Forward Observer 18

War of the Ring

I have always been split over Games Workshop’s Lord of the Rings range. I really liked the movies, didn’t much care for the skirmish rules, while the figures are, in my ever so humble, some of the best ever made. Me being me, I have acquired a few samples here and there, mainly at a huge discount on eBay. I can live with the guilt, and of course now I am very glad because they have been drafted into my War of the Ring armies.

War of the Ring is the new set of mass battle rules from our chums in Nottingham. Where you once had Gandalf, a ranger and few hobbits representing the forces of good, now you can have hundreds of figures in companies and squadrons, with heroes to boot. I will leave you to infer the commercial driver, but safe to say GW’s eye-watering metal prices are out in force, especially for command figures. I make my own!

The rule book itself is excellent; a real inspiration. You may say that at £35 it blinking well should be. I would love to see the same thing done for Napoleonics. In short, there are a few pages of rules, a few more of special rules and spells, and then a couple of hundred full of army lists, with colour illustrations forming a retrospective catalogue. Almost all the figures so far released are featured, and there are spaces where, presumably, new releases may be glued in. Like Panini World Cup stickers. The only anomaly, and much to be regretted, is that there are only two pages on terrain making – normally something at which GW excels. Perhaps a dedicated book yet to come?

So how does it play? Well, I bought it on the basis that there are heroic challenges, no saving rolls or guesstimating of ranges and that it is much more streamlined than Warhammer – I for one can never remember what all those ratings mean. I also intended to leave out the magic wherever possible as I had heard it was powerful. It is. The rules are short, and the systems fairly consistent, and the game fast. The trade off was apparently lots of dice. The result is a game that I got quite excited about, envisioning all those LOTR figures having a new life and even a rule set that might work for big battle dark ages, Arthurians and samurai.

Although I have played twice since, I took the opportunity to learn the rules from super enthusiastic GW staff at the Milton Keynes show. Yes, I was playing two eight year olds. Yes, I enjoyed myself a lot. The only major drawback was the ‘buckets of dice’ system. Every figure in a unit rolls, there can be a lot of figures, and you usually add bonuses. At one point I was rolling forty odd six siders. You can’t easily do that for any number of reasons. You certainly can’t if you have little eight year old hands. I am thinking about rolling by company rather than formation, and/or keeping the units small, and am looking into the rule changes one might need.

A secondary gripe is that the mechanisms aren’t consistent. So everything is standard and pleasantly memorable until we come to, for instance, shooting ballistae, or killing large monsters. At this point we try to remember whether we roll for hits or for damage or on the specific death table, and reach for the rule book. Shame, as a little more work could have made for a very transparent, consistent and workable system. Still, not the end of the world.

Movement is slightly weird. Most infantry units move six inches <ironic cheers from old schoolers>, with dwarves and hobbits being slower, and Elves and goblins faster. But rangers and Uruks are no quicker, which seems odd. Ghosts, on the other hand, have Usain Bolt as a sprinting coach. However, bear in mind that basic movement can be doubled or even tripled, and missile ranges are long. The corollary is that you need quite a large table. At least 6×4, I would guess, if only to leave important room for manoeuvre. I am sorely tempted to convert inches to centimetres and see how that helps. But fast moving it certainly is.

The second trait is that the game is deadly. In one encounter my Uruk pikes were dealt 90% casualties. First round, no messing. Reminded me of Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic rules! Certainly anything charging at you, looking remotely troll-like, or called Boromir, should be carefully avoided. And never, ever let yourself be flanked. Conversely, get a unit of 48 rangers or elves with longbows and you can leave your Nebelwerfers at home.

After three small games I am going to cautiously say I like it, and that with some house rule tweaks it could be very good. While we still have the usual GW deathly prose and ‘cheese’ (gamey tactics, army building and points devices to gain advantage) to negotiate, the designers have clearly been reading around the topic and have done a good job. In summary: dicey, decisive and deadly.

Partizan

Hollywood has the Oscars, but it also has its private parties. Partizan has gone much the same way. While the show still offers superb games, plenty of goodies and a chance to chat to friends for several hours, this year I found myself drawn further afield: in the car park looking at custom buildings; in a dark corner of the bar fondling exquisite trees; and in one case under a table looking at unreleased figures. I can’t talk about anything apart from the figures, which were new SYW Austrians from Minden. Sculpted by Richard Ansell, these are little wonders. Richard gets better and better with each batch, and in my mind is now destined for glory.

Partizan purchases were very restrained – the Credit Crunch has recently reached Sumo Towers. I could not resist the new Perry Rifles (I think I am fast approaching a 1:1 unit across all makes) or the first half dozen packs of 40mm Crusaders and Saracens from First Legion. I have been waiting for these for some time, and now they are here I am pleased to say they are rather better than the pictures on the web. Very finely detailed, and good faces. On the downside, some have thin limbs and the metal is of the ‘hard and brittle’ variety. Overall, an excellent addition to my 40mm Feudals and I will be looking for promised new releases. TM Terrain carry these in the UK.

Bottling It

As I have mentioned before, I have far too many paints. Years of trying new ranges and colours has left me with, ohhh, a card table full of pots. Naturally this means I don’t get round to using them all, or unable to find them when I want them. Most survive this negligence, but I recently opened a ‘brand new’ pot of Dark Angels Green to find it dried solid. Checking other GW colours, I found I had lost about twelve pots with others on the turn. Not happy. What is that, £25 these days? More? So because my Vallejos last forever (I still have the original Prince Augusts I bought in France), I decided to decant all my GW colours into Vallejo bottles. I bought thirty from Creative Models at 30p each and, after a messy couple of hours, all the survivors were safely transferred. I added a drop of distilled water and a stainless ball bearing to each bottle, stuck on a label, and I am happy again. Plus they take up a lot less room!  I have to say it would be nice to have all my paints bottled this way.

Washes

I won’t go on about GW washes again, because I feel I have shilled enough. Simply indispensable, and seemingly a widespread success. It makes sense then that Vallejo have made a move in the same area. I bought the first three Game Colour washes from Doug at Em4, and eagerly tried them out. So far we have black, sepia, and pale: all matt, and at £1.55 for 17ml are considerably less pricey than GW (£2.50 for 12ml). They are somewhat thinner than GW’s, and this allows more subtle results. The trade off is that they don’t have the intensity.

Pale is a sort of restrained browny grey that can go straight onto solid white or off-white with excellent results (tailor made for Austrians!). It reminds me of the Mig Productions neutral wash, for those familiar, but this is far less smelly. The black settles better than the GW mix, which does seem to be an anomaly, but is not as dark so may need a couple of passes. It makes an interesting second glaze over the pale shade. Again, it is great for uniforms and chainmail but perhaps a too subtle to get weapons to ‘pop’. Finally, we have a decent sepia. I love sepia. Use it all the time.

It is worth saying that these washes are subtly different to the Vallejo inks, also very useful by the way, in that they ‘settle’ rather more readily as one would expect. Still, both liquids are worth experimenting with and I look forward to more wash colours. Recommended, and Vallejo pigments are imminent and on order. More next time.

The Diary Bit

In the last twelve months I have painted and based well over 300 figures, made 40 trees and ten buildings, now happily filling a small table. They are also raising storage concerns… While this may be the work of one week to some of the dedicated painters out there, this is a major achievement for me. I’m pleased. Combined with at least monthly games, I remain more committed to and enthused by the hobby than at any time since the Seventies – perhaps a tad over committed, but hopefully not.

I am still jumping around the periods, but where there was once chaos and confusion I am now coalescing to a handful of core projects. I am trying to get two gameable forces painted in each, and then build up slowly by adding units. This approach keeps me interested (I paint in small batches) and flexible – if I don’t want to paint Ikko-Ikki or Naps, I do a tank or a troll instead. At the same time, the 40mm fad is passing quickly, but will be revived by new Normans and peasants from Sash & Saber, and talk of a new ‘anatomical’ and budget priced tricorne range from Andy Copestake. Can’t wait to see these.

My recent focus has been LOTR and 28mm samurai and once based, the latter will be ready for their first game. I still have some West Wind and Black Hat to paint, and these will come on stream later this month. I will add some more command, monks, peasants and civilians over time, and quite a bit more cavalry. Meanwhile my attention turns to rules and buildings. Next up will probably be an ECW unit or two to see if my interest is as strong as it now seems, and then I will apply myself full time to 40mm Feudals, LOTR and Napoleonic plastics for the summer. Hoping that we actually have a summer this year…

The result of all this is I find I am now doing a lot of painting ‘for the table’ and to an extent I don’t mind what happens to these figures in terms of wear and tear. How we change… The ‘table’ painting standard is acceptable, using wash techniques for speed. This approach is typified by LOTR plastics where I paint 16 or 24 figures in about two hours, do simple bases, and drop them into the sabot bases where they are ready for action.

At the other end of the scale there are figures and horses that I take a lot of time over. This is because the sculpts are so nice,  or in the case of my beloved 30mm Napoleonics, that I am reluctant to use them. I will, but I am very careful! I realise a lot of this is because I still don’t (and won’t) varnish figures I have spent hours painting and basing. In a few cases there are also figures that I can see never being used on the table, but that is okay as well.

Plastics

Nothing on plastics this time. Relieved sighs. No change in my view, but nothing new and I am just a bit worn down by the negative attitudes – even from those who have no intention of using the products. I was actually a bit downcast until I saw a picture of Dave Andrews in the latest White Dwarf, accompanied by a huge stack of sprues. If plastic is good enough for Dave Andrews, it is good enough for me.