Sunday 25 June 2017

Zombie Flamenco Apocalypse!

Please note that the following post contains graphic descriptions of both rooting and tooting, and hence may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition.

This weekend was the Glastonbury Festival, and so my friend James and I met up to stay inside, play board games and drink tea.

First was Project Z, Warlord Games' zombie wargame. This was the first time either of us had played it, and for simplicity's sake we took on a solo scenario, controlling three survivors of the apocalypse each. We had to get from one side of the board to the other, battling through a shuffling horde of the undead on the way.

The rules were reasonable, in that they made sense and had plenty of opportunity for strategy and cunning. We played the scenario twice: the first time, all the survivors reached "safety" (in this case, a ruined building that was about as safe as a house made out of dynamite in the middle of a forest fire). The second time, one of our survivors, a bold fellow with a chainsaw, was pulled down and devoured.

Many zombies were slain, so many that the undead were forced to recruit some extra help from James' stock of Konflict 47 German zombies. The modern and Nazi zombies sealed a sinister pact in a scene that was much like the inlay art of Dark Side of the Moon.

Comfortably numbed

Overall, we agreed that for £30, Project Z wasn't bad at all.

Next up was the very reliable Shadows of Brimstone, also known as Cowboys v Cthulhu. Once again it was time to mosey on down to the old mine and draw a six-shooter on some varmints from Hell.

A horde of zombies prospectors and flamenco dancers attack the heroes

The first mission involved slaying industrial quantities of zombies, after which we were both rather tired of the shuffling dead, even if some of them were dressed like flamenco dancers. Taking on a new mission, both Sherrif Meatballs and Doc Casserole pulled their weight again, butchering a wide and colourful range of monsters and sending them to wait at the edge of the board.

In a truly manly climax, Sherrif Meatballs whipped out his Sherrif's badge, the sight of which sent Doc Casserole into a frenzy. Shooting wildly in all directions, Casserole squeezed off twelve bullets in a single turn, like the rootin', tootin' son of a gun that he is, scything through a range of monsters, and the day was saved. The mine was strewn with more bodies than a Nick Cave ballad. The two adventurers swaggered off to town to drink whiskey and have their mutations cut off.

Doc Casserole in action. Note (a) rooting and (b) tooting

 And then we tried Shadow War: Armageddon. This game pits small groups of Warhammer 40k soldiers against each other, and is strongly based on Necromunda. So far, so good. James took five harlequins and I used my squad of ork commandos.

The orks lurking innocently behind some shops

And then it went a bit wrong. The harlequins had special rules that made them very hard to hit and completely impossible to pin, as well as being able to pass straight through cover. They charged the orks and went through them like a knife through butter. The orks fought back - and died immediately. It was clear that the game was as good as over, and we called a halt to things.

My feeling is that the various forces are too different for the game to run smoothly, and the ability of the harlequins to ignore the pinning rule (which is pretty fundamental to Necromunda) was a gigantic advantage. We decided to give it another try, but with less extreme forces. Bit of a shame, that.

Anyhow, a very good weekend was had by all (well, both). Quality stuff!

But That's Heresy 4: Special Rules

I’m beginning to think that a wargame stands or falls on its special rules, and the more special rules it has, the greater the chance it has of falling.

The problem with special rules is that they override normal rules. They tend to say “No matter what, this happens” or, perhaps worse, “No matter what, you can’t do that”. Let me give you an example.

Years ago, I played Fantasy Battle against a High Elf army. I carefully positioned a tough unit of lizardmen to charge a smaller unit of axe-pixies (or swordsmen or whatever they were). I charged, ready to make the most of my cunning deployment. But it was not to be.

The High Elves had a rule that not only meant that they always struck first, but that they got to reroll any misses. My cunning lizardmen were simply wiped out before they had the chance to strike back. Had the High Elves not had that rule, I would have won hands (claws?) down. 

A High Elf trying to look casual.

I learned my lesson. Quite simply, anything that touched the axe-pixies would die without a chance to hit back. So I bought some fire-breathing lizards. The next battle, I kept away and set the whole axe-pixie unit alight from range. Sometimes, revenge is a dish best served flambé.

You might argue that I ought to have known about the special rule before I played. I'm not convinced by this. I feel that, as a fairly casual player who nevertheless wants to have a fair chance of winning, I shouldn't be confronted by rules that can't be got around and seem to go against the common sense of how you win a tabletop battle (by manouvering, charging first, etc). The rules should roughly follow the logic of the game.

The special rule, therefore, had two effects. First, it won my opponent the first battle without him having to put in any effort. It caught me by surprise and meant that all my manouvering was a waste of time: anything attacking the axe-pixies would just die. Second, it meant that I never went near them. Every time they appeared, I killed them from range. 

Some lizardmen, out for a stroll.
So what was the upshot of this? Largely that, by having this special rule, the axe-pixies were a waste of space. My opponent didn’t get to use them, because I wouldn’t and couldn’t fight them, so buying them was something of a waste of money for him. And they forced me into one particular tactic: not a dirty trick as such, but one that trumped his unit as it would have inevitably trumped any of mine if I had let it reach them.

I doubt this made the game better for either of us. This sort of thing doesn’t open up tactical opportunities: it closes them, forcing players to get around the special rule in a particular convoluted way. Neither I nor my opponent became better players or had more fun because of it. 

This is one of the reasons why Necromunda is such a good game. Because everyone is so similar (they’re human riff-raff), they all have nearly the same rules. Nobody can spring huge surprises on the other. When you lose, you don’t feel cheated, and when you win, you feel like you’ve earned it. And the games are almost always close run. If you are going to have special rules, they should: (1) apply to everyone (in which case, are they still special?); (2) have a very small, limited effect; and (3) not go against the common sense of a player who doesn’t know them.

Ten years later, am I still hung up about the High Elves (who were not even proper elves, because proper elves wear green and live in trees) and their special rules? Of course not. But it's a fair point. And I watched the axe-pixies burn. Yes, burn.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Gaze Upon My Orks And Despair!

The last two yoofs are finished for the ork commando force. These guys came as "broken", because their weapons had snapped off. I gave the one on the right a Roman soldier's sword to act as a commando dirk. He's probably the weakest sculpt of the four: I think the old moulding methods rather limited his movement. The other yoof's axe had broken off. Because every commando unit in an old war film has an explosives expert (or just a lunatic who likes things that go bang), I drilled a piece of dyed string into the handle of the axe and painted it as a stick of dynamite.

The unit now has ten members, and is ready for a bit of gorilla warfare!

Warlord games had a half-price sale, and I bought a couple of ruined houses sold for Bolt Action. The houses are Italieri kits and small, even by Warlord's standards. I assembled one and painted it in a quick, rough way for use as a generic ruin. I left off the sandbags and modern details, and cut away the top of the doorframe to make it look less tiny. To be honest, if I had bought these things at full price (£16 each!) I'd be feeling cheated.

At any rate, it can't be that terrible, because Orke Waaargate has taken up residence in it.

An Englishman's home is his castle. An ork's home is his hovel.

And finally, a bit of resin terrain from Spellcrow which I bought ages ago. I don't think all the bits were sent, but as with much Spellcrow stuff, it's a really nice, detailed sculpt.

Needs work, but plenty of opportunity for extension.

Now, how will the orks perform in combat? Will the terrain be getting some use shortly? Wait and see.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Swiss Army Boys

So, after that unsatisfying interlude, let's move on to something else. A while back, I discovered that people sell broken miniatures very cheaply. And often, their definition of "broken" is very wide.

I picked up four old ork commando miniatures for £4 on ebay. They are from the period just before the orks were redesigned to be hulking, ape-like creatures with bandy legs, and are noticably smaller than the modern sort. Which is handy, since Shadow War Armageddon allows the orks to take "yoofs", who are the equivalent of "juves" in Necromunda: new recruits lacking in experience.

 These two guys are the first two commandos.

They've still got the cartoon British WW2 look, perhaps even more so than their modern counterparts. I suppose they're not the most sophisticated miniatures, but the paint went on them very easily. They seemed to come together really simply. I enjoy painting the skintones like this, too: adding pink to the mix makes it feel more like actual skin.

Best of all, though, is the rear view (so to speak). The orks have rucksacks, pouches and coils of rope, as you'd expect from commandos, but look at this! They've got Swiss army knives! How cool is that?

I think that's an excellent touch. There's real charm to that. Sometimes it feels that, as models become ever more slick, full of detail and precision - and bigger - it's this sort of quirkiness that appeals to me. I find this kind of detail endlessly more appealing than rows of identical soldiers, as similar as they are elite. It's fun.

Tuesday 13 June 2017


Normally, if I am late in doing something, it's because something went wrong. My car broke down, my knee flared up again, I got lost on the way, something like that. So it's rare for me to be able to say that I got delayed by anything exciting. However, this week, I am late updating the blog because I have been putting the finishing touches to my latest novel before sending it to the publisher. I don't get to say stuff like that very often.

Anyway, here is the Cannoness from the last post, with some paint. Perhaps it's the harsh lighting, but what seemed like a decent paint job looks bleached here - more accurately, washed-out and over-shadowed at once. Not great really.

I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Perhaps I'm just kidding myself, but I think the paint job is pretty good - not award winning, not inspired, but at least a decent gaming model. Here it just looks bad.

Oh well. I'm off to write my book. If anyone has any thoughts, please let me know.


I has a try with a different camera. I think this has come out a bit better. Maybe. I had to darken the colours somewhat to get rid of the washed-out look on the armour, but I don't think I've doctored the picture too much.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Converted Crusaders of the Cardinals Crimson

A very quick post here. Ages ago I found these guys on ebay for half price:

They're from a not-quite-defunct game called Wrath of Kings, notable for its quirky sculpts remeniscent of the old Confrontation game that Rackham used to make. They have a strange mix of medieval and steampunk equipment.

It occurred to me that they could be good models to accompany the Sisters of Battle. I expect that mobs of chanting monks are about as common in the 40k world as hedgehogs on the British road system, and probably suffer much the same fate. Also, the background mentions some people called the Cardinals Crimson, who sometimes send crusaders to help the Sisters (in between making prog rock albums).

I bulk-painted five of these guys, using a pretty fast technique. As a result I won't be winning any prizes for brushwork, but they look decent (if suitably weird) together.

Finally, this is what I'm working on at the moment. It's not terribly clear, but it's an old cannoness body with added arms. A small dragon-type creature is perched on her left gauntlet, cut from a dark elf knight years ago.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Holy Rollers

There comes a point in life where you stop and try to take stock. Where am I going? How did I get here? And why have I got so many Sisters of Battle tanks?

I've always liked the Sisters of Battle. They look cooler than Space Marines: they're less chunky and their armour has a sleek, antiquated style that fits the medieval feel of 40k better than brightly-coloured slabs of steel. They've got a bizarre concept and some wacky special rules. And of course they're the underdogs. For the last 10 years, the question has lingered of whether they are going to be "squatted" - ie, written out of the game. The background fluff has made them the standard victims of pretty much any other species, often in stupid circumstances. And weird people on the internet hate the possibility of being beaten by an army of girls, even little lead ones.

But most of all, the Sisters of Battle are 40k at its purest. Yes, I realise that the marines are more "iconic", so much so that there's a statue of one outside GW HQ (although there are Sisters in Rogue Trader, too). But the 40k world is basically the medieval church in space, and the Sisters are the sworn defenders of that church. In a setting based around war, piety and craziness, Joan of Arc is king. Well, queen.

What this means is that it makes "sense" for the Sisters to have the most absurd, over the top vehicles in the game. They should look like lumps of cathedral on tracks. In fact, I'd go one further and say that the aspects of the Sisters that I don't like are the recent, booby-lady elements: the Repentia and, to an extent, the Pentient Engine. So let's have a look in the motor pool of the Order of St Triniana and see what I've got.

First up is this early-model Immolator. Built on an old Rhino chassis and equipped with twin heavy flamers, it's great for quick trips into town and then for burning town to the ground when it displeaseth thee.

This is a standard-model late-variant Immolator, armed with twin multi-meltas. I finished this one today, although I've had the parts knocking around for ages. The only conversion I've made was to sculpt scrolls on the front and door, because I couldn't remove the doors from the second-hand Rhino on which I based the model and hence couldn't use the doors with Sisters iconography. Other than that, it's "normal".

And here is an Exorcist. This, incredibly, is the "standard" variant, complete with pulpit, keyboard and rocket-launching pipe organ. It must be one of the silliest kits to ever grace the 41st millenium. It probably weighs about a kilo, being lead on top of a plastic Rhino. My favourite detail, among endless other details, is that the pilot operating the keyboard has her eyes closed, presumably because she is so into playing Bach's Tocata and Fugue that she isn't bothering to check where the rockets are going.

For once, the conversion I made is less absurd than the standard model. This Exorcist is equipped with launchers taken from a Dust Tactics walker. The front was extended with parts from an old steam tank, and the back was built up with scenery bits. As with all the others, the paint scheme is meant to suggest marble, although I'm not sure I was terribly successful there.

And as for this... well, I suppose it's an Exorcist too, since the Sisters only have a few sorts of tank. It's essentially a mausoleum from the Garden of Morr on top of a Rhino, with extra bits and pieces.It was partly inspired by a sculpture by Kris Kuksi, but just as much by whatever I could throw together. I have doubts as to its military effectiveness, but I bet the Sisters like all the twiddly bits.