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.