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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

I am Spartan Alex...and so's my wife....

Well, I used to be, up until yesterday when I finally decided to hand in my spear, helmet and shield and part ways with the Firestorm steering role I've had for the past few years.

"What? Are you crazy? I'd give my <<insert appendage here>> to be a Spartan!"

Well, be careful what you wish for - working with a games company can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be enormously frustrating, hard work and gruelling. Sometimes it sucks so much out of you in the game you love, that you don't want to play. Then you wonder why you're putting in the kind of hours you are without pay (yes, this was voluntary!) - this was supposed to be fun!

So why did I quit?

A game system is more than just pretty models and good rules - it's exactly that, a SYSTEM. The leader in the industry got to where they were (and still are in large part) because they had a great combination of models and narrative, backed by good store support and excellent player involvement, all in a very different world to the one we inhabit now. They created a monolithic monopoly which stood for around 30 years before they slipped into getting super-greedy whilst losing grip on rules and getting sloppy with background - just at a time when other companies like SG were springing up in an internet-enabled world. The past 10 years have seen the industry completely change, and they have taken a lot of damage over that time by being inflexible in an increasingly flexible marketplace. Nevertheless, even they are responding - and maybe it is too little too late, but they're also big enough for momentum to carry them a long way.

I tried to help SG in this environment by creating the sort of technological tie-ins, community noise and background pieces (the odd "teasers" I posted from time to time) that I believed were needed for FA - I felt there absence as a player of the game. About 0.1% of what I've written ever saw the light of day over the past 3 years. My motivation for the creating Hub Systems was to talk about Firestorm, as I couldn't represent the company officially elsewhere. I attended Reading Warfare as a demo game under my own steam (with Oscar's help) four years ago because I love Firestorm - this year we'll have the third annual FA tournament there.

So in short, I believe in the community, and the lack of support over the last 18 months or so for those fledgling communities is damaging - and I don't mean in terms of prizes (which SG are pretty generous about), I mean in terms of Spartan's show attendance, regular blog pieces , coherent and un-retconned background, consistent universe technologies and meaningfully planned releases. As the leadership of SG clearly became more detached from that vision of a coherent universe that I had, it was clear separation was in the offing - and best now and cleanly rather than protracted and messy.

Spartan have been getting better in some areas (like show attendance), and I really hope that the game survives long-term. People have expressed happiness about the Amber system, which I completely understand, because there's been nothing for so long. In one sense I'm glad that stuff I was talking about to Neil over a year ago is happening...but (there had to be one) - it's happening in something of a vacuum (knew I could get a space-related pun in there somewhere!). The FFG were not involved in the Amber system development, so as to balance and ongoing unity, where does it leave it? The fluff pieces are nice, but do they tie in with the rest of the universe? Will the next pieces tie in with this?

Now I am anal about this stuff, and pick up on inconsistencies in anything quickly - they jar my suspension of disbelief. The champagne glass in the Sopranos which is filled and half-emptied and then filled again between dialogue is something I noticed first time. Having Dindrenzi officers refer to each other as "Pioneer" as an honorific might be cool, but its never been mentioned in FA before. This either needs something to tie it in or be dropped. Stuff like this might not seem important, but it's indicative of a larger problem - the universe behind everything.

Let's take a brief sojourn - why are there a lot of very successful US TV series at the moment? When you get down to it, it's because of the way they're made. I had absolutely zero interest in a medieval fantasy setting series when my wife asked if we should watch Game of Thrones because "people said it was good". I started watching and was hooked - not because of the setting, but because of the quality of the show - at all levels. It has a compelling, intricate and well-woven plot which is delivered with excellent acting - the actors aren't just making up their lines when they get on set. This leads to amazing moments like the resolution of why Hodor can't say anything other than "Hodor" - and it blows your mind (I won't spoil it if you've not seen it, but OMG!).

This is really what I worry about with the current Amber setting in FA - has it been beautifully crafted behind the scenes as part of a larger tapestry, or has it just been made up on the spot? I have a sneaking feeling that it's the latter, which means that although it might be sweet and glossy, it might stick in the throat later when the wider picture doesn't quite add up. Which would be a shame. Honestly, if I'm wrong, nothing's lost, right?

The joy for me now, however, is that I am unchained to express myself in terms of fan-created background, technology, stats etc - though of course these will no longer carry the weight of being "official", I'll keep working with the members of the community I've grown to develop great respect for and whose input and viewpoints I value - even when they differ greatly from my own - because we have the same destination in sight, and because they improve anything I do! I created military structures for all the core races of the FA universe....I created star systems with planetary bodies for EVERY SINGLE SYSTEM on the FA map - this is how anal I am!

Whilst I'm on it, those individuals of the former Firestorm Focus Group really deserve a huge amount of the community's love, they've worked tirelessly behind the scenes with little in the way of thanks and often massive criticism and quite thoughtless abuse ("Did the FFG even test this, this is so OP" etc etc). It'll be my privilege to work with them again in the International independent Games Design Group, (not a very catchy moniker, I admit!) continuing to produce fan-made support for the game we all love. They're a talented group of guys, and I think we can put some great stuff out for the community.

As such, and as an enhancement to both my blog and The Hub Systems, I've introduced a forum element to this site, selectable on the top right-hand side under Pages. Feel free to go over there and leave a comment and get involved in the discussion - I'll add other sub-forums on there as needed.

Well, I'll save you all from the wall of text now, have fun until the next time - Episode 27 of The Hub Systems is coming soon!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Hub Systems Episode 26: The Icarus Project

This time we are joined by Anto from Icarus Miniatures to talk about his upcoming 28/32/35mm sci-fi skirmish game Kickstarter - The Icarus Project. Before that we talk a little bit about the recent Halo Ground Command upgrade boxes from Spartan, together with latest FFG X-Wing announcement and the usual GW fare in Hit or Miss. Listen and Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Hub Systems Podcast Episode 25: Firestorm Armada Tactica: Relthoza

This episode I'm joined by Josh and Craig from Spartan's Firestorm Focus Group to discuss those space spiders - the Relthoza. Seen as one of the most difficult races to be successful with, we examine everything from individual ships to their overall tactics and strategy to glean how they can be played to win.

Josh also gives us a round-up of Gencon 2016 and of course we have our regular Hit or Miss slot examining the recent releases of mid summer. Listen and enjoy!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Painting Cthulhu Wars: Yellow Sign

It has to be said that over the past six months or so I've been pretty lax in the old painting side of the hobby - all for understandable reasons - house move, job change, new kitchen, decorating, DIY, birthdays and now holidays - but I've been lax nonetheless. I've not had my airbrush set up, my outdoor shed has been a mess and the loft room is likewise full of somewhat disorganised stuff.

So the past few weeks have seen a bit of a change in this. It started with a damn good clear out of the outside shed, which was used as a bit of a dumping ground for stuff from the old house we weren't sure what to do with or where to put. I got rid of a load of rubbish, reorganised what was left, put up shelves, drilled mounts into the walls for tools and cleared the bench. I installed my compressor, regulator and Tamiya paints, and now I have a decent place to both do some DIY stuff, and to spray my models.

Next was to sort out my modelling space. So again I cleared the area out, put up shelves and organised things. I went that extra step and extended this to the rest of the loft room, getting the kids to sort out the FIVE (yes, 5) containers full of cuddly toys down to one for storage, everything else was to be kept in their rooms or recycled...(car boot coming up!!). I put up all the old shelves I had from my unit, and organised our storage stuff, making it more accessible, creating a ton of room and even impressing my wife.

The grand upshot of this is that I have been able to start painting properly again. I've primed god-knows-how-many Firestorm ships and Planetfall vehicles, sprayed a load of Terrans and Dindrenzi, and am half way through the base coating of Oscar's Aquans.

Now whilst i love airbrushing, it's rare you can finish a model this way, and most of my figures are pure handpainted. I'd been inspired by some awesome Cthulhu Wars minis I'd seen on line, and whilst I wasn't going to achieve that level of excellence, trying to achieve it would certainly stretch my skills and help me get better. So I started on my Yellow Sign minis for Cthulhu Wars with a Byakhee, which is still work in progress and I don't have any pics yet - I'll get some when I'm back off holiday and it's done.

What I do have pictures of are the undead and the King in Yellow. I wanted to keep them low-key in terms of faction colouring, the KiY being the obviously "yellow" mini, but the undead I was going to stick to a dirty bandage bone colour, it being yellow only nominally. As I'd already primed them white, this was a pretty simple process. First, I based each of them in a bone/light khaki stone mix.

I wasn't too careful about this colour, and I mixed more than one batch to vary the shade - I didn't want the six minis to look identical. Next stage was to mix a flesh colour to paint the oozing, mutated flesh, and again I used different base shades on the six figures.

So far so good, and after painting the tongue a darker, pinker shade a wash with Army Painter Soft Tone to bring our the detail without darkening the model too much was next.

Next was painting the original colour on the bandages and the pinker flesh on the high spots of those areas, followed by highlighting and detail (mainly the bandage edges and teeth). 

I'm pretty happy with the way it came out - it looks suitably disgusting and more tentacley than your typical undead - which is exactly as it should be!

The King in yellow was a much bigger job, and is mostly complete, but still needs further work on the base and a few touches. Technique was similar to the undead, but with a lot more shades. I also wanted a dirty and blood-flecked finish on the yellow garments. I'm not 100% with it, but it's OK for now - I wanted the King to look gaunt with almost bloodless skin, whilst the more living flesh colour of the tentacles draws the eye and gives more of a feeling of life least I hope it does! Painting Yellow is always a pain in the arse, but it didn't come out too horrible here (unless you think otherwise!)

Next on the list is Hastur - he's one of the largest minis in the game (i.e. he's HUGE!), but he also needs more work than any other mini too, having numerous gaps and seam lines, so before any painting could start on him, I needed to get all this sorted, or he'd look too toy-like when done. So out with the Green Stuff again, and wet-blending those seams!

Here's Hastur base airbrushed

I actually cheated here, because I've already painted the eyes and masked them before step is to remove the masking...

Around the eyes needs tidying, but that's fine as I need to add the redder rims to them anyway...

So there it is, the first forays back into painting, and the first monsters I've tackled from the Cthulhu Wars set. They paint up nicely, and I think painted minis are really going to enhance the gaming experience.

Feedback, suggestions, comments and ideas always welcome - would love to hear from you all!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Magnetising Spartan's minis

As well as getting a storage solution for my Planetfall minis involving magnetic sheets, I've been having more magnet fun with magnetising both my Reinforcement Box ships for Firestorm Armada, and my outstanding Planetfall resin too. This is due to a lot of the modularity and flexibility of the models, and also my liking for models that can be adjusted on the field (like not gluing turrets on tanks etc).

So I wanted to give a little bit of an insight into how I do this - it's standard stuff, but might help you if you've not done this before or worked with resin much. Now Spartan do help here by having some recesses and centre marks on several of the components, but others don't (like the drop-cast Shield generator and AA turrets for the Terran Alliance  Planetfall forces). Drop-casting, if you don't know, is where the mould has an open face which is the bottom of the piece - this makes the mould simpler and lower cost, but obviously you get no detail on it. The Infantry stands are good examples, and of course no-one cares if your infantry base doesn't have detail on the bottom!

So, the first thing is to buy some appropriate magnets. I bought a bunch of 2x1mm and 3x2mm magnets (diameter x depth), the former for the Reinforcement ships, the second for the Planetfall stuff. In retrospect, I think the 3x2 are better in general since they have a much stronger bond, even though the reinforcement ships have 2mm recesses. 1mm increase in diameter doesn't sound much, but it's more than double the surface area - and that's important;

I'm starting here with Planetfall minis, and the Terran Ground Attack Aerial Helix vehicle, because it's awesome and a great example. The first step here is to drill a hole for your chosen magnet (and for PF I use 3mms exclusively) into the hull of the aircraft in the centre of where the Huscarl will fit. You can then add superglue and push the magnet home. You can see this below - though I only do one to start with, then when I have one Huscarl complete I can use it to do all the others and get the same polarity on each. The picture depicts all in place after I've done this.

Now, when you've one magnet in place, the trick on the Huscarl is - because it's a drop-cast piece - how do you know where to drill? I've used the same technique multiple times, and it works well. You put a blob of paint on the magnet - I usually use red since it's obvious and high contrast on the plae resin.

Next you press down the piece you're joining in position - you want to do this as accurately as possible on the first try - if you adjust you'll smudge the paint and will need to re-start.

When you take it off, it'll have the paint transferred to it in the correct position

This allows you to then drill out this hole

Now before you put a magnet in, remember I talked about getting the correct polarity? This is obviously vital, and not that easy to do by itself. fortunately, you can make the magnets work for you. First, you put the second magnet (the one that will end up in your joined piece) onto the parent magnet in the body of whatever you're joining to, like so.

Then you put your freshly drilled item on top...

...and push down to squeeze the magnet into the hole. You don't need to do this fully, as you can pull it off and push it down firmly using a flat (and preferably non-magnetic) surface - I use the handle of my scalpel, since it's non-ferrous. This also stops any superglue transferring onto the other magnet (if you've been brave enough to superglue it!)

When you're confident there's no active superglue on any of the surfaces, you can try them out

You can then use a magnet on your Huscarl to insert your other magnets into the main body, ensuring they all have the same polarity, so you don't need specific Huscarls in any given position.

So now I have my support all ready to drop its Huscarls in the field, and then proceed on empty...

I did the same thing for my Command Helix

...and also my Relthoza

All using the same process and same 3mm magnets - as you can see they're pretty strong and it works well.

The Firestorm Armada reinforcement boxes are a little different, already having 2mm holes, so I went with the smaller magnets for ease here. This is fine for the smaller elements, and works OK for the Terran ships for example, where there are multiple contact points. In principle it's exactly as above, but made easier since there's no alignment, red paint and drilling!

This doesn't work so well for the Directorate Escort carrier. In hindsight I'd have preferred to use 3mm magnets for these. The holes are a bit too deep for the 1mm magnets, so I ended up gluing two in, which stand slightly proud to ensure contact with the one that's slightly recessed in the other side

This is still a bit unsatisfactory, as the top part tends to move a bit and isn't held on very strongly. Conversely the 2mm magnets are absolutely fine for the turrets, 3mm magnets would be overkill for them.

Going back to Planetfall minis, some of them have holes way too big for an appropriate magnet - good examples being the Sorylian Command bathtub and the Veydreth skimmer tank body weapon mounts. In both of these cases I used 3mm magnets , but prior to placement I put a sausage of Green Stuff around the magnet, or plugged the hole with Green Stuff (depending on the mini and how big the void was). I then superglued this in to ensure it wouldn't dislodge when the Green Stuff was fully set (Green Stuff is NOT an adhesive, despite many people trying to use it for this, it's not cut out for the job!). Unfortunately I lost the photos before painting, but I scraped the Sorylian one to show it more clearly - you can still tell on the Veydreth but its less obvious

All in all, Spartan's minis are generally pretty easy to magnetise (the Overseer Gate being a notable exception), but some of the holes are too big, some of them too small and others just aren't there at all. It would be nice if Spartan designed in the correct size of hole in advance and made recommendations, hell they could even sell kits to do this, which would make it really easy for fact that's a good idea, perhaps I'll start selling those myself!

Hope it's been helpful - as always, feedback, comments and requests are all very welcome!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Stabilising the Return of the Overseers Gate Piece

Now I don't know about you, but I loved the RotO boxed set - the set had great models, including a lovely extra scenario piece, actually composed of 6 individual parts (5 resin, one acrylic) that build up into an impressive scenery piece for any space (or other sci-fi) game. There is a catch, however...the pieces have no positive alignment with each other, meaning that a knock of the table of a brush with models moving will cause it to fall out of alignment, or for the acrylic piece to fall off. This is annoying, especially when you're trying to enjoy your game and not do corrective assembly on scenery pieces.

One solution, of course, is to glue it all together, but that makes it cumbersome to cart about (it's a pretty substantial piece, even without the acrylic insert, plus I like the modular nature of the piece. The obvious solution was to magnetise. Now as there are no positive locators (the "tabs" that key into each other aren't directly aligned in the z plane), this makes it tricky to do. I started off using 2mm Neo magnets glued onto the arms to give them enough reach to get to the centre piece;

I put additional 2mm magnets on these and dabbed the ends in red paint to mark their position on the centre piece.

Unfortunately when trying to glue the magnets onto the centre piece this proved impractical - there's just not enough surface area to resist the magnets pul to each other, so I quickly scrapped this idea. I then toyed with adding Green Stuff inserts to the arms so the centre piece tabs would have a positive location, but then the idea came to me that really, all I needed was a base.This was a much better idea - it meant everything could be magnetised well and remain modular.

To make it, I found the thickest plasticard I had (just under 2mm thick), and arranged the gate on it, marking position roughly with a Sharpie (roughly as I didn't want permanent blue marker on my gate!)

I then cut the plasticard into a rough rectangle using the outer points as guides, then marked out and connected the guide points with the Sharpie more carefully based on regular distances

For those of you not familiar with cutting plasticard, especially thick plasticard, this is achieved by simply scoring with a sharp blade (NOT trying to cut through it, which is likely to end up with you spilling your own blood), and then bending the parts so the material splits.

You need to be careful when doing this with cut-ins like here, otherwise you can have a tendancy to run on the split into the piece you want to preserve, especially which the piece you're trying to remove is larger that that remaining, as here. Care and patience will serve you well here! Reversing the direction of the ben often helps to get things started at the edge too. If all goes well, you should end up with a cross piece and four rectangles (which I'll probably use for bases at some point in the future).

The next step was to drill a 3mm hole in the central piece and glue a 3mm diameter by 2mm thick Neo magnet in there - I wanted this to be solid!

Once glued in, I used red paint on the magnet before positioning on the cross support to mark its position.

Once marked, the corresponding hole was drilled in the plasticard and magnet inserted by placing on the existing magnet on the gate piece and pushing hole - this ensures the correct polarity. The magnets in the plasticard were all snug enough to fit without needing glue at this stage. This process was repeated with the arms...

...and the piece built up this way, one piece at a time.

Here is one of the long pieces with magnets placed on the already magnetised resin piece, ready to push home into the hole in the awaiting plasticard - in fact this is the last one!

And here it is all assembled, without and with the acrylic;

I also took one "in space"

So this works really nicely, and isn't too obtrusive, but I wanted to finish this off, so I trimmed the corners, filed down the hard 90 degree edges on the top of the plastic and smeared superglue over both sides of the magnet areas. This meant nothing would come out, and its a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

The very last step was to take it outside and give it a good coat of black primer. Once dry, I assembled it all again and took a final picture to show the effect - which I think is pretty good - it doesn't detract from the piece at all, and holds it really firmly...success!!!

If you want to make one of these, you'll need 18 3mm x 2mm neodymium magnets, which should cost no more than £3 or so (I buy them in 100s, they're much cheaper that way - around £8 for 100), and some thick plasticard - 2mm or 80 thou, which should be around £1.50-£2 for an A4 sheet. As you don't use it all, the total project cost for this for me was probably around £2, but if you're buying specifically for this it could cost around £5. I consider that a small price for the time it'll save, and actually the gate looks better because it's pre-aligned, you don't have to worry about lining things up carefully.

Anyway, I hope it's been helpful, please don't hesitate to ask questions or post comments. until next time, cheers!