Miniature games

Everything Wrong With Miniature Gaming part 2 of 3

If you didn’t like the previous article you’re really not going to like this one. Before you start I am aware that the people who create miniature games are doing it for the love and aren’t marketers or PR guys but if no one else is going to call them out on the issues they run into I guess I’ll have to be the guy who casts the first stone. This is the second of three articles on everything I don’t like.

About the marketing:

On every box or book I would like a QR code taking you to a 2 minute video elevator pitch about the game. Selling is not about looking excited while sitting next to a board while you give people a blow by blow description of the rules. It needs to look like this, this or this. And not like the frothing love fest that Beasts of War churns out.

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Key sales point. Games Workshop has a network of shops you can go into a find a person to play a game without buying a table or scenery, it’s the biggest. X Wing has pre-painted miniatures. Warmachine has the steampunk flavour locked down as well as a group of supporters who are all embittered former squat players who hate Games Workshop. Tor Gamings Relics has an army of patchwork cloth British infantry, Malifaux has pigs. Flames of War is the best way to command an army of real historical tanks and infantry. The Laws of Marketing suggest that if you aren’t the first in the market (Games Workshop) you need to be the first in a subsection of it.

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Read books on marketing and human psychology. Marketing is not a scammy way of exploiting your customers to get them to buy from you, it’s a way of keeping your customer base happy and allowing you to provide them with a great experience. This does not mean you have to antagonise them with pop up windows or clickbait. Did you know there are 6 major ways to persuade people into following a certain course of action, find out more here and be amazed.

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Create website, create mailing list, create content for website, add the subscribe button to the bottom of every post, build subscribers, send emails on your progress, repeat until you have enough subscribers to sell products to.

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Don’t undercharge. Frostgrave, Warlord Games’ Historical and Bolt Action lines can sell you a standard infantry model in a set for £1 each, Mantic will match those prices when they run a Kickstarter but often seem to run at about £2, other companies seem to approach £3-£5. Character kits which will usually only need to be purchased once can be sold for £7-12. If you want to read about why you shouldn’t chase the bottom of the market you can read here, here and here. The bottom line is companies need money to continue making good products and so giving them less money will only make their next product less good. Another point is that these companies are making a product for you to spend real time putting together and painting. This will take at least 2 hours but sometimes 4 or 5. As an experiment take your current hourly wage and work out how much money you could have earnt while you were painting a model, if you look at it like this you’ll see that there really isn’t as big a difference between £1 and £5 as you think.

Don’t overcharge. Games Workshop has tried to sell single figure character kits for £18 before rapidly backing down and stuffing them in with a bundle of other miniatures. They have also tried to charge £30 for a unit of 10 models or £22 for a unit of 5 models that you will need to buy two copies of to complete a unit. While this does average out to the £3-4 mark I have just identified as being ideal for infantry you’ve got to remember that as part of a standard sized force both will be making up less than 10% of it.

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Overcharge if you are offering extras. Kingdom Death offers models for £16 with base inserts, numbered and signed cards and two prices of artwork. If you only want to sell single models that will only be purchased once this seems to work out pretty well.

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Mobile and tablet friendly website please. There are free products on the market that handle dynamic web design so you don’t have to, this blog for instance resizes itself depending on screen size. This website doesn’t:  don’t be like them.

Shipping costs front and center. Anvil industries is what I want to see, hiding shipping until the checkout point like Kingdom Death is what I don’t want to see.

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Well done, 2 down, 1 more to go, read part 3 here



Everything Wrong With Miniature Gaming Part 1 of 3

I went to the UK Gamers Expo this year and indulged in a binge of demos for various miniature games and I can happily report that there are a number of shining stars out there that could easily take off based on theme, quality of models or elegance of rules. However, I’m also sad to report that it exposed the Achilles heel of miniature wargaming in that the rules are often impossible to teach while keeping the game fun and that the models themselves are often simply avatars for a tableau of cards with hit points, energy counters and special rules that sit on the edge of the table and challenge each player to try and remember them.

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I had a think about what I would be looking for out of a new game on the market and everything I don’t like in the current offerings. Make no mistake, I play these games because I like them but its hard to sit back and claim that this hobby churns out the type of quality products that the current Golden Age of Board Games is producing.

This is the first of three articles on everything I don’t like…

About the miniatures themselves:

I want everything to stick to around 28-32mm heroic scale models so they match everything on the market today (GW is 28mm Warmachine is 30-32mm), I love the look of 52mm stuff but you can’t get scenery to match it, ask the guys who created Smog 1888, I also like the look of 15mm and 10mm models but they have the same problem with scenery and also the fact painting infantry that small fills me with dread. Picture found here)

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Multi part sprue. As a kit basher the ability to swap torsos and legs around as well as extra parts fills me with an uncomfortable amount of joy. Not everyone wants a model to look exactly the same as another, different arm and head combinations take up a tiny amount of space if added to the mould correctly. In fact if you are going that far why not add things like tiny familiars to a wizards sprue, flying drones to a futuristic soldiers kit or tiny goblin creatures to a giant Orc model. I’d go so far as to say that you need to fill up as much space in the sprue as possible, just cram stuff in there as long as it doesn’t effect the quality.

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Hire a decent designer. Its 2016, we use computers and 3D modelling these days so there is no reason to produce models that look like this, this or this any more. It’s unfair of me to expect every company to do this but at least publish the free stuff sculpts to your viewing public for feedback.

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Hire a decent painter. Its 2016, we use things called Washes and Airbrushes so there is no reason to show your models looking like this, this or this. Again you could say I’m being harsh because as soon as you take a photo and blow it up to the size you need to stick it on a box or a website you will see some uncomfortable specks of dirt or parts you missed but I can forgive the pointless use of Photoshop here.

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Get a painting guide for the figures, show people what to do with their new models with a HD video or even a narrated slideshow on Youtube. As long as it’s a decent quality you can show your audience how to paint up these figures, here is a guy going through Imperial Assault, here are the Games Workshop versions.

A kit that fits through a letterbox. Possibly not practical, the current restrictions on large letter sizes are 35.3cm x 25cm x 2.5cm. If this is possible it would be great as even though I use a separate mailing address to take deliveries of large objects a lot of people are put off of shopping online due to having to take a trip to their local post office if they are out when the mailman comes. Obviously some units are going to be too large to manage this but they can be flagged as such on the companies website.

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No lipped bases. The bases used by Warmachine and Malifaux make no sense to me at all, I can only assume someone saw a standard GW produced slottabase and decided that they wanted to make something so entirely different it would make their miniatures stand out, which while a idea that sounds good on paper produces bases that you can’t pick up, and leave you manhandling the actual miniature in order to move it around. The reason they look so nice is that Games Workshop kept putting models on undersized bases for years before coming up with the 32mm size they now use for Space Marines. I’m not saying that all companies need to rename their products but if you are starting from scratch just use the old school standard.

Plastic or Resin or UniCast when it’s ready. Plastic is ideal but most companies don’t have that kind of money so I’ll settle for resin as its light it won’t scratch and its tough as long as the kit is thick enough. Lead or white metal is awful to work with and leaves horrible to find mould lines and fragments everywhere. UniCast is a very flexible system that allows you to cast models in one piece in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Jake Thornton has Ben talking about this a lot recently.

Extras in the box. Steve Jobs worked out that unboxing a product was important to ensure the users experience was as good as possible. Miniature companies ignored this for a long time and then along came Fantasy Flights’ X Wing Miniatures game with a prepainted model, cardboard tokens, equipment cards, multiple pilot cards and a manoeuvre dial squeezed in. Several years later its one of the highest grossing miniature games on the market meanwhile everyone else stuffs a plastic sprue or metal model out of the mould and into a box with an appropriate sized base. Tor Gaming’s Relics models have laser cut wooden counters, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to throw some artwork, glass gems to count damage, plastic tokens to mark shields or explosions, poker chips with decals on, transfers, the list is almost endless.

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Painted pictures of the models on the boxes. This really winds me up. Now I understand that the production process these days starts with a 3d model that gets sent away to be cast and by the time it comes back there is no time to change the picture on the box but at least stick a bloody QR code on the front of the kit that links to a webpage that will hold a mobile friendly shot of the models after a professional painter has finished with it. This seems endemic in this industry, especially with Kickstarters more and more common. I constantly see 3D shots of the model or prototype pictures and have to hunt down the painted shot of the model or models on someone’s Facebook page. I’m left wondering if anyone is ever actually painting up Malifaux or Guild Ball models these days or even if the models advertised actually exist anywhere outside of a computer. And while I’m on the subject I don’t want photoshopped images of the models stuck up anywhere in the sales page. I’m looking at you Games Workshop. If a model is holding a burning sword then I want to see how well that sword looks, not a photoshopped rendered version of it to make it look better. Dreamforge Games sells itself extremely short by trying to combine both worlds by giving the 3D models a computer painted skin and putting them on a 3D background. These aren’t Revell models, you can’t just paint a picture of what you hope it will look like and hope that I will buy anyway.

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Still reading? Why not move to part 2 here

FYI that header image of unpainted miniatures and unfinished terrain is from Wikipedia, well done wargamers, good job.



 

Review – Dreadball version 1

Dreadball is Mantic Games’ Tron style future basketball sports game. It was conceived as an attempt to get a slice of the BloodBowl gamers pie and launched on Kickstarter back in the day, its about to get a second edition soon like Deadzone but I gave the latest version a whirl to see how it played.
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First impressions, I liked the board but the low resolution artwork and the blur effect on everything left it lacking in visual effect, the miniatures are some of the worst ever sculpted, even with nice paint jobs they eye wateringly ugly. Giant oversized spikes shoot out of the goblin’s hands while some of the human (Enforcer) sculpts looks like they were sculpted from scratch in one go and left next to a hair drier to melt and distort while the designer went to the pub, sadly this is endemic of Mantic and a serious issue that are only hair trying to fix.
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The only benefit is that they are all plastic which makes them super light and durable although if you were going to invest in plastic moulds you’d have paid more attention to the models. The rules are both simple and abstract at the same time, your team has 5 activations a turn, you mark which players you activate on a table to the left on the board and can activate models twice if you need. I liked this a lot as its an elegant way of marking which models you use and ensuring that the turns get done quickly and saves the 11 player shuffle that starts off some games of BloodBowl. There are turnovers which also end your turn but they only trigger if you make a mistake while carrying the call, again I like this as explaining everything that can cause a turnover in BloodBowl to a new player is tricky to say the least.  The combat, dodging, picking up the ball and other tests are done by Mantics trademark dice test where you roll a number of dice and count the number of successes you get. It works well here but I did like the special block dice BloodBowl gave you that produced a much more thrilling result when double skulls get rolled. When you attack another player you count the number of successes you have against theirs then the difference is how many turns that player is out for, 4 turns means the player is dead, but before this happens the defending player rolls 3 dice and for every 5+ reduces it by one. Unfortunately this kind of streamlined, mechanical, elegance causes the game to lose a bit of the humour BloodBowl had in its slightly longer injury system. For instance in Dreadball your Enforcer Jack can be removed from the pitch for 2 turns after taking a strike from a opposing Striker, however in BloodBowl your Orc Blitzer can be pushed into the crowd and in the ensuring brawl get knocked out. Notice how one of these statements sounds good and the other sounds a bit bland.
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Simple is all well and good and there is a benefit for having a lighter simpler ruleset, unfortunately when it come to Dreadballs turn to inject its own flavour into the matches everything takes a turn for the worse. One of the most evocative parts of BloodBowl is the invisible referee that is constantly abused by the players on the pitch and the crowd. He might send a player off for carrying a secret weapon or assisting a foul but other than that his involvement is minimal, in Dreadball you move a ref model around the pitch every turn, the only trouble is that fouls in both games are rare enough to sometimes never occur during a match. This is fine as fouling a downed player is a “Win More” mechanic and really something only high end players have to be worried about remembering to do but it does rub the wrong way against all the other streamlined parts. Another part I didn’t like was the deck of cards that sits at the side of the board and is dealt out to players at the start of the game to give random free additional actions during their activations, I really didn’t understand the need for this other than also being used to  generate movement for the ref and sometimes powerful random effects, it’s obviously a replacement for the Kick Off table in BloodBowl but the only problem is the Kick Off table used to add flavour into the game by depicting crowd riots and random gusts of wind to effect the ball however this just seems to churn out cards like “Your striker gets an extra move” and the like.
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One thing I do like is that the game doesn’t wait till you stop the half before allowing you to send new players onto the pitch to replace those that are injured, you can move them on from the back of your side of the pitch with your standard action orders, this allows you to push up into the opponents pitch, lose some players and be pushed back down again only for fresh players to bolster your defence leading you to rebound back down the pitch, weirdly it reminds me of a multiplayer online battle arena game like League of Legends or Smite with the shifting focus on different areas.
All in all there is a mechanically sound game at the heart of this system although heart and soul is what the game is missing, there are 25 races for Dreadball but virtually no trace of any crowds watching, virtually no hint of a larger universe that can be gleaned from gameplay, no debris from previous matches in the roll out pitch just distorted figures moving around a hex grid system trying to move a ball into the glowing red or blue areas so they can make a dice test.
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Sadly I wouldn’t recommend buying this, not just because of the poor quality of models or the flabby rules, it’s because you could improve the game immensely by replacing all the miniatures with hexagonal tiles like the ones in Hive with the position of the player and their stats and have the fast cheap experience that the core of the game is supposed to provide. That being said giving how Mantic have no problem in gutting their game and provide a better experience I wouldn’t be surprised to come back and find the cards and ref had all been replaced with the dice based order system in Deadzone.
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Review – Deadzone version 2

Do you like Necromunda, if so I’m sure Mantic Games would never try to exploit the facts it’s out of production with a similar style game for you to buy instead. Actually that’s a poor opening statement, the only real similarity between the games are the skirmish setting and the plastic scenery in the box. Now it looks like I’ve written click bait in order to distract your gaze from the latest multi part Space Marine or Warjack kit out this month in a desperate attempt to further increase viewers to my blog, well it worked and now you can either stay here and read my thoughts on it after playing some games or close the browser is disgust. It’s your choice but as the WordPress dashboard doesn’t record how long a click-through lasts I’ve already won.
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We used the deluxe gaming mat and fully painted scenery with two fully painted forces courtesy of my mate Simon “Morat” Brown. Simon airbrushed his scenery to achieve a oily used look where as I hit mine with a couple of different colours via spraycan before giving it a white spray coat and using ripped foam to stipple dark brown weathering all over it. I think I will use some Flory Washes to darken it down in the next step, but they served their purpose for now. The game seems to come with 75% of the scenery required so I would say those ruin sprues with the expansion are mandatory for someone wanting to buy into this.
The rules were easy to pick up: roll the command dice, move squares and when necessary roll tests to shoot or fight against your opponent, the process of learning them and playing a first 100 point game took slightly over an hour and left me quite happy, I screwed up, was punished for screwing up and could see what happened and why so I could alter my mistakes in the next game. The key rule here is that you roll a number of command dice at the start of a turn which give you extra shoot actions, extra combat actions, extra movement or can be used to individually add extra dice to a test, you can then re roll any number of them if over half of your force is still alive. You then have to pick when to use them all during your turn. The real zinger is that one dice result is a Special Order which can be used by whichever leader you picked to produce a special effect. Enforcer Sergeants can order their squad members to make an extra free move, while Plague stage 1A‘s can mutate a friendly model for a random effect.
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I found that playing as Enforcers and moving into the centre and shooting didn’t work as trying to bring down large creatures in cover with laser rifles was completely ineffective, I discovered standing on scenery and shooting down was much better too late as after early luck a stage 2 got in amongst my forces and tore them to pieces.
We swapped sides and discovered that when used correctly Enforcers can manoeuvre quickly into great firing position and rain down pain, in fact I managed to lose a stage 2 in my deployment zone on the first turn before even activating it after Simon used a combination of special dice and his leaders ability to sprint a Enforcer over to the top of a building to shoot into my deployment zone. The game was saved by the monstrous stage 1A mutating itself to give itself the ability Agile via a special order and extra movement order then leaping over a nearby building and ambushing and killing a Enforcer who got too close while trying to capture a 2 vp objective. The following turn he managed to shrug off the effects of the remaining Enforcers fire before once again using a move order to pounce on the Enforcer Sergeant who was nearby giving me another 3 vp.
This prompted a discussion on how exactly to kill giant creatures like this, we thought that every force needs to have access to some ranged weapons with an AP value or ensure that they keep further than two squares away from it at all times while they capture other objectives, however in a following game we found that rolling the command dice until you get the extra dice result and then waiting until you can get a clear shot on it ensures that you can get a couple of wounds in.
Regardless, the rules are quick simple and engaging, the combat mechanic is one of the fastest ones I have seen in any skirmish miniatures game and lends itself to making tactical decisions based on model positioning rather than giving someone the best skills and weapons and watching them clean house. Squeezing models into the squares could be tricky as although Mantic has made the bases for the models very small sometimes they have to rest ontop of gantries or barrels to fit in the squares.
As I was writing up this report Jake Thornton published an FAQ for the rulebook which clears up some areas of confusion and fixes overpowered units making the game even better, sadly some of the errors were in the editing and they could have saved themselves some embarrassment by more in depth reading, however that being said with loads of leaders, troops, specialist and vehicles to test some balance issues are going to creep through.
Another thing I liked is that for 100 points you have a huge variety of things you can use and you really only scrape the surface of force design, we only used between 5-7 models each so it’s ideal for painters who work slowly as they can slowly build up their forces over time. The models are a mixed bag, the Orc equivalents and some of the weird aliens in the Rebs faction are embarrassing ( but appear to have been removed from sale) while the larger stage 1A Plague leaders and Enforcer Peacekeepers are quite nice, the tiny bases size for the infantry are the only problem because you can’t easily use alternate miniatures like the new 32mm based Space Marines and expect them to fit into the squares.
On the whole this is an ideal entry level miniature skirmish game to show to people who are put off by measuring distances or painting huge amounts of miniatures why miniature games are fun. Once Mantic start producing nice miniatures as standard as they are starting to do with Dungeon Saga: The Dwarf King’s Quest or The Walking Dead hopefully they will revist the models and I will be able to recommend this as one of the best miniature games around.
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The Cost of a Game

I was drawing up a list of all the current miniature games in existence and came across many companies who are nursing a popular franchise of a game into its 3rd or 4th year and for the reasons of wanting to turn a profit or keeping the game fresh have expanded the initial rule set or printed more cards or created more models than they originally planned. This is entirely normal for publishers as they need to create more content to sell to players to employ their staff. The bigger the company the more of the staff and the more of the product needed to sell to support it.

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Let’s have a look at how much product complete your collection for what I would consider the largest traditional miniature or card games out there:

Games Workshop 40k 7th edition released May 2014 and kept most of the previous editions supplements

  • Rulebook: £25
  • 16 Codexes £320
  • 7 Codex supplements: £140
  • 9 Campaigns and expansions: £180

Total: £665 or £330 per year plus an army of £300 – £500

Games Workshop – Age of Sigmar released July 11th 2015

The rules on how to play and stats for each unit was published for free on Games Workshops website so I’m not sure how much of this you actually need. There also aren’t any agreed conventions on force size so you have to agree on that before the battle. However in order to enter into a discussion on this you have to know what it does, so you will need:

  • Age of Sigmar book – £45
  • Grand Alliance 4 book collection – £60
  • Realmgate Wars: Godbeasts, Balance of Power, Quest for Ghak Maraz: £130

Totalling: £235 per year (well 10 months worth) plus the cost of buying an army. As there is no defined limit for an army it’s hard to say at this point.

Privateer Press – Warmachine / Hordes

  • Prime Mark 2 rulebook – £20
  • Primal Mark 2 rulebook – £20
  • 21 expansion books over the last 6 years: £525 or £95 a year. Plus £150 for a competitive 35 point army.

However in June 2016 a new rulebook will be released online along with 12 faction decks with each unit in the game published up till that point.

Up till that point rules were published in either the boxes with the models or in the factions main book for people willing to look at them all before creating an army.

Wizards of the Coast – Magic the Gathering, Standard Format is everything published in the last year so:

  • Dragons of Tarkir – 264 cards
  • Magic Origins – 272 cards
  • Battle for Zendikar – 274 cards
  • Oath of the Gatewatch – 184 cards
  • Shadows over Innistrad – 297 cards

You won’t need all the cards in the same way you won’t need all the models a company produces so estimates online are around £1000 a year but it depends on how far you want to really go.

Top end competitive decks for the yearly standard format weigh in at nearly £400 but that assumes these players won’t ever buy a booster pack or a core set, it also depends what players believe their cards are worth, the best cards are around £20 each.

Netrunner – standard rotation since 2012

  • Boxed game x 3: £75
  • 4 Deluxe Expansions: £88
  • 5 cycles of 6 (30) data packs: £330

Total: £493 or £120 per year

12 older data packs will rotate out next year.

Fantasy Flight Games – X Wing the miniature game Since 2012

  • 23 small ships: £230
  • 4 deluxe expansions: £100
  • 9 large ships: £180
  • 4 Huge ships: £220
  • 2 core sets: £60

Total £790 or £195 per year

This takes into account 1 of everything, rules can be found on Wikipedia style websites online if you wanted to. If you wanted to play against others or in a organised event you need to buy multiples of certain models, however you could just skip one huge ship or faction to cut down your costs.

Hearthstone standard

  • 133 Basic cards – free
  • 245 Classic cards – £30 when starting

Totalling 378 cards always available, plus:

  • 132 The Grand Tournament £30 for launch promo
  • 134 Whispers of the Old Gods £30 for launch promo
  • 31 Blackrock Mountain £30 for launch promo
  • 45 League of Explorers £30 for launch promo

Totalling 342 cards that can cycle out over 2 years. In addition, as a digital card game, old or unused cards can be converted to “dust” which can then be used to create individual cards for your collection. Also playing games daily allows you to buy packs in game. Daily playing accumulated easily enough to get almost all the carded needed in the expansions.

So what does this tell you, well if cost per year is your key factor the list goes:

  • Hearthstone: £120, Though you can play and win for free if you are good enough
  • Netrunner: £120
  • Warmachine / Hordes: £95 (plus models for £245)
  • X Wing: £195
  • Magic: £400
  • Age of Sigmar: £235 (I’m assuming you will be playing with £200 worth of models)
  • 40k: minimum £600 for a years worth of rules and a small army

This isn’t entirely fair as a) the figures are estimated for a hypothetical person b) this assumes the gamer wants every rulebook, it doesn’t factor in deck protectors, paints, brushes and the cost to travelling to get a game and d) no one thinks about this kind of yearly cost before planning out a hobby, in fact when these games are released the company won’t know how much product it’s planning to release that year.

But what about the cost of picking up the previous rulebooks in order to know all the rules to play competitively. If so 40k rockets up to £965 and Warmachine to £675, Netrunner to £493 and X Wing to £570 (huge ships are not tournament legal). It does make recommending games like this a tricky prospect.

But wait you cry, “I just want to play a few games with my small group of mates and won’t be interested in playing competitively”. I don’t need / want / have the time for all these rules damnit. This is fine it that’s your Jazz, let’s look at what that costs.

  • Hearthstone – free to play
  • X Wing 4-9 models a side £40-£90
  • Magic fat pack each – £30 (although due to the nature of the game things will rapidly escalate)
  • 40k – “lets play” miniature boxed set, rules and codex £100
  • Age of Sigmar – God knows but probably a “lets play” set £50
  • Warmachine – Battlegroup each with rules included and main game rules £45, however rules are currently and will be free online in its 3rd edition.
  • Netrunner – A core set each at £25

The problem here is that at these small scales I’m not sure how playable Warmachine, Age of Sigmar and 40k are, if it’s just a small scale game between two players you might be better off with a skirmish game like Infinity, Mantics Deadzone, Dreadball, Blood Bowl or Malifaux.

This is a problem if you want to buy into 40k and Warmachine games, except that as wildly popular franchises it clearly isn’t. So in conclusion we have learnt nothing from this exercise, see you next week for another thrilling article.

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Wyrmwood Gaming

One of the things I’d like to write about in this blog are the smaller companies that don’t get a lot of press in the gaming industry, I’m not doing it as paid advertising or being given free product so if I write about something then it’s just that I want to offer my opinion on something that deserves being written about. Today I’m going to be writing about a company I backed on Kickstarter called Wyrmwood Gaming, they have done 5 campaigns at the current time of writing this, the Dice Vault, the Magnetic Dice Tower System, the Hero Vault, the Dice Tray and the Deck Box with optional Bluetooth tracking tile. As you can tell especially with the last one, they are high end gaming accessories for tabletop gaming.

I picked up the Dice Vault and the Hero Vault on Kickstarter. Depending on the wood you pick, the Dice Vault goes for $25 to $125 and the Hero Vault goes from $24 to $110 with $24 shipping. So that’s £17.27 to £86.38 for the Dice Vault and £16.58 to £76 for the Hero Vault with £16.58 shipping.

First things first, these are luxuries, there should be no one out there who is under the illusion that you should need a special wooden box to hold 8 dice or a single model or a magnetically assembled contraption to roll their dice or store their cards so picking this up should be the last call on your gaming shopping trip.

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Both are well made, and match the pictures and description on their website which is sometimes a problem with Kickstarter products, especially those using natural materials like wood or stone, they know what they are doing and have attached rare earth magnets into the wood using screws to secure them in place so that the two halves of the Vault snap it together and secure with enough force to make it clear no jolt or knock is going to open it when it is being carried around in your bag.

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This smoothly leads me on to my next point, these items are so nice and so expensive I would not recommend just throwing them in a bag full of other equipment that might damage them, their price and the varying hardnesses of the wood needs to be taken into account, I suggest checking out the style of wood here and seeing if it matches your needs first.

If I was going to pick the most useful it would be the Hero Vault as its great for taking an individual model around for a game like Descent or Imperial Assault when even the smallest carrying case is too large and yes, it does garner looks of envy from your fellow players. Maybe one day when I have the full games room setup I will have matching Wyrmwood dice towers and other accessories but probably not just yet.

 

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Painting 4 Ground Scenery

You can play miniature games anywhere that you can find a flat space that won’t be disrupted by other humans, pets or the wind or rain, you can stack up piles of books or magazines to make hills, raid ornament stands to make rock features and scatter other unused miniature vehicles around to give the scene flavour, my favourite borrowed scenery piece would either be the small cow skull or the tiny beer keg that was lying around at a mates house. Scenery was never a market that was heavily contested in the miniature games space. In the Golden Age of Games Workshop I refer to in other posts most of the scenery produced was either homemade or relatively small plastic kits of a ruined building. Large plastic kits were impossible for GW to make at this time as they didn’t have a large scale plastic mould. Hills were produced by vacuum formed plastic covered with green static grass flock and buildings would be following instruction on how to make them out of card or by using cardboard inserts in White Dwarf.
The situation wasn’t ideal, some companies tried to exploit it by offering large resin buildings which while looking very nice were both expensive heavy and fragile, Games Workshop produced large pieces of all plastic scenery when they brought their new larger moulds which were very nice looking but then inexplicably discontinued the sets and instead replaced them with the perfectly functional but boring 40k city kits and giant bunkers with mounted guns on for your sci-fi needs and insanely overblown high fantasy magic filled sculptures for the Storm of Magic supplement that looked like they came out of a Salvador Dali painting during his “death metal” phase.
Lets not mention the expensive plastic Chaos Fortress kit presumably created by someone who didn’t realise that the following year of Chaos releases were for Khorne, the faction that had no missile troops at all and were more likely to storm other peoples forts than hide behind one themselves.
Recently another way of creating scenery has come about, namely using laser-cut MDF kits that are pre-painted and can be assembled without the need for most tools or glue while remaining light and cheap. As with any new invention that says its going to do everything you’ve been looking for cheaper and better than you’ve ever hoped was possible I viewed it with scepticism and so decided that rigorous testing was in order. I brought the baggage card and the stagecoach kits as they looked small enough to be written off in the case that I wreaked them during testing and large and complicated enough to show off the level of detail possible using his approach.

Punching the baggage cart out was easy enough, there was heavy smell of burnt wood which is fair enough due to the lasers burning the wood so  I washed the kit with soapy water first and left it to dry, there was no issues with the paint peeling off or it warping and it withstood it like a champ. Its worth noting that there is nothing in these kits apart from MDF and instructions, so no transfers or brass etch material, everything that you see is all MDF.


The parts are all pretty much snap fit and don’t require much cleaning apart from a slight ridge where they connected to the original sheet of MDF, you could put them together and leave the but it is far to complicated to restore back into its sheet so I used PVA glue to hold the bits together which seemed to work fine without damaging the paint scheme. The laser cutting process can cut fine details into the wood with ease, so the spokes in a wheel were tapered, rivets were dug out and the gab between sheets of wood was all correctly modelled, the only problem was that the wheels were only modelled in one side so it you took a fine eye to the insides of them you would spot the difference.


The model is all pre painted with an airbrush that gives it small areas of darker colour to try and produce a patchy wood effect, the burnt edges where the laser has cut a hole had added to it so it could easily be left as it is but I was already determined to see how it would hold up to proper painting. It took the spray undercoat from army painter and the next ink was without a problem at all. I tried drybrushing layers of with Mournfang Brown, Deathclaw Brown and Karak Stone but it didn’t show up that well so I decided to paint thin lines of Deathclaw Brown down the planks to mirror the grains in actual wood which had an immediate effect. I weathered the wheels and underside with a ripped piece of foam with Rhinox Hide and was pleased at the result.

If I had to give any criticism it would be that the finish has a slight texture to it but for wood of the stone buildings that’s not a problem, if it’s an issue you can take it off with sandpaper.

If you want to buy this kit it’s here and yes, it’s only £4, it’s not going to win you any painting awards unless you cover up the joins on the MDF but it’s cheap, light and can be painted up without any hassle to improve your gaming space. However you can take these techniques and apply them to anything 4 Ground produces for some good looking results.



Painting Yellow

As you might have guessed from a brief examination of the contents of this Blog my favourite time in miniature gaming was between 1995 and 2001, during this time all miniatures painted by the Eavy Metal team were bright enough to bring tears to the eyes of anyone standing within several meters. Bright blue went with bright yellow next to bright red on top of a base that was of course bright green. I have always tried to keep models bright enough to stand out in the darkened rooms that most gaming takes place in especially if you can keep to a really dark base to get them to pop.
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So as my latest project I decided to test myself in a way only fellow miniature painters will feel my pain. I am of course talking about painting models yellow. This colour has long been reviled as one of the hardest colours to paint. I was always told that the two yellow paints that Games Workshop produced covered so badly due to the toxicity of the pigment used in them, this meant they needed to restrict the amount of it used in one go. I’m not sure if this was correct or not and considering most people would just add more paint and therefore pigment to the model it would undo the standards they put in place to keep us all safe. However in retrospect I have never heard of anyone in the western world being hospitalised due to yellow citadel paint related toxicity so I have come to the conclusion that Games Workshop must have been gaining some kind of sadistic pleasure from anyone trying to get a good coat of sunburst yellow on a model.
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Back in 2012 Games Workshop revamped their ancient paint range with new colours and lines that were supposed to offer an easier and faster way to paint miniatures, much was made out of the increased pigment ratio in some of the previously tricky to paint colours. I assume this was an attempt to a) make everyone buy new paint sets b) invalidate the paint ranges of the 3rd parties who had been selling colour matched paints at a cheaper price and c) kill off any fans with weaker constitutions by exposing them to more paint pigment. However as all superhero movies have told me, toxicity is a thing to be embraced rather than feared so I went out and brought a mega paint set and immediately sold all of my old paints on eBay.
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Flashing forward 4 years and skipping a lot of painting I decided to finally bite the bullet and paint a lot of models yellow. A quick Google search for exactly how to do this brought back a limited number of steps ranging from the extremely quick “white spray basecoat, two washes with casandora yellow, done” to tutorials with an airbrush. I don’t have an airbrush and only fancied painting up about 10 models so I needed another way.
I got through about 8 or so test models before settling on a method that was repeatable, easy, and looked nice under various types of light, I tried a white basecoat but then realised that going from white to yellow was much harder than going from one shade of yellow to another. Therefore as you may have guessed I settled on using a basecoat of Daemonic Yellow. To shade it down I tried the GW washes of Reikland Fleshshade and Seraphim Sepia but found then too light so instead used Agrax Earthshade. I also experimented with a spray gloss coat before the wash as I had heard that it helps the wash cover better. I have no idea of that works but the can was £1.99 on eBay so I went with it.
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After this was down it was time to start the grind of multiple coats of Yriel Yellow. I found that Flash Gitz Yellow was too light and should be left for highlights if you need them. I also found it was much easier than expected, a couple of coats was good enough with some tidying up for certain areas where the wash paint had pooled.
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It’s worth noting at this point that care is key when doing this, it’s often the difference between a decent paint job and a nice one. Always make sure you prevent the wash from obscuring details and always make sure you clean up mistakes.



Smog 1888 – Farewell sweet prince

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Here as little something for you. When I decided to start this blog I wanted to quickly publish a series of articles outlining key areas of interest for me to get some groundwork in for articles going forward. This one can be filed under the banner of “weird area of interest that I haven’t seen anyone else writing about”. Back in 2010 a company called Smart Max appeared at Salute in London showcasing a series of 52mm (!) resin models with a Victorian Fantasy Steampunk theme. I picked a bunch of them up and immediately set about painting them and waiting for the promised board game. Interestingly at the time people mentioned the high price for the miniatures which was about £18 per piece (what Games Workshop now charges for a single 32mm character model) however it was clear that they were collectors only pieces a ‘la Mike McVeigh miniatures. The board game came out around a year later with little fanfare and resembled a much lighter and quicker version of Malifaux. It was playable in about 20 minutes for a 4 model a side skirmish, which sadly turned it into a more expensive and less deep version of an already incredibly popular but niche game.

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The number of models produced gradually decreased until the company launched a board game on Kickstarter using different sculpts in late 2014 raising lightly over $100k. In 2015 the entire range of Smog 1888 miniatures was sold off at half price and discontinued and their separate range of alternate history world war 2 miniatures going under the name of Mauser Earth was sold to another French company called Wonderlands Projects where they can now be purchased. If you want to get hold of any of these you can find someone currently selling them on Cool Mini or Not or eBay but be quick because unless he’s a garage recaster his or her stock will eventually dry up.

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The Smog models were lovely characterful sculpts with loads of little details in places and presculpted bases. As they weren’t heroic scale a lot of the smaller details would sometimes break off which made them completely unsuitable for a miniature game but great in a cabinet. So if you think you can give them a paint job that does them justice and you like the Steampunk theme then its worth tracking them down. Unfortunately I think the guys at Smart Max found that the intersect in the Venn diagram of: “Good painter” / “Interested in Steampunk” / “Not interested in using this miniature in an existing game” was just too small to sustain them and found a larger audience using the pattern: “Interested in board games” / “Interested in steampunk”.

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Its worth noting that Kingdom Death found a much greater intersect with their $1 million Kickstarter by drawing the circles: “Interested in women” / “Weird”.

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