Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sculpting 101: Tools

From time to time my wife will read my posts and give me great feedback. In the latest run, she called me out for blogging about being more of a sculptor than a painter... without actually having done anything on sculpting! Worse yet, I hadn't even shown any figs I've sculpted on. So this post is my first in a series of planned sculpting tutorials. The series will start with the basics and run up through making complex pieces. So can I sculpt? Let's just start off with one of my big guns:

This is my Farseer on Jetbike as rebuilt in November of '08. I'd done him up for a contest held by Fritz at Way of Saim-Hann. Sadly, the contest details aren't up any more. There were some excellent entries and Ron at From the Warp ended up winning. He's also lost the original posts about it, but his final entry can be seen here on CMoN. Ron may have taken the contest, but I'm comforted by having a higher CMoN score. :-p Both Ron and I blogged about our progress during the contest; sharing tips, suggestions, or just simply raising the bar. This challenged us both to go beyond our regular comfort zones and I think the final products were much improved for it. The sculpt work shown here was far beyond anything I'd attempted prior...

Yet the thing is: nothing on that guy is really all that difficult. It was mostly a matter of patience, practice, planning and a little bit of sculpting know-how. The hardest parts were teaching myself sculpting and then trying something this large. In hopes of inspiring someone else (or maybe letting you learn from my mistakes), the first thing I want to talk about is tools.

Here's a pic of the tools I use on a typical sculpting project:

In order from the top to bottom and left to right, these are:
1. Superglue: Necessary for basic construction. There's a plethora of glues with different viscosity, dry times and cost. Find the one that's right for you. Just remember that GLUE IS NOT GAP-FILLER! Glue monkeys will burn in a very special level of Hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater...
2. Glue Accelerant: Great stuff for speeding up glue dry times. However, you should always test and practice with it before working on your figs. Some combos can cause your glue to expand and glob, obscuring details. Others can make the glue brittle and unable to bear as much stress before breaking. There's even one combo I know (Insta-Cure & Zip-Kicker) that will melt plastic parts and cause 2nd-degree burns. So take care with your toxic chemicals and don't be stupid!
3. Coffee: It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion, It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed. The hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning...
Remember that sculpting requires both attention AND fine motor control. Be responsible with your coffee, soda, alcohol or other intake. Just think of the "great ideas" you've had while "under the influence" versus what they look like the next morning. This rule applies to sculpting too.
4. Inspiration Models: When sculpting or painting, I often like to have other models from the same army/line in the background as reference works. This will help quite a bit for having your final product cohesive with the rest of your army.
5. Cleaning Brush: I use the plastic bristle brush for general cleaning, especially washing the figs to remove molding agent. I'll also use a brass bristle brush, like those of cleaning BBQ grills, when buffing or stripping plastic or metal figs. I also have a makeup brush around to clean off light particulates like dust.
6. Hobby Knives and a Pin Drill: You likely already have some or most of these. The different heads and sizes are useful not only for converting, but also for certain sculpt shapes.
7. Needle files: Again mostly for the conversion process, but the teeth and handles can be used to create some fascinating sculpt patterns too.
8. Pliers, clippers and wire cutters: Great for clipping pins to size, removing sprue or molding tabs, or quickly chopping a miniature in half.
9. GW Sculpting Tool: This is the primary tool for this kind of project. You really don't need anything more complex, though there are some nice surgical steel tools and/or silicone tip clay shapers if you really get into sculpting.
10. Lubrication (Not Shown): One of the biggest tricks to sculpting is that putty is sticky. You will need something to keep your tools from sticking to the putty while you're working it. Chapstick, KY Jelly, Vaseline, soapy water, or saliva are all viable suggestions. It's just a matter of how long they'll stay slick, how much residue they leave, and how much cleanup you'll need to do after.
11. Tweezers: A necessity if you have any pets with hair.
12. Pins: Used for really fine details where the shape and size of the tool can matter more than your ability to work the putty. As shown to the right, I use a couple different sizes, some with the point removed and filed smooth.
13. Epoxy Sculpting Putty: There's so much to cover there that it is getting an entire post. So stay tuned for next week's exciting adventure: "Sculpting 102: Putty"! Cheers and I hope you've enjoyed the read.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Inqusitor Banner

So this is a commision piece I did for the owner of my FLGS, Hat's Games. Confession time: in almost 2 decades of playing Marines, I'd never once painted a banner. I just don't see them fitting with the feral and aggressive nature of Wolves. Additionally, any time I've done something large and complex, it's always been through doing sculpting rather than freehand. So this was an opportunity to challenge myself a bit as well as do something different.

The banner was supplied blank and was not to have any sculptwork since it needed to be done in less than a week. The stylistic notes were that it had to have "Ordo Malleus" somewhere, a black background, and an =I= central. High contrast and/or large compositions were suggested as the final product was a decoration for a Titan; I believe a Wolfhound. I'll see about finding a photo of the finished piece in place, perhaps with less glare too... I'd have loved to make some things more ornate and/or add some depth to the gray, but didn't have time. Still, I'm happy with the freehand and the final version came out almost identical to the original sketch.

Speaking of Hat's: Ah, anonymity, what a fleeting thing you were. So just a few days after Ard Boyz I decide to stop by to pick up some paint or something. As I'm walking by the counter I see a rather... "familiar" looking battle report up on the computer screen. Okay, so the store owners are reading this? Hah. Fair enough. Maybe it will give Hat's Tau the edge needed to turn the tables on me some day. Then a couple days later I'm in again and run into Chris: the guy I faced in the first match of Ard Boyz. He comments that my analysis of our game "was a good read" and that he's learned even more from it. *sigh* I guess this means I'll have to be even more paranoid the next time I face him. Heh. Cheers guys! I hope you enjoy the read and maybe even learn something useful to turn on me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Serpent of Fury! (An Advanced Skimmer Tactica)

I wrote this tactica a mere 6 months ago for Warseer, though it seems like much longer. The metagame has singe changed a bit with IG, but the tactic is still relevant and useful. The original article is currently sitting smack in the middle of a thread currently at 4,500 replies, so I've "rescued" it over here. What? I never said that every single article here would be NEW, did I?

What is Serpent of Fury? In short: the act of deploying a medium-range shooting unit from a Wave Serpent such that the tank blocks enemy capability for reprisal into the unit.

The name "Serpent of Fury" (SoF) is a derivative of the 4th edition Tau tactic "Fish of Fury". Tau Firewarriors normally come with a Rapid Fire Pulse Rifle. Getting maximal output from this type of weapon means engaging in the 1-12" spectrum. The trick to this? FWs are rather fragile, especially in Close Combat. Thus they need to limit or eliminate the ability for the enemy to hurt them. The solution? They can buy a Devilfish Skimmer Tank as a Dedicated Transport. The Devilfish would move 6-12", and stop about 6" away from the enemy. It was even still be free to shoot it's weapons if you took the right wargear. As the front and side armour is the same, the tank would also turn to present the longer side facing to the enemy. FWs on board would then disembark on the side opposite the target and fire "under" the tank, as Skimmers did not block Line of Sight. In the enemy turn, the Skimmer would be well protected from shooting and assault due to the Skimmers Moving Fast rule. The guys behind would be protected from assault due to the bulk of the Devilfish. All around this was a win-win tactic for the Tau player. The unit could function independently, hit hard, was highly mobile, difficult to destroy and generally able to compensate for most drawbacks. This was such a highly effective tactic that it became staple for most high-end competitive Tau armies.

Then along came 5th edition and it's changes to SMF, True Line of Sight, and other changes. Suddenly Tau commanders were scrambling to put taller stems on their tanks, finding the Devilfish isn't nearly as durable, lightly armoured enemies were getting a cover save and the Tau were generally left lamenting that their trick pony had been hobbled. It is still feasible for them, but is iffy for a unit operating on its own. The tactic has been reduced from a staple, to something that either requires multiple units for area saturation or as an act of desperation.

How does all this apply to Eldar? Simply put, Eldar and Tau have a number of similarities. It's like we've been guiding the development of that lesser race for millenia.. Serpent of Fury existed in 4th edition play, but mostly as part of a mechanized theme or gimmick. The amount of damage it did was usually not worth the cost. Competitive play tended to favor more effecient tactics. This changed slightly with the "new" Eldar Codex when Dire Avengers shifted over to Troops for everyone and their range was extended to 18". This allowed them to fill a compulsory slot and also maintain a bit more distance from the enemy. SoF still wasn't a mainline item, but it was at least something to do with your required Troops selections when you had a mechanized army. But the clincher was 5th edition: Troops only as default Scoring. It was no longer enough to just pay token homage with 2x min sized Troops sitting off to the side... your Troops suddenly needed to DO something.

Excepting a weird mission or special rule, having surviving Troops is the only way you can get better than a tie in 2/3s of the current missions. This means that your Troops are going to be a primary target for any opponent interested in winning. To protect them, your Troops either need to be plentiful (Orks, IG, Nids or other hordes), tough as nails (Wraithguard or Plague Marines), and/or otherwise protected (bunkered in cover, hidden in Reserves, embarked in a tank, etc).

Side Note: There's also the Multiple Small Unit option, where you take lots of minimal sized Troops. However, this causes Kill Points to rocket in Annihilation missions and is not a recommended strategy.

For Eldar, hordes are unwieldy, rather static, suffer in CC, and anti-horde is becoming common thanks to the Orks. A Wraithguard core is solid but also slow and expensive in both points and cash. It's also a "jealous" choice in that lists don't tend to just include them, but instead have to be built around them. Relying on the batlefield to have enough cover to protect your guys is also be an iffy prospect. This is doubly true for Troops as they're there to claim objectives, yet this often means moving out of their original deployment position. There's also the idea of hiding behind a building or in a tank all game and heading out to claim objecties last-minute, but this takes timing, patience, a little luck, and the rest of your force picking up the slack.

With history and the general concept out of the way, let's take a look at some common questions:
1. Why a Wave Serpent and not a Falcon?
a. SMF is the same for each and even then only matters if you move over 12".
b. A Wave Serpent can carry twice as many models.
c. The Serpent Energy Field. It works no matter what speed you move. While the Falcon does have the protection of a Holofield, the Serpent Energy Field actually protects similar against many threats. But it works better when moving Fast and/or when shot by certain types of weapons such as meltas and Demolishers. This makes them superior for closing on the enemy.
d. Wave Serpent weaponry tends to be more complimentary of close-range engagement.

2. Why Dire Avengers?
a. 18" range. Thanks to this they can get out to the side of the tank and fire cleanly into their chosen target. There's not any issues with weird LOS from their heads and trying to shoot under the tank. You don't have to worry about modifying your tank to be up higher either. Actually, a short stem is preferable because the tank will better Screen or even completely block enemy LOS to the DAs from other angles. 12" range or Flamer Template units such as Fire Dragons, Guardians, Wraithguard and Warlock Councils CAN be used in this manner. However, you have to be much more certain about crippling or destroying your target in order to escape retribution and/or getting charged by survivors.
b. Bladestorm allows you to maximize the fire output on a given round. This fits well with the SoF often spending their next turn repositioning to fire at a new target.
c. DAs tend to rate fairly low as targets when there's other big threats like Fire Dragons around. This means they're often able to perform this trick multiple times.

Now a few things to note with SoF tactics:
1. It CAN be done by a solo unit. However, a full unit of DAs and a 2xASC Exarch Bladestorming average out to only 3.7 MEQ kills. Against anything tougher than Tau or IG, I REALLY suggest target saturation in the form of two or more units moving in tandem. This has an added benefit of allowing defensive formations of multiple tanks.
2. Doom is a huge benefit to this tactic, especially against T4+ opponents. 2 units and a Doom have a rather good chance of dropping even large terminator squads, Monstrous Creatures and other nasties.
3. A Serpent carrying a close-combat unit can nicely finish out a formation. This naturally places them and their tank in good position to defend the DAs or carry the assault to the enemy. This role can also be performed by a Serpent toting close range or Template units looking to get closer and maximize kills.
4. Your DA will naturally be a little packed in when the get out to fire. Beware enemies with lots of templates, especially Large Blasts such as Whirlwinds. I suggest neutralizing or blocking LOS to these before you get out of your tanks. Deep Striking Heavy Flamers and similar can also be quite annoying.
5. The distance game only works against enemies that only move and Assault 12". Be careful of jumping out too close to an enemy with Fleet or Waagh!.
6. If you're confident in your tactics/positioning, hold off on Bladestorming right away. Put in a turn of normal fire, then Bladestorm and possibly assault in the next.
7. If the squad's been chewed up and is near or below half, mount them back up in their tank and scoot for safety. You're probably into turn 4 or so at this point anyways and those guys are typically more important grabbing objectives than trying to slug it out.

The tactics for a single unit are pretty easy to grasp. Multiple-unit tactics can be a little more tricky, so I've provided some pictures for you. In the examples below, the Iyanden (Yellow) Wave Serpents are carrying the DAs. The Saim-Hann (Red) is moving Fast and likely carrying Fire Dragons or Banshees. The first picture is starting locations and the second after moving and deploying. The image lines moved when I saved them, but I'm sure you can get the idea.

Example 1 (Left): Isolation of a target and multiple overlapping Screens. The squad on the left is the target in this movement. Both squads and their Serpents have decent to clear lines of fire into the target. Screening of the target doesn't matter as they'd get a 3+ save anyways. Every enemy except the target has their LOS Screened or even blocked by intervening terrain and tanks. Only the Fire Dragon tank is not nicely Screened and it is protected thanks to SMF. This is true not only of the guys immediately nearby, but the entire rest of the table.

Example 2 (Center): Capstoning up the center. Here the two squads deploy in between the two tanks with the third forming a protective capstone. The target unit would be the guys just inside the woods. Note that the front squad is over 50% protected from the Predator by their tank and the rest of the enemy by the red tank. This is the best option for attacking a central point and/or an opponent that has turtled.

Example 3 (Right): Push back. This is an example of combining the SoF with cover to create a position that is resistant to being assaulted. Likely the front squad of Marines is the target. However, the Daemon Prince or Raptors could just as easilly be targetted across the nose of the Red Serpent. This is your best bet for drawing off or countering enemy assaulters with an 18" range. Your DAs are protected by the tanks and that enemy models can't approach withing 1" of them until assaulting. Then being behind/in the woods means a Difficult Terrain test. The 4.5" is a calculated risk, but one many opponents won't take. The downside of this is that the unit is open to ranged fire from the inside of the board; it would work more efficiently reversed towards the board edge.

I hope that this has been informative. I'll be expanding on some of the ideas touched on above, especially those of mechanized assaults, Capstoning and others. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Peek-a-boo! (Advanced Tactica: Vehicle Shooting and LoS)

So sturgard wrote me with another interesting question. It seems an IG player in his area has picked up several Hydras. These are then hidden behind other tanks/cover such that the guns poke out and nothing else. The player then traces LOS from the end of the barrel, often removing cover saves from his targets. In return, he claims that the Hydras can't be shot back at unless you can draw LOS to the hull... and even then he's claiming Obscured saves. I've heard a similar complaint leveled at Marines using Land Speeder poking over Rhinos and Dreadnaughts firing around the corner of a wall.

It's a "I can shoot you, but you can't shoot me." thing. The question is, is this a clever abuse of the rules or is someone getting cheated?

First let's look at "I can shoot you..". When drawing LOS from the vehicle, you need to be aware of the nuances of BRB, page 58, "Vehicles Weapons & Line of Sight". The key thing here is that the weapon must be pointed at the target and then LoS is determined "from the weapon mount and along the barrel." This is NOT the same as drawing LoS from a single point like the eyes of an Infantry model. The weapon's MOUNT must be able to draw LoS and you resolve it's ability to ignore cover from there. So sticking just the barrel around cover does not allow you to draw LoS.
There's also a fun side effect of this... a common RL counter to tanks or emplacements is to "get under their guns". Simply, it is keeping yourself safe from fire by getting out of the traversal arc of the gun. 40K allows for a 45° vertical traversal of mounted weaponry. Additionally, a model cannot shoot backwards, curving around an edge, nor point a gun through it's own hull. Give this a little thought and maybe throw down some models to try it out. Tall models (Skimmers on flying stems, Valkyrie, Titans), long barrels (Hydras, Vanquishers, Hammerheads) or turret placement on long/large models (Razorbacks, Land Raiders, Chimera, Baneblades)... you'll find they all have this type of issue against Infantry in close quarters. If the tank doesn't back away, the Infantry will often gain cover saves or even be untargetable due to being "under their guns".

Now let's look at the other half, " can't shoot me." BRB, page 60, "Shooting at Vehicles has a similar caveat in targeting to allow extra bling, decorations and other modeling to be done to a vehicle without in-game penalty. The rule is that you trace LoS to the vehicle's "hull or turret" but ignore "the vehicle’s gun barrels, antennas, decorative banner poles, etc.". The key thing here is that you ignore the gun's BARRELS, not the casing, weapon mount, sponson, targeters, or any other such items. Just as an extra touch, what is a sponson but a side-mounted turret? So you're doubly covered here. As long as your opponent is obeying the rules above for shooting at you, then you can shoot back at them.
But what about being Obscured? For determining Obscurement of a vehicle, we go to BRB, page 62, "Vehicles and Cover - Obscured Targets". To gain a cover save, they need to cover "at least 50% of the facing of the vehicle..." The common mistake here is that people often apply the LoS rules and ignore the weapons, sometimes even ignoring the weapon mount too. This can make a HUGE difference when looking at a tank like the Basilisk or Hydra. Obscurement is based off how much of the total model you can see, not just how much of the main hull is visible.

A couple other common mistakes in this section:
1. When shooting a vehicle, weapons that cannot hurt the tank are ignored for purposes of determining cover. This can cut both ways, so be careful with where your anti-tank is positioned.
2. When a vehicle is firing, the target's cover saves are determined:
a. ignoring weapons that do not have LoS and/or do not fire.
b. with each gun on the vehicle counting as a separate model in a unit; needing a majority with clear LoS to ignore cover.

Hopefully this has given you all some fun ideas. If anything doesn't make sense, please let me know and I'll try to expand or provide illustrations. (Actually, illustrations may be forthcoming anyways...)

Image is a Funtrak paintball tank, acquired from

Addendum: A couple of people have asked me what I got as my Ard Boyz prize. I picked up a Land Raider Crusader/Redeemer. There wasn't a whole lot of Eldar stuff I wanted in that price range and my Wolves certainly appreciate the support.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I'll confess, I have a weakness for contests. There's just something about them that draws me like a moth to the flame... The prizes are nice, but it's the contest itself that really matters. And it was for a contest that I spent my weekend doing this:

Okay, so really I painted him up because I'm running the old boy quite a lot and wanted a model that was more than just basecoated. But Pit of the Oni's birthday contest just bumped him to the front of the queue.
The progress photos can be found here and the actual contest is here. I'm not expecting to win, but I do hope to get a decent showing. There's some great figs there, but I think the iffy quality of my photos will hurt me.

Overall, I'm fairly happy with the end result. I'm a top notch tactician and pretty damn good sculptor. What I lack in precision I make up in patience. However, I know I'm nothing special when it comes to painting. I'm often over-reaching my abilities and it never comes easy for me. This was no exception, but I left it having learned from it.

The cons: I didn't enter this project with a clear enough idea of what I wanted for the final. This (or near-dead paints) meant re-dos and/or some rough spots. The final coat isn't as smooth as I'd hope. I also had to drastically modify my plans for the freehand on his cloak after realizing that the modeling isn't proportionally balanced. I'm also really unhappy with my crappy old camera as it washed out some of the depth and is still a little fuzzy.
The pros: I was able to experiment with a pseudo-NMM technique on the rune armour and it worked out okay. I really like the contrast I was able to get with the white/red/brown too. And best of all? That's one more model off my desk...

Now the question is what to work on next. I'm thinking Ard Boyz Round 2 is on the horizon. I'm kicking around some changes to my list, but am open to suggestions...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reading your opponent's strategy

"Know yourself but not your enemy and you will lose as often as you win."
-Sun Tzu

So Sildani on the Warseer boards asked "Do you find yourself anticipating your opponent's moves, a turn or two in advance?... Basically, I'd like to know how you became so tactically astute so I can similarly elevate my game. And yes, I've read Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and have applied them, so at least I can say I've won more than I've lost."

My answer, with some updates:
Thinking ahead a turn or two is certainly a vital skill to learn. If you can discern your opponent's tactics for the next turn, you'll certainly be at an advantage to winning games. A tank can sit a bit farther into cover, a unit can back off a touch in hopes that Difficult Terrain tests trip up Assaulters, etc... Little things like this allow you to lever numerous small advantages that can tip the game in your favor.
But to dominate games consistently, you need to understand and plan for the entire game from beginning to end. This doesn't mean you should try to crunch the odds of every single possible move and attack... that's for computers, autists and savants. I'm talking about understanding their game plan; their strategy. If you can grasp that, not only will their tactical choices become easily predictable, but you can manipulate their own strategy to your benefit.
Figuring out someone's strategy can be a bit daunting. I don't follow a set pattern, but a crude version using the 5 basics of writing would be:
1. Who are they? Typically easiest with a regular group, as you know each other, who plays how, what their confidence level is, etc. Are they the type to play for the win, play for the kill, play by the statistics, or play for fun/story?
2. What are they fielding? It is critical to take a minute before you start and read your opponent's army list. The unit selection, weaponry, balance and overall composition can be a HUGE insight into their strategy and how they play. A large part of doing this effectively is having done your research before-hand.
3. When are they going to try ploys or grab objectives? Example: Objective capturing. Some armies Infiltrate and camp objectives from the start, others will advance onto them in a wall of iron mid-game, and others will just ignore them to jump back on them at the endgame. When you understand the timing of their list, you can understand when you need to be on guard versus when you can attack unimpeded.
4. Where are they going to focus? Locate the key points of the field (firelanes, hardpoints, objectives, etc) and then think of what would concern your opponent and their list. Also look at your list from their point of view and locate the concerns there. Might they avoid a courtyard if there's a unit of Reapers at the end? Is it worth putting the Reapers there anyways to keep him from flanking your gunline? Would adding an objective or sacrificial unit there tempt a squad to walk into the Reaper's killing zone?
5. How are they going to do unto you? This is where you add together all of the above. Try to envision what their overall strategy at the start of the game and how it adapts to the game. Even just a basic sense of their plan can be enough to take control of the game.
Let's take an example from my first Ard Boyz game. I don't think I'd ever played Chris before this, but he wasn't a complete stranger either. We'd chatted tactics and seen the other at prior tournies and just never faced off. I knew right off from this that he was an aggressive player who'd go for the throat if it was offered, but also smart enough to remember the objectives and play for the win. Looking at his list, I saw an aggressive list with some decent mobility. His defensive units were good versus range, but would suffer against CC, flamers or out of cover. They relied on the mechanized line to hold the opponent away. His aggressors were hella scary at close range, but ignorable at long. This made me bet that he'd go for an aggressive armoured push that tried to hit my lines at the same time or at least as a one-two punch.
So with this in mind, I placed my objectives and Wraith units all central. This was a solid a block of durable Troops sitting on/near 3 objectives. He couldn't just ignore them and would require something strong to dislodge them. I figured this would be his Sternguard and Termies, plus maybe a Dread or two. The thing is, it didn't matter to my strategy if my center held or fell. The key was to get him to commit a massive force centrally. This allowed my speedy units to run the edges, take out his defensive Scoring units, and still be in position to jump in and grab/contest objectives at leisure.
But this was only if he chose to follow the most tempting and likely strategy. I also made secondary plans for him pushing his forces to one side, splitting up and going for my flank, or just sitting back and waiting for me to come to him.

Said another way, the specific targets and even the results of what his Land Raider chose to shoot while advancing were incidental. That the Land Raider was going to advance to place the Termies seems obvious, but is still crucial to know and not definitive. But deliberately placing my objectives and army such that I was able to guide his strategy, causing the Land Raider to go for the center? That's how I took control of the game and won.

My #1 piece of advice for players looking to up their game? Talk to your opponent.
After the game, grab a beer/soda/water and chat about what worked and what didn't for both of you. Post-game debrief is the most useful and informative tool. Talk about what their strategy was and why they chose what they did, then compare that to what you expected them to do. Also discuss what could have gone different and any mistakes made. Be fair and objective about things and you'll get some excellent feedback. It can also key you off to ploys or stratagems they might try next time. For example, I chatted with Chris afterwards and found out he'd realized he'd been snookered in my Turn 3, but didn't have the position or mobility to regroup. His comment was "I won't fall for that one again..." So now I know I won't be able to get away with this same plan next time. Maybe I'll try a swapped or refused flank instead. :-p

Anyways, I hope you have all found this useful or at least interesting. Cheers and good hunting!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ard Boyz, Round 1, Battle 3

AAANnnd the last one. Round 3 was against a guy named Reagan with a remarkably well painted Ultramarines force:
Chaplain Cassius leading 7 Assault Termies w T-Hammer/SShields in a Land Raider Crusader
2 Dreadnaughts w Multi-Meltas in Drop Pods
1 Tac Squad w Multi-Melta in Drop Pod
2x Tac Squads w Multi-Melta, Meltagun, Pfist Sgt in Rhinos
2x Tac Squads w Multi-Melta, Flamer, Pfist Sgt in Rhinos
3x Vindicators

Simple, to the point and totally the type of list I know how to break. He won the roll and grabbed first turn. (I didn't win a single turn choice all day, but was still given the one I wanted every time... Hah!) He deployed in a standard aggressive phalanx. I went with the Wraithguard forward again and put both Spiders and all the Jetbikes in Reserves. It looked a little something like this:

Now it may look like I'm a little tightly grouped to be facing 3x Vindies, but the front of the ruin was solid and I knew he wouldn't be getting LOS for the shots. I wanted them to look like juicy targets for the Dreads... and oh did I get my wish.
Turn 1 saw both Dreads slam down right on top of my Wraithguard. I knew I was safe from the Vindies at that moment. He used a Dread to pop the Banshee Serpent, killing 4. The other targetted the Wraithguard and killed one, as did a stray Vindie shot.
My Dragons piled out of their tank and dropped the first Dread (killing 2 of themselves in the explosion), while the Banshees slipped over and stole their ride. The Wraithguard removed the other threat and advanced to where the Vindies could see them as I was now protected by Fortune. My right Dragon Serpent moved Fast to try and bait the Assault Termies into getting out early so I could shoot the snot out of them... And then my Wraithlords started Shooting. I destroyed the Land Raider, a Vindicator and Weapon Destroyed another Vindie. Oh yeah...

His turn I couldn't believe my fortune... he dropped a Tac squad in range of my Banshees. I'm used to them having targets to take down, but it's not every day that someone makes a target of themselves. His shooting was incidental and mostly he moved to swarm bodies onto the objectives and/or into the maw to slow me down. The nice thing was Cassius and Co taking my bait and going after the Dragon Serpent. They did manage to wreck it, but it meant an extra turn they weren't beating on my Wraithguard.
My turn saw the Dragons reap revenge on the Termies, dropping 4 thanks to DB flamers, Doom and a nice dose of luck. One Wraithlord Flamed and charged them, but failed to do any damage. The others also forgot what they were doing and missed with their shots. The Wraithguard dropped the last Vindie threat while the Banshees cleaned house: killing 9, losing 1 to the Sgt, and then dropping him with No Retreat hits. The Dragons meltabombed both Drop Pods, managing to kill 2 more of their number and a Wraithguard in the explosion. Spiders also came in on my left and took advantage of a Serpent popping a Rhino, but they only killed 1 guy.

Turn 3 saw him wipe the Banshees, blast my Dragons on the right and generally continue his path to swarm the objectives.
I retaliated for the loss of the Dragons, sadly such that I couldn't charge that turn. My surviving Dragons moved on to pop another Rhino, bringing their kill total up to 4 vehicles that game... and also killing another one of their own in the explosion. These guys were a little overzealous... Combined Serpent, Spider and Jetbike fire on the far left removed an entire squad, though the Spiders had to use their powerblades in CC to kill the last couple of guys.

So things at this point were pretty much solid, presuming I took care of a few odds and ends. His Termies finally killed my Wraithlord and then charged my Wraithguard, but got killed before they could attack thanks to Enhance. The other two Wraithlords wandered around and popped vehicles and tidying up. Here's what things looked like after my movement phase in Turn 6:

That little gap in my lines at the front left of his tank? Totally deliberate. I wanted to make sure that when I popped the tank, he couldn't do an Emergency Disembark and remain within 3" of the objective. Of course with all this preparation, the tank died to the first volley of Warp Spider fire. I chose to shoot them first since AP- won't cause Penetrating Explodes. He then tried disembarking on the side facing the objective, until I asked if he could do so without being in 1" of an enemy model. The two guys then took a full volley from the second Spider squad and died several times over. This gave me a full Wipe Out.

Final Result: Massacre #3. 24 Battle Points to 0.

This was enough to give me Overall with 68 points total. One other guy managed 3x Massacres, but didn't get enough extra points and had 67. The next closest scorer had 52...

All in all, a fun day gaming. Though there were a lot of really solid lists, any rules exploitations were minimal. Now I just need to figure out what I'm going to spend the winnings on and if I'm free to head to Round 2!

Ard Boyz, Round 1, Battle 2

Battle 2, "Urban Warfare"
This was against Andrew and his Tau. He's a decent player that does decently at small events, but isn't quite top caliber.
His list was:
1 Crisis Commander w Plasmagun & Cyclic Ion Cannon
1 Crisis Commander w Fusiongun & Flamer
3 Crisis Suits w Plasmaguns
3 Crisis Suits w Missile Pods
6 Stealth Suits
2x 14 Kroot w 6 Hounds
1x 8 or so Fire Warriors in Devilfish w Flechette, Disruption Pods & SMS
2x 12 Fire Warriros on foot
2x 8 Pathfinders in Devilfish w Flechette, Disruption Pods & SMS
2x Pirahna w Fusionguns
2x Hammerheads w Railguns
2x Broadsides w Multi-trackers

I'll confess that I mentally licked my chops looking at his list. I had been concerned about this mission as my specialist army had 28 possible KP, but his was running a tasty 36! The table was a City Fight board with 6" roads and lots of 2-3 story ruined buildings. Andrew won the roll for first turn and chose to start things off. I think he was hoping to get as much fire into me as possible... He started his two foot FWs on the field while Eldrad and the Wraithguard went out alone against them. With Dawn of War pushing us off-table, it was going to be a test of my mobility and resiliency against his massed guns.

That wall of guys doesn't even include his 2x Outflanking Kroot squads and second Pathfinders! (I forgot to add them and wasn't going to reset everything just for that...)

The first turn saw us mostly moving onto the board. He moved on a bit cautiously, trying to cover lanes of fire without over commiting himself. He did a neat encirclement of the Wraithguard and threw a bunch of fire into them, but only got 2 thanks to their Toughness and Cover.
For my turn I didn't fire a single shot. Eldrad Fortuned his group up and then everything moved Fast, Turbo-Boost or Ran. The Wraithguard did spread back a little so the Spiritseer could cover two of the Wraithlords from Wraithsight.

Turn 2 saw his Pirahnas bop left to try and pop the left Dragon Serpent, but failing. Some Markerlight fire also lit up the left for the Railguns, but also failed. Serpent Shields are great! Then Markerlight fire and the entire rest of his army opened up on the Wraithguard... and killed three. T6 and 3+ Fortune, baby. He also had a Kroot squad Outflank to my right. Rather than tarpitting the Wraithlord like they should have, instead they charged the Wave Serpent in hopes of cutting my mobility... Good idea, but it didn't pan out.
When I saw how much of my army was still alive and ready to jump down his throat, I knew it was over but for the fat lady. It was just a question of how long it would take Andrew to realize.
So Eldrad and the Wraithguard charged; being closer than they appear in the prior pic. Between them they dropped a Devilfish, killing all but 3 guys on board and Pinning the squad, and wiped an entire 12-man FW squad. Yum, yum. Dragons jumped ship and dropped Piranhas and a Hammerhead while Spiders dropped a Devilfish and Pathfinders. But the worst was to the Kroot. My Serpent flew away and Mr. Wraithlord walked in with fuel sputtering from his flamers... 39 hits made for 27 wounds and they all went away. The only items that went poorly this turn were the Jetbikes failing to do much to the Stealth Suits and my Spiders jumping into terrain and killing half their squad in the process.

Turn 3 saw Andrew trying his best to recoup something. His other Kroot squad must have seen the slaughter of their kin and did not arrive this turn. He then turned enough fire into the weak Spider squad to destroy it. He also dropped half the Dragons on the left, so they got back in their tank and hid. The Pathfinder/Jetbike fight continued with another press. He also focussed two units of Crisis Suits and his Fusion Gun Crisis on the Wraithguard, but failed to kill a single one...
My turn saw the upstart Tau really put down. Two the Wraithlords passed Wraithsight and decided to kill tanks while they were at it. The third passed Wraithsight too but was left with no LOS to anything. Spiders then smashed some suits, Wraithguard smashed more on the charge, and my Banshees decided they didn't need out of the tank anyways and went looking for new targets.
This was the end of Turn 3:

This was the point that Andrew realized it was done. We still had 45 minutes left in the round, but there was no way I'd be getting anything less than a Massacre. KP were at 25 to 2.
Final result: 24 Battle Points to 0.

Andrew learned a few good things during this game... One bit of advice I gave him was to consider a sacrifice squad next time he plays Dawn of War. Something that goes way out on the front line to push the enemy back. It would have seriously slowed down my Wraithguard to have started farther back.

(Whew, almost there! Next time I'm bringing my camera as setting these up in Vassal takes almost as long as the actual game... :-p )

Ard Boyz, Round 1, Battle 1

Battle 1, "Illusions in the woods"
The first pairing of the day saw me facing a guy named Chris and his Crimson Fist army. My first thought was "Ugh, this will be ugly." Of the 22 entrants, Chris was one of the three other guys at the tournament that I consider "GT quality"; ie skilled enough to have a serious shot at taking Best General or Overall at a 60 person GT. I was going to have to do something special to pull this one off. Thankfully, it was an objectives mission and mech Eldar excel at those.

He brought:
Pedro Kantor
Master of the Forge w a Conversion Beamer
9x Scouts with Sniper Rifles & Cameleoline
2x Dreadnaughts w Multi-Meltas & Heavy Flamers
Venerable Dread w Multi-Melta & Heavy Flamers, in Drop Pod
7x Assault Teminators, 5 w T-Hammer/S-Shield and 2 w Lightning Claws, in Land Raider Crusader w Multi-Melta
2x 10 Sternguard, Sgt w Power Fist, in Rhinos
2x 10 Tactical Marines, Sgt w Power Fist, Multi-Melta, Meltagun, in Razorback w Heavy Bolters

Now here's why I label this report as having "Tricks": I knew that my force had superior mobility, but less Scoring units. All that really mattered was that I controlled more objectives while also killing more squads.
So the first trick was regarding the objectives. One went in the center and the other two went in our deployment zones. He won the roll for first turn and chose to go first. Looking at his list, I figured he was going to come hard and fast at my lines, especially if I gave him some bait. So after I saw him put an objective way to the left, I went ahead and clustered my two as close to the front and center as possible.

Deployment looked like this:

Guys off the board are in Reserves or in tanks. Guys tallied to the left are kills.
The Tacs Combat squadded; 3 Bolters, meltagun and Sgt into the Razorbacks and 4 guys and MM both going into his center forest objective. Master of the Forge and Scouts on the left objective. Pedro and Termies in the Land Raider. Dreads frontal to Screen the APCs in case I swung deep.
I put Eldrad, Wraithguard, and Wraithlords central. Some of the Wraithguard spilled out of the cover to sweeten the bait. Dragons are the red Serpents and Banshees the yellow.

Turn 1 was pretty uneventful.
He Deep Struck the Ven Dread, advanced and popped a few Wraithguard. He tried several shots into my Serpents, but their shield were proof against the puny melta weapons.
I managed to blow the Powerfist off the Ven Dread, reducing him to S6 but he was proof versus my blows in CC and shooting. I did make a mistake at this point by forgetting to declare an assault on the Dread with my Wraithguard. This would have pulled my guys out of range for his Termie charge... I think this was a mixed bag mistake since it eventually cost me my Wraithguard, but also kept him from shifting them to protect a flank.

Turn 2 was a little more bloody. His Land Raider pushed forward to sit just off the middle objective while also unleashing his Termies into my Wraithguard. Thanks to Enhance I popped 2 of them on the way in and Fortuned Rune Armour absorbed a couple Wounds, but I still lost half the squad. He also advanced his APC line and popped Smoke on all of them. Wave Serpent fields again saved the day versus those pesky melta weapons.
My turn saw the Banshees zipping into position, Dragons blasting some Scouts and a unit of jetbikes entering play. Spider fire proved superior on the right and popped a Rhino, killing 4 guys inside. Spider fire proved mediocre on the other and only got a Weapon Destroyed on the Razorback. Fickle dice included Immobilizing his Land Raider with a Bright Lance, only to merely stun it with all three Penetrating hits. I still couldn't kill that damned Ven Dread either... he finally caused a Wound and No Retreat popped another! Only Eldrad and the Spirit Seer were left at this point and my charging Wraithlord had failed to hit Kantor with all three attacks...

Turn 3 saw his Dreads whip back around to try and stop the Banshees, but speed and fields again saw proof, resulting only in a double Shaken thanks to Spirit Stones. The girls were safe to wreak havoc on my turn... His only other Shooting was a squad of Sternguard blowing away a Wraithlord several times over. Damnably, CC went poorly this turn, with me failing to kill any Termies while losing my Spirit Seer and Wraithlord. Eldrad broke and ran, fleeing off the table at the start of my turn. That bloody Ven Dread again shrugged off all blows and managed to fell the Wraithlord! GAH! But in my favor, the Master of the Forge and his Scouts had learned to fear the DB Flamer... so they broke cover, shooting and CC wiping the Dragons, but Consolidate not giving them enough move to return to safety.
My turn saw the left squad of Spiders jump forward and blast several Scouts. They then charged the MotF and killed him, but failed to drop the last two Scouts. The other Spiders wiped the small Sternguard while the Banshees took the Tac Marines to town. That damnable Ven Dread weathered the Fire Dragon shooting with only an Immobilized, but finally went down to meltabombs in CC! I also risked a unit of jetbikes up the right side to make him think about that objective there. Here's where I made my second mistake of the game, I forgot to move them back away from the Termies... but surely he'd flub the Difficult Terrain, right?

Turn 4 ended up being our last turn due to time. Neither of us was slow-playing, but Chris' has several unfortunate interruptions during the course of the battle. I'm sure this helped throw him off his game. We both knew it was the last turn and the push for the objectives was on!
Chris' Termies didn't flub and went on to massacre the Jetbikes. He encircled my right objective with a Rhino and Razorback as well as the Termies. The Sternguard ran to jump just onto the edge of my left objective. But the Warp Spiders and Banshees finished off the Marines guarding both of his objectives. He also tried Tank Shock on my jetbikes, but they laughed and moved aside.
Going into the final turn, I didn't hold a single objective to his two. I also thought we were tied for KP... So I resorted to mech Eldar trickery again! The Spiders on the left jumped out to threaten his Razorback while the Jetbikes grabbed the objective. The right Dragon Serpent then jumped his lines to contest the right objective. He was solidly on the other objective, so I Tank Shocked with my Serpent. Even if I lost it to Death or glory, I'd still push them back enough to allow the Jetbikes in to Contest. The DoG was tried and failed; the Sergeant reduced to a fine paste. As they were going to be Fleeing at the end of the game, they were removed to give me yet another KP. We ended the game at this point as it was clear I had the victory.

Final result was 2 objectives for me, 1 contested, and 2 unclaimed. With 9 KP to 7, I had managed to Massacre him. I didn't realize until today, but I probably should have pushed to shoot with the Dragons and Spiders on the right. Had I popped his Razorback and the guys inside, I could have pulled down an extra Battle Point. I think had we gone the full 6 turns, I still would have won. By turn 3 he was so commited to the center that there was no going back... He realized this too and says he's not going to fall for that sort of thing again. :-p

Final result: 20 Battle Points to 0.

P.S. Thanks to the crew at Vassal for providing such a great battle report tool for those of us to lazy or ashamed to take pictures! I hear you can even play games with it too...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ard Boyz 2009, Round 1

Well, Ard Boyz has now come and gone. I'd planned to blog about my list, but I didn't finalize it until about 1am the night prior. I wasn't comfortable with how my playtesting had gone and it went through several iterations.

I played at my FLGS, Hat's Games. We had 22 entrants from around the area and the lists were tough. I took my mixed-mech Eldar:


2x 7 Fire Dragons, Exarch Upgrade, DB Flamer in a Wave Serpent w Spirit Stones and Shuriken Cannon turret

10 Banshees, Exarch Upgrade, Executioner, War Shout, Acrobatics in a Wave Serpent w Spirit Stones and Shuriken Cannon turret

3x 3 Guardian Jetbikes w a Shuriken Cannon

10x Wraithguard, Spiritseer, Enhance, Singing Spear

2x 8 Warp Spiders, Exarch upgrade, Powerblades, 2x Death Spinners

3x Wraithlord w EML/BL

I played Kantor Marines, mech Tau, and mech Ultramarines. It was a long and brutal day, but I managed to use superior mobility to pull three solid Massacres. This pushed me into Overall for the day. Makes my total Ard Boyz 2x 1sts local, 1x 2nd local, and 1x 6th regional. (I couldn't make the regional the second year due to SCA commitments.) So now it is off to Phoenix on August 8th for the next round.

How did all of you fare?

I'll be working on battle reports tomorrow and should post them up soon. Right now, I'm exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. I'm going to scarf some food, beat some baby seals in Overlord II, ice my knee and go to bed soon.

(Image, I'm sure, is copyright Games Workshop and will be removed if they ask me.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

What's in your workspace?

As it seems obligatory to post some pics of your workspace... Here are some shots of mine:
My daughter Faydra and the cats vie to steal my chair whenever I'm up.
Keeping things organized
My tool organizer.

Here's some workspace tips:
1. Get a comfortable chair. This doesn't have to be expensive or "ergonomic", but should be something you're willing to plop down in for hours at a time. I really suggest a good office chair as they are designed for normal table heights, promote good posture, and the arm rests are convenient to steadying your hands. Do a little hunting at second hand stores or business sales and you can find a good one for less than the cost of a character model.
2. Dual-source lighting. Nothing beats strong, clean, natural sunlight. However, you may have a day job, live in San Francisco, be allergic to sunlight, or just unwilling to schedule your painting muse around something as mundane as the daylight hours. I use two desk lamps, one with a full-spectrum bulb and the other with a high wattage incandescent. The reasons for this are:
a. Shadows on a fig will become deeper and sharper the closer and brighter a light source is. You can remove this false shadowing by having a diffuse secondary light source coming from another side. Incandescent bulbs are naturally "softer" and more diffuse, making them a perfect choice for a second lamp.
b. Incandescent bulbs are HOT. Using one as a primary source is a great way to burn yourself. (Yes, this is from experience...) The full-spectrum goes to my left to directly illuminate what I'm working on. The incandescent goes on the right to provide diffuse light yet be far enough away that I don't brush into it accidentally. A secondary benefit of this is for sculpting: the heat helps greenstuff cure faster but isn't so much as to melt plastic.
c. How often do you get to play a game outside or under display quality lighting? Yeah, me neither. By having yellow (incandescent) and purple-white ("full-spectrum") hue bulbs, I can not only light my fig well, but also get a sense of what it is going to look like under the kinds of lighting you find in a store or convention hall.

3. Cutting mats are your friend! This will protect the surface of your table and also provides a handy way to pick up and put your entire project on a high shelf. This can be invaluable if your workspace isn't private and must vie with cats, children, or be tidied up when guests are over. You can pick these up at any decent art store for a pittance or just acquire one from a former employer during a rebranding.

4. Organize your work. One thing I really like about my cutting mat is the handy grid on it. When constructing several figs at the same time, it is easy to lose track of what has or hasn't been done. For example, when cleaning flash I'll start with the fig in the top right spot. As I finish each bit, it gets displaced 2" to the right. This gives me a quick and easy way to tell what is done and what isn't; a critical item if you are only sitting down for short stints and want to be thorough.

5. Organize your bitz. Those damn little things go everywhere and are easy to damage if you're pawing through a pile. I used to use a beader's box with a lid so that I could carry it with my to the local gaming store. These days I do most of my work at home and use a wall mounted shop organizer instead. It's in another room, but you can see some of the clear trays in the second picture.

6. Organize your tools. The only thing worse than not having the right tool for a job? Not being able to find that tool when you need it. It may seem silly, but by designating a specific place for a tool, you'll start habitually putting the tool back in the same spot. This may not seem like a big deal when you're first starting out, but trust me... it will escalate.
Additionally, a tool box or tray for your tools and extra supplies will allow you to pick everything up quickly. If you're doing a good bit of travel with your tools, there's some nice tackle boxes that can double as a bitz box too. The downsides are that the lids make access a little less convenient and the plastic will eventually break with (mis)use. My current model is a simple office drawer organizer as shown in the third picture. Notably, this is not all of my paints or tools, just the ones applicable to my current project(s). I have an extra toolbox and storage shelf for everything else.

With that, it's time to head home and finally decide what I'm running for Ard Boyz tomorrow. I have a final scenario playtest scheduled for after dinner... I'm still debating between Black Legion, mech-Eldar, or mixed-mech Iyanden. We shall see...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some insights on Fast Rolling...

The most amazing insights I've gotten on this game almost always seem to come not from my own studies and games, but from the oddball questions others ask of me. This one came from sturgard and was basically:
"My friend plays 3 lictors and sometimes uses a reserve denial list. So what he wants to know is can he roll all of his reserve rolls (say for the entire army), then decide which 3 rolls to go back and reroll?"

This was a fascinating item as at first look it seemed rather ambiguous. Neither the Reserves nor Pheremone Trail rules gave much insight. A basic look through the 5th edition rulebook (aka BRB) also didn't turn up a hard ruling. Taken before a judge at a tourney, I could see it being a coin-toss either way. It wasn't until I delved further that I realized the answer was simple, just that a rule had been expanded beyond it's original intent to become common gaming convention. The culprit: Fast Rolling.

Fast Rolling is a great rule that speeds up game play. In short, rather than rolling three sets of dice one at a time, you just roll three different coloured sets of dice once. It's so useful that it's become common convention to use it for just about every group roll.

The thing is, 40k is a permissive rules set. If it isn't in the rules, it's not legal. But wait, you say, Fast Rolling IS in the rules, right? Yes it is. Page 18 of the rulebook. What's interesting about this choice is that the rules for rolling and re-rolls are all the way back on page 2.

This was the key. Fast Rolling isn't part of the general rules of 40k. It is only common convention to allow all the time. 5th edition only allows it in specific places: To-Hit, To-Wound, and Save for both the Shooting and Assault phases.

What's this mean? Most of the time it is not going to matter as people won't have a way to influence the outcome of the rolls anyways. So sticking with a fast-rolling convention is just fine. But when the player has a re-roll or optional result modifier, don't let them game you by using Fast Rolling. Most players probably won't even realize they were playing it wrong until you point it out.