Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Zombicide: Black Plague

I am not a fan of zombies. The zombie, to me, is an anathema; a genre that inspires little more than a mildly depressed and torpid disinterest, a faint air of fatuous disgust, and all mingled into a general malaise that will have me rolling my eyes and wishing I were anywhere else. My willingness to play zombie themed games is roughly equivalent with my desire to undergo inessential and painful testicular operations.

Having said that, I was more than willing to give Zombicide: Black Plague a go, newly arrived from the glorious Kickstarter, a friend of mine had recently received his copy and was eager to give it a go. Luckily, I rolled into the club in time to join in. If I can't get excited by zombies, I can get excited about enjoying a game experience with people I like.

Zombicide: Black Plague is a dungeon crawl style of game, with players having characters that move around the game board trying to achieve their quest before they are overwhelmed, or before... well, most of the time it will be overwhelmed.

There are some very clever mechanims in this game, the spawning and movement of the zombie pieces is thoroughly excellent, and goes a long way to building tension and engagement. The general mechanics are fun and simple. The game, in all, has some really good things going for it.

However, the game feels like it runs too long. In the single mission I have played so far (and I have only played one), 40 minutes were absolutely brilliant, and then there was another hour of moving in and out of rooms searching for the 'solve this mission' card (essentially a weapon that would allow us to kill the enemy). This is not good game design in my view. Some turns felt completely wasted, others felt like there was no choice, or at least very little. Any game where a player thinks - well I suppose I should just pass until I get the chance to flip a card and see if it allows us to win - is just not fun.

There will be games where the tension ratchets brilliantly, and the cards come or don't come, and the characters get it just in time or are killed - and they will be a blast. However, there will be games where it drags interminably, with players having little real choice or agency in the game, and they will be like some weird form of dental torture.

I really hope the extra stuff that will come from the Kickstarter will take the game from what it is, toward its potential, we shall only have to wait and see. When I compare it to the experience you get from playing something like Fantasy Flight's Doom or Descent, or Plaid Hat Games' Mice and Mystics, it is, currently at least, just not in the same league.


Serenissima is an old school trading in the Mediterranean game, originally published in 1996, it encompasses a mix of trading and conflict. With superb artwork and pieces, which include plastic galleys as well as the trade good and sailors that fill them up, Serenissima is a game that looks very nice on the table.

Dominique Ehrhard is a favourite game designer of mine, not least for the sublime Condottiere. He is also to be equally appreciated for his artistic abilities (he created the art work for Condottiere and Serenissima). Serenissima is an early design, originally published in 1996, it is both a game that retains a lot of enjoyment, and a game that feels it's age compared to the slick mechanical designs of today.

I should note that the version of Serenissima I am talking about is the older one. A newer version (2nd ed) was published by Ystari and Asmodee, and from everything I have read the newer version brings the old game back with revised game mechanics.

In any case, Serenissima is a highly enjoyable mix of travelling salesman problems mixed with the tension of defensive blockading and attack. It is a highly enjoyable roller coaster, where players are doing their utmost to monopolise trade and get their goods through to the ports that will assure them the most profit.

Clever use of investments is key, as is making sure you appropriate enough varied ports to give you access to a variety of goods. The use of ships loaded with sailors to blockade sea zones and attack the opponent is also something that requires consideration. The game can swing from the mind bending complexity of working out where your ships can move and what they can trade, to an arms race to decide the fate of a port or trade ship.

All in all the game was highly enjoyable, and has made me interested in seeing how the second edition plays.

Friday, 4 December 2015


It has been a little while since my last post, I have been caught up with some freelance work for Spartan Games and Modiphius, which, while very exciting, has left me without the time required to spend on things like updating my blog.

In more recent times I have found my game time dominated by miniatures games and role playing games. I'll come back to writing more about specific games on another day, but we have been playing quite a bit of Fantasy Flight Games Edge of the Empire Star Wars RPG - and enjoying it rather a lot.

Ambling over on Kickstarter I happened to run across a new role playing game that I really love the look of: Wurm. Or rather, an English translation of this French role playing game. The art is gorgeous and evocative, and the setting, Earth some 35,000 years ago, is something I absolutely adore.

This setting seems to me to be rife for wonderful stories that blend history and mythology, a vast expanse of unexplored wilderness and a world of monsters, real, created and imagined.

I have long been fascinated with the history of our species, with the worlds that different people in history lived and experienced. But I have been especially fascinated by our early history: a world filled with a mix of human-like races, monsters and mystery.

In any case - Wurm looks absolutely stunning, well worth checking out.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Bombers and Corvettes...

Since tasting sweet success with my last painting challenge, and rather liking the look of a painted fleet for once, I have continued with my efforts.
This week I have managed to finish off a Squadron of Bombers, and two Squadrons of Thales Corvettes (well, nearly two, I seem to have lost a single Thales somewhere).
In any case - here they are, in all their state of completion...

Monday, 12 October 2015

Fleet completed!

I began last week with the challenge of painting just over half of my fleet for the tournament just finished. After some long hours at the painting desk in the evenings, I’m happy to say that they are all finished! Not to as high a standard as I would have liked… but they are done – and that is fantastic. It’s also given me the inspiration to go back and get a bit more painted – so hopefully I’ll start knocking over some, at least, of my large back-catalog of unpainted Covenant miniatures.
I’ll write something more about the tournament on another day, we played 5 games over the two days, and it was an absolute blast. I came in 5th place out of field of 10, but more importantly I had a lot of fun and got to face off against great people.
In any case… the painted tournament fleet:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Making painting progress...

Some of my unpainted fleet are finally leaving dry-docks with a lick of paint... thank goodness!

They are a touch messy and rushed, but at least they look better than bare resin! I'll hopefully have the rest of the fleet done soon!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The unpainted shame...

With my local Dystopian Wars  tournament looming at the end of this week (it's Tuesday as I type this), I have to face a certain realisation. While this realisation is something miniature gamers are usually all too familiar with, it's also a source of a certain amount of shame and ignominy. It's like having a birthmark on your face in the shape of a rare and amusing vegetable, or a rash that is obvious to anyone, but kind of uncomfortable to explain; yes Nanna, the rash is looking particularly lurid today. How did I get it? Ahem. 
So rather than hide it behind some facade, conceal it beneath a shallow powdered foundation, I had better confront it now. The fleet list I had created to play in this coming weekend's tournament? It's mostly unpainted (mostly here is an apt description, not mere exaggeration).
Now, I'm going to try and remedy this. I have Netflix to watch and painting to do. I'm not under any illusions that I will get it all done, or even most of it, but I will at least get more done. So the challenge is on... how much can I finish before the weekend? It will be interesting!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Land of Tales and Heroes

I've been playing Song of Blades and Heroes, a small skirmish game published by Ganesha Games, for a few years now on and off. It's a straight forward miniatures game, with simple enough rules to play through quickly, but with enough depth and interesting systems to remain engaging and enjoyable. It's a system that is easy to get into, and as a result, easy to manipulate. You can play games in any setting that inspires you, with any miniatures you have handy.

Like many gamers I seriously lack storage space, but being a fan of the smaller scale of miniatures is a bonus in this regard. My favourite scales for figures tend to be 15mm or smaller. For Song of Blades and Heroes I bought a range of 15mm Orcs and Goblins from Splintered Light (and they are wonderful models). The only thing lacking was a good playing surface.

Being small scale miniatures Song of Blades and Heroes only calls for a small sized board. In the shed I happened to have a 2ft by 2ft piece of MDF that had served me many moons ago as a DBA board. It was time to re-purpose the glaringly green gloss surface to something that looked a little better!

Previously the board had been coated with a horrid dark green gloss spray. The first thing I wanted to do was to add some texture to the surface, so I sprayed it with watered down PVA, and sprinkled sand across the surface. After this was dried I sprayed it with a black undercoat, then painted on successive layers of brown, culminating in several layers of drybrushing, from brown, to a very light skin tone.

To add some colour and interest to the surface I sprayed on some more PVA, and then added static grass to finish it off. Once I had shaken off the excess I sprayed the lot heavily with a matt varnish.

I'm pretty happy with the result, now I'm just waiting to get a game or two happening!

If you're interested in Song of Blades and Heroes - it's well worth checking out. At the moment Ganesha are running a Kickstarter for the Advanced rules and a Dwarf source book. I am very much looking forward to getting my copies!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The History of World War II Podcast

I have crossed the line. Semi-exhausted, semi-elated, with a similar sense of accomplishment as having finished a grueling challenge. Not that it was unpleasant, far from it, but it is the denouement: the slightly sad afterglow of a long, bright day. A time to kick off the mud caked boots, rub the aching calves, prop the pack and sword belt by the door, and reflect with a melancholy satisfaction on the journey so far completed.

Around January or February I started looking in earnest for new podcasts to listen to, having come from the brilliant History of Rome I was ready for another journey through the annals of time, and found The History of World War II Podcast, by Ray Harris Jr. At the time it was up to something like 120 episodes, and as of yesterday, after listening to little else, I have managed to work my way through the now 138 back episodes and am completely up-to-date. That is not to say that The History of World War II is finished! Operation Barbarossa is just kicking off and there is plenty to be covered yet, but that for now, my journey with Ray Harris Jr., is done.

I really loved the History of Rome, which is a brilliant podcast and well worth listening to, and The History of World War II is similarly excellent. Ray does a very good job of covering, in detail, what is a complex and fascinating story. Altogether I would have listening to something like 90-100 hours of the podcast, and would recommend it to anyone with a passing interest.

If you do stop over and listen, I would recommend downloading a bunch and listening to them in groups. To be honest, I prefer to listen to history podcasts this way - a stream of audio following the story, however long, is preferable to small piecemeal chunks where detail may be lost or forgotten between installments. Ray will undoubtedly keep up with his schedule, but I won't be joining him again for at least a couple of months as I allow the bank of episodes to build back up. I very much look forward to it!

My one and only gripe with The History of World War II is the cover image. When I open my phone and I have been listening to the show, the cover image above dominates the screen, with the distinctive red colouring, swastika and the image of Hitler, it has drawn some interesting looks from those who happen to be nearby... but that is a small price to pay for such quality listening!

Thursday, 3 September 2015


The promise of being able to capture the thousand fractures of light and colour that make up the kaleidoscope of ideas that traverse my mind is appealing. The alternative: saying dishonestly to myself, "I'll remember that tomorrow morning," always results in the same sad and frustrated fate come that morning, when the only thought rebounding in my head is, "There used to be a better one here not so long ago."

I have a bunch of note books that are badly organised and generally filled with a mix of various projects, drawings, notes and things the children did (which can hold multiple meanings). All of which, of course, makes them less than useful. I've always found the idea of being well organised in the note book sense rather engaging, being able to jot down ideas for blog posts, podcast topics, game ideas, setting concepts and flashes of story seems the sort of thing I should be doing, after all, I keep telling myself I should, but it's something I've never really mastered.

I have tried a great many organisational apps over the years, from Awesome Note, to Evernote, to Something Note to The Other One Note to Umm Note. Every time they take me on a sort of short lived mildly euphoric roller-coaster (well, more like an energetic miniature-train ride). That sense that 'this is one'! THIS is the methodology that will help me herd and pen all those cats I call ideas. I haven't found one yet that managed to live beyond that initial mentally salubrious beginning. I write all this nonsense because I spent that last twenty minutes reinstalling Evernote on everything I own that can be plugged in and has a screen. I am hoping that my foray once again into the realm of attempting to organize the mess I usually call my mind will be more successful than the last. We shall see.

Thursday, 27 August 2015


There are few tales of joy to be found through plots that skirt the reanimation of something long departed. It has been nearly two years since my last post here at Castle by Moonlight, and while the moon is imperceptibly different, the castle, and it's shuffling inhabitant is not.

Since leaving the virtual ink to dry and crack in the bleak lands of abandonment I have been busy over at the Element 270 podcast and blog and more recently writing for Spartan Games. But despite these happy opportunities I have long harbored the desire to brush the cobwebs from the castle embrasures, relight the odd candle and unpack the virtual inkpot...

When I started Castle by Moonlight it was to be a largely board game focused blog with occasional miscellany thrown in for good measure. However, in the intervening years the author has changed, and likely too the content of his outpourings...

I still have an abiding love for board games (though I could no longer name an Essen release or tell you what was hot on BGG right now), but I have also rediscovered my passion for other forms of gaming I had long given up; both miniature games and roleplaying. I also want to write about more miscellany, whether Tesla cars, NASA missions, historical infatuations, good books, good authors, good podcasts or good people. The question is: is Castle by Moonlight the place for that? Or should another place be founded to write about these things?

For any old readers who may have this pop up in an RSS feed long gathering dust, would it matter so much if the Castle was animated again but wearing a face both familiar and different? I don't really expect a reply, but am canvassing my own thoughts against future action... I think  it will be here, but perhaps in another place...