Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Fuel Depot, Part 1

Picked up the Chemical Plant from Pegasus Hobbies some time ago. It's a weird kit, when you think about it: chock full of pipes and tanks and valves obviously designed to be connected but which simultaneously do not necessarily combine into anything coherent. Is it some kind of experimental psychology? My assembly process was akin to automatic drawing and I guess I ended up with components for a sort of fuel depot. Maybe?

To denizens of the "Far" Post-Apoc, the ruins of the Long Ago are like rapidly evaporating memories of a dream. The shapes are oddly familiar, like a string of words spelled at random. Who knows what the Ancients intended these strange monuments to accomplish?

Survivors of the "Near" Post-Apoc are confronted with a world built of crumbling assumptions. They thought they understood how things worked until it all fell apart. The infrastructure of their fallen society now stands aloof and suddenly mysterious.

what do you suppose it does, Vern?

That industrial doohickey was actually the last thing I built but was a nice size to test out colors. I sprayed a few Badger Ghost Tints, starting with Plasma Blue, to get a burnt/greasy complexion. Not sure yet how to handle the dry-brushing. Those two (unfinished) hombres are Bootleggers from Great Escape's line of gangs meant for use with The Chicago Way.

Arc de Lapidated

I call this one the Sisyphus Device because - as near as I can tell - it accomplishes nothing qua machinery. It's hard to tell in this picture but I dirtied up the pieces with Vallejo European Dust. I wonder if the big tank should be in a different color? I'm thinking of going over it with a streaky white coat before any further weathering.

modern art is really the worst

The main piece (or, more precisely, collection of pieces) has yet to be primed. The plan right now is construction tractor yellow and maybe the big tank will be green. Looking at it now, it seems like the fossilized skeleton of some bizarre six-legged beast reconstructed - perhaps incorrectly - for display to the public.

All three contraptions will be based to match my trailer park. Whatever they are, they have drawn the people to them. For some, they represent a link to the Long Ago. Others have come to puzzle out their original use. Still others will come - to claim them as spoils!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Post Apoc Trailer Park, Part 1

How many post-apocalyptic tabletop landscapes are defined by the ubiquitous Plasticville O scale trailer set? At least one more ...

Mine are based on shaped insulation foam glued to 1/8-inch hardboard. I started with 1/2-inch foam because it was the thinnest I could find and still spent considerable time trimming it down. I didn't want the trailers sitting up on hills so much as hoping the final product might stand out more with a little extra elevation.

a cultist from North Star takes aim from the safety of a cluttered workbench

The Plasticville trailers come with embarrassingly chintzy wheels and a retractable step under the door. I wanted a more settled-in look and so trimmed off the undercarriage bits along with the tongue jack and discarded the wheels and step. My trailers are supported by 1/2-inch foam and skirted with strips of corrugated Plastruct sheets. The trailer kit itself goes together in no time and mounting it up like this adds very little complication while providing a realistic effect.

don't want any mutant raccoons getting under there

One of the most fun - and also most expensive - aspects of this project is hunting down all the gubbins to junk up the scenery. I found mine from a variety of sources: from the usual suspects like Armorcast and TTCombat to model railroad vendors like Rusty Rail and Rusty Stump. I wanted these pieces to pull double duty and work for both "near" as well as "far" post-apoc gaming, everything from Project Z to Terminator to This Is Not A Test and Wreck-Age.

I scratch built the porches because I couldn't find any premade examples that appeared to be constructed by some daffy redneck. Fortunately, I had exactly the right skills to make them myself (i.e., none whatsoever).

I love it when a plan comes together

For the eagle-eyed readers: that sniper rifle next to the roof-surfing mattress comes from the Bolt Action US Infantry weapons sprue, which I reckon makes it a .30-06 ... BOOM HEADSHOT! I like terrain that inspires scenario rules ...

One of my favorite stages of a terrain project is priming. This is when all the disparate elements either pull together ... or don't. How do you think it turned out this time?

it's always tempting to leave 'em like that for some reason

And then on to the real work: my miniatures want to suffer and scrounge through the post apocalypse in Living Color! The Plasticville trailers aren't exactly covered in detail so weathering really helps them pop. Someone once said, making terrain for miniatures war gaming is mostly a process of hiding your mistakes. Fortunately, you don't even have to worry about that when it comes to this genre.

what ails ye, wastelander?

Our first trailer is the (No Such Thing As) Free Clinic. The trailer is conveniently labeled for the ease of unlettered drifters and raiders. Seems like the Doc produces extensive amounts of byproduct - including a surfeit of off cuts, one would guess, given the orange biohazard bags piling up on top of the operatory. To be honest, I'm considering repainting those bags. I'd love to hear some feedback on them especially.

that teddy bear has seen some things, man

Doc's pride and joy is that gleaming white fridge out back. Organ and blood donations always welcome! All his medical files are carefully stored nearby. I don't know if that's a HIPAA-compliant solution but no one has complained yet. Well except the one ingrate who scrawled "BUTCHER!" on the side of the Clinic. Like they say, you can't please all of the patients all of the time. Caveat leper.

Stay tuned for more!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Strange Aeons Overview

It does not take that long to play, like an average game takes what ... ? 
Uncle Mike 
I'd say fifteen to forty five minutes. And that was totally intentional because a lot of my friends have really, really short attention spans and a lot of games just take way too long to play. 
see full interview 
How 'much' attention span can a designer assume that players have? This isn't really a matter of how long a game takes but rather of how much play we get out of time spent on a game. In other words, a player with a short attention span probably has unconsciously high standards. So "Uncle Mike" Atkinson was forced to design a game that meets the high standards we don't know we have.

The result is a d6-based skirmish game with an extremely low model count called Strange Aeons (hereinafter SA). It is for miniatures gaming what Call of Cthulhu is for roleplaying games, and not just in terms of genre. That RPG upended the power fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons by focusing on characters breaking down rather than "leveling up." Similarly, SA disregards the usual 'plot' conceit of skirmish campaigns, that warbands exist to dominate one another, and instead charts the rise and likely fall of mere mortals who dare gaze into the abyss.

WARNING - may cause SAN loss

In a given game of SA, one player controls the protagonists - agents of the "Threshold" organization (think pre-WW2 Delta Green) - while the other controls the antagonists, or "Lurkers." Generally speaking, only Threshold characters develop over the course of a campaign. A new Lurker list is written up for each session, representing fresh horrors. SA envisions the players switching roles after the first game and playing a second, but this is not required. If someone only wants to play Lurkers, that is fine. But the default assumption is that the players will essentially be running two campaigns simultaneously.

This is possible because the mechanics are clear and efficient. Six stats define any given figure: Movement, Dexterity, Constitution, Attacks, Wounds, and Resolve. These interact economically to produce quick results. Just to pick the obvious example: Close combat is an opposed d6 roll, with each combatant adding the Close Combat Bonus of the weapon used. The difference is the number of hits the winner landed. The winner then rolls that many dice to wound, adds a weapon-based damage bonus to the highest result, and the difference between that and the target's Con stat equals how many wounds the target suffers. I won't go into further detail; suffice it to say that all the resolution mechanics are this direct.

The final game mechanic I'll note is activation. Each player may only activate ("nominate" in SA) a single figure per turn. Certain figures have the Command skill, which allows them to nominate allied figures within a certain range. A wealth of tactical possibilities arise from this simple limitation - and that is my definition of design elegance. SA is one of those games that makes others seem unfocused and wasteful. But the true beauty of SA is how the stark efficiency of the game mechanics contrasts with the truly luxurious campaign support.

Permanent Injury, Advances, Equipment Lists, Spells, Monsters, Scenarios - these elements are not merely present and it's not just that there are a ton of options and outcomes, but everything included is also of good or better quality. I could go on and on with "there are even ..." type statements. I'll limit myself to mentioning that there are six basic scenarios (not counting variants), nine advanced scenarios, and sixteen (!) quest scenarios that can be unlocked by collecting "map pieces" during the basic and advanced scenarios. Oh and there are 50+ pages of Lurkers, not including a further raft of options the Lurker player can use to make things even worse for the Threshold agents.

I simply cannot do justice to the content of the SA 2nd ed. rulebook in a few paragraphs. It is easily the gold standard for miniatures skirmish games in terms of campaign support. Considering the simplicity of the rules and the low entry requirements as far as models and terrain go, this could be almost anyone's first miniatures game. But at the same time, I think it will exceed the expectations of veteran campaigners. I should note that I intend to use SA as a toolbox to run several limited RPG-style campaigns for my friends:

- local police stumble across a strange cult in rural Virginia
- intrepid Mounties encounter the horrific truth behind First Nations legends
- marooned ne'er-do-wells confront South Seas cannibals - and far worse ...

I already collected about 40 or so miniatures to cover all three campaigns!

You can obtain your own copy here.

Empire of the Dead Overview

Pax Britannica! Ushered in by Wellington's triumph, the apogee of this gloriously British century was no doubt the latter reign of Queen Victoria. The power of Her Majesty's servants not only stretched to the far corners of the Earth but was practically irresistible everywhere. Empire was not then a dirty word, or at least not such a dirty word as we now assume. And even despite everything that could be (and regularly is) said against the Victorians, it is impossible not to take some inspiration from the romantic image of their lives and times.

For me, such inspiration can be boiled down to a few names: Dickens, Doyle, Kipling, Stoker, Verne, Wells, etc. Their work is unanimously haunted by darkness. Indeed, it is the prerequisite for the Victorian hero: "There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in contrast." The predominating tone therefore must be dark and superstitious. Certain interpretations of these men's work especially evoke their basis in the uncanny - and manage it with subtlety:


Empire of the Dead (hereinafter "EotD") definitely embraces the fundamental darkness of Victorian literature, although it is influenced toward the techno-fantastical by Alan Moore and the steampunk vogue. To borrow Tolkien's icy phrase, I cordially dislike steampunk. Colonel Moran's air rifle is quite far enough for me, thank you.* Alas, steampunk is a core conceit of the EotD setting: The mysterious element "Infernium" (I think we Americans call it Ghost Rock, no?) drives a new industrial revolution. And of course the mystical forces push back. The result is begoggled bobbies deploying Gatling guns against werewolves amidst fog and cobblestones.

A rather tired concept, honestly. It is nonetheless what one might call "Strange Aeons by Gaslight" - that is, a low model count skirmish game with a robust campaign system. As someone more interested in the unfolding story than the gameplay in se, this is fast becoming my preferred 'scope' of miniatures gaming. But I am a gamer, after all, so I do care about mechanics. Along those lines, EotD seems sturdy if unoriginal.

EotD is played in turns each comprising four phases: maintenance, initiative (roll off), action, and combat. Movement, ranged attacks, sorcery, etc., all occur during the action phase on an IGOUGO basis, unfortunately. Melees are fought in the combat phase in an order specified by the player with initiative. Given how few models make up each side's warband, the tried and true (and boring) IGOUGO structure is not a deal breaker. But, for the very same reason, I'd prefer a more complex structure- maybe one built around reaction mechanics?

A starting warband comprises around seven to ten figures. You have 150 shillings to staff and outfit your warband, where the most basic unequipped figure costs 10 shillings. More powerful figures cost 15-35 shillings before equipment. Each faction has an equipment table plus there is a generic table, which all factions can access, and an exotic table accessible to some types of characters. There is an excellent granularity and variety of mundane equipment (e.g., a crossbow has different stats from a hand crossbow) plus the VSF/steampunk gear not only has neat effects but some items can also hilariously malfunction.

Each figure is defined by nine stats, and they are exactly the ones you would expect: Move, Combat, Marksmanship, Strength, Fortitude, Attacks, Wounds, Bravado (i.e., morale), and Arcane. The "standard human" statline appears to be:

This will set you back 10 shillings.

The highest base combat stat in the game seems to be 7 (the top-tier Werewolf and Vampire heroes have Cbt 7 and Arc 7 respectively). To do most things, including hitting in combat, you need to roll over a target number (more specifically, melee combat is an opposed roll) on a d10, adding the relevant stat and any modifiers. Some people say the d10 is better for skirmish gaming than the d6 but is the ability to modify rolls by 10% rather than 17% that important? This is not a rhetorical question. I suppose it also allows for finer tuning on the statline, although the significance of that is also questionable.

In any case, whether an attack inflicted a wound is determined by reference to a chart (Strength versus Fortitude). Ho hum. As soon as the figure takes its last wound, the severity of the injury is determined by reference to another chart, rolling as many dice as the number of wounds the figure took. Only the most severe injury result counts.

The range of injury results is a good balance between simple and interesting. The figure might be unaffected or might be removed from play - but it could also become Discombobulated or, worse, go Down. Without going into detail, both conditions limit what the figure can do in subsequent rounds, although an already-downed figure that rolls another Down result is automatically removed from play. Downed figures have a chance to recover during the next maintenance phase and, if unsuccessful, subsequently. Figures automatically recover from discombobulation at the beginning of the next maintenance phase.

Figures removed from play or who end the game Down must roll on the Campaign Injury table. There is a 30% chance of no serious injury and a 5% chance of death. There are ten other possible results, including some that require a roll on a further chart. For example, the figure may end up psychologically Unhinged and, there is a 10% chance that the condition could eventually worsen to the point of meriting commitment to Bedlam. This is what I mean by a robust campaign system.

And there's much more to it than getting hurt, going insane, or - yes this can happen - being deported from Great Britain. You can also capture enemy characters and sometimes even convert them to your cause. You can visit doctors for healing, although some of them are just quacks that will make your ailments worse. You can sell loot to pawn brokers. Your characters can even get better, earning better stats and new skills - the grunts can even be promoted to heroes!

There is also a solid scenario creation system: a table of five missions and a table of five locations - plus some minor rules differences depending on whether the game takes place during the day or night. (Most EotD vampires don't care for the sun.) Finally, players can buy "Unusual Occurrences" to affect certain aspects of the scenario, including rolling in the notorious London fog and riling up an angry mob.

This is where EotD really shines. This kind of campaign support is far more important to me than whether the fundamental mechanics are novel or, God forbid, actually innovative. (Too many rulesets are falsely advertised and reviewed as "innovative.") As far as the setting, and therefore the miniatures, go ... I find steampunk repellent but EotD does not lean so hard on those tropes that I can't overlook it and even, to some extent, get into it. The idea of man-portable Gatling guns is acceptable in a setting where gentlemen sorcerers can summon a mob of Victorian zombies. The seemingly obligatory "Tesla Projector," however, is pushing it. Thankfully for me, EotD is more about Gothic horror than strapping superfluous goggles onto everybody.

With all that in mind, how excited am I about playing EotD? I think this speaks for itself:

This will set you back considerably more than 10 shillings.

* But what about the Nautilus? In his place and time, Nemo's technological achievements were the exception rather than the rule. Steampunk assumes the reverse, which is exactly my objection.