Sunday, 30 January 2011

Wargaming on a Budget: Those who can... Convert!

So last time I talked a bit about changing your scale, and this time I am going to talk about possibly my favourite aspect of the hobby: Conversions. Well I will be talking a bit about scratch building and scavenging too.

First of all converting is not for everyone. Its one of those things some people just seem to be able to do. Maybe I honed my skills with all the lego I played with as a kid, but I love looting bits from different kits and mashing them together for something new. Later, as I became involved in the hobby, I started doing some basic sculpting as well, and recently, started doing some scratch building.

Conversions can be an expensive undertaking, but if you are like me, then you should already have a nice fat bitz box to raid for parts and inspiration. Its surprising what you can come up with, even if its just the odd character, that's still a good six quid you've saved.

I will talk more about this in a future post but the key to making this all work out to you having saved some cash is planning. You need to have a clear idea of what models (and how many) you need to complete your army, and roughly what resources you have available.
Mordor Orcs, including converted banner bearer

Conversions can be as simple as doing a weapon or head swap. For my Mordor Army for War of the Ring I found that the average box of Orcs did not contain enough archers or Orcs with great weapons for my needs. Luckily I had a load of spare archers from other races, and simple started swapping some arms. Not only did this give me the archers I needed, it gave me more poses than the two that were provided in the box. I also converted Orc banner bearers as well as task masters and trackers, all so I wouldn't have to shell out for the metal blisters. This may seem really frugal, but even with the healthy Games Workshop discount at the time, I just could not afford the metals.

Converted Queen Beruthiel .
Made from a Barrow Wight, Arwen, and Green Stuff. 
These were largely minor conversions, but when you have 72 Orcs as one formation, you don't have time to spend hours on each model (I painted said 72 Orcs plus some characters and monsters in about 5 days. Speed painting post will come in the next few weeks).

Converted Ranger of the North. Head, chest and hair have
all been sculpted from Green Stuff. 
Next, sculpting. Green Stuff is fairly expensive if bought in the shops, but if you head online you can pick up large amounts for the price of a GW blister pack, so search around you will be suprised by the bargains you can find. I mostly find myself doing this for troop types that have no official model yet, or models that are so horrible I just have to make my own. My Queen Beruthiel, for my Easterling Allies was created from spares I had kicking around and some green stuff.

At times, I just can't justify buying a blister/box simply for a single model I need from the bunch. I needed a Ranger of the North to complete my 500 point Gondor force for a campaign I was taking part in. I really didn't feel like spending £8 on getting three of them, when only one would be used. I rooted around my trusty bitz box and found a Numenorean archer, and after beheading him started sculpted a new head. The model ended up being extremely characterful, and remains one of my favourite conversions to this day.

So how about something larger? Something perhaps not Lord of the Rings related? Something that saves me more than £8? How about this then?

Converted Imperial Guard Medusa
This is my converted Medusa for my budget Death Korps army. The project is on hold for the minute as Wargames Factory, maker of my cheap alternative infantry are currently undergoing some... changes. And as I need at least one more box of their Shock Troopers I am currently putting the project on hold.

Detail view of the turret and commander. 

The Medusa came about because I found an old Hellhound I had built years ago, minus the turret. I was wracking my brains as to what to do with the chassis of it and a Leeman Russ tank I had kicking about also with no turret (bloody turret gnomes stealing my turrets!). I decided rather than order pricey Forge World conversion kits, I would try scratch building. The Medusa was my first attempt at something like this, and proved to be both challenging and fun. The crew compartment was made from bits of base/movement tray provided with my plastic Napoleonic troops from Perry Miniatures and Warlord Games. It took some cutting and filling but I finally got the basic shape built. I then made the gun from spare bits from a Storm Blade (I got the bits from a friend) but it could easily be made out of bits of plastic or brass tubing and some plastic rod. Final detailing was made with plastic card and green stuff.

Finished and ready for a lick of paint
This saved me in the region of £30 (The full kit is some £51) and ensured that the spare bit off Hellhound found a good home. I applied the same techniques to making my command tank, a Leeman Russ Vanquisher  crewed by Knight Commander Pask. This conversion was more of a proverbial pain in the behind to pull off as the Leeman Russ turret shape stupidly fiddly to pull off. I managed it by using the actual turret from another Russ to use as a template (even tracing around it) and this just about worked out. I ended up covering the damned thing in armour plates, scrolls and stowage in the end so the unsightly bits are... well out of sight. Also the more astute amongst you will notice that the barrel of the Vanquisher cannon is made from a piece  of Battlefield Accessory. Another £15 or so saved.

Knight Commander Pask in his trusty Leeman Russ
The entire idea of this project was to build an Imperial Guard on the cheap and still be able to field cool minis that were way out of my budget.  Even the standard infantry were a fraction of the cost of the GW equivalent. A word of warning however if you intend to use alternative models, if they are not produced by GW they will not be allowed in a GW store. Since I don't intend to play in a GW that often anyway, this was no problem for me. 

All in all I managed to get away with spending something in the region of £40 on new models, reusing or converting spare bits I had lying around. I realise that converting, sculpting and scratch building is not for everyone, and it is rather time consuming (as is nearly every aspect of our hobby), but it can be an enjoyable endeavour in and of itself, and so it should not be over looked. I really recommend trying it out, as even just converting some characters etc can go a long way to save you cash. If you do need advice and help on the matter, I suggest heading into your local GW or checking online for ideas and inspirations. If there is enough demand for it I will post some pointers on the matter in the future. 
Converted Tech-Priest

In other news, my pulp rules, A Fist Full of Sixes, is practically writing itself, having been massively inspired (or ripped off) from White Wolf's old Story Teller System, and a copious amount of alcohol (yeah fell asleep writing them after much beer). I am trying to at least type up all of my drunken hand written notes by the end of next week and hopefully do some play testing the week after. Will let you all know how it all comes along. 

Until next time,

-Banchou Badger

Friday, 28 January 2011

Wargaming on a Budget: Scale

Well the first thing any one has to do when deciding to wargame on a budget is choosing what to compromise on. It can be a tricky one I know, but that is the harsh truth of it all. You have to decide to give up on something if you want to stay within a tight budget and since quitting my job I have had to make a number of these choices.

 Be it of model or of engagements, you may have to scale down on your operations so to speak. This can seem like a really hard thing to do but this is the easiest way to save cash.

When I looked at my piles of plastic and metal, contemplating how much money I had spent on gathering armies of hundreds of models (my Icini army is well over 150 models, and more on sprues) I realised most of those models were 'just in case' purchases and would gather dust for years before I used them again.

Two solutions presented themselves to me: change the scale of my models or change the scale of my battles.

You don't always have to play Apocalypse size
 games to have a good time
For miniature scale, the choice is staggering, from 1/72nd scale to 6mm minis. All are viable, but this was the hardest compromise for me to make. I love painting 28mm models. I love the level of detail, the choice, variety and character of this scale. Problem is apart from Games Workshop and two or three other manufacturers, you have to stick to metal models, which are becoming fairly costly these days (as are Games Workshop plastics as well for that matter).

To be blunt, I just plain don't like anything shorter than 28mm. I don't like how fiddly the minis are and I don't like the lack of detail. The only level I was willing to scale down to was 1/72nd scale.

And that was not a bad thing. Not entirely anyway. I have problems with 1/72nd scale. The main one being discrepancy in scale. You can go to two different manufacturers and buy sets of 1/72 scale minis, only for them to be of completely different dimensions (I will never forget my GIANT German Paratroopers compared to the poor panzer grenadiers). My other great problem is the quality of the plastics. Some have decent quality hard plastic, such as Italeri, and others, awful plastic drippings that make for a horribly moulded and highly rubberised finish, such as Revell.

Standard Ashigaru (left) and converted standing Ashigaru
This left a lot to be desired. However detailing is usually pretty good, especially Italeri and Zvezda kits. Zvezda's samurai kits really impressed me with their level of detail, however more varieties in poses would be very much appreciated. Conversions would be the natural way to go however the posing does not lend itself well for chopping and changing and at times the plastic really does not want to work with standard poly cement, but its not impossible. Just takes a little more patience and a sharper hobby knife.

A box of about 40-50 infantry is in the region of a fiver, and 18 or so cavalry is about the same price. All in all, a bargain it has to be said. One of my current projects is putting together two armies of samurai for the late Sengokujidai (for you who don't know what that is, to Wikipedia! Post haste!) my first army, representing the forces of the Takeda family and some of their vassals has so far cost me some £40, for a force of some 132 infantry, 52 cavalry and about a dozen command staff figures and characters. Since I am building two armies, I have a spare box or two of bits so I can make conversions or swap out some posses to get full units. Call it about £100 for two large forces with a good mix of unit, and you have yourself a bargain, especially as even when I had Games Workshop staff discount I could easily spend twice that on a Warhammer or 40k army depending on race and army list build.

A unit of Ahigaru ready to take to the field
I play Rules of Engagement on a fairly regular basis and the thought of having an entire force for that game for just about £5 makes me feel slightly dizzy with potential glee.

Visually, although these models do not look as impressive as their big brothers, they look impressive en mass, giving the tabletop an epic feel even on a GW standard issue 6'x4' table that most 28mm armies could only ever hope to achieve at conventions. I only just finished my first unit of 16 Ashigaru and I have to say, as a unit they look really good. Although they are not painted to the best of my abilities, I am happy with the final look of the unit.

The flip side is to reduce the scale of your encounters from a clash of armies and brigades, to a clash of platoons or even squads. Skirmish gaming can be as rewarding as larger scale battles, and in my opinion at times even more enjoyable than a large set piece battle.

I have been in love with skirmish gaming for a long time, ever since I first tried Mordheim all those years ago. I loved the freedom of movement and the narrative campaign elements to the game but found that to get the most out of it you had to be pretty organised in your campaign. Something a little beyond the scope of my 14 year old brain.

Mordor Orcs massing for war with the lands of men.
Since then my love of skirmish gaming led me to GW's excellent Lord of the Rings game and even more amazing historical version Legends of the Old West and most recently, Malifaux.

Legends of the Old West combined all of my favourite elements of Lord of the Rings and Mordheim into one sixgun shooting, black hat wearing gaming extravaganza. And you only needed about half a dozen minis in order to make the most of the game.

Campaign and narrative, almost RPG-like, elements seem to be the key to enjoying skirmish games. And as such gamers of the right mind set are needed. Gamers that won't 'beard out' their lists and play to the spirit of the campaign. And it cannot be denied that in a campaign like this the minis seem almost to take on characters of their own based on their tabletop antics.  Campaigns like these tend to work best with about half a dozen players to ensure that things stay fresh, possibly with a Games Master thrown into the mix to keep thing interesting. As such these types of games tend to work best in a club or store setting.

With so many varied rules out there its difficult to put a price on starting a skirmish game. On the whole because the number of models used its a lot cheaper than your standard wargame. Depending on rulesets you could get away with using something in the region of five or six models, so only a couple of blister packs should set you right. Conversions really come into their own in campaigns like this as a good conversion is a great way of adding that extra bit of character to your force.

Congo Jack, ready to deliver his message from
General Mutumbe
Both cuts in scale are good ways of saving you money. Both will still make for enjoyable games and still provide plenty of hobby projects.

As usual I have far too many hobby projects for my own good, and at the moment am working on a skirmish system for pulp action games. As a former archaeology student I have always loved the idea of skirmish gaming Indiana Jones like adventures. With that in mind I picked up a couple of Back of Beyond blister packs and set to work painting up Congo Jack and his fellow adventurers as well as rebasing and repainting some WW2 Germans to be the bad guys, plus some random undead and monster minis to use as random encounters.

Well I am very sleepy. Until next time,

-Banchou Badger

If you go down to the Bayou today...

Gremlins! Aren't they cute? I always seem to go for the humorous option rather than the cool option when it comes to minis (hence I posses various incarnations of Warhammer and 40k Orcs/Orks)

I was talked into buying some Malifaux models recently (well talked myself into it), and last week played my first game. I have to say, at first I was really sceptical. A miniature game without dice? Madness! A mixture of dark gothic fantasy, steampunk and zombie hookers? Just plain daft! I was sure that this game would be yet another fad game that I would get into and then end up with no one to play against. Again! (Still have a large collection of Confrontation minis, English Civil War and War of the Roses stuff that will never see the light of day).

Anyway the friendly crew down at Heroes and Legends down in Surbiton were a plenty encouraging (not in a pushy way). And witnessing one of my good gaming pals play his first game was such a laugh I was determined to join in the fun! Their enthusiasm for the game is infectious. Like Swine Flue.

The thing that finally swung me to go with the Gremlins, rather than the Rasputina box set I was eyeing up, was Deliverence. Any special rule that references a film such as that needs to be in my possession! What other excuse will I ever have at humming Duelling Banjos at talking in a mock yokel accent?

Anyway, I got the Sommer' Teeth Jones starter box and a blister pack of piglets and got them painted in about a day. I have to say, they were a joy to paint even tough the light in my room left me paranoid as to how they would look on a shop table.                            

Squeal! Squeal like a... well... you know...

I Headed down to Heroes and Legends to have a game and despite being thoroughly defeated by my mate, had a really enjoyable time. I was right to go with the humorous crew as the special rules and general character of the gremlins provided a lot of laughs, win or loose. And I got to kill Lady Justice by using a spell called Pull My Finger. 

The lack of dice was odd at first to get used to. But the use of cards was surprisingly refreshing and made for a smooth game. The basic game mechanics are dead simple to pick up, draw a card add your relevant stat looking to beat the opponents draw. The use of suits to trigger special effects was a really cool mechanic and by the end of the game I found myself not missing dice at all...

So I highly recommend giving Malifaux a try. A really characterful and unique little game with plenty of quirky and dark humour. It is surprisingly affordable to get into as well as the average crew is half a dozen models, often which can be played straight out of one of the many themed starter boxes. I spent less than £30 on a box and a blister and that was enough to have a very decent game (and I outnumbered my opponent!). Any game where you can get away with putting together a working force for less than £50 is worth a look in my opinion. 

Next for Malifaux will be the immensely characterful Hog Whisperer and some slop haulers for more pig based antics. Also massively tempted to pick up the other Gremlin crew for some variants and maybe to use as stand ins for normal Bayou Gremlins when I use the spell Get Yer Bro.

That's all for now folks, next time I will be starting to report on longer term projects and a series of articles on how to wargame on a budget. Since I recently quit my job I have been doing my best to still get a decent hobby fix on a limited budget and thought I would share some of my conclusions with you good folks.

Until next time

-Banchou Badger

Thursday, 27 January 2011


During my long cold wait for the bus I began musing. A normally dangerous endeavour for me as musing leads to ideas. Ideas lead to projects. Projects lead to half finished rules and mountains of unpainted plastic and metal.

The subject of my musings was an article in a recent issue of Wargames Illustrated regarding solo play wargaming. The thought kinda horrified me. For me the greatest part of wargaming is going out there meeting people and having a pint and a game of toy soldiers. Why do it on your own? It seems so counter-productive (and sad, well sadder than the hobby is already perceived to be). I can understand what the writer was saying, if you are unfortunate enough not to have gaming buddies close by, then what alternative do you have?

The article touched briefly on the subject of people developing mechanics that determine enemy behaviour. NPC (non-player character for you non-role playing types) programming basically. Although it seems a lot of effort for a game you are going to enjoy alone, it got me thinking...

What if you could have a co-op game against an NPC general?

In board games like Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror the players have to cooperate in order to best the threat posed by the various beings of the Cthulu Mythos, and monster behaviour is simply determined by random card draws, and on the whole provides a great game, even if at times they wander to strange locations.

So why not apply this same logic to other dungeon crawling games such as Hero Quest etc? It seems doable for something like a board game where movement is restricted by grid or hex-patterns. But could it be applied to something larger like, say, a game of Warhammer?

Altough ideas are forming for a dungeon crawl game driven by random NPC foes, I keep drawing a blank on what to do for larger games...

More musings is needed... stay tuned to see if I bother developing this idea at all along with all the other stuff I am working on!

-Banchou Badger

Oh... simpler than I thought...

This is the first time I have ever written a blog so its all still all new to me.

Well, I am a long term hobbyist (played most things that Games Workshop has offered and do probably one too many historical periods!) and this blog is to share some of my musings, rant about games and show off some models I have painted and just let anything that pops into my head out. Expect half finished armies and barely started wargames rulesets, conversions and me constantly being tempted by new minis/rules/time periods.

Please feel free to leave feedback on anything you see, constructive criticism is always appreciated.

A slight preview of what I have been up to recently:

A minor samurai vassal waits with a unit of ashigaru ready to commit to battle. 
Models are Zvezda 1:72 scale 

-Spoon Badger