Friday, 8 December 2017

Totems and tokens and traps - oh my!

The festive season is very much upon us and so once again it is time to hoist the Christmas banner atop the front page as I look forward to spending some time with family and friends.  That said, as we rattle towards the end of the year, I am still catching up with posts from the summer holidays; where does the time go?

This then is a post to document the little extras, and flights of fancy, that I indulged in as part of the ‘Congo’ game that I hosted in the summer.  The scenario called for the mighty Kong’s lair to be delineated with some form of markers.  Fortunately, the ‘Adventure Pack’ that I had picked up from Wargames Foundry came with four skull topped totems that would be perfect for the job.  
As nicely sculpted as they were, when it came to painting them they just felt a bit small to act as the final portent of the all powerful Kong; something needed to be done.  As a simple solution, off cuts of roughly hewn blue foam were glued to some ‘Warbases’ MDF circular bases with the existing metal totem pushed into the top.  With a liberal scattering of additional skulls, they were complete and just required paint effects to sell the illusion.
Flushed with success I decided to see what they looked like in situ and whilst delighted with the overall effect, I felt that there was too much of a gap between the totems, certainly big enough to drive a giant ape through – more were required!  I toyed, briefly, with the idea of replicating the existing versions,* but something, somewhere pleaded for more!  Researching the area and period, I had seen many an image of the wonderfully disturbing fetish totems, carved idols often covered in rusty nails and spikes, used to embody the spirits.  
*after all how difficult would it be to stick a skull atop a bamboo skewer?
Having convinced myself that this was the direction that I wanted to go in I tried several times to achieve the desired effect, but sadly to no avail.  I can’t remember the exact point that my addled brain drifted to children’s toys, but the recollection of the Playmobil penguins used in my Batman scenery prompted a different line of enquiry.  Having successfully stalked my quarry through the often impenetrable maze of a well known online auction house, it wasn’t long before a consignment of plastic primates landed on the doormat of ‘Awdry Towers’.  
In a frenzied bout of modelling the required elements were assembled leaving the painting table reminiscent of the worst atrocities from the Congo basin.  More blue foam and the addition of some chain and my creations were starting to get to where my imagination had led me.  Although at this stage, I had decided against spiked totems, I did think that some indication that the natives had been making offerings to appease Kong would be a nice idea and duly added some plates and crockery.  Finally, they were painted to match the original markers and et voila!
Now you would think that having already spent far too long on my pulpy pedestals that my creativity would be sated for the time being, but alas gentle reader this was not the case.  Buoyed with enthusiasm for the project, I reviewed the games terrain chart in search of any other likely subjects.  A ‘pile of skulls’ was fairly straightforward, my worryingly large collection of plastic body parts yielding just what was required, but a jungle trap and quick sand would need a little more thought!
I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed tinkering around with these final two pieces.  All sorts of items were pressed into service including a plastic Zulu warrior’s arm, Empress Miniatures terrain bits, cocktail sticks and some of the new Games Workshop crackle paint for the dried mud!  
Several ideas were discarded in favour of new versions, but ultimately I happened upon a couple of solutions that worked.  Interestingly neither of them were used in the scenario, with our intrepid explorers narrowly avoiding the pitfalls in both the games that we played, but they will be there to trap the unwary another day.
Finally, then, and purely in the interests of completeness, I should mention the plastic tokens that I picked up for the game.  I need to stress that the rule set comes with a cardboard sheet of press out tokens, sufficient enough to play the game.  For some reason I always find myself looking to replace these with something more substantial so as to protect the originals, what I am saving them for I don’t know, but there you have it – all very special, as my wife would say.  These particular versions were from ‘Blotz’ and laser etched Perspex, all perfectly serviceable and a reasonable price to boot.  Having gone for white tokens, to match the original card versions, I did find that the different engraved designs were a little hard to distinguish, but a splash of ink soon resolved the issue, the excess simply dabbed away.
So with the terrain pieces assembled, the madness should have stopped there, but alas this was not to be the case.  Whilst I was scouring the terrain tables for possible ideas to build, I happened across several creature encounters that I could represent, but that story will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Another year on the clock!

Well another birthday has come and gone, but is there anything more miserable than it falling at the start of a week that promises to be both long and tiresome?  Still I am looking forward to the weekend when I hope to persuade the 'Saintly Mrs. Awdry' that a frighteningly hot takeaway curry is far more beneficial, calorifically, than cake!  This coupled with a jar or two of foaming ale should rather brighten my spirits.
Speaking of the lady of the house, she has once again spoilt me rotten and I was hugely fortunate to have several, beautifully wrapped packages waiting for me as I padded downstairs to switch on the kettle on Monday morning.  Once I had beaten off the dinosaur guardian, I kid you not, I was delighted to find some hobby related goodness and as a result see a return to the Witchfinder project in the new year.  That said all things Star Wars have really caught my imagination of late and as some will recall, I have been thoroughly enjoying ‘Imperial Assault’ and a regular Wednesday game of ‘X-Wing’ during the school club.  This coupled with me wittering on about my Star Wars action figures of yesterday has resulted in another rather splendid present, Steve Sansweet’s, ‘Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection’.  This is an amazing book, but I have to confess that I wasn’t prepared for the sheer volume of ‘new’ variants and must try and resist hunting some down on eBay!
Sadly, I have to report that there hasn't been much in the way of painting of late and looking across at the paint table, I see that there is unlikely to be another entry for ‘Dinovember 2017’. Once again it has been great fun to indulge my predilection for all things prehistoric and I thank all those that offered kind words of encouragement along the way.
 So with news that the ‘VIII Annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge’ is due to commence next month my attention will undoubtedly turn to prepping and planning.  I had thought that I might give this a miss, particularly as my painting output has rather fallen off a little of late, but I felt an inexplicable draw when the call to brushes was made.  As a result, I have thrown my hat into the ring once more, but for a very modest 500 point target score.  More news of this in due course.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Lost Giants of the Congo.

Hosting and playing ‘Congo’ during the summer was, in many ways, the highlight of my hobby year.  I thoroughly enjoyed the planning, preparation and participation of the day, but when the dust settled I was left feeling somewhat spent.  This combined with a particularly busy start to the academic year has meant that the hobby has been sidelined of late.

What I needed was an injection of enthusiasm so imagine my excitement when I was alerted to fact that Issue 358 of 'Wargames Illustrated' contained a scenario to set ‘Congo’ in the Lost World!  Safe in the knowledge that the ‘Saintly Mrs. Awdry’ was heading out to the golf course I quickly assembled the characters and creatures required to give it a go.  What follows is my account of the adventure.
The premise for the game saw two rival factions hack through the dense jungles of the Congo in search of Mokele-Mbembe, 'one who stops the flow of rivers'.  This large creature, the stuff of legend, could provide proof that dinosaurs still roam the earth and the race was on to find the evidence.  The pre-game administration found that Colonel John Hammond, Scots Guards retd., would enter the game ‘confused’ for two turns, whilst Professor Challenger, the Scientist would be confused for just the one turn.  The confusion rule simply means that each player must draw three random action cards as opposed to carefully selecting them depending on the circumstances.
Turn#1
In the opening round, Professor Challenger and his adventurers move into the clearing to witness all manner of strange creatures and exotic flora.  Similarly, on the other side of the clearing Colonel Hammond’s column enters the fray, with one group crossing the river.  In this scenario anytime a group finds itself in the water they must roll a D6 to see what happens.  Conditions vary from a spooked native that runs away never to be seen again to a mighty Sauropod rising from the murky depths to attack the group.   In this instance nothing untoward happens.  In round two the Scientists are rooted to the spot, a combination of the cards drawn and the wondrous sights around them.  Meanwhile Col. Hammond moves two teams into position and bags the first piece of loot!  The final round sees three successful terror attacks launched on the Colonel's various groups.  This leaves his young warriors looking decidedly shaky.
Turn#2
Col. Hammond starts the round by launching a terror attack of his own on the Professor's adventurers, whilst a movement action sees him exit the board with the first piece of irrefutable evidence.  Finally, he uses a totem card to move his fearsome Ruga Ruga closer to the rocky outcrop.
As Professor Challenger explores the rocky escarpment he rolls a 4 and a 7 on the terrain table, which inadvertently generates some loot placed particularly close to the other groups; they are apparently on sacred ground where cult objects are scattered everywhere! Meanwhile his adventurers, exploring the worryingly savaged remains of a Stegosaurs roll a 6 and 9 - Dinosaurs!  A bearer and a fat adventurer are instantly ripped to shreds!
Colonel Hammond’s Ruga Ruga move into a new area and roll an 8 and a 0 to discover a dying native.  The cold hearted Scot orders his men to leave the poor man, choosing to attract the wrath of the native’s ancestors rather than slow down the expedition. 
Whilst the Ruga Ruga are enjoying some success, the Colonel was dismayed to hear that his group of adventurers, having rolled a  5 and a 5 on the terrain table, had to flee!  The sound of giant, leathery wings clearly distracting them from securing the evidence required.  Four movement actions end the turn for the Colonel's men.

Professor Challenger and his team start to move off the precipice, their precious evidence in the bag.  Meanwhile his young warriors enter a piece of uncharted terrain rolling a  2 and 5 on the table - all is well.  Similar good fortunes see his band of Ruga Ruga cross the river without incident, whilst the adventurers chose a heavier load for their weapons and tentatively move back towards the corpse.  Exchanging a couple of totem cards for an extra d8 and d10 two vicious Velociraptors are put down for good!  Finally a +1 action totem sees the young warriors off the board with their loot - this was turning into a fine day for academia.
Turn#3
Colonel Hammond has the initiative and chooses to discard a totem card to reduce the stress of the  young warriors, all the time his band of Ruga Ruga edge closer to their goal.  Meanwhile, having got safely across the river, Professor Challenger's Ruga Ruga enter the terrain in search of what could prove to be the final piece of evidence required to convince the Royal Society that dinosaurs still roamed this earth.  They roll a 3 and a 2, receiving a good omen that allows them to take back a totem card.  With the +1 action card re-gained the fearless adventurers activate to force another melee with the dinosaur - a draw!

The Colonel’s  young warriors head back across the river, but are spooked again at the boiling water, what terrors lie beneath the greasy, green surface?  More encouraging news for the embittered veteran came in the form of his trusty adventurers who had rallied themselves and had started to make their descent with their prize in tow.

The Professor's Ruga Ruga move back through the water and draw a movement stress token, whilst his adventurers force another draw with the defiant Velociraptor.  Another three rounds of terror attacks from both sides see out the turn.
Turn#4
The action was coming to a head at this point and Colonel Hammond, eager to steal the initiate, uses a totem card to remove a stress token and then tries to rally his young warriors to reduce two more.  At the same time his adventurers move into the river, but their bearer is spooked and runs away - this wasn't part of the plan!

In stark contrast, Professor Challenger's Ruga Ruga move through the water, they are still jittery and draw a stress token, but emerge safely on the other side and off the table.  Requiring just one more piece of irrefutable evidence before the column can start to make its way home the Professor's adventurers try to overcome the dreaded dinosaur.  There is a deafening roar of gunshots and as the acrid smoke lifted on the brutal encounter it was clear that the beast was finally defeated.  Making use   of their +1 scale totem card, the adventurers make it safely back to camp and win the game for the Professor.
A close run thing with a totem card handing the Professor the game.  Neither column engaged the other in combat with both teams keeping to their side of the board.  No Sauropods were activated by the river crossings and only one group of meat eaters was encountered.  My interpretation of where the additional loot was distributed almost certainly dictated the nature of the game and because I was playing this as a solo encounter it descended into more of a sprint to get the evidence off the table, fortune and glory being the order of the day; not, I hasten to add, that this made it any less exciting.  At any given moment there was the real possibility of the giant Saurapods causing havoc at the crossings or the ferocious Velociraptors springing forward from the rocky outcrops to disembowel any adventurer unfortunate to be in range of their razor sharp talons.

Perhaps most importantly it allowed me to get out the jungle terrain and my beloved dinosaurs and enjoy a rip roaring game using a set of rules that are proving to be wonderfully versatile and great fun to boot.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Tacky Tyrannosaur

Hot on the heels of last week’s 'Mighty Megalosaurus', I present, for your delectation, the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex!
This most wholesome of hobbies is blessed with a community of hugely generous souls.  One such person is Roger Webb, who last year, quite inexplicably, packaged up a Christmas gift and sent it on its way to Awdry Towers.  Well I am delighted to report that, ‘Junior’, as he has been named by the ‘Saintly Mrs. Awdry', has finally been completed and is ready to take centre stage in all manner of prehistoric pulpiness.
Unlike the hard plastic of the Megalosaurus, the Tyrannosaur is made from a substance with a little more give to it, more akin to the ‘Reaper Bones’ material.  That said it seemed to take the undercoat reasonably enough and was then given the now standard application of a couple of varying tones of green using Vallejo Model Air.
The sculpt is particularly fearsome and really nicely done, not dissimilar to my beloved 'Schleich' Rexie, not dissimilar apart from, of course, his stature!  Given their uncanny resemblance it seemed to me that Junior should be painted in such a way that he could be the offspring of the towering 'Scheich' version.
Again as with the previous post the initial base layers were added to with some dry brushing followed by picking out the details with a fine brush.  All went swimmingly well until it came to the varnishing stage.  My preferred matt lacquer has reacted in an odd way with the plastic leaving me a slightly ‘tacky’ dinosaur.  Interestingly it has dried as normal around the feet, but the upper body is strangely sticky.  I would like to say that the stickiness is abating, but I am not entirely convinced and I shall have to continue to pat down my tacky Tyrannosaur for the time being.  Unnerving texture aside, which I should clarify is all my fault, I am rather pleased with how Junior turned out and must, once again, thank Roger for his very generous gift.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Mighty Megalosaurus

This latest addition to the Dinosaur pens here at Awdry Towers is the companion piece to last year’s ‘Steggie’.  The proud beastie was kindly donated by that most generous purveyor of plastic Jeremy ‘Jez’ Winstanley Esq. of the 'Carrion Crow's Buffet'.  I had rather foolhardily described the creature, in the earlier post, as an Iguanodon, but Jez very delicately pointed out my erroneous categorisation reminding me that it is actually a Megalosaurus.
This splendid, hard plastic specimen was produced by Invicta Plastics of Leicestershire from 1974 and in conjunction with Natural History Museum.  Given that they are now out of production, you could argue that it should be seen as a collector’s piece, but the thought of it languishing in a forgotten drawer seemed a great shame and so out came the trusty airbrush.
Using last year’s efforts as a template, I once again affixed the beast on a 'Warbases' MDF pill shaped base.  A couple of passes with different shades of green provided me with a suitable base on which to work and all that remained was some subtle dry brushing to achieve the highlights and hint at stripes across its back.
As with ‘Steggie’, I was thrilled with how quickly the Megalosaurus came together and delighted to see the two finally reunited, enjoying a playful frolic in the jungle.  All that remains is to thank Jez for his generous gift.

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