Category Archives: Games

Creating Virtual Miniature Wargames

First off I am no great expert on this subject, but have played around with a few different ways of doing things, so wanted to give my opinions of what works for me at least. If you’re looking for a how to do this, I’m not planning to go into detail of that now—although I might another time. However, I would say that Vassal seems to be best option as it gives a lot of flexibility, is free to use and has some miniature wargames modules already loaded that you can learn from.

Why Create Virtual Miniature Wargames?

Software like Tabletop Simulator and Vassal are designed to simulate the experience of a board, card or miniatures game on the computer. They don’t recreate a computer game where all the calculations are automated and the player doesn’t have to know the game mechanics. The idea is that you don’t have to have the pieces of card, plastic or metal in front of you to play the game—these are all represented using digital images on the screen—including the board or table.

But if that’s the case, what’s the point? There’s a few reasons.

Multiplayer

The ability to play with people at a distance rather than face to face. Not something that was an immediate need for me.

Cost

Guilty secret—it’s a way for people to play these games at low or no cost. One reason GW bans publication of Vassal modules on the Vassal site. However, other publishers are more chilled about that – the probably realise that having this version doesn’t replace the real experience, and in fact probably helps nurture it. Also I don’t think usage is that high.

Space

I don’t have space for a miniatures games table more than 2 x 3 foot, so playing larger games would be impossible any other way. At the moment for physical games I am restricted to smaller, skirmish style games – Hobbit Strategy Battle Game for instance.

Time

To play a physical tabletop game, you either need a good block of time – half a day at least perhaps, or can leave a table set-up until the next gaming session. I have been able to do that sometimes with our 2 x 3 table, but that’s not always possible. So having a virtual table that I can save and come back to is a great asset for playing a longer game.

What I wanted to do

My ideal situation was to be able to try out some wargames periods and rules sets that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to on a real tabletop – again for the reasons above. My aim was to get more familiar with some of the most popular rules on the market – for instance De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) for Ancients and Medieval, Field of Glory for several periods, Bolt Action for WW2.

The need was for something that was quite customizable and easy to use. Visual appeal would be nice to have, but not essential.

My Experiences so far

I had come across two examples of Virtual Tabletops previously – Vassal and Tabletop Simulator. Vassal is free, very customisable, but doesn’t have the 3D engine that Tabletop Simulator. That 3D engine comes at a moderate cost – I think I paid £14.99 on Steam for it, but given that amount of games you could play with it that seemed reasonable.

Tabletop Simulator

Tabletop SimulatorI’ll start with this one first. I had learnt enough about it to be able to play the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, so I decided it was time to try some of the wargames. That’s where I came a bit unstuck. When I downloaded some of the wargames modules – e.g. for Warhammer or Bolt Action, I was presented with a load of models, some of which wouldn’t load properly. That meant going and actually watching some tutorial videos and looking up why the image files wouldn’t load.

Having successfully done that I started off with a simple Horse and Musket game – really just a battle that someone had created rather than a whole game set.

The main issue with Tabletop Simulator for simulating wargames became quite clear at this stage – it doesn’t seem to have any way to actually move several individual models and keep them together. You can select several items and move them, but when you put them down again (unless you’re very careful) they tend to fall over or move around. The way round this is to create units with several figures on a base, but that requires digital modelling – something I could probably learn to do, but not at the moment!

I think for skirmish games such as W40k, Bolt Action this would be OK, but since I am not planning to learn the rules for those games just yet, at this point I decided to leave the flashy 3D graphics of Tabletop Simulator behind and try Vassal.

Vassal

VassalTo my surprise and delight I found that there was actually a Vassal Module for De Bellis Antiquitatis. I hadn’t read the rules yet, but I knew that the unit bases for it would work well with One Hour Wargames rules that I had used with some card cut outs. So I plunged into this. As setting up a game was a simple process of dragging bits of scenery and units onto a board and then moving them around using the ruler provided, that was pretty simple. However, I then realised that I had no easy way of recording One Hour Wargamingcasualties. The One Hour Wargames system gives each unit 15 hits before it is destroyed. The module for De Bellis Antiquitatis naturally didn’t allow me to record that, so I had to think about being able to customise the module somewhat to ease the bookkeeping – I didn’t want to try to keep track of hits outside the actual Vassal software – after all it felt that the point of having a simulator was to help with the paperwork too! I read the whole Vassal module creation manual – about 150 pages, but actually quite a quick read and easy to follow, and fairly soon I had the skills to add a text box to each unit that I could edit when they took casualties. See below for a picture!

Vassal Screenshot

I was quite proud of that achievement and decided that Vassal would probably be the system I would work with for the moment – I was competent enough to either edit current modules, or maybe even create my own to make the wargames I wanted to.

What next?

Having tested editing a module in Vassal. I think the next step for me is to use it to play a few games of DBA and learn that system. Then I would like to take a look at Bolt Action as there’s a module for that too – and then probably work through creating some modules for a few Ancients and Medieval rules such as Field of Glory, Warmaster and Warhammer Ancient Battles. These would be for personal use – I wouldn’t post on Vassal given the copyright issues!

Introducing Miniature Wargames to Your Children

The idea for this post comes from my own experiences with introducing miniature wargames to my son—he was eight when he first became interested in miniature gaming—specifically Hobbit Strategy Battle Game (Hobbit SBG)—and is now nine, going on ten. Over the last two years, we’ve played several RPGs together: D&D being the main one, but also some of the old d6 West End Games Stars Wars role-playing game, and a bits and pieces of some others, but D&D has been the main one. His interest in the Hobbit SBG was prompted by the close link between the figures and the movies that he had already seen and loved. So when we saw the Goblin Town boxed set in our local Games Workshop, it became a must-have for his next birthday. Since then we’ve played perhaps half a dozen games with it—it took a while to get started because of all the figures to paint (more on that later) – but since then he’s got well into the rules and created some of his own scenarios for the game.

One Hour WargamingOn the historical wargames side, this isn’t something that he’s been as keen on. We did try playing with the simple rules from One Hour Wargames using the chapter on Ancients and playing British vs Romans. He was doing Boadicea at school at the time, and enjoying episodes of Horrible Histories, so knew some of the background. For this we used paper armies—made out of scans of pictures that we drew together. So we had British chariots, Boadicea as a special leader, Warriors and Skirmishers, vs Roman legionaries, skirmishers and auxiliary cavalry. The game was fun, but perhaps too simple in that both sides were fairly generic and perhaps too balanced—whereas the Hobbit games being more asymmetrical and story based fired his imagination more. Again a key factor to engage his interest was the connection with story and an element of fun.

There’s a few constraints that we both have on pursuing the hobby at the moment. One is my time—we have a toddler as well and she takes up a lot of time looking after and can’t be trusted not to play with figures herself and eat them! Another is space—we don’t have a table big enough for proper big battles—the main table we have that we can use is only 2 ft by 3.5 ft—and we can’t leave that permanently set-up for gaming. The space factor is also comes into play for storing figures and scenery as well—so moving off into collecting a whole set of armies for a historical period on spec is probably not going to happen.

With these limitations in mind, here’s how I would summarise my experiences of introducing the hobby to my son:

Cool miniatures are a great gateway, but can be time consuming and a barrier too

So, with the Hobbit SBG the miniatures were a big draw, but my son didn’t have the skill or patience to paint up the 50+ figures plus quite complex scenery in the Goblin Town starter set. That’s why they say 12+ I expect on the box!! However, he was definitely old enough to understand the rules and enjoy the game.

He has done some of his own painting since then and his skills have improved, but I still think he probably needs to be a bit older before he does this himself. The larger figure sizes – i.e. 28mm – are better though for beginners I think as they’re easier and look better.

However, in terms of space and affordability I’m wondering if smaller scales – 6mm or 10mm might be a good starting point for historical mass battles in the future.

Rules should be easy to understand, interpreted clearly and flexible

As I mentioned understanding the basic  rules wasn’t much of a problem. Difficulties emerged though when adding some more of the advanced rules, and though we both understood them, I think the effort of having to remember all the complexities meant that applying them all held back the enjoyment of the game. For Hobbit SBG I’m specifically  thinking of rules for heroes such as Might, Will and Fate, and heroic actions. For the last scenario we did, we took these out completely. We still had Gandalf being able to use spells, but didn’t worry about recording his Will. I think we could reintroduce these rules at a later date, but with the main priority to have a fun game, playing by all the rules wasn’t a priority. It is a very good idea though to agree up front what rules are going to be played by and to be consistent about things – especially what constitutes a legitimate dice roll – for instance if it lands on the floor or not flat on the edge of a base do you re-roll or not! There’s a tendency for younger children to take whatever would be the most advantageous outcome.

Encourage Story Telling and Fun

Almost like an RPG it can help to dramatize what happens during the battle – “Dwalin staggers back as the Goblin King swings his club at him” etc. That helps to build the narrative of the battle, rather than making it just about winning and losing.

Allow them to contribute to the story telling 

Encourage them to make up their own scenarios. But I would advise a word of caution on balance. It’s probably worth checking that both sides are even – let them choose which side they want to play but make sure things are “fair”. One thing I have to do in the future is check on points values and handicaps to ensure both sides have a chance – a walkover for either side is not fun!

What’s Next?

I would like to play some more historical games at some point with my son – I think it would help teach him something about history, and also give him a different perspective on games as well. Probably we won’t be diving straight into the Battle of Cannae yet, but perhaps a half-way house like gaming myths, as he’s very into Norse and Greek myth after reading the Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase books by Rick Riordan. So, we might try out the Of Gods and Mortals rules from Osprey with a few figures, and then maybe try to recreate some famous historical clashes too. We’ll see!

Picker Pete Lightfinger – C04 Thief Painted

Picker Pete Lightfinger - FrontOne of my ambitions is to collect again some of the miniatures I owned as a kid when I played Warhammer – nearly 30 years ago in the mid to late 80s. I’m not sure if this is one of them or not – but I certainly had a number of the Townspeople and other general human types. Picker Pete Lightfinger - Side

This is from the C04 Thieves range and according to Stuff of Legends his name is Picker Pete Lightfinger – see below for the original catalogue image from the 1986 Citadel journal – and he was designed by the Perry twins.

C04 Thieves - 1986

For paints I used the new Citadel range as follows:

Hat

Base: Mephiston Red
Shade: Carroburg Crimson
Layer 1: Evil Sunz Scarlet
Layer 2: Wilder Rider Red

Coat

Base: Macragge Blue
Shade: Drakenhoff Nightshade
Layer 1: Altdorf Guard Blue
Layer 2: Calgar Blue

Trousers

Base: Waargh! Flesh
Shade: Athonian Camoshade
Layer 1: Loren Forest
Layer 2: Straken Green

Skin

Base: Bugman’s Glow
Shade: Reikland Fleshade
Layer: Kislev Flesh
Eyes: White and black

Hair

Base: Balor Brown
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Flash Gitz Yellow

Shoes and Gloves

Base: Rhinox Hide
Layer: Mournfang Brown

Shirt

Base: Rakarth Flesh
Shade: Reikland Fleshade
Layer: Pallid Wych Flesh

Fur Sleeves

Base: Stormvermin Fur
Shade: Nuln Oil
Layer 1: Codex Grey (aka Dawnstone)
Layer 2: Administratum Grey

Gold Cup

Base: Balthasar Gold
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Gethenna’s Gold

Bag

Base: Rhinox
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Gorthor Brown

Sword

Base: Leadbelcher
Shade: Nuln Oil
Layer: Chainmail (aka Ironbreaker)

Belt & Scabbard

Base: XV-88
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Tau Light Ochre

Base

Stirland Mud with a drybrush of Terminatus Stone
Grass tuft Gamer’s Grass – Light Green

Finished with varnish of Ardcoat and then matt of Lahmium Medium

Eowyn Miniature Painted

So another miniature from Hobbit Strategy Battle Game that I painted fairly recently – this time Eowyn. She is also doubling as an Elven magic user from the D&D game I play with my son and at his request her dress is white to tie in with the D&D character – otherwise I tend to be a bit boring and try to copy whatever I see in the official Hobbit or LOTR rule books!

Eowyn - white dress front
Eowyn – white dress front

I tried proper layering for this one – so the white dress starts off with a brown base and then gets built up – up close in the photos you can see the nuts and bolts of this quite clearly but from more of a distance this looks better I think.

Eowyn white dress back
Eowyn white dress back

Boromir Miniature Painted

I have started getting back into miniature games over the last couple of years – inparticular old Warhammer stuff (now known as Oldhammer for Grognards like me!) and Hobbit or Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, which is a skirmish level miniatures game also by Games Workshop. I’ve had some great fun playing that game with my son and also doing a bit of painting. Here’s a recent figure that I’m quite proud of: Boromir! 

Boromir miniature painted by Mark Lord
Boromir miniature painted by Mark Lord

I think I probably need to work on the photography a bit – this is just using some card a smartphone and some lamps – but hopefully you can see it ok!

Field of Glory Digital Army Generator Tutorial

I have created a new tutorial for the Field of Glory game – this time looking at how to choose an army using the Digital Army Generator.

Also experimented using a narration for the first time with a microphone – a bit easier than I thought it would be – although I realised that sometimes a bit of a script or practice run would have helped!

Total War Warhammer First Impressions and My Greenskins Campaign Video

So I started playing Total War Warhammer last night and also a bit this morning before work – just a couple of hours so far, but here are my first impressions:

  • It’s a bit simpler than other Total War games – which is no bad thing – the interface has less clutter and units for example have fewer special powers, which makes battle management easier.
  • There’s no prologue campaign to wade through – which again is good – you just go and decide which faction you want and get going – although the advisor tips are quite heavy to start with.
  • It’s genuinely fun and I wanted to keep playing. I think partly because there’s no concerns over historical accuracy, the silly stuff like battlefield artillery feels right, whereas in other games like Rome it seems out of place and contrived.
  • The Warhammer world isn’t quite the one I knew and loved from Warhammer Fantasy Battles 3rd edition – some of the humour has gone and been dumbed down into things like shouting Waarggh! a lot. The orc animations look a bit daft to me, but that’s down to the direction Games Workshop went with figure design. But I think Creative Assembly seem to have faithfully recreated Warhammer as it was before Age of Sigmar.
  • The factions are quite few – again this is good – with a game like Rome II I just feel overwhelmed – I’d like to play all the factions, but I feel I never will and anyway how different are they. But with this playing a campaign with each faction seems manageable and they also feel quite different too.
  • Battles work quite well and basic tactics work better than other Total War games did before getting lots of patches. They seem to have got things right from the start this time round.
  • I found some of the graphics disappointing – I think it’s the underground battles actually that look  a bit rubbish. Overground it all looks a lot better.

Here’s a screen capture video of me opening the game – it shows the opening video and the start of the Greenskins campaign.

Top 5 Reasons Why I’m Excited about Total War: Warhammer

As you might know if you interested in strategy PC games, Total War: Warhammer is just around the corner – due for release next Tuesday! I’ve already pre-ordered and can’t why to play.  Here’s my top 5 reasons to be excited about the new game.

  1. Bloodbath at Orc's DriftFirstly it’s because I’m an old git (relatively speaking) and remember playing Warhammer Fantasy Battles when it first came back in the early eighties. Spent many a happy hour with school friends playing McDeath and The Ziggurat of Doom, not to mention the epic Bloodbath at Orc’s Drift – which I’m sure included a badge saying “I bathed in blood at Orc’s Drift.”
  2. I stopped playing though when I left school at started University – a couple of games while at Uni, but that was it – I finished with Warhammer on it’s 3rd edition. So it’s fascinating to go back to the game and see how it’s developed.
  3. I also love Total War games – again getting into them right at the start with the first Shogun game. Somehow I still think that was the best – battlefield tactics somehow just worked better – a bit less real time rushing around perhaps? I’ve been looking for a Total War Warhammer game for ages. There’s some mods but an official game is where it’s at.
  4. Totalwar dogfightThere’s some great new features for the game that will make it unique for Total War games – flying stuff and magic. I can’t wait to play with those things. Also the idea of Orc and Dwarf nations that don’t follow the standard nation building rout of these games will also be fascinating to play. I think I might start with the Orcs!
  5. Perhaps if Creative Assembly pull off this game, they’ll get the change to do Lord of the Rings Total War – or Game of Thrones. A strategy game for either of those licenses would be awesome!

Here’s a trailer that hope will get you excited as well!

New Game that I’m in to: Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game

Recently my 8 year old son and I visited our local Games Workshop – he was really excited to see that they had Hobbit and Lord of the Rings miniatures – being an avid collector of Lego for both these films. So we’re mulling over getting into the game! I used to play Warhammer when I was a teenager, so know a bit about gaming with miniatures and painting them up. Before we take the plunge and get a whole set of figures – we’re thinking about the Hobbit Escape from Goblin Town starter set – I ordered 3 dwarfs just to practice painting. I did the undercoat and then my son did the dry-brushing beards, armour effects and the blue tunic bits and the boots – I worked on the more detailed bits like flesh tones and helped tidy things up a bit. They’re not the best painted miniatures ever, but I think they turned out all right!

Onto the game itself, Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game is a bit like Warhammer but more skirmish orientated – I managed to find a copy of the rules at my local library and we’ve had a couple of games using my son’s Lego figures – we found the rules simple to pick up but also with enough nuances to make it interesting – I think we might be getting that starter set soon!