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Monthly Games Talks: January 2016

There are a lot of different pieces of kit available to the hobbyist. Saws, pin vices, files, there are a multitude of tools that can be used to fulfill certain roles in assembling or converting miniatures.

However there is one fundamental, one essential, tool that all hobbyists must possess. The hobby knife. Technically, there is no such thing as the hobby knife. What is commonly referred to as a hobby knife is actually part of the utility knife family. Utility knifes were originally fixed blades, used for tasks such as cutting and scraping hides or cleaning fish.

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The modern utility knife refers to fixed blade knives, as well as folding or retractable blade knives. However, for many the term ‘hobby knife’ has come to represent a certain type of utility knife which sees a lot of use throughout hobby and craft activities. Hobby knives are usually made up of four key components; the handle, the sleeve, the chuck and the blade.

The blade fits into the chuck, the chuck fits inside the sleeve, and then the remaining segment of the chuck screws into the handle. As you tighten the chuck and sleeve into the handle the chuck compresses, securing the blade in place. Because the blade is removable, it can easily be replaced when worn out, or a new blade type inserted for a particular job.

There are a multitude of blades available, from the traditional scalpel-like triangular blade, to flat chisel blades, curved blades and oddly shaped blades for performing particular cuts and techniques or for cutting certain materials. Most good quality hobby knives are manufactured from metal.

Cheaper knives often have plastic components, like the chuck. While these are also perfectly acceptable, plastic components wear out and break much easier than their metal counterparts. There are also a number of handles available, from standard metal handles to cushioned grips. It is recommended to try out some different types of handles and select one that feels most comfortable to use.

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There are a few basic universal safety rules when handling a hobby knife. Always cut away from yourself. Many people take this to mean to cut directly away from your body, but that is physically impossible when doing small or delicate work. What you should actually do is make sure that no part of your body is in the cutting path.

For instance, if cutting a piece of plasticard, hold the sheet at the top or the side, not the bottom where your knife is cutting towards. Where possible, use a cutting mat. Usually you should be able to, as parts of miniatures can be prepared separately and then assembled.

However, occasionally a piece cannot be easily accessible on a cutting mat. In these cases it is best to either proceed with extreme caution, or attempt the cut with a more appropriate tool. Use an appropriate sharpness blade for the job you are doing. When cutting through something, like plastic or card, a sharp knife is recommended.

The blade should glide though the material, rathobbyknife03her than saw or rip its way. You should also make guide cuts, lightly running the blade along where the cut will be made. This allows the surface to break, and your knife to gain purchase in the material.

Once the guide cuts are made you can make two or three more forceful cuts to complete the job. You shouldn’t have to press to hard. The harder you press, the less control over the blade you have, and the more disastrous any mistakes you make. Dull blades have their uses, too. These can be used to lightly scrape away mould lines and unwanted detail. Always put your hobby knife away, or in the very least, attach a protective cap when finished using it.

Many single knives come with a protective cap. Knife kits do not usually have a cap, instead offering moulded indentations to insert handles into and magnetic strips to attach blades too. Lastly, if you are a younger hobbyist, it is best to perform any cutting with a hobby knife under the supervision of an adult

Monthly Games Talks: December 2015

It is quite possible 3D printing will completely change how miniatures are created and used by hobbyists and gamers. But what exactly is 3D printing and what can it do?

Imagine you are product designer creating a new product and instead of dealing with manufacturing, logistics of transport, storing stock in warehouses and dealing with retailers, you simply sell the 3D model to people who print your product in their own home. The thing is you do not have to imagine.

This can be realized today through 3D printing, and is being touted as the next Industrial Revolution. It will transform object manufacturing in the same way the desktop printer has to publishing. The industry is growing fast and already there are many entrepreneurs utilizing the freedom and flexibility that bespoke manufacturing provides.

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But what is a 3D printer ?

Well it is a device that uses a process known as Additive Manufacturing to build an object (usually from ABS plastic, the same as used in LEGO) layer-by-layer. While the technology has been around for a few decades, it is only now starting to become affordable for the average household. The process starts by creating or obtaining a 3D digital model of an object you wish to print.

This can be done with traditional 3D modelling packages, by searching the internet on websites such as Thingiverse or by using some of the easier to use tools coming out such as Tinkercad. Once a 3D model is obtained, it must go through a mostly automatic process in order to convert it to a set of instructions for the 3D printer. The file is then sent to the printer and usually between 20 minutes to an hour later you have a real life version of your 3D object.

There are a wide range of devices out there, with a huge price range, but the current entry point 3D printers is either with a Makerbot or a RepRap. Both are open source, though the Makerbot is a bit slicker. The draw of the RepRap is that it is built almost entirely of parts you can find at a local hardware store or parts that another RepRap can print.

This means you can print the parts your friends need to build one! These machines are very nifty and cost around $1500 so are reasonably affordable when compared to the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to outlay for the big industrial machines. The results are striking but still have plenty of room for improvement, their resolution is low so they don’t create a polished finish and can take a lot of calibration in order to correctly setup.

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An alternative to these entry point printers is to use a service like Ponoko or Shapeways. You can send your 3D model files to them over the internet and they will quote a price to print them in a given material. If the price is reasonable, you can order a print and they will ship it to you. They have some high end machinery and can deliver very nice results, including printing in exotic materials such as metal and sandstone. What will this mean? Consider a future where designers don’t create a single object. Instead they will create a parametric system which defines a possible infinite set of objects that encapsulate a desired function.

Think of a chair that can be adjusted to any dimensions, or a set of shelves built exactly to your wall space. This technology has the possibility to bring back the personalization that craftsmen once provided before the industrial revolution, while offering the economic savings that mass production has brought us. It is an exciting prospect, however the current entry level is around the sophistication of personal computing during the 70s and 80s, thus there is a long way to go before the mainstream will get on board. So for now personal 3D printing is mostly the domain of geeks – but I think that in the next 5 to 10 years you might just have a 3D printer in your home or office.

Monthly Games Talks: November 2015

 This month Games Talk will be about Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack is a squad-level wargame. It puts players in command of a group of mech vehicles, called Frames, which are fast and hard-hitting, but physically vulnerable and reliant on skillful manoeuvring. The game is designed to be nail bitingly tense. Battles are asymmetrical and inherently fought over objectives during the course of an unknown number of turns. Scores, which are inversely proportionate to the mechanical effectiveness of your company, go down when you lose a Frame or station and go up when you capture another player’s station.
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Frames only take damage to their systems, with the target player choosing which systems are lost. This means careful system management from the players, as well as tactical skills, as even dumb luck pot-shots can change a team’s fortune.
The game also integrates the military principle of ‘friction’ in its spotting system. A Frame fighting by itself is unlikely to do any serious damage. But if they stay in communication, as well as moving and firing their weapons at the enemy, with either their own company or their temporarily allied opponents their effectiveness jumps dramatically !
Beginning of Mobile Frame Zero

Mobile Frame Zero began life back in 2002. Rather than being developed from a core concept, the game grew organically from a need for a rule set. “It actually came out of Vincent and his brother wishing there was a way to represent giant robot fights.” Joshua Newman explained, “They spontaneously adapted Vincent’s Otherkind dice to the purpose.

One of Vincent’s kids called the town that the robots were fighting in ‘Mechaton’ — the town of mecha — and it carried that name for years.” This basic game, Mechaton, was gradually built on.

Vincent introduced the game to Joshua Newman, who was working on another game system at the time. Many of the mechanics of this game were absorbed into Mechaton, and introduced elements such as the Doomsday Clock, objectives and the point system. Mechaton was made available to the public and in short time had gained a small but dedicated following.

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By 2010 Vincent and Joshua had started to consider a new edition of the game that integrated some rule refinements. It was all systems go, but then, a spanner in the works.

Out of the blue, Vincent got a politely but forcefully worded request from R. Talsorian Games asking him to stop selling under the Mechaton name, since it was close to the name of one of their older products.” Said Joshua “When that happened, we were kind of miffed. There were several dozen fans from around the world who had been playing for years, and we liked the game a lot. We didn’t want to lose those guys. Some of them had contributed hugely, like Sydney Freedberg, who writes for the Pentagon about military theory.” As Joshua saw it, this was an opportunity to take the game to another level. He told Vincent “If we’re going to change this, we’ll have to go big. We don’t want to abandon these folks who have helped us make this good.”

Vincent was working on his role play game Apocalypse World by this point, so Joshua was given the publishing rights to the Mechaton game rules. Soren Roberts was brought in to design the mobile frames, and also contributed to writing the new setting with Joshua.

mobile-frame-zero3The updated rules and new game world, now under the name Mobile Frame Zero, were trailed at the Metatopia Game Design Convention in Morristown, New Jersey USA. This helped to reintroduce the game, as well as build confidence in Joshua and Soren that the changes and additions they had made worked. Joshua elaborated on this process “we’d tried out our newer rules a bunch of times, so we were confident with our changes — both those of the last 10 years and of the six months since taking over from Vincent.

Mobile Frame Zero hit Kickstarter shortly after. Initially the goal was to raise US$9000, with a projected 500 backers. When the Kickstarter closed, the project had netted nine times the initial requirement, as well as five times the number of backers expected. This meant that 3000 rule books would be produced, with much of the additional money going into printing more copies.

How to start playing ?

There are a number of ways to start playing Mobile Frame Zero. A PDF that contains the rules, background, instructions for six frames and a whole lot more is available on the Mobile Frame Zero website. Joshua provided some more details: “I’m asking players to give me ten bucks to get the full book, but as it is Creative Commons, you can download a new copy, copy your rules for your friends, or even make your own houseruled edition to share with your gaming club.” Everything that is available for download can also be bought in hard copy as a printed book.

“As a book designer, this is how I design first,” explained Joshua “it’s what will be the most beautiful way to play with it.” These two options are perfect if you already have a collection of LEGO pieces, or intent to utilize something else as your play pieces. What if you are starting from scratch, though? “Some players might need to get LEGO bricks to play, too.” Said Joshua “To help players, Soren’s carefully designed the Mobile Frame Garage: a list of 120 of LEGO’s tiniest pieces that work really well for building a mobile frame. Paul Janssen’s Bricklink shop,

The Missing Brick, is setting up to sell 5-Frame company kits based on the Mobile Frame Garage and is already fulfilling many of Kickstarter’s 600- piece Garages.” However, creating a kit from another company’s product has proven to be quite a challenge. “I can’t even express in words how hard it’s been.” explained Joshua “Without Paul’s help, it just wouldn’t be possible.

Bricklink is an amazing power to have, but it requires a level of mastery I lack. I bought a couple of Garage Kits myself just so I didn’t have to go hunting for a lot of the pieces. “Paul, however, has a mastery of the international LEGO market that borders on the supernatural. He knows who has what for how much and is doing all players a great service by collecting them in one place.

Find Out More

Monthly Games Talks: October 2015

Everyone, whether they just paint models or only play games, loves a nicely painted force. There is just something impressive about the skill and dedication it takes to produce such an inspiring site. Not to mention, when arrayed on a battlefield or placed into a displayed, they just look so cool.

What is it about a fully painted collection of miniatures that we find so engaging? I really don’t think that there is a single answer. For me there are a number of things that make a collection of painted miniatures interesting.

Colour choice and model selection are a huge part of it. Miniatures that are well painted always cause a certain amount of awe for the least amount of work, probably because you get such a striking first impression for just choosing and applying a handful of colours really well. Models too are a quick way to impress me, by choosing a selection that not only gives a uniform look, but also introduces variation to create visual interest.However, while these two aspects create a good first impression, they don’t always hold my attention when brought to close scrutiny. So what really impresses me? What makes me remember a collection of models? Above all else, what I always look for is a story.

A lot of people mistake what a story within a collection means. They seem to think this involves having a detailed knowledge of the background fiction, adding minute details from the background and being accurate to the world. This is not the case. Not at all. To me, the story is the element that binds all the miniatures together. Something that takes them all from individual pieces and makes them say “we belong together”. For me, the story means I can look closer at each miniature and see a common thread that ties them all together.

This doesn’t have to slap you in the face, either. In fact, I love it when a story is quite subtle or implied. Being told the story of a force directly is one thing, but I relish those miniatures that I can look closer at, find common elements and construct a story myself. There are a few regular tricks I look for when trying to find a collections story. A feature colour is always the first thing. Is there a colour that has been used to pick out a certain feature, and how has this been applied? This can be as obvious as the general model and his guard having the same colour shields, to as nuanced as patterns recurring among certain models. Another thing I look for is conversions, or use of unofficial models. Swapping out one set of models for another, or altering them, is a good way to create a unique visual that contributes to the story. Like replacing knights that are usually quite ornamental for ones that are more dour and drab.

When creating a collection of miniatures it might seem like a hassle to stop and think about introducing a story. However most people are injecting a story right from the start, whether they know it or not. Normally the models we choose and how we paint them instinctively creates a basic story to bind them together. The challenge is to consciously develop this visual fiction to introduce multiple layers. When you do this you take a good collection and make it really great.

Nice KS campaign ongoing for Zombicide decors

If you’re like me having several boxes of Zombicide, you might want to go to the next level and also have some nice/3D elements on the board.

This was already possible by doing it yourself if you have creative hands, but easier and probably cheaper would be to have a look at this Kickstarter Campaign from Battle Systems:

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For about ~120,00 € you get some nice modulable decors that can be used for various missions. The feedback about the quality of their is good and the team is actually using also Zombicide miniatures for their tests.

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Monthly Game Talks: June 2015 !

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Read on for the “Monthly Game Talks” post of June 2015.

I believe that pretty clean and organized around the house. I don’t like to have things laying around and make sure that each item has a spot to put it away. When you live in an apartment, you’re kind of obliged to work that way if you want to keep your interior clean. That said … if you ask my wife she’ll probably tell you that I’m all the time leaving some gaming “stuff” in the living room.

Let’s clarify the word “stuff” and be more specific: admittedly, I leave my miniatures, brushes, paint material in a few boxes (= mostly game expansion boxes converted into temporary storage boxes) in the open.

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Why is it that I leave them around ? Well, aside from the fact that I do like to look at them because after all – I did spent some money on it – it also reminds me that eventually I have to paint them. When you have the entire collection of Zombicide, Imperial Assault, Arcadia Quest, Talisman, Cadwallon City of Thieves, Dark Darker Darkest amongst others .. that gives you a whooping 1000+ mini’s to paint !

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So most of them are actually already with a white/black primer coat. That was the easy part (right!); spending a few hours outside, spraying them with 3 or 4 cans of Army Painter. Now, I’m actually at the base-coating step for almost all of them. Ah, if it was so easy to have just a magical spray to base-coat them too !

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I recently acquired a few extra different paints from Citadel – I went for a bit of everything from the dry-brushing products (for which I’m not that convinced to be honest) to the glaze products (which are really a big plus ! Go for it). Citadel has a package with all the dry-brushing paints into 1 box for a price about ~30€ . Based on the advise of a friend, I took them home .. but found out they are really “dry” in the pot and I get on my pencil a cluttery “blob” that I end up anyhow wiping up on my tissue. So probably I missed something out there on the usage of those. For now, I’m really not convinced at all.

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So we’re playing at my place regularly and my friends see those mini’s hanging around in their boxes and ask me how it’s going forward (or not) with the paint job. I start telling them that it’s going pretty well (ok maybe I’m not really on track with my initial schedule, true …) and I hope to finish off soon.

The truth is that I also needed to invest in the right material – yes, it is costly to do some painting – if you want to have an “easy life”. You will go for some extra shades colors and ready-made washes, not because you have to, but because it’s makes it easier and speed up your painting process. I just bought the Warpaints Quickshade Ink Set and I have to see this does wonders. I really encourage you this investment to avoid having all the time the same dark effect on your miniatures.

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Some of my friends who are not painting at all ask the question; but once painted do you still dare to take them in your hands to play them ? And what about the storage, do you buy special foam inserts for your boxes ?

My answer is pretty upfront and I tell them; games with miniatures are exactly fun for that purpose; being able to manipulate the miniatures over the board ! Hell, otherwise I’ll go for a good euro-style workers placement game with wooden cubes and carton tiles. So, to protect them, I apply a varnish transparent layer (matte or shiny depending on which effect I would prefer) with an Army Painter or Citadel spray can. I actually also bought some transparent varnish from the hobbyshop that works pretty well too.

It’s at that point that we start the discussion about the dreaded Dullcote Frost problem that most of you painters must have experiences sooner or later. Spending hours painting to end up with an ugly frostly look at the last step of your painting process is just an awful miserable experience that will haunt you for days !

Well, not anymore … because looking around on the web, I found on the blog of Nice manners for a thief an eye-opener life-saver post.

His explanation over there stands in 5 words: Usage Of Olive Oil Spray. Read on the excerpt:

Take that ruined mini and spray it down on both sides.  It doesn’t take a lot, but you want it coated for best results.  I recommend doing it over the sink for easy cleanup. […]

Once you’ve coated the model, rub it down with a soft cloth or shammy.  You can just use your fingers, but a cloth will allow you to easily get into the nooks and crannies.  You’ll see the color start to return immediately.  You’ll also get that glossy shine back – like before you sprayed it. […]

At this point, you might decide, “screw Dullcoting it.  I’ll take the shine over frost,” and I wouldn’t blame you.  After all, there’s nothing like rework for taking the joy out of a task.  However, you can absolutely re-apply Dullcote once the oil has a day to dry, and it will work as intended.

I can tell you that this neat trick is worth gold and took away my fear of screwing up my painting last step ! Although his blog has not been updated since a while, take a look around and check out the pictures of his painted figurines. Really nice job done !

You’ll find on the web many articles about proactively avoiding this frosting effect once you’re done applying the varnish layer. Basically, people will tell you to place your miniatures under a hot (desk-) lamp or use your hairdryer. That is certainly also a good preventive action to keep in mind.