31 December 2012

Scratchbuild Future Tank Platoon... Finished

OK, well the title of this post might be a bit premature.  I would like to individually base these tanks, and I plan to use decals to add insignia to them a little more pep.  So the platoon is not yet finished, but I'm finished documenting this project.

I'm pleased with how the miniatures turned out and how the ink wash brings out the panel lines.  I also learned a lot from the process.  Some important lessons were: make the undercarriage first, cut the main gun barrels all at the same time instead of cutting one and gluing it (which led to wonky, mismatched barrel-lengths).

31mm (hull) length

So the question arises: what rule-set do I use these with?  I sold off my print version of Dirtside II years ago, but have the free download.  I love Stargrunt II with its different die types and I know DSII shares these, but I can't get past the chit-pull for damage system.

I've looked at Future War Commander, but I think the scale of this system is too large.  I want each miniature to represent an individual tank.

I'm about to embark on a year-long gaming and scratchbuilding hiatus, making this question academic, but after the hobby-drought is over I plan on hitting the game table with a vengeance.  So what system (besides homebrew) should I use for 1/300 tank battles?

29 December 2012

Sci-Fi Micro-Armor Platoon WIP Update

I'm getting closer to actually finishing a scratchbuild project; namely, my futuristic tank platoon.

Yesterday I attached the undercarriages, and glued on wheels, which were discs punched from a styrene sheet with the Missus' hole punch.  Last night I attached the main guns (using angel hair pasta and epoxy) to each tank turret, then primed all pieces white.

Tonight I will hopefully have some time to paint each tank hull and turret and glue everything together.  Until then, here's some shots of the primed pieces of one tank (turret not glued, just sitting on the hull).
Starting to look like tanks...

I had a question from reader yojimbo regarding what I mean by impression mold.  I wasn't being entirely clear to the non-moldmaking public, so below is a picture of the impression molds used to make the turrets and one hull of these tanks.  Sometimes (like with these tanks) I just press the Super-Sculpey shapes into the clay to form the impression but other times on "bigger" projects, like an 80mm spaceship, I'll push a piece of polystyrene scrap into the clay first.  The scrap plastic is used just to make the initial impression, and is cut in the outline of the ship.  Then I'll use the Super-Sculpey stamps to detail the inner walls of the depression.  Final note, the mold clay is not polymer clay (like the stamps) but Plastalina modeling clay.

Impression molds, post-casting

Hope this helps!

27 December 2012

Sci-fi Micro-Armor Platoon WIP

I'm using techniques I developed for making miniature spaceships to create 1/300 scale future fighting vehicles.  The pictures below show the work in progress; so far I have the hulls and turrets of a four-tank platoon complete.
Not the most uniform resin cure...

...too much humidity perhaps?
Super close-up

Still very rough at this stage.  I need to file/sand edges, add the tracks on the bottom, add the main gun, then paint and glue all the components.  Generally I'm pleased with how it's turning out.

Edit: here's some pics of the progress and the method.  The first shot below shows the simple undercarriage for three of the four tanks right out of the oven.  They're constructed of Sculpey, Super-Sculpey and the wheels will be styrene discs.  The next two shots show my Super-Sculpey slabs with the panel lines scribed in.  I pressed these into a slab of modeling clay and filled the resulting depression with resin.  I repeated this three times to create four tanks total for a platoon.

Super-Sculpey stamps

Turret on left, hull on right

I think in the future I will make only one undercarriage, which I will mold with 10:1 RTV silicone.  Then I can use the same tracks for a myriad of different fighting vehicles, and save myself a bunch of work.

23 December 2012

Dead CCG Solitaire: More Galactic Empires

It's a Festivus miracle!

I recently posted a sealed booster solitaire variant of the old Galactic Empires CCG and got some great feedback on the rules.  Additionally I actually took the rare step of playtesting the variant myself, at least for a few rounds.  It turned out OK, but I've been thinking of ways to make it better.

Now, posted on my downloads page, is the newest solitaire variant for Galactic Empires.  Unlike the last set of rules, these ones don't need sealed boosters but instead require a small bit of deck construction (but still easier than for multi-player game).  I think this game's an improvement because unlike the first set of rules, instead of sitting around waiting for enemy ships to maybe stumble across your Sector HQ, you actually build a fleet to attack any of four rival HQs.  In the new version you play an empire just entering a sector of space bordered by four hostile powers who have all established HQs there.  The mission is to discover any uncharted worlds (Terrain) which can provide enough resources to allow the player's empire to gain a foothold in the sector.

If you give it a try, please let me know how it works.  I've yet to try it myself...

17 December 2012

Song of Tracks and Turrets (SBH solo variant)

So I purchased the cool little fantasy skirmish game Song of Blades and Heroes (SBH) a while ago, but have yet to play it.  It seems like a great system and with a little tweaking other people have used it well for solo gaming.  I intend to add my tweaks as well, and then use the basic game engine to model some tank platoon on tank platoon futuristic violence.

Why tank battles?  Well, basically because building 6mm terrain is so much easier than 15mm.  Also, tanks are much easier to sculpt than figures and I want to use some of my scratchbuilds in combat.  Before I can do any of that however, I need to get back to those rules tweaks.

Some solitaire rules I've seen have the player controlling his side and an AI logic controlling the enemy side.  I've tried these types of setups and have never really enjoyed myself.  Instead, I prefer to play each side as objectively and logically as possible against each other.  Still, one side will usually have a neat miniature or cool paint job and I'll be tempted, at least subconsciously, to favor that side.  To help me play it straight I include various randomizers and other ways to simulate the fog of war, such as card activation, chit-draws, etc.  Here's my modification to the Song of Blades and Heroes engine that I plan to implement with my tank games.  If the playtesting works then perhaps I'll try a real SBH game with the modification, despite my dearth of fantasy figures.

Using this modification requires 3 six-sided dice of different colors, and 2 different colored ten-sided dice which match the color of a d6 each.  For example I use a white d6, an orange d6 and green d6; and a green d10 and orange d10.  Additionally, the modification requires a standard deck of playing cards with the Jokers included.

Each unit has a command track consisting of a row of four boxes, each box either blank or featuring a different card suit.  The name is a bit of a misnomer, as the track really reflects the activating miniature's ability to gather and process battlefield information and, more importantly, communicate that information to other members of the unit.  Thus, it should really be called the "commo track", since communications equipment and not the competence of the platoon leader really drives the situational awareness of the unit.

If a unit has only basic communication equipment with no jamming protection and negligible if any sensors, its command track starts blank.  If the unit has well-maintained, contemporary commo gear with anti-jam capability and networked sensors, then it starts with one box on its command track filled with a card suit (it doesn't matter which suit).  If the unit possesses truly revolutionary situational awareness gear, then the command track starts with two of the boxes filled with two different card suits.

The platoon leader's ability to process all this incoming information and then transmit easily understood orders also influences which actions the units take.  If the platoon leader is particularly inept, or extremely inexperienced, remove one playing card suit from the command track (minimum of four blank boxes obviously).  If the leader is trained and not exceptionally talented or experienced but not a hindrance, the command track remains unchanged.  Finally, if the leader has a talent for command or years of combat experience, add a third suit to the track.  Thus, after considering both communications gear and leadership ability, command tracks can have anywhere from zero to three playing card suits displayed.

During the start of the solo game, designate the default aggressiveness of each side on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most risky and 1 the most conservative.  At the start of each turn, choose a miniature to activate and then draw a card from the top of a shuffled deck.  If the suit on the drawn card matches any suit on the activating model's command track, then the miniature has a clear picture of what's happening on all parts of the battlefield.  This allows the solo player to act as a "100 foot general" and choose how many activations the figure will attempt.  Roll the appropriate number of d6 against Quality and take any activations earned as in SBH and most of its variants.

If the suit on the drawn card does not match any on the command track of the miniature's unit, then the figure possesses a skewed picture of what's really going on, either through poor or misinterpreted communication, or just general lack of information.  The model decides its own number of activation attempts, based on its situational awareness.  The number on the card indicates the activating miniature's aggressiveness, with face cards using the default aggressiveness declared at game start.  Roll all five dice, the 3d6 and 2d10 together.  Treat the aggressiveness number on the card (we'll call it X here) as the beginning of the following sentence: "X+ rolled on a d10 results in the discard of the matching color d6".  Remove the appropriate dice from the table and then compare any remaining d6s against the unit's Quality, as per normal SBH.  So the higher the aggressiveness of the figure (as dictated by the card), the more likely all three dice will be used in an activation attempt.  Repeat the process with the next miniature, either on the same side or opposing side depending on turnovers, placing markers to record which models have attempted activation.  The turn ends when all miniatures have rolled for activation, but the card deck is not reshuffled (see below).

The first Joker draw results in all three d6 being rolled for activation, but initiative is not turned over, regardless of the number of failures.  Set this Joker aside from the normal discard pile as a reminder.  A second Joker draw results in an immediate end of the turn and reshuffling of the card deck.  So, first Joker: good; second Joker: bad.

If SBH, Mutants and Deathray Guns or Flying Lead players out there have any interest in my solitaire variant, please try it out and let me know how it works.    

15 December 2012

30,794 Views and a Liebster!

...well, maybe not a major award, but I still feel honored that JF over at Solo Nexus nominated my blog as a Liebster Blog.  If you're unfamiliar, it's an initiative to bring attention to blogs with less than 200 followers.  This blog, with only 37 followers, certainly qualifies.  And if 30794 page views seems like a weird number to celebrate, I figure since maybe 10% to 15% of my hits come from Russian spambots, I don't really know when I hit a true milestone anyways.  Sposibo comrades.

So the rules for the Liebster Award are as follows: I display the award here and provide a link to the blog which nominated me.  Then I nominate five blogs which I enjoy, all of which have less than 200 followers.  JF's Solo Nexus is my go-to site for ideas on solo-gaming, but since he nominated me it frees me up to highlight another cool blog.  Here are my five (which possibly may already have been nominated since they rock):

Super Galactic Dreadnought - The blog that inspired me to start my own blog.  Desert Scribe's passion for space battle games rivals any I've seen and it shows in the attention to detail on his blog.

M C Monkey Dew's Miniature Games - Although sparse in posts recently, his miniature painting and especially his scenarios are inspiring.

Save Vs. Dragon - His devotion to the d30 may be his hallmark, but I appreciate his quality pen and ink drawings which he cranks out at amazing speeds.

The Warlock's Home Brew - A beautiful looking blog with 199 followers, so it's still eligible.  A lot of great play-aids found here, as well as great roleplaying ideas in general.

Platoon Forward - Before I ran across Joe's posts on TMP, I didn't even know solo-gaming existed.

Please check these blogs out; and thanks again to JF for the kind words and nomination.

03 December 2012

Dead CCG Solitaire: The Galactic Empires Five Booster Challenge

I knocked out a quick little solitaire rules variant for the old Galactic Empires collectable card game; the three-page rules sheet resides on my Downloads page.

The basic premise is that the solo player starts with one ship and a playing area of 64 cards, representing different coordinates in the sector being explored.  Most of the cards start face-down, with the object of the game being to move one's ship around exploring, flipping up these cards in the process.  Some may end up being terrain, which will give more resources to power additional ships, which are also hidden face-down.  Of course, many of the face-down cards represent the dangers of space, like Hazard and Monster cards.  And even worse, ships from other empires randomly roam the playing area, and may destroy the solo player's valuable terrain, his ships or his Sector HQ, resulting in a player loss.

I have yet to play test this, but already have a few ideas to make it smoother by using additional boosters.

If you have a few old GE boosters lying around (boxes are plentiful on eBay), give it a try.

01 December 2012

DIY Missiles for Space Battle Gaming

The price for being unpainted...missile death
I spent some of the day making missile stands for my newest spaceship miniatures game, Able Spaceman.  In principle they are super simple to make, but in between chores and other weekend pursuits it took a little time.

Basically I took a round toothpick and used a wood rasp to file a flat part on one side, a few millimeters in length and maybe 10mm from one end.  I then cut just past the flat portion, forming the main missile body.

Next I poked a hole in the flat end of the missile body using a needle, then used my hobby knife to excavate the hole a little.  I cut the other tip off the same toothpick, dipped it in CA glue and jammed it in the hole on the back of the missile body, forming the exhaust nozzle.

I cut a small rhombus out of scrap polystyrene to form the fins and their associated wing box (I know there's no need for fins in space; call them radiators or antennae or something...).  I mounted this with CA glue directly on top of the flight stand which was already attached to the base (a washer).  I then added a dab of CA glue on top of the fins and pushed the missile body down on it, the flat portion resting neatly on the platform made by the fins.  Some basic coats of paint finished it up.  I think I'll add some red markings on the fins to jazz them up, but overall I'm very happy.

Missiles are fire-and-forget in my new rules and the custom base shown in the picture above facilitates that.  The speed track shows the current speed, which is marked off after the missile moves, allowing players to keep track of fuel as well.  After marking off the "6", the missile runs out of fuel and is eliminated.  The big empty space after the speed track is where the target ship's name is written, eliminating the need for tracking on any paper "ships system display" or similar sheets.  Finally, there's a space for the Lock-On quality of the missile's guidance when launched.  The player must fly the missile to the target and the Lock-On quality influences certain dice rolls required for the seeking weapon to successfully maneuver.  Clear plastic covers the missile stand base, allowing me to write all this information down with a permanent marker during play, cleaning it later with alcohol for future use.    

30 November 2012

Solitaire Space Battle Homebrew in the Works

Lots of props make for a smoother/faster game

I can't stop making up rules.  It's a sickness.  But I think this time I have it figured out...

Last year I put a ton of effort into a game called War In Space and posted it here on the Downloads page of this blog.  The problem with that set of rules was that I didn't really playtest it thoroughly enough, and it turned out to be too clunky and not very fun.

Soon afterward I made a new set of rules, Greater Space Battles, which has given me a lot of fun games.  I stayed up until 2 or 3AM  a few nights finishing a game and I haven't done that since high school.  Greater Space Battles finally let me recapture some of that magic of my gaming youth when I had a good group of gaming buddies and everything was fresh.  As great a time as I've had with the second rule-set, something has always been nagging at me to revisit War In Space.

War In Space suffered from a lot of problems, but I've always been happy with the core energy allocation rule mechanic of throwing three dice, with the type dependent on the ship size.  Looking closer at my first set of rules, I realized that the biggest problem was the screwed up turn sequence.  So I ditched that and made a new little game, combining aspects from my first and second rule-sets.  I playtested a few turns today and it worked great.

The key to a non-clunky and fun play experience was a lot of pre-production work.  Each ship has a detailed base with information on it, as well as a separate washer that has more ship information mounted on both sides.  This eliminates the need for any paper, and these washer-tokens can be drawn randomly from a dish to determine initiative, essential for a solitaire game.  They're also plastic coated so that changes during the game can be marked in permanent marker (won't rub off with hand-moisture), and cleaned after the game with isopropyl alcohol.

The big improvement over my other systems is how I track energy points.  Now, instead of pennies or tokens, I use little cubes which prove a lot faster as I generally just need to flip one side instead of go grab more tokens off the stack.  As the picture above shows, these are really little cubes, only 3/16" per side.  Actually, that was a good lesson-learned from the playtest: the tiny cubes proved unobtrusive but fiddly; it took a little bit of time manipulating them because they were so hard to grab.  I made new ones tonight that are bigger but still tiny compared to normal d6s, which overwhelm and crowd out the ship miniatures.

So the key is props.  The little cubes for energy tracking, the Box O' Death dice rolling tool, the information tokens in their initiative dish, and an alcohol pen all make for a smooth game.  Today I finished two turns of a 2 v 2 ship battle in under 20 minutes: in my experience pretty fast for a solitaire game where I have to continually move around the table.

Unlike last time, I'm going to playtest at least two or three games before I write up and post the rules.  This blog goes into a year-long deep hyperspace sleep in December, so I hope I have it done by then.  

25 November 2012

Dead CCG: Galactic Empires

Cards from my collection

I've found my newest fascination to distract me from other gaming pursuits in the Galactic Empires collectable card game (CCG).  First published in 1994 by now defunct Companion Games, the game definitely qualifies as a dead CCG.

Back in the 90s when I played INWO and Mythos regularly, I came across some promo cards for Galactic Empires (GE) and laughed at the artwork, immediately rejecting GE as a Magic: the Gathering clone.  Fast forward a few decades (ouch) and I ran into the game again, this time as a heap of cards for cheap.  I'm into converting dead CCGs into solitaire versions, space themed games in general, and getting things for cheap.  GE fit all three of those so I did a little research and then bought the heap.

The Galactic Empires Card Museum is a great website that convinced me to check this gem of a CCG out.  The museum features pictures of nearly every card, and if you look at the first few editions, you'll see why I avoided GE initially.  Look at "Science Officer" in the Alpha and Beta releases for example; it looks like a 10 year old's crayon drawing.  If you look at the Universe edition released in 1995 however, you'll see that the art improved dramatically as many popular CCG artists began to produce illustrations for the game.  That's the edition I bought and am very pleased with the appearance.

I was concerned if one could construct a playable game deck from boosters alone.  I just received all my booster boxes and after beginning to catalog them I feel more confident a deck can be built from boosters alone.  I've only opened five boosters from my first box, but with some quick sorting and filtering on an excel spreadsheet I'm already seeing some great trends.  Follow the link in the previous sentence to download the spreadsheet to manage your collection.

First, I'm impressed with the variation in the boosters. Other CCGs I've collected have been guilty of poor distribution, with sometimes two or three of the same common right next to each other in the same booster. Not so with GE (at least in these first five boosters). So far all 14 cards per booster have been different than each other, and among the 70 cards so far cataloged I see only five cards which are duplicates. The second thing I like is that each booster contains, at least so far, a minimum of one terrain and one ship. In a few cases, two of each. From the spreadsheet I have 8 terrain and 8 ships from five boosters. That's an average of greater than one and a half ship and one and a half terrain cards per booster. So with a full booster box I should expect over 50 ships and 50 terrain, the two main card types needed to really get things done.

I've yet to play the game, but a quick read through the rules show GE is indeed a Magic: the Gathering clone where players use places ("terrain") to generate the resources which then power cards (ships here, creatures in Magic) capable of attacking an opponent directly.  Yes, it's a clone, but actually the idea of stocking resources to power the main offensive/defensive cards fits the theme of a space conquest game better than it does the theme of dueling mages ala Magic.

Still, I think this game would've been better with a traveling/exploration rule mechanic versus just straight fighting.  I'm going to try to come up with a solitaire variant which uses actual spatial positions of the cards as a factor, where the player has to move his ships around the playing area exploring, trying to find more systems to power more fleet cards to defend against enemy ship cards roving randomly.

12 November 2012

Scratchbuilding and Playtesting: A Productive Weekend

I used the nice long holiday weekend to continue a number of projects, namely basing my recently painted scratchbuilds, casting a new group of scratchbuild ships, and finishing some tokens in order to playtest a set of solitaire rules so these two groups of ships can battle it out.  I'm surprised but I managed to meet most of my goals, and more importantly I picked out a few problems with my new rule-set that I can tweak before I invest too much time.

The pictures below show my three new scratchbuilds.  For some reason I got a lot of bubbles just below the surface on two of these.  Weird because I used exactly the same technique I've been using and normally I marvel at the complete lack of air bubble problems.  I did cast these outside in the cool autumn air and then put them immediately on the dashboard of my truck, in the sun, where it was relatively hot.  Perhaps the temperature gradient caused the bubbles?

I also baked 90 polymer clay tokens this weekend, for use with the new solitaire space battle rules I mentioned.  The cross-hairs denote energy points allocated for attack, the arrow energy for movement, and the castellated line represents defensive energy.  I made the tokens uniform in diameter and thickness by pushing the clay flush into the 0.5 inch diameter opening in a steel washer.  In order to get more mileage out of the number of tokens created, I painted 10 of each different symbol in three different colors.  The colors red, blue, and green represent one, two, and three energy points respectively.
Made with Sculpey polymer clay

Overall the playtest of the rules proved slow, but I chalk a lot of that up to me still figuring out the best way to set up the gaming area.  Speaking of gaming area, we're still in transition until mid December and all my game mats reside in storage, while I find myself without a hobby room; that explains the foamboard playing surface and styrofoam hemisphere planet still in shrinkwrap.
The Battle of the Bedroom Nebula

The picture above shows the tokens in use during the playtest.  Aesthetically I am very pleased with the tokens.  The picture below shows a closeup of them distributed around one of the warships during the playtest.  I found a couple of issues with their use however.  First, even with 90 tokens and only six ships in play, I actually started running out of particular types of tokens.  Second and more important, I found one of the major obstacles slowing down the game was having to constantly walk over to the pile of spare tokens and "make change" as the ship's energy values and hence the denomination of their respective tokens changed.
Tokens: aesthetically pleasing but fiddly
I've seen other spaceship games use dice set next to the miniatures in order to track hits, ammo, hull points, whatever.  I've never liked this approach as I find it ugly, but after today's playtest I realize the wisdom of this technique.  I can get a bucket of d6 from an education supplier, with each die being one of three colors.  This works out perfectly, as my game features three different types of energy for every ship.  I can use a weird die like a non-platonic ("normal") d10, or d20 or d24 to represent beam weapon charging.

Other than the slowness of moving tokens around, the playtest passed the crucial fun test.  The rules utilize the same basic energy allocation game mechanic as my War In Space game, but with a much more streamlined turn sequence.  Also, I designed War In Space as a two player game and then tried to bend it into a solitaire set; I built these new rules from the ground up as a solo game.

One final way method of streamlining the rules involves using a clear plastic storage container to roll all the dice necessary at once.  I understand some Battletech players developed this technique (known as the Box o' Death) a long time ago, but I got the idea from Desert Scribe on his blog.  Since I'm using multiple types of polyhedral dice to represent various levels of energy production capability, the Box o' Death proves essential to avoid constantly looking for the right dice.       

04 November 2012

Scratchbuild Spaceship Task Force

Here are some shots of the four ships I've been working on, complete and ready to be matte sprayed and mounted on flight stands.

Initially I tried to paint details and insignia on the ships, but just didn't like the looks.  Then I found a couple of old decal sheets from some models I bought over 10 years ago but never finished (or started). 

These ships are small enough that I'm able to chop up individual decals (like a tail number for example) to make multiple stripes and arcs and such.  I should therefore be able to use these decal sheets for quite a while, which is good because I've already got a few new ships in the works.  I plan on making four new ships before the next weekend so I can test out some new solitaire rules.

27 October 2012

Sangreal Class Light Cruiser

Last weekend I created another resin spaceship miniature using my new technique and today I managed to get some decent shots.  

~ 50mm long

I'm calling this one the Sangreal class light cruiser in honor of my newest gaming interest, the Quest for the Grail CCG published by Stone Ring Games back in 1995.  I managed to pick up a sealed box of starters and a sealed box of boosters on eBay and the cards should be here this week.

Like most games I've seen profiled on BGG, this one has its defenders and detractors.  Fans of the game enjoy the art and also, like me, love the Arthurian myths.  Others however state the game is boring and an unnecessary contribution to the CCG glut of the mid 90's.  I've always disliked Magic: the Gathering so back then I considered any alternative offered a welcome addition to the CCG scene, and still do.  I'm particularly interested in this game however because descriptions I've read summarize it as a questing type game.  Apparently it's a CCG where all players simultaneously compete against the game itself, similar to Mythos and X-Files, versus fighting games like Magic where the players attack each other directly.  I have found CCGs using this questing mechanic allow excellent solitaire variants with a minimum of rules changes.  I don't yet have the rulebook in hand, but with its Quest deck I think Quest for the Grail has potential as a solitaire CCG.

Speaking of the artwork, the game designers gave the cards a very classy feel, as well as saved themselves licensing fees, by using old art in the public domain.  Here's an example of a piece of art, by Arthur Rackham, featured in the game.
Public Domain image by Arthur Rackham

15 October 2012

Painting Scratchbuild Spaceships: WIP

Here are a couple of WIP shots of the paints schemes for three ships I scratchbuilt, including two featured last post.

I still need to paint on small details like insignia and markings, and then drybrush so they're not done.  I'm very excited about this new scratchbuild technique however and thought I'd share some pictures demonstrating the ink wash bringing out the panel details.

Blocky design; 57mm long

Love this design; 52mm long

Imperfect resin cure; big stripe to go on radiator; 54mm long

13 October 2012

Scratchbuild Spaceships: New Technique

I've been messing around with Milliput Fine for a month or so now and while I like the ability to scribe panel lines, I'm not liking the slow nature of having to sculpt a starship from the inside out, building it up.  I'm American: I want instant gratification!  So I developed a new technique that allows me to make ships much faster.

First, I roll out a thin sheet of Super-Sculpey.  I find a 15mm diameter ball of Super-Sculpey makes a nice strip roughly 60mm long and just a finger or so wide, only about 2-3mm thick.  I make sure the strip is flat and smooth and then scribe in panel lines with my homemade tools.  After 30 minutes or so of scribing, I take a box-cutter blade and carefully cut the strip into a myriad of tiny rectangles and a few odd shapes, all with sides ranging from about 1mm to 5mm.  The tiny shapes then get baked at 275C for 12 minutes to make them ceramic-like, and then glued to the ends of small wooden sticks, making little clay stamps.

Next I roll out a block of sulfur-free clay (NOT polymer clay) so that it's flat.  I then press out the shape of the ship itself using the little stamps I just made.  I pour Alumilite Super-Plastic resin into the impression and then 10 minutes later remove the finished spaceship, making sure to use a tooth-brush to remove any clay clinging to the cast.

Here are pictures of my first two designs.  I'm crossing my fingers that tomorrow I can get these painted and bring out all these wonderful panel lines.

Prior to sandpaper clean-up


15 September 2012

WIP: Resin Cast of Milliput Spaceship

Yesterday I posted about my first epoxy putty scratchbuilt spaceship, a simple design sculpted with Milliput Superfine.  Today I went ahead and pressed the relatively flat design into a block of sulfur-free sculpting clay (I can't remember the brand name) to make an impression mold.

I detailed the mold with ball burnishers and other regular shapes, then poured some resin in.  I removed the cast and cleaned up the edges with a little wet sanding.  I'll still need to sculpt the exhaust section on the back and put an antennae cluster on the front, but it's coming along.  I plan to paint it tomorrow if I can get that detailing and the basing done.

Not as crisp as the master...

The resin cast is nowhere near as crisp as the Milliput original, as far as panel lines go.  The resin gives a number of advantages though.  First, with the impression mold I can add globular tank features that would be too hard to sculpt, as well as little greeblies to catch the drybrushing.  Also I can jam little pieces of plastic into the clay, extending into the cavity.  These end up getting caught in the cured resin and when removed from the clay jut out of the cast spaceship at right angles, forming easy and convincing looking struts, solar panels and radiator fins.  This little wedge ship has one such fin, but it's hard to spot in the picture.  Finally, the biggest advantage of the resin is duplication capability.  I easily could have pressed the Milliput master into four or five small blocks of clay today, and mixed up enough resin to fill all the impressions simultaneously.  A fleet in 10 minutes (well, not counting cleaning up the edges and detailing the back).  Hopefully the cast will take paint well enough to bring out the details; I really like the fast duplication possibilities of this method.

14 September 2012

Milliput Scratchbuild Spaceship

I finally went out and bought some Milliput Superfine to use in my first attempt at spaceship scatchbuilding with two part epoxy putty. 

I've dabbled in figure sculpting before using Kneadatite (more famous as "Greenstuff") and ProCreate.  I found both extremely difficult to use.  I tried and liked regular Milliput, especially the fact that it smooths with water; the only problem is the graininess of the cured product.  Milliput Superfine is advertised as having the same water-smoothing properties with none of the graininess, at an increased price of course.  It's worth the extra money.

For machine-like parts I love this stuff.  Just smash the proper amount of putty on a prepared shape (laminated plastic strips work well), smooth with water, then make panel lines.  Easy.

I kept this first design simple and rough on the edges since I was just experimenting with putty properties.  Now that I've got a handle on it, I'll try a few more complex designs and clean them up properly.  You can see where I sculpted the front half, stopped, then started again later with better tools and different techniques.  I prefer the look of the back half of the ship.

45mm long; will cast in resin

09 September 2012

Scratchbuild Spaceships and Weird Resin Reactions

I had a four days off last weekend and decided to sculpt up a new spaceship.  I made two halves like I normally do out of water-putty and used Alumilite HS III to make molds of each half.  I tested out my jury-rigged agitator device to prevent bubbles in the water-putty masters, but honestly it didn't work any better than just tapping the air out.  I know it would work better if I attached the motor directly to the suspended platform and if I used less rigid springs.  Oh well; that's science.  I would try to improve the design, but honestly I'd rather use my spare time for scratchbuilding miniatures.

Anyways today I poured resin casts of each ship half and combined them.  A weird thing happened.  The top hull which I poured first cured perfectly with a normal off white color and no bubbles.  The bottom half I poured second and while it cured I set the top hull against it so the two halves would fuse together to form a complete ship.  I knew the edges would be a bit rough, but for some reason the bottom hull never changed from the dark brown color of the uncured resin.  The plastic solidified fine, it just didn't change color.  If anyone out there has more experience with resin and can explain why, I'd appreciate it.  I'm guessing maybe insufficient mixing?  Or perhaps the recently cured resin of the top hull touching the curing bottom hull caused a strange reaction?  I don't know, but I know once primed it won't matter.  I've still got a lot of work to do with file and blade but once I get the exhaust nozzle on the back of the ship and antennae cluster on the front, I think it'll look OK.  I am however going to give up trying to mash ship halves together like this.  The join line just looks too sloppy.  From now on my ships will be either simple one part mold casts with flat bottoms, or complete three dimensional sculpts with a proper two-part mold.
Bottom hull mold

Top hull mold
Top (cured normally)

Bottom (abnormal cure)

In addition to this ship, I also started on a new sculpt and am about 40% complete.  For this sculpt I'm experimenting with a totally new technique and finally taking a few timid steps into the world of two-part epoxy putties.  I'm using Milliput Superfine and so far I love its properties.  As you can see, I'm keeping the design very simple.
Deep panel lines to catch ink washes

Finally, here's a shot of some micro-armor I started way back in June.  The turret and hull have been completed since then but I'm working on the tracks slowly.  I hope to mold all the parts and have a platoon of four tanks done soon.

31 August 2012

Homemade Molding/Casting Agitator

A long time has passed since my last post, my time having been filled with major work and life events.  Pretty soon I'll be starting a year-long school and will have to cease gaming and put this blog on hiatus.  So before then I'm trying to cram in as much scratchbuilding as possible.

I'm finishing the scratchbuild tank I started way back, and starting on another spaceship.  As I've discussed, I'm using water-putty to make the masters, silicone for molds and resin for the casts.  In each of these materials I have to vigorously tap the respective container to ensure air bubbles don't form.  I'm some cases, especially with the water-putty, I don't get all the bubbles out.  To remedy this I cobbled together a crude agitator, inspired by a blog post on the Ultrawerke site.

First I bought a 4x6 inch wooden picture frame for a US$1.00 at the dollar store.  I cut up the fiberboard backing to make legs to elevate the frame.  I cut the bottom out of a cardboard coffee bean  container, leaving a 30mm lip all the way around.  I suspended the coffee can platform from the frame using springs from the hardware store.  I then mounted a 1.5V motor to the side of the frame.  The motor and associated wires, switch and power source were all left over parts from a graduate course I completed last winter but could easily be purchased from Radio Shack for US$5.00 to $7.00 total.  I fixed a weight to the drive-shaft using epoxy putty and turned it on and to my amazement it worked.  It worked a little too well and the frame starting scooting across the kitchen table.  My wife suggested placing the whole contraption in a cardboard box, which worked beautifully.

I"m off to pour the top and bottom hulls of a new spaceship sculpt.  I think this agitator will go a long way towards making more crisp scratchbuilds.


10 June 2012

1/300 Future Tank New WIP

Alright, I know I promised to show a tutorial on 6mm sci-fi buildings from egg carton styrene.  And I know I still need to paint and base my water putty futuristic apartment building.  But scratchbuilding tanks is just much more fun.

I'm still using my putty/impression mold method, but this time instead of spaghetti I used laminated styrene sheets as the initial shape.  Laminating the plastic together and sanding created a very regular shape very easily.  I know this is how 90% of the sculptors out there start their models, and maybe one day I will have the confidence with two-part epoxy to sculpt a vehicle like the professionals do, instead of my method.

This latest vehicle is a big one.  The sloping sides make me think "hovertank", but I hate hovertanks.  What a cop-out.  I know that tactically a hovering tank would have superior mobility, but I think it's really just a convenient excuse to avoid sculpting tracks.  An excuse I will probably take full advantage of by the way, because sculpting tracks sucks.  I have no shame.  I'm going to have to re-do the turret however.  The whole domed look is just too dorky.

Tank turret (left) and hull putty masters

Next step is to mold and then cast in resin.  I'm going back to Alumilite HSIII just because I need to use the stuff up, but that means the mold cure time will be 48 hours.  With all the time I invest in trying to build a micro-armor force, I think it's worth it to buy commercially instead of scratchbuilding.  GZG's figures are diabolically cheap for insane quality...how can I resist?     

31 May 2012

6mm City of the Future WIP update

I poured wall number four last night and finished its detailing.  The roof just finished curing so later tonight I will scribe the panel lines and attach it.  Then only basing and painting remains.

The building is shown with one of my scratchbuild 1/300 tanks for scale comparison.

Thanks for looking.

The tank is 34mm long

29 May 2012

6mm Futuristic Building Scratchbuild (Cont.)

Work continues on my 6mm futuristic cityscape.  My molding attempts mentioned last post didn't work out, so I restarted.  Three walls completed so far.  I'm pleased with the results, but this method is far too time consuming to use on another building.  While waiting for the putty to cure however I experimented with an alternate method using the styrene from egg containers.  Much simpler so I should be able to get a decent city block completed by summer's end.

27 May 2012

6mm Sci-Fi City Block WIP

I'm starting to drill down to a workable set of 6mm science fiction rules, and eventually I'll need some terrain.  I'm going with my old standbys, Durham's Rock-Hard Water Putty and Sculpey, in order to construct multiple futuristic buildings using the same technique I used for my 10mm primitive houses.

Negative image of wall section

I produced one wall section (pictured below) and started a second, the opposite wall, which is curing now.  I plan to mold both of these two walls; right now I'm also waiting for the first layer of silicone to cure over the first wall section.  My thought process is that with molds I can replicate two walls of the same dimensions en mass.  Then I can vary the distance between these two walls on each building, avoiding a block of absolutely identical structures.  Also, I've only scribed about 2/3 the panel lines I wanted to in the wall section before I molded it.  That way whenever I pour new sections, I can scribe the panel lines differently for each, giving each wall its own character.  Each building will have a unique roof section as well, created with the same technique.

So far the method is not the cheapest in terms of materials and time.  I've been at it for a few hours and will end up using about half a tube of silicone for each wall section.  Still, once the molds cure I can crank out buildings a little faster.  

25 May 2012

Song of Tracks and Turrets?

All my homebrew rules start out as justifications for my scratchbuilding habit.  I get most of my satisfaction by building terrain and miniatures from nothing, but inevitably my girlfriend asks "but what do you use them for?"  So, like everyone else with a blog, I'm constantly producing my own game rules.

My spaceship game Greater Space Battles surprised me with how much fun it turned out to be, and I thought to replicate that in other genres.  So far lightning hasn't struck twice; ideas that seem great on paper fall apart on the game table.  In particular I just can't seem to nail down a fun and simple micro-armor game to go with my new scratchbuilds.  Well, I've decided to start with a published game known for being simple, fun, and solo-friendly.

Ganesha Game's Song of Blades and Heroes is a super-cool little miniatures game with a neat little activation mechanic that forms the basis of a number of derivative rulesets.  The author maintains a constant presence on the game's Yahoo group, patiently answering questions and providing updates.  One update I'm interested in is the 6mm spin-off of SoB&H that he's currently writing.  Unfortunately it won't be out for some time, and I want my tanks fighting now... so I'm trying to figure out how to adapt Song of Blades and Heroes for tank v. tank combat.

It turns out I'm not alone, in fact check out these cool 6mm forces on Space Cow Smith's blog, which he pitted against old Battletech 'mechs using the SoB&H rules.

One thing about Song of Blades and Heroes is the combat is very simple, just an opposed die roll with modifiers.  While great for modelling two swordsmen dueling, to me this just isn't the right flavor for hi-tech vehicular combat with large energy and ballistic weapons.  I'm trying to come up with modified shooting rules for SoB&H, but so far am a bit stuck.  So I'm reaching out to the gaming blogging community since I know this ruleset is popular with solo gamers.

Who else out there is using Song of Blades and Heroes to game sci-fi micro-armor combat?  How are you doing it?  

17 May 2012

Atomic Tank Platoon: Vehicle Construction Rules

I've been tweeking my micro-armor game Atomic Tank Platoon.  I've simplified the action resolution rules, using both bonus and penalty dice to define a tank's mobility and its weapons' capabilities.  More importantly the rules have expanded onto a second page featuring vehicle construction rules. 

The vehicle design rules make extensive use of dice rolling.  While the player still has plenty of decision making during the design process, the dice add quite a bit of randomness.  I realize that some people may not like this, but I see a number of advantages.  First, as a solo player I'm always interested in adding "unknowns" to my gaming experience.  Second, the dice rolling allows the rapid creation of new designs without having to pour over charts or use computer spreadsheets.  The randomization of the dice prevents (as long as the player doesn't fudge any rolls) the design system from being "broken" to create super-vehicles.  Finally, I think the dice rolling nicely simulates either those flashes of genius and innovation in vehicle design, or more commonly, those unexpected flaws that appear during testing, resulting in size creep and cost overruns.  And besides, like with rolling up a character in your favorite role playing game, it's just fun to see what the dice give you; you never know what you're going to get.

The second page also features a consolidated example of vehicle design and an associated vehicle readout for the sample tank.  The readout is in the shape of a 120 degree arc, which can be used for measuring turns and firing arcs in addition to its function as quick reference of the vehicle's capabilities.

Finally, hello to Andy, whose new blog features some incredible looking 15mm figures and terrain.  Check it out.

14 May 2012

6mm/15mm Sci-Fi Squinch Dome Finished

I'm eager to continue playtesting my sci-fi tank game, especially with proper terrain and miniatures.  To that end I've been back to scratchbuilding and tonight I finally finished the squinch dome I started some time ago.

I'm pleased with the structure itself, especially the high-tech walls, but not my paint job.  Looking on the finished product, I should have went with a bright yellow for the dome and squinches, not green.  As you can see from the third picture, I was going for a dazzle camouflage pattern on the arches, but with the white and black it ended up looking like a Holstein cow.  So I abandoned that attempt and instead switched to painting panel lines, which I think turned out surprisingly effective.  Still, I think next time I will carve the panel lines in the arches.

The building may look silly on my table-top with its garish color scheme, but I learned a lot of great techniques that I can use to mass produce similar buildings.  That'll give me plenty of practice at painting.

GZG 15mm Heavy Vac-suited trooper for scale

A small shelter at 15mm...

... or a university library at 6mm