28 February 2014

Grudge Match Preamble

It's almost a month since our last game of Blood Bowl. You may remember that my Undead managed to not only score – twice – but record my first win, against none other than tomorrows opponents… the Boomtown Rats.

The game tomorrow will feature my Darkblades, who have had some time resting on their backsides since the last time they met the Rats. That match had it all: injuries, a sending off, and four touchdowns including a last minute equaliser.

Things have changed a bit since then. The Rats have their aforementioned loss against the Undead, but it did give them a few more SPPs which Bull has used to great effect, adding a claw to one of his Blitzers. The Darkblades get their Runner back after she missed the last game, though they are now missing a lineman which means there will still be two journeyman Dark Elves on the team. 

I discovered that I hadn't added our "short season" bonus to my winnings last time out, so managed to add another re-roll and an Apothecary to the team. This will be great, however, my revised Team Value will give the Rats the chance to purchase inducements for the game. I don't like it but it can't be helped.

The Darkblades team itself is shaping up quite well. After the two touchdowns in their last game I now have a second Blitzer will a skill. Nenil Spinescourge now has Dodge, to add to Adin Heartrender's AG bonus from game 1. Heartrender is currently on 13 SPP so agonisingly close to his second skill. Elsewhere I have two Linemen and the Runner, Rakiri Razorwing, currently on 1 SPP so a good game and MVP will add skills here.

I would dearly love to lose the Journeymen, or at least replace one with a Witch Elf. However, I'm going into this game with no cash so I need a big win tomorrow and some lucky dice rolls to stand a chance. It'll probably take a fourth game to claw back enough money for a Witch and that's another game she's not getting SPPs. I did need the Apothecary though and the re-roll will be very useful.

As for my new Dark Elf models, things are progressing albeit slowly. The Runner is starting to look good; I have my two skilled Blitzers undercoated and the other two are waiting for the rain to stop so they can see the love of a spray can.

The intention is to have a painting session this evening so at least these five models all have some colour on them. The remaining linemen can be made up of the original metal models.

How do I expect the game to go tomorrow?

The Rats will be hurting from their loss to the Undead. Bull will be keen to make amends and with the Gutter Runners he always has a chance to score quickly. The new Claw will give his hitting a bit more punch and I'll have to be careful who I use to square up to it. The Rats will be able to open up the Darkblades defence easier than they did the Undead, so I've done some research on possible lineups to help with that. Above all else I need to be over the Gutter Runners like a rash – the less of them on the field of play, the less I have to worry about a sneaky score coming out of the blue.

I will have my Runner back, which should give me more offensive options. I didn't use her well in my first game and the Blitzers had to pick up the slack in the last one. I'm hoping the offence can be a bit more fluid this time. I learned a lot about 'the cage' in the Undead win and am hoping that it will come more naturally now.

Regardless, it's going to be a close game of high drama, I have no doubt.

24 February 2014

Designing A New Tabletop Game – part 1

We've all had a go no doubt at some point during our wargaming careers. We've dabbled in 'tweaking' rules, created new scenarios or army lists, built on current game systems or maybe even tried our hand at imagining a game from scratch. Not many of us get to see our ideas develop into physical form.

Over the last six months I've been lucky enough to not only observe a game become reality, but be a part of it. I've developed aspects of the game that suit my skill set, thrown my two cents' worth into ongoing discussions, and worked (metaphorically) alongside a great group of talented individuals from all over the world, none of whom I've actually met. The end result is quickly becoming one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever worked on (though it's going to take something special to beat the overseas Club 18-30 photoshoots in my past, with all those lovely female models).

Axiom SWAT

I was contacted last September by Brian from A Gentleman's Ones. Brian and myself go back a bit as we started our blogs around the same time. We have conversed a lot over time and in May 2010 collaborated on the Hailed vs Hated project – an email based, transatlantic game of 40k. When my Tale of 3 Painters project came to a conclusion in September 2012, little did I know that it was Brian who had won the final charity auction – amazing!

Brian had read on my blog that I was about to go freelance with my graphic designing and had a project that I might be interested in. He and some of his friends had started their own company, Anvil 8 Games, based in Chicago, and had been developing a new tabletop game for the best part of two years. Far from looking for free favours, Brian wanted to employ me to oversee the graphic design elements of the final product, as well as lend my experience in the print industry (and as a genuine gamer) to help in any other way that I could.

Of course I said yes!

When I came on board things were already well under way. The game itself was entering the alpha test stage, plus there were 3D sculpts of some amazing miniatures based on some truly inspiring artwork. This all helped to feed the motivation and flesh out the ideas behind the game.

Welcome to Aetherium

"It is a place that is no place at all. It is known as the Aetherium."

I won't go into specific detail about the game, it's background or history. Brian's blog and the Anvil 8 website do a much better job than I could. However, think of it in simplistic terms as a skirmish-level bedfellow of The Matrix – whilst doing the game no justice at all, that description should give you a vague idea of the genre and scale. Believe me, the more you read about the game, the more it sucks you in. Once you get to see the range of characters and models emerging for the game, your excitement hits an entire other level.

The team at Anvil 8 have dedicated large parts of the last two years of their lives developing and testing the game mechanics, as well as the background and world in which Aetherium takes place. I have to admit to being absolutely astonished at the level of detail in the information I was given and its base in reality. It all feels very solid, established and believable.

The Nanomei

My first task was to create a logo for the project. It took us quite some time, with many variations and permutations, to get to the final chosen result. We chose clean smooth curves with a glass-like finish that echoed the ideals of what the Aetherium was meant to be, its scientific/futuristic origins and fragile construction. The blurred nature of the glass texture implies that something is going on beyond the glass that you can't make out – strange and obscured – Alice through the Looking Glass indeed.

On the back of this I had a shot at creating the front cover artwork (top of the page) based upon the game's premise and sketches already done by the army of artists being used. Again, a lot of hours were ploughed into negotiating our way to a final result. This has since been replaced by a superb piece by lead artist David Nash, inspired by my efforts, but it helped me get a handle on what we – as a group – are trying to achieve with the game and forced Brian to try and describe to an outsider (me) exactly what the game was about.

Nanomei faction logo test

Next, the two starter factions – the Axiom and Nanomei – needed individual logos that took on the characteristics of each faction and helped to develop their own identity. I had seen illustrations of individual characters from the game – created by the very talented Heath Foley, whose work you will recognise from Mantic's various endeavours – and had a vague idea of who each faction was but, with great input from Brian and his fellow conspirators, that image was fleshed out and developed. In return I was able to throw in a few ideas of my own and gradually the visual identities of these opposing forces took shape.

3D model of special game dice

Whilst this was going on I got to see other elements being worked on in tandem. More images of 3D sculpts surfaced, whetting my appetite to see the finished product even more. Special dice icons that I had designed earlier in the process were suddenly taking physical form – a first for me and very exciting!

I also looked at icons to represent different types of terrain – and the Anvil 8 Games logo itself – before moving onto the guts of the project – the game cards and rulebook!!

Although I was brought onboard as an external consultant I find myself more and more attached to this game. As much as you want your clients' endeavours to be successful, this has been a truly unique experience for me. I get to work in the industry that is also my hobby, work alongside some amazing talent, and have a client who is a true gentleman. To say that it has been a pleasure working for Anvil 8 Games would be an understatement – it's got to be THE perfect job!

The Axiom

Anvil 8 Games will be taking Aetherium to Adepticon at the beginning of April. Just prior to that the game will be going up on Kickstarter. As a backer of several Kickstarter projects I can say, hand on heart and with no bias at all, that this will definitely be one you should look at. I can also say, with first hand experience, that Anvil 8 Games are looking to produce a very high quality end product. Their enthusiasm is endless and their attention to detail unflinching. This will indeed be something special.

In the next part I will be showcasing more of the amazing artwork from the game, more of my contributions, as well as explaining a little bit more about how the game is played, its rather cool game mechanic – the schema – and some finished models (hopefully painted if I get some time!).

For the sake of clarity, I have to reiterate that all the images you see here are the sole property of Anvil 8 Games.

See part 2 here…

20 February 2014

Building A Blood Bowl Team… part 6

It's been a while since we saw the new-look Darkblades, so I thought it time for an update.

You may remember that my Runner – Rakiri Razorwing – missed the last game against the Rats after getting injured in the Darkblades' opener versus the Orkland Raiders. Well I thought she should get some special treatment as I'm expecting big things in the next game.

Just a week away now, the rematch with the Boomtown Rats is starting to simmer already. I've slowly managed to get some paint on the Runner. I experimented on the skin tones using Vermin Brown, Dwarf Flesh, Elf Flesh and a little White. The ball made use of Vermin Brown again, with a little Black. I also wanted her to have contrasting hair so went with my old favourite Coal Black!

At some point I will look at adding some tones to the armour and picking out detail, though this is unlikely to happen before the big game. I also promise I WILL paint the eyes!

My two heroes on the Dark Elf team need to be looking the part too. Adin Heartrender, on the left, you already know – the 'dude' on the right is Nenil Spinescourge, scorer of my second TD against the Rats. He got some greenstuff love this evening, with a number disk on his back and knuckle duster.

I'm hoping to get a little colour on these, as well as my two other Blitzers, in time for the game – slowly work the new plastic models into the team. I'm happy to use the old linemen for now as the plastic ones need a lot of work and I'd rather concentrate what little time I have on these opening five models. It also frees up the Witch models that I've been using as stand-in Blitzers. Hoping to add one to the team sheet very soon.

More soon…

18 February 2014

Harry Potter Goes Dark Side…

There hasn't been much hobby progress in the last 7 days due to a rather busy and very stressful week. In lieu of any Blood Bowl news I thought I'd post a few more photos from our trip to the Warner Bros Studio Tour at Leavesden – this time some of the darker elements, not least the death eaters!

Enjoy and be inspired!

11 February 2014

Blood Bowl Dugout Extension

I've watched Bull making his latest scoreboard with some envy. It's just the kind of project I live for, however, given that I don't have a pitch yet a scoreboard seems rather redundant.

I decided that I needed to find an alternative. My paints are still packed away but I could start the next build at least. My undead dugout (above) is looking rather nifty and looked great next to the pitch in the last game we played, so I thought I should extend it.

I built my turn and re-roll markers for the undead to add character but they still end up sitting on the illustrated cardboard that comes in the game box.

Whilst these sheets serve a purpose for the fledgling gamer, I felt it was time I stepped things up. The dugout part was complete so I should build the rest of it – the turn and re-roll numbers.

I found a piece of hardboard and drew out a grid for my numbers, making sure there was plenty of room for my dugout to sit at the back. I did consider permanently gluing the dugout in place but decided against it for ease of storage and travelling.

Once done, I cut up lots of pieces of foamboard in roughly 25mm squares. I went at them a little with a scalpel and file then stuck them in place, leaving a gap between each one. Once this was well and truly dry I went back in with some Polyfilla. First of all I used it straight out of the tube to support and fill the edges, then I watered some down and poured it into the gaps.

The morning after and it's looking pretty good. The next stage will be to tidy up the filler in the gaps then glue down some sand. I don't envisage the painting to take long, though the numbers could be time consuming.

More soon…

I'd like to apologise again to anyone who received a random direct message from my Twitter account this morning. It seems to have been hacked and so I took the decision to deactivate it as I don't get chance to use it much anymore.

10 February 2014

A Visit To Harry Potter…

On Saturday my wife and I took my mum to the Warner Bros Studio Tour at Leavesden to visit the sets of the Harry Potter films.

I have to say that, whilst I enjoy the films, I wouldn't consider myself a Harry Potter fan per se. I do have to admit though that, despite the price, it was a very worthwhile visit and one all three of us thoroughly enjoyed. Being a designer and hobbyist I was particularly fascinated with a lot of the behind the scenes stuff, especially the scale models.

I'm not going to spoil it for anyone who intends to visit but I have added a few photos below – a fraction of the 200+ I took while we were there.

This last photo is of the scale model of Hogwarts and was breathtaking. It took 86 people 7 months to build and is by far the coolest piece of terrain ever! The footprint of the model was bigger than our house and the level of detail was stunning.

Normal service will now be resumed!

07 February 2014

Blood Bowl: Coach DT

I've always liked the idea of having your support characters (apothecary, cheerleaders, etc) physically present at the side of the pitch during a game. Bull has put this into great effect, firstly by hiring a Referee, then McMourning and the Nurses took a position in the dugout. His recent addition was… him!

Yes, Bull posted a week or so ago about his coach model that would be representing him on the sidelines. It wasn't until our recent game that I appreciated how cool this was – between the custom dugouts, the referee, the coach and a few advertising boards thrown in, you really start to create an atmosphere on game day.

I have seen a few Necromancer models that would make great Undead coaches, as well as some Dreadlords that would fit in well with the Dark Elves. However, I wanted a model that would reasonably fit both my teams. The answer came to me at 2am the other night when I woke up with this guy (above) pictured in my head. A quick visit to the attic this afternoon and here he is. The Albion Dark Emissary is a superb model – creepy enough for the Undead and (if painted appropriately) just about suitable for the Dark Elves. A perfect proxy for me on the sidelines.

With the next game featuring the Darkblades versus the Rats, I have some serious modelling and painting to do – stay tuned!

04 February 2014

Post-Game Happy Dance

I've had time to get over my first ever Blood Bowl win at the weekend. I happy danced myself all the way back down the motorway on Sunday afternoon – my first win and the first time that the Undead have scored.

After the elation comes the contemplation. What was so different with this match? What combination of variables collaborated to give me my first win? I think there are several.

First of all, without doubt, the introduction of two additional Ghouls into the team made a big difference. The fact that my Two-Touchdown hero is modelled actually carrying the ball also helped I think, even if only psychologically. It made the team a little faster and, having got used to the Dark Elves in more recent games, I made use of what I had learned and tailored it to the abilities of the Undead.

My opponents for the day were the Boomtown Rats.
This meant that the Undead could also do what they're meant to do – bash!

Bashing is something they've not be great at when facing the Orcs, simply because the Orcs are better at it and have high armour. The Rats had to buddy up to hit most of my Undead players, and when facing Mummies had to be in groups of three or four. The Mummies finally scored their first couple of Casualties, which is a relief. Of course it should have been more, but I can't complain – I went through a good spell of getting high dice for armour rolls against the Rats and there were prone vermin all over the place. We just couldn't convert them into casualties.

Possession. As I mentioned in the match report, the Rats only had the ball for 5 turns out of the 16. This put pressure on Bull to get the ball off me, which in turn played into the bashy aspect of the Undead – up to that point the Rats had been quite stand-off. I could take my time, grinding my way towards the end zone, eating up time and turns. So long as I didn't do anything silly, or leave my ball carrier exposed, things would come good. Keeping possession of the ball also meant that the Rats couldn't make best use of their biggest strength – speed. Once they had the ball, I had a real fight on my hands to do much about it – as the Dark Elves did in the last match – so the best way to stop them scoring was to not give them the ball.

Familiarity. Bull has had time to get used to the Rats a little now. He plays them well – even using Gutter Runners to block – so the fact that he was facing something new (or a new incarnation of something he thought he knew) meant that it took him a little time to acclimatise. My first half TD was evidence of this – by the second half he was more adventurous and got better results trying to break down the cage. Similarly, until picking up the Dark Elves, the Undead are the only team I've ever fielded in Blood Bowl. Whilst I was reasonably comfortable with them, having a different lineup meant I could try new things – e.g. I swapped round my reserve Skeletons and Zombies at different kick-offs depending upon whether I was kicking or receiving.

Experience and Restraint. I was very tempted on several occasions to make a block or blitz to take down a Gutter Runner, yet found myself being cautious. The most important thing for most of the game was to protect my ball carrier, so gave up quite a few blocking opportunities for the sake of the big picture. A couple of games ago this would not have been the case and I would probably have lost the game as a consequence. It also meant I was rolling less dice and by marking Bull's players rather than hitting them meant that he was having to dodge to get away – this ultimately led to the dice roll that ended the game.

Looking forward…

Our next game will be a rematch of the Darkblades vs Boomtown Rats. This will be a very interesting game indeed. After the 2-2 tie in their opening face-off, and the Rats' loss this week, the playing field will be a different arena completely.

The Rats have some skills now and Bull has learned a lot more about them. I too have learned a lot about the Skaven, but need to get a decent game under my belt before the Darkblades face the Orcs again in the following match. I need to have acquired an Apothecary by then or I could be in real trouble – some new skills would help too.

The Gutchewers will get a breather for a couple of games before facing the Rats again. I have a Ghoul and Mummy in need of an MVP paint job – that's the least they deserve after their first win!