Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of miniatures wargaming with an emphasis on 15mm World War II and Flames of War.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

New BF Plastics - Rommel's Afrika Korps

Before I get started I wanted to leave this little code here: [/rant]

For those of you not versed in HTML, that's "end rant" as in "rant officially over." I've said publicly all that needs to be said on the current state of the V4 MW lists, and now it is time to move on.

This past week I went out and picked up the new books, including the new Afrika Korps and Desert Rats army books, and the Rommel's Afrika Korps (GEAB14) boxed set.

So why is a veteran player like myself picking up what is marketed as essentially a starter set? There is one very simple answer - the MINIATURES! I'd gotten a sneak peak at these, and I knew that the model support for V4 was going to be absolutely spectacular, and this first set of miniatures absolutely doesn't disappoint. For roughly $80 U.S. you get a total of ten miniatures and a starter book. I really didn't need the starter book, but I really did need the miniatures. No really. I NEEDED them.

The Panzer IV features both short and long gun versions of the tank and is designed along the lines of the very nice Panzer IV Ausrf H (GBX79) previously released by Battlefront. In the Afrika Korps lists, the Panzer IV is separated into short 7.5cm and long 7.5cm models. For fans of German armor, this may seem to be a step backwards, as previous editions of the game referred to Panzers according to their Ausführung (Model or Type) designation. However, in German tactical documents - the official OKW Type designation was rarely used instead referring to tanks with variable armament as (l) or (k) for lang and kurz which translate to long and short respectively. So the new designations are technically correct, if not exactly what we're used to. 

Based on the upper hull configuration, This version of the Panzer IV represents an Ausf F (with the short 7.5cm gun) and Ausf F2 (with the long 7.5cm gun with the globular muzzle brake) or an Ausf G (with the long 7.5cm gun with the more familiar double baffle muzzle brake). I hope that we'll see a version of this miniature with the added armor to represent later Ausf G with Schurtzen as a future release. That being said, if you're feeling ambitious you should be able to kitbash one from the existing Ausf H version (which I may try just for fun - yes I know, I'm a sick man).

The Panzer III miniature contains part for several versions of this workhorse of the desert including a short 5.0cm, long 5.0cm, short 7.5cm, and up-armored versions of the vehicle. One very clever thing that Battlefront did was to mold the engine deck as a separate reversible piece, expanding the number of Marks which can be delivered from a single sprue. The short 7.5cm version should be modeled as up-armored and represents the Panzer III Ausf. N tank. The long 5.0cm up-armored version represents the late Panzer III Ausf L tank (the Ausf M had a different exhaust as did some Ausf N types). 

The short and long 5.0cm gunned versions without additional armor generally represent the Ausf J and early Ausf L models. The rear engine covers on these last variants are ever so slightly smaller than the later ones (at least in 1/100th scale), but the difference is barely noticeable unless you're an extreme rivet counter. If you're particularly ambitious you could alter them - which is easier than it used to be given these are plastic miniatures, but purely optional.

Finally, the 8.8cm guns. Yeah, these are nice. I miss the rolling carriages, but the detail on the gun mechanism is amazing. There is also a very nice plastic crew provided as well along with appropriate bases. Having cleaned up many of the old white metal versions, I'm honestly looking forward putting these together.

Honestly in terms of the new miniatures for the V4 Mid War release, Battlefront has completely outdone themselves. These new all-plastic Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks are nothing short of spectacular. Sure, I could come out with some fairly esoteric inaccuracies, but nothing that is going to even decrease this grognard's enjoyment of putting these babies together and painting them. I may decide to superdetail or convert some, but then again, I may not. Buy these with confidence and enjoy!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Flames of War V4 Lists - Where's the Beef!?!?!?

Mitch over at WWPD recently posted a review of the new Afrika Korps book from Battlefront, and suffice it to say that his impression is not positive. The new lists "streamline" your choices greatly (translation - you can't take most of the historical kit you previously could - you know, the very things that made the North African theater so interesting to play in the first place). I dug up an image of a previous edition Panzergrenadier Company (below).

This is the Afrika Korps

I've now gone through and edited the above army deal based on what you can actually use in V4 as presented in the Afrika Korps list:

This is the Afrika Korps on V4

As a veteran player this isn't a pretty sight.  Sure, the powers that be will chime in and say that there are rules for transports in the main rulebook, but based on what we've seen given the new dash speed of infantry, there is no longer a gaming reason to use them, so the red Xs stay put.

I've been a long time Battlefront customer, playtester, proofreader, writer, and contributor. I haven't always agreed 100% with every decision that Battlefront has made in the past, but none of those decisions bothered me so much that I couldn't simply agree to disagree and move forward. The neutered V4 lists change all of that for me.

I had truly been looking forward to jumping back into Mid-War with the new rules, but the new lists are simply atrocious and over-simplified, and the miniatures I'd purchased and set aside to build my new forces will simply stay in the containers unassembled, unpainted, and unused as as often as not the lists simply don't support the miniatures any longer.  In the forums, BF has indicated that they will fill the gaps, but they have also indicated that some will be open a long time. I believe that this is a huge mistake that will cost Battlefront customers.

I understand that Battlefront needs to update the Flames of War game to keep up with current trends in the industry, and honestly I don't have major heartburn with most of the V4 rules. That being said, going after the new dollar at the expense of the veteran players and long-term customers has seldom been a winning strategy. Games Workshop tried that route and it cost them greatly. Wizards of the Coast tried the same thing with V4 of Dungeons and Dragons and it cost them the top spot in role playing games to Pathfinder - which was essentially the previous version with some streamlining.

I wish Battlefront continued success in the wargaming hobby, but believe they need honest feedback from all players on the direction of the game. As of today, my FoW purchases are pretty much "on hold" pending developments. There are several Early War, Late War, and Pacific lists I can paint on in the meantime, though honestly my enthusiasm for even doing that has been greatly dampened if MW is the template for all future Flames of War lists... and I truly never foresaw a day where I'd actually utter those words.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

State of the Blog and Hobby

So it's been a while since I posted here. In terms of getting miniatures done, unfortunately what you see is what you get, I've gotten effectively nothing done in the past three months. There is a simple reason for that, I've been spending literally all of my time getting the new house ready for habitation. Our part of the process seemed fairly simple - emphasis on the word "seemed" - but interior painting (which we did sign up for) also involved all of the interior caulking on the trim (which we didn't realize we'd signed up for), so schedules and timelines sort of went out the window. However, we just recently got the keys, so now the move-in process begins! I'll have photos of the new work-room once I get moved in.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely seen that Flames of War is getting ready to release its Fourth Edition in the next few weeks. Unlike previous edition changes, 4th Edition appears to be a major revamp of the rule set with many similarities to the Team Yankee ruleset. Several recent podcasts over at WWPD have detailed some of the rules, and as usual with any rules changes the reviews have been mixed, though the camps seem fairly polarized at this point. I honestly haven't digested the scope of the changes yet, so I'll have to play through several games to understand the impact

Speaking of Team Yankee, the first new Warsaw Pact nation has been released for the mid-80's World War III gaming system. I'd already started building some Soviet forces for TY, but when I found out the East Germans were going to be released I decided to wait on painting them up until the NVA rules were released. I'm still working on finding the right colors to use for the three tone East German paint scheme (which technically wasn't used until the late-80's - but this is a hypothetical game anyway!), and I'll post a painting guide once I have it together.

I've also been writing up a little something fun for the WWPD blog - keep an eye out toward the end of the week for some great photos. I've been doing some writing in the background, and I'll let you know when those start getting close to hitting the wild!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Arado 234 - Done!!!

So turns out that today was a good day to get work done after all. I managed to get the Arado pretty much completed. I ended up pulling back out my light box to take some photos that really give you a sense of the shading.

Top view - you can really see some of the black and white shading.

This view gives you a little hint of the bombs underneath the engines, but in case you think I was slacking off, the bottom is fully detailed as well!

Actually getting between the engines and the fuselage was a real pain in the butt, but it ended up looking pretty good.

For my first aircraft in literally years, I'm very happy with the little beast. Should be a fun tournament, if anti-aircraft fire doesn't ruin its day!

The Arado 234 in Flames of War

I have a tournament coming up at Guardian Games this weekend, and I'd hoped to get my Japanese army together for it, but I've been way too busy to finish painting it. So I'm therefore going to revive my 510 Schwere Panzerabteilung army from a previous tournament. The only problem is the point values are different, so I had to do a little rejiggering of the list.

To that end I've added an Arado 234 (AC015). This was a amazing light bomber that saw combat in the waning months of the war. I'd picked one up ages ago, but it had been sitting on my shelf for just such an emergency!

I wanted to try something a little different this time for the painting, so I went with the Ammo of MIG Black and White technique. This means I didn't need to highlight and panel shade every individual color - instead I did all of the shading ahead of time and then used thinned colors for the topcoat. I've been using Testors masking tape to complete the hard-edged camouflage scheme.

The photo above shows the current status. bit sadly lacks the contrast you need to really get a strong sense of the shading at this point. I still need to complete the final weathering as well, but if all else fails (read if my schedule continues to go to Hades in a handbasket), it is "good enough" to go as is.

I'll post more photos once I've finished up this little beast. It went together easily, though it needed some clean up, and has painted well.

Edit: You can see the finished bird here

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Call the Exterminator - Tyranid Paint Scheme First Pass

With my son interested in Warhammer 40K, I've been working on a secondary army to give him something to fight other than another Space Marine chapter (see my previous Space Wolves discussion). The Tyranids are an army that has grown and changed a lot from their original incarnations, and I must say I really love the look of the current range of models. So I took the plunge.

At this point I've been building a lot to get something on the table to play against my son - which should be fun. I'm incrementally teaching him the rules to the game, and we'll actually start pointed list building (as opposed to "just pile it all on the table and we'll work it out from there"). Though it wasn't my intention, the match-up will be the very representative Ultramarines vs. Tyranids, so there's that aspect to the fight as well.

As with any new army, I spend a fair amount of time on one of the basic troops trying to get the color scheme right. At this point I have a grand total of one (1) Termagant pretty much painted.

I'm using Vallejo paints and Ammo of MIG washes at this point. Overall I'm pretty happy with the scheme, but I may want to pick out the eyes a bit more with a red or orange as the purple seems to be getting lost. The base is 72.034 Bonewhite (from the Game Color line) with a brown wash (which is still in flux - I'll post final washes in my next buggy installment). All of the other colors are from the Model Color range. I highlight the Bonewhite with 70.918 Ivory. The green basecoat is 70.833 German Camouflage Bright Green highlighted with 70.891 Intermediate Green and 70.942 Light Green. I add purple to the recesses and simply highlight it by blending a lighter version by adding white.

I'll post more pictures as I get more miniatures painted. Building this army on our table has led to many bad jokes about any food being left out attracting bugs... and I expect the hilarity to continue.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Of Game Scale and Ground Scale - Part II

Recently the owner of GHQ published a lengthy post on The Miniatures Page providing some company background and extolling the virtues of GHQ's 1/285th product line. Honestly they do have some nice miniatures, but I personally found the post more than a bit troublesome on many levels as it represents yet another fairly absolutist position in the ongoing discussion regarding what is the proper scale for company level tabletop gaming. What follows is an edited version of the post I made to that thread, but as this is an issue that seems to come around quite often, I thought it was worthy of a deeper look.

Before going into some of the key portions of the post, I think a little preamble is required. Discussions and debates around ground scale vs. model scale – and absolute ground scale vs. abstract ground scale in wargaming have raged for years and will continue to rage for years into the future. At the end of the day, I strongly believe what scale a player chooses really comes down to a matter of personal preference. That personal preference covers not only the miniatures themselves, but what level of abstraction a player is comfortable with on the tabletop and in the rules. That key point is what I believe is completely missed so often in this discussion, as evidenced by the post made by GHQ.

I enjoy the model building and painting aspects of wargaming as much as I enjoy the games themselves, therefore I prefer the level of physical and painting detail I’m able to achieve with 15mm miniatures. The fact that things can get a bit crowded on the tabletop is a secondary consideration for me. I’ve been building models since the 70’s and playing wargames almost as long. The fact that a 15mm wargame lets me merge the two hobbies effectively is attractive because, as I’m sure is common to everyone here, I don’t have infinite time to pursue all of the hobbies I’d like to.

That being said, I tried to get into 1/285th micro-armor back in the 90’s when I was at Ohio State University. I purchased a rule set and some pretty nice miniatures (they may even have been GHQ), and although there were several good game stores in town I literally couldn’t find a group that played - in a major city with one of the largest universities in the nation. I was, however, able to find a chapter of the International Plastic Modeler’s Society – so I went that route for several years and didn't try to get back into historical miniatures wargaming until Flames of War came out and established itself. Then I was able to find a community that played, and I still play with essentially the same group.

GHQ's post has severed to foster some good discussion, but it also has allowed a platform to rehash several of the old arguments that are, quite frankly, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Furthermore, I personally found several key statements in the original post objectionable, prejudicial, and in some cases insulting.  I understand that GHQ wants to run a business, and that the new Team Yankee ruleset affords them an opportunity to sell more product. However, you can build up your own product without simultaneously tearing down someone else's - this is where GHQ's post failed.

The post starts by saying,

A while ago we posted a message from GHQ laying out some of the history of GHQ. In it we went over the relationships we developed with the US Army in the 1970's participating in the development of the Dunn-Kempf game. This game was developed by 2 army officers at Command & Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth named Dunn and Kempf. They contacted GHQ to do the miniatures for the game. During this time we took many trips to Ft. Leavenworth to work with the TASO (Training Aids Service Officer) who supplied us with classified photos and drawings of Soviet vehicles on a "need to know" basis. These models had to be very accurate because one of the additional purposes of the game was vehicle recognition training. They chose GHQ for this project because they were familiar with us from using our miniatures in WWII games. They liked the scale and quality of our miniatures. They could have gone with 1/87th or 1/144th, or any other scale. They could have contacted another company in a larger scale, but they thought 1/285th was the appropriate scale for Modern warfare. This was very gratifying for us because it validated our decision to choose 1/285th when we conceived GHQ Micro Armour.

The post starts with some really nice background on the company. I can certainly relate to the fact that during the 1970’s and 1980’s it was decidedly hard to get solid information on Soviet Bloc equipment. I was trying to build armor and aircraft models at the time, and most of the accurate kits of modern subjects didn’t really start coming out until the late 1980’s / early 1990’s when the Iron Curtain fell. This sort of background is awesome back story for a company.

However, right off the bat the post starts to turn south as the thesis itself represents a couple of logical fallacies wrapped into one. By using the word "validated," it attempts to lend an absolute authority to what comes after. Ideally the thesis should have been "1/285th is a viable OPTION for company-scale tabletop wargaming" (which is absolutely is). Unfortunately, the thesis reads as "1/285th is the CORRECT scale for company-scale tabletop wargaming because the military says so, and we worked with them." This is an example of both the "appeal to authority" and "anecdotal" logical fallacies.

The post continues:

GHQ came about because I became interested in wargaming in 1963. The games played at this time were largely WWII in 1/87th (HO-Scale) with plastic Mini Tanks. Because of the large ground scale chosen, we played on the floor. Historically wargames had been played on the floor by grown men with Britains, and other toy soldiers. This kind of gaming did not appeal to me. I felt that games should be played on a table. I felt that there had to be a ground scale, and a miniatures scale compromise that would allow realistic gaming scenarios. At the time there was no smaller scale miniatures than 1/87th for WWII.

My goal became finding the smallest practical miniature scale that was convenient to use, but still allowed a model to have excellent detail, accuracy, and recognition. I made wooden prototypes to test scales. I concluded that 1/285th fulfilled these requirements, and gave 9 times the geographical playing field as 1/87th. I then set about learning how to cast vehicles. I was already a re-loader, and cast my own bullets out of lead, so I didn't start from scratch. Dow Corning had recently come out with RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanizing) rubber. I bought some, made molds, and started experimenting. Casting lead in RTV was beyond the specs listed, but it worked fine. I contacted Dow and told them about my experiences. They were shocked. I believe that I was the first person to ever use RTV for wargames miniatures, or figures.

No one is arguing that GHQ was a pioneer in the industry. No one is arguing that they have served the wargaming community well for decades, and hopefully will continue to serve for decades more. However, wargaming in general has grown exponentially both in dollars, number of available systems, and in sophistication since the 1960's - which is even before I got going! Just because a company was first to the market doesn't mean that the original solution is the best, or only, or "correct" solution in perpetuity. Companies and gaming systems must grow and adapt with the times and the market, or they risk relegation to obscurity or eventually shutting down completely.

GHQ continues,

At any rate, you can see that the whole purpose of GHQ was to create the best scale to game WWII, and Modern warfare in miniatures…and the US Army agrees (as well as those of Germany, UK, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israeli, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia…) This is particularly pertinent today because of the popularity of Battlefront's "Flames of War", and now "Team Yankee". First of all, let me say that I give high praise to Battlefront for their business plan. They recognized the huge popularity of "Warhammer" and designed a WWII game that played like "Warhammer" in roughly the same scale to appeal to those interested in crossing over to WWII. To their credit they have dragged many sci-fi gamers into historical gaming. "Flames of War" is an immensely popular beginners gaming system that has attracted many adherents. It has increased the popularity of WWII gaming among beginners, and we thank them for that.

And sadly this is where the wheels well and fully come off and we move from building up GHQ product to tearing down Battlefront and the Flames of War system as written. The first sentence is a blatant appeal to authority logical fallacy because they're contending that the scale is the "best" because several militaries use it for their own simulations. That's fine, but wargaming – even on the historical level – is not always meant to be a 100% accurate simulation. There is a time and place for extremely accurate simulations, and certainly military training exercises are one of those. Not every player is willing to go to that level of detail or commitment for an afternoon's enjoyment. Each individual game will have different goals, and will be trying to simulate different aspects of historical combat. Furthermore, games must consider a timeframe for play and set an overall complexity level – those will determine what abstractions need to be made in the rule set. And ultimately it is those abstractions which are what is going to attract a person to a gaming system or not.

The next sentences essentially damn Battlefront with faint praise (or if you will an appeal to emotion logical fallacy) and then go on to belabor the "beginner" aspect of Flames of War. There are a few key errors in the assertions. Warhammer and Flames of War are not "roughly the same scale." Warhammer and Warhammer 40K miniatures are 28mm heroic scale (often >30mm) whereas Flames of War simply focused on the already popular 15mm scale. Second, while it is approachable and accessible to the beginner, characterizing it as a "beginner’s gaming system" is both prejudicial and insulting to its player base. Granted it lacks the detail of some other systems, but those were conscious design decisions.

From this point forward, the post seems to belabor the point that "everything you’re doing is wrong" if you’re not playing company level games in 1/285th scale. Many of the objections stated, around towns, hedgerows, terrain, etc. have some merit at a high level, but they represent very nit picky details - honestly some of which aren't helped by moving to 1/285th scale miniatures.  For example, you can easily abstract hedgerows in Flames of War – the Normandy compilations do that quite well. Towns can be problematic as you won't technically have as many buildings as you'd see if you had a 1:1 ground scale, but again this is one of the areas that is abstracted in the Flames of War system. For a 2 hour company level game, that's fine. If you want the same game to run 6 to 8 hours, go for more detail!

For me, the bottom line is this. If you are uncomfortable with the level of approximation intrinsic in a company level 15mm tablegop game – play Flames of War in a different scale by all means, but please don’t contend that it is an empirically superior game. Please don't contend that your chosen scale is the "best" or "superior" or is "validated" by some external entity. Instead realize it has to do with your own preferences, as a player, and your comfort level with the level of abstraction in the gaming system as a whole. Also understand that there is ample room at the gaming table for different games and different scales, and at the end of the day we're all just a bunch of wargaming geeks trying to have a good time!