Battleshed Diaries

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A glance back, then a Mighty Stride forward




Happy New Year! Battleshed Diaries is limbering up for another year of multifarious wargaming, ridiculously ambitious hobby projects and some serious Lead Mountain mining! And to help activate a movement roll from the passing distractions and indulgences of recent festivities, I’ve actually picked up a brush or two and splattered some paint near some miniatures. Good omens indeed! But first, a quick review of the past year and a look ahead to what I optimistically think will be filling my 2017 gaming calendar.
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Actually, I really do have a gaming calendar. One where I pencil in (I long gave up using permanent ink!) outrageously optimistic project targets, scheduled games, hobby-related trips etc. That sort of thing. Although its twelve pages of monthly relish courtesy my official Kelly Brook 2017 calendar. An annual gift from my wife, secure in the knowledge that I’d have more of a chance with an angry aardvark. There have even been some new arrivals in the Battleshed already this year, in addition to the Christmas Haul. More of which later. I’ll start with a somewhat introspective summary of my gaming 2016.

To say it was a rollercoaster of a year is quite an understatement both in gaming terms and for me personally. And politically - with Brexit here in the UK, the continuing global refugee crisis and a Trump in waiting over the pond - to name some prominent examples. Here in The West at least. And the Grim Reaper was also on a particularly industrious rampage throughout the celebrity world too. To the point that I was afraid to look at the news in fear of finding who next had been crossed off his eternal list. Of course, you’d be fully justified pointing out that countless people and families are impacted by loss all the time not just celebrities. And you’d be right. For me, the loss of celebrities from whatever field – entertainment, science, arts, politics etc. – simply serves as a frame of reference. Like a forgotten song or piece of music that bookends a particular period in our lives. It's nonetheless been a notably uncompromising year and I, like many, was glad to see the back of it.

As I reflect on 2016 from a gaming perspective it proved to be a year of three parts; an optimistic and productive start up until late spring, when various influences and events led to a very unsettled and erratic summer and early autumn which only started to pick up again from late autumn/winter onwards.

I did, however, manage to pretty much keep up my regular weekly gaming which proved to a valuable bastion of normality that I relied upon during the darker times - the months leading to my dad’s passing on 30th September 2016. Our hobby and my gaming buddies helped me enormously with the internal stresses and emotions I was dealing with over that period, even though most were unaware of my situation. I’ve never been one to be demonstratively emotive. It not in my nature. Typically, stoical British Stiff Upper Lip in that respect. I prefer to try and deal with things in my own way.

Just to be able to sit with my fellow gamers, though, and forget the real world for a few hours was enough. A welcome psychological breather. Especially in the weeks that cruel, cruel disease, Alzheimer’s, hollowed out my dad. Like the long days I spent out on trails and mountains, our gaming hobby continued to help me deal with dad’s loss in the weeks since then. And I’m very grateful for it. Special thanks to Sam Pate and Jamie Mitchell in particular for their kinds words of encouragement and support during this period. They still managed to make me laugh!

Now I’ve gotten that part of the retrospective out of the way can move onto cheerier things. So, strictly on the gaming front, how was 2016 for me? Interestingly, there was a trend towards more board gaming throughout the year. I suspect a big part of this is due to my desire to keep ‘gaming’ even when time and focus were being spent elsewhere. A time when my painting a scenery projects almost came to a standstill.

The other part is the obvious resurgence of board gaming popularity over the last few years, with some brilliant products coming to market often enabled by crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter which has had a similarly influential impact within the wargaming hobby. And that’s no bad thing. I don’t think I’m a niche gamer. I’ve often said I’m led by whatever is being played locally and if that encompasses board games, roleplaying or whatever then it’s all gaming to me.

Sometimes, mostly when contemplating the Lead Mountain, I wish I could focus my hobby on one or two systems or periods - like some historical gamers, for example. I respect their dedication, expertise and the knowledge they accumulate over the years and the confidence and sense of accomplishment that must garner. But I know that’s not me. I’m fundamentally a magpie gamer by nature. I’m firmly in the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ camp, as this blog proves! And over the last few years, I’ve come to be comfortable, and importantly, happy set in that gamer mould.

Here’s a summary of the wargames and board games I played, often multiple times, in 2016:

Board/Card Games: Civilisation, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Kittens in a Blender, Firefly, Berserk: War of the Realms, Arkham Horror, Hornet Commander, Legend of Drizzt, Zombicide, Pandemic, Escape from Colditz.

Wargames: Faustus Furius, UFO Squad, Frostgrave, Saga, ASOBH, Muskets and Tomahawks, Dragon Rampant, Batman Miniatures Game, Wings of War, Wings of Glory, Sails of Glory, Border Reiver (IHMN Blood & faith), INMN, Alien V Predator, Blood Eagle, Infinity, X-Wing, Red Sand Blue Sky, All Things Zombie, Dead Man’s Hand, The Walking Dead: all out war, Alien v Predator, Dux Bellorum and Dux Britanniarum.

A diverse bunch of rulebooks, tokens, cards, miniatures and gaming generality that help explain the disgracefully chaotic state of the Battleshed! Which leads me on to the painting and scenery projects I started or planned to start in 2016. The Faustus Furius chariot racing track is still languishing half-completed on the Battleshed table amidst the rubbles of assorted modelling paraphernalia. And that includes a couple of forlorn looking boxes containing parts for the long, long delayed IHMN campaign finale. It’s pretty much the reason why most of my weekly gaming the last few weeks has been spent at either the Falkirk club of down the hill at Wee Blokes HQ.

On the positive side, I did somehow manage to complete a unit of 18th century British regulars (Red Coats), some alien 'greys', a Hirst Arts Witch's Tower, two units of SAGA reinforcements - Angry Monks and mercenary Gall-Gaedhil, wizard Lancrix the Tall and Imps for Frostgrave and one or two odd fantasy Dwarfs. Because they generally are odd.

Two campaigns were started and one actually completed! Albeit, a Frostgrave mini-campaign, The Diabolist's Scheme. The other is an ambitious SAGA Age of the Wolf campaign called a Dance of Power. Ambitious because we ended up with eight starting factions, which was more than I was expecting and given the oft' reported difficulties running large campaigns I was sanguine about its chances from the start. However, we managed two full fighting seasons (of six) before the campaign stalled in late summer due to various reasons, some of which are mentioned earlier in this post.


The good news is that - with a couple of faction changes - Dance of Power will continue with fighting season three in the next few weeks. I’ve a bit of work to do on the admin side to get it moving again and I’m aiming to get that done in the next few days. So expect a full report from the Dark Ages soon!

Then there were the wargaming shows. A small but wonderfully convivial show held at a micro-brewery in Prestonpans in February. Followed by my first visit to the enormous and foot weary Salute at London ExCeL in April (thanks to Ironman John for accompanying me down to the Auld Enemies capital!). Then it was my inaugural ‘behind the scenes’ with my own club’s annual show, Carronade in May. Topped off by helping run a couple of club demo games under the fuselage of a Concord for a Wartime Experience show at East Fortune, Scotland! I thoroughly enjoyed all three trips and I plan more for this year!
Salute 2016

Finally, I feel I must mention that two other ‘diversions’ (other than family commitments) that took a huge chunk of my available hobby time last year, and will continue to be the case for this one. Firstly, I’ve mentioned from time to timer that I’m a keen hillwalker, trekker and mountaineer. Basically, I like wearing woolly hats in public. And like the gaming, whenever there’s an opportunity to partake I’ll grab the chance, whether that be a local ramble or something more serious up a mountain somewhere. 

Other distractions


July's absence of posts last year was a key indicator of how the pressures of conflicting commitments can take its toll on our hobby. I'm sure its the same for most of us from time to time. Unusually good Scottish weather (the sun came oot'!) and preparations to walk the full Hadrian’s Wall long distance trail with my wife that month inevitably took its toll on the gaming time.
Hadrian's Wall (July 2016)

I also completed a well-known charity walk here in Scotland, The Kiltwalk, in August 2017 – the 26-mile Mighty Stride around Edinburgh. Which I’d also completed the previous two years.

I’m booked to do it all again this year, both at the Edinburgh and Dundee events this time. And yes, I did wear a kilt! I also regularly plan one-off trips in the mountains, in all seasons throughout the year, with a few already pencilled across Kelly Brooks for 2017! I wonder if she likes kilts?

The second and most important diversion is my writing project that I’ve mysteriously referred to from time to time. I started writing my first novel in earnest back in April last year. Kick-started by a rather surreal week spent alone in a cabin in a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands.

But that’s another story in itself! The project, unfortunately, took a dip during the month or so of my dad’s passing but I’ve doggedly kept at it otherwise and I’ve finally completed the first draft. 

It’s a personal milestone but one that I feel I cannot share until I’m ready. I fully understand my wife’s frustration whenever she asks to read a sample and I decline with an egotistic cry of ‘when I’m ready!’ An illustration of my greenhorn inexperience; I know I'll have to set the manuscript free for vigorous editing and critique sooner than later. My wife's subtle encouragement, support and patience the last year has been hugely appreciated and fundamental to me ‘getting on with it’. Even if I don’t show it most times.

It’s been a huge learning curve, the hardest being the discipline to simply sit and write to a schedule. To hit that daily word count regardless my mood or inclination. And the guilt I sometimes suffer knowing that writing by necessity is a self-indulgent exercise. The book is much longer than I initially planned and, as I’m currently experiencing, the second draft is proving to be equally as challenging! I don’t want to give away too much, other than to say this project will be front and centre for 2017 and subsequently will have a direct bearing on any ambitious modelling or gaming plans that I may conjure up for this coming year!

2017: The gaming year ahead

 

As mentioned a long time ago, way back at the beginning of this post, there've been two new additions to the Battleshed library: Rogue Stars and Broken Legions. Both have already stirred up many discussions boards I sometimes frequent. Or lurk. Below is a summary of what I know will be cropping up on Kelly Brook over the next few months. Although being a fully signed up magpie wargamer just about anything from this year’s crop of shinies could infiltrate my plans. But this is the plan, such as it is, for now:

Rogue Stars, (Osprey Wargames, Andrea Sfiligoi), that long anticipated SF ruleset from the Andrea Sfiligoi finally arrived between Christmas and New Year. After a second print run, apparently. Still miffed I didn’t get priority delivery. I mean, I must have bee the only one to pre-order, surely!? Rogue Stars has also been the prime instrument of Jimboba of Warchest’s relentless campaign of 15mm propaganda the last few months. He even tried to entice me into the realm of small-scale with a box of free samples recently. But I’ve remained resolute. For now at least. You see, there’s a system Battleshed bound later this year which will herald a major breakthrough as far as the cultists of squint-and-you-can-see-it are concerned. Age of Tyrants. More of which later.

In the meantime, the very first, ahem, 28mm ‘gaming standard’ (paint splatter and don’t look closely) miniatures have rolled off the Battleshed production line already this year. I'll post some low-res pictures of the them for my first Rogue Star bat-rep coming up soon. Back in April, I posted that I’d taken delivery of some bio-engineered simians as part of a modest Kickstarter from Damon Richardson and Andrea Sfiligoi of Ganesha Games. Well, they’ve now found a new role – and some paint – to form my inaugural venture amongst the Rogue Stars. I may accessorise them, once I’ve worked out a theme, traits, equipment and made up some dippy character names. A good start to the New Year with a slight chip in the Lead mountain.

Broken Legions (Osprey Wargames, Mark Latham) is another Osprey rulebook that landed through the letterbox around the same time as Rogue Stars. Fantasy Skirmish Wargames in the Romans Empire. I’ve a weakness for all thing Roman. And Dwarves. Roman Dwarves… I’ll stop now. Anyway, it's more encouragement to get my huge box of long neglected Warlord Imperial Romans on the table! Or more likely I’ll decide they’re too, er, regimented for fantasy skirmish and a Broken Legions warband will be up there on this year’s trade show (Vapnartak in February?) shopping list even before the first week is out. A game has already been arranged at my club when it resumes next week. And I signed up. I mean, surely I can source and paint a fantasy Roman warband in just a few days? Hmm, I think proxies will be borrowed or begged. Full report incoming.

Sharp Practice (Too Fat Lardies). A ruleset that has seen a fair few outings at the club and I’m rather keen to throw some dice and trust my very nervous miniature troop's fortune with the turn of a card. Large skirmishes in the black powder era. With limited experience painting some 18th-century British regulars for Muskets and Tomahawks last year, I’m looking to expand my collection and rulesets. I haven’t – yet – ordered the core book from the Lardies, but if all goes well after an introductory game or two (and possibly a campaign in the offering - yes, you Mr. Ewing!), then it’s just a web shop click away from me dipping another tentative toe in the historical arena again. Wish me luck!

Frostgrave. I system I thoroughly enjoyed playing last year, both standalone games and the Diabolist's Scheme mini campaign. It's got that combination of rule simplicity, accessibility and fantasy narrative that appeals to me. It doesn't make my brain hurt. And its fun. I plan to expand my miniature collection, bringing in new characters and possibly playing through a longer campaign. It's another system that’s played regularly at the club and locally. And I’ve got a lot of white paint in the Battleshed. Which means snow to me. I’ll be checking out the recent Frostgrave supplements too. If you've a core rule book then the supplements must be purchased sooner rather than later. It’s the Hobby Law, isn’t it?

Saga: (Gripping Beast) The Dance of Power campaign is due to recommence in the next few weeks. How long it will take to play out to the six fighting season finale with so many factions is anyone’s guess! My Scots warband is the most complete (after my Warhammer Empire army) and painted system I own. I have plenty of unit options so I really don’t need any further additions. Which or course, I’ll ignore anyway. You see, I’m looking to possibly build another warband. An un-kilted one even. It's not a priority but definitely up there on my ‘wish list’. Lots more to come with the campaign and lots of standalone games.

As an aside, there was an interesting article in the January 2017 edition of Miniature Wargames written by Daniel Johnson, demonstrating 'Big SAGA' playing large points army battles using, (tries to relax, deep breaths…) 10mm miniatures. Contrary to what the local wee scale lobby may think, I’ve no objection to using diddy minis, especially with large battles. In fact, I think they often look better and are more practical than, say, 28mm for such things. It's just that I like my small warband, character-driven skirmishing in 28mm+ And that's what I tend to play mostly. Anyway, SAGA 10mm style should be an interesting discussion! Let's see how long its takes before I’m presented with a plethora of enticing, sumptuously painted examples of 10 -15mm Dark Age warbands…

Daisho: (The Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare) A set of skirmish wargaming in mystical Japan rules that have been languishing after a brief read through for a while, but still hoping for its first run-through and some suitable miniatures! It's one of those themes that appeals but somehow has never had the impetus to find its way into my gaming schedule. This year I’m determined for Kelly Brook to schedule time for a game or two. It's another system played at the club. I suspect a small eastern warband will also be on the trade show shopping list. Or possibly even some Bushido miniatures. Which I’m sure will make at least one of my readers very happy.

Age of Tyrants: (ageoftyrants.com) My maverick, what the frak! system for 2017! Possibly. Hopefully. If it's delivered. 6mm ‘massive’ scale wargaming! (Eyebrows raised Mr Warchest!) Which kinda sounds contradictory to me, although we tabletop wargamers have our own geek-speak anyway. It's one of those initially successful Kickstarters that has unfortunately succumbed to production delays of one sort or another. A story for another post. This is a KS that I invested in, somewhat bafflingly, way back at the beginning of last year. And yes, I’ll repeat… it's 6mm! I must have had a bit of a scale wobbly at some point. Or maybe that dangerous combination of good wine and a live internet connection had its wicked way. I don’t know. All I know is I’ve got a load of weird tiny SF machines of war heading my way, possibly sometime in the summer. Assuming we get one this year in Scotland. It’ll give me time to update my eyeglass prescription before I contemplate actually painting the things. I suspect the Battleshed airbrush will be dusted off.


Legends Untold: (Inspiring Games) Another Kickstarter, and a fully stretched one too! A recent campaign and this time I was definitely sober when I made my pledge. This has been a phenomenally successful Kickstarter for Inspiring Games, a small Edinburgh based design studio. I suspect its popularity took them by surprise too as stretch goal after stretch goal was smashed by the surge of eager pledges coming in. So congratulations and good luck to them. Now where’s my stuff? Only joking! As deep as an RPG, as fast as a card game. And one I’m particularly looking forward to. My Geek Sense tells me I’ll likely be playing this a lot when it arrives. 

Trade shows: So far, Vapnartak (5th Feb, York) is firmly in Kelly Brooks grasp. Ironman John has convinced me to organise another long weekend of sightseeing, wargaming, beer, wargame shopping, beer and um, beer? How he fits into his marathon running spandex is forever a wonder to me. This will be our third visit to this show. My club also runs a free bus and entry for members, but it’ll involve a horribly early start and return the same day. Not that I’m not up for the banter and club shenanigans, but as Ironman John isn’t a member (he hails from the forbidden zone that is Dundee), I’ll be escorting him instead. Keep him on a leash. Scots can be unpredictable south of the border. I’ll see the lads there anyway.

Salute 2017 (22nd April, London ExCeL) is also on the cards. Depends on flights, time and leave arrangements for Ironman John – another southern raid he’s interested in. We enjoyed last year's trip. Even getting our weird wargaming haul through London City airport customs. What's in the backpack, sir?

Later in May (13th) I’ll be at the foremost, greatest, most brilliant show in the world wargaming calendar! Carronade. But I’m biased, as it's my club’s show. I’ll be there, before and after – shifting school chairs and bubblegum (at least I hope that’s all it is) encrusted tables up and down stairs and between halls, all for the wargaming communities delectation! Hope to see some of my readers there!

There are a number of other shows of interest, some south of the border, that I’m considering, but with Kelly Brooks filling up fast this year I’ll just leave it there for now. I’ve enough to be getting on with.

The 2017 project list. Finally, I finish (Yes I know…yay!) with a very short list of the priority projects for this year. The ones that I really, really want to complete before the festive advertisements start up again sometime in late summer. I’m deliberately keeping the list short. Very short. There are lots of plans brewing as listed above, but these are the priorities and I’ll poke myself repeatedly in penance with miniature steel spears of shame if these aren’t achieved by the end of the year. So here goes:

  1. The Faustus Furius chariot racing board. It's half completed for goodness sake! The Battleshed needs its gaming table back! I’ve even bought some Warlord Roman civilians to wander about selling their wares. Well, at least one is anyway. If you know what I mean. No excuses! 
  2. The In Her Majesty's Name, The Super Weapon, campaign grand finale board. This is a campaign that came to a shuddering halt over a year ago as I decided in my wisdom that I really needed to build an elaborate board similar to my Old West Town to do the campaign justice. Victorian themed kits and parts are stacked in the Battleshed, covered in thick layers of dust and a sprawl of gossamer edifices courtesy of the Battleshed spider’s many offspring. It’ll be like Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon all over again when I return to this project. And I must. There’s a pointy spear waiting if I don’t.

That’s it. I’m not going to make any more commitments this year. Enough already! Now, let's see what happens when my hobby plans meet reality…