Friday, 13 October 2017

Derby Worlds "Welcome to the new Triples?"

I spent the weekend at the "Derby Worlds" playing in the Impetus Competition on Saturday and just browsing on Sunday. The event has come in for a lot of negative comments on line and on the days, mostly from traders and customers so I think it would be useful to give a tournament player and organisers view. The main complaints aired can be summarised as location, size, and cost, so I'll look at each of these in turn

1. Location. Rather surprisingly the venue this year for the "Derby Worlds" was actually in Leicestershire, out at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground near Lutterworth. Leaving aside the fact it wasn't actually in Derby, or even Derbyshire, this was pretty much as rural as you can get. Initially I didn't see much of a problem finding it - satnav - but that was because we had been staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Leicester and as it happened we were almost in a direct line to the venue down main roads - pure luck. I was a bit puzzled by all the "hard to find, windy roads, middle of nowhere" comment, til we decided to head home on Sunday and because we were heading for the motorway rather than the hotel we were directed into the middle of nowhere down those winding country roads I had heard so much about. Thankfully we were doing this fairly early in the afternoon so it wasn't too busy, but I'm guessing if you tried that as people were leaving or were in a van carrying your stock it would be "interesting" to say the least. Parking was ok for the competitors who arrived early enough to get a spot in the car park but if you were in the overflow (aka a field) it was less than ideal. Something this shares with Vappa in York. The other facilities - ie toilets were ok but badly signposted - in fact I didn't realise there were actually 2 sets of toilets until I saw some of the other comments. The shift South seems to have discouraged some attendance too - although overall I don't have anything other than anecdotal evidence I'm told visitor numbers were very much down on last year, and I understand takings were similarly down with all but one trader I managed to speak to on Sunday. More specifically I know of a half dozen players based in the North East who have been regular attendees at the old venue but who decided the new one was too far.

2. Size. For the tournament players it was cramped. I can't really quantify the amount of space we had at Bruntingthorpe compared to the previous venue at Donnington Park other than to say it felt like we had a lot less room. We were lucky that we were situated on the end of the rows of tables so we didn't have to try and squeeze past a long line of players and their associated bags and boxes. All my games were interrupted pretty much constantly by people trying to get past to their tables further down the rows - not something I recall from other venues. The other notable effect of the spacing was there were far fewer interested or otherwise members of the public walking around to see the games. At every other venue or event I've had chats with the wandering public explaining what the rules were and why we liked them etc, but there was no chance of that because the public were clearly discouraged by the obvious cramped nature of the tournament area. This was probably just inconvenient for the tournament players, but at the other end of the hall the traders were suffering somewhat more. They were packed in very tight, and this had a number of effects. Firstly, it meant they couldn't get their full "pitch" set up - I was told they were operating on a 25% smaller area. Secondly, the isles were too narrow. Any sort of group around one stall blocked the aisle to anyone passing. It is difficult to explain how tight these aisles were, but to give an idea a wheelchair user wanted to pass down between two rows of stalls, and this could only be done by everyone moving back out and then moving back in after they had come through. That cramped and tight location has two effects on me. Firstly I was discouraged from browsing or even just chatting with the stall owners because I was aware I was either being constantly jostled or needing to move out of the way to let people get past. Secondly I just didn't bother trying to get through the crush to some stalls. Obviously this cleared up later in the day, but it was a far from comfortable or relaxed situation. The other problem with the lack of space was clear from the demo \ participation games. Again they were too tightly packed to allow easy access and circulation, so in my case I didn't bother trying. I should add there was a fairly spacious entry atrium with a couple of demo games, and these did seem to have plenty of room. Actually the space in the entrance was if anything wasted as it was full of "event special" KR backpacks and "Aeon One" game apparently being sold by the Organisers. These backpacks were full of "stuff" - mugs, keyrings, etc. all ok but hardly "gucchi". As for Aeon One - I'll get to that later.

3. Cost. The actual entry fee was the same as last year (£15), and as a bonus we got a voucher worth a fiver if we spent a tenner (IIRC) or more at any stall. On that count although it could easily be argued we got less for our money because we got less space, it wasn't bad. The food costs were very high. It cost more to buy a Mars Bar at the makeshift food area than to buy one at a motorway service station. Luckily I had packed some sandwiches etc - or rather bought them at Sainsburys so this wasn't really an issue for me.

OK having dealt with the stuff the main body of commentary was about I'd like to throw in a couple of other points. Firstly organisation and attitude. We queued up for some time to get in on Saturday morning, unlike previous years. I'm not 100% sure what the cause of this was as it didn't happen at either Donnington or the other venues but I suspect that it was simply lack of staff on the entrance and lack of a specific tournament player queue. They were also taking money on the door which seemed to slow stuff down, particularly as the tournament guys had already paid. Once in we got zero involvement from the organisers, no directions or similar, no visits to check if there were any problems. OK you could argue we didn't need them, but in the past we've always had some contact throughout the day, which is appreciated.

I mentioned Aeon One. I cannot for a moment understand what the **** the organisers thought they were doing here. It's some sort of fantasy \ Sci fi boxed game they have commissioned. It looked stunningly meh - basically reboxing already available stuff with some new rules and the now obligatory cards. This was retailing (if you can call it that) at £60. I have no idea how much this cost to produce but it looked nothing more than a vanity project. Some traders I spoke to pointed to that as being one of the reasons pitch prices were so high. I cant say if this is correct or not, but given the amount of material, time and printing that went into it, not to mention the ridiculous amount of column inches they have paid for suggests this is probably true.

All in all I think the organisers need to have a rethink. Actually I don't think its just them who need a rethink, its everyone. Why are tournaments married to trade events? I doubt the tournaments attract visitors in any significant numbers over and above the players. I also doubt the players themselves spend that much with the traders - we usually don't have that much time. Given the space the tournaments take up in comparison to the revenue they generate, organisers would be better advised to give more space to traders and demo \ participation games rather than trying to do all three and failing badly. As a tournament player I need some reasonable facilities and time \ space. I like the option of shopping and browsing, but I'm there for the tournament. So where does that leave the tournaments ? Actually I think there is plenty of opportunity to organise tournament only venues, smaller perhaps, and maybe with limited trader support - ie if its a Bolt Action Tournament maybe Warlord ? That sort of thing.

Derby this year was not great. Given the failure and apparent demise of the other great "Northern" shows Sheffield Triples, this is a bad time to drop the ball. The overall impression was the organisers tried to do too much with an inadequate venue, plus the whole questionable "Aeon One" vanity project. Lets hope they manage to do something about it next year.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Afrika Korps for Chain of Command

Having mentioned them in an earlier post I suppose it would be polite to show a pic of the Afrika Korps platoon I have been building for Chain of Command.

They're all Perry miniatures with the exception of the vehicles which are a mix of Blitzkrieg, Warlord and Empress, plus a burned out Opel Blitz from Any Scale models - only £6 and cheap at twice the price

I'm rather happy with how they turned out. Of course like any other project there is an element of project creep going on - I've ordered some more supports, this time from Warlord, and I'm working on converting some more Perry miniatures to represent DAK Pioneers. More on that later

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bit of a Hiatus

Quick update.

Having spent the last few posts looking at model aircraft for Blood Red Skies my butterfly mind has flitted on to something else - in this case playing a Chain of Command campaign.

Chain of Command (CoC) is the best WW2 skirmish game I've played so far. It has a lot going for it, but even as a fan I have to say sometimes it can be a bit less fun because it is brutal - something it shares with the subject matter I suppose.

After one of those "Fancy playing ........." conversations I rapidly had to dig out my half finished Perry Afrika Korps, got them painted and are now preparing game five of the campaign, which is so far been quite a lot of fun as my DAK are chasing John's 8th Army back through Libya to Egypt.

On the crest of that wave I decided to paint up my support options to fill out the base bones force I had ready. There is nothing like playing a game to inspire some painting I find. I'm hoping to pick up some more DAK support - possibly a motorcycle recce section or some similar soft transport at the Derby Worlds (7th/8th October) where I'm playing Impetus. After that I suspect I'll be back to looking at Blood Red Skies.

Cherio for now

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Its the Bomber! Blood Red Skies

Not sure about that chin turret on a He111 Lemmy. Still a great album though :-)

Blood Red Skies is due for release by Warlord Games in December. The base set has a rather Battle of Britain feel to it, with Spitfire MkIIs vs Me109Es all in glorious plastic. Of course there are always going to be some things that for production or cost reasons they can't include in the box, and one of these are model bombers. The game includes three double sided bomber counters printed on card for use in bomber escort scenarios, with a RAF Blenheim MkI on one side, and a Luftwaffe Do17Z on the other. So I thought it would be a good idea to look for some models to replace them.

Deep breath. Firstly I'm sure I'm not the only one to be scratching my head at the inclusion of the Blenheim MkI, which had been withdrawn from service as a bomber before the Battle of Britain began and replaced with the MkIV. The problem is the MkIV had a very distinctive nose and canopy, totally unlike the rather angular and stubby MkI, so the two are not easily mistaken. OK now I have that out of the way the stats in BRS are probably the same for both anyway so it's not that much of an issue.

So replacing the card counter with models - where to start? Lets look at the Blenheim first. Actually there are two rather good sources of Blenheim MkIVs in 1:200 scale. Firstly there is the Russian model manufacturer Zvezda, who make a Blenheim for their "Art of Tactic" game. A quick digression, Zvezda's Art of Tactic range is rather interesting. They seem to be producing models to fit the hex size rather than a single scale, so their infantry are 1:72, tanks are 1:100 (15mm), fighter planes are 1:144 and bombers are 1:200 - spot on for BRS or Wings of Glory. The range is a bit limited, consisting at the moment of a Blenheim (hurrah!), Ju88, SB2, Ju52 and lastly an Li2. This last one is a Soviet copy of a US C47 and can be happily used as such with minimum alteration - ie removing the turret and blanking it over. These Zvezda kits are easy to get hold of both sides of the Atlantic, cheap (a Blenheim in the UK is about £4) easy to assemble and paint up a treat. Very much a box ticked!

The second source is the very fine range of WW2 planes produced by David Schmid of Armaments in Miniature (AIM) , who are based in the USA and who have an extensive range of WW2 models cast in resin. I don't have an AIM Blenheim but they do look good and at $5 (£3.80) a go are very good value too. I'll be taking a closer look at AIM in a future post but in a nutshell they are rather nice models, and reasonably priced, though shipping across the pond from the US makes them a little less appealing. Having mentioned that they are amazingly light and therefore dont really cost that much to ship.

So on to the Luftwaffe, what are the options? Firstly AIM again. David produces a beautiful Do17Z in resin and priced at $5 (£3.90 at current exchange rates), a steal really. If you are not bothered about your Luftwaffe bomber Kette being Do17s then the aforementioned Zvezda Ju88 is also available, though this is a little more expensive on average with prices on ebay between £4 and £8 - nice one ebay!  This is the Ju88A4 version, which was starting to enter service just as the Battle of Britain was winding down, but only rivet counters will be able to tell the difference. AIM also make a Ju88A1 (more correct for the majority of the Battle of Britain) and a He111H.

Lastly as a "millionaires option" or for those lucky few of you who may already have them, there are the beautiful pre painted models designed for use in Wings of Glory. The problem is that they are now rare as hens teeth and change hands for rather more than the £20 retail price, if you can find them.
In all these cases you will still need a base of some sort, but that shouldn't really be much of a problem.

I'm going to have a closer look at the Blenheim and Do17Z options next BRS post.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Blood Red Skies Models - Not a review, redux

So over the last five posts I've taken a pretty close look at the pre production models for Blood Red Skies. I've tried to be balanced and fair, but not glossing over issues. Here's my overall impressions.

Firstly, these are designed as playing pieces NOT exact scale models. The models are over scale in the sense they are a bit "chunkier" than they should be. Wings and tails are thicker and some details are missing. I'm 110% happy with this in theory as they are designed to be regularly handled and gamed with. In this it is rather important to understand as unlike most other WW2 air games such as Wings of Glory or Check Your Six! the BRS advantage rules and the way they are represented by moving attitude of the model on the base means these models will need to take a lot of handling, not just the base as in other cases. If you were to model propeller blades, cannon barrels and radio aerials to scale or even close to scale, as happens with some other models, you would rapidly find a lot of breakages during play. So there is a necessary trade off between accuracy and utility. I would however have liked to have seen some cannon barrels on the Zero. I don't suppose this is a big deal and in reality will be an easy fix.

The next feature that needs to be mentioned is those panel lines. I like panel lines on model planes, and I'm guilty of painting some in myself as you can see in this earlier post on a Pe2  .

In reality panel lines would be almost invisible at any sort of viewing distance, but they can make an otherwise rather bland model look cool. On the BRS models these are so over scale you could probably fly an X Wing down them. Again that's not really a bad thing as it will make them easy to paint if you want to, and at the same time they will not be so obvious if you just paint over them. So far so good. The issue is the 109 certainly has the wrong panel lines, and the Zero may have, which  sours the milk a little for me, however I would hazard a guess that 99% of the gaming public wouldn't notice and wouldn't care even if they did, so its not a big deal overall.

On a similar note is the cannon bulges on the Spitfire. They shouldn't be there, but in truth they're almost invisible to the naked eye - in fact I looked at the Spitfire for a week and didn't notice until someone pointed them out on a blown up pic I posted. In a strange way you could think of this as a bonus. If you are a real rivet counter you could (carefully) file them off for a MkII or leave them on and add some cannon barrels to make a MkV. In fact if I were to be modelling the Mk V I would probably have expected those bulges to be emphasised a little to make them more visible! I'm again prepared to bet this is not going to cause 99% of gamers any loss of sleep at all.

The 109E is slightly more disappointing given the panel lines and cockpit canopy but in reality I cant see that putting too many people off buying them.

The last thing I would mention (again) is the actual choice of models in this initial release. The Spitfire MkII and Me109E are "no brainers" and at that point the decision to diversify so that the first release of BRS isn't just the Battle of Britain makes some commercial sense. The Yak 1 also works and can match up with the Me109E, but at this point the wheels come off. The late war Zero and P51D are just too late and diverse in my honest opinion, and cant really be flown historically against anything else here. Even against each other there is a major miss match.  A far better choice would have been a Wildcat and A6M2 Zero, but for whatever reason that isn't happening.  Hopefully Warlord will follow this initial release with some new models to make these two a little more relevant.

So that's it. As I explained at the start I cant really "review" the models or make direct comparisons to others available as the ones I have are pre production only, so what you are getting is my general impressions. Which are on the whole rather good. Assuming these models remain similar once in the new hard plastic material these are going to be a very welcome addition to the WW2 air gamer. No confirmation on price point yet, but I guess somewhere around the £25 point packaged in "Squadron*" boxes of six models plus bases and the associated cards needed to play them in BRS. That will make them essential for BRS players wanting to expand past the 2 player starter set, and also very welcome and useful to players of other WW2 air warfare games.

* yes I know, six planes isnt a Squadron in any real historical sense, and tactically six is a strange number for anything except early war but they had to call it something!

Next post (hopefully) will be a look at some alternatives if you want to replace your bomber cardboard cut outs with real models

Friday, 1 September 2017

Blood Red Skies Models (6) P51D Mustang

Last look for now at the pre production Blood Red Skies models, in this case the P51D Mustang. Again this is as received, with no clean up, and the pics are on a 1cm grid.

Not a lot to say here. Like the Yak1 the BRS Mustang looks spot on. Actually it may suffer a bit with too many panel lines, but that’s getting extremely picky and you will need to paint it to really tell. I like the model a lot.

Which raises the big question with the P51D – why is it here in the first place? Of course I'm not for an instant suggesting we don't need or shouldn't get a P51D. The problem is more, "why now?"  You can realistically only match it against the Zero, and even then that is such a miss match it may not be worth playing. If only they had gone with a Wildcat, Hellcat or even a P40 WarHawk for the US fighter it would have matched either the Zero or the 109. As it is this feels like, and indeed is, a fighter from the future of the others in the first release. To play the P51D historically you really need a FW190 or late 109 to match against it. I'm sure these will come in later releases, but it does leave the P51D rather alone in the current release.

I'll wrap these "not reviews" up with a general overview.

Blood Red Skies models (5) Zero

Penultimate look at the soon to be released "Blood Red Skies" models, this time the Japanese A6M5 Reisen “Zero” \ “Zeke”. As with the others, I should stress these are pre production resin models not the hard plastic expected on release. They are exactly as I received them, ie I've made no attempt at cleaning up flash or mould lines. Lastly the pics are blown up so remember were dealing with a model about 5cm long - the grid shown is 1cm.

The model is listed as the A6M5, the original of which first flew in mid 1943. Dimensions and proportions are as close to 1:200 as I can tell. Detail is similar to the rest of these models, a lot of over scale panel lines which I think will paint up well, and the signature external exhausts of the A6M5. What is lacking are the 20mm cannon barrels I would have expected on the wings, but to be honest that could easily be fixed with a bit of sprue if it means that much to you. The wing panels also seem to be the earlier A6M2 configuration. The choice of A6M5 is a bit of a strange one given the in service dates are not a match with any of the other fighters in BRS – if it had been an A5M2 for instance it would have matched up with the first three planes in the range quite nicely at least on in-service dates. That raises the question, could you use this model as an A5M2? The answer is a fairly clear if qualified “yes”. The earlier version has a longer wingspan and lacks the exhausts I mentioned, but to the casual, or anyone other than a rivet counter gamer that is probably not a real issue.

Last I will look at the P51D Mustang.