Saturday, January 30, 2016

Black Ops Battle Photos

The last Black Ops battle fought in the Abox house pitted a group of Prang! trying to capture and contain a force of Octopods.  This time around we switched the sides.
The Prang! started out in the center of the board, with the Octopods on the outskirts.  It didn't go well for the Octopods because we did the points backwards.  Halfway through the lopsided victory we realized that we didn't account for the rule that gives the guys escaping two-thirds the points of the guys trying to stop them.  When the guys escaping have the extra 25 points worth of troops, it turns into a steamroller.

Four small squads of Octopods put up a good fight...

Even seizing the high ground...

But the Prang! made straight for the nearest exit point...

Leaving a sacrificial two-man fireteam behind to slow down pursuers.

The pair met a grisly end, but..

...their sacrifice was not in vain and their names and heroism will be sung down through the generations.  They bought enough time for the Prang! to move the rest of the force off-board.  Six professionals including a leader and heavy can easily steam roll two fanatics even if they are backed by their leader.  Even considering the extra points they brought to the table, the Prang! walked away with this one - both figuratively and literally.

On a side note, this has been the best month ever for traffic on this blog.  Thank you all for swinging by the Box - the more you guys look, the more I want to show.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


The Amazon stork finally delivered my latest rules baby, and I couldn't be a prouder papa.  

I've been on the lookout for a decent set of medieval rules for use with my fantasy figures, and bought these largely on the strength of Black Ops.  Much as I love Dumas' two masterworks, and all the film adaptions of them (yes, even that version of the Three Musketeers,) this period never really floated my wargaming boat.  The reviews of Osprey's Ronin, another genre that holds no interest, indicated that the rules had a lot to offer.  That plus the cheap early-order price were too much for me to resist.

I haven't had them for 12 hours yet, but I've read them through, and my mind is already racing with anticipation.  All I need to do now is finish the dungeon terrain, paint 60+ miniatures, and whip up or steal a decent cheat sheet and roster.  This really is a hobby for patient people, innit?

I'll have a detailed review written up shortly.  If things go as planned it will be up at the Castalia House blog some time next week.  They don't do a whole lot of miniature wargaming over there - their gaming posts are geared more for RPGs and hex and chit wargaming, but the editor as agreed to let me play in their yard for a bit.  It's recommended reading for tabletop gaming dilettantes of all kinds.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Learning Process

This new fantasy terrain is proving to be more difficult than expected.  My goal is to put something together along the lines of the The DMs Craft, but it ain't as easy as it looks.  For one thing, he works in the big 28 scale, where my stuff is built in God's Own 15mm scale.  So everything is that much more fiddly.  For another thing, I have a much higher bar for acceptable quality than he does.  That's not to say that his stuff looks bad, just that my initial fumblings don't reach his level, and thus won't reach my table.

Here, take a look at my first attempts at a simple pair of openable doors.  Heavy cardstock just doesn't have enough heft to support swinging doors, and frays much to easily.

They are too big.  That might work given that my dungeons are mythic underworlds where the normal rules don't apply, but the tattered ends of the strips, and the fact they tip over when opened?  That just won't cut it on my table.  So these shoddy doors went right into the circular file.

Likewise, with the tiles themselves.  The picture (shown a few weeks back) gives an idea of how rough my attempt at cheap construction looks:
The towers aren't round, the flat edges don't line up, and you can't see it, but the corrugation shows through the cardboard even before painting.  That's only going to get worse.

Unacceptable.  Castle, meet the circular file.

That's okay, a night spent learning what doesn't work has some value.  This time out, for example, I learned not to craft tiny little features a few hours after grouting a tile wall.  My fingertips are calloused and throbbing, not ideal for fiddly work.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and we've got all year to figure this thing out.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Castle Meatgrinder!

At this point I don't know if Castle Meatgrinder! is the title of my next megadungeon, or just the working title for a fantasy terrain for tabletop skirmishing.

In D&D terms it will be one of those spooky old castle ruins on the hill where a crazed wizard conducted diabolic experiments, unleashed unspeakable horrors from the realms of pure chaos, and that have been over-run with hordes of filthy humanoids.  And all with plenty of gold to keep the desperate and greedy coming back for more.  And that's just the ground floor - you should see what the basement holds!

Seems legit
In skirmish gaming terms, we're shooting for terrain that can cover a decent sized table with plenty of avenues for approach and ambush, as well as wide open spaces suitable for missile fire and maneuver.   In all likelihood I expect to use it for both D&D and for Osprey's En Garde! rules (when they arrive) or even some Song of Blades and Heroes (which I really need to revisit some time).

Either way, it's going to be a sprawling and flexible system that allows for furniture, doorways, traps, multi-level rooms, and the potential for slaughterhouse levels of rended flesh.  Hence the name.  For figures, I've got cultists, pig-faced orcs, frogmen, undead, and a handful of the sorts of strange and bizarre creatures one is likely to meet in the Mythic Underworld.  I may even be able to tap into my 10mm collection to throw some surprises at the wary and unwary alike.

Now I've looked at a few different systems, and after struggling through the Big Box Blues, decided to build 2.5d Dungeon Tiles as popularized by the CraftyDM (YouTube Channel) and DMscotty.  As with all things wargamey, we'll put our own unique spin on it, though.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Amazon is the Grown Up Version of the Tooth Fairy

Tonight my head will be dancing with visions of sugar plum rule mechanics:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Looking at my so-called city board, something about it always seemed off to me.  It wasn't until this weekend, while cruising what I think of as the Infiniti terrain-porn* sites, that I realized what it was.  The board was too rural.  The earth and grass speaks more of suburbia than urbania.  What this calls for is some urban development.

That's nice.  Pleasant even.
That's a really easy fix.  All you need is a new drop cloth, some spray paint, and you're in business.  So check out the new and improved urban-core.

After a bit of planning on graph paper, what I did was mark out three inch wide roads using masking tape.  First I sprayed the roads black, then dusted the whole cloth in black and a light gray color.  I moved cardboard blocker boards around to give different parts of the board different shades of gray.  Then I gave it a last dusting with a pale blue color, to break up the monochrome a bit.  After I was satisfied with the concrete coloring, I just pulled the masking tape up.  Leaving the areas covered by the tape completely free of spray paint results in a brighter shade of concrete for the sidewalks.

That's the stuff.  New roads, fire lanes blockable by traffic, and none that cross the whole table.  All we need now is a few flattish terrain pieces to fill in a few gaps.  Maybe a skate park or a junk lot.  Those sidewalks need some additional cracking, too.  It ain't done, but that concrete jungle looks a lot more city-like to my eyes.

In retrospect, it might have been better to build those roads at a more oblique angle.  The Infiniti guys swear that it gives you shorter fire lanes from one table edge to the other.  I'm not so sure that matter given my play style.  Infinity explicitly uses table edges in a way that most of my games don't.  For example - in my last Black Ops game, the defending force started in the corners.  This should work out just fine.'s finally time to go back to Castle Meatgrinder!  We'll revisit my fantasy tabletop next time.

* Some of those Infiniti forum dwellers have really got their act together when it comes to building cohesive city boards that are attractive and make sense as urban centers.  If you need terrain inspiration, check them out, but be ready to look at the clock and wonder where the last few hours went.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Congestion - 15mm Traffic

Four cars and two bikes doesn't do much to make a city table look well inhabited.  It makes it look like more of a hamlet than an urban center.  To that end, here are two more flit cars - four seaters this time, and a big bruising taxicab.  All from, and all mounted on clear plastic hooks from the hardware store.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Standard Bikes, Custom Paintjobs

These fine jetbikes are available from  Just a simple paintjob this time out.

That makes a total of another 18 pieces of scatter terrain for the sci-fi table.  Now, to do something about the far too rural looking drop cloth.  All this scatter terrain works much better on a concrete jungle table than it does on a rural country crossroads table.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sci-Fi Scatter: The Embiggening

As mentioned previously, the electrical aisle of your local hardware store is a great place to find little bitty odd shaped things that belong in your bits box.  Today, I want to show you how I turned a few of these bitty bits into a decent smattering of scatter terrain.  First up, the raw materials, and what they will become in the hands of a hack wargamer.

Concrete bench supports

Trash cans

Vending machines
It's not hard to see how the trash cans work; the only real addition is a bit of glue and sand inside them to represent trash.  The vending machines only need to be glued to a decent base.  For the park bench supports, I just glued a single strip of cardstock across the top of three of them.  This way they will look like concrete slabs, which will tie into the rest of my terrain.  Here's a shot of the lot of them pre-basecoat.

That big wood and plastic thing is a modern day statue or War Memorial built out of basswood strips and based on a large washer.  We'll come back to that in a bit.  First, let's look at the results following a decent paintjob.
Benches with trash cans

Vending machine fronts

Vending machine sides
For the vending machines, I've gone with more Nuka Cola and Buy 'N Large, to tie them into the billboards posted a week or so ago.  The green one is a Soylent Green vending machine and the far right one serves up delicious Slurm!

Back to the War Memorial.  The right paint job turns it into solid green marble slabs, in this case it just takes a bit of stippling with three colors of green, and a bit of feathering in white veins.  After the dullcoat, I brushed on a gloss varnish, to give it that highly polished look.

And there you have it.  Eight more pieces of life saving cover for your cowards to hide behind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Black Ops: Octopod Escape

In a Black Ops battle featuring two newly painted forces, a small Octopod task force has been discovered operating deep inside Prang!* territory.  The 12 man group of conscripts including one leader (Ace) and one RPG toting heavy (for a total of 54 points) have regrouped inside a small park.  Meanwhile, a 9 man group of Prang! featuring a leader (Ace), two GPMG toting heavies, and six troopers (for a total of 73 points) have boxed them in, and look to wipe them out. 
Shortly after the start of hostilities, as evidenced by one octo down.
The octopod forces win by exiting half their number off board by the end of turn 5, if they fail to do so, the Prang! mission will succeed.
The Prang! drew the bulk of the early cards, giving them a chance to move into position and set up a few test shots.

The general flow of battle with the octopods sprinting northwest,
while the Prang! slowly work around to get some decent fire lanes open.
But the mid-deck cards come up all octopod, and with escape just four moves away, they waste no time running to the northwest.
A three man fire team tries to cut off escape with a long,
and mostly clear fire lane, but can't get their heavy guns
set up in time.
The Prang edges around, plinking away where they could, and inflicting a few casualties along the way.  They had really hoped to draw the cards that would give them held actions, but it wasn't meant to be.

Taking cover behind parked cars and advertisements.
Leading the way as a good leader does, the octopod Ace was the first octo off the board.  It might have been better to stay behind and issue orders to move the troopers along faster, but at 14 points, the leader model represented almost half the points needed for victory. 
Follow me!
The Prang! did manage to set up a few decent shots near the edge of the battlefield, but opted for kill shots instead of suppression shots.  The difficulty of firing on the move at figures behind cover proved too much for the Prang!, who were only able to knock out five of the low cost troopers.
Even setting up crossfire lanes doesn't do much good
when the cards don't give you a chance to
hold fire for effect.
In the end, the octopods managed to clear 34 points worth of models off board by the end of turn 2.
Winning like the British at Dunkirk
Take home lessons: 
  1. When the game calls for no more than 50 points for one side, don't give that side an extra 4 thinking, "what difference does it make"?  It makes a difference.  Taking out the one extra trooper still gives the octopods 30 out of 50 points, but a lot of those fallen figures took a bullet for the big point leader and heavy.  If one of those models had fallen, the Prang! would have eked out a close victory.
  2. The rule that turns a 7+ to hit into a 6+ at the cost of half the dice works really well.  This rule came up a lot in this game, and allowed for massive volleys at long range to have a limited effect.  You could still risk those shots, but the effects were lessened.
  3. Overwatch and suppression are your best friends when trying to keep models from sprinting for the sideline.  In retrospect, the Prang! should have spent a lot more ammo on suppression fire.  The goal is to kill, but by slowing the octopods down - and forcing moves into cover and away from the goal line, the Prang! could have bought enough time to get everyprang into position, and that would have meant a lot more shooting with fewer penalties in the latter stages of the game.
 * I don't know why, there's something about the Prang! that just makes me want to add an exclamation point to the end of the word.  Maybe it's onomatopoeia-esque nature of the word.  Whatever, get used to seeing it written that way around these parts.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


I've had these lovely little frog-men painted up for weeks, but just hadn't had time to photograph and post them.  Sculpted by the talented Eli Arndt, these stocky fellows have landed smack in the middle of The Ion Age, where they are sure to make a splash.  These are some of the most characterful 15mm figures I've yet painted.  Something about that big chin and sneering fish-face just makes me love these little guys.

I tried to blend their chins a light blue to contrast with the greenish hue of their skin, but aside from being a little lighter, it didn't work out to quite the effect I'd hoped.  It'll do.

Comparing these photos to the professional ones done on the sculptor and seller website it occurs to me that my painting style works a lot better on the big 28mm figures.  The close up shots of these guys reveal all the little spatters and outside the line blotches that you don't see in-game.  I'm okay with that.  My limited time and old man eyes have forced a bit of a shift in priorities on me, but it's a shift I can live with.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Small Box Blues, Part Five

Over the course of the week we have been looking at a number of different strategies to maximize the gamable space that you can fit into a small storage box.  As promised, today presents my own solution to the vexing problem of making a sci-fi interior battlefield with attractive walls, easy access, and widely variable floorplans.  And here it is:


You know, when you get right down to it, my sci-fi battlefield isn't even done yet. Even with the ad boxes and tree planters that I showed you last week, it still needs some vending machines, more vehicles, a solar farm, telecommunications arrays, more planter boxes, and maybe some benches.  That's a lot of work to do while simultaneously working on a whole new set of interiors.  Starting a whole new terrain set when your last one isn't done would be the work of either a maniac, idiot, or wargamer.  Fortunately, I am equal parts each.

It's been long enough that I've delayed upgrading my fantasy figures to God's Own Scale.  My last purchase included a bunch of heroes and skeletons.  Not many, but enough to build a warband or two.  Before they take the field, we're going to need a field.  And that fantasy field is my solution to the Big Box Blues: Castle Meatgrinder!

The ground level of Castle Meatgrinder, Take One.
The first step always looks a bit rough.  To give you an idea
of scale, the rectangles are the size of a standard sheet of paper.
This is going to be a fairly substantial process, with a lot of trail and error.  Hopefully, you lot can learn from my trials, and not make my errors.  Before we get too far down the road, though, I'll have to clear some space from my workbench, so expect a week or so of sci-fi scatter terrain, and then we'll come back to the Castle.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Small Box Blues, Part Four

There's no way around it - big multi-layer pieces of terrain just aren't going to fit into a small box. So let's just stick with a one level floor plan. Everybody and his uncle uses some variation of rectangular or hex-based tiles for their terrain.  But since this is sci-fi, and we're building space-stations and spaceports and such, we should look for something a little more scientific.  So how about a nice repeating pentagon pattern?

These mock-ups of tiles are based on a repeating regular polygon pattern called a Cairo Tessellation. The pentagon has four equal sides and a fifth, longer side.  Two of the angles are right angles, so you could combine this pattern with square tiles to get some very interesting results.

The green lines are an experiment in wall placement.  If you put doorways at the center of each side, then you can be assured that everything lines up.  Leave one or two sidewalls completely open and you can easily build large chambers, too.

I abandoned this idea when it became obvious that you're going to have to sacrifice too much  gameable space in the box.  Remember that my box limits me to roughly three stories worth of tiles, and I'd only get three large or six small tiles total.  That's just not enough to satisfy me.  I could stack them on their sides and fit seven or eight, but each one would be even smaller than the ones shown here.  That still leaves a lot to be desired.

Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion and solution to the Small Box Blues!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Small Box Blues, Part Three

Last time we looked at a few ways that smart people approach the challenge of cramming as much terrain into a small space as possible.  This time let's look at how a dumb person does it.  And by dumb person, I mean me.

In addition to cramming as much terrain as possible into a single small box, I also wanted to incorporate something that all of the last post's featured bloggers did not - the third dimension.  I want some height.  Both for visual appeal and for added gaming possibilities.  I want snipers and ladders, and ways to go over terrain and not just around it.

 My first attempt consisted of constructing two L-shaped buildings three floors in height.  These could be packed in to the big box side by side giving me two large end-pieces for a gray drop cloth.  Add some stairs, and a bunch of shopping kiosks, and you've got a nice little starport.

You put one of these in each corner, or even adjacent to each other, and  now you're talking.  The downside to this plan is that my fat fingers can't fumble back into the back corner.  With only six inches of head space, each floor is only two inches high.  You can get away with narrow corridors, but a full balcony just won't work well in practice.

Also, I mis-measured my pieces, and couldn't fit them both in the box at the same time.
At least I checked before going too far down this
dead end.
Cut that down by a couple of inches to make them square?  Bah!  Too much work for too little reward.  Besides, they would fill the box.  By the time the stairs and a couple kiosks are done, all I'd be left with is some small scatter terrain.

Next, I experimented with large one-story tiles, to see if there was a way to pack eight tiles with walls into the box.  There was a way to nest them resulting in a battlefield the size of 8 sheets of paper, but everything wound up really short and crammed into the box in a way that was guaranteed to damage the terrain.  There was still no room left for any sort of scatter-terrain.

Perhaps it was time for something really different?  Next time we'll look at a more Escher-esque attempt at the small box...