The last time we touched on the sci fi project I was busy constructing buildings but after a few more I got a bit bored so we had a chat and thought “well we’ve got painted figures, enough buildings and clutter for a set up, let’s try some rules”
Now this hasn’t been our most well thought out project so several rule sets have been bought over time and have just sat on the shelf staring back defiantly. We knew we didn’t want light sabres and lasers so given our experience with squad level WWII and modern wars we’ve opted for a ‘near future wars’ kind of vibe; guys in fire teams with pulse rifles (or whatever) bailing out of APC’s and blazing away at each other with minimal ‘alien’ interaction.
Best fit for this vibe seemed to be the ‘Tomorrow’s War’ set written as part of the Osprey/Ambush Alley Games collaboration back in 2011/2012 and carrying a lot of the tropes from the Ambush Alley sets like the magic 4+ roll for success. On the face of it the book (a weighty hardback) is quite daunting, 200+ pages of detailed script printed on the worst colour combination ever – I think they were trying to be ‘edgy’ but it’s a huge fail. However after taking a deep breath and wading through, two things become apparent, (1) the rules you need for a trial game and most follow on games are in the first few pages, (2) a good deal of the book is taken up with back story and I love back story because unlike the ‘real world’ where you know the setting of your game and can build a narrative around it a sci fi game lacks all of that and without some kind of grounding it can become like some of the more silly episodes of early Star Trek. So without further ado we jumped in.
Our game, such as it was, featured an attack by a rifle squad of the Democratic Peoples Army of Glory (Chinese deep space colony) on a Republic of Arden (France) position. As a game it went surprisingly well, a lot of time was spent flicking through the book to make sure we were doing things right (generally we were) and the downloadable quick ref’s aren’t the most intuitive of aids but we got through a game, got a result and the rules seemed to have a logical flow. We didn’t use any of the advanced rules and weren’t sure about the ‘fog of war’ cards – more reading required by me but came away pleased enough to get some more figures painted and maybe buy one of the expensive vehicles that are around 🙄. What did become apparent was the number of figures required, we were playing with essentially a rifle squad each, around a dozen figures, but the rules seem geared towards a platoon action which would mean multiplying by 3 or 4 and I’m not sure we want to do that.
Having finished the game in around 2 hours, Dave suggested we try ‘Black Ops’ the Osprey near future skirmish/secret agent game which we’d used once in a Syrian skirmish game as an experiment in a simple participation game mechanic idea we were contemplating. The game is based on the use of the court cards from a standard playing card deck divided into red and black with each card representing a certain troop type – Jacks are troopers, Kings are ‘heavies’ etc, so when their card turns up they get to do their thing.
We used basically the same scenario and the game played through quickly but because the rules are pretty generic the game felt generic and a little sterile although it was pretty bloody! At the end of it we felt a little ‘meh’ but if you want to just bang down some figures in either a modern or futuristic setting and blast away for an hour or so these will do the job.
We didn’t get to play Osprey’s ‘Rogue Stars’ but I’d already played this a couple of times with some other guys and my takeaway from the set is that for it to work it needs quite a detailed scenario and very few figures per side so that it is more like an RPG than the skirmish game it advertises itself as. That said we have a number of figures that have more of an RPG feel to them so Dave and I talked about the idea of having a ‘Tomorrow’s War’ set of ongoing actions between two of the factions on some contested planet and then maybe running alongside some more detailed personalised games that don’t progress the broader narrative; food for thought 🙂.
Anyway, that was it. More buildings to construct in the new year and maybe some heavy weapons troops to get painted.
That’s it for the year I reckon so Happy Christmas!
Back in 2017 I was at my first Games Expo and as I wandered round it struck me that there was more to the whole Sci Fi/Fantasy gaming thing than my very narrow view allowed, ie it didn’t all have to be the Games Workshop juggernaut; but that was it really, although I did notice that at the TTCombat stand they were selling complete sets of various ranges for around a hundred quid and cunningly had them all made up to seduce you! I did think to myself ‘well it doesn’t have to be lasers and light sabres, some kind of near future thing could work…..’
Come October I was at what turned out to be the last Derby show and during my browsing came across the Pig Iron Productions stand and was completely taken in by the figures. Now these aren’t the greatest figures in the world but I thought they had a real down to earth charm which fitted with my half formed idea of an arid planet somewhere in a galaxy, far, far away 🙂 and the perennial conflict between order (an empire/corporate holding) and independence (rebels/pioneers/free traders) – I think I’ve read Dune too many times 🙂 A long chat with the very helpful owner convinced me into an impulse buy of an assortment of figures that could match my vague vision and into the ‘pending projects’ box they went. However, come May of 2018 I was back at Games Expo and the ‘show deal’ of a load of buildings for a hundred quid was on again and this time I looked a bit closer and there was their Sandstorm range saying ‘buy me now’, so I did.
Given that I’m typing this in 2021, clearly the project just sat in a box and did nothing. Well not entirely but other things certainly had more priority; the Cartel project took up a lot of time and creativity and by the end of that I was kind of done with MDF buildings, the Benghazi/Syrian project with the accompanying learning curve of the Spectre rules and the Indo China project all took up time and head space. However I did manage to get the figures painted up (and buy some more, which are still sitting in a box!) and get hold of several rule sets ranging from simple to complex to browse through but this was very much my gig so motivation was an effort. Now 2020 should have been the year to crack on with all that enforced spare time but as I’ve already alluded to, a death in the family and a general lack of motivation meant that nothing new got done. However, at the beginning of the year one of the guys we used to game with and hadn’t seen for a while let us know that he was packing in the hobby altogether and had sold off most of his stuff for ‘proper money’ but had some odds and sods that we might be interested in, amongst which was some sci fi figures. So, we took a look and I sorted a few out that weren’t too outlandish and then Dave said ‘you know what I might give this a bit of a go’ and a project was kick started! Since then Dave has picked up a whole load of ‘sci fi clutter’ from another mate and with the ancients rules now well and truly underway it was time for another MDF buildings outing.
First up was the Sandstorm Hovel A (strangely there is no ‘B’), a single room octagonal dwelling for the ‘poor folks’, very Tatooine like. I had two of these so I built them one after the other and then painted both.
This was an easy build. Everything punched out of the sprues with no difficulty and once I’d filed the nubs where the pieces were connected to the sprues flat I was off and running. Basically there was the 8 wall sections plus buttress sections, one of which was the door section, some arched sections to create the recess for the door, a base, a roof, the grey card roof dome pieces plus mdf frame and a couple of loose bits for controls and air vent type things.
The usual dry fit run seemed to indicate all was good so I just worked my way round the base with the walls, wood gluing as I went. Next the door surrounds, which on reflection I should have pre glued, the door and the various ‘twiddly bits’. While that all dried off I tackled the roof piece and the flat grey card which is intended for the domed roof – a bit of a play here on current day domes on buildings of the middle east. Now I have never been entirely clear whether TTCombat want the roofs to come off or not as the fit is always an interference fit but they are marketed for skirmish gaming and the tongue and groove fit kind of implies that. For our purposes we always want the roofs off so in this case, as in all the Cartel buildings previously done, there was a bit of ‘finessing’ to get the roofs to be able to come off, part of which included ditching the grey card section that went from the dome to the door surround – the roof would never have come off otherwise.
Before creating the dome, the individual sections that provide the skeletal frame for the card to sit on needed to be assembled together and then glued into the slots on the roof piece, this took longer to do than the actual building! Once that was done the flat grey card just needed to be folded along the drawn lines into a dome and fitted over the frame and glued in place as you worked round the circumference slotting fins into slots on the roof piece which got more and more difficult as you worked your way round – what I should have done was open out all the slots for the fins before hand as I ended up ripping the card on the first dome, luckily I was going to tetrion over it afterwards.
Next up was a spray undercoat, I used black on this one but I don’t think it really matters, the mdf soaks it up anyway. After that an all over brush coat of a vaguely sand like match pot and painting of the door and control panels then a mix of tetrion with a desert colour masonry paint plus watered down wood glue daubed on and fine sand sprinkled over immediately afterwards. Once it was dried, a couple of dry brush runs and some staining and ready to go. So far so good.
Next up was the Sandstorm Dwelling, two of them again but this time a square building with the dome, I guess this is meant to be a step up the social status ladder.
The strange thing about this piece was that there was no floor section. Now I don’t know whether this TTC being a bit cheapskate or there was a logic that said ‘well four walls will stand by themselves pretty easy and the roof will tie them in’. If that was the thinking then clearly having a removable roof wasn’t going to work so I cut myself my own floor section, put together the 4 wall sections (well 3 and 1 doorway) with wood glue and put on the roof panel without glue to hold them straight, then once dry took off the roof panel. The open box I had now created I then stuck to my own floor panel – frankly it looked better and I reckon the space is big enough for me to create a separate ‘bedroom’ with card at a later stage.
Everything was much the same build as the hovel except that with the roof the dome sits on it’s own raised dais and that sits on the roof panel; the awkwardness of the grey card dome build was much the same but I couldn’t see much of a way round it.
After that it was the spray undercoat and the first coat of paint and then the terion and sand mix. What I did find with both types of dwelling was that once they were dry I had to file the tabs and/or the grooves again to rid of excess tetrion; there’s no way of hiding the join which can look a bit incongruous but I guess it’s the price that has to be paid for removable roofs – this is where someone like Blotz scores because their roofs are inset thus creating a bit of a parapet and hiding the join.
Next up was the Sandstorm Cantina and this was a complete pig to build! In fact, so much of a pig that I would advise anyone not to buy it and I really like the TTC products.
Once again there is no floor – why? As you can see from the picture this is not a 4 walls and away you go kind of building and they’ve supplied the odd shaped roof section so why not another for the floor? The online instructions are also completely disingenuous, they seem to imply a ring piece of the building shape into which the various wall pieces slot but in fact it is a series of separate pieces – 11 of them, which you have to line up just right and then fit the walls into them and get the walls to line up with each other plus a roof; complete nightmare.
To make this build work I had to again source my own floor section, but this time it wasn’t the vanity of wanting the roof to come off, this time the build couldn’t happen without it – luckily I found a piece of card thick enough. Then I had to align the 11 floor pieces on my floor section – and it wasn’t obvious where each piece went, and glue them in place knowing full well that the nature of mdf cut parts is that there is no margin of error built in. Just to repeat myself here, this was a piss poor piece of design.
Before attempting to fit the wall sections I decided to sub assemble the buttress pieces (just like on the 2 other buildings) so I wasn’t pushing against the walls with extra pieces, which had been easy because the place for the buttress are marked on the wall sections.
Great, worked a treat but imagine my frustration when I placed my first wall into its floor piece and found that if assembled as shown, the buttress now fouled against the floor piece! So now I had to lever/rip the buttress pieces off the walls (and anyone who’s glued mdf buildings knows how well they come apart – not!) and raise them up. I did do a bit of an experiment to see if it was due to me having created my own floor and the answer was no.
Next was the walls themselves, all 11 of them, but unlike the 2 earlier builds where the walls just butted against each other, edge to edge, and any daylight was covered by the application of the tetrion, these had little half moon jointing pieces (4 per join) that you had to push between the walls as you put each wall section to the next with absolutely no margin of error. There were 32 of them and no spares.
So I worked my way round the assembly, and as anyone who has worked in engineering knows, once you get an error that error is chased around an assembly until you get to the last operation and all the error is then in one place. Guess what? That’s exactly what happened, the smallest of error in lining up 11 floor sections and then walking 11 wall pieces around the assembly, wood gluing as I went, inevitably led to disaster.
Remember, a roof still has to go on this! In the end I had to hack a section out to relieve the stress, then forcibly line up the walls and clamp in place with the roof on to set the walls – this involved a lot of opening out of the roof slots so they would align to the walls. Once set (I let it dry overnight, not something you usually have to do with wood glue), I then set about filling the daylight in the hacked wall joint and the floors where the wall tabs hadn’t sat down fully with spare mdf pieces I had – this was where keeping ‘useful’ pieces of old sprues in a box came in very handy.
The end result wasn’t too bad, especially as it would be tetrioned later so then it was on to the roof.
The roof was how the floor should have been. There were a lot of slots around the periphery, one lot for the upstand tabs on the wall sections and another lot for a decorative parapet that encompassed the circuit. The parapet served no useful wargaming purpose but it did serve the purpose of ‘hiding the join’ of where the walls joined the roof. There were quite a few ‘twiddly bits’ to be made up as vents, controls and other non descript ‘sci fi’ stuff which were ok although I do think this is an area where mdf fails, these kind of add on items are far better executed in plastic or resin. The dome was just like the earlier ones, I’m getting used to them now which is just as well because they are a feature of the range.
The usual painting and tetrioning hid most of the sins of the build, although not perfectly, and once complete it’s a sizeable space for a New Hope/Mandalorian bar shoot out; what it needs is a bar, tables and made up sci fi stuff on the walls so I’m going to have to trawl the internet for something usable.
Because this was such a pig I’m going to leave the sci fi project for a little while, especially as the remaining buildings are bigger and potentially more difficult. In the meantime thank you for reading, more to come in due course.