Friday, July 27, 2012

Let Us Begin...

For the Empress! For Mother Terra! Forward!


And so it begins, my unpredictable and bemused personal blog of assorted mischief and creative mayhem that is the end result of a lifetime's worth of obsession with plastic model kits, over 35 years and counting of painting miniatures for wargaming, and just making things out of stuff any sane person would simply toss into the recycling bin.

So where do we begin? Ah! I have it! First, a little caveat; the date shows 7/27/2012. That is due to my starting this little venture and being forced to step back from my personal pursuits due to academic commitments and other assorted mischief (ie., The Thesis will be SERVED!). I have picked this blog up as a head clearing exercise of sorts, as I spend many hours immersed in some fairly heavy duty, intensive subject matter on a near daily basis, and will do so for several months to come. An accademic's work is never done...

So, we begin with the concept from classic science fiction that inspired me so long ago, the imagery of a star-spanning Terran Imperium as described by Poul Anderson's classic series of novels of derring-do charting the career of Dominic Flandry, beginning with Ensign Flandry! Being a tireless fan of epic space battle scenes, I was bitten fiercely by this bug starting in my sophomore year in high school by the imagery of Anderson's The People of The Wind describing the very nasty nature of starship combat where both sides had the power of the split atom to hurl at one another like the massive flak barrages shown in WW2 film footage of the US Navy in the Pacific!

In Anderson's Flandryverse, the Terran Empire has reached the physical limits of its ability to expand, and struggles to maintain its hold on thousands of worlds as the proverbial barbarians are battering at the Empire's gates. Central to this struggle is the Imperial Terran Navy, the service in which Dominic Flandry begins his career as a humble ensign, and through which his life as a naval intelligence officer unfolds as Flandry struggles to survive while preserving human civilization. Imperial Terra was Anderson's metaphor for ancient Roman civilization. The primary antagonists in the Flandry novels are the alien Merseians, a warm-blooded reptilian species that has promised their cubs stars for playthings, implacable foes who never stop trying to advance their imperial ambitions at the expense of the Terran Empire.

For years I looked for a satisfactory set of starship combat rules. My very first starship miniatures were the classic Stardate 3000 line from Valiant Miniatures. I cannot recall precisely what ever happened to them all, and I deeply regret not having kept my fleets of Terran and Alien ships, as they were and remain some of the most imaginative and detailed starship models I've seen in my lifetime, having a distinctive Space 1999/UFO vibe to the Terran Federation ships, and the Aliens for lack of a better description look like mechanical dragonflies without the wings!I also had a trio of the splendid and no less detailed Superior Miniatures Star Fleet Wars Carnivorian destroyers. Again, I have no idea as to their fate; the years and partial memory loss due to a protracted illness in 2003 have taken their toll of my long term memories of such matters.

In my quest for a set of space combat rules I tried the board game Alpha Omega, which was I recall a real blast, but finding opponents and finding the time to really play the game properly was just not in the cards for me, plus, I wanted to play with miniatures, dammit, not push cardboard counters around all day even if they were printed with images of the very Stardate 3000 ships I loved so dearly! I wanted rules for starship miniatures, so when Star War 2250 A.D. came along, I thought I'd found what I had been looking for. I mean, what's not to like? Star War 2250 A.D. had 3-dimensional movement, and sleek looking Terran ships and menacing alien warships with cool names like "Blood Glutton" and "Egg Thief! The ships were very affordable, and easy to paint, so I eagerly awaited my first opportunity to deploy my first Federation "Head Hunters" ships I'd painted in an original non-regulation grey finish with a prominent skull-and-crossbones motif!

Well, as it turns out, like many games of the 1970s, Starwar 2250 A.D. needed LOTS of room to play, specifically LOTS of open floor space to accommodate those 6-foot tall flight stick movement stands you had to build yourself, to say nothing of the brass wire and tubing on a clothespin flight clips to hold your starship miniature in place to allow for the vertical movement! In addition to having little skill with DIY (I still can't cut a piece of wood straight to save my life!), I managed to get to play Star War 2250 A.D. precisely once at Pacificon waaaay back in the day when this Bay Area convention was still being held at the Villa Hotel In San Mateo, CA, and I freely admit I had a blast despite being nervous about actually playing the game with people from McEwan Miniatures, the publisher of the game and manufacturer of all those starship miniatures I was so in love with!

I actually managed to maneuver into a reasonable firing position on an opposing Ralnai ship, and hit him with the dreaded Anti-Matter Projector (AMP), blowing a great sucking chest wound in the beast thanks to a lucky guess as to where the offending Ralnai cruiser was moving next (you have to try and anticipate the targeted ship's next movement vector, and program the AMP to bombard that space. The closer you are to the target, the more damage the AMP does. A direct hit is nasty to say the least, and I hit that miserable lizard with *three* out of five shots in a single barrage!). Such were the glory days of my early efforts to play starship combat games with miniatures. The lack of rules and a tabletop movement system and especially user friendly movement bases caused me to give up opn starship gaming for years, turning for my sci-fi combat fix to Starguard and later Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader (but that is another tale for another blog entry!).

I later dabbled in Star Fleet Battles, but burned myself out all too quickly as the system succumbed to feature creep. I did manage to have fun painting up a whole swarm of ships for just about every faction available at the time, only to sell them off to make extra cash for other, easier game systems I wanted to pursue. I regret that I didn't hang on to my Lyrans and Hydrans at the very least, as I have great fun painting all sorts of tiger stripe hull patterns on the Lyran vessels, while the Hydrans I painstakingly mixed a special shade of blue grey with Tamiya model paints to get the perfect hull color and painstakingly masked the hulls to get the perfect fleet color band stripes in place, along with freehand lettered hull scripts and numbers. As I age my ability to do such fine work has faded with my eyesight, so having sold off such intensely fine work is a loss I cannot recover.I ultimately sold off all of my Star Fleet Battles books, counters, and remaining miniatures as a bundle at a convention flea market, and spent the earnings on God-only-knows what else from the dealer's room.

After literally years of no starship combat joy, along came Silent Death, a board game that used miniatures and focused exclusively on space fighter combat. Being an inveterate Star Wars fan, I was instantly taken by the idea and the ease of play that Silent Death's core system is built on. The system is elegant, fast-moving, and brutal. The 1st edition did not include a design system, so one was pretty much stuck with what was available and in print from the publisher, Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.). The downside was that it was all essentially fighter combat, where the largest available ships were gunboats, a spacefaring amalgam of WW2-era medium bomber and PT boat designed for patrol work and supporting groups of fighters with heavier weapon systems.

Despite the joys of Silent Death space fighter combats, at the time finding interested players was damn near impossible here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Starship combat proper with larger ships was still impossible to find. Them along came a stroke of very British genius, a set of rules that are as simple to grasp as Monopoly, yet have a tactical subtlety all their own, a set of rules that have set the standard for all tabletop starship combat miniatures rules, Full Thrust! When the Portland, OR-based company Geo-Hex announced that they were going to be producing under license the entire Full Thrust line of starships, the timing couldn't have been better, as I had been running my own little mail order business Federation Armory for just a few years acting as the only retailer for the Starguard figure line (a tale for another entry!), and wanted to add to my offerings  both in my catelogue and at my dealer's booth at Bay Area conventions.

I acquired a copy of Full Thrust from Geo-hex, and a number of the ships and the new Geo-Hex flight bases specifically designed for Full Thrust, assembled them, primed 'em up, and painted them quickly. A few test run games and I was hooked! At last, I had found my perfect game for starship combat!

Geo-Hex made my life easy when it came to adapting all sorts of starship models to Full Thrust, having designed and produced a cast metal flight base with a raised 12-point turning clock and 90-degree rear arc lines etched plainly into the base. This base is in my opinion one of the best and frankly common sense innovative gaming aids ever produced during my lifetime. Sadly, when Geo-Hex folded in 2003, the flight bases went out of production, and no one has since picked up the rights (assuming that they are available), nor have I yet found a substitute that is as satisfactory as this outstanding product. I hoarded as many of the Geo-Hex bases as I could get my ever-greedy, grasping talons on, and saved them for my most cherished starship models, not least of which were the superb hard plastic pre-built gashopon from Zakka Pop of Japan depicting the classic Earth Defense Force and Gamilon (aka "Gamilus" or "Gamiras") space fleets from the timeless anime series Space Battleship Yamato.

So here is my Imperial Terran Navy, the end result of shamelessly repainting numerous gashopon ("capsule toys") in the colors of Imperial Terra inspired by Poul Anderson's saga of one man's struggle to protect Human civilization from being driven down into The Long Night:

HMS Nemesis, a Victory-class super dreadnought and the current flagship of my Imperial Terran Navy task force:

HMS Iwo Jima, a Ranger-class assault ship:

HMS Empress Fatima XII, one of the new Inanna-class super dreadnoughts:

Empress-class battle cruisers (that double duty as destroyer-class escorts for Silent Death):

Nimitz-class fleet carriers Hiryu and Soryu:

Akizuki-class missile destroyers:

Close up of an Akizuki-class boat HMS Biter:


Magician-class EW cruiser HMS Merlin:

Akizuki-class missile destroyers in section attack formation:

Metropolis-class heavy cruiser HMS San Francisco:

Havoc-class corvette HMS Midge:

HMS Inanna, first ship in her class of new Imperial super dreadnought:

Yi Sun Shin-class battlecruiser HMS Beatty:

Leonidas-class armored cruisers HMS Pacal the Great and HMS Harald Hardrada:

Gaugemela-class dreadnought HMS Blenheim:

Welcome to Her Imperial Terran Majesty's Space Navy! Keep your personal energy weapons of choice handy at all times, keep your assorted appendages inside the vehicle, and hang on for the ride! For the Greater Glory of Our Empress!! C'mon you apes!! You wanna live forever?!! YEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Next entry: The All-Consuming Evil that is 15mm Sci-Fi Miniatures! A tale of dramatically improving sculpting, production quality, variety, and kitbashing mania! Stay tuned...!