About Me

My photo
My name is Gavin McClements. I am a wargamer and family man, living in Los Gatos, which is a suburb of San Jose, CA. Building terrain is one of my favorite aspects of the wargaming hobby - in fact, lately I've become more interested in making my battlefields "pop" than in actually playing.

Monday, October 22, 2012

GameCraft comes out with Felt Roads for 6mm

Well, time moves along and I find yet another product looking to lighten my wallet just a bit. This time, however, the actual amount won't be too much, which is nice.

GameCraft Miniatures have introduced a simple laser-cut felt road system, both in "paved" (black) and "dirt" (brown) varieties. The laser cutting actually prevents fraying, which is a reasons to buy this product instead of just making your own. I dont feel that felt usually lies down flat and trouble free, but this might be an exception. Regardless, its worth a look. Speaking of looks, here is GameCraft doing a short video presentation on it!

The items can be found here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Strike Legion: TSE1 & 2 with a new partner

A month back or so, I finally managed to put Strike Legion through its first paces. I enjoy perusing rulesets of all kinds, but must admit that I typically cannot put my final thoughts down on paper until I actually give it a run for its money.

Today I was able to play it again with my friend Aron, and we got through the first two scenarios in the main rulebook. This time, I managed to snap a few pics of the action, and I'll have some of our thoughts at the end. Apologies for the bluriness. I hate this above all else, but using my phone just isnt cutting it these days, I guess :(

TSE1, or Tactical Simulator Exercises, is called Parity, and pits two equal forces against each other. The Computer player, shown in the foreground above, is the aggressor, and has 4 turns to capture the Urban area near the Trainee's deployment zone.  Note that all Eldar and Space Marine models represent the same tracked vehicle, each side with 3 platoons of 4 vehicles.

This shows me, the Trainee, lurking behind cover as the game starts, ready for whatever the Computer has to throw at me. My opponent doesnt know this, but Ive played this scenario before. Last time I went mostly offensive and got my butt kicked, so this game my strategy was to put most of my EW into Defense and stay out of LOS where possible. The Computer is coming to me, and I was setting up to receive the charge.

Turn 1 saw some maneuvering but little else. This is my left flank, with 2 platoons of the enemy queuing up behind the hill.

My right flank after Turn 1 shows the enemy with one platoon with two of my own protecting its advance.

Turn 2 saw a little action, and first blood was drawn by my forces. This was actually long ranged Gauss fire from my right flank, firing at Extreme range. Smoke marks the spot...

Things started heating up somewhere between Turns 2 and 3. This is the scrum beginning in earnest, as the Computer player begins pushing for the goal.

The stage is set for Turn 3 and the big show down...

At this point let me say that firing at tanks has a pretty satisfying crunch to it. The math involved doesnt slow things down too much, even if it is more involved than a lot of other games, but man, things can Brew Up quite nicely, and you can really get a feel for how the flow of the game went by looking at the carcasses that are left in the wake.

In the end, the Computer player threw most of his intact forces at the Urban Area, and the Trainee forces had to make a brutal stand or suffer defeat. Alas, the onslaught was too much, and once again the Trainee loses to the Computer.

Here is the end of Turn 4:

For the record, the orangish markers are Damaged, and the black smoke marker is an Immobilized. I really do like seeing tank wrecks everywhere...

TSE2 is called Breakthrough, and here, 5 platoons of Computer controlled Scimitar medium tanks (the same units used in TSE1) must rush and pass by 3 platoons of tougher Xatis medium hovertanks. Aron and I swapped roles and I took the Computer units and he prepared his defenses.

Here is TSE2 Deployment:

Here, my Computer forces had 5 turns to race across the battlefield, engaging the enemy and getting what units past him that I could. The Exit zone was the lower left of the pics, above.

Turn 1 saw me using a lot of my EW in a defensive manner, knowing that I was facing units with higher EW than myself, and their AT Gauss cannon was larger than mine. Still, I took heavy losses, and at least one platoon was already nearly wiped out:

Turn 2 went about as well as T1. I sent one platoon down the center, performing a beautiful drive by on his right-most unit, but even so, more tanks of mine were smoking, and not enough of his were:

Turn 3 was the last turn needed, and since the scenario was written for 5 turns, this shows my lack of planning. Hoping for a quick score, I had committed most of my forces forward with high EW scores, but we learned an important lesson in Strike Legion today: 2 points of EW is HUGE! His EW score of 8, compared to my 6, was massive.  You can see, in the pic below, all 3 of my tanks that managed to exit. What you dont see is the pile in my corner showing that between the dead and the Brewed Up, Aron had smoked 17 of my 20 tanks. Yea, I'd call that an effective last stand.

Final score of TSE2 was 51-15. 2 for 2, Aron, congrats!

I had a lot of fun. I always do, when I have a great opponent to play against, but I am starting to feel a little more comfortable with this game. It still is a tad clunky, and we havent even TOUCHED any of the fiddly parts yet, but we're about ready to try our own hand at force composition.

Our thoughts? A lot of these come from the first timer's reactions, but we've tested a fair number of games together, so I agree with a lot of them. These are for the author, in hopes that if and when he redoes these rules, we hope he takes these to heart.

We really wish the author would write his numbers as a numeric value, instead of as text. It is so much easier to scan for a "3" in a paragraph than a "three".

Modifiers would be so much better if they were listed in bullet point, chart or table. Written into the text as they are, they tend to be harder to find (and its one thing to read the numbers while relaxing in the evening, and quite another thing trying to digest rules on the fly while in a firefight. They just need to be set apart and/or stand out better than they do.

We both agree that a 2 column format would condense the paragraphs nicely, saving space and making the rules easier to read as a result.

An Index and/or Glossary is really needed. At the very least an Index, as this game has a TON of special cases and finding all the references is tricky (for example, Air units are discussed on pages 14-15, and AA guns are first mentioned on p.23 while describing the types of Missiles available (ATM vs AAM), but it isnt until p. 32 when it is mentioned that AT weapons cannot attack flying Air units (common sense, I know, but wargames need to spell these things out clearly). But this entry is under Weapon Classifications, which isnt where I'd think to look for rules on Air units coming under fire from non-AA weapons.

The follow up to this is the game uses a LOT of abbreviations. Too many, we think. For example, Artillery is referred to as ART once it has been introduced...and Orbital Artillery is ORT...but read this from p.32 under "Overrun Attacks (OVR)": "CDS may not be used during an OVR." You know, it says what it needs to say...but with a book full of abbreviations, it gets a bit much. And what is STOVL, and why use it instead of VTOL? :)

We also found that rolling the Attack dice along with the weapon damage dice all at once really worked smoothly, so for our games, each attack typically involved 3d6 and a d4, with one d6 a different color than the other 2. If the 3rd d6, the Gauss weapon, was higher than the target's armor, we'd mark a hit and move on, finishing the attack rolls before going back and actually resolving the damage rolls. This led to a problem, however. Rolling a 1 on a d10 results in Immobilized, which only counts if you hit the HULL. If you hit the Turret and then roll a 1, no damage results...but did you hit the Turret or the Hull with that shot? Oh man, we had already picked up the dice!

The answer is, of course, to add 1 or 2 d10's to the dice rolled for every attack, just in case...but more importantly, we feel that the Turret and Hull damage locations need to be differentiated a bit. Oi...this might make more work, but this 10% difference bit just doesnt work for us. Something needs to change, we think, but not quite sure what.


So that's our take on the game...again. We still both feel that the game handles Company-sized engagements well, but larger games than what we played today might bog down. This is a shame, since the game has rules for so many units you can find in a Regimental game like Epic: Armageddon, and who knows - we really just need to try it to find out. Im a bit nervous at adding so many new things at once (ART, Unconventional Attacks, Infantry, Air, weapons other than Gauss and Lasers that check versus other defenses....).

The game has HUGE promise, and really needs a rewrite to put in the countless FAQ-style answers that are on both Tactical Command and the Yahoo Group. I am also desperate for the chap writing the Unit Builder over on TacCom to finish it...and really hope the author puts some work into cleaning this system up because it REALLY deserves it. I can see myself preaching this game to the masses with just a bit of work on the author's part. Regardless, check it out. Its a good game.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review of Outrider Hobbies Battletech carry bag

Early this Spring, I caught wind of a transport carry case being designed specifically for Battletech miniatures, and since I love Battletech and I love carry cases, well, it seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up.  After reviewing the options put up by Outrider Hobbies on their website, I placed an order for the Overlord in US Army ACU colors. The bill came to $175 with shipping and the order was placed on April 3, 2012.

As the months passed on, the initial deadline that the bag was promised by slipped away, and it seemed that the further past that we got, the more heat Outrider was getting from Catalyst Games to get this "official" product delivered. Finally, my bag arrived the final week of September.  I wanted to provide a comprehensive review of the bag, and so documented my initial run at filling it with my stuff.

Let me preface this review by explaining my current Battletech situation. My good friend, the Headless Horseman, has an amazing Battletech website over at The Irish Dragoons, and over the last year he has donated many mechs to my cause. As I counted them today, 116 of these beasties were available for me to fill my new bag. The unique part of this is, many of the pieces were either damaged in shipping, or were sent to me in pieces, so keep this in mind as I display the forces about to march into storage...

The bags are gorgeous. The material used on them appears as solid as anything Ive seen. The black square on the front is a velcro attachment for House-specific patches that are currently backordered. Mine will be, of course, House Davion.

The bag has a number of deep pockets around it. This is a 3" foam tray stuck in the side...and that's pretty impressive.

Please, sir, can I have some more?  Why don't more manufacturers do this? The bag unzips completely, allowing amazing access from top OR side. The only bag Ive ever found to do this as nicely is my long-out-of-print bag from Steve Sack Designs, which was cleverly designed to use Army Transport foam. I have the bag but long for more.

Here is the selection of foam that the bag came with. You can see on hexagon sticking up out of the tray in the back - these are all laser cut, I believe, and slide right out. No sticking, no mess, and so fast.  However, as I pulled the foam out, I admit that I was a little curious and puzzled by the configurations I was seeing. This bag claims to be custom designed for Battletech, but if you look on the site, most of the foam trays included are not from the Battletech section.

Details on the Overlord Bag

This very grainy picture is showing some of the puzzling trays included. A Hatchetman is standing in the shallow 1" hex tray (a 1" Hexes 2 tray that is actually only 7/8" deep). A quick note on foam measuring - for those of you not familiar with trays such as Sabol's Army Transport foam, the depth of a tray is from the bottom of the cell to the top of it. In the picture above, you might be able to see a denser liner on the bottom of the tray. This is not measured in the calculations, so a 2" tray will be more like 2 1/8" in actuality because of this bottom supporting structure.

The other two trays are their Artillery 12-slot and 21 Large trays. I'll show you how I used them in a bit.

And the troops go marching in. This is my collection of 116 Mechs in various states of disrepair, but this will be fixed soon.

As I started planning what to put where, I realized that the highest Mech I had was 2.75" tall, including his base and a tiny antenna that was just an accessory add-on. The average mechs are 2" high or less, with the majority of those being 1.75". The fact that I received 2x 2.5" trays and 2x 3" trays was starting to show what a waste I was going to experience as I filled them.

In Outrider Hobbies' defense, they took the Combined Arms nature into mind as they created their 1" hex trays (which, as I mentioned above, are actually closer to 7/8" high). This isn't a really bad thing, but since I don't have any infantry or vehicles, these trays are next to worthless for me. Because of my unique situation with parts of mechs, I was able to use a few of the 1" hexes, but really, this is wasted space. I couldnt even get some of the smaller mechs to lie down in them.

So I started filling trays. I had a good thing going, taking my "whole" mechs and getting them into the deep hexed trays first, but as I got father along, and less and less whole mechs to use, I had to get creative with what went where.

This pic, above, is the 21 Large tray. It actually should be pretty darn useful, except that why wouldnt I want to use regular pluck foam instead of this? Battlemechs, specifically, tend to have a large base and then get narrower up top. This unique configuration means that there is a lot of wasted space here, and if I actually want to use these trays as is, I will need to get the remnants of pluck foam trays from the past and help tighten up some of these spaces.

This is the 2.5" Hexes 2 tray and as you can see, there is a lot of wasted space above the mechs. Yes, this is a useful size to have, but I'd only ever need 1 of this height, I think.

This is the 3" of the same tray, the Hexes 2. Again, a useful size but only really ever for 1 tray needed, and there is, again, much wasted space above the mechs in most cases. Still, a manufacturer has to account for an awful lot when making premade trays, so this isnt a bad thing. I just really, REALLY wish he hadn't gone overboard on the next two :(

 This is the 3" deep "Hexes 1" 2" hex tray. Again, the height is bigger than normally needed, but since I have two of these and not just one, this is basically 3" of totally wasted space in my carry case. Yes, some of the mechs I have a broad shouldered (the lower right is a Stone Rhino/Behemoth, and there is a Marauder II in there) but mostly I used this because I ran out of space in the other, smaller 1.5"-wide Hexes 2 trays.  I mentioned that I got two of these. You'll see the other in a second.

This is the 12-slot Artillery tray, mentioned above. Let me stress this: I will never, NEVER use this tray as-is. I put 2 mechs per in most cases, with a few wildly articulated models being the exception, but I would need to put foam in between each mech for me to want to walk around with this bag on my shoulder and these mechs inside. You think I have broken mechs now? Man...these would get smashed. Maybe someone, somewhere, has terrain or something that might fit in these, but since this is "customized for Battletech", I can't see how.

Again, some smashed mechs hanging out in the 1" tray until they get assembled.

These are my unused trays as of right now. The top, thinner tray is actually kind of neat. It is designed for the hardboard terrain packs that Catalyst Games makes, and I think to include this is kind of cool. I do own the Introductory Boxed Set and may make use of this, but more likely I'll pack them inside one of the side pouches. Thus, the tray sits unused.

The two smaller trays, to the left, are actually a followup on the last paragraph. If you want to pack in the maps that come with the new Boxed Set, you can put them in the bag and then fill up the other space with thee half-sized trays. Problem here? Yea, they're more of the 1" foam. Maybe this wouldnt be bad if you had SOME infantry...and would let you replace the full-sized 1" tray? I dont know.

The last one there is, of course, another Hexes 1 tray. I dont need that many massive slots that my mechs will rattle around in!  However, this was funny...after I packed everything up, I realized that unused Hexes 1 tray was 2.5" tall, and I had used the 3" instead and just complained of the wasted space. Oh well. Either way, its a giant tray that I will probably never use.

So let's look at some pros and cons of the bag:

The bag is beautiful and looks ruggedly put together.
The pockets are deep and substantial.
The foam is high quality and the laser cutting is precise.
The case unzips on top AND down the back.

At $175, which supposedly included a Pre-order discount, this is one expensive package. Im not sure which bag this should be compared to over at Sabol Designs, but I think the Armored Company is close. That bag is sold empty, so the pricing would probably be comparable. However, you might actually get a choice in the foam you get with the Sabol case, but then you'd be stuck with those horrible soft sides and lack of opening options.

The case comes with some pretty silly choices for foam. Since this is for Battletech, I would have stuffed it FULL of 2" high Hexes 2 trays, given you maybe 1x of the 2.5" Hexes 1, 1x 2.5" Hexes 2 and MAYBE 1x 3" Hexes 2. The other trays? Make an option for the customer to request vehicle- or infantry-based trays. Now I have about 7" of trays I cannot use.

The manufacturer is new, and I'm not sure how his product flow will be. If you order, be prepared for delays. This is conjecture based on emails I receive from him as he sends people's products out months late. He may get better as time goes along.


So...would I buy this again? Hard to say. I think it is a qualified yes. The quality and beauty is there, for sure, but the tray selection is really disappointing and will now make me spend well over the $200 mark to get the other trays I want/need, plus shipping.  Will I make this fix? No, not right away. Times are tough, we're entering into the Holiday season, and while I splurged a bit to get a fun toy, this toy has cost me more than enough as it is. I will hold off for a bit, hope the manufacturer is still around when my belt loosens up a bit, and maybe make some changes at the point.

I hope this review was thorough enough and helped. I don't want to be totally down on what I perceive as a really good product, but I wanted people to know what they were going to get before they order theirs. Sure, his info is listed on the site, so buyer beware, I do better with things in my hands (that's what she said!) and now I know.  Thanks for reading.