Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Blur Boy

Life has been pretty much a blur since I got back from ORIGINS. I've been knuckling down on design work for my Sword of Severnia miniatures wargame. Progress is being made in huge chunks of late, which is always a good thing. The rules are nearing completion. I can finally see this darn thing getting done. Don't get me wrong, there's still A LOT of work left to do. But it's doable and I'm beginning to feel the wargame taking on a more concrete shape. Yea! 
We had a very interesting playtesting session of SOS this past Sunday. It spurred a bunch of refinements. Miniature wargames, especially big battle games, are notoriously complex, so I keep striving to streamline, refine, streamline, and refine. So far so good. Aside from tweaking and adding to the Racial/Creature Game Stats, writing the detailed rules for magical Spells, and designing the Scenario Deck, there isn't anything that major left to finish rules-wise for Version 1 of the game.
With the help of my friend Barbarian Geoff, we're more than halfway finished with the formulas for the Point Costing system. That will be tied into the Army Builder software that I'm developing for the game (this wargame has some computer assisted components). I need to get cranking on this soon. With all my focus on design & writing these past 6 months, my PowerBuilder skills are starting to get rusty!
Only 8 days left until Historicon 2008! That's just unbelievable to me. It really snuck up on me this year, probably because I was at Origins less than a month ago. 
Unlike most HMGS East miniature wargaming conventions, I'm not really dying to buy anything specific this time out. Perhaps it's because I spent $400 bucks buying boardgames at Origins and haven't recovered from the sticker shock of that, which really ate into my wargaming budget. Oh whatever, I find it virtually impossible to go to Historicon and not spend at least $200 (oftentimes much more), so I know I'll be walking away with new toy soldiers and/or terrain.
I need to slowly back-away from all the unpainted tin, because I have too many unpainted minis as it is. That said, damn those Crusader and Artizan vikings look sweet, the Renegade Orcs are way tempting, and I can never resist the Gnome Wars figures. And I gotta get me some Eureka Frogs, and Croc-Men and Ghouls from the WarGods of Aegyptus range! Heck, the new Warlord Games plastic romans even scratch an itch. Down boy!
Mostly, I'll be looking for nicely painted minis that are affordable. That's a real trick. Most inexpensive minis generally look like crap. I'm not going to buy something I can paint 10-times better myself. But the cool stuff that I really like can get pricey fast. I have a difficult time plunking down $175 to $200 for a beautifully painted unit when I can get something just as nice on eBay for 60% of that price. So I'll hunt around and hope I get lucky. I love Stan Johansen's stuff, and Albright's and Evil Bob's are always worth a good look. Everything is else is hit or miss. Barbarian Geoff and I are heading down on Thursday (7/24), so hopefully it will be more HIT in the vendor hall at least.
The flea market at Historicon is always a crapshoot. Last year's Historicon flea market was quite disappointing (I'm a fantasy and ancients/medievals guy, so your mileage may vary). But the flea market at the last two Cold Wars was good. So it will be interesting to see how it turns out this summer. It's always a friggin' zoo in there. The crush of bodies (some of them fat & funky smelling) can be a real turnoff, but it's the price you pay to find miniature wargaming treasures. And we tin-pushers love our treasure! Arrrgh! Anyway, I'll report back here and let you know how it turns out.
I've started to paint miniatures again. Now I just gotta keep it up. Right now I'm repainting a unit of large Troll-bloods that I got off eBay, along with a Cave Troll (Privateer calls it a Dire Troll). They're about 85% finished and just need some final highlights to really make them snap. Then I'll move on to something else -- probably some Gnome Wars minis that are softly cooing to me. Although I've got a nice batch of Front Rank Hundred Years War figures (foot knights, archers, men-at-arms) that are enticing as well. There's also a box of GW lizardmen cavalry that's lurking in the shadows. And I could go on...and on... and on. Tough to make a decision when there's so much to paint and so little time to do it all. Oh well, Rome wasn't built in a day! 
My buddies and I are talking about sending a pile of unpainted lead to Fernando Enterprises to get more troops painted. We'll see how that goes. Fernando does great work, it's just that the shipping to Sri Lanka is pricey. But I still think it's worth it, especially for us wargamers who don't have nearly as much time to paint as we'd like. 
Soon. Soon. Soon. Soon I will get together with my friends and play some of these new board games that are stuck in my closet, wondering why they haven't been opened and gotten the chance to breathe fresh air. I gotta call Wally... and Kev... and Mayer... and get in touch with a few other folks as well. I mean two gaming session a month isn't too much to ask is it? How do some of those boardgame geeks end up playing 10 or more games per month? I mean c'mon. Don't they have a life? Maybe I have too many competing interests compared to them. Between rotisserie baseball, wargaming, reading, work, going to dinner/movies/plays with my wife, and everything else, there's only so much time available to squeeze in board gaming. I love it, so I need to make the time for it. Nuff said. 
What in the hell was Major League Baseball thinking when the All-Star Game didn't start until 9 PM Eastern Time. I mean crikey, I stayed up until almost 2:00 in the morning to watch my National League squad get beaten yet again. It was a really good game (some spectacular fielding and great pitching), but man this is getting ridiculous. I don't really like the AL, so to get continually beaten by them pisses me off... at least a little. 
They need to start the game at 7 PM EST, like a normal baseball game. Are you listening Bud Selig? 
Until next time.... BE GOOD!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Zen Again: Midgard Models

For those miniature wargamers out there who like me, enjoy purchasing nicely painted miniatures on eBay to add to their collections and supplement their own painted models, I wanted to alert you to the fine work done by Midgard Models (eBay is = midgardmodels).

These guys are located in Venezuela and do a great job painting fantasy miniatures and offering them at reasonable prices on eBay. I've bought several pro-painted minis from them in the past, including 2 recent purchases that I'll show right now.

The first, and most recent purchase, is an Orc General (or Hero) which is absolutely fantastic. Here he is in all his grisly glory...

I believe he's a Citadel (Games Workshop) model, and he'll make a fantastic Orc General for the marauding Odessian armies in my Sword of Severnia wargame. He's quite an imposing presence on the tabletop, sized more like a Troll or Ogre than a standard orc. The rock-like base is exquisite.

My second MidgardModels purchase (from 8 weeks ago), was this splendid Troll Lord...

He's a Reaper model and would serve as an excellent Hero. The shading and highlighting, terrific basing, and nice blend of colors makes him really stand out.

Both of these models were marked as "Master Painted" and were in the $20 to $25 price range, which is reasonable for expertly painted special characters of large size.

So if you find yourself short on time to paint, or overwhelmed with way too much stuff to paint, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the minis for sale on eBay. Prices and quality vary widely for painted miniatures on eBay, but I gladly recommend MidgardModels for nicely painted figures at fair prices. Expect to wait around 3 weeks to get your figures if you live in the USA since they're coming from South America. But it's well worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My ORIGINS Game Haul

Sultan Sevy (that's me in Orcish form on the left) reports about his trip to Origins...

Greetings, hobby game lovers! I'm back from Ohio. I spent a fun and exciting 3 days at the Origins game convention from June 27 thru June 29 in Columbus, Ohio.

In actuality, it was really more like half of a Friday afternoon, a good chunk of Saturday, and a quick Sunday morning last-chance visit. Prior to the trip, I hoped that I might have a little more time available to engage in some open-gaming, but unfortunately that didn't turn out to be the case. Bummer dude. Maybe next time. I still had a blast anyway.

The trip was bookended by a 6.5 hour drive on Friday from Harrisburg, PA to Columbus (we got caught in a long traffic jam created because a stretch of the interstate was flooded), and a 6-hour trip home on Sunday afternoon. In between those lengthy drives, I spent time at the convention and also wanted to make sure to spend some quality time with my wife Anna. She told me it wasn't necessary ("just go have fun" was how she put it), but anyone who sacrifices their weekend so their hubby can act like a kid again deserves some quality time! Anna is a casual gamer but wasn't too keen on going with me to the geek infested Convention Center, so she hung out at the hotel and worked on a cross-stitching project while I went on my game shopping sprees at the Origins Exhibit Hall.

My basic day consisted of:

  1. Get up, get washed and dressed, and go to breakfast with Anna.
  2. Make the 8 minute drive from the hotel (Homewood Suites) to the Chestnut Street Garage and park the car.
  3. Hoof it from the Garage through the Skywalk to the Convention Center.
  4. Make a beeline for the Exhibit Hall and shop 'til ya drop!
  5. Carry packages back to the car -- a damn long walk when the games are heavy.
  6. Cycle thru steps 3 to 5 as many times as necessary.
  7. Drive back to the hotel around 6 or 7 PM
  8. Go to dinner with Anna. (We went to the Cheesecake Factory and Smokey Bones, both located in the Easton Town Center, which is a superb place to shop & eat.)
  9. Go back to the hotel and crash.
We added going to the movies to that fine mix on Saturday Night (we saw Wanted -- a really weird, far-fetched movie, but loaded with tons of action. Angelina Jolie is easy on the eyes too).

So what did I do while I was at ORIGINS 2008? See item #4... I shopped until I dropped!

There are very few things in life that stimulate the "shopping lobe" of my brain as much as tabletop games and toy soldiers. Since I usually go to 3 miniature wargaming conventions in central Pennsylvania every year (Cold Wars, Historicon, and Fall In), my focus at Origins was going to be mainly on board games and card games.

I stayed within my pre-con budget, but still spent a darn good chunk of change. Thank goodness the hotel was relatively cheap! By the way, here's a fond shout out to the folks at the Homewood Suites. It was a really nice place to stay (quiet, clean, comfy, plenty of space, free breakfast) and I would gladly stay there again.

I picked up 8 games (one was an expansion), along with some sexy new Chessex dice, a pack of pre-painted Confrontation minis (Wolfen), and some neat terrain from War Torn Worlds. I also purchased a copy of Campaign Cartographer 3, a software program for creating maps. I'm going to use it to create the world map and some battlefield scenario maps for the fantasy miniatures wargame that I'm currently developing (Sword of Severnia).

So what tabletop games did I end up buying?
All of these games were on my personal Hot Games WishList, so I was pretty ecstatic about this haul of goodies. By adding these games to the batch that I recently picked up on our wedding anniversary trip to New York City in May (a group that includes Kingsburg, Colossal Arena, Cutthroat Caverns, and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage), and several games I received for Christmas and still haven't gotten to play yet, I'm pretty well set game-wise for quite a long time. At least that's what I'm telling myself today!

So what are these new games all about, you ask?

El Grande is a game about spanish knights acquiring territory, and it's widely regarded as the definitive euro-game focusing on Area Control (a category of games that I really enjoy). This is a truly elegant game and one that I've wanted for quite some time.

The Downfall of Pompeii was another euro-game that I was after because the cool theme (getting your people to escape from Pompeii before the hissing volcano erupts and they become extra crispy) sounded too fun to resist. The fact that it was designed by Klaus Jurgen Wrede (of Carcassonne fame) and includes a volcano cone game piece is icing on the cake! The folks at the Mayfair booth suggested using M&M's instead of the wooden bits that come with the game so that you can eat your little people when they get drenched in lava. I guess gaming can be fun and tasty at the same time!

I really wanted a light, fast-playing card game that I could play with my family. No Thanks fits the bill and I've heard good things about it from members of the Dice Tower podcast whose opinions I greatly respect.

Everything else falls into lighter, beer & pretzels fun with themes that I absolutely love (monsters, zombies, fantasy dungeon crawls, and heroic battles). While I like a wide variety of games, I am unabashedly a person who gravitates towards exciting, colorful themes in games. When faced with the choice of a picking a dry game about finance, farming, colonization, or medieval merchants trading goods, versus thrilling games about war, knights, flesh-eating monsters, robots, baseball, gangsters, tanks, or trolls, well I'm gonna pick the later types of games in a heartbeat.

I stopped by the Red Juggernaut booth and was shown a demo of Battue. Not only does it look nice (lots of nice minis), the tile-flipping mechanic, card draws, and swarming style of play should make for a very chaotic battle game full of surprises. Matt Drake's review on his excellent blog (Drake's Flames) also played a big part in selling me on the virtues of this game.

I also stopped by the Flying Frog booth and saw a demo of Last Night On Earth. Like Battue, it comes with some very nice minis, and the production values of the game are just excellent. It's a zombie-killing adventure game with a heavy emphasis on theme and capturing the campy feel of classic zombie movies, rather than on heavy mind-taxing strategy. It's basically a fun little romp of blasting zombies before they eat you. Sounds like plenty of fun for me and the guys I regularly game with. I even got to talk to the very polite and soft-spoken lady who adorns the Lizzy the Shopkeeper card in the game's expansion set (Growing Hunger). I didn't even know who she was until I turned to see her gun-toting visage on a display piece in the Flying Frog booth. Kewl.

Fearsome Floors is a game about racing through a dungeon before it collapses on top of you and before a Frankenstein-like monster eats you for dinner. It's another beer & pretzels game, but since it's designed by Friedemann Friese (the man who invented Power Grid) it's bound to have some interesting strategy to it.

Drakon (3rd edition) is a dungeon crawling game designed by the famed designer Tom Jolly (the man who created the classic fantasy game Wiz-War among other games). It's a fast-playing dungeon crawl / strategy mix, with some nice production values from Fantasy Flight Games. I can't wait to try this one.

Lastly, I picked up the first expansion to Cutthroat Caverns, a game where an adventuring party cooperates in killing a series of monsters, but each character backhandedly tries to "steal the kill" and screw everyone else out of the glory. It's a lighthearted game of screwage with a fantasy twist. The guys at the Compleat Strategist in Manhattan told me I really needed to buy this some day because it made the game tougher and better, so I went ahead and took their advice.

There were a few games on my wishlist that I simply couldn't find (Manhattan, Aladdin's Dragons, Wallenstein, and Dragon's Gold), and a few others I passed on for now but hope to add to my collection some day down the road. But you just can't afford to buy everything you want. Nor do I have the room to store it all. In fact, I'm looking to sell off some of my other games on eBay to make room for the new stuff and recoup some of my expenses.

So that summarizes my game haul at Origins 2008. It was a blast. I saw lots of really cool games being demonstrated, lots of people having fun, and it got me really excited to start organizing some summer gaming get-togethers with my friends and family. I'm so loaded with new games now, that I probably won't be going back to Origins for a few years!

If I had to find fault with anything at Origins (which is something I really hate to do because there are much bigger things to worry about than finding perfection in life), it's that the miniatures gaming room was not nearly as impressive as I remember it in past years. Perhaps I'm spoiled by going to the 3 excellent HMGS East conventions each year and seeing the massive amounts of stunning games played there. Maybe I wasn't there at the right times. Whatever it was, Origins just didn't measure up to Cold Wars or Historicon in regards to the sheer amount of miniature wargaming spectacle or the massive variety of awesome toy soldiers to buy that's for darn sure. Origins is the place for board gaming; everything else (although fairly represented) comes second.

One final note to my readers: If you've never been to Origins, GO! There's so much to do, you'll have a hard time fitting it all in unless you stay on-site and devote several 10-12 hour days to it. If you live on the East Coast and love games, it's worth doing at least once in your life. I can't imagine you would be disappointed. And if you're a board game enthusiast, this is basically heaven. I've never been to GenCon, so it's not really fair to say Origins is better, but I can't imagine Origins being less-fun than GenCon from a board gaming perspective.

Anyway.... Sultan Sevy out!