Friday, 15 March 2019

Sgt. Kalem Vickers (Operation: Last Train)


I have finished my first volunteer for Operation: Last Train, Sgt. Kalem Vickers. I built him out of pieces from several places. The legs come from Anvil Industries. The toros, arms, and weapon are Forge World, and the head and grenades are plastic Games Workshop pieces.

Sgt. Vickers is a member of the 144th Horvex Urban Light Infantry regiment. During the battle of Isiks City, the 144th suffered an appalling 87% casualties. While the regiment wasn’t officially disbanded, all of its remaining able-bodied soldiers were transferred to other units. The 144th became a paper regiment containing only those soldiers from the unit that were too badly wounded to quickly return to active service. Among those was Kalem Vickers.

Having lost a leg during the battle, Vickers received a quick, military-grade replacement. However, even with modern technology, new-limb integration takes time. Now ready to return to service, Vickers finds himself without a home. Seeing Operation: Last Train as an opportunity to perform one last useful service as well as the only way to remain in the unit he loves, he volunteered immediately.

Twice commended for cool-thinking under fire, Vickers has a reputation as a master of small-unit tactics. He is also qualified to drive most military APCs. With his new bionic functioning at 98% efficiency, he is once again able to move quickly through an urban battlefield.

In game terms, St. Kalem Vickers is a member of a Light Infantry Unit and equipped with a rifle.

I gave Vickers a pretty simple paint job. I want my first few figures to be relatively normal-looking sci-fi soldiers, so I have a core that I can use for any game and not have them look too outlandish together. The green and grey provide a nice contrast (even if you can’t see that much of the armour from the front) and this is helped by the bionic leg. I put two decals on him. His unit number can be found on the decal sheet in any of the Cadian box-sets. The little skull and cross-bones on his left should comes from the Robotech Tactics box set.

All-and-all, I’m pretty pleased with my first volunteer!




Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Silent Death - Introductory Scenario


Having painted up all of the little ships required to play the first introductory scenario in the original Silent Death box set, I decided I would give it ago. So, breaking out my new Cigar Box Battles space hex mat, I set them up and got ready to fly.

The first thing I noticed is that the scenario didn’t use torpedoes. While this makes sense for a starter game, it’s a bit of a shame as torpedo usage is one of the real tactical nuances of the game. Oh well, I’m just getting back into it.

On one side we had 4 little Pit Vipers. Super-fast, decent armour, puny weapons. On the other side, a pair of Thunderbirds. Fast, but low-armoured. Decent armament, but lacking the torpedoes which often make them a great choice in points matches. Before playing, I figured the Thunderbirds held the advantage.



The game started with the initiative roll, which was won by the Thunderbirds. If I had to pick one weakness of the game, it would be initiative. Basically, someone has to move first, and that poor fighter then becomes the primary target for the turn. It’s an issue also seen in Battletech. Actually, it is an issue that was brilliantly solved in X-Wing with its innovative movement system.

So, turn one saw a Pit Viper take a heavy hit, stripping it of shields and leaving it limping along. It was destroyed the next turn, while a Thunderbird took minor damage. However, then things went sour for the Thunderbirds. On turn three a Pit Viper got a lucky shot that destroyed the weapon on one T-bird. The T-bird was destroyed a moment later. After that, the remaining T-bird lost the initiative in three straight turns and was brutally hunted down and destroyed by the remaining Pit Vipers.

The whole game took about 15 or 20 minutes. And that is the great strength of Silent Death. It is very, very fast. Obviously if you add in more ships it slows down, and the use of torpedoes also slows it down a bit as ships tend to split up ttempting to dodge the torps. Regardless, even big games of Silent Death play out as fast as any wargame I can think of.

Despite not having played a game of Silent Death in twenty years, I remembered the rules almost perfectly, only having to check the book once. Looking at the next scenario, it is nearly identical, just using different fighters in another 2 on 4 match up. So, I think I’m going to skip the rest of the introduction and go straight to the main scenarios to get something a bit more meaty. First, I’ll need to paint up some more ships!


Monday, 11 March 2019

Operation Last Train: Drop 2

The response to my post about Operation: Last Train has been completely overwhelming. In the three days since it went up, we've already raised over £400 for Save the Children! My heart-felt thanks to everyone who donated, plans to, or shared the news. 

I'm still getting my volunteers assembled, but I did have a chance to write and test the second scenario. So, presented below is Drop 2! Once I have a few more written, I will add them all to the rules and post an updated rulebook.

Drop 2: The Canal

‘At 2300 hours the ship got eyes on a pair of survivors moving down an inset roadway. It’s basically a concrete canal. Although they attracted some bug-eyed attention, they managed to make it to an access hatch, here, and seal it behind them. We don’t know if it is just the two of them in there or if there are more.
            Now the bad news. Both the canal itself and the shoulder above it are too narrow to land one of our birds and even if we could get close enough to ‘chute, the bird would attract every bug for miles. So, instead, we are going to put down here. We will then make our way along the roadway to the hatch. I may station a couple of you up on the shoulder, but I’ll wait until our boots are down to make that call. There are several other open access ways leading off the canal, and we have to consider it likely that they are bug infested.
            Once we rendezvous with the survivors, we’ll escort them back down the canal to this stairway. The stairway leads to a flat area big enough to land the bird.
            Any questions? Alright, gear up. We drop in twenty minutes.’

Set-Up
This scenario is played on a 2’ x 3’ table. One short edge is designated the volunteer edge. The other is the bug edge. The entire table within 6” of the right-hand side of the table is considered one shoulder of the canal and sits 6” above the rest of the table. (It is not necessary to model this, just put a piece of string or something similar down to mark the edge of the shoulder.)
            In the side of the shoulder 8” from the bug edge, mark the point of the access hatch. Place 6 numbered spawn points on the table. One should be in each corner of the table, including 2 on top of the shoulder. Place one additional marker in the centre of the shoulder (so 15” from either short end) and the final on the table edge directly across from it.
            Four cars should be placed haphazardly in the canal. Feel free to throw any other industrial rubbish in to make the table more visually appealing. Place an ammo token adjacent to two random cars.
            Place 2 bugs adjacent to each car. Place one additional bug in each corner of the bug edge of the table.
            Place 6 volunteers within 1” of the volunteer table edge, including on the shoulder, if desired.

Special Rules
No volunteer may climb up the side of the canal. They may slide down the side, but cannot take a shoot action on the turn they do so. Bugs can climb the canal side up or down without any penalties.
            If a volunteer is adjacent to the access hatch, they may use an action (either move or shoot) to try and alert the survivors. Roll a die. On a 7+ the survivors have been alerted. Immediately place 2d6+1 survivors as near as possible to the access hatch.          Once the survivors have been alerted any volunteer or survivor may exit off the table via the volunteer table edge (treat this table edge as the dropship for the purposes of survivor movement).
            At the end of each turn, roll 2 six-siders. Place a bug adjacent to each spawn point indicated by the dice. If your roll doubles, an unexpected event has occurred. Consult the chart below, checking the double-number rolled, to see what event has occurred. Each event can only occur once, if an identical doubles is rolled again, ignore it for the purposes of unexpected events.

Unexpected Event
Doubles Rolled
Event
1
Car Explodes. A stray round hit the fuel cells one of the cars and it explodes. Roll a die for every figure within 5” of the car. On a 1-4 nothing happens, on 5-8 they are knocked over, on a 9-10 they are killed. If a figure is already knocked over, and gets knocked over by the exploding car, they are not killed, but remain prone.
2
Survivor. Place one survivor in the centre of the bug edge.
3
Ambush. Place four bugs next to random spawn point.
4
Adrenaline. One random player may draw an extra Heroic Action card.
5
Bug Underneath. Place a bug adjacent to a random car.
6
Army Training. One of the survivors turns out to be an army veteran with a rifle. If there are survivors on the table, replace one with a volunteer rifleman. If there are no survivors on the table yet, save this result until there is one.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Operation Last Train (Charity Wargame Project)

Commander Aden Subatai stood before the Admiral’s door, hands clenched behind his back. To either side, marines dressed in half battle-armour stood sentinel, their mirrored faceplates revealing nothing. A light blinked from red to green and the door slid open with a soft, metallic rasp. Glancing at the marines, Aden stepped inside.
The Admiral sat behind a polished ebony desk that dominated the small stateroom. He gestured to an empty seat.
‘Commander Subatai, it is rare that any of my ship captains request a physical meeting. I trust that everything is well with your command?’
Aden met the Admiral’s gaze as he took his seat.
‘Yes, sir. The Falcata has weathered the journey well, and crew morale is high.’
‘Good. Then what brings you across?’
‘It’s Helos, sir,’ replied Aden.
‘Helos,’ repeated the Admiral with a frown. He tapped lightly on the top of his desk, and a holographic image of a planet sprang to life between the two men. The image rotated slowly, showing a grey-green world, key data displayed around it.
‘A dead world,’ said the Admiral. ‘Overrun with bugs. Scheduled for atmospheric burn-off in three months.’
‘With respect, sir, before the invasion, Helos had a population of nearly 7 billion. Our data estimates that even in a worst case scenario, there could be as many as 7,000 people still alive…’
‘Commander. How many planets have we lost in this war?’ This time, Aden said nothing. ‘In three months, the casualty rate will be 100%. I can’t divert this fleet in order to save a few lives that mean nothing to the war effort.’
‘Of course not, sir. But one ship. A fast ship, like the Falcata, could divert to Helos, pick up as many survivors as could be found, and then rendezvous with the fleet before it has completed its refit.’
The Admiral sat back slightly in his chair and looked up at the planet. ‘Commander, there are nearly 30 billion bugs down there. I cannot order men to go into battle against those kind of odds.’
‘Sir, the people still on Helos must be living in a nightmare. Desperate. Under siege. Likely starving. They know that no help is coming. They know they have been abandoned.’
The Admiral winced at Aden’s choice of words. ‘Let me give them one last hope, sir.’
The Admiral tapped his desk again, and the image of Helos disappeared. He looked directly into the eyes of his commander. 
‘Volunteers only. One hundred men, if you can find them. I’ll send a fast transport with you to carry any survivors you find. And you will be back with the fleet at the end of three months.’
Aden nodded.
‘You’ve got a lot of work to do, Commander. Dismissed.’
Aden stood and saluted.
By the end of the day, Commander Subatai had received more than 3,000 requests from soldiers and marines to join the mission that was already being called Operation Last Train.

What is Operation Last Train?

Operation Last Train is a game, an excuse, and a chance to translate wargaming into some real-world good. Let’s start with the excuse.
I love science-fiction soldier miniatures and need only the slightest excuse to buy them. I’m not one for painting armies, however. It just seems like such a shame, with the huge variety of science-fiction soldiers available, including numerous conversion bits, to paint up a hundred or more soldiers all essentially wearing the same uniform. I would rather collect my soldiers individually and feel free to customize and equip them in any manner I choose. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit well with most missions that science-fiction troopers would be assigned. So, I came up with Operation Last Train, a mission carried out solely by volunteers drawn from numerous different regiments, each with its own uniform, equipment, and traditions. This is my excuse to make and collect all the soldiers I want, and not worry about why they are all thrown together for one mission.
Of course, if I’m going to play with these figures, I need a game. For that reason, I have designed a very simple set of rules, in which you build up your roster of volunteers, select a small handful for each drop, and then play out the mission on the tabletop. Because usually only six men are needed for each drop, I can thankfully start playing as I am assembling my forces, and don’t have to wait until I’ve painted all 100 volunteers! I have designed the game so that it can be played either solo or cooperatively with two people, but it wouldn’t be hard to expand the number of players if desired.
This is going to be an ‘iron man’-style miniatures game. Once a figure is killed during a drop, it is out and cannot be used again. It will be immortalized in my hall of heroes (and can, of course, be used in other games), but this is a desperate mission and the casualties hurt.
Wargaming is a strange hobby. We have fun recreating on the tabletop something that in reality is horrific, terrible, and tragic. I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with this – in fact, I believe that my studies into military history that have gone along with my wargaming have made me more conscious of the true cost and horror of war. On occasion, however, I am made to feel a bit guilty about the hobby and its connection to death and cruelty. So, I decided that I would use my hobby to support the people that are doing their best to end, or at least mitigate, those horrors. For that reason, I am asking everyone who downloads, reads, and enjoys these rules to please donate £3 / $5 (the cost of a nice cup of coffee) to Save the Children via my JustGiving page here. You can download these rules in an easy-to-read PDF document here. And get a copy of the Roster Sheet here. Information of the work by Save the Children can be found here.
Furthermore, whenever I play a game of Operation Last Train, I plan to donate 10 cents for each civilian my band of heroes saves from the doomed planet. That way, my little toy heroes are really helping to do some good. I admit that it is a bit silly to connect the actions of toy soldiers on a table to helping to save and improve the lives of children in the real world, but, as living in Britain has taught me, doing silly things in aid of a good cause is a noble endeavour.
Operation Last Train is a personal project, and I plan to have fun and donate a little money whatever happens, but if anyone wants to join me, I wouldn’t mind the company. Just remember, this mission is for volunteers only. (I have also set up a FaceBook page where anyone who wants can join in, show off some figures, talk drops, and see if we can raise a little money).
So, go ahead and download the rules if you want. At the moment, it only contains one scenario, but I will be posting more here on the blog as and when I write them!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Draconis Combine Thunderbirds!


Following on from yesterday’s post, I painted up a couple of Thunderbirds as the start of my ‘opposition force’.  Again I went with a basic colour scheme that has more to do with speed than detail. Still, I think it looks alright.

I gave these guy little Draconis Combine decals because they are one of the traditional enemies of the Federated Suns and because I had the decals…  They are so small, I think I managed to get one of them upside down, but you have to look very close to be able to tell.

The six fighters I’ve painted over the last two days give me enough to play out the first introductory scenario in the original Silent Death box set, and I’m hoping to give it a go tonight.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Federated Suns Pit Vipers


This year, in my gaming life, I would like to return to some of the classic games that inspired me, and additionally, actually make use of some of the books and games on my shelf. To start that project, I plan to play some Battletech, and, one of my all-time favourite games, Silent Death, a space-fighter game.

I’ll talk more about the game later, for now I just wanted to get some paint on a few minis so I could play with decent look ships. I started out with these four Pit Vipers. If you are in the UK, you can get these guys as part of a pack of fighters from EM-4. They are just about the smallest fighter in the game. Super fast and with decent shields, but very weak offensively and brittle.

I decided that I would try and paint my Silent Death and Battletech miniatures in similar colours so that I could use them all as part of one force if I wanted to. So, these pit vipers are painted in the same colour as my Firehawks Legion mechs. I even went so far as to add little decals of the Federated Suns (one of the major players in the Battletech universe.)

As opposed to some of the earlier mechs and fighters I painted, I went lighter on the washes this time, and I think it has paid off, with a subtler, nicer looking shading.

Now I just need someone for these guys to shoot at!

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Stars Without Number by Kevin Crawford


Stars Without Number is probably the best role-playing book I have read in decades.

Seriously, it is that good. If you are Game Master that likes to create your own worlds, factions, and NPCs, and have any interest in running a science-fiction game, you should really pick it up. Do yourself a favour and get the hardback print edition. I know it is pricey, but this is a book you are going to want to pull off your shelf again and again.

Why is it so good? Well, at its heart, Stars Without Number is a relatively simple OSR RPG. It’s a good system, with some neat ideas. The starship combat rules are especially intriguing. It has an
interesting setting that is purposely kept vague. What really sets this book apart though is the tools it gives to Games Masters. There is a chapter on creating sectors, which takes the GM step-by-step through creating a vast region of space and filling it with interesting and extremely varied planets. There is a chapter on creating adventures that is probably the best I’ve ever seen, with loads of mechanics for helping a GM at every step. It can be used to carefully craft an adventure or make one up on the fly. A chapter on creating unique alien races, a chapter dealing with transhumans, a chapter focused on Artificial Intelligences...

Probably my favourite section of the book is the chapter devoted to the various factions that play a major role in the campaign world. These can be planetary governments, mysterious cults, pirate fleets, mercenary organizations, anything. The rules for how they are created, how they function, and how they battle one another (literally and figuratively) is just one of the best pieces of game design I’ve come across. You could (and should!) lift this out to use in any game. In fact, you could easily use it as the meta-game to a wargame campaign. It’s practically worth the price of admission by itself.

Heck, the book even has some great rules for running mechs.

I had never encountered Kevin Crawford, or his work, before this book. That probably makes me late to the party compared to a lot of people (especially as this is the Revised Edition), but I will definitely be seeking out more of his works.

Highly, highly recommended.