Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The sad sad state of battle reports

Battle Reports have been a feature in White Dwarf for decades now, and with the devolved state of the feature, I lament the aspects that made them popular in the first place. The earliest Battle Reports had very little in the way of photos and mostly consisted of drawings depicting the action along with maps and diagrams. They were well laid out and served to educate the reader in the many ways that the game being presented is played. Typically, they started off with one or two writers, who were usually also the players in the game being presented, selecting their army lists and telling us why they chose what they chose for their army. These players used to be members of the GW's Game Design Team, or writers of White Dwarf, each going after the other's guy's blood in 28mm heroic scale. 

The terrain-heavy '90s...
In the beginning their photography was limited somewhat, so you got true photos of the game in action, with dice, pencils, lists, templates, etc., present,  as well as the nicer 'staged' photos presenting the best in 'eavy Metal studio miniatures, along with the scenery pieces and a painted backdrop. I guess the old studio space was limited in how they could stage the entire board in a way where they could show turn-by-turn action, so they resorted to using diagrams with a unique key to indicate specific units. All of this worked to tell the story of the game. 

Vehicle rules so awesome that model's weren't required! 

I recall the battle reports in the latter days of Warhammer 40,000's 1st edition (by this point 'Rogue Trader' had quietly been dropped), as they sort of play-tested out for us the rules that would appear in the Vehicle Manual and Battle Manual which would further evolve into Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition. By that point, the Battle Report had become a key feature of White Dwarf, not just for filler, but as the photos became more prevalent, they became an alternate model showcase as well as helping players understand the rules. These early reports were fun and exciting to read, even if they probably played the game 2-3 times until they got the game they wanted to actually write about. It didn't matter: the guys who wrote the rules and background were showing us how they played this game! I remember we would sometimes settle rule disputes (albeit minor ones) by referring to some of these battle reports. As far back as 2nd edition, battle reports were used to show us how the new releases of that month worked in the game. Even back then players were suspicious that the new Codex/Army Book tended to win that month's game... 

A tactical review? Does the current WD team grasp this idea?

As time went on, and the games evolved, obviously they needed to show us something in White Dwarf other than Night Fight again, so they started to present unique scenarios and themes for their battle reports which led to such iconic presentations as "Last Stand at Glazer's Creek", "Massacre at Big Toof River", "Massacre at Sanctuary 101" and others. They would continue to do this after 40k's 3rd edition, but they started to loosen up a bit on the diagrams with the map keys but instead began to show us the full table (or bits of it) in a turn-by-turn manner. This was definitely a bit more exciting from a visual standpoint, but the battle reports started to lose their strategic value. 

White Dwarf 226. 
There are noted exceptions, particularly WD 226, the first 40k 3rd edition issue which stands out to me because it was very specific in teaching 40K players how the new edition worked and what made it different from the previous edition. This was so well done that it could have been packaged with that edition's starter set as a 'how to play a game' guide. I would say that what was done there should still be replicated every few months (December issue?) to help introduce new players to the game and hobby.

As time went on, the Battle Reports sort of became a bit more 'ho-hum' but still made for decent reading. Indeed, sometimes the battle report felt forced, as if the guys doing them were painfully slogging through the writing of them. Corners were obviously being cut, and written content was being reduced in favor of more pictures!

"You, intern! Want to prove your worth? You get to write this month's Battle Report!" -Random WD Editor

By this point, the battle report had evolved into platform to sell the latest product more so than showing us readers how the game should be properly played. 

Then came the new White Dwarf team and their funky yellow-orange logo, and we started to get Battle Reports that focused less on strategy, or even the rules of the game, and more on pushing the new product harder than it has ever been pushed before. But then, it seems in this dawning era of Unbound army selection, the whole game is now this 'BUY IT NOW' pseudo-ad campaign. *sigh* -Honestly, this whole topic has been pounded to death on other blogs and forums, and I'm loathe to bring that discussion here, but one can't discuss the current condition of the Battle Report concept without honestly pointing out what it has blatantly turned into. 

In 2014 the battle report is more pictures. Granted they're nice, high quality, over-scaled, super-staged, and presented at a size made more to fill page space than any other reason I can invent. With the tastiest reading usually reduced to a stupidly small font in a box or a sidebar. Regardless, you might get a write-up by a player telling us why they selected a given unit or model for their army ("..because it's new!"), a few game high-lights, and, that's it. Nothing to be excited about. No unique background or character, only the vaguest of themes. These games rarely stick to such concepts as a Force Organization Chart or "points" and they tended to have wonky objectives, goals or conditions that you just won't see your fellow gamers agreeing to in local pickup games. Now, in hindsight, and dare I say in their defense, I think this is because they were already play-testing the 7th edition and were attempting to warm the WD reader base to the concept (albeit loosely). Which from what I saw in various places around the 'net at the time it had the reverse effect ("The White Dwarf writers can't even be bothered to play a proper game!"). What did it for me was Warhammer Visions #1. This presented the worst idea for a "battle report" that I have yet to see, and it convinced me to never pick up another issue of that pointless publication (a rant for another time?).

My point to this whole post?  I miss the old Battle Reports. The style, the presentation, the care and the fun: all elements that made the battle report an essential read every month. And I see no reason why we can't have them back and still include the current amount of pics that show off all of the new models if that's what is required by the share holders or whatever, but damn it, I want to read a report, not scraps of one hidden in the captions and sidebars of the current pic-fest.  

My painting of a Squat...um, short viking guy with gun... 
Look, I understand how time-consuming these things can be to create. Before this blog, ok waaaay before this blog, back in the '90s a friend and I were working to put together our own 40K Fanzine and were going to feature battle reports. Looking back on it, we were fairly low tech to say the least, but what we did was design a grid, and we would draw out the map each round in an effort to mimic the diagrams that White Dwarf used at the time. We really wanted to push the games more complicated rules, wargear combos, etc, as well as show off other elements that were our own creations that we would present in the articles (Death Worlds as armies, Rattling PDFs, Squats, Pygmy Blood Bowl Teams, Etc.). So, I would take my notes and drawings, and write up a battle report, as well as a fictional story to go along with it, and since I didn't have a camera, I would draw the action in spot illustrations and paintings. These are far more involved than anything I have done for this blog and they took hours to complete. We never published a single issue of the fanzine, but I at least got to respect what it takes to write up one of these battle reports. 

It's sad when the battle reports I do for this blog (and they're really more like highlights commenting on what I recall vs. reading from detailed notes or making a comment on a pic I snapped, than my idea of true BR but still...) are more content-filled and readable than the stuff in the current GW periodicals. Sad indeed. 

All images taken from the web by people who stole the images from White Dwarf which is owned by Games Workshop. I do not challenge their ownership of these images, and use them here for review purposes only.

The painting of the Viking Guy with a Gun is mine however. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Working with Mediums

Enjoying beach life. The timeshare version of it.
Since the last post, I took a small vacation to Florida, where I got to spend lots of time on the beach making sandcastles for Kidzilla to stomp on, as well as add some red hues to my pasty hide. This was the first time I have been to the ocean since the summer of '92, on the shore of East Anglia in the UK. Unless the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore counts, then Games Day '99. But those waters were kind of gray and merciless compared to what you see above!

It wasn't all good weather though, and rains allowed us to go and explore the city where we found a kick-ass museum.
"Hey there!"
 But choppy Florida waters are actually fun for some people:
NOT me!
 And hey, everyone has their hobbys, right?

Well, on one of our rainy-day jaunts around the city we stopped at the legendary Pearl Paints. Pearl Paints is an awesome store, and if you are an artist or hobbyist in anyway, I would encourage you to check them out while they are still open, as sadly, word on the street is that they will be closing their doors soon. Which is very sad to me, as I have a great memory from my 2nd year at the Joe Kubert School of all my roommates cramming ourselves into a car and making a trip across northern New Jersey to go visit a Pearl store in order to load up on art supplies for a painting class. I have never seen an art store this well stocked or this diverse with product an it has remained the benchmark that I hold all other art stores up against ever since.

This store in Fort Lauderdale is no exception either, and I was quite pleased to visit it and get some cool art supplies. Over in the clearance section, I was able to find some items that I wish to present to my usual readers as this stuff might be of interest to the model painter.

One of the paints I found was a Delta Ceramcoat Gleams acrylic paint called Metallic Red Copper which turned out to be an exact match for the result I get when I use red ink glaze on top of gold that mentioned on here before (Skippy the Bloodthirster's armor). I was quite pleased with that find and I have been using in on my Khorne Berserkers since I got back.

But the real find on this trip to Pearl Paints, and what will become the meat of this post, are the Acrylic Paint Mediums that I found buried in their clearance section.

For those of you unfamiliar with Acrylic Mediums, basically they are solutions that you mix into acrylic paint to achieve any number of specific effects that you can't normally do with just the paint. They are mostly used with 2-D art applications in mind, for example Glazing Medium, however the various companies out there foresaw that the users of their craft paint might be able to take advantage of these products as well. And, unless you're a Citadel Paint purist, you are probably aware that acrylic paint is acrylic paint. Sure, the brands are all different and one may function better than another in application or dry times, or you might prefer one for taste reasons (they have droppers, the wells are bigger, they fit in your hobby box better, etc.) but at the end of the day, they are all fairly the same. Something the reps from each company will all try to deny of course. 

Extender, Control, and Thickener Mediums.
When I saw the three Mediums above, and for incredibly low prices at that, I just had to get them. These will work with all acrylic paints, although I imagine some formulas might not work as well as others. The big experiment will be when I attempt to use this stuff with the current line of citadel paints, which are very funky acrylics indeed.   

The first one in the pic, if you read left to right, is the Extender Medium. This stuff is straight-forward in intent and application: You mix it into the paint you're using to literally extend the drying time to the paint you're using. I would only use this if painting something large and or if I have made a unique color that I don't want to have dry up on me before I've finished using it. 

A lot of my paint schemes involve the thinning of the paint with water to create a faux-glaze effect that helps convey a transition between two colors to give the viewer the illusion of fading. There are examples of this in my Space Wolf Gallery (on the tab-bar above). Control Medium will allow me to do something similar without losing pigment on the top color, but still providing transparency to the color beneath it. It's really great if you intend to do a lot of color blending. I plan on doing a lot of experimenting with this one, especially when I start working on my Slanneshi and Tzeentchian forces. Also, if you are working with an acrylic paint that wants to be difficult (clumping) this stuff should help eliminate that. 

Thickener Medium is like Viagra for paint. -Nah, not really! It's a lot like Control Medium actually, but it doesn't thin the paint quite as much but keeps it 'thick' while creating a transparency effect.

At some point, I will do a bit of experimenting with this stuff and post the results here. These experiments will be in both 2-D painting and of course my mini/model painting. In particular I want to see how this stuff will work with the current Citadel line (I have no doubt it will work well on their older '90's line) and on metallics.

And since I've shamelessly plugged Pearl Paints on this post today, why not check them out online and see if you can find something cool. Who knows, you just might! www.pearlpaint.com