Wednesday 24 November 2010

Newten Town 1 Paint 0


As promised here are the pictures of the the 10mm scale Fieldworks buildings that I bought at the Warfare show last weekend. I spent this afternoon cutting up some terrain boards and fiddling around placing the buildings down in a pattern that looked right to me. 

Unlike my Mogadishu town, this time I was able to take what I've learnt from basing them on previously scenicked boards and come up with some rules for myself to keep the layout looking stylistically consistent. 

As you can see from comparing these photos to the ones of the Fieldworks web site, I've broken apart the bombed out buildings so that I could fit them on my terrain boards as I wanted. This is quite easy to do, and if you do make a mistake, gluing these models back together with superglue is really easy to do. if anything it adds to the dishabille charm of the ensembly.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Warfare 2010: Reading


I have been looking forward to this show after going for the first time last year and discovering those amazing Field Works' building that I posted picture of in previous blog entries. Also, having missed SELWG due to the rather inconvenient need to stay in hospital after surgery, this show was my last chance of this year to shop for stuff, and see games etc.

Last year I had gone with my friend Clive, wave Clive you are on my blog, who having worked in Reading, was an effective local guide. This year I had to drive to Reading by myself, using a Bing map and directions I'd printed off. Yes, I got lost, not once, but several times; for a definition of lost that equals I don't know how to get to where I want to go, rather than one of where am I? At all times I was clearly not lost, as I knew I was in my car, and various road signs told me that I was either approaching Reading, or leaving Reading. Despite this, I kept looping back on myself and managed to trip over the Rivermead Leisure Centre in the end. This added about 45 minutes to my journey.

Then I rang Clive to remind him we were meeting up at the show this year. Good thing I rang him too, as I had failed to tell him what day I was going on. Doh!

Anyway, While waiting for Clive to arrive I did my shopping. What did I buy? Fieldworks buildings of course. I splurged on a load of 10mm buildings, and picked up a show special on the 15mm F16, which I call the "Le Corbusier" building, which is touted as a WW2/Sci-Fi building. I understand that this is no longer going to be made, so once they sell out it will be gone.

I asked about the withdrawal of some of the buildings? It seems that a lot of parcels are being damaged in transit, which means that the cost of replacement makes the whole transaction a loss to Fieldworks. Shame really, but it can't be helped.

After visiting that stand I spoke to Mel & Jon at Ground Zero Games. They are long time friends whom I've known for more years than I care to remember. Then I said hi to the guys at Pendraken and talked to them about Vietnam riverine monitors, which serendipitously Skytrex had on their stand in 20mm. Hopefully, some enterprising manufacturer will do 10mm versions at future point, as I think the riverine monitors look pretty cool, either way they are the perfect addition for the upcoming Charlie Don't Surf riverine special from TooFat Lardies.

After stopping at Skytrex, I popped my head in Peter Pig to catch up with what was new. Lots of American War of Independence figures, but still no Humvees for AK47R I'm afraid. Then I wondered around and browsed the stands that sold books, and bought a couple. One called Spanish Civil War Tanks by Osprey, and the other called Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the World Vol 1: AFV WW1 by Cannon Books (being a collected reprint of all the AFV Profile magazines about WW1 tanks).

Anyway, onto the games I saw...

The first game that took my eye was Grunts from GZG, I think presented by The Society of Science Fiction & Fantasy? Grunts has had a lot of buzz around the SF forums as being an innovative quick play game that is non background specific. So you can have conventional future tanks and stuff, or more outré stuff like mecha and giant tanks (cough) Bolos (cough).

I thought that the terrain and set up were very good. Eye catching, yet set at a level that any wargamer could aspire to achieve. The only critical thing I would say, as a modeler, IMO if you using building then they will blend better if they are all painted the same way. Not aimed just at Grunts, but at a lot of the demo games I saw, where really nice buildings jarred, because one set were card set right next to resin, or plastic. YMMV on this.

The next game that really caught my eye was Cowboys & Indians in 54mm called Buffalo Bill and the Ambush at Dismal River presented by Skirmish Wargames. Wow, what a good looking game, using Teddy Bear fur for the grass was very effective ( I was told no teddy bears were hurt, as they had really used puppy dog skins!). This game was inspired by Hollywood and had all the clichés in it to make for a crowd pleaser.

And here is what the Injuns were waiting to ambush, but is seems the stage was delayed due to some contrétemps between two of the passengers.

Finally, a non-FoW WW2 game based on a hypothetical alternative landing site for D-Day that was planned for (unfortunately the name of the game escapes me), I think presented by the Maidenhead Wargamers. However, while extensive plans were made for Operation X, nothing came of the plans due to the Royal Navy pointing out he difficulties of getting landing craft to shore while under fire from an emplaced naval gun battery was a non-starter. Thus I was told to have pulled this off the Allies would have had to deploy paratroopers, and the only free ones would have been British. If so, this would have meant no Operation Market Garden. So an interesting alternative WW2 scenario.

So, I had a great time, even though I was totally exhausted by the time I got home due to the extra time to get there, and spending longer at the show from meeting Clive, who arrived late. It showed me one thing though, I am getting better and my stamina is improving.

PS: I will post pictures of my Fieldworks purchases soon.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Mogadishu 2 Update


It has been a while since I posted any updates on my AK47 Republic armies and terrain, but today I started work on developing the downtown boards for the games I plan to play. I'm sure Martin B. will be pleased to see me post these. Wave Martin you are on my blog!

To give a sense of scale, there is a squad of my warlords militia and a couple of technicals too.

Part of what drove me to start on these is the fact that the Reading Warfare wargames show this coming weekend. I went last year and saw these Fieldworks building at the show, and the shame of having them sitting since I got them at Xmas was just too much to bear. After all, I can hardly ask for more if I haven't finished painting the last lot, can I?

Anyway, if all things go according to plan I'm off to Warfare again on Saturday, and I'm taking some cash with me (as they don't do plastic) to specifically buy some more of this companies excellent products.

I will say that these look even more impressive that I've now set them into their own boards. 

I originally made the my town boards generic tiles, which I just intended to place buildings on as needed for games, but the end result was not very convincing to me. Why, because one of the things that really bugs me (only one of the things, jeez who am I trying to kid) are buildings that are not bedded into the ground. It just doesn't look right to me.

I've also re-thought how I'm tiling my town. Originally I planned to make tiles that had ways to place them together to suggest roads etc. by just placing buildings in a rectangular pattern. My plan is now to set each building into a terrain board, and modelling any alleyways or roads as I feel fits best. A bit random, but I will also have central connection points on a lot of the boards, which can also act as links to create scenes that flow.

Thursday 11 November 2010

BattleTech 2.2: More Rule Problems

Quite clearly the BattleTech Universe is not the real world, because if it is were then the underlying rules of what makes sense to people have radically changed due to a combination of technological handwavium, buckets of unobtanium, and an economic system that defies our understanding of how the free market, or even state controlled economies work.  Though BattleTech clearly tries hard to hold onto some sense of rationalism, what makes for a cool game background leaves the players a lot of choice as to where to strike a balance between cool versus realistic.  I would go so far as to argue that 90% or more of the current discussions on the CBT forum are generated by the friction between the assumptions that players of the game make about the way they reconcile the irreconcilable to themselves.

This leads to the problem of people taking entrenched positions on the rules i.e: the published rules are sacrosanct versus the rules can't meet everyone's needs, and can be modified by agreement.  I should applaud the CGL crew for taking the latter position, but often see the forum members arguing the former.

At its heart the BattleTech the game is a set of rules for small unit actions, ideally around lance on lance (four to six units per side).  In short a highly detailed skirmish game.  However, the rules can be stretched to cover company versus company actions, if the players are very organised and dedicated to playing the game, but at the cost of escalating time to play each game.

Certainly as I've got older what I would have considered a reasonable time to play a game to a satisfactory conclusion as dropped.  I remember back 25 years ago thinking nothing of playing any game for eight or more hours.  The thought of doing so now just seems to impractical, because playing late into the night, or the early hours of the morning would just wreck me the next day.  I no longer have the luxury, or ability even, to just catchup my sleep after burning the candle at both ends.

So time is a problem, because the detail of the rules eats away at time like a horde of locusts eats a farmer crop.

The original BattleForce was a game that sought to reduce the time costs of BattleTech, and therefore allow players to game larger conflicts.  Unfortunately, IMNSHO, the original was deeply flawed by the concept of having to field lances, rather than mechs, because this choice change the game from individual units to groups as units, and as a result lost a lot of the flavour of BattleTech.

I remember rewriting the rules to do just that, and again IMNSHO, this made for a far better game as a consequence.  The latest edition of BattleForce, in its Quick Strike variant, does exactly this, and is all the better for it.  However, for me, this game feels rather like closing the stable the door after the horse has bolted, because MW:AoD Clix does a far better job of allowing players to play big games in far less time, with no paperwork, and finer granularity of damage resolution.  YMMV on this opinion.

I also hold to the opinion that BattleTech is about battlemechs.  Battlemechs are meant to be the "Kings of the Battlefield". If only FASA had called the game BattleMecha when they decided to change the name from BattleDroids back in 1984.  For me this means that battlemechs have to be better than any other similar sized unit that a player can field, by combining the strengths that other units have e.g: act like infantry for occupying territory, provide a heavy punch like tanks, and be able to deliver fire support like artillery.  These three things are what would make a battlemech unique and so necessary for winning future wars.

However, what we have is a game where hovercraft etc can wipe the floor with battlemechs, and this is despite of a rewrite to limit vehicles.  For the definitive discussion of this that I've ever read one really need to have a copy of Glenn Wallbridge's Iron Wolves article that appeared in the long defunct Games Review Monthly in the late 1980s.

Another problem is that within the structure of the BattleTech rules is that force homogeneity isn't necessarily the best strategy for winning games.  In the real world you would mostly likely want all your tanks in a company to be the same for logistical reasons, if nothing else.  Within the BattleTech Universe while it can work with some mechs, allowing them to deliver coordinated close and long range attacks, by and large there is no real benefit, or downside for fielding forces with one of everything.  However, in this case I think rule of cool wins, but YMMV.

So how to fix this?  Well one way is to rewrite the rules, and in some cases I think that this is exactly what needs to be done.  However, to quote Bad Syntax, from this thread here (broken link removed).

There are only 2 ways at going about this:

#1. Fluff is law, rules kinda sorta follow fluff. End result = game is nothing like the writings.

#2. The rules are law, artistic licenses allow the fluff to vary a bit either way. End result = game is fun, imagination is fluff.

Personally, I prefer to go with the RULES, and not the fluff, the fluff doesn't win arguments in games, the RULES do.  Fluff is for RPGs, CBT is *not* an RPG.  The single RPG type CBT book released in the last decade (ATOW) is a huge chunk of non-rpg."

I shall end my post on that note as their is lot that can be discussed about background "fluff' and rules, because this brings us back to my first point on whether the published rules are sacrosanct versus the rules can't meet everyone's needs and can be modified by agreement.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Aliens: A Rant

There has been recently what I consider to be a rather fraught thread on this topic on the CBT forums, which I'm not going to link to for two reasons.  First it is has been moderated, and second it is dead.  My post here is a slightly revised version of my last post to that thread, which is as much about getting stuff off my chest as anything else.

I kind of assume that most people are au fait with the real world arguments for aliens.  I suspect this is a wrong assumption on my part.  The arguments around whether or not aliens should, or should not exist in the BattleTech universe, tend to be a discussion on what different types of aliens would add interesting opponent's to the boardgame.  The arguments then tend to degenerate into:

  • I'd stop playing BattleTech if aliens were added.
  • Aliens don't add anything to the game that can't be done with human protagonists.
  • The TPTB said no aliens.

I'm not interested in arguing the these points in any shape at all, because as I agree that it's either down to personal opinion, or taste.  Also, I have no control over the direction of the BattleTech product line at CGL.

What I do want to do is throw a big spanner into the works and prove that the probability of aliens existing in the BattleTech universe is high enough that some explanation for their non-existence has to be provided, which has to be better than "because we say so".  Though if they say "it's FASA's biophysics, move on nothing to see" I'd be okay with that, because we would at least have acknowledged that there is a problem, even if it can't, or won't be corrected.

Now let me start with three current ideas around aliens in our universe; the Fermi Paradox, the Drake Equations and Panspermia. I'm not going to expound on these at great length, but I will give a couple of links to help those whose Google Fu is weak, and or genuinely don't understand the concepts.

Fermi Paradox

Basically Fermi was a scientist who in 1950 asked why haven't we met aliens, given how long we've been around etc?  Worked from the optimistic assumption that even at slower than light speeds it doesn't take forever to actually explore the Milky way galaxy (about 300,000 years, which is a very long time, but it can be done.  Or as one NASA scientist allegedly said, "Getting to the stars is a biological problem, not an engineering one").

Quote, "The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations."

Drake Equation

Once you read the Fermi Paradox link you will see mention of the Drake Equations.  Drake being another scientist who thought to himself it must be possible to calculate the probability of the existence of life on other worlds, and come to some conclusions about the chances of meeting aliens?  He was a bit more pessimistic than Fermi, because he assumed that technological civilisations will always destroy themselves, or have a natural life span that ends up with them dying out.

Quote, "The Drake equation (sometimes called the Green Bank equation or the Green Bank Formula) is an equation used to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.  It is used in the fields of exobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).  The equation was devised by Frank Drake in 1961."


Panspermia has to do with the origins of life in the universe in general.  It predates both of the above ideas by a considerable margin as it was first proposed around the 5th Century BC.  In the 1950s the astronomer Fred Hoyle promoted the concept, but tied it into "intelligent design", much to the detriment of his professional standing in the scientific community at the time.  In more recent years space probes have provided supporting evidence for panspermia.

Quote, "Panspermia (Greek: πανσπερμία from πᾶς/πᾶν (pas/pan) "all" and σπέρμα (sperma) "seed") is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids, and planetoids."

Three Theory Argument

Now in our real world all of the above is subject to a lot of problems from having what statisticians would call a "very sparse data set" i.e: life only known to exist here on Earth.  While we now have astronomical data on 200 or so extra-solar planets, we are still fumbling around in the dark that is the vastness of space, if you'll pardon the pun.

However, in the BattleTech Universe this is not the case, as we have a background where there are 2500 colonised planets, and IIRC, 7500 or so other explored systems with no life.  Even if these figures are wrong it hardly affects the basic answer, which is that we have (within the game) now tested the Panspermia hypothesis, and can put all of data into the Drake equation, which will answer the Fermi Paradox.

I know from reading various source book and novels that there are planets in the BattleTech Universe with dinosaurs, proto-humanoid hominids, and at least one tool using alien race called the Tetatae.  Now some of you might be thinking, but the Tetatae could be any where in the universe, not just the Milky Way galaxy.

Well actually no, because even though FASA physics suck, we do have some limits from in game sources about the limits of the jump drive.  We know from the Word of Blake (WoB) use of super-jumps, during the Jihad, is how far a jumpship can jump, given the energy it has stored on board.  From this we can make some educated guesses, on the upper limits, about how far a jumpship that has miss-jumped can go.

My best guess, using the worst case scenario, is that the miss-jump radius is within one or two orders of magnitude larger than 800 light years.  Based on the distances from the WoB super-jumps during the Jihad, this would mean 8,000 light years up to 80,000 light years away.  This is well within our Milky Way galaxy, and really not all that far in cosmological terms.  Assuming one order of magnitude, a missjump radius of 8000 light years is certainly within the possible travel distance of a jumpship in the BattleTech Universe (about 61 jumps to get to the Tetatae homeworld).  Given no other hard data in any of the sourcebooks, it is difficult to firm-up this educated guess.

Alternatively, even if you took the argument that the miss-jump in Far Country was a jump forward in time as well as space, this would still not invalidate the the existence of aliens in the BattleTech Universe, because the Drake equation looks at the statistical probabilities of aliens existing over a set period of time.  Given that we only have one reference in the source books to a jump-ship miss-jumping forward in time, it is hard to have any meaningful discussion of the physics of time travel in the BattleTech Universe.  My best educated guess would be a minimum of one year forward for every light year travelled, because this would fit in with what we know about time dilation and general relativity, and is a very rough approximate fit for the events as described the book Living Legends.

Statistical Probability of Aliens

Now I know that the mention of statistical probabilities tend to turn most people off, but such tools allow us to make educated guesses about the number of aliens that could exist in the BattleTech Universe.

There are minimum of 100,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way.  This figure could be four times higher, and the astrophysicists will no doubt get back to us in due course when they've finished arguing over the numbers (I've taken the conservative position to make my argument stronger).

In BattleTech we have a distribution of life supporting planets per system that is approximately one in four (it was unclear to me whether there are 7500, or 10,000 star systems in the BattleTech's known space.  Taking the larger number makes my arguments stronger, because it reduces the chances of aliens existing). That is 10,000 known star systems with 2500 having "habitable" planets, very roughly one in four.

Using that data ratio, as our assumption for the Drake equation, we end up with 100,000,000,000 divided by 10,000 divided by four, which if I've done my maths right is 2,500,000 planets that are capable of supporting life.  That's a lot of planets.

From here we then go back and look at the number of planets that had life on them that developed life in the BattleTech known sphere before humans arrived.  A minimum of 5 planets (may be higher, but I'm being conservative here to strengthen my argument), but the number at this really doesn't affect the answer all that much.  So 10,000 systems divided by 5 equals roughly 1 in 2000 had an intelligent life form.  Arguable as just being humans in the BattleTech Universe.

Now, divide 2,500,000 by 2000 and we get a possible 1250 technological aliens species living in the Milky Way.

They're Dead Jim

Of course, as Drake suggests they may be all extinct, so the question becomes what would be the chance of that being true?  The answer again lies in the Drake equation, and handily enough he guesstimates that a technological civilisation will last about 10,000 years.

Human technological society may have arguably been around for about 8,000 years, in the BattleTech Universe, if you make the assumption that we became technological started around 5000 BC or so.  However, a different definition of technology based on social infrastructure to support artisans, would require moving the clock forward to the changeover from hunter gathering to formation of agrarian city states, rather than tool use per se.  Then we are talking around 2500 BC or so, which would make our human technological society about 5000 years old.  Pick a figure really.

Anyway, the "timey-wimey" thing.  Are all these aliens civilizations around at the same time?  Clearly not, but regardless there would be archeological ruins from dead civilizations to find.  Even so how many aliens might be around now?

All I can say is more than one, but less than 1250.

My best guess, maybe one in ten.  So maybe up to a 125 technological aliens exist in the BattleTech Universe Milky Way galaxy.  Probably with technology comparable to the Inner Sphere, in the time period that BattleTech is set.  Could be a lot higher number of aliens, or they could all be technologically much further advanced, or behind, depending on your assumptions and other variables.

What Are They Good For?

Now the aliens are not out there thinking "what do we add to the game of BattleTech ", because this is not a discussion of the merits of adding, or not adding aliens to BattleTech?  IMNSHO the aliens just exist.  One just has to accept that they may add nothing new, it is just inevitable from the assumptions that underpin the BattleTech universe as a place where "mankind can go forth, multiply and die".

If FASA had set BattleTech at a time when the whole galaxy had been explored, and the first empire had fallen during the long night, like Asimov did in the Foundation series, then FASA could say that there are no aliens in the BattleTech Milky Way galaxy.  FASA would still not be able to say that there are no aliens in the BattleTech Universe, because there are more galaxies in the universe than there are stars in this galaxy.  However, they didn't.

Hopefully I've demonstrated that aliens are like economics, physics, and other stuff that FASA made up a bunch of stuff about, holds very "little water" when you examine it closely.  I remain, neither for, nor against aliens in BattleTech.  I can see how if done badly they would suck.  OTOH I can imagine that if done well they would be good.  What I know is that unless there is a change of heart by TPTB at CGL then the introduction of aliens is very unlikely, which I think is bad, because I think an open mind is better than a closed one.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.

Friday 5 November 2010

Getting Better

Yesterday I sat down in the afternoon at my workbench and actually did some model making, which is the first time I've done so in far too long a time. To be honest I didn't actually feel like doing anything, but I pushed myself to do something, as the alternative was to be sitting half asleep from exhaustion, and this would mean I'd not sleep well when I went to bed.

So what did I do?

Not a lot really. I cleaned up some weathered mechs and a couple of vehicles that have been sitting collecting dust. I tend to weather all my models quite heavily and then use a fibre-glass polishing brush to work the model back to clean. I like the result this produces, because it has that down and dirty worked in grime look that you get with industrial equipment left out in the open. Not to everybodies taste of course.

After finishing those, which took a couple of hours, I sorted through my parts box which is always nice as it tend to inspire me to start new projects. Actually that is not such a good thing at times, because I tend to finish up with lots of half completed projects all on the go at once. The upside is that I often complete a lot of projects all at the same time.

Then I reviewed the mechs that I have on my workbench that had also been gathering dust. I finally got around to breaking open an Inner Sphere Orion blister pack to pillage for parts for my Clan Orion, which I don't like the arms of. Found some parts that would make good AC10 autocannons for an unseen Rifleman I have sans arms. I also looked over my Tripod sculpt and fiddled around with it, and decided that it needs another round of Milliput application.

I've come to the conclusion that I don't really have it in me to be a sculptor, not that I can't sculpt, but rather that I get bored of the add putty, shape, then remove everything that doesn't look right as a modeling process. Speaking of this, I have two mechs that I'd forgotten about, and Archer and Phoenix Hawk, rebuild/resculpts that I then spent some time assessing where do I go next?

For the Archer I ended up cutting off both legs and splitting the torso, which is definitely a two steps backs moment. For the Phoenix Hawk I removed the booster pod that I'm modding to look like the Macross Valkyrie Strike variant, as I want to make the gun rotate, which will be an interesting little project.

So actually, on reflection I did do rather a lot, even if it felt like I didn't achieve much. Just have to take some photos now for my workbench threads on BTU and the CBT forums.