Monday, 23 April 2012

Alternative models: Zvezda "The Beast"

Now here's something really different. It got posted on Dakkadakka in a discussion about Russian plastics and immediately drew my eye. Apparently it used to be sold as part of Zvezda's now defunct sci-fi game line (whose name Google translates to "Starship Troopers", amusingly enough.)

 It took hours of searching and Google translating but I finally managed to obtain one from an online shop in Ukraine (yes, it looks like I snagged the last one in stock... sorry).

This was my first Zvezda kit, but they have a reputation for high quality historical models, so I wasn't worried in that regard. I knew the reputation was justified the moment I opened the box, as even the packaging is top-notch. The sprues come bagged and bubble wrapped inside the box, and even the instruction sheet comes in its own little A5 binder sleeve.

The crab comes in two large sprues and one small sprue for the legs. It also comes with 5 small, red pegs that I assume are wound markers. The size of the beast is very impressive in 15mm scale, rivaling Old Crow's heaviest tanks.

The sprues also contain an optional manned turret. I would guess that the gunner is roughly 35-40mm scale, considerably bigger than GW's "heroic" 28mm infantry. Luckily a bit is provided to plug the turret mount, and the crab itself has absolutely no scale-dependent detail. Of course, it is also large enough to carry any 15mm scale turret you might have lying around...

And here it is in all its unpainted glory. This is a superbly detailed model that will rival any metal or resin cast from the usual 15mm peddlers. If you want to run any sort of sci-fi biotech faction, the Beast is a must-have. Just hurry up, as unfortunately Zvezda has abandoned this product line (which contained many other gems) so once they're gone, they're gone.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Silent Treatment

Hi, it's been a while. Waiting for my latest Old Crow order really drained my enthusiasm - it took no less than 5 weeks this time. But now it's finally here and I can pore over some more cool models!

Starting with the sculpts we've already seen, here is my second Sabre. A great cast with no bubbles this time.

Two more Gladius tanks, this time with "tank hunter" turrets. I wasn't too impressed with the design of these turrets from the pictures on the website, but they are really nice in person.

Gecko scouts, pick-up version. One of them has two bubbles on the underside, the other one is perfect. The rear compartment fits a (unbased) GZG guy perfectly.

Halberd assault guns. Neat design with two barrel options (the same as on the Sabre, I think) and a metal top hatch. This could probably be replaced with one of the tiny turrets that come with Old Crow's APCs. The hull consists of two parts, with the bottom being the same as on the Glaive and Gladius.

I also wanted to try some if the fancier turrets that don't come with any tanks and have to be purchased separately, so I got two "Tac Missile" turrets. These come as a resin sensor array with 4 impressively large missiles cast in metal (with barely a mold line to be seen!) Mounting these on a Gladius chassis makes for a pretty interesting support platform.

Since I now had two extra turrets, I also got two immobile turret bases. They look nice and chunky and will make a nice addition to my forces when they have to defend a static position.

There we go. Another batch of great casts (I'd say maybe 8 bubbles in this whole lot combined, and nothing in critical places) from Old Crow. I own almost their entire 15mm catalogue now, so I guess I'm done until they make some new stuff!

That's it for now. Thanks for reading and happy gaming.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Game Theory, part 7: Setting

Continuing with the less "crunchy" topics, this week I want to take a look at how game systems can incorporate setting (background, lore or "fluff" as it is commonly called). To start with, I think I can categorize settings depending on how in-depth they are presented.

Historical: Games set in the real world can provide as much or as little detail as the authors like; players can always get more information from other sources and obsessive gamers (of which there is no lack in historical games) can find a practically unlimited amount of data. Armies in historical games are typically expected to adhere to historical fact, sometimes down to such pedantic detail as the exact colour of a general's shoelaces.

Unique: By this I mean games set in their own fully developed universe. There is no shortage of such games in 28mm scale. Warhammer 40k and Battletech are, of course, the undisputed leaders in regards to the amount of published setting material, each beating all the other games combined by orders of magnitude. But many other games, such as Warmachine and Infinity, also boast detailed worlds with their own detailed histories, established factions with their own agendas, memorable characters, and so on. Players often immerse themselves in all this background information just as much as the historical crowd, and it can play a big part in choosing a faction to play.

Generic: Some games, especially at scales smaller than 28mm, only provide a rudimentary framework of a setting, perhaps with a simple timeline and some sample factions, intended to provide only a basic sense of genre but leaving it up to the players to define the details. This is a common approach for stand-alone rulesets that are not associated with any specific model line. In the more extreme cases, there is no explicit setting information at all, although some aspects of it can be implied by artwork or game rules (if the system includes rules for laser weapons, for example, then such technology should exist in the setting).

Franchise: These are games set in a previously established universe. Sometimes they are licensed (like Mongoose Publishing's Starship Troopers or GW's Lord of the Rings) and these games provide fans of the franchise a glimpse into their beloved setting from a different angle, or allow new people to discover the property through the game. Licensed games benefit from being able to draw on a large amount of preexisting setting information, but timid game developers can also treat it as a straightjacket, unwilling to make alterations that could improve gameplay.

There are no licensed 15mm games or models that I've seen (excepting the upcoming Halo line from McFarlane) but as I've noticed since I started following the 15mm scene, a lot of gamers are determined to play in established settings (in these 8 weeks or so I have seen threads about Aliens, Firefly, Star Trek, Tremors, The Thing, Batman, RIFTS and 40k in 15mm... and that's just off the top of my head) and desperately seek appropriate miniatures. Some 15mm figure manufacturers seem to cater to this crowd, producing many obvious, unlicensed rip-offs. I know this might incense some readers, but let's call a spade a spade.

I'm not sure why so many people cling to certain franchises so fiercely that they are willing to field either unlicensed ripoffs or loose approximations. Perhaps the 15mm scene is just so starved for the sort of rich and engaging settings prevalent in 28mm but completely absent in 15mm. Or maybe it's due to the scale's strong overlap with historical gaming - re-enacting battles from an established franchise is, in a way, a "historical" approach, just not set in the real world. I don't doubt the players doing it are having fun (and I certainly won't tell anyone they shouldn't have fun), I just don't understand why.

Well, I finally got that off my chest, moving on.

Assuming a game does incorporate some setting information, at least implied, how does it affect the rules?

The most obvious factor is the setting's tech level, which can (and should) determine some aspects of gameplay, such as a force's command structure (a topic that might merit an article of its own). Then there is the inclusion of specific technologies, such as grav drives, energy weapons, force fields... and depending on the pervasiveness of these technologies, they can either be integral to the functioning of all models, or special upgrades found only on the most advanced units.

A well-developed setting can also offer different factions to play, each with its own character, goals and technological prowess, all of which can be reflected in the rules. The inclusion of alien factions typically depends on whether faster than light travel is possible in the setting.

Of course, unless we're talking about an established franchise, a setting is likely to be developed alongside the rules and designed to accommodate whatever the authors wish to include in the rules at least as much as the rules are designed to accommodate what they wish to include in the setting.

As always, feel free to tell me about your gaming preferences, your favourite settings and why I'm wrong about the ripoffs. Ta ta!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Alternative models: Mode Lock mecha

Looks like it's time to review some more goodies from Japan. Here we have two ridiculously cheap plastic mecha kits, a Gernsback and Falke from the anime Full Metal Panic. At this price, I wasn't expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Box contents are minimalistic. Each kit consists of two monochrome sprues and a tiny (but sufficient) one-sided instruction sheet. No stickers or decals, no stand.

Ball joints, ball joints everywhere! There are about 4 pieces that attach with a hole-and-peg system, everything else goes together with ball joints, even pieces that are not supposed to move (like the barrel of the giant rifle). There are even ball joints on the sprue (see the centre of the sprue on the right) - at first I thought they put them there as a joke, but actually you are supposed to cut up the sprue itself to create a stand for the model. The great part about all these ball joints is that the model goes together without any glue at all and is fully poseable.

 The last time I ordered a kit from Japan I was astounded to see multicoloured sprues. The Japanese are apparently determined to challenge all the common misconceptions we have about plastic injection molding, so this kit has undercuts. Loads of undercuts. They're slight and can't really be made out on the picture, but take my word for it (or just think about how a ball joint works for a moment).

Assembling the kits is a snap (ha ha!) They did end up being a bit bigger than I expected, so I'm not sure if I want to use them. They will certainly require some more sensible weaponry (the Falke actually comes with just a sword...) 

Also, some of the bigger pieces are hollow and open at the back, as can be seen here. If I wanted the models "done right" I would have to fill those in or cover them with additional armour plates.

The good part of these kits is certainly the poseability and the slightly more down-to-earth design than some of the other anime mecha. The Gernsback in particular doesn't look too bad alongside the Old Crow grav vehicles (and not just because they're both unpainted grey) but the size could be an issue. The mecha are probably about twice the volume of a battle tank. For the moment, my verdict for these kits is "undecided".