Wargames, baby. Wargames

For the last year and a half, I’ve really thrown myself into the wargamming hobby.  It started with my buying a box of Warhammer Skeleton models to use in a D&D.  In a short 18 months, I’ve built and painted more plastic and metal than you could shake a rulebook at.  In this brief period, I’ve run a local league for a year, brought several new players to the hobby and learned nearly ten rules sets.  Today, I want to go though a few of the reasons this hobby has taken such grip on me.

1) Genuine scarcity. One of the big problems RPGs and similar games have had to face in the last decade is digital piracy.  The ease of getting any RPG book ever published is almost frightening.  While publishing game books has never been a great big moneymaker, it’s likely next to impossible to make a profit now.

Wargames, while they do suffer this problem with their rule books, do not yet have to worry about wide-scale piracy of their models.  Not only that, since there is such a wide variety of models, it can sometimes be difficult to get exactly what you want.  This is actually a plus for me.  When I buy a kit, I know that I’m getting something that only a few people will actually own.  I can show off my collection and be confident that someone can’t just download and print out the same thing.  Add in the ability to customize and paint models, and you are guaranteed to bring a completely unique creation to the table.

2) Toys! What’s more fun than being a grown man and playing with toys?  Even better, toys that I built!

3) The challenge of tactics. I have the tactical foresight of a goldfish.  I rarely think more than a half a move ahead.  Wargaming gives me a great, if sometimes painful, opportunity to stretch this atrophied part of my brain.

4) Bliss of painting. LOVE IT.  I may not be the greatest painter, but I adore being able to bliss out while I slowly add layer upon layer of paint to a model.  I may not get to spend all the time I want at the painting bench, but the time I do spend is quality.

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On The Bench

It’s been a slow month on the bench.  Not all that much getting pushed past the old paintbrush.  I did manage to finish up this Blood Bowl team.  I started out thinking the project would take me a couple of hours, but I kept wanting to add layers.

Next, last night I started picking away at a collection of Styrofoam asteroids that I burned out with a hot wire cutter.   This is still early days for me and sculpting, so shapeless masses are right up my alley.

The wire-cut result is a bit too clean though, and I wanted to skuzz them up a bit, and give them a more gritty texture.  I found that mixing equal parts coffee grounds, PVA glue and water makes a very nice dirt-paste.  It may not look it, but those grounds are stuck in and the glue creates a very nice surface for primer.

I think that with some paint and a bit of wash, these guys will look great at my next Firestorm Armada game.

Finally, last night I dove back into my belove Orks and started working on the trukk for my Slobbajaws.

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Stop Getting My Shit Together

I like to be seen as a dude that can keep his poop in a group.   My crap is almost always collated.  The shit that I have control over?  Together.

Organized scatology aside, I’m a pretty organized person.  I rarely stress deadlines, or worry about things getting missed.  The bills get paid.  The important things get done.  I remember Valentine’s day.

This can kill my creative output.

Example:  While walking for my Sunday morning coffee, I was hit with this fabulous vision for a space opera RPG story arc.  Like a good organized lad, I texted the idea to myself for later processing.  Later that day, caffeinated and fed, I process my notes, put “Create Space Opera Campaign” on my to-do list, and went about my day.  This morning, before heading off to work, I look at my to-do list, see that, and realize I need to move forward.  I change the next action to “make plan”.  I make a plan, which starts with “brainstorm”.

That’s an entire paragraph of shit that did nothing to move this campaign toward reality.  I’m so proud of being this well organized, high output worker bee, that I bury my own creative desires in a bureaucratic decision tree.  Sure, it’s an efficient bureaucratic decision tree, but that doesn’t always get the project where it needs to go.

Sometimes, I need to give myself permission to just GO.  I need to do an end run around the systems I’ve created and just say, “Here’s a thing I want to make.  I’ve got two hours to get as far as I can.  Go!”  Then I need to shut down the bureaucracy, and let the pencil scrape against paper, fingers punch the keyboard, brush slide across plastic, or whatever.  Just force something to get made, and let the poo fly where it will.  Then, when the time is up, the bureaucracy can reopen for business, and they can worry about putting what I made into neat piles.  They can create the action lists and start the long process of polishing.

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Dystopian Wars

Because, you know, I need another freaking hobby.

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A few thoughts on Gen Con

After too much waffling, I finally plunked my money down for a 4 day pass and hotel reservations at Gen Con.  I did this once before, when I was in high school.  It was a bad experience.  Since then, I’ve been content to occasionally pick up a day pass at the door and wander around like an outsider.  I’d buy some stuff and bring it home, checking out the new games I decided on a whim to invest in.  But I never got involved in at the con.  I always tried to keep my distance.

This year, I’m doing things differently.  I’m going to get involved in events, and allow myself to enjoy the company of people who are just as delighted by these silly hobby as I am.  The voices of those who grouse about “4e being the death of D&D” and, “this army book is broken” or, “everyone here but me is a retard”, are going to drift on by and I’ll focus my attention on the people who just want to build something cool and have a ton of fun doing it.

This hobby seems to attract a lot of sad people with sad attitudes, and they often get to me.  But this year at Gen Con is not going to be like that.  This year, I’m dedicating my time at Gen Con to experiencing the joy that playing games with like-minded people brings me.

This year, smiles everybody!  SMILES!

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This blog post very nearly didn’t happen because I was about to start a game of Civilization V.  I own a copy of the original Avalon Hill board game and have played every iteration of the computer game to death.  Now, Fantasy Flight has put out a new Board Game.  It doesn’t have much to do with the original board game.  Instead, it attempts to recreate the feel of the most recent computer game.

When seen laid out like this, the game looks intimidating as hell.  5+ different types of cards, 7+ types of tokens, incongruous maps, two dials, and in the middle of it all, some monopoly-looking covered wagon pieces, make this game seem like a collection of spare parts from other games.

In a sense, it is a collection of smaller games, which allows the whole to be a pleasant and playable experience.  There are four possible ways to win the game, and each way has it’s own mechanic or mini-game.  These mini-games interact in ways that, while clunky, still work and are true enough to the experience of the computer games to provide a similar feel. Since each of these mini-games is built on simple mechanics, no part of the game is difficult to learn.  If you can get over the initial intimidation factor, the game is actually pretty easy to wrap your head around.

The real nuance to the game is being able to pay attention to several different things at once.  By the mid-game, it starts to feel like you’re spinning plates, especially if one of your opponents gets you on the back foot.  There are lots of things that interact and victory will likely go to the player that can manage these interactions the best.

So far, I’ve played two complete games, each of which took about 3 hours.  However, I wasn’t bored at any point.  There is always plenty to pay attention to, and the game phases are set up in such a way that you never have to wait long before you get to do something again.  In a lot of ways, this game moves faster than D&D, which is odd to say about a game that conceptually spans human civilization from agriculture to space-flight.

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First 40k Scenario

After several false starts, it looks like our new 40K campaign is finally going to take off.  The structure of the campaign is simple.  Two players fight a battle, and the third writes the scenario.  That’s it.  Following is my first scenario

The Salamanders have carefully been tracking their fallen brother’s patrol routes and are about to make their presence known.  The Chaos marines have found a rich deposit of Stirginium and are hauling it back via armored patrol.  The Salamander’s can’t allow Chaos to have this resource, so they have set up an ambush.
Army Lists:  Asymmetric battle.  The Salamanders get 750 points and the Chaos Marines get 1000.  Standard list restrictions apply for each force.

Deployment:  Set the board up approximately as follows.  Add terrain to taste.  The Chaos zone is 1′ x 2′ while the Salamanders have 2 4′ x 1′ deployment zones.  Chaos sets up all of his forces first, the Salamanders.  Salamanders choose who takes the first turn.

Special Rules:  One of the Chaos Troop choices is chosen to carry the Stirginium.  Give them an appropriate marker. They behave as a normal unit, but victory conditions depend on them.

Victory Conditions:  Salamanders:  Salamanders win if they destroy the Troop unit carrying the Stirginium.
Chaos.  Chaos wins if they can get their Stirginium carrying unit off the end of the board opposite their deployment. edge without it being destroyed.

There is no turn limit for this game.

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Firestorm Armada: First Playtest

My first real game of Firestorm Armada went off fabulously last night.  Bruce and I played Dindrenzi and Terran starter fleets plus carriers respectively. Following are a few notes about the experience.

– I was pleasantly surprised that with these small fleets, we were able to have an exciting and very satisfying game on a 6’x4′ table.

– Quotes from Star Wars, Battlestar, Babylon 5, and Star Trek were flying fast and piled deep.

– The models need special attention throughout the game.  I really need to do something about those fragile flight stands.

– Resolving wing combat is going to take some practice.  After experiencing the ease of ship-to-ship combat, wings were a bit frustrating to adjust to.  I don’t think this is a knock against the game, just evidence that I need practice.

– Even with unpainted models, the game got a fair amount of attention from passers-by.  I’m looking forward to having some well done terrain and models to show off soon.

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Showing them a card trick

One of the guidelines I’ve used for being a game master goes as follows:

The more players are at the table, the more you need to guide them.

I can’t count the number of times that I presented a complex situation to a group of six or more players, sat back waiting to be peppered with eager questions, skill checks, and demands for my attention, only to be faced with…

Its as though I’ve shown a dog a card trick.

I used to take this personally, like I wasn’t doing a good job presenting the material, or that my players were being purposely obtuse.   It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized it had little to do with me, and more to do with the size of a group. A small group of tight-knit players have little trouble taking the reigns and running with whatever thread you want to throw at them.  They know that they are safe to do so, as their actions will not impede their fellow players for very long.  Since there are few players, everyone will get a chance at the spotlight.

With a bigger group, it becomes more difficult to do this.  A player may be worried about being seen as grandstanding, or concerned about making mistakes in front of so many people.  The polite thing to do is to sit back and make sure that everyone gets a turn.  There is also the expectation in a larger group that there are plenty of other people to take actions, there is no need for oneself to do so.  There are lots of others around to take the risks.

So what to do?  The best solution I’ve found is less options.  Give the players a clear path they can follow to move on to the next challenge.  Don’t worry about being perceived as a railroader.  Of course, if they choose a road less traveled, encourage them and go with it, but don’t be disappointed if they take the “easy road”.  It’s not about you, or the game, even.  Like all role playing games, it’s really about being social.  The more people there are, the more the game is going to take on a classroom like dynamic, with the GM lecturing and guiding, and the players responding.  This is OK.

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New awesome to dork over

This year’s hotness?

Firestorm Armada Razorthorn class battleship

As I find myself drifting from Warhammer Fantasy and find my enthusiasm for army collecting stalling, I likewise find myself paying more attention to smaller, less well known wargames.  It looks like for this year, Spartan Games has captured my attention.

This company out of the UK has spent the last couple of years crafting a series of navel combat games, each drawing from the same core mechanics.  What they have done, in essence, is create a fairly simple and elegant system for fleet battles in fantasy, deep space, and steampunk settings.

I’ve started my journey with Firestorm Armada, the space combat game.  If I have your contact info, be forwarned that I’ll be bugging you to try this with me.

While I haven’t fully sussed out the system yet, here are some pros and cons.


  • The cost of entry and maintainability is refreshingly low.  Less than $100 will get you the rules, extras, and models you need to play for a long time.  I can’t see even the most ambitious fleet costing more than $200 including new paint and brushes.  In fact, the models, especially with Firestorm Armada are simple and elegant enough that one could build his own fleet from humble materials and a bit of modeling know-how.
  • With a few broad strokes, the rules system does a good job of capturing navel combat.  The importance is positioning your models is essential for securing victory, making the game tactically satisfying.  At the same time, things are simple enough for casual players to have a good time moving around without needing to put a great deal of thought into it.


  • The models tend to be fragile.  Crafted from resin, they sometimes require an experienced hand in building.  In particular, the Firestorm Armada models can be frustrating to get to stay on their flight stands.
  • The rules, while they play well, are not written for readers.  They feel more like a compilation of notes rather than a polished work.  Considering that these are first editions, I think this is forgivable.  Spartan games seems to be improving on this with every subsequent release

I hope to get players in my area interested in this soon.  I plan to do some demos of Firstorm Armada at the Game Preserve before Spring and hopefully will be able to generate enough enthusiasm to get the store to stock it.

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