Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reflecting on the Relationship Between the Internet and the Hobbyshop

I think I first connected to the internet (at home) around 1997-98, and found that it was a terrific aid to my hobby, opening a wealth of information and yielding access to endless material resources that I was previously unaware of, or that was otherwise inaccessible.  The internet was wonderful, possibly the single most important component of the hobby.
Twenty years later, I've come to realize that one of the worst things to happen to "my hobby" was the internet.  Access to other gamers through the web has replaced much of the "in person" contact that I and those that I used to game with had with each other.  It has also changed the face of the market place, such that the local hobby shop is little more useful to me, than a women's cosmetics store.  And yet, I still dearly embrace the web.
In considering some recent discussions with other gamers, which inspired my recent  "Big Battle Skirmishes" post on The Wargames Website, I offer the following thoughts, and wonder about the experiences of others.
One view shared with me in my recent game related conversations, was the opinion that packaged skirmish games featuring 28mm figs have come to overshadow classic big battle games, and smaller scales.  While I disagreed at least somewhat with the skirmish side of the discussion (addressed on TWW), I find that there is some truth in how these games have impacted my relationship with hobby shops. 
In the 1980s, 1990s, and even into the early 2000s, I would frequent a number of area hobby shops in north eastern and central Ohio.  In years past, I could get monsters, starships, tanks, ships, soldiers, and airplane miniatures/models in 1/3788, 1/2400, 1/700, 1/300, 1/285, 1/100, 15mm, 1/72, 20mm, and 28mm scales.  I could buy figs for at least 24 periods/genres that I played.  Currently, at those same shops, I can get a very limited number of figs for two of those 24 interests.  Additionally, I could get multiple independent rules for most of those periods through those shops, as well as a variety of board wargames and role-playing games, none of which are available today.
As time went on, the range of miniatures products narrowed, and around 15 years ago, the products almost completely ceased to be offered.  They were slowly replaced in the store by a narrow range of complete game systems, offering everything that was needed for the game from a single company in high quality, full color packaging. 

It wasn't until after these conversations over the last couple of months that I realized that even the most common 15mm entry into the packaged games, Flames of War, had largely been dropped, and generally replaced with a 28mm counterpart from Warlord games.

Now, I recognize the simplicity for the store manager to order a complete product line from one source, and the appeal to the new game customer to get the entire product line from a single source, as opposed to matching imprecisely scaled miniatures from different sources, with rules, paints, guides, TO&Es, etc all from multiple independent sources.

The effect on me has been that over the last twenty years, I have gone from spending 95 percent of my hobby dollars at the hobby shop, to around 3 percent today.   Twenty years ago, when I found that I had some free time, I could go tot he shop, often with a friend, buy some figs, and work on them that afternoon or evening.  Today, I have to order them, wait 10 days to 13 weeks, and hope that the stars again align, such that I have opportunity to work on them, before they get misplaced, or the inspiration disperses into the ether.

Curiously, since the hobby shops "abandoned" us, roughly 60 percent of the guys that I used to game with have left the hobby.  Most of them were guys that had gamed with, had gamed for at least 20 years, at the time that this started to manifest.  Even though we never played much at any of the shops (most didn't offer in store gaming at the time), going to the shop and buying figs was often still a social component of the hobby. As that social component went away, seemingly, so did they.

I do occasionally go to the local shops, to buy some paint, or the odd item, and always hoping to find that much needed miniature, but with little success.  And while at the shop,  I do find a wealth of games.  Games that somehow fail to capture my interest, along with a generation of new, younger gamers that I, unfortunately, just fail to connect with.  They see me, the old man, browsing the games, but not buying, and draw their own conclusions.  I see them, "the kids", playing the newest 40K, Warlord's flavor of the day, or Star Wars X-Wing, often with what appears to be dispassionately bare tables with unpainted figs, and realize that we each participate in two different hobbies that, confusingly, look somewhat similar.

I guess that I should be happy that the hobby shops (at least some of them) have found a way to survive in the shadow of the internet, but I regret that in their mutual effort to instantaneously gratify me, neither has done so with the success that the hobby shop once did.

At times like this moment, I lament what was, and fail to appreciate what is.  I suspect that 20 years from present, I will do as I am doing now. Probably always remembering the past as better than it was at the time.  Still, despite all that is available today, I can't help but feel that my "golden age of the hobby" rests somewhere in the past.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The War Begins: Initial deployments in Our General War from Star Fleet Battles

We started our General War several weeks ago, by declaring our deployments that were within sensor range of known bases and whatnot.  For our purposes, all bases and planets have special sensors that can range two hexes on the strategic map (fairly close to the Federation and Empire game map).  Thus any neutral zone/border battle-stations can monitor ship movement on the other side of the neutral zones.  This isn't a rule from any SFB game, this was inspired by portrayal of sensors/stations in TOS and movies, and seemed a rational approach to sensors.  Scouts have the same ability, while most other ships can sense one hex out.

Prior to the game start, we were free to deploy our inventory of ships in any manner that we like, not being constrained by any published rules in the Star Fleet universe.  Thus, fleets consist of whatever we deem necessary from a roster of ships dictated by the original fleet composition outlined in F&E.  We also agreed to use the ship construction schedule from F&E, with only minor changes and additions.

After exploring a couple of possibilities for turn and movement mechanisms, we decided that our strategic turn would span one month, and that starship movement was limited to 1 strategic hex per turn. Thus there would be 12 strategic turns each year.

The war traditionally starts with the Lyrans attacking the Kzinti in the year y168, and we agreed to start the game (and presumably, the war) in January of the year.  I had suggested that we actually start the game in maybe November of y167, and have a couple of turns of movement leading up to the permitted start of the war.  This would allow observation of border activities prior to the war start, such that any buildup along the neutral zone wouldn't be completely undetected.

My thinking was that a complete surprise attack could, but shouldn't be allowed to happen (given sensor ranges), and this would avoid one player putting an entire fleet in one hex and invading, while the other player had a peacetime deployment.  Given our strategic movement rules, this would give the opposing player two turns of reactionary movement, before having to fight the first battle, i.e., the attacker would be sensed moving attack fleets into his own border hexes, then sensed entering the neutral zone (first turn of reactionary movement), and then sense moving into the allied hex for the attack (second turn of reactionary movement).  But, my opponent wanted to start in January of y168, and I agreed to do that. 

As a result, the Lyran initial deployment was made, expecting to invade on the third (March, y168) strategic turn.  Pregame deployment involved small, 3-6 ship groups assigned to each border battle-station, and a series of invasion fleet components spaced one hex back from the border and located with hope of being positioned to react to any sort of Kzinti invasion, should the Lyrans be pre-empted.

As it turned out, this was a (more or less) good plan, as the Kzinti began an invasion on the first strategic movment. I'll get a little more into that in a moment.

As we had done away with almost everything else from F&E, prior to game start, we had established that the war had to start between the Lyran and Kzinti empires.  After junking the turn structure and other restrictions from F&E, we realized that we needed to come up with a different mechanism to control the introduction of the other empires into the war, hopefully with some similarity to the actual progression outlined in F&E.

I ended up coming up with a cross reference chart, displaying the "defense condition" or "DefCon" of each empire with respect to every other empire.  There are five conditions, and as an empire's DefCon climbs, it is permitted to take greater offensive action ranging from neutral zone violations to invasion of opposition space.  These conditions are affected by the actions of other empires.  For example, the game starts with the Lyran and Kzinti at DefCon "5" with each other, meaning each can invade the other at will.  Once the Lyrans invade Kzinti space, the Hydrans (a Kzinti ally) increase their DefCon from a "2" at game start, by two points, to a four, which permits the Hydrans (on the next strategic turn) to enter the neutral zone, occupy any neutral planets, and attack Lyran ships in the neutral zone.  Once combat occurs between the Lyans and Hydrans, both raise their defcon to 5, and they are free to invade each other.  It is functionally less confusing than the description sounds (well, a little anyway).

Okay, back to strategic turns, movement, and the start of the war.

In the initial deployment, the Kzinti placed a handful of ships in policing positions along the border, and four large battlegroups in the two southern hexes of their border with the Lyrans, roughly two thirds of the their entire roster. While this wasn't a total surprise, the Lyrans were not ideally positioned for this, and it dictated that the Lyran invasion plan would be... adjusted, while they moved some fleet resources around to counter any funny business on the part of the Kzinti.

On the first turn of strategic movement, two Kzinti battle groups moved into a southern hex of the neutral zone, while Lyrans forces move to counter.  On the second strategic turn, the two forces invaded Lyran space, and were confronted with two Lyran fleets in opposition.  Additionally, another Kzinti battlegroup entered the neutral zone down south, near the split between Lyran and Klingon space.

The neutral zone is indicated by the gray area, with the Lyran (yellow symbols)
to the left, the Kzinti (white markers) to the right, and a corner of Klingon
space and battlestations (grey) bottom right.

The result is two separate battles in the same hex on turn two of our game.  Initiative had been taken by the Kzinti, catching the Lyrans somewhat out of position, given their own attack plans.  Additionally it modified the Defcon of the Klingons, such that the Klingons were free to move into the neutral zone against the Kzinti, or initiate an expeditionary force into Lyran space.  However, since Kzinti space hadn't been violated, the Hydrans are not free to enter the game, not being allowed to commit an offensive act until either their space of their allies space is violated.

Reports of the those two turn one battles will be coming soon.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Jungle for Vietnam

A couple of weeks ago, as I was trying to un-clutter my shelves a little bit, I realized that I had about six boxes of materials for making trees, bushes, and grass.  I couldn't believe that I had accumulated that much in the way of supplies, and decided to see if I couldn't condense, eliminate, and maybe even use a little of it.

As it turned out, a large portion of the stuff was for Vietnam jungles that I have largely kept putting off for the last five years.  Since I had the stuff out, I figured that I might as well finally make some of that jungle foliage, and maybe even reduce the supply heap a little further.

After sorting out all of the crap that might be useful for jungle foliage, I chased down all of the basing material that I could find.  I like to sheet styrene sheet scraps of about .06" or .08" thickness, cut into irregular shapes with the edges beveled to blend into the terrain better.

I scribed the plastic with an hobby knife into rough shapes, snapping off the unwanted bits, followed by filing/sanding the pointy spots into softer curves, and then beveled the edges with a rotary tool similar to a Dremel.  The resulting bases looked more or less like the ones pictured below.

After pulling out a couple of 20mm Britannia Vietnam figs for scale, I further narrowed my selection of materials to that which would best work in 20mm.  Some of the Palm trees and bushes that I had collected, had nubs on the bottom, so I drilled holes in some of the bases, and clipped the nubs to fit into the bases.  I then used low temp hot-melt glue applied with a tiny glue gun to glue the trees, bushes, palms, ferns, and cycads in place.  A few of the plants had hollow cores, so I glued styrene rod posts on the bases to receive those.   


 Once all of the plants were glued in place, the bases were ready for painting and flocking.

The plastic bases were painted with a mustardy yellow enamel, allowed to dry, and then flocked with my yellow/green "jungle" terrain mix, using artist's acrylic matte medium as the glue.

A variety of fern like plants were made using individual leaflets from full sized artificial ferns, to make the miniature fronds.  Typical ferns would get 5-9 fronds glued into place to create the spray of the miniature fern.  Other plants were made from clusters of leaves from various artificial plants.  Some examples of palm trees and stands of jungle plants are shown below with a couple of figs added for scale.


Here are a few photos showing how the jungle looks in a game.


The new jungle bits will cover about five square feet on the table, and gives me about ten square feet of these types of plants total.  I can mix them with other deciduous trees and lichen to cover a decent sized battlefield.  In addition to being able to make Vietnam a little more lush, I managed to reduce my basement clutter by about two boxes of stuff, and found a few other things that had accidentally been hidden away in the boxes.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Finally Found My Mephalian Gort

Not much happening on the gaming front around here, but I am celebrating finding my long lost Mephalian Gort!  It was lost during the great flood of ...whenever it was, a few years back, when my basement got disconflubbergasted.   Tonight, I was sorting through about six boxes of supplies for making trees and shrubberies (now reduced to four boxes), and found him foraging at the bottom of a box of greenery.

Foundry fig. included for scale, he's 34mm tall, the Gort is 60mm.

The Gort was part of Alpha Forge's 28mm line of Mephalian's for the ( I believe) Star Mogul  rules system.  Anyway, the Gort came with two or three Mephalian handlers, which are still hiding somewhere in my basement. 

The Gort was a really nicely detailed beast, standing 60mm off of its base.  I had hoped to get a few of them to use as mutant mounts for a post apocalyptic faction, but only managed to purchase the one, before Alpha Forge closed its doors.

I know that Mega Miniatures purchased part of the Alpha Forge line, but don't know if they acquired that miniature, and haven't been able to track down the Mephalians otherwise.

Anyway, WOOHOO, I found my Gort.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Repaving Old Roads (28mm)

I made some paved 28mm road sections a few years back using 1" thick blue foam for use in contemporary, near future and sci-fi adventures.  I was in a hurry at the time to get them done, and the road surfaces were just painted foam, while the rest of the tiles were flocked.  This was my first experience using 1/43 die-cast vehicles, and I quickly found that the die-casts could beat up the foam roads.

I had long ago decided to re-surface the roads to make them more durable, but the stack of terrain tiles sat around for a few years waiting to be attended to.  Over the last few weeks, I finally got around  to repaving the roads, gluing a coat of fine ballast to the road surface with artists acrylic matte medium, and then coating with a couple of coats of acrylic paste, before painting. 

I should have used a finer sand, but have been trying to use up old supplies that are taking up valuable space, plus the price was right.  The result was a rather coarse, but tough road surface representing asphalt.  The stripes were added with fine acrylic paint pens with the aid of straight edges and plastic templates made from sheet styrene.

The tiles are generally for use as country roads in the western US. I need to add a few tiles with driveways for businesses and homes, as well as a few tiles for a town, then I can get around to some alien invasions, zombie outbreaks and whatnot.

The travel lanes are 2.25 inches wide between the center and edge lines, with a quarter to 3/8 inch shoulder.  The dashed lines are 2" long with 4" spaces between.  The dashes didn't scale right around the turns, so I gave them a double yellow "no passing zone".

The school bus is 1/50 scale, and the Isuzu Amigo is 1/43.  The lanes get a little narrow with larger 1/43 scale vehicles, but I'm okay with it. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Soviet View of the Uwanda-Mugabia War

In the hours following Uwanda's initial advance, word of the results were conveyed to Soviet and Cuban leadership through their advisors and various other pipelines of communication.  Soviet satellites offered indisputable evidence of Mugabia's failings.  The result is that both Soviet and Cuban leadership had a much better understanding of the day's events, than did the Mugabian president.

"Welcome comrade General; it is good to see you again", said the Soviet Ambassador, as the General entered his office.  The General and the Ambassador were seated as the assistant poured their drinks.  The general was always a welcome guest, as the two men had long been both friends and associates, though the issue at hand was less than favorable.

"So, the fool has gotten himself into a .. situation."  said the general. 

"Yes, it seems that he has ignored our intelligence and our advice, and was unprepared for the scope of Uwanda's attack.  Though unprepared, his ground forces should be sufficient to manage the situation, but it seems that even we have underestimated the capability of Uwanda's air force.  In little time, Mugabia's army will be at the mercy of Uwandan air supremacy.  He doesn't realize it yet, but Mugabia's situation is critical." shared the Ambassador.  "His over-confidence has been compounded by the Cuban's enthusiasm."

The general frowned, took a sip of his vodka, and reflected," Once again, the dedication of our Cuban friends has dragged us into an African war.  Moscow does not favor these events at this time, but I fear that the events will dictate Moscow's actions."

The two men continued their discussion, listing the current options, and details of each relative to the current circumstances.  The most hopeful was that Moscow and the ambassador could manipulate a  political agreement to end the current conflict, but unless the situation could be tied to events elsewhere, resulting in external pressures from the other side, there was no reason for Uwanda to stop.

Other considerations were to overthrow the fool president of Mugabia, and install a different and hopefully more... cooperative leader in the democratic republic.  And/or, to simply give Mugabia what it needed to win: more tanks, more planes, and given the situation, Russian planes and pilots.

That last step would be tricky.  Moscow was concerned that even with Cuban pilots, Mugabia would not take the right steps to win, but with Russian pilots, Moscow could more forcibly direct the war.  The question was whether or not the West would counter the move directly.  Africa was not the Soviet Union's back doorstep, as was Afghanistan.  The west was heavily invested in Uwanda, and this was a strange place to risk turning the Cold War hot.

There was of course, the option to simply let the war follow its own path, let the fool be consumed, and watch Mugabia fall.  This was probably the most sensible path, but politically, was the least acceptable.  The ambassador saw no way that Uwanda could win, and a socialist Mugabia could remain.

It was agreed that the ambassador would roll his diplomatic dice, and Moscow would act as they needed.  The two friends then turned their discussion to one of grandchildren, and enjoyed the rest of their afternoon.

Friday, August 18, 2017

AAR27: The Air Battle for Objective B5, Part 2

(Note:  This is a continuation of the air battle described in AAR25, which I recently discovered has disappeared from my blog, apparently due to some sort of error on blogger .  I haven't been able to find my notes on the battle over these last few days, but will reconstitute the AAR, when I do.  From  memory, I believe the results were that Uwanda won control over objective B5 by shooting down two Mugabian Mig 15s with a pair of F5s).

As the battle of Objective B5 took place on the ground, Uwanda's F5s continued to patrol the skies over the battlefield, while ground attack aircraft assisted the Uwandan advance.  Due to Mugabia's significant air combat losses, some time passed before Mugabia could get additional air assets to the area.

Though the issue on the ground at B5 was never in much dispute, Mugabia's presence in the air might at least reduce the threat to the withdrawing Mugabian ground forces.  To accomplish this, two Mig21s and a single Mig17 engaged the six F5s (four A models and two E models) that were protecting the airspace over the battlefield.

The Mig21s were coming in relatively high and fast, and the F5Es were directed to them quickly.  The Mig 17 was coming in on a different vector at mid altitude.  It was sited at 5 miles out, while it sited two of the F5s at four miles.

In addition to the six F5s closing with the enemy, two additional F5As, each still armed with a single missile and gun, continued to cover the battlefield, in case any additional Mugabian aircraft showed up.

This second air battle took place a little east and slightly north of Objective B5.  Mugabian air controllers tried to use the Mig17 to draw off as many F5s as possible, in hopes that the Mig21s would have some effect early on. 

The two F5Es closed with the Mig21s, both got good tones with their Aim9L Sidewinder missiles and fired, probably a little farther out than would be advisable.  The Mig21s continued to close with the missiles and F5Es.  Several seconds after launch, as the Sidewinders closed with the Mig21s, both maneuvered away from the inbound missiles, dropping flares the entire way.

The F5s have just fired Sidewinders in the distance.
Surprisingly, both missiles hit their targets, with instant catastrophic explosions killing both pilots. 

Both Migs are hit. 

The Mig17, able to see the fireballs in the distance,  instantly turned away from the closing F5As, and dove to gain more speed.  The Battle for the air at Objective B5 was over with Uwanda destroying four Mugabian aircraft, and Mugabia destroying none.

That was a short game, almost two turns on the table.  Given the relatively poor performance in previous battles, the sudden kills by the Sidewinders took me quite by surprise, and was something of a letdown in all honesty.  I expected at least a few minutes furball, with maybe one Mig shot down, and with any luck an F5 injured or destroyed.

Despite somewhat inconsistent performance, the AIM9L poses a distinct problem in the hands of Uwanda's air force, putting the Mig21 at a technological disadvantage to the F5, as well as now being significantly out-numbered.   Once all of the ground battles are resolved for this strategic turn, I will have to consult the political tables.  This could cause some interesting wrinkles in the game.

Sorry for the terrible photos, I'm hoping to fix some of the problems, before the next air battle (painting the bases to reduce contrast/brightness issues, and finally getting a real table cover for starters.)