Monday, June 25, 2012

Happenings At The Shipyards

Despite having any number of models I could be painting for Warhammer, 40K or even D&D, I found it impossible to resist the siren call of Mongoose Publishing's new Star Fleet models, inspired by the original Star Trek television series.

I had explored the original Star Fleet Battles game many years ago and just found it too tedious to be enjoyable, with its cumbersome energy allocation and damage recording piled on top of a turn with 32 separate phases for moving and shooting. It was like they had taken the premise of starship versus starship combat and sucked all the fun out of it, and accordingly created a game more amenable to budgeting and scheduling ("Shutting off power to the zero-gravity washrooms Captain!") than tactics or drama. For years I kept the original rulebook in my night table since it duplicated the effect of a Class II soporific without a prescription. The game certainly has its fans though, and is still being played more than two decades after I set it aside in favor of the FASA Tactical Starship Combat Simulator and GW's excellent Battlefleet Gothic.

Mongoose's game, A Call to Arms, borrowed a lot of the good stuff from BFG, abstracted it even further, and used its Babylon 5 licenses a setting before creating their own sci-fi background. B5 has drifted away from relevancy in a way that Star Trek never has, so they have partnered with Amarillo Design Bureau, makers of the Star Fleet Battles hexagon-based boardgame, for this new joint endeavour.

Rules notwithstanding, the big appeal for me is the esthetics. The new Mongoose models are a significantly larger scale than the models I painted up for STCS in the mid-eighties (feelin' old much?) and have even more detail than the very nice looking models FASA produced at the time. The licensing agreement means that only ships and races featured in the original series, the animated series, or created by ADB can be used, so my third favorite Star Trek ship, the Reliant from Wrath of Khan, will not be making an appearance.

The ADB designs are drawn from form over function, with larger, more powerfully armed ships requiring three or even four additional warp nacelles, so many of their ships lack the grace of the Enterprise's iconic lines, or the gunslinger menace of the Klingon D7 battlecruiser. They don't usually stray too far from the original principles though, and you can usually tell what fleet a given ship is associated with, and usually a sense of its role or at least relative strength just by looking at it, which is pretty critical to miniatures gaming.

Past experience has taught me that before exploring the rules or models, I needed to be sure there would be opponents for me to put my fleet up against, so I asked noted Star Trek fan (Trekker? Trekkie? If you are splitting those hairs, the odds are you've already lost, my friend) Earl if he would be interested, and sealed the deal by giving him first dibs on the Federation, with myself angling for the Klingons. Earl suggested his brother Sean might be interested, and he quickly oriented himself to the Romulans.

The ships and rulebooks arrived last Thursday, and I emailed the other commanders that evening so we could arrange to get together and begin laying hulls. Because the release agent they use to get the models out of the molds easily often prevents undercoat and glue from adhering as well as it should, I washed all the models in soapy water before Sean and Earl came over, although the resin dreadnoughts apparently don't require this.

I got my Klingon ships built and primed before the others arrived so I could focus on helping them with removing the mold lines and getting the models assembled from their Federation and Romulan squadrons. Sean has some experience working with miniatures having played 40K, but it had been a while. Luckily 3 of his 5 figures were single piece castings that required no assembly at all, including his immense dreadnought! The nacelle wings on the classic Romulan ships don't offer a lot of purchase however (not too unlike the Klingon ships, really), and were a bit of a challenge to glue. The best feature of the Romulan ships though is that some of them have the classic 'Bird of Prey' heraldry etched into their keels, so you don't have to draw them on or use an unwieldy decal.

Earl was not so lucky, and as the modeler with the least recent experience he of course received the fleet which required the most construction; his five ships had more pieces than mine and Sean's combined. The tiny sensor dishes on the secondary hull are an individual piece, and I almost discarded one by accident when I was washing them, thinking it was a piece of flashing or sprue! On the plus side though, they are probably the best looking craft in the game, and he aligned their many components admirably.

While we were waiting for the primer to dry on their fleets, I took the opportunity to put some 'kolor' on my Klingons with a vintage can of Dark Angel Green spray. I would have preferred to use a shade with a bit more grey in it, perhaps Catachan Green, but I'm certainly not one to turn his nose up at convenience like that. Besides, with some drybrushing and a bit of highlighting, they should end up looking pretty striking against the black starfield playmat we intend to use for our games.

The most important thing is to get the ships to a playable state as quickly as possible so we can commence tactical operations at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime we can also struggle to come up with some evocative ship names.

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