Saturday, 25 June 2016

15mm Panther Expansion for Tanks - "Making your Mind Up!"

So started playing the new Tanks game - see earlier post, and thought you may be interested in the kits. The Panther\JagdPanther expansion is rather an interesting model which I think in some ways reinforced my initial feelings that this game is worth a look, but there are some questions about the direction it can \ will take.

For simplicity I'm going to call it the Battlefront (BF) model rather than Battlefront\GaleForce9 as otherwise my fingers will fall off, and Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) for a comparison.

The expansion itself is a rather large blister pack containing two sprues to allow you to build either a JagdPanther or a Panther.

You also get the relevant Tanks game cards for both and a hero commander card that is not available in the starter set, plus a couple of duplicate cards you already got in the starter but are useful anyway. Lastly there is a short assembly guide printed on the back of the full colour insert \ cover, showing a Panther Ausf A in Zimmerit anti magnetic paste - which is rather naughty as the model is actually an Ausf G and has no Zimmerit. In fact the image is a retread of the box art of BFs Panther Ausf A platoon - which is something I may come back to later.

Cost is somewhere between £5.50 and £7.00 depending on your source. For comparison a single Panther from PSC is £5.50 or four for £20.00 but of course you don't get the Tanks game cards.

The two sprues are interesting - both models share the same lower hull and running gear so you can only build one model and will have a pile of spare bits. If you were rather resourceful you could have a go with magnets or similar and have the upper hulls interchangeable if that's your thing. or you could build the Jagdpanther and use the spare turrets as emplacements - or you could bin them :-)

The other thing that initially puzzled me was that there was a lot of "spare" bits on one half of the sprue that were totally extraneous - extra ball mounted hull MGs, a spare cupola, different exhausts etc. None of these were needed and the cupola wouldn't fit the turret anyway as it already has one. So what were they for? Then it hit me. The sprue was actually a conglomeration of an older sprue that had been designed to be packaged with the resin models to replace at least some of the metal bits, and at a later date a new sprue has been added to replace the resin bits. They have probably included it because it contained some bits of stowage - spare wheels and tracks etc. I'm not sure what this says about the company and their design capability in that rather than including these in one sprue when at the design stage they decided to shunt the two together??? Given the number of bits on the extra sprue that are actually useful is rather small this seems a particularly wasteful approach. Why could they not get it all on one sprue? I suspect this has a lot to do with BF using "traditional" design rather than 3d CAD like PSC. I don't know if this is continuing with BFs more recent models or if they are \ have switched to CAD? Here's the old bit ringed in red so you can see what I mean. A close inspection shows one sprue dated 2012 and the other 2015.

Ok I can hear the exasperation building - get to the model!

So I stuck one together as a Panther. The instructions are clear and simple to follow, or rather would be if there were not so many extra and unusable parts on the sprues. The plastic is user friendly and assembly was fairly quick and pain free using side cutters to remove from the sprue, an ExActo knife  to clean them up and Humbrol Liquid Poly to glue the bits together. Parts fit nicely with the possible exception of the cupola hatch but that may just have been "finger trouble" on my part. It certainly looks the part. Although there is no mention on the packaging or instructions this is pretty clearly an Ausf G looking at the glacis, turret and exhausts. There is no Zimmerit which is a shame, but other than that it seems a nice model................... except the side skirts. I stuck them on and immediately the alarm bells rang. They just don't look right. If you take a glance at any of the skirted panthers around or in wartime photos it is instantly clear the skirts usually cover the top of the road-wheels and tyres. In this model they end above the wheels clearly leaving the tracks visible. I disapprove on principle. The JagdPanther is a breeze to build and looks rather nice.

This is of course very much a rivet counter \ trackhead thing, and if you didn't have it pointed out or don't really care it is probably not an issue. If you are you could always leave the skirts off I suppose, or build a new set out of plastic card but that's a lot of faff. I checked the Plastic Soldier Company Panther out and they seem to have got theirs better (or right?). Dimensions are a bit off - the Panther is a couple on mm too long and too high but that isn't a great problem - they certainly look the part.

So is this a deal breaker? Hardly. It's a nice model, and in comparison to the PSC one has fewer parts so less to screw up - particularly the much commented on two-part PSC tracks. The BF Panther has 15 parts if you exclude the skirts and extra stowage, the PSCF one has 23 (assuming I count them correctly). Zvezda, the undisputed Kings of Quick Build 1:100 (don't mention the Katyusha) are releasing a Panther soon and I would expect based on their previous performance that will be around 10 parts or less. On the plus side only BF will allow you to build a JagdPanther or a Panther G, which is something I suppose, but PSC will give you the parts for Ausf D, A & G.

I think the comparison with Zvezda is quite interesting because Tanks is aiming at that hybrid wargame \ boardgame slot, Zvezda's Art of Tactic  (AoT) game is squarely in that slot too, but unlike Tanks,  AoTs models are designed from the outset as gaming pieces in a board game style rather than reusing traditional wargaming models as BF has, and it shows. Less pieces, easy to assemble (mostly) and significantly cheaper. They also originally came with the cards required to play AoT but have now moved to downloads. I think this is the nub of my concerns for Tanks. BF have always been behind the trend as far as plastics have been concerned. They are improving rapidly, but most of their product is still tied to traditional hand made masters with the models cast in resin and metal (or plastic). At the same time PSC are ahead of the game with 3d CAD design and all plastic kits from the outset. That suggests BF lack the flexibility and footwork to release anything new for Tanks very soon as they have already exhausted the available models in the initial release and announced follow up. Games such as X-Wing, which Tanks openly admits to trying to mimic, have identifiable release schedules that help keep the game fresh and the punters coming back for more. I'm not sure Tanks can deliver that because it is tied into using "re-purposed" BF Flames of War models, which may suggest this is not going to be a game with long legs. Similarly reusing images from previous Bf Flames of War releases may be ok, but when the image isn't what is in the box there has to be a question asked - particularly as they have a similar but correct Ausf G image available to them.

So to sum up, the Tanks Panther expansion has quite a lot going for it, but some issues. If the comparison was simply as a model of a Panther tank PSC may well shade it, including on price. As an expansion for the Tanks game there is much to recommend in the BF model. In the end you pays your money and take your pick. As I have three of these already due to splitting starter sets and buying the expansion (yes I didn't think it through), AND my WW2 German armour collection reads PzI, PzII, PzIII, PzIV, MAUS I think I will get a few more (and leave the skirts off)

and lastly, I decided to give the whole "magnetise the hulls so I could swap them around" idea a go. I diligently made a spacer using a couple of ex GW slotta bases and stuck them in strategic places.

It worked well enough at first glance but on reflection I decided these models are going to get a lot of handling and it wouldn't take much to overstress the spacers, so I gave up and glued everything :-(  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Tank-Wing err X-Tracks err Battlefront\GaleForce9s new Tank Skirmish game

Which is called Tanks!

This is probably the first problem as it seems they have chosen a name that will cause most search engines to explode with a million results none of which will be what you are looking for. Anyway on impulse I bought a copy and was very pleasantly surprised. I was going to write a full Blog about contents and play-style etc but to to be honest Rollingcrits got there before me and sums it up pretty well in his blog here  rollingcrits .

So I will have a quick muse instead. The game is very close to X-Wing in a number of ways, in fact so close one could be forgiven for thinking this was just X-Wing but with tanks instead of TIE fighters. I'm sure that at Battlefront\GF9s HQ bunker buried deep within The Shire that a meeting took place where someone said "That X-Wing game is raking in the ££\$$ - wish we had something like that". From the outset this game is aimed at pretty much the same market -"Organised Play" tournaments. There are a number of differences \ issues that could or should be mentioned however in any comparison.

First, and possibly crucially, this game uses the Flames of War plastic 15mm 1:100 tanks. To digress a moment FoW was very late getting into plastics - Plastic Soldier Company stole a head start and in my opinion still hold it. Much of FoW production is still resin and metal with plastics bulking the range out. The quality of the FoW \ Tanks kits is excellent, but the range of plastic kits available is limited and all the current ones are used in this game. The omissions are noticeable - no Tiger or Churchill for instance. It is (in my opinion) highly unlikely that the parent company will produce any kits for Tanks separate to the FoW range due to cost implications inherent in plastic tooling, so new additions to the game after the first two release waves are unlikely, at least until FoW get back to refreshing their WW2 range which may well be some time as they seem to be concentrating on Team Yankee at the moment.

The second issue with Tanks when compared to Darth and his game is that the Tanks models are unassembled and unpainted, where X-Wing are not. The kits are actually easy to put together as far as I have seen, but unlike the Zvezda "Art of Tactic" models they're not really "quick build" either - you need glue and a little more skill and effort. I suspect that may put some players off - particularly the younger target groups. I mentioned these were FoW kits - actually there is one main difference. These sprues are colour coded to something like the base colours of each faction - so for instance the Germans are a sand yellow, USA olive green etc rather than the standard grey plastic used for most FoW models. That's a good idea as it takes some of the painting burden away from the casual or new player as sides are easily identified, but it also pretty much excludes their resin and metal kits from being released as part of this game in their current format. Further the Tanks! kits don't come with decals or magnets even though the "parent" ones do.

Lastly, it's not Star Wars. OK everyone knows a bit about tanks but it doesn't have the sex appeal of Star Wars. Given two other similar games, both with much better \ high profile settings (D&D and Star Trek Attack Wing) have both failed to gain traction in this market, why should Tanks succeed?

On the plus side the other components such as stat cards an damage counters are of high quality.

So to sum up, its a plagiarised version of a successful game with inferior models to X-Wing, with quite limited room for expansions, so why play it?

Because it works and seems quite a lot of fun. The mechanics are built on the tried and tested X-Wing ones, so they have a solid track record (pun), with some local rules that work rather well such as speed and shooting. The games are short and usually seem balanced, which is nice. Price point is good too - the starter set contains sprues to build 2 Shermans and either a Panther or JagdPanther, plus rules cards and counters for about £16-£17, with the expansions around £6-£7 each. That's not earth shattering at all - in fact from some angles its a bargain! All in all I'm rather happy with Tanks and would recommend it as long as you can live with the abstractions. Give it a try :-)


Sunday, 19 June 2016

15mm WW2 German Heavy Metal - err plastic. Zvezda's Ferdinand

I like Zvezda's "Art of Tactic" range. They offer nice models at a very reasonable price. I was therefore quite interested when the latest batch included a Ferdinand Tank Destroyer.

This follows the earlier pattern with one (or in this case 2) sprues.

In theory this is a snap together kit but I always glue mine. As usual the instructions consist of a diagram on the back of the box, but unusually this one didn't come with the Art of Tactic data card - not sure if this is a packing error but I dont use them anyway so no loss.

Putting it together was child's play - really nice kit with only 10 parts. Detail is very good too.

And the finished result

Not out a ruler to it yet but it certainly looks the part. As with all Zvezda AoT kits there is no capability to have the commanders hatch open, and there are no decals provided, but given the price was £4.00 including p&p that's no loss. I would suggest taking the extra time to drill the end of the muzzle brake out as it looks much better.  For the TrackHeads out there this is the early Ferdinand with no hull MG.

Great model at a very reasonable price

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Chechens (2)

Last post I bitched and moaned about my inadequacies when it came to the Empress Miniatures Chechens. One other issue which has nothing to do with me is there is no 28mm SA7 gunner available that fits the force - at least as far as I can find one. There are actually very few SA7 gunners out there as far as I can see - usually Mujahadeen in Dish Dash which really don't fit for my Chechens who are mainly in cold weather clothing.

I wanted a SA7 as a Faction option, so decided in a fit of rage to scratch build or convert one. The starting point is this Empress Miniatures RPG Gunner.

As you can see he has his RPG about ready and pointing below the horizon. What the pic doesn't show is the RPG is a separate piece with the left hand attached. Undeterred I binned the RPG and bent the left arm carefully up so that he now is pointing above the horizon rather than below. I then built a model SA7 out of plasticard and tubing \ rods. It's not a work of art but it looks about right. His left hand came from an old Wargames Factory Persian Archer, but again it seems to fit well enough.

Finally I hung a spare AK on his back. Seemed like a good idea. Here he is, painted and waiting for any passing helicopter to share the bad news with.

Chechens for Black Ops (1)

I'm still enjoying Ospreys Black Ops Rules which manage to do some interesting things simply.

Having just about finished my Russians I thought I would get some opposition for them, or at least some troops to use as an alternative. I decided on some Empress Miniatures Chechens  to use either as Chechens, or optionally as some generic mid \ East European militia. At worst they would be something different to the Taliban types out there, and being Militia you can get a fair few for your 50pts

The figures are very interesting - I think Empress got the range from another producer (Red Star???) and they in a different style to some of the other Empress ranges. Basically they are multi part with usually the gun separate (complete with a hand wrapped around the grip). This is not a bad idea as it allows some really dynamic poses, however there is a catch, and that catch is the weapons themselves, which are all painfully thin. Of course you can say this is just accurate scaling - and to an extent it is, but that doesn't help when the barrel of the MG snaps when you look at it. Probably the worse figure for this is the gunner running with PKM where the figure is holding the gun by the carrying handle (OK) but the handle itself is so thin as to be useless on a wargames table. There is a pic below but what it fails to show is that the hand with the handle  isnt actually attached to the gun except at the front of the handle - ie as in real life. This is a great pity because it makes the guy incredibly fragile. Worse, because the figures have the hands cast to the separate weapons you have to get an exact fit for this to look any good, and if you want to replace the gun with a more robust slightly upscale one you also need to get some new hands found or made. When it works it is very nice, but I'm having a lot of problems as a combination of the need for a close fit plus my ham fists.

That problem extends to painting too. I wanted to have that civilian \ militia vibe, which means everyone wearing different uniforms (oxymoron there) or civilian clothes. The problem is I an apparently incapable of doing this, so the production time is ludicrously low - in fact I'm actively looking for other stuff to paint rather than face them.

Which is a shame because these are very good figures. Anyway here is my first three, and as you can see, they are a little bland. Hopefully I can do something better with the next batch.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Little Pawn - Pe 2 for Wings of War \ Wings of Glory

We have a tradition of having a club game once a month each year with different themes. Last year was the boardgame Formula D, this year it is Wings of Glory (WoG) WW2. The games are just an excuse to get lots of people around a table and have a bit of fun. Each month of real time will advance the campaign clock half a year of campaign time, so we have just reached 1942. I'm playing Soviets which does leave some problems as there are so few "official" WoG models around for the Reds, however help is on hand at The Wings of Glory Aerodrome  where there is a huge stack of fan based stats and cards to play unofficial planes.

I ran a couple of games using a Tupolev SB2 bomber - which was pretty historically correct as I got swatted from the sky with ease. Time to upgrade!

The upgrade in question is the Pe2 "Peshka" (Pawn). The PE2 is a vast improvement on the Tu2, being faster, better armed and more manoeuvrable. It was produced in large numbers and was a great light or dive bomber that made quite a name for itself on the Eastern Front.

So here it is. Model by the rather excellent Armaments in Miniature  who do a very nice range of aircraft in 1:200 suitable for Wings of Glory. Decals are from I-94 via Pendraken \ Minibits. I should add AIM often does complimentary sets of decals for their models but I had plenty of I-94 ones so thought I should get them used up. As you can see I went for a winter colour scheme . In fact I have done this on all my Soviets as it makes them stand out on the table and looks a bit different in my opinion. Hope you like it.