Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Jenga Kriegsspiel

I have to admit, this isn't my original idea but comes from a picture post on Bob Cordery's blog as originally done by David Crook. And despite the cotent of the last few posts (and this one) I do game with toy soldiers sometimes honest...

A set of imitation-Jenga tiles from Argos. Normally £4.99 but when I picked them up this evening there was a "2 puzzles for £8" offer on so I got two and so only paid £4 each.

OK, so what's this for? Basically these are to knock up a set of two differently coloured armies for home gaming where I don't have the space for full-on figures, and for map-type games the aesthetic of which owes a lot to the "red army/blue army" lead blocks of the original C19th Kriegsspiel.

Each block is 75mm x 25mm x 15mm and each set has 51 of the things. One of them is stamped/branded with a manufacturer identifier but it should be easy to paint the other side or just chuck that one. There's absolutely no way I'm going to use expensive model paint on these, so a shopping expedition for cheapo craft acrylic will be needed.

My current plan is for one block to represent an infantry "unit" where what exactly that unit represents (company, battalion, brigade, division etc.) depends upon the scale of the game and the ruleset being used. Cavalry will be two glued together for a 75mm x 50mm footprint, probably painted in two colours (red and white, blue and white) with a diagonal join in the colours - i.e. the traditional cavalry map symbol.

Artillery probably one block with two little cannon symbols drawn on with black marker pen. Skirmishers from two blocks acting in tandem (150mm x 25mm) with the usual "dot" skirmish line map symbol.

Generals are a bit trickier, but maybe a block sawn in half (if the razor saw will take it) with a flag, or perhaps bite the bullet and go for proper 15mm figures.

It strikes me that I could play Black Powder using these blocks. Normally, lacking the epic-sized wargames tables that the Perrys have and the large 20-30 strong 28mm units that they use, we scale down. For our 15mm ACW, we convert inches to centimetres and play with a unit frontage of three 40mm bases. These means that the unit is 120mm wide and the basic 12" move gets taken down to 120mm. I've also seen ACW done with units 150mm wide and half-inches used so that a basic move becomes 6" which is near enough 150mm as makes no difference. Over in Darkest Nottingham, it appears that the authors use units about 240-250mm or wider for a 12" move.

So, it appears that when scaling BP down if you ensure that you are roughly in the ballpark of one move ≈ one infantry frontage you are OK. Happily 75mm is half the 150mm/half-inch scaling mentioned above. In other words, I could adopt a "quarter-inch" scale where all measurements are measured in inches but at 25% of their original value and get away with it. A simple 2'x3' area on the dining table then becomes the equivalent of 8'x12' "Perry/Priestley/Johnson/Stallard" scale.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

More DIY Counter production

Once upon a time (it was 1987), a brand-spanking-new game from some Young Turks over in Nottingham appeared on the scene and I bought it with some birthday money from a shop in Wolverhampton which was confusingly called Game, but wasn't the GAME of recent administration balls-up infamy but some other entirely unrelated national chain (I recall a branch in Birmingham as well). Game (the first one, not the second one) had a small gaming section in it which rather begs the question of what on Earth they sold in the rest of the shop when they were called Game but only had a few square feet of games amidst a fairly large retail space footprint. Sadly I can't remember and it appears that the rest of the World seems to have forgotten all about this chain as well so perhaps it's totally lost to posterity.

Anyway, the game was a science-fiction wargame which was a bit of a dead end as it was 1987 and nobody liked sci-fi as it wasn't real fantasy with Elves and Dwarfs and Goblins and wizards.

Said game gave you a counter sheet with which to play it's included scenario which looked just like this

Now, we played this scenario which was called something like The Atrocity at Grimdark Soylent Green Farm #666 three times last year. Twice with proper models and everything and then once with a set of 1987 counters, just for nostalgia lulz.

However this isn't about 1987 vintage Warty-Thou but in a roundabout way another post about homebrew counters and sorting your own out.

Using Scrabble tiles for counters works well but isn't exactly cheap and wouldn't work for the above because they are 25mm square and Scrabble tiles are too small. So I fell back upon my favourite basing material which is watercolour board. This is cheap, very easy to get your hands on (it's stocked in WHSmiths and every stationary shop I've ever visited that has an arts and crafts section), cuts easily with a knife and steel rule and is non-porous on it's primed side so wet paint induced warping isn't an issue. Ironically though, you do need to ensure you get a non-warped piece in the first place...

Anyway, full instructions in order.

1 - Get your scan ready to print and test print to check that the scaling is OK.

2 - Print. I used some coloured card in appropriate green (Orcs) and blue (Space Marines). This could have been paper rather than thin card as it doesn't affect the finished article in any way - it's not worth the expense of using thin card but I had some spare.

3 - This raises an issue in that the scan is black on blue and I wanted it black on white for printing on green and blue surfaces. The simple answer is this is GIMP, the free art package and it's Auto White Balance option. This gave me a mono image with a white background. Perfect.

4 - Laminate using a cheap household laminator from Wilkinsons. This gives us two sheets, nice and shiny and resistant to grease and tea spillages, and extremely tricky to photograph.

5 - Cut them out. Cutting mat, steel rule and Stanley knife not scissors.

6 - Prepare bases. I cut 30mm square bases from the watercolour board. That is oversize for 40K (which really wants circular 25mm bases) but allows the counter to sit entirely with in the footprint and eliminates any overhang that will fray. It's virtually impossible to accurately cut and glue two 25mm square cut-outs together without some misalignment or slight sizing inaccuracy. I painted the bases with matt black paint in order to avoid the white leaping out at you when on the battlefield.

7 - Superglue down. The laminating plastic stops the superglue from staining the paper/card.

You end up with something that looks like this

Something I am considering for the future is a project inspired by Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame concept, that is a solo game played on the 64 squares of a standard chessboard i.e. on a 8x8 grid. It strikes me that this approach is ideally suited for that sort of mucking about and that the watercolour board could be painted in appropriate national colours - so that a counter representing a division of Great War Germans could have a grey background, Napoleonic French in blue, Austrians in white etc.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

OGRE Scrabble

Here's Force White, one of my armies for OGRE Miniatures. It's an experiment in using Scrabble tiles to produce boardgame counters with which we play on an "open table". This technique is pretty handy for producing homebrew counters that are resilient and have a nice "feel" when used.

The graphics came from boardgamegeek - http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/77440/bostichs-white-counters is the relevant file.

After a couple of test prints I worked out that the correct scaling needed was 125% to fit the Scrabble tiles nicely. The sheet was printed out on my laser printer, laminated in a home laminator (about £15 from Wilkinsons and one of the most useful tools for gaming I own) and cut up with the Stanley knife and steel rule. The counters are then glued down with the tiniest drop of superglue applied with a cocktail stick. Only a small amount of glue is needed, otherwise it will ooze out from the side of the counter and spoil the effect.

However you need to be aware that not all Scrabble tiles are created equally. I bought a brand new set from Argos and then, on the same shopping trip, discovered another set going cheap in a charity shop. These were not identical tiles - one had stamped letters, the other had printed letters and they were slightly different in height. A friend came up with an incomplete set that had turned up in the loft of his new house purchase and they were different again. This might be a problem if this sort of thing annoys you but if so you could always go straight to eBay and buy new tile sets in bulk.

Furthermore, Scrabble tiles are not square. They are mostly about 19mm x 18mm so you'll need to take some care to ensure they all have the same orientation - I found it best to ensure that the counter read the same way up as the original Scrabble letter did.

With Force White created I needed some opposition and created Force Pink by printing the same file onto some thin coloured card and mounting to the other set of Scrabble tiles.

(The two forces in OGRE are traditionally black-on-white and white-on-black but I'll be damned if I'm using that much toner on creating them).

I mentioned before that these are for OGRE Miniatures, not the boardgame so they have been used on a traditional "open" tabletop with proper terrain and measurements by tape measure not hexes. This produces an unusual mix of boardgame and miniatures wargame aesthetic, but one that I feel works quite well - since both myself and Phil S, my occasional OGRE Miniatures opponent, grew up playing the original Microgame in the clamshell box these seems to work for this game, looking more like a deluxe version of the boardgame than a wargame using "on the cheap counters". We are used to seeing the original minimalist graphic design of the old counters so this doesn't look wrong to our eyes. YMMV.

One tweak I did make is that the OGRE units didn't stand out and dominate the look of the armies as they should so I bought a sampler set of poker chips from a dealer on eBay and just stand the OGRE counters on top of them. This draws attention them, gives them a larger footprint from which to take measurements from and, because the poker chips are all unique colours, allows for colour coding of individual cyber-tanks.

Anyway, some (crappy) in-game cameraphone shots which are probably not worth clicking to zoom in...

Force Pink OGREs advance with HVY TANK support.

Left flank secured upon a BUA - Buildings by Games Workshop (nearly 20 years old) and Ral Partha with Flames of War craters.

 Overview of battle.

Two full-strength platoons of White infantry at the edge of a ruined city.

Since this game was played, I've bought a third smaller army (Force Green) from the incomplete Scrabble set which is intended as allies to bulk out one or other of the armies should it required. We've also plans to play out OGRE the boardgame on Battletech hex maps.

Commence Hostilities...

I'm not entirely sure at what age I got interested in the idea of wargaming, but whatever it was it was quite young. I wasn't even particularly interested in military history and such a thing wasn't particularly fashionable in education in the early 1980s so I imagine that the opportunity to lead an vast, imaginary army into victory or defeat just appealed to a latent megalomanical streak in the psyche of the infant Boy Coop. I remain more interested in the wargames rules that simulate a proper, large-sized battle or campaign than I do in implausible clashes between two armies of brigade strength with a few infantry battalions, a couple of cannon and a regiment of horse a piece.

(It may sum up my gaming loves in that to my way of thinking the arrival of Epic 40,000 in the early 1990s, which dealt with Warhammer 40,000 big battles in micro scale, made Warhammer 40,000, small battles in heroic 28mm) totally obselete.)

I was quite lucky in that in those days (UK, 1980s) the local libraries all seemed to have copies of Don Featherstone's books so that teaching myself the art of wargaming was relatively easy - go and get out 5 of those books at a time, read and inwardly digest. Early experience to Featherstone shaped my wargaming interests in a manner that hasn't always aligned it with whatever wargaming was going on around me.

This was effectively that we were trying to simulate history, explore what happened once things changed and build a game that rewarded historical tactics with realistic results. And I mean "build a game" - Featherstone's approach seemed to be that you wrote your own rules and kept tweaking them to reflect your reading and bits you'd lifted from other rulesets. What we'd today call "homebrew" or a "hack" of somebody else's ruleset. You refought real battles, you know affairs that had really happened and to be honest usually one side didn't stand much chance but that was just the way of things.

It was a massive shock to the system to (much later in my wargaming "career") rub up against the tournament crowd and be aghast at the whole idea of optimised super-armies and playing the rules and loopholes within those rules rather than the period. The modern Warhammer 40,000 scene is a typical example of the sort of gaming style I loathe.

In fact I didn't even experience the concept of a points value system until Warhammer 2nd edition, a points value system which even the author, Rick Priestley, admits breaks down completely when put under pressure - and he said this even as he introduced the rules, effectively apologising for them as he did so.

(An aside - under a points value game system such as Flames of War or Warhammer 40,000 is it possible to build a truly terrible force that matches in points with an efficient, optimised one? Since it is surely points values are total shit at doing what they are intended to do which is produce two equally matched forces?)

I am wedded to the famous Fletcher Pratt quote - Nothing can be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war - which should be Rule #1 of every historical wargame.

So, as you might pick up I love the move back towards the Featherstone wargame as exemplified by games such as Black Powder and that attitude is what you'll find on this blog.

If I had to list my likes and aims in wargames I guess it would look like the following;

1 - Huge sized battles, rather than "all we can workably do under these rules" little piddling affairs.
2 - Nobody cares about balance.
3 - Don't make my head hurt with the rules - wargames night is on Friday and I will already have had five working days of thinking out computer stuff to tax the brain before I get here.
4 - I like history and I like science fiction.
5 - I don't go in for games that seem popular because they are currently "fashionable" - I've been bitten too many times by the way that the scene for some of these games vanishes as quickly as it appears.
6 - I don't like buying figures that only fit one set of rules, I generally don't do games that have pre-made "factions".

Other stuff - I also write fightingfantasist.blogspot.com which meanders and rambles but is generally about Games Workshop, D&D and Fighting Fantasy of the years when I was a lad and fuckyeahbritisholdschoolgaming.tumblr.com which just a vast picture blog of similar stuff. I promise that this blog will be slightly less sweary than those two.