My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

No Stars in Sight AAR

You can find my review of the miniatures rules No Stars in Sight (NSIS) here.

I decided to blow the dust off of my Games Workshop, Epic scale (6mm), Warhammer 40,000 (40K) troops and try out another set of rules. (I hope to try other sets of rules soon using the same figures, One Page 40K and Hammer Wars, but that is an aside.)

I played the rules straight – or as straight as I could honestly get them – with no changes other than giving the Chaos Beastmen a special morale boost. That does not mean I always played the rules correctly, or even remembered all of the rules all of the way through. More importantly, I did not change the measurements at all, keeping the distances as they are written in the rules. I did that for two reasons: it is simpler; and I think the 6mm scale generally works better with 15mm measurements in almost every game as the figure is more in scale with the perceived ground scale.

First off, NSIS is "hard science" and 40K is "space fantasy", so there needs to be a bit of conversion.

The Forces

Space Marines: one Sergeant and five Troopers. The Sergeant is armed with a Power Fist and Bolt Pistol, one Trooper is armed with a Heavy Bolter, with the remaining Troopers carrying Bolt Rifles.
  • Bolt Rifle: nothing more than a standard assault rifle. No special rules.
  • Heavy Bolter: in these rules a SAW as he was not carrying any special ammunition.
  • Bolt Pistol: 12" range, 1 Firepower (even when wielded by Professional troops), +1D in assault
  • Power Fist: +1D in assault, ignores armor.
The Space Marines are considered Professional troops, genetically modified, and equipped with full communications gear, Assault Armor, and Exo-Suits. What does all that mean?
  • Professional troops generate 2 firepower when shooting, rather than the normal 1.
  • Genetically modified allows the troops to offset the negative modifiers for moving while using Assault Armor.
  • Full communications gear allows the members of the unit to operate anywhere on the board without regard to the location of the leader. Note that I am not referring to "comms networks", which is an upgrade of sorts.
  • Assault Armor cuts the chance of dying from a hit in half, cuts the chance of being wounded by 25%, and has a chance of reducing a hit to a pin. (That may sound complex, but it is not. I do not want to reveal the math behind the game, as that is a key part of the author's intellectual property. If you want to know it, buy the game. It is worth it.)
  • Exo-Suits allow a trooper to carry a heavier load, but provide no protection. Think of the Assault Armor/Exo-Suit combination as 40K powered armour (i.e. 3+ save). Only one problem: it doesn't work the way I think it did (or should), so I will not take this in the future.
Chaos Space Marines: one Champion and four Troopers. All are armed with Bolt Pistols and Chainswords.
  • Chainsword: +1D in assault.
The Chaos Space Marines (CSM) are considered Professional troops, genetically modified, and equipped with full communications gear, Assault Armor, and Exo-Suits.

Chaos Beastmen: seven Minotaurs. All are armed with a two-handed axe.
  • Two-Handed Axe: +2D in assault due to the size of the weapon and the strength of the Minotaur.
The Chaos Beastmen (CB) are considered Trained troops, mutated, but equipped with no communications gear or armor.
  • I wimped out by using Trained for the CB, I admit it. I did not want to deal with all of the negative exception rules for Irregular troops. Maybe next time.
  • Mutated is the same as genetically modified. Note that for them, as they have no Assault Armor to overcome, it actually gives them a benefit in rushing into cover (gray area 1), which is good when you have come to a gunfight armed only with an axe!
I added one more ability for the CB, Bloodthirsty: the ability to ignore their wounded. Their nature allows them to ignore the negative modifier against their morale of having fellow Minotaurs who are wounded. So they are less likely to retreat from combat. In hindsight I probably should have made it to not count pinned troops also. In all cases I still wanted them to take a morale check when receiving incoming fire.

The Scenario

So, the Space Marines are badly outnumbered (12 to 6), but are much better equipped and defending in hard cover although they have been caught napping. (I have no idea how it comes out in points, but that is the great thing about gaming solo: no one feels like they got the short end of the stick!)

Here is the board, empty. It is 2' across by 2' deep. Everything will be very close quarters indeed!

Each of the yellow felt squares represent in-season crop fields. They count as obscuring cover, but do not block line of sight. (Normally I use sample carpet squares, but I misplaced them. These must be GMO corn fields!)

The dark brown felt with trees are wooded areas. Straight from the rules, they count as cover and blocking line of sight past 4".

The light brown felt are roads, with no special rules.

The farm collective in the center consists of 15 buildings, with windows and doors marked. The main building is enclosed in a walled courtyard. Unbeknownst to the forces of Chaos, there are no doors or windows marked on the South side (the bottom of the picture). There are no opening in the walled enclosure to the North, East, or West. There are three two-story buildings, all of which provide good fields of fire from the second-story windows. There are alleyways between many of the buildings, so although it looks like a solid wall of buildings, it is not. (Not when you are 6mm!)

I randomly rolled to see which edge the CSM arrived on and which the CB arrived on, intending to re-roll if they came on the same edge. The intent was a two-pronged attack.

I should have had them march on the board, rather than being on it the first turn, especially as they only had to move one-half the table depth to reach their objective, but it turned out not to be that critical.

The Space Marines are spread throughout the town; all positions were rolled for randomly. (Click any image to make it larger.) Three Troopers are lounging in the main building compound, including the one armed with the Heavy Bolter. The Sergeant is upstairs, rifling through the desks, and thus not at a window. One Trooper is vaping an eCig in a smaller courtyard, while the fifth Trooper is on watch, looking down the road. (His inattentiveness has allowed the CB to get one move onto the board with no reaction though!)



With that sorted out, I allow the Chaos forces, as the attacker, to take the first turn.

The CB start moving towards the East side of town, but not without one of the Minotaurs catching fire from the Space Marine guarding the road. Fortunately, it only pinned him down momentarily, but it was enough to stall the advance a little.
A figure may either move and shoot or be unpinned in one activation round. As the CB had more troops that generally meant that there were fewer opportunities to move figures individually. A pinned trooper cannot participate in a group move, and if enough get pinned in an activation round, it may result in no one moving. As you can see in the photo below, the previously pinned trooper had to use an activation point to catch up with his group so he could take advantage of group movement in future rounds. As the leader only rolled one activation point, the advance stalled.

Meanwhile, the CSM started moving in on the North side of the town. One Trooper moves down the road in order to take the Space Marine guard from behind and hears the Space Marine in the small courtyard. He signals his fellow Troopers of the danger, and one brave CSM jumps in to assault.

Note that this move required the CSM move into the open, potentially allowing the enemy a reaction shot. Reaction fire, or even overwatch, is not guaranteed in this game. Essentially the enemy has to rush from one point to another, ending in cover. If he makes it, and the chance of success is directly proportional to the distance you are trying to cross in the open, there is no reaction fire. The enemy has essentially popped up and crossed the space before you could draw a bead on him. You may have fired, but such fire is assumed to have been automatically ineffective.
The CSM having caught the Trooper unawares, fires into the courtyard (with no result) and then assaults.
Assaults occur whenever two figures are within 6" and in sight of one another. Assaults are much more deadly than shooting and represents everything from intense, short-ranged firefights, to grenade throwing, to (abstractly) moving into hand-to-hand. Note however, that the author does make the distinction between assaults and actual hand-to-hand combat (where the figures are physically in contact with one another). The former is deadly and calculating while the latter is a crap shoot. Despite having assault troops, I never wanted to enter hand-to-hand with the Chaos forces. (Maybe I read the rules wrong. 2)

Assaults are also unlike most other games. The attacker rolls first and inflicts damage, with the defender only getting to roll if they survive. Assaults are not simultaneous affairs!
Although the CSM had the distinct advantage in swinging first and having twice as many dice to throw, he failed to hit the Space Marine, who in turn failed to hit the CSM.
When an assault results in enemy remaining on both sides, each checks morale 3 and if both are still within 3" after those checks another round of assault occurs.
The CSM finally got the better of the Space Marine as the extra dice for close combat weapons told. The Space Marine died where he stood, giving first blood to Chaos.

At this point, I have to admit, I felt like I had made a mistake with this scenario. Granted, the Space Marines had not been given a chance to take any actions, but basically the hordes of Chaos were upon  their doorstep and they were already one down! Nonetheless, I decided to press on to see just how big the Chaos victory would be.

As if to confirm my predictions, the Space Marines had a terrible turn. Although the managed to get on Trooper inside the building to the South at the second floor covering the East approach, it only resulted in a single pinned Minotaur.


The CB quickly mount an attack from the East. The Marines at the windows only muster enough firepower to pin one additional Minotaur.
I started using movement arrows to highlight where the action is occurring. It serves no function in the game, although it does help you remember how many activation points you have spent that round. They are there purely for photography. The green markers, however, show figures that are pinned, while red markers show the wounded. I use no markers to track stress; that is kept on paper.

The CB succeed in getting an unusual number of activation points each round, and succeed in getting three activation rounds. This allows two Minotaurs to breach the main building and charge upstairs. The Sergeant slaughters them both in assault with his Power Fist! The dying bellows of the Minotaurs have a telling effect on the others, and they start to withdraw 4.

Six dice and the Minotaurs whiffed with them all. The Sergeant killed one in the first round of combat, causing the Status Check, resulting in the retreat of the CB. As that only drove the remaining Minotaur down the stairs I allowed the assault to continue. The remaining Minotaur whiffed with his three dice before meeting his fate. I left the last Minotaur in the shot (on the roof) and forgot to remove him for a number of turns.
The CSM had incredibly bad luck as they were able to move only a single man into cover before their Champion became exhausted, ending the Chaos turn. Suddenly, the pressure is easing for the Space Marines.

The Space Marines get a good set of activations moving the Heavy Bolter up the stairs to the window facing West. Now the CSM will start coming under fire. The remaining two Troopers in the courtyard burst out of the gate and mow down the CB leader. This puts them within assault range of a pinned Minotaur and they take him down for good measure. Two Minotaurs are now dead and three are wounded, including the leader. However, their thirst for blood allows the CB to keep on fighting.

At this point I made some really stupid moves with the CSM. I could not let go of the idea that there was a strict turn sequence, with all movement before shooting. Thus, rather than shooting first, laying down some covering fire in an attempt to suppress the MACHINE GUN IN THE WINDOW, they bravely (but stupidly) tested the rules for crossing open ground under fire. They worked. Here they are after getting pinned, unpinning, and getting shot up again.

The one shining moment was when one CSM finally worked his way around the flank, entered the Southern house being guarded by a single Marine, and took him out in assault! That makes two Space Marines killed.5 And they were just starting to win!


Although the Space Marines had a short turn, it was an effective one. The Heavy Bolter continued to slams rounds into the CSM caught in the open ground, wounding the first CSM and causing the others to retreat. Further, fire from the Marines at the gate pinned the CSM that had taken the South building, and the morale break caused him to retreat away from the window and down the stairs.


The remaining two Minotaurs muster their courage for a final charge into the town. With so many dead, and having replaced the leader, this unit is rapidly becoming ineffective.
The basic idea behind degrading unit ineffectiveness is controlled through stress, which you may remember from the rules review is subtracted from your die roll for the number of activation points you receive that round. So for each casualty6 you receive over a given threshold you earn you one permanent stress on the leader. And if your leader is wounded, a new leader automatically takes over, but they start with one additional permanent stress for suddenly being stuck with command. So normally the CB would be at six permanent stress, if not for their Bloodthirsty ability. So let's see, that is 1D6 - 6 activation points per turn for the unit. That comes to ... oh! But with the Bloodthirsty rule the CB only have a "mere" three permanent stress!
The CSM try to get out of the killing zone, but in the process the Champion becomes wounded. The CSM to the South launches a surprise attack on the Marines at the gate killing one and pinning the other. (Yeah, he rolled one kill die and one shock die, both scoring hits, and the hit rolled a kill on the armor save! With a friggin' Bolt Pistol!) That is three Space Marines down and the Sergeant now concerned about the situation.


Making a quick decision, the Sergeant orders everyone out of the farm and to exfiltrate to the South. He charges up his Power Fist and heads down the street straight into the Minotaurs.


They did not stand a chance. Not only does the Sergeant kill one in assault and wound the other (making all in the CB unit either dead or wounded), but a Trooper forces the CSM to the South to retreat, forcing an even wider gap for the Space Marines to escape through.

Although there is an additional action, the exhaustion of the Chaos side is quickly making it obvious they cannot stop the Space Marines escape. The capper comes when the Heavy Bolter shoots at a retreating CSM in the woods, wounding him, and causing another CSM to retreat off of the board (at the top of the photo below) leaving only one unwounded CSM on the board of the original 12 soldiers. The Space Marines have won a bloody victory!


Summary

Wow! Not the way I expected it to play out! Very fun game with a lot of nail biting tosses of the dice. Unlike a game of, say Warhammer 40,000 you do not toss buckets of dice. That means that luck plays a higher factor because the rolls are less likely to even out over the course of a single game. That said, it does not feel like a heavily luck dependent game.

The Chaos forces lost because I simply did not follow good tactical doctrine of laying down a base of fire before trying to cross open ground under fire. (What do you expect from Khorne Berserkers and bloodthirsty Minotaurs?!?)

Tracking the stress was actually much easier than I figured it would be, what temporary stress, permanent stress, recovering stress, adding stress due to casualties, etc.

As stated in the rules review, the main issue was remembering to impose rule exceptions (that will get easier over time with more games) and coming to grips with some of the gray areas of the rules (see below).

Again, recommended, and a very enjoyable game!


Gray Areas of the Rules

1 Rushing requires you roll a die to determine your chance of success in crossing an open area into cover. Genetically modified or mutated troops gain a die roll modifier, increasing the chance of success. But technically, that means their rolls are from 2 through 7 (1D6 + 1), so does that also mean that they can rush up to 7" rather than 6"? The rules imply that they cannot, but I wonder ...

2 As it turns out, I did read the rules wrong. Melee weapons affect hand-to-hand combat, not assault. Whoops! So maybe it is a lot less of a crap shoot after all. I found that out while writing this report. I think I will change the Bolt Pistol to +1D for both assault and hand-to-hand combat, but keep the Chainsword as only +1D in hand-to-hand combat, as the author intended for melee weapons.

3 The rules says "test morale for both sides", but there are several types of morale tests. I was looking for one related to assaults, or just morale in general. I figured that the closest was to take a Status Check, although that is specifically listed as being taken for incoming fire, and affects the entire unit, not just the figures in the assault.

4 It is not clear to me how exactly the mechanics of retreats are supposed to work, specifically what direction troops are supposed to retreat to. Especially when the retreating troops don't have a baseline like the Space Marines in this scenario. For this game I determined what the closest source of antagonism was for each retreating figure and moved them directly away from that source. For figures grouped together I let them retreat together in a common direction.

5 The source of these deaths are not unlucky armor rolls, but one of those exceptional rules, that states: "Exo-suit figures are hit only on a 6 in assaults but are eliminated on any such hit." Um, guys, time to shed the Exo-Suits!

6 Here was where I had a bit of trouble with seemingly shifting terminology (or my bad assumptions, one of the two). In the section on Casualties and Stress the term "casualty" seems to refer to the number of dead. But in the Status Check section the term seems to refer to dead an untreated wounded (but not the wounded that are treated). I reasoned that as wounded can be treated later, changing their status from morale-draining casualty to – what, non-casualty? – then the wounded could not be a casualty for purposes of Stress, as you could not add a permanent stress and then remove it when the wounded became treated, could you? I ruled that only the dead caused permanent stress, but I can see that if you expand the definition of "casualty" to include wounded, unit degradation will occur even faster.

Review of No Stars in Sight

The miniature rules No Stars in Sight – Hard Sci-Fi Platoon Level Warfare is a set of rules based on the FiveCore game system, found in other titles by Ivan Sorensen of Nordic Weasel, such as: Five Men in Normandy, No End in Sight, and Company Commander. (I also have the last two titles.) The first set I bought was No End in Sight, which is platoon-level warfare for the modern period, but as I did not really have any figures, I did not play them. In fact, I was pondering how I might convert them so I could use either my Games Workshop Warhammer 40,000 figures (28mm) or my Epic-scale (6mm) figures representing the same genre, when I noticed these rules during Wargame Vault's Christmas sale.

What is it all about?

No Stars in Sight is a tactical, miniatures game using the following guiding (design) principles:
  • A platoon battle will come down to a series of heroic actions by small groups of soldiers.
  • Small arms fire primarily results in the enemy being pinned down. Casualties are much less common than normally assumed in games.
  • A vigorous fire fight can result in one side being pushed back without having suffered significant losses.
  • Wounded and dead will significantly impact a squad's ability to operate effectively.
  • Irregular militia and insurgent troops should operate differently from regular trained forces.
  • Tabletop scale should be treated realistically. Your typical gaming table represents the "tip of the spear" in most cases, engaging the enemy at very close ranges.
  • Games should be playable on a relatively small table and without spending a fortune on figures.
  • Large open spaces in sight of the enemy are very difficult to cross. Try to avoid having fire lanes that are 5+ inches wide and running the length of the table.
  • For your first game especially, set the forces pretty close to each other – 2 feet apart – on a table with fairly dense terrain.
No Stars in Sight are not science fantasy rules, but "hard science". What that means is:
  • Projectile weapons are still the dominant infantry weapon.
  • Resource scarcity has made the seizure and control of vital resources of top importance. This has led to an increased importance for small, well trained infantry units.
  • The basic rebel with an automatic rifle doesn't look terribly different than they did 200 years ago.
  • Advances in computers have produced highly autonomous computer systems that can operate with minimal human input. True human level artificial intelligence is still not viable but autonomous systems can operate to the level of a well trained animal.
  • State of the art infantry can outfight a force far larger, however, the cost of deploying such units makes them prohibitive. Local mercenaries with a more modest technological base are often employed in their stead.
  • Ground based vehicles are still dominant but gravity suspension systems have begun to see deployment. Such vehicles will supplant the role of helicopters.
  • Great advances in genetics have improved the health of the populations in rich countries, as well as opened the possibility for genetic “optimization” programs and cybernetic enhancements.
So, although these rules may not be "ideal" for converting 40K straight over, I like the basic principles, so I thought I would give it a go.

Stress

The core concept – or at least one of them, I assume there are five – is that players keep track of each leader's stress level, both temporary and permanent, in order to determine how effective they are with command and control. The easiest way to explain this is by way of example.

Each turn each leader attempts to "activate" in order to get his unit to perform actions. He gets a total of 1D6 activation points, minus his current stress level. Each time the leader succeeds in activating he temporarily adds one point to his stress. So a simple example, at the start of the first turn of the game Leader 1 has 0 stress. He rolls 1D6 and scores a '4', so he has four activation points to spend having his unit perform actions. After he is done, he adds one temporary point to his stress. He decides to try and activate again so he rolls 1D6 and subtracts 1 (for his current stress level) and rolls a '2'. He has 1 activation point to spend and after all activations are complete, increases his stress to 2 temporary points. He decides to try and activate once again, rolling 1D6 and subtracting 2, getting a '2', resulting in 0 activation points. This indicates that he is "exhausted" and can no longer attempt activations for the remainder of the turn. Play moves on to the next unexhausted leader. (Note that you are not required to use one leader until exhaustion before using another.)

At the end of the turn, all figures that have stress (typically only leaders and vehicles, but sometimes individual soldiers that can operate solo) subtract up to three temporary stress each. Any remaining stress becomes permanent. So, if you really try and push your luck and activate four or more times a turn, that excess stress stays with the leader.

I found this mechanism pretty easy to handle. I try and reduce the number of markers on the table, and definitely do not like it when I have to use multiple markers for a single figure, so I kept an index card on the side with each unit listed. As I would accumulate stress I put a tick mark. When a stress point became permanent I used a '0' to indicate its permanency. Pretty simple and effective.

Activation

What can you do with an activation point? The most common use is either to remove pinning from a single figure or activate one figure so it can move and fire.

Because you are rolling 1D6 for the number of activation points command and control can be pretty haphazard. When you are using very small squads, say 5-6 men, it is very easy for everyone to be able to do something every activation, until you start pushing your luck. For larger squads, however, you have to start alternating who gets activated or start using group orders.

There are two group orders: group movement and suppression fire. Group movement is just that, a group of 2 to 3 figures close together moving together to the same area. It costs only a single point, but at the expense of none of the figures being able to fire. Suppression fire allows a group of 2 to 3 figures close together to fire at a target for a single point. The tradeoff, however, is that none of the fire can kill or wound and none of the figures can move.

Shooting

Shooting is easy ... and difficult all at the same time. When you activate a figure you can choose to either fire before or after the move. I believe you are also expected to fire as a group, if firing at the same target(s), although this is not strictly necessary.

I say it is "easy" because the method for figuring out combat results is relatively simple. Each figure generates so many firepower, based on their training, with some weapons generating additional firepower. Each firepower point generates 1 "shock" die and 1/2 a "kill" die. Shock dice cause pins and kill dice cause hits (wounds and kills). The numbers to hit are fixed, so no list of modifiers to deal with.

The "hard" part is the flexibility of being able to shoot before or after, with or without support from others. There is no Movement phase and then Shooting phase. Nor is there a requirement to finish one figure's activation completely before starting another. (You do have to finish a unit's activation before starting another, however.) You can shoot some of your figures, then move others who then shoot afterwards, and finally end by moving the figures that shot initially. It is this flexibility that will probably cause most players to limit the number of figures under their command, or at least in each unit. More testing will tell.

Morale

Morale is built into a number of small rules and are largely reflected by figures being pinned or retreating. There are no morale "breaks". You will find that a unit simply becomes so ineffective due to casualties and pinning that they cannot do anything. The negative modifier to the activation point roll will get such that you, the player, will stop attacking, start pulling back, tending to the wounded, and trying to get as many soldiers in close groups (defined as figures within 1" of each other) so you can perform group moves and suppression fire to get the most effect for the few activation points you receive. I like this effect. It not only feels right, but it sounds like accounts I have read about others huddling together when things get bad and people dealing with the wounded rather than being on the firing line. As this models basic psychology I think it can apply to many other periods.

Many rules use a high casualty rate for combat and state that a casualty represents men "rendered ineffective", "wounded", and "killed" without ever bothering to specify what percentage are in each category. This makes it particularly difficult for translating effects for a campaign game. Although breaking each category out in a game may sound like it might be more complex to play out, my playtest game shows otherwise. The main thing is that there is a bookkeeping component to this game – using markers, a roster, or both – so you can see exactly how a unit's effectiveness degrades.

Game Ratings

So, using the review system from before, here are the game ratings for No Stars in Sight (NSIS).

Drama – do the rules create tension during play?

The use of a die roll to determine the number of activation points a unit receives can cause swings from an entire unit being able to act to one figure to none, exhausting the leader from giving any more orders that turn. There are quite a number of random rolls, in fact, such as variable movement while rushing across open ground, reaction fire/opportunity fire/overwatch, chance to pin, hit, wound, or kill, assault, morale, and so on. All of these contribute to the drama as the rolls usually lead to direct consequences, like being pinned in the open.

I would not say that the game can "turn on a dime", but I would say that a player's expectations of how well he is doing goes up and down throughout the game. If that does not describe drama, I am using the wrong term.

NSIS rates 4 out of 5 in Drama.

Uncertainty – are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty into the game?

The rules have a number of chance elements, as indicated above. What is nice about it is that the rolls are relatively easy to remember in not only the number needed for success, but the number of dice to be rolled. There are very few modifiers to rolls. I think the number of rolls have been reduced down to just the necessary elements.

NSIS rates 4 out of 5 in Uncertainty.

Engaging – do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?

The player makes a number of meaningful decisions in the game, from who gets the limited resource of activation points, to what order you perform actions. For example, during my playtest I came upon many instances where I forgot to fire before moving, where there was a possibility to pin the enemy on overwatch. Trust me, the consequences were often that I ended up getting people pinned or wounded out in the open!

I think the lack of strict structure to the turn sequence increases the player's engagement.

NSIS rates 5 out of 5 in Engaging.

Unobtrusiveness – do the rules get in the way?

As stated previously, most of the numbers needed for success are easy to remember, as is the number of dice to roll. There is one chart, which is the chance of being wounded or killed, by armor type. Given that there are four armor types for infantry (not counting Powered Armor, which is a totally different beast), a chart is probably easier to remember than a set of rules.

Where the rules do get in the way, and it is probably something that applies more to NSIS than to the other FiveCore titles, is that rather than using die roll modifiers there are a number of exceptions to rules. A good example is the use of Exo-Suits in Assault. Rather than using the standard to hit roll then determining the whether the figure is wounded or killed (by armor type), Exo-Suits change the chance to hit, but if hit are automatically killed. Until you play the rules enough this will be something that forces you to refer to the rules, and not just the QRS. Speaking of which, because of these exceptions, the QRS is not so useful unless you don't use things that cause exceptions. That is why I lowered the rating by 1 point.

Speaking of modifiers though, I should not come across that there are no die roll modifiers. There are a few. But because the norm is constant hit number with some exceptional cases, I consider those rules that modify the die roll to be yet another exceptional case.

NSIS rates 3 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness.

Heads Up – are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?

As indicated above in the Unobtrusiveness rating, the numbers are easy to remember, so a QRS is not really necessary. Also because there is little structure to the turn you don't need the Turn Sequence printed out as a reminder of what the next step is. As stated before, rule exceptions can be a problem if you use quirky gear and the QRS gives no indication of these exceptions.

NSIS rates 4 out of 5 in Heads Up.

Appropriately Flavored – do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?

As it stands, the genre being represented is today, with some moderately advanced gear. The basic design philosophy, unlike say Warhammer 40,000 is that it is the man, not the gear, that determines how effective he is in combat. If you agree with that, then it is appropriately flavored.

Note that there are a lot of rules that I have not used, as I wanted to start simple and not get wrapped around the axle with too many quirky items. (See the AAR that follows.) There are a number of aliens and weapons defined. There are droids, system hacking, vehicles, and so on. Again, the rules tend towards "hard" (i.e. believable) science fiction rather than science fantasy ("Anoint your bolters brothers!"), so if you don't mind using your Space Marines as something other than super-soldiers that walk over everything, you will probably like the flavor.

NSIS rates 4 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored.

Scalable – can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or number of units played – from a 'normal' game?

Right now the game is aimed at a platoon per side. Can it scale up? Yes, sort of. There are suggestions to use more figures per base, but play each figure straight (i.e. as if it were one man), call each base a fire team and each unit a platoon and voila, you are at company level. To me that is not really "scaling the game up".

The limiting factor is largely the bookkeeping aspect of tracking stress on each unit leader. How many leaders a single player can control is pretty finite. Increasing the unit count increases the bookkeeping, so complexity increases linearly.

Increasing the number of figures in a unit only means that more people will be standing around doing nothing each activation because the game mechanic is that you only get 1D6 activation points per unit, regardless of the number of men in the unit. There is no scaling factor based on the number of men in the unit.

NSIS rates 3 out of 5 in Scalable.

Lacks Fiddly Geometry – do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?

This is a game of line of sight, shots through gaps, and shooting while the enemy rushes from one piece of cover to the next. Because rushes to cover compares the distance to move to a D6 roll to determine success, being a fraction of an inch farther away means you have -16% less chance of success. This is the sort of factor that can lead to disagreements. Nudging or bumping figures a small amount can change distances and line of sight, also causing problems.

What the game generally does not require are measurements for range; most weapons shoot the entire length of the board. But, given that the author recommends lots of line of sight blocking terrain, this might well be a game in which you break out the laser pointer.

NSIS rates 2 out of 5 in Fiddly Geometry.

Tournament Tight™ Rules – are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the players need to 'fill in the blanks'?

Let me start by saying that my preference is towards tighter rules, where everything is spelled out clearly by the author, not looser rules where the author leaves certain mechanics up to the individual players, gentlemen's agreements, and a roll of the die where agreements cannot be found. So a high value means 'tight' and a low value means 'loose'. If you like looser rules, subtract my rating from '6' and that would probably be your rating!

These rules are not intended for tournament play. Although the author never states it, I think it is expected that the players "own" the rules and come up with their own interpretations where there are gaps. The biggest gray area is in the sequence of actions and exactly how much latitude you have. Also, some terms are used and it is not quite clear what is meant by them. Some rules are subtle and it is not clear whether that is intentional or poor wording on the part of the author. (Hopefully I will remember to point to all of these areas in the AAR.) All of these contribute to players adopting local variations that the author might not do himself, but is probably okay with.

NSIS rates 2 out of 5 in Tournament Tight™ Rules.

Solo Suitability – do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?

There are no hidden elements to the game, at least that I have read as of yet, so that alone grants the rules high solitaire suitability. In fact, some of the other negative factors – interpretation of ambiguous areas, player interpreted line of sight, short movement distances, movement into cover controlled by D6 roll – all fall by the wayside when you are gaming solo.

In addition, the author has provided some ideas on campaigns and gaming solo, so I am not really sure if this should not be considered the primary way of playing them! Unless my gaming buddies show some interest after reading this review, I will probably simply use them for a solo campaign.

NSIS rates 5 out of 5 in Solo Suitability.

Component Quality – are the components provided made with quality?

This is a new rating, meant primarily for board games, which addresses the quality of the physical components. As I bought the rules as a PDF the rating is not really applicable. Note that the PDF is featureless, however. A page linked table of contents would have been nice, but as with most publishers these days, it appears to have been produced by "Print to PDF", which is acceptable.

As a side note, publishers should consider what Ganesha Games has done, which is to include two versions of the rules: a normal, full-color PDF and an ink-saving version for printing out.

NSIS rates Not Applicable in Component Quality.

Test Game of No Stars in Sight

Well, this review is getting long, so expect the AAR for the test game next time. Just a hint: in my mind, the game swung back and forth a bit, probably because I was not used to how non-lethal combat can be (if you do things right). This back and forth is what makes me think the game will be one that I play a bit more often, although as I shared in the review, I will probably stick to these for solo efforts only.

Summary

It produces a fun game with "realistic" results, if you agree with the author's premise (which I do). A few fiddly bits, but eminently tweakable. Recommended.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Painting 6mm Figures

I have shown several people my 6mm figures that I have painted and the comment I always get, which is often similar to what I read on the forums (like The Miniatures Page), is: "Oh, I could never do that! They are so small. My eyes are not strong enough to paint something so tiny." Well, my eyes are pretty bad before correction, so that is really not the problem.

What it takes to paint (anything) is a steady hand. Until you get your "hand", where it stops trembling and shaking because you are holding it out in an uncommon position, you are not going to be very decent in painting a 28mm figure or a portrait either. But, this article is not about how to steady your hand (only practice can do that), this is about how easy painting a 6mm figure really is.

First, a few notes. Most of the pictures that follow are magnified. The detail you can see much more than the naked eye can really discern. I point that out because painting "defects" look really bad in magnified pictures; the defects are, well, magnified!

I paint under a magnifier lamp, such as these on Amazon. Don't misunderstand: I do not do this because they are 6mm figures; I do not for all figure painting, including my 42mm troops. It is just easier on the eyes because it lights the subject and makes the details pop.

Here is an example of 6mm figures – old Games Workshop Epic figures, to be exact – under magnification. Although it is tempting to paint every little detail you see, some details are so fine that even if you succeed in doing so, in this scale it will not be visible to the naked eye. For example, you could paint the eye sockets of the Space Marine red, to show the lenses in the armor, but the dots would be so small that it would be unnoticeable, except under magnification. Avoid that temptation. What you want to focus on are those details large enough that you can see then when painted, and that your brush can easily get to them.

Here I have mounted three figures to a base, primed them, and laid down a layer of light brown sand to the base using white (PVC) glue. I used to prime all of my figures in black, but I have started moving away from that practice. In this example, I used a dark gray, but later experiments showed that a dark navy blue was even better. The idea is to prime using a darker version of the major color. We are going to use that primer color as a separator between other colors to help make them pop.

For painting a figure like this you want a brush sized 20/0. That is pretty small, but then again, so is the figure. Larger brushes, even with very sharp points, load too much paint, so there is a chance you will apply too much paint to the surface. I use the Army Painter Wargamer Brush: Insane Detail brush. This brush is expensive, but can serve as both a spotter and liner brush.
So, what's a spotter brush? It is a brush for making "spots" with paint, so the tip will not be "mushy". You make a spot by putting paint on the tip, moving the point of the brush straight onto the area where the paint it to be applied and press gently. Because the tip is firm, the spot should not be much larger than the tip of the brush.

Here I have applied two spots of white paint, one on the tip of each boot (areas circled in green; click to enlarge the photo, if necessary). If you refer back to the first photo you can see the figure's boots quite easily.

By the way, did I forget to mention that I am painting these as Ultramarine Space Marines? Blue and white will be the primary colors used, which is why I might have been served better with a dark navy blue as the primer.

The Ultramarines have a lot of variations to their uniform, especially over the years. I've chosen to make the knee guards white, for several reasons.

1. The more contrasting colors – especially bright ones – that you can have from the primary color, the better. It will help make the figure stand out more.

2. The knee guards will serve as a guide as to where the paint for the lower leg guards go.

Use your spotter and paint two simple dots, one for each knee. Fortunately GW has enough detail for it to be picked out by the brush. Don't worry if you don't get it perfect; it will not really be noticeable except on close inspection.


As with the knee pads you should choose a contrasting color for the elbow guard. Next, using your spotter brush, paint a dot of white to represent the right elbow guard.

Now do the same for the left elbow guard.

Another customization point is the helmet. You can choose a contrasting color, the primary color, of a combination in order to denote special figures. In this case I decided to use white for the standard Tactical Space Marine, but you will see later that I use red for the Heavy Weapons Space Marine team.

To highlight the helmet it is two dots, one for the lower helmet and one for the upper. Do not make a single stroke. The two halves of the helmet are cast in, so if you paint it as two dots with a spotter brush the paint will not seep into the area where the eyes would be.

I did not make those triangle shapes, the brush did by following the raised areas of the casting. Use a light touch and don't overload the brush with paint. Also, using thinner paint is preferable, but not too thin. If it sticks and glops it is too thick. If it looks thin on the raised areas and freely flows into the recesses then the paint is too thin.


Believe it or not, those two "sticks" are the wings of the eagle, cast onto the chest plate. Make sure you do not load the brush heavily with paint and just barely wipe the brush against the raised area, rather than trying to spot paint it.

I don't know what this thing on the back of the pack is, but it stands out if you paint it a contrasting color. It is a great way to distinguish between units too, using a different color for each squad, platoon, or company (depending upon which level of game you are playing at).

A simple spot of paint will catch the raised area.

So here is where it starts to get tricky. Here is where you switch to a liner brush, or change how you use the Insane Detail brush.

When spot painting you were loading paint onto the tip and "pressing" the paint onto the raised area. To do lines – like the cast edging to the shoulder guards – you want to get paint onto the side of the brush. Then you run the side along the raised area. Trying to paint with the point runs the risk that you will press the tip somewhere other than the raised edge. By swiping with the side you decrease the chance of missing your target. It takes practice, but it is actually how you paint straight lines with a liner brush on larger figures too.


Here is the finished product. Don't worry about perfection, because the picture you see here is not what the typical eye sees. Deformities in the plastic, mold lines, and gritty pigment in the paint will all ensure that it will never be "perfect".

Although this step may look hard, it really isn't. Using the spotter dab the paint inside the area. Note that you want to leave some of the primer color between the white and blue! This produces an effect similar to blacklining and helps the contrast between the two colors stand out even more.

I really need to stress this part. The darker primer color is meant to show. Painting over too much primer is just as bad as if you painted over too much of another color; it is a mistake.

Using the knee guard and the boots as a guide, simply paint the area between them, leaving behind primer as a separator. The raised and recessed areas of the casting will make this easy for you.

The same applies for the sides. Here we are only painting the leg guards, so do not paint all the way up the legs.

Here is a picture of the painted leg guards from the back.

Now we do the legs. Paint a thin line above the leg guards leaving some primer to create the shadow of the gap behind the knees.

It sounds bad, but it really isn't.

Time to do their granny panties. Connect two quick two spots of paint and you are done.

Two more small dots of paint make a convincing pack. The bottom "ridge" is easy to pick out with a spotter brush. The top ridge takes a softer hand. Don't worry if you mess up; we just want color in the area.

Add a large spot of paint on the top. That way we will not have a large shadow on top.

Two small spots for the hands holding the bolter work fine. Easy to paint because the hands are cast as raised areas.

One stripe on the left represents the arm. Leave a gap between the arm and the elbow guard.

Notice that there is a strip above the arm, just below the shoulder guard. This is an chunk created by the mold not being able to have an undercut. It also makes the bolter sturdier from breakage. You can leave it the primer color and it will look fine.

Another big spot for the right arm. Again, leave primer between new spot and the elbow guard and the hand. You don't have to be exact; just paint the area between the two painted spots.


So now you can see what the Marines approximately look like without magnification. This is how they might look if you were holding them about a foot from your face. I know many people talk about not worrying about painting a lot of detail because the most common viewpoint is three or more feet from the figure, looking at it from above and behind. That said, I always inspect others' troops from one foot, so I fully expect others to do the same! I paint so it looks good from this distance.

Even though this was a really simple paint job – it was only three colors after all – I think the figure look very presentable. You can easily see what everything represents. People familiar with the Space Marines can tell what they are, even if they lack the emblems of their 32mm brethren.



Above you can see the unit before flocking (below, after flocking) at a distance where you would be looking at the table. You can discern the blues and the whites just pop. You can see the two halves of the helmet, and thus their "eyes" can be imagined. Any mistakes you made in the edging on the shoulder guards is just not discernable, but the detail absolutely pops off of the table and makes the figure. The heavy weapons team, with its red helmets and designator on their backpack, make them easy to pick out from the crowd. (The single figure is the Sergeant.)


In case you are wondering what rules I am using the answer is: I am not sure yet! The good thing about 6mm figures are that they are cheap enough, and quick enough to paint, that if you are not trying to get crazy with building huge armies for every game it is very doable to actually have figures painted and based for multiple systems. For example, I have these figures also painted and based singly, for 6mm skirmishing (see my battle report for In the Emperor's Name). That is going to be, maybe, 12 figures, per force type, per side. So, unless you have really extensive choices that is maybe 50-75 figures, which equates to about $20. Singly-based figures would also be usable for a Command & Colors type game where four single figures represents a unit.

These figures are to test out three company-level rules sets – Poor Bloody Infantry, Crossfire, and Five Core's Company Command – the first two of which I have had for quite some time and have wanted to play. Each stand can represent a portion of a squad (Poor Bloody Infantry) or the squad itself (Crossfire and Company Command). For Poor Bloody Infantry I would need about double or triple that to play a very basic game, while this represents the starter game for Crossfire and Company Command. (Guess which one will probably get played last?) So this basing scheme would probably require 36 figures per side for a starter force. Quadruple that to have some choices and you are looking at a $50 expenditure.

One of the reasons people look towards 6mm is reduce the space required for playing a game. I can understand that sentiment, given that I once lived full-time in an RV for more than three years. When I tell you that space was tight, I am not kidding. My typical gaming space was a standard 30" x 40" foam core board – an example of which can be seen here in one of my old 15mm DBAWI battle reports – so 6mm figures seem ideal for this. That said, I am one of those people that like to see figures a little more realistic to the ground scale. To be honest, that is one of factors that turned me off about Flames of War. The figure density on the table was just too high. It was not the number of units bought, but rather the number of figures on the small base sizes they used. I think that if I had played Flames of War with 6mm figures on 15mm base sizes I would have been much happier. (Tanks would have to be put on bases too, in order to ensure that they don't go tread-to-tread in an even smaller area, of course.) For me, now, that is why I keep coming back to 6mm: I use 15mm basing sizes and I find the figure density more aesthetically pleasing, at least for the modern era. Plus it is cheaper and I can paint the figures to an acceptable standard faster. That, and I can have figures based for multiple systems and not really fret over "wasting" figures.

Another aspect of 6mm aesthetics is proportionality. Most wargamer's pre-modern armies have their width to depth all wrong. Many rules acknowledge that by setting a unit's frontage to match a ground scale – for example saying that a battalion's real-world frontage is about 125 yards and setting the ground scale to 6" equals 125 yard, thus making the battalion's bases come out to a width of 6" – but the rules rarely reconcile that the unit's depth will be far greater in miniature than it real life. In the example scale, each inch would be about 21 yards, which would make a battalion about 1/2" in depth. Given than many pre-modern rules want double-ranked figures for aesthetic purposes, there is no way for them to fit, unless you are using the smaller scales.

Of course, another reason for 6mm is to get a "mass effect" by using large numbers of figures. I won't speak to that because: 1) I have never seen it implemented, so I have not been bitten by that bug; and 2) it sort of flies in the face all of my reasons above. Although I have 6mm for the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian War periods, I do not feel that I have been really successful in using them in those periods. Maybe that is because I still have not settled on rules that I like, so I keep re-basing them?

Well, my goal was not to "sell" you on 6mm, but to address some of the common objections that I have personally heard and read online regarding this scale. It may not be the be-all, end-all scale for me, but certainly it serves its purpose. I believe it looks better than paper, top-down counters (like with board games), and when the figure counts are low and the ground scale large (such as with Memoir '44 and the like). Larger figures with very small buildings just don't look right ...

If you were thinking about 6mm, especially regarding painting them, I hope this helped. If you have a painting hand at all, the scale really won't matter. Just get a magnifier lamp (you should have one anyway), smaller brushes, and paint with good flow (I use Liquitex Flow Aid to thin acrylic paints) and give it a try. If you like Science Fiction, Onslaught Miniatures has a really nice line of figures where the details are cast on and these techniques work well. Sometimes you can find the old GW Epic figures on eBay pretty cheaply too. I have a ton of them still, which is why I turn to them to playtest out new modern game systems.

The next post I hope to show my other interest – also a holdover from my RV days – paper miniatures. I think LitkoAero may have finally come up with a sensible paper figure base that is far better than their previous paper counter stand. More on that when the bases arrive.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").