Monday, April 27, 2015

Double Blind Gaming.

Over a year ago our game club, Army Group York, began discussing the elusive holy grail of realism in wargaming: double blind games. We wanted a true fog of war experience. We discussed a variety of options and methods to achieve the solution for the eternal problem of the "100 foot general". Players being able to see all the units on both sides on the table at all times might be impressive visually, but it is hardly realistic in representing the actual battlefield as experienced by commanders and soldiers doing the fighting. Fog of war sounds simple enough...but how do you do it? More importantly, how do you do it and still continue to play a game involving miniatures?

After long discussions, we settled on several requirements for a double blind system: It had to be easy to use, cheap enough to make, and we wanted to avoid having to use a GM. We settled on an old solution of drawers, or boxes, to represent grid spaces on a map that corresponded to grid spaces on the game table. Each box was assigned a letter and number, much like the game Battleship from our childhood. We also settled on 6" squares for our grid. This worked well in that the squares were small enough to allow for detailed tracking of troops on the table space, yet not so small as to require too many boxes to keep track of. The end result was a game table divided into 6" squares, each corresponding to the double blind rig of 8 boxes tall by 12 boxes wide. This made for 96 boxes. That's a lot of boxes, but not unmanageable.

We originally used a system of matchboxes glued together to form a series of drawers wherein players placed tokens to represent soldiers or units in their force. These drawers allowed players to keep track of the location, movement, and actions of their forces. It also opened up opportunities for using pre-game artillery barrages, hidden minefields, beaten zones of machine gun fire, ambushes, and all kinds of other fun battlefield trickery. This worked reasonably well and did allow for GM free double blind games. In fact, we loved it so much we talked about never wanting game without double blind again. The tension created in not knowing where the enemy is located forced us as players to actually use reconnaissance, hold reserves, and allowed us to flank the enemy. We remarked about how much better and different the game became when forced into a tactical situation without the perfect knowledge we had been used to as wargamers.

Despite the enthusiasm, the rig we built didn't get used that much. I think it was partially because a bunch of matchboxes glued together isn't very much fun to use. I felt there had to be some other way. I scoured the internet for custom wooden boxes, storage boxes, plastic bins, tiny drawers, I thought about making my own tiny boxes with their own lids or hinges...all kinds of ideas poured out. In my brainstorming I decided I wanted this double blind rig to lay flat like the table. Our matchbox system was vertical and I felt a flat system would translate more intuitive visually from table to map.

Then I discovered a company that makes tiny plastic boxes with hinged, snap shut lids. LA Container makes a range of plastic boxes called "Flex-a-Top". These were perfect for my use. I chose the 1.25" square box, .75" deep. They make them in black and clear, but for some reason the black boxes are a lot more expensive. I ordered mine for $.45 a piece from US Plastic Corporation.

Now that I had my boxes, I needed to make a rig to hold them. For this, there wasn't really any good option than sucking it up and building it myself. It was kind of a pain in the ass, but it was kind of fun as well. It was also very satisfying to finish. The rig itself holds each individual box place, allowing for each box lid to be opened easily. Each box was then labeled with a Letter and Number according to the grid to match our 4'x6' table. I did not glue the boxes into the rig because I wanted to be able to remove or replace them. They fit snguly enough to hold them in place anyway. The only minor problem seemed to be that the boxes are a little tricky to open if you don't have fingernails!

Here are some pics to show off the rig. Pics of the first game using this system will follow!

The boxes arranged as they correspond to the table grid.

Putting together the walls of the rig. Outside walls first, then vertical.

Each box had to fit snugly, so I used the boxes themselves as spacers.

Putting in the cross walls.

Getting there...labeling each box was tedious.


And it works!

Sample map.

Player marking movement from one grid to another.

Player moving unit marker to another grid.

Player using reconnaissance to peek into a grid.

Their hunch was correct!Enemy unit spotted.

Pregame artillery barrage!
The barrage marked for the enemy player to discover when he deploys. 

 I hope you enjoyed this project. If you haven't tried it before, I really recommend double blind gaming. There's no wargame experience like it!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Rynn's World: Thrugg Bullneck, Hruk, and Pedro Kantor.

Getting back into Warhammer 40,000 has made me nostalgic, but in a different kind of way. Rather than going back to my wargaming roots with the original models I bought to play Rogue Trader all those years ago, I decided to give the old theme a new twist. I wanted to play the first wargame I had ever played, the "Battle at the Farm" from the original Rogue Trader rulebook, but with new models. While I have a fond nostalgia for my gaming origins, that fondness does not carry over to the models themselves. I know Oldhammer is big these days, and I get that. It's just that, well, to my eyes the old models suck. They haven't aged well in my opinion. They look like the lumps of lead from the 1980s that they were. And that's ok really. It's just not very aesthetically pleasing to me. I really like how the imagery of Warhammer 40,000 has progressed over the years (if not always what they have done with the universe-especially the Squats!). That doesn't mean I like the look of all of the new models. But I do think there has been a pretty steady development in the quality of the style.

Anyway. The Orks project I had started a few years back but just got rolling recently has gotten me in the mood to refight the old scenario. To that end I had finished a squad of Crimson Fists marines, but did not have a Pedro Kantor to lead them. I could have just bought the Games Workshop version of this iconic leader, but I didn't like how he was armed and it just didn't fit in with the style of the rest of my force. And while I had finished a whole horde of Orks, they didn't have a Thrugg Bullneck or his sneaky henchman Hruk to lead them either. I could have used the warboss I had painted up, but it just didn't quite have the right character for Thrugg nor was it armed properly.

So, I recently finished a few models to rectify this. Below are pics of my own conversions of Thrugg Bullneck, Hruk, and Pedro Kantor.

Here is Thrugg Bullneck. An ork nob of the Waaagh Snagrod the Arch Arsonist's forces during the attack on Rynn's World. I made a custom chainsword for him to wield and tried to capture some of the original pose and feel of the older model.

For comparison, here is the original Thrugg Bullneck (pic is from the Stuff of Legends website).

Here is Thrugg's sneaky git and right hand man, Hruk. This time I used pretty much standard Ork nob parts, but added a blade taken from an Ork Deff Dred power saw. I tried to keep the original pose and feel with this one too. I decided to keep the head simple because I didn't want to add goggles or the weird helmet crest of the original to keep it in the theme of my current Ork army.

And here is the original Hruk.

I owned this box set back when I first got into Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader. Thrugg Bullneck's Ork Raiders and the first Space Marine Box set (RTB01) were the first real models I painted (and painted badly).

Last but not least is Pedro Kantor himself: chapter master of the Crimson Fists as he was armed and equipped from the original Rogue Trader Battle at the Farm scenario. I used parts from a number of Space Marine kits both recent and old. The legs, shoulder pad, backpack and chest are from the Sternguard box. The helmet is old and I'm not even sure where it came from (it was in my bits box). The rest is standard Space Marine parts such as pouches and grenades. I gave him a Power Glove and a Bolt Pistol and a pretty simple pose. I hope he captures the feel of the original game (there was no specific Pedro Kantor model back then), but with a little updated look to set him apart from the rest of the squad.

And here is the force he will be leading:

I hope you enjoy this (slightly updated) trip down memory lane. I will be running the original Battle at the Farm scenario using Disposable Heroes: Point Blank modified for Warhammer 40,000. Once I paint these models and finish a few buildings that is...

Stay tuned!

(also coming soon...more Badab War stuff. Mantis Warriors, Sons of Medusa, Lamenters etc. Keep your eyes on this space!).