Wandering Star Sci Fi Rules Available!

Finally I’ve managed to put together a pdf of our home-brewed sci fi rules Wandering Star. The rules have been playtested, albeit not very intense, so there might be glitches and imbalances. However, they are in any case intended for casual, friendly games, where inconsistencies can easily be remedied by gentlemanly parley (or a quick round of fisticuffs).

The design philosophy behind the rules is grounded in the idea that we want our sci fi games to feel like episodes of Star Wars or Firefly. This means that I deliberately tried to keep away from mechanics that model modern warfare. For example, weapon ranges are rather short (even though I know about the discussions surrounding this topic and would chose a different approach for historical games). Wandering Star is not supposed to force you to adopt modern small unit tactics, but to force you to behave like heroic rebel commandos in Star Wars!

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The other design guideline was: Keep it simple! Now there are many rule writers who would say that their rules are simple, but not simplistic; I freely admit that mine are also simplistic. While the orders mechanics is based on the old GW game Space Marines (the first edition of their Epic system), I’ve radically simplified the weapons. There are only five weapon types, as I’m really not interested in those things and can’t be bothered to research. There are, however, a couple of special rules that cater for sci fi stuff such as camo suits, jump packs etc. There are also simple rules for vehicles.

There is no point system. Instead, there is a pre-game phase that lets you roll for the composition of your force, based on the units available for your army. I’ve included the stats for two armies from our own Palomar Breach universe, but of course the fun really starts if you put together your own!

The game is scenario based, with the fulfillment of mission objectives forming an integral part of the game mechanics. However, there is nothing to prevent you from having fun with a straight all-out battle!

Clearly, those rules are not for everybody. Here’s what I wrote in the introduction:

If you prefer rules that offer highly differentiated options for building up your forces, that let you tinker with points and army lists and that give a realistic and gritty portrayal of near future warfare, those are not the rules you are looking for. However, if you want rules that are easy to explain, fast to play and that provide the excitement of space operas like Star Wars and Firefly, give them a try – you might find them to your liking!

If you are still interested, the rules are available for download here and in the Wandering Star section of this blog.

I’d be happy to hear what you think! For questions, feedback or just to say hi use the comment function or drop me an email at tob202[at]ymail[dot]com.

Mediterranean Terrain WIP

I recently realised I need new terrain for the El Cid project – our lush green English pastures won’t do for medieval Spain! So I bit the bullet and sat down to build some stuff. For a starter, I tried to get away with the minimum I felt necessary for a first couple of games: some hills and rough terrain, a couple of buildings, and a wooded area.

Hills were easy. I based one of them on an old CD, the other on a single record, the rest on 1mm thick plastic sheets. In contrast to wood, all those materials don’t wrap when painted and are thin enough to blend in with the gaming mat. The body of the hills is made of styrofoam sheets cut to shape, the rocky outcrops are bark I collected while walking along the river – driftwood has great shapes that need little treatment. I then used plaster to model smooth slopes.

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When the plaster had dried, I covered the structures with differently sized gravel and sand. For priming a brownish colour was used, follow by two layers of heavy drybrushing. For the finishing touch, I added some tufts of Silhouette karst grass.

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Next up were buildings. Apart from some simple dwellings, I also wanted to have something that brings variety to the table and decided to make a small vineyard. In an old issue of Battlegames Magazine, the ever inventive Diane Sutherland had written an article on how to make them in a very simple way, so I decided to follow her instructions. To allow units to be positioned in the yard, I first made a modular base:

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I then built up a stonewall around the yard base simply by glueing on layers of pebbles with PVA glue. The vine stocks were made out of toothpicks, between which yarn was stretched.

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The whole thing was then covered in PVA glue and dunked into flock.

On this picture, you can also see the houses. All of them were made out of balsa wood. Two were covered in gravel to give the impression of rough dry stone, the other two were covered in thinned plaster to make them look like typical Mediterranean white houses. I added a canvas sunshade, made out of paper tissue covered in PVA glue, to one of them.

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Now the woods turned out to be more difficult. I’ve been looking around to find Mediterranean trees, but apart from some very expensive specimens made by Silhouette, which are far outside of my budget, I couldn’t find any. However, I really don’t see myself making my own trees. I’ve seen the tutorial by daggerandbrush, who makes fabulous trees, but I don’t think I have the patience to do this. So, unless someone will come up with a clever solution or point me into the right direction, I will get some generic trees from the local model railway shop and leave it at that.

A Bridge Too Quar

Ok, now that I’ve got the pun out of my system, I owe you an apology: I haven’t found the time to prepare a nice and decent pdf of Wandering Star yet. So please be patient. In the meantime, here is a report of our latest game, or ‘The Massacre’ as it is fondly known in our home.

The set up.
The set up.

The scenario basically revolves around negotiating a bottleneck: Both teams have to set up at the eastern side of the river and may cross the bridge only when they have achieved at least one of the secondary objectives. As you will see, this premiss made for an uncharacteristically brutal game fought at close quarters.

K. again had some luck rolling up the forces and had one unit more than me. I intended to go for the easternmost secondary objective, the abandoned car, as it would provide cover for my Quar team.

The Quar & the car.
The Quar & the car.

I had hoped to cover K.’s advance with my weapons team but made the first big mistake when, eager to get them in position, I charged them up the hill. K., who had the initiative, had given most of her teams ‘Overwatch’ orders and was pouring fire into the poor snipers. Wearing camo suits, they would get a cover bonus, but not when charging! So I had to watch my whole special weapon team getting wiped out in turn 2.

Under heavy fire.
Under heavy fire.

Meanwhile, K. was positioning two of her Pasiphaean teams near the bridge and ordering her Brunt to tackle the other secondary objective, an empty ammunition crate. However, now my AAA teams took revenge and first pinned and then wiped out the Brunt.

By now, we were both a bit shaken by the brutality of the game. This was of course an effect of the scenario requirements: As we both had to approach the bridge, we got quite close to each other, which made hitting the enemy easier. Also, we both were lined up opposite each other, which resulted in a – rather fast – contest of attrition. Being outgunned due to having less units and committing tactical errors, I naturally got the worst of it. By the time K. had achieved her objective and was crossing the bridge, all that was left of my force was a single AAA warrior on the hill and the team of Quar, which was fiddling with the car and taking ages to achieve their objective.

Sharkmen crossing the bridge.
Sharkmen crossing the bridge.

When they finally managed, they had to run a gauntlet of Pasiphaean teams on Overwatch. K. even refrained from shooting at the valiant guys for one turn, but when they crossed the bridge, everybody let loose and that was that.

Futile heroics.
Futile heroics.

This certainly was an educating game. It’s nice to see that some rudiments of basic infantry tactics apply even to my simplified rules, in spite of its tactically challenged author. For example, never charge into the overlapping fields of fire of several enemy units! I also realised that initiative was more important than I had thought and that there are more subtleties to the Overwatch and opportunity fire rules than I have intended.

It’s fun playing Wandering Star and discovering different ways of dealing with basic situations. Hopefully, I can share the rules soon as I would be interested in how others play them.

Three’s a Crowd – Interview with Richard Clewer

The product that impressed me most at CRISIS was a new range of figures by Magister Militium. Surprisingly, not only is the range new but also the size: They are 3mm from foot to eye! Now of course there are already some established ‘scales’ at the smaller end of the wargames world: 2mm has been around for some time and is popular especially among modern wargamers, while 6mm has experienced a certain boom thanks to the efforts of Baccus Miniatures and their Joy of Six show.

Republican Roman or Tarantine Cavalry
3mm Roman Cavalry

I’ve always been interested in the smaller scales – after all, my first miniature wargame was GW’s Epic Space Marines, which was nominally 6mm. I like the mass effect of the small figures, which can even be achieved on a limited playing table. So when I first saw the new Magister Militium figures on Facebook, my curiosity was roused. However, seeing them in the flesh at CRISIS was even more impressive: They do show an astonishing level of detail and really convey the impression of a large mass of men. K. and I both agreed that infantry and cavalry formations in 3mm looked, in fact, very very good! And it’s fascinating how easily you adapt to the size – when we headed over to the Baccus stand afterwards, the 6mm figures looked almost obscenely large.

Marian or Caesarian Legion
3mm Roman Legion

As I wanted to know more about the motivations behind the new range, I contacted Richard Clewer from Magister Militium and asked him a couple of questions.

Cpt. Shandy: So, why a new scale? What is your personal motivation for doing this project? 

Richard Clewer: The answers to the two questions are interrelated so I will start with one answer.

I wanted to put together the battle of Pharsalus and to make sure that the figures reflected something of the historic deployment space and formations. I looked at the scales I make, 15mm does not give enough mass and even with 10mm I was ending up using a figure scale of 1:30 or 1:40 and was still struggling with depth of deployment. I then looked at 2mm (I have large ACW 2mm armies) but found it was really difficult to differentiate the legions or clearly be able to identify what cavalry type was what. It had the right mass but had lost the identity.

That left me with either trying 6mm or something else. 2mm looked almost right so I thought I would get one of our sculptors to try making a 3mm figure (based on 3mm from foot to eye). The figure came back looking good so I slowly started him on creating a strip of legionaires, then a command strip and then cavalry, skirmishers and command. When I got the first legion painted up (at 1 figure representing 10, so 528 figures per legion including the double 1st cohorts plus command) it looked good. Clearly identifiable as Marian type romans even with my painting which is not the best in the world. Cavalry also looked good and seemed to take up the right amount of space. I also painted up a 1 to 1 cohort, which was extremely interesting (pictures will follow on line at some stage).

The real benefit in the 3mm was that the figures could be represented in real mass in a relatively small area. At the same time they look like the troops they are supposed to represent.

Marian or Caesarian Legion
3mm Marian or Caesarian Legionaires

I had never really though about selling the figures but the response from the few people who saw them at the unit was very positive so we took them along to Britcon and then the Worlds at Koblenz. The response was great and the range has sold very well so I have now upgraded its sculpting priority and we are cracking on at full speed.

CS: Ok, now the question that is perhaps in everybody’s mind when they look at such tiny figures: How do you paint them?

RC: They are actually really easy to paint. The Romans are painted literally in lines and then the plume, shield boss and face picked out with a very small highlight. Celts are a bit more bitty with the variation needed but again pretty much in lines with a highlight.

Marian or Caesarian Legion Command
3mm Legion Command
CS: And what kind of basing do you use?

RC: I guess basing is down to the individual. I have been working on two different basing styles. I am basing the figures up for Pharsalus on 40 by 20 bases putting 48 legionaires on each base (representing a cohort at 1 to 10). Command is going on a 20x20mm base. That leaves enough space to base and put a very small grain flock on along with space at the back for a printed label.

I have also been putting a full legion together using larger bases but that is for show and not gaming. I tend to base figures for Warmaster Ancients where I can as I like the system, it is relatively fast and fun. That basing system also works for Hail Caesar.

CS: At the moment, you offer Marian Romans and Celts. Do you have any further plans?

RC: The Celts have been released recently; they comprise initially Celtic Warband, Cavalry and Chariots.  Skirmishers with bow and sling are a week or so off. We are also working on Hoplites, Phalangites and Romans in Lorica Segmentata. I will then fill in from there with other troop types. After the hellenics the logical next step would be Republican Romans and Carthaginians. I am not certain about other periods at the moment. I will see how the Ancients go and take it from there. If people let me know what they want we can prioritise accordingly.

CS: Thanks for your time Richard!
EDIT: Several people have pointed out to me that 3mm is not a new size. Figures and vehicles have been produced by Tumbling Dice and Oddzial Osmy for several years. However, most of this is 20th century and SF (plus ACW); no one has done Ancients in that size before.
The error was entirely my fault, Richard never claimed it was a new size.