Monday, 15 June 2015

Repaints & Additions

Renumbered because I'm using a different conversion for Sgt Tachikoma's CASE-2X.  And yes I did repaint around all the other original decals.  Not recommended as a high fun activity.  Comparison with original paint.

I decided to repaint my first two CASE-2X suits, which can be seen here, because of negative feedback about the way the green looked.  I figured this was down to the dominant colour being lime green rather than olive green, which affected how the olive green I'd used looked.  Of course this is all highly theoretical given that you all are seeing the images on a monitor that will not necessarily reproduce the colours of the original.  Not only but also the size you can see these on your screen will also vary.  On mine they're humungous.

Still after playing around with them for a while I realized that I had to replicate the colours on the next batch, so I bit the bullet and bought a different shade of green that I liked the look of from the Army Painter range.

You can see the original paint here.

The big thing is that this camo scheme is not how the suits are described in the novel.  I describe something called ChameleonFlage, which does what it say on the tin.  This allows the suits to blend into the background, as long as they're not moving.  Moving will give their presence away.  I toyed with ways to fake this, but while I could probably do one model in something that looked pretty awesome as an interpretation of ChameleonFlage, I doubt I would have the will to replicate it across two squads of suits (ten plus models).  I say this because I've already experienced this feeling with a couple of VOTOMS that I painted, which can be seen here.

Another change to the scheme was making the whole of the lower abdomen armour orange; originally I'd split it in half, but I wanted to make replicating the scheme across the squad easier.
When shut down the CASE-2X Dogs are described as reverting to a grey/green colour, which would look pretty dull on a miniatures.  So this scheme is really all about making the models look good, while suggesting that they're in some sort of military camouflage scheme.  It works for me, and the new shade of green, called Greenskin looks tonally brighter to me, which helps make the models pop more.

Well another little packet on miniature stompy robot goodness arrived from Dream Pod 9, who are managing to rival GZG for fast service.  So more conversions to come.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Object 295: Pokhodnaya Boyevaya Platforma

PrefaceIf you're confused by the changes made to this blog post title it's as a result of email exchanges with native Russian speakers.  See the notes at the end.

I've been following the latest Russian tank developments, and the introduction of the new T14 Armata tank, which replaces the cancelled T95 prototype that's better known as Object 195.  I mention this as an indicator of how my imagination works.  I had need to write a new opening chapter to the second novel  I'm editing.  I hadn't planned on introducing the Russian to the world of Bad Dog until the fifth novel, but the needs of plot required something bad happened to one of the supporting characters.  And it had to be a threat that would cause the teams mission to go pear shaped, big time; as in people dying.

Or as we like to say here in Britain, "It's all gone Pete Tong."  Rhyming slang for wrong, named after a former disc jockey.

So I came up with Progulki Boyevaya Platforma – Ob”yekt 295, which is Russian for walking combat platform, or Object 295, which would be the manufacturers project name.  I thought about making the name a reference to the Heavy Gear name Ammon, which means people, but decided I didn't like the sound of that in Russian.  However, see notes below, about the name and blog title changes.

Not only did I change the main armament to a rotary cannon, because they look awesome, but I've also tricked the model out with some stowage, including fuel tanks at the back, which is a very Russian thing.  I'm really, really pleased with how this turned out.


I've gotten some feedback on my poor Russian translation that suggests this should be called Mobil'naya Boyevaya Platforma (Мобильная Боевая Платформа), which means Mobile Combat Platform.  I'm awaiting a secondary confirmation from another source and we shall see what they say.

Just in: Shagayushaya Boevaya Platforma (Шагающая Боевая Платформа), which literally means Walking Fighting Platform.  Google translate suggest that the English transliteration should be Shagayushchaya Boyevaya Platforma, so close enough.  Many thanks to XXL from the Red Alliance forum for his suggestion.

Further developments: Pohodnaya Boevaya Platforma (Походная Боевая Платформа), which translates as Hiking Fighting Platform, and the English transliteration should be Pokhodnaya Boyevaya Platforma. Many thanks to my other Russian speaker and Robert Avery for acting as liaison officer with her.

Monday, 1 June 2015

FATS-C: Kuijia

After taking this picture I realized I hadn't filled a couple of joints with Milliput.  Oops moment.

I know that one of my regular readers, who is also a Beta reader, has been waiting a while to see what I'd do for the Chinese forces armor suits or kuijia (assuming the translation I found is right?), which appear in the first novel.  Well here they are at last.  I've made up eight of the Dream Pod 9 Golems as a Direct Action Squad or bán, as it would be called in Chinese.  So what you see above is the platoon command squad.

I've used the Heavy Gear Alpha and Beta squad miniatures with a small amount of reposing and minor modifications to meet my needs.  I have another couple of packs to make up, and I plan to modify them slightly more – as in reposition the arms and legs.  However, it has to be said that these are one piece castings, and I may have to accept I won't get as much variety as I would like.

L to R: trooper, Shàowèi (Lieutenant), Missile, and support trooper.

I've assumed that each squad would form two teams of four, and I've given each team one missile support suit with a grenade launcher.  The lieutenant's fire team has a support trooper with what I imagine would be something equivalent to a M249 SAW, while the sergeant's team has a heavy weapons gunner, which I imagine would be their equivalent of a Browning M2.  This is not as far as I'm aware Chinese practice, but it seems sensible.  However, my research suggest that Chinese are not known for their tactical flexibility, and are historically are known for using larger formations.

The standard organization would be three bán to a platoon, which are called a pái.  Three pái make up a company, called a lián.

L to R: Trooper, missile, Zhongzhi (Sergeant), and heavy weapons gunner.

Of course as this is my universe, and given it's set sixty year in the future, then what I says go.  But I'm having second thoughts, and I may make the missile carrying suit the assistant squad leader and swap figures around when I make up the next lot of miniatures.  If anyone knows better about current Chinese military practice or aspirations then please let me know.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

PetMen: Human Operator Surrogates

A twelve PetMan squad made up of three four PetMan fire teams.  Nomenclature, don't you just love it.

These Dream Pod 9 GRELs have been hanging around my workbench being a drag on my productivity for sometime now.  Partially down to getting carried away with other shiny things, and partially because they had so much flash on them that they were a PITA to clean up.  I'll define my measure of PITA here as thirtty minutes per base with two figures.  Flash surrounded them all, and I don't mean Flash, saviour of the universe!

Still mustn't grumble really as this is a first world problem to do with toy soldiers that have more airmails on them than is decent all things considered.  And still far less flash than a 15mm HEMTT truck I bought that sits languishing out of sight, awaiting the day I'm prepared to straighten out all the castings and carve back the panel lines lost in the warpage, which sounds like something out of a Games Workshop Chaos Codex.

Just for reference these are 15mm tall, 5/8ths of an inch for those of you who don't do metric.

In my series their military designation is HOS, which stands for Human Operator Surrogate, and they're semi-autonomous robots with a hybrid expert system artificial intelligence operating system controlled by the operators of the Air Force CAS-C4P (Combat Armour System Dash C4 PetMan).  This allows the operator to effectively multi-task by distributing themselves across a network of up to twelve PetMen at a time, and act as a force multiplier; in my imagination Global Dynamics Corporation Defense Industries sales pitch would call them An Army of One.

The PetMen are only briefly mentioned in Bad Dog as part of the back ground setting of the novels universe.  They get more page time in the sequel Strike Dog, where you gets to see them in action for the first time.  But in won't be until final book Ghost Dog that you will get to see them deployed in anger against an enemy.

PetMen are a real thing. Click this link to see it in action.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Combat Armour Tweaks

Back here I posted a couple of pictures of the models I'd converted, with the caveat that I needed a missile pod to be able to finish it.  The part has arrived, and has been fitted.  Huzzah and loud cheering all round.

I still think the rotary cannon I made up turned out rather well.

I've also finished the Milliputing the aerials, and filing it all smooth on the big suit too, which is looking pretty awesome.

In addition I decided to add a missile pack to one other CASE-2X suits, because I thought it look unbalanced when compared to its other three squad mates.

I also commented here that I wasn't totally happy one of my weapon conversions so I went back and modified it.  It's basically the folding field gun with an ammo bin attached to the bottom of it.

So that's that.  Once I've finished the Utopian Alph/Beta squad modifications I can clear my work bench so I can do some painting.  And oh boy do I have a lot of painting to catch up, what with everything that I've been working on recently.  There are even spaceships...

So I hope I'm leaving you all waiting in anticipation for what's to come?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Alien Frontiers


Alien Frontiers is a boardgame of resource management published by Game Salute in which players aim to colonise a newly discovered distant planet.  To this end it's a worker-placement game where you have a limited number of workers (or ships, in this game) to choose which actions you take every turn; collecting resources, building ships or colonies with said resources, scavenging powerful alien technologies, etc.   Of course it goes without saying that making the right decisions what to do each turn with your limited fleet is key to winning.  However, there's a twist.   Unlike most worker-placement games (of which Agricola and Stone Age would be prime examples) in Alien Frontiers your workers/ships are dice. At the beginning of every turn you roll your dice, each representing a ship; you begin the game with three dice/ships but can increase the size of your fleet to (usually) six ships.   Once rolled, the numbers they give determine how and where they can be used; high numbers are not necessarily better (unlike Kingsburg for example) and at any given point you may be aiming to get low, or high, or pairs, or a sequence, to take advantage of different orbital facilities.

Of course, the massive task of colonizing another planet isn't enough of a challenge.   Instead of co-operating with fellow travelers and colonists, you're going to compete against your rivals for turf and technology.   In game terms, once any player has their last colony on the surface of the planet the game ends, at which point the player with the most victory points wins.

The game sequence is very straightforward; a player rolls their dice to determine the value of their ships and then chooses which orbital facilities i.e. an action space to use, and carries out the actions as appropriate.  Once they've placed all their ships and taken the actions, play moves on to the next person.  The game is designed for two to four players, although one of the expansions provides pieces to allow a fifth player.  Turns rarely take long to carry out with the exception of a player facing an agonizing decision about what actions they need most when they can't do everything at once.

You can never do everything you want to in a single turn; just get used to it!

Around the planet are a number of orbital facilities, each of which allows you to perform a different action; the Maintenance Bay lets you build a new ship (i.e. get another die), the Colony Constructor (as the name suggests) is where you build your colonies before deploying to the planetary surface.  Each facility has a different requirement for the dice being placed there, and a limited number of spaces, so blocking/stealing an action is an entirely viable option.  If other players have been building ships, for example, and the shipyard is full of their workers/dice/ships... well, tough.  Or is it?  The Plasma Cannon tech card lets you spend a resource (energy) to shoot their ships out of wherever they're docked, freeing it up for you.  Failing that, there are techs that let you re-roll some or all of your dice, or even allow you to choose that dice you want modified in specific ways - these abilities usually cost resources to use, but give a great deal more flexibility than simply chucking the dice and hoping for the best.

Collecting Alien Tech is relatively easy, but of course while you're sending ships to loot the Alien Artifact for tech those same ships aren't gathering resources or building colonies.  Everything is a trade off.  Each tech card has two abilities - a once per turn ability, and a discard the card to use the big effect ability.  What can they do for you?   Well...  loads.  Basic stuff like permitting re-rolls, or adding to/subtracting from your dice once rolled, protecting you from raiders intent on stealing your resources or tech, the aforementioned Plasma Cannon that can be used to free up occupied docking ports and so on.  There's no limit to the number of tech cards a player may have (although duplicates are not permitted); each may be used once per turn (in normal circumstances) and only one can be discarded each turn for the big hitter event.

Placing colonies in a region grants the controlling player a unique benefit associated with that region (as well as gaining you victory points).  Why?  Well, that's never actually established, but as a game mechanic it works just fine.  For example, having the most colonies in the Asimov Crater sector can let you build your colonies faster than normal.  Ah yes, besides the distinguished Dr. Asimov's crater the name of every territory is a homage to a classic science fiction author.   A lovely touch which brings about a smile every play.

The game is a good balance of skill versus luck.  The random element of the dice roll often means you have to be flexible and modify your actions to best take advantage of your dice/ships.   But the territory bonuses and the Alien Tech cards mitigate this factor, so you can still aim for a specific long-term plan as you accumulate these.   I'm not a fan of too much luck in a game usually, but Alien Frontiers has pretty much struck the right balance of luck, skill and playing time (90 minutes according to the publisher).  For a two player game of Alien Frontiers, my partner and I would usually take about an hour playing at a leisurely pace, including setup.  It plays well with any number of players although as a five-player game it does feel a bit too long, with too much downtime between turns.  Parts of the board are covered up in games with less than four players, reducing the number of dice that can dock in the various facilities, thus scaling the board to suit the player count.

The quality of the board and components is extremely high.  The artwork is very Space Opera and evocative of the Sci-Fi that I used to read constantly as a kid.  The cards and board are high quality (there's a minor misprint on the board on the current printing, but it doesn't affect play, and probably no one would have noticed anyway). The rulebook is comprehensive and well laid out.  The first edition of the game was a Kickstarter project that was highly successful, and it has since gone on to several subsequent printings, and the current one is the 4th edition.  The initial cardboard components were upgraded by keen fans of the game, and these upgrades are now standard in the new edition: deck boxes to keep the cards, dice, colonies, resources, etc. tidy are supplied with the game, and the colonies themselves are very appealing tiny little cities under clear domes.

It's a game with a positive plethora of expansions.   I'm not a completest and will only buy expansions when I'm fairly sure they'll add to the game.  Do you need any of the expansions for Alien Frontiers to be a good game?  No; it plays very well out of the box.

But a few words on expansions anyway.

Alien Frontiers: Factions is, to my mind, the significant expansion.  It adds the components for a fifth player, which may be useful depending on your game group size: agendas, factions and some new alien tech.

Agendas are personal secret goals that every player has (starting with two random ones, but the the opportunity to add or swap them during the game); achieving one of the goals on the card gives the player one victory point. Each of the Agendas has two options: a score the VP as soon as you achieve it goal, and get a bonus VP at the end of the game if you've fulfilled the specific condition goal. Thus if a player has a face-down Agenda card come game end, you can't be sure if they've completed their hidden conditions, and will have bonus points coming to them.

The Factions part of the expansion gives each player their own unique abilities depending which factions they represent (for example, Dark Space Explorers gives new ways to acquire Alien Tech cards, the Smugglers' Alliance allows you to loot more often and return with more).

Of the two abilities each faction has, one is solely for the benefit of the owner.  Each faction has a small game board with an orbital facility on it, and this expands the main game board.  Ships can dock at your facility and pay you for the privilege of using the public part of the ability.  Of course you can dock at your own facility without the need to pay.  The box includes eight factions, all of which have interesting abilities; some are better suited to games with more players, and we tend to adopt a gentleman's rule (well a lady and gentleman's rule to be precise) of omitting one of them in two player games.

There are, at the time of writing, four Faction Packs, with each adding a single Faction.  There are also seven Expansion Packs, which add new Agenda and Alien Tech cards; the Outer Belt expansion adds (as you might well guess) an asteroid belt to the game board, incorporating its own mechanics and extra rules.   Of the existing expansion sets, I'd certainly recommend getting the one called Factions.

Alien Frontiers is a fun, relatively light game that hits the table fairly often at home and at conventions, and has proved popular with most of our gaming group.  The theme is fun, it's visually very appealing, and once learned, relatively quick to play.

Link to Alex's Veeps & Meeps blog on Boardgamegeek.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Après-Salute 2015: HMS Defender


While everyone else went home after Salute, some hardy souls went to see D36 HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer that was moored at Greenwich, and open to the public.  On the trip on the Dockland Light railway we passed another warship docked at Heron Quay, which after a bit of Googling was probably a visiting German ship.  Anyway, we arrived at Greenwich and after a bit of a panic trying to find exactly where to go to get in we made it in plenty of time.  What can I say?  We're wimpy old civilians.

As you can tell from the shots she was moored a little way off from the embankment, and we were ferried across to her in one of London's river taxis.

The ship has panels that can be dropped flat, and here's the Phalanx CIWS, looking deadly and shiny in the late afternoon sun.  The interior of the ship was what I'd call a pale Dove grey, I was expecting cream (my research has been into US Navy warships whose interiors are described as such), and as I said to one of the crew; RN ships are painted fifty shades of grey.  It made him laugh.

A close-up of the rear for anyone trying to make a model of this.

And a close-up of the business end of the 20 mm rotary cannon.  See the shells.

Given I've written a novel set aboard a ship I was interested in the interior fixtures and fittings, so took these two reference shots for research.  What I will comment on is the bare necessities of creature comforts.  The crew have to work around walls festooned with equipments, and I can only imagine that in rough seas one would have to take due care an caution to move through the ship without injury.

A shot of the hanger bay ceiling.  Isn't that just inspirational for anyone who want to make a model?

Well that's it.  I had a lovely trip around HMS Defender, her crew were not only polite, which was to be expected, but warm and welcoming.  I have to admit the crew all looked incredibly young to me, and were very nice young men and women to talk to.  I can only wish them well, and if I were in charge we would've have built the twelve ships that were planned.

Edit: The other ship we saw on our way in on the Docklands Light Railway was the Méndez Núñez.

Salute 2015: Excel Centre

Wings of War with airships, very nice looking game by Aerodrome UK Wing.

Another year, another Salute.  How time flies by.  What doesn't change are the aspirational nature of the games on show.  Everything is bigger, brighter etc than anything you'll see on a club night or would normally be able to put on at home.  Unless your name is John Treadaway of course, and then this is all routine.  For the less blessed wargaming souls of this world, like myself, I have to play within my means.  So it's always good to see the games at Salute.

I, unlike many others, arrived late; at my own leisure so to speak.  I'm old enough, and can remember that my feet hurt from walking around Salute, and standing around in queues only makes this worse.  So I left home at 10.15 and arrived at 11.45, and was so able to walk straight in.  I hear that the queues were a lot less this year, primarily down to having a hall to stand in that had been allocated by Excel who have learnt that a horde of unwashed hairy wargamers lowers the tone of the place (not exactly what John Treadaway said to me, but that seemed to be the gist of it.)  What with the Sherlocked convention going on at Excel alongside the Marathon registration and other stuff, the place was heaving.

Mechworld Development's Group awesome looking Blood & Steel game.

I'd heard that some German wargamers were coming over with a Battlestar Galactica game called Blood & Steel, and that they were giving away a six page free set of rules based on Full Thrust at the show.  The game was, as you can see, rather stunning.

Yep that's a destroyed Battlestar in the centre of the table.

More Cylon Basestars than you could shake a big stick at.  A slick looking game, and the crew were very easy to talk to, which given the crowds around their table was nice.

Fl/Lt. Robert N.G. Barlow DFC Lancaster on the Dambusters 617 Squadron raid; all the crew of the real AJ-E died in a crash.

The Peterborough Wargames Club were running their Dambusters Challenge with a 1/72nd scale Lancaster on a fiendish looking remote controlled arm.  The game was simple, but effective and was heaving with people, and lots of people wanting to have a go.

Coming up to the dam with flak all around the Lancaster.  If the player was successful a part of the dam could be removed and replaced to show the damage, and flooding.  Slickly run game that looked like a well oiled machine.

Built to the same scale as Dropzone Commander 10 mm approximately 1/160th scale Avenger class starship.

Hawk Wargames had this rather impressive model, which is now complete.  I saw it last year in its unfinished state, which was pretty epic then.  Totally awesome sauce display, with a big static table showing off their range of miniatures.  The big news is that there is going to be a space game to go with Dropzone Commander, provisional title Dropfleet Commander, which is due out later this year.  The unique selling point being that it will simulate orbital battles around a planet, rather than being a deep space game.

To save you the bother of counting, this ship carries one hundred dropships.

A labour of love, every hanger had a fully painted dropship loaded up with an AFV.

A close up of said dropships from the game in their hanger bays waiting to be dropped.  Oooheey.  The attention to detail borders on obsessive, other than I know that if you want something to look this good then paying attention to the small details is the only way to achieve a good looking end result. So kudos to the crew who made this; BTW the construction uses custom cast parts, which is why everything looks so good.

Illuminated engines.  Not seen from here a colour internal layout diagram of the ship.

Hawk Games are clearly looking at the Star Wars Imperial star destroyers for their inspiration.  For those who are wondering there were miniatures of the ships in a much smaller scale for their future space combat game.  The game sounds interesting in that it deal with planetary invasions with about a dozen ships per side if I've understood things correctly.  The model of the UCMS Avenger represents a frigate, one of the smaller ships in the game.

Big Rich caught capturing the hearts and minds of a new generation.

TooFat Lardies were presenting their Fighting Season game this year, which is based on the Chain of Command rules modified to play modern asymmetrical wargames, and I imagine they will also be adaptable to retro-converting Charlie Don't Surf too, with the caveat that Fighting Season is Section level game, whereas Charlie Don't Surf is a Company level action.

This photo doesn't do justice to the terrain of this game, which was lovely.

Spartan Games were demoing their new Halo space game with big spaceships with the largest running at 10 inches or 250 mm for those who prefer metric.

Spartan Games were all about their new Halo line, and telling us about the new 15 mm ground combat game that will be accompanying the fleet action sets.  For Halo fans this is a big, big thing, even if Halo is no longer at the height of its popularity I can't image the fans not wanting to get this for all the lovely toys.

The fact that there is a space and ground combat game is again I think interesting, and of course this means that Spartan Games will in someways be going up against Hawk Games new Dropfleet Commander will bring some diversity and new blood into spaceship gaming.

Hercules doing a quick touch and go drop.

Wargames' Illustrated game Cold War Gone Hot caught my eye for the the sheer scale of over the top action, which included what I assume was a Hercules doing a drop and go deployment of an artillery team while the Russians stormed across a damaged bridge.  What I'd call the Warhammer 40K version of the Cold War.

It all looked rather impressive, even if lacking in verisimilitude i.e: broke my sense of disbelief.  Still very pretty and gorgeous to look at.

Star Wars ATATs begin their assault.

The next game I caught up with was the rather more convincing reenactment of the Battle of Hoth from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.  I think the Beasts of War may have run this, but I can't confirm the details, because the game is not listed in the brochure.

I also missed seeing the Millennium Falcon, because of the crowd of people around this impressive table.  It just didn't feel it was right to barge in, and disrupt the people playing the game who were clearly having a lot of fun.


Arcworlde had this rather stunning fantasy pirate game complete with zombie whale for bonus points.  I don't know much about them other than they ran a KickStarter (it seems everyone does nowadays), and can add nothing more than wow it looked stunning.

This photo doesn't do any justice for how many of these large there ships were, and how big the table was.

However stunning Arcworlde were, the bonkers over the top Essex Gamesters display with 1/56th scale ships using 28mm figures Fort George American War of Independence game blew them out of the water.  Not a lot moving when I saw it, maybe more of a static display, but crazily impressive modelling.  I should have tried to get some more pictures, but there were a row of frigates all in a line down one side of the table.  Needless to say it won the best game of the show award.

Tiger Shark one of two sister submarines that were accompanying Stingray.

As always the South London Warlords were putting on impressive game to their own.  Stingray, where anything can happen in the next half hour.  Cue drums for battle-stations.  Given that Gerry Anderson's shows were a significant marker of my childhood, the stories depicting the World Aquanaut Security Patrol facing underwater terror were something exciting I looked forward to watching each week.

Terror fish trying to outmanoeuvre Tiger Shark.

I took great glee in seeing this game, and the memories of Troy Tempest, Phones, Marina and Atlanta, and my favourite creepy villain Surface Agent X20 all came back to me.  I believe that the rules for this game will be available, though if you're like me than perhaps playing it in 1/300th scale will be a bit more manageable.

Awesome paint job on Great Titan's Terrrorfish.

As you can imagine this table was surrounded by people watching the game being played, and just in case it wasn't obvious, the show had a real buzz this year.  People were out enjoying themselves and having a good time.

The final game I took a picture of, which I'm featuring last, because it leads into my follow-up blog post, is this rather magnificent model of a Soviet Union Krivak class frigate.  This game was put on by a group calling themselves MDK, and the game was titled Operation Broadsword – The Cold War Went Wet.  A contingent of Royal Marine Commandos and SBS mounting a raid on the ship, all done in 28 mm.

Apposite because after going around the show I went off with friends to see HMS Defender, which you can read about in Après-Salute.

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