A Billions Suns – First Play and Fleet Building

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.

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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.

Iron Cross and 15mm World War II

A month or so back I went along to my regular club meeting without any real plans for a game.  Last minute I arranged to play a game with one of my mates who had some World War II micro-armour and a few different rulesets he wanted to try out.  Having had a flick through the different books we settled on Iron Cross by Great Escape Games.

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Iron Cross – available direct from Great Escape Games or from other friendly local or online sellers

What appealed about this was both it’s simplicity but also its approach to getting a lot of toys on the table at once.  Add to this a (welcome) lack of weapon ranges and things seemed to add up to this being the one to try.

 

The rules themselves only span about ten pages and what immediately appealed was the use of ‘command tokens’ to activate, react and plan your actions.  This put me in mind of the use of plot points in 7TV, so of course this immediately drew me in.  It’s fair to say that I have not played that many historical wargames in my admitedly long gaming career, but I have done extensive painting and modelling of particularly WW2 in primarily 28mm.

 

Playing in 6mm scale (and adjusting inches to centrimetres for movement) on a 2 foot square board resulted in some really fun and fast paced games.  Although the placement of tokens on the board to represent activated units provded a unique problem with this scale as the glass beads we were using were in some cases as big as the models.  What became apparent to me as we played through (and was backed up by reviews I have read of the game) was that this would be ideally suited to a larger scale on a larger battlefield.  15mm seemed an ideal way to go.  So emboldened with yet another new project I started plotting.

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Tiny dice look huge next to 6mm scale armour!

I wanted to put together two forces (rather than just build up a single army) and knowing that Flames of War 4th edition is currently hot I sought out the new (and really good value) Hit the Beach starter set.  This provided me with a good basis for two starting forces and I supplemented this with some eBay purchases and also managed to track down a reduced price full German army box by Plastic Soldier Company.

 

15mm had never really appealed before, but with the enthusiasm gained from my first outing with Iron Cross in 6mm I really begun to see the attraction of getting a lot of figures and armour on the table at once.

Having agreed to give the game another go game at this larger scale at the next meeting which was only a few weeks away I got to work assembling and painting.

 

 

Most of the armour was a pleasure to put together.  I’d probably say that the Battlefront Miniatures Flames of War stuff is slightly easier to assemble with the Plastic Soldier kits being slightly more fiddly.  I also picked up a couple of Zvezda 1:100 scale snap fit kits to add a few of the big cats to the German forces (including a King Tiger).  While cheap and ‘snap-fit’ I found that these do need a lot more after-assembly love and care (gap filling in particular).

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Zvezda King Tiger – not visible here, but needs some gap filling

In addition I’ve also done a bit of 3D printing to expand some forces.  You can see a comparison between the Zvezda King Tiger and a 3D printed version below.  While not a bad model, the obvious issue with 3D printing at this scale for a large game is simply the length of time it takes.  We are not yet in the position I don’t think where the availability of 3D printing files for WW2 armour is going to have much of an impact on traditional kit sales for this very reason.

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King Tigers – Zvezda (left), 3D printed – file from Thingiverse (right)

Painting the tanks and vehicles was case of keeping it quick and easy.  Basecoat, dry brush highlight, wash, silver drybrush and spong chipping.  For the allied armour I used a Halford Camo Green spray for the basecoat, which I would highly recommend.

 

The German armour was basecoated using Plastic Soldier’s Dunkelgelb yellow from a spray can.  Trying to keep things at least a bit historically accurate I did various camo patterns on some of the German tanks.  I am not hugely happy with these as I think they were a bit rushed.  I hand painted these, whereas really I ought to have broken out the airbrush to get a better result.

 

Both allied and German decals have been purchased, but I haven’t yet got round to applying these.

So, the elephant in the room for me with respect to painting were the infantry.  I’ve never painted anything smaller than 25mm so this was going to be interesting.  In the end as the majority of the miniatures I was working with were one-piece I decided to try painting them on the sprue.  In general this has worked quite well so far.

 

Anyhow after a productive couple of weeks assembling models and painting, this last weekend at the club we got a couple more games of Iron Cross this time on a 6′ by 4′ table in 15mm scale.  Taking a very relaxed approach to matching up our forces, in the first game I got the upper hand as the Germans.  In the second game we adjusted the forces to be slightly more realistic in terms of numbers (with the allies outnumbering the superior German tanks) and it went as you would expect with a victory for the British/Americans.

 

The rules worked really well again, we spotted some mistakes we had made last time and both games played through relatively quickly.  I think we have found our go to club game for 15mm.  I didn’t have enough infantry done to include them, so I think this will add an interesting new dynamic next time and that’s what I’ll be concentrating on painting wise.

 

So the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to try something new; however accept that it will add to your plastic/lead pile and project to-do list.

 

Cold war gone hot is starting to look appealing!