Thursday 31 December 2015

Happy New Year & All That Jazz

The Star Wars: X-Wing Empire models I acquired over the course of the year (click to enlarge).

This now marks the beginning of the seventh year of blogging and it has been a difficult one for me; a year where I haven't been able to post as much as I would like because I've not been doing much painting for the last six months.  I have a lot of things I intend to post but it means I must finish painting models and taking pictures, which I've singularly failed to do.

This has been down to two real life concerns.

The first a lingering injury in my right wrist that flared up after bad sprain and I was diagnosed with tenosynovitis.  Currently, I'm wearing a wrist brace.  It may also signify a flare up of rheumatoid arthritis or repetitive strain injury from typing. Whatever the cause it's a bad thing, but mustn't grumble, life could be worse.  The second concern is my work.  I'm writing and after three years I need to complete at least one of the novels and try to sell it.  This has caused me to fret a lot about work and not take time off to do hobbies.  On my other blog I've totaled up this years word count and surprised myself by how much I've done.

Still, all play and no fun makes for a dull life.

So, the plan is to do more hobby stuff.  This will include wargaming but also archery, which will get me out of the flat and talking to people who are not inside my head.  It will be good for me.  Looking at what I've blogged, I see a number of posts about BattleTech, Ogre/GEV, and Heavy Gear, which is not that surprising given my predilections.  Mustn't forget to mention Star Wars: X-Wing either, my recent passion.  The only games show I went to this year was Salute and afterwards I reported on my visit to see HMS Defender that was a lot of fun.

So, having seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens (review to come at the end of January to give everyone a chance to watch and not reveal spoilers), and after listening to the wonderful soundtrack from the movie, I've relaxed a bit and sat down at my workbench.  First thing I did was dust everything.  Then I started painting, and while I've nothing finished to show, I can report that paint has been applied and progress is being made.

At the end of the day it's all about doing stuff you enjoy.

That just leaves me to say thank you all for coming and reading my blog and leaving comments.  It's what makes blogging worthwhile.  Finally, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year.

Sunday 27 December 2015

Post Xmas Stuffing


Ah, Xmas day chillaxing while listening to Top of the Pops followed by The Queens speech, which officially means something as I would have chewed my leg off if I could've when young to avoid listening to her, and afterwards we saw the Dr Who Xmas Special that was wonderful.

This Xmas I received a bunch of stuff.

This years theme was accessories for archery: shooting glasses to replace the Oakley's I managed to lose during my first weeks training course, a stringer so I can put the string on my bow, a stand for said aforementioned bow, and a GapFit top that's all technical, as in wicks sweat.

Being a fan of John Williams music I also got the Star Wars: The Force Awakens OST which will provide me with hours of listening entertainment.  All rounded off with a copy of the new Mad Max film and both seasons of Dark Angel.  To say the least, I've been spoiled by my partner once more, and wonder what I've done to deserve her? 

Not much wargaming stuff in my Xmas haul but there's the Heavy Gear KickStarter due next year to look forward too, and if I can sell my novel I may feel able to justify spending time painting some miniatures.

So, that just leaves me to hope you all got things you wanted, and had a good time over the holiday period.  See you in the New Year.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Merry Xmas for 2015


Running late, having been preparing Brussels Sprouts and having a bath amongst other things like last minute shopping for Port, a nice bottle of red wine for tonight, and ingredients for stuffing the goose tomorrow.  Alas, alack still no progress on the painting things front but my excuse is I've been busy, and not just with Xmas stuff, but with work that must come first.

Still, next year there's hope for new start, and awakening of painting if you like, and yes I've seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  No spoilers from me.  My review: unless you're a miserable old grognard I imagine you'll enjoy it.

So have a good one and as always thank you for reading the blog.

Saturday 28 November 2015


The Oshkosh HEMTT-LHS prototype.

In an effort to get my wargaming mojo back, which seems to have gone walkabout of late, I decided that I need to work on something.  Me being me, rather than restart one of my current projects, I chose instead to work on something different.

As those who come and read here regularly know I'm currently obsessed with writing several novels set in  the near future.  In the second and third novels my hero leads a mission off-world an I took my inspiration from the current US military HEMMTs.  And there are lots of variants.

In my novel the team uses an Oshkosh M2184, a Heavy Utility High-Mobility Tactical Truck (HUHMTT) which carries palletized loads in standard ISO shipping containers with a palletized loading system.

Now I want a model.

The metal M977 actually looks OK next to my models but the castings are rough.  The resin version is nice but a bit too dainty.

So I bought a QRF M977 which is a 15mm model.  My Heavy Gear combat armour suit conversions are nominally 12mm but because it's SF, where scale is relative to time and space (BTW that's a joke) I thought being a bit larger wouldn't matter.

However, I was less than impressed with the quality of the casting and put it to one side to consider my options.  Then I went bought a resin Kami de Korokoro M997 from Hobby Japan which is nicely cast but true 1/144th scale and just looks a bit too small next to my combat armour suits.

The M977 metal and resin chassis next to some Takara VOTOMS vehicles.

However, I have a bunch of Takara vehicles that came with the VOTOMS I bought a long time ago and I'm looking at making something up using parts from them.  So my plan is to play around with bits of plastic that I have to hand and see what I can come up with.  As the advertising people say, Watch This Space!

Finally, I hope that all my American readers had a good Thanksgiving day, got some bargains in the black Friday sales and generally had a good time.

Friday 20 November 2015

Airfix Wargame for 2016


For those of us of a certain age Airfix was a thing.  They made kits of what seemed like everything and anything, ranging from tractors and sailing ships through to aircraft and tanks.  And of course plastic toy soldiers in many sizes.

I just found out they are now entering the wargame market with their own set of rules.  How cool is that?  Ice cool!  Link for more details.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Saturday's News

Saturday is the day I back up my work for the week.  Depending on how much work I've done this can range from ten minutes to about half an hour of fiddling around copying files before starting the Time Machine app on my Mac.  Then I look at my email  and the news.

Today I was interrupted by my partner telling me about what happened in France.

I'm reminded of a quote by Clausewitz, "War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means."

However, wars that can't be won or make things worse are pointless.  All this does is tend to radicalize people into committing more acts of violence.  At the end of the day it will stop when people decide to sit down and talk.  Until then all we can do is be patient with something that is outside of our control.  The writer's Peter Harness and Steven Moffat of Dr Who Zygon Inversion episode said it better last week better than I can.
"So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours.  When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you?  The troublemakers.  How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?"
Britain has a special relationship with France and we often make jokes about Agincourt, Waterloo etc but what has happened there is something we share and today we stand together with the people of France.

Saturday 31 October 2015

Technical Read Out 3055


I had the good fortune to be asked to write for the BattleTech universe by Sam Lewis.  I had written to him suggesting a TRO to cover the Clan second line mechs and Inner Sphere combat support vehicles.  My idea was to do a version of the 3025 book but using the new Clan technology rules.

Sam wrote back and said this was an interesting idea but given that I was in England it would be too difficult to coordinate this project.

You have to remember I was writing this stuff in the late 80s and early 90s before the advent of the internet we all know and love today.  There was also the little thing of just having one person write a whole TRO.  I was game, but the people at FASA thought it would be better if the work was given to more than one writer.

I remember having a conversation and asked what I would like to write for the book?  I said the Clan second line mechs, which made "Black" Mike Nystul happy.  Mostly because it seemed that no one had any interest in doing them because they were considered boring.  They sent me a bunch of drawings and told me to design stats to match.  At the time I knew nothing about the Harmony Gold problem and I was blissfully ignorant of any developments happening within FASA.  All I wanted to do was produce stats for classic Inner Sphere mechs I liked.

I Also remember Mike apologizing about cutting the text down for the TRO after insisting on it for the original specification.  I knew several of the other British based contributors to this product, and they all moaned about the amount of fluff text that had been specified.  It's quite difficult to write things which have any relevance to the game.

FASA wanted five of the design optimized for Solaris, which back then had a different ground and time scale. The designs had to take advantage of the rules, and I was told that if there was any spare tonnage that this would be a good thing.  Because they had ideas for scenarios with extra surprises. 

They also told me that certain mechs were to be Diamond Sharks and to mention this when writing the text.  I didn't have the first clue about who or what they were, other than they had plans.  Also, I didn't design the Jenner that is in the Clan second line mech section.

The following are links to the full text I wrote for FASA.

BBN-1V Baboon

BEH-0M3 Behemoth

GRF-3BN Griffin

GSH-0VK Goshawk

KKN-5N Kraken

The AC2 version of the Kraken was optimized for then original version of Solaris.  This used a different time and ground scale combo.  The rules  allowed certain weapons, like the AC2, to fire either every turn or on more turns than a lot of other weapons. 

LCT-3WU Locust
MAD-4R Marauder

MTD-0R Matador

What I called the Matador became the stats for the Phoenix Hawk. 

PER-G1N Peregrine

RFL-6LP Rifleman 

SHD-3J Shadow Hawk

VPR-0S1 Viper

VXN-2S Vixen

WHM-9U Warhammer

WVR-6MU Hellhound

Name changed from Wolverine to Hellhound by FASA.

I later learnt Herb Beas rewrote the rules because of my designs.  Seems the mechs were a popular choice for tournament games. Due to the combined bonus to hit from having pulse lasers and targeting computers.

My design philosophy at the time (even now) is to design mechs which over heat slowly, and as they take damage, degrade gracefully. This suits my style of play.  I'm not a frother who likes to overheat a mech for one extra shot on the enemy which ends up shutting down your mech.

This comes from a steep learning curve with unforgivingly brutal opponents like Glenn Wallbridge.  Though I think I can say that we were fairly evenly matched?  I've seen him reduce people's units, who were considered pretty good players, to shambling wrecks without breaking into a sweat.

He taught me a few things I had missed.  I remember playing a MechForce UK game against I think Neill Fowler Wright?  I fought his then unbeaten Jenner trio to a standstill with a Black Jack BJ-1D & Rifleman RFL-3D team. He reconsidered his tactics, and I started using Jenners after that.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Editing of Interest


I've been a bit remiss in posting blogs of late.  So here's a picture of a recent score.  Heavy Gear Fighter; a card game for battling with Gears.

Apart from this I've been working on my novel.  I'm at that stage where things are moving forward and my full attention has been focused on editing my work. And when not writing, watching Person of Interest and Orphan Black.

I do actually have articles lined up, but they either need a lot of work to write up the notes, or finish painting the figures, or taking pictures of said figures, which is why you've not seen much from me.  However, this weekend I'm off to St. Albans for the Lardy Game Day, which I will write up for next week.

Monday 21 September 2015

On My Bench WIP

It has been a while since I last posted and it's all down to going through one of those periods when the paint doesn't flow.  Sometime one gets in the groove and the paint just goes right.  Then there are the times when it doesn't. 

But at least I've restarted painting, even if it did involve dropping one model on the floor and having to re-glue it to its base.  So more to come.

Monday 24 August 2015

Back from Provence

This is me not model making or writing and basically sans internet.

You can read about it here.  What I was looking at.

Normal service will be resumed once I've caught up with my back log of emails and blog post to read and comment on.

Monday 27 July 2015

PetMen HOS

These figures are 15mm tall models on 25mm bases, and picture is a focus stack.

Well I had a bit of a weekend, as in nothing seemed to go right with my painting.  First off my Russian walker mech has turned into one of those faffing hell projects.  You know the ones I mean, where you take two steps forward and one step back.  So it's still not finished.  Then I hit a problem with my combat armour suits I'm painting up to match the two I've already done.  Let's just say that I was cursing the lack of opacity in my new chosen green.

Anyway, I managed to finish these.  Six bases of PetMen that are Dream Pod 9s GRELs that are all left handed, which really bugs the hell out of me.  This picture is going off for the TFL 2015 painting challenge, which is the first time I've had anything to submit for three months.

Friday 17 July 2015

CASE-2X Portraits

This was going to be a post about taking pictures, and how to up you game, but my game is so good that even when trying to show the problems I failed to produce pictures that were significantly lacking in depth of field.  As a result I went off and had another go and producing the images I needed and found I had written the basics for a short article.  I talked to Henry Hyde and he said go for it, so rather than appearing here my article on upping one's photographic game will be sent to Miniature Wargames & Battlegames magazine.

So what you see here instead are some nice portrait shots of my Bad Dog CASE-2X mecha on a piece of my terrain.  And the first close-up is of Lt Tachikoma's CASE-2XC.

And below is the close-up is of LCpl Kowalski's CASE-2X.

Before I finish I just want to show you all a side-by-side comparison of two shots.  The one on the left is a single frame, and the one on the right is made from a stack of images.  One can just about tell the difference in the quality between the two methods of taking a picture.  You'll all have to trust me when I say the image on the right is sharper.

This really is a case of one can't see the difference unless one is looking at the hi-res images on one's monitor, and know what you're looking at, because I'm reaching the pixel resolution of my screen.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Painting: Reflections on Progress

Here is a nice picture of my original Pink Panther battlemechs that I painted back around 1990.  This is the full shot of the blog's motto picture; Gotta Fight? Bring a mech. Bring lots of mechs...  Hard to believe now, but back then I actually won first prize in a painting competition at the Colours Wargame show in Reading when it used to be held in the Hexagon centre.  I post this as a reminder not to think too highly of one's own work, but also because painting models, and taking pictures of them is a journey in its own right.

Back here I talked about getting a new camera.  Itself a journey from my beloved Pentax MX 35mm film camera to using a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1 digital camera, and then to acquiring my current Panasonic Lumix DMC GF1, which is a micro four thirds format SLR (single lens reflex).  Since first getting this camera I've been very lucky to have been given an Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens.

The following photographs on the left were taken with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1, while the ones on the right were taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC GF1.

Not only has the quality of the picture improved, but the painting too, largely driven by seeing the pictures of my work.

At one point I had this crazy idea to repaint all my Pink Panther mechs, and add decals to make them pop more.  I did these three mechs, and even painted a couple of new Bushmen up, but then the project ran out of steam.  For the usual reasons; lack of motivation.

Still, looking at these pictures of before and after I'm inclined to think that in the long run I may come back and finish repainting the rest of the mech company, after all it's only a dozen models.  I'd have more motivation if I were playing BattleTech.  Still mustn't grumble, but rather try to play more games.

Besides that I have some ideas about writing up how I now take pictures to improve my model making, which may mean I will end up finishing this project off or not.  Whatever happens I will have me some fun...

Monday 15 June 2015

Repaints & Additions

Renumbered because I'm using a different conversion for Sgt Tachikoma's CASE-2X.  And yes I did repaint around all the other original decals.  Not recommended as a high fun activity.  Comparison with original paint.

I decided to repaint my first two CASE-2X suits, which can be seen here, because of negative feedback about the way the green looked.  I figured this was down to the dominant colour being lime green rather than olive green, which affected how the olive green I'd used looked.  Of course this is all highly theoretical given that you all are seeing the images on a monitor that will not necessarily reproduce the colours of the original.  Not only but also the size you can see these on your screen will also vary.  On mine they're humungous.

Still after playing around with them for a while I realized that I had to replicate the colours on the next batch, so I bit the bullet and bought a different shade of green that I liked the look of from the Army Painter range.

You can see the original paint here.

The big thing is that this camo scheme is not how the suits are described in the novel.  I describe something called ChameleonFlage, which does what it say on the tin.  This allows the suits to blend into the background, as long as they're not moving.  Moving will give their presence away.  I toyed with ways to fake this, but while I could probably do one model in something that looked pretty awesome as an interpretation of ChameleonFlage, I doubt I would have the will to replicate it across two squads of suits (ten plus models).  I say this because I've already experienced this feeling with a couple of VOTOMS that I painted, which can be seen here.

Another change to the scheme was making the whole of the lower abdomen armour orange; originally I'd split it in half, but I wanted to make replicating the scheme across the squad easier.
When shut down the CASE-2X Dogs are described as reverting to a grey/green colour, which would look pretty dull on a miniatures.  So this scheme is really all about making the models look good, while suggesting that they're in some sort of military camouflage scheme.  It works for me, and the new shade of green, called Greenskin looks tonally brighter to me, which helps make the models pop more.

Well another little packet on miniature stompy robot goodness arrived from Dream Pod 9, who are managing to rival GZG for fast service.  So more conversions to come.


Monday 8 June 2015

Object 295: Pokhodnaya Boyevaya Platforma

PrefaceIf you're confused by the changes made to this blog post title it's as a result of email exchanges with native Russian speakers.  See the notes at the end.

I've been following the latest Russian tank developments, and the introduction of the new T14 Armata tank, which replaces the cancelled T95 prototype that's better known as Object 195.  I mention this as an indicator of how my imagination works.  I had need to write a new opening chapter to the second novel  I'm editing.  I hadn't planned on introducing the Russian to the world of Bad Dog until the fifth novel, but the needs of plot required something bad happened to one of the supporting characters.  And it had to be a threat that would cause the teams mission to go pear shaped, big time; as in people dying.

Or as we like to say here in Britain, "It's all gone Pete Tong."  Rhyming slang for wrong, named after a former disc jockey.

So I came up with Progulki Boyevaya Platforma – Ob”yekt 295, which is Russian for walking combat platform, or Object 295, which would be the manufacturers project name.  I thought about making the name a reference to the Heavy Gear name Ammon, which means people, but decided I didn't like the sound of that in Russian.  However, see notes below, about the name and blog title changes.

Not only did I change the main armament to a rotary cannon, because they look awesome, but I've also tricked the model out with some stowage, including fuel tanks at the back, which is a very Russian thing.  I'm really, really pleased with how this turned out.


I've gotten some feedback on my poor Russian translation that suggests this should be called Mobil'naya Boyevaya Platforma (Мобильная Боевая Платформа), which means Mobile Combat Platform.  I'm awaiting a secondary confirmation from another source and we shall see what they say.

Just in: Shagayushaya Boevaya Platforma (Шагающая Боевая Платформа), which literally means Walking Fighting Platform.  Google translate suggest that the English transliteration should be Shagayushchaya Boyevaya Platforma, so close enough.  Many thanks to XXL from the Red Alliance forum for his suggestion.

Further developments: Pohodnaya Boevaya Platforma (Походная Боевая Платформа), which translates as Hiking Fighting Platform, and the English transliteration should be Pokhodnaya Boyevaya Platforma. Many thanks to my other Russian speaker and Robert Avery for acting as liaison officer with her.

Monday 1 June 2015

FATS-C: Kuijia

After taking this picture I realized I hadn't filled a couple of joints with Milliput.  Oops moment.

I know that one of my regular readers, who is also a Beta reader, has been waiting a while to see what I'd do for the Chinese forces armor suits or kuijia (assuming the translation I found is right?), which appear in the first novel.  Well here they are at last.  I've made up eight of the Dream Pod 9 Golems as a Direct Action Squad or bán, as it would be called in Chinese.  So what you see above is the platoon command squad.

I've used the Heavy Gear Alpha and Beta squad miniatures with a small amount of reposing and minor modifications to meet my needs.  I have another couple of packs to make up, and I plan to modify them slightly more – as in reposition the arms and legs.  However, it has to be said that these are one piece castings, and I may have to accept I won't get as much variety as I would like.

L to R: trooper, Shàowèi (Lieutenant), Missile, and support trooper.

I've assumed that each squad would form two teams of four, and I've given each team one missile support suit with a grenade launcher.  The lieutenant's fire team has a support trooper with what I imagine would be something equivalent to a M249 SAW, while the sergeant's team has a heavy weapons gunner, which I imagine would be their equivalent of a Browning M2.  This is not as far as I'm aware Chinese practice, but it seems sensible.  However, my research suggest that Chinese are not known for their tactical flexibility, and are historically are known for using larger formations.

The standard organization would be three bán to a platoon, which are called a pái.  Three pái make up a company, called a lián.

L to R: Trooper, missile, Zhongzhi (Sergeant), and heavy weapons gunner.

Of course as this is my universe, and given it's set sixty year in the future, then what I says go.  But I'm having second thoughts, and I may make the missile carrying suit the assistant squad leader and swap figures around when I make up the next lot of miniatures.  If anyone knows better about current Chinese military practice or aspirations then please let me know.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

PetMen: Human Operator Surrogates WIP

A twelve PetMan squad made up of three four PetMan fire teams.  Nomenclature, don't you just love it.

These Dream Pod 9 GRELs have been hanging around my workbench being a drag on my productivity for sometime now.  Partially down to getting carried away with other shiny things, and partially because they had so much flash on them that they were a PITA to clean up.  I'll define my measure of PITA here as thirtty minutes per base with two figures.  Flash surrounded them all, and I don't mean Flash, saviour of the universe!

Still mustn't grumble really as this is a first world problem to do with toy soldiers that have more airmails on them than is decent all things considered.  And still far less flash than a 15mm HEMTT truck I bought that sits languishing out of sight, awaiting the day I'm prepared to straighten out all the castings and carve back the panel lines lost in the warpage, which sounds like something out of a Games Workshop Chaos Codex.

Just for reference these are 15mm tall, 5/8ths of an inch for those of you who don't do metric.

In my series their military designation is HOS, which stands for Human Operator Surrogate, and they're semi-autonomous robots with a hybrid expert system artificial intelligence operating system controlled by the operators of the Air Force CAS-C4P (Combat Armour System Dash C4 PetMan).  This allows the operator to effectively multi-task by distributing themselves across a network of up to twelve PetMen at a time, and act as a force multiplier; in my imagination Global Dynamics Corporation Defense Industries sales pitch would call them An Army of One.

The PetMen are only briefly mentioned in Bad Dog as part of the back ground setting of the novels universe.  They get more page time in the sequel Strike Dog, where you gets to see them in action for the first time.  But in won't be until final book Ghost Dog that you will get to see them deployed in anger against an enemy.

PetMen are a real thing. Click this link to see it in action.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Combat Armour Tweaks

Back here I posted a couple of pictures of the models I'd converted, with the caveat that I needed a missile pod to be able to finish it.  The part has arrived, and has been fitted.  Huzzah and loud cheering all round.

I still think the rotary cannon I made up turned out rather well.

I've also finished the Milliputing the aerials, and filing it all smooth on the big suit too, which is looking pretty awesome.

In addition I decided to add a missile pack to one other CASE-2X suits, because I thought it look unbalanced when compared to its other three squad mates.

I also commented here that I wasn't totally happy one of my weapon conversions so I went back and modified it.  It's basically the folding field gun with an ammo bin attached to the bottom of it.

So that's that.  Once I've finished the Utopian Alph/Beta squad modifications I can clear my work bench so I can do some painting.  And oh boy do I have a lot of painting to catch up, what with everything that I've been working on recently.  There are even spaceships...

So I hope I'm leaving you all waiting in anticipation for what's to come?

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Alien Frontiers


Alien Frontiers is a boardgame of resource management published by Game Salute in which players aim to colonise a newly discovered distant planet.  To this end it's a worker-placement game where you have a limited number of workers (or ships, in this game) to choose which actions you take every turn; collecting resources, building ships or colonies with said resources, scavenging powerful alien technologies, etc.   Of course it goes without saying that making the right decisions what to do each turn with your limited fleet is key to winning.  However, there's a twist.   Unlike most worker-placement games (of which Agricola and Stone Age would be prime examples) in Alien Frontiers your workers/ships are dice. At the beginning of every turn you roll your dice, each representing a ship; you begin the game with three dice/ships but can increase the size of your fleet to (usually) six ships.   Once rolled, the numbers they give determine how and where they can be used; high numbers are not necessarily better (unlike Kingsburg for example) and at any given point you may be aiming to get low, or high, or pairs, or a sequence, to take advantage of different orbital facilities.

Of course, the massive task of colonizing another planet isn't enough of a challenge.   Instead of co-operating with fellow travelers and colonists, you're going to compete against your rivals for turf and technology.   In game terms, once any player has their last colony on the surface of the planet the game ends, at which point the player with the most victory points wins.

The game sequence is very straightforward; a player rolls their dice to determine the value of their ships and then chooses which orbital facilities i.e. an action space to use, and carries out the actions as appropriate.  Once they've placed all their ships and taken the actions, play moves on to the next person.  The game is designed for two to four players, although one of the expansions provides pieces to allow a fifth player.  Turns rarely take long to carry out with the exception of a player facing an agonizing decision about what actions they need most when they can't do everything at once.

You can never do everything you want to in a single turn; just get used to it!

Around the planet are a number of orbital facilities, each of which allows you to perform a different action; the Maintenance Bay lets you build a new ship (i.e. get another die), the Colony Constructor (as the name suggests) is where you build your colonies before deploying to the planetary surface.  Each facility has a different requirement for the dice being placed there, and a limited number of spaces, so blocking/stealing an action is an entirely viable option.  If other players have been building ships, for example, and the shipyard is full of their workers/dice/ships... well, tough.  Or is it?  The Plasma Cannon tech card lets you spend a resource (energy) to shoot their ships out of wherever they're docked, freeing it up for you.  Failing that, there are techs that let you re-roll some or all of your dice, or even allow you to choose that dice you want modified in specific ways - these abilities usually cost resources to use, but give a great deal more flexibility than simply chucking the dice and hoping for the best.

Collecting Alien Tech is relatively easy, but of course while you're sending ships to loot the Alien Artifact for tech those same ships aren't gathering resources or building colonies.  Everything is a trade off.  Each tech card has two abilities - a once per turn ability, and a discard the card to use the big effect ability.  What can they do for you?   Well...  loads.  Basic stuff like permitting re-rolls, or adding to/subtracting from your dice once rolled, protecting you from raiders intent on stealing your resources or tech, the aforementioned Plasma Cannon that can be used to free up occupied docking ports and so on.  There's no limit to the number of tech cards a player may have (although duplicates are not permitted); each may be used once per turn (in normal circumstances) and only one can be discarded each turn for the big hitter event.

Placing colonies in a region grants the controlling player a unique benefit associated with that region (as well as gaining you victory points).  Why?  Well, that's never actually established, but as a game mechanic it works just fine.  For example, having the most colonies in the Asimov Crater sector can let you build your colonies faster than normal.  Ah yes, besides the distinguished Dr. Asimov's crater the name of every territory is a homage to a classic science fiction author.   A lovely touch which brings about a smile every play.

The game is a good balance of skill versus luck.  The random element of the dice roll often means you have to be flexible and modify your actions to best take advantage of your dice/ships.   But the territory bonuses and the Alien Tech cards mitigate this factor, so you can still aim for a specific long-term plan as you accumulate these.   I'm not a fan of too much luck in a game usually, but Alien Frontiers has pretty much struck the right balance of luck, skill and playing time (90 minutes according to the publisher).  For a two player game of Alien Frontiers, my partner and I would usually take about an hour playing at a leisurely pace, including setup.  It plays well with any number of players although as a five-player game it does feel a bit too long, with too much downtime between turns.  Parts of the board are covered up in games with less than four players, reducing the number of dice that can dock in the various facilities, thus scaling the board to suit the player count.

The quality of the board and components is extremely high.  The artwork is very Space Opera and evocative of the Sci-Fi that I used to read constantly as a kid.  The cards and board are high quality (there's a minor misprint on the board on the current printing, but it doesn't affect play, and probably no one would have noticed anyway). The rulebook is comprehensive and well laid out.  The first edition of the game was a Kickstarter project that was highly successful, and it has since gone on to several subsequent printings, and the current one is the 4th edition.  The initial cardboard components were upgraded by keen fans of the game, and these upgrades are now standard in the new edition: deck boxes to keep the cards, dice, colonies, resources, etc. tidy are supplied with the game, and the colonies themselves are very appealing tiny little cities under clear domes.

It's a game with a positive plethora of expansions.   I'm not a completest and will only buy expansions when I'm fairly sure they'll add to the game.  Do you need any of the expansions for Alien Frontiers to be a good game?  No; it plays very well out of the box.

But a few words on expansions anyway.

Alien Frontiers: Factions is, to my mind, the significant expansion.  It adds the components for a fifth player, which may be useful depending on your game group size: agendas, factions and some new alien tech.

Agendas are personal secret goals that every player has (starting with two random ones, but the the opportunity to add or swap them during the game); achieving one of the goals on the card gives the player one victory point. Each of the Agendas has two options: a score the VP as soon as you achieve it goal, and get a bonus VP at the end of the game if you've fulfilled the specific condition goal. Thus if a player has a face-down Agenda card come game end, you can't be sure if they've completed their hidden conditions, and will have bonus points coming to them.

The Factions part of the expansion gives each player their own unique abilities depending which factions they represent (for example, Dark Space Explorers gives new ways to acquire Alien Tech cards, the Smugglers' Alliance allows you to loot more often and return with more).

Of the two abilities each faction has, one is solely for the benefit of the owner.  Each faction has a small game board with an orbital facility on it, and this expands the main game board.  Ships can dock at your facility and pay you for the privilege of using the public part of the ability.  Of course you can dock at your own facility without the need to pay.  The box includes eight factions, all of which have interesting abilities; some are better suited to games with more players, and we tend to adopt a gentleman's rule (well a lady and gentleman's rule to be precise) of omitting one of them in two player games.

There are, at the time of writing, four Faction Packs, with each adding a single Faction.  There are also seven Expansion Packs, which add new Agenda and Alien Tech cards; the Outer Belt expansion adds (as you might well guess) an asteroid belt to the game board, incorporating its own mechanics and extra rules.   Of the existing expansion sets, I'd certainly recommend getting the one called Factions.

Alien Frontiers is a fun, relatively light game that hits the table fairly often at home and at conventions, and has proved popular with most of our gaming group.  The theme is fun, it's visually very appealing, and once learned, relatively quick to play.

Link to Alex's Veeps & Meeps blog on Boardgamegeek.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Après-Salute 2015: HMS Defender


While everyone else went home after Salute, some hardy souls went to see D36 HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer that was moored at Greenwich, and open to the public.  On the trip on the Dockland Light railway we passed another warship docked at Heron Quay, which after a bit of Googling was probably a visiting German ship.  Anyway, we arrived at Greenwich and after a bit of a panic trying to find exactly where to go to get in we made it in plenty of time.  What can I say?  We're wimpy old civilians.

As you can tell from the shots she was moored a little way off from the embankment, and we were ferried across to her in one of London's river taxis.

The ship has panels that can be dropped flat, and here's the Phalanx CIWS, looking deadly and shiny in the late afternoon sun.  The interior of the ship was what I'd call a pale Dove grey, I was expecting cream (my research has been into US Navy warships whose interiors are described as such), and as I said to one of the crew; RN ships are painted fifty shades of grey.  It made him laugh.

A close-up of the rear for anyone trying to make a model of this.

And a close-up of the business end of the 20 mm rotary cannon.  See the shells.

Given I've written a novel set aboard a ship I was interested in the interior fixtures and fittings, so took these two reference shots for research.  What I will comment on is the bare necessities of creature comforts.  The crew have to work around walls festooned with equipments, and I can only imagine that in rough seas one would have to take due care an caution to move through the ship without injury.

A shot of the hanger bay ceiling.  Isn't that just inspirational for anyone who want to make a model?

Well that's it.  I had a lovely trip around HMS Defender, her crew were not only polite, which was to be expected, but warm and welcoming.  I have to admit the crew all looked incredibly young to me, and were very nice young men and women to talk to.  I can only wish them well, and if I were in charge we would've have built the twelve ships that were planned.

Edit: The other ship we saw on our way in on the Docklands Light Railway was the Méndez Núñez.