Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Plastic Soldier Co. German infantry

A while back I posted on some British troops I had picked up from Plastic Soldier Company. I usually end up getting two armies when I jump into a game system. So while I was happily working away on my British, I also decided to get some 1/72 scale German infantry from Plastic Soldier Co.

While I complained some on the detail of the British troops, I cannot say the same with the German figures. They all have very nice detail on the packs and other parts of the figures. I really hope the company considers dabbling more in the 28mm scale. These miniatures would be a great alternate to the official Warlord products out there.

You get a rather large platoon with LMG teams, NCOs, figures with MP-40s, even medics. Plenty here to provide a core force for a Bolt Action platoon. It's a great buy with nice figures making up the set. These figures here were given a thin coat of black primer wash.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Webcomics as RPG inspiration

I’m a dork. I love comics. My collecting days faded long ago but the resurgence of trades has allowed me to rediscover my love of comics. Fortunately the medium has spread out to some wonderful online comics too.

I’m knee deep in a weird west Savage Worlds campaign now but I’m always on the prowl for ideas. A big plus of Savage Worlds is it’s a fairly generic rule system. If my players want to take a break and do a one shot in a different setting, we can make the jump and not get too bogged down with learning another system.

Given just about anything is on the table if I get a fancy for running something different, I tend to find inspiration in a lot of comics. Lately I’ve been enjoying a slew of online stuff that has gotten my adventure-generating juices going. With the combination of images and text, I just seem to get a lot of inspiration from them. Here’s a list of a few I’ve been enjoying as of late...

Broodhollow - First up is a wonderful supernatural comic from the same fellow that does Chainsawsuit and the concluded Starslip. Set in the 30s it tells of Wadsworth Zane, a phobia-riddled salesman, that decides to heed the call of managing the affairs of a long lost relative which left him an antique store in their will. The town itself is steeped in odd traditions, unexplained events, and townsfolk seeming oblivious to the strange goings on.

It has a humorous charm and certainly strives for tickling the reader’s funny bone. However, like the town of Broodhollow itself, under the surface are moments of stark, skin-crawling horror. A nice source of inspiration for any Call of Cthulhu game.

Outrunners - I wish I knew more about the artist for this gritty futuristic webcomic. All I know is it oozes cool as street gangs of the future fight over what turf they can and against oppressive law enforcers. The story revolves mainly around the reckless and headstrong, Reck, and the gang she runs with. It’s a world of haves and have-nots with the Outrunners trying to scrape out a piece for themselves.

There is wonderful stuff here. The action is enjoyable and if anything, the dialog really seems to capture that Akira bike gang feel. While not quite cyberpunk, it has a great tough street theme and face it, running a game or two where PCs are part of a futuristic street bike gang would make for an amazing time.

Kill 6 Billion Demons - This is just trippy stuff. Not sure if this is a solo story effort, or done through collaborative storytelling. Nonetheless K6BD seems to capture that wild fantasy setting of Planetscape and the planar city of Sigil quite well. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the story some. All I can say is that much of it is just otherworldly.
The visuals of the comic express a teeming city of bizarre beings and creatures, with strange merchants that deal in the property of spiritual essences. It really is a great source of inspiration for a wild urban fantasy game and worth checking out.

The Fox Sister - Set in the late 60s in Korea, this tells a more modern version of a classic Korean folk tale. Yun Hee is a shaman and slayer of demonic creatures. As a child she lost her entire family to a kumiho, or 9 tailed fox demon. She still pursues the creature that possesses the body of her sister. It’s an enjoyable comic with a more action oriented take on horror.

It’s a modern supernatural story with an Asian touch. It manages to merge different cultural views in the story as one of the main characters is an American missionary. When I’ve run past supernatural RPG sessions, it's always been seated firmly in a western setting. The Fox Sister has sparked my interest in exploring other horror mythos and has made the idea of running a game in an Asian setting more approachable.

That’s pretty much some of the webcomics I've been farming for ideas as of late. I hope folks take a bit of time to give them a look and find some enjoyment with reading them. And if you also manage to get inspiration for your own RPG adventures, well that’s even better.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: 5150 - Star Army

Two hour wargames has a slew of settings using their Chain Reaction rules (which are available free). Their sci-fi ruleset is 5150: Star Army which is designed for a variety of scales but works for best for 15-28 mm. Now Chain Reaction has been out a while now and this is not the first iteration of their sci-fi rules. Their latest version, which came out in 2011, shows that as it seems much more polished and refined as a dedicated ruleset of military style engagements.

The game is designed to handle small squad engagements up to a company in size. More rapid games usually run about a platoon size with some armor assets. It truly is a skirmish game however, with individual models taking actions and isn’t necessarily abstracted out to the squad level like some other games (ex. Bolt Action). Because of this, units have a lot of flexibility on the battlefield and can split and form up easily. This is especially nice as you could have a support team set up to cover the rest of the squad when it assaults, allowing for more interesting tactics.

The core aspect of Star Army (and all Chain Reaction games) is the reaction system using a couple of d6. When called upon to do something, the model rolls 2d6 and tries to score equal to, or under, a set value of its reputation or ‘rep’. It can either pass these tests with both dice, one, or none. Rep ranges from 2 (very poor, civilian type troops) to upwards of 6 (hero-like reputation) with most troops ranging from 3-4.

Initiative is randomly determined based on rep. Each player rolls a single d6 and all units/models that have a rep equal to or higher than the roll can activate for that turn. Leaders can utilize their leadership for units under their command, allowing a group of irregulars with a rep of 3 to likely activate with a well-trained leader’s rep of 5. Once a unit has activated and done their movement and firing it’s done for the turn.

This looks initially as a simple IGOUGO system, however it’s actually a very fluid action system where units can fire and react multiple times. Each time a unit sees an enemy pop into LOS, or is fired upon, they can attempt to react and return fire. So all units are consistently on overwatch and react to events around them. This is curbed by the requirement of passing checks to react.

The number of passed tests indicate what actions they can undertake. If they pass with 2 dice, then they’ll likely fire to full effect. If only one die passed, limited fire is an option, with no dice meaning the unit might actually scramble for cover instead. All of these tests are based on a chart broken up by the action the unit is reacting to. If it’s fired on it uses a specific row. If it suffers casualties, a different chart row is consulted. If it requires a cohesion test, another row is looked at to determine results, etc.

To explain the shooting steps further, each weapon has a number of dice rolled based on its target value (or effective firepower) with most rifles throwing 3 dice. The player rolls a d6 and adds their rep value trying to get over 7. This target number is increased upwards to 10, based on cover for the target or actions from the firing unit (like firing on the move, etc.). All rolls that hit are then rolled for damage, where a player needs to roll under the impact rating of the weapon. The impact rating will vary depending on the armor of the target. Soft armored troops have a higher impact rating for weapons compared to heavy, or exo-armored troops. Typically wounds are scored on a 1-2. It’s an easy system to resolve.

Close combat is a little more abstract. Units roll multiple d6 based on armor and weapons. Rolls of three or less are considered successes. The difference between the scores becomes the number of casualties for the losing side. This may also force a morale test where the losing side can break and run. Overall it’s a pretty simple, abstract system to run.

There are also rules for vehicles, however most revolve around armored fighting vehicles like tanks and APCs. Flyers are not really part of the rule system for on table models to use. Rather they are incorporated into scenario assets as air support, or for rapid insertions. As for these additional rules, there are a lot of options including snipers, artillery strikes, boobytraps and mines, even defensive ambushes from small teams.

There are a few simple scenarios presented as a patrol or a defensive/offensive actions, where the player can determine the objective for their units (ex. either to destroy as much of the enemy as possible, or get units off their opponent’s side of the board). And there is a rather interesting campaign mode detailing the attempt for invading a planet.

I’d be remiss to not mention that the rules also support solitaire play. As the game revolves around passing reaction checks, the authors were able to come up with some clever automated rules. Enemy units are represented by random tokens. When the player finally gets a token in sight, what it actually represents is randomly determined depending on the type of scenario played. Each unit has a scripted AI sequence and provides an engaging opponent. It works rather well as a solo game.

The background of the universe is paper thin. There are not any set rules for creating alien races. However there are unique abilities and characteristics for different races provided. Further the reaction tables for each race are somewhat unique. They can be tailored to fit a variety of unit types. There are also additional rules for ‘bugs’ or alien races that are more feral and primarily employ close assault attacks (for those folks wanting to try an Aliens or Starship Troopers type of game). The game also incorporates different armor and weapon systems. Combined with rep values, you can model a variety of troops with the default charts and tables. This could allow a disparity with tech values among alien races, to pitting battle-hardened veterans against green irregulars.

Another key aspect of the rules are the leaders or what the game calls, Stars. Models are split into either grunts or stars. The stars are larger than life heroes. Many of their reaction rules are ignored, allowing greater autonomy over how a star reacts in battle. Additionally there are rules for making them more resilient to damage.

What you should be able to take from this is how utterly flexible the rule system is. It can surprisingly incorporate a lot of different play styles and genres. If someone wanted to run a Star Wars type game with jedi and sith duking it out as stormtroopers and rebels fire away with blasters, it can be done. The base system is rather simple, but incorporating company assets you could get a variety of off-board support for a patrol scenario. Additionally there are rules to allow a simple firefight to roll into a larger engagement, with additional reinforcements coming into the fray.

There might be one detraction with this system. It is very much an old school wargame ruleset. There are no points. There isn't really any guidelines for making a balanced fight. Instead the players are asked to use their judgement and try to make the game as fun and challenging as possible. The rules assume that the game is run through a gentlemanly agreement rather than a competitive tournament style.

The Good - How the turn progresses is very fluid. The chaotic escalation of a firefight where units either hit the dirt or return fire is engaging. Everything comes down to leadership, with poorly trained troops being unlikely to react to events unfolding around them, but occasionally they might show initiative and react accordingly. It’s very organic despite the apparent free flow of play and is a nice skirmish set of rules.

The Bad - It can take a bit to wrap your head around the rules. Things are broken up well and it encourages the slow digestion of rules followed up by play. Nonetheless it requires a lot of charts and condensed quick reference sheets for each force. You are rolling off on tables and there are differing results depending on the condition of the target unit.

Lastly, the game does commit one great sin in my eyes. Not all die rolls are interpreted as high or low. For most of the game rolling low is good except when it comes to shooting, where you want to roll high. This small difference can break up teaching the game and impedes the processing of rules some. Lastly the game does depend on players with a similar mentality for balance and fun. There is nothing stopping a side from going all out in a battle, bringing in tons of tanks and platoon assets, with troops armed (and armored) to the teeth, other than being a jerk. I find it refreshing to have rules adopt a more free attitude towards force construction but some might like a more concrete set of rules for platoon composition.

The Verdict - I really enjoy 5150: Star Army. It’s got dynamic play with unit activation and reaction. It handles military small unit action very well. It’s a surprisingly flexible system that can incorporate a lot of different genres, and can handle quite a few units on the table. It could easily be tinkered some to run a modern insurgent-type squad engagements, up to more cinematic, over-the-top heroic action. The sheer amount of layers of rules is fantastic. From campaign rules to solitaire or team based games (being run against an AI opponent), there is a lot of muscle with the rules to run a variety of skirmish games.

One slight detraction could be just that. It is very much an individual model skirmish game. Actions and reactions are based at times on individual models. This can slow down a game some with a lot of units. Especially when you have multiple units reacting to the same acting unit. However, this also means the game can accommodate a lot of different playstyles, where players could throw heroic type individuals into the mix of different squads and still have a fun game. Not all game systems could handle this well.

Overall I would recommend 5150: Star Army. It’s a solid set of rules for military skirmish wargaming. Turn progression and resolution of actions are dynamic allowing for each player to roll a lot of dice and (hopefully) react to their opponent. The solo rules alone could be a reason to pick this up. If you are looking for a sci-fi ruleset for platoon infantry combat, you'll find this book a good buy and fun to play.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Rolling Dice - Board Game Store in Seoul

A while back I talked about some places to pick up war game supplies in Seoul and after being up there this weekend, I have to say the Tamiya Store at Yongsan Train station is still my favorite. There is also the StyleX Shop (located in the same central hub near the Tamiya store) that carries a full range of Vallejo paints. So between the two, I can just about pick up all my painting and modeling needs at Yongsan Station (same place where a Gundam Base store is).

Fortunately for board games, you've got a better selection. Board gaming is a relatively popular hobby in Korea, with the CCG scene being particularly popular with younger kids. One of my favorites is Rolling Dice. Now, it's really a sister store to Dive Dice which also operates an online store. In fact the map I have in the post directs to that name, but the storefront in Hongdaejeom is Rolling Dice.

The store is fairly large, with a pretty nice selection of board games. What I failed to take a pic of is another wall of Magic and X-Wing miniatures, along with another full shelf of Korean Board games. Yup, the pic you have here are just some of the selection of games in English.

The place is pretty hopping the weekends I've visited. It looks like Magic has a fairly fervent following with several tables filled with players. With a small shelf of snacks and a bathroom on the facilities, you can say they take gaming in store pretty seriously. Unfortunately for non-Koreans, it seems regional language is the norm for the decks I saw, but there were a few ex-pats having some games (and I expect with the right app, you could get a language translation of cards if needed in a pinch).

To get there, take subway line 2 to Hongik university. Get out at exit 2 and head off for a street parallel to the main avenue. You can see the pin marker on the map pic below for the storefront. Look for it on the 3rd floor of a commercial building. The store hours are a bit wonky and more for the late night crowd. They typically open after 3PM and will stay open Fridays and Saturdays till 12PM. So be sure to swing by the place late afternoon/early evening.

Rolling Dice offers typical retail prices. I've gotten quite a few games from overseas distributors and have to say having a local source in Korea will save you tons in shipping, even if you're playing retail costs. For an ex-pat board gamer, this is a great store to check out. Be sure to give them a look if you are ever in Seoul.