Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Recent Battles Wrap-up

With the thawing of winter and the return to temperate weather, I've managed to get back to the minis gaming table a couple times this month. What follows aren't proper battle reports - just some random photos accompanied by brief recaps and further musings on the games.

Bolt Action: Soviets vs. Germans

First up, I got to put my freshly-painted Naval Infantry platoon on the table for a game of Bolt Action with my regular opponent, Steve.

One of the things I really enjoy about gaming with Steve is that he cares as much as I do about historical fidelity. Bolt Action is going after the 40K crowd with its design sensibilities, particularly in regards to its point-based army lists, and I know there are people out there who bring that "40K tournament" attitude to the game and their force construction, but Steve is not one of those people. My list is modeled on Spring '42, and so he restricted himself to that period as well even though it meant not having access to a whole passel of vehicles capable of dealing with my KV-2.

But that's part of why we play historical wargames, isn't it? Steve got to have that experience of being a German platoon leader up against a beast of war that none of his own armament was able to easily overcome. He even abstained from taking air support, as he's highly ambivalent about its use in the sort of scale of engagement BA models. A man after my own heart!

The game ended in a draw. We modeled a dawn assault over muddy ground, which severely limited fire and maneuver for the first half of the game. Essentially, we ended up with a hunkered-down firefight over much of the table, with the bloodiest action occurring over on my right flank - Steve tried to move up a squad of combat pioneers under cover of hills and woods to take out my KV-2 in close assault, but before they could close the gap across the road my tank's howitzer spoke and it had nothing nice to say: it took out the whole squad with a single shot!

Steve got a bit of revenge later in the game as I moved up my People's Militia squad to cover my KV-2's flank and they were annihilated by one of his Heer squads, operating in tandem with a halftrack.

I'm still enjoying Bolt Action (especially as I slowly master the rules - more on that topic below), but I'm also interested in trying out some systems that are a bit more "simulationist" in their approach: Chain of Command or Combat Patrol. BA's arcade-style mechanics can sometimes feel a bit jarring (particularly with scenario objectives and the like). Steve and I are going to play a game of Operation Squad soon, too, and I'm very much looking forward to that.

Warmachine: Cygnar vs. "Cygnar"

Another fresh force from the Challenge was my contingent of the Cygnar rebel Magnus and his two 'jacks, along with the mercenary contingent of Croe's Cutthroats. After a couple cancellations (one due to me, one due to him), I managed to get my regular WarmaHordes opponent Dave over for a 25-point (well, actually, 24-point) game.

Alright, so, as I mentioned above, part of the enjoyment in playing miniatures wargames is becoming comfortable with the rules. Unlike with RPGs, which encourage but do not (usually) demand system mastery in order to play (particularly if you are on the player-character side of things), with wargames you really need to have a good grip on every aspect of the game in order to really enjoy yourself. And because wargaming is fairly secondary to my primary tabletop hobby of RPG gaming, I usually find myself with weeks or months separating a given game, which means I'm usually pretty rusty on any given rules set when I do get a chance to play. In addition, what miniatures-related time I do have in between those sessions is usually prioritized to painting my figures or working on terrain instead of studying the rules, as is my bias.

From my first game I've been aware that WarmaHordes is a particularly demanding mistress in regards to system mastery. Probably more than any game I've ever played, to be honest. I can understand how dedicated players get so obsessive about nit-picking every little aspect of the rules, even if I don't necessarily agree with the attitude.

At any rate, my awareness of the system's demanding nature meant that I've always understood that eventually I'd start enjoying my games a lot more. Well, that time finally came last night, and it was due to one HUGE OVERSIGHT on my part finally getting corrected.

As we set up our forces, I made the casual observation to my opponent that he seemingly always managed to field more forces than me. He furrowed his brow, realizing I was right and that my force looked particularly anemic this night. Perhaps it's because this was the first time I was fielding a proper Warmachine force (as opposed to Hordes), and he's much more familiar with the former, but he asked me a couple questions and it soon emerged I was wholly ignorant of the bonus Warjack/Warbeast Points you get with your 'caster selection!

Essentially, this meant I'd been cheating myself out of at least 5 points (i.e. around 10-15% of the points total) every time we'd played. No wonder I kept losing!

Yes, I am an idiot.

To be fair, even now knowing what to look for, it took me a good five minutes to find the relevant section in the rulebook. As far as I can tell it's only mentioned once, and not in the section on 'casters but in the section on force building. That's what I get for reading the rulebook in bits and pieces and skimming over certain sections.

Now, the funny thing is that this discovery actually ended up re-firing my enthusiasm for the game. After all, my last couple defeats were very close-run affairs - imagine what I'll be able to do with a "proper" force!

So this realization (which fortunately happened before we started playing) left me 6 points short. I didn't have any other WM-friendly troops to field, so Dave suggested I field my Croak Raiders this time out. Six points was enough to buy me a small unit, and off we went.

Well, all I can say is that I immediately felt the difference. Without those Raiders, I would have undoubtedly suffered another drubbing. With them, I was able to get a bit tactical and force some of Dave's units away from his 'caster.

His effing Hunter 'jacks (how I hate them so) messed me up pretty good, but in the end I pulled out a victory with the stars of the game, Croe's Cutthroats. Holy shit, these guys are brutal. Stealthy and deadly as hellll. They scythed right through his unit of Sword Knights, which was, I think, rather unexpected for both of us! This was chiefly due to Magnus's "Calamity" spell buffing them the whole game, and their poisonous "Murder Weapons" being especially effective against living targets.

The game was won when Dave sent his 'caster, Captain Victoria Haley, forward to chain-lightning the Cutthroats only to look on in horror as I informed him that their Stealth ability prevented ranged or spell attacks beyond a 5" range, a range they were currently comfortably beyond. The next turn I bum-rushed poor Captain Haley and that was it.

Dave did get one last bit of revenge before that, though. His solo hero, Allison Jakes, was close enough to get in a shot and basically blew Croe's head clean off (Dave rolled boxcars for damage!), but the end was inevitable by that point.

As I indicated above, this has really got me fired up to play more WarmaHordes. I'm fairly itching to try out my Rasheth "Chain Gang" list - after the game, I did some calculating and realized that, after factoring in the Warbeast points and dropping a couple smaller units, I can field it with a full unit of Nihilators and a full unit of Croak Raiders!

(The Croak Raiders proved a nice distraction in last night's game - they ended up getting pretty much decimated by ranged fire and Dave's Stormblades - but I can see potential for much mayhem at their webby hands in the future.)

Also, I gotta think about what mercenary unit to order to fill out Magnus's now-anemic list...

Painting Challenge Wrap-Up

The 6th Annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge wrapped up this past Sunday.

I ended up finishing with a decent score of 620, which was nonetheless well short of what I'd hoped to hit (850). This was mostly owing the fact that I was also working on a massive writing project in the midst of the Challenge, a project that ended up taking up most of my December and January. And then it took me most of February to really gather my wits back about me. So by the time I was ready to start painting again in earnest, the Challenge was nearly complete.

Still, I did manage to knock off one big painting project (a platoon for Bolt Action) and make a start on my 40K Black Templars project (which will get a post of its own at some point, I imagine).

Another reason I didn't do as well as I'd hoped is, ironically, because I've managed to establish a regular painting schedule outside of the Challenge. Last year, the Challenge was key to me getting a ton of unpainted figures finished up for my display cabinets, as it forced me to establish a regular nightly painting routine. I managed to maintain that routine, and even (thanks to moving into a bigger house) set up a permanent painting corner that makes putting in time on my figures even easier. So I felt less pressure to get things knocked out - there wasn't the "now or never" feeling of last year.

Also, due to my insane work schedule, I wasn't able to get invested in the community of the Challenge - commenting on other peoples' work, offering encouragement and advice, etc. (Indeed, I still have yet to get caught up on my blog feed in general; I've got a backlog of several weeks to wade through!) Losing that connection to the Challenge further reinforced my lackadaisical participation.

I'll probably participate again next year, but with a much lower points target. Maybe just a single big project or something. We'll see.

At any rate, as I did with my last post, here's a round-up of what I submitted during the back half of the Challenge...

A Bit of Brazilians

Outside the Painting Challenge, my biggest project last year was putting together a platoon for games of Bolt Action. I went a bit off the beaten path with my choice of force, in that I modeled my platoon on the For├ža Expedicion├íria Brasileira (FEB), or Brazilian Expeditionary Force, which fought in Italy during the latter months of the war.

I wrote about my collection in greater detail here, but in brief the FEB was mostly U.S. kit but with Springfield rifles instead of Garands (and an according difference in tactical doctrine). Part of the draw for modeling this force was the fact that the army was racially integrated, so it presented an opportunity to paint up models that look at once familiar yet subtly different, but I'll be honest: what really sold me was their divisional insignia--a snake smoking a pipe!

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
I got to have a game with my boys from Brazil a couple months ago, and noted that my squads needed some beefing up, both in numbers and firepower. So here are six more recruits (including two BAR gunners) set to join the FEB's ranks in time for my next game.

One thing I didn't have in that game (nor in the pictures taken for the above-linked post) were sleeve insignia. The kind folks at Fighting Pirannha Graphics (and what an appropriate name that was!) took care of that for me, and I am now the proud owner of two sheets of FEB sleeve insignia decals...

So that's six 28mm infantry for 30 points. A small ding in my total, but a good way to get back in the swing after losing January to work obligations. Next week, hopefully, a modest points bomb...

28mm "Defenders of Leningrad"

"Next week, hopefully, a modest points bomb..." 

So spake I three weeks ago. Well, that's what I get for making promises, I guess.

But here, at last, is the promised modest points bomb: a platoon of Soviet naval infantry along with a KV-2 tank and a gaggle of citizen militia. This is a 1,000-point Bolt Action force modeled on forces defending Leningrad in early 1942, somewhere towards the end of winter and beginning of spring.

I've long had an interest in the "Black Death" of the Great Patriotic War. Long ago, I had a platoon of them in 20mm scale. After getting into Bolt Action last year, and finding an opponent who enjoys early-war Eastern Front games as much as I do, I set about putting together a naval infantry force in 28mm.

First Squad
Manufacturers are Warlord and BTD. There's a nice mix of black pea coats, blue middy blouses, and army-issue telogreika.

Second Squad
Although I appreciate the authentic mix of uniforms, this is chiefly what slowed me down the most (especially with the extra militia squad in their civvies thrown in for good measure!). I'd anticipated that this project would paint up quickly--it was supposed to be just a bunch of black uniforms, after all. No such luck.

Third Squad
Speaking of the black uniforms, I'm pretty pleased with how those turned out. They look suitably dark without losing too much detail or going too gray with the highlighting.

Platoon Command: HQ, Politruk, FAO, ATR team

The Commissar's in town!

I owe this to the "Black Paint Set" from Andrea Color, a set I'll be returning to when I shift gears and start working on my Black Templars for 40K (which I'll hopefully be able to at least get a start on before the Challenge ends).

Maxim HMG team
Back to these fellows, though: When researching this force, I read somewhere that there were KV-2s at Leningrad. One of my all-time favorite tanks, I leapt at the opportunity to do one in 1/56 scale.

This KV-2 from Warlord bears the weathering of a tough winter: its whitewash camouflage largely dissolved by now, rust streaks in great abundance, tracks and running gear covered in frozen mud.

Bolt Action provides Red Army lists with a free squad of Green-quality troops, so I decided to build on my "city defense" theme by representing my free squad with "partisan" figures, here standing in for Leningrad's ad-hoc People's Militia Army.

These figures from BTD have tons of character, and I found myself making up little back-stories for many of them. I painted up their commanding officer as a dismounted Cossack cavalryman, put in charge after his horse ended up in the communal stew pot.

Black Templar Terminators and Land Raider

As the finish line looms closer, I finally at least manage to put some points on the board towards my Black Templar project. I'd hoped to get through my entire Templar list this Challenge, but so it goes.

I've always had a soft spot for the 40K universe, but most of my gaming in that setting has been via Epic-scale engagements. For various reasons, I never got into 40K proper back in the 90s. I've nearly gotten into it a few times over the last 10 years, but I lacked a project that really fired my imagination.

That changed when I discovered the Black Templars. I love their look, I love their lore. In a gothic sci-fi universe, they are the most gothic of all. I used to field an Empire army for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and I think the Black Templars come closest to capturing that same visual aesthetic. I was additionally pleased to find out that Forge World offer a variety of resin and brass-etched "add-ons" to properly pimp out one's Templars in grand gothic fashion.

What we have here is one of the centerpiece units of my Templar force: five Terminators and their Land Raider Crusader transport.

The Terminators are kitted out with custom shoulder plates and shields from Forge World; for their helmets, I swapped in appropriately knight-like pieces from Puppets War (gotta love those third-party Eastern European conversion companies!).

As befits the Eternal Crusaders of Righteousness, these guys are positively festooned in purity seals. (I love purity seals.)

And then there's the behemoth that is the Land Raider Crusader. This thing took almost as long to build as it did to paint! Coming off of painting WWII tanks, which are usually no more than 3-5 pieces total, it was a bit daunting assembling this thing, with its dozens of parts.

Size-wise, it's truly massive - probably the largest vehicle miniature I've ever painted.

Once again, lots of nice additional details courtesy of Forge World.

I'm quite pleased with how the black turned out on both the Terminators and the Crusader. I used Andrea Color's "Black Paint Set" (as I did with my Soviet sailors in my last entry) and the kit worked great both with the brush and airbrush (although the rather viscous paints needed a lot of watering down for the latter).

I'm going to knuckle down and get one more entry in before the closing ceremonies, so I won't say cheerio just yet...

Curtgeld & Farewell

For this, my final entry, I present my Curtgeld. Coming into the Challenge, I honestly had no idea of what this was going to be, but when David Bowie ascended to the stars back in January I suddenly had a notion of who I wanted to represent a risk-taker and gambler.

As many eulogies following his death pointed out, Bowie was a consummate risk-taker, constantly shedding his pop identity in favor of new realms of exploration, dabbling in the latest frontiers of a variety of musical genres and forms of expression, never sure if his next move would spell the end of his popularity or career. Yet time and time again, he proved his doubters wrong. Even his failures and wrong-turns were interesting and edifying in their own way.

His public devil-may-care image inspired countless fans from all walks of life and identities to be themselves, to revel in their weirdness. His impact on the generations that grew up with the image of Ziggy or the Thin White Duke or, yes, Jareth the Goblin King is incalculable. And he went out like a true artiste with a brilliant final album musing on the nature of death and dying and immortality.

This figure, originally a Ral Partha and now available via Iron Wind and amusingly titled "Androgynous Rocker with Microphone", fit the bill nicely to provide a 28mm tribute to the man.

And his tush.

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