Saturday, 25 February 2017

Sharp Practice 2...

Sharp Practice 2 is a black powder era skirmish level war game from Too Fat Lardies. Requiring something like 40-60 odd miniatures a side, it is a game that focuses on small actions and is strong on theme.

I was lucky enough, a few nights ago, to get in a first learning game, and despite having only a few blocks of infantry on the table, it was a huge amount of fun. After one game I am not familiar enough with the rules to offer any insightful commentary on what might make for strong tactical play, but what I can say is: I'm hooked.

Like Dux Britanniarum, the other Too Fat Lardies game I have played (and thoroughly enjoyed), Sharp Practice manages to capture a strong flavour of the period in a relatively straight forward rules set. What is fascinating about Sharp Practice (and also present in Dux) is the emphasis the rules set places on leaders as the fundamental core to utilising your force on the table. By pulling chits (we used poker chips in a bag) or via a card deck, the leaders each player has on the table are activated. When a leader is activated they may spend their command points (called Command Initiative) to activate the groups or formations around them, to remove Shock (a form of cumulative damage a group may suffer that reflects its morale, and which is very important, as I found out) and do various other things like forming groups into formations and so on.

Leaders are fundamental to the operation of a player's force, and the random order in which the leaders on the table are activated (and some may not get to activate every turn), makes for a tense and exciting experience. There were many points in the game where myself and my opponent where both anxious for a specific leader chit to be drawn from the bag, hoping to get the drop on the opposing force.

Some players may find this method of activation too random, especially as one of the cards/chits is the Tiffin, which ends the turn (even if there are leaders who have not activated). While there is truth to this, the randomness in this case manages to beautifully encapsulate the feel of the theme magnificently. As a commander you never are quite sure who will manage to make the first move, whether the soldiers are chomping at the bit to get to grips with the foe or whether they are hesitant, whether your Officers have managed to relay their orders in time... For a gamer used to the steady back and forth of I Go You Go, or Alternate Activation systems, it can take a little getting used to, but believe me, in my experience it manages to do one thing above all other activation systems... and that is feed into the story of the game.

The rules set beyond command and control is solid, and while we had some questions come up through the game which we couldn't find the answers for immediately, we made a ruling and pushed on (and found a solid FAQ afterwards). Groups and Formations, when activated by a leader, have two actions such as move, reload, fire, and present (aim). With only two actions, and the requirement to reload before firing (and preferably to present as well), the system captures the theme well. The dice system follows a buckets of dice approach, which, while many gamers think this is 'lucky' actually makes resolution closer to the bell curve. I won't go into details but to note the system is solid and well devised. It manages to do what needs to be done and get out of the way in order to allow the action to happen.

Luck, at first blush, seems to play a strong hand in the game, you dice for movement, for attacks and for other things, you draw chits (or pull cards) for activations, but the luck doesn't feel overwhelming, and the methods through which it is implemented gives it a role, but not a dominant one. At the end of the day tactical play is vital, one cannot win the game without it. To be honest, I absolutely adore the way the game runs, as frustrating as it can be to see a leader go unactivated in a turn, to have your formation loaded and presenting yet holding back their fire till too late, it is also exhilarating to take a chance and see it pay off. The simple truth of it is that the bigger the gamble you take the less likely you are to be able to see it come off; and this is as it should be. Luck is there, but it is not overriding, good and clever play, daring do, careful maneuver - these are all vital components of good play.

One thing Sharp Practice manages to do better than most other games I have ever played is to create a story. Ahh, the story. I have played few games where a narrative rises so easily from the happenings on the table as I have when playing Dux or Sharp Practice. The rules in play manage to seamlessly create a scenario in which players are doing their level best to gain the upper hand, but in which fortune and circumstance, like in every good tale, will conspire to have the successes of the erstwhile hero fluctuate. Games take on a life of their own, and the story that rises from the game play takes the players on a rollercoaster from success to failure and back again.

I have never played a black powder era miniatures game before, but Sharp Practice is a marvel, I am thoroughly looking forward to my force arriving, and getting them on the table more over the coming year!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Hobby Goals...

In 2016, when I wrote up my goals for the year, they were predominantly focused on games and gaming. Since I have already written up my goals in terms of my writing, I am rounding them out with my goals for the hobby...

Table Top Games Played

Last year I had the goal of playing 100 unique games, and managed it with some 15 or so to spare. This year I am going to simply replicate that goal. Having a voice in the back of my mind telling me to try and mix up what hits the game table was enjoyable last year, and made me break out some games I hadn't played in a while, rather than going back to some old staples. This helped me rediscover what it was I enjoyed about those games, and reminded me of some of those classics on my shelves that had been collecting dust for some time. Repeating what I did last year, I will also be recording the different games I manage to get to the table via a geeklist on Boardgamegeek, in fact, you can find the geeklist here, if you're interested...

Role Playing

Writing for both Infinity and Star Trek leads me to the obvious conclusion that I need to play more of both! I am hoping that this year that I manage to get a regular RPG group running. Whether we play Infinity, Star Trek, Symbaroum, Wyrm, MERP, Star Wars, FATE or any one of the dozen other games I have sitting there calling for attention - I don't care! Just something!


I have a host of unpainted models calling for attention, as well as a significant amount of scenery waiting to be built. My goal here is to build all the scenery I have still in wrapping, and to paint on a regular basis. I am hoping to complete my Heavy Gear army, get paint on some Infinity models, finish my Australian navy for Dystopian Wars, and much more. I think the key here is painting/building regularly more so than aiming to get specific models done. I do tend to push this aside when things get busy, but now I have a dedicated painting area... perhaps I will manage more...

On Miniatures Games

On Minis Games has been a project that a friend of mine (Quinton Sung) and I have been planning for a long time. With the last half of 2016 being as chaotic as it was, we managed to record only two episodes (which are currently available to listen to at the Inverse Genius On Minis Games page.

The aim for this year is to really get On Minis Games into gear, we've had feed issues (and if you have trouble subscribing, let me know at, scheduling issues, and lots going on in our personal lives. Without the various excuses and put bluntly, we haven't done as much as we had hoped by now. We hope to remedy this in 2017! My goal is to publish at least one episode a month, and hopefully two... we shall see how we go!

If there is a particular focus, topic or concept you would like to see in a miniatures game podcast, please let us know! We are eager to more episodes recorded and available for download!

Game Design

I am lucky enough at the moment to have had the opportunity to work on a range of games: Dystopian Legions, Dystopian Wars, Fleet Battles, Halo: Fleet Battles, as well as write for Firestorm Planetfall, Firestorm Armada, Infinity the RPG, Star Trek Adventures, and to work as an editor on Firestorm: Taskforce and Achtung! Cthulhu the miniatures game. I'd really like to push this a little further this year, not only by continuing to write for the various games I have an opportunity to write for, but also to design and develop some games of my own. I have a variety of RPG and board game designs in various stages of completion in boxes, folders and on my hard drive. I'd like to aim to work on at least 4 different designs of my own over the course of this year... we shall see!

Well, that about rounds off my hobby goals for this year. Doubtless I have forgotten some things, but this is enough to begin with!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Writing Goals...

In my previous post I reflected a little on the goals I had set out for myself in 2016. For the most part these goals revolved around various forms of playing games because, well, I like playing games, and my blog is dominated by posts about them.

Over the last few years I been working somewhat as a freelance writer (well, it's a hobby really, I work as a teacher during day-light hours). This work has all been in the games industry, with both Spartan Games and Modiphius Entertainment (those interested can see what exactly I have worked on, on my bibliography page).

I have always had a passion for game design and writing, I have tended to spend vast chunks of my time developing my own role-playing systems and settings, board games, writing fiction, and writing for various places online. After high school I studied professional writing and editing for a couple of years before going on to teaching, and my hard drive and many note books are full of jottings, from simple plot, scene or setting concepts, to game ideas, to variously 'finished' and (predominantly) unfinished short story, novella and novel manuscripts.

The last few years it has been a pleasure, therefore, to be able to do this work in a more professional sense. To see things I helped work on, design or write make it to print. It is not a side-job that has earned me a lot of money, I might add, but I enjoy it, and it keeps me off the streets.

This post, as the title might suggest, is about my writing goals for 2017...

Spartan Games:

2016 ended with an explosion of activity for Spartan Games, and Dystopian Wars specifically. There is a new version of the rules underway, which I am not involved with at this stage, but there are also many models to stat up, 7 faction books to produce, as well as the Ice Maiden and Bronze Typhoon campaign books and the Decameron - a book of novellas and short stories.

Needless to say, everyone involved is full steam ahead. I am working currently on the faction books, the campaign books and the Decameron. While I will be doing some of the writing for all of those, my main role at the moment is to help project manage these 9 books from conception to production. Neil, myself and some of the core writers who work with Spartan (Franco Sammarco and Sam Bevan), have worked through a plan for how these stories will develop, and Neil and myself have worked through the outline and structure of the books so everyone knows how they will be stitched together and what pieces are required. I am excited. I'm hoping everyone will thoroughly enjoy the playing through the campaign books; and the faction guides and Decameron will help develop the background of Dystopian Wars, including some fun things which reveal a little more about the how and why of this alternate 1800s setting...

Modiphius Entertainment:

Over the last year and a bit I have been doing some free lance work for Modiphius Entertainment. I worked as an editor on the Achtung! Cthulhu Miniatures Game, but my main projects have been for the upcoming Infinity Role Playing Game. More recently I have also finished a little writing for the upcoming Star Trek Adventures Role Playing Game. I have absolutely loved working on these games, the opportunity to delve in and write background and setting material is something I enjoy immensely.

Infinity: The Role Playing Game is based on the setting of the very successful miniatures game from Corvus Belli. Those who have followed my blog may recall this is a game I have played and enjoyed, and therefore writing some of the setting chapters for the core rule book has been a real pleasure. I am currently working on an adventure, and will have more to do as Wave 2 develops. It should be a busy year for Infinity!

I have only recently completed my first assignment for Star Trek Adventures, and again, this has been something I have thoroughly loved. Just the potential to tell my wife that staying up and watching Star Trek is 'research' is enough, but the game system is looking really good and of course the setting is classic science fiction, so writing for it is something I have had a lot of fun with. I am looking forward to the opportunity to do more in the coming year.

Castle by Moonlight:

My blogging goal for 2017 is roughly the same as what I had for 2016. If I can keep up around two posts a month, I'll be happy. Last year I managed an average of three posts a month, but I'll keep the goal at two. I know some months when everything else is busy, I may not hit that target, and other months when things are more quiet (or the mood takes me), I'll manage more. Two a month gives me a goal to work toward without feeling like I'm placing too much pressure on myself. As per usual my blog will remain predominantly about games and gaming, with the occasional book review or other piece of miscellany thrown in.

Writing for pleasure...

[insert picture of a majestic landscape or an inspirational quote here]

Much of the work I have completed, in regards to writing, over the last couple of years has been a form of report (as on this blog), a form of technical writing (rules, scenarios), or has been copy editing. It has been a nice break away from the norm to be writing background material for the Infinity role playing game and the occasional piece of fiction for Spartan Games. One of the things I want to make sure I set aside time for in 2017 is to write more fiction of my own. I have a broad collection of narratives, from short stories through to novels, in various stages of completion; and the beginnings of plans or the seeds of ideas for many more.

I want make the time to get back to writing my own stories in my own settings. I think the way to do this is to try and set aside at least one night a week (I'll start with one and see how it goes), where my sole focus is to work on something of my own. Of course, it really should be more than this, but with work to complete for Spartan and Modiphius, one night will suffice for now.

I expect this goal will be quite hard to maintain, not only am I a world class procrastinator, never doing today what I can put off for tomorrow, but when my other freelance projects get busy, they can be quite consuming. Writing is a creative act, and distraction, emotional state, weariness and many other factors can all impact a person's ability to 'get it done'. The act of writing itself can feel like it is just flowing, the words tumbling onto the page, but sometimes they just don't. Additionally, one must often stop for a period to research things like common Sicilian surnames, or how the ionosphere can interfere with radio signals, or the structure of the United Nations Military Council... because anyone who writes will admit to having an insanely random set of browser searches in their history. Research can and usually does eat hours, and, of course, there is a limit to a person's available work time, especially when they have a day job as well. When high levels of research are required, whether for a freelance project or a personal one, it can feel like a lot of time has been spent for very little progress. But this is just a part of the process, of course.

Regardless, whatever the excuses, whatever the distractions, I really want to push myself to spend a night a week working on my own projects. It will be interesting to see how I go.

So that about sums up my writing goals for 2017. The other key factor in all of this is making sure I don't take on so much that I burn myself out, or that it then impacts negatively on the time I have with my family, or my day job. It will be interesting to see how things develop. I think 2017 will be a bumper year, with much to do for Dystopian Wars, the Infinity RPG and hopefully the Star Trek RPG. Add in the time I want to spend on my own projects, and I think I will be kept reasonably busy throughout 2017. Writing is something I love, so I find the process a curious mix of stressful (especially around deadlines) and cathartic. I'm hoping 2017 is a year in which I find a solid rhythm to work to: where I can manage my freelance work as well as make progress on my own projects. We shall see!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Looking Back at 2016...

My last post was a little past the  middle of November, and given the gap I must apologise, gentle reader (note that 'reader' is singular), but it has been a busy time.

Aside from the general business of the festive season, with family to visit, drinks to imbibe and food to relish, we have also been busy moving castles. Moving castles is not the most streamlined of processes, it is messy, tiring, and a lot of wandering around wondering which box contains the thing you want in any particular moment. Even having been in the new castle now for around a month, much of our lives are still hidden in some box or tub, probably under some other box or tub.

So the first post of 2017, in the true spirit of the Roman goddess Janus after whom this month is named, I shall be looking back at 2016. 'How quaint' I hear you murmur, 'nobody does reflections on the previous year in January' I hear you stutter, almost spilling your muscat down the front of your velvet monogrammed pajamas.

While you may think it true, careful examination of the interwebs will clearly show that this time of year typically sees bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, geeklist makers and people of all stripes create lists of those things that were best about 2016, and what they are looking forward to in 2017. Who am I to buck a trend?

In all honesty 2016 was an ugly, drawn out, painful and generally turgid affair. If it was a Beast, even Belle would have been urging Gaston to put the bastard down. But it is done, and while 2017 promises (on a global level at least) to be worse, it is here, and so has to be faced with whatever sense of optimism you can muster or whatever banal aphorisms will help you through.

But, I am not here to moan relentlessly from the comfort of my first world life about how tough it all is, I'm here for the gaming! Well, mostly.

At the start of 2016 I wrote a post covering some of my hobby goals for coming year... well, the end times have come and it is time for a reckoning.

The first of my goals was to play at least 100 different games over the course of 2016, which, surprisingly, is something I managed quite comfortably. I ended 2016 having played 115 different games. For those interested the geeklist I used to to keep track of them is here.

Some of my favourites from the year include Battlelore, which was nice to get back to the table again, and Shadows over Camelot, which is also an older game, but a thoroughly excellent one. The best 'new-to-me- game I played in 2016 was probably Codenames, which was a lot of fun, and something I am looking to playing more of in 2017.

In terms of miniature games, and aside from Spartan games such as Dystopian Wars (which I have worked on), I would have to say I was most excited to play Heavy Gear Blitz and Mordheim. Both games were new to me, and while Mordheim is an old game, it is truly a wonderful game. Heavy Gear is something I am hoping to get to the table more this coming year. The minis are great, and I am really enjoying it.

The Scions of Erasmus... my Mordheim warband...

A Hunter Squad for Heavy Gear Blitz...

My next goal was to reduce the number of unplayed games in my collection. This is a goal at which I failed, I'm afraid. I ended 2016 with several more games unplayed than I began it. Hopefully I will have better luck in this department in 2017!

I'm looking at you Sekigahara!

My next goal was to spend more time playing games with my family. I would say this goal has been achieved, I still want to make sure I take the time to play more with my wife and kids in 2017, but the grounding in 2016 was a starting place.

Song of Blades and Heroes with my son...

I had the goal of playing more RPGs in 2016, something I did not manage to do I'm afraid. I really hope that 2017 picks up in this regard... we have a maiden voyage planned for the coming week with the upcoming Star Trek game by Modiphius, so hopefully this is something we can build up!

I had a painting goal of getting a Squadron a month painted, and surprisingly I think I came close. Between my Covenant models, my Mordheim Warband and some Heavy Gears, I am pleased with how much I managed to get done...

Lots done by my own low standard... fingers crossed that I manage more in 2017!
My blogging goal was to write at least two blog posts a month. I think (if I've added correctly) that I managed some 36 posts over 2016, some months I was quiet, some silent, but overall I am happy with my blogging output. My posting is too haphazard in both regularity and subject matter to ever accrue many views, but writing is my goal, not building up my views stat!

My podcasting goal, of recording and posting something at least once a month, turned out to be impossible. With the Element 270 podcast winding up due to scheduling difficulties, and On Minis Games struggling this last month or so due to the move, I just haven't had the time and opportunity. Here's hoping that 2017 sees On Minis Games get going properly!

Lastly, I had a goal to read at least a book a month. Without a doubt the stand out book I read in 2016 was The Martian, by Andy Weir. It is an absolutely wonderful, totally engaging and brilliantly executed book, and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone. If I was to include the books I had read to my class, this goal would be a shoe in, but considering only books I read for my own pleasure, I fall short of the mark. Again, I hope to make amends in 2017!

And that about sums up the obligatory reflection on 2016. at some point I'll get around to formulating goals for 2017, so until then...

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Northern Hunters...

To continue my spurt of painting inspiration, after having completed my Averlander Warband for Mordheim, I decided to tackle some of miniatures for Heavy Gear Blitz!

Since the box of goodies, fresh from Dream Pod Nine's Kickstarter, arrived, I've managed to put together all my Northern Heavy Gears, play a couple of games, and plan my next set of purchases to round out my Northern Force. Of course, it's always nicer playing with painted miniatures, and being on something of a roll (by my low standards at least), I was keen to get some paint on these guys to see how they came up.

So far I have managed to paint my 8 Hunters...

I based my Gears on 30mm round lipped bases.

Using a palate knife and some wall putty, I added some detail to bases to both fill the base slot and give it the appearance of uneven ground.

After the bases were done and dried, I painted the lot with a slightly watered down PVA, in the hope of making sure the putty stayed put...

The miniatures themselves were a joy to put together, a dab of superglue worked almost too quickly. I wrote about the assembly a while ago here.
Wanting to cut down on prep time, I decided to try a Dunkelgelb spray-on undercoat. It looked good enough on my test model, but I left it a week or so to see if any started flaking...

No flaking? Good to go!

All sprayed (some a little heavily).

Some base coating done. Pretty simple scheme: dunkelgelb base, with white sections and metal for the engine and most of the weapons.

The first base coat and a wash with Army Painter Dark Tone (black wash essentially).

Highlighting complete with skeleton bone over the dunkelgelb, white over the white, plate metal and shiny silver over the gun metal and lastly red and blue for the missiles and 'eye' or lens.

All done, except for some basing material like static grass...

I'm still waiting on some basing material to arrive before completing the bases, including some highland static grass and winter grass tufts. Combined with the transfers (which I'm still deciding whether I'll use), the ensemble should be finished nicely.

Overall I'm happy with the scheme and think they came out well. Some simple colour variations mean they are not too bland, and they fairly well copy the paint schemes in the book. I think they'll look nice on the table.

One sour note to this endeavor was the fact that the sealant I used afterwards (paint on matt varnish), softened the putty I had used as basing material. When I pulled the bases off the painting stands I use several of the Gears broke free of the bases with clumps of putty on their feet. These Gears were fairly easy to glue back in place, and you can't tell the difference now between those that did and those that didn't, but... If I hadn't already based my force I'd be changing the material I used, and I don't think I'll be using wall putty again. Having written that, I do have to concede that with the lightness of the miniatures, I can't see it having any impact in the future, but just to know the bases are a little weak is annoying. Still, ce la vie!

Now, I am really keen to get onto my Jaguars... but I have school reports to finish and some work for Modiphius, for the Infinity RPG, to complete, so they'll just have to languish a little longer! Hopefully I don't lose my desire to get things painted over the next week of not painting!

Incidentally, for anyone keen on the Heavy Gear universe, Fushion Core Studios has just launched their Kickstarter for Heavy Gear Dreadnoughts! The game is all about the land ships vital to the Heavy Gear setting. The miniatures look great, and I for one am very excited!

If you're a fan of the RPG, Heavy Gear setting or Blitz, this is well worth checking out!