Mercs

Sci-Fi Terrain — Buildings

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Kum GarageOne thing every gamer needs is lots of good terrain. Nice looking terrain enhances the play experience and plentiful, well placed terrain increases tactical options. This is especially the case for skirmish and small scale games. Games like Mercs, Deadzone, Infinity and others all come alive with good board layouts. Luckily producing good terrain, specifically buildings, is easier than ever.

Buildings
There are four primary types of materials used to make model buildings: resin, hardfoam (a form of resin), laser cut wood (or plastic) and injection molded plastic. Each material has its advantageous and disadvantages.

  • Resin – Probably the most common resin buildings are those produced by Gale Force 9 in their Battlefield in a Box line. These have the advantage of being highly detailed, pre-painted and ready to go right out of the box. They are moderate in weight and slightly fragile. Depending on the scale and environment you are trying to represent the Gothic line or even the historical Flames of War line are useful.
  • Hardfoam – The most numerous options for hardfoam buildings and terrain come from Micro Art Studio. Hardfoam is quite detailed and easy to paint. It is also light but somewhat fragile. Its biggest disadvantage is that it is solid so hardfoam buildings almost never have an interior and models cannot be placed under them either. This of course limits their use in certain situations.
  • Armored ContainerLaser cut – Laser cut wood (plywood, MDF, etc) as well as newer PVC products are perhaps where the gamers’ options have recently really started to increase. Manufacturers have gotten better and better with designs and choice has grown considerably. Laser cut buildings have the advantage of variety in design, detailed accessible interiors and complex layouts. They are also generally quite durable. Their big disadvantages are that they need to be painted well to really look good and often lack sufficient surface detail. The process itself also limits designs to a certain degree. 4Ground really set things on fire with their pre-painted line of buildings. They only have historical buildings at the moment but have announced a sci-fi line is coming soon. Crescent Root Studio has perhaps done even better but so far has no sci-fi options. Manufacturers we particularly like are Warsenal, Underground Lasers, Micro Art Studio, Systema Gaming and Spartan Scenics.
  • Injection Molded Plastic – The nirvana of gaming building material is perhaps injection molded plastic. It is relatively cheap, has high detail, is easy to work with and easy paint. It is also light and reasonably durable. Its main disadvantage is basically choice. Until recently Games Workshop had the only really useful line of plastic buildings available, but of course you were stuck with the Gothic look. With the arrival of Mantic’s Deadzone a whole new line of Battlezones were also created. The Battlezone line is comprised of a variety of pieces based on a 3 inch square. Gamers can assemble them in almost infinite ways to create buildings and environments that suit their needs. Certainly future options will help break away from the cube to create even better variety.

Gaming Surface
Of course even great buildings need to sit on something. Thanks to recent technologies the old grass mat is no longer needed. Certainly gamers can use foam board and other materials to create detailed urban battlefields but far easier, cheaper and more portable options (and more practical for actual gaming) are the new gaming tiles and mats. This was perhaps started in concept by Games Workshop with their Citadel Realm of Battle Gameboards but they never took the line anywhere to its full potential. It took Secret Weapon Miniatures to produce its upcoming Tablescapes line to start to unlock the varied options of plastic molded gaming boards. Tablescapes are one foot square injection molded plastic tiles in a variety of designs. What is great about them is that because they are plastic it is very easy for gamers to glue them together and use regular modeling techniques to create custom sizes that fit their needs. Or one can simply leave them as individual tiles for maximum flexibility.

District 5 MatOf course plastic tiles still have to be painted and stored. An even easier and quicker solution is the new gaming mats produced on the rubberized ‘mouse pad’ material. Probably the first to produce a variety of both 4’x4′ and 4’x6′ mats was Frontline Gaming with their FAT Mat Mega Mats. These give a great looking surface on which to place buildings and terrain but are also flat and smooth for easy gaming. Mantic produces a similar Deadzone mat and now Micro Art Studio probably has the ultimate urban mat with its new District 5 mat. What is unique about District 5 is that it has a geomorphic design so multiple mats can be placed together to create varied urban layouts.

Lastly we should also mention Hawk Wargames’ Cityscape and Ruinscape line of urban tiles. They are designed for 10mm gaming but easily used for 15mm or even in 28mm as sidewalks. The ‘scapes are full-color cardboard tiles you can layout to create varied cityscapes. Keep them loose for variety and flexibility or glue them to board and enhance as needed for an even better look.

There has never been a better time to fight in the city. So go grab some buildings and storm the gates!

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MERCS — Resources

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MERCSWe’re still painting our CCC unit for MERCS. You’d think six guys wouldn’t take too long but you stick in a squad of Terminators, a detour into Dropzone Commander and a little affair with Sedition Wars and there you go. Not to mention our next squad of Bolt Action Germans staring at us the whole time….

But we got some extra motivation to get going again following Beasts of War’s MERCS Week. They really did some outstanding coverage of the game and probably some of their best work overall yet. Our favorite quote of the week was, “Did you say nukes?!” Below are some of the highlights and other useful links.

One thing many folks comment on when seeing MERCS played, and which you’ll see in the BoW videos, is that the cards used as movement templates not only seem annoying but somewhat gimmicky. We agree but you can dispense with them altogether and we think it actually improves the play. The cards are fine for those playing MERCS more as a board game on the paper map but any miniature player is going to want to dump them. Just use a fixed 2.5″ template/stick to measure movement. You can move up to that maximum. We also made the various fire templates out of card so we don’t have to keep holding two or three cards down on the table to check coverage. Basically you just need a 7″ circle, 7″ straight and a T with a 6″ long base and 7″ wide top (the 3-card T) and a T with a 6″ long base and 3.5″ top (the 2-card T). The cards are 2.5″ wide. This all speeds play and allows you to leave your cards free for reference and initiative order sequence.

Also don’t miss the MERCS Bag. It is a nice small convenient size that still allows you to carry 6-10 squads with room for your cards and other misc gaming stuff. It is also useful for any 28mm skirmish game or even 6-15mm games as well.

[Updated: 14APR13]

The 28mm Camel’s Nose — Game Musings

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Well as I feared, Dust Warfare has proven to be the proverbial nose under the tent. Getting deep into Dust Warfare has led us to look at other 28mm scale games. This of course is natural as you get in the mode of painting in that scale, start to gather some terrain, get some more figs, etc. Perhaps an even bigger influence is just the fact that there are lots of excellent rule systems out now that do not require a large number of miniatures to play. This makes it even easier to get into these games without a large investment in hoards of 28mm figure.

I’ve already written about Saga. It continues to be a challenging and fun game. It appears a Roman army is now inevitable. But thanks to Saga I still only need around 50 figs so collecting one is not a particular burden in time or money. The metal and plastic Roman figs from Warlord Games are excellent. But we also grabbed some of the plastic Romans from The Wargames Factory and they are almost as good as the ones from Warlord Games. If you want to have some plastic options they are worth a look. And of course the next Saga expansion, The Raven’s Shadow, with four new factions, is due out soon.

We have officially taken the plunge into Bolt Action as well. The figs are great and the rules are even better. Like Saga you can play great games with just 20-50 figures and maybe a vehicle or three. The rules are very streamlined yet give a nice tactical feel. For more on Bolt Action don’t miss Bolt Action.net and the BAR (Bolt Action Radio) podcast. Anyone interested in Bolt Action might also want to check out Victory Decision: World War Two from A.D. Publishing. It is somewhat 40K-ish and larger scale but still a streamlined game.

Mantic Games recently released a new line of sci-fi figures for their Warpath game. The new Enforcer figs look quite nice. We have always liked the Corporation line in general. Along with the figs Mantic released a new version of the Warpath 2.0 beta rules. The rules look interesting and have a unique activation mechanic. Honestly we can’t say we are fans of the Warpath universe in general but we like the Enforcer and Corporation figs enough that we would like to do something with them.

Spartan Games probably deserves a mention as well. Their new Dystopian Legions game looks quite nice. The miniatures look interesting and well cast. We originally thought the minis were to be resin but for the most part they are pewter. We are unsure how the vehicles are going to be but if Forgeworld can pull off 28mm resin I suppose Spartan can as well. The quick-play rules are available for download and look quite interesting. But we will probably pass on this one. We are fans of Dystopian Wars because we like naval combat but are not big enough steampunk fans to jump into Legions but it appears to be a good effort. But then again we may weaken….

Perhaps the biggest recent find came about as a result of playing the XCOM: Enemy Unknown computer game. The game is a great tactical sci-fi game and gave us an instant desire for some sci-fi tactical tabletop gaming. We dug around a bit and discovered Mercs. It is very much XCOM on the tabletop with five figure units and an emphasis on fire and maneuver at the skirmish level. The miniatures are outstanding and the rulebook is one of the best presented rulebooks we have ever seen. In fact the rulebook is perhaps the new gold standard for rules. Not only are the production values high but it includes fluff as well as a look at the game design and miniature creation as well. We wish all publishers would do this. Thankfully the rules themselves seem to be as good as they look. We have not gotten in a game yet but the card-as-ruler mechanic certainly has to go — A simple fix — but otherwise the rules look very solid and the snap-to-cover mechanic is unique. Also be sure to check out SnaptoCover.com a nice Mercs fan site. We will certainly have more on Mercs after we get some games in.

Below is a look at the Mercs CCC starter pack. This is a quick way to get into the game (you’ll need the rules as well). Games are played with five troops to a side but you have six (and soon seven) to choose from so pick wisely.

[Updated: 1NOV12]