27 November 2011

Scratchbuild Cast in Metal

I intended to make metal casts of the spaceship miniature I sculpted, before the Thanksgiving holiday.  Due to the cold however the RTV rubber I used for the mold was slow to cure.  I returned from an out-of-town holiday trip to find the rubber finally cured.  Lesson learned there: use a 34W or stronger bulb and a container (plastic coffee jug maybe) to trap the heat around the curing mold, speeding up the process.

I pulled the master out of the rubber mold and brushed graphite into the cavities, like I normally do.   I poured a few test casts after heating up the metal, and found the mold wouldn't fill.  I'd heard of this before, but this was the first time I'd experienced it in my home drop-casts.  All of my previous spaceship miniatures had minimal protrusions that might create potential air pockets, but this design differed.  The large dorsal pods created ample opportunity for air to get trapped.  A few deep cuts in the mold and viola, a finished and easy cast.

As the picture above shows, my process creates pretty rough edges, even with a lot of razor blade and metal file clean-up.  Still, I like these designs as they have lots of variation and little lines to catch the paint and ink.  And there's nothing like fielding miniatures that you made by your own hand.

The picture below shows the life cycle of this miniature, from cradle to gaming table.  The object on the top left is the first master, made of spaghetti and scrap polystyrene.  I press the first master into blocks of polymer clay and then detail the resulting impressions.  The detailed impressions get filled with water-putty and the two resulting halves are joined to form the second master.  The second master is the middle sculpt and was partially destroyed during the demolding process.  I make a mold of this second master and then use the mold for metal castings.  The metal castings are the ships that eventually get painted.
Mold with air paths
Teaser for other websites

22 November 2011

Greater Space Battles: Art & Ship Design

I drew and inked the picture below over the last two nights, intended for my solo game Greater Space Battles.  I'm not 100% in love with it, but for my second attempt ever at inking with steel nibs and brush in the comic book style, I'm moderately pleased.  I'm learning a ton about the process; for example, I figured out I was holding the nibbed pen like a pencil when I needed to decrease the angle to be more parallel with the paper.  A vast improvement in ink flow!  The picture below just seems to be lacking some dynamism.  I know what I was trying to do: I wanted to show a bright heavy contrast effect due to the energy blast between the ships and resulting explosion.  I just don't have the skills yet to capture that effect solely in black and white.  Maybe I will color the picture and see if that adds some vitality.
I've continued to playtest the game, just finishing turn 8.  The changes I recommended last post have helped immensely.  The contest is very close and feels very objective.  I'm normally opposed to lots of die rolls, but this game needs them.  The abundance of randomization makes it very hard to "pick a side".  It's more like managing the chaos, with just enough decision making to make it fun.

I neglected to mention ship design in the rules download.  Design your own ship by first picking a ship size.  Then choose the six letter sequence for each of the ship's five energy allocation schemes (A=Attack, D=Defense, M=Movement).  The schemes have no restrictions; if you want to design a ship with six "A"s in a row for three different energy channels, feel free.  Of course that ship may have a lot of firepower but it will have trouble defending itself or even moving.  After the five energy channels, choose the ship's firing arcs.  The number featured on the Vector/Readout Disc for each arc indicates the max energy that you can allocate to attacks in that arc during a turn.  The ship's size limits the sum of all the firing arc values.  The sum of all firing arc values of size 0 ships cannot exceed 4, the sum for size 1 ships cannot exceed 8.  The maximum value for size 2 ships is 12, 16 for size 3 and 20 for size 4.  Finally, name your ship and the design is complete.  Make up your own Vector/Readout Disc using the template on the downloads page and you are off.

21 November 2011

Solo Spaceship Wargame Playtest: Turn 7 AAR

... Alternate Title: This is Why We Playtest

I finished turns 6 and 7 of the playtest of my simple spaceship game Greater Space Battles.  The playtest paid some big dividends as it highlighted some design flaws.  I'll get to my fixes in a little bit; first I'll set up the scene.

As I mentioned last post, I had concerns regarding the weapons fire rules, but then I rolled a number of hits on four separate ships, including a critical hit on the SS Fifthia (see the first AAR post for the lineup of combatant ships).  I was starting to feel better about the rules mechanic but then, during the damage control phase, nearly all the ships repaired all their hits, including the Fifthia.  My doubts returned.  Basically the flaw in the rule is that since both the attack and defense rolls use a "take the highest die rolled" mechanic, as soon as a 6 is rolled by the defender, the attacker's shot becomes impossible.  Not a terrible rule, but something I could fix.  The following pictures of the turn 7 energy allocation phase highlight the bigger problem with my ruleset:
At the edge of the mysterious "gridded space" sector
Pennies show energy allocation
 As the pictures show, it's turn 7 and the ships are still on their respective sides of the boards!  Everyone is moving like molasses.  As I mentioned previously, I thought perhaps this was due to my own tactical reluctance.  After six turns of failed movement rolls however, I realized the rules hamstring the ships.  Again, the "roll many dice, take the highest" rule caused the problem.  I use this rule mechanic because I need it for energy allocation as it generates a maximum of 6, regardless of ship size.  I wanted the die rolls to be consistent so I decided to use this mechanic for shooting and moving.  After turn 6 I resolved to try a new method and saw immediate improvements.

For weapons fire the defender now uses the sum of all the dice rolled to get the defense score.  Likewise, the shooting vessel sums the dice scores rolled for attack.  Damage is as before: the amount the attack roll exceeds defense.  Easy.  In turn 7 this little change resulted in the poor little SS Raimo taking 7 hits, which resulted in all five energy allocation channels knocked out as well as a critical hit.  As brutal as that sounds, the damage control phase restored two energy schemes, and besides at close range space combat should be devastating.

Movement now uses a similar mechanic.  The moving ship rolls one die per energy token allocated, and sums the dice scores, then subtracts the ship size.  This is a huge change to the rules, as it allows ships to displace quite a bit.  As a result a target ship can jump from one firing arc to another quite easily, so it makes initiative even more important.

I've made the changes on the rules download; please feel free to download the newest version.  Thanks for looking.

19 November 2011

Scratchbuild Starship Trapped in Stasis

Last weekend I sculpted my first new starship design in a while.  I wasn't quite going for the Y-Wing fighter look which I can kind of see now; I was actually trying for an asymmetrical feel.

Anyway I was very pleased with how the water-putty master came out so I immediately pushed it halfway into some sulfur-free clay and poured the RTV silicone over it.  It's about 5 days later and the silicone is not fully cured, due probably to the cold.  I have it an appropriate distance from a 34W bulb; hopefully it cures fully in another 24 hours. 

The good news is the layer of rubber closest to the master is actually nearly fully cured, only the outer layer is still tacky.  The bad news is I tried a new method of making the mold and as you can see from the pictures below, the parting line is very very messy.  I hope I can salvage the mold and still produce some decent casts.  I'm planning to use the heat lamp on the second half of the mold, so with any luck we will see some casts next weekend.
Final water-putty master
Messy parting lines


18 November 2011

Solo Spaceship Game: AAR & Download!

I've been playtesting my new solo spaceship miniatures game by playing one or two turns a day.  I find that by playing solo games slow like this it keeps them fresh, as well as keeps me objective.

My last post detailed Turn 1 of the game.  I started taking pictures of Turn 2 and then my camera, which has been intermittent, went totally kaput.  So you'll just have to take my word for it...

In Turn 2 the Poroth, the only size 3 ship on the board, took another hit.  At the end of the turn the Poroth failed to repair any damage and was down to three available energy allocation schemes.  As demonstrated by its readout below, the Poroth's #3 energy scheme is the only one which features movement in the first and second priority positions.  Losing this option really slowed the big ship down.
An already slow ship loses its dash option

Finally after Turn 5 the Poroth fixed one of the two damaged energy channels, despite the fact it rolled two dice for damage control every turn.  Turn 5 also saw another ship, the Platero, finally take a hit.  One lesson learned from the playtest so far is that hitting targets is fairly difficult from long range.  I think this would get tedious continually rolling misses if you played turn after turn in one sitting, but playing one turn a day I don't mind.  I'm not changing the weapons fire rules because I think the lack of hits comes not from poor game mechanics but from my apprehension to close... it's starting on the 6th Turn and both factions are still only a third of the way away from their starting table edge.  I've been spending energy on blazing away ineffectually instead of steaming to a better firing position.

I'm still playing this game but I like the rules enough to name them and knock out a quick 5 page rule sheet.  It's on my downloads page so check it out.  I've decided to name it Greater Space Battles as an homage to Stewart Cowley's Great Space Battles, my favorite of the four Terran Trade Authority Handbooks.  In addition to the rules download, a powerpoint file is also located on the downloads page so you can make Vector/Readout Discs for your own ship designs.

I'm planning on doing a pen-and ink for the cover after finals are over in December.  If you download and play, I always appreciate constructive comments.

edit: I just finished the Weapons Fire Phase of Turn 6 and I take back all those words I said about ineffective shooting.  No less than four ships took hits, with the Platero taking three new hits including one critical hit!

14 November 2011

Solo Spaceship Game Playtest AAR: Turn 1

OK, so after months of work on a set of spaceship miniature rules I decided to dump them in favor of another set I came up with this weekend.  All that work getting formatting just right, making diagrams, and even creating custom artwork (as well as paying for a sweet-ass cover piece), and here I am playing something else.  I've just finished turn one of my first playtest game and I already know this new, as-yet unnamed game is more fun.  The solo-playability of the new rules is much better I think.

The last two posts on this blog I talked about how I'm using discs to facilitate 2D vector movement without a hex mat, and how I'm putting a ship's entire readout on the back of one disc each.  The picture below shows the ship readouts for all the vessels fighting in this playtest.  For fun and I.D. purposes let's call the top four the Ships from the Golden Galaxy; their opponents are the remaining three: the forces of the Dark Nebula.
 The number in the silver triangle indicates a ship's size (from 0 to 4).  The six numbers in the white circles show firepower capability in the appropriate arcs.  The green "readout" area shows each ship's name and five energy allocation schemes; the schemes limit how energy allocation tokens can be assigned (A for Attack, D for Defense, M for Move).  Finally, the orange circle marked "XP" is where I pencil in the Experience Bonus for each ship (0 to 4).  I left this blank because the bonus can change throughout a campaign as a ship's crew becomes more experienced (or loses a key crew member).

The next picture shows the set up.  I only used 60% or so of my board, as I have modeling projects going that need table space.  You can see the incomplete hex overlay on my space mat.  Each ship has its readout glued to a disc and as shown in the picture, each ship is starting with its velocity vector right off the nose.
DIY hex-mat... not my best idea
 The unnamed spaceship game uses initiative to maximize the solo experience.  Initiative is used in three different phases, so it's very important and I constantly had to recall the order the ships were acting in.  I created a little tool to help me out.  I took two of those fridge magnets you sometimes get with junk mail, the really thin ones.  I used one as like a tablet sheet and then cut up the other one into strips and painted over the advertisement.  I then wrote the names of all the ships on these little strips.  Then when I rolled initiative, I simply move the ship names around so it reads from top to bottom the order of who has to act first (most disadvantaged).  The following photo illustrates this technique, as well as shows the order for this first turn.
Magnetic initiative sheet
The next phase after initiative was the targeting phase.  The pic below shows the Ships of the Golden Galaxy after the targeting phase.  Everyone is shooting!  I use thick spaghetti coated with red and blue acrylic paint for my beam markers.  The colors distinguish the forces, just like in the movies.
After declaring targets (in initiative order), the next phase was energy allocation.  Dice were rolled and the Triggale had to cancel its attack (not enough power!) but everyone else had decent amount of energy.  Again, energy was allocated in initiative order.  This improves the solo-playability because even though I have to make the decisions for each side, the vessels acting later can "react" to what the others have already declared.

After the energy tokens were placed (no picture, sorry) the attacks were resolved.  The Poroth fired at the Ardoin and due to the extreme range, the target got 6 defense dice plus 1 for energy allocated for defense.  Despite rolling 7 dice, no 6's showed up so the Poroth actually had a chance.  Rolling only 3 dice the Golden Galaxy's biggest ship rolled one 6, meaning a hit, all the way across the board!  A single die was rolled for the Ardoin and its number 4 energy allocation scheme was crossed out.  The Dark Nebula forces replied by massing fire on the Poroth, which to a hit and crossed out its number 3 energy allocation scheme.  Blood on the first turn.

Beam markers and all associated Attack and Defense energy tokens were removed from the table and it was time for movement.  The following pictures illustrate the SS Fifthian's movement.  Die rolls indicated a movement of 4, so I placed 3 extra discs on the table, extending the ship's velocity vector to the appropriate length.  The first picture shows the Fifthian immediately after being moved.  The next picture shows the ship's readout disc being repositioned back to directly off the bow.  The other discs were then removed.
Movement of 4
Making sure the vector is pointing correctly
After movement all remaining tokens were gathered up and the two blasted ships made Damage Control rolls but neither managed to fix their systems.  The turn ended with the conclusion of the Damage Control rolls.

I know I haven't made a download of these new rules available, so most of the above text leaves the reader without a frame of reference.  The game will come, but I just wanted to get this AAR down while it's still fresh in the brain.  Or maybe I just want to avoid homework so I'm wasting time on this blog...

Stay tuned for turn two.


Ship's System Readout and Vector Indicator

I'm still trying to get the playtest of my newest ruleset started, but I got another new idea which derailed me.  Actually, this is directly related to the new rules, but I'm excited enough about it to share now.

I was placing the vector discs I mentioned last post on the table, next to their respective miniatures just as my play test was about to start.  I realized suddenly that the discs were big enough to act as a ship's system readout (SSD in some games, SDS in others).  My new rules are very very simple and generic, so one goal was to eliminate paper sheets all together.  I'll be using energy allocation tokens (pennies) as well as these vector discs so I didn't want to clutter up the table with all sorts of other markers.  So I made up actual paper sheets for each ship, but in a round shape and only 48mm in diameter.  The Ship Readout's size and shape allows it to be taped to the back of the vector disc.  An example Ship Readout is below.  You'll note there's no ship name... this will be painted on the edge of the disc.
Has everything needed for play
So what do all those strange letters mean?  It's an energy allocation scheme; each ship has five of them.  Damage is tracked by loss of these schemes.  I'll explain it all after I verify what mechanics work and which ones fall apart.

13 November 2011

Hexless Vector Movement

I've been buried in the world of flight test instrumentation, so my gaming rumination time has been suffering.  I've had enough of LabView and proto-boards for the night so I'm taking a break and getting back to my neglected blog.

So I finished my homebrew space miniatures game a few weeks ago and after all that work I think I'm not going to play it any longer.  My original goal was simplicity and even though War In Space is very simple, I've come up with an even easier game.  The newest one still needs playtesting but is truly a "beer-and-pretzels" game; if it got any more generic it would be called Backgammon.

The new game utilizes six sided dice only.  I love polyhedral dice, I really do, but during playtesting of War In Space one of the main annoyances was having to ensure I grabbed the proper types of dice for a ship during energy allocation.  The fact that those die types changed due to damage made it even easier to make mistakes and roll the wrong dice.  So last night I came up with this little d6 only game, and as soon as I finish typing this I'll go and playtest.

OK, on with the main point... I never finished painting the hex overlay on my vinyl home made space mat.  First I got distracted with some 10mm Ancients gaming, then of course school and work crushed any remaining opportunity or motivation.  Today however I came up with a new idea for hexless vector movement, which figures since I have a space mat with 40% of its surface covered with hexes.

The answer was in front of me all the time.  In the post regarding the conversion of my space mat, I described making little discs out of putty in order to help me make the hex pattern.  These discs are the answer I believe.  By placing one of these discs flush against the base of a spaceship miniature, a player can show the direction of ship's vector.  This requires marks on a round base but on a hex base the player can just push the disc flush with one of the hex sides.  For the magnitude of the vector, the player simply adds more discs in the appropriate direction, i.e. along a line extending from the flight stand rod through the center of that first disc.  I realize this sounds esoteric: the picture below illustrates:
Hexless (and ruler-less) vector movement
 In the picture above, the ship's velocity vector points to the right front 60 degrees right of the nose.  The snapshot shows the ship just before executing a move.  The ship's speed is 3 discs (each disc about the size of a 2 inch hex).  The controlling player would simply move the ship to the opposite end of this line of discs.  Two of the three discs would then be removed from the table and the remaining disc would be repositioned back to the front right 60 degree mark, to show the proper velocity vector.  Changing the direction of the velocity vector is easy to accomplish as well; simply move the disc from one hex side to an adjacent one.  My new game has specific rules on how to execute all these manuevers, but I'll leave that for the download.  Right now I just want to present the concept of hexless vector movement by using round markers.

As the above pictures show, the little putty discs can be decorated with acrylic paint in order to make them unobtrusive on the table.

Off to playtest, but here's an example of a ship readout from my new game... as you can see, very simple.

Beer-and-pretzels!  Still undecided on the firing arcs