Monday, January 27, 2014

Free Sample Peel-and-Stick Naval Miniature

Here is a nice free deal I discovered this afternoon while browsing around. Topside Minis is offering a free sample of one of their peel-and-stick naval wargame "miniatures." These look nifty. They're not miniatures but more like boardgame counters that you cut out and then stick to wooden bases. You can then use them with any miniatures rules.

Currently, they have WWII Coral Sea battle set of 131 units (79 ships and 52 aircraft) for $60, a  Midway battle set of 208 units (83 ships and 125 aircraft) for for $100, and a new WWI 1914 Falklands set of 16 ships or $5.60. The also sell ship and planes individually.

I'm a bit confused, however, if the sets come with the wooden bases or if we must buy them from Litko? They really don't say on their website. I'll drop them a line and report back, unless someone already knows and can post the info in the comments section below.

This looks like a nice way to play some miniature-sized naval games without having to spend the time painting all the ships, unless one enjoys painting miniature ships, of course. When you think about it, a miniature is nothing more than a 3D counter. I posted some photos from website, but you should look at their website, which has a lot more information. They also have links to the various WWII naval rules available.

When I get my promo sample, I'll give a hands-on report. If I like what I see, I'd like to get the WWI Falklands set. I'm not into the large Pacific battles, but I do like the smaller WWII naval engagements that don't involve skies full of planes. (I have a thing for scenarios featuring patrols and protecting merchant convoys, no matter if sci-fi or 20th century it seems.) I'm not sure on the WWI rules I'd use. Something easy and fun with a bit of crunch, preferably inexpensive. I already own Mongoose's Victory at Sea rules, but those are for WWII. I don't own Mongoose's WWI rules.

So check out Topside Minis for your free sample. And if you have used any of their miniatures, let us know in the comments section.

Update 1-27-14
I got the free sample today. The post office literally destroyed the envelope, having to put the entire thing in a "We Care" baggie, which I find a bit ironic because if they really cared they would not have allowed their "dogs" to maul the envelope in the first place! Sigh.

The good news is that the ship came out just fine, which amazed me. I need to take a photo of the envelope.The ship also comes with its own 3mm laser cut plywood base along the lines of Litko bases. A good deal.

I just have to paint the base and stick on the ship drawing. I'm not sure what color to paint the edges, though. I doubt I can match the blue water on the counter. So probably better to go with something more contrasting? I don't know. I'm open to suggestions. This week looks to be a bit busy and nerve wracking, so it might take some time until I get to it.

Take care,
BobW (aka CPBelt)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reaper's New Horror Paints

This evening I was poking around the Reaper Master Series paint website and got a pleasant surprise. They have finally released some of their horror-based paints. I'm especially excited about the Vampiric skin triad, which will give me the umph to continue working on my West Wind horror figures without having to custom-mix skin colors. The Graveyard Bone triad also looks very useful for some creepy looking colors. Reaper released these paints last Monday, but it doesn't look like they have hit the stores yet.

BTW last week I picked up a brush for the first time in several months and finished the vampire I posted about months ago. I'm waiting for free time and good weather to cooperate here in Central Florida so I can varnish it and the other cowgirl I finished.

Mild Rant: Buying Paint Blind
You know, my biggest complaint about this hobby is that I have to buy all my paints without seeing them first. I hate that. When I was into model railroading in the 1970s through the 1990s, I bought all my paints at the local hobby shop. I saw what I was getting and could visually decided which company's Conrail Blue fit my image of the color.

Now, if I want to see some real miniature paints in person I have to settle for Games Workshop paints, which I dislike because I have trouble opening paint pots with my aging hands. (I hear the paints have gotten better.) I might get a smattering of old and decrepit Reaper and P3 paints at Sci-Fi City, which to me is a wasteland of a store that I don't bother going near. Cool Stuff across the street sells Reaper, but you cannot see or touch anything before you buy it at Cool Stuff! Order it on the computer, the guys go back into the warehouse, pull the order, and then give it to you at the cash register. Doesn't help when I want to see the difference between one Reaper blue and another Reaper blue. Sigh.

Ok, I am done with my mild ranting for the evening. But when you think about it, after the miniatures themselves, the most important part of our hobby of painting miniatures is picking the right color paints, which is not so easy when looking at little jpg color swatches on a computer. :-(

Saturday, January 11, 2014

It's All About Story

While walking about the house today waiting for the NFL playoff games to begin, an idea suddenly struck me. Wow, I thought, that would make an interesting blog post. It's been a long time since I "thought out loud" on the blog about some aspect of gaming. Maybe some other fellows might find it interesting and be able to relate? So here goes nothing!

Whenever I play a game--whether it be a board game, card game, or miniature game--I ideally want the game to tell a story. I want to feel as if the game is part of a larger narrative that we, the players, are writing.

Close the Gates, You Fools, Lest We All Perish!
Arkham Horror is an excellent example of a board game where players feel like they are characters traveling about the streets of H.P. Lovecraft's fictional city, Arkham. Foul deeds are afoot. Strange creatures are attacking. We must close the "gates," shutting off their entry points to our world before the ancient evil lurking somewhere out there awakens.

I can't believe it! We won!
Arkham Horror's theme does a fantastic job creating the game's atmosphere, while the game's mechanics lend perfectly with story telling. After all, each player is a "character" in the game. In fact, we rarely use the character's names in the game. Usually, we say "I" or "you" instead of "Harriet." We will often shout at each other, saying things like "Jeremy, close the gate!" (Jeremy being my son). We try to coordinate our actions with each other, which helps the storytelling.

To make the game even more thematic instead of random happenings, we use scenarios based on the books. Sure, we have to remove some of those wicked monster chits and other cards from our game, but the remaining monsters and cards reflect the story. It all holds together better.

I Love a Good Skirmish Game in the Morning
Like Arkham Horror, a good miniatures game should also tell a story. I guess this goes without saying when playing small-level skirmish games that are close cousins to roleplaying games, where a player controls only one to a handful of characters at most. Perhaps the player represents a small band of outlaws in the Old West, trying to rob a bank or knockover a train carrying gold from the US mint. Or maybe the player represents a team of 1960's super-spies trying to stop the latest attempt of Otto Evile and his minions to conquer the world?

Charley, you take point!
In these "roleplaying" skirmish games I want to feel emotionally attached to my main characters on the table. If I am playing the Otto Evile character, I want to feel apart of Otto and laugh maniaclly whenever possible. If I have a pack or two of minions, I want to feel nothing for them as they die easily. After all, who cares about minions? That's why they are called minions and not "Jaque Phillipe, who is married with three kids and a sheep dog." Jaque getting mowed down by a machine gun would be tragic. Minion #4 getting mowed down is just another minion. We can replace Minion #4 in time for next week's show. We'd have to go to Jaque's funeral.

To accomplish all of this, a skirmish game must have good mechanics that help attach me to my characters but not overwhelm me with irrelevant details. I do not need rules creep, where I need to track everything from my character's skill at hitting a can at 100 yards to his current blood pressure and the stopping power of a rose bush. Who cares? Just get on with the game--I mean story! Give me some crunch in my rules, such as character attributes, but not too much crunch, such as too many special rules/traits. Just like a good breakfast cereal in milk--not too soggy but not too crunchy, just right.

A Vague Idea Does Not Equal a Scenario!
I think we can agree that well-designed scenarios are also important to telling the story. After all, that is what a scenario is--the seeds of a story. All we need to do is sprinkle some water on it, adding our characters and the ensuing action. Am I right? Good scenarios are important for skirmish games.

Good sir, you've been lying down for 20 turns. Are you dead?
Yet, I cannot tell you how many absolutely horrible skirmish games I have played, and I'm sure that many other gamers have played. The gamemaster, for lack of a better word, assured us that he created this really wonderful and exciting scenario for us. He begins with:

"Ok, you guys are the bank robbers coming to rob Steve's Bank. And you guys are the lawmen trying to stop them. You guys line up on this side of the town/table, and you guys line up on that side of the town/table. Now let's get it on and start the shooting!"

Sigh. Three hours later every figure is still in the middle of the street randomly shooting at each other. Of course, I have long since tuned out of the game, being too polite to get up and leave, and am thinking only about what I want for dinner, returning to the action for a few seconds when one of my character's activation cards is drawn. "Huh, ok, yeah. Tex here tries to get back up from being knocked down the past twenty turns. [I roll dice.] Nope, still knocked down." Yep, that there is an exciting game and set of rules. (BTW this was a recurring real life experience, not a made up one! I just wish that I had had a smart phone back then with which to entertain myself during such games. Sigh.)

Ticket to Ride. Seriously?
So what is the bottom line? My favorite games always tell a story. It's why I like playing them over and over again. Even something as simple as the Ticket to Ride board game, which is nothing more than collecting sets of colored cards in order to place sets of little colored trains on a map of railroad lines, winds up telling a story, though not always the most dramatic story as in Arkham Horror. A good wargame will tell the story of a battle or struggle. For me, it's all about the story.

Your Turn!
What are some of your favorite board, card, war, or miniature games that tell a good story? Let me and others know in the comments section below. As always, comments are Captcha-free.

Go Saints!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Game Room is Looking Like a Card Shop

A bit of a quick odd post today, but we just got this in the mail, taking advantage of some cheap online holiday sales. (I love buying stuff cheap!) It looks as if we're getting ready to open a card game store. Wow, I am going to be giving away a lot of Marvel tins, that is for sure! I'm keeping the cards inside, of course.

But what about miniatures and board games? Well, I did get four of the Naploeonic 20 board games for my son for Christmas, so there are some new wargames to be played, along with the few still in shrink wrap we have not gotten to the past year.

I'm debating if I want to play WWII large skirmish games with my 15mm figures, buying more of the models and terrain I need for it, or jump up to 20mm, using AB figures. That is a major decision, since it would be like starting completely over. Pros and cons to each side. (BTW I got a 1:72 Panther G model kit for Christmas.) The 28mm WWII figs will be more for smaller games due to size.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Price of Victory - Turn 1

While I know that many guys are happy playing many of the popular World War II miniature rules that are available, it's no secret that I've been having a difficult time finding a set to handle a platoon per side that I really like. I want something that makes me face all the hard minute-by-minute decisions real commanders had to make. I want it nail-biting to the end, with victory never guaranteed. I want to feel for my soldiers. You know. The basics. :-)

I Create A Game That Works? No Way!
A couple months ago in a fit of frustration temped with rage, I threw up my hands, sat at my computer, and began banging out a set of rules that featured what I would like to see. I even came up with a name for them: "The Price of Victory." (I tried to avoid using words like "band of" or "brothers" or "heroes" in the title--the world cannot bear the weight of another WWII game with those words in its title! However, "Hero Brothers Band" did strike a chord with me. ... Thank you, I'll be here all week. Tip your server.)

Over the Christmas break, I was tinkering with "The Price of Victory" at my computer when I smacked myself in the head. Idea! Why not set up a table using my 15mm figures and scenery that have been languishing in a box for ages? For some reason, pushing metal about a table gives a better perspective than pushing a pencil across paper.

After a few games of tinkering solo, I had myself a set of rules to play. We gathered together the League (ok, it was just Agent Abel and me, but then we are the League, aren't we?) and got our game on, so to speak. I played Americans the first game and then Germans the second game. Instead of me explaining how the rules work, I'll show you with a bit of an AAR from one of the games.

"Not So Quiet on the Obscure Front"
(The title was my son's idea when he saw the table set up. He's a WWI guy, finding WWII a bit too pedestrian for his tastes. Uh huh. Yep. So he says to us, "So how's the fighting going on the Obscure Front today?" Sigh. I think he takes after his mother. LOL. Anyway, let's begin the game!)

The game is set up. A bit abstract, but sometimes ya gotta work with what ya got.

The Game Turn: The game is a series of turns. There are no phases or anything. Just a turn. When one turn ends, players remove any markers needing to be removes, and a new turn begins. Of course, a lot can happen during a turn!

Units: Each figure is one soldier. Figures form into units based on their nationalities and the time period. A unit could be a single figure, such as a medic, or it could be an entire squad of riflemen with a BAR and SMG tossed in. It doesn't matter. The rules refer to everything as a unit, though sometimes in this AAR I call them squads and such for flavor.

Initiative: Player initiative is playing card driven because it's easy, fun, and oh so chaotic--just like the battlefield. Standard 52-card deck here with two jokers. Flip a card, see who has initiative. Player 1 gets black cards, Player 2 gets red cards, and Jokers end the turn. Simple enough. (Plus, I like collecting playing cards. BTW I have a neat deck of WWII airplane recognition playing cards. I kept my Scooby-do card in the closet.)

Turn 1: Round 1 - American
The American Force: A reinforced Platoon with 6 units
After some friendly banter about who will beat whom, the first initiative card is turned over for the first turn. Black. The American player has the initiative. He is advancing his platoon in V formation through some light wounds on the edge of the village, with 1st and 2nd Squad on point, 3rd Squad in reserve, and a LMG unit looking to set up some fire for support. The Platoon Lt and his Sergeant form the force's Command Unit, which is walking a bit behind but close enough for his messengers to reach his squads. The medic (a 1-figure unit) is hanging by the Command Unit. The American objective is to take and hold the church, which sits in the center of an important crossroads.

The American player announces that he will try to activate one of his infantry units, 1st Squad, to move forward. He needs to roll 7+ on 2d6 to activate the unit. All Regular units activate on 7+. Veteran units on 6+, Elite on 5+, but Green units on 8+. The 1st Squad is within 9" of the Platoon Commander, so he gets a +1 bonus for being within Command Range of his force's commander. The unit is totally fresh, no Combat Fatigue markers or Action markers on it, yet. They're not abandoning any wounded figures to the enemy, so no penalty there. Excellent. Just as it should be on Turn 1! He rolls an 8, adds the + 1 command bonus, for a total of 9. The squad activates, understanding the battleplan to keep advancing for now.

The American player now rolls for movement, which is random. He rolls 2d6 and gets a 1 and 4. Since a unit can move up to the highest rolling die in inches, the unit can move up to 4" as its action, which it does. The unit then ends its action, so the player places a small Action marker next to the unit. (He could use an off-table roster to record this or his memory, but we like to use small markers to make life easier in our old age!)

Turn 1: Round 2 - American
Another initiative card is flipped. Black. American again. Now, the American player could try to activate the 1st Squad again. After all, a unit can perform a maximum of three actions a turn. However, each Action marker will add a -1 die roll penalty to his unit's Activation roll. The American player decides best to keep his force together as best he can before the shooting starts. He makes an Activation roll for 2nd squad, makes the roll, and has the unit move forward. He rolls 2d6 for 3 and 5, discards the 3, and moves 2nd Squad the full 5", just a bit ahead of 1st Squad. He places an Action marker on the unit, ending its activation.

Turn 1: Round 3 - German
Flip an initiative card. Red. German player has initiative. Yipee! Unfortunately, there's not much to do since he is defending in place. He has two infantry squads in place. He is waiting for the third squad to arrive--during their mad rush and confusion to defend the village once they realized the Americans were landing on Normandy they lost sight of the truck carrying the third squad. Hopefully it wasn't captured.

He has divided each of his two infantry units into two independent units--an LMG unit and a rifle unit--giving him a total of four infantry units plus a Command Unit to activate for now. One LMG unit is in the bell tower while its parent rifle unit is in the cemetery to the rear of the church, facing the enemy. The other LMG unit is barricaded in the middle of the street, while its parent unit is in the farmhouse to the lower right. (We pretended that when it arrived prior to the game, the force encountered  brief partisan resistance from the farmhouse, which is easily put down with an assault.)

The German player announces that he will be activating his rifle unit in farmhouse and that they will move across the courtyard toward the far wall. His units are all Regular, just like the American player's units, so he will need to roll 7+ on 2d6 to activate. The unit is too far away from the force's Command Unit, which is in the church cemetery, so no +1 Command bonus this time! No other modifiers apply, so he rolls the dice and gets a total of 3. Ach! (Or, insert your own German cuss word here.) The unit fails its activation roll and is marked as Spent, able to do nothing.

Spent Units: A Spent unit either has performed its maximum of three actions for the turn or fails an Activation roll during the tun. A Spent unit cannot be activated the rest of the turn. In this case, the German player reasoned that his so called soldiers were too busy getting frisky with the house frau and the pantry to hear the orders being barked.

Turns & Time: A turn is only a few minutes of real time, so you can see how this would make sense. Also, now the American player knows that German unit is Spent and cannot activate. The info does him no good since the enemy unit is too far out of sight and range to be any threat for a long time. When a closer unit enemy unit becomes Spent, we rationalize this by saying that our soldiers can tell when something ain't right with the enemy. Why are they not moving? What is going on there? Perhaps the player will take advantage of those Spent enemy units and lay down some fire or try to move through the Spent unit's field of fire while the Spent unit cannot react. Just remember that all movement is random. Initiative is random. The Joker can end a turn at any time. And Activations are rolled for. Push your luck if you like, but be prepared to pay the consequences if your luck runs out!

No Opportunity Fire: Here is where no opportunity fire comes into play because it is baked into the initiative, activation, and movement mechanics. Imagine your opponent decided to move one of his units through your LMG unit's field of fire. One of your opponent's units is caught in the street at the end of its action, not having enough movement to make it into cover because it faltered while moving. (The player rolled double 1s when he needed at least a 3 to reach cover!) Lucky for you, you own the next drawn initiative card. Your LMG has a clear line of fire to the enemy unit in the open--easy pickings. It also has a line of fire to an enemy LMG that has been harassing you from the wood edge, and it looks like another enemy unit is preparing to assault a key objective. Which unit do you shoot at? Or do you withdraw to safer lines while you still can? Perhaps you'll get lucky with initiative draws and activation rolls, being able to act two or three times before the enemy can. Perhaps your opponent will get unlucky again, leaving his unit in the open to activate a different unit. See, it's all about prioritizing decisions. No need for "opportunity fire" rules. It's baked in. It also creates many tense moments!

Turn 1: Round 4 - German
Another red card is drawn, so the Germans have the initiative again. Still waiting and watching what the Americans will do, the German player is down to three units since the one unit is Spent for the turn: his Command Unit, his LMG unit in the tower, and his rifle unit in the cemetery. He decides to give his rifle unit in the cemetery a Pass action, which automatically gives the unit an Action marker, ending its activation for the round but keeping it available until later in the turn, when it might be needed,

At Will Actions: He also had the option of giving one of his units an At Will action. However, there was no need just yet. There are only two At Will actions: Rally and First Aid. Actually, a unit can normally perform either of these actions when rolling to activate. However, when a player says a unit will perform one of these two actions as an At Will action, that can be the one and only action that the unit performs that turn.

So why bother then Rallying a unit only once as an At Will action when you could possibly Rally a unit three times in a turn? Well, how lucky do you feel and how desperate is the situation? There might be times that a unit suffers so many Combat Fatigue markers from taking fire that there is practically no way to activate the unit. For every two of those markers, which we shorten to Fatigue, gives the unit a -1 die roll penalty on its activation roll. Five Fatigure would incur a -2 penalty. So taking one guaranteed action to Rally off the Fatigue might be a good decision. Just another one of those decisions you'll have to make--push your luck and keep firing on the enemy instead of trying to Rally off those couple Fatigue markers, hoping to eliminate him before your boys become shot up again and take more casualties? You decide. (We'll cover Fatigue next time when we get into combat.)

First Aid does not remove Fatigue. Instead, the soldiers in the unit take a few moments to try patching up all their Wounded comrades. If lucky, their wounds will be lighter than thought so the soldier can return to action or be patched up enough as to not be a burden, finding a safe spot to wait out the action for more help. (Leaving wounded soldiers behind while withdrawing from an enemy is not a good idea! The other soldiers in the unit might not like that, refusing to move.) A nearby Medic Unit might help increase the odds. If unlucky, the soldier dies from his wounds and is removed from the game. Still, it's always good to check. But when is a good time for First Aid? That is another decision to make?

Turn 1: The Rest of the Turn
Play keeps going like this. Initiative cards are drawn, players try to activate units, some units activate while others fail. The American player keeps most his force together, though 3rd Squad tends to lag behind. His Command Unit advances in step with the other two rifle units and the LMG unit. The German player bides his time, passing for the first turn. Unfortunately, he wishes the first unit he tried to activate were better at following orders, but such is the Fog of War. Better luck next turn.

Command Unit Activation: This is a good time to mention Command Units. A Command Unit does not need to roll for Acivation. It does so automatically and can do so up to three times, like any other infantry unit. However, Command Units do little other than moving. Their job is to make sure the troops are carrying out the battle plan. Command Units on their own cannot attack or be attacked by direct fire. (They can be attacked by snipers and indirect fire, but that is another issue.) They can attach to a unit, which helps the unit during Rally attempts more so than it would being near the unit. Once attached to a unit, the commander can begin attacking, but it can also be attacked. So attaching can be risky, though sometimes one must lead from the front.

End of Turn: The turn ends when a Joker is revealed or there are no more units left to activate, or when both players say that their remaining units are doing nothing but passing anyway, such as when there are only Command Units left that are going nowhere.

The Americans at end of Turn 1. Not too bad. Unfortunately, the LMG unit is lagging a bit.

So here is where we leave it. In this post you got to see how the activation and movement works. You also got a glimpse and command and control and well as some decisions players will have to make.

The Thrilling Next Installment!
The next installment will continue the game and rules (as I find time to write the post!). The Americans will continue their advance, probably coming into weapons range real soon. Will they be able to find the enemy, fix him with fire, and then flank him? Will the German reinforcements arrive in time? Will that German squad ever get out of the farmhouse? Will their three machineguns make small work of the American's advance, repelling them back to the beaches? We will see in the next thrilling installment of "The Price of Victory," when we look at how combat works.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Making Quick & Easy 15mm Barbed Wire

Christmas week, I began playtesting some ideas I've had for my own platoon-level WWII rules. Setting up the table using my limited 15mm scenery, I thought it would nice to have some barbed wire to block some of the streets. Unfortunately, I don't have any 15mm barbed wire. Then inspiration struck! I grabbed some spare cheap picture wire I had tossed in my tool box, wrapped the wire around a pencil, and got instant barbed wire. You can see it in the photo below next to some other scenery and figures for scale. It looked good on my make-shift table. Plus, it didn't prick the fingers! :-)

Wishing us all a happy new year!