Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gordon & Hague Releases Civil War Minis, Rules

Gordon & Hague Historical Wargames, a relatively new company, recently released a line of 10mm, pre-painted American Civil War miniatures along with free PDF rules, Severed Union. For those of us with limited time and talent for painting miniatures, the Gordon & Hague minis provide a pre-painted mini option; Severed Union offers a basic rules set incorporating many factors that affected Civil War engagements, perfect for those dabbling in miniature wargames (beyond “battle games” like Avalon Hill’s Battle Cry) without overbearing complexities of more detailed rules. Gordon & Hague has provided me with a good customer/player experience, both with quality of the product and its customer service. The miniatures offer a good way to introduce newcomers to miniature wargaming through a popular period and relatively easy rules set, and they mays entice established wargamers to try the period or use the pre-painted minis with other rules.
Pre-Painted Miniatures
The Gordon & Hague pre-painted miniatures offer a solid selection of Civil War units, including infantry, militia, infantry command, cavalry, scouts (representing both skirmishers and dismounted cavalry), artillery, and generals. At the 10mm scale each base is 1” x 0.75”, small for fighting a skirmish, but ideal for recreating a battle with many units marching across the tabletop. Each base contains a varying number of individual figures (each figure representing 10 men each) depending on the unit: six figures for infantry, militia and their command units, two for generals, three for cavalry and scouts, and four (three gunners and a cannon) for artillery. Typically one stand represents a company of men, while one stand of artillery represents three cannon.
While some miniature wargaming connoisseurs might balk at pre-painted minis and the limited detail one might see in that, the paint jobs look fine at that scale and are better than what I could manage with such tiny miniatures. Gordon & Hague’s website encourages hobby enthusiasts to customize their units with additional paint details and base modeling. The website also offers plenty of photos featuring the minis so potential customers can get a good look at the individual units, modeling, and painting.
Although the minis originally came in single-base blister packs, the company has since moved toward offering complete boxed armies; the remaining, limited stock of individual blister packs are on sale through the site at 45% off, or $2.19 each until supplies run out. According to the Gordon & Hague website, the reason the blistered minis were on sale is they were the original paint schemes, which apparently were not as well-painted as the more recent minis offered in the army boxes. As long as they last, the single-base blister packs offer gamers the option to purchase specific units (remaining a much more affordable for those of us trying out the period). Civil War miniature wargaming enthusiasts probably want to invest in Confederate or Federal starter army boxes (41 units for $139.99) or grand army boxes (68 units for $249.99); that’s about $3.50 per based unit. The initial army boxes were so popular they sold out, and the company expects a new shipment in early March 2012. Purchasing an army box at those prices remains a serious financial investment for wargamers; one hopes Gordon & Hague looks at other ways of offering boxed sets, such as a starter skirmish set with enough units from both sides to fight small skirmishes.
For those without much time, the pre-painted minis offer an alternative to purchasing and painstakingly painting minis, especially when one wants to get them onto the wargaming table to try new rules or scenarios as soon as possible. I don’t have much time; despite being a full-time Stay at Home Dad (SaHD), my toddler and a schedule of housework/home projects doesn’t give me much time for frivolous pursuits like miniatures painting, especially for a gaming genre (miniatures wargaming) and a historical period (American Civil War) in which I only dabble.
Free Severed Union Rules

Gordon & Hague designed and published the free Severed Union rules available as a PDF download from the company website. Obviously the company would like gamers to use the rules with Gordon & Hague pre-painted minis, but they’d work well with other minis and scales with a little tweaking.
The full-color rules include diagrams demonstrating various game concepts (particularly formations and movement), period illustrations, and photos of the pre-painted miniatures on the tabletop. They also include templates to determine fields of fire, flanking, and artillery blast radius, plus counters for various unit conditions from jammed and limbered artillery to units moved at the double quick, marched, or exhausted.
The rules begin with overviews of wargaming in the period, including explanation of the different unit types, organizing and building an army, and setting up a game. Turn sequences alternate between players, with steps for rallying retreating troops, movement, a reactionary artillery phase for the other player, firing at range, and close quarters combat. The rules finish with a discussion of terrain and its effects and a summary special rules for different units.
Several rules nicely represent tactical elements that figured prominently in Civil War battles. The movement section includes rules for marching in columns and deploying to battle lines, marching at the double quick, mounting and dismounting cavalry, and limbering and un-limbering artillery. After the active player takes his turn maneuvering his troops, the other player has a chance to fire cannon in the artillery reaction phase, giving him some ability to respond during the main player’s turn. Although the close combat rules present the most complicated mechanics in the entire system, they do a good job of simulating the brutal aspects of charges and close action while offering the defending player options in how troops receive the charge.
Having used the rules to test out a short scenario, I noticed a few areas that weren’t always clearly defined; but Gordon & Hague seems dedicated to receiving suggestions and adjusting the rules, having offered at least one revision since Severed Union’s initial publication.
Online Support

The Gordon & Hague website functions primarily to promote and sell the minis, but it also offers resources for Civil War gamers to enhance their experience, particularly with the pre-painted minis. Numerous links promote the free Severed Union rules. The “Hobby Center” page provides several tutorials relevant to miniature gamers but focusing on those using the pre-painted minis, including enhancing them with individual details, adding base flocking, attaching flags to command units, and crafting a customized terrain board; it also provides a listing of websites for scenery and supplies. A brief “New to Wargaming?” provides a general overview of the hobby for newcomers.
Given that Gordon & Hague is just getting started, one looks forward to seeing the website offer more articles and tutorials to serve as a focal point for miniature hobbyists.
The website’s “About” page offers some insight to the company’s approach, but also hints that it’s looking to expand its pre-painted mini offerings to different periods; many in online scuttlebutt have suggested minis and rules for fighting skirmishes from the American War of Independence as well as other conflicts, and it seems the folks at Gordon & Hague have their sights set on this period next.
Personal Experience

I’ll admit I’ve had a good customer experience since discovering Gordon & Hague, buying some minis, and playing around with the Severed Union rules.
After exploring the Gordon & Hague website and downloading the free rules, I decided to splurge and order a small assortment of miniatures tailored to the local historical skirmish I wanted to re-fight; the Battle of Culpeper Court House -- specifically Custer’s charge of Lomax’s troops defending a departing supply train -- required a unit of mounted Union cavalry (six minis), a unit of dismounted Confederate cavalry (represented by six of Gordon & Hague “scout” minis), a Confederate cannon, and one general stand for each side. The sale on blister packs made this extremely affordable for two reasons: at $2.19 individual blisters weren’t such a huge financial commitment as an entire army box; the blisters also enabled me to purchase only the units I needed to fight this particular engagement, since the army boxes have six stands of cavalry but only three stands of scouts. I was pleased I could order the exact minis I needed at the discounted blister pack price.
When my order arrived I found I’d received six Confederate mounted cavalry minis instead of Union cavalry; a quick e-mail to Gordon & Hague fixed the problem and the new minis arrived in the post within two days. The prompt and friendly customer service on the part of Brian at Gordon & Hague -- and subsequent pleasant communications about the rules and minis line -- has made it a pleasure dealing with the company and provided a very positive mail-order experience.
Playing around with the rules and tweaking the conditions for my Battle of Culpeper Courthouse scenario I realized the Severed Union rules offer some intuitive gameplay concepts while still accounting for detailed elements that affected Civil War engagements. Die rolls representing the “fog of war” uncertainty elements still determine much of the outcome, though probably more so since this particular engagement focuses essentially on two units facing off with some artillery bolstering the Confederate defenses.
I’m often tempted to dabble in new games, though doing so with miniature wargaming rules frequently seems daunting because of the cost in time and effort buying and painting new minis as well as the complexity of different rule systems. Gordon & Hague’s pre-painted Civil War minis and the free Severed Union rules worked well together to draw me into this wargaming period.
As an addendum, I’m encouraged to hear the company’s looking to develop pre-painted miniatures for the American War of Independence -- another of my casual-interest wargaming periods given that I grew up in a town with its own Revolutionary War engagement, the Battle of Ridgefield. I’m assuming Gordon & Hague will follow its earlier model by selling miniatures and releasing a free PDF rules set for the period online, a generous strategy that helps boost interest not only in the company’s product but the historical period.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Axis & Allies Miniatures Take Flight

The news that Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast is releasing a third Axis & Allies Miniatures game in February 2012 -- Axis & Allies Air Miniatures: Angels 20 -- might seem great for gaming aficionados of World War II aerial battles, but recalls several problematic issues regarding the game’s scale and marketing as well as the company’s tradition of annual holiday layoffs, which included Axis & Allies Miniatures lead developer Rich Baker.
Already at issue is whether the release of this game really constitutes “news.” Lead designer Rich Baker announced Wizards was developing the game back in February 2011; and while I don’t consider myself wired into every new development in the gaming scene -- this only recently came to my attention -- I haven’t seen any great deal of pre-release buzz about it online from either Wizards of the Coast or the game’s general fans.
Nonetheless Baker recently released more details about the game both on his Wizards community blog and to Axis & Allies Forumini, an online community with a PDF fanzine supporting the Axis & Allies Miniatures games. The game releases on February 21, 2012, with weekly previews of components and gameplay expected to begin in mid-January (a promotional strategy previously used for releases of other Axis & Allies Miniatures sets). The Air Miniatures: Angels 20 base set retails for $39.99 and includes six 1/100 scale (or 15mm) painted plastic aircraft minis -- 2 Me109s, 1 Me110, 2 Hurricanes, and a Spitfire to complete the Battle of Britain theme -- plus tokens, dice, 4 maps, and a rulebook. Those planes are part of the 30 total aircraft offered in the Angels 20 set, acquired through randomized booster packs of three planes each for $24.99; the collection includes aircraft from the major and several minor players in World War II, from powers like America, Japan, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany to Italy and Finland. The scale remains consistent with the core land-based Axis & Allies Miniatures Game. Previous aircraft minis released for that game were 1:240 (about 7 mm) scale, smaller than the 1:144 (12mm) scale used by Wings of War WWII, now WW2 Wings of Glory. This means planes for the Air Miniatures Angels 20 game average about 3 inches long.
Scale & Marketing Issues

The release of the Axis & Allies Air Miniatures: Angels 20 game in a 15mm scale using the fixed base set with randomized boosters sales model raises some issues for gamers, some minor (the scale) and some major (the marketing).
While the scale means more detailed models (albeit without propellers…), it offers varied compatibility with other games; it won’t work representing aircraft from WW2 Wings of Glory (technically 1:144 or 12mm), but it does fall into the 15mm scale for the popular Flames of War game. This shouldn’t be too much of a concern -- it is Wizards of the Coast’s game, and the company should naturally seek to keep people playing its game and not using its models to play and perpetuate interest in other companies’ games.
For Air Miniatures: Angels 20 Wizards of the Coast is using a marketing strategy successful for the company in the past, a sales policy pioneered by Magic: The Gathering and continued with miniatures and card game releases; randomizing booster packs so players purchase unknown minis from a given set they must then trade or resell to get what they want.
While this is supposed to foster a sense of community among players and a burgeoning after-market industry in cards and minis, it can frustrate gamers who simply want to purchase particular minis they want for a collection without having to go on eBay or find others to trade with in their area (a concern for those of us living in regions one might consider medieval frontiers). The high price tag for boosters -- $24.99 -- is a sizeable chunk of cash to pay for three randomized minis. When was the last time anyone invested in a game without knowing what was inside the box? Granted, the boosters contain three minis from a pool of 30 or so, but that’s not much consolation if someone’s trying to assemble enough planes for a specific campaign or force, such as Flying Tigers versus the Japanese, or Luftwaffe versus Soviets on the Eastern Front. Similar aircraft packs in this scale, particularly for Battlefront’s Flames of War, retail for around $52 for three unpainted minis of a particular aircraft. Gamers must weight their uncertainty options: pay more for specific aircraft they need to paint, or pay half for pre-painted minis they might not necessarily want. At $24.99 this still represents a serious financial gamble with a high potential for consumer disappointment.
Both the scale and marketing issues feed another concern; unlike Wings of Glory, which one can play using aircraft cards included in the base game instead of models, Air Miniatures: Angels 20 does not have an option to use cards or other markers in lieu of miniatures. Gamers will, of course, find a way and aren’t prohibited from porting minis from other games, even if out of scale, or creating their own markers to use, especially since the base game purportedly includes reference cards for all 30 aircraft in the set. But purists prefer similar scale and historical authenticity, something hindered by the scale and marketing for this game.
Designer Involvement

One questions Wizards of the Coast’s dedication to the future support and development of the game line when it fires lead developer Rich Baker two months before releasing the latest Axis & Allies Miniatures game. Sure, the company has a long, infamous history of firing staffers (at the December holidays, no less) and hiring them back as freelancers, especially to create supplemental articles and scenarios to post on the website; there’s nothing (to my knowledge) prohibiting Baker from freelancing for Wizards of the Coast, as many former employees have done in their post-Wizards career, so one hopes for the benefit of the Air Miniatures: Angels 20 game that he contributes to it going forward. Overall, however, the move to fire the lead designer doesn’t bode well for development or release of new sets.
Kudos to Rich Baker for his excellent work on the entire Axis & Allies Miniatures line and good luck to him in his future work.
Personally Speaking

Readers who follow Hobby Games Recce know I have an interest in World War II games and a soft spot for aerial games like WW2 Wings of Glory. I plan on checking out the Axis & Allies Air Miniatures: Angels 20 game for myself when it releases (the base set’s already on my Amazon.com wish list…), since World War II -- and the Battle of Britain, along with other aerial campaigns -- remains a focal interest of mine.
I’m happy the base set focuses on a particular aerial campaign, one early in the war and perhaps the most integral to the course of the overall conflict; and I’m encouraged to hear the base set has a non-randomized roster of miniatures inside. I’m not a fan of randomized booster contents, and, given their high price point, I doubt I’ll buy into the game much beyond the base set given the financial investment in booster packs and the content uncertainty of their randomization. I’d love to see other “starter sets” with non-randomized miniatures focusing on other classic aerial campaigns, such as the Eastern Front and Pacific Theater (including the Flying Tigers).
Having played past Axis & Allies Miniatures rules I’m sure the gameplay remains fun and relatively easy to grasp; Rich Baker and his design team have always made sure the game had an authentic feel without overbearingly complex rules, making for a comprehensible “light” wargame to introduce newcomers to the concept of the miniatures wargaming hobby.
I’d be happier if I could also interchange the minis with my WW2 Wings of Glory game and use those game’s minis in Air Miniatures: Angels 20, depending on which game system I ultimately prefer. I’d be even happier as a consumer if I could purchase the planes I wanted instead of gambling that I’d get Finnish and Russian planes.
These personal concerns aside, I view the Axis & Allies Air Miniatures: Angels 20 game as a worthy addition to the Axis & Allies Miniatures game line; I’m still on the fence about whether to recommend the game to others based on its high price point and randomized-booster sales model. I encourage readers to research the game before buying it and take an inward look at what they and their player-friends enjoy in an aerial combat game.
Resource Post Script

Fans of all the Axis & Allies Miniatures games will find the Forumini site serves as a good online resource for the game. It hosts an online community with active forums promoting all aspects of the Axis & Allies Miniatures games, from house rules, new scenarios and campaigns, and rules clarification discussions to upcoming events and new developments (there are already forums set up for the Air Miniatures: Angels 20 game). The infrequently published newsletter contains a nice mix of articles about the historical background, modeling, after-action reports, and opinion with a good-looking layout. Finding the newsletter on the site, however, remains a challenge; right now links sit at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar on the forum pages themselves, not on the home page. If you’re an aficionado of the Axis & Allies Miniatures games Forumini should be in your internet browser bookmarks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gaming Expectations for 2012

I’m not one to celebrate much at New Year’s…it’s an odd time we look back at the past year and look forward to the coming one, with the regrets and frustrations of the former tempering the hope for the latter. Still, I’m optimistic when looking forward to my potential gaming activities in 2012 for a number of reasons.
Interesting Releases 
The new year promises several game release that appeal to my wide range of interests:
After fading with the demise of Italian game company NG International (a.k.a. Nexus) Wings of War: Dawn of War (a World War II aerial combat game) returns with a new company, Ares Games, as WWII Wings of Glory. Although the popular Wings of War/Glory games use cards, the company also produces fine miniatures that help the game come alive visually. I’m looking forward to the return of the game, both to see it reach a broader audience and to continue collecting aircraft for my favorite campaigns, the Battle of Britain, Flying Tigers, and Pacific Theater.
Ares Games also hopes to release Sails of Glory this summer. The game promises to use a similar system of merging board, card, and miniatures game elements so players can engage in naval battles from the Age of Sail (1650-1815). If the minis and gameplay are anything like the Wings of Glory games (essentially an accessible, light miniatures wargame), I’ll hope to invest in the rules and some ships to give the system a try.
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast/Habro releases Axis & Allies Air Miniatures: Angels 20 in February. The successor to the Axis & Allies land miniatures and War At Sea games focuses on World War II aerial combat with 15mm miniatures. While the initial starter set features six minis focusing on the Battle of Britain, I’m not sure I’ll buy into the expensive, randomized boosters to build my arsenal of aircraft (the subject of an upcoming Hobby Games Recce piece).
The folks at Gordon & Hague Historical Wargames, a relatively new venture, not only offer their good-looking Severed Union rules for free online, they sell 10mm pre-painted minis for wargaming American Civil War battles. While some might consider the minis on the expensive side, these pre-painted, based minis offer a good alternative to those of us without the time and focus to purchase and paint metal miniatures for our passing interest in the American Civil War. I’m hoping to get some soon in my continuing quest to find minis and a good rules set to fight out the Battle of Culpeper Court House.
I’m always on the prowl for new games across my spectrum of interest -- roleplaying games, board games, wargames -- often gleaned by announcements at GeekDad, Tabletop Gaming News, and other similar sites.
The Hobbit

It’s a long wait until the December release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; and somewhat incomplete having to wait yet another year for the second half, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, but I’m eagerly anticipating Peter Jackson’s vision of perhaps my favorite piece of fantasy literature (even more so than the Lord of the Rings trilogy). The film isn’t exactly a game, but it’s inspired fantasy gaming and certainly fueled my love for and enjoyment of gaming since my earliest days.
Forging A Gaming Group

I’m hoping to work a little harder and find a bit more time to bring together a few disparate gamers I’ve casually met from various circles: a father taking his kids to Friday storytimes at the library; a gamer in a nearby county I met years ago at a gaming convention in North Carolina, whom I often see at the annual con, yet can’t seem to find time to actually meet closer to home; the folks at the Friendly Local Gaming Store, Game Vault in Fredericksburg, even if they’re a 45-minute drive away. I also hope to find more time to host a few more casual gatherings for some other friends who aren’t quite as intensely immersed in gaming but still enjoy an afternoon of good board games.
Library Teen Gaming Events

The monthly teen gaming events at the local library are my one regular chance each month to get out of the house and share new gaming experiences with young people who take an interest in analog games. (The event also offers a digital gaming alternative used more as a filler between games than as a core activity itself.) Though I usually host several core games -- Matt Leacock’s fantastic cooperative board game Forbidden Island from Gamewright, the territorial strategy game Hey, That’s My Fish! and the lamentably out-of-print yet thoroughly intriguing Pirateer -- they’re excellent games and draw everyone into some tense, enjoyable gameplay, both from those who’ve played before and those just learning the rules on the spot.
My Gaming Projects

Despite my limitations on time and focus, I’m still hoping to pursue several gaming projects. I’m dedicated to continue my generally weekly postings to Hobby Games Recce on a variety of pen-and-paper gaming subjects, from roleplaying and board games to wargames and conventions. I’m resolving to try making monthly updates at the Griffon Publishing Studio website, much neglected as my game-publishing activities are these days given my other responsibilities in life; but with some projects reaching the near-publication stage, the website (and my other online venues) offers a focal point for game insights, designer notes, announcements, and other interesting bits that directly affect me as a designer with Griffon Publishing Studio. Then there are the actual game projects I’m working to bring to publication through Griffon Publishing Studio, including a short solitaire wargame, an Egyptian-themed abstract board game, and a new roleplaying game concept; of course, some materials, like the always-under-development Infinite Cathedral medieval fantasy setting, continue taking shape, and I’m currently retooling its format to allow for multiple, smaller releases instead of one enormous sourcebook.
Those are my major gaming expectations for 2012. I’m sure if I thought about it much more I’d find a few additional bits to add, but overall these are the main developments (or resolutions, if you really want to use that term) I’m looking forward to in the New Year.