Fantasy – Rhazgra the Seneschal and Retinue

The dark armoured warriors stepped further into the darkness of the tunnels, moving carefully over the loose sand and scree that covered the incline. There were four of them, the rest of the band left above to guard the entrance against any intruders while the chosen few ventured deep into the tombs. They were looking for something, something to bring their lord greater power.

At the bottom of the stone ramp the warriors paused, listening. The tunnels around them were inky black, not even the strange glowing crystal the cave above had contained. It was also quiet, still, not even the sound of the wind whistling through the caverns.

“Rhalar, light.” The tone of the leader of the band, Rhazgra the Seneschal, was short and to the point, the brisk words of a commander used to seeing her action done. She didn’t bother to turn, instead crouching behind her shield, her mace held low in the enclosed space.

“Of course, sister” the taller mage answered, her voice with an ethereal edge to it, the greenish glow of the scars in her cheek become stronger as her hand ignited, green fire wreathing it like a beast desperate to flee. With a delicate motion, she place the fire inside the top of the staff, letting it writhe over the metal as in it was in pain.

“Where to now Seneschal? These tunnels all look the same.” The Dour asked, his voice like the grinding of stone against stone, his axe resting against his shield as his helm leaned forward.

“Rhalar will guide us, won’t you beautiful?” Arkfel the Slayer, the pelt of a great scaled beast over his shoulder moving as he laughed quietly to himself, only stopping when he felt the glower from his leader.

Ignoring such pedestrian things, the sorcerer lifted her glowing hands, the magical energy now spilling fully from her eyes and the scars on her face before evaporating into the air. She turned to look down each of the tunnels, the glow seeing to burn away the darkness, before she focused on one in particular. “The way ahead. There is something dangerous, old, long dead but now disturbed.” Rhalar lifted up her hands, letting the staff float beside her as she pushed her mind forward, attempting to understand the presence before her.

“The treasure’s guardian? Or something else those damn Templars have disturbed?” Rhazgra asked, turning slightly to look at her sister. Spotting the way her hands shook and the way green fire was emitting from her eyes even as her face creased with the effort, Rhazgra placed her shield down and delicately guided her sister’s hand back to the staff, the cold metal bringing her back to the present. She seemed to sign, her shoulders heaving as she drank in the cool air.

“Careful, beloved sister. It would be unwise for you to push yourself too hard before we have reached the prize. I’ll need your mind to unlock it’s traps.” She pulled her taller sister’s head down so their brows met, the anxious sweat of the mage resting against the cool of the warrior. “Besides,” she smiled “I would hate to have to leave you behind in favour of the treasure.”

Rhalar smiled. “I know sister, but I do not think you will need to. I know The Patron smiles on us this day. I can feel her whispers in the air.”

Yep, it happens to the best of us. Eventually anyone playing Sci-fi or Fantasy finds themselves looking at Chaos Warriors and reflecting on just how cool they look. They combine the glorious appeal of knights in armour but with that dark fantasy baroque look that means they just drip with character. They are the warriors that burn down the hero’s village as child, thus setting off the story. They are the Dark Figures that chase your heroes across the plains, slaying anyone in their way. And right at the end, they are the army you fight through to take on their leader. As you might guess, I adore the artwork and mental images, even if the normal models (released back in Warhammer Fantasy Battle days) are very static/designed for ranking up.

Seeing as I’m now working on very small (honesty) fantasy collection, and after seeing the Underworld Warband back when it was announced, I decided that these much more dynamic warriors were exactly what I wanted. Each of them looked like a real threat, a champion of the dark gods assembled alongside allies and rivals to take the fight to the enemy. What better troops to follow my Chaos Lord (who I’ve designed as some kind of Cursed Warrior/Undying King) than a collection of highly skilled individuals who just happen to be able to work together.


As a test bed, I decided to paint up the Underworld Warband “Khagra Ravagers”. Comprising of three warriors and a mage, it’s a great little introduction into the range. There are lots of shared character design elements among them – the armour and cloak combination, the multiple weapons and shield all ready to go, the smattering of decorations showing their allegiance.

As an aside, before I get into the figures, I’m just going to mention that I’m using my own names and descriptions for them. As much as I like Games Workshop’s setting, I’m one of those people who really like writing their own settings, characters and stories. As part of this, these four warriors will form the leaders of my Chosen Warriors, set to accompany the Lord into battle (seeing as he fights on foot). Additionally, as the greatest warriors among them, they are sent off to do specific tasks for their leader, ideally setting them up for small skirmish games.


First up we have a Warrior with shield and axe, ready to attack but in a relatively guarded pose. This is “The Dour”, an old warrior in a profession where that is a rarity. He’s basically Rhazgra’s main advisor/strong man, ready to offer the blunt opinion when required but then following her orders to the letter.

He’s also just really fun to paint, a relatively open pose with lots of finer details to add to. As the first figure painted, this was where I decided on the colours I would be using. Going for Valejo’s Royal Purple for the cloak really helps to make them look regal. I also used the classic Leadbelcher for the armour but after a quick look, a layer of black contrast over the top made it look the classic black armour that the Chaos Warriors are known for. On most, I decided to use mostly brass colours rather gold, helping to make them look less “fancy” than any Templars I am doing. The exception was the leader and mage, the gold marking them out as a little more important.


Next, with a weapon in each hand and animal pelt over the shoulder we have Arkfel the Slayer. With a pose like that, leaving himself entirely open and daring his enemy on, he seems like a real charming bastard of a warrior. Combine that with the pelt over his shoulder, I worked up the idea of the charming asshole who knows he has the skills to backup his boasting. Plus, if I’m doing the writing, a perfect partner to the mage, standing there to taunt attackers away from his beloved.

This guy is really similar pose to the Slambo figure from the olden days and I kind of love it. It was really fun working on him, especially with the scales over his shoulder. I originally started off with the colours reversed, only swapping to a more realistic look once I double checked some reference.


Rhazgra the Seneschal is of course the leader of this warband, standing in a dynamic pose to command her warriors forward. Her gear is more ornate than her fellows, she goes to battle without her helmet and that sneer of command. In her role as Seneschal, she is responsible for making sure her Lord’s affairs are in order, as well as enforcing his commands and protecting him with the help of the Chosen. At other times, she will go and do important tasks and quests herself. As for her (and her sister’s) origins, they are shrouded in mystery. Some say she is the daughter of a northern tribal chief, others say she ran away from the Templars as a teenage trainee to protect her sister. Either way, she’s a formidable warrior and great leader of her force.

As the figure that attracted to me this band, I was very careful to try and get her done just right. As well as the ornate details, the face is really well sculpted. Normally, my faces are apply base colour, wash, finish, barely even bothering to do the eyebrows. With Rhazgra, I used the Reikland fleshshade but then went back, adding eyebrows, highlights for the nose and cheek bones as well as a touch of gold though the piercing on her eyebrow. The markings on the side of her head were an attempt at tattoos which I think have the right effect. I also spent a lot of time on the hair, working from the black basecoat to the strip of white. In sort of the opposite way, I started off the wolf pelt with a very light grey, working my way down until the layer of black contrast paint over the top portions. Overall, I’m really happy with this model, one of the ones I’m most proud of.


And then we get to the mage.

So at first I originally painted her up using the original head. This sculpt was my least favourite in the set. I understand the visual of the cursed mage with the horns and hairless, and it makes sense for Warhammer. But in my head, this wasn’t the look I was wanting for the warband. These are supposed to be well trained and skilled warriors, not yet corrupted fully. The other issues was that the head lacks a lot of the details I’d usually rely on when painting – it’s not got much topological features to let the wash run into. I tried my best with the black and gold bands but it just looks so agressively… eh.

After a weekend of staring at the model, I decided enough is enough and went looking for an alternative head. I had, a while ago, purchased some alternative Stormcast heads (which are now being used in my Templar forces which I’ll be showing off soon) so I could get away from the “nope, we’re totally not space marines” look. Those heads, waiting for me to finish the box of Paladins I got for cheap from the local corner shop back up in Edinburgh for a tiny price, have been in my bits tray for a while. Pulling them out, I found one which was ideal, matching the look of Rhazgra while still looking a little magical. The only problem was that all the detail was on the wrong side of the head, forcing a slight change in pose.

Removing the head without damaging the paintwork was one of those butt clenching moments of hobby, trying very hard to scrape as little away as possible. Luckily I made a clean cut, cleaned up the resin part and then re-assembled the head into the slot, undercoating it via brush.

And now, here she is finished – Rhalar. With the new head, she looks like a true battle mage, just as likely to kick your ass with her fists than she is with magic. This better suits the mental image of her, working as her sister’s magical aid right next to her in battle. Her origins are as mysterious as her Sister’s and she shows promise of an even greater level of magic than she has already shown.

I’m really happy with the headswap, elevating this figure from okay to something I’m really happy with. I like how similar this model is in terms of gear to the actual warriors (such as the armour, cloak and the fur around her neck) while still having plenty of pieces that are different enough to make her stand out. The flames were especially fun to paint – I used the Hexwraith technical paint over a white basecoat and it worked out exactly as planned. I also managed to drip a little bit into the scars on her face, just to show the magic beginning to seep out.


Overall, this Underworlds unit was a fantastic way into painting more fantasy figures. I really recommend anyone interested in trying out a new Warhammer army take a look at these figures – they have some really nice details and it isn’t a huge amount of models to paint up. I’m also pretty happy with how the group has turned out, with a paint scheme that is relatively simple but looks awesome.

Next stage with these guys? Well I have 10 warriors, 5 knights and a lord on angry crocodile to finish off in a similar way to this warband. Beyond them, there are a few more less armoured chaos fighters to paint before I can move onto the big parts of the force – my Lord and his Patron.

Only a little terrified at the prospect of those two.

Impressions: Spectre’s Delta Release

A little delay on writing this one, but I finished off painting up the release of Spectre’s Delta Force guys from earlier this year. The first major release of 2021, these guys were definitely packed full of cool details and gear to paint and I had a pretty good time getting into them. While also learning how to paint camo again in a little bit of a death march.

If you want details on what the range consists of, I covered it in a previous post, so this will be more focused on what they were like as models and getting them painted up.

Assembly

As you may expect, they arrive in the traditional Spectre boxes with the foam interiors. The specialists come individually while the standard assaulters are in the squad pack.

Unlike the previous Spectre guys, however, these are now multipart. This is probably on the more extreme end, having two separate pieces to assemble, but shows off that these figures are now designed in multiple parts. Overall I found the fit reasonably good. There was definitely some that needed a touch of liquid green stuff in the gaps to fill them in.

Now that said, these new arrangements aren’t perfect, although this might be more of an issue with the inspiration. SIG MCXs have a very thin folding stock on and unfortunately on a few of them, the stock failed to appear in place when moulded (rather than having any signs of damage or debris in the box).

Luckily while 3D printing you generate a literal pile of resin tubes and so was quickly able to find a replacement. This isn’t perfect but with the right paint job should be much easier. On the other hand, the number of barrels I had to bend back into place was much much slimmer than a usual shipment of Spectre products. I think this change is definitely a positive, although I’m interested to see what other figures in this style look like.

Painting

Painting up these guys was a throwback to my traditional method of painting Ultramodern Special forces – aka, it’s time for a crapload of MultiCam painting with some tan webbing. However, there are a few little tweaks based on the models and their details. The first is that several models have softshell tops rather than the usual Crye Precision battle dress. For this, I decided to go with a mix of colours to make it a little more visually interest, mostly going for tans and greens.

There are two exceptions for these basic colours – the Delta Commander and the Scout. For the Commander, the basic t-shirt look is always cool. There is maybe a little look of “Captain America” to him with the blue, which would definitely make him stand out a little among a rebel force that he’s assisting. For the Scout, I originally wanted to do tigerstripe. However, I then realised I had 0 of the paints I wanted to use for it. So I shifted to try Desert NVG camo which I attempted… but then failed during the attempt. Instead, it ended up as a bit of blurry green which is distinct enough from the MultiCam to make him look like something special and unique (for the camo butterfly in the squad).

I also did some work with a few little details, just to make the operators stand out a bit. Little things like the Mechanix gloves or colouring in the glow sticks in Moot Green. The guns were also a new take on my usual setup – rather than the gunmetal grey, I instead used Leadbelcher with a thin layer of Contrast Black over the top. I’m actually really impressed with the final result, and I’ll definitely be doing it more.

Finally, the bases. These are the first modern guys I’ve finished using the Gaming Scenics Arid Grassland basing material. Like the others, I’m really impressed with just how good the mixes work out and are definitely an improvement over the pure sand I’ve done in the past.

Final Thoughts

So what do I think of this release now I’d finished them? I’m a big fan. These are definitely one of my favourite sets that Spectre has produced, with a good mix of poses and a great set of weapons. I think also the range is a pretty good starting point for anyone wanting to get into Ultramodern gaming, giving you a full squad of operators with a mix of gear ready for a variety of missions.

A few people asked about the sizing of the models. I do agree they are a little bulkier than most of the rest of the other operators, but nothing outside the realms of human variations. They just look like some boys who have been to the gym a lot.

Initial Impressions: Walled Ambassador’s Residence Set

As a modern wargamer bogged down in endless tiny conflicts in the Middle East, it can occasionally be difficult to find suitable buildings to fight through. Many I’ve covered here, but otherwise, you’re stuck picking up a whole host of generic adobes that don’t quite have the same feeling as the built-up and developed areas of key cities in the MENA region.

One key element of the more well-to-do areas in many of these places are walled compounds, either around public buildings and richer families. Differing from the adobe walls of the rural region (mostly through the visual side), these walls provide a very interesting set of challenges for a wargaming commander, forcing troops into killzones or requiring the use of tactical equipment to cross them.

In partnership with Footsore North America (formerly SASM), Sarissa Precision has released a range inspired certain compounds in Libya. To nitpick, technically the design on the buildings is closer to the CIA annex rather the main Ambassador’s compound immortalised in 13 Hours. However, no matter what the inspiration is, they do provide an easily purchased way to build up your own modern-day compound to storm/defend.


Walls

The key feature of any walled compound is, of course, the walls! Comprised of three pieces of MDF and two slices of greyboard, assembly on these sets are super easy. Wide piece at the base, thin piece at the top, place greyboard on each side. Done in literally 2 minutes. The wall segments are each 8 inches long and you get four of them in the separate packs (although only two of this smaller size are included in the Walled Ambassador’s Residence Set).

The main comment about these walls is the height. These are not minor obstacles, there are taller than a man and would require teamwork to cross. They would definitely do the job for marking out a protected building or just catching the eye when setting the table up.

I could also see them being easily modified with a few additional touches. Treadheadz on facebook has done some breached walls (something I may do with one of my additional sets) but there are plenty of other little tweaks. For example, some razor wire could easily be strung along the top if you really don’t want any visitors.

Posts

Of course, the wall panels above may look sturdy, but without proper support they will fall over to even the most minor explosive or errant arm. for this reason, most of the kits in the range include a common post design. The other elements have a pair of hooks on each side, that in turn slot into the posts for stability. The elements are also designed to match the base of the posts, removing any unwanted gaps in the base.

The vertical component of the post are actually four matching pieces. Two of them have slits cut to take the element hooks, while the other two are bare. The slitted portions have a pin that goes into the base, while their counterparts protrude slightly upwards, slotting into the top portion before being covered by a topping piece. By default, the posts are designed to be assembled as passthrough supports, connecting opposite sides to extend the walls.

However, it is important to note that the base has four slots that the bottom pins can fit into. This means that, if you wanted to add some variation to the look of your compounds, you could assemble the posts to make some right-angled turns or even create a T-shaped arrangement through the use of upright pieces from other posts. This does require a little modification, shaving down the top prong seeing as there is no longer a slot to slide into.

Corners

You could simply assemble the posts detailed above to create the corners of your compound, but the more visually pleasing (and more accurate) version is included in the kit. These curved walls are really clever in terms of construction, letting you have the curved shape, without losing the sturdiness of the rest of the MDF kits.

Rather being entirely MDF, only the core structure (the two end walls, the base and the roof) are made from wood. The actual curve is greyboard, with two interior pieces clamped between two exterior pieces. The design works really well – I’d also add the interior pieces can be put in either way around with no issues (the outer pieces covers any gaps).

Entrance

Of course, every compound needs an entranceway. And with this being a secure compound, it needs the proper place to check over anyone who approaches. The entrance is actually made up of several pieces, all tied together with the same hook and lot posts used in the rest of the system.

The main focus is, of course, the gate. A baseboard with two pillars attached (with slots on both sides for alternative uses), the actual gates themselves can swing freely letting you open and close them as the game requires. They can also be easily removed for storage (or if someone decides to risk ramming them mid-game). The gate style is definitely wrought iron and simple, but you could easily replace them with something different thanks to the ease of removal.

As well as the main gates, there are also two corner pieces. One is a normal corner piece (as detailed above) but the other is an armoured gate house. This has an internal door and an external window beside the gate. Much like the other corner pieces, it’s a similar construction

Now you may notice, I made a bit of a mess with it. I hadn’t realised that the inset piece is supposed to be a locator piece for the roof. I, of course, didn’t realise this until I’d glued it all together and then realised there was no way to access the interior. So I had to take a claw hammer to it to break the super glue before assembling it the correct way around. Luckily my textured spray paint should help to cover up the mistakes.

The entrance pack also includes an extra-long wall piece to match the gate assemblies size. This means you can easily assemble a square compound, without needing strange sizes of MDF wall. Apart from the size, it’s exactly the same as the normal walls.

Residence

Of course, there is no point in assembling an enclosed compound if there is nothing to enclose. The compound comes the Ambassador’s Residence, a medium-sized open-plan building with plenty of room on the room for a last-ditch defence.

So this was the midpoint of assembly and honestly, it was a pig getting the basic frame together. Things snapped, slots didn’t align and in the end, I swore quite a lot. I assume most of it was down to my own cackhandedness rather a particular design flaw, but be aware when assembling just in case you end up with a few missing elements to the doorways.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of how the edge of the roof is assembled. This is made out of three pieces of MDF per straight section. A central structural piece goes in first, followed by an outer piece (using the extended pegs from the roof) before a final, interior detail piece is added. I really like the effect this has – the roof feels like it has some real depth to it.

In addition to the main building, there is also a small single-room building. As you can see in the picture, it’s designed to be placed on top of the main building, taking the role of some rooftop quarters or interior access. However, I personally think it looks a little cramped, especially once figures, details and scatter are placed on the roof. This shed will definitely end up being used as a separate annex building.

Finally, a few touches I just had to mention. Both roofs have a ventilation unit in place. Although super simple (5 pieces of MDF, 4 of which are the same) I think it really adds to the look of the rooftop. Similarly, there is also a solar panel setup included on the sprues. It’s free-standing, so feel free to place it anywhere.


So that’s all the pieces, what does the compound as a whole look like? Well, here it is, along with a WIP vehicle and civilian to get a sense of the scale.

Assembly of the final compound is super simple. Using the hook and slot system, you just need to clip each piece together until you’ve connected them all up. The slots can be a little tight but I’ve not yet felt like something is about to break while building. There is also a useful amount of flex/give in the pieces once all put together – not enough for players to notice, but still easy to actually get everything apart again at the end of the night.

Overall the basic compound rough fills a two foot square on the board. This size definitely feels a little snug in my opinion, ideal for a single focus building (like a medium-sized house) and maybe. It does not fit anything like the Knights of Dice apartment blocks in its current state but can still fit some of the larger buildings from Sarissa’s other ranges (such as the colonial buildings). With the items included in the box, I’d also say it’s a little on the small side if the compound is the sole extent of the playing area. Without much dead ground to fill with scatter, games will end up being very short or not particularly interesting. This, to me, feels like a compound that plays a part in a larger table, without overstaying it’s welcome – somewhere for the players to be fighting to, from or alongside rather than just through.

Of course, this is just a bundle. You can buy all the various pieces separately – the wall pack, gates and corners all include plenty of posts while more of the residences would let you add additional structures in this style to your game. I have two sets of walls, a set of corners and another entrance gate. By using all of these, I should be able to assemble two of the normal-sized compounds or simply extend one out to a larger size, allowing for fighting actually inside the walls. Expect another article soon, once I’ve assembled all the various bits of MDF lying around my flat and have made some giant compounds.


Final thoughts? I think this is a great kit for anyone looking to play modern wargaming in a more built-up area. Being able to buy a series of walls that can be easily re-arranged and stored is a great time saver. The style of the kit could fit into most places in the modern world, not just in the MENA region. So no matter if you’re assembling a drug lord’s palace in South America or building up an embassy to be defended, I think this is definitely a range worth taking a look at.

Impressions: Gringo 40’s NVA – MENA Style

A wise man once said – “You will never have enough insurgents for wargaming”. And it’s kind of right! With such a variety of groups around the world, as well as the breadth and depth of equipment available to them. Due to this, ranges listed for Ultramodern can only go so far before you start wanting something a little fresher.

This led me to take a look at the Gringo 40’s range of NVA. Just glancing at the range, you don’t see the stereotypical Vietnamese look of the more rural fighters, and after seeing them painted up by Volley Fire Painting services, I just had to take a look. I picked up six figures (all that were available from the site when I purchased them) and started to begin my work with them.

First of all common features – the range is focused on the NVA fighting during the battle of Hue City. You don’t see the stereotypical pyjamas and conical hats that fill many other ranges. These are the NVA who moved into the city and then fought through the streets. As such, they are in shirts and trousers and all are equipped with chest rigs and a whole host of other kit to give them a well trained and supplied look.

As a minor note, I made a few modifications to them to make them a little bit more suitable for MENA. This was mainly me covering up sandalled feet. Although probably suitable to fighters in the region, I think the full covered feet is a more professional look, suitable for such a group of well armed fighters. Personally, I think I went a little heavy on the green stuff leading to some oversized feet, but I can work on that for next time.

The first four are standard AK armed fighters, their poses putting them in the midst of fighting. It’s a nice mix and they do look really good put next to each other, like a small group in the middle of the action. All of them wear the same shirt and trouser combination, with plenty of detail on the sculpting.

The rear shot shows off just how well equipped these guys are – a string of grenades across the back of their webbing, as well as a pile of pouches, water bottles and knives. I’m a fan of this look, especially when put alongside less well-equipped troops (such as the Spectre Militia ranges).

There is also a double pack of an NVA Leader and a female Runner. This pair works really well for my setting, including as it does a female fighter and a figure dressed in military garb. It’s easy to see the leader as an ex-regime fighter, still in his fatigues to show his experience and stand out among his irregular comrades.

As you can see, I did a few little green stuff tweaks. The female fighter received shoes and a headband, while the officer had the most vital addition – a moustache, to show his authority and make him look a little more suitable for the MENA area.

Of course, as with any range, some comparison shots are required. Here we have the classic lineup. From left to right: Empress, Eureka, Gringo40s, Spectre and Eureka. As you can see the Gringo40s NVA fit the size range perfectly, and from a distance, they will easily blend in with the rest. Weapons are a similar scale to Empress or Eureka, so don’t worry about them bending or breaking. Similarly, the figures arrived and needed barely any cleanup. Another win for them.

To conclude, I am very happy with the new additions to my milita collection. These guys (and girl) are nicely posed, fun to paint and packed full of character. The price per figure is very reasonable and postage is charged separately, meaning you aren’t overpaying for it, and arrives very promptly. Overall, I can heartily recommend both the company and the figures, no matter what setting they end up seeing action in. You can find them on the Gringo40’s site at http://www.gringo40s.com/north-vietnamese-army.html

Initial Impressions: Knights of Dice Tabula Rasa – Desert Villas

Way back in the November of 2017, I wrote an initial impressions of the Knights of Dice Tabula Rasa range. And approaching two years later… I haven’t advanced very far. However, Knights of Dice has continued to work, producing much more in their ranges. One thing especially interesting for me, however, is the Tabula Rasa villa range. As someone who is starting to really like buildings, you can actually fight through rather than just around, adding some larger multi-room buildings should help to make my games more interesting.

As a rough overall point, all three buildings are wonderful things to assemble. They pop easily from sprue, with very little work needed in terms of clean up. The construction is also nice and easy, in many cases tight enough to dry-fit the entire thing before only adding a little glue to secure them . One comment is that the sprues this time around are definitely on the larger side to support the larger footprint for the buildings, so expect some larger delivery boxes.

I did have a few issues with some missing pieces from the sets. None of these would have stopped construction (a missing step and a barrier) but both could be easily replaced from offcuts. In addition, Knights of Dice support is fantastic so missing pieces will be quickly sent out.

Above you can see the rough scale of the doors and windows. You can also see the details – these buildings are really just shells, lacking in pretty much all detail except structural elements such as interior walls and staircases. This is not a negative, it’s just pointing out the feature of this range.

Most importantly, stairs! In the original review, I picked out the almost smooth stairs a major negative. Well, it seems that KoD heard all about it and decided to tweak them to make them look a little more playable. I think the compromise makes them playable while not ruining the look.

Pictured here on the left is Compound 1 from the original release next to the villas. As you can see, the new buildings are on a larger footprint, with much larger second floors and often access to the rooftops. They feel a lot more like some of the hard work is done to make them into interesting games.


Villa 1

The first building up is a two-storey structure with access to the roof. This building looks like some town centre building, with a covered outdoor walkway and flat roof above. The interior is split into several rooms, two on each floor.

The pack also includes a removable ladder, ideal for quickly accessing the roof. You can also see just how many firing positions this building has, perfect for defending and a nightmare to assault.

Broken down you can see just how much floor space is available. Although only two rooms per floor, there is plenty of space to move through, with plenty of choke points to fight through. Additionally, I like the stairs having a little cover when you climb them.


Villa 2

Villa 2 is a bit more modern, offer a two-storey building with balcony and roof access, ideal for sunbathing, filming enemy forces or siting a heavy weapon.

Interesting to note, this building only has two ground floor doors on this side which could be an interesting tactical challenge. This building also supports the ladder from building 1, if you want to vary it up.

Broken down, you can see this building is mostly larger rooms, with the upstairs being only one interior room before leading outside.


Villa 3

Villa 3 is a bit of strange one. Apart from the very different style and fancy steps, this feels like a building from the original releases. However, with the sloping roof and elevated window, it is pretty distinctive on the tabletop.

Looking at the rear, you can see the side entrance. This passes under the stairs, which I should warn you includes a perfect hidey hole for ambushing assaulters.

Broken out, both floors only have a single large room. It’s also interesting to note that both floors have blind spots the other floor manages to expose – something to think about then placing them.


Villa 4

Finally, VIlla 4. This one looks and feels like a very modern building, a gently sloping roof combined with an exterior balcony

The backside shows the entrance locations and the multiple windows, as well as a better shot of the gently sloping roof angle. As you can see, there are plenty of firing points on this side, making assaulting it a genuine challenge.

This is probably the busiest of the four buildings, with a total of 5 rooms and a balcony. It also provides multiple entry points. on the two floors (ignoring the action movie technique of setting up a ladder onto the balcony itself. The two smaller rooms at the back of the house will be pretty interesting to take control of, especially without grenades.


Conclusion

So what do I think of them? Well, I love seeing the improvement to design these buildings show – they feel like Knights of Dice have learned from the original release and these now feel more like real buildings. As I keep banging on about, having buildings you can actually CQB through, rather than just treating as “occupied” or “unoccupied”, really lifts games from just simple skirmishes to feeling much more interesting.

At the same time, these are Tabula Rasa buildings. If you want something you buy, spray paint and then put on the table then I don’t think these are necessarily the best idea. They would be fine but they are really asking to have all the little detailing work, to give them that extra touch. But that said, I think these are the perfect starting point to just go wild with it.

Now, time to go get some more air con units and and bits of plasticard…

Impressions: Spectre Contractor Ops

I’ve got to admit, there is something about using Private Military Contractors in-game. Maybe it’s the flexibility of the models, maybe it’s the ease they can be added to any theatre or the extra punch they add to the force with their training. Or maybe I just like the stereotypical plots which end up with Special Forces guys fighting turncoat contractors, the lure of money too strong for their corporate masters.

Either way, I am always looking for new contractor models and I have especially loved Spectre’s. The original Kickstarter came with three packs showing three different types – Alpha (the super modern CQB team), Bravo (the AK wielding boys) and Delta (the classic Western PMC look). These figures are some of my favourites from the original batch and I have been waiting to see other figures to fit that niche. The Tier 1 Operators are pretty good but sometimes you really want something a little more outlandish…

The Contractor Ops pack comes with six operators, each dressed in t-shirts and tactical trousers. Each one is also equipped with a plate carrier and load-bearing gear, plenty of spaces for ammo and all sorts of kit. One interesting thing I like is the mix of weapon systems – two guys are armed with suppressed Vector SMGs, two guys with Scorpion Evo SMGs, one with a Tavor bullpup assault rifle and the last with an X95 assault carbine. This gives you a range of kit – it’s cool to note the guys with the unsurpassed weapons have suppressed sidearms to help out. These weapons are not exactly a standard mix for any military force – however, they all come with the image of portraying a well-equipped team, standing out from the usual AR15 armed operators.

Looking at the backs of them, you can really see just how much equipment and detail each of the figures has. Their belt rigs are pretty stacked, and most have some sort of pack or carry kit for all the specialised toys. The models also have some pretty non-regulation haircuts and facial hair – perfect for the non-government look and pretty fun to paint. I went for the blonde mohawk on one and a mixture of blonde and purple on the other, just a dash of colour without standing out too much.

As a little comparison, here are a few of the different groups from Spectre that could be used in the similar role of Western Private Military Contractors, with a few tweaks to the paint job. The Tier 1 Operators are the most obvious – in fact, I decided when painting these new figures to make them the contrast to the Tier 1 guys, swapping the paint schemes around. Task Force Operators and the SAS ranges are maybe a little more heavily equipped but the Green Berets, with their light loadout, could with the right paint scheme pass for a few Contractors in contact.


Overall, I’m a big fan of this pack. As I said at the top, I’m a sucker for anything contractor releated and these figures really deliver. The mix of weapons and poses, the little non-standard details – all help to make them look the part. I’m really excited to get them out on the table, either hunting down some corporate infiltrators, protecting a VP of a department during a deal or helping the local forces by providing technical assistance on the ground.

Impressions: Black Site Studios – War Zone Arabia

As a man with a sizeable collection of unpainted MDF, making it tabletop ready requires a big chunk of time and special techniques to get it ready for the tabletop. Between getting the right texture on and making sure the Agrax is deployed enough without bankrupting you, it does all build up. So the idea of purchasing pre-painted MDF can be pretty attractive.

There are a few companies doing it but the selection for gaming in the Middle East or North Africa is pretty limited. Luckily, Black Site Studios in the US have kicked off their War Zone Arabia range, bringing a load of buildings to fit the Middle Eastern zone. Spectre Miniatures were offering a pre-order on their products in the UK for a limited time and I just had to pick up a trio to try out.

First of all, let’s talk the basics. All the buildings arrive in a mixture of MDF and greyboard, laser-cut into pieces and ready to be popped from the sprue. Most of the building Sprue removed was relatively easy, although I did find a good few cases where some clean-up had to be done after removing from the sprue. Overall the kits all feel very nicely designed and well manufactured.

Instructions are available from the Black Site Studios website and are simple and easy to assemble. As with all MDF buildings, I really recommend dry-fitting everything, making sure they fit properly before applying the glue. There were some really snug fits, especially with the interior and exterior walls being separate pieces and needing to fit together. In a few cases, a little bit of percussive construction assistance was used just to make it all fit. However, aside from one piece seeming to need to be reversed, everything fitted together well, with tools only needed for a little bit of clean up. On the other hand, I need to stress that you should definitely read the instructions – I ended up skipping the outer decorative pieces when assembling the largest building and ended up unable to assemble them as intended (as you can see in the picture at the top).

For all the positives I do have to give a warning about the staircases. They are a monster to assemble, requiring the lining up of several steps and their locator pins between two outer pieces. I assembled three sets in the course of these buildings and each one was incredibly annoying. Additionally, the steps seem to be designed for figures mounted to penny bases, with incredibly small gaps between them. For everyone else, you either let the figures slip and slide or else just make sure people stand at the top and bottom of the staircases.


The first building I constructed is the Abboud Trading Company. The smallest of the buildings available, the building is a perfect store for your MENA street. With a roll-up door over a wide entrance, it’s easy to picture it being rolled up as the day starts, various goods waiting inside to be bought and sold. Alternatively, this may be where the HVT goes to ground, operators moving up to breach through the door and drag them out.

Around the back, you can see an additional entry, making the building perfect to fight through and presenting a challenge when defending. Additionally, the low walls on the partially assembled roof leads to some interesting fighting positions.

As you can see inside, there is a serving counter between the main door and the roll-up access. There is enough space to roll in a vehicle, letting you use this as a handy garage to hide key objectives in. Additionally, there is plenty of space inside for players to move around and actually fight, even on standard-sized 25mm bases. This is a common theme across all the buildings I noticed.


The next set is Turhan Imports. A single large room with staircase access to the roof, this building actually works really great when sat next to the trading company or assembled into a small compound. A big feature of this building is the cracked plaster on the other walls, the cream coloured greyboard placed over pale MDF brickwork. I think it works really well, especially from tabletop height.

At the rear, you can see one of those dammed staircases I mentioned further up. As you can see in the breakdown below, this piece is separate, letting you replace it with a ladder if you want to adjust the look. One thing I will mention is the piece of plaster you can see on the staircase. These pieces were not on the instructions, perfect for making each building look different. I think this is especially important if you were running multiple buildings on the same board.

Broken apart, you can see the building is a single large room. One trend through all of these is that the buildings ask for plenty of interior elements, a scattering of tables, sofas and chairs ready to be flipped for cover when people breach and clear.


Finally, lets take a look at the Temara Safehouse. And Oh Boy.

This building is huge. Like, seriously huge. With a footprint of over 1′ x 1′, you could very easily use this building as a game board all by itself. With multiple entry points, access to both floors and interior rooms, this is an assaulter’s nightmare.

As you can see on the other side, there are plenty of access and firing points to utilise. You can also see some of the incredibly nice detail work that is a stand out element of these kits. From the windows to the guard rail around the roof, these buildings definitely feel the part while also definitely being different from the rough adobes that are the go-to for the Middle East.

Now, this really is the money shot. By taking the building apart you can see just how much space for activities there are inside. Three rooms on the ground floor with two more above gives you plenty of spaces to sweep and clear. In addition, you can see the first floor has two staircases to allow access. Overall, this is one hell of an addition to any terrain range.


Overall, I am very impressed with the Black Site Studios buildings. Ignoring the fact the design of these constructions filled my brain with thoughts of Insurgency Sandstorm’s urban conflict zones, there are plenty of really nicely designed bits to them. Each building feels evocative, both fitting the range but also feeling something unique. I’m also a fan of them being very playable – opening doors, sensible access to all the rooms and space to move through, rather than just cramming figures in. The variety through the three buildings is also pretty spectacular – I’d love to see where else this range could go.

Am I going to throw all my unpainted buildings aware and swear only to buy prepainted? Honestly, no. I think these do an excellent job of letting you get past the painting stage and ready for the table, but I think I’ll be going back and painting these. It really comes down to two things – texture and me being a cack-handed fool. Spray-on texture just makes the MDF pop while a good paint job helps to cover up places where I made a mistake during assembly or let the glue on fingertips attach themselves to the greyboard. However, if this doesn’t interest you (or you can assemble them without being a moron) then I think these buildings are a fantastic purchase.

Now someone stop me before I buy all the compound walls I can cover myself in…

Impressions: Spectre Miniatures Drone Systems

Ultramodern war, especially in the last few years, has been marked with several iconic items. MRAPs, quad eye NVGS, the list of equipment that screams out this current time period. But I think the one that a lot of people think of has to be the unmaned vehicles. Be it an off the shelf quad copter carrying a frag grenade up to the Predator drones hovering over the battlefield, the robot is starting to take the strain.

So naturally, it was only right for Spectre to include rules and figures for them in their range. The figures were released back in October and have been sitting on my painting bench for a while, looking rather annoyed at me as I got distracted by other things. However, I have finally set it right and they are now ready for the table. So let’s take a look!

Quadcopters

Let’s start on the small side with the quadcopters. Both of these drones are pretty much designed to be man-portable surveillance devices, able to nip up and grab the higher ground. Spectre has produced two versions, each coming in the box with one of the operators.

The common thread is that these things are tiny. Single pieces of metal with intricate detail that would be very easy to lose if left outside of their containers so I don’t recommend magnetising these. Additionally, both sit upon flight stands, using the items bought from Spectre themselves. The bases look like their normal plastic bases with a hole drilled in the centre to attach a plastic rod through. For the small drones, I decided to clip the rod in half to let it sit a little lower and less likely to topple over from errant hands and arms. Painting wise was also pretty simple. Black undercoat, white spray over, nuln oil to pick out the details. Anything else would, in my opinion, just be excessive.

Also, these things are a pain in the ass to photo.

Out of the two, the Tier 1 drone is the more elegant and sleek. It’s almost a racing drone, tiny body and four propeller assemblies; it looks like it could be easily held in a pouch before deploying it. Actually, it’s very Ghost Recon-esque, which is perfect for the Tier 1 guys.

The insurgent drone, on the other hand, is a slightly larger model. It looks a lot more like a commercial drone, complete with gimballed camera underneath. It definitely fits their look and feel. The camera also provides a nice surface for mounting the flight stand.

Puma UAV

Of course, sometimes you need a drone with a little more loiter time. This is where the Puma comes in. Easily transportable via vehicle, deployable by a man running with it once the engine has started, the Puma can loiter above the battlefield for 2 hours, deploying a multi-role camera to send back information to the operator.

As a model, it’s a single piece of resin. There was a little bit to clean up and had to straighten the wings a tiny bit with some hot water but otherwise, it was simply a case of sticking it to the flight stand and it was ready to go! Alternatively, you could just mount it in the back of your vehicles to have it stowed. Again same paint job as the smaller drone (black -> white -> nuln oil) – it really helps to pick out the panel details. I also glued it on at a slight angle, making it look like it’s in the middle of a pylon turn.

MAARS Robot

I’ve wanted these guys for far too long. Maybe I need to blame Medal of Honour Warfighter, where you got to drive one of these through some ruined buildings in Somalia, or maybe I just like making the Robot take the strain. The MAARS is an unmanned ground vehicle, similar to a bomb disposal bot but mounting a set of weapon systems (an M240 MMG and quad M203s), providing a remote-controlled fire support platform with none of the bitching an infantryman carrying this setup would provide.

Assembly was pretty simple (you can see it better in the unpainted image above). Most important thing is to dry fit every step of the way. In addition, take care with the belt feed for the M240 – I managed to lose it for one of my drones somewhere during assembly.

Drone Operators

Of course, you’ll be needing someone to control your drones. Some can be controlled from off-board but it’s always handy to have a controller on hand at close range, ideal for reacting much faster than their off-board counterpart. Something I love about both of these controller is how useful they can be – as well as controlling drones, they could be pressed into service as JTACs to bring in your off-board support or as hackers to fit the Specialist role mentioned in the new rulebook.

The Tier 1 Operator is modelled knelt, with his control unit in hand. I do really like the whole setup, from the baseball cap/headphones combo, the aerial on his back and even just the pose. Weapon wise, the Tier 1 operator continues that ranges use of the SIG MCX, except this time going for the Rattler, the tiny Personal Defence Weapon version of it.

Again as a contrast, the Insurgent drone control is seated on the phone while tapping away on his laptop. The civilian garb and rucksack I think will make him very useful for a variety of roles – I can definitely see him hitting the board a lot. On the other hand, he is lacking a weapon, so he may need a minder to keep him safe.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think that drones add a brand new element that is unique to modern wargaming. Spectre’s releases so far provide a very nice starting point. Obviously, I’d love to see operators for some of the other ranges (a Nomad operator would be especially cool). But more importantly, just having them available at all means you can get interesting tactical situations setup and on the board, using the intelligence gathering (or even the offensive) capability to provide support to your forces. Overall, these are definitely some elements to pick up.