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Thursday, 27 April 2017

D&D 5e - Session Zero - the most important one?

I'm a member of a few D&D 5e groups on Facebook, including ones for DMs. I'm always amazed by some of the commentary, often by DMs, with complaints about their players behaviour. Sometimes it's also about DMs too, but the ratio does seem out of kilter with the ratio of players to DMs. Anyway, distribution aside, many of these comments are pretty shocking - players and DMs throwing tantrums, demanding certain things "or else", using their phones (for non-game related stuff) whilst playing - all sorts of disruptive behaviour that would generally be considered anti-social in just about any other setting.

There are questions on some home-brewed rules - a common one being critical failures. Many DMs have house-ruled that a natural "1"  a player attack equals a dropped weapon, a broken bowstring, an attack that hits another player or some such. Cries of outrage are expressed - "My group would never tolerate this", "This slows down gameplay and fun for all", "You're destroying the rules" - all kinds of things are mooted and counter-argued.

Distilling down to the route cause of an awful lot of these, a huge source of these issues boils down to communication - or a lack of it. Some of these get so bad that players are excluded, forced out, or in some cases, groups even disbanded entirely. Now the group I DM is a pretty large one, yet we rarely have any of these issues. Not only that, but none of us knew each other at all this time last year...we were all strangers and got together through MeetUp. Surely we aren't that different? Why haven't we come across this?

Well, I think the reason is that we had a Session Zero - essentially a discussion between us all on our experience, how we wanted to play, what we thought was fun, what we didn't want, schedules - pretty much everything. Everyone had a voice, everyone agreed with what we decided and we had created an open environment where if things changed, we could bring it up. We did this before even rolling a single dice. When we did then roll for stats everyone had a clear idea of what the path ahead of them was - some chose to roll, some chose standard stats, and they also had the option to points buy - that was one of the agreements we made.

We covered things like;
  • What style of play did we want? - minis, tiles, paper, "theatre of the mind" (we chose minis),
  • How should the characters level up? (we chose needing a long rest after gaining the relevant experience)
  • Regular sessions or ad-hoc? (We chose regular)
  • Where to play? (A couple of the players offered their home dining room, which was great!)
  • What was acceptable at the table - mobile phones being a primary topic. (we agreed phones could be left on in case of emergencies, but not used at the table unless for a D&D related app, like a stat or spell tracker)
  • What classes/races, optional rules etc would we use - like Feats, for example (we agreed that we'd just use Players Handbook races & classes, and then expand out from that when we all had a bit more experience with 5th edition)
  • What, if any, home-brewed rules would we use? (more below)

Now we use a critical fail mechanic, whereby a 1 in melee will drop the weapon, a 1 on a ranged attack risks hitting another creature in the way. As our party often takes risks in firing into combat, this has resulted in a LOT of very cinematic (and often hilarious) moments - to the point where the party has been named "The Backbiters". Does this mechanic slow the game down? No. Does it hamper the party in a way that breaks the game? No. Is it breaking the rules? OF COURSE NOT! This is D&D! Don't you remember Gygax's famous quote about rules?!?!?!

Now we're not perfect - no group of humans is - we've had some tense and/or uncomfortable points around the table before...but these weren't brought on by rules discussions or mechanics. In any case, they were aired and passed pretty quickly, and we moved on...everyone remained friends. Why? Well, I think we've got a good bunch of folks, which helps, but also everyone has agreed to a common framework in a group franchise - we're all part of this, and all have a similar understanding - in the main because of our session zero.

Everything we have done since that point has thus been an exploration together - everyone is there to have fun, and I'd say we're getting better at it all the time - the sessions we've had in the past couple of months have included some of the best sessions I've ever played  - and I've had skin in the game since the early '80s....

So my advice to any group starting out in D&D, any DM looking for a new group or any existing players who want to get into another campaign - have a session zero. It might seem like a waste of time when you first suggest it, but in my opinion it forms one of the best foundations for building good sessions in the future that you can have. So what are you waiting for? Get together and get talking!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Runewars Unboxing

In my prior post I mentioned I picked up a copy of Runewars from Salute this year, and I thought it would be timely to do an unboxing. This is a Fantasy Flight product, and the only other foray into their ranges for me is (like many others) through X-Wing. This is a bit of a different beast, however, and I'm interested into how it's going to pan out.

Now the first thing to say is that the box is BIG. I mean, it's not huge from an X-Y dimension front, but it's DEEP - deep enough that you can't really hold it in one hand (at least, not if you have hands my size). If you can, then you also need to be strong, because this thing is also HEAVY. This gives you an immediate feeling that you're getting quite a lot for your £75-£80.

Opening the box confirms that feeling:

There is ZERO space between the box lid and the contents - you're presented with rulebook, Learn to Play guide and Lore Book, FFG Catalogue and wrapped token sets up front and personal. I noted (with some amusement) that the token on the bottom right-hand of the photo above was a "Proof of Purchase" token just like in X-Wing (that I've yet to find any use for!).

Taking a closer look at the token sets, these include the order dials that look like an especially interesting mechanic for this game, which I think might set it apart from some of the other similar games out there. Also recognisable are very X-Wing-esque movement profiles, but I resisted the temptation to open this pack until later.

I also mentioned above that you get three books - a Learn to Play, Rules Reference and Lore guide. Taking a closer look at these reveals no real surprises - the Learn to play features lots of graphics:

The Rules Reference is less colourful (mainly having a lot of text references, as you might have guessed):

Whereas the Lore Guide is very nicely and lavishly illustrated, which is very welcome and lends a real sense of professionalism and the feel of a polished product to the whole package.

Now I know that I'm really wanting this set to get into the minis, ennjoy painting them and maybe use them for D&D, but all of this stuff so far also has me intrigued and excited - it feels like a product that's had a lot of thought put into it, and it's been produced with FFGs signature marketing skill. As I've said many times, I'm not a natural fantasy player, but this already has several hooks I'm liking. So let's get into the minis.

Well, removing the books and token pack reveals this clever tri-compartment card divider, which could have been blank but is instead nicely rendered in a single-colour print of the box artwork - again just giving that feel of extra polish. In the centre compartment are all the other bits you need to play the game - dice, bases, cards etc:

Removing the card divider then gets you to two large press-seal bags:

Inside these are more bags of the minis

So where do we start? Well, with the big minis of course! The first one I looked at was the Carrion Lancer - this is made up of 5 pieces plus the base. These all come without any sprue attachments or major cleanup required:

The detail on the minis is really nice, despite the simplification necessary for this sort of 2-player boxed set economy. Here is the smallest piece, the lancer torso:

The models are designed to be push-fit, though everyone will cement them of course. Still, the fit is excellent right out of the box - here is the completely push-fit assembled mini - no glue used here at all

This is impressive stuff, and as we turn to the other large mini - the Rune Golem - we're not disappointed here either:

Looking at the smaller commander pieces, FFGs ingenuity in how they've split these pieces up really comes into its own - this again is push-fit, and you would never guess how it's been split to make it - I'm looking at it now and I can't even remember, and I made it!

The other really nice thing about these commander minis is that although they come with these scenic bases, they can be taken out of them to mix them into larger units, which is a simple but clever thing to do.

So let's move onto the rank and file troops. For me, I think this is where this set really sets a good standard, as not only are the designs good, but the level of repetition is low - you multiples of each sculpt, but there are four sculpts for the basic units, which keeps these units from looking too "samey" - it's also one of the things that usually drives up cost in 2-player sets. Here are the skeleton archers:

And here are the melee versions:

Now you only get melee versions of the human faction:

BUT  you also get a mounted unit - only four strong, but again, two different sculpts, which I wasn't expecting.

So what are my first impressions? They're good - this looks like a very well produced and well thought-out game, which I'd expect, but the level of polish and presentation is extremely high. The minis themselves are very cleverly constructed to be able to be push-fit and played with, and although I'd personally never do it, it is possible. The minis themselves are good - not GW multi-kit good, but with the compromises needed for this sort of product, they're very high - compared to Mantic's Dungeon Saga, for instance, they're definitely superior.

You get a lot of product for your money, and it doesn't feel like FFG have scrimped on it at all - which is a good thing, I want to feel like they are respecting my investment. Some people have commented that they could have cast the two factions in different colours, and whilst that's true and would have allowed a clearer experience for new wargamers, I'm not sure that this set is really aimed at them, and I personally like the grey plastic - it makes it feel more like a miniatures game than a board game.

So, as an initial impression I'm going to give it a good 8.5 out of 10, maybe even a 9. The limitations on the minis just pull it down a little, but not much given the understandable choices FFG have made as a manufacturer. I hope the gameplay lives up to these first impressions!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Salute 2017

So another Salute show has come & gone - what did this one bring?

Well, for starters this was Oscar & my first Salute show in 4 years that we'd not been at the SG stand helping out, so it gave us a lot more time to look around, and that was a great thing - how much we'd missed out on in prior years! To start with, this year the bag had the Salute exclusive mini;

Also in the bag was another model, this time an injection moulded plastic figure for Wild West Exodus, which is another good thing! They actually had a stand at the show too, together with somone actually dressed as Captain Nimue - and no, I didn't take a picture!

Now having a look around Salute all day is (as many of you will know from any show) an exhausting experience. Gamers are a mixed bunch, and the amount of pretty rude and backpack-wearing blunderers in the show seems abnormally high! Still, that aside, most folks are pretty cool, and we got to meet face-to-face a fair few folks we'd had on the Hub Systems podcast, which was great.

Anyway, let's not get ahead of ourselves - what did we see at Salute? Well, let's run down our highlights;
  1. Runewars
  2. D&D Figures
  3. Hawk Wargames
  4. Dark Souls
  5. Shattered Void
  6. The Drowned Earth
  7. Mierce Miniatures
I'll also talk a little bit about the Spartan Games stand, and some other random thoughts that come to me...

1. Runewars

So let's kick off with Runewars. This is Fantasy Flight's entry into the fantasy wargaming genre, and I've been thinking about it for a while, especially so after watching Sorastro's YouTube guides to painting ( After watching a small part of a demo game, I decided to take the punge and buy the absolutely enormous box, at a discounted show price (though I later found it for slightly less elsewhere in the show....well, you can't win 'em all, can you?). I'm going to do a proper unboxing on this one in another post, so will leave those thoughts for then.

2. D&D Figures

Salute is a dream if you're looking for figures for D&D - there are so many manufacturers and traders selling appropriate items, from generic adventurers through very specific classes (Halfling Barbarian, anyone?) to monsters of all sizes and shapes (giant rats and beetles to enormous dragons). I picked up a couple of Wizard/Mage figures as they looked ideal for Red Wizards of Thay for the Rise of Tiamat campaign. Here they are:

3. Hawk Wargames

Hawk are easily identifiable at major events like salute because of the 10mm scale frigate that Dave and his team constructed and cart about as a central icon for their stand. This was as impressive as ever, and around it were demo tables with both Dropzone and Dropfleet. Behind it is the trade booth with product and display cases. I wanted to get an Athens for Oscar's UCM, and also another for a friend over in the US. Unfortunately we got to their booth after the first 30mins of the show in which all 150 they brought sold out. They did have Corvettes, launch assets, resin objectives and other pieces, which I was sorely tempted to buy, but also found them at a lower price through other traders (unsurprisingly!).

On display were the new casts for the Scourge and UCM Battlecruisers, which looked great - the Scourge one looking especially good. 

There were also the advanced sector tokens for display as well:

There were full display cases with fleets for all four races, looking as sexy as ever, this time with the Corvettes added to them. There were plenty of staff around, including Hawk Dave himself, and the stand felt like it was buzzing every time we went to it or past. In short, Hawk seemed to be having a really good day, and their games seem to be doing very well.

4. Dark Souls

We backed the Dark Souls Kickstarter, and this was the first time we got to see physical models and play first hand. The models are beautiful, and the gameplay is as brutal as in the video game. Oscar and I played the warrior and the herald against the Dancer, and actually did ok - getting it down to 6HP (from 34!) before I finally succumbed to a nasty attack (and when one of you dies, you all die!). The AI system is very good, and the models are incredibly detailed for board game items - something we all tend to expect nowadays. The chap who demoed the game was very good, and showed us all the models first hand. We had such a good time we forgot to take any pictures, so here's one borrowed from Beasts of War to show the Dancer in action

Really looking forward to getting this when it hits UK distribution!

5. Shattered Void

Meeting podcast guests in person is always a pleasure, and that was very true of the chaps at White Dragon which we covered in Episode 23. Oscar and I both backed their Kickstarter, and the ships shown at Salute this year still look great and the plastic games components and cards also look really nice - the stats slider is particularly good, and has a really nice feel to it when using the sliders - something like this for Firestorm would work really well, I think. Alan & Mark were pretty hoarse from talking most of the day by the time we met them, which is a good sign for the game, and we look forward to getting all of our goodies when they arrive soon!

6. The Drowned Earth

We covered The Drowned Earth in Episode 29, and met James to put a face to the name. We also got to play a demo game, where Oscar tried to crush my lizard dude with his hulking simian, jumping down a platform at him after taking three arrows from my leader...only to have his cold-blooded nerves of steel win for him, as he shot him squarely between the eyes as he sailed through the air at him, stepping aside as the lifeless body tumbled down the stairs behind him. He then bravely raced toward the objective to transmit the coordinates, only to be reduced to a flaming corpse by a dual hand-flamer wielding woman guarding the stairs. Oscars strange cross-dressing chap then successfully reached the transmitter, as my monkey-man couldn't shoot for crap.

Their Kickstarter is live, and I'd throughly recommend both listening to The Hub Systems episode where we talk to James and backing the game (we have!), as it's a very cinematic and fun game, with some really nice unique elements, such as the mixed factions (not "Apes vs Humans" or "Lizards vs Women" etc). I'm not sure how long we played (maybe 20 minutes?), but it felt like five minutes of complete fun - our thanks to Chris for that, he did a great job. The minis are very good, and seeing them cast when we were talking about initial concepts, art and renders back in December was a real treat. Also, although James was pointing out the unfinished bits of his boards for the game (you always see the flaws in your own work!), they actually looked great and really added to the experience.

7. Mierce Miniatures & Darklands

The Mierce Miniatures stand has drawn our attention over the past few Salute shows due to its incredibly detailed resin monsters, and this was no exception. This time they were also giving out free rules for their game Darklands. Their miniatures are absolutely A1+ grade, but they are pricey (though compared to GW, this makes more sense, and compared to Forgeworld there's no contest). Giving the rules and lore booklets out for free is a nice move, and I'll have cast a critical eye over them in the near future. For the time being, however, they remain as eye candy. If the prices were 20% or so less, they would be very desirable purchases, at the moment I think they're just too high-end to appeal to many beyond the exceptional display-piece painters out there.

Unfortunately Mierce's website is horrible, and really doesn't make it easy to showcase their beautiful sculpts, so the best place to see them is at shows. They organise models by factions, which unless you're already a Darklands player (unlikely) you've no idea where to look. This might make sense for the creators, but it doesn't help at all for new players to get into the game.

As an example, you have to go through about 4 screens before you get to see the mini above, which is a really nice sculpt and very nicely painted - yet hiding in the recesses of the site. Really the first thing you should see when you get onto their site are models like their Chimera, which is simply staggeringly beautiful. Unfortunately, even knowing what to look for, all they have on their website is this:

Now you can tell this is nice, but they have a painted mini, which shows the detail off beautifully and there's also absolutely nothing to show scale here - the actual model is massive, so why not have another stunning 28mm model paladin or something fighting it to show this? I mean, at the RRP of about £120, you need to see what you're getting! I think this is really limiting Mierce at the moment - they haven't really understood that their website is their shop window, and at the moment it looks like the outside of a German adult store.

Final Thoughts

Salute 2017 was a good show - it was great to see gameplay in person of games we've backed through Kickstarter, and good to meet the people we've chatted to over the ether for the Podcast, and see their labours come to fruition. It got me excited about mini games and painting, which is always a good sign. My main regret was not buying more Hawk stuff, but then I need to get more built and painted first, so that's probably a good thing!

Now of course I haven't mentioned Spartan Games here - something many of you may be glad about! Well, they were present, but with quite an underwhelming stand, with Halo being (perhaps predictably) the most predominant game. One could argue that there are good reasons for this, they're doing a lot behind the scenes etc, but let's face it - at a show, who cares about that? No one, that's who. Spartan need to improve their game dramatically or they're going to find it impossible to claw back any market share for their games beyond their status as a niche with a dedicated following. 

Having seen the leaps and bounds Hawk have made, and the abundance of fun, slick-looking games made out of people's attics (as Shattered Void is), then if they want to survive they need to do better, MUCH better. They've made a whole bunch of promises lately, but then Spartan's promises aren't even as good as GWs loose rumours, so we'll wait and see - it's not like  haven't got a whole lot of other shineys to look forward to right now!

Salute is a very particular kind of show, a real showcase exhibition point in the UK gaming calendar. It's a great show for looking at what's hot and upcoming, and you can bag a few bargains along the way (Terminator game for £10 anyone?, we didn't think so either....!). It's still a firm date for any gamer, though you need to get in early to grab those desirable show exclusives. If you're not concerned about that, its big enough and lasts for enough of the day that you can take it at a nice pace, though its still exhausting, and I still hate paying double for anything food or drink related "just because it's London". That's not enough to dissuade me from going, however, so I'll be looking forward to next year!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Fanstorm Aramada - The Privateer Gunship

Hello people!

Well, Adepticon came and went and proved to be a bit of a damp squib as far as SG and Firestorm goes - they showed some stuff, but not everything that was planned or promised (nothing for you poor Planetfall gamers out there, for instance). The FA tournament had 17 players from a planned cap of 32, which also seems low, and one of our intrepid Brit gamers was pretty disappointed in the experience - which doesn't bode well after travelling thousands of miles for the event.

One of the highlights were the STL (which look great) but also the Corsairs, Pathogen and the first Leviathan. This should have been a bit of a coup for SG, but somehow it felt lacklustre and poorly executed. From all the ships that already have stats and no models, we also got a new ship - something SG often do - in this case a Gunship for the Corsairs. Now apart from the fact that the Corsairs don't really need a Gunship (the cruisers are flexible enough to take that kind of role if needed), myself and the TheoryMachine group (our independent name for members of the old FFG) thought it would be fun to stat this for v2.0 as we would have done previously.

So here's what we did;

Corsairs Privateer Gunship

Now this is the ship we would have created having been landed with the model shown - which is what happened with some ships, but in general we came up with ships factions needed, and then they'd be sculpted. So in the case of the Marauders, if we were looking for any gap to fill, it would probably have come in the form of a destroyer - something sneaky and able to infiltrate, allowing ambushes and traps to be set. We may well stat one up in the near future - who knows?

Anyway, the Privateer is limited in having a squadron size of 1-2. We generally tried to stay away from this, since the power fall-off and general vulnerability of such a squadron is higher than 3-4 ship squadrons. Needs must sometimes, however, and it was the case that production costs forced the hand or we were just presented with that as a non-negotiable. As such, we're used to working that way too.

So the Privateer is a beefed-up cruiser, trading some flexibility for greater weapon potency and longer-ranged strikes. Torpedoes take a hit but have the option for Torpedo Spook to make then more effective - either late game or against smalls (especially in reduced squadron sizes). You can build quite a bruiser of a ship - up to DR6/CR9 on the approach - but it gets slow and turns like a shopping cart. Still, seems appropriate for its designation and the other ships in the Corsairs arsenal - you can imagine this as the slow meat-shield bruiser at the back of the thug pack!

Anyway, enjoy the ship and we'll be in touch again soon :-)

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Hub Systems Podcast Episode 32 - Companion page

This is a quick page to support the Podcast Episode so you can follow along with Hit or Miss and the participants products...

Age of Sigmar: Vanguard raptor Collection
Then we have the Kharadron Overlords

For 40k we have the Triumverate of the Primarch

Mantic Games - Operation heracles 2-player sets

Spartan Games Firestorm Armada Adepticon sneak peeks




Relthoza Leviathan

X-Wing Wave 11

For our main segment;

Forge of Ice:

Lasercut Architect