Thursday, 24 March 2016

'The Mammoth Post' or 'why I never want to paint another blue and yellow shield again'




Warning: this post contains copious amounts of history. You have been warned. 

PART ONE: ADMIN
Evening all (at time of writing, anyway)! 

First part of this post is just a short bit of housekeeping; stick around for this, then you can feel free to leave before reading Part Two if you prefer. It's all about that history nonsense I keep trying to force down everyone's throats. 

Been a slight delay in uploading posts recently, for which I do apologise. This is due sadly to the fact that real life is a thing; PhD theses unfortunately do not write themselves, much to my chagrin. 
However, I have managed to secure myself a shiny new laptop. This means I can take work with me when travelling, and significantly cuts down on the pressure I have to bash out as much work as possible before leaving my PC, thus freeing up time to write more about toy soldiers and bore honest gamers to death with my petty notions of 'historical accuracy' and 'true to realism gameplay' bollocks. 

As such, I've proposed (as much for myself as for anything else) a new schedule that I shall do my gosh-darn best to stick to unless something particularly heinous gets in the way of uploading posts. 

TUESDAYS will be the day upon which I upload a slightly longer post; usually this will cover games I've played that week plus my thoughts, an in-depth hobby based post, something that's a longer discussion such as commentary on rules updates or model releases, or anything else that fits on more than a single page of A4 paper. Today is the one exception to this (obviously).

SATURDAYS will be the day I put up a slightly shorter post. These will cover quick one-off topics like product reviews for small items (dice, for instance), a quick thought of the week if something pressing has occurred, or generally anything else that can be discussed in a single page. 

Hope that works out well. Like I said above, this is all subject to the limitations of real life but I think the addition of a written-down schedule will make it easier for me to keep to the commitment of regular uploads.

The second point of note is that I've begun to realise the inherent problems of the Blogger layout. It's becoming a pain to try and do posts with multiple images; there is very little control over what you can do and edit with posts, and the layout itself is somewhat lackluster. As such, I will be investigating the possibility of switching the blog over to Wordpress (or a site hosting Wordpress) in the near future. This will hopefully also assist regular postings, as I will feel more enthusiastic about writing and editing my posts. More on this to come, and I will only make the shift when I know I can (a) preserve my existing posts and (b) guarantee that Wordpress will fix the problems I have with Blogger at the moment.

Anyway, on to the fun part of this post; 

PART TWO: HISTORY, ARSUF, AND MY NEW AVERSION TO YELLOW AND BLUE
A few weeks ago, around this time last month in fact, I posted describing my experiences at the York Wargames Festival, Vapnartak. 

Those of you who remember, or who quickly skipped back to double check, will recall that the game played by our group was a niche little medieval skirmish game called 'Lion Rampant' with the backdrop and premise of a Crusades-era battle between the forces of Richard I (Lionheart) and his erstwhile enemy Saladin. The battle was loosely based on the historical Battle of Arsuf, one of the most important battles of Richard I's career as the decisive victory achieved by the crusaders cemented his position as a highly skilled military commander, having successfully bested the man who had terrorised Christian territory since the previous crusade's culmination in defeat chiefly at his hands. 

Our version of the battle featured Richard's advance party trying to make their way through the gates of a nearby city, Christian in origin but currently under the iron fist of Saladin and his subjects. On our side were crusaders of generic flavour, troops from Richard's personal household and representatives from the two military orders of notable presence during the third crusade; the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.

For the battle, each participant painting up models aligned themselves to one of these factions. I myself chose to go down the "generic crusaders" route, with a retinue based around disciplined infantry and fanatical crusading knights. To reflect this, I chose to paint my foot knights in the vein of travelling crusaders; each man wore their own colours, but clothing was predominantly a mixture of earthy greens, reds, browns and mustard yellows - knights making pilgrimage from Europe to the Holy Land being more likely to wear cheaper clothing they didn't mind getting too dirty, rather than the medieval equivalent of Sunday Best.


The travelling knights sporting plain-looking clothes, complimented by shields that bore either the crusader cross or simple, geometric patterns that were atypical of the period

Shield designs were simple geometrics, rather than anything overly-complex. Heraldry during the 12th and 13th Centuries was minimal to say the least; even the royal coat-of-arms was first introduced during this period, as such the concept of knightly heraldry and the images we are so familiar with from popular culture ('A Knight's Tale' being a stellar example) were not to be seen for a good two centuries at the earliest. 


For this project, the most appropriate source for shield designs were found on the Bayeaux Tapestry. 
My knights therefore took to the field in a wide array of shield designs, as can be seen above. Foot sergeants and knights belonging to the leader's household were treated slightly differently. As discussed earlier, household heraldry was not really a thing during the early middle ages. Colours and simplistic shapes were therefore my "go-to" choice for representing uniforms. To do up in my colours of choice (I went for a simple four-checked pattern of blue and yellow) I had twelve foot sergeants, six foot knights and some mounted men at arms. Photos of these gents are below:

Mounted knights by Perry Miniatures, foot sergeants by Fireforge Games and Godfrey of Bouillon by Gripping Beast

As you can tell from the images and description of my force composition, I elected to go for a much more 'elite and dangerous' route over a large mass of smelly peasants or untrained foot sergeants. 
I chose to represent a force of troops from a crusader state who either had access to more advanced wargear, improved tactics or simply more combat experience. 

My warlord I chose to have represent Richard de Camville, an English crusader and friend of Richard I Lionheart. The historical de Camville actually died at the Siege of Acre prior to the Battle of Arsuf, however our group's planned game already twisted the history somewhat - as such, I felt no qualms representing de Camville and a contingent of crusaders brought from his holdings in England or picked up along the way in France. This explains the large amount of household colours on display upon the shields and uniforms of the foot sergeant unit, as well as the household guards (represented by the mounted Men-At-Arms). 

And there we have it, a historical force complete and ready for the tabletop. I really enjoyed painting these up, as historical miniatures have a unique take on them that sci-fi and fantasy don't. Also, my colour palette tends to be very dark and muted, which means I get on a little better with historicals than fantasy miniatures. 

Thanks for sticking with if you've read this far. 
Catch you in the next one!
I'll leave you with a pair of WIP shots of Richard for the road...



Wednesday, 24 February 2016

So this month I bought some dice...



A short post this week I'm afraid, due to an incredibly packed schedule and a lot of time spent preemptively compiling next week's offering, as it's going to be a long one (with lots of history and everything!), however it comes with a very hearty product recommendation for a third-party company.

So this month I purchased some new dice.
Not a shocking revelation considering I am a tabletop wargamer, I will admit, however I felt they were worth mentioning since I bought them from an independent company based out of Australia (the aptly-named 'Dice of War' - http://www.diceofwar.com.au/), and the results were really very pleasing.

From what I can gather scouring the catalog, Dice of War specialise in making dice with historical military logos on; I of course gravitated immediately towards Commando themed dice (pictured below), which are black with the red WWII Commando logo emblazoned proudly over the '6' side.

This highlights straight away one of the key strengths of Dice of War's products; a lot of dice companies, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom (including Games Workshop), insist on printing the special symbol on the '1' facing, meaning that the logo of the army you're representing suddenly becomes the symbol of failure rather than success. Being able to roll a die and have your army symbol come up tops is a much more satisfying experience than rolling your specially-made Imperial Guard dice with an Imperial Aquila counter-intuitively embossed upon the '1' facing, to have them all come up Aquilas as you fail all your saves and die horribly in the name of The Emperor. It's not noble, it isn't glorious, and the Big E doesn't appreciate your sacrifice. It's just ironic, and kind of sad really...

Ready and waiting to kick some arse! After a nice spot of tea first, of course...
The dice that I received are already proving themselves a worthy purchase. They roll evenly, with no one number coming up with a particularly greater frequency than another, and are nicely weighted as well (not too light or too heavy). Pretty much everything one wants from dice, these little fellas are willing to provide.

It's also worth noting that service, despite having to be sent all the way from Down Undah, was prompt and didn't cost a ridiculous amount of money. In addition, the man in charge, Adam Brooker, regularly posts in the Bolt Action Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/boltaction/) and is perfectly happy to answer queries; even my more annoying ones about whether he's likely to print some 21st Century Commando themed dice or not!

So to sum; very much enjoying this purchase, came with great customer service that I would highly recommend and will be happy to buy from again in the future!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

York Wargames Fesitval (Vapnartak) after-action report

Gaming conventions, festivals, meet-ups, get-togethers or any of your other personal choice of adjectives are fantastic places for wargamers to rock up with a group of friends, roll some dice, buy a few new toys on discount and maybe make some new connections or try some systems they're unfamiliar with.

This year for the York Wargames Festival (held annually in February at the York Racecourse), I headed down alongside members of the local wargaming group The Yorkshire Renegades to take part in a demonstration game of Lion Rampant - a medieval skirmish game - with an overall theme of recreating a 'what if' version of the Battle of Arsuf (third crusade, Richard I vs. Saladin etc.). 

I'll be going into the history of the game, the armies used and the buildup of painting my force in a separate post as this one is designed more to express what a good day I had at a local wargaming festival rather than rave about history.  

Our table

Setting up the noble Crusader forces
As mentioned, the table we were hosting was themed around a battleground from the Third Crusade. A slight twist on the historical battle, our table included the likes of a set of huge fortress walls decorated with Knight Hospitaller banners protecting a small town, whilst in the distance oases and a ramshackle farm hut were strategically positioned between rocky outcrops and a large tent housing probably the most badass model I have seen in a while. 


"Sir, the Ferero Rocher have arrived..."
The table itself was predominantly a construction of one of the group leaders, Rich Goss, a talented painter and modeller with an innate ability to create models and scenery for almost all occasions, be they Crusades, World War Two or a traditional Sci-Fi/Fantasy setting amongst others. 

Another leading member, Chris Sharp, chose the Lion Rampant rules for the game. The system was well-chosen given its overall simplicity and ease of use; many members taking part in the game were unfamiliar with the rules but by the end of a quick explanation from Rich and a playthrough of the first turn we were all ready and raring to kick some ass. 


"Tally ho!" - brave Templar knights charge headfirst towards the enemy
As systems go, Lion Rampant is wonderfully abstract. Being a die-hard military historian I am a huge fan of solid rule sets with immense levels of detail and complexity, provided I have sufficient time to learn them. In a pick-up game with little to no practice, I can put my preferences aside and really get into a solid but rules-light system like Lion Rampant. Simplified movement, combat and orders made the game very quick to learn and master, ensuring there were less than a handful of rules queries that cropped up - most of them pertaining to very specific instances rather than general circumstance. 


Crusaders everywhere!
 The mission undertaken was a simple 'carry the baggage to the city walls' affair, a mission type that appears in nearly every gaming rulebook albeit with a different skin. With the Crusader forces outnumbering the Arabs, the latter had a house-made regeneration rule on all of their units. The game went well enough, with plenty of surprising turns of everts, some fantastically painted models and a decisive moral victory for the Arabs (whilst the crusaders scored more points on a technicality, the Arab forces managed to hold the crusaders at bay and prevent them from reaching the gates with their baggage; a good deal of bad dice and failed Orders by the crusaders did not help matters however!) 

The Arab cavalry set out to head the Crusaders off at the pass...

The festival at large
What makes festivals so much fun is the shared community spirit. 


A collection of stalls set up near the cafe, including Empress Miniatures (http://www.empressminiatures.com/)
Although we as a party were all familiar with each other, the ease with which gamers who have never met can interact with other demonstrators, players and punters is remarkable. Such is the nature of the beast at events focussed around such a profound common interest as wargaming, I suppose. 

The upper floors crammed with punters perusing stalls.
However the truly heart-warming aspect of the day is the way in which even large company representatives join in on the fun. Although I tend to wax lyrical over Warlord Games on a regular basis, they proved themselves once again to be a big company who hasn't forgotten the chief component of the wargaming hobby: fun. With fun sadly being a finite substance, especially when manufacturers of games and rules go through the awkward teenage transition of growing from a small company to a well-recognised brand, it's a refreshing change to see the employees dispatched to festivals remember the core elements of the hobby - those being fun, friendliness and the whole thing revolving around having a good laugh with like-minded individuals. 

However I also enjoy seeing the stalls of local traders and business set up all around the hall; from dealers of board games to small businesses who cast their own lead figures, it's enough for a fun day out just to stroll around the tables and chat to old friends or stalls selling products you like the look of. 


It seems to be the rule at Vap that every stall must stock boxes of Perry Miniatures...
The final thing of note at these events is of course the participation element. Demonstration games and tables can be found all around the hall, and being able to dive into a few rounds of your favourite games or to try out something new is a godsend (especially as every minute you're playing is a minute NOT spent perusing stalls you probably shouldn't be perusing!) 


Gamers rolling some dice on the open tables upstairs.

Personal highlights 
For me, the top highlight at Vap this year was the fact I got to spend the day alongside other enthusiasts, rolling a few dice and getting far too excited about pushing toy soldiers around a pretend battlefield. 

It was also great to share the day with a few familiar faces from outside the group - special mention must go to my personal friends Dan, Gary and Matt who took the time to pop down and see what was going on (and secure a few sweet deals on Warmachine in Matt's case), as well as John Conyard, leader of the local Roman re-enactment group Comitatus who was running a recruitment stall downstairs, and members Elizabeth and Tony who were either diligently manning the stall or strolling around making purchases. 

All in all, a fantastic day all round. 
Though the fact it was both (a) my birthday and (b) I managed to meet THE John Coulston certainly helped!! 

(We won't mention the guilty purchases made in the name of 'sweet deals' or 'but it's my birthday and I REAAAALLY want it'...) 
I've been wanting these fine chaps for a good long while, I must admit.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Let's look at: Bolt Action - my first time playing and initial thoughts.



Bolt Action (produced by Warlord Games) is a historical game I've been wanting to get properly into for a long time. For those unfamiliar, it's a Platoon level (usually between twenty to fourty men though it depends on nationality, accompanied by a couple of toys such as an AT gun or a tank) game set in World War Two, with an emphasis on tactical use of suppression and manoeuvring over straight up killing the opponent. 

It sounded right up my alley. After all, it contains everything that interests me; warfare, history, a gentlemanly style of gameplay rather than a tournament build and, perhaps best of all, it's a tabletop game featuring my beloved Royal Marine Commandos (the Second World War of course being the conflict which saw the foundation of the Commando arm, of which the Royal Marine commandos subsequently became the most ubiquitous surviving element in the modern day). 

I was held back however by a rather significant problem; none of my close friends were particularly interested in starting up yet another game system on a whim, even though WWII is undoubtedly a cool setting. 

As such, the twelve (yes, you read that correctly) boxes of British Commandos I had purchased lay languishing in my cupboard, apparently doomed forever to be consigned to the 'to do'pile for all time. 

Fortunately however I was later able to score a small German Wehrmacht force  from a friend having a clear-out, and the opportunity to show my local friends the game presented itself. 
So without too much hassle I managed to persuade my friend Dan to pick up the Germans and we set to over a table armed with unpainted models, borrowed order dice and a single copy of the rules. 

It's worth bearing in mind at this point that Dan and I are relatively experienced gamers and the Bolt Action rules are very simple to pick up and play with, so we were able to get cracking with little difficulty, though it turned out later that we did make a few mistakes. 

Setup

Buildings by 4Ground, trees and craters by Games Workshop, MDF board by the B&Q 'round the back of Matt's house
The lists we were using were taken from the Bolt Action core rulebook for the Germans and the online rules for No. 47 RM Commando for the Commandos. 

Whilst perhaps not the most balanced way to learn the game, the differences were minor compared to how I'd have run the Commandos using the generic platoon selector anyway so we agreed it was fine to use the special rules. 

The lists were relatively simple:

German Wehrmacht
Oberleutnant - Veteran, +1 Veteran Soldier

X2 Regular Infantry Section of 10 men, Sarge has an SMG. The section contains an LMG. 

MMG team

Light Mortar team

Sniper team

Tiger tank (because why not?)

Royal Marines
In accordance with Royal Marine rules, all officers, observers, teams etc. have been upgraded with Commando Training for +3 pts each. 

First Lieutenant with 5 Marines, all with SMGs. 

FREE Forward Artillery Observer.

One Marine sub-section of 11 men with SMGs.

One Marine sub-section of 11 men with Rifles. Unit contained two LMGs both upgraded to Vickers-K.

MMG team. 

Medium Mortar Team. 

Sniper Team. 

PIAT team. 

The battlefield
We set up a simple board in the kitchen with a decent spattering of light and heavy cover as well as a line-of-sight blocking house in the centre of the map (something we've always done in games, it tends to encourage movement and discourage static gun lines). 

Game 1 - Test Game
The first game of the day was a quick test game to see how the Orders system worked, to work out how to move and fire and the different types of weapons and cover. 

Each of us took an infantry section with an LMG and a Lieutenant with +1 man armed as modelled. The units were all treated as Regular for the sake of simplicity just to learn the mechanics with. 

Unfortunately, before we could kick off, the cat decided to join us... 

"Herr Oberleutnant, ze British will never expect our new Panther tank!"
Once the offending Panther (good joke!) had been seen off the table, we began.

Within a few turns it became obvious I was currently making very poor use of available cover. Probably due to being far too used to the way Wahammer 40,000 works I was positioning models somewhat carelessly in regards to the cover I thought they were hidden behind. A firefight opened up between the infantry sections on my left, and quickly the Germans gained the upper hand due to my poor placement, causing pins and casualties aplenty. The plucky British gave as good as they got, though, and didn't make a run for it - instead, they passed their own order tests time and again to return fire. 

"That's it, men. Stand right in the gap between the two walls!"
A note on orders and pins; 
For those unaware, one of Bolt Action's central mechanics is the use of 'pin markers' or 'pins' for short. These are used to represent the effects of coming under fire and the impact they have on units doing what you tell them to. The more pin markers a unit sustains from being under constant fire, the less likely they are to obey orders. 

The second unique mechanic is the Orders system. Each player has a single 'order dice' per unit in their army, colour-coded for convenience. Players draw 'order dice' from a cup one at a time without looking and the player of the corresponding colour takes a turn to activate one of their units. They then assign the die to one of their units and issue an order ("Run", "Fire", "Advance" etc.), thus activating the unit - this unit cannot then act again this turn; at the end of the turn (determined by all dice being removed from the cup), the dice are gathered back into the cup and the next turn begins. This adds a random chance mechanic to proceedings, ensuring players are never sure who will act next. If units are 'pinned', they must take a test to enact orders. The more heavily pinned the unit, the harder it is to pass the order. 

As you can see, this adds a tactical element to gameplay where the turns alternate randomly and pinning is considered a priority, as pins prevent enemy soldiers from obeying orders. 

Meanwhile, my officer and pal moved ever closer to the German left, hopping over obstacles along the way. 

When they reached about 12" or so away, they opened up on the German Leutnant and his accomplice with their SMGs. Unfortunately for the Germans, they were caught with their trousers down on the wrong side of a wall and were turned into paste. 

These two brave Brits with SMGs went on to circle the house and take out the German infantry section from behind with a disturbingly high ratio of hits and wounds caused. 

"Enemy approaching, sir!" "Steady on, Hodgkins, those chaps aren't being used in this game."
So the test game ended with a very satisfying win for the Brits, but lessons learned on both sides. Namely cover positioning and the fearsome power of SMG units getting stuck in. We also realised why the German Assault Rifle must have such a fearsome reputation, given it was effectively an SMG but with twice the range. Nasty!

Second Game - Demolition
For our first game proper we rolled a D6 on the missions chart and were confronted with 'Demolition' (effectively Home and Away with a twist for us old 40k hands). For the uninitiated, this is a mission where each player controls a 'base', represented by a counter, chit or converted model. The objective is to reach the opponent's 'base' and, if you are touching the base at the end of a turn the base is destroyed - the first to destroy the enemy base is the winner.
As a side caveat, all units are deployed "in reserves"; this means they are not deployed on the board at the beginning of the game. Instead, when players draw their Order dice from the cup they can move troops onto the board by issuing a "Run" or "Advance" order. This order incurs no penalty.

Using some borrowed Russian MMG teams as our 'bases', we proceeded to set up the battlefield and plan our attacks. 

Dice cup by Viking Memarobilia ltd.
Surprisingly enough, I set both the SMG section and the command section into Outflank, as Dan had placed his objective in the back corner near a table edge. This is a special form of moving on from reserves; 40k players will be familiar - in essence, instead of marching on from the controlling player's own board edge, troops chosen to Outflank move on from either side of the board. This is usually quite a powerful ability, as it allows players to put units in their opponent's flanks with little impunity. To balance the potential this ability has, units normally require an order test (as if they were pinned) to move onto the table. British Commandos, however, ignore this test - representing their role and skills as behind-the-lines raiding troops.

Whilst the game itself lasted a while the main contest was over very quickly; the Commandos successfully outflanked and ended up within touching distance of the objective, wiping German infantry off the map with no trouble (11 SMGs hurt, it would seem). However, the arrival of the Tiger Tank on the same flank brought them down in short order and the game ended in a stalemate with neither side seizing the objectives. 

"This is my Panzerkampfwagen, it panzers kampf wagens."

A few highlights; 
- the SMG sections arriving and proving how brutal the weapon can be
- Commandos demonstrating their prowess in melee when assaulting
- the German sniper picking off the Mortar on Turn 1, reducing the entire model to two pissed-off crew members 
- the British Sniper failing miserably to hit the German mortar in exchange
- the remnants of the British mortar teaming up with the FAO and chum taking out an infantry squad, an MMG and the German Oberleutnant on the left flank, proving that even when down and out the Royal Marines are still nasty! (Being able to upgrade teams and observers to Tough Fighters with SMGs shown to be more useful than I'd expected). 

Third Game - Maximum Attrition
For the final game of the day, we rolled up a simple 'kill the bad guys' mission. Each player scored a single point for every enemy unit they wiped off the table. Nice and easy. Note that single kills mean nothing; the difference between a full ten-man unit and a unit reduced to a single man is nothing at the end of the day, only completely destroyed or routed units gain points.

We flipped the board around for this game, so the British started on the side with heavy cover and the Germans began in the forest. 

The game went relatively smoothly, with good fire exchanged on both sides. A well-rolled shot from the FAO did handicap the Germans somewhat in the early stages of the game, causing a large number of pins on every unit in the army including the Tiger. This unfortunately meant that the Oberleutnant spent most of his game running around trying to restore order, and several German units failed to react at crucial moments. 

On the whole however the battle went on with a decent casualty ratio, as despite all the pins inflicted the Germans took relatively few unit-wide casualties. 

I was also guilty of forgetting the objective at hand was to wipe out units rather than inflict single kills, and though the Germans ended the game with most units reduced to one or two figures, I only scored three points due to the removal of a paltry three weapons teams despite my huge initial advantage. 

In retaliation, Dan's Germans scored kills much more efficiently; taking out the FAO who was crouching behind a wall (poor bugger got hit with an AT shell from the tank) as well as the mortar and sniper teams (my mortar again failing to score any hits). He also successfully sniped the Lieutenant from his firing spot in the farmhouse which, whilst not a kill, was a great use of his sniper team.

While the result was a draw, Dan certainly played the better game. I failed to capitalise on my advantages and didn't play anywhere near as aggressively as I should have done; an early bum rush to occupy the farmhouse was as far as I got, and a middle-territory grab-and-hold just wasn't enough to press home the initial momentum of the FAO's barrage. On the other hand, Dan managed to pull a draw despite being handed two pair, a jack and a queen versus my initial royal flush; he picked his targets well and clawed his way to a draw with only half his force actually listening to his orders.

Commandos, the UK's elite assault force, sit behind a wall and plink away with rifles
My rifle section advanced to a quarter of the way up the board and then remained there, trading shots with a German section in the woods and just sat there for the whole game. My weapon teams parked on the back line and didn't move at all, and my SMG section remained in reserve as long as possible to avoid being killed and giving away points. I was also terrified of the Tiger, the psychological aspect of the tank perhaps forcing me to hold back more than I should.

"Shouldn't you should stand away from the window, sir?" "Nonsense, Hastings! It's not as if they have a snip-aaargh!"
It's clear therefore that I needed to seize upon my own advantages and good fortune, as aggressive play could well have resulted in overall victory. Especially when considering the devastating effect of the initial bombardment and the fact most of the Germans were pinned into uselessness for the majority of the game, it's clear I dropped the ball on this one. 

Final thoughts
Bolt Action; a hell of a game. 
Lots to love, it's easy to learn and relatively easy to work your way through. 

The focus on tactical combat, careful positioning and use of pinning markers all add extra tactical elements to the tabletop wargame formula. It's not a rarity for a wargame to add a risk of troops not following orders into the mix, however it is sadly a frequent prerogative of green troops and green troops alone; it's refreshing to find a game that can punish battle-hardened veterans when taking heavy fire, forcing them to keep their heads down at the expense of upsetting the battle-plan. 
I also enjoy the random turns; it keeps things fresh and means players have to consider certain moves as being a lot more risky than usual. Whilst in most other games the player moves and attacks with their whole force in one turn, in Bolt Action a unit might move up only to find itself suddenly without support as the enemy then seizes the initiative, preventing reinforcements moving up and leaving the first unit isolated and cut off. 

On the whole, we both enjoyed the game tremendously and are looking forward to expanding our forces in the near future. We made some mistakes here and there and were lost a couple of times but the inherently simple and smooth nature of the game meant a quick flick to the rulebook was all that was required to get the ball rolling again. 

I loved trying the game out at last and have already ordered my next batch of toy soldiers; some British Infantry, a Churchill tank, some transports and a QF-17, beloved of me from my experiences as a Company of Heroes 2 player. 

Tremendously looking forward to the next bout!

I leave you with this final cat-based invasion: 

"Watch out, Wilkes! Giant Panther on the right flank, it's broken through the gates!"

Monday, 25 January 2016

Army Lists: there's an app for that. But is it worth it?


For many years I have been a strong advocate of using apps to create army lists and rosters for games. 

Whilst many purists would immediately slap the iPhone out of my hand, thrust a pen and paper into my fists and insist I 'do it properly', I feel there is a lot to be said for the convenience of applications such as Battlescribe, Army Builder and their ilk; they solve all the complicated mathematics for you, have a repository of all the units available (and frequently most of their special rules and profiles too) and therefore save the user a great deal of time that would otherwise be spent flicking through pages and pages of army books or codices, and time spent working out and checking calculations. 

In addition, the app saves the data on your phone - you no longer need to lug a large notebook with you when you go gaming, saving carry space for the many rulebooks, army books, codices, dice, tape measures, Cheetos and Doritos gamers invariably bring to the table. 
This also makes lists much easier to share with friends and groups; instead of having to meticulously type out your lists, you can hit a single button and paste the whole thing into a Facebook comment for all your friends to enjoy (or foam at the mouth over once they see you've managed to sneak three D-Weapons into your 40k tournament list). 

Apps are becoming an increasingly popular method with which to create lists these days, as even desktop PC versions become more and more prevalent. 

This therefore begs the question; why (apart from obvious circumstances such as not possessing an iPhone or similar) would players prefer pen and paper over an app, when apps are apparently so much more convenient? 

Personal touch & history
Writing an army list is a huge thing to most players, whether they're a full-on historical re-enactor painstakingly recreating Caesar's legions at the siege of Alesia or a diehard tournament nutcase who's busy pouring over his latest tear-inducing creation. 

Regardless of your playstyle or motivation, the creation of the army list itself is the first step to creating the army as a whole; with creativity being such a major part of the wargaming hobby, it seems only fitting that even parts which don't involve direct contact with model soldiers be as diverse and subject to the whims of mad gamers as model construction should be. 

Creating army lists on paper has been a traditional staple of the hobby for decades, dating back to wargaming's roots as a spinoff of pen and paper RPG games like Dungeons and Dragons. Indeed, go back thirty years or so and a wargaming table would have looked surprisingly similar to the D&D table next door; albeit with more figures and slightly less players per game. 

Paper and bookkeeping are a hereditary part of wargaming culture, and with a move towards larger condensed rulebooks containing all the necessary charts and tables, plus the advent of apps, they are sadly dying out. 

Even in the tabletop RPG scene, more and more players are turning to editable PDF versions of character sheets and the advent of online RPG services (such as Roll20 - a very useful website for playing pen and paper RPGs online), which sees a greater shift towards electronic-only games (a concept that, rather hubristically, flips a finger to the whole concept of a 'pen and paper RPG').

Having said this, I myself don't feel much nostalgia for the old handwritten army list. Whilst an RPG character sheet is predominantly physical descriptions, gear, mannerisms and quirks, a tabletop wargaming army roster is almost exclusively a maths exercise. 

I unashamedly use army creation apps with no qualms myself; whilst creating an army is fun, putting the list to paper and calculating the mathematics was always an immense chore. I find the interface of my personal favourite app (Battlescribe) friendly, convenient and immersive; as such, I actually find creating a list using the app far more engaging than when I use paper. 
For the record - I personally always use physical paper when playing an RPG; I hugely dislike using electronic copies, though this is mostly due to the nature of character sheets, as they frequently need to be edited and updated on the fly and bringing a whole laptop to alter a PDF is vastly less convenient than simply scribbling away with a pencil. 

To sum up this point; I believe it comes down to personal preference. 
Whilst it is a true and sad fact that an element of gaming is slowly dying a death, I believe it is simply being fazed out for something more convenient. 

I would never belittle the nostalgia crowd for sticking determinantly to the pen and paper method of creating a list, however, as I strongly believe players should be free to use whichever method best suits themselves. 

This does however segue neatly into my second point; 

Convenience and reliability
As already discussed, there are certain elements of convenience one cannot disagree with in favour of the app; quick and easy access to rosters with no page turning, self-calculating mathematics etc. 

However for every point we award the app we must award at least as many to the humble pen and paper. 

The first and most obvious point; paper doesn't run out of battery - this stalwart argument of book-lovers everywhere, touted during disagreements with Kindle owners is certainly just as valid here. Phones and tablets run out of battery; paper does not. 
Whilst one could counter-argue that most apps allow the user to print directly from the page, this partly defeats the point of the app and its ability to be taken anywhere at any time. 

It is a true fact that many tournaments enforce a rules clause whereby users of electronic army lists may be disqualified if their device loses power and shuts down during gameplay. In addition, many more require a physical copy of a list regardless of the medium you use during the game. 

One must also consider that in larger games, you might not have the entire list memorised: 
"Did I equip both squads with anti-tank grenades or just one?" 
"Did I buy upgrade X for vehicle Y?"
With a dead phone and no hard copy of a list, you could end up cheating yourself or the opponent out of an advantageous situation. 

Examining these points leads one to realise that apps are perhaps suitable for friendly play only, where your opponent is already familiar with the list you use and no harm is done if the device runs out of juice halfway through play - where an extra 'forgotten' upgrade here or there makes little difference. 

The other factor that must be considered is the reliability of the source; whilst it is convenient to have your iPhone calculate the mathematics for you, figuring it out for yourself gives you a much better grasp of where your points are being spent. In addition, there are frequently errors in the rosters featured on apps; whilst they are being constantly updated, this can lead to (completely unaware) players over or under spending when purchasing units or upgrades. If you copy the points costs directly from the codex or army book onto paper, you can be sure the figures you are using are correct. 

Apps also sometimes allow illegal combinations of units or upgrades, perhaps allowing you to take multiples of something that are single purchase only. Alternatively, they may lock out options that are intended to be taken multiple times after a single purchase. 

Conclusion; whilst the app provides the convenience and ease of self-calculating maths, only the codex or army book can be trusted implicitly to provide the correct values and ratios for points and upgrades. In addition, the app's ability to share lists on social media is irrelevant whilst playing in a tournament setting, where paper copies of lists are required at all times in the interests of balance and fairness. 

To sum up
To reiterate a point I made earlier in the post, I believe this all comes down to player choice. 

I myself love using the army creation apps for convenience, particularly whilst away from a desk - building lists while waiting for a train or trying to kill some time between sets at the gym is a wonderful procrastination tool. 

Others (particularly more veteran players) would prefer the pen and paper method, citing the reliability of physical copies and the joy of creating army lists by hand, as well as the accuracy of copying directly from the book.

On balance, I feel players should try both methods. Give the apps a go if you can; they're worth a try at the very least and certainly something I feel improves my gameplay experience. 

However as a final thought, I would always advocate new players begin their wargaming career writing their lists out by hand. Get a feel for how army list creation works and understand the process so you fully comprehend what it is the application is doing whilst you use it. Also, if we want to preserve the tradition of pen and paper lists, a good start would be to encourage their use amongst new players before introducing them to the wonders of the App Store or Google Play... 
 







Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Learning something new: Magnets



For my first proper post on this blog, I thought it would be appropriate to put up something I'm learning for the first time.

Magnets have always been a topic I have shied away from as a wargamer; they're strange, terrifying creatures that operate using some mystical form of science magic my simple archaeologist brain cannot begin to fathom.

They make the model bits stick together, that's all I know. Apparently people use them so they don't have to buy two Space Marine models to swap Special Weapons around, but that may be just a rumour...

Why start magnetising then if I'm clearly as dumb as post when it comes to simple things like magnetic fields and reactive forces?

I was putting together my Bolt Action weapons teams, and realised that at some point during my games I was going to lose models from the unit (don't tell the men I said that). I always dislike the idea of using wound tokens or markers for models that only have multiple wounds or HP by virtue of having multiple blokes on the same base (Imperial Guard weapons teams being by go-to Warhammer 40k example), and so was attempting to devise some system by which I could pin the models onto the plastic base and detach individual members of the team as they took casualties. I realised I wasn't getting anywhere with it due to how shallow the bases were though, and so steeled myself for the only course left open; I therefore plunged into the depths of the internet determined to conquer my fear of the eponymous magnets.

With barely any clue as to what I was looking for or where I should begin my search, I ordered a simple set of 2mm x 1mm Neodymium disc magnets from Magnet Expert ltd. (via the mistress of speedy delivery, Amazon.co.uk). The magnets were ordered yesterday and arrived this morning, so already Magnet Expert ltd. have made it into my good books. I'll be honest, I chose them because they were the first I found in what I felt was the appropriate size.


World's most complex label
Handy!


Inside the box:
Upon opening the package, I found the magnets encased in both a handy plastic container and a ziplock bag.













Corporal, you've been volunteered as "Tester"


You can (faintly) see the pencil guidelines


STEP ONE:
I set to work eagerly, drilling a hole using a 2mm drill bit and hand drill from Games Workshop to make a pre-marked hole in the base of the models that were to be magnetised, having marked a corresponding point on the base for the receiving magnet to go.











STEP TWO:
I then completed work on each member of the team who needed to be magnetised. NB: the metal models actually required TWO magnets to hold them in place, and even then they still wobbled. The plastics offered no resistance to a single magnet; logically this is due to the vastly heavier metal models putting a lot of strain on the small magnets.

STEP THREE - THE FINISHED PRODUCT:
As you can see, the finished product looks perfectly fine from a tabletop perspective. The metal models are still a little wobbly in one or two cases, the ammo jockey for the MMG in particular proving a pain - though the two crewmen on the Mortar will stay locked in place even when the base is turned upside-down. The plastics can also be held upside-down and don't even tremble slightly. Weight is apparently a huge factor (who'd have thought, in a topic concerning opposite forces and gravity?).

The finished assembly, just need to spruce the bases up

Demonstrating the models are easily removable for storage
 FINAL THOUGHTS:
Surprisingly easy to get the hang of, magnetising these gents took a little while as I kept forgetting the basic principle that one MUST check the magnet ends they have chosen align correctly, otherwise you'll find the model ends up being repelled dramatically from the base when you take your hands off due to opposite forces.

That, however, is something I doubt anyone but myself would be dumb enough to forget and then consistently continue to forget throughout the whole process.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

'Gordon's Alive!'

With an awkwardly crow-barred in 80s reference leading the way in the post title (perhaps showing my mental age with this one), I'm cracking the proverbial champagne cork against the prow of what I hope will prove to be a mighty and able vessel. The H.M.S. "My Blog" is officially leaving port on the maiden voyage. 

Here's hoping it won't be another Titanic in the works...

I was goaded into action to make a blog by members of local wargaming group The Yorkshire Renegades, as they seem to be the new hotness at the moment - it also seems like a good way by which I can force myself to make at least SOME regular progress with my modelling. 
As anyone close to me will attest, I'm an incredibly pro-active collector of model kits; actually doing anything with those kits is a very different issue, however. 

Describing my efforts as "lazy" would be an injustice to the concept of laziness - as a somewhat accidentally permanent student I feel fully justified in classing myself among the ranks of professional procrastinators, and so hopefully this blog will serve as a means by which to motivate my lazy arse into action once in a while. 

I'll try and stick to a rough schedule of uploading something once a week be it progress made on models, an interesting article and discussion thereof or just an important update. 

However, hopefully people will stick around and keep an eye out for future updates. 

Ta-ta for now!