26 February 2012

Resin Scratchbuild #4 & Magic-Smooth Review

Ship #4, in resin

I bought 8 ounces of a modelling compound called Magic-Smooth last week.  Last night, after removing the resin cast I poured of ship design number three (seen last post), I decided to do a comparison of Magic-Smooth versus resin.

Magic-Smooth is a two-part epoxy but unlike most of the materials miniature-makers are used to, this stuff has a consistency similar to honey versus clay or putty. I therefore reasoned I could use it like I use Durham's water-putty or resin or plaster or any other liquid-to-solid medium.  So I mixed some up and got my first lesson.  Magic-Smooth really is a lot like honey or, more accurately, a lot like tree sap.  It's very sticky and although it's possible to mix it with your fingers like Kneadatite, it's easier to mix the two parts on a piece of plastic with a disposable knife.  Once the epoxy was mixed I pressed it into the one-part mold of ship three.  Pressing it in proved very sloppy, but that's where Magic-Smooth shines: you can smooth it with water.  I then waited overnight for it to cure; a huge disadvantage when compared to water-putty which cures in 100 minutes or Alumilite resin which cures in 3 to 7 minutes!  I pulled the cast out of the mold this morning and photographed it next to the resin cast of ship three.
Top: resin cast, bottom: an abomination

Obviously Magic-Smooth is a no-go for small spaceship miniatures.  Air bubbles and poor detail reproduction.  Also, the Magic-Smooth cast is rubbery and very hard to trim.  In fact, it reminds me of some failed experiments I did with hot-glue gun casting.  Magic-Smooth is probably awesome for taxidermy applications and larger, organic sculptures, but for casting in 50mm long silicone molds it's no good.

Last post I mentioned I had poured two resin ships but only showed one.  I finished a rough lower hull for the second ship and photographed it today.  I still need to take a file to it and do a lot of clean-up, but I'm very pleased with the detail and lack of air bubbles.  Alumilite comes through again for me.

50mm long

25 February 2012

The Miracle of Science (Resin Spaceship #3)

I love resin.  My second attempt and I poured two more ships, this time two destroyer/frigate types.  Each cast is 50mm long.  One cast still sits trapped in its mold, but I've already made a two-part epoxy bottom hull for the other cast and demolded it.  As the picture below shows, just a little light tapping on the mold for about a minute was all the resin required to make a flawless, bubble-free cast.  I still need to take some sand-paper to this model and sharpen up the edges, but I'm very pleased.

The best part about this medium is that each of these ships only took 2.5mL of resin (plastic and hardener combined).  At those amounts I can make 100 to 200 casts, depending on wastage.  I figure that no matter how careful I mix, I still lose maybe 30% of the available resin.  Still, that's a lot of ships for cheap!

Greater Space Battles: Alternate Missile Rules

So I actually finished Battle 2 of Period 2 of my Greater Space Battles solo campaign over a week ago and made the necessary campaign rolls to generate the next battle using the results.  I'll specifically address these rolls (and show my campaign record sheets) in a future post, but right now I want to talk about a new mechanic I playtested during that battle.

The missile rules in the Greater Space Battles book work fine as written.  The only problem is they just feel wrong.  So I tested a new set of rules I find superior.  I won't change the downloadable rulebook, but if I ever have time to release a rules supplement, I'll throw these new missile rules in there.  I vastly prefer these mechanics.

OK, so in the new rules when a ship's captain chooses to launch a missile, the player pays one energy token which has been allocated to attack actions.  The player then places the missile counter on the table, touching the firing ship's base, and opposite the ship's Vector/Readout Disc.  The player may place the missile facing any direction.  The picture below illustrates a missile launch.
Missile attack turn 1, energy allocation phase
 Later during this launching turn, when the player moves the launching ship, the player leaves the missile counter in its original location.  The player may turn the counter's facing up to 60 degrees either clockwise or counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise for my antipodal friends).  This represents, in abstract, the missile maneuvering towards a target.  The player does not move the missile counter however, and does not have to declare a target yet.
Missile attack turn 1, movement phase
The player resolves the missile attack one turn after launching, as before.  During the weapons fire phase, the player determines the missile's target (any and all enemy ships are eligible) and rolls the proper amount of dice.  The missile is now totally disassociated from its launching vessel, therefore the player may resolve the attack at any time during the weapons fire phase, especially since all attacks are simultaneous.  I resolve all missile attacks first, but only out of whim.  The player now measures the range for the attack from the missile counter, not from the launching ship.  The attack dice for the missile equals 2d6 if the target lies within 60 degrees of either side of the missile nose as depicted on the counter.  If the target lies outside this area, the missile expends excessive fuel maneuvering to the target intercept; the missile gets 1d6 for the attack roll.  As before, the player resolves all missile attacks separately; he may not amplify a missiles effectiveness by adding more energy like he can with beam weapons.
Missile attack turn 2, weapons fire phase

22 February 2012

Painted Resin Scratchbuild Spaceship

Last post I showed the results of my latest experiment: resin casting in silicone molds of my custom spaceship sculpts.  I love how the resin captures very fine detail, yet it's easy to work with.  My only concern was whether it would take paint well.  Some helpful comments assured me the resin would paint nicely, and with those words of encouragement I dove into it.

I made two casts in that last post, intending to join one to the other as top and bottom hulls of the same ship.  I realized however that since I'm a solo-gaming enthusiast, no one will ever see these miniatures other than here on the internet.  And since the bottom of the miniatures never really see the light of day, I decided to just spread some two-part epoxy (Pro-Create) on the underside and give it a regular shape with a bunch of stamped impressions.  So the bottom of the miniatures have detailing, just nowhere near that on the resin top.  I think it looks fine however and now I have two ships where I was anticipating one.

Anyway, as the pictures below show, I'm no painting expert.  The cool thing about resin however is that unlike water putty, the resin does not absorb moisture and turn to mud.  This durability allowed me to use a magic wash technique.  As a poor painter, I like short-cuts.  So I primed white, painted a thin layer of very light blue (almost white) acrylic paint, and then brushed on a thin coat of Future floor polish.  After 15 minutes of drying I applied two different magic washes.  The first was 4ml of water, 1ml of Future, and 0.1 ml of black illustration ink.  The second wash used the same proportions, but with blue ink.  As you can see, the ship turned out fairly dark, so it was good I primed white.  I really like this magic wash method with these ships; the ink highlights the amount of detail very well.

The next evening I drybrushed using very light blue.  I really need to practice my dry-brush technique.  It's so simple in theory, I don't know why I can't seem to avoid over-painting.  Finally, I painted insignia and stripes to give the vessel character and then hit the flight stand and base with two coats of black.  The very last step was spraying it with a dull matte coat to protect it and get rid of the shininess that the floor wash tends to give.

Over all I'm very pleased with resin as my new medium.  I know the ships will look even better if I can practice and improve my painting techniques.  And although resin is far more expensive than water-putty, I figure it only bumps my cost per ship to $0.40 to $0.50 US.  A fair price for my very own designs.

While I'm thinking of it, thanks to all who've stopped by to check out my weird ideas.  My downloads page has broken 2100 hits and I know nearly half of those are since I posted Greater Space Battles.  Special thanks to Dean "Star Ranger" for putting my game up on his awesome site Starship Combat News.  If you're reading this post, you probably already know SCN is THE place for spaceship miniature gaming.  I feel like a rock-star seeing my little game on there.  Also, thanks are in order to JF for plugging my game on Solo Nexus; if you want to know what's going on in the world of solo-gaming, check out JF's blog.

20 February 2012

Scratchbuild Spaceships: First Resin Casts

I altered the techniques summarized in my previous post regarding making scratchbuild spaceship sculpts out of water-putty.  My most recent experiments still utilize two progressive stages of masters (made of spaghetti  and water-putty respectively) but now I make a one-sided mold of each (top and bottom) hull's water-putty master using naptha-thinned silicone window caulk.  I let the molds cure 24 hours and then pour resin in them.

I purchased some Alumilite Super-Plastic casting resin a few days ago.  I've never used this stuff before but I love it!  As you can see from the pictures below, I had a few air bubbles in my cast, even with tapping the mold.  I'll tap for a full three minutes next time.  Still, the finished product is just what I need; resin matches my techniques perfectly.  I'm not sure if I'll ever go back to metal drop-casting (at least for spaceships).  The resin is very easy to carve and file, allowing me to clean up flash.  And although resin is far more expensive than water-putty, I think (or at least hope) that I can paint using normal techniques without having to worry about the miniature absorbing moisture and turning to mud.  This will allow me to use nice thin coats as well as ink washes and really bring out all the detail.  I'm off to assemble the two hull halves and put my painting theory to the test.

Top hull on left

Flash to clean off and bottoms to be planed

06 February 2012

Greater Space Battles Solo Campaign: 2nd Battle

I played the first battle using my solo campaign system to test out concepts for Greater Space Battles, establishing which rules needed fixing; the resulting current game resides on my downloads page.  Last week I replayed that first battle using the finalized rules and had a great time.

The Traughbo's Cluster Vassalry ended up coming out ahead by losing only their size 1 ship while destroying a Hilherndon League heavy cruiser (size 4), the Kesolgu.  I rolled 2d6 for each faction to see if these losses were significant enough to affect the next Sphere of Influence (SOI) roll.  Since the Vassalry lost only 1 size point of ships, their roll was an automatic success.  The League rolled an 8, exceeding the 4 points they lost in the battle, so they too did not record a negative modifier for the next SOI roll.

Next I rolled a d6 to determine if the campaign period would continue with more battles or end with an SOI roll.  The roll was a 3, which exceeded the number of battles already fought (just one) so that meant more fighting.  I rolled up an new battle, but after going through all the gyrations I only generated two single size 1 corvettes facing each other.  Not only boring but neither ship's loss would be of any significance, so I skipped this battle.  Rolling another d6 I got a 1.  The die score failed to exceed the number of battles fought (now two) so the campaign period ended with a SOI roll.  I rolled a single d6 for each faction; neither had any negative modifiers.  The Hilherndon League rolled a 1, but the Vassalry rolled a 4.  Since the Vassalry's roll exceeded its SOI of 1, the faction's sphere of influence increased to 2.  The poor Hilherndon League remains at 1.  So political infighting about an unpopular war has the League unfocused, while the Vassalry manages to sign a treaty with a neighboring group of systems and expands its power-base.

I rolled up the first battle in the second campaign period but again it was worthless.  The post-battle 1d6 roll showed another battle followed so I rolled up the next target system.  This one was interesting!  With coordinates of 2,5,6 this system was right next door to the Hilherndon League's home systems, and not too far from Traughbo's Cluster as well.  The system, Latham, has a metallic hydrogen mining operation on the second largest moon of the fourth planet, a ringed gas-giant.  Although the mining facility is tiny (I rolled a Strategic Significance of 2), its proximity to both home systems results in a nice handful of ships for each side.  The League gets 10 size points and I roll three size 1 frigates and cutters, a size 3 and a size 4 ship.  The Vassalry only gets 8 points but one is a size 5 dreadnought with a size 3 escort.
Space Campaign, Period 2, Battle 2

The picture above shows the readout discs for the ships participating.  I rolled experience points (XP) in a new way: I rolled a number of d6 equal to each ship's respective size, and took the largest die score as the XP.  Therefore each ship has a chance for 1 to 6 XP, with larger ships skewed towards 5 or 6 XP.  I think this is how I will randomly generate XP from now on, versus the method described in the Greater Space Battles rulebook.  Zero XP would therefore only be possible in ships which lose XP in battle, and represents a skeleton crew.
The game table shares space with  my model shop

Lots of tokens allow me to return later to a game in progress

The battle is on-going, but so far a heap of fun.  The Hilherndon League's heavy cruiser, the Xavinger, took three critical hits early in the battle, forcing it to keep its distance.  The Vassalry's dreadnought, the Thun-Baro, closed for the kill, but the Hilherndon light cruiser Vammala bravely interposed itself and gave the Xavinger enough time for damage control.  Many, many turns later both larger ships have repaired all their critical hits and the Vassalry light cruiser Lapeyrouse has just been vaporized.  Now the big Vassalry dreadnought stands alone against four League vessels (having mauled a size 1 frigate earlier).

04 February 2012

Scratchbuild Cruiser Leaves Dock

I finally got around to painting one of my putty scratch-built space cruisers for Greater Space Battles.  I didn't plan on painting another ship purple; my intent when adding the red paint to the grey paint on my palette was to get a rust color.  The hue turned out as more of a rose color which didn't look too bad so I just went for it.  I was happy with the base coat and the drybrush, but then I went and screwed it up by adding too many insignia of different colors.  Probably one or two small symbols of the same color would have looked good; now it looks like a grade school art project.

Still, I'm happy to get the thing painted so I can use it in battle this weekend.  And the total cost of production, from sculpting to painting, probably runs at about 2 to 3 pennies.