Saturday, 6 December 2014

Roundup and painting

Yet again, I ignore this blog for a significant stretch of time and I gain new followers! Maybe if I ignore it for a year I'll be the new PewDiePie... Actually, I'd rather not do that, I can't stand the squeaky bastard. Anyway, hi new followers! *Waves*

I have at least one painting project I have to do before Christmas, so hopefully I'll have that up in the next couple of weeks, and I want to do a review of the Across the Dead Earth loot I've received so watch this space.

Ahem. So, I've been away for a while, no real reason, just a combination of tiredness and navel gazing.

Tomorrow is Tanksgiving at the Bristol Vanguard. Nothing to do with the American holiday other than the time of year, just a cheesy name for an excuse for the Bristol Flames players to put out ultra late war Flames tank lists and blow the shit out of each other. It's like World of Tanks if you could reach out and slap the bastard that just blew you up from across the map with one shot.

To fill out my Armoured Reece Squadron from the Market Garden book, I went and got myself some A30 Challengers. They're ugly as hell, but they instantly endeared themselves to me by crushing Alex's Pantherjae... Panzerjae... big ass scary tank hunters, twice, in two consecutive practice games. So badly in fact, that I almost felt sorry for him. Almost, it's usually him crushing me, so I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it a little cathartic...

With the speed of a Cromwell and a 17pd able to fire thrice a turn and semi-indirect fire these wee beasties can really take names.

As this years Tanksgiving allows mechanised lists, however, I really am leery about facing a mostly infantry army as I really don't think I have the firepower to dig out dug in infantry. A lot of my vehicles don't even have HE...

Anyway, have some pics!

I might have gone a bit overboard with the weathering, not that it's excessive compared to some Challengers that I've done, just that it's in weird places. The above was meant to represent water stains rather than rust per se.

Unfortunately without weathering, they're a little featureless... I'll get round to applying Allied stars soon...ish

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Across the Dead Earth band

Here are the figures I'm using for my putative campaign of Across the Dead Earth with Xander. At the rate I go they'll be fully painted by this time next year...

Appologies for the poor quality of the photos, I think the camera on my phone must be dying...

Above are the remainders of the 33rd and Jacob (he doesn't talk much. From left to right, Kevin (formerly Pvt Anderson), LCpl Starling, DC, Lt Tavistock, and Jacob.

Above are the wanderers that have joined them. Front row from left to right, Nancy, Julia, Charlie.
Back row from left to right. Olivia, Erin and 'Jaeger'.

I was trying to use up as much of my lead pile as possible, but I found myself repeatedly dipping into the Wargames Factory PA Survivors. While they are immeasurably better then their zombies, their promise of some mix and match, multi part plastic goodness is rather diminished by the fact that they only really work in their default configuration and trying to customise them doesn't really work.

Another niggle is, while they do look like survivors, they're more 20 minutes into the zombie apocalypse than third act of Threads. I suppose the paint scheme will have to compensate.

The box does contain SA80's though so there's that.

When I get the miniatures, 2 dogs will join them.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Across the Dead Earth – A Review

Something has changed since the last time we played Across the Dead Earth. The game has been up issued a couple of times, but the core mechanic doesn’t seem to have changed, nor do there appear to be major changes in the available equipment or character options. Nevertheless, the experience was significantly improved. Perhaps it was because we were already familiar with the rules, but my opinion of Across the Dead Earth has gone from ‘meh,’ to ‘this is probably the most fun I’ve had with a PA ruleset,’ in a single afternoon.

That’s not to say it’s without issues - oh my no! – meaning that I’m contractually obliged to nit-pick like it’s going out of fashion! With that, let’s get this party started!

This review is going to be in the style of my Babylon’s Burning review, in that it’ll be part battle report, part review.

This time starring the Legally Distinct Jila Mockovitch and the Squirrel City SWAT

ATDE is a scuffle scale, post-apocalyptic wargame with integral campaign rules that found much success on Kickstrater and seems on the verge of delivering the physical goods. Play proceeds model by model, with players alternating turns. An action system regulates what models can do, with most models having 2 actions. As if you didn’t know that already. A PDF of the rules has been doing the rounds and now seems to be out of BETA.

Xander – my gracious host – and I decided to go for a distinctly rural setting, with both forces converging on a forest camp. After locating the setup rules (more on that later) we decided to play a ‘Capture’ mission, designating the four shelters as the objectives.

Can you hear the banjos too?

I made my first mistake when I selected a primarily ranged force with Xander going for a more balanced force. Jila Mockovitch was an attempt to recreate my cross board rampage from our first game where she was responsible for the destruction of most of Xander’s band, including his machine gunner.

Not Pictured: Bullet time

She was so effective in that first game that I think she influenced both our force choices with neither of us taking automatic weapons and Xander going with a largely melee based force (although that might have just been intelligent planning… Maybe…)

Shooting was where ATDE really let itself down in our first game. Despite a healthy proliferation of firearms, shooting really failed to achieve anything. I compared editions and couldn’t find anything different in the modifiers so it might have been down to our stupidity. While Skill checks are made with 2d6 under base stat, Shooting checks are made with 2d6 plus modifier over base weapon to hit (because consistency) and we may have used the former mechanic for the latter, rendering shooting almost entirely ineffective. As it was, Xander’s scout managed to take up a forward position early in the game and plink away at my sergeant with her pistol with a relatively good chance of hitting him. She didn’t, but I actually felt threatened where as in the first game nothing but the closest ranged shooting seemed to hit.

Speaking of which, weapon ranges are a serious issue, or rather, the relative ranges.

The image above shows the relative ranges of a few weapons. As you can see, something is off. Pistols outrange bows and have 2/3 the range of a sniper rifle. In fact, with an order (an action transferred from a leader), a model can cross the entire board and engage in hand to hand combat with a sniper in melee before he even gets chance to get a shot off. The laughably short range of the LMG (12”) is what got Xander’s gunner killed in the first game we played. He made a beeline for a nice elevated position that in most other games would have locked down the battlefield but upon arriving there discovered that all my troops were out of range.[1]

This works with the arcade-y feel of the game, but it is certainly very jarring with nary a designers note to explain it.

Unencumbered by such heavy weapons both our forces advanced. Xander quickly claimed the centre and I set up a firing line along the Western perimeter.

Note Xander’s cunning tactic of placing his men out in the open directly in front of my riflemen.

Jila snuck up one flank with an order from the sergeant and attacked a rogue flanker, initially failing to hit but eviscerating him the next turn.


Melee fighting is quite satisfying actually. It’s an opposed roll with attack and parry bonuses depending on the weapons being wielded by the attacker and defender respectively.

That being said, the melee weapons list is riddled with stupid and is deliciously exploitable, ranging from the odd niggle to ‘we’re going to have house rule this out to avoid rampant abuse’.
There are some really strange entries on the list. Starter for 10, why does an ‘Iron Pipe’ rate a separate entry to ‘club’? Surely an iron pipe is functionally indistinguishable from a club or is everyone after the apocalypse spending their time crafting shillelaghs? Scimitar and rapier make the cut but longsword doesn’t and what the hell is a Saw Edged Sword? It makes me think that people are carrying bandsaws around the wastes. A Flamberge maybe? Why does an uncommon, largely ceremonial, German weapon merit a mention in a game explicitly set in the UK?
But we haven’t got to the real cheese yet. Want a +8 bonus to your parry roll? Take the Touche special rule and take a rapier and a riot shield, something that I can assure you, as a fencer, would obviate most of the advantages of carrying either.[2] Hell, forget the rapier, just carry two riot shields, there’s nothing to say you can’t, and as a bonus they’ll give you a combined +4 bonus vs ranged attacks - more than heavy cover does, and +7 when actually in heavy cover!
All this is forgiven, however, as it is possible to dual wield spears, and it is glorious!

Xander’s spent the next turn spamming his melee fighters into buildings, locking down the objectives including a daring push right across the courtyard into the Nissan hut on my side of the board. It was at this point that I realised I’d fatally miscalculated the direction the battle would take. I’d expected a systematic advance, covered by sporadic covering fire and now faced the prospect of having to dig his dedicated melee fighters out of buildings with my purely ranged soldiers.

Not pictured: Intelligence on behalf of yours truly

I moved my sergeant into the camper van – the only objective still unclaimed – snapping off a few ineffective shots. Xander’s RPG man, unable to reach the soldiers behind the wall a few meters away, shot at the sergeant and missed allowing Jila to dash across the courtyard and attack Xander’s exposed leader. The idea was to kill him, then send her on a rampage, reminiscent of our earlier game. Unfortunately, she fluffed melee spectacularly, allowing Xander’s leader to withdraw and shoot her dead with a shotgun at point blank range.

So very, very dead

With my only melee capable figure dead, we decided to call it, with Xander winning 3 to 1.

And yet, we had fun! Remember that? Fun? The 2d6 mechanic is a little clunky at first but the fact that there are only up to a dozen or so figures a side means play is fast (miscellaneous strangeness like the infinite bullet trick – phone now, ask me how! - aside) and flows rather well. I am looking forward to playing with the event cards. Oh yeah, there are event cards. I love event cards!

The rules themselves are a mixed bag. The art is great, the landscapes especially are gorgeous, and there’s some good fluff (I’ll be nicking ‘Choobies’ for my next PA RPG).

Readability is an issue, however, with rules being in unintuitive places and often presented in walls of text mixing rules, examples, and advice for new wargames. A rather intrusive conversational style often interrupts what is supposed to be explanative text. More subjectively, there’s a tendency for odd turns of phrase, and a rather juvenile fixation with the acronym for the setting (abbreviate Formerly-United Kingdom again! Teehee!) I really hope the rules see a professional editor before going to print.

So what’s next? Well Xander and I have decided to start a campaign of ATDE, and if that isn’t a recommendation I don’t know what is. 400pts, no automatic weapons, sniper rifles, heavy weapons or combat shotguns, one rare item and no skills (Oh yeah, there are skill trees too. I like skill trees!) other than a single Leader. I’ve got some models to showcase as well as some fluff, but that’s for another day.

[1] While we’re talking about ranged combat, what’s the difference between a Sniper Rifle and a Scout Sniper rifle? Is one supposed to be an ‘anti-material rifle’, for lack of a better word? Methinks someone has been playing too much Counterstrike…
[2] Also as a fencer, touche means touch. The word is used when someone lands a hit if you’re a twat French. Why is this word being used to name a rule about PARRYING!… I might have some issues to work through…

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Infected Dead (free abridged edition) - A Review

So this will probably be the quickest turnaround of a review I’ve ever done. Also, hey! Not dead yet. Just lazy.

I was at IPMS Avon in Thornbury last Sunday (still not too sure what IPMS stands for) helping with the B&B run by Lincombe Barn Wargaming Society. Wandering the halls I discovered Black Ronin Games and their display for their upcoming release The Infected Dead. Slightly tautological name aside, the creator sold me when he said it was a hybrid RPG/wargame.

I’ve always wanted to inject more RPG into my table top, and while it looks like my Post-Apocalyptic Adventures are moving that way, it’s nice to have a solid, simple ruleset to do it with, short of actually playing d20Modern on a 6 by 4.

The slimmed down free sample rules came out yesterday and it looks good.

It’s got issues but most of them stem (presumably) from this being an abridged edition. Note that this was not promoted as a beta so I’m not giving it any slack. Little issues like typos, duplicated modifiers and inconsistent rules as well as entirely missing rules (e.g. +3 for a headshot, but no description of what a headshot actually does, the behaviour of zombies, increased difficulty to hit if target is moving quickly or running but no indication of what constitutes either) provide a constant niggle but I have faith that they will be rectified in the full release.

The artwork’s consistently good, if a bit grungy and busy for my tastes. Readability is good, assisted by a clear, printer friendly layout.

So this must be a solid little system right, with a definite recommendation behind it, right?

Well there is the small matter of the gaping hole in the core mechanic…

It’s broken is such a way that I think either something was excised from the abridged rules, or not enough thought was put into the core mechanic.

TID uses a rather seductively elegant mechanic. A character’s abilities are determined by their attributes Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma Strength, Prowess, Endurance, Awareness, Wits and Charisma (incidentally ardour is not a synonym for endurance, neither prowess for reflexes…) and related skills such as Edged Weapon, First Aid, etc.

If you use a skill untrained, the example given is of swinging an axe without prior experience then you roll (a d10. Yay for d10!) using you attribute against a base difficulty of 12 getting your attribute as a bonus (so STR X+d10 vs. 12). If you use a trained ability you roll a number of dice equal to your ranks (up to 5) choose the highest and add your ranks (So Edged Weapons X roll Xd10 pick the highest + X). The game also features exploding dice, and a fumble system (1’s cancel out successes)

It all appears pretty nice and elegant until you really think about.

There are no rules for character creation but the average stat of the pre-gens supplied with the rules is 5 with a distribution of 3 to 8.

My suspicions were confirmed when I got home and did some maths. If you have an attribute, buying a single point of a related skill actually makes it harder for you to do anything. This is self-evident for first rank skills. Why would you want to roll d10+1 against a 10 rather than d10+(3-8) against a 12? An attribute of 3 gives you the same odds and anything higher gives you better odds. By buying that skill, you’ve actually made things harder for yourself. Obviously this becomes more complicated at higher levels.

Here’s the maths

Let us regard the chances of hitting and killing a zombie and hitting and killing a zombie using a headshot (again no rules, but my discussion with the creator indicated that a headshot is the only way to permanently stop them – good man) using both attributes and skills, all other things being equal.

When using skills:

P(kill) = 1 - P(survive)^n

P(kill) is the probability of a kill
P(survive) is the probability of surviving a single shot
n is the number of ranks

We get the following chances to hit:

1 Rank
2 Ranks
3 Ranks
4 Ranks
5 Ranks
Base (10)
Base +3 (Headshot)

Using attributes is obviously simpler, giving the following chances to hit:

Base (12)
Base +3 (Headshot)

As we can see, buying a single rank in any skill makes at best, no difference to your performance, and at worst, actually significantly worse at performing a given task. Even someone with an average attribute of 5 has to buy 2 ranks before they pay off. Meanwhile, “Dead-eye Mike Jones, one of the supplied pre-gens with the maximum prowess of 8 is going to be hamstrung making headshots, with a 3 rank skill check, compared to his chance of hitting using his raw attribute.

The problem seems to be that there is no link between attributes and skills, unlike say, d20, where ‘attributes’ give a bonus to skill checks. Here you could be the most dexterous person in the world, but as soon as you put some training into firearms, blam! your chance of actually hitting something plunges right down.

In the end the problem is easy enough to work around, just be careful where your putting your skill points. In fact, it might be worth making your high attributes the ones you use the least, like Charisma, keeping your combat attributes low, and spending as many skill on them as possible, thus meaning your chances in combat are the best possible, while still being able to talk your way out of a tight spot.

I hope there’s something missing from the rules, or I’ve misunderstood something, because otherwise this system seems great, and I’m still going to invest when the full edition comes out.

N.B. The diplomacy skill seems rather niche. It’s used to mediate between two parties, not directly interact with anyone. The only skill for directly influencing others is Charm, which is explicitly stated to be the ability to use flirting and seduction…