Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Los Tercios de España

Much earlier this year, I inquired with North Star Figures about Spanish troops for the North Star 1672 range. I was told then that they were planning on doing the Spanish at some point. I thought maybe 2013 or beyond, but I got a nice early Christmas gift of the first(?) releases of figures for Spanish infantry ca. 1672.

My 1672 project was inspired by the line of figures created by Mark Copplestone as his Glory of the Sun range. Then Mark's formerly fulsome enthusiasm for the period waned and the range looked like it would die of neglect. Mark had completed several figures for the range, but not enough to make complete armies. Such is the fate of too many figure ranges. Then Nick Eyre at North Star acquired the range and resurrected it with Steve Saleh as the new sculptor. Steve produced several more figures that rounded out the range (artillerymen, more mounted, Swiss...). I'm not sure if Steve has made an exit from the range, but the torch has either been passed or shared.

Phoenix Miniatures produced a very nice mounted Louis XIV figure earlier this year sculpted by Tony Slocombe. Now Tony has produced the aforementioned Spanish for a new Phoenix 17th century range. So far, the range includes the figures needed for foot battalions: pikemen, matchlock musketeers, firelock (i.e., flintlock) musketeers, and command. They also have dismounted dragoons, which surely portends mounted dragoons and horse-holders.

The range looks good, as these pics from the North Star site attest:

Spanish pikemen

Spanish command

Spanish matchlock musketeers
I like that the command includes a piper as well as a drummer and two open-handed officer/sergeant types. With my order I also received a nice lagniappe in the form of a Spanish bagpiper, which is not available for order directly on the site.

The figures display the unique Spanish uniform with its characteristic full-length lapels. THis was what I hoped they would do ever since I saw the uniform plates from New York Public Library's online collection.

Spanish armored pikeman
The Spanish uniform colors are also unique. Charles Stewart Grant in From Pike to Shot 1685 to 1720 cites evidence from ca. 1690 that gives uniforms of 10 new tercios with colors like turquoise, violet, sky blue, yellow, and emerald green. I'm eager to paint some violet uniforms.

Spanish musketeers
I'm planning on using 30 Years War flags that are available from Adolfo Ramos flags ( I picked up some War of the Spanish Succession flags from this range in my order from North Star. There doesn't seems to be a significant style difference between the Spanish WSS flags and the TYW flags. My guess is that, like the French, the flags remained unchanged for a long time. Most French standards remained unchanged from the TYW until the revolution (about 150 years).

Spanish ensign
I have enough figures for two battalions and I've already cleaned and primed the pikemen and command/musicians. With time off over the holidays, I hope to get a a good start on completing the units.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Odds 'n' Ends

After expending much energy producing the rules, ships, terrain, game pieces, etc. for my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules, I sort of hibernated from blogging. However, I feel a need to fill the gap so people won't think I have suffered the same fate as Kevin Smyth.

I have another game of Row Well and Live! planned for early November and I'm somewhat busy painting the wrecks that I got last month from Xyston. Now that the rules have progressed to the level of deadliness that I intended, I expect to need a half dozen or so wrecks to mark ships that have lost all flotation and are just semi-buoyant hulks. I'm about 50% there. I also have a handful of ships in the works. I think I have less than a dozen unpainted models, which I'll get to maybe this year. I already have more than enough for a game. The additional models will just allow more variety of ship types.

Bolt Action!
I discovered the joy of Warlord Games' Bolt Action WW2 skirmish rules when I stumbled one Saturday into The Panzer Depot and dropped into an impromptu game hosted by Chris Craft. The game was the German attack across a causeway held by elements of the 82nd Airborne (John Kennedy's old outfit in his younger, thinner days) in Normandy. It played pretty well and I immediately told John to hold a copy of the rules for me when the next shipment arrived.

Meanwhile, I started wondering if and what I should paint for Bolt Action. Like most things I get into, there is already a bulk of figures painted by the time I jump in and there seems to be no reason to paint a few more units. I thought about painting Germans, so I could be one of many players with German figures, then Americans for ETO (which still intrigues me). However, I realized that I've been sitting on unpainted lead for Japanese for several years. When I ran into Jerry Tyer at TPD and he mentioned he was painting Marines for Bolt Action, I knew the time had come to get to work on these guys, about which more in a later blog.

Conflict of Heroes
I've managed to play a few games of Academy Game's excellent Conflict of Heroes board game. Dan Carey contacted me through Board Game Geek and we've met a few times now to play at The Panzer Depot. I haven't beaten Dan yet, but I'm trying.

We've played scenarios from Storms of Steel, the Kursk variant, and Price of Honor, the Poland 1939 variant. I am waiting (and waiting) for Academy to finally release the Guadalcanal variant. It's been in the works for years (no exaggeration). It's also been 99.9% ready for years. I understand there has been a major production issue that involved losing original art and requiring a recreation of all that before they could start production. Their woes are greater than mine, but I'm still antsy.

Smyth Agonistes
Electronic media is more than ephemeral. All those 1s and 0s can go "poof" at any time. This makes me think that I should be saving my blogs in a more permanent format—or even just downloading them as PDF files (still 1s and 0s, I know, but my 1s and 0s).

It makes one wonder what will be left of our electronic medium culture. Newsweek magazine will go wholly digital by the end of the year (not that many will notice). The entire oeuvre of a blogger like me will one day cease to be when the electrons die. No big loss, since nearly everything I write is mere persiflage. My postings can reach anyone on the globe with an Interwebs connection, but they won't outlive me (or, for that matter, won't outlive my Internet account). Say what you will about the inconvenience of clay tablets, they at least had permanence.

Kevin's fate, alluded to above, was not so terrible as oblivion, but somehow he has lost access to editing his three blogs on Blogspot. He can't log in with his password and he is unable to reset it. I'm not sure what he did, nor is he, but Google is utterly useless for helping resolve it. "Free" remains worth every penny you spend on it. He's now had to abandon his blogs on Blogspot and move to new digs on (which, frankly, is a better service than Google anyway). Still he has no way to port over years of blog posts, so he's starting from scratch at In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, "So it goes."

His older blog, Northwest Historical Gamer (, remains for now and can be accessed through my Favorite Blogs listing to your right. So will A Gamer's Tales. I'm pleasantly surprised to see that Blogspot will allow a Wordpress blog to be listed, so there is it.

My cats are opaque
This may seem a very quotidian observation, but I raise the issue to point out that this bit of the posting is written by faith; sight being impaired by the interposition of Maeve the Merciless between my oculars and the computer screen. Any amount of time spend doing anything besides watching TV (when the cats can pile about me on the couch) is suspect to them. They get restless, they walk about the house making noise urgently calling me  away from what I'm doing to pay attention to them, they cause trouble. More to the point, they jump up on the desk and interrupt my work.

Of course I love them nevertheless, but I tell them that I only keep them in case of famine. That doesn't seem to faze them. I suspect it's because that's why they keep me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Row better and Live More!

After the first two opportunities to play test my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules, I've been able to work out some of the more nagging problems and get a better idea of what works well.

We played the third play test at Fix Bayonets, held in Steilacoom, WA in old Fort Steilacoom on the grounds of the Western State Hospital (i.e., insane asylum). This play test went very smoothly and only a few minor changes resulted from it. The overall changes from the first play test to the last are summarized below.


Crushing the hull of your opponent's ship is sine qua non for ancient naval battles. In the first game, the ramming wasn't quite right. I fixed it into a worse state in the second game, but gained some insights that made it play out ultimately to produce the exact results I wanted.

My baseline for ramming attacks is that I want the speed, relative size of the ships, and where the target is struck to matter most. This lead me to the initial idea of a Ram Attack Value computed primarily by those factors. For example, a penteres (size 5) striking a trieres (size 3) amidship at seven knots would do 11 points of waterline damage. That's about the right number, but too deterministic. There's no variable that can make the difference between delivering a smashing blow and a somewhat disappointing bump.

Game 1 also introduced the phenomenon of a ship starting forward of its target, but still delivering a midship ram by running parallel and then turning in at the end.

This smacks of cheese
It's not what I intended, but the rules rewarded it. Gamers are ingenious people; they will always find the low-hanging fruit. That is why we play test. We discussed ways to prevent it and the best suggestion to bubble to the top was to count only hexes moved straight before contact. We tested that theory in Game 2 and found it wanting. The biggest problem was that a ship moving at 7 knots and starting one hex away counted only 1 towards its Ram Attack Value, but a ship moving at 3 knots starting three hexes away counted 3. We had some anemic rams that were certainly not what I wanted to see.

John Kennedy suggested some kind of hit-dice solution, which got me thinking. I ultimately came up with a formula that determining the number of ramming hit dice as follows: 1 D6 for each knot of attacker's speed, add or subtract variable D6 based on the size difference between the ships (subtract if attacker is smaller, add if larger), and the position of the target struck (+2 for midship ram, -2 elsewhere). Results of 4-5 are 1 point of waterline damage, results of 6 are 2 points. The only die roll modifier is a -1 for each turn the attacker made in the move to contact.

Saturday's game showed that this was the right stuff. We had one picture-perfect ram that sank a ship. We had a few other dodgy rams that provided some damage, but not enough to even cripple the target. We also saw a few ram attempts that just missed.

I also needed to revise the attacker damage part of a ram attack. Game 2 saw ships hurting themselves worse than their target. That kink seemed to have been worked out in Game 3 as well.


One of the features of the rules is the ability of a ship to shoot multiple times during the turn. Most players liked how this worked, but after a few games I thought it was too much. We typically saw ships passing each other and shooting at every opportunity. There is a cumulative -1 modifier for each shot after the first, so ships would deplete their ability to keep shooting after a single pass between ships. In Game 3, I modified it so that a ship can only target another ship once. Ships can still shoot multiple times, but not at the same target. It sped up play and lessened the amount of damage. We saw no wholesale slaughter of deck crews from shooting in Game 3 like we had in Game 1.

I also learned from the first games that I put the shooting values too high. I've cut the chance for inflicting a hit and raised the chance for saving it. I'm also in the process of re-doing the ship cards so that the shooting value for the marines is about 20% of its boarding value.

Grappling and boarding

In Game 1 we saw the phenomenon of ships that were rammed grappling with and taking their attackers by boarding action. This happened in every case. The original grappling rule was that an attempt used 2 x D6 and the result had to be higher than the combined speed of the ships. It worked theoretically for moving ships, but no one ever attempted that. Instead, when there had been a ram and both ships stopped, the combined speed was 0, so any grapple attempt was automatically successful. Again, not what I intended.

On advice from Al Rivers, I worked out an opposed die roll for grappling. Each ship rolls 2 x D6, with the target ship adding the combined speeds. The result in Game 3 worked out well. We had some good boarding actions, but not every attempt succeeded. That's how it should work.

Overall impressions and next steps

It's nice to see a project come to fruition. I conceived these rules while lying sick in a hotel room in California three months ago. They ultimately play the way I conceived them—except that I've discovered that players can manage more ships than I thought and the number of ships in play can safely be set much higher than the dozen or so I initially assumed. (I think I need to make more initiative counters.)

I have 19 ships painted with another seven in the works and several more unpainted (or yet to arrive from the UK). I also have a small archipelago of home-made land bits for the playing area. I am pretty pleased with myself. Most of my projects dwindle and die somewhere between conception and the "Oh look! A shiny thing!" moment when another project pulls me away.

I need to do a thorough edit of the rules and add some ship data and pre-fab ship cards. I also need to do a final version of the quick reference sheet. At that point I'll post the rules somewhere for others to access and play.

I see several opportunities to play in the coming months and perhaps a chance to be picked for this year's D.A.N.G. I also plan to run this at Enfilade! in May. It's eminently schlepp-able and has been declared Enfilade-worthy by no less an authority than Gene Anderson.

Now with this project essentially done, I can get back to dry land and re-focus on my dormant 1672 project.


Thanks to my playtesters for their time, patience, and input: Dave Schueler, Kevin Smyth, Gary Greiss, Michael Ng, John Kennedy, Steve Puffenberger, Al Rivers, Scott Murphy, Scott Abbot, Gene Anderson, Damond Crump, and Mike McClellan.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mayhem on the wine-dark sea

The first play-test of my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules went surprisingly well. Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, Al Rivers, Gary Greiss, Scott Murphy, and I played for about three-and-a-half hours at The Game Matrix in Tacoma. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves and it was a perfect setting for the first game.

I was able to test whether or not the rules were complete crap (thankfully, not), see situations where an enterprising mind could do things I didn't foresee or intend, and get some great feedback.

Last desperate prepping

Samuel Johnson famously said that "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." With even less than a fortnight to prepare, I found my mind wonderfully concentrated on completing rules, game tokens, ship models, and all the other fiddly-bits needed to put on the game. Even then, it came down to the wire.

Prepping yesterday took me until 12:30 AM this morning, followed by about three hours of sleep, then up with the cats working away at ship cards, ship models, quick reference sheets, and final, hurried rules amendments. Then on the road to 1) tank up at Starbuck's, and 2) drive 60 miles to Tacoma. Home now after all this, I am tired and my mind is much less wonderfully concentrated. More like shriveled.

The set-up and preliminaries

Kevin, Dave, and Scott were one side and Gary, Al, and I were the other. I pretty much evenly balanced the two sides with each having one big hepteres (septiremes) bristling with artillery, two penteres (quinqueremes) with towers and bolt-shooters, and two tetreres (quadriremes). Their side got a third penteres with towers, but no artillery. We got two hemiolas.

The good guys deployed for battle
I took about 10 minutes to walk everyone through a basic outline of the rules. Then I placed out some markers to indicate the set up areas and we deployed our ships.

The game

Al started things off by running one of his hemiolas into the midst of the enemy squadron and ramming Kevin's hepteres. It was a very David and Goliath move and he managed to inflict some waterline damage that kept kevin leaking for the rest of the game.

Al biting off more than his wee hemiola could chew
However, on the way in, he took a lot of missile and artillery fire from the ship he passed and the ship he hit. He lost all of the few marines he had on deck, who gave only desultory fire themselves. Stopped because of the ram, he was easily grappled and boarded by the overwhelming number of marines on Kevin's big ship.

This is what happens when you kick the hornet's nest
In a much more even contest, Kevin sent his tetreres against Al's tetreres and successfully rammed it, Inflicting waterline damage, damaging Al's oars, and—for good measure—getting his ram stuck in Al's ship. Not content with leaving Al leaking and crippled, Kevin then grappled to board his foe, whom he thought to be at bay. However, in the ensuing mêlée, Al took Kevin's ship in a surprising reversal of fortune.

Kevin didn't know when to stop
His prize won, Al never successfully extricated the captured ship's ram from his own, nor stopped taking water, nor repaired his oars.

Al sent his other fast-rowing hemiola screaming across the water to attack Dave's end of the enemy line (opposite me). For his trouble, he missed his ram attempt against Dave's tetreres, got his marines shot up, and got set on fire from incendiary missiles shot by Dave's penteres.

Why does it always end in flames?
I played cagey for a while, but finally roused myself and took up arms. Encouraged by the sight of Al's ship burning, I thought I'd start a fire on one of Dave's ships. However, I rolled the dreaded "1" and set myself on fire instead.

Well, this is embarrassing
While not deadly (I put it out at the end of the turn), it was a nuisance and it affected my shooting.

In the center, Gary made steady progress and ultimately breached the enemy line, setting one of Scott's penteres ablaze en route.

Classic deikplous maneuver!
I wound up getting rammed and damaged by Dave's tetreres, but I was able to grapple and board my attacker making it a nice hat-trick in the game of three successful rams followed by the target vessels taking their attackers.


At 3:00 we ended the game and spent some time discussing the rules and people's impression. Overall, the rules were well received. Most of the tweaks and revisions needed became apparent during play.

I was pleasantly surprised that everyone thought the initiative/movement sequence worked well. There was some concern that in a convention setting, having only one ship active at a time might cause conventioneers to fall off. I have to give this more thought. It worked as I hoped it would. I wanted to get away from a turn sequence where all the ships dash about each other in a general movement phase, whether simultaneous, phased, or IGO-UGO, before shooting, boarding, etc. I've played enough naval to feel a sense of disgruntlement at ships passing by each other without exchanging a shot only to be outside to arc or range when the shooting phase comes. The active/passive movement phase lets ships shoot and be shot at by everyone that come by.

However, all that shooting took a toll. Al's hemiolas only had three marine boxes to start with and got hit by some pretty hefty opponents, so it was no surprise to me to see his marines go poof under a hail of missiles. However, the bigger ships also took a lot of marine losses from shooting. Dave's ultimately losing ram against my ship was caused by the number of missile casualties he took in his transit. Gary shot him and I shot him multiple times. When he finally rammed me, he had three marines remaining out of an original 15. I had 10, so taking him was no problem. I need to lessen the effect of shooting and increase the probability os saving hits.

I was surprised that so little fatigue points were lost. My fear going in is that ship's rowers would be exhausted too soon. The only ship that went from "fresh" to "worked" was one of Al's, but that was due to hits on his rowers (which are taken as fatigue loss) and not from exerting themselves.

I have a short list of other revisions to incorporate this week and then send out the draft for review. Come Saturday, I'm running another play-test with a different group up here in Kirkland at The Panzer Depot.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Game on!

I'm almost set for the first play test tomorrow of my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules.

It's been a whirlwind of little tasks this last week. Among the many things to finish (mostly within the last few days) are:

  • The rules. These are a full draft, but I've been tweaking and reworking them—including a complete revision of the shooting and boarding rules. I spent a good portion of today going back through and editing heavily.
  • Ship cards. I've been toying with these for a long time and probably even now don't have it right. They've been through several permutations and I've only just gotten an acceptable version. I'm at work now competing them.
  • Counters. So many counters to make for shooting attenuation, ship damage, etc. I print these from Adobe Illustrator, cut them out and glue them to small plywood bases from Litko. Each counter is double sided. I got it down to a system, but it still takes time to cut, glue, trim, and finish each counter.
  • Terrain. I finished another two island pieces beyond the three I posted about earlier. This task, too, is down to a system. With all the foam I have left, I can see making several more islands. (But there is still that storage issue...)
  • Ship models. I've been working on another dozen for some time. These were completed just today—mostly, there are still a few last touches to do in the morning.
  • Checklist. My big fear is that I will rush out to go to Tacoma tomorrow and forget something. I've got it all written down, so I'm set—unless I forgot to write something down.

In the midst of all this game-prep activity are other things like socialization with human beings, work around the house (who was I kidding about a "deep clean"?), and various randomizations.

Many randomizations come from my cats. I live to serve, or so they believe. They also have disdain for my computer time. It is a meaningless exercise from which they try to seduce me every time I sit down to it.

Their main tactic is to walk across the desk as I'm working or to sit on my lap. It's nice to have a cat purring away on one's lap, but it makes working at a computer a little awkward.

Rhiannon's favorite tactic is chair theft. While working this morning on my rules, Rhiannon (a.k.a. Ree, a.k.a. sweet pea, a.k.a. Miss Fussypants, etc.) was ensconced on my lap, but I had to get up. Ree protested this, as she often does (I live not only to serve, but to be a warm resting place whose sittings and risings are ordained by my feline masters). As soon as I got up, she grabbed the chair and would not be moved. Second only to actual leather, pleather retains heat well enough to be a desirable warm spot once the human's rear end has vacated it.

I busied myself with other things, hoping she would move herself once she saw me active elsewhere, but no. The only thing to do was to roll my desk chair away with Ree on it and use my painting table chair, which is smaller and much less comfy.

It also provides no lap-space. A deficiency Maebh (a.k.a. Mavis, a.k.a. Maebh the Merciless, a.k.a. Miss Fluffybottom, etc.) noticed with significant disapprobation. She paced from one thigh to the other, but found no suitable resting place. Eventually, she sat on the desk emitting her squeaky purr, nuzzling my face, and—most importantly—impeding my work.

At long last giving up (or merely executing a devious tactical withdrawal), she wandered off to snuggle with Grendel, who couldn't be bothered to bother me. As the day wears on—and after their dinner—the cats siesta until later in the day. It's the perfect time for getting things done.

My stuff is staged for loading in my inconvenient car:

  • Ships. Two cigar boxes full.
  • Counters. A nice plastic container with 10 compartments.
  • Dice. My love 'em/hate 'em ancient dice. I'm up to 24 now, so I can use them in bucket o' dice games. I also have small dice for marking continuing turns and fire levels.
  • Mat. Rolled around a heavy 5' long cardboard tube I got from Creation Station.
  • Rules. Forgetting these would be a big faux pas.
  • Ship cards. See above.
  • Clown hair. This is actually a red-dyed cotton fluff produced by Flames of War to mark burning things. We typically used it for naval games to mark shipboard fires.
  • Wet erase markers. For use on the ship cards, which are in plastic sleeves.
  • Plastic sleeves. I found 5x8 clear pockets at Office Depot. I know I have some already, but like most things, they're lost somewhere.
  • Terrain. The islands I made and the rocks I bought.
  • Camera and tripod. I want to record the play test no matter how desultory or triumphant.
What else? We'll see tomorrow...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Land Ho!

In the midst of all the other things I'm doing in my week off, I'm landscaping the sea. More specifically, I'm creating island and shore terrain for my Row Well and Live! ancient naval rules. I've had doing this in mind for some time, but with ships (and the rules) still to finish, I've put if off until I had more time to devote to it.

I tend to hover on projects. I never sit and paint for hours. Instead, I paint a bit, do something else, come back and paint a bit more, do something else, etc. This means that over the course of an evening, I may get an hour or so of work done. On a weekend, I may get several hours.

Another factor in my hovering, is that some tasks in a project require long drying time, so there's an interval between, say, a first coat of paint and a second. During a work week, the standard intervals are a) overnight and b) while I'm away at work. These intervals usually mean that I don't get a lot done quickly. Now that I'm home, the intervals can be an hour or two, so I can do in a day what might tale several days during a normal week.

This is how it's been this week so far and I've definitely done something on everything and seen decent progress (except maybe on the cold fusion thing—perpetual motion I've delegated to Maebh, who seems to never stop).

Store-bought stuff

First the stuff that comes ready-made: A short while ago, I was at The Game Matrix in Tacoma to play some Victorian Sci-Fi and I picked up a pack of rubble piles from War Torn Worlds. These are very nice terrain pieces made out of recycled rubber.

The rubble piles are intended for 28mm scale, but when I saw them, I figured instantly that they would be perfect as rock formations poking up out of placid seas: a convenient place for sea birds to poop and an inconvenient place for ships to wreck themselves.

The rubble piles come pre-finished and flocked with mossy bits. War Torn Worlds produces other pieces that may also be useful, but this pack of rubble is the only pre-made terrain I have so far. Everything else is up to me.

Hand-made stuff

I mentioned earlier that I procured a stash of 2" pink foam insulation, which I had to cut down in the Home Depot parking lot to fit in my car. The high-density foam can be shaped to form hills and islands, provided you have the right tools. For our land-based games, we typically use unfinished, rough-cut foam board over which we lay a felt cloth. For naval gaming, you need to go a bit further and actually terrain the foam. I have done this once before when making hills for DBA/DBM.

For this project, I started by creating 2" hex-grid templates in Adobe Illustrator, which I printed on tabloid paper (11 x 17) and glued to the face of the pink board.

After that I cut out the pieces using a keyhole saw, which has a fairly rough blade. I initially imagined that I could cut close to the grid so that the pieces would exactly fit the grid on the mat. However, I found that once I started sawing, the template didn't stay attached. I made do with getting a shape that is approximately aligned to the hex grid.

I first thought that I could rough-shape the foam using a coping saw and some wood-shaping tools. However, the foam tends to chip if the tools used to shape it are too rough. So I bit the bullet and bought an expensive hot-knife foam cutter at The Panzer Depot. I've had my eye on it for some time because it has a nice heavy blade, unlike other heated foam cutters that use a thin wire.

After getting used to the hot-knife—and getting a respirator mask to avoid giving myself brain damage from the fumes—I roughed out the islands. The result is sort of a melty, blob-ish, burnt lump of pink.

I then took a wood rasp and smoothed out the hot-knife cuts followed by more smoothing with medium and fine sand paper.

Once the island pieces are smoothed, I slathered them in Mod Podge  as a sealer. The islands will eventually get sprayed with dullcote, which will eat into the foam if not protected. The sealing also stabilizes the foam and helps prevent chipping. It also serves as a better surface for subsequent coats and painting later.

After the sealer coat is dry, I did another coat of Mod Podge and sprinkled coarse and fine model railroad ballast on it for texture.


I let the Mod Podge and ballast dry on my kitchen island overnight—trusting that the cats won't get to it. By now they're used to my projects taking up space in their home and tend not to molest my works in progress. Although every now and then I'm awakened by a bit of clatter in the night and come downstairs to find three cats looking like they ate the canary as they watch me mitigate whatever disaster has befallen. Little scamps.

In the morning, I applied two thin coats of a brownish Apple Barrel craft paint as a base color.

I discovered that I don't like the larger ballast that I used. It sticks out too much and may only serve as raised bits to get caught by butterfingered gamers (or, more likely, by me) and cause chipping when it tears off. However, they seem to adhere sufficiently and haven't become detached through the process. The use of Mod Podge rather than white glue also helps. Mod Podge retains a great amount of elasticity after it's dry. Bits that are glued on will give a bit before they break off.

I dry-brushed over the base color with the same color lightened by yellow. I also painted the cliff part of one island using Vallejo Iraqi Sand (which is the same color I use for my ship's decks).

Once the dry-brushed color is dry, I started applying the flocking. For the initial flocking I used Woodland Scenics Earth Blend. After that flocking is dry, I watered down the Mod Podge and daubed it over the Earth Blend-flocked areas to apply multiple coats of Woodland Scenics Green Blend. I always use multiple applications of flocking on my miniatures bases and I find that if I try to brush on a second coat of Mod Podge on top of already flocked areas, it brushes away the flocking already there. Daubing watered-down Mod Podge uses the already flocked surface as a catch (so it doesn't run) and puts a lot adhesive down. Watered-down Mod Podge uses capillary action so it actually creates a thicker covering because the adhesive moves up into the flocking that doesn't actually touch the surface.

I've got three pieces done now. These pieces will feature in my Labor Day game. I have templates glued to the foam board for another two larger islands. I'll get started on these, but go slower. I won't use the coarse ballast in the future. I don't like the look and worked to cover it with flocking.

I still have about 6' of foam board, which I can use for hills or for more islands and shoreline. However, I'm worried about storage. The number of galley games I'm going to play over the next years is nothing compared to the number of days these pieces will sit in my garage, which is already full. If only there were storage options outside the normal bounds of time and space...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The lazy *last* days of summer

As Labor Day approaches, I'm taking a week off to enjoy the end of summer, work on projects, deep-clean the house (or at least attempt to), get back into a gym routine, write the great American novel, perfect cold fusion, invent perpetual motion, and a few other things I've been meaning to do. In 10 days, I'll report on the success of any or all of the above.

It's nice to be able to take time off. Not being blessed with independent wealth, alas, I have to work for a living. I spent a year as a contractor with my current employer, but didn't take time off because it meant a loss of pay. I got paid better as a contractor than I do now as a full-timer (I also got overtime pay), so it's more a state of mind. Nevertheless, with vacation pay assured, I'm anxiety-free to sleep in, stay up late, go out to breakfast (seeking the perfect Swedish pancake), etc.

I have three upcoming play tests of my ancient naval rules Row Well and Live! on Labor Day and the two following Saturdays. Despite feeling that the rules are just about done, I have a lot to do.

  • I have enough ships to start with, although I have several that are now in progress and which I expect to use in my upcoming games. 
  • I just bought some a pink foam insulation board that I chopped down in the Home Depot parking lot so I could fit it in the ridiculously non-utilitarian back of my 350z. I'll spend a good bit of time terraforming this into islands and shoreline. 
  • My long-awaited 2" hex mat from Monday Knight Productions finally came and it looks great. I want to create markers to indicate starting points for deployment. I have in mind what I want to do, which is similar to the initiative counters I made recently.
  • I need to finish the rules. A lot of ideas swirl through my head, but I'm never where I can jot them down (e.g., in a dull meeting at work). Even when I do, there on bits of paper or in .txt files from Notepad. Basically, I just need to flesh out the grappling and boarding rules and the damage repair rules and (i think) I'm done—as least done enough to see everything go to pieces in the play tests...
  • I need to track down another Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Imperial cigar box. I have just the one and it won't fit all the ships I have in progress. I would ideally like all my boxes to be the same because it makes carrying and storing them easier. (It may also be because I'm just a bit anal retentive about these things.)
Assuming I get a lot done on the ancient naval project, I want to get back to my 1672 project. North Star is going gangbusters with new releases: Swiss musketeers to go with my Swiss pikes, armored cavalry in lobster-pot helmets, figures of young Monmouth and Churchill when they were serving in Louis XIV's army, etc. My work on the ancient naval project has been the diversion I needed to step back from it all and now I'm starting to feel the pull to get back in.

There will also be quality cat-time. I expect about mid-week for them to be trying to push me out the door. With my attempted deep-clean of the house, they will probably find the activity and vacuum cleaner noise intolerable.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Men are from Mars

I went down to The Game Matrix in Tacoma today to play in the semi-annual Red Captains Martian gaming event. There are several gamers down there who have invested a lot of time, money, and creativity to gaming Victorian sci-fi with a variant of Frank Chadwick's Space: 1889. Kevin Smyth has recorded many of these adventures on his blog The Shastapsh Chronicles.

The games are typically a clash between colonialist Earth forces and Martians. Today's game was a Martian civil war scenario where rebels and imperial forces clashed over a supply of lift wood that was being harvested by an enterprising band of Americans who were holed up in a stone building while Martians swarmed around them.

Lift wood: what all the fuss was about
Every player had one Martian legion, which consisted of 21 figures: A leader, three shield-gunners, and about a 50/50 mix of musketeers and "cutters," (i.e., martians with nasty, two-hand cutting weapons). In addition, every player got to pick a second unit from from a pool that included a variety of specialist types: banded riflemen, lancers on gashants, flying High Martians (very nasty), and fanatical savage types. All of these have names, of course. I just don't remember them.

Herbie's High Martians of doom flying above it all
Gary Greiss, Mark Waddington, Dale Mickel, Al Rivers, and I were the imperial forces. Herbie Fairbanks, Scott Murphy, Steve Ghan, Gene Anderson, and Bruce Meyer were the rebel scum. Early action took place on the imperial right wing as Bruce and Steve charged in against Dale and Al. In a great scrum involving legion troops, flying Martians, and gashant riders, we got the worst of it and things went downhill from there.

The great scrum of war
In the center, I had my legion and some gashant riders fighting around the outskirts of the stone building where the Americans were taking alarmingly effective pot-shots at any Martian in range. After beating up some hill Martians, who had the dismaying habit of not running away no matter what hit them, I got stuck in with a fresh rebel legion and saw my legion rout. I ran my gashant riders into Gene's victorious rebel legion, along with Mark's red Martian wild things, and sent it packing.

My legion getting into close range of the rebel hill Martians
My gashant riders coming into the fray against the hill Martians
Gary's legions and Mark's legion, which had been moving slowly along so far, were now making their presence felt on the rebel right. However, our right had ceased to exist. Al's red Martian wild thing leader was holding off an entire rebel legion and Dale's two remaining flying Martians were chasing down some of Bruce's routing gashant riders. When the red wild thing leader finally went down, there were three rebel legions, rebel flying Martians, rebel gashant riders, and rebel banded riflemen all coming down on us.

Committing the last imperial reserve
After about three hours of gaming, we called it a rebel win.

Like a boss: Al's red Martian wilds things leader holding off a rebel legion
It's a fun game. This is the second time, I think, that I've played these rules. Because it was Martian against Martian, we didn't have any of the exotic things like steam cavalry and mechanical monstrosities bristling with cannon and gatling guns. Martians are a low-tech people in the Space: 1889 world. Like the various non-European armies that fought in the historical colonial wars, the Martians have courage and determination but little more. The European/Earthling armies have all the toys. It's classic science vs. pluck and pluck rarely succeeds—except in games like today's where it was pluck vs. pluck, so pluck was bound to win.

The figures were mostly from Kevin, Mark, Herbie, and Scott.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More Inspiring Cerebral Flatulence

I had been trying unsuccessfully to find some small plastic numbers to use for initiative markers for my Row Well and Live! galley rules. What I intend is to have tokens numbered 1 through whatever to be placed next to the ships in the initiative phase to mark the order or movement.

In the rules, the basic initiative value is a ship's current speed in knots, so that faster-moving ships will move before slower-moving ones. However, players can modify their initiative value with their ship's crew rating and command rating, which they can add or subtract (although poor crews with a negative value must only be subtracted).

I could have just printed out tokens created in Adobe Illustrator, but I wanted something that matched the bases for the ships and that would work best if the numbers were raised above the surface.

I went by Michael's, typically my go-to store for all things crafty, artsy, and fartsy that can be pressed into use for gaming. But Michael's doesn't have any such things as small plastic numbers and had no clue where I could find any. I searched online, but nothing came up.

Then last week, out of the blue, it hit me: clocks! People who want to make their own artsy clocks need numbers for the face. I went by Hobby Lobby, a sprawling new arrival in town selling much of what Michael's does—only less so or more so depending on what you want. I wandered through Hobby Lobby and, while randomly browsing an aisle, turned around to find exactly what I was looking for: 10mm tall press-on numbers for clocks. A single pack contained the numbers needed for two clock faces (1-12) and I bought two packs.

They come in multiple sizes, but the arabic numerals only come in one style (there was also roman, but as the ancients learned, the system is a bit limited and non-versatile).

I cut 3/4 inch squares from some 0.080 plastic sheet. Trimmed the corners to a rounded edge and sanded them down. Then I removed a number from the sprue and pressed it in place on the plastic. A single pack got me up to 20 with one left-over 2.

Using the second pack would only get me to 24 because I'd run out of 2s by then (and that's including the left-over 2 from the first pack). However, I think I'd be crazy to play these rules with even 20 ships. Row Well and Live! is intended for smaller numbers of ships and 20 just about stretches it.

The 6 and the 9 are the same number. Differentiating the two on a clock face is unnecessary and the people who make these numbers didn't imagine free-floating counters. I didn't do anything to distinguish between them, though I did think about it. I don't think the duplication will be a problem.

The plastic numbers are finished in faux gold (or is it faux brass?), which is not the look I want. Also, painting with acrylics on plastic is tricky. To get a better "tooth" for the paint, I sprayed them with Testor's dullcote (of which I now have an ample supply after expending a bit effort to get it).

I wasn't sure what color I wanted the numbers to be, but eventually decided on a natural mottled stone look. It would stand out from the water and look better than some solid color.

After I painted the numbers, I used the same color scheme and finish that I use on my ship bases: Vallejo turquoise with a lightened, thinned version daubed on. Followed by an application of heavy gloss gel medium.

More ships under way

The six penteres that I was working on are completed and nestled with their brethren in my Padron Imperials box. More ships came from Xyston and I've started the remaining ships that I had on hand: two hepteres, two triremes, and a single trihemiola. Completing the hepteres depended on the order coming from Xyston because it contains the bolt-shooters (oxybeles) and catapults (lithobolos) that I've mounted on their decks.

She drifted a dreary wreck

I also got a wrecked trireme from Phil Bardsley. He's begun his own oared navy with one ship so far. He also got one of the wrecks that Xyston offers, which he promptly gave to me. I finished it this weekend, so I'll have at least one wreck to place for now. I'll have to order more so I can account for maybe half the ships in play (eventually) being wrecks.

It was pretty easy to paint. I finished off the base (i.e., the watery bits) like the rest of my seascape bases. It's a nice one-piece model and serves an important function in the game, although with the water swirling about it, it's more reminiscent of The Wreck of the Hesperus than a rammed ship—only without "the form of a maiden fair lashed close to a drifting mast."

Rules play test

After adjusting for schedules, I'm still trying to get a play test of Row Well and Live! organized. I've committed to hosting a game at the Fix Bayonets! game day at Ft. Steilacoom in September. That may be the first time I play it, unless I can get something going on Labor Day weekend.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Little Brain-Farts of Inspiration

Phil Bardsley sent me a link this morning to the Litko website where there was a game token for broken oars. I looked through Litko's game tokens a few days ago, but I missed this item. It got my mind working. As nice as the token is, it didn't quite fit my need. In Row Well and Live! ships can get damaged oars or wrecked oars as a result of a deikplous attack where one ship rushes past another and attempts to rake its oars. Damaged oars slow a ship's movement and wrecked oars immobilize it. Damaged oars can be repaired (most ships carried some spares or the undamaged oars can be balanced between the two sides). Wrecked oars put you in what Greek philosophers called S.O.L. (σκατά χωρίς τύχη).

I originally thought of indicating oar damage using check boxes on the ship card:

After I saw the Litko token, I knew that it would be nicer to have a marker with the ship model. It makes the ship card less cluttered and I would also prefer to keep minimal information on the card.

I picked up some Litko 40mm x 15mm 1.5mm thick bases at The Panzer Depot on my way home. After feeding the cats and feeding myself, I got to work with Adobe Illustrator and created damaged and wrecked oar tokens.

I'll print out the tokens at Kinkos and mount them on the Litko bases with damaged on one side and wrecked on the other. These counters will be placed beside a ship model to indicate damaged or wrecked oars on one side or the other.

I'll make tokens for damaged and wrecked steering too.

I love it when something gets my mind working like this.