Monday, April 29, 2013

Pegasus Hobbies - Making Your Table Shine Without Eviscerating Your Wallet

Circus friends, I've decided that I've been remiss in not sharing with you the vast pool of knowledge that I've learned over the years regarding tabletop miniatures gaming, and so this is the first of many articles that will pass on some of the laborious research I've carved out of the Internet. The tag will be "Miniatures Gaming 101" and I'll be putting articles ranging from figure sources, game rules, painting tip sites, terrain building help, the best books to buy, and all manner of things relating to all things miniature. I'm not a great figure painter, though I can hold my own, but I am a very capable terrain builder, so I'll likely share some of my projects with you fine folks as well. So, let's begin with a great source of material to quickly and cheaply get a table going for a skirmish: Pegasus Hobbies (

There was a time, so long ago, that I was playing Battletech, Mage Knight, and all manner of miniature game on paper mats. Yes, they do serve a purpose, but why would you want to if you didn't have to, and further, if it wasn't prohibitively expensive? It's because I didn't know just how many miniatures companies are out there, nor did I know just how inexpensive miniatures terrain can be if you know where to look. Well, I was at a game store just before I got sick a year and a half ago, and I saw this wonderful, detailed church sitting on a Warhammer table. After inquiring, it turns out that the guy spent all of two hours painting and assembling it, and the amazing part, he spent just over twenty dollars on it.

I immediately got online and found that this company's products are both inexpensive and ubiquitous, and so I jumped in with both feet and got both a Gothic City Ruins and the same church set that I had seen at the store. As soon as I got it home I realized just how easy it was going to be to turn the box into what would be the ruins of the Esoteric Order of Dagon church, an ancient, decaying factory, the burned-out hulk of an old apartment building, and so many other terrain features. Within an hour I had glued it and assembled it, and because I tend to overthink things, three hours later I had the whole thing primered, painted, blackwashed, and three-color drybrushed. It is simply amazing how wonderful these things look once you've got them painted. 

I'm never one to do something half-assed, so I took it further once I'd had it for a year and really got interested in making beautiful landscapes to play on, so I then based the entire set, flocked it (including adding moss to the model), and put another ten dollar Pegaus set of rubble in the center to create the illusion that the top of the building had fallen in long ago. In all, it looks just like I hoped it would, and I'm out maybe a total of 6 hours time and forty bucks in materials. That said, it was very nice looking with a simple blackwash/drybrush treatment, and the flexibility of the sets are such that if you were to buy two, you could present them on the table as four sides of the same ruined building. 

The second set I got was, as I noted, the church itself. The beauty of these sets is that you can make them in a great many configurations, and so I made mine a little non-standard, since I'm a pretty non-standard individual myself. I ended up making it an "evil church", airbrushing the entire thing flat black and following with a grey drybrush treatment. I also airbrushed ~flame light~ on and around the lanterns but it didn't turn out as well as I liked. It's still got some work to go, a year later or so, but it's been good enough for my table so I haven't put effort into it to get it to what I consider "quality work".

About a month ago I downloaded and printed the free rules for "The Skank Game", otherwise known as Warlords of the Wasteland 2085, which is a post-apocalyptic skirmish game that includes vehicles and very light RPG elements. I was looking for a Fallout-esque game and therefore I needed to have some post-apocalyptic game pieces. Well, a forum member at Fortress:AT was talking about Pegasus' Syberclicks terrain, which is the Warhammer 40K equivalent of the Hexagon terrain (shown left), so I bought both the large and small packs, which cost a total of $32.00. Well, let me tell you, it's really quite modular in that you can build virtually anything you can imagine, much like Lego products, but with a very "hodge-podge", scavenged feel to the buildings. As usual, I couldn't follow the directions as listed, so with the small set I made something not remotely resembling the shown product, which integrated into the walled wasteland outpost I
created using the large set. The wife likes it, and she's a tough customer to please, so I'm content. It's very lightweight, so I think it really will need to have a base on it to sturdy it up. It snaps together with these clips that I believe were sent by the Devil himself, because after 2 hours of modelling, my fingers were LITERALLY bleeding. They're a real bitch to assemble, no doubt, but it's worth it. As you can see from the photo of the frames, there's a bazillion little rippy bits and each one is sharp as a razor, even after you've removed them from the frame. The clips come in six styles, from 90 degrees to multi-angle three-way, and there's a lot of flexibility in what you can do. Again, these things bite into your hand like a spur when you assemble the buildings, so be advised that you will not get out of this without some serious finger damage. I'd argue that it's worth it.

I spray painted the assembly after I glued it, and while you don't need to glue it, I wanted this to be a permanent structure so I used some CA and with a fine needle tip, dispensed a small drop at each joint and let the capillary action draw it into the connector. It's very durable now, and I left several joints unglued so that I can break it into two pieces for storage. I'll base it using some small lengths of plasticard epoxied to the bottom and flocked with sand. I may even use some modelling clay or Sculpey to create small berms along the base to make it look as if the structure has been there a while.  What I was going for, in all honesty, is something like a scaled-down version of the"juice" refinery in The Road Warrior. This photo shows what I built, and in retrospect, I really should've primed it, but the Rustoleum Hammered Copper spray paint usually sticks to pretty much anything. This is just the first coat, and only sprayed from top down. I ran out, so off to the store I go after work for another to finish the job. Once I've got it coated, I'll airbrush several layers of brown, grey, red, orange, and yellow on it to create a very rusty metal look, then I may or may not hand-paint some "hot spots" of dripping rust effect.

Along with the Hexagon stuff I also got the Pegasus Technobridge, which runs $15.00, and will save me a ton of time having to scratch build it out of Plasticard and balsa. It's the same as the church stuff, very simple to construct and looks great right out of the box, although I'll be painting it, probably to match the outpost, and then putting some sand on it here and there to give it a more realistic look. 

Now, Pegasus also creates some pre-painted stuff as well. For fantasy, or even some early American settings, you can buy a lot of small buildings that come ready-to-play. These are made of a hard stone material, perhaps even dental stone, so they're really rather heavy for their size compared to the Gothic stuff. This Small Stone Cottage cost me $13.00 and its larger brother cost me maybe five dollars more. They're a single, solid cast piece, so these are really only good to create the feel of a village rather than actually allow you to have door-to-door fighting. I've used these for Strange Aeons, and they fit in passably with my 1920's period pieces fairly well. It beats having to build and paint a Plasticville O-scale building, which I'll get into in a another Miniatures Gaming 101 article, when all you want is a prop piece to sit on the table as a thematic line-of-sight blocker.

In conclusion, you can get a lot of really great terrain, and I mean an entire city block's worth, for around a hundred dollars with Pegasus, and the stuff is so easy to assemble, aside from the Hexagon finger-scourge stuff, that it's a no-brainer. My only complaint with any of it is that they have only a few "lines" to choose from. I'd love if they moved into doing something like Plasticville, but in different time periods. It would certainly save me a lot of time in sourcing parts to kit-bash into what I want. Hope you enjoyed the article, and there's much more to come.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Settlers of Catan - So Long, And Thanks For All The Wood

I'd heard about Settlers of Catan a hundred billion times, at least, as it's widely called "The Fazzer Of Ze Euroz Gaming", and I've heard it panned by Ameritrash folks as a gaming atrocity. Although not as widely hated, at least publicly, as renaissance farming or weenie trading games, it has been the subject of scorn and ridicule. "It doesn't have a body count", they said. "It doesn't have much player interaction", the said.

Well, don't mind the bollocks, because "they" are invariably full of shit.

I had played Settlers of Catan all of one time up until 2 weeks ago, and it was a learning game four years ago at GenCon, with some guys I had never met. Me, being my usual self, just saw there were three guys about to play, so I sat down, and said, "What color am I?" One of them said, "Mediterranean tan?" and I figured I was at the right table. They graciously allowed me to play, although none of them had played, and by the time we were done, 2 and a half hours later, I realized that not only was I at the wrong table, but I was playing the wrong game.  They bad mouthed the game the whole time, I later learned that we were playing it wrong , and I had subconsciously written off the game as another crappy Euro game. "How could it be so popular?" was ringing in my ears. So, I went back to playing games where people get blown up, cleaved in half by energy weapons, or where demons and zombies roam freely.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, when I decided to trade for a copy of Settlers as a gift for my bestie's wife, the one staunch proponent of all things Euro and Tikal in my little gaming legion. Now, since I always get screwed into being the game teacher, I figured I had better learn the game before I tried to teach it, so I bought in on my iPad. What a horrendous mistake that was. "Why, pray tell is that, Mr. A Pimp Named Slickback?" you might ask? First, no need for the "Mr.", and the reason it was a mistake is that after purchasing the game, it is the only game I've played on my iPad since. I mean, we're talking addiction-level playtime, in excess of 80 hours over the last 2 weeks alone.  Worse still, since I've learned it I've requested it at every game night, multiple times. Holy Mother of God, what a great game. I'm desperately hooked at this point. I'm not saying that I'd suck your dick for a sheep, but I'm not saying it's out of the realm of possibility.

Now, the iPad game is fast, and fun, but only in a limited "I kicked the AI's ass" kind of way. The real fun is not in the winning, but rather in convincing your friends that they ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE THAT GRAIN, and they should pay you one of each other commodity for it. It's about the sale; the small victories along the way. It's about the other players looking over at the person you just took for everything but their underwear, with that, "Say what, bitch? You just gave him WHAT, for WHAT?" look of amazement and disbelieving scrutiny. It's about the "take that" moment when you put a settlement along an enemy's road, thereby crushing their hopes of that quick 2 point score they've been trying to earn over the last ten turns. Anyone that says Settlers of Catan has little direct player interaction is clearly either not playing it right, or a jizznozzle.

The game's rules are very simple, which is a boon if you're the game teacher, and the game is actually quite simple to understand. You get commodities, you trade commodities, and you build things to earn points. On its face, you'd think that there wasn't much there, but once you really understand it, every single turn has agonizing decisions that will affect the balance of power. This doesn't even begin to address the fact that there's a wild card in play, the "robber", who is the Catan equivalent of a thermonuclear attack. You drop that bastard on a tile that has an opponent's building adjacent to it, and you can not only steal that person's shit, if they have too many cards, they lose half their cards. 

As if that wasn't bad enough, the robber poisons the land like a cloud of radioactive fallout, so that the region doesn't produce anything, which is the icing on the uranium cake. Best of all, he stays there until someone else rolls a seven to move him, or someone has a card that allows him to be moved. It's brutal beyond compare. The look of consternation and hate that follows such an attack is well worth the price of admission alone. Do it to the same player twice, consecutively, or if several players do it to the same player consecutively, and it is wholly plausible that their face will crack open and hatch a Velociraptor, who will subsequently devour your gizzards in a blinding sea of blood and unabated rage. Like I said, it's a brilliant game.

If there is one weakness to the game design, it's that the starting position that you place your initial settlements in is so utterly important that one mistake or miscalculation can cost you the game before you even take your first turn. That said, luck plays a large role in the game as the tiles that produce commodities are activated by a die roll, so even the perfect initial settlement placement can be stymied by straight-up hateful-ass dice. The mitigating factor is that you can trade things every turn, so even if you have bad die rolls, and even if nobody will trade you anything, you can trade things back to the "bank", at confiscatory rates, to advance your position.

In the end, it's a really good game that I overlooked for a long time due to a group of guys who poisoned me against it, my own blatant idiocy, and a cacophonous sea of disgust released by dyed-in-the-wool Ameritrashers who decried the game based solely on the fact that it has wooden bits instead of plastic Space Marines. Hell, if this game was re-skinned with Imperial Roads, Ork Outposts, and Tyranid Hives, sort of how Talisman was re-skinned to Relic, Settlers of Catan: 40K edition would be an instant best-seller. And I'd be first in line to buy that shit, aaaaaaw yeah.

Why I'd Settle Down With A Settler:
- Simple rules but complex strategy make this game a real winner
- Player interaction is heavy, with an emphasis on negotiation and screwage
- A modular-board system makes this infinitely replayable
- With many expansions such as the wonderful Seafarers expansion, it's a living system

Why Catan Means "You'z a Ho" in Catanese:
- Starting positions are so important that it seems almost unbalanced
- The dice-heavy commodity production adds randomness, but can ruin your fun

It's a bit ridiculous to call this a pure Eurogame as the genre exists today because luck and direct player interaction play such a large role in Settlers of Catan. I mean, I understand that it has light rules, and is playable by everyone, so by that standard, it could be construed as a Euro, but it shares so much more with Ameritrashy Dudes On A Map games like Axis and Allies than it does Agricola, in my opinion. The only thing missing from this game is a body count, and with the Cities and Knights expansion, a body count does exist, albeit in a very abstracted way. The long and short is that this game should be in every single gamer's collection, either physically or digitally, since it's available for Xbox360, iPad, and on the web.

4.5/5 Stars

Check out the website here to see what the game's like and what expansions exist: