Monday, 23 March 2020

Solo Wargaming, or "What to do when you don't live with an opponent!"

I think by now that most of us tend to regard wargaming - that is, pushing our toy soldiers around a table and rolling dice to determine the outcome of conflict rather than leaving it to spirited yelling of "Bang, bang! You're dead!" - as a social activity. Most of the people that I know who play regular games invariably schedule theirs for the weekends as parenting or work requires. I suspect that most people would look at our games as an opportunity to pit two tactical minds against one another. They're friendly, spirited games with a code of honour that demands we treat our opponents amicably, but still a contest. Our enjoyment of the game might not come down to whether we win or lose, but it can certainly have a say in it!

The 'solitaire' or solo wargamer might seem to be at a disadvantage. Either faced with no regular opponents, a great distance to travel to play, or fascination with a period or conflict that nobody else sees the interest in, it might seem that solo gaming is the desperate result of necessity! Thinking of it this way, it could be imagined that solo gaming is the second best alternative, or 'not really a proper game' put together only by the desperate. Not so! Playing a game by oneself offers a host of bonuses and unexpected positives that might not be obvious at first glance, not least of which is the ability to interpret rules how you like rather than needing to adjudicate with an opponent seeking advantage!

Here I will offer my thoughts on where to get started and how one can begin looking at ways to adapt just about any game to play solo, whether there are published rules for it or not. I'll include links to a couple of resources along the way, and as much as possible I'll be trying to avoid repeating advice you'll find in other books or blogs - especially where those are published and available for purchase. Solo wargaming is its own beast, and with a great many people suddenly at a loss for how to get their gaming fix in the days of quarantine and self-isolation, consider at last a hidden gem you might enjoy a great deal more than you'd expect.

Just Play the Same Game as Always, By Yourself.

This is by far the easiest way to get started. Just drop down two armies - or split a collection in half and run a 'training exercise' - and play the role of your own army and the opponent's commander. A common question people ask when getting started with solo gaming is how to 'surprise' themselves, or make a system by which the enemy will act unexpectedly. When first dipping your toes into the idea, don't worry too much about that. Any game which features an element of chance such as dice or cards will provide a random outcome to any plan you try to set in place, so the surprises are baked straight in to the system.

This doesn't solve the essential issue of how most games are designed, though. Ordinarily pitting one (hopefully) balanced force against another in a game where neither side is meant to have any advantage at the outset means that the test - what we're trying to achieve with the game - is to overcome our opponent's tactical acumen, react to our own poor luck or push good luck, and generally come out on top of a fair fight. Once you've played a couple of simple games by taking on the role of commander of both armies on the battlefield, you'll no doubt get a sense of what those earlier questions are about. Past a point, you're really only playing to overcome the element of luck; you can't very well best yourself, after all, and even if you're playing both forces without favouring either of them, you'll still find after a couple of games you're probably looking for something more.

It does still provide an easy opportunity to test the waters, though, and by far requires the least preparation. Give it a shot, see what happens!

Commanders: Roleplaying Rears its Head

A very simple way to introduce some surprise and uncertainty to your games is to randomly generate a personality for the commander of the opposing army. This is a concept explored in depth in Platoon Forward! (available from ) and one which is really easy to tack on to most games, no matter what rules you're using. Platoon Forward! covers this really well, but I'll offer an extremely brief consideration on the idea.

Before deploying both armies on the table, pick which one is going to be the opposing force and roll a die to generate the enemy commander's personality. This could be as simple as a D3 result: 1 is Cautious, 2 is Balanced, and 3 is Aggressive. With that in mind, you can start deploying forces to the battlefield, bearing in mind how the commander is likely to want to push their army into enemy territory or to hang back and fight more cautiously to deny ground to you, their opponent. This is essentially a very simple roleplaying game! When it comes time for an enemy unit to act, consider how the commander might order them about. A Balanced approach will ordinarily try to take the 'best choice,' maneuvering for advantage and pushing where a gap appears. Cautious commanders will either advance slowly, or create a massive push where they are guaranteed superiority at a specific point. Aggressive commanders will race for objectives, well, aggressively, and seek to isolate and destroy enemy units as quickly as possible.

This will occasionally mean you're making choices for the enemy that you might not ordinarily, creating a battle plan which your own army will need to adapt to rather than knowing automatically what both sides will do. You can even push this further, as sometimes it might seem that a commander will order something totally suicidal, or flounder and waste an opportunity due to their nature. Once again, a simple die roll will fill in for the role of fate (or roll of fate, if you will): Roll a D6, and on a 3+ a unit can act 'out of character' to either preserve itself in the face of overwhelming enemy presence, or to push an advantage their commander might avoid if it is clearly the best choice for them in the moment. Even the most steadfast model soldiers will occasionally object to being sacrificed needlessly!

You can, in theory, tie this in to however your game system handles the concept of Leadership or Morale. Rigid discipline might be boon or bane depending on the character of the army you're playing as the opposing side, so tweak and test and try again if it doesn't seem like you're getting quite the right result. The solo wargamer is lucky not to worry about wasting an opponent's time if they want to go back and re-do something!

Cards, Blinds and Keeping Secrets from Yourself

There's no end to the ways in which you can inject surprises into a game against yourself. Consider making up a deck of random events or bonuses that you draw at the start of each turn for your opponent, or 'immediate use' orders when you activate a unit. I thoroughly suggest owning a copy of The Wargaming Compendium by Henry Hyde - available through Amazon or wherever else Google tells you it can be purchased - and leafing through some of his suggestions on this. Likewise, Donald Featherstone's Solo Wargaming can be picked up via Amazon through John Curry's efforts, and this has a wealth of hidden activation systems and ways to make an enemy army act without your knowledge, if that's really what you're looking for. These do tend to require a little more preparation, but the end result is absolutely worth it as some of the critical decisions for an enemy really are taken out of your hands, leaving you at the mercy of an invisible, inscrutable high command!

I've also attempted to tackle something similar on the tabletop. The following is designed primarily for use with Bolt Action or similar WWII gaming systems, but remember as always that the solo wargamer needs only to entertain themselves; bodge the rules, tweak the system and jam it sideways on whatever game you like if you can make it work. It doesn't need to be perfect to be fun and occasionally surprise you!

Bolt Action Blinds System

Campaigns: Your New Best Friend

Playing a one-shot game to best an opponent is one thing, but where solo wargaming really comes into its own is as an opportunity to tell stories. Playing battles against armies that aren't necessarily equally matched or on ideal ground against one another? Perfect for when you aren't invested in success for either side, except for the outcome of the tale unfolding in your campaign. Playing to specific objectives and campaigns is absolutely where solo wargaming holds sway for me, personally, as you're free to tweak rules, introduce more if you like, throw out what doesn't work and simply enjoy playing out a series of scenarios that touch on the wider story unfolding, whether that's for a single platoon of battle-hardened soldiers in 1944, a posse of gunslingers in the Old West, or Space Marines and Orks off in the grimdark future. Again, I point to the absolutely excellent resources from TooFatLardies if you're in need of inspiration here. Any of their 'Pint Sized Campaigns' will provide ample suggestions if you're running a game, and 'At the Sharp End' is a must-have campaign construction kit I think belongs in the collection of any solo wargamer, with suggestions and rules that will absolutely work no matter what game system you're playing.

Playing to the outcome of a single battle is one thing, but you'll find it easier to invest in solo wargaming when there's more at stake - so to speak - than a few models removed from the table with every roll of the dice. When casualties mount, high command demands results and objectives are just out of reach... the stuff of legends will unfold on both sides, whichever outcome you're rooting for! Then at last, when the dust has cleared and the final tallies are made, if you don't like the result you can always throw down the miniatures again and go for a second round! Playing true consequences for your armies in this sense will usually be more satisfying, I suggest, but nobody's going to slap your wrist if you tweak things a little. You are literally entertaining yourself, and there is no wrong answer for how any of this should be played.

So, at last...

I've found it rare that many solo wargaming resources actually produce huge, detailed rule sets. You'll tend to find that most material aimed to those playing alone are really more toolboxes or guidelines, things to bolt on to familiar settings and games to introduce some of the drama and uncertainty of a live opponent with the benefit that we aren't going to bother them by taking an extra ten minutes between each move to get down and take photos of our battles! That being said, as well as the books I've mentioned already, you should definitely check out The Lone Warrior Blog which - as well as suggestions and forums for more content - actually does have complete rule sets for the enterprising gamer at home to print out and try themselves, many of those for free.

There's a lot more to be considered and plenty of ways that one can play without the 'benefit' of a live opponent, and solo wargaming needn't be considered the poorer cousin. I hope this encourages you to give it a shot yourself, and do check out some of the excellent resources out there. Google is your friend!

So good luck, and for as long as we might lack for opponents, have fun tackling the opportunities it presents to dive into a classic of wargaming.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Tale of More Warlords - Progress Diary #2

Finally some sunlight! Just yesterday the weather broke and finally I was able to get the spray cans out and get some priming done. "Why don't you just use an airbrush?" I hear you ask. Truth be told I'm incredibly lazy, and fussing around with getting the compressor out, cleaning the whole thing and all that carry on makes me break out in a case of bleagh so I don't bother with all that. I resign myself to the whims of fate and watch the weather as closely as I can so I know when I can start stuffing cold spray cans under my arms and making ready for the day!

1000pts of Crimson Fists ready for painting!

I like to build my Warhammer 40,000 armies around a solid core of Troops. I know, I know - they don't hit as hard as other units, they're 'only useful for holding objectives' and any number of other criticisms against them, but to my mind the basis of any army is the footslogging infantry that stick it out and finish the tough jobs. With Chapter Approved 2018 introducing expanded wargear options for the Intercessor Sergeants and changing the cost of a few weapons, there's a host of new potential for them. I've got three 5-man Intercessor squads, one with auto bolt rifles; two Sergeants with power fists and one with a power sword. I wouldn't usually have rated the power fist as a worthwhile choice due to its -1 to Hit and D3 damage, but with its points decrease and the fact an Intercessor Sergeant has 3 Attacks rather than just 2, it seemed like I could make the space for them and get a little bit punchier in combat for those squads I expect to be near the front. It just doesn't seem right having Crimson Fists without any power fists in the army, after all.

The Hellblasters are along for the ride because, well... it's a Primaris Space Marine army. Is it possible to run one without a unit of Hellblasters? My warlord will be the Librarian, but I'll drop the command points into taking this detachment as a Crimson Fists Liberator Strike Force from the Vigilus Defiant book. It gives me access to a couple of neat stratagems, as well as a nice relic I might drop on the Lieutenant. What's most handy is being able to drop another command point and take 'Field Commander' on the Lieutenant, giving him access to the ability Expert Instructor. Suddenly, all my units within 9" of him can re-roll hit rolls of 1, and anybody within 6" of him can re-roll wound rolls of 1 as well. That Lieutenant is pulling double duty! I expect he'll be a priority target for people that can find a way to pick out characters, so I'm torn between The Vengeful Arbiter replacing his bolt pistol or doing the smart thing and giving him the Armour Indomitus.

Here's the cunning bit, though. With the Crimson Fists rules in White Dwarf having dropped, 'No Matter the Odds' as a Chapter Trait means that anything in my army which has access to it
'adds 1 to hit rolls for attacks made by this unit that target an enemy unit that contains at least twice as many models as their own.' It makes special mention of Dreadnoughts counting as 5 miniatures for this rule, but doesn't single out those with the Character keyword specifically... so did my Lieutenant and Librarian both get +1 to hit against anything that isn't an enemy character?! I think so! It's also the reason that I opted not to take an Apothecary in the force - if my units get dinged up rather than killed outright, they're going to find they're at an advantage in shooting and fighting against larger units as a result. Nice little touch and very fluffy for the Crimson Fists.

The Inceptors, too, benefit from 'No Matter the Odds,' chosen deliberately since they'll drop with 18 shots and get +1 to hit against anything with more than 6 models in the unit, too. I know plenty of people like their plasma choices, but I much prefer the thought of points-heavy units like the Inceptors who are likely to drop outside the Lieutenant's re-roll bubble not falling out of the sky and exploding like a dying sun the moment they trigger their weaponry. The Redemptor Dreadnought is the Easy-to-Build option along for the ride purely because I like the look of the miniature, and you can't go wrong with a Dreadnought for sheer stompy, scary factor. The last drop in all this is the Scouts, here with their sniper rifles to try and pick out enemy characters where necessary and get rid of pesky Chapter Ancients or Painboyz, though I have in the past had them knock light vehicles to pieces with a few lucky mortal wounds. I always like to make sure a Crimson Fists force has some Scouts in it, given their continued need to look to the next generation of recruits, and I'm hoping most boards are going to have a spot for them to hang out of immediate danger and make the most of their camo cloaks.

What I'm most pleased about, though, is the fact that from this point I could add whatever I like and leave the core of the force intact. With four Troops choices it'll easily work with a couple of extra cool toys thrown in at 1500pts, though I'd probably want to bulk out one or two of the Intercessor units up to ten men if I were to hit 2000pts with it. That's a thought for another day, though! Epistolary Ortega and Lieutenant Freiberg have a date with Destiny. Destiny is the name of my extra large base painting brush...

Friday, 11 January 2019

Tale of More Warlords - Progress Diary #1


It'd been an interesting start to the New Year. 2019 opened with me on the opposite side of Germany to all my paints and miniatures, and when you've got a deadline looming - two months out, of course - of your own making, those stray hours without brush in hand start to really drag on. Once I got back to the warm, toasty little space where I do most of my painting nestled up against the radiator, as luck would have it there's been scarcely a day spare where I could actually get any priming done; the spray would go absolutely bonk if I tried it in these cold, humid conditions.

Not the auspicious start to the month I'd hoped!

There have been a couple of bright spots though, and I've been making progress with my pledge. Almost all of my Crimson Fists have been assembled and my Sisters of Battle are eagerly awaiting a day in which I can get some spray priming done. Progress, then, but not much to show off. I could take a couple snaps of my growing little pile of Space Marines, but I don't think it'd be the most exciting thing!

What I did want to share was something else that got tacked on to the pledge at the last moment which has turned into a really exciting part of the entire experience. With some Christmas cash I decided at last to take the plunge and pick up some of the excellent shieldmaidens from Bad Squiddo Games and could not have been more surprised by the quality of the product. Feel free to follow along with my excited shrieking over on Twitter if you want some initial thoughts on what arrived in the post for me. I've started down the path of SAGA, and with the shieldmaidens making up the core of a 6pt Viking force, I also got a bunch of Saxons from Black Tree Design as an opposing force and an excuse to really dive into the period with some research. No surprises which of them showed up first!

Mentioning early on with Tale of More Warlords that I would like to be able to share either little blurbs of fiction or historical discoveries when getting into our projects, I could now ramble at length about the interesting stuff I've discovered about the so-called Dark Ages! In particular, the sheer length of the Anglo-Saxon dominance over England and how their culture changed and adapted over time has been really interesting to me, along with the Viking Age - widely regarded as beginning with the sacking of Lindisfarne in 793 - all the way through to the Norman invasion and the fated Battle of Hastings in 1066. Fascinating stuff! Calling it the 'Dark Ages' seems a total misnomer now by comparison, as continued research by historians and archaeologists seems to suggest things were much more vibrant and even relatively progressive compared to what's been widely propagated in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Aah, Victorian historians; the lingering hangover of your malingering... but I digress!

In particular, one thing that has stood out during my research into the Vikings has been the design of their shields. It's been interesting reading the back and forth between different historians and accepted fact, but by far the most useful thing to me as someone trying to finish a force of Vikings for the tabletop as quickly as possible is the fact that while they were demonstrated to have been painted, they would likely not have had particularly elaborate designs in the main. Spirals and flared crosses were common, believed to be a method of throwing your opponent's aim off - spirals curving against the grain of the wooden planks used to build the shield would make it more difficult for them to strike a telling blow and splinter the shield entirely.

Here's the first test piece of the shieldmaidens, though! Deliberately finished as quickly as possible, she's been given a spray of Army Painter Skeleton Bone and then painted in simple block colours, gone under a Quickshade Strong Tone Dip, then some block colours over the top for simple highlights. I've been challenged to get the lot of them finished by the end of January, which I'm certainly going to try! Corners have to be cut, then, but once I've got the basics done I can go back and finish in any extra details at leisure.

Hildur doesn't take kindly to historians telling her that her shield wouldn't likely have been iron-rimmed!

That's it for this week! A quick update and a couple of neat discoveries to let folks know what I'm doing, and how interesting this little project quickly turned when someone suggested stepping outside what I know and trying something new. In particular, the Extra Credits series on the Danelaw has been a fascinating introduction to the personalities of Alfred and Guthrum - definitely worth checking it out!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Tale of More Warlords: It's Pledge Time!

The time has come! For an idea that's been circulating now for a little over a month, the moment has been both incredibly slow in coming and arrived almost immediately after suggesting it. #TaleOfMoreWarlords over on Twitter has a fair few regular posts attached to it and people seem pretty keen to get started and really get stuck into some Christmas presents and old projects that've been languishing on the pile for much too long. In part, that's served as the inspiration for what I'm going to try and tackle as the year starts out - a combination of something old and something new.

I've agonized over what to try and get done when it occurred to me that, in actual fact, I could do multiple things. I could make it a proper challenge! Once upon a time I painted a 1000pt Ultramarine army in a week, so what's to say I couldn't do that again? I've got two months to get something cool done and I figure if I'm trying to headline this event in some way, I better put my money where my mouth is and finish something big! I doubt my finished product is going to look the best (there are some remarkably talented people already hinting at what they'd like to do!) but what I can't match in quality, I'm going to make up in quantity!

So, between 1st of January and 1st of March 2019, my pledge for Tale of More Warlords is this:
  • A 1000pt Adepta Sororitas army in the heraldry of the Order of the Bloody Rose.
  • A 1000pt Crimson Fists army.
  • An Adeptus Mechanicus Kill Team.
  • A special character for one of these three choices - undecided, yet! - as a centrepiece.

We're going in and we're going in full throttle! I've done it before and there's no reason I can't do it again, particularly with a bunch of Sisters of Battle that I don't actually have to spend time assembling. All they need is a primer spray and I can get started! 

Remember that your pledge needn't be Games Workshop related or even anything new at all - as long as you've got a goal in mind for the end of the first two months of 2019, feel free to share what you've got in mind and what you'd like to accomplish. I know a fair few folks are going to be using it as an opportunity to #MarchForMacragge (and #MarchOnMacragge for its Chaotic and Xenos counterpart!) and others have mentioned Malifaux gangs, SAGA warbands, and more...

I hope everybody had a great holiday period and we're all looking forward to getting some models painted and on the table! Good luck, one and all, and have fun. Remember to keep posting updates and progress over on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube with the #TaleOfMoreWarlords hashtag. :D

Monday, 26 November 2018

Tale of More Warlords #2 - Forge World Sigma Iotia

A quick write-up intended to introduce and set some character for a Forge World of my own, this has been painstakingly typed on my phone during a long train journey - forgive any odd mistakes or turns of phrase that don't make sense! This should be taken as a draft, and will definitely be touched up and trimmed where necessary.

Mars has always been a beautiful world to those with the senses to appreciate it. Raw, windswept data sweeps across the ravaged red sands of the plundered world with tidal force. Ancient scrap-code and echoed binharic cants swirl and dance like breakers beaten to foam against the vaults and firewalls of impregnable Martian forges and saviour stacks. Man returned life to Mars only to savage it for its mineral worth and render untold glories down to fine red dust once again, but in those echoes whispers the knowledge that such things were once possible, and must therefore be possible again for the mind with grit enough to sift the shifting dunes of scattered nonsense floating through the noosphere for a glimpse of meaning.

Beautiful, yes, but maddening in turn. Ask the ocean how to build a world and see what it tells you. To the Priests of the Cult Mechanicus, failure means only that they lack the means, and if the Adeptus Mechanicus knows one thing with absolute certainty, it is this: Given sufficient time, the statistical likelihood of attaining insight to overcome a barrier approaches certainty. When a mind isn't linked to such temporal concerns as ageing, it allows the Tech-Magii to be extraordinarily patient...

In the closing years of M37, a small and distant world far from the light of the Astronomicon was discovered by augurs of an Exploratory Fleet dispatched centuries hence from the Red Planet. Fact-grabbers and data-miners expertly flensed useful information from the worldwide data network that the descendents of long-forgotten Terran colonists had developed. Crudely effective, it confirmed to the lurking Martian fleet the vast resources of this distant world; the Magos commanding the fleet designated the planet Sigma Iotia II, promptly dismissed the irrelevant cultural garbage flooding the primitive communication network, and fell upon it with the cold, calculated hunger of an apex predator. Organized resistance against the Skitarii cohorts sent to pacify the populace ended in days. The planet was deemed compliant within a standard month. Magos Dominus Okmyx-β made planetfall and declared it his sovereign territory. Forge World Sigma Iotia was logged dutifully by accompanying cartographic scryers and the information dispatched to Mars.

While the fleet's colossal spaceborne factories and generators descended to the surface, medicae units attached to the Skitarii began assessing the remnants of the local population for suitability as servitors and labourers in the grist mills of their new overlords. Oxmyx's acquisition was not without a curious, lingering blight on his attention, however. While the rapacious engines of the Mechanicus set about converting a moving world to the iron-blooded machine it could be, Okmyx became plagued by a nagging subroutine in an emotional capacitor he had set aside to excise and parse human reaction to sensory inload - namely, worry. Concerned that he had overstepped his bounds as an Explorator by having laid claim to the world without permitting rights of first refusal to his few superiors on Mars, he set himself on the path of righteousness with a fervour only a machine could sustain and a piety reserved for those few in the Mechanicus that allowed for a soul, and through it the possibility of damnation...

Sigma Iotia quickly became a Forge World in its own right, but one utterly devoted to the Martian ideal. Part manufactory, part shrine, every momentary fragment of data and every possible scrap of stray thought from lower level functionaries of his will was flash-cloned and saved by Okmyx's scribes and backup artisans. Sigma Iotia became a world steeped in repetition and rote, capable only of hoarding and collecting information rather than even the slightest hint of innovation or drive to discover. As a result, the information networks and noospheric capabilities of this relatively young Forge World are second to none, and its ceasless hunt for further information to stuff its librariums has lead to remarkable discoveries on the fringes of known space.

Some hold that Okmyx has lost his edge and that he serves merely as a glorified scribe servitor on an outpost of Mars, but those that have witnessed firsthand the pinpoint precision of the Iotian Skitarii and the skill with which his recovery clades pick through the rubble of civilizations judged extraneous to requirements know that Magos Okmyx-β still possesses the burning thirst to drag the Mechanicus out of the benighted Age of Waning and return it to the heights of its former power...

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Tale of More Warlords Project Diary #1

I have a confession to make. I am a hobby magpie. I'll finish one miniature, maybe two, then flit to the next project that's caught my eye and finish another couple of miniatures for that before finding a third distraction. On it goes! You might know someone like me, or you may even be personally familiar with the instant gratification that comes of finishing whatever strikes your fancy at that exact moment. It's fun, of course, to paint what we're in the mood for, but it does rob us of one of the great satisfactions of our hobby: Something finished! A collection of miniatures with some kind of unified theme or purpose, whether it be an army or a bunch of characters from something we like. There is a unique sense of accomplishment that comes of having finished something which can be hard to describe, but I think it's one of those holy grails in our hobby.

Finishing any kind of project requires planning, forethought, an idea, a dash of creativity, and no small amount of investment of time and work, and boy oh boy, can it sometimes feel like work! The pride that comes of being able to hold up the culmination of all that you've put into it, though, is absolutely worth it, and most importantly, will never really fade. Once you've painted an army of miniatures, you have that army forever. You may learn better techniques and produce results you like better as your skills develop, but that shouldn't take the shine from those early efforts. You took some plastic, metal or resin and turned it into something that is yours. It can arguably be one of the hardest things to achieve, though, especially when we are exposed almost weekly to something new and shiny arriving on the scene that's so cool, that we must have!

It was with this in mind that Tale of More Gamers really came to fruition. An opportunity to state publicly that I was going to finish something, post regular updates, then be able to show it off and share my work once it was all complete. Time and effort focused on a goal - achievable, certainly, but that would require some real work - and then the celebration at the end! The way that I figure it is that if we're all working toward our own goals and sharing progress, there's the impetus necessary to keep working on a single project without floating away to something else every couple of minutes. Impetus is the right word instead of pressure, I think. This ought to be a project completely voluntary to all taking part, and if it feels like there's pressure to take part or something to be lost in not finishing one's pledge, there should be no shame in putting up one's hands and saying, "I am not going to finish all this on time, but here's what I've done so far and what I'm proud of."

Aah, but there's the question... What to do?!

We are spoiled for choice in this day and age. We are surrounded by awesome miniatures. Outside of the 'big houses' there are any number of awesome boutique-style manufacturers that're sculpting their own miniatures or working with sculptors to fill gaps in the collections available to us today. From obscure or historically minor events to the myriad choices available for fantasy and science fiction gaming, we need never lack for options. The trick, then, is to find inspiration! What we need - what I need - is inspiration and the interest in a project that'll last me the distance to get it finished. It doesn't matter so much if the effort put into it feels like work, but it shouldn't actively be a chore to pick up paint and brush and get cracking on the next colour on these miniatures.

So, with the earlier stipulation that the project should be something that I haven't painted an army of before, here's what I've got in mind for potential projects thus far on the Games Workshop side of things:
  • Imperial Fists. These guys are a strong contender at the moment, owing to the mixed challenge of painting a smooth, consistent yellow finish across whole squads, but the sheer wow factor of dropping a bright yellow army on the table. It doesn't hurt that they're a consistent favourite in the lore and their rules are pretty damn good in 8th Edition at the moment.
  • Adeptus Mechanicus. I love the Mechanicus. They tick a lot of boxes as far as interests of mine go - post-humanism, body horror, cybernetics - and they're probably the Warhammer 40,000 army that made the translation from concept artwork to plastic the most faithfully. They look like real nightmares built for purpose, and they're damn cool.
  • Kharadron Overlords. I love these sky-mining dwarfs. The concept of the Kharadron is absolutely bonkers and I love how special it feels in Age of Sigmar. They're one of the armies that made the leap from 'just like Warhammer Fantasy Battles' and instead had fun being something distinctly Age of Sigmar, and it doesn't hurt that they're basically short Ferengi with cutlasses.

Contrary to popular belief, Games Workshop don't have a total stranglehold on my hobby budget just yet (though if they keep busting out things like Speed Freeks and Blackstone Fortress and those gorgeous Genestealer Cult miniatures on the horizon...), so there are a few other options to consider!
  • World War 2. This is deliberately broad since there's a lot of potential choices, and I don't really have a specific project in mind just yet. I do have a fairly large collection of Warlord Games' fantastic Bolt Action miniatures in gorgeous grey plastic still - US, UK, German and Soviet forces - as well as both Deutsches Afrika Korps and British 8th Army from Perry Miniatures. All it would require is to write up the force and set a painting list. Good for my wallet if I'd actually do something with them!
  • Dark Ages/SAGA. Something smaller scale and skirmish-based would be pretty neat. I've had the opportunity to visit some of the 'living history' parks around Germany such as Bärnau-Tachov and it could prove super interesting to delve a little further into a specific period and have some fun learning about the actual life and times of the people I'm representing on the table.
  • Something else entirely...? Aah, but what? I'd ideally want to be painting more than ten miniatures, but less than a hundred! Maybe something from the Napoleonic period, maybe something in 15mm, or even take the plunge into the 6mm scale? Sengoku Jidai period, and paint samurai? The options are limitless, I'm just not sure in which direction I want to head!

Before we've even gotten to brush and paints the hard work really begins! I'm going to aim to narrow these down a little over the next couple of days and hopefully nail down a shopping list if I need one before Christmas hits and my friendly local game stores totally empty. Something that I can reasonably finish in two months but which won't leave me done in a week with nothing else to do for the time remaining. Something to pin down that hobby magpie and get me stuck into something I'll really enjoy holding up when I'm finished!

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Tale of More Warlords - Uncle Sledge Wants YOU!

It's that time of year. The Christmas markets have sprung up all around Germany - this year's in Dortmund is a neat fusion of a seasonal winter market and a few stalls from the local medieval reenactor society. The days are short, the mercury's low and if you're brave enough to be in stores for any stretch of time the calls between small children and their exasperated parents are becoming increasingly shrill.

Unless, of course, you're from the southern hemisphere, in which case your Christmas is a weird assault between predominantly American and British media featuring the fabled White Christmas and bundling in front of the fireplace with a hot chocolate while you're sitting around in shorts and a t-shirt trying not to explode at the thought of moving. It's such an odd cultural disconnect when all the songs and movies reference this frozen wonderland while you're dead certain that that fur-trimmed suit would incinerate jolly ol' Saint Nick the moment he crossed the equator, but I digress...

Christmas and the coming new year represent a period of immense opportunity to us wargamers. There's a symbolism associated with resolutions, new beginnings and the like which we can easily turn to our own ends. There'll no doubt be plastic and metal by the truckload delivered to homes around the world to be surreptitiously wrapped and hidden from the prying eyes of hobbyists both young and determinedly young at heart, and come Christmas we'll be up to our mistletoe in excited newcomers to our hobby, which is awesome. New blood, new ideas and new enthusiasm makes for a great shot in the arm - or a kick in the arse if that's more your speed - and can provide the impetus we need to get into our glue and paints and get to work on our own projects.

Many years ago - before I was even involved in the hobby, I think! - there ran in White Dwarf magazine 'A Tale of Four Gamers,' which has since become a staple and will reappear every couple of years. The premise is pretty simple: four hobbyists choose an army and assemble their miniatures, setting themselves deadlines and getting their new toys painted in order to end the series with a climactic battle featuring their finished projects. It's a lot more exciting than I'm making it sound! The format changes a little each time, but the idea is easy enough to replicate for hobbyists at home. All you need is a bunch of bare plastic and an idea in your head, and the loose framework of the 'competition' between these four warlords helps maintain momentum and encourages participation - you can't let your opponent get a leg up over you by finishing more units than you can field on the table, after all!

We're lucky in this day and age to have the internet. Instant access to ideas from around the world helps us get our models assembled and finished; the knowledge available from people steeped in their fields can inspire and direct our enthusiasm for something that we might not have known about before. From small groups of friends to local clubs where techniques would be shared we've exploded into an international community with hobbyists all the way around the globe. No matter where you are in the world, if you can get online you can find yourself in a conversation with someone interested in the same things as you, whether it's your favourite Space Marine Chapter or discussing cavalry tactics of the late Bronze Age. I was part of the generation that grew up right at the moment this began to take shape, and seeing the wargaming and miniatures hobby dive into it has been remarkable. If you're anything like me, you get a kick out of seeing what people are doing with their painting and modelling, and enthusiasm is infectious! So, began a few conversations on Twitter, we should definitely take advantage of that as Christmas and 2019 draws nearer. Let's try our hand at running a Tale of Four Gamers of our own, knowing that we won't necessarily be able to all meet up for a game at the end of it!

It was Mr @VincentKnotley that coined 'Tale of More Warlords' for our grand endeavour, and I like how that one rolls off the tongue. There's been a little discussion about how this ought to run, where it should be 'held' online and so forth, as well as talk about what people thought might be reasonable restrictions or requirements for participation. So, after a little thought, here's my thoughts on how we ought to try and tackle this:

  • Twitter makes for one of the easiest ways to share and collect links, pictures and conversation. Facebook might prove useful due to its gallery functions, though some folks might prefer the relative anonymity of Twitter by comparison - for now, we'll concentrate on how this will work on Twitter and add to the concept as we go.
  • Posts can be made anywhere (Facebook, off-site blogs, Instagram, Twitter, Mastodon) and then linked on Twitter for ease of promotion to one another. #TaleOfMoreWarlords is the hashtag we're planning on using.
  • Warlords - because, really, let's have some fun with it - are encouraged to tackle a new project on something they haven't done before. A new army, a new game system, a new historical period; something unfamiliar and interesting to them. However: Warlords are encouraged to use this as an opportunity to do something they would like, so if that means adding 1000pts to an army you already have, there's absolutely nothing wrong in that!
  • From December 27th to January 1st is when Warlords make their pledges. "I will paint a Blood Bowl team for #TaleOfMoreWarlords," for example, or "For #TaleOfMoreWarlords I will be painting an entire Soviet infantry company for Flames of War."
  • Traditionally, Tale of Four Gamers ran for a few months. In order to keep momentum and avoid burnout, we'll keep this a little shorter. February is a short month, so our #TaleOfMoreWarlords will run from January 1st to the Friday of the last week of February - which actually turns out to be March 1st.
  • Each week, Warlords should post WIPs, finished miniatures or squads with as many pictures as they like, and include a short write-up on something they like about the project, or some historical or lore-related tidbit they learned while working on it. "This Chapter of Space Marines was first mentioned in Warhammer 40,000: 2nd Edition..." or "This unit of Sikh infantry could have taken part in these significant battles..." Anything about the project that interests you!
  • There's no official requirement for how much of anything should be finished during each week, except for a pledge to be complete by the 1st of March. If you're aiming to paint a whole army by then, you might paint a squad each week. Otherwise, you might paint a single character each week and show progress as you go. Again: There is no binding requirement for how much you need to do each week. This is meant to be encouraging and achievable, not to grind you down!
  • On the weekend following the completion of the pledge period (2nd-3rd of March) Warlords are encouraged to get all their finished work together and share as many pictures of it as they can. Show off and be proud of your work!
The idea of setting things to a hashtag means that people can either set it as a bookmarked tab in their favourite browser or however they like to keep track of these things. Ideally, if you see someone struggling or wondering how they'll finish something - or outright asking for advice! - you can chip in with something you might know about the subject, some off-site links to useful information or anything you think might help out. As I mentioned earlier, we're going to see a lot of newcomers to the hobby like we do every Christmas, and it's an awesome opportunity for us grizzled old hands to welcome them into the fold and demonstrate the positive power of the internet to really build and encourage that international community.

Now, for my part, I'm torn between tackling a large part of the growing mountain of grey plastic in my cupboards or hoping that Saint Nicholas knows my new address and will show up with something shiny and new for me to paint over those couple of months. Indeed, the hardest part may be deciding what it is I'm going to pledge...

So! Feel free to jump on this now, share ideas and thoughts and start drumming your fingers on the table while thinking about what you'd like to achieve over #TaleOfMoreWarlords. We're about a month out from when we'll kick things off in earnest, so I'll be tapping on this again as we get a little closer to the date in order that folks who might have wanted to get in on it without realising it was actually happening will get to see it - and jog a few memories along the way!