An Unexpected Journey
So my positive experiences with the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game led me to start buying more figures so that I could try out more of the scenarios from the first Journeybook, The Fellowship of the Ring.
This in turn led me to start making terrain. Although I’m a Graphic Designer, I had not attempted to make original structures for a game since way back in 1987-88 when I made two Hockey arenas to pimp out the boardgame, Strat-o-Matic Hockey. They have been long since destroyed and I only recently found a photo of one of them:
That project was a lot of fun because I was trying to add a personal touch to my drafted team from Strato. I then made a domed stadium (with open and closing roof) for a friend’s birthday but unfortunately I have no record of it. This was my first taste of adding chrome to a boardgame. Back then, my buddy and I also went to the local Radio Shack and bought wire, buttons, a buzzer, and a beacon light to pimp out my stand up Coleco Rod Hockey game. I made the tower out of foamboard and hung the beacon from it. The wiring and buttons allowed us each to trigger the buzzer and beacon whenever we scored.
Back to the Journeybooks. Each Journeybook comes with diagrams and instructions on making the various distinctive terrain pieces that adorn the playing areas for each scenario. I found this encouraging for me to start to build structures again. Sure, I could have bought a lot of this stuff, but cumulatively, the cost of making your own terrain is far less expensive than buying it, and some pieces are not available for purchase. Was I nervous about making terrain from scratch? Yup! There is a startup cost involved as well as a high cost in time commitment. That and I still disliked painting. Overall, there was this feeling of dread as I had no guarantee that the end result would look “decent”. Online sources of “inspiration” usually contain pictures of awesome work done by experienced miniature gamers. Although I’ve dabbled in it, I am far from being an expert. Even so, I would hate to waste my time on something that didn’t look “table ready”.
Why go to the trouble then? Is using the appropriate terrain pieces even necessary? Well no, but here’s the “rub”. Virtually any appropriately sized object can be used as terrain. Even basic cut shapes. In fact, the rules for miniature games don’t ever require….”miniatures”. Every miniature game can be played with plastic bases and either stand-up or flat cardboard chits on top. (a simple “height” rating can be adopted for line of sight if using flat chits) As long as the bases are relevant, you can even proxy entire armies with any like-sized miniatures or cardboard cutouts that you already have. As long as you have access to the rules, you do not ever have to purchase or paint a miniature/terrain piece and you can still enjoy the tactics, the throwing of dice and the various combos between unit types.
So, would I ever seriously entertain this cost-effective way of playing miniatures games? Absolutely not. Why? Because of the main reason why I like playing miniature games. Aside from the rulebook, miniature gaming is all chrome. Miniature gamers spend all sorts of time and money on unnecessary details that offer nothing in terms of rules implementation and tactics. However, chrome is everything when it comes to mood, and theme and personality. It’s all about a game that “looks” good. A game that catches your eye when you walk by a gaming table. A game that you have personalized in some way and is faithful to its subject matter. Much like pimping boardgames!
I happen to think that chrome can be every bit as important as a ruleset. Where else can you showcase your enjoyment of a hobby if not in the ability to add your own stamp to it? My Orcs will look the way I want them to and even if I follow a colour scheme, they were hand painted by me! My cliffs will be shaped the way I made them. Every cut. Every brush. Every success and every mistake.
So the Fellowship of the Ring Journeybook has diagrams and suggestions to make rocks, walkways, stairs, rivers, Amon Sul, Amon Hen, Buckleberry Ferry…etc. So I took the plunge and I made all of them!
Terrain built following the steps from the Fellowship of the Ring Journeybook.
I hadn’t had this much fun doing “crafts” since my Hockey arena days. I should clarify. I have certainly enjoyed pimping out boardgames over the past 6 years or so. But little of that involved making original pieces. That side of the hobby involves painting figures, cannibalizing parts for use with a game and/or redesigning and printing out custom chits or boards. Creative? yes, but it’s still not quite the same thing as actually making something from scratch.
Now following diagrams in the Journeybooks is not an example of making something from scratch either. What the Journeybooks did for me was help me get my feet wet again. When I made the Hockey arenas, I did not plan them out. I made them “on the fly” and I certainly didn’t paint them. By making the “Fellowship” pieces, I became more confident to try something original. It taught me some of the skills I would need to start making my own plans for a mod. This time, I chose the boardgame Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery. As it is also 28mm in scale, the Gladiatorial arena could be used as terrain as well!
Here is a record of the building process; from planning to completion.
On Boardgamegeek.com, I was asked by GaleForce9 for permission to use pics of my arena on the Facebook page for the Spartacus game. I agreed of course, and they sent me a nice letter of thanks (Gratitude!) as well as the complete set of promo cards for the game.
I was also invited to submit my arena pics to the 29th Monthly Pimp My Boardgame Contest and at this very early stage, it seems to be doing well.
So in a sense, I’ve come full circle. From Hockey Arena to Gladiatorial Arena. A byproduct of gaming that remains exciting for me and my interest in both Miniatures and Boardgames!
There and Back Again.
(or my trip to the mall to meet a guy selling this game on Kijiji)
New blogger here!
I have recently (late July 2011) become a fan of the minis game Lord of the Rings Strategy Game by Games Workshop. Justin & Andrew had talked about trying this game at some point but I have to credit my friend Chris Cormier for piquing my interest when he told me of a Kijiji post by someone selling this game. I had also had a brief conversation with Andrew where he told me that this game was supposed to be good at replicating the “back and forth” nature of sword fighting. As a fan of LOTR, I decided to investigate this game further.
I checked Kijiji shortly after speaking with Chris and found a prepainted version of the starter box entitled the Lord of the Rings: The Mines of Moria. This box set included a shortened rule set for the GW game as well as several scenarios including Balin’s Tomb. It was of course, the prepainted aspect of this sale that had me sold (and for half the cost of the unpainted version found in any GW store!)
At this point I should backtrack for a bit.
Gamers who know me know that I detest painting minis. I don’t mind playing them, but it is the time involved in painting the minute details that bugs me. My eyesight is starting to go as well as my patience, so lets just say, I don’t want to use my time prepping to play a game when I’d rather be playing it. (yes, I’ve been known to “mod” games, but that is different!)
My other love/hate experience with collectable miniature gaming has to do with what I perceive as a structural “sameness” to the genre and the reliance on collecting for the sake of finding that “edge” over your opponent. Most of the games I have tried give you a points budget and the players proceed to buy units in the hope of making a cohesive fighting force that will pummel your opponent. This business model is great for publishers that want to make money as players buy Army books of multiple factions, scour the internet for tips and existing combos and then go out and purchase the necessary figures to make their uber-list based army. Then when they lose, they do it all over again, and again and again. Suddenly, you find yourself in a tabletop arms race where tons of time has been spent studying stats and digging deep into your wallet….and as soon as you start to get a grasp of a specific rule set, WHAM! we all buy into a new minis game!
Now up to this point, I have previously bought into War Machine (which confirmed my dislike for painting) and Uncharted Seas as well as the prepainted games Confrontation – The Age of Ragnarok and AT-43 and the partially prepainted game Arcane Legions. (I’ve also purchased boardgames that use prepainted collectable minis like Monsterpocalypse, World of Warcraft, Wings of War, and Axis & Allies War at Sea.) I have tried other collectable minis games like Battlefield Evolution, Warhammer Fantasy, Anima Tactics, and Malifaux. My point is that I have tried several other systems though I am certainly not an expert in any of them. I found them to be enjoyable but they suffer from some or all of my main criticisms previously given.
So with some trepidation, I purchased the LOTR MoM box set from the guy on Kijiji when I met him at Scarborough Town Centre. Just prior to that, I went to the GW store in the mall just to see what other figures and books they had. A Salesperson approached me and I told him I was getting into the LOTR game but that I was worried about the painting aspect of miniature games in general. He proceeded to give me a 5 minute tutorial on how to paint “table ready” Warhammer 40K units. The ease of this demo surprised me. After 5 minutes, I had painted a space marine and dry brushed some highlights on him. It didn’t look bad at all! I thanked the salesperson and proceeded to look at the LOTR stuff on the shelves. I was intrigued by the Journeybooks which contained many scenarios but I thought I should try the game out first before I bought more of it. So, once I completed the sale with the Kijiji guy, I went home, and opened the box.
The Fellowship face off against a ferocious cave troll.
Included in this box set were 24 Moria goblins, the entire Fellowship (9 figures) and 1 large Cave Troll. There were also 4 pillars, some rubble, and the door to Balin’s Tomb.
The paint job by the previous owner was decent and I found that my only additions were to add a wash to them, change the flocking to match my terrain, and repaint the pillars.
Right away, I was drawn into the theme by the figures and descriptions in the rulebook. These were characters that I “knew”. The rule set supported their abilities as I have seen in the movies and in the books. There were no made up “combo” based special abilities with which experienced players could blindside opponents with. Each set of stats seemed to be accurate representations of what the characters can do. As I perused the rules, it became clear that this was a game of tactics using familiar scenarios that had preset unit lists and clear objectives. It didn’t matter which “side” players played as the scenario’s winning conditions and predetermined unit lists made it a game that would be fun no matter which side the players chose. Figure stats were simple and realistic. Weird terminology that necessitated rulebook lookups was kept to a minimum. No obscure iconography either. I would have liked to have seen card summaries for each character/unit, but it was not to be. Games Workshop never provides those anyways and they are no problem for me to make. There were character summaries on the back of the scenario booklet however.
The rules for magic were equally impressive to me. In the game, Magic has its limitations and can take its toll on the user. There weren’t never-ending lists of spells that could be used as commonly as a ranged weapon. This was a risk management based rule set that could be exhausted by the user. In other words, magic is to be used sparingly and in so doing, it becomes “special”. Just like in the movies!
Now when I actually played a couple of games, I was pleasantly surprised. During my brief dabbling in various minis games, figures usually end up congregating in the middle of the table where melee prevented further movement and the various tricks/combos and dice rolling decided the rest. In this game, combat is simultaneous with the loser having to retreat its base width in length. This is important as it frees figures to reposition or re-engage depending on what the initiative winner wanted to do. This allowed characters to choose different targets if need be or retreat to a better position. Ah – fluid movement within the context of melee combat! This was the back and forth sword fighting that Andrew had heard about. I won’t go into the advanced rules here but I just want to mention that they provide even more options for heroic characters who often find themselves vastly outnumbered.
So I played the Balin’s Tomb scenario twice and enjoyed the feel of the game tremendously. Simple, yet effective. Winning conditions were different for each side yet gameplay seemed balanced. Heroes fought battles from one side of the table and ran over to another side. Dynamic, simple and fun!
…and as is often the case with collectors, my mindset began its path down a road well-travelled:
I wanted more.
next: Part Two – An Unexpected Journey (or my encounter with the Journeybooks and how everything started to change)