Two Generals Battle Report

<Spoilers Ahead>

I did not win.

<End spoilers.>

From left to right: My indomitable opponent Chris Kluwe, moi holding a ‘Fire of Menoth’ cupcake, and the event mastermind, John DeShazer. (Photo stolen from Mercenary Market’s FB page.)

I didn’t think there was chance in hell that I would, there was never really a question about that. My hope was that I could get through the game without thoroughly embarrassing myself, and I think I managed to do that. In fact, I think I made Mr. Kluwe work for it…or at least he pretended to. Either way, let the record show that I did not go down without a fight. Neigh. I brought the fight to him!

Here’s how it went down…

If you’ve been following this blog or my recent tweets/facebookings, you might know that this past Sunday I participated in a great WARMACHINE/HORDES event at Mercenary Market in Coasta Mesa, hosted by the stores owner’s, John DeShazer and my magnanimous opponent for the day, Chris Kluwe. What made this even so fantastic was the unique format, something that I expect will very shortly become a mainstay of WARMACHINE and HORDES events around the world. Twenty eight players showed up and were randomly divided into two teams, each team to be lead by a General — the Generals being Chris and myself. Through four escalating rounds, the teams faced off and during each round, Chris and I were given a limited number of advantages that we could dynamically bestow upon one of our players (whom I will refer to henceforward as ‘champions’), once per player, per round. The advantages could take the form of:

• A boosted die roll
• A re-roll of any die roll
• An automatically successful morale check

As the battles raged across the tables, our champions would call out at pivotal points in the battle to request our support. Several times, the advantage turned an otherwise negative situation into a positive, and more than a few times I witnessed it as the winning die roll in the game. Since each champion only had access to one advantage per game, the effect was not staggering or unbalancing, but the turned-hand of fate was felt throughout the day, to be sure.

Each round, the winning side gained an advantage for their respective General. I’ll try to remember what they were:

• Round 1 — 2″ of additional deployment
• Round 2 — Bonus to the initiative turn order roll
• Round 3 — Player gets to place a wall on the battlefield before deployment
• Round 4 — Player gets one instance of a bonus, as described above.

I gained all four.

My champions were amazing. Or maybe I was just an astounding General! Every player on both sides gave it their all and rallied behind their General yesterday, but round after round, my champions managed to bring home the victory and deliver the advantage to me. The rounds were close and competition was fierce, to be sure, but fortune graced me with the winning army that day, and as a whole, they accomplished a flawless victory (which I squandered with my own incompetence, but we’ll get to that part of the story soon enough).

Chris definitely had the height and reach advantage on me…

An entertaining side note to this is that the organizers of the event surprised Chris and I with a challenge for the Generals following the completion of each of the first three rounds. This added a bit of interaction and I think, comedy, to the day’s events. The General challenges went like this:

Round 1 — Chris and I were tasked before the round started with learning the names of each of our champions before the end of the hour. This was a great challenge because it thrust us onto the battlefield with our champions and required us to engage with them. Immediately, both of us began taking notes, working hard to associate the names with the faces. Impressively, when the moment of truth came, we both scored a perfect 100, memorizing each of our champion’s names. The success awarded us each an additional bonus advantage to hand out in subsequent rounds, but the playing field was still level. I’ll add though, that the greatest advantage was knowing the names of my champions after that, and this served me well.

Round 2 — For the second challenge, an army was selected at random from one of our respective champions. Chris and I were tasked with reciting the name of each model or unit in the army. You might think this is a slam dunk for the creator of the game, but after 15+ books worth of models, even I get stymied on a name once in a while, especially in the heat of competition. Amazingly, Chris and I went toe to toe again, but we both got hung up on one character solo: Sylys Wyshnalyrr. Incredibly, neither of us could dredge the name of this misbegotten elf from our subconscious, and the challenge again ended in a draw with each of us gaining the additional bonus advantage. I’m not sure what this says about ol’ Sylys, but even after multiple ‘sudden death’ rounds, he was the only one that we both failed to name. (Does anyone even know how to pronounce his name? Good grief!)

Round 3 — The humiliation round! The challenge was to lead our champions in a song or chant about, I think, our faction or our army or something. Interpretation of the challenge seemed to vary. Chris and his champions, to his credit, chanted something charitable about Privateer Press and their appreciation, and for that, I must thank him. But this was a juried challenge and I knew I’d have to dig a little deeper to pull this victory out, so as the round played out, I scribbled notes on a 3 x 5 card and subsequently lead my graciously cooperative team in the following chant (keep in mind that I knew I’d be fielding Cygnar today, but my players were made up of a random assortment of factions from both WARMACHINE and HORDES):

Cygnar, Cygnar, you’re our team today,
We might not like you but that’s okay,
You’ll kick Kluwe’s butt if you hope and pray,
Then you can pack up and go away.

My gambit payed off and self-deprecating humor won the day…or rather, the challenge. There was still much left to play out this day…

Instead of winning an advantage for the third General challenge, the losing team was forced to don the pink Privateer bandanas for the final round.

After seven hours of our champions waging bloody war, Chris and I finally got down to our death match. As I said above, I had all the advantages that my champions had won throughout the day. The table was set, and the scenario was revealed, but I won’t even worry about describing the scenario because I don’t think either Chris or I ever had an inclination to try and win by the scenario conditions. It was something about zones and objectives and contesting something or other, but you already know how this is going to go: Caster Kill.

My army. Cavalry painted by Bob Ladd as a commission a few years back. Everything else painted by me. Only Stryker, the Journeyman and the Cyclone existed before last week. I was doing some serious speed painting!

After a week of frantic painting and army building, here’s what I brought to the field with my 50pt force:

Commander Coleman Stryker
Stormwall
Cyclone
Journeyman Warcaster
Stormlancers (5)
The Black 13th
Stormsmiths (3)
Harlan Versh, Illuminated One
Eiryss, Mage Hunter of iOS
Gunmage Captain Adept

Here’s what Chris brought:

Goreshade the Cursed
Kraken
A shit-ton of banes

Okay, he had some other stuff, too. UAs for the banes, the Combine, Tartarus…what’s it matter. I couldn’t target any of them anyway!

In a final advantage granted to the Generals, the champion from each team with the day’s best strength of schedule became the Lieutenant advisor to the General. I’m going to say right up front here, and I’ll say it again, this saved my bacon. My Lieutenant, Alex, who kicked a ridiculous amount of ass throughout the day, was pretty much the only reason I didn’t look like a complete idiot. Though I studied and crammed for this event for a week leading up to it, 90% of what I had loaded into my grey matter went right out the window as soon as I stepped up to the table. I leaned heavily on Alex’s expertise, and to my great fortune, he had played a very similar Cygnar foce that day and was expertly familiar with everything I was fielding. His counsel made the difference between me looking like a chump and actually making a decent show of it, and for that, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

My stalwart Lieutenant, Alex and me with my eyes close (ugh). Had Alex been in command of my army, things might have actually turned out a little different for Cygnar…

 

Now, I’m resurrecting this from memory without any notes and I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies. Anyone reading this who might have witnessed the event should feel free to correct me on anything I have mistakenly reported, but to the best of my recollection, the battle unfolded like this:

Though we tied with the initiative roll, my advantage gave me the choice to go first, so I took it. After we deployed, I used Stryker to snipe the Stormwall and the Journeyman to Arcane Shield the Lancers, then pushed everyone forward, spreading out across the board to meet his advancing horde of banes.

Chris countered with a tactical advance that used the fewest number of banes possible to thwart any subsequent charge on my part, while pushing his ferocious Kraken straight toward the center of my army. A well placed shot from the Kraken surgically removed Lynch from the Black 13th, diminishing their potential by a solid third, but my force was otherwise unmolested as the Kraken was the sole ranged attack he possessed. Now what followed almost seemed like a gift from heaven. No, it was a gift from heaven, but one that would soon be mocked by less benevolent forces. For some reason, Chris, despite the counsel of his Lieutenant, left Goreshade exposed without the advantage of his Occulation spell, well within striking distance of my sniped Stormwall’s Big Guns. I was practically salivating. For a moment, I thought it was a ruse. Could he actually make such a huge mistake so early in the game or was he baiting me into some diabolical trap?

Turns out, it was a complete underestimation of my position, and the game almost ended there. I loaded the Stormwall with focus and then, biding my time, set up the rest of my force. I walked my lancers into the front ranks of his banes. Meanwhile, I sent Eiryss up the left side of the field, only to come up a quarter inch short on Goreshade — almost plugged him with a disruptor then and there. Needless to say, she was bane-chow on his next turn, but it was worth the risk to try and get that shot off on him. Finally, it came down to the Stormwall. Honestly, I thought I had it in the bag. I had a perfect shot with both guns, well within the Stormwall’s sniped 18″ range. Goreshade had one focus point on him, but it seemed to matter little at that point. The whole round, my marbled green Lock & Load dice had been rolling nothing but 5’s and 6’s, so frequently I was beginning to get a little self conscious about them. A couple of average rolls from these Big Guns and I was going to pack up and head to Disneyland.

Two Generals facing off across the battlefield. You can see by the gesture Chris’s lieutenant is making that this is where I just flubbed my damage roll!

Now, I don’t remember what the rolls were, exactly, but needless to say, I used my focus to boost the hit and damage on the first roll, then to hit on the second. I hit both times. But for the damage, I rolled crap. The second gun rolled nothing but 1’s and 2’s, and when my Lieutenant Alex saved me with a reroll, I rolled the same thing again. I did a total of eight points of damage on Goreshade, and that was the last I ever saw of him because for the rest of the game, he had Occulation up and there was no getting near him.

I think a lot of people were holding their breath during that series of rolls. It looked by all counts like the battle was going to be over before it really started, but that wasn’t what the fates were looking for that day. To be honest, I’m kind of glad it didn’t work out that way because I wouldn’t have been able to claim a victory from my own good playing. I’m not above exploiting a mistake from my opponent, but I think the whole thing might have felt a little anti-climactic, and we would have missed out on a great amount of bloodshed to come.

In Chris’s next round, he deftly maneuvered around the covering fire I was laying down from the Stormwall and Cyclone. Eiryss evaporated in a fine red mist, but otherwise things didn’t look too bad. I had forced him into a conservative advance, or so I thought. In reality, in true Nightmare Legion form, Chris maneuvered cooly and comfortably in the knowledge that time and the numbers were on his side. And then came the Kraken.

This one turned out to be a bit of a twist. For a moment, it looked like the Kraken was going to invalidate the existence of the Stormwall with a weapon lock. But thanks to some rules referencing on the part of John, we found out that the imminent Kraken threat wasn’t quite in range. I was going to get another chance.

As I went into my third turn, I faced down the Kraken and a wall of banes as wide as the battlefield. Goreshade, though, was safely concealed behind his stealth-providing spell. At this point, the Kraken became enemy number one. I lead with the Stormwall, battering it with a pair of massive, Voltaic fists (zapping a necrotech in the process), then followed with a lancer assault, connecting with four of the armored cavalry while the fifth member split to take a target of opportunity on a nearby bane. I also knew it was now or never and I popped Stryker’s Invincibility feat, enveloping nearly my entire army with his +5 ARM bonus. By the end of my turn, the Kraken was a smoking heap and thanks to Versh and some Stormsmith triangulation on the Stormwall’s lighting pod, a good chunk of banes had left the table. But not for long.

At this point, though, a serious problem reared its head: being terribly rusty at my game, I was moving horribly slow. Even with the counsel provided by Alex, I was moving through my turns at a snail’s pace, and we were on the clock. The Death Clock. We’d started the game with 50 minutes each, and by the end of my third turn, I had just over 7 minutes left on the clock. If I recall correctly, Chris had over 40.

The Kraken was a smoking wreck, but I was no closer to victory…

Chris’s third turn, despite him taking his time, is a bit of a blur to me. Banes started coming back. Lancers were dying. The Combine stripped my protective spells away. And a host of undead began carving up my beloved Stormwall, despite his Invincibility bonus. It was ugly. By the end of the round, I was surrounded on all sides by a sea of violet-clad banes and the left half of the Stormwall as well as its entire superstructure had been rendered scrap. And there I was with 7 minutes on the clock.

I think at this point, the clock was simply highlighting a foregone conclusion. Goreshade was safely walled behind an impenetrable curtain of undead unless I got very lucky, so that’s what I tried for. With a power-attack sweep, I took out several banes surrounding the Stormwall, but it wasn’t enough to clear the charge lanes for the lancers. Even if it had, the rough terrain created by the Kraken’s wreck kept Goreshade safely out of range. As my minutes and seconds slipped away, so did my hope. There was nothing I could do and the game was about to be decided by time.

Screw that.

With one second left, I slapped that Death Clock and initiated Chris’s turn. I wasn’t going down because of a clock. I might not have another turn coming, but if I was going down, I was going to go down in the proverbial blaze of glory. Chris would get his victory that day, but he’d have to earn it, and I know that’s how he’d prefer it anyway.

Chris had burned a good chunk of time on his last turn, but I think we was still sitting around twenty minutes or so; plenty of time to formulate a good killing strategy on Stryker, and that’s exactly what he did. The crushing force of his bane army obliterated the Stormwall and coiled around Stryker. In the end, Stryker fell to their shadowy axe blades while I watched helplessly from the sidelines.

The day was done. Chris Kluwe and his Cryxian army had cut a bloody swath through the land, striking deep and painfully into the heart of Cygnar, robbing the kingdom of their most cherished protector. Cue the violins. It was all over but the crying.

Being competitive by nature, I do love to win. But more than winning, I love a good competition. I know I wasn’t even close to the toughest opponent that Chris has faced, but I’m happy to say I didn’t hand him his victory on a platter. As I mentioned above, I have my Lieutenant Alex to thank for that because I would have been making mistakes out of the gate if I didn’t have him watching over my shoulder. I also have an entire team of champions to thank for earning me the advantages I had from the beginning of the game. But what I came away from all of this with was a renewed desire to play this damn game. It’s been too long for me and I’ve missed it. I missed painting these models and I’ve missed the challenge of playing the game itself. It’s time to get back in the saddle and I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks again to Chris for the great game and competition throughout the day, and thanks Alex for being my wingman through that battle. And last, thanks to John, Nicole and Greg for organizing and hosting the event and to all the champions who came out and gave it their all, whether you were on Chris’s team or my own. The best part about this game has always been its community, and I’m thrilled to have had a chance to spend a day as part of it.

Until next year, Chris Kluwe, until next year…

 

There’s a storm coming…

As promised, I’m posting a few shots of my completed Stormwall colossal. What this post will mainly do is serve as proof that just because you own a hobby game company, it doesn’t mean you’re great at the hobby! Even though I have little time these days to paint and model, I still love doing it. More importantly, I can’t stand playing with an army that isn’t painted, even if it’s painted poorly! And with my upcoming game against Chris Kluwe at Mercenary Market this Sunday, I’m not about to go out there with unpainted models. If I’m going to get my butt kicked publicly, I’m at least going to do it with my own, fully painted army, which of course MUST include my very own Stormwall.

I haven’t ever written a hobby article and this doesn’t pretend to be one. But I will share with you my own technique for getting models ‘table ready’ in a short period of time. Mind you, this isn’t going to get any awards, and it might even raise a snicker or two, but what might be impressive is that the whole thing took just under six and half hours to complete, from unboxing to basing.

Essentially, my recipe is to liberally prime the entire model black and then dry brush the hell out of it with Privateer’s Formula P3 paints, naturally. I started with the metallic bits, then the white, then then the blue. The white and blue each have a darker base coat and a lighter top coat. (Morrow White over Menoth White Highlight for the white, Cygnar Blue over Cygnar Blue Base for the blue, of course).

I dry brush fast and loose, with full intention of destroying the poor brushes I’m working with. The goal is to mottle the color a little, giving it a worn and beaten texture. When it’s done, I do a little cleanup and hit some small details like eyes and bolts with a fine brush, then finish it all with some ink washes. The ink washes really bring it all together. First, they knock back the vividness of the whites and other colors, and they dirty it all up. But the best part is that the wash sort of blends the dry brush mottling together, smoothing it all out, and then of course it gets into all those littles cracks and crevices and pulls out the detail of the model. What you end up with, hopefully, is not something that looks like a pile of slop, but rather, something that looks like it’s been in the field for a while and needs good wash.

Disclaimer: this is not a studio approved technique and if anyone from Privateer is reading this, they’re probably falling out of their chairs laughing, or groaning and trying to figure out how to keep this from becoming a PR scandal! But painted is painted, my friends, and that’s a hell of a lot better than unpainted!

But it’s not finished yet — a model needs to be based. I’ve never been an elaborate baser, but these colossals have so much surface under them, they’re screaming to have some beautiful diorama constructed at their feet. Time is of the essence right now, though, and I needed to get this done fast. I also discovered that my basing materials didn’t make the move to California last year, so I had to improvise. In a pinch, I raided my son’s sandbox (Does that make me a bad daddy?) and then scavenged some interesting crumbled gravel from the backyard that was broken up in a consistently angular fashion. The idea was to try and construct something that resembled a low, rock wall that the Stormwall might have just absent-mindedly walked through. Again, it’s not beautiful, but it fills up a little of the space on this massive 120mm base. The rest I covered with sand, then I hit the whole thing with a mottled brown, yellow, green and black wash of the P3 inks to keep it from looking like he was just taking a stroll on the beach.

For someone who used to spend several days painted a single, man-sized figure, pulling this off in 6.5 hours was a minor feat. Actually, a major one. The big trick is to stop worrying about the nit-picky details and just to get it done. Unless you’re winning the Grand Master painting competition, no one is comparing your stuff to anything except unpainted pewter and plastic. This isn’t pretty, and there are a few embarrassing mold lines that I didn’t catch before the paint was on there, but if you are in a crunch for time and don’t think you can get this stuff done, believe me when I say you can. A couple hours a day for a few days and you can have a beast like this table ready.

All that said, I think there’s another one of these in my future. These colossals are, in my humble opinion, are the best models Privateer Press has ever created. The detail and craftsmanship of the sculpts is amazing, and I’m almost sorry to have insulted such a beautiful piece with such a sloppy paint job. It’s been so long since I designed the Stormwall that I’ve completely disassociated any ownership of the design from the final sculpt and I’m enjoying the piece as a true fan. Someday when I’m not feeling the time crunch, I’ll take another stab at the Stormwall and try to do it justice.

 

 

Eiryss 3: Work Complete

Still reeling from Comic Con 2012, I’m a little late getting this post up. But after some pointed discussion on the practicality of the new pistol-crossbow/gunblade (Awe! See what I did there?) and a little dialog on how to handle the two different hood and head options, I’m happy to present the final concept for the third incarnation of the Iron Kingdoms’ most beloved, feared and hated mage-hunter, Eiryss.

In the interest of time, I’ll go against my nature and let the drawings speak for themselves. This has been a fantastic experiment and there were more than a few ideas that found their way from the online discussions to the final concept. Naturally, it’s impossible to accommodate the first choice of every single person and some of the choices here will be polarizing, to say the least. But that’s how you know it’s a delicacy and not a cheeseburger, if you follow what I mean.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and offer suggestions. This one is done (as in, I’m not touching it again, so don’t even think about it!), but I’ve got another concept coming up that I’m really looking forward to, a new Cryxian warcaster (of sorts), and I’ll give you this one hint: HE is HUMAN.

Stop speculating and look at the pretty pictures. Hope you like it!

(As always, please feel free to post a link, but do not re-post the images, puh-lease! Thanks!)

Eiryss 3 — Work in Progress

With the deadline for the concept of the new incarnation of Eiryss rapidly approaching, I’ve been trying to carve out the time to make some decent progress. San Diego Comic Con is looming right in the middle of this timeline for me as well, which means that I’ll lose most of next week to work on it. What this really means is that my delivery date has moved up from July 16th to next Wednesday, or I’m going to be late! Time to get cracking.

The image below shows my progress so far on coming up with a new look for Eiryss’ trappings. This is drawn entirely in pixels on a Wacom Cintiq tablet in Photoshop, which gives me a lot of flexibility to work back and forth in layers as I refine the drawing and the rendering at the same time. I end up wandering a bit during the process, but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to explore the concept in a more time-economical way than generating multiple drawings. It’s easy to get caught up in the anatomy and pose and lose focus on what’s really important here, which is what the character is wearing. In retrospect, though, I chose a poor angle on the figure because I was trying to be a little too dramatic with the drawing. The low camera perspective prevents a good square look at her chest (no snickering, please), which means I’ll need to do a second front detail shot to make sure the sculptor and artist have all the information they need to interpret the design accurately.

Being her third costume design I wanted to present some sort of evolution from her previous looks, but as this is also the first time she won’t be operating as a solo, I wanted to make sure that some of that evolution was drastic and really sets her apart from the first two solo versions.

At this point, I’m sticking with a very similar silhouette, as the fashionistas would describe it. We’ve got the familiar cloak, the armored boots, sleeves and corset over a fine set of light-weight but protective mail coverings that more or less mimic the shape and rhythm of her previous designs. The big change here is the styling of her armor. Early on, Eiryss established a particular beat in Iosan armor design that included flexible segmented rings and panels of leather armor held in place by button-like fasteners. This design beat shows up on her two previous incarnations as well as many of the Retribution of Scyrah model designs that would come years after her first appearance. You can see this beat on Adeptis Rahn under his heavy armored plates, or in various places on the battle mages, mage hunters or storm fall archers. But, new Eiryss isn’t a standard trooper. I’ve always seen her as a bit of a trend setter, and while she’s very much part of the Retribution army now, I want to keep a sense of her individual identity. Where I’ve ended up is a much more organic approach to that segmented armor, treating it now like larger panels that have been created by many pieces joined together as opposed to overlapping. The button-like fasteners still hold everything closed, but I think there’s something much more fluid and beautiful and the lines of the armor. It’s almost got a touch of the art nouveau.

The original Eiryss is fairly utilitarian in her look. With the Angel of Retribution incarnation, she gained a little more style with the decorative wing/feather motif on her cloak. In this new version, I want to push that styling toward a more embellished and personalized look. Though there is much to decide and do with the concept design, things are starting to settle in place.

A lot to get done in a short period of time, so I’m getting back to work on this right away! More to come soon…

(Please feel free to share the link, but please don’t repost the image. Thanks!)

 

Eye of the Tiger time!

Last week, I had the opportunity to help plan what I think is going to be the WARMACHINE event of the summer and if you happen to live anywhere in Southern California, you’re not going to want to miss it. The deets:

July 22, 2012 , 10 am PST
TWO GENERALS
Chris Kluwe vs. Matt Wilson
In the tabletop throw down of the year!

Presented by
MERCENARY MARKET
2263 Fairview Rd. Ste P
Coasta Mesa, CA
(949) 722-8342

So this is how it’s going to go down: players signing up for the event at Mercenary Market will choose (or be assigned) a team — mine or Chris Kluwe’s. The two teams will face off through four rounds of WARMACHINE bouts, each round escalating in point value. As the generals, Chris and I will be able to dynamically allocate benefits during the games. The winner of each game will earn a benefit for his or her general, which Chris and I will be able to use during our own final, winner-takes-all match.

Sounds simple enough, right? Should be a walk in the park for the guy who originally designed WARMACHINE. Hell, I might field an army at random just to keep things interesting, or maybe an army of all Trencher Chain Guns — how about that? I mean, who even has a chance against ME? I AM WARMACHINE! Err…it’s not so simple…

For those of you who don’t know who Chris Kluwe is, he’s one of the most successful punters in the NFL and plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s also famous for being an avid gamer. As a gamer, one of his pastimes is miniatures games and by all accounts, his WARMACHINE flavor of choice is Cryx. Okay, neat, but what’s the problem with all this? Hang on, there’s more…

According to Wikipedia, Chris is 6’4″ and 215 lbs. Now, that officially makes him the most physically imposing opponent I’ve ever played against (Sorry, DevilSquid!) but that’s not what has me shaking in my boots. No, in my enthusiasm for this exciting event, I forgot something.

(Drum roll for the dirty-secret confession…)

I don’t know how to play.

(record screech)

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say! You’re the original designer of the game! How do you not know how to play? Let me qualify that: I don’t know how to play ‘well’. Designing games and playing games are two totally different animals. If I can be so gauche as to use a tangentially relevant sports metaphor, the Coach with his years of experience and study might know exactly how to beat the other team, but he’s not going to go out on the field and throw the winning pass. I know, it’s barely the same thing, but you get the idea. Just because I can design games, and just because I conceived of this thing ten years ago, doesn’t mean I’m any good at it.

I don’t know what Mr. Kluwe’s win-loss record looks like, but I don’t even have one. Well, that’s not entirely true — I have played one recreational game with the MkII rules of WARMACHINE against the game’s current designer and mastermind, Jason Soles. Now, unlike me, Jason possesses incredible courage and never hesitates to wade onto the battlefield to slug it out with anyone who comes at him. And he’s good. Damned good. Jason is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer with laser-like focus who takes sadistic enjoyment not just in winning, but in making you watch while he feasts on your insides. I’m pretty sure Jason was the kid who pulled the wings off of flies just because he could, but somehow that kid grew up into a strategic and tactical genius and one hell of a game designer. If you’ve had the pleasure (or have endured the opportunity) to play against Jason, then you know how tough he can be. At conventions, I like to stop in and see what Jason’s score is, and while he wins the vast majority of his games, I’m always surprised to find out that there are some that he loses. And if Jason can be beat, I have no chance.

In the past two years I became a father, moved states, and finished two short films — oh, and I did a few things for Privateer as well. It hasn’t left a lot of time for playing games, even my own. That one recreational game I got in against Jason two years ago was a blast, but it obviously didn’t go well for me. I  ran a Tier 4 Siege list — The Big Guns — that was more an exercise in how much artillery I could get on the table than anything else. And yes, I maxed out my FA of Trencher Chain Guns. But every figure on that table was painted, I’ll have you know! Even so, each one died a valiant death to Jason’s assaulting Cryxian horde.

I’m having flashbacks to the massacre that was that game. Cygnar vs. Cryx. It’s always been a tough one for me. I love a standup fight, armor against amor. Taking apart Juggernauts and Destroyers at range with a battery of Defenders has always been my strong suite. But tricky armies, and armies with hordes of infantry — those I have a harder time against, even if I did help come up with the rules for those things. I don’t have much intel about what Chris will be fielding or how he plays, but he said he’s bringing Cryx and he mentioned his ‘Banes’. That’s not a lot to go on.

But I’m not giving up! Oh no, it’s Rocky Balboa time! (Cue Eye of the Tiger, please) I’m having my army shipped down from Seattle right now and I’m going to spend the next four weeks tuning it up and training. I need to get some games in, shake the rust off, get my mojo back. I’m going to run up and down some stairs, tattoo ‘Page 5’ on my forehead and get my head back in this game, from a player’s perspective, not a designer’s. I’m not going down without a fight. Who knows, I might have a great team and maybe I’ll get some lucky dice rolls!

Wait a second…Rocky lost, didn’t he.

Shit.

 

 

 

Knowing when to walk away…

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci

That quote probably goes through my head a dozen times a day, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. You get bored, you get sick of looking at the thing you’ve been working on for god knows how long, you run out of time, you forget where you left off…there are a multitude of reasons that you might walk away from a piece of art, a film, a story, a song, or whatever creative endeavor has been feeding on your soul like some invisible, soul-sucking vampire that thrives on souls. But there’s another old adage:

You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
— Kenny Rogers

Like many ambitious or wayward young people (take your pick) I entered college almost exactly three months after I graduated high school. I enrolled in a state university with the ambition of becoming an illustrator and ultimately a production designer in the film industry. After two semesters of repeating the same curriculum I’d just had for four years in public school, and having the opportunity to take about one unit of art course for every four units of non-art-related courses, I folded my hand and dropped out. I took my tuition grants and bought a bunch of art books, then buckled down and actually learned to draw. I’m not condemning higher education (I’m married to a doctor, after all), I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. Possibly my expectations were misguided — I really wanted to focus on art. Or possibly, it’s because in the short time I was actually enrolled in college, I didn’t come across one art instructor in those lower division classes that I felt was helping me achieve any of my artistic goals. At the age of 19, I made a very difficult decision to go against everything that had been drilled into me since I entered the public school system and I walked away (ran away, really!) from my extended education with the newly adopted goal of becoming a professional comic book artist! But that’s a story for another day, what I want to tell you about is the one instructor in my life that taught me a single damn thing about art, and it wasn’t how to draw.

His name is Rock Newcomb (couldn’t find a dedicated website for him, so this is the best I could do). He used to teach at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, where I went to school my senior year. Mr. Newcomb (‘the Nuke’ as the kids called him affectionately) is an amazing artist (check out that link) and had a character unlike any other I encountered in fourteen years of schoolin’. He had a way of giving you just the right amount of shit that you were inspired to work harder and be better — if you gave a shit about art, anyway. He didn’t teach it, so much as he facilitated it. He’d give you free range to explore and create but there were always boundaries, and when you hit them, it was like hitting an electric fence. After one year with the Nuke, he didn’t teach me a single worthwhile thing about drawing or painting, but what he taught me was a lesson I’d never forget and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for him.

Each semester we had a certain number of pieces to complete and they had to coincide with specific subject matter that Mr. Newcomb had determined would be beneficial to our artistic development. The subjects weren’t necessarily interesting, but I learned that if I positioned a good argument to him, Newcomb would give me the latitude to stretch my creative wings. For instance, we had to do a portrait; he let me paint a human skull that was the centerpiece of a surreal anti-toxic waste campaign poster. We had to do a piece depicting wildlife; he let me paint a dragon inspired by one of Roger Dean’s ASIA covers. There was a give and take to Mr. Newcomb’s approach to teaching, and it encouraged me to solve my artistic challenges creatively. However, the one thing the Nuke wouldn’t let me do was finish a piece of artwork.

Working an hour each day in class doesn’t get you very far very fast, so boredom could set in quickly on the work. After a couple weeks, I’d finish an assignment and I’d turn it in to Mr. Newcomb. He’d look at it for about thirty seconds and he’d offer no constructive criticism. He’d simply say, “You’re about half-way done.” Demoralized, I’d return to work on this piece of art that I had no idea what to do with and I’d just keep working on it wherever it seemed like I could make a little progress. A week later, I’d turn it in and Newcomb would say, “You’re about a third of the way there.” What???

I fumed. “Look, just because my favorite class is Art does’t mean I’m an idiot — I can do the math, and a week ago I was further along than I am now? That doesn’t make any sense!”

He’d just smile. It was a terrible smile that said, I don’t have to explain anything to you because I’m the one in charge here, and then he’d say, “Yep.”

Eventually, after I was completely exhausted, fed up, bored and sick to death with the assignment, he’d accept the final piece and give me an A- on it. But then the next assignment would go exactly the same way. After a while, I got wise to what he was doing. He wasn’t teaching me how to draw or paint, but he was teaching me a valuable lesson. At first, I thought it was patience, but that wasn’t it. He was teaching me how to finish a piece of art.

Mr. da Vinci, in his famous quote, summed up the angst of every artist. It’s so hard to know when you’re done, when to put the brush down, when to write ‘The End’. You’re bored and you’re sick of it, or you’re lost and can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. More often than not, though, what the project needs is just a little bit more, that last ten percent, the final polish that will make it great. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a game design or a piece of dramatic fiction, you can always take it a little further and make it a little better, but it takes an incredible amount of stamina to get there. Eventually, though, you have to finish. You can’t work at something forever, especially if it’s got a commercial application with a deadline. Every project must come to a end, sooner or later. But knowing when to hold on and keep pushing, or when you’re actually finished and when to walk away from it — that’s the art.

And if I ever actually figure out how to do it, I promise to disclose the secret in an entry on this blog!

 

 

Gray Area

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage and came across something I had completely forgotten existed. There’s a reason I leave the sculpting to the professionals, but these little guys occupy a soft spot in my heart and I’ve never been able to throw them out. They’re the only miniatures I’ve ever sculpted or ever will. (The astute observer may recognize some pilfered bits from other games…)

When they're this cute, you don't mind the probe so much!

WARMACHINE wasn’t the first miniatures game I ever sat down to design. Almost two decades ago, I booted around a number of game ideas with a wargaming buddy. The one that made it furthest into development couldn’t look more different than WARMACHINE or HORDES. It was hard core sic-fi, deadly, highly complex, and took about five hours to play a game, which we thought was pretty good back then! There was also no world to it — it was purely an exercise in game design. But we each had our own ‘factions’ that we brought to the game, and mine definitely reflected my influences over the years.

It was the mid 90’s. X-Files was the coolest thing on TV, X-Com was my favorite computer game, and crop circles were regular news items. Being a lover of UFO mythology since Leonard Nimoy hosted IN SEARCH OF when I was a kid, I loved anything to do with the idea of extra-terrestrials, and I wanted to be able to play with them in my favorite hobby. A couple weeks and a pound of Sculpy later, I was raiding towns and abducting hapless victims with an elite tactical unit of well-armed alien Grays.

So, it’s almost twenty years later, and what am I doing? Making movies and games about bug-eyed aliens. I guess the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same…

(Don’t worry, I promise never to sculpt anything for Privateer!!! But if you haven’t checked out [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, please have a look!)

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

The Suggestion Box

Maintaining a blog, I’ve found, isn’t easy. It’s kind of become a fourth job. The hard part isn’t the writing. I crank out pages of emails, stories, and outlines every day. For me, the difficult part is in coming up with that next idea that will make an interesting article. Some articles, like the Eiryss concept discussion, write themselves. Others are more timely and in the moment, springing from some fit of inspiration to become words and pictures on the page. But whether it’s focused content with wide appeal or the muddled musings of a mad man, I find it a bit of a trick to get out in front of my self-imposed publishing schedule.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board, 1942. Public Domain Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had great success harvesting loads of responses from the new Eiryss design and WARMACHINE VS. Iron Kingdoms movie topics. Today, I’m looking for suggestions and questions on topics that would make content on this blog interesting to you. Broadly, my area of expertise is ‘creativity’, but I dual-wield writing and illustration, and I specialize in game design. I’m multi-classing as a writer-artist-filmmaker-game designer-businessman so I can cover a lot of topics that relate to the production side of genre-based media. I frequently get emails from college students working on papers or aspiring artists and game designers looking for tips or advice on how to pursue a career path, and I may start adapting these to blog entries as well, but I’d like to find out what interests the people who have eyes on this site — beyond just sneak peaks of new miniatures when I have something to leak!

So, be general or be specific and post your ideas in the comments section. If someone posts an idea you really like, give it an extra ‘Here here!’ and I’ll know that’s something I should give extra consideration to. I’ll use your suggestions and ideas to generate delicious content for future blog entries that will hopefully build this site into a resource for anyone interested in ‘creativity’.

The Office for Emergency Management thanks you for your support.

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

Today I turned 40. Thank you for your condolences. But I’m finding it’s not so bad, really. I had a much harder time turning 30.

For me, the transition between 29 and 30 was accompanied by a major reality check. You might be an adult in your 20’s, but it seems you’re not expected to act like one. It’s almost like a free pass to enjoy the most irresponsible time of your life. You party, you take chances, you accumulate stupid debt on futons, lava lamps, and unwise automobile purchases, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Thirty, though — at thirty, you better have your shit together. You’re way past your college years, way past that time where it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone knows you’ll learn from them, and no one is going to be bailing you out when you blow it anymore, at least they shouldn’t. When I hit 30, I found myself with no higher education to speak of, a pending layoff, and a fledgling company that at that time was actually on the express elevator to financial DOOM! I’d used up all my ‘get out of jail free’ cards, and had no idea what the next year would hold, much less the next five or ten. I remember spending a day soul searching, looking for some sort of road sign to life that would point me in the right direction and guide my way. I never found the sign. There was no bolt out of the blue or grand epiphany. Instead, I just kept doing what felt right in the moment, and everything seemed to work out okay.

I’m waxing nostalgic today — not because of the years behind me, but because I realized today why my birthdays as a kid were such a special time for me. Every year for my birthday, my mom pulled me out of school and took me to the movies, and for me it was the greatest day of the year. As long as there have been big, blockbuster movies, the biggest and the best have come out in May and June, right before school got out for the summer. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BLADE RUNNER (technically released a few weeks later than my birthday, but I remember seeing the poster when I went to see THE WRATH OF KHAN)  — the best of the best usually dropped within days, if not weeks of my birthday! Somewhere, my brain re-wired to associate my favorite movies with my birthday and I’d look forward to the big event for months. Today, as I’m pining away for the release of Sir Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS, I realize that at 40 years old, 30 years after the release of BLADE RUNNER, very little has changed about me.

I love movies, toys, and games today just as much as I did when I was a kid and I think no amount of years behind me will ever temper that. I eagerly await every new phase in my son’s development, and quite selfishly, so that I can once again shamelessly indulge myself in these things I love (not that I’ve held back much, mind you). The one thing that has changed about me, though, is my perspective. The passage of time doesn’t provide any insight to life, but experience — the mileage — does. Between 30 and 40, I managed to rack up some serious XP. Most people would equate the mileage to the toll living takes on your body, and I’ve got more than my fair share of squeaky parts. But in my mind, I think unlike cars, that mileage has an upside — wisdom.

Some of the best wisdom came from those summer movies:

“Imagine what you will be, and it will be so.”
–Russel Crowe, GLADIATOR

“Goonies never say die!”
— Sean Astin, THE GOONIES

“No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”
— Yoda (Frank Oz), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

You don’t have to be a Jedi master to be wise. You just have to learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop making mistakes in my 30’s like I thought you were supposed to, but I did keep learning from them. One lesson, looking back, is that I shouldn’t have feared turning 30. In fact, it’s turned out to be the best decade of my life. Worrying about getting old, I’ve realized, is a waste of time. Embrace the mileage. Just keep doing what feels right in the moment, and everything turns out okay.

Now I’m not saying I’m eager to turn 50 — that’s REALLY FREAKING OLD! But right now, 40 feels pretty damn good.

Thanks Mom.