2010-06-24

Essex Arab Camp

If I remember correctly, this is Essex part number TT9: Tent with fire, seated Arab leader with two bodyguards.  I painted it for my Arab Conquest army.  The fire has a pile of sticks with two plates next to it; on one plate is a chunk of food (meat?  let's pretend) and a knife.

The tent is tiny, only as high as the seated leader.  It's certainly not a general's campaign tent in most armies I'd know, or a stereotypical arabian merchant's tent.

However, the cloth sculpting on the tent is excellent.  It took drybrushing very well.  I'm happy with how this camp and camp followers turned out; I might even like it better than the army itself.

2010-06-20

Historicon 2010: DBA Plans

Assuming everything goes according to plan, I'll be going to Historicon this year. Unfortunately I missed the pre-registration period; they seem to have changed things a lot since I last went to an HMGS convention 6 years ago.

For the non-DBA events, I won't know what I'm playing until I start the game most of the time, because I won't get to pre-register many events.  But all of the DBA events I'm playing in either have unlimited seats or I've already reserved my place because they don't use the HMGS registration system.  The Historicon DBA schedule is on the fanaticus forums.

And now I give away all my precious meta-game information.

Thursday, July 8th, 7pm: Splendor of Persia.  I'll be playing III/25b: Arab Conquest with the bow option.

Thursday, July 8th, 11pm: Midnite Madness. I'll probably keep playing Arab Conquest, since I only expect to last one round anyway, so it's hardly worth unpacking another army.

Friday, July 9th, 7pm: Cruel Tyrants: Assyrian Dominance and Fall, 745 BC -- 612 BC.  I've decided to take my Early Bedouin, I/6c, instead of Skythians since I'll be playing another light horse army on Saturday.

Saturday, July 10th, 9am: Not the NICT. This will be my second matched pair tournament. I want to minimize the number of armies I'm bringing, so I'm considering taking Later Achaemenid Persians (II/7) versus Early Bedouin (I/6c).  If I use the auxilia/psiloi options for the persians, the armies will have very similar compositions. The Persians will have one more mounted while the Bedouins have camels instead of horses, but otherwise they're the same.

Saturday, July 10th, 4pm: The Baltic Crusades.  I'm quite looking forward to participating in one of the Two Davids campaign games.  I've signed up for the Mongol Conquest IV/35, and I can't see any reason not to take the artillery option.

That's all I have planned so far.  This leaves my days open before dinner on Thursday and Friday, but Saturday's full except for a small block in the afternoon.  I'll have to eat a big lunch before Baltic Crusades, and maybe hit the vendors and flea market.

2010-06-17

Game Review: Dominion: Alchemy

Everyone I've played Dominion with has really enjoyed it, including Marla and even Martine.  With the proper card selection Martine (at age 6) has no problem finishing games with the full rules, and has even been known to beat grownup opponents.

The first two expansions, Intrigue and Seaside, both add a good selection of cards to the game without changing the flavor very much.  I had high hopes for the third expansion, Dominion: Alchemy, when Andy brought it over to try it out.  Unfortunately, I don't like it very much yet.  My opinion of the cards might improve if I play it more, but this expansion is different than the previous ones and I'm not sure I like that difference.

As anyone who has read my previous review knows, the basic game play in Dominion is to use the resources in your deck of cards to buy more cards for that deck.  As you cycle through your gradually improving deck, you hope to collect enough victory cards to be ahead when the game ends.  Cards can be actions, which do things; treasure, which is used to buy more cards; or victory cards, which do nothing (but are required to win).

There are many different effective strategies, and they vary a lot based on the cards available and how you use them.  Despite these wide differences, it's still possible to categorize the basic action strategies into two broad categories.  I'll call them "Action Combo" and "Utility Action" strategies.

With an Action Combo strategy, you buy many action cards, and depend on playing a big tree of actions each turn in order to cull the treasure out of your deck.  Since you have so many action cards, adding a few more victory cards isn't a big deal, so it's not always important to concentrate on the highest point value victory cards.  Action Combo decks often take long turns and end up with a large portion of the deck in play each turn, even late in the game.

A Utility Action strategy uses a low proportion of action cards in the end-game deck, and doesn't rely on the use of a lot of actions each turn in order to win.  Instead, the deck concentrates on acquiring many high value treasure cards, and uses a few action cards to improve the chances of drawing big hands of cash to buy high value victory cards.  In this strategy it is important to concentrate on the highest value victory cards, so you don't dilute your deck.

It's possible to win with both of these strategies.  It can be a lot more fun to play with an Action Combo strategy, because you get to do a lot more on each of your turns even when you're losing.  However, I usually end up playing with a Utility strategy.  I sometimes win the game with only 4 or 5 action cards total, but with many Gold and Silver treasure cards and a stack of Provinces.

(One strategy I enjoy a lot with the basic set is to buy a Smithy and a Silver in the first run through the deck. I often end up buying Gold on the second through the deck and Provinces on the 3rd and 4th runs through.  It's very fast, but it can stall unless you build up enough treasure and actions to get you through the clumps of Victory cards.)

In the basic set, Intrigue, and Seaside, almost all of the card effects have varying degrees of synergy with each other, but there is only one card I can think of (Seaside's Treasure Map) which requires another specific card in order to be useful.  Even Treasure Map only requires another copy of the same card in order for you to play it. Other action cards allow you to build interesting combos, but they combine with a many other cards and almost all of the actions are useful by themselves.

The Alchemy card set is different, because of the existence of the Potion card.  Potion is a new kind of treasure. Most of the other Alchemy cards require a potion to purchase them, and many of the actions are more beneficial if you have a Potion in play (that is: if you just used it to buy something). 

Since most of the cards in the Alchemy set require a card combo in order to use them at all, it tends to push you towards using certain strategies.  In order to get any Alchemy cards you need a Potion, but once you have a Potion you need to use it enough to justify its cost (both in treasure and the space it takes in your deck) since it won't buy you many victory points.  Overall, this expansion guides you into using an Action Combo strategy. 

Yes, there are cards available that let you trade in one card for something else, which would let you turn a Potion into something useful after you're done with it.  But I don't find these Remodel cards to be very useful.  Why would I buy a card I don't want, buy another card that can turn it into something else, hope I draw them both, and then spend an action to change one into another, when I could just buy the card I wanted in the first place?  Again, the result is an Action Combo strategy.

The main problem I have with Alchemy is that it doesn't provide very many cards that support a Utility Action strategy (with some notable exceptions).  In practice, this isn't very limiting for me, because typically you use cards from otehr sets along with the Alchemy choices, and I can almost always find a useful Utility strategy using only those.  But then I'm not using the Alchemy cards, which makes them a bit of a waste for me.

Overall, I'd definitely play Dominion with Alchemy cards, but it probably wouldn't be my first choice.  I do want to play more games to get used to the cards and figure out how I can use them more effectively.  I also think it's worth it for me to play with a set that forces a combo strategy occasionally, just for a change of pace. But I'm pretty sure I won't be buying Alchemy at least for a while, especially since Andy already has it.

2010-06-10

DBA Army III/25b: Arab Conquest

Here is another Essex DBA army pack: III/25b: Arab Conquest.
The army is evenly split between mounted and infantry: a cavalry core is supported by warband and bows (or psiloi, if that's the way you roll).  The army list I'm most likely to play is: 5x3Cv (gen), 1x2LH, 4x4Wb, 2x3Bw. 

I liked my color scheme until it became too montonous.  I intended to go primarily with offwhite/tan, grey-blue, and red, and fill the rest in with various browns. But when it came time to paint some shields, I was at a loss.  The brighter blue wasn't too bad, but I think the green was a mistake.

Luckily I don't have strong feelings about this army.  It took a while to get motivation to paint it, and now that it's done I'm happy that it's finished and not upset that it's not what I'd prefer.

I used the same basing technique as on my Early Bedouin army.  The metal bases have a layer of spackle with sand dusted on top. Then I paint them with Vallejo Middlestone, followed by Yellow Tan and finally Buff.  It's a bit weird, but it ends up working well especially after I apply the static grass patches in green and yellow.  I based the Bw, Ps, and LH elements prior to painting them, but based the Cv and Wb after they were painted.  Spraying with varnish keeps the sand in place before painting the bases, which is convenient.  However, overall I think the basing on these is a huge pain in the ass.  I'm not likely to continue with this technique in cases where I'll be using grass-like flock over the entire base.  I'd prefer to do selected spots of dirt/sand on an otherwise grassy base.  It's a lot less messy and requires less touchup than applying spackle to bases with already-painted figures.

I tried another new technique with these figures, and I'm very happy with the results.  The red tunics and head wraps are done with Vallejo Transparent Woodgrain, a dark maroon-red.  I applied this in a single coat over the white-primed figure, and it did an excellent job of darkening the shadowed areas while leaving the highlights lighter without any additional inking required.  Adding a bit of water to thin it out produced no ill effects.  This is truly a transparent (or translucent) paint: adding more layers of paint darkens the color significantly instead of reaching a final tone the color of the pigment.

If I were picky, I'd change a few things about this army:
  • I think the warbands would be better off using spears rather than swords
  • I'd research more appropriate colors
  • I'd look into the possibility that my cavalry stands should have mixed figures instead of identical figures on each base
  • Overall, the cavalry seem better suited for use in the Crusades period
However, I'm not picky.  Lucky me!

I still have an arab tent camp to paint, but otherwise this army is ready to bring to Historicon 2010.

2010-06-09

Painting Workspace

Neldoreth started a thread on the Fanaticus forums about the workspace we use for painting miniatures.

My main workspace for painting miniatures and other modelling work is a nook in our attic dormer: probably 7'x8' and 6' high.  I use the rest of the attic for gaming space and general storage.

Points of interest in the first image include:
  • My paint shaker: a converted electric knife
  • O scale model railroad buildings destined for use as Malifaux terrain
  • Games Workshop boxes are good at catching excess flocking material
  • Elmer's glue by the gallon? I may as well buy a horse.
  • Yes, there are other hobbies stored on the shelves.
  • The card table provides supplemental horizontal surface area, as well as a workspace when friends come over to paint and watch crappy movies.
  • Crayola Model Magic! It's excellent for building hills and other terrain features out of a flexible, moldable 3D material.
It's probably obvious that I lean towards the "a clean house is the sign of a misspent life" school of thought.  When I organize my workspace, it is almost always as I'm planning or about to start a new project, and not when I'm finished with the previous one.  Organizing my workspace and organizing my plans for the next project go hand-in-hand.  If I don't need to put much thought into the next project, I also tend not to put much effort into preparing my workspace for its execution.

In the second photo:
  • This is an Ikea Jerker desk, one of the best computer desks made by man.  With independent height adjustment for the keyboard and monitor, this desk provided the best ergonomics available to mere mortals.  Luckily, with my adoption of a laptop and console gaming, I don't need it for programming or gaming anymore.  The only downside of the Jerker is its lack of drawers.
  • Although I built a paint rack from MDF and pine, I obviously don't use it as much as I could.  I'd benefit from a table top model instead of putting it against the back wall.
  • The only projects visible here are either not mine, or haven't been worked on in years. 
  • Yes, I use inexpensive brushes in high volume, except for a few "special" brushes.
  • Craft paint is fine for terrain, grey, and black. Modern GW washes and Didi's Magic Ink are good for shadows.  Other than that, I use Vallejo paints almost exclusively.
  • Yes, I have piles of unpainted figures.  The fact that you can't see them is a good thing.
There you have it!  They aren't the tools of the trade, because this is no trade.  They're the tools of fun!