulnerable, emotional and reasonable all at the same time, and makes for a wonderful character that is easy to relate to. Her strong sense of identity and culture, and the significance of having that removed, changed or even just of leaving it, are also key themes explored intelligently in only a small number of words. There is emotion packed in here, thought and feeling that far outweighs the page count.
As seems more and more the norm for me these days, I came across Nnedi Okorafor on twitter, reading through her commentary on her journey and experiences as a writer, I was inspired to get Binti and Akata Witch, and I’m very glad I did. There is just one thing I am furious about: I didn’t order the two sequels to Binti. Now I have to wait on the post before I get to read more.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Rowan of Rin, by Emily Rodda...

Rowan of Rin is a children’s fantasy novel by author Emily Rodda (Jennifer Rowe), I just finished reading this book both to my grade 5 class, and at home to my son (grade 3). Rowan of Rin is, in many ways, a simple story, it’s plot progression, series of challenges and climax all pull from fantasy tropes, from prophesy to quest completion. It is a rags to riches tale; the story of a boy broadly rejected for his weakness and cowardice, who discovers on the quest he is forced to undertake that he has bravery and strength aplenty.
Photo 12-2-18, 1 45 49 pm
In many respects this could be described as a by-the-numbers piece of fantasy fiction: everything we expect of the genre is present. I say this not to denigrate the book, but to highlight it’s strength. Rowan of Rin is an excellent book. It is tightly plotted, cleverly evolved and well written. For those who read it carefully, or read it multiple times, the use of foreshadowing is brilliantly executed throughout. There are few books that could be described as more typically fantasy, and yet rise to achieve what Emily Rodda has managed so neatly, succinctly, and evocatively. It is a wonderful book, with no wasted verbiage, that manages to pack both adventure and emotion into a quest story heaped with character growth.
Rowan
The story itself revolves around a small village, Rin, whose water source has dried up with looming consequences. A party of adventures set forth to uncover the source of the problem, guided by the poetic prophesy of the wise-woman/witch Sheba. Rowan, a boy and the least capable of the village, is compelled to join the party, and in so doing is set upon a path of self-discovery and high adventure.
Short, with uncomplicated prose cleverly woven into a tight and emotional package, Rowan of Rin is a wonderful fantasy book. My class highly enjoyed the story, and my son is now reading the second in the series. For anyone with children, Rowan of Rin makes for a fantastic introduction to the genre. For any adults looking for quality exemplars of tight and cleverly plotted stories that use an economy of words to best effect, this is also well worth a read.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Artemis

Artemis is a science fiction murder mystery by Andy Weir, author of the Martian. I found The Martian to be an exceptional story. A character I liked in a do-or-die situation, using pure intellect and willpower to bully his way through every one of the multitude of problems he faces. I loved the book, and it ranks as one of my all time favourite reads. Needless to say then, when I read that Andy Weir was working on his next book I was very excited.


The story is set in the eponymous city of Artemis, humanity's first settlement beyond the fragile shores of Earth. The setting of the story is compelling. Highly detailed and lovingly crafted, Artemis is as scientifically accurate a moon-city as can be found anywhere in literature, it is, I would go so far to say, unrivaled. Like The Martian, Andy Weir shows his understanding of science and technology, which, coupled with a keen imagination, makes for a fascinating backdrop to the story.



The story itself I found to be something of a slow-burn, The Martian I read in a flurry over about a day and a bit, it hooked me from the first scene and didn't let go. Artemis was a more gradual climb. I found the main character's internal dialog to be a little abrasive at times, and the while the plotting and action was intelligent, I didn't find the reasons behind the action in the story thoroughly compelling.

All that changes as the book progresses, which is why I describe it as a slow-burn. As Jazz gets tangled in a mess far greater than she ever imagined, and the setting itself hangs in the balance, the stakes are raised to an all-time high and I was finally pulled fully into the book.

Artemis is an excellent novel, the overarching story, the raison-d'etre for the action and plotting is hidden behind a veil, off to the side of the characters and their concerns. The chief architect of this larger plot is a secondary character, and while the events in the story are important to this larger plan, the story itself, the plot of the novel, deals with a portion. The larger question, about creating an economy for Artemis moving forward and the struggles and implications that holds, are fascinating concepts. The novel though deals with a vitally connected but independent story line, which while fascinating in its own right, really shines when connected to the implications of the bigger picture.

Artemis is an intelligently written and unbelievably well conceived novel. The characters are interesting, even if a little abrasive. The writing is solid and the plot progression is good, but it is a slow-burn, in my opinion, only fully grabbing you by the throat around half-way through. Anyone who is a fan of hard science fiction would be well rewarded by reading Artemis, while I personally didn't enjoy the book as much as I loved The Martian, it is a solid offering, and I look forward to Andy Weir's next book.





Thursday, 1 March 2018

With your shield or on it...

Time to finally squeak in my second post for the month. This one follows the last, in which I wrote about painting up some 15mm Gauls for Sword and Spear. This last week or so I managed to find some time to start the basing of two units, and I also decided to give some shield transfers a go. I read a few posts, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and purchased a set of transfers for testing from Forged in Battle, the same company that produces the miniatures I have.

8 figures to each base. I prised the miniatures from the stands I have been using to paint them on, and glued them down. Next time I may do the front or rear row, use the basing material and then do the second row and finish the basing material...

Here I've used Brown Earth paint from Vallejo. It's almost like gauche. Very thick and tacky to apply. The texture though looks brilliant. My next step with these is to dry brush lightly and use a mix of static grass and tufts to add some detail. I think they'll come up nicely. Note the painted shields...

These are the transfers. They look lovely, but do require a lot of preparation. First, the bosses need to be cut out (apart from the circles which are punched already, as you can see in the image of the reverse below). This means using a scalpel to carefully slice out the crosses, so they will neatly go over the raised bosses on the shields. It is painstaking and annoying. Especially given that several of the shields look very similar, but are actually differently sized. On the smaller ones the boss extends to the very rim, meaning you can cut the transfer into several pieces if you're not careful.

After cutting out the bosses, the shields themselves need to be cut out. This is also painful.


You might notice that the shields in this image are now white. Why? Because of the man second from the left in the back row. He was the first test, and I left his shield painted to see how the transfer would go. It barely did. It is almost invisible. So, I spent the next hour or so repainting all the shields white again.

The Brown Earth from Vallejo I used on the bases - very nice, but a bit annoying to work around a set of miniatures already based. I will rethink that for my next set. On the left are the two bottles I used to help with the transfers. I read that these are highly recommended as they are excellent in helping the transfer come off and adhere to the shape of the surface. The shield transfers from Forged in Battle are actually sticky. You peel away a tiny film of clear plastic on the front and stock them face down on the shield. Then apply water to the back. I wasn't sure how this would fly with the Micro Set and Micro Sol, but I tried it anyway and it seems to work fine. The transfers come off easily, are easy to reposition, and set snugly against the shield surface.

For all the pain, the transfers look brilliant. I still have to repaint the rims, and touch up any little gaps here and there, but I think they look very nice. Once fully complete the units should look great. Jobs left to do: repaint the shield rims and touch up. Dry-brush the bases. Apply some static grass and tufts. I'll post again once they are all done.
I also managed to glue down my Gallic camp... all the pieces here are from Baueda, and look great.
Lastly, these two books came in the mail. They'll be handy in working out colour schemes and whatnot for my troops. Both are lovely and contain excellent art.