Sunday, 31 March 2013

New (Tiny) Faces of Wargaming (Part One)

For most people the face of miniature wargaming is Games Workshop. It’s the only company with dedicated shops in most towns and shopping centres. As a commercial entity, and as a set of gaming systems, GW and all associated works has upsides and downsides. Until recently there were not many contenders to the warhammer throne. Miniatures are expensive: especially playing in game systems where you are required to have models painted and based to be allowed to use them. Not just expensive for gamers, but for people wanting to start their own companies and game systems up with the already established warhammer behemoth looming over them.

But with the serious push from crowd sourced funding reducing the personal funding needed, the steady state of recession making people look for higher quality for their money, and developments in the technology involved in sculpting and casting miniatures making it cheaper and easier to provide that quality, a new wave of games and miniature companies to step forward.

I’ve been poking around and looking at what companies (new and already established) have been pushing forward in the last year or so with new game systems and models. I’m still 100% a painter – so I can’t comment on the quality of the proposed gameplay – but I’ve tried to gather together work that looks interesting or unique.

Some are from big, established companies, Some are from new individuals. Some you will have seen or heard of, but hopefully there will be some new and interesting things in here for everyone.
Basically it’s a description of the gameplay, features and models that caught my eye for either good or bad reasons, and reviews from people who’ve got them. The article looks long because – as usual – there’s hundreds of pictures.

There's actually a hell of alot of this kindof stuff going on

Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster – Minis and game

Let’s start with one of the biggest, which I can’t stop calling Battle for Sebastian.

A non-sexualised girl and a black guy on the cover. It is awesome :)

Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster is a skirmish based sci-fi/horror miniature game created by Studio McVey, published by Cool Mini or Not and funded using Kickstarter. It – alongside the original Zombicide game – was one of the first tabletop gaming entries to completely explode through the crowdfunding model. They started with a goal of $20,000 to get the basic game boxset into production. This included (to begin with) 50 miniatures, board to play on, tokens and stat cards. They were fully funded within six hours of starting.

After that they added wave after wave of stretch goals. More and more miniatures were added to each reward level. More parts of the game and planned expansions were revealed. Materials were upgraded from cardboard to plastic, different varieties of models became available and so on.
They posted their design ideas, rough drafts and concept art, stories. Kept updating on how the commercial side of the process was going. It wasn’t all smooth sailing – there were delays and a couple of upsets in production and delivery – but now the kickstarter seems to have been a booming success for them even as it flew past their expectations.
It finished with over 4000 backers and nearly $1,000,000 total pledged.

A large part of this success was not only because of the quality of product and IP on display. Studio McVey are already very well established in the miniature business community. Both Ali and Mike McVey have been professional painters and sculptors for years, and have previous experience not only working for miniature companies (Games Workshop) but also building a company with new IP (Privateer Press, Warmachine/Hordes). ‘Studio McVey’ exists as well as a site they display and sell unique sculpts to be collected and painted – not associated with any gaming systems but instead with the hobby itself.

Ali McVey is one of my favourite sculptors and painters

I went in for the Kickstarter and bought a number of things including the base boxed game. When everything has finished turning up I will do a separate post on the sets as a whole. Skirmish based miniature games are really trying to push their way to the front at the moment. Not only are games trying to distinguish themselves with better quality materials, sculpts, and accessibility but with how long the games actually take to play. One consistent problem with miniature wargaming is the length of time required for proper games and matches to be played. Pretty much every game I’m going to cover in this makes a point of how you don’t need hours upon hours free to get good use out of them.

Battle for Alabaster is one of the games coming forward as something you can play as part of an afternoons activities – not as what your whole afternoon with friends is going to be. 

I’ll let the ‘gameplay’ videos sit here and speak for themselves if you are interested. I’ve tried to dig about and find people’s opinions of the actual gaming side of each set as well.

Sedition Wars describes its battle system as being more involving at the same time as being simpler than your current average wargame. The rules reflect this. It comes with a neat little colour booklet describing gameplay with examples, and each model comes with a little graphic card describing their stats and gameplay. There’s no large expensive book to buy for the core game and then expansion books to buy to be able to play a specific force.

I really like this about Sedition Wars and the other games taking the same approach. I have always felt very put off, and more than a little annoyed, that to play officially with the expensive models I had bought and spent hours prepping I would also have to spend lots of money and time on books and all that word learnin’ stuff. Reading? I think it’s called reading. I’m dictating this article to a typewriting monkey.

I know the use of decks and short rule books isn’t new and certainly not being lead by Sedition Wars, but this is the first time I’ve had the option sat in front of me and I am finding myself going ‘Yeah I might actually try this’. Normally I sit in front of a GW model I’ve painted for 40 hours and the idea of learning how many dice I roll to see if the matt varnish frosts makes me want to fling it out a window.

I don’t know want to have a bit of my brain permanently taken up by knowing that a level 4 arch-lich rolls a d6 to mindflay someone or whatever. I don’t want to flick through a book to find it in the middle of a game either. Looking down at the table to a little card with my happy little liche’s face and stats on? That sounds good. 

Gameplay is very much a bonus for me though, and what really drew me into the kickstarter and made me put my (parent’s) money where their paypal account is was the design and sculpts.

Two things;

They are all really cool and the art direction is fantastic.

Lots of female miniatures with nary a sign of Tits McGee, the physically impossible imaginary girlfriend of men who have never touched a really woman, or even a fake one bigger than 1 inch.

The bad guys in the game follow the trend that everything seems to have fallen for at the moment. Variations of infected/zombies/parasites seem to be the only bad guy available for gaming this year. There’s enough spin on the design to keep them interesting and different though. The McVeys also produced some painted versions of all their miniatures at the beginning to showcase what could be done with them.

Examples from the initial Kickstarter post

The bare sculpts all looked very clean, finely detailed and offered something different to the standard. Everything was more in proportion and less clumpy than GW type models. Even the most sexualised model - the bottom left monster figure in the image above - isn't suffering from boobitus.

Painted models from the Kickstarter post
And here they all are in their pretty studio paint jobs. Despite being out for a couple of months I really can't find any painted up models from the set outside of the company's own. Ali McVey has painted up a couple of gorgeous versions of the main character 'Kara Black'.

Zombicide - Minis and Game

Crowdfunding Dates – May 6, 2012.

 Goal Funding – $20,000

Received Funding – $781,597

Backers - 5258

Zombicide was the first really big miniature game that grabbed everyones attention through Kickstarter. Not just gamers but anyone looking into the crowd funding model. Another product published by Cool Mini or Not, created by Guillotine games. It’s the first output from the company, but not the first work from the people in it. The head honchos are a collection of Rackham veterans including ones who worked on Confrontation.

I’ve looked up the guys they list but can’t immediately find any of their work. The best that pops up is this when I type in Jean-Baptiste Lullien 

Possibly not the person we're thinking of

I should have written this one first but I guess I was biased by my ownership of Sedition Wars. It’s so pretty…

Anyway. Zombicide had similar selling points. It was presented as an all in one box set game – everything you needed to play in one box including 71 miniatures, gaming tiles, tokens, deck of cards for gameplay and of course the rules. It was short, offering several difficulty levels with games lasting between half an hour and three hours. It also came with a couple of different game modes and scenarios. You can actually view a number of them on this page:

You may notice something else on this page: an editor! They also released an editor for designing and changing scenarios and maps, and blank item and character cards. I will have to shuffle about and find someone that has actually used it. In principle I think it’s quite nifty and a good inclusion. It has the official artwork and objects of the game. 

No matter the quality of the base game, not only allowing but enabling players to make their own ‘versions’ is a good thing in my opinion. Even if the groundwork is poor it lets people take the parts they like and produce more (possibly improved) improved content and share it. I think it shows a better side to the initial creators in that they want to share the whole world with the players, not just the parts they produce for money. 

Here’s some reviews and coverage of gameplay. 

I have had the opportunity to peruse a copy of Zombicide at my local nerd-games store. The minis are slightly more bendy than normal plastic which was odd. They are described as being 28mm ‘heroic’ scale miniatures but this is as arbitrary a descriptor as usual. The human models are a little smaller in all dimensions than a standard human GW figure. This image from the kickstarter page shows some of the player models and zombie models next to a space marine. Not the most useful comparison but better than nothing I suppose! 

It is quite a nifty, sturdy set in person like the Sedition Wars one. 

The majority consensus on Zombicide seems to be that the game itself is somewhat lackluster. People have had fun but overall say it’s not as good as it could be and its popularity somewhat outstrips the quality of the gameplay. But as far as price per mini goes it’s quite good.  

Esteemed goon colleague posted about his groups' positive experience with the game in a thread:

King Burgundy:

"Reasons my group loves it:

1) Cooperative. Cooperative games are a bonus for a few of our players who prefer those games to the more cutthroat ones we rotate through.
2) The feel of playing it really does evoke a lot of the same scenarios one would expect in a zombie movie. Dilemma's like splitting up or staying together based on the scenario you are playing, being overwhelmed, etc.
3) Turns go pretty quick, not a lot of waiting around, very easy to learn and play. One of our regulars is really not the type that would play a normal miniatures style game like 40k and as a result I was worried he wouldn't be in to this either, but he loved it. It may end up being a bit of a gateway game.
4) The survivors are a pretty fun lot to play as, quite a few nods to pop culture, it lends itself to a lot of fun around the table, trash talk, etc. Oh, and like suggested above, our group DOES love pop culture reference chars/zombies, so that definitely plays a part.
5) It's difficult, depending on the scenario, you can't just blaze through it and expect to win, but not soul crushingly so, like Arkham Horror.
6) Plenty of leeway for designing your own scenarios and adjusting things to increase or decrease the difficulty or change the way the game plays.  "

In general Zombicide tried to push a 'pulp' aesthetic. Pretty much every player character is a reference to either a particular character or stereotype.

As you can see the basic player set include rifle toting old guy, asian girl with katana, and a... skating waitress with a chainsaw. They also produced Sheldon from Big Bang Theory and Machete from... Machete as stretch goal models.

Ofcourse the Maxican model is in brown plastic.

Big Bang Theory is a terrible show. I would get Sheldon eaten by zombies everytime.
The game was successful enough that they have launched a second 'season' of zombicide, as well as an add on pack compatible with either the first or second main boxed game. This is out as another kickstarter and includes tens more referential characters with every one from Shaun (Shaun of the Dead) to Hannibal Lecter (Ancient Carthaginian).