Clockwork Temple Base-ics part II: Painting

In the last article, I talked about how I made my clockwork temple bases for my Convergence army. This time, we’re going to paint them up and use some techniques that may not be familiar to most miniature painters. That’s right, we’re using oil paints!

But first, lets get started. With the bases done, the first step is to prime them. When painting models and bases that are mostly metallic, it’s generally better to forgo the zenithal and just prime black. As such, I go with Stynylrez flat black through the airbrush, but you could do a rattle can prime if that’s more your speed. Simple, everyone knows how to do that.

Steel

Next up, we’re going to lay down our silver metals, so it’s time to take out the Vallejo Metal Colors (not Model Color or Model Air, Vallejo Metal Color) and get to work. The specific colours don’t really matter, but you’re going to want a dark grey metal like Steel or Gunmetal Grey, a mid-tone like Silver or Dark Aluminum, and a highlight such as Chrome or Aluminum. The specific colours don’t really matter because it’s bases we’re talking about and VMC has a somewhat ridiculous range of grey metals (but not enough golds and coppers, grumble grumble).

We’re going to work from dark to light, so I started with the gunmetal grey, added some black ink to darken it even further, and applied a base coat over the entire base. From there, we’re going to apply our dark colour, our midtone, and our highlight in succession. But we’re not just going to just cover everything up with another base coat, we’re going to move the airbrush around, applying each colour in a marbled pattern, which will create visual interest. Also, as you move to the highlights, start focusing your fire in certain areas that you want to highlight – namely, areas that aren’t going to be in the shadow of the model, and the centers of the floor panels, away from the panel lines.

Picking out details.

The next step is to simply pick out the various details – paint up the gears and greeblies in brass and copper, highlighting as you go. Then give the whole thing a quick dry brush with a bright silver, which will highlight the steel, copper and bronze all at once. From there, pick out the hoses in grey and give them a nuln oil wash. Hit the hoses with a quick coat of brush-on varnish and let the paints cure, preferably overnight, because the next step is where the fun part begins.

Note that if you use a rattle can primer, this is the only airbrush step in the process. If you don’t have an airbrush, there may be a workaround — what I would probably do is get some big makeup brushes and apply the metals over the black primer by dry brushing them on successively from dark to light, and maybe doing a little stippling here and there of bright silvers.

Oil time!

That’s right, it’s time to break out our oil paints. Oil paints aren’t anything new, but they’ve been rediscovered by a lot of miniature painting influencers who are a lot more influential than me lately, so they’re kind of the hot fad right now. The thing with oil paints is that they have a few properties that make them totally different from acrylic paints, so you’re

First, the challenges with oil paints. Obviously, oil and water don’t mix, so you’re going to need some odorless spirits for thinning the paints and cleaning your brushes. You’re also probably going to want to use them in a well-ventilated area; I’ve found they can cause irritation, but it might just be that I’m using decades-old tubes. Finally, oil paints are used by canvas artists and as such, part of the drying process is for the linseed oil to be absorbed into the canvas. Since we aren’t painting on canvas and plastic isn’t very absorbent, if we are using artist oil paints, we’re going to want to squirt what we need onto a piece of cardboard and let the cardboard soak up some of the linseed oil for a couple hours before we get to work.

But, in spite of all these challenges, oil paints offer huge benefits. They have a really long drying time, which opens us up to some techniques that simply won’t work with acrylics – and we’re going to use two of these techniques on this project. They can also be very forgiving because if you make a mistake, the paint isn’t dry and can be just wiped away.

Oil washes

By mixing oil paints and your spirits, you can make a wash that behaves very differently from your standard Nuln Oil. For this project, I like to make a blue-black wash by mixing up some black and blue paint with my spirits of choice. I’m not sure the exact ratio, but it’s easy to add a little more white spirits or paint if it doesn’t feel right.

As you go to apply the oil wash, you’ll notice that it is actually pretty amazing. You know how when you started painting you slathered minis in Nuln Oil and then moved away from that later on as you started to get annoyed with all the coffee staining and the dirty look? Well, an oil wash in many ways feels like that magical moment when you slathered that first mini in Nuln Oil all over again.

It’s been a while since I took any sort of fluid dynamics, so I’m not sure if it’s the viscosity or the surface tension, but you’ll see that oil washes move around on the surfaces more. This makes them great for doing things like panel lines, as you can simply touch the panel line with a loaded brush and the oil wash will flow along the panel line, shading it all in one quick go.

The other trick to oil washes is since they take so long to dry, you can easily avoid coffee staining by soaking up any excess. I like to use makeup wedges, but a paper towel or some foam from a blister pack can work in a pinch. You can also let the oil wash dry in the panel lines for a couple hours then come back in with the makeup wedges and wipe the excess off the flat surfaces. This is much easier than trying to panel line with acrylics, and because you aren’t getting coffee staining everywhere, it’s much cleaner and it doesn’t mess with metallic shines.

Dot filters

Now that we’ve got our panel lines picked out, we’re going to dirty up our floor and add some more visual interest. Here we’re going to use a technique called a dot filter which is something that you really can’t do with acrylics for reasons that will soon become obvious.

First, prepare your oil paints by squirting them onto the cardboard and letting the linseed oil soak out. Since we’re trying to make the floor look aged and maybe a little dirty, we’re going to go with a few shades of browns and some black. I also like to throw in a little blue just to add some contrast and visual interest.

When you’re ready to go, take a round brush and apply some dots in all the various colours to the surface. Yes, this will look stupid at this stage, but don’t worry. Just apply your dots, focusing on areas you want to shade like the areas near panel lines and, with the black, areas that are going to be in the shadow of the model.

With the bases covered in silly looking dots, you’re going to want to take a dry brush – and I’m using dry brush in both senses of the term, that is, a brush that is dry and also the sort of brush that you use for dry-brushing – and push these dots around. Using little circular motions, spread these dots around and get them all mixed together. You will quickly see these dots disappear as they are spread out over the surface, shading it in all the various colours of the dots. The browns give a grimy floor look, while all the different colours add some neat visual interest to the surface.

And, since we’re using oil paints, the process is pretty idiot-proof. If you want to shade them more, you can always add more dots and spread them around more. If you’ve got too much oil paint on there, it’s very easy to wipe some off the surface with a dry makeup sponge, exposing more of the underlying metallics.

Once you’re satisfied, leave them to dry. And once the oils are all dry, you can touch up anything you need and paint the base rims. Paint them black and go over them with a brush-on sealer and your bases are ready for models!

Conclusions

When it comes to making good-looking armies, bases are a huge part of it. By using these techniques, you can make some amazingly cool and thematic bases for a Convergence army, or for any other models that have a lot of cool clockwork steampunk stuff going on.

Clockwork Temple Base-ics

It’s been a while. As one of my projects lately, I’ve been starting a Convergence army for Warmachine and posting these to the Warmachine/Hordes Painting group on facebook, where I also help run the #pointaday challenge. If you are on facebook and aren’t in this group, definitely check it out.

Anyways, since Convergence are the clockwork art deco robots faction, I’ve been making my own clockwork themed bases, loosely inspired by some sort of clockwork temple. I’ve been getting a couple and comments on them, so I figured I would do a basic tutorial.

What you will need

Materials:

  • Privateer Press bases
  • 0.020” and 0.040” plasticard
  • Round wound guitar strings
  • Little gears – from watch parts, steampunk jewelry, or model car gears
  • Plastic cement (optional)
  • CA glue

Tools:

  • Circle Cutter – I use the OLFA CMP-1, which is a compass style circle cutter
  • Hobby Knife
  • Sanding block – I have the Goodman Models super sanding blocks which I love, but you can make your own sanding blocks by gluing sandpaper to a block of wood
  • Scribing Tools – you have plenty of options here, from a simple hobby knife to purpose-made scribers and chisels
  • Cutting mat
  • Side cutters or some tool to that effect
  • Straight edge (a small L-shaped ruler works best)

Sampling of tools. Top to bottom: circle cutter, pin vise rivet punch, Tamiya scriber, hobby knife, MadWorks chisel with 0.2mm tip

Scribing and cutting

Before we get started, I want to talk for a minute about scribing – that is, the process of carving additional detail into plastic models. There are a lot of tools you can use to scribe details into plastic, but I want to talk here about the simple hobby knife and the difference between scribing and cutting.

To illustrate this, consider the simple hobby knife. If you run it across a sheet of plastic, you will get different results depending on if you are using the front or the back of the blade. If you use the front, sharp edge of the blade, two things happen. First, the blade cuts as it presses into the plastic. But the plastic that you are pressing into with the knife has to go somewhere. This means as you make the cut, the plastic that you are cutting into gets pushed to the side and creates a raised area on each side, kind of like how a snowplow piles up snow on the side of the road.

If you use the back of the blade, you can see that it behaves differently – it creates some debris, be it plastic dust or little curly bits. This is because instead of cutting into the plastic, it’s scraping away plastic. This also means that it doesn’t pile up on the sides like with a knife, because the excess plastic is being taken away.

Understanding this difference is going to be important for a few steps in this process – sometimes you want to cut, sometimes you want to scribe, and sometimes you want to do both.

1. Make circles

For each base, what we need are two circles – one in the 0.020” plasticard, and one in the 0.040” plasticard. While you can use different thicknesses for the thick piece if you want, I find at 0.020” works best for the thin piece because it’s about the thickness of the depth of the inside of a PP base rim. The diameter of the circles should be close to the inner diameter of a PP base. It’s probably better to err on the side of slightly too large as you’ll probably want to sand down the edges with a sanding block just to clean them up anyways.

To make these, I use an OLFA CMP-1 circle cutter, which is a simple tool that can be used cut circles with a variety of diameters. It has a needle for the centerpoint and a cutting blade that can be set to any diameter from about 1cm to 15cm. Simply press the needle into the center and spin the tool so that the cutting blade cuts a circle into the plastic.

While this tool wasn’t really designed to cut through plastic this thick, there is a workaround. I find it easiest when cutting these circles to go back and forth between clockwise and counterclockwise with the circle cutter. It is like switching between the front and the back of a hobby knife – going forwards to make a cut, then going backwards to scrape it deeper and wider. Eventually you will cut and scrape most of the way through, at which point you can take a sharp hobby knife and cut out any parts where it’s just barely hanging on.

0.020″ and 0.040″ thick circles, of same diameter as inside of the bases

2. Add Scribed Detail

Now that we have circles in both thin and thick plasticard, we’re going to use the thin pieces of plasticard as the base for our work and our greeblie layer, while the thick plasticard will represent the floor plates that the model is standing on. We need to do two things to the thick pieces – cut away sections to create recessed areas for greeblies, and scribe detail into the floor plates.

There are a lot of different scribing tools you can use for this. The back of a hobby knife is something you already have and can use, though it’s not always the best or safest. Tamiya makes a plastic scriber that comes with retractable hook-shaped blades that works nicely for things like this. I also have a set of MadWorks chisel tips which range in width from a needle to a 1.5mm thick chisel; I find the 0.2mm is a good thickness for these sort of panel lines.

Simply run your scribing tool of choice across the surface of the plastic, guided by your straightedge, to create a scribe line. This will take multiple passes, so be gentle, especially on the first couple passes – it’s better to press lightly and go over the panel multiple times to get the desired depth than to press too hard trying to do it all at once and have your tool skip out of the groove.

To cut away sections, simply scribe all the way through with your scribing tool of choice, and clean up the edges by running it along a sanding block. You can also use your circle cutter to make curved scribe lines or cut away round sections that might match the diameter of your large gears.

For rivets, I made a simple tool out of a piece of brass tube that I sharpened the end of and put into a pin vise. By pressing down into the plastic with this, you can create a circular impression. However, since it is pressing into the plastic like the front of a knife, it does create these raised piles of plastic around the rivet, which can be easily fixed by scraping it off with a hobby knife and running the face of the plastic over a sanding block to sand away any excess.

There are other rivet ntools you can try – from leather punches to pattern wheels to the tip of a mechanical pencil – depending on what you have around and how big of rivets you want.

But for bases like this, I generally like my rivets to be big and chunky.

Finally, glue the thick piece on top of the thin circle. I prefer plastic cement for this, but you can use CA glue in a pinch.

3. Add greeblies

Greeblies are random details that are used in science fiction modelling to make objects look more complex. They are most famous for their use in the studio models for the Star Wars movies – ships like Y-wings are just covered in random crap like hoses, grates, and, if you look closely, you can see a shovel from a model tank kit on the back. We’re going to use greeblies to make our bases more interesting.

Hoses are simple – cheap roundwound guitar strings, cut to length, make great hoses and take paint and washes quite nicely. As for the rest of the greeblies, since we want to give a clockwork vibe, we want to incorporate a lot of gears and such into our greeblies. I’ve found a few sources that I like, all easily available from your friendly local online retail corporate overlord, which I will run down here.

My favourite are the baggies of random watch parts that you can buy online. In addition to gears, they have other cool-looking clockwork parts that can be incorporated like plates and wheels and shafts. You can also get similar gears which are decorative only for steampunk nail art that also work great.

There are also these larger metal gears for steampunk jewelry. They have a lot of very nice patterns to them and are great . The down side is that they are a little tricky to work with – you need some nice big side cutters and some metal files if you want to cut them to fit the edge of a base.

Finally, there are plastic gears for things like model cars. Since they are made of plastic, they’re easier to cut and sand and work with than these big metal gears. However, they don’t have very much detail; I find that I’m drilling holes in them just to add some additional detail and break up the big flat spots.

Using a thick CA glue, simply glue the greeblies in place quasi-randomly. Depending on the size of the greeblies, you might need a good pair of pointed tweezers. Some of them you may need to cut and file to fit how you want them, but most of these greeblies are thin enough and made of soft enough metal that a decent pair of side cutters with a decent sized handle to give you good leverage will take care of that.

Greeblified base toppers

Final Steps

At this point, what you should have is a cool looking steampunk base topper. Simply glue it into place on top of a PP base, and you’re ready to start painting. Which… may be another article as there are some cool tricks you can do with oil paints to make it very easy.

A more beautiful Beast

Editor’s note: It’s been a while since I’ve written an article here, I know. It’s been a rough time for all of us, and I’ve been having some difficulty adjusting to everything. I’m doing fine, all things considered. When this all started, I thought it would be nice to spend some time indoors and focus on personal projects for a few weeks, and then things would get back to normal.

Yeah, about that. It’s been four months, and things aren’t looking like they are going to get back to normal any time soon. The pandemic has us all stressed out and even those of us who have a lot of time on our hands are finding it hard to concentrate on anything. While my mental health has probably suffered a little, I’m still lucky in a lot of ways in that I have a stable job that I can do from home, and I haven’t had any close friends or family come down with COVID-19. A lot of people are struggling hard right now, between a global pandemic and all the racism and political issues we are dealing with — issues that have always been there, but have been boiling over these past couple of months. It’s a stressful time for all of us, but it’s also a time when it is important try to be good to each other. Be nice, okay?

Except to fascists, they suck.

*********************************************

Ah, scale creep. It’s a common thing in the world of miniature gaming – a company will start out by making their figures in a certain scale, but eventually the temptation to start models that are a little bigger and have a bit more presence on the table will kick in. It’s not necessarily bad – bigger, cooler, better-looking models are objectively a good thing – but for people with large collections, seeing the old next to the new can make the old models look bad.

Warmachine is no stranger to this issue. When they first launched the game, it was all metal models because plastic is for people who don’t have testicles or something. At least, that’s what it said on Page 5. These metal models may have been fine for the time, but next to newer plastic and resin releases, they look tiny and kind of… pathetic.

page5.png

Wow. This aged terribly, and given that 2003 wasn’t that long ago, it probably sucked when it was new as well.

Unfortunately, not every model in their catalogue has been updated. In some cases, the community adapted. Guides existed online for enterprising Khador players to make a better-looking Behemoth out of various parts from the Privateer Press bits store, though PP did eventually come up with a resculpt. However, there remains one warjack in the Khador stable that desperately needs a resculpt – that is Beast 09, Sorscha’s character warjack.

Beauty and the Beast

Beast 09 is supposed to be a badass. An aggressive, ruthless, killing machine that strikes fear into the hearts of anyone in its path. With a giant axe, it cuts swaths through flesh and metal enemies alike, wrecking anyone and anything that gets in its way. Unfortunately, these qualities do not carry through into the model when you place it on the tabletop.

Beast_09.jpg

See how badass he looks in the official art?

There are two issues here, namely that the sculpt that had some problems back in the day, and it did not age well in the twelve or so years since it was released. Like many of the old metal warjacks, as soon as the first plastic warjacks came out, they immediately looked tiny, obsolete, and not very intimidating on the tabletop. These issues are compounded by the fact that the pose is very squat and not very dynamic, with the knees bent, making it look even shorter than it actually is. And… is it just me or is it weird that the axe has an icicle hanging off of it? You would think the icicle would immediately break off as soon as you swing it, especially that swing connects with a Cygnaran warjack.

33055_BeastO9_WEB

This sculpt isn’t horrible on its own, aside from the dumpy pose, but next to any other warjack, Beast-09 looks more like Beast-0.9

Like with the old Extremoth, the answer to this issue is a conversion. Sure, you can probably do a conversion using a regular Juggernaut kit, but this is Beast 09 we are talking about here – as a character warjack, it should have more table presence than your regular, non-character warjacks. Using an Extreme Juggernaut as a base, you can make something that, in the absence of a huge-based model, can be a centerpiece of your army.

What you will need

For this project, you will need a few things. Since Beast 09 is basically an upgraded Juggernaut, the Extreme Juggernaut (PIP 33115) is a natural starting point. In addition, you will need a few bits from your collection or the PP bits store. These include:

Black Ivan upgrade kit (PIP 33087) – you will need two spiked shoulder pieces as well as two of the claw bodies. Each kit comes with two of the shoulder pieces and one of the claw bodies, so you might be better off just buying two of these these kits and throw the leftover parts in your stash of bits.

Torch upgrade kit (PIP 33082) – the medal on Torch’s chest makes a good stand-in for Beast’s decorations; this is something you can probably get from the bits store though, unless you need the other parts for another project.

Spikes – when you are trying to make a warjack look badass, festooning it with spikes is a good idea. I used ones from my stash, but I think they were a couple Berserker spikes from the old metal sculpt and a sprue of metal Drago spikes. They’re just good to have around in your bits box, and adding a few bucks worth of spikes to your PP orders once the bits store reopens is a good way to source them.

In addition to your usual tools for working with metal warjacks, like a pin vise, drill bits, and glue, you will also need some basic sculpting and scratchbuilding supplies. These include:

Some brass rods and tubes

Plasticard/sheet styrene of various thicknesses

Meng rivet setthese are good for adding or replacing rivets, and are useful in a lot of conversions like this. Simply shave off the rivet from the plastic sheet with a knife and glue it onto the model.

Putty – I recommend Apoxie Sculpt as it is more easily workable than Milliput, but files and sands a lot better than green stuff or brown stuff

Tools – files, sanding sticks, and a saw.

Don’t Skip Leg Day

It’s natural to want to start with the legs, and one of the first things you will notice when you do so is that Beast 09 has some additional details on the legs not present on the juggernaut. Fortunately, you can add most of this detail with sheet styrene. Simply take some thin pieces, cut them roughly to shape, and glue them to the plate. Then, using a knife and some files, remove the excess overhang over the edges of the armour plate. Finally, add some rivets.

The tow rings can be added by taking a piece of plastic tube, cutting a small piece off the end, and sanding down the edges so it resmebles more a donut than a section of pipe. Glue that on, then simply sculpt a little ring to hold it on.

On the center plate, start by filing it flat. Some small bits of styrene tube can be used for the edges, and you can cut the runes on the plaque out of sheet styrene. The same process as we used on the thigh pieces can be used for the row of armour plate on the bottom, and more rivets can be added.

legs

On the back, you will also notice that in place of the butt-flap armour plate, Beast 09 has some square chunky parts. I built these up with thick pieces of plasticard, then filed and sanded it into shape. After attaching it to the body with super glue, I filled in the gap with Apoxie Sculpt and smoothed it out. This may not be necessary because it’s hardly noticeable, but I think it’s a nice touch.

butts

Warjack butts. L-R: Studio Juggernaut, Studio Beast 09, and my conversion. Sorry, I forgot to get a pre-primer shot.

Also, I did some work to change the pose of mine in order to make it more dynamic, balancing the entire model on the ball of one foot as though it was charging forwards. You don’t have to do this, but if you do, make sure it is securely pinned not only to the base, but that the foot is securely pinned to the leg.

Torso Time

The torso on Beast 09 has a few distinctive elements that we want to add. Most distinctive are the additional spikes in the shoulder area. The shoulder spikes from Black Ivan make a good substitute, though there are a few things you need to do to get them to fit nicely. Since the Black Ivan spikes are located using the rivets that are molded into the body, I find the best way to line them up is to use one of the rivets to locate them and file the rest off as they won’t line up with Black Ivan’s. The curve doesn’t quite match, so there will be some filing and putty work to blend these spikes into the rest of the body. Finally, the armour plate that these spikes are attached to on Black Ivan has rounded edges, while Beast is much more square. To address this, you can build up the corners with Apoxie Sculpt, filling out the rounded edges, then file them back down so they are square as opposed to rounded.

While you have the Apoxie Sculpt out, it’s also a good time to deal with the plaque around the neck that has the symbols on it. Simply use your putty build up the collar area, then once it dries and you have it sanded smooth, you can use small plasticard rods to make the edges. Then, carve some runes into the plaque using your scribing tool of choice. For the medal, I simply used Torch’s medal and made a couple ribbons out of plasticard, then pinned it in place on what would be the chest area.

Finally, Beast 09 has the Khador symbol on that top piece of armour plate. I didn’t want to try sculpting it, so instead I threw on some of Drago’s spikes so I would at least have something cool there and it wouldn’t be blank, and I think it definitely looks more intimidating than the original. I also didn’t bother with the additional detail on the smoke stacks, as I didn’t have a particularly good way to make six identical curved pipes for the exhaust tips and thought it looked good enough without them.

torso

To Arms!

If you want, you can probably get away with simply using the arms that came in the Extreme Juggernaut kit, but I didn’t think they looked quite right. The Extreme Juggernaut has some very rounded elements to the armour plate on its arms, while Beast is a little more square and boxy looking. We can address this be replacing the hand parts from the Extreme Juggernaut with the claw body of Black Ivan.

First, you will need to remove a section of Black Ivan’s claws, using a saw and a file to get rid of it. Then, pin the claws of Black Ivan to the forearms of the Juggernaut. This will look a little weird as the forearms are rounded but the claws or square, but you can fix that with putty – on the armour plate on the Juggy next to where it meets up with the claws, build up the rounded areas where the corners should be, then file and sand it back down in a more square shape. Add some rivets and maybe a spike, and you’re in business.

Finally, pin the fingers of the Juggy in place onto the claw body of Black Ivan. These fit decently as they are about the same size as Black Ivan’s claw fingers, however it will need a little bit of putty to make them mate up properly.

Axe to face!

Since I wasn’t a fan of the icicles on the original Beast 09 sculpt, all I had to do with the axe was extend the shaft a little to represent the 2” reach on Beast as opposed to the 1” reach of the Juggernaut. Remove the existing shaft, and replace with brass tube – it’s a pretty simple conversion, and it will give you the added benefit of a straighter, stiffer axe shaft that is less likely to get bent or broken. In addition to using a second tube to incorporate a bit of detail, I made sure to drill all the way through the axe head and allow the shaft to poke through the top of the axe a little, just to make it look a little more interesting.

axe

Final steps

That’s it for the conversion process; the rest is just assembly. Since the shoulders, elbows and waist are ball-jointed, you do have some flexibility in the pose. I find that, like with many warjacks, it’s a little easier do a sub-assembly, with a pin in the waist, so you can paint the legs separately. From there, it’s just a matter of priming, painting and basing, which I did using my usual techniques plus some playing around with oil paints.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Beast 09 is the Khador model that is the most badly needs a resculpt. I was hoping we might get one when they released Sorscha3 and the new Man-O-War models, but sadly, it was not to be. Fortunately, it’s something you can do on your own with an Extreme Juggernaut, some spare parts, and some basic scratchbuilding skills.

IMG_E2715.JPG

One of these things is more extreme than the other…

 

Bonus Content: Léa

Lately, I’ve been playing around with doing figures in unusual light settings, such as at night with some sort of OSL as the main light source. This is my first try at doing it on a large-scale model such as a bust.

The model itself is from Ouroborous Miniatures Exquis kickstarter. Exquis was a series of busts of normal, modern-day women, which I went in on for Léa and Yon. The subjects were interesting and unique, the sculpts were good, and the casting was the quality I expect for a resin display model — some small mold lines to clean up, but overall pretty good. I was most impressed with the turnaround time on the kickstarter. If I remember correctly, I got my product only a couple months after the kickstarter closed, which is a pretty impressive turnaround time. I’d have no qualms about recommending Ouroborous Miniatures kickstarters in the future, as you’re not going to end up waiting for a while unlike certain failed kickstarter projects.

Anyways, this sculpt spoke to me the story of a lost girl or a runaway, so I decided to paint her as though she is lit by a streetlight at night. To set the scene, I built a backdrop, painted it black, and stippled on some a little bit of light everywhere but directly behind her, which would be in her shadow.

I think it turned out fairly well — it’s probably not perfect, but it’s also the first time I’ve done something like this. I’ll definitely be playing with this sort of thing some more, though in the meantime I have some other challenging projects on the go so I probably won’t return to it for a little while.

Warmachine: The joy of playing with noobs

I’ve been playing Warmachine for about three and a half years now, and I think it is fair to say that during that time, I reached a point where my love for the game started to wane. I’m not sure it was one specific thing, but rather an accumulation of a bunch of small issues, negative experiences, and constant exposure to the internet that caused my relationship with the game to sour.

This manifested itself as burnout. At some point, I stopped going to tournaments. I started finding them to be too stressful. Having to lug army boxes across town on the bus and spend an entire day at a game store just became too much. A one-day tournament is half your weekend. There could be long breaks between rounds where you have nothing to do but look at the wall of products in the store for the 34th time and struggle to manage your anxiety level. You eventually tire of the same basic scenario, only with six variations that have different geometry. You end up stressing out over your next matchup – am I going to end up having to play my next round against “that guy,” or the guy who brought the really scary list that absolutely dunks on my army and makes the game almost pointless? What if I lose list chicken and am trapped for the next two hours in a hellishly bad matchup?

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For the last time, Harkevich is not OP!

On top of all that, there is the pressure to perform. In competitive pursuits, all too often, how much you are valued in your community and your own self-worth gets tied to your win/loss record. So, you end up pushing too hard, stressing out over every little mistake, trying to git gud and not fall off the competitive play treadmill. And do it all on clock. And when you finally win… well, a not insignificant amount of the time, you are quickly reminded that it is no great accomplishment because this model in your army is OP, that model is OP, and your entire faction is the easy mode newbie faction that any moron can win with.

Between that and consistent exposure to negativity on the internet on top of some baseline social anxiety, I was starting to get burned out on the game.

It was against this backdrop that a coworker expressed some interest in wargaming. He was a Lego collector so we started by doing a demo of Mobile Frame Zero, after which I offered him a demo of Warmachine. Of course, the first step was that I would have to paint up a second army, but I figured it was worth it.

So, I got together some Cygnar models and met him in the dingy basement of my FLGS for a battlebox game. I compressed all the important rules down to one sheet of paper and gave it to him, explained a few things, and ran him through the activation of a warjack, letting his Juggernaut spend some focus beating on my Ironclad. Then, we lined up against each other with a simple scenario consisting of a single circle in the middle of the table, and bashed each other’s faces in.

He enjoyed it and came back for more. But, as we gradually worked up from battlebox games to 35 points with themes and more complex scenarios, a funny thing started happening.

I started having fun playing Warmachine again.

Fun? That’s heresy!

In the Warmachine community it can sometimes be easy to lose track of the idea that the game is supposed to be fun. If you’re on the internet, most of the media you consume is focused on competitive play. Just about all of the micro-celebrities who are worshipped in this community are people who have won major tournaments. When you get caught up in this scene, you often end up grinding out practice games, paying the same few scenarios over and over and it can start to get boring. Then you have to keep it up because there is always a new boogeyman list in CID that you need to either figure out how to play or figure out how to beat to stay on top. “This is Warmachine; it’s not supposed to be fun!” or something to that effect is a common joke, but there can be a grain of truth to it.

At some point, it can just become mentally and emotionally draining. Your hobby starts to feel like work, and you start thinking you would rather stay home and paint than go to a tournament.

But, playing smaller games in a more casual setting with a friend was completely different. There wasn’t the stress of trying to perform at a tournament, because it was just a fun casual game and my objective was to help him learn and show him the possibilities of the game. We weren’t playing Steamroller, so we could set up whatever fancy terrain we wanted (including hills!) and create a little spectacle that looked fairly cool. Once he got the jist of it, we could finish a game in a reasonable amount of time, and if there was an early assassination, we had time to re-rack and try again. In short, we were playing for fun.

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Pictured: fun

The other thing is that at lower points levels, the information overload is lessened. One of the most challenging experiences in Warmachine is looking at your opponent’s list and realizing that you are up against an entire table of “what does this model do again?” At 35 points, there is still a lot of depth due to the caster and her interactions with the army, but the complexity is a lot less overwhelming when you aren’t up against the likes of multiple units and six different beasts, all with different stat profiles, roles and animi. Since you are less overwhelmed, you tend to have more complete of a tactical picture and can really play a good game with that engaging back and forth as the battle ebbs and flows rather than a “what just happened?” game where one feels “gotcha’d” into submission.

Fun is infectious

The other interesting thing about new players is that they often bring a sense of wonder into the game that has long since vanished from the heart of the veteran player. Everything is cool and new to them, and that excitement is contagious. Getting new players to try a power attack for the first time is just such an awesome cinematic experience that you can’t help but smile as his big ugly beast throws your giant robit at a swarm of infantry. Seeing the guy I’m getting into the game start talking about lists, lore and painting and getting excited about it gets me excited and has rekindled my passion for the game.

It also reminded me of why I, and likely why a lot of other players, got into the game. I didn’t start playing because someone told me that there was this intense tournament grind and maybe someday I could become the next Iron Gauntlet winner or go to the WTC. I started playing because me and the guy who got me a battlebox for Christmas one year went out one night had fun pushing our little painted dudes around. And also because I got the starter box and read about how Sorscha was this badass warrior wizard who commanded this awesome giant coal-powered robit to deliver a giant axe to the faces of all foes of the motherland.

The bottom line

New players are the lifeblood of a community, but judging by some of the internet chatter that I’ve seen, some players consider it a chore to onboard them into the game. Playing below 75 points in a non-tournament standard format and using lists that are a little watered down to provide an enjoyable experience rather than the optimum way to stomp someone into the ground is anathema to a certain section of the player base. If you are stuck on that competitive treadmill, taking a night away from practice games for tournaments to help someone who can barely allocate focus is a costly proposition.

However, new players are the lifeblood of a game like Warmachine. But don’t play a battlebox game with a new player for the game or for the “meta”; do it for yourself. Rather than being a chore, if you go into it with the right attitude, you may find bringing new players into the game to be more enjoyable than doing yet another 75 point steamroller game. And, if your enthusiasm for the game is flagging, seeing it through the eyes of a new player can help remind you what got you into the game to begin with.

Bonus: Hot take!

After a few 35 point games, I asked my coworker if he would like to move on up to 50 and then the tournament standard of 75. He told me that he was comfortable at this level and didn’t want to add to it for the time being. Which, it turned out I was completely fine with, as by this time, I had learned that Warmachine is much more fun at 35 points than at the tournament standard of 75.

Painting is Good: A Response

So, a thing happened on the Warmachine internet today

While I am loath to start an internet fight, especially with someone who has way more pull in the Warmachine community, it seems as though I have been called out a little with a couple comments in the article that seem to be referring to my articles suggesting the use of painting as a tiebreaker or to grant small in-game bonuses for painted armies is a toxic attitude that has no place in the game.

So, I’m going to lay out my thoughts on the subject and provide, if not a counterpoint, at least a basis for some discussion that is hopefully a little more positive than the last time I talked about this.

Emotions

I will acknowledge here that this is a subject where emotions are running high. People who are trying to get painted but aren’t there yet can feel bad when others talk about how awesome it is to play it painted. Those who try to push for fully painted events or encouraging painting in organized play are occasionally branded “paint-shamers” (protip: don’t google “paint shaming”) and told they don’t belong. Even saying something as innocuous as “fighting the war on the grey hordes” can be cause offense. Some competitive players feel strongly that painting interferes with the purity of the competitive game and that models are and should be nothing more than stats on bases. And those of us who started with Warhammer may have had some traumatic experience arguing with a judge over the three colour rule or chafing at biased paint judging. In this sort of environment, I don’t have particularly high hopes for a non-heated discussion and am pretty sure that this question isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon but… I don’t know, I guess I’m enough of a masochist that I’m ready to wade into this pool once again.

Everyone CAN paint

First, I would argue that the occasional painting requirement isn’t as exclusionary as people say it is, for the simple fact that (just about) everyone can paint.

We live in a golden age of miniature painting. There are tons of products out there, from Army Painter colour matching spray primers to GW Contrast Paints designed to get your army painted up quickly. On top of that, the internet has made a ton of content available for free on how to get your army painted up quickly. Duncan can show you how to paint a space marine in 10 minutes, and if you don’t like the basecoat-wash-drybrush method, you can check out sketch style or just slather the thing in contrast paints.

Incidentally, I would guess that a not-insignificant portion of those who don’t like painting are victims of a bad experience when they were just starting out. Something like trying to paint Army Painter yellow straight over black primer because they don’t know any better, and then having a bad time, getting frustrated, and quitting. These are people who can be shown the light.

Perhaps there are a small number of people out there who have very specific disabilities that mean they legitimately can’t paint but which doesn’t affect their ability to play the game, however the intersection on that Venn diagram is so small that this argument isn’t particularly meaningful, and communities can band together to help those people. If someone I know wants to go to a fully painted tournament but has an issue like severe carpal tunnel, I’ll bust out the airbrush help him at least get to a three colour minimum quickly.

Now, “I can’t paint,” “I don’t want to paint,” “I don’t have time to paint because I have seven kids and work 12 hours a day,” and “I don’t have time to paint because I play six hours of Overwatch a night” are all fundamentally very different arguments, and this is where discussions often go south. However, before we dismiss the very concept of rewarding painting or having a fully painted event out of hand as “not inclusive,” we should recognize that “not having access to a painted army” isn’t some sort of immutable characteristic like the colour of one’s skin.

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Born this way!

Painting makes the game better

This one shouldn’t be controversial, but it probably is. I feel like there is something about seeing two fully painted armies go at it that makes for more of an enjoyable experience for everyone. Privateer Press recognizes this; it is why they strongly encourage people to play it painted in the steamroller packet and put a lot of effort into promoting the hobby aspect of the game.

Further, I would argue that given the importance of target selection in Warmachine, painted armies improve competitive play. It’s a lot easier to pick out which dude is a solo or unit attachment at a distance when the armies are painted. Even if they aren’t well-painted or painted in the studio colours, just blocking in some colour or doing some dry brushing allows your opponent to pick out distinct shapes like the tiny emblem on the shoulder pads that the unit attachment has from across the table much easier than if they are looking at a sea of unpainted plastic or black primer.

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See how much easier it is to distinguish the UA and Leader of the Shocktroopers on the right for both players. Now imagine they were unpainted…

Painting attracts new players

I do think playing it painted does help bring new players into the game. I’ve been spending the past couple months getting a coworker into the game, and one of the first things I did when I embarked on that journey was painting up some Cygnar so I could play the bad guys fully painted against him. My feeling is that this, along with taking some care to make the tables look good, helped get him hooked much more efficiently than if I were to roll up with the blue plastic battlebox and duking it out on a table that looks like the battle of the Wal-Mart parking lot. Now, he’s making his first big purchases and watching both battle reports and painting videos.

Further, if we are playing in a highly public space, such as a large, multi-game convention, then we are competing for people’s eyeballs with games like 40K, Age of Sigmar, Star Wars Legion, and X-Wing. By putting in an effort to make the game look good, we can attract more attention than if we were rocking grey plastic.

What would I like to see?

I’m not saying that you should have your army fed into a wood chipper if you dare show up with unpainted models, or that game stores should scold people who dare show bare plastic in public. However, all too often, it feels as though the hobby aspect is an afterthought in Warmachine, and as someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of the game, that’s something that is occasionally frustrating.

I think it would be nice to have something baked into the game or into organized play to encourage painting. The catch is, I’m not sure what that would be. I’ve thrown out a couple suggestions in the past like a small in-game bonus for painted armies or using proportion of models painted as a tiebreaker, but the negative reception that these ideas received in the WMH community (apparently suggesting an alternative method of doing tiebreakers is a “toxic attitude” now?) pretty much renders them a non-starter.

I do think having painting awards at the local level is a good idea. Unlike Jaden, I don’t think they need to necessarily always be raffles. The beauty of a painting award is that, unlike a tournament prize where there aren’t really any alternatives to just giving it to the person who won all her games, there are lots of ways to do a painting award and you can mix it up so everyone has a chance and you keep the competition fresh. Best army, best unit, or best single model. For unit or single model, you could require them to have been painted within a certain period of time so the guy whose Sorscha won Crystal Brush in 2005 doesn’t keep bringing the same model. You could decide by popular vote or, if you have one shark who is winning the painting competition all the time, you could enlist her as a judge and have her choose the winners and offer any desired feedback. Or, yes, you could have a raffle for everyone who has accomplished something like field a fully painted army or finish painting a unit in the last couple months.

I would also point out as an aside that, right now, the problem of having one or two people from the meta winning every time and being a discouragement to other players is a reality for tournament prizes, though it is rarely talked about. One of the guys in my meta won the big tournament at Lock and Load a couple weeks ago, so I have zero chance of winning any tournament that he shows up to (not that I hold it against him or anything). It seems a little unusual that the best player winning the tournament all the time isn’t seen as an issue, while the best painter winning best painted all the time is a reason why we can’t have painting awards. If, at a tournament, the only prizes are given for competitive performance, then you risk harbouring resentment when the newer or less-skilled players just have their lunch money in the form of entry fees taken month-in and month-out.

As for painting requirements at tournaments, I don’t think they should be necessary all the time. However, I would like to see a fully painted, premier-level tournament format officially supported by Privateer Press. Since they not only got rid of all painting requirements in their Masters and Champions format, but worded their packet in such a way that you aren’t allowed to run an officially sanctioned Masters or Champions event with a painting requirement, I haven’t heard of any fully painted event within 1000 km. In effect, the number of fully painted tournaments that I can go to has dropped to essentially zero, and that is kind of a disappointment for me.

I feel like the sort of big conventions that you plan your attendance at six months out are a great venue for a fully painted event. Since the people who want to travel great distances to go to these events are making travel plans months in advance, they have a lot of time to get a couple lists painted. With space and time for multiple tournaments, Iron Arena, and other programming, people who don’t have a fully painted army don’t have to twiddle their thumbs. For people like me, we are more likely to make the trek because a fully painted event is a special experience, and it’s not like we are ever going to qualify for the super top level invitational tournaments that do have painting requirements like WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals.

Trash Talk: Not just for painting!

The impetus for Jaden to write this article was a meme of someone making a disappointed face that his opponent was unpainted. First, I’m as guilty as anyone of using sarcasm in my writing and having it not be conveyed properly in text, or having a dry sense of humour that doesn’t always come across as intended. I’m sure the offending meme was meant as a humourous, tongue in cheek joke, however it was evidently taken serious enough to spawn now multiple articles in the Warmachine blogosphere.

However, if we are to talk about “paint-shaming,” I feel like that is only one small part of how we treat each other in the Warmachine community. Even if you consider the occasional tongue in cheek reference that I’ve made in the worst possible way, I’ve still taken a lot more crap for playing “easy mode” Khador (while Cryx, not Khador, was dominating the tournament scene, but I digress) or not being good enough at the game than I’ve ever dished out over painting.

There is a line between gentle ribbing, friendly trash talk, and stuff that comes across as disrespectful or bullying. That line can be in different places for everyone; I know for me, there was a time when I was doing more tournament play and I would get very sensitive to comments about how I only won because models like Harkevich or Torch in my army were OP because it was taken as an attack on my abilities at a point in my life when I still cared about being good at the game.

Further, internet meme culture is notoriously harsh, particularly in nerdy, niche communities like Warmachine. There are some forums and facebook groups that I personally try to avoid because they are a cesspool of negativity and they make me not want to play the game, so I can see why there would be a negative reaction to something like this.

So, are memes making fun of unpainted armies wrong? Maybe – after all, a little trash talk between close friends who know where each other’s line is is a lot different than going up to a random new player and bullying him – but is it any more wrong than memes portraying Khador players as unskilled mouth-breathers who just derp derp charge and win despite their lack of intelligence, or Cygnar players as whiny losers who don’t know what to do if they can’t crutch on Haley2, or Legion players as whiners who complain whenever they are told that there is a rule in the game that applies to them?

Conclusions

No, no one has to paint. However, Warmachine kind of has a reputation as the worst looking miniature game on the market and that’s not because the model sculpts are bad. I think finding ways to encourage painting that, while they are not judgemental, reinforce the idea that painting is a part of this hobby and is not a distant second fiddle to competitive play, is important. I’d like to see everyone encouraged to at the very least set having a fully painted army as an aspirational goal, because even in this golden age it does take time and sometimes you can’t get all your dudes painted before the big game. The more painted armies out there, the better it is for everyone.

Oh, and also don’t tell people who like painting or don’t absolutely hate painting requirements to go play 40K instead. That’s not helping grow the Warmachine community either.

Siege Strider: I hate painting horses

Yep, it’s true. The one thing that annoys me about miniature painting is painting horses. I’m not good at it and I don’t enjoy it. So, last year, when Privateer Press announced that their new releases for Khador would be chariots, I was initially a little disappointed, because that meant I would have to paint up some horses.

Fortunately, the part of my brain that thinks of dumb conversion ideas rescued me from this fate and decided to instead deliver me from the frying pan of painting horses and into the fire of expensive, possibly ill-conceived conversions.

I’m not sure where the inspiration came from, to be honest, but one of my miniature painting weaknesses is that once I get an idea for a conversion in my head, it’s hard to shake it until it’s done. So, Siege Strider it was. And, since I’m a glutton for punishment and a completionist when it comes to my Khador collection, I needed to make two Siege Striders.

Supplies

Of course, the first thing I needed to do was source the parts. Basically, this a kitbash of two boxes, the Siege Chariot and the Storm Strider. I used the legs and lower body of the Storm Strider, combined with everything but the horses on the Chariots. Also, a random assortment of plasticard sheets and tubes, which are very useful when doing these very mechanical conversions.

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I ended up using a few different glues and putties. I used brown stuff for general filling work, but switched to milliput for areas that I was going to need to sand to make smooth, flat surfaces. Finally, I also used a bit of “sprue goo” — that is, some plastic sprues dissolved in Tamiya Extra Thin — to fill gaps and glue together pieces of plasticard that weren’t quite coming together perfectly.

Finally, I got a pack of rivets and bolt heads from my local hobby shop. These are made by Meng primarily for automotive dioramas and come in various sizes. Simply shave them off the flat plastic piece they come on with a scalpel and glue them to the model. The advantage to this over doing something like dots of glue is that you get a uniform rivet size, which is close enough to what makes sense, especially when you need to add 263 rivets…

The Chariot

While the legs were the most important part of this conversion, there were a few things that needed to be done on the chariot. First, since we aren’t going to need wheels on this thing, I filled in the wheel wells with putty and plasticard and sanded them smooth, after which, I continued the line of rivets along the bottom of the side all the way across where the wheel well was.

I was left with the area where the axles for the wheels go in, and while I could have removed them as well, I decided on a different approach. I scratchbuilt a series of tubes out of plasticard tubes, putty, and those Meng rivets and connected them to the outriggers. The ends of the outriggers were cut off and replaced with some more tube stock, modified to turn them into exhaust pipes. With that done, I removed the attachment for the tow bar and filed that area smooth, and added a thick piece of flat plasticard to the bottom where it attaches to the legs.

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Modifications to the chariot. Note the wheel wells and scratchbuilt exhaust system.

Apart from that, it all went together in a pretty standard fashion, with some cleanup on the resin parts and some pinning. For ease of painting, I left the driver, shield, and gun in separate sub-assemblies to be done later.

The Legs

The legs were from the Storm Strider, but they had to be heavily modified to remove some of the Cygnaran influence. Cygnar models tend to be very rounded and often feature plasma conduits and electrical doodads. Khador has a more utilitarian feel, with more sharp corners and boxy shapes and tends to resort to raw power more than fancy electro-weapons. While most of the legs could have passed for any of the main Warmachine factions, the feet of the Storm Strider were distinctly Cygnar.

So, the first thing I did was shave and file off the little electro-pimples, because those just don’t fit in Khador. With those out of the way, it was time to scratchbuild some armour plate to go overtop of the existing filed-down feet. I started by playing around with some paper and cardboard, cutting and folding until I figured out the shape that I wanted. Once I got that sorted out, I made a template out of cardboard, from which I could cut out pieces of styrene. These were then scored and folded along the edges and roughly glued together using sprue goo.

Once I had the basic shape of the armour, I used plenty of putty and glue to attach it to the legs, covering up what remained of the rounded parts. I also made some covers for the top part, again out of plasticard. All this plastic origami ended up giving me the basic shape if what I wanted, and after backfilling it with milliput, I was able to file and sand down the rough edges to get the shape just right.

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Left, leg after electro-pimples filed off. Right, leg with armour plate overtop, and some sanding and filing done to smooth it out.

From there, I had to add some surface detail. So, I printed off some Khador symbols and traced them onto a piece of plasticard, then cut them to shape. Finally, I festooned the edges with rivets to add that Khador industrial feel.

With the feet done, it was just a matter of pinning and gluing everything together. I also had to scratchbuild some pipes, pistons and tubes in between the center section where all the legs come together and the body of the chariot in order to raise it up so the legs nicely clear the body.

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Ready for the paint booth…

Painting

With all the conversion work done, it was time to paint. For this project, I chose to paint in sub-assemblies, with the legs, body, driver, gun and shield being separate parts to be joined later. I did a zenithal prime with black and white Stynylrez, then sprayed some sections in pink, masked off a couple feet and a couple stripes, then brought out the purple. As usual, highlights and shade colours were applied to accentuate the contours of the model, using the same colours as the rest of my Khador army which I have discussed many times on this blog. From there, it was a matter of brush painting all the rest, adding weathering, and putting it all together.

Conclusions

Did I mention that I don’t like painting horses? Well, I don’t, and thanks to some scratchbuilding and some crazy ideas, I ended up with something unique and cool. And, with some of the spare parts, I was able to make a couple neat terrain pieces that can be used in narrative scenarios or simply to spruce up your battlefield.

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Warmachine: State of the Game 2019

So, one of the things they’ve been doing at the Southern Ontario Open for the past few years was getting together all the Warmachine talking heads into one big room for a discussion on the state of the game. This year, I thought I would share my thoughts in a written format, as I’m not cool enough to have a podcast and don’t have the voice for radio anyways.

Evolving Meta or Power Creep?

They started off with a discussion about how the meta seems to be constantly evolving, and how it was great to see people constantly trying out new stuff. However, I would argue that this has less to do with a meta where people are trying interesting stuff to try to counter what other factions are playing, then other players trying to counter the new interesting stuff, then that leading to a state of flux as everyone cycles between rock, paper, scissors, lizard and Spock, trying to stay ahead of everyone else. I think it has more to do with the CID process breaking down a little and causing some power creep. I mean, when one considers all the boogeymen that have reared their head in the meta over the past year, just about all of them save perhaps Nemo3 was a direct result of some new release or rules change that may have been slightly overtuned as a result of clamouring in CID.

I feel like the competitive balance of the game is healthiest when there is no boogeyman. While I’m not necessarily the best player, I think the few months between when Una2 got taken down a notch and someone figured out that Ghost Fleet is good was a great time for Warmachine, where there weren’t really any extreme outliers dominating the tournament scene, and people were doing a lot of experimentation. Since then, the internet chatter feels like it’s been just one boogeyman list after another.

I think the proof is going to be in the pudding in the next few months. With Privateer Press taking a CID break, it will be interesting to see if the meta settles down a little and we start seeing more flux and experimentation or if people are still going to be complaining about Lord of the Feast and Iona until the next new hotness drops.

Cutting models?

A large portion of the cast was devoted to the question of whether Privateer Press should start eliminating models from their range and from the game, and the general consensus seemed to be that it is time to do it. Two rationales were discussed for this – the idea that there are just too many SKUs clogging up the supply chain and making it hard on retailers and distributors, and that the number of models is a barrier to new players.

To be honest, I’m not sold. I’m not sure that SKU bloat is that much of an issue, because I’ve only ever seen one or two stores actually attempt to stock at least one of everything, and both of those stores do online sales as well as in person. Most stores tend to stock a limited number of models and get in some of the new releases, but for the rest, they generally order on demand.

Rather than cut SKUs by eliminating models, if SKU bloat is an issue, then what PP could do is consolidate some SKUs by bundling existing products. The three Man-O-War units could be combined into one multikit with the same bodies and different arms. Units could be bundled with attachments and non-character solos instead of sold separately. And, more importantly, PP could help provide stores with a little more guidance as to what products in their back catalogue are the sort of things that are popular or are starter products and should be stocked, and what you can get away with being special order only. Perhaps just classifying all those SKUs as starter, core, and supplemental would help a retailer with the daunting task of figuring out which of these hundreds of SKUs they should stock. They’ve already made steps in that direction by changing how they did distribution and by doing direct order for new huge based models that tend to sit on shelves for a long time and not move.

Not to mention that if the goal is to help retailers and distributors who are carrying Warmachine and make them more likely to want to carry the game, rendering a portion of the stock that they currently have on the shelves completely useless is likely going to have the opposite effect.

As for the idea that the sheer number of models is hard on new players, I have to counter that with one question: are new players really being turned off from Warmachine because they keep getting their faces kicked in by Assault Kommandos and Kossite Woodsmen? Or is the real negative play experience for new players running up against Iona and Lord of the Feast and not knowing that they need to place all their models exactly 3.2 inches apart and answer a geometry final exam question with shield guards and blocking models to not instantly lose? And, of these, which of the two is a new player more likely to actually run into in the first round of his first tournament?

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Kossites OP, plz nerf

I get that the sheer scale of WMH can be overwhelming, but I don’t think the solution is simply cutting models from the game. Miniature games fundamentally aren’t card games. There is a more intense connection with game elements in a miniatures game than there is in a card game. Hobbyists spend hours lovingly crafting and customizing their models and sometimes even take models in their army based on their visual appeal more than their combat effectiveness; telling them that they can’t use them anymore is going to frustrate a lot of people. There are ways to address this such as through promoting limited formats and lower points games where there aren’t as many models on the table with rules that need remembering that aren’t as drastic as telling people they can’t play with their toys anymore.

Which brings me to Champions.

As for Champions, the main problem is that it has an identity crisis. People think that it is supposed to be a limited format to make it easier for new players, but if you actually read the document and the dev notes in the CID, that’s not what it is. It is supposed to be an alternative format for experienced players to prove their skill; one where the limited roster changes up the meta and allows these players to showcase the skill with all their faction’s casters (including the off-meta ones) as they rotate through ADR, not just stick with the few in their faction that are the most powerful and/or slightly broken.

The problem with that is that the ADR has historically been somewhat difficult to balance; there is often one or two factions that are on top because their restrictions are that they are only allowed to take the best stuff in the faction, while everyone else has to try to counter it with their B-team. Further, removing the painting requirement also took away one point of distinction between it and masters.

However, the fact that people keep saying that Masters is an introductory tournament format indicates to me that there is a recognition that there is a need for this sort of thing. In my opinion, if you want a truly limited format for new players, you need lower points and a more static, more limited roster that only includes the relatively straightforward things in each faction and fewer really obnoxious gear checks. Call it Warmachine: Core and push it as an alternative to no-restriction steamrollers. The catch is that with the current community, at least those who regularly go to events and are loud on the internet, getting them to embrace anything that isn’t standard, 75 point steamrollers is a challenge to say the least.

Bringing in new players

As is par for the course in these “state of the game” podcasts, Evan hit the nail on the head when he identified onboarding new players as the biggest issue with the growth of Warmachine. While part of it has to do with the density and steep learning curve of the game, it is also the fact that the community, while it can be very friendly once you get into it, can also be very intimidating for new players.

Another important point that was made was that people get into WMH because it is fun and because they identify with the cinematics of the game and the badass warcasters that they love. The ones that got hooked had some exciting cinematic moments that brought them to the edge of their seat; for me it was getting my ass handed to me by Haley2 until I figured out how to assassinate people with Sorscha1. From that moment on, I was on Team Sorscha and refused to play Butcher because he was the jerk who killed Sorscha’s dad.

I didn’t get into this game because someone told me that it is the most competitively balanced tournament game and that I should look forward to getting my face kicked in 50 times before I am able to git gud enough that every game isn’t a miserable experience. If I was that masochistic, I would play competitive Starcraft or some other e-sport.

However, as someone who is currently in the process of dragging a coworker into this world, I think the biggest challenge is that to an outsider, competitive Warmachine doesn’t look fun. You generally have two people crouched over a flat table with flat scenery and unpainted models, staring intently at the apps on their phones. As often as not, one of the two players is frustrated and afterwards, they engage in a loud discussion about what is OP and what needs CID and what little things they hate about the game. That’s not conducive to bringing in new players.

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At its finest, wargaming is a social affair. It requires much more agreement and back and forth between opponents as you discuss movement, measurement, terrain, etc. While one of the strengths of Warmachine is that there is a lot of clarity in the rules and it lends itself to competitive play about as well as any wargame can, pure competitive gaming can at times be a little soulless and doesn’t look fun to outsiders.

Conclusions

Perhaps this article ended up being a little more negative than intended, but that wasn’t my intention. I love Warmachine. I love the steampunk aesthetic, the bell curve probability distribution of 2d6, and the resource management and push your luck aspects of the focus/fury system. And I’m not on the doom train; I think this game is going to be around for a while and I’m excited for things like Archons and Oblivion.

But, while I disagree with a few of the points made in the cast, these conversations are important. So much of the growth and longevity of the game is down to the community these days. We can’t just rely on being the system that is the default for castaways ragequitting That Other Game.

Moreso than a lot of other games, a player’s experience in a wargame is directly related to the people they play it with. Even if we aren’t up to the task of being community leaders, it’s up to all of us to make that community and each other’s experiences the best that it can be.

Southern Ontario Open 2019 recap

So, I went to the Southern Ontario Open for the third year in a row this past weekend. The SOO, which takes place in Hamilton every year around the beginning of May, is undoubtedly Canada’s premiere Warmachine event. Drawing 100-plus players in their Masters tournament, having a six or seven round Masters, as well as featuring Iron Arena, IKRPG, MonPoc, and hobby content over three full days, it’s kind of a big deal.

Champions

I chose to participate in Champions this year and forgo Masters as I did the previous year. I knew that going to both tournaments would be just too much Warmachine for me, and I wanted to focus on hobby lounge and iron arena. I ended up choosing Champions because I really didn’t want to pack three lists, and I thought it would be nice to get all the hardcore gaming out of the way early on then just chill the rest of the con.

My biggest apprehension about Champions, aside from the distinct possibility that I would be getting my face kicked in by Iona all day, was the lack of a painting requirement. Since I’m not a hardcore competitive player and there is about a zero chance of me qualifying for either the WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals, the SOO for the past few years has been my one opportunity to attend a fully painted event. As someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of wargaming, that made it a particular highlight for my year in Warmachine and made whichever tournament had the painting requirement a can’t-miss event.

I know a lot of people disagree with me and have a serious problem with the above opinion, so if you are one of those, please direct all your hate mail to podcast@chain-attack.com.

Anyways, that all changed this year, with PP changing their official tournament packet in such a way that if a tournament organizer wants to have an official Masters or Champions event that counts towards their Iron Gauntlet qualifiers, they can’t have a painting requirement. As those Iron Gauntlet points are a big deal for top-tier competitive players and Warmachine celebrities, that basically precluded the organizers from doing a fully painted event, whether they wanted to or not.

However, it turned out to actually be less of an issue than I was anticipating. I was worried that with no painting requirements, it would open the door to a swarm of grey hordes. But when I walked around the tables, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least half of the armies were fully painted and a lot of the others were clearly on their way there. Three of my four games were against fully painted opponents, so that was actually a pleasant surprise.

Regarding my army lists, I knew I wanted to do Sorscha3 with plenty of Man-O-War models, and I had those painted up and ready to go. Due to the ADR restrictions, the other list had to be in Wolves of Winter, which meant a few things. First, it meant that Vlad2, which is the only model in my collection painted by my sister and not by me, would be the ideal choice. Second, it meant I had to get a lot of models painted to make a coherent list. Third, my list wouldn’t be very good because I didn’t have enough Doom Reavers painted up to really swarm my opponent with them. Finally, it meant that since I hadn’t ever actually played Wolves of Winter and trying to follow the CID made my brain hurt, my plan was to put the Vlad2 army on my tray and make a show of thinking about which list to play, but actually just play Sorscha3 every game.

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I went 1-3 in the tournament, losing to Old Witch 2, Zaal2, and Ossyan. My one victory came against someone playing Deneghra in Slaughter Fleet Raiders. He had little opportunity to take advantage of drag, as my Shocktroopers were granted Sturdy from the unit attachment and I had a shield guard in the list just in case. I ended up catching Ragman with a spray from a Suppression Tanker early on, and from there on out, I pretty much just watched his army bounce off the heavy armour of my Man-O-Wars, smacking them around with retaliatory strike as they came in. I actually started feeling a little bad for him because once Ragman was dead and his alpha strike was denied by my clouds, he just didn’t have the armour cracking to effectively deal with my army.

Now, I’m not one of those people who loses one game in a tournament and drops out because there is no point to playing unless you’re winning. I typically stay in throughout the whole thing, outside of extreme circumstances. However, I hadn’t been to a tournament in a while and after four games, my brain was hurting and I had done enough Warmachine for a weekend, never mind a day.

However, in spite of going 1-3 and dropping, I still managed to win Champions, or at least the most important part, the best painted army award.

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Painting

While the main attractions for most people are the competitive tournaments and the Iron Arena, the SOO does have some excellent hobby programming, and I feel like everyone who attends the SOO should at the very least pop into the hobby lounge for a few minutes and check out the contest entries or see what they can pick up from their fellow hobbyists.

I managed to squeeze in a couple classes. I took one on polychromatic shading with Ben at Primal Poodle, where I learned some more about colour theory. While I may have been a slightly difficult student by asking questions like “is grey a colour” when told to basecoat a part of a model in a colour that interested me, I did take a lot away from the class. I also got the chance to show off some of my work with Ben and Faust and get some valuable feedback on what I’m doing right and where I can improve.

But even outside of formal classes, you can pick up a lot from just getting the chance to talk shop with your fellow painters. There was a fellow hobbyist who was having difficulty with a resin pour, and I was able to offer up a couple pointers on doing the formwork as I had gone through that pain a little while ago. And I did have to chuckle a little when someone said that she should look up some guy who did a Swamp Siren and read up how he did it.

I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time in the hobby lounge. Part of this was because I didn’t have a huge based model completed before the event, and was inspired to finish painting my Siege Chariot conversion and get it into the contest. Which meant that I stayed up until 6 am on Friday night working on it, then got up again at 9 and got back to work, eventually getting it banged out with a few hours to spare.

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Why did I leave this until the last minute?

However, my valiant effort was all for naught when a very nicely done Sea King, which is one of the coolest models in PP’s entire range, edged me out in that particular category. That said, I came away with victories in two of the four categories – small and medium model – with Sorscha0 and my Sorscha bust, respectively. And the Sorscha bust also won the best in show award, not to mention that it was Sorscha3 running my best painted army, so… Sorscha OP, plz nerf?

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Patrick Miller’s Sea King

In some ways, this was coming full circle. My first year at the SOO, I entered into the painting competition but came away empty-handed, and to be honest, I felt a few pangs of disappointment. By the time the next year rolled around, I had improved my painting skills and had some display only models to enter, and while I did win one category, the top prize remained elusive. Now, I know it’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others as a painter and get too competitive about it, but I decided I would make it a goal to win the painting competition this year. I upped my game with the skills I picked up over the past year and the classes I attended, and focused on getting that Sorscha bust looking good, and it really paid off. And, since Sorscha was my first warcaster and is my favourite character from the Iron Kingdoms, the fact that I was able to do so with her was a little poetic.

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In the categories I didn’t win, I got some good feedback from the judges, and to be honest, I can’t really argue with what they said. For the Siege Strider, they liked the conversion and a lot of the painting, however the main issue was that I had overweathered the upper half of it, which wasn’t super realistic and worked against the highlights I put in. This probably had a little to do with the fact that instead of putting it all together and then painting it, I painted and weathered the model in sub-assemblies, starting with the legs and working up to the gun and the driver. As such, instead of following a logical weathering progression tapering the weathering off as I went up which would have been much more effective, I just did a default amount of weathering on each part. While I did add some additional dirt and mud stains on the feet afterwards, it wasn’t enough to truly get across the story behind the weathering – that of a big walker stomping around the battlefield, with its legs getting beaten up as it grinds the filthy Cygnarans to dust beneath its feet.

Also, having stayed up until 6 am the night before working on the model probably didn’t help much with my ability to pull off a coherent weathering scheme while running on three hours sleep and three cups of coffee.

As for the group category, I debated whether to enter my Man-O-Wars or my Cygnar. I went with Cygnar because it was some more recent work, but then I ended up getting too hung up on what made a tournament-legal list, and included some models which were from when I was still working out the finer details of the scheme. This meant that Maddox, who was my first Cygnar infantry model, kind of brought the entry as a whole down a little with her mediocrity, as did my first Cygnar jack or two. And since consistency is important in group categories, that knocked me down a few notches. Had I not included Maddox in my entry and perhaps thrown in a couple of my more recent stormdudes instead, I think I would have been a little more competitive.

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Group winner – Vincent Beaulieu’s Dreamer

I also want to give a big shout-out to the competition. There were some real top-shelf entries this year, and in particular, I want to recognize Vincent Beaulieu’s Captain Ahab bust from Scale75. It was pretty awesome and I feel like it really gave my Sorscha bust a run for her money; in fact, I would say there are some aspects where it outshone my entry. However the nature of winner-take-all or ranked judging systems means that sometimes, amazing models that get edged out by other amazing models don’t quite get the recognition they deserve.

The Final Word

The SOO is always a great show, and is kind of a highlight of my year in Warmachine. Even as someone who isn’t a hardcore competitive player, you have to appreciate the passion for the game we all love that is on display in that room. This year in particular, I was feeling some frustration with the game and the community and the SOO kind of reinvigorated my love for this game. If you are a Warmachine player and can possibly make it to the SOO, circle the calendar and make sure you go. And, while you’re there, pop by the hobby lounge for a few minutes and say hi.

I’ll be the one still painting at 3 am.

Painting Cygnar – because someone has to play the bad guys

Lately, I have been dabbling in what might be considered heresy. I’ve been painting up a Cygnar army for Warmachine. Don’t worry, fellow Khadorans, I’m not betraying the motherland. It’s just that I’ve been introducing new players to the game lately, and someone has to play the bad guys. As such, I now have to paint up a Cygnar army so I can do that.

Starting out

To begin my army, I decided to combine the Mk.III Cygnar battlebox with the Cygnar half of the Company of Iron box, then supplement that with whatever I either had in my stash or could pick up to build up this force. This also pushed me in the direction of Storm Divison, which, while it isn’t the most competitive theme force, is probably good for playing intro games. Plus, I do like Maddox, the Cygnar battlebox caster, and she works well with Stormdudes.

Of course, the downside to this was that most of the models in these starter products are the rather mediocre PVC models in the starter kit. These are notoriously difficult to work with due to the difficulty of cleaning up mold lines; quite frankly, I might actually prefer metal models to this crummy plastic. On the other hand, Gwen Keller, the one resin Cygnar model in the box, was quite crisply detailed and only required the slightest amount of cleanup.

So, after much cleanup, I was able to get started with the battlebox contents, a unit of Stormblades and Storm Gunners, Gwen Keller, and a few accoutrements such as a Squire and Gorman di Wulfe, borrowed from my existing collection of mercenaries who work for Khador. The goal here is not to make the most powerful or complicated list; it’s to make a list that is decent and which is good to use as an opposing force to introduce new players to the game or in journeyman league scenarios.

Deciding on a colour scheme

It’s not every day that you start a whole new army, so when you do, it’s a good idea to put a lot of thought into your colour scheme. You want something that will look good on the table and won’t be too hard to paint. Of course, you could always just go with the studio scheme, but I like to be a little more creative.

I had a few ideas. First, I was thinking of doing a Cygnar Red Army, but as I looked at pictures I saw online, I got less and less interested in that scheme. I just didn’t feel like red Cygnar looked good in any of the pictures that I saw, plus the idea of a #southKhador army has been done already. Next, I considered a few bright colours such as yellow, orange, and white, but I realized that with all the electro-stuff on Cygnar models, it would make sense to go with a darker scheme as the OSL would have more contrast and look better against a dark background.

Now, I had a few choices for dark colours. Purple was out because that was the scheme for my Khador army, and blue was the studio scheme which I wanted to avoid. I considered a dark green, but I had done enough of that with some of my recent gundam projects and thought it might not provide enough contrast with the terrain on most tables. So, I eventually decided on a blue-black with light grey and yellow as secondary colours, figuring that would be different enough from the studio scheme to satisfy my rebellious tendencies.

The project

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Battlebox contents, cleaned and hit with a zenithal prime

After fighting through some of the mediocre plastics that is classic Privateer Press from before their resin started getting good, I started with a zenithal prime of white stynylrez over black. The plan was to airbrush the main colour, then pick out all the rest of the details by brush. For my main colour, I worked up from black, to Reaper’s Blue Liner, to P3 Gravedigger Denim, then P3 Frostbite. Readers of this blog will recognize this colour recipe from previous projects where I experimented with highlighting black. However, in this case, I went a little heavier on the blues than before, making it more of a desaturated blue than a black.

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Airbrushed and ready for brush painting

From there, I added some grey, yellow, and silver and brass metallics, using a lot of familiar recipes. White with purple shading and yellow ink overtop for the yellow, various Reaper greys for the grey, and my usual true metallic metal techniques for the metals.

Since most of these models are Cygnar stormdudes and since the whole reason for this colour scheme was to accentute the glow effects, it was time for OSL. Here, I would start out by undercoating the source of the light in white, then spraying on the glow with my airbrush and some sky blue. Add some touchups to make the source pop a little more, and you have a perfectly serviceable tabletop quality OSL.

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Glowy Stormdudes

Basing

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Some sandbags on the base to go with the trench warfare scheme

Basing is an important part of tying the whole thing together. A coherent basing scheme can really make your army look good. Since this is Cygnar, I decided to go with a trench warfare scheme. As such, there is basically no vegetation because the no-man’s-land has been chewed up by repeated artillery barrages that not much is growing. I also went with a little lighter dirt colour than I used on my Khador, as that looks more like some of the pictures of trench warfare that I’ve seen. It wasn’t that hard; just a simple matter of adding textured mediums mixed with craft paints for texture, and washing and dry-brushing to taste. Some simple green stuff sandbags and bits of barbed wire completed the theme, and some models have bits of debris that reflect their story – Maddox has Menoth bits on her base, while Gwen Keller has a pig’s head and a butcher knife on her base – and I did try to make the base a little lighter towards the front center of the models, just to focus the eye on the front of the model.

Also, I wanted to make the arc marks visible, but not too powerful that they draw the eye away from the model, which can be one of the most annoying things about painting Warmachine. As such, I went with a black base rim, with a sky blue hash line and grey lines next to it. This isn’t too bright, but it is still visible.

Acosta

Savio Monteiro Acosta is a bit of a unique model in this theme force. Technically, he’s not a Cygnar model, but he counts as such in this theme force. His lore is something about him being a roaming duelist and not an actual member of the Cygnaran military. As such, I wanted to do something different.

First, I figured it would be good to do a headswap. Stormblades fall into the category of people who are wearing such heavy armour that their gender is obscured if they’re wearing a helmet, so I figured I could get away with making a female version with just a simple headswap. So, I reached into my collection of Statuesque Miniatures heads and found one that would work and boom, it’s Sophia Maria Acosta now. I also wanted to give her darker skin, just because that’s a skin tone I haven’t painted as much.

Second, I figured it would be good to do a different colour scheme than the rest of my stormdudes. Instead of the usual blue-black, I decided to go with a camo green, with a burgundy cape and yellow highlights. The actual painting wasn’t too much different than the rest. I started with a coal black and worked up to green and added a bit of yellow in the highest highlights. Then, I masked off the green and did the cape, working from coal black up to P3 Sanguine Base, Sanguine Highlight, and the final shade Sanguine Highlight with a bit of Menoth White Highlight mixed in. I followed up with a bit of brushwork blending overtop to reinforce the shadows and highlights, and added a freehand pattern at the bottom of the cape just to add something to it.

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Since this was partially done for a painting competition, I decided to change up my strategy for varnish and adopt one that Vince Venturella has been advocating. I would save the metallics for the end, and before applying them, I would hit them with a coat of matte varnish. Then, I would paint my metallics and not varnish them.

This seems like heresy; the idea of playing with an unvarnished miniature, especially an unvarnished metal miniature. My gut reaction was that it would get chipped. However, the simple fact of the matter is that it is your primer, not your varnish, which is truly important for chipping resistance, and varnish ruins the finish on metallics. You can kind of save it by going back over the metallics with a gloss varnish, but it’s still not quite as good as leaving it au naturel. Vince claims that metallic paint is resistant enough to handling, so I’m hoping to test this and prove him right for myself.

Next Steps

So far, I’ve finished painting the battlebox, the Cygnar half of the Company of Iron box, a squire and a unit attachment for the Stormblades. This is enough to take me up to about 35 point games, including theme forces, and really introduce the fundamentals to new players. I have a few models assembled and with quick airbrush base coats applied to expand my force with, including a Stormblade Captain, a Journeyman Warcaster, a few support models, Brickhouse, and the Mk.II battlebox. I also have a few models yet to assemble, and am eyeing a box of Stormlances on the shelf of my FLGS. That should take me up to 75 points and beyond, and I’m thinking if I go for a second list, I might look at Kraye with a combined arms force in Sons of the Tempest.

Now, it’s just too bad Storm Division isn’t on the current Active Duty Roster…

Warmachine: What’s really wrong with themes (and how to fix them)

If you spend as unhealthy an amount of time on the Warmachine internet as I do, you will be familiar with a common complaint – that “thememachine” or the prevalence of theme lists in Warmachine, is horrible and is killing the game and that things were better back in the good old days of Mk.II. Of course, this is an exaggeration, but it has got me thinking.

First off, I actually don’t think themes are that bad. There are a lot of advantages to splitting up these factions into groups and restricting model choices. First, it makes it a lot easier to balance, in that a model only has to be balanced in its relevant themes and we don’t need to worry about some combination of that model, a certain warcaster, and two or three mercenary options breaking the game. Second, restrictions can actually encourage list diversity. If anyone could take any in-faction model any time, we would risk ending up with lists all looking like the same sort of soup of the strongest models in the faction, or starting with the same few faction autoincludes.

I also don’t think spam is inherently bad. It actually looks pretty cool to see a well-painted army with some uniformity to it across the table. Phalanxes of well-painted Iron Fang Pikemen with a coherent colour scheme can look much more attractive on the tabletop than some mixture of Iron Fangs, Winter Guard, and Man-O-War all mashed together and clashing aesthetically. However, while the argument that themes discourage list diversity is way overblown, I think there may be a nugget of truth in there.

Two ways to build lists…

It feels like there are two ways to build lists in Warmachine. The first way is to pick a variety of models that mutually support each other, even if such support isn’t as direct and straightforward as “This dude gives these other dudes +1 to hit.”

I think one great example of this is Armored Corps. While there are some models that directly buff each other such as the Kovnik and the various unit attachments, and there are some builds that just take one model and go ham with it like Butcher1 and three units of bombardiers, there are actually a lot of ways that elements in an Armored Corps army can support each other. Suppression tankers can lay down covering fire and deal with light infantry that would otherwise bog down (or in the case of weapon master dudes, tear through) your relatively low model count, heavy infantry army. Shocktroopers can screen heavy hitting Demolition Corps, and Bombardiers can provide a long range element for either sniping out key support pieces. And that is to say nothing of the speed of the Drakhun or the Chariots. While you are restricted to Man-O-War models, you can take a lot of different variations that each bring something to the table and add up to more than the sum of their parts.

This is actually similar to how squads in real life combat operate. A squad of soldiers in WWII might have a combination of soldiers with different loadouts and different specializations – riflemen, a light machine gun crew, a couple guys with submachine guns, some grenadiers, etc. All these soldiers would support each other in ways that make the sum of the parts greater than the whole – the guys with the machine gun would provide suppressing fire, allowing the riflemen to get into a better position. A couple guys with submachine guns may help cover the grenadiers as they approach an enemy position to lob grenades into their foxholes. And all the while, the designated marksman would pick off any high value targets that expose themselves.

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Of course, the other way is to find one model that is perhaps a little bit too strong for its points, take a caster that synergizes with it, and just go ham with it. The quintessential list here is Cryx Slayer spam, though there are some other popular lists that come to mind as well. Once you figure out that Slayers in the Black Industries theme force are pretty good and pretty cheap, and Asphyxious3 makes Slayers better, the logical conclusion is to take Asphyxious3 and as many Slayers as you can cram into your list to really leverage that synergy. From there, you just hope that the combination of a good model with a caster who can serve as a force multiplier can just brute force anything in front of it, including your opponent’s nice combined arms list with plenty of mutually supportive elements.

The real life equivalent would be like if the British army decided that since Sten guns are cheap and effective, they’ll just produce and issue nothing but Sten submachine guns to their army. That’s one strategy I suppose, but in real life, it’s not a very good one and prone to have catastrophic results when these poor Tommies run up against a problem that spray and pray with a submachine gun can’t solve. While I’m not one to say that our game of magic robots punching dragons needs to be a realistic simulations of real-life combat, in the world of wargaming, “everyone gets a Sten” isn’t as tactically challenging and intellectually stimulating as spending your lunch break at work weighting the pros and cons of adding a designated marksman to pick off high value targets to your squad versus incorporating another light machine gun crew for more effective covering fire.

Back to themes

One catch here is theme forces. While some themes like Armored Corps have a nice diversity of units and can incorporate mutually supporting elements rather than just running as many Slayers as possible, some are a little more restricted in either the models you can take or the models that count towards free cards in the theme. Between this and our predilection to find a synergy and go ham on it (see: Asphyxious + Slayers = win), players are strongly encouraged to take as many points of models that count towards free cards as possible because free stuff is really good. For example, you could take a bunch of Kayazy Assassins in Jaws of the Wolf or Sword Knights in Heavy Metal, but in doing so, you are forgoing free cards, which makes it difficult to justify unless you have a really compelling reason to.

One way to deal with this is to lower the threshold for free cards to 15 points, and cap the number of free cards at three or so. That would allow people to take models that don’t count for free points – things like warjacks, journeyman warcasters, and mercenaries – and build a more combined arms list, while still maxing out on free points and not being punished by the free points economy when compared to straight spam lists. Of course, if we simply drop the points threshold for a free card without instituting a cap, then we end up in the same situation as before, except instead of maxing out on a certain model type to get three free cards, people will max out on the same model type to get five free cards.

We can already see this in at least one of the themes. I find Sons of the Tempest in Cygnar to be particularly interesting to build lists for, in part because you get the free card after every 15 points of Arcane Tempest models instead of 20 or 25. While there isn’t a hard cap, people generally don’t try to maximize free cards by taking 75 points of gunmages because all those POW 10s probably wouldn’t have the raw hitting power to take down a heavily armoured force. So, when building a list in that theme, people tend to limit themselves to about three free cards, using up 45 points and spending the other 30 points on things like warjacks, mercenaries, junior warcasters, etc., to bring some heavy hitting power to the list and make it a little more combined arms oriented than taking just the bare minimum number of warjacks and filling the rest with in-theme infantry.

Because of a combination of a lower points threshold not pressuring players to maximize free cards, as well as some of Cygnar’s great journeyman warcasters, you can actually make some interesting combined arms lists in Sons of the Tempest and still get a decent amount of free cards. Kraye, for example, could be played fairly jack-heavy in this theme, using the jacks for heavy hitting and the various gunmages to support, clear chaff, and push enemy models around as well as apply Kraye’s feat.

Further, in addition to encouraging more combined arms play, this could help bring models back to the table that don’t fit well into theme forces because they don’t count towards free cards. Assault Kommandos, I’m looking in your direction.

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Did somebody say my name?

Conclusion

Themes aren’t going anywhere, and longing for some good old days of Mk.II which may or may not have actually happened isn’t useful. While there are a lot of benefits to themes such as making armies look coherent, making the game easier to balance, reducing the instance of seeing the same overpowered model in every list in a faction, and basically being a shopping list for a new player, one weakness is that they don’t lend themselves to combined arms play – which is already discouraged by some of the powerful combos and synergies in the game.

By reducing the free card threshold and capping the number of free cards, Warmachine could take a small step away from trying to stack buffs onto a dozen of the most cost-effective model and towards combined arms lists with mutually supporting elements. That could increase the tactical depth of the game without greatly increasing complexity, and I, for one, would much rather have a game decided by who best brings his mutually supporting elements to bear on a battlefield given the challenges of terrain and the movements of the enemy than one of hard counters, gear checks, and putting all one’s eggs into one basket and then winning or losing at list selection.