Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bilbo's 2011

There hasn't been much in way of tournaments for me since last spring. My Warhammer sabbatical continues and will for a good long time I suppose as long as the state of the game remains as it is. My dabbling into Warmachine has shown me that the competitive learning curve is steep and requires more dedication than that of guy who likes to play numerous systems and has two children under 5. Competitive Warmachine will be a slow process for me that involves gaming with friends and finding events that fit the bill for my skill level. The one system I am still playing that just seems to never get old for me. (and not because I dont get to play it all that often) is The Lord of Rings, Strategy Battle Game. As the mechanic of this game is the basis for Legends of the High Seas and Legends of the Old West. I am never that far away from it, even thou I have not played a game of LotR since the spring either.

Bilbo's Birthday Bash is our areas Fall Classic, in its third year, I am glad to say I will have been at the them all. A great time and extremely competitive event..the player pool for this game is small but dedicated meaning the half dozen events nationally each compel the players to travel. So when you go to one these things the talent pool is always top tier, in both player skill and Hobby chops. I do enjoy a 20 person event where Best Appearance award is drawing from 40 or even 50% of the attendees as starting base instead say 5% at a Warhammer event. Its just fun to bring your models to play with that much great looking stuff.

LotR is my last attachment to Games Workshop, I have to say I am not looking forward to a bunch of Finecast models, but am hoping for some metal or at least good plastic kits when the Hobbit films are released. While I am sure I'll end up disappointed we can always hope for the best. GW's has all but abandoned the SBG, with all LotR releases being geared toward the inferior but model hoarding War of the Ring. Thankfully we still get updated model profiles in White Dwarf. Reports from attendees I know, at this years Las Vegas Throne of Skulls, were certainly less than positive, so consider the game at this point, a "Specialist Game". Most already do although GW displays it as a core system. It would certainly be great if someone else who didnt have two other major game systems could eventually get this license and run with it. I think it would breath new life into the game, because in 100 years, Warhammer and Warhammer 40K are likely going to be foot notes or even forgotten in popular culture, while like it's successor "Star Wars", "The Lord of the Rings" already has timeless status.

One the great things about LotR is since it tournaments are strictly player run, you know what you are getting and I must tell you this a great event. Well run and well supported by its Organizers. This year has a three category painting event, which really got me happy and I plan on entering on piece in each category (the maximum) And the competition will surely be steep.
If you dont play the game and have read this far. feel free to stop now. I want to spend a few minutes talking about LotR competitive play and my army this year, which will only interest the select few.

Army Selection this year for me was tough one, with two years in competitively running Gandalf with Grey Company, adding Gwaihir (the Eagle) at 600 points was an uphill battle. Low model counts left me little room for error, and against insanely high defense armies like Dwarves is was just a "how well can you lose" type game.

Competitively the only somewhat of bummer to me, is general player philosophy of playing this game. General theory, which is akin to any game where people apply win/lose game theory instead just enjoying the game, a fact of human nature we just cant avoid. Is that despite any point limit you always maximize you model count because the law of average dicates the more you outnumber your opponent the exponentially increase your odds of winning. So instead of seeing armies of various factions with the heroes or monsters from the game we love or loathe. Instead you'll see a Mordor army at 600 points with 3 Orc Captains, a Bannerman and 70 orcs.

These are the type of Armies that win events, its just math, the more dice you can throw against a lesser amount dice, the easier you will win. For a game with huge playbook of tactics, its a shame the tournament play is dominated by this type of Lowest Common Denominator thinking. It usually only this way top 3 tables..then the rest of folks bring out the fun armies and all the cool stuff, from some running just 13 models in the "Unexpected party" or just running all 9 Nazgul. I even faced off against a Dragon last year and it was one of the better games I had ever played. I would love to see our National TO's (hint, hint, I know most of you) Change the games cap of 75 models to 50 for tournament play just so we start seeing some different and thematic armies winning events instead of another different shades of 75 generic troops winning the day with the law of averages as their mightiest weapon.

As you know I don't roll that way, "gamey" isn't normally in my playbook unless like Warhammer you eventually get pushed into it. I had originally planned on running a Fiefdoms army this year, with Prince Imarhil at the lead with all the bells and whistles...for whatever reason its seems that the Fiefdoms are super popular this year, and another regular player (and great hobbyist) and I ran into each other at another event and realized we where both working on The same army and we weren't alone. Since he had already started the army, and most of my stuff was still in boxes or blisters we flipped a coin for it. Fair enough and I lost. so it was back to drawing board..well not really- I didn't need to contribute to 20% of the armies this year being Fiefdoms- So I went to my fall back position, either Angmar or Mordor

While I initially made the push for Angmar, I had all the models..it doesnt show up that often, and has one of the few factions that can use the cool undead. I felt I wanted to play a little more competitively this year, and I was just missing the bump I would need running naked Wargs, gambling on undead spells going off, and my Heavy hitter, Buhrdur surviving.

I finally went back to my original army- Cirith Ungol and decided to flesh it out at 600 points with the Spider Queen herself, and touch the whole thing up and finish it. I am quite happy with the line up and I think its going to play great.

Shagrat- War Leader- despite his brief but fun roll in the film, this version is the toughest orc, let alone one of the top tier melee character in the game. I dont need another combat hero with "epic" Shagrat on the field.

Shelob- The Spider has a bunch of nasty tricks but one huge weakness...she must make a courage check everytime she gets wounded and if she fails she is done..this makes her a huge crap shoot..bad luck on an early volley fire..puts you almost 100 points down immediately. you need to use her speed to hide her and put pressure for your opponent to go after other threats and then bring her in late game, if you pull it off...you're going to win.

Orc Shaman on Warg- "Fury" is a great spell and being able to cast it on your Orcs on the key charge is a game changer. not to mention he has "immoblize" too. IF you can get a chance to use it. This guy is leading my Warg Riders in battle.

8 Warg Riders with HW & shield, strong cavalry with the shaman backing them up, great cavalry. Archers shooting at Shelob, they are coming for you.

18 Orcs Hand Weapon and Shield-
10 Orcs Spears
1 Orc with Banner.

The muscle wading up the middle with Shargrat

4 Uruk Hai with Two Handed Weapons. the Honor Guard- Strength 4, +1 to wound
Defense 7 Dwarfs go down on "5"

There you go, 44 Models, 22 Break...the pros will say model count."too low"...but you need to kill 22 Orcs ASAP and my Wargs Riders are into you by the second turn on one Flank..Shagrat is bringing a wall of Orcs up the middle and Shelob is waiting in the darkness for a good target...I'll take it..either way it will be fun to play. Staying in theme, I think all my painting contest models are going to be Mordor too, just not sure on what my 25mm model is going to be. I'll post WIP shots of Army throughout the next couple months..the event is first weekend in November and I have about a third of it already done, so Orcs and Saxons on the bench thru November for sure!.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Foam Wars- Part Deuxish.

Foam Wars continues on with everyone's favorite Miniature Case transport manufacture- Battlefoam and their quest to become either the Mark Zuckerberg or Winklevoss twins of the gaming industry. A blurb in my news feed last week on TGN seemed like a just another "notch in the belt" item in that Miniature Market was no longer carrying Battlefoam and were discounting their remaining stock and replacing it with the excellent line of products by KR multicases.

Battlefoam almost immediately issued a response to TGN, saying Miniature Market had asked for their trade account to be closed 6 months ago. This just fanned the conspiracy theories, given the documented history of Battlefoam's lack of truthfulness in its past business dealings with its competitors. While the truth seems to lie somewhere in the matter of Miniature Market breaching its trade agreement with Battlefoam over pricing restrictions with online sales. A 100+ comment dual thread is currently going strong over on TGN with rival commentaries going on Dakka and I am sure the other usual haunts. Plenty of mud is being slung from either Battlefoams supporters or detractors, but as usual people always seem to overlook the real issues that incidentally get brought to light, instead just jumping on the red meat.

According to Battlefoam's second response to TGN, and I quote:

"Romeo at Battle Foam stated that these restrictions are part of the trade terms to help protect brick and mortar stores that also sell their product and that they had numerous emails with Miniature Market asking them to conform to the trade terms they agreed with."
What smells here is the mention of "Brick and Mortar stores".This really stuck out with me because here in Chicago we've just had a relatively new, growing and popular games store, Black Sun Games shut it's doors. While that is due to some unfortunate extenuating circumstance. It sparked a discussion privately amongst my friends ( one a former game store operator). In that there are just not really any Brick and Mortar game stores left, the ones that exist do so outside the economic realities of the business model. This due to a host of "other factors". (which I'll talk about in its own post at a later date)

Sure, there are stores that sell gaming products all over. but how many are just game stores?, Online discounting and technology outpaced the need for the existence of Brick and Mortar gaming stores years ago, they currently exist as places to meet and play, and if you are fortunate enough to develop a supportive community around you, you can survive.. but without another revenue stream, or online sales component to give you bigger margins than what's standard for the path "manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer" dictates. You are just about D.O.A.

To claim say that someone is going to walk into a brick and mortar game store and buy a Battlefoam bag with a standard load out off the shelf, with all the mark ups and lack of customization that come along with that action being totally ignored, sounds like a fantasy. while I am sure that case exists somewhere, it can only by logic be a tiny, tiny minority. Someone that isn't particularly savvy about what said product is actually used for, and what you could be paying for it somewhere else. (a parent buying something for their child comes to mind) This mentality of customer is actually what Games Workshop has based its business model around, and not coincidentally what Battlefoam seems to want to emulate.

In reality Battlefoam wants you to buy from Battlefoam period. They dont particularly want to have their product in stock with online discounters, they do it to make themselves appear to be everywhere so they can saturate the market in order to make you think they are only people that sell miniature cases.

Here in the United States, Battlefoam clearly appears to be price fixing within its vendor trade agreements. While I have not seen a trade agreement personally. It's only logical that they are setting the terms of how much their product can be discounted for.  Which interestingly enough, is something they cannot do in other countries and  something you used to not be able to get away with here BUT...( Political Soapboax applicable here, sorry folks. )

Here in the wild west of Capitalism, the USA. we've spent the last 30 years dismantling consumer protections, and fair trade practices all in the name of economic progress, the problem of course, is that economic progress as a result of unfettered capitalism is an oxymoron as it doesn't work. As a result the United States is on its way to mirroring the last days of Imperial Rome with a corporately owned 2 party political system that doesn't really do anything other the preserve the corporate status quo in slightly different shades of grey. The result is the recent Supreme Court decision Here. Which essentially legalizes price fixing by manufacturers, So what Battlefoam does is completely legal.

So fantasies of Battlefoam bags on the shelves at Target and price fixing aside, What's going on here is that Battlefoam wants to be everywhere for market saturation but wants 100% control of what you sell their products for so you aren't under cutting their direct sales (sounds familiar huh?) Miniature Market (who I have bought from regularly since 2006, have great prices, fastest delivery times and great customer service) got sick of their garbage and said its just not worth it. Pretty simple explanation to an overly complicated question.

It's no surprise to me that none of my favorite online retailers carry Battlefoam products. Its certainly not because they dont make a strong product. A friend of mine recently had a Warmachine bag over here at my place and its quite nice if you think paying $150-200 for a bag to carry your toy soldiers in is worth your money, personally I'd rather have more toy soldiers, and a less flashy, cheaper bag with better (softer) foam.

From a business persons standpoint. You have to ask yourself, if someone makes a popular and quality product and you run a successful business selling these types of products why would you not want to sell it?. Well answer to that seems pretty clear, its the company not the product.

So if you're a "40K housewife" and need a fancy Battlefoam bag to elevate your personal social status to that of your actual wife at the country club with that new Louis Vutton handbag, Than knock yourself out!, but it's also quite clear plenty of gamers and people in the gaming trade, do as I do and have made their Miniature transport slogan "Friends don't let Friends buy Battlefoam" and seek out the many other viable alternatives.

Foam Wars, will continue I am afraid- for better or worse.

Read Foam Wars Part I

Monday, August 22, 2011

GW vs Mantic - Figure Comparisons

My Liche King with minor conversion and custom base and couple sprue freebies mantic gives you.

Oddly enough, I havent seen too many shots of Mantic Figures close up until I got my hands on some.The pictures on the website arent exactly the best at showing off the line, and I havent seen anyone do heads up figure comparison against GW with decent photos before- so here you go!. (disclaimer, I am sure someone "has" done it, I just havent seen it.)

The boxes I am comparing here are the GW Vampire Count Skeleton Warrior box at $24.75 USD vs Mantics Undead Liche King and Revenant Troop box listing at 14.99 GBP on the site
or 19.99 USD at the Warstore.

Let start out with the GW Skellys, First price, these guys are roughly $2.50 a piece, mine are on expense resin bases that are .75 each (not that you'd need to do that ) making a unit of twenty $65.00 and a horde unit of 40, $130.00 dollars, if I rebased on the normal bases they come with you be looking at $100 for that horde unit, the bases being $30.00

Here what you get for Mantics $20.00, The Lich Hero is $10 alone so these Revenants (elite Grave Guard in Mantics world) are $1.00 each and you get the dog and guy bursting up out of the ground for free. The Horde Regiment would cost you $40.00 vs $100.00, I should note you dont get the options without great hassle to mount Mantics figures on other bases, also the GW kit has two separate weapon options

Comparing Figure Quality. The GW model is clearly larger, and GW's over sized weapons in comparison to figures like just look weird. Both models have a great amount of detail, I like the head on the GW model a bit more, and GW shields are all removable while Mantics are cast on. There is no comparison in the shield category (GW wins hands down) but over all both figures are solid is quality and sculpt. I have to admit in last 6 months as I have moved away from GW I am finding it silly how over the top GW sculpts are, I think ostentatious is the right word. I am still a huge fan of many GW/ Citadel older models and if I go back and look at my older figures and then look at these...I am sorry the old stuff is just cooler from a low fantasy perspective..the new stuff is just too much. On Mantic's side these guys have a very cool vibe..I think roughly half the models are bit to 'fancy" to be undead...the other half are perfect..the proof will be in the paint.

This shot of the two Standard bearers is great for showing detail, I really like both figures however this particular Mantic sprue doesnt even come with a standard..thats an old glory spear pole and some bit from the bitz box. While the GW is pretty cool, again it could be dialed back a bit, I really like the trooper.

Here are the normal troopers. In this case the dynamic poses of Mantic guys wins hands down. I like the GW figs, again I think there over embelished..I think these GW skellys make better Grave Guard then alot of the VC Grave Guard do, as I find the current GG line just too ridiculous looking.

Anyway both figures are solid, unless you are committed GW tourney player, I cant see buying hordes of the GW figs, The GW figs do make excellent skirmish figures and If I need Skeletons for some other game that only needs a dozen of so figs, this is my go to Kit...but for a large format
Fantasy army game, Mantic all the way.

- Price, cant beat it
- Freebies, the extras are cool. good modular armor and weapon selection.
- Great low, dark Fantasy vibe.
- Scale, realistic 28mm scale with proper sized weapons.

- Cast Shields, lack of Shield Design and options.
- Cast bases, again lack of basing options.
- Less parts means less options, posing , etc.

Games Workshop
- Options, two distinct weapon options, with great shields and separate command options.
- Great detail

- Price, this is one of the cheaper boxes, and you'll need at least 4 of them.
- too many parts, these guys are separate legs, chests, arms, heads, armor.., every model is almost a dozen parts- it took me way too long to just assemble five of them...its literally what scared me off the army.
- Scale, " GW only" uber scale..doesnt fit with other stuff well.
- Vibe, again -Warhammer fans only

There you go...I'll try to do a Ghoul vs Ghoul and Zombie vs Zombie when I get around to building the rest of my Mantic stuff..

Hail Caesar-Saxon Command

I've been digging into my massive Saxon Army quite a bit lately, It easily the largest army I own coming in at 250 models. I had (choice) to rebase quite abit of it for the larger units needed for Hail Caesar. Things like these commands stands are great fun to build and I wanted to get my feet wet painting one to what probably the final standard.

These guys are OOP Gripping Beast models, older and admittedly rough models (the king figure is a pretty bad cast) that have beeonly recently discontinued, My whole army is metal made up of mainly GB and Crusader models.

Nothing fancy here just base coat, a couple washes and a very few highlights. Shields are hand painted with simple designs. I have a whole bunch of decals I'll be using as well, hand painting 200 + shields is a bit further than I want to go with these guys. The Banner is a decal, just stuck to some heavy paper...I wished I used foil and will on the rest of my banners ,as the bends look more realistic.I guess consider these guys a test piece.

Outside basing, priming the whole army, I am on to, individual units working on my Viking Raiders who are getting a good amount of detail then moving into some big block of Coerls (Fyrd)

As we are gearing up for an Ancient Campaign in the fall, we are all in paint mode. Although I dont expect huge armies like this to get painted over the course of a campaign I am going to try, Rich is already 80-90% done with his huge Muslim force but he'd been working on the project for two years. I guess we will see how these guy are looking come spring.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Real Housewives of 40K.

I'm not sure if you are all unfortunately familiar with it, but one of the many scourges of piece of garbage television culture here in the US, is a series of programs on the Bravo channel called "the real housewives" of "blank (insert city here). The program concerns itself with a bunch of whining, spoiled, vapid, fake, almost universally moronic and always cruel women, who with their emasculated husbands (or boyfriends) parade around fighting with each other having pissing contests over things like who has the better boob job or who can spend the most money in an afternoon. Its the worst kind of mind rotting trash imaginable, akin to nothing but watching people argue for a hour. Unfortunately, women love it. I know some very Intelligent women who shockingly love it. They say its like watching a trainwreck, they see parts of many of their friends in these shameless shrews, and the weekly trainwreck provides them with endless entertainment. Until today I thought I had grossly overestimated the intelligence of some women I know, but then today I read this article on Bell of Lost Souls.

I've railed against Ard Boyz's before and what worthless pile of dung it is, an antithesis to the wargaming hobby, and something no one I would spend 5 mins talking to would ever play in more than once. (Hey- we all make mistakes right?) This article is about a recent Ard Boyz event, taking place in only what I can assume is Texas, and pretty much says it all,- zero hobby, cheating, physical intimidation, all over toy soldiers. This is what much of the 40k tournament scene has become stereotyped as, a bunch of "real housewives" a bunch of knuckleheads, who ought just go throw dice against the wall for money than bother with the wargaming hobby. While I know not "all" 40K events and players are like this, it is a real subsection of hobby that puts an embarrassing stain over the the rest of it just like steroids in Baseball. My greater point here isnt "how bad Ard Boyz sucks" but how places like Bell of Lost Souls perpetuate this behavior, and are these aggregator type blogs, even good for the hobby?

Let me say now that as much as this looks like one, it is not a shot at the guys who started BoLS, who did so surely with the best intentions, while I know neither personally more than in passing at Adepticon or a few emails. I do know they are passionate hobbyists with love of their game and their gaming community. As we all know sometimes the best intentions go astray, outside themselves and with the exception of a few smarter guys that have moved on, the writers are bloody awful, the articles, overall terrible and immature. Most of the "breaking news" is usually days old, recycled from other blogs. Other games are mentioned in passing, but we all know its primarily a 40k blog and The 40k articles generally promote, ultra competitive, Ard Boyz style play and hence its behavior. The kids are clearly minding the store and the whole thing at least to me looks like one big episode of "Real Housewives", not just the regular Episode but one of the special reunion ones, where people sit across from each and argue and scream at the top of their lungs for two hours.

The problem I have is two fold, One- like the trainwreck of said show, I can't help myself from reading it and now I understand where these women I know that watch this garbage are coming from. Two- on a more personal level is a matter of public perception. I see BoLS lack of self policing really just damaging to the overall perception of hobby because it indirectly hurts noble efforts like Heroes of Armageddon ( in which hobbyist built and donated 4 awesome armies for doctors without borders, raising over $30,000.00) While I am not sure there is even any cross pollination between the HoA team and the BoLS community the association is there, because of the blog and the HoA logo plastered all over it. So when you read some of these insane articles about the 40K hobby like I've mentioned. That is just frankly bad for business. Thankfully HoA has come and gone, but the greater point remains. Whether you like it or not Bell of Lost Souls has become somewhat of gatekeeper to the hobby, and when the gatekeeper, looks like the "crypt keeper", your going to scare away just as many people as you bring in.

I would not presume to tell the guys at BoLS what to do, or how to clean up their act. That simply isnt my place, I am one guy with a blog and an opinion, and these days they need to change the old adage from " opinions are like a-holes" to "blogs and opinions are like a-holes". This is just whats on my mind today. I'm not afraid of self analysis, I know I have easily become one of those old grognards who will inevitably will fit in better at Historicon than Adepticon I am sure sooner than later and thats ok, I am also aware its possible, maybe I just dont get it?.

My only bit of wisdom would be to point out that blogs are different than forums, and the shenanigans that go on at certain forums have there place where the public face of a news aggregator doesn't. Just like certain blogs with a narrower focus, are far less offensive, despite objectionable content, because they are not "gatekeepers" or don't try to put everything in one bucket or be anything more than what they are.

So unlike the "Real Housewives" trainwreck the women in my life just cant stop watching, I can't just drop Bravo from my cable channel, but I certainly can disassociate myself from the BoLS alliance and its place in my blog roll so I dont have to watch the trainwreck. In fact I am retooling the overall coverage of the blog anyway to be non-GW, removing the majority of the GW only and 40K blogs, with exception of "hobby only" powerhouses, like Dave Taylors blog, From the Warp and Santa Cruz Warhammer., because despite the traffic I did get from BolS, I have pretty good idea of who reads this blog and who doesn't.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kings of War- Update

Mantic Games released its newest army list today for newsletter subscribers. The Twilight Kin,(Dark Elves) along with brief update to its "Nerve" Rule (Break Test) That gives each unit a high and low stat to roll off against instead of relying on a chart. Same principle, just tidying things up in the stat block instead of the rule book. Speaking of which the new printed rule book (picture above)will be out in September along with the new started set (Undead and Dwarfs) and all the new army list for Mantics, current eight fantasy races. Undead, Dwarfs, Abyssal Dwarfs, Elves, Twilight Kin, Goblins, Orcs and Men.

Its the last one I am most interested in but in the meantime I recently picked up 110 Mantic undead models for $63.00 .Literally a seventh!! of the price of what it cost me in eqivalent of a GW VC army, (the same models in same slots is $336!!! pre tax and shipping if applicable) I already have a decent amount of GW VC Heros I hadn't sold yet. so I now have good sized Undead Army. I must say the photos of the miniatures on Mantics site are pretty poor, the models are much better looking in person, they're smaller than GW, but match scale with all much of my current Ancient stuff, and also match most of GW LotR plastic line (so if you've got a WotR army collecting dust, you might have use for it yet)

When any Mantic gaming actually sees the table around here will probably be another month as I am seriously digging into my Saxons at moment for Hail Caesar. And I am gearing up for a full Ancients Campaign this fall. I do hope in interim Mantic release some kind of "Chaos Warrior" knock off as three of main guys I regularly game with all have WoC armies, at least one has some Elves.

At Mantic's prices you shouldn't be afraid to pick up an army and give it a try if you're tired of the WFB merry ground of outrages prices and bad rules. Reorganizing my gaming armies from being primarily GW, to a minority GW is no small task. It was not that huge of surprise to realize I can field entire very large armies for 2 other systems for the same price it would cost me to field one Games Workshop WFB army of similar size under 8th ed rules.

Since I am already weened off GW. I didnt have any itch in my wallet when I was in my local GW today picking up a pot of Devlan Mud and some modular movement trays (the only bargain GW has) I was gagging at the prices of $33 finecast blisters for single or pair of miniatures. I went home thinking what a relief that I walked out of there spending less than $20 instead of the usual $100 plus, a nice feeling in these uneasy economic times.

I've been reading quite a bit of positive talk on Mantic people are very receptive of rules, their expanding very quickly with a whole people jumping ship from GW this year alone let alone what come in the next 6-12 months. I exchanged emails with Ronnie from Mantic recently and expect another big push at Adepticon this year, with Demos and talk of a KoW tournament. Nothing concrete yet, just talk, but KoW is infinitely a more tourney friendly game that WFB currently is, thats radically apparent from just reading the ruleset. Anyway look for alot more from Mantic games on their site, blog, in the blogosphere and of course here.


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