Sunday, September 26, 2021

Barrage! Convention Conan Game

 Spent yesterday at the Barrage wargaming convention and as always, I had a blast.  It's just a fun relatively small local gaming convention where I get to connect again with old friends (so good to see you Chris!), play games with the "regulars" from the Hawks who always play in my games (good playing again with you Rob and Norman!), and chat with my gaming heroes (thanks again for playing in my game, Zeb!).  We missed 2020 because of COVID obviously, so the last Barrage I went to in person was 2019 where I ran a Lord of the Rings game.  This year's game, as you know if you have been following this blog, was going to be Conan!

As is always the case with Barrage, I offered two games and had two great groups of players.  The organizers also gave me a table to myself so that I could leave my game set up in between the two games.  This is really not an easy thing to do, and I really, really appreciated this.  Thanks Hawks convention planners!

The game is co-op which is different than most games a minis conventions like this one, but the players in both groups embraced the necessity to use team work and seemed to enjoy the games.  Here are some pics.  Most are from the first game.  I was so tired for the second game that I didn't take very many pictures but there are a couple.

Onlookers soaking in the "weird" figures.

Speaking of "weird" figures.  We've got the two groups of riders as well as the anti-heroes Thorgrim (with maul) and Rexor (with sword).  The riders come on in turn 1, the two anti-heroes come on after turn 3.

Princess restrained so she does not flee back to Thulsa Doom!


After playing the test game I realized that I needed more visual interest in terms of terrain.  I added more sponge/bushes, which helped a lot, but I realized after watching the scene from the movie again the scarecrow skeletons of the long dead warriors who fought eons ago on this battlefield were very important in making the battlefield look distinctive and interesting.  So last week I threw together some skeleton terrain features (that the heroes can hide behind) including a skeleton horse cavalry figure!

A view from the player's side behind Valeria's funeral pyre.

Another view of the riders and anti-heroes from the other side at the start of the game.

First Turn:  Valeria charges off the pyre towards the riders!  You can see her next to that boulder in the upper right of the picture.

Here they come!

Brave Valeria charges into their midst!  "Get away from my man!!!"  You can see how this group used the three clumps of sharpened sticks and the one row of them (bottom of picture) to funnel the riders into one area of the boulders.  The riders can move through these obstacles but it takes several turns and really slows them down.  This keeps them from using their fast horses to ride around the side of the heroes and get to the princes!  The rider in the lower part of the picture thought about trying to ride around these pointy sticks, but later thought better of it.  It just takes too long!

Conan leaps out from behind a boulder, surprising the riders!

This was a very interesting combination during the first game.  As predicted, Conan and Valeria stand side by side trying to keep the riders at bay.  However, Akrio can be seen behind a boulder in the upper part of the picture, preparing to charge a rider from the rear by surprise.  The enemies on foot were knocked from their horses at some point and are now having to fight the heroes on foot.

The first group of players pulled Subotai back to the princes to protect her from Thulsa Dooms magical snake arrow which the heroes cannot stop from being fired.  But by having a hero next to the princess, the hero can take the shot from Thulsa Doom instead of it automatically killing the princess, causing the players to lose the game.  Subotai is making his last stand reloading as many of his spent arrows as possible from those he stuck in the ground on top of this burial mound before the battle began.  He took two wounds from the magical arrow from Thulsa Doom but saved the princess!

All four heroes surround Rexor and deal the killing blow.  Victory for the players in the first game with all heroes surviving!

This was during the second game and Conan is in trouble!  Valeria and Subotai are too far away to help, and this second group used Akiro to protect the princess so he is far away at the back edge of the board at this point in the game.  This could have been real trouble for Conan but the player rolled really well and ...

... although they made their armor saves and survived, Conan won the melee combat against four enemies and drove them back, causing them all to be shaken by the defeat!  This was a turning point in this second game with the pendulum swinging in favor of the players!

One added level of tension in this second game was that the heroes ended up having to fall back to the burial mound with the princess, which allowed the enemies to get closer to her and possibly killing her!  This is close to the climactic end of this game with three of the four heroes making their last stand at the base of the prince's burial mound.  Thorgrim is in the mix and Rexor is out of the picture towards the bottom but charging and would eventually arrive.  Akiro is still on top of the mound protecting the princess but would after saving her from Thulsa Doom's magical arrow make his way down and join the fray, casting his "Eye of Doom" spell at both Thorgrim and Rexor injuring them enough so that they could be killed off in melee combat with the heroes.

Interestingly, this game ended with the anti-heroes being killed and there was one remaining fanatical regular infantry enemy left alive, but we called the game here, there was no way he could possibly survive a melee combat against all four heroes at the same time!

Two very enjoyable games that in some ways were similar, but in others were very different.  It was easier for the horses to get past the heroes in the second game because of where the barriers were placed by the players, but they were still able to slow them down enough without a single enemy getting to the top of the princess's burial mound to try and kill her.  Both groups used great team work, which is the point of a co-op game, and I am very please with how these games went.  I hope to be able to run them again at Scrum Con this year.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Finally, Conan!

 Sorry I have not updated for a while.  Unlike for many, COVID has not increased the time I have spent with my hobby.  Quite the opposite.  But, I am back in the swing of things and am getting ready for my Barrage game in two weeks.  As has been planned now for almost 2 years, I am running a Conan game, the Battle of the Mounds, which is the final big battle of the 1982 Arnold Conan Swords & Sorcery classic.  I have had these figures made for a while now, but just recently got them painted.  I did a test game with the guys from my wargaming club (Army of Central Maryland) this past Sunday and here are some pics of everything.

First, the figures ...

Conan the Barbarian!

I decided to go with the big axe rather than his sword.  I am planning to do some other scenarios based on scenes in this movie and he will be using a sword in all the rest of them, so I decided for a different weapon for this game.  Plus, this is what he is using when the Battle of the Mounds begins ... so, it's "historically accurate." <smile>  Here is another pic of the painted Conan from the rear.

Conan is not complete with his beloved Valeria.  By this time she has been killed (sorry for any spoilers) so in this game she is a ghost.  Here she is ...

Next is Subotai, Conan's trusted companion.  This one is probably my favorite figure ... plus he gets the award for having the coolest helmet!

And Conan would have died had it not been for the magic of his wizard friend, Akiro.

Just like in the movie, I love his oversized helmet!  You have to use what you have when you are looting the dead for their weapons and armor.

And now for the game ...

I used my homebrew rules that I have used in the past for the LotR games I have done.  I just changed the heroes' special abilities to fit these characters.  Here is the battlefield before the enemies arrive.  You can see two of the three mounds (the third is off to the left and is where the Princess is chained to the rock to keep her from running off back to Thulsa Doom.  The big die on the far mound is a counter, counting down the turns until Thulsa Doom arrives and shoots the magical snake arrow at the Princess, trying to kill her.

You can see Valeria on her funeral pyre where she goes when she is "wounded."  She can't be killed because she's a ghost, but if she takes a wound she has to go back to her pyre.  The black circles are used to allow the heroes to hide.  Most of the circles are blank, one for each hero (3, Valeria can't hide), and one is a trap.  The enemies when they touch a boulder allows me as the GM to turn over a black circle.  Also the heroes can no longer hide behind that boulder during the game.  I had rules for allowing them to appear at different boulders as well so that they could surprise the enemies, just like in the movie.

Early in the game.  The Servants (left) and the Black Guard (right) are riding to kill the heroes hiding in the boulders.  You can see Conan and Valeria next to some spikes to protect them from the mounted enemies, and Akiro is off in the upper right corner, possibly being ridden down by some of the Black Guard during the next turn.

Here is a close up of the same point in the game.  Four Black Guard ride towards Conan and Valeria hoping to slay them!

The battle progresses.  I have rules for dismounting riders (you can see one of the Black Guard is on foot).

The end of the game.  Only one Black Guard remains and Rexor (middle) and Thorgrim (right) have joined the fray.  Conan and Valeria continue to fight together with Subotai rushing toward the melee.  By this time in the game, Akiro unfortunately had been killed.  The gold gem next to Thorgrim indicates that he is Shaken.

The end of the game.  Valeria, Conan, and a very wounded Subotai fight together against Rexor who is Shaken.  The trio would eventually slay Rexor.

The victors!  And ...

They succeeded in saving the princess!

The game went well, just a few tweaks I think and it will be Barrage Convention ready.  I need to finish a Thulsa Doom figure.  In the game he is a plot element attacking the Princess with a snake arrow and it forces the players to have one hero stay back next to the princess to take the shot so that she won't be killed.  So he just shows up for one turn and is really just for visual fun in the game, but it would be great to have a Thulsa Doom figure nonetheless.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

I Received My Dream Tool: A Laser

This was long overdue, but as I head towards retirement (three more years) I decided it was time to stop procrastinating and to buy a dream tool that I had been pondering for a long time: a laser cutter and engraver. Now you might be wondering why this is on this particular blog and the answer is because it will absolutely play a role in cutting out parts for my wooden warriors.

In the past I used a Cricut cutting machine to cut out arm shapes and Spanish bicornes from craft foam sheet and, although I liked the flexibility of the material, I did not like how it took paint. With a laser I will easily be able to cut out shapes in 3mm and 1/8" thickness.

Right now I am in the experimental phase. I have long drawn images for wargaming using various drawing packages on the Macintosh. I bought the Glowforge Plus and it accepts SVG format files as input for 2D work, i.e. cutting and scoring. I have been using Inkscape for years, and that saves in many of the formats that the Glowforge accepts.

My first experiment was creating a painting rack for my paints. I use Pro Acryl mostly right now and they have a large bottle size than the craft paints and the Vallejo/Army Painter sized bottles, so I thought I would cut out my own as an initial project.

The laser in action.

I looked at other paint holders and I noticed that many have the paint bottles standing straight up and down. The better ones stack one on top of another. I didn't really want that kind. I wanted the bottles angled and showing the color as much as possible.

The top of the holder.

The top plate of the holder has holes slightly larger than the bottle's diameter (30mm) so the paint bottle can slide in comfortably.

The sides of the holder.

I decided to cut out two of these sheets so I could double up on the sides and make it stiffer.

The bottom of the holder.

The bottom has small holes so the bottle's tip could slide in.

The finished product.

I really like how I can see all the colors so easily. It takes up a bit of space, but I don't want stackable holders where I have to unstack them to remove a paint bottle and I am tired of having to pick up bottles to look at the color from holders where the bottles stand straight. If I were afraid of the bottles leaking I could still reverse them (tips up) and see the colors while being able to easily grab the bottle.

The different cuts.

This was a really instructive project and I look forward to doing more. Right now all of my projects are more war-game accessories and the like. I am strongly considering continuing to use the 3mm chipboard as a replacement for craft foam sheets (although I have a ton of it still).

Friday, January 1, 2021

Back to Basics!

 First off, Happy New Year everyone!  Sorry it has been so long since my last post to this blog, but working my job in a COVID environment has turned out to be very challenging and has been extreme time consuming.

That said, I wanted to continue on with some of my wooden fellows and I have several constructions done for the more detailed figures (let's just say I have done some "caped crusader" figures).  But if I am honest with myself, these more detailed figures while I do enjoy them, are not really what prompted me to make wooden miniatures for wargaming out of spools, toothpicks, and such.  What I have always wanted to do was create miniatures that anyone could make and paint to a standard that they would be happy putting on the table top.

I am not sure if this is present on this blog or not, I don't think it is, but way back, about a decade ago to the day honestly (I can't believe it has been that long!), my original intention was not to create miniatures for wargaming.  What I wanted to do was to make playing pieces for the game of Chinese Chess.  Those of you who are not familiar with the game, it is a wonderful type of chess that is related to the game that we all call "chess" currently but has some important differences.  First, it is less abstracted in its pieces.  The pieces are more consistent with the types of troops used in actual ancient warfare.  For example, there are elephants, cannons, and chariots as pieces in Chinese Chess.  Second, the board is slightly different in that there is a "river" in the middle and at least the soldiers ("pawns") behave differently when they are on their side of the river compared to the enemy side.  In summary, the game really is more akin IMHO to ancient warfare than is what we call today "chess," at least in terms of its pieces.

The problem I encountered was, however, significant in that the game is played with flat discs (similar to checkers) as playing pieces and on these discs is written using a single Chinese character the name of the piece.  First challenge I encountered was, you guessed it, I don't read Chinese.  Second, the same characters are not always used for the same pieces in the two armies.  For example, the "elephant" character in the red army is a different character than the one used in the blue army for the "elephant" piece.  Yikes!  This proved to be a very difficult challenge for me to overcome.  Not only would I have to learn the characters for the pieces, I would in many cases have to learn two sets of characters for each piece depending on the army.

The good news for me, however, was that there were some 3D Chinese Chess sets available with pieces that were shaped like the troop type.  For example, the cannons looked like cannons, the elephants looked like elephants, etc.  Great!  I was in business!  But the issue was that these sets were a bit on the pricey side (for me anyway).  So after looking at these pieces, I thought, "I bet I can make a serviceable set of pieces out of wood craft parts that would allow me to play Chinese Chess.  I can use these spools with these mushroom caps to make 'pawns', and I can use these candle cups tipped at a 45 degree angle with these little discs on the side as wheels to make cannons," etc.  

But then once I did that it dawned on my that I could make huge armies for ancients wargames for very little money using these inexpensive craft parts and, equally importantly, with a simple paint scheme I could put hundreds of figures on the table top in not a lot of time.  And so that's what I did.  And since then, because of seeing the great work of all the folks out there that do more detailed figures, I started to do more detailed once myself.

I have decided, for a little while anyway, to return to my roots ... get back to basics ... to return to doing the simpler figures of a decade ago.  And further, to make pieces for board games that I really like.

Chess was an obvious choice, and I will do pieces for traditional chess eventually, but before that I have always wanted to do a homemade version of the old Parker Brothers' game "All the King's Men."  There are several variants out there, but this one is my favorite and it has a medieval theme.  Here is a picture of the game:

It is not the most popular of games, it is often seen as too simple and not challenging enough, but I have loved this game since my youth.  There are only three types of pieces, the King, four Knights, and seven Archers.  The King and the Archers each move one square.  The Knights can move any number of squares.  Fair enough, it is a very simple chess-like game, no doubt.  But the one thing that this game has that no other game at that time did (this was the late 70's) is that the board squares determine the direction the piece could move.  The distance in squares moved was established by the type of piece.  But the direction was dependent upon the arrows on the square the piece currently occupied.  It has been proposed by those who studied the game that this was done to simplify the movement of the pieces for beginners and make the game easier for even younger plays to enjoy.  Fair enough, I do think this is true.  But the wargamer in me saw something else, and it is what I have always loved about this game.  The squares effectively serve like terrain in a wargame.  If the square does not have a "forward" facing arrow in it, the piece cannot move in that direction.  This really is an abstraction of terrain in a wargame!

So, in an effort to return to my roots with crafting figures, I decided to make my own pieces for the game "All the King's Men."  The board?  I will try, but I know it is going to be difficult.  But I will try.

Consistent with the original, I am going to make a brown colored army and a cream colored army.  I am also sticking with the medieval theme of archers, knights, and a royal (I am going to do one King and one Queen however just for fun and also as a shout-out to the new Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit").  I am just going to use peg people and paint the designs on them to indicate the different playing pieces.  Keep it Simple Stupid approach here.  I am going to base coat all of the peg people in black and then paint the colors on top of this black base coat, being careful to use the "negative space" (in other words leave black showing throw) to create definition and a break between the different parts of the piece.  I am not shooting for something "realistic" or even necessarily proportional here.  In fact, I am only doing the figures from the waist up.  Instead, I am aiming for interesting looking playing pieces for a board game.  Also, I know that pieces of the same type will differ slightly from each other.  I'm okay with that.  This is supposed to be a "handmade" game, not a manufactured one.


Here are some photos of the brown colored army.

The King is about 3" tall, the Knights are about 2.5" tall and the Archers are 1.75" tall.  I did nothing to these pawns other than paint them.  The armor and weapons are somewhat abstracted, and I purposefully did not paint facial features on them.  This, along with their size difference, gives them more of a board game "playing piece" feel than a historical miniature wargame feel, which is what I was going for.

Here are the two "Royals" side by side, King on the left, Queen on the right.  Obviously I chose to use base colors for their outfits consistent with their army (brown and cream).

The Knights might be my favorite pieces.  I wanted them to have some plate armor on but also holding swords in their right hand and shields over their left arm.  So really, the plate armor is really only visible when looking at their helmet and their right arm holding the sword.  Again, I used the brown or cream colors to paint their surcoats as well as their shield front to make it easier to see in which army they serve.

Here is a better shot of the sword.  Super easy to do and I like the way they came out.



Here is a better shot of the right arm holding the sword.  Again, my goal was to create a "plate armor" look.


The archers were the first figures I did.  I couldn't decide whether to paint their mail head and shoulder covering as mail or just leave it gray.  I went with the more simple option of not painting the mail and just leaving it gray.  The bows they hold in hindsight I should have put in their other hand, but that's okay.  I used different colors for the bows to give more visual distinctiveness to these pieces as they are the smallest on the board.

The board will be tricky.  I have some ideas but even if I can't pull it off, I am happy with these playing pieces.



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