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

One squad of the rivermen actually seize the bridge of the freighter and open fire on the peacekeepers below
A canoe veers off to assault the Leopards to try to knock out their .50 caliber guns

Monday, July 17, 2017

African Shantytown Huts

    20mm 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, 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).

    20mm UN Peacekeepers in Africa looking for signs of trouble