Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Product Review & WH 40k Campaign Project: Mighty Planetary Empires

A year or so ago, my wife's son gave me a gift card to a nearby Games Workshop store.  At the time I wasn't planning on getting into Warhammer 40,000 (WH 40k), but I've always been fascinated with miniature campaigns.   So when I got around to actually visiting the store, used the gift card to defray the cost of Planetary Empires
I like the modular, hexagon terrain tiles, which allows for a myriad of unique combinations. 
 So the following payday, I bought Mighty Empires, assuming I could utilize both sets of tiles as long as I don't mix up the sci-fi and fantasy-specific terrain too badly.
Like I said though, that was almost two years ago.  The only thing I did back then was snip-off the hexagon tiles, buildings and campaign flags from the plastic sprues. 
Then my WH40k campaign project went dormant until this past weekend.
The weather was nice and more importantly, I had the day off.  So I set up one of my card tables in the driveway, got my "Mighty Planetary Empires" boxes, laid out as many hex tiles as I could and sprayed them with black primer.  Most of the tiles are double-sided, so I had to rotate my work as the recently sprayed sides dried.  Fortunately, this took less than two hours.
I usually wait to do my prime-coat painting when the weather warms up to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (just over 15.5 degrees Celsius).  Since I don't like paint fumes, I do all my primer spray painting outside.  I've found that if I do this when it's chilly, or less than 60 degrees, the primer doesn't adhere to the surface that well.  It's probably my ineptitude at painting, but I'm curious if any other gamers have had this trouble.
My next step in this project is to paint the tiles in appropriate terrain colors.  I plan to accomplish this using an assembly-line technique.  That is, round up tiles I intend to do-up in a specific terrain; like grassland, or desert; and spray paint them in the base color.  Then I'll add the detail colors later.  (Or maybe I can get my artistically-inclined daughter to do it).
The quality of both Planetary Empires and Mighty Empires is top-notch and I'm happy with the purchases I made a couple years ago.   I only have two quibbles with Planetary Empires:
First, all the starports are emblazoned with the Imperial Eagle of the Imperium of Man...
I would have preferred the starports to be more generic, so they can be owned by any race, without having to go through the trouble of filing-down or at least covering up the bird.
Second, while Planetary Empires comes with an assortment of structures like command bunkers, factories, etc., it doesn't include a single Hive City. These megatropolises are often critical objectives in WH 40k campaigns.
So I'm rather surprised that the only way WH40k players can add a hive city is to order one direct from Games Workshop, instead of going to the local game store.  The good news is though, they're only $10 (not including shipping and handling); and you can probably get by with just one. 
Speaking of price, both Planetary Empires and Mighty Empires cost about $50.  Heresy Online had a short discussion two years ago on whether or not Planetary Empires was worth buying and offered some cost-cutting alternatives.
As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't planning on delving into WH40k two years ago.  I bought Planetary & Mighty Empires to use for other sci-fi and fantasy gaming, so the versatility of these products was worth the price.
Whether I purchase a hive city or not, I'll eventually post my final painting results--especially if my daughter does the work.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wil Wheaton Says: TableTop Day is Tomorrow!

OMG!!!  (Frantically looking at the calendar).  It's today!!!

I'm sorry folks for the last-minute notice, but my agency has been busy dealing with a mudslide that occurred two weeks ago.  So I won't be able to participate in this year's game-o-rama.

But for those of you who can get involved, here's the link to Tabletop Day's homepage.

Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

All Ist Klar, Herr Kommissar!

Now that I'm finished reading the Warhammer 40k rulebooks, I've started on the "Codex" books.  These are supplements pertaining to specific races, or units in the 41st Millennium.

The other day I heard Der Kommissar by After the Fire on the radio the other day.  Now that I'm immersing myself in the 40k 'verse it was easy for me to associate the song with emperor's minions.

The creator of this demotivational poster, found on the Warhammer Empire Forum, must have had the song in mind too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book and Product Review: Warhammer 40k (4th & 5th Edition) Background Section--The Dark Millennium

(Image: Warhammer 40k 5th Edition Rulebook)
In my previous post, I discussed the game mechanics in Warhammer 40,000 4th Edition (WH40k 4Ed). I left off without going over the second part of the book, the Background Section.  But before I decided to do a Book & Product Review, I borrowed Dallas' 5th Edition book and read most of it in order to compare the two and discuss the setting of WH40k.  (Note:  The 6th Edition was published nearly two years ago).

This edition is organized a bit differently than it's predecessor.  There's five sections instead of two:  the introduction, rules, background, hobby information and reference material containing victory point listings and quick reference sheets.

I skipped reading the rules in this edition.  Oh, I'm sure there's a modification or three, but I figure I'd learn such things during gameplay--probably after my forces are annihilated.  Anyway, WH40k 5 Ed contains more background information than the previous edition did, which is appropriately titled:
Dark Millennium.

The epitaph at the bottom of both 4th & 5th editions, along with the cover art, provide a good idea of what life--such as it is--in the 40th Millennium is like:

In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.

Thirty Eight Thousand years from now, the human race rules a large swath of the galaxy and is, in turn, ruled by a comatose emperor believed to be a god and savior of mankind.  The emperor supposedly retains most of his psychic powers thanks to a throne-like life support system.  The daily-to-day details of running the interstellar Imperium of Man is left to the various Latin-titled bureaucracies.

In other words, the Imperium is a gothic, theocratic police state.  Apparently, it's impossible to govern an interstellar empire without inquisitors torturing suspected heretics...

(Image:  Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War Wallpaper)
...and commissars summarily executing anyone suspected of treason, or cowardice.

(Image: WH40k Motivational Posters)
These loyal minions of the emperor work overtime throughout the galaxy because, the Imperium of Man has been fighting genocidal wars against several other factions for thousands of years.  Who by the way, have been fighting a genocidal war against the Imperium--and each other--for thousands of years.

In this perpetual, galaxy-wide free-for-all, you have the Imperium...

...versus the enigmatic Eldar (the equivalent of Elves in fantasy)...

(Image by Yuliapw, background info available on WH40k Wikia--Eldar)

...versus their sadistic cousins, the Dark Eldar (Drow)...

(Image from WH40k Wikia--Dark Eldar)

...versus the savage Orks (same as in fantasy realms, but armed with guns)...

(Image from WH40k Wikia--Orks)

...versus the philosophically expansionist Tau...

(Image from WH40k Wikia--Tau)

...versus the monstrous, world-devouring Tyranids (strikingly similar to the creatures in the Alien movies).

(Image from WH40k Wikia--Tyranids)

And if waging total war against the living weren't bad enough...

(Image from Dakka Dakka--Gallery)

...there's the Necrons (undead cyborgs)...

(Image from WH40k Wikia--Necrons)

...along with the denizens of "The Warp," such as the bloodthirsty Chaos Space Marines...

(Image from WH40k Wikia--Chaos Space Marines)

...and unholy Daemons to deal with.

(Image derived from Chaos Daemon Codex, background info available on WH40k Wikai)

Now The Warp is an alternate dimension that makes space travel and interstellar communication possible. 

(Image from WH40k Wikia--The Warp)

It's also where psykers, those blessed/cursed with psychic abilities, draw their power from.  However, using such power comes at a high price:  Insanity, death or the enslavement of one's soul, is often the result when one delves too much into the power of The Warp.  

It acts like the Force in the material realm--but without the Light Side.  Theologians today would probably use another term for this dimension of Chaos:  


And yet, despite this dismal and foreboding setting, there is some good news--at least for those of us who don't actually live in the 40th Millennium.   All this multi-dimensional mayhem assures gamers that peace won't be breaking out any time soon.  Because "...there is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter and the laughter of thirsting gods" (cover page, Warhammer 40,000 5th Edition). 

As part of the wargaming hobby, the Warhammer line has it's fans and detractors.  I'm rather ambivalent towards the game.  I like the rules' easy mechanics and the ability to utilize this knowledge in the other Warhammer variants.  

However, I'm not all that enthused about gaming in this Dark Millennium.  Both editions are lavishly illustrated, often with disturbing and even morbid artwork.  In other sci-fi settings, such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Traveller even the free-wheelin' Firefly, there's always a sense of hope.  

There is none in the 40th Millennium.  

(Image:  Sister Hospitaller by Pvt Serrano)

I guess the Warahmmer 40k 'verse is just not quite my cup of Earl Grey. 

Unless of course, someone were to convince me otherwise...

(Image from Dakka Dakka

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book & Product Review: Warhammer 40K Rulebook (4th Edition) Rules Section

(Image: WH40K 4th Ed. Rulebook)
I've known about Warhammer 40K since the late '80's, but I've never delved into it.  Despite museum-quality artistry like this...
(Image:  Chaos Space Marine Sorcerer by Games Workshop Catalog)

...I always thought this range of figures to be a bit over-the-top.  Then there's the "parking lot effect" when using 28 mm figures for sci-fi gaming:

(Image from Librarium

Yes, it looks impressive.  But the battlefield is very congested, like a metropolitan highway during rush hour with every motorist and pedestrian afflicted with an extreme case of road rage.

That being said though, it turned out that 30 years of resistance proved futile.  Several weeks ago, I bought a copy of the Warhammer 40,000 (WH40k) 4th Edition Core Rulebook, because my daughter's boyfriend, Dallas, is into it and--it only cost me $7 plus tax at Half Price Books.

After reading the book, I now understand some of WH40k's  appeal.  The folks at Games Workshop came up with such an easily understandable set of rules with their Warhammer Fantasy Battle that they used the same game mechanics for the 40k version (along with their now unsupported Warhammer Ancient Battles, or "WAB").

The WH40k 4th Ed is divided into two main parts:  The Rules Section and the Background Section.

The Rules Section takes up the books' first 86 pages and provides concise and understandable instructions on how to play the game.  This is broken down into the following subsections:  Introduction, Movement, Shooting, Weapons, Assault, Morale, Characters, Unit Types, Vehicles, Universal Special Rules and Organizing a Battle.

Each unit, which can consist of one character/vehicle or a squad of soldiers, in the WH40k universe consists of nine stats:

Weapon Skill (WS), Ballistic Skill (BS), Strength (S), Toughness (T), Wounds (W), Initiative (I), Attacks (A), Leadership (Ld) and Save.

Basically, when one player attacks another's unit, a handful of 6-sided dice (d6s) are rolled and the results are compared to the appropriate stat, along with any battlefield modifiers, like units being under cover, to determine if the target is hit, and if so, how badly it gets damaged.

This is often disparagingly called a "buckets of dice" game system.  But it's easy to understand, which is probably why it appeals to younger generations of wargamers, especially to anyone brand new to the hobby.

The Background Section takes up the rest of the book's 270 pages and contains information on WH40k lore and history, along with guidelines on running missions (scenarios) and campaigns.  In game terms this material is often referred to as "chrome," "color," "fluff," "BS," etc.  Whatever gamers call this material, it can provide an entertaining, big-picture perspective for every tabletop battle.

But before I get into WH40k's big picture, I'll pause here and make some final comments on the rules themselves.

The Warhammer class of rules have been around for about 30 years now.  They're fun and easy to learn which is part of what puts them into being more of a game system, as opposed to simulation--even the true-blue historical WAB.

Once a gamer learns one version of Warhammer, this knowledge is easily transferable to the other varieties.

And not having to "learn new tricks" is definitely appealing to some (all?) of us old-dog gamers.

(Image:  Wallpaper from Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Firefly: The Game Review - Starlit Citadel Reviews Season 2

I enjoyed this review so much, I went out and bought this game along with the first expansion Breakin' Atmo.

The next expansion, Pirates & Bounty Hunters is due out next month--which I'll be pre-ordering shortly.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Battles of Westeros Review - Starlit Citadel Reviews Season 2

Well, I finally figured out how to work around the browser crashing issue.  Instead of trying to add/edit on Blogspot, do it while on YouTube.  The drawback is--I have a limited number of options available to me, like labels, that I can do.

Anyway, here are some pictures and two very short after action reviews of two Battles of Westeros games my friend Joe and I played a couple of years ago.

The initial deployment of the Clash on Kingsroad:

In the end, the Stark forces managed to fight their way across the ford:

We then played the next scenario, Paying the Piper...

...which didn't go as well for the Starks as the Battle of Kingsroad did:

The Starks only managed to seize one strategic objective--one of three fords--while the Lannisters grabbed three out of four key terrain features belonging to the Starks.

Overall, Battles of Westeros is a fun miniature-boardgame hybrid.  The dice rolling to determine how many and what type of orders you get can be both fun and frustrating.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Webcomic Chapter 8 Posted

Chapter 8 (pages 217-242) is now available!

In this chapter, Bunda Akhtar launches the second stage of his coup:  Hunter-Killer Assault Vehicles (HKAVs), like the one pictured above, attack key facilities in Bongolaan's capital, Ratankiri, represented by the map found in Traveller Double Adventure 6: Night of Conquest/Divine Intervention.

I've been using the Star Wars Miniatures throughout this webcomic to represent individual characters.  Now it's time to take a more epic view to illustrate how these events influence the characters' decisions and actions.

For this I used my micro-scale (6mm, 1/285 or 1/300) collection modern and sci-fi armored fighting vehicles.  The modern vehicles are made by GHQ, while the sci-fi ones came from a US distributor of Ground Zero Games.

Meanwhile, the half-a-dozen or so HKAVs in Bunda Akhtar's army are represented by a single Aerial Hunter Killer from the Micro-Machines Terminator 2 Judgement Day Collection#2.  Apparently it's considered very rare among these collectible figures

As to the buildings:  They're another hodgepodge collection from various manufacturers such as, GHQ, Warhammer 40K EpicJr Miniatures and even BattleTech.

For this chapter's soundtrack, I chose Lux Aeterna--Requiem for a Dream, which is apparently a popular song used in computer games.  I just listened to this in it's entirety and I feel it provides a dramatic musical representation of the end of the Galactic Alliance's last planetary government.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: William Shakespeare's Star Wars

Actually this book was written by Ian Doescher, illustrated by Nicolas Delort and published by Quirk Books.  

It's a re-telling of Star Wars, Episode IV A New Hope in Shakespearean iambic pentameter, like this:

On the surface, the idea of merging Shakespeare and sci-fi sounds preposterous, but as the author pointed out in his afterward, both George Lucas (at least for the first three Star Wars movies) and William Shakespeare understood dramatic story structure.  

I found Shakespeare's Star Wars enjoyable and actually easy to read.  I don't know whether it was because I was so familiar with the movie, or that I understand Old English better than I did in high school, when I had to read Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet and Othello. (In writing this review I discovered my daughter had to read these very same plays when she was in high school). 

Nicolas Delort's "woodcut style" illustrations added to the drama...

...for the most part.  Some images were...well...

...a bit too Shakespearean.  

Since this book was written as if it were an actual play, complete with a chorus and soliloquies, a couple of theater groups have actually performed it.

So don't be surprised if you find Star Wars cosplayers (costume players) attending--or even performing--at your community's next Shakespeare-in-the-Park festival.  

Published in July of last year, William Shakespeare's Star Wars is available in various formats through Amazon.com.  

At this time, there are 254 reviews of this book, an overwhelming number of them positive (181 x 5-stars and 42 x 4-stars).  Twenty three reviewers thought the work to be so-so, more of a geeky novelty than a serious work of genre fiction.

Eight reviewers (5 x 2-stars and 3 x 1-stars) thought whatever novelty there was in Ian Doescher's debut novel quickly wore off.  Some thought his work was merely cheesy faux-Shakespeare, while one reviewer's complaint was with the formatting of the Kindle edition.

I don't own a Kindle and I can't tell an iambic from a pentameter, so I can't give you any advice in these particular categories.  Overall though, I'll give it a 4-star rating.  "Shakespeare's" Star Wars, is something of a gimmicky novelty, but a clever one that's a quick and pleasurable diversion.  

Some of the less-than-sterling reviewers did make a good point though: This would be a suitable gift for someone who loves, likes, or at least appreciates Star Wars AND Shakespeare.  Otherwise, the book would be a slog for them to read.

For those of you who are Shakespearean Star Wars fans, The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return will soon be available March 18th and July 1st.  

I guess Quirk Books doesn't want to tempt fate and release a pastiche book on Ides of March...