June 25, 2012

Look What I Got...Empire of the Dead

So I had to make a trip up to the big UPS depot on Friday afternoon to pick up a package.  I wasn't certain what it was, although it really could only have been a 50/50 choice between two items.  While I was thinking (and sort of hoping) that it was my shipment of gaming mats from Zuzzy Mats, that wasn't the case.  Of course my disappointment was short-lived, as the alternative wasn't too shabby either: my huge Empire of the Dead order from the previous week!

After paying the import duties and taxes from UPS the price of all this lovely stuff ended up being, less than stellar but let's forget about that for now and dive into things a little bit more.

This particular batch of metal, paper and plastic was ordered directly from West Wind Productions based in the UK.  Until recently I'd honestly never heard of them, but apparently they're producing some other miniatures games that have been quite well received of late.

In addition to current games, they also have some older lines of miniatures (and rules, but I'll not be getting into those) which look to have been directly related to the genesis of Empire of the Dead.  The most directly associated of this would be their Gothic Horror Vampire Wars line of figures.

You can see some of these figures on the bottom right corner.  I ordered a package deal (saving 5 pounds from the individual prices) which included all of the figures needed to play the EotD demo scenario from the West Wind website. It included figures for Holmes and Watson, Jack the Ripper, four policemen, four female victims, four English gentlemen and a collection of ten or eleven townsfolk figures.  It wasn't a bad price and the models look pretty decent, but there looks to be a fair amount of flashing on them.

I was a little disappointed that West Wind didn't include some bases to go with these figures are part of their package deal.  It's a minor thing, but it would have made me quite happy.  As it is, I was able to clean up the officers and named characters in about an hour, seven figures in total, and base them with little trouble.  As soon as I can find some more bases I'll be doing up some civilians and the victims next so that I can try out the demo scenario with some friends.

The five boxes you see towards the back include one of each of the starter factions, and one other box that I felt compelled to purchase with all the other stuff:

- Brotherhood faction starter
- Gentlemen faction starter
- Lycaon faction starter
- Vampire faction starter
- Victorian Zombies

I've opened each of the boxes to have a look at the figures and they're thematically and stylistically in keeping with the Gothic Horror ones, but appear to have better casting quality.  The mold lines are less obvious and the quality looks a bit higher.  Since these are newer products that's sort of to be expected, so it's a happy thing that it's actually the case.

Next up are the two bonus figures that I received, Professor Erasmus and The Butler.  These were included as extras for ordering the whole batch of stuff from West Wind.  I haven't opened these but they look good from what I can see.  It's a nice bonus, and makes the shipping costs for what I ordered feel a little less painful...but it still stings a little.

Lastly of course is the rule book.  This is a very nicely put together product, hard bound and in full colour.  I like that the fiction to set the scene is all collected together at the start of the book, and the rules and campaign setting information follow in their own sections later.  It's a great looking book with lots of rule examples shown in the appropriate spots.  I've not read through it entirely, but my first impression is quite favorable.

So what do I think?  Overall what I got looks great.  I can't wait to paint up some stuff and give the game a try.  I think it will make a good companion game to Strange Aeons or at least serve a similar niche for players who aren't interested in the Lovecraftian flavour that game has.  My only complaint was the shipping, which is really no one's fault specifically.  Between shipping from the UK to here plus the import costs it was a costly purchase.  However if the game play is solid and I get some a decent amount of gaming time out of it, then it will have been worth it.

I'll post back my thoughts on the individual items, rules and reports as I'm able to in the future.

June 20, 2012

Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten - Beta Rules First Play

I really enjoy the locally-developed miniature game Strange Aeons, which is probably no secret by now.  I was able to play a 4-player game at last week's club night with the "Old Man" scenario.  We had two players on each side and the lurkers were able to get away with the information they pried from the old man, before mercilessly killing him.

Seeing how much fun the lurker players were having I decided to download the beta test rules for Uncle Mike's in-development game Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten.  Don't worry, I can't pronounce it either, even though I am 99.9% sure it's German.  According to the text on the front of the book it means "Of Unspeakable Cults".

After returning home from work I sat down to read through the rules and make up two starting cult lists to give things a try.  I'll give some details of the game here, then follow it up with my thoughts afterward.

The Game

I rolled the "Fight" scenario and set up the table with the Death Cult on one side and the Arcane Seekers on the other.  Some bushes, trees, small hills and a single stone wall dotted the landscape.  The Arcane Seekers won initiative first, moving several of their members up to firing positions.  The Death Cult answered by moving up a few troopers, while their mad scientist Dr. Kroene experimented on their zombies.  His efforts killed a zombified young boy, but added extra movement to another wielding a hatchet.

The arcane high priest and his cult leader order more ranged weapons forward.  A tommy-gun toting red robe takes the first shot, narrowly missing Trooper Finster on the other side of the stone wall.  Replying in kind, Finster takes aim, but suddenly then swings his rifle toward the cult leader...who ducks the blast.  Dr. Kroene tries to enhance the other two of his zombie minions, causing the tall female one to turn to dust at his feet, but achieving an enhancement on the fat zombie.  If you call faster drooling while moving further an enhancement.

In the effort to avoid being shot the Arcanists cult leader distanced himself too much from the high priest.  The high priest tries to remedy the situation by sending forward the tommy gun and dynamite carrying minions.  Finster is gunned down in a hail of gunfire and coughs his last into the dry dirt, a major injury.

Kommandant Hemler has also made the mistake of moving too far away from the Doctor and must rely solely on his own troopers.  He orders up Trooper Umlaut and Trooper Halten.  Halten exacts revenge for Trooper Finster's death on his killer, decimating him completely while Trooper Umlaut moves into firing position.  Kommandant Hemler positions himself to more effectively relay orders from the Doctor.

Another cultist charges in and guns down Trooper Umlaut with his .45 pistol.  On the west side, an Arcanist carrying a bolt-action rifle joins one of his fellows in some cover.  They both shrink back a little bit as Doctor Kroene and his hatchet zombie move up to confer with Trooper Shiesten under cover of a large elm tree.  Kommandant Hemler and Trooper Schnauzer move up to support Trooper Halten, who fires in vain at the dynamite-carrying Arcanist.

In response Halten is forced to duck under some mis-thrown explosives...showering him with dirt, but causing no harm.  The high priest moves up behind the cover of the stone wall and warns his minion with the .45 pistol to be alert for movement while the cultist with the rifle takes aim at the oncoming zombie.  As slow as that thing is, it turns out it's surprisingly difficult to hit!  Seeing an opportunity his companion fires two shots from his shotgun at Trooper Shiesten, but the tree provides ample cover.

Trooper Halten catches a glimpse of the high priest's ostentatious head gear and fires of two rounds of fire, nearly hitting, but the stone wall just provides the priest with a little too much cover.  Trooper Shiesten follows Halten's line of fire and moves around to the west, drawing a direct line of site and obliterating the high priest, but jamming his weapon in the process!  The bloody pulp on the Arcanist minion's robes don't seem to phase him.  The cultist looks down at the dying high priest's body as he gurgles his final words..."get those bastards!"  As the breath rattles from his corpse Kommandant Hemler moves into view.  Following his leader's dying wish the cultist alertly cracks off an unsuccessful shot at the Death Trooper.  Smiling under his steel helm the Kommandant guns down the minion without a second thought.

With their numbers growing thin the cult leader orders his two western gunmen to open fire.  While nervous and afraid they are able to a critical hit on Trooper Shiesten, downing him with a major injury. The cult leader sprints towards the cover of the stone wall in the confusion, hoping to garner the protection of his other remaining cultist.  Trooper Schnauzer is alerted by his movement but misses his shot as the cult leader dives behind the protection of the stones.

Taking matters into his own hands Kommandant Hemler takes aim and guns down the cowering cult leader.  The spray of grey matter looking quite severe, it's doubtful any recovery is possible there.  The fellow with the rifle turns pale and faints at the carnage.  Turning around Hemler fires again, but this time at the shotgun-carrying Arcanist, who dives to the ground, saved by the sound of his attacker's jammed weapon.  Unfortunately, his relief is short-lived, as his life is terminated by a hatchet through the brain.  Even though he was already dead, he would have sworn he could hear a hollow chuckling before the blackness claimed him.  The red-robed cultist to the east of the stone wall is struck a glancing blow from Trooper Halten and falls onto the ground.

With both members of the Arcanist cult down, the Death cultists move in swiftly to mop up and claim their victory.

Post-Game Sequence

Ok so I fully admit that my pictures suck.  I wasn't trying to make a nice pretty report or anything like that.  I did take a few more, but they're all as less-than-awesome as the two above.  But what did I think of the game you say?

Well, it's essentially a game of Strange Aeons with two groups of Lurkers...but I knew that before I played it.

For the post-game sequence here's what happened:

1. The Arcane Seekers had their entire group removed from play through major injuries:
- the High Priest suffered a Chest Wound
- Tommy Gun died
- Double-barrelled shotgun guy made a full recovery
- .45 pistol cultist died
- Rifle cultist died
- Dynamite cultist died
- Cult leader now suffers from claustrophobia.  Weird...

The Death Cultist got off a little lighter, suffering only three major injuries:
- Trooper Shiesten suffered a leg wound which will hinder his mobility.
- Sniper Finster now suffers from ballistophobia
- Trooper Umlaut died.

The Arcanists are in rough shape at this point.  They've lost four of their members, putting them down to only three total.  Having only banked 1RP after starting up, they can't recruit any new members.  That single RP will have to go toward paying their operation fees.  Things are looking pretty grim as they now have a Total Cult Rating (TCR) of only 28.

2. For the victorious Death Cult, they would have been able to roll for 7 skills.  I rolled a single 6, meaning I can add one new skill to a model of my choice.

3. The Death Cultists gain a favour from the god they worship.  Victory does have its benefits.

4. The Death Cultists will also gain 6RP to help manage the operations of their cult, which is enough to pay the 2RP required and replace Trooper Umlaut.  They now have a balance of 2RP in the bank to add to their first victory.  After paying all their costs, their re-totalled TCR is 43.

Final Thoughts

I missed rolling the cult unity tests for the Arcane Seekers once their numbers we equal to or below half of their starting number.  I think the outcome would likely have been the same though.  The cult management rules seem good, and different enough from the Threshold upgrade rules to make it interesting. Of course, getting to play as the bad guys is always fun, and being able to upgrade them is even better.  In a single play through I didn't find anything that struck me as glaringly over-powerful or out of place.

I did remember to use some of the special gear rules for the Arcane Seekers leader, but they certainly didn't help.  I was also saving his evil magic just in case the Doctor was able to transform any of the zombies.  But that lucky shot taking all of his wounds was simply amazing.  These rules will definitely be more appealing to some players over Strange Aeons, simply because both players get to advance (sort of) their groups after the game.  I'll happily play either one though, because the rules are great either way.

June 11, 2012

Why Are Miniatures Games So Big?

If you've been watching my blog for the past month or so you've seen that I've spent a fair amount of time on miniature gaming over my traditional card and board game focus.  Miniatures aren't a new realm for me, but on the grand scale they've generally not taken a huge portion of my gaming time.  I've spent a lot of money on Warhammer 40k, and a decent amount on Hordes, but the amount of actual playing time with either of those games is decidedly small.

Then comes along Strange Aeons and totally messes up my life.

Besides rekindling my interest in miniature games in general, that simple demo of the game has had some much farther-reaching effects.  Here's a brief run-down:

Copious New Miniatures Purchased
In addition to all the official Strange Aeons figures I've picked up from UMW (Uncle Mike's Worldwide), I've also bought a lot of items from RAFM's Call of Cthulhu and Modern Heroes lines.  I also picked up 8 packs of figures from Bob Murch's Pulp Figures line.  I'm not sure of a total count, but it's easily over 100 new miniatures that now live at my house.

Miniatures Have Actually Been Painted
Yes that's right, I've actually painted some of these miniatures.  In fact, I've painted over a dozen of them!  Working through some of the Lurker and Threshold character profiles inspired me to paint all three packs of UMW's cultists, as well as four of the UMW Threshold Agents.

Horrorclix Figures Will Finally See Use
Not only did I convert several of my cool-but-generally-useless Horrorclix figures (because that game sucked) for use in Strange Aeons but I also found a use for some others.  I upgraded my copy of Panic Station to include 8 re-based Alien figures.  In the process I also created small card text upgrades for that game so that players could actually tell what the cards in their hand did without having to constantly pass the rule book around the table.  Several more of the Horrorclix figures I have can and will be converted for use in other games now.

My Copy of Zombie Plague Looks Awesome
Following from the conversion of Horrorclix for Strange Aeons, all of my Horrorclix zombies now have a new home in my copy of the print-and-play game Zombie Plague.  I re-based them all on the extra 1"-diameter cardboard tokens that came with the Terraclips sets I recently bought.  With my player standees made from the victim tokens, card stock boards and full-color cards, this game looks great.  Oh and it's actually fun too.  Just ask Webber.

WorldWorks Games Now Takes My Money
Before playing Strange Aeons, I had never heard of WorldWorks Games.  They make papercraft table top terrain for miniature games, which I now own a few pieces of.  I've never made terrain out of paper before, but this stuff looks a lot better than you'd think!  More impressively though, I've been exposed to their new TerraClips products which are fucking awesome. I don't know what the hell I'm going to use them for, but I now have a set of each of their first three releases: Streets, Sewers and Buidlings of Malifaux. And they're previewing the next three sets, which I'll probably end up buying too.  Damn it!

Handmade Table Top Terrain Now Lives At My House
I bought some little kits of stuff long ago, but had never used it.  I finally cracked it all open and made a bunch of cast rocks, which ended up in my making styrofoam terrain, which was followed by being painted and flocked and adorned with miniature trees and basically taking up a lot of my time to make a bunch of mountains and grassy little hills.  They look great though, and I made them...so yay me!

I'll Finally Have Game Boards To Play Miniature Games On
In the quest for an answer to the "what the hell will I play these games on?" question I was introduced to Zuzzy Mats by Sebastien and ended up ordering 4 of their 6'x4' mats for my birthday.  Can't wait til they arrive, but that'll just mean that I have to paint almost 100 square feet of gaming mat.  Oh man...what the fuck was I thinking?  I don't even really have anyone to PLAY these games with except Sebastien, and that's maybe on a one-game-per-year basis.

My F-ing Money Just Keeps on Disappearing
I wonder if that's a hidden rule in all these damn miniature game rule books?!  Apparently not satisfied with the time and fiscal drain that Strange Aeons was having on me, I've recently invested in not one, not two, but three more of these stupid @$$ games.  On Sunday I ordered a massive batch of crap from WestWind Productions for their similar-but-different-from-Strange-Aeons game called Empire of the Dead.  It's got some great looking models, has a campaign system and uses D10 rules instead of D6.  Looks great and I can't wait to try it out, but wtf?!  When am I going to have time to build, paint and play THIS game?

I also invested in a set of rules for a super-hero miniature skirmish game called SuperSystem.  I was able to find the rule book online for about $13, which really isn't much of an investment.  Since I have hundreds of Heroclix figures living in the other room of my place, they might as well get some use.  I lost interest in Heroclix years ago, shortly after they started introducing the special powers concept.  I still buy figures once in a while because I'm apparently addicted to plastic, but I don't play.  Another set of rules to learn, character profiles to figure out, and...probably no one to play with.  Fucking awesome. Can you smell the sarcasm yet?

Even still, more shit arises.  I hear about a game today called Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster, currently in Kickstarter mode.  A sci-fi survival horror game with MORE unpainted miniatures and some extremely shiny looking stretch goal rewards...damn it there goes more of my money. Oh well, hopefully the game will be as fun as it looks, going by how awesome the models alone look.  At least it isn't slated to actually arrive until sometime late November.  It won't feel so painful when it lands on my doorstep because it'll have been paid for long before that.

"Miniature" games?  Yeah right, more like colossal.  Or I'm just a sucker.  Ah well, at least I think I'm enjoying myself.

2012 Comic Expo (Part 2)

It's taken me quite a while longer than I'd planned to finish up this particular post.  The 2.14 people out there who were waiting for it...please accept my apologies.

Saturday morning didn't start as early as I'd planned.  The long Friday followed by the late night Magic tournament apparently took a greater toll on me than I'd anticipated; I slept through my alarm AND my brunch appointment with Jason and William.  I believe William did too, so we both owe Jason an apology...likely by means of paying for breakfast another day.  Now if only Jason actually had TIME to meet us these days.

Waking up late actually ended up to be a positive thing, as I missed the long line ups at the door, as well as being just early enough to not get locked out by the fire marshals.  I strolled into the convention center with no line up, arriving just in time to make it to the next TNG panel with Wil Wheaton, Brent Spiner and Levar Burton.  The panel was a lot of fun and you could see how much these guys like each other.  The humor and jokes were all over the place but there were still some good questions asked by the audience members.  I also found out about a few projects they were working on that I wasn't aware of previously.

Following the panel I headed off for the only autograph session I was actually willing to pay money for: Stan Lee.  When I arrived in that area shortly after 2 (for a 3pm session) the line was already well exceeding the space they'd allocated in front of Stan's booth.  I didn't end up getting through the line until quite a bit after 4, although the nice couple waiting in line behind me made the wait as decent as it could be.

I think the autographs were really over sold, which weren't helped by the fact that Stan had apparently missed and been late for two of the previous signing sessions.  He was signing items so madly that he wasn't able to even really look up or even exchange pleasantries with any of us folks in line.  I was quite disappointed not even to be able to shake his hand or say hello after having stood in line, and having paid for the privilege to do so, for so long.  The person that took my book from me was also not in my good graces...showing very little care for it.  I did make a point of asking them to be careful, but it shouldn't have been necessary, as it was a comic book convention after all.

After the signing I had my signature authorized so I have a nice little piece of paper saying it is real.  Yay.  I guess.

Since the signing line had taken so long I was a few minutes late for the panel with Lance Henriksen, but I was able to get a good seat.  The panel with him only cemented my impression from the previous day.  He really is a genuinely nice guy and is definitely someone I'd love to sit and chat at length with.  Apparently they had screened one of his latest movies the night before, but I hadn't known about that.  I think in retrospect I'd have FAR rather attended that than the late-night MtG pre-release event!

After a little more shopping around Will and I headed off to the big event of the show: Star Trek TNG Expo-sed.

There was a lot of hoopla around this event, and it was an extra ticket purchase outside of the weekend passes we had purchased.  I was able to get some of the added-at-the-last-minute overflow seats for just over $80 (for the pair), and I have to say they were actually really good seats.  We were a little behind / to the right of the stage, but there were plenty of monitors and we could see everything really well.

Without getting into verbose details, the show was really great!  It was a lot of fun being there for the whole thing and seeing the whole cast interact with each other.  Will and I had a great time, even if we did have to spend a fair amount of energy ignoring a girl next to me who did not have the firmest grasp on reality.

Sunday proved a nice finish to a great weekend.  Will and I headed down early to help Webber out at the gaming area, but I was able to get some time to go pick up a good number of back issues too.  I filled some pretty large gaps in my original Marvel GIJoe and Transformer series, and was able to attend three more panels.  The Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn panel was fun, but Dorn was a little bit on the not-interested side.  He spent most of his time taking photos while Marina tried to get him to focus.  Good banter for the most part.

The final two panels I'll not get into details about but they were excellent.  Getting to hear Stan Lee talk for an hour almost made up for the excruciatingly long wait the day before, and Patrick Stewart was very interesting.  For a fellow who made his name in a sci-fi TV series, he simply loves the theatre and you can tell it is a huge cornerstone of his life and profession.

I'm not sure how the organizers can top this year, at least for me.  But hopefully they'll try!

June 04, 2012

Escape...Into Danger

Yesterday evening was an interesting turn of events.  If I'm feeling social I will sometimes invite a few friends over to play board games.  With the nice weather I wasn't planning to do so, but one of my friends called shortly before dinner-time.  We ended up going to grab a quick bite at my favorite local restaurant, enjoying a beer and some sunshine before rolling some dice.

Upon Seb's suggestion we decided to play a game of Strange Aeons. This would actually mark the first time a miniature game was played on my gaming table in over a year, as well as being a first for using some of my newly created terrain and all of my recently painted miniatures.

We rolled up the scenario Escape...Into Danger, with Sebastien playing the Lurkers (6 cultists - a leader, three with knives, one double-barrel shotgun, and a tommy gun).  I fielded my Threshold list (Carl Selinger: character with rugged and a double-barrel shotgun, Elizabeth Montrose: agent with heroic and a shotgun, Loamy MacIntyre: agent with a .45 and lieutenant, Arthur Hendry: agent with a .45 and read languages, and a concerned citizen, James Forester Jr. armed with a .22 pistol).

After we set up the terrain on the table we rolled off and Seb went first, moving up his leader and gun toting cultists up the west side and center respectively.  I responded by moving everyone except Arthur up or into the cover of the southern trees and hills.  Two of the knife-wielding cultists moved to the east corner of the temple in the center of the board...apparently hoping to slow down anyone making a run to avoid the cultist's gunfire.

On my next turn I realized I'd made a critical error by placing too much distance between Carl and Loamy, therefore hindering Carl's ability to nominate him.  In hopes of remedying this I nominated Loamy, who called Elizabeth up with him.  Loamy moved out into the open south of the temple.  Elizabeth left cover following him to the northeast.

The cultists opened fire on Loamy, landing a wound and taking him off the table with a minor injury.  Elizabeth responded by moving up to fire back.  Shotgun cultist took refuge behind a small hillock but wasn't able to dodge the buckshot and went down.  No one noticed his blood seeping into the hungry grass, as it matched the color of their robes.

James displayed bravery in the face of violence and ran towards the cultist firing a tommy-gun from the top of the temple steps.  Drawing fire away from Elizabeth for a moment he paid the price, taking a major wound from gunfire.  Elizabeth tried to avenge him, but was also cut down in a hail of gunfire.

To the east, Carl and Arthur steeled themselves for a final push past the lurkers.  Firing from atop a tall hill Carl was able to take out two of the three knife-wielding cultists who were providing protection to their leader.  Moving forward to confront the cult leader, Arthur was confused (meaning I made a mistake) and attacked at half strength.  Even in his weakened state he was able to fight the remaining cultist to the ground, but in the confusion was stabbed by the cult leader and put out of commission.

Seeing an opportunity for escape, Carl made the most of it and dodged past a few stray bullets and shouts of frustration to leave the scene of the battle.

In the aftermath Loamy and Arthur made full recoveries.  After some well-placed concern about Elizabeth, she overcame her severe injuries and was released from hospital with no long-term ill effects.  Their helpful citizen however wasn't so lucky.  He's been diagnosed with Hemaphobia and seems to be jittery whenever he's near other people.  The agents will be happy to have him along for help next time, but will remember to keep a little distance for James' peace of mind.

Carl was able to retrieve a map piece from the scene of the violence, and his skilled command seems to have improved greatly.  He was also able to retrieve Loamy's hat, which seems a pretty lucky bit of kit after everything's all said and done.  Perhaps Father Sperry will join them on their next mission.  A little more help, not to mention magic and faith, would certainly be helpful!