Archives for 2012

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I am totally redoing this site. Please bear with me!

Rockwell Bladerunner

So I was looking at tools to help build terrain with. I came across this cutting device:

 

It looks pretty cool. It is currently $159 new and cheaper used. It is small, perfect for building gaming terrain and the price can’t be beat. It can be used for inside cuts, miter cuts, scroll cuts, metal & tile cuts, circle cuts, and rip cuts. I think it would be perfect for MDF and similar materials.

Billy Yank – new regimental ACW rules under development

My good friend Nathanial St. John has been running gorgeous games from the British Colonial Period using his rules Naughty, Naughty Sepoy. The rules are a blast and, like all good rules, take about 3-5 turns to understand. They really shine in how they incorporate ‘friction of command’ into the game play. They remind me a bit of a game system that was popular 10 years ago called Piquet. I felt those rules over-did the Fog of War aspect. The effect is more subtle in this set of rules.

What we are trying to do with this new set is to create a set of rules that give the players a challenge in command, tactical problems to be solved and playable without a lot of rules memorization or study. Its more like chess than it is Advanced Squad Leader. We want the rules to be consistant with period tactics.

A complete ACW system would also cover terrain modeling, history and multiplayer campaigns. I hope to incorporate all of the ideas I’ve had over the years into just such a system.

With that I’ve started to look into what terrain is there out there? My own collection is 15mm but some people like to game in 10mm and others in 28mm. Scaling the rules is pretty easy, in my opinion. Usually you can just replace inches with centimeters to game at smaller scales.

So here is a list of ACW terrain pieces I’ve found on the market:

StarFort Models (10/15mm): http://www.rodlangton.com/starfort/10mm.htm Some great set peices including the Gettysburg cemetary arch.

J R Miniatures: http://www.jrminiatures.net/15mmacw.aspx There are some great pieces here and some are useful for the Western Theater.

Here is an interesting blog post on someone’s ACW collection: http://lordashramshouseofwar.blogspot.com/2008/04/15mm-acw-buildings.html. It has some good advice in there!

At Nashcon I was able to get walls, artillery positions and more from Recreational Conflicts. Their site needs to be updated with these new pieces. Some you can see in the Painted Terrain section. Definitely contact them and ask about their ACW suitable terrain! http://recreationalconflict.lusagi.com/

There are a bunch of excellent pieces at Stone Mountain. Alas they lack a lot of photographs! http://www.historicalminiatures.com/terrain_15mm.html

Hovels of course makes some excellent buildings as well: http://www.hovelsltd.co.uk/acw15mm.htm

At Nashcon I met up with the folks at Foxhole Terrain. They have some awesome resin pieces. I picked up a bunch. I highly recommend them: http://www.foxholeterrain.com/link%20files/fortifications/15mm%20fortifications.htm

Hopefully this will be a good start on your ACW building and fortification collection!

Moo – painting animals

One of the things that make some games shine aren’t the soldiers or the terrain but the incidental stuff like civilians and animals. When it comes to animals I have found that if I paint them from memory they never look right. We have these idealized versions of things in our heads that just don’t match up with real life. Take for example longhorn steers. In my head they are all just a russet brown. However A quick look via Bing Images or Google Images reveals that in fact some longhorns look like painted horses. Few of them look alike!

20120219-005640.jpg
The technique I like to use when I have a lot of animals is to find several distinct styles, divide my animals up and then paint them according to those styles. Its a fun exercise and the result is you end up with much better looking animals.

Animals can be used as set dressing or they can be a major part of your scenario. These longhorn cattle will be part of an Old West game I’ll run at Nashcon.

Halo – Tomorrow’s War

Just after my last Battlefield 3 video I lost my 2nd Xbox 360. I had bought a spare but it died a few months ago and I opted to wait to repair it. Well, play the violin, both died due to electrical surge (possibly from a bad brick) and neither could be repaired for less than replacement cost. Yeah, ouch. So I am not without a backup plan. Last June I pre-ordered the Limited Edition Star Wars Kinect Xbox 360. Yeah, delayed until early April. In the mean time I am going back to playing games with figures and loving it. Today’s battle report mixes and Xbox theme with miniature wargaming – I used Halo Figures for my first game of Ambush Alley Games’ Tomorrow’s War!

Tomorrow’s War – AAR of the first game

Tomorrow’s War is a platoon based game of near future combat. It is based upon the popular Force on Force game and cousin to Ambush Alley – the game that started it all. Where Ambush Alley focused on the Asymmetric war, Force on Force focuses on Equivalent forces fighting each other but is able to handle the COIN operations as well.

While I have played Force on Force in the past, I’ve never been the one to run it. I wanted to have a set of rules that would allow me to run all of my old science fiction figures and Tomorrow’s War certainly fits the bill. So the first out of the Basement were the Halo Clix of which I have what science describes as a “shit tons” worth of figures. It became almost no problem recreating the forces from what I had. The first scenario, “Lost and Found” was trivial to recreate excepts for one issue – it calls for troops that have the future equivalent of the Squad Automatic Weapon (aka ‘SAW’). In the Halo Universe there isn’t anything that matches up with that so I had to get creative. For Covenant forces I declared the Carbine was the SAW. For the Spartan’s, any Spartan that was duel wielding weapons had the same firepower as a SAW. It was an easy and expedient way of dealing with it. The rules are generic enough that they can be bent to almost any theme.

Glancing at the objective

Spartans look at the objective from cover

In the photo below We can see a nice close up of the figures. A Master Chief is the overall Squad Leader. The Spartan with the rocket launcher is the grenadier and the one duel wielding the needlers is the SAW. Other weapons used as substitutes are Fuel Rod Guns for Grenadiers and Covenant Carbines for SAWs.

For the objective I used some older (1990’s) models from the Kryomec game. These habitats make great science fiction buildings and are great as our primary objective point. The ODST soldier is perfect for the downed pilot that the Spartans are trying to rescue.

Objective: rescue downed pilot holed up in this cluster of buildings

For color I added a stand in for a crashed Pelican. This drop ship comes from the Grendel line of miniatures. I think it might be a late 1980’s model or early 1990’s. I don’t know if it went to any game system but it works well as a 28mm figure. I’ve had it for years.

Crashed Pelican - used simply as set dressing

The water hazard posed no difficulty in crossing. The banks were considered cover for any element lined up along them that wasn’t moving. The river sections are just thin MDF painted with the edges flocked. It works well enough. The bridge section is one piece. That bridge isn’t removable and isn’t wide enough for large 28mm vehicles. It is barely wide enough for 20mm vehicles. I believe it was meant for 15mm or smaller scale vehicles.

The Bridge

The Bridge to Desert Station Tango

The figure is the ODST soldier just praying the Marines get him in time.

For the majority of the game the Covenant remained hidden in Ambush. They had greater numbers but their technology class (in this scenario at least) is less than the Spartans. I used a mixture of Grunts, Jackals, Elites, one Brute and one Zealot to make up the opposition. While I did cause some damage when initiating my ambush attacks, the reaction fire from the Spartans was often devastating.

Kill Check!

Kill Check!

Note that while the Spartan fireteam here took 25% casualties, my larger force of xenos took 100%! In Tomorrow’s War you aren’t dead until a casualty/first aid check is done. However in order for that to happen you need a least one friendly withing cohesion distance (2″). We did see the rules specifically state that when a full element is rendered as casualties it remains that way until another friendly unit comes to the rescue. With these merciless Spartans passing through though, unopposed, we determined that they would simply kill check every “dink in the drink” and removed them from play. Right or wrong that is what we did.

Measuring distance

Measuring Distance

Measuring distance is nice when you are checking to see if the enemy is in optimal distance. given the short engagement ranges in this game, EVERYTHING in LOS is in effective range. Optimal range just adds a die to the fire power roll. The Spartans didn’t really need it. They had no trouble plastering xenos without mercy!

Alien flora offers some cover

Alien flora offers some cover

These horrifying alien plants were nice cover. The terrain is naturally made here in Tennessee. Just go walking one of the green ways covered in black walnut trees in late summer or early fall and you can gather up big bags full! Just a few pocketfuls gathered one day were enough to make a nice alien mangrove.

volley fire

Charge weapons! Aim! Fire!

This battle line did me in. Two fire teams, one reduced the other expanded by the squad leader finished off the final xeno squad and rescued the pilot.

I have to say we had a great time playing this game. I took the time to print out the Fog of War cards and trim them nicely (worth the effort) and to find and print out quick reference sheets. Some were better than others. One that covered the very basics of play proved to be the best. You can find them in the forums at http://AmbushAlleyGames.com. We had some questions about the timing of some things but the rules really are quite clear once you can find them. Organizationally they are a bit spread out but for the most part not too difficult to search.

I really look forward to playing a lot more of this game!

Battlefield 3: Team Deathmatch

Team Deathmatch is the simplest game type in the Battlefield 3. Two teams square off to see who can cause the most harm. The game isn’t over until it one side is out of tickets. Any weapon and any style of play can be used but the winning team is the one where the most aggressive and effective tactics are put to use. By effective I mean the best Kill to Death ratio possible and the highest number of kills per minute. Those are opposed goals. That means that trying to maximize one is often at the expense of the other. The careful player knows how to favor not dying over getting the kill and when to get the kill because death is inevitable.

There are no vehicles in this form of play which makes the Engineer class suddenly not a go-to choice. Engineers can still do well, they have access to Personal Defense Weapons (at one point in history known as sub-machine guns, machine pistols and a few other variations. Each map is different for Team Deathmatch (aka TDM) and maps like Caspian Border favor the medium range engagement. Few if any of the maps favor long range engagement. While this may seem to play against the sniper, given enough cover a good sniper will select a medium range scope such as the ACOG and select a suppressor and find someplace to hide in the dark. Snipers also have access to PDWs.

The real trick for the sniper is the MAV, though. This micro-uav is phenomenal. Without pulling a single trigger the MAV equipped sniper can get 4-5000 points per game by simply hiding well and spotting the living hell out of the enemy. I have found that using the MAV often gains my side the win because the advantage of having the enemy lit up all the time is fantastic. One might even say unbalancing excepts for the fact that they can counter-MAV your team.

An often overlooked capability of the MAV is to jam and destroy TUGS, Radio Beacons and other MAVs. How? When you see one, zoom on it (left trigger on the 360) and when it locks pull and hold right trigger to jam and destroy. It is extremely effective and when you are good at it you can keep they skies clear. The other way of removing an enemy MAV is to use a MANPAD (Man Portable Air Defense) such as the Stinger or Igla.

MAVs can avoid being killed by missiles and lock on by aggressive flying. Alter your altitude a lot. Fly in and out of cover, near buildings and so forth. This moving target approach increases the likely hood any incoming missile will either miss or get caught on a terrain feature and detonate harmlessly. If you are being targeted by an enemy MAV you will make it that much harder for the enemy pilot to jam and destroy you.

Some maps favor close range. ‘Canals is a great example with lots of room to play in and among the containers. If your side has a TUGS hidden in one all the better. Close range weapons are ideal such as shotguns, pistols and PDWs. Other weapons are fine but rate of fire, time to aim, accuracy from the hip, reload time, and so forth are all critical which is why some assault weapons are not as ideal. My personal favorite is the USAS-12. I played with buckshot until I finally unlocked 12g. FRAG and after that, that is all I used. Its devestating in close quarters but beware, you will suicide a lot if you aren’t careful. Those explosion hurt you too! However, for wiping out the opposition in mass, its a great choice. Double and Triple kills in tight spaces is what that choice is all about.

TDM is great for leveling up weapons. Since you aren’t distracted by other objectives it really keeps the focus where you want it, on engaging and killing infantry.

TDM is the ultimate squad game as well. Few games reward healing, reviving, resupply and spotting as much. The poor mechanic can’t catch a break here for squad support but rockets can sometimes be fun. Plus one of the assignments involves killing 50 people with rockets. This is the place to do it!

Support personnel with their heavy and bulky LMGs aren’t to be forgotten. Take the foregrip over the bipod and equip a reflex or holo weapon sight and you are good to go. The sheer volume of fire one can lay down with those weapons makes up for the slow rate of turn they give you and the piss poor accuracy. Short bursts in a contested area means the enemy will at least be suppressed which will greatly aid your team. Finally, dropping ammo and resupplying your team is just one of those great benefits.

One thing you will notice is that you can’t respawn on your crew in Team Deathmatch. The idea on some of the maps at least is to rotate the spawn locations. You could end up behind enemy who were defending a line. The lesson is, don’t keep still, watch your back and every corner, stick close to teammates when you run into them and use mutual tactics to help each other. That means one guy is watching left while you watch right and keep communicating.

Winning TDM isn’t easy but even if you are behind, stronger cooperation will help turn the tide. Choose accessories for short and medium encounter ranges. Kills are the only thing that really count so do what you need to to make sure you or a teammate gets the kill.

Battlefield 3 Tactics to get you started

Battlefield 3 is DICE/EA’s latest Battlefield Game. There have been many to come before this one but this is clearly the cutting edge of First Person war-related shooters. There are tanks, planes, light vehicles, artillery, soldiers and all manner of equipment simulated. Its an amazing collection of tools, objectives and terrain effects. It is such a collection that it can be hard for the beginner to fit in. These tips apply to the XBOX 360 version of the game. They may apply to other platforms but may not. YMMV.

This article is about giving advice to the new person about how to level up and get proficient so that each game isn’t about watching yourself get killed after 10 seconds or less of play over and over again.

Game Types

There are 4 game types: Rush, Conquest, Team Deathmatch, Squad Deathmatch and Squad Rush. Each plays very differently and each offers unique challenges. For the beginner I highly suggest Team Deathmatch or Squad Deathmatch. The reasons are simple. You start off as inexperienced in 4 categories (Assault/Medic, Engineer, Support, Recon.) The weapons you start with are plain. Each weapon has a path of progression. As you get kills with the weapon you earn the accessories that come with it. Weapons have between 12 and 18 possible accessories you can get for them. At some point each weapon gets a set of accessories that make its ultimate configuration for a task at hand. Here is what you will face in each gametype. The deathmatch games focus on killing infantry with small arms. If you want to level up your small arms these are the game types to choose. Acccept no substitutes!

Rush: In rush a defender defends a series of objectives in stages. Each stage has an Alpha and Bravo target. The aggressor is trying to get men on those objectives and taking a few seconds to activate explosives on them. The defender then has seconds to get in there and deactivate them or lose the target. The aggressor has 75 lives and the defender has unlimited lives. It seems like an easy win for the defender but in reality the defender has two lives at each stage, Alpha and Bravo. In that context it is clear what the weakness of defense is. In order to make it to the end of the aggressor’s 75 lives the defender had to inflict as much pain and harm on the aggressor as possible as they take more or less predictable routes to the targets. It is a glorious thing for the aggressor if they blow the last and final target.

Conquest: In Conquest there are 3-5 objective areas. Each team has a set number of tickets. Each time you lose a life your team loses a ticket. If the enemy has >50% of the objectives under control then your team loses a ticket every 5-8 seconds! There is a point of diminishing returns in trying to hold everything instead of just >50% of the objectives. That said, the processeses of taking and then holding objectives are quite different and can utilized the whole range of weapon types in the game. Conquest games have the most vehicles. If you want to learn the art of flying jets and helicopters, driving boats, tanks and jeeps then this is the game type for you. Tank Hunting is worth it’s own article.

Team Deathmatch: this is the best way to level up your arms. Its all about killing the enemy. The spawn points on some maps rotate, causing a situation where you could spawn right near the enemy and vice versa. You have to keep  on your toes! It is chaotic but fun.

Squad Deathmatch: This is one of the toughest game types and teaches the most valuable lesson – how to play with your squad correctly. The squads that don’t break into lone wolves but instead support each other with ammo, health, spotting and heavy fire power are the ones that win. There is one vehicle that respawns on the map. The squad that controls it tends to get the most kills. Being good at coordinating to take vehicles, keeping them alive and operating them correctly such that your enemies lament your very presence is vital.

Squad Rush: This is the game I need more time with. Basically, it’s a mini version of Rush and is much more tactical, requiring great skill among your teammates to operate together. Everyone must contribute to the final victory. Anyone from beginner to expert can aid in that and learning the skills needed is easier in this environment. You aren’t tossed into a target rich environment and so each tactical problem is neatly packaged.

Small Arms

Besides accessories there is the combat modeling of small arms. In many games, such as Modern Warfare, the bullet goes where the cursor is pointed. This is, of course, unrealistic as gravity comes into play. Bullets in real life drop. They follow a parabolic curve and over distance they slow down and lose energy via friction. Each weapon system is differentiated by a model that covers the CEP (circular error probable) of the weapon. This means that the bullet will hit something inside of a circle of a given size at a given range 50% of the time. So when you shoot you want to consider two things – the CEP and the bullet drop. There is nothing you can do about the CEP of a given weapon. Shotguns have a huge CEP meaning after about 50 yards the circle becomes pretty large, being larger than a man-sized target around 70-80 yards out. An M16 had a CEP about the size of your head at 100 yards. So a shot at someone’s face at 100 yards has a 50% chance of getting a head shot if bullet drop is compensated for. If you are using a telescopic scope you can actually see the bullet drop. A good marksman learns how much bullet drop to anticipate which dictates the “hold-over” gap they should have above the target at distance. At medium and close range this isn’t a big deal. A target that is 50 meters away isn’t hard to hit and bullet drop is a pixel or two. Getting hits at longer distances that are effective requires adjusting your aim point up. We call this hold-over and it works in real life as well.

So as the beginner start as the assault class with it’s M16. Its a great weapon to begin with. Keep your shots at close to medium distance targets. The iron sights are a bit of a chore but if you are really close you don’t need to engage them (left-trigger throws the weapon in aimed fire mode – without it you are hip firing.) The best hip firing tactic is to use very short controlled bursts. Just tapping the right trigger will get you the right amount of fire. The weapon will become grossly inaccurate with full auto fire. Doing 5 quarter-second bursts is far better than a 1.5 second burst from hip fire. Even aimed fire can be inaccurate with long bursts. There are ways to compensate for this with accessories. Let’s look at what gifts can be yours if you stay faithful to your Rifle. Like in Full Metal Jacket I suggest you name your rifle and make it your girlfriend through these exercises. Be faithly to your Rifle and she will be faithful to you as you graduate from noob to Minister of Death!

Here are the things you can earn while being faithful to your M16 rifle:

Optics

Primary

Secondary

 

The first 30 kills generate the ACOG, Heavy Barrel and Foregrip in that order (10,20,30). This combination produces a platform that can transition from medium to long range with ease. The first, the ACOG is a weapon sight with 4x magnification and a bullet drop reticle that makes taking distant shots a lot easier. For close shots don’t aim and use short burst hip fire. For those medium and longer shots magnify. The heavy barrel aids accuracy making the already good CEP even tighter! The problem is that it also means you are using better bullets with more kick (what are known as “match” ammunition – in other words ammo you’d load up to got to a competitive shooting match for its strength and accuracy.) This means that barrel climb is significantly increased so when equipped keeping bursts short is more critical. The benefit is that getting headshots for the instant kill are easier. When you finally get the foregrip you have much greater accuracy. The other solution is to start aiming lower and letting barrel climb take your point of impact from the chest up to the head. Generally my thinking on automatic weapons fire follows this. Single shot weapons I hold over and automatic weapons I aim lower and allow for climb.

The D-Pad controls some interesting aspects of your weapon’s operating system. By using DOWN-DPAD you will change the fire mode of the M16 from auto to “selective fire” (aka single shot fire). For distant targets you seem to be failing to hit with aimed fire, go to selective fire, aimed fire and take individual shots. What was once out of reach you are now introducing to a World of Shit. Keep it up. Eliminate your foe. Make them watch you on death cam and curse this damn game! They deserve no less than your full wrath.

At 40 kills which you have taken with total impunity because you now have become one with your weapon you will get the first monkey wrench. It’s the tactical light. The use of this weapon addon comes with caveats. The first is, at distance not only will the enemy see you, they will know what direction you are facing. The use of this device is limited to a few situations. The first is you want to be close to the enemy. How close? You want to smell the oder of their last breath as you waste them kinda close. The light is good at illuminating dark building interiors but mainly it’s use is to blind the enemy. The light is extremely bright and causes pretty massive blooming in the visual spectrum up close. This means that getting an easy headshot when being blinded by the light is hard. However if you are blinding them you can make them seen an entirely different light – the light emitted by the death cam as they again curse this damn game!

Now, the light is an awesome tool up close but if there aren’t any enemies near by and you want to be concealed, don’t worry there is a solution. UP-DPAD will toggle the light on and off. You can control when it is on or off easily. As it should be.

At 50 kills you get the REFLX RDX optic. This allows for quick sighting of targets at close range. It will make the rifle worth shit at long range. Add the Sprint specialty so you can move fast and this combo will allow you to charge the enemy and weed out the non-hackers who can’t pack the gear to play this game! While your own life will be short using this tactic, on some game types it is preferable to be full on aggressive than not. For example lets say you are playing Rush and some ass-grabbing piece of slime is going for one of the targets with the help of friends. While they are concentrating on getting hands on your beloved objective go full on ape shit aggressive, charging the target and snap firing at each and everyone of them. You will get kills and importantly you will get them suppressed and this is another important subject.

Suppression

Suppression is represented in the game as a loss of fine motor skills, clear vision and loss of speed of movement. The more you suppress a target the less likely they will be able to accomplish their own wishes or react to your actions. Some weapons lay down suppression like a hard heart that kills. The LMG class weapons excel at this. Suppressed targets are easy to kill. With a teammate in the back laying down ungodly fire upon the enemy you can move in and mop them up. Knowing a target will be important and will attract the enemy makes for an opportunity for a support gunner to find a good place to set up and make hell come to a very small place. Sniper weapons are also fantastic suppression weapons and eventually you will earn a skill to improve your ability to cause suppression.

One upgrade that any weapon can get is the bi-pod. This is a great device if you know its secrets. This is especially useful for suppression. The bipod steadies even the most violently jumping weapons in your arsenal. Equip them and kneel or stand at a wall or go prone on flat terrain and the bi-pod will activate when you go into aimed fire. If it doesn’t adjust position or stance and reaim. Once equipped, your weapon will have a limited 90 degree arc of fire. However it will also be a steady source of instant death. The first LMG, the M249 with a bi-pod can be the most effective weapon you have in your first 10 levels of game play. In the right position on the right map you can reap thousands of points from kills and suppression kill assists. Add the right optic and the range at which you will be tearing off the balls of the enemy so that they cannot contaminate the World will be impressive.

Long-Range Weapons

The art of the long range kill is one worth studying. My personal best is a headshot at 454 meters thus far. I am hoping to beat 500 yards. I know it is possible. It requires patient planning, setup and execution. Long range (8x or 12x) scopes have point of aim sway. This is natural and you can compensate for it by clicking the left stick to hold your breath if you aren’t set up with a bi-pod. Remember, know the drop at the range you are shooting for, hold over, hold breath, squeeze trigger. To gauge the drop take a shot, but not at your target (don’t want to spook them with a close shot!) and watch the bullet drop. The faster the bullet the less the drop. Even at extreme range all bullets will have significant drop but some weapons have less. The SV98, for example, is a great sniper platform but it takes 30 kills before you get the bi-pod you need for really great accuracy. Some snipers stick with that weapon for along time simply because of its great accuracy and stopping power. For very long engagements the M98, M40 and L96 are your go to guns. They are slow but good. For accurate and speed at medium to long range go with the M11 and SVD. The SVD with a low power scope, bibod and light attachment is fantastic for Metro inside the station. You have the accuracy and killing power plus the ability to engage in rushing the enemy.

Be sure to try setting up the bipod on unusual surfaces. For example it will work with building scafolding. The bi-pod can get you killed by making it hard to disengage from where you are but if you do end up in a close quarters fight hit Y and go for your pistol. The best self defense pistol is probably the M9 because it’s large capacity allows you to shoot a lot. Its low probabillity of a kill means you will need it, though. Once you are good at getting kills with it, try upgrading to something more powerful, if slower.

Well that is it for now. More to come later if people like this.