Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Painted jotunn Hailstorm cannon - Forgefathers Big Gun

Finally finished painting up the Frogefathers' mobile cannon today. I'm so-so pleased with the paint job. I'm trying to master speed-painting, that is, getting things to a good tabletop standard quickly rather than spending days over every little effect and technique. Simply because I want some Mantic armies painted quickly to start challenging people to learn the game with me :)

So here's my cannon:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tabletop Nation 'Eastern Edge II' Tournament

Thanks to deciding to skip Black Library's Weekender (more on how money-grabbing and unfriendly BL have been in a later post) I was able to instead go to the Eastern Edge II tournament at Tabletop Nation today.

This was a one day, 1200 points, 40k tourney. The aim was for four games to be played, hence the low points limit. It turns out however that there is some kind of hard limit of points in 40k, whereby any points cost over said limit does not really reduce playing time. Thus, even with small armies, we still only managed three games each in the time allotted.

Lets get the good news out of the way first - I came second :) I got a nice little voucher to spend in the store and a certificate to add to the trophy shelf (there isn't really a trophy shelf, I just put it on a bookshelf for now). I was actually genuinely surprised to do so well. I had thought I was in with a good chance at best painted army, to be honest. But still, a prize is a prize :)

There was a fairly good selection of armies at play. Alongside three Blood Angels armies were Orks, Daemons, Space Wolves, and Necrons. Daemons placed first with three wins out of three while the Orks came in just behind me.

A brief summary of my list and three games then.

I took a Librarian with psychic powers from the BRB, going with Prescience every time and a random TK power too that never got used. I had a Furioso with Frag Cannon and two Sanguinary Priests as Elites. Two tactical squads for troops, one with a las-cannon, one with a plasma cannon, and, finally, two Stormravens, each with plasma cannons and Typhoons, one with sponsons.

Top: difficult to budge Tactical Squad and Bottom: fleeing Grey Hunters!

First game was against Space Wolves. It was Kill Points. My opponent had Grey Hunters in Rhinos and Long Fangs with rockets and Long Fangs with plasma, which might have been problematic had we not got a) deployment at the short edges, and b) night-fighting on the first turn. So his Long Fangs were neutered on turn one, and unable to hit my flyers on turn two ( a combo of templates-can't-hit-flyers and poor dice rolling there ). My flyers and long range shooters, by contrast, were able to take out two Rhinos and suppress the third. We did end up with a couple of combats but, surprisingly, his GH packs, even when, on one occasion, being backed up by charging Thunderwolf cavalry, could not shift my tactical squads. I even got one squad to run away! Cut to Turn 5 then, and my Furioso dismounts and frags a Long Fang squad to death. The two Stormravens nuke another couple of Rhinos for more easy kill points and its a win for the boys in red.

Second game was the saddest of all things - red on red violence. My opponent this time also had Blood Angels but in a list I wish I had had. For one thing he took and Aegis. At 1200 points I didn't think anyone would want to fit that into a list, but then he also had five man assault squads taking las-preds with 35-point discounts so it all fit. Two Librarians too, one on a bike, also spelled doom for my boys, with both of them taking Divination powers to make their shooting infallible. We were playing the Relic and I combat-squadded my troops to have a better chance of grabbing the relic. But it was not to be - giving his quad-gun Ignores Cover and his assault bikes rerolls to hit made short work of my army. A Stormraven was predicatably cut to pieces by the quad on arrival and it all went downhill from there really.

Third game was a bit more fun. Fun for me, that is, because it generally went all my way. I had chosen to take BA's over my usual favourite for competitive play, Space Wolves, because the last tournament winner at TTN had taken 'Cron Air. Five flyers had apparently made easy work out all comers so I wanted some built-in Skyfire. Today's 'cron player only had one flyer though, and no other competent anti-air. Playing Big Guns Never Tire, with five objectives on the table, I started claiming two, one of which, in ruins already, improved my cover save by one. One of his was sabotaged so he had to shift off it pretty sharpish. My Stormravens were able to polish off one of his Heavy Support tank-things (sorry, I really can't remember all the silly names GW gives their toys) for First Blood and a bonus victory point. And, for me at least, it was all uphill from there. The 'crons just couldn't stand up to marine shooting or the Stormravens - Power of the Machine Spirit is the only thing GW failed to nerf on these machines. I even hit the 'cron flyer with my las-cannon in the last turn causing it to fly off the board and onto the post-game kill points column. A good win.

Salamanders vs. Space Wolves. Not everyone brought Space Marines though, honest.

Just time for a couple of quick observations and thoughts on the armies I saw and played today then.

As I suspected, the Stormraven does now largely suck as a transport for anything without jump packs. In 5th you could roll halfway across the table and then charge out of its belly to assault your enemy. In 6th you can only do this if it moves 6" or less. It excels as a gunship though. The rules for flyers work really well for the Stormraven - it has so many guns, plus PotMS, and can put out massive amounts of firepower, lots of which can be twin-linked. Lots of talk has been made of melta being redundant as noone takes Armour 14 any more. the necrons have great access to Arm 13 though and, sometimes, I wish I had had las-cannons on the flyers. But even without them, the SR has loads of rockets built in, the option for more, is hard to hit when flying and can Evade, is easier to hit when hovering but can Jink. Its got everything you want from something with 'Gunship' in its name.

The Aegis line with quad-gun is just great. I highly expect to be buying one soon for use at 1750 and above. There is no reason not to take one and, particularly if you twin-link it with a psyker, has the power to ruin an enemy's day and list.

Assault marines and more Predators are pretty nifty too. They make a staple of 5th, one which is still very valid in 6th, very cost-effective. Thinking about the great value they are and how deadly my las-Pred Space Wolves are makes me drool a little.

Finally 'crons. I was not super-impressed by these guys. The units that came into range of my tactical marines were really easy to kill. Even the big hard ones with shields went down to plasma bursts and a Frag Cannon  quite quickly. The Deathmarks were probably the scariest, hitting marines very reliably and with some silly rule that allowed them to wound me on twos. But ten marines in cover, with a Priest, turn out to be very hard to shoot to death. In return they obliterated the 'marks in two turns of shooting. The flyer was a bit more worrying, largely because it is very manouverable. It also has that silly beam-down ability which could be a problem if it is filled with the right unit. I think it managed, over three turns, to take out a Stormraven, and nearly did some major damage to a tactical squad before being las-cannoned off the board. Again, Aegis line....

Overall then, a good day out. For what was billed as a 'casual' tourney, some players played remarkably aggressively and not everyone took losing in, shall we say, and 'admirable' fashion. Some were out the door as soon as the last dice settled when they had lost a game, i.e. they didn't think they could 'win' the tournament so there was no point in sticking around. But most people had a fun few games, drank a lot of coffee and rolled a lot of dice. Many many plastic men gave up their lives, often repeatedly, for our pleasure and enjoyment, and that, after all, is what its all about.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Build Guide: Mantic Forge Fathers Hailstorm Cannon

 Mantic's Forge Father range is shaping up rather nicely, with some visually and stylistically distinct models and units. One of these is their optionally-mobile artillery piece, the Hailstorm cannon. Its a tracked quad-gun, with a pilot who looks half like he's aiming the barrels, and half like he's riding the thing. It also perhaps owes a little to Alien's space jockey in its styling.

I recently got one as part of the Fate of the Forge Star bundle and found, in common with other mantic products, it does not come with a build guide. Its not overly complicated to put together, but, just in case you're having trouble figuring yours out, here's my guide. This is going to be largely pictorial.  As I said, the model isn't complicated, but sometimes it can be useful to see which way up things are supposed to go or which order its best to glue some parts together in.

The two halves of the barrels go together as seen above. Don't glue them together yet though - they need to be mounted on the main body of the gun first.

This side-view shows you the arrangement of the two shield pieces on the gun. I found it was best to glue the bottom shield to the body first, then stick the barrels on, then stick the top shield onto that piece. There's a hole in the top of the barrel section for the top shield to fit in to.

The gun barrel tips can be stuck on to the ends of the barrels once they are glued to the main body. There is only one correct alignment for them so, if they don't seem to fit right when you dry fit them, rotate them and try again.

Those ammo drums can be fitted on after the shields, but it might be easier to do it beforehand. Its not a model-breaker if you leave them till last though.

The pilot went on last on my gun. In retrospect it might have been better to glue his gun and holster on before putting him on the machine. Finally I stuck on the rear ammo drums and the tracks. The tracks also only go on one way.

From the Mantic forums, I hear some of these models turn up at people's houses pretty warped. I'm not sure which parts in particular tend to get bent, but if you get one like that its pretty easy to fix with hot water. You'll often see boiling water recommended. This might be necessary for thicker pieces, but I have used hot water straight from the tap to reshape restic in the past. The point is, a little bendage is really not that big a deal and very simple to rectify.

Feel free to ask any questions if you are building a Hailstorm cannon or indeed any Forge Father models. Later on I will be putting up some pictures of my Steel Warriors.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wargames Terrain: Oil Barrels

In ascending order of awesomeness, here are some awesome things to look at:

  • A gaming table full of models fighting each other
  • A gaming table full of painted models fighting each other
  • A gaming table full of painted models fighting each other in and around painted scenery and objectives.

This week I decided to challenge myself a little bit and paint something I don't normally do: scenery. GW added exploding fuel dumps as an optional extra to the latest version of 40k. I have had a small piece of barrel-filled scenery sitting on the shelf for months now, plus I came home with another set from Games Day (free! From GW!), so I decided to paint those suckers up and make some. obstacles/objectives for wargames.

First up, the set of barrels and jerry cans from the GW batttlefield scenery kit. You only get three barrels and two cans in the set, which is barely enough to make one fuel dump. Its representative of a fuel dump, is probably as generously as its possible to describe the piece. But with 6th ed. rules you can hide behind them, I guess, and thus make them explode. So hey ho.

On the other hand, these are the barrels GW gave me fore free(!) at Games Day this year. Now thats more like it. A proper collection of potentially explosive containers. They also gave me some tinfoil (!) and half-heartedly told me I could paint it as camo netting. I binned that though as I had a better idea - see below.

First the paints used and techniques. This all comes from Forge World's Model Masterclass Volume 1 - a great primer on advanced modeling and painting.

I sprayed the cans with Desert Yellow first. GW don't make this paint any more, of course, because it was great, so you'll need to find your own alternative. It doesn't really matter too much what you choose as the base as you'll be weathering the *&%$ out of it later on. But I recommend a khaki or olive colour for verisimilitude.

I then sponged on Charadon Granite to get the chipping, concentrating on raised edges and the top and bottoms of the barrels as this is where the worst wear would occur. And that is a hard sentence to say or type.If you can't get Charadon Granite, look for a dark grey, almost black to sponge on instead.

 To pick out the details I used a mix of black and brown oil paints, thinned with thinners, gently pushed into the corners and crevices. The nature of the thinners causes the mix to flow along these lines, so mixing it up in the first place is probably the hardest part of this job.

I then made up some rust with the brown oil paint. some thinners, and some rust weathering powder. I flicked this onto the drums just by stroking my finger along the bristles of an old brush that was loaded with the rust mix. You get a nice splattering pattern this way, which you can then soften up by spraying on more thinners.

I used thinned brown ink as 'oil' and dribbled it around the seams of the barrels and on the flooring around them. This is definitely a no-smoking area. Lots of oil and dirt lying around. These cans are meant to be used and reused.

To make the larger stack of barrels a proper source of cover and concealment, I wanted to add some camo netting that would look a bit more convincing than painted tinfoil. I'm not saying you can't paint tinfoil to look awesome. Just that I can't. So, using another technique from Model Masterclass, I raided my First Aid box for a bit of bandage. I soaked this in watered down PVA glue, wrung it out, then draped it over the barrels.

The next morning the bandage had dried almost completely stiff. I first glued on several strips of thin masking tape. then painted it all with watered-down Graveyard Earth and lots of it. The bandage naturally soaks up the paint, I may have wrung too much of the glue out, and requires lots of coverage. I finished it off with a drybrush of Kommando Khaki, and hey presto, a camoflaged fueld dump.

 I'm very pleased with how the barrels came out, perhaps less so with the camo netting. I wonder if there is some way to paint the fabric before gluing it and setting it in place.

For now, I have two nicely painted bits of scenery to go on the table :) Next up - the ammo canisters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kings of War is Getting Ugly

Mantic eventually got me to invest in their Kickstarter when they started throwing out crazy cool ideas like dwarves on badger-mounts, angelic paladins, and dudes riding giant cats to battle. Yeah, I like weird cavalry. One of the more traditional units they pledged to fund though were the ogres. Now, Mantic has taken flakk for initally releasing a very limited number of fairly bland sculpts for some of their armies. But take a look at these images of sculpts, released today, and tell me Mantic isn't threatening to dominate the market for excellent fantasy models:

Once again, I don't normally play fantasy wargames, but these models could turn a guys head...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Whats the Difference: 40k/Warmachine/Hordes?

Tabletop Nation have been running a journeyman league for Warmahordes recently, which has given me the impetus to get painted and the opportunity to play with my Cryx army. I have still only had half a dozen games with them so bear that in mind. This isn't an exhaustive guide to playing either game, just a few observations on the differences between them - things you might like to know if you want to switch from 40k to Warmahordes.

Tabletop Nation's Journeyman League

Firstly, size. Warmahordes uses much smaller model counts to play with. The starter sets come to around 15 points and that may only mean four models. But this is still a very playable force, compared to say half a 40k starter box which can feel like only half a proper army. Even when you go up a level to 25 points, you many only add two or three more units to your list which could again be as few as one, two, or three models. My 25 point list, for example, added four new units to the starter set, for a total of 16 new models. But my 35 point list is only two additional units and two new models.

You can have many more models, of course. I chose two one-model units specifically to save on money and time  but I could have gone for lots of cheap light jacks. Painting earns you points in the league though, so I didn't want to get bogged down with two many jacks and solo's to paint.

Second, Warmahorde units feel less flexible than 40k units do. For starters your force will be led by a Warcaster, at least if you have a Warmachine army, I forget what the Hordes leaders are called. Your choice of caster will heavily influence how you fight and what you choose to play with, partly because each caster has a once-a-game feat to use - a special irresistible effect, unique to each caster - and partly because each caster has a list of themed armies they can take which, if you meet the force organisation requirements, give bonuses to your army.

Units appear very clearly defined in what they are meant to do too. If it is a close-combat jack you will know it. If a unit is meant to shoot at stuff, it will be clear. Actual gameplay might of course change what units have to do - but they start with very clear purposes.

Guess what that dude does...
A criticism of Warmachine is that each fight can feel very similar to the last one then, as your tactics aren't likely to change too much from engagement to engagement. I think this is possibly deliberate on the part of the designers though. This inflexibility pretty much forces you to buy new toys when you want to fight in a different way, but what might at first seem a weakness  becomes a strength when you see how cheap the models are.

Whereas with a 40k army you might have to plan a list for every eventuality, then buy and build every model in that list, with Warmachine it feels more like you focus on one small area of the army book, build and play with that, then expand your collection to allow more tactical flexibility and options. The end result is the same - a large collection of miniatures with all sorts of options. But its much easier to start a Warmachine force and cheaper to expand it.

Warcaster Denegrha's job is to hide behind the big guy.
The next big difference is the turn sequence and importance of individual models. In 40k, every model gets to move, then every model shoots, then every model fights. In Warmahordes, every unit does all those things, one at a time. So model or unit A moves, shoots, and fights. Then model B moves shoots, then fights. And so on. The challenges of each system are similar - you have to plan what is going to move where, and shoot what and fight what before committing. But, as a long time 40k player, one has to take care not to shoot and not to assault a target to death I had also planned to assault with another model, leaving that second model stranded far from the enemy.

Finally the big big difference between the two systems - Focus and Fury.

Warmachine uses Focus. This is mana for your casters and is used to empower your jacks to charge and do more damage as well as casting spells. It is a precious commodity and adds another layer of complexity to planning each turn.

Hordes uses Fury. This kind of works in reverse to Focus, in that monsters gain Fury when given commnds to do stuff and, if not dispersed properly, has the potential to overload your beasts, causing the, to go berserk. I actually quite like this system, it feels a lot less limited than Focus. It has the potential to cripple your force if you're unlucky, but as far as I can see the benefits outweigh the risk.

Overall then, Warmahordes, at least up to 35 points a side, feels like a lot more focussed and intense game than 40k does. It lacks a little of the 'narrative of battle' 40k has, owing largely to the smaller battlefields and forces. It is by no means weaker though, just very different.

It is quick, easy, simple and cheap to collect a strong army for with Warmachine or Hordes. The models are almost all attractive and well made and the game systems have complexities and mechanisms that make them, like all good games, easy to pick and difficult to master.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Building Guide: Project Pandora - Veer-myn

One of the drawbacks to getting older is its often harder to get what you actually want for your birthday. At my age you are basically doomed to socks and other woolen goods unless you really really stamp your foot down and insist on toy soldiers. This year I got my wish. First present up: Project Pandora: Grim Cargo by Mantic.

This is a dungeon crawler, set in Mantic's Warpath universe and includes 10 Corporation Marines and 10 Veer-myn - ratmen. In spaaaace! I'm thinking of converting my marines up into zombie troopers, so here's a quick look at building the Veer-myn.

Here's all the parts you get for ratmen. The important points to note are:

  • There are 8 bodies, four each of two types, that are tail-less. These are the bodies for the grunt troopers.
  • There are two bodies with tails - these are your boss and the heavy weapons trooper.
  • The boss and the heavy trooper's heads are in the little baggie, along with some more tails and the boss's weapons.
  • The guns for the troopers come with hands as part of the cast. They look almost identical but there are two types. Ones with cloth on the fists and ones with studded plates. Separate them out.

Most of the parts for the grunts are interchangeable. The weapons, however, are not. The hands that have cloth wrappings belong to the bodies with cloth rags and cowls - the top set in the above picture. The studded hands go with the bodies that appear all armoured up - the bottom set in the picture.

When gluing your arms on the bodies, make sure to account for the extended jawlines the models will have. These guns cannot really be glued raised in a firing position. The models pretty much have to carry them low down, as if they're running with them. 

Top row: piggies. Bottom row: er, other ones

When it comes to heads, the ones that have gas masks on - piggies, as I like to think of them, generally go better on the cowled/ragged bodies. Conversely, the unmasked heads generally fit the armoured bodies best. You can mix them, as I have, for a bit of variety, just be aware this may lead to some gaps appearing around the necks. Nothing you can't, at the worst, fill with greenstuff though.

Tails you glues. Thankyou very much.

As with the guns, there are two sets of very similar looking tails. These are probably best described as a 'long' selection and four 'short' ones. The long tails are designed to fit into the backsides of the armoured bodies. So, of course, the shorter tails are supposed to go into a little hole below the right knee of the cowled models. I have found you can, again, mix them up for some variety in your models. Fitting the long tails on the cowled models is definitely the trickier job though. It will certainly require some trimming of the tail tabs to make them fit and may also require some greenstuff to get the piece looking really right though.

The above pic shows you the boss parts to attach to one of your tailed bodies. Nice and simple, although why the guy is carrying a gas cannister on his back, I don't know. Can't be very ergonomical when it comes to crawling along ducts. But hey ho. Its the future.

 And here are the parts for the heavy chem thrower rat. The pipe that runs from the tanks on his back to the grip was cast way out of line, but a few seconds under a hot tap put enough bendiness back into it, it was easily fixed.

Here's a nice blurry picture of my Veer-myn boss, whose name I have forgotten, all ready for washing and painting.

And here's the heavy weapon rat.

Once you have sorted out the heads and weapons and so on, these models are all really easy to put together. They are all sprueless, which speeds things up a lot, so apart from a few bits of trimming and a couple of mould lines being taken off, they're quick to do. One of the weapon sections was bent a fair bit, but, as with the aforementioned piping, this was easily fixed with a bit of hot water.

Project Pandora was basically put together on the cheap, as a way of getting Mantic mini's into people's hands quickly, without them having to commit to a whole Warpath army. As such its a pretty good advert for the quality of Mantic's models. I'm not sure choosing not to include a build guide for them was the right choice though as new gamers are possibly just as likely to swear never to buy another game without pre-assembled figures as to choose to invest heavily in Mantic toys. For gamers with a little more experience though, Project Pandora's Veer-myn fit well with Mantic's aim of producing high quality miniatures at very affordable prices.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Future is Mantic

I had the good fortune this past weekend to attend the Open Day at Mantic's headquarters in Nottingham. I had the further good fortune to spend the morning there in a painting workshop with painters from Golem Studio and even further fortune to walk away with a box of Enforcers - Mantic's new army for their Warpath game.

I frame all this as being fortuitous because not only are the folk at Mantic very nice and friendly, they also make some very good miniatures that cost a fraction of their equivalents from Games Workshop.

I have, in the past, been a little critical of Mantic's minis. I checked out sprues for several of their fantasy and sci-fi armies and found them a little lacking. It didn't help that many if the sprues were in fact the same - the same torsos any way, but with different arm options, depending on the timeframe the model is intended for.

But a few months down the line Mantic minis are really starting to develop into something special and cool. Check out the attached photo of one of my Enforcers.

Details are crisp and clear. The sculpts are attractive. These parts all came sprue-free and required minimal clean up before gluing. They come with their own foam-lined carry-case and cost roughly half what ten Space Marines would.

There are still limitations to this awesomeness though, its true. There's little variety between the models and different entries in the army list all use these same models, just varying the number of special weapons they come with.

But this is because Warpath is still in beta - the current ruleset is 2.0. The game, then, is but officially released. The plan is for a Kickstarter to launch the game around April, 2013, shipping product in September. These models are a promise of things to come.

So, there may not be a truly compelling reason for everyone to completely jump ship from the good old S.S. 40k just yet. But its on its way. To of the iceberg, and all that.

I'm already thinking of shifting my Forge World budget over to buying Mantic minis so as to be ahead of the curve as it were, but also to be able to show people there really is an alternative fie toy soldiers from Nottingham.

Who knows, they might even get me playing fantasy wargames!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review/Build of Scibor Celtic Warriors

I have been running two Rune Priests in my Wolves army recently but using other models as proxies. GW do do a reasonable 'official' model and it wouldn't be too hard to scratch build one from spares. But Scibor also do some pretty awesome looking resin models...

Here's a few pictures and some tips on assembling Celtic Warrior and Celtic Warrior #2

 Here's what you get in the clamshell for Warrior 2. A nice scenic base, the body is one cast, and the right arm comes in three parts.

 Its not entirely compatible with GW's range of parts and models. The Scbior figures come with this rotary fan backpack, for example.

 All it took was trimming about a millimeter off the fan with a craft knife though, and a stock marine pack fits on quite neatly.

 The arm glues together quite easily too. Its important to have an idea of orientation before going to glue though. There are no guide marks like you might get on a Privateer Press model.

 Moving on to Warrior. This guy comes in four parts - the base, the body, and a sprue each for the arms. You might want to keep the arms separate until the glue is dry though as, again, there is no guide or mark to identify otherwise which shoulder pad goes with which shoulder.

 Is it a coincidence that the rifle the model carries is the weakest part of the whole sculpt? Well, maybe, maybe not, but its coming off. I chose to cut around the hanging talisman and then through the wrist to remove the gun.

Then a fist with a pistol was glued on to the stump.

The small number of parts and generally high quality of the casts made building and converting the Scibor models to GW style was really really quick and easy. The whole process took about half an hour. There are a few things to look out for though.

I was generally very impressed with the quality of the minis. Once the parts were carved off their sprues there was very little trimming to be done of excess flash. Zero mold-lines. And there were almost no bubbles. Warrior 2 was in fact free of them. Warrior did have a few little holes though. One on his right thumb, one on the haft of his axe and one on the underside of the butt of the same axe. I have used glue to fill them rather than greenstuff as they were all quite small and inconspicuous.

Aside from that, it is very important to use a sharp knife and lots of care when removing parts from the blocks of resin. The shoulder pads in particular are very firmly attached to the sprues. The thick resin was quite hard to cut through. This then means lots of force which means a greater risk of over-cutting both the model's parts and your own. Frankly I'm lucky not to have cut my thumb open last night.

In summary then, the two Scibor models I built and converted last night were of very high quality. Converting them to Space Wolf models is about as simple as it could be. The casts are great quality - both artistically and in production. These models will be a great addition to my Space Wolf army. Some care is need when cutting parts though.

I have added a few purity seals and nicknacks to the models and primed them. Later on I'll post some pictures of the painting.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Games Workshop and The Peter Principle

Have you heard of the 'Peter Principle'? It is the idea that eventually everyone gets promoted to a level of incompetence. That is, you get a job you are qualified for and capable of executing. Eventually your hard work is recognised and you get promoted. Maybe you are good at that next level of responsibility and action so you get promoted again. But, after a few steps like this, you get promoted to a point where you actually aren't capable of doing the job.

Its not a bad theory. The same principle can, in fact, be applied to a lot of areas (pro-Poker players are also liable to play their way up onto tables they can't compete with) including the development of business.

Another way of looking at this idea is that businesses will find what seems a successful strategy and then milk it and stretch it to the point of breaking. It is my belief Games Workshop is doing just that.

Games Workshop, being a Publicly Limited Company, makes its financial results freely available. At the uppermost level, the company appears to be doing well. Profits are good. Shares paid a healthy dividend recently. More lines are continually being added to the product portfolio and new shops and retail accounts appear to be being opened and added every month.

All good, right?

Well, not really.

The problem with the profits being generated by Games Workshop, and in particular recent increases in same, is that they come not from increased sales per se but from increased efficiencies. That is, GW is not selling more boxes of models, they're just spending less on doing it.

These efficiencies come in several flavours, from supply chain reorganisations to mass lay-offs and the opening of one-man stores with limited opening hours. Several stores have just announced reduced opening hours - including my own local GW.

While the financials make sweet reading to share holders looking for dividends, they are not good news for the business in the long run as they ignore one of the primary factors in GW's survival and prosperity over the last twenty years - its retail network.

By this I mean the shops and the people that work in them. Its all very well having the largest network of retail floorspace in the industry, but it does you no good if its staffed by mouth-breathers who neither know nor care about the product they peddle. Just ask any High Street fashion or technology outlet.

Research by the YMCA network of gyms in America found that people became and stayed members more for the social side of the gym than the actual fitness side. That is, they YMCA figured out it didn't need to spend as much money on fancy new gym equipment as it did on getting staff to be welcoming to members, know their names and goals, that sort of thing. Similarly, people go into stores like GW as much to play with other people as they do to shop.

When you walk in to a GW, as well as enticing boxes full of fantastical toys and games, you see other players. The background and the models are great - probably best in the industry and all that - but what keeps people playing and buying beyond the first impulse purchase is the social side of gaming. People like doing stuff with other people, its as simple as that. GW stores have facilitated that.

Or at least they used to.

My local GW used to have pretty much unlimited gaming, painting, and modeling for anyone. You could turn up any day of the week and, if there was a space, sit and paint, or play a game with a friend. You generally wouldn't do this on a weekend day, just because those were the days all the school kids would mob the store so best to stay away. But apart from that, it was a great place to hang out, play, paint, build, chat, etc.

Then we got a new manager and this was changed. Now there would only be spaces for gaming and painting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sure, it was from opening till 8pm, but that wasn't the big message that most of the loyal customers took home. What these new gaming hours said was 'if you aren't buying something, you aren't welcome in the shop five days a week'. Sounds dramatic, I know, but thats what we heard. This was particularly galling after a lot of the regulars had literally worked through nights to help the Store Manager get a display board ready for Games Day. One regular's flat became a sort of doss-house for the volunteers trudging back and forth to the store each day to build more and paint more. For the store.

Playing hours just recently changed again (less than a year after the first reduction). Now the Tuesday gaming has been shortened to end at 5pm. So, if you have a job or family commitments during the day, you're out of luck on a Tuesday. Oh, and by the way, during school holidays, over 16's gaming only starts at 5pm anyway.

And today it was announced the shop wouldn't even open on Tuesdays.

So, to revise, we have gone from a store with a loyal clientele who all visited several times a week, bought, played, and painted there, and were willing to work nights for free to help the staff with their projects to one where we are only welcome one day of the five in a week unless we have our wallets open. 

I am not unaware of the rationale behind 'efficiencies' like these. There's a recession on, blah blah blah. No doubt sales on these two days are particularly weak. To save on wages and overheads the decision has been made. But really it is just one more negative response to the problems of business.

Once again the profit margin is being protected not by aggressively driving volume sales, innovating new product lines, or recruiting new customers, but by cutting off what the upper management see as dead flesh.

It may be the higher ups see this as part of a viable long-term strategy to eliminate their retail footprint entirely - they sell the same product at exactly the same price on the web. Perhaps they figure they can continue to make money that way. The official blurb from GW is that they are a manufacturer, not a retailer, so its entirely plausible the Board of Directors sees the retail network as  a liability, not an asset. The problem with that though is there are a growing number of alternative retail outlets that do provide gaming, do value customer footfall, and sell all GW's competitors for less than GW's prices.

I'm also aware I'm a little spoilt by having Wayland Games and Tabletop Nation on my doorstep. But I'm not the only GW customer who is finding alternative places and systems to play.

Is it a coincidence then, that the biggest single share holder, recently receiving a nice dividend of 29p per share, in GW is also its 62 year old Chairman? Is it ironic or sarcastic that that same Chairman said in his preamble to recent financials that 'short-termism' was a great evil?

We will see. For now though, there is really no reason for me to go into a Games Workshop. I can get anything I want from them cheaper elsewhere, including getting to actually play their games. But I can also get a whole lot more from those other venues and I will post more about that later in the week.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thoughts on vehicles in 6th Edition 40k

The latest edition has been out a few weeks now and I've had a chance to play a half dozen games and wanted to share a few observations on one aspect of the new meta in particular - vehicles.

In 6th Ed, vehicles were pretty much king. Marine armies were often built around Land Raiders and Rhinos, Orks raced across the field in Truks and Wagons, Tau were nothing without a few Hammerheads, and so on and so on. Lets not even get started on Imperial Guard lists....

The conventional wisdom is that all this was likely to change in 6th though. The fact that glancing hits can now remove a tank in as few as three shots should make your Razorbacks and Falcons much more vulnerable, greatly reducing their lifespan. Not being able to camp in a vehicle on top of objectives also reduces the utility of these mobile boxes. But is that how the new game is playing out?

In my last six games I have played with Eldar, Space Wolves, and a mix of Space Wolves and Blood Angels. I have beaten Grey Knights (tabled them twice), a mix of Marines and Dark Eldar, Blood Angels (tabled again) and pure Eldar. Yeah, so far, I'm unbeaten in 6th Ed :) But the point I actually want to make is I've seen a fair variety of vehicles and infantry at play.

My initial verdict: vehicles are by no means done with and are still extremely valuable additions to most armies.

Take my Space Wolves list. I have a fairly aggressive and competitive list. It involves a couple of units of Long Fangs, three Lazerbacks, a las-Pred, and usually a las/missile launcher Dread'. In the three or four games I have fielded them, I have not lost more than two vehicles in the entire game. In fact, I have only ever lost two on one occasion.

Even in last night's semi-Apocalypse game of 4000 points a side, I only lost one Razorback. The other two were on one Hull Point each, true. But my side still also had two las-Preds and a Vindicator untouched by enemy fire.

My Space Wolf tanks aren't even in cover!

So far, it seems, the same principles of the 5th meta hold true for 6th. That is to say, multiple redundancies and correct threat projection will mean your enemy won't be able to target and destroy enough of your vehicles fast enough to stop you doing what you want to with them. How does this work?

1. Multiple Targets.

First, if my army has 11 missile launchers and 7 las-cannons, several being twin-linked, many of which are in cover or obscured, but all of which are pointed at you, as well as tactical marines with meltas and plasma guns running towards you, how do you choose which to shoot first? Unless you also have lots of high powered weapons, or at least weapons powerful enough to Glance from range, its  a difficult process.

2. Cover Saves

Eventually you will prioritise a target though. First you have to roll to hit. you might miss or scatter. Then you have to roll to wound or penetrate. Then I get to make cover saves/invulnerables etc. I'm not saying you can't or I won't make any of these rolls. The point is there are lots of rolls to make to do some damage. And I'm not even using a Aegis or Skyshield yet...

3. Hull Points Aren't As Easy To Take As It Seems, Or Multiple Targets Part 2

So all hits now take hull points from vehicles. But the most common ones come with three. So my semi-mech Space Wolves have a total twelve hull points between them. Even for Necrons, who I hear can take out a tank a turn, will need a few turns of good shooting to eliminate all of them. By which time I will probably have done what I needed to do with them.

That last sentence is key to understanding vehicles, and infantry for that matter, in 6th. As much as your opponent needs to be clear on which targets they can and should attempt to take out first, you need to know what you are going to do with yours because you must assume they will get destroyed eventually.

But what about fliers?

The Eldar list I have been playing in 6th only includes three vehicles. Thats a single Wave Serpent and two fliers. In the hardest game I have played in 6th to date, I lost both the fliers and the Serpent to Orks. That said, I did misuse my Phoenix Bomber horribly, wasting its shots on an Ork Battlewagon, instead of taking out the 15 Looters that then proceeded to shoot it out of the sky. But hey ho, it was the first time I used it and I was a little panicked by the fact my opponent had two Baneblades-as-Wagons racing across a 4x4 table at my squishy Troops. A bit of an aberration then.

Against Grey Knights, the same Eldar obliterated 1750 points in four turns for the loss of two, yes two, Wraithguard...

But, for all that, flyers haven't really percolated down into the meta around here that deeply.

I shot down my Grey Knight opponent's solitary Stormraven with a lucky snapshot from a missile launcher before my Nightwing even got on the board. Last night my Dark Eldar opponent's Voidraven bomber scattered a Mine almost entirely off the board, then took a penetrating hit that removed a lance, and then failed to hit with its remaining gun in the last turn. Still, the strategy of shooting jets like that with las-cannons still seems, to me, the best alternative to a Skyfire weapon.

Until quad-cannons and Icarus lasers and flakk missiles become commonplace its probably too early to tell how deadly flyers will be in the long run. I suspect they will become fairly key in armies designed around them and taking out the aforementioned AA guns will be a high priority for controlling players though.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Super-quick Thoughts on Aeronautica by Forge World

While at the GW Open Day a few weeks back I got a chance to flick through a copy of Forge World's new Imperial Armour book, Aeronautica. I decided not to buy it, as all the models is covered where already present in other books I already own. The Eldar flyers for examples, are both in Imperial Armour 11. I missed a couple of things though.

This week I got a better look at a copy of the book in my local GW store. First off I noticed that the Nightwing and Phoenix Bomber are both now legit Codex Eldar choices. As far as I could remember the statlines and points costs were the same as in IA11, but this now means you can field them in your Craftworld army and are easier (read:cheaper) to add as allies to a Dark Eldar force.

This also means, of course, that I just wasted a few quid and more hours painting those Corsairs. Grrrr. I may well be ebaying them soon. Or send me an offer.

The second thing I saw was that the Fire Storm has a transport capacity of six. This is not a change to previous rules editions, its just the first time I noticed it.

In 5th Ed. 40k the Fire Storm was the red headed step-child of the game. Not really much use in a standard game - the slot it takes up can be much better filled with more powerful tanks. In Apocalypse it could be useful - if your opponent took flyers. Other than that it was a high-cost low AP gun. But now we're playing 6th and there are flyers everywhere. Add in the fact Tankhunters USR got much more deadly in 6th and the Fire Storm (which did get upgraded to 'Skyfire' in Aeronautica) becomes a fairly viable transport choice for that unit of Fire Dragons you've got. Its not cheap. But twin-linked skyfire shots in a fast skimmer that can carry dudes around? Maybe worth it...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Losing Weight, the Forge World Way!

As a middle-aged man who is at home most of the day with the kids, it was easy to become, shall we say, 'well-built'. Or we could say 'fat'. its up to you. Whatever you choose, I am quite certainly the visual definition of overweight. Medical charts would classify me as being dangerously so. Not in imminent danger of diabetes, heart disease, or any of the myriad other health issues weight can precipitate, but certainly heading that way. Ok, I'll be brutal - I'm obese.

Thank you, Doctor.

The key to successful change of any kind though is motivation. Sometimes this can be fear of negative consequences but such is human nature that more often than not the appeal of gaining something is far more powerful. So I have decided to utilise a trick that helped me quit smoking nearly a decade ago to help me lose weight.

I simply added up all the money I was going to spend on tabs and instead spent it, guilt free, on toys.

Thank you Valve, and Gordon Freeman, for saving me from lung cancer.
I did this with a simple spreadsheet. One column had the day's date. The next, how much I would have spent that day on nicotine. The third kept a running total of that cash. Being that smoking is habitual, it was easy to make a count each day of how many cigarettes I was likely to have consumed. One after breakfast, another mid-morning, maybe a couple at lunch time, one late afternoon, two, maybe three in the evening, and so on. I knew what my triggers were, when I was likely to have needed more nicotine, would have been too busy to smoke and so on. Before long I had a steadily growing total of cash saved up.

Just in case anyone reading still doesn't know that.

Note I did not stop myself from smoking per se. If I really wanted one, I could have one. But it took practically no time at all before the potential reward (another £6 to add to the total!) quickly outweighed the desire to smoke. Instead of satisfying that craving to sit down, relax, chill, smoke, I could remind myself I intended to buy a new graphics card for my PC and I would far rather have that than five minutes poisoning myself.

It is easier, then, to change a habit for a reward than it is for a punishment.

So, with my weight, I have decided (with my wife's support too!) that for the next three months, I will be rewarded with £10 for every 1% of body weight I lose down to 100kg. I currently weigh just over 116kg, meaning I could gain about £150 to splurge on Forge World!
Swapping a gut for this.

The cash incentive is to help me form new habits, healthy habits, that will get me fitter and slimmer, faster. Instead of sitting in front of the PC or TV in the evening I can go for a walk or run. I can say 'no' to those late night cravings for cereal, bread and peanut butter, or chocolate, and instead check out Forge World's website for new models, books and supplies.
How far would I have to run to get these boys?
 It is already working. Instead of wasting the morning surfing the web and mooching around the house, I am going for a swim. Maybe I 'll spend the afternoon digging the garden. Maybe I won't as I will have my 5-month old boy with me. But maybe I'll spend the time bench-pressing and bicep curling him instead :)

And then I can re-watch the Horus Heresy trailer and plan out tomorrow's exercises....

Thats the plan then and I would love to hear from any other overweight gamers who would like to lose weight along with me. Maybe some sort of friendly competition? A fortnightly weigh-off with prizes for the winner? Or just get in touch if you want help getting motivated to get slim and/or more healthy. If I can figure it out, I will share the Google Doc with my weigh ins here - any tips on how to do that would also be welcome. Thanks :)

UPDATE: As of 31/8/12, one week in to the plan, and I have lost 1.2kg, just over 1% :) Thats the first £10 done!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: The Legend of Sigmar

Thanks to Graham McNeill, I now have a respectable number of books in the Horus Heresy series jamming up my bookshelves. It was 'A Thousand Sons', you see, that got me hooked on the series, even though I only bought it so that 'Prospero Burns' would make sense when that was published. I was a fan of Space Wolves, now I am a fan of Graham McNeill. As well as being a great writer, he's a nice bloke in person - intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful. Whats not to like?

Given the addiction to Heresy era novels Mr McNeill spawned in me, I was a little wary of buying any of his Time of Legends books. What if I liked them as much as the HH titles? I don't really like fantasy novels as such, but what if these were so good I then had to hunt down every other Legends title?

Well, the good news for you is the books are pretty good. The good news for me is they're not so good I have to buy any more.
The first book in the series,'Heldenhammer', covers from Sigmar's first battle (plus that pretty much prerequisite 'difficult command decision') through the subjugation and annexation of most of the other kingdoms of men right up to the Battle of Blackfire Pass - the point at which his Emperorhood (ship?) was pretty much confirmed and the Empire was really born.

'Empire' then shows that even with the Empire forged and codified, enemies within and without still threaten to undo Sigmar's work. There are 'daemons' to be slain and necromancers to be defeated. The northern borders are threatened and so on and so on.

Finally, 'God King' shows us Sigmar dealing with the greatest threat to the lands of men to ever rise - Nagash. While all the Empire must fight, it is Sigmar alone who must defeat the most powerful necromancer to walk the land.

As background to the 'current' world of Warhammer, its all good stuff. The empire is still the most powerful force around as well as the only progressive one and its roots are all here to see. From the reason the Empire is ruled by Counts (and Vampire Counts!) to how Dwarves were so instrumental in its founding, McNeill does a great job of explaining and exploring the character and foundation of the great realm of men.

If anything though, these books are too short. I was expecting pacing more like the Horus Heresy series where entire books can be given over to a single battle or discovery. Indeed, the Battle for Blackfire Pass is over in a couple of chapters. Much is made of the effort to get the united tribes of men to the same place and fighting the same enemy. But that enemy is practically sketched. They're green and big. One is bigger than the rest and has a flying mount. But they all die pretty quickly and there's no real sense of menace from the greatest inhuman horde to ever invade the Empire.

The battle against Nagash is a little more fleshed out (no pun intended). But Nagash's invasion plan, a quite cunning one, is barely touched upon and his motivations and character are hardly mentioned.

Similarly, dwarves appear to be fundamental to the inception and creation of the Empire, as well as its survival through several invasions, yet their motivations and reasoning is left frustratingly unexplained.

There are a few events that really don't fit well into the pacing and plot of the rest of the story too. 'Empire' in particular suffers from storylines that really don't serve much more purpose than to fill out the book and possibly provide some backstory for characters dealt with more thoroughly in the final part of the trilogy. I get that its important one Count tried to sacrifice his sister to appease daemons and thats why she doesn't really like him. But did Sigmar really have to ride all the way over there to save her? Could he not have sent someone else and got on with fighting someone a bit more important?

Could we also not have spent more time looking at Azazel and what he did next to try to topple the Empire? And how letting one character walk out of the story at one point, only to miraculously reappear, fundamentally changed (i.e. insane) yet still able to save the day several hundred pages later was allowed by the editors I don't know.

Reading the whole trilogy put me in mind of the closing (or is it opening scene?) of Conan the Barbarian, the Schwarzenegger version. You know, where Conan is sat upon a mighty throne, surrounded by riches, yet clearly not all that happy with his position. The narrator tells us how 'my Lord' was not always so, that he came from humble beginnings, and then we get to see at least a little bit of that rise. But mostly the film is about the forging of the man's character, as is the sequel. We never actually get to see how Conan became a King or Emperor or whatever. Maybe 'The Legend if Sigmar' would be better if it was more like that. Forging an Empire should take a loooong time - almost as long as forging an Emperor in fact. 'The Legend..' kind of chops it all down to a conveniently sized trilogy, leaving me wanting more, but none in the right way.

Overall though, its a good story. The reintroduction of characters in 'God King' we last saw as children in 'Heldenhammer' helps tie the books into one epic story. Its part 'The Adventures of Sigmar', and part 'The Epic of Sigmar' too.

A worthwhile read for fans of the Warhammer universe and of Graham McNeill himself. Perhaps not a necessary purchase for fans of fantasy writing in general though.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Good old fashioned Blood Angel Terminators (with NMM)

I had a great day at Wayland Games/Tabletop Nation today, including a sweet game of 40k where my Eldar/Corsairs tabled a bunch of Grey Knights :) More on that tomorrow (I think). For today, here's some Blood Angel Terminators I painted a while back.

 Having painted nearly thirty Space Wolf Termies before this lot, it was kind of a relief to build and paint models with pretty much the same armour and equipment. Paint for the armour is the usual recipe of Mechrite Red, Blood Red layer, Blazing Orange and Vomit Brown highlights and Graveyard Earth shade.

 The Storm Shield has a very basic Codex Grey base. I forgot what I used for shades and highlights. I believe the cracked effects are just lines of Codex Grey/Chaos Black mix, with a very fine highlight of skull white (maybe a very light grey?) to give that 3D effect.

The 'nid skull is a spare from a genestealer sprue. Its a happy coincidence that the few 'nids I have painted have been that colour as it matches the colours on the termies really well. Almost as if I planned it...

 Side view - so you can see the Forge World shoulder pads. The sculpt quality is pretty good. You can keep the ribbons and parchment as far as I am concerned, but the winged blood drops are really sharply cast - very easy to paint up with a striking contrast between the recesses and raised points. I don't think the Blood Angels pack is nearly as good as the Space Wolves one - it would have been nice to see a proper conversion kit, rather than just an upgrade style pack. But they are still a nice way to mark out your BA terminators out as different than the plain boxed ones.

 So here I wanted to show the blend I did for the NMM effect on the Thunder Hammer. There's something about taking pictures with my phone when the light is really strong though, hence that bar effect you can see. I suspect its just that the light is too strong for my camera, but hopefully you get the idea. For a steel effect, I often start with a base of Hawk Turquoise/Bleached Bone. I then blend up to Space Wolves Grey, then through to White. I blend down to Regal Blue.

Getting this NMM effect is, in my opinion, easier on smaller pieces, like these blades or Dreadnought claws, than on big pieces of armour. Thats because you only have to worry about light coming from one direction. Often my NMM blends can actually look really crumby until the very last step - the edge highlight and notching. I often do this with my lightest blend of the base but you can do it with straight white paint too. Basically, you overbrush the edges (every one!) so you get a fine edge highlight and then add a few diagonal streaks. Depending on how you do it, you can get either the effect of the blade being pitted from striking hard objects of seeming to shine with reflected light.

You don't have to do a NMM blend to get this effect either. Even if you use the old Boltgun Metal/Badab Black wash, followed by a drybrush with Chainmail technique, you can add a degree of verisimilitude to your blade by adding these notches/streaks. The trick is getting the lines thing enough to look natural and then knowing when to stop :)

PLEASE do feel free to ask any questions. I know you are reading this :) If you have any questions about any of the stuff I have painted or written about, leave a comment. Unless you're going to be rude, of course. In which case, move on - this isn't the place for you :)