Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Making Of Drax Returns!

In the last post I reported on the 7TV2 game we ran at Vanquish 2018. This post is all about how the set for that game was created.

Drax's secret base
And from a different camera angle
With the intent of hosting a 7TV2 participation game at Vanquish and about six weeks of preparation time available I decided the most generally accessible plot line and casts would be something James Bond-ish (everyone knows James Bond) and so the obvious idea was to set the scene for a raid on a Supervillain's lair.

I needed to consider the following:
  • The setup must look good. I wanted to attract spectators and participants and inspire and enthuse those who passed by as well as those interested enough to play;
  • Including space for cards, dice etc it would need to fit on a 4x4 playing area - in the event, the table was larger, but this was the original brief I was given;
  • The game would use profile cards taken straight out of the basic set. I wanted to make minimal changes to the basic game other than those to make it work on the day;
  • The game would need to be short in duration and high on action. The intent would be to give people a taste for the game and its rules without needing to take up too much of their time, and generally promote the rules. I was aiming at keeping people playing for no more than an hour and a half. On the day no game lasted longer than this and most were done in around one hour;
  • I didn't want to spend a fortune on materials, and it would need to be put together in my limited spare time. It would also need to be ready sufficiently is advance to allow for play testing.
  • I needed to get all the figures painted and based in time. With different casts I could have used figures I had already finished but I also wanted to use the event as a catalyst to get some more painting done! In the end all but two of the figures used were painted specifically for the day, plus all the furniture;
  • The scenery would need to be modular so that it could be transported and stored;
  • The scenery would ideally also be versatile enough to be used for other casts and scenarios for games played after Vanquish. A modular setup allows for a certain amount of flexibility when repurposing the scenery for other scenarios by adding new bits and swapping old ones out.

After a lot of thought (heavily influenced by other sets I have seen and admired) I decided on creating a stronghold  of some sort, a walled structure with internal buildings. With a little imagination this might serve as all sorts of locations. If painted in grey it could pass for concrete or stone and with any base areas painted in brown shades it could easily sit in a variety of settings, from desert or jungle to mountain top or even the polar regions, and of course could be adaptable to all sorts of different casts.

The structure was first assembled out of cardboard in six separate components. Buildings within these areas would be solid structures with no access to internal rooms (taking buildings apart during a participation game was to be avoided). A series of ramps allowed several options for routes around and into the structure via the central courtyard, flat roofs and walkways, as well as walls that could be climbed, and gave the whole set more visual impact because of its vertical scale.

For ease of play, and so that I wouldn't need to take them apart during the show, building interiors would mostly be inaccessible. Clearly such areas were off-set and no filming would take place there. But one corner would represent a few rooms within the Supervillain lair itself. The top of this would remain roofless and open so that internal rooms could be represented and furniture added, and maybe even the villain confronted in his lair.

Two other corners would contain things that might be alternative objectives or just visual dressing. One would have a helipad and the other a radio mast (my original idea was for a gun battery or missile silo but constructing this would have substantially exceeded my available time!)

Construction of the main elements

Each of the six main elements of the set was constructed with a basic frame of cardboard taken from boxes and Amazon packaging, with added flat surfaces and raised detail made from card and foamboard.

Each element was based on 3mm MDF cut to appropriate size. Papier-mache was used to strengthen and cover gaps. Surface details including closed doors, windows, and raised edges were made from card and mounting board. Some minor adjustments were made using foamboard and Milliput to make better joins between different elements - cardboard has an unfortunate tendency to warp.

Element #1
Element #2
Element #3, with helipad
Element #4
Element #5
Element #6, gatehouse, from the front
And from the rear
Building walls were textured with a filler, sand and chinchilla dust mix, while flat areas were textured with chinchilla dust only. When complete, each element was toughened and sealed with PVA.

The whole building was painted with a matt grey primer, to simulate stone or concrete, and dry-brushed with a paler grey. Floor areas and some vertical walls were painted with a different grey to add contrast. The interior of windows were painted black and doors picked out in an appropriate shade of grey. Base areas on the ground were painted in Crown Cappuccino matt emulsion and highlighted with Crown Brown Sugar.

Base cloth

The basecloth
I made a bespoke base cloth for the set from a cut piece of table protector (about 3mm thick material that you would normally put under your tablecloth to protect your table from hot dishes). I painted the underside of this with a thick layer of Crown Cappuccino onto which I generously sprinkled chincilla dust. This was left to dry to make a textured painted surface (the chincilla dust absorbs the colour of the paint). When dry, it was all dry-brushed with Crown Brown Sugar.

Close-up of finished base cloth texture


After rejecting several ideas of a separate removable helipad I finally simply painted the helipad design directly onto the roof section using a home-made stencil. 

The helipad
The SHIVA copter
The helicopter is a cheap Cararama diecast model taken apart and repainted appropriately to accompany my SHIVA cast.
The SHIVA copter on the helipad

Radio Mast

This was a simple structure made from strips of foamboard and card glued together an attached to a small box on an MDF base. The box and base were textured with chinchilla dust and sealed and the whole structure spray-painted grey.

The radio mast

Open Room Section

To keep games sensibly short I limited the number of rooms, eventually settling on an entrance room (occupied by guards and a security desk), a main chamber with windows overlooking the courtyard (the supervillain's quarters), a back room connected to this (the control room in which I put a couple of scientists and computer banks), and a secure room (containing a safe). There was also a lift from which minions could enter the entrance room from within.

Open room section from the front
Open room section from the back
The walls were made from foamboard glued to an MDF base and internal doors made from card. A large window from which the supervillain could overlook the interior of the base was made from foamboard and clear plastic. The outside of this was textured with filler and chinchilla dust, and it was all painted grey.

Rooms were appropriately furnished with items from Crooked Dice, Pigeon Guard Games and Ainsty Castings.

With furniture, and various occupants
When assembled, for visual effect and to create some cover, I also added some jungle terrain elements (put together for the Congo game), areas of scatter terrain (crates and oil drums), and two jeeps.

The Casts

Finally, here are some pictures of the figures painted and used for the game.

Drax and Jaws
Bond and Bond - players could opt to be Daniel (Hasslefree, L) or Sean/Roger (Crooked Dice, right) 
Steed and Emma Peel
X-commando squad
And more minions!

Monday, 28 May 2018

Drax Returns!

It's the pivotal scene in a new episode of Drax, a made-for-TV follow-up to 1979's Moonraker. James Bond and operatives of Dept X of MI6 confront the insidious industrialist and his new-found allies at the supervillain's lair.

It was also a participation game by Wycombe Warband for all to enjoy at Vanquish 2018.
In 1979, according to MI6 files, an Insidious Industrialist's dastardly scheme to replace all humans on earth with his chosen master race failed. Its mastermind, the multi-billionaire Hugo Drax, met an ignominious end, shot by 007's cyanide-tipped dart and expelled into space. And so, with his death, the case files were labelled with the name of the space shuttles so crucial to their plot and filed under M for Moonraker. 
It is not wholly clear how Drax survived the cyanide or the vacuum of space, let alone re-entry through the earth's atmosphere or the shark-infested waters of the Indian Ocean into which the wreckage of his space station fell. But against all the odds, in a way that can only happen to principal or significant supporting characters in such films, survive he did, to be picked up by agents of a mysterious organisation which, it turns out, had been keeping watching over Drax and his enterprise all along. The Supreme Headquarters of International Villainous Agents (SHIVA), in return for his loyalty, vast financial backing, and the secrets of the chemical agent Black Orchid, duly nursed Drax back to health and gave him a position of some responsibility in their own organisation.
This all provides an unlikely, though not completely implausible, premise for a possible film sequel to 1979's Moonraker or, at the very least, a TV mini-series, and Channel 7TV2 was quick to take up options.

The Plan

Using the 7TV2rules,  we ran the above game several times through the day at  Vanquish 2018.

The idea was to introduce newcomers to wargaming and the 7TV2 game, as well as to meet gamers from other clubs and encourage new recruits to our own. The episode was run as a participation game, with players taking on roles within Dept X and MI6 in a mission against Drax and his horde of minions. I ran the bad guys, with a few minor tweaks to the rules for the purposes of the scenario. The challenge was all about the good guys completing the mission they were given.

The Set

All set up and ready to go
As we all know it's the look of the game that first draws people in and so the set was built with that in mind. I will post separately on how the set was made but essentially it was a bespoke base cloth and six modular elements, plus an open section of rooms, a helipad and radio mast, all of which was finished off with furniture, scatter terrain, two jeeps and a helicopter.

The Props

I provided some background material for the players in the form of a manilla envelope containing case files, which was given to players and others who were interested, containing:

Players were given a quick run down of the essential game mechanisms and then made selections from a choice of gadget cards. Then a specific mission for the episode was chosen by drawing a random card from a set of bespoke mission cards (fronts and backs here) that I made for the event.

And... Action!

Here are some stills capturing some of of the highlights of the day's filming during the filming of various different takes of the episode. Apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos!

One of many X-commando/minion firefights ensues
Steed and Mrs Peel sneak up behind unsuspecting minion guards and take them out with panache 
Our heroes take the advantage of higher ground as hordes of minions approach
The cameraman gets a good angle on the action…
…focusing on X-commandos taking a professional approach, making good use of cover…
...whereas Bond and Steed take a more direct approach
Mrs Peel acknowledges she may have taken on more of a challenge than she initially expected
Drax maintains a false sense of security with his ninja bodyguards close at hand
Bond chases down a fleeing Drax, dramatically stopping his escape just in the nick of time
Jaws crashes backwards through the door, felled by Mrs Peel’s white-leather kung fu kick
The helicopter bursts into flame during the obligatory special effects sequence
I am consistently impressed with 7TV2. It is really clever how these rules create those cinematic moments and cliffhanger scenes so well. Also, there are very few wargames that can take brand new players who are completely unfamiliar with the rules and play a game to a conclusion in an hour and a half. 

And in summary, people enjoyed the game and went away happy, and it was a very successful day.

Now to plan for next year...

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Guinea Pig Heroes

A game of heroes, cards, and vindictive guinea pig action
Most of the time, when a range of figures is released, they are either related to a specific set of rules or they are figures such as historical miniatures for which a wide range of wargames rules already exist. Rarely, though, a manufacturer produces a set of brilliant figures for which very few - perhaps even no - commercial rules exist. Although I have to admit that this will not be the case for long as a commercial set will be available shortly.

However, that's what Annie did a year or more ago - and it's taken me that long to get it in a form worth posting on the blog. Yes, this post is all about guinea pigs.

You've probably heard of Annie (aka the Dice Bag Lady/Bad Squiddo Miniatures). If you haven't, chances are you're not a wargamer, or you've been hiding under a rock somewhere. I urge you strongly to visit her site, where you are almost guaranteed to find something interesting. I'll leave you to do that in your own time. Suffice to say that amongst many other brilliantly original ideas, Annie has produced some figures of - yes, you guessed it - guinea pigs, for which you will probably understand there were until recently very few sets of wargames rules.

That said, after chatting with Annie I understand that another set of rules is currently in prep for which Annie's gun-toting guinea pigs, bunnies and cute-animal-driven-armoured vehicles (I told you you needed to visit her web site) are perfect for, but there's no overlap here with those. The game here doesn't involve guns and such things. Instead, and proving just as judiciously violent within the game mechanics, we have a cat and a bunch of carrots.

This new game (as you may have already suspected from the title above) is called Guinea Pig Heroes. It's a simple and (fairly) quick play sort of race game using a dice and some cards, designed for four players who have no qualms about being vindictive to each other. I'm not going to bore you with game mechanics here so if you want to play it here's the link to the guinea pig game rules and cards. Yes there are cards too! All free to download and use as you wish, but please do comment here if you do anything with them!

You will need, in addition to the rules and cards, some guinea pig figures (get them from Annie - for every set sold £1 goes to Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue). I based my guinea pigs on 1p pieces and textured and decorated them appropriately.

Guinea pigs
More guinea pigs
Yet more guinea pigs
You will also need figures representing a cat and a bunch of carrots, and a specially marked up six-sided dice

The cat
My cat figure is a Schleich cat, sitting based on a 40mm round base appropriately textured to match the bases of the guinea pigs. It's a bit big, but that just makes it all the more terrifying if you are a tiny little guinea pig. Just look at those cute creepy eyes...

Mmmm... carrots
My carrots are made from green stuff, painted and based on a 2p piece, appropriately textured. These are really not very difficult to make at all.

The special die
The die I use is a blank die (available from many, many suppliers) with the appropriate symbols drawn on the faces with a permanent marker, as required in the game rules.

Dice symbols (l-r): 2 x blank, 1 carrot, 2 carrots, 3 carrots, the cat
You'll also need a table to play on, some terrain, and two things to represent a house and a hutch. Books, paper, beer mats, or whatever will serve perfectly well for all of these things (except the table. For this, you should really use a table).

Basically, the game is a race to get your uniquely heroic guinea pig from the house to the hutch, made more difficult by the need to have specific cards in your hand, the presence of the tempting carrots and the malevolent cat, and the vindictive actions of the other players. We've play tested the game a few times, and it works. Once you get the hang of the mechanisms play should be pretty quick and you can play a game in 1-2 hours easily - though the more players pick on each other the longer the game is likely to last.

Please download, play and enjoy - and if you have any feedback at all (even if you think it's rubbish!) please post a reply here as I would love to hear from you! And also in the spirit in which the whole concept of wargaming with guinea pigs was conceived please do consider donating to Glynneath Guinea Pig Rescue as well.


Guinea Pig Heroes