Wednesday, 29 February 2012

EBay - I love you again ! ! !

After literally years of searching, I've finally managed to get hold of a copy of Duncan Head's Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars.

For a number of years, this book was considered to be THE wargaming resource for Republican Rome and her ememies.  The Punic Wars was what drew me into wargaming originally, and although I have a fair number of books, both reference and history, on the subject, I've always wanted a copy, just to see what all the fuss was about.

You can get these fairly easily on the net, but the price is usually very high.  A few years ago, I set up a search on eBay to alert me when one was listed.  However, until now, I was outbid every time.  So imagine my surprise when an email popped into the inbox saying my low, low bid (a fiver) had won and it was time to pay up! Excellent!  And what a book it looks to be, filled with lots of information, armies and generals, battles, details of troops types, their armaments and, of course, lots of illustrations.

I'm also happy to have had a decent experience on eBay for a change.  I use eBay a fair bit, both for buying and selling, but have had a fair bit of hassle recently.  Buyers have been getting very shirty with postage charges (padded envelopes and boxes aren't free you know) and I think a couple sellers simply didn't post items to me because the price was very low (I'm looking at you Infinity guy.)  

Lastly, a belated hello to all followers on this blog, thanks for reading my ramblings.  The two latest followers are Ben (Flames of War Hungarians and others) and Tamsin (Ancients and a CRAZY amount of posts!)  Welcome.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Witchcraft! Well, actually only a wet palette.

As part of an effort to improve my painting skills, I decided to try an make a wet palette.  In case you're unfamiliar with the term, a wet palette keeps acrylic paint wet and usable for a far longer period of time.  The has obvious advantages for making layering and blending easier, as well as for mixing custom colours.

I've read plenty of blog posts saying how easy they were to make and what a huge effect they had on painting, but, I suppose, I never actually believed it.  Having been in a bit of a painting funk lately, I thought it would be a small enough task to make one and try it out.

So take one chinese takeaway box, put in the sponge from a miniature box and lay some normal baking paper from the kitchen over the top.  Add enough water to just soak the sponge and, well, that's pretty much it!!!

And the result . . .

Witchcraft!!! Burn, Burn BURN THE WITCH!!!!

I mean, wow, the paint just stays wet.  It doesn't dry out!!! You put a normal amount of paint down, get the consistency you want and it stays that way.  That has got to be fucking witchcraft.  I tried out some Vallejo Middlestone on some German Pioneers.  Middlestone takes two or three coats over black to get an even coverage and, until now, was a real pain.  This time I painted the first layer, waited five minutes, painted the second layer, waited another five minutes, washed some ink on, waited again, reapplyed the Middlestone, waited again, mixed a lighter shade and applied that - ALL USING THE ORIGINAL BLOB OF PAINT!!!

What do we also burn? MORE WITCHES!!!

A perfect example of the difference between knowledge and experience!  The next step I think I'll try is layering and blending on something larger.  Maybe something I've never been comfortable painting. . .

Comfort Reads - Like comfort food, but in book form!

During my recent spell lying on the couch, dying, I found myself unable to get through any of 
my current book, Europes Tradegy by Peter Wilson. Although it is an excellent book, it's simply to dry for when you're feeling rough.  An easier source of relaxation was reading some old favourites.

Lancaster and York: War of the Roses by Alison Weir

I first read this years ago while at university and is a history of the first half of War of the Roses (Richard II, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV etc.)  It sits nowadays between what most would term proper history and popular history i.e. Weir writes in an orderly, chronological style and avoids too complex a vocabulary like modern popular history, but she isn't afraid to dredge up written sources and correspondence and take enough time to make her points. Above all, she does an excellent job of describing the main historical figures without falling back on cliché or accpeted judgements (for instance, by rarely mentioning Shakespeare.)

The book isn't without flaws.  As it's an Alison Weir book, you know you'll be reading about women.  A lot.  However, some key figures are wildly unrepresented in the narrative. Take Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI's wife for instance, who gets a lot of praise for her resilience in fighting for her husbands and sons rights (Henry VI is nuts at this point,) but without her son, the heir to the throne, she would be politically nothing.  Yet of the young prince, the reader is told next to nothing.

However, this bias detracts little from the book as a whole; an outstanding and entertaining history.

Against A Dark Background by Iain M Banks

One of my favourite sci-fi reads.  Set in an Earth-like, Near Future solar system, AaDB follows a fairly standard sci-fi premise of a group of retired, elite soldiers being hunted by one, or more, nefarious organisations.  So far, so typical.  What sets AaDB apart is the wonderful character of Sharrow, the leader of the unit.  In middle age, she is preoccupied with thoughts of her legacy (or lack of one,) her sterility and the people she's lost.

AaDB is filled with everything you'd expect from a Banks novel; that dual storytelling style where the reader learns about the past and the present at the same time, the bizarre (the description of the Lazy Gun is pure Asimov) and there's that wonderful bleakness and emptiness as the novel draws to a close (existing Banks readers will know what I mean.)

It's not a great book, the pacing of the story is a little off and the ending can be seen from miles off (in fact, it's standing on a big hill, holding a huge sign saying "THIS IS THE ENDING!!!") but you're so wrapped up in the characters, you really won't care.

Legion by Dan Abnett & Fulgrim by Graham McNeill

Two books from Games Workshop's Black Library that epitomise all the positives and negatives writing for a proprietary IP bring.

Legion, for instance, is generally thought of as one of the poorer Horus Heresy books, but is something of an unpolished gem.  Legion is a fairly typical Abnett book in that it's strengths lie in his characterisation (all those internal monologues,) the choice of perspective he uses (in book about secretive space marines, almost all of the narrative is about humans) and the pace of the storytelling (drip feeding just enough information.)  However, Abnett can't do an action sequence to save his life (the approach of the Nurthene horde is just gibberish.)  Nor can he resist throwing in a "big reveal" into these books, whether they make sense or not.  

Furlgrim is almost the exact opposite of Legion, in that it has an excellent and well paced story.  The reader is taken from fire fights in alien cities to negotiations on pristine worlds, via chaotic space ship and mass land battles.  Unfortunately, McNeill can't do character development or dialogue to save his life.  The theme of the book is the fall to decadence and hedonism of a space marine legion, but it is handled in such a club fisted way as to be almost laughable!

Despite all of these criticisms, I still enjoy reading these and the other Horus Heresy books. For someone who grew up with the 40K universe, they contain a great blend of the familiar and the unexpected. Just don't expect fantastic writing all the time.

So that was my comfort reading, everything nice and familiar and not too taxing.  Do you have books you go back to again and again?  If so, please let me know!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Mass Effect 3

Bioware this week released a demo for the upcoming Mass Effect 3.  I was going to avoid it, preferring instead to wait for the full game.  However, to quote a famous wit, I can resist everything except temptation.

I officially give it a WWWWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO rating on the excite-o-meter!

The first Mass Effect is, by a large margin, the best video game I've ever played (and I'm old enough to remember Sensible Soccer.)  To date, it is the only video game to make me go a bit "wobbly" during the end sequence.  Not only is it great to play, the story is excellent, to the extent that the Mrs likes to watch the story parts with me.

Mass Effect 2 was a different playing experience, stripping back some RPG elements, but adding some great production (the soundtrack is immense to exercise to.)

First impressions of Mass Effect 3 are extremely positive.  A great looking (and sounding) game with a good variety of powers and weapons.  Really looking forward to the release date, 9th March, when I'll continue my proud tradition of having a Mass Effect, beer and takeaway fest!  I'll leave you with the Invasion of Earth trailer:

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

February Gaming

February has been a fairly unsettling month so far - Mrs had a wee holiday, I had a chest infection, job interviews, a birthday party and a funeral.  Honestly, it's been very up and down, leaving little time for my nerdly pursuits.  I've not picked up a paint brush all month and only managed two games so far this month, both early on.

First up I had another Dystopian Wars battle against Gaz at the club.  We're both going to a tournament at the end of March (Gaz is actually running it) so we've been working on some of the more complex rules and, of course, our lists!  For this occasion, I proxied a squadron of three Gunships with the cruiser models.

The two fleets looked were:

Empire of the Blazing Sun

Hachiman Dreadnought
Tenkei Sky Fortress
Tanuki Class Gunships x 3
Yurgi Class Destroyers x 3
Uwatsu Class Frigates x 5
Torpedo Bombers x 5
Torpedo Bombers x 5
Fighters x 3
Fighters x 3

Kingdom of Britannia

Magesty Class Dreadnought
Tribal Class Cruiser x 3
Orion Class Destroyers x 4
Doncaster Class Bombers x 2
Hawk Class Scout Rotors x 2
Dive Bombers x 5
Dive Bombers x 5

Both fleets were heavily weighted to my left (err, port) side, with only the cruisers, gunships and some tiny flyers on the other flank.  The Brit Dreadnought decided to halt and make use of it's long range firepower, while the rest of the fleets closed in on each other exchanging fire.

The following turn saw my frigates mauled by the British bombers and destroyers.  In return, I destroyed one scout rotor and one cruiser and damaged the remaining cruisers, bombers and rotors.  The tiny flyer squadrons repositioned on the battlefield, making use of their long movement range, although no squadrons engaged the enemy.  The Brit Dreadnought took a lot of rocket hits for no damage, but inflicted none in return.

It's a running joke that I make a priority of wiping out Gaz's destroyers (they mauled me the first time he used them and I was scarred by the experience.)  My Dreadnought, Sky Fortress and remaining frigates combined to wipe out the British destroyers, bombers and rotors.  More long range fire at the Brit Dreadnought, but for little effect.  My gunships destroyed another cruiser and effectively crippled the last.  Gaz powered his Dreadnought forward, putting a point of damage on my dread and finishing off my destroyers.  All the torpedo and dive bombers on the table had used their ordinance, so it was down to the three large ships to finish the fight.

Having managed to manoeuvre side on to both my Dreadnought and Sky Fortress, Gaz unleashed the full might of his Dreadnought.  Both my ships were damaged, the Sky Fortress' assault marines were heavily depleted and my Dread lost it's shield generator.  Again, my return fire was completely ineffective (although I managed to knock out one of the two generators with a game card.)  Our time was up and the Empire of the Blazing Sun had proven clear victors.  A victory only tainted by my inability to scratch the British Dreadnought.

I still have serious misgivings over the new Kingdom of Britannia rules Spartan Games have released.  And I have severe misgivings over that Dreadnought!  Although it's only devastating up close, two shield generators AND a load of defensive fire mean it can take an heap of punishment .  My rockets and heavy guns simply struggle to get through that!

However, I'm feeling much more comfortable with my Empire of the Blazing Sun (apart from the paint job, which is starting to look like the rush job it was.)  Three gunships will definitely be going on the tournament list, while the three cruiser won't even be going in the box!  I like the Sky Fortress well enough, but mainly for the two extra flyer squadrons and the rockets, but it's still too puny at mid range for the hefty points price.  I think I'll try the same list with either the Tsukuyomi Gyro or, possibly, three Inari Scout Gyros.

A few days later, we had a run through of the Horus Heresy board game from Fantasy Flight Games.  We randomly chose our sides (I was the Imperials whilst Gaz was the traitors) and worked very slowely through the first few turns, getting comfortable with the rules.

The game is set during the final action of the Horus Heresy, the seige and assualt on the Imperial Palace.  As many of you may know, the history of 40K has the Imperial defenders barely holding off the overwhelming Traitor forces, when the Emperor is somehow able to teleport onto an orbiting space ship and kill Horus, albeit at the cost of his own life.

The board game lets you recreate this play for play with the Emperor, Horus, eight primarchs, space marines, daemons, titans (and more) all present in the game, with areas on the board representing the Imperial Palace itself, space ports, factories and Horus' orbiting battleship.  However, there are a few other ways to secure victory without following the traditional path.  Obviously, killing Horus or the Emperor (wherever they may be) is fairly straightforward way, but you can also win by holding all four space ports (denying or allowing reinforcements) or by the Imperials holding out until the end of the game (at what point Imperial reinforcements arrive in overwhelming force!)

There are some great mechanics in the game.  The initiative tracker gives you lots of strategic options, as does the card driven combat, while the Tactical Map is a small game in itself!  Like many Fantasy Flight games, there are lots of random and fluffy events (orbital bombardment?  Yes please!) and the scenarios booklet lets you play the board game in lots of different ways.

All in all, great fun and a great evening game, even though I lost through leaving two of the spaceports undefended (in my defense, if I was more familiar with the Unit Limit and Initiative rules, my assault on the space ship would have been much more effective though!)

No games this week, but I've a couple days to myself now and plan to get some painting done and, with any luck, something finished!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

15mm Reinforcements and Review - Museum Miniatures

My Museum Miniatures order turned up the other day, so I thought I'd put up some pics and thoughts on what I'd bought.

First up are some Landsknecht Arquebusiers, three poses in total, two firing and and one loading.  All the MM sculpts seem to the the "new" style 15mm i.e. about 17-18mm to the eyes and up to 20mm at the top of the hat.  Proportionally, I'd say the sculpts are a bit off, the leg are a little scrawny and the heads, especially the hats and beards, are just a bit too big.  These are supplied in packs of eights, all of the same sculpt.

Here are the three sculpts next to a Venexia Landsknecht.  Compatable in terms of height, but the proportions are just a bit too different to include both ranges in the same unit.  On the same table, however, there won't be any problem.  I'm planning using these MM Landsknechts as an individual Medium Infantry unit (three to a base in Field of Glory: Renaissance,) while the Venexia will be based as Light Infantry (two to a base.)

Next we have the two types of cannon I've ordered.  As there isn't a picture of the large cannon on the MM site (seriously, no pic?) I only bought one of these - and I'm glad I did.  My knowledge of this period of history isn't encyclopedic, but I had expected a different design of cannon (and the picture of the light gun is quite misleading.)

Still, all three should look fine on the tabletop, same comments as before apply to the crew models.  I'll need to order at least one more large cannon for an Italian/German army list, as they usually come in units of two, three or four models.

Lastly, here's a bit of an indulgent purchase, three packs of eight Ashigaru.  One is armed with the Naginata, another the Yari and the last with Katana.  Towards the end of 2011 I toyed with the idea of collecting a Sengoku Period Samurai army, but, for a few reasons, decided to opt for the Great Italian Wars instead.  That doesn't mean, however, that I've lost all interest in the period and at 23p each, I can afford not to feel too guilty about these guys.

These are sculpted in a completely different style to the Landsknechts, with the head, torso and legs all in much more realistic proportion to one another.  Detail on the face is a bit on the light side, but is mostly obscured by the Jingasa/Dou style hats.

One thing I was particularly impressed by was the weight and rigidity of the metal used on the Ashigaru.  Out of eight figures in the Yari pack, seven didn't need any work straightening out the weapon shaft. Unlike many manufacturers, these guys shouldn't suffer from wobbly spear syndrome.

Overall, some great purchases (especially with the 25% sale that seems to be still running) and two ranges I'd heartilly recommend.  Just remember, as you're paying a lot less per figure than some manufacturers (Xyston, Venexia etc) don't expect that quality.