Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dreamforge Eisenkern Keilerkopf APC - Unboxing

As I'm sure every Kickstarter addict or dabbler knows by now, long waits for fulfillment of all of one's pledge rewards is the norm in this day of ever more ambitious campaigns, and thus it's often that one receives an e-mail notification of an impending shipment or a box on the stoop without any expectation. This was the case the other day as I received notice that Wargames Factory was slinging something my way. It took a moment of recollection before I realized this was probably the last shipment for the Dreamforge Games Kickstarter I backed, containing the brutal-looking armored vehicle that had become the part of the fund-raiser that I was most excited about.

I've been following Mark Mondragon, the guy behind Dreamforge Games, for a while now and his work has never failed to impress me. But it was this Kickstarter, aimed at bringing his now iconic Leviathan Crusader and a host of supporting models into injection-molded plastic from resin and metal that made his catalog a contender in the competitive sci-fi miniatures market in my opinion. The Kickstarter funded more than two years ago, and while that's a substantial time to wait, Mark's regular updates, the complexity of the range of items he was bringing into production, and the quality of the platoon of Eisenkern Stormtroopers that arrived in the meantime made it seem to never be an unacceptably long wait. And from my initial review of the Keilerkopf APC, I think I'm going to find the wait to receive this final piece to be also well-justified.

First, a look at the box, which features the rather spartan, fairly utilitarian graphic design typical of the Dreamforge products I've purchased.  While I realize it's a bit pedantic to comment on this, and I do think the CGI artwork Dreamforge uses is always sharp, I can't help but think that a talented graphic designer could help kick up the shelf presence of these items a notch.

Pictures of the Loki and Thor conversion kits, built using the Keilerkopf as a base, that really emphasize that this a sci-fi rendition of the WWII German SdKfz 251 Hanomag.

A really nicely done version of the kit by the talented Dwartist. Here you can really see the extent of interior detail Mark has jammed into the kit - and this build doesn't even show the crew members or passengers that can be placed in those seats.

The directions, which come as a double-sided, 5 panel paper document. This is no simple kit to put together, but fortunately the directions contain well rendered images of parts of their assemblies and the pieces are well coded on the sprues. Given the number of pieces, I'd suggest that this is a kit for which assembly will go much easier if you remove the pieces from the sprues as you need them, being exceptionally careful to ensure you're grabbing the correct coded piece.

This is just one side of the directions! Like I said, a complex kit. What's interesting is the number of assemblies for which no glue is to be used. With two side doors, a rear ramp, four roof hatches, and a hood that all open, and a point defense gun that swivels and extends on a folding armature, this kit can feature a great deal of movement after construction. Of course this might not be ideal for your typical wargamer, more concerned with robust models that won't break during regular table time, so a lot of this articulation, as well as much of the slick interior detail, might need to be glued away.

This is how the sprues are packaged within the box, wrapped in a cello bag I presume intended to contain pieces that invariable pop off the sprues.

And the pile of sprues removed from the bag. If you're at all familiar with Wargames Factory sprues, either from their own products or the work they do for Malifaux, these feature the same peg and socket style design that allow the sprues to be stacked upon each other and lock in place. With a kit with as many sprues as this one, I think it's a great design, especially as it prevents sprues from rubbing against each other in the packaging, damaging pieces. Interestingly, the large hull pieces you see on top of the pile are not sprued this way, connected to each other via a central sprue hub instead of being contained within the more typical frame.

All of the sprues and other pieces necessary for building the Keilerkopf laid out. I told you there were a lot of pieces here!

Two sprues just to contain the pieces necessary for building the crew members and passengers. For those that have the Eisenkern Stormtrooper infantry, these look to be modeled the same and thus there should be plenty of head- and equipment-swapping potential for those looking for a slightly less uniform looking crew and passengers.

The tinted window pieces for the windshield and doors as well as the screws and mini screwdriver that seems to be a standard insert for all of the larger Dreamforge kits lately. At this rate I should have a small collection of these before long. :)

Finally a pic of one of the six tires that comes with the kit, showing its rubberized qualities. There had been some discussion on the Kickstarter regarding whether the tires would take this form, as opposed to being made of the same styrene as the rest of the kit, with compelling arguments for going in either direction. I personally had been against the rubber tires, simply because I have no experience with dealing with this material on a model. But I know tank tracks on scale models are often made this way and thus there is no doubt substantial information available online explaining how to paint and weather them.

In summary, in case it wasn't obvious from any of the above, I rather like what I'm seeing with this kit and can't wait to build it. Before I do so though, I'm going to need to spend some time thinking of my intended use for it. As noted above, this kit features an impressive amount of interior detail and articulation. While the former would allow for this to be an impressive diorama piece and the latter is just plain fun, I've also picked up a small pile of the Eisenkern Stormtroopers, for which the Keilerkopf is supposed to function as support, that are intended for the gaming table. Do I want doors and hatches popping open or guns drooping on me during a game? While nowhere as impressive in their interior detail, Warhammer 40K Rhino APCs have been constructed for years now with their passenger benches and racked bolter hidden behind a barrier of plastic cement.

Perhaps I should just make the decision easy and buy a second one as soon as it hits retail?

Monday, January 12, 2015

'14 Retrospective & '15 Plans

It's beginning to look as if these retrospective posts are about the only time I post to the blog anymore, but given that they stem from the same types of hopes and goals that fuel the rest of our new year's resolutions and hopes, I think it's still a useful, and inspirational activity.

So before launching into a list of goals for the coming year that, at this time next year, I'll likely have to acknowledge, with a sigh, that I didn't accomplish at all, let's see how 2014 shaped up from a gaming perspective.

First, I suppose it's a good thing that, despite my desired intent for the blog, I never gave it a specifically miniatures gaming-oriented name as 2014 saw my level of such hobby activity decline further yet.  While a 100% increase in production from 2013, this past year didn't see the explosion in productivity I had been hoping for, with me knocking out only the 4 figures you see below - a Malifaux Rotten Belle in April and some Lovecraftian fishmen in August.  Making things even worse, all of these figures were painted for others and thus don't represent even a small dent in my troves of unpainted figures.

Like last year, my lack of miniature painting productivity wasn't indicative of an inability to partake in the gaming hobby in some form, and 2014 was a banner year for board games (again), RPGs and card games.  Presuming I didn't forget to add any plays to my Boardgamegeek record, I participated in 179 games last year, a marked increase from 2013 and an affirmation for the existence of the bookcase of games in our living room.

While stalwarts like 7 Wonders and King of Tokyo dominated the instances of play this year, primarily due to their use as gateway games for a couple, new to the hobby, with whom we struck up an informal gaming group, two new games snuck into the upper echelons.  First, and tied for the second most number of plays, was Netrunner.  While the old AEG CCG Warlord was the only card game into which I really bit, and I never played the original version of this game, the rebooted FFG Android: Netrunner has hooked and pulled me in wholesale.  The assymetric and bluffing aspects of the game mitigate the troubles I have in identifying card synergies during deck construction that have always made me a weak CCG player, and Netrunner has become the game I play any change I can get.  Plus I love what FFG has done for the setting, which I think would be stellar for an RPG.

Speaking of RPGs, Pathfinder was the other new game to the top of my list as the nascent campaign mentioned last year has gotten legs under it and really developed into a deep, involved story.  Our GM has taken one of the published adventure paths and draped so much original design in the form of side quests and overarching plots that it's nearly indistinguishable from the original.  I've had a blast, but I can say without hesitation that this has been solely because of our GM.  While I love Pathfinder for the same reason as I loved 3rd edition - the massive toolbox allows for players and GMs to model nearly any character concept - I've found the book-keeping to be a chore and have even started bringing a laptop to the game so that I can rely on Herolab.  The rest of our gaming group has been doing this from the beginning of the campaign, and I think the temptation to surf the web during the game or pull up game stats and information a player shouldn't do are detrimental to the experience.  Fortunately I also grabbed all three of the new D&D 5th edition books this year and, while it might be some time before I'm able to get behind the GM screen again, I think 5th might represent the most perfect blend of old-school, story-telling first systems and more modern design that I've yet seen.

With all that said, what am I hoping 2015 looks like?  Obviously boardgames will be a large part of that, as it seems we're adding new folks to our circle of gamers at a steady rate.  The Pathfinder campaign will likely still click along, taking us well through this year as I believe our GM has notebooks full of plot points yet.  And I'd really like to spread my cyber wings a bit and test the local Netrunner tournament scene.  With only a handful of players in our group, you could say our "meta" is pretty local.

But this is supposed to be a miniatures blog, right, so what are my plans in that niche?  Has my waning productivity and lack of miniatures gaming (note I didn't include a single minis game amongst my most played, above) indicated and end to this particular passion?  Not a chance.  But it has made me consider more thoroughly than any hobby should just what I want out of it.  The days of active playing, and thus the need to stay competitive, are over.  Barring an unforeseen change in interest, it's unlikely I will ever walk into a store for some pick-up gaming again.  Instead, my desire is to make the hobby more project focused.  No more buying figures for a faction that I find the most interesting in order to "get into" a new game.  Instead I'll be thinking of the miniatures gaming experiences I'd like to have, and distill that down into a project entailing the necessary figures, terrain, and rules, as appropriate.  Sometimes this will be gaming-oriented, as with the long-suffering late war WWII project, and other times this will be purely hobby-oriented.

Exactly what these projects will be for this year I cannot say for sure, but I'm fairly certain there's going to be some "Oldhammer" activity (though Oldhammer for me represents the early to mid-90s as that was when I first stumbled across GW), some Warzone and Chronopia stuff, as well as 15mm Germans and Malifaux (the only current miniatures game I've never faltered in my love for).  In order to vainly attempt to put some structure around these projects and prevent me from flitting from one to the next, I'm going to resurrect an activity in which I once engaged and tally both my painting production and miniature acquisitions/sales for the year.  The optimal goal is to never have the "Models Purchased" total exceed the sum of the "Models Painted" and "Models Sold."  Given that I know that things like Wrath of Kings and MERCS Recon will be arriving this year, and I'm not going to overlook those simply because they were purchased earlier, meeting that goal continuously will no doubt be difficult, so the more likely goal is to achieve this balance by the end of the year.  We'll see how things go.

Hopefully you too have big hobby plans for the year, regardless of how "pie in the sky" they might be, and I wish you luck.  Have a great 2015!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

GenCon Infinity Gaming Tables

As those of you interested in the game no doubt already know, Infinity made quite a splash at GenCon last month. Their brand new IceStorm starter set sold out before the convention ended, with their limited edition figures going much quicker than even that. They hosted a few seminars, teasing at upcoming releases as well as the general direction the game and its aesthetics will be taking, and all of these things contributed to a general sense that Corvus Belli and Infinity were "getting it," and about to take off to the next level of popularity.

But amidst all of these shinys (and I'll admit I came home with stuff I had no immediate purpose for), what impressed me the most was the quality of the numerous tables set up to run demos, tournaments, and other events throughout the convention. I believe all of the terrain was provided by Warsenal, which, up until GenCon, I had seen as just another producer of yet more flat, uninspiring laser-cut MDF terrain. But I came away really impressed. Whether this is because Warsenal is just that much better at getting compelling designs out of layered MDF, or because all terrain products offered by such producers can look just as good when painted well and used as just another tool in terrain design, I'm unsure (though I'm heavily leaning toward the latter presumption).

These first two tables represent the most basic set-ups I saw, consisting entirely, or nearly entirely, of MDF terrain, and I think the difference in aesthetic appeal is most apparent.  While generally using the same kinds of pieces, the first table, uses a dramatic color scheme to both disguise any "flatness" in the buildings as well as to create a consistent theme across the board.
The second board uses pieces that are just as skillfully airbrushed, but the varied palette makes each building and terrain item appear much more as a one-off piece and so, instead of benefiting from the ability to blend into a cohesive whole, any shortcomings in the design of the buildings is more readily apparent.  Unfortunately, this is what most gaming tables look like.
This third table I see as the next step in the evolution from the pink table, above.  The terrain is still only MDF pieces, but a few additional colors have been brought into the scheme and just as skillfully applied, and, more importantly, the buildings are arranged in a way that tells something of a story.  I think this contributes to the "cohesive whole" suggested above, which in turn provides a character the individual buildings may not have on their own.
Finally we get to this table, which I think is the perfect representation of using these MDF kits as just another tool in creating great looking terrain. Here, by contrasting the buildings against the organic shapes of the rock formations and trees, I think the blockiness of the buildings is actually an asset aesthetically.  The painting and weathering on the buildings doesn't hurt either.
Of course, you could just use MDF kits to build terrain that specifically benefits from squared shapes and minimal relief detail, such as a pre-fab style base like this one.  In fact, this was my favorite board of all those used in the Infinity gaming area.  Not ideal for gaming, I'm sure, the tight corridors, piles of gribblies, and spectacular painting made this a really compelling piece to look at.
Speaking of painting, I'll leave you with a close-up of one of the painted Warsenal pieces. I think there's no question that making these kinds of terrain kits look their best requires a style of painting that forces the perception of texture and detail that isn't actually there. The Warsenal painters seem to excel at this, not only through their use of modulation on flat surfaces and source lighting, but in the use of weathering and hyper-exaggerating highlights.  Look at the white edge hightlighting on this green piece for example.  When skillfully done, this approach goes along way towards transforming these pieces from just simple wooden boxes.

Others in my occasional Infinity gaming group were similarly impressed, so hopefully it's just a matter of time before I'm able to start showing my own attempts to replicate the effects discussed above!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The GenCon Haul

Getting back from GenCon late last night, and then having to trudge through the day of depression that is the first work day back from GenCon, I'm just now starting to reflect on the convention that was and organize the pictures that I took. Most are of Infinity, which completely ensnared me this year, and I'll post those tomorrow. In the meantime, here's what I picked up this year.

In no particular order, that's the newest expansion for Memoir '44; the new Infinity starter set and convention-exclusive figures; the new Malifaux book, arsenal decks, and Nightmare and Miss figures; the new 5th ed D&D books; some classic basic D&D adventures to add to my collection; the convention special Privateer Press figure; the Pathfinder card game Ranger class deck; and a few KR Multi-case figure cases.

For the first time in years I exhibited some degree of restraint in the dealer hall, only picking up figures for the two games I am actively playing (Infinity and Malifaux), or hope to play again soon (D&D of any sort and the Pathfinder card game).  Enticing new games were passed by (sorry Dropzone Commander, Shadowrun Crossfire, and 13th Age), as were miniatures games for which I already have a few figures still languishing, unassembled and unpainted, in blister (sorry Bushido and Dark Age), or which I have tried, repeatedly, to get off the ground with local friends (sorry Heavy Gear).

The purchase I'm possibly most giddy about were the KR cases though.  I've eyed them for a while and had determined to pick up a pair once I got back from the convention after seeing the jumbled mess my recent move made of my figures.  Lo and behold the Warstore had them for sale at GenCon though, and for an absolute song of a price, so I walked out with three of them.  Given the other fun toys I picked up, it seems a bit silly to admit how much I'm looking forward to transferring my painted stuff over to their new homes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Awakened from a Millennia of Slumber

Perhaps it's only been four months, but that might as well be a millennia in the blogging world and it was an appropriate title for these servants of the Great Old One, Cthulhu.

Obligatory crappy cellphone picture
These figures, from the RAFM Miniatures Call of Cthulhu line, were painted as part of the demo force for a friend's new game system, premiering in beta form at this year's GenCon later this week.  I'll hopefully have more to say about that system in the near future.

I'll be honest, I was unaware that RAFM even still existed until these figures were sent to me to paint.  In the late 90s I loved the company, primarily because they produced the first run of Heavy Gear figures, and even carried my keys on a keychain with a massive metal RAFM-logo fob hanging from it.  Since then they seemed to pretty much disappear from the radar, or at least my radar, so I was shocked to see a catalog full of some great old, as well as really slick new, sculpts.  Nearly universally they're all pretty simple, clean sculpts, like these fishmen here, unadorned with layers of fiddly bits.  While I love me some fiddly bits on figures, these were an absolute blast to paint.  If you're interested check out RAFM here.