Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Say Cheese! LimoStudio Photography Table Top Kit

LimoStudio Photography Table Top Photo Light Tent Kit

Photo Tent with White Backdrop
In an effort to make this blog better, I took advantage of a sale that popped up on Amazon and sprung for the LimoStudio Photography Table Top Photo Light Tent Kit ($45.99). The aim of course if for better pictures since everything I have taken to date has been with my cell phone (Motorola Droid Razer HD) with figures light by the chandelier over our kitchen table. Sure the pictures were ok, but hopefully with the addition of the light kit I can get them better. I also swapped out my phone for our Nikon Coolpix L810 ($209.99). This is an old model, but one you can still get with ease. The camera is a 16.1 MP with a bunch of settings. This is not a digital SLR, though I do have a regular Nikon SLR that I may try out with this set up and process the photos from there. Maybe when I paint something that I feel worthy enough.

Kit Contents

The kit includes the folding light tent. The entire kit is housed in a collapsible bag. When closed the bag has two straps to keep the flaps shut, three long pockets on the front, and a carrying handle. The left and right sides are permanently fixed to the bag. The top is fixed to the right side then connects to the left side with velcro. The kit comes with four different backdrops (black, white, red, and blue). The backdrops have a non-reflective surface to prevent light glare. The backdrops attach to the top rear of the light tent with a strip of velcro. The light box measures out at 24"x 24".

Double Head Light Collapsed
Light is supplied by two double head studio lights. The lights can swivel in any direction to provide direct, off-set, or indirect lighting. The lights can have a filter added to the front to change the light color, but the default is designed to offer even color temperature light. The upright of the light stand contains a collapsible tripod for better storage.

Double Head Light Standing
The camera stand is adjustable to every angle and can extend from 10.5" to 17". The stand has a wide base which provides a very stable platform. The top of the stand has a ball swivel for the camera mount which allows you to rotate the camera in every direction.

The kit contains a phone holder attachment which allows you to use an iPhone (3G, 4G, 4, 4S, or 5) or an iPad. I didn't attempt to use the phone holder.

Photo Comparison

I used my Wasteland Hulk figure as the studio model. This is a modified Reaper Bones clay golem miniature. The little dot on the white backdrop in the light tent in the first image on this post is the Wasteland Hulk.

Wasteland Hulk on Table
Immediately, you can see how poorly lit the model is when just on the table. This is mostly because the light is above the miniature and the amount of light prevents the flash from firing. Usually with my camera, I adjust for this by using the maximum zoom available to get the most light on the miniature.

Wasteland Hulk in Photo Box
The Hulk in the light tent has a much better lighting. You can still see the shadows, but most of the shadows are gone. I think some of this is because I don't know how to light the miniature appropriately to be rid of the shadows, but may also be because insufficient light above the miniature.

My Thoughts

I think this photo set-up provides a great starting place to get better lighted photos at a very good price. The lights provide a lot of coverage and allow for a wide variety of lighting styles and situations. Some folks have indicated that an additional top light is helpful to remove some of the remaining shadows, but I have to play around with the set-up or light angles can improve this.

The lights are not LED, which is unfortunate. While the lights do provide a good amount of light and provide a nice color to the figure, they heat up quickly. Be sure to let them cool completely before touching them to return to storage.

My only real complaint is with the claim that the bag is designed to carry everything in one location. The pockets on the front are not long enough to store the backdrops. If the pockets ran side to side instead of up and down, the backdrops would fit. The pockets also aren't quite big enough to easily hold the lights, though I don't think I would store them there if they did fit. The straps that are used to keep the tent closed though do allow you to put the backdrops under and hold securely enough.

Hopefully with some additional practice, I'll get the lighting down and steadily improve the photos on the blog.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Defending the Pacific Northwest from Jupiter City...S.E.n.T.R.I forces

Marvel Role Playing Game

With the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is hard not to be excited about superheroes, but in all honesty; I've always been a geek for superheroes. If use the way back button we can all remember a time when superheros were the fodder of Saturday morning cartoons and later the introduction of the Marvel Superheros RPG. Unfortunately this was not a great system. This was an RPG that suffered mainly because it had to deal with everything from the weakest to the infinite and mechanically that is a beast especially when trying to play the game...I mean what do you do if a player character can run 50 miles in one turn or use a laser to cut a building in half? Even when you played a rather weak-sided set of heroes there was the issue of frustrated players because it was so difficult to increase a power or to adapt a power to a new use. Though my and my Nerdherd friends tried many times to make a go of it, but never made it very far...well super speed up to today and we have matured, are more learned, and have tons of superhero stuff as fodder. Add to that the universe of other middle-aged geeks who were in a similar situation, but now have the internet to share everything they have done and boom updated and hopefully workable Marvel campaign setting.

Jupiter City

My very good friend, Rob McDonald, has been hard at work building the Marvel campaign setting when he takes time away from The Fall of the House of Usher. We will be based in a place called Jupiter City in the Pacific Northwest. This started as the dream child of a well-known architect and the heart of the old city has a retro-futuristic design to it. This has since been eclipsed by all of the other modern parts of the city. I'll check with Rob to see if I can release more of his materials on here for people to read and be inspired.


S.E.n.T.R.I unit
Our home is protected by a sub-unit of S.H.I.E.L.D, called S.E.n.T.R.I. This unit is responsible for managing all of the superheroes in and around Jupiter City as well maintaining intelligence on all of the nefarious villains. As with all good police units, S.E.n.T.R.I needs some police, especially advanced looking tactical units. To fill this need, I quickly combed through the Reaper BONES Kickstarter sets and starting identifying and pulling figures.

I was able to quickly identify 10 suitable figures that had the right mix of futuristic armor and weapons to look appropriate in a Marvel campaign. The base models are the IMEF troopers and NOVA Corp BONES. Top Row: NOVA Corp Rifleman, Jazz Jenkins; Second Row: Garvin Marcus,  Torch McHough; Bottom Row: NOVA Corp. Sgt, NOVA Corp. Guard.

Pictured so far are the group with some basic color blocking. The base clothing is Reaper MSP HSD Military Grey. The body armor is Vallejo Model Color Black Grey.

Transportation is always a priority. I was out at RiteAid getting a couple of things and noticed a rack of cars. The vehicles looked to be pretty close to scale, but of course I didn't have a miniature in my pocket and they weren't labeled with the scale information. I looked up the company online and found out that these vehicles are in 1:39 scale, so not too far off the mark. Also the cost was pretty appealing at $4.99 each it was a minor investment.

Vehicles with models for scale
I picked up a couple of these Chevy Suburbans as a test. The picture here shows that they are pretty close  to the right scale. Would be a little better at 1:43, but this will work. The close figure is Torch McHough sitting on top of a Tectonic Studios Base Crown (review), but without the base that will also be added. The far figure is my Wasteland Hulk. You can see that these figures are not at full height and both are a bit squatted, so the scale works rather well. Also since the Marvel campaign is a role playing game and not a skirmish/wargame, everything is for representative purposes only so all of this works well. This will also work for future use in any This Is Not A Test games, though perhaps not if used with other O-scale terrain.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I'm all about that base, bout that base, it's Tectonic!

Tectonic Craft Studios Decktread 25 mm Base Crowns

Defensive Bunker
Defensive Bunker
While at the NOVA Open, I picked up a Defensive Bunker ($35) from Archy Dan at Tectonic Craft Studios to build up as terrain for my Astra Militarum army. I provided a picture of the bunker here and will provide a step-by-step building process and a separate post for painting.

After spending some time talking with about the kits he had for sale and being back and forth a few times, he threw in two sets of the Decktread 25 mm Base Crowns ($4) as an intro to some of his other items. Dan offers Hulkplate and Shatterscape crowns in 25 mm and the Decktread  and Hulkplate in 40 mm ($5) as well. I immediately took them back to the This Is Not A Test demo table and started playing with them.

Assembled Decktread

Decktread Painting

Unassembled Decktread
The Decktread is made of laser-cut medium-density fiberboard (MDF). Five base crowns come with each of the cards and have a variety of patterns etched onto the tops. There are a number of bolts, edges and a couple have metal edges. The two photos (Assembled and Unassembled) show two different pattern styles

While at the NOVA Open, I immediately popped one set out and decided to play around with them. The laser cut is just enough to hold the base crowns onto the card. A little pressure and they popped out cleanly. I decided I would paint a couple up to see how they took paint and looked.

Base Paint - Reaper MSP HD Field Grey
For these two base crowns, I used Reaper MSP HD paints. I started with a base layer of Field Grey. Since the decktread pattern is burned into the MFD, there are lots of little spaces and levels within each set of cuts. To try to add some depth to each of these spaces, I made a very simple wash of the Military Grey paint.

Wash Layer - Reaper MSP HD Military Grey
After the wash dried, the bases did not have the pop of real diamond plate steel. Usually there the plate is elevated which creates light and shadow differences. Since these crowns are laser cut what would ordinarily be an elevated point is floating in a cut space.

Dry Brush - Reaper MSP HD Concrete Grey
To get this better texture, I decided to attempt to brighten the surface a bit by applying Concrete Grey with a dry brush technique.

Dry Brush - Concrete Grey/Weathered Bone
While this brought the color up significantly, it still did not seem bright enough for me. I followed the first dry brush layer by cutting the Concrete Grey with equal parts Weathered Bone. This brought the color up significantly to make it nearer to actual diamond plate steel.

Natural vs. Primed Study

Primed Crowns
When I got home and started unpacking everything and reviewing, I wondered if priming the pieces with an all-purpose primer (I used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 primer) would make a difference. I had a little concern that the MDF may be too absorbent and cause issues with painting. I have larger pieces to come and wanted to make sure there was no difference.

Field Grey
I tried to follow the same process from start to finish, but some differences became quickly apparent. After the primer dried overnight, I applied the Field Grey base layer. For the bolts, I used Citadel Citadel Color Boltgun Metal. The yellow on the plate cover is Vallejo Model Color Flat Yellow. It took a few layers to get the yellow smooth and bright enough.

Secret Weapon Soft Body Black Wash
The white primer covered the plate very well, including the areas cut down into the MFD plate. As a result of this coverage, the primer was apparent after an initial base coat. Since I had created the Military Grey wash just by watering down the paint, I decided that I would have to divert from the original painting plan. I decided I would need a more composed and slightly darker wash on the bases. I selected the Secret Weapon Soft Body Black wash. This is a great product and stays at the right consistency and does not break like many of the Citadel washes do.

Final Base Crowns
Following the black wash, I did a double layer of the dry brush technique, but went much lighter with each layer. While doing the initial dry brush, I discovered that handling the based too roughly with the dry brush can cause the small elevated pieces in the center of the tread cutouts can come off. If you take a look at the Final Base Crowns photo, you can see the little bits of wood that were knocked off. Since this happened at the end, I was forced to go back and add some additional wash to the affected areas.

All-in-all these offer a very affordable alternative to custom resin bases. Based on the work that I have completed, I do not see any reason to prime these bases. I did not notice any quality differences between the primed and natural and there is some extra work necessary for the primed bases to make sure none of the prime color shows in the end. Perhaps if you can find an appropriately tinted primer than you won't have to be so diligent. If you decide not to prime, use the paint without thinning the first layer, you have less absorption on the first layer. I'll continue to play with these and some other MDF pieces of terrain and continue to evolve my techniques to share with everyone.

Monday, September 7, 2015

In An Emergency - Tap The Hot Water Heater - TNT Demos (Labor Day Special)

NOVA Open - This Is Not A Test Demos

This Is Not A Test Demo Set-up
Most of my time at NOVA Open, I ran demos for This Is Not A Test, a post-apocalyptic skirmish game. This Is Not A Test allows for one-off skirmish games or a steady campaign for the development of your warband. I reviewed the general feel of the game in my This Is Not A Test, I Repeat This is Not a Test post and have a one-on-one battle report in my I Scream, You Scream, We Fight for Ice Cream post.

Mechanics of Note

Activation. Game play alternates between  players, but not one side than the other. The player with initiative nominates a character then attempts to activate. Success on the activation check provides the character with two actions. After the actions are completed, the player nominates the next character. This player will continue until the activation roll fails. At this point play will pass to the next player. Failing an activation roll does not mean the character does not get an action. While success means the model gets two actions; failure means the model gets one action. This will continue until all models have been activated. I am a big fan of this mechanic as it provides each player opportunity to act in a turn, makes strategy a little more realistic, and keeps the game interesting.

Attack resolution. Unlike many of the tabletop games, there is more realism in the resolution of attacks. All hits are resolved with an opposed check (weapon strength vs. defense). Melee hits are resolved immediately, because if you stab a guy you will know if he is dead or not. Ranged attacks are resolved when activation moves to the next player. This is because all of the models at that activation occur at the same time. This translates into each activated model having to decide should they target the same opponent model to increase odds of killing the opponent model or attempt attacks on another model. Once hits are resolved, any character that is hit has to make a Mettle check to see if they panic and dive for cover or hit the dirt.

Demo Battle Report

Joe McGuire with Aaron Skrivanek and Maurice Kent
We had a good amount of interest in the game and a number of people played demo. Since This Is Not a Test is a skirmish game, we were able to field a lot of interest by groups with 3 and 4 player demos. One of those demos with a couple of the guys from the Metal Skirmish group went something like this...

War bands. Peacekeepers (me), Caravanners (Joe McGuire), Mutants (Aaron Skrivanek), Tribals (Maurice Kent).

Mutants in the ruins
Officer's Report. Judge Murphy, Officer Pelon, and Officer BoomBoom were responding to a call to clear some muties from a bombed out house by the old elementary school. As the officers approached the school house to make up the road toward the reported location of the muties, a band of caravanners exited a ranch style house and immediately started firing a relic laser rifle at the officers. The peacekeepers did immediately engage with the caravanners, concentrating fire on the most advanced caravanner.

The school house was under the control of a small Tribal enclave that was alerted to the encroachment of others by the engagement. The tribals approached the officers from the left/rear where they started to fire upon the officers from the school's playground.

At this time the caravanners sent one man into the another house. It is our belief that this caravanner was moving into the house to scavenge and look for a water heater with potable water. As this caravanner moved into the house, the caravanner named Black-Eyed Susan murdered Officer Pelon. In return fire, Judge Murphy was able to kill the caravanner named, Trader Joe. Officer BoomBoom made to pursue the caravanner into the house. At this time the Tribal leader, Tallhat moved into the rear of the house and opened fire on Officer BoomBoom.

Officers deployed to the scene
The mutants moved out of the ruined abode and started to fire upon the tribal war band. One mutant, shot and killed the tribal, Talloak. As is typical of the muties, attacks were made in a seeming random manner and at the closest human. A second mutant, Looks, fire
d upon the caravanner named Black-Eyed Susan and killed her.

Tophat charged to the top of the stairs whereupon he murdered Officer BoomBoom by stabbing him in the chest with his war knife. Tophat then made to abscond with the water heater and potable water. Judge Murphy did fire upon Tophat, but was unable to hit the target through the household. Given the overwhelming number of opposing forces, Judge Murphy withdrew to a safe location to monitor the situation before returning to the station to gather additional forces to secure the area.

Tribals enter the area
The muties laid chase to the caravanners who grabbed a water heater from another of the households. Tophat continued back toward the tribal grounds while Swiftwind protected his rear. The mutant called, Old Duke charged Swiftwind, but he was able to rebuff the attack and push Old Duke back. At this time, Looks shot at Tophat from the rear with a shotgun. While the shot did not strike Tophat he was immediately forced into cover. After recovering himself, he immediately resumed his escape with the potable water.

With the chaos caused by the mutant attack, the caravanners also were able make an escape in the opposite direction with a second water source. While the muties were able to drive out all of the forces and maintain the territory near to the school, there is expected to no longer be a source of potable water in the immediate area.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

When the wife's away... a convention to play! NOVA Open 2015

NOVA Open 2015 

NOVA Open is a fantastic convention in Arlington Virginia. This is a tournament focused convention for wargamers. There are a series of tournaments for the typical games (Warhammer 40,000, X-Wing, Infinity, Malifaux, etc.). The convention has a charitable foundation associated, so there is a lot of gamers doing good for others. This is a great place to meet and talk with lots of great painters, industry professionals, and fellow gamers.


Raffa Picca and me
NOVA Open offers a series of workshops that are a mix of demos and hands-on. These courses are taught by some of the industries best. This year's instructors included Justin McCoy (Secret Weapon), Roman Lappat and Raffaele Picca (Massive Voodoo), Dan Cotroupe (Tectonic Craft Studios), Eric "Terrain Guy" Cacace (11th Company Blog/Podcast), Justin Gibba (Malifaux E2), Chris Michaels (PoweredPlay Gaming), Gutier Lusquinos Rodriguez (Corvus Belli), Caleb Wissenback (CK Studios Painting), and the host of it all Mike Brandt (NOVA Open CEO/Whiskey & 40k). Seminars cover a wide range of areas including terrain building, clay modelling, painting techniques, air brush techniques, object source lighting, and LEDs. The weekend pass is affordable at $40 for the four days, games/tournaments are affordable priced and each seminar runs around $20 on average to cover supplies and instruction. I only attended one of the seminars, Sculpting Conversions, taught by Raffaele Picca. I'll have a separate write-up on that class and my attempts to sculpt some conversions coming soon.


This Is Not A Test Demo Board
A few local vendors come into the hall to support modelers and hobbyists. Grex had representatives who supported a speed airbrush contest, but also had new product demos available. Tectonic Craft Studios had some very nicely done laser cut terrain pieces. I picked up a a bunker that will be reviewed soon, Dan also through in some laser cut base mounts which are pictured. Fallout Hobbies, who recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign, offer a wide range of decal sheets and also offer custom decal design and production at very reasonable prices. A custom sheet is $35 with additional at a reduced cost. These sheets were $15 each or two for $25. Potter Whimsy had a lovely set of hand crafted wood products (bowls, wine stops, mugs) which make for perfect gifts to the spouse who was abandoned on kid duty for the weekend. This Is Not A Test, Star Wars Armada/X-Wing, and Halo were available all weekend. I spent the weekend helping Joe McGuire out with This Is Not A Test demos all weekend. I'll have an additional post about a 4-person This Is Not A Test Demo soon.


NOVA Open Swag
Gamer Grass sheet
For the lucky 400 who register first (I was number 395), you get a nice little swag back. This year the swag bag was a NOVA Open branded lunch bag that contained a bottle of water, small bag of chips, some Air Heads, a granola bar. Additional NOVA Open swag included a pen, shot glass, tape measure, and coasters. Fallout Hobbies provided a sheet of small flame decals with a coupon to get a free sheet with the purchase of two others. I'll have a review of those coming in the near future as well as my foray into applying decals. Kromlech provided a sprue of bits which included a couple of shoulder pads, an orc head, a bolt pistol, and an Egyptian style head. Gamer grass provided a small set of grass tufts, which will be added to some miniatures very soon. Secret Weapon included a sewer works base with a 15% off coupon. Army painter provided a a quick gaming guide with an insane detail brush. Corvus Belli provided a printed quick start rules booklet for Infinity with a pin. Some tiny rare earth magnets were provided by Amazing magnets. Some other companies provided coupons; Bombshell miniatures (15% off), Greenman Designs ($5 voucher), PoweredPlay Gaming ($5 voucher), Systema Gaming (20% off).

Capital Palette

The main painting competition is the Capital Palette. This is an open style painting competition, so model brand and style are not restrictive. There are a wide range of categories and entries include individual models, busts, units, and dioramas. The instructors (Massive Voodoo and Secret Weapon) provided a number of busts, painted figures, and dioramas for display. Pieces were entered throughout the weekend and voted upon Saturday evening. Each attendee is able to cast one vote for the fan favorite contest.

NOVA Open Charitable Foundation

Maverick single shotOne of the greatest components to the NOVA Open is the NOVA Open Charitable Foundation. The organizers and gaming community have taken a number of charities to heart and support with raffles for an few armies (Alatoic Eldar, Sons of Orar Space Marines, Flames of War Battalion Piechoty, and Seven Malifaux Warbands). Roman Lappat (Massive Voodoo) provided one individual model (Zeta the Barbarian Babe) and a bust (Forever Young) and Corvus Belli Studios provided the studio model for Maverick from the new USAriadna Army Pack release. A series of silent auctions were also available, which included painted units, individual special models, artistic prints, some fantastic coasters, and some premium instruction video access. All auctions and raffles are support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, and the Fisher House Foundation. All models for the armies are painted by a consortium of professional painters who donate time to provide amazing pieces.

*UPDATE*  Silent Auction Wins! 

Astra Militarum Cadian Shock Troops
Cadian Sergeants
I completed this post before the results of the silent auction. I had bids for a set of Astra Militarum Sentinels, a set of Cadian Shock Troops, and a Grey Knight Interceptor Squad. Unfortunately, I didn't win the sentinels. I did though win the others. Since I am building my Guard army, I decided to bid on those two components. This set of Cadians is painted at an tabletop level. The color scheme is fine, but there are no painted eyes, some of the details are not painted, and there is a very basic set of washes applied. I am happy to have them and may do some additional touch up work to them, but at the price and for the charity it is all fine.

The Grey Knights have a much better level of detail and though I don't play this army and probably would not, the paint job and look of the squad made them enticing. The level of detail is quite good on the models and they are at a better tabletop levels. The levels of wash is pretty heavy in some places, but the highlighting on the lettered shoulder pads is good and the gold counters with the steel armor well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Go with the flow... Games Workshop Promethium Relay Pipes

Games Workshop Promethium Relay Pipes

Promethium Relay Pipes Kit
Now that I have cleared the environmentalists off the sidewalk, it's time to install a pipeline. Promethium is not an environmentally friendly material, but more importantly it is not heretic friendly and so we are going to keep it flowing.

Now that I have read some of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels, I have decided to build a series of tables that are inspired from battles/scenes from some of those novels. I may play with some of the details, but these novels are the inspiration. The first pieces I picked up were the Ironheart Artisans Fuel Storage Tanks (Single Can and Double Can). Well in order to fill up these tanks, I have to keep the promethium flowing and the Games Workshop Promethium Relay Pipes ($37) are the start to that.

Long pipes
The kit is designed so that it can only be assembled in way. There are 16 pieces for the main components of the pipes. There are an additional 14 caps of different styles that mimic closed doors and open vents. A rules addendum comes with the set that provides for the use of the pipes in the game. The final assembly with yield three long pipes, four short pipes, and one control module.

Control Panel 
Each set of pipes costs 40 points. All of the sections must be placed in contact with at least one other section. There is a completed set of rules for use as cover, damage, and some special rules. Any non-vehicle flamer within 2" can tap into the pipes to increase from Assault to Heavy or from Pistol to Heavy and the weapon gets the Torrent special rule to the end of the phase.

Small Pipes
The details of the kit are rather good. The kit is one of the simplest to assemble. There is a lot of flexibility to how the pieces can be fielded.  The end caps provide lots of options, but if you don't glue them on, there is a good chance that you will need to keep putting them back on the pipes during a game.

Control Panel
As with all Games Workshop pieces, there are Gothic accents, but I think these have pushed it too far. The pipes are covered in skulls, and spikes which though keep with the theme are excessive. Personally I would have liked to see these be a bit more industrial in design and more practical. I suppose in the 41st millennium the Ministry of Civil Engineering has no concern for the maintenance staff.

While I do like the set as pieces and the concept of tapping into them on the battlefield (a nice surprise when I opened the kit), I am looking to add some additional pipes that are not as heavily accentuated. These additional pipes will be made with supplies purchased from Home Depot, but that will be for a later post.

This post is pretty small because the set is simple overall and I am preparing for my weekend at NOVA Open this weekend where I will be running This Is Not A Test demos. If you are there, please come by Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for a demo and maybe some games. When I am not running demos, I'll be working on a blog post of the NOVA Open experience and working on painting some figures. Look forward to seeing you there and be sure to go to the website and get your NOVA Open Charitable Foundation auction tickets.