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...

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!