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

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!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Plans for the Second Half of 2016

Given we're well into August at this point, I figured it was time to do a "state of the hobby" update for where I am with my various projects at this point... and the plan for the rest of the year.

My painting table is still straining under the weight of my Japanese force from Banzai. I'm hoping to have some pictures of the progress (or sadly at this point, lack of progress) on those guys by the end of the weekend. At this point the base coat and wash is on all of the infantry and gun crews, so now I have to go through and start doing the uniform highlights and details. I'm hoping to have these guys ready for a tournament about a month from now at Guardian Games in Portland.

The next list I'll be painting up is my 761st Tank Battalion list from the upcoming Battle of the Bulge compilation. I'm planning on taking this army to the Tanksgiving event at Guardian games on November 12. This event is a little different in that it is a true TANK event - no squishy infantry or gun teams allowed. That will drastically change the meta of the game. You also need a "warrior" team. This doesn't have to be an official warrior special character per the rules, but can be a historical figure or even a Hollywood character. I'm going to paint up a tank dedicated to Ruben Rivers of the 761st.

Past that I still have several Flames of War and Team Yankee projects I'd like to get back to. For Team Yankee, I may go ahead and finish the Americans first as I'd really like to do the Eastern Bloc miniatures as a non-Soviet satellite state. I also have several Flames of War armies I'd like to work on, including some mid-War Italians - both for North Africa and Sicily. I have several German forces half started as well that I really need to get back to.

I've still been slowly working on Warhammer 40K miniatures with my son. I've gotten a lot more of my Space Wolves built than painted at this point - honestly I just have base coats on one of the Grey Hunter squads. Fortunately I've found some Vallejo paints that work well as a substitute for Space Wolves Grey - as I've had too many bad experiences with Citadel paints to walk that road again (not to mention the fact that I have controlling interest in Vallejo paints at this point and buying a redundant set of paints makes no sense!). I may also resurrect my old Tyranid army for fun and flavor.

I've also picked up the rules to a miniatures game from Osprey called Frostgrave. This is a skirmish level game played with fairly standard 25-28mm fantasy miniatures, though you can get miniatures designed for the game from North Star Miniatures. The game itself follows your primary character, a wizard, his or her apprentice, and a warband generally numbering no more than 10 or 11 figures as they work their way through a ruined city in search of treasure facing perils and other players. They even have a few modular plastic sets for Soldiers and Cultists which are pretty good. A game like this is appealing because it uses fairly normal fantasy miniatures, and therefore has a fairly low painting overhead.

Chances are I won't get a all of this done before things need to be packed up and start moving over to the new house. The nice thing about the new house will be I'll have a game room and full workshop dedicated to my model-building and miniature painting hobbies. Once I get everything up and running next year I hope to be able to start busting more projects out on a regular basis.