Thursday, February 18, 2010

Field Testing

Using the power of THE INTERNET, I've managed to get in a couple of nearly-real games in with my Eldar.


That's right, actual play experience. Laubersheimer Industries has moved on from strictly painting and other such 'soft score' stuff to actual gaming. High fives for everyone who's last name is Laubersheimer!

The VASSAL Engine
My buddy, Colin, and I took our first steps into the seedy underworld that is Vassal 40k last week. Overall, a pretty good experience. Certainly not as good as an actual face-to-face game, but a good substitute when large distances of travel and incomplete models are involved.

Certainly a different game than real 5th edition 40k.

For those of you who don't know, Vassal 40k was a module for the VASSAL Engine that allowed you to play 40k over THE INTERNET using a very basic, sprite based interface. All of the dice interactions where also built into the program. All in all, a pretty neat little piece of tech.

Notice how I used the word 'was' up there? Vassal 40k got shut down some time ago by GW. Something about the module allowing you to play 40k while bypassing a crucial part of GW's business plan. You know, the part where you spend $400 dollars on the models required to play? The most recent version of the module is still at large on THE INTERNET - hidden in torrents and direct download sites by people who don't take cease and desist orders seriously. There was even an update for the new Tyranids created after the shutdown.

No, I'm not going to link you to any of this. But I will point out that I own every model I used in VASSAL.

As far as the actual game experience goes, its good, but not great. The interface itself is actually the main barrier for Play. This is mostly because all of the natural model movement and dice rolling you take for granted has to be done through VASSAL's GUI. There's a definite learning curve as you get used to all the quirks of 'simply' moving a squad of guys.

As far as the rules go, the only real issue is the complete inability to use the 5th edition true LOS rules. The map is a 2D top down kind of thing, so no "model's eye view". In my experience, there's a hefty amount of guesstimation and abstraction that needs to be done in order to determine LOS. Defining terrain takes on a higher level of importance as a result. In practice, 5th edition 40k plays more like 4th edition in this way. So, its really like four and a halfth edition.

I'd also strongly recommend some kind of VOIP program as well. Imagine playing a regular game of 40k with nothing but text messages. Sound fun? Of course not.

All in all, still a pretty solid experience. Not exactly a real game of 5th edition, but fun and educational anyways.

The Eldar Experience So Far
I've played two games using the list I've posted previously (in total or in part). One at 2000 points and one at 1750. The results have been pretty encouraging. Especially since I'm still, basically, a noob - seeing as how these were my first and 2nd fifth edition games that weren't ALSO Apocalypse games.

Both games were against Colin - one vs. his Chimera spam Guard (2k) and another vs. his MC deep striking Nids list (1750). It's very clear that there's still a lot for me to learn. As much as I've pored over the rules, implementing them is another matter. I missed a few rules ove the course of the two games - nothing game breaking, but important stuff to be aware of. The same is true with an army list - I can build lists all I want and read tactics on THE INTERNET til my eyes bleed, but making things happen in an actual game is a bit more involved. Someone who was real good at words wrote an article about this kinda thing. So there's a definite sensation of 'effort shock', I'm just not totally blindsided by it.

Game 1 vs. Imperial Guard
First off - I lost. Pretty badly actually - 4-0 on objectives.
Actually it was a forfeit at 5 am after I was left with one unit of troops who needed to claim 3 objectives simultaneously to win the game. However, the game was still a very positive experience. While I got shut out on objectives, I didn't get whomped and playing a game with a total of 25 vehicles on the board was pretty great.

My main problem was lack of experience.
I'd played Eldar exactly 0.12 times before this game and I was going up against my buddies go-to army for dropping off special deliveries of pain. Despite these harsh realities and some noob mistakes, I managed to still have half an army left. Mostly tanks. On the plus side, I did pull of a nearly textbook refused flank... and then promptly failed to capitalize on it.

My other mistakes were not being aggressive enough with my fire dragons, not concentrating fire enough and throwing away my precious Vypers on useless move blocking maneuvers. there was also a healthy dose of not staying in the damn transport (I got greedy) and bad target priority.

Also, I learned some important lessons on the limits of my armies speed and durability. Namely, the Wave Serpent gives me both of these things in spades, but they are not unstoppable killing machines.
The AV10 ass needs to be covered and even if I moved flat out, a guard army can almost always throw enough firepower at something to ignore the 4+ (which is fucking crazy, by the way). Though being able to ignore terrain while moving and clearing the board in a turn is pretty freaking sweet.

Game 2 vs. Tyranids
I won! barely. This was really a close fought game for me and a pretty hefty part of the win was some good luck. The game ended at the first opportunity (turn 5?) with me holding the only objective. This was a bit better of a match up for me as Colin is still pretty new to his list and Tyranids in general. Plus, my army was kind of the nightmare match for him - faster and able to ignore much of his shooting. The deployment shenanigans I can pull thanks to the Autarch were a big help as well. Colin ended up dropping two mawlocks and a spore full of zoanthropes on an empty deployment zone.

The major thing I walked away from this game with was a healthy respect for close combat attacks against vehicles. Especially MC attacks. Yikes!
Tyranid beasties being extremely hard to kill is a close second. In this game, it was nice to be on the other side of someone being greedy and it costing them - it would have been a draw except for the tervigon on Colin's objective leaving it to chase a Wave Serpent. I think if the game had gone on longer, it would have eventually shifted in the favor of the bugs. Tervigons with FNP up are super hard to kill and there was still the matter of an unhurt mawlock running around.

Early Conclusions
Two games in and I'm really diggin' the Eldar. Colin says the army is very frustrating to play against - its fast, it fucks with high power shooting and I can screw over deepstrike strategies. All good things for my play style. Not to give people the impression that I'm an asshole or anything, but any army that's full of dick moves and fucks with people's heads is my kind of army.

The list itself seems pretty solid to, so a big thanks to Stelek for coming up with this gem. 40k is much more fun to learn for me when I don't have to worry about how shitty an army I have. Which is something that killed my interest in 4ok temporarily back in 4th edition. I had this super shit battleforce army that was making things harder for me than they needed to be while learning a new game system. It also didn't help that it was a Dark Angels army. Just an overall awful experience.

At this point, I need two things: more practice and to be finished painting everything. Both are things that will come with time as long as I stick with it. Not to bad an outlook really.

As I play more games I'll post more thoughts. Maybe even some battle reports. Woah!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Battle Missions: More Like Butt... Missions...

Looks like the much anticipated Battle Missions book is on its way - pre-orders went up today.

I'm gonna take a moment to discuss the actual book before I get into what I'm actually interested in with this wave of releases. Over the last few years, there has always been a pretty persistent rumor that a missions book has been in the works. Once 5th edition hit and a consensus was reached on the lackluster mission rules therein, the rumors got a little frantic... a little more desperate. Everyone was hoping for something that would offset kill points; something that would really open up some mission possibilities for tournaments.

Now that the book is almost on us, it seems like it might just be a repeat of the REAL ULTIMATE FUN (tm) of Planetstrike. To be less sarcastic, the blurb put up by GW makes it seem like Battle Missions could be another douche-rocket. Tastytaste over on Blood of Kittens covers the the salient points.

Here's to hoping Battle Mission is a damn sight better than the unbalanced heap that is Planetstrike, but I think we're stuck with "Super Fluff Mission Book #4: Revenge of the Story Missions No One Likes."

Despite the various mission books having a tendency to be fairly lack luster (Cityfight, Apocalypse, Planetsrike and, now, Battle Missions), they've always been accompanied by pretty sweet kit releases. Which is what I really care about.

The buildings from City Fight and Planetstrike are pretty freaking cool - even if they are only terrain. But as someone who's spent a bunch of time making buildings, 20 -25 bux is a small price to pay for getting a quality building without having to scratch build it. Apocalypse came with some pretty amazing (if less than 100% useful) super heavies and the really solid Master's of the Chapter set. Not too shabby.

Now, with Battle Missions, we're getting a bunch of new hotness applied to some pretty old and janky kits. The Ork dreads and the venerable dreadnought all replace some very boring, very old and very expensive metal kits. The original venerable dreadnought was particularly showing its age. And SHEE-YIT, the new Ork kits are boner-poppingly cool.

Lastly, we have the two Imperial kit re-releases. I'm sure people will complain about them (some of my friends already have - hah!), but these were also pretty old kits that really did need updating. They might not be the Basilisk, Hydra or Death Strike Missile you wanted, but we're talking updates for kits that were 15 damn years old. I remember buying a Chimera when it first came out in 19 Batman Forever 95!

[personal testimony] As someone who has been dealing with older plastic kits a lot lately (cough, Eldar, cough), I can't tell you how frustrating it is to work with the new kits and then have to go back to the stuff from the 90's. The new kits are just so much better - the process GW uses has matured and quality is just so much higher. The Eldar Wave Serpent in particular is full of all kinds of strange imperfections on the kit - strange nubbin's on the surfaces and a poor fitting top/bottom design. And don't even get me started on the Fire Prism - great looking machine, poor model kit.

The Imperial releases fit in with the overall theme of the new kits - updates of old stuff that was due for an update that will likely get people thinking about codices that aren't as fresh in people's minds as the Tyranids and the Space Wolves. Plus, look at it this way, if updated versions of the Chimera and Basilisk that match the Hellhound exist, how far away do you think the rest of the family is?

All the updated kits will do a lot of things to make things to make things easier on the new guys and vets alike:
  • Better, possibly cheaper purchasing options
  • Easier to assemble kits ease frustration with the 'soft scores' side of the house
  • Way more options for customization
  • Better codex support
All of these things will get people spending money on their armies again AND get new people thinking about older books. All of these things equal sales for GW. Which is as good for them as it is for us. Must be that sustainability that Stelek was talkin' 'bout.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Projet Future Boys: the Autarch

Despite my painting related ADD, I'm still making progress on the Eldar army I started a back in Sept/Oct. Recently, as part of a painting challenge over on the Chamber Militant, I moved the Autarch ahead in the rotation. I may not have finished on time, but I think the results were worth the wait.

Note: be sure to click on the images to see full size versions. As you may be able to tell, I've also been practicing my macro photography as well.

Lots of stuff going on with this guy. Most of it dealing with new techniques (for me at least). I tired out some non metallic metal (NMM), object source lighting (OSL) as well as a new recipe for white I found. All things I've either never done before or avoided. I've always wanted to try some of this stuff, but had never given myself an opportunity - mostly because I'm always working on armies (aka large batches of stuff) and often under some fairly rigid, self-imposed style guides. Either I was aiming at consistency or these techniques simply take too damn long to do.

I figured this guy was the perfect model to try these new things on as I didn't have to worry much about the consistency of the appearance of the army. In an army of specialist unit types that all have their own color scheme, their aren't too many places to be consistent other than the tank schemes anyways. Plus, he's the only unique model in an army I'm not painting to a crazy high standard. I could basically do whatever I wanted and he'd fit in.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this guy. Probably my best work yet. Despite this, their are still a few things that bug me about the finished product - little details (many of them niggling) that I just couldn't get quite right*. But that's what happens when you spend so much time on a project and outside of your comfort zone. People are often their own worst critics.

Speaking of comfort zones...

[Teaching Moment] In my (current) opinion, there are two main things that are key to being a better painter - practice and trying new things. The later means stepping outside of your comfort zone. For brand spankin' new painters, EVERYTHING is outside of their comfort zone. As one gets better and more practiced, you have to go further to get outside of it. If you don't, you stagnate or hit a plateau. For me, this model was as much about getting outside of my comfort zone as it was about painting the best Autarch I could paint.

---[foot notes]---------------------------
*The nozzle of the fusion gun is the biggest thing that bugs me. I've looked at it and looked at it and had other people look at it. It's just off a bit. The current theory is that the Horizon line is off. I'm also not convinced on the blending either. THe OSL on the backpack turned out to be irrelevant since you can't see it. Oh well, a great learning experience and a great result in any case.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brush Cleaning and Les Bursley

AH, the sweet smell of well-made tutorials. Breath deep my friends, there's plenty for everyone.


First up, a whole bunch of stuff on proper brush care.
Notice a trend (besides how cleaning your brushes is good)? All of them suggest the same product - Master's Brush Cleaner. If you spend more than 5 bux on a brush, go get some of this stuff. Brush snobs like myself tend to drop the cash on the Winsor & Newtons and other what have yous. Even if you're not paying MSRP, 8-12 bux is a pretty big investment for a single brush. A good paint brush should not be a readily disposable item. Take care of the damn things! They'll last longer which is good for your wallet* and they'll hold their points better which is good for your art. Plus, a thing of the Master's Brush soap is like 5-8 bux OR less than the cost of a the brush you ran into the ground or think you ran into the ground.

The magical properties of Master's Brush Soap are not exaggerated. Its exactly as easy and as powerful as the above articles suggest.

Official Personal Testimony: One of the many tricky parts of this hobby of ours is that the vast majority of its participants tend to be self taught. Score one for your bootstraps, but loose one for incomplete knowledge. For me, this is why it took my so long to get some brush soap - I just didn't know about it. I wish I had known about 2 years and 50 bux ago... but that's something to impotently shake my fist at another day. Anywho, the brush soap totally revitalized 3-4 of my brushes the first time I used it. Saving me around 40 bux. Not too shabby.

Now to segue from one of those previous tutorials...

Les Bursley of Awesome
Not entirely sure how I came across this guy's stuff**, but its well worth the time to explore his content. The above video is just one example of the kinds of science this guy is dropping.

I only know a handful of things about Les Bursley:
  1. He has tattoos
  2. He makes great video tutorials
  3. He sells his own line of washes and pigments
  4. He's out there on the internet EVERYDAY trying to get people to paint their armies.
The second and fourth points there are the most important ones.

Making a good tutorial requires things that many tutorial authors don't have. Skill with every aspect involved - photography, image editing, writing, spelling, grammar and... the actual painting. On top of all that, large amounts of patience and time are required as well as a commitment to doing it 'right'. Did I mention you have to have something to show people that they're actually interested in? 'Cause ya do.

I'll man up and state that I just don't have the photography skills or the patience to do a truly solid tutorial - mostly the patience. A lot of people have even less than that. That's why there's such a high noise to signal ratio out there. There are a ton of people who have no business writing a tutorial - let alone one about how awesome dry-brushing is - but do anyway. Complete with blurry pictures and more terrible jokes than actual information.***

But not Les. According to his youtube channel, he has 30+ videos. All of them good. They provide a clear picture of what's going on, detailed information as to what's being done and the guy clearly has talent. On top of all that, these are all videos. Videos people! You can actually see what the hell he's doing as he's doing it. These aren't just collections of snap shots of the process. He actually captures the process.

Now, I don't always agree with his choices, his techniques or his positions on things. BUT, my disagreements are over matters of personal preference rather than questions about his competency. Much of this is related to his intended audience.

You see, the other super cool thing about Les is his slogan on all of his videos: "paint your stuff". He also sells a t-shirt that says "primer armies = fail". Les aims his tutorials at people who are either at the beginning stages of learning to paint or who may just not that interested in the whole process in the first place. Most of the tutorials focus on very easy to learn and implement techniques. Rarely anything more complicated than layering, washes and paint thinning. I especially like that he is such a huge advocate of Thinning Your Damn Paints - a common thing beginners miss. Solid results without a a metric crap-tonne of work and practice.

The tutorials all aim to give people the tools they need to achieve solid results without a lot of the off putting froufrou (you know, the stuff I have a hard on for). He rarely uses any exotic paints and isn't out there to terrify people with the prospects of learning how to do a perfect blend. So, while I may not be fond of his imperial fist color scheme, I salute him for gettin' out there and trying to improve table top standards.

So check out Les's stuff for some good ideas and an example of "doin' it right".

--[Foot Notes]--------------------------------
*Or your billfold if you're over 50. Which you almost assuredly keep in the back pocket of your dungarees and/or trousers. I would also wager that you have a pair of penny loafers as well.

**That's not entirely true. But a short story about how I surf the internet breaks up the already questionable flow of my article here. So it gets a footnote! Here's the story: I found his stuff while surfing the web for tutorials. Probably while on dakka. Wee.

***Though I will say that the more the digital camera has proliferated, the better things have gotten. People are becoming aware that a cellphone camera is not particularly useful when it comes to this kind of stuff.