Unnatural History

Anyone who has visited one of the big museums, such as the British Museum or the Natural History Museum in London, will know that not only are they filled with cool and interesting things, but they…are…HUGE. I’m not just talking about the exteriors, but once you walk in through the front doors, you find yourself within a cool, marble-floored hall, whose ceiling and walls stretch away from you – almost to infinity. This sense of scale, of grandeur, is deliberate, as it puts you in the right frame of mind to full appreciate the artefacts that you will shortly be viewing.

Now, back in 2009, Sony released Ghostbusters: The Video Game across various home console platforms, including PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 and the Wii. There were two ‘versions’ of the game – realistic and stylised – depending on which console you had, but the general plot was the same.

It was set in New York in 1991 and the Ghostbusters, with the addition of a new “Experimental Weapons Technician” (controlled by the player), attempted to thwart the convoluted plan of Ivo Shandor to return from beyond the veil and complete the work he had begun back in the 1920’s.

Now, unlike a lot of the games published under the Ghostbusters banner, the script and story for this had been created by Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, and featured the actual vocal talents of the majority of the original cast, including the notoriously reclusive Bill Murray.

And it was awesome, especially on the Wii, as you actually felt like you WERE a Ghostbuster.

You may be wondering how this video game and my introduction regarding museums are related to one another…or to wargaming, which is the purpose of this blog and probably why you’re here in the first place. All WILL be explained, so read on.

So, one of the levels of this game featured the American Museum of Natural History, star of the first Night in the Museum movie and novel Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (NB: the movie based on the latter – The Relic (1997) – whilst not too bad, moved the action to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, so not the same place.) You got to explore various parts of the museum and bust a variety of supernatural menaces along the way.

This got me thinking that having a tabletop representation of a museum – a museum ‘board’ if you will – would be a great location to play a variety of games on. A heist of a valuable artefact could be thwarted by costumed vigilantes or uniformed police; a group of stalwart, square-jawed adventurers could sneak in to prevent cultists from opening a portal to another dimension and releasing some squamous horror; paranormal exterminators or meddling teens could investigate and eliminate a haunting, whether real or faked. Just think of all the movies you’ve seen that have featured a museum or art gallery as a major location and think of what fun YOU could have with your figures, if you had one yourself…

Now, I am aware that Sally 4th does as part of their Terra Blocks range, under the sub-heading of Exotic Locations, The Museum of Antiquities, which is constructed from 17 100mm cubes, that can be rearranged to your heart’s content, for £17.50.

However, whilst nice, this doesn’t really convey the scale of the big museums to me, so I sat on this idea for a while until I had one of my unbelievably genius ideas. You may be somewhat sceptical at this point, but just you wait and see…

Right, first thing you need is a box, but not just any box. You need a box that is pretty big, robust and deep. I was initially going to use a box file for this, as they’re pretty cheap and easy to get hold of wherever you happen to be in the world, but then remembered that Ikea do black storage boxes for a very reasonable £2.00 each. Obviously, being Ikea, you’ve got to build them yourself, but no tools are necessary, as these are the only parts you get:

As you can see from the instruction sheet, this box is called ‘Tjena’, and comes in three parts; the pre-assembled lid, the sides and folded bottom and a flat insert to go in the bottom of the box for added stability. The box is 13 3/4″ long, 9 3/4″ wide and 4″ tall (or 35cm, 25cm and 10cm, if you use Metric) and looks like this once you’ve built it;

You can now see why you have a insert, as the folded part of the base of the box means it hasn’t got a flat bottom.

Each one of these boxes will represent one hall within our museum, so depending on how large you want your museum to be depends on how many boxes you buy. As each ‘hall’ is only £2.00 (in the UK at least), your playing area and budget will dictate how many halls your museum has.

Once you’ve decided how many halls you are going to have and the approximate layout, you need to cut openings in the relevant walls of your halls, so that the visitors can move between halls. Make sure that the openings in each hall are the same size, so that when you put them together, they marry up. I have decided that as my museum may have exhibits such as prehistoric animals or modern art in the form of giant plastic pigs, the openings need to be 3″ wide and this hall will have three openings, so I cut these out.

The reason I did this first is because whilst the box, insert and lid are coloured black, the card it’s made from isn’t, so the cut parts show the original colour of the cardboard it’s made from. As the next stage involves paint, it’s better to have all the bits you’re going to paint on show at the same time.

As museums tend to have neutral coloured walls, out came my £4.00 can of Wilko ‘Soft Taupe’ spray paint and the interior walls (and the cut parts showing the base card colour) were given a liberal coat, then left to dry whilst I moved on to the next part. And this is what it looked like once it was dry.

However, whilst it was drying, I tackled the ‘floor’. The idea here was to cover the card insert with suitably patterned self-adhesive decorative vinyl. Having found a role of said product that featured 1 inch squares, that looked like floor tiles (and is actually fairly similar to the tiled floor of the British Museum) in Poundland, I thought it would be ideal.

So, I cut a section big enough to cover the insert and overlap the edges, peeled of the backing paper and carefully applied the sticky-back plastic to my card insert, like so;

As the walls of my hall were now dry, I simply dropped my floor into place and had the first of my basic museum halls completed;

And to give a sense of scale, here’s Jake Hudson of the local Ghostbusters franchise facing off against some Oriental beastie stalking the halls of the Rookhaven Museum of Natural History;

Now, it’s not complete, as I am intending on adding skirting boards, light switches and power outlets to the walls, to make it look more ‘real’, but I wanted to get this up on the blog so others could see just how simple, quick and inexpensive creating a large interior space to play in was. It doesn’t need to be a museum – it could be ANY interior. And it doesn’t need to be a room this size – it could be easily divided up into smaller rooms, to represent a secret base or a prison or…well anything YOU need.

And, once you’re done playing, pop the lid on and stack it up with the other halls you’ve built. Robust, quick and easy to build and store, and cheap.

Genius.

‘Nuff said.

Warfare 2018

Last Saturday saw my annual visit to our local wargaming show here in Reading – Warfare, run by the Wargames Association of Reading.

Even before I started attending Salute (which has now become my other gaming show), I would always attend this one, as it’s really close, gives me the opportunity to see the models up close and, as it occurs just after my birthday, I usually have a few spare pennies to spend.

Now, Warfare takes place in the Rivermead leisure centre, spread over four separate rooms. There’s plenty of space in the competition/club demonstration room, which takes place in the indoor bowling green, but traders hall always seems rather cramped, as the aisles are fairly narrow and some attendees are less considerate than others.

As I arrived rather later than usual and the trader shall was heaving, I headed straight into the competition hall, as sometimes the table are worth looking at. Now, there are usually a few nice-ish tables on display, but nothing that usually makes me want to take out my camera. However, this year, there was, so I did actually take some photos.

First, a rather nice 28mm Pegasus Bridge set-up for Bolt Action, which wasn’t actually being played upon, but I felt warranted a picture because it was so nice.

Not sure where the kid with the 70’s haircut came from…possibly from off the set of The Omen remake…

Next up, one of several 28mm full-size galleons for a (probably) pirate-themed game.

This one was the biggest and loaded to the gunnels with British seamen. The fort they were attacking was okay, but the ships themselves were lovely.

The final table was probably another Bolt Action table, as it appears to be a war-torn city.  An absolutely HUGE amount of detail – trains, planes, a crane, plumes of smoke, etc. Just click on the picture and enjoy.

After wandering up and down the aisles for a while, I decided to brave the traders hall. And found it somewhat…lacking. It would appear that some of the standard traders that usually attend had decided to forego this year. And the traders who were there didn’t appear to have very much in the way of new stuff.

A couple of manufacturers did – Sally 4th being one (as noted by Simon over at Fantorical) and Warbases, who have extended their range of laser-cut MDF buildings into several areas that I wasn’t aware of such as sci-fi, ancient Rome and soon to be the Orient. Worth a look on their website if you haven’t visited in a while, as their range has expanded a fair bit, their prices are reasonable and they have a good range of 28mm animals, should you need to populate your British countryside with both farm and wildlife.

And it was Warbases who manged to part me from some of my cash, as they had a set of two MDF handcarts, complete with metal ‘loads’ and attendants. Ideal for adding to colour to your street-scenes and reasonably generic clothing-wise to be used from Victorian up to Post-war, as shown below.

Two metal figures, two loads and two MDF handcarts…for £7.00. Bargain! Unsurprisingly, the handcarts don’t come with instructions, but it’s pretty obvious how they go together, with the T-shaped part being the stand which prevents it from tipping over – which will be used for the vegetable seller.

So, a couple of likely lads ready and waiting to be purvey their wares on the streets of Blackwell.

My only other purchase was the main reason for attending. Earlier in the year, Crooked Dice launched a Kickstarter for their ‘Children of the Fields’ range of figures and programme guide. Obviously, as this is Crooked Dice and 7TV, this was a range of creepy villagers, sinister Morris Men, devious Huntsmen, possibly possessed scarecrows and all the other various accoutrements of a 70’s British village that welcomes strangers, but doesn’t let them leave. I was almost tempted by this KS, but felt that for the models I did want, I’d end up with some models I didn’t.

However, there was one model I knew I had to have. Now, I could have taken advantage of the ‘pledge a £1’ option that allowed you to just select an add-on, but I worked out that if I did this, the model I wanted would actually cost me more, taking into account the postage, than waiting until it was released and picking it up at Warfare.

So that’s what I did…and here ‘he’ is.

This is The Straw Man, an 80mm tall corn/wheat golem and he’s rather bloody cool. A nice three-part model which looks like it will go together with no issues, with nice, crisp detailing. Basically, it does look like it’s made of bundles of hay…or possibly “Shredded Wheat”. And, not being period specific, I can use this for Age of Unreason, Tales of the Black Museum, Ghostbusters, Scooby-Doo and even Doctor Who games should I wish.

Now, it’s not cheap – being £15.00, but I do feel it’s worth it, as there is literally nothing else like it on the market. And if you want lesser minions for your giant Straw Man, Crooked Dice do a Straw Bear (which is a Morris Man dressed in sheafs of straw, rather than an actual bear), as part of the same range.

Mummers Procession

So, whilst not as good a show as previous year’s, was still worthwhile me going…and I did get to have a nice long chat with Karl from Crooked Dice, where I suggest stuff I want him to make and he laughs at me or says “funny you should mention that…”

Until next time.

Corvuscope – A New Place to Visit

After my last post, The Doctor and the Crow, it occurred to me that whilst I did want to post reviews of tv shows, movies and books, this blog wasn’t really the ideal platform to do so.

So rather than interrupt the regular (or semi-regular) posts regarding my exploits in the wargaming hobby arena, I’ve decided that a separate blog should be created that will just feature the content noted above.

It’s called Corvuscope – which roughly means “What the Crow saw”. I know it’s not 100% grammatically or linguistically correct, but Corvuscope sounds a bit cooler than “Visum Corvus”.

Just an introductory post on there at present, explaining the purpose of the blog and not currently searchable via Google – it takes a while for it to pop up on the search engine – but once it does, it will probably be the first choice, as my previous search on this name only came up with two results.

So, if you are at all interested in my views on those fictional worlds that are created on the big or small screen or within the pages of a book, join me over there, where I will give my considered and honest opinion of them, in my own inimitable style.

You may agree, you may disagree, but hopefully you’ll find it entertaining and it just might point you in the direction of something you haven’t heard of and encourage you to give it a try.

One Voice, Singing in the Darkness…

If you were expecting a Forgotten Heroes update, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

However, I do have an update regarding The Age of Unreason project, as things have changed once again.

Steve, Hils and Tarot have decided to retire from the blogging community in its entirety, so will no longer be blogging or posting comments on the blogs they used to follow. The reason for this is their utter dismay in the trend for a large majority of supposed ‘gamers’ to use their blogs as organs for their own self-aggrandisement, this desperate need to seek praise or have the most followers or likes or comments on their blogs, rather than actually playing games which, after all, is the purpose of buying these little men in the first place.

A good analogy for this is White Dwarf magazine. When I started gaming back in the mid-80’s, White Dwarf was the go-to publication for gamers. It contained articles and scenarios on a variety of games systems, some of which you may mot have heard of, but the overall feeling you got from the magazine was that it was encouraging you to take what was published, make it your own and gather your friends together for some serious dungeoneering…or thwarting the machinations of the worshippers of Cthulhu…or venturing into the Old World to defend the Empire against the incursion of Chaos.

This changed as Games Workshop realised that publushing their own rules was more lucrative, and the magazine became a self-serving organ to encourage people to buy their rules, miniatures and paints, showcasing their latest release and the painting skills of their in-house team. Occasionally a batrep would appear, but it was usually just to highlight a new set of rules or a new faction in their games, rather than playing for the sheer joy of playing.

Many blogs follow a similar trend, with the focus on the latest ‘must have’ figures and how the blogger has painted them. If you are a regular blogger, how many of your posts over the last 12 months have been showcases of your painted figures? When was the last time you actually sat down and played a game?

Now, this doesn’t mean you’re not part of the hobby, but can you really describe yourself as a gamer if you don’t play?

So, as Steve, Hils and Tarot are primarily gamers, with blogging a secondary aspect of the hobby to them, they have decided to exit the online community and concentrate on what they feel is the most important part of the hobby for them. And I wish them all the best in their endeavours, as I fully understand and support this decision.

Now, I use my blog to encourage me to actually do something hobby-related, as prior to starting it, all my figures, rules and terrain was just sitting in boxes gathering dust. If not for my blog, I wouldn’t have regained my love of the hobby, wouldn’t have painted the half-finished figures, wouldn’t have written my own rules and certainly wouldn’t have sat down and played some games with them.

So, for me, my blog helps me to focus on what I enjoy about the hobby and hopefully, by sharing what I’m doing, encourages others to do the same. It’s not about praise or recognition, it’s about keeping a record of what I’ve done and being able to discuss these aspects of the hobby with like-minded people.

Now, given Steve’s departure to greener pastures, what does this mean for the Age of Unreason project? Does this mean it’s dead?

Nope.

One of my problems with this project was that whilst I liked the idea of venturing into the realms of tricorne-era gaming, my historical knowledge of the period is somewhat sketchy, so whilst I could put together a pseudo-historical game setting, I felt that I wasn’t doing it justice. Unlike my Tales of the Black Museum, which is based on my love of the late Victorian period and the ample research and reading of fact and fiction about this era, I just don’t know enough about either the locale I’d selected or the era to convincingly portray this in my games. And apparently, the type and volume of trees is an important part, based on various online comments made…

I have the terrain, I have the fauna, I have the figures to play a ‘Muskets ‘n’ Monsters’ style game, but no definitive setting in which to do it…or do I?

Actually, yes. And that setting is…

Many moons ago, this campaign setting was released by TSR for AD&D 2nd edition. It was very popular at the time and managed to survive the various upheavals to the D&D rules over the years, evolving and changing to suit the needs of the then-current players.

It wasn’t entirely perfect, as whilst many cooks don’t necessarily spoil the broth, they can add unnecessary ingredients that make it less palatable (like what they decided was at the bottom of the Shadow Rift…)

Prior to starting my blog, I’d begun a RPG project to streamline the setting, based on the final iteration of the 2nd edition contained within Domains of Dread. Get rid of all the stuff that was stupid or I felt didn’t suit the setting and make it better.

So, I had a setting for which I intimately knew the history of, had copious notes on and, with a slight advance of technology levels from ‘chivalric’ and ‘renaissance’ to ‘colonial’, would work extremely well for this project. And once I’d realised that, suddenly everything started to flow again.

So, whilst the proposed joint campaign world initially announced may be no more, welcome to the launch of Ravenloft: Age of Unreason. It’s going to be grisly fun…