A miniatures games blog about Warhammer 40k, 15mm American Civil War (ACW), D&D, Classic Battletech, painting, terrain and anything else that rolls or shoots...

Friday, December 31, 2010

Rogue Trader - A Look Back

Well, the holidays are here and we're all in misery.  Nothing says glee like traffic, idiocy and relatives.  I guess it's stressful times like these that make all of us long for a better place and personally, when I'm not wishing I was a young rich English footballer, getting paid hundreds of thousands a week to swerve kicks into the top corner, I'm probably thinking about little plastic men.  It's a curse.

While sitting bumper-to-bumper on the parkway doing just this, I decided to take a look back at the grand daddy of the modern monster that is Warhammer 40k.  I present to you, Rogue Trader!

Pretty dramatic, eh?  I'm particularly fond of the Ork head/club. 

Published by Games Workshop in 1987, Rogue Trader was intended to follow on the heels of the already successful Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games.  In fact, in the intro of the book even says, "Warhammer 40,000 employs the proven and popular game mechanics of the Warhammer Games System...and can therefore be used in conjunction; you will find creatures and weapons from one game will be perfectly usable in the other."  Nice!  I'd venture to guess that some intrepid souls out there were curious enough to see how this would have actually panned out and gave it a go.  Nowadays, games like that are the stuff of legend...

If the introduction was any indicator, the rest of the rules follow the example and freewheeling statements like the above are numerous throughout.  At the time of the game's release, there were only two box sets of miniatures, Space Marines and Orks.  Everything else was fair game model-wise and they actually encouraged you to find/create your own miniatures and even go as far as to make up your own rules for them.  No codices, no WYSIWYG rules, just your imagination.  Of course, it didn't hurt to have a shrewd tongue in order to convince your opponent that this giant Mattel robot of doom he was about to face was fair and balanced.

A large portion of the rules such as shooting and movement still remain relatively unchanged but there are a lot more elements to this version that hearken to a roleplaying game rather than the polished, speedy beast of miniature destruction that we are familiar with today.  The most obvious of these is the inclusion of a GM ("Game Master") to preside over the events that unfold on the tabletop.

As most of you are probably familiar with, the GM or DM (in D&D terms) is the main mover and shaker in the RPG world, and without these hardy individuals, there would be no game.  In the early days of Rogue Trader 40k, points values for units were non-existent and it was up to the GM to decide the forces for each side before the battle.  There is a small section that describes a skeleton method of assigning points values to individual models based on stats and equipment but like many other parts of the rules, GW leaves these open to interpretation, citing "common sense" as the best judge.  Once the battle had begun, the GM was in charge of doing things like tracking movement of hidden units and settling rules disputes.  Sadly, this position was only to last through the first edition, and like many other "common sense" related elements, was axed with the emergence of Second Edition in 1993.

So as not to make this quaint little trip down memory lane too long-winded, I'm just going to run down a list of my personal favorites...

  • Splitting Units -- During their movement phase, a unit can be split up as long as the controlling player provides a clear, written order to the GM. ie: "Send the missile launcher to that trench to cover us.
  • Hiding -- A unit that did not shoot in it's turn and is behind cover can "hide" where it cannot be shot at by the enemy.
  • Weapon Profiles -- Virtually unrecognizable from today's standards, the weapon profiles in Rogue Trader contained info like range bands (bonuses/penalties based on distance from target), armor save modifiers (ex. -6 penalty to save for a lascannon, -1 for a boltgun -- this would eventually be dumbed down to AP) and wounding, where many weapons had a variable amount of damage they would cause (d6, d8, d10 etc.)
  • Reserve move -- Any unit that was far enough away from the enemy and did not shoot during their turn was allowed to make an extra move.
  • Psychic Abilities and Psi-Points -- At the initial release, there were 40 powers to choose from.  These powers were then divided amongst four different mastery levels.  Each one would expend a certain amount of the psyker's Psi-Points and when these were depleted the psyker would have to rest to recover them.  Many of the powers had a devastating tabletop effect, but there were also a few that had virtually no tabletop effect and were seemingly intended for a set of off-table role-playing rules that never emerged.   
  • Mutants! -- Probably my favorite.  Extensive rules and random generation tables were included and encouraged players to create and do battle with their own roving bands of mutants.  Some of the more colorful random traits are Cloud of Flies, Bulging Eyes, and the unfortunate Enormous Involuntary Noise.  All of these would have some effect on the tabletop play, but were clearly included for roleplaying purposes.

When it was all said and done, Rogue Trader provided a very good groundwork for what was soon to come.  Although it singlehandedly launched a sub-genre that was to be copied many times over, I still feel that it never lived up to it's true potential.  Never quite a roleplaying game and not quite a tabletop miniatures war game, it straddled the fence between the two, using elements of both to somewhat mediocre effect.  However, the fluff is great and the artwork alone is enough to recommend trying to hunt down a copy of this book.  

This is also where I am going to announce my next great project (besides a ton of painting.)  This examination has inspired me to try and pick up where Rogue Trader left off and come up with a comprehensive system to link both the tabletop and roleplaying elements.  After a couple days of taking a good look at the system, I think I have some pretty decent ideas and will follow up soon with a post detailing these.  

Until next time!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Project: Imperial Guard (where men are men)

Well there's been a slight layoff in painting production in December but with the arrival of some new toys, that is all about to change!  I decided that my Ultramarine army is in decent shape and the plan is to take it to the table for a few games in order to figure out how it performs under the "new" (to me, at least) rules before making any further additions.  With that, my gaze can finally turn to those most lovable of meat shields, the Imperial Guard. 

Ever since the dark days of Second Edition, I've always been a fan of the Guard.  There's something about them that just really appeals to me.  I think it probably has to do with the fact that in a universe of untold horrors, grotesque aliens and huge war machines with weapons that level cities, G.I. Joe Schmoe is still out there in the trenches with nothing more than a rifle and his wits.  Not that I would ever find myself on the business end of a snarling Ork assault or a Tyranid invasion, but I feel like on some level I can relate to these guys.  They might have huge tanks and big guns of their own, but when it comes down to it, they're really nothing special.

As a young pup, the Ultramarines were always my first love, and I really only started collecting the Guard as an afterthought; basically as an Allied force to mix things up a little bit.  What drew me to them first were the awesome Leman Russ tanks and I knew I had to get these in my army somehow.  In Second Edition, there were no real rules regarding Allied attachments beyond what armies you could pick from, and what percentage of the total army list could be allocated to allies.  So, the first things I ran out to buy were TWO Leman Russ's (a standard model and a Demolisher) an Inquisitor in Terminator armor and a squad of Catachan jungle fighters.

Over the next few years of my 40k career, I slowly added to this with models I picked up here and there that seemed cool to me, most of them notably NOT of Games Workshop lineage...which brings me to another point. 

There are a TON of companies out there that make standard 25mm human sci-fi figures...many of which are perfect for use in an Imperial Guard army.  My favorite source for these was the now defunct (but still dear to my heart) line of Warzone miniatures by Heartbreaker Hobbies.  More recently, The Wargames Factory has released a line of plastic Greatcoat Shock Troopers that look very sinister and at a price of $20 for a box of 18, they're nice and easy on the wallet.  These are just two examples of extra sources for alternatives to the standard GW fare...and there are many more out there!

Note: Big Brother says you can't use them in official tourney play, but most local stores seem okay with it as long as they aren't too hard to identify in terms of WYSIWYG, or "what you see is what you get."

After a couple years of this, I had a mish-mash of models loosely banded together to form something that resembled a coherent army.  Hardened jungle veterans lined up next to gas-masked trenchers who were dug in next to pint-sized snipers who in turn supported a squad of heavy armored (note, this had no game effect, it was just cool looking) infantry with assault rifles.  Looking back now, viewing this 'army' deployed on the field must have been like seeing a Jackson Pollack piece for the first time.  But, it was mine and in my fifteen-year-old brain, it was awesome. Fast forward a decade and here I am, cracking open the 5th Edition Codex: Imperial Guard for the very first time.

Cue: rude awakening. 

Apparently, things have changed a bit since the glory days of the Vortex Grenade.  My army, as it is, can no longer even be fielded as such.  It appears that in both points values and force organization, Games Workshop (read: money grubbing bastards) has put a premium on number of models.  This basically means in order to put an Imperial Guard army on the table, I would have to roughly double the size of my existing force.  *sigh*

After a couple days of frustrated ranting, my protests slowly gave way to the reality of the situation.  I had spent THIS much time and effort on these models so far, and I'd be damned if I couldn't use them.  So, like the pathetic addict I am, I logged on to the GW website and started filling my shopping cart. 

I know what you're thinking, "But Rob, you just said there are a ton of other sites to get miniatures from!!" I know, I know...but with my sights set on competitive play, I decided I will have to:

A. Drink the GW Kool-Aid and play by their rules by using their stuff. 

B. Be able to field a somewhat cohesive looking army instead of the rag-tag misfits that currently fill the roster sheet.

So, I looked everything over and based on the usable models I have in my army, I purchased the following to bolster my force and give me what I feel should be a decent list that suits my playing style, ie: slow moving with big guns.  I decided to stick with the Catachans as the fluff-base because I generally think they're badass, plus, I already have a squad and a couple of additional Catachan models painted.  In larger games, I fully intend to use this force in concert with my smaller Sisters of Battle detachment (now under the Codex: Witch Hunters umbrella) to give them a little more bite.

Behold!!! One mortgage payment's worth of little men.

- Catachan Jungle Fighters Battle Squad Box (30 models)

- Catachan Command Squad (5 models)

- Regimental Advisors blister (3 models)

- Heavy Flamer blister (2 models)

- Catachan Assault Weapons (1 w/ Grenade Launcher, 1 w/ Melta-gun)

- Catachan Heavy Weapons Box (3 Heavy Weapons teams -- 6 models)

- Catachan Heavy Weapons Team (1 team -- 2 models)

So, there you have it...50 models altogether.  Let's do this.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Flesh and Iron

I know it's been awhile since I've updated anything on the blog.  Alas, it would appear that the HOLIDAYS and the circus that surrounds them have begun to get the best of me and my nerd-posting has suffered.  Although I may have not been updating the blog, I've still been keeping busy!  In honor of receipt of a big ol' Imperial Guard shipment from Games Workshop (which I will detail in the next day or two) I decided to get into the flavor of the army with one of GW's newer additions to the Black Library, "Flesh and Iron" by new kid on the block, Henry Zou.

I went into this book not expecting much more than the standard issue mud n' guts content that seems to be linked at the hip with the Imperial Guard these days.  In truth, that's kind of what I was looking for but I found myself being pleasantly surprised when it was all said and done.

In his second novel, Zou takes us to the jungle world of Solo-Baston where we find ourselves dropped into the midst of a local rebellion against the forces of mankind's mighty Imperium.  From there, the bulk of the plot follows the 88th Riverine, a Catachan-esque unit of amphibious assault troops and their mission to silence a shopping mall sized cannon that's dug into side of a mountain.  Previously held by the Imperium and seized by the rebels, the size of the cannon (several American football fields long) prevents the Imperial Guard from mounting any sizable frontal attack to take back control of the large island where it's located and thus, the Riverine are called upon sneak inland and do the dirty work. Carnage ensues.

The first thing that struck me was how realistic parts of this book seemed compared to others I've read that are along the same lines.  After I finished reading it, I wasn't surprised at all to find out that Zou actually served time in the military.  Anybody can write combat scenes, but where Zou's experience shines is the moments in between the fights.  The way the soldiers interact with each other, their emotions and mental state before and after combat and even how they clean their weapons are all little strokes that on their own don't amount to much, but taken together they really add another dimension to the novel.

One of the best ways I can describe "Flesh and Iron" is the Vietnam war with lasguns.  Monsoons, oppressive  heat and humidity, ambushes from a foe that blends right in to the indigenous population and the constant threats of the jungle all take their toll on the men of the 88th and by the end of the novel, it shows.  This all builds up to a pretty massive twist that even I didn't see coming, but makes it well-worth reading until the very end.

Overall, I really liked this book and flew through it in a couple of weeks' worth of lunch breaks.  Zou impressed me enough with this effort that I'm going to grab a copy of his first work, "Emperor's Mercy" as soon as I get the chance.  If you want a break from the usual "big battle" style of Imperial Guard writing, or even if you're a first-timer just breaking into the game, I highly recommend this book as a good one-off read in between the massive trilogies we're all so fond of.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Chief

At newly re-vamped Ultramarines army is just about ready for war (again!)  While the army itself wasn't in bad shape before, I thought it needed a few tweaks to be a little more passable in both the looks and gaming departments.  In the last month, I've added a ten man squad of Sternguard Veterans and given a shoddy looking squad of Devastators a new coat of paint.  The final piece of the puzzle lay in a miniature I purchased on one of my many teenage trips to the hobby shop with a burning pocketful of minimum-wage McDonald's earnings.  At this point in time, I'd already moved on from the Space Marines to more destructive (Imperial Guard) and sexy (Sisters of Battle) armies and just kept the Ultramarines around as options for allies or the occasional solo game when I needed an army to play against.

Basically, I picked up this mini because he looked sweet.  But not sweet enough apparently, because it sat untouched for years.

Upon getting the new codex for the Space Marines, the first thing I did was go right to the special characters to see how they'd changed in the last decade.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  Right off the bat, I noticed there was a much larger selection to pick from than I had first anticipated with nine in all compared to the three or four available in the Second Edition Codex: Ultramarines.  I realize that some of these new characters are chapter specific but it's nice to see new faces like Cato Sicarius and Scout Sgt. Telion who can add some flare to what some would call an otherwise bland choice of army.

One of the more powerful options is Chief Librarian Varro Tigerius.  For the newly initiated, a Librarian is the Space Marine version of a psyker, which in turn is the 41st millennium's version of a wizard.  Magic is no longer drawn from spellbooks and scrolls, instead it comes from an individual's mastery over the Warp.

In game terms, Tigerius is a psychic badass when it comes to options for the Space Marines.  As a Master Psyker, he automatically knows all nine psychic powers available to the Marines (a normal Librarian can pick two) and he can use up to three a turn, where lower level Librarians can only use one or two.  With two wounds and WS 5 (weapon skill), he's not a bad buy at 230 points...especially in a medium sized game where he can really make a difference.

At this point, a light bulb clicked on in my head and I scuttled off to the miniatures vault (the basement) to take a look.  My suspicions were confirmed when I opened a dusty box to find the long-forgotten Chief Librarian still in his faded 1998 packaging.  Knowing this was what I needed to finish off my army, I got to work.

I started off by priming him with an undercoat of black and then thought about spraying him with another undercoat of navy blue, but decided there wasn't enough actual armor showing to warrant this.  Instead, I would paint him entirely by hand.  As you can see from the picture below, I'm not quite sure what I was thinking because at least half the model is clearly power armored.  *facepalm*

What should have taken me half the time to do, ended up taking me around 90 minutes.

Basecoat #1

As you can see, I used a base of brown for everything that would eventually be a parchmenty / bone color.  I then layered on Bleached Bone and added some preliminary touch-ups.

The second assault.

As I said above, at this point I'd been working for around 90 minutes and with my old-man neck in a state of semi-paralysis as well as having a football game to watch, I decided to put him down for the day.  In the past, especially with uber-detailed minis like this one, I've always found it advantageous to get as far as you can and then take a step back and put it down for a night.  It allows me to refocus and not get burnt out, which then lets me pay attention to all of the little stuff on these minis that really sets them apart from the rest of the riff-raff on the table.

When I came back the next day, I spent another 90 minutes filling in the rest of the details like the staff and ornamentations on his armor.  I then did a little bit of shading and highlighting and here is the result!

Overall, I'd say that I'm super happy with the results.  I think this is one of the better mini's I've painted, especially after coming off a decade-long layoff from the hobby.  It probably took me a lot longer than it would for a regular painter, but for three hours of work I think it came out pretty well!

Now that I have a fairly presentable army, the next step is to get myself into a couple of scraps and see how these new fangled rules have changed the game I love so much.  Stay tuned for battle reports and because a gamer's job is never done, my next project...the Imperial Guard.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stripping Space Marines Pt. 2 (now with tassles)

With a full head of nerd-steam following GaspCon I decided to keep momentum going and plunge back in to my 40k Ultramarines army, slowly but surely getting them ready for their return to battle.

A couple weeks ago, I showed you how to remove ugly paint jobs using a cheap and easy-to-find household cleaner called Simple Green.  One thing I forgot to mention is that before priming any miniature you've chemically stripped, it's a good move to give it a quick run through soap and hot water just to get all the little crumbs of paint/glue/chemicals off and make sure you're starting with a clean base.

As soon as these guys dried off I sprayed them with a base coat of Navy Blue from The Army Painter. Way back in 1998, Games Workshop used to have a line of spray paints in popular shades like Ultramarines Blue, Blood Angels Red, etc.  It seems like these would still be fairly popular, especially for marine armies, but much to my chagrin I found that GW had discontinued them and I was forced to go elsewhere.  While I was looking at their Quickshade line, I noticed that The Army Painter had a line of undercoat colors similar GW's and not wanting to paint a squad of Space Marines by hand, I figured I would give it a go.

Undercoat courtesy of The Army Painter - Navy Blue Color Primer

I followed this up with the basic details that come with every Space Marine.  I used GW's Red Gore for the shoulder pads, Sergeant's helmet and weapon casings because I like the darker, grittier tone more than the standard Blood Red, which just seems a little too bright for me. (note: despite my monetary grudge against GW you gotta love their paint names...Snot Green and Vomit Brown anyone?) 

I followed this up with Boltgun Metal on the guns and Shining Gold for the chest pieces.  That left only the purity seals on legs and chests of some of the models.  To get that old parchment look, I find that a coat of dark brown followed by a quick dry brushing of Bleached Bone or any other suitable off-white color works best.

So far, so good!  They're already looking a lot better than their previous incarnations which could be compared to the the handiwork of an infant monkey.  This just left the touch-ups and basing.

Almost there!

Finally, I gave them a quick bath in THE DIP (see my earlier post about Quickshade for details) and set them out to dry overnight.  I came back the next day and gave them a once-over with the Anti-Shine and voila!  I'd like to make a quick note regarding the application of the Anti-Shine.  I've found that models need VERY LITTLE of this to get the desired effect.  On these minis I think I might have gotten overzealous with a couple passes too many and had to touch up some areas that had gone a little white from varnish build-up.  No biggie...just something to watch out for.

So in the end, with some elbow grease, an adventurous spirit and a tight wallet I took four shoddily painted Devastator Marines from this:

To this! (You'll notice the addition of the lost fifth Missile Launcher on the right to complete the squad.)

 I am definitely going to use this technique again in the future, as there are all manner of horribly painted, cheaply priced miniatures for sale on Ebay just begging to be re-habbed.  All told, from the start of the stripping process to taking the last picture, I did about three hours of actual work.  It's a pretty nice feeling to know you've rescued perfectly good miniatures from bad-paint hell and given them a second lease on least until they're blown up on the battlefield.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

GASPcon XI (the morning after)

Well...this was it.  I, as my wife-to-be put it, finally received my "nerd badge."

If there was any doubt that I was ever otherwise, yesterday confirmed for me what I had truly become...and it was everything I hoped it could be.

Yesterday, Paul and I attended Day 2 of the Gaming Association of Southwest Pittsburgh's aptly named GASPcon XI and I think it's safe to say we both had a blast!  Paul will be reporting his angle of everything so I thought I'd just run through the "minutes" so-to-speak and hit some of the highlights.

8:30am - We arrive at the majestic Best Western at the Parkway Center "Mall," which rests high atop mighty Greentree Hill.

"Only the Best"
(I really should be in advertising)

8:45am - We collect our passes (the aforementioned "badge") and FREE BOARDGAMES and mosey in to the Main Room.  The convention itself has been expanding steadily over the last decade and now consumes the entire 8th floor of the hotel.  Although it is early, there still a good number of eccentric German boardgames being played and the RPG'ers appear to not have slept at all.  Our first event of the day is a game called Frag-O-Rama and we head over to the scheduled table, M1.  It's empty so we sit and wait...

The early birds getting their worms (and Mt. Dew)

9:05am - While we were waiting, a fellow approaches and asks us if we were getting ready to role-play. We reply in the negative and tell him we're waiting for FRAG.  He tells us that the event is, in fact, being held at table B2, "where it was held last year."    *sigh*   

Rookie mistake. 

9:10 - 11:30am - Frag-O-Rama!  Probably my favorite game of the day.  It's intended to create a 3D miniature version of the classic, first-person Doom DeathMatch experience.  As someone who personally lost a couple years of my childhood to this game, I have to say it succeeds completely and is just about great in every single way.  My only regret is that, believe it or not, it's completely free!  Check out the rules here.  It's very fast paced, and relies on a d6 for movement and a d10 for attacking.  Power-ups and new weapons are lying all over the place and are represented by cards, which is where the free part comes in.  

I'm basically too lazy to print, cut-out and glue my own stuff and besides, this guy worked really hard on a great game and deserves the money.  Somewhere out there, there's gotta be a publishing company that could be all over this game. Thanks. (gets off soapbox)

The Dungeon.
11:45am - The FRAG-O-RAMA bloodbath concludes and we collectively wipe our brows.  I break even with 4 kills and 4 deaths and thanks to a last minute piece of drama that ended with me being vaporised by his plasma gun, Paul finished with 5 kills and 4 deaths.  Jerk.  

We depart for lunch and head over to a nearby Wendy's where we have the fortune of watching a disgruntled customer throw his pair of double-cheeseburgers against the dining room wall and storm out. We think it had something to do with a cup of melted cheese. 

2pm - We arrive back at the hotel for our second scheduled even of the day, a Lord of the Rings miniatures game scenario.  Neither Paul or I have ever played this before, but heard it was a bit like Warhammer and 40k so we figured we could bumble our way through.  It actually ended up being a lot of fun.  The terrain and miniatures were awesome and the scenario was well thought out.  

As team evil, our job was to try and delay Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas from getting across the board to help out their companions, who are fighting Part II of the battle today.  We held them up for 17 turns or so, and lost everybody on the field in the process. My only beef with this game is that it is heavily weighted in favor of the hero's, but in a pitched battle when both sides had selected even armies, I could see it working pretty well.  

The battlefield.

Team Evil deploys.

Gimli gets jumped and Aragorn flees.  Typical. 

The trap is sprung!

4:30pm - We finish Lord of the Rings and with a bunch of time to kill, we decide to to avail ourselves of the Game Library and check out a game called Lost Cities.  Specifically for two players, this is a card game where you're a millionaire who funds expeditions to ancient locations around the globe.  If the expedition doesn't pay off though, you're in the hole and losing points/your fortune.  We played three rounds of this in just under an hour and it was super easy to learn.  Once you get going though, you realize how much strategy is involved.  Highly recommended!

Get that money!

6:00pm - We head over to the Little Caesar's inside the K-Mart next door.  Who knew Little Caesar's was still a thing??

Luke-Warm N' Ready

7pm - This was it, the reason for our existence in these hallowed halls.  The Battletech Poker Run event.  Weeks of preparation, painting, discussions, and money spent all brought us to this moment.  We were ready. 

We got our asses kicked.

Paul got stuck in from the beginning and did pretty well, taking some cards and dealing out damage.  I, on the other hand, was cursed by deployment and proximity to a sadist who seemed to take personal pleasure in making my day long.  Very long.  

Paul surveys the battlefield...with disgust.

My Marauder had problems from Turn 1.

In the end, Paul went for broke with a Death From Above attack (the Battletech equivalent of a top-rope body splash) and promptly rolled one dice-pip short of spectacular success, instead crashing violently to the ground before being set-upon and kicked to death by two opponents.  

For this effort, Paul earns my Man of the Match award!

The competitive Battletech world is a cruel mistress indeed, though you can't learn without taking a few on the chin, or stomach in this case.  We limped, crawled, and exploded off the battlefield but we had a great time with this scenario.  I learned a lot about the game by playing with some vets and everybody was really helpful with rules and tactics questions.  This group has a monthly game down at a local store and I will definitely have to check this

So, 11 hours after it began, our day at the GASPcon XI came to a close.  I had no idea what to expect going in but I was pleasantly surprised.  Everybody was incredibly nice and positive about just about everything and I left with a great feeling inside.  This has definitely whet my appetite for some new games and Paul and I have already begun to discuss terms for our Second Edition Warhammer 40k grudge match.  Details of this to follow!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: The Eisenhorn Omnibus

Aside from the compulsion to roll dice and maneuver vast miniature armies across three-dimensional battlefields, the one thing that continually draws me in to Warhammer 40k is the background material, or "fluff" as it's known in nerd-speak.  I've played games like Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons for just about half of my existence on this planet and I have to say hands down, Games Workshop does it the best.  Say what you want about their over-priced miniatures, their (sometimes) broken rules systems and their seemingly mindless economic strategy; I think their science-fiction is top shelf.  

The man at the wheel of this literary juggernaut is Dan Abnett, who is responsible for many of the major works in Warhammer 40k canon.  I first started reading Abnett's work back in the early 2000's at the beginning of his Gaunt's Ghosts series, which has now grown to include thirteen novels with another in the works, plus a few spin-offs.  For me, these novels really set the standard for writing in the fictional universe of the far future and while I only made it four books into the series before I had to give up all hope of reading for pleasure in favor of textbooks and non-fiction, I have plans to finish what I started.

Which brings me to the Eisenhorn Omnibus.  When I decided to venture back into the grim, dark future the first thing on my mind was Gaunt's Ghosts.  I hopped on the internet and in the process of loading up my shopping cart, I found this little gem.  I guess little is an understatement...weighing in at a healthy 765 pages, this Omnibus collects all three novels in Abnett's Eisenhorn series and links them together with two short stories not found in the original printings.  I had heard good things about these novels from one of my partners-in-crime so I decided to put the Ghosts on the back burner and see what this was all about.

I really only have one word to sum this Omnibus up:  fantastic.

Honestly, I can't recommend this enough.  Following the exploits of Imperial Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn and his team, the series reads like something that would happen if television's Criminal Minds had a one night stand with Oliver Stone's Platoon.  The first book, Xenos, begins with an action-packed prologue that is BEGGING for cinematic treatment and this pace doesn't let up until the very last sentence in the third installment, Hereticus.  There's mystery, political intrigue, a dash of romance and a large serving of what everybody came to see, brutal violence.

By their nature, Imperial Inquisitors are a dark and shady lot.  Picture a man who is judge, jury and executioner roaming the galaxy on a private ship (armed to the teeth, naturally) rooting out evil in the name of humanity's Emperor.  Of course the lines between what's good and what's evil are often blurred as well as the methods of tackling these problems, but that's what makes for the best reading.  The other aspect of these books that really drew me in was the attention to detail of everyday Imperial life. 

In both the game and many of the novels, so much time is devoted to huge battles with thousands of men and aliens blasting the crap out of each other.  You won't find this in Eisenhorn.  Instead, Abnett paints a gritty picture of the life of the common human "amongst untold billions" in the 41st milennium.  The plot unfolds in locations like a dank, smoky mutant-only drinking hole, a psyker-slave auction in a corn field, a forgotten mining outpost on a lonely planet and even a world who's inhabitants enter a chemically induced sleep state for half the year because of the perpetual darkness.

As novels go, this one doesn't pull any punches.  It always feels like anything can and will happen as characters you've grown to like are killed off mercilessly, but for me, this only adds to the experience...not to mention you really hate the bad guys by the end.   

Whether you're a seasoned 40k vet or a rookie looking to get into the background, it matters not.  This omnibus is a great read and what's more important, a great value.  Dan Abnett has done it once again and this nerd will certainly be coming back for more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stripping Space Marines Pt. 1 (they're just doing it for tuition money)

Hello again!  It's been a busy week in grown-up world but I was still able to set some time aside to continue work on getting my Ultramarines up-to-speed and ready for the 40k table.  As a long-time player of both Space Marines and Imperial Guard I've always been enamored with big guns.  I could never quite see the appeal of speedy, assaulting armies like the Orks and Eldar.  Instead, I prefer to sit back and blast away, using close combat as a last ditch alternative to incineration.  For a Space Marine player, large-scale destruction like this can be helped along with the tried-and-true Devastators.

One of the main things I've noticed in my absence from the game is the prevalence of really gorgeous looking plastics that Games Workshop is now putting out.  "Back in my day," a plastic kit usually consisted of about 20 miniatures in identical poses with pre-set arms/weapons that slotted on and provided about as much variety as a box of black crayons.  These days, you can arm your models with all manner of guns/swords/bombs and put them in any pose your twisted brain can think of.  All for the low low price of your left arm and leg.

Now,  if I was my 15-year-old self again, I would have plunked down $40 of my hard earned pet-sitting cash in a minute and walked out with a fancy new box of models.  Sadly, 28-year-old Rob has a mortgage, gambling debts, bar tabs and a recent plumbing disaster (see also: the day our kitchen ceiling rained down upon us) to pay for and that leaves little room for plastic men.  I did however, have an old squad of perfectly usable, yet shoddily painted Devastators sitting in the basement.


As I said before, my main reason for getting back into the hobby was to test my meddle in competitive play.  Judging by the way painting has advanced over the last ten years, I'm pretty sure putting these down on the table would get me negative painting points as well as laughed out of the store by my pre-pubescent opponent.  You may also be saying right now, "But Rob, where's the fifth marine?"  Well, he went missing in the fog of war some time ago and was replaced with a more respectable looking missile launcher-toting companion (read: doesn't need a new paint job) who you'll see later.

I'd done a little bit of research into the art of stripping paint off of miniatures and all signs pointed to something which I already had under the kitchen sink.  I give you, Simple Green!

It works on cat vomit AND miniatures!

You can find this at any Home Depot, Lowe's, Wal-Mart, etc. for $8 and it's well worth it.  Make sure you get the concentrated variety though...none of that pansy diluted garbage.  The next part is easy....fill up a cup and drop them in.  I was able to fit all four marines comfortably in a beer pong regulation sized Solo cup.

Send that crappy paint job off to die!

Some reviews I read said this stuff takes as little as 20 minutes to start working, but after 20 minutes I'd noticed no difference and by then it was time for me to head out and work on the aforementioned bar tab so I decided to leave them overnight.  Acting on a tip, I'd tried this once as a lad with a coffee mug, acetone and some plastic Space Marines.  When I awoke from the fume-induced stupor, I was greeted with five grey blobs that resembled rocks with legs.  The great stuff about Simple Green is that it's non-toxic AND nice on plastics so you won't be melting anything.

Just about 12 hours later I pulled them from the cup and was greeted with'll notice the paint is bubbling and lifting up nicely.

The agony!!!! Why???

Now the fun part, I used a firm bristle toothbrush (old of course) to scrub off the old paint.  Dipping the brush in Simple Green also seemed to help the process along.  It worked well but I think if I did this again I would get some smaller, wire bristle brushes that are used for stripping stain and paint off of larger household objects.  These can also be found on the cheap at your local mom & pop hardware mega-store.

After a few minutes of scrubbing, you can see that almost all of the paint has come off, leaving nothing but shiny, expensive metal!

A new lease on life (sans arm)

I used an X-Acto knife to get into the little nooks and crannies and remove the rest of the stuff that the brush couldn't get at.  Tedious? A bit, but still easier and more rewarding than forking my booze money over to The Man.  In the scrubbing process, his arm did pop off, but that was due to the glue being weakened by the Simple Green.  The plastic itself was unharmed and perfectly reusable. My plan however, was to do a replacement of all these little parts with extras from my Bits Box (or so I thought)...

The aftermath

Once I had finished with the scrubbing and calmed down my fiancĂ©e, I tossed the old limbs in the trash and set the minis out to dry before resuming work a couple of days later.  To my horror, I realized that I had over-estimated the contents of my Bits Box...I only had three usable left arms. THREE!!! DAMMIT!!!

So, with the help of my ever-loving lady (who I now owe big time), I dug through the garbage to find a little plastic left arm to re-use...I like to think the vomiting was worth it.


There you have Part II we'll get these chaps on the painting table and move one more step closer to putting this second chance army on the battlefield!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Switching Gears

As Paul had mentioned a few days ago, we are going to be attending GASPCon XI  next weekend at Pittsburgh's beautiful and historic Best Western in the Parkway Center Mall.  For me, this is going to be a landmark event as I've never attended a large-scale convention before so I'm not totally sure what to expect.  What I do know is that nobody can host a convention like Pittsburgh, who is famous for such annual gatherings as Anthrocon:


And let's NOT forget the International Bridge Conference, an entertainment juggernaut in it's own right...

I think all those overturned water glasses speak for themselves.

It's safe to say that the bar has been set fairly high and I expect nothing but good things from my first convention experience.  In particular, I'm looking forward to the Classic Battletech 'Poker Run' event.  You can take a look at the rules here, but the basic jist of it is each person brings one 'Mech to the table, and you get playing cards by holding objectives and damaging enemy 'Mechs.  At the end of the fight, the person with the best poker hand wins the game.

I decided speed and firepower would be key and settled on a shiny new Marauder-3R to get the job done.  It has decent speed, packs a wallop with two PPC's and a low Battle Value means I'll be hitting almost everything I shoot at.

Everybody knows that a painted mini kills better and after spending entirely too much time on the Space Marine Sternguard Squad, I thought a 'Mech would be a nice change of let's get to it!

1.  I started out with a dark grey basecoat:

Stormy Grey

2.   To start bringing out detail, this was followed up by drybrushing a slightly lighter shade on top.  For those of you (like me) who don't have time to bother with mixing your own shades for this, Reaper Miniatures sells 'Triads' of three paints in varying shades.  For this 'Mech I used the Neutral Grays set.

Stormy Grey + Cloudy Grey

3.  At this point, I filled in details on the 'Mech like regimental colors, cockpit glass and gun metal.  After this was done, I lightly drybrushed on a third shade of grey.

Stormy + Cloudy + Misty Grey (seeing a pattern, here?)

4.  Now, at this point, most purists and professionals would start yammering on and on about applying washes, inks, more drybrushing, more inking, sandwich making and five more shades of grey.  Call me a cheater and heretic, but I don't have time or the patience for this for this.  Thus, I'm going to tip you off to a little gem I recently discovered called Quickshade by a company called The Army Painter.  In short, "Dipping" is a technique wherein one takes a miniature and literally dips it into a pot of watered down, inky paint-like...stuff.  With a little help from gravity, the ink then settles into the cracks and folds of the model and dries dark.  This creates a really neat shading effect that the pro's spend hours on. Suckas.


So, I dipped the 'Mech into a pot of Quickshade "Dark" Tone and let him rest.  The important thing to remember about this stuff is at needs a good 12 hours at least to dry completely.

5.  Last but not least, I based him using a no-frills technique of green paint, Elmer's Glue and some Woodland Scenics flocking.  If you are interested in the Quickshade, one thing to remember is as well as being a sweet shortcut, it's also a varnish and dries shiny.  For this, the folks at The Army Painters have created an Anti-Shine spray.  You don't need much of this at all, just a few very quick passes over the front and sides of the mini and it's done!  Note: MAKE SURE THE QUICKSHADE IS COMPLETELY DRY BEFORE APPLYING THE ANTI-SHINE. If it's not, it'll turn everything white.

6.  Go to the convention and kick some ass!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Another dumb short picture post

Since I've never posted any actual painted minis of mine, here's a Bushwacker in progress:

A Little Piece of History

The first thing I did upon deciding to throw my hat back into the Warhammer 40k ring was run over to my Friendly Local Gaming Store and spend my paycheck on copies of the new (to me) rules and the appropriate codex for my chosen army.  I've never tasted competitive play before and this was one of the main reasons I wanted to come back into the fold in the first place.  Glancing through the Imperial Guard codex, I realized that my army, while perfectly legal by the ancient Second Edition standards, would need a lot of work to be brought up-to-date for Fifth so I decided to fall back on my tried and true Ultramarines.

No sooner had my fingers touched the Codex: Space Marines when I was heckled by a young punk playing in the Magic tournament being held at the store (ironic, huh?)  He seemed to think I should have chosen the Tau because "they rule."  When I responded, "Who the fuck are the Tau?" he looked at me blankly for a second and turned away, shaking his head and muttering something he's probably glad I didn't hear.  Whatever...I was rolling dice when his mom was still wiping his ass.  Besides, he smelled funny.  I guess some things never change.

Codex and rulebook in hand, the second order of business was to beef up my army.  Veteran Marines have gotten a big boost in the new rules (something I will cover a little bit later) and I thought a squad of Sternguard would be just the ticket...I even had the perfect models for the job.

Wayyyy back in the late 90's, Games Workshop used to have a nifty "outlet" section on their website where they would unload older, discontinued models at a fraction of the original price.  One such deal was a 10-man squad of original Space Marines from the glory days of Rogue Trader circa 1987.  Being a student of the game, I hopped on this deal but never got around to painting them up.

What better models to represent hardened veterans than some of the first Space Marines ever produced?

What I thought would be a walk in the park in terms of painting actually took me much longer.  My nemesis in this venture turned out to be the white.  Dear God...the white.  One thing I've learned about being a grown-up is that time is of the essence, and it's a rare day when you can spend 3-4 hours painting little soldiers.  Thus, I had to spread this work out over four days of roughly 90 minute sessions.  I actually think this helped me out in terms of keeping my sanity from the monotonous task of painting and re-painting the white....oh the white.

For my first large-scale effort, I think everything turned out pretty well.  The castings themselves didn't do me any favors and there were a few molding issues I had to work around but that's all part of the fun, right?  So they say.

Ready for war!

Despite the painting issues, it did feel pretty cool knowing that I was painting a little piece of Warhammer 40k history.  It's interesting to see the way sculpting and casting techniques have developed over the last 20 years. 

Sergeant w/ Chainsword & Hand-Flamer
I have to say though, my favorite part about these marines, and something I really think GW should bring back are the BEAK HELMETS!

Not quite sure what the guy on the right is holding, but we'll call it a storm bolter!

The Emperor's Finest

The Emperor's Finest (boyband)

My favorite model of the bunch though, by far has to be the one who breaks all fluff convention.  No helmet, no gloves and a plasma gun.  Really?


For heavy weapons...there's this guy, with his skinny lil' legs.  I'm not quite sure what he's packing, as it kind of looks like a lascannon, but on the back of the model, there are rockets hanging off his pack.  I guess it could be either?

Space Marine with....thing...

I've always had a self-imposed rule of not allowing myself to field a unit unless it's fully painted.  This has been the cause of much consternation before, but it's always kept me motivated to keep on moving.  With this squad completed, I've got a couple more units lined up and then this army should be ready for war!