Monday, 31 December 2012

Wargaming New Years Resolutions

Greetings one and all, and here we are again, the turning of the year. Behind us (if we dare to look!) is Anno Domini 2012, and I hope that you can think back on it with fondness rather than a shudder of dread. Ahead, if we listen carefully through the mists, 2013 thunders closer and closer towards us like the Flying Scotsman, lamps gleaming, and horns blaring.

It seems the done thing, whether by tradition or simple good intention, for people to declare to the world the promises they make to themselves for the coming year, their resolutions. People might resolve to go on a diet to lose the pounds they gained during the festive season (because we don't over indulge the rest of the year of course, Christmas is to blame!), or to read more books (always a good thing in my book!), or spend less money on frivolities like getting more wasted than Brandon Block or Linsay Lohan on a night out, which must take a significant allocation of financial resources I expect.

We all have things we would like to do in the coming year, whether borne of a regret from the past twelve months, or an ambition for the next, and when it comes to New Years Resolutions, we Wargamers are no different. And we often can't stick to them for more than a few weeks either!

So, typically in my experience Wargamers tend towards certain resolutions: to get that army painted, to start that new army they have been promising themselves (and quite possibly kickstarted by gifts or vouchers gained at Christmas) or to get more games played. All fairly standard stuff, but important nontheless, because if we don't do these things, then where are we? Hobbywise at least, nowhere. I guess that's where one of the most difficult things about the hobby is shown best - persistance.

Some people love to paint models. I like painting models, especially after getting back into painting properly about two years or so ago, because I think my painting standard is fairly good, when I take my time over something at least. This is also a good thing because in the past I have accumulated armies much faster than I have painted them, resulting in lots (and lots!) of unpainted models laying around waiting for some attention, and now that they are getting that attention (however sluggish that may be) at least they are getting painted to a decent 'battlefield standard'. Models perform better on the table when they are painted after all...

The problem is, I get bored of painting models after a while. I know I am not the only one, so sometimes we need something extra to help us stick at it, which is what New Years Resolutions are all about. They are easy to make, but hard to stick to, which I guess is what makes them worthwhile.

Here's a tip when it comes to keeping up the momentum with painting: if you use online forums to discuss your wargaming, set up a 'Painting Survivor Series'. Get some painters together, agree a start date, and then post progress pics every third day after the Opening Post, and see who can keep going the longest before they miss the posting deadline. You are painting to survive, and the reward is bragging rights and lots of painted models. You could even create some kind of 'badge of honour' to appear in forum signatures, to denote those brave souls who have tested their mettle in the painting arena.

I did this on my favourite forum (Astronomican which I thoroughly recommend you check out), and it works great. It keeps people painting long after they might otherwise have decided that other tasks were more appealing, like chewing off their toe nails...

So, what will my Wargaming Resolution be for 2013? Last year, I resolved to paint more models than I bought, and that failed miserably, because I traded away a large collection of Epic miniatures which I haven't used in about fifteen years and were just gathering dust, and replaced them with a 4000+ points army of Ogres for Warhammer Fantasy, which have already seen action and even paint! So, that resolution is not an option. It doesn't do to tempt the fates that way by making the same resolution again.

I have decided to keep it somple for 2013, and I advise you to do the same, because a simple (and more importantly achieveable!) goal is far more likely to survive January than a demanding and labour intensive one. With this in mind, I have simply decided to get more games played in 2013 than I did in 2012, which shouldn't be a chore now I have started attending a club close by every couple of weeks, and playing more games against skilled opponents with fully painted armies will inspire me to paint my own models anyway, so everyone's a winner.

After all, for me at least, getting models onto the battlefield and actually playing games with them is the culmination of all the other parts of the hobby.

Have a good ol' ponder about what your gaming New Years Resolution will be, keep it simple and achieveable, and you'll come through with flying colours. I wish you well for 2013.

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Wargamers Christmas Message

Seasons Greetings one and all, and a 'Merry Christmas'! I must say I for one refuse to be reduced to wishing people a 'Happy Winter Festival' or whatever guff the P C police are trying to get people to say at the moment. What rubbish!

Ahem, moving on. My post on Worldwide Campaigns is coming on, but slower than I planned. It is becoming more involved than I had envisaged, and I have found that I can't actually remember everything I thought I could. The result is that I will be having to climb through the Garage o' Doom to retrieve a number of campaign booklets to refer to. It'll be good when it's done, promise...!

Now I can't just let Christmas go by without posting something wargaming and Christmas related, so I started thinking about my Christmases as a younger gamer. Before I got into playing wargames, my brother and I would sit for hours analysing the Argos and Index catalogues, making long and unrealistic lists of what we wanted for Christmas, directed squarely at our parents because by that age we knew full well that parents funded Christmas, Santa was just the delivery guy...

Now I must thank my parents, though I know they'll never read this, because I consider myself to have been very lucky as a child, receiving far more gifts than I probably deserved or my parents could comfortably afford, so thanks mum and dad. As for the kinds of gifts I received, before wargaming there was wonderous variety. We got many of the latest toys, and later, video games, though I was as happy to unwrap a shoebox crammed with writing implements and paper as I was to tear the brightly coloured paper off the Manta Force box, or the newest Transformer or WWF action figure. It was great.

After I started playing wargames, things changed quite a bit on the gifts front. My list of demands became far more focussed, and while my younger siblings were still ending up with gifts of all shapes and sizes, my stack of gifts got smaller and smaller as the stuff I was asking for became more and more expensive vs its relative mass. It may have seemed like a lot of stuff in boxes, but by the time it was all assembled, there wasn't much to show for mummy and daddys hard work. Yet more proof to add to that of the Crisp Packet that 'air' is certainly not free. That's the nature of the hobby I guess.

If I recall correctly, HeroQuest was a Christmas gift, as were many of the boxed games from GW. Games Workshop seemed to go through a spate of releasing a new or revamped game every few months or so, unless the years just went by faster than I remember, waiting for me under the artificial Christmas Tree throughout the 90's were HeroQuest, Space Crusade, Man O' War, Space Marine, Warhammer Quest, and numerous editions of 40K and Fantasy.

It's true what they say. There's nothing like the smell of a freshly opened boxed game, and doubly so on Christmas morning. All that plastic and card. Also, there's no smell like a new Big Rule Book either. Goodness, what is to be that young, and not worry about where the money for that new edition of Warhammer is coming from. I am lucky enough to be a parent myself now, though our son is still a few months off two years old and therefore not old enough to make the kinds of demands that we all used to approaching Christmas. It's another fact that you don't really appreciate what people have to do to provide for their kids at Christmas, until you are a parent yourself.

My wargames buying habits haven't changed much over the years either. I used to mainly get new stuff at Christmas or for my birthday in January. Now I'm lucky if I even get that. As we get older, we seem to have fewer people buying us gifts, as if Christmas is just for kids or something! After I met my wife, and experienced a decidedly strange Christmas for which her family, not knowing what to get me, provided me with no less than four (possibly five) Lynx packs! It wasn't because I smelled bad, if that's what you were thinking.

I took a brave step that year and said that if people couldn't think of what to buy me, just get me vouchers for GW. Best thing I ever did as far as I'm concerned, getting the inlaws to fund my gaming habit. My wonderful wife thinks I already have too much wargaming stuff, and of course she is right. I think that's obvious from the amount of stuff I have that has never seen action on the tabletop.

The irony is that when you are young, you can ask for stuff at Christmas, but to a degree, you get what you are given and should be glad if it. When we become adults and earn our own money, we could buy whatever we wanted for Christmas, if it wasn't for stuff like bills and kids and heaven knows what else. Thank God Forgeworld wasn't around when I was a kid, that's all I can say. My parents would have had to re-morgage!

As I write this, I have no gifts left to wrap, except for our son's main gift, which will require assembly and wrapping late tonight ready for the morning. I'll be putting my wargames craft skills to use for sure! Garish Christmas jumper in the wash ready for tomorrow, (more) mulled wine ready to be drunk, and brussels ready to be boiled to oblivion.

I wish you all a happy Christmas, in every sense of the phrase, and a dice and tape measure laden 2013. See you on the other side...

Monday, 17 December 2012

A Promise Kept - Warhammer Fiction

It was grim. The troubled heavens, the mood, the landscape, all of it was grim, gloomy, dreary and above all, grim. Looking out from the battlements of the modest stone tower of the weathered keep of Hoffnung, Franz Hubermann squinted through the biting wind. He leaned into the lee of the stonework and pulled up his furred collar to keep out the chill. It felt like the icy fingers of the dead down the back of his neck.

Over the last two weeks it seemed as though he could never stay warm, save in front of the roaring hearth, but with the enemy abroad, their dwindling stockpile of firewood was more precious than ever. He fancied he even saw fleeting flickers of green witchfire in amongst the dancing yellow flames, whilst sitting there late at night on the edge of sleep. A sign of dark powers at work he was sure. Then again, it could just be the beguiling nature of a hypnotic fire and a sorrowful ode of deeds long passed.

There was a dull click, and the heavy steel bound timber door to the inner tower squealed open. The rotund smiling man that struggled out into the wind, a pair of embossed pewter tankards in one hand, and his other trying to prevent the door from smashing itself against the lichen spotted wall, greeted Franz with an even broader grin, displaying a rank of uneven gap teeth. With an effort, he squeezed his body around the edge of the door, and then pushed it shut with his ample behind.

“Here, mein Herr. A warm spiced wine to keep your insides from curdling!”

He held out one of the tankards to Hubermann. Franz took the proffered drink gratefully, and sat down on the bench under the wall, out of the whistling wind. The other man came and eased down next to him, the old bench creaking like a deaf old woman in protest at the load.

“It’s true then, Claus? Vicelli means to betray us?” Claus turned to look his friend in the face, his expression suddenly serious. This was why Hubermann valued Claus Hungard, both as an old companion and as an advisor. He was jovial and full of light heartedness in the main, lifting the spirits of those around him, but dour and focussed when graveness was called for.

“Reilman and his outriders arrived back an hour ago. I spoke to him before he even had his riding gear off and a drink in his hand, such was the urgency in his voice.” Claus leaned closer, so Franz could hear without raising his voice too high. “He was deadly afraid, his voice all a quiver as he spouted about all of our souls being forfeit, and pacts with daemons.”Hubermann was sceptical. Reilman was a horseman second to none, but with a propensity for strong drink.

“What did he see, Claus?”

Claus Hungard sighed, and took a breath before he responded. In that dim light, sitting on that rickety bench leaning against the cold stone, the man looked his age, though he was younger than Hubermann by five years. Both of them looked worn, he thought. Too many cold nights, too many battlefields.

“Reilman said they rode out northeast, two days since, taking the road that skirts the Grey Hills. They followed the trail of a group of horsemen for a day and a night, until they came to a small camp in a hollow, out of the wind. Just a dozen men and beasts under canvas. Seeing it was Vicelli and his men, they made to ride down and join them, but they noticed at the last moment another group of mounted warriors approach the camp from the north.”

As Claus told the story, Hubermann nodded in understanding. It was the way in these remote parts to be wary of travellers, and the signs of the passing of bands of mounted warriors near to their homes warranted investigation, as Reilman was tasked to do. These were dark times, growing darker by the year. Hubermann cut into Claus’s monologue.

“And who were these others Claus?”

Hubermann was keen to get to the crux of the report, and he knew how Claus Hungard liked to stretch out a yarn. He was a teller of stories of some renown, but this was important. Chastened, Hungard continued.

“Ah, yes. Reilmann said they were cloaked in black, and there was a dread air about them. Vicelli’s men were very wary of them, and they kept their hands on the hilts of their swords. Their horses shied and were unsettled by their very presence. When their leader threw back his hood, it was him, underneath. That devil Schwarznacht.”

The devil, Schwarznacht. Count Schwarznacht, a terror from the north of the region. His castle was said to be in the Grey Mountains somewhere, but none had ever found it, or at least not returned to tell the tale. The army of this monster had swept through the northern marches of the Border Princes, setting flame to hamlets and villages.

The shambling meat puppets that made up the bulk of the unnatural enemy brought with them disease and decay and the terror that spread before the Count’s army was as potent a weapon as blade or shot. Great loping wolves had been seen in the blanketing forests, and ancient barrows in the Grey Hills had been broken open and their occupants seemingly vanished. More likely they had been called forth to war by the Vampire’s foul sorcery.

But this was not the heart of the Old World. There were not castles and lords aplenty here to face this threat. The settlements of men were few and far between in this part of the world, and many townships raised one year could be cast down and ruined the next.

“And, how did this meeting play out? It could not have been unlucky chance surely?”
Now Hungard’s face was as grim as the fleeing clouds above their heads. Fat raindrops began to drum off the wooden cover beneath which they sat.
“They have made a pact, an agreement between Vicelli and Schwarznacht, that the forces of Sperenza will not stand against the undead when they march on Hoffnung. In exchange, Sperenza will be left untouched.”

Hubermann clenched his meaty fists. His face was a picture of rage. He banged his hand down hard on the end of the bench.

“Fools! Do they know what they’ve done! They’ve damned us all! We cannot stand against the Vampire’s army without Vicelli’s forces to support us, and Vicelli knows this. The alliance between Hoffnung and Sperenza has stood strong for a century. Our grandfathers drew up that alliance at the founding of the two towns, and through it we have remained strong, survived where others have perished. If they spurn our ancient agreement now, both the people of Hoffnung and the people of Sperenza could be doomed to suffer death, or worse.”

Claus nodded vehemently in agreement.

“The people of both towns would be doomed for certain, for there is no chance that the feind will keep his word and spare Vicelli’s people. Once we are out of the way, the undead will turn on Sperenza, and there will be naught Vicelli can do.”

Claus spat on the floor, to ward off the darkness that talk of the Vampire carried with it. They had mentioned him too many times in the last few moments, and Claus thought he could hear even now the whispers of unquiet spirits drawn to their conversation, waiting just the other side of the eternal veil. The spies of the undead.

“So, what do we do?” Claus asked his old friend.

“We take the only chance we have. Not for naught were Hoffnung and Sperenza named for hope. Let us grasp that hope now, with both hands. We ride out to face the Vampire and his army. If we can cut the heart from the undead force by striking down Schwarznacht himself, maybe we have a chance. If we allow ourselves to be trapped here, they will starve us out or despoil the water supply, and we are all dead.”

Franz Hubermann, Burgomeister of the Border Principality town of Hoffnung got to his feet, a new vigiour in his aging frame. His friend stood with him.

“Come, we muster the army."

The ground that Hubermann had chosen to face the undead was favourable. His troops were sitting on a gentle slope, facing down the hill, which gave them the height advantage, but as the low ground was the flood plain of the swift moving River Grimmig, it also meant that the Vampire’s force would be deployed in the waterlogged mire, under his guns. Let them trudge up the hill towards him. 

The force that marched out of Hoffnung was an army born of a proud Empire heritage. To either side of Hubermann’s central position were arrayed ranks of Swordsmen in the black and red of Hoffnung. Flanking them were detachments of Hand Gunners, and Militiamen in their mismatched gear. At the far ends of the line on either flank, Hubermann had positioned his cannon, and to defend them against flanking units of fast moving wolves and other worse things, he had positioned his Outriders, the sons of the ruling council of Hoffnung, and small contingents of keen eyed bowmen.

Hubermann himself was surrounded by his loyal Knights, as splendid as any Order of the Empire. They may be a month’s ride from their ancestral home, but they kept to the old ways as well as any.
He hoped it would be enough. They would dearly miss the presence of their old ally Vicelli, and the pikemen, armoured crossbowmen and mortars he would have brought to battle. Over the years, the alliance between Sperenza and Hoffnung had allowed the soldiery of the two towns to train together and become accustomed to each other’s presence. They had become adept at fighting alongside each other, maximizing on the other’s strengths and learning to mitigate their weaknesses. Now the men of Hoffnung stood alone.

As he sat, mounted upon his armoured charger, the horse snorted and weighed it’s proud head up and down. He rubbed the beasts ears to soothe his fear.

“There now Hertz, I can smell them too. They smell worse than Claus the morning after the Midsummer Feast.”

He was unsettled, as were they all. It was no natural enemy they faced, and few were the men who could stand and face the horror of things that should by rights be dead and buried stumbling forwards to claw their eyes out. He heard the sound of hooves, and Claus rode up beside him. His face was beaming.

“They come, the Sperenzari, to our left, they are marching up the reverse slope towards our position!”
Hubermann was wary.

“Towards us? Or to our flank to take up battle positions?”

Claus’ horse stepped quickly left and right, empathic to the excitement of the rider.
“They march in the traditional battle formation set down by your grandfather, Sigmar bless his soul, in a fighting column, ready to turn when they reach our flank to face the enemy. They have knights to their front, and mortars in tow behind, with a great phalanx of pikes in between. Should I send a rider with a message?”

Hubermann knew not what to expect of his oldest friend, Capitano Vicelli. He was overjoyed at the news that the army of Sperenza had marched after all, but what of the pact witnessed by Reilman? Could the outrider have been mistaken?

“Signal the drums to beat the ‘Comrades in Arms’, and see how they respond.”
“Mein Herr!”

Hubermann turned his attention back to his front. From the trees on the opposite side of the river, there was a glimmer of bone and old metal from between the trees, and glimmers of ethereal witch lights flitting to and fro. A thousand yards to the enemy, as the carrion crow flies.
Within moments, to his left the Burgomeister could hear his own drummers beating out the traditional welcome to allied warriors, the ‘Comrades in Arms’, older than the pact between the two towns.

Even as the silent regiments of Skeletons marched out of the woods, cold and rusted blades in fleshless hands, and began to array themselves for battle, the clouds began to darken casting a spirit sapping shadow across the field.

The Burgomeister heard the change of drums, as his ally’s drummers returned the salute. They were really here, here to fight at the side of their old friends. They could win this fight. If they held true, they could win this fight here in this sodden field. He risked a smile to himself.

As Franz Hubermann and his knights looked on, the banks of the river were wreathed in a creeping mist which obscured the waters. On the far bank could now be seen regiments of skeletal knights: riders in black, who held themselves tall and proud as they might have done in life. There were massing unruly packs of vile corpse eaters, those depraved men who had shed any semblance of humanity to follow the lords of the dead and feast amidst the battlefield carnage. To the far left and right of the field, Hubermann saw undead wolves of great size bound out of the woods towards the banks of the river, and other, larger shadows beyond, which moved too quick for his old eyes to make out through the gathering mist.

It was time. Hubermann raised his hand to signal his troops to give fire, but as he did so, he noticed the water. There were things in the water, bodies. Hundreds of them. The river Hubermann had hoped would keep the undead at bay so that his troops could cut them down at range, the river that would buy them time to array themselves on the banks and strike at them as they struggled against the freezing currents, was a mass of writhing corpses. They were packed so tightly, the regiments of enemy warriors did not even break step when they reached the bank, but marched straight across the bridge of dead limbs and heads and backs and onto the near bank.

Hubermann dropped his hand, and the sound of black powder discharge thundered across the hill. Then the rain began slowly to fall, just a few drops. He cursed under his breath. It was as if all the fates were slowly turning their gaze from him. Where before there had been hope, now that hope was was being drawn from him. As the few sporadic drops of rain came down and became a torrent, and then a storm, he knew the fire from his troops would falter, powder would be soaked, bowstrings become heavy with moisture, and then they would be fighting for their lives, face to face with death.
Again, the sound of hooves behind him. Hubermann turned, the clamour of his battle line engaging the enemy at range rising in his ears. As he turned, his heart sank. Claus Hungard pulled up his horse beside him. He looked as though he had been slapped across the face.

“We are undone! Undone I tell you! Vicelli means to destroy us!”

Hubermann saw through the billowing powder smoke, even as another crack and boom from elsewhere on the slope told him that his guns were still firing, a solid mass of pikemen advancing towards the rear of the Hoffnung troops. Like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples of panic spread up and down his line, and soldiers turned at the sound of approaching drums marching up the reverse slope towards the men of Hoffnung. Hubermann swung round again, to see the relentless lines of Skeletons marching slowly up the hill from their opposite side. At their centre came a solid armoured core of heavy infantry, marching beneath a flapping banner, and leading these elite warriors was the Vampire himself, Schwarznacht.

Hubermann tore his helm free and tossed it into the dirt. He turned his horse around to face Vicelli’s troops once more.

“So this is the pact you have made, you bastard! Not just to leave us to our doom, but to strike the blow yourself! Have you no honour?!”

Franz Hubermann was incandescent with rage, his reason leaving him as he realised the full extent of the treachery of his oldest friend, Andrea Vicelli.

A rider burst from the advancing troops, and galloped towards Hubermann. The Knights around him prepared to defend their commander, but the rider stopped short. It was Vicelli. He too removed his helm. He shouted across the din to Hubermann.

“Franz, my oldest friend and comrade, get your troops out of here. This is my fight, my honour that is at stake! Live to fight another day.”

Hubermann led his horse step by step over to Vicelli. The advancing men of Sperenza had stopped short of the Hoffnung line, and prepared to face the undead trudging inexorably up the sodden slope. Their Hoffnung counterparts looked on in confusion, and all the while, the cannon and handguns continued to give fire, chipping away at the approaching enemy all too slowly. Where Skeletal warriors were shattered by cannon balls, or rotten zombie limbs burst by lead shot, more stepped forward to take their place and continue the march up the hill, even as the broken remains clawed their way back together.

“You cannot win this fight alone, you need us.” Shouted Hubermann.

“No.” Vicelli stated adamantly “Another army marches from the High Peak, a great army of Dwarfs. You need not perish here. Join the Dawi and fight another day, at a place where the evil of the Vampire can be ended at last.” Vicelli’s face was set, and Hubermann knew there was no dissuading him in this. 

“Get your men off the field. It is I who am shamed by not marching alongside you when I should have honoured our ancient pact. I was a fool.”

Hubermann drew close to his old friend.

“But why? Why treat with that daemon? Surely you must have known the wretch would not keep his damned word! The oaths of such creatures are empty as their souls.”

A hundred yards. Just a hundred yards separated the two lines of warriors, living and unliving. The armoured crossbowmen of Vicelli’s column added their fire to that of the Hoffnung bowmen. By a miracle, the rain was slowing. They might still be blessed. Then the mortars opened fire as well, belching forth explosive munitions which obliterated entire blocks of the dead. Did they have enough time? Once the lines met, it would only be decided by the courage of the living, their ability to hold their nerve even as it frayed.

Eighty yards.

“Lucciana. The fiend has taken my wife. He swore he would spare her life if I ordered the army of Sperenza to stand down. It was a slim hope, but the only one I had. I could not forsake her. Now I know it was a lie of the blackest kind, the kind that sets man against man, friend against friend, and brother against brother. He would never let her live.”

Vicelli clasped his friends hand, and looked into his eyes.

“You can’t save her Andrea.” There was a peace in Vicelli’s face.
“I know. Old friend, let me do this. Let me be with her. If I can reach that fiend, maybe I can end this, with a single sword thrust.”

Franz Hubermann nodded. He turned to his drummer.

“Signal a withdrawal, quickly man!”

40 yards. The drums of Hoffnung rang out. Almost at once the troops of that town began to step backwards, down the slope the army of Sperenza had marched up minutes before, slipping through the gaps between the units. They exchanged words of comradeship and encouragement. The cannon crews of Hoffnung, with old time bonds of friendship to the crews of the Sperenza mortar crews, elected to stay behind. Their guns could not now be moved in any case, it was too late.

25 yards. As the army of Hoffnung advanced down the slope, Hubermann turned to see his friend Vicelli lead his household knights in a charge towards the centre of the undead line, even as blocks of pikemen crashed against massed ranks of skeletons, and heavy crossbowmen loosed at point blank range into the charging forms of enemy horsemen and red eyed dire wolves.

As Andrea Vicelli thundered across the field, he fixed his gaze on his enemy. Tears streamed down his cheeks, and in his mind he called out to his wife, Lucciana.

“My love, my wife. I swore on the day of our union that I would allow nothing to separate us. Today, I make good that vow.” 

Eric Schwarznacht glared back at him, his fangs barred, opening his arms in welcome.

Two weeks later. Another battlefield, another icy river. As mists rose to hide their broken and despoiled forms, another mass of putrid zombies waited in line to slip beneath the surface of the murky water. Huddled together at their centre, oblivious to the heaving mass around them, stood two decaying bodies, a man and a woman. Though they no longer knew it, or had any comprehension of anything outside the compulsion to inflict violence on the living at the bidding of their dark master, their wrists were tied, one to the other, by a slender silk ribbon. By the tying of a ribbon are marriage vows made unbreakable, in the Border Principality town of Sperenza. A last promise kept.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


I think that the following question is a bit of fun really, but one that can tell us something about each and every person, perhaps something deep and profound, perhaps not. In any case, I think that this question can be used to separate the entire population of the world into four broad groupings, who in my experience tend towards similar preferences when it comes to the hobby of wargaming, as well as other things.

The question is this: Barbarian, Elf, Dwarf or Wizard?

Now it may be that the answer to this daft question might seem straight forward, but I don't think that it is quite that straight forward at all when we think about what the answer says about a person. Deciding the answer that best suits you is simple enough, but I think that the answer that you give could be saying quite a bit about the type of gamer and the type of person you are, the way you might think about things, or might respond to a situation.

The answer you give, the draw you feel towards a particluar character type, or army type in the wider wargaming hobby, is instinctive, and I think it can almost be seen as an extension of your personality. Another interpretation could be the 'fight or flight?' question, which might also tell you a lot about a person, but as you never know what the answer to that question is until you are faced with it in the heat of the moment, I prefer my alternative! Plus, HeroQuest is immeasurably cool.

A person could simply have chosen a character at random, or feel that they have no affinity with any character in particular, but I think that if we looked at the choice a person makes between the various characters can be seen echoing through their life, and more obviously in the choices they make as a wargamer. One other thing to consider though is that the instinctive choice a person makes might change as they age and experience the world, because the person they are is changing as well, influenced by the life events that they live through. As a persons attitude to life changes, so can their choice of character.

Anyway, on to the meat of the subject. I think that the four characters from the HeroQuest game each represent an archetypal personality type. Each represents partly what a person is like, and partly what they want to be like, and it is the combination of these two elements that makes a person that chooses their character instinctively go for the one they do. The same principle could possibly be applied to Monopoly playing pieces, but I have to admit to not having spent much time considering what selecting the Iron or the Top Hat might mean...

Here is what I think that the choice of character tells us about a person, based on my own experience - this is just my opinion, so make of it what you will. Maybe decide for yourself what my opinion tells you about me?


A player that chooses this character likes it up close and brutal, simple hack and slash through and through. They like the classic hero, staring their enemy in the face and defeating them through strength of arms. They respect physical prowess. This player might like armies that are equally martial and melee orientated, and quite likely ones that include large heavily built troop types like Ogres, Trolls and other monsters, but also human warriors like Chaos Warriors, because part of the appeal of the Barbarian is that he is a man (however bear-like he may be), not a beast. They are the hammer, rather than the anvil. I was a Barbarian in my time playing HeroQuest, Warhammer Quest and D & D, and would say based on this that a Barbarian player is direct and honest, but also sometimes throws caution to the wind, and they would like to be strong and daring.


A player that opts for the Elf character is a player that respects skill over strength, but also likes a bit of flair and panache. A brains over brawn player, an Elf player likes to strike from a position of safety, but is not above employing their speed and skill in melee if necessary, though only when the odds are in their favour. An Elf player is almost certain to play an Elf-like army on other games, so Elves, Eldar and other high skilled high dexterity but low resilience armies. The appeal of the Elf might be that they are typically taken to be highly intelligent, and so might draw a player that considers themselves to also be intelligent.

They value civility and wit, and believe that it is possible to think their way out of a problem rather than just bashing it over the head. May see other more dedicated melee fighters as a tool to be used to achieve their own ends. I would like to take the opportunity to quote from the Battlefleet Gothic Rulebook regarding the Eldar (space Elves for anyone unfamiliar): You may as well try to catch starlight as bring the Eldar to battle. This is Elf players all over for me.


The Dwarf is tough, and stubborn beyond measure. In my experience this can reflect players of the character in Hero Quest, and players of Dwarf armies in general. Stubborn is the term more likely to be used by non Dwarfs, where as Dwarf players (which I am in Warhammer, though only one of five completely different armies) prefer to use the word stoic, or resolute. Based on the character of Dwarfs and the fact that some people are drawn to them, I would expect to find that players with an affinity for the stature challenged ironclad warriors would tend to place great store in loyalty, quality above quantity and loud noises. Probably caused by some form of black powder weaponry.

Dedicated Dwarf players tend to like the opposite to dedicated Elf players in my opinion, and though I am sure there must be some out there, I have not yet come across a player of Warhammer that plays both Dwarfs and Elves. The draw of the two armies are very different, though both have a tendancy towards elitism, because, well, they tend to be better (more skilled/intelligent) than other races. I would think that the difference between Dwarf players and Elf players is one of dirt. Dwarfs don't mind dirt, what with mining, gunpowder, tavern floors and all that, but Elves take pride in being able to slaughter their enemies without getting a single splash of foul blood in their damned expensive tailoring. After all, when you can live for millenia, you buy stuff that you intend to last...


Ah, now Wizard players. Closet Megalomaniacs for sure. The character of the Wizard in any game can often wield the most destructive powers of all the warriors, but they also tend to be more frail in body. Wizard players in my experience tend to be academically competent people (brighter than me at any rate), and are confident in their abilities. They also like to be an integral part of the group, which Wizards are of course. I think that they are similar to Elf players, only more extreme in the desire to avoid physical confrontation, much prefering to unleash devastation from the opposite end of a very long corridor, or even better, from the other side of a wall made of the other warriors in the party.

Wizards are often great leaders of their race, wise and stern. The vulnerabilities of Wizards in HeroQuest mirror those of the Barbarian. One excels in the physical, the other in the mental, but both destructive in their own right. The vulnerability of the Barbarian is that he has to get up close and personal to kill, the Wizards, that he is generally in trouble if he or his fellows allow any frothing axe wielding loonies to get within dismembering diatance. I think that when it comes to other games, Wizard players tend towards similar armies to Elf players, but with powerful sorcerors at the helm. Now as some armies have such leaders but are different to Elf armies, like Vampire Counts, Warriors of Chaos, Daemons and Lizardmen, the options available to a Wizard player are many (especially when some of those leaders are also skilled warriors), but all involve immolating/transmuting/turning inside out their enemies with powerful magic.

It may be fair to say that, whether they are sending Zombies to eat your brain, compelling trees to throttle you, or turning you into a frog, spell casters are arguably the real powerhouses of fantasy tabletop wargames. Though they also occasionally managage to blow themselves into tiny teeny scraps of bloodied flesh (along with everyone within several yards), which makes me do a little dance inside. When they are my opponents spellcaster at any rate.

So these are my warped insights into what I consider to be 'the big question'. As I said at the beginning, a bit of fun. Some people harp on about other questions, like how to solve world hunger, how to prevent wars, and how to keep our toddler from emptying the fridge, and all are important questions, but the HeroQuestion is my personal favourite. The reason it is important is because, when you think about it, games like Hero Quest, and life in general for that matter, work out best when we pool our respective skills and work together. Otherwise we are all just alone in the darkness.

If we can set aside our superficial differences and come to realise that we have important common goals and interests, we can achieve anything. If we act seprately or selfishly, eventually our vulnerabilities will be laid bare and our enemies will close in and destroy us. If we get the answers to the silly questions right, it can lay the foundations for answering the really important questions about war, poverty and hunger.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Solo Wargamer: Outcast Among Outcasts

Now, this is a subject I have thought about and talked about at length with many people, and I have developed various views on the theme. This is a rundown of where my views have settled. Don't pay too much attention to the sweeping tabloid-esque title. I don't consider wargamers of any ilk to be outcasts, I just wanted to get your attention! People who like Jedward on the other hand...
I'll start by confessing that I have played several games solo over my years in the hobby, including various editions of Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy, Epic (under most of the half dozen different names it has had), Battlefleet Gothic, Blood Bowl, the list goes on. In fact, thinking about it, I have played pretty much every game I have owned solo at some stage or other, and with only the odd tweak to minor rules here and there, they have worked just fine, thanks mainly to this great piece of kit I happen to own called 'a brain'. I have also read and been inspired by a book about it called 'Solo Wargamer' by Stuart Asquith. This book is full of simple but great ideas and starting points, and is well worth a read.
Let make my first point clear. Playing solo, however well it can be made to work, whether it's a game designed for solo play or not, is rarely equal to playing against a human opponent (face to face I might add. I am not a fan particularly of online gaming).
Point two is this. People tend to play solo for one of two reasons. Option one: they are trying out new rules, a new unit or scenario, or new tactics. Whichever it is, it is more for 'research purposes' than for fun. Option two: they have no one to play against. It is this second reason that I want to concentrate on. This is because playing small non-battles for reason one is generally accepted and undertaken by many people, and doesn't seem to raise any eyebrows. Option two has raised many in my time.
Now, I am fortunate in that I have a club I can attend and play games as frequently as I wish (family commitments permitting). I also have a tolerant spouse, which in turn allows me to have a gaming area set up in the garage, in amongst the clutter, though it has to be said that heating in the garage would be a definite boon at the moment! I have found through online discussions and during my own time away from club gaming, that people are not always fortunate enough to have frothing opponents on tap, and this creates a dilema. The dilema is this: I love these models, I love the rules, background and imagery of this game. If only I got to play it.
Now I don't think that in principle anyone would object to a person with no other viable way of playing games using their collection of lovingly painted models and terrain, but in practice, it seems that in a hobby that still sits somewhat apart from the mainstream, gamers known to play games typically played by two or more people without a human opponent sitting across the table from them are even further from social acceptance than the rest.
Now I will pause briefly to state that this is just my perception, having been on both sides of the fence, and I don't know whether this is something that is peculiar to players of certain games, but if anyone finds the situation to be very different to what I am describing, please let me know so that I may adjust my view.
Why should it be that it might be considered strange to play wargames solo?
I guess the answer to this question might have several components. The first is familiarity. If a person is lucky enough to always have access to gaming opponents, then it is quite possible that they have never considered playing solo, or what it might be like, and so as an alien concept, they view it as strange. This doesn't necessarily mean they are wrong to think like this, just that the concept is unfamiliar to them, and their view is formed accordingly.
Second I think is drive. I would say that the drive to play wargames, or any other game, is two fold. The first is the game itself, the nuts and bolts of actually playing, the appeal of the playing pieces, any story that sets the scene etc. The second is the social aspect. If the social aspect is key to your enjoyment, then you are likely to make a very reluctant solo wargamer. If you like the social aspect, but the playing of the game is more important, then you could probably play your game of choice without having to rely on another person being available to play against you. Lord knows that we have all been let down by an opponent at some stage or other because they have to cancel at the eleventh hour.

The third (and the last that comes to mind at present) is practicality. Generally speaking, when playing against an opponent, you just need your army and it's accompanying rules, and perhaps to contribute to the scenery if any is used. When playing solo, not only do you have to provide a place to play, all necessary battlefield and scenery resources, you also have to provide enough models for two opposing forces, not just one. The other and most important bit of the practicality bit it is how you play against, well, yourself!?

There are two ways to play a game with just one human player. The first is for one or even both armies to be directed using some kind of rules set that can be used to determine how an army acts and responds to the enemy dependent on the situation they are faced with. This might be simply done with games that have relatively few possible maneouvers or action options, or horribly complicated with a game like Warhammer Fantasy, where you would have to consider both individual unit actions as well as army wide strategy.

Being as the object of the rules set used to direct the army should be to simulate a thinking opponent, it should not be too rigid or predictable. Given that, and the huge array of unit categories available across the dozen or so armies available for Warhammer, and then more abstract things like get the idea. It could be done, but to do it well would require a fair amount of effort and attention to detail. I might try it some time, just to see if it can be done. I recently asked online whether people would be interested in such a set of rules, and the concensus was generally yes.

The other way is far simpler, and at the same time infinitely more difficult, depending on what kind of player you are. It is the option of controlling both sides yourself, just as if you were playing against a human opponent. This is simpler because it requires no artificial unit direction rules, but more difficult to do successfully because it requires you to be competely impartial, and avoid using tactics, units and magic items that rely on the element of suprise. (Really? ;-))

I haven't tried the first option, because I haven't come across a set of solo rules that are suitable for the games I play, and haven't got to the stage where I have decided to tackle the task of creating a decent set of rules. I have however played solo using the second option, and had some great games.
The reason I can play this way I think is to do with my love of the background, and the stories I have written to accompany my various armies, all of which are interlinked. I like all of my armies and their respective leaders for different reasons, and this allows me to set up what I see as the next step in their stories by writing a short lead up to an encounter, then impartially playing it out on the tabletop. 

Because the story is ongoing, it doesn't matter if my army of choice is defeated, because they will get a chance for revenge later down the line, and when they are victorious against the odds, it is all the more glorious. Think of yourself as the director of a movie, rather than a general. The objective is an exciting story, rather than victory for a particular side or the other.

I have to admit that this option is not for everyone. At the end of the day, either you can be impartial, or you can't. You can leave the armies to the fates, or you can't. 

My current stance on the subject is as I mentioned earlier. Playing solo isn't always going to be a suitable substitute for a living, breathing opponent that you can thrash and humiliate, or be tabled by in turn, but if I were suddenly living in the middle of nowhere, the nearest club so far away it might as well be on Mars, I would be playing solo.

The gaming is important to me, and solo gaming is vastly preferable to no gaming. For anyone who doesn't have the luxury of opponents queing round the block, maybe this post has given you something to think about. The same goes for anyone who thinks the whole idea of solo wargaming for fun is just naff. It's all part of the whole gaming experience. If people can play video games without a human adversary, why not tabletop wargames? Who needs a computer controlled opponent when you have a perfectly good brain?

However you play, whoever you play, enjoy it. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Dungeon Crawl: The Greatest Escape

The Dungeon Crawl. This is probably a term familiar to most players of various types of wargames and role play games. I am sure that the term in all likelyhood pertains to a specific game or game type, or it at least started out that way, but in my mind, it can refer to any game in which the primary driver is exploration and combat within a dungeon like environment. Now strangely, I don't see why this couldn't include futuristic games like Space Hulk. The element of the 'quest' is still there, it just looks different, and I guess you don't have individual models each controlled by a different player, but you could if you wanted to. The extreme end of the 'Dungeon Crawl' is probably the lengthy pure roleplay games mastered option, such as can be enjoyed playing D & D.

The point of this post is that, while I believe that miniature based wargames such as Warhammer Fantasy, Warmachine and other battle or skirmish focussed games are great for simulating the genre of hostile confrontation of your choice, they are missing an ingredient that I think you can only get from a Dungeon Crawl. Though I have in the past played HeroQuest, Space Crusade, D &D and Gurps, lets take my favourite game of this ilk as an example: Warhammer Quest. To me, this game exemplifies what I want to demonstrate.

With battle games, you are the general of an army. You may have an attachment to the troops under your command, if they are Knights of the fair kingdom of Bretonnia, or less so if they are a regiment of Skaven Slaves, but that they are the troops under your command is beyond question. When playing games like Warhammer Quest, you are in control of a single character model, and whatever you may have named this character, whatever race they may be, you have a personal connection to that character. They represent you.

Some people might argue that the Company Master of your Space Marine Strike Force, or the Warboss of your Ork Warband also represent you, but I think that is only true to a far lesser degree. They represent you as commander. They are the leader of your force, the figurehead of your army, and if they die in this battle (unless in a campaign with additional rules), you can select them again for your next battle, looking none the worse for their resurrection, but they do not represent you to the same degree as your Warhammer Quest character. If your army commander dies, you continue to control what remains of your army. If your Warhammer Quest character dies, that's it, it's over, you're out of the game, and sometimes worse, the campaign which could have been running for weeks, months or even years. You are (not literally of course) dead.

It is also significant that in a game of Warhammer Quest (or other Dungeon Crawl game), there are additional connections built between your character and those of your fellow players. Not only are you not competing against one another, unless for bragging rights over who has accumulated the most gold, you need each others skills to help you get through the dungeon and complete the quest. Your Barbarian and Dwarf can fight like heroes, but the healing magic and fiery blasts of the party Wizard keep them going long after they might otherwise have been overwhelmed by the vicious denziens of the dark, and sometimes the Elf's speed and skill with the bow can save the day. This cooperative element adds even more to the connection you have with your character and to those of your friends, and makes them even less like the general of an all conquering army. Especially when your Elf just fell into a pit, rats are knawing on your silk lined boots, and the Dwarf's rope is your only hope of getting out again...

When a new band of warriors sets out into a dungeon, it may as well be you and your mates stepping gingerly into the darkness. You will probably find that you also even refer to your character as 'me' or 'I'. 'I will move to this doorway', 'I will attack that Goblin Spearman'. This is a level of connection that is beyond that of the table top battle or skirmish game, and doubly so when between adventures your warriors must brave the hazards of simply travelling between dungeons and visiting settlements to pick up provisions, aquire new skills or just get drunk in a tavern and pick a fight with a mad eyed ginger mowhawked troll slayer with questionable hygiene.

Some skirmish games, like Necromunda for example, also include elements of advancement between games, but because you both control several models (that is unless your gang has suffered terrible misfortune at the hands of rival gangs, or attracted the unwanted attentions of the Adeptus Arbites) and generally play against an opponent rather than in cooperation with your buddies to achieve a mutually beneficial goal (like getting filthy rich), games like this don't connect you with your models as much as the Dungeon Crawl. The greater the connection, the greater the depth of immersion in the story, the greater the level of escapism that you can achieve. That is my belief.

Playing games with miniatures, much like reading a story, or watching a film, is about several things, but the most important is probably escapism. The chance to kick back and get absorbed, to imagine you are someone or somewhere else, doing amazing things that you never could or simply might never dare to do in 'real life'. The Dungeon Crawl is in my opinion one of the pinnacles of this escape from the mundane, from the rigidity and hum drum of parts of our lives. You make a personal investment in your character. Their success is your success, their untimely demise, your exit back to reality, while your comrades are left to mourn your departure and continue into the darkness in the quest for glory and riches without you.

These are the reasons why I think that, in the world of miniature gaming, when it comes to escapism, the Dungeon Crawl is king. Anyone who has never tried it, I thoroughly recommend that you give it a whirl. If possible, and if you can locate a copy, you could do worse than trying Warhammer Quest, or even the daddy, HeroQuest, though I am sure there are many others to try. Hell, even Lego do one now. Don't believe me, check out Toys R Us!

All you have to do once you're in the dungeon is make it out alive. Thanks for reading...

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Wargaming Around Life

I don't think it's inaccurate to say that many people decide to give table top wargames a go while still at around school age: they buy a rulebook and a few models, paint a few goblins, play a few games at home, at a friends or at a local games store or club, but eventually decide to give the whole thing up. They tried it, and decided that it just wasn't for them. They perhaps find they enjoy another hobby more. That's fair enough, credit to those people for trying something different.

For others of us, we go through a similar beginning, but decide that we do enjoy the hobby enough to continue. We really get into it, make steady investment in our hobby. We practice and develop skills in painting, terrain building and commanding armies. We build up network of 'hobby buddies'. We even make it through that decidedly dicey phase when we come of age, and briefly an interest in regular and frequent inebriation and in the opposite sex corrupts our decision making processes. We make it through more or less in one piece. Then it happens. We meet that special person, and before we know where we are, we have a job, a partner, one or more demanding offspring and an unhealthy depth of knowledge of the mind control mechanism known as soap opera.

Those who have experienced this jolting change of lifestyle understand the insidious and destructive effect this can have on our 'hobby time'. The real conflict has moved from the tabletop into the open, grown legs and a voice, and the demands on our time are endless. The problem is, we love our partners and our kids beyond measure, and we have to go to work to earn money to cover the mundane stuff like keeping a roof over our heads and food in our increasingly Ogre like bellies.

We can't pretend even for a moment that our hobby is more important that these things, but that doesn't make the craving we have for the clamour of battle go away. It lingers, and plots, and gets us into bother with the wife because we 'left our stuff out again'. It points and laughs at us from the shadows. We see the exponential growth of the 'sig battle records' of unshackled forum users and feel a pang of longing. We watch the letter box like an over excited pooch waiting for the postman, hoping that our latest hobby magazine of choice will be pushed through the door.

Sad, isn't it?

So, one day, when we feel that the time is right, that we have changed enough nappies, been covered in puke and baby food enough times, and wiped poop off our hands so many times we just don't care anymore, we gulp down a breath, and utter the words: 'um, I think I might like to try and arrange a game with someone soon, that alright sweetheart?'

We pause, not blinking, not even breathing until: 'yes, of course you should, just tell me when. It's ok for me to go to bingo with the girls tonight, right?'

Our face breaks into a creeping smile, having heard nothing but a joyful angellic chorus after the word 'yes'. We wipe the drool from the corner of our mouth, and we dive for the laptop to get that first game after what feels like aeons arranged as fast as possible.

So, having set the precident that we are 'allowed out', (which we have to do, not because we're a whipped excuse for a human being, but because, as we have established, our hobby is not more important than loved ones and key responsibilities, despite what the voices say) we get in touch with the old gaming crowd, or find a new one, and we march TO WAR!!! (I wonder if I should upload a sound bite for that?)

It is a juggling act to be sure. Poorly kids, quality time with the wife and child (who we neglect at our peril, because we're lucky to have them if we're honest), and dinner with the inlaws all have their place in our busy schedules. We paint models and write army lists at lunchtime at work, because it's 'my time', and because I don't want to explain to the nursery why my son is pooing in Ultramarine Blue, or why there is what looks suspiciously like a chain axe on the x-ray pictures. We spend dark winter mornings in the pitch black garage with a torch in our mouths looking for those 'damned archers' in the stacks of boxes in which our younger more carefree self is stored.

We play that first game. We lose, but we don't give a fig because we got to play a game. I'll let that hang for a moment. I got to play a game... We arrange another one quick, before someone arranges some family activity for us and the ball not only stops rolling, it evapourates like Nottingham Forest's chances of promotion to the Premiership. We are especially nice to our partner, because it feels good, and it doesn't help to grease the wheels before we mention that all day trip to a gaming convention coming up.

You see, it is possible to continue with our beloved hobby and still meet our other life commitments, it just takes planning, agreement and cooperation with the important people in our lives, and only costs a sliver of our souls every time we go to the club. Besides, if we don't get some use out of the mountain of models we accumulated before we became responsible adults, one day we might have to deal with an entirely new problem:

'You know that stuff in the back room that you never use anymore? Isn't it time you got rid if it? I'd like to turn that room into a space for MY hobby'.


I would like to dedicate this post to M.A.D, the Melton and District Wargaming Club, who pulled me back from the abyss only a few weeks ago. Thanks guys...

To all the guys and gals who's partners also play wargames, in fact want to play more than you do, stop tormenting me. I don't know how you did it, but stop...

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Fiction - Assault on Barakka - (set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe)

Assault on Barakka

19:37 hours...

The lights went out. All around them their entire world shook violently, as if the very ground were convulsing. The concussive force of the blast was terrible beyond thought, and it reverberated through everything; rockcrete walls, plastek tables, flesh and even bone, too thunderous for the ears alone. They fell. They all fell to the ground, unable to keep their feet when the floor was wrenched left and right beneath them. They wrapped their arms and hands around their heads, to protect themselves from falling debris from the floors above. They wept with fear, their cries lost in the tumult.

Then it stopped. There was a sudden silence. No, not silence, more like an unearthly absence of sound, like a pict that continued to move but the sound was switched off. The noises began to return. First a low whimpering sound from terrified mouths driven by terrified minds, as teeth unclenched, and eyes that had been shut tight eased open to see through the dust and the pale sunlight. There was creaking. The tutor clawed his way slowly to his feet, keeping low, using his hands to steady himself on upturned furniture. He turned to the huddle of children in the corner behind him and gestured for them to stay where they were.

“Shhh, don’t make a sound. It’ll be alright.”

Yhans didn’t really believe the words himself, but these children were in his care, had been so since the invasion began, and he must do what he could to comfort them. They had been holed up in the lower levels of the Scholam building for the past three days, waiting beyond hope to be rescued. It was beyond suicide to attempt to move across the stricken city with all these children in tow and shells raining down on the city from afar. He knew things might not be alright at all, that each moment might bring more pain and death, but looking into the faces of those terrified children, he could not bring himself to give voice to his worst fears.
Looking around the room, it looked like a tornado had passed through the Scholam, leaving devastation in its wake. He could see piles of debris scattered all over the Tutoriam chamber, some chunks of rockcrete massive and brutal in their stark hardness, jagged and sprouting twisted fangs of reinforcing metal bars. He saw a tiny body, its pale skinny legs protruding from beneath the huge weight of rubble, the torso crushed beneath the fall. He stifled a moan of dread, wondering which child it might be.

Shuffling sideways along the wall of the Tutoriam he squeezed past a desk that had been flung onto its side and had another lying on top, which itself had fallen through the crumbling ceiling from the room above. His feet crunched on broken glass. All the windows had been blown in by the force of the blast. He raised his head slowly above the sill. Looking out across the transport way, he could see the remains of the Arbites Precinct House, which had stood less than fifty yards from the Scholam, behind its imposing walls and electrified shield fencing. The entire upper section of that majestic reminder of the Emperors power had been entirely demolished by a huge explosion, though whether from within or without Yhans could not tell. Rubble and debris lay all around, and nearby buildings had suffered damage along with the Scholam building. Somewhere, a siren was sounding. Yhans noticed a liquid drop plip onto the cill. It was red. He reached up, placing his hand on his dusty forehead gingerly. When he took it away to look, it too was red, with blood from a cut he hadn’t realised he had sustained.
He must still be in shock he decided. The pain would follow soon he thought, a pounding and relentless headache on top of every other bruise, ache and scrape he had picked up over the last few days. In the background, the distant sounds which his battered eardrums until now had been too stunned to pick up on began to gather. The sounds of battle, of distant gunfire getting steadily nearer, and of machines on the move. The assault on the city must have begun. The Orks were here.

19:14 hours...

Captain Kyskin knelt down at the crest of the scrubby ridge, raised his lasgun, and shot the bellowing Ork in the chest. From the beast’s stunned expression, it was as though it had suddenly discovered the meaning of life, before its body suggested to its primitive brain that it might be dead, and it fell flat on its face at the Captain’s feet. Hard rounds zipped wildly all around, fired seemingly out of sheer excitement rather than with any aim of hitting the Talosian Guardsmen, the Orks crude pistols spitting out shells with a harsh chug chugging sound until their magazines were spent. Kyskin and the rest of his squad had hunkered down among the rocks and old barricades at the crest of the ridge and were shooting down into the mob of brightly attired greenskins charging up the hill towards them, rather foolishly in his opinion. To his right a gurgle followed by a whooshing sound underlined his sound judgement as the remaining Orks were incinerated by C Platoon’s flame troopers.
Looking down across the valley towards the outskirts of the city, the scree covered slopes were scattered with fast moving Orks and their ramshackle war machines. High sided Trukks bounced over the uneven ground on deep tread tyres, their passengers loosing automatic gunfire into the air with glee, or taking pot-shots at the high walls of the city more than five kilometeres ahead of them at the opposite end of the valley. It was a big enough target he supposed, maybe some of them would hit it. The Talosian 24th were engaging the left flank of the Ork Warband as it sped away from them towards Barakka. The Orks, being the feral battle hungry beasts that they are, eschewed using their superior speed and manoeuvrability to escape the pursuing Guardsmen, and instead many were turning to respond to the attack with typical Orkish abandon. Smaller buggies and smoke spewing bikes daubed in red and yellow paint roared up the hill towards their attackers, their mounted weapons spitting bullets, in the commonly held Ork belief that if they fired off enough lead, they were sure to hit something.

Lost for a second in the grandeur of the battlescape laid out before him, Kyskin failed to notice the roaring of the Orks own flame weapon as a Skorcha burst from the roiling smog which choked the hill before C Platoon. Mounted on the nose of the hurtling light assault vehicle was a stripped down dozer blade which its crazed speed freek driver used to crash through mounds of blasted earth and strung out razorwire, cleaving a path through old defences left over from previous engagements. This war moved fast, and the battle lines were fluid and ethereal.

The Skorcha sped directly towards the heart of the Talosian position, and seeing the danger the Guardsmen began to spread out and fall back down the hill. To be caught huddled together in defences that were useless in the face of such an attack was horrendous to even contemplate. The Skorcha ploughed onwards, seemingly aiming right at Kyskin, and as its crude but extremely effective flame cannon screeched round in its turret to drench the ridge with promethium, there was an almighty explosion which knocked Kyskin off his feet and into the dirt. He was in agony, and his fatigues were on fire in some places. He burned his hands putting out the flames, and as he looked up to see what had happened, all he could see was fragments of burning metal raining down around him, everything that remained of the Ork assault vehicle, amidst a circle of scorched scrub and burning Ork bodies.
Feeling intense pain in his shin, Kyskin looked down and saw one such piece of jagged metal embedded in his leg. He wasn’t bleeding too badly, and the pain was slowly being replaced by a light headedness as he went into shock. As he rolled over, his head swimming, to try and get up, he saw a Leman Russ Vanquisher grinding its way up the hill towards the ridge and the high vantage point it offered for its long range anti tank shells. Kyskin would have to buy the gunner a drink for taking out that Skorcha if he ever found himself in the same bar.

19:26 hours, on the opposite side of the valley...

The light was beginning to fade, more rapidly so with help from the layer of thickening smog that now hung threateningly over the valley. The smog had a life of its own, shifting and changing eternally, a product of the vast number of oily engines favoured by the greenskin race. It was their constant herald and companion. The layer of gloom was sporadically under lit by the stuttering flash of explosions, like a lightning storm bank, its colours bloomed into fiery oranges and angry reds where it reflected the escalating conflict below.

In amongst the trees on the gentler slopes of the eastern valley side, Major Phranc led Jackal Squadron silently towards their target. The Storm Troopers, blacked out from head to foot in stealth camouflaged combat fatigues, stepped carefully between the trees towards the edge of the thinning copse, their night vision oculars allowing them a clear view of the Orks artillery position on the slope below them. Their alien bodies appeared as a mid range red, overlaying the cool greens of the terrain. Phranc could count about two dozen smaller greenskins, the diminutive gretchin, climbing on and under the launch carriages, hammering and clattering away like a mob of belligerent teenagers, intent on wanton vandalism. The carriages themselves were the size of freight cars, great tracked platforms upon whose backs were mounted long launch arms of crisscrossed ironwork.
These arms carried the missiles themselves, each at least thirty yards in length, their metal skins painted with gaudy yellows and blues and jagged black and white tribal designs. Each bore a leering fanged face upon its nose cone, probably a representation of one of their brutal gods. Overseeing them was a beast of an Ork, easily twice the Major’s weight and carrying a vicious man-catcher. He waved around a heavy pistol as he bawled at the gretchin in his own guttural tongue.

Major Phranc switched to a pale overlay of the icons representing each of his troopers, all a vital blue. Standing on the edge of the treeline, he glanced left and right, watching as his squad prepared to attack. To his left, Sergeant Andros, Troopers Effis, Kipris and Fayne, and on the end the Melta Trooper Sysko. On his right, emerging one at a time from the undergrowth were Corporal Kygan, Troopers Reyne and Mysteyka and Trooper Voors, the sapphire blue pilot light of his flamer glowing in the darkness. It was obvious that the Orks were busily preparing the huge seige missiles for launch, and time was of the essence. These missiles were intended to bring down the mighty walls of Barakka, and probably much more besides. Phranc tapped the comm at his ear, and watched the ticking red digits of his chronometer as the men tapped a return that they were set to go, the pale blue icons on his display one by one clicking over to a ‘ready green’.

‘Big Toy Soldiers’ they called them, the rest of the Guard. The men of Jackal Squadron knew, but they didn’t care. They were here to do the Emperor’s work, a sacred duty in payment for the care the Emperor had taken of them, all orphans of Imperial Officials of one ilk or another, trained from children to be the best. They needed no verbal command. Almost as one, they followed the Major’s lead in a swift stride out of the trees and towards the rear of the artillery position.
Matt black Hellguns raised, they were almost on top of the xenos position by the time the gretchin spotted them in the gloom and squealed warnings and threats and dived for cover or weapons. Panning left and right, Jackal Squadron opened up with bright spears of energy, their supercharged shots bursting small scuttling green bodies and punching glowing holes in the plating of the missile carriages. Phranc had half an eye on his chronometer, watching as it counted down the mission time. Twenty three seconds and counting. By the time the Ork Slaver had realised they were under attack, Sysko was cooking the firing arm mountings on the nearest of the three launchers, and with a hiss of superheated metal and then a piercing shriek of tearing metal like nails on a blackboard, the entire arm gave way and the missile crashed down onto the launcher and down it’s flank. It began to roll off down the hill across the Ork positions, picking up speed as it went, until it smashed itself into the side of a battlewagon and exploded with enough force to fling pieces of the wrecked machine and the missile casing in all directions, leaving a gaping scorched hole in the bare rocky ground and devastation all around.

The explosion lit up the valley, and unfortunately attracted the attention of half the Ork army at the same time, though by this point Phranc and his team were on to the second missile position, a trail of blasted green bodies in their wake. So far they hadn’t taken a single casualty, and Phranc wouldn’t expect them to facing off against these pathetic gretchin crew, but the roar of engines heralded the arrival of two ramshackle trukks packed with Orks eager for a fight. Kygan, Reyne and Mysteyka knelt down behind the robust body of a loading winch and began firing into the mob on full auto as they steamed up the slope towards them. Heavy calibre shells whickered all around from the trukk mounted heavy weapons, covering the Orks charge towards the Storm Troopers position, until Phranc loosed an incandescent charge of energy from his plasma pistol at the nearest trukk, and it exploded violently, spitting red hot shrapnel and Ork body parts in all directions. Corporal Kygan had taken down three Orks before he took a wild round in the chest and went down, clutching his gaping wound. He pushed himself back up against the track guards of the wrecked launcher and drew a Hot Shot Laspistol from a thigh holster, cracking shots off down the hill towards the Orks. His aim was off, and the shock threatened to overcome him at any moment. Reyne and Mysteyka crouched down next to him and rapid fired down the slope, punching Greenskins off their feet left and right, but the survivors were almost upon them, a cry of WAAAARRGH issuing from their alien throats.

Voors stepped out from behind the launcher carriage and, standing protectively over his comrades, he unleashed a storm of fire at the oncoming Orks, sweeping left and right until there was almost nothing left. His flamer was of little use in their mission to destroy the launchers, but against the lightly armoured mobs of Orks there were few more effective weapons, though getting this close to the Xenos to start with was not for the feint hearted. As the smoke billowed and rolled across the hill, the burning raging form of a hulking Ork leader burst from the flames, roaring like an enraged bull. Firing on the run, he took Voors in the leg before Reyne atomised his head with a well aimed shot and the Ork pitched forwards just feet from them.

19:35 hours...

Trooper Sysko roared inside his mask as he aimed his melta at the oncoming Ork dreadnought, it’s four snapping claws virtually close enough to snip him in half before it’s shell exploded and it was thrown back onto the ground, it’s limbs waving limply as it’s pilot succumbed to its injuries, sparks bursting from the machines rent metal torso. He clawed his way to his feet, and ran on towards the third launcher, the second going up behind him as the melta bombs the Sarg had planted went off, blowing it to pieces. He felt the heat of the blast on his back even through his fatigues. Pumping his tired legs, he tried to catch up with the Major, Effis, Kipris and Fayne. Powering up the slope he passed the body of Sergeant Andros, face down with arms and legs splayed and a heavy Ork blade sticking out of his back. Kipris and Fayne had taken up covering positions at the corner of the last carriage, firing down into the increasing numbers of Orks as they stormed towards the Jackals, the Ork infantry finally catching up to their vehicle mounted brethren. The darkness was on the Storm Troopers side, as was the Orks infamously poor aim, but against these odds they couldn’t hold for long. Just as Sysko made it to cover behind the giant launch carriage, he was punched off his feet and into the dirt by a round which took him in the small of his back. He didn’t move. The others kept firing down the hill, loosing single shots to preserve ammunition.

Major Phranc moved round to the far side of the launch carriage, melta bomb in one hand, his recharged plasma pistol in the other. As he rounded the machine, a tremendous blow caught him full in the face, snapping his head back. He fell backwards to the ground, the thump knocking the wind from him. As his vision swam, through his crackled visor Major Phranc saw the muscled Ork slaver standing over him, its fangs barred in a feral snarl, the vicious man catcher held loose in its left claw. It’s right was on the launch lever. Phranc raised his pistol and fired. At this range he couldn’t miss, and the back wash from the pistol burned through his gear to sear the skin of his face and arms, but he was too late. The Slavers legs crumpled, all that remained of his vaporised form, but the lever was down. The rockets at the far end of the carriage sputtered, then exploded into life, the entire hillside vibrating as the huge missile soared upwards towards the city.


All across the valley eyes, human and alien, turned to the night sky to see a streak of fire propelling the last remaining siege missile through the tracer laced air towards the city of Barakka. The noise was thunderous, like a shuttle launch, and it left a dirty grey contrail behind.


Arbitrator Meehan checked the screen again, then lifted his gaze to look out of the viewing portal into the embattled night. From the top most viewing platform of the Precinct House, he could see it clearly, a massive ball of light, with an ugly fanged face at its centre, the painted nose cone of the Ork missile. He hit the evacuation alarm, turning to dash for the stairs through the blaring sirens and flashing red lights. He jumped down the metal stairs three at a time, other officers piling out of doors at every floor and down the stairs, leaving everything but their personal arms behind.

As Meehan made it to the open blast door of the upper third level, the missile, narrowly missing the already crumbling Scholam building across the square, ploughed into the upper reaches of the Barakka City Precinct House...

... The lights went out.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

New Edition Anxiety

When the rumblings of the approach of the new edition of a core rulebook for a major game system begin to thrum in the ether, the anxious grumblings of 'New Edition Sceptics' are sure to follow.

I tend to say very little in the lead up to a new edition (apart from encouraging people to 'wait and see'), and just watch the rumour threads go from innocent mewling new borns to titanic thrashing monstrosities, burgeoning with the power of untold fearful posts. They are like Daemons of the Warp, slurping up the emotions of gamers and threatening the destruction of all we hold dear, when in fact you scratch the surface and there is often very little substance beneath.

I must say that as the only major systems I have played over the years are Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K, I can only speak based on that experience, but I expect similar occurrences with any major system when changes are brought in. In many ways it reminds me of a General Election in reverse. With a General Election, lots of people seem to want the incumbant government out, and the devil they don't know to step in and fix everything with a snap of their greasy fingers.

With the new edition of a rulebook, it seems that the promise of a new edition, especially one with big (comparitively speaking) changes in the offing, it's as if someone has threatened the very souls of some gamers, and they begin to imagine all sorts of terrible things, that their armies, collected meticulously over many years, will become as effective as a middle east peace process.

Given that we are all playing by the same set of rules, I just don't believe that any changes will be quite that destructive. Yes, it's fair enough to say that some armies will not play quite as intended until their specific army list and rules are updated, but that isn't a failing of the new rules set is it? That's a failing of the game producer to support older armies under successive new editions of the rules. Thankfully things are getting better in Games Workshop's handling of such things. When 6th Edition 40K was released, every army had an FAQ and errata document available within days rather than months as it has been in the past.

I much prefer to sit back for a couple of months after the release of a new book, wait for the dust to settle, the inevitable FAQ's to bed in, and then ask people what they think of the new rules. If I ask that question too early, then people are too busy fixating on individual rules and not looking at the bigger picture. Take 8th edition Warhammer Fantasy for example. A while after the release, I posted a poll on the mighty Warseer, and asked the question 'Which new/changed rule to you like least?'. You can see from the results that the answer might not be as you would expect, given the changes people were complaining about the most when they were first announced.

I for one have always simply accepted whatever changes have been made to a rules set when a new book comes out. I enjoy the challenge of getting to know the new or amended rules, and like the levelling effect some changes have. Both the 8th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy and more recently the 6th Edition of Warhammer 40,000 have forced gamers to have a rethink about how they select and employ their armies, and in many areas forced us to build redundancy into our army lists and battle plans.

Many people were very unhappy about the additional random elements introduced with 8th Edition Fantasy, but I like the way this prevents a player from putting all their chicken nuggets in one basket with the confidence they could in earlier editions. Not knowing in advance what the objective of the battle will be is another great way of encouraging players to build more flexible lists that can multi task, rather than some of the majorly focussed forces we sometimes used to see. The way the rules interlock has changed the game in many ways.

I guess what I'm driving at is this: change isn't a slap in the face, it's an opportunity to step into the unknown and overcome the challenges that come with it. Comfort zones are great for airports and train stations, but wargaming is meant to be exciting and challenging, not comfortable.

Ok, so people will all have their own opinions about rules changes, and the old adage that you can't please all of the people all of the time is very apt, but people are welcome to say what they think, because we are all free thinking people. Not every new rule is going to make me want to buy the designer a drink, but I always ask the question 'Is the game better overall under this new edition?'. I think most people will answer yes most of the time, in which case it's done its job. Besides, if they made a perfect game, what would the designers do after that? World domination? Adult entertainment? It doesn't bear thinking about. Change is more often than not a good thing. Gives us something to test ourselves with.

At the end of the day, whichever rules set or game it is that you play, it's a game, enjoy it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

From The Beginning...

As this is a new blog, and this is the first real post, I guess it should be about me as a wargamer. Hopefully this will give you guys a better idea of where I'm coming from. I hope that some things about my journey will strike a chord with people, but other bits which are different to your own journey will prove of interest. I guess you could say that this post is about the evolution of a tabletop wargamer.

So, where to start? The obvious cliche is to start at the beginning, but where is the beginning? Where is my beginning, and is it the same as your beginning? How did I come to be a player of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000 and a smattering of GW's Specialist Games range? Well, let's see. The beginning of my wargaming could be when I first started playing Space Marine back in 1993, but it isn't. That might have been my first taste of an established commercial wargame, but that's not the start of my journey.

Let's go back a bit further. The legendary HeroQuest, and my first taste of the fantasy genre of games, and following that, Space Crusade, and the first time I ever laid covetous eyes on a Space Marine.
Now this is an important point in my wargaming story, because it was the first time I had come into contact with images and background text associated with Games Workshop. In addition, the box sides of Space Crusade were covered in advertising for Citadel Paints and pictures of painted models. It's important also to mention that I wasn't yet struck by the desire to paint the simple plastic models that came in each of the two boxes, though inside the Space Crusade box was a fold out leaflet of the kind we are all familiar with. 

Contained within it's awe inspiring folds and creases I found pictures of the Space Marine game, and probably pictures of the Rogue Trader book and various Warhammer Fantasy books and models. This is what led me to buy my first White Dwarf magazine, issue 160 if anyone is interested, the February 1993 issue I think.

But what made me decide to add HeroQuest to my already overloaded Christmas List all those years ago? I had developed a taste for the adventure it promised, the cut and thrust of hand to hand combat, the roar of bestial Orcs charging, all narrated by the commanding voice of Christopher Lee in the mesmerising TV ads. Where did this desire originate?

I have now established that the earliest origins of my immersion into the wonders of tabletop wargaming didn't begin with Games Workshop, or even with their collaboration with MB. So where did it really begin? What put me on the path?

Well, before I discovered sci-fi and fantasy board games, I was a keen reader, as I still am today. Back in the late 80's I had a library card, and as I passed the hallowed doors of the library on my walk home from school, I looted and pillaged my way through every adventure gaming book I could find. At their most advanced (so advanced I probably wasn't even playing them properly) were the Bloodsword Books, and before them, Lone Wolf. And even before those, it was the seminal and indescribably crucial Fighting Fantasy books, by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston no less. If we wade through the sea of Fighting Fantasy books, shoving the Warlock of Firetop Mountain to one side, and elbowing our way past the Armies of Death, and give the Snow Witch a very stern look indeed, the crowds part, the mists clear, and low and behold we find...

...Choose your own Adventure books!

Now don't get me wrong, I had bucket loads of toy soldiers like most other boys, quite possibly more, and have many fond memories of setting them all up across my grandparents kitchen table over a whole afternoon, just to clear them away again, but toy soldiers could have led anywhere. It could have been model building, the tanks and aeroplanes and self propelled guns of World War II, a period for which I have a keen interest, but it was the gaming books that set me on path of collecting models for the express purpose of battling against an opponent using tomes of rules large enough to sink a battleship.

This is the story of how I came to be a player of tabletop wargames, indeed, how I came to be writing these words, and in so doing I have been reminded of things I had forgotten, and of the  excitement of those earliest days, the feeling I could not just read a story, but be part of it.

That's what wargaming is to me, and part of  the reason I am so pleased that 8th Edition Warhammer Fantasy and 6th edition 40K have taken the direction they now have. The emphasis has been re-focussed onto the story and it's telling.

I hope this first post has given you an idea of what my motivations are, and also hopefully brought back fond memories of how your wargaming story began. If you have made it this far, fellow story tellers, you have my thanks. Now wipe the nostalgic tear from your eye, and be thankful this isn't a podcast, because no doubt your ears might be bleeding by now if it was...