Monday, 21 August 2017

Dangerous Jungle Terrain

So having successfully completed my 'blocking terrain' it was time to move on to the Dangerous Terrain, specified in the Congo rules.  Dangerous Terrain allows the miniatures to enter it, availing themselves of greater cover saves, but they must first explore the perilous jungle.  This exploration might prove fruitless, equally untold treasures might bestow victory points on those brave enough to venture in, but danger lucks in the shadows and on the roll of a dice your plucky band of explorers might find themselves trying to throw off the tightening coils of a python or be neck deep in sucking quicksand!  

What was required was a series of terrain stands that gave the impression of jungle, but allowed you to place your miniatures within them - step forward 'Major Thomas Foolery's War Room'.  Chris Schuetz is a tremendous miniature painter and modeller, I find everything that he does simply irresistible, but it was his post entitled '28mm Jungle Terrain' that was to provide the catalyst for my own build.  I have no intention in stealing Chris' thunder here, you need to see his brilliant tutorial for yourselves, but I shall indulge in a couple of my own observations.
As with Chris' designs I wanted to base my own efforts on MDF, but fancied something a little more irregular.  Once again Tony of 'East Riding Miniatures' came to my rescue.  Tony does packs of laser cut terrain templates and so I picked up a large and medium and simply stuck the corresponding shapes together before priming them.  This gave me a little relief, but at the same time keeping a sizeable playing area.  I continued to follow Chris' tutorial and had plenty of bits left over form the blocking terrain, however I needed to locate some of the more specialist items that he had used to complete the homage.  The first were the wonderful plastic, vivarium plants that he had simply picked up at the local pet shop.  Chris' post assured me they were cheap, but as I trawled Amazon and the 'Pets at Home' sites, I was alarmed at how much the same product was retailing for in the UK.  The problem I faced was that I really liked the effect they brought to the piece and so persevered, widening my search.  Fortunately I stumbled across 'Swell Reptiles' and my quest was over - the very same cheap plastic vivarium plants!
The next key material to source was the cork bark branches, but again this required a bit of a hunt around, finally arriving at the 'The Spider Shop' - don't sign up for their newsletter if you are arachnophobic!  Now sadly they seem to have stopped selling the cork bark tubes that I secured, but it might be worth contacting them if you fancy some for yourself.  I bought 2KGs worth for just under £20, not really knowing how much I would need and I can tell you now half that amount was enough for the five stands I created.  What I would add here is that if you get a chance to specify the diameter of your branches then do.  I didn't and whilst length is not a problem, you simply saw them down, some of the wider pieces I felt were too big for my needs.
All that remained was to simply put it all together, paint and add what additional details you desired.  In my case I used the same clump foliage and flock that I had previously employed along with different tufts and some leaf litter for the interiors.  I did manage to pick up some florist's moss roll, but struggled to use this as effectively as Chris had, partly down to my impatience, but nevertheless it does help to break the 'bark' feel of the trees and helps to tie everything together nicely.
I can't tell you how pleased I was with these and combined with the blocking terrain and the mat from 'Deep Cut Studio' I was now really excited about the prospect of playing the game.  By standing on the shoulders of giants, I was able to create a tabletop jungle beyond my expectations, thank you Gentlemen! 
All that was left now was to get the miniatures out and see how they looked, including some very excitable dinosaurs! 
Purely for reference the plants bought from 'Swell Reptiles' were:
Zoo Med Amazonian Phyllo (Small) £2.99
Zoo Med Borneo Star (Small) £2.99
Zoo Med Australian Maple (Small) £2.99

Saturday, 19 August 2017

It's a Jungle out there!

Well I have to confess that I know not where August has gone? One minute I am hosting my first ever 'proper' war game and the next I'm starting to think about dusting off the satchel in readiness for the new academic year! Now don't get me wrong there are no complaints here as I have had a fabulous week exploring dungeons and monster invested caverns through my newly arrived Kickstarter, 'Massive Darkness'. More recently, with the release of the A-levels here in the UK, I have been devoting some much needed time to the day job, but all this has conspired to keep from my plan of sharing a series of posts detailing the terrain build for the game, not to mention restricting the time available to perusing the many splendid weblogs that I so enjoy reading. So, as we edge towards another weekend, I think it is only fair to have a little me time?   

One of the key requirements for Congo is specific terrain, whether that be for the jungle or savanna expeditions, that can either be explored by your intrepid adventurers or restrict their movements by blocking their progress and line of sight.  Having selected a jungle based scenario for our first encounter I found myself reaching for the bits bag only to discover a selection of rather diminutive palm trees, abandoned from a previous adventure - more thought was going to be required!  

As has become the norm in such circumstances the noble art of Google Fu came to my rescue and before long I was thrilled to discover two particularly fine examples of jungle terrain building that would ultimately inspire me to complete my own.  The first was that of the '1000 FOOT GENERAL', entitled, 'Making Jungle Terrain'.  John's tutorial is absolutely superb and it would be foolhardy of me to repeat it here, blow by blow.  Instead I would encourage you to visit John's weblog yourself and I will simply restrict myself to detailing some of the subtle differences that I employed for my own build. 
The first of those differences was that I based my blocking terrain on some MDF shapes, sourced though the ever reliable Tony at 'East Riding Miniatures'.  This was a pre-cut bag of shapes that I simply stuck chunks of blue foam to.  The edges were then contoured and sanded just as John had instructed me to do.  Once primed and painted, do avoid aerosol spray paints at this stage, it was time to add the foliage.
Because the blocking terrain was now raised, the rather pathetically small palm trees that I had previously purchased were now back in the mix, but I was going to need more variety in both size and species.  There are now a good many posts detailing the surprising versatility of plastic model trees from China.  I, myself, have benefited from the seemingly implausible business model of shipping out relatively small units free of any postage charge from far flung corners of the globe, but they do and, if you are prepared to wait a couple of weeks, then they prove an invaluable starting point for any arboreal activities.  Having bagged a couple of likely candidates I remembered a post on the very entertaining 'Colgar6 and the Infinite Legion of Toy Soldiers' blog where Colgar6 had bought and used a plastic Bonsai tree for one of his terrain builds.  This inspired me to widen my search a little and I stumbled across some plastic houseplants, as opposed to model trees.   The dimensions listed suggested that they might be suitable and because they were primarily to be used for the blocking terrain I thought it was worth the risk for the princely sum of £12.
Having picked up some other bits and pieces, but more of those in the next instalment, I was aware that I needed more height and so went in search of trees.  The cost of wargame specific trees has long perplexed me, I once purchased a rather splendid mature oak from '4Ground' and whilst a lovely tree, and very much the pride of my forest*, I could never afford to cover the table with them.  So off I went in search of suitable material to build my own and before long I found myself perusing the visual aisles of 'The Artificial Flower Shop'.**  Again not really knowing what I was buying I narrowed my search to shape and size, plumping for three artificial Springeri Bushes at £7.80 each, the combined cost of which was the same as my Mighty Oak!  When they arrived I was delighted to find that I could break each 'bush' down into a further four trees - splendid news! 
*Not a phrase that I use often!
**I really need to get out more!
Having assembled the stands according to the John's tutorial, I gave everything a generous spray of watered down PVA in a bid to help secure the clump foliage and flock.  Once dry I was relatively pleased with the stands, but the garish green of the coloured plastic rather spoilt the effect that I was after.  Of course in John's tutorial he goes to great length demonstrating how he dealt with this very issue by painting the individual pieces before assembly.  Now being inherently lazy I had skipped this all important step, which is why John's stands look like a jungle and mine looked like a mass of plastic plants!  Unperturbed, I set about fixing the issue with a can of Tamiya Colour Olive Green and a couple of passes with the trusty airbrush loaded with Vallejo Model Air Interior Green, followed by Cam. Light Green.  Whilst perhaps not as neat as John's it certainly seemed to do the trick and a final spray with the matt varnish brought the group together - ta-da!
So a huge thank you and well done to John of the '1000 FOOT GENERAL', your tutorial was not only inspiring, but early to follow too!  Next up will be the explorable terrain and again another link to a fabulous tutorial.
As an addendum to this post, I thought it just worth mentioning the wonderful 'Deep Cut Studio' mat that underpins my jungle.  This is their swamp design that the chaps very kindly cut to 3'x4' for me.  Made from mousemat material, it doesn't crease and can be stored rolled up.  They might not be the cheapest mats out there, but the quality is superb and the chaps are a delight to deal with.   
I had made quite a sizeable order, with a couple of mats purchased on behalf of the school, and was thrilled when I given storage cases and some terrain pieces free!  The most useful of these are the river sections that are made of the same material as the mat itself.   
They can be simply laid out to give the impression of a river and I think work rather well, so well in fact that I had to dig out the old steam launch to give her a run out through the steaming jungle!  So another thank you extended to 'Deep Cut Studio', fabulous products and amazing customer service.
Finally the seller that I purchased the plants from, via Ebay, was Alex-wqt and they were listed as follows:
  • Artificial Succulent Aloe Zebrina Plant Fake Miniature Bonsai Plant Home Decor, Item Number 401324713121 - .99p (These were the spikey ones!)
  • Single Cactus Artificial Succulents Craft Floristry Decoration Plastic Plants, Item Number 401324710338 - .99p (The tall ones.)
  • Artificial Succulents Cactaceae Floral Potted Plant DIY Home Garden Decorative, Item Number  401324708663 - .99p (The purple ones.)

Friday, 11 August 2017

Massive Darkness!

Yes, I know I promised a series of posts about jungle terrain and newly painted miniatures, but the truth of the matter is that I have been somewhat distracted by the latest offering from CMON, 'Massive Darkness'; yet another Kickstarter that I backed in April 2016.  Billed as a cooperative board game and building on the successful Zombicide: Black Plague mechanic, I nearly let this one pass me by, after all I have more plastic miniatures than I will ever paint.  Yet a chance email exchange with my good friend Stefan of 'Monty's Caravan' fame caused me to think again - solo play being the eventual hook that saw me pledge.  Well that pledge duly arrived at 'Awdry Towers' last weekend and since then all I seem to have done is venture further and further into the tunnels and dungeons, fighting guards and monstrosities along the way!
'Massive Darkness' is a dungeon crawl and allows standalone adventures or the option to play in story mode, building your characters' abilities along the way.  A huge fan of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as a boy, I was really looking forward to this and with what I thought was a fair understanding of the mechanic being used couldn't wait to get started.  The first thing that needs to be said is that this being and CMON Kickstarter there was a mountain of plastic to unpack!  These photographs just show the core box and don't include all the wondrous goodies that came as stretch goals.  The plastic miniatures are exquisitely detailed and I am sure will take paint just as well as the Zombicide versions; already there are some firm favourites that might yet skip to the head of the painting queue!
The quality of the card stock used for the sumptuously designed dungeon tiles is, as we have come to expect, superb and in fact all the pieces have that reassuring feel of quality to them and so it will come as no surprise to hear that the tutorial game was set up on the practice table* and away we went. Dutifully laying out the game as described, I started to become aware that there was an awful lot of paraphernalia on the table.  
Yes I am aware of how pretentious that sounds, but it really is a Godsend!  I have set up a small table in the spare room, which means I can leave unfinished games out overnight rather than pack them away so that we can use the dining room table - why hadn't I thought of this sooner? 
Event cards, door cards, treasure cards**, guard cards***, roaming monster cards, tokens, dashboards and class sheets - it was a good job that I was just playing the tutorial with only two board tiles on the table!  Unperturbed I ventured on, but couldn't help reminiscing that back in the day all I needed was an HB pencil and a couple of D6s!  Still it wasn't long before I was opening doors, picking up treasures and battling guards and banished such trifling matters as being uncharitable. 
**Five sets one for each level of Darkness.
***Again another five sets! 
Dwarves love their treasure.
Tutorial successfully completed it was time to get to grips with the first quest proper and at this point my issues with just how busy the table was started to resurface.  It all seemed incredibly faffy, I mean ridiculously so  - it was time for a rethink.  I am not a overly stupid man, but there I was sitting at a table five feet long by two and a half feet wide, covered in a multitude of cards and plastic miniatures and not really enjoying myself.  The need to check and recheck the class sheets of each of the characters, that were in turn separate from the player dashboards, meant that I was having to swap between distance and reading glasses and all the time getting more and more frustrated.  The absolute joy of Zombicide: Black Plague is its simplicity, the ability to fully immerse yourself in the story and enjoying the colloabtive nature of the game, ideally with friends, is what made us return to it time and again as our game of choice.  How then had CMON got this so wrong with Massive Darkness?  Of course the answer is they haven't, it was me!  
A very busy table!
In my bid to get going as quickly as possible, I had rather fallen foul of the old maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!  Assuming that 'Massive Darkness' was, in effect, Zombicide: Black Plague by a different name, I had completely missed the point; this is a different game and should be treated as such!  The first realisation came with the number of guards that were spawned as you enter each room, it is dependent on the number of adventurers on the board. The more adventurers the more guards, so why was I trying to run all six adventurers at once?  By reducing my heroic band to a Wizard, Barbarian and Bloodmoon Nightrunner**** I was instantly able to really focus on what was important.  The class sheets, the paper pages used to record the characters' progress, were no longer spread all over the table, but stacked in order to make it easier to access.  
A Bloodmoon Nightrunner - a thief by any other name!
It was starting to feel more like the games of old, where interaction and understanding your character's unique abilities were key to success in your chosen adventure.  If you follow this approach through to its natural conclusion then the mechanic of the game should allow you to venture into the dungeon with just one character and still succeed in your quest, but I haven't been brave enough to try this yet!
****Thief/Assassin in old money!
Thou shall not pass!
So where have these revelations left me with regards to my 'Massive Darkness' enjoyment?  Mightily relieved for one thing!  I now feel that I have a much clearer understanding of what the game is all about.  As with my previous experiences of CMON board games there is a depth to them that isn't initially apparent.  The subtlety of the rules allows for complexities in the gameplay that will keep me engrossed for some considerable time to come.  
Wait! Don't open two doors at once!
Already we have had scenarios that have thrown up interesting, almost cinematic moments be they the classic 'bug hunt' or a 'temple run' style game that saw my adventurers race to the exit before the roof to the dungeon caved in, wonderfully realised by removing the preceding tiles according to the game mechanic.
Bad news for a High Troll.
It is a totally immersive game and the secret to its success is making your individual contribution exactly that - individual.  My initial mistake was trying to be too inclusive assuming that the more adventurers the better, something that we have found in Zombicide: Black Plague.  With 'Massive Darkness' the enjoyment comes through the development of the individual characters and I am really looking forward to playing this with a couple of friends to see how their own characters develop through the twists and turns of the dungeon's tunnels.
A Barbarian doing what a Barbarian does.

Monday, 7 August 2017

A Jungle Encounter!

Saturday saw my first proper game using the Congo ruleset from 'Studio Tomahawk'.  In one of those all important bouts of introspection it had occurred to me that my hobby progress was being hampered by a lack of any discernible progress in any one area - surely the goal had to be to playing a game, but which one?  The discovery of Congo seemed to give me the direction I was lacking and written, as it was, in a light hearted and often humorous way the rules seemed much more accessible to this novice wargamer.  The style combined with a card activation system and the use of tokens to record the ever increasing level of stress seemed to help make the game a more comfortable crossover from the collaborative board games that I was enjoying to a 'real' wargame.  So from 'Salute 2017' Congo had become the focus of my hobby time and to give that focus a tangible time frame I made the decision to host a game during the eagerly awaited summer holidays.  A brief email exchange between Mike 'The Dark Templar' Reynolds and 'Bullcher Feb' of the splendid and often humorous, 'Bull's Waaagghhh' blog resulted in a date being tentatively placed in the diary and so countdown began. 
With very little responsibility befalling me during the holiday time and with the 'Saintly Mrs. Awdry' determined to improve her golf game, I have been afforded a good deal of time in preparation for this game.  Miniatures were assembled, primed and painted and terrain has been resourced and constructed with rules tested and learnt.  In fact this process has been such a wondrous distraction during a month that was to prove difficult due to personal circumstances.  Such was the level of industry that I will have blog posts aplenty for the weeks to come, but more of those another time.
So returning to the day and the game in hand.  I had invited the chaps down to darkest East Sussex with the intention of running through the second scenario, 'The King of the Apes'.  Mike's White Man's Expedition, after weeks of hacking through the jungle, were finally in a position to discover and capture the mighty Kong.  Meanwhile Bull's Forest Tribes were intent on harrying the intruders and protecting the sacred creature.  All was prepared, briefing notes had been sent earlier in the week, I had set up the board the night before and I knew that the table was ready, but how would they chaps take to the game?
I had decided to take on the role of 'Jungle Guide' and lead them through the initial exchanges, but such was the adaptability of the pair that it wasn't long before the two were locked in battle and needing very little direction!  When preparing the Forest Tribe column with its Pygmy Warriors, Cannibals and Witchdoctor it occurred to me that the unpredictability of the group would be just what a seasoned 'Ork' handler would enjoy and initially assigned them to Bull - I could not have been more on the money!  The mischievous, frustrating nature of this column was expertly put to devastating effect by Bull, aided by some of the most spectacular dice rolling I have ever seen, the  jungle spirits were definitely with him on the day!  Mike on the the other hand was being frustrated by the lack of success with his rolling, a particular case in point being the inability of a unit of trained, Indian soldiers failing to hit a barn door* whilst rolling a handful of D10s!
*quite what a barn door was doing tin the jungle was anybody's guess?
The 'White Man's Column' limped through to a timely lunch break and being a stout heartened sort of chap that he is, Mike agreed to venture into the Jungle for another time.  With Bull handing over the reigns of the Forest Tribes to myself it proved a much more cagey encounter.  A greater understanding of the objective and fairing slightly better** with his rolling, Mike was able to successful track and capture the great ape!
**albeit only slightly!
With a couple of games under our safari suit belts it was time to end the day and as I wished the plucky adventures well on their return journey to Kent, I was suddenly struck with the sickening thought that I hadn't really taken any photographs and so this rambling collection of thoughts can barely be called a battle report.  Fortunately both Mike and Bull have written up their day and can be found at Congo! and A Trip Back in Time respectively.  As for me, the day could not have gone better and I felt that I had achieved my goal of taking an idea through to completion.  With a good number of miniatures now already painted, I shall definitely be looking at another possible scenario to work towards, something with crocodiles sounds favourite!  
What I must do though is take a moment to thank both Mike and Bull, who have both been incredibly supportive and encouraging.  This was a completely new ruleset for them and certainly not a period that they would normally game and yet they both indulged my wish to take part and made the day the success that it was, thank you chaps!

So as hinted earlier there will now follow a series of posts that will certainly take me through August and into September as I sift through the photographs that I have taken and document my thought processes in building the terrain and bringing it to the table, but in the meantime I have included a couple of shots that I did manage to remember to take on the day.  I should perhaps also mention that only moments before our intrepid adventures arrived at 'Awdry Towers' there had been a loud knock on the door.  There standing on the threshold was the Postman with a very large box - Massive Darkness has arrived!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Follow the Adventure.

It has to be said that I have not been social media's greatest advocate.  The day job throws up too many instances of how in the hands of brutal, callous and quite frankly stupid people it can be such a destructive force.  That said the cosy corner of the Blogosphere that '28mm Victorian Warfare' inhabits has been nothing but a joy.  My hobby has flourished with the support of its followers and I have made genuine friendships along the way.  This has prompted me to explore other avenues, but as is always the way I seem to lack the impetus to maintain the initial enthusiasm and so they have fallen into disuse, gradually buried under a shroud of virtual dust.

As a result, I have decided to use the summer holiday as an opportunity to explore and experiment with a couple of different platforms, whilst dusting off some existing ones.  Now I used to have a Facebook profile, but decided that this wasn't for me.  I am, at heart, a very private person and so while I am happy to share my hobby progress or hobby related visits, I wasn't sure the world was ready for my extended wisdom, extolling the virtues of the J. D. Wetherspoon's traditional breakfast whilst waiting for one's dry cleaners to open. 
Similarly I had already set up a Twitter account, although I am ashamed to say three years ago now, so have dusted this off.  Twitter is a curious thing that I have to confess that I don't fully understand, but I have subsequently followed a couple of the companies that I use and can instantly see how product updates and customer galleries could prove enriching.  Fear not, good reader, as I am not about to hang on every tweet of @POTUS or start engaging in the politically biased banter* that seems to proliferate today's society.  That said, I can see a genuine benefit to my hobbying world so happy to give it another go over the summer.
*A word that makes me cringe overtime I hear it used as an excuse for shameful humiliation of others.
Pinterest has always intrigued me and will be another platform that I intend to investigate in more detail.  I use a lot of web based research when it comes to painting my miniatures and more often than not save these to 'my photos' on my computer to use at a later date.  Of course this means that I have no end of random images interspersed with holiday snaps making locating them, when needed, often time consuming.  The idea of dedicated 'pin' boards to relevant subjects makes perfect sense, especially when we consider that they also credit and link to the original hosting.
More recently, I was taken with the way that some of my pupils were using Instagram as a creative tool to log progress with their ongoing projects and this has inspired me to give it a go myself.  I like the idea that progress can be shown through a trail of individual images, forming chapters in a project's development, that and it has some rather fun filters to play with!  

Now, let's be clear this is not some great conversion to the instant gratification of social media and I certainly don't envisage a raft of posts, tweets or pins documenting my every move or paint stroke, but I will certainly look to explore, over the coming month, whether or not these 'tools', as I like to think of them, will further benefit my enjoyment of this most wholesome of hobbies.

The first tentative steps along the road to media enlightenment have seen me redesign the appropriate icons to something more befitting the dusty halls of '28mm Victorian Warfare'.  These, in turn, have been linked, after a considerable amount of research and the occasional blue word, to their respective site and our now safely located on the right sidebar of this humble weblog, do feel free to follow the adventure.

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