About Me

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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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

D&D Attack Wing

I decided, on a whim, to pick up the new D&D Attack Wing (http://wizkidsgames.com/dnd/) when it came out last month.

I just discovered a fan site for this game: http://dndaw.com/ which is good because there isn't a lot out there for it as of now.

I wrote this initially on TMP, but this is an attempt to expand on my initial thoughts:

"I've collected and played the X-Wing game for almost a year now, and I think it's a fun, light game that offers a great evening of entertainment with my friends.

All things considered, however, I am a Fantasy guy at heart, and so buying the D&D Attack Wing was SUCH an impulse buy when I saw it at the FLGS yesterday. I have heard a lot of people knock the Star Trek Attack Wing, commenting on model quality and game balance – but…DRAGONS. I bought the starter set.

The model quality is ace. I like that the cards are all "normal" sized except the damage cards, which are half-sized like XWing. The spells and upgrades look fun, the addition of additional flight levels (flying, grounded, and the in-between "swooping") is neat. There are many different Area of Affect types (cones, lines, bursts), as well as Melee and Ranged attacks.

Another neat thing is the concept of Duration Tokens, which allow you to use a special ability, and then have a mechanism to track when it is available for use again. Armor is like Shields in X-Wing, but better (they stick around unless "broken" somehow); the Range Ruler has 4 range bands instead of 3, and there are movement sticks out to 6 Straight. Yes, Barrel Rolls are included :)"

My birthday has come and gone (I am now the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything"...) and I managed to get the entire Wave 1 for this game. The model quality is decent - the larger models are impressive, while the Troops are on the slightly underwhelming end of the scale - but they're good enough to use out of the box.

My initial attempts to get this game on the table were foiled, as my friends wanted to still play X-Wing. I acquiesced, BUT the red dragon still managed to make a cameo appearance!

Finally, however, good things come to those who wait. We randomly picked a scenario and got the Hobgoblins escorting an armored wagon through brigand country. It played very well, with my only complaint being that flying units and ground units can pass through each other easily, but still the game will not allow bases to overlap. The red dragon at the end positioned himself quite cleverly behind my wagon, preventing my own troops from getting close enough to push it (and thus win the game) - my opponent was very savvy in his move, but I should have been able to still get close enough. Maybe they were cowed by his close proximity overhead?

Regardless, ground units were fun and a neat addition to an already good game system.

Armor is neat. It makes scary units (like red dragons) continue to be scary units...though, in this picture, my green dragon took a fistful of fire from the ballista and got wiped out in one hit...

After the first game, we chose another random scenario, this time pulling the invasion of the master wraith's lair. The clutter you see at the center of the board is "terrain", obstacles that were dropped from 2 feet above the playing surface, per the scenario rules, to give some rubble to the battlefield. More on this later...but wraiths ignoring terrain was very cool (for me, the wraiths!).

Initially I discovered that ground units can be at such a disadvantage versus fliers...as the red dragon raced past my wraith and I couldn't swing...until I realized that my wraiths COULD fly (gee, maybe the flight stand they come with could have been a clue) because it is listed on their turn dials. After that, the game went differently. In this case, I got his wizard down to 1 hit point, and he got my master wraith also down to 1 hp...and we ended the game because it was getting late. We both enjoyed the game, and we're planning on not using the campaign artifacts until they are "unlocked" via the campaign system. I look forward to more games.

So...ground units do appear, at first use, to be underwhelming.  http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1265560/troops-seem-weak has a good thread on this, the key takeaways I got being:
* The Elves have the Reassemble upgrade, which would allow them to reform out of the area of effect after the dragon moved into firing range, and the Hobgoblins have Scatter, which is also very effective against these types of attacks too.
*Mage Armor on the Harper Elves

Being stuck without a way to engage a flying unit is a scary prospect, but anything with Ranged can be on the defensive, while ground units can help accomplish scenario objectives or deal with other ground units. It's a real concern, but this merely mimics real life - this is why we invented flying things, after all!

One quote from Andrew Parks, apparently one of the WizKids employees who frequents BBG: "One advantage of the Fly Spell is that it makes it harder for a dragon to blow past you and then slap you with its tail. When you're on the ground, a dragon who lands on top of you can just keep going, but not so when you're in the air. This becomes especially important when the higher level dragons are released, especially those who charge."

The REAL issue, however, seems to be terrain. As any miniature gamer knows, terrain can make or break a game, but D&DAW seems to have really glossed over it.

 http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1264137/terrain is a fan's attempt at correcting this, and I'm going to copy it here for completion's sake, with my own unique modifications [in short, this is the rules I plan on trying]. I don't really like removing terrain from play, so I've cleaned some of this up:

+1 Def Die if using Ranged Attacks in or through it (if attacking out, defenders get one, and if receiving a ranged attack, can benefit from cover)
If a Unit has more than 1 Range band of woods between it and another they can not see each other.

Area Effect Attacks against Units in the Wood will grant the +1 Def dice.

Small Based Ground Units can enter woods with no Issue.
Anything larger must take an Exhaustion Token if it enters via ground movement. [something about this doesn't sit well with me...]
If the Unit already has an Exhaustion Token it Stops at the edge of the Woods and can not enter.

Flyers may not Swoop in Woods.
Flyers may not Land in Woods unless their base is Small. 
*(something about rolling damage dice, and getting an exhaustion token or damage on a hit, or maybe crit only, seems more appropriate for harsh terrain like this..and big units? I'd think a giant would be much less hindered than a human. Maybe light woods vs heavy woods?)
Defender on a Hill gets +1 Def Die from Swoops.
+1 Def die if the ranged attack goes through a hill to get to Defender on other side.
+1 Def die if Defender is on the hill and Attacker did not start on it [higher ground].
+1 Attack die if Defender began and ended its turn below the attacking unit.
Ground only.

Walls, Trenches, and other Fortified Defenses
With Dragons and other Flyers I can see a lip for troops to duck into when the flyer came by being common in both.

+1 Def Die plus one Auto Dodge.
Only the +1 Def Die against Area attacks

Walls have 0 Agility, 2-4 Armor based on type, 4-6 Health based on type.
When destroyed 2 inches to either side will become Rubble, Ground units moving through take a Exhaustion Token.

Earth: 1 Armor 6 Health
Wooden: 2 Armor 4 Health
Stone: 3 Armor 5 Health
Magically Re-Enforced Stone Wall with Wards: 4 Armor 6 Health

Units on that Section of Wall when it falls, lose all Action Tokens, take 3 Attack Dice Damage.

If a model's base overlaps a solid structure (one that there would be no way he could go through, like a wall or building), back the unit up until it is no longer overlapping, then roll 1 attack die and suffer damage as normal.

Rough Ground (Rubble, destroyed buildings, broken rocks, other hard to move through stuff.)
If you have an Exhaustion Token when entering an area that gives one, or if the maneuver you are performing would give you one, you must stop at the edge of the area.

When a Ground Unit enters this type of Terrain it gets an Exhaustion Token.

Ground unit stops when it touches it and gets exhaustion token. Get exhaustion token if moving through it

Pond/Lake:Ground units can't move through

Like Rubble they should be hard to Enter. Receive Exhaustion Token when entering.
Like Hills, Swooping and Ground attacks should be effected.
Defender on a Hill gets +1 Def Die from Swoops.
+1 Def die if Defender is on the hill and Attacker did not start on it.
(Ground only).
Mountains stop LOS, so if the Mountain is between you and your target you can not target it.
An angle may exist for you to place a Burst marker and then the Attack hit.

I may come up with more...but this is good for now.

Again, let me pitch Heroic Maps at http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/browse.php?manufacturers_id=5371
I also found these neat terrain items: http://cigarboxbattlestore.bigcartel.com/product/supplemental-terrain-3x3-130

 Anyone who has read any of my blog at all knows that storage is always a key concern for me. After doing some browsing, I came up with this Dewalt storage box:
This is primarily because they stack:
I have filled about half of the capacity of one tray with Wave 1. I'll get more as needed.

So this is it for now. I enjoyed this game, and am looking forward to playing much more, and yes, I plan on buying the future waves. Thanks for now!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gaming without terrain

Two years ago I came to the conclusion that I just didn't have enough room for 28mm, 15mm, AND 6mm gaming, and since 28mm was my least-used scale, it drew the short straw. Warhammer Fantasy armies, 40K armies, two Infinity armies, even a gorgeously painted all-female cowgirl posse got sold off. I sold my entire collection of fantastic handmade trees, forests, foamcore buildings, and all my scatter terrain. I was richer, and sadder, but I had something that had been in short supply for some time:

S P A C E.

Yea, while I felt like a part of me was walking out the door (I started gaming in 28mm, if you don't count Battletech 20 years before), I just didn't have the room for all my stuff. I blame Infinity - that game is a terrain whore! It was because of Infinity that I LIVED over at http://www.terragenesis.co.uk/, always reading, and came up with some really cool stuff. I bought playsets at ToysRUs to use as scatter terrain, but in the end, I just ran out of room.

So now, my son is 7 and he loves watching me play my games (what little I get in these days). I wanted to include him in some small-scale gaming, so I pulled out my Reaper figs that I've had for decades, and I went through the different rulesets I had. I settled on the newest one, Iron & Honor (discussed somewhat here). It was a decent, quick little "build your own" ruleset, but....

Terrain? Aww crap.

"Hey son, go get your Legos". Yea. It was sad, but he was happy :)  And honestly, it did the trick.

But there had to be something better. I was NOT going to start over again. I have a pretty addictive personality (heck, most gamers do, since we take the crap that the hobby throws our way and keep coming back for more...don't believe me? Look over at your paint table :P ) so I refuse to start building terrain for 28mm again. No way...

A ha! I found something that might work! Heroic Maps over on Wargames Vault has some pretty cool printable PDFs/jpegs that might work, so I bought the Wilderness and a few others. NOTE: many of the titles aren't gridless, so much of the $25 purchase I made isn't feasible yet, but they are supposedly fixing this soon. [EDIT - the following day, all maps that I owned with grids were updated - Heroic Maps had some heroic customer service!]

Anyway, yea, I got me some nice cardstock 11"x17" paper, and with the office printer, got some cool stuff printed out. Now I had a whole bunch of 10"x10" tiles, trimmed them with my wife's paper cutter (see, I KNEW her scrapbooking addiction would come in handy), and came up with this:

Now, Iron & Honor was decent, but it is in the infantile stages of development. I looked into Skulldred, but I reacted to quite a lot of what I read, and he has been insanely stale getting his next revision out. I actually began merging the two into what I considered a decent ruleset, but as with most of my projects that I do alone in a vacuum, it petered out, and anyway, I realized I was writing what I wanted, and not what would work for my son.

So now I need to make a quick apology. Back in 2008 when Ganesha Games came out with Song of Blades and Heroes, I bought it and a few expansions, but was quickly bored with how overly simplistic it was. For the past, what, six years, I have not exactly badmouthed it on forums or public gatherings, but really just expressed my derision that people (adults?!) would take it seriously and actually play it.

Well, it dawned on the other day that this might be exactly what my son could get into, so I started lurking on the TMP SoBaH forums to see what the current status was. One comment I read in the thread "Measuring sticks....why" stuck with me. A posted named Inner Sanctum said,

"Two things about Ganesha Games:
We have never had a "bad" or boring game
No plan survives contact with the dice."

Isn't having a good game what gaming is all about? Another friend once said to me that he didn't care what game he was playing as long as he was with friends and having fun. Now, I have very little patience as it is, so I cannot completely buy into such a patient attitude, but I get it. I don't game at my FLGS because I'd rather be with friends in the comfort of a non-loud, non-smelly home, drinking wine, playing with the dog, etc...so that comment about having good games stuck...

I'm sorry, Ganesha Games. I gave you too little credit. I take back what I said all those years!

So, that being said, the game is still DAMN SIMPLISTIC and I cannot see me taking it too seriously and suddenly having it become my favorite game, but I put together some forces for my son and I, and yea, we had fun!

Remember back when I mentioned getting into minis again? I realized my Reaper collection was decent, but was somewhat lacking, so I spent DAYS on Reaper's website looking for two new warbands. I came up with barbarians for me, and my son (who gravitates towards the bad guys, believe it or not) got what will eventually be a Blood Elf band (aka World of Warcraft) using the drow/dark elf line at Reaper. I found what I needed at Miniature Giant, which is AWESOME at locating old Out of Print models, and so some of these hit the table today. Unpainted. Unassembled. Ugh. Really? I'm out of patience, too ADD to do this...but that's a battle for another day :P

We used Frog Tape, which is like a painter's tape, to connect the boards. I would have preferred a draftman's tape, but this worked fine and was pretty easy to remove afterwards.

Jadon ended up wanting to play the good guys once he saw the giant and werewolf I had...so I played the elves. He smooshed me, but I didn't care. I was actually impressed with the board, and yea, the ruleset was quick. I will definitely play it again...

So how can I wrap this travesty of personal apology up? Be careful what you buy, as they aren't all gridless yes, but the Heroic Maps make a cool table, SANS TERRAIN! Song of Blades and Heroes is indeed simplistic, and probably overly so, but it's going to work fine for my son and I. Now to wrangle someone to pin, assemble, and paint my minis for me... :P HAH!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Gruntz v1.1 Book Review

I recently got my hands on the printed version of the Gruntz v1.1 rulebook, and would like to put down my thoughts on the product itself. I have reviewed the rules elsewhere - and I have had a dearth of gaming lately, so I haven't been able to even play the game a second time. So for what it's worth, this is my impressions of the physical product.

I already owned the latest version of Gruntz in PDF form, and have it printed out and scribbled all over in red pen like I do to all my self-printed rulesets (I can't help it - I edit things in my sleep, apparently). Still, having an actual bound book is nice because I'm old school, and I find that having something I can flip through is just handy. Besides, even though I am more apt to use PDFs during gaming sessions these days, we had a small hiccup on Saturday night with a PDF not loading correctly during play...and short of a malicious dog or REALLY invasive spill of Mountain Dew, a book doesn't tend to let you down when you need it most.

I also pretended that I hadn't played the rules while flipping through it, to see if that affected my view of it's presentation.

In case you've lived under a rock for the past few years, Gruntz is a 15mm Sci-Fi wargame written by Robin Fitton of the UK. It is described as "Fast play combined arms". Just wanted to make sure you were in the right place...

Their website is http://www.gruntz.biz/.

Initial verdict upon examining the book: The book is nice. It has a good sturdy, glossy cover. The paper inside looks like it came off my printer at work - it is in color but is regular weight. The black spine is uninspiring, and the name on the spine is in tiny print on the bottom of the spine, and is upside down [from my American point of view, I'd expect to walk up to a shelf and put my right ear onto my right shoulder to read spines of books on a shelf]. Not such a big deal, but I do collect rulebooks, and this one will clearly get lost amongst some of the others but for one fact - it is printed in the oversized British standard of A4. I'll nestle it alongside my Firestorm Armada and Dropship Commander rulebooks and it will feel at home.

The Contents looks quite thorough, but one thing stood out to me: it's lack of organization. It is just a three-column exercise in words and page numbers. This is a real shame, because clearly the book is broken into sections: Introduction, Rules, Unit Construction, Scenarios, and Fluff. There is nothing to draw your eye to any one of these categories in the Table of Contents, but this is a minor quibble.

The book immediately tells you what it is for (which, believe it or not, if often skipped in rulebook introductions) and gives you some basics of what you can expect from the game. It then leads you into how a game is played, starting right away with Game Setup, Initiative, and Deployment. I love when a book doesn't waste time and starts you off in the nitty gritty. After all, if you're learning a game and use the book as a reference, like I often do, being able to open to the first few pages and have pertinent info right there is a nice touch.

Robin uses a really nice mix of flow charts, diagrams, and pictures to bright up the book. A friend, who had never seen the book, remarked about the nice layout design as he flipped through it. I agree. There was clearly some time and effort put into the book, and the grammatical and spelling errors I found are to be expected (God knows, I've written enough and proofread my own writing enough that after a very short while, a grammatical error could be brazenly flipping you off from the middle of the page and I could gloss over it).

Despite my initial comment about the Table of Contents, it is actually quite easy to find stuff in book. Massive headers line each page, clearly labeled with what is on the page, and they follow a logical order. I think I would have liked a color change for each major section, maybe, but this is again a minor thing.

One thing that I constantly have to get past when reading the book is the language. I don't mean that silly British habit of putting u's where they don't belong (colour, anyone?), but the very cheeky nature of the terms used in the game. Let me preface: the ruleset is clearly based on a similar game, Warmachine by Privateer Press. This is fine, as the formula clearly works, but it appears that in order to put some separation between other rulesets and Gruntz, the author came up with alternate names for stats.

The Gunnery or Ranged Attack stat is called Shoot. Melee is Assault. The Avoidance stat is "Guard" while the Armor stat is called "Soak". Leadership or Morale is "Mental", and everything else is just called "Skill". A unit that whose morale is broken is under "Condition Brown". Being killed is called "Waxed", or "Smoked" if the unit is a vehicle. Special abilities are called "Perkz", and add-on equipment for vehicles are "Modz". I actually like adding Z's at the end, because it reminds me very much of the Games Workshop Orks-style of language, but the rest of it kind of makes me feel like I should be giggling in the boys bathroom with other 12 year olds over some Mad Magazine comic strip. I can get past it. Others of my friends have clearly stated that they won't. I don't think it should be a deal breaker, as it is just the flavor the ruleset is written in - I applaud the author for being bold and writing how he likes. If I had my own ruleset, I'd likely do the same.

Background: There is a trend (again) recently to bring rulesets back to the generic, so that they work with anything and anyone. I completely applaud this direction because I stopped buying game-specific rules and models years ago. Now I buy what catches my eye, and I'd love to put them all on the table at once...and these types of rulesets allow that. With that in mind, Fluff (e.g. background story, the setting's history, etc) is a controversial item. Some, like myself, could care less about the fluff because we're going to making our own as we go, or even just ignore it in our rush to get models killed on the battlefield. Others feel that without fluff, there is no immersion, and without immersion, one might as well be throwing dice on an empty tabletop. Gruntz acknowledged both of these schools of thought and did something brilliant - he put it in the back. The last 32 pages of the book are Background, so they're out of the way if you don't need or care about it, but, well, if you do, it's there. Kudos. No, I haven't read the fluff, and no, I don't intend to.

However, I feel that in this case, the fluff gets in the way of what could be a truly excellent product, but for 3 things missing: a QRS (Quick Reference Sheet), an Index, and 2 or 3 premade factions with example units.

The love of a Build-your-Own system is that you can buy, model, and convert to your heart's content, and you can likely find rules for putting it on the tabletop. The downside to said system is that often, you have to do the Gruntzwork yourself (I'm feeling quite clever there - leave me alone in my smugness!). In order to get about to throwing dice in anger, you need units, and this book has none. Well, ok, there are a few tiny examples in the Unit Buider section, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'd like two faction's worth of infantry, a few support units, a few vehicles, and let me try it out.

I own the unit builder for Gruntz, but I've never used it because I don't have a printer at home. I know there are plenty of examples on the really cool website http://www.gruntz.biz/, but is immaterial to me. Sometimes I like unplugging, sitting down with an army book, and doodling over a paper with a calculator. I like sitting with friends pre-game, especially if I am introducing a game to them, and picking out forces together. Am I alone in this? 4 pages of pre-mades to get me started, to whet my appetite to build my own, is all I'd want. I think this is one large error from a rulebook point of view.

[The opposite of this is PMC2640, which doesn't allow you to custom design anything, but has so many prebuilt options that you'd have to be incredibly anal or nitpicky to not be able to field the force you want].

Personal Issues: I have a few other minor points to point out. Doing so might be slightly unfair, because I said I wasn't going to go into the rules. I cannot help myself, however, as I have played it once, and these things are niggling at the back of my head, and might be semi-influential in why the game hasnt hit the table a second time for me.

The first is the method of combat resolution. Roll some dice, add a stat, compare to a target stat = nothing new here, especially considering it is WarmaHordes rewrtten. My issue is that you roll 2d6 per model firing. If you have a standard infantry unit of 8 men (2 with Squad Weapons), you're rolling 16d6. Each pair of dice is unique, however, so you're rolling 8 pairs of different colored dice. Oh GOD yes, I can do this (my dice collection is stupid-huge), but this is a bit of an inconvenience when it comes to speed of play. This is shared by the friends I have shown...and it shouldn't be, but its the biggest roadblock to me wanting to play Gruntz again.

By the way, I completely agree with and understand the allure of the 2d6 bell curve. I grew up playing Battletech (Phantom Blue Assault Company, FASA fan chapter #2 for any really old timers out there), and my favorite roleplaying game is HERO, which uses 3d6...so this leads me to my second quibble.

In v1.0, the price to buy more Shoot mechanic was 1 point per stat, so a Shoot of 4 costs 4, and a Shoot of 6 costs 6. The problem here is that a +1 or a -1 to the 2d6 bell curve is HUGE. I'm not a mathematician here (1 plus 1 IS 2, right? Just making sure...), but give me a -2 to a 7-or-better roll and I'll love you, but give me a +2 and make it a 9+? Ugh...so why make this all-important stat so damn cheap?

Remember Tomorrow's War? I tried my ASS off to make a spreadsheet that assigned points to units, because I'm just not cool like other people who can balance lists off the top of their head. As I consulted the forums, one thing came up constantly: Troop Quality (the stat used in ranged combat) IS ALL. It is the most important thing. It might even be the only thing. Same as with Gruntz (as an aside - I was so desperate to like Tomorrow's War, but I think I need someone who knows, really knows, the rules to walk me through it. Are you near San Jose, CA? Holler at me!).

I helped do rules testing and editing for Unbridled Fury, which was a really promising product, and his combat stat was almost exponential in cost. I urged Robin to the do the same...So Gruntz v1.1 came out, and I was relieved to find that he had at least increased the cost per stat, but only by 1 point each...I think it is too cheap to get a high skill, but it is better than it was.

So let me sum all of this up. The rules are what they are, so no rulings here.

Book Presentation: A-
The book is well done. It organizes itself fairly well, although I have not had to delve for info i the middle of a game for ages, so I cannot comment to that. An Index would have been HUGE, as would have a more organized Table of Content.

I liked the layout and how things were presented. I liked the order that everything was presented in. I missed the prebuilt unit lists that are on the website, and a QRS would have been jolly good (jolly goodz?). I will buy other Gruntz products if they are produced, and most likely in book form if they come out in this medium again. I am even aiming at playing this again, but my gaming group suffers from the same affliction that I do - gamebookcollectingitis. Yea - we all collect rulesets, and we all want to play said rulesets at least once, which means on any given game day, we're likely trying out a new set of rules. The upside? Lots of cool rulesets come across our desks. The downside? It's like that hot brunette that catches your eye as she passes in a crowded mall - by the time you realize she really was as hot as you initially thought, and turn to get a second look, she is gone, swallowed up by the crowd, and getting back to her is harder than it should be (poor choice of words? "More difficult", maybe?)...PMC2640 is my number one right now, but Victory Decision looms on the horizon, as does the WW2 ruleset Chain of Command by Two Fat Lardies (which I have already played once but not reviewed).

Thanks for reading.