After nearly fourteen months out of action due to the pandemic, my local club recently was able to start having meetings again. So it was a couple of weeks back that myself and my good buddy Dorian ventured over to Darley Dale from Chesterfield to actually roll some dice in person.
We chose to give ‘A Billion Suns’ by Mike Hutchinson from Osprey Games a go. I picked the rule book up a couple of months ago because I had heard good things about it. I particularly liked the idea of there being no before-game force building (with ships requisitioned as required), and the concept of playing across multiple tables. Being part of the Osprey Wargames ‘blue book’ series the rules are concise and the author has good pedigree with Gaslands (a game I have not played, but have heard very good things about, particularly from the point of view of being an easy to ‘pick up and play’ game).
As a spaceship combat system I of course needed to source some ships. Having had a previous daliance with Gunpla I was aware of a range of Bandai kits based on the Japanese anime series ‘Space Battleship Yamato’ (known in the US as Starblazers). These inexpensive plastic kits (even taking into account the postage from the far east) have a really cool ‘warships in space’ vibe, so I picked up a few from Hobby Link Japan. (This was of course dangerous as I got distracted by Gundam models, but that is another story.)
The other advantage of these kits apart from the cost is the ease of assembly. As with most modern Bandai kits these are hugely well engineered and push fit (no glue required). Although not designed as gaming pieces, each comes complete with a flight stand which is useful for the game, and most are pre-coloured in mutliple shades (with the aim being of getting them on the table quickly, a quick wash / panel lining would make them look presentable).
While these kits gave me some really interesting and unique models for the game I also wanted to bulk out my available fleets with some more utilitarian designs. It is here that I remembered that Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) often released ‘grab bags’ of plastic ships from their space based version of Commands and Colours called Red Alert. I duly picked up a huge number of ships and stands from them for around £10 to £20 in total.
The club meeting soon came round and in the spirit of our club (where play is the most important thing), Dorian and I played our first game with a completely unpainted set of models!
We managed to get two games in during the day and I have to say it was a lot of fun. The rules were easy to digest and navigate round. I had the night before spent some time downloading and laminating tokens, cards and other game aids from the A Billion Suns website and this certainly helped keep the game flowing.
I am not going to fully review the rules here, other than to alude to the fact that being a game where the outcome is based on earning credits from contracts (with the cost of your ships coming out of your total budget), it was an interesting variation on other much more crunchy games I have played in the past (I am looking at you Star Wars Armada!). Both games we played during the day were quite different (and this was due to the generation of the contracts you play for at the beginning of the game). This also resulted in a situation where in game one we were playing over three tables, while in game two it was entirely focussed on a single table.
I made the mistake of jumping in a massive battleship in game one, which while it looked cool (my primary reason for doing it), did mean I was in financial defecit from the get go and didn’t really figure out how I was going to earn this back. One of the things that became apparent during the game from a modelling perspective was that while we had lots of bigger ships we were lacking a bit when it came to the smaller stuff like fighters.
So with the aim of playing again at the next meeting (and doing a three player game next time – the rules seem to support multiple players very well and I can see that being a lot of fun), I have gone back to the modelling and painting.
This has primarily involved painting up the Red Alert ships, but also sourcing some additional ‘smaller mass’ ships to act as the recon, fighter and bomber wings the rules dictate.
For these I remembered that EM4 Miniatures (who I used to stock when running the store) did inexpensive plastic sprues of spaceships that would fit the bill. I picked a couple of these up and set about basing them on the spare stands I had picked up from PSC. (Interesting it has been pointed out to me that these designs actually hark back to a very old game by I.C.E. called Silent Death).
From a painting perspective both these and the Red Alerts ships were given a variety of base coats with a view to using both drybrushing and contrast paints to quickly get them done. I like the idea of replicating in part that 1970s sci-fi paperback cover style of spaceship, art by the likes of Chris Foss or similar to the old Terran Trade Federation books, so I have gone for quite a colourful palette.
To make them pop a bit more I did some selective highlighting with spot colours to represent lighting and variation in panel colours. I then touched up the bases painting them completely black (to match the tables).
One other idea picked up after playing the first game that I am going to do is to mark on the bases the in-game mass of the ships. This should make it a lot quicker and easier to requisition ships of different sizes during a game.
Next up will be to do some more work on the Bandai ships. Many of these come with decals or stickers, which once they are applied will be followed by a top coat and them some subtle shading and panel lining.
Of course I would be remiss not to mention 3D printing here, and I have added to my fleets with some resin 3D prints, most of which I sourced from Thingiverse and printed on my Elegoo Mars Pro 2. I picked the designs based on one of my favourite animes from back in the day (based more on my experiences of playing the role-playing game rather than watching the series) – Robotech. These will be painted in a similar way to the PSC and EM4 models.
From a hobby perspective I really like the flexibility the game gives you with fleet modelling (and this is mainly due to the fact as previously mentioned ships are requisition during play rather built into lists beforehand).
I’m looking forward to many more games to come.