Monday 30 September 2013

SSD hits W5!

Sometimes you have moments when you realise how many acronyms we have to deal with in life and wonder how we do it... Regardless, we have to carry on I suppose.

This weekend I was invited by the great lads at Wee Gamers to take Song of Shadows and Dust on the road in order to run demonstration games at a trial gaming weekend at W5 (otherwise known as Whowhatwherewhenwhy).

The weekend was organised at fairly short notice (at least I only found out about it the week before...) with the mandate of showcasing the vast array of board games on the market, from the very popular to the very quirky. "The enthusiasts from Wee Gamers will be demonstrating a range of games and invite you to come along and try them out for yourself. Over the weekend the members of Wee Gamers will be demonstrating a range of Board Games ... There will also be some miniature games on offer including ...
Star Wars X Wing - the rebellion rages on as the Empire try to take down the Rouge Squadron.
Star Trek Attack Wing - The Enterprise battles with Romulons and Klingons.
7 TV Dr Who? - a time traveller and his trusty side kick run into some trouble with angry pepper pots
Wrathbone - The Hairy Painter demonstrates his own fantasy game which is under development
Songs of Shadows and Dust - Game Developer Nick shows of this Quirky work in Progress from Ganesha GamesLord of The Rings Helms Deep - hobbiests and builder Jim shows off his popular Helms deep set up and LOtR game (Sunday Only)
Backspindle Games, local developers show off several of their games both current and works in progress, popular fun games that engage all ages."

My work is quirky apparently. Indeed, one young lad who had a crack today rated it at four whole stars! He never answered me when I queried whether the rating was out of five or ten. In my defense, he did follow up by saying it was the most entertaining game he'd ever played and he wasn't a complete newbie.

The weekend went really well and I believe the format will be followed and expanded upon next year. I got to see a whole bunch of games that I'd heard of but never seen before as well as getting to see (for the second time now) Jim's magnificent Helms Deep model. He had the whole Deeping wall to go with it but it seems to have disappeared a some stage during the collapse of a previous gaming group.
X-Wings and Tie Fighters duel over the Deathstar

Kyle explains the ins and outs of Dreadball Ultimate - damn but they have some nice models!
And of course SSD took a hammering from legions of young and future wargamers (and their parents). A HUGE thank you to Kyle for the provision of superglue there on the Saturday. I ran a simlified game with just two pre-made factions available, both with the same objective - to collect a jar of angry bees and throw it into the opposition's head quarters. 

These girls came back for another game and a half after this one!

This is the wee lad who gave the four star rating. He sure knew his stuff.

There was also a wee interview done over the weekend which the boys from Wee Gamers have put up on both their Friendface page and on their YouTube channel. For those who are interested, allow me to introduce Wee Andy, introducing me...

The onward march of thousands of tiny feet - 220 BC 6mm Hail Caesar.

Will o' the Wisp, redistributed from HERE
Talk of 6mm ancients mayhem has been hotting up here in Northern Ireland. This, for me, is great news as 6mm is always a scale that has appealed to me but has been as illusive as a will o' the wisp. I bought a few pieces from Rapier miniatures a while back to decorate my 15mm scale temple, and then only recently got my act together and painted and based some of the spares and really liked the result.

So it looks like next year's project will be to build a 6mm ancients army. We are focusing on the Hail Caesar rules set for now, although the flexible approach to basing and unit sizes mean that the figures will be able to be used in other games as well if needed.

After a bit of chat back and forwards, the ever popular late third century BC Mediterranean was chosen as the theme, roughly pinpointed around 220 BC. That date historically gives a bunch of exciting options for armies, with lots of young rulers who have not yet proven their worth such as the Scipio brothers, Hannibal Barca, Philip V of Macedon, Antiochos III in Asia, Ptolemy IV in Egypt, plus Spanish, Celtiberian, Celts, Germans, Thracians, Skythians, Greek leagues (Aitolian and Achaian), Nabis of Sparta, Pergamon, Pontos, Galatians, Seleukid pretenders (Achaios and Molon), Parthians, Armenians, Greco-Baktrians, Indians, Arab nomads, Nabataeans, Numidians etc etc. A really interesting period.

Like the Pirates Code, the Hail Caesar army lists are clearly defined more as guidelines than gospel. This is something I really like because it allows thems with the smarts to justify changing the army lists is historical justifications are found, and thems what love being rules-lawyers can't do anything about it. However, as guidelines, the following army lists are provided in the Biblical and Classical supplement to the rules and would be feasible for our setting. Most of these nominal armies were of course often (or usually) in a state of civil/tribal war as well as against outsiders, so there is no huger problem if multiple players want the same little chaps.

Skythian p.26
Thracian p.35
Samnite p.36
Mauryan Indians p.38
Syracusan p.39
Gauls p.42
Illyrian p.43
Hellenistic Greek p.50
Baktrian Greek p.51
Carthaginian p.52
Republican Rome p.53
Galatians p.55
Parthians p.56
Numidians p.57
Meroitic Kushite p.58
Spanish p.59
Later Macedonian p.60
Seleukid p.61
Ptolemaic p.62
Celtiberian p.65
Artaxiad Armenian p.70

Used carefully, the following extra-chronological lists could be used to extrapolate reasonable lists for the period for the same region:
Arab Raiders p.12 - with the inclusion of light and medium cavalry
Mithridatic Pontic p.72 - not taking any imitation legionaries

Being me, I couldn't pass up the chance the play the Seleukids, so Antioch, here we come again! There are a couple of historical inconsistencies with the Seleukid list, but that's nothing a little doctoring can't fix. For instance, there is no option for camels in the Seleukid list (two of the three known Seleukid OOBs included thousands of the buggers!) but they are an option for the Ptolemies and Marian Romans. I'd be damned if there is evidence to back that up, so I'll fielding the camels from the Ptolemaic list. Vive le' HC army-list-are-just-guidelines approach!

To convert the 28mm scale rules to 6mm figures, we have agreed on the following basics:
All measurements changed from inches to centimetres.
Small units to have a width of 40mm (expanding to up to 80mm for open order skirmishers)
Regular sized units will have a width of 80mm
Large units will have a width of 160mm

To maintain an easily adaptable system, all my bases will be 40mm wide, sabotted together for regular units - I don't plan on taking large units. Except for skirmishers who will be based on two 40x20mm bases per unit, all other bases will have a depth of 40mm. I'll have either pike phalanxes or irregular non-Greek contingents, on foot, both of who look better on deep bases, and either little wedges of heavy horse or scatters of irregular light horse, so again, the deeper bases allow for flavour.

After a little experimenting I have come up with the following rule of thumb regarding figure numbers per unit.
Skirmishers - 10 (small unit skirmishing)
Light infantry - 15 (small unit) or 30 (regular unit)
Medium infantry - 48 (regular unit)
Pikemen - 96 (or perhaps 84 plus officers and standards)
Light cavalry - 7 (small unit)
Heavy cavalry - 20 (regular unit)
Elephants - 2 plus four skirmishing escorts
Divisional commanders - 2 (based on a 1p coin)
Antiochos III - 3 or 4 (based on a 2p coin)

Of course, 6mm Seleukids also give me the opportunity to whip out my old tiny city and let it feel the synthetic grass under foot once more.

Finally, below are a couple of comparison shot showing a Baccus 6mm Successor war elephant (on the left) next to his equivalent from Rapier (naturally, on the right). There is a bit of a different in size, although not too great. The Baccus elephant has three crew plus the mahout while the Rapier only has two plus the mahout. Both have their own unique charms, but I see no problem basing them together. The last shot shows how they will sit on the base. I will post painted examples when there is good enough weather to spray undercoat them.

Friday 13 September 2013

15mm urban Antioch showcase

Way back at the dawn of time (the 1st of January this year to be exact), I made the first of what was to become a swarm of posts devoted to Song of Shadows and Dust, the ancient urban skirmish game that will soon be published by Ganesha Games. Of course, central to an urban skirmish game is the city itself. Being generally underpaid, I embarked on a series of building-works-on-the-cheap using balsa wood and as few other pieces as possible (the latter include great little resin boxes, bags and ceramics from Baueda, and the OO scale tile roof pieces covered in earlier blogs.

After a full gestation period of just over nine months, the result is Antiocheia Mikros (or 'Little Antioch'). A series of 15mm scale buildings inspired by Syria in the first century BC. I am sure that I'll add more structures to the collection as time goes on, but what I currently have is more than enough to cover a 2'x2' playing table - if I use everything, it makes for a very densely populated domestic area.

But before we get started, let me introduce you to Abd'Aziz (a 15mm Donnington New Era camel handler). He is a member of the Skenitai, a tent dweller from the Syrian steppe, and also a merchant. With him as our guide, and a vague sense of scale, I hope to show what can be achieved with a hobby knife, a stack of balsa wood, some pva glue, sample pots of Dulux house paint and very little modelling skill.

We'll start with the domestic structures. I wanted my city to show a mix of Hellenised and indigenous styles and so used a mix of tiled, pitched roofs and more traditional flat roofs. This adds variability to the look, allows the creation - through careful placement - of 'Greek' quarters and 'Syrian' quarters if so wished. As traversing flat and pitched roofs are dealt with differently in the game, it also adds to the flavour that way.

 A small 'Greek' house with enclosed yard space
A larger 'Greek' house with colonnaded courtyard
A small insula or apartment
A generic block house which can serve as a free standing single room house, an annex or an upper story on other buildings
A Jewish house with colonnaded courtyard. This structure was inspired by one of the synagogues from Dura-Europos
Another basic house with annex and a ladder allowing easy roof access
A basic L-shaped house
A basic house with annex and enclosed yard space
A larger insula - probably shown with too many windows...
A two-storey house with stairs - very loosely inspired by a favourite dig-house in Syria
Another two-story house with external stairs
The Green Oar tavern
I have tried to keep all the colours fairly muted and consistent. For the basic lime washed-mud brick, I used a 'vanilla' and a 'linen' paint so there is some variability, but not a huge amount. I put scraps of graffiti around the place, normally on side or rear walls. Other than the obvious Python-inspired parody - ROMANES EVNT DOMVS - all the writing and pictures is/are based on real graffiti, whether it be Latin, Greek, Nabataean or Safaitic. I used drips of brown wash on some of the window sills to represent various waste products being turfed out windows into the street below. I suspect more windows should show the staining, but didn't want it to become overwhelming.

Next, we come to the paved plazas and open spaces. These can be used as a block of 'tricky terrain', imagining them to be cluttered with more goods and traders, or as just an open space with a pile of tricky terrain/cover in set places.

Basic open square with goods cluttering up one corner
Plaza with victory trophies and fruit market

Finally we come to the civic structures. Antioch was known for its abundant fountain houses and the availability of sweet waters so I felt obliged to make one up for my suburb. Luckily, I was able to use the plan of the nymphaion at Magdala as inspiration. The temple, dedicated to Apollo, is loosely based on the Seleukid vernacular style known from Ai Khanoum, Dura Europos and Jebel Khalid, which combined a Hellenic veneer with a Semitic ground plan. The temenos (precinct) should, in all honesty, be somewhat larger (at least twice as big) but the foot print on the table is already quite dominating so I had to make concessions.

The source of the sweet waters of Antiocheia Mikros
The temple of Apollo within its temenos with altar and storage room - the temple pediments show Apollo watching over a centauromachy scene on the front, and Apollo with his hunting hounds at the rear

Song of Shadows and Dust faction builder available at Ganesha Games

"Friends, Romans, countrymen,
lend me your ears..."

The SSD rule book currently contains 57 different character rosters designed as guidelines to populate your faction or guild. Players are most welcome to use the rosters straight out of the book if they choose - I have included all manner of character types from henchmen, assassins and punch-drunk boxers, to street urchins, elder statesmen and courtesans. 

However, if you have a model that doesn't fit any of those categories, or you just disagree with a suggested roster, Andrea over at Ganesha Games has just unveiled the official faction builder programme for SSD. Designed and coded by Ray Forsythe, the same scholar and gent responsible for all the official Ganesha Games builders, the programme includes all the new special rules from the game and allows total flexibility in creating 100% customisable character rosters. 

Monday 9 September 2013

Confessions of a wargamer (and a new scale...?)

I entered the world of tin soldiers at the impressionable age of 10. I was taken to a pokey shop, now closed down, in the centre of Sydney by a school friend and bought for myself three identical 25mm Napoleonic figures at about $1.50 each. To this day I am still unsure what they were - I suspect they were a Prussian artillery officer but couldn't say for sure. Through variegated levels of peer pressure I was, for a time, distracted - first by fantasy and then sci-fi wargames. The type of game produced by large companies whose legal juggernaut makes me shy away from naming them in a public forum. Lets just say that they don't like you to play with anyone else's products at their table. You know the one I mean.

Finally, towards the end of high school, in a garage at another friend's house, I saw his dad's 15mm DBM late Roman army. With an epiphany I realised that there were other games out there and they allowed you the freedom to play with a low budget. The possibility emerged of combining my overwhelming love of the ancient world with wargaming.

Over the next few years I gave up my fantasy heroes with their exaggerated weaponry and came to collect numerous 15mm armies for numerous different games. Napoleonic Austrians, Minoans, Greeks, Greeks, Macedonians, Paionians, Greeks, Sub-Roman British, Seleukids, Pergamenes, Ituraeans, a few more Greeks. Then I discovered undergraduate life. Drinking. Studying. Girls (mostly just out of reach...). I gave up on wargaming; it was kids stuff. I was an adult now and didn't need that stuff.

I traveled around the world. As advised by Cat Stevens, I found a girl, settled down and married. I embarked on postgraduate study. I spent long hours alone in rooms with computers. My eyes wandered. I discovered that in my absence the gaming world had changed. There were new exciting games, new miniature manufacturers. In responsible adulthood I rediscovered the love of my teenage hobby. I realised that I was an adult now and I needed all that stuff - and now I could afford it to.

I started re-collecting in different scales, 10mm, 15mm, 28mm, all to fulfill different needs; fantasy ancients, early medieval/Arthurian. Inspired by the eruption of new and bespoke rules systems, I started to write my own rules to cover historical stuff that I couldn't find rules to cover. I also happened upon Ganesha Games who taught me that fantasy gaming could still be fun and flexible.

Now, for the first time, I have started to paint 6mm ancients. A test run, some Greek archers by Rapier, just to see if I like the scale - for a future big battle project.

... and I do think I like it.

And as an update - here are the same lads with different sand. The first stuff, taken from a field in central Ulster, was too fine-grained. The new sand is builder's sand, used for sweeping between newly laid pavers.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Tumbling Dice 1:2400 scale galleons

My 1:1200 scale Valiant Enterprises galleons (rather ironically) fared very badly in the ship journy between the Antipodes and this island, clinging to the edge of Europe. I rather like the vessels by Valiant, but loath how soft their masts are. The weight of all those sails always left the masts bent so I replaced them all with brass rods. For me, that was far too much effort if I ever wanted to put together a decent sized fleet and so I looked around for alternatives.

Tumbling Dice to the left, Valiant to the right.

One result of the search was the discovery of the Tumbling Dice line of 1:2400 scale vessels. These are smaller than I would have liked, but I placed a small order (last year) to see what they were like. Twelve months on, I've finally painted a few of them and thought I'd share a couple of pictures. The website at Tumbling Dice has changed since I placed my order and is now much easier to use with clearer definitions on which ships belong to which range. There are still no/very few pictures though, so I can't say for sure which vessels I've got here.

I have a few left to do including a couple of galleys. All the ships came with a separate molded bit of sea, but as I wanted mine on regular bases, I dispensed with charm of the little waves. This wasn't a problem with most of the ships, but with the galleys, the oars are molded with the base, so there was a little challenge to free those up.

Friday 6 September 2013

The latest from Antiocheia Mikros - an assassination attempt and the PSNA vs Republicans

We ran two more games of Song of Shadows and Dust up at Wee Gamers this week. The rules themselves are coming together very well with only slight questions raised and modifications made as a result of the testing.

The first game was a shifty stealth mission. In a standard game of SSD, both players roll independently for their objectives. In a stealth mission, only the attacker rolls for an objective (in this case, an assassination attempt). The defender then deploys their full faction across the board, however, they may only activate characters who are within line of sight of an enemy model. The attacker deploys a reduced force (1/3 of the points value of their faction) and has to make their way across the board and achieve their objective without being overwhelmed.

In these shots, Iamblichos the assassin is trying to knock off Strato, the leader of the Kybiosaktoi. He started the game at the board edge closest to the camera and has managed - despite being kicked off a roof by a young girl - to sneak around to the back of the temple. He's that small dark shape by the dice just to the right of the temple.

In the end, the assassin's impetuousness (or rather, the player's - Brett, I'm talking to you) led to his down fall. Rather than catch his breath in the shadows behind the temple, he blustered round the corner to attack his target but was unable to strike a blow. In the next round, Strato's drunken bodyguard joined the fray and used his rhomphaia in new and experimental ways to kill the would-be assassin and finish the game. It was a close match, and could have gone the other way. But it didn't.

The second game was a normal match with each faction rolling for their own objective. It turned out to be a fairly topical game to be held here in Northern Ireland with the Roman (republican) demagogue Sabinus and his gladiator bully boys trying to burn down a tavern frequented by the local militia. The militia - temporarily dubbed the PSNA or Police Service of Northern Antioch - in turn were out to bag and tag themselves Sabinus or one of his men to take back to headquarters for heavy questioning.

This shot (not the best photography in the world) from the start of the game shows the militia column starting to make its way through the alleyways to the central plaza where they hope to bag their opponent. The building in the middle foreground is their drinking hole which Sabinus's boys want to burn down.

Taken from the other side of the table a few turns later, the militiamen can be seen pouring into the square while their marksmen stands on the tavern roof taking pot-shots at the gladiators below. Sabinus can be seen trying, and failing, to incite loitering civilians while already smoke is billowing out of the back door of the tavern.

This game saw several civilians activate to join one side or the other while the centre of the board became something of a blood bath. The randomised burning mechanic means that although the arsonists set the pub alight, there was always uncertainty as to when it would be destroyed. In the end the body count from the skirmish grew too high - there was too much public attention on the action and both factions were forced to abandon the area to lick their wounds. Smoke filled the air but the building was still standing at the end of the game. Sabinus was removed by a well placed arrow but none of his boys were abducted. A bloody draw result with only 1 victory point awarded per player.

We were testing the campaign injuries and recovery rules after this game with the results that each faction lost only one member permanently. One of the militiamen suffered an injury to his fighting arm while the trauma of his arrow wound caused Sabinus to turn to drink (i.e. in a formal campaign he would recover but would also receive the Heavy Drinker special rule).

Thanks again to the players and the gents at Wee Gamers for putting us up.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Ayatollah and insurgency rats on the painting table - comparative heft of Pendraken rats

Just a couple of quick snaps to give an idea of the comparative heft of Pendraken small and large rats. Here they are based together and I can't really tell the difference.  In the background you can see the half painted Ayatollah of Gorgonzola - a softly converted Pendraken rat necromancer.

Monday 2 September 2013

Ariston the Hunter

Back in June I scored a superb wee Glorantha figure on eBay. He came already undercoated which would have been fine, except that the undercoat was black (I use white or pale brown) and wasn't undercoat per se ... more of a slick, shiny looking, generic, spraypaint I imagine.

Well yesterday I was working on some gaming aids/terrain etc and poured too much brown paint out of the pot and onto my bit o' plastic-cum-easel. Rather than let it go to waste, I decided to paint the base of said Glorantha miniature. I have been consciously putting off painting this chap because I didn't know how to go about the lion skin or what other colours would work. Anyway, after doing the base, one thing led to another and here is the result:

I'm really very happy with way he came out. At a pinch this lion-skin clad figure (built like a proverbial brick outhouse) could be a stand in for Herakles, but I am fielding him in Song of Blades and Heroes as Ariston the Hunter.

Ariston the Hunter
Points: 52
Special rules: dogged, lethal versus animals

He will be joining my posse of Greek (well ... Macedonian really) heroes. The fellowship know as the 'Wardens of Olympos' was recently torn asunder by the treachery of Menander the minotaur who left the group to join Erichtho and her 'Acolytes of Hekate'. The heroes, joined by Ariston, a mighty hunter from the north, have in turn formed the a new minotaur-free warband, the 'Order of Chiron'.