Saturday, September 20, 2014

Spy-Fi to Hornblower: A Great Read and a Great Watch

Yes, I am still here! It always seems as if I do more hobby work once college starts in September than I do all summer. I'm not sure why, but I know it's true! For example, I've begun working on my 6mm and 15mm Quar that I got months ago. These are splendid figures with very little flash or mould lines. With the weather changing here in FL, I should be able to prime them soon.

Keeping with my recent spy-fi theme, I bought on the Amazon marketplace a fantastic 160-page book on spy-fi gadgets: The Incredible World Of Spy-Fi: Wild and Crazy Spy Gadgets, Props, and Artifacts from TV and the Movies by Danny Biederma, a consultant on 007 Bond films, and Robert Wallace, an ex-CIA technical director. I bought a used copy of the hardback version, which is the only way to go with this book, I feel, since I'll be referencing it often. I only paid several dollars after shipping. The book arrived last Thursday. Though the book was listed as "good," I would grade it excellent condition. My copy has several autographs. I'm not sure who they are from. Anyway, if you like Bond, Man From UNCLE, Wild Wild West, and more then you will love this book. BTW the author has trademarked the work "spy-fi," which I found interesting.

Friday, Amazon did one of their weird price-war things and dropped the price of the Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition DVD set from $25 down to $9. The price lasted only a day. I had it my wish list and was checking it for price drops, which I tend to do often. (I also have camelcamelcamel price drop alerts set for some items.) So I grabbed this deal right away. Having Amazon Prime, as I do, made the deal even better since no shipping costs. My (young at the time) son and I loved A&E's Hornblower series when it first aired on cable TV and have not been able to watch it since. The series is chock-full of ideas for skirmish gaming.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dice Tower Con 2014: Days 1-3

Dice Tower Con 2014 began on Wednesday. This is the third year for the con, which for the second year was held at the Double Tree by Sea World here in Orlando. This year, 850 people have been attending, which is almost triple the size of the first con two years ago. The con ends Sunday morning, but our last day most likely will be Saturday.

We have been having a great time this year, unlike last year. We almost did not come this year because of last year's debacle, but we decided to give it another try. I have been praying for months that I would have a good time and meet some nice Christian gamers my age at the con. The Lord answered those prayers. Now if only he would hook me up with such a local fellow or two I would be thrilled!

Day 1. I set up Star Trek: Fleet Captains at the start of the con. It had been almost a year since I last played the game, so this was going to be a quick play with the kid to get the rules back in my head. He whooped me in three turns! The Federation has no honor!

We had to play lengthwise on the table. We would play again on Day 2 with a young couple who never played the game. I helped everyone while Jeremy played Klingons to their Federation. This time, they whooped him. Ah, payback! BTW I am officially tired of Fleet Captains for now!

Day 2: It was fantastic to hook up with our great pal Rick from Palm Beach Gardens. He was the main reason why we decided to attend the con this year. We've been friends since DTC 1. He is teaching us Lord of Waterdeep. Of course, Rick is dishing it back to Jeremy, who was doing some in-game trash talking. Rick introduced us to Jeff and his son, who is watching Rick. We've been having a great time with Jeff and son! A true blessing for us. Now they just need to move to Central FL!

Day 3: I got Jeremy the Manoeuver board game, and Jeff is teaching it to Jeremy. Noah, a great kid and gamer, is going to teach Jeremy how to play as well. They played two games of it yesterday. We'll be sad to see them go home to VA. :-(

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rapiercon 2014: Flames of War Tournament

Goodbye 20mm WWII -- We Hardly Knew Ye
Some of you probably noticed that several weeks ago I was posting about leaving 15mm WWII skirmish gaming for 20mm WWII skirmish gaming. I had purchased a platoon of 20mm AB Americans and had begun painting them. Overall, they were nice figures. Surprisingly, I hated painting them! I realized that I would rather be painting 28mm figures, where I can really have fun painting detail on a small number of figures, or painting 15mm or smaller figures, where I don't have to worry about details and can paint with more speed while still feeling good about my work. 20mm just was the worst of all worlds for me.

When we got back to Rapiercon late in the afternoon, we stumbled upon the Flames of War tournament in a corner of the con hotel. I don't play FoW, but was excited to see all the 15mm game tables. They were a great inspiration for my skirmish gaming. Of course, earlier in the day I had taken all my miniatures and games back to our hotel down the road. Now I could have used my Peter Pigs to see how they compared to the various buildings other than my Landmark buildings, which are smaller true 1:100 scale. Oh well. Such is life!

The fellows we spoke with in the FoW room were friendly, happily chatting about the various buildings on the tables and FoW gaming. Jeremy lamented that we didn't play FoW because we probably would have had fun playing (and most likely losing to) most of the fellows there. I knew he was right. It felt like a whole different con in that room.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rapiercon & The Hotel From Heck

Last Friday and Saturday we went to Rapiercon in north Jacksonville, FL. This was our first time to the convention, and it was an "interesting" event to say the least. We arrived at the convention hotel just after lunch. It's no secret that the hotel is under construction, which is why we booked a room down the street at the Hilton Garden Inn.

We Arrive in Heck
While the Hilton was a pleasure to say at for only a few dollars more, complete with cooked-to-order breakfast buffet for the both of us, the convention hotel was an absolute disgrace of a building let alone a hotel. I'm surprised Double Tree (aka Hilton) is even trying to renovate it, though I was told they are dragging their feet on the project. Bottom line, this was the worst hotel I have ever seen outside a third world country. The folks on Tripadvisor are correct in their negative reviews.

After finding a parking space in the parking lot--which is way too small, badly designed, and cluttered with containers and construction equipment--we made our way through the hotel to the con's registration desk on the building's far side. It was an interesting trip to the desk, full of strange (possibly toxic) smells and interesting "under construction" sights of exposed ceilings and walls.

Thankfully, the folks at the con's registration desk were friendly. We picked up materials, paid for Jeremy's con t-shirt, and went into the miniature gaming hall. Since it was about 1pm on Friday, not many people were there yet. Dealers were still setting up. We had registered for a game at 1pm, a WWII bombing game, and saw it set up already.

A panoramic shot of the con on Saturday afternoon. My first attempt at trying out the feature. It came out pretty good for indoors and not knowing how to take the shot.

And It's as Hot as Heck
We walked around a bit, checked out the numerous door prizes, and then checked out the dealers booths. Within a few minutes I had worked up a sweat! I mentioned to a fellow that it seemed a bit warm in the room. He replied that the AC was barely working and that the hotel was "investigating" it (we all knew this was corporate speak for doing nothing). The temperature in the room wound up in the low-to-mid 80s, which was downright unacceptable and uncomfortable. From what I was told, it was the same way last year. As Jeremy commented, it felt better outside--and this is Florida in the summer! I should have known something was wrong when people were bringing electric fans!

Right before our game began, I stopped by a dealer booth. I picked up another copy of Warmaster for $1, 5th Ed Warhammer for $1, Warhammer Ancients for $1, some old codexes for $1, War of the Ring for $5, and a bunch of other free WHFB and 40K rulebooks, expansions, and catalogs. I also bought a boatload of old White Dwarfs for 5 for $1. I never expected to buy GW stuff!

Sweating to the Oldies
Since I literally was dripping with sweat and rushing to get to the game, I was having a hard time thinking through everything. If I had time to really look through the stacks of White Dwarfs, I would have bought even more. Still, I did get a ton of WDs from 1992 onward along with some of the brand new issues each for the price of a stick of gum. All said and done, I spent $23 at the booth. Later, Jeremy got to load the big box of WDs and rules into the car! I also got a bunch of Axis &Allies 15mm armor at 2 for $1 from Cool Stuff, a 3mm sample pack of Modern Early 80s Pico Armor, and the 15mm AP-Team pack from Odzial Osmy. (I'm mail ordering the rest of the line!)

Though I got to the game late, the fellow running the game didn't mind at all. He had been shopping as well, getting some good deals. It's all part of the fun. So let's get to the game!

A Hot Time Over the Arctic
The game was "Goering's Carrier" run by Jerry Boles using the Black Cross/Blue Sky rules. Jerry was a great guy with the right attitude for a convention game. He made it fun and simple for newbies like us, who just wanted to try out something new. We had a blast playing the game, even though the room kept getting hotter and hotter. Jerry just was a swell guy with a good sense of humor. It was the highlight of the con and turned into the only game we played that weekend, though we didn't plan it that way.

The premise was based on an historical battle: British convoy PQ 18, escorted by carrier Avenger, is heading towards Russia with much needed supplies. Taking note of the carrier, Herman Goering orders, "Ignore the convoy, get the carrier."

Jeremy and I played the Germans, while Jerry and another fellow named Bob played the Brits. We had a flight of  He-111 bombers. The Brits had Hawker Hurricanes and flak from their ships. So we had a Jeremy, a Jerry, and two Bob's playing the game--what are the odd of that!?

In the end, we fared worse than the actual Germans did in the real battle. For a while, it looked like we were winning, but a few lucky critical hits on our planes made sawdust out of our plans just as we were getting close to dropping our torpedoes. One bomber had no damage, took one hit, and blew up due to a fuel line hit! Rats!

Last year, I had seen Cool Stuff and Miniature Market blowing out the game on deep discount sales. I knew little about the game and feared it would sit on the shelf untouched like most of the games that I had been buying. Plus, I had Wings of War if I wanted a flying game, though that was sitting unused as well. I liked playing the game so much I checked into buying it online later that evening. Sadly, the only place selling it is the publisher, but it would cost $105 for the base game. That's a bit out of my price range at the moment.

I Got a New Toy!
Literally right before the con I had bought a new camera off of Amazon, finally ditching my 10 year old Lumix. This time I bought an Olympus Stylus SH-50 iHS along with the the fastest and newest SD card on the market, a Samsung Pro SDHC MB-SG16D/AM. The card writes blazing fast and the camera is da' bomb!

These are the very first photos I shot with the camera, so they were a learning experience. All I did was set it to Automatic and let the camera do all the work. I didn't even need macro. The flash never went off once. I was amazed, even considering how poor the lighting was in the con. The photos I took outside are fantastic. Plus full 1080p video was great--I shot some trains later in the evening when we did some train watching up in GA. I think this will take far better photos of miniatures than my old camera.

Ok, enough blathering! Here are the photos.

The British convoy and escort. That's not the USS St. Lo. It's really the Avenger. You just need to squint a bit to see it. :)

Our He-111 bombers heck-bent on the carrier.

"The kid" waiting for me to take my seat after taking the obligatory photo for Mommy.

Jerry did a great job on the planes and bases. We were impressed.

His homemade cards for the planes. He put them in 'hardbacks' so we could write on them using Vis-a-vis markers.

A close-up of some He-111's. We used to die to track how many hexes each plane had moved in a straight line.

The bomber's card.

Each card handles three or four planes. This is the back of the He-111.

Jerry helps Jeremy make a hard decision, while Bob watches as he contemplates which bomber he'll shoot down first. Hey wait a minute! The kid is getting "help" from the enemy!?! LoL.

Bandit! 3 o'clock!

Ah, the end game. As you can see by the graveyard on the left it has been a bloody game. We are each down to one plane a piece. My bomber on the left dropped its torpedoes but missed. Rats! Jeremy has switched ends to watch his bomber try to drop torpedoes. Unfortunately, the Hurricane ruins those plans, blowing the He-111 out of the sky. The escort carrier survived unscathed. Just as in real life, the mission was a total failure that would hurt Germany the rest of the war. Still, we had a great time. I really want this game! Thanks, Jerry, for putting on such a good show and being a gracious host!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Down in Flames: WWII - Guns Blazing

I love card games, which is an understatement. I also love WWII  fighters and bombers, which is why I have a large collection of Wings of War/Glory WWII planes and built many of the models back in the day. When I stumbled on Down in Flames: WWII - Guns Blazing, it immediately grabbed my attention. I was lucky enough to buy a new copy off a fellow for the price of Priority Mail, saving me a ton of money. After all, the game retails for $60, with Cool Stuff selling it for $40. I'm looking forward to trying this out. I'll probably bring it with me to Rapiercon in Jacksonville in a couple weeks.

From DVG's website: "Down In Flames places each player in the cockpit of a fighter as they enter combat against other aircraft. By playing cards, you gain advantageous positions on your targets, fire your guns, and send them down in flames! The game is based on a unique action-reaction card mechanic. Each card can be countered by specific other cards. At the bottom of every card is the list of cards it is allowed to cancel. This makes for exciting card play back and forth between players."

I like that the game has planes and scenarios from the start of the war over France to North Africa and Malta to the Eastern Front to the end of the war. Plenty of variety with top-notch production. The map boards are thick cardboard; I originally thought they were paper.

See Boardgame Geek's Down in Flames page for reviews and more info, check out DVG's website for more info on the game and the Down in Flames series.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Packing Up for Summer Conventions

Headin' for the con!
This summer my son and I will be attending two conventions in the area: Rapier 2014 in Jacksonville next month and Dice Tower Con in July down by Seaworld. This will be our first trip to Rapier, and we're looking forward to it. We're going to bring some games along to Rapier, but we haven't decided what to bring. Right now, I'm leaning toward bringing Star Trek: Fleet Captains for 4-players. I'll probably drag along some of our wargames, maybe the Topside Minis naval counters. We'll have to see how it all unfolds between now and then. More later.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Weathering Models and Life

For the past month, I haven't been doing much gaming or model work because it was the end of my teaching semester and my son's last semester in college. Just a tad stressful around the old League HQ! Last week, we had the family in town for his graduation on Saturday. (He graduated summa cum laude.) It was an exciting time, as well as a frazzling time. As I always say, there is a reason why we live 1,000 miles from the closest relative! We were all relieved yesterday when we could finally relax by ourselves, though I still haven't had much sleep for several days. Next stop for the kid is graduate school, so we have a couple more years to go and a couple more years of playing games together.

Fun in the Summer Time!
Last summer, I wound up dubbing it "the summer of collectable card games," finding tons of great deals on CCGs, expanding my collections by leaps and bounds. That summer continued into the fall and then the spring of this year. Now I am neck deep in card games and struggling to store them! Well, this summer I have dubbed it "the summer of miniature games," wanting to make a concerted effort to get back into painting and playing miniature games, and organizing the chaos that has become the League HQ. It's also going to be a summer of playing board wargames with my son, who is really taking to the hobby much more than miniature gaming.

Once again, we'll be at Dice Tower Con this July 4th here in Orlando, though this year I don't plan to pull every muscle in my lower back like I did just before last year's con. (Trying to play games and socialize while popping muscle relaxers and narcotic pain killers does not make for an enjoyable or coherent time. Oy!) I'll be selling some games and other things on the con's Virtual Flea Market. Right now, I know I'll be selling our Castle Ravenloft game, Warhammer Invasion card game, probably some wargame rules (Skako I, Might of Arms, The British are Coming, and Johnny Reb III all in excellent condition), and who knows what else. I usually do cheap cheap prices. I've already bought a couple games!

Whether to Weather: The Weathering Magazine
While stumbling about the web last evening, I came upon The Weathering Magazine from AK Interactive. I really have no idea why it has taken me over a year to discover this magazine, but I am glad that I did. Since my model railroad days, I have always had a fascination with weathering locomotives and freight cars and have wanted to carry that fascination over to my gaming models.

As the magazine's title suggests, each issue is devoted to a single topic on weathering, such as dust or chipping paint, along with many different techniques to achieve those results. The magazine comes in print and digital formats. The print issues sell for $12 here in the USA, which may seem a bit pricey. However, other hobby print magazines cost nearly as much with far less usefulness. (I paid $8 for the latest print issue of Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy featuring the "New World" theme and feel I got a teaspoon of value out of that issue compared to the gallons of value from any issue of The Weathering Magazine, if I had purchased the latter's print versions.) Unfortunately, many of the early print issues are out of stock, even though AK has reprinted them.

I took a chance on the digital version of the magazine, which sells for $7 at the official retailer, I tried the issue on Chipping and the issue on Dust, which I feel are two important topics for weathering military vehicles. I passed on the the first issue, Rust. While painting rust is crucial in model railroading, especially on freight cars which can be rolling rust buckets, I tend not to see too many rusty tanks rolling across a battlefield, if you know what I mean.

Chip Shots
I'll give you a quick look at the Chipping issue and then be done. The issue covers many techniques for chipping paint and basically making our models look like pieces of junk that have been banged about by real life instead of sitting in a showroom. I think that any modeler of any skill level can do any of these techniques, other than airbrushing. The issue covers how to chip paint on metal (tanks, artillery, trucks, planes, and construction equipment) as well as on wood (wagons in this case, but the technique can be used for buildings as well.) Here is a brief list of the techniques I saw in the issue on how to make chips, scratches, and streaks: painting using traditional paint brushes, masking fluids, hairspray, salt, sponges, washes, airbrushes, and wire brushes. Sometimes only one technique is used, while other times multiple techniques are used. Each article has ample photographs, unlike many American modeling magazines that skimp on progress photos. They also provide many real life detail photos as well as finished model photos.

Overall, I am pleased with these issues of The Weathering Magazine and will be buying the rest of the series. I'm not sure how long the magazine can continue before running out of new topics, but the topics they have covered so far are excellent. 

I give The Weathering Magazine a 10/10!

Dust issue

Dust issue

Chipping issue

Chipping issue

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mystic Mountain Productions Cheap Paper Structures

This week, I discovered Mystic Mountain Productions' small but growing line of paper buildings. You can find their products at RPGNow and Wargames Vault, which basically are the same companies. They also have a Facebook page. Right now, they have seven kits available.

Their Town Square Clock Tower is a FREE single-layer PDF useful for just about any setting. It looks nice and should be easy to build. Might as well give it a try for free!

Their latest model, the Merchant's Guild, really caught my imagination. I could see it housing one of my eccentric West Wind Victorian characters or a modern spy-fi game needing an interesting Tudor-inspired building. The multilayer PDF is $5. I've asked if it comes with a single-layer version so I don't have to print it on my stored inkjet printer. (I use a monochrome laser printer for all my daily printing.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Topside Minis WWI Fleet Ready to Set Sail

Back in February, I ordered from Topside Minis their WWI Falklands set of 16 British and German ships, which sells for only $5.60. These are peel-and-stick counters that need to be cut out and applied to the supplied laser-cut plywood bases. Back in February, I wrote about how good a bargain I feel these ships are. It took a while, but this morning I finally got around to applying the ships to their bases.

First, Experiment on the Free Sample 
Before I worked on my Falklands fleets, I experimented with the free WWII sample they had sent me before I placed my order. (Click on their link to get one for yourself.) This way I didn't risk damaging the "real" ships. I cut out the ship using my steel ruler and sharp hobby knife. I then stuck it on the supplied base. I then realized that I had cut the ship just a wee bit smaller than the base. A thin, light-tan strip of wood showed along one short edge. It was very noticeable.

Coloring the Base
After thinking a bit, I grabbed my large bag of Sharpie markers. I first thought of coloring the top edges of the bases blue to match the color of the water on the ships. No Sharpie really matched it. Then I thought, why not color the edges to match the dark brown of the laser cuts?

In the comments from a previous post, CharlesO had mentioned that leaving the edges natural instead of painting them a different color might look just fine. So I tried some of my brown markers. Voila! It worked and looked great. Thanks, Charles! You were right.

Sharpies Are Meant to be Abused
Use a brown fine point Sharpie. Not all Sharpie brown pens are the same color! The shade of brown in the fine tip pen closely matches the brown from the laser cuts. However, the brown in the ultra-fine tip pen is lighter. Odd, I know, but I realized this when testing the pens.

Ink the Base Edges
Before applying the sticker, rub the Sharpie along the sharp edges of the bases. If you look at the bottom photo, you can see how I run some ink along the sides of the top of the bases and the edges. I didn't marker the actual sides of the bases, leaving them in their natural burned look. Does that make sense? I did the top and bottom of the bases. Inking the bottom also hides any little rough spots or edges that might look tan when the counter is on the cloth. (I noticed this on my test ship.)

Skipped Sanding
Because the bases' wood is a bit fuzzy at times, I was tempted to sand it down with some fine sandpaper, but I didn't bother. I can be a bit retentive when it comes to models and such, but sometimes even I have to draw a line! I set aside the bases to dry, and then tried washing the streaks of brown ink off my hands. You will get ink on your fingers!

Ink the Paper Edges
After cutting out the ships, I ran brown marker along the edges of the paper. Do this! It takes away the bright white edge and blends the ship in with the base. This is a trick I also use when building paper buildings, though often I use colored pencils for that.

When done, peel the backing away from the ship, line up the ship along a long edge of the base, stick it to the wood, and smooth it out. You have just finished your first Topside Minis ship counter. And it looks good to boot!

I'm still looking at rules. I'm hoping to try out a couple this weekend. I'll let you guys know how it goes. Naval Thunder: Clash of Dreadnaughts plus Challenge & Reply II are on the top of the list at the moment. After some poking around online this afternoon and reading the demo rules, I am seriously considering Grand Fleets: 2nd Edition.

As PDF downloads, Naval Thunder would cost $15 to get going to play the Battle of the Falkland Islands. C&RII would cost me $13.29 for the rulebook plus the German and the British fleet lists I would need. Grand Fleets 2 would cost me $20 for the rulebook plus the King & Kaiser scenario book with ship data cards that I would need. From what I've read, the scenario book is generic enough to use with any rules. I also was looking at Fleet Action Imminent, but the $32 price tag for a PDF is a bit off putting for buying a game blind. Choices, choices.

Look at the large photo. You'll notice how I accidentally cut the counters a bit small at times or slightly misaligned them on the base. Inking the edges of the base and counter hides this on the table, making the counters look sharp.

Here is the bottom of the base. I did this on both sides. This little touch adds a lot. I elevated one counter to show how inking its paper edge helps blend the paper into the base as well.