Thursday, February 23, 2017

My Kind of Scum - Jabba the Hutt, Dewback Riders and more...




The new figure packs for Star Wars Imperial Assault are a rich harvest. I've already shared some pictures of Luke Skywalker, and now I want to share the others: Jabba the Hutt, Captain Terro, the Dewback Rider and the Alliance Rangers.

When I first saw the new miniature for Jabba the Hutt, I was not impressed. His smile seemed moronic and his pose static. But once my washes had disclosed the true topography of his face, I realized that the sculptor (Thomas Sincich) had precisely captured the half-melted malevolence of the Hutt. It just goes to show that it's a mistake to judge a miniature before its painted. 


"If I told you half the things I've heard about this Jabba the Hutt, you'd probably short-circuit."

Jabba is also a game-changer for the skirmish version of Imperial Assault. Appropriately, he will rarely enter combat (in fact, he will rarely move) but by squatting in the rear he can hatch plans, terrorize his underlings and order hits on his opponents. Once again, the IA rule makers (Daniel Lovat Clark, Todd Michlitsch and Paul Winchester) have done a splendid job of capturing the essential flavour of the personalities that they bring into the game.




Dewbacks, of course, are the great reptilian mounts that we see briefly in A New Hope when the Empire is hunting for the droids (Here is an interesting documentary on the making of these creatures). Fantasy Flight Games released one Dewback pack with two different potential riders: Captain Terro (carrying a flamethrower) or a generic Dewback Rider (carrying a shock lance, like the mounted trooper in Episode IV). You can see both version in the photo above, with Captain Terro on the right.




True to the cinematic originals, I decided to make my riders dirty and battleworn (mainly with the help of oil paint and white spirit). I also spend a lot of time trying to get the colours right on their backpacks, which were sculpted by Dave Ferreira with a great attention to authentic detail.


Dewback Rider with Shock Lance and Binoculars


Captain Terro with Flamethrower

As with Jabba the Hutt (or the Rancor), I tried to create a sense of life in the Dewback by employing glazes of oil paint and white spirit to deepen the skin tones. Getting better and braver in my use of oils is one of my primary goals for 2017 (That and returning some library books that I borrowed in 2016).




And finally we have the Alliance Rangers -- special ops forces of the sort we met in Return of the Jedi on the moon of Endor. As far as I know, these are the first rank-and-file soldiers in Imperial Assault that are female. Well, you should have a healthy respect for their grrl power. I recently played a great skirmish game at For the Win Cafe in Toronto (some people are starting a friendly biweekly skirmish group there) and these Alliance Rangers shot me all to hell.






Thanks for stopping by. And you can find my galleries for all the Imperial Assault miniatures here: 







Monday, February 20, 2017

Making a Desert Skiff for Imperial Assault




I've gotten some questions about the desert skiff that I used in pictures from my last post on Jabba's Realm, the new expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault. So I thought I'd quickly post to explain how I kit-bashed this skimmer (also known as the Bantha-II Cargo Skiff) for use in 28mm or 30mm games like Imperial Assault

But first, some grousing... Fantasy Flight Games failed fans with their slapdash approach to scenery (like desert skiffs) in Jabba's Realm. The sequence above the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi is one of the most exciting action scenes in the Star Wars films. Appropriately, FFG attempted to create game scenarios that involved both the Pit, Jabba's barge and the smaller desert skiffs. But the map tiles meant to represent these locations are miserable. The barge is a bland, generic interior; the Sarlacc Pit is inexplicably cut in half; and there are no skiffs at all (instead, players use featureless interior hallway tiles to mimic the skiffs). None of this makes any sense to me. The joy of Imperial Assault is that you replicate almost anything you want on the tiles... it just takes a bit of cardboard.

Well, in any case, since FFG cheaped out on giving us desert skiffs, I decided to create my own. I started by finding a couple old Micro Machine Dune Sea Desert Skiffs on eBay. These are nicely detailed models, but much too small to be used as a skiff in Imperial Assault, since the skiffs must have a flat playing space of 5" by 2" (or 5x2 maps squares). My simple plan was to extend the deck on the Micro Machine while keeping the distinctive features of the skiff itself.





Above we see the original skiff.





Step 1: Disassemble the skiff by removing the screws.





Step 2: Chop up the bow and stern of the top part of the model. Leave the bottom part intact.





Step 3: Reassemble the bottom part of the vessel with the stern.





Step 4: Cut a piece of balsa wood with a 4" by 2" area, plus a projecting beak for the bow. (Not shown: I also cut out a 1" by 2" piece for use as a 'rear deck" to mount on top of the stern. Together, the main deck and the rear deck give the skiff the required 5" by 2" playing space.)





Step 5: Cut out 2 pieces of magnetic tape for the deck (Since I mount all my IA figures on metal washers, the magnetic tape gives them extra stability when the stand on the skimmer).





Step 6: Glue the bow to the balsa wood. Cover the magnetic tape with model train fence mesh. Glue a stiff length of wood in the middle of the deck (between the two pieces of magnetic tape) in order to give strength to the construction. I also glued a support strut to the bottom of the deck.





Step 7: Glue the deck to the bottom/stern of the model. Glue the small rear deck to the top of the stern. Fill in gaps with putty. Sand rough edges. (Not shown: I also glued some metal ball-bearings to the inside of the base to give the whole model more stability).





Painting was fast and dirty. The main body of the skiff was painted khaki and roughly dry-brushed. The mesh was painted black and dry-brushed with gunmetal. Then I applied a coat of Army Painter Quickshade Strong Tone. Rust and oil effects were then added with oil paint and white spirit. And then, of course, a varnish with Dullcote. Now we're ready for the Pit of Carkoon!






Thanks for stopping by and please let me know in the comments if you've made your own desert skiff...


Friday, February 17, 2017

Painted Miniatures for Jabba's Realm



It's took six weeks, but I finally finished painting all the miniatures for Jabba's Realm, the latest expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault. I've already posted pics of the alien heroes from the set, plus the gigantic Rancor. Now it's time to look at some of the rank-and-file miniatures, like the Weequay Pirates, the Gamorrean Guard and the Imperial Jet Troopers.

These are the first miniatures that I've painted using reading glasses. Or rather, painting glasses, since my optometrist kindly configured them so that things held very close to my face would be most in focus. I've never had to use reading glasses before, but age has made me dim and decrepit. It's now a race to see how many minis I can pump out before the Grim Reaper finally claims me.







Above we see the Weequay Pirates -- made famous for manning the desert skiff used for Luke's execution in Return of the Jedi. The association of the leathery Weequay race with piracy goes back (I believe) to the first season of The Clone Wars (2009), where Count Dooku is captured by just such an outlaw band and observes of them "They are devious and deceitful and most importantly, stupid."

In any case, I'm quite pleased with these sculpts. The armour is right out of Return of the Jedi, while their long rifles are a new touch -- they evoke an Afghan Jezail, thus enhancing the sense of primitive desert banditry. But the best innovation is their skull-like face with its H.R. Giger-esque contours -- it makes them even more menacing than they were in the movies.



These Gamorrean Guards are completely faithful to the originals from Return of the Jedi, right down to the armour, the skull-cap and the vibro-lance. With their porcine snouts and green skin, I've always appreciated the Gamorreans as a direct reference to the pig-faced orcs of early AD&D (and before that, to the "goons" from Sleeping Beauty). And apparently, they taste just like bacon.




The Jet Troopers were created especially for Imperial Assault, although jet packs (of course) go right back to Return of the Jedi and Boba Fett's unfortunate ignition. These miniatures are well sculpted if somewhat plain, and so I added an extra flare by utilizing foam to sculpt a stream of fiery smoke for each exhaust port. I like the airborne pose, although it makes the trooper seem almost carefree, like the bouncing blonde from Jackie Treehorn's trampoline party.

In a phalanx, however, the Jet Troopers seem more threatening...




Thanks for stopping by. In the next couple days, I post pictures of the new Imperial Assault Figure Packs, like Captain Terro and Jabba the Hutt. See you soon for more fun in the desert of Tatooine...





Thursday, February 2, 2017

Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight




I just wanted to share a couple pictures I just took of the new miniature for Luke Skywalker for Star Wars Imperial Assault

This is the first variant miniature that Fantasy Flight Games has produced for a named Star Wars character -- that is to say, after releasing a young Skywalker with the original set ("Luke Skywalker, Hero of the Rebellion") in 2014, they have now produced his mature self ("Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight"). Let's hope more are on the way (ahem, Princess Leia, cough, cough).


The Original Luke miniature

I'm normally bad at painting faces to look like real people, but for some reason I'm happy with the way that Luke turned out. It is a testimony to the fine work of the miniature sculptor, Thomas Sincich. Although it's a simple sculpt, the figure has lots of dynamism and energy. My only complaint (as usual) is the bendy lightsaber, so I replaced the plastic original with a thin, straight length of copper wire.


Does he look ready to take on the Rancor?



Thanks for stopping by, and stay tuned for more Star Wars miniatures soon...



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ugly Town: the Heroes of Jabba's Realm




Coming at you are Vinto Hreeda, Shyla Varad and Onar Koma -- painted versions of the three main characters from Jabba's Realm, the latest expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault (If you missed it, check out my Rancor from the same set). 

I am developing a love/hate relationship with Imperial Assault. My frustration comes from the fact that Fantasy Flight Games continues to release miniatures at a glacial pace. We are living in an age teeming with interesting characters to be rendered in miniature: Rey, Kylo Ren, Sabine Wren to name just three. But since coming out in 2014, Imperial Assault hasn't even covered all the basics from the original trilogy, let alone miniatures from The Force Awakens. Admiral Akbar? Nope. The Emperor? Nope. Grand Moff Tarkin? Nope. 

This is because Imperial Assault is not merely a range of miniatures -- it's a highly curated competitive game system. This means that every figure is accompanied by an elabourate set of cards that must build upon (without unbalancing) all the previous releases. If you want a glimpse into the hundreds of hours of play-testing and rules-lawyering that goes into each expansion, listen to the excellent interview with game designers Paul Winchester and Todd Michlitsch on boardwars.eu. While I appreciate this painstaking work, I'm a painter foremost and I wish I had a range of miniatures as rich as the Star Wars universe itself.




On the other hand, one of the things that I absolutely love about Imperial Assault are the Rebel characters that Fantasy Flight has invented. Although these characters are unique to the game, they all have a great deal of authentic Star Wars flavour. And the three characters from Jabba's Realm continue this excellent tradition, but give it a twist by making these fellows more like anti-heroes. We may not get Grand Moff Tarkin, but we do get these original personalities...





First is Vinto Hreeda, a Rodian mercenary. Like all the best miniatures, Vinto tells a story through his appearance alone. Ever since Greedo, all Rodians have a whiff of the underdog to them, and Vinto is no exception. The left side of his head bears a vicious scar, and the same wound seems to have severed part of his ear and one of his antennae. Combined with his Wild West-like coat and pose, this gives Vinto a dusty, hard-bitten character. As his enemies say of him during the campaign, "Same old Vinto: too weak to succeed, too cowardly to die."




Shyla Varad is a young bounty hunter from Mandalore. Like Boba Fett, she wields a wrist-mounted whip-cord thrower and wears traditional Mandalorian battle armour. 

As she develops as a character, we learn that her mother was a member of the violent splinter group known as the Death Watch, and that Shyla aspires to her birthright as a member in this faction. That's a nice tie in with the animated series, The Clone Wars. But it also makes Shyla seem like a hero striving to be a villain.







Last but not least is the hulking form of Onar Koma. He's an bodyguard from a subspecies of the Aqualish race named the Ualaq. Unlike the standard Aqualish, the Ualaq have four eyes and light skin. Combined with the mandibles, the four eyes give these aliens a spider-like visage that is almost disorienting (it reminds me of an Umber Hulk from AD&D). If I seem well briefed on Aqualish biology, that's because back in 2015 I anticipated Mr. Koma by creating some Ualaq conversions for Imperial Assault. 


In the Jabba's Realm campaign, we learn that Onar Koma once worked for the crime syndicate called the Black Sun, which is another nice tie in with The Clone Wars and the larger Star Wars universe.



Well, Vinto, Shyla and Onar - good luck against Jabba the Hutt...




Friday, January 13, 2017

Painted Rancor for Imperial Assault



A rope of drool unspooled from my mouth when I opened Jabba's Realm, the latest expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault. I knew it contained the Rancor, the reptilian monster from Return of the Jedi, and I knew that the Rancor miniature would be big. But it had never occurred to me that it would be so big. And so beautifully sculpted.

Before starting to paint it, I studied the stills from Return of the Jedi in order to find the right approach. At first glance, the Rancor Monster is one ugly mass of brown. This can make for a very boring paint job. But if you look closely at the photos from the film, you see that there is a lot of subtle and seemingly random variegation within the brown hide: splotches of red, green and burnt sienna. These discolorations are what gives the Rancor a sense of life.




Quickly, I realized that this was a great opportunity to bust out my oil paints. Only oils could allow me to make these blotches of colour seem natural. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's my step by step process for painting the Rancor:
  • First came a basecoat of light green-brown using Vallejo acrylics. The back plates and bone spurs got a different basecoat of khaki brown. 
  • I applied a couple washes of GW's Agrax Earthshade (mixed with green ink) to the whole surface, and then layered darker washes with recessed areas to increase the sense of shading.
  • I applied touch ups to remove blotchiness, and to begin colouring in the mouth.
  • Varnish with Testor's Dullcote.
  • To add that oily quality that the original Rancor has, I added a layer of Army Painter's Quick Shade "Strong" to most of the model, paying special attention to back and shoulders.
  • Fun with oils. Using very small amounts, I would apply random patches of green, red, pink, purple and brown paint, and then blend it into the surrounding flesh by diluting it with mineral spirit (aka white spirit) and pushing it around the model. Red and pink were especially effective when applied on the edges of the Rancor's gums, eyes and nostrils.
  • I waited 24 hours for the oil to cure and applied another light layer of varnish to seal in the oils
  • More touch ups to the hide in order to ensure that the discolorations looked smooth.
  • Final details, mainly the eyes and highlighting the claws and teeth with increasingly whiter shades of bone.
  • Final varnish.



I was happy with the sense of depth created by the combination of oils, inks and washes. The whole package turned out slightly greener than I had originally intended, but I guess the alchemical process took on a life of its own.







He's got a face only a mother could love.



Stay tuned for my next post with the heroes from Jabba's Realm...


Monday, January 2, 2017

Terror of the Lichemaster: Unlawful Things




Terror of the Lichemaster. Part 10

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man...
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits,
To practise more than heavenly power permits.
(Dr. Faustus, Christopher Marlowe, Act 5, Scene 3)

Welcome to the finale in my series on The Terror of the Lichemaster, the classic campaign published in 1985 for Warhammer 2nd edition. To assist other hobbyists, I've created a permanent gallery of all my painted miniatures for Terror and, like my other galleries (hello Talisman!), you can find it on the menu on the right.

I have not yet played through the campaign. Will the Lichemaster's Faustian bargain lead to his downfall? Or will he consume Frugelhofen with magic and malice? To finish things off this series of ten posts, I thought I'd share some ideas on how to run the three battles that compose the campaign and decide Kemler's fate.

The first order of business is to point out that the maps in the Lichemaster campaign book are defective. As beautiful as they are (thanks to Dave Andrews), they are supposed to indicate where the undead and humans are to be deployed in each battle, and they fail to do so. This problem was recognized back in 1987. In a flyer entitled "Terror of the Glichmaster" Games Workshop helpfully provided amended maps. I reproduce them here:




Incidentally, this same flyer lists the original price of the entire suite of miniatures for the Lichemaster. This is not just the 18 central characters (which are pictured in the original advert), but also the 105 rank-and-file miniatures necessary to play through the whole campaign: 40 skeletons, 20 zombies, 20 militiamen, 20 archers and 5 dwarves. That's 123 metal miniatures in total. Guess how much! Go ahead, guess...


"I will bankrupt you."
It was 50 GBP (in 1987 currency) for all 123 minis, equal in today's currency to about 132 GBP or $165 USD. When I saw that, I nearly choked but instead I perished of heart failure. Gimbrin Finehelm alone cost me quite a bit more than that. Sigh... I guess that's the way of all collectibles. They start out as junk and time alchemizes them into gold.

Well, back to the game! One of the core principles of the Oldhammer movement is a relaxed approach to game balance. As Zhu wrote in the Oldhammer Contract, "As the Spartans will tell you, warfare has never been about perfectly matched armies squaring off at each other, and fantasy warfare even less so." You can see this axiom in the Lichemaster scenario itself, where it's never clear who is really the underdog, and there's certainly not mention of the point values of each force.


But because I am a curious little monkey, I calculated the rough point value for each side. In fact, in a fit of mania, I calculated the points in both 2nd edition Warhammer (which was the original rules set for the Lichemaster) and 3rd edition (which represents a more accurate refinement of the system of points values).* It's a rough estimate since some characters (like Gimbrin or Kemler) have idiosyncratic stats, and because characters from 2nd edition don't line up perfectly characters from 3rd editions. With those caveats, here are the results:


Battle 1 - Assault on the Mine

Dwarf Hero + 5 Dwarves = 135 points (2nd ed.) or 148 points (3rd ed.)

versus

Undead Champion + 20 Skeletons = 81 points (2nd ed.) or 294 points (3rd ed.)


Battle 2 - The Attack on Bogels' Farm

2 Human Heroes + 1 Halfling Hero + 3 Humans + 1 Crazy Dog = 83.5 points (2nd ed.) or 139 points (3rd ed.)

versus

Undead Champion + 10 Zombies = 19 points (2nd ed.) or 74 points (3rd ed.)


Battle 3 - The Defence of Frugelhofen

3 Human Heroes + 1 Elf Hero + 1 Halfling + 40 soldiers + 4 magic items = 810 points (2nd ed.) or 862 points (3rd ed.)

versus

Heinrich Kemler + Undead Hero + 20 Skeletons + 10 Zombies + 3 magic items = 1227.5 points (2nd ed.) or 793 (3rd ed.)


What conclusions can we draw from these sums? It seems to me that the first 2 scenarios favour the humans/dwarves in a toe-to-toe fight, whereas the final battle is more evenly matched. But in all these scenarios, the forces of good will rout if they fail a single fear test or get pushed back in battle (since skeletons & zombies, of course, cause fear). This vulnerability to fear is especially pronounced in the first 2 battles, where the forces of good are so few in number. Thus these two battles will most likely hinge on just a couple of dice rolls.




The fact that these battles might come down to a few fear rolls brings me to my last point. As much as I love Warhammer Fantasy Battle, I'm not sure it's the ideal rules set to bring to life The Terror of the Lichemaster. The first two scenarios are on a much too small scale, involving only 5 or 7 models for the forces of good. (In my view, this reflects the fact that in the early days, Games Workshop branded WFB as half role playing game and half war game). Even the last set piece battle seems a little awkward for WFB since each side is unlikely to have more than 2 or 3 massed units, and that doesn't leave much room for strategy or maneuver. And finally, as I already mentioned, the rules for fear in WFB are so unforgiving that it might mean that the battles end before one side can even complete a charge action. It seems a shame that a scenario that takes years to collect and months to paint might be over in a few minutes.

So what are the alternatives. Whiskey Priest and Warlord Paul once made the excellent point that Mordheim (aka Warhammer Skirmish from the 6th edition of the rules) would be a better way to implement small-scale scenarios like the first two battles iTerror of the Lichemaster. This option requires little modification from the existing rules, and allows the players an easy transition from using skirmish rules for the first two battles and then slugging out a traditional, full-scale Warhammer Fantasy Battle for the finale.

I think Saga is another strong contender. Although traditionally a historical wargame, Saga boasts a special expansion for an undead faction ("The Revenants") led by a necromancer who bears a striking resemblance to Heinrich Kemler. (All the minis for this expansion are sculpted by Citadel alumnus Bob Naismith). In scale Saga is perfect, especially for the first two battles of Terror. And Saga's unique rules would allow for a dramatic, story-driven battle. By using Saga instead of Warhammer, the undead lose the game-ending power of fear, but gain the power of re-animating the fallen as they die on the battlefield.

Finally, another option is Otherworld Miniature's Fantasy Skirmish Rules. I'm a big fan of this rulebook (some of the artwork in the book was devised by Oldhammer stalwart Zhu Bajiee). By using this system, the players would be allowed a broad scope to customize and personalize each of the personalities in the campaign. It would take a lot of time to reconfigure Terror of the Lichemaster for Otherworld, but I think the effort would be repaid with rich dividends.





Now I have to turn my mind to which system to use... I will keep you all posted on my progress and I hope to have a battle report in a few months. Thanks for sharing this journey, to wonder at Heinrich Kemler's unlawful things...







* For rules-junkies like myself, I will add a few observations about Warhammer points systems. When applying the 3rd edition point system, I've included the gloss contained in Warhammer Armies (1988) that equipment costs are not multiplied if the base figure is 10 points or more. Even with that gloss, it's interesting that the points calculation from 2nd edition to 3rd edition doesn't change much when examined from a macro scale, except that skeletons and zombies are cheap in 2nd edition and become more expensive in 3rd edition (much more expensive for skeletons, leaping by 2.5 points for a base model to 10 points). Also, magic users and magic items are very expensive in 2nd edition and become cheaper in the 3rd editions (which is why Kemler's force is worth less points in the 3rd edition, even though his skeleton guard leaped in price).