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Knights of Vapnartak 2017 (Part 2)

Vapnartak 2017 Game Table
An impressive coastal table at Vapnartak – not sure what game (click to enlarge)

In Knights of Vapnartak Part 1 I talked about my Cadre for the Knights of Vapnartak Relic Knights Tournament and my first game in the tournament, a loss to Black Diamond’s One Shot.

The lunch break seemed to fly by; a chat with the other players and a quick walk round the stands, and it was time for Game 2.

Continue reading Knights of Vapnartak 2017 (Part 2)

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Knights of Vapnartak 2017 (Part 1)

Relic Knights at VapnartakLast Sunday I was lucky enough to attend the Knights of Vapnartak Relic Knights Tournament. This was held at the Vapnartak Wargames Show in York. Last year had been a really great tournament with players from both ends of the country travelling to take part. The 2017 tournament was a smaller affair and a more local player base, but no less a great community event.

My Cadre for Knights of Vapnartak

I made a last minute decision not to use my normal Shattered Sword Cadres for this tournament and give my Star Nebula Corsairs a proper tryout. I’d only used them once before and they’d been slaughtered by Magnus and his Black Diamond thugs. I didn’t put a lot of tactical thought into their composition but they were based on the Battle Box with a couple of models I liked to take them up to 50 points. Continue reading Knights of Vapnartak 2017 (Part 1)

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5 Reasons not to play Beyond the Gates of Antares – and why they’re wrong

A First Look Review, in which Shiny Games’ Operations Overlord provides his thoughts on why he paid little attention to Beyond the Gates of Antares when it came out a year ago, and why one year on his opinion is very different.

It has been just over a year since Beyond the Gates of Antares was authored by Rick Priestly and released by Warlord Games – about the same time as I was setting up Shiny Games in fact. At the time I was looking for games that would be a good fit for Shiny to stock – particularly those that avoided grim-darkness and were underexposed or difficult for gamers to get hold of. I looked at Antares briefly and considered whether it would be suitable, before deciding that it didn’t quite meet my criteria.

One year later, I played my first demo game of Gates of Antares at Warlord Games HQ at their fortnightly Antares Club and was hooked. Before progressing past my first game I wanted to write about two things: my first impressions of having actually played the game, and why I made the terrible mistake of passing over this game a year ago when it was first released.

Luckily for this article, my criteria for playing and stocking a game have always been pretty similar. If I don’t think a game is worth playing then I’m unlikely to stock it, and if I stock it then I’m going to want to play it (time permitting). Below are the five reservations I had about Beyond the Gates of Antares until recently, and why on closer inspection they’re incorrect or irrelevant.

1. It looks like Warhammer 40,000

My first experience of Antares was the image below, as seen on the cover of the rulebook and starter set. This no doubt helped form my first wrong assumptions about the game. Despite being more vibrant, it was extremely reminiscent of the cover art for the original Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader rulebook. I suspect many British wargamers who’ve been playing that long likely had a similar thought.

Beyond the Gates of Antares Box Cover Image
I’ve owned Warhammer 40,000 since it first came out. I can’t say I’ve played much since 1987, but like many gamers it’s an important part of my gaming history. My spare room is full of 40K miniatures I’ve never used and I’m more likely to play 40K Roleplay than the wargame by a long shot.

I could certainly understand if Warlord would want to take on modern 40K with a fresh perspective from Mr. Priestly. However, a game similar to Warhammer 40K didn’t appeal to me much at all. Many of my concerns about the game were based on this central bad assumption.

It’s wrong, because…

It only took one demo game to discover that Gates of Antares isn’t like Warhammer 40K at all. It owes more to Warlord’s WWII game Bolt Action than 40K, although neither is it just a science fiction adaptation of that; Rick Priestly has definitely worked for his tea and biscuits on this, and it is very much its own game. Despite the fantastic technologies your forces use in Gates of Antares, it retains a realistic tactical feel.

Units that take fire are given ‘pin’ counters – even if their armour protects them from damage – representing being under fire. The more pins a unit has, the more likely they are to not act as you want; they may even just dive into the dirt and ride things out there. This is a huge contrast to how 40K felt to me, especially more recently, where units stomped fearlessly across the battlefield until some mega-cannon breached their armour, at which point they dutifully died. This felt a lot more like a game I could play tactically; not that I’m great at tactics, but it felt more like a game and less like a set of rules to go with my cool miniatures.

2. I’ve had enough Grim Darkness to last a lifetime

As both a player and a retailer, I’d been searching for games that weren’t so grim and dark. Even WarMachine felt a bit too grim (I had been playing Cryx at the time) and a game that can brutally punish a single mistake wasn’t what I was looking for. Again, drawing assumed comparisons with 40K, Gates of Antares didn’t seem like a breath of fresh air to uninitiated me.

Wrong, because…

The world of Gates of Antares couldn’t be any more different to 40K in tone. It paints a generally positive future, with great technological advances (which haven’t been lost or forgotten). Also, the different factions trade peacefully most of the time – with the exception of the Ghar. The background is relatively hard science fiction, which feels quite fresh in a wargame; simultaneously, it loosely reminds me of sci-fi stories I read in my younger days. The Ghar feel like H.G. Well’s Martians or Doctor Who’s Daleks – warlike weaklings who use awesome war machines to terrify and overwhelm others. Despite the Ghar, the general feeling of Antares is not a world of despair, but one of accomplishment and hope.

3. You’re going to need big armies to play

My focus a year ago was very much on skirmish games; games that needed more exposure tended to be smaller in miniature-count. A low miniature count was more affordable for a games company to get out, and also less of an investment for someone looking to try it out. As a retailer, it meant less stock to buy in; as a gamer, it meant less miniatures needed assembled and painted. I’m terrible at the ‘hobby’ aspects of gaming – painting and even model assembly does not come naturally, so games with larger model counts are not going to get played.

Antares didn’t seem to fit into the skirmish category at all. The starter set had a solid model count and the artwork seemed more battle than skirmish-focused. A comparison to 40K again probably played a part in this; assumptions were made.

Wrong again…

After playing a demo game with a relatively small Concord force of three units (each containing 6 models or less), I can honestly say the game plays brilliantly at that size. If I only ever played games of that size, I’d be quite happy and unlikely to get bored. That’s less Concord models than the starter set contains. Also, the other side of the Antares starter set – the Ghar – contains only 6 models, although they are large battle suits. Six models!! The bad hobbyist in me loves the idea of a faction with such a low model count.

Sticking with the Ghar faction as an example, of course they do have smaller models too that cost less points. These, however, are great examples of the other brilliant aspect of this model range. A significant number of the unarmoured Ghar are single piece models; just add a base! Single piece models are my Holy Grail!

Now don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of an army of cleverly posed unique-looking models as much as the next gamer. But in the real world I know that if I have to do that before I can play it seriously reduces my chance of ever getting into a game. With an army like the Ghar, I can have my cake and eat it; there are single piece infantry and multi-piece posable battle suits worth plenty of points all in the same army. So long as there’s at least one faction like that, I know I can get into a game quickly enough.

4. I Don’t Need Another Science Fiction Wargame

There are a lot of good games around at the moment – possibly more than ever before. There are too many good games for one person to play, and some of them demand all your time and focus if you’re going to do well at them. So I felt like I didn’t need another sci-fi wargame, and my Shiny customers probably didn’t either.

Count them with me…

So while watching Antares being played for the first time, I tried to list out all the other sci-fi games that stood between me and Beyond the Gates of Antares. I didn’t get very far. Warhammer 40,ooo, obviously. Well, it’s not really sci-fi for one. I love the background, but then that’s what roleplaying is for. I haven’t played it in years and nothing I’ve seen recently makes me want to. So, not 40K then. Relic Knights is more anime than sci-fi, so that doesn’t really count. Infinity must count – although that is anime-inspired too. It does have similar themes of humanity’s progression and human-focused factions despite the presence of aliens. So, that’s one then.

Antares vs. Infinity

As a game, Infinity plays completely differently to Antares. It is very individual-model focused and is very much a skirmish game and not a scaleable wargame. It does have similar concepts – AROs (Automatic Reaction Orders) sound similar to Reactions in Antares (which I’ve not played with yet), but overall it’s a very different game. Comparing them is like saying Blood Bowl and Guild Ball are the same because they’re both about sports.

Actually, playing Beyond the Gates of Antares felt like I was coming back to wargaming for the first time in years. It felt very different to anything I’d played for a long time. It also felt like a game I could play and make tactical decisions without understanding all the troop types on the table, something you can say about fewer and fewer games these days.

Now I’m sure there are other science fiction games out there, good ones even. As always, I’d love to hear what they are, and what others recommend. However, they’re going to have to get in line behind Beyond the Gates of Antares now.

5. The Antares Miniatures Don’t Do Anything For Me

When I first looked at Beyond the Gates of Antares, the miniatures didn’t grab me. The Ghar were obviously quite different and might have piqued my curiosity if I’d looked closer, but the vast array of Concord troops in the principal artwork and contained in the starter box got in the way. I do remember looking at the larger range of options available, and the Freeborn sounded like an interesting faction, but again the aesthetics didn’t do it for me. At the time, having focused on small model count games, a prerequisite of any new game seemed to be miniatures so awesome you really felt the need to own.

Then, I actually played the game…

The appeal of one miniature or another is a very personal thing. I’m not going to tell you that if you look at the full range you will see miniatures you find both beautiful and awesome, even though it’s probably true. If your first look over the range didn’t get you interested you’ll probably need a good reason to look again, like I did. So here’s mine.

After playing a demo game as the Human Concord, I felt that if I enjoyed a game that much when I didn’t identify with the faction or miniatures at all, then it was definitely the kind of game I wanted to play more. The aesthetics of the Human Concord infantry still don’t excite me – although their drones are very cool-looking. If Concord was the only faction I was ever able to play I’d still want to play Gates of Antares; the game is that good.

Of course, when you look further you will find models you love. The Algoryn have especially great-looking models; all the factions do, although like any game some will appeal more to each individual than others. I really love the Ghar – they’re a great looking faction, once you get used to their unusual appearance. In fact, I’m developing a bit of an obsession with Fartok, but that’s definitely another story.

Long Story Short

So, to summarise, Beyond the Gates of Antares is a great game that is not at all like Warhammer 40,000. It’s unfortunate that we feel the need to compare the two, but that’s how we gamers often work I suppose. Antares is very tactical and feels very representative of how small units act and react to enemy fire – they don’t always do as their leader wishes once the bullets/plasma bursts start flying.

The game world feels very bright and fresh, but reminiscent of classic sci-fi too. You don’t need a lot of models to have fun, but I imagine it scales up pretty well. It’s not just another sci-fi wargame, it’s the one that others will need to beat in the future. The miniatures reflect the setting, which means they’re not necessarily what we’re used to seeing, but they’re perfect for this great game and there’s a lot to love in the range.

Want to know more?

The game also has a great community on Facebook, which is a great place to get a better sense of how it looks and plays. If you’re interested in finding out more I suggest checking it out.

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State of the Shininess Address 2016

October 27th 2016 marks the one year anniversary of Shiny Games as a company. This first year has both gone quickly and seemed to last forever; the Shiny Games Dream has certainly evolved a great deal over that time. The first anniversary therefore seems like a great opportunity to stop for a moment, take stock of where we are and think about where we want to be in the future – welcome to the State of the Shininess Address 2016.

Continue reading State of the Shininess Address 2016

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The Development Mode and Modern Age Roleplaying

You might have seen references to the upcoming Monte Cook Games RPG Invisible Sun over the past week. I wasn’t consciously aware of it at first, but I saw it around on social media in my peripheral vision. As I became increasingly aware of it, I thought I should find out more. I saw it was billed as a fantasy roleplaying game that meets the demands of modern age roleplaying… interesting. However, the more I looked at information about Invisible Sun the less I felt I actually knew – until I read about Development Mode.

When I read Monte’s Changing the Way We Play article I started to get it; specifically, I was intrigued by the idea of a ‘third mode’ in RPGs. Whatever we call them, all roleplayers are familiar with Action Mode and Narrative Mode. The former is any time we’re carefully controlling the passage of time – using combat rounds or turns. The latter is any time we aren’t, because the exact passage of moments isn’t important to what’s happening in the story. Development Mode, this third mode, doesn’t even take place in the game session itself. As Monte Cook points out, Development Mode isn’t a new thing. Roleplayers have been doing this since the dawn of RPGs, but it’s never had a name before, and names are powerful things.

Development Mode

My first memory of Development Mode was walking across the school fields aged 12. The GM and I were hammering out the background of my Dragon Warriors Knight character. Actually, he was telling me the cool ideas he’d had and I was reluctant to accept them; I didn’t say that we were doing Development Mode well. In the end we came to a mutually acceptable compromise, but at least we’d been discussing character background and story.

By late teens/early 20s we probably spent more time in Development Mode than we did in actual game sessions. Plenty of time was spent discussing the game, character backstory and what they would be doing in downtime. Often however, we didn’t appreciate that we were actually playing a valuable part of the game. Even that concept seems backwards now, because it shouldn’t really be about what we we’re doing for the game; surely it’s more important that the game was working better for us, because it was fitting in with our lifestyle.

Invisible Sun

I still can’t claim to know a lot about the world behind Invisible Sun, but I understand now what it’s about. This game is designed to work for gamers rather than force us to fit into its way of doing things. Important aspects of how we play are given names and codified into the game system – like Development Mode. The background contains reasons why characters will fade out of the game ‘into shadow’ when their player can’t make a game session. There’s no need for convoluted reasons for characters to suddenly go missing at crucial times.

In addition, using Development Mode an errant player and the GM can catch up during a side-scene. Together they can work out what they might have been doing during their absence. This allows players to still contribute to the game when they can’t make game sessions. If none of you can make game sessions the game can be carried on through side scenes alone.The game is therefore kept alive through awkward periods (such as the Christmas break) with everyone still involved and invested even when they can’t meet up in person.

Lessons Learned

If all that sounds like a game you want to play, then Invisible Sun is available on Kickstarter until 16th September 2016. It isn’t particularly cheap, especially to us UK gamers still struggling with how little our pound buys abroad now. The lowest pledge level at $197, and yet I’m sure it’s worth every penny.

What I’m more interested in here is how we can apply these concepts to all our other games. Invisible Sun may have streamlined its systems to work as well as possible for modern gamers, but many of the ideas we should be able to incorporate into our own games with minimal effort.

Consider the way we finish our game sessions currently, perhaps with the words like “Right, we’ll finish there for now unless there’s anything anyone wants to do.”. The energy of the game is moving towards ending, to be picked up at a set future time.   What of instead, we said “Right, we’re now in Development Mode. Email or Skype me what you want to get up to and we’ll involve other characters as necessary”. Having a game specific app like Invisible Sun is a great idea, but most of us have generic technology available that can facilitate the same kind of interactions on a basic level.

I’d love to know what others thought of this method of running games. Is it a great way of perpetuating the game between tabletop sessions and keeping it alive? Alternatively, would it be an imposition on real life and just get in the way of work and family? Personally its something I’m excited to try out, because in a world were there’s less and less time to sit down and role-play, the idea I can roleplay more without having to stop doing other things is pretty amazing.

 

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UK Games Expo 2016

UK Games Expo 2016 LogoI was fortunate to be spending this past weekend at the UK Games Expo 2016 – three days of games and gaming people in a huge hall and an entire hotel, all in wonderful summery weather! There were truly too many great things going on to mention them all here, so I’m not going to try; instead, this is a summary of the things that stood out for me and that hopefully will interest you too.

Esdevium Retailer Summit

The day before Expo-proper began, the distributor Esdevium held their annual retailer summit at the NEC. This was an opportunity to talk to Esdevium staff, other retailers and games publishers, and for games companies to tell us what was coming in the future. A highlight for me was talking with Christian Petersen, the Founder and CEO of Fantasy Flight Games, and discussing the role of online retailers in gaming – but that deserves a whole blog post of its own. Continue reading UK Games Expo 2016

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Knights of Dice Scenery in the UK

The preorder for Knights of Dice scenery ended on Wednesday 24th February 2016. You can still get Knights of Dice Buildings from Shiny Games, and several new lines have been added since this article was written. Look at the webstore’s Knights of Dice Category to find out more Some out-of-date pricing information has been removed from the listings in this blog post, but the text remains unchanged.

If you haven’t seen Knights of Dice scenery then it’s worth checking out. Made from MDF with plastic and card components, they have some really impressive buildings to choose from. There’s a great range of American-style buildings called Sentry City, with a cool early-mid 20th Century feel. As if those weren’t enough, the accompanying Chinatown range will make your miniatures feel like they’ve stepped onto the set of Big Trouble in Little China.

Knights of Dice Chinatown cityscape

Continue reading Knights of Dice Scenery in the UK

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3 Reasons the X-Wing Miniatures Game is perfect for busy gamers

X Wing Miniatures GameThe X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games is something that interested me since it came out in 2012. Probably like most miniatures gamers I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but there are a lot of Star Wars games out there and only so much time. This one managed to slip by until recently, but now I’m a definite convert – and if you’re a busy gamer who can’t quite find the time, here’s three reasons why you should too (it was going to be five reasons, but as it’s aimed as busy people we cut it down to three – you’re welcome) .

1. You already know what the X-Wing Miniatures Game is about

This might be stating the obvious, but you already know everything you need to about the Star Wars universe*. So many games are difficult to get to grips with because you don’t understand the background (or ‘fluff’ as people seem to want to call it these days). You’re not sure who the factions are or why you should care about them. Continue reading 3 Reasons the X-Wing Miniatures Game is perfect for busy gamers