Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mini Mayhem - The Game!

After about a 3-year hiatus (and about a 3-year hiatus before that...), at long last, I finally organized a game of my own homebrew rules that I composed from 2006 to 2009.  Among my friends with whom I meet weekly online on my hosted Hobby Hangout (via Google Hangouts), I've built up the expectations for Mini Mayhem to be the premier mass combat, fantasy/historical wargame, both in terms of gameplay and game design.  Of course, I may be a little biased....

Armored knights clash in epic battle in a game of Miniiiii Mayheeeem!!!

My friend, Chris, helped me give the game a run.  With only one game in the last 5 to 6 years, I was a little rusty on some of the rule nuances...  While we expedited a temporary solution for a few of the murky details, a couple of gross oversights probably cost me the game.  But I get ahead of myself...

Arrayed for battle!
My Orc & Goblin army on the left versus Chris's Chaos Legions army on the right.
A literal 'King of the Hill' battle.  Each army must win the hill-fort overlooking the river.  At all costs!

A horde of Goblin Squabs in the foreground, followed by two formed blocks of Orc Spearmen, Goblin Knight Rat Riders, Goblin Archers, Goblin Squig Riders, and, finally, pulling the vanguard on the left, Goblin Wolf Riders.

Tons of Chaos Warriors.  Holy crap.  Who designed this point system?!

The armies make their initial bids for position.  The Rat Riders make a beeline for the opposing armored knights. 
By the way, whoever heard of goblins being able to afford plate armor?  Well, I ruled that these guys had to be mercenaries, and so they actually cost extra army points.  They better be worth it!

Mini Mayhem uses an activation system that combines command & control tests with a reaction system.  If a unit can overcome the fog & friction of war, a unit can respond to any action that the enemy takes.  The system is efficient, because it allows a player to lump together routine actions until the opponent decides to react to something remarkable.  Activations can fully alternate, too, if command & control is sufficiently maintained.

The Wolf Riders shoot the gap! 
They use their swift speed to bypass the ponderous, ranked formations in a bid to harass the rear.
I don't know any other mass combat game that allows this kind of flexibility.  Unfortunately, I did break a 'minimum separation' rule to pull this off.  In theory, this maneuver can be done, but it might require a wider gap.
"See ya, suckas!"
The armies eyeball each other across the objective. 
The Orcs are grossly outnumbered.  They hope to gain the hill first in order to win a charge advantage, charging down the opposite side.

The inevitable fight for the flank begins.
Surprisingly, the Squig Riders hang tough.  The Chaos Hounds have a hard time piercing their rubbery hide, while the balloonish, hopping "teeth with legs" ravenously tear through the half-dilapidated road-kill.

Oh, no!  I totally forgot that the Chaos Marauders are a loose formation.  They react and reposition to plug the gap, just like a Roman maniple!  Did I mention that Mini Mayhem works just as well for historical battles?

The Wolf Riders quickly rip apart the Marauders. 
The Marauders didn't count on both the Goblins and the Wolves making attacks.

The deciding battle is joined!
A classic clash of lances on plate armor.

The Rat Riders are Routed!  Lousy mercenaries!
The Chaos Knights surge ahead to a shocked Orc unit, who are caught flat-footed and utterly destroyed!
So the mistake I made here was that the Rat Riders were supposed to have only been Shaken, not Routed.  This oversight probably decided the game, since the Rat Riders would have at least pinned the Chaos Knights for a counter-charge, if not actually destroy them in turn.

Even with the advantage of the downhill charge, the Orcs succumb to superior numbers, and the Chaos Warriors take the hill.
With all the key Orc units defeated, the battle is done.  Next time, Chaos Warriors!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Project walkthrough - Valhalla

This post is the first in a series of posts that will backfill the blog entries that I would have written over the course of the summer.  These are the projects that I wanted to keep hidden until I could reveal them at the Capital Palette competition at the NOVA Open convention.  My intention was to prevent contaminating the judges' opinions, either yay or nay.  At the Capital Palette, the entries are anonymous, so I wanted to avoid having the judges associate the entries with me, just in case they read the blog!

So this gentleman is the "The Great Gaul", by Yedharo Models.  For display figures, I feel more motivated to paint a figure the less known a figure is.  Some figures have a lot more exposure than others in the hobby press and at the shows.  I want to show something different and more obscure.  Of course, if I wait 3 years or so to start a project, like I did for all of my projects this year for the Capital Palette, I risk having my choices be painted and shown by other artists, long before I can present my own interpretation!

Another thing I wanted to achieve with this project was to distort what is presumably a historical piece and warp it into a fantasy piece.  Technically, this bust is my first historical project.  But I couldn't resist giving it a twist and slapping it with the fantasy palette.

I imagined the character looking up into the sky, beholding golden sunlight.  An omen before battle?  The sorrowful aftermath?  Valhalla?  I'll let you decide.

I had a difficult time deciding whether to paint the metals with the true metallic metal (TMM) technique or the non-metallic metal (NMM) technique.  For larger figures, especially busts, it's much safer and much more common to use TMM, using metallic paints.  I was torn, however, because I was curious if I could pull off NMM.  I decided I would try it on for size, for the challenge of it, and then just paint over it with TMM, if I wasn't pleased with it.

The bust was packaged with the top-piece of the helmet broken off and missing.

So I had to build one from scratch.  I started with a pin.
I tried out "brown stuff".  It's supposed to lend itself better towards sharper edges.
Not perfect -- but convincing.
Starting with some off-angle, zenithal priming and thin color-sketching.
I'm eager to test the key concept.
I start color-sketching the skin, general contrast, and the cloak.
Continue to exaggerate the contrast.  I start to think about the overall color composition.
It's hard to imagine the total effect, when the uncolored hair makes the guy look so middle-aged.  I had a younger guy in mind.  I color the hair, and I do my first pass on the eyes.  There's progress, but I'm unsure of my direction from here.
I try a warm color for the cloak.  I hate it.
This feels a lot better.
I work the helmet.  And work it.
The eyes are slightly off.  And I want the irises to be more apparent, and I want to add catchlights.
The skin was too yellow, so I enrich it with more reds, blues, and greens.
I attempt a second pass at the eyes.  I succeed in painting the catchlights where I want them, but they still look wrong.  I paint over them again.  "I'll try again later," I say.
Along the way I tried a tartan pattern on the cloak, but the colors weren't working.  "I'll come back to it," I say...

This is where I left off, before my job hit me with a surprise proposal.  I still had to do the feathers, the clasps, the torq,  the necklace, the leather, the tartan, the eye details, and some refinements. 
I finished most of the loose ends in one day, three days before leaving for NOVA!
I wasn't able to refine the eyes or paint the tartan.  Might have made the difference between Silver and Gold, but I'm very satisfied with the result.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

More prep for Lord of the Rings

As I continue to work on my display projects for the Capital Palette at NOVA Open, I also continue to fit in work on my LotR orcs, in preparation for the gaming events I signed up for.

Aarrgh!!  A leader for one of my Orc warbands. 
Problem is, I'll probably need 3 or so leaders, and I have only 1 leader model!
I'll have to proxy models from the Warrior models.

I thought I had posted the next photo in an earlier blog post.  I sure wish I had, because I was going to describe how each approach was different for painting the metallics for each of the 3 figures.  Now I can't remember, of course, and it will be back to the drawing board!

Looking for the best 'assembly line' recipe to use for the rest of the army.

I think I decided on a simple 2-step solution.  Basecoat with a brownish-red and then dry-brush with metal.  Some of the experiments involved washes before and/or after the dry-brush, and I think I decided the wash didn't make enough difference for batch-painting 48 models.

The next experiment was to decide what color combinations to use for the skin tones.

Looking for skin tone combos that I like.

In a mass of 48 orcs, I don't care if the group contains some failed experiments.  For instance, I didn't like the results for the grays and the brighter greens or reds (the reds look like Darth Maul!).  But I'll keep them in the army anyway, i.e. it's not worth repainting them.  Certainly not worth stripping them.

I do like the orangish-reds, the orangish-yellows, the olives, and the chocolate browns.  Four combos should be fine.  One for each instance of each pose.

I'll be under pressure to finish the display pieces and the gaming models in time for NOVA.  This month is going to be intense at work.  I don't know what I'm going to do, if I don't have Warg riders and Haradrim cavalry painted up.  I suppose I'll have plenty of Orc infantry, but I would really like to have some more interesting units in the mix.

Eventually, though, I will need to make time to paint Darth Maul facial tattoos on that red-faced spearman...

Thursday, July 28, 2016


It's been quiet on the blog, I know.  I've been working on my projects for the Capital Palette, and I've been writing draft blog posts as I progress.  So there's a lot of blog activity -- just nothing that can be seen yet!

About 3 weeks ago, I did manage to participate in a game of Frostgrave.  The interest for Frostgrave is still going strong with the local group here.  I'm excited to have received the next batch of Frostgrave goodies, to use in the next chapter of campaigning.  I took advantage of the "Knickstarter" (preorder) that Warlord Games rolled out for this latest offering.  I'm particularly excited to see a whole range of gnoll miniatures.  I've always liked gnolls -- I considered them to be one of the most original and characterful adversaries in D&D.  And there were never enough miniatures for gnolls to do them justice as a warband.  Until now!

I didn't expect all of the metal figures included in this purchase.  They're good quality, and they include a half-dozen gnolls, on top of the plastic gnoll models in the box.

So, local miniatures game enthusiast, Joe, set up a great 3-player table, featuring some nice elevated positions.  I won 1st-pick, so I took the tower in the lower-right of the picture.  You can barely see my goblin wizard, Old Man Tumbergrumbler, surveying the landscape from the catwalk, enjoying a clear line-of-sight to every spot on the table.  Of course, everyone could see him as well....  One nasty Push spell could hurt pretty bad.  Of course, I physically knocked him off accidentally 3 times in a row myself!

Some nice, elaborate terrain, courtesy of Joe.

The scenario was the one with the Living Statues (I forget the name).  A random statue comes to life every time a treasure is claimed.

The statues come alive to defend their treasure!
On the right, my Trollblood Axer from Hordes finally finds a (re)purpose as a Frostgrave Templar.

I came into this game pretty strong, having collected an arsenal of Teleportation potions in my last game.

One of my Teknes crew from Wrath of Kings plays as a Frostgrave crossover, serving the role of one of my Knights.
Here, he teleports near an enemy Wizard and causes a serious kerfuffle.

Some random skeletons tried scaling the tower wall to reach my wizard and apprentice.  But by the time they got there, my mission was accomplished, and my boys were scaling down the opposite wall.  Ha!

My boys make off the board with 4 treasures!  Oh, what a glorious day!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Do miniatures gamers need game stores? Vice versa?

I thought I would share a topic that my gaming colleagues and I have discussed recently on the weekly Hobby Hangout and amongst the local gaming group.

The question arose from recognizing that the miniatures gaming scene in Huntsville resides in homes, as opposed to game-stores.  This state-of-affairs may very well be the case the world over, and it may actually have been the dominant case throughout the history of the hobby.  But Huntsville had a period (before my time here) where there was a relatively thriving scene at game-stores.  And the consensus of the discussion on the Hobby Hangout is that we reached "peak game-store" several years back, and it's been in decline since.  So what gives?

If there is indeed a decline, I think it has been a natural evolution, based on a couple of factors:
  1. Internet sales
    This is perhaps the obvious factor, one that affects all bricks-and-mortar operations.  I have more selection and more convenience to order gaming goodies on-line.  I and many of my gaming colleagues do what we can to support a game store, but the typical game store does not maintain the extent of both old and new inventory that would incite me to visit there.  I've seen stores that are the exception to the rule, but I live nowhere close to those stores.  I imagine that most gamers live too far away from a deeply-stocked game store.
  2. The passing of the Games Workshop monopoly
    When GW was the only game in town (literally), players could go to the game store (even a non-GW game store) for a pick-up game.  But with the variety of games in the marketplace now, it is unpredictable to know what is being played at the game store on any given day.

So, given the lack of incentive to frequent a game store, we knocked around ideas to determine what benefits, if any, would attract players out of the comfort of their own homes and the comfort of their own gaming-groups to play at a game store.  The ideas needed to serve the business interests of the game store as well, in order to generate enough revenue to justify the miniatures portion of the business.  So, for example, I leave out 'maintain extensive inventory'.  I just don't think maintaining deep inventory is a viable value proposition for a game store.   Here's what we came up with:
  1. Game-specific organized events
    This idea helps solve the uncertainty of pick-up games.  If I know that a given game system is scheduled for a specific event, then I know with certainty that the trip to the store will bear fruit.  Furthermore, I have the opportunity to expand my player-base for a given game-system, combined with the "safety" of encountering potential new players in a public space, as opposed to inviting near-strangers to my home.  Players have an opportunity to scope out compatible play-styles before committing to spending time together.  That sounds suspiciously like dating, but, ironically, this hobby requires almost as much social interaction!  Complete with awkward introductions, hasty judgments, disagreements, break-ups -- as well as long-lasting friendships.
  2. High-quality terrain tables
    One of the joys of this hobby is creating a tactile, cinematic spectacle on a tabletop.  To fully achieve that experience requires painted models, and it requires a compelling terrain board as well.  One of the sights at GW Games Day that made the biggest impression on me was seeing the terrain tables that the local clubs had produced.  Beautiful, integrated, thematic tables.  An Ork submarine breaking through an arctic icecap.  A rocky hillside and valley stream for Lord of the Rings.  A Skaven warren with tunnels opening onto an unsuspecting village.  I absolutely itched to play on these tables! 
    Terrain tables are major projects in and of themselves.  And they require some amount of skill to achieve a high-end aesthetic.  And they consume a lot of space.  I would gladly pay a game store to assume all of the time and logistics necessary to provide high-quality terrain tables.
  3. Beer!
    I say that half-jokingly, actually.  Not everyone desires alcohol to accompany their game.  But it's a nice option to have, when you're spending a weekend-afternoon with a bunch of your buddies. 
    That said, this idea forces a different business model upon a game store.  My gaming colleagues and I have a recurring conversation about the emergence and potential future of the "gaming tavern".  But that's really a whole other topic.  It would be nice for a game store to accommodate beer-drinking, but this factor has much lower priority than the others listed, since it's asking for an entirely different business model.  But it's important for a game store owner to be aware that they are competing with the advantages that a gamer enjoys, if he or she hosts games at home. 
    Music falls in this category as well.  Not everyone wants to listen to death metal at a volume that overwhelms your game.  As a funny aside, one of my gamer buddies actually did like death metal.  And he wasn't crazy about the occasional song by Yes or ELO that would slip into my random-play.  The only music that he and I agreed on was jazz.  So it was a little surreal to play Warhammer 40K with Chet Baker playing in the background, but it's what worked for us.
  4. The Basics
    This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, the stereotypical game store demands that the following be explicitly stated.  A game store should be clean, spacious, well-ventilated, well-lit, and clean-smelling -- with friendly, professional staff and clean restrooms.   I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum.  I know that a pleasant, inviting environment is attainable.  And I've certainly encountered the bad stereotype. 
    Layout makes a difference, too.  A curious shopper is not inclined to wade through a gauntlet of gamers just to see what is on the shelves at the back of the store.  If
    Often, the difference comes down to whether the shop-owner wants to be a serious retailer -- or wants to be a hobbyist who dreams of running a game store.

So, to answer the question from the title.  I think 'No' in both directions.

I think the main thing that miniatures gamers miss from game stores is the opportunity to grow the community.  But I think Facebook groups and other social media now fill that void.

Nor do game stores need miniatures gamers.  We're too expensive a proposition, compared to the revenue-per-square-foot that is ensured by selling cards or comics instead.  Boardgames and RPGs, too, probably have a better value proposition, even if you add table-space to accompany those products.  The only cross-over into the miniatures market comes with the hybrid-style skirmish games, like Guild Ball, which require no more table-space than a board game, and which require no significant extended space to store terrain.

I don't think there is a sufficient supply/demand equation that needs to be solved for our hobby by the presence of a game-store.  That said, I would sure like it if a game store provided all those things I listed above, and I would support that game store, and I would promote it to others.  Add a deep inventory and a bar with good food, and they wouldn't be able to get rid of me.

By the way, a couple of game stores come to mind that I can recommend for miniatures gamers:  Games & Stuff in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and The Game Vault in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  At least, they were the shizzle the last time I visited those places a couple of years ago.

So what do you think?  Are game stores relevant to our hobby, or has the industry evolved away from them?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Preparing for NOVA Open - Lord of the Rings

I can't show my projects for Capital Palette, but here is some classic assembly-line work to prepare for participating in the events for Lord of the Rings Strategy Game and possibly War of the Ring.

I'm not actually scheduled to play any events for War of the Ring, but I needed to paint up some of my Isengard Orcs for the Lord of the Rings events, so I figured I might as well paint up the entire collection of 48 models, just so I'll have them for War of the Ring.  These guys were assembled and primed several years ago, and I've been waiting for an excuse to finish them.

I filled the bases with Magic Sculpt, to serve as a bonding surface to glue on fender washers.  The washers add heft and allow me to magnetize the models to movement trays and transport containers.

In my renewed enthusiasm, I decided to build out more Pikemen.  I already have three trays of them, but it's just not enough to make a proper impression of a pike block.  So I'm adding another 20 models, which will double my pikemen -- plus a few more to fill out the remaining holes in the movement trays.

I can't get enough of these Pikemen.

I basically need another "one" of these!

I also may have the good fortune to have convinced some of the local players to try out the game.  So I might actually have a chance to learn how to play the game, prior to showing up at NOVA!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Frostgrave party

As in, a multi-player game of 8 players!  

Frostgrave is a testament to the power of the skirmish game.  A game like Frostgrave lends itself so much easier for gathering 8 dudes in one dining room and yucking it up with brats and beer for an evening of hilarity.

It's a hellacious brawl in the center of the table, as Donovan's Demons and Jeff's summoned Greater Demon vie for the Supertreasure (worth 3 normal treasures!).
Jeff had already won the game at this point, by his calculation, since his only objective was to successfully summon a Greater Demon...

Old Man Tumbergrumbler, his apprentice, Laddy Boy, and the crew had a much better showing in the dangerous alleys of Frostgrave.  They had a magnificent haul of 3 Treasure Chests, and they distinguished themselves in battle, to boot.

The Frost Giant moves in to protect his Supertreasure.
The Frost Giant gave a good pounding to several foolish warband members.

Two Orc Infantrymen even earned the following honorific to their respective names:  Demon-Killer.  Congratulations, Johnny Demon-Killer and Longshanks Demon-Killer!

Ho! What's this? Johnny, the Orc Infantryman, successfully dispatched the Greater Demon! And now he's going to try his luck on the Frost Giant. Unfortunately, Donovan's archer denied Johnny his well-deserved glory with a cheap shot from afar. Johnny is Badly Wounded and will miss the next game. But when he returns, he will return as Johnny Demon-Killer.

The highlights:
Old Man Tumbergrumbler threw a lucky Bone Dart into a Level-12 Wizard's face and took him out. 
Johnny killed a Major Demon, summoned by aforementioned Level-12 Wizard.
Longshanks killed a Minor Demon random monster.

Treasure #1:  100gc, Grimoire
Treasure #2:  50gc, Potions(2)
Treasure #3: 20gc, Magic Weapon/Armor
Grimoire: Reveal Invisible (pretty damn situational; what a piece of crap)
Potion #1: Potion of Invisibility (so with my Grimoire, I'll be able to see myself....)
Potion #2: Potion of Teleportation (oooo, sweet!)
Magic Weapon/Armor: Bow, +2 Damage.  Awarded to Nod, to compensate for former battle wounds.

Total points: 400 points.  +90 from previous games = 490 Experience.  Level 4!
Total gold crowns: 180gc.  +10gc in the Vault from previous games = 190gc

Meanwhile, more demon shenanigans are afoot. Rumscratch, the Treasure Hunter, (the sharkman on the right) is earning his title and making off with a pile of loot. Unfortunately, a Minor Demon has materialized to block his escape.

Level 4 advancements:
1. Improve Leap
2. Improve Health
3. Improve Bone Dart
4. Learn Imp

"Must...escape...with the treasure! Aaargg!"

Run, Rumscratch, run!

Yay! Longshanks, the Orc Infantryman, comes to the rescue and defeats the Minor Demon! One-handed even. Because the other hand is a hook. Although he's wielding a two-handed weapon. With one hand. And a hook for a second hand.  So I'm sure that must be legal. Ahem.

Well, in any case, he was rewarded for his efforts by being shot in the back by Troy's Apprentice. Luckily, Longshanks is only stunned by the ordeal, and he will return next game as Longshanks Demon-Killer!

190gc and -5gc to hire each new Soldier allows me to hire both a Knight and a Templar!
Sonny is fired.  Johnny Demon-Killer...thank you for your service.
I wish to welcome to the team Bruce the Knight and Ragnarok the Templar.