I’ve been wanting to put finger to keyboard again for a while (that doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘pen to paper’, does it?) and I’m spurred to following a very fun gaming event a couple of days ago.
I’ve recently gotten into X-Wing, probably three or four months ago, and I’d still consider myself a newbie. Had a few practice games at home (thank you Kez, for running some Imperial ships around the dining table for these training exercises!), and then joined a local gaming group, some very pleasant chaps, for whom X-Wing is the most popular game. Thanks to them I’ve got a few more games under my belt and am gradually picking things up. But before I finish off the ‘how I got into X-Wing’ thing that I’d already started to assemble, I want to get this out while it’s still fresh and timely.
Sunday morning I headed up to Cheltenham to take part in my first public ‘competition’ X-Wing event, Shadows over Yavin, which was hosted and organised by Incom Gaming. The thing that caught my eye in particular about it was that the fact that it was advertised as a campaign/mission based event, rather than the norm of 100-point dogfight rounds. This concept really appealed to me; I’ve taken part in multi-player mega-games in the past, both as player and umpire/organiser and the unfolding narrative as the missions progress, how results of missions affect following events really adds a sense of investment and immersion. I signed up pretty much straight away, downloaded the well laid out eight page document of overview/rules/etc. and then agonised over which lists to build for the event. Two sixty-point lists containing no unique pilots or upgrades; the first featuring only ships available around the time of SW: Episode IV, and a second list which would include at least one (more if one chose) of later ships that would potentially become available once certain mission objectives had been achieved.
Sixty points isn’t a lot, even when avoiding the expensive pilot options. This would mean flying some ships and upgrades that I’d not flown before if I was going to try to make what I hoped were viable lists. I ended up creating several options and chose, on the day, to go with my ‘early’ list as a heavily tooled-up Grey Squadron Y-Wing escorted by a couple of slightly enhanced Z-95s. My second lists were to have been a couple of A-Wings or B-Wings, though in the end these didn’t see action, but more of that later…
It was clear from the outset that a lot of thought, planning and preparation had gone into the day on the part of the organisers. Players, approximate 8 or 9 on each side plus an admiral whose task was, instead of flying ships, to coordinate the squadrons of their side, mustered, received their squadron designations and launched into the first engagements. Battles didn’t have a clock running – they would last as long as they lasted, at which point the players (and their squadrons) would report their results to the TO before becoming available for reassignment by their admiral. I liked this idea a lot, and the use of the Star Wars Risk map as a ‘battleground’ to fight over was simple but effective. The systems held by each side provided non-specific resources to serve as currency to pay for reinforcements (extra ‘basic’ non-unique ships to add to specific engagements) or heroes (named pilots who, once deployed, would be persistent until eliminated). This currency also formed part of the final score, giving the admirals the dilemma of hoarding it to add it at the end, or spend it with the aim of accumulating more points than they expended.
I, as Gold Squadron, deployed my sixty points opposite a very friendly and very experienced Imperial opponent, Chris, flying two or three TIE fighters and a TIE Advanced. I’d been debating whether to bring along Assault Missiles on the Z-95s in case of mini-swarms of TIEs but at five points out of sixty, that felt like a massive investment. Upon seeing this cluster of TIEs facing me I regretted my choice to leave them behind. (However, I’m sure had they been part of my list, he’d have deployed more spread out, so they’d have been an expensive paper tiger.)
Things didn’t go well for me. The Z-95s didn’t have the firepower to reliably score hits against the nimble TIEs, and the TLT that the Y-Wing was constantly plinking away with must have had a bent barrel as it inflicted only one or two hits during the entire engagement. (My dice for the TLT attacks were terrible, and Chris’ evade rolls were often remarkable!) Unfortunately I forgot the Seismic charge on the Y-Wing to start with and missed a couple of occasions where it would have been used to good effect; when I did finally remember to use it, the TIEs had spread out sufficiently that it was only a mild annoyance. I was finished off, with the loss of only one or two TIEs to show for it. I didn't get a decent photo of the first game, unfortunately. We had a chat about the match, mistakes made and even a couple of moves I’d pulled off that had caught him out, at the bar before heading to our next engagements. Oh, didn’t I mention that the event was being held in a pub, which was otherwise closed for the day?
Next, Gold Squadron and two others were off to the biggie… the Death Star Trench Run, opposite three Imperial squadrons plus Darth Vader (the Imperial Admiral had bought him as a hero unit) in his tooled-up Advanced. Some clever and fun special rules applied about flying and combat in the trench itself. The other two Rebel players and I had a quick conflab beforehand; the exhaust port on this version of the Death Star sported 30 points of shields that needed to be taken care of before attempting ‘The Shot’, plus the surface and the trench was festooned with turbolaser turrets that would only add more pain to that that Darth & Co. had in mind. Importantly though, on the surface were some power generators operating the shields too, and the destruction each of these would reduce the shielding across the port. Our plan was to ensure that the second group of squadrons to attack the Death Star would have a much better chance of success; we were going to eliminate all the shield generators and destroy the turrets and then go for targets of opportunity, whether that was Big D, the Imperial players’ ships or even the port itself if we got lucky.
For the attack we were given ordnance for any torpedo or missile tubes that weren’t already loaded; this added a lot of firepower and we made a real mess of the Death Star real estate. First blood went to my Y-Wing with a torpedo hit rolling well and totaling a turbolaser turret in one shot. Very satisfying… The plan worked well and by the end of the engagement all the generators were gone and only one turbolaser tower was still intact. The legend of the Immortal Z was born; my one remaining Z-95 was simply refusing to die, no matter what was thrown at it, although of course eventually his luck ran out. Quite a few Imperial ships had been downed and, although we were wiped out we considered we’d acquitted ourselves well, selling our lives dearly for the good of The Rebellion. The next wave of ships to attack would have a much higher chance of success. Mind you, one sneaky TIE Bomber pilot demonstrated a stroke of genius and dropped two sets of cluster mines right in the middle of the trench! Now, if they’d done that in the film things could have gone very differently…
Third and last engagement for Gold squadron was to join an engagement that had already started, protecting the Rebel fleet (represented by a Corvette, Rebel transport and a Nebulon frigate) from an attacking Imperial squadron. Two Rebel squadrons were already defending and the addition of Gold squadron made the sole Imperial attacker feel very alone and unloved. He was quickly joined by two more squadrons as they became available, balancing the fight out. This, like the trench run engagement was great fun – having specific objectives to attack/defend elevated the battle to a level above a simple skirmish of equal points values. The Corvette went down fairly quickly, but the tide turned against the Imperial flyboys with the arrival of the new Rebel squadrons. Gold One, the Y-Wing, had learned from previous mistakes and dropped his bomb at the perfect time to destroy a TIE fighter that had swung in behind looking for an easy target, to much amusement, at least on one side of the table. Time was called on the day’s events before the last TIEs were taken care of, but the outcome of this engagement was unequivocal.
The last battle reports were gathered by the TOs who retired to do the number crunching while the rest of the players unwound and chatted. Gold Squadron had flown three missions, losing the first emphatically, achieving the self-imposed objective in the second while it was technically a loss, and being firmly on the winning side of the third. About five minutes after I’d joined the fleet defence mission, the Rebel side had ‘unlocked’ the capability of using more technologically advanced ships which would have let me field my second ship list. Timing wasn’t with me for that, but in all honesty, I didn’t mind at all.
Scores and positions were announced, and prizes handed out to the top- and bottom-ranked players on each side. The Rebels won the day (although I’m not sure how close the final scores were). I’d have liked a little more narrative to go with the scores – how the overall ebb and flow had gone, for example. I presume the second attack on the Death Star didn’t succeed, given I didn’t hear a massive cheer from the end of the room with the trench map, but it would have been nice to know for sure.
Points for kills were awarded to the player who landed the final hit, which meant that a ship could be softened up by one or more players only for another player to swoop in and grab the glory and the points with a well-timed coup-de-grace. I benefitted from this in the third mission, receiving the credit (and points) for killing a Firespray after chipping away the last 3 or 4 hull points over a couple of turns, and this felt a bit unfair. Perhaps awarding points for “assists” in the case of combined kills, splitting the points of the destroyed ship amongst all players that scored hits might be a fairer adjudication (although involving a bit more admin).
All in all, it was a highly enjoyable day, well worth the £5 admission fee. With a 90 minute drive at each end it was actually quite a long, tiring day – one that I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for again when Incom next do a campaign-oriented event. The mission/campaign theme of it is exactly what X-Wing should be, in my opinion, and I was grateful for the opportunity to take part in something like this. Thanks again to the organisers for the huge amount of work undertaken to make an event of this kind happen, and equally to the players on both sides of the table. Everyone that I spoke to was friendly, helpful and enthusiastic.
The real-time (ish) element where players were redeployed, even joining battles already in progress was a fine touch that added an element of realism, breaking the ‘100pts vs 100pts’ convention.
Oh yes, and bombs. I like bombs. And I’m going to use them more…
- [+] Dice rolls
I used to paint lots of miniatures. It started with painting player character figures and NPCs/monsters for role-playing games, then soon started incorporating wargaming miniatures, mostly fantasy and science fiction. I enjoyed it and was pretty good at it; I even made the Golden Demon finals one year. Painting whole armies was a problem as the techniques that I liked to use weren't all that fast; time-consuming fiddly bits and washes that took ages to dry. I'd see people who could knock out a finished figure in a couple of hours or a full army in a couple of weeks and I'd be envious... It was fun though, and I had a ridiculous number of lead figures, as is the way of these things!
As time passed my interest in games changed, moving towards boardgames and board-wargames and away from miniatures gaming. They could play straight out of the box without the expense and time of building up and painting an army, and I didn't need to worry about storing and transporting dozens or hundreds of little lead figures... The vast majority of my figures and rules went to eBay and are now fighting their tabletop wars all over the world. Well, I hope they still are anyway. I'd rather they end up in appreciative homes than just take up room and not be used.
Dot, dot, dot, time passed.
And during this time I was involved in a car crash (not my fault, I hasten to add!) which, although it seemed relatively minor at the time, resulted in an eye injury that needed surgery (after a protracted insurance battle) to correct. I'd never worn glasses before and so took good vision blissfully for granted. The accident had given me double vision that was so bad that corrective prescriptions just wouldn't make a dent in it. My eyes are now almost back to normal; not perfect, sadly but I'm happy with the massive improvement that the operation granted.
I tried a tiny bit of painting for a friend who asked if I could paint up his RoboRally robots. In doing this, I realised that for fine work, my depth perception in particular was still impaired enough to be a problem. The results were... acceptable. Just. I wasn't happy with them at all and figured that was the last miniature painting that I'd ever do.
Pum's RoboRally bots.
Dot, dot, dot, more time passed.
I first got interested in Wings of War (now called Wings of Glory), almost three years ago now; it looked like a fun, relatively light and quick game of air combat in the First World War with - the big bonus - pre-painted miniatures. I wouldn't need to paint a thing...
I initially thought it would be interesting and fun to collect some planes from the more unusual theatres of World War I, namely the Eastern Front and the Near East/Palestine. Having returned to the game after a break where following a house move my (up to then still unflown) planes had been sitting in storage, I reevaluated this idea and chose the saner approach to stick to the Western Front where planes and opponents were more readily available. I'd concentrate on having mainly British (Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force) planes, with a few Germans to provide suitable opponents.
But what to do about some of the planes I'd bought with this initial aim in mind? In my rag-tag collection were a couple of Morane-Saulnier N in French colours, and a couple of Fokker E.III Eindeckers; Immelmann's in German markings (obviously!) and Buddecke's in Ottoman Empire markings, the latter of course perfect for the Near East theatre. But they certainly didn't fit in anywhere with the new concept.
Aha, but the RFC flew a few Morane-Saulnier Ns didn't they, calling them Bullets... The plan sort of wrote itself! Get some Royal Flying Corps roundel decals to put over the top of the French ones, and job done, surely?
The "before" picture. The French marked Morane-Saulnier before my ministrations. (Photo from the Ares Games website.)
First decision - what squadron and colours to choose? I've always been fascinated by military history, for which I blame (just kidding!) my grandfather; I remember him telling many stories of his years on the Western Front in the Royal Marine Artillery, and then staying on after the Armistice and serving in Belgium and France. Thus, I wanted the planes to be historically accurate (not to an obsessive level of detail, but at least to a plausible degree) so I started some research. If I wanted both the RFC planes to appear from the same squadron, I'd need to repaint the nose of at least one of them; one was black and one was red. Well... if I'm careful, I should be able to do that, shouldn't I?
Ah, next problem... I can't just stick the RFC decals over the French markings either, as one of the planes has a name down the side of the fuselage instead of a French roundel. OK, so that's going to need covering up before the RFC roundel goes on.
This 'quick and easy' job was looking more complicated each time I looked at it...
So I decided to take the plunge and put brush to plastic, turning both French MS-Ns into 60 Squadron Royal Flying Corps planes, and Buddecke's Ottoman-marked E.III into a rather nondescript German-marked one that could fly with the Immelmann plane.
First step, once I'd assembled the paints, decals and other stuff I needed was to get the existing decals off the planes. I tried a bit of chemical assistance (on the decals, not me!) to no avail so ended up very carefully scraping them off with a scalpel.
To my pleasant surprise, the red paint covered the black cowling far better than I had expected. Three or four thin coats of Vallejo paint (which I wouldn't hesitate to recommend) did the job nicely.
With the decals off it was even more apparent that the fuselage colour of the Moranes wings and fuselage didn't match. The wings are molded in a vanilla sort of colour (representing the varnished fabric used on most WWI planes), but the fuselages were painted and didn't quite match. (The photo above illustrates this quite clearly.) More painting needed! I mixed up a match that was closer to the fuselage colour and painted the wings so the linen colour all over the plane was a better match.
Then came the bit that I'd been dreading - the red, white and blue tail flash. I was definitely nervous about getting the lines straight enough to not look messy. I'd removed the French tricolour tail decals from one Morane (to repaint totally) and left the other on (to paint over). I'm not sure that there's much of a difference in the result. Both needed a bit of tidying, and while I'd like to have achieved a neater result, it's good enough.
It was at this point that I noticed that somehow I'd failed to paint some of the struts of the previously black-nosed plane red! Dammit! So, being extremely careful of the decals, I now went back with the red paint to fix this.
In hindsight I rather wish that I'd painted both cowlings red rather than leaving one in its natural red plastic, as it looks a bit plastic-y. But I'm not going back to change that now!
So, at last... the result of my first bit of painting in a long time:
And "after". Both Moranes are now RFC Bullets.
At first glance I thought that the Ottoman-to-German plane conversion would be hardly any effort at all - all I'd need to do would be remove or overpaint the Ottoman squares and replace them with cross pattée markings.
However it occurred to me that I'd then have two almost indistinguishable E.IIIs, which is less than ideal for gaming as it helps to be able to tell the planes apart! I searched for some sensible way of adding a distinguishing marking to the soon-to-be-ex-Ottoman plane but didn't find anything I liked. There are lots of pictures of a this kind of plane with a diagonal red stripe and an extra cross on the top of the fuselage. But without a decal for the red stripe I knew I wouldn't be able to do that by hand without it looking messy.
At the back of my mind during the search was the vague thought that I didn't like the vanilla colour that the model had actually been molded in; it was too light. The E.IIIs were, from what I can recall reading, skinned with unbleached linen and then doped, resulting in a darker manilla/buff/light brown colour. A few reports that I was able to track down on the net seemed to corroborate this. I found myself making the decision to repaint the fabric areas (i.e. most of the plane!) in a more convincing colour, which was mainly German Yellow Ochre with some mixing with other colours until I felt satisfied with the shade.
I left the cowling and the other grey areas undisturbed, something which in hindsight I feel was a mistake; I should have repainted the cowling as natural metal instead of leaving it grey.
The two Fokker Eindeckers. 'Out of the box' on the left, and the repainted plane on the right.
I didn't attempt to add the aircraft serial number to any of the planes. They're gaming pieces rather than intended to be museum-grade models, so I'm just fine with this omission. Similarly I didn't even consider doing the rigging!
During the project I put a bit of time into creating custom cards for the new planes, so that the appearance of the plane more closely matched the new paint markings than the original ones supplied.
Morane-Saulniers with custom cards.
Fokker E.III Eindecker with custom card
It seems that the bug is back! I'd been rather worried, to say the least, about how these would turn out after such a long hiatus and my last less-than-stellar attempts. I'm pleased with the outcome; there are a few bits where I'd have liked to have done better, but I'm still happy with the way they came out. Not only am I now planning more repainting projects, but I've ordered a couple of 3D printed planes from Shapeways that aren't otherwise available to paint up from scratch!
- [+] Dice rolls
So how does one start a new blog? There’s an obvious temptation to write a “why I’m starting a blog” section but, realistically, is this the best way to start? Particularly at this stage, does it matter? Instead, there’s two or three topics that I had in mind to
aimlessly rambletalk about, and since I’ve promised to update a long forum thread with the results of my recent order to Artscow, then that’s the one I’ll start with!
Artscow (http://www.artscow.com/) for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a print-on-demand company where customers can upload photos or other images for printing onto a variety of items and media, with a lot of options for customisation. Lots of companies across the world provide this sort of service online or even now face-to-face in some superstores. What makes Artscow of particular note for the gamer is that one of its products is a deck of 54 playing cards, each of which is fully customisable front and back.
I placed my first (and up until recently only) Artscow order in 2010 to buy a fan-made deck of cards for the Mexico map included in Railways of the World.
Subsequent editions now include cards for the Mexico map but a publication decision – for some strange reason – had concluded that they weren’t needed in that first printing! A couple of chaps called Bobby Warren and Jason Spears came along and fixed the issue, making a deck of cards comprising Railroad Operations, Railroad Barons (which we have just called ‘beards’ since the days of Railroad Tycoon, the game’s original name, but more of that later) and they made the end result available on Artscow for players to order their own decks. (I probably found the details about this via this review: Ender's review of Railways of Mexico.)
The deck arrived in the post, and was jolly good indeed. I mentally filed Artscow under “very neat and will be useful again someday”.
The next game to tickle my Artscow interest was Indonesia.
Indonesia is a great economic/transport game, certainly a brain-burner and very pleasing aesthetically to boot. Sadly it wasn’t really to the taste of members of our then regular game group so it’s only seen a couple of plays, as it isn’t a short game particularly when you factor in everyone having to re-learn the rules!
A couple of months after buying the RotW Mexico cards I saw some posts here about printing the city cards for Indonesia on Artscow playing cards (Indonesia Artscow city cards). However, this was a bit of a missed opportunity as three of the fifteen published city cards contained an error (these cards identify where a player may place cities in each era). Each card shows a miniature map with certain islands highlighted, and the three inaccurate cards missed out the highlighting of an island (the island was shown, but not highlighted). So my plan was to fix the errors on the inaccurate city cards and print out a set of fifteen (the cards are chosen randomly face down so need to match, hence printing the entire set would ensure identical colour and size matching). But what of the remaining 39 that weren’t being used? I didn’t really want to waste them (and pay international shipping for a deck of mostly blank cards!) so I was content to shelve the idea until there was something else to make the deck worthwhile. If we were playing Indonesia more frequently I would probably have made something up to fill out the deck, but I was in no hurry.
Time passed. About four years of it. Then Firefly: The Game came along.
When news of Gale Force Nine’s Firefly game broke it seemed that the internet went wild. OK, perhaps a slight exaggeration but certainly forum posts about it seemed to dominate the front page of BGG for ages. I’m naturally sceptical of pretty much anything surrounded by loads of hype, and let’s be honest… games that are tie-ins to TV shows or films don’t have a great track record. I really enjoyed the show, and would have liked the game to be good but I didn’t really have high hopes. From the information coming out about it (both before and after release) the game seemed to have some similarity with Merchant of Venus which I’d played (once only, admittedly) and had been luke-warm about.
However, in July at StabCon (a twice yearly games convention in Manchester that I attend as regularly as possible) I had an opportunity to play the game. Two mates and I borrowed a copy and waded through the rules since none of us had played before. The edition we played didn’t have the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” scenario, so we played (as suggested) the “King of All Londinium” scenario. It took hours, and we finished about about 2am. I lost badly, having chosen a strategy of sticking (mostly) to legal jobs so I could zoom back and forth across the map without worrying about being stopped by the Alliance, but I hadn’t realised until too late how poor the payouts were compared to illicit operations.
We all liked the game. To our pleasant surprise it comprised a fun game while conveying a good part of the show’s theme. The comparison to Merchant of Venus held true, but built and improved upon it. Pum (one of the three of us who’d played it) bought a copy for me as a birthday present. My partner, Kez, and I have played it several times two player since and were pleased to see that it works well as a two-player game.
The nature of the game, in addition to the enthusiasm of Firefly fans, has brought a slew of fan-created material for it; new ships, new equipment and crew, new scenarios, etc. There’s a vast amount on BGG and I imagine there’s every bit as much on Firefly-specific sites. I saw the names of two prolific contributors, George Krubski (gwek) and Corvin0, featuring in posts about several projects all of which looked well-thought out and well-implemented.
I've only communicated in passing with these chaps on Firefly forums, and would like to take this opportunity to extend thanks to them for their time and hard work in putting together this, and their other, variants and expansions.George Krubski(gwek)Corvin the Raven(Corvin0)Austria
The project that particularly caught my eye from these two gentlemen was the Local Color deck (Local Color - Finished 42 card fan expansion). A 42 card deck of cards reflecting the mischief that a player’s crew gets up to on the non-supply planets, with some interesting-looking interaction. And what’s more, it was available on Artscow! Perfect.
To the internet!
Ah, but wait. 54 minus 42, carry the noodle… Damn, there’s only twelve spare cards for me to create the fifteen Indonesia city cards! OK, that’s easily solved. I’ll order two decks of Local Colour, give one to Pum, which gives me twenty four spare cards. Fifteen for Indonesia, which leaves me with nine.
What to do with these nine spares?
This is where one of Kez’ ideas came in. Beard cards. Beard cards for Firefly. Brilliant.
Wait, what? Beards?
In Railroad Tycoon (now Railways of the World) each player is secretly dealt two private objective cards, choosing one and discarding the other. These cards, Railroad Barons, give a few extra points at the end of the game for achieving the objectives. Each bears the name and photo of a prominent railway personage of the era, most of whom have most impressive displays of facial hair! From the first game, these cards were referred to as ‘beards’. “Making your beard”, i.e. achieving your hidden Railroad Baron objective, could be the extra handful of points you needed to win in a close game.
So, we thought up a few ideas for potential ‘beards’ that were in keeping with Firefly’s theme. After juggling ideas for a couple of days we’d decided on nine to add to the spare cards Artscow order, and I put together the graphics, uploaded them and sent off the order. Without playtesting them the balance of the objectives/rewards may need tweaking some; we kept balance in mind when writing them, but haven’t yet had the time to put them to the test! Unlike the Railroad Tycoon objectives being concealed until the end of the game, the Firefly ‘beards’ are bonuses to be revealed during the game when certain conditions are met. These seemed more appropriate to the theme.
The order arrived yesterday. Two sets of Local Colour cards. One set of fifteen city cards for Indonesia, with an accurate map per card. And nine hidden bonus beards for Firefly! (Rules for the cards, such as any are required, are linked here.)
The corrected city cards for Indonesia
Sample cards from the Local Colour deck
Firefly hidden bonus cards (beards) front and back.
Firefly 'beard' cards - details
(All photos can be viewed larger by clicking and viewing in the gallery.)
- [+] Dice rolls