Monday, January 14, 2008
Took me about one and a half years, but they're done now.
Flames of War is a popular game set in World War Two, played in 15mm. Players field historically accurate armies of the period and simulate battles with a fair degree of realism.
But what if aliens invaded?
Choosing the Right Alien
The first challenge for the modeler is what to use. No mecha monstrosities or salivating xenomorphs for this period. Aliens of this period wore bubble helmets, had green (Martian) and blue (Venusian) skin, brightly colored equipment with fantastic names like "Atomizers" and "X-Bombs."
The second challenge is a gamer's challenge - the alien army must be easily compatible with the Flames of War rules and design format. They need to be on the right sized bases, they should be organized into platoons, they need to have corresponding units for infantry, armor, artillery. Not only does this allow alien-specific rules to be written for the game, but it allows the aliens to be played as any official army it conveniently mirrors (fallschirmjager Germans, Italians in North Africa, or whatever).
To my knowledge, Zombiesmith's Aphids are the most easily slotted-in match. They come in convenient packs (infantry platoon, mortar platoon, bike squads and platoons, and best of all an infantry company deal), and cost less at retail than Flames of War costs me at wholesale.
Modeling your Alien Army
The aphid bikes look pretty crap and the only support weapon offered are mortars, but the bike riders are pretty handy (reference the ripper swarm cavalry conversions) and more weapon options are easily available with a trip to www.15mm.co.uk (which is also an excellent source of other 15mm aliens, especially grays). I used some Eldar parts that were lying around to make my "Disintegrator Rays," and of course if I had D-Ray tanks I could also have D-Ray artillery (D-particles are very dense you see, and when fired on a low power carrier wave the rays are easily bent by the mass of the earth, allowing artillery to fire at targets beyond the horizon).
The modeling was pretty straight forward. I put together three infantry platoons to make a company, and gave it a mortar platoon for support. They are rather small mortars so would be medium range ones at most. This is the WYSIWYG rule: What You See Is What You Get. It's inappropriate in a wargame to call a cave man mini a tank, because your opponent, who has enough to think about, should not have to deal with a non-intuitively modeled army.
WYSIWYG is why the frog artillery is aggressive looking, and also why they are based on the larger, Flames of War, artillery bases. The "radio operators" are just aphid bikers, with a Flames of War 50 cal. machine guns stuck on their backpacks vertically to look like big radios.
The cavalry unit can be fielded as scouts, artillery spotters, or both. They are not a large unit because large cavalry units are inappropriate for World War Two, alternative or otherwise (and if you're Polish you should know better by now). The mounts are just tyranid rippers.
The tanks are what are called scratchbuilds - they are completely cobbled together out of bits and pieces. The hoverskirts are just large, 40mm square bases, and the turrets are the lids of old GW paint bottles. The fins, boosters, and guns are all Eldar bits -- they had a rather classic scifi look to them which made them excellent choices.
The basing is not otherworldly, one would expect at least a Martian red. Originally this was what I had planned but it was too garish even for my tastes, while the more natural basing added a nice brown-green to moderate the scheme a bit, and gives the impression that they are invading forces that are fighting on Earth.
Reinforcements of the Imperial Expeditionary Force
The obvious choices are some other support weapons, "machine gun" team equivalents for example. Perhaps some anti-tank units, pioneers / engineers, and storm troops. More tanks would always be a good idea, and some other kinds of tank and infantry transport as well.
Well that's for making sure the army can easily slot into the role of any other Flames of War Army - and hardly the ultimate goal! What one really want to do is now add options that will give the army its own feel, style of play, and be appropriately '50s scifi.
I honestly don't know enough about the period to decide what that should be, and will need to do some research. Dan Dare was mostly fighting the Mekons in space and Flash Gordon was perhaps a bit too early (the '30s), but I'm sure a few sleepless nights on the net and some grainy classics on Itunes will give me some ideas.
Being invading, rapacious aliens from space, I'm thinking drop pods, lizard monsters, slaves, and something to do with the D-Ray idea.
And that's before we even look at aircraft.
Adding Character - Zurga The Merciless!
Even a historical tour de force like Flames of War has characters with special abilities. Pulp scifi needs no excuses. The army is the Imperial Expeditionary Force lead by Zurga the Merciless. This is actually not a Ming reference, but to the Zurga, the base lead from Les Pêcheurs de Perles, (The Pearl Fishers) a French opera by Georges Bizet I had the privilege of seeing over the weekend. Zurga is of course a perfect pulp villain name, and since he wore a bathrobe as a cape at one point as was described as merciless, well....
Zurga the Merciless ("Zurga TheMerciless" on Facebook if you want to add him) adds a whole new dimension for character and of course for humor.
Zurga is a minor military officer with ideas above his station, one of many, many spawnlings of the mighty but indolent Emperor. The intrigues of the royal court are light years away, but successful campaigns abroad would build his prestige and hard boild veterans backed by enslaved / conscripted conquered peoples make a formidable force for toppling emperors, pretenders, and upstart kinsmen.
Is Zurga advised by the priesthood? Perhaps are crazed hermit? Or worse, a wild haired alien covered in tattoos and wode? Does Zurga have to send back prisoners for the mines, rare metals, and exotic beasts
to build favor?
These all effect modeling, and as a result gaming. If he must plunder resources he'll travel with huge drilling machines and tree-tearing tripods: these make for interesting tanks.
If he has to curry good will, he will get to roll for "the Emperor's favor," before battles, getting useful things like orbital strikes of janissaries - or perhaps assassination attempts and tax collector visits.
The more ridiculous, the better.