Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Running Games, games, and more games at Historicon!

The First Command banner in the Main Hall of Historicon 2017
As most of you know, my friends and I started a wargaming company a couple years ago called First Command Wargames. This year, we decided we would attend Historicon 2017 as a company. We would all go and run all of our released games (plus one about-to-be-released one). Everyone agreed, we sat down and created a schedule beginning on Thursday evening, and running through Saturday night. It would be a long slog, as we committed to running our games often (in my case, twice a day Friday and Satuday). We expected to be tired at the end of it, but we thought it was a great way to promote our miniatures rules to players from all around the country.

Tom running his For Queen and Planet game, while our friend Terry ponders how that huge thing could fly
And so it was! Tom ran his Victorian Sci-Fi game, For Queen and Planet, four times, Steve ran his Seven Years War rules, For King or Empress, five times, and Keith and Jenny filled in for Mike S who couldn't make it, running Raid on Deerfield, 1704, using Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules, five times, as well. I ran my Wars of Insurgency modern Africa miniature game four times (and helped Keith and Jenny on Thursday evening). I was incredibly pleased with the turnout for our games. Virtually every slot in all four games was full. I know I had the full five players in all of my events. We had steady sales, too, of all of our rules sets plus the Beaver Wars campaign rules that were just released a month or so back. I have one last bit to tally for total sales, but we were all pleased.
A slice of my Congo table with my MDF container ship, Acheson Creations pier, and view of the town square
The interesting thing about a large game convention like Historicon is it teaches you humility. After I'd set up my "That's My USAid - Congo Chaos" table, I was pretty pleased. I thought it came together really well, what with my new ramshackle tin huts and the big MDF cargo freighter that were on the table. Throw in the Acheson pier, destroyed concrete wall sections, some cool buildings, and I was satisfied. That was until I looked around...there were LOTS of great looking games. I realized that, no matter how pleased I am with any table I set up, there will always, always be someone whose artistry outshines my own. Just like in the Lead Painters League, I know I will never be top tier, but will have to be satisfied with being second tier. This year, the eye-catcher was the Frostgrave table -- a stunning medieval-fantasy winter stronghold city with an iced up harbor, long spans of elevated walkways, and even a flashing wizard's light that puts my burning cabin on Deerfield to shame. It was amazing to walk around an admire it. Heck, it made me want to go out and buy the rules, and I really don't know much about it other than it is really popular now and involves some sort of magical skirmish/roleplaying aspect.
The showstopper - a 28mm Frostgrave set up that made me feel, well, second tier at best!
I did not get a chance to look around the whole convention hall, having to be content with wandering the Main Hall where the First Command games were. We were up near the front, a few rows back from the entrance. Steve's banner he'd created for the company hung proudly, announcing our presence next to the display of our rules sets. I never made it to the side rooms, where I'd been trying for months to land us a spot. We were supposedly penciled in on one of the small ballrooms to the side, but a late influx of games by an established gaming group shoved us back into the main area, I was told. In all honesty, it was probably better for visibility to be in the Main Hall. It was just really hard on our voices, and for our players to hear us. The main hall of pretty much any gaming convention is always crazy noisy. I think I do a pretty good job of projecting my voice, varying the tone and stuff to allow my voice to carry to my players. However, all of us said our voices were shot by Saturday night.
I bought this fun board game in the Dealer Hall
I actually didn't mind my schedule for running Wars of Insurgency. I ran it the same times Friday and Saturday -- 9am and 7pm. That gave me a long break in the middle to have lunch, relax, and hit up the Dealer Hall. I ended up not buying very much, actually. This was probably my most restrained purchasing year at Historicon, yet. I bought a board game -- Kings of Tokyo (mainly for my student board game club); Howard Hues paints that I needed; two 3-D printed zodiac boats from Sea Dog Studios; and three "Technical Crew" packs from Stan Johansen Miniatures. As you can see, the only miniatures were for my 20mm Africa games, so I guess that's where my focus is now.
I picked up two 3-D printed Zodiac rubber boats from Sea Dog Game Studios
Of course, we had some fun while we worked. My buddy Jason was there with us at Historicon, as usual. It is the only time all year we see him anymore, it seems. I know, I know...I can hear him saying: "Come back down to Siege of Augusta and you'll see me twice as much!" Every evening, we went out for food and a beverage or two. So, it was fun to reconnect and razz each other.
The only miniatures I bought were 3 packs of this set from Stan Johansen Miniatures
Speaking of good times, I had some great, fun players in my games. I think this year's group of players are some of the most pleasant that I've had at East conventions. I heard the same from the Deerfield GMs. They said everyone seemed to be having an awesome time. So much so that Keith won a Pour Encourager Les Autres (PEL) award for the game. That's the second time that Song of Drums and Tomahawks has won the award at an East convention. Good stuff! I will add some photos below of my best iPhone shots at the convention. It was a great time. The drive is long, but the good times are worth it!
For Queen and Planet: "55 Days to Helium"
Tom ran his Victorian Sci-Fi game 4 times. It was the first time my Da Vinci flyer made it to a convention tabletop!
The British War Machine provides covering fire for the advance of their troops
The steampunk version of Leonardo Da Vinci's aerial screw that I built
The Martian walker takes aim at the oncoming British war machine

Song of Drums and Tomahawks: "Raid on Deerfield, 1704"
We've been running this game in Great Lakes country all year, so it was a natural to take to Historicon to showcase our very first set of rules we released! Keith (assisted by Jenny) ran it five times - a grueling schedule, but one that saw a full table every time.
Eight players - a full table - refight the wintertime raid on Deerfield, MA, at Historicon
The French & Indian raiders begin to fan out and look for townsfolk to capture in the cabins

For King or Empress: "The Seven Years War"
Steve ran his big battle Seven Years War game five times over the course of the convention. He taught dozens of new players the rules. His hard work meant his rules were our best seller at the convention...great job, Steve!
Steve points out the tactical situation developing on the tabletop and explains how the rules resolve it
Another running of For King or Empress, and another packed table!

Wars of Insurgency: "That's My USAid - Congo Chaos"
Although the rules aren't in production, yet, I ran four games of my modern warfare skirmish set. The scenario took place in The Congo in the 1960s as the country gains its independence. It was a free-for-all scenario, with each player controlling a different faction, all with their own agendas and goals.
A UN peacekeeping contingent from Ghana guards the food and medicine offloaded from the cargo ship
Congolese paratroopers demand that the shipment is turned over to them (graffiti displays what they think of the UN!)
The local militia, the Leopoldville Leopards, marshal their forces to seize the shipment for themselves
A force from the Congolese army -- archrivals of the paratroopers -- move into the outskirts intent on getting the goods!
The final faction -- river bandits from Boma, Congo -- followed the freighter and now swoop in to attack
Congolese army squads move through the shantytown and past the destroyed factory
The .50 caliber jeep-mounted machine guns of the Leopoldville Leopards begin to hammer away at paratrooper positions
The army enters the outskirts of the town square and begins to fire upon the paratroopers
The river bandits from Boma race their outboard canoes into contact with the dock and fire at the UN from close range
Afraid their riverborne rivals will make away with all the loot, the Leopards redeploy their jeeps to fire upon the canoes
A canoe veers off to assault the Leopards to try to knock out their .50 caliber guns
One squad of the rivermen actually seize the bridge of the freighter and open fire on the peacekeepers below

Monday, July 17, 2017

African Shantytown Huts

Congolese paratroopers patrol a shantytown looking for signs of insurgents
"That's My USAid - Congo Chaos" at Drums at the Rapids, this May, I felt something was missing from my table. It looked okay, but needed some more pizzazz. I decided that it was that there just wasn't enough stuff on the table. In particular, it needed more buildings. This was supposed to be a town, and 4 stone buildings around the square, a scattering of tribal huts, and ruined concrete wall sections just wasn't urban enough. On my vacation overseas this summer, I saw shantytowns on the edges of the big cities. The poor scraped together whatever building material they could to construct a small hut. That was what this town needed!
Paper mache buildings from Michaels craft store that form the shell of the buildings
 I like to use the paper mache boxes that Michaels craft store sells as the shells of my buildings. I stocked up on 9 of their 2.5" square boxes (1.25" tall). I cut black plastic styrene to just a bit larger size as bases, and epoxied them to the bases. Then I opened up my supply drawers to see what kind of building material I had on hand. I had two sheets of styrene material that looked like corrugated tin, but felt it was too small a scale. It would look good for 15mm or smaller, but you couldn't see the 3-dimensional aspect well. Luckily, my local Hobbyland carried JTT Plastic Pattern Sheets. I picked up a package of O-Scale Corrugated Siding (#97403) and it looked perfect. Since it is styrene plastic, I would only have to score and snap it to cut the pieces to size.
The assembled materials for the huts
However, I didn't want it to be just tin. Every third world country I've visited, I've noticed the shacks are very composite -- they use virtually everything handy. So, I also pulled out my package of tiny wooden craft sticks, as I call them. They would look like good wooden slats. I also had a package of mini-dowels, which would look like bundles of sticks. In addition, I had successfully used burlap material as thatch before on my 28mm Jungle Huts. So, I pulled that out. I also knew I could create a good earth surface by simply painting the sides with white glue and then sprinkling on Woodland Scenics Turf. Once spray primed it gives a rough, wood or mud surface effect.
Gluing the wood craft sticks into place on a precut piece of cardstock sized for the wall, then attached as one
 Then I took a sheet of scratch paper and drew 9 rectangles, each with four sections, to represent the four sides of each hut. I plotted out how many sides would be tin, wood slats, stick bundles, earth, and for the heck of it, I decided to make one side of two buildings wooden palletes created from the craft sticks. This would give a composite look, or more ramshackle appearance. What's more, some of the tin would have grooves going vertically, and others horizontally. To make attaching these to the sides of the paper mache boxes easier, I cut thin cardstock pieces that matched the sides perfectly. I glued the craft sticks and mini-dowels to these directly, and then would attach these wall sections to the box sides as complete wall sides. Paper mache boxes are not truly level and square, so I used paper clips or binder clips to hold the wall sections in place while they dried. This worked like a dream, and before long, I had all four sides of all 9 buildings glued in place. I would used extra craft sticks to cover any gaps between the sides.
Wood wall sections ready - note the tin and burlap are glued directly to the wall surface
 Next, I had to create the roofs. I wanted most to be tin, but I made one of thatch for variety. This was easy. I cut squares of bass wood and glued either the tin or burlap to them. A smaller balsa wood square was glued to the underside sized to set just inside the box to keep the roof in place. To give the tin a more ramshackle appearance, I placed 2-3 tin patches to cover sections, and then used stones to look like they were holding the tin down. I've seen this over and over abroad. I guess nails are expensive, but big heavy rocks do the job well enough to hold a tin roof down. I also placed tin patches on various other wall sides to make it look like holes had to be covered in buildings in a stopgap way as they opened. I made sure to make tin patches on tin surfaces have the corrugation going the opposite way (vertical vs. horizontal), to make it stand out more.
Dirt/mud wall is done by applying white glue & turf directly to the paper mache
 The final step before painting was to spray the roofs and buildings with acrylic black spray paint. I then go over this with a 50/50 mixture of glue and water to make sure all crevices are fully blackened and that I have a good surface for painting. I found it went easier to do all of each type of surface at once. So, I did the dirt walls first, next the thatch, then the wood slabs and stick bundles, and finally the tin. I had Googled photos of African tin roofs and saw that they are a variety of colors -- most heavily rusted. This was the most time-consuming part of creation -- painting the tin. I gave each a base coat, a lighter dry brush in that tone, and finally streaked them with rust. I actually pulled up images of rusting corrugated tin to better understand how it looks. The rust itself was done in a 3-tone pattern. From outside in, I used Autumn Brown, Raw Sienna, and Georgia Clay in my Ceramcoat craft paints.
A more ramshackle appearance is given by attaching tin patches or boards nailed to sections
Next was the biggest pain -- painting the rocks! In hindsight, I should have applied the rocks after the tin. I could then have simply used natural rocks, or at least tallus of some sort with a wash over it. So, I pulled out various shades of browns and grays, then gave each a base coat and dry brush. I let it dry overnight. When I came back in the morning, I looked at the huts. I thought, "Too bright!" It looked more like a Caribbean village than an African shantytown. So, I mixed up a dark black wash and applied it over all of the tin surfaces. Bingo! This really brought it back down to a crumbling shantytown feel.
Mercenaries keep an eye out for ambush as they patrol the "low rent" district
 What's more, these went together VERY quickly. I started them on a Saturday and was finished Wednesday afternoon. There WERE a couple long days in there working on them, yes. However, I knew my deadline for the convention I was attending that coming weekend. We were leaving Thursday morning, so they had to be done Thursday. And so they were! I love the way they came out and will likely do more in two-building groups (to allow laundry lines and other scenic items to be placed on the bases).
UN peacekeepers looking for signs of trouble

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lead Painters League -- entering the fray once more!

My decision on whether to enter this year's Lead Painters League or not came down to the wire. I barely finished the minimum 3 teams by the deadline date. That should have been a warning to me, but I enjoy entering the league every year. It forces me to get backlogs of unpainted miniatures completed, plus it also pushes me to try improve my painting skills. I tend to do an extra level of detail on entries for this league, so it makes my output -- my painted miniatures -- look nicer on the tabletop.
So, here's a turn by turn account of my run in Lead Painters League 11.

Round 1: Raid on Deerfield

These were figures I'd painted (but not posted pictures of yet) prior to the announcement of the start of the league. They are from Knuckle Duster Miniatures, from their War of 1812 line: Grand River Nations in Winter Dress. I had previously painted up some winter dress Indians from Conquest Miniatures, and needed some more to run a winter scenario. In fact, the scenario was the convention event my friends and I would be running this year using my Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules: The Raid on Deerfield. This photo uses my log cabin with LED votive candles and cotton to give it a burning effect. I honestly wasn't as happy with this set of miniatures -- they don't have the detail that Conquest Miniatures do. Still, they were good enough for me to squeak out a 4-vote lead (which counts as a Draw in the league rules).

Score: Draw, 164-160.

Round 2: Are We Mice or Men?

Of my initial batch of 3 "teams" or entries in the league, I liked this photograph the best. I thought the colors and the look of the Splintered Light Miniatures mice really popped in the photograph. These are part of an ongoing painting project for my own set of fantasy miniatures rules. I am getting a few armies painted up for them before I playtest because the rules call for multifigure, whole unit bases. These mice slingers are done in a variety of fur colors, but with matching medieval style uniforms. I give each army a theme, and this army's is a Medieval European style. Despite how much I liked these figures, they fell to a much-better painted entry. As soon as I looked at my opponent's figs, I knew it would be my first loss in this season.

Score: Loss, 93-269

Round 3: "We Who are About to Die"

This project came about when I saw somebody posting online trying to get rid of some 28mm gladiators. I contacted the seller and worked out a trade between some French & Indian War figures I had, and that he wanted, and these. I was VERY happy with how these figures looked. They were clean castings, great poses, and not ridiculously detailed. Since they had so much flesh on them, I decided to try a new technique for my Caucasian flesh tone. I mixed up a bottle of acrylic matte medium with a dull orange color to use as a wash. It worked like a charm. Speaking of flesh, I also decided to mix up the nationalities and painted some African and some Arabic flesh tones. I also had made a concession to advancing age and purchased an giant, illuminated mirror that attached to my painting desk. With its additional magnification, I was able to great fine details on the shields. The voters must have been impressed, as this was my first clear victory, evening my record at 1-1-1.

Score: Win, 244-140

Round 4: Africa Uprising, 20mm

My next rules set that I will release with First Command Wargames is my Modern Africa rules. So, I took the League as an opportunity to paint up some more 20mm figures. I knew I would need some more militia, so dug through my unpainted Liberation Miniatures and grabbed a big batch to paint up. One of the things I like about 20mm for this period is that you can paint up lots of them relatively quickly, but they have a lot more detail and heft than 15mm. Since these were for the league, I put a lot more highlighting on these, touching up a highlight color for straps and other gear. Ironically, I was matched up against an entry that was several stands of 15mm WW II Flames of War figures. Honestly, this was the only round of the 10 were I thought I should have won that I did not. I ended up keeping the vote close enough for it to count as a draw, but I'm still pretty mystified why these guys did so poorly. 

Score: Draw, 186-192

Round 5: Wrong to Meet Dr. Jones

 One thing that spices up the Lead Painters League is that there are three "theme" rounds. I usually can field figures from my collection of unpainted minis to cover them, but every once in awhile I have to get creative or purchase something. Luckily, Round 5's theme was "Ship's Crew." I had bought an entire bag of Old Glory 25mm U.S. Sailors when I began playing Pulp years back. So, it was a snap to pick out a handful to paint up. One thing, though. As affordable as they are, Old Glory figures tend to be of marginal quality. True to form, the figures painted up okay, but nothing exceptional. Wanting to eke out another win, I decided to go wild on the diorama I set up. It actually sparked some discussion about if voters are basing their choice on the figures or the picture. Speaking of which, did you notice the pygmy cannibals emerging from the jungle to surround the sailors? I won this round feeling a little guilty that I had bamboozled the voters.

Win,  263-128

Round 6: Trail of Tears -- Iroquois Raiders

I like this photo so much that it actually ended up on the back cover of my Beaver Wars Campaign Rules & Scenario Book. The five warriors in the foreground are from the excellent Flint & Feather line from the producers of Pulp Miniatures. As you can imagine, I've become quite comfortable painting Native Americans, and this was one of my better sets. The lighted magnifying glass allowed me to put in even more detail in the designs on their clothes and the tattoos. I really liked my color choices, too. The voters were kind to my entry, and I won this round fairly handily. Most of my contests were quite close this league, but this one was one of the exceptions. My record improved to 3 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws after this round.
Win, 250-103

Round 7: Satyr-day Night Specials, 15mm

In Round 7, my foray into this year's Lead Painters League began to derail. I'd started another batch of gladiators, but did not get them done in time. Sadly, this lack of progress would continue for the next three rounds. So, rather than have them re-run my previous entry for another week, I found the time to photograph my old 15mm Splintered Light Miniatures Satyr army for Hordes of the Things. the army is definitely one of my favorite 15mm fantasy armies I've painted, but it was unable to when this contest. With the league's Swiss Chess pairing, I had risen high into the standings. I was due for a smack-down by someone of more talent, and this duly happened.

Loss, 150-283

Round 8: "Khmer and look at this!"

Awhile back, I had painted three Pulp figures for a friend's series of games he was going to run. We were using the smaller Pulp Alley leagues with just a Hero, Sidekick, and Ally. League rules dictate that there is a minimum of five figures, so I recycled a couple previously photographed miniatures. Once again, this was a "no new team" entry, and lost me the 10 bonus points I would otherwise receive each round for entering newly-painted miniatures. I decided to take a page from my early "Dr. Jones" entry, and set up an elaborate Southeast Asian temple complex. Unfortunately, I was still floating relatively high in the standings and was matched up against a painter well beyond my skill level. The result was another thumping -- my worst this season -- and my record dropped to exactly .500 percentage -- 3 wins, 3 losses, 2 ties.

Loss, 104-258

Round 9: From the Pits of Gundabad, 15mm
To be honest, I was at my lowest morale point here in this league. For the third week in a row, I was unable to field a newly-painted league. Granted, I had things going on in my life. I had chaperoned our school's 8th grade Washington D.C. trip for a week. I had been working my butt off to get the Beaver Wars book ready for print. And the same group of gladiators remained almost finished on my desk. Honestly, I could possibly have finished them for this round. However, I knew there'd be no way I'd get a new team done for Round 10. With that round being a theme round, the gladiators would actually fit perfectly for it. So, I threw in one final previously painted entry. This one was my 15mm Wolf Riders army. I have always liked the job I did on the wolves, so took it as a chance to showcase them. Would they be good enough to squeeze out a win? If I lost this round, the best I could do would be breaking even. As it turned out, I had sunk low enough in the standings that I was matched up against an entry that my wolves could handle, as it turned out. This took me to 4-3-2 going into the final round.

Win, 198-133

Round 10: "Um, Who's Got the Big Guy?"

The theme was "Big Brother" (larger version of the main figures), and as the picture above shows, this was why I saved the gladiators for this final round. At the local Michaels Craft Store, I found this plastic gladiator who was easily twice as tall as my 28mm ones. He was a prepainted figure, so I primed him black and repainted him to join the 8 gladiators I'd been working on for nearly a month. Once again, I was very happy with how the Crusader gladiators painted up. There are a couple items of equipment that I had to ponder over, but for the most part, they are incredibly clean castings that are a snap to paint and look great when finished. I was really happy with my shield patterns on these, as well (though I do admit to starting over on the one carried by the spearman in the back). Another contest that was not a blowout, but happily a victory for me. This finalized my record at 5 wins, 3 losses, 2 ties. 

As the Leaderboard pasted below shows, I finished 18th out of 32 contestants. This was probably my lowest finish in the last couple years. However, if I *did* manage to put in new entries in all three rounds that I did not (read = receive 30 more points), I would have finished up in 13th. In my opinion, that is too high. There are easily more than a dozen painters in this league much better than me. So, perhaps this finish is a more accurate rating of where I fit in the league this time around. Who knows? Even with three rounds of recycled entries, that is seven batches of newly-painted figures I finished up. So, on that note, my foray into this year's league must be counted as a success!

Win, 201-143 

These guys are NOT my figures -- but are part of the final Leaderboard image. They're a good example of entries from those painters who make my efforts look journeyman, at best!




Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Mummy, or should I say, "The Skeletons"?

French archeologist controlled by Mike S arrive at the door to King Tut's tomb
For a change of pace, Keith hosted a take-off of the modern, Brendan Fraser “The Mummy” movies. The game was set with the opening of King Tut’s tomb in the 1920s, but with competition between various European factions to be the first in the tomb. Keith was using Flying Lead rules from Ganesaha Games, with a generous helping of the fantasy Song of Blades and Heroes thrown in, too. Keith had picked up a bunch of painted skeletons last weekend at The Bookery in Fairborn, OH, and wanted an excuse to get them onto the tabletop.
The British archeologists peer through the doorway and see movement where there shouldn't be any...
With a big turnout — 1 GM and 7 players — we had four European factions and four “bad guy” factions — mostly skeletons. Allen started off with a force of Arab tomb looters, and was supposed to die off quickly and become the third skeleton command. However, his looters held off the Europeans for longer than anyone anticipated, which meant for the first part of the game the skeletons sat around like…well, they’d been sitting there for thousands of years!
Having guarded against tomb raiders for thousands of years, the Pharaoh's skeletal soldiers are ready to repel the incursion
Once the Europeans made it into the tunnels leading to the tomb, they were a little gun-shy about entering the complex. Several turns were spent with skeletons waiting to pounce on the Europeans as they entered the tomb, unable to pour out because of the “magic” involved. Eventually, Keith let the magic flow out the doors and we took the battle to them (I was playing a skeleton, along with newcomer Brett). Keith had thrown in special event cards, which chiefly had the effect of allowing the Europeans to interrupt or steal our actions when we rolled them. There was one glorious moment when I played my first, hard-won card (you received them only when you eliminated an enemy figure) and knocked down “The Moose”, one of the burly European raiders.

The first instinct of the Europeans was to try to stay at the door and shoot down the skeletons
Seven players in one game tends to make the action move a little slowly at times, and we ended up calling it quits just before 11 pm. Steve’s Chinese archeologists were close to breaking into Tut’s inner chambers. Mike S had moved his French into the same room, and was busy holding off the skeletons. My “rabble” skeletons were doing their best to hold off Joel and Mike W’s factions, though it would not be long before they broke past my weak command.
Once the Europeans entered the tomb complex the skeleton guards tried to swarm the doughty, well-armed archeologists
It was a different style of game, and was definitely fun once the Europeans entered the tomb complex. A little less preamble (and a little better rolling command rolls by the Europeans) might have produced a faster game that was fought to a conclusion. All in all, it was a good chance to get new figures and Keith’s new scratch-build dungeon complex on the tabletop!