Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

A review: Dragon Age 2

If you’re one of those people that freaks out when you see a spoiler, go ahead and click on the “Back” button on your browser. I’m gonna get into some depth on this.

In order to review Dragon Age 2, I need to step back to the first game and delve into what I did and didn’t like about the game. It’s important, at least for me, to establish a base line. Dragon Age: Origins was an okay game — not great, but good. I’ll start with the positive.

The story itself was tight and well-crafted, despite hitting two tropes I didn’t care for — more on that later. It worked and worked well, and it didn’t adhere to the stereotypical fantasy setting. Elves as a race were broken with many living as second-class citizens in the ghettos of human cities. Dwarves are receding into isolationism due to their constant fight with Darkspawn. Humans… well… humans are dicks, but that’s not too far removed from reality.

Missions made sense, gathering allies and resources to help fight the Blight, and didn’t stray too far from the core story line. The spread of the Blight was handled well, despite the game not having a strict time table for events (typical to computer RPGs). Game play was a good attempt at mixing turn-based and real-time RPG mechanics, with the exception of the army summoning feature that was used during the final battle.

So what went against it? Well, there was the mute protagonist, something of an endangered species with gaming these days. I think what really got to me was the combination of the “save the world” and the “last of my order” tropes. This tends to lead to a “Chosen One” protagonist, which is something I strongly dislike. One might argue that Ferelden isn’t the world, but for the purposes of DA:O it sure was. And yes, you can argue that your character isn’t the last of the Wardens, and that much is true. You don’t have to be the one to kill the Archdemon, nor do you have to sacrifice yourself should you choose to do the deed. The game has enough options to work around that, but first impressions can be lasting.

Bioware caught some flack for not carrying through with their original promise of carrying the Hero of Ferelden through to the second game in the series. Also gone is the ability to customize your character — choices are now limited to class and gender, with race and origin no longer on the list. I can understand this sort of change. Without considering origins, you have eighteen potential storylines surrounding a protagonist. That’s a lot of work, especially when it comes to dialogue trees. Given as I wasn’t as emotionally invested with DA:O as others, I could look past that and give the game a fair go.

So what worked for DA2? Let’s start with gameplay.

Combat is faster paced, if heavily influenced by “God of War” button mashing to attack and use special abilities. The list of abilities is robust, allowing for extensive customization to make up for lack of character building. Refresh times for potions make for a more challenging experience, forcing you to strategize, even if the amount and appearance of reinforcements gets ridiculous at times.

As protagonists go, I like and dislike Hawke (and I’m only critiquing the male Hawke). The voice and the in-game look don’t match the character I saw in the trailer. That version of Hawke had an intensity to him that got replaced by a more jovial nature. The character still worked for me in the long run.

I liked the scale and scope of the plot of the DA2 much better than DA:O. This wasn’t a “save the world at first level” quest — it starts with Hawke just trying to save himself and his family. Using Varric as an unreliable narrator also worked well. Despite a deus-ex machina moment with Flemeth in the prologue, I was glad to see the pacing for DA2 was more relaxed. While the geographic scope was more limited, and by proxy the ability to explore, the game made the most of its environment.

Act One reminded me of Baldur’s Gate 2, going on various quests to raise capital for a larger expedition to the Deep Roads. Once I made the connection I was fine with how the plot played out. A good old-fashioned treasure hunt was a fine change of pace. Act Two was even better, a play on the conflicts of race and religion — more the former than the latter. Watching the tension build up between humans and Qunari to a boiling point made the game all the more worthwhile. I actually felt a sense of dread at what was coming, even if I did predict some of it.

Then came Act Three.

The third act, focusing on the rising conflict between Mages and Templars (more a religious issue than presented in the previous act) was both short and buggy. I had fewer quests to exploit and I ran into issues with several. One went unclaimed due to timing on my part, but another went by the wayside because I couldn’t talk to a key NPC at all. Then there were the trapped areas that you had to cross while the traps were active because the visual effects weren’t timed to the mechanical effect.

But the worst of it was the plot. Without the plot building the first two acts had, we never get to see the tensions between the two groups rise in a logical manner. In addition, it’s also the first time we meet Knight-Commander Meredith — a character whom we are told is mean, nasty, punches babies and flips off kittens. When you first interact with her, she comes across as so callous and unsympathetic, it’s difficult to take the Templars’ side from the very beginning.

The worst of it comes with the game’s final quest, a sequence of events so illogical it made my head spin. It starts when your party meets outside the Chantry to try to calm things down between Meredith and Orsino. The core of this conflict is that Mages are being treated poorly by the local Templars and being repressed. There’s an undercurrent of dissent among the community of Mages, leading some to become Apostates or resort to blood magic. In other words, the actions the Mages are taking help prove the Templars right when they say Mages are dangerous.

Anders is one such Apostate, sick and tired of being sick and tired of his brother Mages suffering under such tyranny, so what does he do? He blows up the Chantry as part of his “Free Cuba” screed. Templars may hang out there, but they have their own barracks in another part of this city. So instead of wiping out the Templars in their base, Anders instead chooses to grease a large number of innocent people, including the Head Cleric of the Chantry, a person trying to stay out of the conflict and get the two parties to act like adults.

Meredith’s response to this is equally inexplicable. Instead of cutting down the idiot Apostate that’s admitting to the deed and standing not more than two paces away from her, she invokes the Right of Annulment, which is an order kill all of the Mages in the Circle — even though NONE of them are involved in this whole mess. Even though Anders is fessing up to the deed and is RIGHT THERE!

Ander’s action is like someone blowing up the Vatican because he doesn’t like the KKK. The response is like punishing all licensed drivers because one unlicensed idiot ran over people while drunk. Like the Chewbacca defense, it makes no sense. What makes even less sense is that even though all parties involved are all in the same area and ready to throw down, they decide to break off an head to an isolated part of the city to duke it out for the game’s final battle.

And then after the final fight, Varric delivers an epilogue, which can be summed up as “after killing Meredith and creating another power vacuum in Kirkwall, the Champion and his friends all fucked off, and I haven’t seen him since.” And then they mention the Hero of Ferelden (the protagonist from the first game) disappeared.

Wait, what?

I think the game suffered from deadline syndrome, also known as “It’s shipping when? Shit, we gotta wrap this all up!” Game reviewer Ben “Yahtzee” Crosshaw once suggested a designer’s first priorities should be plotting and implementing the beginning and end of the game before working on the middle. The idea is that even if the game runs short, you have your hook, opening, climax and denouement all worked out. After seeing the very end of DA2 fall apart, I’m inclined to agree.

What bothers me is that DA2 has a few parallels to another sequel game: Knights of the Old Repbulic – The Sith Lords. In DA2 you’re dealing with the fallout of a devastated region (Taris or Ferelden), you play a different character from the first game, and end up facing against a magic/Force hating feminine antagonist (Kriea or Meredith). Then the protagonist disappears after an all too brief epilogue.

Then Knights of the Old Republic Three fell by the wayside for Bioware’s Star Wars MMO, leaving the KotoR story line unfinished. To be fair, Bioware hasn’t made any announcements towards a Dragon Age MMO, and they’re the type of company that learns from their mistakes. I don’t see this series going the same way as KotoR did.

So can I recommend this game, assuming you’re the one reader that hasn’t picked this up yet? I don’t know. The bugs in the Third act are an issue, one that Bioware says they’re working on, and I would like to think that means all platforms. And while the plot falls apart badly in my eyes I can’t say that’s enough to condemn. Had the issues occurred in the beginning, I’d suggest avoiding it.

My call: Wait for the patch at least, so the major bugs are fixed. The end plot may not bother you as much as it did me, but I’d be curious to hear from those of you who did beat the game — especially if you chose to side with the Templars. Based on what I experienced, I found it impossible, considering the Circle was innocent of wrongdoing and Hawke’s sister was threatened.

Technical Difficulties

This started out as a rant via Twitter and Facebook, but I thought I’d take the time here to elaborate on things.

I’m job hunting. I have a resume on Monster and I actively look for opportunities to play my trade as a Systems Admin. It’s not easy and the market sucks, but I keep at it. (By the way, as I write this I have a job interview scheduled for Monday)

As part of the search, I sometimes catch job listings posted by consultants/placement firms looking for contractors or something permanent. While I haven’t landed anything via these channels, it’s still good networking, and the time spent with these recruiters allows them to assess my job skills so they know what to look for.

However, about once a month, I get an email that’s a cold contact from a consulting firm. It’s usually a form letter, but sometimes it’s written in a way that makes look as though English is the sender’s second language. The message tells me there’s a great contract opportunity for position “A.” Unfortunately, the requirements for “A” are so far removed from the skill set listed on my resume, I’m left to wonder if this individual even looked at my resume.

Now let me delve into further detail, so you can understand why I ranted this morning.

I mention on my resume, that I worked with Legato Automated Availability Manager (AAM). For those of you not familiar, this is a product that allows two or more computers to act as a cluster in a highly available environment. That is, if the primary system failed for some reason, AAM would bring all the necessary bits up on another system in the cluster.*

Now Legato has a range of several different products, none of which I list on my resume. Now, somewhere a recruiter logs onto Monster and does a search for Legato because of a specific position he’s looking for. Since I mention Legato AAM in my resume, it comes up in the search. If the recruiter reads my resume, he’ll my various Unix Admin positions. A savvy recruiter will then do one of two things. He will:

1) Realize I don’t have the skill set he needs for the position and search elsewhere.

2) At the most, send out a query letter asking if I have the experience he’s looking for and — barring that — if I know anyone who does.

A recruiter who lacks savvy or doesn’t read the resume will just blindly send an email asking if I’m interested in submitting for the job. In doing so, he has wasted both his time and mine.

Now, if said recruiter had done a search for Unix while looking for an HP-UX or Linux admin position, I would not be up in arms about this. While my experiences have been in Solaris and AIX, they’re still flavors of Unix, and thus have many commonalities, which could allow me to transition from one platform to another. In fact, I did just that back in 2005.

So in this case, if I responded to that recruiter’s email, ranting about not reading my resume, I would most definitely be in the wrong. I would also be in dire need of anger management therapy. Hell, if I responded to the Legato recruiter’s email with a rant, I’d be in the wrong as well.

There’s other factors to consider — if the Legato recruiter were looking for permanent or contract to hire, I’d submit my resume. For a six month contract, no. I’ve been on the other side of this, working with my former manager and going over contractor’s resumes. For a short-term contract, you need to have somebody with the specific technical skills so he can hit the ground running, pausing only to pick up how the hiring shop does things (i.e. technical standards, etc). For a contract position involving HP-UX, Linux, or maybe even Windows, I’d look into it. For an application environment like Legato Solutions Enabler or Tivoli Storage Management, I’d say no because I know they’re not going to want to spend the time training me in the technology. Given that even these temporary positions involve being on-call for problem management, that makes it doubly difficult to land the job. Do I have the experience and expertise to diagnose a problem should something break? That’s a key question that lies in the back of any hiring manager’s head.

So when I was going “Aaargh!” on my Twitter feed earlier, I was griping about a cold contact for a short term contract for a position I had zero qualification. If either of those two conditions were different, I wouldn’t have griped or even posted this blog entry. Job hunting isn’t easy, especially in this economy, but at the same time it’s important to understand the employer’s situation as well as the applicant’s.

About St. Patrick’s Day…

Yes, I know, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day but when this thought started becoming coherent the revelers were already throwing up in the streets.

For me, it was a Thursday, and that meant a trip down to Evil Bob’s for a game of D&D or Pulp Adventures. Well, we planned for the former, changed to the latter when a couple of people said they wouldn’t make it, and then cancelled altogether. I had gotten the cancellation from Bob just as I got into the car to go. It’s about an hour’s drive to Bob’s house, so I always make it a point to check for anything last minute before I hit the road. Sitting there in the car, I decide to go to Claddagh for the evening, texting Bob that it’s officially Guinness time.

As I’m pulling into the Southside Works, Bob asks if I was still interested in playing some Pulp. It’d be one on one, but I declined while stating my intentions.

Then I stood outside Claddagh. The place was packed to the outdoors, same as last year. I looked at the crowd, especially the women in tight pants and heels (hey, I’m single and human) and did some thinking. I said to myself “you know, I could pay the five dollar cover charge, force my way to the table, eat about $20 worth of food, drink about $30 worth of Guinness out of some goddam plastic cups, alone in an overcrowded bar full of people just looking to get shitfaced and perhaps screw their SOs (or just plain get lucky). On the other hand, I could get back in my car, drive an hour and change, be a geek and enjoy a couple games and beers with a friend.”

I chose the latter.

I’m Irish — not pureblooded like this guy (read his stuff), but it’s that portion of my ethnic mix that I relate to the most. Many of the Irish refer to what goes on during St. Patrick’s Day as “amateur night,” and I agree with that assessment. A lot of people go out to just get hammered. Not my game.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure as hell not a tea-totaller. I enjoy a good beer, but standing outside that pub made me realize a few things. For one, I was probably going to be one of five people drinking responsibly in there. On top of that, I knew I wasn’t going to be scoring with any women there — that’s not my sort of thing in the first place. Lastly, they were pouring Guinness into plastic cups, and not proper pint glasses. To me that’s insulting. Sure, there’s a safety issue serving actually glasses to that many people (and the place was probably pushing it as far as occupancy goes), but you don’t guzzle Guinness, even if it’s not poured as a proper pint should be given.

And green beer? Really people?

If there was a place for me on St. Patrick’s Day, it’d be Piper’s Pub, wherein one shall find a proper pint of beverage can be served with excellent food, proper football on the television, and anyone asking for green beer will be served a dirty look.

That’s my kind of pub, and even though the time for partying has passed, it’s where I’ll be spending some time this weekend, relaxing and reflecting on the joys of life.

Slainte Mhath!

Cry Havoc, And Let Slip the Dice of War! (III)

Yesterday I wrote about the time Nate, the Wargaming Novice, had to put into his Ogre Army. He’s spent nearly $400 and a month and change on this hobby and he hasn’t even picked up the dice yet. I said his Resolve – that third “cost” I’ve mentioned before, hasn’t been tested, but that’s not accurate. Indeed, a gamer’s resolve does not outright implode (unless that person has mental issues, but let’s assume Nate is stable), but it can be chipped away. Let’s look at Nate’s experience thus far:

  • Wow, that was a lot of money I just spent. (chip)
  • Man, there’s a lot of rules to read up on. (chip)
  • This isn’t going to be a very big army. (chip)
  • Gonna take some time to get this all together. (chip)
  • Godammit! I glued my fingers together again! (chip & tear)
  • Ow, that knife is sharp. (chip & slice)
  • Crap, those arms fell off. (chip)
  • How the hell am I going to paint those eyes? (chip)
  • Whoops! Slopped the wrong color of paint in that spot. (chip & splat)
  • Dang, these are tough spots to reach with this brush. (chip)
  • How am I supposed to get these eyes? (chip)
  • Okay, done… but they don’t look anything like the pictures on the box… (chip)
  • Now I gotta find a time and place to play (chip)

That last one can be discouraging. It’s one thing to see what a professional painter can do with about seven layers of paint, highlighting and shading, but when you paint your first figure and realize that you’re not anywhere near that level…

The only thing you can do in this case is not be afraid to suck, or at the least to make mistakes. Sure, Nate’s work isn’t top notch, but he put forth the best effort he could. It doesn’t have to a pinnacle of artistic perfection – it just has to look good on a table. Nate may not know this, but ninety percent of the time people are going to see his Ogres at about two to four feet away. If they look passable there, he’ll be fine.

Still, there’s a lot of chips and cracks in his resolve so far. Nate still needs to get to a table to play his first game. Fortunately, the shop where he bought his stuff has a Facebook page, and he finds there’s a tournament coming up, and it has bracket for 1,000 point armies. So he signs up, packs his figures as best as he can for the Big Day. Now he’s eager to test the mettle of his army, and he walks into the store psyched for battle…

… only to have his ass handed to him in the first round by a 10-year old kid with half painted unbalanced army designed for power gaming and bought for him by his parents. And the kid never says a word or smiles. He just plays the game like a machine.

Believe it or not, that actually happened to me at Warhammer 40K tournament. The people running the meet decided not to enforce the rules needed to make it an official Games Workshop tourney, which lead to unpainted armies and power imbalances. The only thing that mattered was the win-loss record, and that was no fun. That 10-year old kid pounded me so bad with his Space Marines that after the first turn it was mathematically impossible for me to win the fight.

I dropped out of wargaming after that, and it hasn’t been until a couple months ago that I started getting back into it doing some Pulp-Era skirmishes with my friend and professional miniatures painter Evil Bob.

Don’t get me wrong, tournaments are fine, but what Nate needs to do is get some “friendly” matches under his belt first and introduce himself to the wargaming community. The hobby store might have such event on their gaming schedule, there might be a local convention featuring such games, or even groups on the internet that he can connect with.

A sense of communal camaraderie is very important for Nate – it’s the most important thing that’ll keep him in the hobby. He’s paid the money, he’s spent the time, and now his resolve is being tested. As miniature wargamers, we can advise Nate on how to make the most of his time and money, but we can help greatly with his resolve. A word of encouragement, a handshake before or after the game, taking a relaxed attitude – all of these things will encourage Nate to further invest in this hobby, even if he gets trounced on occasion.

Hell, my Bretonnian army was getting mauled left and right, but I was playing with good friends, and having a laugh or two made the losses more than bearable.

Miniatures based wargaming, both historical and non, face tremendous competition from the world of digital and online gaming. This hobby has a daunting price tag to it, in more than one way, and the best way to attract new gamers is to show that we’re having a lot of fun with it, and not make it out to be “serious business.”


Cry Havoc, And Let Slip the Dice of War! (part zwei)

Yesterday we looked at the monetary costs of starting an army of miniatures for our newly inspired Nate the Novice Gamer. Now that he’s purchased the materials for his mighty Orges, we’re going to take a look at the second part of the “thrice-fold” cost of miniatures gaming: Time.

First our budding general needs to read the rules both for the game and for his army. This is important, especially the latter part, because he needs to know what his options are before he starts putting things together. A 1,000 point army isn’t a lot to work with – especially if Ogres are involved, so he needs to plan ahead a bit. The Warhammer book is a little over five hundred pages long, but Nick only needs to read the first 150 to get a handle on the rules. We’ll say he does that in five hours of reading, with an additional hour or two going over the army book and jotting down notes about troop composition.

Next is assembling the miniatures. Cutting, cleaning and gluing take their time, not to mention their toll on fingers should Nate have any accidents. Since he is just starting out, he has yet to develop the habits and rhythms to get into that “assembly line” mode of work. In addition, Ogres are larger and a bit more complex to assemble than other figures – Gnoblars are made from attaching a head to a body. Assuming he spends about three minutes per Gnoblar (that’s clipping cleaning and gluing), building each of them one at a time, he’ll crank those out in an hour. The Ogres will take two hours and change, given that the Tyrant will need some more work.

It’s a good thing Nate bought a can of spray-on primer. Early on in my own mini painting days I used a primer you applied with a brush, which took forever just to cover one figure. It’ll take about half an hour to get things sprayed and dry. Now he can start painting. At this point it’s very difficult to estimate how quickly Nate can get things done. If he doesn’t have an assembly line process in mind, chances are he’s going to paint each figure individually, a method which consumes more time. Let’s say it takes about sixteen hours to do the Gnoblars (there’s 24 of them), an hour each on the Ogres, with the Tyrant taking an additional hour because Nate wants to get it “just right.” The total comes to about 31 hours of painting, with a grand total of about 34 hours.

Bear in mind this is a very rough estimate. Some gaming cons have an event set up called a “Paint & Take” where you get a free mini and you sit down at a big table and paint it up, occasionally getting advice from an experienced or professional painter. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour for an average person to do a basic but viable paint job on one 25mm figure, with the quality depending on the individual. Also the scale of the model can make a difference as well, although it might be a push. With 15mm historical pieces (like in Command Decision), you don’t have as much detailing to do but you have a greater number of figures. Plus with historicals you may need to  be more meticulous because the details that are present need to be done right.

So for now, let’s stick with our given estimate. We’re assuming Nate has a day job – otherwise he couldn’t afford to drop $400 on this hobby – and that he has other things to do in his life. If he takes one hour every day to work on his army, it will take him almost five weeks to finish. This doesn’t take flocking bases into account (and I left that expense out in the previous entry).

In little over a month, and after paying a hefty chunk of change, Nate now has his army of Ogres. At some point along the way, he was probably wondering why he was doing this, and that it would be a lot easier to hop onto World of Warcraft.

That’s the biggest competition miniatures gaming (as well as table-top role playing) faces in this day and age. Computer gaming takes two of the three parts of our “Thrice-fold” investment and blows them away. If Nate had been inspired by Warhammer 40,000 instead of its fantasy counterpart, he could have bought the platinum version of Dawn of War for $30. That would give him access to seven armies, no painting required, and expanding his forces is done at the click of a mouse button with no further expense. He can also get into a game right away, playing online with other people.

Part of miniatures gaming is that it’s an exercise in delayed gratification – the process of assembling and painting an army can become it’s own reward, but that only comes with experience. Granted, Nate could hire someone to the do paint job for him, but that’s going to cost him money, and it may be a while before the painter can get it done. I know one professional painter who’s booked until November this year.

Nate wants to play. He wants to lay another army to waste with his Ogres. Fortunately, he persevered and made it past the first two hurdles – time and money. The third cost, Resolve, has to be put to the test, and I’ll discuss that tomorrow.

Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Dice of War! (Part One)

I just got back from Cold Wars. Long story short, it’s run by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society and is one of three local (i.e. in PA) gaming conventions that focuses on miniatures-based wargaming. The main feature is historical gaming, but occasionally you see something fantastic slip into the schedule. One of the main concerns in that particular community is that it’s shrinking – that there’s not enough new blood coming into the hobby.

I can think of one major reason – wargaming is a hobby that requires a thrice-fold investment that can scare people off. That may sound a bit obtuse, but it’s true. You invest three things when you get into wargaming: Money, Time and Resolve.

Today, we’re going to look at the monetary cost. Since I don’t really play historical games (yet), I’m going to fall back on a game I do play as an example – Warhammer. Then I’ll use a better example from the historical market.

Nate The Novice walks into a gaming store or a room at a con and watches a game being played and falls in love with it. Said individual wants to whip up an army and go to battle on yon tabletop as soon as he can. Not only that, but he is going to have this awesome army of Ogre with which conquests shall ensue. Well, first the Generalissimo is going to need the Warhammer rulebook ($75). Looking at the book, he notices there really isn’t anything specific about building an Ogre Army. Rules for the game, yes, some stuff about army composition, but it’s all in a general sense. For details, he will need the Army Book for the Ogre Kingdoms ($30).

So now Nate has the information needed to raise an army – but not the figures. “Well,” he says, “here’s an Ogre Batallion I can pick up.” ($90) Looking at the rules, Nate finds there’s enough for about 750 points – not quite a starting army, but there is an Ogre Tyrant ($42) that would make a fine General, bumping the army value to about 1,000 points. Perfect!

Oh, wait, some assembly required? Well that’s an understatement. The tools of the trade are actually easy: Xacto knife ($6), precision cutter ($10), precision files ($10), superglue ($3), and JB Weld ($6) can all be found at the hardware or office supply store.

Nate is almost set – except for the paint. Looking at the bottom of the boxes, he counts out sixteen paints listed as recommended for the figurines ($60) a brush set ($56). He almost snagged a can of primer until someone at the store suggested he go to Wal-Mart ($1). And let’s not forget the dice ($7)

So, looking at this shopping spree, we see that this Novice Commander is about to drop $397 before even cracking open that box of Ogres. This breaks down to:

  • Rules – $105 (26%)
  • Miniatures – $132 (33%)
  • Tools – $35 (9%)
  • Painting supplies – $117 (30%)
  • Dice – $7 (2%)

By way of an abbreviated comparison, let’s look at Command Decision, which is a World War II game in 15mm scale (Warhammer is 28 mm). Rules will cost $50 for the core set, not counting any campaign supplement. We’ll add an extra $20 for Operation: Market Garden. A full battalion of infantry and transports and/or tanks will run about $150 (it’s more infantry than the Novice, but offers a good selection). Tools remain the same, and for argument’s sake we’ll cut the paint by about half – one basic color scheme for 15mm will need less variety of paint but a few more of the more dominant colors. The bill here comes to $346:

  • Rules – $70 (20%)
  • Miniatures – $150 (43%)
  • Tools – $35 (10%)
  • Painting supplies – $87 (25%)
  • Dice – $7 (2%)

A little cheaper, with costs focused more on miniatures than on rules or paint, but the price tag can still intimidate our Novice.

Make no mistake, this is not a cheap hobby to get into, but chances are if you can endure the thrice-fold cost once, you’ll do it again and again and again. Nothing I listed here can be considered a “one-shot” purchase. Rule set come out with new editions (although you might decide to stick with one version if you only play with a choice group of friends), you’ll need more miniatures to expand the army, and with that more paint and brushes. Tools can last a long while, but they may need replaced, while the glue will flow like water. The only plausible “one shot” is dice – unless you have a cat – and that’s the cheapest part of the game.

That’s just to make armies – or in this case one army. I’m excluding the costs of terrain because we’re just looking at getting into the hobby for now. I’m also leaving out research materials, which are important for historicals. but they’re also a “one-shot” purchase. In addition, public libraries and the internet offer cost-effective alternatives.

So, Nate has plunked down nearly $400 to start playing Warhammer with his army of Ogres. Tomorrow we’ll look at the next part of the “thrice-fold” cost: Time.

A Tale of Two Doomwheels (Chapter the Fourth)

When working with miniatures, and specifically with larger kits like what we’ve been seeing the past few days, you hit two points of uncertainty. The first comes when you take the figure out of the package and you wonder how the hell is going to fit together, and is it going to look retarded in the process? With metal figs this can be all the more daunting, especially if there’s large bits of flash (from leaks or seams in the mold where molten metal squirts out) or a lot of little hints of it.

The second moment comes after assembling and applying primer and you start applying that first layer of color. You wonder if you picked the right shade or color scheme, and if it’s not too late to reach for the Simply Green (a cleaning fluid that can strip acrylics off a mini) and start over. Usually this doesn’t last until you work on your second or even third part of your color scheme. It’s hard to visualize the whole when all you see is black (the primer) and brown.

I think in this case I’ve dodged that second moment of doubt, because in the course of assembly I’ve already done some of the painting. By now I have a clear idea of how I want these models to look and what colors are going to help me reach that goal. I don’t have to look at the pictures on the box and wonder if I can get close to that level of quality — and I know this sounds weird, but I actually know what I’m doing. With than in mind, I dove right in, brushes at the ready.

I started with the actual wheels first. They stand out as being the primary surface, even despite the fiddly bits sticking out of the plastic model. After all this is the part that’s going to crush my enemies, assuming they don’t get broasted by warp lightning or skewered on blades first. Real simple color combo applied with a #3 brush. Mahogany Brown for the base, Chestnut Brown layered over that, and a little highlighting with some Rust Brown. Again, unless I say otherwise, I stick with Reaper Master Series Paints.

Next comes the metallic bits. For anything made of steel, I started with Blackened Steel and added a coat of Tarnished Steel. The blades on the front of the plastic Wheel got some Honed Steel, while the periscope on the same model got some Polished Silver. The rear wheel of the plastic model has a coat of Old Bronze, which also served as the base for the sparky, coppery bits for either Wheel. Those parts, along with the boiler (again, on the plastic) got a coat of Tarnished Brass. I figure to my eyes they should be coppery enough to suffice. Why not use a copper color? Good question — and the answer is I don’t have any.

I decided to work on the warpy bits, or rather the warp-lightning projectors. As before I started with Grass Green and Jade Green before using Fluorescent Green (Vallejo) and Sun Yellow for highlights. For the plastic model I did the same with the little nubs on the curved arms on the arms, near the warpstones, thinking they’d be like spark plugs in a car engine.

Then came the Skaven operators themselves — in this case the pilot on the metal Wheel and the crew-rat on the plastic. The cloaks were a combination of Shadowed Stone, Stone Grey and Weathered Stone. The features of the rats were Aged Bone and Polished Bone with an Ogryn Flesh wash (Citadel). Note the Skaven working the bellows. I didn’t do the wash on the tail because I wanted it to keep that pale color.

At this point the rest is just details and touching up the occasional splat of paint that isn’twhere it’s supposed to be.

Front and back view of the 1999 model of the Doomwheel. Despite having to use epoxy and superglue in tandem, this was a very easy model to put together. There was no ambiguity, and the parts fit together very well. Painting is a little more difficult, and not just because of the surfaces. As minis go, this thing if fairly heavy, and I didn’t trust physics to NOT work against me if I just glued or tacked it to a stick as I normally do. As a result I had to handle the Wheel quite a bit, and that’s not good. I had to make a few touch-ups after all was said and done because I had worn paint (and primer) away during the process.

Still, it came out well. This model didn’t come with the rats running on and around it — I took some from the newer kit for additional decoration. It still needs a banner, but I’ll get to that when I get to putting banners on all of my armies.

The 2010 model of the Doomwheel. A more difficult figure to assemble and paint, but WOW was it worth the effort. There’s a lot of depth to this thing in a very literal sense. At the same time, I used the exact same colors I used in the other Wheel, with one exception. The banner uses Deep Red for the icons. The whole thing was given two coats of Polished Bone, and after the icons were in place, I used Gryphonne Sepia Wash (Citadel) to polish it off.

Call me old fashioned, but I like the feel of a metal miniature — the weight it carries when you put it on the table. While it’s not as detailed as the newer model, it still has that gravitas about it. That said, the new one looks truly sinister. Regardless seeing both of these things on the battlefield at the same time will be a sight to behold…


A Tale of Two Doomwheels (Part III)

In the last entry we had to pause in assembling the plastic Doomwheel in order to paint the cockpit and the pilot. Here’s a pic of where things stand as a refresher.


I have to admit, despite how difficult this kit looks at a first glance, the pieces come together nicely.

Many are tooled to fit with little room for slipping. The projectors in the front are an example as is the boiler. That doesn’t mean I don’t have room to screw up. I couldn’t tell from the diagram that the two supports for the rear platform were different length, and in true Murphy fashion I put them on in the reverse order. Luckily, I spotted my error before the glue had a chance to fubar things.

Of course, I said that before I started working on the damn wheels. This is why I miss having the individual parts numbered, as the wheels fit to the main body in a very specific way and the diagram by itself can be misleading. Both the inside and the outside have to be oriented correctly or you’ll have to tear the thing apart about six steps later. I didn’t feel the need to paint the rats ahead of time simply because there’s ample room to put a brush in. Then I took a look ahead and saw how the side blades fit. On top of that there’s some details on the inside of the wheels (the sides facing the cockpit) that might need some color on them as well. So, it seems like we should stop to paint some more with this one. Before we do that, let’s shift gears and put the metal wheel together.

Truth be told, there’s not that much to this model. It’s pretty clear as to what goes where. Since the rear wheels are plastic I’ll use a super glue gel to attach those. This stuff works very well when joining plastic to metal. Everything else will get the one-two combo. Attaching side blades/zappy bits is a little tougher. The blade arm goes through the zappy so there’s multiple points of joining. Best to do one side…

… and let that cook while doing the rest.

The pilot’s seat is a tricky bit as well. The lower half of the seat is easy enough, but the pilot’s upper body and the back of the seat are another matter. The former has two points of contact without any actual joining — just surface to surface. The latter has one point and it’s not exactly that tenuous. The Warlock isn’t exactly leaning back to enjoy the ride, being the speed demon that he is. The solution to making sure things stick matches my opinion on gun control: “Use both hands, dammit.” With a little patience, and some careful use of adhesives, it all comes together. Even though the assembly is complete, I’m going to let this sit overnight so as not to jostle anything loose.

Getting back to the plastic, I just did some Blackened Steel and Tarnished Steel for outside gear and Ancient Bronze for the smaller gears. The rats got the same two color job as in the other wheel — Muddy Brown and Earth Brown for the body, Aged Bone and Polished Bone for the tails. I also gave them a touch of Sepia Wash (Citadel) to bring things out.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s one thing to see a model like this as the assembly nears completion. It’s another to see it with color already a part of the whole. A taste of things to come, if you will.

After all that mess with the wheels, it’s all just little bits in small steps from here. While the Wheel itself is completed there’s still a base and a swarm of rats to accompany this infernal device. I’m going to go ahead and glue this to the base, but I’ll paint the rats by themselves before adding them in.

And with that, we have our two Doomwheels ready for their paint jobs. I half expect the fantasy equivalent of the guys from Top Gear to show up and start talking about roadworthiness, power output, etc.

A Tale of Two Doomwheels (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about my love for these Evil Hamster Wheels of Death, and gabbed about the project at large. Today We’ll get started on assembling the Doomwheels, complete with pictures!

Before going too far into this project, let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with…

Zaphod is standing watch because being a cat, he is all too aware of the treachery of vermin, and will pounce the bejeezus out of the bastards if they look at either of us funny. The one on the left is the newer version. Both are painted by professionals, and while the older model may not look as good, bear in mind that I bought that thing in 1999. A lot has changed with both the manufacture and painting of miniatures in the past twelve years.

(As I say that, I just realizes I’m a year short of an auspicious anniversary. Thirteen is a sacred number among the Skaven.)

Now, I realize my skills with the brush are nowhere near the professional level, but that’s not going to stop me from doing my best with these things. They’re going to be a major part of the army and need to look their best…or worst depending on your point of view.

Let’s crack open these boxes and get a better look at the bits. First the original Doomwheel:

It doesn’t look all that complex. Only 16 parts in this kit, two of them actually plastic (they’re the back wheels, by the way). However, the only instructions consist of a single diagram on the back of the box, along with a warning that this is “expert kit.” I’d agree with that — it’s going to take some work to make sure all the parts fit, and superglue alone doesn’t work well with metal on metal. The driveshaft (that bit in the lower left compartment that is neither wheel nor rat) is the central most piece with everything extending outward. It raises a question, which I’ll get to a little later.

Now let’s look at the new model:

Okay, this one’s a bit more involved. Sixty eight parts all plastic, with a fifteen-step building guide. Two of those parts are optional, as we have two heads for the pilot and two different flag icons to choose from. (66 parts. If this were for Rolemaster, I’d really be worried) There’s even a point in the guide at step four advising that you pause in the assembly and paint the pilot. Make no mistake about it, there’s a lot going on with this figure.

Let’s get back to my question, as it seems valid with both items. Is it better just to clean, assemble, prime and paint in that order, or do we break this down further into a more detailed method? I’m inclined to do the latter. I want both models to look good, despite the obvious differences in structure. With either model, once pieces start coming together there’ll be places where a brush can’t reach.

With the metal figure, it’ll be easier to clean and prime the pieces first, painting the few bits that need painted prior to assembly, and then polish off the rest like I would with anything else. For the plastic, I’m going to primer everything while it’s on the sprue, then clip, glue and paint where needed before stuff gets in the way. If I have any bare spots on the plastic, I can touch them up with some black paint and then carry on.

So while the primer dries on the plastic sprues, I’ll clean the other Doomwheel up and get that ready. Then whilst the primer dries on the metal;

I’ll start construction on the plastic:

The first phase is installing the pilot:

Back when I had to walk uphill both ways to and from school in 20 feet of snow, Citadel used to number the parts on a plastic kit and the instructions would include those numbers. Now it’s just graphics with a short description of what the stage is, assuming you can recognize the parts on the sprue (even if you have to spend a minute finding the damn fiddly bits). When you’re dealing with bits that are similar but not identical, it can get annoying.

Fitting the head to a model is rarely easy. This one was.

These two pictures (along with the two where I installed a decapitated Skaven into the pilot seat) are a prime example of why you should do a dry test joining parts before using glue. The arm and the control lever are two separate parts that need to join together, so it was important to see how they fit when attached to the main body. Once I did the dry run, I decided against gluing the arm and lever together. If I had, I’d have a very short window to add glue to the sockets for the two parts and fit things together. Instead, I glued the arm to the shoulder and the rod to its mount, making sure the contact between the two was solid. It’s also less messy on both plastic and primer.

This is the point when, according to the destructions (yes, I did say that) I should paint up the pilot before continuing. Wise advice, so I’m going to primer the backside of the lead parts on the other wheel, pour a glass of wine and pick up some brushes.

I might have gone a little over on the detailing for something that’s going to be inside the Wheel, but it’s still going to be visible. Might as well spend the extra time adding the right colors and details now before stuff gets slapped together. That’s when you realize, “Oh, there’s a spot I should have gotten. Crap, the glue cured.”

By now, the primer has dried on the metal figure, so I’m going to go paint the drive shaft and the rats since they’ll be in the center as well.

I decided to attach the drive train to front blade/lightning projector and the rear wheel hitch so I could paint all the necessaries at once. As I said before, super glue doesn’t work all that well with metal on metal. It can hold but the bond might not stand up well, especially for larger figures — the weight of the metal works against it. There’s more than one way to strengthen a join. In this case I used a combination of two part epoxy on one side and super glue on the other. Epoxy can take a long time to cure — even JB Kwik takes about five minutes — but this combo takes about 20-30 seconds. That’s about the same time for using super glue on a plastic join. Believe me, once it hardens, it’s done.

The paint job here is much less intricate, but still detailed. Since the lightning is created using warpstone, I wanted to keep that look consistent with the projectors and the warpstone in the newer Wheel. This is a four color job: Grass Green, Jade Green, Fluorescent Green (Vallejo), and Sun Yellow for the final highlight. By the way, unless I say otherwise I use Reaper Master Series Paints.

While I was at it, I also painted the inside of the wheels and the rats and glued that all together. They fit well with no adjustments, which is surprising. Usually when dealing with pewter figures, there some sort of pressing/bending/begging/cursing going on during assembly. The rats were a simple two color job for the body and two colors for the tails. They’re difficult to see from the other side, so this is a case where exacting attention to detail isn’t necessary.

Since I was on a roll, I glued the wheels to the drive shaft. This join is a bit trickier because the weight of the pieces is becoming an issue. At this point, the best thing to do is to let the glue & epoxy take a hold. In the next entry we’ll get back to work on the plastic Doomwheel, and finish off the other one.

A Tale of Two Doomwheels (Part One)

If you follow this blog or my Twitter/Facebook feed, you probably know I’m a big D&D geek. In addition, I’m also into miniatures and wargaming. After a particularly long hiatus from the table-top battlefield — and from getting tired of all the unpainted miniatures in my game room — I decided to get back into it with some serious painting. One such game, Warhammer, is a particular favorite (it’s also one of the most popular) because it includes fantasy elements. Armies vary from chivalrous to brutal to down-right sinister. One project falls right into that last category: the Skaven.

The Skaven are mutated ratmen — think of Shredder if he had been the one banished to NYC’s sewers for the fateful genesis of those green-shelled ninjas. They’re mean, devious bastards more than happy to help empires rot from within, all from the hidden realm of an tunnel-ridden underground. If you see one of these guys and they’re not running, then take a drink from your hip-flask as your last action because you’re about to get shived by the five in the shadows behind you.

When it comes to open warfare the Skaven aren’t all that brave but they have some amazing weapons in their arsenal. One wild example is the Doomwheel, and before we get into photos, let me paint this image in your head:

Think of a pair of eight foot tall wooden hamster wheels mounted on a common axle. In each of these wheels is a bunch of R.O.U.S. as big as mastiffs. These suckers are hopped up on combat drugs and probably a little powdered uranium to boot. That’s right, the Skaven eat radioactive rock. I am not making that up. Anyway, in addition to the requisite sharp and shiny bits attached to this thing is also a large turbine. This thing spits out up to three bolts of lightning to zorch anyone cursed by proximity. This contraption is piloted by a lone Skaven Warlock-Engineer. This is evil-ass steampunk fantasy here…

Now, one might think it would be a good idea to kill the little bastard driving the thing, but that’s actually a bad idea. Maybe not on the level of “land war in Asia,” but definitely worse than calling a radio talk show after inhaling a replica of the Folger’s mountain made of coke and rambling about your fire breathing fists of fury. The Doomwheel, you see, has no emergency brake. Without a pilot it keeps going in random directions, spewing it’s lighting all the time (since no one is there to press the off switch). Without the Warlock-Engineer, this thing becomes mayhem on the battlefield.

And I want to field two of them, in the hopes that I can see what sort of mess results when the both go off the chain.

I had gotten one, but then for a while the model was discontinued and excised from the Skaven rules. Granted I could house rule it in, opponents willing, but I still wanted two, dammit, and finding a second one was nigh impossible. Well, it came back, and with that my interest in the cheese-nibblers was restored.

Citadel Miniatures redesigned the Doomwheel with an all plastic model, which gives me two drastically different looking war engines. As a result, I thought it would be fun assemble and paint them side by side to compare the two. Unlike the previous attempt at blogging about a miniatures project however, I decided to do all the work and writing before even posting one single article. Plus the scope is a little smaller — this is just two war engines as opposed to an entire army.

So with the next article we begin this tale of two Doomwheels. Will the new and improved version be superior to the old? Only time (and glue and paint) will tell…