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, 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

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

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.

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.

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
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!