Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

DDR Build Log Progress - Infantry and Recon!

Here is the latest on painting my East Germans - the good news is I'm making some progress, the bad news is it looks like I'm going to have to continue to borrow and proxy for the first few rounds of the Firestorm Campaign. If you haven't gotten in on the latest online Firestorm campaign, it really is worth your time. I'm one of the helpers for Warsaw Pact, and so far the discussion is good and people are getting a lot of games in.

Over the past week or so I've spent a lot of time going through the infantry. In my last entry, I'd indicated that one of the figure styles was missing from my Mot-Schützen Kompanie (TEBX02). True to form, Battlefront quickly responded with the replacement figures, and a few more for good measure. Overall clean up on the infantry wasn't bad, it just took a while.

I also went ahead and cleaned up the East German Mot-Schützen Heavy Weapons platoon (TEG706) as I'm going to need the SA-14 Gremlin team and the AGS-17 grenade team for my main force. I went ahead and built up the AT-4 Spigot teams as well, though the first incarnation of my force won't need them. The Spigot teams were a little more challenging to assemble, and the grenade launchers will likely provide some challenges as well in final assembly.

Once I had all of the teams assembled on the ubiquitous "craft sticks," I went ahead and primed them with a white primer - I just used a standard can based white primer and it worked well. I try not to use thick primers as they can obscure detail.


I then moved on to base coating the infantry. I'm still using Vallejo paints, so I used the Battlefront color conversion. They recommend English Uniform as the replacement for Battlefield Brown which is recommended in the Volksarmee book as the base coat. To my eye it looks a lot darker than what was actually used on the figures, at least in the large detail pictures. If you look at the distance shots near the end of the modeling guide, the uniforms look much darker.


I'm not going to bother trying to do the camouflage as the detail is simply much too small to bother with at 1/100 scale (see actual uniform below).  I may end up going with a slightly lighter shade then what is recommended for the final uniform based on the Vallejo to Colours of War conversion chart, but I'm going to play with some images and see what "net color" I visually get when I shrink an image of the "real thing" to the right size. I have a hunch the uniform guide in the book may not be too far off as long as I add a good highlight as the final step.


I've also been working to finish up the vehicles, which are going to take a bit to paint, but should come out nicely. I finished up my recon section which consists of the BRDM-2 Recon Platoon (TSBX10). The resin pieces are some of the nicest I've seen from Battlefront, but the guns take a little clean up.


So again - slow progress - but steady progress. I'm going to be "at it again" tonight to see if I can mostly finish up the building. I've been playing with the T-55AM both from Battlefront and PSC, and it is an interesting comparison which I'll talk about more in a future blog.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Edition Wars - What Are They, and is Flames of War in One?

Like any business, game companies like Battlefront need a constant, reliable flow of cash (sales) to remain healthy. Therefore every so many years we see a refresh cycle in rules which allows a company to update and revise their core offerings to re-invigorate the market for flagship products. The venerable role playing game Dungeons and Dragons is currently on its 5th edition, the less venerable but very popular Warhammer 40K miniatures game just released its 8th edition, and Flames of War has recently released its 4th edition.

Any time a new edition of a game comes out, there is the risk of alienating existing players because they suddenly need to buy all new books and supplements to continue playing the game they've already invested both time and money in. Some players won't make the switch - they'll continue on with the old edition or drift away from the game entirely. Others will make the switch and continue to buy, but the main goal is to draw new players to the game as they generally represent the largest potential new revenue base.

I've only played Flames of War since 2nd edition, but moving from 2nd edition to 3rd edition was relatively painless. The changes to the rules were relatively minor and improved some of the "gamier" elements that crept in to 2nd edition. Over the course of 3rd edition, several players faded away for a variety of reasons covering normal attrition through problems with stacked special rules which gave some lists inherent advantages when constructed properly, meaning sales were likely flat to down cueing the need for a game refresh cycle.

However, 4th edition marked a major shift in the rules for Flames of War based on the earlier Team Yankee model. The MW lists have also seen major changes in depth and organization. While one can play 4th edition for EW and LW, the points values have not been adjusted for the new rules and have some major balance issues. Therefore anecdotally the 4th edition transition appears to be more contentious than previous changes, and in fact in some ways resembles other major shifts in system - like the 4th edition of Dungeons of Dragons or GW's Age of Sigmar.

There's a good write-up of the Dungeons and Dragons edition wars, which went way beyond just the major changes with 4th edition, but ultimately resulted a competing system (Pathfinder) taking over the top spot in the pen and paper role playing game market.  Conversely, when Games Workshop quite literally blew up Warhammer Fantasy Battle to create Age of Sigmar, it has at least been successful at bringing new players in though it completely alienated a lot of their existing (and viewed as saturated) customer base.

So that brings us back to Flames of War. Even a cursory read of the official forums or other third party sites will show that there is a wide array of opinions from the very positive to the extremely negative - with most of the negative coming from established players. Overall the discussion seems to be more polarized than in previous editions, and the proportion of negative comments seems higher. That being said, comments on a forum a movement does not make, so what's the bottom line?

For me it is too soon to say whether or not we have a full fledged "edition war" going on with Flames of War, or if this is simply going to be a disruptive shift in the player base. At this point I see some people expressing a desire to stay with V3, but as of today I don't see a lot of support for a continued V3 tournament scene or organized play. That may change as time goes by. Another factor is there is no easy outlet for 15mm World War II gaming that fills the same niche as Flames of War - so there is currently no Pathfinder waiting in the wings to siphon off those who were looking for an update to FoW V3. Again, that could change over the next 12 to 18 months with varying levels of impact. There also seems to be a contingent waiting for the rules and/or the lists to be brought up to the depth of previous editions. Again, only time will tell whether those hopes are founded.

All of that being said, as maligned as some products like D&D 4th Edition were, there were a lot of people who truly enjoyed them - especially new players brought into the game with that edition. When one has a great deal invested in a hobby or pastime, it can be hard to take two steps back and understand how someone could see a particular version or ruleset completely differently - and that works both ways.

So, some points to remember as we try to navigate the stormy waters of the Flames of War V4 transition:

  1. Version 4 impacts both the game mechanics and the lists. Like and dislike for Version 4 can be focused on either or both of those facets of the game.
  2. Don't automatically assume someone with a negative opinion of the new version "simply hasn't played enough games." Some people aren't going to get past the new lists. Others will be able to tell from a read through of the rules whether or not it is the game for them. Others will need more time. It is sort of like buying a new car - sometimes you know it is the wrong car from a glance, others you'll need to sit in the seat, others you'll need a full test-drive.
  3. At the end of the day I think we all want Battlefront to continue to be a successful company. Ultimately Version 4 will fail or succeed based on sales and profitability. If either of those metrics fall short - Battlefront will work to revise the system to appeal to a more reliable customer base.
Until next time, no matter what version of Flames of War - or other miniatures game - you prefer, to quote Wil Wheaton, "Play more games!!!"

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

DDR NVA Build Log Progress!

I've managed to make a little bit of progress on my DDR NVA army for Team Yankee, so I thought I'd add another installment to the build log. I've spent most of my time working on getting the "in flight" miniatures done before opening new boxes.

First off, Battlefront came through with new parts for my Hail battery - actually they just sent me a whole new box - which was awesome of them. Now I have three lovely trucks bearing virtual rocket propelled smack down ready for priming and painting.


As you can see from the photo below, the force is growing quickly with a lot more tanks done or nearly done. I still have a fair amount of work to do on the BMP because I want to sand up the front so it looks a touch more accurate. I may even add some small details to the fronts once they're smoothed out. In the bottom right corner you can see I've actually started on the infantry as well.


The core of my force, at least from a points and organization standpoint, is the T72 tanks. I cleaned up the fuel tanks on all of them with a little judicious sanding and punched styrene discs. For the command vehicle, I've modeled it with the external fuel drums jettisoned so it will stand out on the table a bit.


As I indicated in my previous blog, the Spandrels are great minis, and here they are in more detail ready to prime and paint.


As I mentioned above, I've been working in the infantry, but unfortunately the packer forgot to include the seven copies of figure "f" in my TEBX02 box. So once again I've sent an email off to Battlefront. Given the stellar service I received with my last issue, I expect quick resolution to the issue.


I have a few additional things to round out the force on order, and hope to get to them in the next installment of the blog. Then I have to start priming and painting this bonanza. Stay tuned for more!




Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Team Yankee and Flames of War: Game Scale vs. Ground Scale Redux

One of the frequent criticisms of the Flames of War and Team Yankee systems is that often - especially when players are using armies that have multiple armored vehicles - the table begins to look like a "tank parking lot" with numerous vehicles very close together. The main problem is that people tend to assume that the ground scale in Team Yankee and Flames of War is the same as the miniature scale, which it isn't - ground scale is compressed and in some cases sliding which creates the impression that tanks are running fender to fender, when in reality based on the table scale, they wouldn't be.

So how compressed is the TY and FoW ground scale?  In short, a LOT.  Just taking a couple of examples (and I'll use metric for ease of conversion):

The Soviet 125mm gun used on the T-72 has an in game range of 80cm.  Multiplying that by miniature scale (~1/100), you get a "real world" range of 80m for the T-72 gun - or less than the length of a football field (which ever type of football you prefer!).  In reality, the effective range for the Soviet gun is between 800m (nighttime) and 1000m (daytime), which means the ground scale is compressed by at least a factor of 10 to 12.

Similarly, battle rifles like the AK-47 and AK-74 have a range of 20cm, which translates in the real world to 20m.  In reality, the effective range of these weapons is between 200-300m - again representing a compression factor of at least 10, maybe as high as 15.

Correcting the miniature size based on true ground scale
So based on the ground scale, the corresponding miniature scale would be 1/1000 to 1/1200 or so. That means that 6mm (1/285) micro armor is 3X to 4X too "big" for the current ground scale. There are companies that make 3mm (1/600) and even 2mm (1/914) ranges to give you a rough idea how small we're taking about here.

Not so close as the table would lead us to believe!

So assuming we have two AFVs that are 3m by 6m (roughly the size of the hull of a T-72 or other modern main battle tank) and they are sitting 2mm apart, what does that represent if we actually remove the compression and go to a true ground scale? First the miniatures themselves have to be "shrunk" to the right scale using the center of mass as a reference point. Once that is done it is fairly easy to check the distances, and what you end up with is two 15mm miniatures 2mm apart corrected for range compression actually represent two vehicles nearly 30 METERS apart on the battlefield!!!

And that sort of gets to the crux of the issue. Team Yankee and Flames of War both make certain compromises to provide an enjoyable game that makes a reasonable representation of late and early 20th Century combat respectively. Neither game is a hard core simulation. One compromise is the miniature size - 15mm is a good size to get good detail while retaining ease of painting. Smaller scales have less (and in some cases a LOT less) detail and are exponentially harder to paint to a high standard. The standard 4' x 6' (yeah, I went back to Imperial units, deal with it) would need to be 40' by 60' to achieve the right "look" on a company scale game with 15mm miniatures - which is impractical at best.

Ultimately the player needs to decide whether these compromises are acceptable. It is also helpful to keep in mind what the compressed ground scale really means - even when tanks are "fender to fender" on the tabletop, they're effectively representing tanks at least 20m apart because of the compression. Granted, this causes some strangeness locally when dealing with buildings and line of sight, but that is yet another compromise of the system players must judge on their own.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What's (Back) on the Table - Team Yankee Volksarmee Build Log Part 1

Guardian Games in Portland is running a Fulda Gap campaign this summer, and I'm still hoping to get in a few games in some of the later turns. Unfortunately my Team Yankee armies are no where near done because of my recent work schedule, but I'm madly trying to get a few points on the table as quickly as possible.

My first purchases were way back when TY first came out, but other projects took priority over them. I still plan to go back and do an American force with some fun markings appropriate to the mid-1980's period (when this particular author was in high school), but when the Volks Armee release came out with the miniatures in the (admittedly) late 1980's NVA paint scheme, I'd "found my army" so to speak.

Battlefront's teaser for the T-55AM tank - though they really should have done it in plastic

At this point I'm still playing around with a few different lists - I wanted to have some of the T55AM tanks in the force because they're fairly iconic for the East German armed forces in the mid-1980's, but they're hopeless when faced with a third generation main battle tank from the front, so I decided to base the force around the more capable T-72 while maintaining a unit of T-55AM tanks as a flanking unit.

At this point I'm sort of working with this 100 point list:

  • T-72M Panzer Bataillon
    • HQ: 1X T-72M (3)
    • Required 1: 7X T-72M (23)
    • Required 2: 7X T-72M (23)
    • Support 1: 10X T-55AM2 (16)
    • Support 2: Full BMP-1 Mot-Schützen Kompanie + AGS-17 + SA-14 (21)
    • Support 3: 4x ZSU-23-4 Shilka (4)
    • Support 4: 3x BM-21 Hail (5)
    • Support 5: 3X Spandrel (3)
    • Support 6: Recon TBD (2)

So that ends up being a lot of vehicles - some of which I had picked up from the outset and started on (i.e. the boatload of T-72's that came in the initial release). I've been supplementing these with additional purchases as time went by until now I think I have all of the "stuff" I need to actually get this force together.

Some of the vehicles on the painting table ready for primer

So far construction of the Team Yankee vehicles has been a bit of a mixed bag. The plastic T-72 kit (TSBX01) goes together pretty well without a lot of fuss. I'm not crazy about the join line in the external fuel tanks, so I'm doing a little work with a styrene punch and disc to replace some of the detail. I also managed to lose one in the move, so my commander may have dropped his rear fuel drums.

Overall the plastic BMP (TSBX02) goes together well too, but the front lacks detail and has too many join lines on what should be a flat plate. Right now I've got several puttied and will be adding other detail later. The Shilka (TSBX05) kits aren't bad as resin and metal kits go, and assemble quickly. Though I'm not using them at this point, there are a couple of Gopher (TSBX06) SAM launchers above. I found the turret assembly to be fairly ticky on these.

T-55AM tank in progress

The T-55AM (TEBX01) tanks are turning out well, but they're taking a fair amount of extra work. I'm not entirely convinced the commander's hatches provided separately with the kit are exactly right based on 1/35th scale versions - so I'm kit bashing a better looking version with the parts included. Took me a couple to get it "right," but they seem to be coming out okay now.

The rest of the in progress T-72 tanks (I still have more to start) and the Hail launchers

The Hail Battery (TSBX08) is one unit where I've had some major issues. The resin casting on the truck bodies is really not up to normal Battlefront standards, but they're salvageable with a little work. However two of the three launchers have severe distortion and mold shifts resulting in "curved" tubes. I've sent a note to customer service asking for replacements after trying and failing to fix them

That being said, the Spandrel platoon (TSBX11) meets or exceeds the best that Battlefront has had to offer for several years. The resin is well cast. The design of the wheels is good, and the casting is top notch. I had been thinking about using the BMP as recon, but I like these miniatures so much I may end up going with BRDM-2 (TSBX10) platoon... because... well... cool minis!

So as I said, I have a lot of building to do at this point. I've also got one more business trip and then a trip back to Tennessee to see family coming up as well that are going to take some time out of my schedule. I really want to get this done before too late in the year because I will have another big build project to tackle later in the year - so keep watching this space...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Random Updates

There are a few changes coming to the blog... I'm experimenting with some new skins and formats at this point - so the blog is going to have a different look (or 2 or 3 until I light on one that I end up liking enough to keep). I'm also expanding the mission statement (see above) - when I started the blog, my main model-building and gaming hobby was Flames of War, but I'm re-branching out into other areas.

You've already seen a couple of Warhammer 40K posts on the blog, and expect to see a few more in the future as I get back to painting some of the miniatures I've picked up from that range over the past couple of years with my son. I may even get my son to do a guest column.

I'm also getting back into traditional model building, so expect to see some of those on the blog from time to time. I'm a huge panzer-phile so there will be more German stuff. I'll go through build logs there as well.

Over the next several months I'll also be looking at some alternate gaming systems, so expect those to make their way to the blog. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Interim Plan 2017

It's been a while since I posted, and most of the reason for that is I'm still trying to get set up in the new house. I'll have photos of the new studio just as soon as I'm done - hopefully in the next week or two because both I and my son are going through serious miniature withdrawal!

My plans for the next year miniature-wise are pretty much in flux at this point. I had planned on working on a mid-war Italian army for Flames of War this year, but given the rules for Italians appear to be a way off yet, that's been back-burnered. I may finally do that Kasserine Pass U.S. tank force, but that will require a fair number of conversions - though the new plastic tanks will make that easier.

On rulesets, I'm still pretty much committed to FoW at least for EW and LW, but I am starting to branch out a bit. Nothing I can recommend yet, but I'm playtesting. This may be the year I finally get my Team Yankee forces together. I finally have enough to make a go of the East Germans, so I think that's going to get on the table, and I still plan to do some LW and VLW Germans.

My son is still interested in painting Warhammer 40K miniatures, and I'll be doing a fair amount of that with him as well. Should be a lot of fun.

That being said, this year is the year I get back into scale modeling. I already have a couple of 1/35th scale tank kits lined up to work on, so watch this space. If you think my rivet counting of Battlefront miniatures was over the top, you haven't seen anything yet!