Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Phil Eklund Interview - 2016 Releases!

Cover of Bios: Genesis by Sierra Madre Games

A little more than a year ago I posted an interview with legendary game designer and rocket scientist Phil Eklund, of Sierra Madre Games. Now it's time for an update to see what we have to look forward to in 2016 and even a bit beyond. Phil has of course designed games like High Frontier, Pax Porfiriana and Neanderthal.

Now, let's get on with it!

Fire Broadside: First off, could you briefly talk about the titles Sierra Madre Games have lined up for release this year?

Phil Eklund: The 2016 line-up is two new games, Bios Genesis and Pax Renaissance, and either one or two expansions.  Bios Genesis covers the origins of life on Earth, beginning shortly after this planet's accretion. Pax Renaissance covers a different sort of origins, that of the western world.

Bios: Genesis. Examples of events in the game's three eons.
FB: Before talking more about the Pax games, and their expansions, I just have to ask some more about Bios: Genesis. I've been following the progress of the game for years, and have always been happily surprised that it was still a semi-active project you were working on intermittently. You've mentioned that it is your most ambitious game to date, could you expand on that and maybe talk about the scope we should expect?

PE: In previous years the design of Bios Genesis foundered on the question of player identity.  What should the players be when the Earth is still partially molten with lava oceans?  And then, what sort of specialty or role can they play that is still recognizable after 4 billion years?  These questions are tough, but they were anticipated.  What was not anticipated or designed for is the seemingly simple refinement that players routinely paracitize each other, so as to be irritating but occasionally useful, as in endosymbiosis.  

Having an organism that is partly composed of another player's essential endosymbiont organism with different victory conditions blurred player identity.  Also providing for both competitive and cooperative victory conditions was much harder than I thought, but my partner and games expert Jon Manker showed me how to do this. Yet another identity crisis was how to maintain player identity before the advent of templated replication, such as immortal or crudely reproducing life. Another bewildering question was how to maintain identity in the quantum leap from micro- to macroorganisms. The question of player identity stalled this project for years.
RNA (single strand) and DNA (double strand) mutations.
FB: That sounds intriguing! The parasite effect makes me think of 18XX games or titles like Panamax, where you have stocks in each others, competing, companies and winning or loosing is not as black and white as simply having your company doing well. Will it be something similar in Bios: Genesis where you might purposefully help your opponent simply because you have so much riding on his or her success?

PE: Yes. Imagine in your own body if your immune system had its own genome and thus its own victory conditions. Usually it would work to keep the body safe in its own interest, yet possibly it may allow the body to get (non-lethally) sick, or attack its own organs, to secure some evolutionary advantage.

FB: How closely related is Bios: Genesis to Greenland and Neanderthal from a mechanical standpoint? Fairly similar in execution but more refined or more of a different beast altogether?

Bios Genesis These placards show refugia where life can begin, also the autocatalytic cycles that the refugia support.PE: Bios Genesis is overall unique, but like Greenland and Neanderthal it has lots of dice, and the number of dice rolled (for Autocatalytic, Darwin, and Cancer rolls) depends on the number of units in the arena.

FB: With the release of Bios: Genesis we will be able to play through the entire history of life on (and off!) Earth through the different Sierra Madre Games titles, however, Bios: Megafauna and Origins: How We Became Human have been out of print for a long time. I know Bios: Megafauna is getting a completely new edition, designed and developed by Jon Manker and Andrew Doull. Could you tell us more about this and what are the chances of seeing something similar done for Origins?

PE: Bios Megafauna 2 will cover twice as much time as the original Bios Megafauna, and will allow for a combined game with Bios Genesis.  This means that the players can no longer be distinguished by dentition, but must be from some other macro characteristic inherited from Bios Genesis.  (Skeletal types is a possibility).  It is envisioned (although not confirmed by the design team) that the players will take roles for all three trophic levels, given that they inherit traits such as weediness, metabolism, and separate growth and reproductive phases from Bios Genesis.  In plain language this means players can be plants, fungi, and bugs, rather than just dinosaurs and mammals.  And yes, if it sells well, the final part of the triad will be Bios Origins.  All three together encompass the entire history of the Earth.

FB: That sounds terrific, very happy to hear we might see a new Origins as well! Is it correct that Bios Megafauna 2 (is that the official title) will be kickstarted and if so, do you have an inkling about when?

PE: I dislike kickstarting and will attempt to fund the Bios Megafauna 2 project on my own.  Therefore it goes into intense playtest soon after Messe Essen in October 2016, for a release in Messe Essen 2017 if it survives playtest. But if my lack of USA distribution hurts me or leaves me with a large amount of unsold 2016 games, then I may have to rethink this.  In particular, I have a lot riding on the success of Pax Renaissance.  Pre-orders are strong, but to my astonishment Bios Genesis (for which I am printing only 2000 games) has garnered the most pre-orders.  Who would have thought that biochemistry would sell?

FB: Alright, so let's talk Pax! There's a new game in the series coming out; Pax Renaissance, that has been in the making for a couple of years now. I remember hearing that it was a tricky game to design and that development had to be rebooted a couple of times. Is it more similar to Pax Porfiriana or Pax Pamir and are there any striking differences that would be immediately apparent for Pax veterans?

Pax Renaissance by Sierra Madre Games
PE: Let's first talk about the philosophy of the Pax series, and its "realism".  History is the study of man by his past actions.  By studying history, one can figure out what "works" and what doesn't.  Figuring out the natural laws regarding economics and politics is what makes History a science.  I am hoping to have these laws as the constants holding the series together.  If these game rules resonate with the actual universal laws, then the game is "realistic".  I mention this because my partner Cole Wehrle, has been fielding questions about the nature of realism in our Pax game, Pax Pamir.

Some of the processes that are the same in the Pax series are the Market, the hand structure, tableau with Prestige, and some sort of victory trigger.

I am excited about this new Pax game, Pax Renaissance, because its theme is how society became "modern".  At first just western society, but now this political liberation is global in extent; even in darkest Afghanistan one cannot entirely avoid it. Design attempts at this game in years past crashed and burned in playtest, simply because the scope (the entirety of Europe and its major religions) was so huge.  Another failure was the integration of the three play areas: map, tableau, and market.  Cole's game helped with this.  Another problem was representing both "The East" and "The West", my son and co-designer Matt worked on this. The problem, stated simply, are these two societies fundamentally similar or different?  We chose different, although both were within a century of a crossroads where they both could have gone different directions.

The final big challenge was coming up with victory conditions that included the various directions that western society could have traveled.  We finally decided on Globalization, Imperialism, Renaissance, and Holy victories.  The result is a lot of wide-scale mayhem, in a manner familiar to Pax players, a typical turn might see a beheading in England, a reformation in France, an invasion of Italy, enslavement in the Crimea, a Jihad in Egypt, a peasant revolt in the Holy Roman Empire.

FB: So it seems to be more sprawling than the earlier two games, that are much more focused both in space and in time. Does this mean more cards (I noticed the box seem to be a little bit larger)? Also, it seems like Karim Chakroun won't be doing the art for this one, is that correct?

PE: The box size for Pax Renaissance is somewhat bigger, about 50% longer while keeping the other dimensions constant.  This is to accommodate card sleeving and expected expansions.  Nevertheless, I am hoping to keep the weight under 500 grams, even with the bigger box.  This goal is uncertain; it will be tight.  If I fail, I will have to increase shipping considerably for those who do not pre-order.  

The artwork is based on the Pax Pamir style and iconography which Cole Wehrle put a lot of effort into perfecting, so I put Karim to work on the Bios Genesis project instead. Hmmm. Something just occurred to me. In the "Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, the hero is a "symbologist", which is an imaginary profession made up just for the novel.  Yet I have employed both Karim and Cole in just such a capacity.

Pax Renaissance by Sierra Madre Games map
The secular trade map for Pax Renaissance.
FB: Yes, I think Karim's work on Bios Genesis is his best yet. Anyhow, what about the Pax Renaissance expansion that will hopefully be released at the same time. Is it mostly more but similar cards to the main game or does it contain new mechanics and rules?

PE: I am accepting pre-orders for both Pax Renaissance and its expansion now.  But, as I explain on the order page, the expansion may be delayed and may ship later than Renaissance.  The game is designed, but there are unresolved playtest issues.  Some of the new polymath cards are really strong, and the new apostasy is not as relevant as I would have hoped. So I am not guaranteeing co-delivery, and Essen 2016 is uncertain (but likely).

FB: Pax Pamir is getting an expansion as well, and while I know it is not your game as such, could you tell us briefly about it and what it brings to the table?

PE: The Pax Pamir expansion, called Khyber Knives, brings a number of fresh new ideas to the game: new card types (Wazir, Capacity, Headline), a new Nation Building variant, and new procedures such as augmentation.  Most significantly it introduces a solitaire variant designed by Richard Wilkins.
Some new cards in Khyber Knives.
FB: As a fairly new minted father, with less time for meeting friends for board gaming, I certainly appreciate the solo option! Moving on to High Frontier. The third edition is still in the hands of Jon Compton and One Small Step and while fairly late at this stage I'm hopeful it will be with us before winter at least. When we talked last year there was another space game mentioned, namely Robert Zubrin's Space. Has it been held up by the High Frontier kickstarter or is there some other reason we haven't heard much about it?

PE: The former. Bob Zubrin's game "Space" is held up by the KS release of High Frontier third edition.  I hope the 3rd edition will be before winter as well, but I have no inside information, unfortunately. Then I will be working on "Space" again, which is supposed to be integrated with the 3rd edition.  This is difficult because both Bob and I are stubborn curmudgeons, sometimes at loggerheads.

FB: Haha! I see. So you have a hard time agreeing on how certain aspects of space travel should be presented mechanically?

PE: A bit, although the bigger contention is the motivation for entering space to begin with.  I contend that humans should not enter space until it is profitable to do so, whereas Bob sees the colonization of Mars as the end goal.  And I see space as a means to reduce the nuclear threat from ICBMs, whereas Bob sees it as a means for parity in Europe.  We are both influenced by our past experience, Bob as the President of the Mars Society and I as having working in Star Wars for many years.

FB: I asked about a possible reprint or new edition of Origins earlier, but that is of course not the only game of yours that is out of print - for example, I've been looking for a copy of Erosion for years without success. Do you think there are possibilities for reprints of other games in your back catalogue?

PE: A new edition of Origins will surely appear, at least if the Bios Megafauna 2 project is successful.  It would then be something like Bios Origins, and a sequel to Bios Megafauna.  I don't have any plans at the moment for an Erosion reprint.

FB: Nor Insecta I suppose (well, I had to ask)?

PE: I hope for a new edition of Insecta.  It should be possible to have a really simple variant for younger kids.  Someday.

FB: A more general question; your recent games have all been card based which of course is easier and less expensive to produce and ship. Do you see yourself continuing this trend going forward or can we expect more games with mounted boards as well?

PE: Its unfortunate that I was let go by my long-time warehouser PSI, and thus I lost my access to USA distributors.  I am hoping to survive by selling to the USA and Canada from my website and shipping most of the stuff from Europe, which is cheap as long as I stay under a kilo.  The weight of mounted boards are therefore a problem for me.  I have contracted with Funagain Games to warehouse my 2016 line in the USA, so I have some USA presence, but nevertheless persons who are used to getting my games at a discount on-line shop may be disappointed.

If I can move enough games without an USA distribution base, or if I can get a new distribution base, I will go back to bigger games.  I have told Andrew and Jon to include mounted maps (or mounted continental plates) for the design of Bios Megafauna 2 and Bios Origins.

FB: Mounted continental plates - like a puzzle? So you could build and crack your own Pangea?

PE: Yes. Andrew Doull is designing this concept.

FB: Well, if I wasn't way too excited for Bios Megafauna 2 already, I sure would be now! However, I think that is about it this time around. Is there anything else you would like to talk about concerning Sierra Madre Games or otherwise board game related?

PE: In closing I wanted to say that I have taken quite a bit of effort to make these new games as relevant and accessible as possible, despite their esoteric subject matter. The extensive card text, background, footnotes, and rules references make every effort to show how long-ago events are relevant today.  As already mentioned, the universals of science never get outdated. How are the bankers of the Renaissance similar to those of today?  Why are cancer, metabolism, vitamins, viruses the way they are?  What are the politics that lead to artistic freedom of expression? What is the consequence that our mitochondria have their own own genome and thus their own genetic imperative and goals, are they really part of us or are they sometimes friends, sometimes enemies?  What is the effect of combining a state religion and the government in a theocracy?

FB: Well, I can say that from a personal perspective that your games have helped me rediscover my love for science, history (both natural and man-made) and human behaviour. I have also observed that, while your games are not to everyones taste, they always make you think about the subject matter. After playing one of your games we have often had long discussions about how parts played out in the game vs the real world and why they ended up like they did etc, and that happens with people who like the game as much as people who don't. In a way I think of Phil Eklund as the Noam Chomsky (or Ayn Rand - take your pick) of board games - divisive but always interesting and thought provoking.

Your approach of often doing things from a bottom-up rather than a top-down perspective is also very refreshing. For example, is there any other civilization building game, besides Origins, where you play as the people rather than as some demi-god figure leading/controlling the people? None that I can recall anyway. And soon being able to play from the first sparks of life all the way to our times is mind-bogglingly cool!

So please, keep it up and thanks for the many happy hours of play (and discussions!).

PE: Thank you for this opportunity Martin. The renaissance of the boardgame genre is a chance to break out of wargame and party paradigms into a brave new world exploring ourselves and the universe we live in.

That is that, dear readers! I for one am most excited about Bios Genesis as I simply love the subject matter, and the minimalistic art design is absolutely gorgeous! For a deeper look at how a game might play out I recommend this solo play report by Cthulhukid att BGG.

Pax Renaissance is also very high on my to-get list. Especially since I skipped Pax Pamir as a friend of mine got it instead. The much grander and more open nature of PaxRe certainly sounds intriguing and it's more close to home than PaxPo or PaxPa.

I'll check in with Phil again next year for another interview. And of course I will be playing the new releases as soon as I get my hands on them.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Back from Japan - An Update!

YMS-09D Dom Test Type

Hello! Long time no see and all that. It's weird, every time we go to Japan for a few months I think "great, I'll have a lot more free time to blog and read through all those roleplaying books I want to review!" but then it doesn't turn out like that and in a way I actually have less free time than when I'm back home, working. Very weird. So please excuse the long silence. Now we're back in Sweden and I even managed to bring some loot from the land of the rising sun!

First off  here are a couple of quick phone pics of my recently painted fleet scale mecha for Jovian Chronicles and Lightning Strike. Since I've been waiting so long for something like this I was eager to get started and begain painting the same week we got home. They've even seen their first action as we played the second session in our Jovian Chronicles campaign this week. More on that later of course.

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale minis
This is what I've finished so far, and covers pretty much what was needed for the current session.
The Hector standing in as a Retaliator.
Three Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyverns
Two standard Wyverns and one Command variant.
Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Pathfinder
Pathfinder Alpha command variant. I drilled four shallow holes in the backpack as thrusters.
As you can see I've re-based them on regular hex flying stands. Mostly as we'll be using them for the roleplaying game quite a bit, but also since I do like the current Lightning Strike rules where each exo armour is an individual unit. I can always re-base them again later if needed. I'm really happy with how they turned out and I think they hold up pretty well to the full 28mm scale exos.

Up next are a flight of Syreens and bunch of CEGA ships. These will be followed by another two Hectors and some Jovian ships which should amount to enough to allow me to start playing Lightning Strike properly. More and better pictures to follow!

While in Japan I took the opportunity to get some Japanese stuff. Two games from Japanse board game maker Oink Games海底探険, aka Deep Sea Adventure, and エセ芸術家ニューヨークへ行く, aka A Fake Artist Goes to New York. One is a quick push-your-luck game where you're trying to gather as much treasure as possible without drowing (which you do. Frequently) and the other is a kind of drawing based Spyfall. A Fake Artist Goes to New York is just... awesome! So much fun can be had with just a few pieces of paper and some pens. Great game! Deep Sea Adventure is also a solid filler, but doesn't quite tap into the same genious as Fake Artist.

Deep Sea Adventure by Oink Games
Trying to get just a few... more... pieces... of... treasure! *Gasp*
A Fake Artist Goes to New York by Oink Games
Some of the weird creations we came up with as we played.
One of the things I love about Oink Games is that all their creations come in tiny, tiny boxes! They're about the size of two regular decks of cards stacked on top of each other and it's so nice to have producers trying to make it as small as possible instead of just pushing more unwanted air into their boxes. Smaller games=more space, more space=more games! :D

Of course, you can't go to Japan and not get some kind of giant robot! This year I finally managed to see the full scale gundam at display in Odaiba and it was spectacular! Actually larger than I had expected and with loads of cool detail. While I was there they projected a Gundam series (Iron-Blooded Orphans I think) on the facade behind the gundam and it lit up in different colours to match the action in the episode. Pretty cool!

I also bought my first proper Gundam kits. Although I was on a tight budget I managed to squeeze in three 1/144 High Grade kits by simply playing smart with the different bonus point cards all the big chain stores have in Japan. For a long while I was thinking that I would get some of the models from the excellent Gundam Thunderbolt series, but in the end I went for three kits from Gundam: The Origin instead as they are newer and better designed. While "only" HG kits they are fairly close to Real Grade kits when it comes to detail and movability.

I've only put one together so far, the YMS-09D Dom Test Type, and it was a lot of fun! Took longer than I expected (even with painting and glue not being required) simply because I did all the panel lines as I built it. It's the first time I've used my Gundam markers and the ones I have are a bit larger than I hoped for, but works fine as long as you wipe away the excess paint. You can see the finished product up top. Well, it needs a top coat, but apart from that it's done. I have Char's Custom Zaku II and Zaku II High-Mobility Type, both from The Origin, to build as well. Here are another couple of pictures.

YMS-09D Dom Test TypeYMS-09D Dom Test Type

There's also another modelling project lying before me. An old friend in Japan, who also loves scifi, was kind enough to give a Maschinen Krieger model out of the blue! It's the 1/20 Raptor power armour and it looks like a lot of fun to build! However, I really want to do it justice, with lots of rust and other weathering effects so I'm not going to rush it. It might sit untouched for a while, but I am determined to get it built before I go back to Japan next time.

For those who don't know, Maschinen Krieger (or Ma.K as it is also known) was originally a science fiction comic in Japan in the early eighties. However, that was only the catalyst and what we know as Ma.K today was the brainchild of Kow Yokoyama and was born out of kitbashing and the love of science fiction, early space exploration and WWII. It has a fairly fun backstory about human space colonists who want to return and take back Earth from a fascist dictatorship that now rules it. It's mostly just an excuse for building amazing looking models though, and for it to be proper Ma.K they should be dirty and grimy and rusty. Haha! I highly recommend checking out the page of Ma.K enthusiast Maschinen Kreuger as it has loads and loads of great picturs of models!

I also picked up some smaller stuff. The 100 yen stores are great for finding all kinds of cheap stuff that can be used for modelling in different ways. Among others I got some pastels (for weathering) and a bunch of sheets of corrucated cardboard (for terrain). Got to love scoring cheap deals! I was going to get sheets of cork as well, but forgot all about it so that'll have to wait till next year.

Well... I think that covers the main events. There is a lot of other stuff that I'm doing or prepping for, but at the moment I'm trying to focus on getting all the Jovian Chronicles minis painted (working on the CEGA fleet now) and then I might get stuck in with MERCS Recon as the wave 2 stuff should be arriving here soon... ? I hope. I really want to do more roleplaying as well. Need to try Ten Candles and Ryuutama for sure and I would love to find the right constellation of people for Torchbearer to really take off! Then there's Mutant: Maskinarium where you play as a robot who has just gained consciousness. And of course our Jovian Chronicles campaign.

Well, expect some more regular updates from now on!
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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Review - CEGA

Last week I had a look at the first wave of fleet scale JAF releases for Jovian Chronicles and Lightning Strike and this week I'm reviewing the CEGA releases! We have the old school Wraith fighters, the stopgap Syreen exo armor and the new mass produced Wyvern exo armor. I put some more background info in this review, as the game is still an unknown for many readers. I'll be going back and updating the first review as well.

CEGA, short for Central Earth Government and Administration, is the second superpower in the Solar system, balancing the Jovian Confederation, and is desperately struggling to catch up with the technological leaps that happened after The Fall, where Earth descended into war and was cut off from the rest of the Solar nations. While CEGA doesn't represent all the nations on Earth it does wield substantial power and has resources to throw at aggressive R&D to fuel their plan of re-taking their lost colonies. This has not only made the rest of the Solar system really nervous but has garnered critique from CEGA's own citizens as resources are put into the navy rather than trying to rebuild the smashed ecosystem of Earth.

Now let's take a look at the models! Full disclosure, these models were provided to me by Dream Pod 9. Like last time let's start with the fighters!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wraith Fighters

Yes, fighters are still around as they can fulfill some roles exos are not suited for, at a fraction of the cost! The Wraith is an old design, dating back to the late twenty-first century. However, fighter designs don't change as quickly as exo designs and CEGA certainly couldn't afford to be choosy when emerging from The Fall to retake the solar system. Here are the models straight out of the pack. As you can see there's almost no mould lines and just a couple of pieces of flash to clean. Nice and quick! For some reason they look a little different from how I've imagined the Wraith. I wasn't all that fond of the original 1/500 scale sculpt as it looked a little too flat and "boring". It's a tricky design though, as it looks great as Ghislain's art but becomes a bit too boxy as a model. Still, let's have a better look at these fighters mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wraith Fighters

Either the pictures didn't do the old sculpt justice or these fleet scale fighters have been ever so slightly tweaked to make the wings a little larger and with more of a downward slant. This certainly kicks them up a couple of notches in my view as I like the look of them better now. They look a little larger than the Lancers squadron but that's only because they're flatter and I guess their about the same mass. Just like with the fleet scale Lancer there are a number of small thrust vectoring plates that have turned into those small nubs at the end, but this, of course, can't be helped considering the scale. Overall I'm very happy with the Wraiths and I actually think they're a step up from the older, larger, models!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Syreen Exo Armor

Next up we have our first CEGA exo armor! Well... it's barely a proper exo armor, is it? A hastily converted orbital transfer vehicle, meant to be used as a stopgap, that turned out to be surprisingly effective. Still, even after a refit the 30 year old machine is showing its age and has a hard time competing with the latest JAF has to offer. Of the models in this first wave the Syreen required the most amount of clean up. The flash attached to the engine bell and propellant tanks are quick to take care of but there were relatively visible mould lines along the side of the main hull, the tanks and on top of the "wings". Not excessive by any means, but enough for me to want to take out the file and get rid of them. Most likely this is because of the rounded shapes of the Syreen compared to the other more angular exos. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Syreen Exo Armor

If you're wondering about the leader, it's the one in the middle. Syreens don't carry flashy close combat weapons like the plasma lance, so it's harder to make the leader stand out. What DP9 sculptor Tony Baltera has done instead is sweep the wings/arms back to give it more of a dynamic look. An alternative would have been to model the ECM pod that is only present on the command model. However the problem with that is that is has never been depicted what it looks like in the art (as far as I know). If I would convert it myself I'd probably put a comms dish vertically on its back. Anyway, when I first saw the renders for the Syreen I was a little worried that it looked too rounded and bulbous, but looking at the finished model in my hand now I can say that it's an almost perfect representation of the Syreen! People might wonder why, when there are such cool exos as the Pathfinder and Cerberus around, but the Syreen is actually my favourite exo design so I'm very happy to see it made the transition to fleet scale so well!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyvern Exo Armor

Ok, so even if my personal favourite is the Syreen most readers will likely be more excited to read about the Wyvern exo armor! Right about when JAF introduced the heavier Retaliator exo armor (which is being prepped for casting as I type this!) CEGA officials realized they needed to up their game and replace the Syreen with something sturdier. Not being able to match the speed of JAF exos they focused on armour and firepower! These guys required only a little bit of clean up, mostly just taking care of fhe pieces of flash underneath the feet and filing one or two areas where you could see some vague mould lines. Overall, great casts. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyvern Exo Armor

Another example of Tony doing a great job of catching all the important bits and the essence of what makes a Wyvern a Wyvern. The ins and outs of the armour, the thigh flaps and the thin, monitor-like head (less vision, but more firepower!). The hypergolic bazooka is pretty much just a tube, but that is how it should be. My favourite bit in this pack is the leader though! He of course comes with the comms upgrade visible on the right shoulder and has his bazooka replaced by a massdriver rifle, but the coolest bit is the hummer axe! If you've seen pretty much any Gundam series you know that the iconic Zeon front line Zaku suit, that was the inspiration for the Wyvern, often carry an axe shaped close combat weapon. It just fits so well and was not present in either the old model nor the actual rpg background. Wyverns carry hummer knives, but not axes - however I think this is much cooler from a visual perspective. Lovely models and I think they just nudge themselves past the Pathfinder as my second favourite fleet scale exos, thanks to the axe!

While I really like the JAF releases I think the CEGA models actually win this round. The Syreen and Wyvern are just so well translated into this smaller scale! Again, can't wait to get some paint on these models as I want to see them in their full glory on my space mat. I was out of onigiris so here they are grouped with a reference bottle of Ripobitan D!

Next up is Wave 2 which consists of the Retaliator and Vindicator for JAF and the Cerberus and Fury for CEGA and should be ready for sale in a week or two. DP9 also just revealed Wave 3 which will consiste of Venus units; the Brunhilde fighter, the Ryu exo armor and (sculpted for the first time ever!) the Bonebreaker exo armor! Lots of cool stuff in other words. Hopefully I'll be able to review these as well in during the coming months. I'll round off this review with the preview renders of the next two waves:

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Monday, 28 March 2016

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Review - Jovians

Today I bring you a review of the first wave of the new Jovian models for the fleet scale version of Jovian Chronicles and/or Lightning Strike! I have the first wave of CEGA models as well, just waiting to be assembled, but I thought it would be better to split the review into two parts.

These models have been long in the making, with a teaser picture of the fleet scale fighters appearing ten years ago! Just check out this picture from Starship Combat News. I suppose someone should update that page now that we have new stuff! Also, why is the Uller missile cruiser on the Jovian side in this picture?! 

As Robert Dubois mentioned, in the interview I conducted with him last month, the fleet scale fighters were lost and not rediscovered until last year when DP9 decided to do a production run to gauge interest in future fleet scale models for Jovian Chronicles. Luckily for us mecha enthusiasts the response was a good one and now we have four sets of exo armors on sale already and four more on pre-order ready for release in April. Good times! 

Now let's take a look at the actual models shall we? We've seen the renders and although they looked good a render is not a model. Full disclosure: Dream Pod 9 provided me with the fighters and exo armors for review with my purchase of the missing ships for my JAF fleet (well, I'm still missing the Godsfire!). Please excuse the slightly wonky and badly lit pictures - I'm working with what I've got here... :)

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Lancers

Age before beauty, or something -first out let's take a look at the Lancer squadron. Above you can see what the pieces looked like right out of the pack, with no cleaning or anything. Minimal mould lines quickly taken care of with a file and some small pieces of flash at the front, but that was it. Very easy to clean! Mounted they look like this:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Lancer and Thunderbolt

They're quite dainty, about as long as one of the exo armors is tall but much smaller. The entire fuel tank is about he size of one of the thrusters on the Hector. Which is as it should be of course! While the new models are all designed digitally these, and the Wraiths, were hand sculpted which you might be able to tell if you stare at them long enough. Doesn't really matter in the end though as they look very close to the original drawings by Ghislain Barbe. The two side fins are missing, but that is understandable considering how small they'd be.

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Hectors

Next up we have the Hector exo armor which is a slight improvement to the Pathfinder with the legs replaced by a thruster assembly. It's zippier, has slighly better armour and is equipped with a missile defense system. As you can see there's barely any flash on these guys - just a little at the end of the thrusters. The only mould lines I could find where at the side of the thrusters so, again, very quick to clean! There's the leader with the plasma lance and two regular Hectors. Unfortunately the rear thruster had to be removed, as otherwise it would be impossible to cast it in one piece, but when properly mounted it's not really noticeable. If you really wanted to you could probably put something together as a replacement though. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Hector and Thunderbolt

I really like the extra detail on the shield as the Spartan looking helmet made it through casting just fine. My only nitpick is the lack of detail on the thrusters. At this scale options are of course limited, but some simple lines mimicking what can be seen in the artwork would have been nice. Also the smaller thrusters on the back are filled in to facilitate proper casting, but I'll probably drill them out for extra effect. I really like space based mechas like this! While the Syreen is probably my favourite the Hector is pretty cool to. Hehe!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Pathfinders

Finally, the pièce de résistance and the cover model of Jovian Chronicles - the Pathfinder! Again, barely and mould lines or flash. Just a little bit underneath the feet and the string going from the sword hand to the thigh. At some places you can see very slight print lines from the original rapid prototyping process, but they won't be visible after getting some paint on the model so no point in loosing sleep over. Here they are mounted:

The Javelins and the Hectors look good, but of these three releases the Pathfinder takes the price for best looking model! The characteristic shape of the torso and legs are there, the head unit with the visor, the comm dish, the 792A Particle Cannon carried by the leader... it's all there. I want to paint these guys so bad but it'll have to wait until I'm back home in May. I think they'd take to quick and easy techniques exceedingly well and look really nice on the tabletop! Compared to the Thunderbolt cruiser they are of course still out of scale, but the gap has shrunk quite a bit and it's now at the level where it's very easy for your brain to just fudge it for you. Yes, the exos and fighters are a bit too large, but it still looks perfectly fine on the table - in fact I think having smaller models would make it look worse as all the detail would be lost and it would simply become different coloured humanoid shapes.

I'm very happy with these Jovian releases! And as it turns out the Thunderbolt also look a lot better once you have it in hand than on pictures I have seen. Bonus! 

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Flight Stand

Finally I would like to talk a little bit about the new flight stand DP9 has designed. It's basically three bendable wires with a ball on top that you can glue to the ball joint on the model. This works very well and allows you to position your squads in different dynamic positions. How to mount fighters in space games have been something of a pet peeve of mine way back since I first played Battlefleet Gothic. 

I have seen many different solutions but the results have almost always been quite static looking. In the end I had decided that the best would be to construct something just like this, using wire and a lump of modelling putty. Except, now DP9 has done it for me! Granted there are only three prongs, so if you want to mount more fighters (five is a common number in other games) then you are out of luck. I'm also a little bit concerned about the longevity. Since they're modeled after piano wire they bend well even though they're made of pewter, but depending on how well protected the stands are when packed into figure cases I can imagine them getting weakened. The best solution would probably be a magnetized base on a metal tray. It's really nice to be able to position the models on the stand pretty much freely. You can go for different kinds of formations, creating more variety and so on. Good stuff!

And I think that is about it! This is the first of the new Jovian releases and we have the Vindicator and Retaliator up for pre-order already. It'll be interesting to see what other exos we might see - I wouldn't be surprised to see the Stormrider. Perhaps there will also be some of the newer mecha that were never released for the original Lightning Strike. Keeping my fingers crossed!

I'll leave you with a picture of them all lined up with the Thunderbolt cruiser and a common reference onigiri. Next week I'll take a look at the wave 1 CEGA stuff - the Wraith, the Syreen and the Wyvern!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Exo armors

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Friday, 18 March 2016

Infinity Release Highlights

"Whats this now?! I thought you'd stopped reporting Infinity releases!" I hear you say. And yes, I've retired those particular posts at this point in time, but that doesn't mean I get all excited at the end of the month or whenever we get a new sneak peak. It has now been 9 months since I wrote about the last releases and there's been some spectacular stuff added to the range since then. I thought it would be fun to have a look back and just pick a few of my favourites.

August (there were no July releases) was all about USAriadna, which I didn't feel were all that interesting. We got the Tiger Soldier with Spitfire which I'll definitely get, but from a minis perspective I think this Alguaciles hacker wins out! An odd release, seeing as there's a different version in the Corregidor Starter (that I also like) but a welcome one. I quite like the pose and the intense focus he seems to have. Nice model! Would have to consider replacing the starter set hacker with this one and use the other as HVT if I ever start that Corregidor force I've been thinking about.

What's that you say? Corregidor? Yes... I'm in love with almost all Corregidor models and the Mobile Brigada is in the top two (guess top one!) so I was happy to see this nice box of four more deadly looking beetles! I still find it silly that the female minis are so thin compared to the very bulky males - you'd think they'd look pretty much the same after putting on power armour - but at least it's not as bad as the female Hsien or Hac Tao! They look good though I wouldn't mind some less static poses. Hmm... aren't heavy infantry releases generally fairly static? Anyway, love the reloading of ths shotgun and the dainty looking gun in the hand of the hacker!

October brought us the updated Guija TAG for Yu Jing and what an update it proved to be! While I still really like the original version this does look better. The only things I would have changed from a design perspective is to make the thighs bigger again (to keep the landmate feel) and make the head... weirder. I much prefer the Briareos look of the original to this very humanoid head. Finally, the pose with the sword is what makes me really sad. Yes, it's kind of cool, but I much prefer my TAGs to look like they're do ingwhat they do best - shooting people! When I get this I'm seriously going to consider converting it to actually holding and firing that Multi-HMG it's got stuck on it's back. Still, it's a lovely looking TAG!

Not satisfied with a huge TAG CB also gave us a new Azra'il in October. This is quite an update! We had of course seen the Feuerbach variant earlier but I like this one even better. The new Haqq HMG looks great and the box magazines on the back are big and chunky which i like. Tht final touch is the shield on the right arm, reminiscent of Kerberos Panzer Cops. Hmm... can you tell I like big burly robot-y stuff yet?

Oh, you couldn't tell? Alright, let me spell it out for you with even more power armour goodness!! The Domaru Butai box was delayed a couple of months until November, but well worth waiting for! This is an excellent update of the old design that incorporates parts from Neko Oyama (the haidate - thigh armour) and also retains the dynamic poses that very much fit the Domaru. Getting a Spitfire also unlocks a bunch of new options for army building. I've always been a great fan of the Domaru and if I ever expand my Yu Jing enough to run JSA I think I'll have to try a Domaru link.

Ok, so it's not only about the power armour... I like this guy more than Achilles v2! Spektrs are generally just cool and this guy has the coolest looking gun and is about to put down a mine which is something I love to do with my skirmishers! The pose is a little bit odd when you think about it, but at first glance it looks good enough so no reason to dwell I suppose.

Back to the power armour again! January brought us another new Hac Tao. This time we finally got the hacker that had been mentioned earlier and it's weird and great looking at the same time. Weird because... why does he have his sword out? Great because (among other things) he has his Multi-rifle actually slung! This is something you rarely see on Infinity minis which makes me appreciate this Hac Tao all the more for it. Also, the general update to the Hac Tao is superb and it brings much needed detail to the earlier fairly plain armour. Now I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that the next Hac Tao will be female! January also contained the Desperados and Govads which almost made the cut into this highlight list.

February brought us another lovely Nomads release - the new and exciting Bandit! Boarding shotgun for the win again, and a neat hood/mask combo that I really like. The running pose works great as well, the only thing that looks a bit odd is the silly way he holds the sword. I understand what the sculptor had in mind but fighting like that simply doesn't make much sense. I'll most likely adjust it by cutting the sword off and turning it around so the blade goes up under his left arm. Whenever I get this guy that is!

Yes, more power armour! Hector came as a bit of a surprise to me and I think I've found the leader that I want to try and build my Steel Phalanx around. Achilles is cool and all but he's a bit headstrong. Hector seems like a much more tactical thinker. The model is nice and big with a very character tinbot and huge revolver! While the gun looks cool I at the same time feel it's a missed opportunity not to model an ALEPH plasma rifle. We've never seen anything like that before! Still, this way it's easy to use the model for whichever profile. If you're wondering why the Su Jian didn't make it it's simply because I prefer the old model - more weird and robotic looking.

Which brings us to the current releases this March. This felt a bit like one of those months where CB goes thin on releases to get the schedule back on track. Sure the HVTs are pretty cool and I'll pick up the Dragon Lady for sure, but it feels like secondary releases in a way. Still, we got the cool looking Kanren for Yu Jing! This guy is some kind of counter-insurgent, working hard to root out threats against the StateEmpire. Seemingly a very interesting toolbox model that I'm looking forward to try out.

And here's where we are now! I got to say it's been a nice past few months for us Yu Jing players with releases in six of the nine months! I have kind of reached a point now where I hesitate to paint any of my older Yu Jing models as I suspect we'll see updated versions of most of them soon enough. The quality keeps on rising steadily and although I picked mostly the big impressive power armour guys in this highlight there are so many spectacular looking lighters troops as well.

Really looking forward to seeing what else 2016 has in store. I certainly wouldn't mind resculpts of the Zhanshi line troops (and maybe Keisotsu butai) as well as the Shang Ji and Hsien. The latter two have awesome looking sculpts already but they are very much on the small side, so just a lighter update to get them into the same size as the rest of the power armour infantry might be enough.

Anyway, those are some Inifnity thoughts! See you later!
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Thursday, 10 March 2016

Jovian Chronicles Odyssey Seed - Part 1

Jovian Chronicles rpg session
I only snapped one picture while we played but it really captures the session perfectly!
It finally happened! Before jetting off to Japan we managed to squeeze in our first session of Jovian Chronicles - a game that has sat on my shelf, unplayed but not unread, since 1997!

As you can see we're playing with the first edition rules, although I might steal a few things from Core Command when it feels like a better fit. I've said before that I quite like the basics of the Silhouette system and planning for the session, where we would be making characters, my only worry was the abundance of different skills. As a game from the nineties Jovian Chronicles do suffer from maybe too much granularity when it comes to skills and equipment. While I love that in one way, it's great for world building and getting into the setting, it can certainly put some stumbling blocks before actual play. Still, I didn't want to charge in swinging the axe of Houserulius before running for a bit with the original system.

So the first couple of hours went to an explanation of the setting and character generation. I have put together a shared Google Drive folder where I collect all kinds of stuff that can work well as inspiration for the game, mostly tv series like The Expanse and Mobile Suit Gundam, so that my players could get some groundwork done before the game. Naturally I've filled it with much more than I expected or even hoped anyone to consume, based on the idea that a smorgasbord where you can pick your fancy is better than a set menu. Or something. In the end people were more or less familiar with Gundam (mostly less) and while that is certainly a big part of JC there's just so much more to the setting! I think I ended up just talking about the history of the solar system, the Jovian colonies, CEGA and briefly the other solar nations for almost an hour.

Jovian Chronicles, Uller cruisers and Syreens
A flight of Syreens screaming past a group of Uller missile cruisers.
Usually just "explaining" a setting like that ends up with your players asleep or with their eyes glued to their phones, but thanks to both the well written and real feeling history of the game and the wealth of details that perfectly captures your imagination ("the relatively cramped living conditions on Jovian colonies has lead to Jovian musicians often straining to create as rich music as possible while its still low key and personal") it actually got the players interested! Of course it wasn't just me talking either, but the players asking all kinds of questions about past events, every day life in space or their current situation as Jovian citizens.

Then it was time to get into actual character creation and although it looks like a quick process at first glance, what draws it out is the completely open choice in choosing attributes and skills, and players looking all of them up to see what they do. As I mentioned earlier the skill chapter really shows from what era the game is from and when you have Zero-G Maneuvering and Zero-G Combat it starts to feel a little redundant (yes, those are technically different skills, but why not shoot for brevity?). Still, we're starting out playing it rules as written.

For the start of the campaign each character is an exo pilot in the Jovian Armed Forces, but secondary/parallel characters will most likely be introduced once this particular episode is over. We ended up with Pierre Dutronc (left), a francofile smooth talker who ended up as the squad leader as well, Harrison B. Sturmer, famed for his sharpshooting rather than his sharp flying and Leif "Swede" Ericsen, the veteran who always seem to have the best tactical grasp of the situation at hand. The characters will need more fleshing out but as we start in media res and the players are still not all that familiar with the setting they are fairly blank slates personality wise at the moment.

The table decides that they should belong to the Black Cats squadron, meaning they have a very informal attitude and a penchant for hijinks, and the three pilots make up Angels 1-3 of Angel Flight (Dutronc claims that a girl once called him Angelface and decided, in a moment of self-aggrandizing, that this was something to name his flight after).

Pathfinder Alpha for Jovian Chronicles
A Pathfinder CT and a standard Pathfinder.
What we will actually be playing is the Odyssey campaign from the first Green Book, or rather the updated version from 2004 called Odyssey Seed, that is a bit more fleshed out. In the first edition of the game the Odyssey is already history and incorporated into the background setting so we're actually turning the clock back two years when playing - meaning the Wyvern is a new exo-armor and the Valiant is still under construction.

Potential SPOILERS for Odyssey Seed below!

We open with the three pilots in their respective exo-armors - Dutronc in a Pathfinder CT, Swede in a standard Pathfinder Alpha and Sturmer in a Retaliator - patrolling a certain sector in close proximity to Jupiter. Oddly they've had this same assignment for the past few days now. We hear the usual chatter between the colleagues while Dutronc is piping some classic Edith Piaf through the comms (he owns three original vinyls, carefully sourced from Earth at great expense!).

Jovian Chronicles, Ebiiru transportSuddenly a blip appears on the scopes of the Pathfinder CT and after checking for scheduled ships in this sector at this time the squad moves to intercept. It turns out that the blip is an Ebiiru cargo hauler (see right) called Nighthawk and it claims to have some mechanical troubles. The captain seems evasive and while the transport complies with orders there are some strange power readings going on and Swede spots someone in a vacsuit actually welding on one of the containers attached to the hull. As Sturmer is trying to lock down where the odd power sources are emanating from the entire squad find their communications jammed. Something is afoot! While Dutronc can use the superior ECCM equipment of his Pathfinder CT to break through the jamming locally he's not able to contact command for advice.

Fearing the worst Sturmer moves in closer to the Nighthawk, and the welder specifically, while Swede hangs back to cover him. He has locked down the power readings as coming from inside two of the attached containers and he realizes that the signatures look awfully similar to the newest exo-armors from CEGA! Just a couple of klicks away the container that is being welded upon suddenly swings open and a large green shape can be seen moving inside. A second later another container is pierced from the inside by what looks like a hummer knife and a second Wyvern blasts out into space!

Aaaaand cliffhanger!!

Yepp, although we were all eager to at least play out the current scene, the prepp had taken a little longer than anticipated and real life made itself known as one of us had an early-ish deadline. Actually though, it was a perfect point for us to end the session at it allows me to read up a little extra on the combat rules and make sure the combat flows as smoothly as it should. Three against two seems like it should be an easy fight, but the Wyverns are tough and our three pilots aren't that skilled - Dutranc is better at seduction than firing a gun and Swede would rather meet his opponent on the judo mat than in space!

The date for the next session hasn't been set yet, but hopefully we'll be able to try out a game over roll20 or Skype and then continue when I'm back in Sweden. Oh, and I think we'll simply integrate our missing player in the next session and retcon that he was there or along. It's not that all that much has happened anyway. Hehe!

Well, that's about it for the first session. Stay tuned for the next...