On the Painting Table

Painting is still going a bit slow. I’m slowly building up my 15mm Native Americans for the ACW and managed to finish a couple more of the Union Indian Brigade. I also painted another one of the Oathsworn anthropomorphic animals.

I modeled the fur colour after the tomcat living at our place!

Some time ago, I also received Annie’s Kickstarter and I finally painted up two of the figures.

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On the painting tray are even more Indians – this time, Confederates. In the end, I want to have four skirmishers group of six figures for each side.

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In the foreground, you can see some mounted Indians. They have been standing there for a while and I’m pretty stuck with those at the moment. They are from 15mm.co.uk and are not the best sculpts and castings, so painting them is a bit of a hassle. I’ll give them one more chance, otherwise I’ll put them away. The snakey guys you can see in between are 28mm serpentmen from EM4. They will be used for our Sellswords & Spellslingers games.

Last week, I suddenly had the desire to build something. I found a nice photograph of the Hilton Head post office during the Civil War and spontaneously decided to model this building. As always, I made the shell out of plastic sheet and added cardboard strips for the weatherboarding. It’s not yet finished, but it’s been a fast and smooth build so far.

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Last but not least, I got myself some pine trees. I’ve been thinking about those for a while now, as many of the ACW actions I’m gaming were fought in or around pine woods, and I finally caved in and got two packs. Let’s see how they look on the tabletop. The tiny animals will also add some detail to the 15mm landscape.

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Review: XCOM: The Board Game

Last week, Sigur introduced Virago and me to XCOM: The Board Game. In contrast to my mates, I’ve never played the computer game, but when I was a kid, I avidly watched the British TV series UFO, which seems to be the inspiration for the world of XCOM.

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XCOM is a cooperative game where the players take to role of the staff of an international organisation defending the earth from aliens. To start with, I have to say that the artwork is not my style. I was a bit surprised by the dark and serious tone, as I expected more of the cheerful camp of the TV series. But then again, contrary to what I might wish this is not an adaptation of the TV series. I like the look of the models though, and Sigur’s paint job transformed them into stunning playing pieces.

The innovative and (for me) new thing about the game is that it is app-driven. That means that an app is taking the role of ‘game master’, pacing the game, declaring events and helping to resolve them. I was first pretty sceptical about such as set-up, as I enjoy the tactile element of tabletop games and wasn’t sure if I wanted digital devices to intrude into this.

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When you start a game, you first have to choose a scenario and a difficulty level. Each turn is divided into two parts: a real-time phase were things happen (declared by the app) and an evaluation phase where you see if everything you did actually works out. This is a similar mechanic to Space Alert; however, this is also where the similarities between the two games end.

In XCOM, there are several roles for the player to take: there is an Operations Chief, who distributes the funds needed for every action, there is a Captain, who choses missions and sends out soldiers, there is a Chief Scientist who organises research and finally the Commander is responsible for space and air defence.

The interesting thing about this game is that the roles are not only very distinct, they also force you to really concentrate on your job. Conversely, you have to rely on your fellow team members to do their job, as you usually don’t have the time and the information to help them in their decisions. This leads to a kind of tunnel vision, which probably models pretty well how large organisations function. With a good team (and our team was good!) this is also a mode of cooperation that seems to agree with me much more than that of Space Alert, where each action has an immediate influence on each other’s actions and you have to coordinate basically everything all the time. However, the drawback is that player interaction is rather limited, and player interaction is what usually makes cooperative games fun as well as challenging.

Nevertheless, thanks to its strong theme and the interesting mechanics, XCOM is a fun game. With the real-time element and the clearly defined roles it is also unlike other cooperative games I know. I’m sometimes still flabbergasted by the variety of good coop games out there!

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In the end, the only thing I’m still not completely comfortable with is the app: While it works well in the game and is not intrusive, there still remains the fact that, in a couple of years, the game will no longer be playable. I still don’t like this idea. But I guess this is a topic that would deserve its own blog post…

Missin’ in Action 2018

Two years ago, we had organised a summer gaming event for friends out in the countryside. A month or so ago, K. and I decided spontaneously to do another such event under the title of Missin’ in Action 2018, this time however at our new house (which is in an area of town formerly called Missindorf, hence the name). The idea was to gather friends and host one or two miniature games out in the garden.

Unfortunately, the weather did not agree and we had to move it inside. Fortunately, people turned up nonetheless.

I chose Sellswords & Spellslingers as the event’s game and decided to have two rounds of games. The first was played with six people, of which only three had played it before. The rules are, however, easy to grasp and, being cooperative, work very well to introduce people into miniatures gaming. We played the ‘Healer’ mission from the rule-book and had to rescue the wise woman. My wizard teleported our archer onto the rooftop of the healer’s hut, where he skillfully covered the rescue operation, led by our intrepid halfling Leader riding his pig.

After a short break, reinforcements arrived in the form of Virago and his two kids. For the second round of games, we split a 6’x4′ table into two areas: One with a village in the middle, where one group played the ‘Defend the Village’ scenario, and another with swampy wastelands, where the other group played the ‘Through the Badlands’ scenario. The border between the two playing areas was demarcated by a river, with the added incentive that, if the group crossing the badlands made it to the ford, it could enter the other game and help defend the village.

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The poor heroes defending the village drew a Brain Devourer as their main enemy and struggled hard to bring him down. Meanwhile, Virago’s elven family shot their way through the lizardmen and orcs standing in our way. My dwarven wizard helped to speed the journey by teleporting people ahead, but in the end it was the elves who did the hard work, killing one monster after another with their arrows. We even managed to reach the village, but before the elves could get off a shot, the Brain Devourer was brought down by the brave dwarven fighter.

This was a really great afternoon! I’ve definitely learned from last time’s mistakes: back then, I cramped all players into one game, which ground to a slow crawl as the rules were unable to cope with such an amount of players. Playing two scenario in parallel proved to be a good solution for a large group that nonetheless wants to share a gaming experience. Each game took less than 90 minutes, so it was pretty relaxed and there was plenty of time to chat. It seems that everyone, kids and adults alike, enjoyed the games and had fun. I’m definitely planning on doing this again next year!

Review: Lee’s Invincibles

I recently discovered a series of board wargames called Blue & Gray. They are published by Worthington and cover a range of American Civil War campaigns. Now I always wanted to play a more operational-level game, but – as you probably know – wargames of the hex-and-counter variety somehow put me off.

Those games looked nice, quick and simple, though, so I decided to pick up a copy of Lee’s Invincibles, the game that covers the Gettysburg campaign.

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The game uses point-to-point movement, so no hexes! Instead, there are places connected by roads or railroads. The playing pieces are blocks. Each block represents one corps for the Union and half a corps for the Confederates. Each player also gets cavalry, which can be used for screening actions and a commander.

The game is rather simple: Spending action points, each player may activate and move a certain amount of blocks each turn. If a block moves to a location occupied by the enemy, a battle is fought. There is a simple battle resolvement mechanic, basically consisting of rolling dice and inflicting hits on the opponent.

We’ve now played two games. For the first, I stepped into the shoes of Lee and failed miserably. I managed to get split up pretty early and K. defeated me in detail. In a final epic battle at Baltimore, she managed to surround the rest of my army and obliterate them.

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In the second game, I took the Union. K. advanced swiftly and managed to cross the Potomac pretty early. However, as the Confederates have to split up to gain victory points, this time I could defeat her in detail. We ended the game when it was clear that the Confederates would have no chance to achieve their victory conditions.

The game is nice, but I’m not completely taken by it. First, it seems to be really hard for the Confederates to win, but this may be down to us being inexperienced in the game and not applying the right strategy. What irks me more is the more or less constant fighting: as far as I can see, for the Union it pays off to attack as much as possible. This leads to battles at every corner, which does not seem to be very plausible historically. Changing the ‘to hit’ roll to 5+ instead of 6 might be worth trying, as it would make battle more decisive and players would have to be more careful about entering a fight. Also, we both agreed that the cavalry screening action seems too weak; we may add +1 to the screening value of the cavalry.

Still, Lee’s Invincibles is a nice and compact game and great if you fancy something simple in between. We’ll certainly keep trying out strategies to win with the Confederates.