Wednesday, 11 April 2018


Gaslands, designed by Mike Hutchinson and published by Osprey Wargames, is a game where armour-plated machine gun-equipped cars duke it out against monster trucks with mini-guns and motorbikes with rocket launchers. It's the roller-derby of a Mad Max-like universe. Collisions, explosions, ramming and gun fire punctuate every turn in a staccato rhythm of mayhem and destruction. It's inexpensive, and it's great fun.

There is some sort of visceral appeal to the sort of vehicle derby that involves bikes, cars, buggies, pick-ups, monster trucks and big-rigs armed with rams, missiles, flamethrowers, and machine guns. Perhaps it hearkens back to the childhood, perhaps it comes from post apocalyptic visual extravaganzas like Mad Max, but it is appealing nontheless.

The most recent game I played against my son. He had a motorbike armed with a minigun and a monster truck with a couple of machine guns. I had two buggies and a car.

Back in my teens I spent some time playing a game called Car Wars, by Steve Jackson Games. It was great fun. Cars and every other vehicle you could conceive fighting it out in a rolling battle for supremacy. Cars Wars was great fun, and I have many fond memories of playing it, but it was also very detailed. There were rules for almost every possible combination of vehicle and weapon, and the game was heavy on the book keeping (I may be being unfair to Car Wars here, those are just my memories of the game).

His monster truck against my buggy... It didn't even stop to leave insurance details.

Gaslands is all the energy, cinema, and delight of a weaponized roller derby, without all the overheads. The rules are simple and straightforward, easy to read and understand. The game plays quickly, yet manages to find all the moments of high octane action and spectacle one would expect of such a theme.

Like Wings of War, X-Wing and a few other games, Gaslands uses templates to move, with the player choosing the maneuver they want to make, placing the template, and moving to the other end before making any attacks. There's more to it than that, but at its core, the rules are that simple.

What he rolled when his monster truck rolled over my buggy...

Templates are used to move the vehicles.

Rolling a slide or spin result always nets a hazard token, but isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it's good to spin the wheels a little...

Skid Dice, you roll a number up to your handling when you move. A good way to get extra Shift results, but can cause you to gain Hazards, Spin and Slide.

Various tokens, none of which end up on the table. While you can buy laser cut copies like these, the game is playable by printing off the templates and tokens just as easily. There is also a conversion table so you can play using normal 6 sided dice instead of the Skid Dice pictured above.

Vehicle stat sheets - all the stats and all the tokens (and the green dice show the gear).

A game turn consists of a number of Gear Phases, starting with first gear and running through to sixth. If a car is in first gear, it will get to act in gear phase one, if it's in third gear, it will act in phases one, two and three. Every phase the car will make a move, and then make an attack. So a vehicle in high gear will have the opportunity to move and attack many more times than a vehicle in a lower gear. The balancing act of what gear to shift into, comes with the Move Templates, Hazards, and Shifts. Various moves are only available in a limited number of gears: a long move can only be performed in high gear, while a hairpin turn can only be performed in a lower gear.

After crunching my first buggy the monster truck slid and spun around to face my second... (my son re-rolled his skid dice hoping to get slides and spins, lucky bugger...)

His head-on collision with my buggy called for a whole lot of attack dice...

The buggy didn't stand a chance, but it's flame thrower did explode causing valuable damage to the monster truck...

Some moves will give Hazard tokens depending on the gear you are in. Attempting a sharp turn in a higher gear is more risky than in a lower gear. Conversely, some moves will provide Shifts, as long as the car is in a low enough gear to earn them. Shifts can be used to remove Hazard tokens and other negative effects, as well as to change gears up and down.

A little way away my car lines up his motorcycle...

Lastly, each after the move template has been placed, and before the vehicle is moved, a player may roll some handling dice. These can provide useful Shifts, but may also result in the vehicle Sliding, Spinning, or gaining Hazards. Too many Hazards and the vehicle wipes out.


After a vehicle has moved it may attack. The attack system is quite simple, a matter of lining up the target and making sure they are in range, and rolling some dice. The target gets to roll to evade, but the whole process is straightforward, and there are rarely any questions typical in wargames concerning things like line of sight, cover and so forth.

Both bike and car took damage, but the bike lost out...

Slides, Spins and Collisions are all a part of the game, and neatly and easily handled by the rules, while slides and spins can be negative things, they are also very often quite useful, allowing the vehicle to turn sharper than usual to get a bead on the enemy. Collisions are a lot of fun, and rather deadly, the type of collision is determined (Head on, T-bone, etc), dice are rolled and the results applied.
Chaos across the table... only the monster truck and car remain...

I didn't want to run too in depth with the rules, but seem to have meandered in that direction, so I will endeavor to get back to the core of this blog post...

I've played this game multiple times now with my son, and it is a blast. The rules are easy, the choices are meaningful and interesting, the movement system works, the pressure of watching the hazards mount up as you spin, slide, shift gears and complete tight turns is tense... the game is laden with narrative experience and highly enjoyable. I thoroughly recommend this rules set, it strikes me as the very epitome of beer and pretzels style of game - which to me is a game that is easy to get on the table, and where the minutia of the rules fades into the background of the game experience. It is thematic, cinematic and explosive fun. Well worth chasing down a copy and giving it a go. The best thing of all has been - we are playing the game using my son's Hot Wheels cars, so an 'army' isn't going to cost an arm and a leg.

We both come about to face off, lining up our weapons. Again he made good use of spin results to get the monster about... He was down to two hull points and I was down to one. It was the car with a mini gun against a monster truck with a heavy machine gun and machine gun...

For anyone interested, I'd highly recommend finding Gaslands groups/players on Facebook and Twitter, the game has a solid following and the modifications and paint jobs people have done on their cars is nothing short of stunning.

He got the drop on me and his machine guns did the work... A close game, and a lot of fun! He was cheering the machine gun dice roll all the way to victory. Great game...

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor, is a science fiction novella about a young Himba woman, the eponymous Binti, seeking to travel off-world to study at a prestigious university. First and foremost, this is a cracking story; imaginative and fascinating. The cultures presented, the Himba, Khoush and the alien Meduse, are wonderfully outlined and believably constructed (in the case of the fictional), or artfully related (in the case of the futuristic version of the Himba). I found myself drawn into this story, fascinated by the deep cultures presented throughout, the rich setting, and especially by the character of Binti.
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Being a novella, the story itself is short and easy to read, it is also wonderfully written with every word pushing the story and relating the characters and emotion. Much time is well spent on expanding the cultures represented, often by juxtaposing expectations of those cultures against the consequences of their choices; the action/inaction of the characters. It is an engrossing read, well constructed and executed, full of feeling and emotion.
The theme I loved the most, I think (‘I think’ because I am still digesting), is the role of communication in the breakdown and formation of connections between peoples. I won’t say too much more, because I don’t like revealing too much of the story, but the capacity to communicate with reason seems a fundamental theme in the story, that coupled with a willingness to listen.
Binti is strong and vulnerable, emotional and reasonable all at the same time, and makes for a wonderful character that is easy to relate to. Her strong sense of identity and culture, and the significance of having that removed, changed or even just of leaving it, are also key themes explored intelligently in only a small number of words. There is emotion packed in here, thought and feeling that far outweighs the page count.
As seems more and more the norm for me these days, I came across Nnedi Okorafor on twitter, reading through her commentary on her journey and experiences as a writer, I was inspired to get Binti and Akata Witch, and I’m very glad I did. There is just one thing I am furious about: I didn’t order the two sequels to Binti. Now I have to wait on the post before I get to read more.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Rowan of Rin, by Emily Rodda...

Rowan of Rin is a children’s fantasy novel by author Emily Rodda (Jennifer Rowe), I just finished reading this book both to my grade 5 class, and at home to my son (grade 3). Rowan of Rin is, in many ways, a simple story, it’s plot progression, series of challenges and climax all pull from fantasy tropes, from prophesy to quest completion. It is a rags to riches tale; the story of a boy broadly rejected for his weakness and cowardice, who discovers on the quest he is forced to undertake that he has bravery and strength aplenty.
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In many respects this could be described as a by-the-numbers piece of fantasy fiction: everything we expect of the genre is present. I say this not to denigrate the book, but to highlight it’s strength. Rowan of Rin is an excellent book. It is tightly plotted, cleverly evolved and well written. For those who read it carefully, or read it multiple times, the use of foreshadowing is brilliantly executed throughout. There are few books that could be described as more typically fantasy, and yet rise to achieve what Emily Rodda has managed so neatly, succinctly, and evocatively. It is a wonderful book, with no wasted verbiage, that manages to pack both adventure and emotion into a quest story heaped with character growth.
The story itself revolves around a small village, Rin, whose water source has dried up with looming consequences. A party of adventures set forth to uncover the source of the problem, guided by the poetic prophesy of the wise-woman/witch Sheba. Rowan, a boy and the least capable of the village, is compelled to join the party, and in so doing is set upon a path of self-discovery and high adventure.
Short, with uncomplicated prose cleverly woven into a tight and emotional package, Rowan of Rin is a wonderful fantasy book. My class highly enjoyed the story, and my son is now reading the second in the series. For anyone with children, Rowan of Rin makes for a fantastic introduction to the genre. For any adults looking for quality exemplars of tight and cleverly plotted stories that use an economy of words to best effect, this is also well worth a read.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


Artemis is a science fiction murder mystery by Andy Weir, author of the Martian. I found The Martian to be an exceptional story. A character I liked in a do-or-die situation, using pure intellect and willpower to bully his way through every one of the multitude of problems he faces. I loved the book, and it ranks as one of my all time favourite reads. Needless to say then, when I read that Andy Weir was working on his next book I was very excited.

The story is set in the eponymous city of Artemis, humanity's first settlement beyond the fragile shores of Earth. The setting of the story is compelling. Highly detailed and lovingly crafted, Artemis is as scientifically accurate a moon-city as can be found anywhere in literature, it is, I would go so far to say, unrivaled. Like The Martian, Andy Weir shows his understanding of science and technology, which, coupled with a keen imagination, makes for a fascinating backdrop to the story.

The story itself I found to be something of a slow-burn, The Martian I read in a flurry over about a day and a bit, it hooked me from the first scene and didn't let go. Artemis was a more gradual climb. I found the main character's internal dialog to be a little abrasive at times, and the while the plotting and action was intelligent, I didn't find the reasons behind the action in the story thoroughly compelling.

All that changes as the book progresses, which is why I describe it as a slow-burn. As Jazz gets tangled in a mess far greater than she ever imagined, and the setting itself hangs in the balance, the stakes are raised to an all-time high and I was finally pulled fully into the book.

Artemis is an excellent novel, the overarching story, the raison-d'etre for the action and plotting is hidden behind a veil, off to the side of the characters and their concerns. The chief architect of this larger plot is a secondary character, and while the events in the story are important to this larger plan, the story itself, the plot of the novel, deals with a portion. The larger question, about creating an economy for Artemis moving forward and the struggles and implications that holds, are fascinating concepts. The novel though deals with a vitally connected but independent story line, which while fascinating in its own right, really shines when connected to the implications of the bigger picture.

Artemis is an intelligently written and unbelievably well conceived novel. The characters are interesting, even if a little abrasive. The writing is solid and the plot progression is good, but it is a slow-burn, in my opinion, only fully grabbing you by the throat around half-way through. Anyone who is a fan of hard science fiction would be well rewarded by reading Artemis, while I personally didn't enjoy the book as much as I loved The Martian, it is a solid offering, and I look forward to Andy Weir's next book.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

With your shield or on it...

Time to finally squeak in my second post for the month. This one follows the last, in which I wrote about painting up some 15mm Gauls for Sword and Spear. This last week or so I managed to find some time to start the basing of two units, and I also decided to give some shield transfers a go. I read a few posts, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and purchased a set of transfers for testing from Forged in Battle, the same company that produces the miniatures I have.

8 figures to each base. I prised the miniatures from the stands I have been using to paint them on, and glued them down. Next time I may do the front or rear row, use the basing material and then do the second row and finish the basing material...

Here I've used Brown Earth paint from Vallejo. It's almost like gauche. Very thick and tacky to apply. The texture though looks brilliant. My next step with these is to dry brush lightly and use a mix of static grass and tufts to add some detail. I think they'll come up nicely. Note the painted shields...

These are the transfers. They look lovely, but do require a lot of preparation. First, the bosses need to be cut out (apart from the circles which are punched already, as you can see in the image of the reverse below). This means using a scalpel to carefully slice out the crosses, so they will neatly go over the raised bosses on the shields. It is painstaking and annoying. Especially given that several of the shields look very similar, but are actually differently sized. On the smaller ones the boss extends to the very rim, meaning you can cut the transfer into several pieces if you're not careful.

After cutting out the bosses, the shields themselves need to be cut out. This is also painful.

You might notice that the shields in this image are now white. Why? Because of the man second from the left in the back row. He was the first test, and I left his shield painted to see how the transfer would go. It barely did. It is almost invisible. So, I spent the next hour or so repainting all the shields white again.

The Brown Earth from Vallejo I used on the bases - very nice, but a bit annoying to work around a set of miniatures already based. I will rethink that for my next set. On the left are the two bottles I used to help with the transfers. I read that these are highly recommended as they are excellent in helping the transfer come off and adhere to the shape of the surface. The shield transfers from Forged in Battle are actually sticky. You peel away a tiny film of clear plastic on the front and stock them face down on the shield. Then apply water to the back. I wasn't sure how this would fly with the Micro Set and Micro Sol, but I tried it anyway and it seems to work fine. The transfers come off easily, are easy to reposition, and set snugly against the shield surface.

For all the pain, the transfers look brilliant. I still have to repaint the rims, and touch up any little gaps here and there, but I think they look very nice. Once fully complete the units should look great. Jobs left to do: repaint the shield rims and touch up. Dry-brush the bases. Apply some static grass and tufts. I'll post again once they are all done.
I also managed to glue down my Gallic camp... all the pieces here are from Baueda, and look great.
Lastly, these two books came in the mail. They'll be handy in working out colour schemes and whatnot for my troops. Both are lovely and contain excellent art.

Friday, 16 February 2018

The Gaul of It...

It's been longer than I had intended, since my last post. In the meantime I have been working on a science fiction short story, which is nearing completion, and getting some freelance work done. I haven't managed to blog much, but I have posted a couple of episodes of the On Minis Games podcast, so that's something.

It was in editing one of these episodes, in which we were talking about some painting goals for 2018, that I started to get the painting bug again. For various reasons it has been over 12 months since I last put brush to model, but finally, that streak of inactivity has ended...

I wanted to paint, but what? I have an army for Kings of War, Sharp Practice, Infinity, Sword and Spear, Chronicles of Anyaral, and more, all of which sit naked, all of which I hope to get back to the table. In the end I went with an old favourite, a scale that has always appealed to me: 15mm, and that meant Sword and Spear.

I can't remember when we last played this game, but I do know I enjoyed it a lot, and that my friend and I swore in blood to paint our armies before playing again. At the rate I was going, this was never going to happen, and oaths in blood are all good and well if you plan on following them up.

After we trialed Sword and Spear I bought a 15mm Gallic force from Forged In Battle, and very nice the miniatures are too. I love small scales, and 15mm is probably my favourite. I have been looking forward to having a painted 15mm army for some time, just not perhaps putting in the work required to create it.

Interestingly, these miniatures do require some assembly. This is not something I have experienced with the 15mm models I have used in the past. Some of the spears need to be clipped from their bases and glued into place, but the models are good quality with a nice level of detail. In the picture above I have sorted out the miniatures that will form the bases of warriors in my Sword and Spear force. It will be 8 figures to a base for these, and ultimately I want around 10 bases to give me some flexibility in force creation. So far I have painted 4 bases worth...

Undercoated and ready to paint. I decided to try multibasing the models on icy-pole sticks for the painting process. I don't think I like it very much, and may revert back to single models on stands to paint in the future, I find I have more control that way as I like resting my painting hand on the hand I use to hold the model for steadiness.

The first two lots done, 1 base of warriors. As per usual, I couldn't leave it at a base coat and wash, I had to go back and highlight. It took a few hours more, but overall I am happy with the results.

The other sets finished, ready to be sprayed with a matt varnish. I will be getting some shield transfers to finish them off I think, so they are not quite ready. 

These add up to 3 bases of warriors. They aren't the best, but I am happy with the end results. I base coated over a white undercoat. Washed with a dark brown (Army Painter Strong Wash) wash, and then highlighted in the same colours used in the base coat, I then added a second highlight in some lighter tones. I am pretty happy with how they came out, and am looking forward to getting both the shields finished with transfers, and the basing done. I'll post more pictures when that finally happens.

I also undercoated (with the intention of painting), the figures I have for Twilight: Chronicles of Anyaral. I used a Dunkelgelb brown for the undercoat, which should suit the intended paint scheme nicely. The models are great, full of life and character, and I'm looking forward to painting them with my son.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A new blog?

I'm considering starting a new blog. That's not to say this one will be abandoned, I owe it to my two loyal readers to keep the home-fires burning at the castle! But I am considering running a blog in addition to this one. Those who do read my posts here are probably wondering why I'd bother, given I update this one only a couple of times a month. So let me run through some of my thinking, and, if you have the time I'd value any additional thoughts in the comments!

The new blog would be specifically about writing. It would cover the things I have been working on, thoughts about the process, struggles I am having and resources I find or have found useful. Who knows, I might even post the occasional story or excerpt. My thought at this stage is that I would aim to update it every week, and posts may be short or long, but they would be specific to that topic.

Top of the list of reasons I am considering this is because the subject of the blog would be specific, whereas here they would be mixed in among a range of other subjects, primarily games and gaming. The other key reason is inspirational: I must be doing something in order to write about it. Having to write a post a week will hopefully give me a reason to keep pushing forward with the projects I am working on, and will serve as a way of charting my progress, even if only for myself.

I know from the statistic page that my posts on writing tend to get less attention than posts on games and gaming, so breaking that aspect out both helps me to concentrate my thinking on that subject in one place, and people who would like to read content related to that can more easily do so.

But then again, maybe I won't. Writing a blog post is a neat way for me to trick myself into believing I have written something, and while words are on a page, none of them are pushing a project forward. A part of me thinks the exercise would be little more than procrastination. I'm see-sawing between the yes and the no. If you are still reading this, and have an opinion on the matter, I'd appreciate reading it!