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Monday, 5 June 2017

UK Games Expo 2017

On Sunday I took my youngest daughter (who's 10) to the UK Games Expo (UKGE for short). She'd never been to any sort of large event like this, so it was a complete surprise for her, and I've never been to this event before, thus it was a new experience for both of us. 

The UKGE is the largest event of its kind in the UK, and the Birmingham NEC is a pretty big venue to hold it in. I think at 10 I'd have been more dazed and awed than Esther was - she took it in her stride, though she did comment on the size of the building both inside and outside a few times. Even before we went inside, we got a taste for some of the cosplay that was going on...

Inside, the very pleasant and helpful staff gave us lanyards to keep our tickets in, plus programmes and maps, and we were off...not far inside the door, and we were confronted with the large Runewars display area, which included a nice diorama piece.

Fantasy FLight obviously invest a lot in the Expo, here is the extensive Star Wars area, Rebellion at the front and centre!

We wandered through the hall, and spotted the GW area which was 100% devoted to 40k and Dark Imperium demos (more on this later). Esther got to pose with a cardboard Primeris Space Marine.

We took a brief look here, but the area was busy so we moved on - too much to see!

We spotted this Uruk-hai...

...but unfortunately it spotted Esther too...

After escaping that, more peril came in the form of a Dalek

but we slipped by and looked at a selection of props

including this cute BB-8

Back towards the entrance, we stopped by the Hawk Wargames stand - they had their full display, including 10mm scale frigate, demo tables, displays, retail stand and some tables where they'd run a competition of "build your own space station". 

We were too late to enter this, but you could still build something, so we spent a while whilst Esther created quite a cool little space station. I think this was a really cool idea by Hawk, and there were dozens of entries, indicating that this had been very popular.

They also had an area with Dropfleet ships being painted, again they'd thought about how to reach out and engage a demographic which included a lot of non-miniatures gamers. Bravo!

We then decided to try "Ticket to Ride", and in the interests of time we chose the children's version, which has all the elements of the main game but with shorter routes. I did well to start with, but then floundered, and Esther won by getting an "East to West" achievement that got her to the needed 6 points. It was fun, and definitely now on the list for Christmas!

We then had a wander about shopping - I bought a large solid metal D20 for "super important rolls" in our 5th ed campaign, I found a Nuka-Cola bottle-opener keyring for Oscar, Esther got a soft Pikachu toy, I found a 5x5 "Professor's Cube" for Clara (she can do a standard Rubiks cube in a couple of minutes) and a True or False game for Lotte. We also got the pictures version of Codenames, since everyone in the family enjoys the standard version.  

I wanted to swing by the 40k booth again to get some close-ups of the minis in the Dark Imperium 2-player set that is coming out (and I've pre-ordered), so here they are. The paint-jobs on these are pretty basic "base plus wash", yet the minis still look very impressive. I'm quietly excited to get my set soon and have a proper look. We also got a load of badges for the children here, always nice to get freebies!

Of particular interest to me were the nurgle chaos models, especially the poxwalkers which I wasn't that sold on from the main GW site pictures. I have to say that with more subdued painting, they look fantastic - I think some of the "cartooniness" I had feared before was just from the studio paintjobs.

We had another circle around, poking at dice, looking at interesting things, but our time was almost up and it didn't seem like we'd been there for 4 hours with no break - Esther didn't complain once. The show was quite an eye-opener, and Oscar was sad that he hadn't come along too - next year I think we'll go for at least 2 days and really try a lot of what's on offer, because there's sooo much! You can go to the games library and rent games out to try, try every sort of game you can think of, from cards to board to miniatures, dress up, go to seminars - to say nothing of the tournaments that are held in a completely different hall for 3 days, and the events at the Hilton nearby too. I definitely had a sense of touching the tip of the iceberg with the UKGE, and if you're in two minds whether to go, definately do! It's family-friendly, easy to get to and Birmingham has plenty to do if the rest of the family tire of games (what's wrong with them??!).

I thus leave you with Pirat, because, why not? It also shows the breadth of what's on offer at the show, plus a pirate rat, what's not to love??

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Painting Nolzur's Marvellous Miniatures Part 1 - Giant Spider

In my last post I took a look at some of the new unpainted (but primed) miniatures labelled "Nolzurs Marvellous Miniatures" from Wizkids. Now painting isn't necessarily a big thing for a lot of D&D players, so I thought I'd put out a quick guide for those of you who might be new to this side of the hobby, and/or want some general advice in painting minis of this sort. To start with, I'm going to have a look at the spiders, since they're relatively easy to get good results with for gaming purposes - and it's always nice to get started with a positive experience.


Now there are a few things you need when you get started in miniature painting. The obvious ones are paints and brushes - here I'm going to be using acrylics by Army Painter and Vallejo, but other brands are available and suitable. One manufacturer that you'll probably have easy access to is Games Workshop, and their paints are fine too (though they can be a little thicker to work with then the others). Generally, any acrylics made for modelling purposes are suitable, though ones for hobby or craft use are generally not. This is because of the size of the milled pigment particles and thick consistency, which gives them good general coverage and colour density for scenery and larger items, but fills detail and makes them difficult to work with for minis.

As for brushes, I generally use ones designed for acrylic paints and available from art shops. Now there are a massive number of options here, but all I'll say is that good quality brushes will save you time and money in the end - cheap brushes have their uses, but generally it's not for mini painting. I'm going to use Daler Rowney and Windsor & Newton brushes here (plus a knackered old brush - I'll explain that later), but I use a number of different ones, so don't take that as this is what you should use - find a brush make and type you are happy with from a local supplier, and stick with that. I find size 1 down round brushes are the most useful, with a couple of flat brushes for larger areas too.

Other things that help are a painting area, newspaper or something to protect whatever you're painting on, a palette (for mixing paints - which can be a simple tile, pot or a dedicated plastic one from a store (they're inexpensive), and an old jar or glass for water. I try to use two - one with fresh water for diluting paints and another for washing out brushes. A good light source is very helpful, plus some way of seeing the detail on the model - which may include a magnifying lens or glasses.

Setting up

The best way to start painting is to prepare well. Get all the paints you need together, clear everything else away, set things out, ensure you've clean water and your brushes are washed out. Make sure you mix your paints well - shaking usually achieves this but be careful you don't end up showering yourself and your surroundings with it - it tend to hamper the painting process and make you extremely unpopular to boot!

If you can afford a dedicated painting area, tray etc, this helps a lot, because you don't have to clear things away after every bit of painting - especially useful if you can't dedicate much time at any given session to the hobby. That being said, it's not essential and all of this can be done on a limited budget - but I'll let you work out the details of what's right for you and your particular depth of pocket. Here's the setup I used for this:

The first thing we need to do is remove any obvious flash, casting spurs etc from our mini - this spider has a bit on its abdomen, easily dealt with by trimming with a hobby knife or scalpel (but be careful not to cut your fingers off in the process!)

Now you're ready to paint!

Painting - Base Coat

So, here we have a spider.

I'm going to paint this mini in a similar way to the colour renders shown by Wizkids:
That means I'm going to start by painting it with a base coat of grey. I'm using Uniform Grey by Army Painter, but any mid-tone grey you're happy with will do - the great thing about spiders is you can paint them lots of different shades and they'll still look pretty realistic.

First thing to do is to thin the paint a little - how much will depend on the brand you're using, but you want something that will flow, and not gum up the detail. A rough guide is a brush of water to a drop or two of paint. I use water with a little propanol (rubbing alcohol) in it (a millilitre or so in a glass), which helps to break the surface tension of the water and lets it flow better. It's not essential, but a bottle of this will cost very little and last a VERY long time.

So, paint thinned, I give our spider a complete, overall coat of grey. As you will have already seen, I've unceremoniously stabbed it in the underside with a pin (with a tiny amount of superglue on it) to allow me to do this without handling it - this won't be seen at the end, and it speeds up the process since I don't have to paint it in sections. Now, don't worry if your coverage here doesn't look good - give it a second coat if necessary - two thin coats are better (and quicker) than one thick coat.

Now we have a grey spider.

We want to have brown hairy bits to give our spider an even more "shuddery" response from any arachnophobes, and to do this I'm going to use Monster Brown on all the "furry" areas of the abdomen and legs. I'm using thinned paint again, and not worrying about being too precise.

It's now painted, but it looks a bit "flat". This is the thing with miniature painting - you're trying to recreate the effect of light on a larger object on a much smaller one, so you need to cheat. Larger objects create more shadows, giving the eye the impression of depth, and we need to artificially recreate this on our mini, since at its small scale the light scatter drowns this effect out. So now we move onto the magical step know as "washing".

Painting - Washing

Now there are two routes to washing - buying pre-mixed or making your own. I've covered making your own washes on a previous blog article (, so here I'm just going to use pre-made washes, this time from Vallejo, but I'm going to mix them. I'm using Umber Shade and Black Shade in a 2:1 ratio (that is, two drops of umber to one drop of black). I'm not diluting them here, because I want a strong effect and the colours are quite dark.

Now using a wash is the easiest thing in the world - you just paint the whole mini liberally with it and let it dry!

Once dried, the wash will darken the overall aspect of the model, but by differentially settling into the recesses of the model it creates the illusion of shade.

Painting - Finishing Touches

Our spider is quite usable now, but if you're getting into this painting thing there are a couple more steps you can go down. One is highlighting, the other is detail painting. Highlighting a model like this is easily done by drybrushing, which is a technique that can take a while to develop, but rapidly enhances models like this.

There are many posts and articles on drybrushing, but the short story is you remove as much of the paint from a brush as possible (so the brush is "dry"), and then you drag the brush across the model so that any paint remaining on the brush catches the raised surfaces on the model. You can do this as little or as much as you like to build up the effect, and as you use a lighter shade, it simulates light falling onto and picking out those higher areas of the model.

Detail painting is done last, and it's the little things that just add that extra something to a model, and can really make it stand out - for our spider this is really just the painting of the eyes.

So let's start by dry-brushing the model. Using the original Monster Brown with a little white, I used the crappy brush (because dry-brushing WRECKS brushes), get a little paint on it and then rub it off on some paper, and then the back of my hand. Why the back of the hand? Well, you can tell exactly how much paint is on the brush this way - you can weel how dry the brush is and how much paint is coming off. You want to get it so that basically nothing is coming off. You can then use that brush against the model, swiping it across the area you want, and tiny amounts of paint will be left on the raised areas - here you can see the effect on the back of the spider - compare that with the last photo and you can see the effect, which should be quite subtle.

Finally, I'm using some Army Painter Matt Black to paint the eyes

This is thinned as previously, but this time I've using a size zero brush and very carefully painting in the large eyes on the model (which are still tiny!)

It's not much, but it does add something to the model, doesn't it?

And here we have the completed mini, ready to menace our adventurers as they progress towards their destiny!

I hope that's proved helpful to those of you who have not tried painting minis before - the whole process to paint a spider is not long at all, mostly drying time. The effect is pretty good for using in your games, and easy to achieve - so what are you waiting for? Get painting!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Nolzur's Marvellous Miniatures - Part 1

When I saw that there were some "official" D&D minis coming out, I was fairly uninterested. Then I took a look at some renders and they looked quite nice, pre-primed minis and they were doing monsters as well as PCs. They were also touted as pre-primed with Vallejo, enabling you to just get right into painting them...Then the product started hitting the market in the US for a very reasonable price, and this started to look like something worth taking a look at further...when they hit UK shores, they did so at £3.99 RRP for an average of two minis -which is pretty insane I decided to pick some up. Online I found them for £3.59 from Magic Madhouse, and being a DM I ordered a bunch of they are;

So let's take a look in greater detail. I broke open the giant spider blister, which contains 3 minis, 2 scenic base add-ons or tokens, and 3 bases. The bases are a little thin, so I'll probably not use them and use my standard size 3D printed ones instead for consistency. Anyway, here they are...

These are very realistic - painted up and they could easily be mistaken for real spiders if put in the bath etc.

There's a little light flashing on the body and some of the legs where the moulds must meet, but overall the detail is excellent and cleanup will be minimal -they're certainly a quantum leap up form a lot of giant spider minis available, and their price-point means you could field a real hoard of these against a party. Detail continues to the underside of the mini too, which is really nice to see...dead spider, anyone?

The included base tokens are also a very nice addition to this set, I especially like the cocooned humanoids - this is a greta little piece!

Three giant spiders and two little scenery add-ons for this price is insanely good value - I expect to see a lot more campaigns featuring spiders now!

Next up are gargoyles - something that's hard to 3D print well and although I have a Reaper figure, it is rather big. Now the gargoyles did surprise me with how small they are, but they're beautiful little minis and will be a doddle to paint (mainly being grey, wash, drybrush) like stone. I bought 2 sets because I like gargoyles - my party has fought quite a few in Tyranny of Dragons, to the point they now trust no statues!

Next up are much larger figures - Bugbears!

These guys are really nice, and pretty big - and again the same price. Here they are individually to show off their detail;

Once again, they are very close to the artwork in the MM, and very evocative of everything a bugbear should be. The next monsters are very similar in both size and accuracy of their depication - another classic D&D monster - Gnolls!

The hyaena-faced Gnolls are really good - I hope they do some more sculpts for variety as I'd like to get a big bunch of these.

The last mini is another spider, but this time it's just a single mini, but it's big - a phase spider;

Coming on a scenic base this time, the phase spider is fabulous - just like the MM rendition and different enough from a standard giant spider, both in size and looks to be distinctive. That said, there would be nothing to stop you fielding this as another type of spider - different paint jobs would probably do it no problem.

Overall I'm very impressed with this new range of minis, they're detailed and evocative, well posed and nicely produced and packaged. The price point for this type of quality and the official stamp makes them a steal, and I've already pre-ordered a bunch more, including displacer beasts! Bring them on!

So what are you waiting for? Get buying and painting!