Thursday 28 February 2013

Empire of the Dead and Targets

This week I finally got a chance to play Empire of the Dead, the Victorian-Steampunk-Fantasy Skirmish game from Westwind Games. I know it's not new or anything, but I thought I'd do a little bit of a review for your delectation.

It's Mordheim in disguise. Which makes it quite good really.

Not much more to say than that, there's really nothing new about any of the game mechanics, from a statline which clearly got at least 50% of its DNA from Games Workshop, to the whole gangs-scenarios-development shtick that Mordheim and Necromunda were pushing two decades ago, this is a game which I (being familiar with its forerunners) picked up immensely quickly.

There are obviously a few differences here and there, but there are only three that are really worth writing home about. Firstly, Empire of the Dead really has trimmed the fat. It's quicker and more streamlined than it's grandparents (no experience points to track, less tests, less exceptions, etc.) which makes it on first inspection, more fun. Secondly, the variable initiative is a nice step away from the predictability of IGO-UGO without over-complicating the turn sequence (something many card based skirmish games are guilty of). Thirdly, the setting (Victorian-Steampunk-Fantasy-Horror - think League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is not only fairly fresh but it also means that you can raid your miniatures collection and probably find something usable. Which is not to say that the official miniatures aren't good, they are. However, you must know by now that that if I can play a new game without spending money, I will.

Which is how I ended up dusting off some Werewolves I converted many years ago to use as Ghouls in WFB (back when they were a small skirmishing unit) to use as a Lycaon (werewolf) pack. However, I could just as easily have used my VBCW shotgun-toting farmers as a Gentlemen's Club, or my WFB Vampires as the Nosferatu, or even selected Bretonnian models as a Holy Order.

Facing me were JP's Gentlemen's Club who looked suspiciously like some armed Policemen led by Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (there are actually special rules for these two, but JP was using them just as his faction Heroes), and our mission was to find a lost artefact before the other. One element that I did like in this scenario was that although we could search the potential locations for the artefact (the yellow dice and in the buildings), there was the chance (which actually happened as it turned out) that there was no artefact.

My pack were all armed with close combat weapons, whilst the Baker Street Boys were packing repeating rifles and pistols, so tactics were going to be pretty obvious. I ran quickly to search objectives whilst JP cautiously took up firing positions before splitting up to search. Before long my Werewolves were assaulting police officers deep in the woods, whilst stray dogs were picked off from a distance.

The conflict culminated in my Beastlord (played on this occasion by a Confrontation Aberration, which usually masquerades as a Vargulf) getting the jump on Holmes and Watson, who quickly deduced that it was a big gribbly, and were promptly knocked out of the fight.

What followed was something akin to a scene from Zulu Dawn as I took out my frustration at not finding the artefact by charging the riflemen on the hill with my entire pack. The end wasn't pretty.
Overall, my initial experience of this game is that it's fast, fun and characterful. All ideal characteristics for a game I can't imagine playing all that often - complicated would be bad. However, it's big draw for me was the fact that it looks eminently convertible for my Batman games. Gotham has more in common with Victorian London than it first appears, and i can see ways to adapt these rules to really get the feel that I'm looking for. I'd previously been considering Necromunda, but Empire of the Dead looks to have great potential.

On that subject, I've sorted what's going on Batman's base. I've had a go at sculpting some roses at his feet. These are the roses he lays each year in Crime Alley in memory of his parents. I thought that not only would the red contrast well with the blacks and greys, but it would also be a nice change from the  more action scenic bases I've been doing. I'm a little unhappy with how straight the stems are (I've got an idea to fix that) and I know the flowers look a little stodgy, but as a first attempt at this type of sculpting  I'm quite please with myself.

Overall, I'm really happy with the progress I've made this month. I set myself three targets and have more than met two and was unable to do the other:

  • The Supply Drop still haven't delivered (or even responded to my emails) the Killer Croc and Policemen, so I haven't got these done.
  • I set a target of three Heroclix revamps and have actually done four and one complete paint of Nightwing.
  • I said I'd begin my first piece of urban terrain and I've actually done a shed, a load of crates and almost finished a warehouse.
What's more I've actually fixed my focus on doing a Gotham City project. More details will follow on this, but essentially, all the urban terrain that I do will be based on locations that have featured in one of the iterations of Gotham City. The warehouse is the first step towards my approximation of Axis Chemicals, the Joker's hideout from the 1989 Tim Burton Batman.

My targets for next month link to this:
  • At least three more Gotham characters
  • Chainlink fences to surround the chemical plant along with some signs
  • Either finish off the windows and roof on the warehouse, or re-base my chemical vat scenery piece, or begin my next Gotham location (not sure what I want to do yet)

Sunday 24 February 2013

"And the Batman?"

 Here he is...

The Batman, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, his parents were gunned down in front of him...yadda yadda know the rest.

The model is another Heroclix figure, cut from the two strange chimneys he was stood on. This is probably the best posed of the Batman Heroclix I've got (there's been a lot of versions, but most of them are terrible for some reason) and the cloak blowing in the wind is fairly dramatic.

In terms of painting I simply highlighted the black, washed the utility belt and re did the eyes as the original paint job was pretty good and I wasn't sure that I'd better it. I still need to add something to the base - any suggestions gratefully received.

On that subject, here's Firefly with his updated base:

I'm not overly keen on how I've done the flames, so if anybody feels like giving me a brief tutorial on flame painting, I'll be happy to learn. However, the model is definitely improved with a small splash of colour.

Finally, I said I'd begin some urban terrain this month, and I've held true to my word. Here's my warehouse from Warbases.

Obviously, the building isn't finished yet, I've still got the roof and the windows to do, but overall I'm really happy with how this is coming along. The colour scheme has been chosen to be somewhat Gothic in feel so that all my buildings, together will evoke Gotham City. Given that my wife keeps referring to this as my 'church', I think that I'm achieving my intended effect.

I'm really happy with the doors, which have been magnetised so that they can stand open or closed which makes them piece much better for skirmish scenarios. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to with the roof and doors yet, but the building is usable as it is, and so I'll not rush any decisions.

Inside I've kept it simple, matt black walls and stone effect paper on the floor. The reason for this is to keep the building as versatile as possible. I'm going to keep most of my interiors fairly featureless to allow terrain pieces such as the crate below to really stand out.

As my first decent sized building I'm happy with how this is coming along. I'm a little disappointed that the warehouse didn't fit together as well as the 4ground shed I bought, and there's a huge amount of featureless MDF that needed painting. However, for £12 I'm not really complaining, but given a choice between 4ground and Warbases, on current evidence I'd choose 4ground.

In other news, I'm STILL waiting for my miniatures from Supply Drop, so I won't be meeting that part of my target this month. An email enquiry has been sent, but if I don't get a response, I'll be cancelling my order.

I'll do a target sum up later in the week.

Monday 18 February 2013

Mad Love

Given that it was Valentine's Day this week, I thought I'd paint something seasonal.

Harley Quinn (a.k.a. the improbably named Harleen Quinzell) was a student doctor at Arkham Asylum who turned out to be madder than the patients when she fell for the Joker and joined him, for better or worse in a life of madcap crime.

Most, Heroclix sculpts are at best ordinary. I'm trying to use the better ones, but I have to say, I really like this model. There's something playful and characterful in the stance which capture's Harley's romantic brand of insanity. I've tried to add to it by adding the mail box with graffiti on it, as if whilst holding a bomb with the fuse lit, Harley has felt that expressing her love for Mister J in lipstick  was a higher priority than the explosive.

In terms of painting, I did very little to this model, simply tidying up the paint job already in place. Sad to say, but the highlights are all sunlight. However, given that the character was created for the animated series in the nineties and so a traditional four colour look works well for her. I'm not so sure about the mail box, simply because it's a poor casting that I lifted from another Heroclix model (ubernerd points awarded if you can name the character the mail box came from). I may replace it with a resin mail box in time, as I like the concept.

As a side note, I'm still waiting for Killer Croc and the Cops. This experience has given me the time to think about whether I wanted to pay £12 for single models and I've come to the decision that the Knight Models range is lovely, but just too pricey for a chap with a blog called Cheaphammer. I do intend to buy a couple of the figures for models where size isn't an issue (Croc being one), but as I won't be getting the cards, I won't be playing their game either, I'll be generating my own rules.

To finish, here's some other somewhat cheaper alternatives for a £12 Harley Quinn that I researched before settling on the Heroclix model:

Firstly is Kira from Anima Tactics, who with a paint job and a little bit of sculpting should you so choose will work as the version of Harley Quinn from the Arkham Asylum computer game.

The other option is Bogdana from the Jokers gang (a number of whom may find their way into the employ of a certain purple-suited chap in my miniatures cabinet) in the French game Eden.

Both of these miniatures are significantly cheaper than the Knight Models offering, so even if Heroclix don't float your boat, there's still options available. My decision was made by the fact that I already had the Heroclix figure...and I'm cheap like that...

Sunday 10 February 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

I know I hinted at Batman, but I reneged on this when presented with an alternative hero to paint. He's still Gotham City stalwart and long time character; he's also been the Batman for a bit. He's the former boy wonder, all grown up: it's Nightwing!

What do you mean, "Who?"

Nightwing is essentially 'what Dick Grayson (that's Robin to the uninitiated) did next'. At some point in the seventies, Robin turned into a stroppy teenager, decided that green underpants was not a good look and set up on his own as Nightwing. I'd say that he designed a cooler costume, but he didn't: his original outfit featured gold trim and a Liberace collar. Only later did Nightwing's costume get trimmed down into roughly what Batman might look like if Bob Kane was designing him now.

The model isn't a Heroclix sculpt. I do have a Heroclix Nightwing, but it has a mushed face and odd pose. This little chap is from a new company called Crossover Miniatures (stocked in the UK by Minibits), and I've been wanting to support this company as it appears to have been set up by a chap as a solution to his own problems finding the miniatures he wanted. The only problem is that I'm working in a roughly 32mm scale and Crossover seem to be genuine 28mm. Although people come in all shapes and sizes, that kind of scale difference causes problems when you're trying to look heroic.

However, the miniature above is one called 'Everest' and appears to be a 'brick' (superhero parlance for a strong guy) and is a fair bit bigger than the rest; and so usable for me. I added the escrima sticks and the head is from a GW Bretonnian Knight (Crossover minis come with a choice of three heads each - none of them were quite right for Nightwing). The miniature itself has the V design modelled on, which helped a lot, and was a very clean cast and sculpt (there was no flash to remove). The biggest job I has was hacking off the solid base.

One of the things I'm really enjoying with these superheroes has been the basing. With Nightwing I decided to have him stood in an alley and so littered the floor with rusting mesh, a metal pipe and a coke can. As a side note, I've added some burning wood to Firefly's base.

All in all, I can highly recommend Crossover Miniatures. I'm tempted to use their sidekick for Robin and there's a suitable substitute for Catwoman if I can't come up with something else. If I ever do something similar to my Gotham project for Marvel characters, there will be a number of Crossover minis I'll be picking up as they're a number of miniatures that are suspiciously useful for a number of Marvel characters.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, I'm still waiting for delivery of my policemen and Killer Croc. The company keeping me in the dark are The Supply Drop. Seriously, a simple email explaining that things are taking longer than they'd expect would go a long way towards me ever using them again.

In other news, I've been paint some scenery I picked up at Varpatnak. Basically, boxes...

These are a combination of crates from Ainsty Castings and an independent trader who'd set up in the bring and buy section (can't remember his trading name). The Ainsty crates are really good quality and I had, the other ones aren't. The price difference wasn't enough to justify the drop in quality in future purchases.

Also built and painted is this shed from 4Ground. A very simple and easy build.

I bought it a a test piece as I've not built mdf scenery before, so I wanted to make sure that I wouldn't ruin a more expensive model later. It's also incredibly versatile, as a shed is a shed is a shed. This piece will work for fantasy games, my 1812 project, VBCW and modern stuff.  The main things I've learned is that I needed to buy some new glue, and mdf doesn't dry-brush well. Both extremely useful lessons given that I'm planning on building a warehouse later this month.

Saturday 2 February 2013

"Some men just want to watch the world burn..."

As part of my long term Batman project (whether or not this will involve the Arkham City miniatures from Knight Models remains to be seen), I've started to revisit my Heroclix collection.  This involves selecting the better sculpted larger scale models with that might work with Knight's 35mm scale and attempting to repaint, re-base and improve the miniatures to see whether I can avoid spending hundreds of pounds on Knight's entire range (Cheaphammer for the win!).

Here's the first attempt; the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker. As I've said previously, I'm trying to improve my painting and so I took the time to try to highlight properly (a step I often skip when bulk-painting armies), and if I do say so myself, it's worked pretty damn well. I'm not sure that the photo does it justice, but I'm of the opinion that this is one of the best models I've ever painted, and it's definitely one of my favourites.

I'm also pretty chuffed with my first bash at urban basing. Sand and PVA, painted and dry-brushed is pretty standard stuff, however the chance for a little creativity initially got me adding white lines as if the Joker is stood in the middle of the road. The paper is a copy and paste from a newspaper from one of the Nolan trilogy, reduced and printed. Although you can't see it here, the headline is just about legible and reads "BATMAN SAVIOUR OR MENACE?". I quite like the idea that the Joker has been reading the paper and is amused by the irony that he's the real menace, but the press are trying to get people whipped up about the Batman.

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will probably be thinking, "Haven't I seen that before?" And you'd be right. I first repainted this model about a year and a half ago. However, the highlighting and basing are new. Just for the purposes of comparison, I've included a picture of how the model looked originally. I hope, you'll agree that it's an improvement.

Next up, it one of the lesser lights of Gotham City's rogue's gallery, Garfield Lynns, the Firefly. For those that don't know, he's a pyromaniac and arsonist. The wings on his costume allow him fly on the thermals of the fires he creates and the flame-thrower is fairly self-explanatory.

I initially thought that I'd buggered this paint job up, as I quite liked the original pre-paint. However, as with all Heroclix figures, it lacked any depth and so I attempted a light dry-brush. However, I overdid it and only the judicious application of a black wash saved the day. The smoke, was originally done as flames at the bottom, I think to represent Firefly rising on thermals. However, even though the character doesn't actually have a jetpack of any kind, I figured that it would look better as a smoke trail; and to my mind it does.

I've still not finished the base, as I'm a little stumped as to what to do. I'm not sure whether I should continue with the smoke trail concept and add scorch marks to the base. I was also considering having something on fire (not sure what thought) to add a bit of colour. Any suggestions as to what to do and how to do it would be gratefully received.

Finally, you may be wondering why I've not done anything with the Police and Killer Croc I ordered from the Knight Models range. That's because despite the company I ordered them from saying that items would be despatched within 5 working days, there's still no movement and no contact from them almost two weeks later.

This is the first time I've ordered from this particular company, but there might be a little naming and shaming going on at some point if this continues for too long. I have no problem with delays with orders, however a brief email explaining always helps with the wait.

I'm off to Vapnartak in York with Pete and Matt tomorrow, and so will be aiming to pick up some scenery for Messrs Joker and Firefly to destroy. And given that I've painted two villains, and have bought a Batmobile, you might be able to guess who's next in the painting queue...