Thursday, September 27, 2007

Zen Again: AT-43

Is it finally time to give sci-fi gaming an honest shot?

My wargaming buddies will vouch for the fact that I'm a devout fantasy wargamer at heart. I've been collecting & painting miniatures for close to 30 years and have a fairly large and eclectic collection of fantasy minis from a wide range of manufacturers. Part of my collection also includes historicals, usually from the medieval or ancient periods where my main interests lie. But aside from an oddball figure here & there and some HeroScape stuff (robots), I don't own too much in the way of science fiction miniatures.

Don't get me wrong, I think sci-fi wargaming is a cool, especially for skirmish games. But what has been stopping me from getting into that period all of these years has been a combination of time and money.

I have a rabid fascination with nicely painted fantasy miniatures and enjoy collecting them and forming them into sizeable armies for use in mass-battle games. But without a doubt, you can sink mucho money into this hobby if your aim is to collect high quality, professional looking toy soldiers. Many gamers decide that rather than spend gobs of cash to buy pro-painted figures, they'll paint the minis themselves. This is a much more affordable route to go, but the tradeoff here is time. I really enjoy painting, since it lets me use my artistic talent in a fun way. But I simply don't have as much free time as I used to. I would guess that I spend 20 to 24 hours to complete a unit of soldiers to my level of satisfaction. That's a good chunk of time; as you can see I'm not a speed painter!

So unless you're independently wealthy or retired, you're limited in the number of periods & genres that you can get into. Fortunately, the wargaming hobby is starting to undergo a major change. From HeroScape to Reaper's new Legendary Encounters range to Rackham's AT-43 and revamped Confrontation game, the era of "pre-painted" miniatures is upon us. In my opinion, this is a great thing for the wargaming hobby. It will bring more outsiders into the hobby because the barrier to entry has really been lowered. With pre-paints, it doesn't cost as much to acquire painted minis and you don't need to spend any time painting them. For those of us diehards who still love buying traditional metal minis, oogling expert paint-jobs, and the self-expression that comes with the painting/modelling hobby, we now have a cheap & fast way to expand our wargaming interests into other periods & genres which were previously too costly or time consuming to get into.

That brings me squarely to the topic of AT-43, Rackham's science-fiction skirmish game that features pre-painted models. I've read several reviews of this game online and in wargaming magazines and it seems pretty promising.

AT-43 doesn't appear to have the tactical depth and strong command & control feel of the fantasy wargames that I most favor (especially when compared to my own Sword of Severnia game). But you know what, that's okay with me. There's room for all kinds of different games, with varying degrees of depth & weight. While I may love to really dive into a deep wargame as my main pastime, a light game of HeroScape with its very simple rules is a hell of a lot of fun. My guess is that AT-43 will fit into the medium/light category of skirmish wargames. And for me, that's exactly what I'm looking for: a fun complement to the deeper games that I play.

But what makes AT-43 most attractive to me are its pre-painted models. Rackham is known for its cool sculpts. While these sci-fi models don't have the crazy French-flair of their fantasy range, they're very cool in their own right. Here are some of my favorites:

I don't know about you, but I think these are really cool looking figures. The space apes are just awesome!

I doubt that the factory paint jobs will meet the standards of these showcase minis, but I've heard they're very solid "tabletop quality" miniatures. That's all you can ask for in a mass-produced range.

It won't be long until I take the plunge and pickup some boxes of these babies.

If you haven't heard, Rackham has been in the news recently, and the news wasn't all that good. From the sound of things, it seems like they're experiencing some financial troubles and are in the process of restructuring the company and refining their long-range business plans. I sincerely hope that they get things turned around, as their move to pre-paints is a bold move and one which many gamers are clamoring for.

On the plus side, they recently made a deal with Fantasy Flight Games here in the USA. Fantasy Flight is one of the most popular board game publishers around and their excellent range of games is growing quite rapidly. If you've never heard of Descent, War of the Ring, Citadels, Tide of Iron, Arkham Horror, Runebound, Fury of Dracula, Blue Moon, Wings of War, then where in the heck have you been the past 4 years? They are also starting to distribute the fine World Tank Museum miniature tanks from Japan, and are coming out with a 54mm collectible minis game called Mutant Chronicles soon. So I don't think Rackham could have picked a better partner to team up with than FFG. That move will ensure that these fine minis get plenty of exposure in North America.

Anyway, do yourself a favor and check out AT-43. It may be just the game to get you fantasy, ancients, napoleonics, and WWII wargamers into the world of sci-fi in a way that won't kill your pocketbook or eat up too much extra time.

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