Tuesday 25 September 2012

Scale 1: Scale Conumdrums

Setting a ground and time scale for a game allows one to calculate movement rates, and furthermore provide a frame work for the number of actions that can take place within a turn; whether it represents one minute, or one hour, or one day. However, one problem that emerges from this basic process is that table top wargames almost always end up with a discrepancy between the figure scale, the ground scale, and the time taken to play a turn versus the time the turn represents. This comes from the desire to have games that are not just small skirmishes, or gladiatorial fights, but rather play out large-scale clashes between armies.

In BattleTech for instance, the rules state that each hex is 30 meters across, and serendipitously each hex on the map board is approximately 32mm across the flat sides, which means that the ground scale approximates to 1/1000 scale ratio. If the models were to the scale of the map boards then a man would be around 1.8mm high, and a mech would be about 12mm tall.

For comparison, in OGRE/GEV the hexes are stated as being 1500 meters, or 4950 feet across. Now let me see that would make the scale of the vehicles, very, very tiny indeed. Quite clearly the models are being used as counters in this game, as they are much larger than the ground scale. Whereas in BattleTech the use of models makes it feels very much more like a miniature wargame.

Even so, we still see that the models in BattleTech are are three times larger than the ground scale. However, this is not unusual thing to see in table-top wargaming, as using a smaller ground scale allows the game to represent a larger area on a table. The traditional wargaming table is often six foot by four foot (1.8 x 1.2 meters), and the use of a smaller ground scale to figure scale often goes hand in hand with another concept of having a model represent a multiple of itself.

Still, one can see that there are quite a few problems that stem from any decision that changes the ground to figure scale.

When game rule really start to break down is when trying to represent fighting in cities with large numbers of units. This results from the disparity between figure and ground scale that  breaks the verisimilitude of the game.

Let's look at why this happens? Take for example figures at one three hundredth scale that are approximately six millimeters high, representing a man six foot tall. If you then play a game on our hypothetical standard six foot by four foot table, then you get an area of approximately eighteen hundred feet by  twelve hundred feet in size. Sounds enormous. It isn't, not when you think for a moment about how fast a vehicle that can move through it in under thirty seconds when travelling at a modest thirty miles per hour.

This is why the ground scale is usually smaller than the figure scale.

It's a typical catch twenty-two situation where the solution leads you back to the problem. Never more true when trying to fight in a built up area, as ground-scale comes and bites you on the leg like a demented pit-bull terrier.

One answer is to keep the disparity between the figure and ground scale to a minimum by using smallest figure scale possible, because this will keep the ground scale reasonable for the area you wish to fight over. The other answer is to write the rules so that the problem disappears as an abstraction. Neither answer is right, and neither is wrong, but when you have rules that try to account for everything, you end up slowing down the game, and that is a problem.

Sunday 23 September 2012

7th Demi Brigade Légion Etrangère T&OE


Well now that at long last I have these babies painted it's time to organise them.

Originally I was thinking that all my Pan European Federation models should just be the 7th Demi Brigade Légion Etrangère, but a demi-brigade is just a regiment by another name, and I feel that what I will ultimately be able to field onto the table top is more like a full on brigade.

So my plan is to use my GEV force as the armour core, along with infantry in their Seguro GEV PCs, as the basis of my 7th Demi Brigade Légion Etrangère. I will then add some LGEVs as the recon company attached to them.

All the Tanks, missile tanks and super heavies will form another regimental size force, which may be inspired by a French formations too. I know that the super heavies will be paying homage to the French Char 2c, and be named as such. I shall to research some French tank forces for inspiration.

Here is a picture of the next batch of models for my Pan Euro force, as you can see I have assembled my Fencer OGRE too. Whatever next? Will wonders cease?

Yesterday I received in the post my Warehouse 23 order that has another six GEV Seguro personnel carriers and infantry, six more LGEVS, and 72 Pan Euro infantry with support weapons. So I'm going to base up the infantry today, as these are needed for the Dragonmeet convention demo game I'm running on the 1st of December, which sounds like a long way away, but time flies and they need to be done in time.

As a bit of a side project I've even gotten around to starting work on my Combine force, for those times when I need to support my OGREs, and gasp, shock, horror, probe... I've got my custom sculpt of the OGRE Ninja out to start work on finishing it. ,This model has just sat around for years gaining dust, but now its time has come. The maturing phase is ending.

Finally,  it has arrived.

Oh, yes pure Combine Mk4 Ogre goodness. I can see why this was not put into production after the test models, because it's one enormous model, and size wise I can see the logic of not having a Mk4 that is larger than a Mk6. Anyway, I have plans. Muwuhahahaha...

NB: Since posting this I've renamed this force 7ème Brigade Blindée, just in case you're reading this and are confused by the two names.

Friday 21 September 2012

Little Big Mechs

There are several problems when converting playing a game of BattleTech on a hex board to playing the game on scenic terrain boards that are at once obvious, subtle, and often bogged down by hidden assumptions.

The obvious point is that very few terrain boards have hexes drawn over them, so you have to convert the movement point allowances of BattleTech into something that works with miniatures on an unmarked playing surface. This is not too hard, and there are various well established rules that have stood the test of time. Unfortunately the specific details will have to be changed, since they weren't written to represent mechs forty feet high.

However, the subtle problem is quite a fundamental one. Boardgames deal with hexes which are measures of area. Miniature games deal with linear distance.

Let me put it like this.

On a board, if two mechs are three hexes from each other, the nominal distance is ninety metres, but a mech is not thirty metres wide and could therefore be standing at one edge of the hex, as could the other mech. Hence they are nominally ninety metres apart, but potentially between sixty and one hundred and fifty metres away from each other.

Of course this doesn't actually matter in the boardgame, because the ground area is clearly defined by the hex pattern, so that there is no confusion over what is implied by the weapons range, and the players know that the rules are fair to both sides.

This is not the case with a table top game where such looseness would cause problems, so a measure is normally defined as the centre-to-centre distance between models.

The final problem is one that has weighed down the traditional wargame for years, as it makes underlying assumptions about the structure of a wargame. This is something that I am very concerned with. The lengths to which the arguments have gone have caused ructions amongst miniature wargame enthusiasts, and have been going on and off for some quite considerable length of time. Put simply, what do the models represent?

Wednesday 19 September 2012

BattleTech Canon 3


As I have mentioned in the two previous posts I have after my jury service found myself musing on rules of law and playing with the idea of the consequences of having canon versus apocrypha.

One of the recurrent themes on the official forum is that Catalyst Games Laboratory is somehow moving the game back to its one true path, and that the things that happened in the MechWarrior Dark Age by WizKids will be corrected, and that the game will get back to its core values of being about hundreds of battlemechs swarming across battlefields conquering all before them.

Unfortunately none of this is true.

CGL has pretty much the same core of creative people developing the BattleTech franchise as when it was owned by FASA. The original creator of BattleTech owned Whiz Kids, and the current line developer has said on several occasions that while details might change in the new Dark Age, they will not be rewriting the future of BattleTech.

Furthermore, I would add that BattleTech the game has never been about massed battles, and while we see stories of the massed conflicts in the Inner Sphere, the board game as always works best at the small and personal level of a lance/troop/platoon per side. And there is a reason for that, and the reason is fundamentally embedded within the rules as they were originally written. Furthermore CGL seem driven to make that more so, not less so. Judging by the enormous rule books that they have published that go ever more into the minutiae of things to do with battlemechs when playing a game.

What I do is just ignore all the extra rules. Keep the game simple. Keep the game flowing along nicely. YMMV.

Monday 17 September 2012

Traveller: Imperial Navy Crew


Another treasure trove of past work that I painted in the mid to late eighties. and the last of my 15mm posts until I paint some more figures. The above are a mixture from Citadel and Laser Burn that I used in my Traveller campaigns to represent the officers, and gentlemen of the Vilani/Solomani Imperial Navy.

Dress whites says it all, and of course there has to be a lady for the Admiral to escort to functions where the players would be trying to run a scam, or fulfill a contract, as part of the campaign.

I always played these as British Inter-War Naval stereotypes, and the players use to hate the fact that they were treated as the low-lifes that they were. Fun times and games to remember.

Pure Citadel Traveller Space armour figures, which I used as Imperial Navy Marines.  If these arrived it was a signal that the proverbial had hit the can, and that the players were well and truly out of luck. 

I remember one memorable game where the players had split into two groups on board a crashed starship that had sunk under a methane sea.

One group was using the survivors as slaves to try and get off the world, while the other team ran a resistance group in the ventilation shafts. The game ended when the marines arrived, and past actions came home to roost.

And another mix of figures to represent the general crew players might meet when boarded, or on shore leave. Less formal situations for the latter encounters, though they might lead to bar room brawls of course.

Looking at these figures I think that the white uniforms could do with an ink wash to add contrast, but like everything else they will have to wait, as I have much higher priority figures to paint.

Friday 14 September 2012

Traveller: Vargr Dogs of War

The dogs are back in town. These are Citadel figures, who did a lovely set of eight different poses for their set of Traveller Aliens. I had planned on doing up a whole platoon of these, but got put off by by the complexity of the Striker rules, and when BattleTech came along, moved my small unit combat allegiances to it.

However, with TooFat Lardies about to do an SF set, whose title is Quadrant 13, which has already been labelled as Tentacles by their eList members, I might well be tempted to start playing with all of my old figures.

Could use my Daleks too!

While writing this post I remembered I still had some other 15mm figures hanging around. What I found were a single Aslan, and Droyne, but that I also had three Martian Metals K'Kree too.

Very tempted to put these on the bench and paint them up. But that way lies the madness of having too many projects on the go at once.

Muwuha, ha, ha, ha...

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Girl Genius

Sometimes you will see a lot of posts put up on the blog, and then at other times not a lot for quite a long time. What can I say, it's how the muse strikes I suppose? At the moment I'm going through what I would call a manically productive phase, having written 22 draft articles for the blog over the last few weeks. Anyway, today's post is about being bitten by the Girl Genius bug, and haveing one's time consumed by something bright and shiny; the comic strips.

I have just caught up with the eleven volumes that are in print, through the web site. It is glorious. I admit I had resisted following Girl Genius for may years as the commitment to reading the back story. It just seemed like too much effort to me at the time, but then I met the Foglio's at the Congenial convention, and they just seemed so nice. More importantly they seemed to me to be like fun people to hang out with, and were doing something that was rather special.

Girl Genius is special, and I don't mean in that kind of everything is special way.

For me reading Girl Genius has changed the way I see certain story tropes. For instance I was re-watching the two Iron Man movies and it was obvious that Tony Stark was a Spark. As was the Ivan Ivanko, aka Whiplash, who appears in the second movie. Once you start seeing characters in fiction as Sparks then all the nonsense makes sense, because Sparks break the laws of physics. They are mad scientists that reframe the things in the world to better suit their needs.

I love it.

One could even argue that being a model maker, writer, artist who plays wargames is a bit like being a Spark, writ small. Except one is only making miniatures and playing games that simulate wanton destruction, rather than being a mad genius scientist who actually makes war machines, and gets people killed in an orgy of real wanton destruction (for definitions of real that mean it's only a story and no clanks were harmed in the making of this comic strip kind of way).

Ah yes it feels good to be me. Muwuha ha ha ha...

Sunday 9 September 2012

Colours 2012: Newbury Racecourse

As you may remember here I find the coffee at Colours pretty abysmal. It really colours my attitude to the show, but this year I went and had a really fabulous time after playing a fantastic game of Charlie Don't Surf run by the Ross aka "Kurtz", one of the nice guys at the Abingdon Wargame Club.

But first lets have a bit of a preamble before I blather on about the game. I left West London just before 10.00 and arrived at Newbury around 11.00. Walked to the Grandstand and paid my entry fee, and the weather was georgous. First thing that took my eye on entering was the Antenocitis Workshop stand, which was right by the door. They had some sweet 15mm Aliens inspired APCs. Very nice, but they are not due out until October, otherwise I would have been tempted to buy one there and then, and blown my budget to boot too. Sorry no pictures as I though they would be on their website, but apparently not yet, or at least I can't find them to link too.

Then I went to Ground Zero Games next and bought some Hound Dogs, which are 6mm mecha inspired by VOTOMs. Talked to Mel and Jon, about stuff, the state of the games industry, and just stuff about friends really.  Took a really nice, but out-of-focus picture of Jon & Mel, dam the light in the building, really needed a tripod, but I hadn't come that prepared.

Browsed the other traders on the ground floor, and bought some blank dice from one stand, IIRC Miniminiatures, so that I can use them for OGRE/GEV dice stickers I was sent by Dave aka Toltrin who has a blog too.

Colours is pretty much a traders paradise for anyone wanting to buy stuff for miniature games, including favourites like Peter Pig 15mm figures and Fieldworks buildings. Not to forget my favourite 10mm manufacturer Pendraken, who also have a friendly forum I hang out on. I also bought some Dullcote spray off the stand where I have bought Dullcote before. Can't remember the stands name, possibly Antics? Nice guy anyway.

Here are some nice rockets I saw from Spartan Games, and below are some of their equally nice tanks and APCs. All done in 10mm resin. Good to see a second 10mm SF range being brought to market. Nice toys, yummy castings. Also, I was informed by Steve who works for them that the plan is to release the models in 10mm, 15mm and 28mm and let players decide what they want to buy. I wish them all the very best in this endeavour.

Bumped into Henry from Battlegames afterwards, and again chatted about stuff, as one does with people you know. In this particular case we talked briefly about Spartan Games new Firestorm Invasion: Planetfall 10mm wargame and reviewing them in Battlegames.

A Very British Civil War put on this eye catching game with lots of lovely toys deployed. I especially liked the aircraft.

Then I had lunch, and ate a hot dog but avoided the coffee, having diet Coke instead. It wasn't a bad dog either. After sunning myself, I did say the sun was shining didn't I, went back in and let my eyes acclimatise to the apparent gloom. Surprisingly difficult to get really good pictures at this venue, given the amount of glass that it has, which gives the whole place a light and airy feel, but not as bright as you would think.

Anyway, found Richard running the TooFat Lardies Dux Britanniarum game, and briefly said hello. Richard was in full flow demonstrating the game, and it seemed like the players were having a lot of fun. Had time to speak to Nick, and we shot the breeze talking about gaming and stuff really.

The I went upstairs, with perfect timing, for the start of the "Indian Country", the Abingdon Wargames Club's participation game of TooFat Lardies Charlie Don't Surf. I know that you are all excited to know the outcome of the game, so I'll put you out of your suspense now, and just say that Nick, Chris and myself who played won both a military and political victory for the Americans. Hurrah.

Here is a close-up at the end of the game, due to the show starting to close, of the final position of the American forces. Casualties taken by one squad and Dust-off called for. What looks like North Vietnamese regulars have just been lit-up by a Cobra gunship. The little black dice are showing the shock levels each squad has accumulated.

Cobra leaving the scene and going back to base. Due to a lucky roll by me we were told that the base crews were arming up another snake to support us, which was a good thing.

Incoming medical slick about to land and evacuate our casualties. I love the troops in the paddy field in the background of this shot. I believe we got the best American result for the day with both a military and political victory, which is no mean thing. It was great to play a game and use the dummy blinds to keep the fog of war going. Lots of nail biting uncertainty as blinds crossed each others path in the jungle, but failed their observation rolls. Very realistic according to an acquaintance of mine who use to rescue downed pilots during the war.

So last year I thought I wouldn't go again this year, but I did because I wanted to get Dullcote and the Hound Dogs. I'm really glad I did, and all I can say is that when going to a show, join a game and get stuck in, as it really is fun.

Friday 7 September 2012

Figures Are Gonks

On Table Top Diversions blog there is a nice post on do we need figures for games?

But first I'm going to explain what a gonk is? A gonk is a something that looks like it would be a cool thing to have, but which turns out to be useless. So to somewhat paraphrase what Paddy Griffith's said in his article The Case Against Toy Soldiers from Miniature Wargames issue 13, " toy soldiers are a dead end as they add nothing to the wargame that can't be done better by other means". Funnily enough, here we are twenty-five years later after this pronouncement, and toy soldiers are still with us.

Given that inherently Paddy's statement is true, no matter how upsetting that may feel, what is the attraction of the toy soldier?

I read a post on one of my email lists where the writer likened wargame players to Mentat's from Frank Herbert's Dune series. Mentat's, for those who have not read Dune, were human computers; for in the Dune universe it was forbidden to make machines with an image of a human mind. The metaphor being that what miniature wargamers want is an immersive virtual reality like game, but without using computers and CGI. So, the more detail the game has, the more immersive it will become. Models are details and therefore elements that make the game more immersive.

So not so much the person with the most toys wins, but the person with the most toys has the most fun.

Let's take my two favourite games for example of this; BattleTech and OGRE/GEV. Both are boardgames, and both have a line of miniatures to go with them. The current box set for BattleTech has plastic miniatures in it. The new designers edition of OGRE will have laser cut self assembly miniatures in it. It certainly looks like the toys are "fun" model is at work here.

In addition, I have spent an inordinate amount of time painting up miniatures for both these games, as you can, or have seen see in previous posts. If I were to take all that time I've spent painting, modifying and adding magnets to make the turrets to my tanks how many games of each could I have played? A lot I guess.

So why didn't I just play the games?

Because while I might spend an inordinate amount of time making and painting figures up for a game, if I weren't doing this it wouldn't mean that I would be playing more games, because it takes time and effort to get everyone around to play a game. It seems to me  as you get older then getting everybody free at the same time on the same day becomes more difficult. Mostly down to having family, or work commitments..

Furthermore, I like toy soldiers, or tanks, or giant stompy robots, whatever really. I like the feel of moving miniatures around on a table. It's different to other forms of gaming, even boardgames, because the miniatures are in someway more infused with the character of what one is playing.

So is it just love the gonk? Yes it is. Love the gonk. Long live the gonk! Long live toy soldiers.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Traveller: Civilians

Time for some more Traveller figures from my collection.  In any game I've run I've always had  to have people and animals to mill around and make life difficult for the players.

I think the rider on the creature is a Martian Metals figure, which was another of those figures I picked up on my visit to Toronto back in 1983 from a place in Yonge Street.  I found a stash of Martian Metals figures in a shop and just bought the lot.

Best figure purchasing decision I've ever made, period. The rest are from Citadel and Laserburn.  The latter are still available here.

Then there are the other people and giant robot, which I modified as I didn't want it to be armed, just large.  Inspired no doubt by watching the droids in Star Wars. All of these figures were used to play contacts that the players met to do deals with.

And finally, have spacesuit will travel.  You never know when you might need a spacesuit, after-all one could end up being picked up by a passing spaceship? 

After all this is Traveller we are talking about.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Doctor Who?

Dr. Who season seven Asylum of the Daleks aired last night, and what a great episode it was. It made the Daleks scary again for those who had become blasé to the real fear that the Daleks inspire, because they forget that Daleks cannot be argued with. Things that can't be argued with are frightening, especially when they believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong. For the Daleks  that means that anyone who is not a Dalek is wrong, and wrong things have to be exterminated.

If you are lucky.

If you are not lucky then the Daleks will subjugate and enslave you, and worse of all make you one of them. Dehumanise you, remove the things that make you human, like love, compassion, empathy, and turn you into a hate filled monster that will obey the will of the Daleks.

The will of the Daleks? They have hive like mind, the chorus of hate that binds all Daleks together. A bit like living in a world where we are all connected by the internet, and can spout off about anything we believe in without consequence, upsetting others with the righteousness of our convictions.

The Daleks are the worst in us, and that is what makes the frightening, we could become like them. Forget the eye stalks, plungers and death-ray. It's the fact that ultimately their conviction in believing that they are the ultimate life-form, and that all others are inferior beings that must be exterminated is what makes them frightening.

And that is why the Daleks are really, really scary.


The Doctor has had a few. We all want to be a companion for the Doctor, except that the writers of the new series of Dr. Who have pretty much made it clear that the consequences of becoming a companion are quite high. You are not guaranteed a happy life. This brings me to another musing...

Oswind is played by the actress who will become this Doctor's new companion. If I were writing this I would be setting us all up for a good kick in the teeth by revealing that Oswind is the new companion and look at her fate; she gets to become a Dalek so as to save the Doctor's life. It sucks to be a companion of the Doctor.

Enough of that...

How about the fact that the new series has answered the question does the Doctor have a wife? Yes, at least two; River and the TARDIS. Does he have children? At least one; see the Doctors Daughter. And furthermore we know he has a grandchild; from the original Hartnell series.

So who is the Doctor?

The doctor is the healer of time and space, and will probably not be called Fred. The current writers can call upon the old series for inspiration à la Romana's full name; Romanadvoratrelundar from the House of Heartshaven, or not as the fancy takes them.

However, again if I were a writer on the series with the 50th anniversary coming up, I would be tempted to reveal the name of the doctor. I suspect that the writers will have a name, but it may not be what you think it is.

There again one can argue that the whole Time War between Gallifrey and Skaro is really not about who ultimately become the Lords of Time, but whether or not we become Time Lords or Daleks.

Saturday 1 September 2012

Six Ogres for 6E

Here they are done at last, my North American Combine Ogre Red Eye Brigade. For definitions of done that mean I still have my home brew OGRE Ninja to finish off, and I recently I was promised an original Mk4 too, which is wending its way to me. As you can see, while the Mk6 is big, the Mk5 is a bulky beast.

For size comparisons here we have the new Mk4 with a MK3b.

Now the Mk6 with a Mk3. The Mk6 is longer than a Mk5, but less bulky.

The originals, and arguably the best? I've since discovered that my Mk5 is not a Martian Metals version, but the first run from SJG, before they improved it for the later release from Ral-Partha.

I'm really looking forward to using these at Dragonmeet in December when I'm running demo games as a MiB. So if you can make the show, come along and see the beasties in the metal and perhaps play a game against my Terror Tree?