Battletech: Forged In Plastic

Monday February 4, 2019 at 12:38pm battletech, miniatures Comments (0) »
Battletech: Forged In Plastic Image

As of a little less than two weeks ago, Catalyst finally released their awesome new Battletech Box sets. And, from what I hear, supplies are already running short.  Also, as part of my "yearly gaming order", I picked up a handful of units from some "unofficial" third-party manufacturers which have been added to my already decent collection of plastic minis from other production runs.  Because there are some notable differences between them, I thought I'd do a little comparison here.  Such a thing would have been useful to me, I think.

Battletech 3rd Edition

While I only really got into the miniatures game 4ish years ago, my oldest Battletech minis harken all the way from 1994.  I am, of course, talking about the Battletech 3rd Edition Box Set.  The 3rd Ed set came with 14 plastic minis of fairly poor quality.  I mean, that was like 25 yeas ago - your expectations probably shouldn't be *super* high.  There are a fair number of holes and warped/mis-shapen surfaces.  My Warhammer was actually missing part of the shoulder such that the right arm couldn't be attached.  Most of this was readily fixable (the rebuild on the WHM's arm was a bit arduous, but turned out well), but it's not indicative of superlative production quality.

The thing is, however, basically all of the 3rd Ed box minis, shabby as they are, are also Unseen minis: if you want an official, old-style Marauder or Warhammer in plastic, this is pretty much your option.  Also, I found that good paint work can really make a so-so sculpt look good.  My Crusader from this set is, I think, still one of my best minis.

The scale of some of these minis is a little wonky, tending toward overlarge size compared to the later box sets (though not the most recent, see below) - particularly the lights and mediums, such as the Phoneix Hawk, which seems comically oversized for a 45-ton medium, especially standing next to the Battlemaster from the same set.

Battletech Introductory Box Set

The next box set with plastic minis arrived via Catalyst in '07.  This one had 24 plastic minis, plus two "premium" plastic minis.  While the "premium" minis were nice, the other minis in the set are, well, pretty poor quality, suffering from most of the same problems as the 3rd Ed box, but without the appeal of Unseen units.  Still, if you were just getting into the game, 26 minis would give you a lot of play for $50-$60, even if it wasn't particularly "pretty".

The sculpts on these are what some would characterize as "classic", and what others might deem "silly".  The two are not mutually exclusive.  The units are modeled around older designs, and some of them show their age more than others.

I have a set of the minis from this first intro box set production, but I haven't bothered painting any of them.  I have, however, let my 7yo paint a few, in her typical rainbow fashion.

The scale of these is what I use as a baseline, as the sculpts and sizes are similar to the metal minis of the time.  In general, the scale seems "normal", though some units are maybe a little too big or too small.

In addition, this set came with some really nice folding cardboard maps.  I have two sets of these, and they are what I prefer to play on.  After having the thick boards, playing on creased paper seems like a downgrade.

Battletech 25th Anniversary Introductory Box Set & Alpha Strike Lance Packs

This one - the one with the Atlas on the cover - is what I would refer to as the Holy Grail of plastic Battletech.  The "premium" minis in this set are different units from the previous and, ironically, maybe not quite as good - but the other units are the *real* story. 

This set contained the same impressive array of units with identical sculpts as the previous release, but with a major improvement in quality.   Aside from the "premium" units of the former release, these were probably the first "good" plastic minis for Classic Battletech.  I have two full sets of these minis, and they form the backbone of my collection through sheer numbers.  The Alpha Strike Lance Packs had units of the same quality (all of them including at least 2 units from the box set), and at ~$15, they were a decent value as well.  To this day, if you see a copy of the 25th Anniversary Box Set for anything even close to MSRP, it's a great value.

Since they're the same sculpts as the original Intro set, the scale evaluation is identical.  There are a few minis from the Alpha Strike packs - like the Stalker - that seem to be a bit "off", but overall the line feels *fairly* consistent.

Battletech Beginner Box and A Game Of Armored Combat

And that brings us to Catalyst's most recent offer: the new, much-anticipated box sets that came out just a couple weeks ago.

The sculpts on these units are pretty amazing.  Maybe not *perfect* quality, but they are definitely the best to-date.  The only "complaint" on I have on these minis - and it's a comparatively small one - is that they monkeyed with the scale.  The minis from the new sets are noticeably larger than they should be - some, like the Awesome and the Catapult are pretty dramatically different.  While they are taller, mostly the new units are just thicker - beefier. 

I'm not sure why they did this.  Perhaps the larger size made controlling for errors in the plastic easier or less expensive.  Or perhaps they're looking to make more and they're seeking to "invalidate" previous models.  Given the not-quite-consistent array Battletech seems to have with regard to scale anyway, the different unit sizes are likely only to be distracting when fielded with the same units from other productions.  So, while not a "perfect" addition to existing mini collections, they're acceptable - and, again, the quality on these is outstanding, and the sculpts are considerably cooler than their predecessors (especially that Thunderbolt).

The new paper maps in these sets are pretty nice - the shading on the levels makes a flat map way more playable.  That said, I'm unlikely to use them as-is: the cardboard maps are just too nice, and I like the hex terrain levels I've made.  I will probably chop these maps up to make more hex terrrain.  I *did* find the inclusion of some cardboard tiles with terrain bits on them a nice surprise - this can add some additional variation to the otherwise static maps.

The quality of the other materials in the box are all superb as well - rulebooks, fiction, etc - but the minis are what I came for.

(Size Comparisons)


And now we move on it 3rd-party and "unofficial" sources for Battletech:


Robotech Tactics

Some time back, Palladium made a Robotech miniatures game called Robotech Tactics.  From what I understand, it wasn't a huge success.  However, several of the miniatures for this game were perfect stand-ins for Unseen Battletech 'mechs claiming the same design.  By the time I discovered these, they were getting to be hard to find.  I'd still love to find a Spartan/Phalanx (Archer/Longbow) set for $Decent, but alas, those seem to be long gone.  I did, however, pick up a Tomahawk/Defender (Warhammer/Rifleman) box - and, as of the time of this writing, you can still find these here and there.

These minis are good quality, but they are a nuclear pain to assemble.  One miniature of this scale should not be composed of more than a dozen pieces, especially when those pieces have precious few tabs or sockets to help with their assembly.  They also leave some gaps in unwanted places.

That said, once you've won the assembly battle, you've got some pretty nice-looking units, and the scale is pretty near identical to the original Battletech minis - at least for most units.

When I ordered my set off Amazon, I noted that it had 5 reviews.  Three of them mentioned that they were bought for Battletech.  I wonder what percentage of Robotech Tactics minis ever see a Robotech Tactics game.


I follow the #battletech hashtag on Instagram, and through this discovered that you can get some unofficial and/or 3d-printed minis of newer sculpts (such as MWO versions) from various places online.  Warhansa seemed to be one of the better liked sources.

Given that the company is in Russia, it takes a minute to get deliveries here in the states.  That said, they have a pretty impressive catalog of "Robomechs", scaled to the same(ish) size as standard Battletech minis - so I ordered a few minis unavailable in plastic from anywhere else.  

Overall, the quality is good, but there does seem to be some variance from unit to unit.  I don't know if some of their models are just better than others, or if the production of said models is inconsistent, but I found that my Black Knight, Crab, and Urbanmech are pretty precise, while the Highlander and King Crab have considerably the rendering.  Still, they'll all look good once they're painted up.

The minis come disassembled and with a bit of material to be trimmed, but they're quite easy to put together - probably the easiest I've done to-date.

Scale seems to be fairly accurate to standard Battletech overall - which is to say, a little bit smaller than the current sets.  One or two might be slightly too big or too small, but again, within standard deviations.

The names Warhansa gives to their minis are obvious tongue-in-check references to official Battletech units: the Crab and King Crab are "Shrimp" and "Jumbo Shrimp" respecitively, the Black Knight is a "King Arthur", the Highlander is a "Mountain", etc.  It does make identifying them fairly straightforward in most cases.



Strato is a Polish company that makes some generic-ish sci-fi minis of a generally comparable scale, but some of them are obviously inspired by Battletech units.  These minis might be the best looking ones I own.  Very precise casting over 95%+ of the surfaces.  And the sculpts - particularly the one for the Marauder (which they call "Bull Shark") - look amazing.  When I saw that, I knew I'd be giving them some cash.

These minis come disassembled and with some material to be trimmed - particularly from the bottoms of the feet - but they're not too bad to put together, and the final product looks great.

The Stratominis scale is a little bit too big, but that actually puts it in the right ballpark for the current Battletech minis from the new sets.  While those units are really "beefy", most of the Strato units are sleeker - just tall.

(Size Comparisons)


So, there you have it.  My findings in the realm of non-metal Battletech miniatures.



What We've Been Playing

Friday January 18, 2019 at 1:07pm board games Comments (0) »
 Cover artwork © Mayfair Games, Twogether Studios, Stonemaier Games, Plaid Hat Games, Leder Games
Cover artwork © Mayfair Games, Twogether Studios, Stonemaier Games, Plaid Hat Games, Leder Games

When not playing our tabletop rpg campaigns (see also: most of the rest of this blog currently), we've enjoy busting out some board games.  Every so often, we pick up a new one that we really like.  Here's what we've got into over the last year or so:


Iron Dragon

My wife loves the Ticket To Ride games.  A lot.  We own most of the iterations and have played them more times over the years than I could possibly count.  We've occasionally tried other train-themed games, but TTR had always remained king.

Then about a year ago, I got her Iron Dragon for Christmas.  Since then I think we've played TTR maybe twice.  I mean, I can remember playing it once for sure.  There might have been another time.  I dunno.

This is actually an old game from the 90s, but it was reprinted in late 2017.  The game involves connecting cities like TTR, but you also have to deliver goods from city to city based on demands, and manage your cash to build new rails.  It's everything we liked about TTR, and then some.

Iron Dragon is a train-based, empire-building game with a sort of fantasy-industrial flavor.  Each city on the board produces one or two resources, and you have cards that indicate which cities want which goods.  You build track to deliver the wanted item to the city, and you get paid - the harder it was to get the item there, the bigger the payout.  Then you draw another demand card and expand your rail lines into new territory.  You can hire different foremen to help you build in different regions, and upgrade your train to go faster and carry more.

If there's one negative to ID, it's that it's a long game.  Playing with one other player when both of you know the rules well, a game takes about 2 hours.  If you add more people or you're playing with new players, add an hour or two.



It turns out that the Decemberists got into playing board games.  Back in 2016, they hired the designers at Twogether Studios to create rules for a game based on the arcane, antiquated aesthetics of a photo shoot they'd done some years earlier, and launched a Kickstarter to fund it.  When one of my favorite bands wanted to do a project with one of my favorite hobbies, I was all in.

Since I got my copy back in late 2017, I've played it quite a bit, and it's one of the games I love introducing to people.

Illimat plays like a classic card game with some modern, mechanical twists.  It has enough recognizeable elements to be extremely accessible, but enough novelty to make it interesting.  The game is played in hands, where player attempt to "harvest" cards from different areas of the playing field.  The changing "seasons" of each area affect which actions you can and cannot do, and the "luminary" cards add additional, transient rules.

My friend Rucht and I actually got to talk with designers of the game on our Table Dragon podcast a while back.  We had some issues with the audio quality, but the conversation was a blast.



I do tend to get my wife a new game for Christmas each year.  For two reasons, really.  One, she likes board games, and two, she is really difficult to shop for.

We also have this tradition of playing boardgames around the Christmas tree during the holiday season.  In fact, it's probably the season where we play the most games.

This year, I wanted to do something different.  I'd heard about "legacy" board games, but had never played one - so I did a little googling for one that was well-reviewed and looked like the kind of thing my wife would be into.  I settled on Charterstone.

Let me say that this game is awesomeIt's a fairly standard (if complex) worker-placement game, but the legacy elements are amazing.  The introduction of mechanics a little at a time is a great way to build a complex game, and the unfolding story is interesting and surprisingly....odd.  We're six games in to the 12-game campaign, and it continues to surprise us with new aspects.

If you pick up this game - which I do recommend - make sure you only read what you're supposed to, and make sure you read that very, very carefully: if you don't do something just right, you can screw stuff up.  Probably not irreparably, but enough that it will affect future games.  Also, don't overthink it: just do what it tells you to do, make sure you've got it all, and then just play with what you know.  The game will build itself from there.  Really cool.

Since picking this one up, I've been looking into other legacy games. I've heard good things about Gloomhaven and the Betrayal Legacy version.


Stuffed Fables

This was one of the many games introduced to me by one or more of my many gamer/board-gamer friends.  This one I've only played once so far, but I've got to mention it, because it's so cool.

First, the premise of Stuffed Fables is awesome: all of the players are the stuffed animals belonging to a little girl.  They protect her at night, of course.

Second, the game progression is interesting.  It plays a little like a board game, a little like an rpg, and a little like a choose-your-own-adventure book.  Basically, each page of the game book contains a bit of story and a game board with a given objective.  The players move around the board and perform actions based on their character abilities and the objective on that "page" of the story.  After completing the actions on that page/board, you flip to another one based on what happened.

The game has an interesting dice-drawing mechanic; most of the other mechanics of Stuffed Fables seem fairly standard, but well implemented.  It's a cooperative game as well, which I always enjoy.  Also, the miniatures look awesome, and I can't wait to paint them.



I heard cool things about this game online and encountered it in passing at our (mostly) yearly Trogland Meetup, but I didn't get to play it until more recently.  It did not disappoint.

Vast is a pretty unique game in my experience.  The premise is a group of conflicting parties all wanting something from a given situation - specifically, a situation involving a cave, a dragon, a knight, a theif, a tribe of goblins, and, of course, treasure. 

Some of the goals are mutually exclusive, but others are not.  I may not get the specifics quite right, but it's something like this: The Knight wants to kill the dragon.  The Dragon wants to wake up and leave the cave (presumably to sow chaos elsewhere), the Theif wants to steal the treasure.  The Goblins want to kill the Knight.  The Cave wants to collapse on all of these noisy intruders so that it can rest.

Each player plays one of the above roles (including the Cave!), and has their own set of actions and abilities to perform on their turn.  The first to accomplish their objective wins the game.

Now, when I say that each player has their own set of actions and abilities, I mean they each have their own unique set of mechanics.  This makes the game very interesting, but also very difficult to learn.  In most games, if you're new, after a brief overview you have someone else go first and you just kind of watch what they do to get the gist of how the thing works.  That method is utterly useless with Vast, because what the other players do has literally nothing in common with what you'll be doing.  And, unfortunately, the rulebook could be several orders of magnitude more clear on a lot of things.  I recommend google and youtube if you don't have someone handy who knows how to run your particular entity to get you going.

It definitely has a learning curve, but it's definitely worth it.


Honorable Mentions

There are several other games we've played a little and enjoyed as well.  Boss Monster, Smash Up, Clank, Kodama, and Rise of Tribes come to mind.  There are probably others.  That last one I only got to play a partial game of, but it seemed really neat.

Our daughter has also started getting into games a bit.  Her current favorites are Sleeping QueensSet, and Decadolo.  We got her Between Two Cities for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to trying that one - as soon as she cleans her room.

There are, of course, always a number of other games I've heard good things about that I'd love to pick up at some point.  Right now that list contains KeyForge, Terrra Mystica, Gaia Project, Scythe, Swords and Strongholds,  Also love to play Roll for the Galaxy again.

We play a fair bit of Dixit, Telestrations, and Red Dragon Inn as well - they're our current go-to's for "an easy game that fits a lot of players".

I'm sure there's something cool I've left out.  I think in the future I'll try to post these one at a time as we pick them up. 

We'll see.



Black Foxes: Better Than Nothing

Thursday January 17, 2019 at 8:30pm blades in the dark, black foxes, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Artwork © Evil Hat Productions and Square Enix
Artwork © Evil Hat Productions and Square Enix

- Fortune was not on the side of our scoundrels tonight, which meant that all of their successes came with a lot more strings attached.

- The pair found out which door had been repainted recently from a man hanging out on a balcony in the backpool, but only after Erik agreed to take him out for a drink the following evening and the manifesting ghost echoes prompted them to act on this information immediately.

- Once inside, the crew met the man called Thad they'd been told about - some Iruvian hawker from a gang called the Incense Collective.  Turns out the gang that Tellis used to run with indirectly caused some problems for Thad's organization, and that was going to dent the profitability of any deal to be made.  By this time, Boros and Erik were so worn down that they just wanted to take what they could get and be done with it. 

- The gang ended up with some impressive coin, but it was only a fraction of what their stolen loot was worth.  To top it off, Thad only agreed to the deal at all if they promised him a favor, but they had to get something out of this and they knew their bargaining position was slipping by the second. 

- Looks like the Foxes are going to be breaking into a Bluecoat watch station to destroy some incriminating evidence - but first, they've got to do something on their own turf about the Stone Club...

Aralakh Company: Out For Blood pt. VI

Thursday January 10, 2019 at 8:30pm battletech, aralakh company, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Battletech artwork © Harebrained Schemes
Battletech artwork © Harebrained Schemes

- With armor all but completely blasted away from both sides, each hit began to have a real impact.  While Aralakh and the attackers both took quite a bit of critical damage in recent exchanges, the key turning point came when the newly-arrived reinforcements managed to take the 95-ton Banshee out of the fight.

Cyrran Reaches: The Silent Keep pt. II

Tuesday January 8, 2019 at 8:15pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- After fighting off the orcs, the group stayed the night at the Darkpine Inn as local celebrities.  The next day they made their way into the pine forest and up to the sealed keep.  The forest was unnaturally dark, devoid of animal life, and host to shadowy beings that lingered just at the edge of their perception. 

- Upon arriving at the keep's walls, they found that the doors of the gate had been broken but wedged back in place, and that something had gouged abyssal words into the stone wall.  Lily was able to read the writing, but when she tried to tell Kael what it said, something began to affect her mind or perception.  Believing him to be a threat, Lily attacked Kael - stabbing him with her sword.  As the others attempted to discern what was happening and talk her down, she appeared more and more disconnected from the present situation.  An enchantment-breaking spell from Ravina eventually returned her completely to them.

- Meanwhile, Taryn had found a way into the keep.  Climbing a tree that had fallen against the wall, the group was able to easily bypass the gate and the 15' wall it was set in.  Once inside, they found the streets littered with half-completed statues of people (which they suspect may be victims of some unusual petrification effect) and the dead bodies of several devils.  The only living thing they encountered was a senile old woman who didn't seem to know much about what was going on.

- After the old woman wandered off, the group decided to press further in, searching for the lord's manor...

Black Foxes: Moving The Goods

Thursday December 20, 2018 at 9:15pm blades in the dark, black foxes, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Artwork © Evil Hat Productions and Square Enix
Artwork © Evil Hat Productions and Square Enix

- The other boatman turned out to be an opportunist called Tellis looking for a way to make some coin with his info.  He gave them some instructions and the name of a likely buyer for the goods they'd just pulled out of the canal.

- The crew decided to jump on the opportunity immediately - both to unload their hot cargo asap, and because they really need the coin to finance their other efforts.

- Making their way to Silkshore, they made contact with the Bluecoat Lannerhand and got access to the backpool - but the blue door they were supposed to find is nowhere to be seen...

Aralakh Company: Out For Blood pt. V

Tuesday December 18, 2018 at 8:30pm battletech, aralakh company, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Battletech artwork © Harebrained Schemes
Battletech artwork © Harebrained Schemes

- Having lost their heavies, Aralakh found itselve in a seriously-out-gunned 2-on-4 match.  They spent a couple of rounds in defensive maneuvering before getting word that half of Garret's Bluesabres lance was coming in to assist them. 

- The arrival of the Clint and Orion didn't exactly even the playing field, but it did add significant strength to their previously-desperate position.  Even so, they had poor fortune overall in trying to inflict significant damage on their foes...

Cyrran Reaches: Village Beset pt. III

Monday December 17, 2018 at 8:30pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- The party continued to engage them undead leaders as the orc horde descended upon the village.  Some well-placed blows, a summoning spell, entangling vegetation, and a breath weapon kept the raiders from reaching the town and sent them fleeing back into the wilderness.

- After the battle, Taryn once again noticed a strange flash in the dragon orb he had been carrying - it was accompanied this time by a voice and a summons.  What he found when he answered was a sort of meeting place for the current owners of the orbs - though this was not at all to say they were "friends".

- One of the villagers did give them a bit more info about the keep - but mostly they weren't sure what was going on.  The keep had suddenly ceased opening its gates and no human sounds are heard coming from within.  The darkness that has settled upon the pine forest has kept most of the villagers away from it.

Cyrran Reaches: Village Beset pt. II

Thursday December 13, 2018 at 9:00pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- As the party continued more earnestly engaged the raiders, they found the two lead orcs to be a considerable challenge.  By the time the rest of the band was reaching the village, only one of the wolves had been killed.  Lily sent a sonic bolt through the remaining wolf and its orc rider.  The stroke felled the latter, but then that a strange, red static seemed to pull it back up from the ground, it's eyes glowing bright as arcs of brilliant red electricity shot between the tall spires of the keep on the hill behind them...

Cyrran Reaches: Village Beset pt. I

Tuesday December 4, 2018 at 8:15pm d&d, cyrran reaches, game session notes Comments (0) »
 Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 
Dungeons & Dragons artwork © Wizards of the Coast 

- The group was talking a bit more with the locals - trying to get a feel for the village and whatever is going on there - when they suddenly found themselves under attack by some raiding orcs from the plains to the west, and by shadows from the pine forest at the edge of town...

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