Sunday, November 12, 2017

Initial impressions of Company of Iron (and Relicblade)

I've been looking forward to the release of Company of Iron.

I tried out Warmachine and Hordes, the army-scale predecessor to Company of Iron, when Hordes was first released.  I wanted Hordes to be my game of choice, after trying out Warhammer Fantasy 6th Edition and discovering that Warhammer missed the mark for me.  Hordes promised dynamic combat, with all sorts of over-the-top wrestling maneuvers.  I couldn't wait to have my trolls throwing enemies all over the board!

Unfortunately, the game seemed to sideline all of that flavorful combat in favor of generic, straight-up combat.  Worse, many of the mechanics that I found to be unappealing in Warhammer were replicated in Hordes:  full army-wide IGOUGO activation; no pre-measuring (which required guessing charge ranges and shooting ranges); confined army builds; and "gamey" tactics rather than historical tactics.  I quickly lost interest in the game, although I still continued to collect several factions, since I still liked so many of the models.

So I was excited for the prospect of Company of Iron, on the assumption that Privateer Press (PP) was finally going to offer an entry-level game that would be more accessible to the broader player community, i.e. new players and casual players -- as opposed to the hardened, rules-precision players that are the stereotypical Warmachine/Hordes community.

By coincidence, I received a rulebook for another skirmish game, Relicblade, on the same day that Company of Iron arrived in the mail.  My impression of each game is night and day!  Let's take a look.

The cover art for each rulebook is good.  But if I were to see each of them on the store shelf side-by-side, I would grab Relicblade first.  Here's why.

Company of Iron shows a stereotypical duel.  It's a scene that's been done a million times.  And for a trained warrior, the lady on the right shows a static, vulnerable pose.  Now granted, the boar-lady with the dreadlocks is cool, and she's about to put the smack-down on the Barbie in blue, boob-armor.  That, I can support.

The Relicblade cover is unique and compelling.  Who are these believable, personality-filled adventurers, and what are they looking at?  Where are they?  What's the deal with that saber-tusked cat?  What sandwich is that guy eating?  Now I want a sandwich, too.

Let's take a peek inside each book.

Company of Iron
Written for rules lawyers.

Company of Iron looks and reads like a prospectus for an insurance firm.  There are 13 pages of definitions and conventions, before you even start reading about how the game is played.  Dry.  Uninviting.  There is no way that a player who is new to the hobby would subject themselves to this 6-point-font agony.  I put down the book after 20 minutes, and, grudgingly, I mentally blocked the time that I would need to finish studying the rules.

Written for gamers!

Relicblade.  Fun!  It has cartoons!  The font is characterful and easy to read.  The writing is light-hearted, welcoming, and filled with jokes.  In no time at all, I'm learning how to play the game.  In about 15 minutes, I want to play a game!

When you add the Advanced Rules for Company of Iron, the combined Core and Advanced rules are virtually the same as Hordes and Warmachine.  The only advantage is portioning the rules so that you can learn them in two stages.  But PP could have accomplished that with a digital addendum to Warmachine/Hordes.  Which they do provide, by the way.  So I wonder why I needed to spend $70 on what is effectively a starter set for Warmachine/Hordes...  Company of Iron is every bit as complex as Warmachine/Hordes.  Moreso, actually, because there are now variations and exceptions to learn, in order to play the Core Rules of Company of Iron.

PP missed an opportunity to appeal to new and casual players.  PP can't afford a misstep like this.  Not when the community is dissatisfied with Mk III of Warmachine/Hordes.  Not when Games Workshop is finally recovering from their hubris, acknowledging their player base again, and revitalizing their image and product lines.  Not when the market offers so many good games to compete for consumers' finite leisure time.  Sorry, PP -- I want you to do well.  But this was a disappointment.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Pulp Alley -- a Kickstarter I'm proud to support

This is a Kickstarter done right.  This is the latest expansion to Pulp Alley, executed on Kickstarter smoothly and straightforwardly -- and delivered more than a month early!

Expertly packed.  Loose parts taped to cardboard and the whole thing *double*-wrapped in bubble-mailers.

And how about that personal touch?!  :-)
Old-fashioned customer service is still alive.

It just so happens that my latest project has been to prepare terrain for my next demo of Pulp Alley.  Here is the work-in-progress.  I still have touch-ups to do on these pieces, and then I have another batch of about the same number to work on.

A mix of terrain pieces by Micro Art Studio and ArmorCast.

For a review of my first game of Pulp Alley, check out the post here.

Monday, October 2, 2017

My First Game of 40K 8th Edition

I played my first game of 40K 8th Edition this weekend at our semi-monthly game day, held at the Rocket Republic microbrewery.  I played a 3-player, free-for-all game with Jonathan and Clay.  I'm glad that Clay had a good grasp on the rules.  He patiently walked us through some things that had me tripped up, so a big thanks to him for taking a very objective view to the rules while still in the heat of battle!

I don't have any pictures from the actual game, unfortunately, so this Ork Warbuggy will have to suffice for eye-candy.
I purchased most of my currently usable Ork army, and I think the original owner did an awesome job capturing the character of the Orks.  I love this model!  And the Warbuggy was my MVP for the game.
IMO, the rules are a huge improvement over at least the last three editions.  They get across pretty much the same play experience without all of the confusion, complexity, and daunting-ness of the bloated mess of previous editions.  That said, I think that the game is still fundamentally trapped in a 30-year-old style of play.  The antiquated IGOUGO activation system; 3 waves of dice rolls to resolve combat; the lack of a reaction system (other than a token Overwatch step); and the lack of a suppression system.  Those drawbacks won't hinder me from playing the game or enjoying the game -- I just won't necessarily seek out the game.  On occasion, though, I foresee the wish to bring alive on the tabletop my Tau, Eldar, Orks, and AdMech, and it will be easier to do that in their native game system.
Jonathan won the game by quietly sitting on two objectives.  I had control of one, and Clay and I were wrestling over another one.  My Orks were one turn away from excising all the weedy Eldar from the second objective.  If we had rolled one more turn, I probably would have squeezed out a victory from Jonathan by 1 victory point, obtained from secondary objectives.  Just the kind of game I really enjoy -- a nail-biter until the very end.

Jonathan's Space Wolves' las-cannons sliced up Clay's Eldar Wraith-Knight like butter.  So that was interesting to see half of Clay's army get vaporized.  But it made sense, given the points that Jonathan spent on the las-cannons.  Tanks were very durable, which also made sense.  The Ork Warbuggy and Trukk were surprisingly durable and effective, which didn't make quite as much sense, but it certainly kept the game balanced.  I can justify the Warbuggy endurance by imagining it jinking and jiving and popping in the air to escape the fire directed at it.  Overall, everything felt right, which is probably a first, in my experience playing 40K, ha, ha.  So, yeah, there's another plus for the game experience.  I'll enjoy playing it again, I'm sure.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Salt Flat Nomads

There are a bunch more models in the works where this guy came from.  But the project is losing momentum....

One of three sculpts for the 'Tribal Warrior'.  I'm painting two sets of these guys and gals. 
And then there are a half-dozen more models to paint in addition to the Tribal Warriors.

One, I played my game of Dark Age at NOVA Open, so I don't have a gaming goal to drive me forward to finish painting the figures.  And, two, these guys are really challenging to paint, because they have so much fine detail.  Probably the finest detail I've seen in a metal sculpt, on par with Confrontation Cynwall and Alahan figures.  So they're pretty time-consuming.  On the other hand, I've been enjoying the learning process, as I've worked on them.

So I'm posting a pic, in the hopes that it will give me a kick in the pants to finish out the project.  And I get to see how one of my new backdrops works (the MacroMat set by TableWars).  Pretty pleased with it!  It gives me a lot of flexibility to control the amount of colored "splash" in the background (very little here, which was what I wanted to test).

The sculpts are incredibly convincing in their anatomy, and the figures tell so much story in just their posing.  Given the style, I suspected that Patrick Masson was the sculptor, but I'm told the sculptors from Big Child Creative did the work for the Salt Flat Nomads, and I'm unfamiliar with who those sculptors are.  In any case, the poses and style of the figures really stir my imagination, which is what keeps me going on the project.

Monday, September 11, 2017

NOVA Open 2017

We'll just jump right into the 'Best of Show', by Damon Drescher.
This year was a banner year for both NOVA Open and the Capital Palette.  Unfortunately, I only took photos of the Capital Palette entries, so this post will mainly be a massive photo-dump of the Capital Palette.  But, hey, probably no complaints about that, right?

The 'Bust' category was very competitive this year.
One of my favorites, by Melissa Powell.

Sculpted by Roman "Jarhead" Lappat.
Painted by John Stiening.

Another one of my favorites.  Not sure of the artist, unfortunately.

Fantastic tones and mood by John "BloodAsMedium" Margiotta.
John pretty much brought his entire collection, which was awesome. 
Filled the cabinets with incredible work across all the categories.

I plan to write an article for Figure Painter Magazine, when I can access to the official Capital Palette photos.  I'll probably reuse some of my write-up here, when I write the article.

John Margiotta's entries in the "Vehicle" category.
I love Grot Tanks!  I'll be using these for reference, when I eventually paint my own.

NOVA Open acquired two more display cabinets for this year, bringing the total to 7 wide cabinets and 2 tower cabinets.  Good thing, too, since there were more entries this year than any other -- 95 entries in the Single Figure category alone!

Some very unique pieces.

I still contend that the Capital Palette cabinets offer the best public display in the hobby.  And I also contend that the Capital Palette trophies are the most attractive trophies in the hobby (solid crystal obelisks, representing the Washington Monument), as well as the most practical (for transport and display).

By John Margiotta

The judging panel this year consisted of Roman Lappat of Massive Voodoo, traveling all the way from Augsburg, Germany, for the third year in a row; James Wappel, professional miniatures painter from Chicago; and Dave Taylor, long-time professional hobby editor, painter, photographer, marketer, designer, player, charity organizer, and all-around swell guy.

Two pieces by David Powell. 
Great to see his return to the Capital Palette, after moving to LA!

This year saw the second iteration of the move to the "open" judging format, where all entries are measured against a bronze/silver/gold standard.  Multiple medals can be awarded in each category, but the bar was set very high this year, and a bronze medal was hard-earned!

The categories included:  Single Figure (which included large figures, such as monsters and cavalry); Unit/Squad; Vehicle; Bust; Diorama; and Sculpture.  A "Best of Category" was awarded to one artist in each category, earning the coveted obelisk.  One person was also awarded a super-size obelisk for "Best of Show".

Multiple "Unit/Squad" entries by John Margiotta.
Phenomenal work!

There were awards for special categories, including:  "Fan Favorite", as voted by ballot by NOVA Open attendees; "Most Creative", awarded by Massive Voodoo; "Best Weathering", awarded by Secret Weapon Miniatures; "Best Lighting", awarded by PoweredPlay Gaming; and "Best Speed-Painting", awarded by Grex Airbrush.

Winner of the "Unit/Squad" category, by Nick Pasch.

A cool diorama.

My favorite piece in the show, by Val Melik.
This one won Best of Category for "Diorama".
Plans are already afoot to tweak the competition for next year.  The judges are proposing two divisions:  Journeyman and Masters.  The Journeyman division is intended to encourage beginner and intermediate painters, who may be reluctant to compete against more experienced painters.  The judges have also proposed a "Young Painters" division, as well, to encourage young painters.

This was my one entry -- gaming figures for Confrontation. 
I had no time this year to work on competitive, display pieces. 
These guys earned a Bronze medal, though, so I'm pretty pleased with that, given the tough standard this year!
I may blow off Adepticon for 2018, for a variety of reasons.  On the plus side, that will give me more time to complete some proper, competitive projects for NOVA Open.  That said, I'm really going to have to push beyond my current level, if I'm to earn a Gold medal.  But that's OK -- I've generally been a Silver-level painter, once I'm thrown into a larger pool of painters.  The fact that I may be a Silver or Bronze-level painter at NOVA Open demonstrates how the show has advanced to the level that I always hoped it would attain.  I'll happily take home a Bronze, if it means I can ogle at 9 cabinets of world-class art!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hero or Villain?

I'm scrambling to complete projects in time for NOVA Open, so the blog is taking a back seat.  However, a few weeks back, I finished painting this fellow just in time to use him in my first demo of Pulp Alley.  Too bad I forgot to pack him in the kit to bring to the game!

Is this fellow a good guy or a bad guy?

In my original scenario, I imagined this gentleman leading a dashing crew of British Jet Rangers.  However, I then realized that my Jet Rangers were dressed in German uniforms!  D'oh!  So I had to change my scenario to suit, and my fine English gentleman had to play the role of a dastardly arch-villain.  Ultimately, I think the figure works for either one! 

This figure lent itself well towards experimenting with painting techniques popularized in the mid-2000's by a real-life British gentleman, Mr. Kevin Dallimore, currently known for his work for the hit skirmish game, Frostgrave.  Mr. Dallimore builds up very opaque colors from dark to light, often using only 3 steps of gradation.  He also uses very strong darklining.  He now tends to blend more than he used to, with the characteristic 3 steps fading from view, but the style is still very distinctive.  I've been trying out this approach to force me to work more with opaque paints and to see what elements of his approach that I can incorporate into my own.

In case you're wondering, the model is from the Thrilling Tales pulp figures range, by Artizan.

OK, that's enough of a break.  Back to painting for Lord of the Rings and Dark Age....

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tiny Trouble in Greater Bavaria

I finally had a chance to play my first game of Pulp Alley this past weekend.  I've been eager to try out the game, after reading through the rules and determining that the core system may offer the skirmish game experience that checks all my boxes.  Friend Joe agreed to give the game a whirl during our semi-monthly gaming group meetup at the Rocket Republic microbrewery.

The Bloodstained Plans are stored in the central chest; the Shrink Amplifier looms majestically in the upper right (they don't build 'em like they use to); the Contragrav Cell in the upper left holds the key technical component; the Gas Box in the lower left contains the power-generating but poisonous Onesterrian Gas; and the Nervous Scientist in the lower-right corner maniacally threatens anyone with his hypodermic needles, filled with Rhino tranquilizer.

As I described in an earlier post, the game is heavily narrative-focused.  There are 5 objectives called 'Plot Points' that are either randomly generated or simply chosen.  One of the fun parts is tying together the Plot Points into a coherent story, which, in turn, can inspire a larger story arc for linked scenarios or campaign play. 

I randomly generated the Plot Points:  Bloodstained Plans, Shrink Amplifier, Contragrav Cell, Gas Box, and Nervous Scientist.  I originally devised a story where a British special force launches a rescue operation in a hidden Bavarian lab.  But when I realized that my newest models were all German, no British ones, I changed up the story to be between two opposed, German factions.

Heinrich's Sidekick, Cujo the Great White Ape, defends his home from the invaders, accompanied by his loyal, pet puppy-dog, Lucifer.

I based the scenario in the universe of Konflikt '47, with an eye towards perhaps linking skirmish games with the squad-level game.  So the scenario goes like this...

In the pre-war years ahead of the Konflikt, the Kaiser still leads Germany, desperately trying to advance arcane technology in order to maintain the balance of power. Unfortunately, the SS seek to unseat the Kaiser and capture his tech for their own. The elite SS Fallschermjager Falcon Squad, led by Lars Heitmann, invade a hidden Bavarian laboratory, intent on stealing the Bloodstained Plans for the top secret Shrink Amplifier!  Can Captain Heinrich Von Kampf, with the help of The Lab Rats security detail and a few vat-grown beasties, protect the Kaiser's secrets from the dastardly rocket rangers?.....

"Confounded Contragrav Cell!"
6 attempts to detach the key, critical no avail. Stupid, stupid Fallschirmjager.

The game played as I hoped, with an easy flow and with the rules fading to the background, so that we could focus on the narrative.  Fortune Cards add random wrinkles to the game, and it was fun to imagine what the result of each card represented in the scenario.  For example, Joe's leader suffered damage from a "Peril" near one of the industrial pipes, so we imagined Lars taking an unexpected blast of hot steam to the face.

The Nervous Scientist was tugged back and forth between the battling factions, until Lars and Heinrich finally settled their differences, mano a mano, with Heinrich emerging the victor and preserving the Kaiser's hidden treasure. For now!

Joe's forces started out strong, and I felt like I was on the back foot as the rocket rangers swarmed the laboratory.  But Joe's dice failed him miserably (or, rather, the dice that I lent him...heh, heh, heh), and the momentum began to turn in my favor.  Luckily, though, the game ultimately hinged on a showdown between the two leaders -- a classic, pulp device and a very satisfying way to conclude the game.  Down to the last Health on both sides, a surprise Fortune card sealed the deal and sent Lars packing.

The game certainly met my expectations.  I like it for its narrative-driven and quick-paced gameplay.  Pulp Alley has two expansions:  one is an adventure module, and the other provides rules tweaks to tailor the game to other genres.  I'll be tweaking this scenario to run it again, and then I may venture into setting it up in campaign mode and/or expanding into other genres.  Fun times!