Saturday, 18 February 2017

Tabletop World Blacksmith Forge

As a rampant hobby butterfly, I'm much better at starting new and ambitious things than I am at finishing them. Everything I start is doomed to WIP-shelf relegation as a new sexy project tempts me away. Mounds of basecoated or half-assembled things lean against each other in boxes, exchanging disappointed glances and wondering if their time in the sun will come.

Screw that.

If 2017 is even a patch on 2016, we're going to need escapism and endorphins in equal measure, which means getting stuff done, gods dammit! To that end, as promised at the end of my post on the merchant's house, here is the blacksmith forge from Tabletop World.

It amazes me that this kit is just four components. It's like a diorama that requires almost no assembly. What I will say is that Jeff was wise to mount his on a base - the joins connecting the smithy to its house have patchy contacts. I got over this with an enthusiastic application of thick super glue, but structurally it's not very sound. So why didn't I follow Jeff's wisdom and add a base? Because he's building a rustic village, whereas I want my buildings to work in both towns and countryside. A grassy base would undermine that flexibility. Still, basing it is a damn good idea if that's compatible with your plans.

If you're curious about painting this kind of scenery, Jeff also wrote a solid step-by-step of his work on Tabletop World's windmill, and honestly he did a more conscientious job than I do on my own scenery. That said, if you do have any questions re: painting, I'm happy to answer them.

In case you're concerned that my sole plan for 2017 is to spam things I've painted whilst patting myself on the back for actually finishing something, I assure you that there are other things brewing. Frosty things. Grave things.*


*I am subtle, like happy mallet.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Secret Weapon's Tablescape Tiles: A Review

Back in the glorious summer of 2016 I set about a little personal project to create a North Africa themed collection of models and scenery. I've already posted a little about before in I've Got Sand In All The Wrong Places. Well I've finished the British and Australian section of the project and now ready to get started on the board.

I had several options when it comes to creating the actual board it's self. Firstly I could try and lay my hands on one of the good old Realm of Battle boards from Games Workshop. They were great boards, if a little on the pricey side. We have successfully created a desert board from these before by sculpting mud cracks over the skull pits. This gave the board a dry feel and was pretty simple to do. A second one of these would mean we can take the one that Charlie owns and create a huge 6'X8' or 4'x12' gaming surface for those really big games. This plan met a fairly terminal halt when I discovered that GW don't actually manufacture the Realm of Battle boards anymore and they have been replaced with a 40k specific urban board and a AoS specific board that really didn't take my fancy for the price. 

I did consider trying to source a load of extruded polystyrene foam sheets, and it does have to be extruded not expanded polystyrene for it to work, to create my own gaming boards. I had started a design with both lowered and raised areas and a pile of scatter scenery. The cost of which, once you took into consideration the foam sheets, the varnish, paint, and various modelling materials to do it justice, had started to spiral into the same as a pre-made board. Then you would have to factor the time need to make into the equation. Plus also considering I've never done any serious scenery scratch building before there was a real danger of it never getting finished. Especially with my attention span.

I went back to scouring the internet. Eventually I stumbled across the Secret Weapon Tablescape Tiles set. The price was a lot closer to what I wanted to spend* and there was a good selection of sizes and landscapes. Currently available there are the following designs:

Forgotten City: This is a series of tiles with ancient city ruins. Could look really good done up as either a dark, brooding gothic city, or would work amazingly as an Aztec looking ruin.

Rolling Hills: This would be a good base for a temperate grassy board. Several of the tiles have a nicely sculpted river sections as well as rolling hills (funny that).

Scrap Yard: This one would make a great Mad Max/post apocalypse board with sculpted piles of debris, abandoned vehicles and tire tracks. Also anyone thinking of doing an Ork themed board should have a close look at this one 
Urban Streets - Clean: A gridded city street. Some of the sections seem to have some fairly sci-fi affections it would be great for a futuristic city fight board.   

Urban Streets - Damaged: As above but damaged.  

After careful consideration I ended up ordering the Rolling Hills, as it was plain enough to fit with any period/setting and the (dry) river bed would be fitting with the ditches and scrubby settings of coastal Libya.

At this point there was a little bit of a hitch. Actually, quite a big hitch. It transpired that I had somehow managed to order the wrong board! How, I'm still not sure, but I can only assume that because I had my shortlist open on different tabs I had clicked add the cart on the wrong tab. Let this be a lesson to you all, always double check your basket before you click the final button.

At this point I had four real options.
  1.  I do the sensible, adult thing and contact the store, explain that I had been an idiot and hope that they would be nice and let me exchange the board for a new one.
  2. I live with the board that had arrived and paint it up as a ruined city in the desert. This would mean ignoring my theme and just getting on with it but still could look rather good.
  3. I try and sell the board to someone, use the money to get the board I actually wanted and just suck up the difference in price.
  4. Have two gaming boards.
Guess which option I went for?

Now I own two gaming boards. It was clear how I was going going to paint the Rolling Hills set, but what to do with the Forgotten City set? After much internal debate, and some external debate, eventually I decided to just put the Forgotten City board to one side and wait for the opportune moment to use it. The Tablescape Tiles box is certainly sufficient is size to store the main set, plus probably a few extra boards, as well as all the clips, and takes up a lot less space than a realm of battle board. However it is only card and I can see it wearing out over the years and becoming an issue. There might need to be a creative storage solution in the future.

Each design is made up of 12"x12" tiles and there are around 16 unique tiles per design so there is very little duplication. Each design also comes in multiple sized sets. A full 6'X4' board requires the 24 tile set. It is simple enough to mix and match from different sets to get the landscape you desire, especially when they are all available in 4, 8, 16, and 24 tile sets. The sculpting and variation is top notch, there are very few 'huh? what is that doing there' type moments when looking into the details. No random objects that seem out of place or skulls that have been added 'for the aesthetic'. The tiles themselves are quite small, but the boards come with a rather neat system of clips that slot underneath. They actually fit really well, well enough that I have no fear of the tiles coming away from each other, and the clips are smooth enough. The corners do leave me a little bit nervous about the durability where they are particularly thin, and how that will hold up in the long term with the clipping and rearranging. The downside to the multi-tile system is setting up takes a while longer as you need to unclip and re-arrange things. This really is only a massive problem if you're doing a series of games during a day and want to mix up they layouts.

Painting the Rolling Hills was a very straight forward affair. The boards have a good amount of texture and detail already built in, and without any unnecessary affectations sculpted into the board. When we created the first desert board using the GW Realm of Battle board we went to our local DIY store and used their paint matching service to make up some large tins of Khemri Brown, Desert Yellow and Bleached Bone equivalents.  Now these colours no longer exist in the Citadel colour range, but the huge tins of emulsion paint we had made where still sitting around at Charlie's house. So armed with those, a 3" brush and the first 4 StarTrek films** I set about the board with gusto. One issue that has arisen from the moulded details. They great to look at but have caused some problems when it comes to placing scenery, especially on the Forgotten City board, as well as model balance issues. For the most part it's fine, just a few little raised areas that cause metal models to tumble.  

I primed the board using about 1 and a half cans of chocolate brown spray, again picked up from the local DIY store's give-me-the-cheapest-spray-paint-because-I'm-painting-a-huge-area-and-I-had-blown-my-budget-out-of-the-water-with-two-gaming-boards range(tm). Then simply painted and then dry-brushed the colours up until I was happy. Job done.

It wasn't until later last year, possibly December time, that we arrived at the decision to give Frost Grave a serious go. Suddenly the need to have a full sized urban board arose and I had the perfect thing sitting in our hobby cupboard***. So two trips to our local DIY store later (The paint I had picked for the base coat was too light and ended up as one of the midtones so I went back for something darker) we had all the materials we needed. Spray primer, a good sized tub of dark grey (that might look nice in the bathroom if there is enough left over) a mid grey, a selection of random tester pots of various different mid and light greys to give us some tonal variation on the flagstones (DING!) and a light grey for the final dry brush. For this board I was being a bit more adventurous that with the desert board. I planned to have stone, grass AND snow on this board in an attempt to depict an ancient and ruined city emerging from a long winter so I had picked up a cheap vat of PVA glue, a couple of boxes of soda crystals, and a pot of white acrylic paint. I started with priming the board black, then a solid coat of a dark asphalt grey, then went through with the mid grey tester pots painting a random selection of flag stones, rubble, rocks, with a bunch of different shades of grey, then a final dry brush of the lighter grey to blend it all in.

Next up came the grass, this was just a normal static grassing with focus on the crevices and areas where the designers had sculpted on soil/dirt patches covering the flag stones. After that I got messy with the snow. This was a mix of PVA, soda crystals and a little bit of white paint. I can't tell you in what proportions I added the materials in, but I just kept adding soda crystals until it was a slightly runny porridge consistency and a good squirt of white paint for luck. Then I just set about adding snow to where ever seemed like a good place to add snow. I think overall the effect was a decent one, if a little laborious.

In Summary

I'm actually impressed with both boards. The quality of the casting is decent and crisp enough for a gaming board and required no preparation beyond taking them out of the box. The clip system works well and hopefully will stand up to repeated use and changes. Both boards where nice and easy to paint. Hopefully the storage won't be a problem but I can burn that bridge when I get to it. The scenery not always sitting level, for me isn't a great deal of an issue, but I know I'm going to have to be careful with balancing models.  

Overall I'm happy with the boards and the niggles are just that, niggles that won't stop me enjoying my purchases.           

*The current price seems to be higher than what I paid, I can only assume that some of the global and political events of the second half of 2016 have affected the exchange rates, as Secret Weapon is an American company.

**Now TV had put ALL the StarTrek movies on to a single playlist.

***Or the cupboard under the stairs as most normal people would call it.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Tabletop World Merchant's Shop

Two of Tabletop World's beautiful buildings have sat unpainted on my scenery shelf for long enough that I don't even remember how many years I've had them for. If the Dwarves have the Great Book of Grudges, I have the Great Book of Unfinished Shames.

Thanks to a looming deadline and the continuing hobby bender initiated by Total War: Warhammer as described in my last post, another Shame can be struck from the book: the merchant's shop.

Note: when I took this photo, I didn't notice that the 1st floor wasn't sitting on the ground
floor properly, hence the visible gap on the right balcony support strut. I mention it
purely because I wouldn't want to make Tabletop World look bad on account of my doziness.

As with the other two tabletop world buildings wot I done painted, these models have such crisp casting and sculpting that they're just satisfying to paint. With this latest one I've introduced a little tonal variation to attempt an increase in sexiness. In as much as one can think of a building as sexy. All those firm timbers... dem saggy roofs...

Ding dong.

Like all Tabletop World sculpts the merchant's shop has interior detail, and requires no assembly beyond gluing the balcony to the first floor. Each floor is held in place via gravity and parts of the model carefully sculpted to hold the building in once piece until you need access to the interior in the middle of a roleplay/skirmish scenario, like so:

I should at this point add that in a fit of laziness, I only basecoated the interior. SHAME. SHAME. SHAMETo give you a sense of scale, here's the shop's stock room filled with... stock. And a captain of the Empire, since I don't have a painted customs official.

I'm curious as to how widespread the use of Tabletop World's stuff is. I have no sense of how many people buy and use their stuff, although I get the impression their rep is steadily growing. Is that the case? Have any of you glorious bastards got your mittens on them?

Next time, I'll share some photos of the smithy. In case you're thinking "pff yeah right Charlie never actually does the thing he says he'll do next," I'll have you know that (a) that's a fair point, but that (b) I've already painted it, so ha!

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Let's get the band back together...

Not a musical band, but a band of brave and/or foolhardy adventurers all heading off to lands forgotten and ravaged by a great calamity in search of fame, glory, and riches. Well, mostly riches. Also for the stories. Once our intrepid souls have a few heroic yarns to spin they will be able to hold rapt the patrons of any alehouse or inn they care to frequent. Not to mention turn the heads of any fair maid or strapping lad that catches their eye. 

So who are these daring men and woman? And what is their goal?

Say CHEESE everybody

The goal is a city dubbed Frostgrave, an ancient metropolis at the heart of a magical empire that was befallen by a great accident that left the city buried under the ice for centuries. Now that it has started to thaw, it's treasures are up for grabs.

Now let's meet the fellowship:

Arthur le Berre: Fire Wizard and Leader

The fingers are where the magic happens

Gourvan Mandroux: Ice Wizard and apprentice to Arthur

More pointing of fingers

Sir Jord de Rais: Knight

Yeah, I can't free hand tiny dragons that well

Lom Mason and Pierrick Dosser: Men at Arms

His colour scheme totally wasn't a Bretonnian reference at all

The unfortunately named Dosser

Katel Madec: Crossbow-woman

No sexy armour for this girl

Joran Verne: Archer & Hunter

I think his parents might have been related

Most of the models came from the Artemis Black section from Hasslefree. I really do like these sculpts, mostly for the little details. All of them are carrying bedrolls, packs, and various side arms so they really do feel like they are properly kitted out for an adventure.

Take a look at his horse

As for the painting, I kept it natural and earthy for the henchmen. It was quite nice being able to take each one as a unique person and paint them all a little differently as these are all hired help and wouldn't be in any type of uniform. With the wizards I ended up being a little more vibrant with the paint scheme. Arthur being a fire wizard had to be in red (it's a Union thing, he has to wear red). Gourvan was a little more accidental. I wanted him in a frosty white tinted blue but it ended up being much more blue, but I liked it so decided to keep it as it was. 

Next up in our preparation for the Frostgrave campaign is to get the board and scenery done. Lots of snow covered gothic buildings are forecast for my immediate future.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Another freehand Hochland banner

My love of the Olde Worlde has been rejuvinated thanks largely to Total War: Warhammer. I maintain they should have called it Total Warhammer, thus providing both a shorter title and a playground insult, i.e. "Jamie stole my biscuits and he peed in Archie's orange juice. Archie says he's a total warhammer." 

Before I get on with today's actual post, here's a flash review of Total Warhammer: it's an imaginatively faithful adaptation whose only misstep is to follow GW's suggestion of occasionally replacing a mountain with a giant stone skull. In every other respect it's fun and well-paced, and surprisingly tasteful compared to some other GW adaptations.

Anyway, I mention all this because I enjoyed Total Warhammer so much that it gave me the urge to paint more state troops of the Empire. This had the added advantage of clearing something out of my overpopulated WIP tray. And so without further ado, here are the Heedenhof Greenleaves:

This regiment was hastily assembled in the small market town of Heedenhof after Splendiferus/Emma captured the town just over the other side of the river, as per the campaign map. I wanted them to look like a bargain basement regiment, so they got spears (easy to manufacture) and faded green uniforms (because they didn't have any red dye at the time, and they were in a rush).

The only experienced soldier is the sergeant: a retired swordsman who thought his soldiering days were done. He's absolutely thrilled to be back in uniform and teaching a bunch of bumpkins how to use their stabby sticks.

Since having a whole human skull on your belt is stupid, I chopped it off and replaced it with a scroll from the flagellant kit to represent a map, or maybe something one of his kids drew. Or emergency arsewipes. Or a map his kid drew on which he now plans to use for emergency arsewipes.

Finally, there's the banner. As has been previously established, I tend to get a tad overexcited when it comes to this part.

The crossed keys are a common enough icon, but apt here: the Greenleaves are town guards, and Hochland's military use a lot of cross motifs in their heraldry.

The trees linked by the bridge take a little more explaining. I imagined that Heedenhof and Bergendorf, having always been linked by a bridge across the River Flaschgang, were effectively one large town with two names. Thus, I imagine when Bergendorf fell to the Norscans, it would have been like a twin losing their sibling. The Greenleaves' banner represents this, with two trees standing atop a bridge. One tree has new green leaves, representing new growth, whereas the other remains leafless. Whether that means Bergendorf is dead, or merely awaiting the turn of the seasons, is probably in the eye of the beholder. Given the extent to which Emma informed me her beastmen had shat all over Bergendorf, the local foliage will at least have plenty of fertiliser.

Anyway, it feels surprisingly good to have removed something from my epic heap of unfinished crap. Hopefully the momentum thus generated can be sustained. Thanks, Total War. You made me paint little green men.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Battlefleet Gothic campaign finally over

In March, I declared I was “about to embark upon a campaign which will be a 50-50 mix of wargame and roleplay. Like Hornblower in space, what with BFG always harking back to the Age of Sail.” At the time, several of you asked how I planned to run it. Well, we finished the campaign last month, which means I’m now in a position to look back on the whole thing and share what worked and what fizzled. Mostly it worked… mostly.

The final confrontation. Having made a precarious alliance with a band of Eldar
refugees, Commodore Ortano's fleet launches an assault on the ork flagship.

The problem is that there are so many things I could talk about. I’ve made multiple attempts at writing this post, and all of them have descended into a sprawling ramble. I’m left with no choice but to resort to democracy. Oh how the High Lords of Terra would disapprove.

It seems to me that talking about this campaign could be broken down into the following topics. If you’re actually keen to hear my oh-so-wise thoughts on any of the following subjects, leave a comment, and I’ll express myself all over that particular area like an elephant seal landing on a squirrel.

Potential topics of burblage:

  1. The story details of the campaign. How did a disgraced ex-rear admiral from the Gothic Sector end up defeating an ork armada with nothing but a reconnaissance flotilla?
  2. The essential ingredients of a good narrative: conflict and change. For instance, a conflict: Clarence the elephant seal wants to put himself on Nibbles the squirrel. Nibbles is frightened of this possibility, and keeps running away. The change: Clarence sneaks up on Nibbles while he’s asleep and puts himself on Nibbles. As a result of Nibbles’ tragic death, Clarence learns about both physics and consent, becoming a more cautious and considerate seal thereafter. Wait, what was this bullet point about? Oh. Yes. Er… yeah um basically I’d talk about how you can set up a narrative and poke it in interesting directions even though you’re letting the players make all the decisions.
  3. What preparation is needed to run a narrative game? I did a whole bunch of world building and character creation to run this story, so I could go into more details on that, including a rather granular take on the crew of an Imperial capital ship.
  4. Initial thoughts on how the Epic 40,000 ruleset works when used in 28mm scale. Yes, there was a big ground combat component to this campaign. Yes, I was being ambitious. It kinda worked…
  5. Finally, this campaign featured persistent damage. If an Imperial ship was damaged or destroyed in battle, it stayed that way until it was repaired, and there were no reinforcements available. I could talk more about balancing that.

Conspicuously missing from that list is an explanation of the campaign rules themselves. That’s because it’s the one part of the whole shebang that was incredibly simple: we used the Battlefleet Gothic rules for the space battles and ship experience, but no rules at all for the roleplay side of things, despite the existence of various 40k-friendly RPGs.

I’m not averse to having game rules for social situations in RPGs, but in a Hornblower-esque story, much of the narrative centers on the relationships between the ship’s officers, which are revealed through little gestures and snippets of conversation, be it on the bridge or around the dining table. It would’ve felt weirdly unsubtle to say “roll me a social perception check.” Instead, it was up to Jon and Maisey to pick up on whatever hints I gave by the way I described things, and for me to react to the way they dealt with their crew.

Finally, you will have noted the presence of some hitherto unmentioned eldar ships in the photo above. That’s because I painted them in secret and had them turn up during a battle. Here’s another photo of the eldar ships in all their pristine glory:

Since their ships are made of wraithbone, I braved the dreaded white primer spray. It’s not obvious from the photo, but the ships have had all the crevices lovingly painted with a bone/brown shade, and the sails are semi-metallic and glossy. The intention was to get as close to a solar panel as possible. You’d probably need video footage to see how that works. Or your imagination.

Finally, one issue with the prow cannons on eldar ships is that they’re quite tall, largely to avoid having fragile gun barrels and undercuts. To get around this problem, I painted some of the guns as though they’re double-barrelled, as exemplified by this hellebore-class frigate:

OK, that’s all from me for now. Did any of the five subjects mentioned above hold any interest for you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get blogging.

Given how long it’s been since my last post, I will of course be unsurprised if the comments section ends up being filled with nothing but crickets and tumbleweed, and I have no one to blame but myself. Bad Charlie.

Monday, 27 June 2016

I've got sand in all the wrong places...


So, been a little bit slow on the old model front recently. Primary reason being due to a house move. Which meant packing everything away, and then moving things, then having to unpack everything again. Hobby stuff was about halfway down the priority list, far below the bed (who doesn't like sleeping?), the kitchen stuff (eating is my third favourite thing!), but above silly little things like clothing. Anyway, we're now safely settled into Nerd Cottage Mk.II. It's bigger, better armoured, and now carries a 57mm cannon... ok, maybe not a cannon, but it does have a shed with a light bulb in it!

Being a nerd, what does a new house mean? Well, it means a new project, and this summer's project is going to be a dusty one. My plan is to create a new gaming board, with scenery, and two (small) armies to play on it. Anyone who has read the title might be able to make an educated guess that I'm doing a desert board.

And the armies? Well, I'm in a bit of a bolt action place, so the first one is going to be a selection of Australian units from the British 8th Army based in Egypt. The second will be the Afrika Korp. I'm going to swapping between doing the 8th and the board. Then I'll be doing a mixture of scatter scenery. With the Afrika Korp coming later. The reason I'm holding on doing the Afrika Korp is being Jeff from Pirate Viking Painting is going be doing a North Africa based Italian Army (He loves the feathery hats they had).

Ok, enough words, here some pretty!

A rifle section from the Australian 9th Division 

Bren gun team

some rifles

some more rifles

... and that one has a Tommy gun!

Some fire support

A 2pdr QF Anti-tank gun

Crewed by some sunburnt Aussies

and finally, something to carry things

An Austin 8hp light utility truck 

or a Tilly to anyone who used them.