Thursday, July 21, 2016

Obi-Wan, Greedo and the Grand Inquisitor: Star Wars Favourites

I just finished painting the miniatures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Greedo and the Grand Inquisitor -- the latest release for Star Wars Imperial Assault. I particularly enjoyed painting this trio not only because they are some of my favourite characters, but also because their appearance is a sign that Fantasy Flight Games is steering their Star Wars gaming juggernaut into the right direction.

Let's start with Greedo, the bounty hunter that Han Solo peremptorily shoots at the beginning of A New Hope. But Greedo is so much more than that -- for Star Wars grognards like myself, Greedo symbolizes everything that went wrong with the franchise during George Lucas' second infancy. In 1997 George famously altered the scene with Greedo to show that he tried to shoot Han before Han shot him. This change was meant to recast Han as good-hearted from the very beginning of the trilogy but ultimately it waters down his character and flattens the arc spanning Han's journey from rogue to hero.

In designing Greedo for Imperial Assault, Fantasy Flight Games seems to have taken sides in this controversy. His central characteristic is that he is "Slow on the Draw", which gives any of Greedo's targets the opportunity to fire at Greedo first. Even his miniature shows him fumbling to get his blaster out of its holster. This is not Lucas' Greedo 2.0 (fast but with bad aim), but the original 1977 Greedo (slow and dead). Since Disney/Lucasfilm thoroughly vets all these gaming products (there are entries for "Licensing Specialist", "Licensing Manager" and "Lucasfilm Approvals" in the long list of credits for each miniature), I'd like to think that this creative choice is part of a broader trend toward conveniently forgetting the worst of George Lucas' blunders.

Anyway, look at Greedo's big blue eyes. He's like Bambi. Everyone wants to shoot him.

Greedo, FFG Imperial Assault (2016, sculpted by G. Storkamp)

I was also pleased to see that Fantasy Flight Games released a miniature for Obi-Wan Kenobi. The original conception of Imperial Assault was that it would be defined by set time periods. The "core" period is the 3 years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The downside to such specificity is that it limited the range of miniatures. For example, Ben Kenobi had already shuffled off his mortal coil by this point in the story. So for a long time I despaired of ever seeing a miniature for Space Gandalf.

But with the release of these figure packs, FFG has signaled that it's become more flexible. For my part, I couldn't be more pleased. I'd like to see as wide a range of Star Wars miniatures as possible, and I don't give a toss about time periods.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, FFG Imperial Assault (2016, sculpted by G. Storkamp)

And then there's the Grand Inquisitor, a character that originated with the animated show Star Wars Rebels. Well, sort of. In my mind, the true Grand Inquisitor is a character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov (1879). In some ways, the characters aren't so different. In the Bros. K., the Grand Inquisitor is a medieval cardinal who, upon discovering that Christ has returned and is preaching to the poor of Seville, has him locked up as hindering the true work of the Church:
He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of this moment he is wearing his coarse, old, monk's cassock... He knits his thick gray brows and his eyes gleam with a sinister fire. (Book V, Chapter 5)
He reveals to the imprisoned Messiah that the Church had long ago stopped serving him and was instead serving Satan:
We are not working with Thee, but with him—that is our mystery... We took from him Rome and the sword of Caesar, and proclaimed ourselves sole rulers of the earth, though hitherto we have not been able to complete our work... uniting all in one unanimous and harmonious ant-heap, for the craving for universal unity is the third and last anguish of men. (Book V, Chapter 5)
Don't all Dark Side practitioners begin to sound a like after a while? 

In any case, the release of the Grand Inquisitor is another sign that FFG is expanding its range of Star Wars miniatures from the narrow confines of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. I hope more characters from Star Wars Rebels are on their way! (Cough, cough, Sabine, cough, cough).

The Grand Inquisitor, FFG Imperial Assault (2016, sculpted by G. Storkamp)

So, what we have is a broader range of miniatures and a tendency to maneuver away from the least tasteful excretions of the Star Wars universe. Sounds good to me!

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

More Painted Terrain for Star Wars Imperial Assault

You want more scenery for Imperial Assault? Well, since I've painted 100+ pieces of terrain, let me fill your boots.

Painted Imperial Assault Scenery Crates

One of the things that impressed me as I painted dozens of boxes, containers and consoles is the attention to detail -- both on the part of the designers of Imperial Assault, and by extension, the modelers at CombatZone Scenery. For instance, take the humble supply crate. This staple of the game is always filled with helpful supplies -- medpacks, weapons, or secret intel. Above we see my painted version.

And here we see a screenshot from Star Wars Rebels, with almost the same crate (also filled with helpful supplies). This frame comes from one of the earliest episodes ("Droids in Distress"), which aired only a couple months before Imperial Assault was released in late 2014. Now that's coordination.

This attention to detail is one of the things that makes Imperial Assault (and for that matter, Rebels) enjoyable. Notwithstanding any other faults, they both capture the
authentic Star Wars aesthetic -- the wordless power of Tie Fighters in flight, of the shadow cast by a Star Destroyer, or the kindling of a lightsaber. In painting all this terrain, I've been trying to pursue that aesthetic too...

Painted Imperial Assault Scenery Wampa Cave

Painted Imperial Assault Scenery Destroyed DF.9 Turret

Painted Imperial Assault Scenery Cantina

You can see some of this terrain in action in my recent Imperial Assault Battle Reports: The Bantha Strikes Back and A Bantha Too Far (and this last battle report was recently republished by the wargame magazine The Golden D6. So check out that too!)

Thanks for looking!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Oldenhammer in Toronto in Wales

Loyal readers will have noticed that I've been silent for a few weeks. That's because I was in Wales on vacation with Mrs. Oldenhammer plus two of my best friends (two composers from New York). The main purpose of our trip was to walk the coastal path that circles the Isle of Anglesey. However, as usual, I couldn't help but view certain aspects of the journey through the eyes of a wargamer.

My wargaming self first came to life when I was in transit in London before heading out for Wales. We stopped by the Tate Modern and I saw a work of modern art that seemed more like a gaming table than anything else.

This is Untitled (Ghardaïa), 2009 by the French artist Kader Attia (born 1970). It represents a scale model of the ancient city Ghardaïa in the M’zab Valley in Algeria. Interestingly, the "sand" on the table is made out of couscous -- a choice of materials that's both original and delicious. The buildings, on the other hand, seem to be carved from the light foam blocks and hemispheres that you can find in any craft store. 

As a model, it's a pretty simple affair -- I think any modeler worth his salt could have banged together a much more arresting portrayal of this city. But, of course, the Tate doesn't feature wargaming tables. Works like this always make me wish that there was more interchange between the world of hobbyists and the world of "high art". Professional artists like Attia sometimes scrape the surface of miniature painting and model making, but their techniques are generally primitive. And, on the flipside of the coin, truly talented modelers/miniature painters rarely break out into the mainstream art world. Nick Bibby, who started out sculpting for Citadel in the 1980's and is now a celebrated fine artist, is the only exception that memory can dredge. Wouldn't you like to see someone like Jess Rich in an art gallery?

Well, on to Wales! 

Above is the map I drew of our journey while on the plane back to Toronto. It is entirely from memory and therefore insults the actual geography of the island quite a bit. But you can make out the various pubs where we slept and drank: the Liverpool Arms, the Black Lion, the Penrhos Arms, the Prince Llewelyn, et cetera.

Beaumaris Castle

Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip for me was visiting Beaumaris Castle. This was the most castley castle that I've ever seen. Concentric walls? Check. Symmetrical design? Check. Moat? Check. Gatehouse? Check. Perhaps the most striking thing about Beaumaris Castle is that it's built on perfectly level ground, giving it the crisp appearance of a floor-plan or a game of Stronghold. In sum, it looks like the archetypal castle that you saw in drawings but never seemed to find in reality.

A tight fit at Beaumaris
Walking inside the walls of Beaumaris seemed to conjure up every dungeon and castle adventure I've ever played in D&D and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. The one thing that truly struck me is how narrow the passages inside a castle really are. It would be impossible for two men to fight abreast, to maneuver or to even to run. So figure out your marching order!

Another wonderful site was Penmon Priory: a small medieval monastary that seems primed for a game of Saga (Indeed, it was burned by Vikings in 971 ce). 

While exploring the church, I ran across the banner photographed below. To me, it looks like a great inspiration for a battle standard. It's worth noting, however that the Welsh inscription "Undeb Y Mamau" means "Mother's Union". Take that, you Viking Bastards - the mummies are coming for you!

A banner from Penmon Priory

Anglesey is a place of such supernatural beauty that it seems to be a fantasy world unto itself. The vegetation is so lush that it glows green. Standing stones, ruins, towers and ancient churches are everywhere. This visit will fuel my imagination for a long time to come.