Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: Gale Force 9 Space Mats

Beachside dolly zoom, Lucosts and US$80 bucks to burn… here’s the low down on my experience with 2 of Gale Force 9’s excellent space battle mats.

Gale Force 9 has a well-earned reputation for smart game aids. I maintain that their Warmachine tokens are still the best by far. They dabble in terrain production and make other useful products for a ton of games. But these vinyl play mats are the focus here, and are particularly well-suited for the Star Wars X Wing Miniatures Game which I must like a lot because I keep playing the game over almost everything else. And I keep bringing it up. Star Wars X Wing Miniatures Game.

I will look at these mats first in terms of fabrication and then the practical use for the two space-based table top games I play and let the perceptual lenses fall where they may. I guess I should state now that the high/low on my opinion comes down to the tension between outlay of cash for the mat retail vs doing this all yourself (which I have done).

Space Station Game Mat

This one I bought first, around Thanksgiving ’13 and it has seen just under 50 games of Star Wars. The feeling at the time was that I already had a 4’x4’ space board painted for Battle Fleet Gothic by yours truly and so, I wanted a mat that would travel along with Star Wars (which was inherently not a star field) and I was really drawn to the stark graphic of a Death-Star like landscape. By far, this mat draws the most feedback of any of the three space surfaces I own, which I will get to after the next paragraph.

Fabrication: Vinyl, well printed and devoid of noticeable repeating objects. It is very clean, graphically. I was worried that there would be strange print blur, artifacts or noise on this image but there was none. Gale Force 9 claims you can use dry erase markers on it but I wouldn’t dare. I’ve seen red markers stain vinyl in my time so I didn’t test that here; take the claim for what it is. It comes rolled up in a study plastic storage tube with enough space to let the plastic breathe and move in the container.

PRO TIP: Alternate the direction you roll each time to offset “storage curl”, where the outside and innermost edge shapes into a curve around the roll. Roll it East-to-West one time and North-to-South the next and it’ll lay flat every time. Lastly, the cuts were true, very clean 90 degree corners which would’ve driven me nuts had they not been. There was little vinyl smell beyond what had me daydreaming about 70’s and 80’s Halloween costumes. Mmmm… flammable.

Practical Use: So what is it about this mat that elicits so much commentary? It is the print itself. It’s like that thing when you stare at a chain link fence and it does that optical veeEERRRT and the foregrounds  and backgrounds sorta swap back-and-forth? Like the chief’s beachside vertigo in Jaws? It’s called a “Dolly Zoom”. Yeah, it is sorta like that. The printed contrast is so dark and the colors so toned in grey that while I think it actually helps sell the scale of ships upon it, well, for Star Wars anyway, they can really blend in. To me, that is an interesting effect.

This reminds me of when I painted my Mage Hunter (Eiryss proxy) for Khador to blend in with the snow terrain and trees I made. I’d deploy him in the tree line and not move him at all. My opponent usually forgot he was there until Disruptor bolts started slinging on the bid for caster kill. So the effect this mat has on players is the same in how it messes with people’s concentration of a coherent image or maybe, their reliance on short-term memory if visually, things are cluttered… which to me is interesting. The Battlefield Mat is like a terrain-heavy board visually even if it isn’t an actual physical or rules constraint.

Nobody that I play with hates this print for Star Wars but some people do remark that it is challenging. Add to the equation that most Rebel ships really are tonal cousins for the overall print color and you have what I think is a cool visual challenge. Collectively, we liked this print a lot less for Battlefleet Gothic both because the scale of Battlestation-to-Gothic cruiser was 2 townships past Disbeliefield and also because 3’x3’ is REALLY small for most Battlefleet Gothic. While the mat had very little in terms of moment-ruining sheen it is still vinyl and so, models can skate a bit more than they do with your average felt mat. That said, I’ve never once seen a high-stakes game ruined by slickness of the mat. 

My Value Opinion: Medium/High. I think it is interesting for all players to try once while dodging IP-inflated Lucas costs (Lucosts?) of a licensed Star Wars product. You have to answer for yourself if the average US$40 price is worth it but I’d wager it is for most Star Wars games; remember the super-huge Tantive and Rebel Transport are coming out soon and you may find 3’x3’ too small if they are to be contained in that space. For Battle Fleet Gothic I would say the mat is less useful due to size and print and it is an unknown to me for other space games since I do not play much else… though Star Trek Attack Wing could rationalize the background as a stylized Borg Cube background.

All told, I give it an A for myself and a collective B+/A- for the herd, based on responses ranging from “love it!” and “what the hell is going on with my ocular acuity?” I’ve tried to pay attention to which camp the gamer vets and the freshmen fall into, but so far it just comes down to matters of taste and tastes are fairly distributed across both sides.  Lastly, it photographs well, though the ship-blending effect should be pretty apparent by the pics. I just wish they were bigger than 3’x3’. Even Star Wars needs a tad bigger space, in my opinion.

Frozen Planet Game Mat

Of the two Gale Force 9 mats, this is probably more popular by an appreciable margin though I’ve had it the least amount of time (about 2 months at press time). It summons up thoughts of Hoth and the glory days of Rebels running an Imperial blockade; for me, a time paradoxically before and after Deathsticks and James Earl Moans. For Battle Fleet Gothic, it can easily be a primary biosphere or Outer Reaches. For any other game, it is what it is… a beautiful space scene. What else do you need?

Fabrication: Vinyl, graphically very beautiful and clean of artifacts. A great background for space fights. Like the Battlestation mat, it comes rolled up in a study plastic storage tube and has all the same tolerances, material and finishing.  One other thing that I noticed was that since this mat is dark and has a large star field, the material sheen was more apparent compared to the Battlestation, since it was predominantly dark. I did notice what may have been a dried production solution sorta clouding the mat here and there. I was able to wipe some of it off and ignore the rest. No idea if this is just my mat or what. You wouldn’t see this on the lighter print Battlestation mat if it had it.

Practical Use: I would argue this is the more useful mat for most people. The imagery obviously evokes space and is definitely more useful for more games that don’t have Death Star in the lexicon. This background allows ships to take center stage visually, where they pop a lot more than the Battlestation mat. Personally, I prefer something that feels cold, like this mat, instead of some of the other prints based in warmer reds and yellows, though I will probably get one like that soon. We’ve also had fun with gravity rules centered on the planet while playing Star Wars (a free boost towards the planet for any ship in range one). What isn't practical is availability. I heard from my FLGS that this print was sold out but I have not verified that with Gale Force 9.

My Value Opinion: High. I would score this one an A/A-. If it was larger at this price and the mysterious production fluid cloud was missing… it’d be totally perfect. It photographs really well and people relate this more to space battles than the other. I’d struggle to paint something like this on my own with such clear quality, not to mention the time it would take. So again, marks are given for time I save in fabrication which I can instead spend trying to play Battlefield 4 as it crashes and deletes my saved data non-stop.

In conclusion, I would say if you won’t spend the same amount of money or less on felt and spray cans then the value is apparent. 

If you peeps have experience with these mats or something similar, feel free to riff below!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Star Wars X Wing Miniatures: 3 Tips that May Make your Game Better

Just... wow. This was cleared to ship???

1. Fix Your TIE Fighters: I gave a few wave 2 Core box sets as gifts, ordered from Amazon. Both arrived with bent TIE fighters... and not whimsically bent.  I mean like high school wood shop class angles: not a straight 90 degree angle in sight. I improvised a way to fix them for my brother-in-law on the spot, a giftee, when he opened that gift and saw their crooked, shabby selves in that black tray insert. The improv worked well so, I’m sharing that now. It may come in handy if this happened to you or your ships are left too long in a hot car, etc. This is all at your own risk.


  1. The black tray insert from the core game. You can probably make a Lego jig too
  2. Boiling water in a large metal pot, the larger the better
  3. A keen sense of safety where you know your limits when it comes to not scalding yourself or burning down your house over a plastic spaceship. The paramedics and firemen WILL laugh

Get the water to a boil. Have the black tray insert within arm’s reach. Have one of the TIE storage slots filled with cool water. Use a large pot for boiling so the risk of you touching the sides is reduced. Take a TIE by the side and dip the bent wing in the hot water, covering the solar panel right up to the arm that connects to the cockpit. You should only need a second or two but you’ll have to judge. 

Take the heated TIE and GENTLY but firmly press it into the empty storage slot, using the shape of the slot to bend the wing back to square. You may need to reheat the wing a few times. Be sure to form the wing in this way and change the facing of the cockpit a few times; cockpit face out, face down, upside down. When it looks good you can put it in the slot filled with cool water to harden it and lock the straight wing in place.  Dry everything out and enjoy.
Granted, you could skip the above and just send the damn thing back but this did work and took 20 minutes to correct 2 fugly TIES.

2. Use a Laser Level for Checking Arcs: Look, SWXW isn’t crazy complicated but there have been times where using a laser level to see if another ship is in your arc is just drop-dead handy. This is something I relied on heavily in my Battlefleet Gothic days and it is still useful now. You can pick up a laser level at the tool store or DIY for US$10. It’s a luxury, not a necessity, but on play spaces bigger than 3’X3’ it saves your back by cutting down on reaching (I’m 41, screw you L5 vertebra) and at all times it can save you from having to slip a range ruler into tight model traffic, potentially bumping ships at a critical time, not that I've played such high-stakes SW that it really mattered. Still, if it is easy and affords a clear decision, it's good. Finally, if it is useful in SW, it's probably useful for other tabletop games you play.

Well, both are Pilot skill 9 so maybe not the best example of lowest to highest but you can see the rest of the examples mentioned below in this pic.
3. Organize your Play Space: I get "gamer blindness" a lot; you know what that is, it is when you are holding up a game looking for info that is right in front of you and you don't see it. Consistent set up helps cure that. Consistent set up is the key to clean play. It's just science. If you set up your space the same way each time, you'll understand the variations your lists have from one game to the next and scanning your card space for info becomes way easier. 

Here’s how I organize my cards in a game. It isn't perfect but maybe it will help you.

From lowest Pilot skill on the left to highest Pilot Skill on the right, lay out your pilot cards. That way, the Pilot cards follow the Activation phase and Combat Phase in order. Activations go from left to right. Shooting goes from right to left.

From here, organize the load-outs around each Pilot card. 

The Pilot card is center. On the left of the Pilot card are any cards that “stay”, meaning cards that can’t usually be taken from the ship by expenditures, Critical Effects or Pilot Skills. On the Lower left are Damage cards. That way, I know any Actions I buy are on the left and Criticals/Abilities that affect them are noticeable. Directly below the Pilot card is anything expendable, like missiles, torps or one-use cards that you “cash in” like the Chewbacca crew card. On the right of the Pilot card are ship upgrades and shields. To the lower right are any tokens the pilot uses in that game. So, like knowing that the turn signal and horn are in the same place across different cars, I can speed up where to look. Finally, I flip over cards that you spend or cash in, or when Pilots are taken out, put the ship on that card. 

That's it folks, some stuff I learned which I hope helps you out with your game of X Wing Miniatures. Have fun!

Monday, January 6, 2014

What a Year for a New Year or FREEZING DEATH VORTEX of... DEATH? Yeah, DEATH!!!

 Tomorrow the Polar Vortex arrives in Pennsylvania and I think scientists have emphatically stated that there will be no survivors. Or it will be really cold, inconvenient and Tuesday for everybody, not sure which yet. I bet it is somewhere in the middle of both.

In any event, now is a good time to assess what the hell I am doing with the time-sucking vortex that is our beloved hobby, since tomorrow will definitely be about hunkering in, trying to get some more painting done, some more started and maybe, just maybe... finally learning to love myself at the end of it all... (or the beginning?)

OGRE Designer's Edition, now with 100% more colorful edges and Mod Podge.

Speaking of loving myself: I picked up OGRE over the holiday and so, colored all cardboard edges of the punch-out models with colored Sharpies and then glued the pieces all together with matte finish Mod Podge, which is EXACTLY what the doctor ordered there. They came out great, look great. Great! That's a Pro Tip folks, no charge.

I have a ton of Khurasan 15mm on the way, alarmingly ordered before Christmas and yet I have not heard a peep from the company about it at all... but their website was intentionally down over the holiday for them to process orders, so I am not worried, so much as I just want that stuff so I can do 15mm Strange Aeons, where the Lurkers just became 100% bigger!

I also have some forlorn Khador on my desk that I am hell-bent on tackling, with a new sage green and red color scheme. Yes, this means I have been playing Warmachine again and why shouldn't I? It's a damn good game. Still, Star Wars X Wing is a damn good game too and there is no painting required.

Ember Mage WIP will fight the Polar Vortex with her cutsie-cheeks. When I try to do the same thing people yell at me to put my slacks back on.

Finally I have more Super Dungeon Explore to knock out, I dare say I am in the home stretch there on a completed box set.

What else? I have some IG to tend to soon and probably a miniature yard sale in my future in the Spring... too much stuff to tolerate.

Stay warm, stay safe and I'll see you on the other side!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Star Wars X Wing: YT Conversion/Repaint

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all! I hope everybody who celebrates has been having a great time with family and friends over the holiday season. And to those who don't celebrate, I wish the same for you regardless.

Just wanted to share a YT transport conversion I did for my buddy Pete. He wanted to run a double YT list for some time and the thought of identical Falcons on the board was too much to bear.

There are many conversions out there like this that precedes mine and mine isn't amazingly different from them though I did re-use the off-cuts (out of laziness) to seal up the hull after I took off the cabin and gantry. I didn't see anybody else do that yet so that may be a way it is different.

The surprise in this project came from the build, which was more challenging, where I expected it to be the painting, which was easily straightforward and fast.

The assembly went down something like this: Remove the radar dish and top quad cannons, set them aside. Score the cabin section enough to push a blade in and carve it out with strong, straight cuts. I was going to try a Dremel cutting wheel but realized the plastic would just melt. Cut the cabin from the gantry. I was able to use a foam cutter for this step, just do it outside and upwind as you are burning plastic.

Remove the inner "mandibles" on the front of the YT. Save the bits, you'll use them to cover the hole in the hull.

Attach the trimmed cabin between the main "mandibles" of the YT, as above.

Pretty rough looking but caulk will smooth it all out.
Trim up those off-cuts from the mandibles to fit the hole in the hull. Cross-score the undersides and press-fit them almost flush into the blobs of greenstuff you put in the hull. Let it set up for a few minutes until it firms more and then press flush. Make your adjustments as it cures. After curing, gap fill. I used latex caulk.

Trim the quad cannons to fit the dish brackets you removed. Make kewl laser noises while you do so. Probably best to glue the gun in the cradle first then after that is dry, glue the cradle to the hull.

You could just stop right here and not bother to repaint.

I could've hid the the seams a bit better but paint will tidy that up.
I used green Army Painter primer on this and finished with a Sage Green, greys, a Tamiya smoke wash on some parts and GW purple. I added some ocher weathering using paint and flow enhancer. The exhaust is GW grey drybrushed on. I then outlined every damn detail on the ship with a Rapidograph pen, .005 nib with black ink. All told, about 10 hours work and it came out pretty dern cool, I think. Now I want to make one for myself... 

I wasn't done with the technical pen but wanted to see if the engine glow looked good before I finished the YT's ample aft. She's got it where it counts, kid.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Star Wars X Wing: 100 pt B Wings vs Vader/TIE Elite

My buddy Finn and I got in a 100 point game this afternoon, me rolling a Ten Numb and Dagger Squadron list vs his Darth Vader and three TIE pilots list (army lists are below, following pics). In the end the TIE swarm prevailed. Though the Dagger Squadron pilot almost vaporized Vader with a brace of Advanced Proton Torps early game, the TIE's simply out flew the B Wings and chipped away with their Primary weapons; the Rebels just didn't have enough in their gun sights often enough to make a difference. Ten Numb died with a full magazine of Advanced Proton torps, having only shot a few times with his primary weapons to garner the lock-on with the Fire Control system. The Dagger pilot hit with his Heavy Laser Cannon too, but not hard enough. For all of the flying I did, I couldn't line up shots on the nimble TIE's. Even with Finn forgetting actions and abilities, just basic shots on target took down shields and inflicted crits. I should have remembered to pull a few 2 Kiogran turns since the Fire Control systems kept the lock-ons running as my targets blew past me. Next time! My camera flatlined towards the end so I only caught part of the action but you'll get the idea...

Game Start
B Wing Deployment

Imperial Deployment

Turn 1 Movements
Turn 3, lines collide as Vader emerges from the group, straight at Ten Numb, who along with Dagger pilot, calibrate their Fire Control Systems to track the elusive TIE Advanced...
The dogfight in earnest
Dagger pilot cuts hard to find Vader and opens up with Heavy Laser Cannon, hitting hard but Vader evades most damage.
Vader's Kiogran sends him straight past an incredulous Dagger pilot
Dagger pilot's bid on for Vader's head failed as Ten Numb banks right into the Imperials, warming up the Advanced Torpedoes but his mark was outside his arc...
Next turn, Ten bites it as two TIE's blaze into his ship, riding hard inside, inflicting a critical hull (counts as 2) and a weapon malfunction, enough for the scratch. After that I conceded, Dagger pilot only had a few hull left and not one damned TIE was splashed. So, good learning and practice for me and good win for Finn.

Rebels 100 points

Ten Numb
8 3 1 3 6
When attacking, 1 of your results cannot be cancelled by defense dice.
Ten Numb/B-Wing (31)
Fire-Control System (2)
– After you perform an attack, you may acquire a target lock on the defender.
Autoblaster (5)
– Attack: Attack 1 ship. Your results cannot be cancelled by defense dice. The defender may cancel results before results. Attack value: 3. Range 1.
Advanced Proton Torpedoes (6)
– Attack [Target Lock]: Spend your target lock and discard this card to attack. You may change up to 3 of your blank results to results. Attack value: 5. Range: 1.
Advanced Proton Torpedoes (6)
– Attack [Target Lock]: Spend your target lock and discard this card to attack. You may change up to 3 of your blank results to results. Attack value: 5. Range: 1.
Marksmanship (3)
– Action: When attacking this round, you may change one of your results to a result and all your other results to results.
Shield Upgrade (4)
– Increase your shield value by 1.
43 points
Dagger Squadron Pilot
4 3 1 3 6
Dagger Squadron Pilot/B-Wing (24)
Fire-Control System (2)
– After you perform an attack, you may acquire a target lock on the defender.
Heavy Laser Cannon (7)
– Attack: Attack 1 ship. Immediately after rolling your attack dice, you must change all your results to results. Attack value: 4. Range: 2-3.
Advanced Proton Torpedoes (6)
– Attack [Target Lock]: Spend your target lock and discard this card to attack. You may change up to 3 of your blank results to results. Attack value: 5. Range: 1.
Shield Upgrade (4)
– Increase your shield value by 1.
Imperial 100 points

Darth Vader
9 2 3 3 3
During your "Perform Action" step, you may perform 2 actions.
Darth Vader/TIE Advanced (29)
Concussion Missiles (4)
– Attack [Target Lock]: Spend your Target Lock and discard this card to perform this attack. You may change 1 of your blank results to a result. Attack value: 4. Range: 2-3.
Swarm Tactics (2)
– At the start of the combat phase, choose 1 friendly ship at Range 1. Until the end of this phase, treat the chosen ship as if its pilot skill were equal to your pilot skill.
Shield Upgrade (4)
– Increase your shield value by 1.
21 points
8 2 3 3 0
When another friendly ship at Range 1 is attacking with its primary weapon, it may reroll 1 attack die.
Howlrunner/TIE Fighter (18)
Push the Limit (3)
– Once per round, after you perform an action, you may perform 1 free action shown in your action bar. Then receive 1 stress token.
21 points
Mauler Mithel
7 2 3 3 0
When attacking at Range 1, roll 1 additional attack die.
Mauler Mithel/TIE Fighter (17)
Expose (4)
– Action: Until the end of the round, increase your primary weapon value by 1 and decrease your agility value by 1.
19 points
Winged Gundark
5 2 3 3 0
When attacking at Range 1, you may change 1 of your results to a result.
Winged Gundark/TIE Fighter (15)
Engine Upgrade (4)
– Your action bar gains the action icon.