Sunday, 26 November 2017

Battleground 2017 - pleasantly surprised

It's all been a bit "doom & gloom" at Chez Renko in relation to conventions recently. Derby was "sub optimal" and our local show "Battleground 2017" has been a bit "meh" - not actually bad but it felt lacking in both footfall and major traders. Combined with the fact this happens on the Black Friday \ Cyber Monday weekend I was not expecting much this year but...

I was pleasantly surprised. The venue and organisation are excellent - due no doubt to the diligence and hard work of Leon Pengilly (from Pendraken\Minibits) who does the organising and associated donkey work that goes on behind the scenes. The venue is at Queens Campus Stockton, which is certainly a bit "out of the way" but nothing as rural as Derby, and here there was plenty of free parking and entry was also free.

Obviously the show was much smaller than Derby too, and there weres no competition games, but there were plenty of traders including Dave T and Warlord, plus some of the more locals - particularly worth a mention was Cozzmic Cakes who do, well, cakes. OK not something you would normally expect at a games convention but they are very nice cakes and available with a geeky slant if required. There was also a busy "table sale" area. I tend to be not too keen on this idea, where punters hire a table for an hour to sell their wares, as I prefer a bring and buy where you can make one sweep and see everything on sale, whereas a table sale means you have to call over every hour or so just to check on the rotation, but this one seemed to be busy and popular so what do I know?  One definite bonus was there was plenty of room to circulate with none of the crush we got at Derby.

Lastly there were a good number of demo games. None were what you would call Salute level showstoppers, but all were solid and interesting.

Crucially footfall seemed to be up this year - in fact most stalls seemed positively busy up to 2pm when I had to head off to another appointment, and in my usual round pressing the flesh and chatting most traders seemed upbeat on the whole.

So well done to Leon and his team. I'll finish up with some pics of just some of the demo games, including the popular Cozzmic Cakes "Imperial Knights vs Cup Cakes" (I kid you not). Looking forward to next year.


Thursday, 16 November 2017

Only one day late.... weekly Wednesday update

I had planned to have a Blood Red Skies update, but for a variety of reasons that hasn't happened yet.

In fact the last week has flown by but without a great deal of progress. Actually there has been some progress. I finished painting another half dozen AWI Militia and I can now go ahead and play another Sharp Practice campaign game in confidence - or rather I will once the next batch of movement trays arrive from Warbases but they tend to be fast and efficient.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, table and pool

No progress on Shadespire - actually a bit of a retrograde step as I bought the Ork expansion to get to the non orkish cards in the pack , which is as good an example of why you should avoid this sort of game (I'm looking at you X-Wing) like the plague.

The big news I suppose was the game of Zombiecide, which my non gaming non geek wife actually enjoyed and was interested in having another go. After 20+ years of marriage this is something of an eye opener - who knew?

Other big news is I pre-ordered by set of Blood Red Skies. Getting too close to release date to miss out.

So the big picture is the "Pile of Shame" aka unpainted figures has reduced by an aggregate of 2 figures this week.

That's all for now folks!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Wednesday update and some progress

I'm planning to do a bit of Blood Red Skies stuff in the near future. To do that I've started a new paint queue with the idea of clearing the decks of other projects then having a serious look at BRS. Basically I'm hoping to get my AWI project done before moving on to VBCW then BRS. At least  that's the plan.

And progress has been made. In the last week or so I have painted another six VBCW guys and six AWI Militia. I didn't particularly enjoy the AWI stuff - not great on painting civilians, but the VBCW was easier and helped out by watching the first series of Peaky Blinders for inspiration. That only leaves about six AWI Militia and the unit is complete. The VBCW stuff is more open ended and there isn't really any time pressure so that could be moved back on the queue, but there's also another couple of series of Peaky Blinders on Netflix so there is plenty of inspiration if I need it.

Then again there is the thorny subject of Shadespire. I went halves on a starter set with Paul D and got another expansion (undead). I've already painted the Shadespire warband (5 Khorne Berserkers) and the undead can wait.

So in the last week I've increased the painted score by 17, and added another 7 figures to the unpainted side of the equation. Progress of sorts.

On the gaming front I've got a slot on the playtest group for Impetus 2, and we had a trial session Monday night that went very well. Looking forward to more of that, particularly as Santa has dropped a hint that there may be a Warlord Games Successor starter army in his sack if I'm a good boy :-). Also I have been requested by a non gaming friend to set up a game of Zombiecide for the weekend - each to their own :-)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Spitfire vs 109 in Blood Red Skies

The basic starter set for Blood Red Skies has probably the most two iconic WW2 Fighter planes included, the Supermarine Spitfire MkII and the Messerschmidt Bf109E “Emil”, both at their Battle of Britain zenith. I thought I would give a quick and dirty run down on how they match up in BRS, and my thoughts \ opinions on how that is reflects the historical record (or doesn’t). This should be clearly filed in the "initial assessment \ pinch of salt" folder as it's based on only half a dozen games and the information already released, but I think it still has some validity.

In BRS the two aircraft share the same basic stat line –  Firepower 1, Agility 3, Speed 7. The Spitfire has a marginal advantage in the initiative “tie break” of 357mph to the Emil’s 354mph. This means that in all circumstances except one, they are equal.

Speed first, because it has probably the most impact on how you play. Speed is one of the tie breakers when working out who has the initiative. Being faster is therefore important. This nicely segues into the first area I would like to mention – the idea of hard statistics. The problem with any statement about top speed or similar is that in “real life” this could vary quite a bit. Some factors are easy to understand such as speed varies with altitude, so when comparing speed data you really should have comparable altitudes. This is usually just not possible to do with any accuracy. Other factors are frankly bordering on the arcane – some Spitfires were faster than others because the factory that made them used flush rivets rather than mushroom headed ones for instance, and something as simple as a good coat of wax could add a couple of mph, which is why the Photo Recce Spitfires were waxed and polished before missions if they could help it. A good ground crew really did make a difference, even though they never flew in the plane. What I’m trying to say is we need to remember the figures given are estimates, and in all probability sources will be contradictory. In this case there is also a need for some sort of differentiation, so Andy Chambers has given what seems a marginal advantage to the Spitfire which really only counts as a tie breaker for initiative. One of them needed it, so dealers choice. I suspect this "speed" thing is going to rear it's ugly head a lot when BRS is released and discussed, but you just have to accept that in reality there really is no "correct" answer and the best we can manage is "x" aeroplane was usually faster than "y" aeroplane. Usually.

Secondly, Firepower. Here I think there is some room to raise an eyebrow at rating the two planes the same. The Emil has a pair of 20mm cannon and a pair of rifle calibre machine guns which are usually considered as vastly superior to the Spitfires eight .303 rifle calibre machine guns. The fact the RAF tried to switch to cannon as fast as possible tends to bear this out. On the other hand against smaller less protected single seat fighters there is something to be said for having a lot of fast firing guns with lots of ammunition (the 20mms on the Emil had only 60 rounds each). Andy has decided to group them all into the lowest firepower category. Again this is really going to cause some discussions when other aircraft are compared. It is a complicated area because not all guns are the same. This is particularly true of Soviet guns which tended to be just "better" in every way to the others, so when you look at apparently under gunned Soviet fighters, just remember their cannons and MGs are probably throwing out twice as much lead as their German counterparts, and often at higher velocities. In the end to keep it simple Andy went with three broad categories, and both the Spitfire II and 109E are in the lowest one. Its a game designers decision.

Lastly Agility. Both share the same Agility rating of 3 – the best there is. I can here various shouts from the audience about how the Spitfire could out-turn a 109 or the 109 could out dive a Spitfire, and the same as the idea of speed, the issue is more nuanced than first it seems. Firstly note it’s “Agility”, not “turning”, and so this rating includes a basket of general factors such as turning but also rate of roll etc. Could a Spitfire in real life out turn a 109? Actually the jury is still out. The Spitfire has a better wing loading and famously sweet handling. The 109 has a higher wing loading due mostly due to the small and narrow wings which continued to plague the design for the whole of its life. The 109 turned tight but as it did so it got harder to control. To compensate the 109 has a set of automatic slats that deploy at low speed, snapping the nose around, but the physical act of deploying those slats was not something the pilot had control over, and when they did deploy, they did so suddenly and did horrible things to the airflow. A seasoned 109 pilot probably could stay with a Spitfire in a turn, but it was far from comfortable and took a lot of experience and faith to hold your plane in a tight turn with all the problems that involved - and getting it wrong could and would be disastrous. Most pilots simply didn’t risk it, so a Spitfire in a tight turn would lose the 109, usually. On the other hand there is the Spitfire’s much examined lack of direct fuel injection. When a 109 went into a steep dive, because it has fuel injection the engine runs normally. A Spitfire (or Hurricane) has a normal carburetor feed – stick the nose down steeply and the engine is momentarily starved of fuel and stutters, power is lost and then you get an ominous belch of black smoke. Pilots could attempt to avoid it by rolling into dives, and anyway once in a dive the Spitfire would gradually catch a 109, but as with the 109 turning, it took a very brave and experienced pilot to try and get through the initial rather worrying coughing and spluttering, so most didn’t. These “facts” quickly became self-reinforcing – Emil pilots found they could usually dive away to escape, Spitfires could snap into a tight turn. 

So on the whole the stats are even and I think that’s the right choice.

In the advanced game however we get some further options by the addition of Trait Cards.

These are special cards that can be played to “break” the normal rules. In the case of our pair of aircraft the cards reinforce the operational differences I mentioned. The Spitfire has the “Tight Turn” trait, which allows the British player to make his turn at any point in his move, not just the end. In reality this means a Spitfire with a “Tight Turn” card can turn inside a tailing 109.

The 109 has two traits, “Great Dive”, and “Great Climb”. These are a little more complicated than the Tight Turn, but what they do in play is allow the 109 to dive away from a Spitfire, or prevent a Spitfire from gaining a height advantage. Both are a bit more situational than Tight Turn, but once you get the hang of it they will really help keep the Spitfires off your tail.

Lastly: The One That Got Away – Firepower. If you really do feel the need to boost the 109s firepower, there is a way to do it. There is a Theatre Card you could add (more on those at a later date) called "Superior Armament" that allows you to add an additional dice to your shooting attacks, but risks losing the effect when you uses it –like shooting off all 60 rounds of cannon ammunition for instance?

So to sum up, I’m rather impressed at the way BRS manages to represent not only the similarities in these two iconic opponents, but also with the addition of the Trait Cards encourages players to adopt historical tactics. This is starting to look like a set of rules that really hits the target.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Another interlude followed by a resolution

I've always tried to post when I have something to post about, usually a new project, a nice model or game report or whatever. The problem is that can mean long interludes where nothing gets posted up, because I'm either busy with "real world" stuff, or alternatively so busy having fun with playing toys soldiers that I cant be arsed to take the required photographs to illustrate the blog posts. This is a bit of a flaw.

So in an attempt to impose some discipline and structure I'm now planning to post at least once a week, probably Wednesdays. That will also mean my current scattergun approach to subject matter will also almost certainly get worse. C'est la Guerre I suppose.

So whats happened recently I hear no-one ask?

Well I visited Warlord Games for their 10th Birthday and had a really interesting time. There's so much musing there that can wait for another post. Also I resolved NOT to get involved in any new projects, and self righteously abstained from buying into Ghost Archipelago only to order Shadespire in a moment of weakness (thanks to Jamie White) and I'm sure I can follow that up with a detailed look later.

In other news one of my favourite game companies Hawk Wargames has been bought out by TT Combat. I'm pretty conflicted by that. I was (and possibly still am?) part of the Talon demo team for Hawk. They give me toys for playing their games with strangers. This is a good thing. Both Hawk games, Dropzone Commander and Dropfleet Commander are excellent games with superb miniatures and the head Honcho Dave Lewis is as nice a chap as you could want to meet, and a superb designer too. All the Hawk staff are also clearly "in" to the game - they're gamers not businessmen - T-shirts not "Suits". All that being said it is clear that after the problems distributing the Kickstarter for Dropfleet, Hawk had some internal issues that they didn't or couldn't resolve. Rumours were rife they were in trouble, and then the news they are being bought out, but that Dropfleet & Dropzone are still live and Dave is still lead designer. TT are (as I understand) the miniatures arm of Troll Trader, and they in turn are Kingsley distribution. Both Troll and Kingsley have pretty impeccable records at organising the toys getting to the customer, but pretty much zero on design etc, so if TTC are providing the heavy lifting leaving Dave to do the design work this could be a good thing in the long run. That being said, no matter how you sugar coat it a buy out is a worrying thing. I understand TTC have already culled much of the Hawk staff. That is entirely understandable but must be personally hard for the individuals involved. I hope they manage to move on and upwards. Similarly I hope Dave has made the decision to sell up early enough so that he hasn't lost out too much either. These are starting to look like difficult times for gaming companies, with Spartan, then Hawk and I doubt they will be the last.  I'm going to leave the postmortem speculation to others for now.

So on that happy note I'll leave you for now