Monthly Archives: June 2013

Ronin Beats vs. the Beat Ronin

I’ve just discovered that there is a Japanese hip-hop artist out there called Ronin Beats.  He’s offering a free download of a short instrumental album called Ocean of Trees.  I downloaded it and gave it a listen, and I really like it.  It’s atmospheric and spooky sounding, but not light or ambient.  I’m going to check out the rest of his stuff now.

I’m pretty eclectic music-wise, but I particularly like instrumental hip-hop when it comes to electronic music.  And I’m also a big fan of Japanese hip-hop legend DJ Krush, whose influence I can definitely detect in this music.  I actually met him at the urinals once at a gig he did in Canberra (DJ Krush, not Ronin Beats) but all I said was “great set, man.”  It wasn’t really a good time to chat I suppose.  We couldn’t exactly shake hands or anything.  He did smile and nod though.

So it’s kind of neat that Ronin Beats and I share a similar name.  I think this would be perfect music for playing in the background during any cyberpunk game, particularly track six, Death Valley.  The album is also pretty serviceable when it comes to walking around a brooding wintery city with head phones on pretending that you are in a dystopian future.  Surely I’m not the only one who does that?

Anyway hit him up and give it a listen here.

Till next time,

James

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Good Games Abandons Games Workshop

Yesterday I heard that my favourite local game store, Good Games in Conder, is no longer going to be carrying Games Workshop products on the shelf as they are too expensive to display.  I inadvertently discovered this when I tried to convince the owner Brad to knock twenty dollars off the price of an Infinity order in exchange for some unopened Games Workshop models I had lying around.  Needless to say I had to pay full price, but it was worth a try right?

A game store no longer displaying Games Workshop product is a huge step.  They have undeniably the most popular range of miniatures games.  This comes soon after the Combat Company, one of our largest online retailers, posted this press release damning Games Workshop’s treatment of independant stockists and stating that they were considering taking legal action against Games Workshop.  Good Games and the Combat Company are both very involved in the wargaming community in Australia, so it will be interesting to see what effect this has on Games Workshop’s falling sales.  Their exorbitant prices have already damaged their market here quite considerably.

Of course, Games Workshop is not alone in applying the so-called “Australia tax.”  Recently representatives from Apple, Microsoft and Adobe were subject to a parliamentary enquiry where they were challenged to adequately explain why their prices were so much higher here than elsewhere.  They failed to offer any convincing explanation, and so basically responded with “if you want US prices move to America.”

And the US amabssador wonders why we all pirated Game of Thrones, and asks us nicely to stop.  We’re descended from convicts buddy, we’re not going to bat an eyelid over “stealing” something that is free-to-air in the US.  Especially when your corporations practice aggressive region coding against us.  We might be a nation of dirty cyber criminals but we aren’t stupid.

There are currently three games stores in Canberra (not counting video game shops): Good Games, The Games Capital, and Games Workshop Woden.  Now Good Games is no longer going to stock Games Workshop products in-store, and The Games Capital hasn’t run any Games Workshop game events in years as far as I know.  Interesting times indeed for miniature wargaming in Australia.

All the best,

James

Skulldred and generic fantasy

I’ve been thinking about Skulldred a bit lately. One of the interesting things about it is that the setting is divorced from any particular fantasy setting. All games have abstractions in the form of rules, but most have a setting that is essentially a work of fiction. With all works of fiction come certain conceits unique to that work.  In the case of speculative fictions the conceits are obvious and hard to swallow. In order to get into Harry Potter for example you have to accept the conceit that there’s a secret wizard world full of people with spectacularly British names, among many others.

Skulldred has an abstract setting, as well as abstractions in the form of rules. I guess this is because the players have to be able to use any models that they like. The game is written with some broad fantasy conceits – for example there’s magic – but that’s about it. Other than that you are expected to just wave away the fact that your mushroom man and troll alliance is fighting a bunch of samurai rabbits. For the purposes of the game it doesn’t matter how or why they got there, or even where “there” is. Another game like this is Rick Priestley’s Fantacide.

I like it. It’s sort of like the way many ancient wargames work, such as De Bellis Antiquitatis. The players all know what a Frank is, and they all know what a Persian Immortal is, and so they just choose to ignore the potential crippling anachronism of those warriors facing one another in order to play a fun game.

It’s the same with Skulldred. I suppose it can only work because we know what “fantasy” broadly is, but the amazing thing is that just about anything is then up for grabs, because that’s part of what “fantasy” means.

I think it’s very interesting. Does it mean that the game is inherently story-telling? It certainly encourages it. It could be a lot of fun to invent a history for the mushroom-troll and samurai rabbit wars.

All the best,

James

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Due to the fact that I’ve been living under a stone I’ve only just noticed that Dragon Age: Inquisition is due for release this year some time. I’m a big fan of the Dragon Age games, particularly Origins which I think is simply great: compelling story, interesting characters, the ability to play an arrogant Dwarf aristocrat…

Dragon Age II I was not so taken with for several reasons, though I think aesthetically it was very cool to look at. You have to play as a human for one thing, which makes me feel a little let down from the beginning. This is fantasy, with well-realized non-human cultures.  It seems a shame to make them off-limits to the player. I also didn’t like the overwhelming violence of the game. By that I mean that there was a lot of talking and interaction, as is usual for BioWare games, but it nearly always turned out that you had to overcome a problem by butchering someone. Often it was someone who was semi-innocent. I presume that the designers did this to darken the story and introduce moral ambiguity, but after a while it became predictable to me and left a bit of a bad aftertaste. I’m playing a cunning thief who I imagine is a hero at heart. I don’t want to overcome every hurdle by murdering someone.

So, Dragon Age Inquisition. No non-human hero, again, so I’m a bit disappointed at the lack of Dwarfiness. The few details that have been released sound promising to me though. Equipment will be more customizable in terms of colour and appearance, which is something I really, really enjoy in games like this. I like being able to control what my character looks like without it affecting the performance in-game. Otherwise at higher levels everyone’s game looks the same: some  unidentifiable man/woman in baroque gold armour made out of a dragon’s spiky bits.

I’m hoping for the aesthetics of Dragon Age II (updated of course), and the immersive story, strong supporting characters, and ability to solve problems in multiple ways of Dragon Age: Origins.

I feel – and this is just a personal opinion of course – that BioWare’s games were pretty much perfect around the time of Knights of the Old Republic I and II, and into Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect. But then they lost something. It’s hard to define, but I feel as though the designers messed with a good thing by trying to adapt elements of other successful games.  Probably just because if you’re a designer what else are you going to do? Designing the same thing over and over isn’t very satisfying I imagine. That said, I’m really hoping for a return to past form with this one.

All the best,

James

Gaming, large and small

Sometimes it’s a bit strange being Australian and reading wargaming blogs and sites. Most writers are American or British, and there are some things that are often taken for granted about world-wide gamer culture that don’t tally with my experiences at all.

For example, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that in terms of point sizes, American games tend to be on the large end of the spectrum. In the heyday of 5th edition Warhammer 40,000, the bigger US tournaments were normally arranged around 2000-2500 point games. That is HUGE by Australian standards. I’ve never participated in a Warhammer 40,000 tournament with games larger than 1850 points. 1500 or 1750 is standard.

Likewise with other games, such as Infinity. The Infinity wiki mentions the pros and cons of different sized games, yet it’s not uncommon to see US-based gamers take 300 points to be the standard. Craig on the D6 Generation pod-cast recently referred to a 300 point game as a “full size” game, as if smaller games are lacking somehow. Here in Australia 300 points is more the maximum than the standard. I actually find it hard to build a 300 point list for Infinity that is still focused and works together well. There is just too much space.

If you’re expecting hard science to back up these claims, tough luck! But I did do a quick Google scan. US Infinity tournaments seem to range from 200 to 300 points, but with significantly more 300 point ones. In the UK the spread is pretty even. In Australia we tend to play 200 points as the standard.

Why is this? My guess is that cultural factors cause players to lean towards certain sizes. In Australia we have a frugal approach; we like to see how well we can do when we don’t have the option of taking whatever we like, and we want to limit “no-brainer” choices. That way, not only are the games quicker (which is a sweet mercy in the case of some systems), but designing your army is an exercise in cunning.

Larger, American-style games push the limits. They let you take pretty much anything you like, and thus become bombastic and exciting arms-races that test each faction’s elite against the others.

I don’t want to draw any major conclusions, but I’d like to share this: my dad told me a funny Vietnam war story, of a US soldier with a defective M-16 offering to swap a tank(!) for an Australian self-loading rifle. The US Marine Corps (“the Few”) is larger than all three arms of the Australian Defence Force put together. Perhaps that says something about our respective cultures, and the way we approach even games about war?

All the best,

James

Chinese Infinity posters

Here are some posters I made for the miniatures skirmish game Infinity.  It’s a sad fact that most Infinity players don’t write Chinese, so I’ve never really come across posters or signs for scenery that are suitable for Asian-themed boards.  Heroically armed with two semesters of introductory Chinese (ten years ago) and my trusty dictionary, I set out to remedy this state of affairs.

I mostly made these by photoshopping characters onto images I found online.  Please feel free to use and share.  I’m unclear on the legal status of substantially modifying other people’s images in Photoshop and then sharing the result, but I suppose I should warn you now that I will instantly crumble if threatened with legal action.

i-kohl

i-kohl moving billboard

Leadtheway

“Yu Jing leads the way!”

aliendevils

“Together we fight back against the alien devils.”

Here I made a wanted poster for Miyamoto Musashi. The reason he looks like Toshiro Mifune is because obviously, that’s how ALEPH would have made him.

musashiwanted

Busoh Sensen: Front of Armament, from the manga “Worst.”

import:export

“Golden Sea Import Export.”

Funnily enough, it was pretty hard to find an image of a Chinese public toilet sign that someone hadn’t watermarked.  For some reason people really don’t want other people stealing their photos of Chinese toilet signs.

toilet

Chinese magazine covers with the dates photoshopped out make fine billboards:

HandsomeBeggar

This guy is apparently sporting a new fashion style called “handsome beggar.” He certainly is.

VISION

I’ve also thrown in a couple of Hello Kitty images and some small signs for Japanese fruit juice on the PDF.  Click on the image below to download it:

Yu Jing posters

Enjoy,

James

Skulldred

Lately I’ve managed to get my workload under control and restore some balance to my life.  I’ve also stopped following Warhammer 40,000, at least for the moment.  I don’t like the current aesthetic much, and I really don’t like the excessive demands on my time and money.  I’ll still play with friends of course, but I haven’t bought anything for the game in nearly two years now.  I’ve been slowly working on scenery and models for Infinity, and looking around for a fun fantasy-themed game to get me inspired for painting a few miniatures.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Von who writes for the House of Paincakes blog network put me onto a miniatures skirmish game being developed called Skulldred.  I’m really excited about this project – so much so that I contacted the designer, Dave King, and asked how I could help.  It turns out he lives in Sydney, which is only an hour and a half from my town of Canberra, and he is planning a display board and some warbands for Cancon next year.  Hopefully by then I’ll have a warband ready to join in for the demo.

Here is a quote from Dave:

Skulldred is a fun fantasy skirmish game designed from the ground up to let you play with any miniatures you like.
Build unit profiles to conform to your miniatures, not the other way around. No army books, no unbalanced factions, no cheaty must-buy models.

I’ve always wished that the more mainstream miniatures games had some sort of “build a unit” option.  I think it would resolve a lot of balance issues by making the points system of the game transparent, as well as allowing more freedom for the player to use their imagination.

Anyway as I said I’m really excited about this game.  Now I have a system that gives me an excuse to paint any miniatures I want.  First up will be this Frost Giant Princess from Reaper:

03431_w_1

All the best,

James