14 December 2013

Pulp Alley Terrain: Giant Skull

I sculpted this giant (35mm) skull today for use as a terrain piece in Pulp Alley games.  I made it from crappy, crumbly, plain old regular Sculpey.

It might get covered in Super-Sculpey to make a full-up face.

35mm chin to crown
Edit: Added some clearer pics:

Red stuff is automotive RTV rubber used to make mold so I can copy this

10 December 2013

Cheapo Modular Flight Stands for 1/600 Jets

... and spaceships too.

Have you ever wanted to make a really tall flight stand, but then realize your fighter jet or star cruiser is now too high to fit in the storage box?  No?  Well, it happened to me and I thought I'd share my solution for cheap modular flight stands, illustrated with a partially painted Yak-25.

For materials you'll need 1 inch washers, CA glue, two-part epoxy, Equate brand cotton swabs, and thick spaghetti.

I noticed a few years ago that the stems of Equate brand cotton swabs are not paper but in fact little hollow plastic tubes.  These little tubes, sans the cotton swabs on the ends, have become a staple of my scratchbuilding.  My wife buys the more eco-friendly brands, but I still have a stockpile of the old Equates.  Anyways, another thing I noticed was that a piece of thick spaghetti fits snug within the hollow tube, adding strength while remaining in place.  The plastic tube cuts very easily when hollow, but is very resilient with a pasta core.

Mix up a tiny bit of epoxy (cheap plumber's putty works fine) and use it to fill the hole in the 1 inch washer, forming the base.  Before the epoxy sets push a small section of cotton swab tubing into it to act as the lower part of the flight stand rod.  Attach another short piece of tubing to your miniature to act as the top part of the flight rod.  Get another, full length piece of plastic tubing and use CA glue to secure small pieces of thick spaghetti into one end of this piece and the tubing connected to the miniature.  You now have a male/female interface between the plane and the flight stand base, or between the plane, a flight rod extension, and the base.  The pictures below will probably explain all this better than I can.

Yak-25, flight rod extension, flight stand base

Flying low/ready for storage

Towering over the board at 65mm

08 December 2013

Solo Jet Game AAR (1/600)

OK, it's actually a "During Action Report" because the game's not finished.

Right now I'm in the middle of a solo game of jet combat.  As I mentioned last post, the rules are homebrew, designed for solo play and this game is the second of the playtest.

I managed to paint up the two RAF BAC Lightnings, as well as two Yak-25 Flashlights.  Another improvement was the construction of a hex-board.  I came across some free blue card stock, so I made up a quick 1" hex pattern and printed it in light gray on the card.  Even after hours of diligent cutting with the hobby knife the individual sheets don't fit together perfectly.  It's OK however, the gaps aren't too noticeable and the benefit of playing with hexes far, far outweighs having to measure movement with a ruler.

For the scenario I replayed the first scenario but added two Yak-25s.  It's late 1961 and a war between proxies, supported by the USSR and the western powers respectively, is heating up in central Africa.  The troops in these proxy forces are supported directly by the air forces of these world powers.  The USSR has accused the Federation of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland of harboring Katangan military aircraft, specifically Fouga Magisters flown by Belgian mercenaries.  Intelligence reports indicate Blinder bombers repositioning to central Africa, presumably ready to strike at Federation airfields.  In response, the United Kingdom has deployed BAC Lightnings to Salisbury in order to intercept any incoming bomber strikes.

The game starts with a single Magister, fresh from strafing communist supply trucks and fleeing to Nyasaland, in the middle of the board with two pursuing Yak-25s on the edge.  The Yaks have until turn 10 to destroy the Magister, at which time an element of two RAF Lightnings enter on the opposite corner.  The Yaks must then survive and attempt to egress back to friendly territory.  A random number of turns later, two Su-9 Fishpots arrive to intercept the UK interceptors.

With the ground rules set I played the game.  The Magister spotted the pursuing Soviet planes on turn 6.  The Yak-25s caught the Magister on turn 8.  On turn 9, the little Katangan plane tried to reverse direction, a trick that should have worked, except for a bad maneuver roll on his part.  An excellent maneuver roll on the lead Yak's part put the Soviet fighter right on the Magister's tail on turn 10, and the Fouga explodes in a hail of 37mm cannon fire.  Of course, the Lightnings had arrived, decelerating from Mach 2 and quickly the hunters became the hunted.  Or so it seemed.   The slower Yaks managed to survive the first pass and turned inside the fast UK interceptors, and suddenly the lead Yak scored another kill as he gunned down the trail Lightning!

I rolled 4d6 and dropped the low and high dice, adding the two remaining to get 9: the Fishpots show up nine turns later.  On turn 19, the two Yaks have managed to stay alive, as the cavalry in the form of two SU-9s arrives.  Both new arrivals manage to get a radar lock and fire their semi-active homing missiles at the sole remaining Lightning, just as the he rakes the lead Yak-25 with cannon fire.  The Yak survives, albeit with holes, and the Lightning immediately begins evasive action.  The SU-9's maintain their locks, guiding the missiles toward the UK fighter (Picture 1).  The Lightning breaks hard left, causing the first missile to miss and lining up the lead Fishpot for a Firestreak faceshot (Picture 2).  Before the lead Soviet can react, the British IR missile strikes home, destroying the Su-9 (Picture 3).  As soon as the Firestreak leaves the rail however, the other radar homing missile explodes off the Lightning's left side, sending shrapnel through the British fighter (Picture 4).  Will he make it home?

Honestly, this is the most fun I've had wargaming in years, if not decades.  I just purchased a set of rules called Pulp Alley.  I was going to devote a bunch of money, time and effort into building terrain and buying figures for some cool pulp adventure games.  But with my time limited by work, I think I'm going to spend my money on little jets.  I have a lot more stats to write up, game pieces to make, and rules to write down.  Lucky it's the slow holiday season.

Radar missile inbound, breaking left!

Missile dodged! (Still need to paint flight stands)

Guiding a homing missile to the target leaves one vulnerable...

Dodged the first, but not the second

02 December 2013

Solo Air Combat with 1/600 Jets

Anyone who's read this blog knows I love to scratchbuild.  I know my limitations however, and there are plenty of miniatures I am happy just buying instead of building.

I just purchased between forty and fifty 1/600 scale jets from the 1950's and 60's eras for right about $1.00 per figure, including shipping.  The miniatures are from Tumbling Dice and are exquisite.

I'm really interested in this era of aerial combat, so the Check Your Six! Jet Age (CY6:JA) seemed like a good ruleset.  Unfortunately, from what I read I'm not sure it's too solo-friendly.  So I made my own game up.

To get ready for the playtesting I painted up two Soviet SU-9 Fishpots.  My first lesson learned: use white primer, not gray.  The gray primer I used made it just too dull.  Painting was easy however, with a coat of silver mixed with white painted over with black ink to bring out panel-lines.  The canopy really makes the minis looked finished with a light blue.  The red stars of the Soviet Air Force were hand-painted on.

Tumbling Dice 1/600 Fishpots

I played the first scenario in a Cold War-gone-hot setting I call "Atomic Africa".  It's set in 1961 central Africa and postulates a "what if Dag Hammarskjold hadn't died" situation which leads to western governments supporting the breakaway Katanga and surrounding governments, and the USSR supporting communist rebels.  Of course, hostilities escalate.  In the first game, a flight of two SU-9's are chasing down a Fouga Magister flown by a Belgian mercenary, trying to prevent it from fleeing into Nyasaland.  Screaming to the rescue comes a flight of two RAF BAC Lightnings!

My game uses large dual-sided 30mm square chits, with plastic coated paper labels mounted on pieces of plastic.  I can write all over these with grease pencils and alcohol pens and then wipe them off at the ends of turns and games respectively.  I designed these specifically for solo-play, as initiative could be determined by a simple chit-draw.  Honestly though, for the first game there were only 5 aircraft, so random die rolling was just as easy.

Lyev (Lion) 31 and 32 
The bases also use the same plastic-clad paper technique.  The arrows allow me to use a hex-less game surface, but I'll probably switch to 1" hexes to make the games go faster.

The little cubes are made of polymer clay and reflect speed (in inches, the white cube), and altitude (abstract number, red cube).

Flying over the Arctic apparently

All in all it's a fun little game.  I've found loads of tweaks that need to be made, but the important fun-factor is there.

What it looks like at the table

Gory close-up detail

26 November 2013

Chunky-style Scratchbuild Spaceship Finished

I'm finally back to scratchbuilding.  The 85mm ship I was working on months ago is still on hiatus.  In fact, instead of picking that project back up, I decided to finish the chunky, knobby-looking scratchbuild I detailed in my last post.

63mm long miniature

I really like the look of this ship, over the panel lines on some of the other impression-mold ships on this site.  Panel lines are good on fighter jets and armored vehicles at 1/600 and 1/300 scale, but just don't look right on giant spaceships.

Experimenting with high flight stands...65mm high!

The knobby details made painting super easy.  Just a quick coat of gray primer, then a coat of "magic wash" with illustrator's ink mixed with water and Future floor polish.  Then drybushing with two lighter shades of gray.

Unlike some of my builds, this one has a bottom

I plan to edit this post tomorrow when some better light in the day hopefully yields better pictures (and I finish painting the flight rod).

EDIT: New, but not necessarily improved pictures...

Sunlight overpowering the drybrushing

20 October 2013

Scratchbuild Spaceships: Super-Chunky Style

Chunky, exaggerated details should be easier to paint

I'm still working slllloooowly on the spaceship I started months ago, as I last talked about here.  It's coming along nicely, but I wanted to explore a new idea.

I made a bunch of various-sized stamps, using Super-Sculpey again, like the one pictured here.


If you've read this blog you know how the story goes from here.  If not, here's a quick summary of the technique: mash the stamps into a block of modeling clay, then pour resin in the resulting cavity.  You then have one half of a spaceship.

Heavy shadows to show detail

At first I wasn't in love with the results, but the look is starting to grow on me.  It kind of looks like a spaceship with warts, but then again you can see the details from across the board.

Although it's only half a ship, I'm going to hit it with some primer, ink it, then dry-brush it.  I bet the details will really pop out.

13 October 2013

Dead CCG Trades

I added another page to my blog entitled Dead CCG Trades.  This page will be a permanent repository for any posts regarding trades of dead CCGs.  More importantly, it will link to my have and need lists for trading, so people can determine if we have any trade potential.

Due to the magic of the internet, I'm no longer having to play all my card games solitaire.  Right now I'm involved in two play-by-forum games and they are each a blast!  I spoke of the three-player Galactic Empires game already.  The second game I'm in is a two-player Quest for the Grail game and it's a hoot.  Fans of the Arthurian romances should really check this game out.  I mean, just look at the art on some of the cards...
Play-by-forum game; Round 7

My favorite knight

05 October 2013

CCG Necromancy: Ideas for a Dead CCG League

I have to admit it: I love CCGs.

OK, the business model of forcing players to buy heaps of crap cards in order to get a few good ones is pretty despicable, I admit.  And I don't like how CCGs reward people for spending more money; it was always annoying to be defeated by the guy who could afford to sift through seven booster boxes for the ultra-rare.

All that aside, some of my best gaming memories come from CCG play.  Well designed games like Mythos and INWO could be dominated with common cards, while offering tremendous replay value with just a modest card collection.

Recently I discovered the concept of play-by-forum on BoardGameGeek.  It's very slow, but the prospect of actually playing out-of-print CCGs with actual opponents is priceless.  And not to mention fun.

The great thing about dead CCGs is that generally you can get loads of cards for pennies on eBay.  The problem until I discovered forum-play was that I had huge collections of cards but no opponents.  My recent forum game has got me wondering: would there be any interest in a dead CCG league?

A dead CCG league could offer players the chance to get opponents in exchange for cards.  For example; I've acquired thousands of Illuminati: New World Order cards over the years.  I could easily pick out a few hundred spares, enough to make a couple good decks, and trade with another league member who has no INWO cards.  In exchange, that league member sends me cards from his/her dead CCG of choice which I have no cards for.  We can then set up forum games on BGG, since we both have cards for both games.

Just something I'm kicking around in my head.  I posted a call for players for the obscure Quest for the Grail CCG on BoardGameGeek.  I was amazed I got a reply in less than 30 minutes.  If such an obscure game can generate interest so readily, then perhaps a dead CCG league is not such a far-fetched idea?

28 September 2013

Dead CCGs and d24s

Galactic Empires set-up

So, almost a year ago I ordered a 24-sided die, just to see what the monstrosity was like.  It's a bit unwieldy for war-games, but I've thought of another use.

In the old CCG, Galactic Empires, a player is eliminated after taking 25 points of damage.  A d24 is therefore perfect for noting the number of damage points a player's Sector has taken (the 25th point doesn't matter...it's too late).

The pic above is my current Galactic Empires set-up.  I'm playing my first non-solitaire CCG match in 15 years.  I'm playing by forum so it's slow, but it's great to play a CCG again as it was intended, against opponents.  You can follow the game over at BoardGameGeek.

An old article in a Companion Games house publication inspired me to create this little resource track, with the red and green tokens from other projects.  Basically you just count up the number of resources required by all the cards you have in play, and place red tokens on the proper amount.  Then count up the resources generated by Terrain (and other) cards, and put green tokens at those places on the track.  Then, at a glance, you can tell whether you're at a surplus or deficit.
Anyone need two-dozen d24?

When I ordered the d24, the company sent me 25 dice by accident!  I tried to return them, but they said it was their mistake.  So what do I do with 24 d24 that I don't need?  Maybe I can run some Galactic Empires games at a con and give out d24 "damage markers" as prizes.

By the way, if anyone is interested in Galactic Empires, there are opponents out there.  With the internet you can find them and play.  And heaps of cards are available on eBay for cheap.

22 September 2013

(Giant) Monster Sculpt WIP

I finally got a weekend free of take-home work.  So, instead of finishing the spaceship miniature I've been working on, I decided to make an addition to my long list of unfinished projects.

The pictures below show a monster sculpt I'm attempting.  I've tried to sculpt 15mm miniatures before, but never finished them.  I hope this monster sculpt will be different.

I know this is heresy but I've never been all that interested in Japanese giant monster cinema.  Sure, I loved Ultraman when I was a kid, but I never knew what it was called at the time, nor have I seen any giant monster flicks since.

After being inspired by some great blogs out there however, I realized that the giant monster genre is perhaps the most absolutely perfect one for wargaming.  Why?  Well, the miniatures are so much larger, so the details should be much easier to sculpt and paint.  And even better, terrain is vastly simpler to make.  It takes me a few good solid weekends with a lot of leisure time (a rare occurrence) to make a single building for 15mm games.  But I bet I could make a whole city block for a giant monster game in one evening.  Oh, and the game board can be much smaller (a meter square at largest).

The figure is a twisted copper wire armature covered in bits of Milliput Standard.  I put way too much putty on the legs and then left it in the putty oven too long, making the Milliput too hard to cut down.  Oh well; I guess the monster will just have very muscular legs.

Once I add the beast's left hand, I will start the actual sculpting.  I'm going to use a mix of Super-Sculpey and Super-Sculpey Firm.  It should be a big project and I don't know when I'll have another free weekend, so expect this one to drag out...

The last shot is my scribbled concept art.  This is what I hope the thing will look close to (or hopefully better than) when it's done.

The first shot shows the monster armature next to an unfinished prototype building.  As the putty cured on the monster I came up with a super cheap way to make this building.  Up close it looks rough but at a distance I think it represents a building well, especially when on a table full of similar structures.

The monster is about 50mm in its pose; it would be about 80mm if standing up straight.
Monster armature next to small building
50mm tall, not counting eyestalks


24 August 2013

Scratchbuild Spaceship WIP: Resin and Apoxie Sculpt

I've been doing impression molded spaceship miniatures for a few years now, and despite the flat featureless bottoms I've always been happy with the results.  Out of curiosity however, I decided to try producing a miniature with both a detailed top and bottom hull.

For the top hull I used the 85mm resin cast featured in my last post.  That cast was used to define the outer boundaries of the impression mold for bottom hull, which was then cast using the same method.

Once the bottom hull was complete the two were joined by sandwiching a thin layer of Aves Apoxie Sculpt in between.  The epoxy putty was then used to slowly sculpt the join between the two hulls.  The sculpted portions can be seen in the in the pictures below: the epoxy portions are the white color while the resin casts are cream.

I really like this putty.  Unlike Pro-create or Kneadatite it doesn't stick too much to the tools, nor is it too springy.  And like Milliput, it smooths very well with water.  Like all epoxies I've used, Apoxie Sculpt hardens a lot quicker with the help of a heat lamp.  It's very similar in many respects to Milliput Super-fine.  I find the Milliput SF gives generally smoother surfaces and takes detail just slightly better, but also sticks a lot more to my tools and my fingers.  Also the Milliput develops a "crust" that I have to cut off before mixing, which wastes a portion of the putty.  I think the Apoxie Sculpt's packaging (little plastic tubs) is what prevents it from crusting up; I'll probably therefore transfer my Milliput to similar containers if I find any.

Only the port side of the ship is complete.  I still need to do the entire join on the starboard side, as well as create a nozzle section for the stern and then blend the join there as well.  Since I'm currently swamped with take-home work, I expect this project to continue very slowly.

Resin = cream color; Apoxie Sculpt = white

Bottom hull: incomplete starboard side plus flight stand interface


21 July 2013

85mm Resin Scratchbuild Spaceship

The title of the post says it all.  I used scrap plastic to push a rough shape of a ship into modeling clay, then detailed the impression with polymer clay stamps I made some time ago.

I'm very pleased with how this came out, because  I really needed a ship this size.  You see, I was rebasing all my other resin scratchbuilds and with the whole fleet lined up I realized that nearly every ship was 55mm long, +/- about 5mm.  That kind of uniformity makes it hard to distinguish which are the heavy battleships, which are the medium cruisers, and which vessels are the light corvettes.  I plan on focussing on making small and large ships for a while, since I have a plethora of medium craft.

The pictures below show today's ship fresh from the mold, with only some soap and water clean-up.  I still need to take a knife and sandpaper to the edges, and of course base and paint.  Before the paint however I will use polymer clay and epoxy to sculpt the exhaust nozzle section.  I find that the ships look about 300% better with a nozzle section added.

85mm now, but will grow with nozzles added

07 July 2013

Cheap Spacecruiser Scratchbuild Tutorial (Resin)

I know I've done a couple of scratchbuild tutorials before, but as the picture of the primed spaceship miniature above shows, I'm experimenting with techniques that produce a slightly different look.

The ships I've been creating with my polymer clay stamp method have some intricate panel lines, as shown in the last post.  Not only do these look good (to me), the panel lines are super easy to paint by using inks.  The only problem is that if the miniature is really supposed to represent a 300 meter long ship, panel lines would be hard to discern.  The ship pictured above however, really gives the impression of being big; the regular shapes make it look mechanical and vast.

OK, on to the tutorial.  The real reason I wanted to do another how-to post is so that I can really focus on the frugality and simplicity aspects.  My polymer clay stamp method is easy, but requires Super-Sculpey and the oven to bake it in.  This adds time and another layer of complexity.  This new method allows one to make super-cheap ships like the one above using only resin and modeling clay.

Materials needed are Alumilite Super-Plastic (or similar possibly, but this is the only resin I've tried), and a block of Van Aken brand Plastalina modeling clay.  The resin's advertised price is $30 and a pound of the clay about $3 to $4 (get about three pounds).  With some savvy shopping you could get these materials cheaper, paying about $25 for all you need.

For the first step, a shape must be created to press in the clay.  Fold a piece of scratch paper in half.  Take a straight edge and draw one half of the outline of the ship, as depicted below.

No prior planning, just started sketching

Keep the paper folded and use a sharp hobby knife to cut out the shape, pressing hard enough to cut through both layers of paper (use an old phonebook or something underneath so as not to scratch your table).

Pull out the shape and unfold; you should now have a perfectly symmetrical ship outline.

Symmetric ship outline

Find some very thin plastic.  Some suggest buying "For Sale" signs and this is a good option, but I find plenty of thin plastic (especially polystyrene) in food packaging.  I mean very thin plastic, not like bread tabs or hotel key cards.  Use CA glue to glue the ship outline to the scrap plastic.  Once the glue is dry, carefully cut the ship from the plastic, using the paper as a guide.

On the paper side, gently and repeatedly score the ship directly down its longitudinal axis (its spine).  Don't cut the ship in half, but score into the plastic deeply enough so that the ship can be folded up like a "V".

Flatten out a fist-sized ball of modeling clay on a clean surface (paper).  I use a rolling pin to flatten the clay, and stacks of hotel key cards to get a uniform height.

Take the plastic ship outline and place it on clay.  Use a pointed tool (I use a sharpened chopstick) and press along the spine of the ship so it sinks into the clay a uniform depth.  Only press it in 1 or 2 mm, just enough to leave a faint impression of the ship.  Now, press the stern of the ship deeply into the clay, maybe 6 to 10 mm.  This will cause a ramp effect, giving the illusion that the main hull of the ship has a lot more volume.  As you press down on the spine of the ship, you'll find the plastic shape folding up like a book, leaving a deep wedge impression.  When you have the depth you want for the ship, gently press out on the wings, unfolding and flattening out the impression.  Remove the plastic shape to reveal the shape as pictured below.  Roll up some more clay and repeat the steps in this paragraph three or four times so that a whole squadron of ships can be constructed at once.

Plastic shape-guide, clay, sharp pressing tool

Find a bunch of regular shapes, mainly rectangular ones, but also globular shapes and circles.  Examples of shapes I use are the ends of pens, beads, mechanical pencil lead tips, and scrap plastic cut into rectangles.  Take these shapes and press various features into the ship.  Try to keep the impressions subtle but vary the depths, making deeper impressions where you want the ship to have more volume (the bridge, main reactor core, etc.)

When you're satisfied with how the ship mold looks, mix some resin.  Do this outside and even then you may want to wear a mask (I do).  Mix the resin and pour into the mold of each ship individually.  It also helps the curing if you don't reuse anything involved in the resin mix.  I construct my own disposable eye-droppers.  Make sure to vigorously tap the side of the clay mold once the resin is poured to dislodge any bubbles.

The beauty of this technique is the minimal amount of material it uses.  The above ship is 50mm long yet required only 35 drops from an eye-dropper of each part of the resin!  Even that resulted in a lot of flash; I could have done it with 30 or even 25 drops.  As I've noted on this blog before, using such minuscule amounts of resin means I could theoretically make hundreds of ships.  As a side note, I purchased this resin in the spring of 2012, about 15 months ago, and it's still curing just fine.

The hardest part is the waiting.  Don't demold in 10 minutes, even if the resin package says you can in 3 to 5 minutes.  I wait 20 to 30 minutes.  Demold gently and use a soft toothbrush and warm soapy water to clean off any clay sticking to the miniature.  The picture below shows my example miniature fresh out of the mold (after cleaning and flash removal).

Mold and cast

Clean up the flash with sandpaper, files and hobby knife.  If you really want to finish the ship right, do a little "real" sculpting with another medium (epoxy, polymer clay, plasticard) to make the engine exhaust nozzle.

Finally, prime and paint.  Base as per your preferred rules (I use metal washers to enable magnetic storage).  The ships may be featureless on the bottom, but as this tutorial shows they are extremely easy to make.  I mentioned before that with smart shopping the resin and clay could be obtained for $25.  One would need only a few hours over a weekend to make a dozen ships.  That brings the cost per miniature to a little over $2 a piece.  However, I've already made twice as many ships, just through experimenting.  Once you get the process down, it's easy to crank these out, driving the cost down to less than $1 a ship!

Have fun.

50mm long

28 June 2013

Scratchbuild Spaceships: The Shipyard Reopens!

I've managed to get a week off of work and before other commitments consumed my time I was able to get two new spaceships sculpted, painted and based.

I experimented with using acrylic white gesso as a primer and was disappointed.  Perhaps I didn't wait long enough for the gesso to dry, but when I went to apply the initial coat of paint the gesso primer flaked off in some areas.  I've never had a problem with spray primer sticking to resin, so I think I'll stick with that despite the nasty fumes.

I'm still not complete, but I wanted to get some pictures up before the good light is gone for the day.  The yellow in the nozzles of the squatty ship just doesn't work for me; I'll try changing it to a white-hot glow.  Also the basic color-schemes work for the ships, but they need some pep.  I'll probably use some decals.

The bases are 1" metal washers covered with a design I created on Powerpoint and printed on address labels.  The design has a place to write the ships name, six "pies" to show firing arcs, and six arrows to facilitate the movement rules for my solo game Able Spaceman.  The decal on the base is covered with plastic so that I can use grease pencils and alcohol pens to make turn-by-turn notes.